Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014 sees U.S. economy rise, Russia returning to Cold War posture

If asked who was the most popular leader in his country, the one whose economy is booming or the one whose economy is collapsing, you might lean to the one whose economy is booming.

In fact, Russian President Vladimir Putin is getting an 80 percent or higher approval rating. U.S. President Barack Obama’s approval rating is at a 20-month high, but not quite 50 percent.

Of course any polls or votes in a dictatorship cannot be taken seriously, but there is no doubt Putin is Russia’s most popular man, for the 16th year in a row.

Nobel Prize Winner Paul Krugman, in a New York Times columnist, compares the U.S. economic recovery to a man hitting himself in the head with a baseball bat and then stopping.

Krugman makes clear the Republican party was wielding the bat. Thus no one should expect them to credit Obama for the highest economic growth level in 11 years.

Americans are painfully aware of the growing disparity in wealth in the country, and therefore there will be few parties held to honor Obama.

Putin has banned government New Year’s eve parties, though he has made sure there will be plenty of vodka. Who wants to kiss a woman using beetroots for lipstick.

Although Obama won a Nobel Peace Prize for abandoning the aggressive status of President George W. Bush, he has been anything but timid.

He has stood up to Putin, persuading allies to impose sanctions that critics said would never work.

Obama also has used drones against widespread condemnation to make it possible to bring U.S. soldiers home.

Hated around the world, miniature drones were popular Christmas gifts.

Although Obama has refused to jump on board the Keystone Pipeline bandwagon, his administration has done nothing to stop the fracking boom that has made the nation the world’s No. 1 producer.

The result has been a world oil glut. It couldn’t have come at a worse time for Putin, which gets two-thirds of its revenue from energy.

Gasoline prices are below $2 a gallon in some states, the lowest in four years. The auto industry, which Obama helped save as a priority of his first year in office, is booming.

The president has had little luck, and no support from the other side of the aisle, in seeking contain climate change or solve the immigration problem.

He could have intervened to slow the legalization of marijuana and same-sex marriage, but has stuck to preelection promises to try force  the views of right-wing fundamentalists on country where church and state are to remain separate. Only isolated pockets of resistance to legal abortions remain.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Disappearance of AirAsia flight echoes Malaysian and Air France

Contrary to claims by the mainstream media that there are major disappearances between the disappearances of a Malaysian airliner and Air France jet earlier, there are many similarities.

In fact, it seems like a replay.

First, it occurred in the same area. And details of the last cockpit conservation and data sent by the numerous transmitters on board the Airbus have not been released.

It is even possible, that because of errors by the pilots trying to avoid bad weather, the plane’s nose was raised too high and caused it to stall. That is what brought the Air France Airbus off Brazil down in 2009.

Cheery forecasts by news readers state the AirAsia 8501 aircraft, and the bodies of its 162 passenges and crew, are likely to be found. We are supposed to be cheered by the fact that the water is much shallower.

As with the Malaysian airliner the flotsam and jetsam of the sea have produced false reports of wreckage.

With numerous governments in the area capable of shooting down a jet, it is far too soon to rule that out. When the second Malaysian airliner, MH15, disappear, it was allegedly shot by Russian rebels. A ground-to-air missile it caused a catastrophic failure of all systems and the crew was unable to send a single distress message, as least as far as is known.

Requests from both MH15 and the AirAsia flight to fly higher were requested.

So far there have been weird theories that the plane flew off to some desert island.

The New Straits Times reported: “The AirAsia plane which went missing with 162 people on board en route for Singapore is likely at the bottom of the sea, Indonesia’s National Search and Rescue Agency chief said today. ‘“Based on the coordinates given to us and evaluation that the estimated crash position is in the sea, the hypothesis is the plane is at the bottom of the sea,’” Bambang Soelistyo told a press conference.

“That’s the preliminary suspicion and it can develop based on the evaluation of the result of our search.”

There was a lengthy delay in reporting both the Malaysian airliner missing over the Pacific and the AirAsia jet near Indonesia.

