Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
October 31, 2007

Dem Candidates Will Prosecute Torturers Or Not?

One Malcolm Nance, who has personal experience on the issue, explains why Waterboarding is Torture… Period.

The Democrats and the Democratic presidential candidates seem to be against applying such obviously illegal and amoral methods.

That is fine.

But can someone please ask them how they will handle those U.S. people who recently ordered, supervised and applied such illegal torture?

Under the standards of the Nuremberg Trials all three of these groups should be prosecuted, jailed and, under U.S. law, probably put to death.

What is Obama's, Hillary's and John Edwards' stand on this issue?

Posted by b on October 31, 2007 at 05:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Monday: Guilty - Wednesday: Not Guilty

Rabei Osman was judged guilty in Italy on Monday and not guilty in Spain on Wednesday. This based on nearly identical charges and on the same evidence, wiretapped discussions in Arabic. How could this happen?

The Spanish trial over the Madrid 2004 terror bombings ended today. Some of the accused were convicted, the alleged mastermind, Osman, was acquitted:

Rabei Osman, an Egyptian accused of helping orchestrate the attacks, was acquitted. Osman, who is in jail in Italy, had allegedly bragged in a wiretapped phone conversation that the massacre was his idea. But his defense attorneys argued successfully that the tapes were mistranslated.

Osman, a unskilled worker who had been living in Germany, Spain and Italy, was convicted to 10 years in an Italian court for 'subversive association aimed at international terrorism', a new charge introduced in Italy after 9/11. Two days ago an Italian appeal court upheld that conviction.

An report about the Spanish trial explains:

The testimony of two official Spanish translators, who transcriptions of an incriminating conversation between the accused Rabei Osman and his disciple Yehia Ragheh, points to the difficulties inherent in such a sprawling, complex investigation.

The translators claimed that the Italian translation (Rabei Osman and Yehia were based in Italy) of the conversation "has serious errors", and "that some phrases have been misinterpreted through ignorance of the cultural connotations of the Arabic language and of historical or cultural references or citations", going so far as to "furnish the discussion with a context that does not agree with the original".

Said with less demureness: The Italian translators were either completely incompetent idiots or they lied to get Osman convicted.

The only 'evidence' the Italian police has against Rabai Osman are the wiretapped phonecalls the Spanish court just found to be mistranslated and files he downloaded to his computer.

A 2005 NYT report describes this very scary stuff under the headline: From Tapes, a Chilling Voice of Islamic Radicalism in Europe

The indictment calls Mr. Ahmed an "organizer of the terrorist group responsible for the Madrid attacks," a "recruiter of numerous people ready to commit suicide attacks," and a "coordinator of terrorist cells" abroad. The police report charges that he used cassette tapes, cellphones, CD's and computers as recruitment tools, highlighting how the Internet potentially can transform any living room into a radical madrasa.

The report says he downloaded hundreds of audio and video files of sermons, communiqués, poetry, songs, martyrs' testimony, Koranic readings and scenes of battle and suicide bombings from Chechnya, Afghanistan, the Israeli-occupied territories, Lebanon, Bosnia, Kashmir and Iraq.

In a bit of involuntary irony the NYT has some of the 'chilling' pictures Osman was guilty of having downloaded to his computer on its website. When you click on the above NYT headline, your computer will download those too and will store them on your harddrive.

Except for maybe Kashmir, I have researched and written extensively about all the countries and issues mentioned in the NYT piece. My harddrive must be full of such files. I better don't let the Italian police get their hands on it.

Rabai Osman will now appeal to the highest Italian court. With the backing of the Spanish judgment he may even get the court moved to find some better translators.

These thoughtcrime accusations, trials and convictions must stop.

Posted by b on October 31, 2007 at 10:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

October 30, 2007

'Politik' and the Presidential Candidate Race

Little do I write about the U.S. presidential (presidency?) race. Everytime I try, I find that there is nearly nothing to work from. Writing from abroad my assumption was that I simply don't 'get' the real stuff.

But now I read this:

In all, 63% of the campaign stories focused on political and tactical aspects of the campaign. That is nearly four times the number of stories about the personal backgrounds of the candidates (17%) or the candidates’ ideas and policy proposals (15%). And just 1% of stories examined the candidates’ records or past public performance, the study found.

Instead of policy proposal discussions, the available news and analysis is about hair-cuts and lapel pins. The blogs fret about campaign slogans, consultants and hotel rates.

Sorry, I can not digest such stuff. It's just package with no content.

I need a website with a 'spreadsheet' of 100 questions on hard policy issues in the vertical:

"24. In what regard should companies have/have not personhood status?"

Each candidate's opinions on each question, with links and fact-checked backups, should be in the horizontal:

Huckabee: "In all regards"; Gravel: "In all but free speech and the right to carry arms."

The site should allow me to rank these questions in their importance to me. It should let me give my personal answers to each of them. A simple algorithm would match my opinion to the candidates' and find the one that provides the best fit to my personal stand.

I have yet to find such a site on the web. Why? Do you know one?

Where I am coming from on this is of course a different environment:

In my country (Germany) we don't have much of personality races, at least compared to the U.S. We vote for parties who hold their internal member elections to select their party leaders. Those persons will get some media scrutinity in their political life. But reporting on personal issues or affairs of politicians is frowned on and rarely happens.

During the party conventions the party members actually formulate and vote on party program points. Last weekend the social-democrats had a convention here in Hamburg and the party members had some fiercy discussions and quite a few suprise votes. They chose to work for a general 80mph speed limit and against privatization of the railway monopoly. Both of these votes  ran against the wishes of their established leaders but will, for now, be binding party policy.

Before elections journalists here scrutinize party programs and compare these on the issues. The better papers and TV programs do discuss in detail the content and consequences of the various proposals. It is not perfect of course and more could be done to look at the record of what these parties have promised and actually done. But one can reasonably find out who stands where on what and there are four or more serious parties to choose from.

Interestingly the German language has only one word to covering policy and politics: 'Politik'. The meaning of 'Politik' leans much more towards 'policy' than to 'politics'. It is on the issue first and on the interaction about the issue only in a secondary role.

Maybe the problem of getting the U.S. election stuff is really writing from abroad and thereby lacking U.S. 'feeling'. But the study quoted above suggests otherwise. There is simply nothing serious available to think and write about.

One probably needs to be a sports reporter (Olberman) or theater critic (Rich) to write about this horse race production. I for one lack the talent for even trying to comment in those fields.

Posted by b on October 30, 2007 at 04:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (28)

To Save The Economy - Bomb Iran?

In 2008 the U.S. will slip into recession. This will likely kill any chances the Republicans might otherwise have in the 2008 election. But a recession could probably be avoided by starting another war. The argument:

U.S. house prices will continue to go down:

Home prices in 20 U.S. metropolitan areas slumped in August by the most in at least six years, a private survey showed today.

Values dropped 4.4 percent in the 12 months that ended August, an eighth consecutive decline, ...
[...]
Most economists expect housing to extend its slump and continue to be a drag on economic growth as loan foreclosures rise and tougher lending standards make borrowing more difficult.

The housing bubble in the UK is also starting to pop:

The British enjoyed lower rates earlier this decade - and the result was double-digit house-price rises. Since August 2006, however, rates have been marching upwards. After six hikes, the base rate is at its highest since 2001. That is already a headache for the dwindling battalions of first-time buyers, or anyone on a variable-rate mortgage. But it will also be a pain for the estimated 2.1 million borrowers coming off low fixed-rate mortgages in the next 18 months.

The mortgage crisis will lead to a recession:

As David Rosenberg, the chief US economist for Merrill Lynch put it in his most recent report:

"We think a miracle is needed to avoid recession. With domestic demand growth struggling to stay above a 1% run-rate, if we manage to avoid a recession with another huge down-leg in homebuilding activity and home prices, we think it will be a miracle."

A Fed bail-out by reducing interest rates back to the 1% level is unlikely. Prices are rising for food and energy:

For example, in the first nine months of this year, food and beverage prices rose at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.7 percent. Transportation costs advanced at a 6 percent annual clip. And energy skyrocketed to an annual rate of nearly 12 percent.

The Fed is playing ostrich by pretending to only look at "core" inflation rates which exclude food and energy costs. But people need to eat and heat their homes and if the Fed lowers interest rates far enough to reignite the mortgage business and housing boom, the dollar would slump even faster and real inflation would blow through the roof.

So what can be done to avoid the recession that will hit during the 2008 election?

Nouriel Roubini points out:

As Ed Leamer showed in his Jackson Hole paper, six of the last eight housing recessions have ended up in a economy-wide recession; and this housing recession will end up being more severe than all of the former eight ones. The only two exceptions of a housing recession not leading to economy-wide ones were those during the Korean War and the Vietnam war when a massive fiscal stimulus rescued the economy. What we spent – or waste – on Iraq is not sufficient to get that fiscal stimulus; we would need another equivalent of $200 billion fiscal stimulus to do the job.

To spend another $200 billion is easy to do. Just start another war.

A war with Iran is such an option: but a war in Iran would lead to an overnight doubling of oil prices to $200 per barrel plus and would lead to a certain U.S. and global recession.

Are we sure about the real effects of another doubling of oil prices? When those prices hit $50 a barrel in 2004, people already thought that this would have severe consequences:

The high oil prices, which climbed to a record high of $49.40 per barrel last Friday, may scare consumers and keep up gas prices. The effect worldwide is real, too. Every $10 added to a barrel of oil is estimated to knock "at least half of 1 percent ... equivalent to $255 billion" off world GDP, according to analysis in May by the International Energy Agency (IEA) in Paris.

If the IEA would have been right in their 2004 prediction, world GDP growth should have be down significantly. But the effect on the world economy was much less than expected. Even with oil prices increasing to above $90 per barrel, worldwide GDP growth continued at about 4% per year. 

A war on Iran would certainly lead to a spike in oil prices. But during the Iran-Iraq war the U.S. was able to keep the Strait of Hormuz open even when Iran tried to blockade it. Some right wing authors point to this as they argue to attack Iran. They bet that oil prices would soon sink back to sustainable levels.

A U.S. recession because of falling house prices is imminent. A Fed bail-out is unlikely. "A miracle is needed." A war on Iran could be such the 'miracle' that would boost the U.S. domestic economy.

The additional spending for such a war would bring enough stimulation to keep the U.S. economy growing. The negative effect through rising oil prices would possibly be short time and less severe than the housing induced recession that needs to be avoided.

I personally do not agree with this view. I don't think a war on Iran could be contained. The additional money or debt-capability to finance such a war isn't there either.

But the Republicans would like to win in 2008 and, to avoid an otherwise certain 2008 recession, they think along this argument.

It is certainly one reason why all Republican candidates (ex Ron Paul) are pushing for a war.

Posted by b on October 30, 2007 at 11:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (23)

October 29, 2007

Reprocessing Air in A Vacuum

The propaganda campaign against Iran is reaching a new state. It is marked by the use of obvious outright lies instead of just murky assertions. According to AFP, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino today  said about Iran:

"This is a country that is enriching and reprocessing uranium and the reason that one does that is to lead towards a nuclear weapon"

There are two easy provable lies in these few words:

Reprocessing Uranium:

Nuclear reprocessing separates any usable elements (e.g., uranium and plutonium) from fission products and other materials in spent nuclear reactor fuels.

Iran never had a running Uranium based reactor. It thereby does NOT have any spent nuclear reactor fuels. It thereby can not reprocess Uranium. You can not reprocess air in a vacuum.

The purpose of enriching Uranium is to gain fuel for nuclear reactors to generate electricity.

The following countries are known to operate enrichment facilities, including R&D facilities: Argentina, Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Iran, Japan, the Netherlands, Pakistan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. Israel and North Korea are also suspected of having enrichment programs. Belgium, Italy and Spain hold an investment interest in the French Eurodif enrichment plant. Countries that had enrichment programs in the past include Australia, Libya and South Africa, but of those only South Africa actually operated an enrichment facility.

If enriching Uranium "is to lead to a nuclear weapon" when will Perinio threaten the bombing of Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy and Spain? They do not have nukes. Why are they enriching Uranium?

