Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
May 31, 2019

Death And Resurrection In North Korea (Updated)

Updated below
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Huffington Post - August 30 2013

Hyon Song Wol, Kim Jong Un’s Ex-Girlfriend, Reportedly Executed For Making Sex Tape

Unconfirmed reports claim the ex-girlfriend of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was executed by firing squad along with 11 others, after the group allegedly made and sold a sex tape.

Hyon Song Wol, a singer in North Korea’s famed Unhasu Orchestra, was killed by machine gun along with 11 other members of the orchestra and the Wangjaesan Light Music Band, another popular state-run music group in North Korea, according to a report in The Chosun Ilbo, South Korea’s largest daily newspaper.

The report, which cites an anonymous source in China, says the group was arrested Aug. 17 for filming and selling a pornographic video featuring themselves.

New York Post - May 17 2014

Kim Jong-Un’s ‘executed’ ex seen alive on TV

Pyongyang’s state TV showed Hyon Song-Wol, the head of a band known as Moranbong, delivering a speech at a national art workers rally in Pyongyang.

She expressed gratitude for Kim’s leadership and pledged to work harder to “stoke up the flame for art and creative work”.

In 2017 Hyon Song-Wol was elected to the Workers Party's Central Committee.

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New York Times - February 10 2016

Top North Korean General Is Said to Be Executed on Graft Charges

A top general in North Korea was executed this month on corruption charges, around the time the nation’s leader, Kim Jong-un, warned the party and military elites against abuse of power and other misdeeds, a South Korean official said Wednesday.

The general, Ri Yong-gil, chief of the North Korean Army’s general staff and ranked third in its hierarchy, was executed on charges of “factionalism, abuse of power and corruption” in the latest episode of Mr. Kim’s “reign of terror,” the official said.

Washington Times - May 10 2016

North Korean general thought to be executed is actually alive

A top North Korean military general reported to have been executed three months ago is actually very much alive and has now been appointed to two senior-level positions within the nation’s ruling Workers’ Party.
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New York Times - May 30 2019

South Korean Daily Says That Kim Jong-un Executed and Purged Top Nuclear Negotiators

North Korea has executed its special envoy to the United States on spying charges, as its leader, Kim Jong-un, has engineered a sweeping purge of the country’s top nuclear negotiators after the breakdown of his second summit meeting with President Trump, a major South Korean daily reported on Friday.

Kim Hyok-chol, the envoy, was executed by firing squad in March at the Mirim airfield in a suburb of Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, Chosun Ilbo, South Korea’s largest daily, reported on Friday, citing an anonymous source. Mr. Kim faced the charge that he was “won over by the American imperialists to betray the supreme leader,” the newspaper said.

We are now awaiting news of Kim Hyok-chol's promotion to an important Workers Party position.

Update June 3 2019

As expected it turned out that Kim Hyok-chol is alive and well. He is also holding on to important party positions.

Yonhap News Agency - June 3 2019

Top aide to N.K. leader appears in public despite rumors of purge

SEOUL, June 3 (Yonhap) -- A top aide to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un watched an art troupe's performance together with the leader, Pyongyang's state media reported Monday, belying rumors that he was purged for the leader's embarrassing no-deal summit with U.S. President Donald Trump. Kim Yong-chol, who served as Pyongyang's chief interlocutor and counterpart of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, attended Sunday's performance by amateur art groups made up of the wives of military officers, together with leader Kim and other top officials, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.
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In the Supreme People's Assembly in mid-April, he was also appointed as a member of the State Affairs Commission, the communist state's most powerful administrative apparatus, of which Kim Jong-un was re-elected as chairman.

Posted by b on May 31, 2019 at 10:30 UTC | Permalink | Comments (102)

May 30, 2019

Open Thread 2019-30

News & views ...

Posted by b on May 30, 2019 at 16:50 UTC | Permalink | Comments (179)

May 29, 2019

Mueller Punts On Obstruction Charges - Impeachment Would Hurt The Democrats

The Special counsel Robert Mueller today closed his investigation into alleged collusion of the Trump campaign with alleged Russian interference with the 2016 election.

Mueller said nothing that goes beyond his already published report. But he empathized that his report did not absolve Trump of obstructing his investigation. Mueller said:

“If we have confidence the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.”

and

“Charging the President with a crime was [..] not an option we could consider.”

It is the long standing legal opinion of the Justice Department that it -as part of the executive-  can not indict a sitting president for a crime. The only entity which can do that is Congress through the impeachment process. Mueller had to follow that opinion. He now punted the issue to Congress.

Even before Mueller's statement some Democrats strongly argued that such an impeachment process is warranted. Mueller's statement today will be seen as support for that demand.

The leader of the Democratic party in the House Nancy Pelosi so far rejected to make that move. She fears that an impeachment process will only help Trump during the upcoming campaign season. He would certainly try to block the process. He would play the victim and demonize the Democrats over it. The media noise during a running impeachment process would also drown out any other policy issues the Democrats might want to highlight. Russiagate already did that throughout the last two and a half years. It didn't help the party.

But there are also arguments that an impeachment process could damage Trump and increase the chance that he loses the 2020 election. Professor Alan Lichtman, who correctly predicted all presidential election since 1984, uses 13 true/false statements to judge if the candidate of the incumbent party will get elected. His current prediction:

"Trump wins again in 2020 unless six of 13 key factors turn against him. I have no final verdict yet because much could change during the next year. Currently, the President is down only three keys: Republican losses in the midterm elections, the lack of a foreign policy success, and the president's limited appeal to voters."

One of Lichtman's key factors is 9. Scandal: The incumbent administration is untainted by major scandal.

Lichtman thinks that an impeachment process would be negative for Trump:

"Democrats are fundamentally wrong about the politics of impeachment and their prospects for victory in 2020. An impeachment and subsequent trial would cost the president a crucial fourth key -- the scandal key -- just as it cost Democrats that key in 2000. The indictment and trial would also expose him to dropping another key by encouraging a serious challenge to his re-nomination. Other potential negative keys include the emergence of a charismatic Democratic challenger, a significant third-party challenge, a foreign policy disaster, or an election-year recession. Without impeachment, however, Democratic prospects are grim."

I disagree with that take. Even with impeachment and a nomination challenger Trump would likely still win the election. 

There is no charismatic Democratic challenger in sight. Currently leading in the primary polls are Biden, Sanders and Warren. Neither of them can compete with the Trump's popularity. Despite Russigate he still has a 41% approval rating which is quite high for a midterm presidency.

Trump is also a master at playing the media. He would surely find ways to turn an impeachment circus to his advantage. His arguments would be very simply:

If I, as your all powerful president, had really wanted to obstruct the investigation, I would have succeeded.

or

Why would I have obstructed an investigation that I was sure would find me innocent - which it clearly did.

Trump would turn the impeachment process from a scandal about him into a scandal that the Democrats are to blame for.

With or without impeachment the Democrats have little chance to win the presidency. They should concentrate on keeping their House majority and on fetching more Senate seats. An impeachment will be anyway be unsuccessful because the Republicans own the Senate and will vote down any impeachment indictment that might pass the House.

The Democrats can only win the 2020 election if they have a real strong policy issue that is supported by a large majority of the population. 'Medicare for all' is such a winner. Health care is THE top issue for U.S. voters. Some two thirds of them support a universal government run health insurance that would cover the basic health issues and catastrophic cases. Private insurance for more cosmetic issues could be bought on top of that.

But significant parts of the Democratic party leadership are against such a system. They fear for the large donations and other bribes the pharma and health industry throws at them.

During the midterm election Gallup asked voters about their main policy issues. Despite two years of loud media noise Russiagate was the issue they named least. An impeachment process would likewise create lots of media attention, but would have little relevance for the real problems the voters care about. It would drown out the policy messages the Democrats need to send.

To hype Russiagate was already a mistake. The voters did not care about it. To go for impeachment over murky obstruction charges would likely be worse.

Posted by b on May 29, 2019 at 17:57 UTC | Permalink | Comments (140)

May 28, 2019

U.S. Government Seeks NGO Help For Removing Iran From Syria

The U.S.Department of State is offering a grant of $75,000,000 to non-government-organizations to help it to further meddle in Syria.

The grant SFOP0005916 - Supporting Local Governance and Civil Society in Syria will go to "Nonprofits having a 501(c)(3) status with the IRS, other than institutions of higher education".


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The task description is quite interesting as the NGOs which will eventually get the grant will have to commit to counter one of Syria's military allies:

The purpose of this notice of funding opportunity (NOFO) is to advance the following U.S. Government policy objectives in Syria:
  • Ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS and counter violent extremism, including other extremist groups in Syria;
  • Achieve a political solution to the Syrian conflict under the auspices of United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2254; and,
  • End the presence of Iranian forces and proxies in Syria.

The Department of State's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, Office of Assistance Coordination (NEA/AC) aims to advance these policy objectives by supporting the following assistance objectives:

  • Strengthen responsive and credible governance and civil society entities to capably serve and represent communities liberated from ISIS.
  • Advance a political solution to the Syrian conflict under the auspices of United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2254; and,
  • Counter extremism and disinformation perpetuated by Iranian forces, designated terrorist organizations, and other malign actors through support for local governance actors and civil society organizations.

The operational field for the grant is not only the Syrian northeast which U.S. troops currently occupy, but also the al-Qaeda infested Idleb governorate as well as all government controlled areas.

The related Funding Opportunity Description (available through the above link) does not explain what an NGO could do to advance the highlighted U.S. government goals.

Work on the three year project is supposed to start on January 1 2020. It must be applied for by August 2 2019.

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h/t @domihol

Posted by b on May 28, 2019 at 18:13 UTC | Permalink | Comments (92)

May 27, 2019

New York Times Supports False Trump Claims About An "Iranian Nuclear Weapons Program" That Does Not Exist

During a press conference in Japan U.S. President Donald Trump today said (video):

And I’m not looking to hurt Iran at all. I’m looking to have Iran say, “No nuclear weapons.” We have enough problems in this world right now with nuclear weapons. No nuclear weapons for Iran.

And I think we’ll make a deal.

Iran said: "No nuclear weapons." It said that several times. It continues to say that.

Iran does not have the intent to make nuclear weapons. It has no nuclear weapons program.

But Trump may be confused because the U.S. 'paper of the record', the New York Times, recently again began to falsely assert that Iran has such a program.

A May 4 editorial in the Times claimed that Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps was running such a nuclear weapons program. After a loud public outrage the Times corrected the editorial. Iran's UN office wrote a letter to the Times which was published on May 6:

In an early version of “Trump Dials Up the Pressure on Iran” (editorial, nytimes.com, May 4), now corrected, you referred to a nuclear weapons program in describing the reach of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.
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The editorial is correct in criticizing the punishing aspects of the Trump administration policy toward Iran — one that has brought only suffering to the Iranian people and one that will not result in any change in Iran’s policies. But it was wrong to refer to a weapons program — a dangerous assertion that could lead to a great misunderstanding among the public.

Unfortunately that did not help. The NYT continues with the "dangerous assertion".

On May 13 the NYT reporters Eric Schmitt and Julian E. Barnes wrote in White House Reviews Military Plans Against Iran, in Echoes of Iraq War:

At a meeting of President Trump’s top national security aides last Thursday, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan presented an updated military plan that envisions sending as many as 120,000 troops to the Middle East should Iran attack American forces or accelerate work on nuclear weapons, administration officials said.

One can not accelerate one's car, if one does not have one. The phrase "accelerate work on nuclear weapons" implies that Iran has a nuclear weapons program. It may that the White House falsely claimed that but the authors use the phrase and never debunk it.

A May 14 NYT piece by Helene Cooper and Edward Wong repeats the false claim without pointing out that it is wrong:

The Trump administration is looking at plans to send as many as 120,000 troops to the Middle East should Iran attack American forces or accelerate work on nuclear weapons, The New York Times reported.

