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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Greek Cuts Drama: Healthcare doomed, army booms

Top-5 Things For Survival Preparedness

1. good quality water filter
2. food storage
3. defense
4. communications equip
5. first-aid

Water comes first. Without it, or any form of it (including the water in foods), most would die after 3 or 4 days. It may sound unrealistic, but it is absolutely true. Most people take water for granted. It seems plentiful and all around us at times. The thing is, we need ‘drinking’ water. Not all water, and in fact most water is not safe to drink without some form of filtration or purification.
The number one recommended thing for survival preparedness is a quality water filter. A big table-top ceramic filter type of unit. Something like the Big Berkey. There are a few others of similar high quality, I just happen to own a Big Berkey so I a favor it.

Food Storage is number two. After you have secured a means to produce safe drinking water and survive beyond 3 days, you will need food! We can survive much longer without food, but will become fairly useless after not replenishing our bodies with calories and nutrients. Believe it or not, the grocery stories could easily be completely emptied of food in 3 days, given a major collapse. It is a fact that supermarkets operate under a method of “just-in-time” delivery, and if disrupted, there are typically only 3 days of food in most supermarkets.
Storing food is a no-brainer, something easy to do. You may choose long-term survival foodslike freeze-dried, or sacks of beans and rice and other foods sealed in food-grade buckets, or maybe simply lots of extra foods and cans of things you normally eat. 6 months of food storage is a reasonable goal.

Defense will be crucial IF the situation ever becomes truly chaotic and severe. There are a number of scenarios that will tip the scales here, events that affect large numbers of people who are used to, and who entirely depend upon today’s modern technology to literally keep them alive (even though they don’t know it). Imagine millions of hungry people who become desperate for food. Think about how cranky you yourself get when you become overly hungry… now imagine not eating for days and how desperate you would become. Multiply this times x? Get it? You quite literally may need to defend what you have, even if it makes you feel uncomfortable, this could be the case.
There are lots of defensive tactics, like staying under-the-radar, laying low, avoiding conflict. However, it is your right (in most places) to own a firearm. You should. Learn how to use it. Practice. It’s actually quite fun too… Take a class. Purchase a rifle, and a handgun, for starters. Many recommend a 308 rifle and a 45 handgun. There are a zillion opinions. A related article:Four Survival Guns.

Communications equipment will be very important to learn what is going on around you, and also a mechanism to communicate with others in your family or group. Information is a powerful thing. Knowing what’s going on will provide an advantage, allowing you to make better decisions than those who don’t have a clue.
A good portable AM/FM/Shortwave Radio is a must-have item for preparedness. A means to power the unit is also of equal importance, so consider rechargeable batteries and solar-panel chargers for the style batteries that you have. Quality walkie-talkies will also be a valuable resource.

First-Aid is always high on the list of preparedness plans or kits. Do not scrimp in this area – be sure to buy plenty of everything. Speaking from experience, you can go through gauze bandages VERY fast when treating a larger wound. Keep lots of them. Did I say lots?
Search first-aid lists and discover ideas of what supplies you should get for yourself. Here is a list of medical supplies that will run out after a collapse, according to ‘Nurse Amy’.
Modern Survival Blog

EU Urges Russia to Halt Syria Arms Sales

The European Parliament on Thursday adopted a resolution strongly urging Russia to immediately stop selling arms and military equipment to Damascus.
The resolution called on Russia to join the international consensus and enable the UN Security Council to help resolve the country’s months-long conflict.
The Parliament stressed that as a permanent member of the Security Council, Russia needs to take its responsibility for international peace and security seriously.
Syria, the largest importer of Russian weapons in the Middle East, recently signed contracts for the supply of 24 MiG-29M/M2 fighter jets and eight Buk-M2E air-defense systems. A contract for the supply of Bastion anti-ship missile systems armed with SS-N-26 Yakhont supersonic cruise missiles is currently being implemented

In early February, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia’s arms supplies to Syria would not affect the balance of power in the Middle East.
“We’ve explained the facts: no matter what we supply to other countries in the region, this can in no way affect the balance of power in the region,” Lavrov said at the 38th Munich Security Conference.
He said that Russia’s arms sales to Syria had not changed the balance of power before the Arab Spring and did not affect the current situation.
“We don't supply firearms and what we do supply is not used in the conflict,” Lavrov added.
RIA Novosti

China Reduces Holdings of U.S. Treasuries to Lowest Level Since June 2010

China, the largest foreign lender to the U.S., reduced its holdings of Treasuries in December to the least since June 2010 amid efforts to assist Europe in addressing its debt crisis.

