Saturday, November 21, 2009

Bullets used by British soldiers 'too small to defeat Taliban' - Telegraph

Bullets used by British soldiers 'too small to defeat Taliban' - Telegraph: "A survey of more than 50 servicemen who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan concluded that the 5.56mm calibre rounds used by British soldiers 'tailed off' after 300 metres yet half of all Helmand firefights are fought between 300 and 900 metres.

It came as the wife of a British soldier who died in hospital weeks after being injured in a blast in Afghanistan paid tribute to her 'best friend and wonderful husband'."

The study, co-written by Nicholas Drummond, a strategy consultant and ex-Welsh Guards officer, described British soldiers' rifles as "not much more useful than a peashooter".

Taliban marksmen use powerful 7.62mm ammo for their AK47 machine guns, according to a report of the study in The Sun.

Mr Drummond told the newspaper that a British soldier couldn't attack the Taliban "with any certainty that if he hits the enemy he will kill or incapacitate him."

The study claims the ammunition is easily stopped by car doors. It added that Javelin anti-tank missiles, costing £100,000 each, are often fired at lone gunmen. Only one in four British, US and German troops has been issued with guns using 7.62mm ammunition.

The report calls for guns that take larger ammunition to replace all standard-issue SA80 rifles, which many believe were exposed as inadequate in Iraq in 2003.

The Ministry of Defence told the newspaper the 5.56mm calibre rounds used by United States and other Nato allies are "proven to be both accurate and powerful."

[bth: note the distance of 300-900 meters for half the engagements in Afghanistan. Also one can assume that the vertical nature of the terrain and ambushes from mountains overlooking roads and bases would give the Taliban an added advantage and further shorten the effective range of our rifle ammunition against them.]

Navy’s ‘Affordable’ Shoreline Ship: $477 Million Overbudget | Danger Room |

Navy’s ‘Affordable’ Shoreline Ship: $477 Million Overbudget | Danger Room | "It only took an extra half billion dollars, but the Navy is now inching closer to having a fleet of stealthy, shore-hugging surface ships.

The future USS Independence, the Navy’s second Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), this week completed “acceptance trials,” a sort of test drive for the Navy’s Board of Inspection and Survey. During the two-day trials, the ship completed demonstrations of the combat systems suite, steering, anchoring, and propulsion."...

Construction of the Independence began in November 2005. The ship, like the Freedom from LCS competitor Lockheed Martin, was originally programmed to take two years to build at a cost of $223 million. But a series of miscalculations by the Navy and its contractors, design adjustments and other technical issues doubled the construction time, and the cost for the first-of-class ship has gone over the $700 million mark.

In a hearing earlier this year, Rep. Gene Taylor of Mississippi slammed the Navy’s management of the program, in which design and construction of the first four hulls was split between two shipyards. “I will not go into detail here and the list of mistakes made in this program because we would be here for most of the day if I did,” he said. “But this year is a ’take it or leave it ‘year for the LCS.”...

[bth: when Rep. Taylor speaks people need to pay attention. This LCS program looks like a good idea gone bad. The Navy needs a reality check on its budget.]

EXCLUSIVE: Taliban chief hides in Pakistan - Washington Times

EXCLUSIVE: Taliban chief hides in Pakistan - Washington Times: "Mullah Mohammed Omar, the one-eyed leader of the Afghan Taliban, has fled a Pakistani city on the border with Afghanistan and found refuge from potential U.S. attacks in the teeming Pakistani port city of Karachi with the assistance of Pakistan's intelligence service, three current and former U.S. intelligence officials said.

Mullah Omar, who hosted Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders when they plotted the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, had been residing in Quetta, where the Afghan Taliban shura -- or council -- had moved from Kandahar after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001."...

[bth: one wonders why if the information is so certain, we aren't acting on it.]

Taliban kill Bajaur opposition leader, target Peshawar leader - The Long War Journal

Taliban kill Bajaur opposition leader, target Peshawar leader - The Long War Journal: "he Taliban continue their campaign to remove tribal opposition leaders in the Northwest. A leader who agreed to fight the Taliban in Bajaur was killed, while another anti-Taliban leader escaped an assassination attempt in Peshawar.

