Saturday, June 5, 2010

Welcome distraction: Seoul takes dispute with North to UNSC

Misled by the Secret Team: South Korean President Lee Myung-bak

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak says Seoul has lodged a complaint with the UN Security Council over the alleged sinking of its warship by the North.

"Today, the Republic of Korea government referred the matter of North Korea's attack against the Cheonan to the UN Security Council," Reuters quoted Lee as saying on the sidelines of a security conference in Singapore on Friday.

"North Korea must admit its wrongdoing," Lee added. The South Korean president's remarks come as the North had earlier warned that it would retaliate if Seoul, which demands Pyongyang be held accountable for the incident, takes the matter to the UNSC.

Tension has been building between the two Koreas since a South Korean ship sank in March after allegedly being hit by a North Korean torpedo. Forty-six South Korean sailors lost their lives in the incident.

A multi-national probe found what it claims are pieces of a North Korean torpedo at the site of the wreck. The North has rejected the findings of the probe. Pyongyang charges Washington and Seoul with fabricating evidence in order to find an excuse to start a new war in the Korean Peninsula.

21st Anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre: Still a Sensitive Topic

In China, the Tiananmen Square massacre is a pretty sensitive topic to discuss. That is why; the nation speedily censors Web content which is even faintly serious of the event.
That was positively still the case on Friday, when the 21st anniversary of the event took place, and China blocked that location-based social network, Foursquare, after users started logging in at Tiananmen Square on the service.

Under Foursquare's process of checking in, users can tell followers where, physically, they are. The information can be syndicated to Facebook or Twitter. People who are checked in at the same location can engage in conversation.

According to an account in Techblog86, a China-based site that initially broke the news of China's choice to block Foursquare, people, who checked in to Tiananmen Square were leaving sensitive remarks on the page so that others could see it as well.

Those comments were publicized and shared with friends and followers on Facebook and Twitter. China, whilst objecting to such commentaries made a decision to block the service in an effort to suppress the protest.

China has yet to verify that it has actually blocked the site or not. The Company as well did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Submitted by Petra Vesela

Gaza Flotilla: Turkish prosecutors go after Israeli politicians

Israel’s prime minister, defense minister and chief of General Staff are among the prime suspects in an investigation initiated by the İstanbul Bakırköy Prosecutor’s Office into Monday’s military operation against a Gaza-bound civilian aid flotilla that left nine peace activists, all of whom were Turkish citizens, dead.

The İstanbul Bakırköy Prosecutor’s Office has started a probe into Israel’s attack. Commandos stormed one of the main ships in the six-vessel flotilla, killing nine and injuring dozens of unarmed civilians in international waters. Prosecutor Mehmet Taştan, who serves at the Ankara Prosecutor’s Office Directives Bureau, is also aiding the Bakırköy prosecutors. He listened to the testimonies of some of the wounded who were brought to Ankara by a Turkish air ambulance.
Among the prosecutors’ evidence are the autopsy reports of the eight Turkish citizens and one US-Turkish dual citizen who were killed in the attack. If the prosecutor’s office can compile enough evidence against Israel at the end of its probe, it will charge Israeli officials with various crimes, including murder, injury, taking hostages, attacking Turkish citizens on the open seas and piracy. The main suspects in the investigation thus far are Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Chief of General Staff Gabi Ashkenazi.
Prosecutor Taştan interviewed all the injured on Wednesday in a hospital in Ankara except for intensive care unit patients. Taştan will send the testimonies to the Bakırköy Prosecutor’s Office and the Ministry of Justice.
Some 500 activists who were aboard the flotilla vessels were brought to Turkey on Wednesday. The survivors were examined at the Council of Forensic Medicine (ATK) to provide more evidence about the attack. The detailed autopsy findings will also be used as evidence against Israel. The reports will include information on the cause of death and the form of death by firearms, such as if they were shot at close range. The ATK is also running tests to see whether any chemical weapons were used against the peace activists.
Turkey’s foreign and justice ministries are also closely following the investigation, which might end up with the indictment of those responsible for the raid. The trial of these suspects will be based on the international Law of the Sea Convention and universal principles regarding a fair trial. To demonstrate that Israel’s intervention was illegal, the prosecutors will emphasize that the ships were in international waters, that the people aboard had waved a white flag of surrender, that the ships were carrying humanitarian aid, that the passengers did not threaten Israel and that no permission for intervention was given by the ships’ captains or countries under whose flags they were sailing. Concrete evidence, such as firing at the victims at close range, and the testimonies of victims will also be included as evidence. If in the meantime an investigatory committee is set up in Israel, the prosecutor’s office will also make use of that commission’s findings.
05 June 2010, Saturday
Posted by Mick Hall

