Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
May 31, 2009

Pressing China With A Nuclear Japan?

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is at a security conference in Singapur and held side-talks with South Korean, Japanese and Chinese officials. The subject was North Korea and how to find an answer to its second nuclear test.

The Wall Street Journal has the official leaks on the talks and describes a two way approach.

The Obama administration will NOT go back to negotiations with North Korea through the six-party-talks to honestly bribe the nukes away:

Mr. Gates said North Korea has in the past been rewarded for bad behavior by creating a confrontation in order to force the U.S. and other allies to "pay a price" to return to the status quo that existed before the crisis -- a practice he said shouldn't be repeated this time.

"We have to be very tough-minded about this," Mr. Gates said. "As the expression goes in the United States, I'm tired of buying the same horse twice."

That seems to exclude, for now, any renewed negotiations. Instead, the U.S. wants the five parties that negotiated with North Korea to now hurt it:

Mr. Gates said the U.S. preferred for the five countries that have engaged Pyongyang in talks on its nuclear program to present a unified front to punish North Korea.

The question is if China, part of the six-party-talks as well as the UN Security Council, is willing to "punish" North Korea or to influence its behavior.

Any hard "punishment" of Pyongyang will also hurt China's national interest by diminishing its security buffer against the only U.S. force based in the East-Asian continent. It is also questionable if Chine really has the capability to change Kim Jong-Il's mind and behavior. China was surprised by the nuclear test and it likely took place against its will. Its influence on Pyongyang is limited.

But Gates knows that without China no real "punishment" is possible and he has an alternative plan which he will use to put pressure on the Chinese:

"The secretary made it clear and the administration's goal is to have the five nations work together," said one senior Defense official. "What the secretary pointed out is we certainly have to think about what happens if that fails, and we have to start planning and taking some actions on our own and with our allies to look at defenses."

and

In the meeting [with the Chinese general Ma Xiaotian], Mr. Gates again raised the prospect of the U.S., Japan and South Korea working on their own, saying it would be necessary unless a multinational strategy is agreed to, the officials said.

"He made the point that…if we don't address this multilaterally, effectively, then individual countries, in the interest of self-defense, are going to have to take action on their own," said one of the Defense officials.

One wonders what that means.

The WSJ author alludes to possible missile defense measures and troop movements. But Japan already has the very best missile defense available based on AEGIS cruisers and land based patriot missiles. Seoul is in reach of basic North Korean artillery and missile defense there would be useless. As for troop movements the U.S. has little meaningful reserves that could be send into the area. So what might Gates have in mind that could press China into "punishing" North Korea and thereby hurt itself.

In an interview with the Japanese paper Yomiuri Shimbun the former Indian top-spy and nationalist überhawk B. Raman is offering an idea:

QUESTION NO.2 Regarding North Korea, where should Obama begin to roll back? Reports from Washington indicate he is about to put more emphasison pressuring Pyongyang rather than pursuing dialogue. Is that the right direction?

MY REPLY: As I see it, the only option left for Obama and Japan is to threaten Beijing with the danger of Japan going nuclear if China does not pressure North Korea to de-nuclearise. One does not know whether this option will work or not, but it deserves to be tried. This fear of a nuclear Japan must be constantly kept before the eyes of Beijing.

Raman took that answer from his longer analysis of the issue.

Japan is already a possible nuclear power. It has the nuclear materials needed from reprocessing civil reactor fuel, it has ballistic missiles and it also has the knowledge and industrial base to combine those ingredients to weapons.

But having been nuked twice a large part of the Japanese people do not seem to like the idea of being a nuclear weapon power and I doubt that it would be in the long term U.S. national interest to have a nuclear armed Japan. National memories of bloody defeats are long and alliances can change.

There is also the small issue of 2,000,000,000,000 US dollars the U.S. owns to China. A threat of a nuclear Japan would probably be answered by a threat to nuke the international reserve currency.

Next week a high ranking U.S. delegation will travel to Tokyo, Seoul, Bejing and Moscow for further talks.

In a press release North Korea explained its own position and issued its recommended what the Obama administration should do:

The world will soon find out how the army and people of the DPRK will stand up against the high-handed and get-it-alone approach of the UNSC in defending its dignity and sovereignty.

The U.S. is keen on using a catchphrase "Carrot and stick."

It would be better for the "Donkey" of the U.S. Democratic Party to lick the carrot.

Does that rhyme in Korean language?

Anyway - I for one doubt that a "stick" approach short of war on North Korea will have any meaningful result. A nuclear Japan threat would be high risk gaming. To "lick the carrot", i.e. to negotiate with serious offers and to - for once - stick to the letter of the resulting agreement might well be the smarter approach to prevent further proliferation of nukes.

What is your opinion on this? Negotiations? Punishment? Something else?

Posted by b on May 31, 2009 at 11:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (49)

Afghanistan Strategies

Are these points a good concept for the occupation of Afghanistan?

  • stabilize the country by garrisoning the main routes, major cities, airbases and logistics sites;
  • relieve the Afghan government forces of garrison duties and push them into the countryside to battle the resistance;
  • provide logistic, air, artillery and intelligence support to the Afghan forces;
  • provide minimum interface between the occupation forces and the local populace;
  • accept minimal own casualties; and,
  • strengthen the Afghan forces, so once the resistance is defeated, the military can be withdrawn.

How much do they differ from the strategy Obama announced two month ago? As the Guardian described it:

The key to the new strategy is to build up the Afghan army and police force. Obama today announced an extra 4,000 US troops to help with training, with the intention of doubling the Afghan force from its current 65,000. He said this might have to be increased again as power was transferred to Afghanistan. This is a relatively cheap option for the US as the pay of each Afghan soldier is quite small.

This will be accompanied by a "surge" in US civilians to Afghanistan, doubling numbers to 900, to help rebuild the country's infrastructure.

Obama last month ordered 17,500 US combat troops to Afghanistan to reinforce the 38,000 already there.

Those concept and Obama's strategy seem quite similar to me. Behind both is the idea to nationalize the conflict part while the occupation force provides the national forces with the needed resources and takes care of the infrastructure.

The first strategy is from a paper published in 1995 about the Soviet war in Afghanistan and describes their strategy.

The paper, by U.S. military analyst Lester W. Grau and retired Afghan General Nawroz, ends with these words:

Lessons learned from this conflict were gathered by both sides. Whatever else these lessons may show, the most fundamental of them is that no army, however sophisticated, well trained, materially rich, numerically overwhelming and ruthless, can succeed on the battlefield if it is not psychologically fit and motivated for the fight. The force, however destitute in material advantages and numbers, which can rely on the moral qualities of a strong faith, stubborn determination, individualism and unending patience will always be the winner. These may not be the optimum qualities always found in the armies of western democracies.

The "motivation" and "unending patience" is what the 'western' forces in Afghanistan are missing. If Grau and Nawroz are right, they will lose that war.

Posted by b on May 31, 2009 at 08:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (16)

Links May 31 09

  • Embassy Envy Slate. Besides internal trouble selling ambassadorships is just stupid foreign policy.If the U.S. wants to be taken seriously, it should have serious ambassadors.

Please add your links, views and news in the comments.

Posted by b on May 31, 2009 at 02:02 AM | Permalink | Comments (13)

May 30, 2009

Demand Deflation: Prison Cells For Rent

While California is releasing detainees from overcrowded prisons for lack of tax income, the Dutch have a quite different problem.

Not enough people commit crimes in the Netherlands and the demand for prison cells is down.

[M]easures must be taken to reduce the existing surplus of cells.

The Netherlands currently has capacity for 14,000 detainees but only 12,000 are needed. That number is expected to sink further.

Now group cells will be turned into single cells and prisoners will be placed as near as possible to their own region. Eight prisons will be closed or will sharply reduce their capacity.

Some prison guards will likely lose their job. The government tried its best to avoid that. According to rumors it considered the introduction of a "three strikes law" and to ask the European Union to criminalize the use of tobacco products.

But finally a better solution was found. Empty cells in the Netherlands will now be rented out to Belgium:

The Netherlands would get 30 million euros in the deal, and it will allow the closing of the prisons in Rotterdam and Veenhuizen to be postponed until 2012.

Posted by b on May 30, 2009 at 12:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Links May 30 09

  • More and worse pictures - The Bogus Torture Coverup - (Daily Beast)
  • Pakistan - Number of displaced persons exceeds three million - (Dawn)
  • Saudi and Kuwaiti money - Taliban's Foreign Support Vexes U.S. - (WSJ)
  • Israeli police shut Palestinian literature festival in East Jerusalem - (Haaretz)
  • Hill writer uncovered as redneck Netanjahu fan - 'The Hill' covers Obama-Abbas meeting with a Likudnik spin - (Mondoweiss)
  • U.S. soft on (some) crimes - US fines Israeli agent in spy case - (AlJazeera)
  • Richard Silverstein is optimistic - Putting the squeeze on Israel's settlements - (Guardian)
  • He has some reason for it - Frank and Filner Refuse to Sign Aipac Letter - (Tikun Olam)
  • McChrystal's troops or the CIA? - Gunmen attack Ahmadinejad election office - (AFP)
  • Same question - Iran official blames U.S. in deadly mosque bombing - (Reuters)
  • Oil records fifth consecutive gains as dollar drops - (Xinhua)

Please add your links, views and news in the comments.

Posted by b on May 30, 2009 at 01:46 AM | Permalink | Comments (18)

May 29, 2009

The Potential Korea Escalation

In the next days there will likely be a military clash between North and South Korea. With hardliners on both side and little attention in Washington a small sea skirmish could escalate into something much bigger.

Today North Korea launched another missile, this a ground-to-air one and warned of further measures. It clearly wants attention though not from the UN Security Council. From the AP account:

"If the U.N. Security Council makes a further provocation, it will be inevitable for us to take further self-defense measures," the North's Foreign Ministry said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.

North Korea also accused the Security Council of hypocrisy.

"There is a limit to our patience," the statement said. "The nuclear test conducted in our nation this time is the Earth's 2,054th nuclear test. The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council have conducted 99.99 percent of the total nuclear tests."
...
Fears have increased of military skirmishes, particularly in disputed waters off the western coast, after North Korea conducted the nuclear test on Monday and then renounced the truce that has kept peace between the Koreas since the Korean War ended in 1953.

That would be this line which the North wants to have moved further down.


Some historic background on that line can be found in this Joong Ang Daily piece from 2007.

There are already signs that something is imminent to happen there. AP continues:

From Yeonpyeong, the South Korean island closest to North Korea, about a dozen Chinese ships could be seen pulling out of port in the North and heading elsewhere. South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported that more than 280 Chinese vessels were fishing in the area earlier this week, but the number has dropped to about 140.

In 1999 and 2002 North Korean patrol ships crossed the line which led to small sea battles with several dead and wounded on each side.

The South Koreans government is prepared and has threatened escalating retaliation against any hostile action:

The official said if North Korea attacks South Korean naval or civilian vessels, the South will counter by targeting North Korean ships’ missile bases. An official in the South Korean Navy also said the South’s forces are preparing to thwart the North’s ground-to-ship or ship-to-ship missiles.

To respond to a sea skirmish with an attack on land missile bases is an escalation which likely would be answered with an escalation which likely would be answered ...

Let us hope that in the event of a small sea clash South Korea does not take the threatened step. The North would certainly answer and the whole issue could get out of hand.

The UN Security Council has not yet decided if or how to sanction North Korea for its second nuclear test. Writes the AP:

Russia's U.N. ambassador said Thursday there was wide agreement among key world powers on what a new U.N. resolution should include, but said putting the elements together will take time because the issues are "complicated."
...
Diplomats said a draft of the proposed resolution is not expected to be circulated until next week.

Well - the draft is available here (pdf), retrieved by Inner City Press, but the crucial paragraph 8 is yet empty.

But it may not matter much anyway. North Korea will likely respond to any UN Council resolution with some aggressive measure. What will be crucial now is how South Korea will respond to that. The hard line government of President Lee Myung-bak is under pressure after unproven corruption allegations against former President Roh Moo-hyun led to his suicide:

Former president Kim Dae-jung, Roh’s immediate predecessor, had accepted the invitation by Roh’s aides to give the eulogy, but the idea was vetoed by the incumbent administration, said Cheon Ho-seon, former presidential spokesman for Roh. The Lee government said letting Kim give the speech in the presence of other former presidents will raise a “fairness issue.”

