Saturday, September 05, 2009
The second glaring error was to signal that the only meaningful competition in healthcare reform -- a government-run option akin to Medicare -- didn't mean all that much to the White House.
The third huge mistake was to have the president hogging the airwaves daily, if not hourly, broadcasting mixed messages, mistaken messages, messages of weakness and vacillation.
Oh yeah. It was wrong, wrong, wrong for the president to personally cut a deal with the Big Pharma executives that declared the government would not even attempt to negotiate lower drug prices. In exchange the pharmaceutical buzzards promised faithfully to voluntarily cut drug prices for some seniors by a theoretical $80 billion."
Mr. President, if Big Pharma can cut prices $80 billion and still make an obscene rate of profit, how much more could real negotiators have squeezed out of them for all Americans?
As a parting shot President Obama wrote an end to the only part of the trillion-dollar stimulus plan that was visibly seen and felt by some ordinary American citizens -- the $3 billion cash-for-clunkers program that took thousands of gas-guzzling old vehicles off the road and jump-started the moribund auto industry.
Funny how we've spent hundreds of billions rescuing the biggest banks and brokers and insurance firms, those bastions of free-market capitalism, with hardly a No vote on either side of the aisle, but Republicans tried to derail the piddling $2 billion addition to clunkers as a matter of principle.
May I suggest, please, that our president take up a serious study of the game of politics in the hardball league?
The first rule is: Never Take Your Eye Off the Ball!
The next rule is: Reward Your Friends and Punish Your Enemies!
The White House is a bully pulpit if you have a message and stick to it. So get one quick, Mr. President, if it isn't already too late.
You arrived in Washington with everything needed for success: An approval rating near 70 percent. An agenda most Americans generally agreed with. Your party had an unbreakable grip on the White House and both houses of Congress.
You leave town seven months later with everything in shambles: Your poll numbers, your party, your agenda and your grip.
You ought to have a list of about six folks you plan to fire; a few dozen dirty dawg Democrats you plan to whip like red-headed stepchildren and a new list of ``My Republican Friends'' that includes only Olympia Snowe.
Joseph L. Galloway is a military columnist for McClatchy Newspapers.
[bth: tell him Joe. Damn right. There needs to be a penalty from the president toward the republicans and blue dog democrats who don't support him on health care and a reward for those who help.]
Ominous Music Heard Throughout U.S. Sends Nation Into Panic | The Onion - America's Finest News Source
Ominous Music Heard Throughout U.S. Sends Nation Into Panic
It was then that we began discussing seriously, the role of armoured bulldozers as an effective counter to IEDs, restoring tactical mobility at minimum risk and with economic use of manpower.
With that background, we then read of Jacobson's complaints, where she tells us that: 'We left at 2:30 a.m., a long, long convoy of military vehicles with a bulldozer on tank tracks leading the way and basically creating a new path for us to follow. His job was basically to clear our path of IEDs all the way to Dahaneh. It was a slow drive over maybe five miles, lasting four hours.'
And there we learn, for the first time in Afghanistan, that the US – probably learning from Israeli experience – is using bulldozers tactically, as a means of clearing IEDs. Thus Jacobson arrives safely and the five-mile journey only takes four hours."....
[bth: note the rate of advance 1 mile in 24 hours and 5 miles in 4 hours. All surprise and speed from the roads has been lost even with bulldozers.]
The truck bombings in Baghdad also wounded 600 people in what was the worst day of violence to hit the country for 18 months, dealing a major blow to the nation's security efforts in the wake of a major pullout of US troops.
'The suicide bomber who blew himself up at the ministry of foreign affairs was released three months ago from Camp Bucca,' the official told AFP on condition of anonymity, referring to the US jail near Basra.
'The suicide bomber who blew himself up outside the ministry of finance was also released a few months ago from the same jail.'"...
The 286th CSSB, a non-combat arms element of the Joint Sustainment Command-Afghanistan, moves supplies and equipment by convoy to forward operating bases, fire bases and combat outposts throughout Southern Afghanistan.
The convoy was traveling through mountains, July 27, crossing between Oruzgan and Kandahar provinces, when Soldiers in the fifth mine resistant ambush protected vehicle, called Gun Truck Five, noticed an Afghan man at the side of the road, filming the convoy with a cell phone. They seized the cell phone which contained footage of insurgents planting roadside bombs.
Two days later, their convoy of 22 vehicles traveled back through the area, passing an Afghan national army checkpoint when an ANA soldier flagged down their lead MRAP, Gun Truck One."
"He was trying to stop us," said Spc. Dana S. Osborne, the Gun Truck One driver from Lake Butler, Fla. "When he stopped us, he pointed to the front of him and made a hand motion of shooting, you know, in front of us."...
[bth: fascinating and worth reading in full. Its the supply convoys that will be chocked off. The tankers, etc. It is evident the Taliban has set their strategy and now they are implementing it.]
What did the trick was that the US adopted the strategy of 'renting' enough Sunni Arab insurgents to isolate the international Sunni terrorists associated with al-qa'ida These same 'rented' former insurgents were then used to destroy the terrorists. This effort was a supplement to the work that McChrystal's former counter-terrorist comando command was already doing. This was a modern application of very old and traditional 'divide and conquer' methods that have been in use since time immemorial in that part of the world. It had nothing to do with application of the mystical magic of COIN style 'pacification.'
The Post's editorial is evidence of a continuing establishment inability to deal with the nasty real"
A self-styled Taliban spokesman promptly claimed responsibility. 'We were looking for him for a long time, but today we succeeded.' Commentators will no doubt rush to underscore that Laghmani's killing demonstrates the growing 'sophistication' of Taliban operations. Indeed, Laghmani was a heavily guarded figure right in the sanctum sanctorum of the Kabul power structure. The first circle of the Afghan security establishment has been breached. High professionalism is the hallmark of the operation.
