Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
July 31, 2008

Billmon?

Is this THE Billmon?

But I was around, and following congressional politics rather closely (by which I mean professionally) when McCain first popped up on the political radar screen in 1986 during the so-called Keating Five scandal. In exchange for various regulatory favors, Keating, a wealthy and politically, um, generous, S&L executive, turned himself into the special friend of a bipartisan group of sleazebag Senators, with five in particular, including McCain, reaping most of the benefits. By modern standards (i.e. Jack Abramoff’s and Ted Steven’s standards) it was actually pretty tame stuff, but it was considered a big deal at the time)

Hmmm  ...

Go read: The Great White Hope

Thanks to furrythug and to Fran for linking this in comments.

Posted by b on July 31, 2008 at 20:20 UTC | Permalink | Comments (105)

The German 'Gas Deal' with Iran

The Jerusalem Post is miffed about a German 'gas deal' with Iran.

A parliamentary state secretary in German Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet appears to have acted illegally in influencing the country's Export Control office (BAFA) to approve a €100 million-plus deal for liquefied natural gas with Iran.
...
Critics charge Germany with not stepping up the pressure to restrict trade to Iran, and affirm its historical responsibility to secure Israel's existence. Iran's genocidal policy toward Israel is testing, for many Israelis, Germany's commitment to the Jewish state.

Germany's 'historic responsibility to secure Israel's existence'? That's a new concept to this German dude but anyway.

Laura Rozen links to the JP and asks:

German gas deal with Iran illegal? One would think this would be a subject Senators and Congressmen and the pro Israel lobby might make a stink about. If sanctions fail, military action becomes more likely. But as one trade lawyer told me, "As usual for Germany, business takes precedence."

Baloney. It is the law that takes precedence.

The are no sanctions against Iran's oil and gas industry.

Neither the UN sanctions nor EU sanction against Iran are targeting exports or imports with the Iranian oil and gas industry. There is no international or national law relevant in Germany that forbids such exports. There is no legal base to deny any company the right to export equipment to Iran. That is 'free trade' in the best sense.

Here is what happened.

The German engineering company Steiner Group got into a contract with some Iranian company  to deliver three plants to liquefy natural gas. It is a big contract of €100 million, four times the normal annual turnover of Steiner. The plants will mostly be build in Germany, shipped to Iran and set up there by the Steiner-Group engineers. There are no possible nuclear or weapon proliferation issues with such plants.

A year ago the company requested a routine export clearance from the German Federal Office of Economics and Export Control. It expected no struggle, but the clearance was delayed and delayed again.

Finally the company contacted their local parliamentarian, Mr. Hartmut Schauerte. They were lucky as Schauerte is also a member of the administration. He is parliamentary state secretary in the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology. The export control office is, as its own website says, "subordinated to the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology  (BMWi)."

The BMWi ministry's org-chart (pdf) says Schauerte:

Represents the Minister in the political arena and provides the Minister with policymaking support, particularly on small and medium-sized enterprises and bureaucracy reduction; Federal Government Commissioner for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises

With a turnover of €25 million a year, Steiner-Group is a 'medium sized enterprise'. So Schauerte did what he is supposed to do. He woke up the bureaucrats in an office subordinated to the ministry he is helping to lead and told them to do their job.

The export control office had no legal base to deny the export clearance and in the end had to issue it.

Now the bureaucrats seem to be a bit pissed, lamenting about 'independence' towards the Jerusalem Post.  They are in fact not independent but subordinated to the ministry. Their job is to make timely decisions on a legal base. There is no legal base to deny the export clearance for liquefaction plants to Iran. When the bureaucrats did not do what they were supposed to do, the relevant secretary in the ministry intervened.

There was certainly nothing illegal in this.

The Merkel government could of course introduce a law that forbids such exports to Iran. But then the German parliamentarians would have to be asked to vote for higher unemployed and less export profits. They and their voters are not inclined to do or allow such only to appease Israeli paranoia.

Posted by b on July 31, 2008 at 18:13 UTC | Permalink | Comments (15)

July 30, 2008

Good News From Turkey

The Constitutional Court in Turkey rejects the attempts to close down the ruling party:

Turkey's top court on Wednesday ruled against closing the governing AK Party for Islamist activities but decided to impose partial financial penalties on the party, chief judge Hasim Kilic said.

The threat of closing the AKP and of banning its top politicians, including the President and Prime Minister, from politics and elections was severe. This was coup attempt by legal means.

