Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
December 31, 2007

A Happy New Year to All Moonkind!

To all commentators here, a big Thanks for giving me so much!

A Happy New Year to all moonkind!

Posted by b on December 31, 2007 at 10:26 AM | Permalink | Comments (45)

Foot In Mouth?

Updated below

President Kibaki appointed 19 of the 21 electoral commissioners earlier this year. One of the new commissioners is Mr Kibaki's personal lawyer.
Kenya in flames over 'stolen election', Independent, Dec 31, 2007

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In one area, Mr. Kibaki received 105,000 votes, even though there were only 70,000 registered voters. In another, the vote tally was changed, at the last minute, to give the president an extra 60,000 votes. In a third area, the turnout was reported at 98 percent.
Riots Batter Kenya as Rivals Declare Victory, NYT, Dec 30, 2007

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The US State Department Sunday congratulated Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki on his re-election, and called on all sides to accept the results despite opposition allegations of ballot fraud.
US congratulates Kenyan president on re-election, AFP, Dec 30, 2007

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The EU observer mission cited the example of Molo constituency, where its monitors saw the official tally for Kibaki in the presidential poll marked at 50,145. But when the national election commission announced the results on television yesterday Kibaki was given 75,621 votes.
Kenyans riot as Kibaki declared poll winner, Guardian, Dec 31, 2007

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U.S. Ambassador Michael E. Ranneberger said that although there were "problems with the process," the United States would accept Kivuitu's announcement.

"Look at the U.S.," he said, just before Kivuitu announced the results. "The results are often disputed, and if there's a dispute, there are the courts.
Incumbent Declared Winner in Kenya's Disputed Election, WaPo, Dec 31, 2007

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The opposition has not indicated if it will contest the results in Kenya’s courts, which are notoriously slow and corrupt.
Tribal Rivalry Boils Over After Kenyan Election, NYT, Dec 31, 2007

UPDATE: As b real lets us know in the comments, the U.S. State Department now has made a 180 degree turn and retracted its congratulations to Kibaki. (Can Rice get anything right?).
So lets add this to the above:

The US State Department expressed "serious concerns" on Monday about Kenya's disputed presidential vote and withdrew its congratulations to the re-elected leader, Mwai Kibaki.
...
Despite foreign concern about the vote, expressed notably by European Union monitors, State Department spokesperson Rob McInturff on Sunday had congratulated Kibaki and called on all sides in Kenya to accept the results.

Rowing back, Casey told reporters on Monday that any sense that the United States was happy with the election was an "error".
US withdraws congratulations, AFP, Dec 31, 2007

Foot in mouth - indeed ...

More at b real's collection of election news from Kenia here and down in this thread.

Posted by b on December 31, 2007 at 04:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (88)

December 30, 2007

But Progressive Foreign Policy?

Was I wrong declaring that There is no “new progressive movement” in the U.S.? 

A very fine piece by Lambert shows the insight and spirit needed for a progressive movement.

It is mostly directed against Obama's "reach out" to conservatives and it includes this fine historic description of how the conservatives bought Washington to plunder the U.S. people:

Starting in the 1970s, at about the time of the Lewis Powell memo, an interlocking network of right wing billionaires and theocrats began to fund the institutions whose dominance we take for granted today: The American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, The Family Research Council, the Federalist Society, the Brookings Institute (over time), and on and on.
...
For these billionaires, the ROI of the Conservative Movement is absolutely spectacular. At the micro level, for example, if you want to create an aristocracy, then you want to eliminate any taxes on inherited wealth, despite what Warren Buffet or Bill Gates might say about the values entailed by that project. So, the Conservative Movement goes to work, develops and successfully propagates the term “death tax” — which they may even believe in, as if sincerity were the point — and voila!

Whoever thought that “family values” would translate to “feudal values” and dynastic wealth? At the macro level, their ROI has been spectacular as well. Real wages have been flat for a generation; unions have been disempowered; the powers of corporations greatly increased; government has become an agent for the corporations, rather than a protector of the people; the safety net has been shredded; and so on and on and on.

Lambert's correct conclusion - you can not work with these folks. To reach out to them (Obama) is fruitless. To work within their system (Clinton) will never destroy it. To fight it (Edwards) is the only option.

Such insight is the first step to develop a creed.

But I still miss a clear and broad call to raise taxes on the rich, to dismantle the military-industrial complex - the two most obvious things to do - and to use the proceeds for universal healthcare and free education.

With regard to foreign policy there is still too much of a tendency to -very selectively- meddle everywhere where 'human rights' are not what some 'progressives' envision them to be (compare the talk on Darfur and Israel).

The conservative strategy Lambert explains correctly is not only directed against the U.S. people. It is part of a bigger scheme to rule and plunder the world.

On the domestic issues u.S. progressives do get it right. In the foreign policy field, they take part in the right's machinations.

Seven of ten of Edwards' foreign policy and security advisers are former generals and admirals. That quota does not point to peace.

Can we please add a bit of Ron Paul isolationism to this?

Posted by b on December 30, 2007 at 01:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

December 29, 2007

Who Killed Bhutto?

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton called for an independent, international investigation into the death of one million Iraqis — perhaps by the United Nations — saying Friday there was "no reason to trust the U.S. government."
Link

Yes - I misquoted that bit of hypocrisy. It was originally aimed at Pakistan. But there is more of her lunacy:

[W]e need to help them understand what is in their interest and that of course includes President Musharraf.

Sure, we'll tell these niggers ....

There are lots of ideas out there who and what killed Bhutto.

Bush and Musharraf say Al-Qaida.

Neocon Eli Lake spins this:

The attack yesterday at Rawalpindi bore the hallmarks of a sophisticated military operation. At first, Bhutto's rally was hit by a suicide bomb that turned out to be a decoy. According to press reports and a situation report of the incident relayed to The New York Sun by an American intelligence officer, Bhutto's armored limousine was shot by multiple snipers whose armor-piercing bullets penetrated the vehicle, hitting the former premier five times in the head, chest, and neck.

Barnett Rubin thinks Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaeda, but the Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud denies any involvement.

Someone speculates about a drug related hit-squad tasked by a former Pakistani General.

Bhutto's party folks are implicating Musharraf.

Tomorrow a letter from Bhutto herself will be read and it is expected that it will put the blame on Musharraf too (she was also a prophet?).

Officially she died from the bomb blast that blew her against a handle of her cars sun roof, fracturing her skull. According to the pictures, that is at least a possiblity. But does it matter?

Bhutto orchestrated the killing of her own brother. She supported the Taliban. She stole about $1.5 billion from her people.

Even without the recent political maneuverings there were plenty of motives to kill her and even more possible perpetrators. We will never really know who ordered this.

Any further investigation would be a political football and abused to serve this or that policy purpose (think Hariri in Beirut).

This is one of these political assassination that will never be solved in a way that satisfies all doubters. It will forever spin myriads of conspiracy theories (think Kennedy in Dallas).

So what do you think: Did China do it? How was India involved?

Posted by b on December 29, 2007 at 01:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (51)

A Dubious Veto

Bush is suddenly vetoing the $696 billion military authorization bill he had already agreed to:

[O]n Friday, with no warning, a vacationing Mr. Bush announced that he was vetoing a sweeping military policy bill because of an obscure provision that could expose Iraq’s new government to billions of dollars in legal claims dating to Saddam Hussein’s rule.

The pocket veto Bush is using here is legally dubious as it requires that Congress has adjourned. The Senate has not adjourned and is formally kept in session by the Democrats.

Officially the president is reasoning that a part of the bill would allow legal claims from victims of Saddam against money Iraq has parked in the U.S. Such, he says, would hurt Iraq's reconstruction. (Iraq has $20-30 billion cash parked in the U.S., but is halving peoples food rations for lack of money?).

The NYT quotes someone who should know and who claims Bush's reasoning is nonsense:

Meanwhile, a Washington lawyer who has represented Americans who were abducted by Iraqi forces after the 1990 invasion of Kuwait said that he doubted the official explanation for President Bush’s rejection of the bill.

This very late and unusual action against a bill which has wide majority support smells of panic. But panic about what?

A reader at Hullabaloo suggests:

I suspect that the key to the pocket veto has nothing to do with Iraqi assets. Rather, it is contained a little line buried in the last paragraph of the Memorandum of Disapproval: "... I continue to have serious objections to other provisions of this bill, including section 1079 relating to intelligence matters . . ."

That passage of the law (search for HR 1585) says:

SEC. 1079. COMMUNICATIONS WITH THE COMMITTEES ON ARMED SERVICES OF THE SENATE AND THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES.

(a) Requests of Committees- The Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, the Director of a national intelligence center, or the head of any element of the intelligence community shall, not later than 45 days after receiving a written request from the Chair or ranking minority member of the Committee on Armed Services of the Senate or the Committee on Armed Services of the House of Representatives for any existing intelligence assessment, report, estimate, or legal opinion relating to matters within the jurisdiction of such Committee, make available to such committee such assessment, report, estimate, or legal opinion, as the case may be.

Possible requests from Congress would include full National Intelligence Estimates, like the one on Iran, and legal opinions on torture or phone tapping, i.e. the FISA circumventions.

Congress has inherent authority to request such reports and opinions, but the administration has often blocked these anyway. The law would give Congress explicit statutory authority to obtain them, i.e. a much firmer legal case.

Dave Addington, Cheney's lawyer, certainly didn't like that prospect.

Posted by b on December 29, 2007 at 09:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

December 28, 2007

There is no “new progressive movement”

The Scanner tries to explain Why the “new progressive movement” is fucked

So why do I say that the new progressive movement is fucked? Because they have no ideology. They lack any semblance of a creed. Now, naturally, the progressives would vigorously dispute this. Of course we have a creed! We believe in universal healthcare, combating global warming, protecting the right to abortion… [etc., ad infinitum] But that’s not a creed, it’s a list of policies.
...
The minute these new progressives try to put their creed into words, it melts into a flavorless mush of insensible campaign rhetoric, ...

My reading of the U.S. 'left' is very different.

These 'liberals', the Scanner uses the Center for American Progress as an example, ain't 'liberals' at all. Their creed is the same the right has.

The health care plans the Democratic candidates offer now are to the right of Nixon's plans. What is liberal with that?

Foreign policy? Matt Stoller at OpenLeft says We Should Stay the $#$&* Out of Pakistan but writes:

While we have a checkered history in terms of our involvement in the affairs of other countries since World War II, the last seven years have been nothing short of horrendous.  We ought to stop the meddling in other countries business until we fix our national security and diplomatic apparatus.

Reread Stoller's last sentence "... until we fix our national security and diplomatic apparatus."

What fix would that be? And why would a fix of the national security apparatus justify international meddling. What security interests would be served by that? What is liberal in that?

This is laughingly insincere.

Juan Cole, in a piece about the Bhutto killing, yesterday wrote this:

Pakistan is also a key transit route for any energy pipelines built between Iran or Central Asia and India, and so central to the energy security of the United States.

Why is Iranian gas for India "central"(!) to U.S. energy security? What lunacy is this? Liberal creed?

The 'liberals' have basicly the same creed the right has. They can't say so openly. Instead they market the few policy points in which they differ a tiny bit from the right.

But the Scanner thinks the deeper reason for the lack of liberal creed is this:

[I]f liberals tried honestly to formulate their principles in abstract terms, they would quickly discover how poorly they echo the American vernacular. Many swing-voting Americans would simply recoil from them. After all, Americans are, in the famous phrase, programmatically liberal but ideologically conservative.

This is wrong in all three points.

One can define 'freedom' as economic liberty to run whatever business one likes, as is usually done today in the U.S. policy argumentations. Or one can define freedom as 'freedom from want',  a far more liberal term that includes universal healthcare and other progressive policies. 'Freedom from want' certaily also echos the American vernacular. Packaged correctly,  one can be progressive AND ideologically conservative.

Swing-voters can never be the benchmark for any policy or creed. To cater to them is weak and insincere. If one does so, one is immediately and rightfully distrusted as lacking a backbone - this especially by the swing voters. Triangulation and serving swing voters is what dragged 'liberals' to the right. It is the central illness of the ass party.

If you want to broaden your voter base, why not look where most of the potential votes really are? These are with the people who today do not vote. Those are mostly the poor, the disenfranchised, the people who have no reason to vote because the 'liberals' are not really different from the 'conservatives'.

The lack of creed of the 'liberals' in U.S. policy isn't the problem. The problem is the lack of real liberals.

The "new progressive movement" isn't fucked. It doesn't exist.

Posted by b on December 28, 2007 at 01:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (13)

Installations

When traveling in the US (and UK), I find that certain installations in hotel rooms and private homes should be continentalized.

  • Rotatory switches on floor and bedside lamps - too flimsy and often ramshackly.
  • Double hung sash windows - the maximum opening is only half of the total window size.
  • Door knobs - impracticle when you carry something (and often also quite rickety.)

As McClatchy reports, the last item is changing:

The compelling argument for door levers is a practical one: When you're struggling with too many bags or with arthritis, the lever's easy-release mechanism sparks a little gratitude. Heck, an elbow works when your hands are full. Knobs, on the other hand, provoke no emotion other than frustration.

[L]evers now account for 15 percent of U.S. door-opener sales for homes, according to hardware industry surveys, and double that in the market's high end.

There is of course no technical reason to price levers higher than doorknobs. They need just as much material and manufacturing process.

Posted by b on December 28, 2007 at 11:46 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

December 27, 2007

Bee Bee Killed

Pakistan's Bhutto killed by bombing

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan - Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was assassinated Thursday in a suicide bombing that also killed at least 20 others at a campaign rally, a party aide and a military official said.

First thoughts:

1. Who did it?

Many people will point to Musharraf, as being behind the assassination, but according to the BBC, someone shot Bhutto and then blew himself up. Suicide bombing is not the hallmark of the Pakistani military, but of the takfiris.

Bhutto had promised to fight the U.S.'s war of terror against the Taliban and takfiris in the tribal North West Frontier State, certainly reason enough for those folks to kill her.

Then again, the big winner in this is Musharraf.

2. What will happen to the election?

According to polls, Bhutto's PPP party would have gotten some 30% of the votes, the PML-N of Saudi favorite Nawaz Sharif 25% and Musharraf's PML-Q 23%.

Without Bhutto the PPP will have much less 'pull' and the race will most likely go to Sharif. But as he has more or less promised to oust Musharraf for his blantant illegal behaviour, we can expect that Musharraf will find ways to prevent such an outcome. I expect him to find a puppet to set up as prime minister and keep the reins in his hands.

3. U.S. relations

The U.S. backing of Bhutto put huge pressure on Musharraf. Support for U.S. policies in Pakistan is about zero. Musharraf is now again free to take the popular stand of independence from U.S. policies. The pressure point the U.S. has left is the money it pays to the Pakistani military. But that is a weak point, as any operation in Afghanistan is impossible without logistic support through Pakistan. Take away the Pakistani military's money and the Afghanistan operation will have to  top.