Wal-Mart Plans to Increase Worldwide Work Force

Bloomberg is reporting big news from Wal-Mart. The world’s largest retailer said at its annual shareholder meeting Friday that it plans to create 500,000 jobs over the next five years in order to spur global sales.

While the majority of the hires will be in international markets, CEO Mike Duke said U.S. hiring will be dependent on the company opening more stores in urban areas. The markets slated for rapid growth are Mexico, China and Brazil, where Duke said sales are on the increase.

Wal-Mart has more than 2 million employees worldwide. U.S. stores chief Eduardo Castro-Wright told shareholders that U.S. same-store sales are expected to come in somewhere between a decline of 2 percent to an increase of 1 percent in the second quarter.

Spill, Baby, Spill

President Obama went to Louisiana last week to walk on water and calm fears that the Gulf of Mexico was turning into one enormous sink of slimy, toxic oil. For all the oil he couldn’t find any water to walk on, so he had to settle for having his picture taken in rubber boots looking grim. Then he went back to Washington and said, “Plug the damn hole.”

This instruction had no more effect on the oil gushing from the floor of the gulf than the quasi-comical efforts mounted by BP, the villain of the piece, to cap the ruptured well. Tony Hayward, the appropriately unctuous Brit who runs BP, continued to issue contradictory statements about how much oil was spewing into the gulf and why it was so hard to stop.

BP, which used to stand for British Petroleum and now stands for something much more descriptive, is one of the very biggest companies in the world. President Obama and many other innocent Americans had expectations — unrealistic, of course — that the CEO of such a huge and influential company might use his position to tell us something approximating the truth about the catastrophe. Wasn’t that silly?

That would be like expecting Dick Cheney to come clean about Halliburton, his old company, and how it got all those billions in government contracts in Iraq. But wait! Halliburton is up to its oily neck in this mess, too. It was supposed to cement the blowout preventer to the something or other and didn’t do it right, according to Transocean, which was supposed to oversee the operation of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in such a way that it wouldn’t blow up and kill people and let loose enough oil to poison the whole Gulf of Mexico…

If you’re looking to fix the blame on somebody, it’s the other guy. That’s a good rule of thumb in the oil business: whenever something goes wrong, it’s the other guy. It’s a good rule to live by in politics, too.

As the weeks wore on and the oil continued to pour into the gulf despite various Rube Goldberg efforts to stop it, one could sense that people were getting a little testy, especially those whose livelihoods were threatened with extinction. Everybody started to look for a scapegoat. Some Republicans actually suggested that the catastrophe could be laid at Obama’s feet, so recently encased in oily boots.

The thinking seemed to be that he should have cleaned up the utterly corrupt mining and minerals agency he inherited from Bush. They had a point, if a hypocritical one, although it’s hard to see how that would have made deepwater oil rigs safer since the oil companies are essentially self-regulating after so many years of co-opting regulators and buying politicians and writing their own rules.

The oil companies are so big and so rich and so arrogant that they can pretty much do whatever they want and nobody, it seems, including the United States Senate and the President himself can do much about it, even if they wanted to. The terrible oil spill in the gulf began to look like it might be Obama’s first major setback. After chalking up one success after another, he appeared to be faltering. Why doesn’t he get mad? people said. Why doesn’t he go down to the Gulf Coast and personally get the problem under control?

All this talk may have been unfair but fairness is not an idea that has much currency in the world of big oil. If there was need of an F-word in the equation, fairness certainly wasn’t it. Obama unleashed his Attorney General and announced that an investigation into possible criminal negligence would go forward without fear or favor.

