Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
June 30, 2011

The Hariri Indictment

2005: Investigator Says Syria Was Behind Lebanon Assassination

The German prosecutor conducting the United Nations investigation into the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri of Lebanon said today that fresh evidence reinforced his earlier judgment that Syria's intelligence services were behind the killing and that Syrian officials were obstructing his investigation.

2009: Four Lebanese generals 'to be handed to UN for Rafik Hariri tribunal'

Four army generals held in Lebanon over the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri could be handed over within weeks to the special tribunal in The Hague that will put them on trial, the court registrar said today.

2011: UN court indicts four Hezbollah members over Hariri car bomb

Lebanon's senior prosecutor has received criminal indictments for four members of the Shia militant group Hezbollah, who are accused of assassinating the country's former prime minister Rafiq Hariri in a car bomb attack six years ago.

2015: ...

Obviously they can't make up their mind on who killed Hariri - Syria, some Lebanese generals, Hizbullah or whoever it will be convenient to indict during the next decade. The purpose of the UN kangaroo (or potato) court is not to find the Hariri murder or to do justice. It is a political instrument in the hands of the USraeli-Saudi alliance.

But let's step back and take today's indictment of Hizbullah members as an opportunity to again look at the person of Rafik Hariri. He was not the "good guy" the "western" media constructed but a neoliberal robber baron who defrauded the people of Lebanon.

From the 2005 BBC economic obituary of Hariri:

Former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri used his business empire to rebuild Beirut after years of civil war.

To do it, he deployed his own construction industry fortune, and a huge network of rich and powerful friends.
...
He was his country's richest man, reckoned to be worth roughly $4bn (£2.1bn). But it is his corporate brain-child, Solidere, that best illustrates his central role in regenerating Lebanon's economy.

Solidere bought up large chunks of central Beirut and turned the business district from a bullet-marked, rubble-strewn mess into a glitzy banking and tourist centre. Mr Hariri was its most influential shareholder.
...
As prime minister, Mr Hariri's public works and rebuilding programmes ran up debts that threatened to overwhelm the public finances.

The budget deficit climbed to 17% of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2002, and debt repayments were costing the government 80% of revenue.
...
[F]or many Lebanese, the redevelopment of central Beirut meant dispossession of homes or property without adequate compensation, and the enrichment of Mr Hariri.
...
Mr Hariri's vision for wealth creation of Lebanon was definitely of the trickle-down variety. In power, he cut social services, public sector wages and company taxes.

While Hariri ruled a law was implemented that essentially dispossessed all the property owners in central Beirut. Their land was put into Solidere, a joint stock company under Hariri's control. Then huge amounts of public money was spend to build the new central Beirut owned by Hariri's Solidere. Additionally to that fraud all the rebuilding was done at much too high costs by Hariri's construction companies. It was a huge racket that made Hariri immensely rich and the Lebanese state very poor.

To indict Hariri and to get the stolen money back to the people of Lebanon and the defrauded property owners of central Beirut would be a worthy court case.

When Hariri got killed there were millions of Lebanese who had good reasons to wish the guy to be dead. Besides them many political entities, including Israel and the U.S., had plausible motives to kill Hariri if only to stick the murder to someone else. The current court case against Hizbullah is nonsense. Hariri's real murderers will likely never be found.

Posted by b on June 30, 2011 at 01:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (17)

Libya: Military Exercises As War Deception

In November 2010 Britain and France signed a new defense cooperation pact. Under the umbrella of the agreement a week long common air force exercise was announced in January 2011:

The French Air Force has organized a large-scale, weeklong exercise with the British Royal Air Force - which is expected to send over Tornado fighters, aerial tankers and AWACS aircraft - as part of the enhanced cooperation agreed between the two countries, an Air Force spokesman here said Jan. 13.

The exercise, dubbed Southern Mistral, will be held March 21-25 in France, the spokesman, Maj. Eric Trihoreau, said.

The scenario for Southern Mistral was:

SOUTHLAND : Dictatorship responsible for an attack against France's national interests.

FRANCE : Makes the decision to show its determination to SOUTHLAND (under United Nations Security council resolution n°3003).

UNITED-KINGDOM : Allied country as determined in the bilateral agreement. The United Kingdom supports France through the deployment of its air assets.

On March 20 the U.K., France and the U.S. started to bomb Libya. Southern Mistral was superseded by a real war:

Due to the current international events, exercise Southern Mistral has been suspended.

There is a long history of announced military exercises as cover for starting a shooting war. As we learn from the U.S. Amry War College pamphlet Deception 101:

Cover is the use of an apparently nonthreatening activity to disguise preparation for or initiation of a hostile act. A common example is the use of a training exercise to hide preparations for an attack. [...] In recent years, both the Yom Kippur War of 1973 and the Falklands War of 1982 were launched under the cover of training exercises similar to exercises which had occurred before.

The war on Libya, first planned as Southern Mistral, is not going well. France is now arming the Berber in the Djebel Nefoussa mountain range. Even this didn't proceed as planned and it guarantees a prolonged civil war - here Berber against Arabs - even if Gaddhafi were to step aside:

The drops, all at night and totaling perhaps 36 tons, included mostly light weapons and ammunition, he said. [The leader of the military council in the western town of Rujban] complained that rebels from the neighboring city of Zintan had taken all the weapons and were not sharing them with fighters in other areas. [...] The colonel said an intermediary told him on Wednesday that the French government was upset that the weapons were not being properly distributed.

This, like the very first bombing by the French immediately after the UNSC resolution 1973 was signed, is another unilateral French step which will lead to more strife within NATO. NATO had earlier ruled out arming the rebels. In a bit of balancing justice the rebels in the east managed to blow up their ammunition storage facility.

But back to military exercises and deception. What are we to think of this one?

Commander, United States Fleet Forces hosted the first of two Main Planning Conferences June 24, for Exercise Bold Alligator 2012, scheduled to take during January and February 2012.
...
Bold Alligator 2012 will be a large-scale multinational naval amphibious exercise conducted by United States Fleet Forces (USFF) and Marine Forces Command (MFC) that will focus upon the planning and execution of a brigade-sized amphibious assault from a seabase in a medium threat environment. The underlying scenario of this exercise is designed to emphasize the Navy/Marine Corps capabilities in undeveloped and immature theaters of operations.

As the Marines' hymn goes:

From the Halls of Montezuma,
To the shores of Tripoli; ...

January and February 2012 may be a little late for invading Libya with ground troops. Then again, who knows how long that war will take?

Posted by b on June 30, 2011 at 08:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (12)

Electric Bikes And Nuclear Weapons

Mixing up payloads and delivery means is a propaganda ploy. The absurdity of doing so becomes clear with a few find & replace clicks.

William Hague on bikes and nuclear stuff:

LONDON (AP) — Iran has conducted covert tests of electric bicycles in addition to a 10-day program of public bike trials, Britain alleged on Wednesday.

Foreign Secretary William Hague told the House of Commons that there had been secret experiments with bicycles that would be able to deliver a nuclear weapon, but did not specify precisely when the tests had taken place.

Iran has "been carrying out covert electric bicycles tests and new model launches, including testing bicycles capable of delivering a nuclear payload," Hague said.

Britain believes Tehran has conducted at least three secret tests of medium-range electric bicycles since October, amid an apparent escalation of its nuclear program and scrutiny from the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Iran is currently displaying its bicycle hardware in a series of trial races in an apparent show of openness, and on Tuesday launched 14 bicycles in public tests.

However, the U.K. believes that the covert bicycle tests show Iran's leaders are seeking to avoid scrutiny over the real extent of their mobility programs.

"On the back of the recent IAEA report and the unanswered questions about its nuclear program, they only serve to undermine further Iran's claims that its nuclear program is entirely for civilian use," said a Foreign Office spokesman, on customary condition of anonymity in line with policy.

An IAEA report last month listed "high-voltage firing and instrumentation for explosives testing over long distances and possibly underground" as one of seven "areas of concern" that Iran may be conducting clandestine nuclear weapons work.

Hague also said Britain was concerned over Tehran's decision to increase its capacity to enrich uranium to a higher level at the Fordo site near the holy city of Qom in central Iran.

"It has announced that it intends to triple its capacity to produce 20 percent enriched uranium. These are enrichment levels far greater that is needed for peaceful nuclear energy," Hague said.

So what have electric bicycles to do with atomic bombs? Nothing apparently. But a bike could of course be used to deliver a nuclear weapon, especially an electric bicycle with a long range. That is why one has to watch carefully for secret electric bicycle trials.

Hague by the way isn't well informed on nuclear issues. He claims that 20% enriched uranium has no peaceful use. There are at least 39 research reactors around the world which need  this kind of fuel. All are for peaceful purposes and most of them, like the one in Iran which is running out of fuel, are under IAEA control.

Posted by b on June 30, 2011 at 02:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

June 29, 2011

No Lull In Attacks In Kabul

Today, on the eve of a conference on security transition at the Hotel Intercontinental in Kabul, a six plus hours long attack on the hotel by a few Taliban occurred. It again demonstrated the lack of Afghan and international forces capabilities to provide security within Kabul. But reading the news will not necessarily give that impression.

WaPo: Landmark Kabul hotel attacked by Taliban suicide bombers

In recent weeks, Taliban insurgents and suicide bombers have staged several attacks in Kabul after a long lull.

Reuters: Police search Kabul hotel after Taliban attack kills 9

There have been insurgent attacks at a hotel, guesthouse and a supermarket in Kabul over the past year, although the capital has been relatively quiet compared with the rest of the country.

Either these journalists have no access to any archives or they do not use them. On a second thought they may be involved in willful deception of their readers.

Despite very high security around high profile targets, lots of security forces in the city and a ring of steel around it, attacks in Kabul are frequent, have high visibility and are mostly successful (see below for examples).

As the International Crisis Group said in a recent report:

Despite efforts to combat the insurgency in the south, stability in the centre has steadily eroded. Yet, with nearly one fifth of the population residing in Kabul and its surrounding provinces, the Afghan heartland is pivotal to the planned transition from international troops to Afghan forces at the end of 2014.

Scholar Gilles Dorronsoro in his latest Carnegie paper explains what happened.

The U.S. surge troops mostly went to the south to attack irrelevant countrysides like Marjah. Meanwhile the troops in the east, especially in the Pech valley, gave up several blocking outposts. This opened the land route from the tribal areas of Pakistan towards Kabul. The surrounding districts of the city are now in the hands of the shadow Taliban government.

Having given up its outposts in and around the Pech valley the military is now launching large air assaults into the region to regain some control. It hopes that the Afghan army will be able to hold any regained territory there. That is unlikely to be the case. The Soviets during their occupation of Afghanistan unsuccessfully used the same tactic.

Kabul will not be overrun. But the frequent and high profile attacks there undermine whatever little legitimacy and support the Afghan state and the occupation has left.

It follows an incomplete list of recent high profile attacks in Kabul:

Deadly Kabul attack is first in capital for months - December 19 2010

Insurgents opened fire on a bus carrying the officers on the main road from Kabul to the eastern city of Jalalabad, in the first fatal attack in the Afghan capital since May, when six foreign troops were killed by a large suicide car bomb.

Suicide bomber strikes in Kabul; intelligence officers apparent target - January 2 2011

A suicide bomber riding a motorcycle blew up in Kabul on Wednesday morning, killing two Afghans and injuring at least 32 others, according to NATO and Afghan officials.

The rush-hour attack apparently targeted a busload of commuting Afghan intelligence officers.

Deadly bomb attack in Kabul - January 28 2011

A suicide bomber is being blamed for killing at least six people in Kabul when a bomb tore through a supermarket popular with foreigners. Jon Decker reports.

Guards Thwart, Die in Suicide Attack on Kabul Hotel Complex - February 14 2011

A suicide bomber detonated explosives at the entrance of an upscale mall and hotel in Kabul Monday afternoon, leaving twisted metal and broken glass at a venue frequented by foreigners and wealthy Afghans. The lunchtime blast at the newly renovated Kabul City Center shopping mall and Safi Landmark hotel killed two security guards.

Burkha-clad insurgents attack Kabul base, both killed - April 2 2011

Insurgents clad in burkhas attacked a coalition base in Kabul with guns and rocket-propelled grenades on Saturday, but were killed either when they detonated their explosives or by Afghan or coalition fire outside the entrance, NATO and police said.

Three "friendly forces" -- NATO or Afghan troops -- were lightly wounded in the assault on Camp Phoenix, a large base near the capital's airport, but no civilians or soldiers were killed.

Martyr attack in Kabul kills at least 35 local minions: Taliban - April 15 2011

Some thirty five policemen of the puppets were killed or wounded in a martyrdom attack carried out by a Mujahid, Zubair, resident of Paktia province as he rammed his explosive-filled vehicle into the intelligence headquarter in Musahi district of Kabul province on Thursday.

The incident came as the minions were busy doing their routine training with the chief of the police and the intelligence officer in their respective offices; it is, however, not yet confirmed whether the chief of police or the intelligence officer have been killed or wounded but, whereas severe enemy military vehicles parked within the facility have been destroyed during the operation.

Afghan Pilot Kills Foreign Soldiers in Airport Attack Claimed by Taliban - April 27 2011

An Afghan air force pilot opened fire after a dispute at Kabul’s airport, killing eight foreign troops and a contractor, NATO forces said.

Afghanistan: Kabul hospital hit by suicide bomber - May 21 2011

A suicide bomb attack on a hospital in the Afghan capital, Kabul, has left six people dead and 23 wounded.
...
The hospital treats Afghan military personnel and is in a heavily fortified part of the city, yards from the US embassy and international forces HQ.

Recent Suicide Attack in Kabul - June 18 2011

Kabul gun battle that lasted for about two hours on Saturday afternoon took the lives of 9 people, including two policemen while 12 others were wounded in the attack, security officials say.

Taliban Attack On Landmark Kabul Hotel Kills 12, Injures 18 - today

Taliban suicide bombers and gunmen attacked the Hotel Inter-Continental Kabul overnight on June 28-29, killing at least 12 people before being killed by Afghan and international security forces.

Posted by b on June 29, 2011 at 10:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

On Hyping "Secret" Missile Silos

Headlines the Washington Post: Iran test-fires missiles, shows secret silos.

What please is secret when it is officially and publicly announced? These silos are just as "secret" as the "secret" enrichment site near Qom which was announced by Iran to IAEA only to be called "secret" after that happened. From the WaPo piece:

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps is conducting a 10-day series of missile tests, including the firing of medium-range missiles at targets at sea, and it has revealed a previously secret network of underground missile silos, Iranian state media reported Tuesday.

That "previously secret network of underground missile silos" is known to anyone interested in the issue at least since those silos appeared in publicly available satellite pictures in 2008.

Missile silos near Tabriz, Iran - Google maps satellite view

In the middle are two sliding roof silos each with an associated concrete pad which is the base for erecting the missile from a truck to lower it into the silo. The two structures on the top and at the bottom are exhaust channels which let the fumes out when a missile is fired. Another pair of such silos is a few hundred meters north west to this one.