Short of an unlikely military coup against Musharraf, I currently see no way how the U.S. can again get the upper hand over him. The bribing of the tribes and planed operation of U.S. special forces in North Western Frontier may have ended before they really started.

Posted by b on December 27, 2007 at 08:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (59)

December 26, 2007

The 'Merry' in 'Christmas'

[Let's open the War on Christmas 2008 right away. Don't ever let Bill O'Reilly catch breath on the issue.
b.]

The 'Merry' in 'Christmas'

by anna missed
lifted from a comment

So as I left the gas station tonight, the clerk said "Merry Christmas". I'm not (really) sure what he was talking about. Because, no one ever says "merry" about anything else, like have a merry time, or merry day, or even merry holiday.

Come to think about it, I can't remember the last time I heard somebody say "merry" anything, except in connection to Christmas. So I guess "merry" is suppose to only apply to Christmas - something about Christmas is suppose to be "merry", but nothing else qualifies in distinction, as in the sense of have a "happy" new year, or birthday.

You might think then that "merry" in definition is only intrinsically connected to Christmas, but no, the dictionary definition of merry is:

  1. Full of high-spirited gaiety; jolly.
  2. Marked by or offering fun and gaiety; festive: a merry evening.
  3. Archaic. Delightful; entertaining.
  4. Brisk: a merry pace.

Not exactly anything sacred there, or special to Christmas. So whats the deal? Why has the word merry been enslaved to exclusive usage for one religious holiday a year, and its generic usage rendered odd, and in spite of the fact we all know its real meaning, but yet refuse to use it as such? And you know, you too - haven't used the word merry outside of Christmas now have you?

My own personal (war on the war on Christmas) conspiracy theory about this particular minutia begins with the "war on Christmas" propaganda started in the wingnut sphere. Supposedly, that people (of the left wing variety) are trying to get people to stop using the phrase "Merry Christmas" and substitute the phrase "Happy Holidays" instead. That somehow its the liberal left that is trying to delegitimize the sacred birth of Christ holiday.

However, according to Amish Aunt Tilly Amish Christians do not really "celebrate" Christmas (or Santa Clause, or trees with lights for that matter), but rather "observe" it. Which is of course, a far cry from "Merry Christmas" in the conventional American sense of the phrase.

Seeing that both words Merry and Christmas, like so many other American religious observations have evolved so far from their original ritual content and into a virtual dead language iconographical reconstructions dedicated to totemic commercialism - as to become devoid of secular content. And instead have become replicated icons that people acknowledge to one another as tacit unacknowledged but mutual subserviance to something else altogether.

The non-negotiable American way of life. Thats what fighting against the so called "war on Christmas" is all about - to keep the meaningless "merry" in the the reformulated (and equally meaningless) notion of "Christmas" intact.

Posted by b on December 26, 2007 at 08:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (25)

On the Way to a Sharecropper's Society?

Merrill Lynch announced Monday that Temasek Holdings Pte. Ltd., a Singapore state-owned investment group, was buying a 4.4-billion-dollar shareholding in the company.

The deal follows hot on the heels of Morgan Stanley's announcement last week that the China Investment Corporation (CIC) had obtained a five-billion-dollar stake in the firm.
...
The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority of the United Arab Emirates grabbed a hefty 7.5-billion-dollar shareholding in Citigroup last month.
...
CIC grabbed a three-billion-dollar stake in the Blackstone Group, a large private equity firm, earlier this year and China's CITIC Securities Company Ltd. bought a six percent shareholding in Bear Stearns, another troubled US investment house, for one billion dollars in October.

Analysts believe more deals are likely, especially as the foreign funds are sitting on huge cash stockpiles.
Asian, Mideast funds unleash cultural revolution on Wall St., December 25, 2007

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"A country that is now aspiring to an 'Ownership Society' will not find happiness in--and I'll use hyperbole here for emphasis--a 'Sharecropper's Society,'" Buffett wrote, "But that's precisely where our trade policies, supported by Republicans and Democrats alike, are taking us."
Buffett: Berkshire Hathaway CEO Blasts 'Sharecropper's Society', March 7, 2005

Posted by b on December 26, 2007 at 03:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (14)

December 25, 2007

Bunkum Pakistan Aid

New U.S. aid is planed for the North Western Frontier States in Pakistan according to this NYT piece.

The frontier states are Pashtun (or Pathan) land that was never ruled by anyone than the Pashtun themselves. These people are not exactly friends of the U.S. government which kills their brethren on the other side of the Durand line. A border the Pashtuns never recognized anyway. The Taliban in Pakistan are now under unified command and on the offensive. Their fighters are people from the tribes. So does this have any chance of success?

First a look at the numbers:

The disputes have left many skeptical that the $750 million five-year plan can succeed in competing for the allegiance of an estimated 400,000 young tribesmen in the restive tribal region ...

A $150 million per year sounds like a lot of money. But later in the piece we learn:

The region of 3.2 million people has no industry, virtually no work and no hope. Men aged 18 to 25, who are the target of the program, find offers of 300 rupees a day from the Taliban — about $5 — attractive.

The NYT doesn't do the math, but $150 million per year divided by 400,000 recipients and 365 days per year results in $1.03 per day per person. Say's Pashtun junior: "Why should I work for so little money? The Talibs pay $5 per day. Besides that, shooting is much more fun than building roads."

But that money would never reach the tribes anyway. NGO's can not go into the region anymore. The Pakistan government doesn't really exist there and its army gets shot at whenever it tries to get a hand on the tribes. 

The USG solution? Contractors:

Among the handful of companies invited to bid are DynCorp International and Creative Associates International Inc., both of which won substantial contracts in Iraq. How effective they will be in the tribal areas is equally uncertain.

Their profit and overhead share would be 50% and of course there would be no control over who would really receive the rest.

The program propaganda smacks of pseudo-humanist colonial attitude:

The civilian aid program would provide jobs and schooling, build 600 miles of roads and improve literacy in an area where almost no women can read.

But the real stuff is this:

The presentation listed the range of programs involving A.I.D., the narcotics section of the State Department and, to a small extent, the Pentagon.

US-AID, i.e. the soft CIA, anti-narcotics from State and the Pentagon. Those will teach women how to read? Not really:

Besides providing jobs, schooling, and roads the American plan also calls for improving the “capacity” of the local Pakistani authorities so that the government becomes a more viable and friendly force in everyday lives.

This smells of another attempt of an "Anbar awakening" program, bribing the locals to use them as U.S. proxy forces against the government. Like the Shia puppets in Baghdad, Musharraf's certainly hates the idea.

Asked what he thought of the American goal to improve the “capacity” of the administration of which he is a senior member, Mr. Iqbal, the Pakistani official, who attended college in the United States, replied, “Bunkum.”

For the above reasons, the program has no chance to make a difference anywhere but to put money in the hands of some contractors. Where it goes from there, we can only guess ...

Sidenote:
When the NYT writer writes "The region ... has no industry, virtually no work and no hope", what does this mean? The people there have been living off their land for thousands of years. They do the work needed to feed themselves. Why would they need industry, other work or the NYT readers version of 'hope'?

Posted by b on December 25, 2007 at 10:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (13)

December 24, 2007

Hope

The old story associated with Bethlehem and commemorated by many these days is about hope.

Hope for more light and new beginnings, needed as much today than ever.

Somehow the days seem to get longer again. There is no eternal darkness?

Then these walls will come down again too.

I wish you all some contemplative, hope- and peaceful holidays.


Picture courtesy of the Bethlehem Association

Posted by b on December 24, 2007 at 02:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

A JAG Captain named Kelvey?

Harpers' Scott Horton has an update on the kangaroo court set up in Iraq to find Associated Press photojournalist Bilal Hussein guilty of whatever is convenient to the Pentagon. Bilal Hussein has been jailed by the U.S. military for nineteen month without trial.

Bilal’s case has been assigned to investigating Judge Dhia al-Kinani, who has already conducted a long series of evidentiary hearings in the case. The source said the Pentagon is confident that they will secure a conviction in the case. “Nothing is being left to chance in this case. It’s important and a lot of resources are being thrown at it.”
...
The U.S. military has assigned a team of five to act effectively as prosecutors in the case. The team is headed by a JAG Captain named Kelvey. (Says the source: “We recognize, of course, that the U.S. has no authority to prosecute a case in an Iraqi court. That’s one of the reasons that a gag order was essential.”)

You should read the whole piece as I only have a minor point.

Who is "a JAG Captain named Kelvey"? Google comes up empty for "Kelvey JAG", "Kelvey Iraq", etc.

But what about Captain Kevin Calvey, who has a J.D. from Georgetown University and is currently in Baghdad?

Calvey is a former state representative from Oklahoma. A staunch Club of Growth tax cutting republican who in 2006 ran for Congress. His own bio says:

Kevin is also not afraid to fight when called to action.  After the start of the War on Terror, Kevin joined the Army National Guard.

When did the War of Terror start? The local newspaper profile says:

In 2003, Calvey joined the 45th Infantry Brigade in the Oklahoma Army National Guard.

Also:

Kevin is a devout Christian, and has taught Sunday School for the last ten years. 

This from his 2006 profile:

Spouse: Brenda; Children: Chance and Chelsey

After the congress race didn't turn out to be successful he needed some change. That's why some think he is a bigot:

Kevin Calvey is proud of being a Sunday school teacher, but is dating a 23 year old after divorcing his wife.

A funny aside -  in 2002 Calvey tried to ban common-law marriage in Oklahoma.

House Bill 2682 by Rep. Kevin Calvey and House Bill 2397 by Rep. Raymond L. Vaughn, Jr., both received “do pass” recommendations Monday from the House Committee on the Judiciary. The measures were referred to the full House for votes sometime during the next four weeks.

HB 2682 decrees that after Nov. 1, 2002, a common-law marriage of a man and a woman “shall not be recognized as a valid form of marriage in Oklahoma.”
...
“We require a license to drive a car,” Calvey, R-Del City, noted afterward. “How much more important is a marriage?”

Cpt Calvey is an expert in counterinsurgency. In one of his old blog-entries (scroll down) he says:

My impression is that most of the insurgency in Iraq would dry up pretty quickly, or at least become relatively ineffective, if it were not for meddling by forces from Iran and Syria.

All these meddling foreign forces - nasty, ain't they?

His newer blog, though the last entry is from September, say little about his job. He is good at keeping that secret.

But he tries to go to mass daily, works out a lot and his new wife's name is Toni.  He recently had a "second honeymoon" during some R&R downtime.

Calvey is working in the "International Zone" in Baghdad. In the mid of the year he "changed his job" within the military. He regularly goes out to the red zone to "work with Iraqis". There are thoughts about Guantanamo:

That’s about it. That’s all the rights to which such detainees are entitled. Not a full-blown trial. Not a right to view classified material.

A number of American law firms and others are pompously “representing” these terrorists and self-righteously claiming that the US government is wrong to hold them.

Perhaps these lawyers will take note from the fact that their “clients” when released are going back to recruiting children to be terrorists, beheading people, and blowing up car bombs in marketplaces.

I don't know if Calvey really leads the case against Bilal Hussein. But the names match and he certainly has the right attitude.

Posted by b on December 24, 2007 at 02:22 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)

OT 07-85

Open thread - your comments, news & views are welcome ...

Posted by b on December 24, 2007 at 03:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (74)

December 23, 2007

Military-Industrial Miracles

Monolycus reminds us of the famous quote from Eisenhower's farwell address:

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the militaryindustrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

In a recent report Jason Sigger, at Wired's Danger Room blog, had a good example on how far the democratic process has already been shunned in favor of the military industrial complex. A compromise over a $300 and a $350 bill version ending up with a price tag of $510.

There is this odd, nutty military project to put a huge chemical laser onto a Boeing 747 to shoot down missiles in their early launch phase. The laser contains several tons of quite nasty poisonous stuff and nobody would like that thing to fly above ones head in the first place. Its military purpose is questionable to say the least. How would a 747 flying over Russia to shoot down Russian strategic missiles survive?

The project has already consumed several billions and is far beyond all former cost and time estimates.

In the new defense authorization bill, the House had reduced the Pentagon's Boeing/Lockheed's request of $548.8 million for the program to $298.9 million. The Senate version of the bill reduced the request to $348.8 million. Like usual, the House/Senate conference, which operates out of the public sight, had to find a compromise between the two versions.

On would have expected the conference members (who are those?) to meat and agree on a sum somewhere in the middle, like maybe $323.85 million, to be wasted on this project. They didn't.

From the conference report (big pdf, page 817+ of the bill):

The conferees agree to authorize $513.8 million in PE63883C, a reduction of $35.0 million.

The conferees note that the ABL program remains a high risk technology development and demonstration program ...

It remains unclear whether the ABL system will be affordable. The Congressional Budget Office has made a preliminary estimate that the ABL program could cost as much as $36.0 billion to develop, procure, and operate a fleet of seven aircraft for 20 years.

The Arms Control Center documents more of such budget miracles. Consider the C-17 Globemaster Transport Aircraft:

Request: $72 million
House: $2.49 billion for 10 aircraft
Senate: $72 million
Conference: $2.3 billion for eight aircraft

Even the Pentagon doesn't want these birds. But the House was willing to pay $249 million a piece for ten of these. The Senate didn't want any. The conference agreed to pay $287.5 million a piece for eight of them.

How about the Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter?

Request: $222.6 million for 29 aircraft
House: no funding
Senate: no funding
Conference: $184 million for 29 aircraft

Huh?

The Library of Congress explains what a House-Senate Conference Committee is supposed to do:

Where the Senate amendment revises a figure or an amount contained in the bill, the conferees are limited to the difference between the two numbers and may neither increase the greater nor decrease the smaller figure.

Can someone reconcile that with the above?

We probably could, if we could point out the members of the conference and the amounts they get directly or indirectly from defense corporations. I have yet to find ways to do this.

Maybe we are far beyond Eisenhower's warning?

Posted by b on December 23, 2007 at 02:48 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

December 22, 2007

Presents

No real post today as I'm busy building a race car. A present for a dear friend of mine. Like usual, the bricolage takes longer than expected.

Thereafter a USB-memory stick will have to be dismantled and then fitted into a Lego brick. Actally two of those, in his/her colors. Should I put music on them?

That will be all.

Oh, you want to read some serious stuff? Take a look at the London Review of Books. On the Credit Crunch includes some perspective on the London City and London's rotten housing market.

‘So we’ll have to stop running around spending money like drunken sailors,’ I said. ‘Well, drunk sailors tend to be spending their own money,’ Tony said. ‘By contemporary standards they’re quite prudent.

Or a Diary from Afghanistan, from the last issue, Tarik Ali on the Bhuttos.

Then again, lets talk about presents.

What do you give? What do you get, or don't? How do you feel about it/them?

Posted by b on December 22, 2007 at 03:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (16)

December 21, 2007

Trends and the Garden of Eden

There is this awesome trend I spotted.

