The Global Note: Greece, Iran & Your Pocketbook…Another Koran Crisis For U.S.?…Inside Apple’s China Factories

By Tom Nagorski

Feb 21, 2012 9:36am

GREECE…AND YOUR 401K

After more than 12 hours of down-to-the-wire talks, which ended close to sunrise this morning, the countries that use the Euro reached an agreement to hand Greece euro130 billion ($170 billion) in additional bailout loans to save it from a potentially disastrous default next month. The eurozone and the International Monetary Fund, which will be providing the money for the new bailout, hope the new program will eventually put Greece back into a position where it can survive without external support and secure its place in the euro currency union. Finance ministers from Greece and the other 16 euro countries meeting in Brussels wrangled into the early morning hours over how that could be achieved. The accord, which had been months in the making, seeks to reduce Greece’s massive debts on all fronts, with both private and official creditors going beyond what they had said was possible in the past. But despite those unprecedented efforts, it was clear that Greece, which kicked off Europe’s debt crisis two years ago, was at the very best starting a long and painful road to recovery. At worst, the new program could push the country even deeper into recession and see it default on its debts further down the line. “It’s not an easy (program), it’s an ambitious one,” said Christine Lagarde, the head of the IMF, adding that there were significant risks that Greece’s economy could not grow as much as its international creditors were hoping.  

IRAN, ISRAEL…AND YOUR GAS PRICES

Oil traded near the highest price in nine months after that bailout deal (good global economic news boosts global oil demand) and continuing jitters over Iran and the possibility of a conflict with Israel. Futures in New York advanced as much as 2.1 percent. The Financial Times is reporting oil prices could surge or pass $150.00 per barrel – a record. In an interview with the FT, Ian Taylor, the chief executive director of Vitol, the world’s largest independent energy trader said even prices remain just at current prices 2012 would set an annual record. Brent crude is currently trading at $119.00 per barrel. 

MEANWHILE – ON THE IRAN STORY…

 -THREAT FROM TEHRAN…The deputy head of Iran’s armed forces warned today that Iran would carry out a pre-emptive action if its national interests are endangered. No target mentioned. “Our strategy now is that if we feel our enemies want to endanger Iran’s national interests, and want to decide to do that, we will act without waiting for their actions,” Mohammad Hejazi told Fars news agency.

-IAEA WON’T VISIT NUCLEAR FACILITIES…Iran said Tuesday that a team of United Nations nuclear officials visiting the country for the second time in three weeks would not go to nuclear facilities, despite earlier reports that its members had sought permission to inspect a military complex outside Tehran, the AP reports.

-ISRAEL UPSET WITH U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR…Alex MARQUARDT reports: Israel’s leaders are angry with comments on Iran coming from top American officials, saying they “serve Iran’s interests.” Haaretz  reports that Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak told National Security Advisor Tom Donilon that they’re particularly unhappy with General Martin Dempsey’s CNN interview on Sunday (in which he called a strike “not prudent”) and with briefings given to American reporters. 

ISAF PERSONNEL BURN QURANS

From Nick SCHIFRIN: Troops on the U.S.’ largest base in Afghanistan inadvertently began burning Qurans and other religious materials Monday night, triggering angry protests and fears of even larger demonstrations as news of the burning spreads. The books were mistakenly thrown out with the trash at Bagram Air Field north of Kabul and were on a burn pile before Afghan laborers intervened around 11:00 p.m., according to NATO and Afghan officials. The workers doused the flames with their jackets and mineral water before marching out of Bagram in a fury, carrying with them the charred remains, according to Sabir Safar, secretary of the provincial council of Parwan, where Bagram is located. By morning, hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside Bagram and on the outskirts of Kabul. Some shot into the air, some threw rocks at the Bagram gate, and others yelled, “Die, die foreigners.” At one point, guards at the base fired rubber bullets into the crowd, according to the military. Now the U.S. and its allies are in full damage-control. A delegation of Afghan elders is meeting with ISAF officials at Bagram to determine what happened, and we have these statements: From ISAF’s Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings – “This incident was completely unintentional. Material was inadvertently given to troops for burning. Decision to burn had nothing to do with the material being religious in nature or related to Islam. It was a mistake.” And from top U.S. Commander General John Allen – a video statement – “I have ordered an investigation into a report I received during the night that ISAF personnel at Bagram Airbase improperly disposed of a large number of Islamic religious materials which included Korans. When we learned of these actions, we immediately intervened and stopped them. The materials recovered will be properly handled by appropriate religious authorities.”

AFGHANISTAN TO SPY ON ITS SOLDIERS

The Wall Street Journal reports Afghanistan is rolling out an ambitious plan to spy on its own soldiers, the most serious attempt so far to halt a string of attacks by Afghan troops on their Western comrades-in-arms, according to Afghan and American military leaders. As part of the effort, agents of the National Directorate of Security, the country’s spy agency, will be deployed to army units across the country to monitor Afghan soldiers at every step, from recruitment and training to deployment and home leave, these people said.