Besides the Tabriz silo site there is at least one other well known one in Iran near Khorramabad.

Given today's satellite imaging and ground penetrating radar technology it is nearly impossible to build a secret missile silo facility. Missile sites like the Iranian ones, or the little reported on Saudi Al Sulayyil base with those liquid fuel Chinese CSS-2 missiles which were recently upgraded to solid fuel variants, are never really "secret".

Calling them such is just hype.

Posted by b on June 29, 2011 at 03:34 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

The False U.S. NATO Budget Claims

The editors of the New York Times insist on a renewed round of euro bashing. They say about the debt crisis:

The constructive way out would be to restructure excessive debt, recapitalize affected banks and relax austerity enough to let debtor countries — Greece, Ireland and Portugal are most at risk — grow their way back to solvency.

But if that is the way forward, something I could even agree to, why isn't the U.S. applying these methods. It's banks are in no better shape than the European ones and its debt position isn't a happy one either.

Then there is this nonsensical claim about NATO:

Americans are weary of war — and fear of weakening NATO no longer deters politicians, as the fight over the Libya campaign has made clear. We don’t know how much longer voters here will support an alliance in which the United States shoulders 75 percent of the military spending and a much higher percentage of the fighting.

The 75 percent number is false. Gates used that recently to bash European NATO members. But it is simply wrong and repeating it doesn't make it right. According to the well regarded SIPRI Military Expenditure Database NATO countries other than the United States in 2010 spent $318 billion on military issues while the U.S. spent $698 billion. That is 68% of the total not 75%.

And that of course leaves out the little fact that NATO is not a global association but has a limited area of responsibility while the U.S. spending is for a global network of bases and influence. The North Atlantic Treaty article 6 limits the collective selfdefense to:

the territory of any of the Parties in Europe or North America, on the Algerian Departments of France, on the territory of or on the Islands under the jurisdiction of any of the Parties in the North Atlantic area north of the Tropic of Cancer ...

These limits of the NATO area were inserted into the treaty on behalf of the United States which wanted to avoid to fight for attacks on European colonies outside of the defined area. Falklands anyone?

If one has to compare the spending for NATO's purpose by the U.S. versus other NATO countries one will have to subtract some big numbers from the U.S. budget. The permanent U.S. aircraft carrier group in Japan has nothing to do with NATO spending. Nor do the U.S. bases in South Korea, around the Middle East, Africa or South America. Nothing the U.S. spends in the Pacific, the Indian Ocean, South Atlantic or Arabian Sea is relevant for NATO.

Subtracting the cost for those from the actual U.S. defense spending one will end up with a much smaller relevant U.S. share of total NATO spending. It is likely to come in around some 30+% of the total.

As for the share of fighting - where please is the U.S. fighting for European interests?

Posted by b on June 29, 2011 at 01:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

June 28, 2011

Flotilla II

Starting from Greece a flotilla of some 10 ships is ready to protest against and break the Israeli blockade of Gaza.

The Netanyahoo government its trying to prevent that by all available means. It sabotages the ships, distributes fake videos defaming the flotilla, it threatens journalists and spreads lies about the protesters intent. Pseudo-NGO's and lobbyist put pressure on the Greek government to hold ships back.

Like the first flotilla this one may well again end up with Israeli soldiers killing unarmed protesters. The U.S. government is obviously fine with that (as long as the bribes from the Israel lobby arrive).

Is there any government more vile than the Israeli one?

Posted by b on June 28, 2011 at 11:28 AM | Permalink | Comments (14)

June 27, 2011

Retreat From Afghanistan? Not Sure It Is Real

Afghanistan: Obama orders withdrawal of 33,000 troops

I still find the recent announcement of U.S. troop reductions in Afghanistan quite dubious. As Gareth Porter points out they way the announcement was made gives the military a lot of leeway to still drag the conflict out for many years to come.

But following Obama's announcement of U.S. troop reductions in Afghanistan, there is a rush to the exits by the allies who were pressed into service there.

France to pull out troops from Kabul

President Nicolas Sarkozy announced on Friday that “several hundred” French troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan before the end of 2011.

Belgium to cut in half its Afghan contingent

BRUSSELS – Belgium's defense minister is proposing to withdraw half of the nation's 580 troops from Afghanistan by next year.

Germany to cut troops to Afghanistan

Germany said it would cut its troops presence in Afghanistan this year and praised US President Barack Obama for 'firming up' plans for withdrawing forces.

Defence plans for Afghan troop cuts

AUSTRALIA'S military planners are preparing for a possible reduction in Australian troop numbers in Afghanistan in response to the drawdown announced this week by US President Barack Obama.

Poland to reduce its Afghan force: PM

Poland's Prime Minister Donald Tusk said he was glad to hear U.S. President Barack Obama's declaration on the reduction of American forces in Afghanistan, and had asked the Polish defense minister to prepare a similar plan for Polish troops serving in that country.

While I believe that everyone else will try to get their troops out of Afghanistan as soon as possible, I am not sure yet that a U.S. exit is for real.

Few seem to remember that U.S. troop reductions were also announced back in 2005:

The announcement - representing the first major reduction in U.S. troop strength there since late last year - launches what is expected to be a gradual decline in troop levels that will also include reductions in U.S. forces in Iraq.
...
The reduction would bring U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan to about 16,500.

"It’s a good thing - it’s progress," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told a small group of reporters Tuesday.

There even was a reduction of U.S. troops Afghanistan in 2004:

Troop levels in Afghanistan peaked at 20,300 in April 2004, dropped to about 16,500 by the end of last year, and then increased to about 20,000, earlier this year.

As those pull outs of troops in 2004 and 2005/6 turned out to be fake, what is there to ensure us that Obama's announcement is for real?

Indeed I can think of several scenarios that could lead to another troop increase in the area. A coup in Pakistan, some strife with Iran, a Tet like offense by the Taliban or even a combination of those could all lead to a deployment of more, not less U.S. troops.

Posted by b on June 27, 2011 at 06:03 AM | Permalink | Comments (23)

June 24, 2011

First Thoughts On Aftermath Of War On Libya Sighted

A UN human rights investigator, Amnesty International and the International Crisis Group have dispeled the propaganda against Libya's Gaddhafi. There was no mass rape, no foreign mercenaries were found and the claims of massive military attacks against civilians were false.

But the propaganda continues. The Wall Street Journal talked with Africom, the U.S. military organization concerned with subjugating the 50 states of Africa to a U.S. dictate, and was told about some new intelligence about Libya.

New U.S. intelligence shows Col. Moammar Gadhafi is "seriously considering" fleeing Tripoli for a more secure location outside the capital, according to U.S. officials, raising the prospect that the Libyan leader's hold on power is increasingly fragile.

It seems the "days not weeks" Obama illusion is still operational. Gaddhafi will of course not leave Tripoli. Why should he?

But the WSJ story also carries an official voice which, and this is a first, finally acknowledges the utter stupidity of this whole war:

"We, the international community, could be in postconflict Libya tomorrow and there isn't a plan, there is not a good plan," the senior U.S. commander in Africa, Gen. Carter Ham, told The Wall Street Journal.

Using a pluralis majestatis and declaring that the handful of countries involved in attacking Libya are the "international community" is pure hubris. But Ham is at least admitting that the whole idea of taking down Gaddhafi was never really thought through. Like in the war on Iraq there is no plan for Phase IV of the war for "activities conducted after decisive combat operations to stabilize and reconstruct the area of operations". It is still possible that such a plan may not be needed for Libya. Gaddhafi has not lost yet and without a "lucky shot", that kills him as ordered, the conflict can go on for month and month until, amid exhaustion, some political compromise solution is found or Gaddhafi finds some trick to defeat the rebels.

But Ham is concerned with an important issue. No, it is not the life or well being of the Libyan people. Notice what he mentions first:

Gen. Ham predicted that Col. Gadhafi could fall quickly, underlining the need for an allied plan to deal with the aftermath. He said the United Nations or African Union might have to contribute a significant ground force to Libya. He stressed that the U.S. wouldn't send troops.

"If it ends in chaos, if it is a state collapse and all the institutions of the government fall apart, you will potentially need a sizable force on the ground to secure critical infrastructure and maintain law and order," Gen. Ham said.

"Critical infrastructure", as the war on Iraq taught, only means one thing. The oil wells the U.S., France and Britain hope to get their hands on.

But I doubt that General Ham will find the troops he talks about to secure those wells. Which UN or AU country would be stupid enough to intervene in the tribal conflicts in Libya when it falls apart? Of the current participants in the war on Libya, neither the U.S., France or the U.K. nor Italy have any appetite for another drawn out expensive occupation. Tunisia or Egypt are busy with themselves and will not send soldiers abroad. The African countries south of Libya will understand that to send African troops into a mostly Arab country where the rebels have killed black guest workers just for the fun of it andtheir skin color is not a good idea.

General Ham has taken a first step which the politicians who started this war have yet to take. He admits that there will be "a day after" for which no plans exist. But he still has "days not weeks" like illusions that such a plan can be somehow improvised on a short term. The current UN resolution explicitly excludes any occupation force and I doubt that China and Russia will ever agree to a new one changing that. Any unilateral U.S. financed African force on Libyan grounds would not survive and just like the U.S. financed Ethiopian 2006-2008 occupation of Somalia end in defeat.

The best solution for Libya is still Colonel Gaddhafi and letting him, without further interference, find a way to keep Libya stable even after his rule ends.

Unfortunately it is unlikely that General Ham, or any politician in his "international community", will publicly come to that conclusion. They will rather sow chaos than to admit they were wrong all along.

Posted by b on June 24, 2011 at 04:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (34)

The Thaileaks

After 17 years of working with Reuters, mostly in Thailand, Andrew MacGregor Marshall quit. Reuters had copies of the Wikileaks documents and some three thousand of those were about Thailand. It did not dare to publish them as they contained a lot of information that could be interpreted as being negative about the king and the royal court. Thailand has severe Lèse Majesté laws. In Thailand anyone can accuse anyone of derogative talk about the king and the royal court and the result can be up to 15 years of prison. Reuters feared for its work and staff in Thailand.

Before he left Reuters Andrew MacGregor Marshall copied all relevant Wikileaks papers on Thailand and he is now publishing them on his own at his Zenjounalist blog and at Thaicables.

But he does a lot more than that. He sets those cables into detailed and lucid political and historic context in a four part Thaistory: "Thailand's Moment Of Truth - A Secret History Of 21st Century Siam". Part one, about 100 pages long, is now available for free. It is a good, at times even amusing, and easy read.

We once had a reader here, John Francis Lee, who lives in Thailand. In 2007 I posted a piece by him, A Thailand "Write Up", which included this fawning part:

HM the King of Thailand, Bhumipol Adulyadej, had already been King for a year when I was born. Most Thais know no other King. Everyone loves the King, myself included. He's seen 15 coups and 19 constitutions come and go. He's the only one in Thailand perceived to be above the self-serving mass of bureaucrats and politicians and generals that carry on the spectacle of government here.

The Wikileaks papers and Thaistory prove that the king is not above politics at all, but that he, his privy council, his family and the royal court are essentially running the country by pulling strings, replacing top figures as they feel needed and secretly devising policies that the government in charge, military junta or elected civilian, will feel urged to implement.

Thailand is a dictatorship, an absolute kingdom where some people still literally throw themselves on the ground in front of royals, with a democratic facade. This is well known in academic and media circles in Thailand. But the Lèse Majesté laws prevent any open and public reporting or discussion about it.

The religious political cult around the person of King Bhumibol, who was born in the United States where his parents studied medicine and lived in Switzerland before becoming king of Thailand, was build on purpose and not without support from the various U.S. services. During the cold war the king helped to keep Thailand strongly on the U.S. side. Thailand was a main U.S. base during the Vietnam war. Up to today the king, through his hard right leaning privy council and the military, has a hand in preventing even mildly socialist/progressive policies. Thailand today is also part of the U.S. war on Muslims as the royal house is bolstering, if not inciting, Buddhist Thais in a smoldering conflict against Muslim-Malay living in south Thailand.

Several times when Thais elected governments that were leaning to the left, the military, prodded secretly by the king, intervened. When the right-wing yellow shirts initiated a color revolution against the elected government and red-shirt supporters of Thaksin Shinawatra's party, the king also indirectly intervened and the court system then abolished the government and a new right-wing coalition took over. (In 2008 I wrote about this in The Coup Attempt in Thailand)

The king is now 82 and ill. As Thaistory explains in detail there is a deep conflict within the royal family of who is to follow him.

I had only a hunch of that with little proof when I wrote in comments to the Coup piece:

I think it is more of a succession fight. The king is near death and its mostly General Prem [head of the privy council], who has his own agenda, speaking for him.

The crown prince had/has good relations with Taksin and less good with the army. General Prem and the establishment does not want him to become king and prefer his princess sister who lectures at a military academy and is more of a manipulable figure than the lively crown prince.

The Wikileaks cables, as laid out in Thaistory, now confirm that take.

Whoever will follow king Bhumipol will likely have difficulties to reach his cult-like status as a "neutral" leader. This and the now public cables and Thaistory will lower the standing of the royals and their surrounding establishment. That will probably open a real chance for Thais to convert their system into something genuinely democratic one.

Posted by b on June 24, 2011 at 08:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

June 23, 2011

Busy

That's me right now. I'll have to clean up my desk a bit and hope to be back tomorrow.

What is keeping you busy?

Please use as open thread.

 

Posted by b on June 23, 2011 at 01:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (39)

June 22, 2011

Feeding The Greedy Birds - With Us

Yves at Naked Capitalism presents this today as her antidote du jour.

bigger

As a commentator there remarks:

The chicks on the left would be finance, insurance, and real estate. The bird on the right, the government. And the cricket? You and me, baby.

Quite fitting.

Posted by b on June 22, 2011 at 01:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

June 21, 2011

Is Psychiatry Itself A Mental Disorder?

In the NYRB Marcia Angell, a senior lecturer in social medicine at Harvard Medical School, reviews seven books on psychiatry and the use of psychotropic drugs. The two part article, The Epidemic of Mental Illness: Why? and The Illusions of Psychiatry, are currently available for free. Both are recommended reading.

I am especially concerned about children and teens taking psychoactive drugs. No, that does not mean that I mind when fifteen year old teens drink a beer or smoke a joint. But I am very suspicious when I am told by parents that their child has this or that disorder that gets fixed by taking some chemical mixture which has unknown effect-chains in the body and especially in the brain.

Being hyperactive and/or inattentive is part of being a child. It is normal. It can be ´cured just by increasing outdoor activities. Being partly depressive is practically the definition of a teen in puberty. These are not illnesses but important and necessary parts of growing up. Taking psychotropics daily, often with serious side effects, will not heal such illnesses but cause damage.

The first part of the article demonstrates that there is huge increase in the numbers of people who are diagnosed with some mental disorder and get prescribed one or more psychotropic drugs. It shows how this increase is not a real increase in mentally ill people, but an increase in the definitions of what is considered mentally ill. These definitions are made up and marketed by people with an interest to increase the number of patients and drug sales, doctors and the drug industry.

