November 15, 2008

Kilcullen And A Pony

By Cernig

There's very interesting interview today with counterinsurgency guru David Kilcullen in the New Yorker.

My take - he says there's less than a year before Afghanistan is irretreivable, that Pakistan is the true central front and that he can see how to rescue both nations. I think he's being overly optimistic about the timeframe to rescue the Afghanistan misadventure. It has already slipped past, for reasons Kilcullen actually explains in his interview - the recalcitrance and corruption of US-backed governments in Pakistan and Afghanistan, too many years of ignoring the very real Pakistan problem, training the Afghan police to be an army-lite instead of policemen and then allowing the Taliban to become the party of law-and-order, insensitive Coalition military operations etc. We can see how things need to be fixed but we can't get there from here.

When you look closer Kilcullen is entirely vague both on what needs to be done in Pakistan (compared with far more specific plans in Afghanistan) and on how to get the political leadership of both nations to go along with any Western plans.

Pakistan (rather than either Afghanistan or Iraq) is the central front of world terrorism. The problem is time frame: it takes six to nine months to plan an attack of the scale of 9/11, so we need a “counter-sanctuary” strategy that delivers over that time frame, to prevent al Qaeda from using its Pakistan safe haven to mount another attack on the West. This means that building an effective nation-state in Pakistan, though an important and noble objective, cannot be our sole solution—nation-building in Pakistan is a twenty to thirty year project, minimum, if indeed it proves possible at all—i.e. nation-building doesn’t deliver in the time frame we need. So we need a short-term counter-sanctuary program, a long-term nation-building program to ultimately resolve the problem, and a medium-term “bridging” strategy (five to ten years)—counterinsurgency, in essence—that gets us from here to there. That middle part is the weakest link right now. All of that boils down to a policy of:

(a) encouraging and supporting Pakistan to step up and effectively govern its entire territory including the FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas], and to resolve the current Baluch and Pashtun insurgency, while
(b) assisting wherever possible in the long-term process of state-building and governance, but
(c) reserving the right to strike, as a last resort, at al Qaeda-linked terrorist targets that threaten the international community, if (and only if) they are operating in areas that lie outside effective Pakistani sovereignty.

There's a massive element of Pony Plan in his prescriptions, and it involves everything that the Coalition military cannot do on its own. How does the West get the Pakistani leadership to do a) and b), especially when that would first involve winnowing out the "fecklessness or complicity of some elements in Pakistan" which is the biggest stumbling block to finding a solution to both those massive problems and to ending the safe haven that Al Qaeda and the Taliban's leadership has enjoyed inside Pakistan?

That "and a pony too!" element in even this COIN guru's thoughts about the regions non-military problems reminds me hugely of the shortcomings in the military-led COIN strategy in Iraq, of course. And he's got this telling line on that: "we don’t want to un-bog ourselves from Iraq only to get bogged in Afghanistan while Iraq turns bad again." I thought the narrative was that we were past the chances of the latter happening...

Add to | Digg this

November 14, 2008

Sarkozy Breaks Ranks On Missile Defense

By Cernig

Well now:

France's U.S.-friendly president sent a clear message Friday to the next American administration: Plans for a U.S. missile shield in Eastern Europe are misguided, and won't make the continent a safer place.

... "Deployment of a missile defense system would bring nothing to security ... it would complicate things, and would make them move backward," Sarkozy said at a news conference with Medvedev. Medvedev smiled and pointed his finger at Sarkozy in approval.

...Sarkozy said he was worried about Russia's threat to deploy short-range Iskander missiles near Poland in response to the U.S. move.

"We could continue between Europe and Russia to threaten each other with shields, with missiles, with navies," he said. "It would do Russia no good, Georgia no good and Europe no good."

Sarkozy said he would discuss the missile issue with NATO counterparts at a summit early next year and proposed a pan-European security conference after that, to include Russia. Medvedev welcomed the idea.

All the more remarkable because:

1) Sarko wasn't just speaking for France - he was meeting with Medvedev as part of an EU-Russia summit and France currently holds the EU presidency.

2) His remarks came just days after the US missile defense supremo, Gen Oberling, said that US interests would be "severely hurt" if the program was cancelled. Obviously, Sarkozy doesn't think that French or European interests would be likewise negatively affected.

Add to | Digg this

Yon And Instie Declare Victory In Iraq

By Cernig

Michael Yon, the Right's favorite "good news" war correspondent has declared victory in Iraq, telling Instapundit Glenn Reynolds "The war is over, and we won".

And the wingnut blogosphere seems ready to take them at their word. What a pity Yon couldn't have phoned Instie before the elections, eh?

I think thats probably a bit over-optimistic of them. So do Gen. Petraeus and the entire U.S. intelligence community, but what does they know, compared with Yon, Reynolds and the Fighting Keyboarders? However, since they believe it, can we have all the troops home now? Not just over the course of a few years, but right now?

Add to | Digg this

A Boondoggle To Defend Against A Fiction?

By Cernig

On Wednesday, Iran announced it had tested what it said was a new missile. But Iran has a history of exaggerating its accomplishments in weapons development, variously claiming stealth aircraft that aren't and missiles that don't exist. Western experts reckon there was actually nothing new this time either - and in fact there may not even have been a "this time":

Andrew Brookes of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies said: "I think the Iranians just keeping on rejigging the same missile and putting a new logo on it. It's basically the Shahab 3 with a different name, and the purpose of the test firing is to tell the world, 'don't forget us', we have missiles that can reach 2,000 kilometres."

"However, the launching of these missiles is not that meaningful because the Iranians have not developed an advanced minituarised warhead to fit into the front end, unless they are getting help from North Korea or Russia, and Moscow says it is not supporting Iran's missile programme.

... Duncan Lennox, editor of Jane's Strategic Weapons, said:.. "What is not clear is whether the test firing took place today or whether it's a photograph taken out of the archives but from the pictures it looks like a two-stage missile with a range of 1,900-2,000 kilometres."

And Dr. Jeffrey Lewis also notes that there's even scepticism over whether this rebranded missile, by either name, is actually solid fuelled - which makes a vast difference to its military usefulness as liquid fuelled missiles need a long time sitting on their launchers while they're filled with fuel (which can easily explode anyway) during which time they are sitting ducks for airstrikes.

Even such a missile is capable of hitting Tel Aviv, however - and the Israelis are supremely confident they could shoot it down before it did. It cannot reach Rome, Athens or Prague from Iran, and as such doesn't constitute any kind of threat to Europe. (Although it could reach Tbilisi, Georgia - but then again, so could earlier, far less sophisticated Iranian missiles, it's only 500 or so miles.) Even if Iran had missiles that could target Europe - and ever has warheads worth doing that with - as Dr. Lewis has previously noted, the Aegis cruiser platform would be a better alternative to the multi-billion boondoggle the Bush administration has proposed in Eastern Europe, both more effective and more sensitive to Russian concerns.

So what's going on? Well, Spencer Ackerman recently spoke to a bunch of Pentagon officials and military experts for a piece in the Washington Independent about Obama's relationship with the military and its supporters. Their unanimous advice was: "Consult, don’t steamroll — and don’t capitulate." and to make it clear there's only one Commander in Chief. In an adjunct piece at his FDL home, Spencer directly tackles the military budget and attitudes to "big ticket" procurement:

One of my sources for the piece is a Pentagon official who requested anonymity. He made a really interesting point that, alas, had to fall out of the piece. Despite the unsustainability of half-trillion-dollar military budgets during this period of dire financial hardship, the services will cling to their favorite big-ticket programs with an icy death-grip. If Obama's really going to make painful cuts to unnecessary defense programs, he's got to go all-out, making it clear that he's in charge and the cuts are happening no matter what. If he doesn't do that, he's going to get rolled throughout his presidency.

And he specifically links that to missile defense and Gen. Oberling, who told the AP:

The Air Force general who runs the Pentagon's missile defense projects said Wednesday that American interests would be "severely hurt" if President-elect Obama decided to halt plans developed by the Bush administration to install missile interceptors in Eastern Europe.

Oberling is due to retire in a couple of weeks. Does anyone doubt that his next job will be for either one of the contractors who stand to gain big-time from the ABM program or one of the neocon think tanks who have pushed it so hard as part of their "New American Century" plans? Those think tanks - themselves heavily funded by the very same arms manufacturers - have made explicit that missile defense should eventually include space-based weapons and be aimed at Russia too (thus Russia's consternation at the current plans) and intend a January push to sway the Obama administration and public opinion in an attempt to prevent Obama cancelling the program, as he has previously indicated he might.

These vested interests intend trying to steamroller Obama from word one, and Oberling is willing to bend the truth all out of shape in their service. He's pushing, as one ex-military writer puts it, "a ballistic missile defense system that doesn't work to defend it from ballistic missiles that don't work either." And the Cheneyites of the Right are willing to start Cold War II to get it, and the money for their arms-making allies that it represents.

Add to | Digg this

November 13, 2008

Condi Rice's History

By Cernig

Warren Strobel at McClatchy's Nukes and Spooks blog:

The Bush administration will soon be history, but that hasn't stopped its senior members from trying to rewrite history for the next couple of months ... and no doubt, long after.

We were watching a video of CSPAN's interview with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice when we had to suddenly stop and hit the rewind button. Rice said this, and we quote:

When I go to Europe, I no longer see any difference in the view that a stable and secure Iraq is in everybody’s interest, and that an Iraq that is democratic and in which Saddam Hussein, that brutal monster that caused three wars in the region, including dragging us in twice, that used – who used weapons of mass destruction against his own people, that an Iraq that is democratic and friendly to the West is better for the Middle East. I don’t see much disagreement about that.

Dragging us in twice?

Pause. Think about that.

...In fact, the record is now clear (as we reported at the time) that President George W. Bush had decided to go to war against Iraq in early 2002, just a few months after the 9/11 attacks. Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction or significant, operational ties to fundamentalist Islamic terrorists. The Bush administration dismissed Saddam's accounting of his WMD, ignored offers of mediation, and used bogus and false intelligence to make the case for war. It didn't let the U.N. Security Council or opposition from Europeans get in the way. All that makes for an odd definition of "dragging us in."

And this woman wants to go back into education as a career. Do you think she really believes it, or do you think she just knows that the loyal base (you know, deep thinkers like "Thomas Sowell, Glenn Beck, Michelle Malkin, Governor Sarah Palin" - and Ted Nugent) will?

Add to | Digg this

All Politics Is Local, Even In Iran

By Cernig

Dutch journalist Thomas Erdbrink, who is based in Tehran, has a must-read piece today in the Washington Post which details how, now that Obama is the President-Elect and offering no-precondition talks, non-trivial but junior members of the Iranian government are making noises about walking back their own offers to hold unconditional talks.

“People who put on a mask of friendship, but with the objective of betrayal, and who enter from the angle of negotiations without preconditions, are more dangerous,” Hossein Taeb, deputy commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, said Wednesday, according to the semiofficial Mehr News Agency.

... In recent interviews, advisers to Ahmadinejad said the new U.S. administration would have to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq, show respect for Iran's system of rule by a supreme religious leader, and withdraw its objections to Iran's nuclear program before it can enter into negotiations with the Iranian government.

"The U.S. must prove that their policies have changed and are now based upon respecting the rights of the Iranian nation and mutual respect," said Mojtaba Samareh Hashemi, the president's closest adviser.

Ahmadinejad's media adviser, Mehdi Kalhor, said that "in fair circumstances" Iran would be open to talks. "But that is not when you have a bayonet pressed at your artery," he added, referring to the U.S. forces deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf.

All this provides neocon hawks with the perfect opportunity to bang the "prefidious Iranians" drum, and Ed Morrissey doesn't miss that chance:

This is the point that Obama and his allies never seem to understand.  Some people just hate us, and not because of our policies on trade and security.  Iran is a nation run by radical Islamist mullahs who see secular democracy as the enemy of their religion, and Western values as a temporary heresy which they plan to correct with a global caliphate under Iranian control.

Irans’ mullahs see America as the bastion of these values, and Israel as our outpost for them in the region.  Europe is mostly irrelevant to them; they can deal with Europe after eliminating the arsenal of democracy, or hobbling it so badly that we no longer make a difference.

But it's Ed who is missing the point. As Spencer Ackerman points out, Obama is more of a threat to those mullahs than Bush ever was. If you're an intransigent theocon Iranian leader:

All of a sudden, you’re deprived of a method of demagoguery that’s aided your regime for a generation. And if you refuse to negotiate, you’ve just undermined everything you told the international community you wanted, and now appear unreasonable, erratic, and unattractive to foreign capitols. Amazing how the prospects for peace are more destabilizing to the Iranian establishment than any inevitably-counterproductive-and-destructive bombing campaign or war of internal subterfuge.

That's an analysis born out by Erdbrink's past work too. Back in 2004, he co-wrote a Time piece which pointed out that "dominant hard-line clerics are worried that friendly American behavior might aid reformers, who are less anti-Western than the conservatives."

There's a presidential election in Iran next year and a moderate now heads the committee which would choose the replacement for the ailing Ayatollah. In other words, it's not about nukes or about international opinion - its about the shakier thrones Irans hardline government now find themselves sitting upon; with the best weapon in their arsenal, Bush's neocon ways, consigned to history.

Add to | Digg this

G.laringly O.bsolete P.achyderms

By Cernig

I take it as a given that any party-based system of democracy needs a healthy and viable opposition to stop the party in power getting too big for its boots and inevitably heading down the path of hubris towards results that aren't good for democracy. It's a pattern we've seen in the UK with the conservative years that began with Thatcher and with the social democrat years begun in turn by Blair. In the U.S., you've had something not dissimiliar - perhaps now to be perpetuated by Obama following in Blair's footsteps.

However (just like UK conservatives did after Thatcher and Major) the traditional home of U.S. conservatives, the Republican Party, seems intent on making itself as non-viable as possible for the forseeable future. Ted Nugent speaks for the not-so-silent minority of angry Republicans:

Consensus building is for wimps and soulless people who stand for nothing. Compromise is not about being tolerant: these days, it’s about giving up conservative principles.

...Conservative leaders and thinkers such as Newt Gingrich, Jed Babbin, Governor Jindal of Louisiana, Thomas Sowell, Glenn Beck, Michelle Malkin, Governor Sarah Palin and others need to turn up the heat and bring this less government, more individual freedom and strong national defense revolution to a boil. It is time.

My specialty is making Fedzilla punks squirm and turn into a puddle of sweat and drool. Therefore, in the spirit of famous butt kickers Generals Chesty Puller and George Patton, I say we launch an attack on all fronts. Uncle Ted hereby declares it is open season on RINOs. No bag limits or permits required. Conservative ideas, arguments and votes are the weapons we will use. Hunt them down and shine a blazing light on these RINO turncoat cockroaches. Zero in the "we the people" crosshairs of your voting assault weapon and aim for the RINO pumpstation. Double tap center mass. Whack em and stack em, track em and hack em, pack em and give em no slack. Let's do to the RINO beasts what we did to the passenger pigeon. Force out of the Republican Party out the subspecies known as RINOs.

Thus do the dinosaurs ignore their coming nadir, by impugning the adaptability of those pesky omnivourous mammals, neither carnivore nor herbivore but some unholy combinbation of both. It's a theme that other hardline "thinkers" of the right - like Malkin, Palin and Beck - have been plenty vocal about too.

And, all schaudenfreude aside, it's going to be a disaster not only for the G.O.P. but for America at large. If Obama doesn't follow Blair down the path of over-reach and broken promises (simply because, well, he'll get re-elected anyway without a viable alternative) then his Democratic successors in the Oval Office will. Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland, in an NYT op-ed today, sets out how UK conservatives spent their time in the wilderness and how they found their way back.

Mr. Cameron’s candidacy was built on a simple premise: modernize or die. He told the Tories they had to look as if they actually liked the country they sought to govern, rather than wishing they could turn back time. They could not hope to form a winning coalition without appealing to the Britons whom Mr. Blair had made his own: women, suburbanites, the highly educated. Relying on angry old white men was never going to get the Conservatives much beyond 33 percent.

To that end, Mr. Cameron set about decontaminating the Tory brand. Central to that mission were forays into two areas of political terrain previously deemed forbidden zones. First, he signaled comfort with gay rights, ditching the party’s previous support for laws restricting sexual equality. Second, he championed environmentalism.

It remains to be seen whether the G.O.P. will be the vehicle for an eventual US conservative comeback. It's quite possible that it will atrophy and die under the direction of the American hard right's neocons and theocons - far more virulent than their British counterparts ever were. But if so, then some other party will be the conservative party, with a vastly reduced extremist influence, and the right will eventually regain at least parity with the left again. By then, that will be a good thing.

Add to | Digg this

Hawks Pressure Obama To Ignore Iraqi Sovereingty

By Cernig

Some more thoughts about Gates staying on as SecDef and about Gareth Porter's article yesterday which says sources within Obama's transition team tell him that the chances of are pretty low. Gareth wrote:

Opposition to Obama's pledge to withdraw combat troops from Iraq on a 16-month timetable is wide and deep in the U.S. national security establishment and its political allies. U.S. military leaders have been unequivocal in rejecting any such rapid withdrawal from Iraq, and news media coverage of the issue has been based on the premise that Obama will have to modify his plan to make it acceptable to the military.

The Washington Post published a story Monday saying that Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, opposes Obama's timeline for withdrawal as "dangerous", insisting that "reductions must depend on conditions on the ground". Along with Gen. David H. Petraeus, now the head of CENTCOM and responsible for the entire Middle East, and Gen. Ray Odierno, the new commander in Iraq, Mullen was portrayed as part of a phalanx of determined military opposition to Obama's timeline.

Post reporters Alec MacGillis and Ann Scott Tyson cited "defence experts" as predicting a "smooth and productive" relationship between Obama and these military leaders "if Obama takes the pragmatic approach that his advisers are indicating, allowing each side to adjust at the margins." But if Obama "presses for the withdrawal of two brigades per month," the same analysts predicted, "conflict is inevitable."

The story quoted a former Bush administration National Security Council official, Peter D. Feaver, who was a strategic planner on the administration's Iraq "surge" policy, as warning that Obama's timetable would precipitate "a civil-military crisis" if Obama does not agree to the demands of Mullen, Petraeus and Odierno for greater flexibility.

Underlying the campaign of pressure is the assumption that Obama's 16-month timetable is mainly posturing for political purposes during the primary campaign, and that Obama is not necessarily committed to the withdrawal plan.

There's certainly a gap between Obama's campaign promise of 16 months and the 36 months of the SOFA wording, but the hawks are seemingly advocating ignoring that SOFA hard limit too, if "conditions" warrant it. If Obama doesn't stick to that timetable, he has to explain why he's setting the SOFA negotiations and the stated intentions of the Iraqi government during those negotiations - that the US withdraw from urban areas by end 2009 and entirely by 2011, no exceptions or takebacks -aside. That's a no-no, as the US cannot unilaterally go ask for an extension of the UN mandate and expect to get it. A continued presence would then be an absolute infringement of Iraqi sovereignty and make the US presence clearly an illegal occupation. It seems to me that its the folks who are pushing for doing just that who are out of bounds. Not only are they asking to set international law at naught but inviting a massively renewed insurgency. That's just simply not a credible option.

Thus, it occurs to me that they're simply setting up a conservative-aiding and military-excusing narrative for when Iraq's civil war goes South again, which it must given that there's been no reconciliation of the various underlying factional causes for it. "Look at the mess - if Obama had kept the troops in Iraq like we advised it wouldn't have happened." Which will ignore, and hope no-one remembers by then, that staying wasn't a legal or sensible option.

And that's a long way of saying that the kind of brutal and mercenary "realists" who would advocate such a move for purely selfish reasons - and deliberately dump their own shares of blame on their President's head in the process -  have no business being anywhere near the triggers of the world's most powerful nation nor near the levers of power. Send them all into the wilderness.

Add to | Digg this

November 12, 2008

Report: Obama To Stand Up For Iraq Withdrawal

By Cernig

Gareth Porter at IPS has been talking to (anonymous, as ever) Obama transition team folks who tell him that the chances of Robert Gates staying on as SecDef "are now about 10 percent".

The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that two unnamed Obama advisers had said Obama was "leaning toward" asking Gates stay on, although the report added that other candidates were also in the running. The Journal said Gates was strongly opposed to any timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, and it speculated that a Gates appointment "could mean that Mr. Obama was effectively shelving his campaign promise to remove most troops from Iraq by mid-2010."

Some Obama advisers have been manoeuvering for a Gates nomination for months. Former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig publicly raised the idea of a Gates reprise in June and again in early October. Danzig told reporters Oct. 1, however, that he had not discussed the possibility with Obama.

Obama advisers who support his Iraq withdrawal plan, however, have opposed a Gates appointment. Having a defence secretary who is not fully supportive of the 16-month timetable would make it very difficult, if not impossible for Obama to enforce it on the military.

A source close to the Obama transition team told IPS Tuesday that the chances that Gates would be nominated by Obama "are now about 10 percent".

The source said that Obama is going to stick with his 16-month withdrawal timeline, despite the pressures now being brought to bear on him. "There is no doubt about it," said the source, who refused to elaborate because of the sensitivity of the matter.

As Gareth points out, mainstream opposition to a set timetable has been widespread, with a constant narrative saying that Mullen, Petraeus and Odierno all oppose a fixed timetable and that Obama would wiggle on a fixed timetable to stave of an inevitable conflict with the Pentagon.

But that Pentagon opposition seems to ignoring, or setting aside as beneath their notice, Iraqi statements that there must be a complete U.S. withdrawal by the end of 2011 and the revised "status of forces agreement" which seems to have removed any "wiggle room" without trampling all over iraqi sovereignty in a way that would announce High Noon for insurgents there. Obama, however, is reported to be ready to stand by his campaign promises and the wishes of the Iraqi people.

Obama's website makes no such pledge to "adjust" the timetable. Instead it says the "removal of our troops will be responsible and phased, directed by military commanders on the ground and done in consultation with the Iraqi government." It defends the rate of withdrawal of one or two brigades per month and offers to leave a "residual force" in Iraq to "train and support the Iraqi forces as long as Iraqi leaders move toward political reconciliation and away from sectarianism."

When Obama met with Petraeus in Baghdad in July, Petraeus presented a detailed case for a "conditions-based" withdrawal rather than Obama's timetable and ended with a plea for "maximum flexibility" on a withdrawal schedule, according to Joe Klein's account in Time Oct. 22.

But Obama refused to back down, according to Klein's account. He told Petraeus, "Your job is to succeed in Iraq on as favourable terms as we can get. But my job as a potential commander in chief is to view your counsel and interests through the prism of our overall national security." Obama defended his policy of a fixed date for withdrawal in light of the situation in Afghanistan, the costs of continued U.S. occupation and the stress on U.S. military forces.

Let's hope that Porter's sources are correct, and that the Big Media narrative saying Obama is about to turn away from his promise is just an attempt to "create reality" by the military and neo-whatever establishment.

Add to | Digg this

Bush Push To Lock Policy For Obama Has Loophole

By Cernig

And now for some good news.

Last May, White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten instructed federal agency heads to make sure any new regulations were finalized by Nov. 1. The memo didn’t spell it out, but the thinking behind the directive was obvious. As Myron Ebell of the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute put it: “We’re not going to make the same mistakes the Clinton administration did.”

... But that strategy doesn’t account for the Congressional Review Act of 1996.

The law contains a clause determining that any regulation finalized within 60 days of congressional adjournment — Oct. 3, in this case — is considered to have been legally finalized on Jan. 15, 2009. The new Congress then has 60 days to review it and reverse it with a joint resolution that can’t be filibustered in the Senate.

In other words, any regulation finalized in the last half-year of the Bush administration could be wiped out with a simple party-line vote in the Democrat-controlled Congress.

Given how often the Bush administration have sidelined Congress to push their own policies, the notion that a majority of Congress can so easily sideline Bush's last six months in office has a delicious sense of karma about it.

Add to | Digg this

Unofficially Official Leaks To Pressure Syria, IAEA

By Cernig

Yesterday, some anonymous diplomats at the IAEA in Vienna talked to the AP, Reuters and others in a well-orchestrated leak and told them that the atom watchdog's inspectors had found traces of uranium at the bombed "Box on the Euphrates". Cue general speculation, unwarranted by the actual content of the leaks themselves, about Syria's secret nuclear weapons plans.

But the officially unofficial leakers didn't explain whether the "processed" uranium, was lightly enriched, heavily enriched or depleted, or even whether it was in a metallic form or an intermediary UF6 form between raw ore and metal. All of those could be described as "processed" and there's a lot of difference between them. The word was well chosen to fuel speculation.

Previously, even US officials who claimed the building bombed by Israeli warplanes was a reactor had said that it wasn't yet completed and, back in September, El-Baradei told an IAEA board meeting in September that preliminary findings from test samples taken by inspectors granted a visit in June to the desert location hit by Israel bore no traces of atomic activity.

The IAEA described the leaks as an effort to prejudice the agency's conclusions. IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said the IAEA's evaluation of findings from a June visit to the site was not finished and a verdict was unwarranted until the report.

Arms Control Wonk Dr. Jeffrey Lewis points the finger at the US:

The real reason that ElBaradei is reluctant may have more to do with ongoing Israeli efforts to engage Syria. Hibbs has reported that the effort to pressure Syrua has “run aground on a separate diplomatic effort … to encourage Syria to isolate Iran (Hibbs, “Diplomatic efforts to engage Syria hindering US-led campaign at IAEA,” Nuclear Fuel 33:20, p. 4).

So, that’s the rub: Some countries — read the US — want ElBaradei to push for a special inspection — which the Agency has only requested twice in its history. ElBaradei has said that he won’t unless there is evidence of undeclared nuclear material. So, delegations are seizing on the uranium finding — however scant — to force ElBaradei’s hand.

You can see why the DG and the IAEA might be irritated, particularly if the evidence is less clear-cut than the diplomats are suggesting.

And, if it's the U.S. then you can be sure that the Fifth Branch Cheneyites are behind it, in yet another attempt to forestall diplomacy and create the conditions for conflict.

Add to | Digg this

November 11, 2008

Obama, the Iran NIE and Honesty

By Cernig

I'm beginning to wonder what's with Barrack Obama on the subject of Iran's nuclear program, and it's worrying me. Despite the bright spot of his promise to negotiate freely with Iran - something the IAEA and Brent Scowcroft, among many others, agree with - Obama has consistently disagreed with the last US National Intelligence Estimate and the UN's atom watchdog by assuming that Iran is currently seeking nuclear weapons. He said so both during the debates and on the campaign trail. Obama has also, as a consequence of the claim that Iran is seeking nukes, refused to take military action off the table. It is, to say the least, schizophrenic.

Some might want to consider Keith Olbermann's reaction to Bush denying US intel in that way, back last year.

I firmly believe that Obama was the best of two choices and that he'll make the world safer by being less likely by far to carry through on belligerent rhetoric that ignores the facts as they are known - but let's not stick our heads in the sand about his oft-repeated words and what they in fact mean. He has ignored/denied the IAEA and NIE findings almost as much as Bush or McCain have, doubtless for his own political reasons.(I refuse to believe he's so dumb as to actually 100% believe his bald claim that Iran is actively seeking nukes in the face of the extant evidence.)

But now, it's time to lead, to tell Americans the truth rather than what is needed for electability among a US population that has been fed Iran demonization wholesale for decades, and to shuck of the Wormtongue voices of neo-liberals, neoconservatives and neo-whatevers. If Obama disagrees with the consensus finding of the US intelligence community and with the findings of the IAEA, both of whom say that if Iran ever had a weapons program it has been dead for years, then he must say so and say why. Otherwise, he must alter both his rhetoric and his policy to fit reality as expressed by those findings - we've had too many years already of, in Obama's own words, not letting facts get in the way of ideology (or political games).

Add to | Digg this

IAEA Head Would Welcome Direct US/Iran Dialogue

By Cernig

Add Mohammed el-Baradei to the list of those welcoming Obama's statements that he'd talk to Iran.

"If there is a direct dialogue between the United States and Iran, I think Iran will be more forthcoming with the agency," IAEA Director Mohamed ElBaradei said.

"(A) political opening will also convince Iran to work with us to solve remaining technical issues," he told a news conference in Prague after meeting Czech Foreign Affairs Minister Karel Schwarzenberg.

"That political component of the (Iran) issue requires in my view a direct dialogue with Iran and that's why I am very encouraged by President-elect Obama's statement that he is ready to engage Iran in a direct dialogue without preconditions.

El-Baradei, who was one of those that said plainly that Iraq had no extant WMD and was thanked for being right by a Bush administration push to replace him, also underlined that, to date, there is no proof Iran is seeking nuclear weapons either.

We are able to verify all their declared activities, we are able to verify their enrichment programme, which is a good thing. But we are still not able to move forward on clarifying some of the outstanding issues related to alleged studies that could have some linkage to a possible military dimension."

Iran says its nuclear plans are to make electricity so it can export more oil and gas.

"There is a lot of concern about Iran, not today but about Iran in future... whether once they develop the technology, what are they going to use it for, whether they will go for nuclear weapons," said ElBaradei.

"That is the concern shared by the Security Council." [Emphaisis Mine - C]

There's a lot in that snippet to unpack.

First of all, there's the unequivocal statement that everything the IAEA has so far checked has come up clean - a civilian program only and one that cannot now be re-directed to military uses without IAEA foreknowledge. That warning period would be at least six months and possibly a whole year long, so why is anyone still talking about keeping military options on the table? Saber rattling is counter-productive in such a circumstance - there's plenty of time to put talk of such options back in process if Iran ever makes a move to re-enrich to bomb-grade but for now there is no such program.

Secondly - the "alleged" studies el-Baradei refers to are all from 2003 and earlier, from a time when US intelligence says Iran did have a nuke program, in a very early stage, which has since been shut down. Notice all those conditionals? That's because, as Gareth Porter notes in his latest investigative report, the IAEA has serious doubts about US-provided evidence for how extensive those studies were even then. All the information the US has provided the nuke watchdog has come from a laptop provided by the People's Mujahedeen of Iran, a Marxist-Islamist terrorist organistation advocating regime change in Iran in its own favor, which has provided a long list of faulty intelligence claims about Iran, but which has even so become beloved by neocon advocates that "real men go to Tehran". All of the information on the laptop is open to question about its authenticity. Gareth notes that the "next IAEA report, due out in mid-November, will include the first response by the Agency to a confidential 117-page Iranian critique of the laptop documents, according to the Vienna-based source."

Lastly, El-Baradei makes it clear that the IAEA's only worry now is about what Iran might do in future to turn its current entirely civilian program into one with a military dimension. That's in marked contrast to Bush administration officials, Barrack Obama and other Western political figures, who have continued to talk as if Iran has an extant nuclear weapons program. El-Baradei is reminding the UNSC that the evidence contradicts that rhetoric, something Russia has publicly acknowledged already and has refused to bow to US pressure upon. Even now, the Bush administration is trying to push through a third set of UNSC sanctions before Obama comes into office (and before the IAEA report on the "Laptop of Death"'s credibility) and a new meeting is scheduled in Paris for Thursday.

The neocons may be still pushing their narrative of the need to attack an imminently nuclear Iran, in rampant denial of the collapse of their plans for a New American Century. But the truth is that other US and Western policymakers' hostility to Iran, including Obama's rhetoric, have their roots in the decades old US Embassy fiasco and the campaign of demonization that following it rather than in any actual evidence about Iran's current nuclear plans. While that means that, sans a nuclear "smoking gun" there's little chance now of an attack, the race to sanction Iran for what it isn't doing (while rewarding Pakistan, India and Israel for what they are) will continue and will continue with the threat of war ever present.

"This may be the best example in recent times of highly coordinated threat of force against a country to bring about diplomatic solution...I'm not sure," said Ret. Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Hoar, the former head of CENTCOM, the military command responsible for the whole of the Middle East. "[...F]or people that think this is serious, I would put it in the utter folly department."

The best chance of heading that folly off is Obama's dialogue, as it can open up what Iran and the US share, e.g. on Afghanistan.

"What [the U.S.] can do and can't do with Iran is...pretty much a mystery because we have not been prepared to explore with them what the possibilities are," said [Brent Scowcroft, former Republican NSA]. "[...T]alking in itself is not necessarily a concession."

Add to | Digg this

November 10, 2008

Pomegranates For Peace

By Cernig

My friend Nonny at Crooks and Liars has a great story about Englishman James Brett and his one-man mission to convert Afghanistan's poppy fields into a pomegranate cash crop. In 2007, he convinced a local farmer to switch crops, and a remarkable snowball efect ensued.

In 2007, Brett was invited to Kabul to talk to farmers from various regions of Afghanistan about growing pomegranates. He flew to Peshawar and drove through the Khyber Pass heading to Kabul While driving through the Nangarhar Province, he noticed a farmer in a field of opium poppies. After the seminar in Kabul, Brett bought a large piece of card and a blue marker pen, and wrote 'Pomegranate is the Answer'. On his return drive back to Peshawar, he saw the same farmer again in the field, jumped out of the car and ran toward the farmer with his makeshift sign. His horrified translator chased after this mad ginger-haired Brit, yelling, 'Don't go in there, you could be shot!' Undetered, Brett talked to the bewildered farmer through his translator, about the farmer's life, his family, his children, how he lived and why he grew opium, about Brett's own addiction to drugs. Brett explained that pomegranate was not only the best option as an alternative crop to opium poppies, but was the only feasible one for the Afghan climate and growing conditions, and promised to return to the farmer's land a couple months later with pomegranate saplings. He went home and set up a charity called Pom354.

Brett followed through on his promise, returning a few months laster to find the farmer had discussed this idea with sixteen other families with land around his own; all of them wanted to become involved. From there, the plan snowballed – in January, 2008, Afghanistan Television interviewed him, and other farmers asked him for help in changing their fields from poppies to pomegranates. The local member of Parliament and a respected Elder in the Tribal system wanted to know more. A tribal meeting covering the entire Nangarhar Province was called, and 200 Tribal elders invited.

The tribal elders agreed to finish poppy cultivation and switch to growing pomegranates throughout the entire Nangarhar Province by next year, making the region of 1.3 million inhabitants opium poppy free for the first time in a hundred years. The elders told Brett that their decision was based not only on a desire to maintain a level of stability, but because he was the first person who had ever come to them as just an ordinary man rather than a member of a foreign government or a military advisor, someone who simply wanted to see positive change.

That's just bloody excellent. Our feel-good story for today. And the larger lesson is: trying to "nation build" using the Pottery Barn rule, when your first and last thought is for your own national interest instead of the sovereign interests of the people concerned, is always going to fail. People aren't dumb.

Add to | Digg this

A Rose By Any Other Name

By Cernig

The AP reports an officially unofficial leak from the Obama team that closing Gitmo is a priority for the new administration.

Under plans being put together in Obama's camp, some detainees would be released and many others would be prosecuted in U.S. criminal courts.

That's good. This bit isn't so good:

A third group of detainees — the ones whose cases are most entangled in highly classified information — might have to go before a new court designed especially to handle sensitive national security cases, according to advisers and Democrats involved in the talks. Advisers participating directly in the planning spoke on condition of anonymity because the plans aren't final.

U.S. courts handle cases "entagled in highly classified information" on a reasonably regular basis and the forms for dealing with such cases are well established. That phrase is a euphemism (or "lie", to the unsophisticated).  Spencer Ackerman has it exactly right:

If there's anything the military commissions process should have taught, it's that reinventing the legal system doesn't work, as evidenced by the bevy of military lawyers who have resigned in protest of the commissions. The concern, stripped of euphemism, is that the evidentiary basis for many trials of Guantanamo detainees -- including, in many cases, torture -- would never be admissible in any court worthy of the name. That's the Bush administration's legacy. But it can't be the basis for cheapening our legal system.

So we'll wait to see what proposal actually emerges. But consider not only that this is one of the first initiatives that Obama is pursuing -- it's one of the first that he's leaking, as well. This is as clear a signal as can be sent that the Bush era isn't just over, it will be actively rolled back. How far it actually gets rolled back we'll have to wait and see. And pressure.

If the US cannot get convictions in either civil or military courts under the full panoply of law, even if those trials have to be held partially in camera to protect necessary national security secrets as provided for in law already, then the US has scewed the pooch and tainted those prosecutions indelibly with torture, illegal rendition and kangaroo justice. Under those circumstances even Hannibal Lecter would walk - and anyone who understands why these things are anathema to normal jurisprudence would say that was a good thing as a universal standard even if no-one would be happy about individual instances.

If the Obama administration cannot see that, then they will have made themselves complicit in the massive crime that the Bush administration has perpetrated through Gitmo, Bagram , Abu Graib, and a host of secret prisons and illegal torture flights. It doesn't matter whether travesties of justice are conducted on the mainland U.S., at the resort in Cuba or in some undisclosed location - they're still travesties of justice. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet and any "hybrid" having any relationship to Bush's rigged tribunals would stink just as highly.

Add to | Digg this

November 09, 2008

Iraq Provincial Elections On For Jan 31st

By Cernig

Finally, Iraqi authorities have confirmed the date of long-postponed provincial elections. There will be a roughly two month campaign season and elections on January 31.

Here's where the games start in earnest, because the Green Zone elites are in serious trouble if the elections go forward without a "guiding finger on the scales", so to speak:

According to a survey published by an Iraqi NGO, the Al-Amal Association, only 22.7 percent of 12,000 people polled in 11 provinces said they will vote for religious parties or blocks.

Voting for independent candidates is deemed a priority for 26.3 percent of the surveyed public of 11,000 Iraqis, while 23.7 percent said they will select democratic and secular blocks.

In the last provincial elections, in December 2005, religiously-affiliated parties won all the seats in the councils, with the exception of the Kurdish region and Kirkuk.

Expect every dirty trick in the book, from ballot stuffing to candidate assassinations to voter supression at gunpoint. And remember that secular candidates were meant to do a lot, lot better than they actually did in every set of Iraqi elections so far - for pretty much the same reasons.

More, the date sets aside four provinces, pointing up the "Kurdish Problem":

First scheduled for October 1, the polls were postponed when the national parliament struggled to pass an election law because of concerns over the disputed oil-rich northern province of Kirkuk.

The January ballot will be held in only 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces after the new law excluded Kirkuk and the three Kurdish provinces of Arbil, Dohuk and Sulaimaniyah.

Elections in the three Kurdish provinces will not be held until after March 2009 and the existing multi-communal council will continue to administer the province of Kirkuk.

Kirkuk is the biggest potential flashpoint in Iraq nowadays and the Kurds are using every trick they can think of to write their own writ in the areas they claim. Right now, they're digging their heels in and refusing to consider amendments to the Constitution, which have been seen as just as important to reconcilliation attempts as these elections.

I just don't see these elections, and the subsequent protracted playing out of Kurdish differences with the rest of the country, as being violence free. The question really is how bad will it be and how much will resultant bad blood retard rather than advance reconcilliation. There's no easy fix, but at least there's now a firm, Iraqi-imposed, exit date for the US and its coalition allies. I always found it ridiculous that the Pottery Barn rule had been reinterpreted as "we broke it, so we get to tell you how to run your store from now on".

Add to | Digg this

Iraqis And Brits Remember Dead Together

By Cernig

It's Remembrance Sunday in the UK, the Sunday closest to the 11th of November, when at 11 minutes past 11 the Great War ended in 1918. A day to remember those fallen in Britain's wars - almost a million and a half in the two World Wars alone.

And in the middle of the desert in Iraq, a remembrance service for Britons fallen on that foreign field, along with the unknown but far larger number of Iraqis killed:

It looks like another combat mission, but elements of the 7th Armoured Brigade have gathered for arguably one of the most unique Remembrance Sunday services.

The location, a remote British war memorial, built in down town Basra in 1921, moved by Saddam Hussein in 1997, and rediscovered by troops working here in July this year.

Over 40,000 British and Commonwealth troops are remembered on the walls of this enormous building and despite the logistical problems and security risks the military were determined to conduct a final service of remembrance in the desert before they depart next year.

In recent months the British forces have been living and working with their Iraqi counterparts in 18 mentoring sites dotted around Basra.

On Sunday the Iraqi soldiers joined the British for the service, the troops standing side by side throughout the traditional two minutes of silence.

... "It was good of the Iraqi army to come to this and it was good of the Imam and the Padre to work out a combined service, it can be very difficult," Lt Colonel Felix Gedney, head of the mentoring operation in Basra, told me.

This was a good thing to do, on so many levels, on such a sad and thoughtful day when we should be remembering what we have in common as mere humans, not what divides us into warring factions.

Add to | Digg this

November 08, 2008

Blogging Obama's Administration

By Cernig

Jeralyn Merritt has an excellent post about blogging during a Democratic administration: the short answer is that there's going to be plenty to be critical about as well as to supportive of. I feel the same way. Blogs have become an important facet of political debate and have often replaced the mainstream media in it's Fourth Estate role of providing information and interpretations of the facts independently of government spin. There's no reason to change that from Newshoggers point of view.

We'll continue to bring "news less travelled" and foreign affairs posts, as well as domestic politics. Offtimes, we will agree with President-Elect Obama's policies and broad style - as we do with his emphasis on negotiation and diplomacy rather than unwarranted belligerence. That's already showing fruit: Iraqi politicians are sure that Obama can help them make a transition to being the determiners of their own nation's future once again, North Korea is hopeful that it can come in from the cold through negotiation and even Russia, despite some hype suggesting otherwise, is hopeful that Obama won't be a saber rattler in the Bush mould.

A Kremlin statement said Obama and Medvedev "expressed the determination to create constructive and positive interaction for the good of global stability and development" and agreed that their countries had a common responsibility to address "serious problems of a global nature."

To that end, according to the Kremlin statement, Medvedev and Obama believe an "early bilateral meeting" should be arranged.

But there have also been some worrisome aspects to Obama's policy and team building, which we at Newshoggers have not and will not soft-soap. I, for one, recall all too clearly the empty promises of Tony Blair coming hard on the heels of the collapse of Thatcherism. There's a real risk that Obama, like Blair still far better than the alternative, may fall short on his promises or turn out to have misled on them.

In that respect Obama's staffing choices so far, replete with Clinton-era old guard, are a worry. There's no chance of the President-Elect or anyone who has his ear noticing this tiny blog, but I would still advise him if I could to put together a "Devil's Advocate" team of "young guns" to offer a more progressive and fresher alternative to the Cold Warrior mindset. In foreign policy, names that easily spring to mind include Vali Nasr, Juan Cole, Barnett Rubin, Marc Lynch, Travis Sharp and Matt Duss. In economics, Paul Krugman, Nouriel Roubini and Pat Garofalo might be apposite choices.

Maybe, with such "oppo" teams contributing, Obama wouldn't be so given to saying Iran is seeking nuclear weapons when all the evidence says it isn't, or to claim Russia invaded Georgia when the Georgians were the aggressors. He'd perhaps want to rethink the potentially disasterous interventionist aspects of his policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan too. Jeralyn has a list too:

When we get a President who vows to impose a moratorium on executions, close Guantanamo, and try accused terrorists under the Code of Military Justice or in federal courts, who pushes Congress to abolish mandatory minimum sentences, put a lockbox on social security benefits and provide mandatory health care, including affordable and compassionate nursing home care for the elderly, and who has ended the war in Iraq and promised not to get us into other wars preemptively or under false pretenses

These are the kind of things that we should be keeping an eye on as an Obama administration comes together, and here at Newshoggers we certainly will, being critical when we feel we should no matter what partisan politics might ask.

Update: Nicole at Crooks and Liars comments by email:

The one thing that I would caution about being too reactionary about is the inclusion of former Clintonites in the administration.  First, just because you worked for Clinton doesn't mean that you are a DLCer. Second, just by default, because they're the only Democrats we've had in 30 years, if you hire Democrats in DC, chances are pretty good that you're going to get someone who worked for Clinton.  While there are some things that definitely detract from Clinton's legacy (NAFTA, DOMA, DADT come to mind), the prosperity and global status we enjoyed with Clinton are not exactly something we should be running away from.

She has a point and it's one I wish I'd made clearer in the original post - Clinton Dems are, mostly, the only ones available with experience of being in an administration so 'we go to the White House with the Dem staffers we've got, not the Dem staffers we wish we had', as it were. And not all of them are neo-liberal interventionists. But I think my idea of "oppo teams" would just be strengthened by the inclusion of those less awful Clintonistas.

Meanwhile, Glenn Greenwald notes that of course it's too early to say how an Obama presidency is going to turn out, however:

It makes perfect sense -- for the reasons Digby so aptly described this week -- for people to start pressuring Obama now to pay attention to their political principles and agendas.  And it's certainly likely that Obama will end up doing many, many things that warrant and provoke intense criticism.  I have no doubt about that.   But he's entitled to actually start doing things -- on Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, civil liberties, the economy, and otherwise -- before judgments are formed.

Add to | Digg this

Obama's First Presser

By Cernig

It was Barack Obama's first press conference today and the consensus is that he handled himself very well indeed, a refreshing change from stumblin', bumblin' Incurious George. Only one minor fact-checking gaffe - which led to him apologising to Nancy Reagan for saying she held seances at the White House when in actual fact she consulted an astrologer, which is just as daft. It was apparently Hillary who held seances, even if that's not what she wants to call them.

However, over at Unqualified Offerings, Thoreau has a more substantial criticism of Obama's actual policy plans:

You know, for all the decades of talk about fuel efficiency, alternative energy, and energy independence, the most fuel efficient personal vehicles on our roads are primarily foreign brands.  So why, pray tell, should bailing out inefficient Detroit automakers be the top priority if our goal is energy efficiency?

And the easy answer is that, like the big finance houses, they are too big to fail.

Add to | Digg this

November 07, 2008

Georgian Aggression

By Cernig

Finally, the NYT is helping the American public play catch-up with Europeans on the conflict in the Caucusus. Across the pond, it's been generally accepted for quite some time now that the Georgians were the primary aggressors who turned a fairly low-scale civil war into a full-on military conflict with the local superpower, who then took a mile instead of an inch. Here in the US, it's all been about the Russians invading Georgia, as if that happened first, with both presidential candidates accepting that narrative.


Newly available accounts by independent military observers of the beginning of the war between Georgia and Russia this summer call into question the longstanding Georgian assertion that it was acting defensively against separatist and Russian aggression.

Instead, the accounts suggest that Georgia’s inexperienced military attacked the isolated separatist capital of Tskhinvali on Aug. 7 with indiscriminate artillery and rocket fire, exposing civilians, Russian peacekeepers and unarmed monitors to harm.

The observers in question all being members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or O.S.C.E. monitoring team, led by two experienced British military officers.

President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia has characterized the attack as a precise and defensive act. But according to observations of the monitors, documented Aug. 7 and Aug. 8, Georgian artillery rounds and rockets were falling throughout the city at intervals of 15 to 20 seconds between explosions, and within the first hour of the bombardment at least 48 rounds landed in a civilian area. The monitors have also said they were unable to verify that ethnic Georgian villages were under heavy bombardment that evening, calling to question one of Mr. Saakashvili’s main justifications for the attack.

All of which had been previously reported from other sources, just not prominently here in the US. Shelling civilian targets in this way is a war crime - something the NYT even now steers clear of but that the BBC has reported on in some depth. The media here isn't reporting on Georgian leader Saakashvili's domestic troubles either. He's had to fire both his Prime Minister and his Army Chief recently, over 10,000 protestors against his continued rule demonstrated Friday and the democratically elected opposition have asked that foreign aid to Georgia be carefully monitored so that Misha and his cronies don't line their own pockets with it. Saakashvili's response has been to accuse all his opponents of being Russian agents, which is historically what he does just before he calls out the police with clubs.

Now that McCain is out of the running, it seems that the US media are rather more inclined to risk "political balance" for accurate reporting on Georgia. Which may well soon have Americans asking why they are supporting the tie-munching, dissent-bashing neocon in charge there and offering him a place at the NATO table and aid to prop up his rule, instead of just supporting Georgia the country. As Will Bunch says "Just in case you needed an after-the-fact reason to be glad we're not talking about President-elect McCain".

Add to | Digg this

November 06, 2008

Focus On The Family Compares Obama To Nazis

By Cernig

Two days after Obama and the Democratic Party won a ringing 7 million refusal of rightwing fearmongering and hate, the extreme right are unrepentant and none the wiser. Smintheus at Unbossed writes:

This evening James Dobson's Focus on the Family Action sent out a fundraising email to members that likened the victories of Barack Obama and congressional Democrats in Tuesday's election to the Nazi bombing of England during World War II. The author of this vile letter is Tom Minnery, Senior Vice President of Focus on the Family Action. It was nearly inevitable that anger over losing the 2008 election would soon provoke right-wing extremists to violate Godwin's Law. Obama's victory in Colorado may have been particularly galling for the Colorado Springs based Focus on the Family, which has been heavily involved in the political campaign this year advocating for conservative issues. James Dobson personally endorsed the McCain-Palin ticket this fall.

Focus on the Family has not so far posted this hateful fundraising letter on the web. Here is the opening section of the letter:

Dear Friend,

The spirit of Winston Churchill was alive and well on Tuesday night at Focus on the Family Action headquarters.

You may recall that in the most desperate days of World War II – when Great Britain was being pounded daily by Hitler’s Luftwaffe – that Winston Churchill called on his countrymen not to despair from danger but to rise to the challenge.

It goes on in exactly the same vein, saying that:

Our nation has never faced the kind of anti-family, pro-abortion assault that we’re likely to see in the coming weeks and months. We don’t have to guess what the Left will do now that they control Congress and the White House; they’ve told us.

What are FoF so upset about? Freedom of choice, freedom of marriage and legislation to combat discrimination against gays in the workplace. The last, according to FoF, will be an assault on FoF members' religious freedom. Nice of them to state so clearly that theirs is a path of bigotry.

Obama has their number.

Add to | Digg this

Obama Should Include Russia On Missile Defense

By Cernig

Last week, one of George W. Bush's signature policy initiatives - that of missile defense sites in eastern Europe - took a massive hit as the Czech government, which has already signed a deal to host a radar site as part of the ABM initiative, bowed to opposition pressure and said it would hold off on final ratification of the deal until Obama took office in January.

Initially, the Czechs were planning to ratify the missile shield agreements without waiting for the US presidential election results.

For months Topolanek's centre-right government has defended the agreements reached with the Bush administration, but the Czech premier's political position has weakened at home after his liberal ODS party suffered defeats in recent regional and senatorial elections.

Lawmakers and Czech public opinion have been divided over placing the missile defence system in the former communist central European country, and angering Russia.

... The Czech left-wing opposition, which is against the radar installation, called the plans just part "of the erroneous policies of the Bush administration," said Jiri Paroubek, head of the Social Democrats who wants a six-month moratorium on the ratification process.

The Czech government narrowly won a "no confidence" vote on the 27th of October brought about by heated debate over Bush's plans. Only one vote saved them from having to call a general election. Some estimates put Czech public opposition to the deal at over 70%. In Poland, too, the majority of the populace are opposed to Bush's ABM plans, but the Polish premier has pushed through those plans anyway in return for massive military aid from the US.

Neocon backers of ABM are setting up for a big push in January, no doubt in an attempt to infuence Obama who has been vocally sceptical about the $450 billion program. His election platform position was that:

An Obama-Biden administration will support missile defense, but ensure that it is developed in a way that is pragmatic and cost-effective; and, most importantly, does not divert resources from other national security priorities until we are positive the technology will protect the American public.

Right now, the technology is neither cost effective nor pragmatic, and certainly won't protect the American public from non-exiostant Iranian nukes or from all-to-real Russian ones. But, as Peter Kilfoyle points out in the Guardian (h/t Kat), ABM is destabilizing:

It sets Russian against Pole and Czech. It has created a world where Putin and his generals can point to an encircling American military. Ever since the US revoked the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2001, Russia has looked nervously at American expansion. Missile defence, they fear, is ultimately aimed at them, and their strategic defence capability.

The Americans point the finger at "rogue states" – nowadays, a euphemism for Iran. However, when North Korea was the prime concern, the US engaged in an ultimately successful dialogue with them on their weapons programme. If Russia and the European Union had their way, talking with Tehran would remain the way forward.

Russia has actually called America's bluff on missile defence, offering co-operation against rogue states, and the use of radar facilities within Russia. The Americans turned them down.

What's Russia to think? Especially when neocon missile defense plans explicitly include space-based weaponry sooner rather than later and when the obvious focus of neocon planning is Russia, not Iran or any "rogue state". Obama would do well to shake off the hawkish liberal foreign policy establishment, who as old Cold War warriors are reflexively Russia-hating. He should either re-open negotiations with the Russians to expand missile defense planning to include them and European nations as full partners, or nix the whole thing.

Add to | Digg this

Bush Agrees to "No Buts" Iraq Timetable

By Cernig

According to reports, the Bush administration has agreed to three out of five Iraqi amendments to the proposed new deal governing the US occupation there. The timetable for withdrawal by the end of 2011 will now be set in stone, with clauses allowing Baghdad and Washington to seek an extension for retaining troops in the cities beyond 2009 and in the country beyond 2011 dropped entirely. There's no definite information on which two proposals the US didn't agree to, but one seems likely to be the Iraqi wish for clarification of what "on duty" means when governing whether US soldiers committing crimes would be covered by US or Iraqi law.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman says that Washington considers the negotiation process over and that it's for Iraqis now to decide whether they will accept the deal as is. The US embassy issued a statement saying "We've gotten back to them with a final text. Through this step we have completed the process on the U.S. side." The spokesman for Iraqi PM Noor al Maliki, however, has said that the US response "now requires meetings with the Americans to reach a common understanding."

Bush administration officials and the Pentagon had already tied to say that negotiations were closed before considering this latest set of amendments. My guess, given that the current wording would probably not pass the Iraqi parliament, is that the talking isn't over this time either. There's not a lot of time left until the UN mandate expires, though Iraq has said it will seek an extension to that mandate if needed.

Amazing though, huh? For so long the Bush administration has said they'd never agree to a fixed timetable, that any deal had to be "conditions based". And now they've agreed to a fixed timetable. Change you can believe in.

Add to | Digg this

November 05, 2008

Bush Administration's Failed Tactics Kill More Innocents

By Cernig

Simply horrifying:

The NYT reports:

An airstrike by United States-led forces killed 40 civilians and wounded 28 others at a wedding party in Kandahar Province in southern Afghanistan, Afghan officials said Wednesday. The casualties included women and children, the officials said.

The United States military and Afghan authorities were investigating the reports about the latest attack, the American military said in a statement, but it gave no confirmation of the strikes or any death toll.

Well, at least this time the footage of yet another care-less atrocity surfaced before the US military could do its kabuki of denial, investigation, denial again, admission and finally reluctant apology.

