Friday, June 29, 2012

South China Sea in real time straights

UPDATE 1-China starts "combat ready" patrols in disputed seas
China has begun combat-ready patrols in the waters around a disputed group of islands in the South China Sea, the Defence Ministry said on Thursday, the latest escalation in tension over the potentially resource-rich area.

"In order to protect national sovereignty and our security and development interests, the Chinese military has already set up a normal, combat-ready patrol system in seas under our control," he said.

"The Chinese military's resolve and will to defend territorial sovereignty and protect our maritime rights and interests is firm and unshakeable," Geng added, according to a transcript on the ministry's website ( of comments at a briefing.

He did not elaborate. The ministry does not allow foreign reporters to attend its monthly briefings.

Philippines says Chinese boats have returned to disputed lagoon despite agreement

China pledges to protect maritime sovereignty
The US is beefing up its military presence in the Asia-Pacific region.

Deliberately highlighting the military and security agenda and deploying more military forces in the Asia-Pacific "go against the global pursuit of peace, development and cooperation, as well as trust among nations in the region", Zhang Junshe, deputy director of the Naval Military Studies Research Institute said.

Loose cannons and stormy skies
The arrival of the USS Louisville comes just weeks after another US attack submarine, the USS North Carolina, made a port call at the same Philippine naval base. The high-profile dockings have been billed as part of the US's plan to host more rotating American naval forces in the Asia-Pacific region.


Diamons in the rough

Bob Diamond: Barclays falsified Libor to protect bank during financial crisis
Barclays chief executive Bob Diamond has admitted for the first time that the bank made a conscious decision to falsify Libor rates in order to protect the bank at the height of the financial crisis.

“Even taking account of the abnormal market conditions at the height of the financial crisis, and that the motivation was to protect the bank, not to influence the ultimate rate, I accept that the decision to lower submissions was wrong,” he stated.

He said traders attempted to influence the rate in order to benefit their own desks’ trading positions. The bank made the decision in order to protect shareholders’ interests, he said.

Meanwhile, across the pond, in a boomerang sort of way, where Bob Dimon railed against the Volker rule, saying banks already have things under control,

JPMorgan Trading Loss May Reach $9 Billion
When Jamie Dimon, the bank’s chief executive, announced in May that the bank had lost $2 billion in a bet on credit derivatives, he estimated that losses could double within the next few quarters. But the red ink has been mounting in recent weeks, as the bank has been unwinding its positions, according to interviews with current and former traders and executives at the bank who asked not to be named because of investigations into the bank.

In its most basic form, the losing trade, made by the bank’s chief investment office in London, was an intricate position that included a bullish bet on an index of investment-grade corporate debt. That was later combined with a bearish wager on high-yield securities.

The chief investment office — which invests excess deposits for the bank and was created to hedge interest rate risk — brought in more than $4 billion in profits in the last three years, accounting for roughly 10 percent of the bank’s profit during that period.

In testimony before the House Financial Services Committee last week, Mr. Dimon said that the London unit had “embarked on a complex strategy” that exposed the bank to greater risks even though it had been intended to minimize them.

With much of the most volatile slice of the position sold, however, regulators are unsure how deep the reported losses will eventually be. Some expect that the red ink will not exceed $6 billion to $7 billion. To put the size of the loss in perspective, JPMorgan logged a first-quarter profit of $5.4 billion.

Nonetheless, the sharply higher loss totals will feed a debate over how strictly large financial institutions should be regulated and whether some of the behemoth banks are capitalizing on their status as too big to fail to make risky trades.

More than profits are at stake. The growing fallout from the bank’s bad bet threatens to undercut the credibility of Mr. Dimon, who has been fighting major regulatory changes that could curtail the kind of risk-taking that led to the trading losses. The bank chief was considered a deft manager of risk after steering JPMorgan through the financial crisis in far better shape than its rivals.

Investment bank reveals its team of London traders caused more damage than previously thought
The deals were made by a team led by French-born trader Bruno Iksil, nicknamed Voldemort after Harry Potter’s evil nemesis because he was such a ‘scary and powerful’ force in the City.
Isn't that cute.

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Let's call the whole thing off

Researchers reveal secret behind tasteless tomatoes
Scientists have caught the culprit behind those tasteless tomatoes that sink your salsa, toughen your tart and rattle your ratatouille.

Turns out, tomato growers' best intentions over decades are to blame.

By breeding tomatoes to ripen evenly and harvest easier, growers unwittingly robbed those sumptuous ruby reds of their taste.

Unwittingly? The large tomato producers don't grow tomatoes, they grow dollars. If they wanted it to taste good because you demanded taste instead of look, they could have done that.

Guambat had a very kind, gentle, honorable and hard working great uncle Solon who share cropped and rented his little patch of Tennessee soil, growing all sorts of produce from melons to beans to corn and, yes, 'maters. He mainly sold his produce as a sort of roving vegetable stand off the back of his aging Chevy pickup with a cracked block that required water every 30 minutes.

Guambat spent an unforgettable summer with him and his wife Fannie Lou on their farm a bit over a half century ago. It was hard and hot yakka, to be sure. But it was a lesson in value not forgotten. Tomatoes held a particular poignant memory.

Tomato baskets had wire handles, and carrying a bunch of them over the course of a day made for very tender hands. But the job was not done when, as the sun went down and the 'maters were gathered at the farmhouse, we'd have to sit and wipe each 'mater in each basket to make it clean and presentable.

Sometimes produce would come in in such great quantities that we couldn't sell it all to his household customers, so he'd take it to the bigger dealers. We had a particularly good crop of tomatoes that summer, so we made several trips to a tomato manufacturing depot, where it got bought and turned into paste, ketchup and other saucy things.

Guambat noticed that most sellers hauled in half-rotten, stinky wet baskets of 'maters, but Uncle Solon only took his choice, hand cleaned tomatoes, just like he'd sell to the ladies of the households. I asked him why did we have to work so hard to sell a choice product, when all the others didn't bother. At the manufacturer, everyone got the same price.