In Bajaur, the Taliban killed Malik Shir Zaman, a tribal leader who signed an agreement with the government. Zaman had agreed to raise a lashkar, or tribal militia, to oppose the Taliban. The Taliban stormed Zaman's home and destroyed part of it. Zaman was killed in a gunfight.

Zaman was from the Mamond tribal area, a region that serves as a stronghold for the Taliban and Faqir Mohammed, the chief of the Bajaur Taliban. Although the military has conducted several operations there, it has failed to eject the Taliban."

Al Qaeda is also known to shelter in Momand. In January 2006, the US targeted a meeting of senior al Qaeda leaders in the town of Damadola in Momand. Ayman al Zawahiri, Abu Khabab al Masri, and several other senior al Qaeda leaders were thought to be meeting there.

The Taliban have successfully targeted tribal opposition in Mamond in the recent past. On Oct. 3, the Taliban assassinated Malik Abdul Majeed as he traveled to to meet with government officials to discuss efforts to beat back the Taliban in the Mamond areas.

Guards repel assassination attempt of tribal leader in Peshawar

In Peshawar, Taliban fighters disguised as women in burkas attacked the home of Mohammad Fahim Khan, the mayor of Bazid Khel in Peshawar. Khan opposes the Taliban and raised a tribal militia to keep the Islmaist fighters out of his town.

Khan's bodyguards detected the attack and repelled it. Three Taliban fighters were killed in the battle; the rest eventually retreated....

[bth: worth reading in full. One wonders why we are not more active in assassination of Taliban leaders as they seem to have no problem organizing and executing the same on local rivals. Isn't this about utility of force?]

Somalia: Planes flying low level seen in Kismayo

Somalia: Planes flying low level seen in Kismayo: "MOGADISHU (Mareeg)—Planes flying with low level have been seen in the port town of Kismayo 500 km south of the Somali capital Mogadishu overnight, witnesses said on Friday."

Residents say they could hear load sound coming from the planes which were repeatedly flying over the city. It is not known the motive behind the planes and which country they belonged to.

Residents expressed concern about the planes which were flying over the city. Al Shabaab militants control the town after they wrestled the control of the town with its rival Hizbul Islam group.

So far, there is no word from al Shabaab militants in the town. The militants claimed before now they shot down an American drown near Kismayo.

[bth: I believe we need to think more in terms of utility of force - are we planning to over strengthen Afghanistan with limited returns while allowing other al Qaeda sanctuaries to flourish? Do we need a more balanced global war on terror?]

Tehran's orbit widens - Threat Matrix

Tehran's orbit widens - Threat Matrix: ..."A few days ago in Oman—a historically strong US ally—Omani foreign minister Youssef bin Alawi Abdullah announced closer cooperation with Iran that will remain unfettered by foreign influence. Last August both nations signed seven Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) covering issues from smuggling and illicit trade to closer economic ties. One agreement of note was an accord on oil cooperation between the Persian Hirbodan Company and the Omani Oil Company. Both nations founded the Hurmuz Petrochemical Company as a joint venture to continue cooperation on construction and energy projects."

Closer economic ties between the Omanis and Iranians have the potential to consolidate Tehran’s grip on the Strait of Hormuz—a 21-mile-wide choke point through which 17 million barrels of oil per day travel from the Persian Gulf countries to destinations in Japan, Europe, and the United States.

Tehran is also suspected of meddling in war-torn Yemen, where Saudi Arabia recently launched a military offensive against the Houthi rebels in the northern territory of Saada. In a statement by Iran’s chief of staff yesterday, General Hassan Firouzabad asserted that the Saudi offensive signals a trend of a ”state of terrorism” that will lead to further violence in the region. Both the Yemeni and Saudi governments claim that the Iranians are funding the Houthi rebels because they also adhere to Shiite Islam.

GMU’s Mark Katz argues that this accusation is off base, aimed at securing funds and support from Western nations worried about Iranian hegemony. “The Houthis are indeed Shi’ites, but belong to the Zaidi sect and not the Twelver sect predominant in Iran (indeed, the two sects have historically been rivals),” Katz writes.

