Saturday, July 04, 2009

YouTube - Seven Samurai - Kyūzō Duel

YouTube - Seven Samurai - Kyūzō Duel

% of People who hate Michael Jackson, according to date « GraphJam: Music and Pop Culture in Charts and Graphs. Let us explain them.

% of People who hate Michael Jackson, according to date « GraphJam: Music and Pop Culture in Charts and Graphs. Let us explain them.
song chart memes
see more Funny Graphs

Banks own the US government | Dean Baker | Comment is free |

Banks own the US government | Dean Baker | Comment is free | "Last month, when the US Congress failed to pass a bankruptcy reform measure that would have allowed home mortgages to be modified in bankruptcy, senator Dick Durbin succinctly commented: 'The banks own the place.' That seems pretty clear."

After all, it was the banks' greed that fed the housing bubble with loony loans that were guaranteed to go bad. Of course the finance guys also made a fortune guaranteeing the loans that were guaranteed to go bad (ie AIG), and when everything went bust, the taxpayers got handed the bill. The cost of the bailout will certainly be in the hundreds of billions, if not more than $1tn when it is all over.

More importantly, we are looking at the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression. The cumulative lost output over the years 2008-2012 will almost certainly exceed $5tn. That comes to more than $60,000 for an average family of four. This is the price that we are paying for the bankers' greed, coupled with incredible incompetence and/or corruption from our regulators....

Friday, July 03, 2009

Volcano Eruption From Space: Sarychev Filmed By Space Station (VIDEO)

Volcano Eruption From Space: Sarychev Filmed By Space Station (VIDEO)

High-ranking British soldier killed in Afghanistan -

High-ranking British soldier killed in Afghanistan - "LONDON, England (CNN) -- The commander of a British regiment has become the country's highest-ranking soldier to be killed in action since 1982's Falklands War after he was killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan."

Lt. Col. Rupert Thorneloe, 40, was killed along with trooper Joshua Hammond, 18, Wednesday as they were traveling along a canal in Lashkar Gah, in Afghanistan's southern Helmand Province, the British Ministry of Defense said.

Thorneloe, a commanding officer who oversaw more than 1,000 men, had left the battle group headquarters on the resupply convoy so he could visit his men, because they were conducting a major operation in hostile territory, the ministry said.

He and Hammond, a tank driver, were killed despite traveling in an armored vehicle, the ministry said....

[bth: the vehicles, even the new ones, the Brits are giving their troops are just pieces of crap against IEDs. The bureaucracy in the UK simply will not come to grips with the fact that IEDs are the main killers. No scratch that. The bureaucrats are the killers.]

Informed Comment

[bth: one wonders what he could have said in the last interview to have it totally -every word- redacted.

FEMA: National Level Exercise 2009 (NLE 09)

FEMA: National Level Exercise 2009 (NLE 09): "National Level Exercise 2009 (NLE 09) is scheduled for July 27 through July 31, 2009. NLE 09 will be the first major exercise conducted by the United States government that will focus exclusively on terrorism prevention and protection, as opposed to incident response and recovery.

NLE 09 is designated as a Tier I National Level Exercise. Tier I exercises (formerly known as the Top Officials exercise series or TOPOFF) are conducted annually in accordance with the National Exercise Program (NEP), which serves as the nation's overarching exercise program for planning, organizing, conducting and evaluating national level exercises. The NEP was established to provide the U.S. government, at all levels, exercise opportunities to prepare for catastrophic crises ranging from terrorism to natural disasters."...

[bth; beware]

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Prof: People reject news which conflicts with beliefs • The Register

Prof: People reject news which conflicts with beliefs • The Register: ..."'We wanted to see exactly across the board to what extent people are willing to seek out the truth versus just stay comfortable with what they know,' says Illinois Uni psychology prof Dolores Albarracín.

She and her colleagues reviewed 91 different previous studies involving 8,000 respondents. They found that yes, people generally do prefer information that supports their own point of view. Respondents in the various surveys cited were about twice as likely to express a preference for news or information they agreed with, compared to data which upset them.

People are a bit more open-minded on subjects which they don't see as touching on moral values, however.

'If the issues concern moral values or politics, about 70 per cent of the time you will choose congenial information, versus about 60 per cent of the time if the issues are not related to values,' according to Albarracín.

The prof added that, counterintuitively, it is those with little confidence in their own beliefs who are least willing to consider opposing views. People who are sure they're right are actually more likely to listen to the other side of an argument."...

The Military’s New Monster Truck for Afghanistan | Danger Room |

The Military’s New Monster Truck for Afghanistan | Danger Room | "The U.S. Marine Corps has made it official: Oshkosh Corporation will build a new blast-proof truck for service in Afghanistan. The company beat out several competitors to win a $1.06 billion contract to build the all-terrain trucks, which go by the cumbersome name Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected All Terrain Vehicle, or M-ATV for short. The initial order provides for 2,244 M-ATVs.

Roadside bombs remain a major threat in Afghanistan, but the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles first fielded in Iraq often proved too heavy for Afghanistan’s primitive roads and mountainous terrain. The military wanted a lighter, more nimble truck that would still provide serious protection for troops."...matv-12

Pakistani Public Turns Against Taliban, But Still Negative on US - World Public Opinion

Pakistani Public Turns Against Taliban, But Still Negative on US - World Public Opinion: "Most Pakistanis now see the Pakistani Taliban as well as al Qaeda as a critical threat to the country--a major shift from 18 months ago--and support the government and army in their fight in the Swat Valley against the Pakistani Taliban. An overwhelming majority think that Taliban groups who seek to overthrow the Afghan government should not be allowed to have bases in Pakistan."

However, this does not bring with it a shift in attitudes toward the US. A large majority continue to have an unfavorable view of the US government. Almost two-thirds say they do not have confidence in Obama. An overwhelming majority opposes US drone attacks in Pakistan.

These are some of the results of a new poll conducted May 17-28, 2009. The nationwide random sample included 1000 Pakistani adults, selected using multi-stage probability sampling, who responded in face-to-face interviews. The margin of error is +/- 3.2 percent.

"A sea change has occurred in Pakistani public opinion. The tactics and undemocratic bent of militant groups--in tribal areas as well as Swat--have brought widespread revulsion and turned Pakistanis against them," comments Clay Ramsay, research director. However, he adds: "It's crucial to understand that the US is resented just as much as before, despite the US having a new president."

There has been a huge increase in those who think the "activities of Islamist militants and local Taliban" are a critical threat to Pakistan--a 47 point rise to 81 percent, up from 34 percent in late 2007. If the Pakistani Taliban were to gain control of the country, 75 percent say this would be bad (very bad, 67%)--though only 33 percent think this outcome is likely.

Seventy percent say their sympathies are more with the government than with the Pakistani Taliban in the struggle over Swat. Large majorities express confidence in the government (69%) and the military (72%) to handle the situation. Retrospectively, the public leans (by 45% to 40%) toward thinking the government was right to try to make an agreement in which the Pakistani Taliban would shut down its camps and turn in its heavy weapons in return for a shari'a court system in Swat. But now 67 percent think the Pakistani Taliban violated the agreement when it sent its forces into more areas, and 63 percent think the people of Swat disapprove of the agreement.

On the Afghan Taliban, an overwhelming 87 percent think that groups fighting to overthrow the Afghan government should not be allowed to have bases in Pakistan. Most (77%) do not believe the Afghan Taliban has bases in Pakistan. However, if Pakistan's government were to identify such bases in the country, three in four (78%) think it should close the bases even if it requires using military force.

Public attitudes toward al Qaeda training camps follow the same pattern. Those saying the "activities of al Qaeda" are a critical threat to Pakistan are up 41 points to 82 percent. Almost all (88%) think al Qaeda should not be allowed to operate training camps in Pakistan. Though 76 percent do not believe there are such camps, if the Pakistani government were to identify them, 74 percent say the government should close them, with force if necessary.

This striking new public willingness to see the government directly oppose Taliban groups and al Qaeda owes little or nothing to an "Obama effect." A 62 percent majority expresses low confidence in President Obama to do the right thing in world affairs (none at all, 41%). Only one in three (32%) think his policies will be better for Pakistan; 62 percent think they will be about the same (26%) or worse (36%).