He said, he didn't bother much about what others sold, but he was selling Solon's tomaters, and he cared about that. These are Solon's tomatoes, he said.

Flavor Is the Price of Tomatoes’ Scarlet Hue, Study Finds
Yes, they are often picked green and shipped long distances. Often they are refrigerated, which destroys their flavor and texture. But now researchers have discovered a genetic reason that diminishes a tomato’s flavor even if the fruit is picked ripe and coddled.

The unexpected culprit is a gene mutation that occurred by chance and was discovered by tomato breeders. It was deliberately bred into almost all tomatoes because it conferred an advantage: It made them a uniform luscious scarlet when ripe.

Heirloom tomatoes and many wild species do not have the uniform ripening mutation. Breeders can cross tomatoes the traditional way and, by selecting for ones with the right genetics, end up with the same sort of tomato.“The idea is to get the vegetable seed industry interested,” Dr. Powell said.

So there you have it. 'Maters where bred for your eye and for you to buy, and you brought this on yourself by indulging this little trick.

You want a tomato that tastes good, too? Pay for it. It's a lot of hard work.


Thursday, June 28, 2012

A bid protest of a different sort

Sort of like having your neighbour down the street bang up a "For Sale" sign in your front yard, or burrow as the case may be.

Vietnam says China offshore oil auction 'illegal'
On Saturday, the China National Offshore Oil Corporation announced that nine offshore blocks were available for exploration, and said it was seeking bids from foreign companies.

Vietnam's foreign ministry said in a statement late Tuesday that the blocks "lie entirely within Vietnam's 200-mile exclusive economic zone."

"This is absolutely not a disputed area. (CNOOC's move) is illegal and of no value, seriously violating Vietnam's sovereignty," it said, blaming the bid invitation for "causing tension" in the South China Sea.

The blocks, which cover an area of more than 160,000 square kilometres (64,000 square miles), overlap blocks which PetroVietnam is already in the process of developing with its own foreign partners, Hau said.

"PetroVietnam will send an official letter of protest and request the cancellation of the Chinese tender," he said, adding they would also "protest until the end" any companies who signed contracts with CNOOC in the area.

On Saturday, CNOOC announced the nine blocks were "available for international exploration and development cooperation between CNOOC and foreign companies."

The tender was "normal business activity", Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a regular news briefing on Tuesday.

"We hope Vietnam will respect these agreements and avoid taking any action that may complicate the matter," he said
Nation protests Chinese oil bids
Nghi stressed that the invitation of bids for an area in Viet Nam's exclusive economic zone and continental shelf by China was an illegal and void activity that seriously violated Viet Nam's sovereign rights, jurisdiction right and legitimate national interest as well as the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea to which China itself is a member. He added that the move complicated the situation and caused further tensions in the East Sea.

MVP to drop oil hunt should sovereignty issues arise
Manuel V. Pangilinan said yesterday he will drop the plan to explore for oil in Recto Bank, part of the disputed Spratlys Islands, once sovereignty issues materialize.

Earlier, President Aquino said that he has no problem with the group of Pangilinan asking China National Offshore Oil Corporation as a partner in the oil hunt.

As this developed, AP reported that Vietnam has protested CNOOC’s posting of bids for energy development in the disputed South China Sea.

“We made it clear to our government that if we cannot resolve our sovereignty issues to the satisfaction of our government, we are prepared to not proceed with the project,” Pangilian told reporters after the stockholders meeting of Philex Mining Corp., which he chairs. Philex Petroleum, which went public in September, is a subsidiary of Philex Mining, the country’s largest mining firm.

The negotiations for a possible joint gas exploration in Recto Bank came amid a standoff at the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal off Zambales involving Philippine and Chinese vessels.

Vietnam Warns China to Halt Oil Bids in Area Awarded to Exxon
China’s blocks overlap with Vietnamese areas that have been awarded to Exxon, Moscow-based Gazprom (OGZD), India’s Oil & Natural Gas Corp. and Talisman Energy Inc. (TLM), according to a PetroVietnam map distributed to reporters in Hanoi.

The invitation for bids came as Vietnam’s parliament passed a law reasserting its sovereignty over the area. China summoned Vietnam’s ambassador June 21 to protest the move, with Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun saying Vietnam’s actions weren’t “conducive to peace and stability.”

China hopes Vietnam will “not take actions that will amplify or complicate the dispute,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said yesterday in Beijing. “At the same time, Vietnam should stop its activities that infringe upon China’s rights and interests.”

The area “lies entirely within Vietnam’s 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone and continental shelf,” Luong Thanh Nghi, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said in comments posted on its website June 25. “This is absolutely not a disputed area.”

The location of the blocks indicates that China claims the maritime spaces within its so-called nine-dash map of the sea, a development that will further alarm claimant states, according to Clive Schofield, director of research at the Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources & Security.

“There are highly likely to be future clashes should there be actions taken by any of the countries concerned to try and explore within those blocks,” he said. “The designation of blocks is in a sense a proxy way of states trying to reinforce their jurisdictional rights.”

In 1992, China awarded Crestone Energy Corp. a block off Vietnam’s southern coast that is now owned by Houston-based Harvest Natural Resources Inc. (HNR) Talisman, an oil and gas producer with operations in North America, the North Sea and Indonesia, owns the rights for Vietnam.

Routine patrols in the area by China’s maritime surveillance ships coupled with China National Offshore’s enhanced ability to operate in deeper waters has emboldened the country to assert its claims in the area, according to Gary Li, head of marine and aviation forecasting at Exclusive Analysis Ltd., a London-based business advisory firm.

“The Chinese in the next six months are very likely to demonstrate to potential partners their ability to muscle in on these blocks,” he wrote. “So expect more patrols, high profile propaganda announcements and puff pieces on Cnooc personnel.”

Vietnam Oil Firm Protests Chinese Plans
Cnooc's move is likely influenced by a desire to see how far it can press its claims in the sea rather than entirely commercial considerations, analysts and diplomats say. Few foreign firms are likely to engage in drilling in such disputed waters, especially after Vietnam's protests.