But this new disaster, both for Afghanistan and for the West's "hearts and minds" efforts there, underlines why Obama needs to get his act straight on Afghanistan and Pakistan fast and to change the Bush course there as quickly as possible. There are some seriously worrying parts to his policy for the region as he stated it during the campaign - suggesting he would send even greater forces across the border into Pakistan, for example - which would mean an even more hawkish stance than the Bush one in the region. On the other hand, he also offered a policy option - concentrating on civilian aid, education and negotiations - that would ratchet down tensions in the region and perhaps offer a path for more moderate Taliban to renounce violence and come in out of the cold. That latter is the only way to end the US war in the region with anything even approaching a "success" for US interests.

Update: Connor O'Steen, recently returned from Afghanistan, writes in an email:

Wedding parties are an easy target to mistake because there's a large congregation of people, and in rural areas especially there's a predilection to fire guns into the air in celebration. In addition to this the parties are sex segregated, so a drone camera would probably just see a large group of armed men firing guns in Kandahar. 'What else could it be?' they say, "2+2=Taliban."

But this leads to another question, which people are feeding the US Army intelligence about these targets, and why are we still listening to them? From an airstrike near Herat earlier this year, the Army concluded that they had been fed faulty intelligence by local contacts who were using the airstrikes as a solution to familial and tribal enmities. It wouldn't surprise me terribly if we were doing the same thing in the south.

This must in the end result in an arbitrary redistribution of power: the khans that we tap and payroll for 'intelligence' have us destroy their rivals, and their local power increases at the expense of the government in Kabul. Much like the Sunni 'Awakening,' I don't see these connections as being in the long term interests of American security.

He adds that Taliban local commanders aren't in short supply and can be replaced easily by the militants, but that " the kind of communal emnity you cause through collateral damage can't be repaired."

Add to | Digg this

GOP - In Search Of A Moderate Leader?

By Cernig

Commenting on a David Frum article that says the only path to Republican recovery is away from Sarah Palin and her base supporters, Charles at LGF agrees and writes:

If the GOP decides to go in the Bobby Jindal direction (fundamental Christianity, creationism, hard-line anti-abortionism, aggressively anti-gay rights), it will be committing political suicide. As much as anything else, this election was a referendum on the social conservative agenda, and the social conservatives did not win.

That's very true - but what Charles doesn't mention is that it was also a referendum on the hardline neoconservative agenda, and that agenda very definitely didn't win either. Ramesh Ponnuru at the Corner:

McCain slipped by roughly the same amounts among self-described conservatives and moderates. But the losses among the moderates hurt more because there are more of them.

Neither the hard right theocons nor the hard right neocons have the GOP's answer, but both are going to be advancing their argument that they do, forcibly, for some time still. I'm forcibly reminded of what happened within the British conservative movement after the collapse of Thatcherism. Until the extreemists conclusively defeated and the GOP moves back towards the center, it will remain in the political wilderness. So, where's the US Republican Party's David Cameron?

Update: Could it be Jeff Flake? Ed Morrissey seems to think so, while arguing that the real Republican failure isn't the theocons or the neocons, but the bigspendercons. Flake's Wikipedia entry lists his positions on some hot-button issues.

Flake supports creating a temporary worker program for border security, leading some anti-illegal immigration conservative activists to give Flake the Republican In Name Only label.[6] However, others consider him one of the most consistently conservative members of the House and strongly support him. He is one of eight House members to receive a 100% approval rating from the American Conservative Union.[6]

Flake voted against No Child Left Behind, Sarbanes-Oxley, Medicare Part D, Homeland Security Act[3], and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act. He joined John McCain and Jim Kolbe in sponsoring bills to increase legal immigration and establish a guest worker program.

Flake initially supported the Patriot Act and the Iraq War, but more recently has changed his position to one of cautious opposition, including voting against appropriations for both. He also supports ending the Cuba Trade Embargo and has been a proponent of reform in the House, particularly in the wake of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's ethical and fundraising controversies. He co-authored a letter with now former Congressman Charlie Bass of New Hampshire, which called for DeLay to step down ahead of his decision not to seek re-election to the House.[citation needed]

Flake is strongly pro-life, with a rating of zero from NARAL; he has likewise received a zero rating from the Human Rights Campaign for his failure to support legislation that expands the 1969 federal hate-crime law or allows for same-sex marriage.

But oh, that name. The joke-writers would love it.

Add to | Digg this

November 04, 2008

Early Projections: PA For Obama

By Cernig

Almost 8pm on the East Coast and ABC are projecting Vermont for Obama, Kentucky and South Carolina for McCain. Projected voting seems to heavily favor McCain in Georgia. All those states being projected for McCain were on Jay's watch list earlier.

ABC are projecting Pennsylvania for Obama!!

Obama seems to be ahead in Florida, McCain in Virginia.

7:13 CT I've just been told NPR agrees with ABC on PA. According to ABC, Obama is taking roughly an equal share of the white vote while making an almost clean sweep of the black vote.

Add to | Digg this

Malkin Fears Obama's A Black Panther

By Cernig

Let's get this straight - I abhor any and all voter supression and intimidation, no matter who is doing it. And I consider the New Black Panther Party to be no better a set of bigotted nutters using religion and race for their own purile purposes than are the white supremacists and Christian Dominionists they oppose.

But Michelle Malkin has headlined a post about Black Panthers turning up outside a Philly polling place "Obama’s civilian security force: Billy club-wielding security guards at Philly polls" - when she has absolutely no evidence that these people have anything endorsement from Obama, in any shape or form.

If you believe that Malkin has just revealed her own racism thereby, backhandedly exposing in her own words her irrational fear of all blacks...well, you're not alone.

Update: And it looks like the whole story was hyped up in the first place by the Mccain campaign, Fox News and rightwing bloggers. Figures.

Update 2: Oh look - another made up story from the far right, this one about the supression of Republican vote-watchers in Philly.

Add to | Digg this

For Any Value Of XY

By Cernig

My friend Charlie Stross hammers in the nail on Prop 8:

Speaking as a man who happens to be married to a woman, I'm mystified as to how banning someone else from marrying can in any way protect my marriage; but this kind of Orwellian misuse of language is typical of witch hunters. When challenged, supporters of the act often bring up irrelevancies: "marriage is for the purpose of having children," they say, conveniently side-stepping the question of why they aren't in favour of mandatory divorce for childless or elderly couples, or why they oppose allowing gay couples to adopt. Or, "marriage is a holy sacrament," which kind of assumes that everybody shares their definition of "holy".

A quick search for organizations supporting this proposition throws up the usual suspects: the Roman Catholic Church, American Family Association, Focus on the Family — basically the usual sleazy mess of hard-line Christian groups — with the Church of Latter-Day Saints and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America along for the ecumenical pogrom.

Here's a good diagnostic test for whether a proposed law is bigoted: if it applies to a group of people, replace the subject group in question with "Jews" or "Blacks", and see how it reads. If Adolf Hitler or the Grand Cyclops would approve, then it's a fair bet that there's something fishy about it. In the case of Proposition 8, how would you vote if it read, "Only marriage between Christians is recognized in California"? Or "Only marriage between white-skinned people is recognized in California"?

If you are a Californian voter and you vote for Proposition 8, then I'm afraid it means you're a bigot. You favour depriving a subset of the population of their civil rights, you are willing to vote for a measure that will destroy existing marriages, and you will refuse to honour marriage contracts acknowledged elsewhere in the world. And you've tacitly admitted that your own marriage does need protecting (which is kind of pathetic).


Add to | Digg this

Is McCain's Optimism Credible?

By Cernig

Even the most optimistic of McCain backers seems to be admitting that the Dems are going to pick up substantial gains in the House and Senate today - which seems, at least in my poor brain, to be a bit of a mental contortion on their part.

I know that the McCain campaign, in desperation, called on people to vote for McCain/Palin as a balance to Democratic majorities on the Hill (and that the RNCC in response immediately called on voters to send Republicans to the Hill to counterbalance an Obama White House) but how realistic is that really?

McCain and Palin have, during their campaign, pandered to the very worst of their GOP base in the most obsequious, hate-raising and maverick-denying way possible. I just don't see it as likely that anyone who can vote for the McCain/Palin ticket as it campaigned could possibly decide to vote Dem for Senate or House. Likewise, if someone's already decided to voting Republican in a House or Senate choice, I don't see any way they will then decide to vote for Obama/Biden for the White House. It just doesn't pass the smell test, for me.

Which leaves the McCain/Palin "last minute victory" afficionados with an explanation problem - if the GOP are going to take a drubbing, I believe they're going to get it cross-ticket. And they are going to take a drubbing. Has anyone seen them try to square that with their claims, or is the credibility gap just handwaved? From what I've seen and read, it's the latter.

So, it seems to me, the "Last Minute Maverick" stuff is either 1) delusional, 2) simple cynical propaganda to try to stave off an utter collapse of the Republican vote, 3) an attempt to undermine Obama's presidency by giving conservatives excuses to consider it illegitimate, or 4) conservative bigwigs think they can swing stealing the election for McCain but doing the same down-ticket is too hard a task. My money, for now, is on option two. But it's still worth keeping an eye on Republican pre-emptive cries of foul as well as the far more widespread but less hyped stories that indicate the American electoral process, as a technical exercise, has very deep problems.

[ Find Your Polling Place | Voting Info For Your State | Know Your Voting Rights | Report Voting Problems ]

Add to | Digg this

November 03, 2008

Chris Hitchens Defends Khalidi

By Cernig

Chris Hitchens appears to have sobered up enough to realize what nasty people he hitched himself to when he chose to join the warmongering Right over the invasion of Iraq.

A few feeble cracks on a comedy show are not enough to erase the memory of a vulgar and vicious attack, mounted on a rival candidate McCain has publicly called "honorable," only a few days earlier. It had been said that Sen. Barack Obama had once attended a dinner for professor Rashid Khalidi, a distinguished Palestinian academic. It was further said that the Los Angeles Times, which had first reported the five-years-ago dinner in Chicago, was deliberately withholding a videotape of the evening that would show Obama in the audience while tough criticism of Israel was being voiced. Here is how the Republican nominee for the presidency of the United States described the situation in a radio interview in Miami:

I'm not in the business of talking about media bias, but what if there was a tape with John McCain with a neo-Nazi outfit being held by some media outlet? I think the treatment of the issue would be slightly different.

... Khalidi has been known to me for some time and can easily be read and consulted by anyone with the remotest curiosity about the Israeli-Arab dispute. He is highly renowned, well beyond the borders of his own discipline, for his measure and care and scruple in weighing the issue. If he is seriously to be compared to a "neo-Nazi," then the Republican nominee has put the United States in the unbelievable position of slandering the most courageously "moderate" of the Palestinian Arabs as a brownshirt and a fascist. What then has been the point of every negotiation on a two-state solution since President George H.W. Bush convened the peace conference in Madrid in 1991? Nazis, after all, are to be crushed, not accommodated. One would have to think hard before coming up with a more crazy and irresponsible statement on any subject. Once again, it seems that McCain utterly lost his bearings.

I put the word moderate in quotation marks above because I dislike employing it in its usual form. Rashid Khalidi's family is a famous one in Jerusalem, long respected by Arab and Christian and Jew and Druze and Armenian, and holding a celebrated house and position in the city since approximately the time of the Crusades. I have had the honor of being invited to this very house. If Rashid chooses to state that he doesn't care to be evicted from his ancestral home in order to make way for some settler from Brooklyn who claims to have God on his side, I think he has a perfect right to say so. I would go further and say that if Barack Obama was looking for a Palestinian friend, he could not have chosen any better. But perhaps John McCain has decided that he doesn't need any Palestinian friends and neither do we. Perhaps he thinks it's all right to refer to refugees and victims of occupation, who have been promised self-determination and statehood at the podium of the United Nations and the U.S. Congress by George Bush and Condoleezza Rice, as if they were Hitlerites. How shameful. How disgusting. How ignorant.

They always were Chris, even when they were your BFFs. Now, of course, they hate you almost as much as they do Khalidi and Obama - and would hate you just as much if you had a deeper tan.

Add to | Digg this

Where Are All The McCain People At?

By Cernig

Conservative enthusiasm for their nominated candidate seems to be a bit lackluster.

TampaBay Buzz:

About 30 minutes before John McCain is scheduled to lead a rally outside Raymond James Stadium, looks like there's maybe 1,000 people here. What's up with that? On the day before the election? Bush drew at least 15,000 people to a rally just across the street on the Sunday before the 2004 election.

"We are the quiet majority that goes out and gets things done. ... I smell victory,'' said state Rep. Kevin Ambler. Good thing he smells it, because it's hard to see it with this crowd.

CNN's Political Ticker:

John McCain’s first rally of the day, in Tampa outside Raymond James Stadium, only drew about 1,100 people. Local reporters noting that at almost the same spot just before the 2004 election, President Bush drew about 15,000 people. Two weeks ago, Obama drew an estimated 8,000.

Republican Gov. Crist, who had previously agreed to do interviews with CNN and various local affiliates, bolted right after the rally with no explanation.

Hey John? No more caffeine for you!

Significantly, more conservatives will turn out for McCain's "pitbull" than for McCain himself. Equally significantly, even Mitt Romney refuses to say McCain ran a dignified campaign - and yet despite one of the sleaziest campaigns in the history of the World few bought into the McCain Mud Factory. That the conservative base is happier supporting even more of the Rovian same, only stupider, is the entire reason they are headed for the wilderness.

[ Find Your Polling Place | Voting Info For Your State | Know Your Voting Rights | Report Voting Problems ]

Add to | Digg this

The most ridiculous thing Bill Kristol ever wrote

By Cernig

Bill Kristol, always wrong, today wrote:

Barack Obama will probably win the 2008 presidential election.  If he does, we conservatives will greet the news with our usual resolute stoicism or cheerful fatalism.

Does even Kristol believe that? There's going to be a wailing and gnashing of teeth approaching biblical proportions. Internal civil war, recriminations and witch-hunts. Oh, and plenty of renewed calls for the rightwing coup the wingnuts have been pleading for since 2006, to save the poor, dumb American people from Teh Socialist, Muslim, Baby-Killing, Malcom-X-Kin Obamination.

[ Find Your Polling Place | Voting Info For Your State | Know Your Voting Rights | Report Voting Problems ]

Add to | Digg this

Dirty Tricks Done Dirt Cheap

By Cernig

Take one cherry-picked quote, say that a newspaper has been "hiding" it when it has been on their website all along and hype the result through several different rightwing noise-makers. Result - a scandal which says that Obama would like to drive the coal industry bankrupt. One good enough for Sarah Palin to tout on the stump.

The original quote, presented in a cropped clip of an Obama interview that discussed his policy on climate change and carbon "cap and trade", looked terrible for Obama. Especially in places like West Virginia and Ohio:

That will create a market in which whatever technologies are out there that are being presented, whatever power plants are being built, they would have to meet the rigors of that market and the ratcheted-down caps that are imposed every year. So if somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can. It’s just that it will bankrupt them because they’re going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted. That will also generate billions of dollars that we can invest in solar, wind, biodiesel, and other alternative energy approaches.

But it's just the Right cherry-picking its quotes again to fabricate a smear out of whole cloth.

This from the same interview - and unmentioned by the unethical smear-merchants at Newsbusters, who first floated the rightwing's version of the truth:

"But this notion of no coal, I think, is an illusion. Because the fact of the matter is, is that right now we are getting a lot of our energy from coal. And China is building a coal-powered plant once a week. So what we have to do then is figure out how can we use coal without emitting greenhouse gases and carbon. And how can we sequester that carbon and capture it. If we can’t, then we’re gonna still be working on alternatives."

Shows clearly that Obama meant only plants not using clean-coal technology would be hit.

And that is also McCain's position.

On June 21, 2005, Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) told McCain in a Senate debate that his legislation to curb climate change would "put coal of out of business." McCain didn't contest that claim. Indeed McCain agreed that his legislation would "require sacrifice" acknowledging that critics said it would cost "thousands of jobs."

But you won't be hearing that from Newsbusters, Drudge, Malkin, Fox News, Palin or any of the many others who climbed on this "November Surprise" bandwagon.

[ Find Your Polling Place | Voting Info For Your State | Know Your Voting Rights | Report Voting Problems ]

Add to | Digg this

November 02, 2008

Iraq Demands Troop Agreement Answers

By Cernig

The Iraqi government isn't going to allow the Bush administration to run out the clock on status of forces agreements or to punt the decision to the next administration.

Iraq expects a reply from the United States within days to its proposal for changes to a pact requiring U.S. troops to leave by the end of 2011, Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said on Saturday.

"We expect by Tuesday or Wednesday next week to receive answers from the American side about the suggestions of amendments proposed by the Iraqi cabinet," Zebari told U.S.-funded al-Hurra Arabic language television.

"We are talking about a small space of time. It is not open ended, and every side is coming nearer to the moment of truth."

... Iraqi officials have said their proposed amendments would tighten the language demanding a pullout in three years, clarify circumstances under which U.S. troops could be tried in Iraqi courts, and ban U.S. attacks on Iraq's neighbors from its soil.

That last condition is clearly aimed at reducing tensions in both Syria and Iran. But senior Bush administration offcials have already said they're likley to refuse to consider the Iraqi's proposed amendments and have been ratcheting up the political blackmail as they try to force the Iraqi hand.

If the pact should fail, Baghdad has said it will seek an extension to the U.N. mandate. Washington has said that if the mandate expires without a deal it will halt all operations, including services it provides Iraq such as air traffic control.

U.S. Deputy Treasury Secretary Robert Kimmitt said a failure in the pact negotiations could hurt Baghdad's efforts to attract investment now that the country was perceived as being safer.

"What business people are telling us is that they're watching that set of negotiations as they factor in the public policy component of their investment decision," Kimmitt said on the sidelines of a Baghdad investment conference.

An extension to the UN mandate is far from certain to pass the UNSC. Russia has apparently told Maliki that it won't veto such a move, but there's always the Chinese. This Iraqi move, however, will at least mean that the affair will play out on Bush's time and leave the problem obviously one that Bush owns, even if Obama ends up having to fix it.

[ Find Your Polling Place | Voting Info For Your State | Know Your Voting Rights | Report Voting Problems ]

Add to | Digg this

Israel Fears Rightwing Extremist Plot

By Cernig

Israeli intelligence says that it fears assassination attempts from rightwing extremists, designed to derail negotiations on peace in Palestine.

There has been a recent increase in violence by hardline Jewish settlers in the West Bank, and this week, Israel marks the 13th anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by an Israeli opponent of his negotiations.

"Just ahead of the anniversary of Rabin's murder, the Shin Bet sees in the group we're talking about on the extreme right a willingness to use firearms in order to halt diplomatic processes and harm political leaders," Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin said. "The Shin Bet is very concerned about this."

One has to wonder whether that's the kind of thing that far-right US extremists might yet emmulate, if Obama were to carry through on negotiations with Iran, Syria and the rest - or if those extremists were really as worried about Obama ushering in a "socialist" takeover as they say he is.

[ Find Your Polling Place | Voting Info For Your State | Know Your Voting Rights | Report Voting Problems ]

Add to | Digg this

Jonah Goldberg Nukes The Shark

By Cernig

I have to wonder what Jonah is smoking nowadays, and whether he really thinks his attempt at satire in issuing an "Obama 2012, Four Years Later" retrospective from the future his own addled brain is adding to the debate:

The first mistake many cite was actually made before Obama was even elected: the selection of Joseph Biden as his vice president. During the campaign, all eyes were on John McCain's running mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. But even then there were signs of the troubles to come (ironically, Biden's biggest "gaffe" - about Obama being tested early in his presidency - proved eerily prescient).

Still, nothing prepared the country for some of former Vice President Biden's comments while in office. Early on, when he told the Russian foreign minister he'd "rather punch a nun in the throat" than cooperate on an Iranian nuclear deal, the Obama administration knew they had a problem on their hands.

The strange comments and behavior kept coming: at an international summit on child poverty, he accused the Dalai Lama of issuing a "brain fart," he phoned Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts at home and called him a "[re]tard in short pants," and of course the several stories - clearly leaked by aides to the president - of Mr. Biden sitting in the president's chair in the Oval Office and being more than reluctant to get out when asked to do so by the president.

The last straw was Biden's complaint, emphatically offered at the White House Correspondents' Dinner, that he would have more influence over foreign policy if he were black. His staff's effort to dismiss the incident as a joke - at the normally comedic event - fell short largely because Biden shouted "I am not joking!" two dozens times in speech that lasted less than 10 minutes. The fact that Biden had not been invited to speak at the dinner in the first place only added to the controversy.

I mean, c'mon Jonah - Joe Biden isn't Dick Cheney!

And did Jonah really want to open the can of worms and have people speculating what "McCain/Palin, Four Years later" might look like?

Update: The Heretik laments Jonah's lack of confidence in McCain's comeback hopes and writes: "Looking ahead to 2012 means you don’t have to look at the hard reality of 2008, chump."

[ Find Your Polling Place | Voting Info For Your State | Know Your Voting Rights | Report Voting Problems ]

Add to | Digg this

November 01, 2008

State Of Hawaii Confirms Obama's Birth Certificate

By Cernig


Can we now all agree that all the conspiracy theorists who waxed at such length trying to push this non-starter are all just pathetic nutters?

[ Find Your Polling Place | Voting Info For Your State | Know Your Voting Rights | Report Voting Problems ]

Add to | Digg this

Electoral College Predictions All Favor Obama

By Cernig

We all know that it's the Electoral College that really counts - and the BBC notes that as of today the top predictors all call the College for Obama with a comfortable margin over the 270 needed for victory.

Perhaps most significantly, the pollsters see Mccain's grip on Electoral College votes in Arizona, Montana, North Dakota and West Virginia weakening.
Add to | Digg this

October 31, 2008

Would McCain Negotiate With Syria? (What Joe Lieberman Told The Syrian Ambassador)

By Cernig

Check out this very interesting interview with the Syrian ambassador Imad Moustapha at Foreign Policy magazine.

He says clearly that the US raid into Syria was a "criminal, terrorist act", that it was done for reasons of US politics, that it blind-sided State who he had been negotiating with...and that Joe Lieberman personally assured him that McCain will negotiate with Syria if he wins.

Foreign Policy: The United States claims its Sunday night raid was undertaken to stem the flow of militants into Iraq. Why do you think this raid happened?

Imad Moustapha: Do we know why? Of course not. The only analysis we have is that they are doing this for pure domestic political reasons that have everything to do with the elections and the electoral campaign. They want to come out with a story.

But we are still waiting for the U.S. administration to come out and tell the American people: “We killed [Abu Ghadiya], and here is the proof that we killed him.” We have presented our side of the story. We have published the photos of the eight people that were killed, their names, and what they were doing. This is our side of the story. Let the United States come with its side.

... Suddenly, after everybody has recognized that the situation has improved dramatically in Iraq, [the United States] comes and they attack a village in Syria. They coldbloodedly murder eight Syrian civilians, villagers who are totally defenseless, totally innocent. This is a terrorist, criminal act.

The implication here is that the Bush administration wanted to boost McCain's standing in the poills with a little shock and awe and, since Iraq just doesn't provide the requisite level of fearmongering any more and attacking Iran would be too big a can of worms to open, they decided to launch a raid into the weaker neighbour.

Ambassador Moustapha continues by pointing out that Syria has had tens of thousands of troops trying to interdict their border with Iraq - at American behest - for years now. (And despite reports to the contrary, seems to have no intention of reducing that presence now.) However the US with its considerably greater resources has done less than Syria has to stem the flow of smugglers and militants.

Why didn’t [the United States] stop [the insurgents] for five years? They are the most powerful, advanced nation in the whole world. Their military size is at least 500 times our military’s size. Their military hardware is zillions of times more advanced than ours. If we can stop them, the United States can do a 10,000-times better job than us.

Each border in the world has two sides. I would say to [U.S. officials]: “We are doing everything possible within our means to stop them. These are porous borders. These are our means and capabilities. Prior to your war on Iraq, we used to have a couple of hundred of soldiers across this border. Because of your invasion and occupation of Iraq, we increased the numbers to tens of thousands.”

...Syria is not a rich country. We were not supposed to build dormitories and posts there just to help the American invasion of Iraq. However, we had to do this for one simple reason: If the United States believed that there are insurgents crossing the border into Iraq, we will not give the United States a pretext to attack Syria.

Well, that plan didn't work for the Syrians. Why not? The ambassador, without naming names, points to Cheney and the neocons and in so doing lays out evidence that Rice and State were blindsided:

...only last month in New York in September, while we were attending the U.N. General Assembly meetings, [U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza] Rice out of the blue requested a meeting with our foreign minister. So we sat with her, and the meeting was pleasant. Two days later, this meeting was followed with an extensive, in-depth meeting with Assistant Secretary of State David Welch. Every issue was discussed, and in general the overwhelming tone of the meeting was very positive. He told us clearly that the United States was reevaluating its policies towards Syria. We thought, “Things [are] finally starting to move in the right direction.”

And suddenly, this [raid in eastern Syria] happens. I don’t believe the guys from the State Department were actually deceiving us. I believe they genuinely wanted to engage diplomatically and politically with Syria. We believe that other powers within the administration were upset with these meetings and they did this exactly to undermine the whole new atmosphere.

That would fit well with reports that General Petraeus wanted to go talk to Syria too, but was prevented from doing so by Cheney. The purpose of all this is twofold - to give McCain and Republicans a foreign policy talking point in the lead-up to Tuesday and to perhaps complicate Obama's first few months in office. Just how much of a complication that could be came today as, in reaction to the Syria raid, Iraq wants to remove any possibility that U.S. troops could remain after 2011 from a proposed security agreement now under negotiation. If the the SOFA talks stall and the UN security agreement expires at the end of the year, leaving US forces in a legal limbo, the Bush administration will have deliberately set up Obama for the "crisis" that Republicans have been claiming would come in the first six months of an Obama presidency.

Yet despite the McCain camp's echoing of the neocon/Cheney faction's "no appeasement" rhetoric on Syria, the ambassador charges that they're lying through their teeth in public, again for partisan base-boilstering purposes.

I have reason to believe that even if [Senator John] McCain becomes president of the United States, he will also be inclined to sit and talk with Syria. I can tell you this on the record: Senator Joe Lieberman, who is supposed to be very close to McCain, has said this explicitly and very clearly to me personally.

Then again, maybe Joe was just lying to the ambassador.

Congressman Kucinch "We Must Question the Timing. We are on the eve of national elections and we must be mindful of the Administration's past manipulation of security issues in order to influence public opinion."

[ Find Your Polling Place | Voting Info For Your State | Know Your Voting Rights | Report Voting Problems ]

Add to | Digg this

Dems 25 Times Better Than GOP For Stock Market Returns

By Cernig

Via BloggingStocks, Peter Siris of Guerrilla Capital has some figures:

Since 1929 both parties have controlled the White House for 40 years and Siris estimates that the $10,000 would be worth $11,733 under Republican administrations and $300,671 under Democratic ones. According to Siris, "for whatever reason, Republicans have been in office during the three worst stock market declines: The Great Depression, the early to mid-1970s, and the current market."

That may sound interesting but what about recent presidents? Under the Clinton administration, the S&P 500 rose the most in the last 60 years -- up an average of 17.4% per year. The only president who posted a negative performance is a familiar name -- George W. Bush -- under his administration, the S&P 500 has fallen 27% from 1,342 to 979.

Siris will run the figures as part of his column in the NY Post on Monday. So the Mccain camp and republican pundits have all weekend to get their spin ready. They'd better start now.

[ Find Your Polling Place | Voting Info For Your State | Know Your Voting Rights | Report Voting Problems ]

Add to | Digg this

Hot Air And Grasping At Straws

By Cernig

Briebart today ran an AFP article with the misleading headline "US election: If Iraqis could vote it would be for McCain". I say misleading because it mentions in its first few paras exactly three Iraqis who prefer McCain - and in its last paras mentions two who prefer Obama.That's hardly all or even a representative sample of all Iraqis. That hasn't stopped a couple of rightwing bloggers grasping at straws - including Ed Morrissey, who continues his downward spiral of judgement at Hot Air and who I don't think would ever have linked such thin gruel at Captain's Quarters. Ed can count, but he chose not to mention the small sample size to his click-shy readers.

FWIW, back in July, Reuters did much the same thing in reverse. They interviewed two dozen Iraqis and came to the conclusion that Iraqis liked Obama better than McCain because "a black man would understand their plight." (Something only one of the seven quotes they printed even mentioned.) Back then, an Obama story was the one the media wanted to tell, coming off his close-run and exhaustingly covered primary contest with Clinton they needed to make it seem like Obama vs McCain was a real step up, not down, in tension and expectations. Now, they need to do build McCain again to make for an interesting nailbiter of a finish.

What it comes down to is that the media want a close horse-race because that sells better than a romp-home landslide victory. The news networks have been worrying what they're going to do election night if it's all over by teatime so they've been very relieved that McCain has been telling them that there'll be an upset in a close race and everyone's going to be up late watching election coverage.

That explains, entirely, the media push to describe McCain as closing the gap - which every indicator except some hyped outlier polls says he isn't, he's just solidifying his base support. It explains ridiculous speculation like whether or not Osama bin Laden will endorse a candidate, and whether he or AQ in general will actually mean it if he does. McCain's meant to be stronger on foreign policy -especially Iraq and the "War on Terror", so they're hyping these stories.

There'll be more of this kind of nonsense as the last few days tick by, and the media frantically tries to spin the story as one they think they can sell more of. Remember, because of the collapse of Voter News Service, the networks will be relying solely on AP exit poll data for Elections 2008. That's Ron Fournier in charge of what the networks will report, in other words. So even after the voting is over, we're likely to see a last run of hype about a close-run race.

But don't panic - Obama's got this.

[ Find Your Polling Place | Voting Info For Your State | Know Your Voting Rights | Report Voting Problems ]

Add to | Digg this

October 30, 2008

Court Tells CIA It Can Keep Torture Evidence Secret

By Cernig

On Wednesday, the Washington D.C. Circuit Court gave the CIA permission to keep secret unredacted transcripts in which 14 prisoners now held at Guantánamo Bay describe abuse and torture they endured in CIA custody - without even looking at the evidence itself. (h/t Kat)

"The Court, giving deference to the agency’s detailed, good-faith declaration, is disinclined to second-guess the agency in its area of expertise through in camera review," Lamberth wrote (.pdf), referring to a procedure where a judge looks at evidence in his chamber without showing it to the opposing side.

The ruling comes in a case where the ACLU filed a government sunshine suit to force the government to unredact allegations from statements from so-called High Value Detainees such as 9/11 plotter Khalid Sheihk Muhammed that the CIA kidnapped and tortured them.

The judge's decision not to look at the blacked-out text to see if secrets are involved allows the Bush Administration to continue to hide its use of torture techniques, according to Ben Wizner, a staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project.

The CIA says that releasing the transcripts would harm national security - by revealing torturous interrogation techniques and which nations were complicit in facillitating those tortures. That's not how they phrase it, but that's what the double-speak actually means.

"Among the details that cannot be publicly released are the conditions of the detainees’ capture, the employment of alternative interrogation methods, and other operational details," the CIA's Wendy Hilton told the court in a sworn affidavit (.pdf). "Specifically, disclosure of such information is reasonably likely to degrade the CIA's  ability to effectively question terrorist detainees and elicit information necessary to protect the American people"

The CIA also successfully argued that it needed to redact statements about what countries were involved in the program, saying that such allegations could destroy relationships with countries that helped with the CIA's controversial program of secretly kidnapping suspected terrorists and shuttling them to hidden prisons in Europe and Asia, where neither families nor the Red Cross knew of their detention.

The ACLU's Ben Wizner put it plainly (H/t Rachel M):

"This decision allows the Bush administration to continue its illegal cover-up of its systemic torture polices. The government has suppressed these detainees' allegations of brutal torture not to protect any legitimate national security interests, but to protect itself from criticism and liability. It is unlawful for the government to withhold information on these grounds."

It continues to pain me that Democratic leaders refuse to talk seriously about criminal investigations of those who ordered and were involved in illegal rendition and torture. Irealise that the extreme Right would make the issue as divisive as they could. I realise there's a lot of work to be done to roll back the damage the Bush years have done to America. But these war crimes strike directly at the very concept of America and at America's standing in the world as well as at fundamental premises of the rule of law. To deliberately not investigate - and not prosecute where needed - would be itself a crime.

As for John McCain - he thinks that Gitmo is "one of the nicest places in the world" and that allowing detainees who were tortured, illegally detained and are often innocent of all crimes even by the Bush administration's own admission was "one of the worst decisions in the history of this country". What a maverick.

[ Find Your Polling Place | Voting Info For Your State | Know Your Voting Rights | Report Voting Problems ]

Add to | Digg this

October 29, 2008

Iraq Wants Ban On US Using Its Territory To Attack Neighbours

By Cernig

Iraq has produced four proposed amendments to the satus of forces agreement with the US - chief among them being a ban on the US using Iraqi territory to attack its neighbours. The Iraqis want to be able to declare the agreement null-and-void if the US breaks the amendment.

Obviously this is spurred by the US incursion into Syria over the weekend, for which the motives are still murky. But Iraq's friendships with both Syria and the more likely next target of such raids - Iran - is obviously uppermost in Iraqi lawmakers' minds. If the agreement was voided following a hostile act, Iraq could declare the US presence there illegal or even open hostilities after doing so.

The Iraqis also want a clear definition of "duty" when cases arise involving crimes committed off base, presumably so that the US cannot do a legal dance around a provision already in the agreement that US soldiers and contractors are subject to iraqi law when off base and off duty.

And, interestingly, Iraq also wants the right to inspect all U.S. military shipments entering or leaving Iraq. I can see why they'd want to know about those entering - it would give Iran a heads-up if the US suddenly srated pflying in penetrator bombs or tac-nukes, for instance. But I wonder what lies behind the wish to inspect cargos leaving. Illegal renditions, maybe?

The Bush administration, though, have already indicated that they consider negotiations closed and won't look at new amnendments. They're bluffing with a busted flush again, counting on the Iraqi elite wanting a US presence more than it wants and needs political approval from the Iraqi populace. If they're wrong, then January will see either a humiliating climbdown by Maliki - who swore he'd not ask for a renewal of the UN mandate - in advance of provincial elections, or it will see the US occupation of Iraq become as illegal under international law as the original invasion was.

Add to | Digg this

McCain's Friend The War Criminal

By Cernig

Both John McCain and his senior foreign policy adviser Randy Scheunemann are long-time friends of Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili. McCain's decade-long friendship with the Georgian leader is among the closest McCain has with any foreign leader and began in 1995, when McCain directed a search for potential leaders in the former Soviet republics after communism's collapse. He has gone on holiday and jetskiied with him, spoke to him daily on the phone during Georgia's recent conflict with Russia and even sent his wife to Saakashvili's side to offer his support during that conflict. Scheunemann has worked closely with the Georgian leader, accepting his money to lobby on Georgia's behalf on the Hill even while working for the McCain campaign.

But the firebrand, neck-tie chewing, U.S.-educated lawyer has had his problems in the past, at odds with McCain's depictation of him as - in McCain's legendary judgement - a freedom-loving promoter of democracy. In 2007, Saakashvili's government crushed an opposition protest by beating unarmed protestors, shooting them with rubber bullets and fire hoses. They also shut down a TV station critical of the government.

Now though, there's an entirely different category of problem for Mccain's judgement - Saakashvilli has been accused by a BBC investigative reporting team of ordering war crimes and atrocities during Georgia's surprise attack on its breakaway province of South Ossetia, causing the UK government to re-evaluate its support for Saakashvili himself, if not for Georgia.

Eyewitnesses have described how its tanks fired directly into an apartment block, and how civilians were shot at as they tried to escape the fighting.

Research by the international investigative organisation Human Rights Watch also points to indiscriminate use of force by the Georgian military, and the possible deliberate targeting of civilians.

Indiscriminate use of force is a violation of the Geneva Conventions, and serious violations are considered to be war crimes.

The allegations are now raising concerns among Georgia's supporters in the West.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband has told the BBC the attack on South Ossetia was "reckless".

He said he had raised the issue of possible Georgian war crimes with the government in Tbilisi.

It seems to be the case that the Georgian actions were mirrored by tit-for-tat Russian crimes, true. But this is the second time in a few short years that Saakashvili has revealed himself as more of a despot than a democratic leader. The details are horrific.

Human Rights Watch believes the figure of 300-400 civilians is a "useful starting point".

That would represent more than 1% of the population of Tskhinvali - the equivalent of 70,000 deaths in London.

Allison Gill, director of the Moscow office of Human Rights Watch, said: "We're very concerned at the use of indiscriminate force by the Georgian military in Tskhinvali.

"Tskhinvali is a densely populated city and as such military action needs to be very careful that it doesn't endanger civilians."

"We know that in the early stages there were tank attacks and Grad rockets used by Georgian forces," she added.

"Grad rockets cannot be used in densely populated areas because they cannot be precisely targeted, and as such they are inherently indiscriminate.

"Our researchers were on the ground in Tskhinvali as early as 12 August.

"And we gained evidence and witness testimony of Grad rocket attacks and tank attacks on apartment buildings, including tank attacks that shot at the basement level.

"And basements are typically areas where civilians will hide for their own protection.

Worse, the BBC team uncovered evidence that civilians had been deliberately targeted.

Marina Kochieva, a doctor at Tskhinvali's main hospital, says she herself was targeted by a Georgian tank as she and three relatives were trying to escape by car from the town on the night of 9 August.

She says the tank fired on her car and two other vehicles, forcing them to crash into a ditch.

The firing continued as she and her companions lay on the ground.

She showed the BBC the burnt-out wreckage of the car on the town's ring-road, riddled with bullet holes and with a much larger hole, apparently from a tank round, in the front passenger door.

Ms Kochieva says a nurse from her hospital was killed while fleeing Tskhinvali in similar circumstances.

She says she counted 18 burnt-out cars on the ring-road on 13 August, at the end of the war, suggesting there may have been more casualties.

..."The Georgians knew this was the 'Road of Life' for Ossetians. They were sitting here waiting to kill us," she said.

Saakashvili has, of course, denied the accusations. But the UK government is taking them seriously and is not at all happy, perhaps feeling it has been taken for a ride by Saakashvili's protestations of being the oppressed lover of freedom and justice.

David Miliband, who visited Georgia immediately after the war to show solidarity with its government, said he took the allegations of war crimes "extremely seriously" and had raised them "at the highest level" in Tbilisi.

Apparently hardening his language towards Georgia, he called its actions "reckless".

But he added: "The Russian response was reckless and wrong".

"It's important that the Russian narrative cannot start with Georgian actions; it has to start with the attacks on the Georgians from the South Ossetians and that is the tit-for-tat that got out of control," he said.

Even the democratic Georgian opposition says that Saakashvili deliberately provoked Russia's military intervention, possibly believing McCain and Scheunemann's friendship meant America would rush to his aid militarily. (They've asked that billions of dollars in aid be carefully monitored so that the Georgian leader and his associates don't use it to simply prop up their rule. In turn, Saakashvili accuses them of being Russian agents.)

That's not the way McCain sees it - in his debates with Obama he repeatedly claimed Russia was the aggressor. But while the Mccain campaign is hyping up any and all associations between Obama and Bill Ayers, there has been little said in America about McCain's extraordinary lapse of judgement in his far closer association with the Georgian leader - an association which is doubtless driven by McCain's long-term ties to rabidly anti-communist rightwing groups which have sponsored fascist despots, death squads, anti-semites and atrocities aplenty.

Add to | Digg this

October 28, 2008

John Who?

By Cernig

Why does hate John McCain (and, presumably, America)?

Could it have something to do with the war between McCain's original realist supporters (belatedly coming to their senses about the disasterously bad decision Kristol and the Corner strongarmed McCain into) and the Palinites who make up the rump of the party that nominated him? As one Republican apparatchik said the other day "if your against Palin, you're dead to the party".

Add to | Digg this

A Leak Of A Leak, Or Just Made Up?

By Cernig

This story in Israel's Haaretz newspaper is getting a lot of notice from conservative hawks.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is very critical of U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama's positions on Iran, according to reports that have reached Israel's government.

Sarkozy has made his criticisms only in closed forums in France. But according to a senior Israeli government source, the reports reaching Israel indicate that Sarkozy views the Democratic candidate's stance on Iran as "utterly immature" and comprised of "formulations empty of all content."

Sarkozy has certainly been fairly hawkish on Iran - more so than he has been bout any other nation, in fact. But this story isn't even a leak coming out of the French cabinet, its based entirely on what an anonymous "senior Israeli government source" says - an Israeli leak. So it's actually a leak of a leak - or a leak of Israeli espionage - if not made up out of whole cloth.

I say that latter because Israeli hardliner policy is to keep the pressure on Iran by continually releasing or placing stories designed to make it feel isolated and under threat, in the hope that will convince Iran's leaders to give up trying to break Israel's nuclear monopoly in the region. Pretty much every lurid or hyped story which takes a very hawkish line on Iran, or that threatens an attack on Iran, is coming from Israeli "officially unofficial" sources right now - even if it's actually being printed in UK conservative papers or some part of Murdoch's far-flung. empire.

So, to be honest, I don't believe a word of it, except for "according to a senior Israeli government source", unless and until there's some independent confirmation coming directly out of the French government in some manner.

P.S. And if you see a complicit connection between this and GOP mailers that say Obama is "no friend of Israel" or Joe the Plumber's campaigning on behalf of the McCain campaign and his hyperbolic claims that Obama's election would mean "the death of Israel" - well, so do I. Birds of a hardline feather flock together.

Update: Oh look, Sarkozy calls the leak of a fairytale "groundless".

Add to | Digg this

Pakistan, Afghanistan, Agree To Talk To Taliban

By Cernig

As the U.S. plans to escalate its military component in the region, Pakistan and Afghanistan are moving to defuse the reasons for fighting as a high-level meeting of delegates from the two countries agreed to open the doors to reconcilliation talks with the Taliban.

Former Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah said both countries would talk only with those militants who "accept the constitutions of both nations," but did not explicitly say they must first disarm.

Another delegate to the two-day talks between political and tribal leaders in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad said that the offer was not open to al-Qaida members blamed for some of the worst violence in both countries.

"We agreed that contacts should be established with the opposition," said Abdullah, the head of the Afghan delegation.

"Those who are willing to take this opportunity and come forward, the door is open," he said.

Neither Pakistani-based nor Afghan-based Taliban spokesmen were immediately available for comment.

He said the meeting, or "jirga," had formed committees to seek contacts with "all parties in this conflict." They would then report back to a meeting in two months with their findings, he said.

Eventually, you have to talk to the terrorists you believe you can convert into non-terrorists. If that wasn't the case, the entire state of Israel, for example, wouldn't exist.

But you can bet that one of the conditions any Taliban offer to lay down its weapons will include is a withdrawal of Coalition forces from the region. The Afghan government knows that, and knows that the Taliban is still largely controlled and supplied by the Pakistani military and ISI intelligence agency. It seems that Afghanistan has decided to swap its independence for peace and become a Pakistani satellite - which was always the long-term aim of Pakistani foreign policy and use of the Taliban as proxies in Afghanistan. That's understandable but it may be as well for the US, India and others to start getting used to the new reality in the region.

Add to | Digg this

Into The Future, With Blinkers On

By Cernig

Over at The New Atlanticist, Senior Advisor to the Atlantic Council Robert Manning notes that a new world order is being forged, with Americans largely oblivious to what's going on.

Don’t look now, but much about last week’s Asia-Europe Summit (ASEM) – from its remedies for the financial meltdown to its obscurity in the U.S. – spoke volumes about emerging multipolarity and the historic shift in global power.  Was America watching?

The milieu in Beijing, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy schmoozing with China’s President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jibao, suggests that when President George Bush hosts what will be the first of several summits aimed at shaping new rules to govern global finance, he will hardly be the center of attention.

It may have been coincidence that the annual Asia-Europe gathering occurred smack in the middle of the worst financial crisis since 1929. But the symbolism was hard to miss. An Asia Rising holds the majority of global foreign reserves, over $4 trillion in foreign currency; Europe for all its flaws and lack of dynamism still boasts an economy as large as the U.S.  Yet most in the U.S. were largely oblivious, with coverage even on cable news networks nearly non-existent, and relegated to the back pages of the business section of the New York Times.

...What does all this mean for the U.S. as a global actor?  Well for starters, the stock of those clinging to the myth of a unipolar world makes the current Dow look robust. It was never quite true even in the one dimension where the U.S. is and will remain for some time indisputably overwhelmingly dominant: military power.

But a nation’s power, as the Chinese like to say, is a question of Comprehensive National Strength, with military capability one important indicator. In the real world, a nation’s usable power will differ, depending on the nature of the particular issue. In the world now taking shape, the most sensible operative model for U.S. foreign policy will in general terms shift from Single Superpower to Primus Inter Pares, first among equals.

Now, as a European living in America I'm undoubtably biased, but what Manning is pointing to seems to me to be a manifestation of American Exceptionalism, one so comprehensively pushed for so long that even self-confessed lefties who would like to see America's status as single and biggest bully on the block trimmed fall prey to it. Americans have been told for so long that America's status and power means that it doesn't have to care about the opinions of those beyond its shores unless it wants to that - surprise, surprise - Americans have stopped caring about what goes on beyond their own shores unless Americans are doing it. I've noticed this in my contributions to Crooks and Liars, where I mostly post foreign policy and foreign affairs pieces. With the exception of hot-button issues having an impact on domestic politics such as Iraq and, lately, Afghanistan, foreign affairs posts get about a third of the comments that domestic affairs posts do. And it's not just my posts - anyone writing such posts gets the same lackluster response. Quite often, several of the comments will be along the lines of "Who cares? Get back to the domestic scandal de jour."

(That lack of interest seems to be pretty pervasive on other sites too. The very best progressive or bi-partisan foreign policy analysis sites and blogs get a fraction of the readers that sites devoted to more domestic issues do. Of course, rightwing sites have the same ostrich attitude in spades, with the twist that they want America to continue doing it to foreigners as if it were still a sole superpower and are simply snearingly dismissive of any hint that such simply isn't possible any more.)

Sure, people are naturally more interested in what's close to home. But in today's world what's going on 'over there" is close to home. America's fall from sole superpower will effect every single American's life in immediate ways, from their bank account to their job to their sons and brothers fighting in foreign realms. I wrote once that American foreign policy consists of inflicting domestic policy on foreigners. In the new multi-polar world that's going to have to change some, but there's scant sign on either Right or Left that the bulk of Americans are ready to admit it in their hearts, rather than their heads.

Add to | Digg this

US Forces Plan To "Step Aside" From Any Iraqi Civil War

By Cernig

And it's 1..2...3..what are we not fighting for?

Via Kevin Drum comes a piece in the NYT looking at the powderkeg of factional tensions in Mosul.

The Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki is squeezing out Kurdish units of the Iraqi Army from Mosul, sending the national police and army from Baghdad and trying to forge alliances with Sunni Arab hard-liners in the province, who have deep-seated feuds with the Kurdistan Regional Government led by Massoud Barzani.

....“It’s the perfect storm against the old festering background,” warned Brig. Gen. Raymond A. Thomas III, who oversees Nineveh and Kirkuk Provinces and the Kurdish region. Worry is so high that the American military has already settled on a policy that may set a precedent, as the United States slowly withdraws to allow Iraqis to settle their own problems. If the Kurds and Iraqi government forces fight, the American military will “step aside,” General Thomas said, rather than “have United States servicemen get killed trying to play peacemaker.”

As one of Drum's commenters notes:

As I recall it, the program was: (1) increase troop levels (2) to reduce the violence to make space for (3) political reconciliation that will provide the foundation for (4) a reduction in violence not dependent on American troops (5) that will enable us to gradually withdraw without having to worry about whether Iraq will blow up again.

We never got past step 2. Now the reckoning.

That reckoning will involve violence, in more than one place and between more than just two factions, in the lead up to Iraq's provincial elections. The only real question is: how bad will it get? I totally understand Brig. Gen Thomas' wish not to have his people die policing a civil war six years into the U.S. occupation but doesn't this blow wide open the conservative talking point, so beloved of both Bush and McCain, that US troops have to stay in Iraq to help prevent such violence? Why are we still there?

Of course, if there's no new status of forces deal by January Thomas' plans become moot, since it's likely US forces would be confined to base anyway. In fact, they're using the threat of exactly that to try to strongarm Iraqi into accepting an agreement it isn't happy with. McClatchy reports:

The U.S. military has warned Iraq that it will shut down military operations and other vital services throughout the country on Jan. 1 if the Iraqi government doesn't agree to a new agreement on the status of U.S. forces or a renewed United Nations mandate for the American mission in Iraq.

Many Iraqi politicians view the move as akin to political blackmail, a top Iraqi official told McClatchy Sunday.

In addition to halting all military actions, U.S. forces would cease activities that support Iraq’s economy, educational sector and other areas _ "everything" _ said Tariq al Hashimi, the country’s Sunni Muslim vice president. "I didn’t know the Americans are rendering such wide-scale services."

Hashimi said that Army Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, listed “tens” of areas of potential cutoffs in a three-page letter, and he said the implied threat caught Iraqi leaders by surprise.

But if the US military is planning to stay out of any faction fights anyway, just how much of a threat is that?

Add to | Digg this

Confused Official Unofficial Leaks On Syria Raid

By Cernig

The usual anonymous suspects continue to be unable to get their anonymous stories straight on what happened in Syria at the weekend. This from Fox News:

Abu Ghadiyain, the target of Sunday's Special Operations raid in Sukkariyeh --about 4-5 miles away from Syria's border with Iraq, was at one point in the custody of U.S. forces, the official said. However, another U.S. official from a separate agency said Monday that latest intelligence shows Ghadiyain was killed.

Meanwhile, the official Bush administration line is "no comment" - leaving the field clear for these unofficial officials to spin as they wish. You'd think that if they actually did know the Special Forces folks had captured or killed an important AQI middleman, the supposed Commander In Chief might know about it and the Republican Party would be making hay with it at a time when their electoral prospects are as dismal as...well, the life of a rural farmer on the Syrian border when US Special Forces come calling by mistake.

But hang on a mo' - haven't we seen this particular melodrama before? Back when Israel struck the Box on the Euphrates in September 2007, there was no official confirmation for months, giving plenty of time for neocon "sources" to create all kinds of fairy stories for the world's press. Then, once they had their powerpoints and photoshops right, the powers that be announced it was a nuclear reactor and an imminent threat to world peace. (Thing is, I have my unofficial sources too - and more than one nuke expert has told me off the record that the presentation was better fabricated than the "reactor" was.)

If the administration even knows who it's commandos hit, and that it wasn't a bunch of poor construction workers, then let it say so clearly and present what evidence it has instead of sending out officials to speak anonymously and to contradict each other. Otherwise, Occam's Razor demands that the most plausible explanation is the Syrian one - that mistaken intelligence led to the massace of innocent civilians just as it has so many times before in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Update: I said there's be all kinds of lurid speculation based on less than spectacular sources. Here we go - from Murdoch's Sky News in the UK.

Publicly America is still saying nothing but US officials are making intriguing claims off the record.

Now, a respected Israeli intelligence expert says he has been told the operation was carried out with the knowledge and co-operation of Syrian intelligence.

Ronen Bergman, author of The Secret War with Iran, makes the claim in the Yediot Ahronoth newspaper, based on briefings with two senior American officials, one of whom he says until recently "held a very high ranking in the Pentagon".

...He claims the Syrian government told the Americans: "If you want to do this, do it. We are going to give you a corridor and carte blanche. We will not harm your troops."

Hang on - how would two "senior officials" - one of whom isn't at the Pentagon any more - know this for a fact, rather than just be speculating? And even if they did, why would they be blowing tacit Syrian co-operation (and the intel coup that would represent) wide open by revealing the fact to an Israeli journalist who works for a tabloid newspaper described as emphasizing "drama and human interest over sophisticated analysis"?

Add to | Digg this

October 27, 2008

If We Can't Have Gun Control...

...can we at least have better gun-nut control?

By Cernig

This from J.S. O'Brien at Scholars & Rogues:

Yesterday, an idiot father and and even more brain-dead “instructor” allowed an eight-year-old boy to fire a fully automatic Uzi submachine gun at an event billed as, “all legal and and fun! — No permits or licenses required!!!” Naturally, the gun kicked up, as it is designed to do, flipping toward the child who managed to shoot himself in the head with it.  Since kids’ heads aren’t all that heavily armored, we now have a little boy who will never see his ninth birthday.

So, little Christopher Bizilj is dead, dead, dead.  His father, Dr. Charles Bizilj, director of emergency medicine (if you can believe it) at a hospital in Stafford Springs, Connecticut, got to watch his son bleed out from a head wound on the floor.  And the people who put this little event together have to look at themselves in their mirrors and ask themselves the simple question, “What the FUCK made me think it was a good idea to put a submachine gun in a child’s hands?”

Words fail.

Add to | Digg this

McCain, Short On Black Volunteers, Hires Obama Supporters

By Cernig


Two women walk out of John McCain’s Mid-West headquarters carrying a pile of voter canvassing sheets, one sports a baseball hat declaring her a “team leader” of the Republican campaign. And both are black — an unusual sight in an election where Barack Obama’s support among African Americans is almost monolithic.

Are they volunteers? They look at each other sheepishly. “Not exactly,” replies one. “We work for an employment agency,” says the other. Who are they voting for? “I don’t want to say,” says the first woman. “Obama — of course!” whispers the braver of the pair.

They laugh, then look over their shoulders at the office behind them. “Don’t give him your name, he’ll put it in the paper,” says the cautious one, explaining that they cannot afford to lose their $10-an-hour (£6) jobs. “This is embarrassing. We’re doing this because we have to live. At least none of our friends can see us. We’re from Chicago — like Obama.”

Republicans have had to hire mercenaries for this ground war. And, if the experience outside the McCain headquarters was any guide, they may not all be shooting in the same direction.

Got to have those tokens as a smokescreen to distance Johnny and the Neocons from zealots like this (h/t C&L):

Federal agents have broken up a plot to assassinate Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and shoot or decapitate 102 black people in a Tennessee murder spree, the ATF said Monday.

In court records unsealed Monday, federal agents said they disrupted plans to rob a gun store and target a predominantly African-American high school by two neo-Nazi skinheads. Agents said the skinheads did not identify the school by name.

Jim Cavanaugh, special agent in charge of the Nashville field office for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said the two men planned to shoot 88 black people and decapitate another 14. The numbers 88 and 14 are symbolic in the white supremacist community.

The men also sought to go on a national killing spree, with Obama as its final target, Cavanaugh told The Associated Press.

"They said that would be their last, final act - that they would attempt to kill Sen. Obama," Cavanaugh said. "They didn't believe they would be able to do it, but that they would get killed trying."

Yet the GOP crawls ever closer to being a party only for dangerous rightwing extremists. Now, conservative critics are being told by one wing of the GOP that if they're against Palin, they are dead to the Republican party and by another that Mitt Romney, not Palin, is the heir-apparent. Jason Linkins writes:

the GOP is set splinter into a trio of factions: the Palin-philes, the Romney remainders, and those excommunicated from the movement for daring to make a lick of sense at one point.