In such cases, the militaries of the various nations involved may have information they do not share. They do not wish to divulge their ability to track aircraft. They most definitely would not report shooting down a commercial airliner, either by accident or on purpose.
Cost is still an issue. Some companies will not pay the relatively small per-passenger charge of streaming their location and data to satellites.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Putin picks next target, Azerbaijan

While there has been much comment about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s threats in the Baltic, it appears his next target will be in Azerbaijan.

The small former Soviet republic is in the south, surrounded by Armenia, Georgia, Iran and Russia.

Numerous clashes between Armenian security forces and “oil-rich” Azerbaijan preceded this week’s events. Wait one. Is “oil-rich” an oxymoron, like “mineral-rich” when applied to Third World nations would depend on one export, such as copper?

In Azerbaijan, in the latest example of Putin shutting down any media that doesn’t spout his propangda, prosecutors shut down the U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe station.

Police seized computers and other equipment, and locked employees in a room temporarily. Later they were locked out.

Staff sent selfies of themselves from inside the room.

Arrests of Azeri journalists have begun. Journalist Khadija Ismayilova of Radio Azadliq said she had been harassed for reporting on how the family of President Ilham Aliyev had amassed massive wealth, in the style of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, through the embezzlement of Azerbaijan’s oil and natural gas sales.

RFE was able to continue broadcasts from Prague. Unlike the days of the Berlin Wall, shutting down a radio station will not stop the spread of anti-Putin news. There are countless ways to access the Internet.

It has been jokingly suggested that wired sheep should be sent across the border to offer Internet access, or balloons as is done in North Korea. The sheep might be eaten as the country’s once booming economy has collapsed like Russia’s, because it depends even more on oil.

AzerNews predicted the fall in oil prices would disrupt the U.S. economy. This week it was reported the gross domestic product grew 5 percent, the best result in 11 years. Gasoline has dropped below $2 a gallon in some states.

Russia faces inflation expected to reach 11 percent and negative growth of up to five percent next year. None of this matters to Putin because he does not believe in property rights, as his former friends have found out.

But Azerbaijan’s government has linked itself to Putin’s falling star. Azerbaijan officials have signed deals with Putin and joined in his attacks on the U.S. and Europe.

Armenia had received some verbal support from the West in its deadly border clashes with Yerevan, even after becoming an observer to the Eurasian Economic Community. It is not a member, and retains close ties with European nations. Now Moscow has to choose, and Putin has made two choices likely to anger, closer ties with Turkey and Azerbaijan.

Armenia recognizes the breakaway Azerbaijan state of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Back in the USSR, don't know unlucky you are

To paraphrase the Beatles, Flew in on Aeroflot. Didn't get to bed last night. I’m Baku in the U.S.S.R. Man I had a dreadful flight. Well, the Ukraine girls really knock me out. They leave the West behind.

Vladimir Putin’s proxies shut down a radio station operated by Radio Free Europe in Baku, the Azerbaijan, capital this week. Can the little Green Men be far behind?

Putin is trying to promote a conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan that will justify intervening to protect all Russian speakers and vodka drinkers.

While the U.S. is reporting the strongest growth in 11 years, Russia is likely to see a 5 percent decline next year. There’s no money for lipstick, beetroot will have to do.

The Russian president has told government employees to take 10 days off, and no celebrations please. The country’s beloved vodka will be subsidized to make sure it is available.

The country has had to begin bailing out banks. It seems Putin and President Barack Obama have exchanged places. Fracking has helped make the U.S. the world’s leading producer. OPEC has refused to cut production even though the price has dropped almost 50 percent.

Russia depends on energy production for two-thirds of its income. The country’s deputy minister is considering cutting production because prices are so low. Analysts say it won’t cause prices to rise.

It “may cut its oil output due to low global oil prices and the lack of investment into the country's energy industry,” Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich told the official Chinese news agency, Xinhua.

The Russian Central Bank had been able to slow the slide of the ruble, but it began weakening again Friday. It was 53.90 to the dollar, compared with less than $30 in January.

Putin, a former KGB agent, and not an important one at that, appears to misunderstand how currencies and economies work. He is trying to move to a virtual barter economy,, avoiding the dollar.

