William K. Black suspects that it was more than greed and incompetence that brought down the U.S. financial sector and plunged the economy in recession — it was fraud. And he would know. When it comes to financial shenanigans, William K. Black, the former senior regulator who cracked down on banks during the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s, has seen pretty much everything.
Now an Associate Professor of Economics and Law at the University of Missouri, William K. Black tells Bill Moyers on the JOURNAL that the tool at the very center of mortgage collapse, creating triple-A rated bonds out of "liars' loans" — loans issued without verifying income, assets or employment — was a fraud, and the banks knew it.
And while there is no law against liars' loans, Black points out that there are, "many laws against fraud, and liars' loans are fraudulent. [...] They involve deceit, which is the essence of fraud."
Only the scale of the scandal is new. A single bank, IndyMac, lost more money than the entire Savings and Loan Crisis. The difference between now and then, explains Black, is a drastic reduction in regulation and oversight, "We now know what happens when you destroy regulation. You get the biggest financial calamity of anybody under the age of 80."...
Saturday, April 04, 2009
... In 2007-2008, according to ATF Special Agent William Newell, Mexico submitted 11,000 guns to the ATF for tracing. Close to 6,000 were successfully traced -- and of those, 90 percent -- 5,114 to be exact, according to testimony in Congress by William Hoover -- were found to have come from the U.S.
But in those same two years, according to the Mexican government, 29,000 guns were recovered at crime scenes.
In other words, 68 percent of the guns that were recovered were never submitted for tracing. And when you weed out the roughly 6,000 guns that could not be traced from the remaining 32 percent, it means 83 percent of the guns found at crime scenes in Mexico could not be traced to the U.S.
So, if not from the U.S., where do they come from? There are a variety of sources:
-- The Black Market. Mexico is a virtual arms bazaar, with fragmentation grenades from South Korea, AK-47s from China, and shoulder-fired rocket launchers from Spain, Israel and former Soviet bloc manufacturers.
-- Russian crime organizations. Interpol says Russian Mafia groups such as Poldolskaya and Moscow-based Solntsevskaya are actively trafficking drugs and arms in Mexico.
- South America. During the late 1990s, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) established a clandestine arms smuggling and drug trafficking partnership with the Tijuana cartel, according to the Federal Research Division report from the Library of Congress.
-- Asia. According to a 2006 Amnesty International Report, China has provided arms to countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Chinese assault weapons and Korean explosives have been recovered in Mexico.
-- The Mexican Army. More than 150,000 soldiers deserted in the last six years, according to Mexican Congressman Robert Badillo. Many took their weapons with them, including the standard issue M-16 assault rifle made in Belgium.
-- Guatemala. U.S. intelligence agencies say traffickers move immigrants, stolen cars, guns and drugs, including most of America's cocaine, along the porous Mexican-Guatemalan border. On March 27, La Hora, a Guatemalan newspaper, reported that police seized 500 grenades and a load of AK-47s on the border. Police say the cache was transported by a Mexican drug cartel operating out of Ixcan, a border town....
[bth: worth reading in full. A pretty significant myth busted.]
The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee didn't vote on the nomination Thursday because North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr asked that the panel hold off. Burr, the top Republican on the committee, wants Duckworth and the White House to answer some of his questions. Burr's spokesman, David Ward, would not say on Friday what the questions concerned.
'He's doing his due diligence ... to ensure that veterans have the best representation possible,' Ward said.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The committee chairman, Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, called it a 'disappointing setback.'
'Tammy Duckworth is a talented and qualified nominee who has already given so much for her country and the veterans she serves,' Akaka said in a statement.
Duckworth, a major in the Illinois National Guard, lost both her legs and partial use of one arm in a rocket-propelled grenade attack in 2004. She ran for Congress in 2006, but lost. She's currently the director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs."...
Cecelia Grimes of Parkesburg, Pa., broke down in tears Friday as she apologized in court and said she would take back her actions if she could. She admitted that she threw her BlackBerry into an Arby's restaurant garbage can and put other records of her involvement with Weldon's campaign events out with the trash to hide them from an FBI investigation.
'It was stupid and I have no excuse for it,' she said haltingly as she tried to compose herself. Two rows full of friends and family looked on in the courtroom, many of them also crying. 'I just panicked and acted carelessly.'
U.S. District Judge Henry Kennedy Jr. said she must spend the first five months of her probation on electronic home monitoring and pay a $3,000 fine. He said some reasonable people may find his sentence lenient and noted that people have been incarcerated for less. He encouraged Grimes, 43, to take the opportunity to live the rest of her life free from crime.
Court documents say federal authorities have been looking into whether Weldon agreed to help Grimes by supporting appropriations requests from her lobbying f"rm. The Republican lawmaker lost his seat in 2006 after representing suburban Philadelphia for 20 years. He has not been charged with a crime.
