Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
August 31, 2007

Enlightened


by beq
(bigger)

For the average person, who is yet to be enlightened, yoga is a way to positively increase one’s spiritual awareness and cultivate their powers of perception.

Posted by b on August 31, 2007 at 01:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (19)

Coercion by Death Threats = Torture

What did he know about Sunni insurgents living in the area, asked Staff Sgt. Kenneth Braxton, who's from Philadelphia. Nothing, the man said. Braxton said he knew the man was lying because of the way he moved his eyes. The sergeant tore an American flag Velcro patch from his sleeve and told the Iraqi to hold it to his chest. Then another soldier used a digital camera to take a picture of the man.

"So we've got a picture of you holding an American flag now," Braxton said. He told the man that if he didn't cooperate, the photo would be posted around the neighborhood.
South of Baghdad, U.S. troops find fatigue, frustration, McClatchy, August 31, 2007

Posted by b on August 31, 2007 at 11:44 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

August 30, 2007

OT 07-59

News & views ...

Posted by b on August 30, 2007 at 10:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (104)

The Campaign Against Iran

The product role out of the War on Iran is gaining speed. At Juan Cole's group blog Professor Rubin says a friend told him about a recent talk:

They [the source's institution] have "instructions" (yes, that was the word used) from the Office of the Vice-President to roll out a campaign for war with Iran in the week after Labor Day; it will be coordinated with the American Enterprise Institute, the Wall Street Journal, the Weekly Standard, Commentary, Fox, and the usual suspects. It will be heavy sustained assault on the airwaves, designed to knock public sentiment into a position from which a war can be maintained. Evidently they don't think they'll ever get majority support for this--they want something like 35-40 percent support, which in their book is "plenty."

The campaign will not jump start after Labor Day, it has already begun. It makes four points:

  • Iran is building nuclear weapons
  • Iran is killing U.S. soldiers in Iraq by arming the resistance
  • Iran is a threat to Israel
  • An attack on Iran is militarily possible and will achieve a regime change

All four are demonstrably false, but that will not matter.

Bush's recent speech to the American Legion and the accompanying 'fact sheet' include the first three of the above points. The last point will be made by some neocons. A few days ago Raw Story peddled a British study that claims a 'successful' strategic bombing campaign against Iran is possible. "Baloney" says Col. Lang. He adds:

The current IO campaign against Iran makes it seem more and more plausible that such an onslaught will be attempted.

Via Jim Lobe we learn:

On the heels of President George W. Bush’s latest threats against Iran for its “murderous activities” in Iraq, the Weekly Standard has obligingly published a 30-page report by Kimberly Kagan, spouse of Surge co-architect and American Enterprise Institute (AEI) fellow Frederick Kagan and director of an entity called The Institute for the Study of War, entitled “Iran’s Proxy War Against the United States and the Iraqi Government”.

In another post Lobe reports:

Just four days after the American Enterprise Institute will launch its September 6 “All or Nothing” campaign to save the Surge, it will debut “Freedom Scholar” Michael Ledeen’s forthcoming book, “The Iranian Time Bomb: The Mullah Zealots’ Quest for Destruction” (St. Martin’s Press), a rehash of neo-con arguments for “regime change” – by military force, if necessary – in Tehran.

And another part of the campaign is announced:

“This October 22-26, I am declaring Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week,” declared David Horowitz Tuesday in a friendly interview on www.FrontpageMag.com, one of Horowitz’s many front groups. “I will hold demonstrations and protests, teach-ins and sit-ins on more than 100 college campuses. Our theme will be the Oppression of Women in Islam and the threat posed by the Islamic crusade against the West.”

After a few month of such coordinated drumbeat, late this year or early next year, most of the public will be convinced that an attack is inevitable. The Democrats in Congress are either already convinced or have stopped to fight against it.

The only hope we might have is that parts of the Pentagon will somehow sabotage this new war. There is already some mutiny about the continuation of the 'surge'. The Army and Marines folks will be against an Iran campaign. The evangelical Air Force will support it if only to show off the  'value' of its useless toys. But even the unlikely event of a few generals leaving in protest will not make a difference.

Another unlikely hope is that the main stream media will refuse to be the echo chamber for this campaign, fact check the accusations against Iran and point out that these are wrong. They could also report that the idea of a winable air campaign is lunatic. Fat chance that they will do so. War sells.

Russia and China could probably prevent an attack. But why should they. They will stop a war justifying UN resolution and then stand by to see their biggest competitor tearing himself down in another unwinable 'preemptive' war.

Still the real big loser will again not be the U.S., but the Iranian people.

Posted by b on August 30, 2007 at 09:41 AM | Permalink | Comments (46)

August 29, 2007

Sadr's Interesting Move

Muqtada Al Sadr makes an interesting move:

Al-Sadr suspends militia activity in Iraq

Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has ordered a six-month suspension of activities by his Mahdi Army militia in order to reorganize the force, and it will no longer attack U.S. and coalition troops, aides said Wednesday.

The aide, Sheik Hazim al-Araji, said on Iraqi state television that the goal was to "rehabilitate" the organization, which has reportedly broken into factions, some of which the U.S. maintains are trained and supplied by Iran.

"We declare the freezing of the Mahdi Army without exception in order to rehabilitate it in a way that will safeguard its ideological image within a maximum period of six months starting from the day this statement is issued," al-Araji said, reading from a statement by al-Sadr.

This comes after two days of clashes during the pilgrimage in Kabala. The fighting were between alleged Sadr people and the Badr corps of al-Hakim supported by government troops. Hakim controls the Karbala shrine and the attached income stream. Sadr has denied that his forces were involved.

I have no real idea why Sadr is doing this, so these are just speculations:

1. An attempt by Sadr or one group working under his name to take over the shrine of Karbala has failed. This failure damaged the reputation of the movement. Now Sadr has to rebuild his forces and street cred to make sure he can win when the next round starts.

2. Sadr is planing for a Tet style offensive and this move is intended to take away some of the pressure the U.S. forces and the rival Shia forces are putting on him. Time to relax and prepare for the big one.

3. Sadr really lost control over most of his forces and needs to implement a new command structure.

Please add your theories in the comments.

One wonders how this will play out in Basra where Sadr forces just seemed to have gained control over their adversaries. Will those gains be given up? Related to that is a still unresolved issue with Sadr's interview in the Independent which Sadr denies to have given.

For Bush this move makes a good argument for the success of the 'surge': "Sadr has given up." At the same time it can be used to prolonge the 'surge': "Sadr promised to come back. We have to be prepared."

Posted by b on August 29, 2007 at 12:11 PM | Permalink | Comments (35)

August 28, 2007

AEI vs. AIPAC - Pass The Popcorn

The AEI speaks out against Congress' sanction legislation against Iran and starts a fight with AIPAC.

Yes, that is pretty weird, but exactly what Danielle Pletka, the AEI's vice president of foreign and defense policy studies, is doing in today's WaPo op-ed: Congress's Ill-Timed Iran Bills.

Pletka fears that U.S. sanctions on European companies which deal with Iran would stop European cooperation on any further U.N. sanctions against Iran:

Most of the bills pending in the House and Senate would, if passed, tighten the provisions of the Iran Sanctions Act (formerly known as the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act) and strip the president of authority to waive U.S. sanctions on a variety of firms, many in Europe.
...
On principle, many European foreign and finance ministries continue to resent American hectoring on trade with Iran. A senior German Foreign Ministry official recently characterized Treasury Department lobbying against business with Iran as "outrageous." Such protestations notwithstanding, word has quietly spread from Paris, London and Berlin that banks and companies now do business with Iran at their own risk.
...
For many years, a key element of Iranian strategy has been to divide Europe from the United States, leaving America with only unilateral options. It would be a cruel irony if, just as European governments finally begin doing the right thing, Congress deepens the Atlantic rift.

Pletka the multi-lateralist ... quite amazing. But as we will see, there is reason for this.

The Jewish JTA reports on U.S. lawmakers coming back from their yearly indoctrination lessons in Israel (free copy here):

Fresh off summer-recess visits to Israel, several key lawmakers are intensifying the push to pass legislation aimed at isolating Iran.

U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who led a trip to Israel last week involving 18 members of Congress, told JTA that Israeli leaders depicted the Iran issue as most urgent.
...
"All of us came back with a renewed sense of the importance of dealing with Iran, of the dangers that a nuclear armed Iran would pose to the region and the international community," Hoyer said. "There is a sense that Ahmadinejad is one of the few world leaders who expresses the possibility of the elimination of another sovereign nation -- Israel -- and hopes to eliminate from the Middle East the United States of America."

Hoyer didn't check with a map or globe, but he got it anyway. Ahmadinejad wants to eliminate the United States of America!!!

Bush might object to broader legislation sponsored by Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, that would extend sanctions to any third party having dealings with Iran's nuclear sector -- and restrict the president's ability to waive such sanctions.

Hoyer says he hopes to accelerate the passage of the Lantos legislation. He says the measure has 323 sponsors -- a number substantially greater than the 291 votes that would be needed to override a veto by Bush.
...
Hoyer said he was unsettled by what he described as the relative lack of urgency among Europeans and others about Iran. A nuclear Iran would exert greater controls over oil markets, he said.

"Russia and Europe and China have economies that are reliant on foreign products. They should have concern over such a destabilizing reality," he said.

One wonders when Hoyer had his last briefing on who is financing the U.S. deficits. What Congress is doing here may start a serious trade war. Does he want to stop Japan from buying oil from Iran and selling cars to Persians by shutting down Toyota factories in the U.S.? How would the Japanese react? This is certainly worrying for Pletka and the American Enterprise Institute.

The above still may be simple mirror fighting. A good insight on how this could be just a charade is provided by Farideh Farhi, a scholar at the University of Hawai:

[O]ver the past five years of closely monitoring the fate of Iran’s nuclear dossier, I have become skeptical of newspaper leaks, plants or commentary that hint at the possibility of eventual military action (either by the United States or Israel) against Iran right around the time or in the midst of negotiations among permanent Security Council members and Germany (P5+1) about the extension of sanctions against Iran.
...
[A]s far as I can tell even the smallest hint of US military action (and the potential terrorist designation of the national army of another country is certainly a hint) has become a very useful tool not only in the process of persuading countries freaked out about yet another Middle East war that sanctions are the way to go but also in framing the Iran policy discussions domestically in the US.

That seems to be the strategy the U.S. has been following so far. Threaten military action to make international sanctions look like "the better choice" while suppressing any idea of other choices like serious negotiations.

But now Congress members, fired up by Israeli and AIPAC influence, are becoming overzealous. Threatening the national commercial interest of allies is counterproductive for U.S. commercial interests. Congress needs to be whistled back. Hence Pletka from his U.S. industry financed chair is pulling the leash.

But with a Democratic majority AIPAC influence is probably stronger than the AEI's and in this case Congress may be out of control of the U.S. enterprise elite.

On Iraq the interests of the AEI and AIPAC converged. On Iran they are now diverging. That's stuff for an interesting fighting scene.

Popcorn anyone?

Posted by b on August 28, 2007 at 03:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

Turkey's Muslim President

Some stupid headlines:

AFP: Turkey elects ex-Islamist as president

The Turkish parliament on Tuesday elected Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul as president, making him the secular republic's first head of state with an Islamist past.

Reuters: Ex-Islamist Gul elected Turkey's president

There is nothing "ex-" with Gül's believes. He is just as "islamist" (what does that mean by the way?) as he has ever been. He didn't stop praying and visiting the mosque.

The predessor of Gül's current AKP party, the Welfare Party, did win the elections in 1996 against a rightwing, militaristic and corrupt coalition. A year later it was pressed out of the government by the Turkish military for alleged attempts to endanger the secular state. In 1998 it was forbidden which led to the foundation of the AKP which officially puts a little less emphasis on religion.

The political spectrum in Turkey is pretty rightwing. Within that spectrum the AKP is on the left. (There are parties further left, but without much chance to play a role at all.) The Turkish military is traditionally far right and is supported by and supports the big industrialists.

The AKP's economic-social position is working against those interests and towards the interests of the less wealthy. It achieved to stop the endemic hyperinflation that plagued Turkey for three decades and it launched some good programs for the rural peasants and urban poor.

When the ruling AKP first tried to elect Gül for president, the military threatend to intervene and to lauch a coup. This time the AKP answered pretty smart. It called for new elections and instead of the 34% of votes it had before the election, it now gained 45% of all votes.

The Turkish military yesterday again issued dark threats against Gül's election. But it will be much harder to do something against Gül and the AKP now with their public support clearly evident.

The whole "islamist" stuff was played up as a boogieman by the right wing and the military. Instead of looking at the political-economical record, the western news agancies followed those soundbites. Now that a NATO member and EU aspirant with a muslim population finally has a practicing muslim president, they stumble over themselves to explain that he is "ex-islamist".

He isn't and it doesn't matter at all. Politics in Turkey, like about everywhere, are overwhelmingly defined by left- or right-wing economic policies, not by religiousness.

Congrats to Gül. Congrats to the Turkish people.

Posted by b on August 28, 2007 at 01:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (18)

August 27, 2007

Gonzo Resigns

There was some rumor these days that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales would be replaced by Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff.

Part one is now verified:

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, whose tenure has been marred by controversy and accusations of perjury before Congress, has resigned. A senior administration official said he would announce the decision later this morning in Washington.

Mr. Gonzales, who had rebuffed calls for his resignation, submitted his to President Bush by telephone on Friday, the official said. His decision was not immediately announced, the official added, until after the president invited him and his wife to lunch at his ranch near here.

Mr. Bush has not yet chosen a replacement but will not leave the position open long, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the resignation had not yet been made public.

That's the official story which is of course bogus. AGAG got fired by Bush and Bush certainly would not have done so without having someone else ready to take that job.

Prof. Balkin looks a bit ahead of what might be coming:

The Bush Administration now faces three problems.

The first is finding a person to serve for the last years of a lame duck administration in a department with many unfilled vacancies, a diminished reputation for integrity and serious morale problems.

The second problem is getting the person confirmed before a Democratic controlled Senate. Democrats will very likely grill the nominee in confirmation hearings, and if the nominee was involved in the operations of the current Justice Department, may try to settle scores and demand information about what Gonzales did, leading to yet another standoff over executive privilege.

The third and most serious problem is that Democrats may use the confirmation as a bargaining chip to pry open more disclosures from this most secretive and stubborn of White Houses.
[...]

As said above I don't think the first problem is really a problem. Bush certainly already has a candidate. The Washington Whispers said:

.. will be replaced by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. Why Chertoff? Officials say he's got fans on Capitol Hill, is untouched by the Justice prosecutor scandal, and has more experience than Gonzales did, having served as a federal judge and assistant attorney general.

That's a sunny view again, likely whispered by some Bush insider, but it solves Bush's first problem.

The second problem Balkin sees, confirmation, should be easy if Chertoff is the nominee. Up to February 2005 Chertoff was Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division of the Justice Department.  But he left a few days after AGAG was sworn in and is therefore not touched by the prosecutor scandal. Then again Chertoff certainly was to some degree involved in the NSA's illegal spying dispute and the discussions around that within the Justice Department.

