Archive for the ‘Corruption’ Category


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If you still don’t get it with regards to the US Deficit, here is an illustration to make it sink in…:

 Get it now?


this is how we got here (courtesy of Richard Russell):

Private and public debt surged during the period from 1971 to today increasing by $50 trillion. During the same period GDP in the US rose from $1.1 trillion to $16 trillion today. Figure the ratio of debt to GDP at about 3 to 1. In other words, it’s taken about $3 trillion in additional debt to produce each additional $1 trillion in GDP.

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Behind the facade of the Libyan Investment Authority lies an opaque organisation beset by poor investment decisions, write Lina Saigol and Cynthia O’Murchu
Dinar

After Gaddafi: A spent force – FT.com

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You thought they only made counterfeit goods in china?  They also do counterfeit stores…

It’s an Apple store!
Or is it?
… I went inside and poked around. They looked like Apple products. It looked like an Apple store. It had the classic Apple store winding staircase and weird upstairs sitting area. The employees were even wearing those blue t-shirts with the chunky Apple name tags around their necks.

This blog post is from someone living in Kumming, China 

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Are you listening, Steve Jobs?

The Western news media is replete with pithy descriptions of the rapid changes taking place in China: China has the world’s fastest growing economy. China is undergoing remarkable and rapid change. This represents a unique moment for a society changing as quickly as China.
You probably read such things in the paper every day – but if you have never been to China, I’m not sure you know quite what this means on a mundane level. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this blog, in the 2+ years that RP and I have been in our apartment, much of the area around us has been torn down, rebuilt, or gutted and renovated – in some cases, several times over. I had the thought, only half-jokingly, that when we returned from a couple months abroad, we might not be able to recognize our apartment building. Or that it might not be there at all.
As it turns out, my fears were baseless – our scrappy little home remains. The neighborhood, however, has definitely kicked it up a notch or seven. Starbucks has opened not one, but THREE branches (that I encountered) within a 10 minute walk of one another. An H&M has opened across from our apartment building. These are the kinds of major Western brands that were previously only represented in Kunming by fast food chains like McDonald’s and KFC. Our neighborhood has quickly become the swanky shopping center of the city.
So when we strolled down a street a few blocks from our house a couple weeks ago, I was only sort of surprised to see this new place, one that any American of my generation can probably recognize instantaneously:

It’s an Apple store!
Or is it?
RP and I went inside and poked around. They looked like Apple products. It looked like an Apple store. It had the classic Apple store winding staircase and weird upstairs sitting area. The employees were even wearing those blue t-shirts with the chunky Apple name tags around their necks.





We proceeded to place a bet on whether or not this was a genuine Apple store or just the best ripoff we had ever seen – and to be sporting, I bet that it was real.
I know, you guys are laughing: an Apple store in Kunming? No one who doesn’t know me personally has ever heard of Kunming before. Kunming is the end of the Earth. It’s all true – but seriously, China warps your mind into believing that anything is possible, if you stay here long enough. When we went back to this store 5 days later and couldn’t find it, having overshot by two blocks, I seriously thought that it had simply been torn down and replaced with a bank in the mean time – hey, it’s China. That could happen.
You have already guessed the punchline, of course: this was a total Apple store ripoff. A beautiful ripoff – a brilliant one – the best ripoff store we had ever seen (and we see them every day). But some things were just not right: the stairs were poorly made. The walls hadn’t been painted properly.
Apple never writes “Apple Store” on it’s signs – it just puts up the glowing, iconic fruit.