Also on May 14 the NYT's editorial cartoon was published under the caption Will Iran Revive Its Nuclear Program? The caption of the orientalist cartoon falsely asserted that Iran had enriched Uranium to weapons grade. And no, Iran does not have a nuclear weapon or a nuclear weapons program in its freezer.


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On May 16, after another public outcry, a correction was added to the cartoon:

An earlier version of a caption with this cartoon erroneously attributed a distinction to Iran's nuclear program. Iran has not produced highly enriched uranium.

After this onslaught of false New York Times claims about Iran NYT critic Belen Fernandez asked: Has the New York Times declared war on Iran? She lists other claims made by the Times about Iran that are far from the truth.

Three days later, on May 25, Palko Karasz reported in the New York Times on Iran's reaction to Trump's tiny troop buildup in the Persian Gulf region. Again the obviously false "accelerate" phrase was used:

Under White House plans revised after pressure from hard-liners led by John R. Bolton, the president’s national security adviser, if Iran were to accelerate work on nuclear weapons, defense officials envision sending as many as 120,000 troops to the Middle East.

Iran does not have a nuclear program. It can not "accelerate" one. The U.S. claims that Iran once had such a program but also says that it was ended in 2003. The standard formulation that Reuters uses in its Iran reporting is thereby appropriate:

The United States and the U.N. nuclear watchdog believe Iran had a nuclear weapons program that it abandoned. Tehran denies ever having had one.


On July 1 1968 Iran signed and later ratified the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) as a non-nuclear-weapon party. Article II of the treaty says:

Each non-nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty undertakes not to receive the transfer from any transfer or whatsoever of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or of control over such weapons or explosive devices directly, or indirectly; not to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices; and not to seek or receive any assistance in the manufacture of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.

With that Iran said "No nuclear weapons". Iran also accepted the nuclear safeguards demand in Article III of the treaty in form of routine inspections by the treaty's nuclear watchdog organization IAEA.

Article IV of the NPT gives all non-nuclear-weapon state parties like Iran the "inalienable right" to "develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination." After signing the NPT Iran launched several civil nuclear projects. These started under the Shah in 1970s and continued after the 1979 revolution in Iran.


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Ever since the Iranian revolution the U.S. expressed explicit hostility to the Islamic Republic of Iran. It instigated the President Saddam Hussein of Iraq to launch a war against the Islamic Republic and actively supported him throughout. It attempted and continues to attempt to hobble Iran's development, nuclear and non-nuclear, by all possible means.

Under U.S. President George W. Bush the U.S. government claimed that Iran had a nuclear weapons program. The Islamic Republic Iran rejected that claim and in 2004 signed the Additional Protocol to the NPT which allows the IAEA to do more rigorous, short-notice inspections at declared and undeclared nuclear facilities to look for secret nuclear activities.

With that the Islamic Republic of Iran said: "No nuclear weapons".

In a 2006 New York Times op-ed Javid Zarif, then the Iranian Ambassador to the United Nations, wrote:

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the leader of the Islamic Republic, has issued a decree against the development, production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons.

With that Iran's highest political and religious leader said: "No nuclear weapons".

Not only did Iran sign the NPT and its Additional Protocol but its political leadership outright rejects the development and ownership of nuclear weapons.

Zarif also pointed out that the IAEA found that Iran had missed to declare some nuclear activities but also confirmed that it never had the nuclear weapons program the Bush administration claimed it had:

In November 2003, for example, the agency confirmed that "to date, there is no evidence that the previously undeclared nuclear material and activities were related to a nuclear weapons program."

During the "previously undeclared nuclear material and activities" which the IAEA investigated, some Iranian scientists worked on a 'plan for a plan' towards nuclear weapons. They seem to have discussed what steps Iran would have to take, what materials, and what kind of organization it would need to launch a nuclear weapons program. The work was not officially sanctioned and no actual nuclear weapons program was ever launched. It is believed that the Iranian scientists worked on a 'plan for a plan' because they were concerned that Iran's then arch enemy Saddam Hussein, who had bombarded Iranian cities with chemical weapons, was working towards nuclear weapons. In 2003, after the U.S. invaded Iraq, that concern proved to be unfounded and the 'plan for a plan' project was shut down.

In December 2007 all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies confirmed the shut down:

A new assessment by American intelligence agencies concludes that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and that the program remains frozen, contradicting judgment two years ago that Tehran was working relentlessly toward building a nuclear bomb.
...
[T]he new [National Intelligence Estimate] declares with “high confidence” that a military-run Iranian program intended to transform that raw material into a nuclear weapon has been shut down since 2003, and also says with high confidence that the halt “was directed primarily in response to increasing international scrutiny and pressure.”

The National Intelligence Estimate ended efforts by the Bush administration to threaten Iran with war. But the U.S. government, under Bush and then under President Obama, continued its effort to deny Iran its "inalienable right" to civil nuclear programs.

Obama waged a campaign of ever increasing sanctions on Iran. But the country did not give in. It countered by accelerating its civil nuclear programs. It enriched more Uranium to civil use levels and developed more efficiant enrichment centrifuges. It was the Obama administration that finally gave up on its escalatory course. It conceded that Iran has the "inalienable right" to run its civil nuclear programs including Uranium enrichment. It was this concession, not the sanctions, that brought Iran to the table for talks about its nuclear programs.

The result of those talks was the The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) which was endorsed by UN Security Council Resolution 2231, adopted on July 20, 2015.

The JCPOA gives the IAEA additional tools to inspect facilities in Iran. It restricts Iran's civil nuclear program to certain limits which will terminate in October 2025. The JCPOA also reaffirms that Iran has full rights under the NPT. The IAEA since regularly inspects facilities in Iran and consistently reaffirms in its reports that Iran has no nuclear weapons program.


The Trump administrations hostility to Iran has nothing to do with anything nuclear. The U.S. wants hegemony over the Persian Gulf region. Iran rejects such imperial desires. The U.S. wants to control the flow of hydrocarbon resources to its competitors, primarily China. Iran does not allow such controls over its exports. The U.S. wants that all hydrocarbon sales are made in U.S. dollars. Iran demands payments in other currencies. Israel, which has significant influence within the Trump administration, uses claims of a non existing Iranian nuclear weapons program to manipulate the U.S. public and to divert from its racist apartheid policies in Palestine.

Trump's talk - "I’m looking to have Iran say, “No nuclear weapons.”" - is simply bullshit. Iran said so several times and continues to say so. But Trump obviously believes that he can get away with making such idiotic claims.

The New York Times proves him right. It is again slipping into the role that it played during the propaganda run-up to the war on Iraq in 2002/2003. False claims made by members of the Bush administration about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq were reported by the Times as true, even while diligent reporters at other outlets debunked those claims again and again. The Times later apologized and fired Judith Miller, one of its reporters who wrote several of the pieces that supported the false claims.

But it was never a problem of one reporter who channeled false claims by anonymous administration officials into her reports. It was the editorial decision by the Times, taken long before the war on Iraq began, to use its power to support such a war. That editorial decision made it possible that those false claims appeared in the paper.

This month alone one NYT editorial, one editorial cartoon and at least five reporters in three pieces published in the New York Times made false claims about an Iranian nuclear weapons program that, as all the relevant official institutions confirm, does not exist. This does not happen by chance.

It it is now obvious that the Times again decided to support false claims by an administration that is pushing the U.S. towards another war in the Middle East.

Posted by b on May 27, 2019 at 19:46 UTC | Permalink | Comments (103)

May 26, 2019

The MoA Week In Review - OT 2019-29

Last week's posts at Moon of Alabama:

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Other issues:

British media try to whitewash al-Qaeda in Syria, which controls Idleb governorate, into "moderate rebels".

  • BBC: Syria group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and al-Qaeda legacy

    HTS says: Democracy is blasphemy. Shia and Christians should be slaughtered. Jihad is a holy duty.
    al-Qaeda says: Democracy is blasphemy. Shia and Christians should be slaughtered. Jihad is a holy duty.
    BBC says: See, HTS is moderate and not at all like al-Qaeda.

  • Sky: Sky News crew deliberately targeted and fired at by Syrian regime forces

    The Sky crew collaborated with the U.S. Jihadi Bilal Abdul Kareem, who is allegedly on a drone kill list. BAK led them to the front line where HTS/al-Qaeda, a designated terrorist organization, at that time attacked the Syrian army. They film an al-Qaeda armored fighting vehicle that just got hit and is still burning. A shell comes down near them. They claim that they were "deliberately targeted". No shit! Here is a good thread that details the lunacy of such reporting.

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On May 13 we covered the leaked OPCW engineering assessment which proves that the alleged gas attack in Douma in April 2018 was a false flag incident created by the Jihadis and their White Helmets propaganda arm. The mainstream media ignore the report the OPCW management tried to suppress. Only a few independent writers have since covered it. All make good points:

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The Ukraine elected a new president. Now the NATO mouthpieces tell him to stay in line with their program - or else ... :

Mark Ames @MarkAmesExiled - 14:57 utc - 24 May 2019

This list of demands by western-funded Ukraine NGOs—threatening to overthrow Zelenskiy if he doesn't follow their demands—perfect example of Arundhati Roy's critique of "civil society" as an elite construct designed to subvert & control popular democracy:
- Joint statement by civil society representatives on the first political steps of the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky

Sure enough one of the signatories is "NGO 'CentreUA'"—same NGO, funded by Omidyar, Soros, USAID, that organized Maidan revolution. That's like a gun pointed at Zelensky's head. Outrageous.
- Pierre Omidyar co-funded Ukraine revolution groups with US government, documents show

Zelensky was elected by 75% of Ukrainians. Who the fuck elected Pierre Omidyar, George Soros, USAID, National Endowment for Democracy — and their “civil society” satraps — to supersede Ukraine’s democracy?

Fear not. There are stronger powers involved:

max seddon @maxseddon - 7:53 utc - 26 May 2019

Ukraine’s western backers are worried notorious oligarch Igor Kolomoisky’s influence on new president Zelensky could torpedo its IMF support. Now Kolomoisky says Ukraine should just tell the IMF to screw itself and default. Our @FT interview: on.ft.com/2HUWraw [paywalled]

Kolomoisky said the idea he owns Zelensky is so common it’s awkward. “People come to see me in Israel and say, 'Congrats! Well done!' I say, 'for what? My birthday's in February.' They say, 'Who needs a birthday when you've got a whole president!'"

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Use as open thread ...

Posted by b on May 26, 2019 at 16:00 UTC | Permalink | Comments (152)

May 25, 2019

Boeing 737 MAX Crash Reveals Severe Problem With Older Boeing 737 NGs

The fleet of Boeing 737 MAX planes will stay out on the ground longer than anticipated. Boeing promised a new software package to correct the severe problems with its Maneuver Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS). The delivery was supposed to be ready in April. A month later it has still not arrived at the Federal Aviation Agency where it will take at least a month to certify it. The FAA will not be the only one to decide when the plane can come back into the flight line. Other country's agencies will do their own independent review and will likely take their time.

The 737 MAX incident also revealed a problem with older generations of the 737 type of plane that is only now coming into light. Simulator experiments (video) showed that the recovery procedures Boeing provided for the case of a severe mistrim of the plane is not sufficient to bring the plane back under control. The root cause of that inconvenient fact does not lie with the 737 MAX but with its predecessor, the Boeing 737 Next Generation or NG.

This was known in pilot circles for some time but will only now receive wider public attention:

The Boeing 737 Max's return to commercial airline service is reportedly being further delayed by the Federal Aviation Administration.

US government officials told The Wall Street Journal's Andy Pasztor that the FAA is evaluating the emergency procedures for not only the Max but also the older generations of the 737 including the [once] hot-selling Boeing 737 NG.

According to the officials, the broadened evaluation will take a look at how pilots of all 737 variant are instructed to respond to emergency situations.

Here is a detailed explanation why the FAA is now looking into the pilot training for older 737 types.

The 737 NG (-600/-700/-800/-900) was the third generation derivative of the 737 and followed the 737 Original (-100/-200) and Classic (−300/-400/-500) series. The first NG flew in 1997. Some 7,000 were build and most of them are still flying.

