Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
February 29, 2008

The Root of Exceptionalism

by Monolycus
(lifted from a comment)

Stanford University's Philip Zimbardo makes the case that it wasn't inherent rottenness, but the "Lucifer Effect" which turned all those good, honest, God-fearin' US soldiers into sadistic, twisted tormentors at Abu Ghraib.

"The Devil made me do it." Yeah. In a Christian theocracy, that defense will, nauseatingly, go pretty far. At least it's slightly less patently disgusting than "These were just frat pranks."

Why doesn't anyone twig on to the obvious answer that the culture produces sick, twisted fucks? Oh, yeah... this is an election year and we don't won't want to actually tell anyone that their baby is ugly.

But the apologist Dr. Zimbardo comes tantalizingly close to making a very genuine observation while pussyfooting around with the trite rationalizations: "If you give people power without oversight it is a formula for abuse."

Now, where-oh-where can we look for people given "power without oversight"...? I'm sure the dank, dungeons of Iraq or some other third world hole will give us all manner of "powerful" and "unsupervised" folk.

No need to look for that in your own backyard. No need to apply that formula to the TASER-happy cops on every street corner of the USA or the bullying TSA agents waiting in every airport to flex their authoritive muscles.  We should certainly not apply that maxim to a demonstrably corrupt executive, legislative and judicial branch of US government who only classify something as torture if it might be applied to them.

Let's keep coming up with excuses about how what happened at Abu Ghraib is exceptional and does not represent who we are. And, you know, I'm aiming this scattershot at non-US citizens and governments as well.

Western culture produces sickness... maliciousness... inhumanity... exceptionalism... and all the rest. US citizens are not psychologically, genetically, culturally or in any quantifiable way special enough for this to only apply to them. Every new piece of data which points to the inescapable conclusion that humans are disgusting causes us to jump through new hoops to point to why it is "those guys" that are really the disgusting ones... or "that circumstance" that caused them to be that way.

The root of exceptionalism is that we don't see any of this as applying to us.

Posted by b on February 29, 2008 at 12:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (41)

Empty Ships to Lebanon?

This is an odd announcement:

The U.S. Navy has moved the guided-missile destroyer USS Cole and other ships to the eastern Mediterranean Sea off Lebanon, Pentagon officials said Thursday.
...
The destroyer and two support ships are close to Lebanon but out of visual range of the coast, Pentagon officials said. Another six vessels, led by the amphibious assault ship USS Nassau, are close to Italy and steaming toward the other three, the officials said.
U.S. Navy ships move closer to Lebanon

Why is this odd?

Because the U.S. is sending empty ships.

The USS Nassau is leading an Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) consisting of an amphibious assault ship (Nassau itself), two amphibious dock ships and some cruisers for ass covering. An ESG usually carries a Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) consisting of some 2,200 Marines and their material. It deploys these towards land and supports their fighting. The Marines operate their helicopters and vertical take off Harrier planes from Nassau's large flight deck

But as Navy Times reported on February 4 and on February 22, the Nassau Group left for its current mission without its Marines and their material.

That material is already on the way to Afghanistan and the Marines will follow next week or so.

So the Navy is sending big, hulky and vulnerable assault and landing ships towards Lebanon without the troops and most of the air assets that would eventually be needed for an evacuation operation or the like.

Why do this?

There is currently some huffing and puffing between Syria and Saudi Arabia over the election of a new Lebanese president and the upcoming Arab summit in Damascus that might be related to this. So is this U.S. trying gun-boat diplomacy to put pressure on the Syrian government? I find it unlikely that Assad will be impressed.

The U.S. ships could also be helpful when Israel again occupies the Gaza strip and commits the genozide it deputy defense minister just threatened. A full blown attack on Gaza could provoke a response by Hizbullah with new attacks on Israel's north. But how could the U.S. ships help Israel in Lebanon without any troops to put on the ground?

Nothing of this makes much sense to me.

What is your take?

Posted by b on February 29, 2008 at 12:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (23)

Economic Downturn - Policy Change?

The most important issue for U.S. voters is the current economic downturn. It is important to point out to them that the economic mailaise is a direct consequence of rightwing policies.

The U.S. puts a higher percentage of its population into jail than any dictatorship in this world. This is very expensive and driven by rightwing "law and order" policies and false incentives, i.e. privatization of prisons and lobbying by prison owners.

In 2007, according to the National Association of State Budget Officers, states spent $44 billion in tax dollars on corrections. That is up from $10.6 billion in 1987, a 127 percent increase when adjusted for inflation.

Crime rates in comparable countries with less people incarcerated are generally lower than in the U.S. So why should this expensive policy continue?

The War on Iraq and Afghanistan will cost the U.S. some $3+ trillion. What do the taxpayers get for $138 per month they are paying for these wars (other than the right to also pay $103 per barrel of oil)?

Support of Israel has cost the U.S. taxpayer a lot of money. What is the positive result from this investment? Currently the USS Cole and the amphibious assault ship USS Nassau are on the way to the Lebanese coast to cover for an Israeli attack on Gaza. How much does this cost? What is the return?

The current economic downturn will highlight these questions.

The above policies should all be changed for other than financial reasons. But I'll not be picky if they will be changed because of financial pressure on the U.S. population.

Can we hope that taxpayers will demand and end to these policies because of their costs?

Posted by b on February 29, 2008 at 06:38 AM | Permalink | Comments (19)

February 28, 2008

Playing Soccer and Zionist Strategy

Haaretz: IDF kills 18 Palestinians in Gaza, W. Bank, including 5 children

Israeli security forces struck a range of targets in the West Bank and Gaza Strip on Thursday, killing a total of 18 Palestinians, including five children. Meanwhile, militants in Gaza continued to fire rockets at southern Israel, striking as far north as Ashkelon.

The deaths come a day after IDF troops killed 12 Palestinians and an Israeli was killed in a Qassam rocket strike on a college in Sderot.
...
Four children - all under the age of 16 and three from the same family - were killed in an IAF strike in Jabalya, a refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip, Palestinian sources said. Witnesses said the children were playing soccer when the missile struck. Another boy wounded in that strike, a 12-year-old neighbor, died later, hospital officials said.

Professor James Petras just published a piece on The Israeli Agenda and the Scorecard of the Zionist Power Configuration for 2008.

Petras forsees changes in U.S. support for Israel in 2009 and thinks that Israel will use 2008 to push as much as possible of its agenda down the U.S. throat. It is a longer read but well worth your time.

The lede describes the strategic aims of Israel. These do not include to let Palestinian kids play soccer:

The strategy of the Jewish state is the complete Zionization of Palestine, the takeover of land, water, offshore gas (estimated to be worth $4 billion dollars) and other economic resources and the total dispossession of the Palestinian people. Tel Aviv’s tactics have included daily military assaults, giant walls ghettoizing entire Palestinian towns, military outposts and controls undermining commerce and production to force bankruptcy, poverty, severe deprivation and population flight. The second priority of the Israeli colonial state is to bolster the Jewish state’s political and military supremacy in the Middle East, using preposterous arguments of ‘survival’ and ‘existential threats’. The key postulate of Israeli Middle East policy is to destroy or intimidate the principle adversaries of its Zionization of Palestine and its expansionist Middle East policy.
...

Posted by b on February 28, 2008 at 02:17 PM | Permalink | Comments (28)

February 27, 2008

The Penalties: Inflation and Tax Hikes

Bernanke signals another rate cut and Greenspan tells the Gulf countries to get out of the dollar.

The effect of this is are a record low dollar, record high commodity prices and higher inflation.

Yesterday the rating companies Moody's and S&P renewed their first-class AAA rating for mortgage insurer MBIA. This is a bad joke and exposes the whole rating system as a fraud. Mish compares MBIA with pharma giant Pfitzer, which was downrated from AAA in December:

  • Profit margin -61.76% vs. +17.07%
  • Return on Equity -35.54% vs. +12.13%
  • Revenue $3.12 Billion vs. $48.61 Billion
  • Earnings Per Share -$15.22 vs. +$1.20
  • Total Cash $5.73 Billion vs. $20.30 Billion
  • Total Debt $17.44 Billion vs. $8.69 Billion

So why does Moody's give an AAA rating to MBIA when it is obvious that MBIA is financial junk?

The decisions by Moody's and S&P to retain the ratings protected as much as $637 billion of debt from downgrade, avoided fire sales of municipal bonds and helped save banks from as much as $70 billion of losses, based on Oppenheimer & Co. estimates.

The banks pressed Moody's to keep the music going and the Fed and the Federal Exchange Commission seem to agree that lying is currently the best thing to do. The problem is of course that everybody looks right through this and any trust in the U.S. financial system erodes.

With the loss of trust the music one day will stop and there will be no chairs to sit down on. Then the government will bailout the banks by nationalizing the banking system.

The FT's Martin Wolf says a $1 trillion national bailout of the banking system will not matter much. Well, maybe not to him.

But U.S. taxpayers will have to pay for this one way or another. Either through decades of higher taxes or through inflation. Most likely we will see both.

These are the penalties for the U.S. for living beyond its means. But while the profits of living beyond the means went mostly to the rich, the costs will be put on everyone.

Posted by b on February 27, 2008 at 12:17 PM | Permalink | Comments (30)

A Fresh View on Islamic Law

The BBC reports about a project for a new interpretation of Islamic scripture. This is indeed big news.

I have written about these scriptures, Islamic law interpretation based on them and how they reflect the Shia-Sunni divide.

To recap - Islamic law is based on:

  • Quran - God's own words written down by the prophet Muhammad
  • Hadith - Historic tales of the "practice of the prophet" as a supplement to the Quran
  • Ijtihad - case-law developed through interpretation of the Quran and Hadith
  • Quiyas - For the Sunni school of Islam Ijtihad was closed several hundred years ago and development of new case-law is not allowed. Application of Islamic law to new social circumstances and technical development is therefore based on analogies, quiyas, from the old case law. Scholar consensus, Ijma, is needed for acceptance of a analogy-interpretation.

For the Shia school of Islam Ijtihad is still open and religious/legal scholars can and do develop new case-law.

Both Shia and Sunni see Quran and Hadith essentially as given. Whoever doubts these is accused as aposta and heretic.

An official program for a new reading of the Hadith is therefore an enormous and risky endeavor. Here, BBC reports, Turkey is taking the lead:

The country's powerful Department of Religious Affairs has commissioned a team of theologians at Ankara University to carry out a fundamental revision of the Hadith, the second most sacred text in Islam after the Koran.
...
The argument is that Islamic tradition has been gradually hijacked by various - often conservative - cultures, seeking to use the religion for various forms of social control.

Leaders of the Hadith project say successive generations have embellished the text, attributing their political aims to the Prophet Muhammad himself.

This project is at least two years old. Interestingly a German Jesuit and prominent scholar on Islam, Felix Koerner, is involved.

Instead of literal reading of Quran and Hadith, which was revived by the Saudi Wahabi school in the late 19th century, the project is encouraging critical reading of the text and setting it into its historical context. A Turkish scholar gives an example:

"There are some messages that ban women from travelling for three days or more without their husband's permission and they are genuine.

"But this isn't a religious ban. It came about because in the Prophet's time it simply wasn't safe for a woman to travel alone like that. But as time has passed, people have made permanent what was only supposed to be a temporary ban for safety reasons."
...
Prof Gormez points out that in another speech, the Prophet said "he longed for the day when a woman might travel long distances alone".

So, he argues, it is clear what the Prophet's goal was.

There are several scholars like Jamal Al-Banna (interview: 1, 2) who for years are arguing for a renewed interpretation of the Hadith. The real big news now is the official support for such.

It remains to be seen if and how this will effect the interpretation of religion in the Arab world. It certainly will lead to new discussions, but fundamentalists will likely reject it.

Historically broad new interpretations of a religion, like through the Christian reformation, lead to splits and even wars about the "true belief". So while this is welcome news, it might have some dangerous implications.

Posted by b on February 27, 2008 at 09:28 AM | Permalink | Comments (9)

Casey and Obama

In the Texas primary debate Obama came out with a story from a captain in Afghanistan. The captain claimed he lacked personal and had to use captured weapon and ammunition because he couldn't get the stuff he needed through the army logistics. Obama was attacked as telling a lie, but it was confirmed that the captain really told that story.

In a Senate hearing yesterday Gen.Casey testified that the story is indeed plausible:

Gen. George Casey, the Army's chief of staff, said Tuesday he has no reason to doubt Barack Obama's recent account by an Army captain that a rifle platoon in Afghanistan didn't have enough soldiers or weapons. But he questioned the assertion that the shortages prevented the troops from doing their job.

Casey was the commander of U.S. troops in Iraq and did not want more troops there, i.e. he was against the "surge". His main point was that troops did not get enough rest and the army would fall apart.

But here is some interesting detail missing in the reports from yesterday hearings. When the Senate confirmed him for his new job as chief of the army, McCain and Clinton voted against Casey, while Obama voted for him.

What does this do the horserace? I don't know. But support of the anti-surge military fraction for Obama is an interesting detail which should be mentioned.

Posted by b on February 27, 2008 at 04:03 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

February 26, 2008

Missile Deployment

Cloned Poster writes:

The price of US support for Turkey's incursion into Iraq:

  • Turkey sending an operational brigade of soldiers to Afghanistan.
  • Turkey opening up the way for US soldiers to transfer out of Iraq using Turkish soil.
  • The setting up of a missile system in Turkey.

Point 1 will be difficult for Turkish domestic policy reasons, point 2 is no problem and point 3 will inevitably end up with something like this:

In 2011, the U.S. deployed 15 IRBMs (intermediate-range ballistic missiles) at İzmir, Turkey, aimed at the western Russian cities, including Moscow. Given its 1,500-mile (2,410 km) range, Moscow was only 16 minutes away.

Medvedev publicly expressed anger and personal offense from the Turkish missile emplacement. The Cuban missile deployment — the first time Russian missiles were outside the country — was his response to U.S.  missiles in Turkey.

Posted by b on February 26, 2008 at 06:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (16)

February 25, 2008

Siegelman

Former democratic Governor Siegelman of Alabama was prosecuted for some bribe issues that never happened and is still in jail.

Yesterday's 60 minutes report about the case was blacked out in Alabama with a sorry excuse.

It is another example of a corrupted Justice Department and republican politicalization of the judicative and media.

Scott Horton at Harpers has been all over the case for a long time. The questions I have is: Why hasn't the democratic led Congress acted forcefully on this case yet? Will it ever?

Posted by b on February 25, 2008 at 12:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (19)

Elections - I'm tired of waiting

by Uncle $cam
lifted from a comment

Excellent. Thanks for that post JJ, @56 ...

