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And, yes, I DO take it personally: 01/11/2009 - 01/18/2009
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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Dubai ain't immune to the global financial meltdown

from daijiworld via juan cole...
Local police have found at least 3,000 automobiles -- sedans, SUVs, regulars -- abandoned outside Dubai International Airport in the last four months. Police say most of the vehicles had keys in the ignition, a clear sign they were left behind by owners in a hurry to take flight.

The global economic crisis has brought Dubai's economic progress, mirrored by its soaring towers and luxurious resorts, to a stuttering halt. Several people have been laid off in the past months after the realty boom started unraveling.

On the night of December 31, 2008 alone more than 80 vehicles were found at the airport. "Sixty cars were seized on the first day of this year," director general of Airport Security, Mohammed Bin Thani, told DNA over the phone. On the same day, deputy director of traffic, colonel Saif Mohair Al Mazroui, said they seized 22 cars abandoned at a prohibited area in the airport.

Faced with a cash crunch and a bleak future ahead, there were no goodbyes for the migrants -- overwhelmingly South Asians, mostly Indians - just a quiet abandoning of the family car at the airport and other places.

While 2,500 vehicles have been found dumped in the past four months outside Terminal III, which caters to all global airlines, Terminal II, which is only used by Emirates Airlines, had 160 cars during the same period.

i've been through dubai several times... wherever i am, i always make it a point to talk to taxi drivers... i like to hear their thoughts on things because they usually have their fingers on the pulse of what's going on locally... every single taxi driver i've spoken with in dubai has been either from india or pakistan, most having been recruited by the government, most there without their families, most there trying to earn some money to send home, and most not caring much for dubai, the locals or how they're treated... they come on two-year, renewable contracts with a one-month paid home leave at the end of the first year... some had already renewed, some were thinking about it, and some said "no way"... it's interesting to know that, now that dubai has at long last fallen on hard times, many are simply saying "to hell with it"... can't say as i blame them...

Dubai from the east bank of Deira Creek
29 November 2008

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Friday, January 16, 2009

B.O.H.I.C.A. - the bailout continues as the financial meltdown shows no signs of abating

b.o.h.i.c.a. = bend over, here it comes again...

bank of america is the latest financial vampire to sink its teeth into the already-dessicated american taxpayer...

[T]he government agreed early Friday to provide an additional $20 billion infusion of capital into the bank and to cover the bulk of up to $118 billion in losses, largely arising from the bank’s Merrill acquisition.

Overall for 2008, Bank of America posted a net profit of $4.01 billion compared with net income of $14.98 billion a year earlier.

It said earnings were driven reflected “the deepening economic recession and extremely challenging financial environment, both of which significantly intensified in the last three months of 2008.”

but, wait...! there's MORE...! hold on to your wallets... citi is probably next in line...
Citigroup capped a devastating 2008 by announcing Friday that it would split into two entities and that it had posted an $8.29 billion loss for the fourth quarter.

When John A. Thain, left, of Merrill Lynch and Kenneth D. Lewis of Bank of America announced their companies’ merger in September, it looked as if Mr. Lewis had scored a coup. But now Bank of America is in need of more federal money to deal with Merrill’s losses.

Citigroup’s rival, Bank of America, also posted a loss, just hours after receiving a new infusion of government support.

Underlining the depth of the problems that have emerged from its acquisition of Merrill Lynch, Bank of America said Merrill had a fourth-quarter net loss of $15.31 billion, or $9.62 per diluted share, “driven by severe capital markets dislocations,” before the acquisition was completed.

Even as Bank of America was coping with the challenge of absorbing Merrill, Citigroup was announcing the latest steps in dismantling its own financial supermarket.

Citigroup confirmed that it would divide, for management purposes, into two separate businesses — Citicorp and Citi Holdings.

and, if you think things are slowing down in the financial meltdown department, check this out...
Last fall, as Federal Reserve and Treasury Department officials rode to the rescue of one financial institution after another, they took great pains to avoid doing anything that smacked of nationalizing banks.

They may no longer have that luxury. With two of the nation’s largest banks buckling under yet another round of huge losses, the incoming administration of Barack Obama and the Federal Reserve are suddenly dealing with banks that are “too big to fail” and yet unable to function as the sinking economy erodes their capital.

Particularly in the case of Citigroup, the losses have become so large that they make it almost mathematically impossible for the government to inject enough capital without taking a majority stake or at least squeezing out existing shareholders.

nationalized banks... cool...! it will be the absolute death knell for the capitalist, free-market, "invisible hand" quasi-religious ideology... and about goddam time, too...! < /snark >

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A Jewish perspective on Israel and Gaza

one of my dearest, oldest friends, a jew himself, offers his views on the current israeli-gaza situation...
This whole situation has me viscerally pained beyond words. I can not sit in ... pro-Israel rallies... . In those rallies I see people who in my view support Israel out of political expediency, and who in other parts of their lives represent views which are antithetical to core Jewish values, and in some cases are clearly anti-semetic... .