Two technical modifications that turned out to be a problem during the recent incidents occurred during the redesign of the 737 Classic into the New Generation series.


In the NG series a new Flight Management Computer (FMC) was added to the plane. (The FMC helps the pilots to plan and manage the flight. It includes data about airports and navigation points. It differs from the two Flight Control Computers in that it has no control over physical elements of the plane.)

The FMC on the NG version has two input/output units each with a small screen and a larger keyboard below it. They are next to the knees of the pilot and the copilot  They are located on the central pedestal between the pilots right below the vertical instrument panel (see pic below). The lengthy FMCs did not fit on the original central pedestal. The trim wheels on each side, used to manually trim the airplane in its longitudinal axis or pitch, were in the way. Boeing's 'solution' to the problem was to make the manual trim wheels smaller.


737 NG cockpit with FMC panels and with smaller trim wheels (black with a white stripe)
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737 Original-200 cockpit with larger trim wheels (black with a white stripe)
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The smaller trim wheels require more manual force to trim with the same moment of force or torque than the larger ones did.


Another change from the 737 Classic to the 737 NG was an increase in the size of the rear horizontal flight surface, the stabilizer.

The stabilizer at the rear of the plane can be turned around a central pivot point. The natural nose up or nose down characteristics of an airplane change during a flight depending on the speed at which the airplane flies. The stabilizer can be moved during a flight by a jackscrew (vid) which is turned by either an electric motor, or via cables from the hand-cranked trim wheels in the cockpit. Trimming the airplane keeps it level at all flyable speeds.

At the rear end of the stabilizer is the elevator surface (blue arrow in the pic below). The elevator is moved by the column or yoke the pilot uses to control the plane. During a flight the pilot, or an automated stabilizer trim system (STS), will electrically trim the stabilizer so that no additional force on the column is required for the plane to stay at its flight level.

In case of a mistrim of the stabilizer, the plane puts its nose up or down and the pilot will have to push or pull his column to move the elevator to counter the mistrim of the stabilizer. Depending on the position of the stabilizer and the speed of the airplane this can require very significant force. In some cases it might be impossible.


Graphic via The Air Current and Peter Lemme - bigger

The size of the stabilizer increased from 31.40 square meter on the Classic to 32.78 sqm on the NG and MAX. Meanwhile the size of the elevator, the primary control surface the pilot can use to counter a mistrimmed stabilizer, was kept at its original size of 6.55 sqm.

It is therefore more difficult for the pilot of a 737 NG or 737 MAX plane to use the elevator to counter a mistrimmed stabilizer than it was on the earlier 737 Classic series.


In 1961 a mistrimmed stabilizer on a Boeing 707 caused the crash of an airplane. All on board died. The root cause was a malfunction in the electrical switch the pilot normally uses to electrically move the stabilizer. The switch stuck in an ON position and the motor moved the stabilizer to its most extreme position. The plane's nose went up until it aerodynamically stalled. The pilots were unable to recover from the situation.

The type of incident where an electric malfunction drives the stabilizer into an extreme position is since known as a 'runaway stabilizer'.

To get a type rating for Boeing planes the pilots have to learn a special procedure to diagnose and correct a runaway stabilizer situation. The procedure is a so called 'memory item'. The pilots must learn it by heart. The corrective action is to interrupt the electric circle that supplies the motor which drives the jackscrew and moves the stabilizer. The pilots then have to use the hand-cranked trim wheels to turn the jackscrew and to bring the stabilizer back into a normal position.


737 stabilizer jackscrew - bigger

[The MCAS incidents on the crashed 737 MAX were not of the classic runaway stabilizer type. A runaway stabilizer due to an electric malfunction is expected to move the stabilizer continuously. The computerized MCAS operated intermittently. It moved the stabilizer several times, with pauses in between, until the mistrim became obvious. The pilots would not have diagnosed it as a runaway stabilizer. Only in the end are the effects of both problems similar.]


A third change from older 737s to newer types involved the manuals and the pilot training.

If due to a runaway stabilizer event the front end of the stabilizer moves up, the nose of the airplane will move down and the plane will increase its speed. To counter that the pilot pulls on his column to move the rear end of the elevator up and to bring the plane back towards level flight. As the plane comes back to level the aerodynamic pressure on the mistrimmed stabilizer increases. Attempts to manually trim in that situation puts opposing forces on the jackscrew that holds the stabilizer in its positions. The aerodynamic forces on the stabilizer can become so big that a manual cranking of the trim wheel can no longer move the jackscrew and thereby the stabilizer.

Until the introduction of the newer 737 types Boeing's pilot manuals for the 737 included a procedure that described how to overcome the situation. It was counterintuitive. If the stabilizer put the plane in an extreme nose down position the pilot was advised to first pull the column to decrease the speed. He then had to push the column forward to lower the aerodynamic forces that blocked the jackscrew. Then the manual trim wheel could be turned a bit while the plane continued to dive and again increased its speed. The procedure had to be repeated several times: pull column to decrease speed; push column to decrease the aerodynamic force on the stabilizer and its jackscrew; trim manually; repeat. The technic was known as the rollercoaster maneuver.


Excerpt from an old 737-200 manual - via The Air Current - bigger

Recently some pilots used a 737 NG flight simulator to test the procedure. They simulated the runaway stabilizer case at a height of 10,000 feet and use the rollercoaster maneuver to recover from the mistrim. When they finally had the stabilizer back into a correct trim position they found themselves at 3,000 feet height. The maneuver would thus help only when the plane is already at a significant height above ground.

Both of the recent 737 MAX crashes happened shortly after the start. The rollercoaster maneuver would not have helped those flights. But should a runaway stabilizer incident happen on a 737 NG at its normal flight level the maneuver would probably be the only chance to recover from the situation.


The crashes of the two 737 MAX revealed a number of problems with the design of the MCAS system. Several additional issues with the plane have since become known. There may be other problems with its 737 MAX that no one yet learned of. The rather casual FAA certification of the type was clearly not justified.

But the problems described above are 737 NG problems. The 380 or so existing 737 MAX are currently grounded. But some 7,000 737 NG fly about every day. The record provides that it is a relatively safe airplane. But a runaway stabilizer is a well known electrical malfunction that could by chance happen on any of those flights.

The changes from the 737 Classic to the 737 NG make it more difficult, if not impossible, for the pilots to recover from such a situation:

  • The smaller manual trim wheels on the 737 NG make it more difficult to trim a runaway stabilizer back into a regular position.
  • The larger stabilizer surface makes it more difficult to counter a runaway stabilizer by using the elevator which was kept at the same size.
  • 737 NG pilots no longer learn the rollercoaster maneuver that is now the only way to recover from a severe mistrim.

Simulator sessions demonstrate (video) that a runaway stabilizer incident on a 737 NG can no longer be overcome by the procedures that current Boeing manuals describe.

It is pure luck that no NG crash has yet been caused by a runaway stabilizer incident. It is quite astonishing that these issues only now become evident. The 737 NG was certified by the FAA in 1997. Why is the FAA only now looking into this?

The second 737 MAX crash revealed all these issues to a larger public. Except for MCAS the trim systems on the NG and MAX are similar. The Ethiopian Airline flight 302 did not experience a runaway stabilizer, but the multiple engagement of MCAS moved the stabilizer to a similar extreme position. The pilots cut the electricity to the stabilizer motor and tried to re-trim the plane manually by turning the trim wheels. The aerodynamic forces on the stabilizer were impossible to overcome. The pilots had not learned of the rollercoaster maneuver. (Not that it would have helped much. They were too low to the ground.) They switched the motor back on to use manual electrical trim to re-trim the aircraft. Then MCAS engaged again and put them into the ground.

All NG and MAX pilots should learn the rollercoaster maneuver, preferable during simulator training. There are probably some 50,000 pilots who are certified to fly a Boeing NG. It will be an enormous and costly effort to put all of them through additional training.

But it will be more costly, for all involved, if a 737 NG crashes and kills all on board due to a runaway stabilizer incident and a lack of pilot training to overcome it. Such an incident would probably keep the whole NG fleet on the ground.

Pilots, airlines and the public should press the FAA to mandate that additional training. The FAA must also explain why it only now found out that the problem exists.

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Previous Moon of Alabama posts on Boeing 737 issues:

Additional sources with more technical details:

Posted by b on May 25, 2019 at 21:20 UTC | Permalink | Comments (96)

May 24, 2019

'Troops To Iran' Scare - The Mountain Brings Forth A Mouse

On May 13 a leak to the New York Times launched an 'troops to Iran' scare:

The US military is exploring a plan to deploy 120,000 troops to the Middle East as tensions with Iran intensify - NYT/Business Insider, May 13

On May 14 we wrote:

The 120,000 troop deployment is the third option. The number is too high for an attack by air and on sea and too low for an attack on land, i.e. an invasion of Iran. Releasing the third option number is likely designed to rally against such a move.

From there on varying numbers were all over the news:

Trump denies U.S. plan to send 120,000 troops to counter Iran threat - Reuters, May 14
Trump says he'd send 'a hell of a lot more' than 120,000 troops to fight Iran if it came to that - Business Insider, May 14
Pentagon mulling military request to send 5,000 troops to Middle East: officials - Reuters, May 23
Trump: No plan now for more troops to confront Iran - Washington Times, May 23
The Pentagon’s plan to send up to 10,000 troops to the Middle East is about Iran - Vox, May 23
US officials: Plan may send up to 10,000 troops to Mideast - AP, May 24

Finally Trump put out a real number:

Trump says US to send 1,500 more troops to Middle East - AP, May 25

Unfortunately it was still wrong. Here is the real one:

Acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan notified Congress on Friday that he had authorized a request from U.S. Central Command to send the additional forces – an Air Force fighter jet squadron, an engineering element and combination of manned and unmanned intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets – into the Middle East, he said in a statement. The Pentagon will also extend the deployment of some 600 soldiers from a Patriot missile battalion already serving in the region.

There seems to have been a minor war between John Bolton, Trumps National Security Advisor, and the State Department or Pentagon. Bolton is longing for his war on Iran and sending lots of troops would eventually provide for that. The State Department and the Pentagon want to prevent that catastrophe from happening and preferred to send none. Trump eventually agreed to minimal number.

There are in total some 20,000+ U.S. troops in the various countries of the Middle East. The additional 900 send now will not make any difference.

The idiocy of the whole discussion was well captured by the German satire site Der Postillon. On May 16 it headlined (translated):

US sounds alarm: "Iran is moving its country ever closer to our troops!"

Tensions between Washington and Tehran continue to increase. Now the United States accuses Iran of moving its borders ever closer to US troops. In part, American soldiers were almost in firing range.

bigger
"Iran is using its territory to harass our peacefully deployed troops," said US National Security Advisor John Bolton. "Some of the country's borders come dangerously close to our soldiers - almost in range, Iran must stop doing that right away!"
...
The US threatened to mobilize its troops. Bolton: "We are a peaceful nation, but if Iran dares to let its borders cross below the feet of our soldiers, that inevitably means war!"

Five days after later Reuters converted the satire into news:

Iran's reach puts U.S. forces, allies in striking range

Sure, Iran's reach did that ...

Posted by b on May 24, 2019 at 18:15 UTC | Permalink | Comments (96)

The Leaden Lady Steps Down

It was high time for this to happen:

Theresa May has announced she is to stand down as Prime Minister on 7 June following months of mounting pressure over her failure to deliver Brexit.
...
Mrs May will remain in post until a successor is chosen

The final straw of her doomed premiership came when a last-gasp effort to win support for her Withdrawal Agreement Bill backfired spectacularly and it became obvious her Brexit deal was dead in the water.

Brexiteers within her own party were enraged by the concession of the offer of a potential second referendum and customs union arrangement announced on Tuesday.

Boris Johnson is the leading candidate for May's job of not delivering Brexit.


bigger

Trump, who will visit Great Britain on June 10 while May is still in Downing Street, will likely weigh in for him.