Views of the US remain overwhelmingly negative. Sixty-nine percent have an unfavorable view of the current US government (58% very unfavorable)--essentially the same as in 2008. Eighty-eight percent think it is a US goal to weaken and divide the Islamic world (78% definitely a goal). The US Predator drone attacks aimed at militant camps within the Pakistani border are rejected by 82 percent as unjustified. On the war in Afghanistan, 72 percent disapprove of the NATO mission and 79 percent want it ended now; 86 percent think most Afghans want the mission ended as well.

Asked about the nation's leaders, a large majority--68 percent--views President Zardari unfavorably (very, 50%), but--unlike the recent past--there are multiple national leaders whom most do view favorably. Prime Minister Gilani is seems untarred by negative views of Zardari and gets favorable ratings from 80 percent of Pakistanis. The restored Chief Justice Chaudry is very popular (82%), and opposition leader Nawaz Sharif is extremely popular (87%). The leader most associated with the Pakistani Taliban, Maulana Sufi Mohammad, is viewed positively by only 18 percent of Pakistanis. is a project managed by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland. Funding for this research was provided by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Calvert Foundation.

[bth: fascinating]

Obama Holds Health-Care Forum in Virginia -

Obama Holds Health-Care Forum in Virginia - ..."In the stage-managed event, questions for Obama came from a live audience selected by the White House and the college, and from Internet questions chosen by the administration's new-media team. Of the seven questions the president answered, four were selected by his staff from videos submitted to the White House Web site or from those responding to a request for 'tweets.'

The president called randomly on three audience members. All turned out to be members of groups with close ties to his administration: the Service Employees International Union, Health Care for America Now, and Organizing for America, which is a part of the Democratic National Committee. White House officials said that was a coincidence."...

Unemployment Rate Hits 9.5 Percent As Economy Sheds 467,000 Jobs In June

Unemployment Rate Hits 9.5 Percent As Economy Sheds 467,000 Jobs In June:... "Heidi Shierholz, an economist with the Economic Policy Institute, said that the loss of 6.5 million jobs since the start of the recession combined with the growth of the workforce means that the gains of the previous business cycle have been completely blown away.

'This is the only recession since the Great Depression to wipe out all jobs growth from the previous business cycle, a devastating benchmark for the workers of this country and a testament to both the enormity of the current crisis and to the extreme weakness of jobs growth from 2000-2007,' said Shierholz in a statement.

The ranks of the long-term unemployed -- people out of work for 27 weeks or more -- grew by 433,000 in June to a total of 4.4 million. Three in 10 of the unemployed are now long-term unemployed. The collapse of the housing industry contributes to their plight.

'We know right now because of the housing crisis that people can't move to find another job,' Shierholz said. 'People that in previous recessions may have been able to relocate to find another job can't now.'"...

Payrolls Fall More Than Forecast, Unemployment Rises (Update4) -

Payrolls Fall More Than Forecast, Unemployment Rises (Update4) - "uly 2 (Bloomberg) -- Employers in the U.S. cut 467,000 jobs in June, the unemployment rate rose and hourly earnings stagnated, offering little evidence the Obama administration’s stimulus package is shoring up the labor market.

The payroll decline was more than forecast and followed a 322,000 drop in May, according to Labor Department figures released today in Washington. The jobless rate jumped to 9.5 percent, the highest since August 1983, from 9.4 percent"...

[bth: payroll is a lagging indicator but if consume spending is the issue it is hard to see how it will rise before jobs do.]

Uncertainty Clouds Recovery of U.S. Investment in GM

Uncertainty Clouds Recovery of Government's Investment in GM -
,,,It's sure to be a stretch. For the United States to fully recover its investment, the value of General Motors stock will have to reach levels it has never before attained.

"I'm not going to predict it -- that's not my job today," GM chief executive Fritz Henderson said in a recent interview.

"I don't know how much we're going to recover," a senior Obama administration official said as the company headed into bankruptcy last month.

This uncertainty stems from the difficulty in valuing the 60 percent GM stake that the United States will receive in exchange for the public investment. The government also gets preferred shares and other compensation.

The stake will be worth enough to fully cover the government's direct investment only if GM's stock rises above $68 billion. Even at its recent 2000 peak, GM's stock was worth only $56 billion.

"I don't see GM hitting those benchmarks in a very long time," said Maryann Keller, a veteran automotive analyst and author of "Rude Awakening: The Rise, Fall, and Struggle for Recovery of General Motors," which was published in 1989.

She noted that global competition will continue to squeeze American automakers. Though the world's factories can produce about 100 million vehicles a year, demand for them only stands at about 55 million, and the gap will push prices and profits down, she said.

"It's very unlikely" that the government will recover its money, said David Whiston, auto equities analyst at Morningstar. "GM will be a smaller company after the bankruptcy and there are going to be more foreign automakers entering the market that will make GM's efforts more difficult.",,,,

Key in Afghanistan: Economy, Not Military

U.S. Says Key to Success in Afghanistan Is Economy, Not Military -
CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan -- National security adviser James L. Jones told U.S. military commanders here last week that the Obama administration wants to hold troop levels here flat for now, and focus instead on carrying out the previously approved strategy of increased economic development, improved governance and participation by the Afghan military and civilians in the conflict.

The message seems designed to cap expectations that more troops might be coming, though the administration has not ruled out additional deployments in the future. Jones was carrying out directions from President Obama, who said recently, "My strong view is that we are not going to succeed simply by piling on more and more troops."

"This will not be won by the military alone," Jones said in an interview during his trip. "We tried that for six years." He also said: "The piece of the strategy that has to work in the next year is economic development. If that is not done right, there are not enough troops in the world to succeed."...

The question of the force level for Afghanistan, however, is not settled and will probably be hotly debated over the next year. One senior military officer said privately that the United States would have to deploy a force of more than 100,000 to execute the counterinsurgency strategy of holding areas and towns after clearing out the Taliban insurgents. That is at least 32,000 more than the 68,000 currently authorized....

Well, Jones went on, after all those additional troops, 17,000 plus 4,000 more, if there were new requests for force now, the president would quite likely have "a Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moment." Everyone in the room caught the phonetic reference to WTF -- which in the military and elsewhere means "What the [expletive]?"

Nicholson and his colonels -- all or nearly all veterans of Iraq -- seemed to blanch at the unambiguous message that this might be all the troops they were going to get.

Jones, speaking with great emphasis to this group of Iraq veterans, said Afghanistan is not Iraq. "We are not going to build that empire again," he said flatly....

"We don't need more U.S. forces," Nicholson finally told Jones. "We need more Afghan forces." It is a complaint Jones heard repeatedly. Jones and other officials said Afghanistan, and particularly its president, Hamid Karzai, have not mobilized sufficiently for their own war. Karzai has said Afghanistan is making a major effort in the war and is increasing its own forces as fast as possible.

In an interview, Nicholson said that in the six months he has been building Camp Leatherneck and brought 9,000 Marines to the base, not a single additional member of the Afghanistan National Army (ANA) has been assigned to assist him. He said he needed "Afghanistan security forces -- all flavors," including soldiers, police, border patrol and other specialists....

One senior U.S. diplomat in Afghanistan estimated that the military needs one member of the Afghan security forces for every 10 U.S. troops to operate safely and stabilize the area. That would mean Nicholson should have approximately 900 Afghans, and he effectively has none.

At the briefing for Jones, Nicholson pointed to the mission statement, which said that "killing the enemy is secondary." His campaign plan states, "Protect the populace by, with and through the ANSF," the Afghanistan National Security Forces, which makes the absence of the additional Afghans particularly galling to Nicholson.,,,

Flying back from his three-country trip Friday night, Jones cited the report and said most of its bleak conclusions still apply -- insufficient reconstruction, weak economic development, the continuing "epidemic in opium production" and "disorganized, uncoordinated and at present insufficient" international efforts.

"We are doing the same things well and the same things poorly," he said. It was not mission impossible, he said, causing him to feel "urgency but not panic."

Obama and Gates talk about gays in the military - 2008 Presidential Campaign Blog - Political Intelligence -

Obama and Gates talk about gays in the military - 2008 Presidential Campaign Blog - Political Intelligence - ..."Lifting the ban was an Obama campaign pledge, but his administration has since been extremely tight-lipped about its plans. It has declined to provide a timeline for when it will begin actively taking steps to prepare for a change in policy within the ranks or to lobby members of Congress, many of which remain wary of changing the law.

