Santa’s real workshop: the town in China that makes the world’s Christmas decorations

Oliver Wainwright reports for The Guardian:

A Christmas corridor in District Two of Yiwu International Trade Market.‘There’s red on the ceiling and red on the floor, red dripping from the window sills and red globules splattered across the walls. It looks like the artist Anish Kapoor has been let loose with his wax cannon again. But this, in fact, is what the making of Christmas looks like; this is the very heart of the real Santa’s workshop – thousands of miles from the North Pole, in the Chinese city of Yiwu.

Our yuletide myth-making might like to imagine that Christmas is made by rosy-cheeked elves hammering away in a snow-bound log cabin somewhere in the Arctic Circle. But it’s not. The likelihood is that most of those baubles, tinsel and flashing LED lights you’ve draped liberally around your house came from Yiwu, 300km south of Shanghai – where there’s not a (real) pine tree nor (natural) snowflake in sight.

Christened “China’s Christmas village”, Yiwu is home to 600 factories that collectively churn out over 60% of all the world’s Christmas decorations and accessories, from glowing fibre-optic trees to felt Santa hats. The “elves” that staff these factories are mainly migrant labourers, working 12 hours a day for a maximum of £200 to £300 a month – and it turns out they’re not entirely sure what Christmas is.’

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Albums of the Year 2014

Honourable Mentions

  • Cymbals Eat Guitars – Lose
  • Fear of Men – Loom
  • Hookworms – The Hum
  • isvisible – xx
  • Loscil – Sea Island
  • Manic Street Preachers – Futurology
  • Morgan Dealt – Morgan Dealt
  • Pallbearer – Foundations of Burden
  • Quilt – Held In Splendor
  • Tape – Casino
  • The War On Drugs – Lost In The Dream
  • Thee Oh Sees – Drop
  • Wild Beasts – Present Tense

Asia’s military budgets surge as armies go high-tech

Hamish McDonald reports for Asian Review:

‘[…] With their economies moving into the so-called middle-income bracket — higher in the case of fully developed Singapore — governments have more to spend on advanced military platforms and weapons. Southeast Asia’s defense spending grew by 5% on the year to nearly $36 billion in 2013, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, just ahead of the 4.7% increase for East Asia to $282 billion.

Meanwhile, established defense manufacturers in Europe, Russia and North America are eager to sell, with lavish export credits being made available to sweeten deals. Closer to the region, Japan and South Korea, the industrial giants of East Asia, are also entering the arms bazaar.

China’s growing assertiveness in claiming the South China Sea as sovereign territory — against counterclaims from five Southeast Asian countries — has brought encouragement from the U.S., Japan, India and Australia, and help in enhancing the capabilities of regional armed forces and coast guards.

Consequently, the region is seeing large-scale acquisitions of equipment aimed at establishing the ability to contest control and make potential rivals think twice about intruding.’

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Syria’s ancient sites were already damaged by war. Now they’re being looted.

Hugh Naylor reports for The Washington Post:

‘Syria’s vast archaeological sites have suffered extensive damage because of bombing by government warplanes and the demolition of religious shrines by Islamic State militants. But there is an increasing, perhaps more menacing problem: old-fashioned plunder.

A new report has found evidence of “widespread looting” at locations that Syria has nominated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Under threat are the remains of a Mesopotamian trading post and a 4,500-year-old city that housed thousands of cuneiform tablets, as well as an ancient town with a chapel known for containing the world’s oldest depictions of Jesus, according to the report, released this past week by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.’

