Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
March 31, 2007

Reflection On America

by Chris Marlowe
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Stolen from a comment with links added by b.
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There is a certain irony in the Bush administration's attempt to "isolate Syria" by complaining about Pelosi's visit to Damascus. Many Americans don't seem to understand it, but on the international stage, America under the Bush administration is about as popular as Typhoid Mary.

Sure, everyone wants to do business with Americans, but that's about it. Hollywood films are not as popular as they once were, and American culture and appeal has lost its gloss. Coca-Cola and McDonald's symbolize cheap and unhealthy junk food, not fashionable trends. Americans are thought of generally as consumption hogs, driving big cars and eating cheap unhealthy foods and as being overweight, arrogant and ignorant.

The industries America is best well-known for, such as media and entertainment, are crumbling under the assault of the Internet, which represents a whole new world which cannot be so easily dumbed and controlled by four media conglomerates. Many of my acquaintances celebrate the collapse of the old media model.

Moreover, American consumerism can no longer dominate the global economy as it once did. Now there are Asian and European economies which are growing at faster rates. The American economy is no longer the engine of world growth. It is major and important, but the world economy no longer depends on it.

And it is plain for all to see that American economic growth and the standard of living will soon begin to fall. The number of poor will increase, while the rich get richer. The Republicans do not seem to fear that US society will fracture along class, and maybe even worse, ethnic lines. The press does not even discuss the possibility that the US will turn into a version of Lebanon. Christianity has been turned from a religion into a business and political tool by the likes of Karl Rove, Gary Bauer, Ralph Reed, Grover Norquist, Pat Robertson and AIPAC.

Of course, this American behavior of arrogance and ignorance meshes very well with the image the Bush administration has been putting out. After all, more than 59M Americans voted for W in Bush in 2004. In spite of a major terrorist attack in 2001, and the invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, most Americans remain just as ignorant, if not even more ignorant of the world outside America's borders. Lou Dobbs has built a whole media career (and maybe later political career) around anger at poor, Hispanic people who come to the US to do jobs other people won't do. And he gets good ratings over his coverage of this "problem".

When America was the sole leading world power, that worked. But that is no longer the case. When will Americans realize that America is no longer an island they can withdraw to; it is part of a globalized world economy where they are just one player among many? My guess is that this whole globalized WTO world will fall apart in recriminations among the many players, and that governments will try to become isolationist, but that will become impossible because communications and technology have made total isolation impossible.

The whole problem with Republicans and Democrats is that no one has answers to the real problems. American elections have all the relevance of who wins "American Idol".

Right now, the president is a mean-spirited version of Sanjaya Malakar who goes through the motions of being a statesman, but can't even carry a tune. It took many Americans more than four years to figure it out. American society seems to be in a death spiral of arrogance, ignorance and stupidity.

America and Bush, they go together...

Posted by b on March 31, 2007 at 03:29 PM | Permalink | Comments (114)

News & Views ...

Open Thread ...

Posted by b on March 31, 2007 at 03:15 AM | Permalink | Comments (60)

March 30, 2007

Iraq Update

Unfortunately Today in Iraq seems dead. Folks from there, dancewater, friendly fire, if you need help to get it up again please let me know.

As I left in comments somewhere here today, the LA Times had a regular piece on Iraq that included deep down this sentence:

There has been a surge in bombings in Iraqi towns and cities as American and Iraqi forces have launched a crackdown on insurgents in the capital.

That involuntary description of The Surge certainly fits.

The surge of U.S. troops has been reported, though not widely distributed, to go up for now to 175,000 U.S. troops inside Iraq. One must add 100,000 contractors to that, though most of them are foreign cooks and janitors not U.S. managers (there is a slaughter coming for them - nobody will officially care when tens of thousand of Asian $1/day folks will try to run home.)

Outside of Iraq but nearby are another 100,000 U.S. troops - paper and pallet pushers. That is about the maximum that is sustainable without a draft and without stripping a few thousand irrelevant additional combat troops from South Korea and other possible hotspots.

So the U.S. is now about as committed on the ground as it gets, though Air Force capacity ex transport is still available in abundance (Iran - watch out for those.)

The U.S. surge had the temporary effect of moving some unfriendly folks out of Baghdad and into the villages around the city. Now resistance induced casualties of Iraqis, usually reported as sectarian fighting, have gone up again to 100+ a day.

There have been two recent attempts I have read about to overrun U.S. installations. There will be ten or twenty such attempts in the next weeks and some will succeed without any U.S. troops surviving. The Green Zone is btw under siege too.

The resistance trick to use chlorine trucks for bombs is quite nifty. It has no serious immediate  combat value but two very serious degrading effects:
a. Some 4-star general will order every U.S. troop in Iraq to carry ABC-equipment all the time, adding some pounds to their already too high package weights during the Iraqi summer,
b. Many U.S. Captains will order their troops to stop and kill any chlorine truck driving around with the effect of denying any safe chlorinated water source to Iraqi civilians.

That's how you breed resistance recruits while hampering your own force.

The unwillingness of the U.S. people to take casualties in their empire efforts will thereby defeat the empire attempts.

Maybe stupid and late, but better late than never and fine with me anyway - I have no need for any empire.

Al-Sadr has called for an Iraq wide demonstration for the 9th of April. He asked every household to raise the Iraqi flag as a sign against the occupation. You'll not see those flags on CNN or Fox, but it certainly will have a wide effect in Iraq and the secondary effects will be broadcasted for their gore.

The time is becoming ripe for a Tet like effort by the resistance. Meanwhile, the people, including me, will be glued to their screens to follow some Waxman hearing or Kabuki performances of presidential candidates.

Posted by b on March 30, 2007 at 04:11 PM | Permalink | Comments (16)

Some Treats

Prof. Cutler has more musing on the House of Saud: Trouble with Abdullah. The Cheneys and Likudniks must hate the recent steps taken by the Saudi king and Abdullah has some internal opposition. Such has solved before:

In the 1970s, there was a previous Saudi King from the “Faisal” branch.  In 1975,  he was assassinated, under murky circumstances, by a nephew recently returned from the United States.

Imagine the mess ...

Another mess will happen says Stephen Roach. He smells protectionism coming with The Ghost of Reed Smoot. Some protectionist Congress acts are being prepared right now. If you think inflation is already too high, just wait until the China bashers put tariffs on Chinese goods. Prices would go up, China would put less money into U.S. securities and rates would therefore go up too. If you think U.S. housing market is in bad shape now, imagine it with basic rates north of 15%. The protectionist Smoot-Hawley Act of 1930 is credited for launching the great depression. Do we really need to go there again?

I haven't seen the movie "300" and don't plan to. But as I read it depicts some Spartan warriors as heroes while they are losing a battle against a Persian army. It can be interpreted in various parallels to current history. But as a German I see a different story. Sparta was a true fascist state and therefore often used by the Nazi's in Germany as an example. This was especially visible in the all involving ideological / military training of the youth (including the homoerotic parts.) Goebbels later compared the defeat at Stalingrad to the noble defeats of the Spartans. If such a film lauding the Spartan fight for freedom gets big numbers, I am getting worried about freedom.

William Lind draws another Greek history comparison in Operation Anabasis. Once a Greek army was in big trouble in Persia and fought a long retreat through Kurdistan and Turkey back home. That may be the same route the U.S. Army will have to go when the Shia in Iraq have no more use for it. That script may run live on TV so you will need no movie ticket for that history lesson.

Posted by b on March 30, 2007 at 12:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (18)

March 29, 2007

Kool-Aid Bad For Memory

Smoking grass is not really good for one's memory. Alcohol is even worse. Still, nothing beats the kool-aid.

By recent Congress hearing witnesses:

I have no recollection ..., I don't remember ..., I'm not aware ..., to the best of my recollection ..., never my understanding ..., in hindsight, that wasn't a good idea ..., only generally aware ..., no specific knowledge ..., I don't know ..., I believe I ..., I believe that I believe ..., I have no reason to doubt that ..., at the best of my memory ..., at some point somone may ..., as best as I can remember ..., can you say that again ..., my role was to aggregate and present, but I forgot what information was provided to me by whom and when and I kept no file of any of that ...,

On can feel the sword of damocles perjury dangling over their heads.

Posted by b on March 29, 2007 at 05:49 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

Blair's Faked Border

As former British ambassador Craig Murray points out, the British seem to have faked a maritime boundary.

The British Ministry of Defense has released coordinates where fifteen British sailors and marines were picked up by Iranians after searching a merchant ship:

"As shown on the chart, the merchant vessel was 7.5 nautical miles south east of the Al Faw Peninsula and clearly in Iraqi territorial waters. Her master has confirmed that his vessel was anchored within Iraqi waters at the time of the arrest. The position was 29 degrees 50.36 minutes North 048 degrees 43.08 minutes East.

The MoD asserts that this position is within Iraqi waters:

This places her 1.7 nautical miles inside Iraqi territorial waters. This fact has been confirmed by the Iraqi Foreign Ministry.

Additionally the MoD provides a map with the position marked and with a line labeled "Iraq / Iran Territorial Water Boundary". I have taken this map and made two circles with the ship-position the MoD marked as the center. This is a part of the graph.


The complete bigger graph is here

The blue line is the circle centered in the given position and touching the nearest point of the Iranian coast. The green line is the circle centered in the given position and touching the nearest point of the Iraqi coast. The distance from the given position to Iraqi land is considerably larger than that to Iranian land.

But the MoD map also says "positions for illustrative purposes", so let's not rely on them. The next map is copied from Microsoft Encarta. The maps there include latitude and longitude lines. Using such and the MoD coordinates I interpolated by pixel-count and marked that position in red.


The complete bigger graph is here

The blue line is the circle centered in the given position and touching the nearest point of the Iranian coast. Again it is obvious that the position is more near to the Iranian than the Iraqi coastline.

Which leads to the obvious question. On what basis are the British asserting that the line they painted in their graphic is indeed the "Iraq / Iran Territorial Water Boundary."

That boundary is simply not well defined and Iran and Iraq have fought several wars about the Shatt al-Arab and its waterways. There is no binding or otherwise recognized international agreement about the maritime boundaries.

If one would use a maritime boundary defined by equidistance from the Iraqi and Iranian coastlines, as is commonly (see Art.7) done in such cases, the result would be something like this purple line.


The complete bigger graph is here

The merchant vessels position as given by the British and the British forces themselves would then have been well in Iranian waters.

Tony Blair should get some sense and tone down the hype over this. The British sailors and marines certainly will soon be returned to their homeland.

To rely on dubious boundaries that are not supported by the geography but drafted by his own Ministry of Defense is certainly not a strong argument for further agressions.

Posted by b on March 29, 2007 at 10:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (78)

March 28, 2007

Kabuki Over Iraq

Balkinization has posted the House and Senate bills on the Iraq war financing. The brouhaha about these bills somehow restricting Bush seems overdone. The House bill will retract troops other than are needed for:

(1) Protecting American diplomatic facilities and American citizens, including members of the U.S. Armed Forces.
(2) Serving in roles consistent with customary diplomatic positions.
(3) Engaging in targeted special actions limited in duration and scope to killing or capturing members of al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations with global reach.
(4) Training members of the Iraqi Security Forces.

