Puppet Masters

Bad Guys

Modern slavery, bread and circuses: Official records show 185 Nepalese workers died last year alone on stadium construction sites for Qatar for 2022 Soccer World Cup‏

© Str/EPA
Migrant construction workers in Doha, Qatar. The ITUC has warned that up to 4,000 could die before the 2022 World Cup without meaningful reform of worker conditions
The extent of the risks faced by migrant construction workers building the infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar has been laid bare by official documents revealing that 185 Nepalese men died last year alone.

The 2013 death toll, which is expected to rise as new cases come to light, is likely to spark fresh concern over the treatment of migrant workers in Qatar and increase the pressure on Fifa to force meaningful change. According to the documents the total number of verified deaths among workers from Nepal - just one of several countries that supply hundreds of thousands of migrant workers to the gas-rich state - is now at least 382 in two years alone. At least 36 of those deaths were registered in the weeks following the global outcry after the Guardian's original revelations in September.

Eggs Fried

The global elite are sleeping inside a golden egg in the Swiss Alps

© Unknown
The newest venue at Davos - the Swiss ski resort where hundreds of heads of state and CEOs are spending the week to discuss business and the state of the global economy - is an architectural bauble with an unusually loud symbolism for the high-level conference: it's a giant fortress chalet in the shape of a golden egg.

Enveloped by 790 gold-colored undulating bands of steel and overlooking Lake Davos, the new Intercontinental Davos is an architectural stunner. "It's like a luxury space ship has landed in this tiny town," John Newton of Conde Nast Traveler raved in November, a month ahead of its opening. Designed by the Munich-based firm Oikios and engineer Seele to reflect the feel of a chalet, the 216-room hotel features all the amenities found at Davos's other luxury hotels, but will be the first hotel in town with its own helipad.

It also comes surrounded by barbed wire, security cameras, and motion sensors: during the World Economic Forum, a spokesman told Bloomberg that the hotel will play host to 7 world leaders and dozens of CEOs. Rooms, which are fully booked and normally go for around $720 per night, are likely to command prices multiples higher during the WEF. In a video, a Bloomberg reporter asks the general manager how much the rooms are likely to be. He snaps back, "I can't tell you."


Pope Francis to the Davos wealthy: Stop thinking only of yourselves

© Jason Alden/Bloomberg
They may think they're doing God's work, but the Pope begs to differ: JPMorgan chief Jamie Dimon, center, during a break at the Davos World Economic Forum.
Never let it be said that Pope Francis doesn't know how to bring the battle to the battleground. In an address to the CEOs and assorted financial hangers-on gathered this week in Davos, Switzerland, for the annual World Economic Forum, he admonished that "modern business activity," for all its virtues, often has led to "a widespread social exclusion."

He continued, "Indeed, the majority of the men and women of our time still continue to experience daily insecurity." In the speech read by a proxy, he observed that the business community often fails to take into "the dignity of every human person and the common good. I am referring to a concern that ought to shape every political and economic decision, but which at times seems to be little more than an afterthought."

The pontiff's words largely replicate the critique of capitalism in his apostolic exhortation last November. ("Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless.") What was special this time around was the audience and its setting, the faintly ridiculous yearly financial glamorfest of Davos.

Star of David

NYC mayor: Defending Israel is part of my job

© Unknown
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio says that defending Israel is part of my job description.

The new mayor of New York City has told members of the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) that part of his "job description is to be a defender of Israel."

Bill de Blasio, who took office on January 1, made the remarks during an unannounced speech at an AIPAC gathering on Thursday, The New York Times reported.

According to the Times, reporters were denied attendance and even a reporter who tried to attend the gathering was escorted away by security guards.

Blasio, who faced sharp criticism from reporters, has said the organizers of the event did not want any journalists to attend the gathering.

The AIPAC is the most powerful pro-Israel lobby group in the US that has recently intensified its anti-Iran efforts on Capitol Hill in order to convince US senators to co-sponsor a new sanctions bill against Iran.

Comment: Could it be more clear as to who directs the show in America?

Snakes in Suits

Congress to Obama: No, YOU solve the NSA problem!

The president passes the buck. But the agency's Hill defenders say he should take the lead.

As he's done umpteen times before, President Obama is kicking an important issue over to Congress. The last time, it was whether to bomb Syria. Now it's about how the National Security Agency should conduct surveillance and under what rules. The NSA's supporters on Capitol Hill are not happy.

In his speech last week in support of most NSA programs, Obama left open such critical issues as how the NSA should collect telephone metadata - perhaps the most controversial part of its surveillance program - saying the two solutions proposed by his own special task force last month were problematic. He asked Attorney General Eric Holder and the intelligence community to "report back to me with options for alternative approaches." Obama added, "I will consult with the relevant committees in Congress to seek their views and then seek congressional authorization for the new program as needed." He also said he has "taken the unprecedented step of extending certain protections that we have for the American people to people overseas."

Snakes in Suits

U.S. Privacy Board says NSA mass surveillance is ILLEGAL

© Unknown
NSA's headquarters in Fort Meade, Md.

The National Security Agency's program collecting records on virtually all U.S. phone calls violates the law, according to a government privacy board.

In a 238-page report released Thursday, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board calls for an end to the program, saying it has never stopped a terrorist attack and threatens the privacy of millions of Americans.

The report is yet another blow to the controversial program, which was first revealed by Edward Snowden last year.

Gift 2

Former Virginia Governor McDonnell and wife charged in gifts case

© Washington Post
McDonnell, wife charged in federal corruption probe: Former Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, were charged with illegally accepting gifts, luxury vacations and large loans from a wealthy Richmond-area businessman.