The consequences of an AKP ban would have been disastrous for Turkey and the Middle East:

  • The society in Turkey would have split further and the followers of the soft Islamic AKP would have radicalized.
  • The legal situation of the government under such a ban was totally unclear and could have led to a military coup.
  • Further steps on to EU affiliation would have been blocked.
  • Negotiations between Syria and Israel and between Iran and the U.S., facilitated by Turkey, would have stopped.

All  these dangers have now been averted. The financial penalty is unlikely to be a problem.

In 2002 the AKP government turned down U.S. requests for a 4th division attack on north Iraq through Turkey. That is one reason why neocons favored the closure of the AKP. They and Cheney would certainly have preferred a return of a hard right-wing, secular-militaristic government in Turkey.

For now the crisis is over. But the deep state in Turkey is a continuing danger and this was certainly not its last attempt to act against the will of the people.

Posted by b on July 30, 2008 at 16:41 UTC | Permalink | Comments (4)

U.S. Troops in Iraq Will Be in a Legal Danger Zone

It seems that the Iraqi prime minister Maliki and Bush are about ready to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on further U.S. troop stationing in Iraq. The MOU, as Badger reports it, says that half the U.S. troops will be gone by the end of 2009 and it includes a timetable for talks about a timetable for further troop reductions.

Some legal minds point out that without parliamentary backing such a MOU will have no legal power and might well be challenged in civil courts.

Without a sound legal framework, U.S. soldiers in Iraq might be personally liable, even in a U.S. court, for damage they create in Iraq. An officer ordering a raid could find himself getting sued for millions of dollars.

Under a new president the justice department is unlikely to cover up the issue with dubious legal opinions. One wonders how Sec. Def. Gates, the Pentagon lawyers and the U.S. troops in Iraq think about this.

Posted by b on July 30, 2008 at 15:16 UTC | Permalink | Comments (16)

Collateral Damage - Damaged Collateral

Two days ago Merrill Lynch sold some of its toxic waste CDOs to Lone Star Funds. The original value of these C.D.O.s were $30.6 billion. Merrill sold them for $6.7 billion, 22% of their original value, but at the same time made a loan of $5 billion to Lone Star. The collateral for that loan are the CDOs now owned by Lone Star. As Roubini and others point out that if the value of the CDOs sinks further and ends up below $5 billion, Merrill Lynch will again have to bear losses.

Other banks, Citigroup, Deutsche Bank, UBS,  have used the same 'trick' of lending to the buyer of their toxic waste. The method has two purposes.

For one, the banks can obfuscate their risk position. Merrill Lynch is now officially free of further risk of write downs of that CDO bundle and has only the risk of a well covered loan to a well regarded Lone Star Fund.

Another purpose of this trick is to keep the market value for these CDOs artificially high. Bank accounting regulation demands that such papers be valued 'to market'. Other CDOs Merrill still holds would have to be written down further if the sold tranche would have gone for less than 22% of its face value. By making that loan, likely to quite preferable conditions for the buyer, Merrill propped up other CDOs book value.

This is not only important for Merrill Lynch. The NYT DealBook points out:

Still, Merrill’s price of 22 cents on the dollar was held up as the new measuring stick on Tuesday, as analysts whipped out predictions for Merrill’s peers. Several focused on Citigroup, a bank with large exposure to C.D.O.’s.

Following the deal, executives at Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America began reviewing the C.D.O.’s that their companies hold on their books. Those companies may have to lower their valuations, and take additional charges, if their assets are similar to those sold by Merrill.

Citibank owns CDOs it currently values at 61 cent on the nominal dollar. Those will have to be written down to 22 cents on the dollar. Ouch.

Or even further. The National Australia Bank wrote down its AAA rated U.S. real estate backed CDOs to 10% of their face value. If that is the real fair price of such 'assets,'  Merrill is set to book $2 billion additional losses on the CDOs it 'sold' to Lone Star.

But there is a much bigger bank that will be concerned with this. The Fed lent out over $400 billion in treasury bills to banks in trouble and it took CDOs and other junk paper as collateral. The value of that collateral has now significantly declined. The Fed will have to ask these banks to put up more papers as collateral or the tax payer will, one way or another, have to cover these losses. The collateral is damaged with the U.S. taxpayer being the collateral damage.

The Fed also owns (see point 2) Maiden Lane LLC, a holding company for Bear Stearns' toxic waste the Fed took over when Bear Stearns was 'rescued' by JPMorgan. As of June 30 the Fed estimated the 'fair value' of the Maiden Lane 'assets' at $29 billion. After the Merrill Lynch and NAB write downs that estimate is likely wrong.

