Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
May 31, 2008

Amb. Crocoker Lies on Chapter 7 and Iraq

Badger helps us to understand the complicate maneuverings in Iraq around the U.S.-Iraq Status of Force (SOFA) and Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA).

There is opposition to both of these to different degrees within the government fractions and within the opposition  groups. This has nothing to do with sectarianism but sets up the government side, which would not survive in its position without the U.S. forces, against the nationalist Shia and Sunni opposition.

As Badger translates from Al Hayat:

[O]bservers stressed that the latest version includes text relating to the establishment of 400 locations and bases [for the American forces], exemption [from Iraqi legal process] for American soldiers and citizens, and elimination of any responsibility [on the American side] for participation in the rebuilding of Iraq.

400 bases, of course not 'permanent' ones but only for a 100 years, must be about the number the U.S. currently has in Iraq. So effectively nothing would change.

Maliki may sign up such agreements when Crocker puts a gun to his head but I doubt that the Iraqi people will swallow that frog even under gunpoint, which of course they currently are anyway.

There is a nice line of disinformation coming from Ambassador Crocoker on this. Al Hayat via Badger:

"These protests [by Hakim and Hashemi respectively] have not stopped the Iraqi Foreign Ministry from announcing that the negotiations will be continued; and informed sources said Crocker has informed the Iraqi politicians that the US rejects holding a general referendum on the clauses of the agreement adding that it would be bad if Iraq were unable to exit from Clause 7" (of the UN charter, which governs the current status of US forces in the country).

"it would be bad if Iraq were unable to exit from Clause 7" - horseshit!!!

The current dubious legality of the U.S. in Iraq derives from the 2004 UN resolution 1546 (pdf). As CNN reported when that  resolution was approved:

[The resolution] also says the [Multinational] force will be able to take "all necessary measures to contribute to maintenance of security and stability" in Iraq and gives a 12-month deadline for the force to be reviewed.

Since then 1546 has been renewed, but the authority of the occupation troops WILL RUN OUT at the end of 2008. Global Policy Forum explains the resolution history:

[U]nder US/UK pressure, the Council has repeatedly renewed the mandate, in resolutions 1546, 1637 and 1723.
...
In late 2007, Washington and London again asked the Security Council to renew the MNF mandate, for an extension of another year. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki wrote to the Council to request a mandate renewal without referring the matter to parliament for ratification, as required by the Iraqi constitution. A majority of parliamentarians also had written a letter in April to Security Council members calling for a timetable for MNF withdrawal. The cabinet's actions were unilateral, unconstitutional and illegal.

Iraqi parliamentarians wrote another letter to Security Council members immediately before Council action. Further, the US House of Representatives scheduled a hearing on the matter asking "Is the Iraqi Parliament Being Ignored?" But on December 18, under heavy pressure from Washington, the Council voted unanimously to extend the mandate for a further year.

There is no chance to do this stunt again if the situation in Iraq stays relatively quiet.

The December 2007 resolution is 1790 which prolonged the occupation to the end of 2008. Here is how the Security Council's press office announced it:

Recognizing the request from Iraq, the Security Council today decided to extend the mandate of the multinational force in that country -- “for the last time”, according to its Permanent Representative -- until 31 December 2008.

Acting under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, the Council unanimously adopted resolution 1790 (2007), deciding further that the mandate would be reviewed at the request of the Government of Iraq or no later than 15 June 2008.

The U.S. could probably get another year, 'at the request of the Government of Iraq', if it would instigate another civil war in Iraq in the second half of 2008 and if the Iraqi security forces would not be able to handle such. Even then I doubt that China or Russia would do a lame-duck Bush such a favor.

There is a real bind here. Bush/McCain need to point to a peaceful Iraq where the Iraqi forces have everything under control to have a chance to get another republican presidency. But the same picture makes a prolongation of the UN sanctioned current status of forces impossible.

Without a UN mandate and without a SOFA agreement U.S. forces in Iraq are illegal.

So unlike what Crooker tries to imply, that "Iraq were unable to exit from Clause 7", is not the problem - at least not for Iraqis. The problem is that any UN legal authority for U.S. forces in Iraq would run out and that on January 1 2009 the U.S. forces in Iraq would be just another rogue militia.

You say such legality does not matter? Then please explain why the U.S. administration is sweating over this at all.

Posted by b on May 31, 2008 at 02:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

May 30, 2008

'Reporting' without doing such

Sorry to bore you with my addiction to cranes.

But today's crane accident in New York shows a lot of what is wrong with the media.

A construction crane collapsed Friday on New York's Upper East Side, smashing into a 23-story apartment building as it fell to the ground, killing one construction worker and seriously injuring two others.

Ok, bad stuff happens. Most people, I believe, would like to know why such bad stuff happens and if and how we can avoid to have something similar happen again.

If the media would do their job to let us know what we want and need to know they would tell us:

  • the type of the crane that broke down and its load margins,
  • what load the crane carried at the breakdown moment, from where to where,
  • real eye-witnesses accounts,
  • the company that owns the crane,
  • the company that operated that crane,
  • the name of the main contractor for the building side,
  • the opinion of the inspector who last checked this crane,
  • the voices of at least two independent experts that could evaluate the above.

Come on folks. Such basic information is easy to learn from the people on site. Run with it.

Instead we get:

  • some blah-blah quote by an uninformed mayor,
  • some weep-weep quote of someone who "left to get an egg sandwich a block away,"
  • some bang-bang quote from someone who heard a "loud sort of bangs" while he was playing "indoor tennis two blocks away when he heard the crash."

There is not even an attempt to present real information chunks within such news besides "crane crashed" "one dead" "egg sandwich are great" and "indoor tennis is super."

Sorry, but this is all crap.

How did this happen and why?

Associated Press will leave those revelations to the 'authorities' who will have this or that unreported deal with the builder, crane manufacturer, crane owner, crane operator, etc.

We are supposed to trust these 'authorities' to launch 'serious investigations' which will issue a whitewash report three years from now which no one will ever report about.

And these 'journalists' wonder why we are disgusted with their 'reporting'?

Posted by b on May 30, 2008 at 02:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (15)

Congrats to the People of Nepal

A genuine evolvement of a democracy without any color revolution bullshit.

All eyes on palace for Nepal king's eviction

KATHMANDU (AFP) — Nepal's government said Friday it has started an audit of palace property and sent an official letter telling King Gyanendra to leave after a historic assembly abolished the monarchy.
...
A constitutional assembly, dominated by former rebel Maoists, voted late Wednesday to abolish Gyanendra's 240-year-old Shah dynasty -- capping a peace process that ended a decade-long civil war.
...
An estimated 1,500 soldiers guard the king, but Nepal's army -- seen as a bastion of royalists -- said they will comply with the decision, which also involves turning the royal palace in Kathmandu into a museum.
Mass protests led to a landmark peace agreement in 2006 that saw the king increasingly sidelined.

Many ordinary Nepalese are delighted to see the back of the dour king as well as his would-be heir, Paras -- who is widely loathed for his reported playboy lifestyle in one of the world's poorest countries.

My congratulations to the people of Nepal.

You have a republic, if you can keep it.

Britain sent its congratulations after the assembly's first session.

Fine Britain. Now follow the example.

Posted by b on May 30, 2008 at 01:40 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)

The Coming Naval "Dual Use" Blockade of Iran

Moon of Alabama on February 16, 2008: Iran: Next Step - Sea Blockade

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. They will confiscate any "dual use" stuff under a similar flexible definition of "dual use" as was used against Iraq ...

Haaretz on May 21, 2008: Olmert to U.S.: Impose naval blockade on Iran

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has proposed in discussions with the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, that a naval blockade be imposed on Iran as one of several ways to pressure Iran into stopping its uranium enrichment program.

Wall Street Journal on May 28, 2008: Punxsutawney Condi

A month-long naval blockade of Iran's imports of refined gasoline – which accounts for nearly half of its domestic consumption – could clarify for the Iranians just how unacceptable their nuclear program is to the civilized world.

What took them so long?

Anyway - I continue to believe that a complete naval blockade, or a blockade of gasoline, will not happen simply because such a naval blockade is illegal. A Canadian government site explains the law of the sea:

It has become popular for many governments and opinion leaders to call for economic sanctions, including enforced trade sanctions, against a State felt to be in violation of international public order. Such actions were recently used against Iraq and Serbia. However, a naval blockade is, prima facie, a violation of freedom of the [High Seas]. Such efforts constitute a violation of international law if not conducted with the authorization of the United Nations Security Council pursuant to Chapter VII of the Charter.

There needs to be some 'justification', like the prevention of proliferation of (non-existent) Iranian nukes, and there needs to be some coalition of the willing because the U.S. will never get a Chapter VII Security Council vote for a total naval blockade.

There is also the need to keep the spice flowing, i.e. to allow Iran further oil exports, as otherwise a rush to $200-300/barrel would kill off the last tiny bits of GDP growth in the "west".

Still the calls from Israel and the WSJ Ziocon editors do generate some echo. There are signs pointing to the implementation of the 'proliferation prevention' effort I predicted.

Two days ago Bush's national security advisor Stephen Hadley spoke at a meeting on the fifth anniversary of the Proliferation Security Initiative:

Mr. Hadley said he was particularly concerned about terrorist groups obtaining weapons of mass destruction. He raised the specter of Iran — which enriches uranium in defiance of three U.N. Security Council resolutions — funneling chemicals, germs, or radioactive material to terrorists.

"Chemicals, germs, or radioactive material" - Fertilizer, meat and hospital stuff - all 'dual use' items which will require 'inspections' and 'confiscation'.

Posted by b on May 30, 2008 at 12:51 AM | Permalink | Comments (15)

May 29, 2008

Administration Shake-Up Imminent

WASHINGTON D.C. (RBN) -  RBN has learned of imminent changes in key government positions as launch of a "last push phase" of the Bush administration. The moves were confirmed by two senior administration officials directly involved in the current reorientation.

Secretary of State Condolezza Rice is expected to resign within weeks to pursue a new academic position at Stanford University. Her current position will be filled by Stephen J. Hadley, currently the National Security Advisor. Elliot Abrams, now the Deputy National Security Advisor for Global Democracy Strategy will be promoted to head the National Security Council.

As was rumored earlier, Christopher Hill, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, will also leave the administration. His position has been offered to John R. Bolton, former Permanent US Representative to the UN and currently of counsel to the law firm Kirkland and Ellis.

As the sources explained to RBN these moves were initiated to allow a more "forceful pursuit of the President's aim to make history."

This week a Wall Street Journal editorial attacked Rice for not taking a sufficiently militaristic stand against Iran. On the same page the Iranian exile Amir Taheri remarked how she "proffered" negotiations with "Iran's mullahs."

In what amounted to a political obituary, a recent essay in the Weekly Standard by Vice-President Cheney's biographer Stephen F. Hayes accused Rice of "jettisoning of the Bush Doctrine." Hayes alleged her of circumventing the political process by allowing her Assistant Secretary Christopher Hill, to negotiate with North Korea.

According to our sources additional shake ups in the cabinet are planed, but have been delayed. So far no potential successor was found for Secretary of the Treasury Paulson. Paulson had warned of severe economic consequences of further wars in the Middle East. The nomination of Paul Wolfowitz as new Secretary of Defense is held up by "hefty resistance" on Capitol Hill, the sources say.

