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Impact of Iraq War: US weakened. EU distracted. Russia’s $18.9 bil trade surplus & troops deeper into Georgia - nations panic

Russian troops arrived in the Khurcha settlement in the breakaway region of Abkhazia in western Georgia

(quote)

Fears were raised as Russian troops opened a second front by pushing deep into the west of Georgia. Yesterday other former Soviet bloc countries warned that the Kremlin was becoming ever more aggressive and authoritarian and could try to restore control to more of its former territories.

Georgian refugee cries in Gori, about 50 miles from Tbilisi, Aug. 11, 2008

Czech Republic foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg compared Russia’s incursion into Georgia to the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 to crush the so-called Prague Spring uprising against Communist rule.

Schwarzenberg said the Czech Republic supports Georgia and added that “it is a sad coincidence” that the fighting in Georgia takes place at the moment when the country is marking the 40th anniversary of the invasion of Warsaw Pact troops in August 1968. And the presidents of Poland and three Baltic states, formerly members of the Soviet bloc, labeled Moscow’s approach “imperialist and revisionist.”  read more »

I hope our wisdom will grow with our power and teach us that the less we use our power the greater it will be - Thomas Jefferson

I hope our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us, that the less we use our power the greater it will be.

— Thomas Jefferson

Laptops detained? Electronic devices can now be "arrested" at US borders, no suspicion required

laptops entering the country can be ‘detained’ just like people can

(quote)

Federal agents may take a traveler's laptop computer or other electronic device to an off-site location for an unspecified period of time without any suspicion of wrongdoing, as part of border search policies the Department of Homeland Security recently disclosed. Also, officials may share copies of the laptop's contents with other agencies and private entities for language translation, data decryption or other reasons, according to the policies, dated July 16 and issued by two DHS agencies, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

"The policies . . . are truly alarming," said Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), who is probing the government's border search practices. He said he intends to introduce legislation soon that would require reasonable suspicion for border searches, as well as prohibit profiling on race, religion or national origin.

laptops and iPods can be indefinitely confiscated without provocation or justification  read more »

CA Governor orders pay cuts, lay-offs of state workers; Consequences, at individual level and society as a whole?

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed an order Thursday eliminating thousands of part-time state jobs; the DMV is one of several agencies expected to be affected by the cuts

(quote)

SACRAMENTO - On Thursday, July 31, California’s Republican Governor Schwarzenegger signed an executive order cutting the pay of up to 200,000 state employees to the federal minimum of $6.55/hour and firing over 10,000 part time and temporary workers until the state’s budget impasse is resolved. The order exempts public safety agencies but will have an immediate effect everywhere else: Hiring, overtime and contracting will be halted, and tens of thousands of employees will feel the squeeze. It covers 22,000 retired state employees who work under contract, temporary and part-time workers such as those who fill in at the Department of Motor Vehicles, seasonal employees and student assistants. The order affects the approximately 10,000 state employees in San Diego and Riverside counties. They work at Department of Motor Vehicles offices, highway offices, state parks and beaches, unemployment offices, fish hatcheries and agriculture inspection stations.

California State Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican  read more »

LA bans new fast-food restaurants in poor neighborhoods to battle high obesity rates

A Los Angeles McDonald's

(quote)

The Los Angeles City Council has approved a law that bans fast-food restaurants from opening in South LA. People who live in this area have the largest obesity problems. Approximately one in 3 children from South LA is obese, compared to one in five in the rest of the city. Nearly one-third of residents in the city's south are obese, compared with 19% for the overall Los Angeles area and 14% in the wealthier west side area.

The main thing responsible for this condition is poverty, as well as the fact that 73 percent of the restaurants in the southern part of the city are fast-food ones and offer meals that are high in calories and cholesterol. "There's one set of food for one part of the city, another set of food for another part of the city, and it's very stratified that way," Marqueece Harris-Dawson, a community leader in south Los Angeles, told the Washington Post this month.