Posted by b on July 30, 2008 at 13:31 UTC | Permalink | Comments (8)

The Doha Failure is a Victory for the Sovereign

The failure of the Doha World Trade Organization talks is a victory for the people of all countries.

The past has seen a tendency of nations to give up their sovereignty to some unaccountable organizations or contractual agreement frameworks. The EU, IMF, NATO or the WTO are example for such. These organizations restrict the ability of future national governments to change basic national policies. With the rise of such constructs it did not matter anymore how people voted because basic elements of economic and security policies had been given away to some anonymous plutocracy and could only be changed by paying an ever increasing price.

The failure of the Doha talks may well be the long needed turnaround of this trend.

It does not matter who is to blame for these failures. The WaPo editors predictably blame China, the developing countries blame the U.S. and EU and their huge farm subsidies.

The developed countries insist on heavily subsidizing their own agriculture sectors. The $307 billion farm bill which passed the Senate in May is bigger than the GDP of most countries.

Afraid of mass imports of hugely subsidized goods from the U.S. and EU, developing countries insisted on their right to put tariffs on these and to protect their local long term food sources from economic ruin. The rich countries tried to deny that right to the poor even while they insisted on subsidizing their exports.

The real issue at stake here was the responsibility of a nation to provide for its people. That duty includes their security in a wide sense. Any nation is obliged to take care that it can feed its people from its own soil.

The failure of the Doha talks reaffirms this responsibility. The ability to adopt national policies on food production stays with the local people. Everyone who believes in real democracy should welcome this event. It is a win for the sovereigns of the world - its people.

Posted by b on July 30, 2008 at 6:54 UTC | Permalink | Comments (26)

July 29, 2008

Liars and String-Pushers

Reuters does a nice Billmon like factbox of Merrill Lynch CEO Thain's quotes on ML's needs for fresh capital.

Thain consistently claimed that ML is well funded while raising billions over billions to make up for even more billions of losses.

Only twelve days ago ML announced its second quarter results. Thain then said:

"... right now we believe that we are in a very comfortable spot in terms of our capital."

Yesterday ML announced further losses of $5.7 billion and the need to raise capital by $8.5 billion by selling new stock.

He did not know that twelve days ago??? Barry Ritholz nearly calls this what it is - outright fraud.

Some people bought ML stock after the July 17th announcement. They should sue Thain out of his last sock.

There will be much more bad news coming from ML and other brokerages and banks. This credit bubble deflation is not over by half.

There is not much anyone can do about it. Last December I commented on calls by Roubini and others to lower Fed rates:

I regard this as pushing on a string with bad side effects.
...
I believe that any lowering of the central bank rates will push money not into the productive economy, but into some unproductive assets class, likely commodities, and induce another bubble there. The summary effect is increasing inflation in a recessive or stagnating economy.

Yesterday Krugman posted a chart at his blog that shows how right my analysis was. While the Fed lowered rates since December from over 4% to 2%, bond and mortgage rates actually went up. The Fed is pushing on a string. In the current situation rate cuts can not have the intended effects. But the bad side effects are also obvious. The average official inflation rate in 2007 was 2.85%. This years average is 4.23% so far and likely to increase further.

I closed the earlier piece remarking:

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

With people like the lying Mr. Thain and the string-pushing Bernanke in the lead, trust between all economic entities will not be regained anytime soon. As a result the global economic situation will become more disastrous than it needed to become.

Posted by b on July 29, 2008 at 13:54 UTC | Permalink | Comments (4)

News of 2010

In 2010 there will be an important visit by the Pakistani Prime Minister to Washington. The Prime Minister will discuss Afghan-Pakistani security issues with the President and ask for military aid to buy more F-16s to counter India.

The same week, based on Pakistani intelligence sources, NBC News will announce that a recent U.S. airstirke in the Pakistani-Afghan border region killed a dangerous terrorist known as Abu Khabab al-Masri.

How do I know? Consider this item from January 2006.

ABC News has learned that Pakistani officials now believe that al Qaeda's master bomb maker and chemical weapons expert was one of the men killed in last week's U.S. missile attack in eastern Pakistan.