The third problem Balkin sees depends on the spine Democrats might want to show. I don't expect such to exist, but maybe they can grow one in this case.

There is something else that clearly speaks against Chertoff. Two years ago Katrina threatened and than destroyed New Orleans. It was Chertoff who botched the response to that catastrophe. FEMA chief Brown was scapegoated for that, but the responsibility clearly was Chertoffs.

That alone should disqualify him, though I don't expect anyone important to make that point.

One question is left where you might have an idea. Why now?

Posted by b on August 27, 2007 at 10:13 AM | Permalink | Comments (38)

OT 07-58

News & views ... open thread ...

Posted by b on August 27, 2007 at 12:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (133)

August 26, 2007

'Blasphemous' Bills Anger Americans

'Blasphemous' Bills Anger Americans
By Alastair Leithead
BBC News, Greenville, South Carolina

Demonstration over essentials dropped by Canadian troops - Currency imitation angered students of flooded university

A demonstration has been held on the campus of Bob Jones University accusing Canadian troops of insulting America after they distributed toiletry supplies bearing the cherished symbols of American heritage.

The toilet paper showed a repeating pattern of American $100 bills, featuring the declarations, "E Pluribus Shoppum", and "In God We Chi-ching", expressing American's devout faith that God loves shopping too.


Photo by Fox TV
Toilet Paper Dropped by Canadian Troops
The supplies were intended as a relief gift

The Canadian military said the idea had been to give toiletry essentials for the Christian students to use during severe local flooding, and they did not realise it would cause offence.

The shrink-wrapped bales of $100 toilet paper rolls were dropped from a helicopter in Greenville County.

The words on the imitation currency, which include the name of God, with some Old Latin thrown in, are revered, and Americans are very sensitive about where and how they can be used.

Clerics at Bob Jones University criticised the Canadian forces for their religious insensitivity, and around 100 students held a demonstration and prayer vigil on the campus.

University President Steven Jones said: "To have a version of our cherished American currency on something you wipe your ass with would be an insult in any American around the world. Even more insulting, the all-seeing Eye of God was centered on the 'sweet spot', if you know what I mean!"

A spokeswoman for the Canadian relief forces said they made "significant efforts to work with local leaders, clerics and elders to respect their culture" and distributing the toilet paper was an effort to give relief to the flood-beleagured campus that students would find useful.

"Unfortunately," he added, "there was something on those rolls we didn't immediately understand to be offensive and we regret that as we do not want to offend. Your US currency is in the crapper anyway, and we thought our British form of humor might ease their desparate relief situation."

Local weather forecasters predict another 39 days and nights of heavy rain for the South Carolina region.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/6964564.stm

----
composition by Tante Aime
(picked from a comment which I should have deleted for being again way off topic)

Posted by b on August 26, 2007 at 01:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (21)

When Will Juan Cole Disclose His Government Contracts?

UPDATE: Juan Cole has no government contract. See update section below:

There is some discussion in the blogsphere, recapped below, about experts who give 'independent' public opinions on Middle East affairs while having financial income by lobbying for partisan groups involved in these affairs, or from U.S. government related partisan entities.

The discussion illustrates that partisan financial relations, not disclosed voluntarily and preemptively but becoming public otherwise, arouses suspicions how far an expert can be trusted as an independent source of knowledge and valid opinions.

When the author of one of the most influential Middle East blogs, Professor Juan Cole, does undisclosed consulting work for the CIA and the State Department while offering 'independent'  expert opinions in commercial media like Salon and Asia Times Online and at his blog questions may come up. 

First let us recap the current discussions:

Blogging for Salon, Glenn Greenwald explains How our seedy, corrupt Washington establishment operates. His case is about Philip Zelikow, former counselor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who next to his job at the University of Virginia, consults for a partisan lobbying firm and  gives 'independent' expert opinions to the media. While Zelikow was opining about 'leadership change' in Iraq in an ABC interview, the lobbying firm has a big contract with Iyat Allawi, who wants to be the 'new leader' in Iraq.

Laura Rozen writes that Zelikow, a former teacher of hers, denies to have known about the Allawi contract while punditing for ABC:

My sense is if Zelikow made a mistake, it was not one of concealing a conflict of interest, because he not only wasn't working on the BGR Allawi account, but didn't know about it at the time he was interviewed; but rather that he didn't preempt the perception of a possible conflict of interest, and that the best thing would have been to make sure the media knew about his BGR work. The argument that he's deceitful strikes me as totally unfair. As he says, it's "hard to see how to preempt the conflict if you don't know there is one. If they brought up the Kurds, different story."

Zelikow may not have been deceitful, but he should have disclosed his general relations to a lobbying firm that works on the issues he talks about, and the Kurds are certainly involved here too, as a seemingly 'independent' expert.

Another case is Mike O'Hanlon. Steve Clemons, guestblogging at Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish, points out that O'Hanlon gets paid by a U.S. government TV station in the Middle East, while writing 'independent' pro-"surge" op-eds in the New York Times and the Washington Post.

I've also recently learned that Mike O'Hanlon is under contract with the US government's propaganda network, Alhurra.  I'm not quite sure what I think about that yet -- but it's something that ought to be in the open.

That case, like Zelikow's, is a bit murky too. A commentator at Kevin Drum's Political Animal remarks that O'Hanlon may just collect simple 'stipends' everybody who pundits at Al'Hurra is getting too. While 'stipends' may be less than a full contract, I thinks this should have been disclosed by O'Hanlon, if only to avoid any suspicion of undue influence.

O'Hanlon gets his main paycheck from the Brookings Institute, Zelikow from the University of Virginia. If they make extra money working on lobbying cases, or 'stipends' for slots at a government TV station, they should disclose this when they opine as neutral 'experts' in the public media, be it on TV, in op-eds or at well traveled blogs.

Not doing so lessens the value of their judgements.

Which brings me to a third case no blogger at Salon or elsewhere seems to bother about.

Juan Cole is Professor at the University of Michigan and blogs at Informed Comment. Neither at his site nor on his personal page does Cole disclose any work for the government. There is no mentioning of Cole's government consulting in his regular Salon columns either.

But last week Cole appeared at the New America Foundation to talk about his new book on Napoleon's occupation of Egypt and how this relates to current affairs. The event was covered by Cspan and video is available at the foundations site and also linked at Cole's blog.

Cole is introduced by Steve Clemons, a director at the foundation. Clemons lauds (my transcription):

I've been fortunate to have had -mostly a virtual- relationship, with Juan Cole by blogging and email, but we become buddies of a sort whenever I find out that he is coming through Washington -  very frequently to help our government have, you know, better sensors and benchmarks of what's going on over there.
[...]
And as I said in the beginning, one of the things that does give me some hope, now and than, is that Juan does come through Washington, is talking to people of significants in our intelligence and foreign policy bureaucracies and is trying to educate them on what is going on. Weather they are listening and implementing anything he is saying, is an entirely different subject for perhaps another day. But without further ado please help me welcome Juan Cole.

Maybe Juan Cole flies very frequently to Washington to educate the CIA and State Department for a cup of cold coffee and a warm handshake - I don't know. More likely though is that he does get some financial compensation.

Whatever it is, he should have disclosed this publicly on his blog and in his other writings.

A good example how experts can and should explain their relationships was recently given by Anthony Cordesman, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Within an oped on Arming Arab States in the NYT and IHT, Cordesman writes:

Disclosure: the nonprofit organization I work for receives financing from many sources, including the United States government, Saudi Arabia and Israel. No one from any of those sources has asked me to write this article.

That is the way Zelikow and O'Hanlon should also have disclosed their financial relationship with partisan lobbying firms and government propaganda institutions.

It is also the way Juan Cole should disclose his "very frequent" trips to Washington and his work for "intelligence and foreign policy bureaucracies" there.

Salon, where not only Greenwald but also Joan Walsh opines on ABC News: Zelikow didn't disclose lobbying role, should also disclose that their frequent columnist Juan Cole is a government consultant.

When will Juan Cole disclose his government contracts?

When will Salon do so?

Must we finally have that blogger ethics panel?

UPDATE: I emailed Juan Cole asking about contracts and he answered:

Steve was being hyperbolic.  I don't consult with the administration.

As a public intellectual and an employee of the state of Michigan paid by the people to tell them about the Middle East, I tell all kinds of people about the Middle East.  There are occasions on which government people (mainly GS 13s probably) are in the audience.  I don't have a contract with the government and they would hear the same thing if they came to a Middle East Studies Association conference. 

I think if the government gave me a contract or I formally worked for a subcontractor (which by my University contract I could do 4 days a week), that should be disclosed.  That some think tank asked me to speak and people from the government came is not remarkable.

cheers

  Juan

I apologize for having suggested something else.

Posted by b on August 26, 2007 at 09:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (25)

August 25, 2007

A Week In Gaza

A deadly week in "unoccupied" Gaza:

August 19, 2007: IDF kills Gazan thought to be laying bomb
August 20, 2007: Six Hamas militants killed in IDF strike
August 22, 2007: IAF kills gunman, wounds companion near Karni crossing
August 22, 2007: IAF airstrike kills Hamas militant in Gaza Strip
August 25, 2007: IDF kills five Palestinians in W. Bank, Gaza gunfights

The above pieces are mostly daily collections. While the headline tells the worst, a lot of "minor" stuff is reported, if at all, in half sentences therein and here and there. Is there a central site for daily war news in Gaza and the Westbank?

Somewhat related a recommandable read:

Norman Finkelstein: There Went a Man - Remembering Raul Hilberg

Posted by b on August 25, 2007 at 05:15 AM | Permalink | Comments (29)

August 24, 2007

Cranes

As some here will know, I really like cranes.

I pictured one in its habitual environment this afternoon. The small size of us as human beings versus their natural surroundings is quite amazing.


(bigger)

Posted by b on August 24, 2007 at 03:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (29)

Accurate Bombing

Afghan bombing 'most accurate ever'

The US military believes the Afghanistan air campaign was the most accurate ever ...

BBC, April 10, 2002

---

U.S. bomb kills 3 British soldiers in Afghanistan

Three British soldiers were killed by a bomb dropped by U.S. aircraft supporting them in a battle against Taliban insurgents in southern Afghanistan, ...

Reuters, August 24, 2007

Which of course brings back the question: Why are the U.S. and its NATO vassals fighting the Pashtuns?

Posted by b on August 24, 2007 at 09:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

August 23, 2007

The Coup Against Maliki

Yesterday Bush made some very distorted historical comparisons between the war on Iraq and on Vietnam. But some chapters of the war on Vietnam do rhyme with Iraq - like the Gulf of Tonkin incident and WMDs. Here is something else that, one way or another, will soon be comparable:

On orders from U.S. President John F. Kennedy, Henry Cabot Lodge, the American ambassador to South Vietnam, refused to meet with Diệm. Upon hearing that a coup d'etat was being designed by ARVN generals led by General Dương Văn Minh, the United States gave secret assurances to the generals that the U.S. would not interfere. Dương Văn Minh and his co-conspirators overthrew the government on November 1, 1963.

After Bush withheld support for Maliki a day before, yesterday Sen. Clinton and Sen. Levin (in a phonecall from Tel Aviv!) called for Maliki's head. Having secured bi-partisan support, Bush's administration is likely to launch the coup against the elected Iraqi prime minister during the next few days.

For the U.S. Maliki is not puppet enough and his recent travel to and support for Iran and Syria are simply unforgivable. There are some personal consequence for disobedience:

The coup was very swift. On November 1, 1963, with only the palace guard remaining to defend President Diệm and his younger brother, Ngô Đình Nhu, the generals called the palace offering Diệm safe exile out of the country if they surrendered. However, that evening, Diệm and his entourage escaped via an underground passage to Cholon, where they were captured the following morning, November 2. The brothers were executed in the back of an armored personnel carrier that was taking them to Vietnamese Joint General Staff headquarters. Diệm was buried in an unmarked grave in a cemetery next to the house of the US ambassador, Lodge.

Maliki should certainly watch his back now. His body guards are western mercenaries he can not trust. He shouldn't trust any U.S. official either. If I were him, I'd get on a plane asap. There are some fine places in this world ruled by people more capable than him. They are secure, have water and electricity. Unlike his people Maliki with his diplomatic passport has lots of choices where to go to.

To justify the coup, a new National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq will be coming out later today. The NYT gives a preview:

The administration is planning to make public today parts of a sober new report by American intelligence agencies expressing deep doubts that the government of the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, can overcome sectarian differences. Government officials who have seen the report say it gives a bleak outlook on the chances Mr. Maliki can meet milestones intended to promote unity in Iraq.

With Maliki still in place, the September report by Petraeus and Crooker would have to point out an unprogressing political deadlock in Iraq. It thereby would have endanger the continuation of the "surge".

The "surge" proponents, (this includes Clinton/Levin), decided to get rid of Maliki now and then  have the September report filled with praise for the just installed new dictatorship.

There is some competition on who will follow Maliki. CIA asset Ayad Allawi is trying to get the job as are some militaries. (Behind the curtain Chalabi will be waiting too.) This might well be another part of the constant infight within the State Department/Cheney/Defense Department triangle.

Juan Cole has some anonymous source on the military variant:

"There is serious talk of a military commission (majlis `askari) to take over the government. The parties would be banned from holding positions, and all the ministers would be technocrats, so to speak ...
[...]
The six-member board or commission would be composed on non-political former military personnel who are presently not part of the government OR the military establishment, such as it is in Iraq at the moment. It is said that the Americans are supporting this behind the scenes.

Cole's source says "many many" Iraqis would support this. Sure, they also greeted the occupiers with flowers and sweets. Why wouldn't they support a new occupation puppet dictatorship now? I for one don't remember them voting for such.

Allawi, who also got about zero votes in the Iraqi election, has hired a republican lobbying firm to prepare the path for him:

The anti-Maliki crusader is former Iraqi interim prime minister Ayad Allawi, and the Washington firm retained to spearhead U.S.-focused efforts on his behalf is the Republican powerhouse group of Barbour, Griffith, and Rogers (BGR).

BGR International's president is Robert Blackwill, the one-time White House point man on Iraq, holding the title of Presidential Envoy to Iraq in 2003 and 2004.
[...]
In recent days, BGR sent hundreds of e-mail messages in Allawi's name from the e-mail address DrAyadAllawi@Allawi-for-Iraq.com.

They also managed to get an Allawi OpEd "Pick Me! Pick Me!" into Saturday's Washington Post.

Anyway - longterm it will be completely irrelevant who wins the fight.