After visiting the mourning altar in front of Seoul Station yesterday morning, Kim harshly criticized the Lee government.
...
“The prosecution has conducted probes of the children and relatives of Roh but none of the corruption allegations has been confirmed by the day of his death,” Kim continued. “Does it make sense that the prosecution has failed to come up with any evidence 20 days after questioning the former president?” The 2000 Nobel Peace Prize awardee also added that the Lee administration’s moves to block the entrance to Seoul Plaza downtown and prohibit his speech signal “an enormous digression from democracy.”

The government put a lot of police into the streets to suppress any demonstrations against it during or after Roh's funeral today. It may even hope that some escalation with the North diverts attention from interior South Korean issues, the Roh suicide and the economic situation.

Washington should better have more attention on this. Ultimately the North wants security guarantees from the U.S. so it can eventually open up its economy while the regime can stand in place. The U.S. pressing China for harder sanctions now will not be enough to avoid a potentially very deadly war.

Posted by b on May 29, 2009 at 10:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (26)

Links May 29 09

  • Gideon Levi - How to talk to a right winger - (Haaretz)
  • Rothkopf is a high class whiner - The Lobby reconsidered: irrefutable proof emerges... - (FP/Rothkopf)
  • To sell more weapons - Why treat Russia as an enemy? - (W. Pfaff)
  • Just another dangerous racket - Pentagon Plans New Arm to Wage Wars in Cyberspace - (NYT)
  • McChrystal? - 15 dead in Iran mosque blast - (Globe&Mail)
  • By Ghaith Abdul-Ahad - Somalia: one week in hell – inside the city the world forgot - (Guardian)
  • Krugman - The Big Inflation Scare - (NYT)
  • Scare? - Treasury yields continue upward march - (FT)
  • Scare? - Crude jumps towards $65 on upbeat Opec - (FT)
  • Banksters - Banks Want Government Subsidies to Buy Assets from Themselves - (Baseline Scenario)
  • Their prey - Foreclosures, mortgage delinquencies climb at record rate - (McClatchy)

Please add your links, views and news in the comments.

Posted by b on May 29, 2009 at 01:58 AM | Permalink | Comments (12)

May 28, 2009

The Backlash In Pakistan

Yesterday a car bomb exploded in Lahore killing some 30 and wounding 250 people. Today four bombs exploded in Peshawar.

This is the backlash for the U.S. demanded campaign by the Pakistani military against the neo-Taliban. More will come.

2.4 million have fled from and at least 200,000 are trapped in the fighting areas. Some of the refugees are with relatives but many live in makeshift camps where some of the radical organizations are already recruiting new followers.

The Pakistani military lets no media into the fighting zone so reports about casualties are sketchy. I feared that it does not do counterinsurgency but fights as it was trained to do - with massive artillery barrages and air raids and with disregard of any collateral damage. Now the first accounts are coming in from refugees. It appears I was right:

Taken together, their accounts — along with those of aid workers and hospital staff — suggest significant civilian casualties, mostly as a result of aerial raids by an army more equipped for conventional war with India than guerrilla warfare with the Taliban.
...
"Civilian casualties are much higher than those of either the army or the Taliban," said Ali Bakt, speaking at a hospital in the northwestern capital of Peshawar after fleeing the Taliban mountain stronghold of Peochar. He said both sides were firing mortar shells — an inaccurate weapon that often hits targets other than the intended one.

The heavy handed campaign may well press the neo-Taliban out of Swat and other areas. Some may cross the border to Afghanistan and the U.S. hopes to fight them there. But this hammer and anvil operation will also see many flee into the big cities and the fight will carry on there.

With damage in the cities increasing and reports of civilian casualties rising the Pakistani public will at some point no longer support the armies campaign. Then the government will again have to make with the neo-Taliban.

Strategically nothing will have changed but millions will have been uprooted and thousands will be dead or wounded.

Despite what the Obama administration insists to believe the conflict can not be solved by military force. There must and will be a political solution in Pakistan as well as in Afghanistan. Meanwhile the civilians have to pay the bloody price for the politicians small-mindedness.

Posted by b on May 28, 2009 at 01:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (72)

Child Labor Inflation

With child labor inflation  I do not mean an increase in the number of children working, but an increase in the age that is seen as borderline for child labor. It inflates the perceived problem and takes away attention from real cases.

A case in point is Juliette Terzieff's piece at WPR about concerns of increasing child labor in times of economic crisis. That concern is justified but I can not agree with the examples she links to and uses:

  • A claim that Chinese factories are allowed to disregard some employment regulation if they avoid laying off workers. The report says nothing about children at all.
  • A report on sixteen year old women working in a Chinese factory producing shoes for Nike while the Nike contract says the company should not employ anyone under eighteen. Sure the company should stick to its contracts, but why is a report on sixteen year old working in a factory headlined "Child Labor Allegations"?
  • Another report linked in Terzieff's piece highlights the death of a seventeen year old adolescent due to a machine male-function in another Chinese factory that produces for Disney. He started working there when he was fourteen.
  • The last example is of cotton harvest campaigns in Central Asia where, for a few weeks each year, children have to help the adults.

I regard none of those cases as child labor.

Starting with the last one German schools have two weeks of fall-holidays that were still named "potato-holidays" when I was in school. School was off but at least in the country site the children had to help with collecting the potatoes the grown ups dug up. My families vegetable garden was bit over an acre and we had no machines to take care of it. We would not have had our own potatoes without us children helping to harvest them. Starting at age twelve or so I also had to work an hour or so per day in my dads company to get my allowance. Was that child labor?

Two weeks after my fourteenth birthday I applied for work at a semitrailer factory for the summer holidays. The work was hard but I learned a lot about manufacturing and made about $2 per hour. I would not want to miss the experience nor the radio it bought me. Was that child labor?

Most of my junior high school mates entered an apprenticeship in this or that profession at age fourteen/fifteen while I went off to secondary school. Was theirs child labor?

I am concerned about real child labor where young kids are abused for regular and sustained labor, often in bad conditions and/or without pay. Unfortunately the economic downturn will indeed increase the number of children who will have to work. It is difficult to influence that. For the children the alternative may mean starvation.

Inflating the age of what we regard as child labor certainly does not help at all. The definition for children is a person between birth and puberty. Sixteen and seventeen year old are not children.

Also to characterize work in harvest campaigns as child labor is disingenuous. Not every farming family on this planet can afford machinery and harvest is a peak time where more hands are needed than usually. Hunger during the winter certainly hurts more than collecting potatoes or cotton during fall.

There is real child labor and we do not need the age inflation to argue and act against it.

Posted by b on May 28, 2009 at 09:25 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Links May 28 09

  • A regular MoA commentator is with these groups - good luck! (Gaza Delegation)
  • Outrageous - Islamic charity leaders get 65-year jail terms - (Reuters)
  • Fascism - Israeli bill seeks to outlaw denial of Jewish state - (WaPo/Reuters)
  • Theft - Israelis get four-fifths of scarce West Bank water, says World Bank - (Guardian)
  • No - Did Hizballah Kill Rafik Hariri? - (Time)
  • Roger Cohen talks tough - Obama in Netanyahu’s Web - (NYT)
  • A bit history and some interesting thoughts - Is North Korea About to Blow Up the World? - (AntiWar/Raimondo)
  • Dangerous - S. Korea and U.S. Raise Alert Level - (NYT)
  • Abducted kid - Afghan was taken to Guantanamo aged 12 - rights group - (Reuters)
  • Yes - Was Rape an Enhanced Interrogation Technique? - (FFF)
  • More to come - ‘Punjabi Taliban’ claim Lahore suicide bombing - (Dawn)
  • Building a new target - Obama seeks funds for Pakistan super-embassy - (McClatchy)
  • Stagflation? - Rising Treasury yields threaten recovery - (FT (alt-link)
  • 24% loss rate on credit card loans - Deflation? - JPMorgan warns on credit card woes - (FT (alt-link)
  • Lessons from the global financial crisis for regulators and supervisors - (FT/Mavercon)

Please add your links, views and news in the comments.

Posted by b on May 28, 2009 at 02:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (31)

May 27, 2009

What To Do About North Korea?

Roubini recommends that North Korea should open its economy the way China and North Korea did.

Impoverished North Korea can liberalize its economy while maintaining its political system if it follows the path taken by China and Vietnam, prominent economist Nouriel Roubini said Wednesday.

"I think the lesson is that progressive economic opening and liberalization even in a formerly centrally controlled economy can lead to beneficial changes," Roubini told reporters on the sidelines of a technology forum.

In principal I agree, but I fear the North Korea is different case than China and Vietnam. Those were and are oligarchic ruled states while North Korea is ruled by a personalized dictatorship. At least that is how it looks from the outside.

Another difference is the state ideology. The communism in North Korea and China after the late 1970s took a slow slide toward capitalism.

North Korea's ideology, Juche, is based on self-reliance and self-dependency of the country. While there is a walkable path from communism to capitalism (and back) via socialism and social-democracy in their various states, there is a large gap between state self-dependency and self-reliance and an open trade economy. Opening up could well mean a break down of the Juche ideology and the ruling system it was build to justify. The countries neighbors, China and South Korea fear the consequences of such a breakdown. 

Anyway - such an evolution would take years and the current problem with North Korea abandoning the armistice and pounding the wardrums can not be solved by that.

More difficult to solve than the long term economic stuff are indeed the current tensions. Any ideas what to do about these?

What are the next steps for China, the U.S. and South Korea to take?

Posted by b on May 27, 2009 at 12:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (17)

Links May 27 09

  • The Taliban silently take over north Afghanistan - 'If We Now Kill Schoolgirls, You Shouldn't Be Surprised'Spiegel)
  • Much too late - US probes divisions within Taliban - (Boston Globe)
  • McChrystal's slaughter campaign plans - A New Kind of War Part 1 - (SST)
  • Background on Swat Valley - How Green Was My Valley - (FPJ)
  • Backlash from the anti-Taliban campaign - Blast shakes Lahore police building - (AlJazeera)
  • SOFA? What SOFA? - Army chief: U.S. troops could be in Iraq for 10 years - LAT
  • Dennis Ross again making trouble - U.S. envoy Ross: Obama's plan won't bring Mideast peace - (Haaretz)
  • Not dangerous at all - Exploring the Reach and Limitations of Iranian Power in the Middle East - (Rand)
  • Provides a peaceful solution - Former diplomat: Iran won’t stop nuclear work - (LAT)
  • Still heating up - N Korea threatens South over ship searches - (FT)
  • USAID meddling in South America - More than $97 million from USAID to separatist projects in Bolivia - (Bolivia Risisng)
  • The Greatest Swindle Ever Sold - Six Ways the Financial Bailout Scams Taxpayers - (TomDispatch)
  • Dr. Doom - U.S. Inflation to Approach Zimbabwe Level, Faber Says - (Bloomberg)
  • A funny scam - Reincarnation Bank - (Reincarnation Bank)

Please add your links, views and news in the comments.

Posted by b on May 27, 2009 at 01:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (30)

May 26, 2009

Chinese Whisper Headlines

Part of a screenshot from the current TalkingPointsMemo homepage:

That headline is wrong. The Sudanese government said nothing about who might be responsible for the bombing of one or two convoys in Sudan in January and/or February.

The AP news piece the TPM headline is set to obfuscates who said that Israel bombed the convoy(s). Its lede:

Sudan's defense minister said air raids earlier this year, which the government suspects Israel conducted, killed 119 people involved in a smuggling ring.

Which government? When and where has the Sudanese government ever said it suspects that Israel was behind this bombing? To my best knowledge and research it never did do so. A few paragraphs further into the piece:

No one claimed outright responsibility for the attacks. However in March, then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert hinted at his country's involvement. When asked about the strikes, he said his government "operates everywhere we can hit terror infrastructure."

And what did the Sudanese government say? The current AP story is based on this recent report by the Sudanese news agency SUNA:

The National Assembly also heard response of the Minister of Defence, Gen. Abdul-Rahim Mohamed Hussein, to an assembly's query on the bombing of a convoy composed of around 1000 civilians in the Red Sea State, explaining that the issue was a smuggling process at the border with Egypt. He disclosed that 119 people were killed; among them were 56 smugglers and 63 smuggled persons from Ethiopian, Somali and other nationalities. Gen. Hussein indicated that this issue is still under investigation, referring to coordination in this regard between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the concerned security organs and neighbouring countries toward identifying the facts.

Nothing about Israel there.

The 'Israel bombed' rumor came up when CBS national security correspondent David Martin, know for good Mossad contacts, said he "had been told" that the Israelis did it and that the convoy was smuggling weapons from Sudan to Gaza.

