Saturday, April 25, 2009

Bull In Irish Store Causes Chaos (VIDEO)

Proposed (Classified) Bill Will Defend Against Flesh-Eating (Classified) | The Onion - America's Finest News Source

Proposed (Classified) Bill Will Defend Against Flesh-Eating (Classified)

Media Matters: How major news sources avoided reporting on Bartow's Pulitzer on Pentagon Plants in the News

...A year ago this week, The New York Times published an explosive story by investigative reporter David Barstow detailing the hidden ties between numerous media military analysts, the Pentagon, and defense contractors. Media Matters subsequently released an exhaustive report that found that between January 1, 2002, and May 13, 2008, the analysts named in the Times report appeared or were quoted more than 4,500 times by news outlets, including more than 600 appearances by retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey alone on NBC, MSNBC, and CNBC.

In a follow-up article published last November, Barstow focused on McCaffrey's ties to contractors and appearances on the various NBC channels. NBC News president Steve Capus -- the same Steve Capus who extolled the virtues of "responsibility," "trust," and "doing what's right" in the wake of the Imus scandal -- responded by contending McCaffrey need not follow NBC's conflict-of-interest rules because he's a "consultant."

So, when news broke this week that The New York Times had won five Pulitzers, one going to Barstow for the military media analysts story, which award do you think NBC and MSNBC went out of its way to avoid noting in reports on the Times' success? Bingo ... Barstow's honor.
On the April 20 edition of NBC's Nightly News, reporting on the awarding of the Pulitzers earlier that day, anchor Brian Williams stated that "The New York Times led the way with five, including awards for breaking news and international reporting." But Williams did not note that Barstow was awarded a Pulitzer or the story for which he was awarded the honor.

MSNBC didn't fare much better, airing numerous reports on the Times' honors -- in some cases describing what the individual Pulitzers were awarded for -- but repeatedly failing to single out Barstow's success.

Media Matters has repeatedly documented the unwillingness of the major broadcast networks, including NBC, to report on Barstow's April 20, 2008, Times article. Moreover, NBC joined ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC in reportedly declining to participate in a segment based on Barstow's article that aired on the April 24, 2008, edition of PBS' NewsHour....

Rangers deployed to secure Islamabad outskirts - The Long War Journal

Rangers deployed to secure Islamabad outskirts - The Long War Journal:... "A senior intelligence official said the lack of response by the Pakistani government and military ensures a bloody fight. 'The longer the state has deferred taking the Taliban head on, the stronger the Taliban has gotten,' the official said. 'Any attempt to put the Taliban genie back in the bottle will result a major bloodbath. Assuming the Pakistanis make an effort to defend themselves, that is.'

Some US officials have expressed frustration at Pakistan's shifting of the blame for the Taliban insurgency. Pakistani officials have pointed fingers at Afghanistan and India for fueling the Taliban; they have also claimed that the US is withholding funding and advanced weapons. However, since 2001, the US has provided more than $10 billion in aid to Pakistan, of which several billion dollars are unaccounted for.

A senior military officer said the Pakistani complaints about a lack of advanced weapons systems such as F-16s and attack helicopters are 'nonsense.'

'The Pakistani Army doesn't need airplanes and night vision goggles to fight the Taliban,' the official said. 'First and foremost, they need to grow backbones, pick up their weapons, and fight it out. And if they don't do it soon, they might not have a country left to fight for.'"

[bth: so is this a big game of chicken? Is this just another attempt to extort with fear of Taliban controlled nukes, more 'bribe money' I mean military aid (that will then disappear)from the US taxpayer?]

U.S. Might Not Try Pro-Israel Lobbyists -

U.S. Might Not Try Pro-Israel Lobbyists - "The U.S. government may abandon espionage-law charges against two former lobbyists for a pro-Israel advocacy group, officials said yesterday, as a prominent House lawmaker denied new allegations that she offered to use her influence in their behalf."...

[bth: did the impending trial or possible dismissal triggered the Harman leak?]

M of A - Lenders Press For Chrysler Bankruptcy

M of A - Lenders Press For Chrysler Bankruptcy: "I postulated that by securing lenders, credit default swaps will create bankruptcies. Something that the Obama administration seems not to get.

Chrysler will now be a likely victim of this:

A group of big banks and other lenders rebuffed a Treasury Department request that they slash 85% of Chrysler LLC's secured debt, proposing instead to eliminate about 35% in exchange for a minority stake in the restructured car maker and a seat on its board.
In making their case for a significantly smaller sacrifice than what the government wants, the lenders have argued that their fiduciary duty to their own shareholders and investors requires them to recoup as much as possible from the car maker. The lenders have told Treasury officials they believe they could recover at least 65% of their loans if Chrysler is liquidated in bankruptcy.

It is very doubtful that the 65% could be recovered in a normal bankruptcy. If Chrysler closes down, there is not that much left to sell. Very likely these lenders have insured their loans and are confident that their insurer will pay them when Chrysler goes into bankruptcy.

The only way the Obama administration could rein in those lenders and prevent more harm for the real economy is by declaring these insurances null and void. That is easy to"As I wrote:

The administration could simply declare CDS contracts to be "contrary to public policy" (i.e. immoral) which would make them not enforceable in court. The CDS would immediately lose their value as no-one makes such businesses when they are not enforceable. (Keep in mind - every contract you make involves three entities: you, the other side and the government that makes you and the other side stick to the commitment. If the government finds the contract to be void on public policy doctrine grounds, it is useless for you and the other side.)

Most societies find usury harmful and to be "contrary to public policy" and outlaw it. Likewise insuring a loan, which lifts the need for responsible lending, is harmful and should be forbidden. ...

[bth: well worth reading in full. Perhaps we need to declare these credit default swaps 'contrary to the public policy' and move on. Perhaps we should take the same approach with usury among credit card companies]

M of A - The Sadism Report

M of A - The Sadism Report: "Working through the quite detailed and long sadism and torture report Inquiry Into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody' (pdf) the most significant admission to me is the footnote 1219 on page 158:

Notwithstanding differences between the legal status of detainees held in Iraq and those in Afghanistan, the [Special Mission Unit Task Force] used the same interrogation approaches in both theaters. In addition, the [Combined Joint Task Force 7] interrogation policies included techniques that had been authorized for use at GTMO. By September 2003, interrogation approaches initially authorized for a war in which the President had determined that the protections of the Geneva Conventions did not apply, would be authorized for all U.S. forces in Iraq.

Abu Ghraib was not an accident but official policy promoted from the very top and many people knew that.