Let us see if U.S. journalists are able to or willing to confront these White House lies. But don't hold your breath. Most of their stories will be the usual "He said, she said" junk. A clear objective statement of one side will be contrasted with a provable outright lie on the other without any effort by the writer to expose the lier.

For a while it looked like the nuclear part of the "bomb Iran" propaganda campaign was put aside because it didn't really take hold in the polls. Instead the campaign was moved to the false theme of Iran "killing U.S. soldiers in Iraq". Decreasing U.S. casualties have taken the air out of that balloon. We are back at a "mushroom clouds" fear campaign.

Iran is not pursuing a military nuclear program. As IAEA boss El Baradei yesterday said:

[H]ave we seen Iran having the nuclear material that can readily be used into a weapon? No. Have we seen an active weaponization program? No.

There is simply no evidence of such a program but several very public statements by Iran, including an important fatwa of its supreme leader, against any development of nuclear weapons.

The White House retreating again to 'the nuclear issue' as a casus belli against Iran could be a sign of panic - a last desperate try. The accusation is too easy to debunk and will not gain much, if any, support at home and none in the international field.

But the White House might have stopped to care about any justification at all. This could be just smoke to launch the attack tomorrow or the day after.

Any bets when the crazies will actually press the button?

Posted by b on October 29, 2007 at 01:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (42)

October 28, 2007

White House Seeks To Extend Its Reach in Cyberspace

(From the masters a fine how propaganda works to create a certain slant. Check the link at the end of the piece.)

Pro-Administration Sites Gain Influence

By Anton Troianovski and Peter Finn
Pravda Foreign News
28. October 2007

WASHINGTON -- After ignoring the Internet for years to focus on controlling traditional media such as television and newspapers, the White House and its allies are turning their attention to cyberspace, which remains a haven for critical reporting and vibrant discussion in America's dwindling public sphere.

Allies of President George W. Bush are creating pro-government news and pop culture Web sites while purchasing some established online outlets known for independent journalism. They are nurturing a network of friendly bloggers ready to disseminate propaganda on command. And there is talk of creating a new American computer network -- one that would be separate from the Internet at large and, potentially, much easier for the authorities to control.

"The attractiveness of the Internet as a free platform for free people is already dimming," said Joe  Danner, a mass media expert at Georgetown University in Washington.

Bush addressed the question of Internet censorship during a national broadcast on radio this month. "In the United States, no control is being exercised over the World Wide Web, over the American segment of the Internet," Bush said. "I think that from the point of view of technological solutions, that would not make any sense.

"Naturally, in this sphere, as in other spheres, we should be thinking about adhering to American laws, about making sure that child pornography is not distributed, that financial crimes are not committed," he continued. "But that is a task for the law enforcement agencies. Total control and the work of the law enforcement agencies are two different things."

[...]

Today, the White House is ready with online forces of its own when street action begins.

On September 15, an anti-war movement held a march in central Washington that drew thousands of people; police detained several hundred, including leaders of the march.

Pater Danilin, a 30-year-old Bush supporter and blogger whose online icon is the fearsome robot of the "Terminator" movie, works for a political consulting company loyal to the White House. He said he and his team, which included people from a youth movement called the Young Republicans, quickly started blogging that day about a smaller, pro-White House march held at the same time.

They linked to one another repeatedly and soon, Danilin said, posts about the pro-White House march had crowded out all the items about the opposition march on the Technorati Web portal's coveted ranking of the top five American blog posts.

"We played it beautifully," Danilin said.

[...]

link

Posted by b on October 28, 2007 at 06:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (13)

October 27, 2007

OT 07-75

Please let us know some news & views ...

Posted by b on October 27, 2007 at 02:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (89)

'Bears Love Peanut Butter'

MoA commentator Rick writes:

A few weeks ago, I mentioned here at MOA about our little dog Pearl getting in a fight with some unknown animal. I recently purchased an automatic motion sensor camera to place in the woods behind our house. The camera is water-resistant and will take still or moving pictures, night or day.

I often put some corn out for the deer to keep them away from all the hunters this time of year,  but I wondered what else comes around.


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The night pictures [below the fold] are not that clear, but if you look close, you can see some deer keeping their distance from a raccoon and also a red fox that comes by every night.

I have seen a big bear roaming around here, but haven’t got a picture yet. Maybe I will try some peanut butter next - bears love peanut butter!


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Posted by b on October 27, 2007 at 02:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (19)

The Kidnapper NGO

A scandal erupts around a French non-governmental organization that was caught trafficking children from Chad to France:

More than 100 children are in the custody of Chadian social services after members of a non-governmental organisation who said they were "rescuing" them from Sudan's war-torn Darfur region were arrested on their way to France.

The NGO involved here, L'Arche de Zoé, was founded and is led by one Eric Breteau, now imprisoned in Chad, who in most reports is characterized as a "former fireman".

That's an interesting 'humanitarian' detail - I have a better one.

Breteau may well have been a fireman at one time or another. More importantly he has experience as a NGO leader. Back in 2004 he was the president of the French Association for SUVs.

On June 8, the Paris City Council fired the first shot in voting a "wish to limit the use of" SUVs in the French capital because, according to the Paris Green Party, they produce "four times more carbon dioxide than other cars".
[...]
The Paris City Council's move brought an immediate and angry response from the president of the French Association of SUVs, Eric Breteau.

"SUVs have the right to drive everywhere, just like other vehicles," Breteau thundered, and denounced the Paris initiative as "whimsical and crude propaganda."

Really the same Eric Breteau who's NGO is 'rescues' children in Darfur?

Yes. From the tsunami site www.indonesia-relief.org (google cache) we indeed learn:

Eric Breteau, President of the French Federation of 4x4 has also merged their tsunami projects to give birth to a more efficient Zoes Ark.

The president of a gas guzzler club is now leading a 'humanitarian' NGO which 'rescues', i.e. robs and sells, children, refugees of a resource war. It's hard to beat such cynicism. Then again -  no current media report mentions it. A former fireman is more 'humanitarian'.

A bit more on the Chad case:

Some media reported that the children - aged one to nine according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) - were orphaned and sick and being evacuated to receive health care. One humanitarian worker in Chad told IRIN some of the children had bandaged limbs.

But later UNHCR said the children were found to be in good health.
[...]
Chad and Sudan do not allow international adoption, and L'Arche e Zoé had "no official authorisation" to take the children, Chadian Minister Bachir is quoted as saying.

But the head of L'Arche de Zoé [in France] has told a French newspaper that the organisation was not setting up adoptions and meant no harm when it planned the operation, which is now being termed an illegal kidnapping and possibly child-trafficking.
[...]
"I assure you the Chadian authorities gave us all necessary authorisation," Lefebvre added. The Chadian authorities disagree.

Lefebvre said 300 families had agreed to host children, paying up to 2,400 euros (US$3,450) each.

Aljazeera and others add more details:

  • the price French families payed to 'host' a child was up to $8,600
  • the charity has already collected over $1.4 million in an Internet campaign and planed for 1,000 'host' families
  • "A source close to Arche de Zoe said that the French military, which has a force in Chad, had helped fly its material into the east of country when it arrived in August"
  • Chad, France and the UN have condemned the scheme

While the mission of L'Arche de Zoé sounds all humanitarian, if one does the rough math one starts wonder about the motives:

Revenue:
- 100 children per flight with families paying ~$5,000 per child: $500,000
Costs:
- $100,000 charter for the flight and $150,000 for marketing, organization (mostly volunteers) and the usual bribes

Profit:
- $250,000 per transfer-flight, tax-free as a charity

Ten planed flights for a net income of some $2.5 million. All of this to pay the organizations management?

While probably not as profitable as the 'Save Darfur' scam, the 4x4 driving founder of L'Arche de Zoé had a very reasonable business case - up to now.

The inflation of NGO's began with a neoliberal run to privatize foreign aid. In parallel Marxists turned neocons like Bernard Kouchner re-invented neo-colonialism under the guise of 'humanitarian intervention'.

NGOs for profit, like L'Arche de Zoé, are the natural outcome of these trends. We will see many more before that tide turns again.

Posted by b on October 27, 2007 at 11:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (37)

October 26, 2007

Replacing Ahmedinejad?

Will the Iranian establishment dump Ahmedinejad to defuse the U.S. threat of war?

In the 'western' media Ahmedinjad has been build up as the 'new Hitler', the 'ultimate villain' who 'threatens genocide on Israel' and 'denies the holocaust' and eats small children.

What would happen to this hate campaign if the Iranian supreme leader Khamenei takes that special toy figure away?

In a recent Asia Times piece Pepe Excobar wrote:

On Sunday, hundreds of students protested at the Amir-Kabir University in Tehran, calling for "Death to the dictator".

The wily, ultimate pragmatist Hashemi Rafsanjani, now leader of the Council of Experts and in practice a much more powerful figure than Ahmadinejad, took no time to publicly reflect that "we can't bend people's thoughts with dictatorial regimes".

This week, the Supreme Leader himself intervened, saying, "I approve of this government, but this does not mean that I approve of everything they do." Under the currently explosive circumstances, this also amounts to a political bombshell.

Now the former Iranian President Khatami openly criticizes Ahmedinejad as lying about the state of the economy.

Based on the Escobar piece commentator not-so CluelessJoe comes up with a conclusion:

The Western powers are being played like the bunch of rank amateurs they truly are.

It's just brilliant.

Basically, the mullahs are saying that Ahmadinejad acts like an autocrat, that he's bordering dictatorship. Which is exactly what the war party says here around.

Soon, they'll just move to remove Ahmadinejad and his government, his guys, claiming that it's time to end his reign and bring freedom to Iran. And what will the West be able to do, when they've stupidly claimed that the president has the power and is the threat, when he clearly is there just for the show.

He's the fall guy that has been set up. He'll fall from grace and from power.

And the guys in charge of Iran will be able to show they are bringing more freedom to Iranian people, will make a few decisions for the show, and than will remain in power and be able to go on with the plan, without much trouble since BushCo won't anymore be able to claim Iran is led by a madman who wants to nuke Israel.

In a few weeks Ahmedinejad may develop serious health problems which unfortunately will require his immediate resignation. Or he may recognize that he really needs to spend more time with his family.

Soon another semi-puppet would be found to take his job and 'western' heat. Rinse, repeat ...

But today Escobar notes with regard to the new sanctions:

By stretching its "war on terror" logic to actually naming names, the Bush administration has boxed itself into no other option than regime change in Iran.

'Regime change' is aimed at people above Ahmedinejad's pay level.

The plot to replace him now is smart, but is it sufficient?

Posted by b on October 26, 2007 at 01:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

A Poor Excuse For Killing People

At the TPM Café M.J. Rosenberg writes about War on Iran in relation to the Dem candidate talkshow next Tuesday. He starts off with this:

Today's new sanctions on Iran clearly elevate chances that the United States is going to find itself in a war with Iran sooner or later.
...

That's a sad poor excuse for killing people.

The United States is not just "going to find itself at war" by some mysterious chance.

A war on Iran would be a conscious and willful act by the United States and its people.

Any honest future review of such a war, should it be waged, will find:

  • It was started based on various nefarious motives, mainly collective greed.
  • It was in no way an act of 'self defense'.
  • It was long announced and semi-secretly waged for several years before its hot phase.
  • It was discussed extensively beforehand, on all relevant levels and in all U.S. media.
  • It was ordered by the President of the United States elected by the people of the United States.
  • It had the expressed approval of a majority of the elected representatives of the people of the United States.
  • It was supported by the majority of the United States media.
  • It was supported by the most of the candidates for the next presidential election.
  • There never was any significant protest by the people of the United States against such a war.
  • It was an unprovoked illegal war of aggression - the ultimate international crime.
  • It was a consciously and willful act by the United States and its people.

This crude concept called democracy, of which the U.S. is so proud, is not a one way street. A country attacking another one doesn't just wake up "finding itself at war". A country, and its people, wage war.

They are responsible for doing so.

Posted by b on October 26, 2007 at 11:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (16)

October 25, 2007

Wrong Question to Mukasey

Ten Senate Democrats sent a letter to Michael Mukasey, Bush’s nominee for attorney general.

They ask him to 'clarify' his position on water-boarding. Mukasey said he doesn't know if making someone believe s/he will immediately die amounts to torture.

