Archive for February, 2009


Irish Civil Society Calls For Boycott of Israel

February 6, 2009

By Pulse
February, 04, 2009


The following letter was published in a full-page advertisement in The Irish Times on 31 January 2009:

The original ad, including signatures may be downloaded here. [PDF]

Israel’s bombardment of Gaza killed over 1,300 Palestinians, a third of them children. Thousands have been wounded. Many victims had been taking refuge in clearly marked UN facilities.

This assault came in the wake of years of economic blockade by Israel. This blockade, which is illegal under international humanitarian law, has destroyed the Gaza economy and condemned its population to poverty. According to a World Bank report last September, “98 percent of Gaza’s industrial operations are now inactive.”

The most recent attack on Gaza is only the latest phase in Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people and appropriation of their land.

Israel has never declared its borders. Instead, it has continuously expanded at the expense of the Palestinians. In 1948, it took over 78 percent of Palestine, an area much larger than that suggested for a Jewish state by the UN General Assembly in 1947. Contrary to international law, Israel expelled over 750,000 Palestinians from their homes. These refugees and their descendants, who now number millions, are still dispersed throughout the region. They have the right, under international law, to return to their homes. This right has been underlined by the UN General Assembly many times, starting with Resolution 194 in 1948.

In 1967, Israel occupied the remaining 22 percent of Palestine: the West Bank and Gaza. Contrary to Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Israel has built, and continues to build, settlements in these occupied territories. Today, nearly 500,000 Israeli settlers live in the illegal settlements in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), and the number grows daily as Israel expands its settler program.

Israel has resisted pressure from the international community to abide by the human rights provisions of international law. It has refused to comply with UN Security Council demands to cease building settlements and remove those it has built (Resolutions 446, 452 and 465) and to reverse its illegal annexation of East Jerusalem (252, 267, 271, 298, 476 and 478). Since September 2000, over 5,000 Palestinians, almost 1,000 of them minors, have been killed by the Israeli military.

Eleven-thousand Palestinians, including hundreds of minors, languish in Israel jails. Hundreds are detained without trial. In addition, Israel is breaking international law by imprisoning them outside the occupied territories, thereby making it almost impossible for their families to visit them. Every year, hundreds of Palestinian homes are demolished. The Palestinian population of the West Bank and Gaza livesw imprisoned by walls, barriers and checkpoints that prevent or impede access to shops, schools, workplaces, hospitals and places of worship. They are subjected to restrictions of every kind and to daily ritual humiliation at the hands of occupation soldiers and checkpoint guards.

Invasion, occupation and plantation of their land is the reality that Palestinians have faced for decades and still face on a daily basis, as their country is reduced remorselessly. Unless, and until, this Israeli aggression is halted, and the democratic rights of the Palestinian people are vindicated, there will be no justice or peace in the Middle East. Israel’s 40-year occupation of the West Bank and Gaza must be ended.

The occupation can end if political and economic pressure is placed on Israel by the international community. Recognizing this, the Palestinian people continually call on the international community to intervene.

We, the signatories, call for the following:

* The Irish Government to cease its purchase of Israeli military products and services and call publicly for an arms embargo against Israel.
* The Irish Government to demand publicly that Israel reverse its settlement construction, illegal occupation and annexation of land in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions and to use its influence in international fora to bring this about.
* The Irish Government to demand publicly that the Euro-Med Agreement under which Israel has privileged access to the EU market be suspended until Israel complies with international law.
* The Irish Government to veto any proposed upgrade in EU relations with Israel.
* The Irish people to boycott all Israeli goods and services until Israel abides by international law.


Trend Alert: 46 Of 50 USA States Could File Bankruptcy

February 3, 2009


There is a high chance a majority of the States within the United States of America could file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy. There are currently 46 states with high budget deficits, Arizona being one of them.

In fact, Jan Brewer, the newly appointed Governor of Arizona has a major crisis on her hands, one that Arizona and national media isn’t covering. The alarming news is the State of Arizona has 90 to 120 days before they completely run out of money. After that, all bills and tax refunds owed to the citizens will go unpaid.

Before Janet Napolitano left for her new Homeland secretary position, she had a stand-off with Arizona Treasurer Dean Martin. The AZ Treasurer forewarned Napolitano about Arizona’s financial crisis, but she refused to heed his words.

With neighboring California on the verge of bankruptcy this year, many States will follow in their steps.

Many States are already scurrying to cut unwanted costs, cut State-funded programs, raise taxes, not issue tax refunds to their citizens, and borrow money just to survive in 2009. Unfortunately, many banks — the same banks the Fed bailed out — are refusing to loan money to the States and their Treasury agencies.

