Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year 2015 - ABBA

Kurds in new Islamic State group offensive in Iraq

Associated Press 
BAGHDAD (AP) — Backed by U.S.-led airstrikes, Kurdish Iraqi forces said they launched a large-scale offensive Wednesday to push Islamic State group extremists from an area outside the militant-held northern city of Mosul.
The targeted area covers about 120 square kilometers (46 square miles) and is located between the towns of Gwer and Makhmour, Kurdish forces said in a statement. The two towns, both recaptured by peshmerga forces in August, are located northeast of Mosul and near the Kurdish capital of Irbil.
"The objective is to push the enemy farther away from both areas," the statement said.
The U.S. Central Command said Wednesday that the international coalition it leads had conducted seven airstrikes against militants' positions in Syria and three in Iraq, using fighter jets and drones.
Earlier this month, peshmerga fighters retook small villages around the militant-held Sinjar town, opening a corridor to help hundreds of Yazidi families atop nearby Mount Sinjar.
The Islamic State group, which has declared a self-styled caliphate, holds about a third of Iraq and neighboring Syria. Kurdish peshmerga fighters from Iraq also have deployed in small numbers to help Syrian Kurds battle Islamic State group fighters in the Syrian border town of Kobani.

Marijuana is a dangerous gateway drug and shouldn't be legalized

Welcome to The Michael Savage Newsletter, your daily insider report on all things "Savage."

In today's issue: A caller asked Dr. Savage what he thought about the growing movement to legalize marijuana.

Savage opposes it, and not for "ethical or moral reasons," but for scientific ones. He cited study after study proving that marijuana is far more toxic than tobacco, despite what its supporters say.

"Legalizing marijuana is a terrible idea for America," Savage said. 
    This will increase the number of abusers of this dangerous gateway drug.

    Yes, I know it is less addictive than alcohol.

    But that doesn't mean it's good for you.

    Marijuana has dangerous side effects that the government is hiding from you.

    If you're using marijuana for medicinal purposes, you probably have a poorly functioning immune system to begin with.

    The last thing you should do is introduce additional toxins into your body.

    Marijuana has higher levels of toxins than tobacco.

    But aside from those considerations, I can tell you that smoking marijuana is a disaster.

    The worst thing is: You think you're brilliant when you're smoking dope, but you aren't.

    It will lead you astray, and you'll lose many years of your life to it.

    Having said that, I don't want people in jail for using it, either.


By: María Weslau
Cuba Archive
2014 Documented Deaths and Disappearances
45 Documented Deaths Attributed to the Cuban State in 2014
Extrajudicial Killings: 6
Hunger Strike: 2
Denial of medical care: 10
Suicide / Alleged Suicide: 3
Accident in prison: 1
Exit attempts: 22
Total: 45
*Exit attempts – of undetermined attribution: 4
— with Abajo La Dictadura Castrista.


As a communicator and blogger, I sometimes wonder if our president is extremely naive about what's happening in Cuba, or fueling it?

Cuban Rights Performance Organizer Arrested, Whereabouts Unknown #YoTambienExijo

Tuesday, December 30, 2014
Renowned Cuban artist Tania Bruguera, organizer of today's rights performance #YoTambienExijo, was arrested this morning.

Bruguera's sister believes she was taken to the infamous secret police headquarters, known as Villa Marista.

However, there is no confirmation of her whereabouts, as she remain incommunicado.

The performance, in which a microphone would be placed in Havana's Revolutionary Square, so Cubans can express their demands in one-minute intervals, was scheduled to begin at 3 p.m.

Bruguera never made it to the site.

Castro's secret police showed up to her apartment at 5 a.m. to arrest her.

Over a dozen dissidents were also arrested to prevent them from assisting the event.

A heavy police presence surrounded the site all day.


Tweet(s) of the Day: If Cuba is Reforming...

By U.N. Watch's Hillel Neuer:

.@BarackObama If Cuba is reforming, why is human rights hero @yoanisanchez in house arrest, her husband taken away?


See how Cuban police are all plainclothes so you can never get images of oppression in uniform http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article5177703.html#storylink=cpy 

On the Backs of Cuba's Political Prisoners

This political cartoon says it all:

Rubio: Raul Castro Makes a Mockery of Obama's New Cuba Policy

Rubio Comments on Castro Regime's Latest Wave of Repression

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) issued the following statement today regarding news reports of the Castro regime's efforts to suppress Cuban activists and independent journalists attempting to attend a rally in Havana:

"The Castro regime's latest acts of repression against political dissidents in Cuba make a mockery of President Obama's new U.S.-Cuba policy. The fact that the regime continues to violate the human rights of Cubans like this shows that it has even less incentive to change its ways since President Obama intends to give the Castros numerous unilateral concessions in exchange for zero steps towards more political freedom.