The way drugs get approved for this or that mental disorders is also troublesome. Notice also how the state is again willingly asleep at the wheel:

For obvious reasons, drug companies make very sure that their positive studies are published in medical journals and doctors know about them, while the negative ones often languish unseen within the FDA, which regards them as proprietary and therefore confidential. This practice greatly biases the medical literature, medical education, and treatment decisions.

If a new drug is introduced for this or that illness, all studies about that drug should be publicly available. Today a new drug may have one industry paid study with positive results and nine negative ones. Only the positive one gets published and no one except the industry and the FDA knows about the others.

The incentives on the doctor's side favor drug prescription over other successful and less harm causing therapies:

Like most other psychiatrists, Carlat treats his patients only with drugs, not talk therapy, and he is candid about the advantages of doing so. If he sees three patients an hour for psychopharmacology, he calculates, he earns about $180 per hour from insurers. In contrast, he would be able to see only one patient an hour for talk therapy, for which insurers would pay him less than $100.

But interestingly it ain't just the industry and the doctors that have an incentive to increase the number of mentally ill.

As low-income families experience growing economic hardship, many are finding that applying for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments on the basis of mental disability is the only way to survive.
...
Hospitals and state welfare agencies also have incentives to encourage uninsured families to apply for SSI payments, since hospitals will get paid and states will save money by shifting welfare costs to the federal government.
...
In December 2006 a four-year-old child named Rebecca Riley died in a small town near Boston from a combination of Clonidine and Depakote, which she had been prescribed, along with Seroquel, to treat “ADHD” and “bipolar disorder”—diagnoses she received when she was two years old.
...
The parents had obtained SSI benefits for the siblings and for themselves, and were applying for benefits for Rebecca when she died. The family’s total income from SSI was about $30,000 per year.

The state setting incentives in a way that practically makes people declare their children mentally ill and let them take psychotropic drugs with hospitals and psychiatrists supporting such behaviour - how sick is that?

As what would a psychopharmacists classify that mental disorder? What is the pill against it?

Posted by b on June 21, 2011 at 02:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (23)

June 19, 2011

The Liberation Of The MV Suez And Its Bitter End - An Incredible Pirate Story

(Updated on June 20)

If a story of a pirated ships near Somalia ever makes it into a movie, this is the one that would make for the most incredible and excellent action script. It involves a ten month long crew ordeal, ever increasing ransom demands, arrested mercenaries and a fight between two hostile navies which both want to appear as savior of the pirated crew.

The Ship

The MV Suez was captured by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden on August 2 2010. It was freed a week ago after a quite dramatic story but its ordeal did not end there. It still had to nearly create an international military conflict and more sad sea drama.

MV SUEZ was travelling in the Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor (IRTC) when attacked. Immediately after the first report a helicopter was directed to the ship but pirates had already taken over the command of the vessel.

The MV SUEZ, deadweight 17,300 tonnes with a crew of 23 (Egypt, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and India Nationalities), is a Panama flagged merchant vessel with a cargo of cement bags. EU NAVFOR is monitoring the situation.

Later reports vary between 22 and 28 crew member, six Indians, eleven to thirteen Egyptians, four Pakistanis and one to four Sri Lankan.

The MV Suez, IMO 8218720, is a multi-purpose/heavy lift cargo ship which was build in the East German Warnow shipyard in 1984. The ships ownership has changed quite often. It sailed earlier as Torm Texas, Industrial Champion, Cte Cinta, Amsterdam, Nedlloyd Amsterdam, Sevastaki (pic), Evi (pic), Eastern Moon and Rahim (pic).


IMO 8218720 in 2008 as Rahim - Photo by Peter Wearing

This ship is owned and operated by an Egyptian company, Red Sea Navigation, but flagged in Panama.

MV Suez was on her way from Pakistan to Eritrea. She is old, much abused and has likely only scrap value. The cement cargo is not really valuable either. Who would pay a six or seven figure to free such a ship and its crew?

The Egyptian ship owners, Abdel Meguid Matar and Mohamed Sobhi, would not. They would not even put up the crew's pay to support their families. At the end of August 2010 Egyptian family members of the crew sued the owners to pay the demanded ransom, $1 million, and some went into hunger strike. But month after month passed without any success.

Somali news source Ahram Online reported Dec. 15 that pirates turned down a ransom payment of $500,000 for the release of the MV Suez because the offer “came too late,” according to the ship’s engineer.

The pirates then increased their ransom demand to $1.1 million.

The Political Issue

As month after month went by and the cases of the MV Suez sailors and their families grew -via the local media- into interior political issues in India as well as in Pakistan.

The Indian government tried to apply pressure on the owner via the Egyptian government. When another deadline was set by the pirates to March 11 2011 and went by without any payment, the interior political pressure increased:

The families and relatives of the abducted sailors, who have lost all hopes, are going to hold a protest rally in New Delhi Thursday against the "silence of the government" on the matter. The protestors will march from Jantar Mantar to the Parliament House.

At the same time, the opposition parties led by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are putting pressure on the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government to deal with the issue in a serious manner.

But the Indian government still showed no urgency to solve the problem.

In Pakistan someone acted. Late in February the Pakistani human rights advocate Ansar Barney made phone contact with the pirates and started his own negotiations. He is a former minister and a UN Expert Adviser on human rights. When the ransom deadline had passed without the ship owner paying, Barney was said to meet the shipowner in Egypt to discuss a combined ransom payment.

The Ansar Barney Welfare Trust, a humanitarian NGO, started to collect the demanded $1.1 million to free the sailors. An Indian national living in Dubai was reported to be willing to contribute $500,000.

At the end of April the Indian government established an Inter-Ministerial-Group to handle the cases of the then 46 Indians in the captivity of Somali pirates. Local political pressure continued to build.

In Pakistan the governor of Sindh province and a Citizen-Police-Liaison Committee got involved with Barney on the issue. Together they flew to Dubai for negotiations on the issue.

Somewhere along the Egyptian owners of the ship became furious about the court cases by the families of the Egyptian crew members on board of the MV Suez. The owners backtracked on a promise to pay some share of the ransom they had earlier agreed to.

Also somewhere along the ransom demand seems to have been again increased from the earlier reported $500,000 and $1.1 million to $2.1 million.

Freeing The Ship

In May the money Ansar Barney had collected by then was to be transferred to the pirates in a secret mission by the British mercenary company Salama Fikira. On May 24 a Cessna Citation business jet flew with the ransom money from the Seychelles to Mogadishu, Somalia. There it met a Cessna Caravan single engine plane which came from Nairobi, Kenia and was modified for the actual money drops onto the pirated ships. The planes flew under cover of an UN humanitarian evacuation mission and were supposedly coordinated with Somali authorities.

But when the mercenaries landed in Somalia on to transfer the money between the planes for delivery to the MV Suez and another ship, the MV Yuan Xiang, they were held up and the money was seized by Somali security forces at the Mogadishu airport. The six men transfer team, 3 Brits, 2 Kenyan and 1 American were arrested.

This was a surprise as money transfers like this one are routine and are usually coordinated with the government (which likely takes a share) and the airport guards are supposed to protect the transfer missions.

Another pirate deadline on June 1 was moved to June 11 because no other plane could be found to drop the money to the pirated ship. In phone calls the crew now claimed that the pirates started to torture them.

Despite the money reportedly still being in the hands of the Somali government, not the pirates, the ship was finally set free:

[T]he foreign security team arrested for bringing in $3.6 million in ransoms for two ships was due to appear in court in Mogadishu on Thursday. The team's lawyer was looking to get all six bailed, providing an aircraft and the money in Somalia's central bank as security. Details have yet to emerge from the appearance.

Reports the money is still in the bank has not stopped the release of the two ships it was destined for. The MV Yuan Xiang was released last week, while the second vessel the money was reportedly heading too, the MV Suez, gained freedom on Saturday [June 11].

Why would the pirates, after such a long time, let the ships go when the ransom money was still in the hands of the Somali government? Could there be some cooperation between them? Or was there an additional money transfer?

The ship owner and the freight owner seem not to have paid anything. The Pakistani claim that the Indian who was supposed to come up with a $500,000 share of the money did not show up when the money was to be transferred and that all the money was collected in Pakistan.

Pakistan was quite proud about this while the Indian government was criticized over the lack of action from its side.

Still the drama was, by far, not over.

Navy Collisions

When the ship was freed on June 11 it sailed off towards Salalah in Oman. The Egyptian Assistant Foreign Minister Abdel-Hakam said that all steps were taken to ensure the safe arrival of the ship at the port.

Three days later he got egg on his face when MV Suez was again attacked by pirates. The crew fended off the pirate attack and via radio asked an Indian military ship for help which, the crew said, was denied.

Pakistan sent the PNS Babur, a 40 year old former British frigate, to escort the MV Suez. On its way PNS Babur was also attacked by pirates but drove them off.

India sent its own ship, the guided-missile frigate INS Godavari, to escort the MV Suez.

At that point, around June 14/15/16, a competition evolved between India and Pakistan on who would escort the MV Suez (Indian TV video). Both had already claimed they were escorting the MV Suez when it was fending off a pirate attack on its own.

But it was the PNS Babur which fended off yet another pirate attack on the MV Suez.

The wife of one of the Indian seaman on board of the MV Suez talked with him by phone. (Indian TV interview). The Captain has diabetes and isn't well. Two other person are very ill, she says dying. Food is a problem as is fuel. She says the ship was twice attacked by pirates after its release and that the second attack was repelled by the PNS Babur.

There was more trouble to come:

Wasi Hasan, MV Suez’s Pakistani captain said the crew may have to abandon the ship and hitch a ride with PNS Babar. “The boiler in the engine room is not working, so our speed has slowed down from 15 knots to 8 knots,” he said while talking to NDTV.

He also said that there is eight tons of diesel left on board, not enough to get Suez to the port of Salalah in Oman.

The Indian navy claimed that the MV Suez had rejected all contacts with its ship and on the 17th the INS Godavari was pulled back:

[I]n a controversial move, the Indian Navy has pulled out the warship INS Godavari that was sent to escort the cargo vessel to Salalah and ward off further attacks.

The Navy took the decision claiming the Suez refused contact.

But sailor Ravinder Singh who is on board the freed ship has denied receiving any communication from the Indian Navy.

He told CNN-IBN that only the Pakistan Navy's Babur is escorting the Suez at this point.

"We are moving towards Oman and are still mid sea. We will take about 34 hours to reach Salalah. INS Godavari is not with us. We haven't even seen the ship yet. It has not called us. PNS Babur has been escorting us since Wednesday night. Naval commandos are accompanying us as well. They provided us with medical assistance, food supplies and water. They will be staying with us till we reach the next port," said sailor Ravinder Singh.

The Indian and Pakistani military are not exactly on a friendly footing with each other. The political stakes are high, especially for the Indian government, which so far did not look good in this whole affair while the Pakistanis payed the ransom, got the ship and crew released and were escorting them to safety.

It is unclear yet how and when exactly the following happened but the Pakistani and Indian frigates somehow collided with, or rammed, each other:

Pakistan has claimed that the Indian Navy Ship Godavari not only hampered the humanitarian operations being carried out by Pakistan Navy Ship Babur, but also undertook dangerous manoeuvres during the course of the incident.

A statement issued by the Foreign Office and carried by Pakistani media said Pakistan had lodged a protest with the Indian government on an incident that occurred while MC Suez was provided with security cover.

The exact location of the incident, however, was not mentioned in the statement released by Pakistan's Foreign Office. "It [incident] resulted in the brushing of the sides of INS Godavari and PNS Babur," the statement said.

India somewhat denied the incident:

An Indian navy official refuted Pakistani allegations that an Indian vessel had put at risk MV Suez. “Reports of aggression by INS Godavari are incorrect and based on misinformation,” he said.

The Indians later lodged a counter protest and claimed that it was the Pakistani ship which hit its ship at its helicopter deck while trying to pass it (NDTV news video). The report tells of anonymous officials' claims that the Indian Navy is withholding video of the incident as it does not want to blow up next week's foreign minister meeting between Pakistan and India about nukes and Kashmir.

Does the video exist? High politics were now at stake over the simple escort of a crippled ship.

The End Of MV Suez

Meanwhile, on the 18th, the MV Suez, still at open sea some 70 miles off Oman, ran out of fuel. On order of the Egyptian owner the tug Hasic was dispatched from Oman to bring the ship into the harbor.

But early on the 19th the tug itself had technical problems and it failed to reach the MV Suez.

Without fuel, low on food and in a gathering storm the crew finally gave up on its ship:

The MV Suez's 22-member crew, including six Indians, were on Sunday transferred to a Pakistani warship when the Egyptian merchant vessel, which was recently released by Somali pirates after payment of ransom, began taking on water in the Arabian Sea. MV Suez was on its way to the Omat of Salalah when it ran out of fuel and began taking on water in stormy weather, Geo News channel quoted its sources as saying.
...
The Suez's captain had also opened the vessel's valves to scuttle it, the channel reported.
...
MV Suez Captain Syed Wasi Hasan said on phone that the weather had turned threatening due to the monsoons.

"We were on the open seas for the past three days. The owner of the ship has thus far not sent any fuel," he said.

It seems like this is the end of IMO 8218720, the MV Suez. But for a ship with such an adventures soul, or maybe it was a jinxed one, it is better to go down in the Arabian Sea than to get teared apart on the beaches of Alang.

After their long ordeal and the dramatic last days the crew is now save and hopefully all will come home. The Pakistanis will transfer the MV Suez crew from their old PNS Babur to the brand new Pakistani frigate PNS Zulfiquar which will bring them to a festive welcome in Karachi. The PNS Babur is to continue its counter pirate operations. The mercenaries were sentenced on the 19th to ten to fifteen years and the money and their planes are now officially confiscated. It is expected that after yet another ransom pay gets made, this time to the Somali government, the mercenaries will get released.

What more could Hollywood ask for? Lots of pirate attacks, shabby Egyptian businessmen, a multicultural ship crew in a deep long trouble, suffering children and families, mercenaries with lots of money caught by a half illegitimate government in the middle of a civil war, more pirate attacks, two nuclear armed navies ramming their ships into each other threatening a war escalation, the sad moment when the MV Suez finally goes down in a storm, the happy ending for the crew. The wife of the crewman in the video above is pretty and smart. Her figure can certainly be used to add some love drama on top of it all.

Then again the story lacks white men in the hero roles. That, unfortunately, may be a no-no if one wants to have some box office success in 'western' societies.

Posted by b on June 19, 2011 at 03:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (26)

Similarities In Afghanistan Wars

Two snippets taken from one newspaper - spot the difference:

KABUL, Afghanistan — [...] Three men wearing camouflage fatigues that are frequently worn by Afghan soldiers stormed a police station near the presidential palace, with one of them detonating an explosives vest just outside the gates as two others rushed inside and began firing, an Interior Ministry statement said.

The crackle of gunfire echoed through the usually bustling streets for about two hours before security forces killed the two remaining attackers. Insurgents killed three police officers, one intelligence agent and five civilians in the attack, according to the ministry statement.

