Saturday, April 18, 2009

Emptywheel » Khalid Sheikh Mohammed Was Waterboarded 183 Times in One Month

Emptywheel » Khalid Sheikh Mohammed Was Waterboarded 183 Times in One Month: "'ve put this detail in a series of posts, but it really deserves a full post. According to the May 30, 2005 Bradbury memo, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in March 2003 and Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times in August 2002.

On page 37 of the OLC memo, in a passage discussing the differences between SERE techniques and the torture used with detainees, the memo explains:

The CIA used the waterboard 'at least 83 times during August 2002' in the interrogation of Zubaydah. IG Report at 90, and 183 times during March 2003 in the interrogation of KSM, see id. at 91."...

Obama Gets History Lesson From Latin American Leaders (Update1) - Bloomberg.com

Obama Gets History Lesson From Latin American Leaders (Update1) - Bloomberg.com:..."Kirchner and Ortega “were there to push the envelope,” said Congressman Gregory Meeks, a New York Democrat who attended last night’s opening ceremony. “I don’t think that was a surprise to anyone in this room, though it took Ortega some time to do it. But Obama rose above it.”"

Obama, speaking after Ortega and Fernandez, said the U.S. is seeking a new beginning in its relationship with Cuba and wants an “equal partnership” with other countries in the Americas.

Regional leaders “cannot let ourselves be prisoners of past disagreements,” Obama said.

“You can’t blame the U.S. for every problem in this hemisphere,” Obama said. “I am very grateful that President Ortega didn’t blame me for things that happened when I was three months old.”

M of A - How Credit Default Swaps Create Bankruptcies

M of A - How Credit Default Swaps Create Bankruptcies:... "But the CDS buyer of the first type will be made whole to 100%. The incentive here is not to stop the small fire but to make sure that the fire actually burns down as much of the house as is possible.

As the Financial Times reports (alt link) that is exactly what happened twice last week:

Credit default swaps, the derivatives instruments that have figured prominently in the global financial crisis, are now being blamed for playing a role in two bankruptcy filings this week.

Bankers and lawyers involved in restructuring efforts say they are concerned some lenders to troubled companies, such as newsprint producer AbitibiBowater and mall owner General Growth Properties, stand to benefit from a default because they also hold default swaps, which entitle them to payments in such events.

The same will occur with General Motors which is now trying to restructure:

The Obama administration has directed General Motors Corp (GM.N) to prepare a new restructuring plan that would pay off bondholders and the automaker's major union in stock in exchange for $48 billion in debt, people briefed on the plan said on Friday.

The GM bondholders who have in total $38 billion credit insurance will certainly not agree to a voluntary shares for debt-reduction swap. Outside"of bankruptcy procedures there is little anyone can do to make them accept such. Inside a bankruptcy the insurance makes the whole. GM and Citigroup will thereby have to go into bankruptcies with all the nasty things that will be involved. Likely more jobs will be lost than necessary and more damage done to the economy as a whole while the bondholders who bought insurance will be perfectly well.

It is weird that the Obama administration and even the smart IRA folks have not grasped the problem that CDS' have created. These insurances by their very existence give an incentive to 'liquidationists'. They are institutionalized Andrew Mellon's that prefer total destruction over restructuring.

There is a way out of this: Declare all Credit Default Swaps null and void....

[bth: so we should be bracing for a wave a extremely painful bankruptcies in which the bond holders are not inclined to swap debt for equity? This means that the guaranteed bond holders will get paid but the companies, their employees, their pensions, the manufacturing and banking base of this country are about to get destroyed and the main culprits rule the world. My question is who pays the credit defaults if we let the insurance companies fold?]

Can Citigroup Be Restructured Without an FDIC Resolution?

The Institutional Risk Analyst: Can Citigroup Be Restructured Without an FDIC Resolution?
....Now on to the Zombie dance party, which is already in progress. Over the past several months we have been asserting that Citigroup (NYSE:C) is insolvent and needs to be either restructured or liquidated. Now that the Obama Administration has apparently decided to publicly list the results of the bank stress tests and since C is expected to be near the bottom of the list in terms of stress test results, the question comes whether the Obama Administration will move on resolving C before the May 4, 2009 released of the stress test results.

We won't even refer to the Q1 results for C released this morning because, in our view, they really do not show the true condition of the bank nor the ultimate outcome that we expect to see with this institution. As of year-end 2008, C rated an "F" in the IRA Bank Monitor with a overall Stress Index score of 21 vs. the industry average of 1.8. As of the same date, JPM's Stress Index Score was 1.3.

Unfortunately, it is becoming increasingly clear that the Obama Administration lacks the courage to resolve C. Economic policy guru Larry Summers reportedly bought the "systemic risk" argument hook, line and sinker, but the fact remains that with relatively healthy banks like JPM pricing debt at +350 to the curve, the real issue facing financials is not simply capital adequacy as the stress tests suppose, but rather the broader issue of credibility as going concerns. Even were JPM or Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) to actually redeem the preferred capital provided by the Treasury TARP program, none of these banks could survive today without government guarantees for their debt.....

[bth: a complicated read to say Citigroup is toast.]


Cash-rich China courts the Caspian

Asia Times Online :: Central Asian News and current affairs, Russia, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan: ..."Beijing's intentions are quite transparent: China will tap its $1.95 trillion currency reserves to buy overseas exploration rights wherever available in Central Asia. Nazarbayev told Xinhua news agency on the eve of his departure for China that China's role was of global significance. Its huge market, abundant foreign exchange reserves and 'effective crisis response' constitute an 'enormous support for the world economic revival', he said.

Kazakhstan is a safe investment destination, too. It holds over 3% of the world's proven oil reserves. It received $21 billion in exploration and production investment in 2007 before the financial crisis erupted. Curiously, China is stepping into the purchase of MMG, outbidding Russia's Gazprom and India's ONGC (Oil and Natural Gas Commission), both state-owned enterprises. CNPC won the race by offering the $10 billion investment package which neither Russia nor India could match. China evidently took a long-term view."...

"Hope has never trickled down. It has always sprung up"

Washington's Blog
With this sentence, Studs Terkel summarized an important point:

Hope has never trickled down. It has always sprung up.

Obama can't give us hope from above. Each and every one of us have to create hope for ourselves, and then demand change.

As Naomi Klein writes, coining a new word in the process:

It's time to stop waiting for hope to be handed down, and start pushing it up, from the hoperoots.


