Expanding exports, free trade zones blocked by Republicans

President Obama has made expanding exports a centerpiece of his plan for accelerating the economic recovery, but in recent weeks, his trade agenda has nearly ground to a halt amid partisan feuding.

Although the White House renegotiated a pivotal free-trade agreement with South Korea in December, scoring rare bipartisan praise, House Republican leaders have refused to allow the deal to move forward. They want the administration to make progress first on similar accords with Colombia and Panama that face stiff opposition from labor unions and liberal Democrats.

Wonder what products from those countries are favored by Republicans?

To add to the pressure on the administration, House Republicans in February blocked a big expansion of trade adjustment assistance — which provides cash, training, relocation, job search and other benefits to workers displaced by globalization — from being renewed. Many of the 220,000 workers who took part in the program last year could have their benefits reduced as a result.

Another program, which gives duty-free preferences to 4,800 products from poor countries that are allies of the United States, expired in December after a Republican senator, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, blocked a vote to extend it….

In 30 years I have not seen trade policy in such disarray as it is now,” said Howard F. Rosen, a trade expert at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, a research organization here.

The standoffs have come to overshadow what trade proponents had seen as a major accomplishment: the completion in December of a free-trade agreement with South Korea, the largest such deal since the North American Free Trade Agreement took effect in 1994…

The Andean preferences, which began in 1991, have lapsed just as the United States was trying to get Colombia to strengthen labor protections as part of the negotiations to revise the 2006 agreement.

A third program, the Generalized System of Preference, also has expired, but for parochial reasons, not partisan ones. Mr. Sessions, the Alabama senator, blocked the program from being renewed past its Dec. 31 expiration unless changes were made to protect Exxel Outdoors, a sleeping-bag manufacturer with a plant in Haleyville, Ala., from competition in Bangladesh.

As usual, Republican ideology is as suspect as any other agitprop they offer whilst electioneering. Unless pork is protected, unless businesses in the Republican family get special treatment, free trade means as little as civil rights.

Dogs who listen to children reading

When children read to him, Danny does not criticise or correct their pronunciation. He just nods and pricks up an ear, although sometimes he closes his eyes and appears not to be listening.

Danny is a greyhound and a novel way of encouraging pupils at Oakhill primary school in Tamworth, Staffordshire, to read aloud. A “listening dog”, he is part of a scheme that originated in the US called Reading Education Assistance Dogs (Read).

“It helps with their self-esteem in reading out loud because he is non-judgmental,” says the dog’s owner, Tony Nevett, who has a degree in animal-assisted therapy. “He doesn’t judge them and he doesn’t laugh at them. He’s just a tool – the children don’t realise they are reading, which they might not have the confidence to do in class.” Some children even show Danny the pictures as they read.

Danny received five months of training to become a Read dog. Greyhounds are particularly well-suited because they do not bark and their short coat is less likely to trigger allergies.

Nevett hopes that the scheme, piloted in Kent, will spread. “We’ve had some success stories, including a girl with Down’s Syndrome who really took to the dog and improved her reading,” he says. “When Danny goes to sleep I tell the children that he’s dreaming about their story.”


Although my dog ignores anything I try to read to her – unless it’s about cheese.

Arab youth want democracy, not theocracy

Danger over – American politicians fly to Egypt for a photo op in Tahrir Square
Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

Hosni Mubarak’s resignation resurrected a tsunami wave of articles and commentaries on whether Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood would now come to power. And yet, few have asked why the primary leaders of grassroots revolt in Egypt and across the Arab world curiously have not been Islamic organizations.

Authoritarian rulers in the Arab world, like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi, have long justified their repressive governments by warning the United States and Europe that the alternative to their governments was “chaos” and an Islamist takeover.

The new generation of Arab youth and their supporters, however diverse and different, is united in its desire to topple entrenched autocrats and corrupt governments.

Having witnessed the failures of Islamist authoritarian regimes in Sudan, Iran, the Taliban’s Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia, and the terror of the Bin Laden’s of the world, they are not interested in theocracy but democracy with its greater equality, pluralism, freedoms and opportunities.

But what about the Islamists, where are they?

The Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamic groups neither initiated nor have led pro-democracy protest movements. The uprisings have revealed a broad-based pro-democracy movement that is not driven by a single ideology or by religious extremists.

What has occurred is not an attempt at an Islamist takeover but a broad-based call for reforms…

As their signs, placards, statements, demands and the waving of flags not Islamist placards indicated, protesters want to reclaim their dignity, control of their lives and the right to determine their government; they demand government accountability and transparency, rule of law, an end to widespread corruption, and respect for human rights…

In contrast to radical extremists who want to seize power and impose their brand of an Islamic state, mainstream Islamic groups have competed and done well in elections and remained non-violent despite government limitations, harassment, repression, and rigged elections.