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Interview with Reese Erlich on Western intervention in Syria

Reese Erlich, award-winning author and journalist, talks to Going Underground host Afshin Rattansi about Syria. He believes that the original groups involved in the uprising against Assad had a lot of popular support, and when it turned to violence, Britain, America and Saudi Arabia ‘got involved in arming groups.’ For a long time Britain and Israel saw Assad as stable, and ‘were reluctant to see him go,’ but as the uprising continued, they decided to call for his overthrow. He thinks US and Britain ‘exaggerated’ claims of a chemical weapons attack in order to justify intervention, and in his book he points out that it is perfectly possibly that rebels used some chemical weapons, including sarin, in March, but it is still unclear who was responsible for the big attack in August.’ (Going Underground)

John Perkins on Embracing Cuba, TPP Kiss of Death & Restoring the Life Economy

Abby Martin interviews Author and Activist, John Perkins, discussing the economic impact of the US’ new policy towards Cuba as well as the damage that international free trade agreements do to third world economies.’ (Breaking the Set)

New York Police Union Head Blames Mayor, Protesters For Officers’ Deaths

Cops scan social media to help assess your ‘threat rating’

Brent Skorup reports for Reuters:

minority-report1‘A national spotlight is now focused on aggressive law enforcement tactics and the justice system. Today’s professional police forces — where officers in even one-stoplight towns might have body armor and mine-resistant vehicles — already raise concerns.

Yet new data-mining technologies can now provide police with vast amounts of surveillance information and could radically increase police power. Policing can be increasingly targeted at specific people and neighborhoods — with potentially serious inequitable effects.

One speaker at a recent national law enforcement conference compared future police work to Minority Report, the Tom Cruise film set in 2054 Washington, where a “PreCrime” unit has been set up to stop murders before they happen.

While PreCrime remains science-fiction, many technology advances are already involved with predictive policing — identifying risks and threats with the help of online information, powerful computers and Big Data.’

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U.S. State Deptartment Delays Release of Study on 1953 Iran Coup

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

In 1953, the CIA orchestrated a coup d’etat against the democratically elected government of Iranian Premier Mohammad Mossadegh, installing Shah Reza Pahlavi.

It’s no secret that the CIA did it, and the US has admitted it time and again, but the State Department has announced it is once again delaying the release of its study on the coup, claiming the admission would undermine “ongoing negotiations with Iran.”’

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TTIP by end of 2015, EU leaders pledge

Benjamin Fox reports for EU Observer:

‘EU leaders have given negotiators until the end of 2015 to conclude talks on a trade deal with the United States following the final summit of 2014 in Brussels.

Wrapping up on Thursday night (18 December), leaders in a joint communique said “the EU and the US should make all efforts to conclude negotiations on an ambitious, comprehensive and mutually beneficial TTIP by the end of 2015”.

“The aim is still 2015”, commission president Jean-Claude Juncker told reporters at the post-summit press conference.

EU and US trade officials will gather in Washington in February for the next round of talks, on a deal which the European Commission estimates could be worth as much as €100 billion extra to the EU’s GDP.

Talks on the transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP) have progressed in most areas, with both sides tabling offers to remove almost all remaining tariff barriers and proposing to harmonise standards.

But the anti-TTIP campaign has gained popular strength over the course of 2014.’

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Poll: Most Catalans would vote to stay in Spain

Reuters reports:

‘A majority of people in Catalonia would vote to stay part of Spain, a poll by the regional government showed on Friday, the first in years to show a majority against independence.

The margin was very slim, with 45.3 percent saying they would vote “no” to an independent state of Catalonia, and 44.5 percent “yes”. It is the first time the “no” vote has taken the lead since Catalan head Artur Mas began his drive for secession in 2012.

Catalans cast ballots on Nov. 9 in a symbolic vote on independence after Madrid blocked a formal referendum in the courts on the grounds it was against Spain’s constitution.

Some 80 percent of just over 2 million people who voted backed secession, but the turnout was less than half.’

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Bilderberg and the Global Financial Mafia

Andrew Gavin Marshall writes in part four of his series examining the Bilderberg Group:

‘In the previous Bilderberg article, I wrote that financial markets were “a type of global parasite with unprecedented power capable of determining the fate of nations and peoples.” In truth, the “super-entity” known as financial market power functions like a cartel, or an organized criminal network: a Mafia. This installment examines some of the members of the global financial mafia who are present at Bilderberg meetings and thus are given unparalleled access to political leaders behind closed doors.