---
h/t Jim Lobe

Posted by b on May 29, 2008 at 09:43 AM | Permalink | Comments (14)

Culture of Deception

For all of its self serving, [Scott McClellan's] book does serve one good purpose: It is a reminder that we still do not know precisely how far Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney and the others were willing to wade into that “culture of deception” to sell Americans on the disastrous Iraq war.
I Knew It All Along, NYT Editorial, May 29, 2008

We do not know? We still do not know how far others were willing to wade into that “culture of deception”?

Hmm, really? Let's see:

The answer is the destruction of Iraq's unconventional weapons and the dismantling of its program to develop nuclear arms. That should be the lodestar of American and United Nations policy.
A Road Map for Iraq, NYT Editorial, Sep 18, 2002

---

The cost of letting that happen has been diminished authority for the United Nations and a growing danger that Iraq's unconventional weapons will be used in war or passed on to terrorists.
A Unified Message to Iraq, NYT Editorial, Nov 9, 2002

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Iraq has to get rid of its biological and chemical arms and missiles and the means to make them, and abandon its efforts to develop nuclear weapons.
Decisive Days for Iraq, NYT Editorial, Dec 6, 2002

---

There is ample evidence that Iraq has produced highly toxic VX nerve gas and anthrax and has the capacity to produce a lot more. It has concealed these materials, lied about them, and more recently failed to account for them to the current inspectors.
Disarming Iraq, NYT Editorial, Feb 15, 2003

---

[Mr. Hussein] would also have to turn over all mobile biological and chemical weapons facilities, surrender anthrax stockpiles or demonstrate that they had been destroyed, finish eliminating illegal missiles and account for all unmanned aerial drones.
Diplomacy's Last Chance, NYT Editorial, Mar 23, 2003

Posted by b on May 29, 2008 at 02:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (28)

May 28, 2008

Iraq Roundup

The current relative lull in Iraq is likely to end pretty soon. There are several recent events to support this assessment. All together they point to imminent danger for the U.S. troops in Iraq.

The election law for the provincial election this fall will not be agreed upon in a sufficient time frame. The elections will be moved out to next year and/or will be manipulated to allow as few choices as possible. This of course fits the Maliki government and the Kurds who in fair elections would lose power to the Sadr movement in the south and to Sunni Arabs in the north. Reidar Visser explains:

Today, the latest phase in the forced ethno-federalisation of Iraq is being played out as the Kurdish–ISCI ruling minority tries to fashion a provincial elections law that can suit its strategy of minimising popular impact on the elections results. Open lists that would give voters the opportunity of overruling party elites in their choice of candidates have been discussed in Iraq recently, but the KDP-appointed president of the “independent” electoral commission, Faraj al-Haydari, has already deemed this “impracticable”. Similarly, the idea of smaller electoral districts is being dismissed because of Kurdish concerns over Kirkuk.

The already announced, by Maliki, return of the Sunni parties to the Maliki government is not happening:

Iraq's main Sunni Arab political bloc said on Wednesday it had suspended talks to rejoin the Shiite-led government after a disagreement with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki over a cabinet post.

Muqtada al-Sadr called for weekly demonstrations against the U.S. demanded 'Stationing of Forces Agreement':

In a statement issued by his office, the radical cleric urged that "Iraqis across the country to hold demonstrations every week after Friday prayers until further notice or until the agreement is canceled."

He also called on all Iraqi political blocs to join force to reject the pact, demanding referendums for any agreement with Washington.

The non-sectarian resistance in Iraq, emphasized by Sadr, now gets active support from Lebanon's Hizbullah leader Nasrullah. As Badger translates form Arab media:

The instigation to resistance in Iraq on the part of the leader of Hizbullah, and with this unprecedented clarity, represents the taking of a strong position against the ruling group, in the name of Shiia Islam, and [in the name of] all who participate in this project from among the Sunni parties.

Add to that the possibility of retaliation for a U.S. attack on Iran and you have lots of likely flashpoints.

Any real fight with the Shia, over Iran or internally in Iraq, would endanger the U.S. supply line from Kuwait to Baghdad.

Last October I mused about an alternative route for U.S. supply based on a tiny hint in a Leila Fadel report. In 'You could supply us through Aqaba' I wrote:

With the British troops retreating to their air-base near Basra and eventually leaving, the U.S. supply route from Kuwait harbour to Baghdad is endangered. It is assumed that any U.S. conflict with Iran would lead to unrest in the southern Shia provinces in Iraq and disrupt that logistic 'line of communication'.
...
While the new Route Blue is about double as long as the red MSR Tampa, a long haul from the port of Aqaba is better than no haul at all. Especially when it carries your breakfast.

There was little confirmation for my assertions of an additional supply line when I wrote the above. The main news outlets never reported about such. Up to now that is and we only learn about the route because it involves serious corruption: Crossing Jordan: Iraq fuel deal sparks lawsuit

A little-noticed civil lawsuit in Florida is shining a light on an unusual but hugely profitable Pentagon contract to ship millions of gallons of aviation fuel to U.S. bases in Iraq through the kingdom of Jordan.
...
Although Jordan is not an oil-producing country, unlike other neighbors of Iraq such as Saudi Arabia or Kuwait, the Pentagon had insisted that fuel be brought in through Jordan.
...
The latest IOTC contract is worth $913 million over two years.

(The IOTC owner who runs the racket is, of course, a McCain supporter:

In March he hosted a $2,300-a-seat fundraiser for Sen. John McCain in Florida, according to the Palm Beach Post.

McCain's office declined to comment.

A part of that $1 overcharge per gallon goes to Republican party coffers. As usual, the Pentagon is financing the Republican party. But I digress.)

To the $38 million per month IOTC gets one has to add the millions the Sunni Awakening Councils are paid to not attack those large convois passing through their realm to the .

But money isn't everything. Even a thuggish Anbar sheik has some honor and I expect these folks  to come to some agreement with Sadr against the U.S. puppets in the Green Zone. (Lube in form of  monetary equivalents from someone (Turkey?) would certainly help the awakeniks to again change colors.)

The whole situation practically guarantees new fights. If these ensue in a united Sunni/Shia fashion, BOTH U.S. supply routes from Kuwait AND from Jordan would be in jeopardy. If the Kurds become uptidy against Turkey, as they always want to do, the limited supply line from the north will also be closed down.

If there are still sane folks in the Pentagon, they might want to think this trough before dropping bombs on Iran for sole domestic politics purpose.

Posted by b on May 28, 2008 at 02:49 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Opps

You notice that your company is in deep doodoo when it lost over $38 billion in the last 12 month on U.S. mortgages, that number is likely to increase, the share price is down by half, senior people jump ship, managers get detained and questioned and you have to tell your staff to avoid travel to the U.S. because the SEC might want them for helping billionaires to hide their money.

Still, you had this bit of hope.

One of your companies vice president's successfully lobbied an 'anti-lobbyist maverick' presidential candidate. He even managed to write the guys future policies on mortgages and banking. If that guy wins and implements those policies you may again make billions instead of losing them.

But now people have found out about this scheme and your company has lost control over that too.

How good that few have noticed your other little trump-card:

"People have a feeling that it's time for change," said UBS Americas Chairman Robert Wolf, who has raised more than $200,000 for Obama.

Posted by b on May 28, 2008 at 11:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Iran Election Ploy

There is another run of bomb-Iran news making the rounds. The IAEA released a new report (pdf) and immediately the media bashing began. The NYT had a completely misleading report  which Cyrus Safdari thankfully takes down in detail.

In August last year the IAEA and Iran made a deal on how to proceed on the then open questions. Those procedures were followed and in February the IAEA gave Iran essentially a clean bill of health. The agreement was fulfilled. But at the same time the U.S. gave the IAEA some very dubious 'evidence' derived from the 'Laptop of Death' that alleged projects of nuclear militarization. Iran has answered questions about some but not all of this 'evidence' which it says is at least in part forged.

This sequence of events does of course not prevent the Washington Post editors from lying to their readers:

LAST AUGUST, the International Atomic Energy Agency struck a deal with Iran on a "work plan" for clearing up outstanding questions about its nuclear program within three months -- in other words, before December 2007.
...
On Monday, some six months after the expiration of the deadline, the IAEA issued a report saying, in essence, that Iran had not acted in good faith and was engaging in delaying tactics.

The report says no such thing and the December 'deadline' never was one. But through it we learn a bit more about the alleged 'evidence'. One of the "documents shown to Iran in connection with the alleged studies" is about "High Explosives Testing":

Five page document in English describing experimentation undertaken with a complex multipoint initiation system to detonate a substantial amount of high explosive in hemispherical geometry and to monitor the development of the detonation wave in that high explosive using a considerable number of diagnostic probes.

In English?!?

And why a hemisphere? A hemisphere implosion device is needed for Plutonium bombs. Iran is not even alleged to work on anything with Plutonium. For a bomb based on Uranium much simpler ways are available to start the nuclear reaction. Why would Iran, unlike Pakistan, take the more complicate route?

Also:

21. Concerning the documents purporting to show administrative interconnections between the alleged green salt project and a project to modify the Shahab-3 missile to carry a nuclear warhead, Iran stated that, since some of the documents were not shown to it by the Agency, it could not make an assessment of them. Although the Agency had been shown the documents that led it to these conclusions, it was not in possession of the documents and was therefore unfortunately unable to make them available to Iran.

So at least part of the alleged 'evidence' has only been 'shown' to the IAEA and has not been provided to Iran at all. How is Iran to refute 'evidence' that it has never seen but that, to them, is mere hearsay? If this 'evidence' is relevant why is it not given to the IAEA to confront Iran? In another part of the report the IAEA also says that some of the 'evidence' only exists in "electronic form" which is of course prone to easy falsification.

As the IAEA notes later, the standard for verification is 'access to documents'.

23 .The Agency is continuing to assess the information and explanations provided by Iran. However, at this stage, Iran has not provided the Agency with all the information, access to documents and access to individuals necessary to support Iran’s statements.

So while Iran is not even allowed to see the 'evidence' it is supposed to deliver documents to refute it.

Adding to the manipulative reporting about the nuclear issues, there is a constant stream of attack warnings. Alex Cockburn wrote about  new plans of a U.S. undercover war against Iran three weeks ago. Yesterday Muhammad Cohen wrote in ATOL about bombs on Iran:

The George W Bush administration plans to launch an air strike against Iran within the next two months, an informed source tells Asia Times Online, echoing other reports that have surfaced in the media in the United States recently.
...
The source, a retired US career diplomat and former assistant secretary of state still active in the foreign affairs community, speaking anonymously, said last week that the US plans an air strike against the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). The air strike would target the headquarters of the IRGC's elite Quds force.

Now this may be the truth or it may be that the source, likely Richard Armitage, manipulates or has been manipulated.

As Col. Sam Gardiner shows, the administration communication theme before the 2004 election was 'terrorism' and it led to an incredible spike in media reports and news releases that included the term. He sees a similar communication strategy and spike coming for the 2008 election. This time the threat theme is "Iran".

An attack on Iran may come. But so far this might only be an election ploy. If an attack really comes, it is unlikely that we will be sure of it before the bombs fall. But remember:

"Over that summer of 2002," McClellan writes, "top Bush aides had outlined a strategy for carefully orchestrating the coming campaign to aggressively sell the war. . . . In the permanent campaign era, it was all about manipulating sources of public opinion to the president's advantage."
link

Posted by b on May 28, 2008 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

May 27, 2008

Kishore Mahbubani

Recently I am mulling over the thoughts of one Kishore Mahbubani.

His last book is titled The New Asian Hemisphere: The Irresistible Shift of Global Power to the East.

