Daily Archives: 14/01/2011

(The Huffington Post) TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) – Tunisia’s president announced Friday he would dismiss his government and call new legislative elections after police fired tear gas at thousands of protesters marching through the capital to demand his ouster.

( Tunisia crisis: live updates

(WSWS) By Andre Damon 14 January 2011

US home foreclosures hit a new record in 2010, as millions of families faced a disastrous combination of joblessness, falling wages, and plunging home values. The latest foreclosure figures, released Thursday by, come amidst a bout of negative economic statistics that underscore the depth of the social crisis.

Approximately 2.8 million properties had foreclosure actions taken against them in 2010, about 1 in 45 US households in all and an increase of 2 percent over 2009. The number of properties repossessed by banks jumped 14 percent, to over one million.

The new record comes in spite of an 11 percent curtailment of foreclosure filings and evictions in the fourth quarter. This short-term decline resulted from voluntary moratoriums put in place by some banks after it came to light that mortgage lenders were systematically falsifying documentation in order to speed Americans out of their homes. In the immediate aftermath of the scandal the Obama administration ruled out any punishment or investigation of the banks, and foreclosure processing accelerated.

Experts say the worst is yet to come. “The 2010 numbers came out significantly lower than we expected as a result of the mortgage documentation scandal,” said Daren Blomquist, director of marketing communications for Realtytrac, in a telephone interview. “But those foreclosures which were halted—about a quarter million—will simply be pushed to next year.”

Realtytrac was already projecting record levels of foreclosures next year before the mortgage scandal, and now estimates that foreclosure levels could be between 10 percent and 20 percent higher in 2011 than in 2010.

The Obama administration has done nothing to help homeowners. The administration’s Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), which was tacked onto the bank bailout for publicity, has provided permanent mortgage modifications to only a tiny fraction of those in need.

The congressional oversight panel for the bank bailout pointed out last month that the program “will prevent only 700,000 foreclosures—far fewer than the three to four million foreclosures that Treasury initially aimed to stop, and vastly fewer than the eight to 13 million foreclosures expected by 2012.”

Moreover, the plan does not entail any reduction to the principal owed by homeowners; it merely adjusts monthly payments. In this it is fundamentally no different from actions taken by the banks on their own behalf in order to reduce losses on foreclosures.

The foreclosure crisis is relentlessly driving down the value of homes, the major source of wealth for most US families., the online real estate database, announced this week that its index of home values fell for the 53rd consecutive month in November, and that home values have fallen 26 percent since June 2006. “That’s more than the 25.9 percent decline in the Depression-era years between 1928 and 1933,” wrote Katie Curnutte, the site’s PR Manager, in a blog post.

The Case-Shiller index, which tracks prices in 20 major cities, has fallen even more, showing a remarkable 30 percent drop over the same period.

The deepening foreclosure crisis and the ongoing collapse of the US housing market is being driven by mass joblessness and a far-reaching assault on wages.

“Joblessness is the number one reason people lose their homes,” Blomquist noted. “As long as unemployment remains high, foreclosures will remain a persistent problem.”

This week’s initial jobless claims report offered no relief. The number of first-time benefit seekers grew by 35,000, to 445,000, the second consecutive weekly increase and the largest number since late October. There has been no statistically significant improvement in jobless claims in the past year, with the present level being essentially unchanged from the 456,000 claims reported on January 2, 2010.

The weekly jobless claims report from the Labor Department also reversed the much-touted improvement in the figure seen in December. The jobs situation supposedly improved that month, as the unemployment rate fell to 9.4 percent (a decline largely attributable to shrinkage of the workforce due to long-term unemployment), non-farm payrolls crept up by 100,000 (less than the number needed to keep pace with growth in the labor force), and jobless claims fell three weeks in a row.

Barack Obama seized on the December jobs report to proclaim an economic recovery, noting in a speech the day after the release of the December jobs figures that “each quarter was stronger than the last,” and that “the pace of hiring is picking up.”