Add to | Digg this

Ted Stevens Guilty On All Charges

By Cernig

The end came faster than I thought it would.

Stevens, 84, was found guilty on all seven counts of lying on Senate disclosure forms to hide more than $250,000 in home renovations and other gifts from the head of Alaska oil services company VECO Corp.

Stevens, who had maintained his innocence, declined to comment when he left the courthouse.

He faces up to five years in prison on each of the seven counts, but under federal sentencing guidelines he would likely receive much less prison time or just get probation.

Do you think he has the nerve to keep fighting for re-election?

And what does this say about the judgement and morals of folk like Sarah Palin and Colin Powell, one of whom was a close ally and the other a staunch defender of Stevens?

Add to | Digg this

The Purpose Of Rightwing Outrage

By Cernig

Today's rightwing outrage, "Obama the redistributionist", is explained and debunked by Andrew Sullivan and Maha. The McCain campaign's attack is such thin gruel that even Oliver wouldn't go back for more.

Sully asks if this is the best McCain has left in the last days of the election campaigns. I think he's missing the target audience. McCain has entirely stopped trying to convince the electorate to vote Republican. He and the entire GOP are now far more worried about keeping their base intact, staving off the worst of the coming civil war of recriminations. To that end, dog-whistles about terrorists, socialists and other ne'er-do-wells serve a useful purpose, giving Republicans a buffet of ready-made excuses to choose from and get angry about - instead of getting angry with the Party apparatchiks who have presided over the collapse of their Big Tent.

P.S. And isn't it ironic that the man who could lead the GOP out of the wilderness and back into a position of contention is an apostate heretic according to the idolaters, Golden Moose worshippers and Mammonites of the far Right?

Add to | Digg this

Military Defense Lawyer, Client, Boycott Gitmo Trial

By Cernig

The Gitmo trails are beginning to assume the appearance of an Oscar Wilde farce.

Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, facing a possible life sentence, sat mutely at the defense table. His lawyer announced the prisoner was boycotting the trial because he did not want a military attorney and because the judge had denied his repeated requests to represent himself.

The appointed defense attorney, Air Force Maj. David Frakt, asked to be relieved in deference to his client's wishes, but the judge refused. Frakt then said he could not participate either.

"I will be joining Mr. Al-Bahlul's boycott, sitting silently at the table," said Frakt, who then refused to respond to several questions from the judge.

The judge, Air Force Col. Ronald Gregory, said Frakt was obligated to participate and that both the lawyer and defendant, despite their wishes, would be required to attend the hearings — even if they stay silent.

"The commission will not proceed with an empty defense table," Gregory said.

This is only the second tribunal to actually convene, out of around 80 trials of detainees expected (from 255 still held). What's it going to be like by the time the 20th, 40th rolls around? And what about the other 170+ detainees?

It's quite clear the process is deeply flawed - so flawed that in a real court some very bad people would walk free because their trials are contaminated by tortured evidence and official interference in due process that, in truth, are just as much war crimes as the offenses detainees are accused of. Despite the howlings of the rabid Right, though, that's the way the civilization cookie should crumble. If they wanted it otherwise, the Bush administration's actions were entirely the wrong way to go about it.

Amy Goodman talks to Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights about Gitmo

Add to | Digg this

Little Regard For International Boundaries

By Cernig

Syria has released footage it says is of U.S. helicopters on their way to an attack inside Syrian on Sunday.

The post headline is taken from NBC's Richard Engel in Baghdad, describing special forces crossing the border into Syria on Sunday, the first time U.S. forces have invaded Syrian territory in all these years occupying Iraq. The U.S. military, in an officially unofficial leak to the AP, are claiming hot pursuit of Al Qaeda fighters out of Iraq and have said little else about it other than that the U.S. is "taking matters into its own hands". Syrian eyewitnesses are claiming that US forces shot and killed seven men and a woman, perhaps even abducting two, while the Syrian government are taking it a step further and alleging children died too. So far, though, the only funerals that have been held were for the seven dead men, which locals and the Syrian authorities say were simply construction workers (and which Fox News' Mike Tobin, pulling faux facts unsupported by evidence or even official U.S. statements out of his ass, says were known Al Qaeda operatives).

What is certain among the conflicting reports is that U.S. forces have now ignored international laws and trespassed on sovereign territory in Pakistan and Syria in pursuit of dodgy intelligence, in both cases with reasonably credible reports of civilians wrongly slain. Technically, these are acts of war and only U.S. military might prevents them becoming so. We know that Bush has ordered that he must personally approve any incursion into Pakistan, and it seems that he must have done so for this Syrian trespass too, one that is unique in all the time that the U.S. has occupied neighbouring Iraq.

So why? Why now? Well:

Joshua Landis, an American expert on Syria, commented last night: "The Bush administration must assume that an Obama victory will force Syria to behave nicely in order to win favour with the new administration. Thus White House analysts may assume that it can have a "freebee" - taking a bit of personal revenge on Syria without the US paying a price."

There's also the possibility that this is partly just another attempt at boosting flagging Republican support, since there's only one hot-head Bush ally running for president who is likely to approve of creating an international incident at such a late stage of the Iraqi occupation. But it's a move that is likely to backfire badly in the region. Arab states, including Iraq, will be angered by this mini-invasion and will point to a continued U.S. prssence in Iraq as destabilizing. Iran will, of course, back its Syrian ally. And even Israel won't be happy. As BJ noted, Israel's been progressing quite well with negotiations involving Syria on Lebanese peace and this incursion will work to derail those negotiations simply because of guilt by association. Israel also has an election coming up, and a mood of belligerence and instability can only help the hardliners, allies of the neocons who largely steer Bush and McCain's policy thinking on the region.

It helps the White House, if it is simply after a "freebie", that all of these incursions are being carried out by U.S. Special Operations forces, which have their own independent command structure (and an independent budget) headquartered in the U.S. - allowing Proconsul Petreaus and his subordinates to have some plausible denial of culpability when talking to local officials. But it's hardly likely to help long-term strategic planning. Still, the Bush administration now wants to send thousands more of these troops to Afghanistan, a move that Senator Russ Feingold has said will "only perpetuate a counterproductive game of cat and mouse that has has led to a steep erosion in Afghans' support for foreign forces."

These raids are arguably illegal war crimes by international law, destabilizing in and of themselves, counterproductive in the long term, but unlikely to lead to war with either Pakistan or Syria on their own. However it's worth thinking about something - Iran appears to be the only possible target nation for such raids that's been left out so far. If the Bush administration decide to attempt a "freebie" there, it's far more doubtful that the blowback will be so containable.

Update: Iran expert Kaveh L Afrasiabi writes at the Asia Times that Iran is spooked. (H/T Russ at Scholars and Rogues)

"The chances are that the US incursion into Syria is a dress rehearsal for action against Iran and the [Iranian] Revolutionary Guards [Corps], just as they often portray Israel's aerial attack on Syrian territory last year as a prelude for an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities," said the Tehran political scientist, adding that since the US had already branded Iran's Guards as terrorists, it had the necessary rationale to do so.

In the event the US indulges in such a gambit, the issue becomes whether it will be a one-shot single incursion or a series of raids and, more important, what will happen should Iran fight back and respond in kind, within Iraq's territory.

There are serious scenarios for major escalation nested in every micro action and US policymakers would be remiss to focus on their own action without taking into consideration the likely chain reaction that could lead to a regional flare-up.

(Many thanks to Heather from the C&L team for video links)

Add to | Digg this

October 26, 2008

The Wild West (Coast Of Africa)

(Or, Blackwater vs Blackbeards of the Somali Main)

By Cernig

Mercenaries Security contractors think they may have found their next nice little earner. As an adjunct to thei Iraqi swashbuckling they're going to try some more of the same off the Horn of Africa.

Blackwater Worldwide and other private security firms — some with a reputation for being quick on the trigger in Iraq — are joining the battle against pirates plaguing one of the world's most important shipping lanes off the coast of Somalia. The growing interest among merchant fleets to hire their own firepower is encouraged by the U.S. Navy and represents a new and potential lucrative market for security firms scaling back operations in Iraq.

Blackwater and others are in negotiation with shipping firms to put armed guards on vessels sailing past Somalia, and Blackwater already has a ship with response squads and helicopters in the region. But, given the heavy-handed (even bloodthirsty) actions of some security contractors in Iraq, not everyone's as gleeful as the US Navy is about the development.

Cyrus Mody, the manager of the International Maritime Bureau, says private security personnel can offer useful advice to ship captains, but he worries not all companies have clear rules of engagement or have sought legal advice about the consequences of opening fire.

... Mody says armed guards onboard ships may encourage pirates to use their weapons or spark an arms race between predators and prey. Currently, pirates often fire indiscriminately during an attack but don't aim to kill or injure crew. The pirates usually use assault rifles but have rocket-propelled grenades; some reports also say they have mini-cannon.

"If someone onboard a ship pulls a gun, will the other side pull a grenade?" Mody asked.

British contractors stress the importance of intelligence and surveillance, a safe room for the crew to retreat to if the ship is boarded, and the range of non-lethal deterrence measures available.

"The standard approach is for (pirates) to come in with all guns blazing at the bridge because when a boat is stopped it's easier to board," said David Johnson, director of British security firm Eos. "But if you have guns onboard, you are going to escalate the situation. We don't want to turn that part of the world into the Wild West."

Some would say it already has - but only one victim has been shot out of 63 hijackings this year. That could soon change.

Add to | Digg this

Instahoglets October 26th 08

By Cernig

It's been a while since I did one of these, but with the elections dominating the news cycle there's some interesting foreign affairs "news less travelled" getting next to no notice right now.

- AIG, even after it had taken a bailout deal that left it 80% taxpayer owned, was still actively lobbying. The millions of your money it has spent influencing your representatives included a big chunk in favor of the US/India nuclear deal. Say whaaa?

- The Pentagon are preparing for a period of increased danger as various undesireables might decide - as they did during Brown's transition in the UK - that a new guy in charge is a good time for an attack. They don't think it matters whether the new guy is McCain or Obama, though, proving they're saner than the average Cornerite.

- Syria is claiming US helicopters attacked a village just inside its border with Iraq, killing 9 civilians and wounding 14, in a possible sign that cross-border strikes based on crappy intel aren't just for Afghanistan. If true, it's technically an act of war unless the US military claim "hot pursuit" of militants, which might be difficult to do if no militants were there. One worth watching.

- Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, there are reports that US aircraft mistakenly bombed and killed 20 private security contractors guarding a road construction project which came under attack by the Taliban. Airstrikes account for the vast majority of coalition-caused deaths in Afghanistan, and are vying with the Taliban to be the major killer of Afghanistan civilians. Its a tactic that has alienated the populace, handed propaganda victory after victory to the militants and weakened the Karzai government, but the military keep doing it.

- Newsweek says that Iran's nuclear facillities are too deeply buried for Israel to harm with conventional weapons even if it wanted to - which always leaves nukes. Meanwhile Obama's nuclear-weapons expert is suggesting getting rid of all nukes but in the meantime adopting a posture "limiting the purpose of nuclear weapons to preventing their use by others". If that sounds like a First Strike Doctrine to you - well, it does to me too.

- Georgia is still bubbling. "The leader of Georgia's pro-Russian breakaway Abkhazia region has ordered Abkhazian military forces to retaliate against what he calls all "provocations" from the Georgian side." And: "Georgia says Russia has deployed 2,000 additional troops in the pro-Russian breakaway region of South Ossetia, a move Russia denies."

Update: The US has confirmed the raid into Syria in an "official leak".

A U.S. military official said the raid by special forces targeted the network of al-Qaida-linked foreign fighters moving through Syria into Iraq. The Americans have been unable to shut the network down in the area because Syria was out of the military's reach.

"We are taking matters into our own hands," the official told The Associated Press in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the political sensitivity of cross-border raids.

The attack came just days after the commander of U.S. forces in western Iraq said American troops were redoubling efforts to secure the Syrian border, which he called an "uncontrolled" gateway for fighters entering Iraq.

A Syrian government statement said the helicopters attacked the Sukkariyeh Farm near the town of Abu Kamal, five miles inside the Syrian border. Four helicopters attacked a civilian building under construction shortly before sundown and fired on workers inside, the statement said.

The government said civilians were among the dead, including four children.

If the Syrians choose to make it so, America has a new war. It's unlikely that they will, for one since the U.S. is calling it hot pursuit even as the Syrians say only civilians died. It's still an escalation in the region, though, the first such cross-border raid into Syria in all this time.

Add to | Digg this

October 25, 2008

The Amazing Mr Swift

By Cernig

Jon Swift is a genius. Not the old dead-tree satirist (well, him too) but the new-media e-Swift, the deftest hand with a poison keypad I've ever read.

Just go read his latest on the many paranoid ramblings of the Right. Here's a teaser:

What would an election be without a sex scandal?...Once again the conservative blogosphere’s most respected blogger Ace of Spades led the way. “Having now spoken to someone tracking the story, I can say: 1) It's not just a silly little rumor. 2) It will break in some form shortly,” he wrote. Ace even noticed that Obama had vacationed in the Caribbean, noting his source “hadn't even made that connection.”That’s just how Ace’s mind works, making connections that don’t even occur to peddlers of sleazy gossip.

George Packer is just one of those who has noticed Mr. Swift's abilities. One day, I'll be saying I knew him when he was an obscure psuedonymed blogger, instead of a pseudonymed A-list satirist.

Add to | Digg this

Sarah Palin A 'Rogue' And 'Diva' - McCain Aides

By Cernig

The circular firing squad continues over at the Mccain-Palin campaign. CNN reports:

Several McCain advisers have suggested to CNN they have become increasingly frustrated with what one aide described as Palin “going rogue” recently, while a Palin associate says she is simply trying to “bust free” of what she believes was a mishandled roll-out that damaged her.

McCain sources point to several incidents where Palin has gone off message, and privately wonder if they were deliberate. For example: labeling robo calls “irritating,” even as the campaign was defending the use of them and telling reporters she disagreed with the campaigns controversial decision to pull out of Michigan.

A second McCain source tells CNN she appears to now be looking out for herself more than the McCain campaign.

“She is a diva. She takes no advice from anyone,” said this McCain adviser, “she does not have any relationships of trust with any of us, her family or anyone else. Also she is playing for her own future and sees herself as the next leader of the party. Remember: divas trust only unto themselves as they see themselves as the beginning and end of all wisdom.”

It's dog eat pitbull and pass the popcorn!

Add to | Digg this

The Shape Of A Cabinet

By Cernig

The NYT today has a speculative piece on how each candidate might build their White House team. Most commentary on the article so far has focussed on a possible Obama cabinet - mainly because McCain's campaign just seems to be "going through the motions" at this stage. It quotes anonymous advisers (aren't they always?):

Obama advisers mention Tom Daschle, the former Senate majority leader, as a possible White House chief of staff, and Timothy F. Geithner, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, as Treasury secretary. To demonstrate bipartisanship, advisers said Mr. Obama might ask two members of President Bush’s cabinet to stay, including Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.

...Mr. Obama has several possibilities for White House chief of staff, most notably Mr. Daschle, his close adviser, although that could be complicated because Mr. Daschle’s wife is a lobbyist. Other possibilities mentioned by Democrats include Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, former Commerce Secretary William M. Daley and Mr. Obama’s Senate chief of staff, Pete Rouse. Mr. Podesta, who held the job under President Bill Clinton, could also be recruited for another tour of duty.

Besides Mr. Gates, some Obama advisers favor keeping Dr. James B. Peake, the veterans affairs secretary. But Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. has made clear to colleagues that he has no desire to stay on no matter who wins, and neither nominee is inclined to ask him, associates say. Instead, Obama advisers are weighing a short-term appointment of an elder statesman to get through the current crisis and help instill confidence in global markets. The names being mentioned include the former Federal Reserve chief Paul A. Volcker and former Treasury Secretaries Robert E. Rubin and Lawrence H. Summers.

Matt Y is sure it'll be a fresher face at the Treasury, though, and Booman is sure he doesn't want gates to continue as SecDef even though he thinks he's done a creditable job as one of the very few adults in the Bush administration. I'm not going to argue with either of them.

Looking at a possible McCain administration, there's a couple of names that jump out as "not just no, but F**k No!"

Many Republicans believe Mr. McCain would bring his top campaign staff with him to the White House, including Rick Davis, the campaign manager, whose history as a lobbyist has come up repeatedly during the election. Others who would most likely accompany Mr. McCain to the White House include Mark Salter, his adviser and alter ego; Douglas Holtz-Eakin, his economics adviser; and Randy Scheunemann, his national security adviser.

I've no real objection to Holtz-Eakin, although he's a campaign shill who is holding a book until after the election that, no matter what his boss might say on the stump, admits the next administration is going to have to raise taxes if it wants the books to be anywhere near balanced.

But Rick Davis - friend to Russian oligarchs and Italian fraudsters - would probably get tapped as McCain's chief of staff, which would in short order explode the myth of the maverick reformer, bane of K Street, and should give even conservatives collywobbles. And Scheunemann as NSA? My mind positively reels over the many conflicts this war-boosting, lobbying neocon could embroil America in.

It's just as well that the McCain campaign are treating transition as a purely intellectual exercise and that the wider conservative base are settling down to four years of Clenis-esque innuendo, argument from assumption, and downright paranoid mythmaking to excuse their own abject failure in being a viable alternative for government.

Back in August 2007, Obama outlined his criteria for choosing a cabinet at a private rally.

Add to | Digg this

Report: Maliki Won't Sign US Forces Deal

By Cernig

According to a senior Iraqi lawmaker, Maliki-ally Sheikh Jalal al Din al Sagheer, the deputy head of the Shiite Muslim Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, neither Maliki nor Iraq's parliament are ready to sign the status of forces agreement with the U.S. as it is currently written.

"The problem is that when we were given the latest draft, we were told the American negotiators will accept no amendments to it, and the Iraqi government has more requirements," said Sagheer, an Islamic cleric who later led the Friday prayers broadcast on national television.

He said that Maliki had come to the Political Council for National Security, a top decision-making body, and said the new accord was the best he could obtain, but it didn't include everything that Iraq wanted.

If Maliki signed the accord and turned it over to the parliament, "I'm sure that the agreement will not be approved for 10 years," Sagheer said.

The cleric said the draft accord was "good, in general," but its timing was bad. If an Iraqi negotiator accepted the agreement, "he will be taken as an agent for the Americans," and if he were to reject it, "he will be taken for an agent for Iran."

A second factor is that the accord comes just before the U.S. elections, and an Iraqi negotiator had to ask whether it was best to negotiate with the lame-duck Bush administration or wait for its successor. More important, Sagheer said, are the approaching provincial elections in Iraq, which could be held early next year.

"Iraqi politicians don't want to give their competitors the chance to use this agreement to destroy them," he said.

Sagheer also said that Maliki is thinking about asking for a six month extension of the UN mandate instead, after receiving assurances that Russia wouldn't veto any UNSC resolution to that effect. The trouble there is that Maliki has already promised he wouldn't ask for any extension and an extension of the mandate, with its far looser terms for U.S. operations, would be even more unpopular and even more of a club in the provincial elections than the status of forces agreement would be. Everyone expects there to be an uptick in violence for those elections, the question is just how big a one. Trying to re-impose the UN mandate would be certain to make that uptick a nastier one.

The other option, if nothing gets done, is to at the very least confine U.S. forces to their bases - and that's if the expiry of the mandate even leaves the U.S. the legal standing to do even that much.

Meanwhile, John "watch my judgement" McCain is still trying to spin the status of forces agreement as being exactly what the Bush administration and he himself were looking for - and his adviser Randy Scheunemann is hinting McCain would just ignore the wishes of the Iraqis and international law anyway.

Add to | Digg this

October 24, 2008

Local McCain Staffer Pushed Hyped Version Of "B-Attack" Hoax

By Cernig

You might have noticed that we hadn't posted a thing on the Ashley Todd "B for Barrack Attack" hoax that has been burning up the internet since yesterday eve. That's because, in our opinion, it wasn't a story. If it were true then it was a story about a mugger who is also a dumb-ass. There's plenty of those out there. When Todd admitted that the whole tale was a hoax, it became a story about an attention-seeking brat who never grew up. There's plenty of those too.

If you cover one, you should cover as many as possible, but this is a politics blog not a local news blog. I don't intend to denigrate the experiences of those who have been assaulted or mugged, in the least. I've had friends it has happened to, it's an awful experience when it really happens to someone...and I didn't blog about those either. Those who did were mostly dealing in faux-outrage and hyperbole.

Now, though, it's real news. TPM has the story.

John McCain's Pennsylvania communications director told reporters in the state an incendiary version of the hoax story about the attack on a McCain volunteer well before the facts of the case were known or established -- and even told reporters outright that the "B" carved into the victim's cheek stood for "Barack," according to multiple sources familiar with the discussions.

John Verrilli, the news director for KDKA in Pittsburgh, told TPM Election Central that McCain's Pennsylvania campaign communications director gave one of his reporters a detailed version of the attack that included a claim that the alleged attacker said, "You're with the McCain campaign? I'm going to teach you a lesson."

Verrilli also told TPM that the McCain spokesperson had claimed that the "B" stood for Barack. According to Verrilli, the spokesperson also told KDKA that Sarah Palin had called the victim of the alleged attack, who has since admitted the story was a hoax.

...A source familiar with what happened yesterday confirmed that the unnamed spokesperson was communications director Peter Feldman...

This is problematic because the McCain campaign doesn't want to have been perceived as pushing an incendiary story that not only turned out to be a hoax but which police officials said today risked blowing up into a "national incident" and has local police preparing to file charges against the hoaxster.

Two different TV stations have removed paragraphs from their original web coverage of the story - paragraphs provided by the PA McCain campaign - as the story turned out to be not what that campaign hyped it to be.

Feldmen's actions, trying to pre-empt a police investigation with an anti-Obama narrative that tied McCain's opponent to a nasty assault, are shameful. He really must resign. And we also want to know whether McCain's local campaign staff prompted or pushed Ashley Todd in any way.

Add to | Digg this

McCain Pal Gets 54 Months For Fraud

By Cernig

Raffaello Follieri, perhaps most famous for being Anne Hathaway's ex-boyfriend, has been sentenced to four and a half years in prison this Friday after being pleading guilty to one count of conspiring to commit wire fraud, eight counts of wire fraud and five counts of money laundering.

Raffaello Follieri, 30, pleaded guilty in September to fraudulently obtaining US$2.4 million by leading investors to believe he had Vatican connections that enabled him to buy the Roman Catholic Church's unwanted US properties at a discount.

..."I have dishonored my family name and embarrassed the church I love," Follieri told Judge John Koeltl in US District Court in Manhattan in a statement in Italian that was translated into English.

"I will never be able to wash away the stain. I hope that someday those hurt by my actions will forgive me," Follieri said before the judge handed down the sentence.

He'll be deported after serving his sentence.

Follieri had good connections to both McCain and Rick Davis, for whom he had promised to "deliver Catholic votes", and was the host of John McCain's 70th birthday party, celebrated onboard the yacht of another dodgy character - a Russian oligarch who pretty much owns the tiny state of Montenegro.

In mid-September The Nation's website published a photo of McCain celebrating his seventieth birthday in Montenegro in August 2006 at a yacht party hosted by convicted Italian felon Raffaello Follieri and his movie-star girlfriend Anne Hathaway. On the same day one of the largest mega-yachts in the world, the Queen K, was moored in the same bay of Kotor. This was where the real party was. The owner of the Queen K was known as "Putin's oligarch": Oleg Deripaska, controlling shareholder of the Russian aluminum giant RusAl, currently listed as the ninth-richest man in the world, with a rap sheet as abundant as his wealth. By mid-2005 Deripaska had already virtually taken control of Montenegro's economy by snapping up its aluminum plant, KAP--which accounts for up to 40 percent of the country's GDP and some 80 percent of its export earnings--in a nontransparent privatization tender strongly criticized by NGO watchdogs, Montenegrin politicians and journalists. The Nation has learned that Deripaska told one of his closest associates that he bought the plant "because Putin encouraged him to do it." The reason: "the Kremlin wanted an area of influence in the Mediterranean."

Deripaska is himself involved in some political scandal right now - involving both a high level Labour Party cabinet minister, Lord Peter Mandelson who was one of Tony Blair's closest advisors and the current shadow chancellor, the Conservative Party's George Osborne. Both McCain and his campaign manager, Rick Davis have dubious ties to Deripaska too. Other McCain campaign advisers, lobbyists to a man, have their own shady connections.

John McCain keeps saying he's a reformer and a maverick with no time for the incestuous and often shady dealings of the K Street crowd - but his actions speak louder than his words.

Add to | Digg this

McCain Surrogate -War With Iran Is Certain

By Cernig

Republican William Grayson, president of a San Francisco hedge fund company and former general counsel for the San Francisco Republican Central Committee - and "cleared by the McCain campaign to serve as a McCain surrogate":

"Let me assure you of this," Grayson said after the student presentation on foreign policy. "The next president, whether it is Senator Obama or John McCain, will go to war, and he will go to war with Iran.

"They are very busy developing nuclear weapons. They will use those nuclear weapons against Israel or any of its allies, and that is a war that we're going to fight," Grayson said.

This in a speech to students at Dominican University, CA.

His opposite number, Tony West, there as a representative of the Obama campaign said simply:

"I do not believe it is a foregone conclusion that this nation will go to war with anybody in the next four or eight years."

Well no, it isn't - at least not if McCain and his couterie of angry neocon nutters are kept out of the White House.

Add to | Digg this

Palin Appeases Some Terrorists

By Cernig

There's a clearcut distinction for Sarah. Bill Ayers is a domestic terrorist. Abortion clinic firebombers and those who assassinate clinic doctors are her base. That makes them 'freedom fighters for unborn babies imprisoned in lefty-socialist wombs'.

Update: Dave Newiwert has a list for Palin - of the wingnut domestic terrorists she should be concerned about.

Add to | Digg this

The Collapse Of The Republican Circus Tent

By Cernig

There's got to be more than a little schaudenfreude involved for Dems watching the G.O.P.'s meltdown as the worst-run Republican campaign in recent history gasps its way towards the finish line. The theocrat Family Research Council is accusing the NRCC of "abandoning social conservative candidates". McCain aides are already sending out resumes because they're already certain they won't be getting jobs in the next administration. Sarah Palin seems to be working for herself, rather than her running mate, even while the old wardog is still trying to guard her back from media spotlights.

E.J. Dionne calls it a conservative civil war - which is hardly the one the extreme Right have been looking forward to for so long. He writes:

For years, many of the elite conservatives were happy to harvest the votes of devout Christians and gun owners by waging a phony class war against "liberal elitists" and "leftist intellectuals." Suddenly, the conservative writers are discovering that the very anti-intellectualism their side courted and encouraged has begun to consume their movement.

The cause of Edmund Burke, Leo Strauss, Robert Nisbet and William F. Buckley Jr. is now in the hands of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity -- and Sarah Palin. Reason has been overwhelmed by propaganda, ideas by slogans, learned manifestoes by direct-mail hit pieces.

And then there is George W. Bush. Conservatives once hailed him as creating an enduring majority on behalf of their cause. Now, they cast him as the goat in their story of decline.

... Conservatism has finally crashed on problems for which its doctrines offered no solutions (the economic crisis foremost among them, thus Bush's apostasy) and on its refusal to acknowledge that the "real America" is more diverse, pragmatic and culturally moderate than the place described in Palin's speeches or imagined by the right-wing talk show hosts.

Conservatives came to believe that if they repeated phrases such as "Joe the Plumber" often enough, they could persuade working-class voters that policies tilted heavily in favor of the very privileged were actually designed with Joe in mind.

It isn't working anymore. No wonder conservatives are turning on each other so ferociously.

For years, the Right has had a big tent - full of bread and circuses for Joe Sixpack, Joe Biblebelt and not-so-poor Joe Plumber - while the Left has been herding cats in a fractured coalition that couldn't find anyone or anything worth coalescing around. Now the tabels are turned, bigtime. Schaudenfreude? Pass the popcorn!

Add to | Digg this

October 23, 2008

Quote Of The Day

By Cernig

Quote of the day comes from a Guardian report on the falling fortunes of Crawford, Texas, now that Bush is the lamest of ducks.

“A man who cuts cedar in 100 degrees in the summertime in Texas - there's something wrong with his brain”  Keith Lynch, 70, 4th-generation Crawford rancher.

Amazingly, every Texas resident knows that - but still a majority of Texans voted for the rancher who doesn't own cattle.

Add to | Digg this

Iraq Agreement Leaves Bush, McCain Policy In Tatters

By Cernig

By any stretch of the (sane) imagination, the agreement between the U.S. and Iraq, as currently written, is a humiliating debacle and crushing defeat for Bush policy and neocon dreams of permanent hegemony. As Gareth Porter points out:

The final draft, dated Oct. 13, not only imposes unambiguous deadlines for withdrawal of U.S. combat troops by 2011 but makes it extremely unlikely that a U.S. non-combat presence will be allowed to remain in Iraq for training and support purposes beyond the 2011 deadline for withdrawal of all U.S. combat forces.

Furthermore, Shiite opposition to the pact as a violation of Iraqi sovereignty makes the prospects for passage of even this agreement by the Iraqi parliament doubtful. Pro-government Shiite parties, the top Shiite clerical body in the country, and a powerful movement led by nationalist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr that recently mobilised hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in protest against the pact, are all calling for its defeat.

At an Iraqi cabinet meeting Tuesday, ministers raised objections to the final draft, and a government spokesman said that the agreement would not submit it to the parliament in its current form. But Secretary of Defence Robert Gates told three news agencies Tuesday that the door was "pretty far closed" on further negotiations.

In the absence of an agreement approved by the Iraqi parliament, U.S. troops in Iraq will probably be confined to their bases once the United Nations mandate expires Dec. 31.

The clearest sign of the dramatically reduced U.S. negotiating power in the final draft is the willingness of the United States to give up extraterritorial jurisdiction over U.S. contractors and their employees and over U.S. troops in the case of "major and intentional crimes" that occur outside bases and while off duty. The United States has never allowed a foreign country to have jurisdiction over its troops in any previous status of forces agreement.

Gareth goes on to note that the administration seriously underestimated Maliki's opposition to a Bush agenda seriously opposed to it's own, and has also underestimated Iraqi opposition to the deal even as currently written - which could yet mean that there's no deal at all in place when the UN mandate expires, leaving the U.S. presence in Iraq clearly illegal.

But if the Bush administration have been shocked and surprised, John McCain seems to have been driven into abject denial. Spencer Ackerman points out that McCain flat lied about the provisions of the agreement in an interview with Wolf Blitzer on Wednesday.

Long story short: Either McCain hasn’t read the latest text or he’s just making stuff up. (Transcript courtesy of the Mighty DeLong and his Amazing TiVo Device.)

Blitzer: The Bush administration seems to be close to what is called a “status of forces” agreement with the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. It calls, in the draft agreement at least, for the complete withdrawal of combat forces from villages and cities by July 30 of 2009, and out of the country by December 30, 2011. If you’re elected president, would you, as commander-in-chief, honor this agreement if, in fact, it’s formalized?

McCain: With respect Wolf, and you know better, my friend. You know better. It’s condition-based. It’s conditions-based, and Ryan Crocker, our ambassador to Baghdad, said, “If you want to know what victory looks like, look at this agreement.”

You know better than that, Wolf. You know it’s condition-based, and that’s what the big fight was all about.

Actually, my friends, it’s McCain who should know better. I’ll have much more on this in a piece tomorrow morning, but if you read Article 25 of the Oct. 13 text — as I blogged yesterday — you’ll see it says that “The U.S. forces shall withdraw from Iraqi territories no later than December 31st, 2011″ and goes on to say “U.S. combat forces will withdraw from all cities, towns, and villages as soon as the Iraqi forces take over the full security responsibilities in them. The U.S. withdrawal from these areas shall take place no later than June 30th, 2009.”

The only way to square McCain's circle, unless you assume that he really has lost it completely, is that McCain has no intention of letting the Iraqis have a say in what happens to their country should he become President. His chief foreign policy advisor, Randy Scheunemann, suggested as much in a conference call on Wednesday.

But either way - insane or imperialist - these people should in no way be allowed to continue to hold the reins of power or control of America's military.

Add to | Digg this

Palin Backs Immigrant Amnesty

By Cernig

Oh dear. Sarah Palin, in an interview with Univision, has backed an amnesty for undocumented immigrants.

Interviewer: To clarify, so you support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants?

Palin: I do because I understand why people would want to be in America. To seek the safety and prosperity, the opportunities, the health that is here. It is so important that yes, people follow the rules so that people can be treated equally and fairly in this country.

Needless to say, the wingnuts, those few mentioning it so far, are not at all happy.

The Corner leads the charge:

What Palin's response shows is that, first, she's completely open to whatever kool-aid they want her to drink — i.e., she has no innate resistance to amnesty for illegals that would cause her to look for less-unappealing ways of saying what the campaign wants her to say. And second, it shows what the campaign is telling her about McCain's views on the issue — if McCain's talk of "border security first" were anything but boob bait for Bubba, his operatives would have made it clear that Palin was supposed to include that in her discussion of immigration, but she didn't even make a passing reference to it.

Daniel Larison:

I have given up trying to understand what Palinites see in their favorite candidate.  If this does not drive home how malleable and unacquainted with the relevant policy options she is, I’m not sure what would.

With 12 days to go, this is going to hurt the McCain/Palin camp even worse than the $150k blown on Sarah's make-over. I'm waiting to see what the Malkinites will make of it.

(And I wonder, are immigrants the "barbarians at the gate" that Neo-Roman elitist Andy McCarthy is so afraid of?)

Update: Malkin - "We're Screwed, '08!"

Add to | Digg this

An Elitist Hater Of Democracy

By Cernig

Andy McCarthy at NRO's Corner blog approvingly quotes this bit of nonsense from science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein.

A perfect democracy, a "warm body" democracy in which every adult may vote and all votes count equally, has no internal feedback for self-correction.... [O]nce a state extends the franchise to every warm body, be he producer or parasite, that day marks the beginning of the end of the state. For when the plebs discover that they can vote themselves bread and circuses without limit and that the productive members of the body politic cannot stop them, they will do so, until the state bleeds to death, or in its weakened condition the state succumbs to an invader — the barbarians enter Rome.

I Let's leave aside the thought that the authoritarian Heinlein would undoubtably have included McCarthy, who doesn't produce anything except bloviating, in his definition of "parasites". McCarthy approves of the notion that democracy should only be for an elite, not "the plebs". Why does he hate America, where the notion of all men being equal and equally enfranchised is enshrined in the very fabric of the nation?

So which definition does McCarthy want to use for "the plebs" who should be disenfranchised, leaving only an elite he's surely defining to include himself? And which invaders, exactly, does he expect to enter his New Imperial State? Maybe he could explain.

Add to | Digg this

October 22, 2008

33 Minutes of Fearmongering

By Cernig

The Russians aren't fooled by continual protestations that America's missile defense plans are aimed at "rogue states" - none of whom yet has the capability of throwing a nuke at the U.S. and who probably would choose infiltration as a delivery method in any case. They've been beefing up their missile force, introducing a new mark and modifying existing missile types with decoys, in the face of American righwing zeal for destabilizing the balance of deterrence that has served the world so well for decades.

That's not surprising. I'm sure that Russian intelligence and military planners can read, and surf the sites of those rightwing think-tanks who have provided the intellectual impetus for the Bush administration, Mccain and others. They know that missile defense, despite the spin of the Bush administration, has always been about the Soviet Union, and then Russia. It's all about Reagan's Star Wars dream, which had as its focus the "Evil Empire" still described in such belligerent terms by John McCain.

For instance, they'll have already noticed that the Heritage Foundation is planning a major publicity push on missile defense in January, planning to pressure President Obama to continue funding the multi-billion program.

The wingnut think-tank will be releasing a documentary, called 33 Minutes, and is already boosting it on its own website. The fearmongering blurb for the film says:

A ballistic missile from a foreign enemy would take 33 minutes to reach the United States. With each passing day, this becomes a growing danger to America, yet our government has failed to build the missile defense systems capable of defending us against such attacks.

Our enemies are attempting to stockpile arsenals that threaten our freedom and prosperity. North Korea and Iran are the most prominent, but this also includes Russia, China and other nations that have missiles capable of killing Americans in very large numbers and threatening our allies.

The time has come to revive the strategic missile defense system that America uniquely can develop, maintain, and employ for its own defense and the peace-loving world's security.

This documentary aims to do just that by highlighting the disastrous consequences of a nuclear explosion on American soil - one that could happen in just 33 minutes.

North Korea is dismantling its nuclear arsenal and Iran doesn't have one. Nor does it have anything close to the technology to land a warhead on American soil. So it's on to the next on the list - Russia. The website's blog today bears out that emphasis, with most posts about Russia. One that's worth noting, though, extols the need for treaty-breaking space-based weaponry.

The Washington Times reports that the Pentagon is on board to study space-based missile defenses. Congress appropriated $5 million for the endeavor.

Given the ever expanding threat of nuclear proliferation, the U.S. needs to be prepared to defend on all fronts, including protecting satellites. Developing wide-ranging protection should be a top priority. An anonymous defense official said, “It’s really the only way to defend the U.S. and its allies from anywhere on the planet.

This exposes yet another administration fib - that space-based weapons aren't being considered because they'd present a clear red line to Russia and seriously escalate tensions between the two nations, probably triggering a new arms race and a return to the Cold War for real. This is, after all, the same administration that unilaterally withdrew from the ABM Treaty in 2001.

Space-based weapons are a red line for much of the American public too, since many are aware of just how destabilizing such a move would be and few want to return to the dark days of the nuclear clock. The conservative think-tank proposal for dealing with American public perceptions is a simple one. Misdirection.

Arms control advocates are currently focused on preventing the weaponization of space. They base their proposals on the assertion that space is not already weaponized,[23] which is valid only if prop­erly defining the term "space weapons" is irrelevant to the exercise of controlling them.[24]

The fact is that space was weaponized when the first ballistic missile was deployed, because ballistic missiles travel through space on their way to their targets.

... Congress needs to reject the charge that space-based ballistic missile defense interceptors would constitute an unprecedented move by the U.S. to weaponize space. It can do so by adding a preamble to the amendment to provide more robust funding for construction of a space test bed.

This preamble should take the form of a congres­sional finding that the deployment of ballistic mis­siles weaponized space

Umm, yeah. That'll convince the Russians not to join in the wingnut arms race. And this is the same as hanging Reaganesque "Brilliant Pebbles" weaponry permanently in space, as the Heritage folks advise, because?

But let's cut to the chase, shall we? The wingnuts don't want missile defense systems to protect against rogue states. They want them so that the U.S. can attack Russia or China with a better chance of success than Russia or China could attack America.

Is there a potential threat of space wars taking place in the near future? It is a distinct possibility due to the actions of China and Russia. The two nations are attempting to update the 1967 Outer Space Treaty to limit the ability of the U.S. to develop and employ space-based missile defense systems. Is this just a noble effort on the part of China and Russia to declare the use of space for peaceful purposes alone, or are they individually and possibly together seeking to create a situation that would limit the U.S.'s research and development of space-based missile defense systems while giving them the opportunity to get up to speed with similar systems of their own. The space wars have begun to take shape with China and Russia seeking the update of this 41 year old treaty.

... What China and Russia are really seeking with the updating of this treaty is more time to research, develop, and test their own missile defense systems. They are highly threatened that the U.S. has not only nuclear weapons, but missile defense installations that are capable of eliminating any nuclear, biological, or chemical weapon delivered in a ballistic missile from anyone, including Russia, China, or ? China and Russia know they are behind in the development of these missile defense systems, and they want to limit the U.S. any way possible to allow them the time necessary to catch up.

What exactly is wrong with those nations having their own ABM shields - or even sharing one with the U.S. and other nations? Wouldn't that protect everyone from rogue states?

No, the neocon think-tanks who are advising the Bush administration and the McCain campaign are quite clearly looking for a U.S. first strike capability as part of their dreams of American hegemony. That's incredibly dangerous. The Russians and Chinese know this already - they can read. The only people who don't are the bulk of the American populace.

Add to | Digg this

Al Qaeda Endorses McCain, Chertoff Undermines His Spin

By Cernig

Wingnuts from John McCain on down have been breathless in the last couple of days about Joe Biden's remarks that a terrorist attack would almost certainly try to test President Obama in his first six months in office. The spin is that Obama is too risky a choice and Mccain has already been tested (P.O.W.!). McCain even had a "mushroom cloud" moment!

Unfortunately, Michael Chertoff has already undercut McCain's spin by saying he would expect terrorists to try to test either candidate if they should become president - and suggested that any test of Obama would be likley to come from domestic bloodthirsty nutcases, not foreign ones.

``Any period of transition creates a greater vulnerability, meaning there's more likelihood of distraction,'' Chertoff said in an interview yesterday. ``You have to be concerned it will create an operational opportunity for terrorists.''

The risk is the same whether Democrat Barack Obama or Republican John McCain is elected president on Nov. 4, he said. That comment undercuts McCain's argument that the U.S. would be more in danger of an attack if Obama, 47, wins.

... Still, he said, he's concerned about the effect of rhetoric from some hate groups or individuals during the campaign.

``There's a general level of intemperateness in the discussion as we approach the election,'' he said. ``Do I worry that it could trigger in a disturbed individual a desire to do something? Absolutely, I worry about it.''

And now, there are reports that McCain has the backing of Al Qaeda. The logic, for them, is simple:

The message, posted Monday on the password-protected al-Hesbah Web site, said if al-Qaida wants to exhaust the United States militarily and economically, "impetuous" Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain is the better choice because he is more likely to continue the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"This requires presence of an impetuous American leader such as McCain, who pledged to continue the war till the last American soldier," the message said. "Then, al-Qaida will have to support McCain in the coming elections so that he continues the failing march of his predecessor, Bush."

SITE Intelligence Group, based in Bethesda, Md., monitors the Web site and translated the message.

"If al-Qaida carries out a big operation against American interests," the message said, "this act will be support of McCain because it will push the Americans deliberately to vote for McCain so that he takes revenge for them against al-Qaida. Al-Qaida then will succeed in exhausting America till its last year in it."

The WaPo adds:

the comments summarized what has emerged as a consensus view on extremist sites, said Adam Raisman, a senior analyst for the Site Intelligence Group, which monitors Islamist Web pages. Site provided translations of the comments to The Washington Post.

"The idea in the jihadist forums is that McCain would be a faithful 'son of Bush' -- someone they see as a jingoist and a war hawk," Raisman said. "They think that, to succeed in a war of attrition, they need a leader in Washington like McCain."

And Eric Martin notes that this should come as no surprise. "The CIA concluded that bin Laden attempted to swing the election for Bush in 2004 with the release of a videotape in the last weeks of the campaign." McCain is like Bush on speed when it comes to belligerent, unthinking words and actions. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to work out that equation.

Update: Spencer Ackerman relates a "panicked" conference call with Mccain advisers.

Add to | Digg this

Political Haiku

By Cernig

The Heretik is leading a political haiku writing stint. He leads with this:

Meltdown, bailout, no

Pirate Wall Street bankers, yo

What they make, don’t know.

Go on, have a try.

Add to | Digg this

October 21, 2008

Torturing Legality

By Cernig

What a surprise. Dubya had his fingers crossed when he said his administration was looking at ways to shut down Gitmo.

Despite his stated desire to close the American prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, President Bush has decided not to do so, and never considered proposals drafted in the State Department and the Pentagon that outlined options for transferring the detainees elsewhere, according to senior administration officials.

Mr. Bush’s top advisers held a series of meetings at the White House this summer after a Supreme Court ruling in June cast doubt on the future of the American detention center. But Mr. Bush adopted the view of his most hawkish advisers that closing Guantánamo would involve too many legal and political risks to be acceptable, now or any time soon, the officials said.

Spencer Ackerman:

The “legal risks” are called “due process of law” and “adherence to universally-embraced standards of civilization.”

The place rightwingers profess to believe is some kind of "holiday camp" is still full of innocents who were tortured into confessions, too.

Like 17 Uighurs a federal court had ordered released, who now won't go free.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit stayed a federal judge's order releasing the men, and it ordered oral arguments in the government's appeal, to be heard Nov. 24.

U.S. District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina ordered the government Oct. 7 to release the men, all Uighurs, who have been held at Guantanamo Bay for nearly seven years. The same panel temporarily stayed Urbina's order a day later.

The government has been trying to find new homes for the Uighurs for years. It no longer considers them enemy combatants and provided no evidence in court that they posed a security risk. The men cannot be returned to their homeland because they face the prospect of being tortured and killed. China considers the men terrorists.

Judges A. Raymond Randolph and Karen L. Henderson sided with the government and issued the order without comment; Judge Judith W. Rogers dissented, writing that the Bush administration's legal theories were flawed. The government has argued it can detain the Uighurs without cause until it locates a new home for them.

Justice Department lawyers have argued that only the president or Congress has the legal authority to order the Uighurs' release into the United States.

And if Congress ordered their release, Dubya's henchmen would doubtless refuse on the grounds of his Supreme Executive Authoritay.

The Uighurs aren't the only ones held purely because they are evidence of Bush administration war crimes.

The Pentagon announced Tuesday it dropped war-crimes charges against five Guantanamo Bay detainees after the former prosecutor for all cases complained that the military was withholding evidence helpful to the defense.

America's first war-crimes trials since the close of World War II have come under persistent criticism, including from officers appointed to prosecute the alleged terrorists. The military's unprecedented move was directly related to accusations brought by the very man who was to bring all five prisoners to justice.

Army Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld had been appointed the prosecutor for all five cases, but at a pretrial hearing for a sixth detainee earlier this month, he openly criticized the war-crimes trials as unfair. Vandeveld said the military was withholding exculpatory evidence from the defense, and was doing so in other cases.

The chief prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay has now appointed new trial teams for the five cases to review all available evidence, coordinate with intelligence agencies and recommend what to do next, a military spokesman, Joseph DellaVedova, said in an e-mail.

DellaVedova said the military might renew the charges against the five later.

Clive Stafford Smith, a civilian attorney representing detainee Binyam Mohamed, said he has already been notified that charges against his client would be reinstated.

The Independent has more on the "farce" the Bush administration are passing of as due process:

Mohamed, 30, who lived in west London, was arrested in Pakistan in 2002 and transferred to Guantanamo in 2004. He was accused of planning an attack that included the use of radioactive material and chemical weapons.

But Mohamed insists he admitted to plotting the dirty bomb attack only after being tortured, which included having his penis cut with a razor. Mr Stafford Smith said: "The Bush Administration will not even admit in public that they rendered Mr Mohamed to face torture in Morocco, let alone allow him a fair trial. Meanwhile he sits in solitary confinement in Guantanamo, in total despair, contemplating whether he should just commit suicide."

Reprieve, which has long campaigned for the case against Mohamed to be dropped, says he should be returned to the UK. They say he is a victim of "extraordinary rendition" and torture. The charity says Mohamed was sent to Morocco by the CIA in July 2002, where he was tortured for 18 months before being rendered to a secret prison in Afghanistan.

Mohamed has been fighting a long, high-profile legal battle in both the American and English courts for access to 42 documents. Lawyers for the Muslim convert believe the secret papers may contain information backing his claim that he only confessed to terrorist activities after being held incommunicado for two years and suffering ill-treatment. The US government has been accused of using a strategy of delay to avoid having to disclose the evidence that could support the torture allegations.

So keen were the administration to prevent Mohammed's papers coming to light that they threatened the UK government with an intelligence-sharing embargo if it let a UK court rule in Mohammed's favor.

I continue to believe that, if President Obama thinks war crimes trails in America would be too devisive, all he has to do is step aside when The Hague comes calling with warrants for Bush and the rest and use the their own line: "if they've done nothing wrong then they have nothing to fear". With a smile.

Add to | Digg this

October 20, 2008

Former Embassy Hostage - Obama's Right On Iran

By Cernig

The folks at WhirledView have a bit of a scoop. Career diplomat Victor Tomseth was one of the 50 Americans held hostage at the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979. It's thus particularly significant that he should be one of over 300 former diplomats who have backed Barack Obama, and that he should have written an op-ed for the Register-Guard of Oregon and for WhirledView specifically backing Obama's Iran policy of negotiation.

As McCain’s friend Sen. Lindsey Graham, when asked by Goldberg to name something unusual about McCain, put it: McCain believes that “some political problems have military solutions.”

...Obama’s comments demonstrate a more sophisticated understanding of Iran’s relative power than the McCain view that Iran poses an existential threat. According to the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook, in 2006 Iran spent approximately $7.35 billion on defense... Even tiny Israel has a military budget more than half again as large as Iran’s.

Granted, the possession of nuclear weapons is a qualitative advance in military capacity (provided it is accompanied by a capability to deliver such weapons). At the moment, however, it is highly doubtful that Iran possesses either a nuclear weapon or the capacity to deliver one against even Israel, let alone the United States.

Could that change? Obviously it might at some point. However, it does not appear that day has arrived or that it soon will (see the November 2007 National Intelligence Estimate key judgments, “Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities.”

An understanding that Iran does not hold all the nuclear cards — and indeed that its hand in certain fundamental aspects is a weak one — underlies Obama’s policy approach to the Iranian nuclear issue. He believes that the United States has not exhausted nonmilitary options, and in many respects has not even tried seriously to apply them. He proposes a comprehensive settlement with Iran: In exchange for abandoning dual-use nuclear technologies and support of terrorism, the United States will offer incentives such as support for Iran’s entry into the World Trade Organization, economic investment and a process leading to normalization of diplomatic relations.

If, however, Iran continues its troubling behavior, the United States will instead step up efforts to isolate Iran economically and politically.

Experience shows that Obama’s approach can work. Nearly 30 years ago, Iranian authorities first condoned and then facilitated the holding of more than 50 American hostages at the U.S. embassy in Tehran. At that time, too, there was a war faction in the United States that called for bombing Iran back into the Stone Age.

President Jimmy Carter chose a different course, one of patiently negotiating a resolution using nonmilitary sticks and carrots. It took 444 days to drive home the point to Iranian leaders that there are real costs for international isolation, not the least of which was Iran’s discovery that it had few friends when Saddam Hussein seized the hostage crisis as an opportunity to launch a military attack.

The hostage crisis contributed significantly to President Carter’s 1980 loss to Ronald Reagan. But he succeeded in resolving the crisis without resort to war...

Remember, Tomseth was one of those hostages, held for 444 days. He was no casual observer.

Meanwhile, even Israel appears to be coming around to the idea that negotiating with Iran makes sense - leaving McCain and the neocons entirely isolated out on the belligerent fringe of world opinion. Trita Parsi, co-founder and current President of the National Iranian American Council, writes at Rootless Cosmopolitan:

On the eve of his departure from political life, outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Olmert...argued that Israel had lost its “sense of proportion” when stating that it would deal with Iran militarily. “What we can do with the Palestinians, the Syrians and the Lebanese, we cannot do with the Iranians,” Olmert said, in stark contradiction to his own earlier warnings on Iran as well as the rhetoric of many of his hawkish cabinet members. “Let’s be more modest, and act within the bounds of our realistic capabilities,” he cautioned.

... A more nuanced rhetoric on Iran may have the down-side of reducing pressure on the U.S. to act - “If we don’t talk about Iran, the world will forget about Iran,” as Israeli Iran expert David Menashri put it – but has the up-side of enabling new options to emerge for the Jewish state.

Warning about being “boxed into the corner,” a recent Haaretz editorial offered a clear break from Israel’s Plan A: “The best chance of calming the atmosphere and reducing the threat lies in starting negotiations between the United States and Iran… [I]t is the only route not yet tried and is likely to help moderate Iranian policy. Israel must encourage an American rapprochement with Iran, with the understanding that this will serve the Israeli interest as well.” And in a video by the Jewish Council for Education and Research, several high-ranking Israeli generals throw their weight behind U.S.-Iran diplomacy as a path towards advancing Israeli security.

... Unlike Olmert who recognized the unfeasibility of Plan A while leaving office, Israel’s new Prime Minister, Tzipi Livni, may enter office with Plan B in sight. She rejects the idea that Israel “will not be able to live” with a nuclear Iran and says Israel must deal with the challenges it faces. Though Livni won’t go as far as Barack Obama in promising direct diplomacy with Tehran, she may help Israel find a few more options on Iran.

There's always a possibility that a more moderate president in Iran in 2009 may help find a few of those options too. Sidelining the zealots, be they Iranian, Isreali or American, is the best chance for solving all of the issues in the region. Even Churchill, hero of the Right, preferred talk to war.

Add to | Digg this

A Grand Bargain In Afghanistan?

By Cernig

While the presidential candidates try to outdo each other on hawkishness on their Afghanistan/Pakistan policies and violence rises even further, the military seem to be the ones really running U.S. foreign policy in the region. And they're looking for a Grand Bargain.

This week's Sixty Minutes has eye-opening footage from a forward operating base in eastern Afghanistan, which includes up-close combat with Taliban militants.

Watch CBS Videos Online

The footage underscores what a recent draft of a National Intelligence Estimate called Afghanistan's "downward spiral", with a 30 percent increase in attacks in the last year.

These soldiers had not come this close to their enemy in Afghanistan before - close enough to lob hand grenades. Staff Sgt. Jake Schlereth had to crawl into a cornfield in pursuit. "You couldn't see [the enemy]…and…I had to get down on the ground and look and see if they were down there…you knew they were in there," he tells Logan.

At least twelve enemy fighters were killed in the skirmish and one U.S. soldier was wounded. The soldiers found a camera left behind by the enemy that contained images of at least 50 heavily armed fighters, showing details of their training and actual attacks. But it also showed enemy surveillance of U.S. soldiers on patrol. Says Capt. Thomas Kilbride, who leads such patrols, "This is showing a [U.S.] unit driving. I don't know if this is us or not." Does he think he and his men are being watched every time they go on patrol? "Oh, yeah," he says.

The images on the camera prove the enemy is better armed and organized. One of the men killed was carrying an identification card issued across the border in Pakistan. The U.S. military plans more fighting ahead in the winter months, when violence is usually less. "I'm here to predict this winter will be the most violent winter so far," says Gen. Schlosser.

But with experts saying that an Iraq-style Surge and Awakening, as advocated by John McCain, won't work among the Pushtun tribes who are implacably hostile to outsiders and occupiers - and likewise saying that Obama's more hawkish policy on Pakistan is a step too far that would touch off a larger regional conflict - General David Petraeus has put together a team of advisors who are saying the the best bet is to make a deal with the Taliban to return them to some sort of respectability as long as they give up Al Qaeda in the process. One of those advisers, Pakistani analyst Ahmed Rashid, has joined with New York University Prof. Barnett Rubin to write an essay entitled "From Great Game to Grand Bargain: Ending Chaos in Afghanistan and Pakistan" published this week in the influential 'Foreign Affairs' journal. Jim Lobe at IPS News writes:

Both Obama and McCain have called for increases in U.S. and NATO troop strength, and President George W. Bush currently intends to send 8,000 more U.S. troops to join the 34,000 who are already there before he leaves office. The NATO commander in Afghanistan, U.S. Gen. David McKiernan, who commands a total of nearly 70,000 troops, said last week he will need yet another 15,000 more next year.