The AP piece is setting the context wrong in its lede and TPM put a wrong headline on the piece. The Sudanese government never said anything about an Israeli strike.

Ynetnews makes the same mistake headlining a Reuters piece State media: Israeli air strike on Sudan convoy killed 119 even when that Reuters piece does not support that claim.

Recently Gay Gabriel analyzed the Sudan convoy bombing news and found:

In under a week, a story set in motion by the testimony of multiple unnamed sources in a new Egyptian newspaper, al-Shurooq, became a customized yet globally significant story that supposedly confirmed the long, clinical arm of Israel protecting itself from Iran.

However, certainty was an afterthought to a finished product that appeared assuredly in the Sunday papers and weekly news magazines, when in fact the foundations were provided by a sizeable number of unnamed and openly contradictory sources.

Furthermore, it would seem as though the lesson of the story - that Israel has a long, protective arm - was valedictory enough to credit obscure or fringe sources with enough substance to provide the central theme of the story in the absence of witnesses, or officially confirmed substantiation.

There is no evidence that Israel bombed the convoy(s). There is no evidence or reputable source that the convoy(s) had anything to do with weapons smuggling. Even if there were weapons (likely with smugglers) there is no evidence or reputable source of where these were coming from or where they were going to or if they were simply for the convoy(s) security.

The Sudanese government has never alleged that Israel did the bombing. I for one believe it did not. Based on a capability assessment, I think that U.S. special operation forces were responsible for the killing of those 63 migrants and 56 smugglers.

The Israeli secret services and Olmert simply used the secrecy around the event to 'suggest' greater capabilities than Israel really has and to 'suggest' Iranian involvement.

The rest is Chinese whisper, a telephone game played by news agencies and manipulative headline writers.

Posted by b on May 26, 2009 at 02:43 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Judge Sotomayor

Judge Sonia Sotomayor as Obama's choice for the Supreme Court is political neutral. It is nothing the left can be really happy about. Various evaluations of her legal opinions can be found here (scroll down). Sotomayor is Hispanic and that is of course a plus for diversity. Politically she seems to be just slightly left of what in the U.S. is regarded as center. At a pretty right-wing Supreme Court she will be more of a balance than a change.

The right-wingers will hate her anyway. To them anyone left of Scalia is a "radical liberal" and "judicial activist". Some slum fighting about the nomination is anyway unavoidable. Remarks Tom Goldstein at Scotus Blog:

A cottage industry – literally an industry, given the sums of money raised and spent – now exists in which the far left and right either brutalize or lionize the President’s nominees. Because the absence of controversy means bankruptcy, it has to be invented by both sides, whatever the cost to the nominee personally and to the integrity of the judiciary nationally.

The Scotus Blog post evaluates what the various attack lines and responses will be. A likely good prediction of what the various surrogates in the media will shout about during the next months. You can read it now and spare yourself those coming diversions.

Goldstein predicts that:

All in all, [...], her easy confirmation seems assured.

Posted by b on May 26, 2009 at 09:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (20)

Israel's Plans For Launching A War On Iran

Haaretz' usually well informed diplomatic editor Aluf Benn muses about how Netanjahu might try to circumvent U.S. restrictions on an attack on Iran:

There are other possibilities to consider: a war in the north that drags Iran in, or a strike against a valuable target for the Iranian regime, which leads Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and Ahmadinejad to take action against "the Zionist regime." If Iran attacks Israel first, the element of surprise will be lost, but then Israel's strike against the nuclear installations will be considered self-defense.

Another war with Hizbullah? Probably with the 'excuse' of hitting alleged new Hizbullah air defense weapons? But how would that drag in Iran?

And what might be a 'valuable target' that when attacked could incite Iran into declaring a war it can not wage and does not want? Cruise missiles from a submarine towards the Bushehr reactor?

Let me know your ideas.

Helena Cobban explains what would be Israel's real goal in such an attack:

There is good reason to believe that the goal [of an Israeli attack on Iran] would be not the direct physical destruction/incapacitation of Iran's nuclear programs but rather, to trigger an all-out US-Iran war in the course of which, Israel's planners hope, the US would do the dirty work in Iran that it is unable to do itself.

If Israel would launch some small attack on Iran, Iran might well, with some justification, retaliate against U.S. interests. This would then trigger an all out attack by the U.S. on Iran. Some action against the just opened French base in Abu Dhabi might even drag in the Europeans.

Helena fears that some people in the Obama administration and Congress would welcome such a chain of events. She urges to stop the still ongoing secret U.S. campaign against Iran and to start real direct diplomacy.

I do not see any real diplomacy coming up. There have been some words by Obama on this but zero signs of any behavior change. Some attempts of diplomacy might be made by the Obama administration after the elections in Iran. But these will be only for public relation reasons and Dennis Ross will make sure that any negotiations will fail.

My hope is that chain of events Israel will likely try to ignite would be stopped by two relevant entities:

  1. The U.S. military which is in enough trouble already in the area and may not want a bigger war.
  2. The Iranian government being smart enough to not fall for such a plot. It could shrug off an attack and respond to it only indirectly, asymmetrical and with a long time delay.

Posted by b on May 26, 2009 at 04:26 AM | Permalink | Comments (71)

Links May 26 09

  • Reidar Vissar - Disputed Territories in Iraq: The Practical Argument against Self-Determination in Kirkuk - (Historiae.org)
  • Gog and Magog - Bush's Shocking Biblical Prophecy Emerges: God Wants to "Erase" Mid-East Enemies "Before a New Age Begins" - (Alternet)
  • Paranoid lunatic - Netanyahu bringing Israel closer to war with Iran - (Haaretz)
  • Propaganda - Secret document: Venezuela, Bolivia supplying Iran with uranium - (Haaretz)
  • Uri Avnery sounds optimistic - Netanyahu Goes to Washington - (Counterpunch)
  • 'Limited' is an overstatement - U.S. soldiers' options limited to protect Afghans from Taliban - (McClatchy)
  • US/UK unwilling to cut back - When austerity does not come easily - (FT (alt. link))
  • The Volkswagen/Porsche drama - Karma Is A Bitch v2 - (Zero Hedge)

Please add your links, views and news in the comments.

Posted by b on May 26, 2009 at 02:15 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

May 25, 2009

The North Korean Nuclear Test

Today North Korea tested, apparently successful, a nuclear device. The size of the explosion was given as 10,000 to 20,000 tons of TNT equivalent. That is much bigger than the last test which resulted in a 'fizzle' with only 500 tons TNT equivalent. NoKo also launched three surface to air missiles with a range of some 130km.

This was likely a test of a "Fat Man" type device, comparable to the first second nuclear bomb. It is the easiest to build plutonium design and the most likely one to work without more intensive engineering and testing. It is also a bulky design that is difficult to fit on the missiles North Korea has.

As far as known, today's detonation left North Korea with enough Plutonium for two to six more bombs. It may restart reprocessing old nuclear fuel from its sole reactor and get material for another one within six month. It would have to restart the half dismantled reactor to produce more which would take some three to four years. North Korea may have an Uranium enrichment program, another possible way to nukes, but this program is likely not at industrial scale.

Everyone and his brother is condemning today's test including the Russians and the Chinese. The UN Security Council will meet and release some harsh words. But I doubt that any new sanctions will be issued.

Even if North Korea manages to put a nuclear device on a missile it is unlikely that it would use it in a first strike. There would be nothing to gain but devastation for itself and the certain end for its regime. Under attack the calculation would be different.

The concerned global parties about a North Korean nuclear strike are South Korea, Japan, the U.S. and China. South Korea and the especially the U.S. troops stationed there would be a likely aim for a defensive strike. Japan and U.S. garrisons there are another possible target. China does not fear a North Korean weapon. But it has two other concerns.

The first is a nuclear armed Japan. Japan is a latent nuclear state. It has the material and the know how to build a few nukes over a weekend or two. It also has the means to deliver them. If Japan officially takes up nuclear arms China would feel endangered. The Japanese occupation is not forgotten.

The second Chinese fear is a collapse of the North Korean regime followed by a 'peaceful' invasion from South Korea and the U.S. troops there that would come to 'help' the 'poor North Korean people'. This would put U.S. troops directly at its border.

Therefore I believe that China will block any attempt to put even more sanctions on North Korea.

But next to a nuclear strike there is another fear out there. North Korea could, in theory, export a nuclear device to interested party. As it has so few, the price would certainly be very high and I find it unlikely that anyone who can pay that price is interested in acquiring one or two weapons. But who knows? The U.S. will certainly play along that fear to further it aims.

It could argue that to prevent proliferation all ships must be searched when they enter and leave North Korea's territorial waters. If the UN security council would agree to that it would set a precedent that could later be used to essentially blockade Iran. 

Posted by b on May 25, 2009 at 10:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (16)

Links May 25 09

  • As expected - North Korea Claims to Conduct 2nd Nuclear Test - (NYT)
  • South Korean Stocks, Won Drop After North Tests Nuclear Weapon - (Bloomberg)
  • Japan wants UNSC meeting on N.Korea test - Kyodo - (Reuters)
  • Japan panel wants "first strikes" against enemies - (Reuters)

  • So where is the pressure? - Netanyahu defies Obama on Israeli settlement freeze - (Reuters)

  • IPI wins over TAPI - Pakistan, Iran finally sign gas pipeline accord - (Dawn)
  • Good Iran portait - Tehran or Bust - (Newsweek)
  • Mohamed ElBaradei - ‘They are not Fanatics’ - (Newsweek)
  • Almost? - Africa almost giving land away, says UN - (FT (alt. link))
  • The mystery - Sudan Airstrikes: How Contradiction Became Evidence - (Palestinian Chronicle)
  • Best way for development aid? - How to help the poor have more money? Well, you could give it to them - (NYU)
  • The second wave - Job Losses Push Safer Mortgages to Foreclosure - (NYT)
  • Krugman on the Banana Republic of California - State of Paralysis - (NYT)
  • Why Britain is fucked - It’s Finished - (LRB) (lengthy)
  • Funny headline - Geithner rejects charges US moving toward socialism - (AFP)
  • Just cut out the bad news - The Recession Blocker - (Recession Blocker)

Please add your links, views and news in the comments.

Posted by b on May 25, 2009 at 02:18 AM | Permalink | Comments (21)

May 24, 2009

Empire Media

One issue I have with the U.S. media is its complete inability to reflect on what the U.S. is actually doing when they report on foreign reactions.

Today the Washington Post's Craig Whitlock is outraged that Spanish prosecutors and judges care about international crimes against humanity. He does not spend a second on thinking about how much of that may be really justified when one takes into account the openly admitted misdeeds of the U.S.

Spain's Judges Cross Borders In Rights Cases - High-Ranking U.S. Officials Among Targets of Inquiries

MADRID -- Spanish judges are boldly declaring their authority to prosecute high-ranking government officials in the United States, China and Israel, among other places, delighting human rights activists but enraging officials in the countries they target and triggering a political backlash in a nation uncomfortable acting as the world's conscience.

Reality version:

WASHINGTON D.C. -- American and Israeli officials are boldly declaring their authority to kill high-ranking government officials in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, among other places, delighting Zionists activists but enraging officials in the countries they target and triggering a political backlash in nations comfortable acting as the world's conscience.

WaPo:

Judges at Spain's National Court, acting on complaints filed by human rights groups, are pursuing 16 international investigations into suspected cases of torture, genocide and crimes against humanity, according to prosecutors. Among them are two probes of Bush administration officials for allegedly approving the use of torture on terrorism suspects, including prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

My version reads:

Officials at the U.S. National Security Council, acting on complaints filed by Zionist groups, are pursuing international crimes by pursuing torture, genocide and crimes against humanity, according to U.S. officials. Among them are Bush administration officials who approved the use of torture on terrorism suspects, including prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

And so on.

The U.S. is pressing Spain to change its laws so that international U.S. crimes, even when effecting Spanish citizens, can no longer be prosecuted. At the same time the U.S. claims it has the right to snatch or kill anyone, anywhere, anytime for whatever reason.

Not one bit of that comparison makes it into the piece. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality ..."