The blurb says:

Asians have finally understood, absorbed, and implemented Western best practices in many areas: from free-market economics to modern science and technology, from meritocracy to rule of law. They have also become innovative in their own way, creating new patterns of cooperation not seen in the West.

Will the West resist the rise of Asia? The good news is that Asia wants to replicate, not dominate, the West. For a happy outcome to emerge, the West must gracefully give up its domination of global institutions, from the IMF to the World Bank, from the G7 to the UN Security Council.

History teaches that tensions and conflicts are more likely when new powers emerge. This, too, may happen. But they can be avoided if the world accepts the key principles for a new global partnership spelled out in The New Asian Hemisphere.

I haven't yet read the book, only other material about and by him and I find his thoughts very interesting. There are reviews in the Globe and Mail and the Indian Business Standard:

A Singaporean of Indian origin, he became a career diplomat with several key assignments under his belt, not the least as ambassador to the United Nations, president on rotation of the UN Security Council, and now as a dean of a reputed school of public policy.

Mahbubani studied philosophy which makes his thoughts even more interesting.

An interview he had with the German pol-mag Der Spiegel is translated here. He had recent op-ed's in the Guardian, The sermons of cowards, and the Financial Times, Europe is a geopolitical dwarf. BBC's Hardball interviewed him and the videos are available at YouTube: 1, 2 and 3.

A main thought of his seems to be that economic development, which rapidly happens in Asia now thanks to the adoption of capitalism, is much more important than the 'western' official fetish called 'Democracy'. Something to the point that:  'Elections don't matter when you starve or get shot on the way to the voting booth.'

I can agree with that.

The 'western' political right does not want to give up its current leading positions and is looking for a fight with Asia. Wars are profitable.

The 'western' political left (well, not really left) is howling against authoritarian regimes in Asia. See Naomi Klein: First writing about Disaster Capitalism, the exploit of catastrophes by 'western' capitalism, only to immediately turn around and blame the regimes in China and Burma for their reaction to huge nature catastrophes there.

Hypocrisy abound ...

Posted by b on May 27, 2008 at 02:46 PM | Permalink | Comments (27)

May 26, 2008

Carter and the EU's 'Equal Position'

Jimmy Carter criticizes the Europeans for not standing up against the U.S. and Israel for the people in Gaza:

Britain and other European governments should break from the US over the international embargo on Gaza, former US president Jimmy Carter told the Guardian yesterday. Carter, visiting the Welsh border town of Hay for the Guardian literary festival, described the EU's position on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute as "supine" and its failure to criticise the Israeli blockade of Gaza as "embarrassing".

Referring to the possibility of Europe breaking with the US in an interview with the Guardian, he said: "Why not? They're not our vassals. They occupy an equal position with the US."

Thanks Mr. Carter. You are right on Gaza and the 'vassal' point but I doubt the 'equal position'.

Europe has no single voice and if it had one, I am afraid, that voice would sign in tune with the U.S. just like many of the separate European voices do now.

There are several structural reasons for this, like a common U.S. and European fear about the inevitable rise of Asia and a general trend of converging "western" media opinion. (I'll expand on the first issue in another piece.)

But there is also a strange change that happened in the European media and some political parties between the five years of European protests against the War on Iraq and today's numbness in Europe against U.S. and Israeli aggressions.

I suspect a large part of this to be designed.

European politicians, often those in their early careers, are now regulary shiped to Washington and dined and wined by the usual think tanks free of charge.

Then there is the new European Council on Foreign Relations funded by George Soros, a dubious American involved in many 'regime change' operations. Why does an American finance a European Foreign Policy think tank?

In 2005 Rumsfeld lauched a huge information operation targeting 'allies':

A $300 million Pentagon psychological warfare operation includes plans for placing pro-American messages in foreign media outlets without disclosing the U.S. government as the source, one of the military officials in charge of the program says.
...
The program will operate throughout the world, including in allied nations and in countries where the United States is not involved in armed conflict.

$300 million - how many editors and TV producers in Europe can you buy with such an amount of money? How much 'equal position' is left after such an onslaught?

Posted by b on May 26, 2008 at 04:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (22)

OT 08-20

Your comments are welcome.

News & views ...

Posted by b on May 26, 2008 at 12:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (113)

Historical Fair Value

Last week I needed some money to fix a small personal credit crunch. A few $1,000 would have been fine.

So I went to my local Deutsche Bank outlet and asked for a credit. I have a long-term brokerage account with them and planed to use the stocks I hold as collateral.

But the Deutsche Bank clerk said no. He said that the stocks I hold for long-term profits were worth too little given their current market value.

"That's a stupid view," I rejoined. "I have kept these stocks for nine years by now and I plan to hold them forever, like two more years or so."

"Therefore," I explained, "you can't judge the stocks value by today's quotation. You have to look at their historical fair value, not their current price."

The clerk didn't get it. After an hour of brisk discussion I left without the money I urgently needed.

Stupit me. I gave up to early. I should have talked to the clerk's boss:

The proposals on “fair value” accounting by the Institute of International Finance, an alliance of 300-plus companies chaired by Josef Ackermann, Deutsche Bank’s chairman, would enable financial companies to cushion the blow of financial crises by valuing illiquid assets using historical, rather than market, prices.

Under the plan, which has been obtained by the Financial Times, banks that decided to keep assets on their balance sheet would also be freed from the requirement to hold them to maturity and would be able to sell them after two years.

So Ackermann agrees with me. Pets.com stocks bought at $11 a share still have their 'fair value'.

Maybe I should try again?

Posted by b on May 26, 2008 at 09:58 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

May 25, 2008

The End of Political Movements?

Josh Marshall puts up some thought about a long New Yorker piece by George Packer on the Fall of Conservatism.

The piece analyses the rise and fall of the conservative movement that started with the Nixon presidential campaign in 1966. Two years later:

[Nixon's] Administration adopted an undercover strategy for building a Republican majority, working to create the impression that there were two Americas: the quiet, ordinary, patriotic, religious, law-abiding Many, and the noisy, élitist, amoral, disorderly, condescending Few.

That tactic of polarization carried the Republicans on for nearly 40 years. But now it seems to work no more. Today:

Among Republicans, there is no energy, no fresh thinking, no ability to capture the concerns and feelings of millions of people.
...
On May 6th, Newt Gingrich posted a message, “My Plea to Republicans: It’s Time for Real Change to Avoid Real Disaster,”
...
Pat Buchanan was less polite, paraphrasing the social critic Eric Hoffer: “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.”

The conservatives have run out of aims that incite the electorate. People love tax cuts, but they also love good government service. The Republican party has no energy left to deliver either and no ideas for new themes.

Still Packer sees the presidential race between McCain and Obama as open. This because McCain does not run as much on polarization as Bush/Rove did and because of a hidden racist swell in the electorate that works against Obama.

Packer does not analyse the Democratic state of affairs. I am not sure that it is in a better than the Republican one. When I read through the Democratic sites and programs, I find no new inspiring ideas either. I also do not the see the groundswell in the electorate that would allow for new ideas to get real weight and traction (though that may be for my lack of travelling in the U.S. in recent years.)

To me the Democrats look just as corporatist as the Republicans. Both feed at the same trough. 

The view that both, Packer and Marshall, seem to subscribe to is that of a zero-sum game. One party rises when the other falls.

While Packer and Marshall see their attempts of interpretation as "taking a step back" and "the big view," their analysis is restricted to U.S. domestic policy. But it is the international big picture that is really important.

My long term theory is that today there is a lack of successful, established alternative examples in the world that look good enough to incite real demand for change in the 'West'.

The independency of the U.S. was related to the French revolution movement. FDR's programs were an answer to then established communism. The late  60's conservative movement was an answer to social democrats. All are gone. There is nothing for the conservatives to fight against and nothing for the 'progressives' to copy from.

David Frum, quoted by Packer, confirms this view:

I asked Frum if the movement still existed. “We’ll have people formed by the conservative movement making decisions for the next thirty to forty years,” he said. “But will they belong to a self-conscious and cohesive conservative movement? I don’t think so. Because their movement did its work. The core task was to stop and reverse, to some degree, the drift of democratic countries after the Second World War toward social democracy. And that was done.

(Side-thought: Think that through and consider the U.S. motives to fight 'Islamists'.)

Without any real 'enemy' to corporatism left, the right wing base has lost its enemy and falls apart.

Without any real 'enemy' to corporatism left, the left wing base has lost examples to follow and cheases to exist.

What is left are two parties in a two party system who are both without a real base movement and both supporting corporatism. They each may win this or that election and the paths they follow are slightly different.

But without some outer example that will ignite a real base movement to 'force' a real change of direction, they will both end up in a town named Fascism.

Posted by b on May 25, 2008 at 04:11 PM | Permalink | Comments (15)

There Are Always 'Solutions'

'Ayatollah will not allow US-Iraq deal'

Iraq's most revered Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has strongly objected to a 'security accord' between the US and Iraq.

The Grand Ayatollah has reiterated that he would not allow Iraq to sign such a deal with "the US occupiers" as long as he was alive, a source close to Ayatollah Sistani said.

The source added the Grand Ayatollah had voiced his strong objection to the deal during a meeting with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in the holy city of Najaf on Thursday.

Hillary Clinton Mentions RFK Assassination in Relation to '08 Race

In an interview with the Argus Leader, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., took the unusual step of invoking the assassination of Sen. Robert Kennedy, D-N.Y., when discussing the continuing Democratic nomination battle.

"My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California. I don't understand it." Clinton said.

Posted by b on May 25, 2008 at 12:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (19)

May 24, 2008

A New Wind Generator Feature


bigger
Picture by Tony Zech
stolen via a German crane forum

The picture shows the last big task in the installation of a new type of Enercon E-82 wind generators. This is not a bigger-is-better one. The rotor diameter is only 82 meters (270 feet), but it has a neat new feature.

Enercon generators have no gears. The turning motion of the rotor is directly transferred into electricity via a nearly frictionless annular generator. The moving part of the generator consist of perma magnets and the static part, the stator, is a ring of copper wires. When the rotation of the perma magnets induces energy into the stator, a part of that energy also heats the copper wires. This heating effect is undesired as it reduces the electricity generation capacity and can lead to isolation problems or even fires.

The new type of E-82s avoids that problem. Its stator is water-cooled in a closed loop system and in the picture above one can see the heat exchangers of the cooloing system on the front top of the machine house. You can see details by this scrolling down this page.

Normal E-82's have 2 megawatts output. This water-cooled version will generate 3 megawatts. That is quite a jump in output for adding a relative simple feature.

You will not find Enercon wind generators in the United States.

As wikipedia writes:

Enercon was prohibited from exporting their wind turbines to the US until 2010 due to infringement of U.S. Patent 5,083,039. [...] Enercon claims their intellectual property was stolen by Kenetech (US Windpower, Inc.) and patented in the US before they could do so. Kenetech made similar claims against Enercon.

According to the European Parliament: "Kenetech seeking evidence for legal action against Enercon for breach of patent rights on the grounds that Enercon had obtained commercial secrets illegally. According to an NSA employee, detailed information concerning Enercon was passed on to Kenetech via ECHELON."

It is a longer story going back to the early 1990s. It is alleged, though not proven, that the CIA 'aquired' the technical information which was patented in the U.S. by Kenetech. Later the NSA was involved to 'prove' that Enercon was in breach of that Kenetech patent.

The NSA listened in to Enercon communication and 'aquired' codes needed to enter and shut down Enercon wind generators. Some folks on Kenetech's payroll used these codes and then climbed up into the machine house of one Enercon generator in Germany. There they took plenty of pictures. These pictures were used against Enercon in the U.S. patent case by Kenetech.