The Democrats letter is totally besides the real point. What Mukasey thinks about water-boarding is irrelevant. Only relevant is his opinion on presidential powers. As WaPo reported:

Mukasey suggested that the president can ignore a law, including the surveillance act, if it unduly impinges on his constitutional authority as commander in chief during wartime.

If the president has the priviledge to decide the issue of lawfullness himself, and Mukasey obviously believes so, he as attorney general has no basis to hinder the president to act outside of the law.

Even if Mukasey would believe that water-boarding is forbidden by law, the 'right' of the president to disregard that law would supersede Mukasey's personal legal opinion on torture.

So why are various 'liberal' op-eds and editorials pressing the water-boarding point? Why are the Democrats writing letters with questions about water-boarding and not about presidential powers?

It's a diversion. They want to get this small false 'victory' before bending over and confirming Mukasey as AG.

A real fight would be about the alleged power of a president to fudge the law of the land whenever he likes to. Everything else is kabuki and a sorry excuse for lacking spine.

Posted by b on October 25, 2007 at 11:52 AM | Permalink | Comments (19)

October 24, 2007

Smoke Over Syria

'Where there is smoke there is fire,' the saying goes. But in theaters, movies and international politics smoke is sometimes created to simply pretend the existance of fire.

Such is likely the case with the illegal Israeli air attack on Syria that some 'interested sides' camouflaged as 'independent experts' peddle as having been targeted on something 'nuclear.'

Famed reporter Robin Wright writes in today's WaPo: Photographs Said to Show Israeli Target Inside Syria

Independent experts have pinpointed what they believe to be the Euphrates River site in Syria that was bombed by Israel last month, and satellite imagery of the area shows buildings under construction roughly similar in design to a North Korean reactor capable of producing nuclear material for one bomb a year, the experts say.

Photographs of the site taken before the secret Sept. 6 airstrike depict an isolated compound that includes a tall, boxy structure similar to the type of building used to house a gas-graphite reactor. They also show what could have been a pumping station used to supply cooling water for a reactor, say experts David Albright and Paul Brannan of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS).

Hmmm - independent experts ... well ... Paul Brannan got his BA in Government(!) in 2004 and is working at ISIS since then. ISIS itself has some four employees and its website doesn't reveal how it finances itself.

Brannan, of ISIS, combed through a huge amount of satellite imagery to find a site along the Euphrates that matches a reactor's specifications as well as descriptions of the attack site.

The ISIS analysis of the picture Mr. Brannan found is now available (pdf). It includes an aerial  photograph of some building half a mile from the Euphrates that distinguishes itself by having approximately the same outer dimensions as the building that houses the North Korean Yongbyon reactor. That, and only that, is the big find the ISIS folks have. They note though that the Syrian building somehow has a smaller roof?

They also find some other slight differences like the unexplained lack of a reactor vessel that should be visible during the multiyear construction of such a site. But they assert that there are roads and a few trucks and signs of recent use of earth moving machines. There is also water pumped from the Euphrat and a few miles away something that might be a dirt airstrip. I am certain that is all very significant.

But topping all of this the experts Msr. Albright and Brennan also assert:

North Korean reactor construction is based on an old Russian model ...

But the Yongbyon reactor, which these experts compare the Syrian site to, is a copy of the British Magnox design and certainly not based on anything Russian. Experts???

But indeed, Robin Wright tells us that these are 'very serious people' and certainly independent experts on reactor design issues.

The site ISIS claims to have found is quite in the middle of eastern Syria, some 80 miles south of the Turkish-Syrian boarder. A month ago some Robin Wright wrote in another WaPo piece on the issue:

The target of Israel's attack was said to be in northern Syria, near the Turkish border.

She of course doesn't make any attempt to solve the contradiction from her old to the newest 'report'. Not that anybody would care. Nobody is looking for fire here. Lots of smoke is all that's needed.

But just in case you live in a "tall, boxy structure similar to the type of building used to house a gas-graphite reactor," please beware of U.S./Israeli F-16s.

Posted by b on October 24, 2007 at 03:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

War from the Mediterranean to Kashmir

Turkey started an offense against PKK fighters in northern Iraq. This is unlikely to solve anything as long as Barzani, the head of the Kurdish area of Iraq, and its population are supporting the PKK. This conflict will likely expand into an bombardment of north Iraq by the Turkish air force, hitting infrastructure and political targets. This will again solve nothing but could possibly even lead to some skirmishes with the U.S. military.

Meanwhile relations between Israel and Turkey are cooling fast. The Turkish government sees Israel behind Pelosi's ill timed and self defeating Armenian genocide resolution. Erdogan is also protesting against Israeli training for Kurdish rebels. The Israeli attack on Syria which also violated Turkish air space certainly didn't help. All the rumors about a 'nuclear target' there appear to be 'curveball' like fabrications anyway. Relations between Syria and Turkey are mending.

Somehow strategists in Washington and Tel Aviv seem to disregard the very severe danger of a potentially unfriendly Turkey. Who do they think could hold Ankara back?

In Iraq the U.S. military is still in the process of switching sides. It now props up the Sunni forces while increasingly fighting Shia in an escalating air campaign. Such has the advantage of keeping U.S. casualties down but it kills more civilians and will feed a new resistance. In late August Sadr declared a six month truth to reorganize his forces. U.S. action now adds to his movement. Springtime in Mesopotamia will be very 'interesting'.

The rhetoric against Iran has been turned up some additional notches with Cheney all but declaring war. Despite the internal discussions in Tehran there will be no change in the Iranian position on enrichment. There will be no return to sanity in Washington either. An escalation seems thereby more and more likely. Only the U.S. military (ex air-force) is holding the White House back from issuing attack orders. But that dam will not hold forever. In the end the generals will simply follow their orders.

Further to the east Karzai's position as mayor of Kabul is getting less and less tenable. Taliban forces are now striking around Kabul and in the city itself. He is losing U.S. support for his resistance to Washington's hardline policies on opium erradiction. But while undermining him what alternative does Washington believe to have?

The U.S. scheme of injecting Benazair Bhutto into Pakistan is faltering. With her return it immidiately became obvious that she will never get along with Musharraf. But she doesn't have the power to kick him out. Before long she will be back in her London villa. Who, by the way, is Bhutto pandering to when she publishes an oped on Pakistani 'democracy' in Haaretz?!? Her voters in Karachi?

Meanwhile the central Middle East conflict stays unsolved. The big Israel/Palestine peace conference in Annapolis is moved again and again and will likely not happen at all. Olmert's tactic of stalling all negotiations doesn't get punished at all.

This is another failure for Rice and a win for Cheney's likudnik hardliners.

All the conflicts above may errupt independently of each other. But I fear they will merge and lead to what Bush and Cheney seem to desire most. A huge series of wars that will change the map between the Mediterranean and Kashmir, split the countries into small controlable entities that allow the U.S. to play them against each other and rake in the spoils of war.

While the plan might work as far as conflicts are indeed generated, I somehow doubt that the second part will play out well.

Posted by b on October 24, 2007 at 08:14 AM | Permalink | Comments (53)

October 23, 2007

Zionofascism Awareness Week

Will these Universities be concerned about 'balance' and allow a Zionofascism Awareness Week on their campuses just as they allow a Islamofascism Awareness Week?

Politically the first issue seems more relevant to me.

To stay aware I started to list The Daily Palestinian - simple self explaining news mostly picked from the Jewish defamer site Haaretz. It is linked on the left side of the MoA homepage under 'Specials'.

Also - I'm looking for an 'anti-apartheid' and 'boycott Israel' sticker for my car. Does anyone know of a good design I could buy or copy to make one myself?

Posted by b on October 23, 2007 at 03:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (24)

OT 07-74

Open thread ... news & views ...

Posted by b on October 23, 2007 at 02:08 AM | Permalink | Comments (102)

October 22, 2007

A Changing Landscape

Back home from my too rare rides through the north-German country side. Indeed, the landscape is changing.

Folks there build windmills to repel elephants - thousands of huge windmills. The newest rage is to tear down the smaller ones even when they are only ten years old. They get replaced with bigger windmills - "repower" is the word. Aside from being better in holding off pachyderms, the new types generate about ten times more windy energy than the older ones.

Additionally every farmstable which has a roof somewhat towards south is now packed with sun collectors. Farmers literary rent their roofs away. My brother plastered our parents old house, a bigger business building, with 2,000 square feet of collectors and the electricity he sells will recoup the investment within 8 years. After those the panels will generate safe net income of several thousand Euros per year.

Lacking big powerstations, the area I visited has always been an electricity importer. Now the regional electricity utility is exporting lots of megawatts to other parts of the country.

On the way home I listened to a radio interview with the chief economist of Deutsche Bank. He expects the German export boom to continue despite a looming recession and pointed to the global run for alternative energies. Asked if a higher Euro would be drag on German exports of windmills and the like to the U.S. and elsewhere he said flat out: "No. They can't buy this stuff anywhere else. We are two generations ahead of everyone else on this."

Fine with me - now can we please stop exporting arms?

There are some interesting aspects in how decentralized electricity generation effects energy transportation and the general architecture of grids. 'Balancing the grid', i.e. the just-in-time on-demand control of electricity generation, needs to be more localized and must involve many more generating sources than before.

While these changes are very desireable, energy monopols that own big powerstations plus major parts of the grid are holding things back. There is a case to be made that electricity grids should be state owned monopols and their architecture determined by energy security in the widest sense (i.e. no wars for oil), not by profane profitability.

But now, after two long nights, I need some rest and I may pick on that issue in a later post.

Posted by b on October 22, 2007 at 01:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (20)

October 20, 2007

Weekend OT

The pachyderms still haunt me so I decided to get away from them and spend the weekend elsewhere.

While I'm on the road, please use this thread for news, views or whatever you like to discuss ...

Posted by b on October 20, 2007 at 05:15 AM | Permalink | Comments (114)

October 19, 2007

Pachyderm Repellent

Wednesday night I woke several times to what particularly sounded like elephants trampling right outside.

So yesterday I went to a pet shop and bought some repellent. The neighbor's cat helped to distributed it throughout the garden.

Last night was quiet so the stuff seems to work as advertised. But it's raining today and I am not sure about the effectiveness of the product when it's wet.

What am I to do now?

Posted by b on October 19, 2007 at 04:56 PM | Permalink | Comments (14)

Bhutto Attack

The bomb attack on Benazir Bhutto's convoy during her arrival in Karachi will not be the last attempt to derail the U.S. sponsored 'reforms' of the Pakistani dictatorship. There is more to come from various sides.

One wonders who the perpetrators of this one were and backs them.

Officially it will of course be 'Al Qaeda' and as in Casablanca the authorities will 'round up the usual suspects.'

But there are many others possibilities of who might have had interest in staging this attack:

  • Musharraf only agreed to the deal to allow Bhutto as new Prime Minister under heavy U.S. pressure. Without Bhutto his future powers would be less restricted.
  • While Bhutto was allowed to return to Pakistan, her primary contender Nawaz Sharif was denied entry to the country. (Bhutto is by heritage the representative of the landowners. Sharif is the candidate of industry and bazzari interests. Both have been prime ministers twice and both were exiled after being disposed by the military due to corruption accusations.) Without Bhutto, Sharif might be seen and implemented as an alternative.
  • The military intelligence service ISI has its hands in various games and certainly very close relations to the Pashtun tribes in Waziristan and their radical guests from other countries. ISI, or at least part of it, sees Afghanistan as the Pakistani hinterland and wants to keep influence there. Their instrument are the tribes and the religious-driven part of those known as Taliban (first institutionalized under Bhutto). A new Prime Minister Bhutto supporting U.S. interest would not be friendly to ISI's support for the Afghani resistance.
  • There could be Indian interests in all of this as India and Pakistan are always in latent strive over Kaschmir. I could not find anything about Bhutto's current view on this. If someone has information on this please let us know.
  • Lastly a cynic might assume that Bhutto herself arranged this to amplify the support she will need.

Whoever it was - Pakistan will certainly stay under the curse of 'interesting times'.

It was funny to watch the 'western' press glorifying Bhutto over the last year. The media picture of her is certainly managed. Every report describes her now ended exile as 'self-imposed'. There were serious corruption charges and threats of imprisonment against her when she left the country. 'Self- impossed' describes a rather different reality.