---

New Delhi (AP) - Moslem rebels killed five Kabul policemen and wounded 11 others during a two hour battle this week after the rebels slipped into the Soviet-guarded city, a reliable Afghan source reported yesterday.

One rebel was killed during the Tuesday night engagement in the Wazirabad district of Kabul and the others escaped, leaving the body behind, the source said.

The only real difference here are 31 years in which little changed. The second quote is from the Palm Beach Post, June 14 1980: Rebels Kill Five Policemen in Kabul. The first quote is also from the Palm Beach Post. But it is the June 19 2011 edition: Afghan leader confirms peace talks; Kabul attacked.

After the sure to come retreat of "western" troops from Afghanistan someone will write a book about all the parallels of the Soviet war and the U.S. war there. The opening sentence of that book could itself be a historic repeat. It might reuse the opening sentences from Marx' Eighteenth Brumaire:

Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.

Posted by b on June 19, 2011 at 02:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

June 18, 2011

Fukushima Update - June 18

In Fukushima Daiichi the wreaked reactors and fuel pools still need cooling and will continue to need it for many month. Cooling is currently done with water which leaks after running through the 'hot' areas. The immense amount (110,000 metric tons) of contaminated water is a huge problem. Each hour additional 25 tons of water are added. Some water decontamination equipment was set up over the last weeks but it has yet to work properly:

Operators of Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant have suspended an operation to clean contaminated water hours after it began due to a rapid rise in radiation.
...
The teams at the plant suspect the radiation rise may be linked to sludge flowing into the machinery intended to absorb caesium or the pipes surrounding it.

All three reactors are still too hot to get significant work done inside of them. The plans to somehow stop the leaks and to implement closed cooling cycles will likely be delayed and and then take longer than anticipated.

There is some weird behavior visible in the radiation level measurement in reactor 1. Every three to four days it jumps between some 50 Sievert and 250 Sievert. As the temperature measurements show no change I have no explanation for this weird behavior.

Reactor 3 has also shown some life over the last weeks with the temperature increasing from 100 Centigrade to nearly 200 Centigrade without obvious changes in the cooling situation. The temperature is now slowly coming down again. I have found no explanation for this phenomenon.

Work to implement a closed loop cooling at the no 4 spent fuel pool is delayed as a site survey found the pipes needed to get it installed got ripped off the walls when the no 4 building exploded.

The three reactor and the four spent fuel pools continue to release radioactive substances into the environment. Japan will need a long time to overcome this catastrophe.

People in the U.S. seem concerned about the Missouri flood which threatens the Missouri, at the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Station near Blair, Nebraska. The reactor is cooled down but the spent fuel is quite full and a long, three to four days, station blackout event with no electricity available at the site could lead to problems. But unless there is a breach of one of the upper river dams I see no danger of that occurring.

Additional resources:
AllThingsNuclear Union of Concerned Scientists
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
Atomic power review blog
Digital Globe Sat Pictures
IAEA Newscenter
NISA Japanese Nuclear Regulator
Japan Atomic Industry Forum (regular updates)
Japanese government press releases in English
Kyodo News Agency
Asahi Shimbun leading Japanese newspaper in English
NHK World TV via Ustream
Status reports for the German Federal Government by the Gesellschaft für Reaktorsicherheit in German language

Posted by b on June 18, 2011 at 10:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (31)

How To Report On Syria - WaPo Edition

Do not visit the country. Report from Washington or Beirut.

Start with a thesis you have no way to verify. Use it as headline. For example:

Pressure on Syria’s Assad intensifies as protests persist

1a. Report of big demonstrations everywhere and of the government shooting demonstrators sourced solely to a shadowy anonymous group which claims to have organized them.

1b. Claim that the Syrian government "is not abandoning its strategy of relying on force to quell the dissent".

2a. Report of a big and peaceful demonstration in Hama where no one was shot.

2b. Ignore your claim in 1b and claim that this is a sign that the government has "given up trying to assert control".

3a. Report of various unsourced and likely false rumors.

3b. Claim that the various unsourced and likely false rumors "give the government jitters".

3c. Quote someone from the Israel Lobby(!) in Washington(!) saying that the various unsourced and likely false rumors have the Syrian government "definitely panicking".

4a. Report of a government concession which was obviously not a government concession.

4b. Have an opposition activist in Beirut(!) dismiss the government concession which was obviously not a government concession as being obviously not a government concession.

5a. Report that the Syrian leader is to make a televised address to the nation.

5b. Claim that this is a sign of his "absence".

6. Quote the meaningless blustering of two anonymous U.S. officials in Washington(!).

7a. Report of reports about Turkish government intervention intentions which the Turkish government has thoroughly dismissed as utter nonsense.

7b. Claim that the opposition would like the reported Turkish government intervention intentions which the Turkish government has thoroughly dismissed as utter nonsense.

7c. Quote an opposition activist in London(!) saying that the reported Turkish government intervention intentions which the Turkish government has thoroughly dismissed as nonsense is a "nightmare for the Syrian regime".

7d. Claim that the "nightmare" is the explanation for an unrelated Syrian government operation against a small armed local rebellion.

8a. Repeat your reporting of various unsourced and likely false rumors.

8b. Quote an opposition activist in Ohio(!) with some theory about the meaning of the various unsourced and likely false rumors.

(Do NOT report of armed government opposition. Do NOT report that the demonstrations this Friday were smaller than last Friday. Do NOT report that the shadowy anonymous group's website is registered and run in Germany by a German with a phone number in Berlin as contact information. Do NOT report that the group seems inactive as the last daily update on that site was eight days ago. )

Rinse and repeat next Friday.

Posted by b on June 18, 2011 at 08:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (14)

The Not Secret Iranian Nuclear Site

In a piece about a much discussed satirical article that appeared on an Iranian website and was misinterpreted in "western" media, the Arms Control Wonk Jeffery Lewis writes:

Then there is the issue of Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant. For some reason, Sy [Hersh] doesn’t mention Iran’s effort to construct a covert facility enrichment site near Qom (the so-called Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant).

Hersh, in his recent piece, does not mention the "covert" site because the site was NOT covert or secret at all.

As Iranian news agencies announced on September 24/25 2009:

In line with its guarantee to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for clarity on its nuclear activities, Iran has informed the agency that it is constructing a second plant for uranium enrichment.

"I can confirm that on 21 September, Iran informed the IAEA in a letter that a new pilot fuel enrichment plant is under construction in the country," agency spokesman Marc Vidricaire said Friday.

The U.S. admitted that this account is true. As the Washington Post reported:

Their hand was forced, [U.S. intelligence officials] said, by a letter the Iranian government sent to the IAEA in Vienna on Monday.

Iran informing the IAEA was in line with the IAEA rules under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to declare a new site at least 180 days before introducing nuclear material there.

Only five days after Iran informed the IAEA did the U.S. claim that it had knowledge of this site and alleged that it was "secret".

The U.S. claims(!) that it has known about the site. But there is no shroud of evidence offered that this claim is true.

From just the facts the Iranians announced the site to the IAEA on Monday, publicly announced later that week and on the following Friday the US claims that the site was "secret". Without any evidence that claim is as good as claims about Iraqi WMDs were.

By the way: If the U.S. had previous knowledge about that site, why did it not inform the IAEA about it? That would have been its duty and would have helped to bolster its case against Iran.

The publicly available facts say the site was announced properly by Iran under the rules Iran has submitted to. Just because the U.S. claims otherwise does not make that claim true. The wonk should at least admit that much.

Posted by b on June 18, 2011 at 02:09 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

June 17, 2011

Open Thread - June 17

Sometimes I just don't feel right to write.

Open thread ...

Posted by b on June 17, 2011 at 12:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (42)

June 16, 2011

Factchecking Takeyh and Maloney

There is another boring anti-Iran OpEd in the New York Times by Ray Takeyh and Suzanne Maloney. As usual it mangles the facts, gives a false diagnosis of the situation and comes up with the wrong policy prescription. "Iran wants nukes, the government there is divided, there is no one to talk to, thus more sanctions (and biw let's bomb Iran)."

I will not bother to discuss it in detail but want to mark two issues if only to set the record straight.

The authors write:

[Ahmedinejad's] fall from grace has been fierce and fast. [...] The most devastating blow came in May from Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who publicly repudiated his hand-picked protégé in a clash over presidential powers.

While there was one of the regular tussles in the Iranian power structures during April and early May since the end of that month the situation has decidedly changed and it is not what the op-ed authors say:

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, issued a public endorsement of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Sunday as he looked to resolve a months-long rift among the country's conservative power elites.

"While there are weaknesses and problems ... the composition of the executive branch is good and appropriate, and the government is working. The government and parliament must help each other," Ayatollah Khamenei said in an address to parliament members, later shown on state television.

But a united Iran does not fit the narrative the op-ed authors want to tell, they therefore just ignore the real situation.

Then there is this outright lie:

Mr. Ahmadinejad’s interest in dialogue was not motivated by any appreciation of American civilization or an impulse to reconcile. Rather, the provocative president saw talks as a means of boosting his stature at home and abroad while touting his vision of a strong nuclear-armed Iran.

Sure - like he touted in an interview in October 2005:

"Our religion prohibits us from having nuclear arms and our religious leader has prohibited it from the point of view of religious law. It's a closed road," the Khaleej Times quoted Ahmadinejad as saying.

or when he touted at the UN summit on April 29 2009:

Allow me, as the elected President of the Iranian people, to outline the other main elements of my country’s initiative regarding the nuclear issue:

1. The Islamic Republic of Iran reiterates its previously and repeatedly declared position that in accordance with our religious principles, pursuit of nuclear weapons is prohibited. ...

or in May 4 2010 at a UN NPT conference:

... the great Iranian nation, does not need the atomic bomb for its advancement and does not regard it as a means for its grandeur and pride.

or in that Larry King interview on September 22 2010

"We are not seeking the bomb. We have no interest in it. And we do not think that it is useful."

Yes, Ahmedinejad is certainly touting a lot and consistently - AGAINST an Iran with nuclear weapons.

And while we are at it - congrats to Iran for launching its second satellite.

Posted by b on June 16, 2011 at 07:16 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

The Gasoline Crisis In The Emirates That Isn't One

The New York Times has a terribly mangled piece today about 'gasoline shortages' in the emirates which together make up the United Arab Emirates:  Gasoline Crisis in Emirates Brings Lines and Fears

DUBAI — For the third time in the past 10 months, service stations across the United Arab Emirates have been running out of gasoline in recent weeks.

The fuel retailers have cited technical maintenance as the main reason nearly 200 stations have been turning customers away at the pump. But analysts say the shortage may be related to the phasing out of government subsidies for gasoline amid rising crude oil prices.
...

For starters: Why write an 800 word piece on consumer gasoline prices in the U.A.E. or elsewhere without ever mentioning that price? Isn't that of interest to the reader?

For the record: The prices at the pump in the U.A.E. are currently regulated by the federal government of the U.A.E. at Dh1.72 per liter ($1.79/gl) (€0.33/l), which is about half of the world market price.

And what are we to make of this in the NYT piece?

Diana Georges, 26, a Sharjah resident who commutes to Dubai for work at an advertising agency every day, began filling up at stations in Dubai after visiting four stations in Sharjah that were shut this week.

“Now, I try not to wait until my tank is even half-empty,” she said. “I fill it right away in Dubai because I’m worried I won’t find gas later on or that the station will only agree to fill a minimal amount.”

According to that statement, there is a supply problem in the emirate of Sharjah, but not in the emirate of Dubai. But how does that statement then fit to the opening paragraph "service stations across the United Arab Emirates have been running out of gasoline in recent weeks"? And how do they fit the narrative given a few lines later?

At a time when Dubai is struggling with more than $100 billion in debt, the gasoline shortages are exacerbating a problem that has existed for years as the cash-strapped fuel retailers look for solutions. On the other hand, Abu Dhabi, the wealthier emirate that holds nearly 95 percent of the U.A.E.’s oil reserves, has not faced supply shortages.

But Diana Georges fills up in Dubai. The gas shortage she responded to is in Sharjah, not Dubai, so how does this relate to Dubai's debt? The NYT article does not answer that question.

Indeed the piece misses the whole background story. It quotes an 'expert' from Booz who resides in Beirut and someone from the London based Standard Chartered Bank. Local business voices are missing as is obviously knowledge about the local businesses and politics.

The real story here isn't about 'gasoline shortages' in the emirates, there is none, but about distribution companies owned by Abu Dhabi squeezing distribution companies owned by Dubai out of the market. The real story is about competition between the ruler of Abu Dhabi and the ruler of Dubai.

Within the U.A.E. only the oil-rich Abu Dhabi has gasoline refinery capacity while Dubai and the other smaller emirates must import their needs. Three of the four big retailers in the U.A.E. buy gasoline at the wholesale world market prices but have to sell the gasoline at a loss for the regulated price. The other retailer gets it supplies from the refineries in Abu Dhabi. The regulated price is set by federal government. But the companies are supposed to get reimbursed for the difference between world market price and subsidized consumer price by their local government. When that does not happen a distributor will have to stop selling to consumers.

For a long time there is a sometimes bitter competition between the leaders in the emirate of Abu Dhabi and the leading family in the emirate of Dubai. Abu Dhabi has all the money as it has and exports most of the raw oil of the emirates while Dubai has all the glory as a business center with many high rises but now also all the debt from the real estate bubble there. Dubai's rulers were very proud about erecting Burj Dubai, the tallest penis like structure ever build, but when the financial crisis hit it had to ask Abu Dhabi for a bailout. To the embarrassment of Dubai's ruler Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Burj Dubai was renamed Burj Khalifa after U.A.E. President and emir of Abu Dhabi Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

There are four gasoline distribution/retailer companies in the U.A.E., Adnoc Distribution, Emerat, Enoc, Eppco. They all have stations in several of the emirates. Adnoc Distribution is owned and subsidized by the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company. Emarat is owned by the federal U.A.E. government and additionally subsidized by the local Abu Dhabi government. Both of these companies seem to have sufficient supplies and sell without any problem. There is therefore no general gas shortage in the emirates.

Enoc and Eppco's are owned by Dubai and subsidies to them are paid by the local government of Dubai. They have shut down their stations.

From a recent piece in The National, a paper from Abu Dhabi (corrected).

Enoc and Eppco have said the shortages, which began about two weeks ago, were caused by technical upgrades that shut down stations.

Yet none of the Enoc and Eppco stations in Sharjah have any sign of technical upgrades in progress, and most have been dry for days.
...
Based in Dubai, Enoc Group has 167 stations, with locations in every emirate but Abu Dhabi.
...
For its part, Adnoc Distribution increased its supply of fuel by 35 to 40 per cent in its 59 stations in Sharjah and the four northern emirates, Abdullah Salem al Dhaheri, general manager of Adnoc, told Al Ittihad newspaper.
...
Adnoc manages 194 stations across the country, 135 of which in Abu Dhabi. The company is planning 234 additional modern stations nationwide by 2012.