Who needs enemies when one has such allies?

Posted by b on May 24, 2008 at 01:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

May 23, 2008

High Energy Prices Are Good - Fast Rising Prices Are Deadly

March driving down for 1st time since 1979: government

In a sign that Americans are curbing their driving in the face of record-high gasoline prices, data released on Friday showed highway miles driven in March fell 4.3 percent from a year earlier, the first March decline since the last major oil shock in the late 1970s.

Assuming that the data is correct, I find this is good news.

It is often argued that oil consumption is inelastic, i.e. does not change much when the price changes. While this may be right for the short term, a planed trip will not be postponed because of a few cent higher gas prices, the  long term is different.

Record-high oil prices above $135 a barrel are pushing average pump prices closer to the crucial $4 a gallon level. Pump prices in seven U.S. states, including California, Illinois and New York, already average above $4 a gallon.

Why is $4 a gallon "crucial"? The price here is $9 per gallon. It was $8 the last time I filled up, which is some two month ago. The tank is still half full.

Crude oil prices -- which comprise more than 70 percent of the cost of gasoline -- have jumped about 30 percent since the start of 2008, driven by worries about tight stocks of refined products in the near term and mounting global demand over the longer term.

Not a word about speculation. The 30% increase this year can NOT be explained by demand or supply constrains. This jump is the consequence of negative real interest rates the Fed is inducing to prop up Wall Street banks and of unlimited financial speculation in the commodity markets:

Wall Street banks, hedge funds and other investors have been boosting spending on commodities such as oil for several years. Global investment in commodities rose by more than a fifth in the first quarter to $400 billion, Citigroup Inc. said April 7.

In the last year, non-commercial market participants have raised bets on rising prices, known as long positions, by 37 percent to 263,378 contracts, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission said May 16.

Last weeks jump in crude-oil prices to $135/barrel was a classic 'short squeeze' that had absolutely nothing to do with real oil:

The rush to buy back contracts may be linked to the record number of short positions that had been built up in recent weeks by small-sized speculators, which the CFTC refers to as "non- reportable'' traders because their holdings are small. Those investors held 123,194 futures contracts betting oil futures would fall in the week ended May 6, an all-time high, and 47 percent more than the number of bets they'd placed on rising prices.

There are several things wrong with future markets.

It is a good idea if a farmer wants to 'fix' the price for the wheat he plants today and wants to sell next year. It is fine that a mill wants to 'fix' the price and amount of wheat it plans to buy next year. If the farmer and the mill can agree on next years price today, both will have more security in doing their business.

Commodity future contracts and their exchanges were invented to handle the above situation. Initially they were restricted to real market participants who were buying and selling the physical products.

But today everybody can speculate with such contracts and settle them in money instead of taking delivery of, or deliver the actual physical product. There is absolutely no reason to allow such non-physical market participants.

Additionally these speculations are highly leveraged:

When you enter into a futures or option contract through an individual account, you are required to make a payment referred to as a "margin payment" or "performance bond." This payment is small relative to the value of your market position, providing you with the ability to "leverage" your funds. Because trading commodity futures and option contracts is leveraged, small changes in price, which occur frequently, can result in large gains or losses in a short period of time.

This speculation by 'non-commercial market participants', and a good chunk of the high oil prices,  could easily be reigned in if the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) would increase the mandatory margin requirement.

The commission is chartered by Congress and there is no reason why Congress could not legislate such. Indeed two weeks ago Democrats in the Senate started to push for this, but the proposed bill mixes up too many controversial issues. Higher margin requirements are a no-brainer and could be enact alone. 

High and rising energy prices are good as they change long term behavior and will lead to less consumption. Fast rising energy prices are bad because they do not leave enough time to adopt. One can not build a new light railway or cultivate a new fruit within a few month.

The gravest problem, literally, is the fast increase in food prices which is directly connected to energy via fertilizer prices and the crime of Ethanol production. Many people will die because of these increases.

Currently energy prices are rising much too fast. This is a result of cheap money and leveraged financial speculation.

But cheap money is a conscious policy of the U.S. Federal Reserve to bail out the banks and the leveraged use of this money in speculation is conscious policy of the CFTC and the U.S. Congress.

The deadly consequences of such policies were foreseeable.

Posted by b on May 23, 2008 at 01:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (13)

Norquist's Wonderland

A while ago the news agency KCNA recalled the abolishment of all taxes in North Korea:

The historic law "on completely abolishing the tax system" was promulgated at the third session of the fifth Supreme People's Assembly of the DPRK on March 21, Juche 63 (1974). The law took effect from April 1 that year.

This meant the realization of the centuries-old desire of the people to be free from tax burden.

U.S. anti-tax jihadis like Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform argue:

The government's power to control one's life derives from its power to tax. We believe that power should be minimized.

With zero taxation, North Koreans have obviously achieved that aim.

The abolishment of all taxes in North Korea followed the introduction of Chuch'e, which in 1972 replaced Marxism-Leninism as the official state ideology.

The three principals of Chuch'e are "independence in politics" (chaju), "self-sustenance in the economy" (charip) and "self-defense in national defense" (chawi).

Such politics certainly echo with the non-interventionists and protectionist 'America First' agenda of the late 1930s and its contemporary resurrection by Pat Buchanan.

In 2003 North Korea introduced "People's Life Bonds." These are not a tax, but a lottery:

These instruments have a 10-year maturity, with principal repaid in annual installments beginning in year five (there does not appear to be any provision for interest payments and no money for such payments has been budgeted). For the first two years of the program, there would be semi-annual drawings (annually thereafter) with winners to receive their principal plus prizes. No information has been provided on the expected odds or prize values other than that the drawings are to be based on an "open and objective" principle.

"Open and objective" - followers of objectivism will applaude that idea. Indeed the idea for such bonds comes from Ayn Rand's state financing concepts laid out in The Virtue of Selfishness. Kim Jong-il seems to agree with Rand's claim:

A government lottery, for instance, [..] is one good method of voluntary taxation.

Fice years behind North Korea, Arnold Schwarzenegger last week proposed lottery bonds to finance the state of California.

As North Korea already resembles the anti-tax, isolationist and objectionist paradise Norquist, Buchanan, Greenspan and Schwarzenegger strive to achieve, we wonder when they will finally make their ideological aliyah and settle in Pyongyang.

Posted by b on May 23, 2008 at 09:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

May 22, 2008

The Next Scam - Derivatives

Professor Roubini asks: How will financial institutions make money now that the securitization food chain is broken?

The most severe financial crisis in decades has not only damaged the balance sheet of financial institutions. It has also severely affected their P&L, i.e. the process of generating revenues and profits.

In the old “originate & hold” model (before securitization) financial institutions made money from the investment income of holding the credit risk of loans and mortgages. But in the brave new world of securitization where you “originate & distribute” the credit risk rather than hold it on balance sheet an increasing fraction of the income of financial institutions was coming from the fees and commissions involved in this securitization process. This food chain of fees on top of fees is now broken: securitization of mortgages, that was running at the annual rate of $1,000 billion in January of 2007, was down 95% to an annual rate of $50 billion by January of 2008. So the process of generating fees and commissions is broken.

In the mortgage boom everybody lived off fees: the real estate agents, the mortgage brokers, the appraisers, the smaller mortgage aggregators, the loan servicers, the investment banks that bought the mortgages and converted them into Collateral Debt Obligations, the monoline insurers that 'guaranteed' the quality of these papers, the rating agencies, the retail banks that sold the resulting AAA junkbonds to some dumb investor.

Similar chains existed for commercial real estate mortgages and leveraged buyout loans. The bigger the loans the more money was made by everyone involved, while the risk was moved away to the investor.

Now that market is dead and these people have to find a new gig. The big investment banks need a new revenue stream.

So Roubini asks if there is one.

My answer is "Yes." I believe the investment banks have already found a new scam:

Derivatives, including those based on debt, currencies, commodities, stocks and interest rates, expanded 44 percent from the previous year to $596 trillion, the Basel, Switzerland-based [Bank for International Settlements] said in a report today. The amount of credit-default swaps protecting investors against losses on bonds and loans more than doubled to cover a notional $58 trillion of debt.
...
Credit-default swaps pay the buyer face value in exchange for the underlying securities or the cash equivalent should a company fail to adhere to its debt agreements. Derivatives are financial instruments derived from stocks, bonds, loans, currencies and commodities, or linked to specific events like changes in interest rates or the weather.

The data on the BIS report are based on contracts traded outside of exchanges in the over-the-counter market.

The investment banks who sold junk debt to investors are now selling 'protection' to the same investors against interest rate change and default of such debt. To eliminate risk for themselves they also buy 'protection' from other banks and investors. In between they generate hefty amounts of fees which again depend on the size of the transaction. This has led to the creation of another bubble. $596 trillion of derivatives is a multiple of the value of underlying real assets. It is essentially hot air but dealing it makes money.

Here's as story on the results of a fee generating derivatives scam.

Like homeowners who took out mortgages they couldn't afford and didn't understand, Jefferson County officials rejected fixed-rate debt and borrowed instead at rates that varied with the market.

The county paid banks $120 million in fees -- six times the prevailing rate -- for $5.8 billion in interest-rate swaps. That was supposed to protect the county from rising rates for their bonds. Lending rates went the wrong way, putting the county $277 million deeper into debt.
...
The swaps are contracts in which the county and the banks agreed to exchange periodic payments based on the size of the outstanding debt and changes in prevailing lending rates. Swaps are derivatives, which are unregulated financial contracts tied to the underlying value of a security, commodity or index.

The county bought 'protection' against interest rate changes and it turned out that the fine print read somewhat different than what the salesperson had said. With $596 billion total in derivative deals how many more of such cases are out there?

The derivative market is next big thing to blow up. If one of the big players fails, all others will be seriously affected. The Fed bailed out Bear-Stearns and has committed over half of its assets to avoid general liquidity problems. But a failing pyramid of some $600 trillion in derivatives dwarfs any central bank's capability.

That shoe still has to drop. When it does we will be in the second, bigger phase of the credit crisis. The outcome is not foreseeable but it is unlikely to be positive.

Posted by b on May 22, 2008 at 11:39 AM | Permalink | Comments (12)

May 21, 2008

After Bush - Appeasement

May 15, 2008 - President Bush Addresses Members of the Knesset

Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. ... We have an obligation to call this what it is -- the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.

Bush left the Middle East and suddenly 'some' is 'everyone'.

It seems like people in the Middle East all thought "Enough with this lunacy!"

Good.

Did something happen behind the scene? Some secret appeasement between Iran and the U.S.?

Posted by b on May 21, 2008 at 12:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (42)

Appeasement was (and is) Good Policy

In U.S. politics 'appeasement' accusations are brought out against anyone who voices objections over fighting the next imperial war.

I find this rather comical as appeasement in almost all cases was and is the only smart policy available.

Appeasement, as practiced by the Brits since the mid 19th-hundred up to 1939, kept their empire safe. The policy changed after proof was in that a strategic enemy was unappeasable. That change did cost the British their empire.

When Chamberlain flew to Munich to sign an agreement with Hitler over repatriating the German parts of Czechoslovakia he had little alternatives.

At that point there was no possible way the British and the French could have successfully challenged Germany militarily. The case the German's made was widely seen as just. The British empire was at that time also challenged by the Japanese in China and by Italy in the Mediterranean. The empire was already overstretched and its financial resources quite limited. The U.S. was isolationist. Soviet communism was feared, France was weak. After the horrors of WWI the British (and French) public were against another war. The punditry and the nobles up to the king were against it. The military was against it.

