Dec 182011






By The Associated Press

PRAGUE — Vaclav Havel, the dissident playwright who wove theater into politics to peacefully bring down communism in Czechoslovakia and become a hero of the epic struggle that ended the Cold War, has died. He was 75.

Mr. Havel died Sunday morning at his weekend house in the northern Czech Republic, his assistant Sabina Tancecova said said.

Mr. Havel was his country’s first democratically elected president after the nonviolent “Velvet Revolution” that ended four decades of repression by a regime he ridiculed as “Absurdistan.”

As president, he oversaw the country’s bumpy transition to democracy and a free-market economy, as well its peaceful 1993 breakup into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Even out of office, he remained a world figure. He was part of the “new Europe” — in the coinage of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld — of ex-communist countries that stood up for the United States when the democracies of “old Europe” opposed the 2003 Iraq invasion.

A former chain-smoker, Mr. Havel had a history of chronic respiratory problems dating to his years in communist jails. He was hospitalized in Prague on Jan. 12, 2009, with an unspecified inflammation, and had developed breathing difficulties after undergoing minor throat surgery.

Mr. Havel left office in 2003, 10 years after Czechoslovakia broke up and a few months before both nations joined the European Union. He was credited with laying the groundwork that brought his Czech Republic into the 27-nation bloc, and was president when it joined NATO in 1999.

Shy and bookish, with wispy mustache and unkempt hair, Mr. Havel came to symbolize the power of the people to peacefully overcome totalitarian rule.

“Truth and love must prevail over lies and hatred,” He famously said. It became his revolutionary motto which he said he strove to live by.

Mr. Havel was nominated several times for the Nobel Peace Prize, and collected dozens of accolades worldwide for his efforts as a global ambassador of conscience, defended the downtrodden from Darfur to Myanmar.

Among his many honors were Sweden’s prestigious Olof Palme Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest United States civilian award, bestowed on him by President George W. Bush for being “one of liberty’s great heroes.”

An avowed peacenik whose heroes included rockers like Frank Zappa, he never quite shed his flower-child past and often signed his name with a small heart as a flourish.[…]




By Philippe Legrain, Project Syndicate

BRUSSELS – Panic is beginning to overwhelm the eurozone. Italy and Spain are caught in the maelstrom. Belgium is slipping into the danger zone. As France is dragged down, the widening gap between its bond yields and Germany’s is severely testing the political partnership that has driven six decades of European integration.

Even strong swimmers such as Finland and the Netherlands are straining against the undertow. Banks are struggling to stay afloat – their capital providing little buoyancy as funds drain away – while businesses that rely on credit are in trouble, too. All signs point to a eurozone recession.

Left unchecked, this panic about sovereign solvency will prove self-fulfilling: just as a healthy bank can fail if it suffers a run, even the most creditworthy government is at risk if the market refuses to refinance its debt. One can scarcely bear imagining the consequences: cascading bank and sovereign defaults, a devastating depression, the collapse of the euro (and perhaps even that of the European Union), global contagion, and potentially tragic political turmoil. So why aren’t policymakers doing whatever it takes to avoid catastrophe?

Ever since Italian bond yields first spiked in early August, I have believed that only an open-ended commitment by the European Central Bank to keep solvent governments’ bond yields at sustainable rates could calm the panic and create the breathing space needed to implement confidence-boosting reforms. Everything that has happened since then has only confirmed this view.

Now that the crisis has reached the “core” of the eurozone, the resources needed to backstop weaker sovereigns exceed the limited fiscal capacity of stronger ones. Financial wizardry cannot disguise that, while throwing a bigger lifeline risks dragging everyone down. Piling everyone on to the same life raft – through Eurobonds backed by joint and several guarantees – is not legally feasible for now, and would be politically toxic if attempted prematurely. Nor can a systemic crisis be resolved by individual governments’ actions – not least because the panic is outpacing politicians’ ability to respond. Only the ECB has the unlimited wherewithal to save Europe from the abyss now.

The ECB has a strong rationale to act: to ensure the smooth transmission of monetary policy, to prevent a depression that would lead to deflation, and to avoid the breakup of the euro. Yet it has so far refused to do so, hiding behind a legal fig leaf.