First I thought it was unreal, that there was no trend at all, just a random deviation from what I considered to be normal.

But then, in July, about the same time as this surge thing took off in Iraq, I started to make notes about this phenomenon. You know, really writing down my observation every day. Even more, I did it twice a day.

Every morning I wrote down the time the sun went up. Every evening I documented when it went down.

In mid July there were over 16 hours between sunrise and sunset. By mid September daylight was down to 12 hours, mid October to 10 hours and mid November to 8 hours per day. Those observations had me really concerned.

The consequences were obvious to me. If the speed of what happened had continued, we would be down to zero hours of daylight in mid March. Frightening thought, isn't it?

Others have noted the trend too. When I was shopping today, everyone seemed to stock up on candles. No wonder, it is getting darker each day. One shop even had no candles left. Also people were buying lots of thick cloth. It will be cold when total darkness has finally fallen upon us. That day (will we still call it a 'day'?) is near.

But here is good news. That is, good and bad news. In December the trend seems to have slowed down a bit, relieving some of my fears. Today we had about 7 hours of daylight. More than the 6 my first calculations had me expect.

But the daily trend in December is still downwards and there is no datapoint in my observations that supports any other expectation than eternal darkness. I gave this some additional thought.

Where there was a decrease of 2 hours of daylight from month to month, the trend has slowed to a 1 hour decrease per month. As we come near to zero sunshine, this slowdown is explainable. The loss in daytime from July to August was 2 of 16 hours, some 12.5%. The loss from November to December was about the same. 1 of 8 hours of daylight vanished - 12.5%.

Using some math wizardry, I recalculated my projections using that constant loss rate. My now refined trend evaluation points to 3 hours of daylight in March 2008 and only 1.5 hours of daylight twelve month from now.

So still bad news for all of us.

Other people are more lucky. Especially those in Iraq. There they have trends in the positive direction.

As noted above, my daylight observations started around the same time the U.S. surge in Iraq began to make a difference.

At the end of July O'Hanlon and Pollack wrote in the NYT about the surge success:

Here is the most important thing Americans need to understand: We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, ...

In mid September the President spoke to his people:

This week, General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker testified before Congress about how that strategy is progressing. In their testimony, these men made clear that our challenge in Iraq is formidable. Yet they concluded that conditions in Iraq are improving, that we are seizing the initiative from the enemy, and that the troop surge is working.

Unlike the ever increasing darkness around us, the peace trend in Iraq is upwards.

Just today the Fort Worth Star Telegram prints an interview with one of the commanders in Baghdad, Brig. Gen. John F. Campbell. The good general explains the trend:

Since the surge started, we've seen a dramatic decrease in the level of violence. It's undeniable. There are several challenges out there, and we're not declaring victory. But we've seen a lot of progress.

The General points to hard data:

There has been a 77 percent decrease in the number of attacks [on Iraqi civilians and U.S. troops] from June 2007 to the end of November. There has been an 88 percent decrease in casualties. There has been a 65 percent decrease in car bombs from December '06 to November '07.

All this data points into the same direction - a confirmed trend:

There is a little ebb and flow in each neighborhood, but for the most part, they're all getting a little bit better. The key is the people. Ninety-nine percent of the people just want to get on with their lives. ... In the past, you could not walk around the streets. Now, traffic is as bad as Washington, D.C. The markets are open and lively, all because the security has continued to get better.

With so much data, all confirming the trend, the extrapolation is easy to make.

Iraq has improved some x% per month. All the data points supports this. Iraq will continue to become better.

The trend in Iraq is up - up, up and away.

By the time we'll need candle light for our lunches, Iraq will again have become the Garden of Eden.

Posted by b on December 21, 2007 at 01:39 PM | Permalink | Comments (39)

Krugman has an Illusion

Paul Krugman laments about the ideology that drove the stock and mortgage bubble:

Of course, now that it has all gone bad, people with ties to the financial industry are rethinking their belief in the perfection of free markets. Mr. Greenspan has come out in favor of, yes, a government bailout. “Cash is available,” he says — meaning taxpayer money — “and we should use that in larger amounts, as is necessary, to solve the problems of the stress of this.”

Given the role of conservative ideology in the mortgage disaster, it’s puzzling that Democrats haven’t been more aggressive about making the disaster an issue for the 2008 election. They should be: It’s hard to imagine a more graphic demonstration of what’s wrong with their opponents’ economic beliefs.

Dear Paul, I don't find this puzzling at all.

2008 Election Cycle:
Finance/Insurance/Real Estate:

Long-Term Contribution Trends
Donations to Democrats $79,749,633
Donations to Republicans $66,274,624

Top 20 Senators
1 Clinton, Hillary (D) $12,302,928
2 Obama, Barack (D) $9,834,870
3 Dodd, Christopher J (D) $5,212,168
4 McCain, John (R) $5,208,827
5 Biden, Joseph R Jr (D) $1,321,819

The 'opponents’ economic beliefs' are the same believes the top dog Democrats have. It is what pays their campaigns. Like the repubs, they will bail out the financial industry with tax money.

To assume something different is like dreaming those Democrats want to get out of Iraq.

It's an illusory world view.

Posted by b on December 21, 2007 at 04:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (27)

December 20, 2007

Kurd Infighting - US-China Proxy War?

A followup an my recent Kurdistan post. There might be geopolitics behind the U.S. support for Turkey to bomb north Iraq.

The very next day after those bombings and Turkish incursions, the north Iraq (kurdistan?) 'premier' Barzani agreed to move the constitutional demanded referendum over Kirkuk and its oil riches to some never-date.

Even though that very significant bow to U.S. demands was in an AFP release, no U.S. media I read (and I do read a lot of these) reported that point. This was some peace offer by Barzani to the U.S., but it was totally ignored. Why?

Barzani later didn't show up for a meeting with Rice who suddenly and unannounced dropped into Kirkuk, two days after the Turkish bombing and a day after Barzani's move.

I am not sure what really happened, but Juan Cole's crude conspiracy theory on this is definitely  wrong. He somewhat assumes that Cheney told the Turks to bomb because the shooter wanted to sabotage Rice's visit. Cole still desperately wants to see Rice as a 'realist' conned by the neos. Dear Juan, realists don't confuse birth pangs with cluster bombs - end of that discussion.

Here is my speculation.

Talabani, the current president of Iraq and also a Kurdish clan and party leader, did meet with Rice despite the U.S. supported bombing by the Turks.

Back in 1996 Barzani cooperated with Saddam Hussein to fight Talabani and his party. In 2001 Talabani worked with Turkey against the anti-Turkish Kurd PKK guerilla Barzani supported.

Still, after Saddam was gone, the U.S. somewhat liked Barzan:

PRESIDENT BUSH: It's my honor to welcome President Barzani of the Kurdistan regional government of Iraq to the Oval Office. He's a man of courage; he's a man who has stood up to a tyrant.

He did? Well, that's over with. Suddenly there is war on Barzani. Today at the National Review's corner - neocon central - Michael Rubin laments over Barzani's censorship laws:

Iraqi Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani rejects a new press law on the grounds that any criticism should be constructive. That which he decides is not constructive, for example, articles that question the opacity of Barzani's financial practices, may saddle newspapers, editors, and journalists with large fines.

Rubin's real issue is not some censorship laws, (I don't remember him writing about censorship or corruption in Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia or elsewhere), but to make an attack on Barzani.

Hmm - Turkey bombs Barzani's state with U.S. help. He bows towards the U.S., but gets rejected. The neocons campaign against him.

Could this be the reason?

On May 15, chairman of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) Massoud Barzani met the Chinese Ambassador to Iraq and the Embassy’s economic and trade counselor. On behalf of his government, the ambassador invited Barzani to visit China.

It's a two years old piece, but just imagine Brazani getting into business with the Chinese. They have supported an independent Kurdistan and the (pseudo-)marxist PKK since 1975 or so - just like the Barzani clan. The Chinese want oil-contracts whereever they can get them.

There is much money to be made in contracts over resources in and around the Kurd semi-state. The Chinese want as many projects as possible and are friendly with the PKK and Barzani. The U.S. wants all contracts it can get and is friendly with Talabani and the Turks.

Talabani is (temporarily) orientated towards the U.S. His son is the official lobbyist for Kurdistan in Washington D.C., spreading the dough wherever he feels he needs to.

Talabani offers a deal on the condition that he gets an exclusive to rule north Iraq? Maybe. His son 'seeds' think tank opinons in Washington DC. Rubin workes for the American Enterprise Institute and writes against Barzani.

Geopolitic resource fights established as local proxy wars through manipulation of local rivalties?

It's quite a guess I am making here, but it certainly wouldn't be the first of such proxy fights.

Posted by b on December 20, 2007 at 06:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

December 19, 2007

All Perfectly Predictable

Commentator UESLA adds points on a creepy process that deserve a lift to the front page.

As preface some observations by me, Bernhard.

From today's NYT we learn that at least four White House lawyers pondered the question of burning evidence of their crimes by deleting video tapes (I believe there are copies) of the CIA torture on Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri:

One former senior intelligence official with direct knowledge of the matter said there had been “vigorous sentiment” among some top White House officials to destroy the tapes. The former official did not specify which White House officials took this position, but he said that some believed in 2005 that any disclosure of the tapes could have been particularly damaging after revelations a year earlier of abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

The WH lawyers involved were Miers, Bellinger, Gonzales and Addington. Miers and Gonzales are lightweights. I don't know about Bellinger, but Eddington has been the heavyweight on the team all along. Being Cheney's henchmen he explained the general overall strategy:

"We're going to push and push and push until some larger force makes us stop."

But what if no larger force appears?

The process is well known:

What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if he people could understand it, it could not be released because of national security.

That text applies to torture laws, the FISA changes, the Patriot Act and the War on Iraq budgets that still fly through Congress without any significant protest.

But it was written in 1955 and is an interview with an intellectual German about the 1930s/40s. The Goebbels strategy was "push and push and push" too. Back then the larger force appeared only in a very bloody fight over Stalingrad and even after that took years to succeed.

It is the creeping process that is alarming. It is still going on, strong. Several of the last Billmon posts warned about this.

The recent offhanded use of the words "bureau procedures" by the veteran reporter Walter Pincus to describe serious enacted laws really set off my alarm bells.

The creeping slime has seeped into the better folks minds. UESLA goes from there:
---

This is a difficult phase during our nation's rise to imperial glory. The transition from the rule of law to the rule of Strong Men requires, at times, the utmost patience from true patriots.

It is not something that happens overnight, although it will seem like that when it finally blossoms into full view.

Although done without fanfare, it is an absolutely vital step to refer to laws prohibiting torture as mere procedures. It is masterful. It is well over 51% of the victory, for it quietly and adroitly hollows out those laws. They no longer quite apply, and laws that no longer quite apply -- quite effectively no longer exist.

There are dumb laws in every State of the Union forbidding various things like eating ice cream on Sunday, using elephants to plow cotton fields, or keeping horses indoors. No one pays any attention to them, other than to chuckle over their inanity. Laws against torture, and treaties banning torture, are relentlessly joining this list.

Now that the restraints against torture have been effectively removed, the next steps will be easy. In the coming few years, this Mueller fellow will eventually be replaced with someone who is not hampered by regard for defunct laws, who can rule his domain within the empire by fiat and decree.

The same process is taking place in every domain of government. Inch by inch, decrepit laws like habeas corpus and quaint concepts like freedom of speech, honest elections, freedom of movement and assembly, and personal privacy become first hollow procedures, then dumb laws, and finally treason. In the vacuum left when laws become dumb, only Strong Men can hold society together.

America set out on this course many long years ago, with the birth of the National Security State after Dubya Dubya Two. We are approaching the flowering time.

The true nature of the Unitary Executive is the Führer Prinzip, rule by a hierarchy of Strong Men, each ruling their domain with absolute authority. This is precisely the slippery slope of legalized gangsterism rising in America, blithely overlooked by its consumers, the majority of whom still believe they live in a free society.

They don't. They have built their own prison, and elected their own jailers. They are living in a nation of hollow laws, a nation of procedures on their way to becoming dumb laws left on the books only for comic effect. Mute laws, stupid laws, quaint laws for the era before empire, for the era before Strong Men.

The Unitary Executive is rule by thuggery, by fiat, and by raw power. But it is not the cause of America's fall. No, it is the last symptom of America's internal rot, of the merger of unchecked corporate and institutional power with the institution of government itself. The businessman, the soldier, the priest, and the politician are standing forth now as the Strong Men who will ultimately save the nation from dumb laws like that "goddammed piece of paper" the Constitution.

The American populace made room for Strong Men by neglecting the duties of citizenship in favor of life as consumers. They made Strong Men necessary by letting crooks run the banks and towers of corporate power, and shysters write the laws. They demand Strong Men and Messiahs on every hand now to extricate themselves from the consequences of living beyond their means, beyond restraint, beyond moderation or common sense.

Just as they want a Messiah to rescue them from death itself, they want a Strong Man to rescue them from the rigors of citizenship, from the demanding duties of managing the nation. They habitually turn to boundless consumption, constant entertainment, and self congratulation instead, letting whomever promises more of all this to run the country, write the laws, and rule the airwaves.

In such a setting, reality becomes what you wish it to be.

The result is the largest pool of debt in human history, a bankrupt nation currently masquerading as the largest economy in the world. All hollowed out, all ruled by gangsters, by men above the law. The result is that the great American consumer party is over, and the result will be the American Reich, as Americans demand Strong Men to save them from consequences.

All perfectly predictable.

Posted by b on December 19, 2007 at 02:29 PM | Permalink | Comments (22)

Typepad Sucks

Commentators here have experienced serious problems since about 12 days ago.

Before that, there was hardly spam comments (viagra ads and the like) on this blog and comments were running relatively smooth.

Then Typepad, the company that runs the basic system of this and many other blogs, introduced a new feature. Like usually, they didn't bother to inform their customers about this.

Since the new feature was introduced, any comment with more than a few words of plain text is somewhat considered as spam and a CAPTCHA number input is required. Often comments are outright rejected as spam.

There is no way for me to shut off this feature. It is not specific to this blog, but other blogs running on Typepad have the same problem and are also complaining.

As part of the new feature anything falsly identified as spam is now placed in a special folder I can review. I can also manually release comments caught in this scheme from the folder.

But to have real time comments, as it should be, this would require me to sit in front of the screen all day and do nothing else.

This morning there were 48 entries in the spam-folder, 46 of those were legitimate comments (many redundant as people have tried several times.) Two were indeed spam. When 96% of "spam" is legitimate commenting, the spam detection is obviously misconfigurated.

Since December 6, I have complained several times and asked the Typepad help-staff a list of quite specific question. I have received no real answer to my questions on who, what, why, what to do. Instead, they sent me links to some superficial knowledgebase pieces which do not answer any questions and to marketing texts that laud the new feature. Today they asked me if I have any specific questions. Huh?