The report explains in detail how this developed. When the techniques used were taken from the SERE interrogation resistance training and pushed onto Guantanamo as 'battle laboratory' and from there to Afghanistan and Iraq, a lot of people, mostly in lower positions, waved red flags and protested. But they were always pushed back from higher ups with the ultimate pressure coming from the White House and Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz. ...

[bth: worth reading in full with references linked]

Defiant Taliban Forces Advance To Within 60 Miles of Islamabad -

Defiant Taliban Forces Advance To Within 60 Miles of Islamabad - "ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, April 23 -- Taliban forces consolidated control of two northwestern Pakistan districts and sent patrols into a third Thursday, stepping up their defiance of a government peace deal and raising fears of further advances by violent Islamists who are now within 60 miles of this capital city."...

[bth: we must really be misunderstanding what is going on in Pakistan. Has civil and military government simply given up in Pakistan - conceded defeat to religious fanatics intent on redistributing wealth as well as reinforcing religion? Has corruption become so bad in Pakistan that it is easier to live under extreme mafia/religious types than to improve or defend the current Pakistani government? I just don't understand the dynamics going on at a local level. The NYT article last week linking it to land disputes and land and mine owners against the workers/financially enslaved without legal redress may be part of it. Beyond that I just don't get it.]

Jane Harman: Angry, partisan, civil liberties extremist - Glenn Greenwald -

Jane Harman: Angry, partisan, civil liberties extremist - Glenn Greenwald - "Blue Dog Rep. Jane Harman -- once the most vigorous Democratic cheerleader of Bush's NSA warrantless eavesdropping program -- is rip-roarin' angry today. Apparently, her private conversations were eavesdropped on by the U.S. Government! This is a grave outrage that, as she told Andrea Mitchell just moments ago, demands a probing investigation:"...

So if I understand this correctly -- and I'm pretty sure I do -- when the U.S. Government eavesdropped for years on American citizens with no warrants and in violation of the law, that was "both legal and necessary" as well as "essential to U.S. national security," and it was the "despicable" whistle-blowers (such as Thomas Tamm) who disclosed that crime and the newspapers which reported it who should have been criminally investigated, but not the lawbreaking government officials. But when the U.S. Government legally and with warrants eavesdrops on Jane Harman, that is an outrageous invasion of privacy and a violent assault on her rights as an American citizen, and full-scale investigations must be commenced immediately to get to the bottom of this abuse of power. Behold Jane Harman's overnight transformation from Very Serious Champion of the Lawless Surveillance State to shrill civil liberties extremist.

But I'm really wondering: as serious as it is when a member of Congress is the target of government eavesdropping, can we really afford to investigate this? After all, we have so many very important things to do. It really seems like we need to be looking forward, not backwards. The Bush administration is gone. This all happened in 2005 -- years ago. Is this really a time to be pursuing grudges, to be re-litigating old disputes? What kind of partisan witch hunt is Harman after? We can, and surely should, reflect on what happened to her -- in fact, let us now pause together for a moment of quiet reflection on what was done to Jane Harman -- but this is not a time for retribution or looking back. "Most Americans" want the people's business done, not "abuse of power" investigations.

Besides, if Jane Harman didn't do anything wrong -- as she claims -- then what does she have to hide? Only Terrorists and criminals would mind the Government listening in. We all know that government officials have better things to do than worry about what innocent Americans are saying. If she did nothing wrong -- if all she was doing was talking to her nice constituents and AIPAC supporters about how she could be of service -- then Bush officials obviously weren't interested in what she had to say.

Beyond that, even if there were "illegal" acts committed here, surely we should be rushing to retroactively immunize those responsible, just as Harman eagerly advocated and engineered and then voted for when it came to the telecoms who broke our laws and enabled illegal spying on American citizens. That was when she voted to gut FISA protections and massively expand the Government's power to eavesdrop on Americans with no warrants as part of the Cheney/Rockefeller/Hoyer Surveillance State celebration known as the "FISA Amendments Act of 2008."

Ultimately, even if a few so-called "laws" were "broken," surely the people who did it were acting to protect us from possible foreign espionage. Are we now going to start subjecting the good men and women working to keep us safe to harassing, expensive investigations every time some member of Congress pipes up and claims they were victimized by "illegal" acts? Think how overly cautious our intelligence community will become, what that will do to morale, how much it will handcuff us in our Wars. And if, at the end of the day, all of this doesn't convice the "Rule of Law" purists among us to let bygones be bygones, I'm sure all reasonable and decent people can at least agree that the methods our government uses to eavesdrop on us are among the most sacred State Secrets that exist, and thus simply cannot and must not be reviewed by any tribunal for legality and propriety lest we all become deeply vulnerable to the Terrorists.

Jane Harman is so shrill and angry today. She sounds like some sort of unhinged leftist blogger. As The Washington Post's Dana Milbank so insightfully asked this week, what could any Democrat possibly have to be angry about? After all, they won. I wonder how long it's going to be before Harman joins the ACLU? What's that old saying -- a "civil liberties extremist" is a former Bush-enabling, Surveillance State-defending Blue Dog who learns that their own personal conversations were intercepted by the same government that they demanded be vested with unchecked power:...

[bth: very well said.]

First 100 Days: Unfilled Positions Threaten Obama's Ambitious Agenda - First 100 Days of Presidency - Politics

First 100 Days: Unfilled Positions Threaten Obama's Ambitious Agenda - First 100 Days of Presidency - Politics ..."But Obama still has hundreds of positions left to fill. Of the 542 positions that affect policy, the Senate has confirmed 37 percent, according to the project.

What's at stake is much more than bragging rights for how quickly Obama can fill in an organizational chart with undersecretary of this and deputy assistant secretary of that.

These boxes represent the people Obama needs to carry out all sorts of promised initiatives and policy shifts, and to assure that the nation stays safe along the way.

Obama is moving at a good pace compared to Bush and Clinton, Light said. 'But he's got a big agenda, more appointments to fill. The activist agenda requires more implementers and executors.'

At a recent congressional hearing, for example, Rep. Sue Myrick, R-N.C., lamented that Dennis Blair, Obama's national intelligence director, doesn't have time to manage the extra responsibilities he's been given on economics and climate change.

'The ideal person for that is the principal deputy director of national intelligence,' suggested Edward Maguire, the agency's outgoing inspector general.

But that's one of hundreds of seats that remain empty. Similar stories abound all across government.

NASA is awaiting a new administrator as it approaches its deadline to announce when it will retire the space shuttle program. At the Health and Human Services Department, where Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius is still awaiting confirmation by the Senate for the secretary position, 19 of the top 20 slots are being filled by acting career employees, and the 20th is empty....

War and Piece: Perplexing. Harman, Goss, Cunningham, Fargo connection?