When Zinn says,

This seizes the country every four years because we have all been brought up to believe that voting is crucial in determining our destiny, that the most important act a citizen can engage in is to go to the polls and choose one of the two mediocrities who have already been chosen for us. It is a multiple choice test so narrow, so specious, that no self-respecting teacher would give it to students.

he is speaking to me. Bellgong wrote something in the ot to the effect of it taking, "7 of the next 9 election cycles or so .." or some such, I'm not sure we have that long, nay, I'm damn sure we don't, and even if we did, who the hell has the time to wait?

Like Neil Young sang, "... I'm getting old ..."

I'm tired of waiting, I'm sick of being Charlie Brown ever trying to kick that football, I'm ready to smash Lucy in the face for once, metaphorically speaking of course, I'd never attack a female cartoon.

How many years do you guys have?

I've been waiting, and working and hoping, voting for "change" for decades, as I imagine most of you have, and every year it gets a little bit worse, slowly, mind you, ever so slowly, so we aren't aware of it, but the water keeps rising and we keep adjusting to it.

We collectively are like the Katrina victims left alone to drown, only slowly, ever so slowly and our social intelligence tells us something is wrong. But we dare not look. Better to not see the social and moral and material decay around us.

We best not look to hard, because the water is up to the back porch by now.

But it's getting to the point, that we can not not look anymore, in other words, it's damn near in our face, inside and out, now.

Inside within even our own immediate families, outside within our communities, and civil infrastructure. I'm reminded of a post by Loose Shanks, or tante amie or someone talking of ...

... ahhh, here it is, about being lost in the wilderness, indeed:

Wilderness is tryin' to make it to Social Security age, when the cost of living is up and going through the roof, with your paycheck worth less and less in phoney US dollar play money. That's what I'm talking about ... Wilderness.

Wilderness is having poor relatives calling you for a handout, and everyone staying away from Uncle Ernie's funeral, because nobody can afford the bill ...

Tenebrous, and witty but oh so true, oh so serious. At least from where I sit. Anyway, it's been two years and that post still sits with me, I'd encourage you guys and gals to go and read it.

/rant

I'll go rant somewhere else now, thank you...

Posted by b on February 25, 2008 at 04:38 AM | Permalink | Comments (32)

February 24, 2008

Signs of the Times - 'Green-IT' and 'Skulltrail'

Two days ago this year's CeBIT opened in Hannover, Germany. CeBIT is the world's biggest information technology trade show with about some 6000 exhibitiors and half a million visitors.

This year's fair special, a Future Forum, is all about Green-IT:

In order to give the "hot" issue of climate protection the major attention it deserves throughout the global ICT industry, the makers of CeBIT are launching a new "Green IT Village" in Hall 9, a "Green IT Guide" plus an array of forums and lectures dedicated to the topic.

Also at CeBIT Intel attracted huge crowds of desktop PC users with a brandnew motherboard:

The Intel Desktop Board D5400XS, when paired with two Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9775 processors, forms the foundation of the Intel Dual Socket Extreme Desktop Platform. Hardcore gamers will welcome the opportunity to enjoy multiple simultaneous graphics card solutions featuring either NVIDIA SLI or ATI Crossfire for today's latest graphics-intensive titles.

According to my dead tree computer geek magazine, a full D5400XS system with four graphic cards will have an electric consumption of some 1.4 kilowatt.

Intel's remarkable and somewhat fitting marketing name for the new product is 'Skulltrail'.

Posted by b on February 24, 2008 at 01:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Open Thread 08-10

We live by your comments ...

... please feed us ...

Posted by b on February 24, 2008 at 09:27 AM | Permalink | Comments (106)

February 23, 2008

McCain Hires Dumb People

McCain has declared two days ago:

No representative of Paxson or Alcalde and Fay personally asked Senator McCain to send a letter to the FCC regarding this proceeding.

He had declared something different in 2002:

"I was contacted by Mr. [Lowell] Paxson on this issue"

Mr Paxon agrees with the older version:

Paxson said yesterday, "I remember going there to meet with him." He recalled that he told McCain: "You're head of the Commerce Committee. The FCC is not doing its job. I would love for you to write a letter."

And what has McCain's lawyer to say about this:

"We understood that he [McCain] did not speak directly with him [Paxson]. Now it appears he did speak to him. What is the difference?" Bennett said.

Now it is obvious that McCain was caught on the 'Straight Lie Express'. I don't care about that. Politicians lie all the time.

But being President is about hiring good people.

McCain hires people who can not recognize the difference between "did speak" and "did not speak".

That is a big problem.

Posted by b on February 23, 2008 at 02:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)

What ElBaradei Says

Because you will not read it in the "western" media without heavy obfuscation and bias we reproduce the original:

Latest Iran Safeguards Report Delivered to IAEA Board, 23 February 2008

After the report was circulated, Dr. ElBaradei made the following comments:

"Our task in Iran is to make sure that the Iranian nuclear programme is exclusively for peaceful purposes.  We are at it for the last five years.  In the last four months, in particular, we have made quite good progress in clarifying the outstanding issues that had to do with Iran´s past nuclear activities, with the exception of one issue, and that is the alleged weaponization studies1 that supposedly Iran has conducted in the past.  We have managed to clarify all the remaining outstanding issues, including the most important issue, which is the scope and nature of Iran´s enrichment programme.
...
We need Iran to implement the Additional Protocol2. We need to have that authority as a matter of law. That, I think, is a key for us to start being able to build progress in providing assurance that Iran´s past and current programmes are exclusively for peaceful purposes.  So we have the Protocol issue and we have the weaponization, alleged weaponization studies. I should however add that in connection with the weaponization studies, we have not seen any indication that these studies were linked to nuclear material.

(Emphazis and notes added by b)

1The "alleged weaponization studies" are unproven accusations based on U.S. intelligence, reportedly from the Niger papers Laptop of Death and given to the IAEA only two weeks ago. They do not refer to anything nuclear.

2Iran had voluntarily signed, but not ratified, the additional protocol of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Following the IAEA Board decision, in a rare non-consentual vote, to report Iran's file to the UN Security Council, Iran informed the IAEA that it would suspend voluntary adherence to the additional protocol.

Posted by b on February 23, 2008 at 01:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

February 22, 2008

People Care About Iraqis

Whoever said that people don't care about Iraqis was wrong? They do.




screen-shot of news.yahoo.com - story

Posted by b on February 22, 2008 at 12:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (21)

Turkey Invades Iraq

Turkey just launched a large scale invasion of north Iraq:

Turkey's military said the land offensive -- the first major incursion in a decade -- had fighter aircraft in support. Turkish TV said up to 10,000 troops had entered Iraq.

The operation was prepared with aerial bombing and artillery attacks on PKK position throughout the last days. PKK is a Kurdish rebel group fighting for autonomy in south-east Turkey.

The PKK operates unhindered in the Qandeel (Kandil) mountain range in north east Iraq:

No Iraqi troops patrol here. PKK men in uniform check the IDs of those who seek to visit. The image of the PKK's leader is emblazoned on a mountain slope, and a sign openly proclaims PKK headquarters. The peshmerga troops of the Kurdistan Regional Government, which officially rules northern Iraq, make no effort to enter.

During spring the PKK fighters used to come down from their snowy winter Iraqi mountain retreats and slip across the border into Turkey.

A Turkish offense was expected to start in mid March. The idea for the preemptive move now seems to be to cut off the PKK from its logistic lines, to isolate them and to fight them on there own turf when the snow recedes.

The invasion could easily expand into an open battle between Turkey and the Iraqi-Kurdish peshmerga.

There already was a standoff yesterday between Turkish troops stationed in observer posts in north Iraq and peshmerga units. The Turkish troops tried to take control of two roads in preperation of todays invasion.

Kurdish soldiers from the peshmerga militia, which is loyal to the Kurdish Regional Government, moved to stop them. For an hour and a half, the two sides faced off before the Turkish soldiers retreated to their base, which is about 27 miles northeast of the city of Dohuk. The peshmerga surrounded the base and remained there late Thursday.

The U.S. supports Turkey as well as the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq. One wonders how Washington will react when both seriously start to fight each other. The Kurdish Regional government will demand support from Baghdad against the Turks. If such is not provided, the  Kurdish parties could stop any cooperation and Maliki's government would fall.

The Turkish government says the operation will take as long as nessessary, which could of course be days or years. It also pledged not to hurt civilians and not to confront Iraqi-Kurdish Peshmerga forces. 

It will be impossible to keep these promises as the PKK fighters are not distinguishable from the general population and have wide support and sympathy from their Iraqi-Kurdish brethren and the peshmerga.

It is therefore likely that this conflict will escalate.

Posted by b on February 22, 2008 at 08:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (22)

Headline Writing

Why can't The Independent hire headline writers with reading skills or some basic geographic knowledge?


full screen-shot

link

Posted by b on February 22, 2008 at 04:16 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

February 21, 2008

The Next Bubble - Where?

Where will the next economic bubble evolve?

I have long argued that basic materials and commodities, including agricultural products and energy will lead to a financial bubble. With record pricies in these areas we can already see it forming but are not yet in zones of parabolic price rises and a speculative build up of overcapacities.

In a Harper's piece Eric Janszen, a longtime venture capitalist, is trying to answer the question too and finds a different though related market where a bubble might evolve.

Janszen starts off with a good overview of U.S. monetary history and concludes that a big change happend when the Bretton Woods system ended with Nixon taking the dollar off the gold standard.

After 1975, the United States would never again post an annual merchandise trade surplus. Such high-value, finished-goods-producing industries as steel and automobiles were no longer dominant. The new economy belonged to finance, insurance, and real estate—FIRE.

The FIRE system became an end in itself that creates bubble after bubble to keep going.

Janszen then explains how the Internet stock bubble evolved, exploded, and the tech stocks markets deflated back to their longterm historic trendlines.

The need for a new bubble arose and, as the conditions were already in place, it evolved around housing. Janszen applies the same parameters to the housing bubble he observed during the Internet bubble bust. According to his calculations a reverse to the historic trendline in housing requires prices to drop 38% from their peak, will take about 6 years and will reflect a loss of $12 trillion in nominal value.

Now a new bubble is urgently needed. It will appear in a certain market only when several preconditions are in place:

We have learned that the industry in any given bubble must support hundreds or thousands of separate firms financed by not billions but trillions of dollars in new securities that Wall Street will create and sell. Like housing in the late 1990s, this sector of the economy must already be formed and growing even as the previous bubble deflates. For those investing in that sector, legislation guaranteeing favorable tax treatment, along with other protections and advantages for investors, should already be in place or under review. Finally, the industry must be popular, its name on the lips of government policymakers and journalists. It should be familiar to those who watch television news or read newspapers.

Janszen believes that especially one theme currently fullfills these preconditions - alternative energy (he includes advanced nuclear energy).

The criterias for a boom of alternative energy which can easily evolve into a bubble are mostly fullfilled:

  • it is a huge potential market that can absorb lots of real (and speculative) money
  • it has been growing for a while
  • there is already legislation favoring alternative energy with more underway
  • it is a very popular theme (Al Gore ...)

Janszen calculates that the basic industry and the infrastructure needed for a full alternative energy boom will have a gross market value of about $2 trillion. Using numbers from the past two bubbles he calcualtes that bubble premiums and financial dervatives formed around the alternative energy theme will reach a fictitious value of $12 trillion. The infrastructure development industry coming with the alternative energy wave will create another $8 trillion bubble for a total of $20 trillion in speculative wealth.

Eventually the bubble will pop and the $20 trillion will vanish.

I find Janszen's argument plausible. There is a huge worldwide demand for alternative energy. A new solar industry based on chip technology is developing in Silicon Valley and a lot of research into the alternative energy theme has already created several new nascent product lines: wind-, solar-, seawave-, bio- and geothermal power generation.

A boom in alternative energy is certainly coming and it might well evolve beyond that.

This does not exclude the bubble I expect in commodities, it rather enforces it. Alternative energy will be decentralized and requires a different electricity network than is available today. Windenergy generators need a lot of copper and use steel for their towers. To build a significant amount of alternative energy installation a lot of raw materials will be needed.

But there is a big question so far left out of the discussion:

If the current credit bubble busts leads to real systemic problems in the financial system, will it recreate itself in the same form, or will it evolve totally different and less bubble prone?

If the bust becomes too severe, will legislators step in with new regulation preventing some bubble-behaviour? Will the bust change global market relations? A China financed bubble in U.S. markets, like the currently busting housing bubble, would then be more unlikely. Where then would the money come from?

The current assumption is that the U.S. is diving into a recession and will eventually inflate itself out of it. That would support the above scenarios of new bubbles in alternative energy and commodities.

But a recession is not the worst possible case and if a depression evolves much deeper system changes may be needed and eventually be found. Those could preclude all bubbles for a while.

Posted by b on February 21, 2008 at 11:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (12)

February 20, 2008

The Chosen One

So it looks like Obama is the chosen one.

The advantages over Clinton in the recent primaries looks high enough to give him the decisive momentum.

Clinton is running the wrong campaign strategy. The negative stuff her surrogates spread against Obama does not drag support to her. Quite the opposite - it turns people away from her.

If Hillary still wants to have a chance, she will have to turn that around and run positive again. But that is not the general mindset of the Clinton machine and I doubt that she is able to do so. Time is getting short for her.

Buying off superdelegates or trying to convert pledged delegates would backfire too. People are sick of such stuff. They associate it with Republican politics. The delegates will think about that too.

If Clinton would somehow become the general election candidate by fudging, the great advantage the Democrats have in this election will drop dramatically. Many Democratic voters would then abstain and not give a vote for her. That is the huge risk and the delegates know this.

With Obama the general election will likely be a landslide victory for the Democrats. Bush is despised as a 19% job approval poll rating can attest. With Obama as candidate there essentially needs to be no campaign at all against McCain. Simply show the picture of him taking refugee in Bush's arm over and over.

The racists will still vote against Obama but most of them seem to have left the Democratic side long ago.

So it's gonna be Obama, the "last, best hope". Funny how the comments in that thread about Lincoln and 'vision' moved into sci-fi territory.

So there is the Muad'Dib. It is likely that he is also the Kwisatz Haderach.

Will he keep the spice flowing?

Posted by b on February 20, 2008 at 02:44 PM | Permalink | Comments (55)

The Big Bailout

My last economy posting was about the monoliners. Credit insurance companies who actually have two lines of business, municipal bond insurance and CDS/CDO/junk insurance. As the second business line is in the doldrums, there were attempts to split the sound business from the risky one. Two arguments have come up against this.