At Bilderberg meetings, participants frequently include leading officials and advisers to banks like JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Barclays, Deutsche Bank, HSBC and AXA, among others. The participation of leaders and advisers to these and other large financial institutions provides world leaders with direct, “private” access to some of the leading voices at the core of global financial markets. The interests and actions of financial markets can thus be articulated to the leaders of powerful political, media, military, intelligence and technocratic institutions. The “invisible hand” may voice where and when it might smack.

Through Bilderberg, leaders in financial markets are given an inside look at, and access to, those who shape and wield foreign and economic policy in the world’s most powerful nations. Their interests become a part of that process, just as geopolitical interests are integrated into the actions of financial markets. While financial markets command no armies, they determine the flow and functions of money upon which all armies are dependent, and to which nations are obedient. Bilderberg brings these institutions and individuals together for an off-the-record, private chat about global affairs and policy.’

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Sony Emails Say State Department Blessed Kim Jong-Un Assassination in ‘The Interview’

William Boot reports for The Daily Beast:

141128-holiday-movies-19‘The Daily Beast has unearthed several emails that reveal at least two U.S. government officials screened a rough cut of the Kim Jong-Un assassination comedy The Interview in late June and gave the film—including a final scene that sees the dictator’s head explode—their blessing.

The claim that the State Department played an active role in the decision to include the film’s gruesome death scene is likely to cause fury in Pyongyang. Emails between the Sony Entertainment CEO and a security consultant even appear to suggest the U.S. government may support the notion that The Interview would be useful propaganda against the North Korean regime.

[…] A series of leaked emails reveal that Sony enlisted the services of Bruce Bennett, a senior defense analyst at the RAND Corporation who specializes in North Korea, to consult with them on The Interview. After he saw the film, including the gruesome ending where a giant missile hits Kim Jong-Un’s helicopter in slow-mo as Katy Perry’s “Firework” plays, and Kim’s head catches on fire and explodes, Bennett gave his assessment of it in a June 25 email to Lynton, just five days after North Korea’s initial threat.

“The North has never executed an artillery attack against the balloon launching areas. So it is very hard to tell what is pure bluster from North Korea, since they use the term ‘act of war’ so commonly,” wrote Bennett. “I also thought a bunch more about the ending. I have to admit that the only resolution I can see to the North Korean nuclear and other threats is for the North Korean regime to eventually go away.”

He added, “In fact, when I have briefed my book on ‘preparing for the possibility of a North Korean collapse’ [Sept 2013], I have been clear that the assassination of Kim Jong-Un is the most likely path to a collapse of the North Korean government. Thus while toning down the ending may reduce the North Korean response, I believe that a story that talks about the removal of the Kim family regime and the creation of a new government by the North Korean people (well, at least the elites) will start some real thinking in South Korea and, I believe, in the North once the DVD leaks into the North (which it almost certainly will). So from a personal perspective, I would personally prefer to leave the ending alone.”

That same day, Lynton responded saying that a U.S. government official completely backed Bennett’s assessment of the film.’

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The Evidence That North Korea Hacked Sony Is Flimsy

Kim Zetter writes for Wired:

A poster for the movie "The Interview" is taken down by a worker after being pulled from a display case at a Carmike Cinemas movie theater, Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014, in Atlanta. Georgia-based Carmike Cinemas has decided to cancel its planned showings of "The Interview" in the wake of threats against theatergoers by the Sony hackers. ‘Today [17 December] Sony canceled the premiere of “The Interview” and its entire Christmas-Day release of the movie because of fears that terrorists might attack theaters showing the film.

The actions show just how much power the attackers behind the Sony hack have amassed in a short time. But who exactly are they?

