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unhappycamper's Journal
unhappycamper's Journal
March 3, 2014

First PBS, now Brookings: Has another institution sold its soul?


Mo' money for me, less for public pensions: Energy trader and pension "reformer" John Arnold.

First PBS, now Brookings: Has another institution sold its soul?
By Michael Hiltzik
February 28, 2014, 1:15 p.m.

The assiduous billionaire-tracker David Sirota, who last exposed the connections between billionaire John Arnold and a suspiciously one-sided series on public pension reform that ran on Public Broadcasting Service stations, is at it again.

Now he's uncovered Arnold's backing of a largely pro-"reform" report on public pensions issued by the Brookings Institution.

The paper, titled "Pension Politics," analyzes the political efforts aimed at cutting public employee pensions in four states. Its author is Patrick McGuinn, a political scientist at Drew University in New Jersey, one of the states examined.

The paper discloses that support for its publication "was generously provided by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation" -- on its very last page. It doesn't say how much support, but Sirota guesses that the money came from a $500,000 education grant the foundation made to Brookings in 2012.
March 3, 2014

Head of Ukraine's navy defects to pro-Russian Crimea


Ukrainian navy crew members stand on the deck of the corvette Ternopil in the Crimean port of Sevastopol.

Head of Ukraine's navy defects to pro-Russian Crimea
By Sergei L. Loiko
March 2, 2014, 4:14 p.m.

SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine -- Ukraine's acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, fired his new navy commander on Sunday for “high treason” after the admiral pledged allegiance to pro-Russian forces in Crimea, a Ukrainian news agency reported.

Earlier in the day, Adm. Denis Berezovsky appeared in public in Sevastopol in the company of Crimea's newly elected pro-Moscow premier, Sergei Aksenov, and pledged allegiance to his administration.

“I, Denis Berezovsky, swear an oath of allegiance to the residents of the republic of Crimea,” Berezovsky said in televised remarks. “I swear to fulfill my military duty with dignity, to bravely protect lives and freedom of the residents of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol.”

Crimea is a semi-autonomous region of Ukraine that now appears to be effectively under Russian control.
March 3, 2014

Buffett says rail tank cars need upgrades for oil


Buffett says rail tank cars need upgrades for oil
The Associated Press
March 3, 2014 Updated 15 minutes ago

OMAHA, Neb. — Investor Warren Buffett says it's clear that railroad tank cars carrying crude oil need to be updated because oil from certain regions has the potential to be more dangerous than previously thought.

Buffett appeared on CNBC Monday after releasing his letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders Saturday. Buffett owns BNSF railroad and a manufacturer of tank cars.

Buffett says the crude oil from the Bakken oil field in North Dakota and Montana and the Eagle Ford oil field in south Texas has proven more volatile than anticipated.

That volatility may have contributed to several fiery derailments in the past year, including one in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, last summer that killed 47 people.
March 3, 2014

Big or small, spending-cut efforts hit roadblocks


Big or small, spending-cut efforts hit roadblocks
Associated Press
Mar 3, 3:52 AM EST

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The budget gurus in Congress have failed for years to find a grand bargain to reduce the government's long-term debt, so this year they decided to go small. Just 1 percentage point would be shaved from the annual cost-of-living increase in military pensions for veterans under age 62.

That strategy failed, too. Congress promptly caved in to pressure from the powerful veterans lobby and voted last month to restore the bigger pension increases it had cut just two months earlier. It didn't matter that the Pentagon itself called the reduction fair and necessary.

Advocates of deficit reduction are discouraged. They say they fear Congress' reversal on military pensions will lead to unraveling other recent spending cuts.

"It's tough to overstate how devastating that was," said Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., one of just three senators who voted to keep the pension reduction in place. "It's back to the drawing board, because that was a big blow."
March 3, 2014

Tyco selling South Korean security arm for $1.93B


Tyco selling South Korean security arm for $1.93B
Mar 3, 7:01 AM EST

NEW YORK (AP) -- Fire protection and security company Tyco is selling its South Korean security business to asset manager The Carlyle Group for about $1.93 billion.