What is further to be expected in Iraq? As history rhymes lets also look at the aftermath of the coup in that other war. The enemy of that time had a good laught:

Upon learning of Diệm's ouster and death, Ho Chi Minh is reported to have said, "I can scarcely believe the Americans would be so stupid." The North Vietnamese Politburo was more explicit, predicting: "The consequences of the 1 November coup d'état will be contrary to the calculations of the U.S. imperialists ... Diệm was one of the strongest individuals resisting the people and Communism. Everything that could be done in an attempt to crush the revolution was carried out by Diệm. Diệm was one of the most competent lackeys of the U.S. imperialists ... Among the anti-Communists in South Vietnam or exiled in other countries, no one has sufficient political assets and abilities to cause others to obey. Therefore, the lackey administration cannot be stabilized. The coup d'état on 1 November 1963 will not be the last."

Sure the Baath leaders and the Iraqi resistance will have a good party too when Maliki is gone and al-Sadr will praise his lord that his major competition was outsted.

Further on:

After Diệm's assassination, South Vietnam was unable to establish a stable government and numerous coups took place during the first several years after his death. While the U.S. continued to influence South Vietnam's government, the assassination bolstered North Vietnamese attempts to characterize the South Vietnamese as supporters of colonialism.

But the war on Vietnam went on and on until years later the U.S. public finally pulled the plug. It will do so again. Some six years from now and after Teheran and Damascus have been bombed to rubble and civil wars have destroyed Lebanon and Jordan. 

Posted by b on August 23, 2007 at 12:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (33)

August 22, 2007

The Surge's Success

The "surge" was about pacifying Baghdad and giving space and time for political reconciliation. The first part didn't work, but the second did - kind of.

Political reconciliation has taken place in Washington DC. While the Democrats were slightly against feeding more troops into the Iraq quagmire before the Congress summer recess, they have now turned around and will support Bush's politics.

Quoting Clinton and Obama, WaPo reports:

The leading Democratic candidates for the White House have fallen into line with the campaign to praise military progress while excoriating Iraqi leaders for their unwillingness to reach political accommodations that could end the sectarian warfare.

To support the Democrat's brave stand, the White House now adds to the propaganda surge in form of a $15 million domestic TV and Radio campaign run by former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.

In a race to the bottom the leading Democrats and other Bush dogs try to get Congress' approval number below those of Bush. Not only by following Bush on Iraq, but also with toothless investigations. Senator Leahy is now even threatening Cheney by offering him further negotiations. What a courageous man. Glenn Greenwald remarks:

Congress is so deeply unpopular not because they are investigating or obstructing too much, but because they are investigating and obstructing far too little.

Yes Glenn, right. But that's not a bug, but an inherent Democratic feature. Just ask Bush how he sees it.

In light of this, it will not be suprizing to see how the Democrats will lose the 2008 elections: Presidency, House and Senate.

But back to Iraq: The story of military progress in Iraq is of course utter bullshit. The only marginal progress the U.S. has achieved is by arming the Sunni tribes against some more radical elements (Someone in the Pentagon finally read Pat Lang's book about the Anbar tribes.)

These tribes, now paid by the U.S. military, will of course not stop there. If the U.S. continues to pay them, they will attack the Shia, if the money flow stops, they will attack the Shia and the U.S. troops.

But this dubious temporary success was never part of the "surge" plan. It doesn't count. The "surge" was about Baghdad's security and time for a political process. Contrary to the claims of military success, both aims have been missed. 

A few days ago McClatchy's Leila Fadel noted:

U.S. officials say the number of civilian casualties in the Iraqi capital is down 50 percent. But U.S. officials declined to provide specific numbers, and statistics gathered by McClatchy Newspapers don't support the claim.

The number of car bombings in July actually was 5 percent higher than the number recorded last December, according to the McClatchy statistics, and the number of civilians killed in explosions is about the same.

That was written even before the biggest bombing since the U.S. invasion slaughtered over 500 Yazidis in Tal al Azizziyah. Today 14 U.S. soldiers died in a helicopter crash and more Iraqi policemen got killed too:

In Baiji, a fuel tanker rammed into a newly opened police station, killing at least 20 police officers and civilians, police said. The police department had recently moved into the new office after a truck bombing at their previous headquarters killed 27 people in June.

We can imagine how the military spokesperson will spin this one: "But can't you see, casualties are down. This time only 20 got killed. That is thanks to the very real military success of the surge. And, by the way, we are pretty much sure that Iran was behind this anyway." Predictably, the Democrats will run with it.

As for the second part of the "surge", Maliki lost the majority in parliament, is politically isolated and now even Bush starts to criticize him. It's about time for CIA asset Allawi to again take the lead role in the Green Zone puppet theater.

Not that it matters much. Iraq is broken and nobody can fix it. That is at least Nir Rosen's devastating diagnosis:

Iraq doesn’t exist anymore. Baghdad will never be in the hands of Sunnis again. Baghdad will be controlled by Shia militias. They’ve been cleansing all the Sunnis from Baghdad. So Sunnis are basically being pushed out of Iraq, period. They can go to the Anbar Province, which isn’t a very friendly place.

I think you’ll see that there won’t be any more elections in Iraq. Maliki is the last prime minister Iraq will have for a long time. There is neither the infrastructure for elections anymore, nor the desire to have them, nor the ability of Iraqi groups to cooperate anymore.

So what you’ll see is basically Mogadishu in Iraq: various warlords controlling small neighborhoods. And those who are by major resources, such as oil installations, obviously will be foreign-sponsored warlords who will be able to cut deals with us, the Chinese. But Iraq is destroyed, and I think we’ll see that this will spread throughout the region, and this will destabilize Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, as well.

As Rosen intimately knows the situation on the ground, has been mostly right with his predictions so far and is not paid by the government, this should be considered the best available analysis.

But don't expect Democrats in Congress to read or act on it.

(Btw: Take the time to read the whole Amy Goodman interview with Rosen. It also covers the refugees situation, Lebanon and Palestine.)

Posted by b on August 22, 2007 at 07:49 AM | Permalink | Comments (62)

OT 07-57

Open thread: News and views ...

Posted by b on August 22, 2007 at 12:28 AM | Permalink | Comments (131)

August 21, 2007

Low Income Lower

The NYT writes:

While incomes have been on the rise since 2002, the average income in 2005 was $55,238, still nearly 1 percent less than the $55,714 in 2000, after adjusting for inflation, analysis of new tax statistics show.

It is actually worse as official inflation measured by the government is likely less than real inflation.

The numbers also do not show the very unequal distribution of income which has now reached levels last known in the 1920s. If the rich get richer, while the average income sinks, low income must have sunken a lot.

The growth in total incomes was concentrated among those making more than $1 million. The number of such taxpayers grew by more than 26 percent, to 303,817 in 2005, from 239,685 in 2000.

These individuals, who constitute less than a quarter of 1 percent of all taxpayers, reaped almost 47 percent of the total income gains in 2005, compared with 2000.

This is of course not unintended but official GOP policy as can be seen in the result of Bush's tax cuts.

The group’s calculations showed that 28 percent of the investment tax cut savings went to just 11,433 of the 134 million taxpayers, those who made $10 million or more, saving them almost $1.9 million each.
...
The nearly 90 percent of Americans who make less than $100,000 a year saved on average $318 each on their investments.

There is a scene in Fahrenheit 9/11 that shows Bush speaking to a bunch of billionaires. He said:

What an impressive crowd: the haves, and the have-mores. Some people call you the elite, I call you my base.

He certainly made sure that the base was covered.

Posted by b on August 21, 2007 at 09:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (27)

August 20, 2007

A False Afghan Pipeline Report

In a comment Dan of Steele points to an item in the Pakistani Daily Times about the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan (TAP) pipeline. That piece is based on a report by the Pakistani private TV station Geo News:

The government of Pakistan has approved of awarding the mega-project to the US Company, International Oil Company (IOC) for the laying of Turkmenistan-Pakistan oil and gas pipeline at an estimated cost of $10 billion.
[...]
This pipeline with a capacity of supplying 2 million barrel of oil and 4 billion cubic feet of gas would be constructed up to Gawadar, where one refinery would also be constructed at a cost of $3.5 billion.
[...]
IOC said that the matters relating to the security in Afghanistan and insurance guarantee have been finalized and the ceremony of the mega-project agreement inking would soon be held.

There is a livid history about access to Central Asia's hydrocarbons. The timeline of plans for this pipeline is quite long. I was therefore very suspicious of this sudden 'news' and having looked into it I believe the report is likely false. This for five reasons:

First: There is no U.S. oil company named IOC. "International Oil Company" is a generic description for any oil company that is not nationalised.

Second: India is not mentioned. Discussion on this project always said:

Without the Indian market, TAP was not deemed a profitable undertaking.

Third: The Geo News piece mentions a connection of the pipeline to Gawadar which lies on the south west coast of Pakistan next to Iran. Quite some miles away from the markets in India and the possible pipeline routes (pdf) evaluated by the Asian Development Bank.

The port of Gawadar was build in unruly Baluchistan with Chinese money and personal. Did China agree to such a deal?

Fourth: Along any possible route of the pipeline there are independent war-lord, Taliban, tribal areas where such a project will likely meet fierce opposition:

Currently there are two routes under discussion. The first runs through northern Afghanistan, cutting through Kabul before entering Pakistan; the second travels through western Afghanistan, passing through Kandahar into Pakistan.

Unfortunately, security concerns extend beyond Afghanistan. If the route through western Afghanistan emerges as the best option, the pipeline would cross Pakistan's Baluchistan Province. In January, a little-known separatist group attacked a gas storage facility in Baluchistan. The attack was not unique, as local tribesmen increasingly are targeting natural gas facilities in the province to settle accounts with the central government, ask for higher royalties, or promote their nationalist agendas.

If the alternative option is chosen, the pipeline would cross the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) of Pakistan, which includes the semi-autonomous tribal areas. These regions, most notably the tribal areas, are known for their fierce independence. Both the NWFP and the adjoining Afghan border regions are also home to radical Islamists groups with very strong anti-India sentiments. A pipeline serving Indian interests would present them with a tempting target.

Fifth: No private company or bank would currently invest some US $10 billion in such an insecure project. No insurance company would underwrite the involved risk.

In conclusion, the little piece by Geo News may contain some grains of truth. But that's also the case with other fairy tale.

But that's how 'news' is made.

The Iranian Press TV copied from the report sourcing it to 'Agencies', PakTribune picked it from a  'private TV channel', i.e. Geo News, and Asia Times uses it in a piece on alleged U.S./Taliban negotiations without giving a source at all.

(Searching for "TAP pipeline" Google news labels the Daily Times report '15 hours ago', the Press TV report '6 hours ago' and the PakTribune and Asia Times pieces '2 hours ago'.)

Posted by b on August 20, 2007 at 09:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Al-Sadr is in Iran and other Lies

"Who are you going to believe, me or your lyin' eyes?"
Groucho Marx

Associated Press, August 10, 2007: U.S. Military Says Al-Sadr in Iran Again

The U.S. military said on Friday that firebrand Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr had returned to Iran, ...
[...]
Col. John Castles, commander of the 82 Airborne Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team, disclosed the information in a teleconference with Pentagon reporters and said it was based on U.S. intelligence reports. He did not elaborate.

Not so, says the The Independent on August 20, 2007: Muqtada al-Sadr: The British are retreating from Basra

The British Army has been defeated in Iraq and left with no option but to retreat from the country, claims radical Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Violent resistance and a rising death toll among UK troops has forced a withdrawal, he said in an interview with The Independent.
[...]
Only two guards with AK-47 assault rifles appeared to be protecting Mr Sadr in his office, a clear sign that Kufa and the surrounding area is firmly under the control of Sadr loyalists. It is not patrolled by US troops and access is policed by Iraqi security at heavily armed roadblocks.

"Who do you going to believe, ..."

McClatchy, August 19, 2007: U.S. says Iranians train Iraqi insurgents

For the first time, the U.S. military said on Sunday that Iranian soldiers are in Iraq training insurgents to attack American forces.
[...]
Conway said that U.S.-led forces have not caught any of the Iranians, but she said military intelligence and recently discovered caches of weapons with Iranian markings on them indicate that the Iranians are there.
[...]
"Just because we're not finding them doesn't mean they're not there," Conway said.

Sure, those WMD Iranians must be somewhere ...

But again, not so: The Independent, August 20, 2007: Mehdi fighters 'trained by Hizbollah in Lebanon'

Lebanon's Hizbollah has trained Shia fighters from Iraq in advanced guerrilla warfare tactics, according to Mehdi army militants who have been fighting British forces in the south of the country.
[...]
Speaking in Tufa [typo - there is no Tufa but Kufa] in Iraq, Muqtada al-Sadr, the head of the Mehdi Army, admitted to "formal links" with Hizbollah.

"We have formal links with Hizbollah, we do exchange ideas and discuss the situation facing Shiites in both countries," he said. "It is natural that we would want to improve ourselves by learning from each other. We copy Hizbollah in the way they fight and their tactics, we teach each other and we are getting better through this."

Posted by b on August 20, 2007 at 03:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (22)

August 19, 2007

"There will be an attack on Iran."

Robert Baer, a former CIA case officer with lots of Middle East experience, writes in Time Magazine on the Prelude to an Attack on Iran:

Reports that the Bush Administration will put Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps on the terrorism list can be read in one of two ways: it's either more bluster or, ominously, a wind-up for a strike on Iran. Officials I talk to in Washington vote for a hit on the IRGC, maybe within the next six months. And they think that as long as we have bombers and missiles in the air, we will hit Iran's nuclear facilities. An awe and shock campaign, lite, if you will.

(A correction to Baer: It was probably not the administration's idea to declare the Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organisation. The first public occurance of this thought came in July and originated from Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Israel) who wrote legislation demanding this. Such legislation has now some 319 bi-partisan sponsors in the House. It is a giant step toward war with Iran.)

Further on Baer gives some insight into alleged neocon thinking:

Strengthening the Administration's case for a strike on Iran, there's a belief among neo-cons that the IRGC is the one obstacle to democratic and a friendly Iran. They believe that if we were to get rid of the IRGC, the clerics would fall, and our thirty-years war with Iran over.

There may be eventually people stupid enough to believe this, especially some neocons. But historically there is no record of any nation that did NOT rally to its leaders after coming under heavy air attacks. Such Giulio Douhet campaigns always fail to provoke regime change. They do provoke escalation though, the very thing the neocons want.

Baer sees the flaw too:

And what do we do if just the opposite happens — a strike on Iran unifies Iranians behind the regime? An Administration official told me it's not even a consideration. "IRGC IED's are a casus belli for this administration. There will be an attack on Iran."

Here is a recommendable post by Arthur Silber on the bi-partisan effort, the help of the very serious foreign policy commentators and the support it will gain with progressive bloggers and the people of the U.S. to bring this about.

Like him and others, I am tired of writing about this, as, like him, I think it's over. There is no likely way to stop the U.S. committing this supreme crime.

Posted by b on August 19, 2007 at 02:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (31)

U.S. Commercializes Spying

It is high time for the European and the world's business community to understand how U.S. spying is endangering their economic activities.

With the changed FISA laws the U.S. government can now legally spy on foreign communication without warrents and oversight. It earlier gained access to data about international money transfers. At the same time it outsources spying and data analyzing to private U.S. companies that are direct competitors of European businesses.