Posted by b on May 24, 2009 at 02:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Links May 24 09

  • Must read in full - A Deeply Unfair Cast of Mind - (Garett/DKos)
  • Obama outsources torture - U.S. Relies More on Allies in Questioning Terror Suspects - (NYT)
  • U.S. holds journalist without charges in Iraq - (LAT)
  • Robert Dreyfuss on the NY 4 - Yet Another Bogus 'Terror' Plot - (The Nation)
  • How the IDF manipulates the media - Explaining War - (JPost)
  • Flynt and Hillary Leverett on missed opportunities - Have We Already Lost Iran? - (NYT)
  • Iran wins in U.S. Supreme Court - Law Professor Wins Supreme Court Case - (EmoryWheel) via Iran Affairs
  • One Mullen unit=two Friedman units - Next year crucial for war against Taliban: US - (Dawn)
  • Prospects are dismal for returning Iraqi refugees - (McClatchy)
  • For Displaced Iraqis, 'No Life' - (WaPo)
  • Refuted economic doctrines #8: the superiority of flexible labor markets - (Crooked Timber)
  • Wall Street rulez - Geithner Adopts Part of Wall Street Derivatives Plan - (Bloomberg)

Please add your links, views and news in the comments.

Posted by b on May 24, 2009 at 02:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (35)

May 23, 2009

US Fears Hezbollah Will Win Election - Interferes

"The people of Lebanon must be able to choose their own representatives in open and fair elections, without the specter of violence or intimidation, and free of outside interference," Clinton said during an unannounced visit to Beirut.
Clinton calls for 'open and fair' Lebanon elections, CNN, April 23, 2009

---

"I do not come here to back any particular party or any particular person. I come here to back certain principles," Biden said later with President Michel Suleiman. "We will evaluate the shape of our assistance programs based on the composition of the new government and the policies it advocates."
Biden visits Lebanon, offers support for government, LAT, May 22, 2009

---

SPIEGEL has learned from sources close to the tribunal and verified by examining internal documents, that the Hariri case is about to take a sensational turn. Intensive investigations in Lebanon are all pointing to a new conclusion: that it was not the Syrians, but instead special forces of the Lebanese Shiite organization Hezbollah ("Party of God") that planned and executed the diabolical attack.
New Evidence Points to Hezbollah in Hariri Murder, SPIEGEL, May 23, 2009

via FLC

Aside from that:

I personally know a bit or two about the Spiegel publications interior workings and the above leaked Hariri story is quite curious:

Spiegel is the biggest German news-magazine and the Hariri/Hezbollah story is part of next weeks print edition that will not be available for sale until Monday. The German Spiegel website carries some of the Spiegel print stories but only after the print edition published them. It mostly creates its own content. The English part of the Spiegel website carries translated stories from the German website and very few pieces from the print edition. Those usually with a few days timelag.

This is the very first time I see a story from the German print edition pre-published on the (money losing) English Spiegel site while it is not even available on the (profitable) German Spiegel website.

Someone really felt a huge urge to get the Hariri/Hezbollah story out in English very, very fast and pulled some serious string at the Spiegel chief-editor level to get that done. This might well be the same person(s) that leaked the story.

One of the two Spiegel editors-in chief is Mathias Müller von Blumencron. He was Spiegel's Washington and New York correspondent from 1996 to 2000 and still has excellent connections there. After 2000 he edited the Spiegel website, turned it to the right and introduced the English part. Since 2008 he is one of the two editors-in-chief of the whole Spiegel publishing group.

Thanks to Mathias, the Spiegel English website has an exchange agreement with the New York Times website. Expect a 'reprint' of the Hariri story there soon.

Now - who gave Mathias that call?

Posted by b on May 23, 2009 at 03:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (23)

Links May 23 09

  • More from Mr. No-Change - Obama orders Gates to update plan for Iran strike - (YnetNews)
  • Diplomacy, Inc. - The Influence of Lobbies on U.S. Foreign Policy - (Foreign Affairs)
  • History of Diego Garcia - All your bases belong to US - (The National)
  • Good idea ... - Geithner Calls for ‘Very Substantial’ Change in Wall Street Pay - (Bloomberg)
  • ... the result: - Morgan Stanley to Boost Executive Salaries as Bonuses Decline - (Bloomberg)
  • Bradley, Fergusan, Krugman, Roubini, Soros, Wells et al. - The Crisis and How to Deal with It - (NYRB)
  • Selling out infrastructure - The Toll Booth Economy - (Counterpunch)

Posted by b on May 23, 2009 at 02:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (37)

May 22, 2009

Obama Unveils His Inner Cheney

In this passage of Obama's speech yesterday he lays out a system of indefinite detention of innocents that is illegal, against basic human rights and against all morals. It is Cheney at his worst simply clad in new cloth.

Now, finally, there remains the question of detainees at Guantanamo who cannot be prosecuted yet who pose a clear danger to the American people. And I have to be honest here—this is the toughest single issue that we will face. We’re going to exhaust every avenue that we have to prosecute those at Guantanamo who pose a danger to our country. But even when this process is complete, there may be a number of people who cannot be prosecuted for past crimes, in some cases because evidence may be tainted, but who nonetheless pose a threat to the security of the United States. Examples of that threat include people who’ve received extensive explosives training at al Qaeda training camps, or commanded Taliban troops in battle, or expressed their allegiance to Osama bin Laden, or otherwise made it clear that they want to kill Americans. These are people who, in effect, remain at war with the United States.

Let me repeat: I am not going to release individuals who endanger the American people. Al Qaeda terrorists and their affiliates are at war with the United States, and those that we capture—like other prisoners of war—must be prevented from attacking us again. Having said that, we must recognize that these detention policies cannot be unbounded. They can’t be based simply on what I or the executive branch decide alone. That’s why my administration has begun to reshape the standards that apply to ensure that they are in line with the rule of law. We must have clear, defensible, and lawful standards for those who fall into this category. We must have fair procedures so that we don’t make mistakes. We must have a thorough process of periodic review, so that any prolonged detention is carefully evaluated and justified.

This is all terribly wrong.

  • Someone got explosive trainings? So what - most soldiers on this world have received such.
  • Someone led the Taliban in battle? So what - the Taliban ain't al-Qaeda and had a right to defend their country against invaders.
  • Someone expressed allegiance to Osama bin Laden? So what - pledging allegiance is not harming anyone.
  • Someone wants to kill Americans? So what - first they may have a good reason and second if they try, the police and the court system can take care of them. How many Americans say each day "I am going to kill that sucker." Will they now all be indefinitely imprisoned without trial and without being found guilty of something?

Posted by b on May 22, 2009 at 07:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (32)

The Danger of Unrealistic Expectations

by Parviz

By now everyone knows that Edward Liddy just stepped down as Chairman and CEO of AIG. I believe this is highly relevant to this blog as the event validates many of the criticisms I have leveled at the majority of MoA posters. Liddy left because he could no longer tolerate the self-aggrandizing politics that was hindering his honest attempt at paying off tax-payers in as careful and deliberate a fashion as possible.

In trying to navigate between the Scylla and Charybdis of a) unrelenting criticism, and b) unrealistic expectations, he threw in the towel and answered the prayers of some and, as the saying goes: “Hell is answered prayers”:

Who is going to replace him? Obviously someone with knowledge and experience (= a hated ‘insider’?), maybe a turn-around specialist (= “vulture capitalist”?). Or somebody with sufficient ‘stature’ to face of a hypocritically angry Congress and Senate baying for blood when they should be sacrificing their own?

Liddy did the right thing. The American public didn’t deserve the services of somebody who took on the most difficult and high profile job in the U.S.A. for a nominal salary of $1 per year.

I often use analogies to make a point, so let me offer you another one:

There’s been an earthquake in Iran. The whole system is corrupt and buildings are built sub-standard, with the construction mafia pocketing the difference. 50,000 have already died and another 200,000 sit among or beneath the rubble. There is a desperate need for excavators, bulldozers and other machinery and equipment in the immediate vicinity, but these are all owned by the same contractors that caused the mess to begin with, and their employees are equally inept or corrupt. Now, what does the Government do? Forbid the use of those companies/contractors and call in new people and equipment from far away, knowing full well that every second’s delay could cause an additional death? Seize the equipment by decree and risk a protracted battle, I mean a really nasty one, between the government and the construction mafia that would divert attention from the job of saving lives?

What would I do if a solution were within my power? I would enlist the aid of everyone in the vicinity, whether corrupt or otherwise, to get the remaining people out from under the rubble and to hospital, and then, and only then, would I hold inquiries and dole out punishments. The U.S. economy has suffered precisely such an earthquake. Actions born of anger alone will not save it.

FT: Hostile atmosphere too much for Liddy - (alternative link)

Posted by b on May 22, 2009 at 04:28 AM | Permalink | Comments (62)

Links May 22 09

  • On indefinite detention of innocents - Great Speech, But No [to] Military Commissions and No [to] “Preventive Detention” - (Andy Worthington)
  • What Digby says - Looking In The Rearview Mirror - (Hullabaloo)
  • Landay & Strobel - Cheney's speech ignored some inconvenient truths - (McClatchy)
  • Entrapped stupid petty criminals did what the FBI told them to do - N.Y. Bomb Plot Suspects Acted Alone, Police Say - (NYT)
  • Collectively? Yes. - Are Americans wimps? - (FP/Stephen Walt)
  • Americans' Addiction to War - (William Pfaff)
  • "Madame Clinton, wishes to revisit the scene of the crime." - The Balkans Again - (DNI)

  • Going for Broke - Six Ways the Af-Pak War Is Expanding - (TomDispatch)
  • Israel against the Iran route - Obama administration creates South Caucasus supply network - (Richard Sale/SST)
  • U.N. hails Iran for curbing flow of Afghan heroin - (Reuters India)
  • “From now on,” he says, “I’m Hamas.” - The Smell of Paradise - (CJR)
  • Interview with the Angry Arab (video) - abukhalil online - (Alternative Focus/Youtube)

  • Krugman on health care - Blue Double Cross - (NYT)
  • First time ever - Global electricity use forecast to fall - (FT)
  • Another portrait - Prophet Motive - Is Nouriel Roubini lucky or just good? - (TNR)
  • Joining the Pound - Dollar Falls to 4-Month Low Versus Euro on U.S. Credit Outlook - (Bloomberg)

Please add your links, views and news in the comments.

Posted by b on May 22, 2009 at 01:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (20)

May 21, 2009

Israel: Obama, Biden, Clinton Are "Stupid", "Childish", "Juvenile"

Why is there no outrage when Israeli officials insult the President of the United States, the Vice-President and the Secretary of State?
Mrs Clinton urged continued dialogue with the Palestinian Authority to create an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. “We happen to believe that moving towards a two-state solution is in Israel’s best interests,” she said.
Clinton says two-state solution 'inescapable' for Middle East, London Times, March 4, 2009
---
Biden, speaking to a conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), said Palestinians must halt militant violence and Israel "has to work for a two-state solution ... not build more settlements, dismantle existing outposts and allow Palestinians freedom of movement."
Biden presses Israel on two-state solution, Reuters, May 5, 2009
---
"It is in the interests not only of the Palestinians but also the Israelis, the United States and the international community to achieve a two-state solution," Obama told reporters with Netanyahu sitting beside him.
Obama presses two-state solution in U.S.-Israel talks, Reuters, May 18, 2009
---
"This idea of two states for two peoples is a stupid and childish solution to a very complex problem," senior members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu staff said on Wednesday as the entourage made its way back to Israel from Washington.
...
[A]nother top advisor had no qualms with explicitly deriding the solution itself as "juvenile."
'Fixation on two-state solution is childish', YNet, May 20, 2009

Posted by b on May 21, 2009 at 09:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (36)

Belatedly Hillary Clinton Agrees With Khamenei And Ahmadinejad

“You know the Iranian nation is in principle and on religious grounds against the nuclear weapon. Nuclear weapons only incur high costs and have no use. They do not bring power to a nation,” [Khamenei] said.
Chief Cleric Says Iran Doesn’t Seek Nuclear Arms, NYT, June 3, 2008

---

"We have no interest in building a nuclear weapon."
Interview with Iranian President Ahmadinejad, Spiegel, April 10, 2009

---

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday she intends to explain to Iran it is not in its interest to acquire a nuclear weapon because it would spark a Middle East arms race.
Nuclear weapons are not in Iran’s interests: Clinton, AFP, May 21, 2009

But why does she think she needs to explain that?

Posted by b on May 21, 2009 at 07:34 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Links May 21 09

  • FBI stinger plot - 4 Arrested in Plot to Bomb New York Synagogues - (NYT)
  • How MI5 blackmails British Muslims - (Independent)
  • I wonder about the "Re-" in "Rejoins" - 1 in 7 Freed Detainees Rejoins Fight, Report Finds - (NYT)
  • Yes. - Are Wall Street speculators driving up gasoline prices? - (McClatchy)
  • Arbitrage in Somalia - The Great Hargeisa Goat Bubble - (Julian Gough)

Please add your links, views and news in the comments.

