Thursday, January 31, 2013

Stalingard is back!

WWII memorial in Volvograd (to be renamed back to Stalingard
The Volgograd city council passed a measure Thursday to use the name Stalingrad in city statements on the commemoration day, on Russia's May 9 Victory Day and on four other days connected with the battle, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported. TPM

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Photo of the day

Daily Mail

Yeah I read Daily Mail.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A little hyperbole on Egypt

CAIRO — Reacting to Egypt’s growing chaos, the head of the Army warned on Tuesday of the “collapse of the state” if political forces in the country did not reconcile, reflecting growing impatience with the crisis from Egypt’s most powerful institution. NY Times

This is a bit of a hyperbole from the Defense Minister. On the other hand, Intercontinental, a major hotel located at the heart of Cairo, got ransacked last night by armed gangs.

Dozens of armed assailants raided and looted the InterContinental Semiramis hotel on Cairo's Nile Corniche, while staff desperately called for help via their official Twitter account, in the early hours of Tuesday morning amid fierce clashes between protesters and security forces.

Anti-government demonstrators secured the besieged hotel and helped hotel guests flee until they were safely in taxis to the airport, as the police and the army failed to come to their aid. Ahram

I happen to live next to Safir hotel, a pretty nice medium size hotel. Gulp. Where's the 2nd amendment when you need it.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

State of Emergency

Morsi declares the imposition of martial law for Suez city, Ismailia, and Port Said. At the rate of the unrest in downtown Cairo at the moment I will not be surprised that Cairo will be under martial law as well in one or two days.

A picture taken at the beginning of Tahrir earlier tonight by Omar Kamel.

Pyrotechnic and club do not mix

10 years ago
The Station nightclub fire was the fourth deadliest nightclub fire in American history, killing 100 people. The fire began at 11:07 PM EST, on Thursday, February 20, 2003, at The Station, a glam metal and rock and roll themed nightclub located at 211 Cowesett Avenue in West Warwick, Rhode Island.

The fire was caused by pyrotechnics set off by the tour manager of the evening's headlining band, Great White, which ignited flammable sound insulation foam in the walls and ceilings surrounding the stage. A fast-moving fire engulfed the club in 5½ minutes. Some 230 people were injured and another 132 escaped uninjured. Video footage of the fire shows its initial growth, billowing smoke that quickly made escape impossible, and the exit blockage that further hindered evacuation. Wikipedia

And fuckin' a. Now there's another fire from a fucking pyrotechnics inside a club.

A fire ignited by a flare from a band’s pyrotechnic spectacle swept through a nightclub filled with hundreds of university students early on Sunday morning in Santa Maria, a city in southern Brazil, killing at least 232 people, police officials said. NY Times

Bottom line; If you are in a club and you see pyrotechnics, get out as quickly as you can. 

Life in Cairo is normal

It is weird to write this but to most of people in Cairo, life is normal. Most of the protests and street fighting are isolated in a patch of downtown and in front of the Presidential palace.

I live 4 minutes by car to downtown area and if I didn't connect to the Internet, I would not have noticed that there's any protests in Tahrir square.

Cairo is that big.

I didn't attend any demonstrations this week. Actually my participation has declined as time passes by. In 2011, I went to at least 25 of them. Last year I went to 5.

Once I took visiting friends of mine from Iceland to Tahrir during a particularly violent period at the end of 2011. There were around 10 ambulances in the square, coming and out rescuing protesters. I've been desensitized to protests that the idea of taking visitors to a darkened night full of tear gas seemed normal at the time.

So every time I got an email from people whether it is safe to visit Egypt, I always says yes. This was a Facebook update from a friend of mine from two days ago
Tried to reach Down Town by car - failed. 6 October is blocked, young masked guys informed to turn back. Bulak-Esaaf side is damn jammed. teargas is everywhere, couldn't even walk.impossible to walk on 15 May bridge - teargas coming from Maspero side.
The protesters were warning people off the conflict areas so no one inadvertently got stuck in a violent situation. There are so many instance of this. People always warns you off when there's a fighting nearby. There is so much kindness still in this chaos.

So if you are just visiting Egypt to enjoy its beaches, deserts and wonderful heritage, go ahead. It is safe.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Today is January 26

And a Cairo based court issues 21 verdicts of death penalty for the massacre of Port Said last year where 78 of young football fans of Ahly died.

This excessive punishment now sparks a riot in Port Said and at this point of writing, 16 people has been killed.

A court that issues 21 verdicts of death penalty is a fucking joke and dangerous.