The world’s second-largest economy decreased its U.S. debt securities by $31.9 billion from November, or 2.8 percent, to $1.11 trillion, according to Treasury Department data released yesterday. Its position in longer-term notes and bonds also fell $32.5 billion, or 2.8 percent, to $1.1 trillion, the least since June 2010.

“We continue to see Chinese Treasury holdings trending lower as they are acting on their desire for diversification and as they may get more involved in the situation in Europe,” said Ian Lyngen, a government bond strategist at CRT Capital Group LLC in Stamford, Connecticut.

China’s policy makers have advocated diversification of the nation’s foreign exchange reserves away from U.S. assets. China may support Europe through channels such as the International Monetary Fund, the European Financial Stability Facility and the European Stability Mechanism, said People’s Bank of China Governor Zhou Xiaochuan.
European Assets

“China will always adhere to the principle of holding assets of EU sovereign debt,” Zhou said in Beijing yesterday. “We would participate in resolving the euro debt crisis,” he said.

Chinese Officials, including central bank adviser Li Daokui, have urged diversification of the nation’s foreign exchange reserves. The Asian nation will “seek diversification in the management of reserve assets, strengthen risk management, and minimize the negative impacts of the fluctuations in the international financial market on the Chinese economy,” Zhou said in August.

Foreign investors held 47.6 percent of outstanding public Treasury debt as of December, the smallest proportion since October 2006, Treasury data show.

Net buying of long-term equities, notes and bonds totaled $17.9 billion during the month compared with net purchases of $61.3 billion the previous month, the Treasury Department said. Including short-term securities such as stock swaps, foreigners bought a net $87.1 billion in December compared with net buying of $42.9 billion the previous month.

China increased its position in shorter-term bills by $600 million to $2.9 billion. The U.S. updated data on Feb. 28, 2011 to show China’s Treasury investments in October 2010 were a record $1.18 trillion, 30 percent more than the initial estimate of $906.8 billion.


Greece spiralling into catastrophic depression

Greece is expecting to agree the terms of European leaders for a rescue package this evening as the country seeks to avoid a default on its international debts. But Greeks fear that the cuts, imposed on them in return for a €130bn bailout, is sending the country spiralling into a catastrophic depression.

The deal was to be considered by eurozone Finance Ministers in a conference call tonight, but final agreement has been once more postponed until next week while European leaders review the credibility of Greek party leaders’ promises that there will be no back-sliding on the terms.

“The country is on a knife’s edge,” said Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos as party leaders signed a pledge to implement the agreement that will inevitably deepen Greece’s depression. The conservative leader Antonis Samaras, who is likely to be the next prime minister of Greece after an election, today reluctantly signed a letter committing him to cuts in wages, pensions, jobs and state expenditure.

The Greek press is referring to the tough terms and the grudging and sceptical approach of eurozone leaders to giving Greece the money as “Chinese torture”. But, deep though the resentment is, few Greek leaders or even protesters have been able to propose an alternative to the agreement that, in addition to providing the €130bn loan, would reduce Greece’s debt to its private bondholders by €100bn.

The mood in Athens is a mixture of fatalism and gloom. Dmitris Kakomitas, a pensioner, said “My pension has fallen from €600 a month to €300. If I didn’t own my own house I’d have difficulty surviving.” He was standing across the street from three red fire engines that were keeping watch on the smouldering wreckage of a 19th century block of shops burned out by protesters last Sunday. He said he didn’t agree with what had happened, suspected criminals were involved, but added that “it wouldn’t be difficult to find an angry pensioner willing to throw a petrol bottle through a window of one of those shops.”

Others, mostly pensioners, standing around Mr Kakomitas expressed resentment that the wealthy kept their money abroad while poorer Greeks were having to bear the brunt of the cuts. “When the rich do come back to Greece, they will be able to buy our property for a piece of bread,” said Leon Dourmais, another pensioner. Others blamed an over-large and corrupt public sector for the crisis. “What can you expect when every politician appoints five people from his own family?” asked Costas, a retired engineer.

Scepticism about another round of austerity measures and a conviction that it is not going to do much good prevails among experts as well as in the streets. The minimum wage is to be reduced by 20 per cent as part of the new terms imposed by the so-called Troika (the EU, European Central Bank and IMF). “Their idea is that this is going to help employment, but it won’t,” says Aggelos Tsakanikas, the head of research at the Foundation for Economic and Industrial Research in Athens. He says that only 10 per cent Greeks are paid the minimum wage and these are “still paid more than the Bulgarians or the Chinese.” A reduced minimum wage will not make Greece more competitive.

