Thursday, July 31, 2014

Haiti: Update--US Citizen of Haitian Descent Shot, Killed by Gunmen After Arriving in the Capital

According to The Associated Press,  a US citizen of Haitian descent was killed last week by armed robbers shortly after arriving in her impoverished Caribbean homeland to visit relatives, friends and officials said Thursday (July 31).

The US State Department on Thursday identified the victim as Myriam Saint Germain. The US Embassy in Port-au-Prince said it was touch with the dead woman's relatives.

Saint Germain lived in Boston, and had worked as a health assistant at Harvard University the last five years. She had two children.

COMMENT: Ms. Saint Germain was apparently killed by gunmen last Friday (July 25), not long after arriving at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince. Friends say she was heading to the town of Les Cayes to visit family.

Last month, the US Embassy noted an increase in the number of travelers who had been robbed shortly after departing the Port-au-Prince airport.

In a June 18 security message to American citizens, the US Embassy said most victims reported that they were "followed by armed individuals on motorcycles shortly after leaving the airport and robbed of cash and other valuables."

Family friend Jacques Jean, president of a Massachusetts learning center where she volunteered her time and money, described Saint Germain as a "very wonderful person."

Colombia: Update--Fugitive Assassin Who Executed Israeli Executive, Reporter Arrested in Meta

According to The Latin American Tribune, a retired army officer accused of being one of the people involved in the 1999 murder of popular journalist and political humorist Jaime Garzon was captured Thursday (July 31) after a decade on the run, the Colombian Attorney General’s Office said.

Jorge Eliecer Plazas Acevedo was arrested in San Martín, a town in the central province of Meta, Deputy Attorney General Jorge Perdomo told reporters.

Plazas became a fugitive from justice after escaping in 2003 while serving a 40-year sentence for the murder of Israeli businessman Benjamin Khoudari.

COMMENT: Perdomo said that Plazas’ capture came after a joint operation with the National Police and after a year of investigation that eventually enabled authorities to locate him via intercepted telephone calls.

Garzon, an attorney and peace activist known for his well-choreographed impersonations of political figures, was fatally shot on August 13, 1999, in Bogotá while on his way to work at now-defunct broadcaster RadioNet.

At the time of the murder, Plazas was working as the head of intelligence for the army’s 13th Brigade, according to the AG’s office.

Puerto Rico: NY Fed Warns Commonwealth of $73 Billion in Public Debt

According to The Associated Press, New York's Federal Reserve Bank warned on Thursday (July 31) that Puerto Rico needs to improve its financial health soon or face a "painful adjustment."

The report came as the island's power company once again reached an agreement with lenders to extend a deadline to make payments on $671 million it owes to banks.

The 30-page report makes several recommendations that the New York Fed believes are needed to help push the Commonwealth out of a nearly decade-long economic slump.

"The island appears to face two alternatives: either manage its own economic adjustment and put the Commonwealth on a secure fiscal basis, or wait for out-migration and the discipline of the market to force an even more painful adjustment, particularly for those unable or unwilling to leave the island," it said.

William Dudley, president of the New York Fed, questioned whether Puerto Rico's level of debt can be sustained and said the government's challenge will be to revive the economy without accumulating more debt. The island is struggling with nearly $73 billion in public debt after having sold a record $3.5 billion in general obligation bonds in March 2014, despite having its credit rating downgraded to junk status. 

COMMENT: It should be noted that in President Obama's 2016 federal budget the link below reveals that the President conveniently authorized $2.5 million to conduct an empirical study to determine how many Puerto Ricans are in favor of US statehood:

Considering that 75% of Puerto Ricans voted for President Obama in the 2012 election, it stands to reason that the same 75% would predictably vote Democratic in the 2016 presidential bid, providing the Democrats a comfortable edge.

Needless to say, $2.5 million would reduce the Commonwealth's liabilities very nicely, rather than pulling a "fast one" on the Republicans.

Additionally, Puerto Rico has not only the highest unemployment rate in the US (15%), but also has highest homicide rate in the country, second only to Chicago.

After a brief "bump" in 2012, Puerto Rico's economy has stagnated since 2013, the report said. It said the island of 3.65 million people has a 45% labor force participation rate and has seen a significant drop in population. 

Puerto Rico also struggles with a largely uneducated working-age population, although the number of people with a college degree increased from about 25% to nearly 28% between 2010 and 2012.

Analysts recommended Puerto Rico shrink its underground economy, broaden its tax base and reduce rates, and strengthen and possibly privatize some public corporations, which account for nearly 40% of the island's debt. They said the government also should approve legislation requiring the creation of a long-term budget as well as providing greater transparency in its financial reporting.

"Puerto Rico's unique status means that it is one of the few places in the world where finances are not regularly surveyed by a public agency," the report said.

The administration of Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla has taken numerous steps to help boost the economy, including implementing changes in public pension plans, streamlining its business registration and permitting process and cutting of expenditures. Garcia also appointed an advisory group for tax reform that is expected to release a report by year's end with plans to implement it by fiscal year 2016.