However, there are wheels within wheels. At critical junctures in the progress of the Taliban movement, an unseen hand has often summoned the assassin to clear the path or tilt the scales. The chronicle is chilling: Ayatollah Mazari, the top Shi'ite cleric of Afghanistan, (1994); Mohammad Najibullah, president of Afghanistan (1996); Ahmad Shah Massoud, leader of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, (2001); Haji Abdul Qadir, also in the Northern Alliance, (2002). The list seems never-ending. "The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ, Moves on ... "  ...
The amateurish training-camp exercise allowed police to get to know the group, but didn't yield much evidence of criminal intent. Before long, police grew alarmed as an alleged splinter cell broke off from the main group and began plotting bombings, the Crown's statement of facts says.
In a bid to crack the so-called splinter cell, police turned to Mr. Elsohemy, who hailed from a well known Muslim family that dabbled in travel, real estate and other ventures, but often barely managed to stay a step ahead of creditors.
Over the years, he had developed a relationship with Canada's intelligence services as he affected an outwardly fanatical approach to Islam. This appears to have opened many doors.
At a gas bar in early April, 2006, the bomb plot's two alleged ringleaders welcomed him with open arms, the Crown statement says, as they took him into their confidence without hesitation. They “laid out a terrorist plot to bomb three locations in the Greater Toronto Area,” which “involved the rental of three U-Haul vans, which they would pack with explosives,” the statement says.
One ringleader said he wanted to be on a plane out of the country within an hour of the attacks and that he had already built a prototype detonator, the document says. Mr. Elsohemy is prepared to testify that he was handed a shopping list for two gallons of nitric acid and 1.5 tonnes of ammonium nitrate fertilizer.
During subsequent meetings over Chinese-food buffets and in coffee shops, Mr. Elsohemy says he helped the two key conspirators work out the finer points of spectacular plan. He claimed to know people who operated a chemical plant, and suggested he could get bomb ingredients.
It was Mr. Elsohemy who told police the targets of the alleged plot were the Canadian Security Intelligence Service headquarters in Toronto, the Toronto Stock Exchange, and a unspecified military base along Highway 401. He jotted down alleged remarks the conspirators made about the bombings they hoped would force Canadian troops from Afghanistan.
Through all this, the agent was trying to leverage the confidences into something concrete. According to sources close to the case, he asked his RCMP handlers for as much as $15-million to put himself and his immediate family into hiding, before settling on a package worth closer to $4-million.
It's not clear who or what he was afraid of, precisely. But a car for his brothers, dentist bills for his wife, and a place for his parents were all under negotiation – a remarkable turnaround for a family occasionally mired in bankruptcy proceedings.
There was a smaller payday right before Mr. Elsohemy disappeared.
On June 2, 2006, the agent says, he was handed an envelope with the $4,000, by the plot's alleged ringleader. This, he says, was the balance he was ostensibly owed for delivery of bomb chemicals.
That day, undercover police officers drove three tonnes of fake ammonium nitrate to a warehouse, where it was unloaded by Mr. Khalid and another young man, who has yet to face trial.
• More than five million refugees have returned home since the fall of the Taliban. This is one of the most substantial refugee repatriations in history, yet it is little remarked upon because it has largely gone so smoothly.
• One in six Afghans now has a cell phone. Under the Taliban there was no phone system.
• Millions of kids are now in school, including many girls. Under the Taliban girls were not allowed to be educated.
• In 2008, Afghanistan’s real GDP growth was 7.5 percent. Under the Taliban the economy was in free fall.
• You were more likely to be murdered in the United States in 1991 than an Afghan civilian is to be killed in the war today....
[bth: keeping in mind that Bergen who wrote this for New America Foundation is likely carting around a political agenda to keep us in the war, the statements are interesting. One as to be careful however as the murder rates were evidently shopped as they are compared to the US almost 20 years ago and the number of kids in school fails to mention the intimidation that reduced female participation in recent years or the fact that the GDP of Afghanistan if it can be measured at all seems to have come from heroin. ... One wonders what would happen if we backed off our offensive to the Pakistan border and concentrated on building up the areas we currently control, education, improved government and infrastructure and supporting our friends while making periodic punitive raids on our enemies in the region.]
Kevan Jones, the Veterans Minister, allegedly spoke of gunning for General Sir Richard Dannatt, then the army chief, who had angered ministers with public campaigns for better equipment for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The overheard conversation was one of the reasons behind Eric Joyce’s decision to resign as parliamentary private secretary at the Ministry of Defence, The Times has learnt.
Mr Joyce, parliamentary aide to Bob Ainsworth, the Defence Secretary, and a former army officer, was present in the same room in the MoD in July when Mr Jones allegedly made his threat."...
[bth: How a great nation becomes small and petty. All we can hope for now is a good sex scandal]
Gen. Colin Powell, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said these questions all must be answered with a loud YES before the United States takes military action. He listed his questions in the 1990 run-up to the Persian Gulf War, drawing heavily on the Weinberger Doctrine that was laid down by former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger during the debate over America’s ends and means in Lebanon.
1. Is a vital national security interest threatened? 2. Do we have a clear, attainable objective? 3. Have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analyzed? 4. Have all non-violent policy means been exhausted? 5. Is there a plausible exit strategy to avoid endless entanglement? 6. Have all the consequences of our action been fully considered? 7. Is the action supported by the American people? 8. Do we have broad international support?...
[bth: If Joe Galloway is saying this, then we need to step back and take a hard look at the situation. His credentials as a war correspondent are impeccable. ]
And unemployment is on the rise, jumping from 9.4 percent in July to 9.7 percent in August. For several demographic groups, the unemployment rate is already in double digits, including men (10.1 percent), Hispanics (13 percent), African-Americans (15.1 percent) and teenagers (25.5 percent). In all, 14.9 million workers are now jobless, of which fully one-third have been out of work for more than six months, the highest level of long-term unemployment by far in any post World War II recession. There are now nearly six workers available for every job opening, up from 1.7 workers per opening when the recession began in December 2007."
