Thursday, March 19, 2009

Declassified US State Dept Docs, US Knew of Abuses by Guatemalan Leaders it Supported

The U.S. government knew that top Guatemalan officials it supported with arms and cash were behind the disappearance of thousands of people during a 36-year civil war, declassified documents obtained by a U.S. research institute show.

The National Security Archive, a Washington D.C.-based institute that requests and publishes declassified government documents, obtained diplomatic and intelligence reports from the U.S. State Department under the Freedom of Information Act and posted them on its Web site on Wednesday.

"Government security services have employed assassination to eliminate persons suspected of involvement with the guerrillas or who are otherwise left-wing in orientation," one 1984 State Department report said.

State Department spokesman Fred Lash said he was unaware of the declassified documents and could not immediately comment.

Guatemala's U.S.-backed army battled leftist guerrillas in a 1960-1996 civil war that left more than 200,000 people dead or missing. Most were Mayan Indians.

"The government is obviously rounding up people connected with the extreme left-wing labor movement for interrogation," then-U.S. Ambassador Frederic Chapin said in a 1984 cable.

Chapin also said he was optimistic that missing union activist Fernando Garcia was alive and would be released. But Garcia has never been found, and two police officers were arrested in his case last week based on information found in Guatemalan police documents discovered in 2005.

The U.S. and local police files show that disappearances and executions were part of a deliberate strategy to crush leftist rebels, said Jesse Franzblau, a researcher at the Archive.

See the rest of the AP story here

Note: The link to the National Security Archive posted on the AP story above is incorrect. The correct link is below:

Read more at the George Washington University National Security Archive

Monday, March 16, 2009

World faces irreversible climate change, researchers warn

The world is facing an increasing risk of "irreversible" climate shifts because worst-case scenarios warned of two years ago are being realized, an international panel of scientists has warned.

Temperatures, sea levels, acid levels in oceans and ice sheets were already moving "beyond the patterns of natural variability within which our society and economy have developed and thrived," scientists said in a report released Thursday.

The findings came at the end of a three-day conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, where nearly 2,000 researchers gathered to discuss climate change.

See the rest of the story here.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Happy 20th Anniversary to the World Wide Web

Twenty years ago today, Tim Berners-Lee, of the CERN particle physics laboratory in Geneva, wrote a paper describing what quickly became the World Wide Web.
Back in 1989, the Web was just an idea, but it was a world-changing idea and one of the most important ideas of the 20th century.

At that time, the first browser and the first web server had yet to be created but those things came quickly. Back then, we got our news from newspapers and on TV at 6 PM. We did our research and study in libraries. We met with our friends in church or at a bar. We received and paid bills through the mail. We used to go to the bank to deposit checks and take care of business. We shopped for clothing by driving to stores and touching the products. We learned about new products through print ads, billboards, and television. We learned about different cultures and met people in distant lands by getting on an airplane and going there. We got our music by buying CDs or cassettes. The idea of an individual being able to publish his writings or photos and have them instantly visible to millions of people was inconceivable.

By 1995, things were well underway. At that time the first major search engine was created, called Alta Vista. Does anyone besides me remember Alta Vista? There was no Yahoo, no Google, no Hotmail, no online music, no multiplayer games. Web-based email was yet to be invented (by Hotmail, later bought by Microsoft). There was no YouTube because there was no digital video yet. Compressed audio (MP3) had just been developed by the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany. The first MP3 player for computers (WinAmp) came in 1998. The first portable MP3 player came in 1999.

Look at what has happened in the last 10 to 14 years. The whole world has changed for anyone who has access to the Internet.

What will the next 20 years bring?

Friday, March 6, 2009

Iran Shows its True Colors

There has not been much news coverage of the plight of the Baha'is in Iran but it did get some coverage in a recent New York Times blog.

The leaders of Iran like to portray themselves as the right people to lead Iran into the future. A future of what? Gestapo-like oppression? Wars? Kangaroo courts convicting people of phony crimes against the state and sentencing them to death? Is that the future that the leaders of Iran want for their country? Is that what the Iranian people want from their leaders?

The leaders of Iran like to badmouth the U.S., and while the behavior of the U.S. has been less than exemplary for quite a few years, the Iranian government is really showing us what they are about and what sort of people they really are by their oppression of a peaceful religious group called the Baha'i.

What's next? Concentration camps?

Why is the West putting up with this? Is it because the West desperately needs Iran's oil? Well now with the worldwide economic crisis, the demand for oil has dropped steeply. Oil reserves and storage facilities in the United States are completely full and brimming over, and this condition is predicted to last for at least a couple of years and more likely longer. It's my opinion that now would be a good time for the West to put its foot down because, for the time being, Iran has lost its only bargaining chip: oil. We don't need it so we don't have to put up with the Iranian regime's behavior. Do we?

Read the NY Times blog entry here.

For those personally worrying about foreclosure, Please read this post

This is a cross-post from a forum, reposted here with the author's permission. I thought it might be of value to some of my readers:
A post in another forum served as a reminder of the economic fragility that many solidly middle class families are facing these days. My day job is in the affordable housing non-profit field, and my agency is among many on the front lines in saving homes and saving families from foreclosure.

So I will repeat what I said in the other thread:

For anyone who is getting behind in their mortgages and worrying about foreclosure, please get help from a non-profit housing organization sooner rather than later. There are new programs and new funds available to help, and banks are much more agreeable to loan modifications and deferrals than they were just a little while ago.