Midhat Mursi, 52, also known as Abu Khabab al-Masri, was identified by Pakistani authorities as one of four known major al Qaeda leaders present at an apparent terror summit in the village of Damadola early last Friday morning.
U.S. Strike Killed Al Qaeda Bomb Maker, Jan. 18, 2006

When the above news was distributed, Pakistan's then Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz was on his way to Washington DC to meet the President. That visit was in preparation of a deal to buy F-16s for the Pakistani air force. The deal was officially announced in June 2006.

Now lets flip to 2008.

One of al Qaeda's top chemical and biological weapons experts was killed in an air strike by a CIA pilotless drone in a remote Pakistani border region, senior Pakistani intelligence officials told CBS News Tuesday morning.

Intelligence officials investigating the Sunday night missile attack confirmed that Midhat Mursi al-Sayid Umar, also known as Abu Khabab al-Masri was one of six men killed and his remains had been positively identified.

"We now have a positive ID on the body. I can confirm to you that Al-Masri has been killed," a Pakistani intelligence official told CBS News on the condition of anonymity.
Officials: Al Qaeda's Mad Scientist Killed, Jul 28, 2008

Currently the Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani is visiting Washington and asking for more F-16s to fight India.

There is a good chance that the situation in 2010 will be similar to the one now. The Pakistani Prime Minister and the President will have changed by then, but the terror threat will be the same and the success of killing Abu Khabab al-Masri will be the same to. Pakistan will also need further F-16s to fight India.

Posted by b on July 29, 2008 at 12:03 UTC | Permalink | Comments (8)

July 28, 2008

Suck. On. This.

Somehow SecState Rice got Friedman wrong.

Compare to Friedman at 2:25min.

Then again. She's black. Racism explains most of Friedman's vermin. Is she protesting that? I doubt it.

pic via FCL

Posted by b on July 28, 2008 at 20:18 UTC | Permalink | Comments (3)

A Flower Story

This spring I bought a few packs of different seeds, mixed those up and put them into two huge pots on the balcony. Sun flowers and a kind of vetch did best and are fighting each others with the vetches entwining themselves around the sun flowers and actually strangle one of them.

 

More below the fold ...

I took this pic yesterday at 11am.


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This one yesterday at 7pm.


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This morning at 7:30am.


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Noon today at 11:30am. They really have this blinding glow.


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This afternoon at 3pm.


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Quite a short life. But check the bottom right on this one taken at 7:30 pm today.


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Next to those three that lived and died today a new one is preparing itself.

It will open up tomorrow in the first light of the day.

By noon it will be a full blossom.

Tomorrow afternoon it will die.

Posted by b on July 28, 2008 at 18:48 UTC | Permalink | Comments (7)

Bashing China for High Oil Prices

After bashing 'speculators' for high oil prices the New York Times and the Washington Post have today found the real culprits: Fuel subsidizing developing countries, especially China.

The NYT headlines: Fuel Subsidies Overseas Take a Toll on U.S.

From Mexico to India to China, governments fearful of inflation and street protests are heavily subsidizing energy prices, particularly for diesel fuel. But the subsidies — estimated at $40 billion this year in China alone — are also removing much of the incentive to conserve fuel.

WaPo titles: China's Cars, Accelerating A Global Demand for Fuel

In the meantime, gas has been kept artificially cheap. Even after subsidies were partly lifted last month, a gallon of gas in China costs only $3.40, well below market prices.

How much of this is real?

Are $3.40 per gallon "well below market prices"? Via Wikipedia

According to http://www.gasbuddy.com, on June 9, 2008 gasoline prices in the United States were US$1.07/litre (US$4.06/US gallon).
...
According to national figures from the US Department of Energy, in March 2007 52% of the cost of gasoline went to pay for crude oil, 24% for refining, 15% to taxes, and 9% for distribution and marketing. By April 2008, these had changed to 72.7% for crude oil, 10% for refining, 11% to taxes, and 6% for distribution and marketing.

Subtract 11% from $4.06 and you get $3.61 per gallon as U.S. retail price without tax. Thereby China's gasoline prices are only 5.4% lower than prices in the U.S. Such a difference could well be explained by other issues than subsidies. The expression "well below market prices" is certainly not justified.

The alleged $40 billion subsidy the NYT is guestimating is also weird. In 2006 China consumed 7.3 million barrels per day. As that has since then increased let's calculate with 8 million b/d. That would be 2,920 million barrels per year or 90,520 million gallons per year. $40 billion of subsidizes are then $0.44 per consumed gallon. Add that to China gas price of 3.40/gallon and it will be at $3.83/gallon, i.e. higher than the U.S. price without taxes.