The first, by Roubini, says that the municipal credit insurance will likely turn out to be a bad business too. The housing crisis will hit municipals hard and some might well default. For examples look at the problems of Vallejo, CA or Lavon, TX.

The second reason is that astonishingly no one is volunteering to be on the losing side of such business split and people are threatening to litigate:

It appears they have discovered that they lack a legal basis for preferring the muni policyholders over the others, and even if they try not to prefer one group over another, it is going to be well nigh impossible to come up with a formula that won't be contested.

When the bond insurers will be downgraded, the debt they insured will be downgraded too. 

Then the Banks who hold such debt will need $20-30 billion in additional reserves, i.e. real fresh capital, or go into bankruptcy. That can not be allowed because the systemic effects of large bank defaults would threaten to tear down the whole Jenga tower of the finacial system. We will therefore likely see some big U.S. banks getting nationalized and their losses socialized. (The system might come down anyway.)

In the UK the government has taken over Northern Rock and now the taxpayer will have to carry the risk of a likely default of at least $200 billion in bad Northern Rock debt. The housing crisis in Britain has started a bit later than in the U.S., but it might well become worse. Until Monday banks in the UK financed up to 125% of home equities that are now in decline. The concentration of financial business in London and its shrinking due to the downturn will reinforce the house price slump there.

There are other forms of socializing losses. The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp, the federal backup for company pension plans, announced to move 45% instead of the current 28% of its $55 billion holding from bonds into stocks. That is quite an injection for Wall Street and will pump up stock prices. But it will bring a huge loss for the government backed pension fund when equity markets will finally acknowledge the coming economic slump.

Yesterday Roubini argued that there will be 10-15 million repossessions in the U.S. housing market generating losses between $1 and 2 trillion. People will send in the keys to the banks and just walk away. Companies get advised to do so. Citizens will do so too. (Are there enough sound bridges for these people to live under?)

The whole debt based financial and credit scam that has driven the expansion of the last years is threatening to come and there is nothing that can be done about it.

The Financial Times' Martin Wolf, widely read, now agrees with Roubini's dark general outlook and explains how all these losses will be socialized:

The risks are indeed high and the ability of the authorities to deal with them more limited than most people hope. This is not to suggest that there are no ways out. Unfortunately, they are poisonous ones. In the last resort, governments resolve financial crises. This is an iron law.

Rescues can occur via overt government assumption of bad debt, inflation, or both.

Japan chose the first, much to the distaste of its ministry of finance. But Japan is a creditor country whose savers have complete confidence in the solvency of their government.

The US, however, is a debtor. It must keep the trust of foreigners. Should it fail to do so, the inflationary solution becomes probable. This is quite enough to explain why gold costs $920 an ounce.

The U.S. government can not carry much more debt without bad consequences. It can not nationalize all big banks. The solution has therefore to be inflation. If the Dollar loses half its value, the bad debt will have been halved too.

The process of igniting inflation to 'clean up' the bad debt has, I believe, already started. The Fed currently pumps out unprecedented amounts of fresh money towards the banking system and this money finds its way into commodity markets. Oil closed over $100/barrel yesterday and, inflation adjusted, is near its historic 1979 high.

By paying higher prices for essential products, gas, food, toilet paper etc., and by higher taxes consumers will, in the end, pay for the big bailout.

Posted by b on February 20, 2008 at 10:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (9)

February 19, 2008

A New Lebanon War?

There are multiple signs that some military action by Israel against Hizbullah and Hamas will soon take place.

Two weeks ago Olmert traveled through European capitals to get international support for a big Gaza operation. The plan seems to be to put the problem into the hand of international troops after such an operation has finished. (Any volunteers?)

The Israeli Mossad assassinated Hizbullah's military planer Imad Mugniyah in Damascus last week, Hizbullah has pledged revenge.

On the 14th the Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal visited Moscow for a few hours with Putin. On the 15th he was in Washington for a short meeting with Bush. In-between he dropped by in Berlin and Paris. None of the usual news agencies reported about these visits!

Yesterday Faisal warned Saudi citizens not to travel to Lebanon:

"The foreign ministry advised Saudi citizens not to travel to Lebanon in light of unstable political and security circumstances in Lebanon right now," said a statement reported by the official news agency SPA, in a rare move for Saudi Arabia.
...
Political analyst Khaled al-Dakhil said: "Perhaps they have intelligence information that something is going to happen or they think the negotiations taking place now on presidential crisis are going nowhere. They are in a position to know."
...

France temporarily shut down its cultural centers in South-Lebanon and Qatar has withdrawn its troops from the UN mission at the Lebanese Israeli border.

Then there is military movement in Israel:

Meanwhile, Israel's deployment of a battery of Patriot air defense missiles near the northern port city of Haifa is part of precautions against a possible attack by Hezbollah, Israeli security officials said Monday. The officials said the battery was put on standby Sunday for the first time since the 2006 Second Lebanon War.
...
Over the weekend, the Israel Defense Forces moved reinforcements close to the border with Lebanon in the North, including elite units.
...
Home Front Command also carried out checks of air warning stations in the North and briefed municipal authorities and local council heads on preparedness and procedures.

GPC at the Friday Lunch Club translates from an Al-Akhbar piece:

.... A 'report', originated in Moscow speaks of "US Administration Lunacy, committing the worst". Same has been discussed with representatives of IMPORTANT regional powers (KSA?) on US 'Obsession' with Iran, Syria & the insurgencies across the region."

and

".... A senior French intelligence official relayed to 'key Arab players' that the situation in Lebanon has become "most fluid" .... with possibilities of serious repercussion on the Syrian security stage ...with mounting pressures on the Regime in Damascus, with "off the shelf" US-EU-UN sanctions ... The French Senior Intelligence official added that "Mughniyeh's hit should not only be seen as part of an Israel-Hezbollah struggle, ... that any such operation did go through a political & security approval (by the United States) not only because of the repercussions ... but to put the operation in ITS PROPER CONTEXT."

Now - what is the "proper context" for all the above?

Posted by b on February 19, 2008 at 06:26 AM | Permalink | Comments (26)

'Model' Foreign Policy in Pakistan

The above snapshot, just taken from the Washington Post homepage, is a fine demonstration of the inconsistencies in Bush's foreign policy.

On one side 'democracy' propaganda, on the other support for Musharraf's dictatorship with U.S. money and official backing. Then unilateral attacks launched by the U.S. against 'terrorists' in Pakistan which inevitably kill civilians and result in backslashes against Musharraf. His internal support is now so low, that he can no longer even dare to sufficiently rigg the election.

With first results in Musharraf's PML-Q is expected to win 30-45 seats. The PML-N of Nawaz Sharif about 90-100 and the Bhutto family's PPP 100-110 seats. If PLM-N and PPP unite, they could impeach Musharraf. But a backroom deal between Musharraf and the PPP is certainly also possible.

Whatever the outcome, it seems unlikely that the new government will further support the operation of the three 'secret' U.S. bases in Pakistan and U.S. attacks in the border region.

But Bhutto's widower Asif Ali Zardari, the current leader of the PPP, is known to be a super-crony and the U.S. may offer enough bribes to him to gain a free hand for further 'model' attacks. The backslash from those would lead to even more 'interesting times' in Pakistan.

Posted by b on February 19, 2008 at 02:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

OT 08-09

Please add your comments, news & views ...

Open thread ...

Posted by b on February 19, 2008 at 12:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (87)

February 18, 2008

The "last, best hope"?

It is President's day so let me take another look at the aspirants. Even if there are only bad choice, one might want to look at their differences. In honor of this great shopping day, we will do so by looking at presidential quotes.

For me as a European, the key point in judging candidates is U.S. foreign policy. The main point therein is exeptionalism as a justification for imperial policies and wars. Here is how John McCain saw it in 2000:

I believe in American exceptionalism. I believe we were meant to transform history. I believe that the progress of all humanity will depend, as it has for many years now, on the global progress of American interests and values. I believe we are still the last, best hope of Earth.
Sen. John McCain Addresses Shadow Convention, July 30, 2000

McCain has not changed his tone since then. This is him last week:

But now comes the hard part, and for America, the much bigger decision. We do not yet know for certain who will have the honor of being the Democratic Party’s nominee for president. But we know where either of their candidates will lead this country, and we dare not let them.
...
They will paint a picture of the world in which America’s mistakes are a greater threat to our security than the malevolent intentions of an enemy that despises us and our ideals; a world that can be made safer and more peaceful by placating our implacable foes and breaking faith with allies and the millions of people in this world for whom America, and the global progress of our ideals, has long been “the last, best hope of Earth.”
Text of McCain’s Potomac Primaries Victory Speech, February 12, 2008

McCain is wrong to claim that 'either' Democratic candidate is taking a less exceptionalist position than he himself.

Obama, in his major foreign policy speech, is reading from the same book McCain uses:

So I reject the notion that the American moment has passed. I dismiss the cynics who say that this new century cannot be another when, in the words of President Franklin Roosevelt, we lead the world in battling immediate evils and promoting the ultimate good.

I still believe that America is the last, best hope of Earth. We just have to show the world why this is so.
Remarks of Senator Barack Obama to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, April 23, 2007

Imperialism is just a marketing problem? IOZ and Arthur Silber had the right words for that speech. Like Matt Stoller I found it simply awful. It reads like it was written by William Bennett.

Both McCain and Obama abuse former presidents' quotes to justify expansionalism. Obama's FDR quote is from a radio speech held two days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor:

When we resort to force, as now we must, we are determined that this force shall be directed toward ultimate good as well as against immediate evil.

In that context, such words seem justified. But Obama takes them out of context and uses them where the U.S. is not attacked and where there is no imperial Japanese Army enslaving Asia and no Germanic hordes savaging Europe. To him they are a permanent state and the evil label can be be attached to this or that entity whenever needed.

The Lincoln quote as McCain and Obama use it is even more falsly applied. It is from the Annual Message to Congress sent in December 1862. The union was in in a civil war with the confederates over slavery and its economic value to the southern agricultural states. The Battle of Antietam was won and Lincoln used it as an opportunity to announce the Emancipation Proclamation. There was a selfish foreign policy aspect to it:

Abroad, as Lincoln hoped, the Proclamation turned foreign popular opinion in favor of the Union for its new commitment to end slavery. That shift ended any hope the Confederacy might have had of gaining official recognition, particularly from the United Kingdom. If Britain or France, both of which had abolished slavery, continued to consider supporting the Confederacy, it would seem as though they were supporting slavery.

That is the wider context of Lincoln's speech. In it he lays out his arguments to an unconvinced congress, on how the abolition of slavery would help the civil war effort. He ends with this:

In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free---honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best, hope of earth. Other means may succeed; this could not fail. The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just---a way which, if followed, the world will forever applaud, and God must forever bless.

While Lincoln argues for certain domestic policy issue, freeing slaves and winning the civil war, as "the last best, hope of earth", McCain and Obama both abuse this quote to argue for an imperial foreign policy mandate.

Hillary Clinton also uses the Lincoln quote. But she, like her husband in 1994, has the context right and applies it to domestic issues:

Lincoln understood that who we are in the world begins with how we live at home. And during the darkest days of that war he said, my dream is of a place and a time where America will once again be seen as the last best hope of earth. That is still a dream we all share. It is a dream that begins with making America work for its people, and making its people proud to work for America.
Remarks of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton at the 2006 DLC National Conversation, July 24, 2006

From my perspective from abroad, Hillary currently looks like the best choice out of the three bad alternatives. Not only by not abusing old presidential quotes, but also for her position on the prisoners in Guantanamo.

That said, I am sure she will start imperial wars of her own if she gets elected.

But at least she will not abuse Lincoln to do so.

Posted by b on February 18, 2008 at 11:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (66)

February 17, 2008

Suspicious 'Suicide Bomber' Report

A big 'kinetic event' happened in Kandahar, Afghanistan, today. The reports seem suspicious to me.

The headlines:

At the "picnic site," as Reuters labels it, were some 500 men (no women allowed) who came together to watch and bet on dog-fights some seven miles outside of Kandahar.  Something exploded, 80+ are dead and 100+ wounded. The dead include some local war-lord and militia leader who is friendly with the government and therefore also labeled as 'commander of an 'auxiliary police force'. According to the AP video voice-over, all the men attending the event were 'militia and police'. It is unclear to me if or how many real police men were there.

AFP:

More than 500 people had gathered on Sunday for the dog-fighting competition, said Abdul Karim, a fan of the popular winter pastime which the 1996-2001 Taliban government banned as "un-Islamic".

"Fighting had just started between two dogs. Suddenly I heard a huge explosion next to a police vehicle. Then I saw lots of people dead and wounded," he told AFP.

The governor speaks of a 'suicide bomber' and the head of the provincial council, a brother of President Karzai, says it was a suicide bomber who was on foot and mingled with the crowd.

But the damage of the cars in the AP photo and video is quite severe and the number of casualties huge. The event happened in open fields. What person is able to carry in a concealed way the amount of explosives that is needed to have such effects? The eyewitness doesn't speak of a suicide bomber, so how does the governour knows this?

AP reports that some of the war-lord's bodyguards did spray and pray into the crowd after the explosion.

Faizullah Qari Gar, a resident of Kandahar who was at the dog fight, said militant commanders' bodyguards opened fire on the crowd after the bombing.

"In my mind there were no Taliban to attack after the blast but the bodyguards were shooting anyway," he said.

That may explain some of the high casualties numbers. Reuters adds:

Reporters were not allowed to talk to the wounded in hospitals and officials had no comment about the reports of police firing.

We can not be sure what this has been, but I seriously doubt the story of the single "Taliban" suicide bomber. This might have been local gangs fighting over a bet or whatever.

But the officials blame the Taliban and therefore it must have been the Taliban. To confirm the official line, AP mixes in some astonishing backward reasoning:

A Taliban spokesman said he didn't immediately know if the militants were responsible. The Taliban often claim responsibility immediately after major attacks against police and army forces — often naming the bombers — but shy away from claiming attacks with high civilian casualties.

So the Taliban do claim responsibility for some events but not for others. That might be because they "shy away" from claiming responsibility as the AP scribe writes.

But could that not also simply be because they are not responsible for some of these events? Could the big events with high civilian casualties have some other perpetrators?

Those question will of course not be discussed in western media reports. Instead we get pressed to agree that more western troops are needed in Afghanistan so the local gang boys in Kandahar can enjoy to incite their pit bulls into mauling each other.

The Taliban would forbid such deadly, bloody fights as un-islamic. We certainly can not allow that to happen again.