The New York Times reported this evening that North Korea is “centrally involved” in the hack, citing unnamed U.S. intelligence officials. It’s unclear from the Times report what “centrally involved” means and whether the intelligence officials are saying the hackers were state-sponsored or actually agents of the state. The Times also notes that “It is not clear how the United States came to its determination that the North Korean regime played a central role in the Sony attacks.” The public evidence pointing at the Hermit Kingdom is flimsy.

Other theories of attribution focus on hacktivists—motivated by ideology, politics or something else—or disgruntled insiders who stole the data on their own or assisted outsiders in gaining access to it. Recently, the finger has pointed at China.

In the service of unraveling the attribution mess, we examined the known evidence for and against North Korea.’

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Obama Promises To Retaliate Against North Korea For Hack Attack

20 people heard him say ‘I can’t breathe’ – Is Jimmy Mubenga UK’s Eric Garner?

Pope Francis’s China Problem

Jonathan Mirky writes the New York Review of Books:

‘[…] The Dalai Lama has a long history of meeting with the head of the Catholic Church. He met with John Paul II on a number of different occasions and with Benedict XVI once, in a private meeting in 2006. But this time, the Vatican explained, there could be no such encounter because of the “delicate situation,” and because, the Dalai Lama was told, “it could cause problems.” It was plain that the statement referred to relations between the Holy See and Beijing. A spokesman for the Dalai Lama said he was “disappointed at not being able to call on His Holiness the Pope but he does not want to cause any inconvenience.”

Over the last few years, a growing number of world leaders, under pressure from China, have spurned or downgraded meetings with the Dalai Lama.’

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Qatar World Cup 2022: Construction firms accused amid building boom

Swiss Lawmakers Tighten Financial Checks on FIFA, IOC

Sputnik News reports:

‘Swiss lawmakers passed a bill on Friday [12th December] which increases financial scrutiny of the more than 60 international sports bodies based in Switzerland, including FIFA and the International Olympic Committee, Agence France-Presse reports.

The new law has classified the heads of sports organizations as “politically exposed persons”, making it easier to file a legal case against them in the event that they are suspected of corruption or money laundering. The law also includes closer monitoring of “any strange movement” in bank accounts and financial assets held in Switzerland by the sports organizations.

The bill is part of a broad series of measures aimed at tightening control over the financial activities of sporting bodies after years of corruption allegations, TheLocal.ch explained. The bill was drafted based on the recommendations of the intergovernmental Financial Action Task Force.

Having passed 128-62 in the lower chamber of Switzerland’s parliament, the bill is now set to go to the Swiss government to be put on the statute books.’

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FIFA to publish ‘appropriate’ version of Michael Garcia’s World Cup report

Owen Gibson reports for The Guardian:

Michael GarciaFifa’s executive committee has unanimously agreed to publish Michael Garcia’s investigation into the controversial bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, but only in an “appropriate form” and not until ongoing investigations against individuals have been resolved.

However, Fifa president Sepp Blatter also immediately slammed the door permanently on any question of a revote for the controversial 2018 tournament in Russia or the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

“We will not revisit the 2018 and 2022 vote and a report by independent, external legal experts supports the view that there are no legal grounds to revoke the executive committee’s decision on the award of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups,” he said following a meeting of the Fifa executive committee in Marrakech.

Around half the 22 voting members of the Fifa executive committee who voted in December 2010 have since left the organisation, many with a cloud of corruption allegations trailing in their wake.

Blatter said work was already underway on drawing up a new framework for World Cup bidding process.’

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Jeb Bush v. Hillary Clinton: the Perfectly Illustrative Election

Glenn Greenwald writes for The Intercept:

‘Jeb Bush yesterday strongly suggested he was running for President in 2016. If he wins the GOP nomination, it is highly likely that his opponent for the presidency would be Hillary Clinton.