Obama advisers have privately expressed anxiety about pushing too aggressively for the change so early in Obama's presidency. They cite the experience of President Clinton, who sought to allow gays to serve openly soon after taking office but was forced to agree to the current law after a revolt by top brass and their allies on Capitol Hill.

The 'don't ask, don't tell' law permits gays to serve in the military only if they keep their sexual orientation secret. More than 11,000 servicemen and women have been discharged for violating the law."...

Thirty-eight graduates of the US Military Academy at West Point came out on Monday in an effort to educate troops on the need to honor the service of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender troops.

Meanwhile, earlier this month, Democratic Rep. Ellen Tauscher of California proposed legislation in the House of Representatives to lift the ban.

But many hurdles remain. The office of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts says they are still searching for a Republican cosponsor before offering a companion bill in the upper chamber, where observers predict it will be much harder to get approval.

And at the Pentagon, Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, appear to be under orders to take a cautious approach.

"It's a subject that Admiral Mullen and I are discussing in terms of what to do next and how to move forward," Gates said today. "Those discussions are still ongoing."

[bth: the problem here is political courage. This is not the Clinton administration and the American public and the younger military have come a very long way mentally on this issue. Its about political courage.]

Wednesday, July 01, 2009



[bth: Paul Riechoff and others with IAVA have done an incredibly good job in a very short period of time.]

Pakistan plays dangerous double game - Asia, World - The Independent

Pakistan plays dangerous double game - Asia, World - The Independent: "The assassin struck shortly after morning prayers, storming into a room at the compound where Qari Zainuddin was staying and opening up with a volley of fire. The militant leader was rushed to a nearby hospital but declared dead. Meanwhile, the gunman - apparently dispatched by Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud - escaped in a waiting car.

The following day, in a cemetery of Muslim and Christian graves encircled by fields of maize, the 26-year-old, who in recent months had pitched himself against Mr Mehsud, was buried. The militant leader's funeral was notable for two things. Firstly the town was filled with checkposts manned by both Taliban and Pakistani security personnel. Secondly, when the dead man's brother, Misabhuddin, vowed to reporters that he would take revenge against Mr Mehsud, he also let slip something else. 'Jihad against America and its allies in Afghanistan will continue as well,' he said."

The killing last week of Mr Zainuddin, who had been staying in a compound provided by the country's ISI security agency, has opened a window on a complicated, controversial and perilous element of the battle against militants inside Pakistan. Mr Zainuddin, himself a Taliban leader who supported al-Qa'ida and jihad against Western troops in Afghanistan, had recently been recruited by the Pakistani authorities to join their battle to kill Baitullah Mehsud, who has emerged as the country's deadliest militant. In essence, Islamabad is recruiting anti-American fighters to bolster a joint US-Pakistani operation.

The arrangement underlines the competing strategic priorities in the region for Pakistan and the US, even as their leaders opt in public for the language of common interests and shared enemies. "Pakistan just wants to concentrate on the Pakistani Taliban. They do not want to go after the Afghan Taliban," said Giles Dorronosoro, a regional expert at the Carnegie Endowment. "The US wants to put the Pakistan-Afghanistan border under control. They have totally different goals. And the issue is not resolvable."

The Pakistan army continues to regard militants who are not fighting against it as enduring assets and in recent years a distinction has been made between "good Taliban" (pro-government) and "bad Taliban" (anti-government). In most cases, that distinction is between militants who fight in Afghanistan and those who fight in Pakistan...

[bth: absolutely worth reading in full.]

U.S. Resumes Surveillance Flights Over Pakistan -

U.S. Resumes Surveillance Flights Over Pakistan - "WASHINGTON — As Pakistan escalates military operations against a top Taliban leader, the United States has resumed secret military surveillance drone flights over the country’s tribal areas to provide Pakistani commanders with a wide array of videos and other information on militants, according to American and Pakistani officials."

The sharing of real-time video feeds, communications intercepts and other information with Pakistan’s military is considered essential in the country’s campaign to help hunt down the Taliban leader, Baitullah Mehsud, and destroy his hideouts and forces in the country’s northwest, the officials said.

The increased intelligence cooperation comes as the Obama administration is also speeding the delivery of transport helicopters, body armor and other equipment that Pakistan’s military has requested to help combat Mr. Mehsud and to prepare for a major offensive in the militant leader’s stronghold in South Waziristan, a mountainous region abutting the border with Afghanistan. ...

[bth: worth a full read. One of the problems not mentioned by the article is the fact that our methods and technology will get passed directly to the Chinese if we were to hand over our drones to Pakistan. In the meantime Pakistan has its own drone technology under development.]

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Zero Hedge: Guest Post: China - Economic Catastrophe Unfolding

Zero Hedge: Guest Post: China - Economic Catastrophe Unfolding: "Here’s some recent news about the real estate markets in China. I think it is fascinating watching how these things unfold. This proves once again that the lesson of history is that we don’t learn the lessons of history."...

The news here is actually worse than I realized. One very alarming thing is that the Chinese banks have avoided writing down bad debt. I should have assumed this would happen, since it is hard to see how it could be avoided, given the nature of the Chinese culture. This is NOT a good idea. It is like pretending that defaults and bad debt simply don’t exist, and this is very bad for the financial sector in the long run....

It seems that many Chinese buy real estate because they view it as a “can’t lose” investment (sound familiar?). They don’t often rent out the space. It is not as easy to rent residential space in China, because anybody who can would rather buy a new house, partly because of the prestige value, but also partly because they believe that real estate is a “can’t lose” investment. Evidently they have the belief that at some point in the future, they could always sell the property, since it is still technically “new.” Remember, there is at best only a very small secondary market in real estate in China. Nobody in China goes shopping for a “used” home, they always look for a home in brand new developments. These are typically high rise apartment buildings that are really not very attractive at all by our standards (with some exceptions in parts of Beijing and some of the other largest cities). They often look more like tenement slums, particularly after they age a few years, because nobody does much painting or landscaping in Chinese residential areas. I have never seen housing tracts like the ones that are so common in the US, and I suppose they exist somewhere to a very limited extent, but I never even saw any single-family free-standing homes. It’s all high rise condo/apartment buildings. I realize this is kind of paradoxical…..that Chinese would believe they can always make money selling a home second-hand despite the fact that the secondary market is small or even nonexistent in places. But, that’s China. I think they are less concerned with actually realizing a gain, than in maintaining a paper gain. Again, a not insignificant factor here is the prestige value.

Anyhow, obviously this attitude among Chinese has only made things worse, because it has kept a doomed real estate market hovering and even pushing higher artificially. The demand for living space has not kept this market up, just the demand for real estate as a place to park cash. But builders don’t care, they just keep building anyway. Now, this will lead to disaster, partly for the same reason that disaster struck the stock markets there: investors who were once convinced that the Chinese stock market was a get-rich-quick machine lost confidence as they lost money, and that started the implosion in that market. Now, something like 30% of residential real estate in the big cities at least is unoccupied. What might happen to that real estate when the value of new residential real estate begins to plummet?...

China’s economy is heavily dependent on exports of cheap goods. For one thing, this approach is unsustainable and does not of itself lead to economic strength. That’s why many cheap labor countries that similarly produce a lot of cheap, low-tech items do not thrive (e.g., Thailand, Honduras, Vietnam, etc.). In fact, they merely wallow in poverty that they can’t seem to get out of. Don’t forget, despite a wealthy class in the big cities in China, there is really no middle class, and the average wage in the countryside is often less than $100 per year. Even in the cities, the equivalent of the working class there typically makes around 1000 to 2000 RMB per month (roughly $145 to $290 US per month). But the vast majority of Chinese live in the countryside, which is another world compared to Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Beijing, which house just a small fraction of China’s population. Imagining that these cities typify China is like standing on the Strip in Las Vegas and imagining that this is just a typical road in a a typical American town. So, China is classified as an emerging/developing economy by the World Bank.

We know one thing about recessions and depressions: economies that depend the most on exports are the ones that suffer the most. And without question, of all the major exporting countries in the world, China’s economy is the most heavily dependent on exports, mostly consisting of cheap goods....

In November, exports dropped in China for the first time in 7 years. In December, the drop was even steeper, and exports have dropped every single month thereafter. In May, exports dropped over 26% compared to the same month last year, which was the greatest drop that economy has ever experienced. Worse, exports to the European Union (China’s biggest foreign market) plunged 41.3% in May...

