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Czechs move to block US missile shield

Monday, December 15, 2008

Opposition politicians in Prague are taking legal action to prevent the US from building part of a controversial missile defence system on Czech soil. The Socialist Democrats are asking the Czech constitutional court to rule on the legality of the shield.

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Americans rich and poor pawn more to pay bills

By Sue Zeidler and Tim Gaynor
Reuters via Yahoo! News

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif./PHOENIX (Reuters) – Whether it's a Tiffany diamond or a three-year-old lawnmower, more and more Americans from all social classes are pawning their possessions to make ends meet.

Pawn shop owners see strong business across the country, even in unexpected locales like Beverly Hills, the mecca of luxury living and shopping.

"Banks aren't lending so people are coming here for short-term loans against collateral like diamonds, watches and other jewelry," said Jordan Tabach-Bank, CEO of Beverly Loan Co, self-described "pawnbroker to the stars."

"I do see my share of actors, writers, producers and directors," he said, but also cited more visits from white-collar professionals and especially business owners struggling to meet payroll obligations.

"We still do the five-, six-figure loans to Beverly Hills socialites who want to get plastic surgery, but never have we seen so many people in desperate need of funds to finance business enterprises," he added.

In the 70 years of the family business, Beverly Loan, which usually charges 4 percent monthly interest on loans, has never loaned so much as it has in the past few months, he said.

"We're a lot easier to deal with than a bank," he said from his office on the third floor of a Bank of America building near Rodeo Drive. An armed security guard watches over the reception, where case after case is filled with precious gems.

It's less glamorous at Mo Money Pawn, located in the grimy area of central Phoenix, where struggling building contractor Robert Lane waited for the shop to open its doors so he could pawn a table saw he bought for $900....(Click for remainder).

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A Global New Deal

The next New Deal won't work if it's only American. Fixing our economy will require fixing international systems.

By Harold Meyerson
The American Prospect

If you look at all of the U.S.-based operations of American International Group (AIG) -- the insurance and annuities company that our government has been compelled to take over and bail out with more than $100 billion of our money -- it's hard to see how the company got into trouble. Within the United States, AIG consisted largely of regulated insurance companies, subject to the conscientious oversight of 50 state insurance commissioners. How could such a company go wrong?

Actually, the better question is where did such a company go wrong? AIG was dragged down by its financial-products unit, which marketed the credit-default swaps on which the company could not make good when, unexpectedly, it had to pony up actual money to cover them. And that financial-products unit was headquartered not in the U.S. but in London -- the world financial center known for its aversion to regulatory controls. AIG, along with much of the American financial sector, had been favored -- and then, doomed -- by federal legislation that exempted credit-default swaps from all regulation. Still, at least on paper, there were two oversight bodies with responsibility over the activities of the London office. Because AIG owned a savings and loan association in the States, the U.S. Office of Thrift Supervision -- a notoriously lax regulator -- had oversight jurisdiction over the London office. So did the French government's banking regulator, since AIG owned a bank in France.

But the disintegration of AIG suggests that nobody really regulated its London-based financial-products unit. And the multinational mishmash of regulatory bodies that claimed jurisdiction over the London office while actually doing nothing to rein it in, not to mention the national regulatory bodies that didn't claim jurisdiction over the office (such as Britain's), suggests another culprit: the failure of nation-states to figure out who is responsible for overseeing the activities of banks and corporations whose offices are spread across the planet. To put it more succinctly, the failure of nation-states to figure out who the hell is supposed to regulate global capitalism.

Barack Obama may well seek a new New Deal to right a profoundly dysfunctional American economy. But he faces one constraint that Franklin Roosevelt didn't have to confront in the 1930s: The economy that Roosevelt saved was fundamentally a national economy that could be altered by national policies. The economy that Obama must fix, by contrast, has national dimensions that can be altered by national policies, but in matters ranging from corporate conduct to consumer safety to Americans' incomes, not to mention global warming, purely national solutions no longer suffice. To fix America today requires fixing global systems. The next New Deal won't work if it's only American....(Click for remainder).

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Air Force Flunks Another Nuke Inspection?

By Noah Shachtman
The Danger Room @ Wired.com

This isn't completely confirmed, yet. So take it with all the usual caveats. But we're hearing that a third Air Force nuclear team has flunked a critical test.

The 90th Missile Wing, operating out of F.E. Warren Air Force Base, is still in the midst of its "nuclear surety inspection," or NSI. But already, the wing has failed the test of its readiness to handle atomic arms, a source close to the test tells Danger Room. A second source -- a well-placed observer of the Air Force's nuclear program -- concurs. Problems with the "personal reliability program," which ensures that only the most highly-qualified, highly-trained individuals are working anywhere near a nuclear arsenal, doomed the wing's chances. Representatives from the 90th Missile Wing and from Air Force Space Command were not available for comment.

If confirmed, this would be the third Air Force nuclear unit to fail an inspection this year. In May, the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot Air Force Base flunked its test, when security personnel couldn't be bothered to stop playing videogames on their cellphones. Six months later, Malmstrom Air Force Base's the 341st Missile Wing, had problems with its weapons storage area and its personnel reliability program, which prevented the unit from passing its exam. A testing team returns in about two months, to take a fresh look at the missileers....(Click for remainder).

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