"There is no way any foreign company will go there," said Laban Yu, head of oil and gas research at Jefferies Hong Kong Ltd., a securities and investment banking firm. "This is just Cnooc being used by the central government to make a statement."

"Either Cnooc is doing national service and helping Beijing push the boundary of the South China Sea maritime dispute, or it's doing what analysts have been calling for" and pursuing foreign help to increase the size of its reserves, said Simon Powell, head of Asian oil and gas research at CLSA.

Mr. Powell added that the resources there are more likely to be gas than oil, and thus less attractive to potential foreign partners. "Given how low natural-gas prices are in China, the distance of these blocks from the mainland and how uneconomic it is to lay pipelines and run gas from such distances, maybe the offerings are more about politics than about earnings," he said.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

China's bellicoast ways

The agitation for China's annexation of all waters to or past the Mid-Pacific Islands, and what are equally if more important, lands above and below the waters, continues as the stories below reveal (click links to stories for complete details). Guambat wonders how long the fuse is.

Beijing seeks dominance of South China Sea with new city (Russia)
A new city has emerged on the map of China. China's State Council has approved the foundation of the district level city of Sangsha. Governance over the islands of Xisha, Zhong Sha and Nan Sha – as well as the adjacent waters – will be concentrated in this administrative center.

Sangsha therefore becomes the southernmost city in China and, taking into account the area of the surrounding waters, it is the largest municipality too. At the same time, from the administrative division point of view, the appearance of a new city on the map looks like a curious incident. Usually a district level city in China has a population of no less than 200,000 people, while the population of the three islands together is not more than 500. However, from a geopolitical standpoint, it is a very clever move on the part of Beijing.

The city government of Sangsha will be located on Yongxing Island. Yongxing covers an area of about two square kilometers and is considered to be the outpost of Chinese interests in this natural resource-rich area of the South China Sea. In addition a subdivision of the Chinese People's Liberation Army is deployed here, Boeing-737 class airplanes can land on the local runway, and 5000-ton ships can harbor at its port.

The revival of the project is once again connected with the position of Hanoi. Most observers consider that the foundation of the city of Sangsha was a response to the adoption of the Maritime Law of Vietnam. According to this document, Vietnam has sovereignty over the islands of Nan Sha, Xisha, and the adjacent waters. Beijing proclaimed this step illegal, because it violated the “indisputable sovereignty” of China. In its turn, Hanoi believes that its position is supported by historical documents which prove that, already in the 16th century, Vietnam was exercising effective control over the disputed territories.

Yakov Berger, analyst from the Institute of Far East of the Russian Academy of Sciences, believes that today we are more or less dealing with propaganda gestures and a war of words – but the parties to the conflict are at the same time steadily strengthening their military muscles, which can be fraught with a potential danger to peace and stability in the South China Sea region.

This step is evidently connected to the aggravation of territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

Chinese scholar dismisses U-shaped East Sea line as baseless (Vietnam)
A Chinese scholar has objected to a U-shaped line that China has put in its maps to bring most of the East Sea under its sovereignty, including Vietnam’s Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly) Islands, calling it imaginary and having no legal foundation.

The line, also known as the “nine-dotted line,” “nine-dash line,” or “cow tongue line,” started to appear last year in American and Italian journals that cited Chinese articles with maps portraying more than 80 percent of the South China Sea, known in Vietnam as the East Sea, as belonging to China.

But Li Ling Hua, a researcher for more than 20 years at China's National Oceanographic Data and Information Center, and the author of more than 90 reports on maritime issues and maritime laws, said at a conference June 14 that “The nine-dash line on the Nan Hai (or the East Sea) is unreal," according to a Tien Phong report Sunday.

"The line was established by our predecessors with no longitudes or latitudes, and it was not based on any laws or regulations.

“It was merely a unilateral announcement by China in 1947.”

He said the Chinese government has never officially announced the U-shaped line, but many textbooks and newspapers consider it the official sea border, making most Chinese believe it.

The U-shaped line (formed with pink dashes) was established by China to gather most of the East Sea into China’s territory. Bordering the line to the left is Vietnam, to the right is the Philippines and below it is Malaysia and Brunei.
The Chinese government needs to clarify the legitimacy of the line, “or there will be clashes in the future” when Chinese people rely on the line to oppose any country they think is violating it.

Ridiculous antic (China)
On Thursday the Vietnamese National Assembly adopted a domestic law of the sea to include China's Xisha and Nansha islands in the South China Sea within Vietnam's sovereignty and jurisdiction. In response, Chinese authorities have expressed firm opposition and demanded that Vietnam correct its erroneous maritime law immediately.

Nothing is more absurd than the attempt to take what rightfully belongs to others as one's own. Hanoi's wishful thinking in claiming sovereignty over Xisha and Nansha islands with its domestic law amounts to robbery. It is an open infringement of China's territorial integrity and a violation of international law.

Regrettably, in a statement posted on the Vietnamese foreign ministry's website late on Thursday, the ministry's spokesman said, "Vietnam resolutely rejects the absurd accusations by the Chinese side."

Having been through multiple wars with multiple neighbors, Vietnam ought to know what happens when countries disregard others' territorial integrity. But the ridiculous antic on Thursday shows it has not. The consequences may prove dangerous and costly.

Talk of the Day -- Stakeholders step up moves in South China Sea (Taiwan)
The Cultural Affairs Office in China's Hainan Province has designated the areas around four islets in the Shisha Islands in the disputed South China Sea as special zones for the preservation of cultural relics, according to media reports.

The announcement was made after after archaeologists discovered underwater relics near the the four Shisha islets -- Beijiao, Huaguang Jiao, Yuzhuo Jiao and Yongle Jiao -- during a routine maritime inspection carried out by the Hainan provincial government between April and May, the reports said.

The Hainan cultural bureau will collaborate with China's public security authorities to establish an advanced three-dimensional monitoring system to better protect the cultural relics in the area, also known as the Paracel Islands or Xisha Islands in China, the reports said.