The Aruoba-Diebold-Scotti Business Conditions Index

Econbrowser: The Aruoba-Diebold-Scotti Business Conditions Index

ads1_apr_09.gifind_prod_apr_09.png
ads2_apr_09.gif

[bth: not a damned thing good about these graphs or the reports. I see no sign of recovery in these numbers.]





Little ventured for start-ups

Little ventured for start-ups - The Boston Globe
The decline mirrors a nationwide collapse in venture funding in the wake of the recession and financial crisis, which have made it difficult for venture capital firms to raise new money from investors and nearly impossible for promising private companies to launch initial public offerings.

"This goes hand in hand with everything that is going on in the global economy," Shaw said.

Nationally, companies raised just $3 billion in venture capital money in the first quarter, down 61 percent from the same quarter a year ago and 47 percent from the fourth quarter. That's the lowest it has been both nationally and in New England since 1997. The survey is based on data collected from Thomson Reuters.


Informed Comment
Informed Comment
Informed Comment

Lightweight Armor Is Slow to Reach Troops - NYTimes.com

Lightweight Armor Is Slow to Reach Troops - NYTimes.com: "WASHINGTON — The Army has promised to lighten the soldier’s load, and nowhere more urgently than in eastern Afghanistan, where the unforgiving terrain tests the stamina of troops whose weapons, body armor, rucksacks and survival gear can weigh 130 pounds."

But an experiment to shave up to 20 pounds off a soldier’s burden — much of it by reducing the bulletproof plates that protect the chestand back — has stalled, leaving $3 million in new, lightweight equipment sitting in a warehouse in the United States instead of being sent to the war zone where it was to have been tried out by a battalion-size group of 500 soldiers. The delay offers a new window into how Army rules have slowed the deployment of specialized gear that small units are seeking for harsh combat environments....

Lieberman taps Franklin case diplomat for top slot

Lieberman taps Franklin case diplomat for top slot | JTA - Jewish & Israel News
WASHINGTON (JTA) -- Avigdor Lieberman asked an Israeli diplomat involved in a Pentagon classified leaks case to be his chief of staff.

Lieberman, the foreign minister in the new Benjamin Netanyahu government, has asked Naor Gilon to take the top career slot at the Israeli Foreign Ministry, JTA has learned, effectively making Gilon his right hand man.

Gilon must clear a Foreign Ministry admissions committee before the announcement is formal, a process that has been delayed by the Passover holiday.

Gilon, then the political officer at Israel's Washington embassy, allegedly met multiple times between 2002 and 2005 with Lawrence Franklin, a mid-level Iran analyst at the Pentagon who has since pleaded guilty in the case. The men allegedly discussed Iran's nuclear program and its disruptive role in Iraq.

Franklin's indictment alleges that Gilon did minor favors for Franklin and on at least one occasion the two men discussed classified information.

Franklin also allegedly relayed information to Gilon through Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, two former officials of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. He has resisted requests to testify in their defense.

Gilon served three years in his slot, and returned to Israel in the summer of 2005, a year after the Franklin case became public. Israeli officials at the time insisted that his term was not cut short – diplomatic stints routinely vary between three and five years – and that there were no U.S. pressures to remove him.

Another Israeli official with a lesser involvement in the AIPAC/Pentagon leaks case, Uzi Arad, is slated to be Netanyahu's national security adviser. Arad was denied entry to the United States two years ago, reportedly because of his involvement in the case; that status was removed in recent weeks when it became clear Netanyahu would hire him for a top job....

[bth: this is another indication to me that Netanyahu has no intention of working with the US on a peace treaty or with Iran.  Nothing good will come from the appointment of Gilon.  Nothing good was intended anyway by Lieberman or Netanyahu.  Seeing this pattern unfold one can anticipate a deep freeze settling in over US-Israeli relations.]


Taliban moving on Mardan - The Long War Journal

Taliban moving on Mardan - The Long War Journal: "The Taliban continue their advance in northwestern Pakistan. The district of Mardan in the Northwest Frontier Province may be the next region to fall to the Taliban as the terror group has stepped up its attacks in the area."

The Taliban murdered two women in Mardan yesterday, signaling the district is marked for takeover. A female aid worker for the non-governmental organization National Rural Support Program was killed in a bombing at her office. A local Taliban commander named Habibur Rehman claimed credit for the attack. "He accused NGOs of propagating obscenity and vulgarity and threatened further attacks," Dawn reported. The Taliban also gunned down a female councilor for a local union.

The murders were the latest in a series of attacks in Mardan that signal the Taliban is setting its sights on the district. ...

The IDF can't be satisfied - Haaretz - Israel News

The IDF can't be satisfied - Haaretz - Israel News: "The defense establishment and its boss, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, act as though they represent some organization not part of the Israeli economy. The economic crisis doesn't interest them and they continue to demand bigger budgets; this year's will be the largest ever.

In the West, 1 to 3 percent of gross domestic product is allocated to defense. In Israel this number is more than 10 percent. In 2009,"...

Plan for Palestinian state is 'dead end,' Israel tells U.S. | McClatchy

Plan for Palestinian state is 'dead end,' Israel tells U.S. | McClatchy: "ERUSALEM — In a direct challenge to President Barack Obama's commitment to rejuvenate moribund Mideast peace talks, Israel on Thursday dismissed American-led efforts to establish a Palestinian state and laid out new conditions for renewed negotiations.

Leaders of Israel's hawkish new government told former Maine Sen. George Mitchell, the special U.S. envoy, that they aren't going to rush into peace talks with their Palestinian neighbors.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that he'd require Palestinians to accept Israel as a Jewish state in any future negotiations — a demand that Palestinians have up to now rejected — Israeli government officials said."...

U.S. experts: Pakistan on course to become Islamist state

U.S. experts: Pakistan on course to become Islamist state | McClatchy
WASHINGTON — A growing number of U.S. intelligence, defense and diplomatic officials have concluded that there's little hope of preventing nuclear-armed Pakistan from disintegrating into fiefdoms controlled by Islamist warlords and terrorists, posing a greater threat to the U.S. than Afghanistan's terrorist haven did before 9/11.

... e U.S. intelligence official, however, said that Pakistan's elite, dominated since the country's independence in 1947 by politicians, bureaucrats and military officers from Punjab, have failed to recognize the seriousness of the situation.

"The Punjabi elite has already lost control of Pakistan, but neither they nor the Obama administration realize that," the official said. "Pakistan will be an Islamist state — or maybe a collection of four Islamic states, probably within a few years. There's no civilian leadership in Islamabad that can stop this, and so far, there hasn't been any that's been willing to try."