The past several days have seen a number of mass layoffs. Steelcase, the office furniture company, announced that it will close three North American Factories on January 12, putting hundreds out of work. Lockheed Martin, the aircraft maker, said Thursday that it will cut 250 jobs at a plant in Eagan, Minnesota, which is slated for closure.

Even more drastic are cuts planned for the public sector. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools system in North Carolina announced this week that it will cut 1,500 jobs as part of a budget-reduction program. The school system plans to supplement the layoffs with school closures and the slashing of programs.

More cuts are on the way. States are facing combined budget deficits of $140 billion for 2011. Costs have soared as a result of increased joblessness and poverty, straining social infrastructure to the breaking point. At the same time revenues have fallen by almost a third from their 2008 levels.

Despite the dire consequences posed by further cuts to state spending, there will be no relief from the federal government. “We have no expectation or intention to get involved in state and local finances,” declared Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke in testimony before congress Wednesday, adding that states “should not expect loans from the Fed.”

The financial elite, meanwhile, is demanding more spending cuts to make up for the multi-trillion-dollar bailout of Wall Street carried out by the Federal Reserve and the US Treasury, and the latest round of tax give-aways to the rich signed into law by Obama in December.

Moody’s, the debt rating agency, said Thursday that the US government faces a downgrade of its AAA debt rating if it does not take further steps to cut social spending. “Future costs must be brought under control if these countries are to maintain long-term stability in their debt-burden credit metrics,” the agency wrote in an email memo.


(* The defense has raised its objection to the documented confinement conditions of PFC Bradley Manning on multiple occasions with the Quantico confinement facility and the Staff Judge Advocate’s (SJA) Office.  On 5 January 2011, the defense filed a formal complaint with the commander of the Quantico Brig.  On the same day, PFC Manning also filed a formal complaint through the confinement grievance process. Both complaints requested that the confinement facility remove PFC Manning from Prevention of Injury (POI) watch and that his classification level be reduced from “Maximum” to “Medium Detention In.”  The confinement facility did not respond to either complaint.

Due to the lack of response from the confinement facility, the defense, pursuant to the provisions of Rule for Courts-Martial (R.C.M.) 305(g), filed a request earlier today with the Garrison Commander to direct the release of PFC Bradley Manning from pretrial confinement.  This request is based upon the fact that the confinement conditions currently being endured by PFC Manning are more rigorous than necessary to guarantee his presence at trial, and that the concerns raised by the government at the time of pretrial confinement are no longer applicable.  Further steps to address PFC Manning’s confinement conditions will be taken, if necessary.


* The Law Office of David E. Coombs was established to provide exceptional legal counsel, service, and representation to soldiers. The firm specializes in representing members of the United States Army facing criminal and adverse administrative actions.

( Reporters Without Borders condemns a police raid on the Kiev home of the young journalist and blogger Olena Bilozerska (http://bilozerska.livejournal.com on 12 January, in which cameras, video cameras, computers, her mobile phone and other professional equipment were seized illegally.

The police said they carried out the search because Bilozerska was involved in disseminating a video on the Internet that showed an act of arson. But article 17 of Ukraine’s media law says “journalists may not be arrested or detained in connection with their professional activities and their equipment may not be confiscated.”

Bilozerska, whose home was searched twice last year (read more), was not allowed to call her lawyer during the search, which lasted more than six hours. Her parents were questioned by police on the morning of the search and she was questioned in the afternoon.

The police finally agreed to return Bilozerska’s mobile phone, printer and scanner, but they still have her computers, cameras and video cameras. Her lawyer, Kuzin Bilozerska Sydir, said the authorities did not intend to return them.

The search of her home was carried out as part of an investigation into an arson attack on the Kiev office of the ruling Party of the Regions on 31 December. Bilozerska, who often covers protests and unrest, received an email with a link to a YouTube video showing two men apparently throwing Molotov cocktails at the windows of building. She posted the link on her blog, while at the same time firmly condemning the attack.