Meanwhile, Sansha City in Hainan has been assigned to administer islets, shoals, reefs of Xisha, Zhongsha (Macclesfield Islands) and Nansha (Spratly Islands) and surrounding waters in the South China Sea, the reports said.

The area was part of the "ancient marine silk road" and a wealth of historical and cultural relics are believed to lie beneath the waters.

China will not accept provocative action in South China Sea: Official (India)
Even as India has pulled out of an offshore oil block in the South China Sea following protests by China, Beijing has reiterated its stand that the islands in the South China Sea and the adjacent waters fall within its "core interests" and it will not accept any "provocative action" in the sea off the China coast.

Jia Xiudong, Senior Fellow in Residence at the state-run China Institute of International Studies (CIIS), Department of International Strategic Studies, said while China does not claim the whole South China Sea, its official position is that it has "undisputable sovereignty over the islands and waters around it".

Sounding a tough note, Jia said that China's "restraint" should not be taken as "a sign of weakness and acceptance of encroachment of sovereignty".

"China will react now, or in future, no matter what others think of China, in regard to sovereignty issues," he asserted while talking to a group of visiting Indian journalists.

Last July, the Indian Navy's amphibious warfare ship INS Airavat, which was on a friendly visit to Vietnam in the South China Sea, was contacted by the Chinese Navy on radio and told that it was entering Chinese waters. The vessel proceeded on its journey as scheduled. The Indian government later in a statement said that "India supports freedom of navigation in international waters, including in the South China Sea, and the right of passage in accordance with accepted principles of international law".

In May, following objections by China, India's ONGC Videsh, the overseas arm of state-owned ONGC, pulled out of an offshore oil block in Vietnam in the South China Sea.

ONGC Videsh had signed a deal with PetroVietnam in September 2011 for developing long-term cooperation in the oil sector and had accepted Vietnam's offer of exploration in certain blocks in the South China Sea. China had protested against the move of countries "engaging in oil and gas exploration and development activities in waters under China's jurisdiction".

After China voiced its objection, ONGC Videsh pulled out of the oil block exploration. Last week, India's ONGC and China National Petroleum Corp. inked a deal to jointly explore assets in third countries. The two are already working in Myanmar, Syria and Sudan.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

What divides America: politics or economy

Putting aside the biggest divide, religious belief and disbelief, Henry Blodgett looks at the big economic divide, which is the result of big money meddling in "both" political isles.

Corporate Profits Just Hit An All-Time High, Wages Just Hit An All-Time Low
1) Corporate profit margins just hit an all-time high.

2) Fewer Americans are working than at any time in the past three decades.

3) Wages as a percent of the economy are at an all-time low.

The problem is our debt: from government to corporates to households. Our stunning economic "growth" has been a mirage, a floating sea of debt hallucination.

As a percent of total employed people in our economy, the number of government workers is actually far lower than it used to be. About 16% of us now work for the government.

State and local governments have actually been firing people in recent years.
The number of Federal government employees has stayed steady for nearly half a century.

we need to understand that there are two kinds of government spending... The first kind is what we normally think of as government spending: Defense, highways, bridges, NASA, government employee salaries, etc.

The second kind of government spending is what is euphemistically called "personal transfers" -- checks handed out to citizens for a variety of social programs, including Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, and Unemployment Insurance..

Over the past 50 years, social-program spending has exploded as a percentage of the economy..

And don't forget what we're really talking about when we talk about "social programs." It's not unemployment insurance, food stamps, and other handouts that some anti-government people sometimes go insane about. They're small potatoes

The real government budget busters are Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

See his charts at the article link, then see his other 63 charts and graphics starting here.
Any chance the never shy but now retiring boomers will turn off the tap on ss, medicare and medicaid? Not when they feel they've paid for it and it's their due.

Never mind. In 30 years they'll be gone. But there'll be plenty more rorts and schemes to rise to the top of the next great debt crisis.

Pay attention kids. Next time won't be different, either.

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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Getting a jump out of the gate

In short races particularly, you horse has a better chance of winning by getting a quick jump from the gates.


Turning to Frogs for Illegal Aid in Horse Races
in recent weeks more than 30 horses from four states have tested positive for the substance, dermorphin, which is suspected of helping horses run faster.

No trainer has yet been formally charged, although racing regulators expect that to happen soon. Because of its potency and ability to affect the outcome of a race, the use of dermorphin is considered to be one of the industry’s most serious drug violations.

“We hear about some pretty exotic stuff,” said Dr. Steven Barker, who directs the testing laboratory at Louisiana State University. “Frog juice — this is exotic.”
Read more of the article at the link above.


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

US rushin' to condemn arms broker for Syria

Russian arms to Syria concern Clinton
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Tuesday said Russia's shipment of attack helicopters to Syria "will escalate the conflict dramatically."

"We have confronted the Russians about stopping their continued arms shipments to Syria," she said at the Brookings Institution in Washington. "We are concerned about the latest information we have that there are attack helicopters on the way from Russia to Syria, which will escalate the conflict quite dramatically."

Clinton said the ever-increasing amount of weapons in Syria raise the likelihood of civil war.

Read more at link above.
Russian arms dealer sends missile defence systems to Syria
A Russian arms dealer has said his company is shipping missile defence systems to Syria that could be used to combat international intervention in the country.

Anatoly Isaykin, the general director of Rosoboronexport, said the advanced defensive missile systems could be used to shoot down planes or sink ships.

The accusation by Hillary Clinton prompted Russia to accuse the US of hypocrisy over military equipment, including jet engines and patrol boats that were sold to Bahrain despite civil unrest in the Arab state.

Russian Defense Giant Receives $377M in U.S. Small Minority-Owned Business Contracts, According to the American Small Business League
Over $375 million in U.S. funds meant for minority-owned small businesses have been awarded to Rosoboronexport, Russia's state-owned arms trading company-- the company currently raising headlines for its role as lead arms supplier to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.

The U.S. Army awarded the no-bid contracts to Rosoboronexport in May 2011 to supply the Afghan military with 21 Mi-17 helicopters.