Several U.S. officials said that the Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy that President Barack Obama unveiled last month is being called into question by the accelerating rate at which the insurgency in Pakistan is expanding.

The plan hinges on the Pakistani army's willingness to put aside its obsession with Hindu-dominated India and focus on fighting the Islamist insurgency. It also presupposes, despite doubts held by some U.S. officials, that sympathetic Pakistani military and intelligence officers will sever their links with militant groups.

[bth: worth reading in full.  Pakistan seems is about to break apart and collapse as a functioning state]


Taliban Exploit Class Rifts in Pakistan

Taliban Exploit Class Rifts in Pakistan - NYTimes.com
PESHAWAR, Pakistan — The Taliban have advanced deeper into Pakistan by engineering a class revolt that exploits profound fissures between a small group of wealthy landlords and their landless tenants, according to government officials and analysts here.

[bth: an article worth reading in full.  Is Pakistan about to fall?]


Friday, April 17, 2009

Georgetown Says It Covered Over Name of Jesus to Comply With White House Request

CNSNews.com - Georgetown Says It Covered Over Name of Jesus to Comply With White House Request: "CNSNews.com) - Georgetown University says it covered over the monogram “IHS”--symbolizing the name of Jesus Christ—because it was inscribed on a pediment on the stage where President Obama spoke at the university on T

[bth: a stupid request by a normally smart administration]

Joblessness Reaches 10% in Indiana; Jumps in Oregon (Update3) - Bloomberg.com

Joblessness Reaches 10% in Indiana; Jumps in Oregon (Update3) - Bloomberg.com: "April 17 (Bloomberg) -- Indiana in March joined seven other U.S. states with a jobless rate of at least 10 percent, and unemployment surged in Oregon, Washington and West Virginia as the worst employment slump in the postwar era rippled through the economy.

Indiana’s jobless rate jumped to 10 percent last month from 9.4 percent in February, the Labor Department reported today in Washington. Michigan, with 12.6 percent, remained the state with the highest unemployment rate, followed by Oregon at 12.1 percent. The rate in California rose to 11.2 percent from 10.6 percent.

“There is a bad news story in just about every part of the country right now,” said Mark Vitner, a senior economist at Wachovia Corp. in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Economists at Wachovia and Bank of America-Merrill Lynch are among those predicting the rate nationally, currently at a 25-year high of 8.5 percent, will also reach 10 percent."...

[bth: its going to get worse]

Chinese PM, Pakistani president in talks: state media

The Raw Story | Chinese PM, Pakistani president in talks: state media:... "China is ready to offer help for the country's stability and development, and also welcomes the international community's constructive role in this regard, Wen reportedly said.

Wen also said China is ready to work with Pakistan to safeguard regional stability and peace, according to the report.

China is one of Islamabad's closest allies as well as its largest arms supplier. Zardari visited China in October in his first foreign trip after taking office"...

[bth: this is interesting. Curious how many nations have an interest in a stabilized Pakistan and a reduced threat from religious fanatics.]

Raw Story » Oversight over wiretapping program ‘doesn’t really exist,’ reporter reveals

Raw Story » Oversight over wiretapping program ‘doesn’t really exist,’ reporter reveals: "Independent oversight over the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping program “doesn’t really exist,” the New York Times reporter who exposed the program revealed in an interview Thursday night.

Speaking with MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann, Times reporter James Risen discussed revelations published Thursday that the agency had overstepped the legal boundaries set out by Congress last year. His statements appeared to go beyond the scope of his article, which documented that the NSA’s program to eavesdrop on overseas calls and emails without warrants had “inadvertently” included millions of Americans’ communications."

“I think what this shows is that the controls are much more lax than they ever wanted to admit, and that the spying on Americans may have gone far beyond anything we realized before,” Risen said of his article.

Risen’s comments are particularly significant in lieu of the fact the Times acknowledged when they exposed the program in 2005 that they’d kept particular details out of print and held the story for a year at the behest of the Bush Administration, which argued that its exposure would compromise US intelligence collection. It’s certainly possible that not all of the details known by the Times were published.

Risen said much of the trouble with wiretapping practices had to do with the program’s oversight — essentially, he said, the only way Congress can know the agency is doing something illegal is if they admit to it themselves....

[bth: self oversight will not work with this group as has been repeatedly demonstrated. Further until some directors are fired and others perhaps submitted to criminal prosecution, this problem will continue to go on. It is simply too tempting to wiretap a congressman or anyone else for that matter so long as there is no recourse or responsibility.]

Frontline Special Report on Pakistan

Here is a Frontline special report on Pakistan. Worth the watch.

YouTube - Susan Boyle - Singer - Britains Got Talent 2009 (With Lyrics)

YouTube - Susan Boyle - Singer - Britains Got Talent 2009 (With Lyrics) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9lp0IWv8QZY

Crooks and Liars

Crooks and Liars

Think Progress » DeLay defends Gov. Perry, explains how Texas could secede from the Union.

Think Progress » DeLay defends Gov. Perry, explains how Texas could secede from the Union.

DeLay is such a fool

YouTube - Bruins Hockey Rules_Date

YouTube - Bruins Hockey Rules_Date

ViewsWire - Mexico economy sinking deeper

ViewsWire: "It is now clear that Mexico’s economy is sinking further into recession, given the abysmal plunge in economic activity in the month of January. As the economy in Latin America most dependent on the US market, Mexico is suffering in tandem with its northern neighbour as the latter’s downturn deepens, affecting trade, remittances, tourism and foreign direct investment—all important drivers of Mexico’s growth in recent years. It is now likely that Mexico’s GDP will contract this year by more than the 2.6% that the Economist Intelligence Unit had previously forecast."

Mexico: The Third War | Security Debrief - a blog of homeland security news and analysis

Mexico: The Third War | Security Debrief - a blog of homeland security news and analysis:... "Make no mistake, considering the military weapons now being used in Mexico and the number of deaths involved, the country is in the middle of a war. In fact, there are actually three concurrent wars being waged in Mexico involving the Mexican drug cartels. The first is the battle being waged among the various Mexican drug cartels seeking control over lucrative smuggling corridors, called plazas. One such battleground is Ciudad Juarez, which provides access to the Interstate 10, Interstate 20 and Interstate 25 corridors inside the United States. The second battle is being fought between the various cartels and the Mexican government forces who are seeking to interrupt smuggling operations, curb violence and bring the cartel members to justice.