¡No pasarán!

   Alexandria, 25th January 2013 (source AP)

Yes the anniversary of the 25th January turned violent yesterday. But there is no other way.

The act of shooting tear gas to protesters is a violent act. The categorization of tear gas as non lethal weapon is a Newspeak. Just ask anyone who has had the share of the gas. The use of extensive tear gas signify that the State and Institution intention to force the end and break up of a peaceful protest. But sorry Mr Power, the ground does not belong to you.

The significant of the Egyptian revolutionary turmoil cannot be understated. Here in this land we witness the rise of the street fighters moderates. In Tunisia the moderates have been cowed in by the violent tactics being used by the Islamists to shape their social agenda. Here in Egypt, the moderates rise to the occasion and readily accept the consequences of street battles using broken pavements and their bodies.

The threat of violence tend to shy the moderates from protests and we tend to rely on the police institution to protect us. Not in this country - not at this moment. The stake is way too high. The moderates cannot afford to cede the streets to the backward movement of the Islamists and the police state, where justice is for sales and morality is skin deep.

So in this country right now, the Muslims, the Christians, the poor and the middle class, the young, the old, the kids, men and women poured into the street and fight. Fight with lungs full of tear gas, with tears in their eyes and righteous anger in their hearts.

They shall succeed. 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The night before the revolution

The night before January 25 2011 was one the scariest night of my life. My Egyptian flatmates and I have decided that we were going to join the planned protests that Tuesday. Most of our friends have refused the call to join the protests simply because most people were skeptical whether changes were possible in Egypt, a country that have been ruled by one military leader to another for almost 60 years.

It was my first time attending a protest in Egypt and it was their first time as well.

We had the fear of physical harm, of being beaten by the black uniformed Central Security Forces, of being thrown to prisons for a long time or specifically for me, being thrown out of the country or if we are really unlucky, the threat of torture and death.

In the end we saw how the Tunisians threw their own dictator and if that small tiny country could do it, there was no reason why the always proud Egyptian cannot follow the steps as well. I feared more of how my future self judged me if I failed to act and support a goal as noble as this, of liberating 85 million people of the shackles of a regime that have overstayed its welcome.

We went the next day with our knees shaking and our heart beating fast. Tens of thousands also had deep fear in their hearts but they all showed up anyway and the rest was history.

We are two years now from that momentous day and a lot has happened. Egypt is in the midst of roller coaster economic and political turmoil where everything is open to change and everybody is in the fight to influence the change.

It is damn hard to live and operate in the country full of uncertainties but there is no "stable" nor easy way to force change in a system that has been in power in a country for so long.

But fear not for Egypt's future because it is full of men and women, even with fear in their hearts, who stepped up and bend the future to their will.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Israel Election Result

Likud-Beiteinu: 31 (2009 result: 42)
Yesh Atid: 19 (n/a)
Labour: 15 (13)
Jewish Home: 11 (3)
Shas: 11 (11)
Hatnuah: 6 (n/a)
Meretz: 6 (3)
United Arab List-Taal: 5 (4)
Hadash: 4 (4)
Kadima: 2 (28) (src: Guardian)

Take a look at the destruction of the centrist Kadima party. It lost 26 seats. Yesh Atid is a new party established by a popular ex TV journalist, Yair Lapid.

The loathsome Bibi is set to become PM again but at much weaken position. That 2 weeks bombing against Gaza apparently did not do him much good.

NY Times profiles Yair Lapid, the new King Maker:
He wrote: “This is the big question asked by Israel’s middle class, the same sector on whose behalf I am going into politics. Where’s the money? Why is it that the productive sector, which pays taxes, fulfills its obligations, performs reserve duty and carries the entire country on its back, doesn’t see the money?” 
Mr. Lapid harnessed the frustration of hundreds of thousands of Israelis who took to the streets in the social-justice protests of the summer of 2011. When he founded Yesh Atid (There Is a Future) the next spring, he adopted and sharpened the popular demands for a more equal sharing of the burden, meaning an end to automatic military exemptions for thousands of ultra-Orthodox students who opt for full-time Torah study, as well as demands for better public education and an end to rising taxes that choke the middle class.

Cameron - fuck European Union

David Cameron outlined the scale of his ambition to transform the terms of Britain's membership of the EU when he called for the UK to be exempted from its founding principle: the creation of an ever-closer union.

In his long-awaited speech on the EU, the prime minister cast himself as a modern-day heretic as he pledged to challenge established thinking.