Rosoboronexport is Russia's leading international arms dealer but its $377 million Army contracts were originally entered into the Federal Procurement Data System (FPDS) as awards to a small minority-owned business and are currently labeled as contract awards to a minority-owned business.

In 2008, President Obama promised to end these abuses by issuing the statement, "It is time to end the diversion of federal small business contracts to corporate giants."

Hey, nothing hypocritical about buying arms from brokers whilst condemning others for the same thing, so long a small business gets a piece of that business.

Senator Blocks Army's Weapons Buyer Over Russian Arms to Syria
Cornyn is leading a Senate effort pressuring the Department of Defense to stop doing business with Rosoboronexport, Russia's state-run arms trader. The Army has a $375 million, no-bid contract with the company to buy 21 Russian-made Mi-17 helicopters for Afghanistan's air force that it says only Rosoboronexport can provide.

"The DoD and the Army have refused to look for alternatives, even as Rosoboronexport continues to arm the Assad regime," Cornyn said in an e-mailed statement. "The DoD and the Army must end their practice of handing no-bid contracts to this problematic Russian broker and instead conduct full and open competition for all future Mi-17 procurement."

Billion-Dollar Deal with Russian Firm Sets Off Contracting Alarm
Day by day, Bashar al-Assad's brutal Syrian regime continues to crack down on its own civilian population. So when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused Russia this week of providing attack helicopters to the Syrian government, most Americans were rightly outraged. But how would Americans feel if they knew nearly a billion taxpayer dollars were supporting the Russian arms broker at the center of the controversy? Unfortunately, that may very well be the case.

A major Russian state-owned arms broker, Rosoboronexport, responsible for roughly 80 to 90 percent of the country’s foreign arms sales, is coming under attack from a group of Senators after winning a nearly $1 billion, sole-source contract from the Department of Defense (DoD) in 2011 to provide Afghanistan with non-attack Mi-17 helicopters.

Rosoboronexport previously was sanctioned by the U.S. government from August 2006 through May 2010 for aiding Iran’s nuclear program. Since sanctions were lifted, Rosoboronexport has also provided billions of dollars of lethal aircraft and other weapons to the Syrian government, which may have deployed them in killing thousands of civilians.

While advocacy groups have urged Congress to end DoD’s deal because of the company’s ties to Syria, POGO believes that Rosoboronexport’s arrangement with the Pentagon also raises other concerns. Specifically, is the deal to buy 21 dual-use Mi-17 helicopters for $375 million (with a $500 million option to buy 12 more) in the best interest of the military and the U.S. taxpayer?

There are indications that the U.S. is being overcharged for Mi-17’s, especially given the non-competitive nature of Rosoboronexport’s award. Further, POGO is concerned that Rosoboronexport is not a responsible contractor with adequate standards of integrity and business ethics.

In fact, a Congressional official with knowledge of the matter told POGO that the U.S. government was likely overcharged for the helicopters. Rosoboronexport has charged the U.S. approximately $16.4 million for each Mi-17 helicopter, while Mi-17s from a previous Navy deal with a Huntsville, Alabama company called Defense Technology, Inc. cost only $10.8 million.

Guambat's confused now. Should he feel ripped off by bad procurement practice or indignant over Russians beating the US to the buyers. Or despondent about anyone profiteering in arms.

Bah. Back down in the burrow he goes. Happens every time he sticks his nose out.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Cockroaches out of the shadows

You know they're there, but when they come out into the light, you know you have so many that they can't any longer stay in the shadows. You have an undeniable problem that will not go away on its own. Cockroaches.

You start by cleaning up your own mess that they feed on.

Greek New Dawn's Ilias Kasidiaris sues women over TV row
The spokesman for Greece's far-right Golden Dawn, who slapped a left-wing politician and threw water over another on a TV debate, is suing his victims.

Ilias Kasidiaris went to an Athens court to announce he would sue the women for defamation.

Mr Kasidiaris is also suing the TV station, Antenna, for illegal detention after staff tried to stop him leaving following the incident last Thursday.

Golden Dawn will be contesting a critical Greek election this Sunday.

Mr Kasidiaris avoided an arrest warrant for the attack, lying low until it expired.

Under Greek law, the arrest warrant for a minor crime must be carried out by midnight the day after the incident took place for an immediate trial - otherwise it goes to judicial procedure and a much later trial date is set.

"I did what millions of Greeks would have done - when you get hit in the face you have to defend yourself," he said.

His Golden Dawn party garnered 7% of the vote in Greece's inconclusive May election, campaigning on an anti-immigrant platform.

Among other policies, it has proposed planting mines along Greek borders to prevent the entry of migrants.

The party has been accused of violent attacks against immigrants in Athens, but denies the claims.

Greek neo-Nazi MP presses charges against his victims
He further laid charges against a journalist present at the time, who called up a prosecutor asking for action to be taken against him.

The prosecutor had ordered Kasidiaris' arrest on the grounds of attempted grievous bodily harm. But a 48-hour deadline for his arrest on sight expired on Saturday, meaning he is entitled to walk free until his trial.

The latest polls indicate Golden Dawn will remain in parliament after the June 17 elections, despite a slight drop.

Greeks seek better terms after Spanish rescue
With days to go before the June 17 election which could decide Greece's future in the euro zone, the Spanish accord has been dragged into a campaign being fought largely over the harsh conditions imposed under Greece's own 130 billion euro bailout.

The radical leftwing SYRIZA party, which has campaigned on a pledge to scrap the Greek bailout altogether and demand better terms, said the Spanish deal proved that the austerity imposed by international lenders had failed.

"Developments in Spain fully vindicate us in our reading of the crisis: this is a deep structural crisis of the eurozone itself," SYRIZA spokesman Panos Skourletis said on Monday. "The discussions in Europe open new perspectives for Greece and the euro zone."

SYRIZA is running neck and neck with the conservative New Democracy party which helped pass the bailout in parliament and says it can improve the terms without ditching it. Conservative leader Antonis Samaras said the Spanish deal was proof that Greece had more to gain by negotiating with its European partners than by falling out with them.