Let’s hope so. Meanwhile American motorists were paying three dollars a gallon at the pump and the people of the Gulf Coast were wondering if their lives would ever return to normal.

Posted by Paul Duffy

Findley Gets Another Look v. Australia

With Jozy Altidore’s status up in the air due to a gimpy ankle, RSL’s Robbie Findley couldn’t have asked for much more in the United States’ final tune-up for the World Cup today in Roodepoort, South Africa, as the striker went the full 90 minutes in the USA’s 3-1 win over the “Socceroos” of Australia.

Well, he could have asked for a goal or two, as he left a couple of chances wanting, including a sliding half-chance that clanked off the crossbar in the early moments of the 2nd half. With that being said, Robbie showed why he was out there in the first place, showing the ability to run at defenders successfully 1-v-1 and getting in behind the Australian backline on several occasions throughout the 90 minutes.

Meanwhile, his strike partner Edson Buddle finished off a pair of chances in the first half, twice giving the USA the advantage, the second time for good in the 31st minute. Late-match substitute Herculez Gomez knocked in the final tally off a Landon Donovan cross in stoppage time to keep confidence high as the USA gets ready for its Group C opener next Saturday against England … also known as “The Biggest Friggin’ Game of All Time.”

So will Findley get the starting nod? Can Jozy come back in time for the opener? Will Buddle ever stop scoring? Does Gomez deserve his shot to start? These are the questions that will only be answered by Bob Bradley one week from today … and you know he ain’t telling anybody! The best way to find out these answers will be to join 1,500 of your closest soccer-crazed fans at RSL’s World Cup HQ Viewing Party at Green Street … of which many more details will be released early in the week.

Police Digging For Stacy Peterson Remains In Illinois

h/t Duchess Rebecca on Twitter. What is this, high-profile crime week? A TMZ report alleges he confessed to a fellow inmate.
Details via ABC:

Illinois police investigators have begun digging at a site in rural Peoria County, Ill., looking for the body of Stacy Peterson, the fourth wife of former police officer Drew Peterson, who is a suspect in her disappearance.

Image at link - Police confer in Peoria County, Ill., near the site of the search in the missing persons case of Stacy Peterson. (Courtesy Illinois State Police)

Officials would not immediately reveal what led them to the Peoria County location, 140 miles southwest of Chicago, but Corner Johnna Ingersoll confirmed that investigators were looking for "human remains."

State police Master Sgt. Tom Burek described the location as "thick with timber," rain-soaked and a "muddy mess."

Arizona School Asks That Black And Latino Faces On Mural Be Lightened

When Arizona introduced its new immigration law, aimed toward battling illegal immigration, its many critics–including President Obama–angrily protested, claiming it was racist (or that it would encourage racism). Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vehemently denied it. Today, Arizona has once again made the news–and once again, it’s about racism.

A group of artists who painted a public mural in Prescott, Ariz. has been asked to lighten the faces of the children depicted in the mural. R.E. Wall, director of the Prescott Downtown Mural Project, told the Daily Courier he and the other artists “heard regular racial slurs from the passengers of cars driving by” while they were working on the mural.

The “Go on Green” mural covers two walls outside Miller Valley Elementary School, and it aims to advertise a campaign for environmentally friendly transportation. It features portraits of four children, and a Hispanic boy as the predominant figure.

According to USA Today, Principal Jeff Lane said he asked Wall to make the children’s faces appear lighter, but solely for artistic reasons:

Rachel Corrie Illegally Boarded

The Rachel Corrie has now been illegally boarded by the Israeli military in international waters.

As usual the BBC's immediate reaction is simply to retail Israeli propaganda. The Rachel Corrie has been boarded "with the full compliance of the crew", BBC News tells us. That is almost certainly not true, unless you count without violent resistance as "full compliance".

If that were true, you might wonder why Israel had jammed - again contrary to maritime law - all the Rachel Corrie's communications with the outside world, and why they are still jammed. The BBC did not mention that.

The organisers have just posted this:

"For the second time in less then a week, Israeli naval commandos stormed an unarmed aid ship, brutally taking its passengers hostage and towing the ship toward Ashdod port in Southern Israel."

