Sunday, January 29, 2012

U.S falls to 47th in press freedom rankings after Occupy crackdown Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2091948/U-S-falls-47th-press-fr

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Sweeping protests around the world made it an extremely difficult year for the media, and tested journalists as never before, the annual report into press freedom reveals.

The annual report by Reporters Without Borders has been released, showing the United States fell 27 points on the list due to the many arrests of journalists covering Occupy Wall Street protests.

The slide in the United States places it just behind Comoros and Taiwan in a group with Argentina and Romania.

Under arrest: Journalists covering Occupy Wall Street protests found themselves the target of authorities

Under arrest: Journalists covering Occupy Wall Street protests found themselves a target of authorities

Reporters Without Borders said the heightened unrest around the world resulted in a significant shake-up of the group's annual Press Freedom Index, which assesses governments' commitment to protecting media freedoms.

The Paris-based non-governmental Reporters Without Borders has named “crackdown” the word of 2011 in an assessment of global media freedom during a year in which journalists covering sweeping protests were tested as never before.

The non-governmental organisation seeks to defend journalists’ freedom to work and combat censorship internationally.

Despite the big changes, some constants remained. The country with the freest media in the world was Finland, followed by Norway, Estonia, the Netherlands and Austria. Eritrea was last, with North Korea just above.

The United States was not alone in the falling grades: Bahrain fell 29 points because of the crackdown in that country.

Egypt and Syria also fell a few points to languish near the bottom of the pack (166) and (176) respectively.

The group judged that Syria, along with Iran and China, 'seem to have lost contact with reality as they have been sucked into an insane spiral of terror.'

Pakistan was the world’s deadliest country for journalists, and Eritrea came in last in the list of overall press freedom.Syria, where an uprising against the government has been met with a brutal crackdown that has left more than 5,000 people dead, received its worst rating ever at 176.


Press freedom? Journalists sit it out in a hallway as gun-battles continue around the Rixos hotel in Tripoli, Libya, in August last year

Press freedom? Journalists sit it out in a hallway as gun-battles continue around the Rixos hotel in Tripoli, Libya, in August last year

In Afghanistan (150th) and Pakistan (151st), reporters remained under constant threat from the Taliban, religious extremists, separatist movements and political groups. With 10 deaths last year, Pakistan was the world’s most dangerous country for journalists for the second year in a row.

'Never have journalists, through their reporting, vexed the enemies of freedom so much. Never have acts of censorship and physical attacks on journalists seemed so numerous.

Press coverage: Demonstrators are confronted by police as they march to the White House following removal of Wall St protestors from New York's Zuccotti Park

Clashes: Occupy demonstrators are confronted by police as they march to the White House

The equation is simple: the absence or suppression of civil liberties leads necessarily to the suppression of media freedom. Dictatorships fear and ban information, especially when it may undermine them,' it said.

Elsewhere within the European Union, countries such as Bulgaria (80th), Greece (70th) and Italy (61st) failed to address the issue of media freedom violations, largely because of a lack of political will.

Libya came in 154th in the list, while Yemen was in 171th place.'
'The future of both of these countries remains uncertain, and the place they will allow the media is undecided.

The same goes for Egypt, which fell 39 places to 166th place.'

Syria was 176th, because journalists were unable to work because of total censorship, widespread surveillance, indiscriminate violence and government manipulation.

The report also highlights how pro-democracy movements that tried to emulate the example of the Arab revolutions were brutally suppressed. Vietnam (172nd) saw many arrests, while China (174th) stepped up its system of controlling news and information in response to public dissatisfaction with corruption and other injustices.

The biggest falls in the index were in Africa – Djibouti fell 49 places to 159th, Malawi (146th) fell 67 places and Uganda fell 43 places to 139th.

The Paris-based press freedom watchdog said Wednesday that the wave of uprisings in the Middle East, the Occupy movement in the West and continued protests in China gave journalists an unprecedented role in advancing democracy. But they also were often targeted by governments trying to quash dissent.

'Never has freedom of information been so closely associated with democracy. Never have journalists, through their reporting, vexed the enemies of freedom so much,' the group said in a statement accompanying its report.

But the important role journalists played put them in the cross hairs of repressive regimes, the report said, adding: 'Never have acts of censorship and physical attacks on journalists seemed so numerous.'

Twitter to cooperate with countries that don't value freedom of speech

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Twitter said Thursday that it now has the ability to block tweets from appearing in a specific country if legally required to do so.

“As we continue to grow internationally, we will enter countries that have different ideas about the contours of freedom of expression,” Twitter said in a blog post.

“Some differ so much from our ideas that we will not be able to exist there,” the San Francisco-based company said.

“Others are similar but, for historical or cultural reasons, restrict certain types of content, such as France or Germany, which ban pro-Nazi content,” Twitter said.

Twitter said that previously, if it was required to remove messages, it could only remove them globally.

“Starting today, we give ourselves the ability to reactively withhold content from users in a specific country — while keeping it available in the rest of the world,” Twitter said.

“We haven’t yet used this ability, but if and when we are required to withhold a tweet in a specific country, we will attempt to let the user know, and we will clearly mark when the content has been withheld,” it said.

Twitter said it would post details of any incidents involving the removal of content to ChillingEffects.org, a public database of takedown requests.

“One of our core values as a company is to defend and respect each user?s voice,” Twitter said. “We try to keep content up wherever and whenever we can, and we will be transparent with users when we can’t.”

China, notably, blocks Twitter, a situation which Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey described recently as “unfortunate and disappointing.”

FBI seeking social media monitoring tool

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The US Federal Bureau of Investigation is looking for a tool to mine social media for intelligence tips.