The name tags around the necks of the friendly salespeople didn’t actually have names on them – just an Apple logo and the anonymous designation “Staff”. And of course, Apple’s own website will tell you that they only have a few stores in Beijing and Shanghai, opened only recently; Apple famously opens new stores painstakingly, presumably to assure impeccable standards and lots of customer demand.
Is this store a copy of one of those in Beijing? A copy of a copy in another Chinese city? A copy of a copy of a copy?! While you’re pondering that, bear in mind: this is a near-perfect ripoff of a store selling products that were almost unknown when we first came to China. My white MacBook was likely to draw only blank stares or furrowed brows as I sat gnashing my teeth trying in vain to get a piece of Chinese software to run on it.
Being the curious types that we are, we struck up some conversation with these salespeople who, hand to God, all genuinely think they work for Apple. I tried to imagine the training that they went to when they were hired, in which they were pitched some big speech about how they were working for this innovative, global company – when really they’re just filling the pockets of some shyster living in a prefab mansion outside the city by standing around a fake store disinterestedly selling what may or may not be actual Apple products that fell off the back of a truck somewhere.
Clearly, they had also been told that above all, they must protect the brand. As I took these photos I was quickly accosted by two salespeople inside, and three plain clothes security guys outside, putting their hands in my face and telling me to stop taking photographs – that it wasn’t allowed. And why wasn’t it allowed? Because their boss told them so.
I…may or may not have told them that we were two American Apple employees visiting China and checking out the local stores. Either way, they got friendlier and allowed me to snap some pictures.


And the best part? A ten minute walk around the corner revealed not one, but TWO more rip-off Apple stores.


Some store managers may have dozed off briefly during certain parts of the lecture on How to Completely Ignore Intellectual Property Rights:

Anyone from Apple want to come down to Kunming and break open a can of IPR whoop-ass?

Are you listening, Steve Jobs? « BirdAbroad


These are the guys that run the racket and repression in Syria…

Although Bashar al-Assad inherited Syria’s presidency on his father’s death in 2000, analysts say he does not have Hafez al-Assad’s absolute grip on power. He is surrounded by military and intelligence figures, most of whom are either related to the president or are members of his minority Alawite community.

Here are some excerpts on two of, if not THE, main men from Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle as reported by the BBC.

Maher al-Assad, Republican Guard chief

The president’s youngest brother is said to be Syria’s second most powerful man. He heads the Republican Guard, the elite force which protects the regime from domestic threats and is the only one permitted to enter Damascus, and commands the fourth armoured division. […]

He has a reputation for being excessively violent and emotionally unstable, and allegedly shot [!!] and wounded his brother-in-law, Asef Shawkat. […]

In 2005, Maher and Shawkat were both mentioned in a preliminary report by UN investigators as one of the people who might have planned the assassination of the former Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri.

When mass pro-democracy protests began in the southern city of Deraa in March 2011, Maher’s fourth armoured division – which is deployed on Syrian territory bordering the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, and controls the capital’s approaches – was sent in to crush them.

Rumours persist that Maher might challenge his brother’s rule – much like his uncle Rifaat attempted to seize power from Hafez in 1983 – but there is no evidence that he has sufficient power to challenge his rule.

Rami Makhlouf

A first cousin of Bashar al-Assad, Mr Makhlouf is arguably the most powerful economic figure in Syria. He has been the subject of persistent accusations of corruption and cronyism, and analysts say no foreign companies can do business in Syria without his consent. […]

In 2001, he and the Egyptian telecommunications company, Orascom, were awarded one of Syria’s two mobile phone operator licences. After a court dispute over control of Syriatel, Orascom was forced to sell its 25% stake. […]

In addition to Syriatel, Mr Makhlouf is believed to control two banks, free trade zones, duty free shops, a construction company, an airline, two TV channels, and imports luxury cars and tobacco. He is also vice-chairman of Cham Holding, considered Syria’s largest private company, and has stakes in several oil and gas companies.

In 2008, the US treasury banned US firms and individuals from doing business with Mr Makhlouf, and froze his US-based assets. It accused him of “corrupt behaviour” […]

“Makhlouf has manipulated the Syrian judicial system and used Syrian intelligence officials to intimidate his business rivals. He employed these techniques when trying to acquire exclusive licenses to represent foreign companies in Syria and to obtain contract awards,” a statement said. […]

Former Vice-President Abdul Halim Khaddam said in 2009 that Bashar’s rule had been marked by “transforming corruption into an institution” headed by Mr Makhlouf.