Then there is a third war being waged in Mexico, though because of its nature it is a bit more subdued. It does not get the same degree of international media attention generated by the running gun battles and grenade and RPG attacks. However, it is no less real, and in many ways it is more dangerous to innocent civilians (as well as foreign tourists and business travelers) than the pitched battles between the cartels and the Mexican government. This third war is the war being waged on the Mexican population by criminals who may or may not be involved with the cartels. Unlike the other battles, where cartel members or government forces are the primary targets and civilians are only killed as collateral damage, on this battlefront, civilians are squarely in the crosshairs."...

Taliban moving on Mardan - The Long War Journal

Taliban moving on Mardan - The Long War Journal: "The Taliban continue their advance in northwestern Pakistan. The district of Mardan in the Northwest Frontier Province may be the next region to fall to the Taliban as the terror group has stepped up its attacks in the area.

The Taliban murdered two women in Mardan yesterday, signaling the district is marked for takeover. A female aid worker for the non-governmental organization National Rural Support Program was killed in a bombing at her office. A local Taliban commander named Habibur Rehman claimed credit for the attack. 'He accused NGOs of propagating obscenity and vulgarity and threatened further attacks,' Dawn reported. The Taliban also gunned down a female councilor for a local union.

The murders were the latest in a series of attacks in Mardan that signal the Taliban is setting its sights on the district."...

[bth: worth a full read. Perhaps Pakistan is in fact falling to the Taliban.]

FBI Recruiting Muslim Spies, Group Says - CBS News

FBI Recruiting Muslim Spies, Group Says - CBS News: "(AP) A Michigan Muslim organization said Thursday it has asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate complaints alleging the FBI is asking followers of the faith to spy on Islamic leaders and congregations.

The Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan sent a letter last week to Holder after mosques and other groups reported members of the community have been approached to monitor people coming to mosques and donations they make."....

[bth: the FBI has had ample opportunity to establish positive relations with the Islamic community which would take longer but be more productive than dropping in domestic spies. Its going to be the community that spots unusual behavior far faster than outsiders and we depend on good relations and a channel of communications established before a crisis erupts to get that information out. Randomly dropping in spies is very unlikely to be productive.]

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Iraq air raids hit mostly women and children - Middle East, World - The Independent

Iraq air raids hit mostly women and children - Middle East, World - The Independent: "Air strikes and artillery barrages have taken a heavy toll among the most vulnerable of the Iraqi people, with children and women forming a disproportionate number of the dead.

Analysis carried out for the research group Iraq Body Count (IBC) found that 39 per cent of those killed in air raids by the US-led coalition were children and 46 per cent were women. Fatalities caused by mortars, used by American and Iraqi government forces as well as insurgents, were 42 per cent children and 44 per cent women.

Twelve per cent of those killed by suicide bombings, mainly the tool of militant Sunni groups, were children and 16 per cent were females. One in five (21 per cent) of those killed by car bombs, used by both Shia and Sunni fighters, was a child; one in four (28 per cent) was a woman."...

IBC estimates that the total deaths in the conflict so far number 99,774. The medical journal The Lancet has maintained in another study that more than 600,000 people were killed in the first three years of the war. IBC holds that the indiscriminate nature of the fatalities caused by air strikes shows they should not be used in urban areas.

Growing anger over civilian casualties caused by air raids in another front of the “war on terror”, Afghanistan, has led to the US, UK and their Nato partners reviewing their policy of using warplanes. Hamid Karzai, the Afghan President, recently said this had become the most contentious issue between him and Western powers.

From 2004 to 2007, the overall tonnage of munition dropped from planes in the Afghan conflict rose from 163 tonnes a year to 1,956 tonnes, an increase of 1,100 per cent. Since 2001 the US air force has dropped 14,049 tonnes of bombs in Afghanistan and 18,858 in Iraq. ...

[bth: so if I read this correctly, noncombatant casualties are about 85% from aerial bombings despite being more precise than anytime in history. That also seems to be true if we use mortars so it probably has to do more with where we are bombing than how we do it. I wonder how much involves human shielding. Also note the casualty figure is more like 100,000 than 600,000.]

CTV.ca | Afghans protest new marriage law, pelted with stones

CTV.ca | Afghans protest new marriage law, pelted with stones: "A 300-strong group of Afghan women were pelted with small stones Wednesday as they protested against a controversial law that legalizes rape within marriage.

A much larger group of about 1,000 Afghans -- both men and women -- swarmed the demonstration to throw stones and shout at the women."...
Informed Comment

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Pakistan releases Red Mosque leader who led insurrection in capital - The Long War Journal

Pakistan releases Red Mosque leader who led insurrection in capital - The Long War Journal: "Pakistan's Supreme Court has released the leader of the radical mosque and seminary who attempted to impose sharia, or Islamic law, in the capital Islamabad and whose followers battled security forces during the summer of 2007.

Maulana Abdul Aziz, the leader of the radical Lal Masjid, or the Red Mosque, was released from house arrest on $2,500 bail, Geo News reported.

Aziz was detained by Pakistani security forces during the siege of the Red Mosque in July 2007. He was captured while dressed in a burka. He used the disguise in an attempt to elude security forces."...

[bth: nuts. Pakistan has gone nuts]

Defence Management - Joint Strike Fighter feeling the heat

Defence Management - Joint Strike Fighter feeling the heat: "The Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) continues to encounter problems in its design and testing phase.

Tests on the aircraft have revealed that in its current form, the JSF will be limited in hot weather conditions."...

Shut-down of RAF squadrons 'to go ahead a year early' - Telegraph

Shut-down of RAF squadrons 'to go ahead a year early' - Telegraph: "The 43 and 111 squadrons, which were due to stand down in late 2010, could be merged or axed from September although the Ministry of Defence says it has not worked out the full details.

The move will reportedly cut the number of fighter jets on standby to protect Britain from 25 to 12. However, it is said that at all times, four of these will be undergoing maintenance, leaving only eight on standby at any one time."...

Somali pirates vow to hunt down, kill Americans

Somali pirates vow to hunt down, kill Americans: ..."One of the pirates whose gang attacked the Liberty Sun said Wednesday his group was specifically targeting American ships and sailors.

'We will seek out the Americans and if we capture them we will slaughter them,' said a 25-year-old pirate based in the Somali port of Harardhere who gave only his first name, Ismail.

'We will target their ships because we know their flags. Last night, an American-flagged ship escaped us by a whisker. We have showered them with rocket-propelled grenades,' boasted Ismail, who did not take part in the attack.