Posted by b on February 17, 2008 at 01:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Kosovo Dependence

Now some organized criminals of Albanian heritage in Kosovo declare independence and Washington and some extraordinary stupid idiots in Brussels will loudly clap their hands and congratulate themselves for this blatant illegal and disastrous act.

Do people in Europe notice whose flag these people are waving? A independent Kosovo will be an ever infectious strategic wound in Europe's legs. "That is a feature, not a bug," thinks Washington, "That is the deeper reasoning behind Camp Bondsteel."

Recommended reading:
The Dismantling of Yugoslavia: A Study in Inhumanitarian Intervention (and a Western Liberal-Left Intellectual and Moral Collapse)
and
Independence for Kosovo: the domino effect - An end to Balkan national states

Posted by b on February 17, 2008 at 10:24 AM | Permalink | Comments (11)

February 16, 2008

Iran: Next Step - Sea Blockade

Here is the current plan to achieve regime-change in Iran:

The Iran NIE was greeted with some relief as it asserted that Iran didn't have an active military nuclear program. People believe that this has made an attack on Iran unlikely. But as I remarked when it was published, the NIE contained a poison pill. It also asserted that Iran has had a military nuclear program up to 2003. Iran must now "confess" this or it will be used to justify more sanctions and, in the end, war on Iran.

There is no public or reported evidence for the second NIE assertion and the IAEA has found no hints for a past or present military nuke program in Iran. Despite threats against IAEA director ElBaradei from the U.S. and France, the IAEA is likely to give Iran a clean bill of health in its upcoming report.

But the U.S. is committed to regime change and ever tightening economic and physical pressure on Iran is seen as the way to get there.

It has now laid out a strategy for implementing this:

  • The U.S. accuses Iran of some nefarious programs Iran has most likely never done.
  • Selected secret evidence for such programs from the highly dubious Niger papers "Laptop of Death" has been given to the IAEA. (The Laptop might be somewhat authentic and include some Iranian student's college notes. Its content could also be completely forged. Most likely it is a mix of both. The Niger papers were false but written on real Nigerian embassy stationery.)
  • The U.S. now officially demands that Iran "Must Confess" that it has had the military nuke program the NIE alleges.
  • The IAEA will ask Iran about the plans and experiments laid out in the secret evidence and, as Iran has never had these, come back with nothing.
  • El Baradei, the IAEA chief, will say that there is no proof for such programs. But he will be pressed into also saying that the "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence."
  • The IAEA board, which consists of 35 country seats, will then report to the UN that the IAEA has done all it can, but that it cannot guarantee for the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program.
  • The UN security council will then either tighten sanctions and demand that Iran proves a negative, or, more likely, not further sanction Iran.

The situation is then the same as it was on Iraq and the U.S., with the support of France and the UK, will in one way or another act with the flimsy justification that the "UN is not willing to act."

The most likely act is a blockade of sea transport from and to Iran.

Under the justification of the need to prevent smuggling and proliferation of nuclear material, the U.S., the UK and France will establish sea patrols that will interdict all ships from and to Iran and search these for "dual use" material. (The French are preparing for this with their new Navy base in the United Arab Emirates.) They will confiscate any "dual use" stuff under a similar flexible definition of "dual use" as was used against Iraq and killed 500,000 Iraqi children.

Such plans for sea interdiction were laid out in the first reports about a third round of UN sanctions against Iran. These were not, as falsly reported by the NYT, part of new sanctions the permanent SC members had agreed upon, but a suggestion in one of various proposals that were distributed to non-permanent UN security council members.

In international law, the interruption of free sea traffic without a UN SC resolution is an act of war. Iran will be fully in its right to use force to break such an imposed blockade. But if it does, the Iranian use of force will be a welcome justification for punative air strikes and devastating cruise missile attacks against it.

After the first few air campaign days Iran will no longer have an Air Force and Navy to speak of. It will be bombed again and again, its trade further suffocated, until its people submit to U.S. will by changing their government, or until Iran, ten years from now, is just a former shell of itself that can easily be invaded.

That is the script, as far as I can tell. It is independent of who will become U.S. president. If it looks somewhat familiar to the history of what happened to another Middle East country that is certainly no coincidence.

The script has worked once. That why it is used again.

Posted by b on February 16, 2008 at 11:03 AM | Permalink | Comments (16)

February 15, 2008

Weird Stuff

Terrorists increasingly favor using women as suicide bombers to thwart security and draw attention to their causes, a new FBI-Department of Homeland Security assessment concludes.
...
For example, the assessment points out women can hide explosives in prosthetic devices that mimic the look of pregnancy.
U.S. agencies warn of female suicide bombers, CNN, Feb 12, 2008

Seems like these nuts had time to read Ivan Bloch during office hours.

Further, in the course of the eighteenth century, the peculiar fashion of false stomachs, 'pads' or 'paddies', was revived. These were used for a time at the end 'fifties, and were seen again in the 'nineties. Archenholtz says: 'This was the most senseless invention, against all decency and delicacy, and disfiguring the female body; it caused a deformity which is only seen in the female sex during pregnancy. These decorations were called pads, and the smaller ones paddies; they were usually made of tin, and were therefore called "tin pinafores". These artificial stomachs were in great favour, particularly with unmarried women, which caused the wits to say that a revolution had taken place amongst the signs of the Zodiac, and the Twins had come too near Virgo. But above all, these pads were the butt of jokers, who used them unmercifully, and their use soon had to be discontinued. Such a fashion was in too bad taste to last long. It was in existence in London in February 1793, but by the end of the spring it was over in England and went to Dublin, where it was welcomed by the women. During the migration which took place as a result of the French war, it was taken to Germany by refugee English women, but was not copied there.'
Ivan Bloch: Sexual Life In England Past and Present 1903/1938 quoted here.

Why else would they come up with this threat when:

The assessment said the agencies "have no specific, credible intelligence indicating that terrorist organizations intend to utilize female suicide bombers against targets in the homeland."

Nuts ...

Posted by b on February 15, 2008 at 02:11 PM | Permalink | Comments (17)

Blair - Coward or Liar?

Did the corrupt Saudi dictator family threaten to blow up London, or did Tony Blair lie to investigators about such a threat to get a new arms deal done?

That is the question coming up in front of a British court.

The British arms manufacturer BAE payed a £1 billion bribe to Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia. When the Serious Fraud Office inquired into this, then Prime Minister Blair intervened and stopped the investigation on grounds of national security. From the Guardian's take:

[Prince Bandar] was accused in yesterday's high court hearings of flying to London in December 2006 and uttering threats which made the prime minister, Tony Blair, force an end to the Serious Fraud Office investigation into bribery allegations involving Bandar and his family.
...
[A] paper trail set out in court showed that days after Bandar flew to London to lobby the government, Blair had written to the attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, and the SFO was pressed to halt its investigation.

The Independent adds:

Ms Garlick[the SFO's assistant director,] said the Attorney General had also asked for her advice, and she described attending a meeting at the Foreign Office where "we had been told that 'British lives on British streets' were at risk". Ms Garlick stated: "If this caused another 7/7 [bomb attacks on London on 7 July 2005] how could we say that our investigation, which at this stage might or might not result in a successful prosecution, was more important?"
...
Lord Justice Moses suggested that, in reality, the Saudi threat involved saying that Britain would not be told if the Saudis learnt that someone was going to "blow you up". Mr Sales said the threat of withdrawal of co-operation went wider.

Did mighty Britain cave in to terror blackmail by an oil sheik?

Did Blair invented this threat and interfered with the judiciary to further a new arms-sale by BAE?

Those seem to be the only possible interpretations here.

Independent of which one will turn out to be right, Blair should not ever again have any role in government issues, except as defendant in a war crime suit.

Please sign the Petition against the nomination of Tony Blair as "President of the European Union"

Posted by b on February 15, 2008 at 08:39 AM | Permalink | Comments (14)

February 14, 2008

The Dem Rethug Farce

by Debs is dead
lifted from a comment

I don't understand why people are even debating the Obama Clinton thing especially on the thin ice of race, since HRC spent a good deal of effort trying to paint her opponent into a Jessie Jackson type candidate for african americans only. The stereotyping was led by Cigar Bill of course and the only thing it appeared to achieve was to swing away black voters disenchanted by the spectacle of the "first black prez" showing his true colors. The bullshit flowed from both sides which is to be expected.

We know this, just as any thinker knows that a person capable of winning the nomination from either party, dem or rethug is a guaranteed enemy of ordinary humans inside and outside amerika who is going to continue the policies of amerikan imperialism plugged-in, that GWB introduced.

There is only one tiny chink of light showing anywhere in this. It seems likely that as Susan articulated so well earlier, the Clinton dynasty has screwed the pooch badly.
The dynasty is going to have to fight dirty (well dirtier), to secure their 'rightful gig'. Even the dynasty's number one supporter, the NYT conceeds that here:

With every delegate precious, Mrs. Clinton’s advisers also made it clear that they were prepared to take a number of potentially incendiary steps to build up Mrs. Clinton’s count. Top among these, her aides said, is pressing for Democrats to seat the disputed delegations from Florida and Michigan, who held their primaries in January in defiance of Democratic Party rules.

Of course the ClintonPlc syndicate will be up to much sleazier stunts than that little piece of duplicity. The Clintons are so determined to secure 'their' place in the White House that are blind the fact that most of Obama's support comes from people who probably won't just sigh and mutter "politics as usual" before pulling the handle for Hilary, the way that most of her supporters would if that happened to their candidate.

ClintonPlc have shown the depth of their ignorance and hubris admirably so far, particularly in the way they conducted the primary. They are quite capable of a blatant super delegate buy-off redolent with pork barrels, blackmail and bribery right at the convention. That winning in this way could back-fire badly especially in the long term won't occur to them. Future-schmuture. Remember Hillary was a dedicated rethug until Cigar Bill recognised her potential as a number cruncher and hard-headed win-at-all-costs organizer and persuaded her she could find even more fame and fortune in the dem party.

If a convention floor shonky happens, it could spell doom for that favourite plaything of the elites, the democrat party.

Best case for ClintonPlc worst case for humanity is that the Obaminites will go home after swearing off participatory politics for life.

There are a number of other alternatives not least of which would be a big chunk of the democrat support base actively fighting against the outcome and splitting from the party.

Many african-amerikans including many of those who loathe Obama and his policies would see a super delegate slink off as the ultimate betrayal after decades of african american support for the party.

An event such as this could provide the momentum for something which dems have always consoled themselves with as being an impossibility. Consoling themselves as they cynically encourage corrupt afrikan american pols ahead of the legions of capable and honest ones, while they cynically destroy New Orleans as a home for african amerikans of all income levels, while they allow policies which aid thefts of assets and cynically remove any hope of african amerikans of owning a home.

That so-called impossibility is a complete breakaway and the formation of a new party dedicated to aiding the interests of all unwhite amerikans.

I realise that many readers have been gulled into believing the mainstream analysis which holds that this would be impossible to succeed at, but success is not an impossibility. The last straw will break the camel's back eventually.

But more than that could happen to the dems. The legions of young bourgois voters will be turned off too many of them for good and they may choose to look elsewhere in future.

This is dangerous stuff for the dems because the only really firm demographic HRC has is amongst older dem voters and of course they are a dying breed.

Now the death of the dems, isn't an instant fix, but it would be a start to turning around the mess that is amerikan politics and governance.

The rethugs need the dems as much as the dems need the dems. Remember the farce is kept running by both sides agreeing to concentrate on the issues where tiny details separate them, and then blow that up into a major stoush. The emasculation of the pseudo-left party would mean there was no longer a system to agree on the issues up for debate.

People may start debating empire, war, or, heaven forfend, the cult of ownership. Why do property rights transcend all other rights? Maybe the emphasis could shift a bit. . . ?

There can be no change in Amerika until the dem rethug farce is deemed irrelevant. Wouldn't it be ironic if the ultimate political whores - HRC and Cigar Bill - were the catalysts for that to occur?

Posted by b on February 14, 2008 at 03:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (38)

The Space Weapon Threat

BushCheney blow another disarmament treaty. They want to weaponize space.

Remember these headlines from last spring?

Pentagon: China's anti-satellite test poses threat
U.S., Japan Criticize China for Testing Anti-Satellite Missile
Experts: US Should Worry About Chinese Anti-Satellite Device
Cheney: China's anti-satellite test 'not consistent' with stated goal of a peaceful rise

All these headlines were of course highly hypocritical. The U.S. has tested anti-satellite weapons since the late 1950s and shot down one of its own satellites in 1985. The Soviets had a similar program.

As experts have pointed out, the U.S. missile defense system, especially the parts based on AEGIS cruisers, are useable as anti-satellite weapons.

This is now confirmed. The U.S. plans to shoot down a dead spy-satellite:

U.S. officials said Thursday that the option preferred by the Bush administration will be to fire a missile from a U.S. Navy cruiser, and shoot down the satellite before it enters Earth's atmosphere.

The satellite in question is a 4.5 tons spy-object that malfunctioned after it was launched in December 2006.

The media will explain that the satellite has to be shoot down so it doesn't hurt anyone when it eventually returns to earth. The chances for anyone to be hit by satellite debris are zero. The military experts will rumour that this is about the sophisticated image sensor on board of the satellite which could fall into false hands. Again the chances for that are next to zero. The atmospheric reentry temperature is several thousand Kelvin and the satellite was not designed for reentry and to withstand such heat and deceleration.

So this seems to be Cheney's answer to the recent offer by China and Russia for a treaty to ban arms in space (which includes the ban of anti-satellite measures):

China and Russia will submit a joint proposal next month for an international treaty to ban the deployment of weapons in outer space, a senior Russian arms negotiator said on Friday.

Valery Loshchinin, Russia's ambassador to the United Nations-sponsored Conference on Disarmament, said the draft treaty would be presented to the 65-member forum on February 12.

The now announced anti-satellite 'test' is a loud "FUCK YOU!" towards Russia, China and the UN.

Treaties are for bummers. Real men shoot down satellites - or their hunting companions.

As Donald Mahley, acting U.S. deputy assistant secretary for threat reduction, export controls and negotiations, said:

"Additional binding arms control agreements are simply not a viable tool for enhancing the long-term space security interests of the United States or its allies."

Cut the 'allies' part - the U.S. is the only country that opposes such a treaty.

The explanation for such Orwellian excuses is likely an active space based weapon program hidden somewhere in the hundreds of billions of unpublished Pentagon programs.

This makes us all feel safer, doesn't it?

