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Fitch cuts Italy, Spain, other euro zone ratings

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© Unknown

New York - Fitch Ratings on Friday downgraded the sovereign credit ratings for Italy, Spain, Slovenia, Belgium and Cyprus indicating there is a 1-in-2 chance of further downgrades in the next two years.

In its statement, Fitch said these countries have near-term vulnerability to monetary and financial shocks. "Consequently, these sovereigns do not, in Fitch's view, accrue the full benefits of the euro's reserve currency status," Fitch said.

Laptop

The Corporate Usurpation of the Internet

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In the wake of a public outcry against internet regulation bills such as SOPA and PIPA, representatives of the EU have signed a new and far more threatening legislation yesterday in Tokyo. Spearheaded by the governments of the United States and Japan and constructed largely in the absence of public awareness, the measures of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) dramatically alter current international legal framework, while introducing the first substantial processes of global internet governance. With complete contempt towards the democratic process, the negotiations of the treaty were exclusively held between industry representatives and government officials, while excluding elected representatives and members of the press from their hearings.

Under the guise of protecting intellectual property rights, the treaty introduces measures that would allow the private sector to enforce sweeping central authority over internet content. The ACTA abolishes all legal oversight involving the removal of content and allows copyright holders to force ISPs to remove material from the internet, something that presently requires a court order. ISPs would then be faced with legal liabilities if they chose not to remove content. Theoretically, personal blogs can be removed for using company logos without permission or simply linking to copy written material; users could be criminalized, barred from accessing the internet and even imprisoned for sharing copyrighted material. Ultimately, these implications would be starkly detrimental toward the internet as a medium for free speech.

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Police: 16 kilograms of cocaine seized at UN

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© Agence France Presse
United Nations - A shipment containing 16 kilograms of cocaine was seized last week at the U.N.'s mail intake center, a New York Police Department spokesman said Thursday.

Paul Browne, NYPD's chief spokesman, said the drug was in a white bag evidently masquerading as a diplomatic pouch that raised suspicions when it was being scanned because it was stamped with what looked like a poorly concocted version of the U.N. logo.

Browne said there was no name or address on the shipment sent from Mexico City through Cincinnati.

U.N. security officials called the NYPD and Drug Enforcement Administration, which confirmed the substance inside the shipment intercepted Jan. 16 was cocaine, the police spokesman said.

U.N. undersecretary-general for safety and security Gregory B. Starr told reporters Thursday evening that "there is nothing to indicate that this had anything to do with anybody at the United Nations."

Starr said the drug was actually stashed in two bags that were stamped with the sky-blue U.N. logo of a world map in an apparent effort to masquerade as diplomatic pouches, which are not supposed to be inspected. Inside the bag, the drug was hidden in hollowed-out notebooks, he added.

The U.N. official showed journalists a photograph of the bags that were seized, and compared them with a real diplomatic pouch used by the U.N., which is somewhat larger and made of a different material.

"This did not come from a United Nations facility," Starr said of the shipment. "It was not, in my opinion, not intended to go to a United Nations facility."

Bad Guys

US: No Prison Time for Marine Charged in Haditha Massacre

As part of a plea deal, Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich, leader of a Marine squad responsible for the 2005 slaughter of 24 Iraqi civilians, will spend no time in a military prison. Wuterich, 31, pleaded guilty on January 23 to a single charge of negligent dereliction of duty for his role in the massacre in Haditha and its subsequent cover-up.

The Marine faced a sentencing hearing Tuesday at Camp Pendleton, California. Previously indicted on unpremeditated murder charges in 19 of the 24 civilian deaths, counts carrying a maximum sentence of 152 years in prison, Wuterich was allowed to walk free. He still faces possible reduction in pay and rank. During proceedings Monday, the court did not discuss a discharge for Wuterich, who has remained on active duty since the massacre.

The Haditha case was the longest running criminal prosecution against military personnel involved in the Iraq War and Wuterich was the last man among the original eight facing charges in the case. Six other Marines had charges dismissed, and one Marine was acquitted.

The plea agreement of Wuterich brings the three-and-a-half-week long court martial to a close, thereby suppressing more details about the killings, one of the worst atrocities committed by US soldiers against civilians since the My Lai massacre in Vietnam.

Alarm Clock

French MEP Quits ACTA 'Charade' in Protest at EU Signing

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A French MEP has quit the process of scrutinising ACTA for the European Parliament, calling the treaty's passage through the EU legislative system a masquerade.

In a statement on Thursday, Kader Arif denounced the signing of ACTA (the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) by the EU and 22 member states earlier in the day. He said the European Parliament was being undermined and the process was a "charade" in which he would no longer participate.

An EU diplomat signed ACTA, which is aimed at harmonising the intellectual property enforcement regimes of many countries, on behalf of the European Commission, along with member states including the UK.

However, the European Parliament will only vote on ACTA in June, after the EU International Trade Committee (INTA) examines it. Arif was the person in that committee who was assigned as 'rapporteur' with special responsibility for the treaty.