In fact, until the recent outbreak of violence, the Yemeni government enjoyed fairly good relations with Tehran. So while the verdict on Iranian meddling in Yemen is out for now, this much is sure: Tehran considers Yemen within the Iranian sphere of influence and wants to ensure that the Western powers (and the Saudis) do not interfere.

How will the United States and its Arab allies respond to Tehran’s covert drive for dominance in the Persian Gulf? So far, no one seems to have any answers.

Afghan governor turned 3,000 men over to Taliban - Telegraph

Afghan governor turned 3,000 men over to Taliban - Telegraph: "He was accused of being linked to the opium trade and lost his position in 2005 to pave the way for UK soldiers to be deployed to the region.

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph at his Kabul home, Mr Akhundzada said that after losing office he encouraged up to 3,000 followers to take up Taliban offers of money."Sher Mohammed Akhunzada: Afghan governor turned 3,000 men over to Taliban

The move coincided with a huge upsurge in the number of British deaths in Afghanistan, Before British forces moved into Helmand province in 2006, they had suffered 5 deaths, since then the death toll has risen to 235, including 98 dead this year.

"When I was no longer governor the government stopped paying for the people who supported me," he said. "I sent 3,000 of them off to the Taliban because I could not afford to support them but the Taliban was making payments.

"Lots of people, including my family members, went back to the Taliban because they had lost respect for the government. The British bore the brunt of this because the Taliban became the defenders of Helmand, where the local tradition doesn't allow foreigners to go into people's homes."

Mr Akhundzada, a former mujahideen fighter against the Russians, was governor of Helmand from 2001 to 2005 until he was dismissed.

He was a member of a prominent southern Afghan clan and was tainted by association with the drug industry. Nine tons of opium were found in his cellars in 2005.

After being removed, Mr Akhundzada claims he had no choice but to stop cash handouts to his substantial support base and said they would be better off with the Taliban.

Brigadier Ed Butler, who commanded the Helmand Task Force in 2006, confirmed hundreds of Mr Akhundzada's followers had been involved in clashes with British troops.

"There was a force of fighters who had lost one powerful leader, Sher Mohammad Akhundzada, and had decided to support the next most powerful warlord – in this case, the Taliban and not the Nato force commander," he said.

"These fighters would have been well equipped, well armed and turned out to be hard fighters. Our forces no doubt engaged in the ensuring battles with some of them over the long hot summer of 2006."

Popular support for Mr Akhundzada in Helmand has grown in his absence, according to another foreign diplomat, because people look back to the relatively stability.

President Karzai is known to share the view that Mr Akhundzada's removal was a disaster and has publicly praised the senator for holding the Taliban at bay.

"We removed Akhundzada on the allegation of drug-running, and delivered the province to drug runners, the Taliban, to terrorists, to a threefold increase of drugs and poppy cultivation," Mr Karzai declared three years ago.

Mr Karzai is now rumoured to be considering restoring Mr Akhundzada, who is now an Afghan senator, to his old job in a forthcoming reshuffle. Experts believe he is one of a number of former warlords promised a post in return for supporting him in the August election.

Mr Akhundzada attempted to reassure Nato commanders by claiming they had at last settled on the right formula to blunt the Taliban threat in the province.

"People will be very happy for the British Army to stay in Helmand if it is making payments to support their lives and the development of its economy," he said.

"The Taliban is only liked because the British are interfering without providing anything in return but the common people can be happy with the British Army if its role changes."

Nato plans to fund job creation schemes for Taliban members ready to defect in an effort to drain support from the militant factions through a reintegration scheme from early next year.

[bth: so let's see, it is alleged to be a drug lord because they found 9 tons of opium in his basement. A victim of circumstance. He is now a senator and alleged to have cut a deal with Karzai for votes - why isn't he in jail or dead with a bomb on his head? No the Brits will initiate their announced, 'bags of gold' strategy.... One wonders why in hell we have to gain by being there. There drug dealers are the government and the Taliban are at best shakedown artists. One could conclude we have no friends in Afghanistan that aren't rented. And our jobs programs come down to building bigger bases without hiring locals to help or improving the lives of locals at all. What is the point?]


150 Afghani imams among thousands nabbed in Mardan -

150 Afghani imams among thousands nabbed in Mardan - "MARDAN: Police has apprehended more than 4,000 illegal Afghan migrants and 150 Afghani imams during a search operation.