China has taken the decision to redistribute money it taxes from its people via a 11% subsidy to gas prices. That may not be smart policy but it amounts to as little as $0.085 per day and inhabitant. It has little to do with the general increase in oil prices.

The U.S. subsidizes food for its people with $9 billion per year. That are $0.082 per day and inhabitant. Will the WaPo and NYT now write big pieces on how farm subsidies in the U.S. are increasing world food prices?

Posted by b on July 28, 2008 at 15:45 UTC | Permalink | Comments (9)

July 27, 2008

Bombing Clusters in India

The recent bombings in India are a bit curious. The tactic in these seems to be to release a dozens or more hand grenade size bombs disguised in lunch boxes within a short time frame in various public places in one city.

There were three such incidents this year. Yesterday  the city of Ahmedabad in the state of Gujarat was hit with such an attack that killed some 50 people. Last week Bangalore was the attack target and in May Jaipur, capital of Rajasthan, was hit.

All these cities/states are ruled by the right wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

Such attacks are quite easy to carry out with a very small team of only two or three people.

Now AP reports:

An obscure Islamic group claimed responsibility for a series of synchronized explosions that killed at least 45 people in western India, warning of "the terror of Death" in an e-mail sent to several television stations minutes before the blasts.
..
The e-mail's subject line said "Await 5 minutes for the revenge of Gujarat," an apparent reference to 2002 riots in the western state which left 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, dead. The historic city of Ahmadabad was the scene of much of the 2002 violence.

When those mob killings happened in 2002 and over thousand Muslims died the than ruling BJP, at least, looked away.

The BJP has a history of a using such attacks to rally its constituency. India just closed a nuclear deal with U.S. which the BJP considers as betrayal of national interest:

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will renegotiate the India-US civil nuclear deal if it came to power, opposition leader L K Advani said yesterday during the trust vote debate that will decide the fate of the Manmohan Singh government.
...
He stated that the India-US nuclear deal makes India a “subservient partner”.

There are general elections coming up in May 2009 and the BJP wants to win these.

There are several possible culprits for these terrorist attacks. They may be from a local group of Muslim taking revenge as the email claims. They may be instigated by he Pakistani secret service ISI again acting against U.S. interest. But these bombings may also be part of a 'strategy of tension' the BJP might like to rally its voters. The BJP has a quite selective record on fighting terrorism.

Like often in such cases we do not know who the bad folks are here but I hesitate to jump on the 'Islamic terror' wagon in a case like this. The fundamentalist Hindus do not have a record of being less violent than any jihadi.

Posted by b on July 27, 2008 at 19:03 UTC | Permalink | Comments (10)

U.S. Ground Operation in Pakistan

There have been three attacks in the area of Damadola, a town in the Pakistani district of Bajaur next to Afghanistan's Kunar province. (Robert Lindsay provides a map and pictures of the area. Google has high res(!) satellite pictures of the Damadola area.)

So far all three had been described as missile attacks by U.S. predator drones. As it turns out now, one of these attacks was actually a U.S. special forces ground operations within Pakistan. Seal Team 6  killed 82 people, many of them pupils at a local school. The U.S. forces also abducted some of the people. What happened to them is unknown.

On January 13 2006 at least 18 people were killed when four Hellfire missiles hit houses in Damadola. The attack purportedly targeted Ayman al-Zawahiri, second-in-command of al-Qaeda after Osama bin Laden, who was thought to be in the village.

On October 30 2006 another attack was reported to have hit a madrassa a few miles east in Chenagai. Between 70 and 80 people are said to have been killed, and an eyewitness has stated that the madrassa school was filled with local students who had resumed studies after the Eid ul-Fitr holiday.

There were various official versions of that incident. Villagers reported to have seen U.S. drones and anonymous Pakistani military sources confirmed this. But officially the Pakistani army claimed to have attacked the madrassa and journalists were kept away from the place by Pakistani paramilitary forces. Analyzing a reprisal suicide attack on a Pakistani army base that followed in November 2006 the Indian analyst B. Raman recapitulated:

There has been considerable controversy regarding the origin of the air attack and the background of the students killed. The local villagers have been claiming that the attack was made by an American Predator aircraft, which flew into the area from Afghanistan. This has been played up by the Pakistani media.  ..  However, this version has been strengthened by a US TV channel, which has quoted unidentified Pakistani intelligence officials as saying that the attack was carried out by an American Predator aircraft because the Americans had information that Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, the No.2 to Osama bin Laden in Al Qaeda, was in the madrasa at that time. The Pakistani authorities have denied the presence of any high-level Al Qaeda personality in the madrasa when it was attacked.