Posted by b on May 21, 2009 at 02:16 AM | Permalink | Comments (23)

May 20, 2009

Propaganda Headlines

London Times: Ahmadinejad claims Iran's new missile is capable of hitting Israel

Voice of America: Ahmadinejad: Iran Tests Missile that Could Reach Israel, Europe

But this what the official Iranian agency FARS reports:

"The Sejjil missiles are among multi-stage missiles which move fast and are able to go into space then come back and hit the target. It works on solid fuel," Ahmadinejad added to cheers from the crowd.

He did not specify the missile's range.

IRNA has nothing about the missile range, ISNA neither. Press TV claims the missile has 2,000 kilometer range which is of course not enough to reach Europe. Other Iranian missile types are already able to hit Israel so the new missile does not really change anything there either.

BTW none of the Iranian sources above reports that Ahmadinejad said something about Israel at all.

Posted by b on May 20, 2009 at 12:36 PM | Permalink | Comments (21)

Another Shot At Sanger's Propaganda Piece

I dismissed the Sanger/Shanker piece Pakistan Is Rapidly Adding Nuclear Arms, U.S. Says as propaganda for three reasons:

[H]ere are the three points where Sanger manipulates the reader:

  • The assertion of "confidential briefings" for which he does not name a source and does not explain how he got knowledge of these.
  • The "rapidly adding" in the headline and first graph also not sourced at all and not confirmed by the rest of the article.
  • Moving Senator Webb's question of control about future money to Pakistan into the context of adding nukes when it is much more generally asked in the context of Pakistan's military stand versus India.

Looking deeper into the issue there is another and much more relevant reason to dismiss the piece. For now Pakistan simply does not have the ability to rapidly add nuclear arms.It lacks the ingredients.

To build nuclear weapons one needs either highly enriched uranium (HEU) or plutonium.

Capacity of  uranium enrichment centrifuges is measured in Separative Work Unit (SWU). One centrifuge running 1 SWU for one year can produce some 6 grams of HEU.

Pakistan's uranium enrichment program at Kahuta consists of some 3,000 centrifuges. There are no reports that this number has increased. These centrifuges are of earlier P-1 and P-2 designs and were copied by A.Q. Khan from a Dutch program. Meanwhile Pakistan has developed centrifuges of P-3 type with 12 SWU per year and may have been working on P-4 models with 20 SWU per year. 3,000 of those could in the very optimal case produce 60,000 SWU per year.

An implosion weapon using U235 would require about 20 kg of 90% U235. Roughly 176 kg of natural uranium would be required per kg of HEU product, and about 230 SWU per kg of HEU, thus requiring a total of about 4,600 SWU per weapon. To enrich natural uranium for one gun-type uranium bomb would requires roughly 14,000 SWUs.

If all the centrifuges Pakistan operates were replaced with more modern P-4 type and if these were up and running without any flaw it could possibly produce at maximum 60,000 SWU per year or enough for some 20 of the best-possible-design uranium bombs per year.

But the above is the very worst case. The real HEU production capacity is likely much less and it is dubious that Pakistan, without any testing, would be able to use the best thinkable bomb design.

Pakistan also has no good reason to increase its number of uranium based weapons. Most of Pakistan's currently 40 to possibly 80 nukes are of this type. Such weapons are by design relative clumsy. The 'Little Boy' gun type uranium bomb the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima used 64 kilogram of highly enriched uranium but had a total weight of some 4,500 kilogram.

The only reasonable way to deliver such big weapons is by airplanes which have to enter enemy airspace and defeat all enemy air defenses to deliver their bombs on a target. Ballistic missiles are much preferable means to deliver nuclear ammunition. But these also need much smaller weapon packages.

Modern nuclear weapons are therefore plutonium fission based or thermonuclear weapons triggered by plutonium which use a quite complicate sphere to compress the nuclear material.

Pakistan has done experimental work on plutonium type of weapon (though not tested any) and has been working over the last years to expand that program to production capacity. A indigenous build (with Chinese help) heavy water and natural uranium research reactor began operating in Khushab in 1998. It has a capacity of some 50 thermal megawatts and may produce enough plutonium for about one weapon per year.

Two new reactors are now getting build next to the old one in Khushab. David Albright's ISIS published (pdf) pictures last month which were taken at the end of January and show that the outer buildings for these reactors now near completion. But they are far from being operational and it is likely to take years before they are up and running at any reasonable capacity. Pakistan is also in the process of expanding production capacity for heavy water needed to run these reactors. The plutonium separation plant (pdf) near Rawalpindi and is a site (pdf) near Dera Ghazi Khan where the chemical uranium processing and (likely) actual weapon production gets done are also adding some buildings.

It seems that Pakistan is expanding its nuclear program in a move away from uranium based weapons to plutonium based weapons which will be deliverable by ballistic missiles. All the above expansion plans are observable on satellite pictures since at least 2002. There is no surprise in this and the expansion of the capacity is moderate. Albright is estimating that the new heavy water reactors will have a capacity of some 100+ thermal megawatts each. The total would thereby go from 50 to 250 MWt and may be enough to produce 5+ additional weapons per year.

The expansion of Pakistan's production of nuclear weapons is also moderate when one looks across its boarder:

As of September 2005, India was estimated to have a stockpile of around 45-95 warheads. In addition, Defense News reported in their November 1, 2004 edition, that an Indian Defence Ministry source quoted that "in the next five to seven years India will have 300–400 nuclear and thermonuclear weapons distributed to air, sea, and land forces." It is estimated that India currently possesses enough separated plutonium to produce and maintain an arsenal of 1,000-2,000 warheads.

Sanger's sensational article about Pakistan 'rapidly adding nuclear arms' seems false to me because nothing in the available material shows that Pakistan currently even has the basic production capacity or stockpiles of nuclear material needed to 'rapidly add' nuclear weapons. The thrust of Pakistan's program is to expand its plutonium production capacity. But it is still in the process of doing this and for now Pakistan simply does can not 'rapidly expand' its nuclear arsenal.

There is a nuclear arms race going on between India and Pakistan. This is not good and should stop. But it needs two sides to agree on that.

India yesterday launched a nuclear capable ballistic missile with a reach of 2,500 kilometers (1,560 miles). Such launches are certainly not an incentive for Pakistan to slow down its programs. Nor is the propaganda campaign currently waged by Washington an incentive for Pakistan to lower its deterrence capabilities.

Posted by b on May 20, 2009 at 11:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (12)

Links May 20 09

  • Chomsky - The Torture Memos and Historical Amnesia - (TomDispatch)
  • Hang'em high - The 13 people who made torture possible - (Salon)
  • On McChrystal - The new face on Washington's war - (Socialist Worker)
  • Cowards - Democrats in Senate Block Money to Close Guantánamo - (NYT)
  • Moving target - Iraq slides election until January - (AP)
  • Psychos - U.S. military: Heavily armed and medicated - (MSNBC)
  • Forget the 'May Be' - Arms From U.S. May Be Falling Into Taliban Hands - (NYT)
  • With some interesting details on Iran negotiations - Interview with Mohamed Elbaradei - (Spiegel)
  • U.S.-Russian Team Deems Missile Shield in Europe Ineffective - (WaPo)
  • Dennis Ross 2008 income includes $214,605 for speeches to AIPAC etc. - 2 special envoys prove well-heeled - (USA Today via FLC)
  • Bibi's answer to Obama - Israel unleashes new war upon Gaza ghetto - (PressTV)
  • Invade the Cayman - Lax Little Islands - (The Nation)
  • Our ruling oligarchs - Beware bail-out kings and backbench barons - (FT, alt. link)

Please add your links, views and news in the comments.

Posted by b on May 20, 2009 at 02:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (14)

May 19, 2009

Credit Card Bill Still Allows Usury

Some credit card bill passed with large majorities:

The Senate voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to put new restrictions on the credit card industry, passing a bill whose backers say will make card-issuers spell out their terms in fewer words, using plain English, and treat customers more fairly.
...
Credit card debt has increased by 25 percent in the last decade, with delinquency rates up by more than a third since 2006, according to statistics cited by the White House. Americans pay $15 billion in penalty fees a year, accounting for about 10 percent of the industry’s revenues. About one-fifth of those carrying credit card debt pay more than 20 percent in interest.

Before Tuesday’s vote, the senators applauded their colleague Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, who cast the 11,000th vote of his Senate career. “I couldn’t think of a better bill to cast this 11,000th vote on,” Mr. Levin said.

Well -  I for one certainly can think of a much much better bill to cast a Yea vote on.

How about one that forbids usury which I define as anything beyond a 5% margin. If the credit card companies can refinance at 0% through the Fed than asking anything beyond 5% in interest on debt is usury.

German law sets the usury limit a bit higher than that but at current refinancing rates anything above 12% "effective rate" (which includes upfront costs, credit insurance etc.) would certainly make the contract illegal. The U.S. killed any usury limit in the 1980 with the Depository Institutions Deregulation and Monetary Control Act. The "better bill" Levin can not think of would reintroduce sharp usury limits and void such loans ab initio.

The credit card companies need higher interest payments because they have large charge offs?

Well - why do they market their product to people who abuse it? I do not lend money to people who are unlikely to be able to pay back (except of course to friends in need). The credit companies do so and make their good customers pay for it. This is an abuse of honest people.

A very simple way to cure that is to limit the amount of interest they can charge. With such a limit the credit card companies would only service customers that are likely able to pay back what they borrow. There still would be some charge offs for people who unexpectedly have some trouble and can not pay because of illness or something else. That is the normal business risk.

But what is currently allowed is for these companies to catch people through sophisticated marketing campaigns, induce them to run up debt and then charge them hellish interest rates that will never let them recover to a real life. Credit card debts have become a virtual debtor prison.

This chart tells a story about half-way decent regulation versus runaway neo-liberal deregulation. It is time for the U.S. and other countries to re-learn the decent lending lessons.

Posted by b on May 19, 2009 at 02:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (32)

Around the Hindu Kush, 30 is a Magic Number - An Update

Last August my piece Around the Hindu Kush, 30 is a Magic Number quoted 16 media items about different incidents in Afghanistan between February 2006 and August 2008. Each of those incidents involved "30 militants", "30 insurgents" or "30 enemies".

Since then the number 30 has not lost its magic. Here is an update with 18 incidents since August last year all of which involve the magic number:

At least 30 Taliban reported dead in shelling of Pakistan redoubt, DPA, May 14, 2009
Islamabad - At least 30 Taliban fighters were killed Thursday when government artillery fire destroyed their hideout in north-west Pakistan, residents and officials said, as concerns about the fate of thousands of refugees in the region grew amid an escalating humanitarian crisis.

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Clashes kill dozens in Afghanistan, AFP, May 5, 2009
Heavy fighting between Taliban and security forces in Afghanistan is believed to have killed about 30 militants and several civilians, a governor says.

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Around 30 militants said killed in Afghan attacks, AFP, May 2, 2009
Afghan and international authorities said Saturday that around 30 insurgents had been killed in new clashes in militant hotspots as a district police chief and his guard died in a bombing.

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Gunships kill 30 in attack on Taleban, MilitaryNews, April 28
Pakistan sent helicopter gunships and troops to attack Taleban militants in a district covered by a peace deal after strong United States pressure on the nuclear-armed nation to confront insurgents advancing in its northwest.

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Pakistani Forces Kill 30 Taliban in Northwest, VOA, April 26, 2009
Pakistani officials say paramilitary forces backed by helicopter gunships have killed at least 30 Taliban militants, including a commander and five deputy commanders, in a northwestern district.

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Coalition airstrike kills 20 Taliban militants in Afghanistan, IANS, April 2, 2009
Twenty suspected Taliban militants were killed in an airstrike carried out by the US-led coalition forces in southern Afghanistan, officials said in a statement Thursday.
...
The Afghan police - backed by NATO troops - killed 30 Taliban, including one of their commanders, in the same Kajaki district Tuesday. A day earlier, another 30 militants were killed in a separate operation in the neighbouring province of Uruzgan.

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Afghanistan attacks kill mayor, 30 militants, April 1, 2009, AFP
THE mayor of an Afghan city was killed in a bomb attack and 30 Taliban-linked militants died in a police operation, among separate incidents of violence reported in Afghanistan yesterday.