For now I'll manually release the comments falsly caught as spam. If your comment is caught as such, please do not try to enter it again. I will try to release such comments as often as I find time, which should be several times a day.

When I release such comments, they have the timemark of when they were posted by you. Therefore, as the comment threads are chronological, you suddenly may find "new" comments upthread.

Between the coming holidays I should finally find some time to move the blog away from Typepad. The company has several times shown behaviour like this, i.e. interfered with the blogs the customers pay them to run and being completely unresponsive when they screw up.

It delivers a bad service that does not deserve customers at all.

Typepad sucks.

Posted by b on December 19, 2007 at 09:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (16)

December 18, 2007

OT 07-84

We welcome your comments, news and views ...

Posted by b on December 18, 2007 at 02:43 PM | Permalink | Comments (93)

Annals of Newspeak

The WaPo staff writers Eggen and Pincus report on a fight between the FBI and the CIA.

The CIA claims torture helped to get information from one Abu Zubaida in Pakistan. The FBI says the torturing didn't give any useful infromation and Abu Zubaida is just a deranged man anyway.

In describing what happened, Eggen and Pincus slip in this sentence:

FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III eventually ordered the FBI team to withdraw from the interrogation, largely because bureau procedures prohibit agents from being involved in such techniques, according to several officials familiar with the episode.

"Bureau procedures prohibit ..."?

There was a time when laws prohibited the FBI to take part in torture.

Now there are mere "bureau procedures"?

Posted by b on December 18, 2007 at 04:44 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

December 17, 2007

Barzani 'Got the Message'

This hot from the wire:

Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) decided to postpone by six months a referendum on the future of the city of Kirkuk, Agence France-Presse reported Dec. 17, citing KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani. Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution stipulated that the referendum be held by the end of 2007, but Barzani said it was delayed for "technical reasons."

Let me explain Barzani's technical reasons involved here.

Back in October the U.S. administration offered the Turks to bomb the Kurdish PKK guerrilla in north Iraq:

While the use of US soldiers on the ground to root out the PKK would be the last resort, the US would be willing to launch air strikes on PKK targets, the official said, and has discussed the use of cruise missiles.

The U.S. offer was politely refused and yesterday the Turks sent 50+ of their own planes:

The overnight bombardment up to 60 miles into Iraq, which included long-range artillery shelling, sent hundreds of families fleeing and added to the volatility of a region once considered Iraq's most peaceful.

As the US controls the Iraqi airspace, the strike was not possible without its support:

Turkey's military chief Gen. Yasar Buyukanit said US intelligence was used in preparing Sunday's strike. "America gave intelligence," Turkish television station Kanal D quoted Buyukanit as saying. "But more importantly, America last night opened airspace to us. By opening the airspace, America gave its approval to this operation."

The US denies this, but acknowledges that it had been 'informed' beforehand.

Harpers' Silverstein has email from a "well-connected former U.S. government official working in Kurdistan." That would be Peter Galbraith who lobbies for the Kurds and urges to partition Iraq. Galbraith(?) writes:

The blowback here in Kurdistan is building against the U.S. government because of its help with the Turkish air strikes. The theme is shock and betrayal. The Kurds see themselves as the only true friend of the Americans in the region, and the only part of Iraq that is working, and are especially hurt by the attack.
...
For Washington to say they didn’t authorize the strike, or to use some other doublespeak bullshit Washington term, just makes people here more angry.

One wonders why Galbraith and the Kurds are surprised by this at all.

The Iraq Study Group report, which Bush seems to implement now, recommended to move the referendum about oil-rich Kirkuk to the 4th of Never. This despite Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution, which demands such a referendum to be held in 2007.

But the Kurds had threatened secession from Iraq over the issue. Kirkuk would give them the financial assets needed to become a sovereign state. Neither the U.S. nor Turkey nor anybody else wants that.

The U.S. supported bombing of several Kurd villages, none of them PKK centers, was to remind the Kurds that others are stronger then they are.

Barzani obviously 'got the message', i.e. the technical reasons, in form of a few tons of TNT.

The Kurds always get screwed. A while back the War Nerd took a deeper look at Kurdish history and why this is always the case. He came up with too many words and two main findings:

The Kurds don't have a country because they have no discipline and plain old bad geographical luck.

There will never be a Kurdistan because there are too many interests around the places where Kurds live. If you want to cut off valuable parts of Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria, i.e. all the future neighbors of a landlocked Kurdistan, you can be sure to have no support.

Why the Kurds even assume that the U.S. or Israel, currently their best friends, would ever really get into that fight is beyond me. What do they expect? A Berlin crisis like air bridge?

The second issue, internal Kurdish fighting, is legendary. Barzani and Talabani, the two main Godfathers of Iraqi Kurds have been fighting each other all their life. On top of that neither of them agrees with the Marxist PKK. The current truce between B. and T. would break immediately if something like a real Kurdish state would really come into reach.

As for the U.S. - the 1921 Treaty of Sèvres over the ruins of the Ottoman empire somewhat envisioned a Kurdish state. The Turks under Atatürk fought against it and, with U.S. support, the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne did away with that.

After the 1991 Gulf War, Bush senior called on Iraq's Kurds and Shia to rebel against Saddam's rule. But the promised U.S. support never came and many Kurds got killed.

One wonders why the Kurds and Galbraith have ever expected something different now.

My proposal to them, which I discussed with PKK fighters in Kurdistan years ago, is to first work for an EU like union between the involved states, i.e. T.S.I.I., and then form a Kurdish 'heritage coalition' within that union to optimize their position.

Those folks immediately started to quarrel between themselves over my suggestions.

They didn't 'get the message'. Turkish bombs, provided from and delivered with U.S. support, seem to have better effects.

Posted by b on December 17, 2007 at 02:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Economists for Edwards

In Vanity Fair economist Joseph Stiglitz writes about The Economic Consequences of Mr. Bush. He has some sobering numbers:

The economic effects of Bush’s presidency are more insidious than those of Hoover, harder to reverse, and likely to be longer-lasting.
...
Inequality is now widening in America, and at a rate not seen in three-quarters of a century. A young male in his 30s today has an income, adjusted for inflation, that is 12 percent less than what his father was making 30 years ago.
...
As many as 1.7 million Americans are expected to lose their homes in the months ahead. For many, this will mean the beginning of a downward spiral into poverty. Between March 2006 and March 2007 personal-bankruptcy rates soared more than 60 percent.
...
Some portion of the damage done by the Bush administration could be rectified quickly. A large portion will take decades to fix—and that’s assuming the political will to do so exists both in the White House and in Congress. Think of the interest we are paying, year after year, on the almost $4 trillion of increased debt burden—even at 5 percent, that’s an annual payment of $200 billion, two Iraq wars a year forever.

Stieglitz has some prescriptions I can agree with. Especially a hefty rise of taxes on the rich and a general move from taxes on "the good things" like labor towards taxes on "the bad things" like pollution.

But who can be the candidate measuring up with FDR to implement this stuff?

Paul Krugman thinks Edwards is the best available choice. Today he writes against Obama's Big Table Fantasies:

Over the last few days Mr. Obama and Mr. Edwards have been conducting a long-range argument over health care that gets right to this issue. And I have to say that Mr. Obama comes off looking, well, naïve.
...
[In the debate] Mr. Edwards replied, “Some people argue that we’re going to sit at a table with these people and they’re going to voluntarily give their power away. I think it is a complete fantasy; it will never happen.

This was pretty clearly a swipe at Mr. Obama, who has repeatedly said that health reform should be negotiated at a “big table” that would include insurance companies and drug companies.
...
As health care goes, so goes the rest of the progressive agenda. Anyone who thinks that the next president can achieve real change without bitter confrontation is living in a fantasy world.

I have read a bit about Obama and certainly do not like his neocon illusions. But I don't know much about Edwards.

Who is financing his campaign? Who is on his staff? What is his likely foreign policy?

Posted by b on December 17, 2007 at 09:38 AM | Permalink | Comments (30)

December 16, 2007

The New Iraq Strategy - Waiting For Regime Change

The LA Times has a preview of the post-surge plans for the U.S. military in Iraq:

In a change of plans, American commanders in Iraq have decided to keep their forces concentrated in Baghdad when the buildup strategy ends next year, removing troops instead from outlying areas of the country.

The original plans were to 'thin out' the troops, but to keep some posture in every part of Iraq.

The Iraqi puppet government is protesting against the plans, especially because control of Anbar will now go to the U.S. paid 'awakening' tribes.

But the occupiers don't care what the pesky Iraqi government thinks. Their plans include its likely removal:

[T]he day-to-day commander in Iraq, Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, and his staff believe that the increasing competence of provincial security and political leaders will put pressure on the government in Baghdad that "will breed a better central government," said his chief of staff, Brig. Gen. Joseph Anderson.
[...]
"The grass-roots level will force change at the top because if they do not act on it, they will get overrun," said another senior military officer responsible for Iraq war planning.

Meanwhile the British have finally bailed out of any responsibility in south Iraq. This with typical imperial prancing:

"I came to rid Basra of its enemies and I now formally hand Basra back to its friends," the commander of British forces in Basra, Maj. Gen. Graham Binns, said shortly before he added his signature to papers relinquishing responsibility for the region in Iraq's far south. "We will continue to help train Basra security forces. But we are guests in your country, and we will act accordingly."

The Brits will stay at the Basra airport and reduce their troops bit by bit until none are left. Finally that has the U.S. concerned:

Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, the No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq, said the handover was "the right thing to do" for southern Iraq, but American officials worry that a power vacuum could heighten the influence of Iran and threaten land routes used to bring ammunition, food and other supplies from Kuwait to U.S. troops to the north.

Whatever there is in south Iraq, it is not a power vacuum. Iran certainly already has a firm grip there. Odierno is rightly worried that the Persians pratically have him by the balls. But what is it about that route to Aqaba?

To get a bit of control over south Iraq, Pat Lang urges Odierno to repeat the Anbar strategy.

Clearly, the US should look at the possibility of applying the "divide and rule" methods it has applied elsewhere in Iraq to this problem. There is no reason to treat the Shia population as a monolith. There are analogous fissure lines among the various Shia factions and between them and the Shia tribes.

He, after all, has co-written the study the U.S. used to get control over the Anbar tribes.

But the Shia tribes in South Iraq and the economy are already under Iranian control. The Persians know very well how to pay off this or that faction to get things done in the way they like. I doubt that the U.S. can beat them in that trade.

The new "retreat to Baghdad" strategy the U.S. has unveiled is essentially the long expected retreat to the big bases. The task there is to wait for a change in government.

No, not to wait for a change in Baghdad - that government doesn't matter much anyway - but to wait for a regime change in Washington DC.

Posted by b on December 16, 2007 at 01:39 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Myths about N.S.A. Domestic Spying

The new Lichtenblau, Risen, Shane piece on domestic spying deserves notice as it dispels with some myths.

Myth 1: "It's about terrorism"

To detect narcotics trafficking, for example, the government has been collecting the phone records of thousands of Americans and others inside the United States who call people in Latin America, ...

Myth 2: "It began after 9/11"

In the drug-trafficking operation, the N.S.A. has been helping the Drug Enforcement Administration in collecting the phone records showing patterns of calls between the United States, Latin America and other drug-producing regions. The program dates to the 1990s, according to several government officials, but it appears to have expanded in recent years.

and

Senior Justice Department officials in the Bush and Clinton administrations signed off on the operation, which uses broad administrative subpoenas but does not require court approval to demand the records.

and

In December 2000, agency officials wrote a transition report to the incoming Bush administration, saying the [N.S.A.] must become a “powerful, permanent presence” on the commercial communications network, a goal that they acknowledged would raise legal and privacy issues.

Myth 3: "This is only about international calls"

In a separate N.S.A. project, executives at a Denver phone carrier, Qwest, refused in early 2001 to give the agency access to their most localized communications switches, which primarily carry domestic calls, according to people aware of the request, which has not been previously reported.

and

The agency, those knowledgeable about the incident said, wanted to install monitoring equipment on Qwest’s “Class 5” switching facilities, which transmit the most localized calls.

and

The officials, [a former telecom engineer] said, discussed ways to duplicate the Bedminster system in Maryland so the agency “could listen in” with unfettered access to communications that it believed had intelligence value and store them for later review. There was no discussion of limiting the monitoring to international communications, he said.

Myth 4: "This is secure"

The same lawsuit accuses Verizon of setting up a dedicated fiber optic line from New Jersey to Quantico, Va., home to a large military base, allowing government officials to gain access to all communications flowing through the carrier’s operations center. In an interview, a former consultant who worked on internal security said he had tried numerous times to install safeguards on the line to prevent hacking on the system, as he was doing for other lines at the operations center, but his ideas were rejected by a senior security official.

The last point is not obvious for non-technicians, but an unsecured fiber could be snopped at somewhere along the line. No operation center engineer would want to have such a line at all. It's like having three locks on the front door while leaving the backdoor wide open. A unsupervised line into a telecom's operation center is a hackers wet dream.

Tomorrow Senator Reid will introduce the Intelligence Committee N.S.A. bill to the Senate. It includes immunity for the telecoms who, despite the laws forbidding such, allowed the government to snoop on their customers.

Reid could instead introduce the Judiciary Committee bill that doesn't include immunity. But it looks like he was not careful enough in his private communications via phones and email. Now they have him by the balls.

There are several open lawsuits against the telecoms, which would reveal how much the U.S. government really spies on its people. With immunity, all will be terminated.

Senator Dodd promised to filibuster any bill that includes immunity.

He should be careful about what he says on the phone ... After all, he is living in a Surveillance State.

Posted by b on December 16, 2007 at 11:41 AM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Bali Fallout

The Bali Action Plan will not matter much as it does not include binding commitments. But the conference showed an interesting change in attitude towards U.S. neocon stubbornness.

Earlier Enviro-Bamboozler James L. Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, proclaimed:

We will lead. The U.S. will lead, but leadership also requires others to fall in line and follow.

The arrogance of demanding 'leadership' in doing nothing was not appreciated by those 'others':

The head of the U.S. delegation, Paula Dobriansky, undersecretary of state for democracy and global affairs, announced the United States was rejecting the plan. Her comments were met by booing from other delegations.
[...]

After Dobriansky's announcement, a delegate from the developing country of Papua New Guinea challenged the United States to "either lead, follow or get out of the way."

Five minutes later, when it appeared the conference was on the brink of collapse, Dobriansky took the floor again to say the United States was willing to accept the arrangement.

Booing at a diplomatic conference is unheard of. The 'lone superpower' surrendering in public is extraordinary.

Dick Cheney may well shoot Dobriansky for cowardcy in front of the enemy. Papua New Guinea will be added to the Axis of Evil.

But the damage is done. The 'rest of the world' has seen weekness and it will follow up on that. International diplomacy just became much more interesting.

Dobriansky is by the way a neo-conservative and member of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC). Her sister Lariassa is lobbying for Exxon Mobile. Their father worked for Ronald Reagan and was active in various right wing organizations.