But the BBC is much more concerned to help ensure that the Israeli version has unquestioned domination of the initial news.

Video: Afghan jirga calls for peace commission to end war AFP

Video: Riz Khan - Will Israel be held accountable? - Part 1 Al Jazeera

Four Day School Week Results In Better Attendance, Better Test Scores, Better Graduation Rate

During the school year, Mondays in this rural Georgia community are for video games, trips to grandma’s house and hanging out at the neighborhood community center.

Don’t bother showing up for school. The doors are locked and the lights are off.

Peach County is one of more than 120 school districts across the country where students attend school just four days a week, a cost-saving tactic gaining popularity among cash-strapped districts struggling to make ends meet. The 4,000-student district started shaving a day off its weekly school calendar last year to help fill a $1 million budget shortfall.

It was that or lay off 39 teachers the week before school started, said Superintendent Susan Clark. …

The results? Test scores went up.

So did attendance _ for both students and teachers. The district is spending one-third of what it once did on substitute teachers, Clark said.

And the graduation rate likely will be more than 80 percent for the first time in years, Clark said.

The four days that students are in school are slightly longer and more crowded with classes and activities. After school, students can get tutoring in subjects where they’re struggling.

On their off day, students who don’t have other options attend “Monday care” at area churches and the local Boys & Girls Club, where tutors are also available to help with homework. The programs generally cost a few dollars a day per student.

This is a fairly novel concept in that not many school districts have tried it and so it’s difficult to get data as to whether or not this is a better situation for education. I did find a couple of anecdotes from the article pretty interesting. Another school district that tried this went back to a five-day work week because the four-day week was too “hard on the teachers.” Because the teachers are the priority, right?

Also, some parents are upset that they now have to find babysitters for their kids one day during the work week. It’s a little sad that some parents see schools as little more than babysitters.

My reaction? I’m not sure how I feel about a four day school week. I’m not necessarily against it. I wonder sometimes if, at least with younger ages, less might not be more with education. School is important, but kids should also have time to be kids. They have their whole adult lives to be adults and work five days a week.

But really, this is yet another instance in which school choice would make the situation better. If your school goes to a four-day week and you don’t think it’s best for your children, shouldn’t you be able to take your children (and their share of education tax dollars) and choose a better school? I think so, and that sort of choice would be a market driver on things like the length of the school week, the length of the school day, curriculum, etc.

Much like in the business world, the best practices would rise to the top. Rather than trying to figure out some one-size-fits-all policy from a central authority, why not just empower individuals to choose what they think is best?

Arizona Elementary School Asks Mural Artists To Make Faces “Lighter In Color”

by Doug Mataconis

Seriously, this is not good press Arizona:
A group of artists has been asked to lighten the faces of children depicted in a giant public mural at a Prescott school.

The project’s leader says he was ordered to lighten the skin tone after complaints about the children’s ethnicity. But the school’s principal says the request was only to fix shading and had nothing to do with political pressure.

The “Go on Green” mural, which covers two walls outside Miller Valley Elementary School, was designed to advertise a campaign for environmentally friendly transportation. It features portraits of four children, with a Hispanic boy as the dominant figure.

R.E. Wall, director of Prescott’s Downtown Mural Project, said he and other artists were subjected to slurs from motorists as they worked on the painting at one of the town’s most prominent intersections.

“We consistently, for two months, had people shouting racial slander from their cars,” Wall said. “We had children painting with us, and here come these yells of (epithet for Blacks) and (epithet for Hispanics).”

Wall said school Principal Jeff Lane pressed him to make the children’s faces appear happier and brighter.

“It is being lightened because of the controversy,” Wall said, adding that “they want it to look like the children are coming into light.”

Lane said that he received only three complaints about the mural and that his request for a touch-up had nothing to do with political pressure. “We asked them to fix the shading on the children’s faces,” he said. “We were looking at it from an artistic view. Nothing at all to do with race.”

Yes, sure, I’m supposed to believe that a school principal was giving artistic direction. To the professional artists that were hired to paint the mural, and that there was nothing else going on here:

City Councilman Steve Blair spearheaded a public campaign on his talk show at Prescott radio station KYCA-AM (1490) to remove the mural.