Grimes is the second person tied to Weldon to plead guilty to a crime and cooperate with the government. Weldon's former top aide, Russell James Caso Jr., pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge in 2007.
Weeks before the 2006 election, FBI agents raided the homes of Weldon's daughter Karen Weldon and her business partner, Charles P. Sexton Jr., as they investigated whether the congressman helped them win nearly $1 million in foreign lobbying contracts....
According to figures published by Electric Boat, the MMP increased Carter's displacement by about 33%, her navigation draft by over a foot (300 mm), and made her louder by two dB at 20 knots (37 km/h). It reduced her speed by two knots (4 km/h).
Carter has additional maneuvering devices fitted fore and aft that will allow her to keep station over selected targets in odd currents. Past submarines that were so outfitted were used to place listening devices on undersea cables and listen on communications of foreign countries."...
Friday, April 03, 2009
Alexander told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell that the policy, which prohibits gays in the military from being open about their sexuality, was 'a little bit like having a bowl of bigotry surrounded by a curtain of silk. It takes the basic integrity of a person and says 'you must forget it.' It turns people into liars.'"...
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The nation's unemployment rate jumped to 8.5 percent in March, the highest since late 1983, as a wide swath of employers eliminated 663,000 jobs. It's fresh evidence of the toll the recession has inflicted on America's workers, and economists say there's no relief in sight.
If part-time and discouraged workers are factored in, the unemployment rate would have been 15.6 percent in March, the highest on records dating to 1994, according to Labor Department data released Friday.
The average work week in March dropped to 33.2 hours, a new record low.
"It's an ugly report and April is going to be equally as bad," predicted Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Economy.com.
Last month's tally of job losses was slightly higher than the 654,000 that economists expected. The rise in the unemployment rate matched expectations.
Employers cut 651,000 jobs in February when the jobless rate was 8.1 percent, the same as initially estimated. January's job losses, however, were revised much higher, to 741,000 from 655,000....
SHANGLA: More than 70 Taliban attacked the famous Gojaro Kalay emerald mine in Shangla on Wednesday and took control of the mining operations.
The mine had been leased to American firm Luxury International, which had been paying Pakistan Rs 40 million a year. The company had left recently because of the security situation....
Yesterday's airstrike in Pakistan’s tribal agency of Arakzai targeted a meeting being held by senior lieutenants of Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud.
Hakeemullah Mehsud, the leader of the Taliban in the Arakzai, Khyber, and Kurram tribal agencies, was one of several senior Taliban leaders targeted in the latest US Predator airstrike. Hakeemullah was not killed in the strike, The News reported.
In a phone call to The News, Hakeemullah admitted the strike hit one of his training camps. He then threatened to conduct suicide attacks in Islamabad to avenge the attack as the Pakistani government has been cooperating with the US to carry out the strikes....
Lashkar-e-Taiba leader said to be in Pakistani custody directs operations in Kashmir - The Long War Journal
Berlin (Agencies): Two private German logistic companies are involved in talks with Iran, seeking alternative non-military supply routes to Afghanistan, a German Army spokesman told IRNA here Wednesday. Both companies which have been transporting food and fuel destined for German NATO troops in Afghanistan, have been in contact with Iran and have been trying to find alternative transportation routes, the German official said. He stressed neither NATO nor the German government were involved in any contractual talks whatsoever but were merely "monitoring" the situation. The spokesman confirmed that the Defense Committee of the German Parliament had debated the issue last week. NATO convoys, travelling through Pakistan, have increasingly come under attack by Taliban and al-Qaeda forces. The western military has presently deployed around 55,000 troops in Afghanistan as part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) which is by far NATO's largest mission outside Europe. The ISAF mission was mandated by the United Nations in December 2001 in the wake of the overthrow of the Taliban. The largest troop contingents come from the US with 23,220 followed by Britain with 8,910 and Germany with 3,500
Thursday, April 02, 2009
Obama Depressed, Distant Since 'Battlestar Galactica' Series Finale | The Onion - America's Finest News Source
'The president seems to be someplace else lately,' said one high-level official, speaking on condition of anonymity. 'Yesterday we were all being briefed on the encroachment of Iranian drone planes into Iraq, when he just looked up from the table and blurted out, 'What am I supposed to watch on Fridays at 10 p.m. now? Numb3rs?''"...
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - A 101st Airborne Division officer who killed one of his soldiers in a friendly fire incident hasn't been charged, the Army says, and the family of the man who died is angry no one has been held accountable.
The father of Pfc. David Sharrett of Oakton, Va., said he's also upset that the officer, Capt. Timothy Hanson, was promoted from first lieutenant last month. The promotion, based on the officer's overall record, came more than a year after an autopsy found Sharrett was killed by a bullet from Hanson's weapon.