The US domestic law enforcement agency is asking information technology contractors about the feasibility of building a tool that would “enhance its techniques for collecting and sharing ‘open source’ actionable intelligence.”

The January 19 open request was published on a website offering federal business opportunities and was first reported by New Scientist magazine.

The FBI said it is seeking an “open source and social media alert, mapping and analysis application solution” for its Strategic Information and Operations Center (SIOC).

“Social media has become a primary source of intelligence because it has become the premier first response to key events and the primal alert to possible developing situations,” the FBI request said.

“Intelligence analysts will often use social media to receive the first tip-off that a crisis has occurred,” it said.

The FBI said the tool “must have the ability to rapidly assemble critical open source information and intelligence that will allow SIOC to quickly vet, identity, and geo-locate breaking events, incidents and emerging threats.”

It would need to be able to “instantly search and monitor key words and strings in all ‘publicly available’ tweets across the Twitter site and any other ‘publicly available’ social networking sites/forums.”

It would also need the ability to “search the data across a myriad of parameters and view terrorist activities by location, terrorist group, and type of attack and see trends and analytics.”

In addition, it would have to be able “to immediately translate into English, tweets and any other open forum publically available social media captured in a foreign language.”

Interested parties have until February 10 to respond to the FBI request.

America’s Dead Zones: From Dodge City to Durango, Why Does Prosperity Pass So Many Places By?

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Recent headlines of a brighter economic picture have given many people hope that the economy is not in another free fall. GDP growth did tick upward in the last quarter. But for many communities the picture is enduringly dark, because unemployment rates have lagged far behind the national average for years and will likely continue to do so.

While the President is putting forth a plan to help students pay off their student loans, more and more educated students are unable to find employment. Contrary to popular belief, an educated workforce doesn't really make a difference (areas with many college grads are actually doing worse than areas with fewer) and a diversified economy does not always mean a more thriving economy.

A Place Near You?

There are 216 defined metropolitan (metro) and micropolitan (micro) areas—with populations ranging from 10,000 to 4 million—that have had unemployment rates at least two percentage points higher than the national average for either 20, 10, or 5 years (see tables 1, 2, 3 at the end of this article). These are America’s dead zones. Here employment growth is stagnant or non-existent and high levels of joblessness dominate. Some areas were once prosperous while others have recently experienced economic distress. In these communities paid work is hard to find for those who have not given up looking, and widespread involuntary idleness is the norm.

Poor employment prospects are not related to periods of recession or prosperity; these communities have not had substantial and sustainable increases in employment for lengthy stretches. America’s dead zones can not be described as containing “weak labor markets” because many have had long term unemployment problems that are more than weak and not temporary. Even in zones with only 5 years of high unemployment, the prior years were hardly marked by robust job growth.

These dead zones include both rural and urban areas. Though each area is different, there are some trends. The Northwest dead zones (Oregon, Washington, and Northern California) historically had large numbers of jobs in the timber and fishing industries. Because of overfishing, many coastal communities saw jobs vanish. In addition, when the Spotted Owl was placed on the endangered species list in 1982, it forced the shuttering of many timber yards because of encroachment on newly protected forestland. Along with general overharvesting, the timber industry has been flagging ever since. Many dead zones in the Northwest now rely upon tourism and retirement as their major industries, both of which are seasonal and sensitive to fluctuations in the broader economy.

The Southwest dead zones (Southern California, New Mexico, and Texas) industries historically employed substantial labor forces either working on farms or in trade with Mexico. In both cases, employment tended to rely on the large scale movements of temporary workers. This huge amount of seasonal work has created the highest metropolitan unemployment rates in the US.

Employment in the Deep South has never fully recovered from the decline of the cotton industry and mechanization. Since then southern dead zones have experienced considerable emigration, and many areas have not made progress towards the development of alternative industries.

Dead zones along the Appalachia and Atlantic Coast (Kentucky, West Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee) have relied either on coal or timber industries, both of which suffered steep declines in the 1970s and have yet to fully recover.

The Rust Belt’s dead zones were all once dependent on various manufacturing industries, usually but not always in the automotive. The growth of outsourcing and the decline of the American auto industry throughout the 80s and 90s left few other avenues for employment.

The picture is very different in America’s prosperous zones, where unemployment has been at least two percentage points below the national average for at least five years (see table 4 at the end of this article). These communities tend to be less populous than dead zones, and here employment is growing and sustainable. The wide variation in rates of unemployment between prosperous and dead zones is displayed below (click on the image to enlarge):

Most of the nation’s prosperous zones are dominated by one successful industry, such soy farming in Kansas or scientific research in New Mexico, oil and gas in Texas and places where major research institutions and universities exist. Agricultural prosperous zones grow corn, wheat, and soy and, unlike the Southwest, are not totally reliant on migrant labor.

Few prosperous areas are based on broad and diverse industries. Almost all of the areas—both prosperous and dead zones—are or were based on one or another major industry. Tens of millions of Americans live in dead zone areas that have experienced a steady decline in their industrial base and have not developed new sources of employment, while prosperous zones rely heavily on one or two dominant industries to maintain high levels of employment.

The map below presents a visual representation of dead and prosperous zones (click on image to enlarge). It shows, for example, that dead zones have existed in the South dating as far back as two decades. Furthermore, the last five years of data show almost no development of prosperous areas. The unevenness of the current national recovery is starker in dead zones, where unemployment rates have been high for longer periods of time.