The Pakistani authorities have claimed that it was they, who carried out the attack because they had received reliable intelligence that the madrasa was training suicide bombers for operations in Afghanistan. The Pakistani Army has released a list of persons killed showing all of them to be above 20 years of age. The religious parties have released their own lists of persons killed, showing them to be below 20 years of age. It is not possible to verify either list at present.

Another attack at Damadola by confirmed predator drones happened last year on May 14. It killed at least 12 people.

Today's LA Times refers to one of the above attacks in a story about the war of terror in Pakistan:

In 2006, one of the nation's most elite units, Seal Team 6, raided a suspected Al Qaeda compound at Damadola.

At CIA headquarters in Virginia, a roomful of people watched on video streamed from a Predator surveillance plane, officials said. They included high-ranking officials such as Albert M. Calland III, then the deputy director.

"They choppered in, rappelled down and went into the compound," said a former official familiar with the operation. "It was tactically very well executed."

Several mid-level operatives were detained, according to the official. The raid was separate from the January 2006 Predator strike in Damadola that missed Al Qaeda's No. 2, Ayman Zawahiri, the official said.

The only event reported in the media that would fit the LA Times description is the October 30 attack. If the LA Times sources are correct, U.S. ground troops attacked the madrassa, killed 82 sleeping students and teachers, abducted several, blew up the compound and had the Pakistani military covering their back.

One report at that time claimed that helicopters took part in that attack. As the attack started at 5:00 in the morning, i.e. in the dark, it is unlikely that Pakistani pilots were flying those helicopters.

Now the questions. What happened to those 'several mid-level operatives' that were 'detained'? Who tortured them when and where? Are they still alive?

Posted by b on July 27, 2008 at 14:47 UTC | Permalink | Comments (2)

July 26, 2008

The Duopoly of Deceit

by Debs is dead
lifted from a comment

Tangerine's post details the favorite foreign policy ploy of the two party state. Even if Gore didn't use 911 as an excuse to invade Iraq , if one examines the way that the Clinton administration kept the screws on Iraq whilst repeating the Iraq has weapons of mass destruction lie ad nauseam, it is plain that even if the dems worry their supporters may not approve of unjustified increases in the empire's territory, they are quite prepared hold the line until their mates in the other mob are able to do it for them.

An objective examination of the dem behavior since WW2 - Korea (dem prez), attempted invasion of Cuba (dem prez), Vietnam escalation (dem prez), Dominica (dem prez), Kosovo (dem prez) and the ones I can't remember shows that the dems political organization is geared towards the empire's expansion.

If someone could be bothered to check the history of amerika's territorial growth since independence I imagine you would find the same duopoly of deceit. One party aggressively expanding the territory while the other alleges to be a party of peace, only it never gives anything back the aggressors stole (initially from native amerikans, later from Mexico, later still anywhere in the world that amerika thought it wanted) and when something goes down which means that amerika must strike while the iron is hot to get the land and the less aggressive party is in power, that party does a policy reversal alienating it's base but nevertheless participating in the grab. I imagine that was the mechanism by which 100 plus treaties with the indigenous people were broken.

The political system is fatally flawed. I can't help but marvel at the self deception that leads peeps to think that the outrageous excesses of the bushco era are somehow different. That this hasn't happened before.

Most people know about the way that the indigenous people were tortured starved and dispossessed, do they think that is different but the constitution was upheld for everyone else since until bushco?

Cause the japanese interned in WW2 wouldn't agree neither would the Rosenbergs who were denied myriad constitutional protections when they were railroaded to execution. That's just a couple examples somehow the constitutional safeguards fall by the wayside whenever they are most needed. Not particularly an amerikan problem, this happens wherever there is an over concentration of power.

A big part of the problem is the system. The idea of having one person as the executive, all-powerful commander in chief, and head of state, rolled into one person overwhelms the ideals invested in the allegedly democratic way used to select this king type figure.

Amerikan society has been forced to accept a situation where people fight to get that position of absolute power and corrupt themselves and those around them with this process, to the point where virtually everyone in the political classes believes anything goes.

All the checks and balances are meaningless if one person, the prez, has the power to overrule those checks and balances. Legality is a side issue if the prez is powerful enough to get away with breaking the law. Right through amerika's history the prez has over ruled constitutional mechanisms and will continue to do so regardless of which portion of the political establishment the prez comes from.

---

b asks: Now how might such a system be changed?