Tyco Fire & Security Services Korea Co. Ltd. and its subsidiaries form and run Tyco International Ltd.'s South Korean security business. That business serves approximately 475,000 small-and-medium-sized businesses, commercial and residential customers. It provides central monitoring services, with video surveillance and dispatch, access control and other customized security solutions as well as guarding services.

The business, which is based in Seoul, is expected to have fiscal 2014 revenue of approximately $600 million.

Tyco, based in Switzerland, said Monday that it anticipates net proceeds of $1.85 billion. Tyco said the proceeds will allow it to increase the amount of cash it uses for acquisitions, stock buybacks and other corporate purposes.
March 3, 2014

Will Sgt. Bergdahl be left behind in Afghanistan?


A video released by the Taliban contains footage of a man believed to be Bowe Bergdahl, left. Afghanistan's Taliban says it has suspended "mediation" with the United States to exchange captive U.S. soldier Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five senior Taliban prisoners held in U.S. custody in Guantanamo Bay, halting — at least temporarily — what was considered the best chance yet of securing the 27-year-old's freedom since his capture in 2009.

Will Sgt. Bergdahl be left behind in Afghanistan?
By Deb Riechmann
The Associated Press
© March 3, 2014


The case of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, held by the Taliban since 2009, has arisen again as the U.S. and other countries engage in diplomatic efforts to free him.

But if he is released, will America's only prisoner of the Afghan war be viewed as a hero or a deserter?

While tattered yellow ribbons still adorn utility poles in his native Hailey, Idaho, others are expressing conflicting thoughts about Bergdahl's plight as the war winds down, with President Barack Obama threatening to withdraw all U.S. troops by year's end unless the Afghan government signs a crucial security agreement.

They are convinced that on June 30, 2009, just a few months after he arrived in Afghanistan, Bergdahl willingly walked away from his unit, which was deployed in Paktika province in eastern Afghanistan, adjacent to the border with Pakistan. While they do want Bergdahl home, they think he should have to answer allegations that he deserted his unit.
March 3, 2014

Laine Welch: CO2 charged waters destroying Pacific shellfish stocks


Laine Welch: CO2 charged waters destroying Pacific shellfish stocks
By Laine welch
Fisheries March 2, 2014

Just as Nero fiddled while Rome burned, U.S. policy makers are quibbling over climate issues as bivalves dissolve in an increasingly corrosive Pacific Ocean.

Any kid's chemistry set will show that big changes are occurring in seawater throughout the world. As the oceans absorb more carbon dioxide from fossil-fuel burning outputs (primarily coal), it increases acidity to a point where shellfish can't survive. It is referred to as ocean acidification (OA) and results in sea creatures' inability to grow skeletons and protective shells. The process occurs much faster in colder climes.

West coast scallops are the latest bivalves to feel the bite. Ten million tiny scallops have died in waters off Victoria, British Columbia, reported the Parksville Qualicum Beach News.

Nanaimo-based Island Scallops, a grow-out hatchery with 1,235 acres in production, has shut down its processing plant and laid off a third of its workforce. That accounts for about 16 percent of B.C.'s total shellfish aquaculture valued at $10 million.
March 3, 2014

Ukraine Conflict: Putin Strengthens His True Enemies


The Russian invasion of Crimea has the potential to set off an explosive set of events within Ukraine.

Ukraine Conflict: Putin Strengthens His True Enemies
A Commentary by Benjamin Bidder in Moscow
March 03, 2014 – 01:01 PM

Whenever Russia pursues its own interest against the will of the international community, a dictum by Czar Alexander III springs to mind. Russia, he said, has only two allies: its army and its navy. If you can believe the Kremlin's propagandists, however, a new, unexpected ally has come to Moscow's defense: the Western press. According to the website "Sputnik and Pogrom," the Western media have "begun to support the Russian Federation's course of action in the Crimean crisis."