Dead zones areas are evenly distributed throughout the entire contiguous US except for the Upper Midwest and New England. Prosperous zones are almost entirely comprised of the Upper Midwest down to Northern Texas and New Mexico. The surprisingly low levels of unemployment in the Upper Midwest can partially be explained by low population levels, and therefore a low supply in the labor market. There is considerable anecdotal evidence suggesting dead zones exist in certain areas of the upper Midwest (Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, etc), but the way data is collected in these states makes it hard to identify these areas.

The numbers capture only part of the story. Metro and micro areas are defined as encompassing one or more cities as well as adjoining areas. In some cases, one large city may be lumped together with two smaller communities for the purpose of describing an area; one city’s chronically high unemployment might be masked by the lower figures of its neighboring communities. Thus America’s dead zones are not limited to areas listed in the tables. Other areas, many larger than 600,000, some smaller than 50,000, contain sections (if not whole cities) that could be classified as dead zones and where high unemployment rates are common.

While different methods of gathering government data make it harder to assess the unemployment picture in New England, long-term dead zones exist in former manufacturing and mill towns such as Lawrence and Fall River, MA, Waterbury, New Britain and New Haven, CT, and Providence and Central Falls, RI. These cities have characteristics similar to dead zones. In more and more American cities the lack of opportunities and poor job prospects point to the existence of more areas that have not been, but should be, recognized as emerging dead zones.

Conventional Wisdom Falls Flat

Conventional wisdom suggests that areas of high unemployment would benefit if resident populations had higher education achievement-rates, that is, more college graduates and fewer high school dropouts. While this may be true in certain situations, it is not necessarily the case in either prosperous or dead zones. In fact there is a very weak correlation between low unemployment and educational-attainment rates (defined here as the percentage of the population over 25 with a high school degree or less and the percentage of the population over 25 with a Bachelor’s degree or higher).

There are large numbers of dead zones with a highly educated populace (for example. Hood River OR, Ocean Pines MD, and Santa Cruz CA). On the other hand, there are many prosperous areas with low education rates (Dumas TX, Lexington NE, and Storm Lake IA). Since education is only one factor in determining labor quality, and labor quality itself is only one factor determining where a business will base its operations, this relatively weak correlation should come as no surprise.

If a timber, coal, shipping, or farming area is doing well, employment grows. If any of the industries falter, the labor force shrinks. For the vast majority of industries in dead zone areas, higher education is not necessarily essential. The vast majority of the dead and prosperous areas have jobs which do not, for the most part, require significant levels of higher education for the majority of the labor force.

While newspaper headlines note high unemployment rates in Camden and Newark in New Jersey and Los Angles in California, America’s dead zones remain outside the arena of discussion. Few are aware of the troubling trends that make solving the nation’s unemployment problem more difficult than imaginable. Restoring recovery and reversing employment trends in America’s dead zones will not be easy and will take time.

Long-term Solutions Needed

Can more jobs be created in dead zone areas? Not if the solutions offered focus only on the short term. Creating employment opportunities that last cannot be accomplished by just increasing federal grant money for infrastructure or raising budgets for tourism advertising (as suggested by the US mayors association report). While these remedies provide temporary employment, a good thing, they don’t deal with the hundreds of communities that have one-dimensional economies. These communities, even after the temporary solution, are still overexposed to fluctuations in the industry they rely on—so when the funds disappear, unemployment spikes once again.

In dead zones, most people are unwilling or unable to move to other areas with better employment prospects even up to a generation after economic decline sets in. Therefore the only effective solution is to bring jobs to these communities by making them more attractive to a diversified number of industries that require workers with various skill levels. (That is, avoid having communities that can be Apple-ized).

We need to think differently about where we live and work. Too often communities across the nation are given blanket treatment as if their problems are interchangeable. But that is not the case. Each metro/micro area has its own particular geography, resources, population characteristics, etc. that make it hard to generalize about solutions to unemployment. Local governments may be best positioned to understand the needs of their respective areas—and, of course, they may need federal and state money to improve education, make long-term infrastructure changes, and offer industries opportunities to expand. But if local governments continue to focus only on short-termism, dead zones will not fade away. What many proposed solutions ignore is how hard it is to imagine a business relocating or expanding operations—creating jobs—in dead zones that they view as deteriorating.

Tables 1 - 4 (click on images to enlarge):

Congress Doesn't Want to Give Up Its Insider Trading Privileges

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President Obama's plea to ban Congressional insider trading may poll well and have bipartisan support, but it's already facing stiff resistance from lawmakers the morning after his State of the Union address.

On Tuesday night, the president spoke in no uncertain terms: “Send me a bill that bans insider trading by Members of Congress, and I will sign it tomorrow,” he said. “Let’s limit any elected official from owning stock in industries they impact.” The remarks were cause for celebration for Breitbart editor Peter Schweizer, who authored a 2011 book exposing Congressional insider trading, and 60 Minutes, which ran a widely-viewed segment based on his book (CBS quickly uploaded the portion of the speech last night). But early reactions from Congress (Republicans and Democrats) shouldn't encourage much optimism.

“Easier said than done is my reaction,” Democratic Rep. Jim Moran tells Politico's Manu Raju on the subject of restricting officials from owning stock they could impact. “Unless you are fairly precise about it, you can conceivably influence almost any corporation.”

“It’s all transparent - if you own stock, you have to report it,” said Republican Sen. Rob Portman, defending the current rules governing personal finances.

“It’s a good sentiment, but it becomes very difficult to buy a mutual fund and then wonder what they bought,” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, told the D.C. newspaper. “And many of us are trying to find some way to divorce ourselves from that possibility. It is hard when we consider so many different issues.”