Speaking at the London headquarters of Bloomberg, Cameron confirmed plans to hold an in-out referendum after the next election but warned: "The biggest danger to the European Union comes not from those who advocate change, but from those who denounce new thinking as heresy. In its long history Europe has experience of heretics who turned out to have a point." Guardian

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Something is going on in Israel's election

Haaretz reported
6.00 P.M. Voter tunrout stands at record 55.5 percent.

The Qatari plot in Mali

Oil-rich gulf state Qatar has a vested interest in the outcome of the north Mali crisis, according to various reports that have been picked up by French MPs, amid suspicion that Doha may be siding with the rebels to extend its regional influence.

The first accusations of Qatari involvement with Tuareg separatists and Islamist groups came in a June 2012 article in respected French weekly the Canard Enchainé. France 24

Monday, January 21, 2013

The national harakiri of Israel

On matters related to the Palestinians, the president seems to view the prime minister as a political coward, an essentially unchallenged leader who nevertheless is unwilling to lead or spend political capital to advance the cause of compromise.

Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, Obama’s nominee to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, is said to be eager to re-energize the Middle East peace process, but Obama -- who already has a Nobel Peace Prize -- is thought to be considerably more wary. He views the government of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as weak, but he has become convinced that Netanyahu is so captive to the settler lobby, and so uninterested in making anything more than the slightest conciliatory gesture toward Palestinian moderates, that an investment of presidential interest in the peace process wouldn’t be a wise use of his time.

Jeffrey Goldberg
The column is worth reading in full.

Pirate Party failed in Germany

In a reflection of its declining fortunes across much of the country, Germany's once high-flying Pirate Party failed to enter parliament in a pivotal state election in Lower Saxony on Sunday.

The Pirate Party, which rose to prominence in Germany over the past year and a half with its message of Internet freedom, political transparency and other issues relevant to the digital age, has been plunging in the polls recently after gaining seats in the legislatures of four German states. On Sunday, its winning streak ended with a stinging electoral defeat.

In Berlin, it had garnered 8.9 percent of the votes in fall 2011, followed by state elections in Saarland (7.4 percent), Schleswig-Holstein (8.2 percent) and North Rhine-Westphalia (7.8 percent). It scored just 1.9 percent in Lower Saxony. Spiegel

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Sophie in North Korea

We stayed at a guesthouse a few kilometers from Pyongyang that was really like a private hotel, in that we were the only guests. Food overall? Solidly decent. Like Korean food, only with less pizzazz and more corn (?).

We were told well ahead of time to assume that everything was bugged: phones, cars, rooms, meetings, restaurants and who knows what else. I looked for cameras in the room but came up short. But then, why bother with cameras when you have minders? After a day in frigid Pyongyang, I was just thankful it was warm. Sophie in North Korea

On the grounded 787s

It remains to be seen how long the planes will be grounded, how much the fixes will cost, and what exactly needs to be done. There will be much discussion regarding Boeing’s decision to rely on powerful but unstable lithium-ion batteries, and we can expect one or more emergency Airworthiness Directives, as they’re known, issued from the FAA, mandating changes to the plane’s batteries, and perhaps to the fire-protection aspects of its electronics compartments. 
Lithium batteries, similar versions of which power most personal computers, are smaller and lighter than traditional batteries, but have a known propensity for hazardous “thermal runaway” conditions that can result in fires. The FAA recently banned the carriage of lithium batteries in passenger luggage. In 2006, a UPS cargo freighter made an emergency landing in Philadelphia after a shipment of lithium batteries caught fire in the cargo compartment. The plane was destroyed. And last year, the fatal crash of a UPS 747 near Dubai is believed to have been caused by a large shipment of lithium batteries that ignited during flight. (The halon extinguishing systems used in the cargo compartments of commercial planes has only limited effectiveness against these fires.) Ask the Pilot

We ask for innovation and here it is an innovative plane from Boeing. These troubles are part of the package and I have no doubt they will fix it.

Gun idiots

As gun rights activists celebrated the turnout at gun shows for national Gun Appreciation Day Saturday, police responded to at least thee accidental shootings that left five people injured at shows across the country. TPM

The bloody end

The Algerian government has been relatively silent since the start of the crisis, releasing few details. The government faced withering international criticism for rushing ahead with its first assault on the militants on Thursday even as governments whose citizens were trapped inside the plant pleaded for more time, fearing that rescue attempts might lead to workers dying. The Algerians responded by saying they had a better understanding of how to handle militants after fighting Islamist insurgents for years. NY Times
That is the bottom line I think. There will be much second guessing on how the Algerian could have done better but this is a hostage situation with 30 - 40 attackers and hundreds of hostages.