There is some concern in Europe how this effects the privacy of their citizens. But I have not yet seen a single piece written on the economic threat this poses to European businesses.

When I talk to my consulting customers about the issue, I find they are not only uninformed but also rather ignorant of the possible effects.

As explained by the NYT's Risen and Lichtenblau, the new FISA law goes far beyond what has been said to be its original utility:

These new powers include the collection of business records, physical searches and so-called “trap and trace” operations, analyzing specific calling patterns.

For instance, the legislation would allow the government, under certain circumstances, to demand the business records of an American in Chicago without a warrant if it asserts that the search concerns its surveillance of a person who is in Paris, experts said.

Imagine a European company with sales offices in the U.S. Not only will the email and phonecalls between the office and the headquarter be read and listen too by the U.S. government, but any confidential technical documentation send to the sales office may get copied. From there it could easily end up in the hands of a U.S. business.

Most Europeans still seem to trust the U.S. government not to reveal such trade secrets to their competitors. But it is no longer simply the U.S. government that has access to the gathered information.

As Walter Pincus writes in today's Post:

The Defense Intelligence Agency is preparing to pay private contractors up to $1 billion to conduct core intelligence tasks of analysis and collection over the next five years, ...

To do analysis and collection for the DIA, Boeing, Lockheed or whoever will win those contracts, will have direct access to the information gathered by the NSA and other agencies.

If Airbus plans to make an offer to United Airlines, would the numbers in that offer stay secret to the direct competitor? This while Boeing staff might have access to Airbus' U.S. Internet traffic via its DIA contracts?

If SAP sends a confidential new version of its business software package from its headquarter in Germany to train their personal in Japan, while Oracle staff does analysis of such traffic for the DIA, might that version end up in Oracle's product labs?

'Fair game' U.S. folks might think. But their pension fund is not unlikely to hold SAP shares. Lots of U.S. mutal funds, expecting some further decline of the US dollar, have investments in European companies. The wellbeing of these companies is not only in European interest.

The U.S. has a history of using the Central Intelligence Agency, the NSA and its Echelon surveillance network to spy on companies in Europe. At least some U.S. communication software used all over the world, like Lotus Notes, has back-doors that allow for its manipulation by U.S. secret services.

Back in 1999 the European parliament looked into the issue and published a report that alleges such. Later former CIA director James Woolsey admitted as much, though he claimed that this doesn't happen for industrial espionage but only to "fight bribery".

All this is therefore nothing really new one might say.

But the new legality of these activities, the unprecedented scope and the direct access of private U.S. companies to the captured data should be of more concern. When such 'opportunities' arise for U.S. companies and a lot of money is at stake, abuse is likely to happen.

Not only private citizens are endangered by FISA. Companies, commerce chambers and politicians around the world who care for the economic well being of their societies should be alarmed too.

Posted by b on August 19, 2007 at 12:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

August 18, 2007

Russia Counters U.S. First Strike Intend

UPDATED below

Russia is resuming regular air patrols with its long range strategic bombers:

"Air patrol areas will include zones of commercial shipping and economic activity. As of today, combat patrolling will be on a permanent basis. It has a strategic character," Putin said.

The president said that although the country stopped strategic flights to remote regions in 1992, "Unfortunately, not everyone followed our example."

Headlines and commentators in the U.S. will certainly claim this to be a somehow aggressive act.

That is nonsense. This is a defensive move Russia has to do. It fears that the U.S. might otherwise pressure it by threatening a nuclear first strike. That fear is certainly not baseless.

To understand, let's take a look at this recommendable piece in Foreign Affairs written last year by two political science professors from U.S. universities:

Today, for the first time in almost 50 years, the United States stands on the verge of attaining nuclear primacy. It will probably soon be possible for the United States to destroy the long-range nuclear arsenals of Russia or China with a first strike. This dramatic shift in the nuclear balance of power stems from a series of improvements in the United States' nuclear systems, the precipitous decline of Russia's arsenal, and the glacial pace of modernization of China's nuclear forces. Unless Washington's policies change or Moscow and Beijing take steps to increase the size and readiness of their forces, Russia and China -- and the rest of the world -- will live in the shadow of U.S. nuclear primacy for many years to come.

The authors explain in detail why they come to this conclusion. For example, while the U.S. keeps significant numbers of submarines with nuclear weapons on patrol anytime. Russia's subs rarely leave their harbor at all. They continue:

Is the United States intentionally pursuing nuclear primacy? Or is primacy an unintended byproduct of intra-Pentagon competition for budget share or of programs designed to counter new threats from terrorists and so-called rogue states? Motivations are always hard to pin down, but the weight of the evidence suggests that Washington is, in fact, deliberately seeking nuclear primacy.

What Russia is trying to do by renewing bomber patrol activity is to counter a very real threat of U.S. first strike capability and the political pressure that comes with the threat. The Russian anger over the U.S. proposed missile defense in Europe can likewise be explained:

[T]he sort of missile defenses that the United States might plausibly deploy would be valuable primarily in an offensive context, not a defensive one -- as an adjunct to a U.S. first-strike capability, not as a standalone shield. If the United States launched a nuclear attack against Russia (or China), the targeted country would be left with a tiny surviving arsenal -- if any at all. At that point, even a relatively modest or inefficient missile-defense system might well be enough to protect against any retaliatory strikes, because the devastated enemy would have so few warheads and decoys left.

Russia does not acquiesce the global primacy the U.S. is trying to achieve. The step Russia has taken now is not yet a decisive counter to that U.S. intent. But it significantly increases the cost to pursue it.

UPDATE:

Josh Marshall, in discussing the revived Russian patrols, serves as a good example of what is wrong with the "serious people" who make up U.S. foreign policy:

Not everything that happens these days is uniquely President Bush's fault. Vladimir Putin is no great shakes either. And you can debate whether this is more a reaction to the White House's aggressive push for missile defense shields and military deals with countries on Russia's border or more part of Putin's own growing authoritarianism, trying to stoke xenophobia and increased militarism.

First: Why does Josh think that Putin is "not in great shakes"? Russia is certainly much better off now than it was 7 years ago when Putin became President. Since then real GDP in Russia did grow by some 6.5% per year. The current account balance is positive. Old debt was paid off and $300 billion of reserves were created. The wild west kleptocracy mostly under control. Since 2000 the Russian RTS stock index increased in US$ terms nine-fold from 200 to 1800. Putin has the highest approval rate of any national leader in the world. "Not in great shakes"?

Second: Reading the Foreign Affair piece quoted above and various U.S. strategy papers that set the U.S. military goal of "full spectrum dominance", can there be any doubt that it is Russia reacting to U.S. policy here? Where is proof for Putin's alleged "growing authoritarianism" - especially when compared to Bush's "Unitary Executive" ventures. 

Aside from Russia Marshall goes on to proclaim:

What is not debatable however is that there is more going on in the world -- more opportunities and more threats -- than what happens in the few hundred mile radius around the ancient capital of Baghdad. There is, as we can see, Russia, which still has a few thousand nuclear warheads which could cause some serious headaches. There's China, a vast economic and potential military power that will bulk larger and larger in our lives over the course of this century. There's Pakistan, India, half a billion people to our south speaking Spanish and Portuguese. The list goes on and on.

What threats is Marshall anticipating here? One might understand that instability in Pakistan is a problem. But there the U.S. is part of the circumstances that created those problems in the first place. It is certainly not the solution.

But how are China, India and South America a threat? And if they would be, what would Marshall do about it?

But our whole national dialog, hundreds of billions of dollars and a lot more are going to Iraq. And more generally the fantasy 450 year long-war epic battle with the Islamofascists. We're close to breaking the US Army and Marine Corps with over-extended deployments. And in hotspots around the world, there's a vacuum, as the world sort of rushes past us. In many ways this is the greatest danger in Iraq, not that our future as a nation is at stake in staying (as the right would have it) or even that it's necessarily at stake in leaving but that our engagement with the country has fixed us with a dangerous national myopia which is letting many other problems fester unattended for going on a decade.

The military capacity of the U.S. is degraded a bit, and that has Marshall concerned. Why? What "hotspots" are there that need the Marines? What "vacuum" is he talking about the Air Force might be asked to fill with bombs?

Josh, there are people in China and India and South America, not a "vacuum". Those people can very well care for themselves, thank you, and those people and the policies they are setting for themselves are not "unattended festering problems". There is no need for U.S. intervention, certainly not militarily, in China, India or South America. So why is the inability of the U.S. to intervene a problem?

One can only have Marshall's concerns when one believes in some god given right or need for the U.S. to intervene in other peoples business whenever it likes - anywhere.

That is the real problem with U.S. foreign policy. Some false self-portrait as the enlightened city on the hill that the U.S. never was and never will be. Some assumed responsibility to intervene whenever people decide to live their own way. Some manifest destiny that is nothing but a scam of a self declared right to rob the world.

This is exactly the phantasm that let people like Marshall agree to the war on Iraq. That war is now a problem. It is a problem for him not because it was a huge mistake in the philosophy of "serious" U.S. foreign policy people. But the only reason he forwards is because it hinders them and him to use the same failed philosophy now to solemnly agree on total war on Whomever elsewhere.

Posted by b on August 18, 2007 at 08:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (10)

August 17, 2007

Media Spin on Maliki Win

The recent political development in Iraq is interesting, but the reality is not what's reported.

The U.S. told al-Maliki to convene a 'crisis summit' and to produce a new united government that would include enough votes to hand over Iraq's oil. As Gulf News wrote:

The changes will be in "the structure, nature and direction of the Iraqi state," a senior American official in Baghdad was quoted by AP as saying.

He did not give out details, but the plan is expected to be high on the agenda of a 'crisis summit' which would be attended by key Iraqi leaders who seek to save the crumbling national unity government of Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki.

The 'crisis summit' went by and the Associated Press put some good news on the wires:

The new Shiite-Kurdish coalition will retain a majority in parliament — 181 of the 275 seats — and apparently have a clear path to pass legislation demanded by the Bush administration, including a law on sharing Iraq's oil wealth among Iraqi groups and returning some Saddam Hussein-era officials purged under earlier White House policies.

181 out of 275 is quite a comfortable majority one would think. But the AP's numbers are simply wrong.

As Juan Cole remarks:

One problem with the new coalition, according to Al-Hayat writing in Arabic is that it probably has no more than 110 seats in parliament, 20 less than a simple majority, and so does not protect al-Maliki from losing a vote of no confidence should one be called. While that difficulty would be resolved if they could attract the Iraqi Accord Front to join them, this development seems unlikely at the moment.

The new coalition Maliki put together excludes all Sunni parties, the Shia Fadillah party and the Sadr movement as well as Allawi's National List. All of these do not agree with some major points on al-Maliki's agenda and have other demands.

Indeed insteed of finding some new 'unity' the 'crisis summit' manifested deep splits and keeps the government and the parliament inoperable. Writes Abu Aardvark:

This is a devastating outcome for the Maliki government and for those Americans who hoped to have some political progress to show in the upcoming Crocker/Petraeus report.  There's no other way to spin this:  this summit was billed as the last chance, and it has failed.
...
There's still some minor chance that Maliki can pull this back from the brink, but it looks deeply unpromising.  The Kurdish-Shia four party alliance has taken to calling itself "the majority" - perhaps learning from the smashing success of Siniora's government in Lebanon? - which does not bode well for their willingness to attend to the demands or concerns of "the minority."

But I suspect that's exactly the plan. Just like in Lebanon and in Palestine, where Abbas abolished the elected government, the new Maliki coalition, "the majority" that is none, may become the officially U.S. accepted "legitimate democratic government".

It's will not be easy to spin it that way, but the record tells that the U.S. media, fed by misleading  AP stories, will likely fall for the sham.

Posted by b on August 17, 2007 at 01:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (19)

Peak Oil vs. Peak Wealth

by Malooga
(lifted from a comment)

While I do believe that the concept of Peak Oil is real and will one day arrive, I see no evidence whatsoever that Peak Oil has arrived. The evidence is clear that fully 5% of world oil production is intentionally being kept off the market by the ongoing war in Iraq. The oil companies are in a win/win situation: oil off, prices high; oil laws signed, production rises, profits and control ensured.

It is pure bullshit that big oil was not in favor of invading Iraq. They are too powerful, and it would not have happened without their acquiescence; they are just too smart, and like all official secrets, they managed to keep it mum. It is like the same b.s. story of how US auto manufacturers REALLY want national health insurance to keep their costs competitive. There is simply no evidence that the big three have done any lobbying whatsoever for single payer universal coverage; it is just a cover-your-ass myth perpetuated to keep the dumb consumer thinking that the companies "care" about people. No, they don't. They would be happy to off-shore all production, and that is the way they are moving.

Back to Big Oil:

An additional 1% is kept off markets in Nigeria do to the kleptocracy not sharing with gulf locals. And what about the Falklands, whose huge reserves have yet to be tapped? What Big Oil (and the US government) wants is complete control of the amount of oil being put on the market at any time. Control of the "shortages" and the surpluses, so that the financial sharks can make money in the market both ways. At that level, it is all a rigged game.

Peak Oil is very much a function of social justice. There will be no freedom allowed in producer nations.

Peak Oil is also just another scam to squeeze the middle class. If it were a real crisis, there would be national mobilization for efficiency programs and subsidies. But the ruling elite do not want national mobilization about anything; they want a dumb, divided, easily controlled, populace -- which is what they strive to create. So with the Peak Oil excuse, the middle class gets squeezed still further about something they feel is a law of nature and they have no control of, the poor stay poor, and the rich continue to build bigger and bigger houses, and buy more and more oil consuming toys and trinkets.

Peak Oil is one of a number of myth/scams to move along the process of Peak Wealth Redistribution, made easier by fear.

What Peak Oil does in the US, as proven by experience in Germany, is create a Green Party/environmental movement of educated, well-off, middle class in hysterical opposition to the dumb, dirty, underclass and how they live, and in opposition to all social justice/income equality movements.

Peak Oil is very much a function of social justice. There will now be no freedom allowed in consumer nations.

I have seen this here where I live, where well-off, upper-middle class people are hysterically proposing draconian rules which will result in the complete social control of society, especially the poor and underclass. They refuse to look at the oil consumption curve, which continues to show that oil is consumed in inordinate amounts by the ultra-wealthy, and that conservation can best be accomplished by taxing the rich, rather than penalizing the poor. Yeah, so maybe the rich wouldn't be able to fly all over the world several times a month, boo hoo!

So yes, Peak Oil is a real phenomenon on a finite planet, and one day it will arrive. But it has not arrived yet, and right now it is being used as a form of social control. God is always in the details. Be very careful, folks, and always think deeply about the implications of all of your actions.

If we really want to conserve oil and are concerned about growth, how about a law like this: If you make over 100K you are only allowed one child,; if you make over 200K, no children. That would even out consumption a bit. You want children, you can't be wealthy, because wealthy people burn more than their share of oil.