The agency was supposed to make payments Thursday on credit lines held with Citibank and Scotiabank, but lenders agreed to extend the deadline to August 14 as officials continue to meet with US investors.

Also on Thursday, Puerto Rico's representative in the US Congress, Pedro Pierluisi, filed a measure that would allow the island's public corporations to seek federal bankruptcy protection under Chapter 9. 

Currently, US municipalities are able to file under Chapter 9, but Puerto Rico is barred from doing so.

Global Impact: PEMEX Forms Alliance with Switzerland's Mecuria, JP Morgan to Import Nat'l Gas from US

According to The Latin American Tribune, state-owned oil giant Petroleos Mexicanos (PEMEX) said it has  formed a “strategic alliance” with Switzerland’s Mercuria and US-based JP Morgan Chase & Co. to import natural gas from the United States.

“The strategy will be established by leveraging JP Morgan’s North American physical natural gas business, which is being acquired by Mercuria,” PEMEX said in a statement.

JP Morgan Chase & Co. said in March 2014 that it planned to sell its physical commodities business to Mercuria Energy Group Ltd. for $3.5 billion, with the deal expected to close in the third quarter of 2014.

The partners expect to start operations in the fourth quarter of this year, with commencement of gas imports timed to begin with the opening of the Los Ramones pipeline, which crosses five Mexican states, Pemex announced.

COMMENT: The state-owned oil giant said the alliance would “guarantee a reliable long-term supply of natural gas for Mexico at competitive prices” and strengthen its position in the regional natural gas markets.

The deal also establishes a combined foundation for making inroads into other energy products and regions, PEMEX said.

The alliance will become one of the five leading players in the North American natural gas market, “positioning itself strategically and maintaining an integrated vision for the gas markets in México, the United States and Canada,” PEMEX said.

México imports roughly one-third of the natural gas it consumes despite having huge reserves of the clean-burning fuel.

The 2013 energy industry reforms, whose implementing legislation is being debated in Congress and calls for natural gas production to rise from 5.7 billion cubic meters per day today to 8 billion cubic meters per day by 2018.

Production is projected to soar to 10.4 billion cubic meters per day in 2025, allowing México to become a major gas exporter.

Argentina: Update--Russ Dallen's Excellent Analysis on Buenos Aires' Addiction to Debt

Global Impact: Update--Non-Essential Travel Warning Issued for Guiena, Liberia, Sierra Leone

According to Reuters, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday (July 31) issued a travel advisory against non-essential travel to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone to curb the spread of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa that has claimed more than 700 lives.

CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden said his agency will send an additional 50 disease experts to assist with efforts to contain the highly deadly virus, in what he called "the largest, most complex outbreak that we know of in history."

Sierra Leone has declared a state of emergency and called in troops to quarantine Ebola victims, joining neighboring Liberia in imposing controls, as the death toll from the outbreak of the virus in West Africa hit 729.

In a conference call with reporters, Frieden said the US is joining the World Health Organization (WHO) and others in escalating efforts to fight Ebola. He estimated that it could take at least three to six months to get the outbreak under control.

The advisory against non-essential travel to the three affected countries aims to prevent visitors from being exposed to Ebola in local health facilities should they need medical attention for other ailments, Dr. Frieden said.

COMMENT: Earlier on Thursday, WHO said it was launching a $100 million response plan to combat Ebola in West Africa, but is not recommending travel restrictions or border closures due, saying there would be a low risk to other passengers if an infected person flew.

CDC is also helping with screening and education efforts in West Africa to prevent sick travelers from getting on planes.

If they do, Frieden said the agency has protocols in place to protect against further spread of disease, including notification to CDC of ill passengers on a plane before arrival, investigation of ill travelers, and, if necessary, quarantine.

Ebola poses "little risk to the US population," Frieden said on the call.

Earlier this week, CDC issued a health alert notice, reminding US healthcare workers of the importance of taking steps to prevent the spread of the virus, how to test and isolate suspected patients and how they can protect themselves from infection.

There are no vaccines or effective treatments for Ebola, Frieden noted, adding that containing the outbreak will require the "meticulous work" of quarantining the sick and those who have been in contact with them.

Croatia/UK: Update--Fatality Collision for British Family of Five with Truck in Dubrovnik

According to the UK-based The Daily Mail, a British father and two of the couple's children were killed earlier today (July 31) in a head-on collision with a truck while the mother and a third child sustained critical injuries near the village of Slano in southern Croatia.

The driver of the car, a Briton, 37, was killed, along with the two youngsters in the incident in Slano, near Dubrovnik at 0750 hours. 

The man's wife, aged 44, and her eight-year-old son are currently in an intensive care ward at the City Hospital in Dubrovnik.

According to initial reports, the BMW 3 Series driven by the father hit a concrete verge at the side of the road and bounced into the path of a large road maintenance truck approaching from the opposite  direction.

COMMENT: The mother and son surviving the collision were critically injured and are both fighting for their lives. 