“China’s consumer prices continued to fall as expected in May, but analysts expect a price rebound by the end of this year. Meanwhile, the deflation could be a boon for consumers as China weathers a slowdown of wage growth.”

Well, I suppose wage growth is only a concern for that rapidly shrinking proportion of Chinese who actually have jobs. You think unemployment is bad here, well we are living the high life compared to China....

[bth: worth reading in full. very disturbing]

China signals end of stockpiling

China signals end of stockpiling: "A RECORD-BREAKING run of commodities exports to China that has sustained the Australian economy may be set to end, with Beijing officials and advisers announcing an end to 'strategic' stockpiling, and massive iron ore contracts likely to expire today.

A key state planning official has signalled a halt to government buying of copper, aluminium and other high-value metals because prices have risen too high.

'We don't anticipate that the country will continue to build its reserves,' said Yu Dongming, the head of the metallurgical department of the National Development and Reform Commission."...

China's banks are an accident waiting to happen to every one of us - Telegraph

China's banks are an accident waiting to happen to every one of us - Telegraph: "China's banks are veering out of control. The half-reformed economy of the People's Republic cannot absorb the $1,000bn (£600bn) blitz of new lending issued since December.

Money is leaking instead into Shanghai's stock casino, or being used to keep bankrupt builders on life support. It is doing very little to help lift the world economy out of slump."...

[bth: this article is worth reading in full. very disturbing]

Stocks down on dip in consumer confidence - Yahoo! Finance

Stocks down on dip in consumer confidence - Yahoo! Finance: "NEW YORK (AP) -- Stocks fell sharply in midday trading Tuesday after a private research group said consumer confidence unexpectedly fell in June.

Investors had been expecting the Conference Board's measure of consumer sentiment to hold steady following big jumps in April and May. Consumer confidence is closely watched because spending from consumers accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity.

The latest data on the troubled housing sector provided no help to the market.

The number of homeowners at least two months behind or in foreclosure jumped in the first quarter from the previous quarter, a Treasury Department report said Tuesday. And much of the increase came from borrowers who had good credit.

Meanwhile, the Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller index showed home prices in 20 major cities dropped by 18.1 percent from April 2008. The 10-city index fell 18 percent from the year before.

While April marked the third straight month both indexes didn't set record price declines, a recovery in housing is still a long way off. The 20-city index is down almost 33 percent from its peak in the second quarter of 2006."...

[bth: so the banksters were manipulating futures prices on Fridays for several months as the banks raised equity driving up the stock market but the country's fundamentals haven't really improved. Why should anyone expect consumer confidence to rise with the bankruptcy of GM and Chrysler not to mention the numerous suppliers and dealers? And with home prices collapsing 18% year over year, what confidence does that instill - that it didn't fall more? And as to investments, consumers get their best investment return after tax by paying off their usurous credit card debt rates. So while it would be good for the government to help homeowners or impose caps on usury rates at levels that honest men can pay, the congress isn't and neither is Obama. They are working for the banksters, not for the people. The middle class is dead. It was destroyed over the last 8 years.]

Car bomb explodes in northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk | NECN

Car bomb explodes in northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk | NECN

Qaeda warns France of revenge for burka stance

Qaeda warns France of revenge for burka stance: "Al-Qaeda's North Africa wing threatened on Tuesday to take revenge on France for its opposition to the burka, calling on Muslims to retaliate against the country, the US monitoring service SITE Intelligence reported.

Earlier this month, President Nicolas Sarkozy said the burka, which covers the whole face, was not welcome in the strictly secular country.

'Yesterday was the hijab (the Islamic headscarf long banned in French schools) and today, it is the niqab (the full veil),' Abu Musab Abdul Wadud, head of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb was quoted as saying.

'We will take revenge for the honour of our daughters and sisters against France and against its interests by every means at our disposal.'"...

CIA Drone Just Misses Taliban Head in Pakistan - ABC News

CIA Drone Just Misses Taliban Head in Pakistan - ABC News: "ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- A CIA drone strike earlier this week just missed the head of the Taliban in Pakistan, killing at least 65 people at a funeral he attended and damaging his personal car, according to a resident and a Pakistani intelligent agent in the area."

The strike's target was Baitullah Mehsud, who Pakistan has blamed for the death of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and dozens of other attacks across the country. Pakistan is currently preparing for a war against Mehsud in the rugged South Waziristan tribal district, and the CIA has increased its attempts to kill him in the past 6 months.

Former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein bluffed about WMDs fearing Iranian arsenal, secret FBI files show

Former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein bluffed about WMDs fearing Iranian arsenal, secret FBI files show: ..."The records show Saddam happily boasted of duping the world about stockpiling weapons of mass destruction. And he consistently denied cooperating with Osama Bin Laden's Al Qaeda.

Of all his enemies, Iraq's ex-president - who insisted he still held office during captivity - hated Iran most.

Asked how he would have faced 'fanatic' Iranian ayatollahs if Iraq had been proven toothless by UN weapons inspectors in 2003, Saddam said he would have cut a deal with Bush.

'Hussein replied Iraq would have been extremely vulnerable to attack from Iran and would have sought a security agreement with the U.S. to protect it from threats in the region,' according to a 2004 FBI report among the declassified files."...

Pakistan: Taliban attack signals change of tactic - Adnkronos Security

Pakistan: Taliban attack signals change of tactic - Adnkronos Security: "Islamabad, 29 June (AKI) - By Syed Saleem Shahzad - Pakistani Taliban leader Gul Bahadur, once an arch rival of Baitullah Mehsud, apparently shelved a ceasefire agreement with security forces when he and his militants attacked a military convoy killing two officers and 12 soldiers at the weekend.

Militants claimed to have killed 60 personnel in the attack carried out in Miran Shah area of North Waziristan.

“There was no reason for the attack. The military was not conducting any operation so there was no reason for such an attack,” said Major General Athar Abbas, spokesperson for the Pakistan Army at a media conference late on Monday in Islamabad."...

The prevalent idea was that an operation against Mehsud could turn against all the Taliban groups.

So Mullah Nazir was the first who refused to give passage to the army and warned that he would not tolerate the military presence in or around his area.

Although Bahadur had expressed similar views to Naziran, an attack launched by Bahadur’s militants aginst the army convoy on Sunday showed that ideological connections overrode tribal differences. The attack also indicates that all the Taliban commanders are united against the military.

Well-placed sources in the military establishment believe that Sunday’s attack could have a far-reaching effect and could threaten the military operation's success.

Ivanov Links NATO Rights To Drug War

"The Federal Drug Control Agency said Friday that Moscow should stop the transportation of cargo across its territory to U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan if they do not do more to cut the flow of heroin to Russia.

'The granting of transport corridors to NATO forces in Afghanistan should be conditioned on a commitment to destroy sown areas, laboratories, stocks and other infrastructure of the Afghan drug business,' agency head Viktor Ivanov told a meeting of ministers and lawmakers."...

YouTube - Security handover ignites concern in Iraq - 30 Jun 09

YouTube - Security handover ignites concern in Iraq - 30 Jun 09

Killed cleric's son: Some suicide attacks OK -

Killed cleric's son: Some suicide attacks OK - ..."Naeemi's crime in the eyes of the Taliban was to issue a religious ruling, a Fatwa banning suicide bombing. He was a real threat, a top level cleric with a lot of pull. If young fanatics listened to him the Taliban would be without one of their best weapons.

Naeemi junior showed me the nuts, bolts, screws and ball bearings they had gathered from around the room, even found embedded in the store across the road. Everything that had spewed from the Taliban bomb.

Then he delivered his own stunning secret and even now it feels surreal. He tells me his father could have had security but had turned it down choosing to put his faith in God. It sort of explains the lack of attention to detail by the guard on the front gate.

At least I thought that was the scoop until I started asking Naeemi junior more about the suicide issue. His father had a huge following and Naeemi told me he was committed to following in his footsteps. To do anything else, he said, would be to turn the country over to the Taliban and anarchy.

Then he told me suicide bombings in Afghanistan against U.S. and NATO troops are justified because they are invaders killing Muslims. That is when the penny dropped so to speak. A question I'd had for a while just got answered.

While Pakistan and Pakistanis are more committed than they have ever been to crushing their own internal Taliban problem, they are far from turning on the Taliban across the border in Afghanistan.


Inside Pakistan the sentiment is clear; the Taliban are a menace to stability. Outside the country however they are still seen as a tool to achieve regional goals.