On Internet hive-mind Reddit, where Congressional insider trading has been a somewhat prominent issue, a number of users latched onto a loud "boo" amid the applause during the president's remarks on insider trading. "It was very audible. I thought [O]bama was going to say something about it actuallly [sic]," one user said. (1:25 mark):

In Raju's article, the other members of Congress who were mum on insider trading reform were Republican Sen. Mike Crapo, who said Obama's remarks raised more questions than answers, and Democratic Sen. John Kerry, who was targeted Schweizer's book.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), one of the wealthiest members with a minimum net worth of $181 million, wouldn’t answer directly on whether members should limit the stock they own. “I think what he’s talking about is avoiding conflicts of interests, which we should do,” Kerry said. “I think it’s very important not to have these conflcits of interest.”

Sen. Portman added "I’m not sure I see the need for it in Congress."
Still, some members of Congress did express optimism about pushing a bill through. The Huffington Post's Ryan Grim spoke with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican Sen. Susan Collins who favored such a bill. When asked if the bill could become law this year, Reid said "I don't see why it shouldn't." Notified of his response, Collins said "Oh good! I hope he schedules it for floor action."

US Special Forces Were Operating Over Los Angeles Last Night During The Lakers Game

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Five U.S. military helicopters were spotted flying low over the streets of Los Angeles late last night, as part of a tactical exercise coordinated with the Los Angeles Police Department.

According to CBS, one Black Hawk helicopter and four smaller OH-6 Little Birds flew from the U.S. Bank building downtown to the Staples Center, where the Lakers were playing below.

After lingering above the game, the Black Hawk was later seen making a hasty drop-off in a nearby park.

The LAPD said the training exercises, designed to boost the military's urban operation skills, would continue throughout the city on Thursday.

Click here to see what CBS caught on camera >

The Sikorsky Black Hawk is one of the most common transport helicocpters in the U.S. military with numerous configurations and weapons packages. The Sikorsky replaced the UH-1 Huey, made popular during Vietnam and can hold an 11-person, fully-equipped infantry squad.

The Little Birds are a more specialized light attack helicopter that's widely used by the U.S. Army Special Forces. These are the same choppers that went into Mogadishu in 1993. They're highly responsive and their small size allows them to slip in and out of conflicts more easily than the larger Black Hawk. With a top speed of 175 miles per hour and a range of 267 miles, the Little Bird is regularly used to transport special forces teams.

Despite its size, the Little Bird is well armed and can mount M230 Chain Guns, 12.7 mm GAU 19, Gatling-type guns, an MK19 grenade launcher ,and 2.75-inch Hyrdra rockets.

LAPD said the operations were for training the military to operate in urban environments, and that there are more missions to come.

Internet Users Up in Arms Over Google's Orwellian New Privacy Policy That it's Forcing on All of Us

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So much for "don't be evil." On Tuesday of this week, Internet search (and just about everything else) giant Google announced a new unified privacy policy for 60 of its online services, including Gmail, Google+, Google Maps, and YouTube. The policy states that as of March 1, Google will be able to use data it collects about users from one service in any of the other services that users are signed into -- and there's no way to opt out.

Understandably, internet users and privacy watchdogs are up in arms about the move. Gizmodo's Mat Honan explains what the change will mean for Google users (i.e., pretty much everyone), and why it's dangerous:

What this means for you is that data from the things you search for, the emails you send, the places you look up on Google Maps, the videos you watch in YouTube, the discussions you have on Google+ will all be collected in one place. It seems like it will particularly affect Android users, whose real-time location (if they are Latitude users), Google Wallet data and much more will be up for grabs. And if you have signed up for Google+, odds are the company even knows your real name, as it still places hurdles in front of using a pseudonym (although it no longer explicitly requires users to go by their real names).

All of that data history will now be explicitly cross-referenced. Although it refers to providing users a better experience (read: more highly tailored results), presumably it is so that Google can deliver more highly targeted ads. (There has, incidentally, never been a better time to familiarize yourself with Google's Ad Preferences.)....

[The new policy] means that things you could do in relative anonymity today, will be explicitly associated with your name, your face, your phone number come March 1st. If you use Google's services, you have to agree to this new privacy policy. Yet a real concern for various privacy concerns would recognize that I might not want Google associating two pieces of personal information.

To read more about Google's new policy, and how it could affect you, read the Washington Post's FAQ.

If The Economy Is Improving….

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Everywhere you turn these days, someone is proclaiming that the economy is improving. Barack Obama is endlessly touting the "improvement" in the economy, the mainstream media is constantly talking about "the economic recovery" and an increasing number of Americans seem to be buying into this line of thinking. A new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that 37 percent of Americans believe that the economy will improve over the next year, while only 17 percent of Americans believe that it will get worse. But is the economy actually improving? Not really. At the moment things are relatively stable. Some economic statistics are improving slightly and some continue to get even worse. However, it is very important to keep in mind that one of the biggest reasons why things have stabilized is because the federal government is pumping more than a trillion dollars a year into the economy that it does not have. The Obama administration is engaging in a debt binge unlike anything America has ever seen before, and yet many economic indicators are still in decline. So what is going to happen when the federal government stops injecting gigantic waves of borrowed money into the economy? That is a frightening thing to think about. The best efforts of our "leaders" in Washington D.C. are not accomplishing a whole lot. The Federal Reserve has pushed interest rates as low as they can go and the federal government is spending unprecedented amounts of money. But even with the federal government and the Federal Reserve pushing the accelerator all the way to the floor, the economy is still not improving much at all. Millions upon millions of Americans out there are anticipating some sort of a "great economic recovery", and they are going to be bitterly disappointed.

But right now there are some "bright spots" in the economy, and you are bound to run into family and friends that will repeat to you the nonsense that they are hearing on the television about how the economy is recovering.