Worse, hiring is not expected to rebound anytime soon, even if overall economic growth resumes this year. Employers are likely to fill any additional workloads by adding hours to truncated workweeks and ending worker furloughs. Wage gains, which are always repressed when jobs are scarce and unemployment is high, will be an even longer time coming as employers restore pay cuts put in place during the recession before giving raises.
Without job growth and pay raises, consumer spending will not revive substantially because alternative sources of spending power — home equity and credit cards — are largely tapped out. And without an upsurge in spending, businesses will not add workers, and so on, in a decidedly unvirtuous cycle.It has become commonplace to explain each dismal job report by saying that a resurgence in employment always lags general economic recovery. But with the job market severely wounded, and with consumer spending expected to be weak for a very long time, it could easily take until 2014 for employment to recover. It’s safe to say that five years or more of subpar job growth is not what most people have in mind when they think of a “lag.” ...
His opponents don’t have that problem. Death panels. Death books. Taxpayer dollars for abortion. Kill Grandma. Take away choice. Is some of this rhetoric blatantly silly? Yes. But, also brilliantly simple.
Conservatives speak in bumper stickers. Obama speaks in thesis statements. In fact, he sometimes seems constitutionally incapable of concision."...
But, it may be too late. According to a CNN poll released on Wednesday, nearly 3 in 4 Americans want to make major changes to current health care bills, to abandon those bills and start over or to scrap all attempts at reform.
Let’s hope the president doesn’t deliver yet another speech for the history books — soaring, but ultimately unsatisfying.Then again, it may not really matter what he says since he appears to be taking a tattered page from an old political playbook: when you’re losing, simply change the definition of winning. The public option has gone from imperative to, well, optional.
[bth: worth reading. ]
The senators will return to Washington next week, just as Obama receives a new military review of Afghanistan strategy that officials expect will be followed up by a request for at least a modest increase in U.S. troops battling insurgents in the eight-year-old war."...
As a result, lawmakers say they want the U.S. to more quickly train and equip the Afghan Army and police so that the embattled country can take over its own security needs.
"There are a lot of ways to speed up the numbers and capabilities of the Afghan army and police. They are strongly motivated," Levin said from Kuwait. "I think that we should pursue that course ... before we consider a further increase in combat forces beyond what's already been planned to be sent in the months ahead."
Levin said there is a growing consensus on the need to expedite the training and equipping of the Afghan army to improve security in Afghanistan, where 51 U.S. troops died in August, making it the bloodiest month for American forces there since the U.S.-led invasion in late 2001.
In a separate call, Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, said the U.S. must use a multi-pronged approach: build up the Afghan Army, send more civilians to Afghanistan to provide economic and political assistance, and reach out to Taliban supporters who are willing to recognize the Kabul government.
"If we're successful on rapidly building up the Afghan military ... that diminishes the need for additional combat troops," he said....[bth: I can't see a troop increase without the support of Levin or Jack Reed.]
Friday, September 04, 2009
Facebook, Twitter Revolutionizing How Parents Stalk Their College-Aged Kids | The Onion - America's Finest News Source
Facebook, Twitter Revolutionizing How Parents Stalk Their College-Aged Kids
[bth: the anti-war movement isn't anti-Obama. Apathy rules when its not your kid]
But the Taliban commander’s claim is contradicted by evidence from the U.S. Defense Department, Canadian forces in Afghanistan and the Taliban itself that the increased damage to NATO tanks by Taliban forces has come from anti-tank mines provided by the United States to the jihadi movement in Afghanistan in the 1980s."...
The rapid rise in casualties over the past two years is attributed in part to the increased lethality of the Taliban mines.
But according to the Pentagon agency responsible for combating roadside bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan, the increased Taliban threat to U.S. and NATO vehicles comes not from any new technology from Iran but from Italian-made mines left over from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s military assistance to the anti-Soviet jihadists in the 1980s.
In response to an inquiry from IPS, the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) said in an e-mail that Italian-manufactured TC-6 anti-tank mines are "very common" in the Taliban-dominated areas of the country and that they have been modified to increase their lethality in IED attacks.
The JIEDDO response said TC-6 mines are being "arrayed in two or three in tandem to ensure the charge is large enough to inflict damage against Coalition vehicles." The TC-6 mines "continue to pose a significant threat to Coalition Forces," JIEDDO said.
The combining of two or three anti-tank mines into a single, more destructive bomb would account for the increased lethality of the anti-tank mines being used by the Taliban.
The claim by the alleged Taliban commander of new, more effective weaponry supplied by Iran appears to have been deliberate misinformation for the Western press.
British writer Jason Elliot, who has traveled extensively in Afghanistan since 1979, reported in a 2001 book Min(d)ing Afghanistan that the Italian-made TC-6 was the most commonly used anti-tank mine used in Afghanistan. The 15-pound charge of TNT, wrote Elliot in the TC-6, he wrote, could "flip a tank the way a seagull flips a baby turtle."
Millions of mines remained buried in the ground from the Soviet occupation period, Elliot observed. However, only some 20,000 anti-tank mines have been destroyed since 1989, according to the United Nations.
Further evidence that the Taliban are relying heavily on the TC-6 to damage NATO tanks is a picture published by al-Jazeera on May 1, 2007 in a Taliban storeroom of explosives in Helmand province. The photograph, taken by a cameraman accompanying correspondent James Bays, showed two insurgent bomb-makers working on what was clearly identifiable as an Italian TC-6 anti-tank mine.
The insurgents told the photographer that the explosives in the room were in the process of being converted into "anti-tank bombs."
Canadian forces in Kandahar province have encountered some of the heaviest Taliban use of anti-tank mines in Afghanistan. According to casualty data on the website of the Canadian Forces, since the beginning of 2007, 57 of 81 deaths of Canadian troops in Afghanistan have come from roadside bombs and anti-tank mines.
Capt. Dean Menard, a spokesman for Canadian forces in Kandahar, told IPS in a telephone interview that some of the ordnance used by the Taliban against Canadian tanks "are definitely attributable to the Soviet occupation era" – a reference to mines supplied by the United States through Pakistan during the anti-Soviet war.