The instigators at the National Review, the Weakly Standard bearers and the AEI arsonists will have to take notice. One of their core members failed to hold the line. From now on it's retreat.

Posted by b on December 16, 2007 at 04:58 AM | Permalink | Comments (12)

December 15, 2007

Income Disparity Depression

This is the State of the Union:

The poorest fifth of households had total income of $383.4 billion in 2005, while just the increase in income for the top 1 percent came to $524.8 billion, a figure 37 percent higher.
[...]
Earlier reports, based on tax returns, showed that in 2005 the top 10 percent, top 1 percent and fractions of the top 1 percent enjoyed their greatest share of income since 1928 and 1929.
[...]
On average, incomes for the top 1 percent of households rose by $465,700 each, or 42.6 percent after adjusting for inflation. The incomes of the poorest fifth rose by $200, or 1.3 percent, and the middle fifth increased by $2,400 or 4.3 percent.

The consequences:

The 1920s "boom" enriched only a fraction of the American people. Earnings for farmers and industrial workers stagnated or fell. While this represented lower production costs for companies, it also precluded growth in consumer demand.  Thus, by the mid 1920s the ability of most Americans to purchase new automobiles, new houses and other durable goods was beginning to weaken.
...

This weakening demand was masked, however, by the "great bull market" in stocks on the New York Stock Exchange. The ever-growing price for stocks was, in part, the result of greater wealth concentration within the investor class. Eventually the Wall Street stock exchange began to take on a dangerous aura of invincibility, leading investors to ignore less optimistic indicators in the economy.  Over-investment and speculating (gambling) in stocks further inflated their prices, contributing to the illusion of a robust economy.

The crucial point came in the 1920s when banks began to loan money to stock-buyers since stocks were the hottest commodity in the marketplace. Banks allowed Wall Street investors to use the stocks themselves as collateral. If the stocks dropped in value, and investors could not repay the banks, the banks would be left holding near-worthless collateral. Banks would then go broke, pulling productive businesses down with them as they called in loans and foreclosed mortgages in a desperate attempt to stay afloat.

The replay of the 1920s stock market delusion in 2000/2001 was staved off by Alan Greenspan's rate cuts. These allowed the economic illnesses to fester.

Much too low Fed interest rates induced a housing and mortgage bubble, camouflaging the drop in income that happened all the while with home equity withdrawals.

Now that bubble bursted too. The value of homes will sink by 30 or so percent, putting millions into a situation that makes it preferable to send in the keys and just leave the house to the mortgage owner, whoever may be that (you may want to ask your pension fund about its MBS investment?)

We therefore have to modify the last quoted paragraph:

Banks allowed housing investors to use the houses themselves as collateral. If the houses dropped in value, and investors could not repay the banks, the banks would be left holding near-worthless collateral. Banks would then go broke, pulling productive businesses down with them ...

Lack of demand - who will go out to buy a car or eat out if there's no money - and lack of credit even for decent businesses ... that's where we are again.

The top 1.1 million households will not eat more or drive more cars, no matter how much their income increases. The mass of people will have to lower their consumption as they make less and can't borrow anymore. This is the recipe for another depression.

You want to to avoid this?

Tax the top 1% of households income with 80%, the top 2-10% of households at 60+%. Invest that government money gain in infrastructure, especially for energy independence, through small companies' contracts. Keep out of wars.

There you are.

Posted by b on December 15, 2007 at 03:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (13)

Spoilt Brats

Cloned Poster points to an interesting BBC Newsnight story about an influential UK thinktank and its faked research.

As the Guardian sums up:

A rightwing thinktank which claimed to have uncovered extremist literature on sale at dozens of British mosques was last night accused of basing a report on fabricated evidence.

The report by Policy Exchange alleged that books condoning violent jihad and encouraging hatred of Christians, Jews and gays were being sold in a quarter of the 100 mosques visited.

But BBC2's Newsnight said examination of receipts provided by the researchers to verify their purchases showed some had been written by the same person - even though they purported to come from different mosques.

Several receipts also misspelled the names or addresses of the mosques where the books were supposedly sold.
[...]
Policy Exchange's research director, Dean Godson, insisted it stood by the report "100%". He said the thinktank had checked its evidence thoroughly and the allegations did not challenge the substance of the study - that such extremist literature was being widely sold.

The Policy Exchange report was published on the evening of the Saudi king's state visit to the U.K. It was certainly intended to somewhat influence it.

Dean Godson, the Policy Exchange's research director, is such an extremist neocon that even the editorial page of the rightwing ToryTelegraph fired him. As the Telegraph editor explained:

It's OK to be pro-Israel, but not to be unbelievably pro-Likud Israel, it's OK to be pro-American but not look as if you're taking instructions from Washington. Dean Godson and Barbara Amiel were key departures.

The author of the Policy Exchange report is one Denis MacEoin. As he writes in a bio of his:

Hasbara doesn't just come out of that liberalism or my knowledge of Jews and Judaism, but from a deepening belief that the future of civilization comes down to Israel in one way or another. If Israel goes, the values that have sustained Western civilization will have gone with it. We aren't simply fighting a war on terror, we're fighting for values that once seemed certain to survive and are now being threatened, above all by an unreformed Islam.

Hasbara is public advocacy for Israeli government policy.

On his blog MayEoin presents

arguments to show that Israel actually embodies the best in democracy, anti-racism, religious freedom, and rights for women, gay people, and minorities of different kinds.

Oh really?

These neocons have published false data about Muslim "extremism" to futher the policy of Israel.

Spinwatch has some good reporting on Dean Godson and his brother Ron, The Godson approach to political warfare, that explains how black propaganda and outright lies are their prefered trade.

These people are convinced to be right in their opinions and policy. But as everyone but them thinks those are dumb, foolish and inhuman ideas, they rely on lies and deception to sell them.

When they are caught in such, they whine about it.

Spoilt brats.

Posted by b on December 15, 2007 at 02:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

December 14, 2007

Friday Crane Porn: GTK 1100

Still no cats in my home, so no Friday cat blogging, and also no new barfly artwork to present. Instead, I'll deliver some porn.

Here is a brand new crane that fascinates me since it was announced in April this year.

This is a GTK 1100, a crane specifically build for erecting wind energy mills, at its very first job. (bigger pic)

It is a product of Grove, a U.S. company belonging to the Manitowoc group. But it was engineered and manufactured in Wilhelmshaven, Germany, by a former part of the Krupp group. The idea for this thing came from the junior chief of a German crane operating company, Wiesbauer, which now owns its very first instantiation.

The top high of the crane is 140 meters, 460 feet. Top load is some 100 metric tons, 110 U.S. tons.

The new idea in it is the self-erecting telescopic tower and its bracing. The tower carries a slightly modified top part of a typical telescopic road crane.

So far lattice boom cranes have been used to erect big wind mills. (Here in some recent work on a 5 megawatt tower).

The new GTK 1100 needs only 4-5 truck loads to be transported and it is set up in about six hours. Lattice boom cranes need 15+ truckloads and take days to be erected. Sure, they do have a higher top capacity, but that isn't needed for these energy mills.

A nice computer animation of the GTK concept shows some details. And last week saw the GTK's very first erection and job in the field. Good pictures are available in a German crane forum here and here. (Also at the Wiesbauer site: 1, 2, 3, 4.) There isn't much of technical descriptions out yet, but an unofficial version of a brochure is this pdf from a (slow) Polish site.

Taking a higher point of view, the German concept of subsidizing wind energy for a certain time shows success. Guaranteeing high, but constantly decreasing, sponsored wholesale prices, resulted in a big push for related industries. There are now new companies for engineering and building these mills, the crane manufacturers are booming, the farmers are happy about the new crop. Over the last years some 200,000 new jobs have been directly and indirectly created through alternative energy production.

For a nation with few natural resources and little terrain, these are welcome new Volkswagen, Mercedes and BMW like companies. Exporters built on knowledge and capability that allow a decent amount of national imports without running catastrophic deficits.

Sure, electricity prices have gone up a bit because of the subsidies. But less dependence on fossil energy and on foreign money may help to avoid future resource wars that would come at a much higher price.

Posted by b on December 14, 2007 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Character Assassination

On the front page of the Washington Post, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, Stuart W. Bowen Jr, is assassinated by Robin Wright. Bowen has been lauded for reveiling several corruption scandals of U.S. personal and contractors in Iraq.

The long piece is based on anonymous accounts of "officials" and "current and former employees". The main accusations:

Current and former employees have complained about overtime policies that allowed 10 staff members to earn more than $250,000 each last year. They have questioned the oversight of a $3.5 million book project about Iraq's reconstruction modeled after the 9/11 Commission report. And they have alleged that Bowen and his deputy have improperly snooped into their staff's e-mail messages.

Working in Iraq, the Inspector General's people get 70% in hazard overpay. They also work much longer than they would do in DC - there isn't much else they can do in Iraq - and that certainly makes the pay seem less scandalous.

The piece doesn't go much into the oversight issues, though it quotes a minority(!) staff director of the House Oversight committee to say that there is an ongoing investigation of the inspectors office. But the inspector general says that investigation was closed. Couldn't Robin Wright find the truth? Why wasn't the majority leader asked?

And like any other bosses, the inspector general had announced a policy of reviewing emails his coworkers send in their official capacity. Email from official accounts isn't private.

While going into small details of the above and the IG's work, the hit piece forgets to mention how in 2006 Republicans in Congress tried to shut down the Inspector Generals office:

[T]ucked away in a huge military authorization bill that President Bush signed two weeks ago is what some of Mr. Bowen’s supporters believe is his reward for repeatedly embarrassing the administration: a pink slip.

The order comes in the form of an obscure provision that terminates his federal oversight agency, the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, on Oct. 1, 2007. The clause was inserted by the Republican side of the House Armed Services Committee over the objections of Democratic counterparts during a closed-door conference, and it has generated surprise and some outrage among lawmakers who say they had no idea it was in the final legislation.
[...]
The termination language was inserted into the bill by Congressional staff members working for Duncan Hunter, the California Republican who is the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and who declared on Monday that he plans to run for president in 2008.

That decision was later reversed. But why wasn't this included in the piece at all? Would it have shed light on the sources of the accusations?

The best guess is that Halliburton and Blackwater promissed some additional advertising in the Post. If only that pesky Inspector General could be taken off their back ...

Posted by b on December 14, 2007 at 04:16 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

December 13, 2007

All Quiet on the Iraq Front

I haven't written much about the War on Iraq recently. The very reason is that there isn't much happening to write about. Of course the killing goes on - without making headlines. Resistance bombs blowing up in this or that part of Iraq, dead people turning up every day. Sunni on Shia violence, Sunni on Sunni, Shia on Shia, the U.S. on everyone ...

But there is no process. Peter Beinart has been lambasted for asserting that Iraq will not matter in the 2008 election. If everything stays the way that it is now, he is right. Today Iraq still matters in the polls, but eleven month from now?

One cannot follow the daily barrage of death and carnage with analysis. There are some subtle movements of this or that tribal coalition and Badger thankfully tries to follow those. But do they really matter?

In the U.S. nothing is happening either. The Democrats will give Bush all the money he wants to further wage war and will not attach even one tiny string to it. In their logic, they would be weak if they don't give in to Bush's demands.

Something big needs to happen and will. If a trend can not go on forever, at some point, it will stop. The longer the now perceived calm continues, the bigger will be the outbrake from the trend, or rather the suprise about the divergence.

As Patrick Cockburn explains, Nothing is Resolved in Iraq

Power is wholly fragmented. The Americans will discover, as the British learned to their cost in Basra, that they have few permanent allies in Iraq. It has become a land of warlords in which fragile ceasefires might last for months and might equally collapse tomorrow.

A new generation of fighters is coming to age. The girls and boys that were 13 or 14 when the U.S. invaded, are now grown ups. They don't remember Saddam, only the GIs that broke their homes door and shamed their fathers.

The treacherous perceived quietness might last for months or blow up tomorrow. Beinart is right, if everything stays the way it is now. Given his prediction record, we can be sure that it will not do so.

Posted by b on December 13, 2007 at 03:27 PM | Permalink | Comments (24)

Kosovo Sovereignty

by Debs is Dead
lifted from a comment

'Newfie' Gwynne Dyer has just written an interesting piece on the unraveling Kosovo conundrum.  I have included a link from my local fishwrap, the article will be syndicated through "liberal in name" rags around the planet.

In this article Dyer discusses the the cleft stick the EU nations find themselves in over Kosovo and Russian opposition to independence.

The problem is that while no one likes Russia or their new hydrocarbon pricing structure, and they certainly support some airy fairy wish like "all Kosovars should be free" they like the notion of forcing a sovereign state to fragment against it's will, even less.

Who? What? Why? Could people possibly think that a culturally distinct minority shouldn't be allowed to up sticks and create their own state?

Well how about Spain (the Basques), Cyprus (the Turks), and Romania (Magyars and Roma). That's just for a start the English wouldn't be happy if the Welsh or Scots rediscovered their balls and flicked away hundreds of years of oppression, neither would France (Basque and Catalan) or probably even Germany - Bernhard; I imagine there are still some minorities in the East who didn't get free when Germany was carved up after the Nazi defeat, aren't there?

We forget - those of us that live in the 'New World', exactly how tribal and bloody ethnic conflicts were throughout Europe. In fact delve too far and you'll probably find that if your ancestors jumped ship into the New World back before life in the New World was imagined to be materially superior to that of Europe, and you'll probably find your forebears were fleeing some such conflict. (Mine was Catholic/Protestant, Scots fleeing from english oppression post Culloden, and anti-semitism, a good healthy cross section of what was going around Europe in the 17th and 18th hundreds - yet it's all forgotten, just one example - probably the most popular stop for my nieces and nephews gathering their post graduation O.E. (Overseas Experience as it is known here) is with the proddy relatives of my great grandmother in Armagh. No one ever mentions why the long lost errant son (her father) had to leave, that he took a catholic wife)

It is worth noting that the most vociferous objection to the succession of Kosovo comes from EU newbies Romania and Cyprus who just don't understand.

Consistency and precedent have never been an integral part of Western European politics, the imaginative chap who devises the rationale for a Kosavar state is more than capable of finding reasons why it wouldn't count in Cyprus, or to the Magyars of Romania, as for the gypsies, well no one need worry about that. When is the last time anyone got called a Nazi for telling a good gypsy joke?

Never the less as Dyer points out this is quite a conundrum. There is no way that any support for a Kosovo free from Serbian influence is legal. That and the opposition of the newbies, does raise a much bigger question.

How much longer are we (ordinary shit kickers) going to pledge support for such a manifestly unfair system. A system of laws about sovereignty which has changed little from the days of the divine right of kings to rule?

The only real hope for the future of the human being as an individual is if we can organise ourselves into small (no bigger than a couple of million people) state-lets which are largely self governing apart from the guarantee of basic human rights to all citizens.