Granted, Article 123 of the Lisbon Treaty prohibits the ECB from purchasing bonds directly from public bodies, but intervening in the secondary market is permitted. The ECB has long been doing so through its Securities Market Program. Where in the treaty does it say that extending the SMP is prohibited? Indeed, a credible open-ended commitment to contain interest-rate spreads would actually require fewer purchases than the ECB’s current limited and temporary program does. […]




By Athens News Web

Each week our editors choose their favourite news photos to share with our readers.
This week’s photos: Sunday October 16th to Saturday October 22nd.
An Indignant stands at Syntagma Square wearing a mask of Guy Fawkes, the Englishman famous for the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, a failed attempt to blow up the House of Lords and assassinate King James I, Sunday 16 October 2011.
Monday 17 October marks the third week of sanitation workers strike as mounds of garbage continue to pile up.
Personnel of Police, Fire Service and Coast Guard hold a vigil outside the Parliament protesting against wage cuts, 17 October 2011.
A passer-by quickly moves away from riot police confronting protesters, Syntagma Square 19 October 2011.
The khaki uniform of a riot police officer turns pink after an engagement with protesters, 19 October 2011.
Tourists watch the ongoing protests from the safety of their hotel’s balcony, 19 October 2011.
Clashes erupt in Syntagma Square as demonstrators of the KKE affiliated labour organisation PAME prevent a group of black-clad hoodies to reach the Parliament, 20 October 2011
A fire extinguisher is set off, part of battle between communist unionists who attempt to hold the ground in front of the Parliament and black clad youths charging against them, 20 October 2011.
A couple kisses amid riot police, clashes and tear gas, 20 October 2011.



By Robert Fisk, The Independent

[…] And that is the true parallel in the West. The protest movements are indeed against Big Business – a perfectly justified cause – and against “governments”. What they have really divined, however, albeit a bit late in the day, is that they have for decades bought into a fraudulent democracy: they dutifully vote for political parties – which then hand their democratic mandate and people’s power to the banks and the derivative traders and the rating agencies, all three backed up by the slovenly and dishonest coterie of “experts” from America’s top universities and “think tanks”, who maintain the fiction that this is a crisis of globalisation rather than a massive financial con trick foisted on the voters.

The banks and the rating agencies have become the dictators of the West. Like the Mubaraks and Ben Alis, the banks believed – and still believe – they are owners of their countries. The elections which give them power have – through the gutlessness and collusion of governments – become as false as the polls to which the Arabs were forced to troop decade after decade to anoint their own national property owners. Goldman Sachs and the Royal Bank of Scotland became the Mubaraks and Ben Alis of the US and the UK, each gobbling up the people’s wealth in bogus rewards and bonuses for their vicious bosses on a scale infinitely more rapacious than their greedy Arab dictator-brothers could imagine.

I didn’t need Charles Ferguson’s Inside Job on BBC2 this week – though it helped – to teach me that the ratings agencies and the US banks are interchangeable, that their personnel move seamlessly between agency, bank and US government. The ratings lads (almost always lads, of course) who AAA-rated sub-prime loans and derivatives in America are now – via their poisonous influence on the markets – clawing down the people of Europe by threatening to lower or withdraw the very same ratings from European nations which they lavished upon criminals before the financial crash in the US. I believe that understatement tends to win arguments. But, forgive me, who are these creatures whose ratings agencies now put more fear into the French than Rommel did in 1940?

Why don’t my journalist mates in Wall Street tell me? How come the BBC and CNN and – oh, dear, even al-Jazeera – treat these criminal communities as unquestionable institutions of power? Why no investigations – Inside Job started along the path – into these scandalous double-dealers? It reminds me so much of the equally craven way that so many American reporters cover the Middle East, eerily avoiding any direct criticism of Israel, abetted by an army of pro-Likud lobbyists to explain to viewers why American “peacemaking” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be trusted, why the good guys are “moderates”, the bad guys “terrorists”.

The Arabs have at least begun to shrug off this nonsense. But when the Wall Street protesters do the same, they become “anarchists”, the social “terrorists” of American streets who dare to demand that the Bernankes and Geithners should face the same kind of trial as Hosni Mubarak. We in the West – our governments – have created our dictators. But, unlike the Arabs, we can’t touch them.

The Irish Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, solemnly informed his people this week that they were not responsible for the crisis in which they found themselves. They already knew that, of course. What he did not tell them was who was to blame. Isn’t it time he and his fellow EU prime ministers did tell us? And our reporters, too?




By Willie Nelson, OpEdNews

Thanks to the Occupy Wall Street movement, there’s a deeper understanding about the power that corporations wield over the great majority of us. It’s not just in the financial sector, but in all facets of our lives. The disparity between the top 1 percent and everyone else has been laid bare – there’s no more denying that those at the top get their share at the expense of the 99 percent. Lobbyists, loopholes, tax breaks… how can ordinary folks expect a fair shake?