Posted by b on May 24, 2019 at 9:22 UTC | Permalink | Comments (80)

May 23, 2019

Why Trump's Huawei Ban Is Unlikely To Persist

The Washington Post World page summarizes a piece about consequences of Trump's ban on the Chinese telecom equipment manufacturer Huawei:

A key chip designer and British telecom companies suspended some dealings with the Chinese tech giant over security concerns.

However, nothing in the actual piece talks about security concerns. (I point this out because I perceive a trend towards such misleading summaries and headlines which contradict what the actual reporting says.)

The British processor company ARM, which licenses its design to Huawei, cites U.S. export controls as the reason to stop cooperation with Huawei:

The conflict is putting companies and governments around the world in a tough spot, forcing them to choose between alienating the United States or China.

Arm Holdings issued its statement after the BBC reported the firm had told staff to suspend dealings with Huawei.

An Arm spokesman said some of the company’s intellectual property is designed in the United States and is therefore “subject to U.S. export controls.”

Additionally two British telecom providers quote U.S. restrictions as reason for no longer buying Huawei smartphones:

BT Group’s EE division, which is preparing to launch 5G service in six British cities later this month, said Wednesday it would no longer offer a new Huawei smartphone as part of that service. Vodafone also said it would drop a Huawei smartphone from its lineup. Both companies appeared to tie that decision to Google‘s move to withhold licenses for its Android operating software from future Huawei phones.

These companies do not have security concerns over Huawei. But the casual reader, who does not dive down into the actual piece, is left with a false impression that such concerns are valid and shared.

That the Trump administration says it has security reasons for its Huawei ban does not mean that the claim is true. Huawei equipment is as good or bad as any other telecommunication equipment, be it from Cisco or Apple. The National Security Agency and other secret services will try to infiltrate all types of such equipment.

After the sudden ban on U.S. entities to export to Huawei, chipmakers like Qualcomm temporarily stopped their relations with Huawei. Google said that it would no longer allow access to the Google Play store for new Huawei smartphones. That will diminish their utility for many users.

The public reaction in China to this move was quite negative. There were many calls for counter boycotts of Apple's i-phones on social media and a general anti-American sentiment.

The founder and CEO of Huawei, Ren Zhengfei, tried to counter that. He gave a two hour interview (vid, 3 min excerpt with subtitles) directed at the Chinese public. Ren sounds very conciliatory and relaxed. The Global Times and the South China Morning Post only have short excerpts of what he said. They empathize that Huawei is well prepared and can master the challenge:

Ren said that Huawei will not easily give up on US chips but has a backup. The company is able to make American-quality semiconductors but does not mean it will not buy them, he said.

Huawei is nevertheless “very grateful” to American companies, who have contributed a lot to Huawei. Many of Huawei’s consultants are from American companies such as IBM, Ren said.

Asked how long the crisis will last for Huawei, Ren said the question should be directed at Trump instead.

But Ren said much more than that. Yiqin Fu, a PhD candidate at Stanford University, translated other parts of the interview which are more interesting then the English media reports:

Yiqin Fu @yiqinfu - 11:43 utc- 22 May 2019

Remarkable that Huawei's CEO never appealed to patriotism in his two-hour interview with the Chinese press yesterday. Instead, he said 1) nationalism is bad for the country; 2) China's future hinges on reform and opening up, and 3) China should honor its promises at the WTO.

Re innovation, Huawei's CEO said that China wouldn't be able to innovate given the state of its education. "China is used to throwing money at things. This strategy works for roads and bridges but won't work for chips. How much scholarship is there in our doctoral theses?"

Huawei CEO: China should incentivize foreign talent to migrate -- Israel and the U.S. became innovation hubs because they were able to attract migrants from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. China will waste lots of time trying to innovate with closed doors.

Ren's tone stands in stark contrast to that of state media and official responses from Chinese ministries re Huawei. He even explicitly said, "Huawei products are only commodities. The only basis for using them is if you like them. Politics has nothing to do with it."

Also interesting that Chinese and English-language media focused on entirely different things when reporting the two-hour interview. Chinese intellectuals mostly seized on Ren's comment re innovation and nationalism, while the English-language press ran with headlines like these: Huawei CEO says U.S. ‘underestimates’ the company’s strength

U.S. media often portrait China as tight dictatorship where no one can speak his mind. But these public statements by Ren are nearly all in contradiction to China's current official policies.

In an earlier piece on Trump's trade war with China we pointed out that the U.S. can not win this game because Trump's policy lacks international support:

Few other countries will join Trump's anti-China campaign. It will further isolate the United States. That is quite an achievement for the MAGA man.

A new Bloomberg opinion piece agrees with that view:

Any effort to exert economic pressure on China, or to pursue selective de-integration with Beijing, would be most effective if coupled with a concerted effort to deepen integration with America’s democratic allies. Many of them also have growing concerns about Chinese economic coercion. Yet by launching trade skirmishes not just with China but with allies in Europe and the Asia-Pacific, the Trump administration has created discord where unity is urgently needed. And by reportedly failing to coordinate this ban with close allies beforehand, the administration risks heightening widespread European anger about American unilateralism under Trump.

There is also the question of whether Trump will stick with his current hard line. That question is the also the most important for the Europeans. Why should they break with China when Trump is likely to reverse his decision? He says he still wants to make a deal.

The consequence of the the 737 MAX accidents give China a tool to exert pressure of its own. The credibility of the U.S. regulator FAA is damaged as it was the last one to ground the planes. It is China that will decide when those planes are allowed back into its air. What if it does not do that. What if it buys less planes:

No other country has greater demand for aircraft: In the 20 years through 2037, Boeing estimates Chinese purchases at 7,690 new planes worth $1.2 trillion.

Airbus will be happy to sell all those planes. Unless of course Trump makes a deal and lets Huawei off the hook.

That will be -for now- most likely be the end of the story.

Posted by b on May 23, 2019 at 13:46 UTC | Permalink | Comments (145)

May 22, 2019

Venezuela - After Opposition Support 'Deflated' - U.S. Targets Food Aid Supply

The hot-air figures the U.S. used for its regime change efforts in Venezuela failed to do their job. The New York Times declares their movement "deflated".

Eleven hours after the story went live (and the White House had called?) the headline changed.

While it still repeats propaganda claims, the report makes clear that Guaidó is lacking public support:

CARACAS, Venezuela — It was a daring gambit: Juan Guaidó, Venezuela’s opposition leader, stood by a military base alongside dozens of uniformed officers and political allies, calling for a military uprising against President Nicolás Maduro.
...
Three weeks later, Mr. Guaidó is shuttling among a half-dozen safe houses to escape capture. ... And the protests that filled the streets with Mr. Guaidó’s supporters are dwindling ..
...
Weakened and unable to bring the political crisis gripping Venezuela to a quick resolution, Mr. Guaidó has been forced to consider negotiations with Mr. Maduro. Both sides have sent representatives to Norway for talks, a concession Mr. Guaidó previously rejected.

This change is a turning point for the opposition, which in January had gathered momentum, attracting broad international backing and huge crowds of supporters. Now, that momentum has nearly dissipated — a testament to Mr. Maduro’s firm hold on power even as the country crumbles around him.

The government of Venezuela is talking with some of the opposition parties, there is no confirmation yet that Guaidó's party, which is the most radical opposition element, is actually involved. It is doubtful that the government would want to 'negotiate' with it.

Interestingly the NYT now leaves out the false "interim president" attribute that it previously used to describe Guaidó.

That Guaidó failed with his clownish coup attempt does not mean that the U.S. will give up on its regime change efforts.

Venezuela's economy is in a deep economic crisis. The cause are not the minor socialist attempts its government made, but the economic war the U.S. is waging against it:

United States sanctions are ravaging Venezuela’s vital oil sector and imports, making it increasingly difficult for Mr. Maduro to govern. The country largely ground to a halt over the weekend because of a lack of fuel — a shortage that Mr. Maduro has blamed the sanctions for.

Luckily no one in Venezuela has yet to die for lack of food. But there are severe problems:

[T]hree years have passed since oil prices plummeted from over US $100 a barrel in early 2014 to around US $40 in early 2015. Three years have also gone by since the first sanctions against Venezuela were implemented by the Obama administration, since being intensified by the current US government. The result has been a combination of these two factors with the enormously complex structure of the Venezuelan food system, which is reliant on imports, heavily colonised by northern tastes and swollen by the oil boom of recent decades. Currently, and despite all efforts, the dynamics of food-access depends on income: those who have more money eat more and better.

In 2015 the opposition used its support from large producers, importers and distributors to create artificial scarcity of food and hygiene products. The government responded by creating the Local Provision and Production Committees (CLAPs) which deliver monthly packages to more that 6 million families:

The CLAP program is an arrangement between the government and grassroots groups aimed at distributing subsidised food and other basic household goods to low income Venezuelan households.

The poor welcome their packages but the more wealthy opposition supporters in the U.S. and on the ground always hate the program:

While Venezuela’s commune movement largely supports the CLAPs, the opposition has long claimed the program discriminates against households that don’t support the government. According to the government, the CLAPs have reduced hunger and food scarcity across the country.

The packages program is means based. But there are also CLAP markets (vid) where everyone can buy. CLAP does not discriminate between government or opposition supporters. It just happens that the poor are not the ones who support the neo-liberal politics the opposition parties prefer.

During recent riots opposition supporters burned down CLAP storehouse and packaging centers.

The Trump administration is now joining the opposition effort to increase the number of people in Venezuela who go hungry:

The United States is preparing sanctions and criminal charges against Venezuelan officials and others suspected of using a military-run food aid program to launder money for President Nicolas Maduro’s government, according to people familiar with the matter.
...
Sanctions and fraud indictments are under consideration against Venezuelan military officials and politicians as well as Venezuelan business people and foreign partners, the sources said.
...
Many Venezuelan families rely on the subsidized food program, known by its Spanish initials CLAP, for their basic necessities in the oil-producing South American nation ...

How can a Maduro government subsidized food program "launder money for President Nicolas Maduro’s government"? Their is no logic in the argument the Trump administration makes.

The move will be ineffective. It will not help to 'regime change' the government. Targeting subsidized food distribution for the poor will not increase support for the opposition. Any disruption of CLAP will be blamed on it. The less the people receive, the more they will dependent on even a reduced CLAP and on other government programs.

It is pure viciousness, not thought through politics, that drives this.

Posted by b on May 22, 2019 at 18:41 UTC | Permalink | Comments (77)

May 21, 2019

Uber Drivers Learn To Game Its Antisocial System

Uber and other ride-hailing companies use surge pricing, also known as “dynamic pricing” or “demand-based pricing.” They increase the ride fare if the demand for rides is greater than the available capacity. In moments of heavy demand, they increase their fare up to three times the normal price.

A 2015 Uber and University of Chicago, Booth School of Business, study claims that such surge pricing is beneficial for both sides, the drivers and for those that use the service:

Uber operates in a market with large fluctuations in demand and a variable supply of driver-partners. Driver-partners are free to work whenever they want and must be incentivized to provide services. Under these conditions, economic theory tells us that using prices to signal to riders that rides are scarce and inducing driver-partners to forgo other activities will close the gap between supply and demand and lead to improved outcomes for both riders (as a whole) and driver-partners.

Reality disagrees with what the economic theory tells us. In the U.S. Uber drivers are seen as independent contractors. The drivers say that the standard fare is too low, or Uber's 35-40% share of it too high, to make a living. They therefore looked for and found ways to game the system:

Every night, several times a night, Uber and Lyft drivers at Reagan National Airport simultaneously turn off their ride share apps for a minute or two to trick the app into thinking there are no drivers available---creating a price surge. When the fare goes high enough, the drivers turn their apps back on and lock into the higher fare.
...
“All the airplanes we know when they land. So five minutes before, we turn all our apps off all of us at the same time. All of us we turn our apps off. They surge, $10, $12, sometimes $19. Then we turn our app on. Everyone will get the surge,” one driver says.

It is wonderful to see such worker solidarity:

"And does everyone oblige? Does everyone do it?, Sweeney asks.