Visa, Master Card and other credit cards cut off the Crimea, seized by Putin’s soldiers in March. Russia’s own credit rating was likely to be lowered very soon, and foreign currency was in short supply.

“As long as oil remains at these levels, the devaluation risk will persist,” Vadim Bit-Avragim, a money manager at Kapital Asset Management LLC in Moscow, told Bloomberg. “The holiday of the rising ruble will end at the start of next year since there are no fundamental reasons for its strengthening.”

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Why Putin opposed The Interview

It should be no surprise that Russian President Vladimir Putin opposed a film showing the assassination of a dictator. The Islamic State and Chechen rebels have threatened to kill him.

Associated Press quoted a top Russian official as saying North Korean President Kim Jung-Un’s opposition to the comedy film was “quite understandable.”

In fact, there has been speculation in Washington that Putin’s government supported the hacking that delayed the showing of the Sony film.

Putin’s government was widely believed to be responsible for a cyber attack of unprecedented proportions on the former Soviet Republic of Latvia.

Who knows if the so-called “Lizard Squad,” which claimed to be responsible for hacking Sony, was working alone. These kinds of events often involve multiple culprits.

In an episode of “The Good Wife” an investigator figured out that three people created BitCoin.

On top of that, Washington has enough problems with Moscow and was unlikely to suggest Putin’s involvement with Sen. John McCain considering it an “act of war.”
Pyongyang may have cut its own Internet off to protect what one Tweeter called “both of its computers.”

Putin is preparing new laws that will block Hollywood movies his government does not like. Though Hollywood was unlikely to make one about the killing of a Russian dictator.

Nor is Putin likely to consent to an interview with any serious Western journalist.

He has already shut down virtually all independent media in Russia. While claiming he was not building a new “Iron Curtain” he made it sound like the West built the Berlin Wall.

Although he has railed against the West for imposing sanctions because of his incursions into Ukraine, Putin has been unable to stop them from hurting his economy.

Combined with a dramatic fall in oil prices, Russian women are being asked to use beetroot instead of lipstick, forgo French perfumes and Putin has ordered that vodka prices be subsidized. He has stopped short of trying to prevent hookers from raising their rates to compensate for the falling ruble.

Analysts say the already contracting Russian economy may see a five percent declined next year, and 11 percent inflation.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Interview got bad reviews but is hilarious

It was worth the wait. Actually it was available a day early thanks to deals Sony made with YouTube, Google Play and Xbox.

The real inside joke may not be that Sony and the U.S. were involved in the original hacking, but that Russia was.

James Franco and Seth Rogen, who directed, have a very obvious kind of humor but it works.

When the North Koreans realize Kim Jung-Un, played by Randall Park, has been betrayed by a third-rate TV show anchor, Dave Skylark, they ask: “How many times can America make the same mistakes.” The answer, of course, is: “As many times as it takes.”

Rogen and Franco have collaborated on several movies, including “Pineapple Express” and “This is the End.” They have done comedies individually like “Superbad” and the serious “127 Hours.”

North Korea showed its lack of understanding of the West by trying to stop the release of the Sony film with hacking and threats. Nothing gets a show more publicity.

The assassination itself has already been widely seen on the Internet and by Hollywood standards probably wouldn’t even meet the new rules Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to impose on movie makers. Putin has invited Kim to visit Russia next year.

Kim’s head is pretty much blurred out by fire when it explodes as he tries to launch a missile to take out the West Coast of the U.S.

Ironically, Rogen, Franco, and a Korean translator, Sook, played by Diana Bang, kill Kim with a cannon fired from a tank Stalin donated to the regime during the Cold War.

Among the more outrageous scenes are Eminem admitting to be gay in a phony interview on the show hosted by Franco/Skylark.

The film is full of silly lines, but they work. Bill Mahrer is heard to say he thinks Skylark believes he is interviewing the singer of Gangnam Style.

Many have seen the trailer showing Rogen, who plays Skylark’s producer, being surrounded by a Tiger. Or, as was said in Apocalypse now, “…a fucking tiger.”