Posted by b on February 14, 2008 at 01:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (15)

The Iranian Laptop - Again

Two years ago we took a look at The Laptop:

It is the overwhelming proof that Iran has nuclear weapons, ehh - might have nuclear weapons, hmm - could have nuclear weapons - or not.

The Laptop of Death, as emptywheel aptly named it, is supposed to have somehow come out of Iran and to contain thousands of pages of technical documentation of Iranian military nuclear programs. Reportedly the one word not included in this treasure trove of documents is 'nuclear'.

The Laptop's content is likely as genuine as the Niger papers about Saddam's Uranium purchases. Despite several requests, the U.S. has never provided the 'evidence' from The Laptop to the IAEA.

But now it has changed its mind:

 

Shared in the past two weeks was material on a laptop computer reportedly smuggled out of Iran, said another diplomat, accredited to the IAEA. In 2005, U.S. intelligence assessed that information as indicating that Tehran had been working on details of nuclear weapons, including missile trajectories and ideal altitudes for exploding warheads.

He said that after declassification, U.S. intelligence also was forwarded on two other issues — the "Green Salt Project" — a plan the U.S. alleges links diverse components of a nuclear weapons program, including uranium enrichment, high explosives testing and a missile re-entry vehicle, and material in Iran's possession showing how to mold uranium metal into warhead form.

It is obvious why the U.S. is now sharing the (dis-)information. The IAEA and Iran have an agreement (pdf) that lists all open questions the IAEA has and a timetable to answer these. The last open question to be answered is about traces of highly enriched Uranium found in a Iranian lab. Two days ago it was reported that this last issue has been resolved.

Despite thousands of hours on the ground in Iran, the IAEA has found no evidence that Iran ever had a military nuclear program. But in preparation of regime change the U.S. wants further sanctions on Iran and now selectively releases some of the very dubious stuff from The Laptop.

While there is quite some pressure on the IAEA from the U.S. and France, I am confident that the IAEA and Iran will debunk these new 'issues' pretty soon. All 'intelligence' provided by the U.S. to the IAEA since 2002 turned out to be false.

Knowing that the IAEA will declare Iran free of a military nuclear program, the "western" talking points are already changing:

"But the important issue is not so much what Iran did in the past but what it's doing now and might do in future," Mark Fitzpatrick, chief non-proliferation expert at London's International Institute for Strategic Studies, said.

After years of howling about an alleged covered up military nuclear program, this is now less important. Future intent, something obviously unverifyable, is the new issue.

Keep in mind that Iran is only two years away from a nuclear bomb. It was so in 1984 and every year since.

---
Hattip to Iran Affairs, the blog with the most complete coverage of the "nuclear Iran" scare.

Posted by b on February 14, 2008 at 11:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

February 13, 2008

Why the Banks Hate White Knight Buffett

A big fight between the people of the U.S. and Wall Street is developing. At issue is a federal bailout for the three big bond insurers MBIA, Ambac and FGIC. Yesterday the banks lost a big advantage in this. Now more campaigns funds will flow.

The three insurance companies each have two lines of business. The traditional and relative sound one is to provide insurance against the default of municipal bonds. Such bonds are used by all states and bigger cities in the U.S. to borrow money for investment and their daily business. Uninsured bond issues have to pay much higher interest or will not find any buyers at all.

The newer line of business for the bond insurers are the various fraudulant mortgage bonds and their derivatives, CDOs and MBSs, through which major business banks resold bad debt under faulty triple A ratings. Now, as the bad debt bonds have been exposed as such, the insurers will have to pay for their default. But they have too little capital to do so. They will go bust any moment now.

When that happens the uninsured old municipal bonds will immediately fall in value. Depending on the individual contract some bondholder may demand immediate re-payment of the total outstanding loan. For some municipal entities like the city of Pittsburgh, bankruptcy would then be inevitable.

Even if there are no immediate re-payment triggers, the consequences for municipals will be harsh.

Like all 'eternal' entities municipals never pay back debt but issue new bonds to pay off old debt. When the insurers go bust and the old municipal debt is downgraded, it will be hard to get new credit at all. Without sound insurance new municipal bonds already fail to find buyers.

Yesterday the Maryland State and Health and Higher Educational Facilities Authority and the California Statewide Communities Development Authority were unable to get fresh money. The Michigan Higher Education Student Loan Authority stopped issuing student loans because it could not refinance. Rates for fresh debt of the Port Authority of New York jumped to 20%. Without capable insurers, the U.S. taxpayers will have to pay these very high rates or will lack the services that are supported with these municipal bonds.

Up to yesterday the only hope for the municipals was a federal bailout of the bond insurers.

But then came a white knight in the person of Warren Buffett. He offered to take over the complete municipal book of business of MBIA, Ambac and FGIC. This would save the municipal debt market, the issuers and the bond holders. But the three bond insurers would be left with the liabilities for the "big shit pile" of mortgage backed loans in their second line of business.

Municipals and the individual taxpayers will love the Buffett offer. Sure, he'll make a big profit insuring there future bonds. But it will be much cheaper to pay Buffett, than to pay the high rates they would need to pay without insurance. It is also better than a federal bailout which, in the end, would take away the same taxpayer money that supports the municipals.

But Wall Street is very unhappy with the Buffett move. One can expect them to try everything possible to derail it. The owners of the big banks also hoped for a federal government bailout of the bond insurers. If such a bailout does not happen - and it is much more unlikely when the municipals are secure - the big banks will have to write down the value of all their CDO, MBS and other bad debt holdings. This could trigger a financial crisis and some of the big banks would probably go bankrupt.

To avert such a crisis, if possible at all, might still be an argument for a taxpayer bailout. But before the Buffett offer the municipals had a motive to lobby for a federal bailout of the insurers. Now the banks are on their own and even many more millions of campaign dollars may not be enough to get this done.

The finance, insurance and real estate sector already put some $80 million into campaign funds. Her Clintoness is their dearest target. Expect the numbers to surge as the fight for a federal bailout of the bond insurers will intensify.

Posted by b on February 13, 2008 at 12:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (29)

Culture of Fear

Uncle $cam writes in a comment on the militarizing of domestic police forces:

I believe it is scientific, part and parcel of a prototype blueprint of domestic strategia della tensione. Indeed, characteristic of what sociologist Erving Goffman, coined as the 'Total Institution'. The goal of the total institution is to develop a tension between the home world and the institutional world. The goal is to maintain complete submission to authority by all means necessary, be it constant personal humiliation, a constant devising of new forms of psychological harassment along with physical control, a pattern of deliberately-planned severly abusive treatment. Conditioning.

Tangerine touched on the same issue in a comment on torture:

As a show of power, and a tool of control - it works. Its main use is to frighten both opponents and adherents, the actors, the servants, those on the ground.

Zbigniew Brzezinski in an op-ed on the psychological scheme behind the "war of terror":

The "war on terror" has created a culture of fear in America.
...
[T]he little secret here may be that the vagueness of the phrase was deliberately (or instinctively) calculated by its sponsors. Constant reference to a "war on terror" did accomplish one major objective: It stimulated the emergence of a culture of fear. Fear obscures reason, intensifies emotions and makes it easier for demagogic politicians to mobilize the public on behalf of the policies they want to pursue.

All the above, the lunatic air-travel security measures and the 24 TV shows are part of a greater trend.

But what is behind it? It might be Dick Cheney's paranoia and GWB's lack of inner self-esteem projected on the people. As fear generates lots of sales, there are also big business interests involved. It could be some general unconscious fear in the U.S. about the impact of the decline of its empire. I don't know.

The current hope is that a different president will be able to turn the psychological tide by emphasizing a different general sentiment than fear.

But would that really make a difference, or would it just feel better?

Posted by b on February 13, 2008 at 07:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (17)

Open Thread 08-08

News & views ...

Posted by b on February 13, 2008 at 01:24 AM | Permalink | Comments (80)

February 12, 2008

Reporting on Afghanistan from Inside the Bubble

Gideon Rachman is the Financial Times foreign columnist. He recently was in Afghanistan with Rice and Miliband and at his blog reported from inside the bubble:

The security is so tight that it must be virtually impossible for visiting western dignitaries to form any spontaneous impression of Afghanistan. Rice and Miliband arrived early this morning on an unadvertised flight from London. They were immediately put on a military plane to Kandahar - but did not leave the military base there. Then it was back to Kabul, and a short drive to see President Karzai on a road that had been cleared of all traffic. Then it was time to visit some more troops in a gym at Nato HQ. And that's it.
...
I was told that British official advice is strongly against staying in a hotel in Kabul, so the embassy are putting me up. The diplomats are holed up in their official compounds and told not to visit markets or to eat in town.
...
It's difficult to know what to make of it all. Anyway, I'm saving that up for my newspaper column next Tuesday.

The promised column was published today and it certainly shows how effective the bubble has worked on Mr. Rachman himself. He hasn't seen anything of the real Afghanistan, but writes that it is Too soon to give up in Afghanistan. The column is highly manipulative:

The west clearly was far too complacent about Afghanistan. In 2003 Donald Rumsfeld, then US defence secretary, proclaimed that the war was over. But by then an anti-Nato insurgency was beginning in the Afghan countryside.

So "the west", whatever that may be, was "far too complacent". NATO invoked Article 5 on September 12, 2001, but the U.S. didn't want any help from NATO. Rumsfeld - certainly not a representative witness for "the west" by the way - declared major combat over in Afghanistan in May 2003. 

Rachman says "by then an anti-Nato insurgency was beginning". But in May 2003 there was no NATO in Afghanistan. In July there were about 50 NATO troops in Kabul. UN resolution 1510 was passed by the UNSC on 13 October 2003. Only after that were NATO troops allowed to operate outside the capital. They established small compounds in eight cities, not in the countryside. Only in 2005 NATO took over operations in the south. There certainly was no "anti-NATO insurgency" in Afghanistan in 2003. Rachman is obviously fudging history.

A recognition that Afghanistan is likely to be a wild, poor and tribalised country for many years to come should not obscure the fact that life has improved for ordinary Afghans since the fall of the Taliban. Millions of refugees have returned to the country. Schools and roads have been built. Kabul, which was a shell-scarred wreck and home to just 300,000 people in 2001, now has a population of close to 3m.

According to the United Nations Population Division Kabul in 2000 had 1.9 million inhabitants, not 300,000. 

Rachman has seen Kabul through the rosy tainted windows of an armored SUV traveling with Rice on a road cleared of any traffic. He has not been to a market or eaten out. But Kabul is great.

Some seem to differ: Kabul gets 3 hours of electricity a day

The electricity shortage underscores the slow progress in rebuilding the war-torn country. It also feeds other problems. Old factories sit idle and new ones are not built. Produce withers without refrigeration. Dark, cold homes foster resentment against the government.

In Kabul, power dwindles after the region's hydroelectric dams dry up by midsummer. This past fall, residents averaged three hours of municipal electricity a day, typically from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., according to USAID, the American government aid agency. Some neighborhoods got none.

It is of course likely that Rachman did not experience any electricity outage in the UK embassy.

Municipal workers - under direction from the Ministry of Water and Energy - funnel what power there is to politicians, warlords, and foreign embassies.

In his travel blog report Rachman was miffed about comparison with the Russians:

But I'm slightly disturbed by occasional echoes of the Russians' unhappy period here. When there was some discussion about whether our plane would be able to land on a snowy Kabul airport, an Afghan remarked - "The Russians always landed in the snow." And when there was talk of sending girls to school in Afghanistan, I was told that the Russians had been keen on that too.

There is reason to be disturbed. While the Russians lost against an insurgency fueled by "the west", i.e. Stinger missiles given to the Taliban by the U.S., they at least had some capabilities "the west" seems not to have:

"Life takes power," said Jan Agha, a 60-year-old handyman from west Kabul who recalled how the city had plentiful power during the 1980s Soviet occupation. "If you have electricity life is good, but if there's no electricity you go around like a blind man."

A quote from a recent book by long time French-German war correspondent Peter Scholl-Latour (my translation):

After the Soviet Army let, the regime of the communist dictator Nadjibullah stayed in control for another three years. If the Americans would leave, today's president Karzai would not survive for three days.

The typical window-dressing propaganda has to stop. The only reconstruction I observed in Kabul was a huge mosque, a large Islamic university which will inevitably become the hotbed of religious zealots and the extremely luxury, tasteless and heavily guarded super-homes of drug-barons and war-profiteers. Beyond these are miserable shacks of at least 2 to 3 million inhabitants. Public authorities and occupiers have lost control over these shanty-towns a long time ago.

But unlike Scholl-Latour, who walks the grounds to report, Rachman travels in the bubble. Drunk on embassy cool-aid, he urges to continue the occupation of a country he knows nothing about.

Posted by b on February 12, 2008 at 01:13 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Department of State adds $s to Africom

The discussion of military U.S. meddling in Africa is centered around AFRICOM, the U.S. military command for Africa with headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany and under the control of the Defense Department [Question to Berlin: How is having that command in our country serving German interests?]

But part of the money for U.S. military action is burried within the State Department's budget. Via Danger Room we learn of a current State Department solicitation for military base preparation and other services in Africa:

The Department of State (DOS), Bureau of African Affair's Africa Peacekeeping Program (AFRICAP) program covers much of the security assistance work being requested throughout the continent of Africa. The program enhances African countries ability to conduct peacekeeping operations and builds African capacities for crisis management and counter terrorism. One of the program's key objectives is regional peace and stability.
...
DOS uses its peacekeeping operations (PKO) funds to advance that goal by undertaking training of armed forces, enhancing their ability to deploy by land, air and sea. AFRICAP contractors also work with regional organizations to enhance their abilities to prevent, manage, and resolve conflict and supporting peacekeeping and peace building operations.

We can think of some examples here. Like the bloody U.S. coup in Somalia via Ethiopian proxy forces which were trained by U.S. military. Such training will now be privatized:

The program encompasses logistics support, construction, military training and advising, maritime security capacity building, equipment procurement, operational deployment for peacekeeping troops, aerial surveillance and conference facilitation. Potential contractors must possess a broad range of functional regional expertise and logistics support capabilities. The intent is to have contractors on call to undertake a wide range of diverse projects, including setting up operational bases to support peacekeeping operations in hostile environments, military training and to providing a range of technical assistance and equipment for African militaries and peace support operations.

Setting up operational bases in hostile environment is definitely not a civilian mission. It requires fighting. The State Departments request for offers is obviously asking for mercenaries. The budget is $1+ billion for a five year contract. Currently Pacific Architects and Engineers (PAE) and DynCorp International already have a contract for logistic work in Africa. State is now asking others to join:

Our anticipated acquisition strategy includes making multiple awards including 3 to large businesses and 1 to a service disabled, veteran owned or 8(a) firm.