War and Piece:: ..."Former officials said that Mr. Goss had first seen the transcripts of Ms. Harman’s phone conversations in late 2005, when the government was renewing its requests to a special court to wiretap the calls of the Israeli operative, whom they would not identify. Ms. Harman was not the target of the eavesdropping but her conversations were picked up because she spoke with the Israeli agent.

Note the operative verbs: Lede: It was Goss who 'concluded' that the tap required more action. He drew this conclusion not because Harman's alleged involvement was raised with him, but during a periodic review of material supposedly incriminating an entirely different person. Tenth graf: The review is when the transcripts were 'first seen' by Goss. As in, no one had bothered to bring it to Goss' attention before. Maybe because it wasn't all that.

Operatives tracking Israeli guy (let's call him 'Bob') routinely listen in on his calls. The Bob operatives need to run their transcripts by a court periodically to renew the wiretap. Porter Goss reviews the request (as a matter of routine? or did he know something?) and says, wait a minute. This involves Jane!

Or, perhaps, 'This involves JANE, bwahahaha.'

As I've pointed out before, Goss had reason to resent Harman: As ranking member on the committee, she aggressively pursued her own investigation of the case that felled U.S. Rep. Randy Cunningham (R-Calif.) in a cash for contracts scandal - one that also brought down Goss buddy ("Gossling") Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, Goss' number 3 at the CIA. And they weren't exactly best buds before that; Goss and Harman had clashed, for instance, on waterboarding; she went opver his head and formally registered her opposition to the torture practice with the CIA.

So: Motive; opportunity; crime? Not one committed by Harman. I'd like to know whether a CIA director would be liable for gaming the system against an enemy.

[bth: so I'm at the point of saying throw the bums out. All of them. Best to just start over at CIA]

Americans Accused of Stealing Fuel in Iraq -

Americans Accused of Stealing Fuel in Iraq - "In a confidence game that made a mockery of the United States military’s most secure compound in Iraq, a ring of Americans posing as contractors and their Nepalese drivers used tanker trucks, forged documents and sheer brazenness to steal at least $40 million worth of jet and diesel fuel from an Army depot, according to an indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Virginia on Friday.

Until they were caught, the dozen or so men in the ring operated an astoundingly successful con game in a war zone, the papers contend, apparently showing up in Iraq with nothing more than fake IDs and a talent for forging official requisition forms. Each time they filled up the tanker trucks at the depot in American headquarters near the Baghdad International Airport, the men would simply drive downtown and sell the fuel on the local black market, the court papers say."...

2002 Document Referred to Extreme Duress as 'Torture,' Warned of Techniques' Unreliability -

2002 Document Referred to Extreme Duress as 'Torture,' Warned of Techniques' Unreliability - "The military agency that provided advice on harsh interrogation techniques for use against terrorism suspects referred to the application of extreme duress as 'torture' in a July 2002 document sent to the Pentagon's chief lawyer and warned that it would produce 'unreliable information.'"...
Informed Comment

Geithner Sounds Darker Tone Than G-7 -

Geithner Sounds Darker Tone Than G-7 - "WASHINGTON -- Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said the world's economies are beginning to stabilize but cautioned that it is 'too early' to say risks have receded and that more action needs to be taken to counteract the worst financial crisis in generations.

'Financial conditions in some markets have shown modest improvement,' Mr. Geithner said, adding that it would be 'wrong to conclude that we are close to emerging from the darkness that descended on the global economy early last fall.'"....

Samantha Bee Talks Torture On Take Your Child To Work Day (VIDEO)

Samantha Bee Talks Torture On Take Your Child To Work Day (VIDEO)
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Friday, April 24, 2009

Pirates - Red State Update

Pirates - Red State Update

AFP: Russia ready to slash nuclear arsenal: general

AFP: Russia ready to slash nuclear arsenal: general: "MOSCOW (AFP) — Russia is prepared to 'significantly' cut its nuclear arsenal if a deal is reached with the United States, the head of the Russian General Staff told the Interfax news agency on Thursday.

'The Russian president, the commander-in-chief, voiced this position in Helsinki. That's why I believe we are able to significantly cut both the warheads and their carriers...,' Nikolai Makarov told the agency in an interview.

If conditions were right, Russia's cuts could even take weapons levels below those foreseen in a 2002 accord known as the Moscow Treaty, he added.

The comments came as Russian officials prepared to sit down for talks with their US counterparts in Rome on Friday aimed at creating a successor to another nuclear accord, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which expires this year."...

Naval Open Source INTelligence

Naval Open Source INTelligence

POLITICS: Errant Drone Attacks Spur Militants in Pakistan

POLITICS: Errant Drone Attacks Spur Militants in Pakistan
... But the Pakistani government leaked data last week to The News in Lahore showing that only 10 drone attacks out of 60 carried out from Jan. 29, 2009 to Apr. 8, 2009 actually hit al Qaeda leaders, while 50 other strikes were based on faulty intelligence and killed a total of 537 civilians but no al Qaeda leaders.

The drone strikes have been even less accurate in their targeting in 2009 than they had been from 2006 through 2008, according to the detailed data from Pakistani authorities. Of 14 drone strikes carried out in those 99 days, only one was successful, killing a senior al Qaeda commander in North Waziristan and its external operations chief. The other 13 strikes had killed 152 people without netting a single al Qaeda leader.

Dobbins, speaking to IPS before the Pakistani data on drone strikes was released, said it was difficult for an outsider to evaluate the benefits of the programme but that "we can assess that there is a significant price that is being paid" in terms of the impact on Pakistani opinion toward U.S. efforts to stem the tide of the insurgency.

Dobbins said one of the reasons for the continuing drone attacks, despite the high political price, is that "it is an incentive aimed prodding the Pakistani government." He said he believes the United States would be happy to trade off the strikes in return for a more effective counterinsurgency campaign by the Pakistani government.

Further bolstering that interpretation of the objective of continued drone strikes is a report, in the same story in The News, that the most recent strike took place only hours after U.S. officials had reportedly received a rejection by Pakistani authorities Apr. 8 of a proposal for joint military operations against militant organisations in the tribal areas from U.S. South Asia envoy Richard Holbrooke and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, who were visiting Islamabad.

Other analysts suggest that the programme has acquired bureaucratic and political momentum because it a politically important symbol that the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan are against al Qaeda and because the United States has no other policy instrument to demonstrate that it is doing something about the growth of Islamic groups that share al Qaeda’s extremist Islamic militancy.

McCreary believes that the programme is related to the fear of the Obama administration that it would be unable to get support for operations in Afghanistan if it didn’t focus on al Qaeda. "I think it was a way to link Afghanistan operations to al Qaeda," he said.