But while those forces may help keep the lid on, they cannot defeat the Taliban, particularly so long as their Pakistani allies provide a safe haven, according to Rashid and Rubin, whose article criticises the Bush administration’s "war-on-terror" rhetoric that "thwarts sound strategic thinking by assimilating opponents into a homogenous ‘terrorist’ enemy."

"(The) United States must redefine its counterterrorist goals," they argue. "It should seek to separate those Islamist movements with local or national objectives from those that, like al Qaeda, seek to attack the United States or its allies directly – instead of lumping them all together." Those willing to sever ties with al Qaeda should be engaged, according to the authors.

"...An agreement in principle to prohibit the use of Afghan (or Pakistani) territory for international terrorism, plus an agreement from the United States and NATO that such a guarantee could be sufficient to end their hostile military action, could constitute a framework for negotiation. Any agreement in which the Taliban or other insurgents disavowed al Qaeda would constitute a strategic defeat for al Qaeda," according to the two authors.

It's almost certainly a good idea. Bob Gates has said that "There has to be ultimately, and I’ll underscore ultimately, reconciliation as part of a political outcome to this. That’s ultimately the exit strategy for all of us," and I've agreed with that concept for years. But one would think the State Dept. under the next President, rather than Petraeus, in the role of regional proconsul, should be doing the running.

However, Rashid and Rubin want to take it a step further - and that's where I think their plan becomes highly problemmatic.

At the same time, Washington and its allies should pursue a "high-level diplomatic initiative designed to build genuine consensus on the goal of achieving Afghan stability by addressing the legitimate sources of Pakistan’s insecurity...," they argue.

They call for the UN Security Council to establish of a contact group consisting of its five permanent members, and possibly NATO and Saudi Arabia, to promote dialogue between India and Pakistan on Afghanistan and Kashmir, and between Pakistan and Afghanistan on delineating their border with the central aim of "assur(ing) Pakistan that the international community is committed to its territorial integrity." The group should also provide security assurances to Russia and Iran about U.S. NATO intentions and to promote regional economic integration and development.

The problem is that Pakistan isn't only concerned with its own territorial integrity. Pakistan's foreign policy has always been run by the Pakistani military, primarily aimed at India and always seen the use of proxy terror groups as a way to counter the assymetric balance of conventional forces. The Pakistani military has always had one primary mission - India. One of its primary objectives has been to bring Afghanistan into its own orbit and deny India influence there. While India must worry about the other regional power, China, Pakistan has always co-operated with China both militarily and politically on the local stage - the two nations develop fighter jets together, exercize together, vote together in local forums. India was the only reason why Pakistan developed a nuclear arsenal (India worried about Pakistan and China) and you can be sure that every nuclear weapon in Pakistan's inventory is assigned to an Indian target and to no other - something that it is doubtful is the case for India's weapons.

Throughout their short history as seperate nations - which has included four outright wars - India and Pakistan have been burdened by extremists who define themselves in terms of opposition to their neighbour and in supremacist religious rhetoric. Both have always had to cope with militant portions of their own military and political spectrums who define themselves in terms of a perceived military threat from the other nation. In India's case, although offtimes these factions have gained ascendancy, the democratic process has kept their influence from being total. Pakistan, on the other hand, has been a military dictatorship more often than it has been even slightly democratic and, when a democracy, was constantly threatened by coups from one of its two militant factions - the religious and military extremists. Accordingly, the military has made a de facto trade off with the Islamists. The military runs the nation and the Islamists use it as a safe base to preach, recruit and stage their worldwide Jihad. Neither rocks the other's boat all that much and so a balance of power has evolved, teetering on a precipice of civil war which spills over locally from time to time. Rashid and Rubin's plan doesn't provide an incentive to either group to change that equation.

Instead, as so often in the past, India should offer concessions to a nation which has talked the talk far more often than it has walked the walk. There is no mention anywhere of curtailling Pakistan's intelligence agency, the ISI, and its alleged sponsoring of terror groups in Kashmir, Afghanistan and India. No mention of the tens of thousands of Taliban and Al Qaida trained militants in Pakistan (Jane's in 2004 estimated 20,000 such in Karachi alone). No mention of Pakistan's inability (reluctance) to capture Osama bin Laden or Mullah Omar - and other major terror/crime figures such as Dahwood Ibrahim - who are certainly hiding on their territory. It's a plan the Pakistanis will love - because it enables them to keep on doing what they've been doing, playing the West for all they are worth while asking concessions from their main rivals. It's highly unlikely that the Indians or anyone else in the region will want to play ball just to give the U.S. cover as it makes for an exit.
Crossposted from Crooks & Liars
Add to | Digg this

October 19, 2008

An Assault On Democracy

By Cernig

In 2008, faced with a groundswell of public opinion that should deliver a landslide of disapproval for the Republican party and send it into the political wilderness for years, the poor losers of the GOP are more than ready to prevent that end by any means. Few, if any, of the tactics it is using are illegal - often the result of careful legislation designed to preserve the Republican majority forever - but added together they comprise an assault on democracy which would stun even the cynical and sly politicians of Old Europe.

In state after state, Republican operatives — the party's elite commandos of bare-knuckle politics — are wielding new federal legislation to systematically disenfranchise Democrats. If this year's race is as close as the past two elections, the GOP's nationwide campaign could be large enough to determine the presidency in November. "I don't think the Democrats get it," says John Boyd, a voting-rights attorney in Albuquerque who has taken on the Republican Party for impeding access to the ballot. "All these new rules and games are turning voting into an obstacle course that could flip the vote to the GOP in half a dozen states."

The GOP and the McCain campaign have been trying to drum up a Bradley Effect, with campaign and party apparatchiks trotting out racist whistles against Obama (and by extension against the party he now leads) at every opportunity while party leaders pretend to be oblivious and unknowing. McCain, Palin and the GOP's Congressional leaders would condemn any overt racism, of course, and attribute it to some bad apples - but they seem remarkably dense in not spotting anything other than utter hate speech racism from their followers (or the candidate himself) when it occurs. The merest veil of deniability conceals their deliberately looking the other way while their supporters run riot.

Nor have their smears stopped at racism. Calling Obama and Dems in general traitors, terrorist abettors, "feminazis" and (oh, horrors) socialists has become a substitute for debating issues. (Actually, Obama's just echoing Lincoln.) From an early stage, the GOP knew it was going to run on personality smears as a substitute for facts. Again, much of the groundswell of hate on the Right is implausibly deniable by the leadership, but since any media attention only fuels their base's paranoia and engenders new smear attacks, "implausible" is all they need to keep the ball rolling independently.

But even all that isn't sufficient to either cage the vote or at least to provide plenty of excuses to keep Republican leaders in charge of their party after the elections. So we now have the ACORN faux-scandal, which John McCain has hyperbolically called 'an assault on democracy" and which seeks to provide a ready-made narrative for de-legitimizing the election.

It also serves, through the time-honored tactic of calling your opponents out for what you yourself are doing, to conceal very real Republcan voter registration fraud - not just individuals cooking up daft names to register as a way of getting paid for no work but a concerted effort to cook the books by making Republican support seem stronger than it really is.

Voters contacted by The Times said they were tricked into switching parties while signing what they believed were petitions for tougher penalties against child molesters. Some said they were told that they had to become Republicans to sign the petition, contrary to California initiative law. Others had no idea their registration was being changed.

I am not a Republican," insisted Karen Ashcraft, 47, a pet-clinic manager and former Democrat from Ventura who said she was duped by a signature gatherer into joining the GOP. "I certainly . . . won't sign anything in front of a grocery store ever again."

It is a bait-and-switch scheme familiar to election experts. The firm hired by the California Republican Party -- a small company called Young Political Majors, or YPM, which operates in several states -- has been accused of using the tactic across the country.

... The 70,000 voters YPM has registered for the Republican Party this year will help combat the public perception that it is struggling amid Democratic gains nationally, give a boost to fundraising efforts and bolster member support for party leaders, political strategists from both parties say.

Those who were formerly Democrats may stop receiving phone calls and literature from that party, perhaps affecting its get-out-the-vote efforts. They also will be given only a Republican ballot in the next primary election if they do not switch their registration back before then.

Some also report having their registration status changed to absentee without their permission; if they show up at the polls without a ballot they may be unable to vote.

And, of course, we still have that mysterious glitch in electronic voting machines - the one that only ever seems to work in favor of Republican candidates - in places like West Virginia. They're out to prove Florida 2000 wasn't a one off. It has often been said that, to prevent such "glitches" having an effect, Obama has to not just win but win handily. That's inconvenient to network bosses who are already wondering how they'll fill election evening coverage if it's all decided by teatime. John McCain has assured Chris Wallace today that there will be a full election night to cover and some polls seem to help his case for that (and, obviously, influence voter's perceptions) - even while others don't.

But at the end of the day the GOP is prepared even for a Democratic landslide. They'll just package up all the hate, all the smears, all the Alien Nation rhetoric and throw caution to the wind.   

We've crossed some more lines ... in a long series of lines that have made it increasingly difficult to distinguish between the ultraconservative wing of the Republican Party and an explicitly fascist political movement. And John McCain and his political handlers appear to have no moral compunctions whatsoever about whipping this movement into a frenzy and providing it with scapegoats for all that hatred, simply to try to shave a few points off Barack Obama's lead in the polls.

To call this "country first" only works if you assume your opponents (and scapegoats) are not really part of that same country. And we all know where that leads.

Yes, we do. And the extreme Right has been happily contemplating violent resistance or even a coup to defend themselves from what they see as a hostile and un-American Democratic takeover for years now. They even write books about it.

Add to | Digg this

October 18, 2008

The Heretik Returns

By Cernig

Good news.

The Heretik is back, in all his Kafka-esque glory.

Add to | Digg this

The Calm Before The Storm?

By Cernig

John McCain's declarations of victory in Iraq are likely to turn out just as premature as Bush's famously-flightsuited "mission accomplished", simply because the various faction fights underlying violence in Iraq have been postponed, not solved.

A few days ago, Mariam Karouny of Reuter's Baghdad bureau posted this on the Reuters blog:

Conversations with senior Iraqi officials in the past few days suggest the optimism may be premature.

Shi’ite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish politicians spoke of “bad news” ahead. They talked of deep political divisions, and assassinations ahead of the provincial elections expected in January.

A senior Sunni Arab official, wishing me a happy Eid last week, said: “I wish I could mean this. Nothing has really changed since you have last visited.”

A Shi’ite official pleaded: “Please be careful, we are expecting lots of problems. Don’t be fooled by the current security situation.”

No-one sane expects there to be anything other than a rise in violence focussed around the provincial elections. The real question is: how bad will it get? If it's bad enough to kick off another round of recriminatory attacks and counterattacks, Iraq will revert back to pre-Surge conditions very quickly. If not, then Iraq has a chance at merely having the kind of background violence experienced in Lebanon or Palastine. With a split in the ruling Shiite elite,between Maliki's Dawa and Hakim's ISCI, to contend with and an insurgency that appears to be gathering its strength again and which seems capable of pre-Awakening attack levels, the latter seems a slimmer possibility than the former.

Add to | Digg this

Can We Use The L Word Now?

By Cernig

Not quite- although there's a 89.96 probability of an Obama victory, there's only a 32.75% chance of a landslide (375 plus electoral college votes) according to Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight.

But it certainly looks like one in this pic. "All I can say is wow," Obama said as he took the stage.


Add to | Digg this

Obama's Best Line Yet

By Cernig

Via Steve Benen comes what I think is Obama's best line of the whole campaign.

It comes down to values -- in America, do we simply value wealth, or do we value the work that creates it?

Perfect. It encapsulates all that is wrong with the unstated Republican theology political philosphy America has lived with since Reagan. Obama continues:

"Lately, Senator McCain has been attacking my middle class tax cut. He actually said it goes to, 'those who don't pay taxes,' even though it only goes to working people who are already getting taxed on their paycheck. That's right, Missouri -- John McCain is so out of touch with the struggles you are facing that he must be the first politician in history to call a tax cut for working people 'welfare.'

The only 'welfare' in this campaign is John McCain's plan to give another $200 billion in tax cuts to the wealthiest corporations in America -- including $4 billion in tax breaks to big oil companies that ran up record profits under George Bush. That's who John McCain is fighting for. But we can't afford four more years like the last eight. George Bush and John McCain are out of ideas, they are out of touch, and if you stand with me in 17 days they will be out of time."


Add to | Digg this

The McCain Plan for Health Insecurity

By Cernig

At the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. David Blumenthal reviews McCain's healthcare plans - and finds the same old Republican "I'm alright, Jack" philosphy. (h/t Avedon)

John McCain emerges not as a maverick or centrist but as a radical social conservative firmly in the grip of the ideology that animates the domestic policies of President George W. Bush. The central purpose of President Bush's health policy, and John McCain's, is to reduce the role of insurance and make Americans pay a larger part of their health care bills out of pocket. Their embrace of market forces, fierce antagonism toward government, and determination to force individuals to have more "skin in the game" are overriding — all other goals are subsidiary. Indeed, the Republican commitment to market-oriented reforms is so strong that, to attain their vision, Bush and McCain seem willing to take huge risks with the efficiency, equity, and stability of our health care system. Specifically, the McCain plan would profoundly threaten the current system of employer-sponsored insurance on which more than three fifths of Americans depend, increase reliance on unregulated individual insurance markets (which are notoriously inefficient), and leave the number of uninsured Americans virtually unchanged. A side effect of the McCain plan would be to threaten access to adequate insurance for millions of America's sickest citizens.

The main purposes of Mccain's plan appears to be to dump more money into private health insurer's coffers and enable insurers to dump bad risks (those currently covered but paying high premiums) onto the State by making insurance unaffordable for them:

In the individual market, administrative costs consume 30 to 50% of premiums, as compared with 12 to 15% in the large-group, employer-sponsored insurance market. The McCain plan, therefore, could cause administrative waste to skyrocket. Because of these high administrative expenses, and because insurers want to avoid sick people, individual health insurance tends to be less generous than employer-sponsored plans, requiring higher deductibles and copayments and offering less coverage of preventive and catastrophic care. Perhaps most worrisome is that many chronically ill patients who lose employer-sponsored coverage will have trouble finding any insurance at all in the individual market. The McCain plan calls for deregulating private insurance markets — eliminating, for example, state requirements that insurers offer plans to persons with preexisting conditions.

To counter these side effects, McCain will offer a $2,500 tax credit for individuals and a $5,000 tax credit for families to help them purchase health insurance. But consider the math. The average family policy in the United States now costs about $12,000, of which the average employer contributes about 75% ($9,000). Thus, if they could find comparable insurance in the individual market, that coverage would cost families losing employer-sponsored insurance $4,000 more than they previously paid ($9,000 minus $5,000). Many of these families will enter the ranks of the uninsured.

All those new uninsured would join the ranks of those who wait until their health problem becomes an emergency and then head to EMS, increasing the cost of their care dramatically and leaving many unable to pay - at which point the State picks up a huge bill which could have been far lower if it had only been the healthcare provider in the first place.

The choice facing health care professionals, like all Americans, is basic: Who deserves to be trusted with the stewardship of America's health care system? The McCain proposal violates the bedrock principle that major health policy reforms should first do no harm. It would risk the viability of employer-sponsored insurance and the welfare of chronically ill Americans in pell-mell pursuit of a radical vision of consumer-driven health care. Senator McCain's plan does not demonstrate the kind of judgment needed in a potential commander in chief of our health care system.

Blumenthal is an unpaid Obama campaign adviser, so he's certainly biased - but the situation is actually worse than he admits. Not only is McCain's healthcare plan a disaster, but so is Obama's - although one on slo-mo - because there is no long-term viability in employer-sponsored health insurance. Companies and corportations are collapsing under the weight of such schemes. It';s significant that in 2004 big auto manufacturers begged Canada to keep its national healthcare system, so they could keep their own costs down and saty in business across North America. In 2003, GM spent $4.5 billion on health care for its US- based employees and retirees, at a cost of $1,200 per car, according to a GM spokesman. "If we cannot get our arms around this [healthcare] issue as a nation, our manufacturing base and many of our other businesses are in danger," warned Ford's Vice Chairman Allan Gilmour.

But the correct alternative to pick is a national health service, which could be funded at a level of 11% of GDP, higher than that of any other Western nation, without a single tax raise - if only insurance company profits and beaurocracy weren't sucking all the good out of the system. Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, co-author of a 2001 study and an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard, put it best:

We pay the world's highest health care taxes. But much of the money is squandered. The wealthy get tax breaks. And HMOs and drug companies pocket billions in profits at the taxpayers' expense. But politicians claim we can't afford universal coverage. Every other developed nation has national health insurance. We already pay for it, but we don't get it.

Deborah Burger, President of the California Nurses Association, says that in a supposedly civilized nation healthcare should be a right, not a responsibility:

Add to | Digg this

October 17, 2008

Nir Rosen: How We Lost the War We Won

By Cernig

Nir Rosen imbedded with the Taliban for his latest report on Afghanistan, out now in Rolling Stone. His experiences included almost being executed by a fanatical Taliban local warlord, but he came away with the conclusion that adding more troops to Afghanistan won’t work, and that we should prepare an exit strategy.

Simply put, it is too late for Bush's "quiet surge" — or even for Barack Obama's plan for a more robust reinforcement — to work in Afghanistan. More soldiers on the ground will only lead to more contact with the enemy, and more air support for troops will only lead to more civilian casualties that will alienate even more Afghans. Sooner or later, the American government will be forced to the negotiating table, just as the Soviets were before them.

"The rise of the Taliban insurgency is not likely to be reversed," says Abdulkader Sinno, a Middle East scholar and the author of Organizations at War in Afghanistan and Beyond. "It will only get stronger. Many local leaders who are sitting on the fence right now — or are even nominally allied with the government — are likely to shift their support to the Taliban in the coming years. What's more, the direct U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan is now likely to spill over into Pakistan. It may be tempting to attack the safe havens of the Taliban and Al Qaeda across the border, but that will only produce a worst-case scenario for the United States. Attacks by the U.S. would attract the support of hundreds of millions of Muslims in South Asia. It would also break up Pakistan, leading to a civil war, the collapse of its military and the possible unleashing of its nuclear arsenal."

In the same speech in which he promised a surge, Bush vowed that he would never allow the Taliban to return to power in Afghanistan. But they have already returned, and only negotiation with them can bring any hope of stability.

John McCain's strategy - following the Bush administration in handing policymaking to General Petraeus - isn't going to work any better. Talking our way to an exit from the doomed adventure in Afghanistan really is the only way out of that grim trap.

Spencer Ackerman calls Rosen's report an instant classic of war reporting and I totally agree. Just read it, ok?

Amy Goodman talks with Nir Rosen about his Taliban embed.

Add to | Digg this

International Regulation For The Global Economy

By Cernig

The UK prime minister, Gordon Brown, has rediscovered his "small-s" socialist roots during the current financial crisis he helped create by forgetting them and thus allowing US-style unregulated risk-taking in UK financial markets. It hasn't hurt Brown in the polls either - where once he had trailed so badly that everyone had written him off, now he's ahead of his Conservative Party rival by 11 points.

His credibility on the international stage is high too. He was the most successful treasurer of a Western nation since WW2, with 13 straight years in the black, and is the architect of the current international plan to restore liquidity to the world economy by having governments take equity stakes in banks and other institutions. It's a process known as "nationalisation" but somehow the U.S. media doesn't want to use that word or remind voters that the conservative Bush administration has been forced to socialist policy by its own maladministration.

Now, Brown has an op-ed in the Washington Post setting out the next stage of fiscal recovery - international laws to regulate the financial sector. He's even using the words "new Bretton Woods".

We must deal with more than the symptoms of the current crisis. We have to tackle the root causes. So the next stage is to rebuild our fractured international financial system.

This week, European leaders came together to propose the guiding principles that we believe should underpin this new Bretton Woods: transparency, sound banking, responsibility, integrity and global governance. We agreed that urgent decisions implementing these principles should be made to root out the irresponsible and often undisclosed lending at the heart of our problems. To do this, we need cross-border supervision of financial institutions; shared global standards for accounting and regulation; a more responsible approach to executive remuneration that rewards hard work, effort and enterprise but not irresponsible risk-taking; and the renewal of our international institutions to make them effective early-warning systems for the world economy.

Such an international regulatory framework, if enshrined in a treaty, will have the force of international law - and that's clearly what Brown and the other European leaders intend. It will then be largely immune to Republican deregulatory zeal even in the U.S., because laws adopetd by treaty have the force of federal laws but international treaties cannot be changed just by enacting domestic legislation to do away with them. Free market conservatives (and neocons, who hate any restriction on American hegemony and freedom to act as it sees fit) are going to hate Brown's plan, but what choice do they have? The medicine will taste bitter but a little bit (not too much) socialism will be good for what ails the world economy.

But what I would find really interesting would be if someone asked John McCain, "maverick reformer", if he thinks the fiscal socialism that the Bush administration has already enacted and the socialism to come are good ideas. And if not, what would be his alternative?

Gordon Brown answers questions on the future of the economy, bankers bonuses and global co-operation

Update: Nobel winner Paul Krugman is all for some fiscal socialism and nanny-stating on the domestic scene too.

there’s a lot the federal government can do for the economy. It can provide extended benefits to the unemployed, which will both help distressed families cope and put money in the hands of people likely to spend it. It can provide emergency aid to state and local governments, so that they aren’t forced into steep spending cuts that both degrade public services and destroy jobs. It can buy up mortgages (but not at face value, as John McCain has proposed) and restructure the terms to help families stay in their homes.

And this is also a good time to engage in some serious infrastructure spending, which the country badly needs in any case. The usual argument against public works as economic stimulus is that they take too long: by the time you get around to repairing that bridge and upgrading that rail line, the slump is over and the stimulus isn’t needed. Well, that argument has no force now, since the chances that this slump will be over anytime soon are virtually nil. So let’s get those projects rolling.

Will the next administration do what’s needed to deal with the economic slump? Not if Mr. McCain pulls off an upset. What we need right now is more government spending — but when Mr. McCain was asked in one of the debates how he would deal with the economic crisis, he answered: “Well, the first thing we have to do is get spending under control.”

...The responsible thing, right now, is to give the economy the help it needs. Now is not the time to worry about the deficit.

That's something Dems have already argued (as have I), but having the Nobel winner back you up is nice.

Add to | Digg this

Working Class Heroes

By Cernig

And the Right wonders why the word 'socialist" is losing its sting. The WaPo:

A national survey by The Washington Post, Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University found that large percentages of low-wage Americans struggle to pay for life's staples. Eight in 10 find it hard to pay for gasoline or save for retirement, while more than six in 10 said it was tough to afford health care. And roughly half said they were having difficulty affording food and housing.

Workers are more productive than ever, as the output per person has hit new highs in the past eight years. But rather than funding wage increases for most employees, the fruit of that new efficiency has largely bypassed all but the people in the best-paying jobs, as inflation-adjusted incomes for typical Americans edged downward from 2000 to 2007.

Now, as the global financial system strains to absorb its biggest shocks since the Great Depression, the once faraway world of Wall Street is making things worse for low-wage workers.

Even before last week's dramatic declines on Wall Street, credit markets had tightened, making borrowing more expensive -- or impossible -- for people and businesses whose credit histories are less than stellar. Already, most lenders are requiring higher down payments for mortgages and more collateral for other loans. Tighter credit means less spending and fewer jobs. Inevitably, those at the bottom of the income ladder are most vulnerable to all of those changes.

"Low-wage workers have had a difficult balancing act in terms of matching their expenses with their limited incomes," said Margaret C. Simms, director of the Urban Institute's Low-Income Working Families Project. "They are very limited in their ability to deal with an emergency."

The WaPo illustrates these stark statistics with a look at the life of Regino Romero, a single father of three kids earning "just over $13 an hour, which he calls barely enough to survive". There are plenty with less to get by on. It isn't easy being working class in Bush's America.

Sing it, John.

Add to | Digg this

The New Atlanticist - The "Unanswered Question" Of NATO Expansion

By Cernig

If you follow foreign policy and foreign affairs, here's one for your bookmarks - the New Atlanticist blog. It's the online mag of the Atlantic Council of the United States, which is a think-tank expressly devoted to being a support group for American interest in NATO. Given that, it has a decidedly realist, center-right and hawkish tinge to it but under the excellent editorship of moderate conservative James Joyner (of Outside The Beltway) the blog has been producing some thought-provoking posts by some foreign policy luminaries and by James himself.

For instance, James notes a new study by the Congressional Research Service, "NATO Enlargement: Albania, Croatia, and Possible Future Candidates," [PDF] which says:

U.S. officials continue to view NATO as the primary institutional mechanism to ensure transatlantic security. They argue that although NATO’s primary purpose is the defense of its members, the alliance has become a force for peace throughout Europe.

This provides a clear U.S. answer to what James says is "the unanswered question" about NATO enlargement.

Inherent in the discussion, but not answered in the report — which is, after all, intended to prevent Members of Congress and their staffs with information, not dictate policy — is the goal of the Alliance.  Albania and Croatia add little strategic value, Macedonia creates friction within the Alliance just by its name, and Georgia and Ukraine are on the other side of a "red line" drawn by Russia.  So, if NATO is primarily a defensive military alliance, adding any of them in the near future is counterproductive.

If, on the other hand, NATO is only incidentally military but mostly a means of spreading and institutionalizing Western values and cooperation, then cautiously adding those states as they meet the required political, economic, and military standards promotes the Alliance's mission.

Spreading American values, rather than broader "Western" ones, is an integral part of every hue of Very Serious Person foreign policy ideology and has been for decades. Indeed, it's one of the defining criteria for admission to the VSP set instead of being dismissed as an isolationist crank or a DFH. It's the very epitome of "soft power". And NATO has been one of the main platforms for diseminating such values since the collapse of the Soviet Union raised the question of what NATO was going to do once it's declared enemy wasn't around anymore.

The real unanswered question is whether pushing American soft power through a NATO expansion is worth the risk of armed conflict with a resurgent Russia. Neo-whatevers (liberals and conservatives) seem to think it is, or think that Russia will blink, while those less burdened by ideology and more concerned by their position near the front lines of any conflicts (Germany and France) do not. Both nations have made it clear that they will veto, indefinitely, any nation's membership if the applicant is or is highly likely to be involved in military confrontation with Russia. It's a red line dictated by realpolitik and the terms of the North Atlantic Treaty.

For the neocon camp, of course, this is an opportunity to further one of their most pernicious bits of ideology. They hate treaties, all treaties, even ones that enshrine military alliances - each one, they feel, undermines America's ability to act without compromise as a supposedly hegemonic sole superpower. Even the NATO organisation demands compromises of American power, and so they're quite happy to undermine and weaken the Alliance from within just as they have with the UN. Pushing NATO's role "of spreading and institutionalizing Western values and cooperation" actually works to destroy the organisations effectiveness as a purely military alliance, leaving the way open for "coalitions of the willing" or some "League of Democracies" (the McCain/Krauthammer plan to endrun around the UN). At the end of the day, neoconservatives still want military and soft-power coalitions, but they want the U.S. to be able to dictate the terms.

Add to | Digg this

October 16, 2008

Ireland's Biggest Bookie Pays Out On Obama Win

By Cernig

It's a publicity stunt by Ireland's biggest bookmaker, sure. But the odds on a McCain win are now terrible.

Paddy Power PLC says it is so sure Barack Obama will win the U.S. presidential election next month that it paid off Thursday on all bets it had taken backing the Democratic candidate. It said it shelled out more than euro1 million, about $1.35 million.

"We declare this race well and truly over and congratulate all those who backed Obama — your winnings await you," the company said in a statement.

They did the same with the Irish referendum for the EU Constitution, calling it early for a "yes" vote and getting egg on their faces (and millions in free publicity) when they had to pay out on the "no" result.

But Powers, which is still taking bets even after calling the race, is offering odds of 5 to one on McCain winning, while a euro on Obama only gets you 11 cents on a win. I'm of the opinion that those odds are pretty accurate.

Add to | Digg this

Petraeus' Foreign Policy

By Cernig

There's little doubt that General David Petraeus is a smart cookie, and quite a few people I respect highly as foreign policy reporters and analysts have good opinions of his abilities. But when did a four star general get handed the authority to act as if he were Secretary of State?

The WaPo reports today (h/t Russ at Scholars & Rogues):

Gen. David H. Petraeus has launched a major reassessment of U.S. strategy for Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq and the surrounding region, while warning that the lack of development and the spiraling violence in Afghanistan will probably make it "the longest campaign of the long war."

The 100-day assessment will result in a new campaign plan for the Middle East and Central Asia, a region in which Petraeus will oversee the operations of more than 200,000 American troops as the new head of U.S. Central Command, beginning Oct. 31.

The review will formally begin next month, but experts and military officials involved said Petraeus is already focused on at least two major themes: government-led reconciliation of Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the leveraging of diplomatic and economic initiatives with nearby countries that are influential in the war. [Emphasis Mine - C]

All of this seems like a good idea to me. But, crucially, neither of those themes are military ones and the military shouldn't be leading the way on them. It's about seperation of power and having the military subordinate to civilian policymakers rather than the other way around.

So where are the US ambassador, State Dept. and Condi Rice, who should be leading the way on them while the military man concentrates on military matters? For that matter, won't the leaders of other nations involved in the region wonder why America has appointed a de facto proconsul (again) and want their say?

"When you look at a lot of these problems, you see considerable regional connections," Petraeus said yesterday. The effort would embrace all of Afghanistan's neighbors and possibly extend to India, which has had a long-standing rivalry with Pakistan. "There may be opportunities with respect to India," he said.

An overview of the review team's mission obtained by The Post says that including other government agencies and other nations in the planning will "mitigate the risk of over-militarization of efforts and the development of short-term solutions to long-term problems."

Nevertheless, some experts questioned whether Petraeus will have the authority to carry out such a sweeping strategy.

"General Petraeus is not in charge of our diplomacy. He can't decide whether we try to form an international contacts group on Pakistan," said Barnett Rubin, an Afghanistan expert at New York University.

Moreover, in dealing with Afghanistan at Central Command, Petraeus will face limitations that he did not encounter as the top commander in Iraq, such as the lack of a unified military command and serious resource shortages.

"We don't own it. It's been a NATO effort since 2006. He won't have the same sway with Karzai and the ambassadors and a bunch of other people that he had in Iraq," said a former senior military official with experience in Afghanistan.

Perhaps most worrying of all, Petraus' mini foreign policy is being described as "a policy bridge from one administration to the next" by one of his team members, Clare Lockhart, co-founder of the New York-based Institute for State Effectiveness along with former Afghan finance minister Ashraf Ghani. Does Obama know and approve of Petraeus' and the military's intended hijacking of his administration's foreign policy and the authority of his SecState in Afghanistan and the surrounding region?

Add to | Digg this

Welcome Back To The World, America

By Cernig

That headline may seem premature to some, after all McCain the neocon hasn't lost the election yet. But at this stage does anyone really think he's going to win? As Eric pointed out earlier, it's not just that Barack Obama has outperformed McCain in the race, it's that Obama's been riding a wave of American public opinion - rich Republican loyalists like Joe the Plumber to the contrary - that has had enough of "I'm alright, Jack", "me, myself and I" Republicanism in all its permutations both foreign and domestic.

Americans actually want a new social contract between themselves for mutual support, between themselves and government so that there are some safety nets against the ups and downs of life, and between their nation and others so that they don't have to look to unwilling coalitions for goodwill any more. That sea-change in opinion, fuelled by the current crisis of faith in rampant capitalism and military adventurism, is bringing America back into the mainstream of opinion in the free world, from way out on the right wing.

I saw one conservative pundit opine that Obama will be to the Left of all his European allies (I think it was at The Corner, but I didn't bother saving the link). That's ridiculous hyperbole from someone who thinks his readers won't bother checking his claims. Obama isn't the most leftwing senator as the Mccain campaign has claimed - Bernie Sanders is. And even Euro-conservatives like Sarkozy, Merkel and British heir-apparent David Cameron are to the left of Obama on some important issues - like national healthcare, military interventionism and fiscal regulation. In Euro-terms, Obama isn't a socialist or even a democratic socialist - he barely scrapes into the realm of being a center-right social democrat. The Republican Party, though, has more in common with the far-right fringe in Europe - the Thatcherite rump of UK diehards and other nationalistic browbeaters - than what anyone across the pond would recognise as modern electable conservativism.

America will vote for Obama, I'm certain - not because America wants to move left but because America is heartfelt sick of being too far Right. The adjustment is one of rejoining the mainstream center. That's a good thing for America and the world. And, it just might leave room for a real Left in American politics, as the far Right stomps off grumpily for its time in the wilderness. Bernie Sanders might actually have a reasonable chance at a run on the White House in 2012, if he were so inclined.

Add to | Digg this

October 15, 2008

Another Number Two?

By Cernig

The Pentagon has announced that US troops have caused "major disruption" to Al Qaeda in Iraq by killing the network of terrorist cell's alleged second in command. He is the third "Number Two in Al Qaeda" to be killed in Iraq and was a complete unknown as far as press reports go. Googling either of the names he used according to the Pentagon - Abu Qaswarah and Abu Sara - turns up no previous mentions before this announcement of an Al Qaeda leader, just a Baghdad chicken restaurant owner and a Shiite guy getting a haircut.

Over at Think Progress, Amanda Terkel writes:

Al Qaeda continues to remain resilient in the face of these attacks from the U.S. military, who are trying to undo a situation created by Bush’s invasion. No matter how many times troops kill top leaders, new ones emerge, because the insurgency continues to be, in part, fueled by the U.S. occupation. As counterterrorism analyst Evan Kohlmann said in 2005, “If I had a nickel for every No. 2 and Nov. 3 they’ve arrested or killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, I’d be a millionaire.”

The nature of a cell system is that decapitating the leadership doesn't really effect day to day operations and, if Abu Sara really was an AQI leader rather than a conveniently timed patsy (he died on October 5th but the announcement was made today, the day of the last presidential debate), his death is likely to have just as little effect. Meanwhile, the real reason for the terror group's loss of relevance in Iraq, the Sunni Awakening, is under threat of disbandment from the Shiite-led central government. That threat, most prevalent in the region around Mosul, has led to a minor resurgence of AQI in the area. Elsewhere, the underlying destabilizing faction fights which make Iraq a place no-one sane would want to declare a successful victory continue unabated.

Add to | Digg this

Rick Davis Blasted Smear Campaigning In 2004

By Cernig

In tonight's debate, John McCain seems set to "go there" on Ayers, goaded into it by Obama's plainly saying that McCain had until now been too chicken to say it to Obama's face.

It's quite possible Obama has a range of rebuttals ready. It's not as if he doesn't have plenty of examples of Mccain's dodgy friendships to choose from. He's also probably hoping McCain loses that famous temper, messily, on live TV in front of millions - the obvious followup being ads of McCain snarling and the simple question "would you trust this man with America's nukes?"

But McCain also has another problem with "going there" - sheer hypocrisy from his campaign. As Bill Scher points out, Rick Davis penned a Boston Globe op-ed back in 2004 in which he urged Bush and Kerry to pressure their supporters not to engage in smear campaigns. He wrote as campaign manager for McCain's failed primary bid, which crashed after a Bush camp smear about McCain having fathered "an illegitimate child who was black. In the conservative, race-conscious South, that's not a minor charge."

It's not necessary, however, for a smear to be true to be effective. The most effective smears are based on a kernel of truth and applied in a way that exploits a candidate's political weakness.

...Campaigns have various ways of dealing with smears. They can refute the lies, or they can ignore them and run the risk of the smear spreading. But "if you're responding, you're losing." Rebutting tawdry attacks focuses public attention on them, and prevents the campaign from talking issues.

Back then, Davis described such smear campaigns, designed to keep voters from considering candidates stances on the issues, the "blackest of the dark arts". Don't you just love the smell of sheer hypocrisy in the morning? McCain's connection to his lobbyist chums are certainly far closer than Obama's to Ayers.

We got a preview of how tonight might play during the primary debates:

Add to | Digg this

Deadheads For Obama

By Cernig

By Cernig

We're all DFH's now.

But some of us always were.

The surviving members of Grateful Dead performed together Monday night at Penn State University in support of Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, reports the Associated Press.

Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart jammed together for the first time since their reunion tour in 2004.

... "I believe him enough to be able to get up in front of my constituency, these people out there," Hart said, pointing out the door to his dressing room, "and tell them 'I believe.' That's really important. The Grateful Dead does not take this lightly. We've never really done something quite like this."

Maybe some music will chill out the nutroot whiners.

Add to | Digg this

Sinking Ships And Collapsing Tents

By Cernig

Ross Douhat absolutely nails the central issue of the current Cold Civil War (to borrow a term from Mark Steyn) in the GOP:

an American conservative movement that consists entirely of those pundits with the rock-hard testicular fortitude required to never take sides against the family seems like a pretty small tent at this point.

That pretty much says it all. Pass the popcorn.

Add to | Digg this

October 14, 2008

From Little ACORNs

By Cernig
(Crossposted from Crooks and Liars)
Accusations of voter fraud by the pro-Obama progressive group ACORN. It's the subject all the rightwing bloggers are going nuts over and now they've been joined in their prosecutory zeal by the Wall Street Journal. But looking closely at the outrage, it becomes obvious very quickly that if there is a problem at all then, "the more accurate accusation may be voter-registration fraud -- for which there appears to be plenty of checks in place to guarantee it doesn't turn into some actual voter fraud."

The McCain-Palin campaign is being careful in its wording, limiting its direct accusations while hinting at far more. A current fundraising email under Sarah Palin's signature says:

The left-wing activist group, ACORN, is now under investigation for voter registration fraud in a number of battleground states. ACORN's political action committee has endorsed Barack Obama and Senator Obama himself has said, "I have been fighting alongside ACORN on issues you care about my entire career." The Obama Campaign even paid more than $800,000 to an ACORN affiliate for "get out the vote activity." And now we find out that ACORN is suspected of voter registration fraud.

... We've always known the Obama-Biden Democrats will do anything to win this November, but we didn't know how far their allies would go. The Obama-supported, far-left group, ACORN, has been accused of voter registration fraud in a number of battleground states.

The media, in the main, are only too happy to pile on - as this compilation of reports by a rightwing YouTuber illustrates:

It's a mystery, though, how voter registration fraud might turn into actual voter fraud, despite Palin's dark hintings. Brad Friedman, writing in the Guardian, makes the point well and says the whole ACORN kerfuffle is a massive GOP hoax:

Here are the facts. Acorn verifies the legitimacy of every registration its canvassers collect. If they can't authenticate the registration, or it's incomplete or questionable in other ways, they flag that form as problematic ("fraudulent", "incomplete", et cetera). They then hand in all registration forms, even the problematic ones, to elections officials, as they are required to do by law. In almost every case where you've heard about fraud by Acorn, it's because Acorn itself notified officials about the fraud that's been perpetrated on them by rogue canvassers. Most officials who run to the media screaming "Acorn is committing fraud" know all of the above but don't bother to share those facts with the media they've run to. None of this is about voter fraud. None of it. Where any fraud has occurred, it's voter registration fraud and has resulted in exactly zero fraudulent votes.

You'll hear that Donald Duck, Mary Poppins, Dick Tracy, Mickey Mouse and (new this year) the starting lineup of the Dallas Cowboys football team have all had fraudulent registrations submitted in their names. That's true. And we know this, why? Because Acorn told officials about it when they followed the law and turned in those registrations, flagged as fraudulent.

What you won't hear is that federal law requires anybody who does not register to vote in person at the county office to show an ID when they go to vote the first time. So, unless Donald Duck shows up with his ID, he won't be voting this November. You needn't worry, no matter how much even John McCain himself cynically and dishonourably tries to mislead you.

Matt Yglesias adds:

... if you go out and register over a million voters you’ll wind up with a lot of bad forms being submitted. But just as 30,000 is a lot of people and also only a very small fraction of one million people, when you’re talking about registering over a million new voters you’d need orders of magnitude more bad forms to constitute real evidence of a systematic fraud campaign.

In short, there's no actual voter fraud going on here, despite the fevered fervor of the loyal Right and implied but unstated accusations from the McCain-Palin camp.

There does seem to be a problem, though, with a percentage of voter registrations being turned in to ACORN by paid workers trying to game their system, one that the group is well aware of and has encouraged prosecutions of workers on. But it also appears to be a systemic problem. The group has had workers found guilty in the past of exactly the same kind of fraud attempts, going back to the 2004 election cycle and beyond. ACORN appears to get no benefit from these fraud attempts, but then again it doesn't exactly lose either. Donors are going to keep giving ACORN money in any case and so there's no real incentive to amend practises.

It's exactly the same problem found in Western aid agencies in the Third World, where corruption, graft or just plain bad practises continue to be a problem year after year because no-one in a decision-making capacity with the agency feels any pain. We've seen the same problem recently in the financial sector with big-earning executives pocketbooks untouched by their own mismanagement. The solution, as always, is one only the group itself can implement - tighten hiring practises and rearrange the group's internal rules so that paid execs lose money when their workers try to pull a fast one. That'll give them an incentive to winnow out the fraudsters aggressively and at an early stage.

But if that's all the fire there is behind the smoke and mirrors show, why are the Republicans making so much of it? (And why haven't they aggressively sought their own voter registration drives if ACORN is so partisanly biased? The GOP still gladly accepts any Republican registrations ACORN turns in - you betcha!)

Well, one of the factors is that ACORN is just the kind of group Republicans love to target. The WSJ article linked above makes that plain in its third paragraph.

Acorn uses various affiliated groups to agitate for "a living wage," for "affordable housing," for "tax justice" and union and environmental goals, as well as against school choice and welfare reform.

Obviously in league with Satanic Forces, then.

It's a useful scapegoat for Republican culpability in the current financial meltdown too. ACORN has been called a "major contributor" to the crisis because of its advocacy for loans for minorities on easier terms. But while it's true that a bad loan is a bad loan no matter what color your skin is, and that the Reagan "ownership society" was always a scam to put your money into the financial sector's pockets that too many liberals fell into, the subprime crisis was mostly caused by lending houses working far beyond the guidelines even ACORN was happy with and ACORN tried to reign in such predatory lending. Nor did the group have anything to do with the creation of the"toxic debt" problem - leveraging securities at 30 or even 40 to one over their already dubious face value - which turned a big problem into a $500 trillion plus worldwide disaster. That was entirely down to conseravtive-pushed removal of legislation governing such transactions.

Then there's the smoke screen the ACORN narrative, properly hyped up, provides for accounts of Republican voting irregularities. As blogger "Hotflash" at Show Me Progress writes:

the biggest part of must be to distract the media from the voter disenfranchisement that the GOP is busy quietly instigating. The New York Times reports:

States have been trying to follow the Help America Vote Act of 2002 and remove the names of voters who should no longer be listed; but for every voter added to the rolls in the past two months in some states, election officials have removed two, a review of the records shows. The six swing states seem to be in violation of federal law in two ways. Michigan and Colorado are removing voters from the rolls within 90 days of a federal election, which is not allowed except when voters die, notify the authorities that they have moved out of state, or have been declared unfit to vote.

Indiana, Nevada, North Carolina and Ohio seem to be improperly using Social Security data to verify registration applications for new voters. .......

In three states - Colorado, Louisiana and Michigan - the number of people purged from the election rolls since Aug. 1 far exceeds the number who may have died or relocated during that period.

If and when that voter disenfranchisement ever gets traction in the MSM, we can expect lots of he said/she said. "You sliced our voters off the rolls!"/"You turned in fake registration cards!" Republicans hope that press stenographers will shrug and imply that both sides have been guilty.

And finally, ACORN provides a convenient excuse for diehard Republicans who cannot understand why the country can't stand them and is moving en masse away from their failed ideology, while at the same time providing an excuse for legal challenges to vote results. Scott Limeaux notes that if this were not the case, there'd be an easy solution.

...if for some reason it was critically important for virtually every single name collected in mass voter registration drives to be accurate, there's an obvious solution in effect in many other liberal democracies: have professionals trained by the government be responsible for ensuring that citizens are registered. Of course, we're not going to here about that remedy from people frothing at the mouth about ACORN because the point isn't to make registration a perfect process, but rather to use inevitable errors as a pretext to suppress legitimate voters. Since the Supreme Court has declared that you can do this even if there's literally no evidence that anyone in the state has fraudulently voted based on an erroneous registration, this is going to get worse before it gets better.

From little ACORNS, a multitude of excuses and narratives can grow.
Add to | Digg this

Cleese On "The Funniest Palin"

By Cernig

"She's like a good looking parrot". (h/t Sully)

(Recently, Ron gave us a little bit of Cleese's poetry on the subject of politically-inclined dead parrots too.)

Add to | Digg this

Yet More Lobbyist Trouble For McCain

By Cernig

Murray Waas reports that McCain's transition chief used to work closely with lobbyists who were jailed for aiding Saddam Hussain's attempts to get around international sanctions, and that Mccain's handpicked man, another lobbyist by the name of William Timmons, would have benefitted to the tune of millions had one of their deals worked out. (Hat-tip, Nicole Belle.)

I wrote on Saturday that McCain's lobbyists had played him for a patsy at the very least - or maybe it's that Mccain is a total hypocrite when he trumps up his "maverick" label as being somehow opposed to lobbyist influence over lawmakers. But either way, his own stable of lobbyists and their misadventures, into which Mccain has often been dragged, raise huge questions about his judgement and character.

Add to | Digg this

Grim Prospects In Afghanistan

By Cernig

Over at The New Atlanticist, the magazine of The Atlantic Council of the United States edited by moderate conservative blogger James Joyner, there's a clear eyed appraisal of the Afghanistan occupation by Donald M. Snow, Professor Emeritus at the University of Alabama. I encourage everyone to read the whole thing, which is remarkable in its honesty, especiallly for appearing in America's premier support think-tank for NATO, but here's the really significant bit for me:

The Pentagon has asked for a thorough review at both the conceptual and operational levels. The conceptual part begins with a review of America’s objectives in Afghanistan. It is mind-boggling to think that any country would fight a war for seven years without knowing the objective (what it seeks to accomplish), but unfortunately such a question is not inappropriate.

What is the policitcal objective in Afghanistan? Almost everyone would agree that getting rid of Al Qaeda tops the list, as noted in the last post, but what after that? A democratic, stable Afghanistan? A surgical removal of Al Qaeda from Pashtun territories on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border that leads to democratic stability in Pakistan as well? How important are each of these possible objectives to the United States? No one seems to know, or be publicly willing to discuss or defend.

The Pentagon apparently also wants to know which of these goals are achievable, particularly through the application of military force. When the question is asked this way, the prospects become especially grim.


How did we get into this terrible mess? The short answer is through inadequate thinking and inattention. Obama is right about taking the eye off the ball in 2001 when we might have destroyed Al Qaeda, but after that failed, we quit thinking about what to do next. Instead, we kept doing the same things that have been failing in the hopes of different outcomes. We still are, and that is not a compliment to our sagacity.

U.S. policy suffers from two major shortcomings in Afghanistan. First, we really do not know what we want to accomplish (what are the objectives?). Beyond eradicating Al Qaeda, do we really care what happens there? Your answer can lead to very different conclusions and courses of action. Second, what CAN we accomplish? The lessons of history do not encourage military adventurism in Afghanistan by outsiders. Ask the British or the Russians, or scores of others before them. The retiring British commander in Afghanistan suggested we could be there another ten years. For what?

[Emphasis mine - C]

The textbook way to military defeat in detail, even when you have overwhelming military superiority at your command, is to fritter away that superiority chasing ever-fluctuating political chimeras rather than militarily-attainable objectives. Yet after the invasions succeeded (because they were clear-cut missions winnable by a well trained and well equipped military), that's what happened. This really is the central point of criticism of Bush policy in Afghanistan and Iraq. It is likewise the central point in McCain's continuance of those policies. Yet seven years after the fact, we're no closer to giving the troops a mission that troops can accomplish and there's little prospect that they will be given such a mission even if they stayed ten years. Better to bring them home instead of frittering their lives and national treasure away on chimeras that cannot be won by military might.

Add to | Digg this

Believing What They Want To Be True

By Cernig

Ilan Goldenberg on the Bush administration's tendency to make assumptions:

Karen DeYoung has a great article in the Washington Post about the never ending security agreement negotiations.  This particular assessment sets off all kinds of alarm bells. 

U.S. officials, uncertain of where Maliki really stands, tell themselves that ultimately he cannot afford for U.S. operations to shut down.

Basic rule about Iraq.  Whenever American officials start "telling themselves" things, instead of simply looking at the situation as it actually is, you know they're in trouble.  Officials in the Bush administration told themselves we'd be greeted as liberators.  Told themselves there was a direct connection between Al Qaeda and Iraq and that there were WMDs.  Told themselves that there was no insurgency and it was just some dead-enders.  Told themselves all kinds of things that were not confirmed by intelligence or realities on the ground.

In the last year and half things have changed with a less ideological more pragmatic crew running the show.  Both the Awakenings movement / Sons of Iraq and the Sadr ceasefire were the result of a willingness to pragmatically agreeing to work with, or at the very least tolerate, former enemies.

But from the start, the negotiations over a security arrangement have been based on assumptions that may or may not be true.  If they turn out to be wrong then the U.S. may find itself on January 1, 2009 with approximately 130,000-140,000 troops sitting in Iraq without legal protections - a potentially disastrous and untenable situation. 

Read, as they say, the whole thing.

Then consider John Mccain, who seems to be dead set on staying in Iraq no matter what the Iraqis think - assuming "If we had to, we could just force it down the Iraqis throats". How disasterously wrong he could be is left as an exercise for your imagination.

Add to | Digg this

October 13, 2008

Dow Closes Up Record 946 Points

By Cernig

Wow, amazing how everyone loves creeping socialism when it's their own asses on the line. Today's meteoric rise easily eclipsed the dot-com era record of 499.19 for a one day gain.

Wall Street stormed back from last week's devastating losses Monday, sending the Dow Jones industrials soaring a nearly inconceivable 936 points after major governments' plans to support the global banking system reassured distraught investors. All the major indexes rose more than 11 percent.

There were cheers and applause on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange at the closing bell, and trading was so active that prices were still being computed several minutes after the closing bell, longer than it would take on a quieter day.

No-one thinks the world economy is out of the woods yet, but Gordon Brown's return to his democratic socialist roots, and his ability to convince other world leaders to exert some control over calamitously free markets, seems to have given the fat cats a huge sense of relief. That's even though governments are going to end up owning a big chunk of their stocks - nationalization as it's always been villified by the free capitalist crowd.

For "small-s" socialists, this is a "told you so" moment. But we know we'll be back to the same old debates as soon as the capitalists are sure their own livelihoods and riches aren't on the line any longer. Thus goes the class war - everyday folk have never gotten anything from the elite that we haven't fought for or that they haven't been forced by circumstances to reluctantly concede. And they'd take it all back if they could.

Add to | Digg this

A Hitch In Time

By Cernig

Christopher Hitchens is just the latest in a line of right-of-center types to reject the McCain-Palin formula for American conservativism, but, oh boy, does he do it in no-holds-barred style. Writing in an essay simply titled "Vote For Obama", he says that "McCain lacks the character and temperament to be President and Palin is simply a disgrace".

On "the issues" in these closing weeks, there really isn't a very sharp or highly noticeable distinction to be made between the two nominees, and their "debates" have been cramped and boring affairs as a result. But the difference in character and temperament has become plainer by the day, and there is no decent way of avoiding the fact. Last week's so-called town-hall event showed Sen. John McCain to be someone suffering from an increasingly obvious and embarrassing deficit, both cognitive and physical. And the only public events that have so far featured his absurd choice of running mate have shown her to be a deceiving and unscrupulous woman utterly unversed in any of the needful political discourses but easily trained to utter preposterous lies and to appeal to the basest element of her audience. McCain occasionally remembers to stress matters like honor and to disown innuendoes and slanders, but this only makes him look both more senile and more cynical, since it cannot (can it?) be other than his wish and design that he has engaged a deputy who does the innuendoes and slanders for him.


The most insulting thing that a politician can do is to compel you to ask yourself: "What does he take me for?" Precisely this question is provoked by the selection of Gov. Sarah Palin. I wrote not long ago that it was not right to condescend to her just because of her provincial roots or her piety, let alone her slight flirtatiousness, but really her conduct since then has been a national disgrace. It turns out that none of her early claims to political courage was founded in fact, and it further turns out that some of the untested rumors about her—her vindictiveness in local quarrels, her bizarre religious and political affiliations—were very well-founded, indeed. Moreover, given the nasty and lowly task of stirring up the whack-job fringe of the party's right wing and of recycling patent falsehoods about Obama's position on Afghanistan, she has drawn upon the only talent that she apparently possesses.

It therefore seems to me that the Republican Party has invited not just defeat but discredit this year, and that both its nominees for the highest offices in the land should be decisively repudiated, along with any senators, congressmen, and governors who endorse them.

That's some grade-A Hitchens snark - the kind his rightwing fellow travellers have delighted in seeing him dispense on leftwing victims over the past few years. Any time now, you'll be reading them and their protestations that they never really liked the "drink-soaked former-Trotskyite popinjay"  after all, that he was always to leftie other than his support for the Iraq war.

They'll be denying the ever watched Easy Rider too. Denis Hopper just left the collapsing Republican big tent too.

And the meltdown continues. Who'll be next? I wouldn't bet against it being John McCain unless I was offered very good odds...

Update: They're falling out over at NRO's Corner too. Matt Y has the details. This really does feel to me like the beginnings of the schism between wingnuts and "wing-sanes", a messy and protracted divorce that will end up with one side getting custody of "the base" (be it ever so base) and the other, maybe, getting to keep the name.

Add to | Digg this

Obama Success: Working Harder, Smarter, Than McCain

By Cernig

Barack Obama has been doing some door-to-door canvassing in Ohio suburbs, in an astute bit of political theater which will help dispel the silly notion he's more elitist than John "Eight Houses. Especially when McCain and "Hockey Mom" Palin didn't think of it first.

And, notes Ari Melber, Obama's doorstep talking points seem to be all economy all the time.

Obama's camapign has been tight and organised, as this little bit of old-style campaigning points up, while his opposite number's camp has been disorganised, often sending confused messages. Now the McCain campaign are, apparently, going to hit the reset button and start again afresh.

“The national media has written us off.,” McCain says in excerpts released by the campaign. “Senator Obama is measuring the drapes, and planning with Speaker Pelosi and Senator Reid to raise taxes, increase spending, take away your right to vote by secret ballot in labor elections, and concede defeat in Iraq. But they forgot to let you decide. My friends, we’ve got them just where we want them.”

Allies are calling this “hitting the ‘reset’ button” on the campaign, with McCain reemerging after a long Sunday strategy session with a feisty tack that uses candor and humor, at a time when his rallies have become known for raucous rage and clumsy attacks.