Our prayers and condolences go out to the entire family as well as the driver of the truck, who was also injured.

The crash happened on the Adriatic coast road on the way to Dubrovnik; the family was traveling in a BMW 3 series with British number plates, indicating that they had driven to the region from the UK.

There has been a steady increase in British tourists heading to Croatia in recent years and UK government figures estimate that around 400,000 British nationals currently visit the country every year.

According to figures released by the Croatian National Tourist Office, more than 300,000 Brits holidayed in Croatia between January-August 2013, a boost of 24% on the same period in 2012.

The boom is partly thanks to an increase in flight availability from the UK to Croatia since 2012, with further plans for development in the near future. The European Investment Bank has approved a €120 million (£95 million) loan for the expansion of the Zagreb Airport, a key link with the rest of Europe.

The driver of the Croatian truck was also injured and transported to the hospital in Dubrovnik.

The roadway, which is a key route for tourists heading to holidays along the in the Croatian coastline, remains closed  and the queue of cars caused by the accident was 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) in both directions.

This report will be updated as new information is received.

EU, US, Russia: Update--The Jury is Still Out on Whether the US, EU Can Outlast Putin

According to Reuters, the European Union (EU) has published a law that will curb arms sales to Russia and to cut off financing for five major Russian banks over Moscow's support for rebels in Ukraine. 

Russia has denounced the measures, agreed by the 28 EU member states on Tuesday (July 30), as "destructive and short-sighted," while fighting has intensified in eastern Ukraine between Kiev forces and the pro-Russian separatists.

The toughest measures aim to prevent Russian banks from raising money on Western capital markets, while others limit defense sales and the export of hi-tech equipment for the oil sector.

Published on Thursday (July 31) in the Official Journal of the European Union, the law takes effect from Friday, August 1.

Marking a fundamental shift in how Europe deals with Russia, the sanctions will mean EU nationals and companies can no longer buy or sell new bonds, equity or other financial instruments with a maturity of more than 90 days issued by major state-owned Russian banks or those acting on their behalf.

The law targets five banks: Sberbank, VTB Bank, Gazprombank, Vnesheconombank (VEB) and Russian Agriculture Bank (Rosselkhozbank).

In addition, there is a ban on any future imports and exports of arms from Russia, and authorization will be required for member states that want to export energy-related equipment.

Export licenses will be denied if products are destined for deep-water oil exploration and production, Arctic oil exploration or production and shale oil projects in Russia.

Europe, which has deep trade links with Russia, was far more reluctant to act than the United States over Moscow's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in March and its support for the rebels. 

COMMENT: My personal sense is that the EU, given its having even a more fragile economy than the US, may or may not be able to hold the 28 members together in the long-term as in my view the economic sanctions are not vigorous enough to dissuade Vladimir Putin himself from long-term pain. It is my hope that I'm wrong.

The mood shifted radically after the downing over eastern Ukraine of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 on July 17. Western countries say a Russian-supplied missile fired from rebel-held territory caused the disaster. Moscow blames the Ukrainian military for the crash, in which 298 people were killed.

The above being said, the downing of MH17 really hurt The Netherlands where roughly 50% of the fatalities were Dutch nationals. 

A ban on hi-tech energy equipment applies to the oil industry only, not gas, although the targeted banks include Gazprombank, which is 36% owned by Russian gas giant Gazprom.

The restriction on sales of defense equipment is limited to future orders. That means France will be allowed to go ahead with delivery of a naval helicopter carrier it has already sold to Russia, despite condemnation in many EU nations.

Russia is the world's biggest exporter of natural gas and second biggest of oil, and the state depends on energy for around half of its budget revenue. However, the EU also depends on Russia for roughly one third of its energy imports.

On the global oil market, crude imports from Russia can easily be replaced, but Russian gas delivered through pipelines is less flexible.

European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger repeated in a German television interview on Thursday that Russia has as much interest as Europe in maintaining gas supplies to the EU because of its need for revenue.

The EU sanctions will be subject to a three-month review to assess whether they are achieving their aim of forcing President Vladimir Putin to "de-escalate" the crisis. 

Until this week, Europe had imposed sanctions only on individuals and organizations accused of direct involvement in threatening Ukraine, and had avoided wider "sectoral sanctions."

Michigan: When are Fatalities Caused by Illegal Aliens Going to End?

According to USA Today, the Metamora, MI couple whose dogs killed a jogger last week are in the US illegally and are facing imminent deportation, allegedly!

Valbona Lucaj, 44, entered the US from Albania in January 1997 after bribing an immigration officer into granting her asylum, according to federal court filings. Her Italian husband, Sebastiano Quagliata, 45, arrived a month earlier as a tourist and never left, now illegal in the US for roughly 17 years!

The two are potentially facing involuntary manslaughter charges after their Cane Corso dogs attacked and killed Craig Sytsma, 46, of Livonia on July 23 as he jogged past their home on a rural Metamora Township road. 

