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Nasrallah calls for restraint after Syria kidnapping

Press TV – May 22, 2012

Hezbollah Secretary General Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah has denounced the abduction of 13 Lebanese citizens by Syrian armed militants but also called for restraint and a measured response.

On Tuesday, Nasrallah said it is the duty of the Lebanese government to ensure that the abducted people are able to return home safely.

“We will work day and night until those beloved are back with us… The Lebanese state and government have a responsibility to work toward the release of those kidnapped,” he added.

Commenting on the situation and the recent violence in Lebanon, he asked the Lebanese people to exercise self-restraint and said that nobody should resort to violence.

“I call on everyone to show restraint… It is not acceptable for anyone to block roads or carry out violent acts,” Nasrallah added.

Anti-Syrian government armed militants kidnapped the 13 Lebanese people near the Syrian town of Aazaz, which is on the border with Turkey. The Lebanese were returning to Lebanon after visiting Shia shrines in Iran.

The armed militants reportedly hijacked their bus, then kidnapped the men and released the women.

There is no more information about the whereabouts of the abductees.

Syria has been experiencing unrest since mid-March 2011. While the West and the Syrian opposition say the government is responsible for the killings, Damascus blames “outlaws, saboteurs, and armed terrorist groups” for the unrest and insists that it is being orchestrated from abroad.

Al-Manar reports:

… In response to some people who threatened to kidnap Syrian nationals in Lebanon, Sayyed Nasrallah said that this act of revenge is forbidden and that the Syrian nationals are “our brothers, and nobody should make such unacceptable act personally.” …

The names of the kidnapped men according to media reports:

Abbas Shoaib, Hassan Mahmoud, Hussein al-Siblani, Ali Abbas, Abu Ali Saleh, Mahdi Ballout, Hussein Arzouni, Hussein Omar, Mustafa Yassine, Mohammad Monzer, Awad Ibrahim, Ali al-Ahmar, Ali Zgheib, Rabih Zgheib, Ali Termos and Ali Safa.

May 22, 2012 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , , | Comments Off on Nasrallah calls for restraint after Syria kidnapping

The Nearly $1 Trillion National Security Budget

By Chris Hellman and Mattea Kramer | TomDispatch | May 22, 2012

Recent months have seen a flurry of headlines about cuts (often called “threats”) to the U.S. defense budget. Last week, lawmakers in the House of Representatives even passed a bill that was meant to spare national security spending from future cuts by reducing school-lunch funding and other social programs.

Here, then, is a simple question that, for some curious reason, no one bothers to ask, no less answer: How much are we spending on national security these days? With major wars winding down, has Washington already cut such spending so close to the bone that further reductions would be perilous to our safety?

In fact, with projected cuts added in, the national security budget in fiscal 2013 will be nearly $1 trillion — a staggering enough sum that it’s worth taking a walk through the maze of the national security budget to see just where that money’s lodged.

If you’ve heard a number for how much the U.S. spends on the military, it’s probably in the neighborhood of $530 billion. That’s the Pentagon’s base budget for fiscal 2013, and represents a 2.5% cut from 2012. But that $530 billion is merely the beginning of what the U.S. spends on national security. Let’s dig a little deeper.

The Pentagon’s base budget doesn’t include war funding, which in recent years has been well over $100 billion. With U.S. troops withdrawn from Iraq and troop levels falling in Afghanistan, you might think that war funding would be plummeting as well.  In fact, it will drop to a mere $88 billion in fiscal 2013. By way of comparison, the federal government will spend around $64 billion on education that same year.

Add in war funding, and our national security total jumps to $618 billion. And we’re still just getting started.

The U.S. military maintains an arsenal of nuclear weapons. You might assume that we’ve already accounted for nukes in the Pentagon’s $530 billion base budget.  But you’d be wrong. Funding for nuclear weapons falls under the Department of Energy (DOE), so it’s a number you rarely hear. In fiscal 2013, we’ll be spending $11.5 billion on weapons and related programs at the DOE. And disposal of nuclear waste is expensive, so add another $6.4 billion for weapons cleanup.

Now, we’re at $636 billion and counting.