The invitation to bid seems to perfectly fit to Blackwater. Erik Prince, the Blackwater founder and CEO is a veteran. Blackwater recently bought and refurbished a ship that could be used for maritime security capacity building at the coast of Nigeria or elsewhere.

Last year, Blackwater purchased the former National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration ship M/V McArthur, which was launched in 1966. Since then, [retired Coast Guard captain] Ridenour and his crew have refurbished the ship, which now includes capacity for several rigid hull inflatable boats and a flight deck and hangar that can house two helicopters. Like the Pistris vessels, the McArthur has room for 20-foot modular containers. With a crew of 13, the McArthur can deploy with up to 42 government, military, or nongovernmental personnel.

Blackwater has developed into a complete armed force including a Navy, Air-Force and mobile ground troops:

Several aviation-related Web sites have reported that the company, which already owns more than 20 aircraft, is seeking to acquire a Super Tucano light combat plane from the Brazilian manufacturer Embraer.

The propeller-driven planes, which can be outfitted with up to 1-1/2 tons of machine guns, bombs and missiles, are used by Brazil and Colombia to battle insurgents and drug smugglers. Blackwater is buying a two-seat model to be used for pilot training, the Web reports said.

Meanwhile, Blackwater has developed a remotely piloted airship, equipped with state-of-the-art surveillance and communications gear, and is marketing it for use in combat, coastal patrol, and port and border security. It also has an armored personnel carrier in production.

But will Africans welcome that company's work for peace and stability?

What is that anyhow? We might learn that from a U.S. military conference on Stability Operations and State Building which:

will look at theoretical, intellectual, and moral foundations of state-building as derived from the Age of Enlightenment, ethical norms, and religious values from various societies.

Ahh - the White Man's burdon - spreading Enlightenment, ethical norms and religious values - for convinience now outsourced to Blackwater goons.

Take up the White Man's burden--
In patience to abide,
To veil the threat of terror
And check the show of pride;
By open speech and simple,
An hundred times made plain
To seek another's profit,
And work another's gain.

Posted by b on February 12, 2008 at 08:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (22)

February 11, 2008

Horserace Watch

What is the story of the four Obama primary victories in Louisiana, Nebraska, Washington State and Maine? Why did Clinton lose? Tell me.

TPM says Obama may win all February primaries. The momentum then might be enough to let him win some big ones in March.

But then there is quite some gerrymandering in districts and a big victory in a state may not mean a big number of delegates for the winner. As Alex Cockburn points out Obama got 302,684 votes in Alabama and Clinton got 226,454. But somehow that resulted in the same number of delegates for each of them.

When one clicks through the states in the NYT election guide, the details of the delegate allocation seem to vary everywhere and are quite complicate. Just as an example - Nebraska:

Based on the results of precinct-level caucuses on Feb. 9, delegates are pledged to vote for candidates at county conventions in June where, in turn, state delegates are elected. On June 28, state delegates caucus at the state convention. Sixteen pledged delegates result from this process, and five at-large pledged delegates are chosen at the state convention. Additionally, three pledged delegates are selected from party leaders, for a total of 24 pledged delegates. Party leaders comprise six unpledged delegates, and an additional unpledged delegate is selected at the state convention.

Obama won with 68% against Clinton with 32%. But only 16 of 31 total delegates were chosen in that election. Obama got 11 and Clinton 5. The other 15 delegates still can go either way.

Am I the only one to find this system bizarre?

On the Republican side there seems to evolve a "anything but McCain" movement which gave Huckabee two wins. The Washington state party establishment pulled the emergency break and stopped counting votes when McCain was in danger to lose there too.

We have seen such before in Florida, but in a party primary?

While it strives to export 'democracy', the U.S. may first need to import that product to see how it is supposed to function.

Posted by b on February 11, 2008 at 12:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (42)

Fed Rate Cuts Kill People

On December 3 last year I argued that rate cuts will not help in the developing bank crisis but will have severe inflationary effects.

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.

On December 11 the Fed cut its lending rate from 4.5 to 4.25%. The Fed lowered its rate again on January 22 by an alarming 75 basis points to 3.5%. On January 30 it cut again by another 50 basis points to 3%. Additionally the Fed lightened restrictions for certain financial businesses. It flooded the markets with fresh credit to bail out the money men on Wall Street.

As predicted the Fed miss-action did not help where it was supposed to help. The fresh money is  not put to the intended use, but into new speculation. The financial markets are still in turmoil. Banks are still at the border of bankruptcy and some will step over it. But the rate slashes launched a new bubble.

Doug Noland at Prudent Bear reports in his weekly market review (scroll down to the last part):

On the inflation front, major commodities indices (including the CRB and the UBS/Bloomberg Constant Maturity) surged to record highs.  Platinum jumped 7% this week to a record on tight supplies and power shortages in South Africa.  Lead gained 5%.  Copper jumped 7.5% (biggest gain in almost a year), increasing y-t-d gains to almost 16%. Palladium rose to the highest price since 2002.  Sugar rose 5% on Friday, and I’d be remiss not to note crude’s 4% one-day surge.

Unlike bubbles in stock or mortgage markets, commodity price bubbles have deadly consequences.

In such speculation fever commodity producers hold back on their goods or even cut production in hope of further price increases. Exploding metal prices do not really hurt. But when agriculture commodity prices go through the roof, people in poor countries lack the means to buy their daily food. The consequence of exploding agriculture commodity prices will be mass famine.

Noland:

But when it comes to spectacular moves, wheat takes the cake.  Prices surged to yet another record high (up 30% y-t-d), as forecasts have U.S. stockpiles falling to the lowest level since 1948.  Global supplies are said to be the lowest since 1978.  Alarmingly, wheat increased the 30 cent daily limit in Chicago trading for five straight sessions, with Bloomberg reporting this week’s 16% gain as the “biggest in history.”  Prices are now up 140% y-o-y.  Along for the ride, soybeans rose 4% this week to a near-record ( U.S. inventories at 4-yr low), increasing one-year gains to 80%Corn prices gained 2% (having doubled in the past two years), also trading at record highs.  Production and inventory concerns saw coffee prices rise 5.8% this week to the highest level since 1999.  Cocoa gained 3.8% this week (37% 1-yr gain).
...
With trillions of dollar liquidity sloshing vagariously around the global financial “system”, there is clearly more than ample high-octane inflationary fuel to destabilize markets for myriad essential things of limited supply.

The mortgage bubble was created by greed and much too low interest rates. It finally went bust when the Fed increased its rates. But instead of letting the market sort itself out as it should, the Fed cut the rates again and with unprecedented speed. It induced a fresh bubble, this time in the commodity markets.

This new bubble party will continue until the Fed takes the punch bowl away. Commodity prices will rise further until the Fed increase its rate and mops up the speculative excess liquidity. With "Helicopter" Bernanke at the top of the Fed, this is unlikely to happen in time.

The direct consequence of the ongoing bail-out of irresponsible and greedy people on Wall Street is mass starvation because of exploding wheat, rice and other food prices.

The 'biofuel' madness adds to the Fed induced killing. To turn food into gas to run SUV's while people go hungry is the one of the most reckless policies I can think of. What is next? Soylent green?

Posted by b on February 11, 2008 at 05:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

February 10, 2008

Gates: "Who are you gonna believe, me or my memoirs."

After delivering his prepared remarks Gates fielded questions from his audience, which included dozens of top government officials, mainly from Europe and the United States, as well as military officers, private security specialists, members of Congress and European parliamentarians.

A member of the Russian parliament, leading off the questioning, accused the United States of having created today's al-Qaida threat through its support in the 1980s for the mujahadeen resistance to Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

Gates disputed that assertion but said he did regret that the United States abandoned Afghanistan after the Soviets withdrew in 1989. ``The threat from al-Qaida began with the Soviet invasion of a sovereign state in December 1979, a state that up to that point had not represented a threat to anybody in the world, except to a certain extent its own people because of its weakness and poverty,'' Gates said in response to the Russian's question.
Gates Cautions on NATO's Survival, AP, Jan Feb 10, 2008

Somehow I remember that different. Wasn't there a former CIA director who wrote about this? Who claimed that Carter sent big money to the Mujah groups, from which al Qaeda grew, before the Sowjets intervened on the side of the attacked Afghan government?

Indeed:

Question: The former director of the CIA, Robert Gates, stated in his memoirs ["From the Shadows"], that American intelligence services began to aid the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan 6 months before the Soviet intervention. In this period you were the national security adviser to President Carter. You therefore played a role in this affair. Is that correct?

Brzezinski: Yes. According to the official version of history, CIA aid to the Mujahadeen began during 1980, that is to say, after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan, 24 Dec 1979. But the reality, secretly guarded until now, is completely otherwise Indeed, it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. And that very day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention.
Interview with Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter's National Security Adviser, Le Nouvel Observateur, Paris, 15-21 January 1998

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The truth is that the United States began a program of covert aid to the Afghan guerrillas six months before the Soviets invaded.

First revealed by former Director of Central Intelligence Robert Gates in his 1996 memoir From the Shadows, the $500 million in nonlethal aid was designed to counter the billions the Soviets were pouring into the puppet regime they had installed in Kabul. Some on the American side were willing--perhaps even eager--to lure the Soviets into a Vietnam-like entanglement. Others viewed the program as a way of destabilizing the puppet government and countering the Soviets, whose undeniable aggression in the area was helping to reheat the cold war to a dangerous boil.
'Blowback,' the Prequel, The Nation, Oct 25, 2001

---

Gates even defends Carter's handling of Afghanistan, reporting that the president and his advisers reacted far earlier than is generally understood, most notably by authorizing covert aid to Afghan insurgents.
Surprises From Gates's 1996 Memoir, WaPo, Jan 7, 2007

Posted by b on February 10, 2008 at 07:44 AM | Permalink | Comments (10)

MiniLuv Says Torture Has Always Been Legal

by Monolycus

I'm not a legal scholar, of course, but I was always under the impression that the study and application of law and judicial processes was somehow different than "making up shit as you go".

Consider the latest in a string of Grand Inquisi-- um, Attorney Generals, Michael Mukasey.  He remarked on Thursday that the US cannot investigate the intelligence community for employing the (clearly) torture technique of waterboarding because, apparently now, the Justice department had ruled in "...2002 and 2003 (that it) was legal, and therefore the department cannot investigate whether a crime had occurred."  He states that "That would mean that the same department that authorized the program would now consider prosecuting somebody who followed that advice."

Now, while his predecessor Alberto Gonzalez, became notorious for his inability to remember anything that did happen, it seems that Mukasey has the opposite affliction and is remembering things which never actually occured.

During his confirmation hearings in 2007 (4-5 years after the imaginary 2002-2003 DOJ torture greenlight he referenced last Thursday), he stated that he had no opinion about its legality (strongly implying that, at that date, the DOJ had given no such advice as Mukasey referred to on Thursday). As a matter of fact, a good part of his grudging confirmation was based on the idea that this was, as of 2007, still an open question and that Mukasey would find his humanity in his sock drawer at some undisclosed date after he occupied the office:

"Before the waterboard issue arose, Judge Michael Mukasey was deemed to be an ideal candidate for the next attorney general of the United States, almost as if he had come out of central casting," said Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the committee's senior Republican.

Feinstein and Schumer made clear the waterboarding issue will not end with Mukasey's confirmation. They said they were swayed by Mukasey's promise that he will enforce a law banning waterboarding if Congress passes it.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who voted against Mukasey, said President Bush might veto such a law.

"Some have sought to find comfort in Judge Mukasey's personal assurance that he would enforce a future new law against waterboarding if this Congress were to pass one," Leahy said. "Unsaid, of course, is the fact that any such prohibition would have to be enacted over the veto of this president."

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, praised Mukasey's independence. "I don't believe that he would allow any illegal program to go forward," Grassley said. "And I don't believe that he would bow to any kind of pressure, even from the president."

Sometime between his November 2007 confirmation and January 2008, a retroactive DOJ position on this issue seems to have been created. Of course, we would not be aware of any such legal position from the DOJ because (and make the appropriate updates for those of you who, like me, are still trying to get a feel for the new rules and history), public laws apparently can be secret now.

In October, Mukasey insisted he could not make a declaration of legality because he had not been briefed on classified programs. On Wednesday, he took a different approach but ended up in the same place. Now that he has been briefed, he said, he can see that reasonable people may differ.

"There are some circumstances where current law would appear clearly to prohibit the use of waterboarding. Other circumstances would present a far closer question," he testified.

That prompted Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, to demand Mukasey identify "reasonable people" who differ with him. When Mukasey suggested the Senate included such people, Whitehouse rejected the answer, insisting the Senate had spoken in passing a measure outlawing the technique. But Mukasey pointed to another Senate vote in which such a declaration was rejected.

At any rate, two weeks before Mukasey's proclamation on Thursday that the DOJ's hands are tied by its revised decision to support torture, he announced that, while not expressly illegal, we could torture people if we want to, but we don't. Or not. Maybe they're not allowed to, but it's not illegal. Or something like that:

In a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) that was delivered to the panel on Tuesday night, Mukasey said the CIA is not allowed to waterboard any detainees at this time.

After conducting a review of the CIA interrogation program, as he promised to do during his confirmation hearings, Mukasey said he found that a "limited set of methods is currently authorized for use in that program. I have been authorized to disclose publicly that waterboarding is not among those methods. Accordingly, waterboarding is not, and may be be [wait, what...?], used in the program."

But Mukasey refused once again, as he did during his confirmation hearing when pressed by Democrats, to declare whether waterboarding, in his opinion, is torture under U.S. law.

Alles klaar? Good. Get your wetsuits on, boys

Posted by b on February 10, 2008 at 04:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (41)

February 08, 2008

War over Mosul

Mosul is for some time now a hotbed of resistance activities in Iraq.

It is the capital of the Ninawa Governorate near to the Kurdish area in north Iraq. It lies on both sides of the Tigris with five bridges connection these parts. At least two of these bridges have earlier been under attack. Mosul has nearly 2,000,000 inhabitants.

Maliki has ordered a huge offensive against Mosul involving a three brigade size (10,000-15,000 troops) force of Iraqi government troops and U.S. support (likely one brigade - 3,500 troops).

The attack will start in the next few days.

Yesterday someone took out eight cellphone towers in Mosul by setting them ablaze. This will certainly be a problem for the government forces who do not have good internal communication equipment yet and depend to least to some part on cellphone communication.