The Senate bill is not much different. It would abolish troops but for:

(2) COMMENCEMENT OF PHASED REDEPLOYMENT FROM IRAQ.--The President shall commence the phased redeployment of United States forces from Iraq not later than 120 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, with the goal of redeploying, by March 31, 2008, all United States combat forces from Iraq except for a limited number that are essential for the following purposes:
(A) Protecting United States and coalition personnel and infrastructure.
(B) Training and equipping Iraqi forces.
(C) Conducting targeted counter-terrorism operations.

"Redeployment" is NOT the word for getting troops back "home", but describes to move them somewhere around the Middle East. But that is not the big trick here - that is in the excepted  tasks.

Some hundreds of troops are in "roles consistent with customary diplomatic positions", some thousands are "training and equipping Iraqi forces" and is not every current kinetic action of U.S. troops in Iraq described as "conducting targeted counter-terrorism operations?" Add to those forces the needed GIs that are "protecting ... American citizens, including members of the U.S. Armed Forces" or in the Senate version "protecting United States and coalition personnel and infrastructure" and where do you end?

By the way - does the "infrastructure" include the four huge bases the U.S. has built? Of course it does and what about those oil wells?

So if you start a tally you will end up with some 15,000 to 20,000 in the primary role of diplomacy, training and counter-terrorism and about three to four times that number to protect these. Additionally one will need the logistic components to get all these folks their lobster tails and ice-cream and those logistics will need some protection too.

Which leads to a total, according to the scribble on my blotter, somewhere quite north of 100,000 troops - maybe 150,000 - staying in Iraq and about the same number nearby.

The showdown between the President and Congress over this is just for the public theater. The proposed restrictions are all virtual. The Dems have certainly not made a serious attempt to get the U.S. out of its illegal operation in Iraq.

"We'll use this for 2008 and then we will fix the mess," is their intended play. It will take them some more years and Iraq some hundredthousands of lives to understand, and then acknowledge, that there is nothing fixable left.

Posted by b on March 28, 2007 at 03:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)

Time For A New Initiative

The Cheney administration made an effort to "realign" the Middle East with an Arab front of moderate dictators. They were to deliver an Israel friendly solution on Palestine and a united front against Iran. The effort has faltered.

This was first visible when the Saudis fixed a deal for a unity government between the Abbas' Fatah and Hamas.  With this done in Mekka, I suggested the Saudis were in a bind and had to deliver or lose their cred in the proverbial Arab street.

It is not yet clear how far the Saudis will really go to support the Pals, but the recent steps taken are certainly unfriendly to Cheney's agenda. As Jim Hoagland reports, Saudi King Abdullah has canceled a state dinner at the White House:

Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi national security adviser, flew to Washington last week to explain to Bush that April 17 posed a scheduling problem. " 'It is not convenient' was the way it was put," says one official.

and if it rains ...

Jordan's King Abdullah, who has spent more time in George W. Bush's Washington than any other foreign leader, has let the White House know that he can't make that state visit discussed for September.

The President of the United Arab Emirates had this to say:

Shaikh Khalifa reiterated that the UAE totally rejects the use of its land, air and territorial waters to attack any country. “We have reiterated to our Iranian brothers in a letter delivered recently by the foreign minister  that we are not a party to the conflict between Iran and the United States and that we shall never allow the use of our soil for any military, security or intelligence activities against them,” he said.

On the Palestinian issue, where Rice tried to revive the 2002 Arab plan for peace for land with Israeli modifications, i.e. without any Israeli concessions, the Shaikh had equally clear words:

He urged the summit, which opens tomorrow in the Saudi capital, to maintain a solid stance on the issue of the right of return of the Palestinian refugees as contained in the Arab Peace Initiative.

Another snub from the Arab side had come through Egypt a few days earlier, when any help to pressure Darfur was denied.

The Israeli side is not interested in any Cheney admin activity, other than paying their bills, either. The same day Rice was negotiating about useless future Olmert/Abbas meetings, she was snubbed by Olmert when Israeli settlers with official Army protection reoccupied a settlement in the West Bank. Abbas was certainly not impressed either:

Her delegation found the Israelis sour and resistant, prone to finger-jabbing, and the Palestinians just as sullen. Advisers to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas say that once he brusquely interrupted Rice, saying: "You've come to me with a list of Israeli demands. Where is your list of our demands for the Israelis?"

Steve Clemons frames these issues as a split in the Bush/Cheney team, with Cheney undermining Rice by influencing Bush. That's hogwash in my view - I do not see any split there at all - Rice is just part of the team.

But the gang has a huge problem. They have absolutely no soft power left in the Middle East. Not one of the usual dictators is following the orders anymore - not on Israel/Palestine, not on Iran, not on anything - this is unprecedented.

At home, with chaos increasing in Iraq, even proven Washington D.C. whitewashers like Gen. McCaffrey are turning away. Republican Senators did not filibuster the Iraq war bill, leaving the White House alone on the issue. Meanwhile Congressional committees are investigating scandal after scandal and there is more dirt than anyone could reasonably have expected.

So what is the administration to do? Sit back and wait for more rain to pour in Washington and more uncontrolled movement abroad? Or can it start one new initiative that changes the headlines in Washington, the situation in the Middle East and brings back some "Mission Accomplished" glory?

Posted by b on March 28, 2007 at 02:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (21)

OT 07-24

News & views ...

Posted by b on March 28, 2007 at 04:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (36)

March 27, 2007

Attack On Iran Starting Soon?

Now I have to confess that I do get a bit nervous about an imminent start of a war on Iran.

Maybe inducing nervousness is what is intended and nothing immediate is planned, but  there are some actions done that make a war now likely, even if unintended. Some ominous signs:

Tony Blair is hyping the capture of some British soldiers that crossed or did not cross some undefined border to Iran to check for possibly smuggled cars. Why are cars "smuggled" into Iraq the Brits' business anyway? Didn't Bremer's economic laws allow for free imports?

The New York Times today delivers a long piece about alleged Iranian support for some bombs in Iraq - no news, lots of words and no proof at all. So why print this now at all?

Some Russian Col.-General last week said that a U.S. attack will start on April 6th. Today the Russian news agency RIA Novosti cites a Russian military intelligence officer:

"The latest military intelligence data point to heightened U.S. military preparations for both an air and ground operation against Iran," the official said, adding that the Pentagon has probably not yet made a final decision as to when an attack will be launched.

The same time the U.S. is starting

its largest demonstration of force in the Persian Gulf since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, led by a pair of aircraft carriers and backed by warplanes flying simulated attack maneuvers off the coast of Iran.

Over 100 planes in the confined international air space of the Persian Gulf is a guarantee that some accidents and/or mis-navigations will happen.

With the public prepared through some outrage about the British sailors, wouldn't that be a fine excuse for Cheney to launch a real full fledged attack?

Posted by b on March 27, 2007 at 03:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (35)

March 26, 2007

Incentive Pay

In a consulting gig today, I had yet another discussion on incentive pay. "Can we motivate these  people stronger by increasing the bonus part of their pay," I was asked. I recommended to abolish incentive payments at all. There are technical arguments against it and more serious philosophical reasons.

Let's start with the technical problems:
In its simplest form you pay the guy who makes the nuts more if he produces more nuts. You do the same thing with the girl who makes the bolts. The guaranteed outcome will be either too many nuts or too many bolts and more money spent than needed to make an equal and sufficient number of nuts and bolts.

In more complex knowledge worker jobs there are simply no measurable outcomes one could tie  an incentive to. The number of lines of codes written by a programmer says nothing about the quality of the code or its long term maintainability (and costs.)

In one job I was told to better the productivity (value of output/cost of input) by 10% per year to increase my income by 10%, but the variables to do so, like moving the department out of an outrageous expensive office location, were out of my bounds. (The managing board of that media company also did of course not understand the mathematic limit value of "by 10% per year".)

In other situations there are general market interferences. You may well be the best in your trade and in an economic downturn the one who loses the least money. But most incentive pay systems will give you zero for achieving this.

The response to the above calamities is usually to make the system of benchmarking more complex. Lots of consultants make piles of money for presenting such fine tuning. But the inevitable outcome will be either totally confused and unmotivated workers or folks who start gaming a not supervisable system.

In a young company I was with, the head of the marketing department had his salary changed from fixed to variable to reflect the number of new subscribers he could bring in. Before the change he was quite successful in helping the company into a profitable realm. After the change the number of new subscribers per month soared, as did his income. A year later it turned out that most of these new subscribers left as soon as they could. The retention rates were catastrophic because the marketing campaigns were designed to maximize intake of subs, not to keep them once they were on board.

People who believe in incentives assume that money is the main human motivational factor. Rational people, they say, will always work more and work better if this leads to better pay. Essentially they think everybody is corrupt and they cite lots of examples to prove this point.

But that is not true. The fallacy here is to mistake cause and effect.

If one pays people a fair fixed amount for doing their job, they have no reason to game the system. To make them do a better job, some smiles, ice cream surprises on hot days and a bottle of good wine for Christmas will usually have the desired effect.

But as soon as you start to offer incentive pay you urge them to move away from doing a "better  job" to doing a "more profitable job" - more profitable for them that is. This is planting the seeds of corruption where none need to be.

The philosophy behind incentive pay is that of humans as rational beings - rational understood in the very reduced sense of a homo economicus, a useful mathematical model for economic science theorists, but without much resemblance to living creatures.

Adam Curtis makes this point in a much wider sense in his new three part BBC series The Trap: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom.  He is on to something and I hope to have more on the thoughts he tells in future pieces.

Today the folks I talked to were not immediately convinced, but I did get them to think about the issue. The funny moment I needed came when I refused to make an offer for designing a "better incentive pay system" for them. I said: "such offer would only benefit me and deeply hurt your company."  Somehow, that answer seemed to be unexpected.

Posted by b on March 26, 2007 at 02:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (27)

March 25, 2007

A Ynetnews Exclusive

Ynetnews, the website run by the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth - "Israel’s most-read newspaper", comes up with an "Exclusive" currently at the top of its main-page. The Telegraph's Con Coughlin will be certainly jealous of this scoop.

Next to the picture of a big explosion it is revealed that - Iranian scientists research fuel-gas bombs:

A document obtained by Ynetnews, jointly authored by three Iranian scientists, "seems to contain military applications for fuel-gas bombs," an expert on Iran said.

During a fuel-gas explosion, a cloud of fuel is set alight by a detonator to produce an explosion. The resulting wave flattens all objects close to the proximity of the epicenter, and produces widespread damage beyond the area of the cloud.

Sounds very dangerous to me - like some thermobaric weapon or fuel-air-explosives used in the  Israeli Carpet system or the US BLU-73, BLU-95, BLU-96, CBU-55 or CBU-72 bombs.

How frightening if the Iranians would be researching such. But as the story goes, we learn that they are not really doing so:

The document is a thesis which examines the "injection-velocity effects" resulting from fuel vapor clouds, and was authored by three Iranian scientists from the Imam Hossein University, the Sharif University of Technology, and the Iran University of Science and Technology.

"The large number of vapor-cloud explosions in the past, which involve severe damages, clearly indicates the need to consider this problem," the thesis's introduction said. "Preventing such events from happening requires a good knowledge of gas explosion and the way of reducing the frequency and consequence of its occurrence," it added.