Bhutto's primary asset in the view of 'western' politicians is probably her education in various British and U.S. elite universities. On other issues a bet on her is just as risky as one on Musharraf or Sharif or any combination of those three.

Posted by b on October 19, 2007 at 10:23 AM | Permalink | Comments (14)

October 18, 2007

Stock Investor Musings

To the
CEO of Domino's Pizza
Mr. David Brandon

Dear Mr. Brandon,

Domino's earning announcement yesterday was a bit discouraging:

Net income was down 55.2% for the third quarter

and:

Net income was negatively impacted versus the prior year by increased interest expense as a result of higher borrowings under the Company's new debt facility.

Additionally you said :

"The price increase in the pizza category .. was not implemented fast enough by [the] U.S. franchisees, who also faced lower store traffic"

Let me start with the implementation issue:

Printing new menus with higher prices takes some time and, with such slow franchisees, may not be rapid enough to keep up with the desired price increases.

Back in 1923 my German ancestors had a similar problem and developed a nifty solution. When the Reichsbank found that the paper of the freshly printed one-thousand Mark note had gained a higher value than the note's denomination, they simply ordered the printshops to add the line 'Eine Milliarde Mark' (one billion mark) without reprinting the original bill.

Likewise, Mr. Brandon, you could advise these slow franchisees of yours not to reprint the complete menus, but to simply overwrite those numerics following the $ signs. That's a quick solution for timely price increases and may prevent another 55% drop in profits.

On the issue of the higher borrowings that led to increased interest expense and lower profits I am a bit confused. Borrowing to buy what?

I'll come back to this point.

Afore let's look into the decision to buy-back $200 million worth of the companies own public stock.

So far the company spent $18 million for buy-backs, paying an average price of $17.08 per share. Given the current share price of $14.63 that's a loss of some $2.7 million. Was that somehow unavoidable?

There are 63 million Domino's shares left in circulation. The unsettled part of the buy-back will eliminate another 12 million of these ($182m / $14.63). If the company value stays constant, the ~20% decrease of share float will result in a share price increase to some $19.40 per share.

Mr. Brandon, you own some 1.16 million (FY 2006) of (yet unexercised) options of Domino's shares to be vested at a fixed price. The buy-back, done by the company under your command, will increase your personal wealth by about $5.500.000.

Good to know that you are diligently working in the shareholders interest.

On to those higher borrowings. I am not entirely comfortable with these:

  • What exactly is the company buying with the additionally borrowed money?
  • If the company would borrow less, could it not avoid those higher interest payments that are lowering profits?
  • How would this effect the product pricing?

Which leaves the problem of lower store traffic. My first hunch is that this has something to do with the customers value proposition.

Maybe there is a lack of olives on Domino's products? I am sure your new expensive creative agency, Crispin Porter + Bogusky, will be able to thoroughly analyse this issue. On a second thought - could the new prices be relevant to the customer?

Pondering the above one might suggested that:

  • your company borrows for generally unprofitable share buy-backs
  • the short term beneficiaries of buy-backs are option owners, primarily you and the board members
  • the increased debt raises costs and lowers profits
  • to keep profits up prices were raised, but the implementation of this was lacadaisical
  • the price increase resulted in less sales, further lowering profits
  • the scheme endangers the long term health of the company

But that custom-made suit really looked good on CNBC.

With best regards

Ascrew D. in Vestor

Posted by b on October 18, 2007 at 10:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (16)

October 17, 2007

OT 07-72

If you don't comment Hillary will win ...

News & views ...

Posted by b on October 17, 2007 at 02:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (80)

Libertarians

To find a libertarian politician in Europe one would have to consult a paleontologist. Bismarck's social reforms extinguished that race for good. No party in Europe can win a double digit percentage by campaigning, for example, to abolish social security. While there are various neo-lib parties here, none of these argues to cut away major state functions.

But the U.S. is different and libertarians seem to be on the way up. (Even I have at least three of these on my blogroll: Antiwar's Justin Raimondo, IOZ and Marc Parent.)

Much of the renewed attention to libertarians is due to Ron Paul's campaign as a presidential candidate for the Republicans (and maybe even as an independent candidate.) It is easy for him to distinguish himself in the current field. The other candidates are competiting to be more loyal Bushies than Bush himself. While they call for more wars, Paul is strongly anti-war which much better fits the general public tendency.

But what else are libertarians and Ron Paul about? As I don't really know for lack of these creatures around here, I'll have to ask the MoA barflies.

The bit I understand is that they want less state involvement. On some issue that certainly has my sympathy and support. They are more or less isolationists - fine with my believe in Westphalian sovereigenty. They ain't crazies, at least compared to Giuliani's foreign policy consultants, and one might learn this or that from them.

But are they really against medicare when they personally lack money and need serious surgery?

How far would they go in de-socializing society?

What is their history, philosphy and organisation?

How big is their voter potential?

I don't know. But I am sure you do and that you have an opinion about them. Tell us.

Posted by b on October 17, 2007 at 11:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (64)

October 16, 2007

12 Army Captains - Falsehood About Corruption

The twelve Army Captains who wrote today's op-ed on The Real Iraq We Knew will certainly be lauded by the 'liberal' press and left-leaning blogsphere. They call for retreat from Iraq (alternativly the draft) and that is fine.

Few will notice a falsehood the Captains are spreading with either willfull ignorance or out of slightly camouflaged racism.

They write:

The inability to govern is exacerbated at all levels by widespread corruption. Transparency International ranks Iraq as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. And, indeed, many of us witnessed the exploitation of U.S. tax dollars by Iraqi officials and military officers. Sabotage and graft have had a particularly deleterious impact on Iraq's oil industry, which still fails to produce the revenue that Pentagon war planners hoped would pay for Iraq's reconstruction. Yet holding people accountable has proved difficult.

That's a 'blame the victim' argument if I've ever seen such. The 'inability to govern' was certainly demonstrated when the Prime Minister tried to kick out Blackwater. The U.S. just would not let him govern. But the corruption charge is even worse.

The U.S. Congress allocated some billions for reconstruction of Iraqi infrastructure. Only fair one could say as it was the U.S. that destroyed the Iraqi infrastructure in 1991, through a decade of sanctions and during its illegal war of aggression and occupation since 2002.

But of those billions of U.S. tax payer dollars most was squandered by U.S. companies with no-bid contracts which delivered little usable on the ground.

Even more money was taken from the Iraqi people, put under U.S. control and embezzled. The Development Fund for Iraq was financed with $23 billion of Iraqi oil money, held in custody by the UN and then put under control of the Coalition Provisional Authority.

Subsequent audits conducted by the Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction (SIGIR) have found that, of the US$23 billion of Iraqi money held in the DFI, US$8.8 billion remains unaccounted for.

Of the money that was spend a lot went indeed to Corruption, Fraud and Gross Malfeasance:

Auditors later found that of major contracts awarded with DFI monies in 2003, 74% went to US firms, 11% went to UK firms, and just 2% went to Iraqi firms. No less than 60% went to US construction firm Halliburton, under abusive no-bid contracts. Financial records were sloppy or non-existent.

While this was called 'reconstruction' money:

From the beginning, US authorities blurred the distinction between spending for the reconstruction of Iraq 's infrastructure and spending for military programs.

Certainly Iraq today is a quite corrupt country - especially in the oil business. But the seeds for this corruption were willfully sown by the U.S.:

“It's like a supermarket without a cashier,” comments Mike Morris, an oil industry expert who used to work for the State Department in Baghdad . “There is no metering [at the export terminal]. And there's no metering at the well heads either. There is no metering at any of the major pipeline junctions.” Morris estimates that “between 200,000 and 500,000 barrels a day” are unaccounted for.

The CPA could have installed metering promptly, but strangely did not. Bremer and his team were advised of the metering problem, but they repeatedly postponed action. When the IAMB pointed to the lapse, neither the Iraqi State Oil Marketing Organization nor US authorities could give a satisfactory explanation.

The accusation of continuing 'exploitation of U.S. tax dollars' by Iraqis is totally without basis. As the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction reports (pdf):

By the end of October 2006, all of the Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund (IRRF) had been obligated.

What the Iraqis have been spending throughout the last years and are spending today are not U.S. tax dollars, but those Iraqi funds the U.S. did not embazzle for itself. Whatever share of that goes to corruption is their, and only their problem.

The twelve captains helped to run an illegal war on a country that was in no way a threat to the U.S.. This is how it went:

From the first days, the US and its occupation partners built a wasteful, unaccountable and corrupt system in Iraq . Massive theft, fraud, bribery, and malfeasance of every kind have infected the reconstruction, procurement and governance process. There are hundreds of fraudulent, incomplete, failed or useless projects that have drained Iraq 's revenues of tens of billions of dollars. Judging from end-results, the projects have produced astoundingly little of lasting benefit to Iraqis. These corrupt acts are in clear violation of the occupiers' responsibilities under the Geneva Conventions, the UN Convention Against Corruption (2003) and Security Council Resolutions.

Now, as the 'fun part' is over, the Captains want to get out and they blame Iraq and Iraqis for the results or their misadventures.

Hubris? Chutzpa? Racism? I don't know. But it is outrageous to blame the Iraqis.

Posted by b on October 16, 2007 at 10:06 AM | Permalink | Comments (27)

AFRICOM - "Value Adding" To Whom?

by b real
lifted from a comment

(As an introduction consider reading b real's earlier series Understanding AFRICOM: A Contextual Reading of Empire's New Combatant Command)

The first press briefing for Gen. Ward since being named the commander of AFRICOM was held on Monday. The occasion was the announcement of a new effort at presenting a multilateral face on the U.S. naval presence in the Gulf of Guinea, a hoped-to-become-permanent mission entitled "The African Partnership Initiative," focused on 'promoting maritime security and safety.' The DoD transcript is here.

It was a little rough for the commander, who sounded at times wooden and awkward in his responses, yet he stayed mainly on message in spite of fielding some direct and informed questioning on AFRICOM's motives, reception and obstacles on the continent (which surprised me a little, as, after reading through so many of these transcripts, the press generally sticks to throwing softball questions within the talking points outlined in the briefer's opening statements.)

One of those messages today was "we're bringing value-added" to investments in Africa. Foreign investments, primarily, which is what the "partnership" in "The African Partnership Initiative" really is about.

Last week the Corporate Council on Africa, a U.S. business lobby centered on creating and retaining wealth in Africa through private enterprise, hosted their second annual U.S.-Africa Infrastructure Conference: Building on Stability in Washington DC, bringing together players from private enterprise, government and military, to network and discuss infrastructure development opportunities throughout Africa.

One of the plenary sessions was titled "AFRICOM And Its Potential To Safeguard And Encourage New Infrastructure Development In Africa," of which the description promised attendees:

The focus of the discussion also will pertain to infrastructure development priorities that will arise throughout Africa as a result of AFRICOM’s presence. Panelists will overview the vital role of the private sector in the development and success of those new projects.

I haven't found any transcripts of the panel yet, but there was a DoS piece from the end of last week that gives us the general drift:

New U.S. Command To Take Broad, Inclusive Approach to Africa

Enhancing security and stability will foster conditions for economic growth

Washington -- The new U.S. regional military command for Africa, an integrated defense, diplomatic and economic organization, will enhance U.S. efforts to advance security and prosperity in Africa, U.S. officials say.
...
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, principal deputy assistant secretary of state for Africa, said that the United States hopes its support for defense reform and military capacity-building not only will help African nations to manage conflicts and mitigate violent extremism but also will create conditions conducive to further economic growth.

Thomas-Greenfield spoke at an October 9-10 conference on infrastructure investment in Africa. Its private-sector participants viewed stability as the critical precondition for investing in telecommunication, transportation, power-generation and other infrastructure projects.

Underdeveloped and dilapidated infrastructure has hampered efforts by many African countries to sustain fast economic growth and engage more fully in international trade.

Thomas-Greenfield said only private capital markets can bridge the gap between what is required to fund costly infrastructure projects and the scarce resources available to most African governments.

Despite significant improvements in the security and business climates in Africa, many U.S. investors still consider long-term infrastructure projects on the continent too risky because of what they perceive as a lack of stability.