“Apprehended Afghanis including imams have been sent to jail for cases lodged against them under Foreign Act section 14”, Deputy inspector general Mardan Police, Syed Akhtar Ali Shah told the media in a briefing held here at central Police office on Friday.

He said that high scale search operations are underway in Mardan and Swabi.

Fifteen special squads of police commanders have been formed, whereas a grand operation has been launched against proclaimed wanted criminals, during which 150 wanted criminals have been arrested."

[bth: a further indication that the Pakistani government is throwing the Taliban problem back over the border to Afghanistan.]

Iran sends warships to Yemeni waters -

Iran sends warships to Yemeni waters - "SANAA, Yemen, Nov. 18 (UPI) -- Iran has sent warships to the Gulf of Aden, ostensibly to combat Somali pirates preying on major shipping lanes.

But the deployment, announced Saturday in Tehran, could bring closer the prospect of a confrontation with Saudi Arabia, its regional rival, amid rising tension in the Gulf and Red Sea regions, both vital oil arteries.

The Iranian move coincides with a Saudi naval blockade in the Red Sea to intercept arms shipments allegedly sent by Iran and Eritrea to Shiite rebels fighting Saudi forces in northern Yemen."...

[bth: an article worth reading in full. The prospect is emerging of a Saudi-Iranian naval conflict off Yemen.]

U.S. Fears Iraqis Will Not Keep Up Rebuilt Projects -

U.S. Fears Iraqis Will Not Keep Up Rebuilt Projects - "BAGHDAD — In its largest reconstruction effort since the Marshall Plan, the United States government has spent $53 billion for relief and reconstruction in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, building tens of thousands of hospitals, water treatment plants, electricity substations, schools and bridges."

But there are growing concerns among American officials that Iraq will not be able to adequately maintain the facilities once the Americans have left, potentially wasting hundreds of millions of dollars and jeopardizing Iraq’s ability to provide basic services to its people.

The projects run the gamut — from a cutting-edge, $270 million water treatment plant in Nasiriya that works at a fraction of its intended capacity because it is too sophisticated for Iraqi workers to operate, to a farmers’ market that farmers cannot decide how to share, to a large American hospital closed immediately after it was handed over to Iraq because the government was unable to supply it with equipment, a medical staff or electricity.

The concern about the sustainability of the projects comes as Iraq is preparing for pivotal national elections in January and as rebuilding has emerged as a political imperative in Iraq, eclipsing security in some parts of the country as the main anxiety of an electorate frustrated with the lack of social, economic and political progress. American forces are scheduled to begin withdrawing in large numbers next year.

In hundreds of cases during the past two years, the Iraqi government has refused or delayed the transfer of American-built projects because it cannot staff or maintain them, Iraqi and American government officials say....

[bth: would this money have been better spent by us in New Orleans?]

Hasan had intensified contact with radical Yemeni American cleric -

Hasan had intensified contact with radical Yemeni American cleric - "In the months before the deadly shootings at Fort Hood, Army Maj. Nidal M. Hasan intensified his communications with a radical Yemeni American cleric and began to discuss surreptitious financial transfers and other steps that could translate his thoughts into action, according to two sources briefed on a collection of secret e-mails between the two."

The e-mails were obtained by an FBI-led task force in San Diego between late last year and June but were not forwarded to the military, according to government and congressional sources. Some were sent to the FBI's Washington field office, triggering an assessment into whether they raised national security concerns, but those intercepted later were not, the sources said.

Hasan's contacts with extremist imam Anwar al-Aulaqi began as religious queries but took on a more specific and concrete tone before he moved to Texas, where he allegedly unleashed the Nov. 5 attack that killed 13 people and wounded nearly three dozen, said the sources who were briefed on the e-mails, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the case is sensitive and unfolding. One of those sources said the two discussed in "cryptic and coded exchanges" the transfer of money overseas in ways that would not attract law enforcement attention.

"He [Hasan] clearly became more radicalized toward the end, and was having discussions related to the transfer of money and finances . . .," said the source, who spoke at length in part because he was concerned the public accounting of the events has been incomplete. "It became very clear toward the end of those e-mails he was interested in taking action."