Does not sound much like weapon research to me, rather like safety research to prevent accidents like the 1974 disaster in Flixborough or the BP refinery fire in Texas 2005. But Ynetnews has an expert on this:

Commenting on the thesis, Professor Raymond Tanter, who heads the Washington-based Iran Policy Committee (IPC), said: "Although seemingly innocent and only for scientific purposes, the document seems to contain military applications for fuel-gas bombs."

Tanter is by trade an expert, but on political science. He is also a member of the Committee on the Present Danger, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and various other neocon infested likudnik outlets. The Iran Policy Committee which he founded is shilling for regime change in Iran and promotes the anti-Iranian People's Mujahedin Organization (MEK) terrorist cult.

There are also rumours that Tantler's MEK friends have found proof for some very dangerous stink-bombs Iran is developing. His careful scientific interpretation of the Iranian veterinarian paper on "injection-velocity effects" of bovine flatulence will certainly be another worthy exclusive for Ynetnews.

Reading the comments to that article, unfortunately such propaganda - ridiculous as it may be - does what it is expected to do.

Posted by b on March 25, 2007 at 03:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (19)

March 24, 2007

Rambling 07-001

You can't see the Smithian invisible hand because it doesn't exist.

Posted by b on March 24, 2007 at 03:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (22)

"Not Involved"

Gonzales, likening himself to a chief executive who delegates responsibility to others, said he knew few details about how Sampson was orchestrating the prosecutors' removal.

"I was not involved in seeing any memos, was not involved in any discussions about what was going on," he said. "That's basically what I knew as the attorney general."
Gonzales: 'Mistakes Were Made', March 14, 2007

---

The President acknowledged that he had "made a mistake" in not more closely supervising campaign activities.
...
But the tapes can be heard, he said, and will prove that he was not involved in the Watergate cover-up, he insisted.
Nixon Tells Editors, 'I'm Not a Crook', November 18, 1973

...

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and senior advisers discussed the plan to remove seven United States attorneys at a meeting last Nov. 27, 10 days before the dismissals were carried out, according to a Justice Department calendar entry disclosed Friday.
Gonzales Met With Advisers on Dismissals, March 23, 2007

Posted by b on March 24, 2007 at 03:09 AM | Permalink | Comments (16)

Weekend OT

News & views ...

Posted by b on March 24, 2007 at 02:43 AM | Permalink | Comments (57)

March 23, 2007

Psych War On Iran

The Iranians snatched some British sailors that were controlling ships in the Iraqi/Persian Shatt-al-Arab. Such has happened before and was solved without much trouble.

Maybe the UK boats really were in Persian waters, maybe they were not - maybe there was some intent for a conflict on either side, maybe not - who knows or will ever know for sure. Anyhow, this is certainly no reason to start a war.

Another piece of anti-Iranian propaganda was launched today via the BBC:

Col Masherevski said "local information" indicated that "the vast majority of the violence against us is inspired from outside Iraq".

"The people here very much believe that is Iran," he said.

"All the circumstantial evidence points to Iranian involvement in the violence here in Basra which is disrupting the city to a great extent."

The standard of weapons being used against British troops was such that it could only have come from outside Iraq, he said.

There are absolutely no facts in the BBC piece and that mysterious Colonel (zero(!) Google hits for his name) has nothing to provide but rumours.

The sea incident is more usable than the Colonel and so this will be taken up as part of the propaganda campaign to put pressure on Iran and to further the western agenda of disabling Iran by sanctions - "been there done that," Madeleine Albright would say.

This is part of the pattern of threats and intimidation directed against Iran as the very astute badger documents.

There is quite some noise now, though not reflected in the western press, by the non-permanent UN Security Council members to tone down the next resolution on Iran:

South Africa’s proposal aimed to drop all the key sanctions proposed by the major powers, including an arms embargo and financial bans on an Iranian state bank and the Revolutionary Guards, and to suspend all other sanctions for 90 days to allow for more talks with Teheran.

The amendments were offered despite an earlier agreement by Germany and the five permanent members of the 15 member council -- The United States, Russia, China, France and Britain -- on the wording of the draft resolution.

Pahad said South Africa was within its rights to suggest changes to the draft document, which he said had only been presented to other Security Council members at the last minute.

“The draft resolution was never shown to us, so it’s not wrong for us to make our views known,” he said.

Indeed most countries do support Iran's right of civil nuclear development:

National leaders of the 118-state Non-Aligned Movement concluding their Havana summit approved a statement on Iran that "reaffirmed the basic and inalienable right of all states, to develop research, production and use of atomic energy for peaceful purposes."

But the war-mongers are cheating the non-permanent, non-aligned UN members on the content of the resolution:

South Africa's ambassador, Dumisani Kumalo, this month's council president, expressed dismay.

"They told us we would be negotiating a give and take," he told reporters on Thursday. "They are doing exactly what they said they weren't going to do."
[...]
Kumalo had also proposed a 90-day "time out" in imposing the sanctions, ..

No chance for that sane moment to happen. The U.S. will continue to bribe and threaten its will through the Security Council and use all of its propaganda outlets to justify its moves and discourage any opposition.

Millions of U.S. government $'s will make sure that the U.S. weapon and oil industry has at least another decade to prosper. Someone, most probably your children, will have to pay for this.

Posted by b on March 23, 2007 at 04:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)

March 22, 2007

Hypocrisy of Genocide

The LA Times had sent staff reporter Edmund Sanders to report from Sudan. Unlike the usual black and white media installments his reports catch some of the complexities of the conflict.

Some of the latest are: Search for oil raises the stakes in Darfur, Rebels pose a new threat to Darfur's displaced and In Darfur, gritted teeth behind smiles.

Today LAT publishes Sanders' latest - Darfur's less-known victims:

Arabs in the western Sudanese region of Darfur are usually depicted as the aggressors in a conflict with black African ethnic groups, but many Arabs now find themselves caught up in the violence, forced into camps by intertribal fighting and cut off from traditional migration routes they've relied upon for centuries to survive.
...
The recent clashes are raising the broader question of what will happen to the more than 2 million Arab nomads, people who have lived in Darfur for centuries. Arab leaders here say only a fraction of the Arab population, from 10% to 20%, has participated in the government-led attacks. Most Arabs have remained neutral and some have even sided with Darfur's rebels, the leaders say.

The typical picture painted by Save Darfur libruls are "Islamist Arab government thugs are killing innocent peaceful Africans." But the conflict is neither Arab versus African, nor Muslim against non-Muslim - all these characteristics are utterly mixed and indistinguishable in Darfur.

The conflict started over arable land after drought diminished the available resources used by farmers as well as nomads. From the point of view of the Sudanese government a rebellion in the far western part of the country threatened the national unity and sovereignty. The possibly rich oil and uranium deposits there are of national importance. The government sent some troops and hired local thugs security contractors to tame the rebellion. Then various interests tried to use and expand the conflict to further their specific purpose.

No non-local intervention force will ever have the language capabilities and understanding of the complex tribal societies involved to be able to find and implement a lasting solution. As sad as it may be for some - such conflicts are not solvable by enlightened peacekeepers but only by the involved people themselves. Could Chinese peacekeepers have prevented the American civil war?

The conflict in Darfur is not a genocide. That concept is well defined in international law by a United Nations convention. The legal premise for genocide is "intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group." Only if such were to happen, and according to various UN commisions such did not happen in Darfur nor is it likely, international intervention in a national conflict would be legally justified.

If Sudan had oil contracts with major western companies, the conflict would be a welcome and underreported "anti-terrorist security operation." As Sudan has oil contracts with China, the conflict is labeled by the U.S. as a genocide.

This hypocrisy is well captured in a recommendable piece by Professor Mahmood Mamdani in the London Review of Books: The Politics of Naming: Genocide, Civil War, Insurgency

The history of colonialism should teach us that every major intervention has been justified as humanitarian, a ‘civilising mission’. [...] Now, as then, imperial interventions claim to have a dual purpose: on the one hand, to rescue minority victims of ongoing barbarities and, on the other, to quarantine majority perpetrators with the stated aim of civilising them. Iraq should act as a warning on this score. The worst thing in Darfur would be an Iraq-style intervention. That would almost certainly spread the civil war to other parts of Sudan, unravelling the peace process in the east and south and dragging the whole country into the global War on Terror.

Posted by b on March 22, 2007 at 01:39 PM | Permalink | Comments (42)

March 21, 2007

Not The Fight They Planned For

With subpoenas authorized, but not yet issued, for Rove and others, the stage is set for a possible fight in front of the Supreme Court over executive privilege. In 1974 the SC set a precedent:

The court, in a unanimous decision by Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, also said the case for executive privilege was strongest where there was a need “to protect military, diplomatic or national security secrets.”

The Cheney government has prepared for such a fight all along:

In fact, when it comes to deploying its Executive power, which is dear to Bush's understanding of the presidency, the President's team has been planning for what one strategist describes as "a cataclysmic fight to the death" over the balance between Congress and the White House if confronted with congressional subpoenas it deems inappropriate. The strategist says the Bush team is "going to assert that power, and they're going to fight it all the way to the Supreme Court on every issue, every time, no compromise, no discussion, no negotiation."

With the current makeup of the SC the Cheney administration certainly would have a good chance to win, if the issue would be in the realms of national security.

This was the plan:

  • set up a conflict with Congress over NSA spying or some other issue in the national security realm so that a successful claim for executive privilege can be made,
  • fight this up to the SC and, with the support of all Republicans and the media, win a confirmation for the privilege,
  • use the mark set by the SC judgement to deter Congress from further inquiries.

But incompetence and/or recklessness in the dismissals of U.S. attorneys have now led to a different setup. The case is certainly not about national security but about cronyism and obstruction of justice. The victims here are not some anonymous Iraqis or terrorists but strong Republicans with a loud public voice.

To assert executive privilege over handling this issue is quite a stretch. More so after parts of the internal deliberation, except for the critical 18 days, have already voluntarily been released to the public.

So the original plan, I assume, is now in jeopardy. While a court fight about executive privilege in the realm of national security would have full Republican and media backing, the public and party  support now will be much smaller and a confirming court verdict would be hardly assured.

If as likely this case is lost in court, Congress would be emboldened in further inquiries. To lose now would emphazise Congress' rights and boost it for the next salvo against the "unitary executive." Bush declaration of war against Congress yesterday was a fake. I seriously doubt this is the fight the White House inhabitants yearned for. They will therefor pull back and settle for a negotiated solution.

Let's hope the Democrats in Committee positions understand this and keep up the pressure for the release of all relevant documents and for full testimonies under oath. 

Posted by b on March 21, 2007 at 01:32 PM | Permalink | Comments (14)

March 20, 2007

What's up with Bushehr?

This morning the NYT reported: Russia Gives Iran Ultimatum on Enrichment. I was curious and wondered what might have changed the Russian position against further pressure on Iran. The NYT piece gives no real reason:

Russia has informed Iran that it will withhold nuclear fuel for Iran’s nearly completed Bushehr power plant unless Iran suspends its uranium enrichment as demanded by the United Nations Security Council, European, American and Iranian officials say.

Where is the Russian official confirming this?