Having someone who is the brother of one former president and the son of another run against the wife of still another former president would be sweetly illustrative of all sorts of degraded and illusory aspects of American life, from meritocracy to class mobility. That one of those two families exploited its vast wealth to obtain political power, while the other exploited its political power to obtain vast wealth, makes it more illustrative still: of the virtually complete merger between political and economic power, of the fundamentally oligarchical framework that drives American political life.

Then there are their similar constituencies: what Politico termed “money men” instantly celebrated Jeb Bush’s likely candidacy, while the same publication noted just last month how Wall Street has long been unable to contain its collective glee over a likely Hillary Clinton presidency. The two ruling families have, unsurprisingly, developed a movingly warm relationship befitting their position: the matriarch of the Bush family (former First Lady Barbara) has described the Clinton patriarch (former President Bill) as a virtual family member, noting that her son, George W., affectionately calls his predecessor “my brother by another mother.”

If this happens, the 2016 election would vividly underscore how the American political class functions: by dynasty, plutocracy, fundamental alignment of interests masquerading as deep ideological divisions, and political power translating into vast private wealth and back again. The educative value would be undeniable: somewhat like how the torture report did, it would rub everyone’s noses in exactly those truths they are most eager to avoid acknowledging.

READ MORE FROM THE INTERCEPT…

The CIA Didn’t Just Torture, It Experimented on Human Beings

Lisa Hajjar reports for The Nation:

‘[…] The “war on terror” is not the CIA’s first venture into human experimentation. At the dawn of the Cold War, German scientists and doctors with Nazi records of human experimentation were given new identities and brought to the United States under Operation Paperclip. During the Korean War, alarmed by the shocking rapidity of American POWs’ breakdowns and indoctrination by their communist captors, the CIA began investing in mind-control research. In 1953, the CIA established the MK-ULTRA program, whose earliest phase involved hypnosis, electroshock and hallucinogenic drugs. The program evolved into experiments in psychological torture that adapted elements of Soviet and Chinese models, including longtime standing, protracted isolation, sleep deprivation and humiliation. Those lessons soon became an applied “science” in the Cold War.

During the Vietnam War, the CIA developed the Phoenix program, which combined psychological torture with brutal interrogations, human experimentation and extrajudicial executions. In 1963, the CIA produced a manual titled “Kubark Counterintelligence Interrogation” to guide agents in the art of extracting information from “resistant” sources by combining techniques to produce “debility, disorientation and dread.” Like the communists, the CIA largely eschewed tactics that violently target the body in favor of those that target the mind by systematically attacking all human senses in order to produce the desired state of compliance. The Phoenix program model was incorporated into the curriculum of the School of the Americas, and an updated version of the Kubark guide, produced in 1983 and titled “Human Resource Exploitation Manual,” was disseminated to the intelligence services of right-wing regimes in Latin America and Southeast Asia during the global “war on communism.”

In the mid-1980s, CIA practices became the subject of congressional investigations into US-supported atrocities in Central America. Both manuals became public in 1997 as a result of Freedom of Information Act litigation by The Baltimore Sun. That would have seemed like a “never again” moment.

But here we are again.’

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Leaked Internal CIA Document Admits US Drone Program “Counterproductive”

Jon Queally reports for Common Dreams:

‘Wikileaks on Thursday has made public a never-before-seen internal review conducted by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency that looked at the agency’s drone and targeted assassination programs in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and elsewhere.

The agency’s own analysis, conducted in 2009, found that its clandestine drone and assassination program was likely to produce counterproductive outcomes, including strengthening the very “extremist groups” it was allegedly designed to destroy.’

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Bill Hicks: “Anyone dumb enough to want to be in the military should be allowed in”

Posted in response to discussions regarding this: Women Fighting On The Front Line Is A ‘Politically Correct’ Mistake… Says Female Officer

White House Brags Sanctions Put Russia On ‘Brink of Collapse’

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

Confirming that they intend to impose a new round of sanctions on Russia, White House officials are seeking to claim “credit” for Russia’s recent economic woes, bragging that they have put Russia on the brink of an economic collapse.