No one knows this better than family farmers, whose struggle to make a living on the land has gotten far more difficult since corporations came to dominate our farm and food system. We saw signs of it when Farm Aid started in 1985, but corporate control of our food system has since exploded.

From seed to plate, our food system is now even more concentrated than our banking system. Most economic sectors have concentration ratios hovering around 40 percent, meaning that the top four firms in the industry control 40 percent of the market. Anything beyond this level is considered “highly concentrated,” where experts believe competition is severely threatened and market abuses are likely to occur.

Many key agricultural markets like soybeans and beef exceed the 40 percent threshold, meaning the seeds and inputs that farmers need to grow our crops come from just a handful of companies. Ninety-three percent of soybeans and 80 percent of corn grown in the United States are under the control of just one company. Four companies control up to 90 percent of the global trade in grain. Today, three companies process more than 70 percent of beef in the U.S.; four companies dominate close to 60 percent of the pork and chicken markets. […]




By Alex Pareene, Salon

You can think of these guys as retired from the Hack List (like a Hall of Fame) or as simply to dull to rip into at length for a second time, but these 2010 Hack List veterans did not actually improve their game in 2011.

Pat Caddell (Last year: Number 27.)

The fake Democratic pollster is repeating himself, and somehow it just gets dumber every time.

Jonah Goldberg (Last year: Number 7.)

In March Jonah Goldberg literally wrote “meh” instead of rebutting an argument, in his nationally syndicated political column.

Thomas Friedman (Last year: Number 3.)

Thomas Friedman continued to, domestically, demand a centrist third party that acted exactly like our current centrist Democratic party. But his best work, as always, concerned foreign lands. What other columnist would have the balls to go to the scene of a popular revolution and “quote” a native pleading with the wise American columnist to explain what he thinks is going on in her country?

Marty Peretz (Last year: Number 5.)

Poor Marty lost his New Republic blog and “editor” title, but the magazine still lets him go on at length about middle eastern affairs, despite his lengthy and well-documented history of being an unrepentant anti-Arab racist.

George Will (Last year: Number 11.)

Will got an early start on his traditional election year conflict of interest, trashing Romney and Gingrich on television and in print before being forced to disclose that his wife is a paid Rick Perry advisor. Also, he’s still lying all the time about climate change.

Marc Thiessen (Last year: Number 6.)

The lying torture-defender still has a Post column, and even got to ask questions at a presidential debate! It’s not as morally repulsive as his other work, but the single silliest thing he wrote this year was this bit claiming that “Occupy Wall Street” was to blame for the inevitable failure of the supercommittee.

Bill Kristol (Last year: Number 17.)

Kristol’s Weekly Standard belatedly and bizarrely hopped on the Gingrich bandwagon as the year drew to a close. And why not? Kristol wouldn’t be Kristol if he didn’t endorse and prop up toxic, unelectable Republicans.

Mickey Kaus Number 25.)

The inventor of annoying political blogging moved his blog to the Daily Caller, where I assume he is still complaining about immigrants. His hackiest moment: I’ll say, picking more or less at random, this post, expressing dismay that Arizona nutcase politician Russell Pearce was recalled, because it sent the message that Arizona voters may be going soft on fanatical hatred of immigrants.

Tucker Carlson (Last year: Number 22.)

Tucker Carlson’s Daily Caller news site is as inessential as ever. His hackiest moment of the year: Hiring a professional Berman and Company liar to edit the Caller, then printing a rather blatantly untrue story about the EPA.

Tina Brown (Last year: Number 18.)

Tina may be working incredibly hard at salvaging a dying newsweekly, with a clueless boss holding the purse strings, but on the other hand, that Princess Di fanfic cover was unacceptable. (Her actual hackiest moment, though, might be doing a phone interview and a conference call from the Acela’s quiet car.)



1. Mark Halperin

Congratulations to the world’s laziest dispenser of conventional wisdom

2. Jennifer Rubin

The Washington Post blogger is hateful and repetitive

3. Bernard-Henri Levy

The philosopher is a living parody of a blowhard foreign intellectual

4. Erin Burnett

The Wall Street and CNBC veteran’s shtick doesn’t work well on news channels for us little people

5. Katie Poiphe

The date rape-denier discovered the Internet this year, with embarrassing results



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