I also cannot really feel at home standing beside [those who berate] the entire Israeli state, not just it's governmental values. Although I think Israel is acting in ways that threaten its existence far more than Hamas rockets, I cannot bring myself to condemn an entire country which could potentially be a safe haven for Jews being persecuted across the globe. I have no hesitancy to condemn Israeli government policy, but not Israel in its entirety, just as I have always been opposed to the U.S. war in Iraq but don't see myself as anti-U.S. in the least. In fact, I see my opposition to Israel's current war strategies as pro-Israel since I see the current policy as not at all increasing Israel's security.

I was at a meeting today where a fellow Jew talked about the "wonderful" rally that was held last weekend and how unfortunate it was that there were those, including Jews, outside protesting. She commented on how it was too bad Jews could not dialogue with each other on these issues. My experience is that the mainstream Jewish community does not really want that dialogue--that those protesters were outside because they would not have been invited in, at least not to speak. This is why I am experiencing increasing distance between myself and the mainstream Jewish community to the point where I am close to ending my membership in my synagogue.

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Breathing the air in Kabul is a killer


the two times i've been in kabul, once for 2 1/2 months in spring 2008 and then again this past november, i was appalled at the level of pollution... quite honestly, i don't know how the afghans manage... the folks who are out walking or bicycling are the most vulnerable, and many of them try to cope by wrapping their noses and mouths with scarves, handkerchiefs or face masks... it's bad... REALLY bad... upper respiratory problems are epidemic and i'm sure the mortality rate for the infirm and elderly is high... with all the horrors those poor people have to deal with, severe air pollution shouldn't have to be one of them...

Air pollution in the Afghan capital of Kabul is so serious that President Hamid Karzai has declared a state of emergency.

Many residents burn plastic and tires for warmth. Those lucky enough to own a car use leaded fuel. Plus, thousands of gas-burning generators in shops and homes across the city provide power that the government can't.

Experts say Kabul is rapidly becoming one of the world's worst cities for air pollution, and nowhere is it more polluted than in a neighborhood near the presidential compound.

Here, the rancid air casts a yellow haze. Pedestrians hurry past, pressing scarves to their faces.

Several American Humvees roll past Mahboobullah Bakhtiari, who is setting up a cylindrical device. He works for Afghanistan's National Environmental Protection Agency and is here to measure just how bad the air is.

Bakhtiari places white filters in the monitor. He says it will take less than a day for those filters to turn black.

check these hair-raising stats...
According to Afghanistan's National Environmental Protection Agency, the level of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) was 52 ppm (parts per million) on an average day in Kabul in 2008. The U.S. EPA national air quality standard is .053 ppm.

The level of sulfur dioxide (SO2) was 37 ppm on an average day in Kabul in 2008. The U.S. EPA national air quality standard is .030 ppm.

According to the U.S. EPA, exposure to NO2, SO2 and other particulate matter negatively affects the respiratory system, damages lung tissue, and can cause cancer and premature death. The elderly, children and people with chronic lung disease, influenza or asthma tend to be especially sensitive to the effects of particulate matter.

what are they going to do...? what CAN they do...?

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Juan Cole on how Israel controls U.S. policy

you simply MUST read juan cole's excellent analysis of the bush, olmert, rice, khalilzad intrigue related to the un security council cease-fire resolution on gaza... it's complete, insightful, and probably pretty damn accurate...

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Robin Williams on Obama and a few other things

very cool, very funny and, as usual, spot on...

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Monday, January 12, 2009

THIS is the Afghanistan I've seen first-hand


and it makes me positively enraged... over two trips in 2008 and two more in the offing for this year, the kind of disparity described in this article that i've personally witnessed is beyond despicable...
Inexplicable Wealth of Afghan Elite Sows Bitterness

Across the street from the Evening in Paris wedding hall, a monument to opulence surrounded by neon-lighted fountains and a five-story replica of the Eiffel Tower, is a little colony of tents where 65 families, mostly returnees from Pakistan, huddle against the winter cold and wish they had never come home.

Similar startling contrasts abound across the Afghan capital. Children with pinched faces beg near the mansions of a tiny elite enriched by foreign aid and official corruption. Hundreds of tattered men gather at dawn outside a glittering new office building to compete for 50-cent jobs hauling construction debris.

"I am a farmer with 11 children. Our crops dried up, so I came to the city to find work, but all day I stand here in the cold and no one hires me," said Abdul Ghani, 47. "All the jobs and money go to those who have relatives in power, and corruption is everywhere. How else could they build these big houses? Nobody cares about the poor," he added bitterly. "They just make fun of us."