Pakistan, it appears, is still pursuing historic national interests, what they call having "strategic depth." Simply put to have a stake in who runs Afghanistan.

[bth: worth reading in full. Here is further evidence that the Pakistani offensive against the Taliban's recent actions in Pakistan are really about controlling and redirecting them toward external - US and Afghan - targets. As the man says, "suicide bombings in Afghanistan against US and NATO troops are justified because they are invaders killing Muslims." ]

Jalopnik - Segway-Killing Toyota Winglet Enters Production Priced At $3,500 - Toyota Winglet

Jalopnik - Segway-Killing Toyota Winglet Enters Production Priced At $3,500 - Toyota Winglet
Toyota Unveils Wheelchair Propelled by Thoughts Alone | Culture Buffet | Fast Company

Toyota Unveils Wheelchair Propelled by Thoughts Alone | Culture Buffet | Fast Company

Toyota Unveils Wheelchair Propelled by Thoughts Alone | Culture Buffet | Fast Company: "We'll still have to wait a few years to mind-meld with our Camrys, but researchers at Toyota have unveiled an advanced brain sensing system that controls the movement of a wheelchair by reading a user's thoughts alone. By processing patterns in brain waves, the system can propel a wheelchair forward, as well as make turns, with virtually no discernable delay between thought and movement."

Developed by researchers at BSI-Toyota Collaboration Center, the brain machine interface technology can return a response from a thought stimulus in just 125 milliseconds, whole seconds faster than existing technology, in effect creating real-time responsiveness. Five electroencephalography sensors stationed above the regions of the brain that deal with motor movement interpret patterns in the signals generated by the user. Further, the software interpreting the signals adapts to a particular user's patterns of thinking, achieving 95% accuracy after just one week of three-hour training sessions.

The potential applications for BMI technology extend far beyond the wheelchair, but Toyota's immediate focus will be to help those with mobility issues regain their freedom of movement, as well as to improve nursing care for the elderly. In that pursuit, Toyota is far from alone, as an aging population has Japan forecasting a shortage of health-care workers in the future. Rival automaker Honda is experimenting with a similar technology that allows its Asimo robot to be manipulated via brain signals, the idea being that humanoid robots could replace home care nurses in coming years....

Monday, June 29, 2009

West Point graduate to stand trial Tuesday for being gay

Raw Story » West Point graduate to stand trial Tuesday for being gay: "U.S. Army Lieutenant Dan Choi, a graduate of the West Point military academy and an Arabic translator, will face a military panel on Tuesday which may discharge him for admitting he is gay.

His case was mentioned in a letter to President Barack Obama, signed by 77 Democratic members of Congress. They called the 10-year veteran an “exceptional” soldier. Some have even referred to him as “the de facto face of the movement to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“I face a discharge tomorrow morning, simply for being honorable and telling who I am, in truth” he told CNN host John Roberts on Monday morning."...

[bth: this discharge is wrong. It is hard to understate my disappointment in the Obama administration on this issue.]

The Raw Story » Fein: Obama ’shuts his eyes’ to ‘open confessions’ of Bush-era war crimes

The Raw Story » Fein: Obama ’shuts his eyes’ to ‘open confessions’ of Bush-era war crimes

A very strange Taliban burial

BBC NEWS | South Asia | A very strange Taliban burial:... "The heavy irony of the situation was also not lost on those present.

That the only option for security forces to protect the body of their champion was to bury it in such a manner speaks volumes about which way the battle is going."

Having failed utterly to prevent his assassination, the only way they could protect his remains was to keep them as far away from South Waziristan as possible.

Soon after the funeral, militants loyal to the dead Taliban commander gathered at the house where he was killed.

A short ceremony ensued to appoint his brother Misabhuddin as the new chief.

Speaking to the BBC, he said he would continue his brother's mission and not rest till Baitullah was dead.

"The operation in South Waziristan is the government's right and those caught up in the fighting are all terrorists," Misabhuddin said.

But he was quite clear on another point as well:

"Jihad against America and its allies in Afghanistan would continue as well."

But was not the point of the operation in South Waziristan to stop such activities? Apparently not, as far as Misabhuddin is concerned.

"Pakistan's government only has problems with the foreign militants in the area. They have always supported us in the jihad in Afghanistan.

[bth: interesting article. It appears that we are reading too much good will for us into the Pak government's willingness to fight in Waziristan. These ending statements in this article seems to also correspond to Mullah Omar's recent assertion of operational control back in Afghanistan and the redirection of Taliban forces in Pakistan back toward Afghanistan.]

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Air Force Secretary Repeats F-22 Veto Threat - Washington Wire - WSJ

Air Force Secretary Repeats F-22 Veto Threat - Washington Wire - WSJ: "Air Force Secretary Michael Donley said the Obama administration may soon issue its first veto over an ongoing congressional effort to prevent the Pentagon from killing the futuristic – and enormously expensive – F-22 Raptor fighter jet.

Donley reiterated the veto threat to a small group of reporters gathered into his Pentagon conference room earlier today. The Defense Department wants to cap production of the plane at 187, but the House Armed Services Committee recently signed off on a bill that would include $369 million towards the purchase of 12 more F-22s next year. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other senior Pentagon officials want that money stripped out to free up funding for weapons that can immediately be used in Iraq and Afghanistan."...

Extensive Petraeus Briefing

Minstrel Boy

bth: worth watching in full

The Pentagon's Favorite Demon by Carlton Meyer

The Pentagon's Favorite Demon by Carlton Meyer: ..."North Korea’s million man army is mostly a collection of conscripts with old weaponry who spend most of their time harvesting crops. Its millions of “reservists” are nothing more than men who once served in the military. Most of its tanks and aircraft are not operable and the remainder lack fuel supplies to operate more than a few hours. On the other hand, the 700,000 man South Korean army is well trained, equipped with modern equipment, and backed by over 5,000,000 well-trained reservists who can be called to duty within hours. South Korea has twice the population of the North, 40 times its economic power, and spends four times more on its military each year. South Korea has a massive industrial capacity and billions in foreign currency reserves to sustain a war, while North Korea has no industry and no money."...

A major North Korean objective would be to kill Americans. This is not difficult as American troops and their families are located at easily targeted bases that would be pummeled by North Korean SCUD missiles. If millions of Koreans start fighting, the 28,000 American troops in Korea would make no difference – only 4,000 are combat troops. Therefore, Americans who truly “support the troops” should demand that they be removed from Korea where they are just pawns who face death should a conflict erupt. ...

Should fighting erupt, North Korea would quickly lose while an irritated China may seize its capital to remove its hermit leaders. ...

[bth: I'm not sure I agree with the author in his conclusions that we should withdrawal from Korea and that it matters as little to us as having troops in a place like Brazil. Brazil doesn't border China.]

Bankrupt Empire: Chinese Hummers

The Bankrupt Empire
You may have read that a Chinese company has bought GMs unprofitable Hummer division. GM quickly assured everyone that this sale did not include the factory that produces Hummers for the US military. Taxpayers spent over a billion dollars to help GM design the Hummer as a rugged light truck. They wouldn't want that design technology to fall into the hands of China, who would make copies, possibly for their own military.

What GM never mentions is that it sold China a license to produce Hummers many years ago, which included everything they needed to make copies. There was no restriction on use, so China now has thousands of Hummers in its military, including weaponized variants. (right)

This explains why the Pentagon has been unwilling to permit the sale of F-22s to Japan. It does not want to buy F-22s, but all the technology so that it can build its own. That suits profit seeking defense contractors, since they can make billions of dollars by simply transferring designs via computers that were paid for by U.S. taxpayers.

[bth: amazing.  So that means that the purchase of the Hummer division of GM by the Chinese was really about purchasing a distribution and dealership network in the US.]

June 26, 2009 - The V-22 Scandal Explodes

The Bankrupt Empire
In May, Marine Generals refused to provide Congress with an inventory list of V-22s, which Congress sought to dispel allegations from G2mil that dozens of damaged V-22 are hidden in hangars. In his prepared testimony, the head of Marine Aviation, LtGen George Trautman stated that: "We have accepted delivery of 91 Ospreys, a quarter of our program objective of 360 aircraft." The requested status list was not provided. After threats of subpoena, his staff said they had 105, when they must have known that simple check of budget documents would reveal they should have around 145. That just happened, as the Congressional Research Service released a report that says Congress has funded 156 V-22s for the Marines from FY1987 through FY2009.