Bad Guys

How Brazil Is Getting Ready to Crush an Expected US Invasion of the Amazon

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© UnknownBrazilian army in the jungle.
Nothing better than to start the year trying to play a guess game: which was the most ecologically regrettable episode in 2011? In our view, it was the fact that former minister Marina Silva left the Green Party (Partido Verde), something that will rekindle the dispute waged for decades or even centuries over the sovereignty in the Amazon.

The eternal vultures of the Northern Hemisphere once again use this opportunity to return to that old rigmarole that it will be easier to call the region a patrimony of humanity, which should be administered by an international power, that would rule over the Amazonian countries governments.

Bad Guys

China: Foxconn Workers Treated Like Animals Because Management Believes They Are Animals

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© Minyanville

Remember Foxconn? The massive Chinese conglomerate that manufactures products for Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, HP, and many, many other companies. That's right, the one with all the human rights problems.

Recently, a group of Foxconn workers threatened to commit suicide in response to their abhorrent working conditions - of course, the company has had issues with worker suicides for a while, hence the infamous nets. According to a recent article in the Want China Times, the suicides made Hon Hai (Foxconn's parent company) chairman Terry Gou aware that "China is no longer a cheap labor camp where young workers will accept any hardship."

This revelation did not, however, make Gou any more sensitive to the plight of his workers. At a recent year-end party, he reportedly sought sympathy from his fellow guests over the difficulty he had in managing "one million animals."

Apparently, Foxconn treats its workers like animals because, to the company, that's what they are. Go figure.

Of course, the company is currently facing a bigger issue than terrible PR. As China's population has become more educated, it has been increasingly difficult for the company to maintain its workforce and Gou fears future labor shortages.

Dollar

Why All the Robo-signing? Shedding Light on the Shadow Banking System

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The Wall Street Journal reported on January 19th that the Obama Administration was pushing heavily to get the 50 state attorneys general to agree to a settlement with five major banks in the "robo-signing" scandal. The scandal involves employees signing names not their own, under titles they did not really have, attesting to the veracity of documents they had not really reviewed. Investigation reveals that it did not just happen occasionally but was an industry-wide practice, dating back to the late 1990s; and that it may have clouded the titles of millions of homes. If the settlement is agreed to, it will let Wall Street bankers off the hook for crimes that would land the rest of us in jail - fraud, forgery, securities violations and tax evasion.

To the President's credit, however, he seems to have shifted his position on the settlement in response to protests before his State of the Union address. In his speech on January 24th, President Obama did not mention the settlement but announced instead that he would be creating a mortgage crisis unit to investigate wrongdoing related to real estate lending. "This new unit will hold accountable those who broke the law, speed assistance to homeowners, and help turn the page on an era of recklessness that hurt so many Americans," he said.

Dollar

Behind Gingrich's Rise, Billionaire Pal Sheldon Adelson

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© ABC NewsBehind Gingrich's Rise, Billionaire Pal Sheldon Adelson
Before Newt Gingrich dominated the South Carolina primary, a so-called super PAC supporting him spent millions of dollars savaging Mitt Romney in negative ads and fliers.

A driving force behind that super PAC is Sheldon Adelson, a Las Vegas casino tycoon who has translated his deep friendship with Gingrich into a financial bonanza to buoy his candidacy. Adelson gave the PAC, Winning Our Future, $5 million just before the South Carolina primary, and this week, his wife gave the group another $5 million.

The Adelsons make Mitt Romney look like Tom Joad. Adelson, the eighth-richest American, is worth more than $20 billion. He built the iconic Venetian hotel (and another in Macao to match) and has given to a host of Jewish causes - in addition to funding a nonprofit group that led to Gingrich's presidential run.

Adelson met Gingrich when he was the speaker of the House, and they bonded over their dedication to support Israel as Congress debated passing a bill that would encourage the American Embassy in Tel Aviv to be moved to Jerusalem, the capital. Since then they've been friends, with obvious benefits.

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U.S. Fueling Human Rights Abuses in Colombia in Violation of Its Own Laws

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© laprogressive.com
As Noam Chomsky has often cautioned, when considering foreign relations, and especially military intervention, states should always heed the primary Hippocratic oath -- "First, do no harm." The U.S. has certainly disregarded this admonition with reckless abandon in Latin America, and Colombia is the foremost example of this, at least at the present time. Human Rights Watch appears to concur with this judgment.

Thus, Human Rights Watch (HRW) just released its annual human rights report on Colombia, and it is not pretty. The punch line of the report is most damning of the United States and its role in that country's abysmal practices -- undoubtedly, the very worst of this hemisphere.

As HRW concludes, after its litany of atrocities being committed by the Colombian state and its paramilitary (death squad) allies,
The U.S. remains the most influential foreign actor in Colombia. In 2011 it provided approximately US $562 million in aid, about 61 percent of which was military and police aid. Thirty percent of US military aid is subject to human rights conditions, which the US Department of State has not enforced. In September 2011 the State Department certified that Colombia was meeting human rights conditions.
In other words, the U.S. is acting in direct contravention of the Leahy Amendment, which forbids the funding of military units which fail to honor basic human rights norms. Sadly, the Leahy Amendment appears to be a dead letter.