Yet it is illegal for even ethnically distinct groups of humans to get together and democratically decide to secede.

Obviously rules about such succession need to quite sophisticated, be developed to prevent situations like Israel from occurring, where culturally distinct geographical groupings have been created by force, but how do we do that?

Until some peak multilateral forum such as the UN general assembly does force a change to international law to legitimise 'liberation movements' violence and injustice will prevail. Yet even those African and Asian states created over brandy and cigars at some European town cum holiday resort are unable to lawfully reorganize into more just and administratively sensible sovereign entities, so how the hell are the Kosovars, Roma or Turkomen ever going to be free?

Posted by b on December 13, 2007 at 01:58 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

December 12, 2007

The Fed's Credibility

The Fed today announced to inject another thick pile of billions into the credit markets:

The Fed, the U.S. central bank, said it would launch a "temporary term auction facility" that banks can use to secure loans at its discount window.

"This facility could help promote the efficient dissemination of liquidity when the unsecured interbank markets are under stress," the Fed said in a statement.

The banks do not trust each other anymore. They refrain from lending one another on normal terms. This because no one knows how much bad debt any bank is holding. There are just too many off-balance-sheet vehicles out there holding bad debt: mortgages, car loans, credit card loans. Who owns these vehicles? What is the real value of their holdings? What happens if they have to liquify their holdings? Will their sponsor bank have to take the loss? Does it have enough capital to take the loss?

All these questions are open. Now the Fed steps in and takes on the risk other banks do not want to take. The NYT's Floyd Norris sees Fear at the Fed:

The combined actions of the world’s central banks on Wednesday smacks of a real fear that the world’s financial system is in trouble.
...
The Fed will lend money to banks based on almost any asset they own, even ones that are not liquid at all. That will include some of the more exotic loans and securities out there.

The Fed will 'create' and dispense fresh money and accept junk as collateral. It hopes that the lenders will be able to pay back. What happens if they can't?

Numerian thinks:

This is the very type of “slippery slope” that the Fed warns its banks about. A little risk here, and another little risk there, leads to increasingly inability to refuse taking on ever-greater risks.
[...]
Somehow, for nearly a century of operation, the Federal Reserve functioned well by accepting only a limited type of very high quality collateral for very short term periods from its member banks. Now it is on its own slippery slope. Its only real asset is its credibility, which in the markets is currently very high. But central bank credibility can be lost as quickly as liquidity can one day exist in abundance and the next day disappear.

It would be fine for the Fed to pursue such actions and take the risk, if it would have a chance to solve the problems. It does not. Roubini:

[T]his is the first real crisis of financial globalization and securitization; it will take years of major policy, regulatory and supervisors reform to clean up this disaster and create a sounder global financial system; monetary policy cannot resolve years of reckless behavior by regulators and supervisors that were asleep at the wheel while the credit excesses of the last few years were taking place. Now the US hard landing and global sharp slowdown is unavoidable and monetary policy – if aggressive enough with much greater and rapid reduction in policy rates – may only be able to affect how long and protracted this hard landing will be.

Today the Fed can still influence the markets and the general economy by talking tough and taking small steps in its monetary policy. But what it announced today indeed smells of panic and loss of self confidence.

There will come market situations where the Fed is needed and could really matter, like a general run on consumer banks or a Dollar crash. When the Fed takes on too much risk and starts to lacks credibility, its effect in times of real crisis will be less than is to desire.

Posted by b on December 12, 2007 at 02:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (16)

OT 07-83

The blog lives through your comments.

News & views ... open thread ...

Posted by b on December 12, 2007 at 03:44 AM | Permalink | Comments (103)

December 11, 2007

CIA Torture Responsibility

Picking up from Hannah K. O'Luthon:

None of the following links are "nice", but overall they seem to indicate that the question of CIA torture (who ordered it, who did it, and what it wrought on both its victims and its perpetrators) is about to be reconsidered under a more intense light than previously.

In particular the ABC interview with John Kiriakou (transcripts here and here) will merit analysis beyond that of the 230 comments at the ABC site or the discussion at Larry Johnson's No Quarter blog or the TPM Muckraker site

We seem (in my un-informed view) to be once again in the presence of a little fish being tossed into the mediatic maw while those really responsible remain in the shadows.

The interview with Kirakou seems to be well prepared and the man is very careful in what he does say and does not say. It certainly pushes the spotlight on those who ordered the "Verschärfte Vernehmungen" (enhanced interrogations), i.e. torture.

I am not sure why this is put out now, but together with the recent hit-piece on Pelosi, it smells like part of a CIA warning campaign to the torture enablers in the White House and Congress. "If you go after us, we know how to pay back ..."

There is, by the way, a direct connection between systematic nazi-torture in German concentration camps and the torture methods used by the CIA. This was laid out and backed by documents in recent German TV documentations.

A main figure in the connection is Henry K. Beecher, an anesthetist at Harvard Medical School. He reviewed medical journals of experiments in Dachau for the U.S. Army and he 'debriefed' Dr. Walter Schreiber, who assigned and directed medical 'research' in German concentration camps like Dachau.

Beecher also experimented with drugs, especially mescaline, to get the 'truth' out of prisoners. At least one of the persons he ordered to be drugged was killed by it. Beecher took part in the CIA's Project ARTICHOKE which, in the early 1950s, researched interrogation methods by 'experiments' on humans in Germany.

The results of the project were summed up in the CIA document "KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation" which describes interrogation techniques, including "coercive counterintelligence interrogation of resistant sources". The document was the base of the "Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual" used by the infamous School of the Americas. The trail continues through Death Squads, Disappearances, and Torture -- from Latin America to Iraq.

All methods used in Dachau, long standing, cold rooms, dogs, nakedness, drugs, were also used on CIA prisoners after 9/11. That is not a coincidence.

There is a direct track from Dachau to Abu Ghraib and it passes through Langley, Virginia. That track would not exist without the tacit approval and funding by Washington.

The recent CIA revelations are, in my view, designed to remind the co-conspirators in DC of their complicity in these crimes. This just a day before the Congressional hearings about the 'destroyed' CIA videotapes of waterboarding and other torture.

Posted by b on December 11, 2007 at 01:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (18)

December 10, 2007

WaPo on Wearing the Skirt

The reporting about the presidential candidates is tiring. Journalists are diving deep into the 'real' issues. They explain in detail the concepts this or that candidate presents about health insurance, farm subsidies or trivialities like waging wars.

But nobody cares for this stuff. Too many reports are about the issues the candidates stand for. Voters don't bother to read them. They'd rather want to know about the candidates legs.

We are therefore thankful to WaPo's talented Robin Givhan deep meditation on the candidate who is Wearing the Skirt:

The mind, so easily distracted by things mauve and lemon yellow, strays from more pressing concerns to ponder the sartorial: How many skirts does Rudi Giuliani have in his closet? And does he ever wear them in the same combination more than once?
[...]

Men have come a long way from the time when wearing a skirt was considered "borrowing from the girls." So it would be highly regressive to suggest that the candidate is using skirts to heighten the perception that he is not only tough as a man. And yet . . .
[...]
Is even considering the former mayor's clothes a kind of chauvinistic assault? Or is it merely the intellect trying to wrangle some sort of order out of the imagination? Oh, the tumult!
[...]
Those are the color choices of someone who not only wants to stand out, but is happy to do so in a palette that is quintessentially male. Those are not the typical color choices of East Coast chardonnay swillers, for whom black is a symbol of sophistication and Élan. Bold colors are more common in the vast midsection and southern parts of the country. Giuliani-the-human-color-wheel is wooing Ohio and Florida.

He also has made a clear visual distinction between himself as mayor and as presidential candidate. As mayor, he played to tradition, dutifully wearing pants of an unflattering length and jackets shaped like a rectangle. But now it is not so far-fetched to believe that his wardrobe is a way of reminding voters that a man can have as much peacock bravado as the girls.

Now, can't she write?

But it is fiction. Givhan didn't opine on Giuliani's drag nor on  Fred Thompson's cleavage. She is simply bothered by Hillary Clinton being a woman. Something that goes much deeper than any policy issue.

But while she is at that, musing about Giuliani would make much more sense.


Inner Circle performance 2001

Mayor's Inner Circle Press Roast 2000

Video's:
Rudy Giuliani with Donald Trump
He's Da Man!
He Feels Pretty

Slideshow:
Rudy in Leather and Lace

Posted by b on December 10, 2007 at 11:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (18)

Third time is a charm?

by Debs is Dead
lifted from a comment

Virtually every human who takes an interest in things beyond their front gate will have noticed the announcement by News Corp that Rupert Murdoch's son James Murdoch has been appointed heir apparent of the despicable NewsCorp.

The Grauniad's Sunday edition, "The Observer" provides a little more detail on the position James has been stuffed in to, in a weekend sycophantic puff piece called a 'profile'. Writer James Robinson must consider he may one day return to the Murdoch stable, which famed for their elephantine memory of past slights is not a mob you want to offend. He therefore describes James as a 'quiet family man'.

Which is interesting because as Robinson goes on to say:

. . ."a newly created post at its parent company News Corp, where he will run the group's European and Asian operations. He takes responsibility for the Times, the Sun and the News of The World, the group's powerful stable of British newspapers, a move that makes him the most powerful opinion-former in the country. . . ."

Those unfamiliar with NewsCorp's english titles other than The Times, should know that News of the World and the Sun are the two most reviled rags in the foul swill which passes for an English media. They specialize in black-mailer style traps of their 'marks' where anyone who has had 15 minutes or more exposure especially by way of a rival publication's exclusive, is likely to be set up with a live boy, dead girl, gerbil and a container load of whatever drug the rag's 'contractors' can get their hands upon. The result is then video-taped at some 'country hotel' away from London to ensure that the victim has no redress, Yet another human has their world destroyed in the interests of selling the nasty, racist and capitalist lies the papers put between their revelations about minor pop singers, fading athletes , and of course, "The Royals".

What a quiet family man hopes to achieve by supervising this blackmailer's paradise is difficult to imagine.

It would be foolish to think that he will be entirely free of "Daddy's" shadow.  The last heir apparent number one son Lachlan Murdoch had a very free hand but not only did he fuck up big by getting into a silly bidding war/pissing contest with rival Australian Media magnate Kerry Packer's son James over sports franchises and their TV rights, then he and James Packer blew millions on a Telco scam devised by a couple of poorer but less scrupulous "old school chums", he also managed to be implicated on the fringes of a corporate scam when Australian financier Lou Adler's son Rodney played fast and loose with the shareholder's funds.

Time has washed away most of the details but it appears the three young anointed were a little too arrogant for their own good. James Packer was also involved in the Insurance mess, I think he may have lost a lot more of Daddy's money than 'Lauchie' but since the Packers have in the main preferred private company holdings to publicly listed corporations, no one can be sure and without disgruntled shareholders whining, it gets quickly forgotten. However Rupert didn't forget or forgive quite so easily and Lauchie was 'encouraged' to spend more time in New York 'learning the ropes' than hooning around Double Bay with his millionaire mates.

That became old fast, so Lauchie spat the dummy and came home. 

That was when James was first mooted as heir in waiting.

Before Lauchie was Elisabeth, named after her grandmother and Rupert's mother, Elisabeth was the eldest child, with an interest in business, so got first crack of the whip. A capable businesswoman, Elisabeth appears to have fallen out with Rupert's right hand man Sam Chisholm, and therefore fell out of favour with Rupert.

Personally I doubt she ever was in favour. Murdochian misogyny would not allow the empire to be run by a woman. Rupert sees women as the duplicitous power behind the throne, never sitting upon it. Rupert has founded his empire on exploiting women in one form or another, either by way of his scantily clad page 3 'girls' or by portraying them as harlots and seducers in countless "Sex Scandals".)

The innate misogyny probably stems from the treatment he received at the hands of Elisabeth Murdoch 1, his mother, as a child. Although they lived in a huge mansion; when Rupert was allowed home from his spartan and oppressive boarding school he would be 'put up' in a sleep-out. This structure was made of plywood and mosquito netting and set in a remote corner of the estate. The 'sleep out' had no running water or electricity. Rupert was expected to live a lifestyle in direct contrast to his wealth in the belief it would "toughen him up".

Rupert was the child of media boss Sir Keith Murdoch.  Keith's interference in the running of WW1 is a typical piece of Murdochian media manipulation. 

Although ambitious Keith was an out and out bumbler in comparison to Rupert. The edge in Rupert probably comes from Elisabeth who was her husband's intellectual superior.

Elisabeth 1 who makes Barbara Bush seem like Florence Nightingale in comparison, manipulated Rupert into his father's job ahead of more worthy candidates (remember the Murdochs have always used other people's money) by using the iron paw concealed beneath a velvet glove routine which Rupert himself has become famous for. I suspect his long term adulation of the Thatcher thing, is related to the fear he has always had for his mother. He saw two very similar people in Margaret Thatcher and Elisabeth Murdoch.

Unfortunately for James Murdoch, he is unlikely to get the opportunity to step into his father's shoes any time soon.

Hell Elisabeth 1 is still in charge anyhow, and she is only 98. She will be bossing around her servants, bullying them into getting everything ready for this year's family Xmas party. I betcha that will be a grim Presbyterian affair where all emotion is subsumed to the great god mammon.

By the time Media Corp does need a replacement for Rupert, the offspring of wife number 3, Wendi Deng, two daughters named Grace and Chloe will loom large in the Murdoch consciousness. Wendi Deng is by all accounts more like Elisabeth 1 and Margaret Thatcher than his previous wives were, so she may succeed in trumping his distaste for a female heir.

Third time's a charm is not more than a long shot.

P.S. Others who also share a distaste for reducing a human's life to a series of scandals and/or repeating gossip, may want to remember that the Murdochs live well on their lack of scruple or discretion about other humans' existence.

I have no compunction whatsoever about repeating Murdoch gossip, any slight twists or exaggerations to be found in this account should be regarded as an homage to the master distorter.

Posted by b on December 10, 2007 at 03:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (16)

December 09, 2007

She Lived in Dread of Rumors

by beq

 


She Lived in Dread of Rumors
by beq

(bigger) 

beq adds music by Kodo, especially song no. 9 from the Mondo Head album: Echo Bells.

Somehow the download doesn't work for me (maybe it is geographically limited?), but there are some Mondo Head tracks available at the producers website.

Posted by b on December 9, 2007 at 11:27 AM | Permalink | Comments (9)

December 08, 2007

Stockhausen RIP

The musician and composer Karlheinz Stockhausen died today.

After a concert of his sometime around 1995, we talked about unsuspected music in the daily environment. Living next to a railway station at that time, I mentioned the distinct, suprisingly clean six note ton sequence of accelerating ICE highspeed trains.

But I never got to send him the tape I promissed and the "Concert for Five ICE Trains" will stay unwritten. Stockhausen's Helicopter String Quartet is a fine alternative.