Since Bell stated that V-22 production is on schedule, the last of these 156 should be delivered by Oct. 1, 2009. Therefore, the Marines should have had around 145 V-22s on June 3, 2009, the date they reported that only 105 had been delivered. Since these cost around $100 million each, it seems the Generals misplaced $4 billion worth of new aircraft. Maybe I can find some missing V-22s on E-bay! Looks like we'll see a lot of dancing Generals this year.

Congressmen Jack Murtha said he is going to the Marine airbase at New River soon to find out what's happening. He's a former Marine who says the military always lies about problems. However, he is a politician and big spender, so I suspect this is a common ruse. Major contractors have one of their Congressmen act angry and promise to find out what's really happening, only discover some minor problems, and assert there is nothing really wrong.

[bth: interesting. we'll see how this plays out and whether there are any repercussions for lying to congress. I doubt it.]

Surface Warfare Still Searches for 21st Century Ideas | USNI Blog

Surface Warfare Still Searches for 21st Century Ideas | USNI Blog:... "The point of this exercise is to highlight 4 points that can be drawn from the data.

1) The Navy is not in a terrible position to reach 313-ships by FY 2020, even as the challenges are obvious. The Navy is in a very terrible position towards sustaining 313-ships beyond 2025 due to the rapid retirement of surface combatants beginning in 2025. Replacing surface combatants beginning in that time frame will be very difficult, because at the same time the Navy will also need to replace retiring platforms including amphibious ships, logistics ships, and ballistic missile submarines. Unless amphibious ships or logistics ships are replaced over the next decade, the rate of retiring surface combatants beginning in FY 2025 will greatly outpace capacity to replace those large, expensive hulls."

2) A SLEP Program for the FFG is not a solution, as a FFG SLEP program would consume funding for new ships to get the fleet to FY 2025. In playing with the various possible options, I have been unable to outline any conherent plan where a FFG SLEP wouldn’t compound the surface combatant numerical challenges that begin in 2025. I don’t believe any legitimate argument exists for a SLEP FFG program towards addressing the Navy’s surface combatant numerical challenges.

3) The Littoral Combat Ship represents $23.1B of the available $60B for SCN spending options and alternatives over the next decade. The LCS accounts for around 38.5% of the available SCN funding. It is legitimate to question whether this platform represents a cost effective investment for the capabilities delivered and expected over a 30 year hull life. Obviously unmanned technology is the future, and modularity is a critical technology for the future Navy, but the Littoral Combat Ship is a relatively small platform for modular payloads, and it is still unclear how big the Navy may desire unmanned technologies to be for combat operations over the next 30 years. It is also very debatable whether the Littoral Combat Ship is well designed for combat in the littorals, considering the LCS was designed with the survivability rating of a logistics ship. The Navy has not determined yet how much flexibility the LCS brings to the fleet. Is the LCS too big for littorals? Is the LCS too small to be an effective unmanned mothership? Does the LCS have enough crew to effectively support manpower intensive operations like fighting piracy? Does the LCS have enough endurance to meet combatant commander requirements? What if the LCS turns out to be only part of the solution to the many requirements this ship is touted to meet? The LCS is more of a question today than it is an answer, but the Navy touts the platform as if the reverse was true.

4) Vice Adm. Barry McCullough stated in testimony the places where this “presence deficit” is identified includes “with new partners in Africa, the Black Sea, the Baltic region, and the Indian Ocean.” McCullough also went on to say “Africa Command capacity demands will not mitigate the growing European Command requirement” and “Southern Command capacity has consistently required more presence that largely goes unfilled.” All of these places suggest the “presence deficit” is specific to presence of the surface combatant force, but most of those places suggest the “presence deficit” is not in regards to high end combat capabilities, but the necessity to engage in littoral places and ungoverned spaces where local Coast Guards are largely incapable of meeting the regional maritime security requirements.

In my opinion, all signs suggest the Navy needs to substancially increase the quantity of surface ships to meet emerging trends and forward commander requirements, but it appears fiscally impossible to do so when the only two surface vessel options includes only two options, the $460M LCS and $2B DDG-51. Of all the discussions to be had in the QDR process, not to mention when taking the long view of the future and accounting for the history of naval construction since the end of the cold war, surface warfare is in dire need of new fleet ideas, new logistics models for sustaining forward presence, and new technologies to meet the challenges of emerging trends in naval combat. With each competing fleet model proposed, tested, and evaluated as part of the QDR process, the Navy would be very wise to study all of these ideas carefully and find the best ideas in surface warfare that can be applied to building a larger, more cost effecient 21st century fleet that contains the kind of capabilities the trends suggest will be in demand in the future.

[bth: worth reading in full especially the comments section that follows. When you read the comments you can conclude there is indeed a healthy discussion going on somewhere in the depths of the Navy. So why isn't that debate showing up as realistic budgeting and and force planning from the senior levels of the Navy? We cannot afford our current ill advised course. It must change. If we can't get it from senior leadership then perhaps it is time for changes.]

Why Nigeria Matters: Another Reminder | Atlantic Council

Why Nigeria Matters: Another Reminder | Atlantic Council: "This morning's attack on a key Nigerian oil pipeline provides yet another graphic reminder as to why West Africa matters to the economic and energy security of the Euro-Atlantic world.

The insurgents of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) targeted the Bille-Krakrama pipeline which supplies Shell's export terminal in Bonny in Nigeria. Timed to coincide with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's visit to finalize major energy investment deals, the attackers followed their symbolic message with a formal one: 'This is the fate that awaits the gas pipelines you plan to invest in (in) Nigeria if justice is not factored in the whole process.'

In response to this (as well as a power outage at major refineries in Texas), the price of crude oil for August deliveries in both the London and New York markets went up. The impact could have been greater; it was minimized because increases in unemployment in the United States and in other developed countries is holding down demand."...

[bth: something to watch carefully]

Triage: The Next 12 Months in Afghanistan and Pakistan - June 11 Video | Center for a New American Security

Triage: The Next 12 Months in Afghanistan and Pakistan - June 11 Video | Center for a New American Security

Blog: Nukes & Spooks - What an air strike in Afghanistan should look like

Blog: Nukes & Spooks: "Today, the Pentagon released a video showing an Apache carefully contemplating an air strike against suspected fighters in Afghanistan. On one hand, this is reassuring. After the May 4 bombing in Farah, in which the military acknowledges as many as 86 civilians may have been killed, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the new commander in Afghanistan, wants to signal to everyone that he and his commanders are committed to using their air power judiciously.

But how Pentagon officials decide when to release videos is problematic. When video serves the message they want to project – in this case that the military takes great care before contemplating an attack from the air – they make the video available. When the video captures troubling images, suddenly it is an operational security issue.

Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. Central Command commander, had promised that we would see video of the Farah incident. But officials told McClatchy that is showed suspected fighters running into a home and the U.S. striking that building without checking whether civilians were inside. On Friday evening, the Pentagon released an unclassified executive summary of its investigation. The promised video, officials announced, would no longer be available."...

[bth: the video is worth watching - at least the 'how to' video and since the 'how not to' video wasn't released, well sorry about that. This pretty much explains why the 'how to' video was released this week. ... one should keep in mind that the timing of such releases is rarely coincidental. More to the point, in an era of lazy and financially strained journalism, the Pentagon controls the news by not releasing information as much as releasing it - it isn't so much what is said, but what is not said. ... I was at a conference in DC this week and entire 30 minute presentation was made on Gitmo by a WaPo reporter and not once did he use the world 'torture', and yet that is in fact what the whole issue is about. I become increasingly disenchanted with the NYT and WaPo as they appear to be part of the system of propaganda that sends a country to war on false pretense and hides rather than reveals truth from the American public.]

White House Is Drafting Executive Order to Allow Indefinite Detention; Move Would Bypass Congress - ProPublica

White House Is Drafting Executive Order to Allow Indefinite Detention; Move Would Bypass Congress - ProPublica: "The Obama administration, fearing a battle with Congress that could stall plans to close Guantanamo, is drafting an executive order that would reassert presidential authority to incarcerate suspected terrorists indefinitely, according to three senior government officials with knowledge of White House deliberations.