Adnoc, owned by the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company which also has the refinery capacity, wants to expand its distribution network. Within the federal U.A.E. government, Abu Dhabi has the most say as it has most of the money. The federal government sets the consumer price for gasoline. The local government of Abu Dhabi and of Dubai who own the distribution companies have to make up the difference between world market price and regulated consumer price. Abu Dhabi can easily do that for its companies Adnoc and Emerat while Dubai is broke and can not do so for Enoc and Eppco.

Now Abu Dhabi is using its power on the federal level to favor the gasoline retailers it owns and squeezes the retailers owned by the cash strapped Dubai government out of the federal market. Abu Dhabi may eventually may make an 'offer' to Dubai to buy up those retailers.

The story is simple and easy to understand for anyone who follows the local news which even headlines the real issue: Enoc's loss is Emarat and Adnoc's gain.

But for whatever reason the New York Times wants its readers to believe that there is a general fuel shortage in the U.A.E. even when that is not the case.

(The NYT piece was written by Sara Hamdan who according to her LinkedIn profile is a "Stringer for The International Herald Tribune and The New York Times." Could the New York Times increase the quality of its pieces by paying a real journalist to write its stories instead of a 'stringer'?)

Posted by b on June 16, 2011 at 04:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

June 15, 2011

Drones On Yemen Campaign Designed To Create Terrorism

Over the last decade the U.S. has gotten its way with a lot of international issues, like collecting world wide flight and banking data etc, because it could somewhat justify them with 9/11 and the "global war of terror."

But that justification is withering away as after 9/11 no more serious attacks on the U.S. happened. To further justify its outrageous international behavior and to resuscitate the war new attacks are needed.

This is, to me at least, the only possibly sane line of thinking to explain why the CIA would want to beat the beehive in Yemen.

The CIA program will be a major expansion of U.S. counterterrorism efforts in Yemen. Since December 2009, U.S. strikes in Yemen have been carried out by the U.S. military with intelligence support from CIA. Now, the spy agency will carry out aggressive drone strikes itself alongside the military campaign, which has been stepped up in recent weeks after a nearly yearlong hiatus.
...
While the specific contours of the CIA program are still being decided, the current thinking is that when the CIA shifts the program from intelligence collection into a targeted killing program, it will select targets using the same broad criteria it uses in Pakistan. There, the agency selects targets by name or if their profile or "pattern of life"—analyzed through persistent surveillance—fits that of known al Qaeda or affiliated militants.

By using those broad criteria, the U.S. would likely conduct more strikes in Yemen, where the U.S. now only goes after known militants, not those who fit the right profile.

As the last sentence admits, the program is designed in a way that makes sure that innocent people will be killed. Profiling always has high false positive rate, i.e. it always catches people who fit a profile just by chance or for explainable innocent reasons.

Why design a campaign that must hit innocent people if that is not the intent? What are plans to kill civilians in a tribal society which will certainly answer with revenge if not plans to create more terrorists?

Then this:

The Central Intelligence Agency is building a secret air base in the Middle East to serve as a launching pad for strikes in Yemen using armed drones, an American official said Tuesday.

The only plausible place for a base to strike in Yemen is Saudi Arabia. Sharurah would be a likely candidate. U.S. bases in Saudi Arabia were on of reasons why 9/11 happened and were given up soon after it took place.

There is very little terrorism coming out of Yemen. A Nigerian was allegedly trained there so badly that he managed to burn his balls when trying to bring down a plane. A package bomb from Yemen was found after a tip-off from the Saudi secret service. It may well have been that then president Saleh send that bomb to collect more anti-terrorism funds.

There may be some troublesome folks living in Yemen but they do not seem to be many and are obviously incompetent and amateurish. Attacking those few while making sure that innocents will be killed will not create a more peaceful world. It will certainly incite more terrorism. As I fail to find any other reason for the announced campaign I can only assume that the inevitable consequences are intended.

Or do I miss something here?

Posted by b on June 15, 2011 at 08:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (27)

Libya: Rebels Have Little Support, Germany Is The Problem

"If the rebels take Tripoli, they take Tripoli ...," hopes the WaPo reporter. But for good reasons they won't. Here the rebels in Libya admit what Captain Obvious claimed all along. They are only supported by a minority:

If the rebels take Zlitan, they would be within 85 miles (135 kilometers) of the eastern outskirts of Tripoli. A rebel official said opposition leaders in Zlitan have been meeting with their counterparts in Misrata, but he acknowledged they face challenges in advancing on the city.

“We need the people of Zlitan to push more courageously forward. They are dependent on our movements, but the problem is only a third of that city is with the rebels,” said Ibrahim Beatelmal, a rebel military spokesman in Misrata.

Of course if one bombs away the two third who are with Gaddhafi, as NATO tries, the rebels may eventually win.

Meanwhile the Guardian Editors tell us who the real troublemakers are in the Libya affair:

[T]here is no disputing that Libya has highlighted some of the wider logistical challenges facing Nato and has reopened the unresolved argument about European defence capability more generally. But the problem here is not with British – or French – levels of commitment. The difficulty lies with other European countries, including Germany.

Britain, France and the U.S. unilaterally decide to attack Libya for no good reason but the real problem with that are, as always, the Germans.

Well, they took down the British empire. Didn't they?

Posted by b on June 15, 2011 at 02:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (24)

June 14, 2011

Who And What is Matthew Craig Barrett?

(Updated below - Sep 2, 2011)

One would expect some reaction in U.S. media when Pakistan arrests and plans to deport a U.S. citizen for spying on its nuclear installations.

But I have found no news item yet in the U.S. or "western" media about the recent arrest of Matthew C. Barrett.


Matthew Craig Barrett during his arrest in Pakistan on June 11 2011

Something similar happened when, back in January, Pakistan arrested the CIA contractor Raymond A. Davis for killing two people in Karachi. Then US media, asked by the U.S. administration, suppressed news about him and his status while those were, at the same time, openly discussed in Pakistani media.

The silence now in "western" media could therefore be interpreted as a confirmation of Barrett's illegitimate, in the Pakistani view, status.

The story, as far as we know it, is documented below.

Reported in the Pakistani Onlinenews and on other Pakistani sites on May 15:

FATEHJANG: A US national was arrested on espionage charges after he was found roaming near sensitive nuclear installations in Fatehjang, a private TV channel reported on Saturday. The arrested US national identified as Mathieu Craig was staying in Sector G-8 of Islamabad, sources said. He was travelling in a car bearing number plate (EO-318) registered in Jacobabad, said the sources. The accused told the police that he had lost his way and had reached that area. According to investigations, Mathieu Craig arrived in Pakistan on a business visa and had been staying in Islamabad for a long time after marrying a Pakistani woman.

The Urdu TV report about the May 14 arrest is available as video.

Fateh Yang (Fateh Jang) is a city in Punjab province some 25 miles west of Islamabad. It is the location of the Pakistani National Development Complex for weapon research. Earlier the site was under control of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) and its Special Development Works which, in Fateh Yang and elsewhere, developed Pakistan's nuclear weapons.

Jacobabad, where Barrett's car was licensed, is some 550 miles southwest of Islamabad where Barrett claims to live. This is certainly unusual and makes the suspicions seem reasonable.

Matthew Craig Barrett, who somehow was let go or escaped that day, denied all charges and together with his father in law, a lawyer, pushed back. A press release "clarification" was issued by them on May 16 in which Barrett claimed:

“The news aired by a TV channel and carried by a newspaper (on Sunday) is false, baseless and fabricated. The staff at the barrier at Fatehjang Road stopped me and tried to play a drama with me. However when the higher authorities intervened, I came back to Islamabad. In accordance with the law of torts, I have served a notice claiming damages of Rs600 million on those who tried to malign me and bring me into disrepute.

“My wife belongs to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwah and we have been living in Islamabad for a long time. My two children were also born here. I myself have a right to be a Pakistani citizen, and for that only documents are to be completed. I have visited some 60 countries of the world as a tourist but never did I face such a humiliating treatment anywhere. I like this country and its people very much. However there are some departments which are extremely corrupt. They tell lies and commit frauds. What type of security is it to disclose my residence and number plate of my car? What do you call divulging the sensitive places of your country?

“I have decided to take legal action against them and also take to a court of law the media persons who became their tools. I may state here that high security agencies of the country have already cleared me in the past. The treatment meted out to me is a negative act to conceal their incompetence. I have requested my in-laws that they should not be provoked and should wait for law to take its own course. I am confident that law and the courts will certainly do justice to me and bring the accused to the book.”

Barrett was re-arrested on June 11:

ISLAMABAD: A US national was arrested on Friday from a residential area on the outskirts of the federal capital on charges of overstaying his visa. Mathew Craig, 27, had come to Pakistan on a business visa about three months ago, police said. The man, said to have been arrested from a house in E-11 Sector, is locked up in the Shalimar police station. The man is married to a Pakistani girl. A spokesperson for the US embassy in Islamabad said American diplomats were trying to ascertain the facts.

There is video of Barrett talking to a TV reporter during his arrest. He gives his version of the event in clear American English and denies any wrongdoing. (The picture above is taken from this video). Another video shows him being led away in chains. He seems to spit at the camera. In this report it is also claimed that he had been arrested previously for "statements against the state and security personal."

On June 12 Pakistani media reported:

ISLAMABAD: A US national, arrested on Friday for allegedly scouting nuclear facilities near the federal capital, was sent on a 14-day judicial remand by a trial court.

The 27-year-old, named Mathew Craig Barret, is likely to be deported in a few days. The interior ministry cancelled his visa last month, sources told The Express Tribune on the suspicion of his spying on the country’s nuclear facilities. Until he is deported, Barrett will remain in Adiyala Jail in Rawalpindi.

Police sources claimed that the interior ministry had sent a letter to the additional inspector-general (Special Branch), Islamabad, to trace Barrett’s whereabouts after he escaped from Fateh Jang last month following a scuffle with security agencies officials.

“He scuffled with security officials (manning the) outer-most cordon of the nuclear facilities after he was captured from near the area. Later, a case was registered against him with the Fateh Jang police. However, he had dodged arrest,” claimed an official of the police. After the AIG reported that he was living with a family in Sector E-11, the ministry directed the police to arrest Barrett, whose multiple business entry visa was otherwise valid till November 2 this year. The man’s visa was cancelled on May 20 after he was blacklisted.

The ministry directed the Islamabad police to deport Barrett before June 4. However, he could not be arrested before Friday, June 11.

Sources maintain that security agencies had been trailing Barrett for a long time for ‘suspicious activities’ and his visits to areas with sensitive installations, including nuclear facilities at Jhang Bahtar near Fateh Jang.

He has been married to a Pakistani girl for almost three-and-a-half years. Earlier, the couple had been living with the girl’s parents in Sector G-8/1. Later, the Barrett family moved to Sector E-11.

Security officials said Barrett told them he was “enjoying married life peacefully in Pakistan without indulging in any unlawful activity”.

Police said that, although his family did not resist the arrest, his father-in-law, who is a lawyer, later went to the ministry of interior and protested against Barrett’s arrest. He maintained that his son-in-law’s arrest was unlawful.

Once deported after being black-listed, Barrett will never be able to return to Pakistan.

There was no news since then and I failed so far to find any further background information on one Matthew Craig Barrett that would fit to this person. Please help.

From his age, agility and "having visited 60 countries" Barrett could well be a military or CIA spook. Marriage to a Pakistani woman would be a nice background for a long-term agent. But Barrett could of course also be just a normal innocent man. But why then would the U.S. media be quiet about him?

What is your take?

UPDATE (Sep 2, 2011): The story continues: Some News On Matthew Craig Barrett.

Posted by b on June 14, 2011 at 11:34 AM | Permalink | Comments (17)

June 13, 2011

My Call For Silent Protests

Earlier this year I called for an afternoon of "silent protests" against the last election results for the German government. There was a pretty good response. Hundreds of people met me on the sidewalks of Spitalerstrasse, a main shopping street here, and, as requested, people kept pretty silent. No one shouted any slogans.


Silent protests in Hamburg

There were some haunting moments when police showed up from their nearby post. We successfully ignored them and they only picked up some punks who were just caught shoplifting. As you can tell from the picture, my call for "silent protests" was a great success.

I was therefore not astonished to see the Iranian opposition copying my concept:

Tehran - The Iranian opposition on Sunday called for silent protests against the government on the second anniversary of the disputed presidential election, opposition websites reported.

Those "silent protests" called for yesterday seem indeed to have happened. But the news accounts on them vary a quite a bit. I wonder why that might be so.

Let's start with the LA Times:

Two years to the day after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won a highly disputed election victory amid allegations of fraud, sparking a months-long uprising, small gatherings of possible protesters were easily dispersed in central Tehran on Sunday.

A witness spotted a police van with three young men detained inside on Vali Asr Street. But there were no other signs of protest or slogans chanted.

Hmm ... "possible protesters" - why only "possible"?

The AFP account:

Security forces were deployed on part of Tehran's longest avenue, Vali Asr street, which bisects the capital from north to south, and in nearby areas, [witnesses] said.

However, small groups of people were seen on the avenue as well as in Vanak Square, in apparent response to calls for a demonstration by the opposition.

Okay, so there were "small groups of people" seen along Tehran's biggest street (10.7 miles long). Good.

The Associated Press:

Iranian police swinging clubs chased protesters and made arrests yesterday to disperse hundreds of people who gathered in the capital to mark the second anniversary of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed reelection, the opposition said.

The opposition said something. A big thanks to AP for letting us know what the opposition said. While you are at it AP, what did happen in Tehran?

The U.S. sponsored RFE/RL site has this:

A demonstrator told RFE/RL's Radio Farda that many opposition supporters marched under the eyes of the security forces.

"We started walking on Vali Asr Street. As [expected], special forces were deployed on both sides of the street like a human wall," the man said. "But people ignored them and continued walking on the sidewalks without chanting."

The Wall Street Journal report hits the ball out of the park:

BEIRUTTens of thousands of Iranians marked the second anniversary of the 2009 turbulent presidential elections that sparked an uprising with a nationwide silent march against the government on Sunday.

In Tehran about 15,000 people congregated along the capital's famous Vali Asr Avenue, historically the scene of opposition protests, on late Sunday afternoon, quietly marching up and down the sidewalk, witnesses said. Similar protests were planned in other cities.

So we have "small gatherings of possible(!) protesters", "small groups of people", "hundreds of people", "tens of thousands" all on the sidewalks of a 10.7 miles long busy big street, "congregating" and of course, not chanting.

Could it be that there were no protests at all? That while some exile Iranians called for "silent protests" the local western media stingers only reported seeing people in a busy street. Could the Wall Street Journal reporting from Tehran Beirut be a bit off in its interpretation? Maybe.

Whatever. I am convinced that the concept of "silent protests" is a good one. Try it yourself. The next time before you go downtown, call for a "silent protest" in your city. You should of course have a decent cause fitting the 140 character Twitter limit. Then, when downtown, you will be astonished how many people will join your cause, walking with you on the sidewalks without chanting. Maybe you will even get the Wall Street Journal to report on it - from Beirut.