The French forces launched an early morning attack on a pirate 'mother ship' after spotting the boat Tuesday with a surveillance helicopter and observing the pirates overnight."...

[bth: this is going to come down to punitive raids by us on the pirate lairs and it is going to involve placing ships at Somali ports.]

The Raw Story | McClellan: Bush insiders planning to 'spin an alternative reality'

The Raw Story | McClellan: Bush insiders planning to 'spin an alternative reality': ..."As described by McClellan in his book, What Happened, the White House Iraq Group was 'set up in the summer of 2002 to coordinate the marketing of the war to the public' and 'to convince Americans that war with Iraq was inevitable and necessary.'

'There's more of a focus on trying to create, or spin, an alternative reality,' McClellan told Olbermann, 'than coming to grips with the reality of where things went wrong and how this administration went off course.'

'The only way he can actually shape his legacy for the better is to begin by addressing those issues,' McClellan emphasized, 'the controversial decisions that he made, whether it was Iraq or Katrina or the economic crisis that unfolded on his watch. The only way he can shape his legacy for the better is to accept responsibility for those mistakes and those management failures.'"...

How many times will we be fooled by the US?

How many times will we be fooled by the US?: "So Senator Kerry has come to do the usual doublespeak to the Pakistani people through its already confused leadership! Like the other US leaders before him, his understanding of Pakistan ran skin deep at best as he tried to justify the drones by declaring that terrorism existed in Pakistan before these attacks. Oh what a revelation Senator; but we all know qualitative difference between the pre- and post-9/11 status of terrorism in Pakistan. And, while some elitist part time residents and drawing room analysts (the very group that they seem to decry) of the capital may see drones as merely red herrings, the fact is that drones have killed almost 900 innocent Pakistanis between 2006 and 2009 and only 10 Al Qaeda targets. The growing instability in the country as well as the IDPs from the drone-hit areas are testimony to the fact that drones create space for future militants; as well as to the fact that the military option has not only failed to stabilise the area but also failed to deny space to the militants. And, no one buys the Pakistani state's whining to the US against the drones as authentic anymore since, if the leadership was truly opposed to these drone attacks, they would simply claim back Bandari air base. Remember also that perception is at least as critical as the reality."...

[bth: this article is worth reading in full to get an understanding of the Pakistani point of view as it relates to US aid.]

U.S. Planning to Reveal Data on Health of Top Banks - NYTimes.com

U.S. Planning to Reveal Data on Health of Top Banks - NYTimes.com: "WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is drawing up plans to disclose the conditions of the 19 biggest banks in the country, according to senior administration officials, as it tries to restore confidence in the financial system without unnerving investors."

The administration has decided to reveal some sensitive details of the stress tests now being completed after concluding that keeping many of the findings secret could send investors fleeing from financial institutions rumored to be weakest.

While all of the banks are expected to pass the tests, some are expected to be graded more highly than others. Officials have deliberately left murky just how much they intend to reveal — or to encourage the banks to reveal — about how well they would weather difficult economic conditions over the next two years.

As a result, indicating which banks are most vulnerable still runs some risk of doing what officials hope to avoid.

The decision on handling the stress tests underscores the delicate balancing act by the government, which has spent hundreds of billions to stabilize banks. Despite some signs of improvement in the financial system, many economists remain concerned that banks are still weighed down with toxic assets stemming from the housing downturn....

[bth: its about the confidence factor guys. Disclosure will hurt some banks. But the issue is trust in the system and confidence of normal people in the system. Disclosure is a good step in the right direction.]

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Terrorists rally in Swat, march through region - The Long War Journal

Terrorists rally in Swat, march through region - The Long War Journal: "The Pakistani government's peace agreement with the Swat Taliban and the subsequent approval of the sharia regulation have bolstered Islamist terrorists in northwestern Pakistan and created a new safe haven for al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

The peace agreement, known as the Malakand Accord, was implemented in the Malakand Division in mid-February. It has provided a victory for the Taliban. The agreement calls for the withdrawal of the Pakistani Army from Swat, the release all Taliban prisoners, the withdrawal of any criminal cases against Taliban leaders and fighters, and the imposition of sharia. The Malakand Division is an administrative region that encompasses more than one-third of the Northwest Frontier Province and includes the districts of Malakand, Swat, Shangla, Buner, Dir, Chitral, and Kohistan.

President Asif Ali Zardari, the leader of the secular Pakistani Peoples Party, signed the sharia bill into law yesterday following the military's failure to restore the government’s writ in Swat after three attempts since 2007. Zardari previously had said he would not sign the bill until peace was restored to Swat, but he relented in the face of political pressure, Taliban threats, and a lightning Taliban advance into Buner."...

[bth: hard to believe the total capitulation that is occurring]

3 held over radioactive material: World: News: News24

3 held over radioactive material: World: News: News24: "Kiev - Three Ukrainians have been arrested for seeking to sell radioactive material that could have been used by terrorists to make a 'dirty bomb', the country's SBU security service said Tuesday."...

[bth: a dirty bomb. Also reference the fact that neo-Nazi was caught making one from medical radioactive waste in Maine last winter. His wife shot him.]

Iran offers to train Afghan police in drugs fight | Reuters

Iran offers to train Afghan police in drugs fight | Reuters: "TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran said on Monday it was ready to help train Afghan police in fighting the drugs trade, but Tehran was not discussing the narcotics problem with NATO forces in its eastern neighbor.

Iran offered at a U.N. meeting in The Hague on March 31 to assist Afghanistan in combating drugs, in a gesture to a U.S. call for regional support in Afghanistan that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described as promising."...

Russia Heads South, Moves into Former U.S. Markets - LAAD - 2009

Russia Heads South, Moves into Former U.S. Markets - LAAD - 2009: ..."'The main reason for expansion of [Russia's] military and technical cooperation with Latin America is that Russia offers its partners not only competitive weapons and military equipment, but also attractive terms to buy them,' Viktor Komardin, deputy general director of state arms export monopoly Rosoboronexport, replied in written answers to questions"...

Canadian military in double-A dilemma - UPI.com

Canadian military in double-A dilemma - UPI.com: "OTTAWA, April 13 (UPI) -- The Canadian Defense Department is grappling with how to keep soldiers equipped with double-A batteries for the growing number of devices that need them.

With increasing technology, each of the 2,800 Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan uses about 40 batteries every three days, the Toronto Star reported Monday. That runs to about 750,000 batteries for each six-month deployment at a cost of $1 million, the Defense Department said."...