Lapeer County prosecutors are expected to announce a decision on criminal charges this week. It is unclear as to what, if any impact, their illegal status will have on their prosecution.

The couple have been legally fighting deportation for years since immigration officials discovered that Lucaj had paid $3,000 to an immigration officer in New York to grant her asylum. That asylum was then granted to Quagliata because he was her spouse.

On March 31, 2014, US District Judge Gerald Rosen refused to stop their deportation, siding with immigration officials who said that Lucaj "lacked good moral character arising out of fraud in obtaining asylum."

The pair repeatedly lied to US immigration officials as they sought asylum and then naturalization, according to the files.

Lucaj applied for asylum in New York in May 1997, but the immigration officer who interviewed her found "a number of inconsistent statements" about her alleged persecution in Albania on religious grounds and declined to recommend asylum. Yet, an administrator in the office, John Shandorf, overruled the officer. 

COMMENT: Not only did President Obama create the crisis on the Mexican-US border, and cause minor children to be sexually abused in their trek by "coyotes" and opportunists en-route, unnecessary additions to the federal deficit which has relegated Border Patrol agents to be changing diapers rather than enforcing the law and whatever supplemental billions are needed to "fix" the problem, the federal bureaucracy is not only getting BIGGER by the day, but as this posting attests, infinitely more INEFFECTIVE.

Of course, the real "bottom-line" here is that if Lucaj and Quagliata had not gone to such extremes to illegally enter the US to begin with, Craig Sytsma, 46, would still be above ground enjoying life. What a pity.

Imagine the number of law-abiding Americans that have been killed over illegal immigration. Imagine!

In 1998, FBI agents arrested Shandorf and another man, Luigi Berishaj, on bribery and conspiracy charges, alleging the two schemed to grant 20 Albanian refugees asylum in exchange for bribes ranging from $2,000 to $3,000. Berishaj identified Lucaj as one of those who paid a bribe.

Immigration officials notified the pair in 2005 that they intended to terminate their asylum status and deport them. Lucaj traveled from Michigan to Chicago to appeal the decision.

According to court filings, she claimed she had never met Berishaj and that a woman whose name she could not recall helped her apply for asylum. But officials, in reviewing her file, found that "documents were clearly altered" and that her story was not credible.

During interviews with federal immigration officials, Lucaj and Quagliata insisted that they had been jailed while in Albania because of their religious beliefs. 

Regarding Quagliata's statement, immigration officials noted "that such life-changing events, such as being jailed in a foreign country, would have remained an event you would have remembered."

Khaalid Walls, spokesman for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said Wednesday that officials were reviewing their files.

Lucaj works for an insurance company, and Quagliata as a professional house painter, according to court documents. The pair lived in Sterling Heights, Warren and Macomb Township before buying the Metamora house in 2011 for $150,000. The four-bedroom home sits on seven acres.

It was from that property, investigators said, that the two Cane Corsos, large dogs similar to bull mastiffs, attacked Craig Sytsma, 46, as he jogged after work, mauling him to death as he struggled with them in a ditch by the side of the road.

On Friday, Lapeer County prosecutors will ask a district court judge to order the destruction of the two dogs, along with a third adult dog found at the home and seven puppies that are products of the dogs that attacked Craig Sytsmas without provocation.

About 140 miles away, Sytsma's family will celebrate his life and mourn his death at Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Jenison, MI.

Croatia/UK: British Family of Five Hit Truck Head-On on Roadway to Dubrovnik, Update Follows

According to, three members of a British family have been killed after a head-on collision with a truck in southern Croatia.

The incident, which happened on the Adriatic coast road on the way to popular tourist destination Dubrovnik, left two children and their father dead while the man's wife and another child were critically injured. 

The identities of three members of a UK family of five killed in a car crash in Croatia are not yet known, but the British Embassy has been informed of the incident and is providing consular assistance.  

The family were traveling in a car with British number plates, indicating they had driven to Croatia the from the UK.  

The road where the crash occurred is a key route for tourists traveling to Dubrovnik and remains closed as police carry on the clean-up operation, a spokeswoman told Central European News. 

COMMENT:  Our condolences and prayers go out to both families, considering that there has been no reference in media reports as to whether the driver of the truck was injured or not.

Both the woman and the child are in intensive care with doctors saying that the mother has the more serious injuries of the two victims.   

Having driven in both LEFT-hand drive and RIGHT-hand drive nations over a period of some 35 years, I'm generally comfortable in driving in either driving systems, although admittedly those new to driving on the right may instinctively drive to the left.   

Although in the UK driving is on the LEFT, in Croatia it is on the RIGHT, which potentially may have caused the driver of the British family to instinctively drive to the left. 

Hopefully, this issue will be clarified when greater detail concerning the accident become available. 

This report will be updated as new information becomes available.


US/EU/Russia: Update--"Payback" Impacts on Greek Fruit, US Poultry in Millions of Dollars

According to Reuters, Russia may impose new food import restrictions next week, reports said on Thursday (July 31), in what could be responses to new Western sanctions over Moscow's support of rebels in Ukraine.