David Sharrett Sr. said Wednesday night he had to press the Army for information about his son's death.
"Lt. Hanson shoots my son from a distance about 19 feet. Then he leaves my son on the battlefield, leaving no leader on the ground," Sharrett said. "It was tactically a nightmare."
The Army investigation found that nothing criminal happened when the soldiers tried to capture six insurgents near Balad on Jan. 16, 2008. Hanson received a reprimand that was not seen by the board that promoted him. Officials would not provide further details because it was a personnel matter.
"There were tragic mistakes made, but not criminal," said Fort Campbell, Ky.-based spokeswoman Kelly Tyler....
Army lied about how my son died in Iraq: NY Daily News: Friendly-fire victim was 'misidentified' as enemy gunman
Army brass in Iraq whitewashed an incident of a soldier killed by his own lieutenant by blaming the dead hero, stonewalling his family and promoting his killer, the Daily News has learned.
The friendly-fire victim, Pfc. David Sharrett, 27, of Oakton, Va., was "misidentified" by 1stLt. Timothy Hanson as an enemy gunman during a botched night raid Jan. 16, 2008, against an Al Qaeda in Iraq stronghold north of Baghdad, the Army belatedly acknowledged.
Sharrett bled to death as his buddies searched frantically for him for 25 minutes after the firefight ended.
For four months after the Army knew the truth, it still insisted to Sharrett's father that he was killed by enemy fire - and gave only atemporary wrist slap to Hanson under pressure from the families of Sharrett and two other G.I.s killed in the clash.
After The News uncovered new video evidence and raised questions, a 101st Airborne Division general said the probe into Sharrett's death may reopen.
"The final decisions and dispositions have yet to be made," Brig. Gen. Steve Townsend said.
Sharrett's family claims top officers in the legendary "Screaming Eagles" division initially - and angrily - denied friendly fire was involved, claiming for months that insurgents killed Sharrett when his eight-man team tried to capture six suspects in a rural thicket.
The unit's ex-commander, Lt. Col. Robert McCarthy, insists he'sbeen "nothing but open" with the families of Sharrett and two buddies killed by enemy fire that night, Cpl. John Sigsbee of upstate Waterville and Pfc. Danny Kimme of Fisher, Ill. The families of those two men blame officers for other fatal errors.
McCarthy told The News last week he knew within days of Sharrett's death that a soldier had killed him, but he was unable to prove his father was notified before May - three months after the Army finished its flawed probe. A ballistics test in February matched Hanson's M-4 rifle to the round removed from Sharrett."The Army lied to us," the slain hero's dad, also named David, charged Tuesday. "We felt betrayed the way our son was betrayed."
Three days after the friendly-fire probe began on Jan. 24, McCarthy e-mailed the elder Sharrett, claiming it was "a fierce grenade and small-arms fight that resulted in the deaths."
The Army's probe eventually faulted Hanson, 30, of Janesville, Wis., for a series of blunders, including flying away in a chopper and "leaving no leader from the team on the ground" to find and help his soldiers. But his commanders didn't punish him.
"I don't view it as colossal failures," McCarthy said. "I think he made some mistakes." He called Hanson a "great and steady" leader. Hanson, since promoted to captain and serving as a brigade staff officer at Fort Campbell, Ky., would not return calls for comment.
Nine months after Sharrett was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, McCarthy's boss, Col. Michael McBride, caved to pressure from the families with a temporary written reprimand for Hanson - which was removed from his file when he left Iraq days later.
This year, McBride and McCarthy reversed course again and recommended a tougher reprimand in Hanson's permanent record. But Gen. Townsend ordered a review by uninvolved officers.
The families want career-ending punishment for Hanson, McCarthy and McBride.
Officers in the initial probe blamed Sharrett for his own death.
They said Sharrett and the others didn't switch on infrared lights, which mark them as "friendly," to other troops wearing night-vision goggles. They said Hanson shot Sharrett "mistakenly believing he was an enemy."
After the shooting, "Sharrett's whereabouts were initially unknown" because his light "was not on," an investigating officer wrote.
But the report ignored Hanson's own admission, backed up by one of his soldiers, that he did not give his men time to turn the beacons on, or order them to do so. That was a "leader failure," McCarthy said.
The report also omitted that an overhead drone had an infrared camera clearly displaying Sharrett's body heat, which his commanders didn't use to guide the search for the dying soldier.
Hanson left the battlefield while it was still "hot" aboard a chopper, even though four soldiers were unaccounted for, which, McCarthy said, "I would not have done."
One such person is Hakimullah Mehsud. The young and important commander from the new generation of the Taliban Movement of Pakistan held his first press conference in the Orakzai Agency of the tribal areas in November and arrived in his personal armored U.S. military humvee.