The insurgents have obtained anti-tank weapons from "legacy minefields" dating from the period of Soviet occupation, according to Menard. Canadian forces also have intelligence that the Taliban obtain such mines from a "vast black market," he said.
The Canadian spokesman confirmed that the Taliban are "making bigger mines" from the ordnance obtained from those sources.
In 2007 and 2008, Afghan military and police discovered two major caches of weapons in Herat province on the Iranian border that included anti-tank mines which some Afghan officials suggesting had originated in Iran.
But one picture of mines discovered in Herat, published by the Revolutionary Women’s Association of Afghanistan, clearly shows nine Italian TC-6 mines and one which resembles the top from a U.S. M-19 landmine, which was among those found in Afghanistan over the past two decades.
One mine cannot be clearly identified from the picture, but it does not resemble any known Iranian mine.
A picture of the 2007 cache in Herat published by AFP shows more Italian C-6 mines, along with a number of what appear to be U.S. M-19 anti-tank mines. The picture shows an Afghan policeman pointing to a mark on one of the latter, suggesting that it is of Iranian origin.
A copy of the U.S. M-19 mine has been manufactured by Iran, according to Jane’s Mines and Mine Clearance 2005-2006. However, long-buried Iranian-made M19s provided to the Jamiat-I Islami Mujahedin faction fighting more extremist Hezb-e Islami fighters in the 1992-96 period exploded accidentally in Kabul as recently as 2006.
Moreover, a 2009 study of arms deliveries to Afghanistan in the 1990s by the Moscow-based Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies shows that Iran’s large-scale arms aid to the Northern Alliance forces in 1999 included anti-tank mines.
The prominence of the Italian-made mines among weapons found in Herat indicate that the anti-tank mines discovered in Herat in 2007 and 2008 were not assistance from Iran to the Taliban but weapons provided either to the Mujahedin during the Soviet occupation or to the Northern Alliance troops fighting the Taliban in the late 1990s.
Former CIA officer Phil Giraldi, who monitors U.S. intelligence analysis on Iran, told IPS he doubts the ODNI statement on Iranian policy in Afghanistan accurately reflects the analysis.
"If you were to read the original analytical report," said Giraldi, "you would probably find that it’s caveated like mad."
(Inter Press Service)
[bth: it appears the US military is overstating the role of Iran for some reason and that the Taliban are primarily triple stacking Italian and US mines. While it is unlikely that Iran would be reluctant to sell mines into Afghanistan for a price, the fact is the Taliban need only send boys into legacy mine fields to collect old mines. Lives of childen are cheaper than hard cash for the Taliban to expend.]
'I do not think the public will accept for much longer that our losses can be justified by simply referring to the risk of greater terrorism on our streets,' the letter said. 'We also need to make it clear that our commitment in Afghanistan is high but time limited.'
Brown tried to address both concerns in the speech Friday, rejecting the notion of a time limit and noting that the Afghan mission was not just about protecting Britons, but about protecting the international community as well.
'We all face the same threat,' he said.
Support for Britain's engagement is slipping, with critics – including lawmakers on Britain's influential Foreign Affairs Committee – calling the mission too open-ended and its goals too vague.
The government has also been criticized for allegedly failing to provide enough support to soldiers in the field. In another uncomfortable moment for the government earlier this summer, outgoing British minister Mark Malloch-Brown said that forces in Afghanistan needed more helicopters – directly contradicting the prime minister, who insisted the military had all"
Are our policies worthy of these Americans' great sacrifices? That question must always be at the fore of our leaders' decisions. Threats to America come from more than Afghanistan. Consider Yemen and Somalia. Are we prepared to put U.S. ground troops there? I doubt we would seriously consider putting forces in Pakistan, yet its vast Federally Administered Tribal Areas and mountainous western border harbor our most dangerous enemies today. We must shift our thinking, now, to pursue wiser courses of action and sharper, more relevant policies.
The president and his national security team should listen to recordings of conversations that President Lyndon B. Johnson had with Sen. Richard Russell about Vietnam, especially those in which LBJ told Russell that we could not win in Vietnam but that he did not want to pull out and be the first American president to lose a war. Difficult decisions with historic consequences are coming soon for President Obama.
The writer is a former Republican senator from Nebraska.
Thursday, September 03, 2009
[bth: worth reading in full. I only clipped the last sentence because a lot of the rest is about framing the debate in the US by McChrystal. The key phrase is the last "winning is, in fact, no losing". They need only survive until we leave and then a day.]
Hekmat also receives drugs from other parts of Afghanistan: with the war being fought so hard in the south, smugglers from those regions were looking for new routes for their produce. However, even in this small border town in northern Afghanistan, he is feeling the pinch of the global economic crisis.
"Heroin was very good last year, but there is a crisis in the economy all over the world, so there is less demand coming from Russia and Europe."
He drew deeply on his joint and held the smoke. When he breathed out his eyes disappeared momentarily behind a haze of hashish.
"The fortunes are to be made in weapons," he said. "Prices are doing very well. If you bring in $20,000-worth over a month, you can make a profit of $5,000."
Kalashnikovs, I presumed.
"No, Kalashnikovs are very cheap. They cost only $400. Sometimes the Tajiks buy them from us and we get them from the Chinese. But it's the Kalakov everyone wants." Kalakov is the Afghan name for a new model of Kalashnikov that is lighter and uses smaller bullets.
"The Taliban like it because it pierces body armour." Hekmat tapped at his chest to demonstrate and showed me a small bullet. "They cost $700 in Dushanbe and we sell them for $1,100. There is an extra charge of $150 if you want the weapons delivered in the south."
If he was paid the extra, Hekmat would arrange for them to be taken to Baghlan province north of Kabul, to be handed over to the southern Taliban.
"The prices are so high now, a year ago the same Kalokov sold for $700 in Afghanistan."
So the war in the south is very good for you?
His eyes narrowed. "Yes, war is very good for business." So good, he said, that a Pashtun from the south had recently come all the way to Badakhshan on a $100,000 shopping spree. So good, that Ishkashim could support 30 smugglers like him.