SYRIA: HOMS UNDER FIRE

Alex MARQUARDT reports the besieged city of Homs is being pounded intensely by tank shells today, specifically the neighbourhood of Baba Amr, activists say. The fear continues to be that this is a precursor to the ground assault that activists have been warning about for days. The Red Cross says it is trying to negotiate a truce “with all those concerned” to deliver aid.

“ARAB SPRING” CLAIMS ANOTHER DICTATOR – AS YEMENIS VOTE

Another Arab dictator goes – quietly… Yemenis have gone to the polls today to elect Ali Abdullah Saleh’s successor, officially making Saleh the fourth Arab leader to be ousted in the Arab Spring. But there’s only one candidate on the ballot: Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. Still, the “election” is less about the poll itself than getting Saleh out of office after thirty-three years in power – and the opposition and street appear eager to move on.

INSIDE APPLE: ABC NEWS EXCLUSIVE

Bill WEIR and our team are the first journalists to go inside Apple’s factories in China to see the conditions workers labor under – and how all those gadgets are pieced together. His exclusive inside Foxconn, the company that is Apple’s main supplier, will be featured on all ABC News platforms today. Also today, a milestone for Apple: someone will download the 25-billionth app from Apple. The live ticker counting the downloads can be found here – http://www.apple.com/itunes/25-billion-app-countdown/ If you download the 25th billionth app, you could win a $10,000 App Store Gift card.

A $1 MILLION BIRTHDAY BASH FOR AFRICA’S OLDEST LEADER

From Bazi KANANI: Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe celebrate his 88th birthday today with a lavish party at a stadium featuring a soccer match, performances by the country’s best musicians, and a beauty pageant. The state-run Herald newspaper today printed 22 pages of congratulatory messages for the man who has ruled Zimbabwe for more than 3 decades, while independent media is full of criticism of the autocrat blamed for turning one of the most prosperous countries in Africa into one of the poorest during his rule. The opposition party in Zimbabwe calls the birthday extravaganza a waste of taxpayer dollars. The Mail & Guardian newspaper reports many in the Zimbabwean diaspora are expected to protest today outside Zimbabwe’s embassies in the United States, Europe, and South Africa. On the eve of his birthday, Mugabe denied claims that he is in poor health and may be battling prostate cancer.  In an interview with state-owned Radio Zimbabwe he joked, “I have died many times. That’s where I have beaten Christ. Christ died once and resurrected once. I have died and resurrected and I don’t know how many times I will die and resurrect.” Mugabe is the second oldest head of state in the world. (Israeli President Shimon Peres is one year ahead of him, but his position is largely ceremonial.)

JAPAN: FAMILY FOUND – STARVED TO DEATH

From Akiko FUJITA: In a story that would’ve been unthinkable in Japan not long ago…An elderly couple and their son were found starved to death in an apartment just outside of Tokyo. NHK reports their badly decomposed corpses were found by a rent collector. The rent on the apartment hadn’t been paid in 6 months, electricity and gas had also been cut off. Police say they found just a few 1 yen coins, an empty refrigerator, some candy, and water bottles near the bodies. One neighbor, interviewed by NHK, says she hadn’t seen the family since November and “wondered what had happened to them.” The story is troubling on many fronts, but it’s especially surprising that nobody noticed for two months. There’s been a lot of talk in Japan (as in many other countries) about social ties being cut off, as more and more people turn inward…and there are now questions being raised about whether more could have been done to help this family. It’s unlikely they would have sought help themselves, since that is looked down upon. There have been similar deaths reported this year. One involved a father and daughter whose death also went unnoticed. 

TEENAGE BOY STABS MOTHER OVER VIDEO GAME

FUJITA again: Don’t mean to add more doom and gloom to today’s note…but this is one that can be filed under “a sign of the times.” A 14-year-old boy has been arrested for attempted murder, after he stabbed his mother when she tried to confiscate a new video game. The Mainichi reports the teenager has admitted to the crime, telling investigators “when I bought the video game without permission, my mother took it away, so I got angry (and stabbed her).” Police say the 50-year-old mother was seriously injured after the teenager stabbed her in the back. The knife pierced her left lung as well. No update on her condition.

STRAUSS-KHAN TO BE QUESTIONED OVER ALLEGED PROSTITUTION RING

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former chief of the International Monetary Fund, will be questioned today by French police officers investigating a suspected hotel prostitution ring in France and Belgium. The police said they have questioned prostitutes who said they had sex with Mr. Strauss-Kahn in 2010 and 2011 at a luxury hotel in Paris, a restaurant in the French capital and in Washington, where Mr. Strauss-Kahn lived while he was head of the I.M.F., The New York Times reports.  

ANCIENT PLANTS BROUGHT BACK TO LIFE AFTER 30,000 YEARS

Scientists in Russia have grown plants from fruit stored away in permafrost by squirrels over 30,000 years ago. BBC reports the fruit was found in the banks of the Kolmya River in Siberia, a top site for people looking for mammoth bones. Writing in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), they note this is the oldest plant material by far to have been brought to life.

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