“Yes 100 percent. Everyone do it. Everyone knows it’s not worth it. They know if they take a ride from here without surge, without pumping the surge up, it’s not worth it.”

In less than a minute, about 50 drivers are locked into the surge.

“It’s like we work as a family, like a team together. Like as a team. We do it. Every night. We do it again. We drop off, come back again, it’s a routine. We do it to 12 o' clock."

The business idea on which Uber is based is not profitable. From its beginning it grew by breaking the law:

Uber developed an aggressive expansion technique called “principled confrontation” in which Uber simply began operating in a city or region until being told that it didn’t have permission to do so. At that point the firm would mobilize public support for its service, using an array of lobbyists, followed by a political campaign to change the local regulations. It’s a method that worked in large and small communities, but not everywhere – even in the USA and Canada.

That strategy made it impossible to build its business in Europe and elsewhere.

Even while it exploited its drivers the company never made money. In the 4th quarter of 2018 it lost $800 million. The company was immensely hyped with an estimated value of $120 billion before it was recently taken public. But the initial public offering was a total flop. The opening stock price was $42 and fell to $36 within the first two days. The underwriting banks had to step in to prop up the price to $41.85 today, which sums up to a total evaluation of some $70 billion. That is still way too high.

The private investors who bet on Uber during the last years lost money:

From May 2015 on, Uber sold convertible preferred stock to venture investors on the private market at prices of $40 or higher, including 15 transactions with experienced investors at $48.77 each, totaling about $6 billion.

All those investors are underwater today on their Uber shares.

Uber says it will make profits when self driving cars become available, allowing it to eliminate those pesky drivers. But while driver assistance systems are more and more common, it is highly doubtful that truly autonomous cars will evolve within the next decade. When they do they will be easy to sabotage.

Unicorns like Uber, Tesla for example, will also have strong competition from genuine car manufacturers with very deep pockets.

Uber and the like also create high external costs, that the public only now starts to see. They increase the total amount of traffic while hurting public transport and other valuable businesses. The too low worker compensation for its 'contractors' means that the public will, in the end, have to pay for their well being. The company lost $12 billion during the last four years. Its price dumping, financed by its investors, destroyed decent paying jobs in the taxi industry. Over time these costs will create more resistance to such companies and demand for regulating them will increase.

The so called smart investors, who early on bought into Uber and allowed for its failing strategy, will hopefully learn from its upcoming crash and their own high losses.

For the society as a whole such anti-social companies have no value and should not exist.

Posted by b on May 21, 2019 at 17:51 UTC | Permalink | Comments (110)

May 19, 2019

The MoA Week In Review - OT 2019-28

Last week's posts at Moon of Alabama:

See also: Rob Slane at The Blogmire - The Sinking Credibility of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons

John Bolton created the crisis by claiming that Iran put some imaginary missiles on a boat. When Trump told him to stop the campaign, at least for now, the imaginary missile had to be removed. The NYT willingly stenographed the "news": U.S. Officials Say Iran Has Removed Missile Threat From Some Boats

I don't expect that Bolton will let the issue go. He will find or create an incident sufficient to convince Trump to go to war with Iran.

My hunch is that China will -in the end- win through the trade war. Others disagree.
Christopher Whalen at the American Conservative: China Has Already Lost the Trade War

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Other issues:

The movies Hollywood produced are often telling psychological conflicts as the central story. Each character has a certain fixed attitude and the interacting of the characters create the story. It does not matter if the setting is in antic times or in the far future. In the end there are always the bad and the good guy slamming it out in a fistfight.

The historic Chinese drama which I currently favor are based on sociological storytelling. As they develop the stories form their characters. Their attitudes change over time because the developing exterior circumstances push them into certain directions. Good becomes bad and again good. The persons change because they must, not because the are genetically defined. I find these kind of movies more interesting.

This Scientific American piece about Game of Thrones (of which I have seen only half an episode) touches on the differences.

The Real Reason Fans Hate the Last Season of Game of Thrones
It's not just bad storytelling—it’s because the storytelling style changed from sociological to psychological

Use as open thread ...

Posted by b on May 19, 2019 at 18:30 UTC | Permalink | Comments (269)

Why The Takedown Of Heinz-Christian Strache Will Strengthen The Right

During the last days a right wing politician in Austria was taken down by using an elaborate sting. Until Friday Heinz-Christian Strache was leader of the far right (but not fascist) Freedom Party of Austria (FPOe) and the Vice Chancellor of the country. On Friday morning two German papers, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung and Der Spiegel published (German) reports (English) about an old video that was made to take Strache down.

The FPOe has good connections with United Russia, the party of the Russian President Putin, and to other right-wing parties in east Europe. It's pro-Russian position has led to verbal attacks on and defamation of the party from NATO supporting and neoliberal circles.

In July 2017 Strache and his right hand man Johann Gudenus, who is also the big number in the FPOe, get invited for dinner to a rented villa on Ibiza, the Spanish tourist island in the Mediterranean. They are told that the daughter of a Russian billionaire plans large investments in Austria. It was said that she would like to help his party. The alleged daughter of the Russian billionaire, who is actually also Austrian, and her "friend" serve an expensive dinner. Alcohol flows freely. The pair offers a large party donation but asks for returns in form of mark ups on public contracts.

Unknown to Strache the villa is professionally bugged with many hidden cameras and microphones.


A scene from the video. Source: Der Falter (vid, German)

During the six hour long party several schemes get proposed by the "Russian" and are discussed. Strache rejects most of them. He insists several times that everything they plan or do must be legal and conform to the law. He says that a large donation could probably be funneled through an endowment that would then support his party. It is a gray area under Austrian party financing laws. They also discuss if the "Russian" could buy the Kronen Zeitung, Austria's powerful tabloid, and use it to prop up his party.

The evening goes on with several bottles of vodka on the table. Starche gets a bit drunk and boosts in front of the "oligarch daughter" about all his connections to rich and powerful people. He does not actually have these.

Strache says that, in exchange for help for his party, the "Russian" could get public contracts for highway building and repair. Currently most of such contracts in Austria go to the large Austrian company, STRABAG, that is owned by a neoliberal billionaire who opposes the FPOe. At that time Strache was not yet in the government and had no way to decide about such contracts.

At one point Strache seems to understand that the whole thing is a setup. But his right hand man calms him down and vouches for the "Russian". The sting ends with Strache and his companion leaving the place. The never again see the "Russian" and her co-plotter. Nothing they talked about will ever come to fruition.

Three month later Strache and his party win more than 20% in the Austrian election and form a coalition government with the conservative party OeVP led by Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. Even while the FPOe controls several ministries, it does not achieve much politically. It lacks a real program and the government's policies are mostly run by the conservatives.

Nearly two years after the evening on Ibiza, ten days before the European parliament election in which Strache's party is predicted to achieve good results, a video of the evening on Ibiza is handed to two German papers which are known to be have strong transatlanticist leanings and have previously been used for other shady 'leaks'. The papers do not hesitate to take part in the plot and publish extensive reports about the video.

After the reports appeared Strache immediately stepped down and the conservatives ended the coalition with his party. Austria will now have new elections.

On Bloomberg Leonid Bershidsky opines on the case:

Strache’s discussion with the Russian oligarch’s fake niece shows a propensity for dirty dealing that has nothing to do with idealistic nationalism. Nationalist populists often agitate against entrenched, corrupt elites and pledge to drain various swamps. In the videos, however, Strache and Gudenus behave like true swamp creatures, savoring rumors of drug and sex scandals in Austrian politics and discussing how to create an authoritarian media machine like Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s.

I do not believe that the people who voted for the FPOe (and similar parties in other countries) will subscribe to that view. The politics of the main stream parties in Austria have for decades been notoriously corrupt. Compared to them Strache and his party are astonishingly clean. In the video he insists several times that everything must stay within the legal realm. Whenever the "Russian" puts forward a likely illegal scheme, Starche emphatically rejects it.

Bershidsky continues:

Strache, as one of the few nationalist populists in government in the European Union’s wealthier member states, was an important member of the movement Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has been trying to cobble together ahead of the European Parliament election that will take place next week. On Saturday, he was supposed to attend a Salvini-led rally in Milan with other like-minded politicians from across Europe. Instead, he was in Vienna apologizing to his wife and to Kurz and protesting pitifully that he’d been the victim of a “political assassination” — a poisonous rain on the Italian right-winger’s parade.
...
This leaves the European far right in disarray and plays into the hands of centrist and leftist forces ahead of next week’s election. Salvini’s unifying effort has been thoroughly undermined, ...

This is also a misreading of the case. The right-wing parties will use the case to boost their legitimacy.

Strache was obviously set up by some intelligence services, probably a German one with a British assist. The original aim was likely to blackmail him. But during the meeting on Ibiza Strache promised and did nothing illegal. Looking for potential support for his party is not a sin. Neither is discussing investments in Austria with a "daughter of a Russian oligarch." Some boosting while drunk is hardly a reason to go to jail. When the incident provided too little material to claim that Strache is corrupt, the video was held back until the right moment to politically assassinate him with the largest potential damage to his party. That moment was thought to be now.

But that Strache stepped down after the sudden media assault only makes him more convincing. The right-wing all over Europe will see him as a martyr who was politically assassinated because he worked for their cause. The issue will increase the right-wingers hate against the 'liberal' establishment. It will further motivate them: "They attack us because we are right and winning." The new far-right block Natteo Salvini will setup in the European Parliament will likely receive a record share of votes.

Establishment writers notoriously misinterpret the new right wing parties and their followers. This stand-offish sentence in the Spiegel story about Strache's party demonstrates the problem:

In the last election, the party drew significant support from the working class, in part because of his ability to simplify even the most complicated of issues and play the common man, even in his role as vice chancellor.

The implicit thesis, that the working class is too dumb to understand the "most complicated of issues", is not only incredibly snobbish but utterly false. The working class understands very well what the establishment parties have done to it and continue to do. The increasing vote share of the far-right is a direct consequence of the behavior of the neoliberal center and of the lack of real left alternatives.

Last week, before the Strache video appeared, Craig Murray put his finger on the wound:

The massive economic shock following the banking collapse of 2007–8 is the direct cause of the crisis of confidence which is affecting almost all the institutions of western representative democracy. The banking collapse was not a natural event, like a tsunami. It was a direct result of man-made systems and artifices which permitted wealth to be generated and hoarded primarily through multiple financial transactions rather than by the actual production and sale of concrete goods, and which then disproportionately funnelled wealth to those engaged in the mechanics of the transactions.
...
The rejection of the political class manifests itself in different ways and has been diverted down a number of entirely blind alleys giving unfulfilled promise of a fresh start – Brexit, Trump, Macron. As the vote share of the established political parties – and public engagement with established political institutions – falls everywhere, the chattering classes deride the political symptoms of status quo rejection by the people as “populism”. It is not populism to make sophisticated arguments that undermine the received political wisdom and take on the entire weight of established media opinion.

If one wants to take down the far right one has to do so with arguments and good politics for the working class. Most people, especially working class people, have a strong sense for justice. The political assassination of Christian Strache is unjust. What was done during the 2007-8 banking crisis was utterly corrupt and also unjust. Instead of going to jail the bankers were rewarded with extreme amounts of money for their assault on the well being of the people. The public was then told that it must starve through austerity to make up for the loss of money.

While I consider myself to be a strong leftist who opposes the right wherever possible, I believe to understand why people vote for Strache's FBOe and similar parties. When one talks to these people issues of injustice and inequality always come up. The new 'populist' parties at least claim to fight against the injustice done to the common men. Unlike most of the establishment parties they seem to be still mostly clean and not yet corrupted.

In the early 1990s Strache actually flirted with violent fascists but he rejected their way. While he has far-right opinions, he and his like are no danger to our societies. If we can not accept that Strache and his followers have some legitimate causes, we will soon find us confronted with way more extreme people. The neoliberal establishment seems to do its best to achieve that.

Posted by b on May 19, 2019 at 17:10 UTC | Permalink | Comments (91)

May 18, 2019

Open Thread 2019-27

News & views ...