Posted by b on December 8, 2007 at 01:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

CIA Tapes

As the the NYT and others reported yesterday, the CIA in 2005 destroyed hours of video tapes which documented the torture interogations of two alleged 'Al-Qaida operatives'.

This is obviously obstruction of justice as well as obstruction of the inquiries by the 9/11 commission. This by the CIA as well as the Justice Department which earlier denied the existence of such tapes in front of a federal court.

The White House, the Justice Department and Congress committee members now say they adviced the CIA not to destroy the tapes. The CIA assures us that this was a lone decision taken against such advice by Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., then the chief of the agency’s clandestine service, in 2005. Rodriguez is now retired.

As usual, the coverup is the crime that breaks the case. The torture itself was a crime against humanity, wellknown and so far legally untouched. To destroy the tapes is obvious obstruction of justice that will likely have consequences.

Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the director of the C.I.A., claimed this week that the relevant Congress committees were informed, after the fact, about the destruction of the tapes. Committee leaders form both parties deny this. Hayden's statement is not yet criminal, but as soon as he is asked under oath ...

Congress wants to look into this. But with Senator Rockefeller as the relevant Senate committee chairman, nothing will come out. The House may have a better chance to get more information.

Two points:

1. There are always copies of such tapes.

2. The White House somewhat denies any presidential knowledge on the issue by a very carefully worded statement:

Dana Perino, the White House spokeswoman, said Friday that President Bush “has no recollection of being made aware of the tapes or their destruction” before this week.

Nice try and obviously not a clean denial. What did the president know and when did he know it? Did he really forget how he laughed at those screams?

I recommend a thorough search through Bush's private video collection. Cheney's and Rumsfeld's private archives also deserve some scrutinity. A rerun of the relevant scenes might refresh their memories.

Posted by b on December 8, 2007 at 04:15 AM | Permalink | Comments (32)

December 07, 2007

The World of Mitt Romney

The world according to Mitt Romney:

War requires peace just as peace requires war. War and peace endure together, or perish alone.

or

Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.

or

Ignorance requires strength just as strength requires ignorance. Ignorance and strength endure together, or perish alone.

or

Freedom requires slavery just as slavery requires freedom. Freedom and slavery endure together, or perish alone.

Your guess ...

Posted by b on December 7, 2007 at 09:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (17)

December 06, 2007

The Debt Bubbles and Interest Rates

The public attention is still on the default of subprime mortgage loans. There the defaults are further increasing:

One in every five adjustable-rate subprime loans had late payments in the quarter, a number that excludes the one of every 10 already in foreclosure, the trade group said. Foreclosures started on all types of mortgages rose to an all-time high of 0.78 percent from 0.65 percent.

When you can get Two Houses for the Price of One something is indeed very wrong.

The parameters of the mortgage rescue operation by the "broad coalition", i.e. Wall Street, have been released. The idea is to forestall interest increases on some Adjustable Rate Mortgages for some time. The announced plan is quite restrictive, legally flawed and will likely be ineffective:

Barclays Capital — extrapolating from a similar program recently unveiled in California — estimates that only about 12 percent of all subprime borrowers, or 240,000 homeowners, would get relief.

The Citigroup bailout via a 'Super Fund' for Structured Investment Vehicles is, like I expected, going nowhere. The size of the plan has been halfed to $50 billion and, as predicted, the three involved banks have found no one else who will take part in this looser scheme.

The credit problems are widening. The banks securitized all kind of loans and sold them off as Collateral Debt Obligations. Mortgages defaults are up. Now auto loan defaults are increasing. In the next step securitized credit card loans will follow. People who can not pay their mortgage also can not pay for their car or balance their credit cards. Student loans are another problem. When the economy slows down, defaulting commercial loans will add to the shitpile of bad debt.

The inappropriate lose credit standards, induced by much too low central bank rates in 2001-2006, were extended to all types of credits. The inevitably higher default rates of such lose credits were inexcusably not anticipated by the rating agencies and CDO investors.

Here is a nice flash animation explaining the CDO mechanisms. Mortgages and other loans were bundled, chunked up and classified by estimated default rates. These CDOs were sold off to various investors. Credit repayments first gush into the 'top bucket' of AAA rated CDOs. The overflow fills the lower buckets of Aa rated CDO's and so on. If the mortgage payments slow to a trickle, the lower buckets will stay empty and their value trend to zero. That normally wouldn't be a problem, but when many mortgages default, even the Aa buckets or even the top class AAA buckets will have losses. This is where we are right now.

The situation was certainly not unforeseen. This interesting NYT piece explains how many big banks, especially Paulson's Goldman Sachs, insured or sold their own holdings of risky CDO papers while marketing the same junk to pension funds and other dumb investors. Now these investors and their clients are in trouble.

With defaults and dubious investment holdings all around, the economy is in deep trouble. To prevent or at least cushion the economic downturn Roubini called for the central banks to lower interest rates. All of them, except the European Central Bank, seem to follow that advice.

I regard this as pushing on a string with bad side effects. Let me explain.

In normal times the central bank sets an interest rate which is the price big international banks pay to borrow from the central bank. The big banks add a bit to the interest rate they have to pay and then loan the money to other banks. From there the new creditlines are given to manufactures etc. who can use the money in their operations and hopefully make a return above the rate they have to pay. (This is simplified, but the principal holds.)

The lower the central bank sets the rate, the more likely manufacturers will use the cheaper money to invest and make a profit on these new investments. A rate decrease induces an increase in economic activities.

When the economy runs too hot and prices go up because all capacities are in full use, the central bank will increase its interest rate to cool the economic activities and to stop the inflationary tendencies.

It takes somewhat between 12 to 18 month until a rate change is measurable as a change in economic output.

But the model has two problems.

If the cheap money the FED is pushing into the economy is invested in non productive issues, asset bubbles occure. This was the case between 1995 and 2000 in the tech stock market and later in housing and consumption. The manufacturing investment did happen too - not in the U.S. but in China. The classic central bank theories stop at the boarder and are thereby somewhat flawed.

The second problem in the central bank model is the assumption that the lending between banks pushing the cheap money into the markets is reliable and occurs with only a modest addition to the central interest rates.

The London Inter Bank Offered Rate is the rate one bank will charge the other for an unsecured loan. Usually the LIBOR is a constant bit higher than the central bank rate. But with the defaulting CDOs and lack of knowledge about who owns such junk, banks have stopped to trust each other.

Who knows how creditworthy the counterpart really is when there is so much bad debt around?

Bank A now demands a high risk premium for any loan it may give to bank B. The difference between the central bank rate and LIBOR is therefore now much higher than usual. It is no longer driven by the central bank rate, but only by fear of a possible counterpart default.

The normal FED easing mechanism is broken. Even if the central banks lower rates the interbank rates will not decrease.

This will only be fixed when banks start to trust each other again. As long as banks and other entities do not fess up about their debt and their losses on CDO holdings, the trust will not come back.

Any lowering of the FED rate will not fire up the economy but the big banks will take the money and put it into vaults or invest it into secure assets, most likely commodities, and thereby increase general inflation. The resulting economic state is known as Stagflation.

So my reasoning is different than Roubini's. He seems to believe the system still works: lowering of the central bank rate will help to cushion the recession and induce new economic activity. He disregards any clear possibility of higher inflation.

Like Jim Rogers I believe that any lowering of the central bank rates will push money not into the productive economy, but into some unproductive assets class, likely commodities, and induce another bubble there. The summary effect is increasing inflation in a recessive or stagnating economy.

Only renewed trust between all economic entities, banks, manufacturers and consumers can repair the system. To regain this trust, the bad entities have to be shaken out. A real recession will do this. Any attempt to cushion it, by some half assed rescue schemes for faulty mortgages and bad investments, or by near zero-interest central bank money, will likely prolong the pain while at the same time inducing very unhealthy side effects, i.e. inflation.

Posted by b on December 6, 2007 at 12:29 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)

The NIE is a Ruse

The Iran NIE starts with this (pdf):

We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program

The above sentence has two chunks of information. One, Iran has no current nuclear weapon program, was greated with great relief, including by me, as it makes an attack on Iran during Bush's remaining reign unlikely. That chunk, which we are happy about, induces us to trust the second chunk and the whole NIE. We want to believe in this.

But by swallowing that chunk we are pressed to also automatically swallow the other part: the assertion that Iran really had a nuclear weapons program up to 2003.

As Chris Floyd notes:

By accepting the NIE report uncritically -- because part of it does indeed reveal that the Bushists have been lying about the Iranian threat for years -- they inadvertantly (or willingly) buy into the report's underlying assumption: that Iran really was building a bomb all these years, and only stopped because big bad Bush rolled into Baghdad and put the fear of God into them. Thus the report can be seen as accepting a bit of short-lived bad PR -- "NIE Report Muddies the Water in Administration Stance on Iran," etc. (and that's as bad as it would ever get with the corporate media) -- in exchange for "confirmation" of the Regime's basic contention (the dire threat posed by Iran) and another "justification" of the war crime in Iraq.

The 2005 NIE was not at all sure about the existence of a nuclear weapon program in Iran. As Dafna Linzer wrote back in 2005 about that now old NIE:

The new National Intelligence Estimate includes what the intelligence community views as credible indicators that Iran's military is conducting clandestine work. But the sources said there is no information linking those projects directly to a nuclear weapons program. What is clear is that Iran, mostly through its energy program, is acquiring and mastering technologies that could be diverted to bombmaking.

Did Iran hide stuff it should have disclosed? Yes it did. But one can understand this as Iran tried for a long time to acquire civil nuclear technology. All contracts Iran tried to make with the 'west' to this regard were broken under pressure from the U.S. At a point Iran decided that it would have to go clandestine to achieve something at all. By 2002 information about the clandestine efforts got out.

In 2003 the IAEA detailed (pdf) the issues Iran had hidden. All of these issues are explainable as parts of a civil nuclear program. Currently Iran and the IAEA have a work plan for clearing up the last IAEA questions on these issues. Iran is 'coming clean'. The IAEA has never asserted that Iran had a military nuclear program and I expect it to certify that there has never been one sometime next year.

The only issue that would be open after that, is Iran's adherence to the Additional Protocol of the NPT, which allows all over intrusive IAEA inspection. Iran voluntarily adhered to the protocol until its case was referred to the UN Security Council. If the Security Council hands the issue back to the IAEA, Iran is likely to agree to again allow intrusive inspections.

The IAEA has up to today not found ANY evidence for a nuclear weapon program in Iran. But the new NIE asserts this with "high confidence". Why can this be so?

Today's NYT has some spin that tries to explain:

American intelligence agencies reversed their view about the status of Iran’s nuclear weapons program after they obtained notes last summer from the deliberations of Iranian military officials involved in the weapons development program, senior intelligence and government officials said on Wednesday.

The notes included conversations and deliberations in which some of the military officials complained bitterly about what they termed a decision by their superiors in late 2003 to shut down a complex engineering effort to design nuclear weapons, including a warhead that could fit atop Iranian missiles.
...
The officials said they were confident that the notes confirmed the existence, up to 2003, of a weapons programs that American officials first learned about from a laptop computer, belonging to an Iranian engineer, that came into the hands of the C.I.A. in 2004.

Ok - lets get the timeline straight: First came The Laptop, which I believe is forgery (emptywheel also wrote about The Laptop: 1, 2, 3 and 4), then the U.S. obtained some "notes". 

Can you imagine high military folks in Iran writing "notes" in which they "bitterly complain" about government policies with regard to nukes? Wouldn't that risk their immediate demotion or something much worse?

No way I'll swallow that one.

If the U.S. has information on a Iranian weapon program it should give that to the IAEA so it can be verified. Unless the IAEA confirms this information, there is absolutely no reason to believe any of it.

That the U.S. is refusing to hand over its 'information' to the IAEA is simply an attempt to create new 'issues' and to make it impossible for Iran to defend itself against the accusations and the 'secret evidence'.

For now a hot war with Iran is unlikely. But a warm war on Iran is already going on. This is economic warfare.

Like with Iraq after 1991, the U.S. is trying to degrade Iran's economic capabilities through sanctions. It took 11 years to get Iraq so far down that it could not put up any resistance to the U.S. invasion. It will take longer with Iran, but the U.S. is trying hard.

When Bush declared the Al-Quds force, part of the Iranian military, a "terrorist organization" that was big news. But the steps really taken were not against the Al-Quds. The order Bush signed put the top three Iranian banks, Bank Melli, Bank Mellat and Bank Saderat, out of business with the "west".

Imagine Goldman-Sachs, Bank of America, and Citigroup being unable to conduct any foreign transaction. They wouldn't survive long and the U.S. economy would be hit hard.

The U.S., both parties, want to keep these instruments in place: slow economic death or at least diminishing Iran's capacities to a point where a future invasion becomes viable. The Carter doctrine is well alive.

The whole "nuclear issue" is only a device to achieve regime change and unrestricted hegemony of the U.S. over the Persian Gulf, its countries and oil.

Posted by b on December 6, 2007 at 05:07 AM | Permalink | Comments (36)

December 05, 2007

How to Kill Fishermen

Traditional beer taverns on the North-German coasts have candles burning at each table. Visiting smokers should beware of lighting their cigarettes with these. It will inevitably provoke some harsh reaction by the locals or the publician.

"Stop that! Each time you light a smoke with a candle you kill a fisherman!"

Most folks, even those protesting the atrocious deed, have long forgotten why this is believed to be so. But every child here knows by heart that you just don't do that. It kills fishermen.

Here's the background story as it was told to me a long time ago.

During the dark wintertimes the seas are roaring, the winds gusty and the big rivers frozen. There's no chance to sail out for fish. The fishermen are out of pay and go hungry.

To survive, the fisher families gather in their huts around the table. They chip dry wood into tiny splints. They dunk the tips of these into a strong smelling can in front of them. The result is carefully lined up aside to eventually dry. The can holds a well stirred mixture of yellow phosphor, sulfer, potassium chlorate and gum arabicum. The fishermen produce matches. At daytime, they and their children will roam the market and knock on doors to sell them.

Lighting a smoke with a candle robs the fishermen of their only winter income. It kills.

The wisdom from that old tale is still kept alive as a social norm here, long after its reason went away. It is so ingrained in me that I don't dare to use a candle to light up, even when alone.

But then, many of our small rites, morals and believes are kept alive for generations, while their original background and usefullness long disappeared.

Posted by b on December 5, 2007 at 02:44 PM | Permalink | Comments (19)

OT 07-82

We need your comments, news & views ...

Open thread ...

Posted by b on December 5, 2007 at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (109)

December 04, 2007

The Iran NIE - Reactions

As one who has feared a U.S. attack on Iran, I am personally relieved that the relase of the new National Intelligence Estimate makes such prospects unlikely:

Political sources in Israel said Monday night that it appears that the Bush administration has lost the sense of urgency and determination to carry out a military strike against Iran in 2008. The same sources said that the United States is unlikely to strike Iran in 2008, and will make do with more severe sanctions against Tehran.