The poor of the world, the favelas, are not using up all the world's oil; the rich are. The real problem is income distribution. We always pay lip service to "solving the problem of the poor," which really means some sort of media campaign so that the middle class can ignore the poor with a clear conscience. But the problem is the opposite. If we can solve the problem of the rich, we can live on a sustainable planet.

There simply is no such thing as a rich person who is environmentally conscious. Rich people consume more resources than the poor -- even those rich who live in Green houses. Solve the problem of the rich, who are destroying the world in every way possible, and you solve the problems of a sustainable life.

Don't worry about Peak Oil; worry about Peak Wealth. If we run out of oil, we can always burn the rich. Rich people's oil may not be of quite the quality of the whale oil used to power the last century, but it will do. It will do.

Posted by b on August 17, 2007 at 01:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (26)

August 16, 2007

The Embarrassment Of Tora Bora

From the annals of somewhat ridiculous headlines:

Reuters, August 16, 2007


Afghan, U.S. forces assault al Qaeda in Tora Bora

 

Adding just to make clear what I'm saying here ...

BBC, December 11, 2001

Eyewitness: New assault on Tora Bora

A new offensive is under way in eastern Afghanistan to try to dislodge al-Qaeda fighters from positions in the hills above the Tora Bora cave complex.

Posted by b on August 16, 2007 at 12:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

OT 07-56

News & views ...

Posted by b on August 16, 2007 at 10:09 AM | Permalink | Comments (100)

Slaughter in the Markets

There will be some slaughter in the markets today. As Nouriel Roubini explains:

[T]oday any wealthy individual can take $1 million and go to a prime broker and leverage this amount three times; then the resulting $4 million ($1 equity and $3 debt) can be invested in a fund of funds that will in turn leverage these $4 millions three or four times and invest them in a hedge fund; then the hedge fund will take these funds and leverage them three or four times and buy some very junior tranche of a CDO that is itself levered nine or ten times. At the end of this credit chain, the initial $1 million of equity becomes a $100 million investment out of which $99 million is debt (leverage) and only $1 million is equity. So we got an overall leverage ratio of 100 to 1.

Then, even a small 1% fall in the price of the final investment (CDO) wipes out the initial capital and creates a chain of margin calls that unravel this debt house of cards. This unraveling of a Minskian Ponzi credit scheme is exactly what is happening right now in financial markets.

When a bank calls a debtor, be it a hedge fund or some individual, and tells it to pony up more cash or its overextended credit line will be cut off immediately, the debtor will have to sell some stuff out of its portfolio.

The stuff then sold is usually unrelated to the original credit problem. A fund with credit problems because of some leveraged mortgage papers will not get any good price for these right now. But it may also have some GE shares that are still near their purchase value. Those will now be sold just to regain some cash that can support its credit line.

General stocks and speculative commodities like oil are falling as more and more funds need to sell out. Bad economic news like decade low housing starts reenforce the downtrend. The falling value of general stocks leads to overextentions of other debtors with leveraged derivatives, who then have to start selling too.

From there on it really gets interesting ...

All of this is was not unforseen. In his 2002(!) letter to investors Warren Buffett wrote (pdf) about derivatives (p12ff), leveraged financial instruments, and linkage which are both major parts of the current unraveling:

Charlie and I are of one mind in how we feel about derivatives and the trading activities that go with them: We view them as time bombs, both for the parties that deal in them and the economic system.
[...]
Derivatives [..] create a daisy-chain risk that is akin to the risk run by insurers or reinsurers that lay off much of their business with others. In both cases, huge receivables from many counterparties tend to build up over time. [...] A participant may see himself as prudent, believing his large credit exposures to be diversified and therefore not dangerous. Under certain circumstances, though, an exogenous event that causes the receivable from Company A to go bad will also affect those from Companies B through Z. History teaches us that a crisis often causes problems to correlate in a manner undreamed of in more tranquil times.
[...]
Large amounts of risk, particularly credit risk, have become concentrated in the hands of relatively few derivatives dealers, who in addition trade extensively with one other. The troubles of one could quickly infect the others. On top of that, these dealers are owed huge amounts by non-dealer counterparties. Some of these counterparties, as I’ve mentioned, are linked in ways that could cause them to contemporaneously run into a problem because of a single event [...] Linkage, when it suddenly surfaces, can trigger serious systemic problems.
[...]
The derivatives genie is now well out of the bottle, and these instruments will almost certainly multiply in variety and number until some event makes their toxicity clear. [...] [T]he derivatives business continues to expand unchecked. Central banks and governments have so far found no effective way to control, or even monitor, the risks posed by these contracts.

Charlie and I believe Berkshire should be a fortress of financial strength – for the sake of our owners, creditors, policyholders and employees. We try to be alert to any sort of megacatastrophe risk, and that posture may make us unduly apprehensive about the burgeoning quantities of long-term derivatives contracts and the massive amount of uncollateralized receivables that are growing alongside. In our view, however, derivatives are financial weapons of mass destruction, carrying dangers that, while now latent, are potentially lethal.

Posted by b on August 16, 2007 at 09:28 AM | Permalink | Comments (23)

August 15, 2007

Death Penalty

Two issues about the death penalty are in the news.

Somehow Congress gave the Attorney General the right to shorten the process in death penalty cases:

Under the 2006 reauthorization of the Patriot Act, the Attorney General was given the power to decide whether individual states are providing adequate counsel for defendants in death penalty cases, an authority that had been held by federal judges. If a state requests it and the Attorney General agrees, the new rules drafted by the Justice Department would allow prosecutors to "fast track" procedures that shorten the amount of time those on death row have to file a federal appeal after a conviction in a state court.

In effect the main-prosecutor of the U.S., who is an avid fan of the death penalty, will in future decide if a defendant's lawyer is adequate. That is a perversion of due process.

Bush and Gonzales already worked as a team in Texas to kill as many people on death row as they could. So there is no surprise that they try to away with any possible hindrance.

Texas is also the place for the next news item of a current urgent case:

Foster was convicted for the 1996 murder of Michael LaHood Jr., who was shot following a string of robberies, by a man named Mauriceo Brown. Brown admitted to the shooting and was executed by lethal injection last year. Now Foster faces the same fate. So, if Brown was the shooter, what did the 19-year-old Foster do to get a death sentence? He sat in his car, 80 feet away, unaware that a murder was taking place.

Foster was convicted under Texas's "law of parties," a twist on a felony murder statute that enables a jury to convict a defendant who was not the primary actor in a crime.

The U.S. is the only country in the "west" that has the death penality on its books at all (though Britain has an exception for cases of treason.) Why?

The death penalty is inhuman. It kills people, some criminals, but also innocent ones. Abolish it. Now.

There is not much hope for Foster, but it might help if you sign these petitions.

Posted by b on August 15, 2007 at 12:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (39)

Putin Goes Fishing

Now that's manly ...


(full view)

Any good caption? Let us know ...

Posted by b on August 15, 2007 at 03:38 AM | Permalink | Comments (24)

August 14, 2007

Why Rove Now?

So why did Rove leave now. It's unlikely that he really wants to have more time with the family.

Josh Marshall senses the media meme: Karl Rove, martyr to Democratic partisanship.

Some folks think it's an indictment coming.

Larry Johnson says that Abramoff is telling friends Rove is going down because he is implicated in the bribery investigations. Some point to his involvement in  the Siegelman case in Alabama. Others claim Cheney pushed Rove out of the door. My first thought was that he's been hired for a campaign, most likely Giuliani.

But even with dozens of dispatches and editorial on this today, there is curiously no inside account of what really happened.

Well, whatever the reason, who is losing by his departure? An interesting thought on this comes from IOZ, who remarks in contrast to the meme Marshall sees:

Karl Rove's legendary reputation was build on the amnesia and illiteracy of the press. He didn't do anything that Lee Atwater hadn't already done, ...

[Rove's] appearance on the political scene meant next to nothing, and his retirement from it means even less. He was more important to Democrats than Republicans anyway. Without an endless stream of GOP bogeymen to parade before their base, perhaps some restive Donk might actually note that their party is not merely compliant but complicit in all the lamentable degredations of the Imagined America that they so tirelessly and uselessly lament.

So Rove was in a certain way a useful idiot for the Demorcat's. In a mechanistic way, that is quite possibly right.

Rove leaving now, might take away the curtain of the Democrats holiness, reinforcing the picture they left by agreeing to Bush's spying power. That's to the advantage of  Republicans. Thereby in leaving, Rove still works to his ultimate goal and to his party's favor.

Yuck ...

Posted by b on August 14, 2007 at 03:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (20)

How Times Have Changed

by jony_b_cool
(lifted and edited from two comments)

In the space of about the last ten years, the perception of the USA seems to be in a shift from: somewhat honest-broker on Middle-East and African affairs to that of brutal, capricious, dishonest, power-drunk and desperate empire that has abandoned all else in favor of military force.

If the USA were not inhibited by historical legacies with regard to Africa, there is no reason to doubt that we would by now have seen maximum military force imposed. Hence Zenawi's Ethiopia becomes a useful proxy.

But what happens when Ethiopia finds out Somalia is more trouble than its worth, just like the USA finds out Iraq is more trouble than its worth, just like the Soviets found out Afghanistan is more trouble than its worth, just like Israel found out Lebanon is more trouble than its worth, just like Saddam (btw with USA backing) found out Iran is more trouble than its worth ...

The desperate urgency to seize control of resources in Africa and the Middle-East before China moves in reveals a lot about how USA perceives these areas. As child-like, who do not know what is good for them. Kind of like an abusive and controlling parent or spouse who lacks healthy self-reflection.

This is not a knock against Western intellect: But the West has been too slow to come to terms with the fact that its historical dominance of the means and channels for propagating intellect is no longer the powerful tool it once was.

In the past, the framing of intellect was always in the West's favor and to its major advantage. This was the norm so much so that it became instututional, sacred and unquestioned.

But this is no longer the case and the West needs to catch up with the reality that others now see things differently and are arriving at the understanding that many of these intellects can be more slanted than sacred.

Posted by b on August 14, 2007 at 09:23 AM | Permalink | Comments (22)

The Empire's Bookkeeper is Alarmed

The keeper of the empire's books sounds alarmist:

David Walker, comptroller general of the US, issued the unusually downbeat assessment of his country’s future in a report that lays out what he called “chilling long-term simulations”.

These include “dramatic” tax rises, slashed government services and the large-scale dumping by foreign governments of holdings of US debt.

Drawing parallels with the end of the Roman empire, Mr Walker warned there were “striking similarities” between America’s current situation and the factors that brought down Rome, including “declining moral values and political civility at home, an over-confident and over-extended military in foreign lands and fiscal irresponsibility by the central government”.

Does anyone have an idea what "declining moral values" Walker is alluding to? Every generation thinks its children are debauched - nothing new there.

And the money issue can be easily solved:

Step 1: Tax personal income above 1 million per year at 50-60% and half the budget problem is solved. 

Step 2: Cut the military. If the U.S. mainland is not in immediate danger to be run over while its military is bogged down and beaten in a tiny far away country, then the militray is obviously not needed to defend the homeland. Just cut it away and the other half of the budget problem goes away with it - and the empire.

Running an empire is a net loss. Rome eventually learned that lesson. The UK learned that lesson. And the U.S. will learn it too.

Mr. Walker may not like it, but the U.S. empire will eventually fall just like Rome's. That's fine with me. The world can live better without empires. So I can only add: faster please.

Posted by b on August 14, 2007 at 08:02 AM | Permalink | Comments (11)

August 13, 2007

Army Not Planing to Leave

Back in April I noted:

Different parts of the U.S. public are in various phases of grief about the lost war.

The hard-core believers are still in the denial phase. Moderate Republicans have proceeded to anger. The Democrats are in the bargaining phase. The pro-war left realm is in depression and the anti-war people have long accepted the loss.

That's pretty much still the case today. Falling for the surge in "surge" propaganda, some people even seem to have reverted to prior state.

(By the way: One can apply the 'phases of grief' to today's financial markets too. Seems about everyone there is still pretty much in denial.)

But back to war. At least the military is no longer in denial and is running simulations of a retreat out of Iraq - or so it seems. Via a (terribly written) McClatchey piece we learn:

The Army staged the one-day exercise earlier this month at a Hilton hotel in suburban Springfield, Va., and invited 30 Iraq experts, among them serving and retired officers and Iraqi exiles.

Ooops - Iraqi exiles? Is Chalabi back in town? A bit further down we detect why one probably would use such stooges again. This was not a real exit exercise about leaving, but an effort to simulate and to propagandize how really, really bad the situation would become when the U.S. retreats:

The game was one of several simulations of what Iraq might look like in the 2009 time frame if U.S. troops leave, said retired Marine Col. Gary Anderson, who participated in the Springfield exercise and several previous such games. But he said the Army hasn't yet staged an exercise premised on an abrupt withdrawal.

That the military war games are focusing on the potential chaos in Iraq, rather than an abrupt troop withdrawal, offers some insight into how the Pentagon is planning for the next stage of the war, several of the participants told McClatchy Newspapers.

So the military is not really analyzing how to get out, but the purpose of the day at the Hilton was to develop scenarios of what might happen. There are certainly different situations possible, but the one presented is really, really terrible:

Once U.S. troops left, however, the chaos in Iraq would escalate. Shiite militias would drive Baghdad's Sunni population into Iraq's western Anbar province, which is almost exclusively Sunni, the war gamers concluded. There would be a power struggle within Anbar among tribes backed by outside Sunni Arab states, including Saudi Arabia and Syria.

Rival Shiite factions would fight one another to control much of the rest of the country, and Iran presumably would back one side, although the gamers couldn't assess how overt Iranian interference would be. Turkey would consider entering Iraq from the north to thwart the Kurds, who desire independence and claim some of Turkey as part of their homeland.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki's government would be unable to control the country. Indeed, the gamers concluded, his government could collapse unless Iran threw its support behind it.

Note how much different the situation is today: Today there is no ethnic cleansing in Baghdad. Saudi Arabia and Syria don't support the tribes which are living peacefully in Anbar, Basra is calm, Iran is not taking sides, the Turks just love the Kurds, Maliki is in control of the government and I am a pretty 18 year old blond with nice boobs.

What's not to love with this situation?

The army is still in denial. If they really have not run any worst case, rapid exit simulation yet, its leaders are irresponsibly neglecting their duty.

Still the talk about how the army would get out sounds very much like the cakewalk and flowers talk we heard when it went in.

Any attacks, the panel judged, would be "harassment attacks," likely by a few Sunni members of al Qaida in Iraq who wanted to attack American troops one last time.

"Why would they stop us? They have been telling us to leave," said one participant who requested anonymity to speak freely about the war game.
...
"It will be as easy to get out as it was to get in," said one senior defense official ..

Let me see: The gang that ransacked my home, raped my sister and stabbed my parents is getting into its car to flee down the road. Would I just harass them? Or would I do all I can to not let them get away on the cheap?

Indeed, some hard core believers are still in denial.