Two years later, anti-government protesters in Deraa initially directed their wrath at Mr Makhlouf, some chanting: “We’ll say it clearly, Rami Makhlouf is robbing us”. A branch of Syriatel in Deraa was set on fire.
Opposition websites later accused Mr Makhlouf of financing pro-government demonstrations both across Syria and abroad, by providing flags, meals and money for those participating.

See the full article here: BBC News – Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle


Chavez’ Government asked the FARC to kill opposition leaders and carry out bombings




Today’s New York Times has an article by Simon Romero on the book with the internal FARC communications found in Raul Reyes‘ computers. Among the highlights:
“In some of the most revealing descriptions of FARC activity in Venezuela, the book explains how Venezuela’s main intelligence agency, formerly known by the acronym Disip and now called the Bolivarian Intelligence Service, sought to enlist the FARC in training state security forces and conducting terrorist attacks, including bombings, in Caracas in 2002 and 2003. “
and:
“The book also cites requests by Mr. Chávez’s government for the guerrillas to assassinate at least two of his opponents.
The FARC discussed one such request in 2006 from a security adviser for Alí Rodríguez Araque, a top official here. According to the archive, the adviser, Julio Chirino, asked the FARC to kill Henry López Sisco, who led the Disip at the time of a 1986 massacre of unarmed members of a subversive group.”