The last time a country faced with similar situation was in Russia, in the Beslan incident. 344 hostages died in the rescue operation that time.

So the reported so far 23 hostages killed is appalling but it could have been worse and it is a big question mark if anyone could have done better.

What is interesting from the reporting is that there are no casualties reported from the Algerian special forces. It could be that nobody asked them about it.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Analysis on Aaron Swartz legal charges

On the third question, the issue of who was to blame if the prosecution was too severe, I think it’s important to realize that what happened in the Swartz case happens it lots and lots of federal criminal cases. Yes, the prosecutors tried to force a plea deal by scaring the defendant with arguments that he would be locked away for a long time if he was convicted at trial. Yes, the prosecutors filed a superseding indictment designed to scare Swartz evem more in to pleading guilty (it actually had no effect on the likely sentence, but it’s a powerful scare tactic). Yes, the prosecutors insisted on jail time and a felony conviction as part of a plea. But federal prosecutors use those tactics all the time. What’s unusual about the Swartz case is that it involved a highly charismatic defendant with very powerful friends in a position to object to these common practices. That’s not to excuse what happened, but rather to direct the energy that is angry about what happened. If you want to end these tactics, don’t just complain about the Swartz case. Don’t just complain when the defendant happens to be a brilliant guy who went to Stanford and hangs out with Larry Lessig. Instead, complain that this is business as usual in federal criminal cases around the country — mostly with defendants who no one has ever heard of and who get locked up for years without anyone else much caring. Volokh

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The blowback of Mali intervention has begun

The exact number of people being held was still far from certain. A top Algerian government official said 20 Islamist militants had attacked the gas field and that security services had now “encircled the base” so that “no one can leave.” Concerning the number of hostages, he said that “the situation is confused for the moment,” and that there might be as many as 30. “We don’t have precise figures for now.” NY Times

French troops start ground operation in Mali

Military sources said French and Malian government troops had encircled the central town of Diabaly, which was overrun by Islamists on Monday, after advancing to the nearby town of Niono on Tuesday. Diabaly is 220 miles (350km) from Bamako. Guardian

I am glad that the French and ECOWAS are intervening in Mali but make no mistake, the risk of spillover is high. Just take a look at above map. You have Burkina Faso and Niger in the surrounding Northern Mali and these two countries can easily got embroiled in this escalation.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Drinking alcohol in cold condition will not warm you up

According to Dr. William Haynes, director of Clinical Pharmacology at the University of Iowa, “Consumption of alcohol undoes many of the human body’s healthy reflexes, one of which is keeping the core body temperature warm in cold weather.” It doesn’t even take that much for this effect to kick in—just one alcoholic drink will start the process that results in a lowered core body temperature. Mental Floss

A tribute site for Aaron Swartz

A collapse of a US strategy in Mali

But with its attention and resources so focused on other conflicts in places like Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya, the Obama administration has rejected such strikes in favor of a more cautious, step-back strategy: helping African nations repel and contain the threat on their own.

Over the last four years, the United States has spent between $520 million and $600 million in a sweeping effort to combat Islamist militancy in the region without fighting the kind of wars it has waged in the Middle East. The program stretched from Morocco to Nigeria, and American officials heralded the Malian military as an exemplary partner. American Special Forces trained its troops in marksmanship, border patrol, ambush drills and other counterterrorism skills.

But all that deliberate planning collapsed swiftly when heavily armed, battle-hardened Islamist fighters returned from combat in Libya. They teamed up with jihadists like Ansar Dine, routed poorly equipped Malian forces and demoralized them so thoroughly that it set off a mutiny against the government in the capital, Bamako. NY Times

How much funding do you think the militants get? I think maximum in the low tens of millions or event less based. Their sources of funding rely mainly on kidnapping, funding from the Gulf countries and a few Islamic charities around the world.

The different is this, the Jihadists have their cause, the Malian military did not trust their civilian leadership. All these funding and training advantage collapsed.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

It's time to get the fuck out of Beijing

So what phrase is appropriate to describe Saturday’s jaw-dropping reading of 755 at 8 p.m., when all of Beijing looked like an airport smokers’ lounge? Though an embassy spokesman said he did not immediately have comparative data, Beijing residents who follow the Twitter feed said the Saturday numbers appeared to be the highest recorded since the embassy began its monitoring system in 2008. NY Times
The Air Quality Index tops at 500. 755 is beyond scale. 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

R.I.P Aaron Shwartz

The prodigal co-founder of committed suicide today. He was 26.