A retired Marine Colonel who took part in the excercise has a more realistic thought:

"I don't worry about how we will get out of Iraq," Anderson concluded about the latest war game. "I am worried about the Iraqis we will kill on the way out."

Posted by b on August 13, 2007 at 01:49 PM | Permalink | Comments (24)

August 12, 2007

OT 07-55

No post today, as I'm a bit tired and in need of some mental diversion. So I'll leave you with Evil himself.

Use this as an open thread ...

Dick Cheney '94: Invading Baghdad Would Create Quagmire

(BTW - youtube videos - who has problems seeing them and why?)

Posted by b on August 12, 2007 at 02:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (111)

August 11, 2007

Fighting the Evil Empire - The Pirate Way

by a swedish kind of death

At the first annual MoA summit, I promised b a post. I fear I might have said I would deliver it in a matter of weeks. Well, a good thing is worth the wait. See, the thing is that I am a member of a new and fast growing political movement. I am a pirate. I am card-carrying member of the Swedish Pirate Party (except, we do not really have cards).

Pirate-ism
So why "Pirate"? Well, the copyright lobby has for a long time claimed that online copying of copyrighted material constitutes "piracy", and therefore those doing it are pirates. In Sweden the local branch of MPAA is called Antipiratbyrån - the anti piracy bureau. Now about one in seven of adult swedes (and more of the kids) are pirates according to the copyright industry. Faced with tightening laws and restrictions, this constituency - originally created by the copyright industry - spawned a party.

Our platform (conceived and formulated in our online forum) in its version 2.0 included the following three legs:

* Ensure the citizens privacy. By never implementing and working to revoke the EU data retention directive and instead making postal secrecy general (postal secrecy is very strong in Sweden) - a communications secrecy act - the Pirate Party hopes to stop and reverse the current trend towards more surveillance.

* A cultural commons policy. Decriminalize copying, especially file-sharing. Limit copyright to a couple of years. Note that this would enable vast digital libraries in any language as long as their server is parked in Sweden.

* Work to abolish patents, or at least make sure not more areas are allowed to be patented. No software patents, no patents on discoveries like DNA and so on.

The work on the platform 3.0 is mainly focused on expanding the privacy issue, so that instead of being reactive - "Stop surveillance now!" - it can be proactive. We are a young movement, and we are a movement born out of the Internet. Other parties might try to use Internet but we live here.

Swedish election of 2006
So we had a platform, but there is more to an election. The party was founded on the first of January 2006 and ran in the 2006 parliament election in September. Every single thing we did was in last minute. Gathering signatures (1500 to register the party), raising funds, choosing candidates, buying ballots for the funds (new parties has to provide their own ballots, we spent about 40 000 USD on that, which was all the money we had at the time).

And then in June came the raid on The Pirate Bay and the demonstrations we threw three days later. Making everything in the last minute creates an organisation good at doing stuff in a hurry. The party tripled its membership in a week, from 2000 to 6000. During the summer we passed the Green party (in parliament since the 80ies) in membership numbers. We were not visible in the opinion polls though, but since they do not call cell phones, they hardly measure the young tech-savvy voters. We made sure any online poll was a Pirate victory, we were getting interviews in the local papers. Things were looking good.

Then the other parties rolled over. First the Greens (who actually believed what they did), then the rest of the parties. In the final debate between Prime minister Persson and opposition candidate Reinfeldt, both answered that it was unreasonable to hunt a generation (this shifted rapidly after the election).

On election night, we gathered 35 000 votes or 0.63%. That was better then any opinion poll had predicted and we obviously beat expectations as we were not even among the alternatives in the exit polls. It was however far from passing the minimum limit of 4% to enter parliament.

Young Pirate
In the national school mock election we got 4,5%. Seeing how we are strongest in the youngest age groups we have founded Young Pirate. The mother party itself is rather young, the most common birth year before the election was 1985, making this many members first election. The youth movement is younger, with 1989 as year providing most pirates. In the party I am old, though on the MoA summit I was the youngest...

Young Pirate also has the advantage of being eligible for government grants as a rather large youth organisation, in fact it is the 4:th largest political youth organisation in Sweden. Considering how little we spent on the election campaign (estimated 80 000 USD total), any money is welcome and has the chance of giving us the needed edge, so some fat government grants for the youth movement could very well be all we need to win next time. (And if you like to donate for the 2009 EU parliament election and 2010 national election here is the treasure chest, political donations are not regulated in Sweden. Anybody is free to donate. All donations are anonymous by default.)

Young Pirate held its first conference this summer, and is growing rapidly.

Pirate International
The Pirate movement is international, and copying and adapting the concept new parties has sprung up in different countries. In Europe there are parties in different countries and a Pirate International has been founded to organise on an international level. In June the first European Pirate conference was held in Vienna.

Spin offs
In Sweden a number of interesting spin-offs has been created. Piratpartiet helped launch Relakks an anonymisation service which anonymises all your information. The difference to Tor is that Relakks promises you the same speed as usual. For a fee of course. Works anywhere in the world. Anyone tracking you will just end up at a machine in Sweden that forwards the information and deletes the records.

Tankafritt.nu is another interesting organisation. For a fee of about 20 USD/year they promise to pay your fines if you get caught file sharing, and give you a t-shirt with "I was caught file sharing and all I got was this stupid t-shirt". Works only in Sweden.

Now why are these interesting then? Demand creates supply and all of that. Both were however founded after the Pirate Bay raid and the Pirate party's demonstrations. Prior to our break-through they would have been scolded by the copyright organisations that would have demanded legislation, crucifixion and what not. Now, the copyright organisations are on the defensive in the public sphere. They still make their anti-piracy movies and show them before movies at the theatres, lobby politicians like there is no end to it and so on. But they will not debate in the press, TV or radio, because now they have opponents and visibility for us is a loss for them.

End?
So where am I going with this post? I am not really sure. In the end taking on Intellectual Enclosure and the mounting surveillance society is, well, quite a daunting task. And lets not forget that we are anyway running in to some really hard walls with our global gluttony of energy (for example oil) and other resources (fish, farmland, forests) while spewing out our rest products and destroying what we can not eat (climate for example). Having an open, democratic society is however a prerequisition for getting solutions that does not include a neofeudal genocidal nightmare.

And perhaps most importantly it feels good to fight back.

Posted by b on August 11, 2007 at 01:41 AM | Permalink | Comments (19)

August 10, 2007

One Million Killed in Iraq

Back in February I roughly extrapolated the Lancet study on excess death calculation on Iraq.

By end of June 2007 the estimated number of war-related dead will have exceeded 1,000,000.

The folks at Just Foreign Policy have done a more thorough review and as of this writing their counter shows:

1,000,938 Iraqi Death Due to U.S. Invasion

Craig Murray has the dignity to acknowledge that We Killed One Million People - Yes, You and I Did

Not one of us has done enough to stop it.

Craig in his piece seems to restrict the guilt to the people of the U.S. and the UK. But even though I'm not part of either (and have quite problem with his christian concept of guilt anyway) I'll pick up my share here.

I could have done more than I did to stop this. And I should have done more.

Craig continues:

Of course we don't know the exact number of Iraqi dead. Nobody does - dead civilians are not considered important enough to count by the occupying forces. I don't care if the estimate of a million is 50% out, either way. Hundreds of thousands of innocent people have died a terrible death, and we caused it. Not one of us has yet done enough to stop it. The guilt lies heaviest on Bush, Blair and Cheney.

But it lies on you and me too.

Many more will die before this is over but we must do more to lower the final number.

The song "Bestow Us Peace Graciously" (don't watch, just listen) was written by Heinrich Schütz in 1648, the end of the 30 years of war that killed a third of my people, most of them children, and millions beyond.

We are in danger to lose the lecture payed with that very hefty due - the lecture of the Westphalian Peace and its promise of sovereignty, equality and non-intervention between nations.

That seems to be out of mode today and sticking to it does include to sometimes look away from evil happening somewhere.

Still, if you research a bit on the singular event of that war, and the reasons why these laws were instituted to end it, you will see that its purpose was and is to prevent worse: pseudo religious/humanitarian war campaigns for the profit of few at the expense of many.

The Westphalian peace contract effectively rejects legitimacy to egoistic marketing campaigns that promote to Safe Kanukistan/Eliminat Whateverism by bombing the shit out of this or that country.

History proves that this is less costly in human terms than to prevent some bloody internal strife in this or that realm.

We need to get back to that agreement. I hope without paying such a hefty due again.

But the price to pay depends on you and me.

Posted by b on August 10, 2007 at 03:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (31)

Website Dating and $1,000 Notes

Reported by the UK's Sunday Telegraph and syndicated to The Age and the Washington Times we learn how Kidnappers use pigeons to collect ransoms:

Iraqi police say they have recorded repeated instances of kidnappers leaving homing pigeons on the doorsteps of their victims' homes, with instructions for the families to attach cash to the birds' legs. The pigeons then deliver the ransom to the gangs' hide-outs.
[...]
One family attached $10,000 in $1,000 notes to the legs of five homing pigeons, which they found in a cage left on their doorstep.
[...]
"I opened it and found a cage with five pigeons inside it and a note. It said to tie a $1,000 bill to each of the pigeons' legs and release them at 8 o'clock the next morning, or I would find my son's body in the city morgue," he said.

Hmmm, $1,000 notes? Funny that the U.S. Treasury does not know about such notes.

Why care? It's a typical urban legend story anyway.

But unlike the Washington Times story published yesterday and The Age story published on the 6th, the story on the Telegraph's site speaks of $100 notes but is marked "Last Updated: 12:52am BST 05/08/2007" (August 5 in U.S. notation).

Why do the papers who published the Telegraph story after the Telegraph have an incorrect version?

Likely answer: The Telegraph corrected the error but didn't bother to update the "Last Updated" tag.

Lesson: Dates displayed on websites are sometimes as real as $1,000 notes ... and stories from the Telegraph.

Posted by b on August 10, 2007 at 06:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

U.S. Surreal On Iran


bigger

The discussion in the U.S. about attacking Iran is surreal. The public debate is between those who want to "nuke" Iran and those who just want to bomb it with depleated uranium ammunition.

Nobody calls them out for this insanity. The media is playing along, fascinated this or that haircut or cleavege. Noone is refutiating Bush's lies. The voices of realists (old fashioned rightwingers) seem to be restricted to blog posts.

How can one reintroduce some sanity into this?

Some quotes below the fold ...

KARZAI: We have had very, very good, very, very close relations, thanks in part also to an understanding of the United States in this regard, and an environment of understanding between the two, the Iranian government and the United States government, in Afghanistan.

We will continue to have good relations with Iran. We will continue to resolve issues, if there are any, to arise.

BLITZER: Well, is Iran a problem or a solution as far as you are concerned? Are they helping you or hurting you?

KARZAI: Well, so far Iran has been a helper and a solution.
CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER, August 5, 2007

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BUSH: Now, the President will have to talk to you about Afghanistan. But I would be very cautious about whether or not the Iranian influence there in Afghanistan is a positive force -- and therefore, it's going to be up to them to prove to us and prove to the government that they are.
[...]
But because of the actions of this government, this country is isolated. And we will continue to work to isolate it, because they're not a force for good, as far as we can see. They're a destabilizing influence wherever they are.
Bush Karzai Press Availability, August 6, 2007

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On Wednesday evening, Mr Maliki met Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Iranian media said that after the meeting Mr Maliki expressed appreciation for Iran's positive and constructive stance on Iraq, including providing security and fighting against what he described as terrorism.
BBC, August 9, 2007

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Q: .. Reports out of Iran today, out of Iran, say that Prime Minister Maliki told President Ahmadinejad that he appreciated Iran's positive and constructive stance. The pictures from the visit are very warm. ..

THE PRESIDENT: .. Now if the signal is that Iran is constructive, I will have to have a heart-to-heart with my friend, the Prime Minister, because I don't believe they are constructive. ..
Bush Press Conference, August 9, 2007

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Fourteen months after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice offered to talk to Iran, the failure of carrot-and-stick diplomacy to block Tehran's nuclear and regional ambitions is producing a new drumbeat for bolder action, including the possible use of force.
[...]
A possible timetable has emerged as well. "The consensus I'm hearing is to give the [U.N.] Security Council process more time but not unlimited time, and, at some point in the spring of 2008, there has to be a good hard look at whether that process should continue and whether other options should then be considered," said Kenneth Katzman, a Middle East expert for the Congressional Research Service.
In the Debate Over Iran, More Calls for a Tougher U.S. Stance, Robin Wright, WaPo, August 9, 2007

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Here are some of the examples Wright provides of the drumbeat: Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute; Kori Schake in the Hoover Institution's Policy Review; the Heritage Foundation Web site and Norman Podhoretz in Commentary.

The article does not include any quotes from the wide range of experts -- essentially, almost everyone who's not a neoconservative -- who believe a U.S. attack on Iran would backfire even more spectacularly than the Iraq war has.
White House Watch, August 9, 2007

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It is quite egregious for the Jacobins to argue that Iran has not responded to a diplomatic effort in which carrots and sticks have been offered.  What carrots?  Whenever Rice or Satterfield talk about diplomacy on Television we are treated to a vision of glowering bluster demanding Iranian compliance in Iraq.  Period!!!

Our "negotiating" strategy toward Iran is nothing but a demand for their surrender.  Period!!
[...]
This is log-rolling.  Don't be rolled.
Pat Lang, August 9, 2007

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Q: .. [About Iran] ..

THE PRESIDENT: Should I be concerned of a picture -- should the American people be concerned about Iran? Yes, we ought to be very concerned about Iran. They're a destabilizing influence. .. .. when Ahmadinejad has announced that the destruction of Israel is part of its foreign policy.

That's something, obviously, we cannot live with. ..
[...]
.. Iran can do better. The government is isolating its people. The government has caused America and other nations, rational nations, to say, we will work together to do everything we can to deny you economic opportunity because of the decisions you are making. ..
Bush Press Conference, August 9, 2007

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Here is my nightmare. The Cheneyites succeed in creating a situation in which Bush does decide to bomb Iran. Iran retaliates, as they openly threaten to do, with terrorist attacks against us on U.S. soil. That tilts the election. I can imagine a Karl Rove political calculation that would buttress a Cheney-Addington national security calculation, probably with Eliot Abrams' support.
Anne-Marie Slaughter, Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, August 8, 2007

Posted by b on August 10, 2007 at 03:06 AM | Permalink | Comments (64)

August 09, 2007

Lyme?

President Bush was treated for Lyme disease last August, the White House announced Wednesday after failing to disclose the problem for nearly a year.
Bush Treated for Lyme Disease Last Year

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Perhaps the most well known disease that’s been linked to mental disorders is Lyme disease, which is caused by the Borrelia burgdorferi germ. First identified in the mid-1970s among children near Lyme, Connecticut, the disease has long been known to cause nervous-system problems and achy joints if left untreated. Now scientists are finding that Lyme disease can also trigger a whole smorgasbord of psychiatric symptoms, including depression.
[...]
There are 15 species of borellias—making them the most common tickborne disease-producing bacteria in the world.