Posted by b on July 26, 2008 at 10:46 UTC | Permalink | Comments (55)

July 25, 2008

Hezbullah Vets Train NY Muslim Paramilitaries

This will certainly lead to some outrage. Or maybe not. It is all legal and why would anyone bother. Ask your favorite representative, senator or presidential candidate. They will assure you that these folks are harmless.

"We do not carry out demonstrations or political activity of any kind as we have no political agenda. Our agenda is to protect Muslims wherever and whenever necessary and by any means needed."

On Friday, the third session of the group's training camp will begin in the Catskills woodlands of upstate New York, on land belonging to a Muslim supporter of the organization. With tuition at $400, the group expects 15 participants and five instructors for the 10 days of training. Participation has doubled since the group began three years ago.
...
The group's MySpace page details the camp's regimen, which includes training in the Hezbullah's martial art, use of non-lethal weapons and identification of suspicious objects, but also sharpshooter and assault rifle training, infantry exercises and endurance marches. Explanatory literature lists a large number of weapons with which participants can expect to train.

"We believe all Muslim in the US must be legally armed and trained," Abu Yonat says, "and towards this goal we hold paramilitary training camps to train and equip Muslim American youth."
Hezbullah vets train NY Muslim paramilitaries

Posted by b on July 25, 2008 at 11:52 UTC | Permalink | Comments (14)

July 24, 2008

Obama in Berlin

So why is this U.S. guy campaigning in my home country?

The Turkish prime minister was here in February. He rented a soccer stadium in a western German industrial city. There he gave a talk to some 70,000 of the 1.8 million Turks living here. That was fine with me.

But there are less than 100,000 U.S. people in my country and some candidate, not even a formal one yet, from across the pond makes a big show at one of the premier historic places in our capital? (Funny local detail: 'Siegessäule', victory column, where Obama holds the speech is also the name of the primier gay magazine in Berlin. The mayor of Berlin, Wowereit, is openly gay.)

How is this in our, German, interest?

That candidate by the way is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's Subcommittee on European Affairs. Since he got that job in January 2007 he held no policy hearing and never visited Europe. His real interests seem to be elsewhere.

What does he want from us?

Oh, I see, Afghanistan. He wants more of our boys and girls to protect (and get killed for) that TAPI pipeline, a major U.S. colonial project. TAPI will connect Turkmenian gas fields with consumers in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. Hmm - couldn't we use that gas? I am quite sure Gazprom could deliver it at a my home for a decent price.

What could this guy possibly give us?

Maybe he can take those U.S. troops home who still take up valuable real estate here 63 years after the last war. Hey, why don't they go to Afghanistan and replace our troops there?

Update: - First impressions in the comments.

Posted by b on July 24, 2008 at 16:20 UTC | Permalink | Comments (78)

July 23, 2008

An Interesting Business Model

NY gov. sees Wall Street bonus cuts, weak economy

ALBANY, N.Y., July 21 (Reuters) - Wall Street banks and brokerages may cut bonuses for their highly-paid workers by some 20 percent this year, New York Gov. David Paterson said on Monday, estimating that each 10 percent reduction in bonus pay costs the state $350 million in tax revenues.
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New York's economy has long been dominated by financial companies. Last year, they paid $33.2 billion in bonuses, ...
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Paterson said he was considering lobbying federal officials for aid to entities like Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and federally-sponsored organizations, referring to mortgage finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Hmm.  Ok. That might really work. New York lobbies Washington to give some $350 billion to Lehman, Fannie and the other usual suspects. Then these firms can again pay some $35 billion in bonuses to their managers. Then New York can again tax some $3.5 billion out of those bonuses. Then Paterson can spend that money for lobbying Washington or whatever.

Interesting business model ... where do I sign up ... oh please no, not on the taxpayers side.

Posted by b on July 23, 2008 at 19:08 UTC | Permalink | Comments (8)

The Decline of Foreign News Reporting

For some time now I had the impression that the number and quality of reports on foreign issues in the U.S. media decreased. A recent study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism confirms my subjective assessment:

[I]nternational news is rapidly losing ground at rates greater than any other topic area. Roughly two-thirds (64%) of newsroom executives said the space devoted to foreign news in their newspaper had dropped over the past three years. Nearly half (46%) say they have reduced the resources devoted to covering the topic–also the highest percentage recording a drop. Only 10% said they considered foreign coverage “very essential.”