This is the real human tragedy of the President's new Cuba policy. President Obama should be ashamed of legitimizing and empowering the Castros while abandoning courageous Cuban dissidents like the ones who have been on the receiving end of the regime's repressive tactics in recent days."

Cuban Activists Arrested to Prevent Attendance at Rights Performance #YoTambienExijo

From The Miami Herald:

Cuban activists arrested to prevent their attendance at a Havana gathering

Police mobilize to prevent activists from taking part in a gathering at the Plaza de la Revolución in Havana.

Cuban authorities arrested several dissidents and independent journalists Tuesday in an apparent attempt to prevent them from attending a rally in Havana’s revolutionary square organized by a new movement that calls itself #YoTambienExijo (IAlsoDemand).

Among those detained as of early afternoon were journalist Reinaldo Escobar, editor of the online 14ymedio publication and husband of prominent blogger Yoani Sánchez. Eliecer Ávila, an activist, and Antonio Rodiles, who directs a human rights group called Estado de Sats, also were taken into custody. The arrests were reported via Twitter by Sánchez, who founded 14ymedio.

Sánchez said she was placed under house arrest and also reported that several other 14ymedio contributors were visited by State Security officers, who warned them not cover the event, which was scheduled to take place at 3 p.m. at the Plaza de la Revolución. The demonstration called for participants to go before a microphone for one minute to share their thoughts, concerns or ideas about how Cuba’s future should unfold.

The rally was promoted via social media after the historic Dec. 17 announcement of renewed diplomatic ties between Washington and Havana. Hundreds of people said they planned to attend even though Cuban authorities denied permission to organizers, headed by prominent Cuban artist Tania Brugera.

Cuban government opposition leader, Angel Moya, also reported the arrest of Aliuska Gómez, a member of the Ladies in White group, and said several other human rights activists had gotten visits by State Security officers at their homes.

Several opponents and independent journalists said they were receiving fake text messages on their cell phones stating that the event had been cancelled.

Bruguera met with Cuba’s National Council of Fine Arts President Ruben del Valle for more than three hours on Saturday to try to obtain official permission for the event to no avail. A posting on the government-controlled website, The Jiribilla, lambasted the #YoTambienExijo rally as "a sham."

Bruguera, who refers to the event as “performance” art, said the idea came from a letter she wrote to President Barack Obama, Cuban leader Raúl Castro and Pope Francis following the Dec. 17 announcement in which she demanded that all Cubans have a right to stake their claim on the future of the island and also have a right to express their opinions through peaceful demonstrations in favor or against government action without “being punished.”

Meanwhile, a simultaneous rally is scheduled to take place in Miami at 3 p.m. in front of the Freedom Tower downtown.

More New Political Arrests in Cuba

Instead of releasing 53 political prisoners (which remains a mystery in itself) -- as Raul Castro "promised" President Obama -- this past week we've seen the arrest (and re-arrest) of democracy activists and political prisoners.

On Christmas Day, Cuban artist Danilo Maldonado (known as "El Sexto") was arrested for scheduling a visual arts performance, in which he was going to release two pigs onto the streets with the names "Fidel" and "Raul" painted on them. He remains arbitrarily imprisoned and faces charges of "disobedience."

On the day after Christmas, it re-arrested former political prisoner, Marcelino Abreu Bonora, who had just been released on October 24th. He was arrested for carrying a white sheet with the word "Cambio" ("Change") written on it. He remains arbitrarily imprisoned, was savagely beaten and his family denied information of his whereabouts.

On the following day, Luis Quintana Rodriguez, an activist with Oswaldo Paya's Christian Liberation Movement, was arrested, threatened and interrogated by the Castro regime about his opposition activities.

And today, all eyes are on the #YoTambienExijo performance in Havana's Revolutionary Square at 3 p.m., where a microphone will be placed for the Cuban people to demand their rights.  The organizer, artist Tania Bruguera, has already been threatened with "legal and personal consequences."

As of noon, Cuban democracy leader Eliecer Avila and Yoani Sanchez's husband, Reinaldo Escobar, have been arrested.