Posted by b on May 18, 2019 at 17:03 UTC | Permalink | Comments (155)

May 17, 2019

Propaganda Intensifies Trade War With China

The dwindling empires' main propaganda outlet, the New York Times, continues its anti-China campaign. It is now by blaming China's president for the failure of trade negotiations with the United States.

    How Xi’s Last-Minute Switch on U.S.-China Trade Deal Upended It:

China’s leader, Xi Jinping, seemed confident three weeks ago that a yearlong trade war with the United States could soon subside, handing him a potent political victory.

He even made a speech saying China would protect intellectual property, encourage foreign investment, and buy more goods and services from abroad — all changes the United States had been demanding as the countries tried to negotiate a deal.

But just a week after that speech, Chinese negotiators sent the Americans a substantially rewritten draft agreement, prompting President Trump to accuse Beijing of reneging on terms that had been settled.

As typical for U.S. propaganda the piece goes on to personifying the decision China made when confronted with overreaching U.S. demands. It is Xi personally, says the Times, who is to blame:

In China’s top-down political system, where President Xi has amassed formidable power, ...

... it is clear that Mr. Xi misjudged ...

Now Mr. Xi risks being backed into a corner, ...

For Mr. Xi, such a move could be seen ...

Mr. Xi’s frenetic schedule and highly centralized style of policymaking ...

“No doubt Xi has tightened the overall policy atmosphere ...

U.S. propaganda is always pointing to one person that solely cases everything and therefore deserves all the hate. It once was Saddam, Saddam , Saddam. Then Ghadaffi, Ghadaffi, Ghadaffi, Assad, Assad, Assad, Putin, Putin, Putin. Now it is Xi, Xi, Xi.

In the real word hardly any person leading a state has as much power as such villainizing propaganda tries to make one believe. Countries have interests that define their policies through processes that are often incomprehensible to the cursory observer. Whatever face is at the top is only representing the layers below. It should be the task of the press to untangle and explain the processes instead of demonizing their representing face. 

So what really happened?

The U.S. started a trade war with China by suddenly putting up high tariffs on Chinese products. China countered with tariffs on U.S. products, but was ready to negotiate  a fair deal. The negotiations about an agreement were held in English in the United States. The U.S. provided a written draft.

When that draft reached China and was translated to Chinese the relevant party and government institutions were aghast. The U.S. demanded that China changes several of its domestics laws. It essentially demanded a complete change of China's trade policies and, most infuriating, was unwilling to go back to the old tariff rates, even if China would comply. It wasn't Xi who rejected the uneven deal, it was the whole Chinese government.

The draft agreement was corrected and sent back to the United States. Trump responded to China's unwillingness to his capitulation demand by further increasing tariffs and by threatening to increase them even more. The trade war will escalate from here and metastasize in other relations.

Deep into the NYT piece, where the propaganda weakens and journalism sneaks in, we can learn all of this:

Several sources said the changes were discussed with other Communist Party leaders, which brought into focus worries that the proposed deal could make Mr. Xi and the party look as if they were bowing to pressure.
...
Mr. Xi may have belatedly concluded that changes to Chinese laws demanded by the United States would be an affront to national honor. Some said Mr. Xi might have felt he had to act after the clauses drew criticism from party leaders who had not been briefed earlier.
...
[T]he administration sought changes to cybersecurity laws that China’s national security establishment saw as interference.

These changes would require authorization from China’s national legislature.

“These conditions that the Americans raised for an agreement, at least from the political point of view, are extremely difficult to accept,” said Cui Liru, a former president of China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, a prominent state research group. “It is almost asking the change of China’s political system.
...
“It is very hard to think China will cave in or surrender to these pressures,” said Wang Yong, the director of the Center for International Political Economy at Peking University. “Public opinion definitely matters.”

So it is not Xi, Xi, Xi. China is not a "top-down political system" and Xi has not "amassed formidable power". China's president Xi is not an absolute king. It isn't he who can make such far-reaching decisions. There is the party, the security establishment and the government apparatus. There are industry interests that need to be taken care of. There is last not least the national public opinion the system has to take into account.

China does not want a trade war with the United States. But, unlike Trump and the NYT assume, it is likely China that will lose less from it than the U.S. will.

As Ambassador Chas Freeman lays out at length, Trump's (anti-)China policy has no strategy. It is one of chaos and will have echos in many other fields:

President Trump’s trade war with China has quickly metastasized into every other domain of Sino-American relations. Washington is now trying to dismantle China’s interdependence with the American economy, curb its role in global governance, counter its foreign investments, cripple its companies, block its technological advance, punish its many deviations from liberal ideology, contest its borders, map its defenses, and sustain the ability to penetrate those defenses at will.

The message of hostility to China these efforts send is consistent and apparently comprehensive. Most Chinese believe it reflects an integrated U.S. view or strategy. It does not.

There is no longer an orderly policy process in Washington to coordinate, moderate, or control policy formulation or implementation. Instead, a populist president has effectively declared open season on China.

Currently each and every arm of U.S. policy is beating up China in any field it can. This hostility will soon become irreversible. China will response in kind and asymmetrically. It now restarts to buy oil from Iran. Ambassador Freeman sees no way how the U.S. could win the game.

China has long prepared for this conflict. Consider Trump's recent move against the Chinese manufacturer Huawei:

The White House issued an executive order Wednesday apparently aimed at banning Huawei’s equipment from U.S. telecom networks and information infrastructure. It then announced a more potent and immediate sanction that subjects the Chinese company to strict export controls.

The order took effect Thursday and requires U.S. government approval for all purchases of U.S. microchips, software and other components globally by Huawei and 68 affiliated businesses. Huawei says that amounted to $11 billion in goods last year.

Huawei currently uses U.S. made chips in many of its smartphones and networking products. But it has long expected the U.S. move and diligently prepared for it:

Huawei's chipset subsidiary HiSilicon said on Friday it will use backup chips it has independently developed for years to cope with the ban from the United States.

He Tingbo, president of HiSilicon, said in an internal letter to staff that Huawei has been preparing for a scenario of survival in extreme conditions when all the advanced chips and technology from the United States become unobtainable.
...
"Today, a historic choice has to be made. Our backup plan will be put into official use," according to the letter.

Soon U.S. chip companies will have lost all their sales to the second largest smartphone producer of the world. That loss will not be just temporarily, it will become permanent. At the same time Trump's tariffs on products from China will further hurt the U.S. economy. The voters already fear that:

By an 11-point margin, voters think increased tariffs on Chinese imports will do more to hurt the economy than help it.

The voters' hunch will soon be confirmed as Walmart and others announce that they will have to increase their prices. Economists also expect that the U.S. consumers will feel significant pain:

“[T]he cost to an American family of three would be about $2,200 if Trump’s full package of 25% tariffs on $500 billion of merchandise imports from China is implemented.

“In the case of the latest 15% additional tariffs on $200 billion, from 10% to 25%, that go into effect by the end of May … the direct cost is $30 billion and the likely indirect cost, through higher US producer prices, will be another $30 billion. Together, that’s $60 billion … about $550 per family.” China will absorb “no more than 5%” of the tariffs.

Few other countries will join Trump's anti-China campaign. It will further isolate the United States. That is quite an achievement for the MAGA man.

Some aspects of China's trade behavior can and should be criticized. But overall China sticks to the rules of the game, while the U.S. is now breaking these. It was not China that moved U.S. factories to its country. U.S. managers did that because the U.S. economic system is based on greed and not on the welfare of its citizens.

There are much better ways to get China to change its trade behavior than by bullying and ever increasing tariffs and sanctions. Ambassador Freeman's recommendable essay provides some of these.

Posted by b on May 17, 2019 at 18:30 UTC | Permalink | Comments (172)

May 16, 2019

Trump Administration Withholds Information That Could Debunk Russian Interference Claims

On Tuesday Russia's President Putin again rejected U.S. claims that his country interfered in the 2016 elections in the United States. Additional statements by Foreign Minister Lavrov provide that there is more information available about alleged Russian cyber issue during the election. He pointed to exchanges between the Russian and U.S. governments that Russia wants published but which the U.S. is withholding.

On Tuesday May 14 Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flew to Sochi to meet with Russia's Foreign Minister Sergej Lavrov and with the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin. It was Pompeo's first official visit to Russia. Pompeo's meeting with Lavrov was followed by a joined news conference. The statements from both sides touched on the election issue.

The State Department published a full transcript and video of the press conference in English language. The Russian Foreign Ministry provided an official English translation of only Lavrov's part.  Both translations differ only slightly.

Here are the relevant excerpts from the opening statements with regard to cyber issues.

Lavrov:

We agreed on the importance of restoring communications channels that have been suspended lately, which was due in no small part to the groundless accusations against Russia of trying to meddle in the US election. These allegations went as far as to suggest that we colluded in some way with high-ranking officials from the current US administration. It is clear that allegations of this kind are completely false. [...] I think that there is a fundamental understanding on this matter as discussed by our presidents during their meeting last year in Helsinki, as well as during a number of telephone conversations. So far these understandings have not been fully implemented.

Pompeo:

[W]e spoke, too, about the question of interference in our domestic affairs. I conveyed that there are things that Russia can do to demonstrate that these types of activities are a thing of the past and I hope that Russia will take advantage of those opportunities.

During the Q & A Shaun Tanron of AFP asked Pompeo about the election issue:

[I]f I could follow up on your statement about the election, you said that there are things that Russia could do to show that election interference is a thing of the past. What are those things? What do – what would you like Russia to do? Thank you very much.

Lavrov responded first to the question. He said that there is no evidence that shows any Russian interference in the U.S. elections. He continued:

Speaking about the most recent US presidential campaign in particular, we have had in place an information exchange channel about potential unintended risks arising in cyberspace since 2013. From October 2016 (when the US Democratic Administration first raised this issue) until January 2017 (before Donald Trump's inauguration), this channel was used to handle requests and responses. Not so long ago, when the attacks on Russia in connection with the alleged interference in the elections reached their high point, we proposed publishing this exchange of messages between these two entities, which engage in staving off cyberspace incidents. I reminded Mr Pompeo about this today. The administration, now led by President Trump, refused to do so. I’m not sure who was behind this decision, but the idea to publish this data was blocked by the United States. However, we believe that publishing it would remove many currently circulating fabrications. Of course, we will not unilaterally make these exchanges public, but I would still like to make this fact known.

The communication channel about cyber issues did indeed exist. In June 2013 the Presidents of the United States and Russia issued a Joint Statement about "Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs)". The parties agreed to establishing communication channels between each other computer emergency response teams, to use the direct communication link of the Nuclear Risk Reduction Centers for cyber issue exchanges, and to have direct communication links between high-level officials in the White House and Kremlin for such matter. A Fact Sheet published by the Obama White House detailed the implementation of these three channels.

One inference from Lavrov's statement is that the "fundamental understanding on this matter"  between the two presidents that has "not been fully implemented" is the release of the communications about cyberspace incidents. The Russians clearly think that a release of the communications with the Obama administration would exculpate them. That would also exculpate Trump from any further collusion allegations. Why then does the Trump administration reject the release? Who is blocking it?

Pompeo did not respond to Lavrov's points. His next meeting that day was with President Putin.

Putin let him wait for three hours. Both sides issued short opening statements. The English translations of what Putin said differ. In the version provided by Russia Putin explicitely denies the alleged election interference:

For our part, we have said many times that we would also like to restore relations on a full scale. I hope that the necessary conditions for this are being created now since, despite the exotic character of Mr Mueller’s work, he should be given credit for conducting what is generally an objective inquiry. He reaffirmed the lack of any trace or collusion between Russia and the current administration, which we described as sheer nonsense from the very start. There was no, nor could there be any interference on our part in the US election at the government level. Nevertheless, regrettably, these allegations have served as a reason for the deterioration of our interstate ties.