City Officials Are Restricting Where Restaurants Can Locate

The new law will ban the opening of any fast-food restaurants for a year, but there is the possibility that this period will be increased to two years. According to the new law, “any establishment which dispenses food for consumption on or off the premises, and which has the following characteristics: a limited menu, items prepared in advance or prepared or heated quickly, no table orders and food served in disposable wrapping or containers" is considered to be a fast-food restaurant.  read more »

Deficit zooming to new record of half trillion for fiscal year 2009 - Impact of Iraq War

The US Government's budget deficit is tipped to soar to a record of nearly half a trillion dollars in fiscal 2009

(quote)

WASHINGTON - The White House predicted yesterday that President Bush would leave a record $482 billion deficit to his successor, a sobering turnabout in the nation's fiscal condition from 2001, when Bush took office after three consecutive years of budget surpluses.

The worst may be yet to come. The deficit announced by Jim Nussle, the White House budget director, does not reflect the full cost of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the potential $50 billion cost of another economic stimulus package, or the possibility of steeper losses in tax revenues if individual income or corporate profits decline.

The new deficit numbers also do not account for any drains on the national treasury that might result from further declines in the housing market. The White House forecast was prepared before passage of the huge housing assistance package that Bush has promised to sign. That legislation would put taxpayer money at risk in numerous ways, especially if housing prices continue to decline.

Costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have<br />
sapped the US budget  read more »

Ten years after it was introduced, France bids au revoir to the compulsory 35-hour work week as part of economic reforms

France's National Assembly and Parliament gather in Versailles, western Paris

(quote)

PARIS: Ten years after it was introduced, France has ended the compulsory 35 hour work week. Legislators in France have voted to allow companies to sidestep the 35-hour workweek by negotiating individual overtime agreements with their employees. The new legislation, which was passed by Parliament late Wednesday night and which will take effect in September, is the boldest step yet in stripping what many view as an emblematic labor law, without quite getting rid of it. While the workweek limit is as good as buried, every hour beyond 35 that is worked will be considered overtime and will therefore be more expensive.

Labour Minister Xavier Bertrand denied that people would have more working hours imposing on them and said now "everything will be negotiated company by company." Under the new legislation no one in France can work more than 48 hours in a given week, including overtime. Right now, despite the current law, many French employees work longer than 35 hours a week but accumulate time off or overtime. They actually average 41 hours, compared with 41.7 in Germany, 43.1 in Britain, 41.3 in Italy and the EU average is 41.9. In terms of paid annual leave, the French are in the mid-range in Europe with 25 days holiday as guaranteed non-working days.

France's president Nicolas Sarkozy

The new legislation opens the way for company-specific negotiated agreements between employers and labor unions about the number of hours a week and days a year an employee works. The new limits are more generous than before: For manual workers who are paid by the hour, the weekly maximum limit rises to 48 hours, in line with European Union legislation. For white-collar staff members, paid by the day, the annual maximum of days they can be asked to work will rise to 235 days from 218. Also up for negotiation is the amount of time an employee gets in compensation for the extra hours worked, as opposed to being paid for the overtime.

The new changes are likely to affect small and medium-sized businesses most. Many large companies benefited from the additional flexibility that the 35-hour week provided by allowing them to annualize work time, making staff members work more in high season and less in low season without having to pay costly overtime. Blue-collar workers have periodically complained that this practice ended up reducing their income.

Nicolas Sarkozy is pressing ahead with reforms in France-all without provoking huge strikes and street protests

But most employees, and particularly those with comfortable incomes and a preference for additional time off, have grown attached to the shorter workweek. Professionals, whose salaries are calculated on a daily basis rather than hourly, fear that they will lose a dozen extra holidays a year that they had enjoyed in compensation for working more than the legal 35 hours a week. Their dismay at the changes was on display Wednesday afternoon when hundreds protested outside the Senate building, sporting banners with slogans like "There is life after work." And the union that represents white-collar employees and management staff, CFE-CGC, published an open letter in French newspapers complaining about the changes.

The new legislation also includes rules to make labor unions more representative. Any union participating in negotiations on work time needs to have obtained at least 10 percent of the vote in company elections. But any union representing 30 percent or more of the internal vote is allowed to sign a binding agreement with management.

(unquote)

Photos courtesy of The Economist, Reuters/Charles Platiau, and AFP

Original Source: euronews and International Herald Tribune

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