Posted by b on June 13, 2011 at 12:03 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)

Who Financed Tom MacMaster?

The Gay Girl In Damaskus blog, which made the Syrian government look bad, was a hoax.

[On] Sunday, the truth spilled out: The gay girl in Damascus confessed to being a 40-year-old American man from Georgia.

The Electronic Intifada was the first to find the man and the Washington Post story builds on that report. But while the reporter at the Washington Post seem to have interviewed Tom MacMaster, the man who confessed of being the sockpuppeteer, they left out an important question. Here is how they describe him:

MacMaster, a Middle East peace activist who is working on his master’s degree at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, ...
...
... he said Friday, reached in Istanbul, where he is vacationing with his wife, a graduate student working on a PhD in international relations.
...
... Stone Mountain, Ga. Local real estate records show that MacMaster has owned the house since 2000 and that he and his wife lived there until they left for Scotland in September 2010.
Sam MacMaster said his brother was offered a full scholarship from Emory University, which he chose for the school’s expertise on the Austro-Goths. Once there, however, MacMaster quickly switched his specialization to Arabic studies. Later, he traveled to Syria and Jordan to perfect his language skills.
...
Tom MacMaster’s interest in Syria also seems to have been deepened by his 2007 marriage to Britta Froelicher, a woman he met in Georgia through an online dating site. MacMaster said in the interview from Turkey that he and Froelicher traveled to Syria in 2008. In the same interview, Froelicher said she is working on a PhD at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, focusing on Syrian economic development.

A forty year old man who is still working on his master degree, married to a wife who is also yet to finish her academic degree. They both travel multiple times to Turkey, Syria and Jordan. He owns a house.

The question the WaPo reporter, and other media accounts on the story, do not answer is: Who is financing the MacMasters?

It is not normal for someone being forty to still work on a master degree. It is not normal for a pair who still are going to school to travel multiple times to Jordan, Syria and Turkey. It is not normal to become rich enough tio buy a house by being a Middle East peace activist. Unless of course one gets paid to be exactly that.

Someone must have financed the time it took MacMaster to write all the "exchanges" he had with that fictitious gay girl. Who was it?

Posted by b on June 13, 2011 at 03:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (39)

June 11, 2011

Dana Rohrabacher: "Fighting For Freedom" - But Only If You Pay

It would seem to me that Rep. Rohrabacher's visit to Iraq did not increase the chance for any future stationing of U.S. soldiers there:

The Iraqi government also rejected Rohrabacher's other request during the meeting that "once Iraq becomes a very rich and prosperous country" it would give "some consideration" to "repaying the United States some of the mega-dollars we spent here the last eight years."

Iraqi spokesman Dabbagh said: "Thank you very much for liberating Iraq, but sorry, you're not going to get a cent."

For Rohrabacher "liberation" and "freedom" is obviously all about getting paid. Earlier this week he demand money from the rebels in Libya:

US Congressman Dana Rohrabacher yesterday announced his withdrawal of support for the Libyan opposition movement on the grounds that the National Transition Council based in Benghazi has not agreed to repay the US for the cost of the anti-Gaddafi campaign.
...
After meeting the opposition council’s delegation, Rohrabacher gave them an ultimatum that if he was not provided with assurances regarding costs that the US has already paid and will continue to pay by the time he arrived in Doha, he would withdraw his support for their resistance movement. The opposition delegation then returned to Benghazi to deliberate, but have not yet made a statement either approving or rejecting his proposal, which Rohrabacher has taken to be a sign of rejection.

One might even admire that Rohrabacher is open and honest about what it is all about - money. But this comes from a man who on his website pretends to be "Fighting for Freedom."

bigger

Is pimping out U.S. forces as mercenaries for rebels part of "Fighting for Freedom" or is it Rohrabacher's idea of "Having Fun"?

Posted by b on June 11, 2011 at 09:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (12)

June 10, 2011

Gates Kills Nato - Good

Gates rebukes European allies in farewell speech

“The blunt reality is that there will be dwindling appetite and patience in the U.S. Congress, and in the American body politic writ large, to expend increasingly precious funds on behalf of nations that are apparently unwilling to devote the necessary resources ... to be serious and capable partners in their own defense,” he said in an address to a think tank in Brussels.

The speech comes as the United States prepares to begin withdrawing some of its forces from Afghanistan this summer and as it and other NATO powers engage in an air campaign against the forces of Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi. In both cases, Gates said, budget cuts and sheer reluctance among European partners to fight have made the missions significantly more difficult and shifted the burden onto the United States.

What utter nonsense.

What please is the relation of the defense of European countries, which is NATO's charter task, and the U.S. wars of aggression in Afghanistan and Libya?

There is none.

Gates even said himself that Libya is not a vital interest. For the Europeans the case is even worse. Gaddhafi ruling Libya is much better for European interests than a civil war in Libya. He holds the emigrants back, the Islamists down, sells us oil and buys our industrial wares. He even gave up his nascent nuke program. What's not to like with that? Napozy will differ on this only for personal reasons.

As a European and despite the risk, I'd be happy if the U.S. would leave NATO. Rename it to European Union Treaty Organization and leave it to its original defensive purpose. There is nothing to win for Europeans in providing a military and financial support group for U.S. attempts of world wide hegemony. Nothing.

Europeans know this and Gates hectoring, citing two case as justification that have zero to do with European defense, will go down badly with them. My hope, that Libya will be the straw that breaks NATO's back, seems to come true.

There is a piece somewhat critical of Gates at Foreign Policy which calls him "a competent executor and skilled promoter of bad policies". Gates is neither competent nor skilled. That speech is only the last proof. He is a pompous, arrogant and useless man, just like his predecessor Rumsfeld was. Then again, if this speech helps to kill NATO, he may have done some unintended good.

Posted by b on June 10, 2011 at 02:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (21)

How A Fiscal Policy Gridlock Creates Revolutions

There was a pessimistic but mostly unremarkable speech by Fed chief Bernanke on Tuesday which the stock markets did not like. But the Economist finds that Wednesdays speech by the New York Fed chief Bill Dudley was more revealing. It headlines accordingly: Read this speech, then sell the dollar.

Dudley analyzes what the Fed is to do to help revive the U.S. economy. He essentially says that the U.S. has to deflate the dollar to export more and it can not help if that drives up commodity prices around the world. Like Bernanke he did not announce a third round of "quantitative easing", i.e. large scale money printing by the Fed, but that is the logical consequence of his analysis and the major tool the Fed has to drive the dollar down.

I do not agree with Dudley. What is primarily needed is more demand stimulus in the U.S. This is a fiscal task, not a monetary one. It could be achieved by taking money from the richest 1% and distributing it to the poorest 25%. It could also be achieved by the government spending more and taking on more debt. But Obama and Congress are not in the mood to do their job and therefore the Fed will be pressed to help out.

As long time Fed watcher William Pesek explains it:

The first round of quantitative easing stabilized the U.S. financial system and calmed nerves around the globe. The second one disappointed, as evidenced by the slowest pace of growth in U.S. payrolls in eight months during May.

Congress is gridlocked, making new fiscal stimulus measures unlikely. That leaves the onus on Bernanke to pump liquidity into the economy. He will face huge resistance from those worried that he’s debasing the dollar, yet Bernanke may have no choice.

Political gridlock in Washington makes sane fiscal policy impossible. The Fed will be asked to help out. This even while the negative consequences of further money printing are much larger, locally in the U.S. but also world wide, than those of more U.S. government debt.

Currencies in the emerging economies, especially in Asia, are rising against the dollar. Dollar denominated commodities are also again on the rise. For the people in the U.S. this will mean higher cost of living even while the high unemployment rate will prevent any wage increases. The standard of living will go down.

But rising commodity prices has also large geopolitical consequences. The two graphs in this piece make pretty much clear that the Fed's second round of quantitative easing led to a lockstep increase in commodity prices. Sharply increasing bread prices (food is just an energy storing commodity) in some poor countries then led to revolution attempts in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere. Sure, rising bread prices were not the only reason for those revolutions, but as the second chart in the link above shows, they are historically a very significant factor.

As the Fed now plans again to use its magic by creating more dollars from hot air, thereby increasing dollar denomitated commodity prices, brace yourself for more upheaval all around the world. And for more wars.

Posted by b on June 10, 2011 at 01:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Navi Pillay Against Universal Human Rights

Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, on Syria:

"It is utterly deplorable for any government to attempt to bludgeon its population into submission, using tanks, artillery and snipers. "I urge the government to halt this assault on its own people's most fundamental human rights," Pillay said.

Why please is it supposed to be special if some regime kills "its own" people? Saying such obviously implies that a regime killing other people is of less concern.

Bush said 'Saddam kills his own people' and then joined him in that effort. Did the fact that Bush came from the outside and killed foreigners make his murdering a lesser crime?

Using such propaganda term is despicable. Especially when used by someone who should be concerned with universal human rights.

Posted by b on June 10, 2011 at 02:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

June 09, 2011

The AfPak Tanker War

The campaign against tankers trucking fuel for NATO from Karachi to Afghanistan is back in full force after a lull earlier this year.

While now only some 50% of the fuel needed in Afghanistan is coming through Pakistan, the total fuel need has nearly doubled over the last year due to the "surge", the buildup of Afghan forces and an increased operations. It would be impossible to fight this war if that line-of-communication gets interrupted.

Here is a, likely incomplete, list of recent attacks on NATO tankers. The losses are significant:

Explosion destroys Nato tanker in Khyber, June 9

PESHAWAR: A Nato oil tanker was destroyed following an explosion in the Khyber tribal region on Thursday, DawnNews quoted security sources as saying.

Eight Nato supply tankers torched, June 8

KHYBER AGENCY – As many as eight Nato oil supply tankers were torched on Tuesday here in Torkham, political administration and Khasadar sources said.

Five Nato tankers burn in explosion, June 7

PESHAWAR: A Pakistani government official says five Nato oil tankers burned after an explosion at the Afghan border.

Two Nato tankers gutted, June 6
QUETTA - Two tankers carrying supplies for the Nato forces stationed in Afghanistan were torched in two separate incidents in Bolan and Khuzdar districts of Balochistan on Sunday.

Miscreants set NATO supply oil tanker on fire, June 5

According to details, an oil tanker was carrying oil for the NATO forces percent in Afghanistan from Karachi through Sibi, three unknown miscreants targeted this oil tanker near Konbari Bridge in Bolan.

Two NATO oil tankers torched in Nasirabad, June 1

QUETTA: The driver of a NATO oil tanker was injured while two tankers were torched in Mastung and Wadh areas, respectively, on Tuesday.

Two NATO tankers torched in Pakistan, May 31

The attack took place on Tuesday morning, when unknown gunmen opened fire on the oil tankers in Khuzdar district of the volatile Balochistan province, local police told Press TV.

3 NATO Tankers destroyed in separate incidents: One killed , May 31

QUETTA: Three NATO Tankers were destroyed and a person was killed in two separate incidents in Mastong and Khuzdar hereon Tuesday.

Driver killed, 4 injured in 3 NATO oil tankers collision, May 26

NOWSHERA: Driver was killed and four were injured when three NATO oil tankers collided with each other on Nowshera-Peshawar G.T. Road while overtaking from the wrong side hereon Thursday.
...
Two of the tankers were completely destroyed and thousands liters of oil spilled over the G.T. Road.

15 dead in NATO tanker fire in Pakistan: officials, May 20

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — A bomb attack Saturday on a NATO fuel tanker headed to Afghanistan sparked a huge fire that killed 15 people who had rushed to collect petrol leaking from the bombed-out vehicle.
...
Earlier, 11 other NATO supply vehicles, "most of them oil tankers" were destroyed at a terminal in nearby Torkham town, another administration official, Iqbal Khattak, said, but there were no casualties.

19 Nato tankers torched near Torkham, May 15

LANDIKOTAL: The number of Nato oil tankers that were burnt in bomb blast near Afghan border Friday night reached 19, as 14 more tankers caught fire early Saturday, official sources said.

Posted by b on June 9, 2011 at 11:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (24)

Miscellaneous 'Conspiracies' (I)

The Gay Girl In Damaskus blogger is a virtual person. A fake:

No individual has been identified who can confirm they have met Araf or spoken to her by Skype or telephone.
...
On an earlier blog, dated December 2007, the author wrote she would post "samples of fiction and literature I am working on. This blog will have what may sometimes seem likely deeply personal accounts. And sometimes they will be. But there will also be fiction. And I will not tell you which is which."

Was the real writer Abe Foxman? See also: The fake Syrian army deserter.

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Obama pours oil into the Yemeni fire and kills more civilians: U.S. Is Intensifying a Secret Campaign of Yemen Airstrikes

On Friday, American jets killed Abu Ali al-Harithi, a midlevel Qaeda operative, and several other militant suspects in a strike in southern Yemen. According to witnesses, four civilians were also killed in the airstrike.

Abu Ali al-Harthi - hmm? (Also here):

Abu Ali al-Harthi was killed in a car with five of his cell associates - Kamal Derwish, and other four Al Qaeda operatives on 11/03/2002, by a missile from an UAV - Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, on a road 160 km east of the Yemeni capital Sanaa, in Marib province.

Is the CIA just recycling its old terrorist names list?

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Remarkable: Six former ambassadors to Iran, from Britain, Germany, France, Belgium, Italy and Sweden say: Iran is not in breach of international law
[H]owever, nothing in international law or in the non-proliferation treaty forbids uranium enrichment. Several other countries, parties or not to the treaty, enrich uranium without being accused of "threatening the peace". And in Iran, this activity is submitted to inspections by the IAEA inspections.

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Greatings from Captain Obvious:

Fukushima nuclear plant may have suffered 'melt-through', Japan admits

When the Japanese government says "may have" we can be assured that it has proof that this indeed has happened.

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The so-called superpowers. When the Soviets retreated from Afghanistan they:

arranged local cease fires, hired local security forces and paid guerrilla groups not to attack them.

As the U.S. retreats from Iraq its exit strategy:

calls for the military to give cash payments of $10,000 a month to 10 tribal leaders.

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A little late for doing Respice Finem ...

Three month after starting a war that would take "days not weeks" NATO Hopes to Pass the Buck in Libya, But May Not Be Able to Hand Off Responsibility

"We do not see a lead role for NATO in Libya once this crisis is over," the organization's Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Wednesday. "We see the United Nations playing a lead role in the post-Gaddafi, post-conflict scenario." He urged the international body to begin planning to take charge of a transition in Libya.

How pathetic. There isn't even an end in sight of this "crisis" . And what is the UN to do? Occupy Libya against its own SC resolution? With who's troops? I call for sending Susan Rice and Samantha Power. No bodyguards needed. The Libyans will love them. Candy and flowers ...

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Remember this song?

Ninety-nine red balloons
Floating in the summer sky
Panic bells, it's red alert
There's something here from somewhere else
The war machine springs to life
Opens up one eager eye
Focusing it on the sky
As ninety-nine red balloons go by

Seems it was prophetic:

Being on a night watch, a dispatcher of an airbase suddenly noticed a group of bright lights in the sky, which he took for an air attack from Lebanon or Syria.