They have created effective NGOs that respond to the social and educational needs of their societies. They have come to appreciate diversity and pluralism in society and the need for democracy as the best system to manage this diversity. They have also been advocating many of the values of democracy, such as citizenship, rule of law, constitutionalism, separation of power, good governance and accountability…

I’m not certain how much of this analysis is wishful thinking by John Esposito. Certainly the currents he describes as mainstream, even predominant, have always been a force in the resistance to old-line dictators. Especially to the autocrats so often favored by the US and UK.

But, the youth wing of the Muslim Brotherhood did play a significant role in the overthrow of Mubarak. Without the direction of the traditional membership. They have changed many strategies of Islamist movements – they were bright enough to prevent hackneyed religious sloganeering during the uprising – they haven’t changed much on some individual issues. The most important, democratic participation of all parties is the most welcome change in their ideology.

I hope he’s right. RTFA for the details. He does have significantly more knowledge of the turf than your average politician or pundit.

Infect your PC with malware – click on the London Stock Exchange

Booby-trapped adverts that hit visitors with fake security software have been discovered on the London Stock Exchange (LSE) website. Analysis of the LSE site suggests that over the last 90 days, about 363 pages had hosted malware.

The LSE said its site was now safe and an investigation showed that ads provided by a third party were the culprit…

Security expert Paul Mutton fell victim when he viewed the site on 27 February. He visited the LSE homepage to find out why some people reported that they could not access it.

The site was blocked by Firefox, he said, but accessible via Google’s Chrome browser. “It seemed to work with Chrome but then a few seconds later, without having to click on anything, pop-ups started to appear,” he said…

“I visited the site and it compromised my machine,” said Mr Mutton.

While he was fighting to regain control of his machine, the malware kicked off fake virus alerts in pop-up windows. One window was a fake security scanner which claimed it had detected lots of different malware on the PC.

Mr Mutton said his machine fell victim despite being updated with the latest batch of virus definitions earlier in the day…

Of the 1112 pages that Google scanned on the LSE site over the last 90 days, 363 were found to be hosting malware. The malicious code it found included scripting exploits and trojans.

The article rounds up with solutions and suspicions by security experts [meaning software vendors]. Which of course, don’t confirm a damned thing.

Causes may been ad servers, image servers, lots of ways the crud might have been made available to infect the computers of trusting subscribers. Not exactly the best job of self-policing, folks.

Three murderers campaign for freedom based on “human rights”

Three murderers who were expected to die in jail have launched a campaign for freedom based on their human rights and the European Court of Human Rights has agreed to hear the cases.

Jeremy Bamber, Peter Moore and Douglas Vinter – who killed 11 men between them and were each given “whole life” tariffs – claim their sentences amount to “inhuman or degrading treatment” and breach their right to a fair trial.

The court’s decision to hear their views is likely to anger both Parliament and the victims’ families. The House of Commons is already in a battle with Europe over prisoners’ rights, after it voted to maintain the ban on their voting against the orders of Brussels.

If the court, which is in Strasbourg, rules in their favour, all 41 of the prisoners serving the whole life terms would be eligible to claim for release. The list could include Ian Brady, the Moors Murderer, Rose West and Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper.

Kenneth Clarke, the Justice Secretary, told the Daily Mail: “It goes without saying that the Government will be fighting the case vigorously and defending the principle of the whole life tariff. A small number of prisoners’ crimes are so appalling that judges rule that they should never become eligible for parole.”

Justice and jurisprudence appear to have become nothing more than a playground for lawmakers, lawbreakers and lawyers. It’s all some kind of game based on the exchange of large sums of money.

Woman dies at desk, no one noticed until the next day

A 51-year-old Los Angeles County worker died at her desk last Friday, and was not found there until the next afternoon, when a Saturday security guard was making the weekend rounds.

Rebecca Wells, who was employed by the L.A. County Department of Internal Services in the risk management division, was last seen alive by co-workers on Friday at about 9AM. “She was always working,” commented one co-worker. The exact time of her death has not been determined.

Representatives from the L.A. County Coroner’s office are still trying to determine the cause of her death, but so far, it is still a mystery. No foul play is suspected, however — Wells is believed to have died of natural causes. Downy police are still investigating as well.

Wells, a compliance auditor and USC graduate, had become a grandmother just a week ago. She was well liked and respected by her colleagues, who described her as “nothing short of enthusiastic.”