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) said Friday that he would investigate the handling of the e-mails -- 18 or 19 in all -- and why military officials were not aware of them before the deadly attack. Levin told reporters after a briefing from Pentagon staff members that "there are some who are reluctant to call it terrorism, but there is significant evidence that it is."...

The sources said the e-mail correspondence is particularly troubling because Aulaqi, who has been on the law enforcement radar for years, is considered by U.S. officials to be an al-Qaeda supporter who has inspired terrorism suspects in Britain, Canada and the United States. Lawmakers and counterterrorism experts have questioned why no one in the government interceded earlier given Aulaqi's history and Hasan's military position....

[bth: so what on earth as the FBI doing with these intercepts? Didn't they in fact warrant action? And why by the way is it the FBI which should be focusing on domestic surveillance and not the NSA or CIA? What's not being said here?]

Massachusetts retailers expect poor sales this year - The Boston Globe

Massachusetts retailers expect poor sales this year - The Boston Globe:... "New Englanders are projected to spend on average about $445 on gifts this season, down 17 percent from last year. The national picture is only slightly better: Shoppers are expected to spend $452 on gifts, a 15 percent drop compared with last year, according to a Deloitte LLP survey of nearly 11,000 consumers across the country."...

Thursday, November 19, 2009

U.S. has time to reconsider Iraq drawdown plan: Odierno - Yahoo! News

U.S. has time to reconsider Iraq drawdown plan: Odierno - Yahoo! News: "BAGHDAD (Reuters) – The U.S. military does not have to decide until April or May whether to push back the end of its combat operations in Iraq due to a possible delay in the country's next election, the U.S. commander said Wednesday.

President Barack Obama has pledged to end U.S. combat operations in Iraq by August 31, 2010, ahead of a full pullout by the end of 2011. The U.S. force in Iraq is supposed to be reduced to 50,000 by next September from around 115,000 now."

A veto by Iraq's vice president of a law needed for the election to take place in January raised the possibility once again that the ballot would have to be delayed.

That could affect the August 31 drawdown date, U.S. officials have said.

"I feel very confident that we don't have to make any decision until late spring," General Ray Odierno told reporters.

"That would then be based on, if we believe there is some sort of instability that would be created that would swiftly change the path that Iraq is on, and if that happened then we'd have to go back and get further guidance from Washington."

"But I don't see that happening right now," he added.

Under a bilateral security pact signed last year, all U.S. troops must withdraw from Iraq by the end of 2011.

The date for the end of combat operations is not included in the agreement but was set by Obama as part of a pledge to U.S. voters to end the war in Iraq....

[bth: Odierno just fucking doesn't get it.]

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Specialist Benjamin Sherman

Plymouth honors a fallen soldier - Local News Updates - The Boston Globe

Plymouth honors a fallen soldier - Local News Updates - The Boston Globe: "PLYMOUTH – Army Sergeant Benjamin Sherman made his final journey home this morning.

The procession bringing the 21-year-old soldier's casket from Hanscom Air Force Base was welcomed by onlookers paying their respects as it traveled along the picturesque beachfront and into the quiet residential Manomet neighborhood to a funeral home.

Flags flying at half-staff waved in the sea breeze and the route was decorated with yellow ribbons. Restaurant sandwich boards bore messages honoring the soldier, including one that said, "Thank you, Ben," and was decorated with bunting and yellow ribbons.

Sherman was a paratrooper with the Fourth Brigade Combat Team of the 82d Airborne Division. He disappeared with a fellow soldier on Nov. 4 when they jumped into a river in western Afghanistan in an attempt to recover supplies. Reports indicate Sherman may have jumped into the water to aid the second soldier, who appeared to be struggling against the current.

An intensive military search began for the two men. The Taliban released a statement claiming they had the bodies of the servicemen, but later retracted it.

At the Cuisine of Mark Connolly restaurant, clerk Jill Davin, a Manomet native, held back tears as she said she knew Sherman's family.

"It's emotional," she said. "He sacrificed his life for us and our hearts go out to his family."

When the procession passed the Plymouth Fire Department headquarters, a dozen firefighters snapped to attention and saluted, with a large American flag hanging from the town's raised 100-foot tower ladder.