How about homeland security? We’ve got to figure that in, too. There’s the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which will run taxpayers $35.5 billion for its national security activities in fiscal 2013. But there’s funding for homeland security squirreled away in just about every other federal agency as well.  Think, for example, about programs to secure the food supply, funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. So add another $13.5 billion for homeland security at federal agencies other than DHS.

That brings our total to $685 billion.

Then there’s the international affairs budget, another obscure corner of the federal budget that just happens to be jammed with national security funds. For fiscal 2013, $8 billion in additional war funding for Iraq and Afghanistan is hidden away there. There’s also $14 billion for what’s called “international security assistance” — that’s part of the weapons and training Washington offers foreign militaries around the world. Plus there’s $2 billion for “peacekeeping operations,” money U.S. taxpayers send overseas to help fund military operations handled by international organizations and our allies.

That brings our national security total up to $709 billion.

We can’t forget the cost of caring for our nation’s veterans, including those wounded in our recent wars. That’s an important as well as hefty share of national security funding. In 2013, veterans programs will cost the federal government $138 billion.

That brings us to $847 billion — and we’re not done yet.

Taxpayers also fund pensions and other retirement benefits for non-veteran military retirees, which will cost $55 billion next year. And then there are the retirement costs for civilians who worked at the Department of Defense and now draw pensions and benefits. The federal government doesn’t publish a number on this, but based on the share of the federal workforce employed at the Pentagon, we can estimate that its civilian retirees will cost taxpayers around $21 billion in 2013.

By now, we’ve made it to $923 billion — and we’re finally almost done.

Just one more thing to add in, a miscellaneous defense account that’s separate from the defense base budget. It’s called “defense-related activities,” and it’s got $8 billion in it for 2013.

That brings our grand total to an astonishing $931 billion.

And this will turn out to be a conservative figure. We won’t spend less than that, but among other things, it doesn’t include the interest we’re paying on money we borrowed to fund past military operations; nor does it include portions of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration that are dedicated to national security. And we don’t know if this number captures the entire intelligence budget or not, because parts of intelligence funding are classified.

For now, however, that whopping $931 billion for fiscal year 2013 will have to do. If our national security budget were its own economy, it would be the 19th largest in the world, roughly the size of Australia’s. Meanwhile, the country with the next largest military budget, China, spends a mere pittance by comparison. The most recent estimate puts China’s military funding at around $136 billion.

Or think of it this way: National security accounts for one quarter of every dollar the federal government is projected to spend in 2013. And if you pull trust funds for programs like Social Security out of the equation, that figure rises to more than one third of every dollar in the projected 2013 federal budget.

Yet the House recently passed legislation to spare the defense budget from cuts, arguing that the automatic spending reductions scheduled for January 2013 would compromise national security. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has said such automatic cuts, which would total around $55 billion in 2013, would be “disastrous” for the defense budget. To avoid them, the House would instead pull money from the National School Lunch Program, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Medicaid, food stamps, and programs like the Social Services Block Grant, which funds Meals on Wheels, among other initiatives.

Yet it wouldn’t be difficult to find savings in that $931 billion.  There’s plenty of low-hanging fruit, starting with various costly weapons systems left over from the Cold War, like the Virginia class submarine, the V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, the missile defense program, and the most expensive weapons system on the planet, the F-35 jet fighter. Cutting back or cancelling some of these programs would save billions of dollars annually.

In fact, Congress could find much deeper savings, but it would require fundamentally redefining national security in this country. On this issue, the American public is already several steps ahead of Washington. Americans overwhelmingly think that national security funding should be cut — deeply.

If lawmakers don’t pay closer attention to their constituents, we already know the alternative: pulling school-lunch funding.

Chris Hellman and Mattea Kramer are research analysts at the National Priorities Project. They wrote the soon-to-be-published book A People’s Guide to the Federal Budget, and host weekly two-minute Budget Brief videos on YouTube.