I won’t spoil it by saying what happens to the tiger, but hiding the deadly toxin in a small module flown into North Korea when the original is found by security guards is done in using a standard  drug mule way.

There are the usual number of breast shots and bad, almost racist, Asian accents. But, hey, it’s a movie.

The world loves making fun of America.

Russian babes urged to replace lipstick with beetroot

That Russian hooker may be using beetroot for lipstick. In few places have Western sanctions on Russian have had more effect than on women as a commodity in Vladimir Putin’s gulag.

Russian brides have been popular for years, even during the Cold War. Now they are staples for Web sites like the resurrected Pirate Bay.But the plunge of ruble has forced hookers to raise prices. 
Their beloved Paris cosmetics are too expensive, if not blocked by Putin’s embargoes.Putin urges his people to find substitutes for products from the decadent West. 
A Russia senator has an idea."Well, if you really want to color you lips — why not beets? They're natural, no chemicals will wind up in your body," Igor Chernyshev, the deputy chairman of the Federation Council's Social Policy Committee, told regional news portal Regions.ru last week."And our women will look more beautiful in lingerie from a Moscow factory than in French [underwear]," the lawmaker added. 
Of course the goal is no underwear at all.But if they wear clothes at all, French is the choice.“Russian women value very highly cosmetics made in France. The worship of French cosmetics among Russian women is passed from one generation to the next. Even representatives of the middle class who can't allow themselves to enjoy very many luxuries will occasionally buy at least a lipstick or an eye-shadow, mascara or powder of one of the luxury brands such as Dior or Givenchy, etc.”
Japan has some success but hasn’t caught up with Paris. That is partly because European companies have very strict standards on undergarments.
Plastic surgery hasn’t caught in as in the U.S. Perhaps the doctors aren’t as qualified.
French and other European comestiques remain the most popular.One thing is for certain. Russian women dress to the nines, especially if they are any where near foreign men. 
"Almost without exception, Moscow women are immaculate — hair styled, make-up flawless, nails preened. No matter what the occasion, it is worth getting dressed up for. 
How many Russian women have you seen out of their high heels? This has long been acknowledged; as early as 1976 The Beatles were singing the praises of Russian women “Moscow girls make me sing and shout…”The Beach Boys, on the other hand, focused on the natural, unadorned beauty of California girls.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Sony releasing film on world's second most-evil dictator

Of course he is no match for Mike Myers' Dr. Evil, but Kim Jong-Un is about the best we have now that Vlad Putin the Impaler is removed from the list. And North Korea has a great history since Frank Sinatra defeated them in the original "Manchurian Candidate."

Once again Hollywood has struck a blow for freedom.

Sony’s "the Interview" will be shown after all Christmas Day in theaters

After a small group of movie theaters offered to ignore North Korean threats and display “The Interview.”The studio announced it would be released Sunday at a small group of theaters.

President Barack Obama, who had criticized for Sony for caving into threats from Kimg Jong-Un’s regime, said he was pleased by the decision. He said the U.S. “believes in free speech.”

Seth Rogen, the film's director, Tweeted: "The people have spoken! Freedom has prevailed! Sony didn't give up!"

The White House welcomed the development, with a spokesman saying that President Barack Obama applauded Sony's decision and that the US was a country that "believes in free speech".

Sony Chairman Michael Lynton said he was "excited" that the comedy, about a plot to assassinate the North Korean leader, would now be seen.

Two cinemas in Atlanta and Austin have already revealed screenings.

"Breaking news," Tweeted Tim League, founder of the Alamo Drafthouse cinema in Austin.

"Sony has authorized screenings of THE INTERVIEW on Christmas Day. We are making shows available within the hour."

The Art House Convergence, a coalition of independent theater owners, also offered to screen the film.

"We, the independent Art House community, will gladly exhibit 'The Interview' as a special, one-day showing," the group said on its website in a letter to Michael Lynton and Amy Pascal, the studio's top two executives.

*Vlad the Impaler refers to a Dracula character, not the president of Russia.