Such an order would embrace claims by former President George W. Bush that certain people can be detained without trial for long periods under the laws of war. Obama advisers are concerned that bypassing Congress could place the president on weaker footing before the courts and anger key supporters, the officials said."....

Motorcycle bombs kill 20 in Baghdad attacks | TPM News Pages

Motorcycle bombs kill 20 in Baghdad attacks | TPM News Pages: "Motorcycle bombs killed at least 20 people in separate attacks in Baghdad Friday, at least 19 of them in a crowded bazaar, part of an apparent trend toward increased use of motorcycles to thwart stepped-up security measures.

The attacks were the latest in a week of violence that has killed more than 250 people, with just four days to go before the deadline for U.S. combat troops to withdraw from cities."...

The deadliest blast occurred just after 9 a.m. when a booby-trapped motorcycle exploded in a market packed with young people buying or selling the vehicles in central Baghdad, according to police and hospital officials.

Ghaith Abdul-Allah, 35, was unloading motorcycles he planned to sell from his truck when the blast occurred.

"I saw a ball of fire and some motorbikes were lifted about 10 meters (yards) into the air," he said. "When the smoke from the explosion vanished, I saw a large number of young men lying on the ground soaked in blood."...

"They have started to use motorcycles more because they are easy to move and can be used to avoid security checkpoints," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss sensitive information with the media.

The U.S. military and other Iraqi officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Associated Press has recorded five booby-trapped motorcycle bombings this month in Iraq that have killed at least 104 people, including one on June 24 in Baghdad's Sadr City that killed 78 civilians and injured another 143 — one of the deadliest bombings this year.

Before that, no parked motorcycle bombings had been reported in Baghdad since Aug. 19, 2007, when a motorcycle exploded in central Baghdad, killing one civilian and injuring four others.

Between January 25, 2007 and December 4, 2008, only five incidents involving motorcycle bombs were reported around Iraq, killing 25 people and wounding 110 more.

The numbers are based on AP reporting and are likely a minimum....

[bth: they are also cheaper than car bombs]

U.S. Payoff Keeps Key Hub for Afghanistan Open | Danger Room |

U.S. Payoff Keeps Key Hub for Afghanistan Open | Danger Room | ..."After promising to evict the U.S. military from its territory, the government of Kyrgyzstan has reversed course: Its parliament yesterday ratified an agreement that will allow American forces to maintain access to Manas Air Base, a key supply hub for Afghanistan.

The deal follows months of behind-the-scenes maneuvering, with Russia more or less openly pressuring the Kyrgyz government to close the base, and U.S. officials scrambling to keep access. So what happened? The Kyrgyz government got a rent increase, for starters. On background, Pentagon officials confirmed that the United States agreed to pay $60 million a year to use the base — a substantial increase over the $17.4 million previously paid in annual rent. The base will be redesignated as a “transit center.”"...

[bth: alternate routes were opening and we raised our bribery rate. Such a deal.]

Activists Use U.S. Tech to Poke Holes in Iran Firewall (Updated)

Activists Use U.S. Tech to Poke Holes in Iran Firewall (Updated) | Danger Room |
...The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which oversees the Voice of America and the Farsi-language Radio Farda, has a three-person anti-censorship team that focuses on China and Iran. “Iran has a growing audience of young activist Internet users and we have repurposed our tools to work in Farsi and make it available to Iranians,” BBG’s Ken Berman says. “We open up the channels so the Iranian blogosphere is more accessible to Iranians in Iran.”

One of those projects: design the Firefox Web browser to embed the TOR network. That’s the “onion router” anonymous surfing service, which throws off the Supreme Leader’s online goons by “distributing your transactions over several places on the Internet, so no single point can link you to your destination,” the project’s site explains. “The idea is similar to using a twisty, hard-to-follow route in order to throw off somebody who is tailing you — and then periodically erasing your footprints. Instead of taking a direct route from source to destination, data packets on the Tor network take a random pathway through several relays that cover your tracks so no observer at any single point can tell where the data came from or where it’s going.”

“There are plenty of programs political dissidents can use to route their Internet traffic through third parties and escape censorship and avoid monitoring,” one know-it-all blogger tells Lake. “But TOR is different because it is an encrypted network of node after node, each one unlocking encryption to the next node. And because of this, it is all but impossible for governments to track Web sites a TOR user is visiting. TOR is a great way to give Ahmadinejad’s Web censors headaches.”

That onion routing approach was originally developed by the Naval Research Lab and by Darpa, the Pentagon’s leading science and technology arm.

UPDATE: Slate’s Farhad Manjoo, on the other hand, thinks all this tech has actually made it easier for the regime to repress the activists. “On Wednesday, a reader alerted the Lede to an Iranian government Web site called, where authorities had posted pictures of protesters and were asking citizens for help in identifying the activists. That’s right—the regime is now using crowd-sourcing, one of the most-hyped aspects of Web 2.0 organizing, against its opponents. If you think about it, that’s no surprise. Who said that only the good guys get to use the power of the Web to their advantage?”

[bth: worth reading in full.  This is the new battle scape for the centuries old battle for freedom of speech.  It is no longer about newspapers.  it is bigger.] - Boehner: Climate bill a 'pile of s--t' - Boehner: Climate bill a 'pile of s--t': ..."Further, officials with the House GOP's campaign arm, the National Republican Congressional Committee, confirm that they will run with paid media over recess in districts of conservative Dems who voted for the bill. The official would not reveal details on the ad buys at this time.

One Democrat was upset that his leaders would needlessly force vulnerable Dems to vote for a bill that will come back to haunt them. Mississippi Rep. Gene Taylor (D) voted against the measure that he says will die in the Senate.

'A lot of people walked the plank on a bill that will never become law,' Taylor told The Hill after the gavel came down."

Bailout of U.S. Banks Gives British Rum a $2.7 Billion Benefit - Bloomberg

Bailout of U.S. Banks Gives British Rum a $2.7 Billion Benefit -
...DeJongh says he had no idea his deal would help make the world’s largest liquor distiller the most unlikely beneficiary of the emergency Troubled Asset Relief Program approved by Congress just four months later.

Today, as two 56-foot-high (17-meter-high) tanks for holding fermenting molasses will soon rise from the ground on the Caribbean island of St. Croix, the extent to which dozens of nonbank companies benefited from last October’s emergency financial rescue plan is just beginning to come to light.

The hurried legislation adopted by a Congress voting under the threat of sudden global economic collapse led to hidden tax breaks for firms in dozens of industries. They included builders of Nascar auto-racing tracks, restaurant chains such as Burger King Holdings Inc., movie and television producers -- and London’s Diageo.

“It’s kind of like the magician’s sleight of hand,” says former House Ways and Means Committee Chairman William Thomas, a California Republican who ran the committee from 2001 to 2007 and oversaw all tax legislation. “They snuck these things in a bill that was focused on other things.”

Congress inserted the tax benefits for companies other than banks in a fog of confusion and panic after the House of Representatives rejected the first attempt to fund the bank support effort urged by then President George W. Bush and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.

Rubber Stamped

Lawmakers rubber-stamped the package of arcane, if innocuous-sounding, tax items with one eye on the calendar. An election was only a few weeks away, and legislators were desperate to return home to campaign for their own re-election.

A year later, lawmakers and the public are just now discovering some of the curious subsidies tucked into TARP and the government’s other massive intervention programs. Four months after TARP took effect, President Barack Obama pushed through a $787 billion bill intended to pump up the nation’s economy.

That legislation included $20 billion in tax breaks for companies that produce energy from wind and other alternative sources as well as $1.6 billion in relief related to the tax treatment of canceled debt for Sprint Nextel Corp., the third- largest U.S. mobile-phone-service company, and other firms.

Like TARP, the stimulus bill was passed quickly, with little scrutiny.....

[bth: no shit.  And guess what, its hard to figure out how jobs are created or the economy simulated by this mess isn't it.  How many jobs were created because of tax relief to Sprint?  How many jobs to move rum production between islands? ... For all the political hype and rhetoric, while the American middle class bleeds out and the manufacturing base collapses, this passes as legislation.]