After vowing to increase attacks on NATO convoys he showed off his new vehicle to a group of 20 reporters and told them he had captured it during a recent raid on a NATO supply convoy bound for Afghanistan.
Similarly, local print media reported in June that the Pakistani officials confirmed that a militant group in the tribal areas captured parts for three U.S. helicopters — Chinook, Black Hawk and Cobra — while they were being shipped in large cargo containers from Peshawar to Jalalabad, Afghanistan."....
[bth: worth a quick read]
The number of defense contracting fraud and corruption cases sent by government investigators to prosecutors dropped precipitously under the Bush administration, even as contracting by the Defense Department almost doubled.
Defense contracting grew from about $200 billion in fiscal year 1993 at the start of the Clinton presidency to nearly $400 billion in FY 2008 at the end of President George W. Bush’s administration (1993 dollars adjusted for inflation to 2008 dollars). But Defense Department investigators during the Bush administration sent 76 percent fewer contracting fraud and corruption cases to the Justice Department for potential criminal prosecution than were referred under Clinton, according to Justice Department data analyzed by the Center for Public Integrity.
“No one is minding the store,” said William G. Dupree, a former director of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS), which investigates contracting fraud. “Someone needs to address that.”...
Wednesday, April 01, 2009
.... Soon there'll be a new king of the road: the MRAP All Terrain Vehicle (M-ATV), nicknamed the "Baby MRAP," which is being "designed for mobility and survivability," says Cheryl Irwin, spokeswoman for the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
As a nation at war for nearly 40 years, the Afghan landscape is peppered with an astounding variety of things that blow up. Along the bare, parched mountains near the border with Pakistan, explosives are more abundant than flowers or trees.
Weight, height, size — all the advantages the MRAP afforded troops in Iraq's urban environments — are all liabilities in a country that barely possesses paved pathways.
Last year, three Green Berets drowned when their MRAP, which is prone to tilting over on uneven terrain, rolled into a canal in southern Afghanistan. The problem was obvious, and the solution is clear: Afghanistan needs a special vehicle for its unique demands.
Enter the M-ATV.
A scaled-down, all-terrain, four-wheel offspring of the larger MRAP, the M-ATV is one of the first tactical vehicles designed specifically with Afghanistan in mind, and the Defense Department has put an urgent priority on getting it into the war zone by the end of this year.
“The M-ATV is designed to have the same level of protection as the previous MRAPs, but with the mobility of a Humvee,” says Steve Field, spokesman for BAE Systems, one of several competing manufacturers designing this vehicle of the future.
Its equipment and capabilities are many:
• IED jammers
• V-shaped blast-dispersing monocoque hull
• Significantly increased power-to-weight ratio
• The ability to ford hard-bottom fresh water to depths of up to 5 feet. (M-ATV is not amphibious)
• Generate 10 kilowatts of vehicle host power and export an additional 20 kilowatts for mission equipment
• Turbo-charged diesel V8 engine
• Shorter wheelbase for improved cross-country mobility
• Lower center of gravity for increased maneuverability and to prevent rollovers
• Ergonomic steering angle to “drive like an SUV”
• “Runflat” tire system allowing the M-ATV to safely cruise at 30 mph on up to two flat tires....
'Private employers cut jobs by a record 742,000 in March versus a 706,000 revised cut in February that was originally reported at 697,000 jobs, said ADP, which has been carrying out the survey since 2001."...
... Since the latest operation to clear out the insurgents began here eight weeks ago, Iraqi and American vehicles have been struck by roadside bombs more than 30 times. A dozen Iraqi soldiers have been killed and three American soldiers have been seriously wounded.
And for every bomb that exploded, the soldiers have found and defused two more....
The combat outpost in the area — named Diamond, after Staff Sgt. Sean D. Diamond, who was killed in February — marked the end of that era, Colonel Rago said.
He estimated that only a few hundred fighters were left. “But what they lack in numbers, they make up for in talent,” he said.
In addition to the 800 American combat troops in the operation, there are 120 engineers and members of logistical teams in the area, as well as some 3,800 Iraqi troops.
The Americans are taking the lead in clearing the roads.
Capt. Daniel Godbey, 37, said that on one of his first missions, the vehicle in front of his was struck by a roadside bomb.
“I saw the truck lift right off the ground and land again and I thought, ‘Oh no,’ ” he said. “But everyone walked out, their ears ringing but O.K.”
Captain Godbey was in Iraq before, in 2004, and did tours in Afghanistan before returning, but it was his first mission in the armored vehicle known as an MRAP, which stands for for mine-resistant, ambush-protected.
Colonel Rago said that without the trucks, used here since 2007, he would have lost as many as 20 men already.