When they try to convince you that the economy is getting better, ask them these questions....

If the economy is getting better, then why did new home sales in the United States hit a brand new all-time record low during 2011?

If the economy is getting better, then why are there 6 million less jobs in America today than there were before the recession started?

If the economy is getting better, then why is the average duration of unemployment in this country close to an all-time record high?

If the economy is getting better, then why has the number of homeless female veterans more than doubled?

If the economy is getting better, then why has the number of Americans on food stamps increased by 3 million since this time last year and by more than 14 million since Barack Obama entered the White House?

If the economy is getting better, then why has the number of children living in poverty in America risen for four years in a row?

If the economy is getting better, then why is the percentage of Americans living in "extreme poverty" at an all-time high?

If the economy is getting better, then why is the Federal Housing Administration on the verge of a financial collapse?

If the economy is getting better, then why do only 23 percent of American companies plan to hire more employees in 2012?

If the economy is getting better, then why has the number of self-employed Americans fallen by more than 2 million since 2006?

If the economy is getting better, then why did an all-time record low percentage of U.S. teens have a job last summer?

If the economy is getting better, then why does median household income keep declining? Overall, median household income in the United States has declined by a total of 6.8% since December 2007 once you account for inflation.

If the economy is getting better, then why has the number of Americans living below the poverty line increased by 10 million since 2006?

If the economy is getting better, then why is the average age of a vehicle in America now sitting at an all-time high?

If the economy is getting better, then why are 18 percent of all homes in the state of Florida currently sitting vacant?

If the economy is getting better, then why are 19 percent of all American men between the ages of 25 and 34 living with their parents?

If the economy is getting better, then why does the number of "long-term unemployed workers" stay so high? When Barack Obama first took office, the number of "long-term unemployed workers" in the United States was approximately 2.6 million. Today, that number is sitting at 5.6 million.

But there is some good news.

When Barack Obama first took office, an ounce of gold was going for about $850. Today, the price of an ounce of gold is over $1700.

The era of great prosperity that America has enjoyed for so long is coming to an end.

In fact, our long-term economic decline is about to accelerate.

So enjoy this "bubble of hope" while you can, because it won't last long.

As I have written about previously, many are warning that Europe is on the verge of a nightmarish financial crisis that could potentially plunge us into a global recession even worse than 2008.

So let us hope for the best, but let us also prepare for the worst.

Just because the economy is about to go through hard times does not mean that you have to go through hard times personally.

Right now, you can decide to make an investment or start a business that will thrive in a tough economic environment.

Victory often goes to the most prepared. So don't just sit there while the storm clouds gather. Instead, this should be a time when you are gathering resources and developing a gameplan for the coming economic chaos.

Those that choose to have blind faith in "the system" are going to be tremendously disappointed in the years ahead. Just because you have a job right now does not mean that it is always going to be there. Just because your stock portfolio is doing well right now does not mean that will always be the case.

Hopefully we all learned some important lessons from 2008. The global financial situation can turn on a dime. When markets fall apart, they tend to do so very rapidly.

Ultimately, the debate about whether the economy is improving or not is going to be ended very emphatically. When the next wave of the financial crisis hits, there will be no doubt about what direction things are going.

Don't let the next wave catch you by surprise.

Now is the time to prepare.

Occupy movement exposes uncomfortable facts

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The recent Pew Research report on tensions between the rich and poor gives a road map to the ofttimes unfocused Occupy movement. Since 2009, the study found, there is “a growing awareness of class conflict” among Americans.

Whatever its findings, that the mainstream Pew Research Center would frame the report in the usually verboten language of “class conflict” is itself remarkable. Whenever verbiage such as “class” or “class struggle,” let alone “class conflict” is used by academics or politicians to describe the incongruity between democracy and capitalism, it is rejected as Marxist ideological rant.

Even the avoidance of the use of “working class” for the more centrist “middle class” by President Obama led to the farcical cry of Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum that Obama was encouraging class warfare.

This is hardly surprising, for when Obama attempted to raise taxes on the wealthy for the benefit of the larger populace, he was charged with encouraging class warfare rather than attempting a more equitable distribution of wealth. Although the concept of a fair distribution of assets is democratic, not Marxist, in thrust, and the 1 percent have been waging a rigged undeclared war against the 99 percent for decades, now that the 99 percent have begun pushing back, there is an inevitable cry of foul from the reactionary rich.

Award-winning author and scholar Michael Parenti, especially in his classic “Democracy for the Few,” argues “whatever modicum of democracy the people attain in any society is usually the outcome of a general struggle for a more equitable politico-economic order.” With the Occupy movement, that struggle has become visible.

Lest I be charged with advocating some form of Marxist rubric, I believe that while struggle, such as the civil rights movement, is at the heart of the most dramatic social change in the United States, only someone with historical and sociological amnesia would think that revolution will ever hold sway in the United States. The widespread belief of working-class people that they can become part of the upper class and the coming of the computer age renders stillborn any Marxist notion of a violent overthrow.

The savage corporate plunder that led to our current recession, however, seems to have exploded for all time the belief in the existence of a harmonious, prosperous society. Who would argue against the theory that the protest of the so-called 99 percent against the 1 percent is a rebellion of the poor and middle class against the rich based on a recognition that society is stratified?

And that is the essence of class consciousness. Marx thought such class consciousness would inevitably lead to revolution. In 2012 America, it has led instead to a consciousness among the Occupy protesters against a one-sided system of financial exploitation, which in its own way is quite revolutionary.

