‘The biggest drop in living standards since the Victorian age is seeing low and middle earners suffering an unprecedented squeeze on their incomes as austerity measures continue to bite, with women and part-time workers disproportionately affected, research reveals today.
More than five million people are officially classified as low paid and an increasing number of public sector workers are struggling to make ends meet, according to the New Economics Foundation (NEF) think-tank.
It warned: “Workers on low and middle incomes are experiencing the biggest decline in their living standards since reliable records began in the mid-19th century.”’
‘Britain’s first “social supermarket” opens its doors on Monday, offering shoppers on the verge of food poverty the chance to buy food and drink for up to 70% less than normal high-street prices.
If successful, the Community Shop, in Goldthorpe, near Barnsley, south Yorkshire, which is backed by large retailers and supermarkets, could be replicated elsewhere in Britain.
Community Shop is a subsidiary of Company Shop, Britain’s largest commercial re-distributor of surplus food and goods, which works with retailers and manufacturers to tackle their surpluses sustainably and securely.’
‘The Prime Minister of Thailand is to dissolve Parliament and hold an election “as soon as possible” following a wave of anti-government protests.
Yingluck Shinawatra made the announcement in a televised speech in the wake of unrest which has left five people dead and more than 200 injured in Bangkok.
She said: “After consultation with many parties, I have submitted a royal decree requesting parliament be dissolved.
“At this stage, when there are many people opposed to the government from many groups, the best way is to give back the power to the Thai people and hold an election.
“So the Thai people will decide.”‘
‘This isn’t the first we’ve seen of Saturn’s six-sided jet stream, but NASA’s calling the GIF after the break “the first hexagon movie of its kind.” The “movie” is made from a compilation of images taken by the Cassini spacecraft, and depicts a hurricane-like storm at the center of the “hexagon” that has populated the planet’s north pole for decades, if not centuries.’
For 34 years, Gwendolyn Beasley worked as a clerk at the Detroit Public Library and paid a portion of her salary into a fund that would someday help pay for her pension.
‘Now retired, Beasley, 67, receives $1,500 a month from that pension. But she’s cutting back on spending after a judge ruled last week that Detroit’s pension funds, like other city creditors, may have to take a hit as the city reorganizes its finances under bankruptcy.
“I think it’s so very unfair,” Beasley said. “We retired expecting to get a certain amount of benefits. Now you’ve pulled the rug out from under us.”
It’s not just Detroit retirees who are worried about their pensions. Financially troubled cities in California, Illinois and Pennsylvania will soon face decisions on what to do with chronically underfunded pension funds, and experts say the Detroit ruling has made it easier for cities to argue that pensions must be cut.’
‘Saudi Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, Director General of the Saudi Intelligence Agency has commanded thousands of militants to prepare to attack the Christian city of Saidnaya in the war-torn Syria.
According to militant sources, several Wahhabi and al-Qaeda-linked groups, including the Ahrar al-Sham Brigade and the Free Syrian Army’s Tahrir al-Sham brigade, backed by al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front terrorists among others, have mobilized 3,000 armed men to storm the Christian city of Saidnaya in the north of Damascus.
Saidnaya, located in the mountains and 27 kilometers (17 miles) north of the city of Damascus, is the second largest Syrian Christian city after Maaloula.’
‘Donors in Saudi Arabia have notoriously played a pivotal role in creating and maintaining Sunni jihadist groups over the past 30 years. But, for all the supposed determination of the United States and its allies since 9/11 to fight “the war on terror”, they have showed astonishing restraint when it comes to pressuring Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies to turn off the financial tap that keeps the jihadists in business.
Compare two US pronouncements stressing the significance of these donations and basing their conclusions on the best intelligence available to the US government. The first is in the 9/11 Commission Report which found that Osama bin Laden did not fund al-Qa’ida because from 1994 he had little money of his own but relied on his ties to wealthy Saudi individuals established during the Afghan war in the 1980s.
uoting, among other sources, a CIA analytic report dated 14 November 2002, the commission concluded that “al-Qa’ida appears to have relied on a core group of financial facilitators who raised money from a variety of donors and other fund-raisers primarily in the Gulf countries and particularly in Saudi Arabia”.’