Professor Lessig raged at the prosecutor's bullying
Here is where we need a better sense of justice, and shame. For the outrageousness in this story is not just Aaron. It is also the absurdity of the prosecutor’s behavior. From the beginning, the government worked as hard as it could to characterize what Aaron did in the most extreme and absurd way. The “property” Aaron had “stolen,” we were told, was worth “millions of dollars” — with the hint, and then the suggestion, that his aim must have been to profit from his crime. But anyone who says that there is money to be made in a stash of ACADEMIC ARTICLES is either an idiot or a liar. It was clear what this was not, yet our government continued to push as if it had caught the 9/11 terrorists red-handed.

Aaron had literally done nothing in his life “to make money.” He was fortunate Reddit turned out as it did, but from his work building the RSS standard, to his work architecting Creative Commons, to his work liberating public records, to his work building a free public library, to his work supporting Change Congress/FixCongressFirst/Rootstrikers, and then Demand Progress, Aaron was always and only working for (at least his conception of) the public good. He was brilliant, and funny. A kid genius. A soul, a conscience, the source of a question I have asked myself a million times: What would Aaron think? That person is gone today, driven to the edge by what a decent society would only call bullying. I get wrong. But I also get proportionality. And if you don’t get both, you don’t deserve to have the power of the United States government behind you.

For remember, we live in a world where the architects of the financial crisis regularly dine at the White House — and where even those brought to “justice” never even have to admit any wrongdoing, let alone be labeled “felons.”

In that world, the question this government needs to answer is why it was so necessary that Aaron Swartz be labeled a “felon.” For in the 18 months of negotiations, that was what he was not willing to accept, and so that was the reason he was facing a million dollar trial in April — his wealth bled dry, yet unable to appeal openly to us for the financial help he needed to fund his defense, at least without risking the ire of a district court judge. And so as wrong and misguided and fucking sad as this is, I get how the prospect of this fight, defenseless, made it make sense to this brilliant but troubled boy to end it. 
There's a White House petition to remove the overzealous prosecutor.
Glenn Greenwald wrote
Whatever else is true, Swartz was destroyed by a "justice" system that fully protects the most egregious criminals as long as they are members of or useful to the nation's most powerful factions, but punishes with incomparable mercilessness and harshness those who lack power and, most of all, those who challenge power.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The French has intervened in Mali

French troops have begun military operations including air strikes in Mali to contain Islamist groups which are continuing to clash with the army in a fight for control of the desert north of the west African country.

François Hollande announced on Friday night that French armed forces had gone to the aid of Malian troops on the ground during the afternoon. The French president said Mali was facing a "terrorist aggression" of which "the whole world now knows its brutality and fanaticism".

The foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, said France's air force carried out an air strike in Mali on Friday as it supported government forces.

The French military intervention came as the Islamists who control northern Mali advanced ever closer to the furthest town still under government control. Al-Qaida-linked groups have controlled northern Mali since the army deserted the military campaign against Tuareg and Islamist rebels, which was followed by a military coup last March. Since the coup, the country, where France was once the colonial power, has been thrown into disarray. Western powers have voiced fears that an alliance of al-Qaida-linked militants that seized the northern two-thirds of Mali last April would seek to use the vast desert zone as a launchpad for international attacks. Guardian

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

I died and gone to heaven

Turning point for Europe?

The turning point came almost exactly four months ago. On Sept. 6, 2012, 22 men gathered on the 36th floor of the European Central Bank building in Frankfurt to reach a momentous decision on the Continent's common currency. The euro, said ECB President Mario Draghi at the press conference following the meeting, is "irreversible." To save it, he added, his bank would undertake unlimited purchases of sovereign bonds should it become necessary.

Since then, an amazing thing has happened. Although the ECB has yet to embark on any such bond shopping sprees, countries such as Italy and Spain, at risk of being engulfed by the crisis, no longer have to pay the horrendous interest rates they did in the middle of 2012. Furthermore, the massive imbalances that have recently plagued the European banking system have shrunk, if only slightly. Spiegel

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

A.I.G is planning to sue its saviour

Fresh from paying back a $182 billion bailout, the American International Group has been running a nationwide advertising campaign with the tagline “Thank you America.”

Behind the scenes, the restored insurance company is weighing whether to tell the government agencies that rescued it during the financial crisis: thanks, but you cheated our shareholders.
NY Times
These people make me sick.