But what matters most, he said, is simply a persistent presence. And he said he believed that the insurgents also understood the importance of that.“These guys are going to fight,” he said. “And they are going to die.”
[bth: looks like the MRAPs are doing their job. Also note of 1 in 3 IEDs are scoring a head, that number is down from 40-50% in prior years.]
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
The remaining 4,000 or so British troops in the sector will leave by summer, a ministry spokesman told CNN."...
....While the ASBM has been a topic of discussion within national defense circles for quite some time, the fact that information is now coming from Chinese sources indicates that the weapon system is operational. The Chinese rarely mention weapons projects unless they are well beyond the test stages.
If operational as is believed, the system marks the first time a ballistic missile has been successfully developed to attack vessels at sea. Ships currently have no defense against a ballistic missile attack.
Along with the Chinese naval build-up, U.S. Navy officials appear to view the development of the anti-ship ballistic missile as a tangible threat.
After spending the last decade placing an emphasis on building a fleet that could operate in shallow waters near coastlines, the U.S. Navy seems to have quickly changed its strategy over the past several months to focus on improving the capabilities of its deep sea fleet and developing anti-ballistic defenses.
As analyst Raymond Pritchett notes in a post on the U.S. Naval Institute blog:
"The Navy's reaction is telling, because it essentially equals a radical change in direction based on information that has created a panic inside the bubble. For a major military service to panic due to a new weapon system, clearly a mission kill weapon system, either suggests the threat is legitimate or the leadership of the Navy is legitimately unqualified. There really aren't many gray spaces in evaluating the reaction by the Navy…the data tends to support the legitimacy of the threat."...
[bth: one should keep in mind that it is budgeting time in Washington. Usually stuff like this gets leaked to Gertz over at the Washington Times this time of year so its nice to see fresh leak sources are being cultivated.]
High Court papers submitted by the MoD in response to the claim accept for the first time that the spy plane, which exploded mid-air in Afghanistan, was "not airworthy".
The MoD also admitted that the RAF failed in its duty of care to the victims of what was the biggest single British military loss of life since the Falklands war.
Legal sources said the concession now made payouts of "at least six figures" to the families likely.
But it could have implications for relatives of other servicemen and women who blame deficient equipment for their loved ones' deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq.
It comes as lawyers for relatives of some of the 10 servicemen killed when their Hercules transporter was shot down in Iraq in 2005 prepare submit a compensation claim next week, citing similar technical failings.
The Nimrod, which was based at RAF Kinloss in Scotland, caught fire and exploded in September 2006 after leaked aviation fuel caught fire.
An investigation concluded that the leak was caused either by cracks in fuel pipe seals or an overflow from the tanks.
Andrew Walker, the Oxfordshire coroner who heard the inquest into the tragedy, said the aircraft had "never been airworthy" and accused the MoD of having a "cavalier approach to safety".
The ministry has already admitted "failings" over the tragedy and has paid undisclosed compensation to some of the families of those killed.
But in the first case of its kind, the families of two of the airmen on board – Sergeant Benjamin Knight, 25, and Flight Lieutenant Steven Swarbrick, 28 - are suing the MoD.
The claim the RAF breached the men's right to life under the Article Two of the European Convention on human Rights by failing to protect them.
They are also citing health and safety legislation and making a general claim for negligence.
The MoD is continuing to contesting the human rights claim, fearing that it could set a precedent.
But defence papers concede that the MoD had a responsibility to ensure that the plane was safe, admitting: "The aircraft was not airworthy".
The papers add: "The defendant owed to the deceased a duty of care and the accident was caused by this breach of that duty of care."
John Cooper, the barrister representing the families, confirmed that the MoD had made the admission but said the case would go ahead to resolve the issue of human rights.
"The families' prime motivation in pursuing this is accountability," he said.
"They are of the view that brave people put their lives at risk for their country and that the very least they deserve is equipment which could protect them properly.
"The families are grateful that the Ministry of Defence has finally conceded liability but they are determined to pursue their claim under Article Two."
Trish Knight, the mother of Sgt Knight, said: "I don't look at it as us winning: they were responsible for Ben's death, it's as simple as that.
"There is no justice to be had from it really, the only justice would be for Ben to be alive again, which can never be."But I do want to know who was responsible for killing him and why.
Earlier today, “militants” said the attack in Lahore “was retaliation by Al-Qaeda and Pakistani Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud and Punjabi militants for Pakistan's recent cooperation with the United States in hunting down Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders,” AKI reported. The terroists were referring to the US air campaign in Paksitan's tribal areas and northwest that is targetng senior al Qaeda and Taliban leaders.
Pakistan’s interior minister also said the attack was planned and executed from South Waziristan, according to information obtained from one of the captured terrorists."...