That'll be the national media that includes Bill Kristol at the NY Times, Drudge and Halperin at Time then? All of those and more are ready, willing and able to boost McCain's relaunch in the national spotlight. (Although Kristol has ruffled some feathers at the McCain camp by calling them all incompetents.)

But with the McCain team enmired in base sliming when he originally said he wouldn't go there and Obama out-performing (and more crucially out-working) his opponent at the most basic techniques of campaigning, it's difficult for me to see how a new roll-out at this late stage could possibly be a game changer. It smacks more of desperation in GOP-Land.

Add to | Digg this

Zebari Finally Nails Obama Iraq Timetable Smear

By Cernig

Despite huge amounts of electronic ink being spilled by rightwingers (including the Washington Times) hopeful that serial fabulist Amir Taheri would turn out to have told the truth for once - he hasn't.

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama did not urge Iraqi officials to delay a decision on a security agreement with the United States, Iraq's foreign minister told CNN on Sunday. 

The statement by Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari refutes a recent published report and a statement by Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin that Obama tried to influence Iraqi politicians negotiating with the United States to score political points. 

Obama "never, ever discouraged us not to sign the agreement," Zebari said. "I think this was misrepresented, and I have clarified this case in a number of interviews back in the United States recently."

Thanks to Marc Lynch for noticing, because for sure the many on the right hoping for a deus ex machina which will prevent the "L" word from being used in November weren't going to publicly admit their boosting of a non-story.

Add to | Digg this

October 12, 2008

Build Our Way Out Of Depression, Dems Say

By Cernig

Democratic lawmakers are planning a massive infrastructure package as an economic stimulus after the November elections.

"Not only is Wall Street frozen, but Main Street is in real trouble. A stimulus aimed at Main Street makes sense," New York Sen. Charles Schumer told CNN.

He said the plan should "get into the guts of the economy" by boosting spending on infrastructure such as roads, sewer and water projects.

Former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, who served under President Bill Clinton, told CNN that an infrastructure plan that could quickly pump money into the economy was the most important action that U.S. authorities could take to help deal with the current economic crisis.

"I would put in place an infrastructure piece... bridges, water systems roads, highways, but not new projects that are going to take a long time to set up," Rubin said. "There are a lot of existing projects where states and cities are having a hard time finding a lot of financing where you could funnel that money right into existing activities where you would be able to act very very quickly."

Barney Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, told ABC he'll be spearheading the House version of the package.

Meanwhile, Republicans are apparently set on "staying the course" on tax cuts, which have failed to prevent the economy getting into such dire straits in the first place.

Rep. Roy Blunt, the Missouri Republican who serves as House minority leader, said he would support a stimulus plan if it did not include massive public works spending and budget bailouts for states that overspent on health care and other social programs.

Not that Republican recalcitrance may have a lot of say in the matter.

Barring a dramatic change in the political landscape over the next three weeks, Democrats appear headed toward a decisive victory on Election Day that would give them broad power over the federal government.

The victory would send Barack Obama to the White House and give him larger Democratic majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate — and perhaps a filibuster-proof margin there.

It's all deficit spending now, of course, but as I've said before, which is better - to sit at home because you've only got $5 and a $1,000 dollar debt, throw that $5 at the debt, or to spend that $5 on getting to work and earning a paycheck? Simple "kitchen table" economics?

Add to | Digg this

Bird Flu Vaccine, Rightwing Paranoia

By Cernig

How stupidly, small-mindedly paranoid is this?

... deep inside an 86-page supplement to United States export regulations is a single sentence that bars U.S. exports of vaccines for avian bird flu and dozens of other viruses to five countries designated "state sponsors of terrorism."

The reason: Fear that they will be used for biological warfare.

Under this little-known policy, North Korea, Iran, Cuba, Syria and Sudan may not get the vaccines unless they apply for special export licenses, which would be given or refused according to the discretion and timing of the U.S. Three of those nations — Iran, Cuba and Sudan — also are subject to a ban on all human pandemic influenza vaccines as part of a general U.S. embargo.

Even Bob Gates thinks it's "the nuttiest thing", when Indonesia does the same thing in reverse.

And the scientific community is not impressed.

They make "no scientific sense," said Peter Palese, chairman of the microbiology department at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. He said the bird flu vaccine, for example, can be used to contain outbreaks in poultry before they mutate to a form spread more easily between people.

"The more vaccines out there, the better," he said. "It's a matter of protecting ourselves, really, so the bird flu virus doesn't take hold in these countries and spread."

The flu vaccine is a dead virus - you can't breed and mutate it and the scientific consensus is that the chances of using it to make a bioweapon are nil. But with a six month red-tape delay in sending vaccine to other nations, the chance that a mutation "in the wild" which isn't contained by having vaccine available and triggers a worldwide pandemic of a human-contagious strain of bird flu goes up astronomically.

Kumanan Wilson, whose research at the University of Toronto focuses on policymaking in areas of health protection, said it would be ironic if the bird flu virus morphed into a more dangerous form in one of those countries.

"That would pose a much graver threat to the public than the theoretical risk that the vaccine could be used for biological warfare," he said.

Can someone in D.C. with a brain please do something about getting this dangerous idiocy overturned? They might start with officials at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who didn't know a damn thing about this dumbass policy until the AP asked them about it and who "privately expressed alarm".

Add to | Digg this

Economic Crisis Or Climate One, Must We Choose?

By Cernig

We're already in a situation that no matter what gets done, the economic meltdown is going to drag a lot of people worldwide under. We're in the same situation with global warming - in that case quite literally. Now Republicans and their energy lobbyist friends are saying we're going to have to choose which one sinks most.

As one Republican senator put it, the green bubble has burst.

"Clearly it is somewhere down the totem pole given the economic realities we are facing," said Tom Williams, a spokesman for Duke Energy Corp., an electricity producer that has supported federal mandates on greenhouse gases. Duke is a member of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, an association of businesses and nonprofit groups that has lobbied Congress to act.

What they have the axe out for is "Cap and Trade", a policy plan whereby companies either reduce emissions or pay to pollute. The energy industry, of course, hates it - and now wants permits to pollute to be free. Their vest-pocket representatives on the Hill already have such a bill in the works and it's sponsored by two Dems - Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va and of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich. Even that's not good enough for House Republicans. Oklahoman wingnut Inhofe says "The current economic crisis only reinforces the public's wariness about any climate bill that attempts to increase the costs of energy and jeopardizes jobs," while Texan Joe Barton says even the Boucher-Dingell bill could lead the country "off the economic cliff."

Other Democrats, however, see a cap-and-trade bill — and the government revenues it would generate from selling permits — as an engine for economic growth. Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama supports auctioning off all permits, using the money to help fund alternative energy.

"If you see this as a job creation opportunity for the U.S. to develop the products that are then sold around the world, then you should be optimistic about what the impact of passage would mean for the American economy," said Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass.

The energy lobby is apparently quite willing to cynically sacrifice lives to its members own pocketbooks, just as the financial sector is. Both are also willing to sacrifice national security on the altars of their own greed too. It's not too long since a Republicans were trying to sink the production of an NIE on the national security implications of gobal warming - even after a Pentagon report in 2003 (PDF) and a government-funded thinktank of retired military leaders in 2007 both called climate change a pressing threat to national security. More recently, even once-was-neocon Francis Fukuyama admits that the financial meltdown will have massive negative implications for America's place in the world and governments worldwide are publicly worrying about its effects on geopolitical stability.

Of course, we've seen this kind of corporate selfishness before - from the military/industrial complex Ike warned about so accurately. It's become obvious that the problem is any too cozy corporate/government symbiosis. Such relationships are bad for We The People, end of story.

Add to | Digg this

October 11, 2008

G7 Agrees Creeping Socialism For World Banking

By Cernig

The American Right are going to be apoplectic when they figure this out. Not just creeping socialism but creeping socialism mandated by a New World Order super-national group. The black helicopter crowd will be up in arms!

The Guardian : G7 agrees global rescue plan

The G7 agreed to take "all necessary steps" including adopting Britain's plans to part-nationalise banks in order to kick- start lending in frozen credit markets after Wall Street suffered the worst week in its history. With shares, oil and sterling all plunging at the end of a dramatic week, the G7 pledged to take decisive action and use all tools available to prevent more big western banks going bust.

The G7 issued a five-point plan in a short communique after meeting in Washington yesterday. It pledged to "ensure that our banks and other financial intermediaries, as needed, can raise capital from public as well as private sources in sufficient amounts to re-establish confidence and permit them to continue lending to households and businesses".

Facing the most severe stockmarket crash since 1929, Henry Paulson, the US treasury secretary, said last night the US would use some of the $700bn, earmarked by Congress to buy up Wall Street's "toxic waste", to buy stakes in US banks.

He said the government programme to purchase stock in private US financial firms will be open to a broad array of institutions, including banks, in an effort to help them raise money.

Paulson said the G7 finance ministers "finalised an aggressive action plan to address the turmoil in the global financial markets", and that they were focused on the need to stabilise the financial markets. He said it had never been more important to find "collective solutions".

That's "collective", but it's going to be read as tantamount to "collectivist".

The Guardian: G7 ministers forced to think the unthinkable

Faced with what they accepted was the threat of financial meltdown, policymakers had to think the unthinkable. Ideas floated in Washington yesterday were not remotely in prospect even a month ago. But the sense of urgency had increased since the collapse of Lehman, last month propelled the crisis into a dangerous phase.

There are now few takers for the old purist approach of allowing banks to fail, with the "creative destruction" giving a leaner and cleaner system. Advocates of this "Austrian school" may still exist in universities, but not in any of the G7 finance ministries.

Henry Paulson, the US treasury secretary, had appeared to dabble with this sink-or-swim philosophy when he allowed Lehman to go bust, but the subsequent market mayhem has pushed him in completely the opposite direction.

Last night it was nationalisation rather than a free-market solution that looked more likely, even after the G7 unveiled its five-point blueprint to end a month of financial chaos. It is accepted that if the current plan to calm the markets through state-backed recapitalisation of banks fails, then there will be no alternative but for governments to take them over - lock, stock and barrel.

Do you mind if, in amongst all the justified worrying about where the bottom is and where the economic crash will take the world geopolitical situation, I find it funny as f**k that rampant crony-capitalism has become the impetus for forcing Democratic Socialist economic policies on the world - and on George Bush's watch too?

Daily Telegraph: G7 meeting: The five-point rescue plan

1. Take decisive action using all available tools to support struggling financial institutions and prevent their failure.

2. Take all necessary steps to unfreeze credit and money markets.

3. Ensure that banks can raise capital from public as well as private sources, in sufficient amounts to re-establish confidence and permit them to continue lending to households and businesses.

4. Ensure that savers' deposit insurance and guarantee programs are robust so savers have confidence in the safety of their deposits.

5. Take action, where appropriate, to restart the mortgage securitisation markets.

All of this sounds like a good idea to me - but then I am a democratic solcialist. I believe firmly that money is there for people, not vice versa, and that the markets should be as free as empirical experimentation determines it's safe to allow them to be - and where it's not safe, the should be regulated and oversight should be in place. The G7 has come to the same conclusion and "Laissez Faire" has gone the way of the dodo.

Daily Telegraph: Global banking system to be part-nationalised

The agreement produced last night by finance ministers in Washington is thought to represent a last-ditch attempt for governments to prevent the financial crisis from worsening yet further next week. Some experts fear that unless it succeeds in boosting confidence the financial system may collapse entirely, threatening a worse economic slump than was experienced in the 1930s.

The G7 statement, which was among the most eagerly awaited in recent history, said: "[We agree] today that the current situation calls for urgent and exceptional action."

Mr Paulson described the G7 statement as "an aggressive action plan to address the turmoil in global financial markets and the stresses on our financial institutions."

Once the U.S. Right figures out that Reaganomics is dead, Dubya's legacy is toast. With the financial meltdown on top of the collapse of American prestige abroad following Bush's misdaventures in militaristic foreign policy, the very nadir of American conservative thinking is here, brought about by eigth years of extremist American conservative thinking.

And once the Obama campaign reminds voters that John McCain supported Bush's foreign policy and economic policies to the extent of voting with them 95% of the time, McCain is toast too. Followed by parozysms of self-examination and ideological fissuring within the Republican Party such as will make the post-Kerry crisis of Democratic faith seem a mere moment of introspection.

It's true what they say - every cloud has a silver lining.

(A massive hat tip for all those links to our tireless researcher, Kat)

Update: Extra funny. An article at the rightwing rag Investor's Business Daily, which has already been Insta-linked, says that the markets are crashing in fear of the coming first socialist President.

It's a ridiculous notion on the face of it - the markets rose when both Blair and Brown became UK Prime Minister, even though both belong to an ostensibly democratic socialist party and other socialist world leaders have been just as warmly welcomed by the business community in the past.

But the real rich hilarity is that it's the Bush administration who are now bringing about socialist economic policy in the U.S. as the consequence of following the kind of disasterous course IBD has been advocating all these years.

Add to | Digg this

National Security And The Financial Crisis

By Cernig

(Or, how the Bush administration sold the nation to the Saudis and Chinese.)

An op-ed by James M. Ludes and Bernard I. Finel at the American Security Project makes the point that, no matter how we might ignore it, the current financial meltdown leaves foreign nations with a massive amount of leverage over the U.S. (h/t MyDD)

All told, this crisis may cost the United States more than $1.5 trillion - a staggering, if necessary, sum. And with the federal budget already in deficit, every single penny of this will be financed by adding to the national debt.

Yet too little attention has been paid to who is financing that debt and what it means for the national security of our country.

... The debt we owe to countries that do not share our interests or whose interests may run at odds with our own has grown ... In 2001, we owed oil-exporting nations $48.5 billion - we now owe them $173.9 billion. In 2001, China held $61.5 billion in U.S. debt; it now holds $518.7. In 2001, Russia held less than $10 billion; it now holds $74.1 billion.

The new debt we are assuming in this crisis needs to be understood as a potential strategic vulnerability. Clearly, those governments buying our debt are investing in America, but they are also gaining leverage that we might wish they did not have.

The concrete example the authors use is the way in which Eisenhower called in America's financial markers with Britain and France to get them to back off during the 1956 Suez Crisis.

The United States had a stake in Britain's economic stability. But Eisenhower concluded that in this crisis, America had an even larger stake in forcing the British to back down. The Chinese, or others, may make a similar calculation about the United States in the future.

... Debt-financed tax cuts and overly zealous deregulation have proven to be a failed social experiment with potentially dire national security consequences. We have long recognized that cuts to defense spending can sometimes hurt national security; so too must we acknowledge, once and for all, that tax cuts and runaway spending can do the same.

It's a theme that Francis Fukuyama also visited recently. Someone has to pay actual money for the $700 bn bailout, the Pentagon's bailout-a-year budget and all the deficit spending the Bush administration has sunk into its misadventures in Afghanistan and Iraq. The U.S. isn't - as my colleague Fester puts it, the US is, as Fester puts it the U.S. is "broke and overpromised" - the Bush administration has been borrowing the money from China, the Saudis and so on. And the chances of their never, ever being strings attached to those billions in credit are absolutely nil.

It's another fine mess the Stan and Ollie of the Republican Party have gotten America into in the last eight years, and perhaps the biggest one of all.

Add to | Digg this

October 10, 2008

Oh, So Sarah WAS To Blame After All?

By Cernig

A day after the McCain-Palin campaign released their own version of the Troopergate report - pre-emptively exonerating Sarah and putting all the blame on Todd instead...

...the real thing gets released and says:

A legislative committee investigating Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has found she unlawfully abused her authority in firing the state's public safety commissioner. The investigative report concludes that a family grudge wasn't the sole reason for firing Public Safety Commissioner Walter Monegan but says it likely was a contributing factor.

The Republican vice presidential nominee has been accused of firing a commissioner to settle a family dispute. Palin supporters have called the investigation politically motivated.

Monegan says he was dismissed as retribution for resisting pressure to fire a state trooper involved in a bitter divorce with the governor's sister. Palin says Monegan was fired as part of a legitimate budget dispute.

I am so surprised.

(Full report here )

Add to | Digg this

Colin Powell Defends Ted Stevens' Honor

By Cernig

You'd think, after being caught carrying water at the UN for the biggest lie since Hitler claimed Poland attacked first, that Colin Powell would be "once bitten, twice shy".

Apparently not.

Powell's been appearing as a character witness for Ted Stevens at his trail - and described Steven's today in glowing terms:

when defense attorney Brendan Sullivan asked Powell to describe Stevens' reputation for honesty and integrity, Powell's answer was simple: "In a word, sterling."

"There was never any suggestion that he would do anything that was improper," said Powell, who told jurors he knows Stevens "extremely well" after having worked with him on military appropriations issues for decades.

I know Colin Powell's name has been bandied about as a possible Republican face for an Obama cabinet. Forget it. The guy is obviously either too gullible or far too dishonest to ever be allowed high office again.

Add to | Digg this

Freefall Friday

By Cernig

It's Freefall Friday, the day Bush announced he knew how to fix the financial meltdown and in markets dove even lower. In the nine minutes Dubya spoke, the DOW dropped another 107 points. In all, the Dow has dropped 21 percent in just 10 trading days.

And in advance of this weekend's G7 meeting, UK officials are warning that trying to ensure that more comes out of the meeting than just words. They say a co-ordinated action plan is essential if the world is to stave off total economic collapse.

Describing a world in which wholesale money markets were now refusing to lend to banks, even overnight, the UK authorities warned that the world was on the edge of a collapse of the financial system.

They insisted that a bold and clear commitment to action to should replace general principles for individual country actions.

Obama, out on the stump, has agreed with the UK government.

"In this global economy, financial markets have no boundaries. So the current crisis demands a global response," said Obama, ahead in opinion polls with 25 days to go until the November 4 election.

With weekend talks scheduled by world finance ministers in Washington, Obama said those officials "must take coordinated steps to restore confidence" but he stopped short of suggesting what those steps might include.

So what's John McCain - the guy who has touted his 30 years experience, his superior judgement and his opponent's "not understanding" the issues - up to while the world's economy slags down?

Sending out dog-whistle messages to his bigotted base, the coup-loving extreme Right - who have been salivating over just such a prospect for years.

Yeah, that'll help, John - NOT!

If anyone needed final evidence that John McCain's character and judgement are fatally flawed, that winning is more important to him than the nation, that he's blinded by extreme partisan ideology, then the events of this week have confirmed it.

Add to | Digg this

October 09, 2008

The First Dude's To Blame!

By Cernig

On the other side of the Atlantic, tomorrows news stories are already out by early evening in the U.S. And Friday's papers are talking about a release of documents about Troopergate that purportedly show Sarah Palin herself wasn't involved in continual pressure on Alaska's public safety commissioner Walter Monegan to fire Palin's former brother-in-law, Alaska State Trooper Mike Wooten. But her husband, First Dude Todd Palin, hounded police chiefs to get Wooten fired, according to the documents.

Rupert Murdoch's flagship tabloid, The Sun, with over 6 million readers daily, has the story, and so too (in more unflattering detail) does ITN News:

A report on the case, which made international headlines after Mrs Palin's surprise selection as the Republican vice presidential nominee, will be released on Friday.

It could reveal the extent of the Alaska governor's husband's involvement in her administration.

Affidavits filed with investigators suggest Mrs Palin was not involved while her husband Todd repeatedly met with her aides about family affairs.

Mr Pailn said: "I have heard criticism that I am too involved in my wife's administration. My wife and I are very close. We are each other's best friend. I have helped her in her career the best I can, and she has helped me."

He told the governor's top aides emotional stories about Mr Wooten threatening and emotionally abusing his family.

He said he talked to anyone who would listen. He gave them photos and documents, which they forwarded to others in the administration, and he questioned how Mr Wooten kept his job.

But Mr Palin said he never pressured anyone, including his wife, and said that after repeatedly talking about the matter with her, she finally told him to "drop it".

"Anyone who knows Sarah knows she is the governor and she calls the shots," he wrote.

"I make no apologies for wanting to protect my family and wanting to publicise the injustice of a violent trooper keeping his badge."

Even Mrs Palin's special assistant, Ivy Frye, said she was distraught when she was told about the situation.

The question now, of course, is whether these affadavits were deliberately designed to take the heat off Sarah, and whether Todd was designated to 'take one for the team." What do you think?

Update: Would it help to make your mind up if you knew that these documents were part of a report issued pre-emptively by the Palin camp to try to head off the official report and clear herself in advance?

I thought it might.

Add to | Digg this

Talking Your Way To An Afghan Exit

By Cernig

As both I and my Newshoggers colleague Ron have written already,the latest NIE on Afghanistan reportedly describes the situation there as "grim" and doesn't hold out much hope of anything that could conventionally be described as success.  Over at VetVoice my friend Brandon Friedman, who served in Afghanistan, has some dark musings on the situation:

This is how they beat you: They allow you in.  Then they withdraw.  They wage an insurgency from the shadows on their own terrain, but they never fight you in the open.  They bleed you through a thousand tiny cuts.  They sap your resources.  They bank on the fact that you'll lose your resolve.  They leave you swinging like a blind-folded boxer, exhausted from never connecting with your opponent.  They wait for you to plead for negotiations.  Then, when you do, they decline--not-so-politely.  Then they wait for you to leave.  Finally, fatigued, confused, and apparently directionless, you do.

Of course, it didn't have to be this way in Afghanistan.  When you use overwhelming military force first, before shifting to a sound counterinsurgency strategy with integrated, international reconstruction efforts, you have a shot at success.  In the case of American and NATO efforts in Afghanistan, however, there never was any strategy.  All we got was clumsy blustering from a Bush administration that spoke of never negotiating with the Taliban.  And once the administration grew bored with the fighting there, they moved on to Iraq--a decision that would ultimately sow disaster for Afghanistan.

I don't agree with Brandon that a clean victory, no matter how good the COIN doctrine or the reconstruction efforts of occupation had been, could ever have been delivered in Afghanistan or Iraq. The situations are too messy, there are too many actors with contradictory wants and the moral high ground was never there in a way that it was in post WW2 nation building - especially in the case of Iraq. But be that as it may, it's somewhat of a moot point when discussing what to do next, as we are where we are and cannot go back to change events.

Brandon goes on to compare Bush administration rhetoric from 2001, of ther "we'll never negotiate with terrorists" type, to Bush administration and allied statements recently which talk up negotiating with at least some Taliban and with the tribes which have supported them with manpower, money and arms. He writes:

In 2001, negotiating with the Taliban wasn't an option.  Now, seven years later, it's viewed as "a way to reduce violence."  This is classic.  Unfortunately, we may not have many choices left.  While turning Afghanistan back over to the Taliban is not an option, to defeat them militarily in a proper counterinsurgency operation, we'd essentially have to start over--with forces we don't have, with friends who are no longer around.   

Turning Afghanistan over to local powers, including at least some Taliban, is the only viable option - just as turning Iraq over to a local powers which include at least some of the insurgents who used to blow up and shoot US troops in Iraq (we call them the Awakening, Badr party and Sadrists now) is the only viable option there. As I wrote back in 2004, in one of my very first blog posts, you have to talk to those who are labelled terrorists eventually, or to at least some of them, to defuse an insurgency and bring peace. Every experience of such wars shows that a hard-nosed refusal to negotiate only leads to perpetual war.

That's not to say that such accomodations can't be problemmatic, or that you'll get what you want. Indeed, the settlements that result are often deeply flawed. We've seen that in Iraq with the Awakenings and their mutual distrust with the Shiite led central government, with the Kurds and just about everyone else, between Shiite factions such as ISCI and Sadrists.

The same will be true in Afghanistan. Government corruption there is as rampant as in Iraq, for example -as my colleague Jay explained on Sunday, President Karzai's brother, who has been meeting with the Taliban in Saudi Arabia, is reportedly deeply involved in the opium industry. The local tribes, which John McCain has vocally hoped would form their own Awakening even though General Petraeus has been far more sceptical, have their own agendas (and note the 2001 negotiations, at exactly the time Brandon quotes Bush administration officials taking a far tougher line):

After the fall of the Taliban in December 2001, [ Taliban Interior Minister] Mullah Abdul Razaq was arrested by the Americans. Insiders say he was given conditional immunity when he agreed to play a role in talks between the CIA, Pakistan's ISI intelligence service and the Taliban. The talks were reportedly over a truce and a proposal for the Taliban's participation in the political process in Afghanistan. The Taliban, however, rejected the US offer which aimed to remove Mullah Omar from the Taliban leadership and Al-Qaeda from Afghanistan. 

After the collapse of the talks in 2003, Mullah Abdul Razaq left for Dubai where the tribes of Chaman and neighbouring Kandahar in southern Afghanistan maintain offices. Within the Afghan tribal system, the pro-Taliban Noorzai and Achakzai tribes dominate trade in the Pashtun regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The tribes' region spans the southwest of Pakistan and the southern areas of Afghanistan. On the Pakistani side of the border, they control the Chaman markets and on the Afghan side, the Spin Boldak markets. Both tribes dominate the business of salvaging and reconditioning cars and the distribution of the 555-brand of cigarettes throughout Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan through the markets of Dubai and Chaman.

... When Mullah Abdul Razaq returned to the Taliban's fold in 2005, he convinced businesses in Chaman to support the Taliban financially in order to spare their businesses from attacks when they transported goods through Afghanistan. Over 3,500 importers and exporters in the Chaman market who transport their goods to the UAE were threatened with a wave of violence. The Chaman businesses had faced the same problem from warlords in the mid-1990s and supported the Taliban to drive them out. After 2005, the stakes were higher as the Noorzai and Ackzai tribes became involved in the construction of expensive hotels in Kandahar and needed protection from the Taliban.

But  a lot depends on which Taliban you negotiate with:

The Taliban are no longer a monolithic force; with whom do you negotiate if you want to talk with the Taliban?" asked Eric Rosenbach, executive director of the Center for International Affairs at Harvard's Kennedy School. Rather than high-level, high-profile negotiations, "the Afghan government should pursue talks with individual commanders and warlords" who have renounced violence, he said. "This approach is much more likely to succeed, will further fracture the opposition, and will place the Afghan government in a position of strength for future negotiations."

Charles Heyman, editor of Armed Forces of the United Kingdom, said there is widespread agreement that the original U.S. and British goal of building a liberal, Western-style democracy in Afghanistan in not attainable because the Taliban never were routed or forced to disband. "There is going to be an accommodation with the Taliban whether people like it or not," he said. "Everyone knows this is going to be very, very difficult." He said the West's long-term interest would be served by ensuring that al-Qaida doesn't have a presence in Afghanistan. That would mean making sure any future Afghan leadership, even if it includes Taliban elements, understands that it will come under sustained attack if it allows al-Qaida to set up training camps there.

Ayesha Khan, an associate fellow at the Chatham House research group in London, said it is possible that clerics close to fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Omar could meet with Afghan government representatives. "This desire to engage the Taliban started last year and has gained momentum," she said. "The British government is involved in strategizing it. They are trying to separate the more moderate Taliban from the more extremist ones."

You might not get what you want, but in both Iraq and Afghanistan right now the U.S. might just get what it needs - a window of opportunity to extract itself less messily from a pair of grinding COIN conflicts-without-end which are soaking up US blood, treasure and prestige at a time when the nation is less able to afford any of those than at any time since WW2. The locals won't entirely get what they want either - and as I've said what the various factions want conflict in any case. But they might just get what they need too - removal of the occupying troops of alien armies which are resented by the vast majorities of their peoples even as the elites in charge like the way their own power is propped up by foreign troops. That ability of self-determination, to make a mess of it or not under your own steam, is what America was originally all about.

Add to | Digg this

October 08, 2008

New Iraq NIE Warns Of New Wave Of Violence

By Cernig

McClatchy reports that the new National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq is almost complete and that it " warns that unresolved ethnic and sectarian tensions in Iraq could unleash a new wave of violence, potentially reversing the major security and political gains achieved over the last year," directly contradicting John McCain's claims in Tuesday's debate that the Surge has been a success and victory has been attained.

That's not a major surprise to anyone who follows events in Iraq without neocon rose-tinted glasses. Deep conflicts between the central government and Kurdish region, Awakening groups and Sadrists have all been put on a knife-edge by expectations for the upcoming provincial elections, which have been gerrymandered to keep the existing incumbents in the Green Zone in power. The Turks are looking down a gunbarrel at the Kurds and the Awakening is looking at losing its source of income - being paid not to be insurgents - while even the Green Zone elites are falling out among themselves over Maliki's newfound Napoleon complex. The chances of Iraq lasting another year without another significant outbreak of violence are small to none.

All of those sources of conflict are outlined in the draft NIE, according to more than "a half-dozen officials" who spoke to McClatchy on condition of anonymity because NIE's are very restricted circulation documents.

The NIE findings parallel a Defense Department assessment last month that warned that despite "promising developments, security gains in Iraq remain fragile. A number of issues have the potential to upset progress."

Trouble spots include whether the former Sunni insurgents, also known as the Sons of Iraq, find permanent employment; provincial elections scheduled for January; Kirkuk's status; the fate of internally displaced people and returning refugees; and "malign Iranian influence," the unclassified Pentagon report said.

The intelligence agencies' estimate also raises worries about what would happen if Sadr, the anti-U.S. cleric, attempts to reassert himself, according to senior intelligence officials familiar with its contents.

General Petraeus, who is the focus of an unholy amount of revered hype by John McCain, says the the situation is "fragile" and "reversible" and says he will never declare victory there. Not that even his Saint's words of caution have stopped Mccain doing so loudly and often, however. But Petraeus, in a talk to the neocon Heritage Foundation today, ruffled feathers by repeatedly seeming to back Obama's foreign policy prescriptions over McCain's.

Unbidden, Petraeus discussed whether his strategy in Iraq — protecting the population while cleaving apart the insurgency through reconciliation efforts to crush the remaining hard-core enemies — could also work in Afghanistan. The question has particular salience as Petraeus takes over U.S. Central Command, which will put him at the helm of all U.S. troops in the Middle East and South Asia, thereby giving him a large role in the Afghanistan war.

“Some of the concepts used in Iraq are transplantable [to Afghanistan] while others perhaps are not,” he said. “Every situation is unique.”

Petraeus pointed to efforts by Hamid Karzai’s government to negotiate a deal with the Taliban that would potentially bring some Taliban members back to power, saying that if they are “willing to reconcile,” it would be “a positive step.”

In saying that, Petraeus implicitly allied with U.S. Army Gen. David McKiernan, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan. Last week, McKiernan rejected the idea of replicating the blend of counterinsurgency strategy employed in Iraq. “The word that I don’t use in Afghanistan is the word ’surge,’” McKiernan said, opting against recruiting Pashtun tribal fighters to supplement Afghan security forces against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. “There are countless other differences between Iraq and Afghanistan,” he added.

... Petraeus also came out unambiguously in his talk at Heritage for opening communications with America’s adversaries, a position McCain is attacking Obama for endorsing. Citing his Iraq experience, Petraeus said, “You have to talk to enemies.” He added that it was necessary to have a particular goal for discussion and to perform advance work to understand the motivations of his interlocutors.

And, as McClatchy notes, whether the news is good or bad  and no matter what the commanders might have to say about it, Republicans will always find an excuse to stay just a little bit longer.

The findings seem to cast doubts on McCain's frequent assertions that the United States is "on a path to victory" in Iraq by underscoring the deep uncertainties of the situation despite the 30,000-strong U.S. troop surge for which he was the leading congressional advocate.

But McCain could also use the findings to try to strengthen his argument for keeping U.S. troops in Iraq until conditions stabilize.

It's always a reason to stay. We've had countless variations on "the surge is working; we should stay until we've done the job," or "even if we can't maintain the surge, we're making progress, so we should stay" or "the Surge hasn't done what we thought it would but we can't leave - there will be a bloodbath when we leave" already. How about this instead? The Surge didn't do what it was supposed to, it never will because the irreconcilable faction fights behind the violence are beyond U.S. control, but it's the Iraqis country and they get to break it if they want to or fix it if they wish - their choice.

Not that we'll get a chance for that debate based upon this NIE, like the Afghanistan NIE which was comparably "grim" it will be buried, with not even the summary conclusions released to the public.

Add to | Digg this

"My Friends"

By Cernig

I'm broadly in agreement with Fester and BJ on last night's debate. Obama came out ahead on points, mainly from the economy discussion, while both candidates settled on essentially hawkish foreign policy positions in which the main difference is that Obama would talk first before bombing.

The big economy policy point to take away from last night is that neither candidate thinks you can handle the truth. Both are still touting tax cuts to kick-start the economy and still planning other policy programs costing umty-billions for which the piggybank is already empty. That does not compute. Economic advisers from both candidate's teams have been far more honest - taxes are going to have to rise and the only real question is about the details of how.

The big foreign policy points are that both candidates think that military spending is sacrosanct, and neither would wait for any UN mandate or international consensus before taking aggressive action even if the U.S. wasn't directly threatened.

It was the neocon versus the neolib, and the neolib came out ahead on points. McCain's lackluster performance as a speaker didn't help his policy case either, even with conservatives.

But I purely do wish I'd set up a drinking game around the number of times the phrase "my friends" was uttered.

Is it just me or does that phrase, "my friends", in constant repitition convey the message that John McCain doesn't consider any of us his "friends" - at least on an equal footing? We were treated to a constant litany of that patronising phrase, always attached to claims that McCain had been there, done that, got the T-shirt on every major policy question of the last thousand years and along the way had "out-judgemented" not just Obama and Bush but even Ronald Reagan. He came across as convinced of his own infallibility and superiority to everyone he'd ever met or outlived - and never once stopped to ask himself how, if he's been such a successful reformer and voice of reason for 30 years, the country is in such a mess. He came across as, I think, elitist.

For me, that message was reinforced after the debate, as CNN's cameras kept rolling. McCain was reluctant to shake Obama's hand, to say the least. His wife Cindy didn't shake a single audience members hand. Not one. And the two of them were out of that auditorium as fast as they could manage it after observing some basic niceties.

By contrast Michelle and Barack Obama were there a good ten minutes later, still both shaking hands, posing for pictures and sitting down for discussions with audience members. They showed "the common touch". Sure, it's good political theatre - but to me it looked like the McCains think they're too good to play nice for the voters too.

Add to | Digg this

October 07, 2008

Iceland Teetering Too

By Cernig

I posted yesterday that nuke-armed Pakistan is only a month away from bankruptcy. Now tiny Iceland looks like it might get there first.

Iceland has formidable international reach because of an outsized banking sector that set out with Viking confidence to conquer swaths of the British economy — from fashion retailers to top soccer teams.

The strategy gave Icelanders one of the world's highest per capita incomes. But now they are watching helplessly as their economy implodes — their currency losing almost half its value, and their heavily exposed banks collapsing under the weight of debts incurred by lending in the boom times.

... A full-blown collapse of Iceland's financial system would send shock waves across Europe, given the heavy investment by Icelandic banks and companies across the continent.

Iceland right now is apparently in a state of shock and gives a snapshot of what a depression with the Great in it will look like everywhere - "cafes were half-empty, real estate agents sat idle, and retailers reported few sales" says the AP.

And, just as Pakistan has begged the West for $100 billion to stave off economic collapse, Iceland has had to go cap-in-hand to a bigger power too. Only they've chosen the Russians - asking for a 5.4 billion loan to shore up the nation's finances.

That must be giving NATO planners conniptions. Loans like that, in the present climate, aren't going to come without strings and Iceland is the keystone in NATO's maritime defenses in the North West Atlantic, designed to keep Russian warships and subs containable in their home waters should the need arise.

The Icelanders say there were no military strings attached to the deal but they're also making it clear they've found a new friend when their friends in the West refused to help. And where financial friendships form other ties usually follow.

"We have not received the kind of support that we were requesting from our friends," said Geir Haarde, prime minister. "So in a situation like that one has to look for new friends."

In spite of the new friendship, Mr Haarde said it did not extend to military cooperation, refuting the suggestion that Russia might be given access to an airbase vacated by the US air force in 2006. "We are a founder member of Nato," noted an official, "categorically denying" any such deal.

...Chris Weafer, chief strategist at Uralsib investment bank, said, "Lending money to Iceland is a very strong and clear statement from Russia that it is solvent and it has spare cash."

"This is going to make a big difference to the Icelandic economy and it's a very clear statement. It builds up political goodwill which could be helpful when it gets into difficult negotiations over territorial rights in the Arctic," said Mr Weafer.

Add to | Digg this

You Can't Handle the Truth!

By Cernig

The truth is that taxes will have to rise and American foreign policy adventures abroad will have to be severely curtailled. But, so far at least, neither the current administration nor the two Presidential candidates feel you're able to handle being told that. (Or, to be precise, they don't think you'd vote for them if they told you the truth.) That might change in tonight's debate but somehow I doubt it.

In the latest Newsweek magazine the apostate neocon theorist Francis Fukayama writes in an essay dramatically entitled "The fall Of America Inc.":

Ideas are one of our most important exports, and two fundamentally American ideas have dominated global thinking since the early 1980s, when Ronald Reagan was elected president. The first was a certain vision of capitalism—one that argued low taxes, light regulation and a pared-back government would be the engine for economic growth. Reaganism reversed a century-long trend toward ever-larger government. Deregulation became the order of the day not just in the United States but around the world.

The second big idea was America as a promoter of liberal democracy around the world, which was seen as the best path to a more prosperous and open international order. America's power and influence rested not just on our tanks and dollars, but on the fact that most people found the American form of self-government attractive and wanted to reshape their societies along the same lines—what political scientist Joseph Nye has labeled our "soft power."

It's hard to fathom just how badly these signature features of the American brand have been discredited.

Fukayama points to the twin failures of American hard power to bring rose-colored liberation to the Middle East and to the American ideal of the de-regulated, rapaciously free market to bring showers of sweet-smelling dollars to all as the reasons for that discrediting.

Between 2002 and 2007, while the world was enjoying an unprecedented period of growth, it was easy to ignore those European socialists and Latin American populists who denounced the U.S. economic model as "cowboy capitalism." But now the engine of that growth, the American economy, has gone off the rails and threatens to drag the rest of the world down with it. Worse, the culprit is the American model itself: under the mantra of less government, Washington failed to adequately regulate the financial sector and allowed it to do tremendous harm to the rest of the society.

Democracy was tarnished even earlier. Once Saddam was proved not to have WMD, the Bush administration sought to justify the Iraq War by linking it to a broader "freedom agenda"; suddenly the promotion of democracy was a chief weapon in the war against terrorism. To many people around the world, America's rhetoric about democracy sounds a lot like an excuse for furthering U.S. hegemony.

...The problem now is that by using democracy to justify the Iraq War, the Bush administration suggested to many that "democracy" was a code word for military intervention and regime change. (The chaos that ensued in Iraq didn't exactly help democracy's image either.) The Middle East in particular is a minefield for any U.S. administration, since America supports nondemocratic allies like the Saudis, and refuses to work with groups like Hamas and Hizbullah that came to power through elections. We don't have much credibility when we champion a "freedom agenda."

The American model has also been seriously tarnished by the Bush administration's use of torture. After 9/11 Americans proved distressingly ready to give up constitutional protections for the sake of security. Guantánamo Bay and the hooded prisoner at Abu Ghraib have since replaced the Statue of Liberty as symbols of America in the eyes of many non-Americans.

No matter who wins the presidency a month from now, the shift into a new cycle of American and world politics will have begun.

Fukuyama, the professor of International Political Economy at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, goes on to look at ways to rescue the mess that's been made, a mess that signals for him an end to the "Reagan Era" of deregulation and foreign interventionism. The remedies include rebuilding the public sectors ability to create jobs (while watching for overcompensation), regulation of finance in full knowledge of how this industry differs from real industries that make real products, and a repudiation of the Bush Doctrine as well as it's attendant hypocrisies about civil rights, torture, democracy and aggressive despots. In other words, although he doesn't say so, a vote against John McCain.

Even so, it's going to take decades for the U.S. to recover and it will never be quite the same again. Fukuyama agrees that the forseeable world is a multipolar one - the neocon dream of American perpetual hegemony is as dead as the dinosaurs.

My colleague Fester said much the same thing in a recent post - far shorter and more succinct than Fukuyama's essay but then again he's never been a neocon Godfather and so doesn't have to carefully construct a "get out of Hell free" card as he writes.

We are entering a world where we are not the center of it any more. There are other actors with agency and leading roles in that world. This adjustment will be easier if we as a society and, more importantly, if the political leadership recognizes that times have changed and the fantasy that has dominated our discourse that we can act with only minimal constraints (internal or external) has ended so that the core debate is on the means instead of ends of policies.

We’re not ready for that conversation despite it rapidly approaching us as the numbers won’t add up without significant foreign financing with strings attached to it. And this will be the core foreign policy problem that neither campaign is willing or able to address.  The American freedom to maneuver, to create coalitions through various forms of power, incentives, threats, and appeals, has been and will continue to be curtailed.  We will not see the US Navy laid up at its docks like the Soviet Red Banner Fleet was in 1991, but our ability to support current trends in foreign policy will be sharply curtailed by our economic crisis.

The US is, as Fester puts it "broke and overpromised". Someone has to pay for the $700 billion bailout, the deficit spending on Iraq and Afghanistan that eats up a similiar amount and the untold billions still to come in navigating a financial crisis in which no-one yet can see the bottom. Some will come from foreign financing "with strings" and that will curtail America's foreign policy options. The rest will come from taxes and spending cuts - and the current levels of both are nowhere near enough to keep America Inc. out of the red. Taxes will rise and spending will drop. There's no other way except bankruptcy.

Here's how your taxes got spent last year:


The simple truth is that the Pentagon's budget is equivalent to a Paulson a year, and as much as the whole of the rest of the world spends on defense. Surely it's about time someone asked if America couldn't get by on a defense budget, say, equivalent to its three largest rivals. Those are France, the UK and Japan - what you expected China, Iran and Russia?

Cutting the defense budget to even this high level - where the US outspends its main rivals by three to one - would bring it down to around $300 billion a year. That's $400 billion a year you and your grandchildren don't have to find to claw America Inc. back into the black.

But as both Fukuyama and Fester agree, the US will have to get used to a draw, instead of the win it has awarded itself until now, in the war of ideas. Both spreading democracy at gunpoint and financial laissez fair have proven as untenable as fully controlled communist-style economies and the spread of communism at gunpoint. Along the way they've tarnished America and with it the best idea America had to offer - free opportunity within a framework of social co-operation and negotiation. Somewhere in the middle appears to lie a stable path and that path doesn't include a US that bestrides the world like a colossus. You might not like that, or you might. It makes no difference whether or not you can handle the truth.

(More on the same theme from Eric Martin at Obsidian Wings and from Martin at Boztopia.)

Add to | Digg this

John McCain's Purity Of Essence (Updated)

By Cernig

During the last presidential debate, John McCain repeated his remark that he had looked into Vladimir Putin's eyes and seen, not his soul, but three letters - K.G.B. He didn't say what he'd seen in President Medvedev's eyes, if anything.

It was a remarkably tone deaf thing to say for a prospective world leader about the Prime Minister of a nation he would need the goodwill of on containment of loose nuclear materials or on supply lines to Afghanistan and would likley want the co-operation of on energy policy and on responses to Iran, the financial crisis and a host of other issues. But it was of a piece with McCain's harsh rhetoric on Russia - saying he wanted to kick it out of the G8 and sideline it in international forums even before its conflict with Georgia, started when his chum Saakashvili bombed his own regional capital in South Ossetia, brought out talk of a resurgent Imperialism and US-armed "porcupine" states in Eastern Europe.

Now, though, we're beginning to see why McCain hates Russia so - even above the antipathy his neocon Wormtongue advisers have for anyone even remotely able to challenge their dreams of perpetual American hegemony.

McCain hates Russia because he's virulently anti-communist to the point where he cannot let go of the idea that Russia and the old USSR are identical and willingly associates with the worst kind of right-wing "purity of bodily fluids" nutcases, who have funded death camps and illegal deals in a decades long conflict of "you are what you hate". Step forward the U.S. Council for World Freedom.

...during the 1980s, Sen. John McCain served on the board of a far-right conservative organization that had supplied arms and funds to paramilitary organizations in Latin America.

Democratic strategist Paul Begala lit the fire when, during an appearance on Meet the Press, he warned that this relatively obscure detail from McCain's past could draw him into a guilt-by-association game he was bound to regret.

"John McCain sat on the board of...the U.S. Council for World Freedom," said Begala, "The Anti-Defamation League, in 1981 when McCain was on the board, said this about this organization. It was affiliated with the World Anti-Communist League - the parent organization - which ADL said 'has increasingly become a gathering place, a forum, a point of contact for extremists, racists and anti-Semites.'"

The U.S. Council for World Freedom was a key player in the Iran-Contra affair too, the public cover for Ollie North's activities. It's parent organistation, the World Anti-Communist League,began as the Asian People's AntiCommunist League formed by followers of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, head of the Unification Church. One was a war criminal, another a plain criminal.

The head of the U.S. Council for World Freedom, Army Maj. Gen. John Singlaub, has a long history of involvement in "anti-communist: covert operations.

Singlaub was an officer in the Office of Strategic Services (predecessor to the CIA) during World War II. He served on the China desk of the CIA in 1948 and 1949 and became deputy chief of the CIA in Seoul during the Korean War. (30) He served for two years in Vietnam during the 1960s. There he was commander of the Joint Unconventional Warfare Task Force (MACVSOG), the outfit that ran Operation Phoenix, infamous for its assassinations and counterterror tactics, and responsible for the deaths of thousands of Vietnamese civilians. Singlaub denies participation in Operation Phoenix. (11) As chief of staff of the United Nations Command in South Korea in 1978, he publicly condemned the decision of President Jimmy Carter to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Korea. He was then forced to retire. (11) Singlaub served as honorary chairman of Ronald Reagan's 1980 presidential campaign in Colorado. (30) In 1984, Under Secretary of Defense Fred Ikle appointed Singlaub to head a committee studying U.S. responses to the insurgency in El Salvador. (28) When questioned on the CBS Television show "60 Minutes" about his connections with contra funding Singlaub was asked by Mike Wallace,"Let me put a thesis to you, General Singlaub. Private citizen Jack Singlaub has become Ronald Reagan's secret weapon to sidestep a Congress that will not permit him to act in the areas where he believes that our security interests are at stake. True?" Singlaub's response: "True."(52)

McCain, whose name was once on the group's letterhead, says he resigned from the U.S. Council for World Freedom in 1984. Singlaub says he knows nothing about any resignation. If McCain in fact did quit the group, he was even so still turning up for meetings according to an AP-syndicated article from 1985 found by Juan Cole back in February.

"Rep. Tom Loeffler, R-Tex., presented the 'Freedom Fighter of the Year' award to Afghan resistance leader Wali Khan on behalf of the U.S. Council for World Freedom on Oct. 3. … The U.S. Council for World Freedom, a Phoenix-based conservative political organization headed by Gen. John Singlaub, has lobbied hard for an increase in aid to the struggle against the Soviet controlled regime in Kabul. … Other congressmen who joined Loeffler included Rep. Eldon Rudd and Rep. John McCain, both Arizona Republicans." [States News Service, 10/15/85]

But whether or not he did resign, the fact that John McCain was ever a fellow traveller with anti-semites, Nazis and organisers of death squads - and his apparent inability to realise that Russia isn't the USSR - should worry the hell out of voters. How on earth is he supposed to be a frontman for U.S. diplomacy while carrying that baggage...and what might be the fallout of letting him try?

Update: Woah - from Matt Yglesias' comments and very interesting if true (h/t Kat) :

John Singlaub, whose headquarters for the U.S. Council for World Freedom and the World Anti-Communist League was in Scottsdale, Arizona, next door to Charles Keating’s company, American Continental.

As in, right next door? Curiouser and curiouser.

Update 2: Even the UK's rightwing Telegraph can't resist piling on (h/t Kat, again).

Shortly before Mr McCain takes to the stage in Nashville for the second of three presidential debates with Senator Barack Obama, Democratic activists took their revenge for his decision at the weekend to let his supporters turn the Republican campaign “nuclear” with repeated negative attacks on his rival including calling Mr Obama a liar.

Democratic bloggers and party loyalists publicised a series of skeletons from Mr McCain’s early political career.

They include his friendship with Gordon Liddy, the former White House operative who spent four and a half years in jail for planning the break-in at the Watergate building [and planning murders of reporters and liberal activists - C]. Appearing on Mr Liddy’s popular radio show last year, Mr McCain said his host showed “adherence to the principles and philosophies that keep our nation great” and said he was “proud” of Mr Liddy and his family.

The senator most recently appeared on the show in May

And, just in case you didn't believe me about the Rev. Moons close association with and funding for the U.S. Council for World Freedom and the World Anti-Communist League, he boasts about it on his own website - along with how he uses the Washinton Times and UPI Wire Service to push those group's agendas.

So maybe we've now got an explanation as to exactly why Charlie Black and John McCain are so friendly. Remember Black?

...none other than uber-lobbyist Charlie Black -- not just McCain's "chief political adviser" but a right-hand man for the Bush clan as well -- played a role in making that coronation happen.

According to Gorenfeld, Black admitted to helping invite people to attend the coronation. And he's listed as a sponsor in the coronation's printed program.

You recall what happened at that event: A number of congressional figures, including at least one Democrat, Danny Davis of Illinois, participated in a ceremony in which Moon was crowned "King of America" and his place as the new Messiah rather officiously confirmed. The ceremony declared "the era of the Eternal Peace Kingdom, one global family under God." Immediately afterward, Moon confirmed to the participants that he was consulting with great leaders of the past in the spirit world: "The five great saints [Jesus, Confucius, Buddha, Mohammad, and Shankara] and many other leaders of the spirit world, including even Communist leaders such as Marx and Lenin, who committed all manner of barbarity and murder on earth, and dictators such as Hitler and Stalin, have found strength in my teachings, mended their ways and been reborn as new persons."

Black wasn't the only politico there, although McCain wasn't listed as an attendee. But I've got to ask, under the circumstances. Is McCain a secret Moonie or just a fellow fascist traveller?

Add to | Digg this

October 06, 2008

Pakistan Faces Bankruptcy, Wants $100bn Handout

By Cernig

The UK's Daily Telegraph reports that Pakistan may be the first nation to go bankrupt as a result of the continuing global financial meltdown.

Officially, the central bank holds $8.14 billion (£4.65 billion) of foreign currency, but if forward liabilities are included, the real reserves may be only $3 billion - enough to buy about 30 days of imports like oil and food.

Nine months ago, Pakistan had $16 bn in the coffers.

The government is engulfed by crises left behind by Pervez Musharraf, the military ruler who resigned the presidency in August. High oil prices have combined with endemic corruption and mismanagement to inflict huge damage on the economy.

Given the country's standing as a frontline state in the US-led "war on terrorism", the economic crisis has profound consequences. Pakistan already faces worsening security as the army clashes with militants in the lawless Tribal Areas on the north-west frontier with Afghanistan.

... Mr Zardari told the Wall Street Journal that Pakistan needed a bail out worth $100 billion from the international community.

"If I can't pay my own oil bill, how am I going to increase my police?" he asked. "The oil companies are asking me to pay $135 [per barrel] of oil and at the same time they want me to keep the world peaceful and Pakistan peaceful."

The ratings agency Standard and Poor's has given Pakistan's sovereign debt a grade of CCC +, which stands only a few notches above the default level.

The economic crisis might yet end Pakistan's newly elected government, which is facing a crisis of confidence already as it battles 25% inflation, a drowning currency and a President with a reputation as "Mr 10%" for past corruption. It's also unclear that even a $100 billion bailout would be enough to stave off Pakistan's money woes, since the security situation is itself feeding the economic crisis there - investors don't want to know about a nation so obviously on the verge of failure.

Nor is it certain that even the US and Western allies will care to throw such a large sum of money into Pakistan. Sure, they could probably secure protestations of working harder to enact economic reforms after the mismanagement of the Musharraf years and to more strongly pursue the War on Terror, but what would those promises be worth? The question "whose side is Pakistan on?" is being asked in NATO circles nowadays, and more are coming to the conclusion that the Pakistani feudal elite are content to play the West for all it is worth while caring precious little for their own people's fate. Then again, Pakistan has nukes and the prospect of a truly failed state there is a terrible one to contemplate.

As usual with that nation, the situation is a Gordian Knot created by decades (dating back at least to Reagan and the Russian invasion of Afghanistan) of local and Western leaders ignoring very real problems. It's a knot with no easy, or short-term, solution. It will take decades of strategic containment, careful stick and carrots, law enforcement outwith Pakistan to catch the terrorists it gives safe haven to and some simple truth-telling to roll all that back. There are no fixes with a timeline of less than decades.

And, as John Robb at Global Guerrillas writes, don't expect Pakistan to be the last nation to find itself on the financial brink.

The global financial system is much LARGER, FASTER, and COMPLEX than the nation-states that are trying to bail them out. As a result, nation-state intervention won't return things to the status quo. What it will do, however, is tightly couple western nation-states to the now inevitable failure in the financial system (this is akin to lashing a dingy to the Titanic to prevent it from sinking). The rampant proliferation of bankrupt and hollow states is now likely inevitable.

If you've a good idea on where to go from here, you're doing one better than national leaders across the globe.

Add to | Digg this

Russia Begins Pullback From Georgia Buffer Zone

By Cernig

On time, the Russian military has begun dismantling its presence in a buffer zone between Georgia proper and the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. It's a bit of a blow to the neo-narrative.

Moscow faces a Friday deadline for pulling back its troops under the terms of a deal brokered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy on behalf of the European Union. Hundreds of EU observers began monitoring Russia's compliance last week.

A pullback would likely mean at least a mild reduction of tensions between Russia and the West following their worst confrontation since the Soviet collapse. But substantial points of dispute remain.

Russia was dismantling positions Sunday inside what it calls security zones, extending roughly four miles inside uncontested Georgian territory.

But Moscow vows to keep thousands of its troops stationed in two separatist Georgian regions that it recognizes as independent countries — South Ossetia and Abkhazia — which appears to stretch the terms of the cease-fire and which the Georgian government denounces.

Really, did anyone seriously expect Russia to do anything else, or Georgia to do less than denounce its continued presence in those regions? Western rhetoric on this entirely subjective "stretching" of the ceasefire is simple posturing too. If the situation was reversed, the US or any Western power would of course stay to protect people who look to it for safety against their own titular national government...who launched a surprise bombing attack on their own regional capital.

But at least the Europeans got off their asses and brokered the current ceasefire deal, while the Bush administration was still heckling from the bleachers and John McCain was running his neocon mouth about a new Russian Empire being born in Georgia. Meh, not so much. No Russian expansion, but certainly a multi-polar world where no-one can be bothered waiting to see if, by some miracle, an American Republican administration will do other than throw a rhetorical warhammer in diplomacy's works. It's what they always do, and it has become ignorably old.