"Just think about it, at a time when a country like Spain negotiates, some argue that we have to clash with Europe," he said.

The overwhelming majority of Greeks want to keep the euro currency but want to be freed from the harsh austerity measures imposed as part of the bailout that rescued Athens from bankruptcy in March.

With Greece now in its fifth year of deep recession, unemployment running at almost 22 percent and a growing threat of social breakdown, there is pressure from all parties to ease the tough conditions of the March bailout.

"I'm not afraid we will be forced to leave the euro zone. I'm tired of being afraid. I only hope that we will have jobs, a way to make ends meet after June 17", said Eleni Karakoussi, 31, a saleswoman, who said she intended to vote for SYRIZA.

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Wednesday, June 06, 2012


Las Vegas 1972 - 2010 by NASA/LandSat

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Samoa the same

Not exactly breaking, or braking, news this:
China a better Pacific friend than US: Samoan PM.

People's Republic of China–Samoa relations

China, and Taiwan, have been on a decades long quest to spend their way into strategic "alliances" with hands-out Pacific nation-island-states, whilst Western countries and "traditional" allies New Zealand and Australia have withdrawn support. The Pacific is dotted with many Chinese temples (of various sorts) to this buying power.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabou plans to appear in Fiji next month to meet delegates from Pacific Islands countries that recognise China but not Taiwan.

Pacific countries that prefer to deal with Taiwan rather than China either hadn't been invited to the meeting by the time Islands Business went to print or had decided to boycott it.

Next day, April 6, he'll have talks with the prime ministers of Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga, Cook Islands, Fiji and Vanuatu and president of the Federated States of Micronesia. All these countries prefer to [recognize] China in return for economic aid.

They are all members of the region's political club, the Pacific Islands Forum. The countries that prefer to [give] their loyalty to Taiwan-Tuvalu, Kiribati, Palau, the Solomon Islands, Nauru, Palau and the Marshall Islands are also Forum members.

This split in Forum country ranks is not the first one achieved by China as it wages its anti-Taiwan [campaign] in the Pacific Islands.

Initially, the China summit in the Pacific was heralded as the summit of Pacific leaders in the hope that heads of Forum-member governments would attend.

After hearing of Beijing's latest ploy for influence in the islands, the Taiwan Trade Mission representative in Suva, Sherman Shi-Nan Kuo objected to the involvement of the Forum Secretariat .

"Yes, we have informed the Forum that Taiwan opposes its involvement in the summit," he said. "We are a donor to the Forum and we told them that if they are organising a summit for China, then we can also ask for the same favour."

Taiwan Trade Mission's Kuo said that for 2006, Taiwan has [given] US$700,000 for the Forum Secretariat. It is also continuing with a US$500,000 scholarship scheme for island university students.

A Fiji government announcement said Jiabou's call would be a "historic" event since it would be the first meeting between China and the Pacific's islands nations.

Such Pacific Islands academics as Professor Ron Crocombe suggested that the Chinese are playing a long-term game for access to Pacific fish stocks which they already have and possible seabed mining opportunities.

In Papua New Guinea, the Chinese are moving into investment in mining and gas extraction.

The Australians have visions of the islands being taken over by Chinese organised crime and claim that drug busts, passport rackets and other criminal activities demonstrate that they're already happening.

Bertil Lintner, a journalist and an expert on organised crime, in a new book about Chinese organised crime, Blood Brothers, says China's diplomats cultivate gangs, routinely using them to spy on countries and to corrupt government politicians and bureaucrats.

President Chen Shiu Bian of Taiwan made a goodwill tour of some of Taiwan Pacific Islands friends in 2005.

The Chinese ambassador to Fiji, Cai Jinbiao, reacted with [apparent] anger in 2005 when he heard that the Taiwanese leader would overnight at Nadi and be welcomed with a Fijian welcoming ceremony by chiefs of the district.

By fronting up in Fiji, Jiabou will put it one over other major powers who for one reason or another has motives for cultivating Pacific Islanders for the few assets they have.

On May 26-27, Japan's prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, will host the fourth Japan-Pacific Islands meeting at Okinawa. Known as the PALM meeting, held every three years, it is Japan's big pitch for having good relations with the Pacific Islands.

On June 27, island leaders have been invited to be in Paris for a meeting with President Jacques Chirac, who first met them in French Polynesia two years ago.

The point of the meetings for the French is to keep Pacific leaders sweet about France's presence in the Pacific and improve relations between them and France's three Pacific territories.

In 1990, during an election trip to Hawaii, then President George Bush dropped in on a meeting of islands leaders there. His son dropped in briefly on a similar meeting in October 2003. Neither event brought anything much to the Pacific.

China has actively been cultivating relations with the Pacific Islands for more than two decades. In doing so, it has clashed often with Taiwan as the two have clawed each other for island government loyalties.

Both countries have [won] friendships with aid now totalling tens of millions of dollars.

There's hardly a Pacific Islands leader who hasn't been invited on one or more junket trips to China or Taiwan, depending on whom they back. Groups of Pacific Islands journalists are also led around in Beijing by the nose, blocked from seeing the sinister side of life in China.

The benefits gained by Taiwan from its Pacific games are the pleasure of annoying the Chinese, who are apt to turn ugly in their attempts to block switches of loyalty to Taiwan and having a voice at the United Nations.

China has cultivated Pacific Islands governments for more than 20 years. It has embassies in Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Fiji, the Federated States of Micronesia and is planning to open a consulate in French Polynesia.

It's a tussle with Taiwan over Kiribati's loyalty it lost badly two years ago when a new Kiribati government elected for a lucrative deal with Taiwan. This led to the closure of the Chinese embassy at Tarawa-although four Chinese officials continue to lurk there-and the closure of a satellite and missile tracking station it operated there.

Former Vanuatu prime minister, Serge Vohor, made a bad mistake in 2004 when after junkets to Taiwan and China he switched Vanuatu's loyalties to Taiwan without consulting his cabinet ministers. Apparently got at by Chinese diplomats, the ministers rebelled and Vohor lost office.