Equally, increasing taxation deepens the depression and does not raise more money for the state because the size of the economy is rapidly shrinking. Greece is entering its fifth year of recession. Dr Tsakanikas says that something should be done to lift public morale so “people can see that something works.” He says that there are five main road projects that are almost complete but have been abandoned. The same is true of seven metro stations in Athens that could be opened quite soon. The problem is that the crisis has now gone on so long that the state is paralysed and even functional parts of the economy are seizing up. “Even healthy firms can’t get credit from the banks,” says Dr Tsakanikas. One of the few positive initiatives the government has taken is to open up the Parthenon to foreign film companies.

Many Greek politicians and economists have convincing ideas of what should be done to save the country. But, however correct their diagnosis of Greece’s problems, their solutions tend to be long or medium term and are not directed at how to avoid imminent disaster. Many commentators have horror stories about the excessive size and dysfunctional nature of the state with its hundreds of thousands of ill paid employees.

The former Finance Minister Stefanos Manos said earlier that nothing would improve “until the bloated public sector is drastically reduced in size.” He says that Greece has four times as many teachers per pupil as Finland but that the quality of education is far inferior. As a result Greek parents send their children to have private tutorials where the quality of education is also poor.

Mr Manos says the IMF has got it wrong in reducing state salaries, often already low, while the real problem “is the large numbers of civil servants of low quality.” He says that in some ministries the IMF could not find anybody technically qualified to talk to them. He adds that when in government he found that his ministry employed 38 lawyers, who did no government work though they received private clients in their offices. “I fired 32 of them, but when a new government came in, they immediately got their jobs back.”

Many other individuals and groups have benefited from sweet-heart deals through political influence or patronage. Owning a pharmacy is a notoriously easy way to make money because of the high mark ups on medicines. There are often closed shop professions and permission to open new pharmacy is impossible to obtain. But a Greek pharmacist can add €350 to the cost of a €1,000 cancer injection, while a German pharmacist can only make €30. Mr Manos says that “what is needed is not opening up the professions, but reducing the guaranteed profits.”

It is these structural reforms that the Troika has demanded and the Greek state has failed to deliver. It will have difficulty doing so in the middle of a full blown political and economic crisis. At the same time, Greek politicians are keen to show to their voters – and they may be facing re-election in a few weeks time – that they fought to the last against Greece’s subjugation to Germany and the Eurozone leaders.

The depression being inflicted on Greece by ever more severe austerity measures means that Greeks are in a highly resentful mood. Of all EU members, Greek society is one of the most fragmented politically and economically. The German occupation was followed by a brutal civil war and by the last successful military coup in Europe in 1967. There were deep divisions between left and right. Each developed their own patronage systems to reward followers. The most powerful and richest economic lobby in Greece – half the world’s merchant marine carries the Greek flag - is the ship owners, but their business was always offshore and carries limited economic benefits for Greece.

What should be done? Few of the critics have convincing ideas. Traditional sectors like tourism and agriculture could be expanded, though television pictures of tear gas wafting through central Athens is not doing a lot for Greek tourism. Some Greek commentators simply say that Greece will never return in the near future to the standard of living it had when it had the same triple-A credit rating as Germany.

Most striking in Greece is the extent of the social disaster. “The middle class is being wiped out,” says Fotis Kouvelis, the leader of the newly formed Democratic Left party that is doing well in the polls. “Some 30 per cent of Greeks now live below the poverty line.” Though the state sector may be bloated, the safety net for the poor is limited.

A ramshackle state machine and few natural resources mean that Greece is ill-equipped to deal with the aftermath of a default and its possible departure from eurozone and the European Union. It imports much more than it exports. Mr Manos says it would soon run short of oil and food products if it returned to the drachma because it could not pay for them. “We are not like Argentina, Russia and Turkey,” he says. “We do not have their natural resources. If we had to leave the EU, the disaster for Greece would be economically and politically unbelievable.”

For now the Greek state and people appear paralysed by the extent of the disaster that has already fallen on them. It is the Greek equivalent of the Great Depression in the US when the GDP eventually fell by 25-30 per cent.

Greeks say that there will be a social explosion if things get any worse, but it is difficult to see what shape this will take. There is no revolutionary party ready to take power. In some ways Greeks would be better off if there was a radical alternative because the prospect might frighten Eurozone leaders into being more conciliatory. Instead they are becoming more relaxed about a Greek default being containable. For all the devastating impact of the EU measures on the country, neither government nor opposition has put forward a realistic alternative.

The Independent

Israel Defence Forces fears Syria attack as pressure builds on Assad

concern hones in on recent reports that Assad is using nerve gas against the new opposition.