For its part, the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, which can be found in undercooked meat and cat feces, can lead to full-blown psychotic episodes. Some studies suggest that the parasite stimulates the production of a chemical similar to LSD, producing hallucinations and psychosis. Even when the parasite lies dormant in muscle and brain tissue, it can affect attention span and reaction time in otherwise healthy people.
Diseases of the Mind

Posted by b on August 9, 2007 at 02:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (15)

Red Lights Blinking

Yuck!

Another rough day on the subprime front. AIG, the world's largest insurer and one of the biggest mortgage lenders, said residential mortgage delinquencies and defaults are becoming more common among borrowers in the category just above subprime.

France's biggest listed bank, BNP Paribas, froze $2.2 billion worth of funds, citing subprime woes. And the European Central Bank felt it had to inject $130.5 billion into euro-zone money markets to help calm jittery markets.
Mortgage defaults growing

Lets take a step back and look at the feed back lopes here.

A peak "resets" of the adjustable rate mortgages, after which the borrower has to pay more interest, is expected for this fall. After that mortgage delinquencies rates will move even higher as people will recognize that they can not pay the houses they bought.

The foreclosures will come and a glut of houses will hit the real estate markets at a time where risk premium on interests will increase and borrowing standards will be more stringent. There will be no buyers for these houses. House values will sink further and more people will default.  A positive (self enforcing) feed back loop.

On the lending side the mortgages have been packed into mortgage backed securities and repacked into collateralized debt obligations. These were certified by rating agencies as having a certain "risk class" and value. The rating agencies are payed by the issuer of such securities and use "mathematical" models to determine value and risk.

One can assume that some moral hazard was involved here and some double A or triple A rated papers are in reality of B-- quality.

Where all the misrated MBSs and CDOs of the last years ended up is unknown. But anything labeled "money market fund" or such can be suspected to have at least some of them.

Invertors will withdraw money from these funds and the fund managers will have to sell some assets, MBSs and CDOs, to pay out to the leaving investor.

Next comes this:

BNP Paribas SA, France's biggest bank, halted withdrawals from three investment funds because it couldn't "fairly'' value their holdings after U.S. subprime mortgage losses roiled credit markets.

The funds had about 1.6 billion euros ($2.2 billion) of assets on Aug. 7, after declining 20 percent in less than two weeks, spokesman Jonathan Mullen said today. The bank will stop calculating a net asset value for the funds, which have about a third of their money in subprime securities rated AA or higher.

BNP doesn't know if the bits of paper it sold to investors are worth 2 billion, 1 billion or 0 billion. There is noone who wants to buy this stuff now. If there is no buyer there is no market and no price.

We will see this again and again throughout the next months. Funds everyone thought to be fine will close down or report heavy losses because they include perfectly rated MBS and CDO junk. (BTW - a lot of pension funds and endowements are said to hold this stuff too.)

People want to sell their funds because losses appear, suddenly everyone wants out. But there are no buyers and the value of the assets are thereby undetermined. The markets freeze up and suddenly there is no value at all. This is the positive feed back loop on the lenders side.

The ECB was smart today to recognize this immediately. It reacted quickly and inserted liquidity so at least the big banks could go and buy some stuff so the markets didn't freeze up. I guess the ECB knew what was coming and was prepared. What else do they know?

There will be more and bigger fond losses in New York and London. I am not sure that the Fed is prepared to act so swiftly too.

The crunch in the credit markets will spread to equities. The shares of the financials will sink because of the losses in the bond markets. The general stock markets will be hit because consumers confronting higher credits rates will have less to spend. The U.S. economy and maybe the world will fall into recession.

Posted by b on August 9, 2007 at 12:44 PM | Permalink | Comments (48)

Reporting on Bushsharraf

The Washington Post reports on the military dictator in Pakistan.

As Busharraf is a "courageous leader and strong ally" in the war of  terror, some subtle editing by the Post's foreign service editor was certainly justified:

Musharraf May Abort Election Impose Emergency Rule

Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, may decide to impose emergency rule because of upcoming elections deteriorating security conditions and the growing threat of violence by Islamic extremists, a senior government official in Islamabad said Wednesday.
...
"Given upcoming elections the external and internal threats we are facing, especially on the border areas, the possibility of emergency cannot be ruled out," Azim said. Rashid Qureshi, a spokesman for Musharraf, denied reports that the president planned to suspend the elections citizens' rights.

Under the country's constitution, the president may impose emergency rule if Pakistan faces elections a severe internal or external threat. Such a decree could restrict elections, freedom of speech and movement.

Posted by b on August 9, 2007 at 03:13 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

August 08, 2007

Cordesman's Tenuous Case

Anthoney Cordesman, a sound military expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, was in Iraq again and unlike Michael O’Hanlon and Ken Pollack, he comes away with a quite pessimistic view. 

He lays out the issues in 25 pages titled The Tenuous Case for Strategic Patience in Iraq (pdf).

The paper contains some full broadsides against the Bush administration, various government agencies and the former U.S. military and political leadership in Iraq.

Iraq is in shambles and the general economic situation is getting worse. Cordesman lauds the current leadership team, Petraeus/Crocker, but sees there effort stymied by false decisions and idiotic ideas coming out of Washington.

The "surge" has failed, Cordesman says, both in its military and political dimension. It was sheer luck that the Sunni "awaikening", the tribes getting sick of "al-qaida" salafists, happened in time and that the military could take advantage of it.

The problem now is that these awakened tribes expect some payback from the central government for their efforts and cooperation. Such rewards must come through within 6 month or they will convert back to be resistance fighters.

The government is in all aspects in shambles. Maliki and his friends are completely sectarian. The political process, if there is some at all, is very, very, very slow.

The U.S. can not withdraw parts of its troops or retreat back to big bases. If all troops leave, the problem of Iraq will not vanish and the strategic problems in the Middle East might escalate.

There might be a 50:50 chance for things to turn around if the U.S. stays committed for a long time and the Iraqis somehow manage to solve some of their many, many problems.

Cordesman doesn't say so explicitely, but the case he makes for strategic patience is a lost one. All the ifs he attaches to some success are very, very unlikely to happen. A tenuous case indeed.

Some quotes below the fold:

(soory that these are so long, but it's a 25 page report and the best we'll get about Iraq.)

(emphases are in the original)

Iraq's insurgency and civil conflicts have, [..], already done immense damage to virtually every ordinary Iraqi, and there are essentially no provinces where the problem will not produce further hardship and violence, even in a best-case scenario. Iraq may not be Darfur, but to talk about what is happening as something that does not involve immense suffering, that does not involve immense future risk, and for which the US does not have direct moral and ethical responsibility is absurd.
[...]
There is no point in pursuing failed strategies or failed policies. Iraq is a gamble, and one where even the best-managed future US policies may still fail. It is a grim reality that the mistakes and blunders that have dominated US policy in Iraq throughout the US intervention have interacted with Iraqi failures to make any continued US effort one filled with serious risks.
[...]
The idea that General Petraeus can give a military progress report in September that should shape US policy ignores the fact that the fate of Iraq is scarcely dominated by US military action. US policy must look at the political and economic situation, and all of Iraq’s civil conflicts, and must not just focus on Al Qa’ida and the worst elements of the Sadr militia.

For all the reasons described above, the US has a vital national interest in changing the nature of the debate in the US from the current options of either staying the course or rushing out with little regard for the consequences. The domestic US security structure has so far failed to present meaningful options, and seems incapable to doing so. The US team in Iraq, however, is much more experienced, and there is a new degree of realism and competence that clearly can never come from within a failed Bush Administration.
[...]
The drop in violence is tied largely to cooperation with the US. The same fighters that were killing Americans could be killing them again in a matter of weeks or months if the central government does not act, and Sunni tribal loyalty oaths to the government are now worth about as much as central government help to the Sunnis – which is to say that some could prove to be little more than worthless if the central government does not act.

There is a real opportunity that did not exist at the start of the year. What is critical to understand, however, is that while the surge strategy has had value in some areas, much of this progress has not the function of the surge strategy, US planning, or action by the Maliki government. In fact, the “new” strategy President Bush announced in January 2007 has failed in many aspects of its original plan.
[...]
Iraq has not made anything like the political progress required, and the effort to expand and revitalize the US aid effort to help the Iraqi central government improve its dismal standards of governance and economic recovery efforts have already slipped some six months and are far too dependent on the US military.
[...]
Sheer luck has created a major synergy between Sunni willingness to attack Al Qa’ida and other abusive, hard-line Sunni Islamist elements and far more effective US efforts at counterinsurgency.
[...]
Sunnis that were shooting Coalition and ISF forces six months ago now want to work with the central government if the central government will work with them. They will sign loyalty oaths, join the regular police, and join the army if the government will give them money, status, and a share of power. The problem is that this shift is tenuous and depends on reasonably rapid central government action to give the Sunnis what they want. (US officers put the limit of tribal and Sunni patience at 130-180 days).
[...]
A visit to Iraq reveals far less confidence in Maliki at every level than is apparent from the outside. No one seems to trust Maliki outside his immediate coterie, and many Iraqis and US officers and officials in the field feel he has tacitly or actively supported sectarian cleansing in Baghdad and the south.
[...]
The case that Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus make for "strategic patience," and one that President Talibani and Vice President Mahdi make in very similar form, is that Sunni, Shi'ite, and Kurdish leaders are slowly coming together in ways that may develop the ability to evolve a form of central government that would keep Iraq united but devolve enough power and money at the provincial and local level to secure the Shi'ite majority, offer the Kurds what they want most, and give the Sunnis a deal they could possibly accept.
[...]
It must be stressed that nothing about the process will be neat or pretty, or conform to US ideals about political reform. Any such solution will evolve in a morass of feuding, conflicting political signals, staged walkouts, and occasional nasty clashes -- some violent. It cannot come in a neat package or come quickly. It will mean agonizing further negotiations, squabbles, and delays.

Success of any kind will require US force reductions to be loosely tied to the pace of Iraqi action, and not some predictable schedule. It will mean that many original US goals in trying to transform Iraq would have failed. A workable compromise cannot reverse many of the impacts of sectarian and ethnic cleansing.

Such a compromise must also effectively devolve substantial amounts of power to Provincial governments to allow the creation of Sunni, Shi'ite, and Kurd controlled sectarian and ethnic partition or enclaves. The resulting local and provincial power structures will sometimes be corrupt, nepotistic, and repressive.
[...]
The structure of the central government is so horribly inefficient, and its ministries so vulnerable to power brokering, corruption, and ethnic and sectarian manipulation that meaningful reform is impossible.
[...]
Can the Iraqi political structure and the US pull this off? The odds are at best even. If the US is to be successful, it must accept the fact this level of risk exists and cannot be eliminated for at least several years. It is important that US decisions be based on honest and objective assessments of the full range of problems that still exist and not Panglossian fantasies about progress that has not really occurred. The situation in Iraq still has many pitfalls, and these can still force the US out of Iraq in failure.

The key risks and problems the US faces can be summarized as follows:

Here comes a detailed seven pages long list of some 19 major possible or likely failure points, from Maliki's unreliability, through oil industry state, an incompetent U.S. aid process and unreformable partisan police forces.

The paper continues:

At the same time, it is important to point out that the US will have to face many of these risks – or their consequences -- in some form regardless of how fast it withdraws its troops. They will haunt the US throughout the life of the next administration and well beyond. This is why the previous list does not address the steadily escalating Iranian intervention in Iraq, and one clearly designed to target US forces as well as divide the country on sectarian lines. The problem of Iran, and the US need to confront it, will be a fact of life in the Gulf regardless of US policy in Iraq and – if anything – will be much worse if the US leaves a power vacuum in Iraq.

Similarly, the US cannot ignore the Kurdish issue and its impact on Turkey and US Turkish relations. The US will have to take some kind of policy stand regarding the future security and autonomy of the Kurds, and cannot ignore Turkish pressure on the Kurds or the dangers posed to Turkey by the PKK. Once again, strategic patience seems to offer the least risk, although scarcely eliminate it.

Finally, very similar considerations are involved in dealing with the Syrian role in Iraq and – far more importantly – the role of friendly Sunni states like Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, US support of the Sunni tribes and more active efforts to end sectarian cleansing are a key to defusing outside Sunni Arab anger against the US, and preserving American strategic interests in the region. They present obvious risks, but the risks in not acting will almost certainly be greater.
[...]
It is just possible that "strategic patience" can work over time. What are the odds of such success? No one can honestly say, but they may well become higher than the 50-50 level if Iraq's political leaders do move forward by early 2008, if the Sunnis are co-opted by the government and brought into the Iraqi Security Forces, and if the US does not rush out for domestic political purposes.

They will also be greatly improved if the US country team is allowed to develop plans and budgets for the coming year and longer-term action. The US national security team in Washington is clearly ineffective and lacking in core competence. Real leadership has to come from the field and the country team, and has to be exercised in a context where the issue is the ability to present workable plans for sustained action – not purely military situation reports or efforts to rush various benchmarks.
[...]
The bad news – and the key factor that makes the case for strategic patience so tenuous – is that the above list of problems is now so long and so critical that some key steps are already badly overdue. Any major Iraqi failure to move forward over the next six months, to come to grips with the realities described above, and to solidly co-opt the Sunni tribes and put a real end to JAM and other Shi'ite sectarian cleansing will make strategic patience of limited value or pointless.

Reading through the above again, tenuous may be an overstatement ...

So what should the U.S. do now?

Posted by b on August 8, 2007 at 12:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (91)

OT 07-54

On the right side of the mainscreen there is now a link labeled Blogroll and Links with a page of those blogs and news outlets I like to read regulary. Let me know what to I probably should add or drop. Selfish as I am, I only want to keep links there that I use on a regular basis.

This is an open thread for news & views & general comments & ...

Posted by b on August 8, 2007 at 08:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (104)

Stop Michael Gordon's Lies

Michael Gordon, co-writer of Judith Miller, is again stenographing the U.S. military's lies to launch another war.

Attacks on American-led forces using a lethal type of roadside bomb said to be supplied by Iran reached a new high in July, according to the American military.

The devices, known as explosively formed penetrators, were used to carry out 99 attacks last month and accounted for a third of the combat deaths suffered by the American-led forces, according to American military officials.

This a lie (there are more in the article) as the EFPs are likely manufactured in Iraq. How do we know? Well ...

The Independent on Sunday can also reveal that the bombs and the firing devices used to kill the soldiers, as well as two private security guards, were initially created by the UK security services as part of a counter-terrorism strategy at the height of the troubles in the early 1990s.