I’m not certain how I’d describe her fellow-workers, though.

Did she die during the day. At her desk. And no noticed.

When her office-mates left for the day did no one look in on her to say, “have a nice weekend”?

Identity theft ring targeted funerals

A Fort Lauderdale man who prosecutors said ran an identity theft ring that broke into people’s cars while they attended funerals was sentenced to nine years in federal prison Friday.

Oscar Diaz, 30, must also pay almost $130,000 in restitution to 50 victims from Florida, Maryland and several other states under the terms of a plea agreement he reached with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Baltimore…

Prosecutors said Diaz, and several other co-defendants from Broward County, worked together to steal the identities and use them to get cash. Some of them broke into vehicles that were parked outside churches, day care centers, parks, gyms and cemeteries up and down the East Coast, then impersonated the victims at their banks — even donning wigs to disguise themselves, according to court records.

Diaz’s co-conspirators would even follow funeral processions in order to target cars parked at graveyards,” according to a press release from Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein.

Diaz says he hopes to get treatment for his problems with substance abuse while he’s in prison. I think that depends on how easy it to get drugs and booze in whichever slammer he gets to spend the next nine years.

Pipers in Brittany unite against American white supremacists

Yannick Martin

Hundreds of traditional musicians from Brittany’s top pipe bands, known as Bagadoù, convened on the town of Brest for the region’s most prestigious championships on Sunday.

They were joined by thousands of fans in showing their support for Yannick Martin, a 24-year old virtuoso of the bombard, a double reed instrument from the oboe family, who has twice been crowned Brittany’s champion player.

Mr Martin has been the target of a hate campaign by a Houston-based white supremacist website called Breiz Atao (Brittany Forever), the name of a Breton nationalist journal that supported Nazism in the second world war…

Mr Martin, born in Columbia but adopted and raised by a Breton family, has filed for charges of “racial discrimination”. His brother, adopted and raised by a different family is also a top pipe player. Both play in one of the region’s most acclaimed bands, Kemper, which competed in Brest yesterday.

Before the competition, Mr Martin said: “I’ve been judged by the colour of my skin by people who are totally out of touch with today’s Brittany. I feel entirely Breton and my response will be to continue to play.”

Sunday, around 2,000 players and fans wore the double ribbon sporting the Breton colours “gwen ha du” (black and white) in a poignant protest at the racist slur…

The Breton Democratic Union (UDB), the main autonomist and regionalist party in Brittany, denounced the attack. “The defence of the Breton cause has very unfortunately been hijacked by a minority of frustrated individuals with scandalous views about our Breton citizens of foreign origin. To be Breton has nothing to do with blood or the colour of your skin, it’s not a question of a Breton ‘race’ but of a Breton people rich in its diversity,” said the UDB.

One of the great “gifts” of American politics to Planet Earth since World War 2 has been the politics of racism.

Europeans, Brits, North Africans witnessed the Jim Crow policies of the American military – there to liberate Europe from Hitler’s fascism while ordering local communities to observe the policies of segregation brought along by occupation forces.

As Europeans watched the civil rights battles of the 50’s into the 70’s on television, they also learned all the racial slurs adopted by their emigres to American society. All the N-word stereotypes entered European languages courtesy of “letters to home”.

Now, we see the new expansion of bigotry that accompanies this decade’s populism offered to cultures outside the United States as the way to behave, to follow this American example of musical “purity”.

Deadly fire started by Voodoo sex ceremony

Candles used in voodoo sex ceremony caused a fatal five alarm fire after they tipped over and ignited bed sheets in a Brooklyn, New York, apartment…

The fire left an elderly woman dead and injured 20 firefighters and three Brooklyn residents, according to a New York Fire Department statement.

A voodoo priest allegedly placed the candles on the floor around the bed on Saturday after a woman paid him $300 to perform a ceremony with a sexual component, that was meant to bring her good luck, fire department officials said.

The candles were accidentally knocked over during the ceremony prompting the man to douse the flames with water and open a window in an effort to clear smoke from the room, the statement said.

Forty mile-per-hour wind gusts instead shot the flames back inside the room, it said, creating a “blowtorch effect” that whipped through the open window and pushed the fire into the building’s fourth floor hallway.

“Time and time again we respond to tragedies that could have been so easily prevented,” Fire Commissioner Salvatore J. Cassano said in the statement. “This fire had so many of those elements … hopefully others will learn from this tragedy.” The occupants fled the apartment, leaving the door open, the statement said.

Nearly 200 firefighters from 44 companies took seven hours to bring the fire under control.

So, uh, could this be the one true religion?

And aren’t they all?