Putin believes West built Berlin Wall

To hear Russian President Vladimir Putin talk, the West built the Berlin Wall and has created Russia's isolation.
"We will not go down this [Iron Curtain] path in any case and no one will build a wall around us. That is impossible!" Putin told Tass 

This is the same Putin who won't rule out being president for life, and this weekend convinced Facebook to shut down an organizing page used by his opponents to try to mimic the April Spring.

Not content to shut down the few remaining voices in Russia, his government is suspected of hitting the Moscow Times with so many cyber attacks that it had to shut down. 
 Traces were still there Monday, most of them URLs describing articles that would have been seen as critical of Putin’s rule. But they could not be opened. Overnight more stories were posted but they could not be accessed later in the day. The journalists of the Times had moved to Riga, Latvia, in late October to escape the Kremlin. The articles it posted describing the move could not be called up, but Tweets remained because they did not rely on Times’ servers. 
This weekend Putin convinced Facebook to shut down an organizing page used by his opponents to try to mimic the April Spring. Putin has shut down virtually all anti-regime media. 
The only independent TV station has to operate out an apartment made during the Stalin era. Facebook has had little to say about why it granted the request to close the page. Google posts lists of government requests for the removal of pages. “Facebook has no guts and no principles … (it’s) A shame they keep spreading their lack of values by growth and acquisitions.,” said Pavel Durov, who fled into exile after the government took over his Russian version of Facebook, VKontakte. 
The site had been so popular even Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg admitted it was more popular than his company. Now Zuckerberg has the market to himself. 
On Monday, Putin’s hackers were believed responsible for the shutdown of the Times. Although the Times’ pages could not be reached, a member of the staff Tweeted it had been closed by a deluge of cyber attacks. Readers of the Times had wondered how long it would last publishing articles critical of Putin. It reported stories that were positive also, but there was no way to hide the truth. 
 Putin appears intent on turning Russia into another North Korea. In fact, he has invited Kim Jong-Un for a visit next spring. 
There are already calls in the U.S. Congress to launch a cyber war against those who the businesses of American companies, and their allies. President Barack Obama said North Korea would not escape accountability. 
On Monday, the entire nation of North Korea was disconnected from the Internet. Experts said it was the first time such a thing had happened other than as a result of a natural disaster.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Sony should release The Interview online

North Korea was the last place for innovation but their threat against Sony could hasten the end of theaters as we know them.
Conservative Newt Gingrich, no friend of Hollywood, tweeted that Sony should release “The Interview” for free online, and also release a version in Korean.
Tweeters called for Apple and Netflix to offer the movie to counter the threats from Pyongyang. Blowing up Kim Jong-un’s head is no worse than many things in video games played everyday. Players “power up,” meaning putting on a belt of explosives, to go into a school and kill students. News broadcasts show what the Taliban has done in Afghanistan.
Major theater chains have refused to show the comedy directed by Seth Rogen with James Franco as his acting partner because of threats by hackers. The hackers warned the public not to go to the movie. The New York Times said U.S. investigators had confirmed North Korea was behind the threat. The movie was to be released on Christmas Day. The movie had briefly been available online after hackers got into the Sony site. Some Tweeted that American hackers should gain access to the movie and make it public on the Pirate Bay or elsewhere. The infamous site shut down after Swedish police raided it, but other versions are operating, including from Costa Rica. It is not clear what the reaction of the dictator’s regime would be if the movie is released online. Would they still attack? Who? If any such attack occurred, and it was confirmed that North Korea was involved, it likely would lead to a reaction against the regime. “The U.S. has gone reckless in such provocative hysteria as bribing a rogue movie maker to dare hurt the dignity of the supreme leadership of the DPRK. “… Absolutely intolerable is the distribution of such film in the U.S. as it is the most undisguised terrorism and a war action to deprive the service personnel and people of the DPRK of their mental mainstay and bring down its social system," read a statement posted to the North Korean state-run Web site. What if it had been a Lego movie? What about Charlie Chaplin’s “Little Dictator.” Critics of free speech and art need to recognize that some of it will be unpleasant.
Are theaters like printed books?
CBS, for example, is bypassing cable operators and offering its shows. Netflix and iTunes offer movies, either by streaming or download. The big screen may be the only thing theaters have going for them. But wasn’t the Betamax technically better than VHS. Video stores are gone.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Colorado jury blames cops