Nauru had fun and games with China in 2005. It used to be pro-Taiwan, which thus helped with the cost of running Air Nauru.

In July 2002, the then Nauru government decided it could get a better deal even at the cost of money for Air Nauru and switched recognition to China. Last year, the present Nauru government, deciding that Taiwan was a better deal after all, restored its recognition of Taiwan to Beijing's mortification.

Islands Business was told of an extraordinary scene at Seoul airport last year when, enroute to Taiwan, President Ludwig Scotty after leaving an aircraft, was surrounded and practically dragged off by a horde of screaming Chinese officials intent on diverting him to Beijing.

He was presented with a ticket to Beijing and offered red carpet treatment. But President Scotty headed for Taiwan instead where the carpet he trod was a deeper red.

Last month, Air Nauru announced that with Taiwan's support it soon expected to replace its sole jet aircraft seized by the United States last year for debt.

Other Chinese/Taiwan conflict was over membership of the South Pacific Tourism Organisation (SPTO), a regional agency backed by most of the Pacific's national tourism promotion offices.

Taiwan became one of SPTO's few sources of cash. Then China moved in by joining SPTO at ministerial level-the first non-Pacific government to do so.

It blocked Taiwan's application for membership with threats, although the application was supported by pro-Taiwan members.

The Chinese made it plain that if Taiwan was admitted, then countries that hope to be put on the list of tourist destinations that Chinese tourists were allowed to visit-chiefly Fiji, Vanuatu,

Tonga, the Cook Islands and French Polynesia-would be greatly disappointed.

More reading:

China Banking on Pacific Islands 2011
As noted by Balaji Chandramohan writing for The Diplomat late last year, a number of countries including India and China are actively courting Pacific island nations as part of efforts to secure the right to station military bases there or to help develop their natural resources.

But according to the Lowy report, there has been one motivation quite specific to China, namely diplomatic competition with Taiwan. Although it notes the improved ties with the mainland since Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou took office, it quotes a Taiwanese official as stating that countries always prepare for the worst.

The danger to islands accepting these soft loans is that they are going to end up being burdened by loan repayments they can’t afford. As the report noted, Chinese loans to Tonga now make up the equivalent of 32 percent of the country's GDP, while the figure for Samoa and the Cook Islands was 16 percent. Combine this with a lack of transparency, and it’s easy to see why some Pacific island officials are concerned.

Sino-Pacific relations in the Pacific Islands

Over the decades—and more so in recent years—there has been fierce competition between the two to win the support of Pacific Islands states with large packages of aid and a range of other financial inducements, including junkets to islands leaders.

This competition to win favours of the Pacific Islands has been described as chequebook diplomacy by the islands traditional development partners—notably New Zealand, Australia and more recently, the United States of America.

Unfortunately, many of the region’s leadership has fallen prey to these one-upmanship games between Taiwan and China and elections have been fought and governments fallen on the issue of whom to support.

Even in last month’s elections in the Marshall Islands, the question of allegiance was a major issue. Even outside the Pacific Islands region, the leaders of impoverished countries have fallen prey to this competition.

According to reports, the African nation of Malawi that supported Taiwan recently switched its support to China after it was promised a huge US$6 billion aid package.

The problem of diplomatic allegiance has caused deep schisms in the Pacific. Six Pacific Islands Forum nations—Nauru, the Solomon Islands, Palau, the Marshall Islands, Kiribati and Tuvalu—currently support Taiwan, while the rest have followed the ‘One China Policy’, recognising the People’s Republic of China.

China and Taiwan have used the Pacific as their diplomatic battleground openly. During the annual Forum summit in Fiji in 2006, China’s assistant foreign minister publicly accused Taiwan of spreading corruption in the region with largesse.

Then again last year, Taiwan hosted a summit for its allies in Palau at the same time as the annual Forum leaders’ meet in Tonga. Several Forum leaders chose to attend the Taiwan meet—thereby upsetting some of the agenda at the Tonga meet.

Wooing the Islands: China and Taiwan High Stakes Bid for Pacific Island Support
Several Pacific Island nation governments are willing to “go with anybody” as long as it is lucrative. Selling votes at the United Nations is a common occurrence. Micronesian nations, as well as many Polynesian and Melanesian ones, regularly support virtually any resolutions proposed by the United States. Francis Hazel, director of The Micronesian Seminar, remembers how one day a television crew from Israel besieged his office in the capital of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Pohnpei. "I wondered what they were doing in this city, which hardly appears on any world maps. Then I understood: the Israeli public was curious about this country which keeps joining the U.S., voting against all UN resolutions condemning Israeli actions in the Middle East."

But China and Taiwan are the biggest players in this game. Both Taiwan and China have erected disproportionately huge buildings for use by local governments, including the parliamentary complex in Vanuatu and the government offices in Samoa. For the convention center in Majuro, Marshall Islands, where the 2nd Taiwan-Pacific Allies Summit took place last October, Taiwan spent approximately $5 million.

Image Source: Wikipedia

China and Taiwan in the South Pacific: Diplomatic Chess versus PacificPolitical Rugby

The Growing Chinese Presence in the Region
All countries' foreign relations contain some self-interest, all influence internal affairs, and all aid has strings (some visible but more hidden -- sometimes in the pockets and egos of the powerful). But in recent years in the Pacific Islands, China pursues its self-interest more forcefully, interferes more in Pacific Islands internal affairs, and has more strings on its aid than any other country.

The indigenous people of Taiwan (who were there for 6000 years before the Chinese invaded) are Austronesian, as are the ancestors of all Polynesians. In indigenous Taiwanese languages today, the word "mata" means eye as in many Polynesian languages. The Chinese people of Taiwan mostly migrated there 200 to 300 years ago and have become a different people (like the European people of USA and Australia are different from those of Europe and don't want to be recolonised by any European power). If Cook Islands leaders are happy to help crush their fellow Austronesians in Taiwan in order to gain some glory, ego massages, free trips and perks, and money to help their elections, one can understand that. But China's claim to Taiwan is simple greed for power.