This attack on the telco towers comes the same day the Washington Post reports on a change in tactics of the Baathist resistance in Iraq (WaPo says 'Al-Qaida in Iraq', but I agree with Scott Ritter that AQI is to a large part "a con game being run by Izzat al-Douri and the Sunni resistance.")

WaPo:

The insurgent group is now reaching out to disaffected Sunni tribal leaders in a bid to win back their support, even as it attacks Sunnis working closely with the Americans, according to Abdullah Hussein Lehebi, an emir from the Amiriyah section of Anbar south of Fallujah. "In exchange, we would not target them again and would respect the authority of the tribal leaders," he said in an interview with a Post special correspondent at a date orchard near the Euphrates River in Amiriyah.

Lehebi, 47, whose nom de guerre is Abu Khalid al-Dulaimi, said the group's main focus now was to attack bridges, oil pipelines and telephone towers, as well as U.S. troops and their Sunni allies.

This report of a change in resistance tactics is supported by a piece Juan Cole excerpts today. Arab Intelligence Organizations Hold Secret Meeting To Confront Shiites In Iraq. Coles summary:

The USG Open Source Center translates a report from the Iranian Fars News Agency that summarizes an article in the Iraqi newspaper al-Bayanat al-Jadidah claiming that Sunni Arab intelligence agencies recently met in Amman to discuss ways of undermining the Shiite government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and of replacing al-Qaeda commanders in Iraq with Sunni fighters more acceptable to the locals.

While the meeting might well have taken place, I doubt that the Arab intelligence services have the control and means to change resistance leaders in Iraq at will. (At the same time another Arab ministerial level meeting in Tunis just agreed on an all out media shutdown of resistance reporting.)

But the essence of both, the WaPo AQI interview and the Fars report, is the change in the tactical approach of the resistance towards other Sunni's. The ending of attempts to impose Wahabbi style religious stricture on Sunni Iraqi tribes and a renewed emphasis on infrastucture attacks.

This is then the timely end of the suicide campaign run by Abu Omar al-Baghdadi which was ordered in early December and supposed to end on January 29.

That 'unification' campaign by the takfiiri side of the resistance targeted Sunni tribes and was to discourage especially some (temporarily) U.S. paid 'Awakening Councils' to split away from the resistance for good.

The initiative and emphasis is now (again) turning away from the religious side of the resistance back to the more military-pragmatic side of the Baathist resistance leader Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri. (Where did he spend that two month vacation?)

A new phase of the war over Iraq has started.

The coming fight over Mosul will get bloody. As the Arab media will now be censored, it might take a while until we get a somewhat true picture of it.

If the resistance takes a stand over Mosul two big questions will come up:

  • Will Sadr end his truce and chip in with the resistance?
  • What will the 'Awakening Councils' do?

 

Posted by b on February 8, 2008 at 02:11 PM | Permalink | Comments (28)

February 07, 2008

Green Afghanistan

A late 2007 BBC/ABC/ARD poll in Afghanistan shows a quite big support for Karzai and temporary foreign troop stationing. But, as ABC notes, the general support is trending lower and:

Among Afghans who report shelling, bombing or civilian deaths in their area caused by U.S. or NATO forces, approval of U.S. efforts overall drops sharply, to 29 percent. Specifically in the Southwest, among people who report no civilian deaths or injuries caused by coalition forces, 64 percent say people in their area support these forces. Among those who report such casualties, that support is 30 points lower.
...
In Kandahar, the Taliban's hometown, just 18 percent see a better life for their children; it's a still-low 37 percent in next-door Helmand. That soars, by contrast, to three-quarters in Balkh and two-thirds in Kunduz, two Northern provinces.

The other big point:

Lack of jobs, electricity and medical care and poor roads, bridges and other infrastructure are other broad and persistent concerns. Nearly half the population is illiterate; six in 10 Afghans have household incomes under $100 a month.

There is the hen and egg problem of violence. Does Taliban presense necessiates more 'kinetic' foreign troop presence, or does foreign troop 'kinetic' activity increase the support for and number of Taliban.

Karzai says more foreign troops are not the answer and forced eradication of opium, another U.S. 'recommendation', would be a major problem.

At some point last year Associated Press tallied more civilians killed by foreign troops than by Taliban. In total, the Taliban seem not to be the big problem unless 'the west' makes them the big problem.

The general support for the Taliban is low (14%) but growing. The major problems the poll found,  electricity, jobs and clean water, can be solved if enough resources are invested there.

But while the foreign countries engaged in Afghanistan spend billions on their military there (Germany 500+ million Euros), international development programs count in millions (Germany 100 million Euros). That relation is a shame. Additionally many aid-dollars are skimmed off by international contractors and via conditional aid. (BTW: I couldn't find U.S. numbers for military costs vs. civil aid - any ideas?)

Here are my recommendations on what to do in Afghanistan:

  1. Stop fighting ghosts and creating new ones. The locals can fight or integrate the Taliban much better than anyone else.
  2. Launch a $25 billion, 10 year program 'Green Afghanistan'. This money is to be a gift: Not 'debt relief', not 'development credit', not conditioned on 'buy only from originator', not for technical 'license fees'. This money has to be a gift.

Mayor program points of 'Green Afghanistan':

Electricity: Variants of modern energy mills in the 1, 10 and 100 kilowatt class optimized for low-tech production and little maintainance need. With modern stateless (no maintainance) technology hundreds of those community mills can be interconnected locally to form a self sustaining net. Sometimes there will be no wind, but better intermitted electricity than none at all. Add solar when local production of solar panels is feasible.

Build 100 factories to produce such energy mills locally. Use as little import parts/materials as possible. Needed imports, the machinery and transport costs will be payed by the aid program for maybe 5-10 years. Attach basic engineering schools to each factory. After growing experience and the supporting industries, these products can be major Afghan exports ten years from now.

Water: Use windmills/watertowers/solar for pumping. Build small(!) dam projects. Build standardized low tech, biological sewer treatment systems.

Wood: Afghanistan is seriously deforested. Build a countrywide reforestation program with hundreds of tree nurseries and schools for locals to learn to create and tend to the reforestated areas. Concentrate on fighting timber rather than opium smuggling.

Ahh, opium: Best solution, buy it for cheap at the local markets (80% of the export price is margin for the dealers). Use for regular medicine whatever is feasible and discard the rest. Do not enforce eradication. Don't fight smuggling. Offer alternatives. For the last point - do NOT import food but in serious emergencies. When food prices go up, farmers will turn away from growing poppies.

Other important points:

Only local labor and companies to be allowed below the level of engineering. Why are Chinese day laborers and U.S. companies building Afghan roads when unemployment is the Afghan number one problem?

Stop building those big roads between the major foreign troop garrisons. Local roads to local markets are much more important for the economy than super highways.

Let the local sheiks and tribal elder councils run the projects. They will skim off some of the money - so what. Recruit only locals for police/security forces - pay them well.

A note to imperialists:

There are much more profits to be made by skimming off a well grown economy, than a dirt poor one. Give some money to Afghanistan, let it grow for a while and you will reap in good profits. In between - shun your hedge fund managers and google long term profitability.

Posted by b on February 7, 2008 at 10:46 AM | Permalink | Comments (24)

February 06, 2008

Super Tuesday Results

Some thoughts on the Super Tuesday results.

Obama and Clinton are in a draw with a slight advantage for Clinton. The fight beween the racists and the sexists will thereby continue. The victory may depend on who offers the biggest bribes for the super delegates.

From the progressive point of view, Hillary looks like the better side of a bad binary choice. But no matter who wins this, the party isn't really split about them and would support both as candidates.

A real split can be seen on the Republican side. The religious nuts and ultra-conservatives will never support McCain. Huckabee is a whacko, Romney a money side flip-flopper par excellance and McCain a war mongering neo-con. Bush filled all three roles in one person.

While McCain looks like he will in the end win that race, he will not have enough base support to win against Clinton or Obama.

Another big 'terrorist' event could change that.

Posted by b on February 6, 2008 at 08:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (103)

OT 08-07

News & views ... open thread ...

Please comment.

Posted by b on February 6, 2008 at 03:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (118)

February 05, 2008

Denial and Deception

The 'Webpage of the Day' has a very fitting title:

IRAQ - Denial and Deception - Feb 5, 2003

Posted by b on February 5, 2008 at 11:29 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

February 04, 2008

Imperial Catfighting on Afghanistan

The media is missing a big story about imperial catfighting in Afghanistan.

Here is how I'd tell it.

The British were on track to buy off a very high Afghan Taliban commander and to put his forces to some sensible use. In December Gordon Brown was in Afghanistan and sought the okay from the Afghan president Karzai.

The Britains send two of their top MI 6 agents, covered as UN and EU advisors, to negotiate with Mansoor Dadullah, the top Taliban commander in south Afghanistan.

A successful deal with him would have split off a significant chunk from the core Taliban forces. It likely would have been a great step to pacify the area.

In a pending meeting Mansoor Dadullah was to be given a satellite phone for further secure negotiations with the agents. The British also offered a ton of money as well as retraining and jobs for Mansoor Dadullah's fighters. A camp would be set up near Musa Qala and training, including for police and military service, would be given.

The mission was blown when the U.S. (Khalizad?) got a whiff of it. They hated the idea. Maybe because they really don't like to talk with the Talibans. But more likely because they don't like the British to do their deals.

They 'tipped off' the Afghan Interior Minister who is under their control. On their way to the negotiations the British agents were raided and detained by the Interior Minister forces.

Karzai was between a rock and a hard place (both speaking English though with different accents.) But in the end he is more a U.S. tool than a British asset. So he denied any knowledge of the British plans and kicked the agents out of the country.

Sec Def Gates angrily denounced the British actions without revealing the real story.

Deals are only to be done by the U.S. The British are certainly better at making them, but their deals will be sabotaged unless they are done under U.S. supervision.

That's the short version of the story. Now the longer trail that leads to it.

A year ago I wrote about Musa Qala:

[In summer 2006] British troops had been under siege and took fatalities in the small Afghan city of Musa Qala. Musa Qala is also the name of the river next to the city as well as the name of the province

Taliban did regularly attack the Brits and the city was coming apart. The provincial governor cut a deal with the Talibs and the city elders. The Brits approved as did the Afghan president Karzai.

The elders took over, a local police force was set up and in October [2006] the British left the area. Everybody was satisfied except the U.S., which criticized the deal.

In early 2007, despite the promissed truce, a U.S. bombing raid on a family home near Musa Qala killed the brother of the the local Taliban commander, Mullah Abdul Ghafoor. This ended the deal and the Taliban thru out the government accepted forces in Musa Qala and retook the town.

In late 2007 USuk forces again captured the town. Involved was another deal with another local commander:

The operation’s speed and relatively tidy conclusion is due in large part from a back-door political deal hammered out between the Afghan government and a local Taliban strongman, Mullah Abdul Salaam Alizai, last October.
...
The government’s deal with Mullah Abdul Salaam included his future position as Musa Qala’s governor, which he was appointed to on January 7, and allowed him to pick and choose other local authorities such as the new police chief.

That deal was done with U.S. agreement, but other bigger British deals were still pending.

The British MI 6 is for some times involved in various negotiations with Talibans.

In December, after meeting with Karzai in Kabul, Gordon Brown officially announced further British  deals by graciously allowing the Afghan government to make such:

Britain is understood to have given the green light to President Hamid Karzai to undertake talks with Taliban militants as part of a long-term strategy to bring peace in Afghanistan.

The controversial announcement, which is likely to meet resistance from American hardliners, is now seen as essential amid intense fighting in the war-torn country with the prospect of British troops becoming tied up for more than a decade.

But shortly after Browns announcement something went wrong. Suddenly the Afghans killed the nomination of the British Lord Ashdown as UN/EU/NATO Viceroy in Kabul and kicked out two individuals:

President Hamid Karzai's spokesman, Humayun Hamidzada, said the two men - named in reports as a British senior UN official, Mervyn Patterson, and an Irish senior adviser to the European Union mission, Michael Semple - were "involved in some activities that were not their jobs".
...
Both Semple and Patterson are said to have years of experience in Afghanistan, speaking the local languages and understanding the country's complex tribal structures. They had travelled to the town of Musa Qala in the volatile southern province of Helmand on Monday, said a spokesman for the UN mission in Afghanistan, Aleem Siddique.

These two individuals were working for MI 6. Asia Times' Syed Saleem Shahzad reports on the "Irish EU advisor":

The fluent Dari-speaking Semple had spent over 18 years in Afghanistan in various capacities, including with the United Nations and as an advisor to the British Embassy in Kabul, before being expelled last month after being accused of talking to the Taliban.

His colleagues within the Western community call him a British spy; he had become close to tribes in northern Afghanistan during the Taliban's rule in the late 1990s. Semple has a Muslim Pakistani wife.

A 2001 report says:

Michael Semple began working in Afghanistan in the mid-1980s, after answering an ad in the paper in the UK.

Up to 1989 the Sowjets were still in Afghanistan. Who in the mid-1980s hired people in Britain to go to Afghanistan?

Shahzad also writes:

In one British initiative they targeted Mullah Mansoor Dadullah, the brother of slain Taliban strongman Mullah Dadullah, who was the new commander of the Taliban in southwestern Afghanistan.

So two MI 6 folks were in serious negotiations with high level Taliban. But the mission was sabotaged

[A]ccording to a senior Afghan intelligence source, American officials had been unhappy about meetings between the men and high-level Taliban commanders in the volatile Helmand province.

The source claimed that the US alerted Afghan authorities after learning that the diplomats were providing direct financial and other support - including mobile phone cards - to the Taliban commanders, in the hope of persuading them to swap sides.

"This warning came from the Americans," he said. "They were not happy with the support being provided to the Taliban. They gave the information to our intelligence services, who ordered the arrests."

When the mission was blown the Taliban leader Mullah Omar confirmed the negotiation story by firing Mullah Mansoor Dadullah, the target of the British operation:

"Mansoor Dadullah does not obey the rules of the Islamic emirate and violates it.

"Therefore it was decided not to appoint any post in the emirate to him," the statement said.
...
Mansoor Dadullah has been heading Taleban operations in Helmand, Kandahar and other southern provinces where attacks against the Kabul government and international forces are most intense.

If the deal that was blown had gone through Mullah Omar would likely have lost control over south Afghanistan.