Add to | Digg this

New President, New Foreign Policy

By Cernig

Investigative journalist Gareth Porter, a smart guy and a friend of mine, gave an interview to "The Real News" on Sunday on the topic of foreign policy directions under a McCain or Obama presidency. Gareth's opinion is that, contra McKinney and Nader, there is a qualitative difference between McCain, a died-in-the-wool neoconservative, and Obama's more pragmatic approach to American superpowerdom - but that even Obama wouldn't make a clear break with the past 50 years of American power projection, instead repurposing it away from the Bush Years with less violently militaristic expressions. So that although both would to a continuation of one or other of the Bush terms, just as Bush followed the last 50 years, McCain would hyper-extend the first term's Cheney-esque bellicosity while Obama would emphasise and amplify the pragmatic policies of the likes of SecDef Bob Gates.

One of the major points Gareth makes in his interview is that, from everything McCain has said about Iraq during his campaign, it isn't impossible to believe McCain would keep the occupation of Iraq going even over the wishes of the Iraqi people and government, perhaps even arranging a coup to unseat Prime Minister Maliki. I think it would certainly be interesting to see how he would respond if asked about this outright by the establishment press.

Obama however, while he'd be likely to hurry withdrawal even beyond the Maliki-approved timetable if he thought it could be done, is just as inextricably committed to staying in Afghanistan and to using military force as the main effort there as McCain is - perhaps even more so when you consider what he has said about the Pakistan border area. McCain, as a paid up neocon, would doubtless be saying "faster please" on war with Iran, which Obama seems to realize would be a disaster.

Add to | Digg this

15,000 Years Of Rock Art

By Cernig

This is just way cool.

Arnhem Land, jutting into the Arafura Sea at the top of Australia, has always been a special place for Aboriginal people. Just how special has been reinforced by the discovery of an extraordinary collection of rock art recording life in the area for the past 15,000 years, up until 50 years ago.

Alongside ancient paintings of thylacines, a mammal long extinct on the mainland, are images documenting modern-day inventions – a car, a bicycle wheel, a biplane and a rifle – as well as portraits of a missionary and a sea captain. Scientists documenting the rock art, spread across at least 100 sites in the remote Wellington Range, say it ranks among the world's finest.

It also appears to rewrite Australian history, undermining the widely held assumption that the continent was isolated and largely unvisited until the First Fleet arrived in 1788. The paintings suggest that, on the contrary, the people of northern Australia have been interacting with seafaring visitors from Asia and Europe for hundreds, possibly thousands, of years.

Fifteen thousand years of continuous historical recording in graphics rather than words. It's got the "recorded history" of the West beat hollow. And another bit of the narrative of world history, based around a Judeo-Christian exceptionalism and really only interested in calling the direct antecedents of that tradition "early civilization", bites the dust.


Add to | Digg this

October 05, 2008

IAEA Meeting Sidles Up To Israeli Nuke Arsenal

By Cernig

The annual general conference of the International Atomic Energy Authority has come closer than ever to directly naming and criticising Israel as a nuclear weapon state outwith the NPT.

As in past years at the International Atomic Energy Agency's general conference, Iran, Israel's most outspoken foe, spearheaded the verbal attack on Israel, which is widely considered to have nuclear arms but has a "no tell" policy on the issue.

Chief Iranian delegate Ali Ashgar Soltanieh said Israel's nuclear capabilities represent a "serious and continued threat to the security of neighboring and other states."

And he took the U.S. and other Western backers of Israel to task for their "shameful silence" on what he said was the menace posed by Israel's atomic arsenal.

The meeting of 145 nations voted for a resolution urging all nations to open their nuclear activities to outside inspections and work toward the establishment of a Mideast nuclear weapons free zone.

With Israel the only country in the region considered to have atomic arms, passage of the resolution constituted indirect criticism of the Jewish state.

The resolution called on all nations in the Middle East "not to develop, test or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons," and urged nuclear weapons states to "refrain from any action" hindering the establishment of a Mideast zone free of nuclear weapons.

The United States and the European Union managed to block an effort by Muslim nations and their supporters to submit a resolution more directly critical of Israel and its "nuclear capabilities."

Although last year's meeting followed a similar pattern, the votes for and against the two motions reflected shifting dynamics on the issues.

On Saturday, delegations had so far voted 82-0 for establishing the Mideast nuclear weapons free zone, with Israel, Syria and the U.S. among those abstaining. Last year it was 53 in favor, the U.S. and Israel against, and 47 abstentions.

29 nations in one year decided it's time Israel came clean about its nukes. That's quite a momentum for next year. And, neo-hawks of various flavors, please note Iran's public vote for a nuclear weapon free zone in the Middle East. You keep telling us that we should listen to what they say - so how come that only applies when they're saying stuff that can be used to stoke the war hype and fearmongering?

Add to | Digg this

Turks Accuse Iraqi Kurds Of Sheltering Terrorists

By Cernig

A Turkish general has diectly accused Barzani's Kurdish regional government of offering shelter to Kurdish terror group, the PKK, even while the Kurdish authorities have decried PKK attacks.

Gen. Hasan Igsiz, deputy chief of the military, said the Kurdish leadership in northern Iraq was allowing the rebels to use roads and hospitals in the region and ignoring their presence.

"We don't receive any kind of support from the local administration in the northern part of Iraq," Igsiz said. "Our expectation from them is to accept that the terrorist organization is a terrorist organization and eliminate the support provided to it."

Iraq's central government pledged to cooperate with Turkey against the rebels after Friday's attack, which the guerrillas fired mortars and anti-aircraft artillery from Iraqi soil against Turkish targets.

"The Kurdistan regional government denounces the recent PKK attack on Turkish soldiers," it said in a statement dated Saturday. "We condemn this attack and we express our condolences and sorrow to the families of the victims."

The PKK and the Kurdish regional government have one priority goal in common - an independent Kurdish State, at least in all but name if it comes as part of a highly-federalized soft partition of Iraq. There's long been suspicion that the Kurds have been looking the other way on the PKK while publicly saying the right things - but actual aid and shelter would be a very different matter. The US might have to bow to Turkish pressure and ask the Iraqi central government to do something more than just talk - which could flare up the bubbling confrontation over the area around Kirkuk into a shooting civil war.

Or the Turks just might go over the border in force again,this time against the peshmerga as well as the PKK - which would drag in the Iraqi central government on one side or another. (I'm no longer certain Napoleon al-Maliki would back the Kurds, he might see it as an opportunity to rid himself of a block to his own strongman status.) Either way, the US gets to play piggy in the middle between three allies and ends up pissing off, in an extreme and probably deadly way, at least one of them.

Add to | Digg this

Rice: No "special sphere of infuence" for Russia

By Cernig

Condi Rice, visiting America's "with us" autocrat ally in Kazakhstan, has said that the US has no intention of allowing Russia a "near foreign".

"This is not a zero-sum game," she told reporters flying with her to the Kazakh capital. U.S. gains need not mean Russian losses, she said.

"First of all, Kazakhstan is an independent country. It can have friendships with whomever it wishes," she said. "That's perfectly acceptable in the 21st century, so we don't see and don't accept any notion of a special sphere of influence" for Russia in this region.

Kazakhstan is a bit of an odd one - the dictatorship in all but name (it has elections but no-one opposed to President Nazarbayev ever gets elected) does indeed have a successful multi-lateral foreign policy on trade and military co-operation. It has a military alliance with Russia and therefore is ineligible for NATO, but in February signed a deal with the US to procure equipment and training to bring it up to NATO standard and conducts regular joint exercises with the US. But one has to question whether, without the US presence in Afghanistan and Kazakh permission for supply flights there, America would be interested. Military aide has always seemed a sweetener for the supply flights.

So while it may be a good nation from which to make a speech about there being no special spheres of infuence anymore, is that actually the truth?

Certainly, America's sphere of infuence now matches it's national security interests - global, and wherever the US decided those interests lie. Even if that means reneging on previous promises to not base US troops in or allow into NATO nations that were once Soviet dominions and that Russia considers its "near foreign". Even if it means invading other nations without a UN mandate or threatening to attack others. It's unclear, though, that anyone else gets to do the same thing - especially not Russia. Recent controversy and outrage over Russian deals with Venezuela and the resurrection of the South American fleet suggest that America still has a "near foreign" of its own. Worries about Russia expanding its basing agreements and military patrol flights again - both things the US does far more of - didn't bring knowing nods of acceptance for Russia's aknowledgement that anyone can have global national interests in the 21st Century, they brought rhetoric about a new Russian aggression and Imperial ambition.

At the end of the day, though, realpolitik says Condi is correct. No-one has the power to consistently safeguard and hoard a sphere of infuence - and not even America has the power to prevent any other nation having a global reach nowadays, after Bush's adventurism and a financial crisis have gutted America's superpowers like a Kryptonite enema. Other nations have no intention of allowing the US to keep a tight grip on its "near foreign" any longer either.

Rice's statement is better seen as a recognition of truth rather than a high-minded statement of policy, although I doubt Rice sees it that way. Welcome to the multi-polar world.

Add to | Digg this

October 04, 2008

Key PMOI Figures To Get US Citizenship?

By Cernig

Iran's Press TV reports that 16 senior members of the PMOI, also known as the Mujahedeen eKalq Organisation (the MKO or MeK), are to be granted US citizenship for services rendered in Iraq and Iran.

An Iraqi deputy told Fars news agency that the MKO members who were given US citizenship were directly engaged in acts of terror against Iranians and the Iraqi people.

According to the lawmaker, the terrorists, who had earlier exited Camp Ashraf, were reportedly transferred to a former Iraqi air force base near the capital, Baghdad.

The US had earlier relocated selected members of the Mujahedin Khalq Organization after Iraqi authorities took control of their camp in Diyala province in August. The act was aimed at preventing MKO members from falling into the hands of the Iraqi government.

The deputy said, however, that the US had denied support for a certain number of MKO members in the Camp after accessing their records.

He added that documents, including tapes of MKO espionage acts against the Iranian government, have been delivered from the camp to US military forces in Iraq.

His remarks come as Ali al-Baghdadi, an Iraqi security official, told Fars that there were documents available on the group's cooperation with al-Qaeda and Baath regime in their acts of violence.

He added the US was studying the records of certain MKO members willing to join American troops to select those useful to American forces in their anti-Iran goals.

The MKO are on the State Department's list of proscribed terror groups, but that hasn't stopped the Buh administration from using MKO members as interpreters and interrogators in Iraq, as a source of highly dubious intelligence on Iran and, it is rumored, as proxies for attacks inside Iran itself. Being so virulently anti-Iranian, they're high on the neocons' list of favored terrorists but not so liked by Iraq's current government, which is led by Shiites highly sympathetic to Iran such as the Dawa, ISCI and Badr parties. Indeed, the Badr Brigades were originally set up by Iran to be direct competition to the MKO, who were helping Saddam at the time.

Press TV isn't an unbiased source on this, but still - if 16 members of a proscribed terror group are indeed being given US citizenship, you'd think the Bush administration would have some explaining to do. I wonder if any mainstream Western reporters will follow up the Iranian reports?

Add to | Digg this

Hewitt The Hack

By Cernig

Hugh Hewitt, banging the war drum and fearmongering like a crazy conservative, has a pearl of praise today for John McCain, Savior of America from the Obama Anti-Christ.

But as Jazz Shaw points out in a simply delicious post, not too long ago the same Hewitt was calling McCain "an old warrior way past his prime", that a vote for McCain was "a vote for a shattered base"  and that Mccain "could no more win in the fall than Dole could in ‘96."

Which leaves Hewitt either suffering from severe split-personality syndrome or an unprincipled hack. You decide.

Add to | Digg this

Us And Indian Perceptions Of Nuke Deal Differ

By Cernig

Praful Bidwai at IPS has a great piece on the very real differences between US ideas of what is contained in the India 123 deal and Indian notions that is worth reading:

Indian leaders are equally concerned at the subtle differences between the just-enacted US legislation and the 123 agreement, and the interpretations placed on some US commitments by senior officials, including assurances of uninterrupted fuel supplies and restrictions on the transfer of uranium enrichment and spent-fuel reprocessing technologies.

Just before the Congress debate, President Bush stated that some of the commitments in the 123 agreement are "political" in nature and not legally binding.

Last week, as the Senate began its debate, Rice wrote a letter to the Senate majority leader to assure him that a nuclear test by India would result in "the most serious consequences,’’ including an automatic cut-off of U.S. cooperation and sanctions.

This is in sharp contrast with the Indian stand that nothing in the 123 agreement prevents India from conducting a nuclear test, and that India can take "corrective measures", such as walking out of IAEA safeguards in case supplies are interrupted in response to an Indian test.

On Thursday, U.S. Ambassador to India, David C. Mulford, told the media in New Delhi that "not every single commitment" in the 123 agreement is binding on the U.S., and in any case, the U.S. government cannot compel American companies to sell technology or equipment to India.

Indian officials are particularly concerned at some key issues such as interpretation of the "meaning and legal effect" of the 123 agreement on the basis of all communications from the Bush administration to Congress prior to Sep. 20.

These include a recently revealed letter to Howard Berman, chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, in which Bush made the distinction between politically and legally binding commitments, and also tried to assuage other non-proliferation sentiments among U.S. lawmakers.

... In a statement signing the new Act into law, Bush can waive some of these conditions and make the new law more palatable to India.

The Bush administration lied to someone, because the deal that Congress thinks it voted on isn't the same as the deal India thinks it's getting. My bet is that the administration will side with the interpretation that makes its corporate donators the most money, which isn't the same as the one that looks after America's long-term national security interests or the one that safeguards the concept of non-proliferation.

Add to | Digg this

Pentagon Iraq Propaganda Also Targets "US Audiences"

By Cernig

The US is back in the business of paying for "good news" propaganda stories about Iraq, according to the Washington Post.

The Defense Department will pay private U.S. contractors in Iraq up to $300 million over the next three years to produce news stories, entertainment programs and public service advertisements for the Iraqi media in an effort to "engage and inspire" the local population to support U.S. objectives and the Iraqi government.

... One official described how part of the program works: "There's a video piece produced by a contractor . . . showing a family being attacked by a group of bad guys, and their daughter being taken off. The message is: You've got to stand up against the enemy." The professionally produced vignette, he said, "is offered for airing on various [television] stations in Iraq. . . . They don't know that the originator of the content is the U.S. government. If they did, they would never run anything."

"If you asked most Iraqis," he said, "they would say, 'It came from the government, our own government.' "

The Pentagon's solicitation for bids on the contracts noted that media items produced "may or may not be non-attributable to coalition forces."

Middle East expert Marc Lynch writes (emphasis mine):

It's easy to see why eager information warriors think that paying for positive press makes sense in pursuit of tactical advantage in the strategic propaganda war.  It gets the "messaging" out with greater credibility, it "counters" the adversaries efforts, and it might shift some perceptions in the short term.   Even at this level, the strategy is deeply flawed.  When the payments are exposed, as they inevitably are in today's global media environment (for example, with page one stories in the Washington Post), they then discredit not only the specific messages but also every other pro-U.S. message which will quite reasonably then be dismissed as "paid for by the United States." ...  Nothing could be more devastating to the credibility of third party messengers than this kind of program. 

At a deeper level, these efforts fatally compromise the long-term objective of building free, credible and independent media as the foundation of a democratic system.

Not just any Iraqi democratic system either. Lynch also notes a significant wording in the contract specification:

one goal is to "communicate effectively with our strategic audiences (i.e. Iraqi, pan-Arabic, International, and U.S. audiences) to gain widespread acceptance of [U.S. and Iraqi government] core themes and messages."  Presenting American audiences as a key target for manipulation through the covert dissemination of propaganda messages should be seen as scandalous, subversive of democracy, and illegal. 

Well, Marc, it would be if the Bush administration weren't making use of a step-around on the law. It's legal for the Pentagon, CIA and other agencies to disseminate propaganda in foreign countries. The propaganda goes up in foreign countries, then gets imported to the US by the mainstream press or by rightwing pro-occupation internet sites. "It's not the Pentagon's fault if there's overspill from Iraq (or the UK, or Israel, or Australia...) with this stuff - honest!"

It's quite easy to identify administration stenographers in the foreign press who create most of their reports around deliberate propaganda items. In the UK Con Coughlin and Phil Sherwell at the Daily Telegraph and Sarah Baxter at Murdoch's London Times are the most common conduits for stories to be imported back into the US at one deniable stage of removal from their agency source. In Israel, the Jerusalem Post (another Murdoch paper) -  and in particular deputy managing editor Caroline Glick - does admirable service for the Fourth Branch's preferred narratives. Murdoch's Australian outlets are just as bad. Glick, Coughlin and the Time's Uzi Mahnaimi double up on their stenography on behalf of Mossad too. Baxter and Sherwell for MI6.

I've covered this kind of stuff before, as well as other related propaganda pushes. I'm going to take the sinful liberty of quoting myself, rather than repeating myself.

There's no statute against the military or the administration conducting psyops campaigns in Iraq - and if the media then decides to take that information as gospel for reporting in the US then that's their lookout. There's no law against using shills like Phil Sherwell at the Telegraph or Sarah Baxter at the Times to publish "anonymous US sources" saying all kinds of stuff - and if rightwing internet pundits then decide to link that report as gospel truth then that's no fault of the US governments. There's no law - technically - preventing the pentagon from keeping a stable of pet military analysts in the loop on its preferred talking points - and if those analysts then choose not to reveal their insider status when using those talking points, then that's hardly the Pentagon's fault, is it? There's no law against a military flack in Iraq sending an email to a blogger to push a preferrred narrative - the internet is international and the sender is in a foreign country where US psyops are allowed. There's no law against pressuring intelligence analysts into giving your politically-preferred answers then pushing those answers as the consensus findings of the intelligence community. There's no law against publishing to the press "information" gained from offshore torture without revealing the methods used to gain that information. In other words , there are loopholes in the US statute you could drive a tank through - and the Bush administration have, repeatedly.

The current administration, like others before it, have long ago decided where the stand on the debate between freedom of the press from interference in a democracy and pushing their own preferred narratives - and it isn't on the side of democracy. I'm still amazed that serious experts like Marc, who I respect greatly, are surprised by this when it reaches out and slaps them in the face.

Add to | Digg this

October 03, 2008

Kudos To Laura Rozen

By Cernig

I just wanted to do a quick shout-out to our good friend Laura Rozen of War and Piece and MoJo. Laura did some of the heavy lifting on the Cunningham case which has seen fomer-Senator "Duke" Cunningham, mil-contractor Brent Wilkes and now former assistant CIA number three "Dusty" Foggo stand guilty of corruption and bribery allegations involving hookers.

Laura writes:

Thinking back, I had some rather unpleasant conversations with a CIA spokesman at the time who screamed that I was wrong, that he had marched to Foggo's office and Foggo totally denied what I was saying, and they couldn't find any Wilkes' company that had gotten a CIA contract, etc. And then, after I informed them that one firm, Archer Logistics, was a Wilkes' front company, nominally headed by Wilkes' nephew Joel Combs, the CIA public affairs official stopped yelling. It must have registered as a hit on some database of CIA contractors or something. After that, the conversation returned to polite ordinary civil discourse and the spokesman saying that as a rule the CIA doesn't ordinarily comment on who does or does not get CIA contracts. But the tone was utterly different. And as the evidence accumulated, the CIA was starting to realize that it had a Dusty Foggo problem. (The later 28-count indictment <.pdf> of Foggo revealed just how big a Dusty Foggo problem the CIA had on its hands).

Now, then-CIA director Porter Goss's decision to appoint Foggo to the CIA's number three spot had been a highly controversial and contentious one at the Agency. Foggo was well known in Agency ranks for philandering, gambling, a security issue dating to his Vienna days, and for generally being something of a sleaze. Suffice it to say, that senior Agency veterans left as a direct and indirect result of Goss's controversial decision to appoint Foggo to the Executive Director position, among them the top two operational officers who have since returned. And under Goss's hands off management style, Foggo wasn't just some CIA executive or bureaucrat. He effectively ran the CIA day to day. So you can see that when the CIA realized it had a Dusty Foggo problem, this was actually a rather big problem, and in particular it was a problem for Porter Goss.


"Porter Goss knew about Foggo's reputation beforehand," one former senior officer who left under Goss's tenure told me yesterday. "Why was he allowed to appoint this guy, and how did he get away with it? Goss had a criminal running the Agency."

"What the Republicans keep saying is that Porter came in to reform the Agency," he continued. "So Porter comes in and appoints to run the Agency a man everybody knew was sleazy and he paid no attention to the man's past. And he brought with him in addition a bunch of people who knew nothing about the organization and its operations and then he himself was a hands off person who basically did not get involved in managing the organization. It was a disaster from day one."

Another Bush administration heckuvajob and another stitch in the rich tapestry of the Republican culture of corruption.

And, like Scooby Doo villains, they world have gotten away with it if it hadn't been for those pesky journalists and bloggers, Laura being very much among the forefront of them. So major kudos to her, she's a great example of why jouranlists shouldn't be just stenographers for the powerful, and why blogging has become such a powerful force in keeping the comatose Fourth Estate alive.

Add to | Digg this

Palin's Achilles Heel

By Cernig

I'm back after more than 24 hours without internet and trying to catch up, but as to the Biden-Palin debate I'm in agreement with my co-bloggers on their assessments and left wondering how even the lowest of lowered expectations can believe Palin showed herself as competent and ready for the second most powerful office in the land.

Anderson's got it exactly right on her incoherent ramblings when she doesn't know what she is talking about. But he missed one absolute gem:

"My Achilles heel is that my executive experience of a huge energy-producing state counting towards much progress towards getting our nation energy independence. That's very important."

She doesn't know what the phrase means, does she?

Behind the theatrical protestations of victory, even conservatives think she barely managed to stand up and breathe at the same time - and that was with her referring to her talking points all the time Biden was responding to questions and even some of the time she herself was speaking.

Look, Palin thinks Katie Couric gave her a hard time! The already-asked question about how this woman - who likes the Dick Cheney level of Veep power - is going to react if Putin or Sarkozy asks her the wrong thing should be the main part of the Palin debate. It'll be one diplomatic incident after another unless they keep her permanently at Cheney's "undisclosed location".

Her incoherence and her inability to handle even softballs without rancor is her Achilles heel, since she was wondering. Pair that with McCain's "Cotton Hill" temper and America would have a major problem. Ask yourself, Joe and Jolene Six-Pack - would you send your most quarrelsome and mean cousins out to talk to your best friends and your neighbours for you?

Add to | Digg this

October 02, 2008

Leaked Report Ties Pakistani Intelligence To Taliban

By Cernig

A secret, high-level report leaked to the Spanish press explicitly ties the ISI, Pakistan's powerful intelligence agency, to the Taliban - the first time a NATO member has made the allegation so specifically. The report's leak comes at an embarassing time for the Pakistani givernment as they are currently engaged in a PR campaign, including interviews with President Zardari and press releases about the new ISI head, to bolster their fading image of being a staunch ally in the "war on terror" and to distance the ISI from allegations it uses terror groups as proxies.

The August 2005 report says Pakistan's shadowy Inter-Services Intelligence agency helped the Taliban procure roadside bombs and may even have provided training and intelligence to the Taliban in camps set up on Pakistani soil.

The Pakistani agency, known as the ISI, planned to have the Taliban use the explosives "to assassinate high-ranking officials" in Afghanistan, the report said.

It also warned of possible advanced training camps in Pakistan "where the Taliban receive training, help and intelligence from the ISI and where they are also developing new kinds" of improvised explosive devices. The report said the Taliban had also been receiving help from al-Qaida.

The document, which was obtained by Cadena Ser radio and posted on the station's Web site Wednesday, was marked "confidential" and topped with the Defense Ministry seal and the title of Spain's military intelligence agency.

A Defense Ministry spokesman refused to comment on the report, saying the ministry does not discuss intelligence issues. Cadena Ser did not say how it got the document.

A Pakistani spokesman described the report as "baseless, unfounded and part of a malicious, well-orchestrated propaganda campaign to malign the ISI." He went on to accuse "certain quarters" - probably a code for India - as "attempting to weaken" Pakistan's intelligence agency through such a campaign.

If so, those "certain quarters" have a wide reach. Rumors, leaks and reports pointing to the ISI's aid for terror groups, even their outright direction of such groups, have been rife for years and the Pakistani government itself has admitted on occasion that the ISI and elements thereoff are not fully under anyone else's control, neither the military's nor the government's.

A journalist friend also points to the report's inclusion of "developing new kinds" of improvised explosive devices. The report dates from 2005. Could these be the legendary EFP's which the US military has ascribed to Iran and which it has accused Iran of providing to special groups in Iraq and to the Taliban in Afghanistan? The US narrative on EFPs is ever-evolving, although coming from Pakistan - presumably via Silk Road smuggling routes - is something they've never considered. I have, however, and as long ago as February 2nd 2007, before the infamous Baghdad Briefing which was supposed to prove conclusively that Iran was responsible for those deadly bombs and failed so spectaularly to do so. It will be interesting to see if any more information on this surfaces.

Be that as it may, the report shows that Pakistan has a problem in the ISI, and it would do better to admit it than to continue bowing to military pressure to hide it. In the circumstances, it makes sense to wonder whether the democratically elected civilian government or the military are really in charge of Pakistan's foreign policy, and whether the uncertainty on that question something the West should be at all happy with.

Add to | Digg this

October 01, 2008

McCain's Health Suddenly On Front Burner

By Cernig

At an event today, John Mccain suddenly suffered from an extreme facial twitch just before seemingly becoming dazed and confused on stage.


Now, I'm no medical expert - but I do come from a family with a predeliction to strokes and micro-strokes and the twitch, combined with mental confusion, looks awfully like symptoms I've seen on elderly members of my family who have suffered them. AmericaBlog has some folks who say they're medical types in comments, and everything from mini-strokes to simple nerve damage caused by previous surgery on a melonoma is being discussed. I'm basically unhappy with diagnosis by video though. it wasn't OK in the Schiavo case and it's not anything more than arnchair quarterbacking now. I repeat, I'm no expert and i give my family experience as an anecdote only, not a diagnosis.

However, John Aravosis is undoubtably correct when he writes:

McCain is 72 years old, was tortured for five years (which couldn't have done wonders to his health), and then had 4 bouts of serious melanoma. His health is an issue, and he has never fully released his medical records in a way that permits anyone to actually peruse them correctly - he only permitted reports to look at each page of his medical records for about 10 seconds before switching to another page. And no one was permitted to copy or take with any of the records. They're now back under lock and key.

And calls for the media to increase pressure for a fuller examination of McCain's health. Full medical disclosure will stop any tendency to armchair quarterbacking.

But if John McCain has serious health problems then obviously it would be better for him to step down and not run for what is probably the most stressful job in the world. In that respect, I wish what's best for him as a human being. It would be better for the country and the world too.

Add to | Digg this

Memo Leak Says Mission In Afghanistan Doomed

By Cernig

I'd recently begun to think there was no way back from seven years of Bush administration mismanagement in Afghanistan - but it's still shocking to hear it from the British ambassador in Kabul.

The London Times reports that Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles told his French counterparts exactly that at a high-level meeting, however, and that the secret memo of the meeting has now been leaked to the French press (h/t our tireless researcher Kat). Le Canard Enchaîné, a "respected French weekly" reproduced the memo.

“The current situation is bad. The security situation is getting worse. So is corruption and the Government has lost all trust. Our public statements should not delude us over the fact that the insurrection, while incapable of winning a military victory, nevertheless has the capacity to make life increasingly difficult, including in the capital.

“The presence — especially the military presence — of the coalition is part of the problem, not the solution. The foreign forces are ensuring the survival of a regime which would collapse without them. In doing so, they are slowing down and complicating an eventual exit from the crisis (which, moreover, will probably be dramatic)."

The French diplomat sent the cable to brief President Sarkozy and Bernard Kouchner, the Foreign Minister, ahead of meetings with Britain and other Nato allies over the Afghan deployment.

...Sir Sherard, 53, was also quoted as saying that while Britain had no alternative to supporting the United States, the Americans should be told to change strategy.

Reinforcing the military presence against the Taleban insurrection would be counter-productive, he said, according to Le Canard. "It would identify us even more clearly as an occupying force and it would multiply the number of targets (for the insurgents)," he was quoted as saying.

The allied governments should start preparing public opinion to accept that the only realistic solution for Afghanistan was to be ruled by "an acceptable dictator".

"In the short term we should dissuade the American presidential candidates from getting more bogged down in Afghanistan," the ambassador was quoted as saying.

The British government are saying the French memo is a "parody" of what was actually said at the meeting, with insiders telling the Times that 'the British position was deliberately “exaggerated” to produce a version that Paris wanted to hear'.

So either the British ambassador to Kabul thinks that the US-led strategy is wrong and the war is as good as lost or he doesn't quite think that - but very obviously the French up to and including President Sarkozy do and are willing to officially "leak" a possibly hyped-up account of the ambassador's words as cover and justification. Which doesn't bode well for NATO solidarity for a new US administration that will have to go cap in hand to European allies for additional troops and political support in Afghanistan (and ever-escalating incursions into Pakistan) even with a partial drawdown in Iraq.

Meanwhile, the new National Intelligence Estimate on Afghanistan is, apparently, too grim to release.

Seth Jones, an expert on Afghanistan at the Rand Corporation think tank, called the situation in Afghanistan “dire.”

“We are now at a tipping point, with about half of the country now penetrated by a range of Sunni militant groups including the Taliban and al Queida,” Jones said. Jones said there is growing concern that Dutch and Canadian forces in Afghanistan would “call it quits.”

“The US military would then need six, eight, maybe ten brigades but we just don’t have that many,” Jones said.

… Perhaps foreshadowing the NIE assessment on Afghanistan, Adm. Mullen told Congress, “absent a broader international and interagency approach to the problems there, it is my professional opinion that no amount of troops in no amount of time can ever achieve all the objectives we seek in Afghanistan.”

There’s not enough troops to provide stability for long enough, even if there were there’s not enough reconstruction and reconcilliation and even if there was there’s not enough regional goodwill for American adventurism. Just like Iraq. And just like Iraq the Afghan occupation is an unwinnable one. Neither nation is looking at long-term internal stability or even freedom from crippling internicene violence. Worse, the violence in Afghanistan has polarized the two major players in the region and contains even more of a prospect of igniting a regional bloodbath than the occupation of Iraq.The best that can be done is a “slow bleed” which will hopefully be less destructive to the region and American interests than a fast one. Just like Iraq, though, there’s no evidence that such is possible.

Yet, unfortunately, both mainstream party’s prospective Presidential candidates will continue to decide foreign policy by the touchstone that America has always used and inflict domestic vote-winning tough talk on foreigners yet again.

Add to | Digg this

Hole, Bottom, Keep Digging

By Cernig

You know what I like about John McCain? His persistence. Take his Veep pick, for instance. She can see Russia from her house and thus intuit every nuance of foreign policy, reads every newspaper the world has to offer and can even spot what great economists have missed, that the economic meltdown is all about healthcare reform. On every issue, her views are clear and unproblemmatic, a reflection of common sense in the truest meaning of the phrase.

No wonder John McCain turns to her for advice all the time.

Keep doing just that, John. It proves the quality of your judgement and your resolute, nature. You need a Witchfinder to find the witches that are really to blame for all of America's ills. I bet Michelle Obama is one - I hope Sarah's got her witchfinding needle handy. The American people will reward you for it.

Add to | Digg this

September 30, 2008

Is violence in Iraq slowly creeping upwards again?

By Cernig

Check my math on this AP lede please.

The number of Iraqi security forces killed in September rose by nearly a third to 159 compared with the same period last year, Associated Press figures showed Tuesday. U.S. troop deaths for the same period fell by nearly 40 percent to 25.

Good, right? Violence is down.

In fairly round terms, 66.6% of 159 means 106 ISF killed last September. If 25 is 60% of last September's total of US troops killed then last year 42 US deaths occured in the same period.

Total last September: (42+106=) 148
Total this year: (25+159=) 184

That's the highest tally in the months since the Surge officially ended in July, but last months total was higher than the month before's.

In September 2007, 1,221 Iraqi civilians lost their lives according to IraqBodyCount.Org. The same website lists 566 Iraqi civilians killed in September of this year, 46% of deaths for the same period in 2007.

The AP is still repeating the meme that "violence in the country has plunged some 80 percent over the past 15 months." That may well be true over the entire period cited, but in the last nine months, 7,242 Iraqi civilians have been killed by bombs and bullets, only 36% of the 20,066 in the same period in 2007 but still a sizeable number and not 20% any longer.

Scale up to make a comparison. Imagine if 200 American civilians a day were dying due to terror attacks and sectarian violence over and above normal crime figures - an average of 80 a week of those from 'friendly fire" incidents from an occupying military. How much "success" would that feel like? How insulted would you feel by politicians claiming "victory" when even their generals say that's not a word they would use?

If the Surge and other contributors to the intitial drop in violence in Iraq are slowly ceasing to have as great an effect, that is something we should know about. It makes a difference to decisions about whether the "fragile" relative calm in Iraq is one we can expect to last or is simply temporary, and that would directly affect how voters felt about policy planning for withdrawal timelines, or the lack of them.

I'm not saying that's definitely what is happening, but there are indications that to me seem like it might be. That's why I'm asking readers to check my figures or weigh in with better information in comments, if they have it. I would like to rely on the administration, the military and the mainstream media for the straight up-to-date poop on such matters, but alas, they aren't providing it that I've seen.

Add to | Digg this

Talk To The Organ-grinder

By Cernig

President Karzai of Afghanistan has appealed to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan in hopes of getting them to broker a peace deal ending the country's six-year conflict with the Taliban. It makes sense. After all, you talk to the organ-grinder, not his monkey.

Karzai, speaking at the presidential palace, said his government is trying to encourage militants to lay down arms. He said he has in the past reached out to fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Omar to "come back to your home soil and work for the happiness of the people."

The Taliban has largely rebuffed repeated peace overtures from Afghan officials.

Mullah Omar released his own Eid message with a barrage of accusations against Afghan security forces, calling them thieves, smugglers and criminals not worthy of the public's trust. He also called on militants not to harm civilians during their operations.

He did not indicate any willingness to talk to Karzai's government and called again on tens of thousands of American and NATO troops to leave the country.

A former senior Taliban official told The Associated Press last week that the militants do not consider Karzai a strong leader who can uphold and implement any potential deal if America does not agree with it. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he did not want to be identified.

U.S. officials have not indicated they are ready for any contacts with high-level Taliban leaders, though U.S. officials do encourage fighters to lay down arms and join the government's reconciliation program.

...Karzai said he would personally protect Taliban and other militant leaders from U.S. and NATO troops if they come back to Afghanistan for talks.

"Don't be afraid of the foreigners. If they try to harm you, I will stand in front of them," Karzai said.

That's a pretty definite statement of Karzai's position. He;d rather end the war for his country's sake than hunt down and kill every last terr'ist. Why does he hate America? Oh yeah...

Maybe ZalKhal will get his turn at being Head Of State after all.

Of course, Pakistan sees too much utility in its proxies to tell them to stand down. The Saudis are saying nothing, as they have for the last six years. And so it goes.

Add to | Digg this

New ISI Chief Appointed

By Cernig

Pakistan's military chief, General Kayani, has made several appointments to consolidate his personal control of the army and, perhaps most importantly, the shadowy ISI intelligence agency. Kayani, who was himself ISI head under Musharraf from 2004 to 2007 before becoming chief of the entire military, has picked Lt Gen Ahmed Shujaa Pasha as the new head of ISI, advancing him from head of military operations. There, he was responsible for overall control of of offensives which troops began last year against pro-Taleban militants in Swat, Waziristan and other areas of north-west Pakistan - but also in overall charge of truce deals, bribes and ceasefires negotiated with those same militants which have caused the US and other allies to question Pakistan's commitment to the "war on terror".

Also brought into official question recently has been the ISI's support for the Taliban, al Qaeda and other militant groups such as the Lek and SIMI, which were blamed for the Mumbai bombings last year. There's little doubt that Kayani, as head of ISI at the time, was involved and knowledgeable about such ties.

In July, Mark Mazzetti wrote of Kayani for the NY Times:

Until late last year, when he was elevated to the command of the entire army, the Pakistani spymaster who had been running the I.S.I. was Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. American officials describe this smart and urbane general as at once engaging and inscrutable, an avid golfer with occasionally odd affectations. During meetings, he will often spend several minutes carefully hand-rolling a cigarette. Then, after taking one puff, he stubs it out.

The grumbling at the C.I.A. about dealing with Pakistan’s I.S.I. comes with a certain grudging reverence for the spy service’s Machiavellian qualities. Some former spies even talk about the Pakistani agency with a mix of awe and professional jealousy.

One senior C.I.A. official, recently retired, said that of all the foreign spymasters the C.I.A. had dealt with, General Kayani was the most formidable and may have earned the most respect at C.I.A. headquarters in Langley, Va. The soft-spoken general, he said, is a master manipulator.

“We admire those traits,” he said.

And in July this year, respected independent analyst and author Ahmed Rashid told Harper's magazine:

This lack of U.S. interest [in the Taliban, instead of Al Qaeda, after the initial invasion of Afghanistan] coincided with the interests of the Pakistani army: to go after Al Qaeda, but to allow the Taliban to resettle in Pakistan. Quite soon the Taliban was once again patronized by the ISI. The reason was that the Pakistani army was deeply offended by the Bonn agreement, which actually gave all power to the Northern Alliance–who were deemed the enemies of Pakistan and the Taliban because they had been backed in the civil war by India, Russia, and Iran (the regional opponents of the Taliban and Pakistan during the 1990s decade-long civil war in Afghanistan). Later, India asserted itself in Afghanistan by opening an embassy and four consulates in Afghanistan and then announced a large reconstruction program in Pakistan. Pakistan’s military told the West that Indian influence was undermining Pakistan’s interests in Afghanistan and also subverting Pakistan by funding and supporting the Baloch insurgency in Balochistan province. Today India’s presumed influence in Afghanistan is the principle gripe of the military. I think the Americans knew quite early what was going on between the military and the Taliban, but were prepared to ignore it as long as Musharraf helped out with Al Qaeda and as long as the United States remained bogged down in Iraq.

That was the principle blindness of the Bush Administration. I describe the ISI’s two-tracked approach in my book: While part of the ISI assisted the Bush Administration, furnishing it with self-serving but at times useful intelligence, the ISI created another, covert section to run its Taliban-support operations. Those who carefully studied the situation were onto this for some time, and I detail it in my book, but the U.S. intelligence agencies have only now issued their study reaching these fairly obvious conclusions—dangerously late in the game.

Although it's only recently that the Bush administration has allowed official leaks of US intelligence misgivings about Pakistan's ISI, it seems possible that they knew a long time ago, and decided to look the other way as long as Pakistan had Musharraf in charge and in turn pretended to be a staunch ally. The bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul, though, may have been a step too far.

As it stands now, Kayani has confirmed and strengthened his control of Pakistan's military and intelligence apparatus. His military has led the way in strong talk (and action) against American incursions into their territory too. He has also successfully rebuffed three recent attempts to strengthen civilian control of the ISI. There's no reason to suspect that the civilian leadership has suddenly found new strength now to dictate a new ISI head to him. Instead, what I believe has happened is that Kayani has become the power behind the weak civilian government's facade. Knowing that the US and others would not tolerate another Musharraf-style dictator, Kayani has instead opted to use a democratic front to his rule.

Update: The received wisdom, however, is that Pasha will be tough on the militants. The Associated Press quotes Hasan Askari Rizvi, a noted Pakistani poliscience professor and author, as saying "Now you have a team in place that includes the new ISI chief ... who shares Kayani's view of how to deal with the insurgency in the tribal area and that is to adopt a tough line," and Ikram Sehgal, Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan), says that Pasha "will act as a force multiplier for the Pakistan military to fight the Taliban."

The accepted narrative is to be that Pasha will help Kayani sway lower echelons of the military and ISI away from their sympathy for and allegiance to the Taliban. Which only works if Ahmed Rashid others are utterly wrong about the uses the Pakistani military have for the Taliban and other terror proxies.

Add to | Digg this

Russia Says US Stonewalling Nuke Reduction Talks

By Cernig
How dumb is it to court the breakdown of decades of nuclear arms treaties and meaningful warhead reductions between the US and Russia?

Republican dumb.

"Negotiations between us and Washington to make sure that after START I treaty expires in December 2009 we have some meaningful strategic arms control regime, these negotiations are not so far heading anywhere," said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START I, between the United States and Soviet Union came was signed in 1991 and eventually resulted in an estimated reduction of around 80 percent of all nuclear weapons in existence at the time.

Speaking on the sidelines of the annual open debate of the U.N. General Assembly, which ends later on Monday, Lavrov said the reason the talks had stalled was that "our American colleagues do not want to keep limits on the delivery vehicles (missile) and on nuclear warheads in storage."

"They only want to keep some limits on the operationally deployed nuclear warheads," he told reporters.

That's the real reason, but the excuse is to prop up McCain's insane chum Saakashvili, a man on borrowed political time anyway. Rather than just come right out and say that they hate treaties of all kinds, the ultra-hawks and neocons still in charge of Bush's main foreign policy direction - and very definitely in charge of McCain's - are using the recent Caucusus conflict to restart the Cold War and unilaterally defeat international agreements (including START and treaties against the weaponization of space)that way.

If the financial meltdown doesn't get us, maybe the nuclear one will.
Add to | Digg this

September 29, 2008

Bailout Fails On House Vote

By Cernig

The bailout bill failed in the House 205-228. Whether you believe the bailout was unpalatable but necessary in some form to help stop a simple depression turning into a Great one, or not, will determine your reaction, I suppose.

KargoX at DKos notes that the story isn't over:

There are still at least 207 Members who will now want to go back to the drawing board and try again in a day or so.

And most of the Members who spoke in opposition to the plan today were clear that they wanted to do something. Just not this.

Congress hasn't adjourned yet. And they don't have to until they're ready to. The people who set that schedule are those who voted in favor of this plan, and you can bet they'll stick around.

We'll make this an open thread and post any updates on the situation and it's fallout here too. I notice the Dow is already down about 700 points today.

Update (By Cernig): AP reports one Republican putting the vote plainly.

"We're all worried about losing our jobs," Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., declared in an impassioned speech in support of the bill before the vote. "Most of us say, 'I want this thing to pass, but I want you to vote for it — not me.' "

With their dire warnings of impending economic doom and their sweeping request for unprecedented sums of money and authority to bail out cash-starved financial firms, Bush and his economic chiefs have focused the attention of world markets on Congress, Ryan added.

"We're in this moment, and if we fail to do the right thing, Heaven help us," he said.

And both stocks and the Dollar continue downward. At one point in it's 705+ point tumble, just after the vote failed, the Dow lost 400 points in 10 minutes. At least one officia close to Paulsonl has predicted that the Dow might tumble up to 4,000 points "in days" if the bailout fails entirely.

So go on, everyone say “no”, as long as you know the downside if you’re wrong.

Here’s the gamble: if the bailout works, good - if not then we’re going down anyways, for multi-trillions, and an extra $700B is just icing on the cake the financiers have already gobbled up. But if we don’t try the bailout we’re all definitely following the fat-cats down and an extra $700B won’t scratch the surface of all that will happen. How certain are you that the bailout is bad? Enough to gamble your kids lives on? The free-market fanatics saying “we have to let the market fail” don’t have a four year old dependent on their $40k a year job, I assure you.

I truly loathe that saving my 4 year old’s future probably means saving rich gits first - but I’m not willing to gamble his future that the rich gits don’t need saved for the sake of the rest of us. It’s “give us the ransom or we kill the baby” stuff.

Update By Cernig: Obama has sent a message to Congress - 'Get it done". And McLatchy writes:

The result was both a surprise, and yet not unexpected. The White House was confident that enough Republicans would support the controversial bill, which had won public support from key leaders.

But the bill also put representatives squarely at odds with their constituents, who'd flooded their offices in recent days with expressions of contempt for the proposed bailout, despite warnings from Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke that defeat of the bill could touch off a credit crisis and trigger a major recession.

The coming days will tell whether it was rhetoric or reality. If credit markets seize up, consumers will face difficulty getting loans to buy cars, send their kids to college or even use their credit cards. Bill Gross, the chief investment officer of Pacific Investment Management Company, the world’s largest bond fund, warned on CNBC television that "a freeze of significant proportions" would soon unfold.

Roy Blunt is blaming Pelosi for the Republican leadership's failure to convince its own people to vote yes. Yet another variant on the Scooby Doo Excuse from the GOP. Following from Bush's lead, not one of them ever admits to simply making a mistake.

Update by Libby: I've stopped trying to figure out the best solution for this a long time ago, but Marc Ambinder makes a good point.

So if McCain wanted credit for passage, should he share some of the blame for its defeat?

Two thirds of half Republicans voted for its defeat...after a weekend of telephone call diplomacy from McCain.

Nancy Pelosi may have given a partisan speech, but she was able to get most of her Democrats on board....

I wonder if McCain will 'suspend' his campaign again in light of this serious turn of events? Maybe he'll have to cancel Sarah's debate because he'll need her expert advice in this time of crisis?

Update By Cernig: The market closed down 778 points, the largest single one-day loss in US history.

Ian Welsh at FDL has a great alternative plan. There's only one trouble - it'd never pass and wouldn't even if every congresscritter was a Dem. No good plan will, only poor
ones that will only alleviate the coming pain a very little. To see why, simply "follow the money".


Add to | Digg this

Foggo Pleads Guilty

By Cernig

News is breaking that Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, former Bush administration Director of the CIA under Porter Goss has admitted his guilt in one count of defrauding the United States. That's out of 30 counts of fraud, conspiracy and money laundering following his involvement in the Duke Cunningham/Brent Wilkes corruption and bribery scandal.

Recently, Foggo had threatened to out agents and burn sensitive government intelligence programs as part of his defense.

So, is this guilty plea a sign that's he's turning and providing prosecutors with information to go after others involved in the scandal, or that the government folded to his threats?

Add to | Digg this

The AIG Of Foreign Affairs

By Cernig

Brandon Friedman has a good analogy:

For the financially-minded who have trouble prioritizing between Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, here's one way to think of it: Pakistan is the AIG of international affairs.  It's on the verge.  And the world has to prevent it from collapsing.  Because if it goes down--nukes and all--it's taking everybody down with it.

It's terrifying to think that George W. Bush and John McCain--blinded by their obsession with Iraq--don't see this.

And at the NY Times, Dexter Filkins writes:

“All roads lead to FATA,” Interior Minister Rehman Malik said.

If the past is any guide, Mr. Malik’s statement is almost certainly correct.

But what Mr. Malik did not say was that those same roads, if he chose to follow them, would very likely loop back to Islamabad itself...the Taliban militias now threatening the stability of Pakistan owe their survival — and much of their present strength — to a succession of Pakistani governments that continues to the present day.

...After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, then-President Pervez Musharraf publicly promised to break with the Taliban. For that, Pakistan was rewarded with nearly $10 billion in American aid. But over the years, something else happened: whatever President Musharraf said in public, the military and intelligence services over which he presided demonstrated every intention of strengthening the Taliban, who fled en masse to the borderlands after their expulsion from Kabul in November 2001.

Over the years, the evidence has been too obvious to ignore. In 2002, for instance, Mr. Musharraf ordered the arrest of some 2,000 suspected militants — many of whom had trained in Pakistani-sponsored camps. Weeks later, without fanfare, he released nearly all of them.

...The Pakistanis have launched a series of offensives, and all of them have ended with the militants stronger than ever. It may be that the Pakistan Army is too inept to destroy the Taliban, but there is abundant evidence suggesting that at least some elements of the army do not want to do that.

“I would not rule out the possibility that explicit deals were made by the military,” the American military official said.

With the arrival of Pakistan’s new civilian government last February, the situation seems more intractable than ever.

But Pakistan's civilian government are following the same policy of outright public deial as Musharraf did. There's not even a suggestion that there might be some "bad apples" still inside the military and ISI intelligence agency. Yesterday, President Zardari told Wolf Blitzer, among other things, that he has complete control of the military. I doubt many believed him.

Which is not to say I agree with US incursions into Pakistan. On the contrary, I think they're dangerously destabilizing. I've said previously that the second part of Barack Obama's policy on Pakistan is the bit he should be concentrating upon.

Add to | Digg this

September 28, 2008

Viral Video - Head Of Skate

By Cernig

Warning, remove all hot liquids from your vicinity before viewing this video. It'll hurt when you snarf them all over your monitor.

(Bumped because I finally figured out where the embed code was and you really should watch this, it's that good.)

Add to | Digg this

Zaradri Gives Another Version Of Marriott Dinner Tale

By Cernig

We've heard from the Interior Minister that a dinner for government officials at the Islamabad Marriot was moved at the last minute due to intelligence recieved, and from the manager at the Marriott that there was never a dinner booked at all.

Now President Zardari tells Wolf Blitzer another version. The dinner was moved three days before the bomb attack and there was no intelligence tip-off to occasion the move. A massive "thank you" to Heather from the Crooks and Liars team for providing this clip:

I wonder if even this one is the truth? But the point is that American leaders - particularly John McCain - seem willing to trust this sometimes-suicidal conman and his government as staunch allies in the war on terror. They can't even tell the truth about a freaking dinner date!

Later in the interview Zaradri drew a connection between the Marriott bombing and his wife's death.

BLITZER: Do you feel that those who killed your wife, Benazir Bhutto, are out after you as well?

ZARDARI: Obviously, those are the same groups which tried to take us -- take out the Marriott. It's the same...

BLITZER: You think, the same Al Qaida-related group?

ZARDARI: I think it's the same kind of Al Qaida-related group. I think they're all related, one way or the other. I don't see a difference from one to the other.

The ISI, of course, could arguably be described as "an Al Qaeda related group" too. I'm just saying.

Add to | Digg this

Bailout: Deal Or Trap?

By Cernig

Apparently, there's a tentative deal for a revised bailout plan on the Hill, and lawmakers now hope to get it ready for an announcement before Asian markets open on Monday and a quick vote.

According to Reuters today, the deal involves:

- A structured layout where $300 billion would be allocated immediately, $100 billion would be reserved under presidential discretion for later allocation if needed and the remaining $350 billion under only the say-so of Congress.

- Taxpayers would gain stock warrants in companies using bailout money - an asset stake and an opportunity for future profits to recompense any federal outlay.

-  Executives would have their Golden Parachutes cut off if their company used bailout money.

- There will be an oversight board and management also would be under close scrutiny by Congress' investigative arm and an independent inspector general.

- the government could use its power as the owner of mortgages and mortgage-backed securities to help more struggling homeowners modify the terms of their home loans.

- "In the end, House Republicans won support for a provision that would create a privately funded insurance program for mortgage-backed securities, congressional aides said."

- "Democrats jettisoned proposals that would have put money into a trust fund for affordable housing and would have allowed judges to alter the terms of mortgages for bankrupt borrowers, according to aides."

Of course, there's a possibility that Dems will fall into a trap of the GOP's making. Republican talking heads are still urging the GOP to walk away from the bailout or various provisions of the deal. They're simply playing politics with imminent finacial disaster, aware that most people are outraged that taxpayers are having to bail oit fat-cats at banks and investment houses and fanning that outrage in an attempt to tie Bush and the bailout to Democrats before the November elections. They're hoping, in their zeal, that people will forget that it was Republican pushes for deregulation and lack of oversight (the "free" market) that caused the problem in the first place.

Meanwhile, John McCain's campaign is getting ready to jump on whichever bandwagon looks like it will travel farthest. Today on the talking heads shows, "at the same time that Sen. John McCain was saying that he didn't deserve credit for getting a economic bailout package to the brink of completion, his campaign's chief strategist was arguing that the Senator played an integral role".

And it's still uncertain that House leaders can drum up enough votes to pass the bill over Republican obstructionism for petty political ends. It's telling that they expect to get their Republican support from those not facing re-election this year - in other words those Republicans who can vote for sense instead of political grandstanding.

So yes, it might become a political trap for Dems. But what else to do? play the same game as the Republicans and watch the economy go down? This isn't just about big numbers, it's about people's lives. Even if the people who would all be affected don't quite get that, no matter how unpleasant it is to save the fat-cats asses, the fat-cats have put us in the position where it's unavoidable if we're to save our own asses too. The bailout may not work - there are many who say it won't - but in the meantime Dems will have tried to shield common folk from the massive social and lifestyle fallout of a crash. That's worth doing, in my view, even at this horrendous price tag.

Add to | Digg this

US/India Nuke Deal Passes House

By Cernig

The big bits of news this week are the financial crisis and the Presidential race and it seems few even among political wonks care much about other matters. But the US/India nuke deal is a particularly lost bit of bad news - few have cared from word one that the US was about to embark upon a deal that would fatally undermine the NPT, encourage India to build (and test) more nukes and thus add new impetus to a regional arms race, drive Pakistan further towards China and give most of the cash benefits to Russian and French companies, AREVA and Atomstroyexport, who are the two main international contractors for new reactors.

Now, the US having bullied and cajolled the Nuclear Suppliers Group into accepting the deal, it has sailed through the House with Democratic backing and only has the Senate to pass as a final hurdle. At least someone there has the sense to urge extreme caution - unnamed Democrats have put a hold on the bill.

President George W. Bush said in a statement that House passage of the legislation was "another major step forward in achieving the transformation of the U.S.-India relationship."

He urged the Senate to approve it quickly so he could sign it into law. "Signing this bipartisan bill will help strengthen our partnership with India," Bush said.

Critics argue the deal undermines efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and sets a precedent allowing other nations to seek to buy such technology without submitting to the full range of global nonproliferation safeguards.

The agreement has drawn criticism from nonproliferation advocates because India has shunned the Nonproliferation Treaty meant to stop the spread and production of nuclear weapons as well as a companion international pact banning nuclear tests.

In the Senate, a vote has been held up by the objections of some Democrats, said congressional aides who declined to name those blocking a vote.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, urged his colleagues to drop their resistance, noting that under special rules for consideration of the nuclear deal it can ultimately be brought to a vote.

"For people who are concerned about the Indian nuclear agreement, and there are several senators that have concerns about that, all we would be doing is running out the time," he said.

"There's statutory time we have. ... We can run that out. At the end of that time, senators have 10 hours of debate time and then we vote. So there are very few hurdles we have to jump on that," he added.

"Special arrangements" too. The fix is so in. I wish I thought that America would get out of this deal what the Bush administration thinks it will - but I don't. India isn't going to toe any US line - it's already preparing deals with Iran on trade with Afghanistan and on gas pipelines, with China on even more nuclear technology and with various providers for arms. India plans to be a major power and the US is simply one source of aide for that objective, not its new BBF.

Add to | Digg this

September 27, 2008

Dangerous Liasons

By Cernig

Over at The Guardian today, Wajahat Ali writes a whole lot of sense about America's banking on new Pakistani President Zardari and on bipartisan policy plans to essentially continue Bush's love for unprincipled scoundrels in charge of that reluctant ally in the War on Terror.