Sherman's cousin, Jeremiah Richmond, is a fire department lieutenant.

"In honor and as a show of respect for Specialist Sherman as well as for Lieutenant Richmond, we presented the flag and stood at attention," said Fire Battalion Chief Kevin Murphy. "We honor all veterans and there are quite a few on the department who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq."

Funeral arrangements are being handled by the Richard Davis Funeral Home on State Road. Visiting hours are tentatively set for Thursday from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the home, with a funeral slated for Friday, according to the home's website.

The worst is yet to come: Unemployed Americans should hunker down for more job losses

The worst is yet to come: Unemployed Americans should hunker down for more job losses: "Think the worst is over? Wrong. Conditions in the U.S. labor markets are awful and worsening. While the official unemployment rate is already 10.2% and another 200,000 jobs were lost in October, when you include discouraged workers and partially employed workers the figure is a whopping 17.5%.

While losing 200,000 jobs per month is better than the 700,000 jobs lost in January, current job losses still average more than the per month rate of 150,000 during the last recession.

Also, remember: The last recession ended in November 2001, but job losses continued for more than a year and half until June of 2003; ditto for the 1990-91 recession."...

[bth: we need to be thinking about the long term impact of lost man years for 10% of the working population. That is more valuable and important than the deficit. If we get people to work we can stimulate demand for consumer goods. That and capping credit card rates into the teens is what is needed.If you threw in loans via old but underfunded SBA programs to small businesses we'd probably be going.]

Defence of the Realm: Then as now

Defence of the Realm: Then as now: "In October 2009, we saw a survey of more than 50 servicemen who had fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. It concluded that the 5.56mm calibre rounds used by British soldiers 'tailed off' after 300 metres yet half of all Helmand firefights are fought between 300 and 900 metres."

We were told that the British soldier couldn't attack the Taliban "with any certainty that if he hits the enemy he will kill or incapacitate him." The study thus claimed that, for want of a rifle with a longer range, Javelin anti-tank missiles, costing £100,000 each, were often fired at lone gunmen.

If we now go back to 1844, we find a "narrative of the late victorious campaign in Affghanistan" by Lt Greenwood, retailing the account of the British punitive expedition under Gen Pollock, in the wake of the slaughter of Elphinstone' army during its retreat from Kabul in 1842.

Amongst the other things Lt Greenwood had to say, he passed comment on the accuracy and range of the rifle fire from the tribesmen, remarking:

It is astonishing at what an enormous distance the fire from their long rifles is effective. Our men were continually struck with the Affghan bullets, when we could reach the enemy with nothing under a six-pounder. Our muskets were useless when playing long bowls.

The fact is, our muskets are as bad specimens of fire-arms as can be manufactured. The triggers are so stiff, that pulling them completely destroys any aim a soldier may take; and, when the machine does go off, the recoil is almost enough to knock a man backwards. Again, the ball is so much smaller than the bore of the barrel that accuracy in its flight, at any considerable distance is impossible. The clumsy flintlocks, also, are constantly missing fire.

At times, it seems, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

[bth: fascinating analysis. It would be helpful if the survey were published.]

Gen. Wesley Clark calls for exit from Afghanistan | Raw Story

Gen. Wesley Clark calls for exit from Afghanistan | Raw Story: "Retired Gen. Wesley Clark -- the onetime Democratic candidate for president -- told Congress Tuesday in little-reported remarks that the United States should begin planning for an exit from Afghanistan, breaking ranks with Obama's current Afghan commander Gen. Stanley McCrystal.

The former Supreme Allied Commander of US forces Europe reminded Congress of the 'legacy of Vietnam' in considering the US strategy in Afghanistan. Obama's commanders have called for an increase of as many as 60,000 troops in the war-torn country."

You've got to “figure out where you’re going," Clark told the House Armed Services subcommittee on oversight and investigations. "How do we get out of here? Because our presence long term there is not a good thing. We’re playing into the hands of people who don’t like foreigners in a country that’s not tolerant of diversity. And that’s not going to change.”...