LAHORE: The terrorist attack on the Police Training Centre in Manawan on Monday was planned in South Waziristan, Interior Adviser Rehman Malik told reporters, but he did not rule out foreign involvement. Addressing a press conference at the Rangers headquarters, he said the gunman captured during the gunfight and three other terror suspects were being questioned and details would surface in two or three days. The arrested attacker belonged to the Paktika province of Afghanistan, Malik said, and preliminary interrogation revealed he is linked to Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud. He could only speak Pashto and was living in a rented house in Lahore, Malik said. “We had received information that terrorists could hit police installations and other government buildings on March 25,” he said, citing his warnings before the lawyers’ long march. The adviser said a law banning short-term house rentals would soon be notified. staff report/app
[bth: interesting article. Suitable for a novel.]
MANAWAN, Pakistan — The attackers hopped over a crumbling brick wall, wearing backpacks and belts with dangling grenades. They were young and wore beards, and by 7:30 a.m. on Monday, they were firing machine guns into an unarmed crowd of young police recruits.
Pakistan’s most populous province, Punjab, came under attack for the second time this month. This time, militants hit several hundred police cadets caught off guard during a morning drill at their academy in this village near Lahore, Punjab’s capital.
The attackers issued no demands but went on a rampage, killing at least eight recruits and instructors. One attacker was killed in the siege that followed and, in a gory finale, three detonated suicide belts, killing themselves. More than 100 people were wounded.
“They were barbaric,” a senior trainer at the center said. “They had no demands. We didn’t understand what they wanted. They just kept killing.”...
[bth: while the police seem to be blaming Afghans for this attack, the attackers spoke a local dialect and said they were avenging the Red Mosque]
Monday, March 30, 2009
The Precarious Eden (page 158-159)
Under a republican form of government the citizenry supposedly accepts the responsibility for managing its own affairs, but over the last quarter of a century the heirs to the American fortune have lost interest in the tiresome business of self-government. Rather than vote or read the Constitution, the heirs prefer to go to Acapulco or Aspen to practice macrobiotic breathing. They have better things to do with their lives than to be bothered with the details of preserving their freedom.
They spend their time making themselves beautiful, holding themselves in perpetual readiness for the incarnations promised by the dealers in cosmetics and religion. The country still flatters itself that it enjoys the self-government of a sovereign people, but for at least a generation the conduct of its business has been left in the hands of the servants, both public and domestic."...
[bth: well worth reading in full]
When a large bureaucracy like the Pentagon is faced with making a major decision regarding an issue as complex as Afghanistan experienced observers know they will see one of two approaches. The first (and by far rarest) option is a radical departure from current operational methods representing a new way forward. The way soldiers from the SBS and Delta handled the fight in Tora Bora during the opening month of the war on terror… sorry I guess it is now “overseas contingency operations” is a good example. Faced with a complex battlefield containing armed factions of dubious loyalty and motivation they improvised using small units to maneuver firepower in place of the manpower they did not have.
Their solutions or “lessons learned” according to the unit commander, Dalton Fury, were not recorded in the Army after action system and they have been forgotten probably because taking a truly decentralized approach when deploying American fighting forces is completely alien to senior Colonels and General Officers. The second and by far most common approach from the Pentagon is to do “more of the same but do it faster and better.” That is what the generals tried to sell President Bush back when he sold the surge idea to them. And it appears that is what the generals or most probably the national security team have sold President Obama. It will fail. Dismally.
There has been only one document I have seen in the last three months which shows a clear coherent understanding of the situation in Afghanistan. It was written by Congressman Dana Rohrabacher and can be found here. Congressman Rohrabacher is “speaking truth to power” when he writes;
“America then put its emphasis on establishing a central government based in Kabul as the dominant authority in Afghanistan, something no one - foreign or Afghan - has been able to do for centuries.
…A genuine commitment to decentralizing power and authority in Afghanistan is only part of the solution, but a critical one. This is difficult for military leaders, schooled in chains of command and top-down structure, to comprehend.”...
[bth: agree or not, this article needs to be read in full by anyone interested in an effective Afghan plan.]
In the end the U.S. public will again exprience war fatigue and a retreat will become inevitable. But that may take years and a new president as Obama will not be willing to surrender in a war he has now committed himself to."
Sunday, March 29, 2009
A security guard told Dawn that hundreds of suspected Taliban armed with rockets and Kalashnikovs entered the Farhad terminal at about 2am and set on fire four vehicles, three cranes, a mini-truck and six power generators.
Terminal owner Farhad said four offices and a workshop were also gutted. Computers, original documents of vehicles and about one million rupees in cash turned into ashes, he added.
He said 20 policemen and eight private guards were deployed at the terminal, but militants succeeded in torching vehicles and offices....