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ANA kill 30 militants, destroy IED cache in Helmand , US Centcom, March 19, 2009
KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghan National Army soldiers advised by Coalition forces killed 30 armed militants in Gereshk Disrict, Helmand Province Thursday.

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New Units Quickly in the Afghan Fight, AP, Feb 17, 2009
Militants have attacked several patrols with rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, including one ambush by 30 insurgents, Lt. Col. Steve Osterholzer, the brigade spokesman, said.

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Troops kill around 30 insurgents in Afghanistan, AFP , Jan 22, 2009
KABUL (AFP) — Afghan and international forces said Thursday they had killed around 30 militants in Afghanistan, 22 of them in NATO air strikes after a patrol was attacked near the Pakistan border.

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Pakistan army says airstrikes kill 30 militants, HuffPo, Dec 2, 2008
Pakistani airstrikes and a suspected suicide attack left 34 dead near the Afghan border on Wednesday, security forces said, as the U.S. urged broader action against militants after the Mumbai terror attacks.

Airstrikes in two areas of the Mohmand border region killed 30 suspected militants, a military statement said. It said the strikes were "highly successful" but provided no further details, including whether any civilians were hurt.

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More than 30 militants killed in Afghanistan, Xinhua , November 16, 2008
Afghan army backed by the US-led coalition forces have killed more than 30 militants in southern Afghanistan, a coalition statement released here Sunday said. A group of militants Saturday night ambushed Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and coalition forces while they were conducting a reconnaissance patrol in the Nahr Surkh district of Helmand province, the statement said.

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Militants kill Afghan governor, 30 rebels killed: officials, AFP, Nov 8, 2008
Afghan government and international military officials said Saturday that Taliban insurgents had gunned down a district governor overnight and about 30 militants had been killed in various clashes.

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Two German soldiers die in Afghan day of bloodshed, Times Online, Oct 20, 2008
The deaths, and the murder of Gayle Williams in Kabul, follow a defeat for Taleban forces overnight near Lashkar Gar, the Helmand provincial capital.

Isaf and Afghan troops were reported to have killed more than 30 insurgents and recovered weapons, ammunition, motobikes and other vehicles used by the Taleban, in a raid.

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Pakistan Officials: Air Strikes Kill 30 Militants, AP, Oct 19, 2008
Pakistan killed 30 militants close to the Afghan border Sunday as America's top diplomat in the region visited for talks with government leaders, officials said.

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30 militants killed in northwest Pakistan, ToI , Sep 14, 2008
ISLAMABAD: At least 30 militants were killed and over 20 injured in air strikes by Pakistani security forces on Sunday in a troubled northwestern tribal region, where the army is conducting a crackdown on the local Taliban.

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25 worshippers, 30 Taliban militants killed in two separate incidents in Pak, ANI , Sep 11, 2008
In a fresh spate of killings in Pakistan, at least 25 civilians were killed and 50 injured in a grenade-and-gun attack in a mosque in the Maskanai area of lower Dir, and Pakistani security forces claimed to have gunned down at least 30 Taliban militants in the Bajaur tribal agency.

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30 Taliban and 4 police are killed in Afghanistan clashes, EveningNews, August 27, 2008
MORE than 30 Taliban fighters and four policemen were killed in a series of clashes, airstrikes and bombings in Afghanistan, officials said today.

Obviously there is some bias towards the number 30 in the news and reporting from the Hindu Kush. The tells us how unreliable all of these reports really are.

Posted by b on May 19, 2009 at 06:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (31)

Links May 19 09

  • Not going to happen - Why Obama Must Shackle Bibi - (Rootless Cosmopolitan)
  • Netanjahu's gift for Washington - Israel begins new settlement, despite U.S. opposition - (Haaretz)
  • As expected - No progress visible from Obama-Netanyahu talks - (McClatchy)
  • James Petras - Obama’s Animal Farm: Bigger, Bloodier Wars Equal Peace and Justice - (VoltaireNet)
  • Pakistani news - 'US special squad killed Benazir' - (The Nation)
  • More Pakistani news - I did not say Cheney killed Benazir: Hersh - (DailyTimes)

  • A new puppet for Afghanistan - Ex-U.S. Envoy in Talks for Key Role in Afghan Government - (NYT)
  • Slowly but steady - Brazil and China eye plan to axe dollar - (FT, alt. link)
  • No "single payer" - The Health Care Cave-In - (Robert Reich)
  • Character assassination - At Geithner's Treasury, Key Decisions on Hold - (WaPo)

Please add your links, views and news in the comments.

Posted by b on May 19, 2009 at 02:16 AM | Permalink | Comments (19)

May 18, 2009

NYT Is Rapidly Adding Nuclear Propaganda

Has David E. Sanger replaced Judith Miller as the chief scaremonger at the New York Times?  We are not sure but he is one of the chief writers in the NYT's propaganda campaign for war on Pakistan.

Sanger's front page headline today is Pakistan Is Rapidly Adding Nuclear Arms, U.S. Says.

Now aside from the irrelevance of the issue - there is no strategic difference between a Pakistan with 80 nukes and a Pakistan with 100 nukes - there is simply no fact in Sanger's piece that justifies the headline and the thrust of the story.

The lede:

Members of Congress have been told in confidential briefings that Pakistan is rapidly adding to its nuclear arsenal even while racked by insurgency, raising questions on Capitol Hill about whether billions of dollars in proposed military aid might be diverted to Pakistan’s nuclear program.

Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirmed the assessment of the expanded arsenal in a one-word answer to a question on Thursday in the midst of lengthy Senate testimony. Sitting beside Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, he was asked whether he had seen evidence of an increase in the size of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal.

“Yes,” he said quickly, adding nothing, clearly cognizant of Pakistan’s sensitivity to any discussion about the country’s nuclear strategy or security.

Mullen's "yes", Sanger tells us, confirmed "confidential briefings" to Congress. The Mullen hearing itself was public. Nowhere does Sanger explain who told him about those "confidential briefings", with what interest in mind and what the context and content of these briefing were.

There follow fourteen paragraphs of quotes from the usual concerned hawks like David Albright raising the danger of WMD in terrorist hands. Nothing in those graphs justifies the "rapidly adding" attribute. But only after walking through all those assertions do we learn of the real question Mullen answered with a simple "Yes".

During a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, Senator Jim Webb, a Virginia Democrat, veered from the budget proposal under debate to ask Admiral Mullen about public reports “that Pakistan is, at the moment, increasing its nuclear program — that it may be actually adding on to weapons systems and warheads. Do you have any evidence of that?”

It was then that Admiral Mullen responded with his one-word confirmation. Mr. Webb said Pakistan’s decision was a matter of “enormous concern,” and he added, “Do we have any type of control factors that would be built in, in terms of where future American money would be going, as it addresses what I just asked about?”

The archived webcast of the Armed Services hearing is here. The exchange between Senator Webb and Mullen is at the 190:50 mark and is much wider ranging than the one short nuke question.

Indeed the second part Sanger quotes from Webb about "where future American money would be going" does not relate to nukes at all. It comes two minutes and two questions later where Webb discusses with Secretary of Defense Gates about general control over U.S. money given to the Pakistani military. This was not "added" to the nuke question at all. The context is quite different.

So here are the three points where Sanger manipulates the reader:

  • The assertion of "confidential briefings" for which he does not name a source and does not explain how he got knowledge of these.
  • The "rapidly adding" in the headline and first graph also not sourced at all and not confirmed by the rest of the article.
  • Moving Senator Webb's question of control about future money to Pakistan into the context of adding nukes when it is much more generally asked in the context of Pakistan's military stand versus India.

Jim Lobe once wrote that Sanger:

... considers himself a foreign-policy player, as well as a reporter, ...

Indeed - Sanger engages in making policy by highly manipulative writing on the NYT's front page. He inserts a certain meme into the public's mind. As others also note that meme will later be the justification for direct U.S. military intervention on Pakistan's ground. Which of course will end badly.

Posted by b on May 18, 2009 at 05:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Links May 18 09

  • 'They are Nazis!' Neocons blocked early Sunni resistance peace offers in Iraq - Heads in the Sand - (Vanity Fair)
  • Peddling the Arab fear Iran meme - Roger Cohen - Arabs, Persians, Jews - (NYT)
  • The Arab League Secretary begs to differ - Israel poses main nuclear threat, not Iran - (International Reporter)
  • War on Pakistan propaganda - Pakistan Is Rapidly Adding Nuclear Arms, U.S. Says - (NYT/Judith Miller/David Sanger)
  • "Alarms about Pakistan's nukes come from the same fabricators with hidden agendas who brought us Saddam Hussein's bogus weapons." - U.S. stirs a hornet's nest in Pakistan - (Margolis/The Sun)
  • Overreach - Waziristan next, says Zardari - (Dawn)
  • "The use of drones displays every characteristic of a tactic ... substituting for a strategy" - Death From Above, Outrage Down Below - (NYT)
  • The full picture - Losing Pakistan - FB Ali - (SST via FLC)
  • "Sources close to leading Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Namr claim that his followers have declared independence from the Kingdom" - Saudi Shias still 'discriminated against' - (PressTV)
  • Suckers rally - S&P 500 Earnings Decline: 90% - (TBP)
  • More people are satisfied in heavily tariffed nations - The happiest taxes on earth - (Market Watch)

Please add your links, views and news in the comments.

Posted by b on May 18, 2009 at 02:28 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

May 17, 2009

CIA vs. Pelosi

Comments on the Pelosi fight with the CIA took over several threads here - so lets give it a dedicated one.

My view:

  • Did Pelosi know that torture was going on?
  • Likely yes, but not through official sources. The informal sources did not provide hard proof. As the minority leader withe the public and the media supporting Bush what could she do?
  • Was Pelosi officially briefed on torture?
  • Likely yes, but in very obfuscated ways - 'we probably could use this technique ...'.
  • Did the CIA brief her on specific 'methods' used on specific persons?
  • Likely not.

Consider:

  • The CIA is professional in the business of lying.
  • The CIA did lie (and still lies) about abducting and torturing people.
  • The current Panetta/CIA uttering about having briefed Pelosi are non-denial denials.

This is not a case about Pelosi. That's just an artificial sideshow.

But in total I welcome this fight and the discussion. It makes the torture issue more public and will lead, in one way or another, to a wider public opening of the whole case.

Obama's argument that publishing more torture pictures would incite more resistance to the U.S. military is stupid. The people who have been tortured know. They tell their stories all the time (just not in our media). Their sons, fathers, uncles and cousins know. Their experience gets broadcast on Al Jazeera.

The pictures will not change that. Publishing the pictures will not change the knowledge the people have. It will shock for a moment but the fact that they get published will also convince that the U.S. can indeed turn away from erroneous paths. The only way for the U.S. to redeem itself in the eyes of many, many people is to let the truth out and to publicly repent its deeds.

That could be done through:

  • A truth commission (likely a whitewash and thereby bad)
  • A Congress investigation (too political)
  • An independent counsel investigation (difficult minefield - depends on person)
  • Individual court cases (good but too slow).

Whatever. It will be impossible to keep the story under wraps and will be impossible, as the Republicans try, to redefine it. The evidence is out there and the number of witnesses is just too big.

My favorite solution?

An investigation by an independent counsel with full legal powers and dedicated to the issue. Real legal consequences for all involved. Nominated lead person: Patrick Fitzgerald.

Posted by b on May 17, 2009 at 03:26 PM | Permalink | Comments (20)

Bush The Religious Nut

How much of an evangelical nut was George W. Bush?

Rumsfeld obviously thought it was Bush's weak point and that he could use it to get from Bush whatever he wanted. That at least is my conclusion from Rumsfeld's headlining of intelligence briefings for Bush with bible quotes:

The briefing’s cover sheet generally featured triumphant, color images from the previous days’ war efforts: On this particular morning, it showed the statue of Saddam Hussein being pulled down in Firdos Square, a grateful Iraqi child kissing an American soldier, and jubilant crowds thronging the streets of newly liberated Baghdad. And above these images, and just below the headline secretary of defense, was a quote that may have raised some eyebrows. It came from the Bible, from the book of Psalms: “Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him…To deliver their soul from death.”

You can see some of the 'top secret' briefing cover sheets here. Other examples:

On March 31, a U.S. tank roared through the desert beneath a quote from Ephesians: “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” On April 7, Saddam Hussein struck a dictatorial pose, under this passage from the First Epistle of Peter: “It is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.”

One wonders how the reports of 'intelligence' from torture interrogations were headlined. My guess is that quotes from the ten commandment or the sermon on the mount were not used for those.