Help Identify Health Care Lobbyists on the Hill - ProPublica

Help Identify Health Care Lobbyists on the Hill - ProPublica: ..."Health care lobbying is big business. So far this year, more than $1.4 million has been spent each day lobbying Capitol Hill on health care [2], according to a report [3] (PDF) released Wednesday by Common Cause, a nonpartisan government watchdog group. That's a 73 percent increase since 2000."...
Informed Comment

At V.A. Hospital, a Rogue Cancer Unit -

At V.A. Hospital, a Rogue Cancer Unit - ..."Had the government responded more aggressively, it might have uncovered a rogue cancer unit at the hospital, one that operated with virtually no outside scrutiny and botched 92 of 116 cancer treatments over a span of more than six years — and then kept quiet about it, according to interviews with investigators, government officials and public records.

The team continued implants for a year even though the equipment that measured whether patients received the proper radiation dose was broken. The radiation safety committee at the Veterans Affairs hospital knew of this problem but took no action, records show."...

[bth: unbelievable. yet no one will be held to actual account for this criminal negligence within the VA]

US gives up eradicting Afghan opium - another policy inconsistency

Raw Story » US gives up on eradicating Afghanistan’s opium
...“The Western policies against the opium crop, the poppy crop, have been a failure,” said Richard Holbrooke, America’s envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, speaking to a G8 conference on Afghanistan.

“They did not result in any damage to the Taliban, but they put farmers out of work. We are not going to support crop eradication. We’re going to phase it out,” he told Reuters.

He said the new U.S. strategy will focus on intercepting chemicals used to refine opium into heroin. Troops will also attempt to target the country’s most powerful drug barons, although this has been a component of counter-narcotics in the country since the invasion.

“The Taliban [...] derives up to $100 million a year from the poppy harvest by taxing farmers and charging safe passage fees — money that will buy weapons for use against U.S., NATO and Afghan troops,” noted the Associated Press.

In spite of past efforts, from 2005 - 2006, opium production ramped up 26 percent, reported The Washington Post.

“Any disruption of the drug trade has enormous implications for Afghanistan’s economic and political stability,” reported the Post. “Although its relative strength in the overall economy has diminished as other sectors have expanded in recent years, narcotics is a $2.6 billion-a-year industry that this year provided more than a third of the country’s gross domestic product. Farmers who cultivate opium poppies receive only a small percentage of the profits, but U.S. officials estimate the crop provides up to 12 times as much income per acre as conventional farming, and there is violent local resistance to eradication.”...

Sanford: King David Didn't Resign, So Why Should I? | TPMMuckraker

Sanford: King David Didn't Resign, So Why Should I? | TPMMuckraker

British embassy staffers held in Iran over unrest

British embassy staffers held in Iran over unrest -
TEHRAN, Iran (CNN) -- Local staff members at the British Embassy in Tehran have been arrested, the Foreign Office in London told CNN Sunday, confirming earlier reports from Iran's government-backed Press TV.
Iranian students protest outside the British embassy in Tehran on June 23.

Iranian students protest outside the British embassy in Tehran on June 23.
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Press TV said eight staffers had been seized for their role in the unrest following the disputed presidential elections on June 12. The Foreign Office did not confirm the number of people held.

Earlier Sunday the Foreign Office said it had recently "received a number of, sometimes confused, reports that British nationals or others with British connections had been detained. We continue to raise them with the Iranian authorities."

A spokesman further added: "People with a connection to the UK have been arrested all week."

Last week, Tehran expelled two British diplomats. London responded by kicking out two Iranian envoys.

Iran then recalled its ambassador to Britain, saying it would reconsider its diplomatic ties with the United Kingdom....

[bth: honestly does it surprise anyone?  Isn't it likely that the Iranian government will continue to blame foreigners, particularly the British after the BBC coverage of the elections, and perhaps try to repeat something like a hostage/diplomatic standoff in order to rally the people?]

Taliban Losses Are No Sure Gain for Pakistanis

Taliban Losses Are No Sure Gain for Pakistanis -
....“I’ve told the president and the prime minister and the chief of the army this is the time to act. Just take basic things and implement them,” said Gen. Nadeem Ahmad, the commander of the Special Support Group, an arm of the Pakistani military that is providing temporary buildings and some food for the displaced. “This is not talking rocket science.”

On a notepad, General Ahmad had drawn a chart of the four elements of what he called “lasting peace.” They were good government; improved delivery of services, including rebuilt schools; speedy justice (something the Taliban had provided); and social equity.

He appeared to be skeptical that those aspects could be delivered within what he called an essential one-year time frame. He said he had warned the leaders: “If you don’t deliver, it will be trouble. You will come back and do the operation again.”

Having witnessed past episodes of deal-making with the Taliban, the people of Swat say they want tangible proof that the military is serious this time and that they will be safe if they return home.

From the start, a rallying cry has been a demand that the army kill or capture Taliban leaders, a ruthless group of highly trained fighters, some with links to Al Qaeda. But the army has not been able to show any evidence that it killed any of the Taliban leaders.

The daily newspaper The News said in a recent editorial that unless Maulana Fazlullah, the Taliban’s main commander in Swat, and Mr. Mehsud, the country’s top enemy, were captured, “the Taliban are going to live to fight another day.”

Indeed, most of the damage from the recent fighting appears confined to small agricultural hamlets outside Mingora, according to interviews with displaced people. Some said they had heard from recent arrivals to the camps that areas 500 yards off the roads remained in control of the militants.

The “outlook was bleak” in Swat because the civilian government did not have the money or the skills to rebuild, said Shuja Nawaz, the author of a history of the Pakistani military and now the director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council in Washington....

U.S. Troops, Civilians to Become Less Protected on July 1 -

U.S. Troops, Civilians to Become Less Protected on July 1 - ..."Of particular concern is a new rule that bars U.S. troops from using mine-resistant armored vehicles in urban areas during the day, officials said.

Also worrisome, they said, is the recent closure of a small outpost in eastern Baghdad that is adjacent to a site militiamen have used to launch deadly rocket attacks on the Green Zone.

Thousands of U.S. combat troops will remain at a handful of bases in Baghdad and on the outskirts of other restive cities, such as Mosul and Kirkuk, in northern Iraq, past the June 30 deadline. But U.S. troops say their ability to respond quickly to thwart attacks could erode significantly because Iraqi officials will have unprecedented authority over their mobility and missions in urban areas.

'We won't be providing the same level of security for ourselves and Iraqis,' said 2nd Lt. Jason Henke, a military police platoon leader who will remain at one of the few inner-city bases in Baghdad. 'With only a small window of time that we are allowed to operate in, it's going to be easier to target U.S. forces when we are outside the wire.'"...

[bth: the loss of daytime use of MRAPs is going to drive up casualties]

Hundreds at wake for Chicopee native Army 1st Sgt. Kevin A. Dupont -

Hundreds at wake for Chicopee native Army 1st Sgt. Kevin A. Dupont -

Calling Hours for Fallen Soldier

Hundreds at wake for Chicopee native Army 1st Sgt. Kevin A. Dupont -

Hundreds at wake for Chicopee native Army 1st Sgt. Kevin A. Dupont - "CHICOPEE - For those who knew Army 1st Sgt. Kevin A. Dupont, there is some solace knowing he died doing what he loved.

The wake for the 52-year-old Chicopee native drew hundreds of people throughout the day on Thursday at Chicopee High School. Dupont died last week after a three-month medical battle to overcome severe burns he suffered on 65 percent of his body after a combat patrol incident in Afghanistan on March 8. The Humvee he was riding in ran over an improvised explosive device.

'I grew up in the Vietnam era, but I never thought I'd lose friends in this war,' said city resident Shirley A. Gibson, a long-time friend of Dupont's, after she attended the wake. 'He volunteered. It's what he wanted to do.'"

A long line of mourners waited for more than an hour to pay their respects. Dupont's flag-draped casket sat in front of the auditorium stage. His wife, two brothers, two sisters and his parents, who still live in Chicopee, stood to the left of the casket shaking hands and hugging those who attended the seven-hour wake.

"He died doing something he loved. He was all military," said family friend Wilfred F. Robert, of Granby. "We wanted to be here. He's done so much for his country."

Dupont graduated from Chicopee High School in 1976 and joined the Marine Corps, serving six years of active duty. He joined the Massachusetts National Guard in 1984 and had worked full time for its Counter Drug Program in Milford since 1992. He was deployed in August as part of a two-member unit to support the Afghanistan Regional Security Integration Command, Combined Joint Task Force Phoenix.

He was serving with the 1st Brigade, 203rd Corps, Afghan National Army Embedded Training Team when he was injured. He had been receiving weekly skin grafts at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, when he died from a blood infection.....