“CIA’s Secret Security Group Emerges From Shadows”
The Washington Post, Dec. 27, 2012, p.A1
“Two of the Americans killed in Benghazi were members of the CIA’s Global Response Staff, an innocuously named organization that has recruited hundreds of former U.S. Special Forces operatives to serve as armed guards for the agency’s spies. The GRS, as it is known, is designed to stay in the shadows, training teams to work undercover and provide an unobtrusive layer of security for CIA officers in high-risk outposts.”
Quickie analysis: Will we ever know all the arms of the CIA octopus?
“China Reaches Out to Mideast, Armed With Halal Meat”
The Washington Post, Dec. 28, 2012, p.A6
“The praying and slaughtering begin every morning at sunrise. ‘Allahu Akbar’ intones the imam over each cow before it is strung up by its hooves and quartered. This scene and other religious and ethnic practices set China’s Muslim minorities apart from the rest of the population, and the differences frequently led to clashes with the government in the past. But now, the country’s leaders are embracing the large Muslim population in this remote and relatively undeveloped city in the northwestern province of Ningxia, hoping that frozen packs of halal meat produced here can help build economic bridges with the Middle East.”
Quickie analysis: China finds a creative way to win friends and influence people in the Middle East while expanding economic development in its sometimes-disgruntled Islamic provinces.
Though there was no major dissension at OPEC’s Dec. 12 meeting in Vienna, there were signs that Saudi Arabia and Iraq are headed for a face-off over how much oil to pump. Before the start of the meeting, Abdul Kareem Al-Luaibi, Iraq’s oil minister, told reporters that his country plans to produce as much oil next year as it did when Saddam Hussein came to power more than three decades ago—a substantial increase over its 2012 output. Saudi Arabia, in contrast, has started to cut production to limit the risk of a price decline in 2013.
(Pope Benedict XVI (R) leads a mass of Vespers at Mary Queen of the Apostles Basilica in Yaounde March 18, 2009. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi)
One of Cameroon’s most senior Christian leaders on Tuesday called same-sex marriages a “crime against humanity”, ramping up anti-gay rhetoric in the Central African state.
As in most African nations, homosexuality is illegal in Cameroon. But a number of incidents have highlighted the clash between a largely conservative culture backed by draconian law and youth for some of whom it is less of an issue.
“Marriage of persons of the same sex is a serious crime against humanity,” Victor Tonye Bakot, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Yaounde, told followers at Christmas Day mass.
“We need to stand up to combat it with all our energy. I am particularly thankful to our local media that has been spreading this message of it as a criminality against mankind.”
The comments follow a three-year jail sentence handed earlier this month to 32-year-old Jean-Claude Roger Mbede, who was found guilty of homosexual conduct because he sent a text message to another man telling him he loved him.
At least 12 people were convicted this year of being gay in Cameroon, where jail terms range from six months to five years.
Other African countries have seen fierce debate over anti-gay measures, which are often popular in societies where homosexuality is largely taboo but have drawn criticism from rights groups and threats of aid cuts from donors.
Ugandan politicians are seeking to pass an anti-gay law that initially sought the death penalty for homosexuals before it was watered down in the faced of opposition.
Meanwhile, earlier on Tuesday the Roman Catholic Church’s leader in England and Wales, Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols, said the government’s plans to allow gay marriage were a “shambles” and had no mandate
RIA Novosti.26,Decmber 2012
Russia to Bring Back Railroad-Based ICBM
Russia will restart production of railway-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), with prototypes to be deployed by 2020, a senior Russian defense industry official said on Wednesday.
Work has already begun on the prototypes, which will utilize exclusively domestically-made components, the official told RIA Novosti on condition of anonymity.
The new missiles will be half the weight of their decommissioned Soviet analogues, allowing them to fit into one railcar, the official added.
The Soviet military deployed its first missile train in 1987, and had 12 of them by 1991. But by 2005 they had all been destroyed under the START II arms reduction treaty with the United States.
However, the treaty’s 2010 replacement, New START, does not prohibit the development of railway-based ICBMs.
The original railway-based system involved SS-24 Scalpel missiles that weighed 104 tons, required three locomotives to move, and were so heavy that they damaged railroad tracks. It was thought that missiles launched from the moving trains were harder to track than stationary launches.