The article, State Budget Troubles Worsen, at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities website is an excellent piece to read. It shows where each State currently stands in these challening economic times, and you see 46 of the 50 States are clearly in the financial red.

It’s very possible you’ll see the end of the United States as we know it. If the Fed doesn’t bailout the States when their cash dries up and the banks don’t loan them money, then our States will be left in financial ruin. This would be a tragic and unprecedented event never experienced in the United States.

No State has ever filed bankruptcy, but it could be coming to a State near you this year.

We are on the brink of something far worse than the Great Depression.

UPDATE: Check out the newly published article, Survivalism: How to Prepare for the Economic Collapse. There’s also a printable 4-page newsletter you can download and share with your friends, family, and co-workers. Take action and help spread the awareness of this life-threatening issue.

Good update source Center on Budget and Policy.

Excellent article for those who want the facts here.


California pension funds close to bankruptcy

February 2, 2009


The two largest pension funds in California, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS), have lost billions of dollars in value. Hundreds of thousands of retiring state employees and teachers now face the stark choice of accepting much reduced pension checks or working past their retirement age.

CalPERS is the largest pension fund in the US and the fourth largest in the world. At its height in October 2007 it had $260 billion in assets, comparable to the GDP of Poland, Indonesia or Denmark. At the end of 2008 CalPERS was worth $186 billion, one of its worst annual declines since the fund’s inception in 1932. It is one of the latest casualties of the financial collapse on Wall Street.

After years of gambling in real estate investments, the state workers pension fund has lost more than 41 percent of its value, after peaking last fall. Its real estate holdings have dropped from $9 billion to $5.8 billion, according to the Sacramento Bee.

CalPERS manages pension and health benefits for more than 1.6 million retirees and their families. The pensions are guaranteed by law, but given the current economic malaise employers may be asked to contribute more from their payrolls. The average employer, a taxpayer-funded government agency, contributes 12.7 percent of their payroll to CalPERS, while workers must contribute 5 to 7 percent of their salaries.

For now, a “rainy day fund” is being used to offset the worst in losses. It is likely, however, that CalPERS will ask for additional funds starting in July 2010 from state employers and July 2011 from local employers. The increases could be from 2 to 5 percent. Since the employers are public entities, the money will have to come from taxpayers or from budget cuts to other social programs.

CalPERS’s losses are intimately tied with the collapse of the housing bubble and the economic downturn in general. The Dow Jones Industrial Average has dropped 39.8 percent during the same period that CalPERS fell 31 percent. Because of the fund’s aggressive purchasing of real estate during the property bubble, CalPERS is now the largest owner of undeveloped residential land in America, much of it purchased in Arizona, California and Florida, some of the states hardest hit by the real estate crash. Many of these properties were purchased when their prices were at their peak.

The pension fund is expected to report paper losses of 103 percent on its residential investments in the fiscal year that ended June 30. It is estimated 80 percent of these investments were paid with borrowed money, which means that CalPERS will eventually be obligated to pay them back at the original market price.

The second largest pension fund in the US, CalSTRS, covers 794,812 teachers. Its value has fallen from $162.2 billion to $129.3 billion. CalSTRS’s pension funds are guaranteed just like CalPERS, but unlike CalPERS, it does not have the authority to ask for increased contributions from employers. CalSTRS is funded by school districts contributing 8.25 percent of its payroll. The state general fund pays 2 percent and a further 8 percent comes from the members’ salaries. Any contribution changes would have to be added by the state legislature and approved by the governor.

While CalPERS’ losses are currently being defrayed by the rainy-day fund, state administrators are hoping that the economic situation will improve, otherwise CalPERS and other pension funds will have to ask for further contributions. California Treasurer Bill Lockyer, who sits on the CalPERS board, told the San Francisco Chronicle that the current crisis means “both state and local government employers would be spending more on retirement than on some immediate program needs. Paying the commitments to pension obligation is a high priority, and it would take precedence over many other spendings.”

He added, “You either cut some other program expenditures or you tax something.” In other words, the pension deficit will be placed on the backs of working people who had no control over the investment decisions made by the government, let alone the recklessness and avarice of the banking executives and Wall Street speculators who are responsible for the crisis.

In the midst of a severe recession, this will only add to social anxiety and financial insecurity, particularly since hundreds of thousands of public school teachers and state employees covered by these massive pension funds have seen the value of their personal retirement savings, including 401(k)s and IRAs, reduced by 25 percent or more.