The statement has little basis in reality, but it has nevertheless been shared thousands of times on Russian social media networks. European reporters, it is said, have finally figured out that hardboiled neo-fascists and not freedom fighters were behind the takeover of Independence Square.

This has been the Russian propaganda line for months -- that the West is ignoring the hordes of neo-Nazis bullying valiant Ukrainian policemen. The role of the violent nationalists, however, has been widely covered in the international press, and it was police brutality -- and Yanukovych's attempts, supported by Moscow, to outlast the protests -- that actually radicalized Independence Square. When students were beaten down on the night of November 30, they had neither helmets, nor batons, nor firearms.

Russia's Ridiculous Justification

Russia's justifications for its Crimean military intervention are outrageous. Russia's UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, told the UN that masked irregular troops from Kiev had raided Crimea's ministry of the interior. Valentina Matviyenko -- the current Chairman of the Federal Council of the Russian Federation who quickly gave President Vladimir Putin a blank check for his march into Ukraine -- has mentioned that there were multiple dead during a raid.
March 3, 2014

Xi Jinping's Germany Trip: Berlin Nixes Holocaust Memorial Request


The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin: Chinese President Xi Jinping is welcome to wander through in March, but on his own time.

Xi Jinping's Germany Trip: Berlin Nixes Holocaust Memorial Request
March 03, 2014 – 11:09 AM

China, Reuters reported in February, wants Japan to be more like Germany -- specifically, it wants Tokyo to do more to acknowledge the suffering Japan inflicted on China during World War II. Chinese President Xi Jinping wanted to underline that desire during his upcoming March visit to Berlin by taking in some of the myriad war memorials which dot the German capital.

Berlin, though, wants no part of the East Asian propaganda war. SPIEGEL has learned that a visit to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe -- Berlin's largest Holocaust memorial -- requested by Beijing will not be part of the itinerary of Xi's trip at the end of March. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has also declined to accompany Xi to the Memorial to the Victims of Fascism and Militarism, a smaller monument across from Humboldt University known as the Neue Wache.

The German government, Berlin sources told SPIEGEL, wants to avoid becoming involved in the tiff over history currently straining relations between Beijing and Tokyo. Government sources told SPIEGEL that Xi was, of course, welcome to visit World War II memorials on his own time.

In recent years, China has repeatedly contrasted Germany's decades-long expressions of contrition for the horrors of World War II with Japan's alleged inaction. Tokyo has repeatedly apologized for the suffering visited upon China during the war, but periodic visits by top Japanese officials to the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors wartime leaders in addition to the victims of the war, have led China to question Japan's stance on the issue. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the shrine at the end of December.
March 3, 2014

Obama’s army


Obama’s army
Fri, Feb 28, 2014, 09:59

A combination of war-weariness after 13 years of war, changing global security realities, and budget imperatives make it likely that the announcement by US defence secretary Chuck Hagel of a major slimming down of the US army will be accepted, if not enthusiastically, by the US public. The New York Times described the measures as reflecting “a necessary and more prudent realism”.

The defence department’s proposed budget of $496 billion for the 2015 fiscal year is based on reducing the army to its smallest size since 1940, down to 440-450,000 troops by 2019, from a peak of 570,000 at the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Previously planned cuts were due to reduce the army to 490,000. Hagel is also proposing to eliminate the A-10 “Warthog” close air support planes, which are much approved-of by ground troops, and reduce military allowances, and both have provoked predictably strong protests from both sides of Congress. Defence cuts are always particularly sensitive in election years.

President Barack Obama has said he wants to move away from a permanent war footing and savings will also see more resources devoted to training and weapons. The US military will, however, remain the world’s most powerful force, by a very large margin, and the reductions reflect the reality that the country’s generals do not believe they are likely to be involved in major land invasions and hence do not require to maintain the forces to do so.

The announcement also coincides with an Obama warning to Afghanistan’s president Hamid Karzai of his intention to pull all US troops out of the country by the end of this year.

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