With the exception of a few earlybirds, notably Churchill, nobody thought that war was the right response to Germany's demand.

So Chamberlain signed the contract, bought more peaceful time and lost nothing. A few month later Hitler broke the contract and send his troops into the rest of Czechoslovakia. Only then, in hindsight, was Chamberlain's policy questioned, though I fail to find any presentation by his critics of realistic alternative ways he could have taken.

Hitler was not appeased because he was unappeasable. In that he was unique.

One should only fight wars one must fight and of these only those one can win. Everything else is simply stupid behaviour.

---
Jeffrey Record:
Appeasement Reconsidered: Investigating the Mythology of the 1930s (pdf, long)
Strategic Studies Institute

D. J. Dutton:
Proponents and critics of appeasement
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Neville Chamberlain:
Texts on Appeasement (1938/39)
The History Guide

Posted by b on May 21, 2008 at 11:13 AM | Permalink | Comments (38)

The New American Century Has Ended

Apparently for financial reasons, the new American century has prematurely ended.

In a symbolic act, the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), run by Bill Kristol and other neocons, has lost its internet presence.

When accessing www.newamericancentury.org one now gets redirected to the webhosters 'account suspended' page.

It says:

Please contact the billing/support department as soon as possible.

The website was hosted by btnaccess.com which is a subsidary of Hong Kong based PCCW Global.

PNAC is unable to pay for the new American century and the Chinese, after checking America's  sinking  FICO scores, are obviously not willing to finance it with further credit lines.

Signs of the times ...

h/t Jim Lobe

Posted by b on May 21, 2008 at 08:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

May 20, 2008

OT 08-19

Open thread ...

Please comment.

Posted by b on May 20, 2008 at 01:15 AM | Permalink | Comments (121)

May 19, 2008

U.S. Supported Mass Killing - Can't We Learn?

Yesterday I pointed to an Associated Press 'IMPACT' piece headlined Thousands killed by US's Korean ally. It ran on the general Associated Press feed at Yahoo news. Like AP, I expected it to have some 'impact'. Like AP, I was wrong.

The piece is the summary of a big investigative report that must have required quite some time and effort. There are a lot of new and so far unreported details in it.

In the early 1950s the South Korean dictatorial regime, under tutelage of the U.S., killed over 100,000 of its own people because they were suspected of being somewhat on the political left or otherwise not assumed loyal to the U.S. instantiated regime.

Just like German SS Einsatzgruppen killed 'undesirable people' of their own blood in the 1940s - hundred-thousands of them -  the South Korean a few years later did just the same. Unlike the Germans, the South Koreans were under U.S. control and the 'incidents' happened in attendence of U.S. officers.

Several U.S. government institutions exchanged memos about this. Officers of the U.S. military and clandestine services attended mass shootings and photographed the outcome - see above. All this was kept secret for over 50 years.

White-clad detainees — bent, submissive, with hands bound — were thrown down prone, jammed side by side, on the edge of a long trench. South Korean military and national policemen then stepped up behind, pointed their rifles at the backs of their heads and fired. The bodies were tipped into the trench.

One could imagine a country taking notice if such crimes done under its umbrella were finally aired.

The declassified record of U.S. documents shows an ambivalent American attitude toward the killings. American diplomats that summer urged restraint on southern officials — to no obvious effect — but a State Department cable that fall said overall commander Gen. Douglas MacArthur viewed the executions as a Korean "internal matter," even though he controlled South Korea's military.

But the AP piece sunk like lead. I searched some phrases of that piece in Google news: "South Korean military and national policemen then stepped up behind" - only three hits a day after this ran on the AP wire. Did anyone print this at all?

Evidence indicates South Korean executioners killed between 3,000 and 7,000 here, said commissioner Kim. A half-dozen trenches, each up to 150 yards long and full of bodies, extended over an area almost a mile long, said Kim Chong-hyun, 70, chairman of a group of bereaved families campaigning for disclosure and compensation for the Daejeon killings. His father, accused but never convicted of militant leftist activity, was one victim.

My German ancestors in the 1930s/40s killed a lot of people in a crazy rampage and under a insane philosophy and state of mind we still try to understand. By we at least talk about this in the open and our media doesn't shy away from reports about it. Hopefully this will help us to keep such pathologies in memory and never again take such path.

All people have such historic stigmas. Some acknowledge them, some don't. I am worried about my U.S. friends. When there is so little echo to this now reported mass killings in the 1950s, how much sensitivity is there towards U.S. instigated, controlled and secretly photographed killing today?

Who, during the last years, directed the Badr brigades in their rampage on Sunni Iraqis?

Maybe we will learn about that only 50 years from now?

Posted by b on May 19, 2008 at 04:48 PM | Permalink | Comments (27)

Junk Accounting

Radian Group reports $215.2M 1Q loss,
Philadelphia Inquirer, Mon, May 12, 2008
Radian Reports First Quarter Net Income of $195.6 Million,
MSN Money, May 12, 2008

One might scratch ones head about such contradictory headlines. But both are correct.

Radian Group Inc. RDN today reported net income of $195.6 million [...] for the quarter ended March 31, 2008. Excluding the impact of net unrealized gains on derivatives and hybrid securities, the Company's net operating loss was $215.2 million ...

So Radian, a mortgage insurer with little other business, can report a loss of $200 million while also reporting profits in the same range. The trick in Wall Street language:

Given the significant widening of Radian's credit default swap spread over the past year, the reduction in the valuation of the Company's derivative liabilities related to non-performance risk more than offset the credit spread widening on underlying collateral for the current quarter.

The company has contract liabilities, credit default swaps, which have some nominal value and a market value. Radian changed the way it accounts for these obligations. Instead of their nominal value, Radian now uses the market value of its liabilities for accounting purposes.

Said differently: Because the market expects Radian not to fullfill its obligations, the company now accounts those obligations lower and thereby creates a nominal profit.

Last month you lent me $100 bucks against a paper that said "IOU $100." People later saw me in a casino, gambling that money away. They now believe that I'll be unable to ever pay back those $100. They expect that I may eventually pay back $10. When now asked how much I own to you, I'll say $10 because that is the current market value of the IOU I wrote. I'll even brag that I made a profit of $90.

For normal persons such bevavior is seen as criminal. For companies it is not even illegal. One can actually argue, as the company does, that such accounting is demanded by the federal accounting standards "mark to market" rule.

Banks use other tricks to hide their losses:

Banks and securities firms, reeling from record losses resulting from the collapse of the mortgage securities market, are failing to acknowledge in their income statements at least $35 billion of additional writedowns included in their balance sheets, regulatory filings show.

Citigroup Inc. subtracted $2 billion from equity for the declining value of home-loan bonds in its quarterly report to the Securities and Exchange Commission on May 2 without mentioning the deduction in the earnings statement or conference call with investors that followed. ...

Here again the trick is legal:

Taking losses on a balance sheet instead of an income statement is acceptable under accounting rules, which make a distinction between so-called trading books and long-term investments. Changes in value on the trading side go straight to revenue. Changes in the value of bonds held for the long haul can be marked down on the equity line of a balance sheet, as long as the declines aren't considered permanent.

Citigroup and others simply pretend that the stuff everyone believes is junk, will be seen as artwork 20 years from now. Therefore, they say, the junk is actually quite valuable.

Radian reclassified some liabilities from face-value to mark-to-market value. Citibank reclassified some holdings from mark-to-market value to face-value.

Both moves are legal according to the rules (and there are even arguable sound reason for such rules). The problem is that companies can apply these rules in very discretionary fashion and the regulators don't care to hold them to some consistent standard.

With such accounting it is no wonder they got us into this mess in the first place.

Posted by b on May 19, 2008 at 01:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

May 18, 2008

The Media Tale of Sectarian Conflict

A frontpage NYT piece on Lebanon is, as the Angry Arab finds, extremely inaccurate and sounds like written by the Hariri press office. Today's WaPo wrap up of the last week in Lebanon is a bit better, but still misses many aspects of the actual conflict. For reliable analysis one should read Karim Makdisi at Counterpunch or this account of an anonymous German Lebanon correspondent at Syria Comment.

What the two mainstream pieces try is to shape the meme of sectarian Shia-Sunni conflict as the base of what happened. This is the same tale the U.S. (and the Saudis) have used in their divide and rule strategy in Iraq. In reality the split is much more a political than a religious one and with many more groups and interests involved than just Sunni and Shia.

The NYT puts it right into the headline: Hezbollah’s Actions Ignite Sectarian Fuse in Lebanon

After almost a week of street battles that left scores dead and threatened to push the country into open war, long-simmering Sunni-Shiite tensions here have sharply worsened, in an ominous echo of the civil conflict in Iraq.

The whole piece is filled with minor anecdotes that reinforce the point Sunni hate Shia, Shia hate Sunni and Hariri's poor Sunnis, not really a militia in the blind view of the author, lost the fight.

From the WaPo piece:

Meanwhile, many Lebanese agree that the hardening of Sunni-Shiite animosities — reminiscent of the Muslim-Christian fault line during the country’s 15-year civil war — is likely to make any future conflict here more violent.

In contrast to this 'official' view, the Syria Comment author notes:

The good news (so far): while the conflict does have a sectarian dimension – the fighters are mostly Shiites on one side, Sunnis and Druze on the other - it is still first and foremost a struggle between two irreconcilable political agendas, and has not (yet) turned sectarian, despite the best effort of pundits in the pay of the government and its Saudi masters (who control much of the Arab media) to discredit Hezbollah as hell-bent on turning Lebanon and the Levant into an Shiite-Arab foothold of a new Persian Empire.

Karim Makdisi writes:

The continued US, Israeli and Saudi obsession with Iran (which these days is being used interchangeably with “Shia’a” in a bid to fan sectarian flames) means that they will already be planning ahead for the next battle, probably in Lebanon and almost certainly in Gaza (since Hamas is placed in the “Iran” column), in order to halt the perceived Iranian gain in Lebanon last week.

Neither the NYT nor WaPo mention how much this conflict is instigated and controlled from the outside. They of course can not really do so because they are major willing tools used in this game.

It is not only the Saudi controlled Arab media that is pushing the sectarian meme. The U.S. mainstream media are marching in lockstep with them to create the bigger war, the big cauldron in the Middle East the neocons are longing for.

Posted by b on May 18, 2008 at 01:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (37)

May 17, 2008

Myanmar - Politics, Media Manipulation and Help

BANGKOK (Reuters) - An international aid agency has confirmed some cases of cholera in Myanmar's cyclone-hit Irawaddy delta but the number was in line with normal levels in previous years, an aid official said on Friday.
...
"We don't have an explosion of cholera. Thus far the rate of cholera is no greater than the background rate that we would be seeing in Myanmar during this season," [World Health Organization representative Maureen Birmingham] said.
Some cholera confirmed in cyclone-hit Myanmar

My 12 year old RC cars and Lego cranes co-enthusiast, Lukas, today told me that cholera was a big problem in Burma because of the recent storm and the criminal non-action of the government there. He had read such in the local right-wing fish-wrap this morning which had a headline to that regard.

I can't blame him for getting the impression he had. But, according to the WHO, it was obviously wrong. So I explained to him that there are always some cholera cases in nearly every society and especially in hot and moist places with little technical hygiene facilities. Cholera is also relative easy to heal, I said. I then laid out that there are political reasons that drive such propaganda. That's what he immediately got.