Pacific Grove, a coastal town north of San Francisco, highlights what cities and towns are being forced to do. In fiscal 2002, Pacific Grove paid less than $100,000 to CalPERS, only 1 percent of the town’s general fund revenue. By 2006, this cost shot up to more than $2.2 million, or 15 percent of its revenue.

The city of 15,000 would have to spend $10 million or more to pay its pension obligations if it were to pull out of CalPERS. The recreation department staff has already been reduced from seven to one and budgets for the library and Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History, a 125-year-old institution, were cut in half.

Joanne Nolan Stewart, a 48-year-old with two children, told the Wall Street Journal, “The people who used to run the recreation programs grew up here and sheltered the kids like they were their own.” Joanne is also an account manager for AT&T and said, “If I were to retire, my retirement would be one-quarter of what I make today for the rest of my life.”

California’s pension and budget defaults are not isolated phenomena. All across the US state pension funds have been collapsing due to the broader economic crisis. According to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, state governments have run up pension fund losses totaling $865.1 billion. Assets for 109 pension funds dropped 37 percent to $1.46 trillion in the 14-month period ending December 16. By comparison, the S&P 500 fell 41 percent in the same period.

To return to 2007 funding levels by 2010, the 109 funds would need annual returns of 52 percent, the center found. Alicia Munnell, the center’s director, told, “Even if markets recover, this will be a one-time loss that will have to be made up in the future by taxpayers.”

State and local governments contributed more than $64.5 billion to pension plans in fiscal 2005-2006, according to the US Census Bureau, which is about 57 percent of the $113.2 billion spent on police and firefighters. A report by the Pew Center on the States did a survey in December 2007 that found that states owed $2.35 trillion in pension payments over 30 years.

Unsurprisingly, state authorities are attempting to cut benefits for new state hires in order to ameliorate the crisis. In Kentucky, lawmakers set the minimum age of retirement at 57 for employees hired after September 1, and required 30 years of service, up from 27, to receive full benefits. They also capped cost-of-living adjustments, tied to the Consumer Price Index, at 1.5 percent. Democratic Governor of New York David Paterson, trying to close a $15.4 billion gap over 15 months, also wants to reduce new workers’ benefits while raising the retirement age from 55 to 62.

Rhode Island state and local governments were scheduled to make contributions to their pension funds equaling 25 percent of their payroll expenses in 2010, and the contributions may increase up to 30 percent in 2011 with a deepening recession. With increasing membership growth in state pension plans, these defaults will be even more exacerbated. State funds have been experiencing 12 percent growth since 2002, with 23.1 million now participating.

Company pension funds, or so-called defined benefit plans, have also been starved by the economic crash, falling to $1.2 trillion as of December 31 compared to $1.6 trillion a year earlier.

Giant Calif. Land Partnership Files for Chapter 11


PHOTOS: Solar Eclipse “Ring” Seen Over Indonesia

February 1, 2009

A sequence of photos shows the moon passing between Earth and the sun before, during, and after an annular eclipse, as seen on January 26, 2009, from Bandar Lampung in Indonesia.

The path of the full annular eclipse crossed mostly open ocean in the southern part of the globe, starting about 560 miles (900 kilometers) south of Africa and not reaching land until it crossed Australia’s Cocos (Keeling) Islands in the Indian Ocean (see map).

Still, observers in southern Africa, Madagascar, Australia, and Southeast Asia were able to watch a partial eclipse.


Buddy, can you spare a dime?

February 1, 2009

Funny how a song can be for so many periods and represent so many different countries. I have always loved this song – it’s American but could be for Russia, China, Europe Asia everywhere really – where good hearted people trusted governement and tried to live honest lives. I cannot think of a song more appropriate for the workers of the world right now.

They used to tell me I was building a dream
With peace and glory ahead
Why should I be standing in line
Just waiting for bread?

Once I built a railroad, made it run
Made it race against time
Once I built a railroad, now it’s done
Brother can you spare a dime?

Once I built a tower to the sun
Brick and rivet and lime
Once I built a tower, now it’s done
Brother can you spare a dime?

Once in khaki suits, gee we looked swell
Full of that yankee doodle dum
Half a million boots went sloggin’ through hell
And I was the kid with a drum

Say, Don’t you remember they called me Al?
It was Al all the time
Say, don’t you remember, I’m your pal
Buddy can you spare a dime?

Video by Spanky here.

Peter Yarrow version here.

1933 pictures here.

Article on the Depression here.