Seven years after the fall of the Taliban and the establishment of a civilian-led, internationally backed government, Afghanistan remains one of the poorest countries in the world, with rates of unemployment, illiteracy, infant mortality and malnutrition on a par with the most impoverished nations in sub-Saharan Africa. Most homes lack light, heat and running water; most babies are born at home and without medical help.

when they say "most homes," they ain't kidding... unless you have major, MAJOR bucks at your disposal, even the thin, thin layer of the middle class in kabul does without heat and electricity most of the time... if you're lucky, you MIGHT have a small, 5hp generator to power your lights in the evening OR the pump in your water well, but not both, and THAT'S assuming you have enough money to buy fuel for the generator... it's ugly, ugly, ugly, and, now that nighttime temps are getting down into the low teens F, there are people literally DYING every day from the cold, usually the most vulnerable, the children and the elderly...

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Watch Jon Stewart on Gaza

and then send him a thank you...

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Israel’s bombardment of Gaza is not self-defence – it’s a war crime

from the london sunday times via juan cole...
Israel’s bombardment of Gaza is not self-defence – it’s a war crime

ISRAEL has sought to justify its military attacks on Gaza by stating that it amounts to an act of “self-defence” as recognised by Article 51, United Nations Charter. We categorically reject this contention.

The rocket attacks on Israel by Hamas deplorable as they are, do not, in terms of scale and effect amount to an armed attack entitling Israel to rely on self-defence. Under international law self-defence is an act of last resort and is subject to the customary rules of proportionality and necessity.

The killing of almost 800 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and more than 3,000 injuries, accompanied by the destruction of schools, mosques, houses, UN compounds and government buildings, which Israel has a responsibility to protect under the Fourth Geneva Convention, is not commensurate to the deaths caused by Hamas rocket fire.

For 18 months Israel had imposed an unlawful blockade on the coastal strip that brought Gazan society to the brink of collapse. In the three years after Israel’s redeployment from Gaza, 11 Israelis were killed by rocket fire. And yet in 2005-8, according to the UN, the Israeli army killed about 1,250 Palestinians in Gaza, including 222 children. Throughout this time the Gaza Strip remained occupied territory under international law because Israel maintained effective control over it.

Israel’s actions amount to aggression, not self-defence, not least because its assault on Gaza was unnecessary. Israel could have agreed to renew the truce with Hamas. Instead it killed 225 Palestinians on the first day of its attack. As things stand, its invasion and bombardment of Gaza amounts to collective punishment of Gaza’s 1.5m inhabitants contrary to international humanitarian and human rights law. In addition, the blockade of humanitarian relief, the destruction of civilian infrastructure, and preventing access to basic necessities such as food and fuel, are prima facie war crimes.

We condemn the firing of rockets by Hamas into Israel and suicide bombings which are also contrary to international humanitarian law and are war crimes. Israel has a right to take reasonable and proportionate means to protect its civilian population from such attacks. However, the manner and scale of its operations in Gaza amount to an act of aggression and is contrary to international law, notwithstanding the rocket attacks by Hamas.

Ian Brownlie QC, Blackstone Chambers
Mark Muller QC, Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales
Michael Mansfield QC and Joel Bennathan QC, Tooks Chambers
Sir Geoffrey Bindman, University College, London
Professor Richard Falk, Princeton University
Professor M Cherif Bassiouni, DePaul University, Chicago
Professor Christine Chinkin, LSE
Professor John B Quigley, Ohio State University
Professor Iain Scobbie and Victor Kattan, School of Oriental and African Studies
Professor Vera Gowlland-Debbas, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva
Professor Said Mahmoudi, Stockholm University
Professor Max du Plessis, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban
Professor Bill Bowring, Birkbeck College
Professor Joshua Castellino, Middlesex University
Professor Thomas Skouteris and Professor Michael Kagan, American University of Cairo
Professor Javaid Rehman, Brunel University
Daniel Machover, Chairman, Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights
Dr Phoebe Okawa, Queen Mary University
John Strawson, University of East London
Dr Nisrine Abiad, British Institute of International and Comparative Law
Dr Michael Kearney, University of York
Dr Shane Darcy, National University of Ireland, Galway
Dr Michelle Burgis, University of St Andrews
Dr Niaz Shah, University of Hull
Liz Davies, Chair, Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyer
Prof Michael Lynk, The University of Western Ontario
Steve Kamlish QC and Michael Topolski QC, Tooks Chambers

since i happen to be sitting here, a mere 15 minutes from the israeli border, i am particularly interested in what's happening in gaza... the jordanians, i can tell you, are watching this with great interest, as well they should...

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