China has a record of causing internal problems in Pacific countries. That is a long, sad story. Just in the last few months, President Anote Tong, of Kiribati (who is himself half-Chinese), complained of the government of China trying to destabilise his government. Then Prime Minister Saufatu Sopo'anga, of Tuvalu, lost a vote-of-no-confidence because, although Tuvalu recognises Taiwan, the prime minister was enticed by China on a secret fully-funded trip to Beijing without telling his cabinet. That caused disruption and a new election.

Aid is usually given by the richer to the poorer. But Cook Islanders are much richer (and much freer, better educated, etc), than Chinese. Income per person in the Cook Islands is much higher than in China. So why do richer Cook Islanders beg from poorer Chinese, and why is the government that controls the poor Chinese so keen to give to rich Cook Islanders instead of to its own much poorer people, many of whom are starving right now? Or to poorer people elsewhere?

It is because they figure that Cook Islands politicians are easy to manipulate and that it is the cheapest vote China can buy in the 30 or so international organisations to which the Cook Islands belongs. Although the Cook Islands is the richest Forum Island country per person in the Pacific, China has given more aid per person to the Cook Islands than to any other. It is a small step in China's strategy to dominate in the region.

Looking North, Looking South: China, Taiwan, and the South Pacific

Asia in the Pacific Islands: Replacing the West

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Friday, June 01, 2012

En Lagarde

NPR blasts IMF chief Christine Lagarde for paying no taxes while berating Greeks for doing the same thing (if unsanctioned, shall we say), but Fox defends her. But of course, Fox doesn't like to pay taxes, either, so tucks what's tuckable away in various havens.

NPR: IMF's Christine Lagarde, Who Chastised Greek Tax Evaders, Pays No Taxes
Essentially, Lagarde said she has very little sympathy for the Greeks and that if they want to solve their financial problems they should just pay their taxes.

Today, The Guardian ran the pot-kettle-black story, pointing out that Lagarde with her $467,940 a year salary and her $83,760 yearly allowance does not pay any taxes.

She's not a tax dodger; it's just that the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations of 1961 exempts diplomats from "all dues and taxes, personal or real, national, regional or municipal."

With that in mind The NewStatesman still comes down hard on Lagarde.

"... Right or not, it seems like a good rule of thumb that if you do not pay any tax, you do not get to tell other people off for not paying tax," the magazine writes. "Especially if you earn around twenty times the median wage of the country you are telling off."

Fox: Greece’s Lame Tax Attacks on IMF’s Lagarde
Greeks have a long history of borrowing money with no intention of paying it back, and the country was living beyond its means even before it joined the eurozone.

Greece is ranked as one of the worst countries in the world for tax evasion, worse than Italy, an intractable problem leaders of the European Union and even Greek officials have decried. Tax fraud is a “scourge” in Greece, a spokesman for the EU’s economics commissioner now says.

Lost in the debate is the fact that there is a reason why Lagarde and other diplomats pay zero taxes on their IMF pay. It’s to avoid harassment and vendettas launched by other countries via their home country’s tax systems, as well as falling prey to bribery or kickbacks (the exact same corruption which, news flash, is what’s plaguing the tax system in Greece).

And the furious backlash is a distraction from the fact that Greece is running a dysfunctional economy where corruption and tax evasion are a national pasttime, where officials want to preserve a system built on vice and limitless debt in order to feed growing government power and a teetering, bankrupt entitlement state.

The IMF as well as the United Nations reduce the pay for their workers and executives by the amount of the tax bills they owe, meaning, they get paid on a net basis. Workers at the IMF and the United Nations don’t pay national, regional or municipal taxes, says article 34 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, an international treaty signed by 187 countries in 1961.

Again, that article was enacted so diplomats do not face harassment, pressure or fall prey to corruption from other countries via their home country’s tax systems.

Read more @ the link above.

Guambat reckons he gets harrassed pretty regularly by his home countries, too. And he'd fall prey to bribery or kickbacks, if only given a fair chance at it. So why is he not entitled to equal treatment? Most things are Greek to Guambat, except himself. He's pureblood guambat.


Fence 'em all in

Guambat was vaguely aware of a news item in the last week about some devoutly irate pastor somewhere with a Southern accent barracking to fence in all gays and lesbians, with the hoped for result that they would then all die out.

On the premise that guns don't kill, but people with guns do, and that Americans have a god-given if not constitutional-given right to arm themselves, Guambat would like to offer the suggestion that that fence idea may (or may not) be a good idea to deal with "senseless" gun violence. Arm 'em then fence 'em all in. If you can't take the guns away, take away the people with guns. Maybe they'd eventually all die out.

What's up with Guambat? Well, Guambat has a sweet little sister who lives in the vicinity of the following item and is known to visit coffee establishments, so he looked a little deeper into this story. All good on the little sister front, but not so good for many others.

Father of Seattle gunman: ‘I’m so sorry’
"The first thing I can say, and it doesn’t go very far at this point, is I’m so sorry," Walter Stawicki said, his voice quivering. "It sounds so trite, that I feel their grief ... I just hope they understand he wasn’t a monster out to kill people."

the gunman opened fire at an artsy Seattle cafe around 11 a.m. Wednesday, killing four patrons. As he fled, he gunned down a woman during a carjacking and took off with her SUV. Stawicki killed himself as police closed in.

The 21 homicides this year have the city’s leaders wondering what if anything can be done.

"Why have these acts, these random killings occurred? I’m not sure we have the resources to tell you why," Councilman Bruce Harrell said.

In just over a month, a young woman was killed in a seemingly random drive-by shooting in a popular nightlife district and a father who was driving with his family was killed by a stray bullet fired during a fight involving people on the street.

McGinn said the highest priority would be addressing the "epidemic of gun violence that’s plaguing the city." He said he’ll look at redeploying officers, as well as legislation. Police have told residents to expect more officers on patrol in high-crime areas.

Guambat wonders if the artsy cafe was in a high-crime area.

And if more legislation in support of the 6th Commandment and in derogation of the 2nd Amendment will do SFA.