"That suggests to me that the tactic for motivating domestic support is influencing the policy," said McCreary. The former senior DIA analyst added that the drone strike programme "has acquired its own momentum, which is now having immense consequences."

Weinbaum told IPS in an interview that the drone attacks are being continued, "primarily because we’re enormously frustrated, and they represent the only thing we really have."

*Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, "Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam", was published in 2006.

[bth: so are domestic politics driving these attacks which seem to be based more and more on faulty intelligence based on their declining success rate?  Is it the case that we use them because they are our only visible sign of progress in the war on Al Qaeda itself for US domestic consumption?  Conversely is the Pakistani government objecting to them because they embarrass their Army and make their government look as impotent as they really are?  One wonders where this is all going?  I don't have a problem with drone attacks.  But are we getting targeting data from pay for hire 'spies' that are just dropping targeting radio chips at random as the Taliban has been claiming?]

U.S. Soldier Who Killed Herself--After Refusing to Take Part in Torture

U.S. Soldier Who Killed Herself--After Refusing to Take Part in Torture: "(April 23, 2009) -- With each new revelation on U.S. torture in Iraq, Afghanistan and Gitmo (and who, knows, probably elsewhere), I am reminded of the chilling story of Alyssa Peterson, who I have written about numerous times in the past three years but now with especially sad relevance. Appalled when ordered to take part in interrogations that, no doubt, involved what we would call torture, she refused, then killed herself a few days later, in September 2003.

Of course, we now know from the torture memos and the U.S. Senate committee probe and various new press reports, that the 'Gitmo-izing' of Iraq was happening just at the time Alyssa got swept up in it.

Alyssa Peterson was one of the first female soldiers killed in Iraq. A cover-up, naturally, followed."...

[bth: this stuff makes you want to scream. Worth reading and remembering in full.]

Cheney pushed torture techniques to find Iraq, Qaeda tie: report

The Raw Story | Cheney pushed torture techniques to find Iraq, Qaeda tie: report:... "'Former Vice President Dick Cheney and others who advocated the use of sleep deprivation, isolation and stress positions and waterboarding, which simulates drowning, insist that they were legal,' Landay says, but a former senior intelligence official 'familiar with the interrogation issue said that Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld demanded that intelligence agencies and interrogators find evidence of al Qaida-Iraq collaboration.

'There were two reasons why these interrogations were so persistent, and why extreme methods were used,' the former senior intelligence official is quoted as saying.

'The main one is that everyone was worried about some kind of follow-up attack (after 9/11),' the official adds. 'But for most of 2002 and into 2003, Cheney and Rumsfeld, especially, were also demanding proof of the links between al Qaida and Iraq that (former Iraqi exile leader Ahmed) Chalabi and others had told them were there.'

It was in this period that the CIA waterboarded Abu Zubeida at least 83 times in August 2002 and Khalid Sheik Mohammed 183 times.

'There was constant pressure on the intelligence agencies and the interrogators to do whatever it took to get that information out of the detainees, especially the few high-value ones we had, ...

[bth Cheney and Chalabi. Always it seems to come down to these two.]

POLITICS: U.S. Lacks Capacity to Win Over Afghans

POLITICS: U.S. Lacks Capacity to Win Over Afghans: "WASHINGTON, Apr 21 (IPS) - President Barack Obama and other top officials in his administration have made it clear that there can be no military solution in Afghanistan, and that the non-military efforts to win over the Afghan population will be central to its chances of success."

The reality, however, is that U.S. military and civilian agencies lack the skills and training as well as the institutional framework necessary to carry out culturally and politically sensitive socio-economic programmes at the local level in Afghanistan, or even to avoid further alienation of the population.

In fact, the U.S. government does not even have a minimum corps of people capable of speaking Pashto, the language of the 14 million ethnic Pashtuns who represent about 42 percent of the population of Afghanistan. It is in the Pashtun southern and eastern regions of the country that the complex insurgency that has come to be called the Taliban has been able to organise and often effectively govern at the village level in recent years.

"If all you are going to do is kill the bad guys, then you don’t need a lot of Pashto speakers," said Larry Goodson of the Department of National Security and Strategy at the National War College, who was a member of the team assembled by CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus to formulate a proposal for Afghanistan and Pakistan. But an effort to win over Pashto-speaking Afghans cannot succeed without officials who can communicate effectively in Pashto.

According to Chris Mason, who was a member of the Interagency Group on Afghanistan from early 2002 until September 2005, the Pashtuns of southern Afghanistan are "proto-insurgents", meaning that they are "naturally averse to the imposition of external order".

The United States needs "thousands" of Pashto speakers to have any chance of success in winning them over, said Mason, recalling that 5,000 U.S. officials had learned Vietnamese by the end of the Vietnam War. "The Foreign Service Institute should be turning out 200 to 300 Pashto speakers a year," he said.

But according to an official at the State Department’s Bureau of Human Resources, the United States has turned out a total of only 18 Foreign Service officers who can speak Pashto, and only two of them are now serving in Afghanistan – both apparently in Kabul.

The Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California trains roughly 30 to 40 military personnel in Pashto each year, according to media relations officer Brian Lamar, most of whom are enlisted men in military intelligence.

That indicates that there are very few U.S. nationals capable of working with local Pashtuns on development and political problems. The National War College’s Goodson said the almost complete absence of Pashto-speaking U.S. officials in Afghanistan "belies the U.S. commitment to a nation-building and counter-insurgency approach."

It is also emblematic of a broader human resource deficit in regard to a U.S. political approach to counter-insurgency as distinct from the past military approach in Afghanistan, according to Goodson. Winning over the Pashtun population "requires a level of human capital that, even prior to the global economic crisis was hard to come by," Goodson said, but in his view, "None of that staff is really in place."

The Washington Post reported that Obama announced in late March that the number of U.S. civilian officials to be involved in the new Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy would be increased by at least 50 percent to more than 900. But even a doubling of the civilian presence would not address the yawning human resource gap in regard to a non-military approach to the insurgency, according to Goodson.

That’s because the additional civilians would be based on a model of "highly paid contractors" who live far from the people they are supposed to be helping to win over, Goodson explained. That creates friction with their poorly paid Afghan counterparts and does nothing to establish relations with local people, said Goodson.

"You really do wonder if we are set up to do what we need to do in Afghanistan," said Goodson.

Mason warns that increased U.S. troops strength in Afghanistan is more likely to further alienate the population than help win them over unless the troops are trained for completely different operations from those they have done in the past. "Simply putting in more imperial storm troopers who do not speak the language and who are going to kick in more doors is just going to piss off more people," he said.