The country has already announced several food import bans following Western sanctions.

Russia's Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance Service (VPSS) may restrict fruit imports from Greece next week, RIA news agency reported, citing the watchdog agency.

VPSS may also suspend US poultry imports next week, Interfax news agency reported.  

COMMENT: It appears that Greece drew the "short-straw" from the EU's point of view while the negative impact on US poultry was $71 million.

Greece supplied fruit worth $611 million to Russia in 2013, RIA added, citing customs data. Russia imported US chicken meat worth $71 million in January through April, Interfax said. 

VPSS said it had found signs of certain quarantine-linked pests such as moths in Greek nectarines, while US poultry imports may be suspended due to signs of certain antibiotics use, according to reports.

VPSS could not be reached for immediate comment.

Tip of the Day: Finding Reliable Voice Communications Day-to-Day, International Crises

If your employer or organization has made the commitment to actually operate in more than a dozen countries abroad, particularly in developing or high-threat locations, I strongly encourage you to INVEST in voice communications options other than wireless service, otherwise you're going to be positioning yourself for business continuity disruption.

Let's be really honest. Most cellular service "goes down," the moment there is a national emergency, even if it is nothing more than a natural disaster.

That being said, if there is political unrest; frequent potentially violent demonstrations; national emergencies that impact on the entire country; acts of terrorism that interrupt conventional communications; and continuation of business continuity.

Practically speaking, any organization that has a major material or human resource investment in operating in developing and/or high-threat nations should have a combination of HF/VHF radio systems and sat-phone integration

1. HF/VHF Radio Systems. These radio systems are generally best suited for a long-term-resident situation because of the high cost of procurement, configuration, installation and long-term maintenance. For example, two base stations, mobile vehicular units, and twelve handhelds can easily run into six figures, depending upon the terrain and whether the system is operating in duplex (with repeaters) or simplex (without repeaters), the latter of which is fraught with risk;

If you use HF/VHF radio systems, you must obtain approval from the country’s Ministry of Telecommunications to use a series of frequencies. If your employer is an NGO directly affiliated with the United Nations, you may be able to use UN frequencies;

Another option is to purchase a system from a local radio distributor and use its frequencies, yet both of the above options rarely enable you to communicate in an encrypted mode, which means you're going to be communicating in the "clear," which means your transmissions are going to understood by someone;

Note that the distributor is likely to monitor your traffic unless you use a disciplined call sign system to conceal users, places, and situations or shift to much more expensive equipment that will encrypt your radio transmissions. Reputable companies that can help you design and set up a system include:; and/or

Cell phone and/or HF/VHF radio systems should be used for day-to-day communications.

2. Satellite Phone Systems. These self-contained systems are ideal for both long-term and short-term operations and are particularly suited for large-scale emergencies. I cannot tell you the number of times I have seen SAT-PHONES save lives. They are preferred for operations in developing countries.

For guidance on how to purchase a sat-phone I suggest the below link from Forbes

Also, see the below resource that advises purchasers on technical guidance:

SAT-PHONES eliminate the need for government approvals, are cheaper in the short-term, more secure and cannot be shut down by host governments. On the other hand, they are expensive ($1,000–$2,000 per unit) when supporting a large number of people. Satellite phone charges can be $3 to $15 per minute (depending on range between communicating units). 

SAT-PHONES provide high-quality direct-dial, voice, fax, and e-mail capabilities and require virtually no installation. They are similar to radios in that they communicate by line of sight (the antenna must “see” the satellite); 

Most briefcase-configured sat-phones weigh about 20 pounds and can operate on direct and alternating power supplies. The following companies are the major providers of sat-phones:

Before purchasing any sat-phone, ask to observe an actual demonstration from the country you plan to use the phone in and the site of your home office.  Other tips include:

a. Ask for testimonials;
b. Compare prices of both rental and purchase before you decide;
c. Talk to other competitors and compare costs;
d. If you are a government agency, ask whether the provider is on a discounted schedule;
e. If possible, see if the provider will permit you to test the units during a trial period for
    actual costs only.

Also, please review the linked piece from Forbes before purchasing a sat-phone:

Reputable sat-phone providers include:

I also invite our readers to contact me via email or telephone for questions not addressed in this Tip of the Day:

Ed Lee @ 1-231-360-5105 or

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Russia/EU/US: Update--The Coalition Will Prevail Only If the Europeans Don't Get Cold Feet

According to The Associated Press, US and European sanctions against Russia's energy and finance sectors are strong enough to cause deep, long-lasting damage within months unless Moscow persuades the West to repeal them by withdrawing support for Ukrainian insurgents.

The US and European Union released details Wednesday of new sanctions aimed at hurting Russia's economy without doing undue damage to their own trade interests, punishment for alleged Russian support for Ukrainian rebels and Russia's annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea.

The sanctions go further than earlier penalties by broadly limiting the trade of weapons and of technology that can be used in the oil and military industries. The EU also put its capital markets off-limits to Russian state-owned banks.