Later today a rumour was distributed:

Russia is pulling out its experts from the Iranian nuclear reactor site they were helping build, U.S. and European officials said Tuesday.

Again, there is no Russian source.

The Russian news agencies say the stories are wrong: RIA Novosti writes on the first issue:

Russia's Security Council has denied reports in the U.S. media that Moscow issued an ultimatum to Iran over its uranium enrichment activities, the council's press service said Tuesday.
...
"The allegations made in The New York Times that Russia delivered an ultimatum during Russian-Iranian consultations March 12 in Moscow have no relation to reality," the service said.

and on the second one:

Russian contractor Atomstroyexport has denied foreign media reports that many Russian specialists have left the Bushehr nuclear power plant construction site in southern Iran.

Both reports confirm a known dispute between Iran and Russia about timely payment for the reactors progress. ITAR-TASS has a similar report while Interfax has nothing.

So what is up? Are the Russians stalling the Bushehr work? If so, is this a financial issue between Iran and Russia? What would Russia get, or avoid, for pressing on Iran?

I am a bit suspicious of "American and European sources in Vienna", i.e. U.S. and British delegates to the IAEA, cited in the NYT. These sources were often used in the run up to the war on Iraq and usually were simply propaganda distribution points. On the other side, the Russians could be shortsighted and really go for the fast buck, by pressing Iran and/or by demanding bribes from the U.S.

Any opinions?

Posted by b on March 20, 2007 at 05:40 PM | Permalink | Comments (16)

10 1/2 Hours of "Strong backing"

7:15am today: Gonzales has "strong backing" of Bush
5:45pm today: Bush statement on the AG

If, like everybody expects, Bush announces Gonzales resignation, those were ten and a half hours of "strong backing". The presidents support for Michael Brown and Donald Rumsfeld had more stamina. Rove and Cheney - next please ...

President Bush sent a powerful message of support Tuesday for embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, calling his longtime friend to express unwavering support in the face of calls for his resignation.
...
Bush called Gonzales from the Oval Office at 7:15 a.m. EDT and they spoke for several minutes about the political uproar over the firings of eight U.S. attorneys, an issue that has thrust the attorney general into controversy and raised questions about whether he can survive. The White House disclosed Bush's call to bolster Gonzales and attempt to rally Republicans to support him. "The president reaffirmed his strong backing of the attorney general and his support for him," Perino said. "The president called him to reaffirm his support."
Bush Affirms Support for Gonzales

---

THE PRESIDENT WILL MAKE A STATEMENT ON THE U.S. ATTORNEY MATTER SHORTLY AFTER RETURNING FROM KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI AT 5:45 PM, EDT, TODAY, MARCH 20, 2007, IN THE DIPLOMATIC RECEPTION ROOM
White House announcement

Posted by b on March 20, 2007 at 04:23 PM | Permalink | Comments (16)

The FBI's New Phone Record Process

The White House is searching for a new Attorney General and the Justice Department releases a 3,000 pages document dump (i.e. the docs that survived the fire). While this is to disguise the political machinations behind the firing of some non-"Bushies" U.S. attorneys and to keep the press off the real trails, another DOJ scandal is developing below the headlines.

The Justice Department's Inspector General had issued a report that accused the FBI of using illegal means to get citizen phone records through major telecom companies. Now the FBI adopted a new process: to stop documenting the illegal means it uses.

Glenn Greenwald described the former process:

In order to obtain telephone records within this FBI-telecom framework, FBI agents have been simply furnishing letters to the telecom companies -- not even NSLs, just plain letters from an agent -- assuring the telecom companies that (a) the records were needed immediately due to "exigent circumstances" and (b) a subpoena for the records had been submitted to the U.S. Attorneys Office and was in the process of being finalized. Upon receiving that letter, the telecoms provided any records the FBI requested -- instantaneously, via computer.
...
Worse, in many of these cases where these letters were provided, they were completely false -- both because there were no "exigent" circumstances of any kind and there were no subpoenas that were submitted or being processed. So the FBI agents who submitted these instruction letters repeatedly made false statements in order to obtain highly intrusive records.

Today the House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the issue. In a preemptive leak by FBI officials we now learn that a new regulation has been put into place that eases the process the DOJ Inspector General criticised.

John Solomon of the Washington Post seems to be the only one reporting this:

This month, the bureau sent field agents a new "emergency letter" template for seeking the records, shortly before the public release of a report by the Justice Department's inspector general that documented abuses of emergency phone-records collection by counterterrorism agents, officials said.

The contents of this new "emergency template" is unknown. The official FBI leaker assures us of its harmlessness.

New rules from the FBI general counsel's office tell agents they are to limit emergency requests for phone records to the most dire situations, in which the loss of life or bodily harm is believed to be imminent. They are to document carefully the circumstances surrounding the request.

But agents abused the former process of "exigent letters" in emergency requests and did not document their requests as demanded by law. How has this been corrected with the new process? 

Agents also have been relieved of a paperwork burden that was at the heart of past problems, officials said.

Under past procedures, agents sent "exigent circumstances letters" to phone companies, seeking toll records by asserting there was an emergency. Then they were expected to issue a grand jury subpoena or a "national security letter," which legally authorized the collection after the fact. Agents often did not follow up with that paperwork, the inspector general's investigation found.

The new instructions tell agents there is no need to follow up with national security letters or subpoenas. The agents are also told that the new letter template is the preferred method in emergencies but that they may make requests orally, with no paperwork sent to phone companies.

There had been a process that required documentation, if even after the fact, in form of a National Security Letter or a grand jury subpoena. The FBI agents did not follow this process and did not restrict their requests to emergencies.

The new process is no process at all, not even an "exigent letter" that the phone company could use as documentation justifying their cooperation is needed. The FBI agents can issue some oral emergency requests and are totally relieved of documenting this or to keep even a semblance of legality through after-the-fact National Security Letters or grand jury subpoena.

If an FBI agent wants to find out who a citizen, or an elected official, is talking to on the phone, he just has to whisper "emergency" and will have all phone records he wishes without preparing any paperwork burden at all.

While this may sound a bit too unrestricted, try to see the obvious advantages:

  • there will be no future DOJ Inspector General reports on mis-documented phone record requests and
  • FBI agents will be relieved of documentating and will have more time to issue more such requests to keep you save from the terrorists.

Indeed the incoming Attorney General should use this example and relieve other parts of the DOJ  bureaucracy of "paperwork burden that is at the heart of problems." Warrants, indictments and sentences could easily be based on pure oral statements without providing documentation. 

Of course the use of such would strictly be limited to emergencies.

Posted by b on March 20, 2007 at 09:14 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

March 19, 2007

Four Years

ABC NEWS/USA TODAY/BBC/ARD POLL – IRAQ: WHERE THINGS STAND (pdf)

  • Eighty percent of Iraqis report attacks nearby – car bombs, snipers, kidnappings, armed forces fighting each other or abusing civilians.
  • More than half of Iraqis, 53 percent, have a close friend or relative who’s been hurt or killed in the current violence. One in six says someone in their own household has been harmed.
  • In November 2 2005, 63 percent of Iraqis felt very safe in their neighborhoods. Today just 26 percent say the same. One in three doesn’t feel safe at all. In Baghdad, home to a fifth of the country’s population, that skyrockets: Eighty-four percent feel entirely unsafe.
  • In 2005, despite the difficulties in their country, 71 percent of Iraqis said their own lives were going well. Today that’s been all but halved, to 39 percent.
  • In 2005, two-thirds expected their lives to improve over the coming year. Now just 35 percent see better days ahead.
  • The number of Iraqis who call it “acceptable” to attack U.S. and coalition forces, 17 percent in early 2004, has tripled to 51 percent now, led by near-unanimity among Sunni Arabs.
  • Nationally, 12 percent report that ethnic cleansing – the forced separation of Sunnis and Shiites – has occurred in their neighborhoods. In mixed-population Baghdad, it’s 31 percent.
  • In rare agreement, 97 percent of Sunni Arabs and Shiites alike oppose the separation of Iraqis on sectarian lines.
  • [F]ewer than half of Iraqis, 42 percent, say life is better now than it was under Saddam Hussein, ...
  • Forty-two percent think their country is in a civil war; 24 percent more think one is likely.
  • Barely over four in 10 expect a better life for their children.
  • Three in 10 say they’d leave Iraq if they could.

The survey was conducted by a field staff of 150 Iraqis in all, including 103 interviewers, interviewing 2,212 randomly selected respondents at 458 locales across the country from Feb. 25 to March 5.

Posted by b on March 19, 2007 at 02:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (16)

OT 07-22

News & views ...

Posted by b on March 19, 2007 at 03:02 AM | Permalink | Comments (100)

March 18, 2007

U.S. Losing International Business Attitude?

This week I am helping some friends at the Cebit IT fair in Hannover. (The reason why I didn't post much the last days.)

It's my twentieth-something visit to the fair, so I am used to all the hype by the 6,000+ exhibitors and the long walks across 70 acres of exhibition space. 

Something that struck me this year during the usual walk arounds and dozens of evaluation talks is the lack of U.S. exhibitors. The usual big ones, Microsoft, Cisco, AT&T are there of course, but the number of small U.S. soft- and hardware companies has shrunk.

According to the statistics (pdf), there are 195 exhibitors from the U.S. this year, but 602 from Taiwan, 471 from China, 197 from Hong Kong and 215 from South Korea. As far as I remember, the first years of Cebit fairs were dominated by big and small U.S. companies and only a few came from Asia (besides the local German companies, which usually make up some 30% of the total.) 

I am not sure why this is the case. One reason may be the different attitude to customers. The U.S. sales folks, usually very friendly but speaking only English, always have the very greatest product. But when one asks for customizations they are shaking their heads or just start repeating their initial sales pitch.

The Asian folks, also very friendly and sometimes even too servile, share their capable translators. They know that their products are not perfect. If you ask for a bell here or a whistle there, their master technician will appear within a minute and you will have a serious delivery time and price quote within a day or so.

Technically the products from Asia are always internationalized. They will accept various date codings, time formats etc, though their localization, i.e. the translation into other languages, sometimes lacks quality (often with funny results.) By comparison the smaller U.S. software products often lack even basic internationalization. One Web 2.0 calendar product I looked at even insisted on am/pm time formats. The business models are insufficient too: "Sorry, our website for updates will only accept credit cards."

It is the attitude expressed in this recent Boing Boing post:

Pi day (3.14etc) was celebrated by mathophiles around the world earlier this week.

Who around the world celebrates on a date format of 3/14?

Even a billion dollar U.S. high tech weapon system like the F-22 breaks down when crossing the international date line. How does the U.S. ever plan to make more international relevant products again?

After 9/11 one would have expected some general additional awareness and considerations for international issues. My anecdotal impression is that the U.S. business world, aside from the very big companies, has instead lost in international attitude. Given the huge U.S. current account deficit, this attitude needs to change again.

Posted by b on March 18, 2007 at 01:44 PM | Permalink | Comments (23)

March 17, 2007

Seduction


bigger
by beq

Posted by b on March 17, 2007 at 03:26 PM | Permalink | Comments (27)

March 16, 2007

More Fire on Cheney Please

Watching the Waxman Oversight Committee on Valerie Plame there seem to be some points that will further get the White House into trouble.