With the U.S. involved in two official and several unofficial wars, an increasingly global economy and huge international problems like climate change one would think that the U.S. public needs more, not less information on foreign issues. But the only issues on which the papers increased  their reporting are local news.

The reasons are likely financially. Serious foreign reporting is a bit more expensive than covering the local football league. A lot of advertising has moved to the web. But there is also the increased expectation of profits.

As former editor of the LA Times John Carrol explains:

All three papers I've been editor of, particularly the Los Angeles Times and the Baltimore Sun, are achieving [a 20 percent] profit target. ... But they're achieving their profit targets only by cutting resources every year, getting rid of reporters, giving the readers fewer pages of news in the paper. You don't have to be a mathematician to know where that goes.
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I think that newspapers could operate at a 10 percent average operating margin very, very robustly for the indefinite future. It would give them a better product, and it would give them money to invest in their future, which is a Web-based future.

Expectations of 20% profits in any long term business are overblown. But such expectations were the trend in the last decade heated by leveraged buy outs and other unhealthy greed schemes.

The economic bill for such behavior is currently presented. When the mess is over people may have a bit more frugal expectations and renewed interest in what is happening around the world.

Posted by b on July 23, 2008 at 13:42 UTC | Permalink | Comments (15)

Human Rights Watch on Bombing Civilians

When a Palestinian goes on a rampage with a backhoe that must be bulldozing.

When the U.S. Air Force bombs civilians they really, really do it only when they are sure that they do not hit civilians. That is at least what the NYT is telling us in: Civilian Risks Curbing Strikes in Afghan War

In June alone, 646 bombs and missiles were used in Afghanistan, the second highest monthly total since the end of major combat operations in 2002.

Air Force lawyers vet all the airstrikes approved by the operational air commanders. Senior Pentagon officials said the more stringent rules of engagement now in effect for Afghanistan specified the acceptable levels of risk to civilians for a priority attack. They said these more stringent rules required a significantly lower risk of civilian casualties than was acceptable in Iraq.

I am sure the Iraqis are happy to hear so.

The piece is a sorry excuse for indiscriminate bombing: "We really care before we kill ..." The author does not even mention the 47 people on their way to a wedding killed by an air attack earlier this month. He instead includes this choice quote:

“In their deliberate targeting, the Air Force has all but eliminated civilian casualties in Afghanistan,” said Marc Garlasco, senior military analyst with Human Rights Watch. “They have very effective collateral damage mitigation procedures.”

Do they really Mr. Garlasco? Yesterday the news was this:

In Farah province, four Afghan police and five civilians were killed in an apparent mistaken airstrike by Nato forces early this morning.

Human Rights Watch is defending the U.S. Air Force's killer mentality. But that is of course one of their main tasks. Consider the experts HRW hires like the above quoted Marc Garlasco:

Before coming to HRW, Marc spent seven years in the Pentagon as a senior intelligence analyst covering Iraq. His last position there was chief of high-value targeting during the Iraq War in 2003. Marc was on the Operation Desert Fox (Iraq) Battle Damage Assessment team in 1998, led a Pentagon Battle Damage Assessment team to Kosovo in 1999, and recommended thousands of aimpoints on hundreds of targets during operations in Iraq and Serbia. He also participated in over 50 interrogations as a subject matter expert.

Now that is certainly the person one would ask for a critical view on bombing of civilians by the Above All maniacs ... he is one of them.

Posted by b on July 23, 2008 at 6:13 UTC | Permalink | Comments (4)

Bulldozer

Bulldozer attack driver shot dead in Jerusalem writes Reuters:

A bulldozer driver went on a rampage in Jerusalem on Tuesday, hitting vehicles near a hotel where U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama was due to stay later in the day, before he was shot dead.

Bulldozer? The pictures from Jerusalem show a small front-end loader or backhoe which may weigh some 2-3 tons.

A bulldozer is something like this.

It weighs about 50+ tons. The Israeli army has several of these up-armored Caterpillar D-9s. It uses them to flatten Palestinian homes in the illegally occupied territories and to kill people like Rachel Corrie.

The Israelis indeed bulldoze in the original meaning:

bulldose "a severe beating or lashing," lit. "a dose fit for a bull," a slang word referring to the beating of black voters (by either blacks or whites) in the 1876 U.S. presidential election. A bulldozer was a person who intimidates by violence until the meaning was extended to ground-clearing caterpillar tractor in 1930.

That is, when they do not shoot non-violent and bound Palestinians.

Posted by b on July 23, 2008 at 5:11 UTC | Permalink | Comments (9)