The State Department version does not include the Russian denial of election interference but doubles the rejection of the collusion claim:

On our behalf, we have said it multiple times that we also would like to rebuild fully fledged relations, and I hope that right now a conducive environment is being built for that, because, though, however exotic the work of Special Counsel Mueller was, I have to say that on the whole he had a very objective investigation and he confirmed that there are no traces whatsoever of collusion between Russia and the incumbent administration, which we’ve said was absolutely fake. As we’ve said before, there was no collusion from our government officials and it could not be there. Still, that was – that was one of the reasons certainly breaking our (inaudible) ties.

An English language live translation of that paragraph (vid) by the Russian sponsored Ruptly does not include the word 'election' in the highlighted sentence, nor does a live translation (vid) by PBS.

It seem that the Kremlin later inserted the explicit denial of election interference into Putin's statement. It is quite possible that Putin, who did not read from a prepared paper, mangled the talking point that Lavrov had already made.

After the meeting Putin, Pompeo held a short press availability with the U.S. journalists accompanying him. There is no mentioning of Lavrov's point.

There were secret communications between the Obama administration and the Russian government about the alleged election interference and 'hacks' of the DNC and of Clinton's campaign manager Podesta. They are not mentioned in the Mueller report nor in any other open source. As Russia wants these communications released it might be possible to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to press for their publication. The Trump administration response to such a FOIA request could at least reveal the reasons why it is withholding them.

The allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 elections are partly based on the fact that a commercial Russian enterprise used fake characters on Facebook to sell advertisement. A review of the themes and ideological positions those fake characters provided demonstrates that they were not designed to influence the U.S. elections.

In contrast to those Russian fakes other fake characters on Facebook, provided by an Israeli company and revealed today, were clearly designed to influence elections:

Facebook said Thursday it banned an Israeli company that ran an influence campaign aimed at disrupting elections in various countries and has canceled dozens of accounts engaged in spreading disinformation.
...
Many were linked to the Archimedes Group, a Tel Aviv-based political consulting and lobbying firm that boasts of its social media skills and ability to "change reality."
...
On its website, Archimedes presents itself as a consulting firm involved in campaigns for presidential elections.

Little information is available beyond its slogan, which is "winning campaigns worldwide," and a vague blurb about the group's "mass social media management" software, which it said enabled the operation of an "unlimited" number of online accounts.

Don't expect any protest from Washington DC about such obvious election interference in other countries.

---
Hat tip to Aaron Maté for pointing out Lavrov's statement

Posted by b on May 16, 2019 at 18:11 UTC | Permalink | Comments (135)

May 15, 2019

The Lunacy Of Waging A War On Iran From Which China And Russia Will Win

The scare mongering about an attack on Iran continues. Bolton must be laughing his ass off how easy he can play the issue based on nothing. He simply counters any debunking of the alleged 'thread from Iran' by upping the ante. Yesterday a British general in Iraq denied that any such threat exists in the area of his responsibility:

“No – there’s been no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria,” Maj. Gen. Christopher Ghika, deputy commander of Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR), the coalition responsible for counter-terrorist operations against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, said in a video briefing, according to the Guardian.

Today Bolton countered that by again raising the noise level around the imaginary threat:

The U.S. Embassy in Iraq says the State Department has ordered all non-essential, non-emergency government staff to leave the country right away amid escalating tensions with Iran.

The alert, published on the embassy's website on Wednesday, comes after Washington last week said it had detected new and urgent threats from Iran and its proxy forces in the region targeting Americans and American interests.

Bolton is for now achieving the results he wants. He systematically fills the public space with talk about the non-existing 'threat from Iran'. If that threat is established in the public mind by its constant repetition, it will be used for the usual false flag incident to justify to launch a war on Iran.

Bolton's power might change though. The knifes are out against him and there are rumors that he might get fired:

Two sources familiar with the matter tell me President Donald Trump’s rumbustious National Security Council chief is headed for the exits, having flown too close to the sun on his regime change efforts for Iran, Venezuela and North Korea. “Hearing that Trump wants him out,” a former senior administration official told me.

Bolton (and maybe Trump too) want a war on Iran because Bibi Netanyahoo asked for one, because the anti-Iranian MEK cult and Zionists paid him to wage one, and because he thinks he can do so without damaging the United States.


by Ted Rall (used with permission) - bigger

It is the last point where he is completely wrong. The war on Iraq destroyed the position of the U.S. as the 'sole superpower'. Russia used the aftermath to come back into the Middle East while China gained time to fortify its position in Asia. The once sole superpower is now only a primus inter pares with China and Russia. A U.S. war on Iran would further diminish its position. China and Russia would both end up with an increased standing in the world while the U.S. would lose out.

Here is why.

Yesterday the New York Times promoted the options the Pentagon gave to the White House for a war on Iran. It led with the 120,000 troops option which made no sense:

The number is too high for an attack by air and on sea and too low for an attack on land, i.e. an invasion of Iran.

Newsweek now says that the 120,000 troop option is only the prelude for an invasion of Iran:

Pentagon officials told Newsweek that if deployed, the role of the 120,000 U.S. forces would center on logistical support and developing infrastructure to preposition U.S. forces for the option of a ground invasion. The original 120,000 would integrate into an additional surge of U.S. forces sent into the region.

These "Pentagon officials" are not "military officials", i.e. not soldiers. They seem to have no idea what they are speaking about. An invasion and occupation of the mountainous Iran would require over half a million soldiers just for the start. Even an invasion of only the oil rich areas on Iran's west coast and on its border with Iraq would require a force of some 300,000 men. Without a draft the U.S. military is unable to sustain such a large operation for more than two or three months.

And invade from where please? Iraq would certainly not allow U.S. forces to attack its neighbor from its grounds. An invasion by sea is prohibited by the confined water of the Persian Gulf, the lack of minesweepers, and of other maritime assets.

The people who talk up such a war have a serious case of delusion:

A Pentagon source told Newsweek if anything is likely to happen involving the preliminary Iran options, it would involve a heavy guided missile strike campaign in an attempt to lead Tehran to the negotiation table with Washington.

"It depends on the escalation of force. But no matter the bravado from Iran’s side, when you get hit it with 500 missiles every day, it degrades you, which is the objective. When your opponent is weak, you get more out of any negotiation," said one official with knowledge of the Iran plans.

Once upon a time one Saddam Hussein, egged on by the U.S. and Arab Gulf dictators, had similar ideas. When he attacked Iran in 1980 he thought that he could seize Iran's oil-rich Khuzestan Province within a month or two. After the 1979 Islamic revolution the Iranian military was in disarray. Many officers had been dismissed or had left. Iran was under a global weapon embargo while Iraq had support from all large powers. The war did not take too month. It took eight years, the use of chemical weapons against Iranian cities, a large U.S. operation against the Iranian navy, and over a million death on both sides before Iran was willing to accept a ceasefire. In the end the border was restored to its prewar state. Iraq nearly went bankrupt due to the war which is the reason why it later seized Kuwait and had to endure the consequences.

In light of that history it is hilarious to believe that one would "get more out of negotiations" with Iran by each day launching 500 missiles at it.

And what about Iran's retaliation capabilities? Iran has a large missile force and drone fleet of its own. It has well equipped proxy force in Lebanon and elsewhere. Each cruise missile hit on Tehran can and will be countered by one on Tel Aviv. Iran would also have support from China and from Russia which can provide all kind of weapons it needs through the Caspian Sea, while the U.S. would lack capable allies.

Iran's missiles can hit any country in the Middle East that hosts U.S. forces. It can target Saudi desalination plants, UAE refineries and various oil shipping ports. Energy prices would go through the roof. The recent incidents near the UAE port Fujairah and the attack on the Saudi east-west pipelines were likely not caused by Iran. But they give a minor taste of what Iran's asymmetric capabilities could achieve.

The 'Pentagon officials' should reread their briefings on the Millennium Challenge exercise which simulated a U.S. (blue) attack on Iran (red):

At the start of MC ’02, to fulfill the forced-entry requirement, blue issued red an eight-point ultimatum, of which the final point was surrender. Red team leader Van Riper knew his country’s political leadership could not accept this, which he believed would lead the blue forces to directly intervene. Since the George W. Bush administration had recently announced the “preemption doctrine,” Van Riper decided that as soon as a U.S. Navy carrier battle group steamed into the Gulf, he would “preempt the preemptors” and strike first. Once U.S. forces were within range, Van Riper’s forces unleashed a barrage of missiles from ground-based launchers, commercial ships, and planes flying low and without radio communications to reduce their radar signature. Simultaneously, swarms of speedboats loaded with explosives launched kamikaze attacks. The carrier battle group’s Aegis radar system — which tracks and attempts to intercept incoming missiles — was quickly overwhelmed, and 19 U.S. ships were sunk, including the carrier, several cruisers, and five amphibious ships. “The whole thing was over in five, maybe ten minutes,” Van Riper said.

The war hawks' inability to learn from history is quite remarkable:

Firing Line with Margaret Hoover - @FiringLineShow- 20:14 utc - 14 May 2019

Senator @TomCottonAR tells Firing Line if it comes to war with Iran, he is confident the United States would win, and would win swiftly. “Two strikes, the first strike and the last strike,” says the Senator. (video)

We have heard such talk before:

"I believe demolishing Hussein's military power and liberating Iraq would be a cakewalk."
    Ken Adelmann, February 13 2002, Washington Post
"The idea that it's going to be a long, long, long battle of some kind I think is belied by the fact of what happened in 1990. Five days or five weeks or five months, but it certainly isn't going to last any longer than that."
    Donald Rumsfeld, November 15 2002, CBSNews
"This is going to be a two-month war, not an eight-year war."
    Bill Kristol, March 29 2003, CSPAN

The war on Iraq would be a short simple affair, said the Tom Cotton like nutters. It was also said to cost next to nothing. Sixteen years later, after a million dead, $2 trillion spent and after enduring a huge economic crisis, the U.S. is still fighting in Iraq.

There are no short or cheap wars. War is by its very nature unpredictable, costly, and hardly ever ends as desired.

John Bolton has long argued for a war on Iran. Should he get his will and push the U.S. into launching a war, both sides of it will lose out. There will also be a lot of collateral damages in several other countries in the Middle East, and other severe consequences we can not yet foresee.

What is assured though is that the biggest winners of such a war, and maybe the sole ones, will be Russia and China.

The Democratic opposition in the U.S. seems to have little time to argue against another war in the Middle East. It is still busy subpoenaing the remnants of the Russiagate investigations. But isn't it evident that Putin is -right now- using the infamous pee-tape to push Trump into a war on Iran from which Russia's standing in the world will profit? What are they doing to prevent that?

Posted by b on May 15, 2019 at 16:33 UTC | Permalink | Comments (176)

May 14, 2019

U.S. Increases Risk Of War On Iran Without A Path To De-escalation

Is the U.S. military, which lost its powerful positions in the White House, trying to get National Security Advisor John 'Stache' Bolton fired? 

A 'leak' to the New York Times accuses Bolton of preparing for war on Iran:

At a meeting of President Trump’s top national security aides last Thursday, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan presented an updated military plan that envisions sending as many as 120,000 troops to the Middle East should Iran attack American forces or accelerate work on nuclear weapons, administration officials said.

The revisions were ordered by hard-liners led by John R. Bolton, Mr. Trump’s national security adviser. It does not call for a land invasion of Iran, which would require vastly more troops, officials said.

The development reflects the influence of Mr. Bolton, one of the administration’s most virulent Iran hawks, whose push for confrontation with Tehran was ignored more than a decade ago by President George W. Bush.

If asked for 'options' the military typically lays out three scenarios. The first is very minor action unlikely to have any effect. The second is what the military sees as reasonable or wants. The third option is fantastically exaggerated. The 120,000 troop deployment is the third option. The number is too high for an attack by air and on sea and too low for an attack on land, i.e. an invasion of Iran. Releasing the third option number is likely designed to rally against such a move.

More than a half-dozen American national security officials who have been briefed on details of the updated plans agreed to discuss them with The New York Times on the condition of anonymity.
...
Among those attending Thursday’s meeting were Mr. Shanahan; Mr. Bolton; General Dunford; Gina Haspel, the C.I.A. director; and Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence.