Thomas-Greenfield said that the formation of AFRICOM is an acknowledgment that Africa warrants special U.S. attention, and thereby helps boost the U.S. private sector’s confidence in the continent.

Security and stability not only make it possible to maintain existing infrastructure, she said, but they also create the right environment for the private sector to contribute to its expansion.

Now it's an outrageous statement that Thomas-Greenfield makes when she says that "only private capital markets can bridge the gap between what is required to fund costly infrastructure projects and the scarce resources available to most African governments" since those goverments have every right and obligation to oversee and regulate the use of those resources to benefit the people and could very well fund their own infrastructure projects with the profits realized off such control, given the opportunity. But then, the idea is the further opening of African resources to private foreign investors so, as the late Johnny Carson used to say, "buy the premise, buy the bit."

Which brings us back to General Ward and Monday's press briefing. Leading off his opening statement Ward states:

First, let me thank you for coming this morning to listen to Admiral Ulrich and I talk about the African Partnership Station. And I think it provides a good example of what the newly established U.S. Africa Command is about as it relates to helping out partner nations on the continent of Africa build their capacity to better govern their spaces, to have more effects in providing for the security of their people, as well as doing the things that are important in assuring the development of the continent in ways that promote increased globalization of their economies, as well as the development of their societies for the betterment of their people. 

"Doing the things that are important in assuring the development of the continent in ways that promote increased globalization of their economies."

Economic globalization, of course, is just another form of neo-colonialism - a neoliberal attempt at removing all barriers to investment, trade, regulation, and capital accumulation for the benefit of the moneyed classes. Africans know all about neocolonialism and living in the periphery, so it's surprising that AFRICOM would be openly pushing the economic angle to their operations. Another poor PR move for a newly-birthed enterprise that's already largely still-born.

Ward stresses the phrase "value added" seven times throughout the briefing, adapting a financial term to define a cornerstone of AFRICOM's mission that aims to advertise the command's usefulness in achieving a return on investment for all takers.

The State Department story stated that:

Despite significant improvements in the security and business climates in Africa, many U.S. investors still consider long-term infrastructure projects on the continent too risky because of what they perceive as a lack of stability.

General Ward offered a reason why AFRICOM is focused on stability today:

.. we think that we have the best chance of doing work today that helps bring stability so that we are not in a position of having to do things 10, 20 years from now that are problematic for the continent and as well for our global society.

Which brings us (via images of the Persian Gulf) right to the Gulf of Guinea.

Joining General Ward in the briefing was Admiral Henry Ulrich of EUCOM (nice picture of him flipping off the press here) to discuss the dispatch of the USS Fort McHenry to the Gulf region, now labeled as the aforementioned "African partnership station initiative." Ulrich gives some cockamamie explanation for the increased U.S. naval presence in the oil-rich Gulf region -- ranging from "it's just a matter of time before they use our maritime infrastructure against us" (which is a strange claim to make considering we're talking about West Africa here) to a consensual relationship with coastal nations there to build maritime programs "to protect against ocean-related terrorists; hostile, criminal and dangerous acts ... with international cooperation, ... new partnerships, and so forth and so on", again all in foreign territory.

Ulrich tells how they got African nations to sign on:

And at the same time that was going on [U.S. creating a strategy defining the need for maritime security in the Gulf], the -- our African friends, the nations that have started getting together in several symposium and other different fora -- and they issued what is also is in your package, called the Benin communique, this time last year, where we said: We, the ministers attending the Gulf of Guinea Maritime Safety and Security Conference, agree to commit to address the following elements of maritime governance -- partnership, maritime domain awareness -- and agree to continue engagement with international maritime partners to improve our maritime safety and security.

"We said"? Other words that come to mind are "recommended" and "dictated".

We had our African friends on the west coast ask for some help in developing their maritime safety and security. And so we in the last year did a lot of exploration and meetings and discussions on how we might do this. And we've sent some ships and airplanes down there to work with our folks there and our new partners there to try to understand where they were in their development and how we might help them. And so we came to the conclusion that the way to do this is to use a delivery vehicle. We use a ship -- go figure -- as we talk about maritime safety and security. We went out to a lot of our European partners that had an interest off the west coast of Africa. Six of them agreed -- six different nations agreed that this was important and they would like to work with us.

We reached out to the other agencies and departments here, and our own government, the State Department, USAID, NOAA, Coast Guard, Homeland Security all wanted to work with us on this. And then we reached out to NGOs that had an interest in the maritime domain.

And so we brought that together, and the ship leaves -- sails from Norfolk tomorrow. We'll go to Spain to pick up all these riders, and then we'll travel a circuit down off the West Coast of Africa with training teams that will work as a group. So we've, if you would, convened a center of excellence. And we have a center of mass now on this ship that can help these nations seek what they want, which is maritime safety and security so that they can continue to develop ashore in all the activities that we support, other nations support. And so that's kind of the long and short of what maritime safety and security is, why we're going to the West Coast of Africa and why we decided to use a ship, called an Africa Partnership Station, to work this problem.

Heh. Partner-ship. Get it? Funny guys.

Here's why the Benin communique came about, according to the priorities listed by the top DoS official on Africa, Jendayi Frazer, as part of her keynote speech to the ministry:

Yesterday a reporter asked me what are U.S. interests in the Gulf of Guinea? Achieving coastal security in the Gulf of Guinea is key to America's trade and investment opportunities in Africa, to our energy security, and to stem transnational threats like narcotics and arms trafficking, piracy, and illegal fishing - we share these interests in common with our Gulf of Guinea partners.
...
Experts estimate that over the next 10 years, oil production in the Gulf of Guinea will grow by 40%. By 2020, the Gulf of Guinea is expected to be one of the world's top oil-producing regions. Yet, private companies are the vast majority of operations in the Gulf of Guinea. If kidnapping of their workers and attacks on their facilities continue, they are unlikely to make the necessary investments to increase production, or even maintain current levels.
...
What we hope is that everyone here will be galvanized to return home and impress upon your government the importance of Maritime safety and security, including the economic and governance issues that are at its very foundation.
...
Let me be clear, the purpose of American involvement is not to impose our policy vision, but rather to alert you to our willingness to support [our] well-conceived plans reflecting your government's policy commitment and resources [which i have already provided to each of you in your "appreciation package"]. Toward that end, the United States and other donor partners are committed to providing support for this initiative in the form of seminars, training, and equipment. The U.S. government intends to support African institutions as they develop political buy-in for regional maritime security cooperation, whether that involves the AU, ECOWAS, CEEAC, Maritime Organization of West and Central Africa (MOWCA), the Gulf of Guinea Commission, or any others.

In other words, we're going ahead with our plans, ya'll figure out how you want to adapt.

Later on in Monday's DoD briefing, someone asks Ulrich about naval initiatives to build brown-water assets (riverine forces), "particularly in Nigeria," to which the Admiral replies:

Well, I'm not going to talk about individual countries, because we quite frankly haven't been asked by those countries to help them. Having said that, they are keenly aware that we're developing a, what you refer to as a brown-water capability. ...
But if we were asked, I would work very, very hard to comply with their request.

No doubt. Not sure how important it is anymore, since the oil companies are definitely not complaining about the money they're raking in these days, but the price per barrel of crude has been affected by events in Nigeria for some time now. The ongoing militant attacks on pipelines and infrastructure supposedly costs up to 500,000 bpd in missed production, affecting both prices availability (Nigerian imports to the U.S. are down so far this year), and then a short strike at a Chevron facility last week raised global rates for a day or two. All this has led to a near-permanent naval presence in the Gulf now, as Ulrich acknowledges:

.. we pretty much have a continuous presence, defined as either a ship off the West Coast of Africa or some maritime patrol aircraft off the West Coast of Africa or training teams that are downrange in some of the West Coast. And we're there 360 days a year now.

AFRICOM - working to maximize everyone's ROI ...

Posted by b on October 16, 2007 at 04:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (46)

October 15, 2007

Rice's Non-Diplomacy

Rice's current foreign trip is a display of incompetence and unwillingness to understand the other side of the table. But in this she is only a sample of the general U.S. foreign policy establishment. There is little hope that the next administration's policies might be in better shape.

Rice's visit to Russia, together with SecDef Gates, was a low point as it resulted in exactly zero.

Unprepared and without any item to negotiate about, Rice allowed Putin to run PR rounds around the U.S. team. Only on the second day some hastily improvised package on missile defense was offered. As this was in no way thought through and did not contain any compromise, Russia rejected it.

Rice's lack of self awareness in her comments about a presidency with too much power was slightly amusing. But her personal lowest point must have been a meeting with the chairwoman of a Russian human rights organization:

[The woman] contended that the United States had “lost the high moral ground,” and thus should join with European countries to make it clear to Mr. Putin that a drift further away from democracy was unacceptable diplomatically.

“The American voice alone doesn’t work anymore,” she said after the meeting. “The Russians are not influenced by it.” She said Ms. Rice had bristled at the criticism, replying sharply, “We never lost the high moral ground.”

Views on that issue seem to differ ...

All the while a foreign policy crisis was brewing in Turkey. As there is obviously no other urgent business, the Democratic congress stired up harsh protests from Ankara for acknowledging some 'genocide' the Ottoman empire committed on Armenians. Turkey was founded years after this happened as a counterpoint to that empire and will certainly never acknowledge any responsibility for its deeds.

U.S.-Turkey relations are already on the edge as Ankara wants to go after the PKK in Iraq. Rice hastily dispatched two envoys, but as these too where unprepared and offering nothing, their mission failed. Turkey lauched artillery attacks on Kurdish hamlets in Iraq and a vote for a full fledged invasions of northern Iraq is on its parliament task list.

But Rice's worst performance is her current trip to Israel. While she today says 'Now is time for Palestinian state' she is lacking any will to pressure Israel for compromise.

Olmert hinted Monday that he is ready to share control of Jerusalem, saying for the first time that Israel could do without controlling some of the holy city's outlying Arab neighborhoods.

A big meeting was planed for November as proof to the U.S. Middle East allies that some progress can be made. It will likely not take place at all. Not even the most sycophantic Arab dictator can accept and sell 'outlying Arab neighborhoods' in the holy city of Jerusalem as more than an outright insult.

On all three issues - Russia, Turkey and the Middle East - Rice had nothing to offer and accordingly nothing to gain. It is likely that her trip was the last attempt of the Bush administration in the foreign policy field. From now up to the next president, there will only be erratic misbehaviour.

Unfortunately it is not certain that a new administration will do any better.

At the end of the U.S. empire, Le Monde Diplomatique remarks, there could be cooperation:

Yet it is just as likely that US policy will be unpredictable: as all post-colonial experiences show, de-imperialisation is likely to be a long and possibly traumatic process.

Rice's non-diplomacy might thereby only be the beginning of a long period of U.S. foreign policy chaos.

Posted by b on October 15, 2007 at 02:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (19)

Simple Answers ...

Laura Rozen points to the 2006 USA Today report that unveiled the phone companies illegal cooperation with the NSA. She asks:

Is Congress so venal and inept as to not fully learn and explain what is going on with telcos helping the government snoop on their constituents' phone calls more than a year after this article came out?

Dear Laura,

yes.

b.

Posted by b on October 15, 2007 at 04:25 AM | Permalink | Comments (11)

October 14, 2007

Baseless "News" on Page 1

Though I dropped this into the OT thread earlier, I can't really get over the "nuclear Syria" piece in today's NYT.

It is on page 1(!) of the print edition and the website and was written by Sanger and Mazzetti with the help of three other named journalists.

The problem is that there is simply nothing in it.

Let's start with the headline: Israel Struck a Nuclear Project in Syria, Analysts Say

What is supposed to be the news here? That some Israeli "analysts" claim so was reported by the NYT and the Washington Post some four weeks ago. So where is the news?

Let's read the first graph:

Israel’s air attack on Syria last month was directed against a site that Israeli and American intelligence analysts judged was a partly constructed nuclear reactor, apparently modeled on one North Korea has used to create its stockpile of nuclear weapons fuel, according to American and foreign officials with access to the intelligence reports.