‘The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states—Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates—along with certain Arab League countries, plus Turkey and Israel, have this past week reportedly committed themselves to raising nearly $6 billion to “beef up” the just-hatched Islamic Front (IF) in Syria. These “best friends of America” want the Obama administration to sign onto a scheme to oust the Syrian government by funding, arming, training, facilitating and generally choreographing the movement of fighters of this new front, a front formed out of an alliance of seven putatively “moderate” rebel factions.
Representatives of Saudi intelligence chief Bandar bin Sultan reportedly told staff members on Capitol Hill that committing several billions to defeat the Assad regime by supporting the IF makes fiscal sense and will cost much less than the six trillion dollar figure tallied by the recent study by Brown University as part of its Costs of War project. According to the 2013 update of the definitive Brown study, which examined costs of the US wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, the total amount for all three topped six trillion dollars. This never before released figure includes costs of direct and indirect Congressional appropriations, lost equipment, US military and foreign contractors fraud, and the cost of caring for wounded American servicemen and their families.’
‘Local communities that are involved in fracking of natural gas should get the greatest say whether or not such methods of gas extraction are safe, Adam Briggle, a professor at the University of North Texas and an environmental activist, told RT.’
‘A California county has banned a veteran employee from criticizing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act because a coworker who overheard the criticism was offended.
The employee is Norina Mooney, who has logged some 20 years of work experience with Santa Clara County, the epicenter of Silicon Valley.
According to Mooney’s attorneys with the Pacific Justice Institute, she made some water-cooler talk with a fellow employee about the high number people who have had their insurance policies canceled under Obamacare.
Later, a supervisor called Mooney into a private meeting and allegedly dressed her down for the attempt at chitchat because an unidentified person had overheard the small talk and been offended.’
‘An Israeli oil well has been reported to contain a much larger reserve than originally estimated. The oil exploration company, Givat Olam, has now increased its estimate to 3.53 billion barrels of oil and has already sold $40 million worth of oil from the site.
While Israel is now facing a bright future as an oil producer, there is one problem: Meged 5 is located on the Green Line, the official border between Israel and Palestine. Lying a few dozen meters inside Palestinian territory, according to international law and the Oslo Accords, the well should belong to Palestine.
In answer to this problem, Israel has adjusted the path of its separation barrier, bringing Meged 5 onto its side of the wall. While the well is now under de facto Israeli control, most of the reserves lie under Palestinian territory.’
‘The MoD has spent £180million on hotels and car hire for top civil servants and officers, andeven signed off on £3,000 for a Sky Sport subscription.
Officials spent £110million on hotels between 2009 and 2013, a bill which went up by £3million in three years, and a further £69million on cars.
The total included a £5,500 bill for Andrew Manley, the chief executive of the Defence Infrastructure Organisation, for nearly 50 nights at the luxury New Hall Hotel and Spa in Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands.’
‘The European parliament is lining up Edward Snowden to give evidence by video link this month, in spite of resistance by British Conservatives, a Green MEP has announced.
Jan Philipp Albrecht, a German Green MEP, said parliamentarians wanted Snowden to appear before the assembly’s committee on civil liberties, justice and home affairs (LIBE).
Albrecht said it would represent a great success for the parliament’s investigation into mass surveillance of EU citizens.’
‘A French motorist got a nasty shock recently, after receiving a €25,000 bill from the state for road damage caused by a serious car crash in April 2012, in which he was rear-ended by a speeding, hit-and-run driver.
Ludovic Depestel, 39, from the town of Armentières near the Belgian border in northern France, got the letter in the post last week, according to TF1 television, ordering him to pay no less than €25,554 for destruction caused to road side barriers in the crash.
The problem being that the father of three, whose vehicle was wrecked, didn’t cause the accident.
Depestel’s only crime, he says, was being contactable by local authorities seeking damages for destruction of motorway infrastructure.’
‘”Education is a system of imposed ignorance” – these words describe admirably the machinations of the Cameron government in the UK education sector.
This quote by Noam Chomsky, which appeared in the 1994 Canadian documentary, “Manufacturing Consent,” was originally designed at the time to provoke as much as to warn against vested interests in teaching.
Under PM David Cameron, Britain’s centers of learning are deteriorating from colleges where young people are educated into loathsome institutions where they are told what to think.’
‘The University of London – a body representing London universities including University College London, the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), Birkbeck and the London School of Economics – has banned protests on its campus for the next six months.