Mason believes many Army officers do understand the need to avoid traditional operations aimed at finding and killing or capturing insurgents, but are hamstrung by the Army itself. "The Army needs to move away from its default position, which has been war of annihilation, destroying the enemy, and focus on civil affairs," Mason said.

Col. David Lamm, who was chief of staff of the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005, Lt. Gen. David Barno, is doubtful about the willingness of the Army leadership to shift to a counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan. "The institutional army doesn’t want to do this," he told IPS in an interview last September. "There isn’t a lot of money in counter-insurgency. It isn’t a high-tech war - it’s a low-tech humint [human intelligence] operation."

Lamm recalled that the army’s role in Afghanistan before Barno took command in 2003 had been "counter-terrorism" rather than counter-insurgency. The army "wanted to roll in, round up terrorists, drive them out of the country, kill them," he said. Barno shifted the mission to one aimed at winning over the Afghan population, but he did so on his own, without any guidance from Washington, according to Lamm.

With the transition to NATO responsibility for Afghanistan that began in late 2005, the emphasis in U.S. military strategy was on "force protection" and keeping casualties low, Lamm said. After the shift to NATO responsibility, most U.S. troops in Afghanistan were still committed to an explicitly "counter-terrorism" role of destroying al Qaeda and Taliban "holdouts".

One of the hallmarks of that role, which has continued since 2006, is heavy reliance on airpower as a means of trying to weaken the insurgency. Barno, now director of the Near East South Asia Centre for Strategic Studies at the National Defence University, told IPS in an interview last September," There is a predilection to use airpower in lieu of close up encounters [with insurgents] to avoid U.S. casualties."

Barno recalled that he dramatically reduced reliance on airpower, because he regarded the Afghan tolerance for the U.S. military presence as a "bag of capital" that was used up "every time we used airpower or knocked down doors or detained someone in front of their family".

Barno’s policy of curbing airpower was abandoned by his successor, Gen. Karl W. Eikenberry, from 2005 to 2007, and the number of airstrikes has continued to grow exponentially since 2005. Eikenberry was nominated by Obama to be ambassador to Afghanistan – an indication that the broad outlines of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan will continue to emphasise air attacks on suspected Taliban targets.

Growing Afghan anger at the hundreds of civilian casualties from U.S. airstrikes, often based on bad intelligence, has been exploited by insurgents across the country.

*Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, "Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam", was published in 2006.

[bth: lack of Pashto speakers, institutional failure within the army to address the type of warfare or constructions efforts needed to win over locals, heavy emphasis on air strikes. All are pointing to a very unfortunate outcome for us in Afghanistan. Can we at least contain the spread of the Taliban? Things aren't looking well at all for us.]

AP IMPACT: Secret tally has 87,215 Iraqis dead

News from The Associated Press: "BAGHDAD (AP) -- Iraq's government has recorded 87,215 of its citizens killed since 2005 in violence ranging from catastrophic bombings to execution-style slayings, according to government statistics obtained by The Associated Press that break open one of the most closely guarded secrets of the war.

Combined with tallies based on hospital sources and media reports since the beginning of the war and an in-depth review of available evidence by The Associated Press, the figures show that more than 110,600 Iraqis have died in violence since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

The number is a minimum count of violent deaths. The official who provided the data to the AP, on condition of anonymity because of its sensitivity, estimated the actual number of deaths at 10 to 20 percent higher because of thousands who are still missing and civilians who were buried in the chaos of war without official records."...

New jobless claims rise more than expected to 640K

New jobless claims rise more than expected to 640K
WASHINGTON – New jobless claims rose more than expected last week, while the number of workers continuing to filing claims for unemployment benefits topped 6.1 million.

Both figures are fresh evidence layoffs persist amid a weak job market that is not expected to rebound anytime soon. New housing data also were worse than expected, diminishing optimism about a recovery in that battered market.

The Labor Department said Thursday that initial claims for unemployment compensation rose to a seasonally adjusted 640,000, up from a revised 613,000 the previous week. That was slightly above analysts' expectations of 635,000.

Economists are closely watching the unemployment compensation data because they believe a sustained decline in the number of initial claims could signal the end of the recession is nearing. Jobless claims have historically peaked six to 10 weeks before recessions end, according to a report by Goldman Sachs. Initial claims reflect the level of job cuts by employers.

But the latest report shows job losses remain high. The four-week average of claims, which smooths out volatility, dropped slightly to 646,750, about 12,000 below the peak in early April. Goldman Sachs economists have said a decline of 30,000 to 40,000 in the four-week average is needed to signal a peak....

[bth: this recession is far from over.  Ask anyone in manufacturing.  Wait until the ripple effect of the automotive bankruptcies hit the supply chain.]

U.S. Tells Chrysler to Prepare for Bankruptcy Filing -

U.S. Tells Chrysler to Prepare for Bankruptcy Filing - "DETROIT — The Treasury Department is directing Chrysler to prepare a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing as soon as next week, people with direct knowledge of the talks said Thursday."

The company faces a deadline of April 30 to come up with a viable business plan supported by its creditors, the United Automobile Workers union, and Fiat, the Italian car company that wants to acquire a stake in Chrysler.

The Obama administration has told Chrysler it will provide up to $6 billion in new financing, on top of the $4 billion in loans it has already given the company, if Chrysler can complete a deal by next Thursday with a cost structure that gives it a chance of survival. The creditors have so far balked at the terms suggested by the Treasury....

[bth: Chrysler has been put into an impossible negotiating position and bankruptcy is now the only option. The US government essentially said that they HAD to have the Fiat deal, so how do you think the Fiat negotiations went after that announcement? Also the credit default swaps that we are now subsidizing via AIG to Chrysler bond holders guarantee 100 % of the debt repayment in event of default so how do you think GM and Chrysler's debt negotiations are going? They aren't. The creditors want the default, the collapse of our manufacturing base and the government guarantees on the CDS so they can come out whole. The auto workers and the American tax payers are getting screwed by our government and by our financial institutions.]

Daily Kos: State of the Nation

Daily Kos: State of the Nation: "First of all, the background: No, Karl Rove, Marc Thiessen, and Fox News are not telling the truth when they claim that U.S. torture techniques prevented a 'west coast 9/11.'

Rove et al. claim that after CIA waterboarding, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed gave authorities information used to foil a plot to hijack an airplane with a shoe bomb and fly it into the tallest building in Los Angeles, the Library Tower (now known as the U.S. Bank Building).

In other words, Rove and his crew say torture saved America from another 9/11.