Also, consortium blacklisted three more companies and eight additional individuals, bringing the total to 95 people and 23 entities that have been hit with EU-wide asset freezes and travel bans. They include three close associates of President Vladimir Putin: his former judo partner Arkady Rotenberg, and the two largest shareholders of Bank Rossiya; Yuri Kovalchuk and Nikolai Shamalov.

Experts said the sanctions wouldn't have a tremendous impact in the short-term, but if left in place for months will eventually stifle development in the Russian economy and sap its financial sector. Already, economists have revised downward their predictions for Russian growth this year, with some saying the country will go into recession.

The biggest immediate impact is likely to come from the financial sanctions. US officials said roughly 30% of Russia's banking sector assets would now be constrained by sanctions.

COMMENT: Considering that the US has less to lose than the EU, logically thinking, if the sanctions are to be effective, they must be continued for at least a year, so that Putin will be forced to dig into the bank to continue to fund his imperialism in the Ukraine.

"State-owned banks are the core of the Russian banking system," said Vladimir Tikhomirov, chief economist at financial services group BCS. He noted the banks are already having trouble raising money. "That would mean their ability to lend to other banks, smaller banks, is going to be more restricted also."

Last year, about a third of the bonds issued by Russia's majority state-owned banks--7.5 billion euros ($10 billion)--were placed in EU financial markets, according to EU officials.

The measures against Russian banks, which exempt short-term borrowing, are meant to inflict just enough pain without causing them to collapse.

The key will be how long the sanctions stay in place.

In the longer term, the sanctions could hurt by fostering a climate of uncertainty, something investors loathe. Some foreign investors are likely to stay away from the sanctioned companies.

Already, as the Ukraine crisis deepened, Russia's Central Bank has been forced to raise interest rates several times to stabilize the currency as foreign investors sold it off; investors are expected to pull more than $100 billion out of Russia this year.

Rising rates hurt the economy by making borrowing more expensive; VTB bank chairman Mikhail Zadornov told "The Financial Times" that the company's retail arm cut new loans to small business by 20% in the first half of 2014.

An Associated Press-GfK poll conducted just before the latest expansion of sanctions found 53% of Americans felt the US had not gone far enough in sanctioning Russia, up from 41% who felt that way in March. 

Global Impact: Canada's PM Harper Blames Hamas for High Death Toll in Gaza

According to AFP, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Wednesday (July 30) blamed Hamas for the heavy loss of civilian life caused by Israel's deadly strikes on the Gaza Strip.

At least 110 people were killed on Wednesday alone in Gaza, one of the most densely populated areas in the world, as the Palestinian death toll from 23 days of unrelenting Israeli attacks soared to 1,360. 

COMMENT: "Obviously, no one likes to see the suffering and loss of life that has occurred," Harper said in televised remarks. "That said, we hold the terrorist organization Hamas responsible for this. They have initiated and continue this conflict, and continue to seek the destruction of the state of Israel."

As a matter of interest, see the below link that reveals that Perú, Chile and El Salvador have all recalled their envoys in protest against Israel's continued bombardment of Gaza:

Unfortunately, PM Harper's comments seemingly have fallen upon deaf ears where the Obama Administration is concerned. Perhaps President Obama would view it differently if Gaza rockets were raining down on Washington.

Canada's conservative government has long supported the Jewish state and stressed its recognition of Israel's right to defend itself.

Last week, hundreds of Canadian academics, lawyers, community activists and others criticized the Harper government for its support of Israel in the conflict, a position they said in an open letter "discredits Canada."

The strikes triggered a furious response from the United Nations, United States, France and other countries.

Puerto Rico: Commonwealth's Problems Increase with Drought in Greater San Juan

According to The Latin American Tribune, drought-stricken Puerto Rico soon will begin implementing an alternate-day water rationing plan that will affect some 300,000 residents of Greater San Juan.

Water rationing will begin on August 6 for customers served by the Carraizo reservoir, the president of the state-owned utility AAA, Alberto Lazaro, told a press conference.

Customers whose water comes from the La Plata reservoir will have to join the rationing program starting on August 14.

Lazaro said that the water cutbacks will only affect AAA customers who are supplied from those two reservoirs, which provide water to part of the metropolitan area, where about half of Puerto Rico’s 3.6 million people live.

The rest of the island, for the moment, will not have to suffer any kind of water cutbacks given that the reservoirs supplying them are remaining at acceptable levels.

Lazaro said that the supply cuts are conditioned on the possible arrival of rain, since a weather system that could bring precipitation to Puerto Rico next weekend is moving toward the island.

He said that customers affected by the cutbacks will continue to receive water from cistern trucks between 0700-0900 hours on days when rationing is in effect.

COMMENT: Lazaro recommended that members of the public store two or three gallons of water per person per day for the days when the water supply is curtailed.

Puerto Rico’s Department of Consumer Affairs on Wednesday issued an order freezing prices for bottled water, ice, cisterns, cistern parts and, in general, any item related to water.