Waxman says the CIA confirmed to him that Plame was undercover - so no doubts on that. Then Plame was under questioning and confirmed this too (Wilson must be a lucky man btw.)

Later the committee questioned the director of the White House office of security, James Knodell. The White House first had tried to keep him away from the hearing, but Waxman insisted.

The man, a career employee - not a political appointment, confirmed that Rove had the duty to report to his office that he had breached the security by uncovering Valerie Plame. Even if he had thought she was not undercover, he should have done so immediately after the first public discussions. He says neither Rove or anybody else did so and that there should have been an investigation into this but none was done. I wonder what might be construed from that.

It is just one detail and it may not matter at all. The bigger issue is the whole process that was involved in selling the Iraq war and slowly, slowly this may come to light by such committee hearings.

Together with the Rove involvement in the US Attorney firing it is another impact near the President. The big issue that is still missing in the congress investigation circus is the illegal NSA spying. I wonder who (Conyers?) and when that case will be taken up.

The hearing fire is becoming more dense and one wonders when someone or something in the White House may break through simple overload.

All of these hardly matter in what will be divulged. But it keeps the President's staff busy and pulls it away from doing more damage. Even Karl Rove can only have so many meetings a day. If those are all about how to cover for the next round of congress subpoenas, some nasty stuff that was originally planned may well get pushed down the road.

But the bigger danger is Cheney and his shadow government. Is there any investigation touching his immediate realm? In his latest piece Seymour Hersh reported on a new Iran-Contra like effort led from Cheney's office. Like Tom Engelhardt I wonder why nobody in the media seems to be on that trail.

Starting with the immediate response on 9.11, when Bush was on a plane and Cheney gave the orders, there are many Cheney issues that deserve some attention. The various committees in Congress certainly should put some effort there too.

Posted by b on March 16, 2007 at 03:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (18)

March 15, 2007

The Confession

In a heroic campaign, dubbed by the White House as Capture the Headlines, the U.S. administration has unveiled the collected confessions of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.

Announcing the surrender of the Front Pages of the LA Times, the Washington Post and the New York Times as well as nearly every other news outlet the Pentagon spoke of a total victory not seen since battle in the Gulf of Tonkin.

As the LA Times stenographs:

In his 31-point statement, Mohammed claimed responsibility for a wide range of terrorist plots, including the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center; the 2002 bombings of nightclubs in Bali, Indonesia; and the so-called shoe-bomber plot to down U.S. airliners traveling across the Atlantic. He said he took part in plans to kill former Presidents Carter and Clinton, as well as the late Pope John Paul II.

The New York Times adds:

Mr. Mohammed also outlined a vast series of plots that were not completed. Among his targets, he said, were office buildings in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York; suspension bridges in New York; the New York Stock Exchange “and other financial targets after 9/11”; the Panama Canal; British landmarks including Big Ben; buildings in Israel; American embassies in Indonesia, Australia and Japan; Israeli embassies in India, Azerbaijan, the Philippines and Australia; airliners around the world; and nuclear power plants in the United States.

He said he managed “the cell for the production of biological weapons, such as anthrax and others, and following up on dirty-bomb operations on American soil.”

Mr. Mohammed also said that he had taken part in “surveying and financing for the assassination of several former American presidents, including President Carter.” He added that he was responsible for an assassination plot against President Clinton in the Philippines in 1994.

But Mr. Mohammed interrupted his representative to clarify that he was not solely responsible for a 1995 attempt on the life of Pope John Paul II during a visit to the Philippines.

“I was not responsible,” Mr. Mohammed said, “but share.”

The Washington Post, citing redacted parts of the confession, reports on self allegations of Mohammed's involvement in the killing of John F. Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln.

Meanwhile Attorney General Gonzales was seen joining Karl Rove and other White House aides in what was announced to be an early celebration of a successful April fools' day. "Getting one of the editors to swallow this stuff is easy and getting some is pretty normal. But we got all of them off the Justice Department trail with just one hoax. That's pretty unprecedented and deserves some Champagne."

Posted by b on March 15, 2007 at 09:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (54)

March 14, 2007

OT 07-21

Sorry for not posting today. I am travelling, now on a thin modem line and have hardly kept up with the news.

Just one thing I wondered about. The European and East Asia markets went down some 2-3% earlier today. The Dow was down some 1.5.% at noon and threatened to fall further. But at 1pm without any reason it suddenly went up and closed +0.5%.

So I am wondering who called whom to achieve this.

Anyway - please use this as an open thread.

Posted by b on March 14, 2007 at 05:17 PM | Permalink | Comments (93)

March 13, 2007

AIPAC Wins, Peace Loses

AIPAC wanted the Democrats to leave Bush's hands unbound for an attack on Iran:

Hawkish pro-Israel lawmakers are pushing to strike a provision slated for the war spending bill that would, with some exceptions, require the president to seek congressional approval before using military force in Iran.

The influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee also is working to keep the language out, said an aide to a pro- Israel lawmaker.

At the recent AIPAC's annual policy conference Olmert pushed for this:

"All of you who are concerned about the security and the future of the state of Israel understand the importance of strong American leadership addressing the Iranian threat and I'm sure that you will not hamper or restrain that strong leadership unnecessarily," Olmert said.

Israel's foreign minister Livni and VP Cheney argued the same way:

Livni told participants at the Washington event that “impressions are important” in this region and added, “This is relevant concerning decisions on Iran, it is true regarding Iraq, and it is true throughout the Middle East.”
...
“It is simply not consistent for anyone to demand aggressive action against the menace posed by the Iranian regime while at the same time acquiescing in a retreat from Iraq that would leave our worst enemies dramatically emboldened and Israel’s best friend, the United States, dangerously weakened,” said Cheney.

The Democrats have deferred to the pressure from the Republican vice president and the premier and the foreign minister of a foreign country: Democrats Won't Hold Bush Back on Iran

Top U.S. House Democrats have frozen their attempt to limit President Bush's authority to take military action against Iran.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other members of the leadership decided on Monday to back down from presenting a requirement for Bush to gain approval from Congress before moving against Iran.

The Iraq resolution or amendment - if the Dems will ever be able to deliver one at all- has thereby lost its last tooth.

Can anyone think of less backbone in political leadership?

Posted by b on March 13, 2007 at 11:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (31)

March 12, 2007

A Timely Upgrade

How many stocks of New Century did Bear Stearns sell between March 1st and today?

New Century upgraded at Bear Stearns - Mar 1, 2007

New Century Financial Corp. was upgraded Thursday by analysts at Bear Stearns, saying the risk of the subprime lender's shares falling further is limited by the potential for an acquisition of the struggling business.

Shares of New Century were lifted to peer perform from underperform by Scott Coren and Michael Nannizzi at Bear Stearns.

The shares climbed almost 3% to $15.78 during afternoon trading Thursday.
...
If New Century is forced to sell itself or liquidate, the stock could still be worth $10 to $11, according to Coren and Nannizzi.

New Century Creditors Cut Funding - Mar 12, 2007

New Century Financial Corp. said Monday that all of its lenders have cut funding or announced their intent to halt financing after the subprime mortgage lender failed to make payments, pushing the company further toward bankruptcy.
...
New Century, which lends money to prospective home buyers who have poor credit histories, uses short-term borrowings to finance mortgage loan originations and purchases.
...
Its stock has been hammered by investors in recent weeks, falling from around $30 a month ago, to close Friday at $3.21 on the New York Stock Exchange. Shares plummeted $1.29, or 40.2 percent, to $1.92, in pre-market trading before trading was halted.

Posted by b on March 12, 2007 at 04:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (19)

Fun with Conservapedia

Socialism

Socialism is an economic system that requires public ownership and government control over the production of goods. Government is supposed to make decisions about what and how much to produce in an attempt to increase the common welfare. Socialism is common in most parts of the world outside of the United States.

God

It is claimed that Christianity, Islam, and Judaism worship the same God in different ways. This claim is regarded by some as a way to convert Jews and Christians to Islam, since it supports the idea that Abrahamic religion has "grown" from Judaism to Christianity to Islam. This belief has also led to the downfall of Western Civilization. Period.

Conservapedia:About

Tired of the LIBERAL BIAS every time you search on Google and a Wikipedia page appears? Now it's time for the Conservatives to get our voice out on the internet!

Conservapedia began in November 2006, as the class project for a World History class of 58 advanced homeschooled and college-bound students meeting in New Jersey.

Conservapedia has since grown enormously, including contributors nationwide. Conservapedia already has over one-half the number of entries as the Oxford Dictionary of World History.
Conservapedia is rapidly becoming one of the largest and most reliable online educational resources of its kind.

Sex

This page has been deleted, and protected to prevent re-creation

Rapture

The Rapture is an imminent holy event that will take place sometime in the near future. Jesus will come in the air, gather up the Church from the earth, and then return to Heaven with the Church.

Capitalism

Capitalism is widely attributed to Adam Smith, often called "The Father of Capitalism." Smith's version of capitalism was later replaced by a form of capitalism developed by John Maynard Keynes.

Sharks

Sharks are reptiles of the "fish" baramin believed to have survived the Great Flood after Noah took them aboard his ark. It was believed that prior to the Great Flood sharks existed on land, though this was made difficult by their lack of legs.

Jesus

...
As recounted in the Gospels, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and was subsequently crucified for His work and teachings.
...

Love

There is no page titled "love". You can create this page.

Guantanamo Bay detention camp

Quantanamo Bay detention camp is a prison of the United States of America in Cuba. In the prison are people suspected by the US government to be terrorists. The camp is criticized by governments around the world as the prisoners are tortured there without any constitutional right or human respect.

Tapeworm

The origin of the tapeworm (Class Cestoda, various species) is somewhat obscure, but if one reads about Noah and his magnificent ark it is apparent that the tapeworm was brought with the other organisms on the ark as commanded by God: ...

Cruel and Unusual Punishment

The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits Cruel and Unusual Punishment:

"Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishment inflicted."

This language was based on the 1689 English Bill of Rights, which was redacted in the Virginia Declaration of Rights and proposed by the Virginia ratifying convention.

Recently liberals have created controversies concerning whether this clause in the Eighth Amendment prohibits excessive fines and the death penalty.

The Bible is very clear and Exodus 21:23-25 states "But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth............". Thus the death penalty is compatible with the Bible.

Judicial Activism

There are two major types of judicial activism practiced in the United States' court system:

1. Liberal judges striking down laws that uphold core conservative American values
2. Liberal judges refusing to strike down laws that subvert core conservative American values

World History Lecture Fourteen - IV. Education (last entry of the history lecture)

The Christian population has steady increased from 0% in 6 B.C. to 33% today. Although Christians have always been a minority in the world, this minority has led the world in accomplishments and achievements.

Among Christians there has been a special group: the homeschoolers. Though even smaller in number, they have accomplished much for Christ and the world. Now that we have covered all of world history, ask yourself how many of the following homeschooled achievers you can identify: ...

Posted by b on March 12, 2007 at 02:23 PM | Permalink | Comments (16)

March 11, 2007

U.S. Attorney Scandal Is Just A Start

It is known by now that the Justice Department has manipulated various issues for political gains. In most cases we know so far that these manipulations were used in elections and Republican power-politics. But common sense leads us to assume that we have so far only seen the tip of the iceberg.