Let the denials begin…

And

May 10, 2011

Venezuela Asked Colombian Rebels to Kill Opposition Figures, Analysis Shows

CARACAS, Venezuela — Colombia’s main rebel group has an intricate history of collaboration with Venezuelan officials, who have asked it to provide urban guerrilla training to pro-government cells here and to assassinate political opponents of Venezuela’s president, according to a new analysis of the group’s internal communications.
The analysis contends that the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, was asked to serve as a shadow militia for Venezuela’s intelligence apparatus, although there is no evidence that President Hugo Chávez was aware of the assassination requests or that they were ever carried out.
The documents, found in the computer files of a senior FARC commander who was killed in a 2008 raid, also show that the relationship between the leftist rebels and Venezuela’s leftist government, while often cooperative, has been rocky and at times duplicitous.
The documents are part of a 240-page book on the rebel group, “The FARC Files: Venezuela, Ecuador and the Secret Archive of Raúl Reyes,” to be published Tuesday by the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. While some of the documents have been quoted and cited previously, the release of a CD accompanying the book will be the first time such a large number of the documents have been made public since they were first seized.
The book comes at a delicate stage in the FARC’s ties with Venezuela’s government. Mr. Chávez acknowledged last month for the first time that some of his political allies had collaborated with Colombian rebels, but insisted they “went behind all our backs.”
The book contradicts this assertion, pointing to a long history of collaboration by Mr. Chávez and his top confidants. Venezuela’s government viewed the FARC as “an ally that would keep U.S. and Colombian military strength in the region tied down in counterinsurgency, helping to reduce perceived threats against Venezuela,” the book said.
The archive describes a covert meeting in Venezuela in September 2000 between Mr. Chávez and Mr. Reyes, the FARC commander whose computers, hard drives and memory sticks were the source of the files. At the meeting, Mr. Chávez agreed to lend the FARC hard currency for weapons purchases.
A spokesman for Mr. Chávez did not respond to requests for comment.
Venezuela’s government has contended that the Reyes files were fabrications. In 2008, Interpol dismissed the possibility that the archive, which includes documents going back to the early 1980s, had been doctored.
Moreover, data from the archive has led to the recovery of caches of uranium in Colombia and American dollars in Costa Rica, and has been the basis of actions by governments including Canada, Spain and the United States. Such uses constitute “de facto recognition” that the archive is authentic, the institute said.
“We haven’t begun the dossier with the words ‘J’accuse,’ ” said Nigel Inkster, one of the book’s editors. “Instead we tried to produce a sober analysis of the FARC since the late 1990s, when Venezuela became a central element of their survival strategy.”
Recently, Venezuela seems to have cooled toward the FARC, conforming to a pattern described in the book of ups and downs between Mr. Chávez and the rebels. In April, his government took the unusual step of detaining Joaquín Pérez, a suspected senior operative for the FARC who had been living in Sweden, and deporting him to Colombia.
This move came amid a rapprochement between Mr. Chávez and Colombia’s president, Juan Manuel Santos, as a response by Mr. Chávez to Colombia’s claims that the FARC was operating from Venezuelan soil.
The archive, which opens a window into bouts of tension and even loathing between the FARC and Mr. Chávez’s emissaries, shows that Mr. Chávez has sided with the Colombian government on other occasions, especially when he stood to gain politically.
In November 2002, the book reports, before a meeting between Álvaro Uribe, then Colombia’s president, and Mr. Chávez, the FARC asked the Venezuelan Army for permission to transport uniforms on a mule train through Venezuelan territory. The Venezuelan Army granted permission, then ambushed the convoy, seized eight FARC operatives and delivered them to Colombia, allowing Mr. Chávez to inform Mr. Uribe of the operation in person.
Such betrayals, as well as unfulfilled promises of large sums of money, generated considerable tension among the rebels over their relationship with Mr. Chávez.
A member of the FARC’s secretariat, Víctor Suárez Rojas, who used the nom de guerre Mono Jojoy, once called Mr. Chávez a “deceitful and divisive president who lacked the resolve to organize himself politically and militarily.”
Still, periods of tension tended to be the exception in a relationship that has given the rebel group a broad degree of cross-border sanctuary.
In some of the most revealing descriptions of FARC activity in Venezuela, the book explains how Venezuela’s main intelligence agency, formerly known by the acronym Disip and now called the Bolivarian Intelligence Service, sought to enlist the FARC in training state security forces and conducting terrorist attacks, including bombings, in Caracas in 2002 and 2003.
A meeting described in the book shows that Mr. Chávez was almost certainly unaware of the Disip’s decision to involve the FARC in state terrorism, but that Venezuelan intelligence officials still carried out such contacts with a large amount of autonomy.
Drawing from the FARC’s archive, the book also describes how the group trained various pro-Chávez organizations in Venezuela, including the Bolivarian Liberation Forces, a shadowy paramilitary group operating along the border with Colombia.
FARC communications also discussed providing training in urban terrorism methods for representatives of the Venezuelan Communist Party and several radical cells from 23 de Enero, a Caracas slum that has long been a hive of pro-Chávez activity.
The book also cites requests by Mr. Chávez’s government for the guerrillas to assassinate at least two of his opponents.
The FARC discussed one such request in 2006 from a security adviser for Alí Rodríguez Araque, a top official here. According to the archive, the adviser, Julio Chirino, asked the FARC to kill Henry López Sisco, who led the Disip at the time of a 1986 massacre of unarmed members of a subversive group.
“They ask that if possible we give it to this guy in the head,” said Mr. Reyes, the former FARC commander.
The book says there was no evidence that the FARC acted on the request before Mr. López Sisco left Venezuela in November 2006.
Less is known about another assassination request cited in the book, including whom the target was or whether it took place.
But the book makes it clear that the Colombian rebels sometimes found their Venezuelan hosts unscrupulous and deceitful.
In one example, Mono Jojoy, who was killed in a bombing raid last year, had harsh words for Ramón Rodríguez Chacín, a former Venezuelan naval officer who has served as a top liaison between Mr. Chávez and the FARC, calling him “the worst kind of bandit.”

Demolition in El Frío Ranch

It was seized by the government of President Hugo Chávez in March 2009 upon the grounds of environmental protection


The Páez House, the emblem and centerpiece of El Frío Ranch, before the seizure Dossier
The house that once belonged to General José Antonio Páez, a hero of the Venezuelan independence; the core of El Frío Ranch and preserved for almost 150 years, is nowadays dilapidated after its premises were seized by the government of President Hugo Chávez. The image of two times dramatically shows the mood of a revolution.


Located in western Apure state, El Frío was not only one of the major cattle raising centers in the country, with 20,000 heads of cattle, but also among the most specialized natural biodiversity reservoirs in the Western Hemisphere, as well as a research center into ecological cattle raising and a renowned conservation center both inside and outside Venezuela.