What about the police, I asked.
"That's no problem. They take their cut. The border police chief is a smuggler himself, and no one can do smuggling without his knowledge. They have their prices and take a cut: $20 on each weapon, $100 for a kilo of heroin and $1,000 for each thousand kilos of hashish.
"If they catch you and you haven't paid them in advance you have to pay on the spot – but it will be a lot of money. If you are taken to prison and spend two days inside and everyone hears about it, it is very difficult to sort it out. Better to pay in advance."...
Steroids, drink and paranoia: the murky world of the private security contractor - Middle East, World - The Independent
'We are loathed out here. We are the single most hated entity in Iraq,' said Ethan Madison, a security contractor who has worked in Baghdad for five years. 'They are going to hang him if he is found guilty. The Iraqis are desperate to put their foot down and make an example, say this is our country and we make the rules.'
The big companies – including ArmorGroup – are fighting it out for a lucrative Foreign Office contract worth more than £20m and are determined to survive the fallow period in the expectation that within a few years the big oil companies will bring with them another cash cow.
But just months after the private military contractors lost immunity, the Iraqi police are flexing their muscles. For the first time, foreigners are coming under intense scrutiny, compounds are being searched, licences checked and practices – such as blocking roads or banning locals from driving too close – banned....
Development of the 'Nahshon' will be undertaken by the ingeniously named G-NIUS UGV joint venture involving Israel’s two main defense contractors. The initial work on Nahshon is to be completed by 2011. The contractors are performing the development activity under leadership of the Israeli army and defense ministry’s MAFAT weapons and technology development administration."
[bth: what I like about the Israeli approach is they are addressing technically feasible missions with UGVs and appear to be making them on essentially modified atv chassis instead of large custom vehicles which drives the cost up. I'd caution though against the typical hybe on performance that comes with Israeli systems. That is obvious from a quick look at the sensors on this vehicle.]
SAUSALITO, Calif., Aug. 28 /PRNewswire/ -- TrimTabs Investment Research reported that selling by corporate insiders in August has surged to $6.1 billion, the highest amount since May 2008. The ratio of insider selling to insider buying hit 30.6, the highest level since TrimTabs began tracking the data in 2004.
'The best-informed market participants are sending a clear signal that the party on Wall Street is going to end soon,' said Charles Biderman, CEO of TrimTabs.
TrimTabs' data on insider transactions is based on daily filings of Form 4, which corporate officers, directors, and major holders are required to file with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
In a research note, TrimTabs explained that insider activity is not the only sign the rally is about to end. The TrimTabs Demand Index, which tracks 18 fund flow and sentiment indicators, has turned very bearish for the first time since March....
[bth: going down]
And here's why: Ask any neuroeconomist, behavioral-finance quant, investment psychologist or other practitioner of the mysterious 'science of irrationality' and they'll tell you that Americans have two self-sabotaging mental biases that killed democracy from within: 'Denial' and 'Magical Thinking' make us easy targets. Our brains are being manipulated by clandestine forces beyond our control. We can't see them or resist."
Yet we refuse to believe in this new Orwellian America. We prefer the world of magic, myth and illusion.
Yes, folks, democracy is dead. Oh, the illusion will be kept alive in our history books, in the rhetoric of politicians, in the manipulated minds of America's 95 million Main Street investors. The propaganda machine works. Like a child's fairy tale, democracy has been deeply imbedded in our brains for decades; we prefer believing old, familiar stories. They comfort us, even when no longer true. The real democracy, what so many fought and died for since 1776, is dead.
Lobbyists now run America, own America, rule America. Forget the 537 politicians you thought we elected to the White House, Senate and Congress to run America for us. No, they're mere puppets, pawns for the "Happy Conspiracy," an oligopoly, plutocracy, cabal, monopoly all-in-one -- a private club of America's richest few on Wall Street, in Washington and in Corporate America.
Voters and elections are irrelevant. Lobbyists decide what's in the best interests of this elite club. The usual suspects? Try the Forbes 400....
As East-West ties improve under President Barack Obama, Russia wants to be involved in setting the political, military and intelligence strategy for the war against the Taliban, said Dmitry Rogozin, Russian ambassador to the alliance.
“We want to be inside,” Rogozin said, in English, in an interview in Brussels today. He spoke for the rest of the hour- long session through a Russian translator.
Allied military planners are groping for a new strategy as casualties climb. The commander in Afghanistan, U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal, this week called the situation there “serious.” In what Obama calls a “war of necessity,” some 153 allied troops were killed in July and August, according to www.icasualties.org."...
[bth: why and why now? What is the rest of the story here? This is significant]
The President is the Chief Executive, responsible for enforcing all the laws. That the laws were broken on the orders of a predecessor can be no excuse for not investigating their violation, and may be no excuse for not prosecuting if violations are found. The crime of torture, under 18 U.S.C. § 2340, is punishable by twenty years in prison or by execution of the torturer. Notably, the crime of torture can only be committed by a person acting under color of law. So Congress enacted a crime that can be committed only by the very same category of people that the Vice President is aggrieved even to see investigated.
This is not a question of policy. Even if there were no precedents at all, it would make no difference. Crimes are crimes, though they are committed by government agents or the Vice President's allies. Ask Scooter Libby.
Dick Cheney may be forgiven his sketchy use of history, as long as we don't accept his peculiar views of the past, or let them color our views of the future. Or of the law. After all, the former Vice President has many reasons not to want this particular investigation. Not the least reason, which he has yet to list, is that there may be more investigations to come.
“Everything gets so buttoned up, you get a vanilla press release that says nothing,” he said. “If you have an overemphasis on controlling the message, you can lose its impact.”
Mullen acknowledged as much in his essay.
“We shouldn’t care if people like us,” Mullen wrote. “That isn’t the goal. The goal is credibility. And we earn that over time.”