Students who hold sit-in protests in an area in Holborn, central London, including the Senate House, the student union building, and the buildings of SOAS and Birkbeck, can be imprisoned.
The president of the University of London student union, Michael Chessum, told Channel 4 News it was a “draconian” reaction and “a sign that the university had lost the argument”.’
‘They are not sleeping in tents in Independence Square, but Ukraine’s ultra-wealthy businessmen, known as the oligarchs, perhaps pose as grave a threat to President Viktor F. Yanukovich as the demonstrators on the streets of this capital city.
Petro Poroshenko, a pro-Western businessman, said demonstrators and Ukraine’s oligarchs both want “modernization.”
“Do you think there is a big difference between people on the street and people with big business?” said the most visible, and the most pro-Western, of the oligarchs, Petro Poroshenko, a shipping, confectionery and agriculture magnate whose television station has been broadcasting round the clock from Independence Square.
“There is no difference in their love of their own country,” he said in an interview in the lobby of the Ukraine Hotel, overlooking the square, where the protesters appeared as miniature silent figures, waving flags and milling about bonfires. “At the end of the day, we are all talking about the modernization of the economy and the country.”’
‘A study in the August edition of The Journal of School Health finds that the generations old theory of a “gateway drug” effect is in fact accurate for some drug users, but shifts the blame for those addicts’ escalating substance abuse away from marijuana and onto the most pervasive and socially accepted drug in American life: alcohol.
Using a nationally representative sample from the University of Michigan’s annual Monitoring the Future survey, the study blasts holes in drug war orthodoxy wide enough to drive a truck through, definitively proving that marijuana use is not the primary indicator of whether a person will move on to more dangerous substances.’
In announcing a final agreement in Bali, Indonesia on Saturday morning, head of the World Trade Organization Roberto Azevedo, said: “For the first time in our history, the WTO has truly delivered.”
Unfortunately, say critics, what the deal is certain to “deliver” is more pain and suffering for the world’s poorest people and farmers at the expense of the world’s largest and most powerful nations and corporations.
Anti-poverty groups and food sovereignty advocates across the world were pushing off pronouncements like Azevedo’s, saying that the agreement is a failure when it comes to fairness, poverty reduction, environmental protections, and the alleviation of hunger across the globe.
‘In a recent report by The Washington Post, it was revealed that the FBI has been able to secretly activate a target’s laptop camera “without triggering the light that lets users know it is recording” for several years.
While this may be surprising to some, it really shouldn’t be. Previous reports revealed that the FBI employs hackers to create software to remotely activate the microphones on laptops and cell phones as well as cameras. The U.S. government has also become the world’s largest buyer of malware. The NSA also recommended physically removing the webcam from Apple laptops for security reasons.
In August, the Wall Street Journal reported that the FBI has developed hacking tools like this for over a decade, though they rarely are discussed publicly.’
‘Why is it that there’s always someone who wants to take a joyous occasion and make it difficult for others to indulge? A little town in Texas is currently in a battle to save Christmas for their children from others who seem determined to steal it.
A parent-teacher association member in Frisco, Texas seems to have been taking lessons from the Grinch. Christmas has been stolen from the kids. This year, steps are being taken to strip the holiday from their campus, because, well, you know, they don’t want to offend anyone.’
‘Last month, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that 317 people in 20 states had confirmed cases of Salmonella caused by chicken traced to a California processor. This should be (yet another) wake-up call that it’s time to make serious changes to the way U.S. chickens are housed, raised, and processed in the factory farming system. But there is an even deeper issue at the heart of this problem: The fact that chickens are deliberately bred for excessive growth.
Factory farm speed-breeding–the practice of selectively breeding “broiler” (meat) chickens to grow three times faster than 60 years ago–has created chickens which now struggle to simply move or stand. The University of Arkansas notes that if humans grew at a similar speed, a 6.6 lb newborn baby would weigh 660 lbs after two months.’
‘Sony has filed a claim with the U.S. Patent Office for a “SmartWig,” a toupee or wig that contains sensitive electronics and can sync up with a smartphone or other electronic device.
The patent claim is broad and theoretical, seeking to ensure the company’s intellectual property rights to as many features as possible. Among the possible components that a SmartWig could feature are a GPS sensor, a camera, a position sensor (to detect where the wig is relative to the head) and tactile feedback actuators that could produce vibrations or small electric shocks across the scalp as a way of delivering information. The patent application explains that the wig might also include devices such as laser pointers or even ultrasound transducers – allowing sight-impaired users to navigate via echolocation.’