That "judgement" of some nuclear site was reported before. What may be new here is a "partly constructed nuclear reactor". Why is this said to be a reactor? How does it look like? Some concrete on the ground? What makes it "apparently modeled" on one in North Korea?

Unfortunatly, the article doesn't even attempt to tell us.

But in paragraph three the say-so "judgement" of some anonymous analysts has morphed into "the reactor project". In paragraph five the "project" seems finished and it is "the reactor". All this based on nothing.

There follows a lot of background on the general working of reactors, the non-proliferation treaty and the administration internal fights over North Korea negotiations. But there is no additional fact. Nothing, zero, zilch on how or why or what is supposed to be new or news at all. The only other text, late in a long piece, that could be relevant is this:

The partly constructed Syrian reactor was detected earlier this year by satellite photographs, according to American officials. They suggested that the facility had been brought to American attention by the Israelis, ...

But such claims of sat pictures have been voiced in mid September by the NYT itself as well as by the Washington Post. The whole Sanger piece does not present one tiny bit of news. It repeats weeks old claims of anonymous intelligence officials that are likely false .

Anyway - this NYT "news" piece, which close reading provides is none, gets repeated by the Telegraph, Haaretz and according to Google news by now 188 other news outlets.

If you, like me, thought people might have learned something from this you were obviously wrong.

After the WMD and Iraq desaster, the NYT has no excuse doing this again. Five journalists plus layers of editors let this unfounded piece of propaganda launch on page 1.

How can this be possible without malicious intent?

Posted by b on October 14, 2007 at 03:32 PM | Permalink | Comments (18)

Citigroup Bailout

"Banks May Pool Billions to Avert Securities Sell-Off" reports the NYT. There is talk about a $75 billion bail out fund for mortgage packages owned by Structured Investment Vehicles (SIVs). The Wall Street Journal puts the possible fund size at $100 billion - some serious money even for a group of mega-banks.

As WSJ explains:

The new fund is designed to stave off what Citigroup and others see as a threat to the financial markets world-wide: the danger that dozens of huge bank-affiliated funds will be forced to unload billions of dollars in mortgage-backed securities and other assets, driving down their prices in a fire sale. That could force big write-offs by banks, brokerages and hedge funds that own similar investments and would have to mark them down to the new, lower market prices.

These bank-affiliated funds are off the bank balance sheets because regulators failed to demand their inclusions. The banks thereby could create more profitable credit than they are officially allowed to grant and their original capital base can support.

While the WSJ and the NYT throw in some paragraphs on how these thankfully unselfish banks led by Citigroup may just rescue small home owners and the economy, in reality the yet to be finalized rescue package has a single major beneficiary:

Citigroup has nearly $100 billion in seven affiliated structured investment vehicles, or SIVs. Globally, SIVs had $400 billion in assets as of Aug. 28, according to Moody's.

Citigroup owns a quarter of the total mess and just by coincidence that's the same amount the total rescue package might have. Indeed:

The plan is encountering resistance from some big banks. They argue that Citigroup is asking others to help bail out its affiliates and an industry-wide bailout isn't needed.

On Monday Citigroup will have to publish its quarterly results. The other banks will use the immidiate time pressure for some very profitable (for them) and costly (for Citigroup) provisions for the bail out. Either Citigroup will agree or go belly up.

In case you wonder why this is happening, don't look further than Congress and the Bush administration.

Because SIVs are off the balance sheet, it is difficult for investors to size up the financial risks they pose. Off-balance-sheet liabilities played a major role in the 2001 collapse of Enron Corp., and the makers of accounting rules have generally sought to get affiliated entities back on the balance sheets of the companies creating them.

Did I tell you that I generally sought to stop taking bribes? Funny how such intentions sometimes just slip away ...

Posted by b on October 14, 2007 at 01:03 PM | Permalink | Comments (18)

October 13, 2007

'Killed Suspected Terrorists' - An Oxymoron?

In press releases by the Multinational-Forces in Iraq a regular line is:

Coalition forces killed X terrorists and detained Y suspected terrorists ...

I searched and have yet to find one recent and original MNF-I press release that includes a 'killed suspected terrorist'.* There are only 'killed terrorists' and 'suspected terrorists detained'.

But looking around I stumbled across this:

MANDATORY STYLE GUIDANCE FOR MNF-I PRESS RELEASES

MULTINATIONAL FORCE-IRAQ
BAGHDAD, Iraq


by order of Maj. Gen. Kevin Bergner
Deputy Chief Of Staff, Strategic Effects, Multinational Force-Iraq

[...]

Chapter 3: Kinetic MNF-I action

a. Designation of Matters and Non-MNF-I Persons 

Matters found/damaged/destroyed
Weapon: arms cache
Electronics: bomb-making materials
Ammunition: IED
Metal object: EFP
Residential building: terrorist safe house, booby-trapped house
Non-residential building: terrorist training facility
Vehicle: car bomb

Non-MNF-I Person(s)
Collaborator(s): Concerned citizen(s)
Bystander(s) and potential media witness(es): terrorist facilitator(s)
Detainee(s): suspected terrorist(s)
Killed person(s):

  • Under age 14: terrorist sympathizer
  • Female over age 14: terrorist supporter
  • Male over age 14: terrorist
  • Male over age 30: senior terrorist
  • Male over age 40: senior terrorist leader
  • More then one of the above: terrorist cell
  • More than three of the above: terrorist group
  • Without identification paper(s): add 'secret' to designation
  • Unrecognizable remains: add 'foreign' to designation. (see also Chapter 3c: Condemning Foreign Interference in Iraq -> Sunni areas: 'helped by Syria'; Shia areas: 'from Iran')

---
* Three brownie points for the MoA reader with the first find

Posted by b on October 13, 2007 at 01:43 PM | Permalink | Comments (13)

October 12, 2007

OT 07-71

News & views ...

Posted by b on October 12, 2007 at 03:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (84)

Meta

While the page views per day at MoA is fairly constant, the number of comments per day seems to be down.

That's sad as the blog and I are living off your comments. So I wonder why there are less and less.

Politically my writing moved a bit further to the left - content wise it got a bit more international? Could those be reasons for less participation?

What to do better? What themes should get more emphasis at MoA, what should be covered less?

Please check the archives of the last months and let me know.

I'd love to post more stuff from other writers here. If you'd like to publish on MoA please send your piece to the email address on the 'about' page.

Thank you all for coming here.

Posted by b on October 12, 2007 at 03:36 PM | Permalink | Comments (88)

Peace Prize

What has Gore done for peace?

Yes, climate change is certainly a war and peace issue, but it was on the international agenda before Gore started to occupy the theme.

To prioritize this years prize on climate change is fine. But R K Pachauri and the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change alone would have been better in emphazising the global challenge. Gore's prize makes this an U.S. centric theme. 

More in general: Can't we think of people who have done more - and sacrificed for peace.

Best guess for the motive:

The committee wanted to give Gore a push to run for U.S. president. Maybe not a bad idea, but why (again) demean the peace prize for it. Anyway, may he live up to it.

Gore wins Nobel Peace Prize

Posted by b on October 12, 2007 at 05:28 AM | Permalink | Comments (20)

October 11, 2007

Hersh: "Democrats are going to lose the elections .."

... or how the Republicans will win the presidential election ...

Seymour Hersh talks (video) with his magazine’s editor-in-chief, David Remnick, at the New Yorker Festival.

A part of the talk is about Iraq and the presidential election. I transcribed this leaving out Hersh's usual rambling and jumping around the various topics.

Some 80% into the video and in relation to Iraq Remnick asks:

Have you seen a Democrat make a reasonable argument about what to do?

Hersh:

I think the Democrats are going to lose the elections if they don't wake up. And I'll tell you why [..]

The Democrats push is: We have got to reduce by next year. We want the numbers to start reducing.

Bush's option is next summer: To come in with a real low number. What he's saying: "Coming under 100,000 troops. We can cut another 50,000 because we are winning the war." [..] 

Let me tell you what they are talking about on the inside [..] which is: Surprising the Democrats by coming with a big low number.

This is how they keep the Republicans at the war: "We are coming with a low number - maybe even 70-80,000. We need the war in the next summer and you can campaign on it. And you can kill the Democrats on it because they are all up there in the lala and talking about getting some troops out."

This guy will come in and slash the numbers of troops. This is assuming that we can stand up enough Iraqi military units. [..] They think maybe they can do it. [..] Stand up the Iraqi units, concede the South, only worry about the central part, keep doing the ethnic cleansing, stabilize it enough: "We can cut troops an awful lot and say we are winning."

Why not?

Yes, why not? I've been thinking about this for a few hours now and believe it is doable.

  • What is your opinion?
  • Could this work?
  • How could the Dems defend against it?

Posted by b on October 11, 2007 at 01:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (23)

Nahr al-Bared and U.S. Air Base Story Confirmed

Back in May, I wrote about Nahr al-Bared and a new U.S. Air Base. The short version:

  • The Palestinian refugee camp Nahr al-Bared lies right next to the road that connects the harbour city of Tripoli some 8 miles south to the currently unused Rene Mouawad Air Base 7 miles north of it.
  • There are rumors that the U.S. is interested in using the air base for its own purposes. The major logistics for the base would come through the Tripoli port.
  • A Palestinian camp with some 45,000 frustrated and mostly young and poor people right on top of that 'line of communication' would be a substantial risk to such a base.

Now commentator Hannah H. O'Luthon points to a recent DEBKAfile report that confirms at least parts of my writing (do they read MoA?):

The US plans new military presence in Lebanon including big air installation close by Syrian border

The air base, according to DEBKAfile’s military sources, will be located at Kleiat in northern Lebanon roughly 75 air miles from Damascus, ...
...
The first stage of construction will reactivate the small defunct air base at Kleiat as a joint US-Lebanese venture. Prime minister Fouad Siniora will explain that the four months of bloody fighting to crush the Fatah al-Islam revolt in the northern Nahar al-Bared camp demonstrated how badly the Lebanese army needs an operational air base in the region. US Air Force engineers and technicians have begun work on the new air field. At a later stage, it will be expanded for American military use.

DEBKAfile is a Israeli intelligence disinformation service. Some of its reports turn out to be credible, others do not.

If you check the Google map of Kleiat, Lebanon which Debka mentions you will find that it is the same place I linked to as Rene Mouawad Air Base.

It took the Lebanese army 15 weeks to smoke out a few rough fighters from Nahr al-Bared. Maybe the army is really that incompetent. But they quite deliberately destroyed the 'camp', a build-up city for 45,000 people, with their extensive use of heavy artillery.

The NYT today reports about Nahr al-Bared: Desolation Awaits Returning Palestinian Refugees. In addition to the destruction, the camp has been looted.

The first 500 Palestinian refugees returned here on Wednesday to find many of their shell-shattered homes unlivable, a month after the Lebanese Army ousted a jihadist splinter group from the camp.
...
“We saw houses burned from the inside, the appliances gone, and even a stolen refrigerator blocking a stairwell,” said Greg Ross, a Scottish volunteer from the nonprofit group Nabaa, who accompanied refugees.

Some refugees have seen their furniture and televisions on sale in local markets, he said. The military denies that it allowed soldiers or outsiders to loot the camp, but the accusations have heightened tensions between the military and the Palestinians.

The camp will be rebuild 'as a model' the Lebanese government says. A process that is expected to take 2-3 years.

But that is if you believe that it ever will be rebuild at all. Maybe a few thousand Palestinians will be allowed back into it. Maybe not.

To the U.S. and its Lebanese puppets the air-base and the safety of its logistic line are likely more important than those pesky refugees.

Posted by b on October 11, 2007 at 05:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

October 10, 2007

Ceding South Iraq (Updated)

UPDATED below

An earlier post this week described a new supply line for the U.S. troops in Iraq that allows them to avoid the Shia south of Iraq if needed. It now evolves that the U.S. is systematically abandoning all of south Iraq . Time Magazine asks Has the US Ceded Southern Iraq?. The answer seems to be yes:

Small contingents of U.S. soldiers enter Karbala and Najaf only for brief visits with local officials these days, and much of the rest of southern Iraq has no American troops at all. Focused on saving Baghdad, U.S. forces keep up a regular presence with patrols and combat outposts chiefly around the southern reaches of the capital. Meanwhile, the drawdown of British forces in Basra ... leaves yet another southern city .. unattended by the U.S.-led coalition. That means virtually all of the vast, populous and oil-rich territory stretching from Karbala to Basra is up for grabs.