A Colorado jury has shown that cops should not be so sure they can do anything they want. It acquitted a man of assault and resisting arrest after he was jailed for 297 days on $300,000 bail.
Six police in the small Four Corners city of Cortez had accused Shane French, 38, of stabbing one of them when they answered a 911 call.
A jury acquitted French after less than four hours of deliberations, the Cortez Journal reported.
The Ferguson, Mo., case and other police brutality cases had only led to small protests in the Cortez area, but the jury’s verdict was a resounding negative vote on police conduct.
Public defender Amy Smith’s Power Point presentation blew holes in the prosecution case. When she questioned the police they conceded they had used a stun gun on French seven times, including five times after he had been forced to the ground and subdued.
Smith argued “amped up” police burst into French’s home after his mother called 911 and said he was being verbally abusive.
Smith told the jury French was defending his blind father and his mother from the police, relying on Colorado’s laws protecting homeowners from invaders.
Former Pueblo Sheriff Dan Corsentino testified the officers used excessive force.
Testimony in the trial indicated the officer who suffered the stabbing, which was more like a nick.
The prosecution presented no evidence showing blood on any of the knives in the house.
“I felt a sharp burning on my left side,” policeman Casey Eubanks testified.
Witnesses said Eubanks was stabbed when he grabbed French in a “bear hug” and “threw him face down” on the floor.”
A lapel video recording of the 10-minute-long incident showed Eubanks saying: “I should have (expletive) shot that (expletive).” Muffled groans of pain could be heard.
Patty French, the defendant’s mother, said, “I hope something is done with these officers,” she said. “I can’t believe they are still on the force after what they did.”
French’s mother said she had called police only to ask them to help calm him. He suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and other illnesses.
French had faced four counts of felony assault, five counts of resisting arrest and two counts for a crime of violence in the Feb. 14th incident.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Is the U.S. a police state?

The disclosure of widespread torture of Muslim detainees, CIA spying on the U.S. Senate, and police violence, especially against blacks, raises the question of whether the U.S. has become a police state.
Supporters of paramilitary police, the anti-drug war, and widespread NSA spying have ignored the will of their beloved “forefathers.” Benjamin Franklin said, “Those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.”
It comes as no surprise that these tactics often, and perhaps in the majority of cases, prove ineffective. They do not reduce crime, nor halt terrorism.
Some would argue that the wave of terrorism now being faced by the U.S and the West is a reaction to torture of Muslim detainees, even after they were cleared of involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks.
The arming of police with military gear hasn’t resulted in one case of a gun massacre being prevented. When law enforcement got information about possible massacres they failed to stop them.
Nor has the dramatic increase of guns held by U.S. citizens resulted in a single case of a gun massacre being prevented or halted.
The nation wouldn’t even know the details of the torture if the CIA had not been caught spying on the U.S. Senate.
Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein of California had consistently supported the intelligence machine until she found out it was spying on her own staff.
Now she accuses the CIA of the dreaded word “torture.”
A 500-page summary of five years of investigation was released Tuesday.
President Barack Obama, who ordered these practices ended when he took office, said the revelations were “troubling.”
He said, in a statement, "That is why I unequivocally banned torture when I took office, because one of our most effective tools in fighting terrorism and keeping Americans safe is staying true to our ideals at home and abroad. It reinforces my long-held view that these harsh methods were not only inconsistent with our values as nation, they did not serve our broader counterterrorism efforts or our national security interests."
Even some Republicans, who generally opposed releasing the information, conceded divulging it would make it less likely to happen again. Although the CIA had covered up its practices from the White House of former President George W. Bush for years, it later revealed them to him.
In an OP-ED page column in the New York Times, Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, suggested a way to ensure future presidents do not allow such actions.
He called on Obama to “pardon” Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and other leading members of his administration. Romero’s point was that no one was going to prosecutor the previous administration but the effective blacklisting of his legacy would be a deterrent.
Romero noted that conservatives had pushed Bush to pardon CIA and other torturers before he left office.
“The spectacle of the president’s granting pardons to torturers still makes my stomach turn. But doing so may be the only way to ensure that the American government never tortures again. Pardons would make clear that crimes were committed; that the individuals who authorized and committed torture were indeed criminals; and that future architects and perpetrators of torture should beware. Prosecutions would be preferable, but pardons may be the only viable and lasting way to close the Pandora’s box of torture once and for all,” Romero wrote.