Pakistan signs sharia bill into law - The Long War Journal

Pakistan signs sharia bill into law - The Long War Journal: "The Pakistani government has approved the controversial bill that will allow for the implementation of sharia, or Islamic law, into a large region of northwestern Pakistan."...

Pakistan warns Kerry against aid conditions

The Raw Story | Pakistan warns Kerry against aid conditions:... "Although the bill meets some long-standing requests for military equipment, it requires the White House to certify that Pakistan is fighting terror and that its military and intelligence services do not support extremists.

Pakistan must also close all terror camps in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and work to prevent cross-border attacks into Afghanistan.

But a statement from Gilani's office quoted the prime minister as saying: 'The US should not attach conditionalities to the assistance package being presented to the US Congress, as aid with strings attached would fail to generate the desired goodwill and results in Pakistan.'

Relations between Pakistan and the United States should be based on 'mutual respect and mutual trust and both sides should work together to reduce the trust deficit,' Gilani said."...

[bth: what trust?]

Shipping companies need armed guards: US commander

The Raw Story | Shipping companies need armed guards: US commander:.... "He said in addition to armed guards, companies could deploy more passive measures, like barbed wire around the lower parts of the ship.

'Just last week, two vessels were unsuccessfully attacked because the ship had put barbed wire around the ship on the closest avenues of approach,' he said."...

Monday, April 13, 2009

Technology Improves Security for Troops in Iraq and Afghanistan

Technology Improves Security for Troops in Iraq and Afghanistan - washingtonpost.com
The Army is increasing its deployment of high-tech systems to protect U.S. forces based in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In a new wrinkle in surveillance, the Army is expanding security monitoring stations, with closed-circuit television taking feeds from pan-tilt-zoom cameras, mid- and long-range thermal imagers mounted on towers, and blimplike aerostats tethered to the ground.

The two-year, $1.5 billion program, called Base Expeditionary Targeting and Surveillance System-Combined (BETSS-C), was described last Thursday to the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense as an "urgent requirement."

Lt. Gen. N. Ross Thompson III told the subcommittee of a major need for "improved persistent surveillance" at the 450 joint security stations, forward operating bases and combat outposts manned by U.S. troops. The new systems are being installed at rates of nine to 12 locations a month in Iraq and 13 a month in Afghanistan.
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"Our battlefield has no front lines and poses threats throughout the entire operational area," Thompson said in describing a continuing effort to "rapidly procure equipment and promising technologies to protect the force" against "an adaptive enemy who works continually to identify and exploit our vulnerabilities."

The cameras can operate 24 hours a day using thermal "see-in-the-dark capability as well as thermal signatures in light or zero-light conditions up to three kilometers," Thompson said....


Al Qaeda's Shadow Army commander outlines Afghan strategy - The Long War Journal

Al Qaeda's Shadow Army commander outlines Afghan strategy - The Long War Journal:.. "Al Qaeda and the Taliban's strategy to defeat the West in Afghanistan is made clear. Sa'id, as the Shadow Army leader, would have first hand knowledge of the plan for victory. Sa'id major points are:"

• Taliban forces are to attack major provincial centers while simultaneously advancing on the capital of Kabul. Sa'id specifically mentions the Maidan-Wardak region just south of Kabul as being a pivotal area to stage attacks on the capital.

• Interdict NATO's supply lines in Pakistan and force the Western country to rely on Central Asian nations for logistical supply lines. Sa'id believes the Russians will threaten NATO's resupply effort and force Central Asian states from cooperating.

• Leverage al Qaeda's knowledge gained in Iraq to train the Taliban for more sophisticated attacks. Al Qaeda has already "employed its military expertise in Iraq in to serve Taliban's project in Afghanistan and Pakistan, such roadside bombs which target the military convoys, and the suicide attacks which have never existed in Afghanistan before 11 September attack," according to Sa'id. He also said al Qaeda has training camps in Northeastern Afghanistan, in Helmand province, and in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

• Bleed the US and NATO allies through "organized guerilla warfare" as the Western countries face a financial crisis. "Taliban relied on patience, while the Americans can not tolerate long wars and the good tidings are promised to the patient people," he said. "[T]this type of war causes languor to the fortitude of any regular army and leads to its exhaustion and depletion over time even when the Americans join forces with the NATO."

Sa'id quotes Osama bin Laden on how the financial crisis plus the extended wars have weakened America's resolve: "This is America today, staggering under the strikes and consequences of the mujahideen. There is a human loss, a political beat, and a financial breakdown. Even it begs small, as well as big countries. Its enemies are no longer afraid of it, and its friends are no longer respects it."

• Continue to plan attacks against the West. Sa'id notes that almost all of al Qaeda's major attacks against the West were plotted in Afghanistan. "The overwhelming majority of the organization's main operations in Europe and the United States were planned in Afghanistan (the attack on the World Trade Centre's twin towers in New York, the destruction of the destroyer USS Cole in Aden, the bombing of the American Embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salam, the attack on American tourists in Bali, Indonesia, and the bombing of a Jewish synagogue in Jerba, Tunisia)." he said. "Al Qaeda organization did not succeed at all in mounting any major operation in the West from Iraq."

• Take advantage of Afghanistan's porous borders to flood the country with foreign recruits, who will eventually "return to their countries and probably Europe and the West after undergoing military training and ideological mobilization."

• Take advantage of civilian casualties caused by Coalition forces in Afghanistan to turn the population against the government and Western forces.

• Take advantage of NATO and Afghan forces' focus on the main civilian centers and the lines of communication. The Taliban and al Qaeda will use the countryside to train, recruit, and launch attacks against enemy forces.

• Capitalize on US airstrikes in Pakistan for recruitment as well as for creating rifts between the two governments.

• Eschew negotiations with the Afghan government and the West. Sa'id is adamant that the recent reports of negotiations with the Taliban are attempts to split the Taliban and al Qaeda, and that no member of the group' senior leadership was involved.

Sa'id is clear that Mullah Omar was unwilling to turn over bin Laden after the US demanded it in late 2001, and that there is no reason to break from al Qaeda now when the Taliban have the upper hand. "US and western sources talk about their readiness to accept the Taliban in the Afghan future political structure should it leave the Al Qaeda," he said. "However, these sources close the eyes to the fact that Mullah Mohammad Omar has lost his throne [ruling] upon his refusal to hand over one person who is Osama bin Laden. Thus, will Mullah Mohammad Omar agree to a condition which he refused when he used to rule and when the United States was at the top of its might, and accept it now while he is on the threshold of a victory over his enemies?"