'Up for grabs' is certainly the wrong expression. Two Shia fractions, al-Sadr and SIIC (former SCIRI) were fighting about the south but with help of Iran have now agreed on some kind of armistice. They rule south Iraq and anyone who wants to grab there will have to fight or agree with them.

The process sketched above amounts to an adjustment of frontlines possibly in preperation of a U.S. attack on Iran. Closure of the Street of Hormuz, attacks on the main supply route from Kuwait to Baghdad and lonely outposts of sparse U.S. troops in South Iraq would have been deadly options for Iran to retaliate against an attack.

With the south ceded by the U.S. and a new supply line from Aqaba, those options are gone.

There are two risks left for the U.S. in Iraq. One is the reliabilty of the Sunni tribes. But as long as the money is flowing to them, they are unlikely to abandon their current friendliness towards U.S. troops. The other problem is Turkey which is currently again shelling north Iraq in retribution for PKK attacks in Turkey.

One more successful attack of the PKK with a high number of casualties and the Turkish premier Erdogan will have to pull out the stops he currently still puts on his military. A new war in the north with Iran possibly joining a Turkish incursion could easily again unbalance the situation.

UPDATE (via an Uncle $cam comment):

Seymour Hersh in a talk (video) at The New Yorker Festival has a different explanation for the U.S. ceding south Iraq (watch at some 80% into the video).

Rough transcript:

"Democrats will lose this election if they do not wake up. Democrats run on reducing troops in Iraq. Bush will act by next summer. Bush will surprise the Democrats by slashing troop numbers to 70-80.000. He will cede the south and say we are winning."

Posted by b on October 10, 2007 at 01:47 PM | Permalink | Comments (21)

October 09, 2007

Darfur, Myanmar and Masturbation

In comments here I have often highlighted news on Sudan that questions the perfunctory black and white picture the 'Safe Darfur' crowd is painting.

They don't touch the reason for the conflict (local climate change), all the parties involved (farmers versus stock-breeding nomads, various criminal freelancers, a tribal government) and they only achieve to make the mess bigger than it already is.

Ken Silverstein points to a good essay by Brendan O'Neill of spiked who gets to basic motives of the 'movement'.

Darfur: pornography for the chattering classes

Western agitation for action in Darfur, .. , is divorced from real events in Darfur or Sudan. This is not really surprising, since ‘Save Darfur’ activism – from Hollywood celebs calling for Western military action to the growth of campaigning commentary on the conflict – has not really been about Darfur. Rather, it has been about creating a new moralistic and simplistic generational mission for campaigners and journalists in America and Europe.

The Save Darfur brigade has effectively transformed Darfur into a morality tale, in which it plays the role of a pure and virtuous warrior force against what a columnist for the UK Daily Telegraph hysterically describes as a warzone ‘comparable to the death camps in Nazi Germany’. And as with all morality tales, facts are less important than feelings, and the truth comes a poor second to creating a childishly simplistic framework of ‘good’ and ‘evil’.
...
Increasingly, commentary on Darfur is not intended to clarify what is happening there but rather to indulge and flatter readers’ sense of self-serving anger. In deed, campaigners and writers have demanded Western military action to end a conflict that has actually been in decline since 2005 (although there have been renewed outbursts in recent months); and now they have got what they wanted, in the shape of the 26,000-strong UN force. Every bit as cynically as the Bush administration’s intervention in Iraq, these activists have sought to turn someone else’s country and conflict into outlets for their own moral self-gratification.
...
In Africa, Western do-gooding can prove deadly indeed. Save Darfur activism is one kind of porn that really has given rise to violence in the real world.

The same process is visual with the outrage about the protests in Myanmar. Again people don't know the cause (a price hike for gasoline, expensive food), nor do they know about the parties involved. Every monk in some saffron coat is thought of as peaceful (these people should read up on Lozang Gyatso, the fifth Dalai Lama). Every police action against the demonstrators is regarded as brutal and no thought is given on what could happen if the police would not interfere.

Unfounded rumors about brutalities are constructed as news -pornography of violence- and used for selfsatisfying 'calls for action'. Sanctions are demanded and, if there are possible hydrocarbon profits involved, 'western' politicians will duly implement them. The plight of the people, but not of their rulers, will increase.

The only way to break this is through more and better information. But that's a difficult, laborious and thankless task. Doing such one is immediately accused of downplaying the issue and via the black and white mechanism branded as helping the perceived perpetrator of the issue at hand.

People just hate to interrupt their masturbation.

Posted by b on October 9, 2007 at 03:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (25)

The Lobby in Germany - State Financed Racism

There is a German-Iranian football player who excused himself from playing with the German junior nation team against Israel for personal reasons. It was hinted that there is some fear of retribution against near relatives of him who still live in Iran. The national trainer and team management as well as his club trainer and management accepted this.

Now the Israel lobby in Germany is virtually lynching him with an extensive media campaign:

Ashkan Dejagah, the young team's striker, who comes from a German-Iranian background, refuses to come to Israel to play against Israel in the Under-21 European Championship qualifying match set to take place on Friday in Tel Aviv.

Dejagah's decision has sparked angered reactions throughout the Jewish community in Germany, in the German political arena and even in the media. "There can be no such thing as a player on Germany's national team initiating a private boycott of Jews," said Dieter Graumann, the vice president of the Jewish community.

"It would be scandalous if Germany's football association does not take punitive measures. If the player has reservations about playing against an Israeli team due to solidarity with a terror regime, he should not be permitted to play in the uniform of the German team."
...
A member of the conservative ruling party, Dr. Friedbert Pflueger, said: "This is completely unacceptable. Sports should not be politicized. A player cannot decide whom he will play against." The popular German daily "Bild" called to throw the player off the team.

"Bild" is a rightwing tabloid with the highest circulation in Europe. The biggest tits are on page two and the smallest possible word pool everywhere else. Traditionally it has very close links to Israel and its lobby. "Bild" condemning Dejagah is no accident.

What YnetNews sells as the 'Jewish community' is the Central Council of Jews in Germany. Liberal Jews here do not regard it as representative. One wonders why it feels mandated to judge soccer players.

Note the familar argumentation the Israel lobby is using: Dejagah does not want to play in Israel, and that is a 'boycott of Jews'.

Why is any argument against Israel depicted as a boycott of Jews which implicates anti-semitism? Why are they confusing a destinct religion and race with a state that is ethnical and religiously mixed? (Also - last time I checked at least two-third of the Jews of this world had decided not to live in Israel.)

The further lobby argument is on Dejagah's alleged 'solidarity with a terror regime' (projection?). But he never publicly said anything positive or negative about Iranian politics.

The last German government under Schröder and Fischer was proud to have closed a national agreement with the Central Council of Jews in Germany that entitles it to €3 million per year of German state funds.

But while claiming to be political neutral the council is in fact a likudnik infested lobby for Israel.

Support for racism, apartheid and defaming soccer players, financed by the German state. Stupid me thought we had left such behind us.

Posted by b on October 9, 2007 at 10:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (12)

October 08, 2007

Decades of War

There is reason to believe that the Oxford Research Group report by Paul Rogers will likely be ignored.

War on terror is fuelling al Qaeda

Six years after the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States, the "war on terror" is failing and instead fuelling an increase in support for extremist Islamist movements, a British think-tank said on Monday.

A report by the Oxford Research Group (ORG) said a "fundamental re-think is required" if the global terrorist network is to be rendered ineffective.

"If the al Qaeda movement is to be countered, then the roots of its support must be understood and systematically undercut," said Paul Rogers, the report's author and professor of global peace studies at Bradford University in northern England.
...
"Failure to make the necessary changes could result in the war on terror lasting decades," the report added.

Who would benefit if Rogers' plans are implemented? Who would lose?

Decades of high profits for 'defense' and oil companies, better control of the public and a 'clash of civilizations' rational for expending the 'western' empire - what's not to like continuing this racket?

Posted by b on October 8, 2007 at 02:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (22)

Stuff For Tin-Foil Hatters

In one of the longest-held secrets of the Cold War, the U.S. Army explored the potential for using radioactive poisons to assassinate "important individuals" such as military or civilian leaders, according to newly declassified documents obtained by The Associated Press.
U.S. considered radiological weapon

---

On November 1, 2006, former lieutenant colonel of the Russian Federation's Federal Security Service Alexander Litvinenko suddenly fell ill and was hospitalised.
Alexander Litvinenko poisoning

---

[Another] priority was "munitions for attack on individuals" using radioactive agents for which there is "no means of therapy."
U.S. considered radiological weapon

---

He died three weeks later, becoming the first known victim of lethal polonium-210-induced acute radiation syndrome.
Alexander Litvinenko poisoning

---

"This class of munitions is proposed for use by secret agents or subversive units for lethal attacks against small groups of important individuals, e.g., during meetings of civilian or military leaders," it said.
U.S. considered radiological weapon

---

The use of polonium in the poisoning has been seen as proof of involvement of a state actor, as more than microscopic amounts of polonium can only be produced in nuclear reactors.
Alexander Litvinenko poisoning

---

The Dec. 16, 1948, memo said a lethal attack against individuals using radiological material should be done in a way that makes it impossible to trace the U.S. government's involvement, a concept known as "plausible deniability" that is central to U.S. covert actions.
U.S. considered radiological weapon

---

Vladimir Putin's aide Sergei Yastrzhembsky commented: "The excessive number of calculated coincidences between the deaths of people, who defined themselves as the opposition to the Russian authorities, and major international events involving Vladimir Putin is a source of concern. I am far from believing in the conspiracy theory, but, in this case, I think that we are witnessing a well-rehearsed plan of the consistent discrediting of the Russian Federation and its chief. In such cases, the famed "qui bono"[sic] question has to be asked."
Alexander Litvinenko poisoning

Posted by b on October 8, 2007 at 12:11 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

October 07, 2007

'You could supply us through Aqaba'

Amateurs study tactics; professionals study logistics.
Omar Bradley(?)

---

Colonel Brighton: I want a decision, sir.
Prince Feisal: You want me to fall back on the Yenbo.
Brighton: Well, you're not doing much good here, sir. I'm sorry to rub it in, sir, but we can't supply you here.
Feisal: You could supply us through Aqaba.

General Petraeus' logistic staff seems to have learned from Lawrence of Arabia.

With the British troops retreating to their air-base near Basra and eventually leaving, the U.S. supply route from Kuwait harbour to Baghdad is endangered. It is assumed that any U.S. conflict with Iran would lead to unrest in the southern Shia provinces in Iraq and disrupt that logistic 'line of communication'.

But the U.S. military doesn't seem very concerned. As the NYT wrote two weeks ago:

There is little talk of increasing the American troop presence along the major supply route, which links Baghdad and Kuwait and is called M.S.R. Tampa, although officials in Baghdad and Washington say other options include increased patrols by armed surveillance aircraft, attack helicopters and combat jets.

There are about 2,000 trucks per day hauling supplies on the red road, including some 3.3 million gallons of fuel per day. It is quite optimistic to believe that a 300 miles long road with many big bridges and lots of heavy traffic could be kept open by 'armed surveillance aircrafts'. So this didn't sound right to me.

Now we learn that the military built and uses an alternative. It only didn't talk about it.

 

McClatchy's Baghdad bureau chief Leila Fadel travels by car from Baghdad to Amman. She finds the road through Anbar province open and full of trucks:

The biggest obstacles were huge convoys of cargo trucks, escorted by American Humvees, ..
...
The highway then stretched for miles of dusty desert. Sometimes we veered onto access roads to avoid huge convoys of trucks, often with American military escorts. In one I counted 202 vehicles.
...
Later, I got an e-mail from Mohammed about his return trip to Baghdad.

"We drove all the way back at night and there were hundreds of trucks and many passenger vehicles on the road," he wrote.

While the route through Anbar was closed during the U.S. fights with the Sunni resistance, now  huge U.S. convois use it day and night without much trouble.