There are other scare stories around now of "dead bodies floating" in Myanmar and that these may cause epidemics. The second part is just as wrong as the cholera stories:

"There has never been a documented case of a post-natural disaster epidemic that could be traced to dead bodies," the WHO said in a statement.

What many get from the news on Myanmar are scare stories about a bad government and lots of people dying because of that government.

Not that I like the military dictatorship in Myanmar, but the people who recently died there were killed by a natural disaster. A storm that drove an unexpected high wave onto a low laying area. No Myanmar government of any form could have prevented that.

But the hypocrites are out in full force:

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says the United Nations is concerned with saving lives, not with politics, as he tries to ramp up aid efforts following Cyclone Nargis which struck Myanmar and has severely affected up to 2.5 million people.

A few months ago the same 'unconcerned with politics' Ban Ki-Moon was pressing on Myanmar:

“Now, more than ever before, the Government of Myanmar should take bold actions towards democratization and respect for human rights,” he said. “The national reconciliation process must be accelerated and be made as broad-based, inclusive and transparent as possible.”

Today that stooge wonders why the government of Myanmar doesn't believe his 'unconcerned with politics' talk? Since when is it the task of the head of the U.N., or anywhere in the U.N. charta, to prefer a certain form of government in some nation? When did Ban Ki-moon call for 'democracy' to determine the next head of state in Britain, Canada and Australia?

There are other hypocrites fighting Ban Ki-moon for the top rank in that category. The French minister for War Without Boarders, Kouchner, made noise a week ago about Myanmar not immediately taking French aid from his military vessel Mistral.  As it turns out, the French ship Mistral picked up the aid Kouchner pressed Myanmar to accept ten days ago only the day before yesterday. Let's follow the trail:

May 7: France wants UN Security Council to press Myanmar on aid

Earlier Wednesday, in an interview with France Inter radio, Kouchner expressed frustration with "the very tough position by Myanmar authorities" on foreign aid and said he and British Foreign Secretary David Miliband were planning a joint media article "demanding access to victims."

Kouchner also said that French boats with helicopters aboard were in waters near Myanmar and could move quickly to help. The boats were in the area for a naval maneuver, he said."

May 11: France seeks approval for direct aid to Myanmar

Kouchner said he hoped the Mistral would arrive in Myanmar by Thursday and would receive permission to distribute aid.

So the ship was ready to go? Then why, four days later, on the 15th, I read:

The French amphibious landing ship Le Mistral, which was pulled out from war exercises with the Indian Navy off the Vishakhapatinam coast, made a call at the Chennai port to load relief material it will be taking to Myanmar for the victims of Cyclone Nargis.

If you don't believe the Indian sources linked above, check the France 24 video report linked here under the headline "FRENCH SHIP READY TO HELP". It is dated May 14th/15th and at that time, long after Kouchners bluster, the ship was still driving circles with empty holds waiting to load the aid Kouchner pressed for to deliver.

Kouchner was making a lot of noise on May 7th, days after the catastrophe, without being able to deliver anything earlier than today. Some humanitarian ...

A comment to a Guardian op-ed by some Burmese variant of Ahmed Chalabi said it best:

When you have a disagreement with someone & they suffer a disaster.

Do you (a) help them - or - do you (b) try to exploit the situation for your political advantage?

If you choose A - you are a genuine humanitarian. You did not allow a golden opportunity for self-interest to sway you from putting the interests of the people first. YOu didn't stand back & dictate condemnation. YOu got your hands dirty & did everything to help. And only when the people were fit & ready for debates about politics - do you raise your interests. YOur actions prove you are a good leader.

if you choose b - you join a wealth of regime change NGOs who pretend to care for the people - but are only using them in their patrons pursuit of power & wealth. You put your self interests before the interests of the people. You say otherwise but your actions reveal your true motives. And the puppet western media will back you as long as you let them dictate (interpret) what the people want - what's best for them.

Choose

There is a U.S fleet currently in manoeuvers with the Thailand navy. Those will be finished on the 22nd. Expect renewed pressure from the U.S. on Myanmar to accept the "urgent help needed" immediately after those ships are no longer involved in useless war games and ready to deliver what they do not have to then no longer endangered people.

i expect a lot of 'cholera epidemic dangers' and 'floating dead bodies' stories will pop up again in the news within that context.

Posted by b on May 17, 2008 at 05:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

The Delusional Addict

Here is a story on delusional addicts who believe they have leverage towards their drug dealers.

Democrats in the U.S. Senate have threatened to withhold military supplies from Saudi Arabia and its neighbors unless they pump more oil.
...
"We have a strategic partnership with the Saudis, but it seems to me a partnership works two ways," Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, D-N.D., chairman of the Democratic Policy Committee, said at a news conference Thursday. "The Saudis want to purchase sophisticated weapons from our country. ... They should understand there are certain things we need from them as well."
US Dems threaten Saudis with arms cutoff, April 26, 2008

---

Russia's state arms exporter Rosoboronexport is preparing a $4 billion arms contract with Saudi Arabia, the Gazeta daily reported on Tuesday.
...
Experts say the helicopter contract alone is worth around $2 billion.
Russia eyes $4 bln arms contract with Saudis, May 13, 2008

---

The Senators introduced a resolution of disapproval on the arms sale as President Bush prepared to head for Saudi Arabia, partly on a mission to contain runaway oil prices.
Senators Threaten Saudi Arms Deal Over Oil Prices, May 13, 2008

---

Russia has won a 4-billion-dollar contract with Saudi Arabia in a competition with the USA and France.
...
It became known that a half of the contract accounts for 100 Mil helicopters (mainly, Mi-17 and Mi-35). Half a billion dollars accounts for 150 T-90C tanks. The contract also includes 20 middle-haul air defense systems Buk-M2E and several hundreds of BMP-3 infantry combat vehicles.
Russia forces USA out from its traditional arms markets, May 16, 2008

---

Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil exporter, rebuffed a call Friday by President George W. Bush to pump more crude for a second time this year, saying it would only boost supplies to meet customer needs.
...
Oil traded in New York is forecast to rise to an average $148 a barrel next year, Goldman Sachs analysts said in a report Friday, citing supply constraints as the cause.
Saudis rebuff U.S. call to pump more oil, May 16, 2008

Why does no 'western' media mention the Russian-Saudi deal?

Posted by b on May 17, 2008 at 05:02 AM | Permalink | Comments (15)

May 16, 2008

Rovian Appeasement

Yesterday Bush gave a speech in front of the Knesset that accused Obama of appeasement.

This was a sole U.S. political issue - the Knesset degraded itself to a rent-out high school stage.

The Rovian idea behind this is to move the Jewish votes, two thirds of which usually goes to Democrats, towards the Republican candidate.

But given that McCain lacks serious fund raising capacity, moving more zionist billionaires to cough up more money for McCain and the party, may have been the more important issue here.

Rove, a mass mailer by trade, always thinks in the frame of arranging statistical 'blocks' of 'targets'. Rove is essentially trying to buy off, give in to, or appease a certain group of voters.

But these voters no longer have the demand he assumes and tries to appease. There are many  signs that the Jewish vote in the U.S. has moved beyond radical zionism.

His efforts have therefore some general utility in the monetary range. But I doubt the utility of such assumed appeasement in the electoral dimension.

Then again, Diebold may take care of that.

What's your take on this?

Posted by b on May 16, 2008 at 04:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Planless McCain

Text of McCain's Speech on First-Term Goals

So, what I want to do today is take a little time to describe what I would hope to have achieved at the end of my first term as President.
...
[1.947 words list of 200 or so somewhat chimerical things I hope to achieve]
...
Thank you

Your welcome Mr. McCain.

When I read through that, I found lots of aims one could argue about. But I found not a single word in there on how to achieve these aims.

Y'know, hope is not a plan.

What are the plans?

Posted by b on May 16, 2008 at 12:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

In Search Of: Successful Humanitarian Intervention

A request to readers:

I am looking for an example of a successful humanitarian intervention.

Successful in the sense that

  • the sum of positive effects minus negative effects ended up greater than zero
  • the sum effect would likely not have been achieved with other means

Humanitarian in the sense that

  • there was a non-artificial humanitarian need
  • there was no hidden political agenda

Intervention in the sense that

  • military means were used (not necessarily active fighting)
  • by one nation state (group) into another state
  • against the wish of the target state authorities
  • limited in time, i.e. didn't end in occupation or permanent termination of the target state

Criticism of the above definition is welcome.

Is there any case that fits in completely?
Are there any cases that nearly fit in?

Posted by b on May 16, 2008 at 10:32 AM | Permalink | Comments (12)

May 15, 2008

Bush Shuns, Gates Demands Appeasement

Says something about "unity of message" ...

Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: "Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided." We have an obligation to call this what it is -- the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history. (Applause.)
President Bush Addresses Members of the Knesset , May 15, 2008

---

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates called on Wednesday for more unofficial contacts with Iran, saying this might eventually open a pathway to more substantive dialogue between the governments.
...
"My own view, just my personal view, would be we ought to look for ways outside of government to open up the channels and get more of a flow of people back and forth," he said in a speech to the American Academy of Diplomacy, a group of retired U.S. diplomats.
Gates urges more nongovernment contacts with Iran, May 15, 2008

The Senator Bush quotes was William Borah, a Republican from Idaho.

Posted by b on May 15, 2008 at 03:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (20)

False Weather Warning by U.S. Military to Press Myanmar

A widely repeated Associated Press report yesterday claimed that a second cyclone is threatening Myanmar.

The report was false and likely based on U.S. military propaganda. It may have led to further death in Myanmar.

Here is what AP wrote:

A second cyclone was forming Wednesday near Myanmar, less than two weeks after it was devastated by a killer storm, the UN said.

The United Nations' weather center is tracking a nascent tropical storm that is likely to become a cyclone, said Amanda Pitt, the spokeswoman of the world body's humanitarian relief program, in Bangkok, Thailand.

"This is terrible," she told reporters, adding that it could further jeopardize the people who survived Cyclone Nargis on May 3 and the efforts to distribute aid for them.

The UN's World Meteorological Center said on its Web site that "the potential for the development of a significant tropical cyclone within the next 24 hours is good."

The UN World Meterological Center (WMO) never gave a warning for a second cyclone because there was never one to expect.

The actual "warning" was given by the Joint Typhoon Warning Center of the U.S. Air Force and Navy in Hawaii to the Regional UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Bangkok. From there it went to press agencies and the media. The U.S. military center later downgraded the likelihood of a second cyclone in the Myanmar area to "poor."

Is cyclone prediction by the U.S. military so bad that it changes its judgement within hours from "good chance" to "poor chance" for another one?

The U.S. military Joint Typhoon Warning Center is not at all a part of the UN weather network. The WMO Regional Specialized Meteorological Centre for Tropical Cyclones in New Dehli is responsible for giving cyclone warnings in the area. The Severe World Weather Center website, run by the WMO, is the central place to go for weather warnings.

The central WMO office in Geneva called the warning and the report "irresponsible" as it induced panic in the already hard hit area and hindered further rescue and relief efforts.

The Frankfurter Rundschau, a reliable German daily, talked with a WMO officer in Geneva. "Maybe the U.S. wanted to increase pressure on Myanmar to let more foreign helpers into the country," quotes the paper.

At the risk of inducing panic in a desaster area? That's more than "irresponsible."

The WMO also refutes media assertions that Myanmar's government did not warn its population of the coming cyclone.

Warnings were provided to authorities as of 29 April. A press briefing was given to national media on 1 May and newspaper headlines on 2 May, the day of landfall, focused on the cyclone.