As Timothy Noah and Daily Kos TV have documented, however, the Rove timetable just doesn't add up. While KSM was arrested in March 2003, the plot was stopped in February 2002 -- more than a year earlier. Rove's tale could not possibly be true.

But like any pathological liar, Rove is pushing a lie containing threads of truth."...

Experts: North Korea a Fully Fledged Nuclear Power - North Korea | Map | Government - Experts: North Korea a Fully Fledged Nuclear Power - North Korea | Map | Government: ..."Now North Korea’s supreme leader, Kim Jong Il, has the potential to kill millions in Japan as well as the South, and to lay waste U.S. bases and airfields in both countries. It will force military strategists to rethink plans for war in Korea and significantly increase the potential costs of any intervention in a future Korean war. The shift from acknowledging North Korea’s nuclear weapons development program to recognizing it as a fully fledged nuclear power is highly controversial. South Korea, in particular, resists the reclassification because it could give the North greater leverage in negotiations."

[bth: now begins the Asian nuclear arms race in earnest]

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Diplomat Claims Bush White House Destroyed His Memo Opposing Torture (VIDEO)

Diplomat Claims Bush White House Destroyed His Memo Opposing Torture (VIDEO):... "Zelikow disagreed with the legal reasoning employed by Bush's Office of Legal Counsel to justify the use of harsh interrogation techniques such as waterboarding. And he claims that copies of a memo he circulated to detail his opposing views were destroyed by the White House."...

Monday, April 20, 2009

'Soon soldiers will have 3 tiny choppers in their pocket' • The Register

'Soon soldiers will have 3 tiny choppers in their pocket' • The Register

CQ Politics | Sources: Wiretap Recorded Rep. Harman Promising to Intervene for AIPAC

CQ Politics | Sources: Wiretap Recorded Rep. Harman Promising to Intervene for AIPAC: "Rep. Jane Harman , the California Democrat with a longtime involvement in intelligence issues, was overheard on an NSA wiretap telling a suspected Israeli agent that she would lobby the Justice Department reduce espionage-related charges against two officials of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, the most powerful pro-Israel organization in Washington.

Harman was recorded saying she would “waddle into” the AIPAC case “if you think it’ll make a difference,” according to two former senior national security officials familiar with the NSA transcript.

In exchange for Harman’s help, the sources said, the suspected Israeli agent pledged to help lobby Nancy Pelosi , D-Calif., then-House minority leader, to appoint Harman chair of the Intelligence Committee after the 2006 elections, which the Democrats were heavily favored to win.

Seemingly wary of what she had just agreed to, according to an official who read the NSA transcript, Harman hung up after saying, “This conversation doesn’t exist.”"....

What is new is that Harman is said to have been picked up on a court-approved NSA tap directed at alleged Israel covert action operations in Washington.

And that, contrary to reports that the Harman investigation was dropped for “lack of evidence,” it was Alberto R. Gonzales, President Bush’s top counsel and then attorney general, who intervened to stop the Harman probe.

Why? Because, according to three top former national security officials, Gonzales wanted Harman to be able to help defend the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, which was about break in The New York Times and engulf the White House.

As for there being “no evidence” to support the FBI probe, a source with first-hand knowledge of the wiretaps called that “bull****.”....

According to two officials privy to the events, Gonzales said he “needed Jane” to help support the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, which was about to be exposed by the New York Times.

Harman, he told Goss, had helped persuade the newspaper to hold the wiretap story before, on the eve of the 2004 elections. And although it was too late to stop the Times from publishing now, she could be counted on again to help defend the program

He was right.

On Dec. 21, 2005, in the midst of a firestorm of criticism about the wiretaps, Harman issued a statement defending the operation and slamming the Times, saying, “I believe it essential to U.S. national security, and that its disclosure has damaged critical intelligence capabilities.”

Pelosi and Hastert never did get the briefing.

And thanks to grateful Bush administration officials, the investigation of Harman was effectively dead.

Many people want to keep it that way.

Goss declined an interview request, and the CIA did not respond to a request to interview former Director Michael V. Hayden , who was informed of the Harman transcripts but chose to take no action, two knowledgeable former officials alleged.

Likewise, the first director of national intelligence, former ambassador John D. Negroponte, was opposed to an FBI investigation of Harman, according to officials familiar with his thinking, and let the matter die. (Negroponte was traveling last week and did not respond to questions relayed to him through an assistant.)

Harman dodged a bullet, say disgusted former officials who have pursued the AIPAC case for years. She was protected by an administration desperate for help.

“It’s the deepest kind of corruption,” said a recently retired longtime national security official who was closely involved in AIPAC investigation, “which was years in the making.

“It’s a story about the corruption of government — not legal corruption necessarily, but ethical corruption.” ...

AFP: Saudi senior Al-Qaeda figure arrested in Iraq

AFP: Saudi senior Al-Qaeda figure arrested in Iraq: "BAGHDAD (AFP) — A Saudi accused of being a senior Al-Qaeda leader in southern Iraq has been arrested in the port city of Basra along with three of his aides, an Iraqi army official told AFP on Saturday.

'A special force from the interior ministry arrested the Al-Qaeda chief with three of his Iraqi assistants,' he said on condition of anonymity, without naming the men or giving a date for the arrests.

'He is a Saudi and was arrested in a house in the Abu al-Khassib district with his Iraqi assistants. They have been transferred to Baghdad by military aircraft,' the official added."

F-22 taxiway collision causes $1 million damage -17/04/2009-Washington

F-22 taxiway collision causes $1 million damage -17/04/2009-Washington "A US Air Force Lockheed Martin F-22A Raptor has sustained more than $1 million in damage after colliding with another aircraft parked on a taxiway.

A spokesman at Tyndall AFB, Florida, where the incident last week occurred, confirmed the F-22A struck a Canada's Air Force Boeing CF-18.

Despite a $1 million repair bill, the collision was a relatively minor, low-speed event, the spokesman says. Details of the damage are being withheld pending the results of a safety investigation."...

[bth; these aircraft are exceedingly expensive to operate. Are they worth it?]

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Judge Skeptical Of State Secrets Privilege For NSA/Charity Case

Judge Skeptical Of State Secrets Privilege For NSA/Charity Case - The Atlantic Politics Channel
The Obama administration suffered a bit of a legal setback this afternoon: a federal judge in California rejected the administration's assertion of the state secrets privilege in the civil suit brought by an Islamic charity that was allegedly subjected to illegal NSA surveillance. The order, in Al-Haramain v. Bush, requires the government to come up with a way to safeguard the classified information it plans to present in the NSA's defense by May 8. Judge Vaughn Walker noted that the government has elsewhere made provisions for the discussion of Top Secret/SCI information. It so happens that the plaintiffs attorneys have been cleared to that level. Walker crafted his order narrowly to prevent the government from appealing it immediately to the Ninth Circuit. On May 8, it will be interesting to see whether the administration presents a plan for safeguarding classified info -- or whether it re-asserts the state secrets privilege.