Posted by b on May 17, 2009 at 11:06 AM | Permalink | Comments (12)

Links May 17 09

  • Frank Rich on the need for torture investigation - Obama Can’t Turn the Page on Bush - (NYT)
  • Ahmed Rashid - Pakistan on the Brink - (NYRB)
  • Tony Karon - The Writing on the Wall for Obama’s ‘Af-Pak’ Vietnam - (Rootless Cosmopolitan)
  • Not mentioned in U.S. news - US drone attack kills 29 in North Waziristan - (Dawn)
  • Good piece, but too much 'middle of the road' - Obama and the Middle East - (NYRB)
  • Mearsheimer - Saving Israel From Itself - (American Conservative)
  • Israeli Tourism Adverts Wipe Palestine From the Map - (Palestine Campaign)
  • Tea, coffee, sausages are also verboten - Israel bans books, music and clothes from entering Gaza - (Haaretz)

Please add your links, views and news in the comments.

Posted by b on May 17, 2009 at 02:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (82)

May 16, 2009

Backlash For AIPAC

by Debs is Dead

I'm telling ya the backlash is a coming. The arrogance of AIPAC and it's attendant Zionist lobbies is unbelievable - it is just the sort of behavior that had the leaders of organised superstition right about "pride coming before the fall". I totally recognise that it won't seem like that at the heart of empire - but the dismissal of the espionage case caused an amount of head scratching from the citizenry. That being followed so soon after by such blatant obeisance to a foreign lobby will be duly noted by the citizenry and it will come back to bite every AIPAC aligned pol on the ass sooner than most can comprehend.

If I was Jewish and and living in America I would be ceaseless in my haranguing of these megalomaniacs to stop now! - because when the shit does hit the fan it will be the average Jewish American who will bear the brunt of the community backlash. There is a delicate balance to be struck if one is living as part of a cohesive minority culture within a much larger host culture.

Some members of the smaller culture can be tempted to play the power game whereby the smaller culture concentrates 'power players' together in a way that rarely happens in the larger culture, where each 'person of standing' is dissipated for want of a better word, amongst the general populace. When this does happen, forms of nepotism, cronyism and a 'one hand scratches the other' accepted reality takes hold - eventually to the point where the players imagine that 'everyone is in on the game' and then they convince themselves that they are impervious to consequences.

Of course this model isn't confined to ethnicities - organised societies such as the freemasons can make this mistake; when they do and larger society finally catches up the price is high. The masons are all but dead here now. The reaction from a larger society sick of jobbery and corruption, was to ensure that anyone believed to be associated with that organisation didn't get a promotion, didn't get the contract. No one wanted to let masons in lest they took the place over.

A mob of the old lodges, many of which are 'architecturally interesting' buildings have fallen into disrepair, torn down for a 'medical centre' or the carpark of a mall, or been sold as 'conversation piece' homes. The freemason who told me this was really angry about it - not at the larger society's prejudice and paranoia although that was pretty over the top when I was growing up here, but at the short-sightedness of the greedy pricks who corrupted freemasonry for selfish ends.

A lot of these types didn't join a lodge to tickle the palms of the powerful, most masons probably joined because it was an established family tradition dating back centuries, brought here from Scotland. A place where men enjoyed the camaraderie of their fellow members a couple of evenings a month.

Some Hindu citizens of the subcontinent have been known to refer to Sikhs as 'the Jews of India'. Sikhs position within Indian society does parallel that of Jews in some western cultures. There are some very powerful Sikhs in the political and business elites of India but also within the military (Sikhs make up 10–15% of all ranks in the Indian Army and 20% of its officers, whilst Sikhs only form 1.87% of the Indian population, which makes them over 10 times more likely to be a soldier and officer in the Indian Army than the average Indian.- wikipedia), a situation yet to develop with Jews in America but the close integration between American forces and the IDF could change that.

Few in India would take issue with the numbers of Sikhs within the elite - except when the larger community forms an opinion that these powerful Sikhs are plotting together to gain advantage over the larger community. Then there is a backlash from the community. When that happens it is rarely the members of the Sikh elite who get chased by mobs and have their homes set afire. No it is the ordinary shitkicker Sikh going about his business that cops the wrath of the backlash.

The same thing will happen in America, very soon, probably after there is a major 'reversal' ie a defeat in Afghanistan with major casualties, and the wider community will be looking for a scapegoat.

Do the over-confident assholes of AIPAC really believe all those arrogant senators and congresspeople enjoy being made to show obeisance to them? Sure some of these pols will have lapped up the swill of Zionist propaganda - most pols like to have some easily accessible ideology to cling to as their rationale for the chicanery they get up to.

But most pols have formed their self-justifying hodgepodge of ideals snatched from the grab bag of 'acceptable' 'American' religious and political beliefs, long before they become powerful enough to pique AIPAC's interest. Those pols would prolly like nothing better than to see the current 'flavour of the month' ideology used to excuse their evildoing, cop its comeuppance.

Sure self preservation will make pols slow to act - most will wait until they are certain there are votes to be won from kicking organised Zionism in the nuts. Even so a few confident careerists will have a punt in one of those career making or breaking moves that if successful will have their peers cursing to themselves for 'not thinking of it first' as they leap onto the bandwagon.

The first sign of a backlash will most likely be from the same cabal of right wing blogs and facist shock-jocks that nutured the Zionist lobby into what the lobby imagines is its 'unassailable position'.

You see the Cheney roadshow won't get much traction, because getting to the right of Stepinfetchit particularly on America's militaristic imperialism, is pretty much impossible (Incidentally the asshole has just kicked yer constitution back out the door as he brings back imprisonment without due process less than two months after he 'promised' to be rid of it. Ha! another knee to the groin of the dkos and firedog lake peaceniks who imagined that a dem prez would restore the constitution and a digression) so when the die hard rethugs realise that being more militaristic than stepinfetchit just isn't possible they will hunt around for something to discredit the way that oblamblamblam goes about killing unwhite folks.

So a reversal on the battlefield, most likely Afghanistan will have rethugs looking for a point of difference between dem and rethug methodology. Not easy because you can't fit a rizla between the two on killing Muslims - except, the rethugs will say; "We didn't climb totally into Israel's back pocket" (yeah right) "No" they'll continue "lookit what we did when we found that Israel had gone too far and taken advantage of 'the special relationship' We charged them with espionage and what is practically the first thing these liberal wimps do? they let those foreign spies go free - that's what".

Now the first few times this is said it certainly won't be outta the mouth of a proper pol ie not a senator or a congressperson, it will come from a 'known hardline conservative' and all eyes will be on the larger population to see how they react. measuring 'buy-in'. There will be considerable buy-in while 'respected pols' try "this isn't about race it's about whether this administration's first loyalty is to the people of America or to citizens of a foreign country".

Followed up with "the reason we aren't making any headway in '.....'(I'm not going to use the current dehumanising nym for the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan but you know the term I mean -DiD) isn't the fault of our troops (dutiful pause while everyone metaphorically salutes the cannon fodder) it is because we aren't following our priorities, we are sacrificing those to the priorities of a foreign country." blah blah blah it will go on, and, if as is highly likely - especially from the politics is a game of football mob - this line does get neanderthal rethugs more animated than they've been since Katrina - it will be game on.

AIPAC will find out there is nothing truer than the saying one week a rooster - next week a feather duster. Meanwhile ordinary, normal Jewish Americans find themselves being asked to answer why it is that 'you people' put loyalty to a foreign nation ahead of loyalty to Amerika the nation which 'gave you people everything'.

It can't happen? Just wait and soon you'll see it happen.

Remember this. The one thing we can be sure of is nothing stays the same. AIPAC is currently at the top and that means there is only one way for them to move - DOWN!

Posted by b on May 16, 2009 at 02:17 AM | Permalink | Comments (58)

Links May 16 09

  • The real torture story finally gains ground - Cheney said Gitmo detainees revealed Iraq-al Qaida link - (McClatchy)
  • On the torturing of al-Libi - Death in Libya, betrayal in the west - (Worthington/Guardian)
  • Some of General McChrystal's killer troops - Taskforce Violence - (Independent)
  • More killed by Mr. No-Change - Nine dead in US missile strike in N Waziristan - (The News)
  • Paul Woodward asks: Where are the pictures? - The Pope in the Palestinian prison camp - (War in Context)
  • Amira Hass - Life among the ruins in Gaza - (Haaretz)
  • A story on self delusion - My Personal Credit Crisis - (NYT)
  • Mr. No-Change and the banks - The system is still rigged - (The Gazette)

Posted by b on May 16, 2009 at 02:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

May 15, 2009

AIPAC_Letter.pdf

My answer to a question Al Kamen asks:

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) and Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) sent out a "Dear Colleague" e-mail Tuesday asking for signatures "to the attached letter to President Obama regarding the Middle East peace process."

The letter says the usual stuff, emphasizing that Washington "must be both a trusted mediator and a devoted friend to Israel" and noting: "Israel will be taking the greatest risks in any peace agreement."

Curiously, when we opened the attachment, we noticed it was named "AIPAC Letter Hoyer Cantor May 2009.pdf."

Seems as though someone forgot to change the name or something. AIPAC? The American Israel Public Affairs Committee? Is that how this stuff works?

Is that how this stuff works?

Yes. Plus the money. Lots of it.

Signed:
A not devoted friend to Israel.

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via War and Piece

Posted by b on May 15, 2009 at 02:56 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

Genocide? No. Except . . .

By Charles Krauthammer
Friday, May 1/15, 2009

Genocide is an impermissible evil. Except under two circumstances. The first is the ticking time bomb. An innocent nation is at stake. The bad people could cease to exist to save it. They refuse to do so. In such a case, the choice is easy. Even John McCain, the most admirable and estimable genocide opponent, says openly that in such circumstances, "You do what you have to do." And then take the responsibility.

Some people, however, believe you never commit genocide. Ever. They are akin to conscientious objectors who will never fight in any war under any circumstances, and for whom we correctly show respect by exempting them from war duty. But we would never make one of them supreme commander. Private principles are fine, but you don't entrust such a person with the military decisions upon which hinges the safety of the nation. It is similarly imprudent to have a person who would abjure genocide in all circumstances making national security decisions upon which depends the protection of millions of people.

Of course, the morality of genocide hinges on whether at the time the problem was important enough, the danger great enough and the blindness about the enemy's plans severe enough to justify an exception to the moral injunction against genocide.

Jurisprudence has the "reasonable man" standard. A jury is asked to consider what a reasonable person would do under certain urgent circumstances.

On the morality of genocide, senior and expert members of the Reichstag represented their colleagues, and indeed the entire people, in rendering the reasonable person verdict. What did they do? They gave tacit approval. In fact, according to Himmler, they offered encouragement. Given the circumstances, they clearly deemed the gas chambers warranted.

Moreover, the circle of approval was wider than that. Academics and the media widely approved.

So what happened? The reason the Reichstag raised no objection to genocide at the time, the reason the people (who by 1942 knew what was going on) strongly supported the man who ordered these killings, is not because the representatives and the rest of the people suffered a years-long moral psychosis from which they had just awoken. It is because at that time they were aware of the existing conditions -- their blindness to the enemies plans, the urgency of the threat, the magnitude of the suffering that might be caused by another Reichstags fire, the likelihood that the genocide would succeed -- and concluded that on balance it was a reasonable response to a terrible threat.

And they were right.

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Source (to some extent): 1, 2

Posted by b on May 15, 2009 at 02:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (37)

Links May 15 09

  • He hides torture for political reasons - Deconstructing Obama's Excuses - (Froomkin/WaPo)
  • He ordered torture for political reasons - Cheney's Role Deepens - (DailyBeast)
  • He commanded the torture troops - Suspected war criminal to lead U.S. forces in Afghanistan - (OnlineJournal)
  • Hersh on Cheney's/McCrystals killer squads - 'You can't authorise murder': Hersh - (GulfNews)
  • Is Pelosi working against Obama's attempt to 'bury' torture as an issue? - Top US Democrat: CIA misled me on 'torture' - (AFP)
  • Villagers in Afghanistan Describe Chaos of U.S. Strikes - (NYT)
  • Mr. No-Change - Obama Planning to Keep Tribunals for Detainees - (NYT)
  • Mr. No-Change - Obama Considers Detaining Terror Suspects Indefinitely - (WSJ)
  • Mr. No-Change - Obama Administration Statements on Iran Nukes Not Backed by Intelligence - (FP Journal)
  • On deterance propaganda - The Atom Bomb: “A Poor Killer” - (ChinaMatters)
  • Georgian opposition leader gets it - 'I Would Call Saakashvili Insane' - (Spiegel)
  • Why do they get free money at all? - Six Insurers Named to Get U.S. Taxpayer Aid - (NYT)
  • Trucking company also wants free money - YRC to Apply for Bailout Funds - (WSJ)
  • Maybe - Does the ECB/Eurosystem have enough capital? - (Mavercon/FT)

Posted by b on May 15, 2009 at 01:58 AM | Permalink | Comments (12)

May 14, 2009

White Phosphorus Lies

Two days ago the U.S. military again denied the use of white phosphorus grenades in directly targeting enemy positions in Afghanistan. In today's NYT, a reporter embedded with U.S. front troops again confirms such use.