New York Times

Huffington Post

Monday, December 8, 2014

Ban Russians from international sport if doping proved

Pressure is growing to find out if allegations that Russia provided performance-enhancing drugs to athletes and then cover it up are true.

British marathoner Paula Radcliffe told BBC that countries whose athletes are frequently caught doping should be banned from the Olympics.

During the Cold War it was widely known at the Soviet block athletes turned in performances that suggested they had extra help.

German and French media say they have confirmed Russia routinely violated rules prohibiting use of performance-enhancing drugs.

"I'd also look at the independent testing bodies," Radcliffe told BBC Radio 5 live's Sportsweek. "Maybe they need to be taken away from the countries if they can't be trusted.

"I think there should be sanctions for that country competing in events like the World Championships, like the Olympic Games.”

Russia initially blew off the latest reports. On Monday, Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said the country will cooperate with a World Anti-Doping Agency inquiry.

Some athletes have claimed international sport bodies knew what was going on and ignored it.

Netherlands runner Yvonne Hak had to settle for a silver medal at the 2010 European Championships. Russian Mariya Savinova got the gold.

Hak said all the athletes suspected Russians of doping.  “Well all knew it,” she said, according to Associated Press.
Frankfurther Allgemeine reports 68 Russian athletes are currently banned for doping.

2012 Olympic champion Savinova was identified by the German network ARD documentary as one of the dopers.

“If even half of what ARD alleged is true, then this is a Lance Armstrong moment, potentially make-or-break, for Russian sports and for the wider sports world's anti-doping system built up over 15 years to try to keep it clean and credible,” AP said.But Armstrong is just one athlete, and he only won one Olympic medal. He had to give that bronze back, as well as have all seven of his Tour de France championships stripped. His case also illustrated how state-of-the-art science could avoid detection of banned drugs.Russia went much farther, if the allegations are true.The Telegraph accused the head of the Russian federation’s medical department, Sergei Portugalov, of “supplying doping products in exchange for five per cent of an athlete’s earnings, plus bonuses for competition wins.”  It also was reported Russian athletes had avoided out-of-competition testing by using false names during foreign training camps.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Republicans surrender another issue: the environment

Republicans had been leaders on conservation and the environment for more than 100 years, since Teddy Roosevelt was president.

Now, as with women’s issues, including abortion; gay issues, including same-sex marriage; integration, including amnesty and citizenship; police violence against blacks, amid the Iraq ISIS fighting they are seen as disinterested or ready to put U.S. boots on the ground again.

Republicans, who generally oppose trying to control climate change, instantly opposed a deal President Barack Obama made with China to control greenhouse emissions.

Such an agreement would have a much bigger impact on Beijing than the United States because our pollution has already been dramatically reduced.

The New York Times this weekend reported that Republican attorneys general are working with industry to stop the EPA from protecting the environment.

It was already known that Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell, about to become Senate majority leader, wants coal workers to keep their jobs, whether they are unlikely to be sustainable and the rest of the nation pays in subsidies and pollution.

The Times found evidence that corporations had written letters for Republican attorneys general contesting the EPA’s action. Not only is it dishonest, it is plagiarism to claim the work of another writer in any form.

The Times reported on what its investigation found in a story titled “Energy Firms in Secretive Alliance with Attorneys General.”

It cited a letter written by Devon Energy and sent to the EPA by Oklahoma Atty. Gen. Scott Pruitt as if he had written it himself.

“The email exchange from October 2011, obtained through an open-records request, offers a hint of the unprecedented, secretive alliance that Pruitt and other Republican attorneys general have formed with some of the nation’s top energy producers to push back against the Obama regulatory agenda, an investigation by The New York Times has found.