Lieberman taps Franklin case diplomat for top slot | JTA - Jewish & Israel News

Lieberman taps Franklin case diplomat for top slot | JTA - Jewish & Israel News: "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.

It's not clear what Gilon's current status is, although he has returned to Washington in recent years as a member of the Israeli team in the U.S.-Israel strategic dialogue. As chief of staff, he would be expected to accompany Lieberman on Washington visits.

Gilon's boss during his stint in Washington was Ambassador Danny Ayalon, currently the deputy foreign minister and a member of the Yisrael Beitenu Party led by Lieberman.

[bth: so Israel put forward not only Gilon but Arad. The incoming Israeli government is shoving their espionage into the face of the Obama administration. One can see nothing productive at all coming from this. Israel is saying it doesn't mind insulting the Americans or this administration and that it doesn't need them either. We can probably write off any negotiated peace with the Palestinians and any peaceful resolution with regard to Iran.]

Khaleej Times Online - Extremist websites offer intelligence ‘gold mine’

Khaleej Times Online - Extremist websites offer intelligence ‘gold mine’: ..."Mike Smith, the head of the UN Counter Terrorism Committee, agreed.

“It’s a window into their operations, but there’s a dilemma there that has to be resolved,” he said.

In a report published last month, Neumann’s ICSR said that closing down orrestricting user access to extremist websites is ”crude, expensive and counterproductive.”

The terrorism expert said many governments had initially believed there was “some technical gadget that allows them to filter out all the extremist info.

“But the more they learn about technology the more they realise it’s not actually possible, and they come to the conclusion that what they really should be doing is monitoring things that are going on the Internet,” said Neumann, whose book “Old and New Terrorism” is to be published this year.

Terrorists also are avoiding Internet because they believe they are being monitored and this “deters these (terrorist) activities from taking place,” he said.

But Perl said Al-Qaeda and other extremist groups are now taking measures to hide their online activities and “stay below the radar screen,” including using “steganography”, a system"...

DAWN.COM | NWFP | What the Taliban ideology means

DAWN.COM | NWFP | What the Taliban ideology means:... "The most recent example of this approach is an investigation team’s conclusion that the video depicting the whipping of the young woman in Swat was ‘fake and false’, as indicated by Interior Secretary Kamal Shah.

He quoted the final report as saying that that no such incident took place since the girl in question denied it and the area’s residents also expressed their ignorance. Yet anyone who has suffered such an act of barbarity, and who continues to live under the shadow of his or her persecutors, is unlikely to risk inducing their ire further. More dangerous, however, is the reduction of the issue to a debate over whether or not the video was ‘real’ and when exactly the incident took place.

This constitutes yet another example of the manner in which the Pakistani state and its citizenry live in denial of the clear and present danger to their personal freedoms. It is precisely this attitude that has allowed the Taliban and others of their ilk to make such deep inroads. Even if this particular video was faked, there is ample evidence otherwise of the Taliban’s brutality. Reports of beheadings, shootings and the coercion of people — who are citizens of Pakistan and residents of Swat — are made public practically everyday."

For the survival of values pertaining to freedom, democracy and citizens’ rights, the threat posed by the Taliban must be combated not only militarily but also by taking up positions on the ideological battleground from where they fire the salvos. For this to happen, the grotesqueness of the Taliban worldview must first be recognised and then rejected wholesale.

The Swati girl’s ordeal sparked outrage across the country; but such graphic footage ought not to be necessary to convince the citizenry of the Taliban’s real face. Living in denial is a luxury that is no longer available to us.

DAWN.COM | Pakistan | Taliban influence in bureaucracy

DAWN.COM | Pakistan | Taliban influence in bureaucracy: "The harrowing factor is that the writ of the Taliban is solidifying both in the north and the south not only in the Pashtun belt but also in the heartland of Pakistan.

That a high-level provincial official posted in Swat should write a letter to the NWFP home department implying the complicity of the commissioner of Malakand Division in the ever-expanding influence of the Taliban in the region is an illustration of what is happening and how."

An alliance of extremist forces in Kashmir, Punjab, Fata and the NWFP and their strategy for Pakistan’s disintegration in the near future have virtually paralysed the administrations in the different settled districts of the NWFP — not to mention the threats made by extremists to invade Islamabad very soon. After the February peace deal between the NWFP government and the banned Tehrik Nifaz-i-Shariat Mohammadi (TNSM), the Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP) chapter of Swat started a three-pronged assault on the state.

Firstly, the Swat chapter of the TTP started recruitment and the construction of bunkers on a large scale in different parts of Swat while the military and security establishment and the government maintained control in different ways. The security establishment and the Pakistani government seem to be oblivious of the fact that the Taliban movement is far more agile than the security establishment’s response to their onslaught from different directions.

Secondly, the Swat chapter of the TTP, in line with the Taliban alliances in Fata and the rest of Pakistan, were readjusting and relocating therein and have started expanding their assaults from the north to the south of the NWFP. The present onslaught by the Taliban on Buner and Dir is part of this strategy.

Thirdly, the Taliban have started consolidating their positions vis-à-vis the security establishment by controlling strategic passes and side valleys of Swat, Buner, Shangla and Dir. In this scenario, reports that a part of the civil bureaucracy in the NWFP, Fata and elsewhere in Pakistan facilitates the process of Talibanisation is likely to be a worrisome factor for elements within and outside the country.

The present commissioner of Malakand Division is said to have been posted in lower Dir in the early 1990s when the TNSM was in the process of becoming a formidable extremist organisation with a jihadi ideology. The commissioner was said to have been a frequent visitor of Maulana Sufi Mohammad’s madressah and allegedly worked behind the scenes with the initial support of the local khans for the TNSM in 1994 when it brought the whole administration of Malakand Division to a standstill.

Many who saw the 1994 uprising of Malakand Division bear testimony to the fact that the present commissioner of the latter provided all-out help to the insurgents coming from Dir to Swat.

In the early era of Fazlullah’s rise in Swat, again the present commissioner of Malakand Division was posted as the district coordination officer. He was the one, according to local residents, who facilitated the establishment of Fazlullah’s FM radio. He was the one who convinced the local jirga of Mamdherai and Mingora to allow the FM radio to function. It was reported in 2006-07 in the local press that when the Taliban in Swat started destroying CD shops and barber shops and the owners would go to the DCO office for complaints, the DCO would tell them to close the shops because, according to him, running the business was un-Islamic. The present commissioner was also seen by the locals visiting Mamdherai markaz (centre) for Friday prayers frequently.