According to security sources, the technology for the bombs used in the attacks, which were developed using technology from photographic flash units, was employed by the IRA some 15 years ago after Irish terrorists were given advice by British agents.
Revealed: IRA bombs killed eight British soldiers in Iraq, Independent, October 16, 2005

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But in November, U.S. troops raiding a Baghdad machine shop came across a pile of copper disks, 5 inches in diameter, stamped out as part of what was clearly an ongoing order. This ominous discovery, unreported until now, makes it clear that Iraqi insurgents have no need to rely on Iran as the source of EFPs.
In Iraq, anyone can make a bomb, LA Times, February 16, 2007

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The Wall Street Journal reports (sub. req.), troops "uncovered a makeshift factory used to construct advanced roadside bombs that the U.S. had thought were made only in Iran." The main feature of the find were several copper liners that are the main component of EFPs.
WSJ via TPMM, February 27, 2007

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But while the find gave experts much more information on the makings of the E.F.P.’s, which the American military has repeatedly argued must originate in Iran, the cache also included items that appeared to cloud the issue.  

Among the confusing elements were cardboard boxes of the gray plastic PVC tubes used to make the canisters. The boxes appeared to contain shipments of tubes directly from factories in the Middle East, none of them in Iran. One box said in English that the tubes inside had been made in the United Arab Emirates and another said, in Arabic, “plastic made in Haditha,” a restive Sunni town on the Euphrates River in Iraq.
...
[A]nalysts have expressed skepticism that the American military has made a strong case for the Iranian origin of the E.F.P.’s as tensions are running high between the United States and Iran over its nuclear program.
U.S. Displays Bomb Parts Said to Be Made in Iran, NYT, February 27, 2007

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A U.S. military spokesman, Lieutenant-Colonel Scott Bleichwehl, said three to six "enemy fighters" were killed, five wounded and 17 captured. U.S. and Iraqi forces suffered no fatalities, he said.
...
Bleichwehl said troops, facing scattered resistance, discovered a factory that produced "explosively formed penetrators" (EFPs), a particularly deadly type of explosive that can destroy a main battle tank and several weapons caches.
Iraqi, U.S. forces sweep through volatile Iraqi city, Boston Globe, April 6, 2007

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U.S. and Iraqi forces uncovered an assembly area for the powerful roadside bombs known as explosively formed projectiles, the statement said. Four bombs were already assembled, it added, and others were in various stages of being put together.
Chlorine gas attack by truck bomber kills up to 30 in Iraq, IHT/NYT, April 7, 2007

To stop further Michael Gordon lies, you can contact the public editor of the New York Times:    

* E-mail: public@nytimes.com
* Phone: (212) 556-7652
* Address: Public Editor
      The New York Times
      620 Eighth Avenue
      New York, NY 10018

Posted by b on August 8, 2007 at 01:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

August 07, 2007

Where is Your Money? - Executive Orders on Iraq and Lebanon

Joshua Landis is Assistant Professor of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Oklahoma. He mostly works on Syria and Lebanon and writes the blog Syria Comment. Naturally he often travels to Syria too. His opinion on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East diverges a bit from the currently prevalent one in Washington DC.

There are consequences for committing such a grave crime. In discussing the recent executive order with regard to Lebanon, Landis writes:

In the comment section of the last post, several readers remarked that the wording of this executive order was broad enough and ill-defined enough that it could easily be used to harass journalists and perhaps even bloggers. Some readers suggested this was nonsense, placing their faith in US authorities to respect freedom of speech.

I will recount a personal anecdote that reflects on this. On my return from my last two trips out of the United States, I have been stopped by Homeland Security at the exit ramp of the airplane and retained for four hours or so of interviews and security checks, while notification was sought from authorities in Washington to see if I could be released, causing me to miss my onward flights. My calling cards, contents of my wallet, and personal papers were scanned to add to my computer files. My luggage was also screened for indications of who I had met and what I had done.

Why has my name on the security-threat list? The only conclusion I could come to is that one of my many admirers in Washington had placed me there in order to amuse themselves. When I inquired how I might get my name removed from the list, I was told to have "my lawyer" make inquiries at a Washington address. My hunch is that this would be an exercise in futility even if I were to retain a lawyer. Homeland Security is under no legal obligation to release the reason for which I was replaced on the list. I will have to play the Syrian game of figuring out who I know in the security apparatuses of Washington who might have access to my files and can help to clear up the matter. Security services seem to be surprisingly similar on both sides of the Atlantic.

To get harrassed by homeland-security goons is certainly annoying. But the new executive orders go much further and in effect repeal the 5th amendment:

[O]n August 2 President Bush issued a similar executive order (below) regarding Lebanon. This action authorizes the Treasury to "block the property and interests in property" of "any U.S. persons" (including "a spouse or dependent child") who challenge "the sovereignty of Lebanon" (i.e., support Syria's occupation of Lebanon and its interference in Lebanese politics). In this instance the target can be anyone whose actions are deemed to "pose a significant risk" of undermining Lebanon's democratic processes, violent or not.

Landis will be an excellent test case to give the order a bit of a try. I wonder how he will pay the lawyers he will need to fight this when his property is seized.

The scope of the executive orders on Iraq and on Lebanon is so wide, that these can catch 22 about anyone who utters a word against the Hariri clan that robs Lebanon or gives money to a non-governmental organization in Iraq. Such a person would now "constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States."

One can laugh about such statements in these orders. But as Landis' personal experience tells: These guys ain't joking.

Posted by b on August 7, 2007 at 12:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Contrary to Bush's Lie - Iran Does Not Want Nukes

It is tiresome to again and again refute U.S. lies about Iran's civil nuclear program. But it is important to not let the propaganda win and to refute it every time it threatens to take the lead.

Bush yesterday said:

[I]t's up to Iran to prove to the world that they're a stabilizing force as opposed to a destabilizing force. After all, this is a government that has proclaimed its desire to build a nuclear weapon.
President Bush Participates in Joint Press Availability with President Karzai of Afghanistan, August 6, 2007

Will someone in the U.S. media please call this what it is - simply an outrageous lie?

Why is this a lie? Because the Iranian government has consistently proclaimed that it does NOT desire to build a nuclear weapon.

Here is, again, proof:

The Islamic Republic of Iran is a member of the IAEA and is committed to the NPT. All our nuclear activities are transparent, peaceful and under the watchful eyes of IAEA inspectors.
Transcript of Ahmadinejad's U.N. Speech, September 19, 2006

---

Hojatoleslam Mohsen Gharavian, a scholar at Qom Seminary, on Monday rejected rumors appearing on some websites quoting him as saying that the use of nuclear weapons is allowed according to the Islamic tenets.
[...]
The theologian, who was talking in an exclusive interview with IRNA, added, "We do not seek nuclear weapons and the Islamic religion encourages coexistence along with peace and friendship."
Islam forbids use of nuclear weapons: Theological scholar, 21-02-2006

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Iran is a nuclear fuel cycle technology holder, a capability which is exclusively for peaceful purposes, read a statement issued by the Islamic Republic at the emergency meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Board of Governors here Tuesday evening.

The Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, has issued the fatwa that the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons are forbidden under Islam and that Iran shall never acquire these weapons, IRNA quoted from the statement.
Leader’s Fatwa Forbids Nukes, Aug 11, 2005

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Led by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the nation's "supreme leader," Iranian clerics have repeatedly declared that Islam forbids the development and use of all weapons of mass destruction.

"The Islamic Republic of Iran, based on its fundamental religious and legal beliefs, would never resort to the use of weapons of mass destruction," Khamenei said recently. "In contrast to the propaganda of our enemies, fundamentally we are against any production of weapons of mass destruction in any form."
Nuclear weapons unholy, Iran says Islam forbids use, clerics proclaim, October 31, 2003

So will the media tell us that Bush lied?

Don't wait for it ...

Posted by b on August 7, 2007 at 04:58 AM | Permalink | Comments (29)

Another Rightwing-Jewish Chavez Smear

While reading the NYT this morning I stumbled across the headline Jews in Argentina Wary of Nation’s Ties to Chávez. The piece is by one Alexei Barrionuevo, a staff writer who usually covers financial and business issues.

Why would Jews in Argentina would be "wary" about the President of Venezuela visiting their country? Staying with Mr. Barrionuevo's usual trade, the article is mostly about deepening economic ties that Venezuela and Argentina:

President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela said Monday that his country would help the government of President Néstor Kirchner refinance more of Argentina’s debt and increase its energy supplies.

The agreements help solidify the relationship between the countries; Venezuela has played an important role in helping Mr. Kirchner revive Argentina’s still-recovering economy.

But they are also causing potential political problems. In recent days, Jewish leaders here — part of Latin America’s largest Jewish community — have been expressing growing concern about Mr. Chávez’s close ties to Iran.

Hmm - reading on we learn that these Jewish leaders have concern because Iran is loud-mouthing about Israel. Let me see the chain again: Israel - Iran - Venezuela - Argentine - Jews in Argentine concerned about Israel. Isn't that a bit too long a chain to make sense? By the way - Chavez opposes Ahmedinejad's position on Israel.

Imagine orthodox-christian Germans being "wary" because the Italian Prime Minister, who before met a Polish president that despises Putin's rule in Russia, visits Germany?

So who are these Argentinian Jewish leaders? Let's see who the author quotes:

“The question is, will the economic agreements also generate some type of political commitment?” said Sergio D. Widder, the Latin American representative of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights organization.

After reading the piece twice, this is the ONLY quote from Jewish leaders in the article I find. (So why the plural leaders?)

The Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, which pays Mr. Widder, (and as we noted before, plans to build a "Museum of Tolerance" in Jerusalem  - on top of a Muslim graveyard,) already has an interesting relation with Chavez.

In early 2006 the Wiesenthal Center spread a doctored quote from Chavez to make him look anti-semitic. Then the Confederation of Jewish Associations of Venezuela responded to the Wiesenthal Center smears:

Officials of the leading organization of Venezuelan Jewry were preparing a letter this week to the center, complaining that it had misinterpreted Chavez’s words and had failed to consult with them before attacking the Venezuelan president.

“You have interfered in the political status, in the security, and in the well-being of our community. You have acted on your own, without consulting us, on issues that you don’t know or understand,” states a draft of the letter obtained by the Forward.
...
Both the AJCommittee and the American Jewish Congress seconded the Venezuelan community’s view that Chavez’s comments were not aimed at Jews.
...
Sergio Widder, the Wiesenthal center’s representative in Latin America, countered that Chavez’s mention of Christ-killers and wealth was ambiguous at best and in need of clarification. He said that the decision to criticize Chavez had been taken after careful consideration.

Those careful consideration included deleting important parts of the Chavez quote Mr. Widder and his center managed to push into the U.S. media stream.

I have no idea what the real Jewish community in Argentine thinks of Chavez. What he does offer though is certainly positive for the Argentinian economy. So I'd guess they are quite less "wary" than what the NYT headline and a quote from a very right-wing U.S. zionist "Jewish human rights" organization suggest.

It would have been interesting to learn about the real Argentinian Jewish opinion on the economic deals. Unfortunatly, the NYT and Alexei Barrionuevo will not tell us about it. Instead they foist partisan propaganda from a proven quote-forger to their readership.

Cui bono?

Posted by b on August 7, 2007 at 02:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (10)

August 06, 2007

The Credit Party is Over

About a year ago I wrote The Bush Boom Party is Over:

The U.S. housing bubble is popping. Interest rates are up and will not go down soon. Many people who recently signed Adjustable Rate Mortgages will learn that they can not afford their houses. But by then housing markets will be down and foreclosure will come. More offers will further turn down the market prices. Construction workers will lose their jobs. Homebuilders will shut down.

This will get really nasty next year when $1 trillion in ARMs are in for readjustment. Finally the Bush boom party is over.

And here we are. Financial markets are in a mess. Nouriel Roubini argues, that there is serious danger that this is a systemic crisis and not only a temporary hickup.

Interest rates rose and the credit quality of marginal, interest only, no money down, new homeowners turned out to be worse than the guys with rosy glasses expected. The lenders certified models of rating their leveraged portfolios of mortgage backed securities turned out to be as good as the lunatic business models of some pet-food selling Internet companies in 1999/2000. Some of these lenders are now going belly-up, but the effects will spread further.

Shills like Greenspan have lauded instruments like mortgage backed securities and collateral backed securities (car loans etc. packed into sellable securities) as helpful for spreading risk. As it turns out now these instruments have rather hidden risk and the agencies that rated these risks were, just as during the 2000 Internet bubble, simply self interested sales people.

As banks get cautious and survey their losses, they are suddenly unwilling to give more easy credit to homeowners. There is also no more credit available for leveraged buyout deals in the corporate market. Without that demand current equity prices seem overrated and will have to decline, thereby further deminishing capital otherwise available for lending.

There are some 7 million people in the U.S. who have taken out Adjustable Rate Mortgages that will reset in the coming month and require significant higher interest (and risk premium) payments.

This is far from over.

CNBC's Wall Street shill Jim Cramer is flipping out on camera (recommended annotated version here) calling for Bernanke to start the helicopters, to drop money onto the banks that are in trouble and to lower interest rates.

Will Bernanke do so? Not yet, but he eventually will have to because of political pressure. But this will likely be too little to late and only lead to higher inflation and a lower dollar (and higher gas prices) without stopping the fall out from the crisis.

The U.S. is not the only country in trouble. There are popping housing bubbles in the UK and in Spain too. The credit crunch will be felt in equity markets world wide. It's hard to tell when and where this might stop.

Personally I don't expect this coming recession to be a mild one.

Posted by b on August 6, 2007 at 10:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (29)

August 05, 2007

Battle of Algiers

In 2003 the WaPo's David Ignatius, while lauding Rumsfeld's strategies, reported:
The Pentagon's special operations chiefs have scheduled a showing tomorrow in the Army auditorium of "The Battle of Algiers," a classic film that examines how the French, despite overwhelming military superiority, were defeated by Algerian resistance fighters.
The Pentagon and their brethren at the CIA picked selectively the wrong ideas from that movie and didn't get its general message. A clip from the movie explains:
Jane Mayer writes (recommendable) on the confidential International Committee of the Red Cross report on the CIA's black prisoner program:
Congressional and other Washington sources familiar with the report said that it harshly criticized the C.I.A.’s practices. One of the sources said that the Red Cross described the agency’s detention and interrogation methods as tantamount to torture, and declared that American officials responsible for the abusive treatment could have committed serious crimes. The source said the report warned that these officials may have committed “grave breaches” of the Geneva Conventions, and may have violated the U.S. Torture Act, which Congress passed in 1994.
When those people responsible for this defend their doing, they use the same argumential line the press briefing French officer is using in the movie:
"We are soldiers. Our duty is to win. Therefore, to be precise, it's my turn to ask a question: Should France stay in Algeria? If you are answer is still yes, then you must accept all the consequences."
It is the same argument Bush used to get his kill-FISA law passed: "Should the U.S. fight against terror? If your answer is still yes, then you must accept all the consequences."

The logic in that is of course all wrong. But that didn't matter to the French press then and it doesn't matter to the people who voted for Bush's law, or really want to stay in Iraq. They embrace it and reuse the same question to justify their personal lack of backbone and moral.

Watch the short clip from Battle of Algiers showing the press conference, and the consequences.

Posted by b on August 5, 2007 at 03:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (13)

 
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