In a possible quit pro quo the delivery of 'options' by the Defense Department happened on the same day that acting Secretary of Defense Shanahan was finally nominated for the permanent position. The previous Secretary of Defense James Mattis had ignored similar options requests from the White House. Trump fired Mattis at the end of last year.

An alternative view is that Bolton himself leaked the briefing to shore up the Trump administration's propagandistic threat against Iran.

Still, it is obvious that that some of those present at the meeting disagree with whatever Bolton's plans are.

In another sign of disagreement within the Trump administration the State Department just fired a Bolton ally:

A top U.S. arms control official and prominent Iran hawk has resigned from the State Department after serving just over a year in the position, said U.S. officials and congressional aides familiar with the decision.

The State Department on Monday did not offer a statement explaining the planned departure of Yleem Poblete, the assistant secretary of state for arms control, verification and compliance.
...
In April, Reuters reported that some U.S. officials were concerned that the compliance report politicized and slanted assessments about Iran, which the Trump administration has singled out as the country’s principal foe.
...
Poblete was a favorite among hard-line anti-Iran groups such as the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which hosted her for a speech in July 2018 in which Poblete praised the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran deal.

The news comes after mysterious reports of damage on allegedly four ships, including two Saudi oil tankers and a Norwegian vessel, anchored near the United Arab Emirates oil port Fujairah. The incident is said to have happened on Sunday morning but the official report came only some 36 hours later. Only one of the ships was pictured with damage that seems to have resulted from a collision and not from explosives:

The owner of the Norwegian vessel, Thome Ship Management, said the vessel was “struck by an unknown object”. Footage seen by Reuters showed a hole in the hull at the waterline with the metal torn open inwards.

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Fujairah lies east of the Strait of Hormuz. The UAE built a pipeline from its oilfields on its west coast to Fujariah to avoid that its oil exports have to pass through the Strait which Iran can control. The attack near Fujairah will be interpreted as a warning from Iran that no oil export from the Gulf is safe unless Iran can export too.


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But it is far from assured that Iran was involved in the incident:

It was a similar situation when a Japanese tanker, the M. Star, was damaged by a bomb in 2010 about 14 miles (22 kilometers) off the U.A.E. coast near Fujairah. The Brigades of Abdullah Azzam, a Sunni militant jihadist group, claimed responsibility.

The UAE is actively involved in a the war against the Houthi in Yemen and against Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda affiliates in Libya. It has hostile relations with Turkey and Qatar. There are many who would like to send it such a message.

That the damage appeared to have come from a collision points to another possible culprit. U.S. submarines are known to move submerged in and around the Strait of Hormuz . There are two known incidents, in 2007 and in 2009, in which submerged U.S. submarines collided with other ships in the area.

Curiously the news of the damaged ships came after false reports of fire in the UAE appeared in Iran friendly media:

Earlier, the UAE was the subject of false accounts of an attack after news outlets with links to the Kremlin, Hezbollah and Iran spread claims that a series of explosions had occurred on land at Fujairah’s port.

Reports that between seven and 10 oil tankers anchored at the port were in flames were shared widely on social media accounts on Sunday.

Some reports said that American and French warplanes had been flying over the port at the time of the incident.
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The reports of fire and explosions that emerged on Sunday morning apparently originated in Al Mayadeen, a Lebanese broadcaster and news outlet regarded as pro-Hezbollah.

Burning ships near Fujairah would be widely seen from land, sea and air. No pictures of any such fire appeared on social media.

The Al Mayadeen report may have been part of a warning from Iran. Or it may have been a preemptive move to undermine a false flag incident that was to be blamed on Iran. Iran seemed to deny any involvement in the incident:

In a statement issued early Monday, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Moussavi described the incident as "lamentable" and "worrying" and called for thorough investigations.

He also warned Persian Gulf neighbors to stay vigilant in the face of plots by "ill-wishers" to undermine maritime security.

On May 10 the U.S. warned that Iran might target commercial vessels. That, together with the lack of information and of visible damage on other ships, points to a false flag incident initiated to slander Iran. A U.S. official blamed Iran but provided no evidence:

A U.S. official in Washington, without offering any evidence, told The Associated Press that an American military team’s initial assessment indicated Iran or Iranian allies used explosives to blow holes in the ships ...

An attempt on Monday by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to rally European countries against Iran failed:

While Secretary of State Mike Pompeo may have been hoping that a hastily arranged stop in Brussels today would allow for photos and headlines showing American and European unity and joint resolve in the face of rising tensions with Iran, European allies did not seem interested in playing along.
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EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini did little to hide her irritation that the Americans had abruptly decided to make a show of consulting the Europeans on rising Iran tensions.
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“We were told during the night that [Pompeo] was planning to change his travel plans and to have a stopover here in Brussels,” Mogherini told journalists ahead of the EU foreign ministers meeting. “We will be here all day with a busy agenda so we will see during the day how and if we manage to arrange a meeting. He is always welcome, obviously, but there are no precise plans for the moment.”

“Any escalation should be avoided,” she said.

El Pais reports (Spanish) that Spain withdrew its frigate 'Méndez Núñez' from the US carrier strike group that is moving towards the Persian Gulf.

To counter the increased war talk emanating from the White House, Iran put some of its military on alert:

Iran has deployed its ballistic and cruise missiles, some in positions visible to US satellites and drones. They are ready for any confrontation with the US military apparatus, in case the US administration decides on war. Iran is responding to President Donald Trump’s belligerent declaration that he is gathering more naval forces in the Persian Gulf as a possible preparation for war. The Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called for a full readiness of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the army for the worst-case scenario. According to Iranian officials, “Iran will consider itself at war with every country in the Middle East that allows the US to use it as a base for its military campaign against Iran, the day Trump decides to go to war”.

It is difficult to judge if the rhetoric and moves against Iran, amplified by gullible media, are just propaganda aimed at pushing Iran towards negotiations, or if they are a build up of a realistic military threat against that country. What is assured though is that the current situation increased the chance of an incident - caused willfully or by accident by Iran, the U.S., or interested third parties - that could lead up to a war or at least some intense military exchanges. The all-out economic war the U.S. wages against the people of Iran increases this instability. There are no communications between the U.S. and Iran and the Trump administration seems to have no de-escaltion strategy:

“This administration’s maximum pressure campaign, and Pompeo’s 12 demands from Tehran, leaves little room for Iran to conduct face-saving negotiations,” Geranmayeh said, echoing the concerns of many who fear that Washington has left no room for Iran to walk back its threats and come to the table.

Posted by b on May 14, 2019 at 8:39 UTC | Permalink | Comments (174)

May 13, 2019

Syria - OPCW Engineering Assessment: The Douma 'Chemical Weapon Attack' Was Staged

On April 7 2018 Syrian 'rebels' claimed that the Syrian government used chlorine gas and Sarin in an attack on the besieged Douma suburb near the Syrian capital Damascus. They published a series of videos which showed dead bodies of mainly women and children.

The claim of the 'chemical attack' was made shortly after U.S. President Trump had announced that he wanted U.S. troops to leave Syria. It was designed to "pull him back in" which it indeed did. In an illegal 'retaliation' the U.S., Britain and France launched a number of cruise missiles against Syria. Most of them failed to reach their targets.

Moon of Alabama published a number of pieces on the issue which are listed below.

It seemed obvious from the very first claims of the 'gas attack' that it did not happen at all. The Syrian government had no motive to use any chemical weapon or an irritant like chlorine in Douma. It had already won the battle. The incident was obviously staged, like others before it, to drag the U.S. into a new attack on Syria.

Of special interest on the incident scene were two gas cylinders which were photo- and video-graphed near to where the dead bodies were found. It was claimed that the cylinders were dropped from Syrian army helicopters and crashed through concrete roofs. One cylinder allegedly 'bumped' after completely penetrating the roof and came to rest on a bed. The other cylinder allegedly broke a roof open and came to rest on a balcony.

To anyone with a bit of 'feel' for material behavior of concrete and metal on impact, it was obvious that the damages caused on the concrete and on the cylinders were incompatible with each other. The concrete, reinforced with steel, was thoroughly penetrated while the cylinders showed only minimal damage. The roofs were most likely penetrated by artillery impact while the cylinders were most likely put there by hand.


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Shortly after the incident the NATO aligned propaganda group Bellingcat asserted that the cylinders were dropped from helicopters. In June 2018 the New York Times published a rather laughable virtual crime scene analysis of the Douma incident. Neither included an engineering assessment of the impact forces and the related damages on the cylinders and roofs. Neither had visited the scene. From observing superficial visual markings both falsely concluded that the gas cylinders were dropped from helicopters.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which sent a Fact Finding Mission to the scene to investigate the case, made a detailed engineering analysis of the impact and damage. But the results of the engineering assessment were left out of its mealy-mouthed and inconclusive final report (pdf).

Now the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media obtained a copy of the 15 pages long OPCW Engineering assessment of two cylinders observed at the Douma incident - 27 February 2019 (pdf).

[UPDATE May 16]:

The OPCW confirmed to Peter Hitchens of Mail Online that the obtained Engineering assessment is genuine. It provided no additional information.

[End Update]

After testing various hypotheses through experiments, simulations and finite element analysis the engineering sub-group of the OPCW investigation concluded (emphasis added):

32. At this stage the FFM engineering sub-team cannot be certain that the cylinders at either location arrived there as a result of being dropped from an aircraft. The dimensions, characteristics and appearances of the cylinders and the surrounding scene of the incidents, were inconsistent with what would have been expected in the case of either cylinder having been delivered from an aircraft. In each case the alternative hypothesis produced the only plausible explanation for observations at the scene.

33. In summary, observations at the scene of the two locations, together with subsequent analysis, suggest that there is a higher probability that both cylinders were manually placed at those two locations rather than being delivered from aircraft.

The engineering assessment confirms our earlier conclusion. The whole scene as depicted by 'rebels' and propaganda organs was staged. The more than 34 dead on the scene were murdered elsewhere under unknown circumstances.

In its discussion of the OPCW engineering assessment and its suppression by the OPCW management, the Working Group states:

The new information we have removes all doubt that the organization has been hijacked at the top by France, UK and the US. We have no doubt that most OPCW staff continue to do their jobs professionally, and that some who are uneasy about the direction that the organization has taken nevertheless wish to protect its reputation. However what is at stake here is more than the reputation of the organization: the staged incident in Douma provoked a missile attack by the US, UK and France on 14 April 2018 that could have led to all-out war.

The cover-up of evidence that the Douma incident was staged is not merely misconduct. As the staging of the Douma incident entailed mass murder of civilians, those in OPCW who have suppressed the evidence of staging are, unwittingly or otherwise, colluding with mass murder.

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Earlier coverage of the Douma incident published by Moon of Alabama:

April 8 - Syria - Timelines Of 'Gas Attacks' Follow A Similar Scheme (Update II)
April 9 - Syria - Any U.S. Strike Will Lead to Escalation
April 11 - Syria - A U.S. Attack Would Be Futile - But Serve A Purpose - by M. K. Bhadrakumar
April 11 - Trump Asks Russia To Roll Over - It Won't
April 12 - Syria - Threat Of Large War Recedes But May Come Back
April 13 - Syria - Manipulated Videos Fail To Launch World War III - Updated
April 14 - F.U.K.U.S. Strikes Syria - Who Won?
April 16 - Syria - Pentagon Hides Attack Failure - 70+ Cruise Missiles Shot Down
April 19 - Syria - Who Is Stalling The OPCW Investigation In Douma?
April 20 - Syria Sitrep - Cleanup Around Damascus - WMD Rumors Prepare For New U.S. Attack
July 6 - Syria - OPCW Issues First Report Of 'Chemical Weapon Attack' in Douma
July 7 - Syria - Mainstream Media Lie About Watchdog Report On The 'Chemical Attack' In Douma

 

Posted by b on May 13, 2019 at 11:55 UTC | Permalink | Comments (93)