• Expand the jihad into neighboring countries. Sa'id discusses using the leverage gained in Afghanistan to affect the outcome in neighboring countries....

[bth: I wish the coalition had such a clear and concise strategy.]

China's runaway steel train

reportonbusiness.com: China's runaway steel train
...And that, Mr. Yu says, is the problem: Not that so many mills are going out of business, but that so many are still going.

China simply makes too much steel. The government estimates that China's annual production is about 100 million tonnes more than it should be, a figure equal to the whole annual output of the industry in the United States.

Worse, China has far too many steel companies, more than 700 at last count. Add in iron companies and companies that roll or otherwise shape steel, and the total comes to more than 7,000. Despite repeated government attempts to force them to consolidate into fewer, bigger companies, most of them are still small and inefficient.

By rights, many companies should have closed. Instead, they march on like zombies, China's industrial undead.

That was not such a problem when China was growing at 10 per cent or more a year and demand was soaring for products made in the “workshop of the world.” No matter how much steel China made and how many companies were making it, there was always a market somewhere.

Now it's a problem, and not just for China and its steel makers. In China and around the world, demand for steel is plummeting. Producers are cutting back: Japan's output fell 39 per cent and Germany's 31 per cent in February from the same month last year....


Targeted killing of women's rights activist shocks Afghans

globeandmail.com: Targeted killing of women's rights activist shocks Afghans
...Although outspoken about women's rights in the past, Ms. Achakzai's friend asked last night that her name not be published for fear publicity would increase threats to her own life. Gulping for air at times and choking back tears, the woman was audibly struggling with disbelief over Ms. Achakzai's death, which has already renewed fears among the burgeoning class of progressive women in this ultra-conservative city. “I want the world to understand how every person in this crazy place is feeling because this is a wake-up call to all of us that we could be next,” the woman said, sobbing. “The sad thing is nobody cares, it seems.”

In recent months, security in Kandahar has markedly deteriorated – even international forces working to secure the province have admitted the city is experiencing a low point. In addition to regular kidnappings of locals and foreign contractors, the downward spiral in the city has had a particular impact on women. In recent months, many prominent women, including famous policewoman Malalai Kakar, have been brutally murdered in public by assassins on behalf of the Taliban. Shortly after Ms. Achakzai's killing, Qari Yousef Ahmedi, a spokesman for the Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack. Ms. Achakzai's husband, a German chemistry professor who has been teaching at Kandahar University, confirmed his wife's death to friends and fellow councillors.

In a sad twist of fate, the couple, growing weary of dangers in Kandahar, had just purchased tickets for a May 1 trip to Toronto, where Ms. Achakzai's ailing mother lives.

“They both said they were tired of this place because it's so violent and so messed up. They were just taking a trip to get away, but they were going to see after the elections if things were going to get better,” Ms. Achakzai's friend said. “Now she's gone forever.”....


Obama Asks for Stealth Jets in Iraq, Astan Budget (Updated) | Danger Room from Wired.com

Obama Asks for Stealth Jets in Iraq, Astan Budget (Updated) | Danger Room from Wired.com: "Today the Obama administration unveiled what it promised would be the last 'emergency,' 'supplemental' spending bill to cover the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But, oddly, that $83.4 billion request contained money for items that everyone in the Pentagon agrees has nothing to do with the wars we're in."...

CDC covered up high lead levels in D.C.

The Raw Story | CDC covered up high lead levels in D.C.: "Eight years ago, engineers and officials in Washington, D.C. decided to give the go-ahead for a program that would eliminate the 'potentially carcinogenic by-products' of chlorine in tap water. The program replaced chlorination with chloramination, and it worked. However, in the next three years, hundreds of families with homes fitted with lead pipes in the District of Columbia were exposed to dangerously high lead levels. Unknown to scientists at the time, the chlorine in tap water served as a 'binder' for the lead pipes, keeping a certain amount of lead from dissolving in the water. In 2004, the chlorination method was restored. Still, in the first half of that year, 74 out of 108 household taps sampled had lead concentrations above the 'EPA action level,' some astronomically so."....

Sunday, April 12, 2009

BBC NEWS | Programmes | From Our Own Correspondent | One-way flight to Afghan outback

BBC NEWS | Programmes | From Our Own Correspondent | One-way flight to Afghan outback: "My mistake had been, foolishly, to try to drive to the front-gate of the American Embassy where we had been invited to go on a press trip.

But fortress Kabul has become addicted to security - rather like those bodybuilders who cannot stop pumping iron and popping pills until they resemble some hideously bulging comic book villain.

The city keeps building ever more layers of barbed wire, blast walls, checkpoints, guns and angry policemen.

The US and the rest of Nato keep telling us how the security situation in the capital has improved.

But they are unwilling to practice the confidence they preach."...

[bth: worth reading in full. One might conclude that we haven't and perhaps never will get it right in Afghanistan.]

CNN Political Ticker: All politics, all the time Blog Archive - Top U.S. general in Iraq: I believe we’ll be gone by late 2011 « - Blogs from CNN.com

CNN Political Ticker: All politics, all the time Blog Archive - Top U.S. general in Iraq: I believe we’ll be gone by late 2011 « - Blogs from CNN.com: "WASHINGTON (CNN) – General Ray Odierno, the top U.S. military commander on the ground in Iraq, said Sunday that he believes U.S. troops will be out of the country by the end of 2011.

CNN Chief National Correspondent John King asked Odierno to rate his confidence, on a scale of one to ten, that U.S. troops would be out by the agreed upon timeline between the U.S. and Iraqi governments.

“As you ask me today, I believe it’s a ten – that we will be gone by 2011.”"...

[bth: this interview is quick damage control for the fact that Odierno contracted the President of the United States earlier this week about withdrawing from Iraq. Odierno does this interview or loses his job. Interesting.]

Commentary: Fallen brothers found - and lost | McClatchy

Commentary: Fallen brothers found - and lost | McClatchy:... "Normally, all missions were flown by at least two helicopters, but this one was so brief and so routine and along a route so well known and marked by the center white line of a familiar highway that Capt. Freeman and his boss, Maj. Bruce (Ol' Snake) Crandall, already at the Landing Zone with the rest of A Company's 20 helicopters, agreed to waive that requirement and let 808 fly alone.

With that, 808 flew off the face of the earth. It disappeared without a word on the radio of distress or trouble. The helicopter was gone, and a massive search effort began almost immediately and continued for months, both as an organized and methodical search and by individual Huey pilots who flew anywhere near that route."...