The Páez House was the main house in the ranch. It accommodated the corporate administrative and professional staff. It had two big dining rooms, two kitchens and two living rooms. The gardens of the house, nowadays unroofed and in ruins, are being used as parking lot for incoming and outgoing official vehicles. The former hustle and bustle of a productive business was replaced with military officers who guard the ranch with AK-103 slung across their backs and staff in red T-shirts attending the courses of political ideology given by Cubans.


Decree on expropriation
In March 2008, the National Lands Institute declared the exceptional recovery of the plot of land called El Frío Ranch. According to Desirée Rodríguez, the corporate legal counsel, the action started in the absence of the due administrative procedure concerning land recovery. The ranch of 64,000 hectares belonged for more than a century to the Maldonados; it was incorporated as Invega in 1948 and its ownership chain comes from colonial times.


In January 2005, the local chapter of the National Lands Institute in Apure state commenced an administrative proceeding for wastelands against El Frío. In early 2009, after a request made by folk music singer Cristóbal Jiménez in the Sunday TV and radio show Aló Presidente (Hello, President!), the government resumed the confiscatory process. On March 31, seizure was carried out.


The results
The government presently has the whole property of El Frío Ranch without having paid one single bolivar. It is known that part of the 20,000 animals that used to graze in the wetlands have been killed for provision of beef, but nobody knows about the recipient of the sale proceeds.


Rodríguez claimed that the reservation areas include Guariquito ravine, where fishing is banned, but practiced now. A river port was built there and vessels come to get fish.


In addition to cattle, the reservation is the refuge of 7,000 deers, thousand capybaras, the giant nutria, the anteater, the puma, the freshwater dolphin, anacondas and small alligators. One of the most noteworthy projects was preservation and reproduction of the endangered Orinoco caiman. The project started in 1996 and managed by the local biological station succeeded in the reproduction of 2,500 caimans that were released in Guairuito ravine. In 2008, the ranch had the third largest population of reptiles in the country, particularly in Macanillal ravine. In its wetlands cattle breeding remained low to favor the best environmental conditions.


Journalist Ramón Hernández tells in his book “Story of dispossession,” next to be released that each year, near 300 undergraduate and graduate students from all universities and colleges across the nation would visit the site to complete their studies in ecology, animal protection and environment. Also, Carolina Foundation and the Spanish government implemented a master course in Management of Biodiversity in the Tropic. Latin American students used to explore at El Frío Ranch environmentally friendly cattle breeding, reintroduction of endangered species and recovery of native horses.


Today, there is glaring abandonment of farms and biological stations. Attorney Rodríguez complained that high-ranking government officers and persons of the ruling party surreptitiously engage in illegal hunting there.


The agricultural failure
Not knowing about the issue, after the seizure of El Frío Ranch, President Chávez heralded at the seized premises that Apure state would become a rice-growing superpower. Taking issue with experts, who said that the soil is V and VI class with few nutrients and able for large-scale cattle breeding, Chinese and Vietnamese were brought there to sow rice. The crop was a total failure. The delusive estimates of Elías Jaua, then Minister of Agriculture and Lands, never accomplished. Today, Venezuela needs to import 450,000 tons of rice, accounting for 40 percent of the domestic consumption. To the contrary, until 2004, Venezuela had been self-sufficient in that item and exported 120,000 tons.


While no numbers on production and profitability are known of the ranch, now managed by the socialist company Marisela, the payroll rose by 234 versus 140 workers during the previous administration. Most of the payroll was dismissed shortly after the seizure. Workers are still waiting for collection of their severance payment. Interestingly, Hernández said: “In order to bolster self-government and people’s self-defense among workers and communities for food sovereignty and integral defense of the nation, the company (Marisela) trains 1,000 militiamen with the help of the armed forces.”
twitter:@folivares10

Translated by Conchita Delgado

Francisco Olivares
EL UNIVERSAL

Demolition in El Frío Ranch – Daily News – EL UNIVERSAL

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