Concern is mounting within the IDF over the possibility that Syria will attack Israel as pressure mounts on President Bashar Assad to step down. The move is seen as part of a potential effort by Damascus to deter Arab countries from dispatching military support to opposition forces.

The concern is still under the surface, but the IDF’s NorthernCommand has drawn up a number of operational responses to a range of scenarios that could evolve along the northern front.

Nevertheless, Israel fears that Assad, underpressure, could turn the military force – that he has been using in an attempt to quell the ongoing uprising against his regime – against Israel.

That is likely why the IDF Spokesman’s Office sent out pictures taken on Tuesday of OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Yair Golan and commander of the Northern Corps Maj.-Gen. Gershon Hacohen touring Mount Hermon and looking toward Syria – showing that the IDF is preparing for attacks along the border.

Israel’s concern hones in on recent reports that Assad is using nerve gas against the opposition. This has led Israel to reassess the possibility that Syria is might now be more willing to use chemical weapons against Israeli targets.

Syria is believed to have one of the most extensive chemical weapon arsenals in the world that reportedly includes Sarin, VX and Mustard Gas.

Israel’s is also considering the possibility that Syria’s arsenal of chemical weapons will fall into terrorist hands.

This stems from intelligence obtained by the West which indicates that advanced conventional military platforms have already been moved out of Syria by Hezbollah.

Concern over the stability of Syria’s chemical arsenal comes at a time when only about 60 percent of Israelis are in possession of gas masks. The IDF is currently lacking NIS 1.2 billion to complete the production and distribution of gas masks to the rest of the public.

The Home Front Command and Defense Ministry are in talks with the Treasury in an effort to obtain the remaining required budget. Earlier this month, The Jerusalem Post reported that the distribution of the gas masks will be suspended in March due to the shortage in funds.

Jerusalem Post

Spain's economy contracts as recession fears grow

The Spanish economy has shrunk for the first time in two years, increasing fears the country could be heading for a recession.

The country's economy shrank by 0.3% in the three months to December, after stagnating in the previous quarter.

Household spending fell by 1.1% from the previous quarter, while spending by public bodies dropped by 3.6%.

The country has the highest jobless rate in the EU, with almost one in four people out of work.

Spain's unemployment figure passed the five million mark in the last quarter of 2011.

Figures showed 5.3 million people were out of work at the end of December, up from 4.9 million in the third quarter.

The downbeat fourth-quarter economy figures come even before the impact of new austerity measures unveiled last month by new Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

These include 8.9bn euros in new budget cuts, as well as tax increases designed to raise 6.3bn euros.

RBS economist Nick Matthews said: "Some countries in the eurozone may just avoid a recession, but that may be more difficult for Spain.

"Given the need for fiscal consolidation in the country and the pressure that puts on domestic demand, it's going to be very difficult for Spain to avoid recession."

On Wednesday, figures showed that both Italy and the Netherlands fell into recession in the final quarter of 2011.

Each of their economies contracted by 0.7% in the fourth quarter, the second consecutive quarter of economic contraction.

Germany had its first negative quarter since 2009 with a decline of 0.2%, but the French economy grew by 0.2% - stronger than expected - helped by strong exports.


Sky is the limit for unmanned planes

A couple of years ago Saskatchewan Sergeant Dave Domoney had a Eureka moment. Why do the Mounties only investigate car crashes from the ground, he wondered, when they ought to be getting a bird’s-eye view too?

Helicopters collect evidence in some car-crash cases, but the RCMP collision-cop seized had a faster, cheaper, and more portable alternative in mind – namely “Micro-UAVs,” or the stripped-down commercial cousins of the “unmanned aerial vehicles” pioneered by the military.

Sgt. Domoney lobbied his police bosses to try out a few of the flying machines in the past year or so. Some were small enough to fit in a backpack. And while he had not so much as flown a model airplane before, he quickly discovered that he and his fellow Mounties could easily manoeuvre UAVs above crash sites and pick up on tire tracks and trajectories they might otherwise miss.

“I wish we had this capability 20 years ago,” he says. “It’s just really opened my eyes.”

The RCMP now uses 14 UAVs nationwide. Several smaller forces in Canada have their own machines too. The numbers are poised to grow – detectives in homicide and missing-persons cases want to use the machines to advance their own investigations. Last week,Sgt. Domoney visited Ottawa to gauge the interest of his police bosses in acquiring more.

It’s not just the cops who are discovering UAVs. Federal regulators in Canada have quietly approved about 300 “special flight operations certificates” for commercial-use during the past five years. Costing anywhere from a few thousand to a few hundred thousand dollars, these machines cart fancy cameras into the air to capture what’s invisible to the naked eye – high-resolution images, heat signatures, even chemical emissions.