Livingstone echoed other media experts’ assessments that the tough talk is a positive first step for the department, but it only hints at the possibility of a more open Pentagon. Patrice McDermott, director of OpenTheGovernment.org, said she’d welcome any such change in attitude.
“I think it is a positive step if the Defense Department spends less time involved in the sorts of things that were done by the Bush Administration: planting stories, engaging in psy-ops via the media,” she said. “We need to trust that our government is telling the truth, to us and to others.”
[bth: telling the truth, being more open with information, is key as Mullen points out. Unfortunately that requires a change of action and process that hasn't happened. The Pentagon does not trust the American public hence it tries to 'manage the message'. In that process it loses credibility by failing to tell the truth. Trust comes from truth. Mullen calls it credibility but it is really trust. Get some.]
Wednesday, September 02, 2009
The attack struck at the heart of Afghanistan’s intelligence service and underscored the Taliban’s increasing ability to carry off complex and targeted attacks."...
Restrictions on movement lifted, says Pak N-scientist A Q Khan - Pakistan - World - NEWS - The Times of India
Tuesday restrictions on his movements had been lifted.
Asked if local newspaper reports that the government restrictions had been removed were correct, Khan told AFP: 'By the grace of Allah, yes.'"....
[bth: the only thing I find unusual about this article is that it is from Pakistan's Dawn.]
Tuesday, September 01, 2009
The report also details how few Americans make up this private army - more than 75% of the Pentagon contractors are local nationals and only 15% are U.S. citizens."...
By George F. Will
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
"Yesterday," reads the e-mail from Allen, a Marine in Afghanistan, "I gave blood because a Marine, while out on patrol, stepped on a [mine's] pressure plate and lost both legs." Then "another Marine with a bullet wound to the head was brought in. Both Marines died this morning."
"I'm sorry about the drama," writes Allen, an enthusiastic infantryman willing to die "so that each of you may grow old." He says: "I put everything in God's hands." And: "Semper Fi!"
Allen and others of America's finest are also in Washington's hands. This city should keep faith with them by rapidly reversing the trajectory of America's involvement in Afghanistan, where, says the Dutch commander of coalition forces in a southern province, walking through the region is "like walking through the Old Testament."
U.S. strategy -- protecting the population -- is increasingly troop-intensive while Americans are increasingly impatient about "deteriorating" (says Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) conditions. The war already is nearly 50 percent longer than the combined U.S. involvements in two world wars, and NATO assistance is reluctant and often risible.
The U.S. strategy is "clear, hold and build." Clear? Taliban forces can evaporate and then return, confident that U.S. forces will forever be too few to hold gains. Hence nation-building would be impossible even if we knew how, and even if Afghanistan were not the second-worst place to try: The Brookings Institution ranks Somalia as the only nation with a weaker state.
Military historian Max Hastings says Kabul controls only about a third of the country -- "control" is an elastic concept -- and " 'our' Afghans may prove no more viable than were 'our' Vietnamese, the Saigon regime." Just 4,000 Marines are contesting control of Helmand province, which is the size of West Virginia. The New York Times reports a Helmand official saying he has only "police officers who steal and a small group of Afghan soldiers who say they are here for 'vacation.' " Afghanistan's $23 billion gross domestic product is the size of Boise's. Counterinsurgency doctrine teaches, not very helpfully, that development depends on security, and that security depends on development. Three-quarters of Afghanistan's poppy production for opium comes from Helmand. In what should be called Operation Sisyphus, U.S. officials are urging farmers to grow other crops. Endive, perhaps?
Even though violence exploded across Iraq after, and partly because of, three elections, Afghanistan's recent elections were called "crucial." To what? They came, they went, they altered no fundamentals, all of which militate against American "success," whatever that might mean. Creation of an effective central government? Afghanistan has never had one. U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry hopes for a "renewal of trust" of the Afghan people in the government, but the Economist describes President Hamid Karzai's government -- his vice presidential running mate is a drug trafficker -- as so "inept, corrupt and predatory" that people sometimes yearn for restoration of the warlords, "who were less venal and less brutal than Mr. Karzai's lot."
Mullen speaks of combating Afghanistan's "culture of poverty." But that took decades in just a few square miles of the South Bronx. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, thinks jobs programs and local government services might entice many "accidental guerrillas" to leave the Taliban. But before launching New Deal 2.0 in Afghanistan, the Obama administration should ask itself: If U.S. forces are there to prevent reestablishment of al-Qaeda bases -- evidently there are none now -- must there be nation-building invasions of Somalia, Yemen and other sovereignty vacuums?
U.S. forces are being increased by 21,000, to 68,000, bringing the coalition total to 110,000. About 9,000 are from Britain, where support for the war is waning. Counterinsurgency theory concerning the time and the ratio of forces required to protect the population indicates that, nationwide, Afghanistan would need hundreds of thousands of coalition troops, perhaps for a decade or more. That is inconceivable.
So, instead, forces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively revised policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small, potent Special Forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters.
Genius, said de Gaulle, recalling Bismarck's decision to halt German forces short of Paris in 1870, sometimes consists of knowing when to stop. Genius is not required to recognize that in Afghanistan, when means now, before more American valor, such as Allen's, is squandered.
SLAMABAD: The Chaman border crossing with Afghanistan reopened after an administrative dispute culminated in an attack on a line of waiting Nato fuel tankers.
One driver was killed and 16 trucks destroyed when the fuel caught fire.
Taliban militants were suspected in the blast.
The blast ripped through a line of Nato fuel trucks backed up by a two-day closure resulting from a dispute over fruit inspections. At least one driver was killed and 16 trucks destroyed on the Pakistani side of the Chaman crossing, police official Gul Mohammad said.
The border crossing reopened Monday, he said.
Chaman is one of two main crossing points for supplies for American and Nato troops fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. The foreign troops get about 75 per cent of their supplies through Pakistan.....
[bth: the tanker wars. If the Taliban continues to focus on these tankers, we will not be able to deploy more troops. It is that simple.]