Today we learn of the content of the British offer:

Britain planned to build a Taliban training camp for 2,000 fighters in southern Afghanistan, as part of a top-secret deal to make them swap sides, intelligence source Compose Posts in Kabul have revealed. The plans were discovered on a memory stick seized by Afghan secret police in December.
...
The camp was due to be built outside Musa Qala, in Helmand. It was part of a package of reconstruction and development incentives designed to win trust and support in the aftermath of the British-led battle to retake the stronghold last year.
...
The memory stick revealed that $125,000 (£64,000) had been spent on preparing the camp and a further $200,000 was earmarked to run it in 2008, an Afghan official said. The figures sparked allegations that British agents were paying the Taliban.
...
The camp would also have provided vocational training, including farming and irrigation techniques, to offer people a viable alternative to growing opium. But the Afghan government took issue with plans to provide military training, to turn the insurgents into a defence force.

A good deal was blown because the U.S. did not like it.

Shortly after the British deal got killed Sec Def Gates kind of confirmed it with his otherwise very unexpected critic of NATO allies:

"I'm worried we're deploying [military advisors] that are not properly trained and I'm worried we have some military forces that don't know how to do counterinsurgency operations," Gates said in an interview.

This is the my-way-or-no-way approach the U.S. likes to take (and which usually ends in cul-de-sac.)

The U.S. has not yet accepted it Change of the U.S. Role in the World. Why didn't it let the deal go through? Why insist on kinetic solutions when other ways are available?

Gordon Brown is certainly mightly pissed and, while shutting up now, will remember this issue at a time and case that may be very inconvinient to the U.S.

Posted by b on February 4, 2008 at 02:57 PM | Permalink | Comments (22)

Exceptionalism

by Juan Moment
(lifted from a comment)

It is exactly this semi-religious belief in Exceptionalism which time and time again brings suffering to mankind. From ancient cultures such as Rome, through the British empire, to Nazi-Germany, the last thing this world needs is delusional mortals with a conviction that they are somewhat superior. Largely unnoticed by those narcists, busy wallowing in self-admiration, the world laughs at people who claim to be part of the Ueber-race/nation. Coz besides bigger and more guns, tools of mindless war, they have nothing which sets them apart from the rest. Certainly not brains.

To watch one administration after another roam the international circuit like Ming the Merciless, makes the average universal punter wish for Flash Gordon to rocket by to show Ming where the hammer hangs. This has lead to a rise in popularity of regimes who stand up against the machine known as US foreign policy. Large numbers of world citizens cheer at news that the US has problems of sort, creating an environment in which the country's superpower status can not survive.

If the USA wants to regain popularity points it lost over the decades, it must address foremost and first of all the hypocrisy it has become to personify. She is certainly not the only nation which says one thing and does another, but to do so in such blatant a fashion as the US does, factually asks for worldwide condemnation. There is hardly one facet of US foreign policy which isn’t a contradiction to another. Proclaiming that democratic elections in Palestine are a great step forward, and then refusing to deal with the party that got fair & square elected, makes for one bad joke.

The rules at the table are mostly straight forward. If you want to spread democracy, don’t support dictators. If you don’t want other countries to have nuclear weapons, have none yourself. If you want to lift Africa out of poverty, give more aid. Should peace on earth be your desire, start no wars. If the appearance of being god’s nation is important to you, act as Jesus would have. Don’t want foreign countries meddle with your affairs, don't meddle in other countries. Can’t get much easier than that. Don’t do upon others what you don’t want to have done to yourself.

To have the courts stacked by daddy, allowing thus sonny to win a rigged election, is just not democracy. Thinking about it, to have first the father, and a few years later the son run a country doesn’t sound like democracy. Or first the husband then his wife, out of a quarter of a billion people, is democracy the right word? Dynasty more likely, with many of the past 40 odd presidents having somehow or another been of the same house. The incestuous relationships within the parliamentary scene, lead to a congress where one crow won’t pick on the other. Preaching democracy to other nations becomes then that much harder, if oneself has a system which allows its president to unashamedly commit war crimes without ever being held accountable for it by congress.

To be seen as a nation one should aspire to, it also pays to have affordable health care for everyone, a social net able to catch the falling before they hit the ground. The missing funds to do that are actually not missing at all, just misspend on items needed to project fabricated power. A rethink in that direction might help the US’s role on the global stage, allowing for more people across the world to feel more comfortable when the US under-secretary of state visits the neighboring country, whilst at the same time reversing the trend of slipping down the global rankings whenever social & domestic indicators are measured. What a chance to be the beacon.

And although I believe that large sections in the “elite” are beyond hope, I have faith in the US electorate. The watermark of American Exceptionalism on the pages chosen to record US history, and this is not the last act, many chapters still to come, will be barely visible once the full story has been written. Humble pie, paid in gold and blood. There is only so many imperial wars one can wage before the karmic wheel catches up. Nevermind the stock market. Once the sad truth of “guilty through indifference” hits home, the realization that what is going down is largely happening because of one's own complacency, that’s when I guess the proverbial pitchforks will come out. It will not be soon, but come it will. As predictable as a flush in the toilet.

The end of the old SU empire, if one can call it that, was partly due to its imperial overstretch, hence overspending on military expenses and underspending on the domestic front. In order to keep the inevitable critics under control, increasing efforts were needed to create more and more elaborate means of spying on the own population. Not that different from what the US is doing today. Eventually the public will wake up in droves to this impending repetition of history to put someone in power who’ll pull the lever on the imperialometer into reverse.

Except that nowhere in the original concept of exceptionalism is the patented need or desire to export it.

So true. Looking at the long list of ideologists who have asserted their tribe/nation’s right to exceptionalism, to be the one out, with true claim to be exceptional, would be the one nation who didn’t end up lecturing the “inferior” nations about how to go about their business. The invention of a new technology is certainly not exceptional, but for the first time in history to not consider its use for military purpose would be. It’s hard to see how a nation could be exceptional on all fronts, but to be truly outstanding on the ones that matter, human rights and environmental concerns being just two, a good dose of self-criticism is needed. Leading by example rather than the sword should be the motto, a point so totally lost on many on Capitol Hill. Not dictating changes to others, invite imitations instead.

Posted by b on February 4, 2008 at 09:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (18)

Hersh on the "Box on the Euphrates"

The new Symour Hersh story, A Strike in the Dark, is about Israel's bombing of the Syrian Box-on-the-Euphrates.

Before diving into Hersh's account let me recap what was written here about the issue.

Early dispatches of the September 6 bombing were linked by Debs and Bea. On September 11 I mulled about Another Middle East Mystery. The reporting on it smelled of a neocon/Israeli campaign -  The Building of a Nuclear Syria Meme. We compared Propaganda: 2002-Iraq 2007-Syria and in a comment noted the "stovepiping" of intelligence on the issue. On September 29 we documented that Hillary Clinton actively peddled the neocon/Israeli "nuclear Syria" story despite better knowledge.

On October 4 my assertion was that Israel Failed to Provoke War. On October 14 the NYT revived the factless 'nuclear Syria' propaganda. This was noted in Baseless "News" on Page 1. In late October David Albright of ISIS peddled satellite pictures of the Syrian site as 'evidence' of something 'nuclear'. I asserted that this was false. In War from the Mediterranean to Kashmir I said:

All the rumors about a 'nuclear target' [in Syria] there appear to be 'curveball' like fabrications ...

Now it is nice to learn that nearly all of my thoughts on the issue are confirmed by Hersh's research and sources:

  • There was no 'nuclear target'.
  • Syria has no 'nuclear program'.
  • Most of the 'official' accounts about the issue were pure propaganda.
  • The press was lied to and lied itself.
  • David Albright's photo analysis was influenced by Israelis and dead wrong.

Hersh does not dive into the neocon connections to the campaign I believe to have proven.

He does not find any real reason why the bombing took place, but he seems not to test the hypothesis that it might have been an attempt to start a bigger war. This something I still find likely.

In total the long Hersh piece well worth your time. It is also a good documentation of managed propaganda.

Some excerpts with added emphasis:

The seemingly unprovoked bombing, which came after months of heightened tension between Israel and Syria over military exercises and troop buildups by both sides along the Golan Heights, was, by almost any definition, an act of war.
...

Within hours of the attack, Syria denounced Israel for invading its airspace, but its public statements were incomplete and contradictory—thus adding to the mystery.
...
It was evident that officials in Israel and the United States, although unwilling to be quoted, were eager for the news media to write about the bombing. Early on, a former officer in the Israel Defense Forces with close contacts in Israeli intelligence approached me, with a version of the standard story, including colorful but, as it turned out, unconfirmable details: Israeli intelligence tracking the ship from the moment it left a North Korean port; Syrian soldiers wearing protective gear as they off-loaded the cargo; Israeli intelligence monitoring trucks from the docks to the target site.
...
Joseph Cirincione, the director for nuclear policy at the Center for American Progress, a Washington, D.C., think tank, told me, “Syria does not have the technical, industrial, or financial ability to support a nuclear-weapons program. I’ve been following this issue for fifteen years, and every once in a while a suspicion arises and we investigate and there’s nothing. There was and is no nuclear-weapons threat from Syria. This is all political.” Cirincione castigated the press corps for its handling of the story. “I think some of our best journalists were used,” he said.

A similar message emerged at briefings given to select members of Congress within weeks of the attack. The briefings, conducted by intelligence agencies, focussed on what Washington knew about the September 6th raid. .. The legislator’s conclusion, the staff member said, was “There’s nothing that proves any perfidy involving the North Koreans.”
...
[Albright] concluded his [photo] analysis by posing a series of rhetorical questions that assumed that the target was a nuclear facility
...
The [Washington] Post ran a story, without printing the imagery, on October 19th, reporting that “U.S. and foreign officials familiar with the aftermath of the attack” had concluded that the site had the “signature,” or characteristics, of a reactor “similar in structure to North Korea’s facilities”—a conclusion with which Albright then agreed. In other words, the Albright and the Post reports, which appeared to independently reinforce each other, stemmed in part from the same sources.

Albright told me that before going public he had met privately with Israeli officials.
...
Proliferation experts at the International Atomic Energy Agency and others in the arms-control community disputed Albright’s interpretation of the images. “People here were baffled by this, and thought that Albright had stuck his neck out,” a diplomat in Vienna, where the I.A.E.A. is headquartered, told me. “The I.A.E.A. has been consistently telling journalists that it is skeptical about the Syrian nuclear story, but the reporters are so convinced.”
...
The journey of the Al Hamed, a small coastal trader, became a centerpiece in accounts of the September 6th bombing. On September 15th, the Washington Post reported that “a prominent U.S. expert on the Middle East” said that the attack “appears to have been linked to the arrival . . . of a ship carrying material from North Korea labeled as cement.” The article went on to cite the expert’s belief that “the emerging consensus in Israel was that it delivered nuclear equipment.” Other press reports identified the Al Hamed as a “suspicious North Korean” ship.
...
At the time of the bombing, according to Lloyd’s, it was flying a Comoran flag and was owned by four Syrian nationals. In earlier years, under other owners, the ship seems to have operated under Russian, Estonian, Turkish, and Honduran flags. Lloyd’s records show that the ship had apparently not passed through the Suez Canal—the main route from the Mediterranean to the Far East—since at least 1998.
...
Faruq al-Shara, the Syrian Vice-President, told me. “Israel bombed to restore its credibility, and their objective is for us to keep talking about it. And by answering your questions I serve their objective. Why should I volunteer to do that?”
...
A senior Syrian official confirmed that a group of North Koreans had been at work at the site, but he denied that the structure was related to chemical warfare. ... The facility that was attacked, the official said, was to be one of a string of missile-manufacturing plants scattered throughout Syria—“all low tech. Not strategic.” ...
Whatever was under construction, with North Korean help, it apparently had little to do with agriculture—or with nuclear reactors—but much to do with Syria’s defense posture, and its military relationship with North Korea. And that, perhaps, was enough to silence the Syrian government after the September 6th bombing.
...
The former U.S. senior intelligence official told me that, as he understood it, America’s involvement in the Israeli raid dated back months earlier, and was linked to the Administration’s planning for a possible air war against Iran.
...
There is evidence that the preëmptive raid on Syria was also meant as a warning about—and a model for—a preëmptive attack on Iran. When I visited Israel this winter, Iran was the overriding concern among political and defense officials I spoke to—not Syria.
...
Retired Major General Giora Eiland, who served as the national-security adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, told me, “The Israeli military takes it as an assumption that one day we will need to have a military campaign against Iran, to slow and eliminate the nuclear option.” He added, “Whether the political situation will allow this is another question.

Posted by b on February 4, 2008 at 08:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

February 03, 2008

Change of the U.S. Role in the World

In today's LA Times Fred Kaplan discusses the need of a more realistic U.S. view on its changed role in the world:

It should be no surprise that the presidential campaigns have barely touched on foreign policy. [...] [N]o ambitious politician is willing to mention the discomfiting reality about America's place in the world -- that we are weaker today than we were a decade or two ago, and that we need a new foreign policy that acknowledges and builds on that fact.
[...]
Our leverage over half the world during the previous half-century had stemmed not just from American muscle but from the existence of a common enemy. [...] But when the [Soviet] bear died, the alliance's threads loosened.
[...]
The United States has emerged from the tectonic shift as something more like an ordinary country -- a world power but not a superpower. This is unfamiliar territory for Americans. For half a century, we had been a superpower in a world that was tightly structured. Now we're upper-middle management in a world without big bosses -- a world that's either becoming multipolar or teetering toward anarchy.
[...]
It's no longer morning in America, but it's not quite twilight either. The next president's big challenge will be to revive America's influence and stature while facing up to the limits of its power in a newly fractured world. And one of the bigger political challenges of that task will be to acknowledge, openly, that our power does have limits.

The U.S. elections are watched closely all over the world because they matter. There sometimes seems to be as much reporting on U.S. candidates in my local German rag as there is in U.S. papers.

In the German weekly Die Zeit former chancellor and 'atlanticist' Helmut Schmidt has Twelve Questions for the Candidates (in German; the automated  translation gets the gist). His questions touch on the same issue Kaplan is writing about.

If the U.S. wants to stay important, it will have to seek consense and stop to dictate solutions.

Unfortunatly none of the candidates has really spoken out about foreign policy. Yes, there are a few mangled bits about Iraq, but the world is much bigger than that and there are other very important issues.

The campaigns all are working by the mantra 'elections are local'. U.S. voters still seem to believe that U.S. foreign policy doesn't really matter much to them.

But, as Kaplan rightly points out, the U.S. position in the world has changed. The consequences of U.S. foreign policy will have bigger and bigger domestic repercussions. This especially in an economic sense and far beyond the price of oil.

There needs to be more public discussion about cause and effect of U.S. foreign policy. 9/11 was a chance for that. But then the discussion was quickly supressed in favor of a certain imperial agenda.

Posted by b on February 3, 2008 at 02:32 PM | Permalink | Comments (27)

 
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