[bth: worth reading in full. we remember.]

Ten Nato supply containers torched in Peshawar

Ten Nato supply containers torched in Peshawar
PESHAWAR: Unknown militants have, yet another time, carried out rocket attack on Nato supply terminal which erupted fire engulfing terminal, located on Ring Road here early on Sunday, Geo news reported.

According to sources, unknown militants fired many rockets on Nato supply terminal and devastated several Nato vehicles coupled with torching at least ten containers laden with Nato supply while firefighters have been dispatched to the crime scene to bring fire under control.

The intensity of fire forced for ask of more fire tenders while rescue efforts are underway, firefighting sources said.

Exchange of fire between police and offenders are underway, sources added.


Analysis: Pakistani TNSM serves as Taliban front - The Long War Journal

Analysis: Pakistani TNSM serves as Taliban front - The Long War Journal: "s the Pakistani government seeks to re-establish the 'peace accord' with the Swat Taliban after Sufi Mohammed walked out on the agreement, senior officials are defending the negotiations as legitimate talks with an influential local group. But the group the government is negotiating with, the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammed [TNSM or the Movement for the Enforcement of Mohammed's Law], is far from an impartial broker. Recent statements from the TNSM's leader and its spokesman show the group sides with the Taliban and has the ability to direct the Taliban to conduct attacks."...

60 drone hits kill 14 al-Qaeda men, 687 civilians

60 drone hits kill 14 al-Qaeda men, 687 civilians
LAHORE: Of the 60 cross-border predator strikes carried out by the Afghanistan-based American drones in Pakistan between January 14, 2006 and April 8, 2009, only 10 were able to hit their actual targets, killing 14 wanted al-Qaeda leaders, besides perishing 687 innocent Pakistani civilians. The success percentage of the US predator strikes thus comes to not more than six per cent.

Figures compiled by the Pakistani authorities show that a total of 701 people, including 14 al-Qaeda leaders, have been killed since January 2006 in 60 American predator attacks targeting the tribal areas of Pakistan. Two strikes carried out in 2006 had killed 98 civilians while three



attacks conducted in 2007 had slain 66 Pakistanis, yet none of the wanted al-Qaeda or Taliban leaders could be hit by the Americans right on target. However, of the 50 drone attacks carried out between January 29, 2008 and April 8, 2009, 10 hit their targets and killed 14 wanted al-Qaeda operatives. Most of these attacks were carried out on the basis of intelligence believed to have been provided by the Pakistani and Afghan tribesmen who had been spying for the US-led allied forces stationed in Afghanistan.

The remaining 50 drone attacks went wrong due to faulty intelligence information, killing hundreds of innocent civilians, including women and children. The number of the Pakistani civilians killed in those 50 attacks stood at 537, in which 385 people lost their lives in 2008 and 152 people were slain in the first 99 days of 2009 (between January 1 and April 8).

Of the 50 drone attacks, targeting the Pakistani tribal areas since January 2008, 36 were carried out in 2008 and 14 were conducted in the first 99 days of 2009. Of the 14 attacks targeting Pakistan in 2009, three were carried out in January, killing 30 people, two in February killing 55 people, five in March killing 36 people and four were conducted in the first nine days of April, killing 31 people.

Of the 14 strikes carried out in the first 99 days of April 2009, only one proved successful, killing two most wanted senior al-Qaeda leaders - Osama al Kini and Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan. Both had lost their lives in a New Year’s Day drone strike carried out in the South Waziristan region on January 1, 2009.....


Islamabad on high alert - barricades and closed schools

Informed Comment

Vatican blocks Caroline Kennedy appointment as US ambassador - Telegraph

Vatican blocks Caroline Kennedy appointment as US ambassador - Telegraph: "Vatican sources told Il Giornale that their support for abortion disqualified Ms Kennedy and other Roman Catholics President Barack Obama had been seeking to appoint."...

Taliban begin enforcing Islamic law in Bajaur

The Hindu News Update Service
Islamabad (PTI): The Pakistani Taliban have begun enforcing Islamic law in the Bajaur tribal region even as scores of militants consolidated their hold on Buner district, located just 100 km from the federal capital.

Maulvi Faqir Mohammad, the militant commander in Bajaur Agency and a deputy of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan chief Baitullah Mehsud, announced the decision to enforce Shariah in the region during a broadcast on his illegal FM radio station on Friday.

Mohammad also barred women from stepping out of their homes without male relatives, banned shaving of beards and warned people against availing assistance from the Benazir Income Support Programme, a government project to provide financial aid to women.

During a 40-minute speech on radio, Mohammad said he and his fighters would spare no effort to strictly implement Islamic laws in the region.

The Taliban have formed an "action group" to ensure the enforcement of Shariah and to punish people who violate their edicts....


Federal Reserve tells banks to not reveal results of 'stress test'

The Raw Story | Federal Reserve tells banks to not reveal results of 'stress test': "19 of the nation's largest banks have been told by the U.S. Federal Reserve to keep quiet on the results of economic 'stress tests' that regulators are conducting to judge the banks' financial preparedness."...

[bth: what these clowns don't seem to understand is that public trust needs to be restored with a long period of transparency. No trust=no recovery. Everything needs to be focused on improving confidence. Hiding the test results only aggravates the matter.]

Obama still has hundreds of important jobs to fill

Obama Still Has Hundreds Of Important Jobs To Fill
...George Mason University professor James Pfiffner, an expert on presidential appointments, said that while capable civil servants can keep the government functioning, no one expects them to "go off in a new direction" to carry out a new president's policies.

Light describes it as a "neckless government," representing the gap between the new Cabinet secretaries and the career employees.

"You really need the president's people in there to put the push on for action," he said.

All told, Obama has about 500 appointments to make that are subject to Senate confirmation, and about 3,000 positions to fill overall, Light estimates.

By the White House's own count, Obama is outpacing his three predecessors at getting top-level appointees confirmed. But the numbers still are paltry, given all the vacancies to be filled. As of March 31, by an internal White House tally, Obama had 38 top-level officials confirmed, compared with 27 for George W. Bush, 37 for Clinton, and 27 for George H.W. Bush.

Considerably more names have been announced and are winding their way through the confirmation process.

"It's very clear that the Obama personnel operation has picked up speed," Light said. "They're now loading the pipeline quite efficiently."

That shifts the logjam down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Senate, which must confirm top-level appointees. Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said most of the dozens of names awaiting confirmation didn't arrive until mid-March, and that action now "hinges on Republicans agreeing to move these nominees."...