With a deadly terrorist bomb blast at the Islamabad Marriott killing nearly 60 last week and a marked increase in suicide blasts inside Pakistan's borders, one can only hope the US learns from the error of its siding with thugs, thieves and dictators in Pakistan for the past 30 years or thereabouts. Instead, the administration, and even the Democrats, is now siding with Zardari, a known felon and thief, who – if we are to believe his own doctors – was suicidal and incoherent just a year ago. Yet, we seem doomed to repeat a myopic policy in yet another desperate attempt to aggressively pursue terrorists hiding within the North-West Frontier province Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

If Zardari still harbours those same psychological demons, a surefire politically suicidal move would be to unconditionally support Bush's recent, shortsighted "offensive" policy; one that directly threatens Pakistan's sovereignty and emboldens the militants within its borders. Unfortunately, in my recent interview with Howard Dean it seems the Democrats would follow suit in order to hunt al-Qaida and appear strong in the "war on terror". Instead, this policy should be thoroughly re-examined and critically questioned in order to avoid a massive, inevitable blowback, further destabilising an already fragile nation state with access to nuclear weapons.

If anything, it would temporarily diffuse the rampant anger and disgust proliferating amongst the Pakistani people. Many who believe the US is merely installing and supporting, via a sham-democratic process, yet another puppet to serve its own interests.

Spot on.

Add to | Digg this

The Tangled Web Of Command

By Cernig

Dubya always says he listens to his commanders - but which ones? An awful lot of the commanders he disagrees with resign, leaving yes-men to replace them. And, as Jeff Huber points out, the chain of command in the "War On Terror" seems almost designed to foster dissent and confusion among military commanders, leaving Bush to pick and choose which leaders to listen to at any time as suits his own policy.

It's generally accepted among modern military thinkers that unity of command is the principle of warfare that makes all the other principles—objective, offensive, maneuver, economy of force, etc.—possible to achieve. In the civilian world, you do the bidding of whoever who signs your paycheck. In the military, you follow orders from the guy who signs your fitness report. If you have a major operation in which the signature trail doesn't pyramid up to one guy, you have a cluster bomb on your hands.

... The U.S. helicopters the Pakistanis shot at on September 25 were part of the NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). ISAF works for Allied Command Operations (ACO), which works for Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (SACUER), U.S. Army General John Craddock, who works in the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) in Belgium and is dual hatted as Commander, U.S European Command (EUCOM) headquartered in Germany.

The helicopters that Pakistani troops shot at on September 3 were part of American Special Operations forces, who work full time for U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) which is headquartered in Florida. SOCOM encompasses Army Rangers and Navy Seals and other SPECOP outfits, and is the only unified command to have its own budget, making it a virtual separate service in the U.S. military command structure.

The CIA, which virtually operates like a separate country, is in charge of the unmanned aerial vehicles we use to assassinate—or try to assassinate—evildoers in Pakistan with Hellfire missiles. The CIA has help controlling these complicated drones, of course. They aircraft are flown by Air Force personnel from an operations center at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, which is located in the area of responsibility of U.S. Northern Command (NORCOM) headquartered in Colorado. NORCOM dual hats as commander of the North America Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), the outfit that was resting up to track Santa on Christmas Eve when 9/11 happened.

The Bananastans lie in the area of responsibility belonging to the commander of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), headquartered, like SOCOM, in Florida. General David Petraeus just took charge of CENTCOM, and he must being experiencing military culture shock. As a combatant commander in the unified command structure, Petraeus is supposed to be in control of everything that happens in his area. But as we saw, his predecessor, Admiral William Fox Fallon didn't have control of everything in his area because Petraeus was in charge of Iraq, and Petraeus went around Fallon's back—and everybody else's back—and took orders straight from the White House.

Talk about geese and ganders; now Petraeus is the one getting potty blocked from all angles.

For the Bush administration, this is a feature rather than a bug - they can always find some commander or another who will agree with Dubya and push the party line. But what it does for actual effective fighting is another matter entirely. Yet again, style trumps substance.

Add to | Digg this

Bailout Deal By Monday

By Cernig

Both Senate Democrats and Republicans are saying they expect all the parts of a bipartisan deal on the financial crisis to be hammered out by Sunday, with a vote to come on Monday. One of the provisions dropped by Dems seeking bipartisan agreement will be that judges can order mortgage rates or other terms of bad loans reset. Democratic leaders just don't want to be seen as backing the Bush administration when Bush's own party won't - not going into elections. Many Republicans are worried that if they don't back a deal and a financial collapse occurs, they'll be left holding the can for being uncooperative.

Meanwhile, the next bank on the distressed list is Wachovia, who are seeking a merger to stave off going the same way as WaMu.

And still, during last night's debate, neither Presidential candidate was willing to unilaterally take the step of telling America that their budget and priority project plans are now worth just as much as the paper the bank's toxic debts are written on. Probably for fear that the other would pounce on any such admission.

Come on, McCain and Obama - get your aides together and hammer out your own bipartisan deal. At least tell the voters that "no new taxes" has gone the way of the Dodo.

Add to | Digg this

September 26, 2008

Hope And Gory Glory

By Cernig

Well, the first debate just ended and Barack Obama put himself firmly in the Democratic hawk tradition. Other than the Iraq withdrawal - to which he's too firmly committed to backtrack - and the "negotiate with our enemies" which is standard Democratic fare even for hawks, he took a decidely belligerent line:

- He quite categorically stated that Iran's 4,000 centrifuges are "to develop a nuclear weapon" - something the IAEA authority hasn't proven and the last NIE on Iran disagreed with.

- McCain said that a nuclear Iran would "compel" others in the region to seek nukes and Obama agreed. But what about israel, the actual, real nuclear power in the region? Does it 'compel" a response too then? Neither candidate even mentioned Israel other than to say it was under an existential threat. Both were engaged in the AIPAC money hunt but McCain won by being more belligerently anti-Iran than Obama and making sure everyone knew it.

- If anything, he was more hawkish than McCain on Pakistan, although McCain's idea of a Surge for Afghanistan and praying Petraeus can pull it off is a real crap shoot which experts on the tribal tensions of the region say is highly unlikely to suceed.

- He agreed wholeheartedly with McCain that Georgia and other countries in Russia's "near foreign" must be brought into NATO, that Russia was outrageously aggressive in Georgia and that steps must be taken to restrict Russian expansionism in search of lost Empire. Yet the evidence says that Russia's response was far more moderate than it could have been to an unannounced attack by the main force of Georgia's military on a region where Russia had a peacekeeping role and that Russia is keeping to the terms of the ceasefire as they are interpreting it. The US or any other major power wouldn't have been any softer in their actions. But...for both Mccain and Obama it's back to the Cold war, where their aged senior foreign policy advisers feel most comfortable and where the Red Menace can again do sterling duty in vote-winning.

- He backed the multi-million dollar boondoggle that is missile defense, despite the current plans being only a gateway to weaponisation of space, requiring the abrogation of key arms control treaties. No mention of how co-operation with Russia on policing loose nuclear materials is to be accomplished while simultaneously demonising Russia or rubbing Russian faces in US/NATO encroachment and erosion of their own deterrent from either candidate.

Both candidates tied hope to gory glory tonight, and that's where Obama blew it. He's never going to be seen as hawkish enough by Republicans or hawk independents and he's just disillusioned progressive doves who had talked themselves into believing he was anything other than an Albright Hawk to begin with. "Blinky" McCain, I think, will be seen by most voters as having won this debate. He'll have done so by out-warmongering Obama, by sticking to his soundbites more and by being more wrong but sure and consistent about it rather than Obama being right.

Update: Steve Clemons had many of the same misgivings I did. Steve Benen thinks Obama came out ahead on points. And Marc Ambinder has some initial figures:

40% of uncommitted voters who watched the debate tonight thought Barack Obama was the winner. 22% thought John McCain won. 38% saw it as a draw.

68% of these voters think Obama would make the right decision about the economy. 41% think McCain would.

49% of these voters think Obama would make the right decisions about Iraq. 55% think McCain would.

It looks like I'm in a minority on my opinion, but once the campaigns get partial transcripts and edited clips out there, showing their man in his best light and their opponent in his worst, that could change.

Add to | Digg this

IAEA's Syrian Contact Assassinated, Stalling Nuclear Probe Options

By Cernig

IAEA head Mohammed el Baradei says the atom watchdog has been delayed in its investigation of what, exactly, was in the Box On The Euphrates that Israel bombed back in September 2007.

The reason - their liason in the Syrian government was assassinated.

"The reason that Syria has been late in providing additional information (is) that our interlocutor has been assassinated in Syria," ElBaradei told a closed-door session of the International Atomic Energy Agency's 35-member board. A recording of his remarks was obtained by AFP.

ElBaradei apparently did not provide any details on the circumstances of the murder of the group's liaison, nor on his identity. But the AFP cites various Arab media reports noting the assassination of Brig. Gen. Mohammed Sleiman (or Mohamed Suleiman) in the northern port town of Tartus in early August, describing him as a military advisor to Syrian president Bashar al Assad and Syria's liaison to Hezbollah. The LAT says intelligence experts have long suspected Suleiman was in charge of Syria's alleged nuclear and chemical weapons programs.

ElBaradei has apparently been pushed by some dozen IAEA members, including the US, to complete his report on the Syria investigation by November. He insisted to the closed door meeting today that he was not being evasive.

Now, who do you think would kill a top Syrian general to slow down an investigation of whether Israel had just cause to flout international law with a Bush Doctrine preventative attack on its neighbour?

Haaretz today:

During Sunday's cabinet meeting, in which Olmert announced his resignation, he said: "I believe the processes the government of Israel has enacted under my leadership in various areas, those that can be told and those that cannot, will yet receive their proper place in the history of the State of Israel."

Olmert did not go into detail, but over the past year, in September 2007 the nuclear facility Syria was building was bombed; Hezbollah attributes to Israel the assassination of a senior leader, Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus in February; the foreign press reported the blowing up of a chemical weapons factory in Syria, in which dozens of Iranian and Syrian technicians were killed; an Iranian Revolutionary Guards convoy delivering weapons to Hezbollah was blown up near Tehran. No one claimed responsibility for these actions.

Want to bet no-one claims this one either?

And for those pointing to today's Guardian story claiming that Bush told Israel they couldn't attack Iran - and Israel listened - consider this from the same Haaretz piece:

...The Mossad's main thrust under Dagan has been to thwart Iran's nuclear plans. According to several sources, Israel managed by diplomatic pressure to obtain a delay of as much as a decade in Iran's attaining nuclear capability, even if it has not been stopped..."Thwarting" involves psychological warfare, leaks to the international media and diplomatic moves to embarrass the Iranians and enlist Western countries against it.

The Guardian story is based upon official leaks from "senior European diplomatic sources" who "work for a European head of government who met the Israeli leader some time after the Bush visit." The most likely candidate for that head of state is France's Sarkozy and he's been very hawkish on Iran too.

I read the Guardian story as more planted agitprop to keep up pressure on Iran with an on-again-off-again threat of Israeli attack. I call that underhandedly manipulating world opinion rather than dealing with the issues fairly - your mileage might vary. And I suspect that the Syrian general got "thwarted" too, because he might say the wrong things (i.e. not fitting Israel's narrative of clear and present danger) to the IAEA.

Add to | Digg this

Dems Block Iran Blockade Call

By Cernig

As the campaign season heats to boiling and the fiscal ship ploughs towards that iceberg, it's time for some good news - Dems have blocked "sense of the Congress" amendments that would have rubberstamped a naval blockade of Iran. Any such blockade would be an act of war.

Howard L. Berman, California Democrat and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he has concerns about the current text and will not bring it before the committee until those issues are addressed. That, in effect, blocks the document from reaching the floor.

"If Congress is to make a statement of policy, it should encompass a strategy on how to gain consensus on multilateral sanctions to change Iran's behavior," Lynne Weil, a spokeswoman for committee, said in reference to Tehran's defiance of three U.N. Security Council resolutions.

...A similar draft has been introduced in the Senate. Although its language appears to be less controversial than the House version, it will not reach the floor either, officials said. The current House legislative session is scheduled to adjourn Friday. The Senate has not set a target date for adjournment.

AIPACS boosters are furious, of course.

But despite what the "bomb Iran" crowd are trying to spin, the last IAEA report gave no cause for added impetus to anti-Iran moves. That's reflected in the simple fact that the Bush administration has acquiesced to Russia's opinion that no new sanctions are needed with hardly a murmur. Instead a new UNSC resolution will simply be a waste of paper, reaffirming the unity of the six powers and the continuation of existing sanctions.

Add to | Digg this

Ship Seized By Pirates Had Tanks Aboard

By Cernig

A Ukrainian vessel captured by pirates while on its way to Somalia had a military cargo aboard, including 30 T-72 tanks according to reports.

That would be a significant and potentially dangerous seizure in Somalia, where Islamist insurgents have been battling the government and its Ethiopian military allies for nearly two years.

Although the subject of a U.N. arms embargo, the Horn of Africa nation is awash with arms.

Reports that tanks had been taken by pirates also raised questions about their original planned destination.

"Some say it was carrying about 38 tanks, others say 30," said Andrew Mwangura, of the Mombasa-based East African Seafarers' Assistance Programme.

"In the past, military equipment has come through Mombasa on its way to south Sudan, but we have not seen any south Sudanese officials at the port waiting. And anyway, there is an arms embargo for Sudan."

Before its Orange Revolution, Ukraine was one of the worst illegal arms traders in the world. It would certainly stymie plans to accept it as a NATO member if it turned out Ukrainian companies were still widely involved in the illegal arms trade.

Meanwhile, Russia is to continue its military outreach, setting itself up as a clear multi-polar alternative to the US, with an anti-piracy mission off the Horn of Africa.

"In the future the Russian navy will send its ships on a regular basis to zones where there is a danger from maritime piracy," navy spokesman Igor Dygalo told the Vesti-24 television station.

He said one Russian warship left its base on the Baltic Sea on Sept. 24 heading for the area off Somalia's coast to tackle pirates operating there.

Pirates have already seized 30 ships this year off the Somali coats and are holding some 200 crewmen from 12 ships to ransom.

Add to | Digg this

Billions From Heaven

By Cernig

I keep reading about the Republican Eric Cantor's plan being better than Paulson's Folly because it says banks, financial firms and other investors holding toxic mortgage securities would pay premiums to the Treasury to finance the insurance coverage. The idea is that institutions holding higher-risk securities would require higher premiums and the whole thing would involve the investment houses forking over instead of the taxpayer.

Huh? This whole plan relies on most people thinking "insurance" just flies out of the heavenly spheres fully formed. But no-one knows how much these toxic debts are worth and it seems to me that if no-one can set a fair price for buying them outright, then no-one can set a fair premium for them. The premium, following good insurance practice, given that these debts are toxic and pretty much certain to result in payouts anyway, should be as near to the costs of just taking them on outright as makes no difference anyways. Think of it as just a form of gambling - you don't give decent odds to someone betting on a sure thing. That is, the costs of insurance will be exactly the same to the taxpayer in 2008 dollars as the costs of the Paulson bailout - just kicked down the road instead of right now. By which time, inflation and prospects for the dollar being what they are, they'll cost one heck of a lot more. And along the way, the Republican plan will have drained some more liquidity out of the financial system and helped finance house along the road to insolvency as the banks will have to reserve money to pay premiums that they could be lending to Main Street USA at financially sound terms instead.

It looks like a political shell game to me, relying on common ignorance about insurance to push a plan that is actually functionally worse than the one it would replace while having almost exactly the same long-term costs to the taxpayer, only disguised in the short term for the GOP's political advantage. "Look how much we saved taxpayers!" It would also, according to Cantor's bullet points, remove " regulatory and tax barriers" - the same old Republican mutton dressed as lamb.

The other Republican plan floating around - that there be less regulation, more tax cuts and a suspension of capital gains tax for assets that are worth less than paid for them - is just dumb economically. It's a transparent attempt to hand ownership of the crisis to Dem's by throwing a spanner in the works then proclaiming loudly that they preside over a "do nothing Congress" and have wrecked the economy by their failure to act.

Warren Buffett today was quite clear where that kind of petty political obstructionism is going:

“We are looking over a precipice in terms of the economic condition of the country for the next few years,” Buffett said during an interview on the Fox Business Channel. “If Congress doesn't help us on this, heaven help us.”

So we have two alternatives, because Paulson's Folly really is dead. The Republican alternative calls for kicking the can down the road, increasing taxpayer costs thereby, making no meaningful plans to regulate financial services and even so leaving the taxpayer empty-handed at the end of it all. The Dem plan puts the costs up front but in tranches so that no-one is running away with taxpayers money without accounting for it and leaves the taxpayer owning a sizable chunk of admittedly partially damaged banks. Where's the debate?

Update: Something else just occured to me. It has been suggested that some of the toxic debt might not be so toxic after all and that some might even show a profit if the Treasury could "hold to maturity". If so, Cantor's plan really is outrageous because it would let the finance houses keep the profit for such while the taxpayer indemnifies them for the bad. And if the banks can in any way identify which portion of their toxic debt might be good at "hold to maturity" prices, they don't even need to pay the insurance premiums on that portion. The manager of the country’s largest bond mutual fund thinks his team can indeed seperate the truly bad from the potentially good, and has offered to do the job for the Treasury for free.

Add to | Digg this

September 25, 2008

Pakistani Troops Fire At US 'Copters, US Admits

By Cernig

There have now, so far as I know, been three reported incidents of Pakistani troops firing at US helicopters since the 15th of this month. This last time, though, US officials are admitting it...but their story still differs from the Pakistani one.

Two American OH-58 reconnaissance helicopters, known as Kiowas, were on a routine afternoon patrol in the eastern province of Khost when they received small-arms fire from a Pakistani border post, said Tech Sgt. Kevin Wallace, a U.S. military spokesman. There was no damage to aircraft or crew, officials said.

U.S. Central Command spokesman Rear Adm. Greg Smith said Pakistan and American ground troops exchanged fire after Pakistani forces shot at the helicopters.

He said a joint patrol of Americans and Afghan border police was moving about a mile and a half inside Afghanistan with the helicopters above them. The ground troops reported that Pakistani forces fired toward the helicopters and when they saw that happen, they fired off suppression rounds toward the hilltop.

They did so, Smith said from Centcom headquarters in Tampa, Fla., "to make certain that they (the Pakistanis) realized they should stop shooting."

The Pakistani border patrol forces then shot back down on the joint location of the U.S.-Afghan patrol. "The whole thing lasted five minutes," Smith said.

The Pakistani authorities, on the other hand, say that the helicopters were flying inside Pakistan's airspace and were driven off by the fire.

Zardari, ridiculously and appeasingly, said at the UN that his forces only fire flares to warn of such incursions. If Zardari said the sky was blue I'd look up to check - the man should stick to making passes at Sarah Palin and give up trying to run his country. He's not really in charge anyway, General Kayani is. The Pakistani military have made it clear that any incursions will be stopped "at all costs" and that they will open fire, and they have the backing of over 80% of the populace to do so. Now the US is finally admitting that they meant it.

What now?

Well, for one thing this clash of policies is one of the main reasons I am pretty much convinced, now, that Afghanistan is becoming an untenable occupation for the US and its Western allies. There’s not enough troops to provide stability for long enough, even if there were there’s not enough reconstruction and reconcilliation and even if there was there’s not enough regional goodwill for American adventurism. And, there's no alternative to Pakistani supply routes if McCain and the neocons in the Bush administration insist on playing silly buggers with Russia. I've always supported the invasion of Afghanistan so that's not an analysis I aprticularly want to make, but I set out my current reasoning, along with a little hope for the future, here.

Add to | Digg this

Germany - US Will Lose Financial Superpower Status

By Cernig

The German finance minister has blamed the world's financial crisis on Anglo-Saxon greed and said that the finaincial world will now become more multi-polar, with the US losing its superpower status as the world's financial powerhouse.

"The world will never be as it was before the crisis," Steinbrueck, a deputy leader of the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), told the Bundestag lower house.

"The United States will lose its superpower status in the world financial system. The world financial system will become more multi-polar," he said.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose conservatives rule in coalition with the SPD, and Steinbrueck both pushed the Group of Eight (G8) to agree measures to boost financial market transparency during Germany's presidency of the G8 last year.

But their drive collapsed amid opposition from Washington and London. Merkel criticized their stance at the weekend, saying the days of laissez-faire capitalism were over.

... Steinbrueck, in one of the harshest attacks on U.S. policies from a G8 ally, denounced what he called an Anglo-Saxon drive for double-digit profits and massive bonuses for bankers and company executives.

"Investment bankers and politicians in New York, Washington and London were not willing to give these up," he said.

At the UN, other world leaders have echoed the German criticism, including France's Sarkozy, who has called for an overhaul of a "crazy" financial system. A German plan to do just that would instate new accountability for executives responsible for financial mistakes, an increase in bank's capital requirements and a worldwide ban on "purely speculative" short-selling.

None of the three big European economic nations - France, Germany and Britain - have come out in favor of a toxic asset bailout plan for banks such as the one proposed in the US.

Add to | Digg this

September 24, 2008

McCain Campaign's Ghost Letters To The Editor

By Cernig

I don't know if it's illegal but it for damn sure is immoral:

I spent a morning in John McCain's Virginia campaign headquarters ghost-writing letters to the editor for McCain supporters to sign. I even pretended to have a son in Iraq.

..."You can be whoever you want to be," says an inviting [McCain campaign worker] Phil Tuchman. "You can be a beggar or a millionaire. A mom or a husband. Whatever. You decide!"

...The assignment is simple: We are going to write letters to the editor and we are allowed to make up whatever we want -- as long as it adds to the campaign. After today we are supposed to use our free moments at home to create a flow of fictional fan mail for McCain. "Your letters," says Phil Tuchman, "will be sent to our campaign offices in battle states. Ohio. Pennsylvania. Virginia. New Hampshire. There we'll place them in local newspapers."

Place them? I may be wrong, but I thought that in the USA only a newspaper's editors decided that.

"We will show your letters to our supporters in those states," explains Phil. "If they say: 'Yeah, he/she is right!' then we ask them to sign your letter. And then we send that letter to the local newspaper. That's how we send dozens of letters at once."

No newspaper can refuse a stream of articulate expressions of support, is the thought behind it. "This way, we will always get into some letters column."

First McPoints for blog commenters, now this. Is there a single part of the McCain campaign's outreach on issues that is honestly come by?

Add to | Digg this

Bush: This Crisis Goes Up To 11...9/11

By Cernig

Bush has made an address to the nation which Steve Clemons notes pushed all the right buttons to stampede Joe Public. This crisis, like a Spinal tap concert, goes all the way up to 11...9/11.

Tonight, George Bush succeeded I think in scaring Americans that this crisis could be a systemic threat. Bush said "our entire economy is in danger."

That's the fear button. He pushed it. And he said the clock was ticking.

This seems like a bad episode of "24."

What is shocking about the presentation by Bush -- and the deal that is unfolding is that we don't see any acceptance of responsibility for the failure of his team's stewardship of the economy. We didn't hear acknowledgment that the compulsive deregulation mantra of Bush's political and economic allies created a massive bubble where lots of billionaires were created and now tens of millions of less fortunate Americans are holding the bill.

We didn't hear Bush say that it's time to reverse the tax cuts that he put in place to help those who have already benefited from the perverse finance and housing bubble that was pumped up.

Yet we know the Bush administration was working on the paulson plan for at least a month before it was revealed. They could have chosen to do their bipartisan talking back then and come up with an agreement that everyone would back, one that would work. Instead, they're using "shock and awe" to steamroller America into a set of hasty, bad decisions that would hand the administration unprecedented power - just as they did after 9/11.

It's almost as if they're thinking "Let’s see if we can get the rest."

Add to | Digg this

Sanders Takes Kudlow To Task

By Cernig

Wonderful stuff, Bernie!

Sanders takes Kudlow to task for supporting socialism for rich folks but not for universal healthcare.

Add to | Digg this

What To Do With $1 Trillion In A Crisis

By Cernig Titanic Like many, the more I have heard about the Bush administration's plan to hand Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson the Supreme Executive Power to conduct what they say will be a bailout that will stave of a new Great Depression, the more I dislike and distrust it. Thank goodness it's apparently dead after Congressional hostility.

The Treasury's plan to spend up to $700 billion of taxpayers' money to bail out the nation's financial system was recognized as dead Wednesday as lawmakers in Congress made clear that they're going to make significant changes.

Congress intends to add terms ensuring stronger oversight of any bailout, more aid to homeowners facing foreclosure and possibly trimming back the cost of the package, at least initially.

No wonder Congress wants a different plan. For a start, Henry Paulson has a conflict of interest problem. Goldman Sachs, the firm he used to be CEO for and from which he has drawn a coterie of revolving-door aides while at the Treasury will be one of the biggest beneficiaries of his bailout plan. It has also now been revealed that the Administration have been putting together their "shock doctrine" plan for months despite Paulson's assertion six months ago that "our institutions, our banks and investment banks, are strong". Together with Bernanke's insistence that regulation should only be considered after the Paulson plan is approved should give us all more than enough reason to wonder whether we're being right royally conned.

But then you add in the opinion of one of Paulson's former Goldman colleagues who jumped ship, John Talbott:

(T)he problems with the bailout are significant and aren't just faced by Goldman Sachs. This is not a liquidity crisis; this is just like Japan in 1991. This is a bad loan problem and a failure by the banks to recognize those losses because it threatens their solvency. Going in and buying a bunch of assets from these banks and investment banks at 30 cents to the dollar makes the problem worse, not better.

You have to wonder if the original plan wasn't just the ultimate expression of the Bush years - combining a final orgasmic featherbedding for fat-cats with an unprecedented executive power grab. No wonder even Republicans (even Gingrich!) are finally turned on the administration after eight years of lockstep, even to the point of telling Dick Cheney where to get off.

The Bush administration were full of what their plan would do but if any plan for managing this crisis doesn't address bank insolvency it won't solve a darn thing. What it will do is drive the dollar to unprecedented lows- to the point where it might be vulnerable to a run or even lose it's status as the currency of choice for the world. Because $700 billion isn't even the full and final bill - not by a long chalk - and the Bush administration had actually planned to flush even more than $700 billion down the tube.

What was perhaps even more worrying for investors was an item in the small print of Hank Paulson’s rescue plan. It said that, separate to the $700bn markets rescue package, the US Treasury would plunder the Exchange Stabilisation Fund – the US currency reserves, established in the 1930s – in order to pay for an insurance scheme for the money markets.

“The Treasury has committed the nation’s FX reserves to supporting the money market industry,” said Chris Turner, head of foreign exchange strategy at ING. “That suggests to us that the dollar has fallen down the list of the administration’s priorities – a worrying development for foreign investors in the US.”

Analysts are already said reserve managers in central banks in China and elsewhere would treat this as a justification for selling off some of their massive mountain of dollar-denominated investments.

That $700 billion could be used to reimburse banks, home owners, and local governments for nearly 9 million foreclosures or to prevent over 200 million foreclosures. Those would be positive steps, helping homeowners first and foremost, helping insolvent financial institutions out of their hole as a byproduct and restoring credit liquidity thereby. But the Bush administration decided to help only the big institutions and went as far as saying that denying CEO's golden parachutes - even when they reward rotten decisions - would be a step too far.

If you want to influence the plan that eventually makes it out of Congress - and you should, since it'll be you going thousands into debt to pay for it - you might consider signing on as a citizen co-sponsor to Senator Bernie Sanders petition letter to Treasury Secretary Paulson. Sanders and Democratic lawmakers need some backup - send a clear message that middle income and working families shouldn't be the ones paying for this fat-cat rescue plan, that a real bailout plan must include a major economic recovery package which puts Americans to work at decent wages and that the disastrous deregulatory legislation that created this crisis must be repealed.  Because otherwise, you can kiss goodbye to universal health care, transforming our energy system, helping people pay for college, and so on.

Bush is feeling the pressure to make a deal which actually does something worthwhile, rather than simply rush through Paulson's Folly.

not long before his planned 12-minute address to the nation from the grand East Room, Bush took the unusual step of calling Democrat Barack Obama to invite him to the White House for the meeting on Thursday, said presidential spokeswoman Dana Perino. The White House said the presidential invitation was also extended to Republican John McCain and to Republican and Democratic leaders from Capitol Hill.

Intensive, personal wheeling and dealing is not usually Bush's style as president, unlike some predecessors. He does not often call or meet with individual lawmakers to push a legislative priority.

Obama spokesman Bill Burton said the senator would attend and "will continue to work in a bipartisan spirit and do whatever is necessary to come up with a final solution." The plans of the other invitees were unknown, and the exact details of the meeting, which Perino said was aimed at making fast progress to stem the biggest financial meltdown in decades, were still being set.

In another move welcome at the White House, Obama and McCain issued a joint statement urging lawmakers — in dire terms — to act.

"Now is a time to come together Democrats and Republicans in a spirit of cooperation for the sake of the American people," it said. "The plan that has been submitted to Congress by the Bush administration is flawed, but the effort to protect the American economy must not fail."

Help keep the pressure on.

Add to | Digg this

Regular Army Brigade Tapped For "Homeland" Law Enforcement

By Cernig

Over at Salon, Glenn Greenwald is wondering: Why is a U.S. Army brigade being assigned to the "Homeland"?

Which is a question you should be asking too, especially if you thought Posse Comitatus still protected U.S. citizens from having the regular military used for domestic law enforcement.

This is a permanent new role for the military. Once the current Brigade, to be known as CCMRF (pronounced "sea-smurf", I kid you not) finishes its tour of duty, another will roll in to take its place.

Add to | Digg this

Iraq Approves Partial Election Law

By Cernig

It looks like the long-delayed Iraqi provincial election law will finally be approved by all parties - kinda.

The legislation had been bogged down in a complex dispute between Arabs and Kurds over power sharing in the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, which Kurds seek to incorporate into their semiautonomous region.

Lawmakers acknowledged the delay in passing the measure would make it difficult for the electoral commission to organize the vote and pushed back the deadline for it to be held until Jan. 31, 2009.

The measure still needs to be approved by the three-member presidential panel led by President Jalal Talabani, himself a Kurd who vetoed the last attempt by parliament to push through a measure despite a Kurdish walkout.

But Kurdish legislators agreed to the latest proposal, suggesting presidential approval was more likely.

Agreement was reached after Shiite, Sunni, Kurdish and Turkomen lawmakers adopted a U.N. compromise to form a parliamentary committee to review disputes regarding Kirkuk separately so the elections could go ahead elsewhere.

Kurdish lawmaker Khalid Shewani said his bloc was reassured that the committee would review property disputes in Kirkuk and would work in accordance with the Iraqi constitution.

That last phrase is crucial, because the Kurds believe that the constitution guarantees them the right to a federal sub-state so removed from central control it might as well be the independent homeland they've been dreaming of. It's very unlikely that Noor al-Maliki, who has been eating his spinach of late, feels the same way.

He qualifies this stance on federalism (sort of) but takes a clear shot at those (like the Kurds and ISCI, without mentioning them by name) who have called for a broad devolution of power from the center:

"This does not mean a renunciation of federalism. Yes, we will establish federalism. However, we must say that the central government is stronger than the federal entities and that the federal entities are not stronger than the central government, as some think, with the central government only collecting and generating revenue and distributing it. This is how some see the central government, that it should be at this level of weakness. This contradicts the basic goal of building a strong state capable of defending itself."

Three quarters of Iraq may well get provincial elections in January, although I believe the timeline will be pushed further out still to suit the Powers That Be as they work to ensure the Powers That Aren't stay that way, but I've a nasty feeling Kirkuk and the Kurdish question will not be amenable to solution by a committee.

Update: Over at MoJo, retired Army colonel Douglas Macgregor reminds us that the Iraqi central government isn't the only contary force the Kurds must reckon with. The Turks have a vested interest too and apparently Kurdish (and American) leaders are doing a poor job of realising their imminent danger.

Convinced that Kurdistan's oil and gas wealth empowers it to act as though it were a sovereign state, Barzani has reportedly missed his chance to secure real peace for the Kurds. Increasingly, he looks more and more like the Kurdish equivalent of Arafat—except that Barzani and the Kurds are likely to meet a far more bitter end. The Turks won't exercise the restraint the Israelis have vis-à-vis the Palestinian Arabs.

Much of the violence that is picking up between the Kurds and the Sunnis may well be the first sign of a Turkish counter-offensive to punish the Kurds for their continued support of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a militant group that seeks to establish a Kurdish state in the region. Barzani reportedly considers it his sacred duty to harbor the PKK, while Jalal Talibani, Iraq's Kurdish president, views the PKK as some sort of strategic hedge against Turkish military intervention.

"The Kurds have overplayed their hand thanks to lots of American encouragement," one of the most astute observers of the Turkish scene told me. "This isn't so unlike Georgia. But the resulting violence will be far worse; Iraq will grow more unstable and the US will lose what little credibility it has left in the Middle East."

We can only hope that United States withdraws our ground forces soon. Army and Marine ground forces already depend heavily on fixed bases for operational capability, and the prospect of facing a Turkish Army and Air Force full of young, energetic Turks only too happy to kill Americans is something this country should seek to avoid. Nothing good will come of it.

MacGregor feels that a new, decisive intervention by Turkey is getting very near now.

Add to | Digg this

September 23, 2008

Sarah, Safe And Sane

CBS has announced that Katie Couric will conduct an exclusive interview with Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin tomorrow as Palin meets with world leaders in New York City coinciding with the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly.

No softball questions either. I've managed to get my hands on a snippet of rush transcript.

COURIC: "Sarah, now that you've spoken with some world leaders for five minutes each here at the UN, doesn't that make you a sane and safe expert on world affairs, Sarah?"

PALIN: "Well, that's what Woof! my campaign is Bark! going to suggest, Katie. Snarl, buggerit, buggerem, millenium hand and shrimp!"

Add to | Digg this

Bush Tries To help McCain On Iraq Withdrawal

By Cernig

Matt Duss has the details of how the Bush administration asked the Iraqi government to spin their withdrawal plan to help the McCain campaign.

In an al-Iraqiya interview on September 17, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki discussed the state of negotiations between the U.S. and Iraqi governments regarding the eventual withdrawal of U.S troops from Iraq. Maliki said that “perhaps one of the two most important points is deciding the final date.” Transcript via Open Source Center:

MALIKI: Actually, the final date was really the end of 2010 and the period between the end of 2010 and the end of 2011 was for withdrawing the remaining troops from all of Iraq, but they [the Bush administration] asked for a change [in date] due to political circumstances related to the domestic situation [in the US] so it will not be said to the end of 2010 followed by one year for withdrawal but the end of 2011 as a final date. Agreement has been reached on this issue. They are willing to respond positively because they, too, are facing a critical situation.

Matt writes: "What did McCain know about this, and when did he know it?"

Maybe we should ask Elliot Abrams:

Elliott Abrams, currently Deputy National Security Adviser for Global Democracy Strategy who also heads the NSC’s Near East office, is regularly briefing the McCain campaign — Randy Scheunemann appears to be the main contact — and has told friends and colleagues that he is confident that he will get a top post in a McCain administration.

Abrams pleaded guilty to essentially lying to Congress during the Iran-Contra affair and was Cheney's chosen spanner to throw in the works of the Middle East peace process. He seems to think he's in line for a top post, maybe even National Security Adviser, in the McCain White House. It seems McCain's foreign policy is just as hardline neoconservative as the warmongers could ever dream of.

Add to | Digg this

Admiral Mullen Pleads For Co-operation With Russia

By Cernig

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs has disagreed fundamentally with John McCain's saber-rattling against Russia and at the same time put himself in opposition to all of the civilian leadership of the Bush administration except perhaps his boss Bob Gates.

"I believe we've got to have a relationship with Russia," Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in Los Angeles.

"I don't believe we should discontinue engagement on the military side because that relationship is going to be very important in the future," Mullen said.

..."We need to approach this in a measured way and do it in a way that recognizes we have mutual interests with Russia," he told a gathering organized Town Hall Los Angeles, a nonprofit group that sponsors debates on topical issues.

Mullen's measured remarks chimed with comments last week by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who said Russia did not pose a threat on a par with the Soviet Union.

They stand in contrast to harsher rhetoric from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and particularly Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, who has said Russia would face severe consequences for its actions in Georgia. 

One of the areas where Mullen said the US and Russia must continue co-operation is nuclear non-proliferation, including safeguarding loose nuclear materials which might fall into the hands of terrorists.

However, the Bush administration doesn't think that's as important as tough talk for domestic consumption.

Some high-level meetings have been postponed indefinitely, including a trip to Russia by John Rood, the acting undersecretary of State for arms control and international security, to discuss various security issues and to negotiate a new pact to replace the existing Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START.

And the congressionally appointed Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism has been asked to not go on its upcoming fact-finding visit to Moscow.

Hat tip to Cheryl Rofer at WhirledView, who notes that START I is due to expire at the end of 2009. It provides the only means by which the Moscow Treaty, which limits the number of nuclear warheads Russia and the U.S. can posses, can be verified. But the neocons wanted an excuse to dump START - they hate treaties - and this hasty excuse of the Georgia conflict is just more convenient than outright abrogating it with no cause.

Then there's that Congressional factfinding trip. That's just as outrageous as the Commission was set up "to build on the work of the 9/11 Commission ... to assess our nation’s progress in preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism."

The Bush administration (and John McCain) need to be asked which they think is more important: petty diplomatic posturing - when even the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs thinks Russia/US co-operation is crucial to US national security - or the threat of unsecured nuclear material falling into terrorist hands.

Add to | Digg this

September 22, 2008

Europe To Paulson: You're On Your Own

By Cernig

Remember how over the weekend Hank Paulson was on all the bobblehead shows saying that the bailout should extend to foreign firms trading in the US and how he was going to put together a Coalition Of The Bankrupt with other major nations for his bailout plans?

Europe's not interested in buying toxic debt from sinking companies.

Ulrich Wilhelm, spokesman for Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, said there was no need for “a measure along the lines of what has been decided in the US”. Peer Steinbrück, the German finance minister, also made clear after a telephone conference with his contemporaries in the G7 group of leading nations that Berlin did not need to set up a rescue package.

A senior official close to Ms Merkel said Germany was focused on how to prevent another crisis because any extra regulation now would come too late to address the current one.

But the official hinted that a Franco-German announcement may be on the way, pointing to a meeting of officials from the two countries set for Thursday, when Mr Steinbrück is to address the German parliament.

The French government also said it did not plan to set up a toxic asset fund or contribute to the US scheme. British officials said they had already instigated a special liquidity scheme, but like France and Germany they did not intend to pursue a toxic asset fund.

The European Commission made clear it was not planning any emergency measures. It welcomed efforts to stabilise the US situation, but said it was for member states to decide on any US-style bail-out scheme.

That's a wee bit of a problem for Paulson's plan, and signals exactly how much confidence European governments have in it.

And the reason they have so little confidence in Hanks plan is simple: it won't stave off recession.

With hundreds of billions of dollars in debt set to mature this year and next, larger companies will have to pay more to borrow money, as there will be fewer banks to borrow it from.

Speaking at the Reuters 2008 Restructuring Summit, Andrew Feltus, senior portfolio manager of an $8 billion high-yield fund at Pioneer Investments in Boston, said the remaining banks will dominate the market, which is "good for them, not good for the borrowers and not good for the overall economy."

...According to bankruptcy data and management company AACER, in the eight months to August there were just over 40,000 U.S. commercial bankruptcy filings, compared with 43,000 for all of 2007 and 30,000 for all of 2006.

"The rest of 2008 will remain robust for bankruptcies, as will 2009," said AACER president Mike Bickford. "The generally poor availability of credit has definitely begun to have an impact on commercial borrowers."

...In a survey released on Monday, but compiled in August, the U.S. National Small Business Association said 67 percent of respondents said their business had been affected by the credit crunch, up from 55 percent in February.

NSBA head Todd McCracken said the survey was particularly troubling because, unlike the February poll, it only included NSBA members "who tend to be larger and well established."

"We had expected they would have less severe problems than we saw in February," he said.

"But instead they face more difficulty getting credit. And there's no sign of a turnaround. It's rather alarming."

Add to | Digg this

Dodd Proposes Alternative Bailout Bill (Update - WH Agrees Some Terms)

By Cernig

Here's the full text of Chris Dodd's alternative bailout bill. This is far more like it:

Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd is taking much more aggressive approach to the Treasury bailout plan, demanding foreclosure assistance, limits on executive compensation and profit sharing for taxpayers if the Treasury begins to make money back on the bad debt it plans to purchase.


Among the major provisions Dodd is adding:

* Authority for bankruptcy judges to restructure mortgages for homeowners facing foreclosure. This was considered a poison pill in a housing bill that passed Congress earlier this summer, but it has gained much more currency now that Washington wants to bail out Wall Street.

* A provision that would require the Treasury to take a 65 percent portion of 20 percent any profits it makes from the newly purchased assets and put it into the federal government's HOPE program, an affordable housing program.

* An oversight board that not only includes the chairman of the Federal Reserve and the SEC, but congressionally appointed, non-governmental officials.

* Limits on executive compensation. This is a major stumbling point for Paulson in his negotiations with Congress, but cracking down on Wall Street executive salaries will be a major selling point for lawmakers. Dodd and Frank have put in place what's known as a "claw back" provision aimed at revoking compensation that executives received based on fraudulent claims.

* An independent inspector general to investigate the Treasury asset program, appointed by the president.

Krugman says it "sounds like a big step in the right direction" and "Treasury should now be required to explain why this isn’t a much, much better way to do this rescue". Hopefully Democrats will get behind Dodd rather than folding to the administration's pressure to quickly accept the biggest corporate giveaway in history as well as Section Eight - which should be called The "God calls me God" Clause.

Dodd talked to CBS today:

Update: From the AP. It looks like the Bush administration is folding on Paulson's insistence that everything be done his way.

Scrambling for a quick accord on the $700 billion bailout, the Bush administration and leading lawmakers have agreed to include mortgage aid and strong congressional oversight along with unprecedented help for failing financial institutions, a key lawmaker said Monday.

... Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, said "a great deal of progress has already been made." And a government official with knowledge of the talks said the administration had agreed to create a plan to help prevent foreclosures on mortgages it acquires as part of the bailout — a key demand of Democratic lawmakers.

... Frank said that lawmakers "are building strong oversight" into the new bailout measure.

"The private sector got us into this mess," he said, "The government has to get us out of it. We do want to do it carefully."


Meanwhile John McCain says "We are in the most serious crisis since World War II." Probably true, this time, but a few weeks ago he was saying that Georgia was the most serious crisis since "the end of the Cold War". I suppose if he says "this [insert new crisis here] is the most serious crisis since The Flood" enough times, he'll turn out to be right eventually too.

Add to | Digg this

The Nightmare Election Scenario

By Cernig

Imagine if the Presidential elections result in an Electoral College tie. It's not out of the question, as Prof. Larry J. Sabato illustrates in an article for the BBC news website. What happens next? Well, I had no idea but I'm apparently not alone - at least 90% of Americans don't know either. Prof. Sabato explains for all us ignorant people:

Under the constitution, the election for president is thrown into the US House of Representatives, while the Senate picks the next vice-president (the Senate's presiding officer).

But while the Senate simply requires a majority of its 100 members to select the vice- president, the House must vote by states, with each state delegation having a single vote, and a majority of the states (at least 26 of 50) required to agree on the winner.

This is called "the unit rule". The founding fathers centred the idea on the fact that the nation was a confederation of states rather than a pure democracy of individual voters. Just as the electoral college is state-based, the House selection of the president in the case of deadlock revolves around the states.

The Unit Rule has been used twice in US history, but those were before the massive demographic changes of modern times.

Think about what House selection of a president would mean today. Gargantuan California would have the same single House vote in choosing the new president as sparsely populated Wyoming, even though California has about 70 times its population. The votes of the mega-states of Florida, New York, and Texas could be cancelled out by the tiny populations of Montana, Rhode Island, and South Dakota.

Furthermore, large state delegations could internally deadlock via tie votes. Some large states might be deprived even of their single vote for the presidency. Tens of millions of people could be disenfranchised in this fashion.

Meanwhile, all the small states with single House members will certainly be counted. The smaller the House delegation, the more likely the state's House members will be able to reach agreement or at least finish their tally. All pigs would be equal, but in this odd Orwellian case, the tiny pigs would be more equal than the huge ones.

Undemocratic? You betcha. Controversial? Like Bush v Gore on crack. Isn't it about time you Americans did some electoral reform?

And it gets better.

The turmoil would be an international embarrassment, at the very least. If a stalemate results, the constitution provides that the vice-president-elect would become acting president until the gridlock is broken. Presumably, that would be Joe Biden since Democrats are expected to have a comfortable majority in the new Senate.

But then again, it could be Sarah Palin. There's a scary thought.

However, what if the Senate gets tied up in parliamentary knots? It's been known to happen.

Then America is likely to get its first female President, at least until the deadlock is broken. No, she won't be named Hillary Clinton, nor will the acting chief be Sarah Palin. Next-in-line will be the Speaker of the House, Democrat Nancy Pelosi.

Tell that to your neighbourhood wingnut and watch their head explode!

Add to | Digg this

Neocon Iran Story Referred To UK Press Watchdog

By Cernig

Just after the IAEA's new report on Iran was issued, neoconservative hack Con Coughlin ran a story in the UK's Daily Telegraph which quoted an unnamed US official as saying that enough urianium for 6 atomic bombs had been redirected from Iran's Isfahan enrichment facility.

But the IAEA has already told the Telegraph that it’s report was false.

“The article, entitled ‘Iran renews nuclear weapons development’ published in [Friday’s] Daily Telegraph by Con Coughlin and Tim Butcher is fictitious,” IAEA Spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said in a statement.

“IAEA inspectors have no indication that any nuclear material is missing from the plant,” reads the statement.

Despite the IAEA's denial the story was picked up uncritically by another neocon hack, Caroline Glick of the Jerusalem Post, as one of three reasons, all spurious, for attacking Iran right away.

But now the British Press Complaints Commission has received a complaint about Couglin's story from the Westminster Committee on Iran, and is to investigate.

The complaint issued today from the Westminster Committee on Iran, raises wider issues of media impartiality when reporting on Iran and raises concerns about the use of unnamed sources and sensationalist headlines. It also points out that the co-author of the piece, Con Coughlin, is none other than the journalist who, with the help of unnamed intelligence sources revealed link between the 9/11 hijacker, Mohammed Ata, and Iraqi intelligence which was latter proved to be inaccurate. On 24 January 2007, relying on an unnamed "European defence official" Coughlin alleged that North Korea is helping Iran prepare a nuclear weapons test. In December the Telegraph ran a headline article, also by Coughlin, claiming that Iran was "grooming Bin Laden's successor". Both stories were questioned by Middle East and military experts, and neither has since been substantiated. Jeremy Bowen, the BBC's Middle East correspondent described the Bin Laden claims as "wholly implausible" and pointed out that Al Quaeda, a Sunni organisation would not be supported by the Shia administration in Iran.

A spokesman for the Westminster Committee on Iran said today:

"The challenge by the IAEA regarding the accuracy of this article needs to be examined. Whilst we recognise the quoting of unnamed sources as an essential aspect of news reporting, we ask the Press Complaints Commission to assess whether there are any grounds to find that this practice has been misused.

Of course, the Commission has no legal standing, being just a body for self-regulation of the British press, but it would certainly prove embarassing to Coughlin and the Telegraph were the Commission to call for a retraction or censure him as other newspapers would be sure to note it on their own pages.

And at least it's a start at pushing back against neocon war hype.

Add to | Digg this

US Officer Claims Pakistan Resupplies Taliban

By Cernig

This report doesn't come as a surprise at all:

Pakistani military forces flew repeated helicopter missions into Afghanistan to resupply the Taliban during a fierce battle in June 2007, according to a Marine lieutenant colonel, who says his information is based on multiple U.S. and Afghan intelligence reports.

The revelation by Lt. Col. Chris Nash, who commanded an embedded training team in eastern Afghanistan from June 2007 to March 2008, adds a new twist to the controversy over a U.S. special operations raid into Pakistan Sept. 3.

...according to Nash, the helicopter missions were just the tip of the iceberg of the support the Taliban and its allies in his area of operations received from Pakistani forces. That support included training and funding — he notes in his briefing that the average Taliban fighter makes four times the average monthly income of an Afghan — in addition to logistical help and, on numerous occasions, direct and indirect fire support, he said.

“What [the Pakistanis] bring to the fight is not only tactical expertise, but [because of] how they’re arrayed along the border, they can easily provide support by fire positions that our enemies are able to maneuver under,” Nash said. “We were on the receiving end of Pakistani military D-30.”

The D-30 is a towed 122mm howitzer.      

“On numerous occasions, Afghan border police checkpoints and observation posts were attacked by Pakistani military forces,” usually those belonging to the Frontier Corps, a locally recruited force in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas that abut the border with Afghanistan, he said.

In addition, he said, his Marines had definitely seen combat with Pakistani forces.

The introduction of al-Qaida and Pakistani military training teams into Taliban and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb-i-Islami units resulted in a “dramatic increase in capabilities” for those forces, Nash said.

“The biggest thing is coordination between enemy units,” he said, adding that the Taliban and its allies had evolved from “hit and run” attacks to “hit and maneuver.”

“Their ability to pull something off like a pincer movement or a flanking movement wasn’t necessarily present before,” he said.

But with the injection of “professional” expertise, he said, “You started to see attacks that weren’t conducted by goat herders. These were people who knew what they were doing.”

Shown a copy of Nash’s briefing, a U.S. government official who closely tracks events in Afghanistan and Pakistan said he could confirm everything Nash said about Pakistani support to the Taliban with the exception of the line about “helo resupply.”

Of course, Pakistan is denying it. Nadeem Kiani, the press attaché at the Pakistan Embassy in Washington, D.C., denied Nash’s claims. “There is no truth to these sorts of reports,” he said.

And also today, there's a report of another US incursion into Pakistan being beaten back by Pakistani forces. It's being officially denied too:

Pakistani troops fired on two U.S. helicopters that intruded into Pakistani territory on Sunday night, forcing them to turn back to Afghanistan, a senior Pakistani security official said on Monday.

The helicopters violated the border in the area of Lowara Mandi, 80 km west of Miranshah, the main town in the North Waziristan tribal region, at around 9:00 p.m. on Sunday, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

There was no official confirmation.

"We don't have any information on border violation by the American helicopters," Major Murad Khan, a military spokesman, said.

Umm..hmm. Back to that first link:

The U.S. government official who closely follows Afghanistan and Pakistan also said it was difficult to gauge exactly who in the Pakistani government was giving the go-ahead for such extensive support of the Taliban.

“The question that’s hard to answer is what level of senior leadership is that under,” the official said. “The usual Pakistani M.O. is to say ‘Those are rogue elements and we’re trying to get them under control.’ ”

He noted that the Pakistanis used a similar defense when it came to the support its forces gave to the Afghan mujahideen in their fight against Soviet forces.

“I think that’s as much bulls---today as it was 20 years ago,” he said.

Yup. And the Bush administration line for the last eight years that Pakistan is a "staunch ally" is likewise so much manure.

In my opinion, Pakistan is a smarter version of Saddam-era Iraq or Iran vis-a-vis the West. Rather than be overtly hostile and risk the US bombing them "back to the Stone Age" - as Robert Richard Armitage [thanks, editors!] famously threatened Musharraf if he didn't co-operate - The Pakistani leadership have played the West for all it was worth by token gestures of alliance. A couple of thousand dead - peons that as far as I can see the feudal leadership don't give much of a damn about - and a few second-rate terrorists handed over has been their own side of the unstated bargain. F-16s, anti-ship missiles and billions of dollars in military aid with no accountability or oversight have been their reward for this astute bit of business acumen, while Saddam is no more and Iran gets sanctions and saber-rattling.

The Bush administration and neoconservative lobby in general has mostly worked out how badly it was conned, a few years late and billions short, but the political fallout of just saying the made a huge mistake is an unacceptable price for them, so the deception now continues on both sides. The only route that might show some positive results now is exactly the same one as Barack Obama advocates for Iran - engagement and diplomacy while being fully aware that they are no friend to America or the West.

Add to | Digg this

September 21, 2008

Obama On The Mother Of All Bailouts

By Cernig

Via Damozel at Buck Naked Politics, the full text of Barack Obama's speech in Charlotte today after the jump. But here's the money quote:

... the Bush Administration has only offered a concept with a staggering price tag, not a plan. Even if the U.S. Treasury recovers some or most of its investment over time, this initial outlay of up to $700 billion is sobering. And in return for their support, the American people must be assured that the deal reflects the basic principles of transparency, fairness, and reform.

First, there must be no blank check when American taxpayers are on the hook for this much money.

Second, taxpayers shouldn’t be spending a dime to reward CEOs on Wall Street.

Third, taxpayers should be protected and should be able to recoup this investment.

Fourth, this plan has to help homeowners stay in their homes.

Fifth, this is a global crisis, and the United States must insist that other nations join us in helping secure the financial markets.

Sixth, we need to start putting in place the rules of the road I’ve been calling for for years to prevent this from ever happening again.

And finally, this plan can’t just be a plan for Wall Street, it has to be a plan for Main Street. We have to come together, as Democrats and Republicans, to pass a stimulus plan that will put money in the pockets of working families, save jobs, and prevent painful budget cuts and tax hikes in our states.

Here's a video of the speech.

The administration are looking more and more likely to face bipartisan objection to the "blank check" - in particular to section 8, also known as the "God calls me God" clause.

Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.

Here's what Yuval Levin wrote a short time ago over at The Corner:

Even if Hank Paulson were the all knowing god of economics, would it make sense to give this kind of power to the treasury secretary for the next two years just forty days before an election? Shall we go through our mental list of who an Obama administration (or a McCain administration for that matter) is likely to put in that post? And doesn’t it make sense to establish some kind of process for deciding how specifically to use the money? To put in place some criteria of prioritization? Some real-time oversight?  Isn’t transparency crucial to the proper functioning of our modern financial system? And how is everyone in both parties suddenly satisfied that this approach is the only one that could work?

Most of us are in no position to question the view, espoused by just about every economist heard from in the past few days, that some serious action is called for and soon. But the way this is all being pushed through, and the character of the proposal itself, are deeply disconcerting.

Even Republicans don't trust Republicans with that much power.

Continue reading "Obama On The Mother Of All Bailouts" »

Add to | Digg this

We Blog Around

By Cernig

I did some speculating about possible consequences of the attack over at Crooks and Liars today.

Also at C&L, I have a post looking at the length neocons are having to go to in order to spin factoids in justification of attacking Iran, in light of the most recent IAEA report. Basically, they're forced to make sh*t up.

And Libby has been burning up DetroitNews with her bailout blogging: here, here, here, here, here and here.

Add to | Digg this

Will Paulson Bail Out Eurobanks Too?

By Cernig

Kevin Drum points to this worrying article:

The dozen largest European banks have now on average an overall leverage ratio (shareholders equity to total assets) of 35, compared to less than 20 for the largest US banks. But at the same time most large European banks also report regulatory leverage ratios of close to 10. Part of the difference is explained by the fact that the massive in-house investment banking operations of European banks are not subject to any regulatory capital requirement.