For 40 minutes, two [Israeli] battle-planes and two helicopters were looking for the mysterious enemy. Finally, it turned out that the lights were really… the constellation of Cassiopeia.

The story reflects the quality of the IDF. And these idiots think about attacking Iran?

Posted by b on June 9, 2011 at 06:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (11)

June 08, 2011

The RAND Report That Wasn't One

Updated below

A somewhat curious news piece appeared yesterday in the Israel Ynetnews, the British Daily Mail and was picked up at the Weekly Standard and elsewhere.

The Iranian regime is closer than ever before to creating a nuclear bomb, according to RAND Corporation researcher Gregory S. Jones.

At its current rate of uranium enrichment, Tehran could have enough for its first bomb within eight weeks, Jones said in a report published this week.

He added that despite reports of setbacks in its nuclear program, the Iranian regime is steadily progressing towards a bomb. Unfortunately, Jones says, there is nothing the US can do to stop Tehran, short of military occupation.

The researcher based his report on recent findings by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), published two weeks ago. Making the bomb will take around two months, he says, because constructing a nuclear warhead is a complicated step in the process.

While one Gregory S. Jones is a RAND staff member, I first failed to find the report he allegedly published. His last one listed on his RAND publications page is from 2009 and headlined "The Global Technology Revolution China, In-Depth Analyses: Emerging Technology Opportunities for the Tianjin Binhai New Area (TBNA) and the Tianjin Economic-Technological Development Area (TEDA)". Hmmm ... Mr Gregory Jones' academic qualification is a BA in biology. While he has written for RAND about proliferation years ago I find nothing there that lets me assume that he ever worked on the Iran issue.

But what is even more curious is that RAND indeed published a report on Iran yesterday: Iran's Nuclear Future - Critical U.S. Policy Choices. The authors are Lynn E. Davis, Jeffrey Martini, Alireza Nader, Dalia Dassa Kaye, James T. Quinlivan and Paul Steinberg.

No Gregory S. Jones there.

The report, financed by the U.S. Air Force, is not about stopping Iran's civil nuclear program but about policy alternatives on how to handle the country in general. It contains the usual boilerplate but certainly nothing about "military occupation". Indeed it recommends selective engagement of Tehran on several issues. Marc Pyruz at Uskowi on Iran thinks its good but finds the RAND report's selectiveness in engaging schizophrenic:

While the policy advocacy of limited cooperation with the Islamic Republic of Iran is encouraging, one wonders why such advocacy is not also inclusive of Iran's nuclear program, such as adopting or building upon one of Iran's numerous compromise offers such as the one outlined in the Tehran Declaration of 2010.

But back to the issue of Mr. Jones. I finally found his report via a link at Business Insider. It is a simple five pager issued on June 2 without any letterhead or mentioning of RAND. It does some very simplified calculation of possible enrichment scenarios Iran could take in Natanz or elsewhere. Its exaggerated time-line calculations totally ignore that any higher enrichment in the Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP) in Natanz would require a serious reconfiguration of the enrichment cascades working there as well as the need to solve other technical problems and details of building a bomb. Jones also includes this falsehood:

since the FEP is not continuously monitored by the IAEA, the process could be well along or even completed before it was discovered.

Anyone with a bit of knowledge on the issue knows that the plant is Natanz is under 24/7 IAEA video observation. There are radiation detectors installed which immediately would let ring bells in Vienna should they sniff some higher enriched stuff and IAEA inspectors regularly visit the plant unannounced. Joshua Pollack, who certainly knows more about nuclear stuff than any BA program in biology will have taught, finds that safeguards at Natanz are sound and cheating them impossible.

Jones' short paper also quotes Bibi Netanyahoo, which might hint to who paid him for writing it. It was published at the website of the Nonproliferation Education Center which is led by the hawkish rightwinger Henry Sokolski.

My guess here is that someone wanted to preempt the real RAND report, which recommends to:

Pursue bilateral dialogues related to areas of common interest, such as instability in Iraq and Afghanistan, narcotics trafficking, natural disaster relief, refugees, and other humanitarian crises.

This by playing up an amateurishly moonlighted report by Gregory Jones. Ynetnews and others are scare quoting an unqualified RAND member's private report while on the same day a real RAND report is issued which includes the recommendation to engage Iran. That real report and its recommendation for engagement will of course be ignored by the very same news sites.

UPDATE: Via claudio in comments here, RAND now officially distances itself from Mr. Jones' paper: Paper on Iran Nuclear Materials Not Produced by RAND

A paper regarding Iran's efforts to produce nuclear materials has been erroneously referred to in some media reports as a RAND study. It was written by Gregory Jones, a part-time adjunct staff member, on his own time, and was published by the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center. The paper was not related to a RAND project and not reviewed for quality and objectivity by RAND. RAND has a considerable body of research on Iran and related topics which may be found here: http://www.rand.org/topics/iran.html.

Some media outlets have gone so far as to suggest that RAND, via the paper, advocated an attack on Iran to halt its development of nuclear materials. RAND has done no such thing. RAND is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization dedicated to rigorous research and analysis, and we believe it is important to correct such errors in coverage.

I somewhat doubt that Mr. Gregory Jones will be welcome for further studies at RAND.

Posted by b on June 8, 2011 at 11:43 AM | Permalink | Comments (12)

June 07, 2011

More Thoughts On Syria

Syria claims that 120 security forces where killed yesterday in a fight around the town Jisr al-Shughour.

Tony Karon, with whom I usually agree, believes that this, be it true or not, will be a justification for further state action. But he does not think that there will be any "western" intervention.

I am sure of the first part. What else can a state do when faced with an armed rebellion? On the second point I am pretty sure that there is already foreign intervention in Syria, mostly with money from the Gulf, but also through the various "western" clandestine services who support this or that dissident.

There is one point though where I believe Karon lost the ball. He writes:

[T]here have been growing signs in recent weeks that the violence unleashed by the armed forces to suppress civil disobedience has called forth a violent response from some opposition supporters, just as it did in Libya.

The violence by the rebels did not start in "recent weeks". It was there from the very start. Whatever there may have been of legitimate peaceful protests was immediately taken over by groups with no qualms about killing security personal or anyone else.

As Joshua Landis reported on April 11:

The Syrian revolution struck home yesterday. My wife, Manar Qash`ur [Kachour], burst into tears last night as she read the Facebook page that has kept her updated on events in her hometown, Latakia. Lt. Colonel Yasir Qash`ur, who was Manar’s cousin and 40 years old, was shot in Banyas on Sunday. He was one of two Lt. Colonels and 10 military personnel killed – more were wounded. Yasir’s funeral was held in the village this morning – Monday. My brother-in-law, Firas, and father-in-law, Shaaban, both attended.

"Western" media, quoting "Syrian activists" from Sweden, Spain and Washington DC, to report of peaceful protests that are met by brutal state forces while ignoring the rebels weapons are just spewing propaganda.

Landis also provides a report of outside forces behind the rebels. The 80-year-old veteran Syrian human rights lawyer Haytham al-Maleh was released from prison on March 8. He is certainly not a friend of the regime. He was interviewed by Alix Van Buren, a veteran reporter for la Repubblica, Italy’s leading newspaper, in Damascus. Van Buren writes:

Haytham al-Maleh was the most explicit in pointing to the meddling of Khaddam people in and around Banias. He also mentioned the “loose dogs” loyal to Rifa’t al-Assad. According to him they are active particularly along the coast between Tartous and Latakya.

Van Burens full interview with al-Maleh in Italian and in English as computer translation.

I continue to stick to my earlier analysis:

Unlike in Egypt there is no sign that the army will abandon the ruling government. [..] There is no sign that a majority or even significant minority of Syrians has any interest in violent regime change.

My current assessment is therefor that the regime will now put up a bit of a fight and, if it can stomach to do that harshly enough, it will win this fight.

Posted by b on June 7, 2011 at 10:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (15)

June 06, 2011

Less Troops In Afghanistan? Unlikely

The Obama re-election committee wants to let the Obamanits know that his
national security team is contemplating troop reductions in Afghanistan that would be steeper than those discussed even a few weeks ago, with some officials arguing that such a change is justified by the rising cost of the war and the death of Osama bin Laden, which they called new “strategic considerations.”
Significant less troops in Afghanistan?

Not.Gonna.Happen.

This is just feigning a discussion. In all decisions Obama has so far always taken the more conservative side of the issue in question. That side wants all troops to stay in Afghanistan and only made a token withdrawal offer of some 3,000-5,000 troops. These troops leaving will be "fobbits", administrative personal that sits in Forward Operation Bases and can do the job from anywhere else on the planed without any problems. That is what Gates wants, the military leadership wants, the new CIA head Petreaus wants and the new Secretary of Defense Panetta likely wants. Biden? Who cares what he says?

The bulk of the troops will stay in Afghanistan at least until 2014. Then a new war will have to be found to allow for significant troop reduction in Afghanistan while keeping the money flowing to the defense contractors.

These well placed rumors of "contemplation" and "deliberate decision making" get only launched to keep up a fake Obama image. The issue is likely already decided. There will be no significant troops reduction from Afghanistan within the next year or two.

Posted by b on June 6, 2011 at 12:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

June 05, 2011

Open Thread - June 5

The is one of these days where one starts to write one piece, for example about Yemen where a well aimed mortar round took Saleh out of business, only to discover after hours of research that the place is so complicate that I has no hunch of the possible outcome there.

Then one starts another piece on another issue, changing opinions in Israel on Iran, just to end up in another dead end with nothing sharp to say.

Luckily there is always a resort for a blogger who finds he has nothing to say. Just post another open thread.

Have at it.

Posted by b on June 5, 2011 at 01:48 PM | Permalink | Comments (75)

June 04, 2011

The Taliban As Clausewitz' "Landsturm"

In the other thread today I linked to the (rather flowery) piece by Anna Badkhen, which describes how the Taliban are slowly and rather silently move into and take the districts in the northern Afghan province Balkh, around the city of Mazar a Sharif.

On Sunday, a police official recited to me a grim roster. "As of 10:30 this morning, we no longer control the villages of Karaghuzhlah, Khairabad, Karshigak, Zadyan, Shingilabad, Joi Arab, Shahraq...." The list went on; the officer named about two dozen villages. Some of them quiver in diffraction only a few miles away from Mazar-e-Sharif, the provincial capital.

Four weeks after the Taliban announced the beginning of their annual spring offensive, the insurgents have quietly taken over most of Balkh.

What the Taliban are (again) implementing in Balkh, practically in the backyards of the German ISAF garrisons there, is a classic "Landsturm" campaign as envisioned by the often mentioned but little read German officer and strategist Carl von Clausewitz around 1810.

When Prussia, then still powerless, was threatened and later occupied by Napoleon's army, Clausewitz proposed to the king the "arming of the nation". This was a quite new concept as at that time usually only standing armies would fight each other. But the Prussian king did not like the concept of enabling the peasantry and instead signed a humbling peace deal with Napoleon. Clausewitz, incensed about this national treason, resigned from the Prussian army and joined the Russian one which was next on Naploeon's list. There he implemented his concept and it thoroughly defeated Napoleon's army.

C.v.Clausewitz, On War, Chapter 26 - Arming the Nation (this is one paragraph in the original here split for readability)

National levies and armed peasantry cannot and should not be employed against the main body of the enemy's army, or even against any considerable corps of the same, they must not attempt to crack the nut, they must only gnaw on the surface and the borders.

They should rise in the provinces situated at one of the sides of the theatre of war, and in which the assailant does not appear in force, in order to withdraw these provinces entirely from his influence. Where no enemy is to be found, there is no want of courage to oppose him, and at the example thus given, the mass of the neighboring population gradually takes fire. Thus the fire spreads as it does in heather, and reaching at last that part of the surface of the soil on which the aggressor is based, it seizes his lines of communication and preys upon the vital thread by which his existence is supported.
...

Armed peasants [..] when broken, disperse in all directions, for which no formal plan is required; through this circumstance, the march of every small body of troops in a mountainous, thickly wooded, or even broken country, becomes a service of a very dangerous character, for at any moment a combat may arise on the march; if in point of fact no armed bodies have even been seen for some time, yet the same peasants already driven off by the head of a column, may at any hour make their appearance in its rear.

If it is an object to destroy roads or to block up a defile; the means which outposts or detachments from an army can apply to that purpose, bear about the same relation to those furnished by a body of insurgent peasants, as the action of an automaton does to that of a human being.

The enemy has no other means to oppose to the action of national levies except that of detaching numerous parties to furnish escorts for convoys to occupy military stations, defiles, bridges, etc.

In proportion as the first efforts of the national levies are small, so the detachments sent out will be weak in numbers, from the repugnance to a great dispersion of forces; it is on these weak bodies that the fire of the national war usually first properly kindles itself, they are overpowered by numbers at some points, courage rises, the love of fighting gains strength, and the intensity of this struggle increases until the crisis approaches which is to decide the issue.

Disperse into the provinces, inflame the population, attack logistic routes and small patrols, coerce the occupier to disperse his force further and hit hard on those small dispersed elements. Rinse, repeat. It works. Remarkably and unlike in other cases Clausewitz provides no recipe against this strategy. There is none.

I find it somewhat ironic that the German (and U.S.) army will get kicked out of Afghanistan by an enemy that follows, by the book, the 200 years old ideas of the best known German military-strategic thinker.

Posted by b on June 4, 2011 at 02:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (15)

A US Tourist's Death In Panjsher?

A weird story about a tourist killed in Afghanistan: American beaten to death in Panjsher

The incident took place while the American was travelling along with a woman to the Mokni valley of Khanj district for sightseeing.

Provincial council head, Atta Mohammad Amiri, told Pajhwok Afghan News the woman fell after crashing into a donkey.

As a result, the official said, the woman was about to fall into a deep ravine. The donkey driver came to her rescue. The tourist shot him injured, he said.

Outraged by the shooting, residents thrashed the American to death, he added.

"Villagers could not tolerate the attack on the man and attacked the American," witness Mohammad Musa said. The US national was beaten with sticks and stoned him to death, he added.

It reminds me on the last lines of the Kipling poem The Young British Soldier

When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An' go to your Gawd like a soldier.

Other news from Afghanistan.

My fellow Germans are losing the north to the Taliban writes Anna Badkhen:

Four weeks after the Taliban announced the beginning of their annual spring offensive, the insurgents have quietly taken over most of Balkh.

And as Graeme Smith reports the most brutal war lord in the south, Razik, just got a promotion. This will make already difficult negotiations with the Taliban even more difficult.

But back to the first story. A U.S. tourist in Panjshir? Really?

Posted by b on June 4, 2011 at 06:28 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

June 03, 2011

Israel Moving Against Hizb's Long Range Missiles?

The folks at the Friday Lunch Club say: Keep an eye on the Golan this Sunday ...

I donno. I hope I am wrong!

Let me guess...