Former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, were charged Tuesday with illegally accepting gifts, luxury vacations and large loans from a wealthy Richmond area businessman who sought special treatment from state government.

Authorities allege that for nearly two years, the McDonnells repeatedly asked executive Jonnie R. Williams Sr. for loans and gifts of money, clothes, golf fees and equipment, trips, and private plane rides. The gifts and loans totaled at least $165,000.

In exchange, authorities allege, the McDonnells worked in concert to lend the prestige of the governor's office to Williams's struggling company, Star Scientific, a former small cigarette manufacturer that now sells dietary supplements.

McDonnell, 59, is the first governor ever to face criminal charges in Virginia, a state that has prided itself on a history of clean and ethical politics, and the charges will probably accelerate a push for the legislature to tighten state ethics laws.

The criminal prosecution marks a stunning crash for a politician who was considered for the Republican vice presidential nomination in 2012 and who, just a year ago, was considered a credible prospective candidate for president.

The 43-page, 14-count indictment adds new details to a story line of largess that was first recounted by The Washington Post in March. It depicts an elected official in financial trouble who sought help from a businessman with something to gain.

McDonnell and his legal team immediately denounced the charges and said prosecutors overstepped their authority. In an unprecedented televised public appearance Tuesday night, McDonnell said, " I come before you this evening as someone who has been falsely and wrongfully accused and whose public service has been wrongfully attacked."

He went on to insist, "I repeat again, emphatically, that I did nothing illegal for Mr. Williams."

Comment: The whole US government runs on gifts, bribes and graft.

So, why is this couple being exposed, and why now?

Bad Guys

Napolitano: Few checks on Obama's Bush-like bully-pulpit power

Judge Andrew Napolitano
President Obama, who used executive orders during his first term for pay changes, setting up a variety of councils, creating immunity for Bosnia, ensuring abortions through Obamacare, promoting "diversity" and dozens of other things, is explaining that he'll be expanding that activity during his second.

In fact, he's setting a course to do what he wants with or without action from Congress, unleashing the full power of his White House bully pulpit to make America over.

"We're not just going to be waiting for legislation in order to make sure that we're providing Americans the kind of help they need. I've got a pen, and I've got a phone," Obama said, according to a report by CBS.

"And I can use that pen to sign executive orders and take executive actions and administrative actions that move the ball forward in helping to make sure our kids are getting the best education possible, making sure that our businesses are getting the kind of support and help they need to grow and advance, to make sure that people are getting the skills that they need to get those jobs that our businesses are creating."

He continued, "One of the things that I'm going to be talking to my Cabinet about is how do we use all the tools available to us, not just legislation, or order to advance a mission that I think unifies all Americans."

A top legal expert, Judge Andrew Napolitano, says there are few limits on what Obama could include in his orders, and fighting back is a long and hard course.

"There really is no line," the judge told WND in an interview Wednesday. "We have the welfare state, the warfare state, we also have the administrative state."

That, he said, allows a president through his appointees to issues rules and regulations, impose requirements and change America.

Red Flag

Russia in terrorists' cross-hairs? Or Western anti-Russian propaganda?

© AP
In this photo made by a public camera and made available by the Associated Press Television News smoke pours out after an explosion at Volgograd railway station, in Volograd Russia on Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013.
The Olympic Games belong to the world. Hosting them is a point of genuine national pride. This February, everyone will be watching the Winter Games, which Russia is hosting -- and that includes "the bad guys."

The past two days saw the latest in a series of deadly terror attacks in Russia by suicide bombers -- following an attack in the same city of Volgograd just two months ago -- which have undoubtedly been intended to spark jitters of Olympic proportions, possibly by a deadly Islamist group promising to disrupt an event being watched by the eyes of the world, though no group has claimed responsibility for the recent attacks.

Major international sporting events have always served as lightning rods for terrorists, of course, with the Boston Marathon bombings being the most recent and tragic example. Just think back to the 1972 Munich Olympics and the impact of Palestinian extremist group Black September's attack on Israel's athletes -- magnified because the kidnappings and murders took place with the whole world watching the gruesome spectacle unfold.

The 2014 Games in Sochi in southern Russia present a symbolic target in a region with a long history of bloody violence. Russian authorities have long battled violent forces in the nearby North Caucasus. The Russian government fought two wars against Chechen separatists in the mid-1990's and early 2000's, radicalizing a generation of Muslim youths in the process.

Mainly populated by Muslims but also by over 100 ethnic groups, the North Caucasus has been immersed in endless conflict in the form of an ongoing violent Islamist insurgency, making it one of the most dangerous places on Earth. Between July and October of last year, 133 people were reportedly killed, including 32 police officers, in the conflict between militants and government forces there, mostly in Dagestan.


Green day for banks as feds to adjust rules for legal pot shops

© AFP Photo / Desiree Martin
The Obama administration has decided that state-sanctioned pot dispensaries should have access to the US banking system, even though marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

Details remain scant at the moment, but Holder said the new rules will help marijuana growers and retailers, in the 20 states that have legalized the drug for recreational or medical use, operate beyond a cash only basis.

Currently, proprietors of pot dispensaries are forced to keep large amounts of cash on hand to purchase inventory, pay employees and make transactions, rendering them optimal targets for robbery.

It also gums up book keeping for state-level tax collection.

"You don't want just huge amounts of cash in these places. [Marijuana sellers] want to be able to use the banking system," Attorney General Eric Holder said on Thursday.

"There's a public safety component to this. Huge amounts of cash - substantial amounts of cash just kind of lying around with no place for it to be appropriately deposited - is something that would worry me, just from a law enforcement perspective."