However, prominent Russian military expert Alexander Konovalov said that this apparent return to the cumbersome Soviet technology, even in revamped form, was a “bad idea.”
The return to missile trains is an apparent response to US plans to position elements of its missile defense system in Eastern Europe, said Konovalov, the president of the Institute for Strategic Assessment, a Moscow-based private think-tank.
Russia has claimed the US missile shield will affect its launches, but Konovalov said that the threat is exaggerated. He added that the missile trains were outdated technology.
“We’re better off developing telecoms systems, unmanned drones and precision weapons, not these monsters,” Konovalov told RIA Novosti, speaking about the missile trains.
U.S. President Barack Obama has cut short his Christmas vacation to return to Washington and bring together Republican and Democratic Congressional leaders in a last-minute bid to, at least, strike a short-term compromise.
What is the “fiscal cliff”?
In a nutshell, the so-called fiscal cliff is a combination of automatic tax increases and U.S. government spending cuts that will take effect on New Year’s Day unless the White House and Congress agree on how to reduce the budget deficit during the next decade.
The tax increases would take effect because temporary tax cuts of the George W. Bush presidency, approved in 2001 and 2003, are due to expire on December 31, 2012.
Meanwhile, $1.2 trillion in government spending cuts during the next decade would be triggered automatically under legislation from 2011.
Why would government spending cuts come into force automatically?
Spending cuts would come into effect automatically under the Budget Control Act, which averted the U.S. debt-ceiling crisis in the summer of 2011.
It was a compromise between Republicans and Democrats that prevented a default on U.S. government debt in August 2011.
The legislation temporarily raised the limit of debt the U.S. government was allowed to accumulate so that it could repay funds it had borrowed.
But the Budget Control Act also contained a variety of spending cuts aimed at reducing the U.S. budget deficit by $2.1 trillion during the next decade.
It included $917 billion in immediate spending cuts. It also specified that $1.2 trillion in further automatic cuts would be triggered at the start of 2013 unless a bipartisan committee could agree on how to reduce the deficit by another $1.5 trillion.
Those automatic spending cuts would be applied equally across defense programs and nondefense programs.
What do economic experts think the impact on the U.S. and world economy if Republicans and Democrats can’t agree on further deficit reductions and the United States goes over the fiscal cliff?
Christopher Lockwood, U.S. editor of “The Economist,” explained the impact of political deadlock in a video posted online by the magazine earlier this month.
“If the Republicans and the Democrats fail to reach agreement, the U.S. economy will be hit with a devastating fiscal sledgehammer, which could be equivalent in a full year to 5 percent of GDP,” Lockwood says in the video.
“If America does go over the fiscal cliff, businesses could respond by sharply curtailing business investment. That will return America to recession and, perhaps, deepen recession all across the world.”
Most economists agree, saying higher taxes would hit all income earners in the United States — giving them less money to spend and damaging the economy’s growth prospects.
At the same time, the elimination of government spending would mean less money to stimulate growth, and also would probably result in a higher unemployment rate.
Many analysts say there are already signs that the political deadlock in Washington is negatively affecting the U.S. economy by damaging investor confidence and impeding economic recovery.
Why are the parties deadlocked?
President Barack Obama and the Democrats want the wealthiest Americans to pay more in taxes by restoring the tax rates for the richest to the levels where they had been during the 1990s under President Bill Clinton.
They would do that by extending the Bush-era tax cuts for everyone except the highest income earners.
A bill proposed in the U.S. Senate, which is controlled by the Democrats, calls for tax-rate increases on incomes that are more than $250,000 a year for married couples or individuals.
The Republicans, who control a majority in the House of Representatives, have agreed that tax revenues need to be increased. But the Republicans have opposed an increase in the tax rate for the wealthiest — arguing that revenues should be raised by closing tax loopholes instead.
The Republicans also want the Democrats to reduce spending on so-called entitlement programs — such as Medicare and Social Security. But Democratic leaders have made it clear they will not support those kinds of spending cuts.
Obama has cut short his Christmas vacation to return to Washington and bring together Republican and Democratic Congressional leaders in a last-minute bid to, at least, strike a short-term compromise.
But economists say a short-term deal would only delay the problem of a growing deficit crisis instead of solving the problems in the long term.