[bth: notice all the police and security guards but not report of fighting to prevent the torching of the vehicles.]
[bth: worth a full read. Could Syria be the key to an opening with Iran?]
Pakistan: Now or Never? » Blog Archive » Garrisons and force protection crowd out other objectives in Afghanistan | Blogs |
It is a brutal catch-22. The United States operates an incomprehensibly sophisticated Army - its ability to see things from afar, monitor and decode transmissions, and snoop on anything electronic is unmatched, and quite daunting.
But without strong Human Intelligence, there is little chance to contextualize the many streams of data they receive each day: is that man digging near the road emplacing a bomb, or is he digging up rocks for his fence? When this man identifies the elder from across the valley as a Taliban commander, is he telling the truth or pursuing some decades-old rivalry? Is that firefight the result of Jalaluddin Haqqani’s foot soldiers, or are they villagers worried their timber harvest might be impounded?
These are the sorts of questions that cannot be answered while holed up on a large base. Military bases are societies in miniature: they have their own politics, their own players, a separate culture, and even their own language. When focused on themselves, they develop into a so-called “garrison mentality” - a focus on rules, administration, and process, rather than accomplishing any larger strategic objectives....
[bth: this article should be read in full. The point I disagree with him on though is that the West is not casualty averse so much as it is against taking casualties in a war without clear purpose, strategy or leadership. Further this article doesn't mention the importance of training more Afghan police or soldiers or fighting corruption within the government - all actions we could take unilaterally and now.]
A bridge that served as 'a key road link' between the provincial capital of Peshawar and the Torkham border crossing was damaged after being struck by a mortar, Daily Times reported. The damage has forced the bridge in the Landi Kotal region to be shut down. The closure has halted the flow of NATO supplies into Afghanistan.
Yesterday's attack forced the Pakistani government to shut down the supply route for the seventh time since September 2008. Another bridge in Khyber was also damaged in a bombing on Feb. 3. That attack shut down the route for several days until the bridge could be repaired."....
[bth: any significant increase in military forces in Afghanistan will depend upon reliable supply routes which we currently do not have.]
Brad Setser: Follow the Money » Blog Archive » “This is unquestionably the worst global economic crisis since the 1930s”
Both the IMF and World Bank are now forecasting an outright fall in global output in 2009, with a larger contraction than previously forecast in the advanced economies and sharply lower expected growth in the emerging world. I am not sure that even Nouriel Roubini was forecasting an outright fall in global output a year ago. Anything below 2% is generally considered a global recession.
The most visible manifestation of the scale of the downturn continues to come from Asia — with the sharp fall in Asian exports to the world mirroring the sharp fall in global demand. Japan’s exports are now down 50% from last February."...
Pakistan is dealt with as sensibly as possible, and the engagement of the other Central Asian states is a new strategy that cannot do harm and may help in many ways.
Overall, this is a step in the right direction"...
[bth: an article worth reading in full]
FOXNews.com - U.N. 'Climate Change' Plan Would Likely Shift Trillions to Form New World Economy - United Nations
Among the tools that are considered are the cap-and-trade system for controlling carbon emissions that has been espoused by the Obama administration; "carbon taxes" on imported fuels and energy-intensive goods and industries, including airline transportation; and lower subsidies for those same goods, as well as new or higher subsidies for goods that are considered "environmentally sound."
Other tools are referred to only vaguely, including "energy policy reform," which the report indicates could affect "large-scale transportation infrastructure such as roads, rail and airports." When it comes to the results of such reform, the note says only that it could have "positive consequences for alternative transportation providers and producers of alternative fuels."
In the same bland manner, the note informs negotiators without going into details that cap-and-trade schemes "may induce some industrial relocation" to "less regulated host countries." Cap-and-trade functions by creating decreasing numbers of pollution-emission permits to be traded by industrial users, and thus pay more for each unit of carbon-based pollution, a market-driven system that aims to drive manufacturers toward less polluting technologies.
The note adds only that industrial relocation "would involve negative consequences for the implementing country, which loses employment and investment." But at the same time it "would involve indeterminate consequences for the countries that would host the relocated industries....
But outside the Bonn process, other experts have been much more blunt about the draconian nature of the measures they deem necessary to make "effective" greenhouse gas reductions.
In an influential but highly controversial paper called "Key Elements of a Global Deal on Climate Change," British economist Nicholas Lord Stern, formerly a high British Treasury official, has declared that industrial economies would need to cut their per capita carbon dioxide emissions by "at least 80% by 2050," while the biggest economies, like the U.S.'s, would have to make cuts of 90 percent.
Stern also calls for "immediate and binding" reduction targets for developed nations of 20 percent to 40 percent by 2020.