The Reality Behind the Coming "Regime Change" in Syria

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After meeting again to decide Syria's fate, the Arab League again decided to extend its "monitoring mission" in Syria. However, some Arab League nations under U.S. diplomatic control are clamoring for blood. These countries — virtual sock puppets of U.S. foreign policy — want to declare the Arab League monitoring mission "a failure,” so that military intervention — in the form of a no fly zone — can be used for regime change.

The United States appears to be using a strategy in Syria that it has perfected over the years, having succeeded most recently in Libya: arming small paramilitary groups loyal to U.S. interests that claim to speak for the native population; these militants then attack the targeted government the U.S. would like to see overthrown — including terrorist bombings — and when the attacked government defends itself, the U.S. cries "genocide" or "mass murder,” while calling for foreign military intervention.

This is the strategy that the U.S. is using to channel the Arab Spring into the bloody dead end of foreign military intervention.

For example, the U.S. media and government are fanatically giving the impression that, in Syria, the native population would like foreign militarily intervention to overthrow their authoritarian president, Bashar Assad. But facts are stubborn things.

After spinning these lies, The New York Times was forced to admit, in several articles, that there have been massive rallies in Syria in support of the Syrian government. These rallies are larger than any pro-government demonstration that the U.S. government could hope to organize for itself. The New York Times reports:

"The turnout [at least tens of thousands — see picture in link] in Sabaa Bahrat Square in Damascus, the [Syrian] capital, once again underlined the degree of backing that Mr. Assad and his leadership still enjoy among many Syrians, nearly seven months into the popular uprising. That support is especially pronounced in cities like Damascus and Aleppo, the country’s two largest." (January 13, 2012).

The New York Times is forced to admit that the two largest cities — in a small country — support the government (or at least oppose foreign military intervention).

This was further confirmed by a poll funded by the anti-Syrian Qatar Foundation, preformed by the Doha Debates:

"According to the latest opinion poll commissioned by The Doha Debates, Syrians are more supportive of their president with 55% not wanting him to resign." (January 2, 2012).

If people in Syria do not want foreign intervention — a likely reason that so many attended pro-Assad demonstrations — what about the so-called Free Syrian Army, which the United States has given immense credibility to and which claims to speak for the Syrian people?

The Free Syrian Army — like its Libyan counterpart — appears to be yet another Made-in-the-USA militant group, by route of its ally Turkey, a fact alluded to by the pro U.S.-establishment magazine, Foreign Affairs:

"Why does the Syrian [government] military not rocket their [Free Syrian Army] position or launch a large-scale assault? The FSA fighters are positioned about a mile from the Turkish border, near enough to escape across if the situation turned dire."

The article also quotes a Free Syrian Army member who states: "Every [Free Syrian Army] group in Turkey has its own job," Sayeed said. "[The Turks] gave us our freedom to move." (December 8, 2011).

The article also mentions that the Free Syrian Army is calling for a "no fly zone" over certain regions of Syria, which would destroy the Syrian government military; the possible starting locations of this no fly zone are on the Syrian borders of either Turkey, Jordan, or Iraq — all three are either strong U.S. allies or client states.

A “no fly zone” is the new euphemism that means the U.S. and its European military junior partners in NATO will intervene to use their advanced fighter jets to destroy the Syrian military, as happened in Libya. In Libya the no fly zone evolved into a “no drive zone” and eventually a “no survival” zone for anything resembling the Syrian military — or anybody who armed himself in defense of the Libyan government.

As in Syria, Libya's largest city, Tripoli, never had large anti-government demonstrations. The anti-Libyan government, pro-U.S. paramilitary group that attacked Libyan forces was so tiny that it took months to take power after 10,000 NATO bombing sorties (bombing missions) that destroyed large portions of Libya's infrastructure, as documented by the independent Human Rights Investigations.

It's totally unimaginable that any large section of Syrian society would invite a NATO-backed no fly zone, i.e. war, into Syria. The examples of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya are too glaring for any Middle Eastern nation not to notice. For the Free Syrian Army to demand a NATO invasion of Syria is enough to label the FSA a U.S. puppet group striving for political power, deserving to be condemned.

This strategy of using a proxy army to undermine an anti-U.S. government has a grisly past. This strategy is celebrated in the book Charlie Wilson's War, which tells the true story of the U.S. government sending weapons and cash to Islamic extremists to wage a terrorist campaign against the Afghan government, which was an ally of the Soviet Union at the time. The attacks eventually led to the Afghan government asking for Soviet military re-enforcements, whose presence in Afghanistan created a degree of popular support for the extremists who eventually became known as the Taliban.

The same scenario also played itself out in Kosovo, where the tiny, U.S.-backed Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) began a terrorist campaign against the government of Yugoslavia, intending to separate Kosovo into an independent nation. When the Yugoslav government attempted to defend itself from the KLA — while imitating its violent tactics — the U.S. and other western governments labeled it genocide, and invaded Yugoslavia, calling it a "humanitarian invasion.” To this day the U.S. is one of few nations that recognizes Kosovo as an independent nation while Kosovo faithfully serves the interests of the United States.

The same proxy war strategy — by the U.S. and other European powers — played a crucial role in numerous wars throughout Africa, which culminated in the massive Congo War that killed over five million people, as French journalist Gerard Prunier describes in his book, Africa's World War.

In Syria history is repeating itself, and some non-U.S. allies are very aware of it. The New York Times reports:

"[Russia's Foreign Minister] said that foreign governments [the U.S., Turkey, etc.] were arming ‘militants and extremists’ in Syria."

The Foreign minister also gave an accurate description of U.S. foreign policy towards Iran:

Mr. Lavrov offered a similarly grave message about the possibility of a military strike against Iran, which he said would be a “catastrophe.” He said sanctions now being proposed against Tehran were “intended to have a smothering effect on the Iranian economy and the Iranian population, probably in the hopes of provoking discontent.” (January 19, 2012).