On May 1 the storm turned into the direction of Myanmar and made its landfall on May 2 after 6pm local time. The government did warn its people of the coming storm. The unforeseen unusual storm surge was the major cause of this disaster.

---
h/t snafu in comments

Posted by b on May 15, 2008 at 10:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

George Will's Misleading Quotes

In a column aptly titled Alice in Housing Land George Will goes through the looking glass.

He explain that there is no housing crisis and therefore legislative measures to help borrowers are not needed. To make his case, Will uses highly selective number and distorted quotes. He writes:

One symptom of the "crisis" is that housing prices have fallen. How far is unclear. Estimates range from 3 percent to 13 percent. Questions arise.

Do young couples struggling to purchase their first homes concur with the sudden consensus that the decline in prices is a national misfortune? The Economist reports: "Monthly payments on a typical house with a 30-year mortgage and 20 peris cent downpayment were 18.5 percent of the median family's income in February, down from almost 26 percent at the peak -- and close to the historical average."

If prices have only fallen 3-13%, how come the share of family income that is needed to pay for a house has decreased by 40% (from 26 to 18.5)?

Will does not explain that. But he points to the usually reliable Economist to support his  hacktacular non-crisis thesis. So let's check. Here is what the Economist wrote about the percentages Will cites:

America has several house-price indices and they tell different stories. Widely cited, but least useful, are monthly figures showing median home prices produced by the National Association of Realtors (NAR). These indicate that median prices are down some 13% from their peak, but since these averages do not adjust for the mix of homes changing hands, which fluctuates from month to month, they are inevitably distorted.

Mr Bernanke’s maps use figures from the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight (OFHEO). Its statistics have broad geographic reach and track repeat sales of the same house. The monthly national index suggests average prices have fallen only 3% from a peak in April 2007, and the quarterly figures are still positive. But OFHEO’s figures include only houses financed by mortgages backed by the government-sponsored giants, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. They leave out the top and bottom of the market—where prices rose fastest during the bubble and where the mortgage mess was most severe. Thus OFHEO’s figures probably understate the scale of the housing mess.

Will has quoted the 3% number, "the least useful" one, and the 13% OFHEO number, which "probably understate the scale of the housing mess".

The number Will does not quote, but which the Economist sees as the most reliable one, is the Standard & Poor’s Case-Shiller index which shows a decline so far of some 20+%.

Will thus picks from the Economist piece only what he likes while disregarding all its qualifiers and the numbers the Economist evaluated as the best fitting.

His direct quote from the Economist is even more misleading. Here is the paragraph from the Economist with the part Will cites marked in italic:

Optimists point out that some measures of housing affordability have dramatically improved. According to NAR figures, monthly payments on a typical house with a 30-year mortgage and 20% downpayment were 18.5% of the median family’s income in February, down from almost 26% at the peak—and close to the historical average. But this measure is misleading, not least because credit standards have tightened.

Will says "The Economist reports," letting his readers assume that these are original Economist research, where the Economist reported on NAR numbers, know to be notoriously optimistic. He does not mention to his readers that the Economist calls these numbers "misleading".

One can certainly make a case against Congress intervention in the housing market. But using numbers known to be false and distorted out-of-context quotes are not the way to do it.

Posted by b on May 15, 2008 at 07:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

May 14, 2008

Side Effects

A Democrat won yesterday's vote for a House seat in Mississippi's 1st district with 54% to 46%. An 8 points winning margin in a district where in 2004 62% voted for Bush, 37% for Kerry. This was the third Republican seat that went to a Democrat in a recent by-election.

With the economy worsening, there is no reasonable way the Democrats and their presidential candidate can lose the November elections. Any poll that gives McCain a chance to win over Obama is likely flawed. In November, the GOP will get trashed.

Still, the House Republicans hope a new slogan for their policies product will help.

"The Change You Deserve"

The slogan was copied from a campaign for an antidepressant, Effexor. The slogan will not work because the product has not changed and people who have taken the medicine over the last years already noticed the side effects:

Headache, drowsiness, dizziness, nausea, weakness, dry mouth, constipation, loss of appetite, weight loss, blurred vision, tiredness, nervousness, trouble sleeping, sweating, or yawning may occur.
...
stomach/abdominal pain, chest pain, persistent cough, shortness of breath, bloody/black/tarry stools, vomit that looks like coffee grounds, easy bruising/bleeding, fast/irregular/pounding heartbeat, muscle weakness/cramps, yellowing eyes/skin, dark urine, seizures, unusual tiredness.

Fans on manliness, like Chris Matthews, have experienced a special one, "a painful or prolonged erection lasting 4 or more hours." As they did not see their doctor and never stopped to swallow the drug, as is reommended, they will now have to live with "permanent damage."

The U.S. people know it is high time to get rid of such medication. The race is thereby already over.

Still, the media will drive this on and make it look competitive because that is what sells their product.

But all international agents know this is over and now adjust their behavior accordingly. They rightly assume that U.S. policies will see significant change.

It will be interesting to follow that sea change especially in the Middle East but elsewhere too. That change itself will have some interesting side effects too.

The post below shows one of them.

Posted by b on May 14, 2008 at 02:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (14)

Stalemate on Iran

Finally someone important says what the 'Iranian nuclear issue' really is about - Iran's security:

Russia says "Six" could guarantee Iran security

YEKATERINBURG, Russia (Reuters) - The six powers negotiating with Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment program could offer Tehran security guarantees, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters on Wednesday.

"I think the 'Six' could make the following step: directly put concrete offers on the negotiating table, give Iran security guarantees and ensure a more distinguished place in negotiations on the situation in the Middle East," Lavrov said.
...
"I am convinced that this is an effective way of relieving tensions in the region and regulating the situation surrounding Iran's nuclear problem," Lavrov said.

But of course the U.S. wants 'regime change' and has no intention to let Iran live in peace:

U.S. says Iran security pledge not on table in atom row

"Security guarantees are not something we are looking at the moment," White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said in Israel as President George W. Bush launched a Middle East visit.

"As we've been saying, details (of the incentive package) are still being worked out and will be presented to the Iranian government soon. The one who needs to give security guarantees is Iran, because they keep threatening to wipe Israel off the map," Johndroe told reporters when asked about Moscow's idea.

With the U.S. blocking any possibly reasonable offer, the 'Six' will of course achieve nothing. Sanctions will be circumvented and new security council action will likely be blocked.

Stalemate until whatever happens.

Posted by b on May 14, 2008 at 01:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

May 13, 2008

What to do about Hezbollahstan

The U.S. allies in Lebanon lost out against Hizbullah. The Shia in Lebanon, represented by Hizbullah, are some 35% of the population. They may now actually achieve a better representation than the 20% of parliament seats allocated to them by the Taif accord.

Universial suffrage is a pain in the ass, if a third of votes are against the imperial, colonist USrael agenda. Something must be done about such an awesome Hezbollahstan.

The neocons, out of ideas, have their usual answer:

Bombing the runway of the Damascus airport for the role [Syria] plays in serving as a conduit for Iranian arms to Hezbollah would also be an appropriate signal of American displeasure.

Another idea, from an Israeli, is a bit more refined:

Upon the elimination of the Christian hegemony in Lebanon, the old Israeli interest in maintaining an independent Lebanon will dissipate. The real alternatives are an Iranian Lebanon or a Syrian Lebanon. We do not know the price Syria will be willing to pay for a secret pledge that Israel would not do a thing to prevent Lebanon’s annexation to Syria, but it is worthwhile looking into it – this price may be Syrian willing to renounce its claims for the Golan.

Pretty cool and much more thoughtful than the bomb, bomb, bomb neconed one.

"I've stolen your Porsche. So what. Now stop nagging about that little robbery and I'll let you take your neighbours Jetta."

Chutzpa is a quite inimitable word.

Posted by b on May 13, 2008 at 02:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

Texan Characteristics of Terrorists

Via Cyrus Safdari a flyer (front, back) by the Counterterrorism Intelligence Unit of the Texas Department of Public Safety. The title:

TERRORISM - What the Public Needs to Know

This brochure is intended to provide information that will help YOU to help US in our everyday effort to identify and stop terrorism-before it becomes a deadly and tragic reality.

The flyer goes on to list "Some Characteristics of Terrorists":

  • Typically focused and committed to their cause.
  • Team oriented and very disciplined.
  • Trained to be familiar with their physical environment whether it be a 747 jumbo jet or a courthouse.
  • Will employ a variety of vehicles and communicate predominately by cellphone, E Mail or text messenging services.
  • Well prepared to spend years in "sleeper mode" until it comes time to attack.
  • In many cases may appear to fit in and not draw attention to themselves.
  • Will appear normal in appearance and behavior while portraying themselves as a tourist, student or business person.
  • May be found traveling in mixed groups of men, women and children of varying ages who are unaware of their purpose.
  • Trained to avoid confrontations with law enforcement and therefore can be expected to portray a "nice guy" image.
  • Known to use disguises or undergo plastic surgery especially when featured on police wanted posters list some.

Cyrus admits that he fits all the above. I am now preparing an email to the Special Crimes Service of Texas to turn him in.

Who else here do I need to list?

Confess!

Okay, I will add myself. I also fit the above and even some other additional criteria laid out in the flyer.

Recently, I made a large cash purchase of beer, wine and liquor. Texas seems to have reason to suspect that terrorists are doing such. I also own a relative large amount of clothing, especially of Levi jeans. This, according to the flyer, is another of many sign that I am a terrorist.

At least in Texas, where everything is a bit bigger than elsewhere.

Posted by b on May 13, 2008 at 12:40 PM | Permalink | Comments (16)

May 12, 2008

Crunch

Wimberly said he'd recently sold a home in [Atlanta's] West End that tells the tale of what's happened in some neighborhoods. The home sold in March 2004 for $305,000 and then in August 2004 for $700,000. It tumbled to $122,900 in a sale last year. It sold recently for $51,000.
Tax assessors boggled by housing dip

Ouch!

That house may have hit its bottom, though the article points to some homes in the $10,000 range. The next step in the downward spiral is sinking tax revenue and lots of layoffs by cities, counties and states.

Two years from now things might start to look better again.

Posted by b on May 12, 2008 at 12:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Maliki's Thugs

The U.S. and its Iraqi puppets opened another fight against the resistance in Mosul. For starters, they killed a family riding in a car during a curfew. Did these people knew at all that there was a curfew?

The truce over Sadr City is somewhat mysterious as the sides do not seem to agree about its conditions. I find it unlikely that it will hold. There are good reasons for the Sadrist and the resistance to be very suspicious of Maliki's words and deeds. I'd rather not have his thugs around my neighborhood.

London Times: Parading of fighters' bodies taunts Mahdi Army

A humvee military vehicle idles on a broad avenue as an Iraqi army soldier walks nonchalantly past without so much as a glance at the body slung across the bonnet.

The dead man’s trousers have been pulled down to his ankles, exposing white underwear below a torn T-shirt drenched in blood from wounds to his chest and side.

Behind is a second Humvee with another body sprawled over the front, arms and legs outstretched. On his white shirt, a large bloodstain indicates the wound that may have killed him. A soldier sitting on the roof dangles his legs over the windscreen and seems to prod the corpse’s stomach with his boot.
...
A second video obtained from the same source purports to show prisoners being beaten in a police station in the Shi’ite holy city of Karbala, south of Baghdad.

McClatchy: Sadr City residents fear a cease-fire means more violence

Abdul Hassan pulled out his phone to show a public hanging of three men. They stood on police trucks with nooses around their necks as a crowd of people looked on and then the trucks were driven away and the men were hung. Another showed men shot by the Iraqi Security Forces and then burned.
...
Abdul Hassan said the videos were shot in the southern cities of Karbala and Nassiriyah, and he worried that the same would happen in Sadr City if the Iraqi Army had free reign.