‘From the looks of an average produce section in a typical American supermarket, it might seem like modern society has access to basically every major type of fruit, vegetable and herb one could want. But a survey conducted by the U.S. National Seed Storage Laboratory back in 1983 found that the diversity of our food supply has been progressively shrinking since 1903 when a previous seed stock inventory was taken, with fewer than one-twelfth the number of unique crop varieties available today compared to 100 years ago.
Known today as the National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation (NCGRP), the laboratory collected seed data on 10 common produce items: beets, cabbages, sweet corn, lettuces, muskmelons, peas, radishes, squashes, tomatoes and cucumbers. NCGRP compared the availability of seeds for each of these items in 1903 to their availability in 1983, which was still long before the time genetically modified organisms (GMOs) hit the scene.’
‘The above photograph from the NYC Light Brigade came at the end of an incredible day of action on December 5 when fast food workers in 100 cities walked off their jobs and joined with supporters in their communities to protest poverty wages. The photo proclaims “ALL OF US” with people holding signs that identify different members of the community; and proclaims “THIS IS OUR MOMENT.”
The solidarity at the fast food worker protests on December 5 echoed the solidarity seen on December 3 when people throughout the United States and around the globe protested toxic trade agreements especially the World Trade Organization (WTO) and Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). And, that “ALL OF US” solidarity was seen last Friday, November 29 when workers walked out at 1,500 Walmarts with widespread community support at their rallies.’
2013 is almost over and the US has still not managed to get NATO-garrisoned Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai to sign the Pentagon’s bilateral security agreement. The agreement is of vital strategic importance for the US and NATO in respect to having a position amidst the main players in Eurasia.
The United States has set December 2014 as its so-called military withdrawal date from the NATO-manned Central Asian country. Despite the claims of the US, the Pentagon wants to keep a figure of 20,000 or more military personnel in Afghanistan, retain at least nine bases, and to use Afghan airspace and territory for Pentagon operations in Central Asia and beyond…
Afghanistan sits at a strategically important crossroad in the world and the United States has always sought to capitalize on this. The idea of an American military withdrawal from NATO-garrisoned Afghanistan has always been viewed by the Pentagon as a strategic rollback in Central Asia and more broadly as a rollback from Eurasia. Regardless of the US government’s claims, leaving NATO-garrisoned Afghanistan has always been out of the question for the US military.
Nonetheless, it was claimed in July 2013 that President Obama was mulling a total withdrawal from the NATO-manned Central Asian country, or so claim the unnamed US and European officials that the reporters Mark Mazzetti and Mattew Rosenberg quoted for The New York Times (NYT). When it was published, the July 2013 NYT report by Mazzetti and Rosenburg raised many skeptical eyebrows. The news came while Washington was trying to stamp out some type of long-term security pact with Kabul to let the Pentagon continue using Afghanistan as a giant military base.
‘Human rights organizations, as well as political and social ones, are condemning what they are calling a new form of inhumane exploitation in the United States, where they say a prison population of up to 2 million – mostly Black and Hispanic – are working for various industries for a pittance. For the tycoons who have invested in the prison industry, it has been like finding a pot of gold.
They don’t have to worry about strikes or paying unemployment insurance, vacations or comp time. All of their workers are full-time, and never arrive late or are absent because of family problems; moreover, if they don’t like the pay of 25 cents an hour and refuse to work, they are locked up in isolation cells.
There are approximately 2 million inmates in state, federal and private prisons throughout the country. According to California Prison Focus, “no other society in human history has imprisoned so many of its own citizens.” The figures show that the United States has locked up more people than any other country: a half million more than China, which has a population five times greater than the U.S. Statistics reveal that the United States holds 25% of the world’s prison population, but only 5% of the world’s people.
From less than 300,000 inmates in 1972, the jail population grew to 2 million by the year 2000. In 1990 it was one million. Ten years ago there were only five private prisons in the country, with a population of 2,000 inmates; now, there are 100, with 62,000 inmates. It is expected that by the coming decade, the number will hit 360,000, according to reports.
What has happened over the last 10 years? Why are there so many prisoners?’