Most ominously, the Russian Foreign Minister said that U.S. foreign policy in Syria and Iran could lead to a "very big war,” i.e., a war that becomes regional or even international in scope, as other powers intervene to uphold their interests in the region.

Russia has offered a way to avoid war in Syria and is pursuing it through the UN Security Council; it is the same path being pursued by the pro-U.S. government in Yemen: maintaining the current government in power until elections are called. Unfortunately, Yemen is an ally of the U.S. and Syria is not — the U.S. and its allies are blocking the same approach in Syria in order to pursue war.

The Syrian government opposition bloc inside of Syria, the National Coordination Committee, opposes foreign military intervention. A leader of the NCC is Hassan Abdul Azim, who wisely states;

“We refuse on principle any type of military foreign intervention because it threatens the freedom of our country,” (January 19, 2012).

This is very likely the prevailing opinion inside of Syria, since the threat of no fly zones will result in the same mass bombings experienced by the citizens of Tripoli in Libya. The fake Syrian opposition outside of the country, The Syrian National Council, is yet another U.S. puppet — now allied with the Free Syrian Army — begging for a military invasion of Syria in order to "liberate" it. Of course the western media tells only the perspective of the pro-U.S. Syrian National Council.

The U.S. has proven on multiple occasions that military solutions solve nothing, having torn asunder the social fabric of Afghanistan, Iraq, and now Libya. The working people of Syria and Iran do not desire "help" from the U.S. government and its allies to prevent bloodshed. The working people of these countries could liberate themselves from their authoritarian governments, as did the Tunisians and Egyptians, which is precisely the point: the U.S. is intervening militarily to re-gain control over a region that slipped out of its hands during the Arab Spring. This military approach serves to push the working people of the targeted country into the hands of their government while creating a humanitarian catastrophe for the invaded nation. The working people of the United States have no interest in aggressive war and have a responsibility to learn about U.S. government propaganda so that they can demand its end in the streets.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/13/world/middleeast/syrians-rally-in-support-of-assad.html
http://www.thedohadebates.com/news/item/index.asp?n=14312
http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/12/08/syria_free_army_rebels?page=0,3
http://humanrightsinvestigations.org/tag/nato-bombing/
http://www.smh.com.au/world/russia-warns-west-it-risks-war-over-syria-iran-20120119-1q8ei.html
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/19/world/europe/russia-warns-against-support-for-arab-uprisings.html?_r=3&ref=world
http://rt.com/news/syria-protests-russia-dialogue-149/

George Soros predicts class war in U.S. as euro triggers collapse of global economy

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  • Billionaire New York investor warns of impending economic meltdown
  • Backs euro and buys Italian bonds from Jon Corzine's failed MF Global
  • Warns it's 'difficult to know right decisions to make' after boom years
  • Supports Occupy Wall Street, Democrats and Obama re-election efforts

Billionaire investor George Soros has warned the global economic system could collapse and riots on the streets of America are on the way.

The 81-year-old said he’d rather survive than stay rich as the world faces an ‘evil’ period and Europe fights a ‘descent into chaos and conflict’.

He has backed the euro, bought $2billion in European bonds and insisted the economic climate is similar to the 1930s Great Depression.

Warnings: George Soros said he'd rather survive than stay rich as the world faces an 'evil' period and Europe fights a 'descent into chaos and conflict'

Warnings: George Soros said he'd rather survive than stay rich as the world faces an 'evil' period and Europe fights a 'descent into chaos and conflict'

‘The euro must survive because the alternative - a breakup - would cause a meltdown that Europe, the world, can’t afford,’ he told Newsweek.

‘The situation is about as serious and difficult as I’ve experienced in my career. We are facing now a general retrenchment in the developed world.’

His warnings came as U.S. stocks dipped on Tuesday, with talks to resolve Greece's debt crisis faltering and threatening a five-day winning streak.

Greece moved closer to the possibility of a chaotic default after euro zone officials rejected a final offer from the country's private bondholders.

Mr Soros, known as the ‘the man who broke the Bank of England’ after he made $1billion when Britain's pound crashed in 1992, had more warnings.

‘The best-case scenario is a deflationary environment,’ he told Newsweek. ‘The worst-case scenario is a collapse of the financial system.’

Support: Mr Soros has backed the Euro, bought $2billion in European bonds and insisted the economic climate is similar to the 1930s Great Depression

Support: Mr Soros has backed the Euro, bought $2billion in European bonds and insisted the economic climate is similar to the 1930s Great Depression

The veteran financer added that ‘it’s very hard to know how you can be right’ after all the problems associated with the ‘boom years’ before now.

'The euro must survive because the alternative - a breakup - would cause a meltdown'

George Soros

Mr Soros compared the economic crisis to the collapse of the Soviet Union and said people do not fully understand what is happening.

He told Newsweek a euro collapse could ‘revive the political conflicts that have torn Europe apart over the centuries’ and increase racism.

The European bonds he bought were mostly Italian and from ex-Goldman Sachs chief Jon Corzine’s now-collapsed securities firm MF Global.

Investments: Mr Soros bought European bonds from the now-collapsed securities firm MF Global, run by ex-Goldman Sachs chief Jon Corzine (pictured)

Investments: Mr Soros bought European bonds from the now-collapsed securities firm MF Global, run by ex-Goldman Sachs chief Jon Corzine (pictured)

Meanwhile on Tuesday, U.S. central bank the Federal Reserve opened a two-day meeting that is expected to end with a signal that interest rates will be held near zero into 2014.