....According to real estate data firm Zillow, 23 percent of all single-family homes are saddled with mortgages worth more than the present value. Moody’s Economy.com offers a similar number; according to that company’s research, 24 percent of all homes have underwater mortgages, up from 15 percent a year ago. Additionally, another 8 percent of homeowners, while not technically underwater, have mortgage amounts that cancel out their equity.
This adds up to some 16 million homes, according to Celia Chen, senior director at Moody’s Economy.com. “Home prices have increased in the last month or two but I think it’s too early to call an end to the downturn,” she said.
That not-terribly-optimistic assessment might turn out to be an understatement. Investment bank Deutsche Bank released a report earlier this month saying that 48 percent — nearly half — of all home mortgages in the country will be upside-down by early 2011. According to Deutsche Bank managing director and global head of securitization research Karen Weaver, the historical rate of mortgage defaults has been about 7 percent. “However, that experience is of limited relevance because it’s from a period of much more moderate home price declines and stricter lending standards,” she cautioned in an emailed response to questions. In today’s economy, it’s more realistic to expect up to 20 percent of borrowers to default.
“This is a slow-motion second shoe to drop on the economy,” said Christopher B. Leinberger, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution. ” My concern is that it could be the catalyst for a W, or double-dip, recession. Sure, there are some green shoots but there are also these economic depressants that have to be dealt with.”
New research out of Northwestern University shows that even some homeowners who can afford to make their mortgage payments choose instead to default when their homes plummet in value relative to their mortgages. The study, which surveyed homeowners across the country last December and again in March, found that 26 percent of all defaults are what researchers termed “strategic.” Essentially, this means the homeowner actually has the money to pay his or her mortgage and deliberately decides not to. In parts of the country where home prices have lost a significant percentage of their value, these borrowers decide it’s worth the hit on their credit score to walk away from homes that might never again be worth what they paid for them.
According to Northwestern professor Paola Sapienza, one of the authors of the study, even homeowners who said in a survey that they have a moral objection to walking away from a debt change their mind if the ratio of their negative equity balloons. According to her research, when homeowners’ negative equity hits 50 percent — a not uncommon number in certain communities — 17 percent of homeowners will default, even if they can afford their mortgage payments. Since lenders very rarely sue homeowners for defaulting, the consequences for defaulting are generally limited to a battered credit score for a period of years. The danger is that, since each foreclosure drags down the values of surrounding homes, the number of borrowers handing the keys over to their lender could snowball as homeowners watch their neighbors default.
Worse, negative equity creates a ripple effect that extends beyond the affected homeowners. Even among those not trying to sell their homes or in imminent danger of foreclosure, the lack of a financial cushion in the form of home equity puts a damper on consumer spending. “A lot of people were feeling good about their wealth position,” says Economy.com’s Chen. Now that there is no equity, it’s having a negative impact on consumer spending.” Lower consumer spending leads to decreased retail sales, manufacturing slowdowns and, ultimately, job losses or reduced income. This, in turn, can prompt a new round of mortgage defaults, starting the cycle all over again....
[bth: I personally see nothing to indicate an improvement in the economic condition of the middle class.]
These fears, which the officials have discussed on the condition of anonymity over the past few weeks, are rising fast after U.S. casualties hit record levels in July and August.
The aides also expressed concern that Afghan election returns, still being tallied, will result in a narrow reelection for President Hamid Karzai that could result in qualms about his legitimacy — “Tehran II,” as one official put it, in reference to the disputed Iranian election.
The result: some think Afghanistan - not health care - will be the issue that defines the early years of the Obama administration.
“There’s no question that the drumbeat is going to get louder and louder on the left, and you’ll see some fall-off on the right,” said Matt Bennett of the think tank Third Way, the moderate voice of the progressive movement. “His supporters on the Hill are fighting a really serious political battle to keep the criticism under control.”"...
To try to salve critics, the administration has been developing a series of numerical indicators, scheduled to be sent to Capitol Hill by Sept. 24, that are designed to sharpen U.S. goals by measuring everything from civilian deployments to the proportion of the Afghan population that is secured.
Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell told POLITICO: “We have to show the American people that all this effort, all these resources, all these lives are making a difference.”...
“It doesn’t need to be victory in 12 months to 18 months -- that’s not realistic,” a top administration official said. “But the American people needed to have a sense that we are moving in the right direction. We need to bring about noticeable change on the ground. We have to start to show progress.”
Bennett, of Third Way, said Americans need to recognize that the situation Obama inherited in Afghanistan “is as bad as the economy was -- heading off the rails in just as dramatic a way.”
“In both cases, the president took a bunch of action very quickly to get back on track, and it will take time to show benefits,” Bennett said....
[bth: what you see emerging from the Pentagon and the White House is a sense of expectation management and a need to create metrics that will show 'progress' from Obama's policies in particular. The vetting of reporters for political views, the virtual news black-out from the front, the clamp down on blogs and even Facebook posting by soldiers and marines in theater. All this is about managing the news to show progress from Obama and McChrystal's policies. It has little to do with what is actually happening.]
With equipment accounts paying for more soldiers, defense contractors are wondering just how long it will take for the new ground vehicle to emerge.
Early on, Gen. George Casey, Army chief of staff, estimated it would take five to seven years to produce the replacement vehicles. Now, insiders are adding at least another two years."....
[bth: it will be pointless to build vehicles that do not account for IEDs which the FCS did not. It is strongly questionable whether we need a new fleet of vehicles at all - we need new vehicles but do we need such expensive and automated ones? Do we need to win an imaginary war or the ones we are in today?]
But there is wariness within the White House to another large-scale increase at a time when public support for the eight-year-old war against a resurgent Taliban is eroding, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Military commanders and administration and congressional leaders have held preliminary discussions about future troop options, including sending a second 5,000-member Marine Regimental Combat Team to southern Afghanistan, a Taliban stronghold, participants said. This would boost the number of Marines in the country to 15,000-18,000 from just over 10,000.
The debate is expected to intensify after Monday's long-awaited assessment of the war by U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan."...