When you're starting to get behind get some help - call the local HUD-certified housing counselling agency. A list can be found here, or call the HOPE hotline at 888-985=HOPE (4673).

There are a lot of pseudo counsellors and "debt relief specialists" out there preying upon people who are financially and mentally exhausted by economic turmoil. Stay away from them and get help from the non-profits who are the front line of defense in the current housing troubles. My agency has rescued dozens from foreclosure and saved more than 70 rental units that were abandoned by their owners, during the past year alone. There are many more like us.

Please get the name of the people near you from the HOPE line or website, and please be patient with them, they're among the most overwhelmed workers in our country right now.

If anyone has questions on the availability of resources or anything else to do with these housing rescue programs please feel free to PM me. I will, of course, keep any information private.


Don't go it alone - individual cases may differ tremendously, but many people can actually be helped if they get help early and find people who can intervene with lenders.

Andy

This is a Switch, and a Good One

The U.S. Commerce Department recently reported that the savings rate in the U.S. has risen to its highest level in 14 years. This is a sea change, possibly with big consequences, since a large part of the global economy has long depended on uncontrollable consumption of Americans.

The loss in value of homes and the collapse of investments and retirement plans has caused a dramatic change in U.S. consumer behavior and the consequences are being felt from Taipei to Berlin. This last January, Americans in the United States saved 5 percent of their income, the highest percentage since 1995. As recently as April of last year, the savings rate was zero. If the savings rate of 5 percent per year continues, then spending by Americans will drop by $545 billion. Many analysts predict that the savings rate will continue to rise. Some believe it will return to the 9 percent level that was seen in 1980.

Consumer spending in the U.S. has undergone a "gigantic" drop according to Rebeca Grynspan, director of the Latin American and Caribbean Program of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). The World Bank says that for the first time in 25 years, worldwide economic activity has dropped. It fell by 2.1 percent, mainly due to decreased consumption by the United States.

Carlo Cottarelli, head of the fiscal affairs department of the IMF believes that "it is necessary that consumers put their accounts in order" in the United States. For years they lived beyond their means, thanks to abundant credit, whose ultimate origin was Asian, which were happy to extend credit to the United States. They got into debt to buy more powerful cars, bigger houses, travel to the Caribbean, relying on "incredible" stock market gains and real estate capital gains, said Barry Bosworth, an expert at Brookings Institution. The fall of these assets has now destroyed $8 trillion, leaving the poorest families struggling to pay debts.

"I do not expect a return to the mentality of crazy spending in the U.S. in the medium term," said Gary Hufbauer, an expert of the Institute for International Economics. Eswar Prasad, a professor at Cornell University, said that the export-based economies "will be forced to think about rebalancing their growth and generating domestic demand in order to end the crisis." That's just what they are doing in China and Germany, they are employing fiscal stimulus packages. Asian governments have announced a fiscal expansion of nearly $700 billion, comparable to the U.S..

In the United States, the sudden restraint causes immediate pain, however, it is beneficial in the long term by ending behaviors that were unsustainable.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Future U.S. Growth in Danger?

As the debate over immigrants goes on, we are losing sight of one important fact: The U.S. is no longer the only land of opportunity. If we don't want the immigrants who fueled our innovation and economic growth, they now have options elsewhere. Immigrants are returning home in greater numbers. And new research shows they are returning to enjoy a better quality of life, better career prospects, and the comfort of being close to family and friends.

Research indicates that a crisis was brewing because of the ever-growing immigration backlog. At the end of 2006, more than 1 million skilled professionals (engineers, scientists, doctors, researchers) and their families were in line for a yearly allotment of only 120,000 permanent resident visas. The wait time for some people ran longer than 10 years. In the meantime, these workers are trapped in "immigration limbo." If they change jobs or even take a promotion, they risk being pushed to the back of the waiting line. It was predicted that skilled foreign workers would increasingly get fed up and return to countries like India and China where the economies are booming, and it's now happening.

Contrary to the anti-immigration noises that came from the previous president's administration, immigrants are critical to the United States' long-term economic health. Despite the fact that they constitute only 12% of the U.S. population, immigrants have started 52% of Silicon Valley's technology companies and contributed more than 25% of our global patents. They make up 24% of the U.S. science and engineering workforce holding bachelor degrees and 47% of science and engineering workers who have PhDs. Imagine that -- 47% of the PhDs in science and engineering in the U.S. are immigrants. Immigrants founded or co-founded firms that you've heard of such as Google, Intel, eBay, and Yahoo!.

No government agency tracks the numbers on immigrants who gave up or returned but human resources directors in India and China say that what was a trickle of returnees a decade ago had become a flood. Job applications from the U.S. have increased tenfold over the last few years. And it's not just new immigrants who are returning. 30% are immigrants who have permanent residency or are U.S. citizens.

Besides the visa problems and now the economic crisis, returnees are saying that their reasons for returning include better opportunities back home, better conditions for entrepreneurs and for launching businesses, and better family values in places like India and China.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Is Your Private Personal or Business Information Being Sold on eBay?

Forensic and accounting and investigation company, Kessler, recently did a study of a large number of hard drives purchased randomly on eBay. The result? They were able to recover personal information, photos, and lots more from 40 percent of the drives.

Read about it here.