To meet Stern's 2050 goals, he says, among other things, "most of the world's electricity production will need to have been decarbonized."...
By way of comparison, according to the U.S. Department Of Energy, roughly 72 percent of U.S. electrical power generation in 2007 was derived from burning fossil fuels, with just 6 percent coming from hydro-power and less than 3 percent from non-nuclear renewable and "other" sources. And even then, those "other" non-fossil sources included wood and biomass — which, when burned, are major emitters of carbon.
[bth: I just don't see this being approved in this economic environment.]
The president will not even try to overcome NATO's unwillingness to provide more troops in Afghanistan when he goes on later in the week to meet with the military alliance."...
"The rest of the world is yearning for him," said Kenneth Rogoff, a Harvard economist. "On the one hand, they'll all be criticizing him, and criticizing the American model. But they all want to hear that he does have a miracle to deliver."
The quandary has left senior advisers to Mr. Obama scrambling to come up with a way for him to project both American power and the new cooperative international model that his aides have been promising....
And Mr. Obama must try to do all of that in the middle of a global recession for which most of the world blames the United States. "The U.S. brand name has clearly suffered from this crisis, and the rest of the world is no longer willing to sit quietly and be lectured by the United States on how they should conduct economic policy," Mr. Rogoff said...
"I hope that Afghanistan will not be Obama's war, because it should be owned by all of us," said NATO's secretary general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.
But there are already twice as many American troops as NATO troops in Afghanistan, and "Europe will never be able to match the numbers of the Americans in Afghanistan," Mr. de Hoop Scheffer said. The NATO summit meeting, he said, "will not be about troop contributions."
In Prague, Mr. Obama will confront an Eastern Europe nervous about Russian attempts to reassert itself in an area that Moscow views as its backyard. Mr. Obama has taken pains to reassure Russia that his administration will tread carefully regarding Bush administration plans to locate a missile military system in Poland and the Czech Republic.
Yet in placating Russia, Mr. Obama has raised hackles in Poland, where officials seek closer ties to the United States.
[bth: this looks like a no win situation. Perhaps there is a path through this maze on this visit, but I don't see it.]
In a report to be issued this weekend, the researchers said that the system was being controlled from computers based almost exclusively in China, but that they could not say conclusively that the Chinese government was involved."...
Their sleuthing opened a window into a broader operation that, in less than two years, has infiltrated at least 1,295 computers in 103 countries, including many belonging to embassies, foreign ministries and other government offices, as well as the Dalai Lama's Tibetan exile centers in India, Brussels, London and New York.
The researchers, who have a record of detecting computer espionage, said they believed that in addition to the spying on the Dalai Lama, the system, which they called GhostNet, was focused on the governments of South Asian and Southeast Asian countries....
The malware is remarkable both for its sweep — in computer jargon, it has not been merely "phishing" for random consumers' information, but "whaling" for particular important targets — and for its Big Brother-style capacities. It can, for example, turn on the camera and audio-recording functions of an infected computer, enabling monitors to see and hear what goes on in a room. The investigators say they do not know if this facet has been employed....
One of them was Nart Villeneuve, 34, a graduate student and self-taught "white hat" hacker with dazzling technical skills. Last year, Mr. Villeneuve linked the Chinese version of the Skype communications service to a Chinese government operation that was systematically eavesdropping on users' instant-messaging sessions.
Early this month, Mr. Villeneuve noticed an odd string of 22 characters embedded in files created by the malicious software and searched for it with Google. It led him to a group of computers on Hainan Island, off China, and to a Web site that would prove to be critically important.
In a puzzling security lapse, the Web page that Mr. Villeneuve found was not protected by a password, while much of the rest of the system uses encryption.
Mr. Villeneuve and his colleagues figured out how the operation worked by commanding it to infect a system in their computer lab in Toronto. On March 12, the spies took their own bait. Mr. Villeneuve watched a brief series of commands flicker on his computer screen as someone — presumably in China — rummaged through the files. Finding nothing of interest, the intruder soon disappeared.
Through trial and error, the researchers learned to use the system's Chinese-language "dashboard" — a control panel reachable with a standard Web browser — by which one could manipulate the more than 1,200 computers worldwide that had by then been infected.
Infection happens two ways. In one method, a user's clicking on a document attached to an e-mail message lets the system covertly install software deep in the target operating system. Alternatively, a user clicks on a Web link in an e-mail message and is taken directly to a "poisoned" Web site.
The researchers said they avoided breaking any laws during three weeks of monitoring and extensively experimenting with the system's unprotected software control panel. They provided, among other information, a log of compromised computers dating to May 22, 2007.
They found that three of the four control servers were in different provinces in China — Hainan, Guangdong and Sichuan — while the fourth was discovered to be at a Web-hosting company based in Southern California....