Everyone I've spoken to in the Senate believes, strongly, that this process is about to break down, and the Democrats are going to move forward on a more partisan basis. Presumably, the Republicans in the Gang of Six process have heard the same and have no interest in looking like fools when that happens. And so they're beginning to use their positions in the negotiations not to further the cause of a final bill, but to enhance their stature as spokesmen for the opposition. Grassley, as noted earlier, is sending out fundraising e-mails attacking "Obama-care." Enzi is lacerating Democratic ideas under the banner of his party. As far as I can tell, the Gang of Six process is already dead. What's happening now is that the participants seem to be raiding its corpse.
[bth: so bi-partisan compromise on health care is dead. Move on. Fight for something Obama.]
Monday, August 31, 2009
However, it left Lopez in a coma, unable for a time to breathe on his own and paralyzed for weeks. Now he can walk, but with a limp. He has to wear a urine bag constantly, has short-term memory loss and must swallow 15 pills daily to control leg spasms and other ailments.
And even though his medical problems wouldn't have occurred if he hadn't been deployed, Lopez doesn't qualify for a special government benefit of as much as $100,000 for troops who suffer traumatic injuries.
The hangup? His injuries were caused by the vaccine.
'I could have easily died, or not been able to walk because of that,' Lopez said. 'It destroyed my world. It was pretty traumatic to me.'
Officials at the Department of Veterans Affairs, which oversees the benefit program, said they're following what the agency has determined to be Congress' intent.
'It's for traumatic injury, not disease; not illness; not preventive medicine,' said Stephen Wurtz, deputy assistant director for insurance at the VA. 'It has nothing to do with not believing these people deserve some compensation for their losses.'"...
[bth: I really don't believe this was congresses intent. What do you bet that this ridiculous decision is reversed after further embarrassing disclosures especially that the Pentagon is tightening down on injury compensation of all kinds.]
“The Bagram Regional Contracting Center intends to execute a termination of the media analyst contract … for the convenience of the US government,” military spokeswoman Lieutenant Commander Christine Sidenstricker told Reuters."...
[bth: got to wonder if Pentagon public affairs is run by total morons]
LAHORE: The White House has assembled a list of about 50 measurements to gauge progress in Afghanistan and Pakistan as it tries to calm rising public and congressional anxiety about its war strategy, the Washington Post reported on Sunday.
The Obama administration officials are conducting what one called a “test run” of the metrics, comparing current numbers in a range of categories — including newly-trained Afghan army recruits, Pakistani counter-insurgency missions and on-time delivery of promised US resources — with baselines set earlier in the year. The results will be used to fine-tune the list before it is presented to the US Congress by September 24. .
Lawmakers set that deadline in the spring as a condition for approving additional war funding, holding President Obama to his promise of “clear benchmarks” and no “blank checks”, the Post said.
Since then, skepticism about the war in Afghanistan has intensified along with the rising US and NATO casualties, now at the highest level of the eight-year-old conflict. An upcoming assessment by Gen Stanley McChrystal, the new military commander in Afghanistan, is expected to lay the groundwork for requests for additional US troop deployments in 2010.
The administration’s concern about waning public support and the war’s direction has been compounded by strains in the US relationship with the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Facing their own public opinion problems, both appear increasingly resentful of US demands for improved performance in the face of what they see as insufficient US support, the newspaper reported....
[bth: since all reporters are being vetted by Rendon Group in an attempt by the Pentagon to control the news from Afghanistan and since the current situation is being painted in a very dark colors in order to get troop levels up (and show 'progress' next year) one wonders if the American public will believe the metrics being established or have we reached a point where the public feels that they can no longer trust the information being provided by the Pentagon. That would indeed be a dark day. Has that day come? Its appears to have arrived in the UK]
The good news is Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik seems to have dropped the charade that newly appointed Taliban chief Hakeemullah Mehsud is dead. The bad news is we're going to be bombarded with more of the "Taliban is collapsing" rhetoric. From The Nation (the Pakistani newspaper):
Interior Minister Rehman Malik has said Pakistan and Afghanistan can get rid of the terrorism very soon if they adopt a joint strategy, adding the recent military operation in Swat is a success and as a result the Taliban are in a disarray.
“Taliban have been disintegrated in Pakistan and the 2nd tier leadership of Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups are fleeing Pakistan,” he said during an interview with a British TV channel on Saturday.
Al Qaeda is leaving Pakistan and heading to Yemen and Somalia, Malik continued.
If that sounds familiar, it is because The New York Times reported something like this on June 12. But if you read the NYT report and discount the opportunist political spin from US officials, it is pretty clear that the "dozens of fighters with al Qaeda, and a small handful of the terrorist group’s leaders" are being assigned to Yemen and Somalia to help coordinate and support activities between al Qaeda Central in Pakistan with the the two regional affiliates. Al Qaeda's assignment of personnel to Yemen and Somalia tells us far more about the deteriorating situation in those countries than it does about the situation in Pakistan.
[bth: Bill Roggio does an amazing job of reporting and dissecting news from Pakistan. I think he is right on the mark]
Sunday, August 30, 2009
But Zubair Siddiqui, introducing himself as Hezb-i-Islami Afghanistan (HIA) mouthpiece in the province, told Pajhwok Afghan News they had burnt 15 trucks in Dab Barora area of Asmar district."...
Yesterday, Gen Sir David Richards took over as Chief of the General Staff and vowed to get better equipment for troops and improved care for those injured fighting for Britain."
A Daily Telegraph/YouGov poll showed 62 per cent of people opposed British troops staying in Afghanistan, while 26 per cent were in favour.
Previous polls had shown that most people backed the conflict in Afghanistan, unlike the war in Iraq. They accepted the argument espoused by ministers and the opposition that it was part of the fight against terrorism that could be exported to British streets.
But increasingly voters appear unwilling to accept that claim....
[bth: UK's poor treatment of its wounded, its poor equipment, its poor bureaucracy will cause it to leave Afghanistan. The thought of losing a war to bureaucrats appalls me.]