'The situation is about as serious and difficult as I’ve experienced in my career'

George Soros

Mr Soros, based in Manhattan, New York, is known to make his money on long-term solid share choices and avoids investing in gold.

He supports the Occupy Wall Street movement and claims the response to potential unrest could be worse than the riots.

‘It will be an excuse for cracking down and using strong-arm tactics to maintain law and order,’ Mr Soros told Newsweek.

He is also a Democratic supporter and believes President Barack Obama will ‘surprise’ the country by winning the 2012 general election.

Backing: Mr Soros is a Democratic supporter and believes President Barack Obama (pictured) will 'surprise' the country by winning the 2012 general election

Backing: Mr Soros is a Democratic supporter and believes President Barack Obama (pictured) will 'surprise' the country by winning the 2012 general election

But he survived a ‘personally much more threatening situation’ than the current crisis when he escaped the Holocaust in Hungary in the 1940s.

'The worst-case scenario is a collapse of the financial system'

George Soros

His personal life was also challenged last year when his long-time girlfriend Adriana Ferreyr sued him for allegedly causing her distress and assaulting her.

However he slammed her lawsuit as ‘riddled with false charges and obviously an attempt to extract money’, reported Newsweek.

Mr Soros added that the European Union could still ‘regain its lustre’ and the U.S. may go some way to ‘actually strengthening the institution’.

IMF URGES FOCUS ON GROWTH AND REVISES DOWN GROWTH ESTIMATES

Forecast: The International Monetary Fund - headed by Christine Lagarde, pictured, predicts global growth of 3.25 per cent in 2012

Forecast: The International Monetary Fund - headed by Christine Lagarde, pictured, predicts global growth of 3.25 per cent in 2012

In a separate report, world leaders were today urged to focus on growth more than budget cuts this year as fears deepened that recession in Europe will slow the global economy.

Global-lending organisation the International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicts global growth of 3.25 per cent in 2012, slower than the 4 per cent it projected in September.

In turn, the 17 nations that share the euro will shrink 0.5 per cent this year, compared to its forecast for 1.1 per cent growth four months ago.

Europe's recession should only have a modest impact on the U.S., which the IMF believes will grow by 1.8 per cent growth over the same period, unchanged from its September estimate.

But it warned against steep budget cuts, which it says will slow growth further and undermine market confidence, running against the push for budget cuts backed by Germany’s Angela Merkel.

It comes as the single currency fell back from three-week highs and world stocks stumbled as the latest setback in efforts to restructure Greek debt triggered more fea

IMF warns of global recession if governments cut too deeply

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A recession in Europe will slow the global economy this year, the International Monetary Fund predicted Tuesday, while urging world leaders to focus on growth more than budget cuts.

The IMF forecasts global growth of 3.25% this year, slower than the 4 percent pace it projected in September.

The 17 nations that share the euro will shrink 0.5% this year. In September, the IMF had predicted 1.1 percent growth for the region.

Europe's recession should have only a modest impact on the United States. The IMF projects 1.8% growth for the year, unchanged from its September estimate.

Steep budget cuts will slow growth further and undermine market confidence, the IMF said. The global lending organization's message runs counter to the push for budget cuts advocated by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

"The world recovery, which was weak in the first place, is in danger of stalling," Olivier Blanchard, the fund's chief economist, said at a news conference. "The epicenter of the danger is Europe."

European governments should avoid extreme austerity measures — spending cuts and tax increases — in weaker economies, such as Italy and Spain, the IMF said in its World Economic Outlook. And healthier European countries whose governments are facing lower interest rates "should reconsider the pace" of their short-term budget cuts.

"The good news," Blanchard said, is that "with the right set of measures, the worst can be avoided, and the world can be set back on track."

IMF managing director Christine Lagarde made a similar argument Monday during a speech in Berlin.

Many European governments do need to cut deficits, Blanchard said, "but at an appropriate pace."

Blanchard cautions that it may take two decades or longer to pay off the debts accumulated during the 2008 financial crisis and global recession. He notes that it took that long to pay off the debts Europe ran up during World War II.

European governments should also build up its permanent bailout fund, Blanchard said.

Last week, the IMF said it is seeking $500 billion to boost its own resources in the event more lending is needed in Europe or elsewhere.

European banks, meanwhile, are cutting back on lending in order to boost their capital reserves, the fund said. That's likely to hammer Central and Eastern European economies this year, which depend heavily on European bank loans.

The IMF warns against steep budget cuts, which it says will slow growth further and undermine market confidence. The global lending organization's message runs counter to the push for budget cuts advocated by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Still, the hit to China will be relatively modest: It is forecast to grow 8.2 percent this year, down from the fund's earlier projection of 9 percent.

U.S. policymakers should take steps to rein in the long-term costs of government health programs and Social Security, the IMF said. But those cuts should be phased in over the long-term. Immediate cuts could slow the economy further.

One reason the IMF expects the U.S. economy to remain sluggish is because governments at all levels will likely cut back on spending. The IMF assumes the Social Security payroll tax and extended unemployment benefits will extended for the full year. Last month, Congress agreed to extend them only through February.

Without a full extension of both measures, the U.S. economy will fare much worse, the IMF said.

Lagarde warned Monday that the world economy faced the risk of a painful recession this year. She called on policymakers to avoid the stalemates that prevented Europe and the United States from resolving difficult budget and economic problems last year.

"It is not about saving any one country or any one region," she said. "It is about saving the world from a downward economic spiral."

The IMF's projections followed a similar mark-down in global growth estimates last week by its sister lending organization, the World Bank.

The 187-member IMF conducts economic analysis and provides emergency lending to countries in financial distress.