The shameless political use of Justice's power started to become obvious as early as December 2005. The Washington Post reported at that time:

Justice Department lawyers concluded that the landmark Texas congressional redistricting plan spearheaded by Rep. Tom DeLay (R) violated the Voting Rights Act, according to a previously undisclosed memo obtained by The Washington Post. But senior officials overruled them and approved the plan.

Several manipulated cases related to the fear-strategy - the hyping of terrorism with the aim to further political control - are also known, the Padilla case being the most obvious one. The Justice department moved it from "enemy combatant procedures" to a criminal trial when an unfavorable ruling to them became imminent. Now it has "lost" the video tape of his last interrogation, the one his lawyers may believe, "prepared him" to become uncooperative with them.

On the fired prosecutors, all staunch republicans, the Justice Department first denied any political influence. This was a lie. The orders to fire them came straight from the White House:

Presidential advisor Karl Rove and at least one other member of the White House political team were urged by the New Mexico Republican party chairman to fire the state's U.S. attorney because of dissatisfaction in part with his failure to indict Democrats in a voter fraud investigation in the battleground election state.

In an interview Saturday with McClatchy Newspapers, Allen Weh, the party chairman, said he complained in 2005 about then-U.S. Attorney David Iglesias to a White House liaison who worked for Rove and asked that he be removed. Weh said he followed up with Rove personally in late 2006 during a visit to the White House.

"Is anything ever going to happen to that guy?" Weh said he asked Rove at a White House holiday event that month.

"He's gone," Rove said, according to Weh.

Some prosecutors stayed with their oath when politically pressured and got fired. What did the ones not fired do? Josh Marshall was the first to ask this question:

[F]inally, we now have strong evidence that US Attorneys who resisted pressure to crack down on Dems were canned. What about those who didn't resist? In other words, if these folks were canned for not being political enough in their prosecutions, what about those who were? That's now the shoe that hasn't dropped. I won't get into specifics right now. But there are a few cases from last fall when US Attorneys dropped helpfully timed subpoenas investigating Democrats who were then locked in high profile races. There didn't seem any cause to question the timing then. But given what we know now, they may merit further scrutiny.

A few days later Paul Krugman chimed in with statistical evidence:

The bigger scandal, however, almost surely involves prosecutors still in office.
...
Donald Shields and John Cragan, two professors of communication, have compiled a database of investigations and/or indictments of candidates and elected officials by U.S. attorneys since the Bush administration came to power. Of the 375 cases they identified, 10 involved independents, 67 involved Republicans, and 298 involved Democrats. The main source of this partisan tilt was a huge disparity in investigations of local politicians, in which Democrats were seven times as likely as Republicans to face Justice Department scrutiny.

Of course Democrats have their decent share of thugs too, but seven times as many as Republicans?

The round of firing the attorneys is not a pure election manipulating issue. Some were dismissed for not demanding the death penalty. In the case of U.S. Attorney Carol Lam in San Diego it is an attempt to shut down investigation of fraud and cover up.

Marshall again:

She took her investigation deep into congressional appropriations process -- kicking off a continuing probe into the dealings of former Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis. She also followed the trail into the heart of the Bush CIA. Those two stories are like mats of loose threads. That's where the story lies.

It is obvious from common sense that at least some of the U.S. Attorneys not fired must have acted for Republican gain - why else would they still be in their job? Those who may not have had a chance to fulfill their party duty yet, will understand the signs:

Back in Phoenix, as in the seven other regions where U.S. attorneys have been toppled, many wonder whether other top prosecutors will risk challenging Washington when they meet across the table in future disagreements.

"Think of the chilling effect," said Thomas Gorman, an Arizona defense lawyer who is representing Rios Rico on the capital murder charge. "Those guys who were fired are all Republicans, all team players, all conservative prosecutors. Do you think other prosecutors are going to pound the table?"

If we are sure that the legal process has been manipulated through U.S. Attorneys, what about other ways?

The FBI has been using National Security Letters (NSL) and illegal instruments to get intimate knowledge of private issues of many people:

Of just 77 files reviewed by the inspector general, 17 -- 22 percent -- revealed one or more instances in which information may have been obtained in violation of the law. Indeed, the FBI's procedures were so slipshod, the report concludes, that it didn't even keep proper count of how many such letters were issued. The use of these letters ballooned from 8,500 in 2000 to 47,000 in 2005 -- but that "significantly understated" the real numbers, the report found.

Beyond that -- and perhaps the most disturbing revelation in a disturbing document -- the FBI came up with a category of demands called exigent letters, in which agents got around even the minimal requirements of national security letters. These exigent letters -- signed by FBI counterterrorism personnel not authorized to sign national security letters -- assured telephone companies on the receiving end that investigators faced an emergency situation and that subpoenas or national security letters would follow. In fact, according to the account of the more than 700 such letters, many times there were no urgent circumstances, and many times the promised follow-up authorization never happened.

Should we believe none of these letters were used for political manipulation?  The FBI is certainly not without improper political influence. In the case of attorney David Iglesias there is even a hint:

Mickey D. Barnett, another top Republican lawyer in the state, who once served as an aide to Mr. Domenici in Congress and represented the Bush campaign in New Mexico in the 2000 and 2004 elections, said he had also complained.

“I would say to Pete and Heather: ‘Look, you guys have some influence; I don’t have any influence. Can we get something done?’ ” Mr. Barnett said.

He said Federal Bureau of Investigation agents had complained to him about Mr. Iglesias as well.

Special Agent Bill Elwell, a spokesman for the bureau office in Albuquerque, acknowledged frustrations but said, “We understand that public corruption cases take time, and it’s important to get all your ducks in a row before you prosecute.”

Here the U.S. Attorney's investigation of possible fraud of a Democratic candidate took time until after the election. Why would the FBI complain about that?

Are we to believe that undocumented issuance of some 10,000 FSLs plus some 700 known illegal exigent letters include no cases where information was sought for political reasons?

In a tight vote in Congress, how much leverage could Karl Rove have gained through the knowledge of financial or other private details of representatives and senators? A mistress here, a stock manipulation there ...

Just like Marshall and Krugman think there are more politics behind the U.S. Attorney (not) firing, I believe there are also some politics behind the issuance of such FSBs. 

All of this yet leaves out the illegal NSA phone tapping that happens by circumventing the FISA process. There too cases of political influence are more likely than not.

Even republican operatives think the show just started:

several Washington lawyers and GOP strategists with close ties to the White House said last week that lawmakers and conservative lawyers are nervous that Gonzales may not be up to the job. "This attorney general doesn't have anybody's confidence," said one GOP adviser to the White House, who spoke on the condition of anonymity so he could be candid. "It's the worst of Bush -- it's intense loyalty for all the wrong reasons. There will be other things that come up, and we don't have a guy in whom we can trust."

Posted by b on March 11, 2007 at 11:49 AM | Permalink | Comments (31)

March 10, 2007

OT 07-20

I like this idea:

TK told the mayor that the problem was not about parking meters and how to use them, it was about people parking their cars all day on the street. "Don't use parking meters," he told the mayor. "Tell people they can park as long as they want for free, provided they keep their headlights on while the car is parked."

Other weekend news & views ...

Posted by b on March 10, 2007 at 01:41 AM | Permalink | Comments (83)

March 09, 2007

Diplomatic Conference

Mortar rain willing, there will be an international diplomatic conference in Baghdad tomorrow. Iraq, its immediate neighbors, Israel and the occupier will attend.

Some moderates have lauded this as a new approach and change in policy by the Cheney administration. But if this is serious diplomacy, we need a new word for comedy:

The official administration line, as articulated by Mr. Satterfield on Thursday before he was scheduled to head to Baghdad, is that he and Mr. Khalilzad will attend Saturday’s meeting, sit around the table with Iraq’s neighbors and talk about all the ways America and the region can help Iraq.

After four years of U.S. help (fourteen years if one includes the devastating sanctions), the Iraqis may be reluctant to even chuckle about that joke.

Even more diplomatic:

At the Saturday meeting, the Americans are scheduled to make a presentation to the overall group reiterating the oft-repeated United States accusation that Iran is providing material and training to Shiite militias that are being used in attacks against American troops. The United States also accuses Syria of allowing operatives from Al Qaeda to cross into Iraq.

Iran and Syria will be “posed with the issue of how they respond, not in a bilateral exchange, but to respond to a multilateral conference where Iraq is very much front and center,” Mr. Satterfield said.

There are rumors that during lunch former Sec-State Powell will jump from the cake and serve as dessert Anthrax vials labeled "Made in Iran - Best before Christmas."

Of course the Iranians and Syrians will have a good laugh at this while diplomats from the other nations may just yawn.

The whole show is a setup with only one intention -  to prove to the moderates within the U.S. elite that the administration is willing to do some serious diplomacy, but that Iran and Syria are unwilling to be appropriate partners.

Expect some sad editorials and grieving experts on the Sunday shows to lament how unfortunate the Iranian and Syrian approach is and how now, after serious diplomacy has been tried, only force will lead to their enlightenment.

---

PS: In case you wonder which Israeli diplomat is attending, here is the simple answer:

The second-highest diplomat at the United States Embassy in Baghdad is one of the anonymous government officials cited in an Aug. 4 indictment as having provided classified information to an employee of a pro-Israel lobbying group, people who have been officially briefed on the case said Wednesday.

The diplomat, David M. Satterfield, was identified in the indictment as a United States government official, "USGO-2," the people briefed on the matter said.

Posted by b on March 9, 2007 at 03:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)

March 08, 2007

The Surge 2.0

The "surge" as it was announced did not look like a serious attempt. Some 21,500 troops for a few months, essentially early deployments or prolonged stays, and some movement from the provinces to Baghdad were announced. The "surge" was sold as a temporary measure because the U.S. public would not agree to any longer troop increase. Now the real surge comes to light bit by bit.

In Germany we call this Salami Taktik, cutting the resistance chop by chop. As one slice an extended timeframe has now been presented:

The day-to-day commander of American forces in Iraq has recommended that the heightened American troop levels there be maintained through February 2008, military officials said Wednesday.

and more troops are asked for:

When the Bush administration announced its troop buildup in January, it said it was sending 21,500 troops to Baghdad and Anbar Province. Since then, the Pentagon has said that as many as 7,000 additional support troops would also be deployed, including some 2,200 additional military police that General Petraeus had asked for to handle an anticipated increase in detainees.

(I doubt the NYT reporting here. From my understanding the 2,200 MPs are not part of the 7,000 support troops but on top of that.)

There will be more requests like these and more immediate needs for even more troops and a longer timeframe. This will continue until there is some serious political resistance. But don't hold your breath for such.

Some liberal dems came up with a simple and good legislative amendment. They would "fund withdrawal" rather than defund the war. All new war funds could only be used for an immediate withdrawal and the force protection needed for that. But the moderate House democrats would not have that. Pelosi just announced to add some language to the war funding that may lead to a pullout by fall 2008. The Senate dems will make sure to water that already very soft drink down some more.