As of 3 p.m., nearly a dozen other activists including Antonio RodilesAmaury PachecoJose Diaz SilvaClaudio Fuentes and Aliuska Gomez have also been arrested.

Meanwhile, silence from the Obama Administration.

Obama's Cuba Deal Poses Major U.S. Counter-Intelligence Challenge

We disagree with the first half of this assessment by former U.S. defense and intelligence official, Daniel J. Gallington, regarding the impact that American culture and capitalism will have on the Cuban people -- for they have been exposed to this (with limited impact) for decades through geographical proximity, American relatives, and millions of foreign tourists.

Sadly though, Mr. Gallington may be right about a successor to Castro stemming from the military, which Obama may have just facilitated thanks to his betrayal of Cuba's democrats.

Moreover, he's absolutely right regarding the influx of Cuban spies that will emanate from Obama's announcement -- and the imminent challenge it poses for U.S. counter-intelligence officials.

By Daniel J. Gallington, in U.S. News and World Report:

Keeping an Eye on Cuban Spies

America's new relationship with Cuba will likely mean an influx of Cuban spies.

On balance, it was probably a good idea to move forward with a new relationship with Cuba. The Castros are old, getting older and will soon be gone – and it’s doubtful that the Cuban people will choose, voluntarily of course, to succeed them with another such family dynasty. When the Castros are finally gone, there likely will be a muffled internal insurrection or two, as the competing factions for power seek to kill each other off – and there is likely to be a period of uncertainty before the emergence of a new personality that can coalesce a central government. The most likely successor will probably come from the military. No real surprises here.

During the coming next few years, we really don’t have to actually do much to influence the people of Cuba except inundate them with our media, social or otherwise, movies, TV, investments, business, travel, sports teams, tourism and the Internet. They continue to be huge consumers of American culture and capitalism will creep into their lives whether they want it or not, and no matter what the Castro government says or does to keep it out. In short, President Raul Castro can say that they will remain Communist all he wants, but that system will not be able to sustain itself in the face of the onslaught of American commercialism. Like the old Soviet Union, Cuba will soon implode from American and Western cultural influence – especially as they realize how poor they have become compared to their neighbors from the North.

What do we want from them? Cigars and resorts for our tourists? Not a whole lot really, nor do we need much of anything to let the natural symbiosis of the new relationship work out in our favor. In short, it will happen, and it will be to our advantage – especially after Raul is gone, just as Fidel is already mostly out of the picture.

So is that the end of the story with Cuba?

Not by a long shot, because we must now prepare ourselves for an onslaught of hundreds, perhaps thousands of Cuban spies. And I have bad news for you – they are very, very good at it, probably the best in our hemisphere, including us, who look like amateurs compared to them, especially when it comes to the long-term penetration of high-value intelligence targets and getting critical information therefrom. In my day, the Cubans were thought to be every bit as good as the East Germans, who were probably the best in the world, next to the Israelis, of course.

It is not surprising, therefore, that part of the deal we made to establish the new relationship was to release three members of the notorious “Cuban Five” from federal prison, one of them serving multiple life sentences for espionage and murder.

The Cuban Five, if you may remember, were a group of spies who successfully penetrated the Brothers to the Rescue and other Cuban-American groups in the U.S. that advocated overthrow of the Castro regime. The FBI broke them up in the late 90’s and they were all sentenced to prison. While there is lots of controversy surrounding them, the Cuban government later acknowledged that the five were intelligence agents.

The record of Cuban spies in our country is long and of major concern to our counterintelligence services and agencies. While the Chinese, just for example, are probably the largest and most prolific spies in our country, the Cubans make up for it with their specialized skills and knowledge of American social structures.

So one can only hope that an essential part of the new relationship with Cuba will also be an aggressive counterintelligence program on our part to protect ourselves from Cuban spies. And Cuba's spying program will no doubt also be enhanced by the Castro government as it expands its ability to gather national security information against us, both in Cuba and in the United States.

I say “only hope” because counterintelligence has long remained the unwanted step-child of our intelligence community, despite some new attention to its organization and structure. It remains to be seen, however, whether we have really improved our ability to actually catch spies, both outside and inside our government. And the Cubans, because of their consummate skills and abilities to penetrate our most sensitive targets, will no doubt be able to decide this for themselves – and probably before we realize it.

In short, I’m not optimistic. The Cubans are good, real good!