Copyright 2012 Chris Hellman and Mattea Kramer

May 22, 2012 Posted by | Deception, Economics, Militarism | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Second round of Iran-P5+1 talks in Baghdad

Press TV – News Analysis-05-21-2012

May 22, 2012 Posted by | Video, Wars for Israel | , , , , | Comments Off on Second round of Iran-P5+1 talks in Baghdad

Immigration to Venezuela Double that of Emigration

By Tamara Pearson | Venezuelanalysis | May 21st 2012

Mérida – Debate over migration has arisen in Venezuela as opposition forces argue that many professionals, businesses, and upper class residents are emigrating from the country, while those aligned with the government argue that Venezuela has become a “pole of attraction”, as the second highest immigrant destination country in South America.

Upper class discontent

Recently, an 18-minute video called Caracas, City of Goodbyes has gone viral on Internet networks. In the video, light-skinned and upper class young Venezuelans who make up a minority of Caracas’ population, talk about how they would like to leave the country.

Venezuela’s private media has also presented reports about a layer of Venezuelans who are “fleeing” the country. Noticias24.com, an online news site, reported in November 2010, “The professionals are fleeing and the Chinese and Haitians are arriving”.

The article argued that because of expropriations and contractions in the economy that year “many rich and middle class Venezuelans” are fleeing and there is an “exodus of scientists, doctors, businessmen, and engineers”.

Conservative daily El Universal argued that for Venezuelan emigrants, “the United States is the goal”, where it says the Venezuelan population has increased by 135% over the last ten years.

El Nacional published an article in April this year with the headline, “Price and exchange controls causing business migration”, and described how toy company Mattel had announced that it would close its office and manage its Venezuelan market from Mexico.

Statistics

However, according to 2010 World Bank statistics, that year 521,500 Venezuelans were living outside the country, compared to 2,122,300 Colombians, 1,367,300 Brazilians, 1,090,800 Peruvians, and 956,800 Argentinians. On the other hand, 1,007,400 people immigrated to Venezuela, the second highest amount in South America after Argentina.

That year, also according to the World Bank, 19.9% of immigrants to Venezuela were refugees, and the main countries of origin were Colombia, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Peru, Ecuador, Chile, the Dominican Republic, the Syrian Arab Republic, and Cuba. Top destinations for emigrants were the United States, Spain, Colombia, Portugal, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Canada, Chile, Italy, and the United Kingdom.

Venezuelan writer Luis Britto Garica pointed out in an article yesterday that the countries where Venezuelans are emigrating to, such as the US, Spain, and Italy, all have lower economic growth rates. He said that when Venezuelans try to emigrate, they aren’t treated well and “requesting a visa for the US or Canada is to be treated as a suspect of a crime”.

According to the US Homeland Security Department, 55.26% of Venezuelan migrants there are under the age of 34.

“The majority of our emigrating youth have been educated for free by the Venezuelan state with education facilities that their children won’t find overseas. Many of the “indignant” [or occupiers] of the world are qualified people who can’t find work,” Britto Garcia said in reference to what is a global trend of professionals educated in developing countries migrating “developed” countries.

He quoted Cuban state council vice-president Carlos Lage, who said in 1999 that, “One million scientists and professionals who were educated in Latin America at a cost of some US$30 billion now live in developed countries and now we must pay to benefit from their inventions and scientific contributions”.

Attracting immigrants

Despite this, Venezuela “continues to be a pole of attraction rather one of fleeing,” Britto Garcia said.

Immigrants are attracted to Venezuela for a number of reasons including ease of migration, ease of setting up a small business, the political situation, and access to health care. Public health care in Venezuela does not discriminate according to country of origin or residency status.

Venezuela also does not deport foreigners, even if their visa has expired. It will only deport them if they are committing serious crimes in the country.

Since 2009 SAIME (Administrative Service of Identification, Migration, and Foreigners) has being carrying out an anti-corruption program to prevent police officers from extorting foreigners who live in Venezuela illegally. It has also been cutting down on bureaucracy, streamlining visa requirements and improving processing times. The residency waiting period was recently reduced from five years on a valid visa, to two.

May 22, 2012 Posted by | Deception, Economics | , , , | Comments Off on Immigration to Venezuela Double that of Emigration

Indian refiner MRPL secures Iranian insurance for oil shipment

Press TV – May 22, 2012

India’s refiner MRPL has received a crude cargo under the coverage of an Iranian insurance company to become the first Indian firm taking such an action in the face of oil embargoes against the Islamic Republic, sources say.

Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals (MRPL) “recently got a cargo insured by an Iranian firm and other cargoes can also be insured from Iran. The company will do that on a case-by-case basis,” Reuters quoted one of the sources on Monday.

The Iranian insurer provided coverage for MRPL’s crude cargo of about 707,500 barrels, which arrived at India’s Mangalore Port last week.

Another source said, “As long as we can avail of Iranian cover we will continue to import cargoes on that basis.”

India is one of the biggest customers for Iranian crude. The Asian country accounts for more than 10 percent of Iran’s annual oil exports, worth about $12 billion.

Earlier in May, Indian General Insurance Corp. (GIC) said it planned to provide third-party liability coverage up to $50 million for ships importing Iranian crude in a bid to prevent the oil embargoes from disrupting Iranian crude shipments to India.

The European Union approved new sanctions on Iran’s oil and financial sectors on January 23. The sanctions are meant to prevent member states from buying Iranian crude or doing business with its central bank. The sanctions will come into force as of July 1.

Additionally, the embargo banned European companies from transporting, purchasing or insuring crude and fuel originating in Iran and intended for anywhere in the world.

The US and the EU have imposed new financial sanctions as well as oil embargoes against Iran since the beginning of 2012, claiming that the country’s nuclear energy program includes a military component, a claim Iran has strongly rejected.

May 22, 2012 Posted by | Economics, Wars for Israel | , , , , , , | Comments Off on Indian refiner MRPL secures Iranian insurance for oil shipment

Gaza engineer still in isolation despite deal

Ma’an – 22/05/2012

RAMALLAH – A Gaza engineer kidnapped by Israel in the Ukraine last year is the last remaining prisoner held in solitary confinement, after the hunger-strike deal sought to end the practice, his lawyer said Tuesday.

Dirar Abu Sisi is still being held in an isolation cell in Ashkelon prison, while all others have been returned to normal wards, lawyer Karim Karim Ajwah said, noting his case was “kept secret in an unusual way.”

Abu Sisi disappeared in February 2011 while traveling on a train in Ukraine and Israel later announced that it was holding him in a southern Israeli jail.

A former head of the Gaza power plant, he is accused of working with Hamas to improve its rocket technologies.

Abu Sisi threatened to refuse food and water if promises to move him from solitary confinement are not fulfilled.

He asked his lawyer to contact Egypt to intervene in his case, after the country brokered a deal last Tuesday between Israeli authorities and Palestinian prisoners to end a mass hunger strike in Israeli jails.

The agreement included a commitment to move isolated prisoners to normal cells within 72 hours, according to prison representatives.

May 22, 2012 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception, Subjugation - Torture | , , , , , | Comments Off on Gaza engineer still in isolation despite deal

IAEA to pen nuclear agreement with Iran: Amano

Press TV – May 22, 2012

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief says Iran and the UN nuclear agency have made a decision to reach an agreement aimed at resolving issues related to the country’s nuclear energy program.

“A decision was made by me and [Iran’s top nuclear negotiator] Mr. [Saeed] Jalili to reach an agreement on the structured approach,” Yukiya Amano said in Vienna on Tuesday after returning from his visit to Iran.

“At this stage, I can say it will be signed quite soon, but I cannot say how soon it will be,” he added, describing the agreement as an “important development,” AFP reported.

The UN nuclear agency chief, accompanied by the IAEA Deputy Director General for Safeguards Herman Nackaerts and the agency’s Assistant Director General for Policy Rafael Mariano Grossi, arrived in Tehran on Monday for talks with senior Iranian officials.

“We had very good talks with [Yukiya] Amano today and, God willing, we will have good cooperation in the future,” Jalili said after his meeting with Amano in Tehran on Monday.

Amano’s remarks come as Iran and the P5+1 (Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States plus Germany) are preparing to resume the second round of talks in Iraqi capital, Baghdad, on May 23.

The last round of the negotiations was held in the Turkish city of Istanbul on April 14.

Both sides hailed the discussions as constructive.

May 22, 2012 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , | Comments Off on IAEA to pen nuclear agreement with Iran: Amano