But of course the U.S. just had to free Iraq of Saddam's brutal security forces ...

Posted by b on May 12, 2008 at 04:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

More Annals of Reporting

Smuggling to Iran rife in dangerous Gulf waters

KHASAB, Oman (Reuters) - Smugglers pile boxes high on their speedboats, covering them with tarpaulin before zipping off into the sunset on the short but dangerous journey across the strategic Strait of Hormuz from Oman to Iran.

The last time I checked the sun sets in the west.

Khasab, Oman lies south of Iran. Its harbour is shielded from the western gulf by some miles of headland.

So how much are we to believe from the rest of the report?

Posted by b on May 12, 2008 at 02:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (9)

May 11, 2008

They Call This Reporting ...

In a clearly partisan article the Observer writes:

In a speech on Friday that triggered the worst violence since the civil war that tore the country apart between 1975 and 1990, Nasrallah pledged to 'cut the hand' that touched his fighters' weapons and rockets, accusing the ruling coalition of being 'Israelis dressed in suits speaking Arabic'.

So who "triggered" this strife? Was it really Nasrallah? How does that fit with this view further down in the piece:

'Tackling the airport and telephone system was the first time since the Syrian withdrawal that the government has taken practical measures to deal with the resistance,' said Patrick Haenni , Beirut-based analyst for the International Crisis Group. 'This was a paradigm shift by the government and it was met by a paradigm shift by Hizbollah, who said they would never turn their weapons in.'

So who triggered?

And the "worst violence since the civil war"? Somehow the indiscriminent bombing Israel did during its 2006 lost war on Lebanon, with over a 1,000 civilian death, seem to have been much violent and worse than the twenty something dead on all sides in this episode.

But maybe we should just forget about that?

Posted by b on May 11, 2008 at 07:48 AM | Permalink | Comments (13)

May 10, 2008

Leave Us Alone

Re-reading the post below, you might think that I root for the Myanmar government, a military-Buddhist dictatorship.

I do not.

But I also do not root for western 'intervention' to 'save' the people of whatever country and to force our way of living on them. To assume that the 'west', which comprises just some 800 million of 6,500 million people living on this planet, knows best, is ridiculous.

There are other ways of living together than ours, other ways of representation and government acceptable for the people we
simply do not understand and value because we are ignorant of them.

There was a big fight over such believe and ignorance issues in the 17th century in Europe
. Nobody did win in that fight. But a third of the central European population died prematurely because of that very, very long war.

Peace came when folks acknowledged that there is something like sovereignty. The right of a people to assert their way of living without exterior interference.

We might not like their way. We might think those folks are 'suppressed'. But do we really know? How?

As long as a nation does not hurt other nations just leave it alone. Help if there is some catastrophe. But let's not try to change their way of living because ours seem to us to be superior.

Our view is not universal just because we believe it is.

Posted by b on May 10, 2008 at 03:32 PM | Permalink | Comments (40)

False Intervention

WaPo editors, using the colonial name of Myanmar, write on what they call Burma's Blockade

Three years ago, the United Nations adopted a doctrine to deal with exactly this sort of situation. Known as "right to protect," it foresaw the Security Council authorizing a humanitarian rescue operation even without the cooperation of the national government. Yet France's attempt to raise Burma's case before the Security Council on Thursday was opposed by China, Russia, South Africa and other developing countries, which apparently cherish the ideology of nonintervention more than the lives of hundreds of thousands of Burmese.

First: There is no "right to protect" but a "responsibility to protect" which the United Nations consciously restricted to

protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity;

None of these criteria fits the situation in Myanmar. Any intervention would thereby be illegal.

Second: When New Orleans was under water Cuba offered to send 1,586 disaster-trained physicians to help. The U.S. declined despite an obvious need.

Where was Fred Hiatt's call for black helicopter intervention against the U.S. when those doctors were not allowed to reach the needy?

As China Hand proves, Myanmar has accepted and received international aid at least since Wednesday from multiple groups and countries without any problems. But the government resists demands to allow USAID 'experts' on its soil. Given that USAID is often nothing more than the 'humanitarian' arm of the CIA, there are certainly reasons for it to do so.

Posted by b on May 10, 2008 at 09:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (10)

May 09, 2008

Another Imperial Lesson


Punch, LXXVI (March 1, 1879): 91

For some reason (a birthday gift to Israel?) the Bush regime found it convinient to have the March 14 people in Lebanon, Siniora, Hariri, Geagea, Jumblat, launch an attack on the March 7 folks, Nasrallah and Aoun.

The attack failed:

Hezbollah fighters, their guns blazing, seized control of west Beirut on Friday after three days of street battles with pro-government foes pushed Lebanon dangerously close to all-out civil war.
...
"There are no clashes anymore because no one is standing in the way of the opposition forces," a security official said as convoys of gunmen firing celebratory shots into the air and flashing the victory sign took to the streets.

Yesterday the Siniora government threatened to shut down Hizbullah's TV station. Today Hizbullah shut down Hariri's media outlets.

Why did the U.S. and March 14 expected anything different? Did they really believe they could beat Hizbullah into submission?

The natives just gave another lesson to the imperialists. But don't expect them to learn form it ...

This whole conflict in Lebanon is bad for the country and all Lebanese people. It seems to be impossible to get it resolved with so much interference coming from the outside.

In an interesting interview some weeks ago, the Lebanese Shia cleric Ayatollah Fadlallah explained:

What are the possible solutions to the Lebanon crisis?

I don't think there is a chance to resolve the crisis, which is in deadlock. Many Arab and Lebanese politicians succumb to the strategy of American policy; therefore, the issue follows American policy for movement in the Lebanese crisis and finding balanced relations between America, Syria and Iran.

Do you mean the solution depends on America's relationship with Syria and Iran?

[Nods] Yes.

Now how big are the chances for that to happen?

Posted by b on May 9, 2008 at 11:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (22)

Clinton Calls Workers Racists

USA Today yesterday

"I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on," she said in an interview with USA TODAY. As evidence, Clinton cited an Associated Press article "that found how Sen. Obama's support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me."

Clinton obviously implies, that "working, hard-working Americans, white Americans" are racists who will not vote for Obama because of his natural melanin level.

How do "hard working ,white Americans" feel about being called racists?

Posted by b on May 9, 2008 at 10:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (25)

May 08, 2008

Blaming Consumers Instead of The System

National Geographics has created a Greendex. A "worldwide tracking survey on consumer choice and the environment."

The findings show that consumers in Brazil and India tie for the highest Greendex score for environmentally sustainable consumption at 60 points each. They are followed by consumers in China (56.1), Mexico (54.3), Hungary (53.2) and Russia (52.4). Among consumers in wealthy countries, those in Great Britain, Germany and Australia each have a Greendex score of 50.2, those in Spain register a score of 50.0 and Japanese respondents 49.1. U.S. consumers have the lowest Greendex score at 44.9. The other lowest-scoring consumers are Canadians with 48.5 and the French with 48.7.

I have quite some problems with those surveys of 'consumer choices.'

It is likely that U.S. people, on average, are more wasteful with resources than they could be. But that may be less a question of bad behavior, than of availability of choices.

In the late 1990s I made many business trips to the states. I was set up in hotels like this tower near Tysons Corner. There are no sidewalks there. There are no shops or restaurants reachable by foot unless you are willing to take a real chance to end up as roadkill. The residents in that area do not have a chance to shop for nessacities or a barsnack without using a car. How much then does a question on 'using public transport' reflect their 'choice'?

At least to some degree this is not their choice. It is a choice of politicians fed by 'special interest' money prefering other solutions.

The same goes for people in India. To have local markets and go there by foot or bike is not a choice per se, but a consequence of their economic political existance. Some people in India would love to be able to waste water like the U.S. citizens do. But there are mechanisms to prevent them to do so.

The point I try to get to is that state intervention, regulation and locally accepted 'decend behaviour' moral standards are more important than 'choices'. The study (pdf) even somewhat acknowledges that:

Though Germans' Greendex score is in the middle of the pack, these consumers are less likely than others to say they are working hard to reduce their environmental impact. They are also less concerned about environmental problems and the environment. These findings may reflect the fact that environmental priorities were institutionalized in Germany well before most, if not all, other countries. Certain green behaviors are more standard in Germany than elsewhere and are less likely to be considered an effort.

When your dishwasher is regulated to use less than 3 gallons of water, (i.e. less than dish washing by hand,) there is not much to answer to a question of "Frequency of Minimizing Use of Fresh Water?" The answer will be "low" when you have reached a certain point.

The same logic applies in the other direction. The answer to "Frequency of Keeping Heating/Cooling at Low Setting to Save Energy" is high in Spain, little heating is needed there, versus low in Russia with deep cold periods and a traditionaly unregulated heating system. The way to cool an overheated Russian office is to open the window. There simply are no regulation valves on the typical Russian radiator.

The study is trying to blame 'consumer choice' where it is obvious that political interests, often outside the consumer's realm, have and are precluding consumer abilities to choose.

The trend in this is to blame individuals, where the failure is with the system and the few who profit from it.

Posted by b on May 8, 2008 at 04:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Nature is Great



Electric storm around the smoke column of the erupting volcano Chaitén in Chile

More pics - Reuters report

Posted by b on May 8, 2008 at 01:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (14)

Open Thread 08-18

News & views ...

Please comment.

Posted by b on May 8, 2008 at 04:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (93)

May 07, 2008

The 'Surge Success' Falling Apart

As Badger reports, Maliki's troops, under U.S. command, are razing another Shia part of Baghdad, Shoala in the north-east. As they have learned from their U.S. trainers, the first thing to do in such attacks (remember Fallujah) is to shut down the areas hospital. Otherwise wounded could get treatment and one can't have that. The big idea is likely to make everybody flee the area the U.S. decided to clean.  

In the Sunni Baghdad quarter Adhamiyah, the Awakening fighters are nervous.  Their extortion racket, peace for money, worked well with the U.S. so far, but they know that this is only temp work and they want a permanent position. But the Maliki government does not want to take over the contract. Without perspektive of getting paid, some of these folks fall back to their old business - setting up bombs for whoever pays best.

U.S. military officers in Adhamiyah said they were not sure who was responsible for the growing number of roadside bombs -- extremists sneaking back into the neighborhood or factional leaders jockeying for power. The U.S. military has more than 2,200 Awakening fighters in Adhamiyah and nearby neighborhoods.

Military officers said they have tried numerous avenues to get Awakening fighters hired into the Iraqi security forces, but they say they have no evidence that the vast majority of applications have been acted upon.

Dr. iRack sees the 'success' of the 'surge' falling apart:

We have to get this right . . . and get it right right now. The clock is ticking. The only solution is a political one, and it will involve pushing the Maliki government to move much faster to co-opt Sunni and Shia combatants.

But there is only one way the U.S. can really put pressure on Maliki and the green zone profiteers. The sole thing these folks fear is a retreat of the U.S. troops that are covering their asses.

The U.S. could threaten to withdraw its forces. But would that threat be believable unless really taken forward? Cheney would certainly not agree to a full retreat as there is this 1% chance that Maliki really might let them go.

The green zoners know that. The only thing they fear will not happen unless the U.S. administration changes.  A grand political stalemate while the situation for the Iraqi people gets worse by the day.

Posted by b on May 7, 2008 at 01:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (13)

 
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