“We deplore the way that Bilozerska has again been treated as a suspect when all she did was inform the public as a journalist,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We call on the Ukrainian police to respect the law and return her professional equipment to her. Their actions pose a serious threat to media freedom and seem designed to intimidate journalists and encourage them to censor themselves.”

Ukraine was ranked 131st out of 178 countries in the 2010 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, 42 places lower than in 2009. Respect for freedom of expression has declined slowly but steadily since Viktor Yanukovych’s election as president last February. Censorship has returned, especially in broadcasting, and serious conflicts of interest are threatening media diversity.

In an attempt to repair its image internationally, Ukraine yesterday nonetheless passed a law prioritizing transparency. Government officials will henceforth be required to release any unclassified document at the request of any organization or civil society group.

(dandelionsalad) By John Pilger ICH, New Statesman January 13, 2011

The “technological enemy” of WikiLeaks is not the United States, but China, according to Assange.

“China is the worst offender” when it comes to censorship, says the controversial whistleblower. “China has aggressive and sophisticated interception technology that places itself between every reader inside China and every information source outside China. We’ve been fighting a running battle to make sure we can get information through, and there are now all sorts of ways Chinese readers can get on to our site.”

On Bradley Manning, the US soldier accused of leaking diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks, Assange says: “I’d never heard his name before it was published in the press.” He argues that the US is trying to use Manning – currently stuck in solitary confinement in the US – to build a case against the WikiLeaks founder:

“Cracking Bradley Manning is the first step,” says the Australian hacker. “The aim clearly is to break him and force a confession that he somehow conspired with me to harm the national security of the United States.”

Such conspiracy would be impossible, he says. “WikiLeaks technology was designed from the very beginning to make sure that we never knew the identities or names of people submitting material. We are as untraceable as we are uncensorable. That’s the only way to assure sources they are protected.”

Yesterday, Assange’s lawyers warned that if he is extradited to America he could face the death penalty – for embarrassing the leaders of the US government. “They don’t want the public to know these things and scapegoats must be found,” Assange says.

And despite the pressure the website has been under, reports of trouble at WikiLeaks are greatly exaggerated, he claims.

“There is no ‘fall’. We have never published as much as we are now. WikiLeaks is now mirrored on more than 2,000 websites. I can’t keep track of the spin-off sites – those who are doing their own WikiLeaks . . . If something happens to me or to WikiLeaks, ‘insurance’ files will be released.”

The contents of these files are unknown, but, according to Assange, “They speak more of the same truth to power.” It is not just government that should be worried about the content of these files, however. “There are 504 US embassy cables on one broadcasting organisation and there are cables on Murdoch and News Corp,” he says.

The attempts by Washington to indict him should worry the mainstream press, he adds.

“I think what’s emerging in the mainstream media is the awareness that if I can be indicted, other journalists can, too,” Assange says. “Even the New York Times is worried. This used not to be the case. If a whistleblower was prosecuted, publishers and reporters were protected by the First Amendment, which journalists took for granted. That’s being lost.”

Full interview in PDF format here.

Related links:

John Pilger in conversation with Julian Assange

As Activists Plan Protest for 9th Anniv. of Guantánamo, Former Gitmo Commander Subpoenaed in Spain over Prisoner Torture + Ending Bush’s big lie on Guantánamo

Andy Worthington Discusses Guantánamo and WikiLeaks with Rob Kall of Op-Ed News

John Pilger: The War You Don’t See (must-see)

The war on WikiLeaks and Julian Assange –


(angrynewsfromaroundtheworld) Thursday, January 13, 2011
According to information from independent sources on the spot in Tunisia, over 80 people have been killed since the start of the contest.

The International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) speaks of a balance sheet now stands at 66 dead identified since the troubles began in mid-December. The organization claims to have registered a list of the 66 people killed.