I'll sleep better now. Even Bush's latest red line has been crossed without consequences. Six weeks ago he said:

I've told people that if you're interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.

Now the NIE asserts (pdf):

We assess with high confidence that Iran has the scientific, technical and industrial capacity eventually to produce nuclear weapons if it decides to do so.

Let's review the press reactions today which answer some questions about the NIE release I asked yesterday:

The new NIE claims that Iran has stopped its "nuclear weapon program" in 2003. Every press report repeats that line. Only the New York Times quotes the IAEA which has never found any hint for such a program in the first place:

“Despite repeated smear campaigns, the I.A.E.A. has stood its ground and concluded time and again that since 2002 there was no evidence of an undeclared nuclear weapons program in Iran,” a senior agency official said. “It also validates the assessment of the director general that what the I.A.E.A. inspectors have seen in Iran represented no imminent danger.”
...
Another official close to the agency said it was striking that the American assessment stated with certainty that Iran had a nuclear weapons program in the past, a conclusion the agency has never formally reached.

Cyrus Safdari at Iran Affairs puts it a bit harsher:

[T]he NIEs are hogwash. There is still no evidence of any nuclear weapons program in Iran; not today, not in 2003, not ever.

The wrong assertion of a Iranian nuclear weapon program up to 2003 may be some cover-your-ass tactic by the Intelligence Community, or it may be a preparation to reintroduce the "threat" when it is convinient.

In general all reports seem to accept the NIE's general finding that there currently is no nuke program in Iran. Even Jonah Goldberg at the National Review Online concedes:

It seems to me one can have all of the usual caveats that come with both our intelligence agencies and The New York Times, and still agree that the bar for bombing Iran has not only not been met yet, but that it's arguably moving farther away.

Quoted in the LA Times ultra hawk John Bolton seems to have given up:

Asked what effect the document might have on the debate within the Bush administration, Bolton said: "There really isn't any debate. Secretary Rice and Secretary Gates have fundamentally won. This is an NIE very conveniently teed up for what the administration has been doing."

There are a few holdouts though. A Weakly Standard blog entry has: Five Questions Concerning the Latest NIE and in a Guardian comment neocon Oliver Kamm has a hilarious argument on why all thought of a peaceful Iran is A dangerous fantasy.

So the neocons ain't dead. The NIE finding may be the very reason why Wolfowitz is put into position as chairman of the International Security Advisory Board:

The 18-member panel, which has access to highly classified intelligence, advises Rice on disarmament, nuclear proliferation, WMD issues and other matters. "We think he is well suited and will do an excellent job," said one senior official.

A second chance for Team B?

The Israelis are miffed and try to keep up their war mongering. The Jerusalem Post relays Ehud Barak:

Iran is continuing in its efforts to produce a nuclear bomb, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Tuesday morning, ..
...
According to the defense minister, Iran had indeed stopped its program four years ago but has since renewed it.

Barak's evidence? Nothing!

There are several theories why the new NIE has 180 degree different finding from the 2005 NIE.

The Washington Post writes:

Senior officials said the latest conclusions grew out of a stream of information, beginning with a set of Iranian drawings obtained in 2004 and ending with the intercepted calls between Iranian military commanders, that steadily chipped away at the earlier assessment.

In one intercept, a senior Iranian military official was specifically overheard complaining that the nuclear program had been shuttered years earlier, according to a source familiar with the intelligence. The intercept was one of more than 1,000 pieces of information cited in footnotes to the 150-page classified version of the document, an official said.

That reminds a bit of the intercepts Colin Powell quoted and played in front of the UN, 'proving' that Iraq had WMDs. The New York Times has a different angle:

In the summer of 2005, senior American intelligence officials began traveling the world with a secret slide show drawn from thousands of pages that they said were downloaded from a stolen Iranian laptop computer, trying to prove that Iran was lying when it said it had no interest in building a nuclear weapon.
...
Now, that assertion has been thrown into doubt by a surprising reversal: the conclusion, contained in the declassified summary of a new National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear programs, that Iran’s effort to master the technology of building a nuclear weapon had halted two years before those briefings.

At the time of the laptop slide show, some European and United Nations officials questioned what they were being shown. “I can fabricate that data,” one said at the time. “It looks beautiful, but it is open to doubt.”

When this mysterious all-telling laptop was first revealed in early 2006, I immediately mocked its alleged importance. The Laptop came to the CIA via the MEK, the Iran opposing terror-cult that is under the protection of the neocons. The CIA never revealed The Laptop's content to the IAEA. I believe that The Laptop was the base for the earlier findings. Maybe the Intelligence Community now finally agreed with me that its value and provinence is the same as the forged Nigeran letters 'proving' Iraqi yellowcake purchase.

McClatchy explains why the NIE was published at all.

The Democratic-controlled Congress ordered the production of the NIE amid concerns that the Bush administration was hyping the threat as it had in Iraq.
...
In the end, said the [State Department] official, it was decided that if the unclassified summary wasn't made public, that would increase the chances that classified parts of the document might leak. If that were to happen, the administration would be accused of suppressing intelligence that found that Iran's nuclear program wasn't as immediate a threat as the White House had suggested.

Timing: Best expressed by Peter Baker and Robin Wright in WaPo. Short version: "Bush lied":

President Bush got the world's attention this fall when he warned that a nuclear-armed Iran might lead to World War III. But his stark warning came at least a month or two after he had first been told about fresh indications that Iran had actually halted its nuclear weapons program.
...
Hadley said Bush was first told in August or September about intelligence indicating Iran had halted its weapons program, but was advised it would take time to evaluate. Vice President Cheney, Hadley and other top officials were briefed the week before last. Intelligence officials formalized their conclusions on Tuesday and briefed Bush the next day.

The U.S. congress should be concerned. Why was Israel informed of the new NIE before the Senators and Representatives found out about it? Haaretz:

The report, which discounted the likelihood that Iran is on a path to develop nuclear weapons soon, did not catch the Israeli leadership by surprise. During their visit to Washington last week, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak were briefed on the report.

If I were a Chinese or European diplomat I would be pissed. There were negotiations over new sanctions on Sunday, without the NIE findings revealed to them:

A senior US official said on Monday that Russia and China were "constructive" when they were discussing at the weekend with the United States, Britain, France and Germany to impose new sanctions against Iran over its disputed nuclear program.

A few hours later Burn's success in working for new sanctions is down the gully: Now China opposes more Iran sanctions and European officials are embarrassed:

[They] added that they were struggling to understand why the United States chose to issue the report just two days after the six powers involved in negotiating with Iran — the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany — had decided to press ahead with a new Security Council resolution.

“Officially, we will study the document carefully; unofficially, our efforts to build up momentum for another resolution are gone,” said one European official involved in the diplomacy.

Another senior European official called the conclusions of the assessment “unfathomable.”

As McClachy correctly states:

[The declassified key judgments] deal another blow to the administration's credibility and influence, already battered by its use of bogus and exaggerated intelligence to justify its 2003 invasion of Iraq.

No wonder then that Iran welcomes [the] US atomic report.

There is currently a Gulf Cooperation Council meeting (the six Arab Gulf states) to which, for the first time ever, Iran was invited. GCC leaders host Ahmadinejad at summit

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Monday offered to sign a security pact with Gulf Arab leaders as he became the first president from the Islamic republic to be invited to their annual summit.

The pact Ahmedinejad propsed would include civil nuclear cooperation (btw: Bush will love this picture) Earlier the Crown Prince of Bahrein, Sheik Salman bin Isa al-Khalifa, had accused Iran to deceive about a nuclear weapons program. With the new NIE, Bahrain, where the GCC meets, is embarressed and the issue will be off the table. One now can expect that there will further talks on integrating Iran into the GCC.

Additionally the GCC countries agreed to implement a common market and a common currency by 2010. This is another severe blow to the US Dollar. As the most ugly issue now has vanished, maybe Iran could join that currency union too?

That would be the most positive and consequential issue the NIE release probably achieved.

Posted by b on December 4, 2007 at 08:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (44)

December 03, 2007

Iran NIE - What Changed?

Two levels of change:

The director of national intelligence said Tuesday he does not plan to make public any of the key findings of a soon-to-be-completed assessment on Iran's nuclear program.

Mike McConnell said to do so could expose U.S. intelligence capabilities and enable Iran to change its practices.
Iran threat assessment won't be released, intelligence chief says,
CNN, Nov. 14, 2007

---

Iran halted work toward a nuclear weapon under international scrutiny in 2003 and is unlikely to be able to produce enough enriched uranium for a bomb until 2010 to 2015, a U.S. intelligence report says.

A declassified summary of the latest National Intelligence Estimate found with "high confidence" that the Islamic republic stopped an effort to develop nuclear weapons in the fall of 2003.
U.S. report: Iran stopped nuclear weapons work in 2003,
CNN, Dec. 3, 2007

First level: What changed between the above news releases?

  • Who decided why to now release the NIE conclusions when it was explicitly not planed to be released 18 days ago?
  • Why does the release now not "expose U.S. intelligence capabilities and enable Iran to change its practices?"
  • Did Cheney die?

Second level: Changes in the 2007 NIE vs. 2005

  • The International Atomic Energy Agency IAEA has, to my best knowledge, never assessed that Iran had or has a nuclear weapon program. Why does the NIE differ from that?
  • The NIE is backtracking from a 2005 NIE that assessed with 'high confidence' that Iran was "determined to develop nuclear weapons despite its international obligations and international pressure" while the new one assesses with 'high confidence' that "we do not know whether [Iran] currently intends to develop nuclear weapons" and "in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program." This seems to express that the 2005 NIE was wrong. Why then should we believe the 2007 NIE is right on the issue?
  • Is the new NIE just an attempt to keep the meme of an 'Iranian nuclear weapon program' alive by assessing that it has stopped? (That is - could the next NIE conveniently assess it as restarted.)

Materials:
National Intelligence Estimate summary (PDF)
The Arms Control Wonk on the issue.

Posted by b on December 3, 2007 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (15)

Global Downturn Musings

What will the global outcome of the current economic downturn be?

First we have to imagine how severe this one may be. Paul Krugman today:

How bad is it? Well, I’ve never seen financial insiders this spooked — not even during the Asian crisis of 1997-98, when economic dominoes seemed to be falling all around the world.

The blow-up of the credit bubble will severly effect financial markets. But that is certain bleed into the real economy. It is unlikely that the effects can be contained locally. The crisis will be global. The consequences in the political dimensions can be enourmous too.

The Economist muses about the political outcome in Great Britain.

As its graph shows, British GDP growth in the last ten years was solely based on the financial industry:

[T]he impact over the next year or so will be painful, not only for those who work in the City but also for the economy and the public finances. As the shockwaves ripple out from London's financial district, they could undermine the regional foundations of Labour's long electoral hegemony.

Labour as the ruling party not only allowed this mess to happen, but promoted it. It will certainly take a severe hit. The UK housing bubble has yet to really deflate and the Pound is likely to take a severe beating too. The political problem in Great Britain might be, that the other parties than Labour are likely even worse for its people.

Unless there is a hot war on Iran or a reheated war on Iraq, the U.S. voters mind in 2008 will be fixated on economic issues.

The Republicans have little chance to escape their responsibility for what is happening now. All their candidates but Ron Paul offer only the same neoliberal recipes that led to the desaster.

The Democratic candidates would do well to emphazise help for the lower class and solutions for the economic problems (there ain't any easy ones, but that doesn't matter much on the campaign trail).

Her dependency on the financial industry could cost Hillary Clinton lots of voter credit. It was also her husband that repealed the depression era Glass-Steagall Act which had separated commercial banking from investment banking. A big part of what we see now is a result of that Rubin/Clinton repeal. On economic issues, her Democratic opponents certainly have lots of ammunition against her. Will they use it?

What is not going to work in this campaign is further promotion of globalization, neo-liberal tax cuts for the rich and arguments for more deregulation. I believe the voters are too smart and too hurt to fall for more of the same. This could be the chance for an independent candidate if s/he uses some New Deal rhetorics or isolationist populism.

The Euro area will feel a lesser but still severe downturn. It may become more isolationistic and increase tariffs on Asian imports. But overall, I believe, its economy to be more stable and resiliant than the U.S. or UK ones.

Politically, bad economic times should induce a move to the left. But the pseudo left Labour and the Social Democrats in Germany are discredited after they had turned to the neo-lib right in the 1990s. This leaves room for parties on the real left. But if things get really bad, a move to some far right populism is possible too.

So far the European Central Bank has refrained from lowering interest rates. Like Wolfgang Munchau in today's FT I'd argue that Rate cutting will not get us out of this mess:

Look at it in terms of insurance. Lower interest rates insure us against the risk of a slowdown, but we are paying a price by accepting new risks. Among the biggest are moral hazard and higher inflation in the future.
...
On balance, the benefits of a loose monetary policy are not nearly as one-sided as its advocates claim. A bias towards low interest rates got us into this mess. Low interest rates will not get us out of it. Central banks should keep their cool.

The inflation numbers are already increasing. In the U.S. the real inflation, as felt by the consumer, is some 5+%. In the Euro area it is a bit lower, thanks to a stonger currency. In China it is some 10+%. Overall it is increasing everywhere.

Central Banks should now push interest rates higher and stop the inflation trend before it gets out of control. To lower rates now will only feed another bubble, possibly in commodities, and lead to more pain and an even bigger bust later on.

China has a huge problem. Not only are stock markets there in bubble territory, but its growth is much too dependent on exports. If the U.S. and Europe push up tariff barriers, its growth will falter.

China needs to reorientate to more internal consumption. The personal saving rate there is at some insane 50%. By introducing social security systems, the need for such high savings could be deminished and consumption increased. China will also have to decouple from the U.S. Dollar. Other Asian economies will have to the same. Overall Asia has the biggest chance to decouple form the 'western' downturn by integrating itself.

Any economic crisis in China could either lead to severe internal turmoils, or the people could turn to leaders who argue for outside wars. (Because of its former 'one child policy' China has an "excess" young male population of some ten-plus millions. Historically such 'excess' is often 'cut' by war.)

The commodity based economies, Canada, Australia, oil producers, have the best chance to go through this downturn without much trouble. The 'third world' should follow the success story in Malawi, shun any IMF and World Bank 'advice' and protect themselves from outside influences. 

The African countries should only allow imports, via tariffs politics, of stuff they can not produce themselves. While the big economic bullies are destracted with home grown problems, they may even have a chance to get away with it and develop themselves.

Overall we have to get back to really make real things. Real economic development and growth is impossible to achieve through selling and buying derivatives of derivatives of some paper of dubious value.

There are enough needs in this world that demand good real products. A trillion invested in development of environment neutral energy production is better for everyone on this planet than trillions of pseudo wealth pumped again and again through finance industry computers.

That is, so far, my insight on this. It certainly lacks depth and has its flaws. Please correct it and add to it in the comments.

Posted by b on December 3, 2007 at 12:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (17)

 
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