....The key problem on this side of the Atlantic is that the largest European banks have become not only too big to fail but also too big to be saved. For example, the total liabilities of Deutsche Bank (leverage ratio over 50!) amount to around 2,000 billion euro, (more than Fannie Mai) or over 80 % of the GDP of Germany....With banks that have outgrown national regulators and the financing capacities of national treasuries, European central banks and regulators are living on borrowed time. They cannot simply develop “road maps” but must contemplate a worst case scenario.

Henry Paulson has already confirmed on the talking head shows this morning that he's prepared to pay with US taxpayers' money to save bankers (rhymes with onanist) from foreign climes. E2 trillion worth, just for starters, King Henry? How many trips to the well do you envisage?

Add to | Digg this

A Letter To Congress

By Cernig

Sean Paul Kelly at the Agonist has a pretty hot record as a fund manager in his day-job, and he puts forward a letter from a commenter there to his senator, Barack Obama. The commenter, "Numerian", has worked for many years in the banking industry and been closely involved with risk management and derivatives. Sean Paul says it "hits all the right notes". Here it is, in full:

Dear Senator Obama-

Chances are most if not all of the major commercial and investment banks are insolvent. Not one of them is opting out of the do-not-short list, and they don't seem to have the confidence in their survival to opt out of the L3 asset swap program Secretary Paulson is proposing.

It is also very likely that acutely dangerous systemic risk already exists, not merely from direct lines of credit among the banks, but especially from credit default swaps, which if activated by more than one large bank default would probably bring down many others. Remember, though, that this systemic risk is highly concentrated in the top 25 or so banks in the world, and does not jeopardize the 6,000 other community banks in the U.S.

Third, it is also highly probable that as this recession worsens, and as housing values continue to sink, forcing more foreclosures, the large banks will be even closer to collapse.

Having worked for many years in the banking industry and been closely involved with risk management and derivatives, I can tell you that it looks like catastrophe is already here.

What Sec. Paulson wants you to believe is that catastrophe is approaching, but it can be averted if only Congress acts urgently to give him the extraordinary authority he is requesting. The implication is if you don't give him $700 billion in borrowing authority within a week, markets will collapse and it will be all your fault.

We've seen this drill before, with the Patriot Act and with the Iraq War authorization. The scare tactics, the urgency, the implied threat of blame for any failure - this is what the Bush administration does. Some of you in the Senate were able to stand up to this pressure, and that type of strength is desperately needed now.

If insolvency is here now for the big banks, the last thing you want to do is throw $700 billion of money that is not yours at bailing out the banks who created this disaster. You'll need every bit of that money to protect the taxpayers and their deposits in these banks when these financial companies are thrown into the bankruptcy courts. You'll need that money to make sure consumer deposits are protected with insurance, and you'll need it to keep the healthy parts of these banks that deal with consumers and businesses functioning until they come out of bankruptcy.

And forget about comparing Paulson's plan to the RTC. These L3 assets aren't homes, condos, or commercial real estate that can be easily sold at the right price. They are bits of paper giving the bond holder the right to some small portion of thousands of mortgages, a right that is shared with all the other investors, who are required to agree on what is done with foreclosed properties in the pool. This is one of the reasons no one wants to buy this stuff, and no one will for many years until it is crystal clear what the final losses will be.

Once you give Paulson the authority he seeks, he will buy these securities at 65 cents/dollar, then quietly auction them off at a nickel each. It will be "unfortunate but necessary" to revitalize the banking industry, even though you will discover the banks won't be lending after this is all over to any but the finest credits. You will have rewarded the banks for their calamitous decisions, stuffed the taxpayers with huge losses, squandered your remaining ability to shore up the FDIC, not prevented the big banks from collapsing anyway, done nothing to help the community banks that will constitute the new banking system in this country when these problems are solved, and in the end made the situation much worse.

If you want to do something practical, require the SEC to go into these banks, open up their L3 holdings to public scrutiny, auction off a sampling of these securities, and apply those prices to the L3 portfolios of all the banks. In this way we will know which banks are insolvent. You won't need to go through this charade of having the Treasury take ownership of these assets, because the core of the problem is not that these assets are clogging up bank balance sheets, as Paulson says (which is tantamount to saying, by the way, that no one will buy them). The core of the problem is that there is no transparency about these portfolios and their real worth. Congress doesn't need $700 billion of our money to create that transparency, and if it shows as I suspect that many of these banks are insolvent, that's why we have bankruptcy courts. You can certainly protect the banks from bank runs while they are in bankruptcy.

Paulson is basically rolling you and the rest of Congress into giving him unprecedented power to protect his friends on Wall Street. This decision you are making is probably as momentous as the Iraq War resolution. Don't fall for this bailout disguised as the only way to prevent Armageddon. Armageddon is already here - at least for the big banks - and it needs an entirely different solution. Spend our money protecting us, by ensuring the FDIC is properly funded, by throwing these too-big-to-fail banks into bankruptcy if they truly are insolvent, by preserving the healthy parts of these banks while in bankruptcy, and bringing them back out again so they function under much better safety and soundness regulations. We've had airlines functioning properly and safely for years while in bankruptcy, and there is no reason we can't do the same with banks.

Please, please, do not fall for some useless compromise or bipartisan agreement that gives the administration what it wants in the end. Kill this proposal here and now, protect us from this bailout, and deal with the real problem - the insolvency of the major banks, not the paper that is supposedly blocking their lending capabilities.


The original author says feel free to copy his letter and send it to your own congresscritter, if you wish to. There's far more, including more very knowledgeable analysis from Numerian, in the comments at the Agonist post. Definitely worth a read.

Add to | Digg this

September 20, 2008

Bailout Or Rearranging Deckchairs? (Updated)

By Cernig

They say the latest deal is a $700 billion bailout, which brings the total bill so far pretty darn close to a round trillion - but the guy who used to be the chief economist at the World Bank has said the total might be 2 trillion once everything is said and done. How honest is the administration being with voters, even now?

Krugman hates it. He wants to know why the bailout is expected to work, rather than just rewarding the undeserving at the taxpayer's expense:

I  hate to say this, but looking at the plan as leaked, I have to say no deal. Not unless Treasury explains, very clearly, why this is supposed to work, other than through having taxpayers pay premium prices for lousy assets.

As I posted earlier today, it seems all too likely that a “fair price” for mortgage-related assets will still leave much of the financial sector in trouble. And there’s nothing at all in the draft that says what happens next; although I do notice that there’s nothing in the plan requiring Treasury to pay a fair market price. So is the plan to pay premium prices to the most troubled institutions? Or is the hope that restoring liquidity will magically make the problem go away?

So are the Treasury and Fed just as panicked as everyone else or is this just another opportunity to make rich pals richer? Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson held a meeting with top lawmakers on the Hill on Friday and according to the NY Times set out an Armageddon scenario for the current financial crisis.

As Senator Christopher J. Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut and chairman of the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, put it Friday morning on the ABC program “Good Morning America,” the congressional leaders were told “that we’re literally maybe days away from a complete meltdown of our financial system, with all the implications here at home and globally.”

Mr. Schumer added, “History was sort of hanging over it, like this was a moment.”

When Mr. Schumer described the meeting as “somber,” Mr. Dodd cut in. “Somber doesn’t begin to justify the words,” he said. “We have never heard language like this.”

And later, Schumer appeared on CNBC to explain further:

SEN. SCHUMER: Well, if the credit markets remain frozen and no one can get loans and banks can't transfer, then the whole economy basically comes to a halt. There is no -- there's no lending. No one buys cars, because you can't get a car loan. People don't go to stores, because you can't get a credit card loan. Small businesses don't grow and even some of them don't continue, because they can't get a line of credit.

The picture that was painted was not that just Wall Street firms were having trouble, but all of our financial markets, and the potential of a long freeze in the veins of our system as -- could kill the patient.

That's pretty much what I said on Thursday and it's not as if this crisis wasn't predicted, many times, by experts and even bloggers over the last several months and years - yet Congress was stunned. If you want to ask "When do we get the A team on?" you're probably justified.

(And while the campaigns and partisan pundits have been slinging accusations back and forth about who is responsible and who has failed executives on their advisory teams, just remember that the financial, insurance and real estate industries are equal opportunity givers. They've given roughly the same amounts to both Dems and Republicans, and to both McCain and Obama's campaigns. That's called "insurance" too.)

Still, Obama is looking like the adult in the room, the one who actually wants to solve the problem rather than just argue about it and blame the other guy. That makes a difference because this crisis has destroyed both candidate's previous financial plans, such as they were. We need a problem solver next, not just a blame caster. It's also good that Dems are looking beyond the immediate crisis for financial institutions to safeguard ordinary Americans, who will inevitably be affected. As The NYT report linked above says:

In addition to potential stimulus measures, which could include an extension of unemployment benefits and spending on public infrastructure projects, Democrats said they intended to consider measures to help stem home foreclosures and stabilize real estate values.

Among the potential steps Congress can take include approving legislation to allow bankruptcy judges to modify the terms of primary mortgages — authority that the bankruptcy laws do not currently allow and that the banking industry has strenuously opposed.

But the Democrats said it was too soon to discuss such details, and that they were awaiting a draft of the proposal from the Treasury Department.

“We have got to deal with the foreclosure issue,” Mr. Dodd said. “You have got to stop that hemorrhaging..If you don’t, the problem doesn’t go away. Ben Bernanke has said it over and over again. Hank Paulson recognizes it. This problem began with bad lending practices. Those are his words, not mine, and so this plan must address that or I’ll be back here in front of a bank of microphones at some point explaining the next failure.”

No-one is convinced this massive bailout will actually end the rot and there doesn't seem to be much in the way of ending bad practices or helping normal folk against the coming impact of fat-cat greed in the administration's plan.

Update: The UK Daily Telegraph's editorial for Sunday:

How bad is the economic crisis? After a week that saw unprecedented swings in the stock market, and in which the American government has taken drastic steps to avert economic meltdown, the truth is that no one really knows.

The only certainty is that the US must be very close to a nightmare on the scale of the Great Depression for government officials who are passionately committed to the free market to conclude that the only option is to nationalise much of America's banking industry.

It may be "socialism for big business", but a variety of socialism is nevertheless what it is. The free-market model has been abandoned by the very people who insisted that it would guarantee global prosperity.

What will happen next? Again, no one knows. Ignorance is one of the principal causes of the crisis. The complex financial instruments that have come to dominate investment banking - particularly derivatives - involve so much uncertainty that it is impossible to form an accurate idea of the liabilities they bequeath to those who trade them.

The money market has frozen because traders have realised the truth of Warren Buffett's warning that derivatives were "weapons of financial mass destruction": a market in which no one knows the price of anything cannot operate.

This ignorance will not end simply because government regulators have taken over. In the US, regulators do not know exactly what they have got into by taking on the "toxic debt" of the nation's banks, any more than did the dealers who made the loans in the first place.

And Politico reports:

Republican leaders in Congress are warning Democrats not to load up the Treasury Department’s emergency bailout bill with help for homeowners or others facing economic hardship — all while avoiding a direct endorsement of the bill themselves.

“Efforts to exploit this crisis for political leverage or partisan quid pro quo will only delay the economic stability that families, seniors and small businesses deserve,” House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement issued Saturday afternoon. “Going forward, I hope we all can agree that we should keep any legislation as straightforward as possible while doing everything we can to protect American taxpayers.”

Boehner and his Republican colleagues have no more clue than anyone else - but they know who is paying their campaign contributions.

Ian Welsh lays it out simply:

  • No one who foresaw the crisis, such as Krugman or Stiglitz, is involved in making the plan to fix it.
  • The man overseeing the bailout is the ex-CEO of Goldman Sachs, a Wall Street Company. He helped cause the crisis.
  • Paulson helped obtain the SEC exemption which allowed brokerages to increase leverage to 60:1 from 12:1.
  • The money is Paulson's to use for buying commercial and residential mortgages and mortgaged backed securities as he chooses. No one has any oversight over him, and he can pay any price he wants to, including face amount of the debt.
  • Courts cannot review his decisions, not can any regulators. He has to report to Congress once every six months.
  • He gets 700 Billion dollars to use as he sees fit, looking after the taxpayer is a "consideration" not a requirement.
  • Bet on that 700 Billion dollars being gone before January 20, 2009. Bet on Treasury asking for more.

Update 2 : The CEO of FIAT says the financial crisis is already affecting industrial business. He told Reuters that it had already brought one part of his company's business - financing sales of farm and contsruction equipment - to "an absolute standstill." That's just one example of how this result of rich-to-richer greed will harm middle class and working class people. No new equipment means less work getting done, means less small business profits and less jobs.

Here's some video, from Reuters, of Paulson and Bernanke at a meeting with Congress on Thursday - two full days after Congress first asked for it.

And don't forget that we've got a week of news about an economy still going down the drain to come.

On Wednesday, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke will present the central bank's economic outlook to the Joint Economic Committee in Congress. Ahead of this on Wednesday, investors will get another glimpse of the state of the housing market, with data on the sales of previously-owned homes in August. New home sales data will come out Thursday. Also on Thursday, data on orders of big-ticket items, or durable goods, will be released, along with the weekly jobless claims tally. On Friday, the final estimate of second-quarter growth will come out. Once investors digest the government's actions, "we'll get back to an economy that's slowing and the market has to get back to dealing with that," said Deutsche Bank's Fitzpatrick.

Update 3: Larisa is worried about the wisdom of giving Paulson, and the Bush administration in general, one of the biggest peacetime transfers of power from Congress to the Administration in history.

But guess who's a safe haven for investors, almost entirely unaffected by the crisis? Defense companies. Aren't you relieved to hear that?

Update 4: Josh Marshall points to a WSJ report which is behind it's subscriber firewall but quotes this passage:

House Republican staffers met with roughly 15 lobbyists Friday afternoon, whose message to lawmakers was clear: Don't load the legislation up with provisions not directly related to the crisis, or regulatory measures the industry has long opposed.

"We're opposed to adding provisions that will affect [or] undermine the deal substantively," said Scott Talbott, senior vice president of government affairs at the Financial Services Roundtable, whose members include the nation's largest banks, securities firms and insurers.

A deal killer for the group: a proposal that would grant bankruptcy judges new powers to lower the principal, interest rate or both on a mortgage as part of a bankruptcy proceeding.

Money for nothing. All they need now is for Paulson to throw in the chicks for free.

And at The Telegraph, there's this: "Default by the US government is no longer unthinkable."

Add to | Digg this

Pakistan Turns To China For Nuke Technology

By Cernig

Hardly unexpected, after the US/India deal:

Govt to set up two nuclear power plants

ISLAMABAD: The government has decided to set up two nuclear power plants, worth of Rs 139 billion, to overcome the power crisis the country is facing, official sources said on Wednesday.

President Asif Ali Zardari will discuss the acquisition of the fuel technology for the two new nuclear plants with the Chinese leadership during his forthcoming visit to Beijing, the sources said.

In its meeting at the Planning Commission today, the Central Working Development Party will approve the plan for C-3 and C-4 projects.

The projects will be completed in eight years. Once completed, they will produce electricity at Rs 6.06 per unit. The two plants will generate 4,467 million kilowatt hours of electricity per annum.

In view of the future requirements of nuclear fuel, a Nuclear Fuel Power Complex, consisting of a chemical processing plant, an enrichment plant, a seamless tube plant and a fuel fabrication plant will be set up, costing Rs 51.298 billion.

So now that the US has gotten a waiver from UNSC resolutions for non-NPT member India, one that doesn't even carry a meaningful penalty if India keeps testing weapons, China is going to sell non-NPT member and "world's greatest nuclear proliferator" Pakistan new enrichment technology.

Meanwhile, the US continues to push for sanctions on Iran, which unlike India and Pakistan doesn't have nuclear weapons. Sheer hypocrisy.

Add to | Digg this

Bomb Blast At Islamabad Marriott

By Cernig

By now you'll have heard about the massive blast at the Marriot Hotel in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad. Reuters, AP, the BBC and everyone else are covering it - a massive truck bomb killing at least 40, injuring over 100 and setting the whole hotel ablaze.

Some analysts are saying the attack has the hallmarks of Al Qaeda - a massive, well timed bomb in a very secure area. Others are pointing to Pakistan's Taliban movement. Whoever is responsible, the suicide bomber got past multiple checkpoints and sniffer dogs in a city which is also the military headquarters of the nation. The hotel is in a high security area, being close to the national assembly, a compound for ministers' homes and the main state television building.

Beyond the carnage, it's human nature to wonder what the political fallout will be.

Maybe tomorrow I'll write about that. If this attack happened in the US I'd be castigated for bringing politics into tragedy so quickly if I tried writing about it today. I don't see why, just because the victims aren't Americans, I should do otherwise now.

Add to | Digg this

When Green Officers Lead Green Troops

By Cernig

Blue Gal points to a horrific report of military fratricide in Iraq, where one sergeant shot and killed two others.

A soldier was detained in Iraq after he allegedly opened fire on a superior and another unit member, killing them both, the Army said Wednesday.

The soldier was subdued by other troops, and medics tried unsuccessfully to save the wounded soldiers, said Maj. Gen. Anthony Cucolo, commanding general at Fort Stewart in southern Georgia, where the soldiers' unit is based.

An Army spokesman said the shooting happened Sunday in Tunnis, Iraq. The slain soldiers and the alleged shooter, whose name was not released, belong to the 4th Brigade Combat Team of the 3rd Infantry Division.

The Army identified the slain soldiers as Staff Sgt. Darris J. Dawson, 24, of Pensacola, Fla., and Sgt. Wesley R. Durbin, 26, of Hurst, Texas. Both were assigned to the brigade's 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment.

"We also know the accused is in custody — in control of military authorities in theater for now — and the investigation is under way," Cucolo said in a release that gave few other details.

A defense official in Washington, D.C., said the alleged shooter is a sergeant who was in a meeting to discuss his leadership performance with Dawson, who was his squad leader, and Durbin, who was a fellow team leader in the squad. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because details of the incident have not been released.

And writes:

That fratricide story has disturbed the hell out of me.  Probably because for the entirety of the three-plus years I have been blogging, I have been warning that incidents like this were coming if we continued to lower standards to meet recruiting quotas.  For almost as long, I have been warning that the officer corps is strained to the point of breaking - and if ever good officers are needed, it is when you have an army that is comprised of 20% hinky, waivered troops.

Now, that may be a stretch to conclude from a single incident, but of course it isn't a single incident, although I've never seen any official compilation of such events which would give a clue to the scope of any problem. Blue Gal is ex-military and from a military family, though, and she knows what she's talking about when she says that the strain of twin wars on the military certainly doesn't help prevent such incidents.

In a month or so, all four branches will be releasing their stats for FY 2008, and thanks to accounting methods that would make a Hollywood studio executive blush, they will maintain that  recruitment goals were exceeded by a couple of hundred per branch. What they won't tell you is that the regular Army is missing several thousand officers throughout the ranks, and they aren't going to reveal that they are not telling qualified recruits that OCS is an option because they need those numbers among the enlisted ranks.

In the Army Reserves, the situation is even bleaker.  The USA-R is missing 11,000 Lieutenants and Captains in the ranks. But recruits with degrees are not being informed that they qualify for OCS.

Missing so many officers and passing up the opportunity to groom new ones, who exactly is going to lead these new waivered troops?

They are not telling you that one in five new recruits are being accepted are getting in on waivers for psychological, character and medical reasons. Recruits who would never have gotten five minutes of a recruiters time before the war in Iraq are now being courted and offered signing bonuses.  Cheating is happening and recruiters are lying. Cheating and lying violate the Honor Code.  Violating the Honor Code is a big damned deal, because every military at every moment of it's existence is mere steps away from tyranny over the populace it was raised to protect from outside enemies. The only thing that stands between a military and tyranny over the populace is the Honor Code.

I can feel the Honor Code crumbling beneath my feet, and it scares the holy hell out of me.

With a dearth of officers, who is going to lead these hinky new troops?  OCS has a 100% acceptance rate and no one is washing out.   


NCO's are the backbone of the military command structure. Without top-notch NCO's the force suffers. They fill a unique role, because they manage both up and down the chain of command. They transmit orders to the troops they supervise, and they have great influence over the decisions made by the officers they serve.

NCO's simultaneously prepare their units to complete their mission and know the personal pertinents of their personnel. They know whose kids are struggling to adjust, whose marriage is rocky, who is expecting a baby, whose mother is ill, who has an in-law "vacationing" on their couch and clueless about why they can't come play. They have the standing to pull a green Lieutenant aside and tell him or her the real score.

These middle managers are especially important in wartime. Not the least of all among reasons: seasoned NCO's keep Leiutenants alive long enough to become seasoned officers. There are more Sergeants leading Soldiers and Marines down dangerous alleys and on patrol than there are Lieutenants and Captains.

These are the enlisted personnel that an Army facing a three-decade rebuilding process after the folly of destabilizing and occupying Iraq needs to retain most, but they are not staying. Instead they are leaving in droves.

"When they aren't reenlisting, you are going to have holes in the force, and that becomes a readiness issue," said retired Army Lt. Gen. Randall L. Rigby, a former deputy commandant in charge of training. "They are facing 10 to 15 more years of repetitive overseas tours, and that's just hard on people. I'm concerned they won't be able to sustain the Army that way."

A Sergeant who leaves after 8, 12, 15 years in service is not a G.I. who can be replaced at the local recruiting station.

The US military says that fratricide incidents are "the result of undisciplined aggressiveness" and with unseasoned officers and NCO's leading greener, poorer quality troops, that lack of discipline is inevitable.

Add to | Digg this

Life Begins At Rape

By Cernig

By now, we all know that Sarah Palin, as Mayor of Wasilla, wanted rape victims to pay for their own rape kits. But today skippy sent me a link to a blog post by an Alaskan blogger and radio panelist, Shannyn Moore, which throws far more light upon Palin's thinking on the subject of rape - and none of it is pretty.

Let's start with how the rape kits tie in to Palin's hiring and firing policies for the town chief of police:

Former Chief of Police Irl Stambaugh included forensic rape kits (up to $1,200 per kit) in his budget requests. He was fired by Palin in 1997. In her termination letter, Palin wrote, “…I do not feel I have your full support in my efforts to govern the city of Wasilla. Therefore I intend to terminate your employment. . . ” Staumbaugh headed the police department since it was created in 1993. Before that, he served 22 years with the Anchorage Police Department rising to the rank of captain. Sarah Palin hired Charlie Fannon as the new Wasilla Chief of Police and said it was one of her best decisions as mayor. Fannon eliminated the forensic rape kits from the budget. Though the number of rapes weren’t reported, Fannon claimed it would save Wasilla taxpayers $5,000 to $14,000 a year.

When Eric Croft, a Democrat Legislator from Anchorage, learned of Wasilla’s policy, he drafted HB 270, which Governor Tony Knowles signed into law. The new law made it illegal for any law enforcement agency to bill victims or victims’ insurance companies for the costs of examinations to collect evidence of a sexual assault or determine if a sexual assault actually occurred. Upon signing the law, Governor Knowles said, “We would never bill the victim of a burglary for the cost of gathering evidence, nor should we bill rape victims just because the crime scene happens to be their bodies.”

Wasilla Police Chief Fannon protested the new law stating it would require the city and communities to come up with more funds to cover the costs of the forensic exams. Really? Are the true costs of sexual assault and forcible rape in a community only measured and reflected in the dollars spent on the forensic rape kit?

Then there's Moore's take on why Palin objects to rape kits so much - she also points out just how much John McCain agrees with her:

[The] right to choose was not only threatened, but abolished with Sarah Palin’s archaic policy as Mayor of Wasilla. The rape kit included emergency contraception. To be sure, emergency contraception is not, nor does it cause an abortion. In fact, ec prevents pregnancy and therefore reduces abortions. Under Palin’s Administration, “Life Begins at Rape” for women unable to pay for their forensic evidence gathering. Justice is served to women who can afford it and denied for those who can’t. I live in Alaska-the wealthiest of the 50 states! Forcing rape victims to pay for their own forensic rape kits is something one would expect to find in a fundamentalist country overseas. I have outrage fatigue. I can’t decide which facet of this policy is more upsetting. Is it the denial of justice for the poor? Is it the punishment of women who had been raped? Is it the political policies of a woman so entrenched in the “Pro-Life” movement she would deny justice to a victim? This is not a “Pro-Life” policy. This is a “Pro-Rapist” policy, and forced pregnancy policy.

It should be noted Joe Biden introduced legislation to fund rape kits to women in America. John McCain voted against it.

And finally, just to add insult to injury:

Under the Palin Administration, a law was passed that specifically deals with rapists. I am not making this up. It is now illegal for Alaskans to buy or sell the “Rapist No. 1” doll. Oh, you haven’t heard of it? It’s an “action figure” from Quentin Tarantino’s film “Grindhouse.” Yes, really. So now if you’re raped, you can take comfort in knowing Alaska outlawed an action figure.

Sheesh - and Palin spent $5 grand remodelling her mayor's office - four years worth of funding for rape kits for the city police.


Add to | Digg this

September 19, 2008

Conservatives - They Scare Easily

By Cernig

Rightwingers scare more easily than liberals, according to a new study.

... participants were then given two laboratory tests, to establish their physiological responses to frightening or unexpected stimuli. In the first test, they viewed 33 images, three of which were distressing or threatening: a large spider on the face of a frightened person; a dazed person with a bloody face; and maggots in an open wound. The scientists measured the electrical conductance of the skin, a standard measure of distress and arousal.

In the second test, the volunteers were subjected to a loud, unexpected noise, with scientists measuring the involuntary blinking that followed. A strong startle response is indicative of heightened fear and arousal. The results, which are published in the journal Science, revealed significant differences in both responses, which corresponded with people’s political views. Those with “markedly lower physical sensitivity to sudden noises and threatening visual images” tended to support liberal positions, while those with strong responses tended to be more conservative.

This would fit with the hypothesis that people who have more fearful responses to perceived threats are more likely to be conservative, while those who have weaker responses develop more liberal views.

Jeebus, they went to all that trouble when they just could have asked Karl Rove? The GOP has been using fearmongering - on terrorism, evil axises, taxes, guns, God, gays etc etc - as a vote-getting tactic for how long now?

Remember this?

Add to | Digg this

Amir Taheri Serial Fabulist

By Cernig

Taheri has been exposed as am unprincipled hack. Again. But this time, by the Bush administration.

You'd think if a responsible journalist was going to attack Obama for saying stuff at a meeting that supposedly secretly undermined the Bush administration, the fact that the meeting was also attended by Bush administration officials such as U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and the Baghdad embassy’s Legislative Affairs advisor Rich Haughton, as well as a Republican senator, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, might have killed such a story stone dead. Not for Taheri, he just left that bit out.

Could we make the guy wear a badge or something so everyone would be warned that he's a liar, without it being too crass?

And as for all the neocon outlets that fall in line to repeat his swill every single time, even though they've been burned so many times before, "here's your sign".


Add to | Digg this

Brown's Big Day

By Cernig

UK prime minister Gordon Brown is fighting for his political life. A year ago he was the most successful guardian of the British economy ever, now he's on the verge on going down as one of the worst leaders.

with Labor more than 20 points behind the Tories, Brown's greatest asset — the economic boom of yesteryear — is being engulfed by the global market meltdown, and much is riding on whether his speech Tuesday to the convention can inspire new confidence.

"He has genuinely been buffeted by events, but in this crisis going on now, a leader would have risen to the occasion and gotten his message across," said George Jones, professor emeritus of government at the London School of Economics.

"But there's no coherent message coming from Brown so far. That's why his speech at the party conference is so important."

And you thought Obama's big acceptance speech had a lot riding on it. But Brown isn't the orator Obama is (or Blair, for that matter).

In many ways it's a great pity as he should have been, on his record as Chancellor, a very stable hand. I personally had high hopes he would turn out to have greater integrity and loyalty to the original values of Labour than Tory Blur, but alas it was not to be. After talking a good game to differentiate himself from Blair, he then perpetuated all Blair's worst Tory-lite mistakes (Iraq, surveillance state, crippling inattention to detail, kissing up to Bush, bending over for big business). The dour man from Kircaldy is toast and with him the Labour Party for at least the next four years.

Add to | Digg this

Palin, The Witchhunter and the End Of Days

By Cernig

How did I miss this one?

Sarah Palin ascribes her success in the Alaska gubernatorial race to the prayers of a Kenyan minister who hounded a woman for witchcraft, drumming up a religious frenzy that ended up with police shooting her pet python because it was a demon.

No, I kid you not. Rupert Murdoch's London Times has the story.

The full Transformations video featuring Pastor Muthee’s story has recently been removed from YouTube but the rest of the story is detailed in a 1999 article in the Christian Science Monitor, as well as on numerous evangelical websites.

According to the Christian Science Monitor, six months of fervent prayer and research identified the source of the witchcraft as a local woman called Mama Jane, who ran a “divination” centre called the Emmanuel Clinic.

Her alleged involvement in fortune-telling and the fact that she lived near the site of a number of fatal car accidents led Pastor Muthee to publicly declare her a witch responsible for the town’s ills, and order her to offer her up her soul for salvation or leave Kiambu.

Says the Monitor, “Muthee held a crusade that “brought about 200 people to Christ”.” They set up round-the-clock prayer intercession in the basement of a grocery store and eventually, says the pastor “the demonic influence – the ‘principality’ over Kiambu –was broken”, and Mama Jane fled the town.

According to accounts of the witchhunt circulated on evangelical websites such as Prayer Links Ministries, after Pastor Muthee declared Mama Jane a witch, the townspeople became suspicious and began to turn on her, demanding that she be stoned.

It also notes that the speech at the Wasilla Assembly of God on June 8 this year when she says the Kenyan witchhunter prayed “Lord make a way and let her do this next step. And that’s exactly what happened”:

was to mark the graduation of students from the Wasilla Assembly of God’s Masters’ Commission, which, as Pastor Ed Kalins explains, believes Alaska will be the refuge for American evangelicals upon the coming “End of Days”.

Absolutely nucking futz.

I tell you, with McCain being a paid up member of the "Bomb 'em all" neocon club and Palin adding "Let God sort them out afterwards", I'm not sure which would be worse - that 72 year old McCain survives a full term in office or that he doesn't.

Add to | Digg this

Scary Defense Budget

By Cernig

Russia has just announced it intends boosting its defense budget by 25% next year, a massive increase to a total budget of $50 billion. The media narrative, led by the Associated Press, is that we in the West should be very afraid.

"The boost in defense spending for 2009 fits in with Russia's recent defiant posture toward the West, a stance that has seen relations with the United States and the European Union sink to a post-Cold War low after the war in Georgia."

But in related news, the US Senate today passed a $612 billion defense spending bill for 2009. That's more than the entire rest of the world put together spends on defense and over twelve times Russia's budget.

Which rather puts the "Russian menace" line being promulgated into sharper perspective.

Add to | Digg this

UK Outsources Sovereignty To US On Iraq

By Cernig

A while back, in June, I wondered aloud about what the Brits were doing about their own status of forces agreements with Iraq. I hadn't seen a thing about them in the press yet international law would normally demand that a separate agreement would have to be negotiated bilaterally for every power operating in Iraq. Apparently, the UK and other coalition members have allowed the US to take the role of "gatekeeper" in these agreements, negotiating the power to determine the exit and entry of other foreign military forces. At the time I asked: "isn't that a massive hand-off of their own sovereignty by the other coalition nations? One that's pretty newsworthy?"

So, I emailed the Conservative party to see if I could get a statement from them on what Labour had done on Britain's behalf. And yesterday, finally, I received a reply from Ross Burley, the Shadow Foreign Minister with responsibility for Iraq - according to him on the instructions of David Cameron the party leader (yeah, right). Most of his email is the kind of rubbish politicians always put in replies of this kind, having little to do with the question asked but instead pushing the party line on the subject matter generally. But he did include a couple of specific lines:

The coalition is Iraq has been led by the United States from the beginning of operations there. The United States negotiates Status of Forces Agreements bilaterally with Iraq as the lead coalition nation...The United States’ role in negotiating any bilateral agreements with Iraq on behalf of the coalition has no direct bearing on the command and control of British forces, which remain under UK sovereignty.

The Declaration of Principles for a Long-Term Relationship of Cooperation and Friendship Between the Republic of Iraq and the United States of America which was signed in November 2007 indicated that both countries would work toward establishing a detailed strategic framework for US-Iraqi co-operation in the long term and specifically address the presence of Coalition forces in Iraq beyond the current parameters of the UN mandate.

And so the answer is that, yes, the British government has handed the power to bind it in treaty with a foreign nation to the United States. This is even worse than the Bush administration trying to do an end-run around the US Congress on this deal - it's an incredible abrogation of responsibility and sovereignty which definitively reduces Britain to the role of lackey. There will be no parliamentary debate or agreement, no effective role for the British government in such matters as legal jurisdiction over forces, no nothing. (And by the way, it does effect command of British forces. If, for example, the US says "everybody out except us" then the UK has no choice but to comply no matter what UK government policy may be at the time.)

And apparently both major parties are just fine with that. Well, as a British citizen, am not.

Add to | Digg this

September 18, 2008

Can We Have Some Straight Talk On Taxes?

By Cernig

Just keep asking: How do you plan to pay the one to two trillion for financial bail-outs then? Because it really is all about the economy this time around.

I know Obama's advisors are probably saying it'd be electoral suicide for him, but I'd feel better in myself about O if he'd just add to what Biden has already said with "Look, all bets are off, this clusterf**k means tax rises and that's just the facts." Then challenge McCain to agree or else explain in detail how his budget plan will avoid handing even more deficit spending to America's grandchildren. That'd be real straight talk and would blow the "about personality, not issues" stuff to hell and gone.

As usual Bernie Sanders is up front with the unpalatable answer.He has laid out a four-part plan to cope with the collapse of financial institutions and avoid future failures of businesses “too big to fail.” First, Sanders proposed a surtax on the very wealthy to pay for bailouts of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and American International Group.

“In my view, we need an emergency surtax on those at the very top in order to pay for any losses the Federal Government suffers as a result of efforts to shore up the economy. It should not be hard-working people who are trying to figure out how they are going to keep their families economically above water, people who are working longer hours for lower wages, people who have lost their health care, people who cannot afford to pay their fuel bills this winter. Those are not the people who should be asked to pay for this bailout. If there is a bailout that has to be paid for, it should be the people, the segment of society that has benefited from Bush's economic and tax policies over the last eight years.    It is this very small segment of our population that has made out like bandits--frankly, some of them are bandits--during the Bush administration. We have to recognize that when we talk about who is going to pay for the bailouts.”

Second, he called for stronger oversight of financial institutions and an end to President Bush’s deregulation policies.

“The time for hand wringing is over. This Congress needs to put an end to the radical deregulation that was pushed by Senator Phil Gramm and many other Republicans, and Democrats who went along with that as well. We need to put the safety walls back up in the financial services sector. We need to regulate the electronic energy markets. We need to end the use of unregulated credit default swaps. In other words, what we need to do once again is have the U.S. Government play an important role in protecting the people of this country against the greed of large corporate interests.”

Third, huge businesses like Bank of America, which is swallowing up other large corporations, should be broken up so no company in the future could bring the American economy down with it.

"This country can no longer afford companies that are too big to fail. If a company is so large that its failure would cause systemic harm to our economy, if it is too big to fail, then it is too big to exist. If it is too big to fail, it is too big to exist. We need, as a Congress, to assess which companies fall in this category. Bank of America is certainly one of them. Those companies need to be broken apart. We cannot have companies so huge that if they go under they take the world economy with them. Then once we break them up, if a company wants to act in a risky manner, if they want to take risks in order to make some quick bucks, that is okay. If they want to take the risk and they want to lose money, that is okay. The American people should not have to, and would not be under those circumstances, be left to pick up the pieces.”

Sanders also wants an immediate economic stimulus package which would put people back to work rebuilding crumbling infrastructure, and encourage energy efficiency as well as a move to sustainable energy.

The medicine tastes nasty, though, and fat-cat America isn't going to want to swallow it, which means their drones in the rightie-tightie community will stay in kneejerk condemnation mode.

Add to | Digg this

Israel Picks Tzipi Livni

By Cernig

Israel's Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, has narrowly won the ruling Kadima party's primary for a new leader following Ehud Olmert's fall from grace.

Livni, a political moderate, won 43.1 percent of the vote in the Kadima Party primary elections, compared with 42 percent for Shaul Mofaz, a hawkish former military chief and defense minister, in a contest with far-reaching implications for peacemaking with the Palestinians and Syria.

The official results were much closer than the double-digit victory predicted by exit polls Wednesday night.

Olmert, who is stepping down to battle multiple corruption allegations, will remain as a caretaker leader until parliament approves a new Cabinet. He will resign after the next Cabinet meeting on Sunday, but spokesman Mark Regev would not say when exactly.

Livni said she would launch informal coalition talks on Friday, even though President Shimon Peres cannot officially ask her to try to put together a government until Olmert resigns. After she is assigned the task, she will have 42 days to form a new ruling coalition.

If she succeeds, she will become Israel's first female prime minister since Golda Meir stepped down in 1974. If she fails, the country will hold elections in early 2009, a year and a half ahead of schedule.

Livni, a former Mossad agent, is Israel's lead negotiator in peace talks with the Palestinians and has taken a concilliatory approach in negotiations. She has also stressed negotiation with Iran and it has been reported that she doesn't believe the "existential threat" nonsense bandied about by hardliners. Haaretz in October 2007:

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said a few months ago in a series of closed discussions that in her opinion that Iranian nuclear weapons do not pose an existential threat to Israel, Haaretz magazine reveals in an article on Livni to be published Friday.

Livni also criticized the exaggerated use that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is making of the issue of the Iranian bomb, claiming that he is attempting to rally the public around him by playing on its most basic fears. Last week, former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy said similar things about Iran.

The hardline narrative that Iran is full of suicidal mullahs who will happily go to paradise and so don't care if they get killed after nuking Israel really is dumb. Ward Wilson at "Rethinking Nuclear Weapons" writes that he got an email from a graduate student at Georgetown's Scoool of Foreign pointing out the illogicality of that line:

If the leaders of Iran were really suicidal - desperately hoping to martyr themselves so they could get to heaven - they don't have to wait for nukes to do it. They could just bomb Israel with chemical weapons. Or biological weapons. Or do any other crazy act that seemed likely to get the world to attack them and send them to paradise.

Believing that they're suicidal doesn't make sense. If you really believe they want to martyr themselves, how do explain that they haven't already? What are they waiting for? (A complicated technology that could take years to get right and maybe you'll never get right?)

With Livni and Obama in charge, maybe we could finally let some adults run the playground.

Add to | Digg this

Gates: US Should Apologise For Mistakes Quickly

By Cernig

Bob Gates has obliquely suggested that it might be an idea if the US military didn't always deny its mistakes as a first response, cover them up as a second and only admit them as a third when others uncover the truth.

"I think the key for us is, in those rare occasions when we do make a mistake, when there is an error, to apologize quickly, to compensate the victims quickly and then carry out the investigation," Gates told reporters later at Bagram airfield, where he received a briefing from an Air Force general on the rules and restrictions U.S. pilots must follow when providing aerial support to U.S. and allied troops engaged in ground fighting.

In Kabul, Gates offered the people of Afghanistan his "personal regrets" for U.S. airstrikes that have killed civilians and said he would try to improve the accuracy of air warfare, the imperfect fallback for U.S. commanders who say they don't have enough ground forces for the deepening Afghanistan war.

"As I told them, I offer all Afghans my sincere condolences and personal regrets for the recent loss of innocent life as a result of coalition airstrikes," Gates said after meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. "While no military has ever done more to prevent civilian casualties, it is clear that we have to work even harder."

That last sentence is just spin, mind you. It's probably unproveable, but other nations like Germany and the UK, both of whom stress low-level flying precisely so that pilots can "eyeball" the target themselves, have arguably done more.

All of this is sparked by recent "mistakes" in Afghanistan, though - where the US military ran through its until-now SOP of denial, cover-up and reluctant admission over an airstike that hit women and children instead of militants. Maybe relying on fingerpointing in return for bounties isn't the best idea. But if the US military continues that policy, then I'm sure apologizing quickly will really help the inevitable dead and maimed from other such mistakes...

Another "not the best idea" move: Gates delivered this speech while standing in front of an A-10 ground attack aircraft with a shark's teeth mouth painted on its nose. Probably not the best framing, Bob.


Add to | Digg this

Paying Taxes IS Patriotic

By Cernig

I agree with Joe Biden. Biden said: "It's time to be patriotic ... time to jump in, time to be part of the deal, time to help get America out of the rut." Tax cuts in a time of war, or a time of massive financial crisis, are unpatriotic. But not just tax cuts for the rich.

This should flow logically from rightwing positions as well as from "kitchen table" common sense that you can't spend more than you make. As I wrote in 2005:

"In times of war when the military needs every cent for armor, bullets and bandages, it is verging on treasonous to avoid paying taxes even if the methods used are ostensibly legal. It certainly isn't supporting the troops or the war on terror."

That was the point about the "Good War', WW2. Everyone shared the fiscal burden. Either a war is worth that commitment or it isn't, and rightwingers have consistently argued that the War on Some Terror is a generational war just as vital as WW2. Bush in 2005 said it:

World War II generation endured great suffering and sacrifice because they understood that defeating tyranny in Europe and Asia was essential to the security and freedom of America.

Like previous wars we have waged to protect our freedom, the war on terror requires great sacrifice from Americans.

So, here's the sacrifice. Put your money where your mouths are and make it.

Similiarly, the financial crisis is going to add 1 to 2 trillion dollars to a national debt which, at $4.4 9.6 trillion, is already more by six or seven trillion than the federal government takes in every year and which has been ballooned to pay for those wars - for which few have made any kind of sacrifice. I don't care what's being said on the stump - tax cuts are a pipedream of fiscal irresponsibility and there isn't enough pork in the budget to cover the coming bill, by a factor of 100. [Edit- Thanks anderson for correcting figures on the debt.]

Thank you, the Bush administration and Republican politicians, for those woes - by pushing dumb lending decisions by mandate while at the same time encouraging an utter lack of oversight of get-rich-quick exploiters. Thank you, flip-flopper McCain, who has always been an enemy of oversight for the financial markets (right up until yesterday). Thank you, in particular, Phil Gramm - John McCain's adviser.

Do Republicans intend shouldering collective responsibility for the debt and making a sacrifice - paying more taxes - or do they intend to shove their responsibility for payment off onto their grandchildren?

Apparently the latter. Ed Morrissey today tells his readers "America’s economic woes have nothing to do with taxes." Well, Ed, they do if the country wants to ever recover from those woes. Be honest enough to say so. You used to be.

Update: the final word comes from Melissa McEwan, explaining how progressives should push back hard against the Right on this.

Oliver Wendell Holmes once said: "I like paying taxes. With them I buy civilization." And I've always thought the Democrats should use that, should connect, at every opportunity, paying taxes and buying civilization.

Every time some bloviating nitwit conservative goes on about how the government never gave him nuttin', the Democrats should say: "Oh, you've never used roads? Never mailed anything? Never logged on to the internet?"

And every time the Republicans talk about the Democrats wanting to raise taxes, the Dems should retort: "Yes, we want to raise taxes on those who can afford it, because with taxes, we buy civilization. We build schools and bridges and freaking spaceships. You got a problem with that?"


Add to | Digg this

September 17, 2008

Round the decay of that colossal wreck

By Cernig

I've a new post up in my guest-slot at Art Of The Possible, wondering what happened to all the fans of the free market. It appears that it’s a great idea when everyone thinks things are going well, but when everything hits the skids it’s “bring on that gib’mint intervention!”

But much as it pains me to say it - because the taste of corporate socialism as a reward for corporate robbery is so bitter - the US and other governments must do what they must to save us all from the excesses of “laissez fair” financial markets that were rigged in favor of a few insiders out to asset-strip and make hay while the sun shone without any regard for ethical Golden Rules or for the long-term wellbeing of the rest of us.

Add to | Digg this

Turkey Extends Mandate For Iraq Incursions

By Cernig

The US has managed to keep a lid on this one for now, but it is so not going away.

The Turkish government will ask parliament to extend by one year its mandate to order military strikes against separatist Kurdish rebels based in northern Iraq, the deputy prime minister said Wednesday.

...The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) dominates the 550-seat parliament and is likely to face no difficulty in securing approval for the extension.

The government won a one-year parliamentary authorization on October 17 last year for cross-border raids against Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) rebels who have led a 24-year-long bloody campaign against Ankara.

I keep hoping the US, having sat on the fence so long this issue almost fatally bit them on the ass, can now keep punting a Kurd/Turkey general showdown until coalition troops are safely out of Iraq. Because as far as I can see an eventual collision is inevitable. Turkey won't let the Kurds have an indpendent state and the Kurds won't take no for an answer. Eventually, that means war between what will by then be a breakaway province which has allied itself with the US occupation of Iraq for its own gain and a NATO member. With a very real prospect of a Kurd/Iraq civil war too (come to think of it, we're looking at a possibility of that already). We really, really don't want to be in the middle of all that.

Add to | Digg this

Iran and the latest IAEA report

By Cernig

Just a heads up that I have a longish post at Crooks and Liars discussing the implications of the latest Agency report on Iran.

Long story short: the report doesn't give the neocons any fuel at all for the war they've lusted after for so long. So much so that in one prominent neocon reporters case, he resorted to making stuff up.

The IAEA has again let the hawks know they’re on their own if they want war with Iran. Fully aware that there will be no international mandate for war and that a unilateral attack would become a military disaster as well as shredding America’s already tattered reputation, some who have been hawkish in the past are now climbing abourd Obama’s platform and advocating actual diplomacy.

Add to | Digg this

September 16, 2008

Combat Rock: A Soundtrack For Two Wars

By Cernig

I recently came across an article in the UK's Guardian about a unique label devoted to releasing music by Iraq war veterans and it got me to thinking about the soundtracks of war. You know what I mean. With WW2 it was marching bands, Glenn Miller, Vera Lynn in the UK, that kind of stuff. Stirring or upbeat - music for a "good" war. For Vietnam, we've all heard the music that was played at the bases through various movies like Full Metal Jacket and Good Morning Vietnam. The music was darker, often more cynical if not downright rebellious. The music the troops liked captured their moods and their thinking.

So I got to wondering if the music that soldiers on the frontlines listen to would also capture the moods and thoughts of today's troops fighting today's wars. It certainly seemed that way:

There was pumping rock music to fire up the soldiers before they drove into battle and, as Dobbins says, 'It'd be a big thing for us all to prepare the playlist together before we went out a bit like in the film Blade where the girl puts together a playlist before going out to kill vampires.' Santopoalo, however, drew the line at actually listening to music while fighting: 'The battle was the music.'

At other times there was a more personal soundtrack. 'There's a group of songs that remind me of my time in Iraq in the same way there are songs that remind me of college,' says Gilfillan, now a captain in the US Army Reserves and running the label full-time.

The Guardian article gave some insight - it had the top ten playlist for one soldier's i-pod while he served in Iraq.

1 'Dogface Soldier'
It's the theme song of the 3rd Infantry Division.

2 'Voodoo Chile '- Stevie Ray Vaughan
My personal favourite.

3 'Let the Bodies Hit the Floor' - Drowning Pool
It fits, right!

4 'Stupify' - Disturbed

5 'Down with the Sickness' - Disturbed

6 'Welcome to the Jungle' - Guns N' Roses

7 'Thunderstruck' - AC/DC

8 'Enter Sandman' - Metallica
We'd listen to pretty much anything from Metallica.

9 'Dig' - Mudvayne

10 Any song by Rammstein
They were always guaranteed a place on our playlist.

I emailed a couple of blog-pals who are veterans of iraq and Afghanistan and asked them their opinions of that playlist and the idea that there's a "soundtrack" for the twin wars, just as there was for Vietnam or WW2.. One fomer sergeant told me "I can say with all honesty none of those songs were on my iPod downrange. I at least had the Hendrix version of Voodoo Chile". But what he did listen to was Mos Def's Tru3 Magic, specifically "Dollar Day" and "Undeniable", Ted Leo and Kanye West/Ludacris' "Breath in, Breath it". A fomer officer told me he liked anything by The Killers and The Joshua Tree and U2's "Where the Streets Have No Name" but that there wasn't really a definitive soundtrack as such - it depended on the ages and backgrounds of the individual soldiers. Another listed Pantera, Deftones, Mudvayne, and Marilyn Manson, among others but wrote "I've mellowed a little since then." There's one thing that everyone I asked agreed on - the real "pissing contests" about music happen in the gym, not in the Hummvee.

I also asked our friend Spencer Ackerman, who is embedded in Afghanistan at the moment and sending back some awsome articles from forward operating bases, what the troops he's with are listening to as well. His quick straw-poll came up with an interesting and eclectic top ten.

1. Van Morrison, “Domino.” Why? “Because it’s an awesome song,” said Staff Sgt. Rannalt Bahr, the only person I’ve ever met who recognized a tattoo I have on my back as being a quote from a Refused song — and who has his own Refused tattoo. (Bahr: “Every day I listen to ‘Rock And Roll’ by the Velvet Underground.”)

2. Ram Jam, “Black Betty.” You know that one? It’s like an oldie. If I sang it to you, you’d recognize it. You’ve heard it a million times, I promise. I had no idea whose song it was.

3. Killswitch Engage, “My Curse.” There was broad agreement about Killswitch, but this was only one of several songs proposed.

4. The Doors, “The End.” Despite the unfortunate Vietnam overtones.

5. Toby Keith, “The Taliban Song.” I hate Toby Keith and yet this song is indisputably awesome. Apparently Toby played a show over here not long ago and did performed “The Taliban Song” with special soldier-lyrics.

6. Core Blund, “I Wanna Be In The Cavalry.” No idea who this is.

7. Journey, “Worlds Apart.” No comment.

8. “The Sweeney Todd Song That The Mom Sings To The Kid,” Sweeney Todd official motion picture soundtrack. No one could figure out what this song is actually titled, and that’s probably for the best.

9. “Most Things On The Rock Band Soundtrack,” Rock Band official soundtrack. And may I say: Good choice. The Rock Band song selection features many top-notch 90s-era jams. I personally rediscovered Hole’s “Celebrity Skin” thanks to the popular video game.

10. “The Debbie Does Dallas Soundtrack,” Debbie Does Dallas official motion picture soundtrack. By popular consensus, at least one Hooligan was conceived while this played.

Draw your own conclusions. To me, it seems that the War On Terror's frontline soundtrack is equally split between raw, hard-edged and cynical street Rock and more nostalgic pieces that remind soldiers of what they have lost in the line of fire.

Add to | Digg this

Pakistan Says It will Fire on US Raids

By Cernig

Following reports of a US raid into Pakistan which was turned back by border guards firing into the air, the Pakistani military - which have the vocal backing of their president and prime minister, have issued a statement about any future raids. You don't get much clearer than this. spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas told The Associated Press that after U.S. helicopters ferried troops into a militant stronghold in the South Waziristan tribal region, the military told field commanders to prevent any similar raids.

"The orders are clear," Abbas said in an interview. "In case it happens again in this form, that there is a very significant detection, which is very definite, no ambiguity, across the border, on ground or in the air: open fire."

The Pentagon's entire response - speaking for the Bush administration because no-one higher has made a statement - is to send out a spokesman to tell reporters that Pakistan will be told to change its mind.

In Washington, a Pentagon spokesman said Pakistan would "correct the record" on the latest statement.

"We enjoy good cooperation with Pakistan along the border," said the spokesman, Bryan Whitman. "Pakistan is an ally in the global war on terror."

The Bush administration's motto really is "We make our own reality".

Add to | Digg this

September 15, 2008

Reports Say Pakistan Soldiers 'Confront' US Raid

By Cernig

There are reports today that Pakistani soldiers at a border base fired into the air to deter another US cross-border raid.

The BBC:

The latest confrontation began at around midnight, local people say.

They say seven US helicopter gunships and two troop-carrying Chinook helicopters landed in the Afghan province of Paktika near the Zohba mountain range.

US troops from the Chinooks then tried to cross the border. As they did so, Pakistani paramilitary soldiers at a checkpoint opened fire into the air and the US troops decided not to continue forward, local Pakistani officials say.

Reports say the firing lasted for several hours. Local people evacuated their homes and tribesmen took up defensive positions in the mountains.

The incident happened close to the town of Angoor Adda, some 30km (20 miles) from Wana, the main town of South Waziristan.

A Pakistani military spokesman in Islamabad confirmed that there was firing but denied that Pakistani troops were involved.

The Pakistan military says only local tribesmen held the US raid back. Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman denied the reports, saying they were "spurious", "(I) cannot find any mission that correlates to the report I saw out of Pakistan. I can't find any (military) report of helicopters being fired upon," Whitman said. But local authorities in Pakistan say differently, according to Reuters:

One official told Reuters by telephone that "the troops stationed at BP-27 post fired at the choppers and they turned away."

Two Chinook helicopters appeared set to land when troops began shooting, alerting tribesmen who also opened fire on the intruders, said a senior government official in Peshawar, the capital of North West Frontier Province.

A resident described the tension in the village through the night. "We saw helicopters flying all over the area. We stayed awake the whole night after the incident," he said.

I suspect that this raid will turn out to be exactly as "spurious" as the recent denied Afghan massacre - that denial was turned on its head when mobile phone footage of casualties, including women and children, surfaced.

Recent reports have it that Bush himself ordered this new belligerence on the part of US forces along the Afghnaistan/Pakistan border - over the objections of his entire intelligence community who said it would destabilize Pakistan's political balance, possibly fatally. Since then, both President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani have both endorsed the stance made by Pakistan's army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, who has stated that Pakistan would not allow foreign troops on its soil and Pakistan's sovereignty and territorial integrity would be defended "at all costs".

Afghanistan, India and NATO allies alike have said for a long time that the Pakistani intelligence agency, the ISI, controls and directs Islamist extremist groups including the Taliban and groups carrying out attacks inside India. It is also said to have close ties with Al Qaeda. But for domestic political reasons American politicians and pundits have previously tended to ignore those ties. Only recently, following officially orchestrated "leaks" from the Bush administration, have the American establishment media began to suggest the truth - that the Bush administration has been thoroughly played by Pakistan throughout the "war on terror".

... even some Pakistanis said the U.S. government was naive to think that Musharraf or his generals would do much to find bin Laden. They noted that Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency had cultivated ties with the al-Qaeda leader for two decades and that many officers remained sympathetic to his cause.

Afrasiab Khattak, a Pashtun politician based here in the northwestern city of Peshawar, said Pakistani forces would occasionally help the CIA capture second-string al-Qaeda figures, but only to keep the aid money flowing from Washington.

"The Bush administration deceived itself," he said. "From the very beginning, the Pakistani generals were playing a double game. It was an open secret."

Khattak said he has warned U.S. officials since 2000 of bin Laden's close relations with Pakistan's sp