Russia’s current economic problems center around weakness in the ruble. Russia’s central bank raised interest rates yesterday to try to stave off further inflation, but the weakness continued in today’s trading.

Wilson Center scholar Matthew Rojansky defended the sanctions, saying the logic behind them is to damage the Russian economy so much that it “starts hurting the Russian public’s ability to buy food or heat homes,” forcing Putin to act in the face of the crisis.

Russia’s economy is far from pushing the average citizen to the brink of starvation, however, though a new round of sanctions at this point makes it clear that is indeed the US goal.’

Putin Accuses West Of Trying To Sideline Russia

Hollwood Style Promo Released For Putin Speech

Putin Likens Crimea Takeover To A Bear Guarding Its Territory

China’s building a new Silk Road to Europe, and it’s leaving America behind

Pepe Escobar writes for Tom Dispatch:

‘[…] The Yiwu-Madrid route across Eurasia represents the beginning of a set of game-changing developments. It will be an efficient logistics channel of incredible length. It will represent geopolitics with a human touch, knitting together small traders and huge markets across a vast landmass. It’s already a graphic example of Eurasian integration on the go. And most of all, it’s the first building block on China’s “New Silk Road,” conceivably the project of the new century and undoubtedly the greatest trade story in the world for the next decade.

Go west, young Han. One day, if everything happens according to plan (and according to the dreams of China’s leaders), all this will be yours—via high-speed rail, no less. The trip from China to Europe will be a two-day affair, not the 21 days of the present moment. In fact, as that freight train left Yiwu, the D8602 bullet train was leaving Urumqi in Xinjiang Province, heading for Hami in China’s far west. That’s the first high-speed railway built in Xinjiang, and more like it will be coming soon across China at what is likely to prove dizzying speed.

Today, 90% of the global container trade still travels by ocean, and that’s what Beijing plans to change. Its embryonic, still relatively slow New Silk Road represents its first breakthrough in what is bound to be an overland trans-continental container trade revolution.

And with it will go a basket of future “win-win” deals, including lower transportation costs, the expansion of Chinese construction companies ever further into the Central Asian “stans,” as well as into Europe, an easier and faster way to move uranium and rare metals from Central Asia elsewhere, and the opening of myriad new markets harboring hundreds of millions of people.

So if Washington is intent on “pivoting to Asia,” China has its own plan in mind. Think of it as a pirouette to Europe across Eurasia.’

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The Bilderberg Group and Its Link to World Financial Markets

Andrew Gavin Marshall writes:

This article looks at the published lists of participants attending recent Bilderberg meetings, specifically ones that took place between 2008 and 2014. From these lists, we’re better able to understand the relevance of Bilderberg meetings to specific institutions, ideologies and powerful sectors of society connected with global economic governance. As such, the following articles in this series examine financial markets, banks, technocracy, finance ministries, central banks, the IMF and the European Union.

When discussing the Bilderberg group, its meetings and their impacts, there is one major problem: the meetings are held in secret. When 130 of the world’s most influential individuals and institutions get together behind closed doors for a “private chat,” the public is left unaware of what was said, debated, agreed or decided. The official website for Bilderberg publishes recent lists of attendees as well as a press release of the “topics” due to be discussed.

With no details added, the list for the 2014 meeting’s topics included, “Is the economic recovery sustainable?”, “What next for Europe?”, “China’s political and economic outlook,” and “Current Events.” This is essentially all we have to go on in our efforts to discern what was debated and discussed behind the scenes.

So, instead of engaging in speculation about what was or was not discussed at Bilderberg meetings, let’s instead look at the individuals and institutions that are frequently represented there. What role do those groups play in society? What is their history and evolution as institutions and individuals? What ideologies do they embrace and propagate? Seeking the answers to these questions raises further inquiries: what do these individuals, institutions and ideologies tell us about our society? What do they tell us about power and how it is organized, exercised and expanded?’

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