‘The African Centre for Biosafety (ACB) has today released its new research report titled ‘GM Maize: Lessons For Africa-Cartels, Collusion And Control Of South Africa’s Staple Food’ showing how a select group of companies, including Tiger Brands, Pioneer and Premier Foods who have previously fixed the price of bread and maize meal, commandeer the entire maize value chain and continue to squeeze the poorest South Africans.
The ACB has recently shown that the entire maize meal market is saturated with GM maize.’
‘A Palestinian teenager was shot dead by Israeli soldiers in al-Jalazun refugee camp near Ramallah on Saturday.
Wajih Wajdi al-Ramahi, 14, was shot with live bullets in the back by an Israeli sniper in front of his school.
Al-Ramahi was taken to the hospital, and placed in the ICU until he died.
Locals told Ma’an that the area where al-Ramahi was shot had no clashes or any kind of rock-throwing incidents that might have provoked the killing.’
‘Those wondering what lies in store for Afghanistan need only look at the way the British Empire ruled Iraq in the 1920’s. As Shakespeare wrote, “what is past is prologue.”
Imperial Britain created the state of Iraq after World War I to secure Mesopotamia’s vast oil deposits that had become vital for the Royal Navy. To control this artificial nation seething with unrest, Britain imposed a puppet king, Faisal, and created a native army commanded by British officers.
Britain’s colonial rule was formalized by the 1930 Anglo-Iraq Treaty, a deal between puppet and master.
But real power in Iraq was held by the Royal Air Force, which was “granted” two permanent bases at Habbaniyah and Basra. The RAF ruled supreme over the open wastes of Iraq.
Winston Churchill, patron saint of today’s war-lusting neoconservatives, authorized the RAF to use poison gas against “unruly” tribesmen in Iraq and Afghanistan. Britain created public institutions and sham political parties in Baghdad that had no links at all to Iraq’s population, which mostly hated their British rulers.’
‘Bush administration officials have long asserted that the torture techniques used on “war on terror” detainees were utilized as a last resort in an effort to gain actionable intelligence to thwart pending terrorist attacks against the United States and its interests abroad.
But the handwritten notes obtained exclusively by Truthout drafted two decades ago by Dr. John Bruce Jessen, the psychologist who was under contract to the CIA and credited as being one of the architects of the government’s top-secret torture program, tell a dramatically different story about the reasons detainees were brutalized and it was not just about obtaining intelligence.’
‘A report issued by the European Union’s statistics office shows nearly a quarter of the European population were at risk of poverty or social exclusion.
Eurostat recently published the data revealing that 124.5 million people, or 24.8 percent of Europe’s population, had been at risk of poverty or social exclusion in 2012, compared to 23.7 percent in 2008.
The numbers included those deemed to fall within at least one of the following three conditions: at risk of income poverty, severely materially deprived or living in households with very low work intensity.
According to the data, the highest shares of individuals being at risk of poverty or social exclusion were recorded in Bulgaria (49%), Romania (42%), Latvia (37%) and Greece (35%).’
‘US Congress has threatened giant oil companies with “severe financial penalties” should they resume business with Iran following an interim nuclear agreement.
In interviews with The Foreign Policy Magazine, several American officials expressed concerns about the international firms’ interest to enter the Iranian oil market in the next six months.
Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee Rep. Michael McCaul said that companies examining their options for “resuming business relationships” with Iran are “acting prematurely at best.”’
‘Israel’s Economy Minister Naftali Bennett has proposed the annexation of parts of the Palestinian land of the West Bank under Israel’s full military control.
Bennett, who heads the far-right Jewish Home religious party, said on Sunday that he favors “implementation of Israeli sovereignty over the zone where 400,000 (settlers) live and only 70,000 Arabs.”
The hawkish Israeli minister also dismissed the US-brokered talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority as a joke.’
‘European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has called on Europeans to resist mounting populism and extremism, as far-right political parties are gaining support in several European Union member states.
Barroso’s appeal came ahead of the European Parliament elections in May, in which far-right parties look well placed, as voters are frustrated with Europe after three years of financial turmoil, contracting growth and job losses.
“I am vehemently calling on Europeans to step out of the comfort zone, to quit their silence, to not always let extremes make their move, to have – in France too – the courage to defend Europe,” Barroso stated.’