In a broadcast last month, according to the Daily Courier in Prescott, Blair mistakenly complained that the most prominent child in the painting is African-American, saying: “To depict the biggest picture on the building as a Black person, I would have to ask the question: Why?”

You know, Arizona stuff like this isn’t going to help convince people that there isn’t some weird racial thing going on in your state.

Angling Toward The End: Angle Leads Lowden in GOP Primary

The current political races in Nevada give every appearance of confirming one of the oldest "saws" in the lexicon of aphorisms: Run to the Base in the Primary, Run to the Middle in the General. The Nevada GOP primary offers yet another test of that well worn proposition. [LV Sun]

The rightest of the righties, candidate Sharron Angle, is leading the GOP primary race to compete with incumbent Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) in November. The question may very well be: Can she complete the second part of the equation? Should she win the primary she does have some options.

Option One:  The Virginia Plan. Republican Robert McDonnell, a well known member of the movement conservative wing of the Virginia GOP ran a "moderate" campaign, carefully avoiding any expression of the ultra-conservative tenets to which he subscribes. Once in office he made headlines by proposing to eliminate civil liberties protections for members of the gay and lesbian communities, by initiating what for all the world looks like a literacy test for those seeking gubernatorial clemency, and by hiring former notorious Nixon Administration "Jew Counter" Fred Malek [NYDN] as his budget adviser.

Option Two: The Money Plan. Angle has collected the assistance of some well endowed ultra-conservative organizations (Club For Growth, Tea Party Express, and Freedom Works) which are funding her current media buys. Her continued support for advancing the agendas of these organizations should keep her coffers full, but at some risk of making independent voters uncomfortable.

Option Three: The Maverick Plan. Angle may have some trouble with the Virginia Plan simply because there is plenty of recorded fodder from her primary race against Congressman Dean Heller (R-NV2). With limited, and perhaps unenthusiastic, support from established Republican leaders in Nevada she'll have some problems implementing the Money Plan. Angle could attempt to eschew running to the middle, continue advocating for corporate and socially conservative causes, and hope to garner enough votes to overcome a Reid campaign if Democratic turnout is low.

Angle's problems are directly related to the numbers. There are 392,405 registered active Republican voters in Nevada. She could reasonably expect to gather the 6,061 registered active Libertarians, and the 44,652 members of the Independent American Party. That's a total of 443,113 votes, if she received every GOP vote.

There are 452,949 registered active Democratic voters in Nevada, and 1,156 registered members of the Green Party, from whom Angle can expect little or no support.

There are 162,173 registered active non-partisan voters in the state. Not all of these citizens can be expected to break one way or the other, meaning that the time honored middle strategy will be essential in a mid-term election in which voter turnouts are notoriously low. Had not the Lowden campaign so spectacularly imploded, it might have made the "electability" argument more capably; and, that proposition is a viable one especially during lower-interest level mid term elections.

Jobs Increase by 431,000, only 20,000 Excluding Census; Unemployment Rate Drops to 9.7%; A Look at the Details

This morning the BLS reported an increase of 431,000 jobs. 411,000 of those jobs were temporary workers for Census 2010. Headline unemployment fell .2% to 9.7%.

Hidden beneath the surface the BLS Black Box - Birth Death Model added 215,000 jobs.

However, as I have pointed out many times before, the Birth/Death numbers cannot be subtracted straight up to get a raw number. It contributed to this month's employment total for sure, but the BLS will not disclose by how much.

In addition to census hiring, temporary help services employment added 31,000 jobs. temporary help services employment has risen by 362,000 since September 2009.

On the whole, this was a very weak jobs report especially with all the hype coming from various administration officials and economic cheerleaders.

Both the birth/death numbers and temporary help jobs are problematic.

The drop in the unemployment rate will all be taken back by August when the census workers are let go.

As I said last month, I still do not think the top in the unemployment rate is in and expect it may rise substantially June through August, and keep rising at a modest pace thereafter for most of the rest of the year. Time will tell.

Employment and Recessions