Must-Watch: The Ladies in White, Dissident Leaders Gather at Havana's Gandhi Park

Please watch the video below (or click here) of The Ladies in WhiteEstado de Sats' Antonio Rodiles and other dissident leaders at Havana's Gandhi Park this past Sunday.

Ghost town: As Lithuania joins euro, concern over emigration

Associated Press 
Bank staff fill a cash machine with euro currency in Vilnius, Lithuania, Tuesday. Dec. 30, 2014, as preparations continue for the currency swap-over.  Political leaders are hoping that joining the euro on Jan. 1 will help Lithuania distance itself further from Russian influence and reduce government borrowing costs. (AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis)
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VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) — When Antanas Zubavicius turns the light on in his run-down house, it's the only light for miles. He is the last man in Dumbliuneliai, a once busy farmers' village in Lithuania that has gradually been abandoned as its residents emigrated in search of better jobs.
"I'm not going anywhere. This is my land," the 60-year-old says, waving at the abandoned, shuttered houses around him. "When I am gone this village is gone too."
As Lithuania prepares to adopt the euro on Jan. 1, it is hoping that membership in the European Union's official currency will bring a rise in investment and trade. But the Baltic country's increasing integration with richer European countries is also having a pernicious side-effect: a wave of emigration that is emptying towns and causing worker shortages.
Emigration has been on the rise since 2004, when this country of 3 million people joined the EU, whose membership guarantees freedom of movement.
During the 2008-2011 financial crisis, more than 80,000 people — almost 3 percent of the population — left every year, mainly to Germany, Britain and other richer economies to earn salaries many times higher. Experts forecast that trend to continue, or even increase.
In the field of construction, business owners complain it is impossible to keep hold of workers, even with massive annual wage increases of 10 to 20 percent. The problem is not confined to rural villages. Most shopping malls, restaurants and businesses in once busy urban areas are increasingly short of labor.
"There's simply no more skilled people left here," says Arvydas Avulis, CEO of Hanner, a leading real estate investor and developer that specializes in high-rise construction.
A quick look at wage figures shows why. A manual worker in Lithuania can expect to earn 1.80 euros ($2.20) an hour compared with 4.30 euros ($5.24) in Spain and 8.60 euros ($10.50) in Ireland, according to the EU statistics agency.
In the more skilled sectors like computing, medicine or the services industry, where Lithuania's educational system produces highly qualified graduates, wage differences are even greater.
Euro membership is expected to help Lithuania's economy, even though the currency bloc is struggling to grow. Having the same currency as 18 other richer economies will facilitate commerce and reduce investment risks for foreigners. The central bank estimates the government's borrowing rate would drop by almost 1 percentage point, which would filter down to the private sector.
The problem is that Lithuania is the bloc's poorest member and even though its economy is growing at a stronger pace than most EU countries, it has a long way to develop before it can hope to offer wages on a par with other EU states.
Unsurprisingly, most Lithuanians are in favor of joining the euro, as it will cement the country's ties with the West and keep those richer labor markets open to them.
In a Nov. 26 survey by Berent Research Baltic, 53 percent of respondents said they back euro membership, up from 47 percent in September. Some 39 were opposed, down from 49 percent. A total of 1,002 people were interviewed for the poll, which had a margin of error of 2.5 percentage points.
Skeptics worry about the euro's recent problems with government debt and economic stagnation.
Pranciskus Sliuzas, a journalist and anti-euro activist, describes joining the euro as "one of the most stupid things of all time." He laments the fact that Lithuania is giving up some national powers, such as the ability to determine its interest rates or budget deficit.
For others, such economic arguments are of secondary concern to issues like national security — in particular the fear of an increasingly aggressive Russia. Along with neighbors Latvia and Estonia, Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union for almost five decades.
"I think it would be a good thing to get closer to the rest of Europe as the only other option is to become friends with (Russian President Vladimir) Putin," said Janina Gailiene, a retired primary school teacher in Vilnius.
For all the potential economic and security benefits, that means business leaders like Avulis will continue to struggle with a shortage of workers as Lithuania's economy integrates further with the West.
One solution businesses are lobbying for is to facilitate immigration from countries that have even lower wages — Ukraine, Belarus and even China. There has been little progress by the government on that front, however.
Sarmite Mikulioniene, sociology professor at Mykolas Romeris University, warns that in time, worker shortages will hurt the economy, threatening the gains made in the first place by joining the EU and euro.
"There will simply be no one left to do simple jobs here in 10 or 15 years," she said.