“Attorneys general in at least a dozen states are working with energy companies and other corporate interests, which in turn are providing them with record amounts of money for their political campaigns, including at least $16 million this year.”

Friday, December 5, 2014

U.S. economy booms after Obama defeat

A month after America effectively rejected President Barack Obama’s party the nation’s economy was reported stronger Friday than it has been since the late 1990s.

And things have gone down hill, with one exception, since Republicans destroyed Democrats in a lightly attended off-year election.

Obama has had to deal with the Ferguson violence, ISIS decapitations, the Iraq collapse and a belligerent Russian dictator.

The only thing in Obama’s favor is a plunging world oil price, partly created by U.S. fracking. That price cut should make it a merrier Christmas, except in Russia, dependent on oil exports.
“When I saw this [jobs] report, I literally gasped,” said James Marple, a senior economist at TD Bank. “Over the last couple of months, I would say the American economy is reaching a real sweet spot. It’s exactly what we’ve been looking for and what we’ve been missing.”

The writing is on the Internet for the GOP. The growing minority population and improving economy could mean former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, or some other Democrat, will be elected president in 2016 and Republicans could lose control of both houses.

Obama hasn’t claimed credit because income disparity continues to grow. "Yes, our economy is growing, but we face an increasing divergence between those who have the skills that today's jobs require and those who don't," Obama said.

House Speaker John Boehner was having none of this good news. “While it's welcome news that more people found work last month, millions still remain out of work, and middle-class families across the country ... are struggling to get by on wages that haven't kept pace with rising costs," said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.

Republicans were critical of Obama because by some measures, China’s economy, has surpassed the U.S. as No. 1. Of course their population is more than four times larger, and environmental agreements Obama persuaded Beijing to sign will slow China much more than developed countries with already strict controls.

It will be interesting to see how Repubicans use their new power next year. The economy is almost always the most important political issue.

They have already handed Clinton the Benghazi gate.

They can fight Obama on immigration and delay appointments, particularly if a Supreme Court retires or dies.

Arizona Sen. John McCain will push his fellow Republicans to step up involvement in Iraq. That will hurt Republicans even more.

An “asymmetrical opponent,” as the Army likes to call ISIS, is not going to be defeated by troops on the ground, if it is defeated at all.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Vladimir Putin: Russian man of mystery

Sometimes Russian President Vladimir Putin seems to be reading from the same script as Mike Myers when he playfully imitated James Bond as “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.”

Myers awakens after being cyrogenically frozen for 30 years to find the Cold War is over. Because there is a Russian general in the room with an American general and a representative of British intelligence he assumes Moscow had won the Cold War.

After being told the West won, there is more bad news. The days of “free love” are over.

Putin, who was never more than a KGB paper-shuffler, is having to deal with being the world’s new South Africa.

Russian prostitutes had to raise their rates by up to 40 percent this week because the ruble has been effectively devalued.

The ex-KGB agent is following one of Pretoria’s main strategies. He is urging his country to become self-reliant. Avoid depending on foreign countries.

But unlike South Africa, which wooed investors with sweet talk, Putin can’t resist the carrot and stick approach.

In his state of the union address he promised investors who would return money they had pulled out an “amnesty,” suggesting punishment was also a possibility.

The Moscow Times reported Russia’s food health agency “was implementing temporary restrictions on imports of poultry and poultry products from the United States because of ‘harmful residues.’”

But Putin had personally ordered a ban on U.S. poultry imports on Aug. 6, according to CNN.

Earlier this week Putin announced a major pipeline would not be built because of Western sanctions over his attempts to split up the Ukraine.

He sends his warplanes and jets close to Western borders.

Washington and Germany, meanwhile, were considering new sanctions.

Existing sanctions, along with a world glut of oil, have dropped the value of the Russian currency by 42 percent since January.

South Africa had carefully controlled its currency, limiting access to dollars. Russia has tried to let the ruble float but the once-bashful government central bank said Thursday it will spend unlimited amounts to support the ruble.

Russian government planners now are predicting their economy will shrink next year as a result of the sanctions.