The upcoming rise of apartheid Israel

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is "insoluble" and most Israelis "couldn't care less about it any more", according to Naftali Bennett, the surprise star of the election campaign, whose extreme rightwing nationalist and pro-settler Jewish Home is within sight of becoming the country's second biggest party.

In an interview with the Guardian, Bennett said he did not intend to waste the next four years "babbling about Israel and the Palestinians", and defended his plan to annex most of the West Bank in the face of international opposition, which was the "result of ignorance". Guardian
It is so fucked up that a pro settler party is likely to become Israel's second biggest party in the coming election. This is not going to end well.

Monday, January 07, 2013


EDX.Org is a joint collaboration between Harvard, MIT and several other US universities to produce free online classes. I just joined their statistics class. 

Saturday, January 05, 2013

IMF apologizes for fucking up Europe

Consider it a mea culpa submerged in a deep pool of calculus and regression analysis: The International Monetary Fund’s top economist today acknowledged that the fund blew its forecasts for Greece and other European economies because it did not fully understand how government austerity efforts would undermine economic growth. Washington Post

This is mind boggling. Look, if the private sector economy is shrinking because of a recession, somebody must provide the spending to restart it and that's the government. If you choke the government funding, there's no money in the economy and the tax base shrinks and government get less tax revenue which makes the deficit issue worse, which makes the next round of budget cutting, which starve the economy of less money, and so on so forth.

Uruguay's President

Some world leaders live in palaces. Some enjoy perks like having a discreet butler, a fleet of yachts or a wine cellar with vintage Champagnes. Then there is José Mujica, the former guerrilla who is Uruguay’s president. He lives in a run-down house on Montevideo’s outskirts with no servants at all. His security detail: two plainclothes officers parked on a dirt road.

Visitors reach Mr. Mujica’s austere dwelling after driving down O’Higgins Road, past groves of lemon trees. His net worth upon taking office in 2010 amounted to about $1,800 — the value of the 1987 Volkswagen Beetle parked in his garage. He never wears a tie and donates about 90 percent of his salary, largely to a program for expanding housing for the poor.

His current brand of low-key radicalism — a marked shift from his days wielding weapons in an effort to overthrow the government — exemplifies Uruguay’s emergence as arguably Latin America’s most socially liberal country. NY Times
This is pretty inspiring.

One way to travel

A drunken passenger taped to a chair after creating disturbance on flight from Iceland to the US Daily Mail

Friday, January 04, 2013

End of Switzerland as Tax Evasion Haven?

Probably yes if you are a US citizen
Switzerland's oldest bank is to close permanently after pleading guilty in a New York court to helping Americans evade their taxes.
Wegelin, which was established in 1741, has also agreed to pay $57.8m (£36m; 44m euros) in fines to US authorities. BBC

Chavez might not be with us much time longer

He is fighting a severe lung infection after his fourth cancer surgery in Cuba.

Spiegel raises alarm about Japan

Today's Tokyo has become a permanent mecca of consumption, its boroughs seemingly divided according to target markets. The city's Sugamo district, for example, is dominated by the elderly. Escalators in the subway station there go extra slow, while the stores along the Jizo Dori shopping street offer items such as canes, anti-aging cream and tea for sore joints. The Hurajuku neighborhood, on the other hand, is teeming with fashionistas made up to look like Manga characters.

This world of glitter, however, is but an illusion. For years, the world's third-largest economy has been unapologetically living on borrowed cash, more so than any other country in the world. In recent decades, Japanese governments have piled up debts worth some €11 trillion ($14.6 trillion). This corresponds to 230 percent of annual gross domestic product, a debt level that is far higher than Greece's 165 percent. Spiegel

No Japan is not Greece. Japan is not tied to a crazy currency straitjacket called the Euro. Japan still export products that people actually buys.

But they do have a grey population where the number of old people needed to be supported by the economy can soon overwhelmed the productive segment of their demographics. 
And here's the kicker
The reason is simple: Unlike countries in the euro zone, Japan borrows most of its money from its own people. Domestic banks and insurers have purchased 95 percent of the country's sovereign debt using the savings deposits of the general population. What's more, the Japanese are apparently so convinced that their country will be able to pay off its debts one day that they continue to lend their government a seemingly endless amount of money.
Which is the bottom line. The Japanese is not going to run away from their own country.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

The Guardian plays vacation planner

This interactive feature covers the whole calendar year and it's worth checking out.