Canada’s relatively relaxed flying regulations, experts say, mean that people here glomming onto UAVs faster than their American counterparts. As police, fire fighters and border guards try out the machines, corporations have long been using them to keep an eye on farms, pipelines, power lines, and oil and gas projects.

A range of restrictions dictate just who gets to fly the machines, where, and for how long. For example, flying “over or within a built-up area of a city or town,” and “noise-sensitive areas” – such as churches, hospitals, parks schools, are generally forbidden by Transport Canada, the federal regulator.

Soldiers posted overseas in the last decade have long been aware of the awesome capabilities of UAVs. Known as drones in their wartime, they’ve played crucial roles in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Just last month, President Barack Obama finally acknowledged America’s worst-kept state secret – the United States routinely fires missiles from UAVs to kill alleged al-Qaeda members in countries where Washington is not at war.

Though now entering an austerity age, the Pentagon thinks drones are the future – it is ratcheting up the billions it spends each year on developing bigger, better machines. But civilian engineers also figure there will be a boom in peacetime. Seizing upon advancements in computing and battery power, they have shrunk down UAVs to their essential elements, to better market them to the masses.

“I don’t want to destroy things, I want to spy on things, count things and so on,” says David Bird of McGill University, a researcher who has been using UAVs to study birds of prey.

The aptly named wildlife-biology professor says UAVs have given him big-picture perspectives on migration patterns and some sharp insights into what’s going on in bird nests. “It’s brand new really exciting stuff,” he says.

Some glitches remain, he concedes. “The fact is, these things crash and burn,” he says, adding that one of his students managed to mangle a machine by hitting “the only pole on the whole goddammned island” where his research team was trying to watch wildlife.

He prefers cheap machines to expensive ones and says that people uninitiated to UAV research are quick to assume that scientists who have them have sinister motives. “I say ‘drone airplanes’ and they say ‘Oh those planes that kill people in Leonardo diCaprio movies...’,” says Dr. Bird.

Canadian police bristle at usage of the D-word. “We don’t refer to them as drones, ,” says Sgt. Domoney, who says he considers that to be a dumb name for some smart machines. He stresses that UAVs are hardly the advent of Big Brother – even if some people suspect they might be. “People’s worst fear is we’re purchasing them to do surveillance. We are not doing that,” he says. “It allows us to see things from the air we couldn’t see from the ground. It provides better pictures to court.”

Narrowly gathering evidence versus conducting widespread surveillance is an important distinction. Because the RCMP is governed by the Privacy Act, doing the latter would trigger reviews that could circumscribe the Mounties’ growing use of the machines.

“Up until now, we have not been approached by any department or agency to review a privacy impact assessment tied to a program in which this technology would be deployed for surveillance activities,” said Scott Hutchinson, a spokesman for the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, in response to Globe questions. “If such a program were to be piloted or implemented, we would expect to receive a privacy impact assessment in order to help determine the kind of personal information which would be recorded, the purposes of its use, and possible risks to privacy.”

The Globe 

Fed member: US banks must be broken up for stability

I thought too big to fail was good

Richard Fisher, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, said on Wednesday that the largest American banks still posed a major risk to the US and were "too dangerous to permit".

In a speech in New York, Mr Fisher said: "Downsizing the behemoths over time into institutions that can be prudently managed and regulated across borders is the appropriate policy response. Then, creative destruction can work its wonders in the financial sector, just as it does elsewhere in our economy."

He warned that the US banking had "become more concentrated" with five of the largest banks accounting for half the industry's assets.

"Sustaining too big-to-fail-ism and maintaining the cocoon of protection of SIFIs [systemically important financial institutions] is counter-productive, expensive and socially questionable. Perhaps the financial equivalent of irreversible lap-band or gastric bypass surgery is the only way to treat the pathology of financial obesity, contain the relentless expansion of these banks and downsize them to manageable proportions," said Mr Fisher.

Since the financial crisis regulators have frequently discussed the problem of too-big-to-fail banks. In the UK, the Independent Commission on Banking (ICB) last year recommended reforms designed to reduce the risk posed to the British economy by the country's largest banks.

US banks total assets are equivalent to about 100pc of America's annual economic output. However, in the UK the ratio is more than 400pc of UK GDP. As in Britain, US banks have moved to reduce the size of their balance sheets since the crisis, however policymakers remain worried that the failure of a major lender would still lead to turmoil.

A team from the Treasury is currently looking to how to implement the ICB's reform package, which will form the basis of new primary legislation. .

The Telegraph