The moderate drought that Puerto Rico has been experiencing for months has caused damage to the island’s crops, as Agriculture Secretary Myrna Comas Pagan said on Tuesday, noting that $20 million in losses has been sustained so far due to the lack of rainfall.

Meanwhile, authorities have implemented a plan to subsidize the purchase of concentrated feed for livestock raisers, a fund for which an initial $170,000 has been allocated.

Argentina/US: Update--Standard and Poor's Reduces CCC- to Selective Default

According to The Latin American Tribune, Standard and Poor’s said on Wednesday (July 30) that Argentina entered into selective default after failing to make interest payments to holders of restructured debt.

The $539 million to cover the payments arrived at Bank of New York Mellon a month ago, but the US federal judge who ruled in favor of holdout creditors demanding 100 cents on the dollar for Argentine bonds has barred Mellon from distributing the money.

Wednesday marked the end of the 30 days Argentina had to make good on the interest payments, which were due June 30.

S&P said it reduced Argentina’s rating from CCC- to SD because “the grace period expired with bondholders not receiving their payment.”

“If and when Argentina cures the payment default on the Discount Bonds, we could revise our ratings on Argentina depending on our assessment at that time of Argentina’s residual litigation risk, its access to international debt markets, and its overall credit profile,” S&P said.

COMMENT: As I've noted in the past, Buenos Aires does not realize that federal courts in the US don't negotiate.

The S&P announcement came as an Argentine delegation led by Economy Minister Axel Kicillof was meeting with the court-appointed mediator who has been trying to broker a settlement between Buenos Aires and the holdout creditors, a group of hedge funds, led by Elliott Management Corp.’s NML Capital Ltd unit and Aurelius Capital Management.

Argentina defaulted on roughly $100 billion in debt in December 2001, the largest sovereign default in world history, amid a financial meltdown and economic depression.

The vast majority of Argentina’s creditors accepted steep haircuts in 2005 and 2010 debt restructurings.

Some hedge funds that boycotted the restructurings sued Argentina in the United States for full payments on their bonds, bought at large discounts in 2002.

In 2012, US District Court Judge Thomas Griesa ordered Buenos Aires to repay more than $1.3 billion in defaulted debt to the litigating hedge funds.

Argentina’s appeal of Griesa’s decision reached the Supreme Court last month, but the justices not only declined to hear the challenge, they issued a separate ruling that enables holdout bondholders to ask US courts to compel Argentina to reveal the locations of assets, which has not been complied with.

Full payment to the hedge funds would lead other holdout bondholders to demand full repayment, according to Argentine President Cristina Fernández’s government.

Buenos Aires says those potential claims represent a liability of some $15 billion, equivalent to half of Argentina’s foreign-exchange reserves.

In a bid to avoid another default, the Argentine banking association on Wednesday put forward a plan under which Argentina's private financial institutions would offer to buy the bonds held by the holdout creditors, yet the US courts are unlikely to agree.

US: House Republicans Vote 225-201 to Sue President Obama

According to the BBC, Congressman Pete Sessions (R-TX) of sponsored the resolution that passed the US House of Representatives 225-201 to sue President Barack Obama for allegedly exceeding his constitutional powers.
The resulting vote means that House attorneys will now draft legal documents to launch a lawsuit.
According to the vote, President Obama exceeded his powers when he delayed an insurance deadline in his healthcare law.

Republicans in Congress have complained that President Obama has exceeded his constitutional authority on numerous occasions, in order to bypass Congress by issuing executive orders. 

They object, for instance, to his order unilaterally easing deportations of some young illegal immigrants, and the prison exchange that won the release of a US soldier held captive for five years by the Taliban, albeit without notifying the US Congress.

COMMENT: Specifically at issue in the resolution, with the full backing of House Speaker John Boehner, was President Obama's decision to twice delay requirements in his 2010 healthcare overhaul that businesses over a certain size provide their workers with health insurance.

"Such a shift in power should alarm members of both political parties because it threatens the very institution of the Congress," the Republicans wrote in report accompanying the House legislation.

Israel: Tel Aviv Expresses "Deep Disappointment" at Withdrawal of Three Latin Ambassadors

Israel on Wednesday (July 30) expressed its “deep disappointment” at the withdrawal of the ambassadors of Perú, Chile and El Salvador in protest over the offensive in Gaza, and said it was a “show of support for a terrorist organization: Hamas."

A Foreign Ministry statement expressed “Israel’s deep disappointment at the hasty decision by the governments of El Salvador, Perú and Chile to summon their ambassadors for consultation."

“This step is a show of support for Hamas, recognized as a terrorist organization in many countries," added the statement.

The three countries' decision, which followed similar measures last week by Brazil and Ecuador, came in protest for what they considered a disproportionate use of force against the civilian population in Gaza.

COMMENT: It should be noted that all three Latin nations that have withdrawn their ambassadors from Perú, Chile and El Salvador, respectively: President Ollanta Humala; President Michelle Bachelet; and President Salvador Sánchez Cerén all represent Socialist, left-wing or FMLN parties.