Bill Lind sees a simple election strategy behind this:

For the Democrats, what's not to like is anything that might actually end the war before the 2008 elections. The Republicans have 21 Senate seats up in 2008, and if the Iraq war is still going on, they can count on losing most of them, along with the Presidency and maybe 100 more seats in the House. [...] From the standpoint of the Democratic Party's leadership, a few thousand more dead American troops is a small price to pay for so glowing a political victory.

But that is only the tactical view.

Until I hear some of these heavyweight and low brained Dems like Biden and Clinton the She denounce the strategy of empire and call for giving up those fine four super-bases in Iraq, I'll stick to my assessment that they do not want a withdrawal at all. Unless such withdrawal means to steal away from the duty of an occupying power while still occupying and to sit back within those bases until the civil war burned itself out. That would lower the number of troops killed and keep the assets plus some of their beloved strategic perspectives.

So there is no hope for any real change and Lind may well be right saying:

The likely result of all this Washington dodging is that events on the ground in Iraq and elsewhere will outrun the political process. That in turn means a systemic crisis, the abandonment of both parties by their bases and a possible left-right grass roots alliance against the corrupt and incompetent center. In that possibility may lie the nation's best hope.

But that is a very small hope and anyway - the nation that really needs hope and really would benefit from an immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops is Iraq.

Posted by b on March 8, 2007 at 02:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (105)

March 07, 2007

Cheney's New Consigliere

Condi Rice has hired a new counselor. The announcement was made on a Friday afternoon, the time that guarantees the least media resonance. As usual this tactic was successful and hardly any of the major news outlets did some analysis of this move.

To understand this move and why it may not be Rice's man at all, a short look at recent foreign policy events is needed.

On February 8 Abu Abbas and Hamas announced an internal peace deal under the tutelage of Saudi King Abdullah. Cheney and his henchmen were pissed:  How the Saudis stole a march on the US

 

The positive response to "the Mecca declaration" was nearly unanimous among international diplomats, excepting those from the US and Israel. Even Quartet members seemed relieved, announcing that they viewed the Palestinian accord in a "positive but cautious manner".
...
Elliott Abrams was enraged and more surprised by King Abdullah's initiative than any other US official.

Abrams is essentially the Israeli ambassador to the Vice President's office. He was working on starting a civil war within the Palestinian people.

He blamed Rice for this happening:

Privately, he remained convinced that Rice's opening with Abu Mazen to restart the peace process had undermined his own program of support for Fatah radicals.

The next big foreign policy issue was a deal with North Korea. Here Rice circumvented Cheney and his gang: Rice is said to have speeded North Korea deal

After a meeting in Berlin in mid-January with her top negotiator on North Korea, Christopher R. Hill, who had just held lengthy sessions with his North Korean counterparts, Rice called back to Washington to describe the outlines of the deal to Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser, and then to President George W. Bush.

But to some, it seemed the usual procedures were cut short — vetting the details through an interagency process that ordinarily would have brought in Vice President Dick Cheney's office, the Defense Department and aides at the White House and other agencies who had previously objected to rewarding North Korea before it gives up its weapons.

This did blow off the lid for Abrams:

Abrams fired off dozens of e-mails to government officials questioning the decision.

Questioning the President's decision, which was leaked to the Washington Post, is not what anybody inside is allowed to do.

In the wake of his public tantrum, NSC director Stephen Hadley upbraided Abrams in a meeting in Hadley's office, telling him that he was not the secretary of state.

Now Cheney had a problem. With his front man burned and Rice out of control he had to arrange for new influence on foreign policy.

This is the context which explains how one of the most ideological neocons, Eliot A Cohen, suddenly landed at Foggy Bottom.

In a move that has surprised many foreign-policy analysts, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has appointed a prominent neo-conservative hawk and leading champion of the Iraq war to the post of State Department counselor.

Cohen is the replacement for "realist" Philip Zelikow who left late last year.

Some moderates spin this as a move by Rice against Cheney:

"Condi may feel she needs to have a neo-con right next to her to protect her flanks," said Chris Nelson, editor of the widely read Washington insider newsletter The Nelson Report. "And if she's really planning to put her foot down on the Israelis, which [Washington] will have to do if it wants to get a real process with the Palestinians under way as part of a bigger regional deal with the Saudis and Iranians, then a guy like Cohen up there on the [State Department's] seventh floor who is in on it and can claim influence on the outcome can help."

The move came out of the blue, and though it was presented as Rice's choice, the preceding events lead me to a different opinion. Glenn Greenwald also has his doubts:

The Cohen appointment is clearly another instance where neoconservatives place a watchdog in potential trouble spots in the government to ensure that diplomats do not stray by trying to facilitate rapproachments between the U.S. and the countries on the neoconservative War hit list.

We do not yet know how Cheney has arranged this, but I doubt that Rice did this voluntarily. The restart of the peace process with Abbas -- that and the North Korean deal would most probably not have happened had Cohen been in the position he now occupies.

Cheney used one of his weekly private dinners to suggest Cohen to Bush who already liked him and Bush then suggested it to Rice. Obedient, she did what her 'husband' asked for.

Cohen, who was the first to declare World War IV after 9/11 and immediately promoted regime change in Iraq and Iran, will hardly sit back and protect Rice from other neocon attacks. He will try to stop any progress or rapprochement in Palestine. He will also stop any real negotiations with Iran and may even reverse the North Korea deal. He will want to make active policy and certainly not in the way Rice's old counselor and she herself would prefer.

Rice now has a new consigliere but not one who will answer her orders. From now on it is again all Cheney and neocon imperial foreign policy.

Bush is now away on a longer trip in South America. Cheney has some room and time for the next steps in his program and now there will certainly be no more resistance from Rice's side when he comes up with some surprises.

Posted by b on March 7, 2007 at 02:48 PM | Permalink | Comments (22)

March 06, 2007

Incoming!

Incoming fire might be the feeling the administration has as finally some of its outrages are discussed in public.

The guilty verdict on Scooter Libby in four of five counts is probably the easiest issue. It will be appealed and whatever the outcome, at the end of the Bush presidency Scooter will get a pardon. The public effect was and is to demonstrate the administration's lies and its coziness with the mainstream media.

More serious is the scandal just bubbling up over U.S. Attorneys being fired for doing their job. The hearing today at the Judiciary Committee  was quite devastating. (TPM Muckraker did some live blogging.) Of course the president can fire these attorneys who serve at his pleasure, but there were false statements about the reasons to do so. There were also illegal influence calls by Republican lawmakers plus intimidation and possible obstruction of justice by the Justice Department chief of staff. The story certainly has legs and as it is essentially non-partisan, the spin-masters will have problems to turn it around and to blame Democrats.

Another pending issue is the care for wounded GIs and veterans. The Walter Reed hospital story is only a start. A lot of local journalists all over the states will start to look into this and find some unsatisfied veterans who want to vent. Hiding the wounded in bureaucratic limbo will no longer be effective. Like the other issues above it is something that hurts the Republicans in their central constituency and it is an issue they cannot blame on anybody else.

The looming economic recession will add to the salvo.

All this may restrict the administration's ability to commit more outrages. But the rising smoke from these impacts may also be used as diversion and enable the cabal to further its goals elsewhere while everyone looks at the headlines of the day instead of those of tomorrow.

Posted by b on March 6, 2007 at 01:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (22)

March 05, 2007

Plan B in Iraq

At the Washington Post Karen DeYoung and Thomas E. Ricks are fretting about Bush not having Plan B for Iraq.

During a White House meeting last week, a group of governors asked President Bush and Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, about their backup plan for Iraq. What would the administration do if its new strategy didn't work?

The conclusion they took away, the governors later said, was that there is no Plan B.

Of course there is Plan B. Abort the Maliki goverment and start over with Allawi. 

But be careful of adverse reactions:

Common side effects associated with the use of Plan B® included nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, tiredness, diarrhea, dizziness, torture pain, head-shots, and genocide charges.

Posted by b on March 5, 2007 at 03:47 PM | Permalink | Comments (21)

OT 07-19

News & views ...

Posted by b on March 5, 2007 at 02:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (77)

March 04, 2007

More Anti-Iran Propaganda

One could start a profession of running down the relations of the various U.S. financed  disinformation campaign entities. But unlike the millions spent on these, I have to keep doing it for fun.

A good start for such a run is always the British Telegraph. Today it has this story: Iran poised to strike in wealthy Gulf states:

Iran has trained secret networks of agents across the Gulf states to attack Western interests and incite civil unrest in the event of a military strike against its nuclear programme, a former Iranian diplomat has told The Sunday Telegraph.
...
The claims have been made by Adel Assadinia, a former career diplomat who was Iran's consul-general in Dubai and an adviser to the Iranian foreign ministry.

Now comes a long list of alleged Iranian perfidies from paying Hisbullah to running brothels and spy infested hospitals all over the Middle East. Among the junk there are some facts on the Telegraph's source:

Mr Assadinia, who fled Iran after whistle-blowing on corruption among the country's all-powerful theocrats, said: ...
...
Mr Assadinia, 50, served for two years at the Iranian consulate in Dubai, ...
...
He left his post in Dubai in 2002 and was granted asylum in Europe a year later, having undergone "intimidating" interrogations by Iranian intelligence agents in Teheran. Mr Assadinia plans to give more detail of his claims at a meeting later this month at Westminster, organised by the British Awhazi [sic]Friendship Society, which lobbies Parliament, the European Union and the United Nations.

Google news currently has seven links to stories mentioning "Assadinia".  The oldest one is the above Telegraph story, then comes one by the British Ahwazi Friendship Society and among others, the Israeli Ynetnews:

According to Adel Assadinia, a former career diplomat who was Iran's consul-general in Dubai and an adviser to the Iranian Foreign Ministry, spies working as teachers, doctors and nurses at Iranian-owned schools and hospitals have formed sleeper cells ready to be "unleashed" at the first sign of any serious threat to Tehran.

The Ynetnews site has the first name of Assadinia, Adel, even though the Telegraph never mentions that name. But the site of the British Ahwazi Friendship Society earlier today published the full name. Ahwaz is the very oil-rich Iranian province next to Basra. That piece also contains these paragraphs:

The BAFS and the Henry Jackson Society (HJS) will be holding an event in the House of Commons where Assadinia and an Arab Shia cleric will speak out against Iran's terrorist activities in the region and in favour of secularism and reconciliation with Sunni Muslims in Iraq.

BAFS Chairman Daniel Brett said: "The Iranian regime outlaws each and every organisation that contradicts its dogma and reveals its true intentions.

According to the organization's About page:

Prior to its annexation by Iran in 1925, al-Ahwaz used to be an autonomous, and at times, independent territory, inhabited entirely by indigenous Ahwazi Arab tribes.
...
Iran has intensified the militarization of the Al-Ahwaz area. According to a Human Rights Watch Report, “Millions of landmines remaining from the Iran-Iraq war in the province of Khuzestan kill and maim indigenous inhabitants of Khuzestan in southwestern Iran every day”.

How old mines from a former war are an example for a recent "intensified militarization" is beyond me.  Anyhow, the Society essentially calls for regime change in Iran. Other than a P.O. box and a info@-email address there is no information on this organization on their website or elsewhere. The group is not a charity nor is any information of its finances public. But I doubt they can pay their operation through PayPal buttons alone.