On April 5, 2009 a battalion of the Taliban militia with heavy weaponry crossed over the hills from Swat to Buner to avowedly supervise the implementation of the Nizam-i-Adl. The local residents of Buner had been resisting the inflow of the Taliban for a long time. The local elders intervened and tried to convince the Taliban to return but the latter opened fire at them, leaving several injured. Later the Taliban captured three policemen and two civilians, and killed them.

The local residents, the people of lower Buner and Sultanwas, gathered to move upward to face the Taliban while the people of upper Buner provided reinforcements. Fighting began and in the ensuing gun-battle some 17 members of the Taliban are said to have been killed. The questions on the minds of the local people were: why would the Taliban come with heavy weapons if they did not want to control Buner? And why were the Taliban allowed by the commissioner to move from Swat to Buner with heavy weapons? ....

[bth: worth reading in full. One begins to see a link between Taliban and complicit regional administrators that are selling out the local population.]

Taliban shoot US drone ‘informants’

Daily Times - Leading News Resource of Pakistan - Taliban shoot US drone ‘informants’
LAHORE: In a video released last week, the Taliban are seen shooting a 19-year-old after he confesses to plant“I was given Rs 10,000 to drop chips wrapped in cigarette paper at Al Qaeda and Taliban houses,” he said. “If I was successful, I was told I would be given thousands of dollars ... The money was good so I started throwing the chips all over. I knew people were dying because of what I was doing, but I needed the money.”

Propaganda: A US official talking to the NBC dismissed the video as “extremist propaganda”. The Taliban, meanwhile, believe they have busted most of the spy networks operated by the US and Pakistani militaries.

“We used to watch these planes, but had no idea they were chasing us and taking pictures of our activities,” said a Taliban commander in North Waziristan. “In the early days ... our training camps were visible and people would come and go. We were not so concerned about the security of our locations, but that has all changed now. We [have] abandoned all our old camps and re-located to new places.”

The commander said 40 training camps had been moved because their friends in Afghanistan had tipped them off about planned US attacks.

The commander said that the Americans had then started paying Pakistani and Afghan citizens to identify their locations. “Finally, with the help of our sources in the Pakistani and Afghan intelligence agencies, we detained two Afghan tribesmen, who after five days of interrogation, confessed to spying for US forces in Afghanistan. They revealed other names and then we knew there were entire networks of spies operating in our areas,” he said. A government official said the Taliban had recently executed more than 100 alleged spies in North Waziristan. ing small transmitter chips that guide CIA’s drones to their targets.

Pentagon Jams Web, Radio Links of Taliban -

Pentagon Jams Web, Radio Links of Taliban - "WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration is starting a broad effort in Pakistan and Afghanistan to prevent the Taliban from using radio stations and Web sites to intimidate civilians and plan attacks, according to senior U.S. officials."

As part of the classified effort, American military and intelligence personnel are working to jam the unlicensed radio stations in Pakistan's lawless regions on the Afghanistan border that Taliban fighters use to broadcast threats and decrees.

U.S. personnel are also trying to block the Pakistani chat rooms and Web sites that are part of the country's burgeoning extremist underground. The Web sites frequently contain videos of attacks and inflammatory religious material that attempts to justify acts of violence.

The push takes the administration deeper into "psychological operations," which attempt to influence how people see the U.S., its allies and its enemies. Officials involved with the new program argue that psychological operations are a necessary part of reversing the deterioration of stability in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Taliban and other armed groups have carried out a wave of attacks in the two countries. U.S. officials believe the Taliban enjoy an advantage by being able to freely communicate threats and decrees.

In Pakistan, Taliban leaders use unlicensed FM stations to recite the names of local Pakistani government officials, police officers and other figures who have been marked for death by the group. Hundreds of people named in the broadcasts have later been killed, according to U.S. and Pakistani officials.

"The Taliban aren't just winning the information war -- we're not even putting up that much of a fight," said a senior U.S. official in Afghanistan. "We need to make it harder for them to keep telling the population that they're in control and can strike at any time."...

And now, introducing the Kickback Czar... | David Rothkopf

And now, introducing the Kickback Czar... | David Rothkopf: "Are you joking? The Obama Administration somehow thought that it was okay to give a pass to Steve Rattner? They thought it was okay to appoint a guy to a key job after he apparently acknowledged to them that he was under investigation for providing a million dollar payment to pension consultant in exchange for receiving an assignment to manage a big chunk of pension fund money for New York State?"....

[bth: why on earth is Obama appointing these sleaze balls?]

Economic View - It May Be Time for the Fed to Go Negative - News Analysis -

Economic View - It May Be Time for the Fed to Go Negative - News Analysis - ..."The problem today, it seems, is that the Federal Reserve has done just about as much interest rate cutting as it can. Its target for the federal funds rate is about zero, so it has turned to other tools, such as buying longer-term debt securities, to get the economy going again. But the efficacy of those tools is uncertain, and there are risks associated with them.

In many ways today, the Fed is in uncharted waters.

So why shouldn’t the Fed just keep cutting interest rates? Why not lower the target interest rate to, say, negative 3 percent?

At that interest rate, you could borrow and spend $100 and repay $97 next year. This opportunity would surely generate more borrowing and aggregate demand."...

[bth: buying long term bonds makes sense. The rest of the article is pretty crappy unless you think negative interest rates will be created by inflation.]

Russia's economy contracts by 7% in Q1 09

NATO frees 20 hostages; pirates seize Belgian ship

NATO frees 20 hostages; pirates seize Belgian ship:... "But prosecutions are rare.

The vast majority of detained pirates are set free to wreak havoc again because of legal barriers to prosecuting them. It can be difficult or impossible for prosecutors to assemble witnesses scattered across the globe and find translators. Many countries are wary of hauling in pirates for trial for fear of being saddled with them after they serve their prison terms.

And pirates have little incentive to stop: each ransom paid is worth millions of dollars.

'When you weigh up the benefits _ the huge money they can make _ against the risks, the benefits are still worth it,' Middleton said. says weather in the region also is likely to favor the pirates for the next several weeks.

Very small waves and light winds are making it easier for them to operate the small speedboats they use to attack ships. Unrestricted daytime visibility is helping lookouts on vessels watching for attacks, the weather service said.

Many Somali pirates began their careers guarding their lawless and ill-defended shores against foreign trawlers that took advantage of Somalia's relentless civil war to illegally fish its waters. Foreign ships poached valuable fish stocks, wiped out lobster populations and devastated the livelihoods of countless fishermen....