The Palestinian exiles in Lebanon and Syria plan a march to the Israeli borders on Sunday to remind of the Nakba. The last time they did this, on May 15, the Israelis just shot into the crowds and killed at least 11 people. Normally I would expect just a repeat of that scenario.

But this time the IDF says:

"We are preparing on all possible fronts and we will position both command and troops at forward positions," Gantz said ahead of upcoming Naksa Day border protests.

This is very curious. A military does not move command posts forward if it expects a static battle at the current line of conflict, the border. The commands post are already positioned adequate for a border trouble. Putting command posts forward is a typical move when one plans an attack and wants to keep the command in reach of the front line even while the front moves forward.

With Assad busy in Syria to keep the revolts down, could Israel try something nefarious along the Golan line?

And what could this be?

Speculation: Blitzkrieg against Hizbullah's long range missiles in the Bekaa Valley:

bigger

  • Main move: Three brigades starting from the Golan towards the north east into Syria. The brigade on the right stays in Syria. Main task: interupt the road Damaskus-Beirut and holds the right flank.
  • The left and middle brigades turn north west and through the mountain gap into Lebanon and towards the Bekaa Valley. Once in Lebanon the middle brigade will proceed to the Bekaa Valley. Main task: find and destroy Hizbullah's long range missiles and their command and control facilities.
  • The brigade on the left will turn south west to get into the back of Hizbullah's main defense line in south Lebanon which is along the northern bank of the lower Litani river. Main task: Keep Hizbullah forces in that line hunkered down to prevent them reinforcing Bekaa.
  • Have reinforcements coming along immediately behind the two brigades which jump into Lebanon. 
  • Secondary move: Two brigades from Israel push directly north, one left, one right, towards and beyond the border. This not so much to push through Hizbullah's front line units at the border but to keep them in place and busy.
  • Additional units come over the sea into Lebanon to disrupt north-south supply lines near the coast.

With Hizbullah's long range missiles destroyed in a fast powerful move, while Bashar Assad is in trouble and can not resupply them, Israel could regain some freedom of action without having to fear a long term missile bombardment on its cities.

UPDATE: Palestinians cancel Naksa Day march to Israel-Lebanon border

Hmmm ...

Posted by b on June 3, 2011 at 03:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (19)

DDoouubbllee DDiipp

bigger

The unemployment rate in the U.S. is again increasing. Interest rates for 10 year bonds are again down to 3%. The manufacturing index still shows some growth but less than in earlier months.

The U.S. is on its way back to into recession. One can fault the Obama stimulus spending for this. As it is running out, the economic activity it created declines. But to blame the stimulus would of course be stupid.

The real problem is that the underlying structural problems which created the recession in the first place have not been cleaned up. The high octane stimulus was supposed to restart the economic machine, but it is still broken and unrepaired. Even a bigger stimulus would not have helped, it just would have taken a bit longer for the decline to reappear. The structural problems underlying the mess have to be cleaned up for some generic, self driven economic growth to come back.

The main structural problem, at least in the U.S., is the indebtedness of the consumers. They were scammed, by professional marketing but also by self-illusion, into buying overvalued house with funny money the banks handed out like candy. The best, fastest and most painless way to correct the indebtedness is to write down the mortgage principles to some 80% of the real value of the houses the people bought. Additionally the structures of Wall Street that created the mess must be taken down to prevent a reoccurrence.

The banks and investment vehicles which bought funny money mortgage papers would suffer as they should. But consumer demand, now held back by too high debt, could then come back.

Instead we get talk about too much national debt which is somewhat idiotic. As a former econ professor of mine asked: "Who ever said that a state has to pay back its debt?" As long as a state can tax enough to pay the interest on what it owns there is no need to care for the debt level. There is also always the alternative of a national default - messy but doable.

The whole talk about U.S. national debt levels is just a scam to transfer social security and medicare programs to Wall Street. Those are the two biggest blocks of money that can be still be privatized and sucked up by Wall Street and it is seriously trying to get that done. If Obama continues on the path he has followed so far they have a very good chance to succeed.

So while the second leg of the double dip appears, watch out even further below. With privatized social security and medicare the general economic wellbeing can still get much worse than people today believe is possible.

Posted by b on June 3, 2011 at 12:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

June 02, 2011

When Business Reporters Fail In Basic Math

The New York Times' Stephanie Clifford writes on efforts to reduce plastic in packaging:

Wal-Mart Stores, which has pledged to reduce its packaging by 5 percent between 2008 and 2013, [..] has made round hydrogen peroxide bottles into square ones to cut down on plastic use.

Anyone with 8th grade geometry knowledge should immediately stumble over that claim. It is contrary to the rather trivial fact that the region with a given area and minimal circumference is the circle.

Imagine a bottle holding 1,000 cubic units (units=inch, centimeter or whatever you like). Assume that it is ten units high. 1,000 cubic units divided by 10 units height gives a bottom (and top) area of 100 square units.

For the square packaging the total area of packaging material would be bottom+top+four times the side areas, in total 6 times 10 times 10 = 600 square units.

The radius of a circular bottom with an area of 100 square unit is the square root of (area divided by Pi). For a 100 square unit area the circle radius is r = 5.64 units. The area on the side of the bottle will be the circumference of the bottem circle times its high. The circumference of a circle is 2 times Pi times r  here it is 35.44 units. The total area of the bottle side is then 10 times 35.44 units times 10 units. Adding bottom area, top area and side area gives a total surface area for the round 1,000 cubic units bottle as 554.4 square units.

As the thickness of the material for both bottles will be the same the square bottle will use 8% more plastic material than the round bottle.

Not a good way to "cut down on plastic use."

In the retail business "revenue per square foot" is a major comparative performance parameter. If Wal Mart is indeed using square bottle instead of round ones it likely does so because the square bottles require less shelf space (and transport volume) than the round bottles. 100 square bottles with the size used above can be shelved on an area of 10,000 square units. The same shelf area will only hold a maximum of 82 round bottles of the same size.

Wal Mart is not concerned about plastic usage in packaging, it is concerned about revenue per square foot because that parameter is important to stock analysts and thereby its stock value.

For someone writing in a prime newspaper on retail business one would expect a better understanding of the basics of that business. But that would require some basic math knowledge. Something Stephanie Clifford seems to lack.

Posted by b on June 2, 2011 at 09:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (15)

Israel's Hypocrisy In Dealing With Iran

The same time Bibi Netanyahoo came to Washington the treasury department published a list of companies breaking sanction against Iran which included companies from the Ofer Brothers Group, owned by the wealthiest family in Israel. Indeed many Israeli companies have business with Iran. The Ofer brothers are mainly involved in oil deals and shipping but there is much more going on:

Israeli exports to Iran focus on agricultural production means: Organic fertilizers, pierced irrigation pipes, hormones boosting milk productions and seeds.

The Iranians sell the Israelis pistachio, cashew nuts and mainly marble – one of Iran's biggest industries.

So while it is screaming about the non-existing threat from Iran and demanding more sanctions one might argue that Israel is actually using these to further its own business interests. It indeed seems like Israel itself has itself not put any sanction on Iran. According to the former Mossad chief Meir Dagan:

"There's no law saying you can't dock in Iran. [...]," Dagan said, adding: "They did not trade with Iran. They're a transportation company. And besides, there's no boycott on Iran."

It is not very astonishing to see a former Mossad head defending the Ofer brothers:

According to the source close to the Ofer family, who asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the matter, Israeli officials have been assisted in a number of cases in recent years by the Ofer family's business activities in the Persian Gulf for "national needs."

"It's no secret that the State of Israel sometimes seeks the help of business people," the source said. "Some agree and some don't."

Richard Silverstein also has a source that claims:

.. that Ofer Brothers ships docked in Iranian ports “dozens” of times in the past few years, thus allowing “numerous” Mossad agents to sneak ashore for secret missions.

This of course might explain why a Knesset committee investigation of the Ofer brother deals with Iran was immediately shut down after receiving a note from (likely) Netanyahoo's National Security Advisor Amidror:

Until less than two months ago Yaakov Amidror, the head of the National Security Council and the prime minister's national security advisor, sat on the boards of several companies of the Ofer Brother Group. The group of companies is suspected of illegal trade with Iran through subsidiaries registered abroad.

Amidror, former head of military colleges in the Israel Defense Forces and of the research department of Military Intelligence, was appointed to the board of the Israel Corporation, which is controlled by brothers Sami and Idan Ofer, in early 2007. Amidror also served on the boards of several other Ofer-controlled companies, including two subsidiaries of Zim Integrated Shipping Services. Board members of these companies are usually paid several thousand shekels for each meeting, adding up to tens of thousands of shekels per year.

So we have a huge Israeli conglomerate which seems deeply connected with the Israeli military, secret services and government and which is doing commercial business with Iran. At the same time it is helping Mossad to play its dirty tricks on Iran.

I would not be astonished if we learn that there is also some weapon trade going on here. Where those transport helicopters from the Israeli Defense Force recently found in Spain while being prepared to be sold to Iran part of an Ofer brothers' deal?

Posted by b on June 2, 2011 at 07:43 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

June 01, 2011

Obama On Iran: X Times Zero Is Greater Than Zero

With regards to Iraq's no existing WMDs, which were used to launch a war on it, the Bush administration's sell-points were not so much single pieces of (false) evidence, the Uranium from Nigeria, the bio-weapon trucks, the Antrax scare, but the sum of all of these pieces.

Even people who did not believe every single piece of the evidence could be convinced by pointing to the sum of them. A lot of dirt was thrown at Saddam's Iraq and for a lot of onlookers the amount of dirt thrown, even as it didn't stick, was enough to make Iraq look dirty.

In responses to the new Sy Hersh piece on the non-existence, which U.S. intelligence agencies confirm, of an Iranian military nuclear program, the Obama administration is now using exactly the same tactics. It asserts that the validity of each single piece of evidence is not relevant, it is simply the sum of them is what makes Iran dangerous.

In a Politico piece the administration responds directly to the Hersh piece:

“There is a clear, ongoing pattern of deception, and Iran has repeatedly refused to respond to the IAEA’s questions about the military dimensions of [its] nuclear program, including those about the covert site at Qom,” the senior administration official added. “These examples and more make us deeply skeptical of Iran’s nuclear intentions.”

The communicated strategy here is: "It is the sum of the evidence (about some of which we will not tell you), not the single explainable pieces, which makes Iran guilty."

It therefore does not matter to the "senior administration official" that the Qom sides was not secret at all. Iran declared the then still empty site to the IAEA on September 21 2009 and the Obama administration revealed it as "secret" only on September 25 2009. But that false evidence is only part of a pattern of other (likely also false) evidence and that is the reason, says Obama, why we must eventually bomb Iran.

In the New York Times the propagandist Broad lets the administration make the same point:

The seven categories of technology all bear on what can be interpreted as warhead design: how to turn uranium into bomb fuel, make conventional explosives that can trigger a nuclear blast, generate neutrons to spur a chain reaction and design nose cones for missiles.

Two diplomats familiar with the evidence, both of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity under the usual protocol, emphasized that no single one of the technologies stood out as indicating bomb work. Some, they conceded, have peaceful uses.

But the totality of the evidence, they said, suggested that Iran has worked hard on multiple fronts to advance the design of nuclear arms.

“It’s the whole variety of information,” one of the diplomats said. “You have to look at the whole thing.”

(Notice how Broad hides his sources as "diplomats" not as "foreign diplomats" as the NYT usual does when  they are not U.S. administration officials.)

But despite of what those administration stooges say, the "totality of the evidence" is not greater than zero when each and ever evidence point is zero. Any of the "seven categories of technology" has peaceful or non nuclear military purposes. Some of them are even very unlikely to be used in a military nuclear program.

A few weeks ago a scare was made of evidence of uranium deuterite as neutron generator in an Iranian bomb. As the Arms Control Wonk Jeffery Lewis pointed out:

This method is incredibly unique. Not only are there no civilian uses for imploding uranium deuteride to generate a burst of neutrons, NOT EVEN THE OTHER NUCLEAR WEAPONS PROGRAMS CONSIDERED THIS APPROACH.

Why, if Iran would build a bomb, would it use an unproven technology no one else has ever used for this purpose? Would you introduce some obscure new physics into your very first bomb if all the other experienced bomb builders used other better and by now well known, readily available and reliable methods? That is again not credible as evidence. But to the Obama administration that does not matter.

There new selling point is not the credibility of their alleged evidence, they even confirm that there is none, their selling point is the pattern THEY create by introducing all kinds of dubious technical evidence to make their case.

Posted by b on June 1, 2011 at 09:44 AM | Permalink | Comments (9)

Cyberattacks As Acts Of War

The Obama administration is introducing a new and convenient excuse to start a war with any country it wants to fight:

The US government is rewriting its military rule book to make cyber-attacks a possible act of war, giving commanders the option of launching retaliatory military strikes against hackers backed by hostile foreign powers.
...
Pentagon officials disclosed the decision to the Wall Street Journal, saying it was designed to send a warning to any hacker threatening US security by attacking its nuclear reactors, pipelines or public networks such as mass transport systems. "If you shut down our power grid, maybe we will put a missile down one of your smokestacks," an official said.

Unless one wants to use purported cyberattacks as reason to start a war, it is lunatic to consider them as equivalent to a physical attack. That the damage done by a cyberattack could have the same or even harsher than a physical attack is not relevant. A cyberattack is by definition anonymous and it is practically impossible to find out who is responsible for it.

Consider the most trivial form of cyberattacks, a denial-of-service attack which overwhelms a servers capacities like some government websites in Estonia experienced after Estonia managed to piss off some Russian nationalist scriptkiddies.

Thanks to Microsoft maleware and computerviruses can easily get installed on millions of PCs anywhere without their users knowledge. Such pieces of software can be controlled from afar and can be used to mass-attack other machines. The controlservers do not need to reside in the same country as the machines that take part in the actual attack. The controlservers themselves will likely be remote-controlled from far away and the route to the attacker may very well be untraceable.

An attack that does real damage, like deactivating powerplants, would likely be more sophisticated than a trivial botnet attack on a website. Professional planers and programmers would likely take some serious efforts to avoid any hints of its real origination.

Any cyberattack with a trace back to some assumed originator must very reasonably be seen as a false flag operation. Israel wants the U.S. to attack Iran? What better method than but to create a virus that does some damage in the U.S. while being traceable back to Iran?

On who then would the Pentagon release its response in the case of an anonymous attack or even in the case where it has some hints to the originator which may or may not be false?

The new policy does not have any deterrence effect. With some efforts anyone with a decent education in computer programming and networks can initiate a cyberattack. Ideological driven single actors or small groups are not deterred by military threats from a foreign country. Any official state attacker could easily hide its responsibility.

The only sense the announcement of the new policy makes is in preparing its abuse as a tool to start new wars.

Would Iran have been justified to send a missile through the smokestack of an U.S. frigate in retaliation of the STUXNET attack on its enrichment plant? The new Obama policy seems to answer that question with a resounding "Yes."

Posted by b on June 1, 2011 at 07:34 AM | Permalink | Comments (14)

 
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