Since Israel on July 8 launched Operation protective Edge to stop rocket attacks from Gaza, at least 1,280 Palestinians have been killed, two thirds of them civilians, and 56 Israelis have died, three of them troops.

Chile announced on Tuesday (July 29) it was recalling its ambassador to Israel because it considered that “the scale and intensity of Israeli operations in Gaza violate the principle of proportionality in the use of force” and therefore do not respect “fundamental rules of international humanitarian law.”

The Chilean Government also condemned the firing of Palestinian rockets against civilian targets in Israel, but stressed that proportionality is indispensable to justify legitimate defense.

Perú, on its part, regretted the end of the ceasefire and “new Israeli military operations in Gaza that have caused the deaths of more than a thousand victims, many of them civilians, women and children."

Israel said in its statement that it “expected countries that oppose terrorism to behave responsibly and not reward terrorists."

Australia: Update--A Belgian Rape Victim Returns to Sydney to Find Support, Peace and Love

According to, "since studying tourism it had been my dream to visit Australia. I was planning to discover Sydney and then to travel further. I arrived in November 2013 and hoped to stay for about a year. 

On my second day in Sydney, I still felt quite jet-lagged and in the early evening I decided to go for a walk outside and see the neighborhood around Kings Cross where I was staying. 

As I was wandering, enjoying all of the lights and the sounds I found myself in a dark street that I didn’t recognize. As I tried to orientate myself back to the hotel a man grabbed me from behind, dragged me into an alley. He shoved me against a wall with his hand around my throat. I was paralyzed with fear. Then he sexually assaulted me. When he was finished he left me there; dazed, shocked. I never even saw his face."

I don’t remember much about going back to my hotel, but I was strangely numb. All I wanted to do was get back to my room and never tell anyone about what I had just experienced, I was so ashamed."

When I made it back to the hotel I just crumbled. When I saw the hotel staff the words tumbled out of me. They called the police who were there in two minutes, and they took me to the hospital.

My family said they would come immediately to take me home but it would have taken a few more days. I couldn’t wait. I did not feel safe and I was reluctant to even leave my hotel room. I saw something about it on the news and I was scared that someone would be waiting outside my hotel wanting me to talk about it. The next day I was on a plane home to Belgium, a completely different person.

I wanted everyone at home to think that I was OK, because I could see how worried they were and they didn’t know what to say or how to act, so I pretended I was fine. But I was scared of people, I was scared to go out. I was sad and ashamed. I began to cut myself, and it felt better for a moment but then I felt guilty that I had hurt myself further.

Eventually I went to a counselor and being able to talk freely about it and not worry about their feelings was such a relief.

One day the Belgian Embassy sent me an email. They told me it was unusual for them to do this but a lady in Sydney had sent a photograph to them hoping the Embassy would pass it on. The photograph was of a group of people--women, men and children--standing together smiling at me and all I saw was love. I didn’t really see that they were standing in the alley I was attacked in.

The message was that the community was sorry for what had happened to me and they wanted me to know that they cared. I could see that although the day was gray, the sun was shining at the end of the alley and something began to change inside me. It was my first positive association with Australia.

The lady who orchestrated the picture, Claudia MacIntosh Bowman, and I started an email friendship and I began to think maybe I could return one day and have the adventure I had set out to experience the first time. My therapist thought returning would be good for me, and my parents encouraged the idea.

I was nervous about coming back. I was worried that it would be too difficult, or maybe these people who were being so nice to me would not like me when they met me, but when I arrived and saw Claudia at the airport it was like coming home to family.

Claudia had sent out messages to the community of my imminent arrival and people opened their homes to me. I have been given experiences, have been fed and taken out and shown how wonderful this city really is. I have been treated with such love. It’s overwhelming.

Claudia told me she had a friend who is a documentary maker and that she would be interested in documenting my experience here. I was unsure at first but when I met Rani (Chaleyer) I just knew that I trusted her with my story.

I realized it was important to show my journey to inspire other women to come forward if they experience something like this. You don’t have to go to the police, but you need to tell someone you trust. You can’t just hide it away.

When I told Rani I wanted to go back to the alley I was attacked in she questioned if it was a good idea. 

I had discussed it with my therapist before I left Belgium and I just knew it was something I needed to do. I went during the day, and it looked different to how it looked the night I was assaulted. As I stood there, it felt so heavy in my bones, in my heart. I didn’t cry, but I felt so much pain for a minute and it was all right there. And then it wasn’t.

Suddenly, that space was not his anymore. That alley, that horrible experience, and now this new experience, it was mine and I reclaimed it.

What happened to me is awful, I still have bad days and I will carry it for the rest of my life, but this thing does not define who I am. And this trip, and these people in this community have restored my faith in humankind."

Support is available for anyone who may be distressed by calling: 

Lifeline 131 114

Mensline 1300 789 978

Kids Helpline 1800 551 800