Last week the U.S. military bombed some compounds in Farah, Afghanistan, and killed over 140 civilians, 95 of which were probably children. Like usual the military first denied civilian casualties but later, after the International Red Cross' findings supported the local reports, had to confirm them. Local doctors in Herat say at least 14 victims of that attack in their care have unusal burn wounds and accuse the U.S. of using white phosphorus in the bombing. In another case a girl currently in U.S. care at Bagram was confirmed to have been burned by white phosphorus.

The U.S. denies any use of white phosphorus grenades and bombs in direct combat and in turn accuses the Taliban of having used WP. That I find laughable. While the Taliban may use old WP grenades from somewhere to prepare IED's it is very unlikely that they would use them in direct fighting. A Taliban spokesperson denied any use of WP by them.

The U.S. military claims that it only uses WP to generate smoke or for illuminating:

Major Willis confirmed that the US and Nato’s International Security Assistance Force used white phosphorus in Afghanistan but never as an anti-personnel weapon. “That’s not allowed under the terms of international law,” she said.

White phosphorus, she said, was only used for marking targets, screening troops from enemy positions, illuminating areas, destroying unoccupied bunkers and buildings and “for igniting enemy ammunition or petroleum production”.

But while not one independent report can be found of Taliban use of WP, the U.S. military has used such in direct combat as anti-personel weapon has been documented in Fallujah, Iraq, and also in Afghanistan.

Just open today's NYT and read C. J. Chivers report from the Korangal valley where the U.S. military for whatever reason is fighting local timber-smugglers:

After the ceremony, the violence resumed. The soldiers detected a Taliban spotter on a ridge, which was pounded with mortars and then white phosphorus rounds from a 155-millimeter howitzer.

Another Chivers NYT report from mid April also documents the U.S. use of white phosphor rounds in direct targeting of enemy positions in the Korangal valley.

By continuously lying about its use of chemical weapons, by seizing farmland and destroying ancient water-systems the U.S. is each day creating more and more enemies in Afghanistan.

Even the U.S. commander says that al-Qaeda is no longer operating in Afghanistan. What again is then the purpose of all that killing there?

Posted by b on May 14, 2009 at 03:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (11)

Links May 14 09

  • What was the reason for this warning? - Obama warns Netanyahu: Don't surprise me with Iran strike - (Haaretz)
  • The "most moral army" - IDF probing whether troops forced Gaza man to drink urine - (Haaretz)
  • Artificial dates: Dennis Ross' evil work - U.S., Allies Set October Target for Iran Progress - (WSJ)
  • Mr. No-Change ignores court order - Obama Reverses Promise To Unveil Abuse Photos - (WaPo)
  • Afghan official: 95 kids died in US-Taliban clash - (AP)
  • Roubini on the demise of the dollar - The Almighty Renminbi? - (NYT)
  • "Your pilot is paid $16,200 per year - have a good flight" - Panel on Fatal Crash Looks at Pilots' Pay, Commutes - (WaPo)
  • A chart: The beginning to the end ... and back again - The global financial crisis - (Good)

Posted by b on May 14, 2009 at 02:03 AM | Permalink | Comments (14)

May 13, 2009

The Dubious Issues In The Saberi Case

A dual-citizenship 'journalist' without official press credentials was working as a temporary translator for the Senate. The 'journalist' copied a confidential document on the Iraq war. Around the same time said 'journalist' went on vacation in Cuba, something not allowed under U.S. laws. The U.S. arrests and sentences the 'journalist' for spying and illegal travel.

How would the U.S. media have reacted in that case?

Glenn Greenwald points out that the U.S. media whined a lot about Roxana Saberi, a woman arrested and convicted in Iran, but hardly says a word when the U.S. is arresting foreign journalists and imprisons them for years without trial. Greenwald also writes:

Saberi's release is good news, as her conviction occurred as part of extremely dubious charges and unreliable judicial procedures in Iran.

While pointing out U.S. media deficits, Greenwald falls for its propaganda hook, line and sinker.

It was said that reason for Saberi's arrest was for buying a bottles of wine. But that was only what the 'western' media 'reported' and it was never confirmed by Iranian authorities. Saberi was also said to be a journalist but her press credentials for Iran had expired in 2006. What Greenwald called "extremely dubious charges and unreliable judicial procedures in Iran" now turn out to have been well founded charges and a seemingly normal judicial process.

The prosecutor accused Saberi of "spying for an enemy country" and in the first swift trial, not open to the public as is usual for spying cases, she was sentenced to eight years imprisonment.

During the appeal trial her lawyers argued that the charges were wrong as Iran is not at war with the U.S. and therefore not an enemy. There is even legal precedent for that argument. It convinced the judge and Saberi's sentence was reduced to two years:

In the end, the court found Saberi guilty based on Article 505 of Iran's Islamic Penal Code, which states, in loose terms, that any person who collects classified information and puts it at the service of "others" with the goal of destabilizing national security is committing a crime. Previously, Saberi had been charged with putting that information at the service of an "enemy country that Iran is at war with," according to Nikbakht. That wording was dropped, reducing her crime.

Sabrini indeed likely committed a crime under Article 505:

[H]er lawyer revealed his client had been convicted of spying in part because she had a copy of a confidential Iranian report on the war in Iraq.

Prosecutors had also cited a trip to Israel that Ms Saberi had made in 2006, he said. Iran bars its citizens from visiting Israel, its regional nemesis.
...
Ms Saberi had admitted that she had copied the document two years ago but said she had not passed it on to the Americans as prosecutors had claimed. She had apologised, saying it had been a mistake to take the report.

At the time, Ms Saberi was doing occasional translations for the website of the Expediency Council, which is made up of clerics who mediate between the legislature, the presidency and Iran's clerical leadership over constitutional disputes. Mr Nikbakht gave no details on what was in the document because it remains confidential.

There is nothing irregular in what Iran's officials did in this case. The woman had copied an official confidential report. She traveled to a country that she is not allowed to travel to. And she confessed on both issues. Obviously she did have better lawyers in the appeal case than in during the first trial. But there is nothing in the real story that seems 'extremly dubious' or 'unreliable' to me.

The two year sentences comes with five year probation and Saberi is free to leave Iran. That and the speed with which the appeal trial was done are the really dubious and suspicious issues here.

There is to believe that there is a deal behind this:

Another of Ms Saberi's lawyers, Abdolsamad Khorramshahi, said a letter from the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to the court, urging it to give Ms Saberi's case a complete review, had helped bring about the sentence reduction.

It has been suggested that Iran asked for the return of detained diplomats:

Saeed Leylaz, a political analyst in Iran, said he believed that his country wanted to use Ms. Saberi in negotiations with the United States, but would not keep her for long because it would tarnish its human rights record.

Iran has also been pressing for the release of three Iranian officials whom the United States took into custody in 2007 in Iraq. The men, who Iran says are diplomats, were arrested at Iran’s consulate in northern Iraq. United States forces have said the men had links to the Revolutionary Guards.

Currently Vali Reza Nasr, an adviser to Richard Holbrooke, is said to be in Iran:

New reports claim that Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani and former parliament speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel may be behind the visit.

"President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was informed well after Nasr entered the country," Tabnak reported on Wednesday.

Nasr, who was appointed as a senior advisor to Richard Holbrooke -- the special US envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan --, is the son of renowned Islamic philosopher and historian of science, Seyyed Hossein Nasr.

Tabnak and Fararu claimed the alleged unannounced trip by the US official to be linked to the recent release of Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi.

So this is how it looks to me.

Iran had good reason and acted within its laws in arresting and sentencing Roxana Saberi. The 'western' media used the case for the usual Iran bashing. Ironically this publicity gave Iran the opening for offering a deal.

The speed of the appeal sentence and the probation are unusual. The personal intervention of Ahmedinejad and the presence of Vali Reza Nasr in Tehran point to a government deal. For immediately setting free Saberi, Iran will get some U.S. concession.

Within a few days we are likely to see some reporting in Iranian media that the three diplomats arrested in Arbil two years ago have been set free.

A small step on the larger path of U.S. Iranian détente.

Posted by b on May 13, 2009 at 01:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (16)

Pakistani 'Conspiracy Theories'

The New York Times blog The Lede mocks Pakistani 'conspiracy theories' about the U.S. and/or India being behind Pakistan's troubles. It especially takes aim at Pakistan Daily and at TV journalist (and hardcore nationalist) Ahmed Quraishi:

In Mr. Quraishi’s view, alarming reports on the progress of Taliban militants in Pakistan are all part of the plot, in which, he says, “the U.S. media and officials are single-handedly tarnishing Pakistan’s image worldwide to justify a military intervention.”
...
Your Lede blogger can only say that if there is a plot like this someone forgot to send us the memo.

Yes. One really has to wonder where those lunatic Pakistani's got those crazy ideas about U.S. policies being somehow adverse to Pakistan and why Quraishi and others allege that there is a running U.S. media campaign against Pakistan. As being part of the NYT The Lede certainly has to wonder about the last one.

Consider some recent NYT headlines:

But of course - the NYT didn't get the memo ...

Posted by b on May 13, 2009 at 05:24 AM | Permalink | Comments (14)

Links May 13 09

  • Greenwald - Obama administration threatens Britain to keep torture evidence concealed - (Salon)
  • Stephen Walt on the powers behind the empire - Imbalance of power - (FP)
  • Bad choice - Gareth Porter on McChrystal - McChrystal Choice Suggests Special Ops Strikes to Continue - (IPS)
  • Better ideas for AfPak - "MARCHING TO THE EDGE – EYES WIDE SHUT" FB Ali - (SST)
  • Pepe Escobar - Pipelineistan Goes Af-Pak - (TomDispatch)
  • Militants attack NATO terminal in Pakistan: police - (The News)
  • There was sound reason to believe Saberi spied - Secret war report led to spy charges for Roxana - (Independent)
  • Amira Hass did not spy - Haaretz reporter Amira Hass arrested upon leaving Gaza - (Haaretz)
  • Unbelievable - Federal Reserve Inspector General Unable to Answer Basic Questions on Where the Trillions Went - (Naked Capitalism)
  • What the Chinese care about - US to borrow 46 cents for every dollar spent - (China Daily)
  • Math lecture for journalists - Inflection points and turning points - since you asked - (Mavercon/FT)

Posted by b on May 13, 2009 at 02:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

May 12, 2009

Credit Default Swaps Cause GM Bankruptcy

It is now certain that General Motors will end up in bankruptcy. The last days six of the top GM executives sold all the share they still held.

The bankruptcy is unnecessary. Out-of-court restructuring would be much less disruptive than a bankruptcy will be. But there are people who will profit immensely when GM goes bankrupt. As the Financial Times reports (alt. link):

Hedge funds and other investors stand to make billions of dollars on credit insurance contracts if GM declares bankruptcy, a prospect that is complicating efforts to persuade creditors to agree to a restructuring plan for the automaker, analysts say.

Holders of $27bn in GM bonds have until June 1 to decide whether to swap their debt for a 10 per cent equity stake in the company as part of an offer that would give the US government 50 per cent of the shares, a United Auto Workers union healthcare fund 39 per cent and existing shareholders 1 per cent.

However, analysts say the chances the proposal will be accepted have been diminished by the large number of credit default swap (CDS) contracts written on GM's debt.

Holders of such swaps would be paid in the event of a default - but would lose money if they agreed to restructure GM's debt. For investors who own bonds and CDS, this could create an incentive to favour a bankruptcy filing.

According to the Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation, investors hold $34bn in CDS on GM. Once offsetting positions are considered, the DTCC estimates CDS holders would make a net profit of $2.4bn if GM were to default.

What again is the social value of credit default swaps?

They have none. These 'financial innovations' are alien to the system and contrary to the the public interest. They need to be abolished by declaring them null and void.

Posted by b on May 12, 2009 at 08:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (17)

 
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