Asking "Who Daniel Brett works for? CIA or MI5?" an openDemocracy forum entry has a Daniel Brett entry. LondonYank at DailyKos wrote about him in two diaries about a forged Iranian letter that led to some trouble in Ahwaz and was first published by the BAFS back in 2005.

In February 2005 on his now defunct website Brett explained his specializations:

Defence and security issues have economic as well as political implications at a global, regional and national level, from geopolitical intelligence to risk assessments for businesses and industry. I write regularly on terrorism and insurgency threats in the Middle East, Africa, South Asia and Central Asia, and the effects of conflict and political instability on the markets. Whether you need an assessment of regional security organisations and multi-national peace and stabilisation enforcement forces, insight into anti-insurgency operations in eastern India or a thorough analysis of democratic reform in the Persian Gulf, I can provide accurate and authoritative analysis tailored to a client's requirements.

Brett has published with the Henry Jackson Society. As he claimed above there will be an event in House of Commons sponsored by the BAFS and the Henry Jackson Society, though the invitation of the Henry Jackson Society, copied here, does not mention BAFS. Still there seems to be a connection. So who is HJS?

The Guardian lists as HJS aims:

The Henry Jackson Society is a non-profit organisation that seeks to promote the following principles: that liberal democracy should be spread across the world; that as the world¹s most powerful democracies, the United States and the European Union ­ under British leadership ­ must shape the world more actively by intervention and example; that such leadership requires political will, a commitment to universal human rights and the maintenance of a strong military with global expeditionary reach; ...

The list of patrons of the Henry Jackson Foundation includes Robert Kagan, William Kristol, Richard Perle and James Woolsey - an obvious neocon haven.

On wonders how this all connects. A mysterious Iranian exile alleges some nefarious Iranian meddling in the Telegraph. He is supported by an organization run by a former freelance journalist with self-claimed defense and oil specialization. There is no visible funding for this operation even as, as it claims, it is channeling grants to Ahwaz TV. According to my Google searches, the man has not published much - his pieces at the HJS site stand out. HJS is a neocon offshoot in Britain.

So my main question is: Who finances Daniel Brett and his website?

The start of an answer may be in this 2005 Department of State statement:   

The Administration is appreciative of Congress’ support for the resources that enable us to implement the President’s Freedom agenda and reach out to the Iranian people. Our commitment of funds is tangible evidence of the United States’ support for a better future for the Iranian people. Through our public statements, internet, radio and TV in Farsi, we will continue to reach out to the broad range of Iranians pressing for change.

Posted by b on March 4, 2007 at 01:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

March 03, 2007

The "American Psyche" After Iraq

It will take at least another three to five years before the U.S. will retreat from Iraq. The four big bases are mostly finished and staffed and the U.S. elite will not be willing to give up that strategic gain.

But on a longer term, I do not believe that the U.S. will sustain that project because the public will be further alienated by it and because the financial consequences will start to show up in everyday life.

After a retreat from Iraq the financial problems will mostly be solved by the U.S. strongarming the G7 or G8 into a new Plaza Accord, i.e. a massive devaluation of the U.S. Dollar. 

But what is going to happen to the "American psyche", its "victory culture", after a retreat from Iraq.

Ira Chernus, a Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder, has published his thoughts on this in Asia Times Online and at Tom Dispatch and comes to a quite frightening perspective: After Iraq, the U.S. will turn more nationalistic, militaristic and imperialistic.

Being only a U.S. observer, I have too little real recent experience with the "American mind" - most readers here have more. So let us know your opinion on the chance of this to happen.

Some excerpts from Cernus' piece:

Remember the "Vietnam syndrome", which made its appearance soon after the actual war ended in defeat. It did restrain the US appetite for military interventions overseas - but only briefly. By the late 1970s, it had already begun to boomerang. Conservatives denounced the syndrome as evidence of a paralyzing, Vietnam-induced surrender to national weakness. Their cries of alarm stimulated broad public support for an endless military buildup and, of course, yet more imperial interventions.
...
Ronald Reagan played all these notes skillfully enough to become president of the US. The desire to "cure" the Vietnam syndrome became a springboard to unabashed, militant nationalism and a broad rightward turn in the life of the United States.
...
Iraq - both the war and the "syndrome" to come - could easily evoke a similar set of urges: to evade a painful reality and ignore the lessons it should teach the US.
...
The ambivalence lurking in the polls suggests that many Americans want it both ways. The war should end quickly, but somehow with victory culture if not still burning brightly, at least flickering, as the birthright Americans demand.
...
the US public will be told that Iraq, too, was just an aberration, a well-intentioned war handled with a staggering level of incompetence that simply got out of control. Those who don't want to repeat the experience, who prefer to try other paths to global security, will be told they are infected with the Iraq syndrome. And the prescription for a cure will inevitably be military buildup, imperial war and, of course, the possibility of both "kicking" the Iraq syndrome and welcoming US troops home in the sort of triumph they so richly deserve.

Posted by b on March 3, 2007 at 03:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (36)

March 02, 2007

Have Fun ...

Out for some clubbing - have a good weekend - have fun.

Posted by b on March 2, 2007 at 04:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (18)

Politicized Reports

Government reports are not neutral, but express the general tendencies of the administrations politics. See the just released International Narcotics Control Strategy Report. It even confuses the person responsible for it. In her release briefing Mrs. Patterson manages to contradict her own report several times.

The report:

The Islamic Republic of Iran is a major transit route for opiates smuggled from Afghanistan and through Pakistan to the Persian Gulf, Turkey, Russia, and Europe. The largest single share of opiates leaving Afghanistan (perhaps 60 percent) passes through Iran to consumers in Iran itself, Russia and Europe.
International Narcotics Control Strategy Report-2007
Released by the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs March 2007

The briefing:

QUESTION: I have one more follow up. You are listing (inaudible) list that Pakistan is a major drug trafficking and money laundering center. How can you explain this? Where are the drugs coming and going through Pakistan?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY PATTERSON: There's a legal definition of what a major trafficking -- and it's in the front part of that report -- and yeah, sure, Pakistan because they take at least somewhere between half and two-thirds of the Afghan product moves through Pakistan.
Release of the 2007 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report
Anne W. Patterson, Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs - On-The-Record Briefing - Washington, DC - March 1, 2007

---

The report:

Afghanistan remained the world's largest producer of opium in 2006, cultivating 172,600 hectares of opium poppy according to USG estimates. This equates to 5,644 metric tons of opium, up from 4,475 metric tons in 2005.
International Narcotics Control Strategy Report-2007
Released by the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs March 2007

The briefing:

Afghanistan's opium poppy cultivation increased by an alarming 59 percent, making last year's crop the largest on record.
Release of the 2007 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report
Anne W. Patterson, Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs - On-The-Record Briefing - Washington, DC - March 1, 2007

---

Bonus issue - Venezuela:

Prepared remarks:

Venezuela's permissive and corrupt environment led to more trafficking, fewer seizures, and an increase in suspected drug flights over the past 12 months. From 2005 to 2006 there was a 167 percent increase in cocaine trafficked via air to Hispaniola.

A smart reporter during the Q&A:

QUESTION: Anyway, on the second question, which is more -- you say that -- on Venezuela that there was a 167 percent increase in cocaine traffic (inaudible) to -- I presume this is Haiti and the DR. How do you know this? Are there seizures that --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY PATTERSON: Because we track -- we have very good information on air tracks. And what's essentially happened is what the -- what used to come through Colombia by air has now been virtually eliminated through a very successful program called air bridge denial and pushed eastward into Venezuela.

QUESTION: Okay.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY PATTERSON: And a lot of product is also moving from Colombia by land into Venezuela where it's put on small planes and goes into Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

QUESTION: And your information is on the weight of this amount or just on the number of planes?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY PATTERSON: No, on the -- on the number of tracks we've seen. And there's a complicated formula that derives that. It's about 9 percent of U.S. supply.

QUESTION: Yeah, but I'm just not sure I understand how you get 170 --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY PATTERSON: Okay, we'll give you that.

QUESTION: -- 167 percent increase in cocaine when you haven't actually weighed it. I mean, you're talking about an increase in the number of flights, right?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY PATTERSON: We're talking about an increase in the number of flights.

QUESTION: Of which you do -- which may or may not have illicit drugs on them?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY PATTERSON: Well, that's true. But we have many years of statistical history on this --

Release of the 2007 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report
Anne W. Patterson, Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs - On-The-Record Briefing - Washington, DC - March 1, 2007

Unfortunately, such bogus reports have consequences. When newspapers write "Report slams Venezuela for drug trafficking," people immediately assign guilt. Of course that is why the effort is made ...

Posted by b on March 2, 2007 at 12:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

March 01, 2007

NoKo Intelligence Blunder

If these reports in the Washington Post and the New York Times are true, which looks likely, the U.S. administration has committed the biggest foreign policy blunder possible.

North Korea did not intend to build nukes, but the administration, blinded by its own light, made them do so.

The Bush administration is backing away from its long-held assertions that North Korea has an active clandestine program to enrich uranium, leading some experts to believe that the original U.S. intelligence that started the crisis over Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions may have been flawed.

Back in 2002, an agreement was in place that guaranteed North Korea some oil supplies if it stayed away from nukes and kept its nuclear programs under IAEA supervision.

The U.S. then found that North Korea had received some 20 centrifuges from Pakistan and had bought lots of aluminium tubes, though the quality of those tubes was in doubt and likely unsuitable for uranium enrichment.

But the administration, based on intelligence analysis, assumed that North Korea had started a uranium enrichment program to build a nuclear Uranium weapon. It immediately went to hostility mode, did stop the agreed to deal and refused any further serious negotiations. Tit led to tat and North Korea threw out the IAEA inspectors and built nuclear weapons using plutonium that had been under IAEA supervision.

This of course did make much more sense than to start an enrichment program. Uranium weapons are bulky and heavy and to deliver them large bombers, which North Korea does not have, are necessary. Plutonium weapons are much lighter and can be fitted on missiles which North Korea has available. This fact alone should have softened the intelligence estimate. (For the same rational reason I seriously doubt that Iran's Uranium enrichment program is for weapon purposes. Why build a bomb one cannot deliver?)

So why was the early assessment wrong? The intelligence people would not say. Unlike with the Iraq intelligence there was no need to intentionally manipulate the assessment on North Korea. There is no oil to win there and there is no other motive for exaggeration I can think of.

But the psychological background may be one of projection. Ultra-hawks like John Bolton tend to believe that their enemies would do exactly as they would do. They project their own amorality, fear and irrationality on others. The various instantiations of the Committee on the Present Danger are evidence of this tendency. Adding to that was an acute "anything but Clinton" psychosis.

Now, five years after a neurotic exaggerated intelligence assessment and the breakdown of relations, North Korea does have several nukes and the U.S. is in the same or even a worse position than back in 2002. North Korea now will get oil for putting some of its programs under IAEA supervision but in between gained the deterrence to avert any military pressure.

While the Iraq intelligence was intentionally wrong, and therefore not a showcase of a lack of ability of clandestine services, the case of North Korea really proves their incompetence.

If they were unintentionally wrong on North Korea, where can one trust their abilities at all?

Posted by b on March 1, 2007 at 10:44 AM | Permalink | Comments (12)

 
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