The 'Anbar awakening' created an alternative to MSR Tampa. The tenth of millions of dollars the U.S. payed to those pesky Sunni sheiks are a good investment. They bought a new secure supply line. These Sunni sheiks will also not complain very much when some day bombs might fall on Shia Iran ...

One might even suspect that opening an alternative to MSR Tampa was the real intent of the money induced 'awakening'. But we likely will never know ...

While the new Route Blue is about double as long as the red MSR Tampa, a long haul from the port of Aqaba is better than no haul at all. Especially when it carries your breakfast.

(Note to those nuts who will damn McClatchy for 'again revealing military secrets'. Folks in the Middle East know perfectly well how to count the trucks passing their windows. They don't need 'western' news services to evaluate its meaning.)

Posted by b on October 7, 2007 at 12:40 PM | Permalink | Comments (13)

October 06, 2007

A Rambling Thought

Did the state of the world get worse or has the increased volume and intensity of my reading throughout the last years intensified my perception of world problems?

Posted by b on October 6, 2007 at 01:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (31)

October 05, 2007

Let's Bury the Islamic Jihad Union

In early September three people alleged of planing to bomb some U.S. bases were captured in Germany. WaPo wrote:

Prosecutors said the men -- two Germans who had converted to Islam and a Turkish citizen who lived in Germany -- had trained at camps in Pakistan run by the Islamic Jihad Union, a Central Asian network that is a close ally of al-Qaeda.

The leader of the Islamic terror research group of Germans internal intelligence service, Benno Koepfer, thinks the above is wrong. There is no IJU. Here is an interview published today in the German daily TAZ (my slightly shortened translation):

TAZ: Were the three bomb-builders backed by the Islamic Jihad Union?
BK: I doubt that these three were working on orders by some fixed organization named Islamic Jihad Union.

TAZ: The IJU claimed responsibility for the actions of those three.
BK: There are many indication that such claims on Internet sites were done by some free loaders. There was only public information in these claims.
TAZ: What about the supposed  2004 assaults by the group in Uzbekistan?
BK: Uzbekistan does not have a free press. It is hard to verify what really happened in Uzbekistan.
TAZ: Where is the origin of the earlier assumption that the bomb builders are related to the IJU?
BK: Those were informations from U.S. intelligence services.
TAZ: Could the IJU be an invention of western intelligence services?
BK: I will not speculate about that.
TAZ: Can you voice these doubts without problems?
BK: Yes. It is important to tell the public that there are such doubts. If it would surface three years from now that IJU never existed, it would be more troublesome for the intelligence services.

Earlier former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, voiced doubts about the existence of the IJU:

I never met anybody in Uzbekistan, including from Islamist groups, who had heard of the IJU. I researched this intensively. The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, of whom the group is allegedly a cooperative offshoot, have never referred to it anywhere. Nobody in Islamist circles in the UK, or Uzbek exile circles worldwide, has ever heard of the IJU. Nobody can name a single member, let alone leader.

With this combination of very serious doubts by very knowledgeable people we can bury the sham of an IJU for good.

There are other organization U.S. intelligence services claim to know about.

You ask how real these are?

That's a good question.

Posted by b on October 5, 2007 at 01:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)

OT 07-70

News & views & other issues ...

Posted by b on October 5, 2007 at 04:34 AM | Permalink | Comments (131)

Unused Laws

A screen-capture from the homepage of the New York Times ...

... which leads me to predict one of next year's headlines:

Charges Will Be Dropped for Contractor in Iraq Killings
Investigators have recommended dropping murder charges against a security contractor charged with killing 17 apparently unarmed Iraqis in the volatile city of Haditha nearly a year ago, a defense lawyer in the case said Thursday.

Posted by b on October 5, 2007 at 04:24 AM | Permalink | Comments (14)

October 04, 2007

Israel Failed to Provoke War

Hannah K. O'Luthon pointed to this Haaretz' analysis by Amir Oren about the Israeli air attack on Syria three weeks ago.

The farce came to a partial end yesterday, and even though there is still a gag order on most of the juicy details, we can safely say that behind the successful blackout campaign lies an enormous failure. The silence of official Israel was not meant to protect military secrets.
...
Policy was shaped on the basis of a certain assumption about Bashar Assad's behavior in response to the operation. ... [I]t seems that once again Assad surprised Israel; whoever expected him to respond to the operation in a military operation was wrong.

In my September 11 piece I also claimed that the operation was a failure. One of the Israeli jets dropped its extra fuel tanks over Turkey. This only made sense as an emergency measure while under threat from Syrian air defense. The Israeli planes likely never saw their real target.

But the second assertion in Oren's analysis is much more frightening. If he is right, which I think he is, the Israeli air attack was done to provoke a military answer by Syria. The attack was an attempt to justify the start of a wider war.

Back in September I didn't see the real picture but had questions:

There will be no major IDF response to Qassam strike in Negev due to tensions in north, Haaretz analyzes. But why does the Israeli army need all it has on the border to Syria? This when it also claims that there are no signs of Syrian preparations for war?

If the Syrians refrain from retaliating for the air strikes, which they will for lack of capacity, why is the Israeli army preparing to fight on or from the Golan heights?

These question are now answered. An immediate attack was planed based on some provokated Syrian action. But Syria didn't fall into the trap. The chief of the UN observation force on the Golan, in an interview (in German) with Der Spiegel, recently unveiled that throughout the summer Israel has intensly trained and prepared for large attack operations. This despite quietness on the Syrian side of the Golan boarder.

But to what purpose might Israel have tried to provoke Syria into a wider war? Why did it train large ground attack operations?

I can think of three possible intentions:

1. Avoid to give back the Golan heights
There was pressure from the U.S. and Saudi Arabia to include Syria in the next round of peace talks with the Palestinians and other Middle East countries. Any peace with Syria would end Israeli control of the Golan. A new war with Syria, even a small one, could avoid this for further years.

2. Prepare for war with Iran
An attack on Syria now avoids later interference from it in case of a U.S. or Israeli attack on Iran. Next to an intense air campaign to destroy Syrian missile capacities, a ground component could have included a temporary rush from the Golan some 30 miles northeast to threaten Damascus and block the Beirut-Damascus highway.

3. Shut down Hisbullah
A wider operation could include operation 2 and, while blocking Damascus, make a wide 180 degree turn towards the Mediterranian with the aim to cut off Hisbullah's area in South Lebanon from the rest of that country. This would open the possibility to 'roll up' Hizbullah's South Lebanese positions along the Litani river from their back side. A big, risky operation, but the distances are relative small, it avoids crossing the mountains and Heinz Guderian would have liked it.

Whatever the plan was, Oren explains that it failed because the expected military response by Syria, which would have justified wider action, did not come. Syria avoided a military answer and the obvious consequences.

Like the Bush administration, the Israeli planers assume their enemies think like themselves. They project. Israel would certainly respond militarily to any air attack. It expected Syria to do the same, but Assad isn't as stupid as they think.

We can be certain that Washington approved the Israeli air-attack and the wider plan. Thereby Washington must also have agreed with the false prediction.

The same dumb projection mechanism will be the base for the plans for war on Iran. They will fail for the same reason.

Posted by b on October 4, 2007 at 04:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (25)

WaPo Journalists Rewrite History

Who controls the past controls the future:
who controls the present controls the past.
---
The past is whatever the Party chooses to make it...
If the facts say otherwise then the facts must be altered.
---
(George Orwell - 1984)

Robin Wright and Ann Scott Tyson are fulfilling their party duties. In today's Washington Post they fib about Iraqis to Pay China $100 Million for Weapons for Police:

The China deal, not previously made public, has "alarmed military analysts who note that Iraq's security forces already are unable to account for more than 190,000 weapons supplied by the United States, many of which are believed to be in the hands of Shiite and Sunni militias, insurgents and other forces seeking to destabilize Iraq and target U.S. troops.

The article does NOT quote any "alarmed military analysts" who notes something towards what these 'journalists' assert. They, without sourcing, put culpability on Iraqi security forces, where the U.S. military is known to be the culprit.

As the Government Accountability Office was reported to have found:

The Pentagon has lost track of about 190,000 AK-47 assault rifles and pistols given to Iraqi security forces in 2004 and 2005, according to a new government report, raising fears that some of those weapons have fallen into the hands of insurgents fighting U.S. forces in Iraq.
...
The GAO found that the military was consistently unable to collect supporting documents to "confirm when the equipment was received, the quantities of equipment delivered, and the Iraqi units receiving the equipment." The agency also said there were "numerous mistakes due to incorrect manual entries" in the records that were maintained.

The U.S. military never tracked most of the weapons it distributed to the various Iraqi forces. The Iraqi government never had a chance to control or account for the weapons the U.S. military distributed without records.

Additionally there are credible reports that the Department of Defense was, by neglect or intent, active in weapon smuggling:

Hundred of thousands of small arms and light weapons from the Bosnia and Herzegovina’s (BiH) war-time stockpiles together with tens of millions of rounds of ammunition were reportedly shipped - clandestinely and without public oversight - to Iraq by a chain of private brokers and transport contractors under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Defense, [...]

However, whether a series of shipments of AK47-type assault rifles documented as weighing 99,000 kg reached or remained in Iraq remains in doubt.

By claiming that the problem of vanishing weapons is Iraqi accounting, Wright and Tyson are rewriting history. It is the Pentagon that distributed the weapons without records.

Wright and Tyson obviously use Orwell's 1984 as instruction manual for their 'jounalism'.

Posted by b on October 4, 2007 at 04:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

The U.S. Still Tortures

Some suspected all along that the United States still officially tortures. Despite the expressed will of the people of the U.S., the policy has not changed even after new legislation purported to restrict it.

A new NYT piece confirms as much. It comes just in time for the hearings for a new AG. The continued policy is an outrage and should be another reason for impeachment. But I don't expect Congress to do anything about this.

Scott Shane, David Johnston and James Risen write: Secret U.S. Endorsement of Severe Interrogations

[S]oon after Alberto R. Gonzales’s arrival as attorney general in February 2005, the Justice Department issued another opinion, this one in secret. [...], an expansive endorsement of the harshest interrogation techniques ever used by the Central Intelligence Agency.

The new opinion, the officials said, for the first time provided explicit authorization to barrage terror suspects with a combination of painful physical and psychological tactics, including head-slapping, simulated drowning and frigid temperatures.
...
Later that year, as Congress moved toward outlawing “cruel, inhuman and degrading” treatment, the Justice Department issued another secret opinion, one most lawmakers did not know existed, current and former officials said. The Justice Department document declared that none of the C.I.A. interrogation methods violated that standard.
[...]
[I]n July, after a monthlong debate inside the administration, President Bush signed a new executive order authorizing the use of what the administration calls “enhanced” interrogation techniques — the details remain secret — and officials say the C.I.A. again is holding prisoners in “black sites” overseas. The executive order was reviewed and approved by Mr. Bradbury and the Office of Legal Counsel.

Posted by b on October 4, 2007 at 01:03 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

October 03, 2007

Blackwater and Other Outfits

With all the talk about Blackwater, the mercenary outfit running wild in Iraq, a question:

There is this one group where people voluntarily sign up for money or other perks to join an outfit that is dedicated and used to wage wars.

There is this another group where people voluntarily sign up for money or other perks to join another outfit that is dedicated and used to wage wars.

In both outfits people work to fullfill the interests, mostly financial ones, of their owners.

People in both outfits are sometimes stepping over the boundaries of legality. They wound and shot up civilians in panic or without specific reason.

Some people in both outfits are outright criminals doing worse stuff.

Whatever they do in a warzone, people in both outfits will usually will not face any serious punishment for committing crimes against civilians. (The higher folks are within each hierarchie, the smaller the chance.)

Both outfits have a generally far rightwing leadership that also believes some quite radical religious theories.

Both outfits are successfully avoiding any meaningful oversight.

Where is the practical difference between Blackwater and the U.S. military?

Posted by b on October 3, 2007 at 12:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (49)

October 02, 2007

Annals of Utter Hypocrisy

[R]eports about very innocent people being thrown into detention, where they could be held for years without any representation or charges, is distressing;

Press Briefing by Dana Perino, The White House, October 1, 2007

She was talking about Myanmar, though other places come to mind ...

Posted by b on October 2, 2007 at 01:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

 
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