Support wanes for curbs on credit-card interest rates - The Boston Globe

Support wanes for curbs on credit-card interest rates - The Boston Globe: "WASHINGTON - Efforts in Congress to cap credit-card interest rates are faltering because of opposition from Democrats and a lack of specific support from the White House, despite growing consumer outrage over a rush by banks to impose rates as high as 30 percent."

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama vowed to back a strict limit on credit-card interest rates. But the White House is not yet behind any particular plan this year. While Obama has chastised credit-card companies, his spokeswoman declined to say this week how he planned to follow through on his campaign pledge.

Obama finds the behavior of credit-card lenders “outrageous’’ and “looks forward to reviewing additional legislation that caps interest rates,’’ but he has not taken a specific position, spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

Vice President Joe Biden, whose home state of Delaware is headquarters to many credit-card companies, did not respond to requests for comment.

The Senate soundly defeated legislation in May that was introduced by Senator Bernard Sanders, the Vermont Independent, to cap most credit-card interest rates at 15 percent. Nearly half of the Democratic senators joined Republicans in defeating the measure, 60 to 33....

[bth: imagine that, actually helping the middle class. Can't have that. No sir... Through most of human history usury was illegal and in modern times interest rates were necessary for an economy to function - but usury at these rates bankrupts honest Americans. It causes them to pay down their debts if that is possible at 30% instead of investing in the stock market or in to improvements on their houses etc, that would actually create jobs by stimulating demand. If you look at the credit problem it many focus on healthcare costs and spikes in fuel prices. So now add 30% rates to that and you a long and protracted dearth in consumer spending. Meanwhile the same banks that became wards of the state use government money at rates essentially free to hose consumers at 30% levels. Its a fucking crime but Biden won't do anything about it because the bulk of credit card companies are in Delaware. As to the rest of the congress, they seem to be in the pockets of lobbyists because this issue hits most consumers right in the gut. Lowering interest rates on credit cards would have a positive and immediate impact on the middle class without raising the deficit. Do it. Just do it.]

Poll: Majority in US now see Afghan war as not worth fighting | Raw Story

Poll: Majority in US now see Afghan war as not worth fighting | Raw Story: "Support for the US mission in Afghanistan has slipped to a new low, with 44 percent of Americans now saying the war there has been worth the cost, according to a recently released poll."

Amid mounting divisiveness over what was once one of President Barack Obama's top foreign policy issues, the poll by The Washington Post and ABC News also showed ratings for how he has handled the mission there eroding, to 45 percent approving of how he is dealing with Afghanistan and 47 disapproving, compared to 63 percent approval last year.

The numbers come as Obama grapples with whether to send more US troops to Afghanistan to boost the fight against a growing Taliban-led insurgency, just a week after a stopover at a US military base in Alaska at the start of his Asia trip when he told US troops he will get "public support back home" for the mission.

Only 44 percent now say the war in Afghanistan has been worth fighting -- the fewest since early 2007 -- and 52 percent say it has not, up 13 points from its low of last December, the news outlets' polling divisions said.

And while 55 percent expressed confidence that Obama will forge a successful Afghan strategy, Americans appeared evenly split on whether the president should order large numbers of new troops into the country, with 46 percent supporting a larger US force and 45 percent a smaller one.

Just as many also appeared to trust Republicans in Congress to handle the war as trust the president.

While divisions were evident about the war, Americans clearly doubted the reliability of the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who was declared winner of a second term this month after a fraud-marred election.

"Just 26 percent of Americans see Karzai as a reliable partner for the United States, and just 38 percent think his government will be able to train an effective army to take over security at some point," ABC News reported.

As for whether the risk of a terrorist attack in the United States would rise or fall if US troops withdraw from Afghanistan, nearly two-thirds of Americans said the risk stayed the same whether or not the troops went home.

The poll of 1,001 residents was conducted by telephone and has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.

[bth: as usual the American public is ahead of the politicians and the Pentagon. From the public's stand point Obama has a window of opportunity to set a strategy in Afghanistan - both larger or smaller footprint. Let's hope he has the moral courage to actually make a leadership decision.]

Obama’s swelling ego - The Boston Globe

Obama’s swelling ego - The Boston Globe: "PRESIDENT OBAMA was too busy to attend the celebrations in Germany this week marking the fall of the Berlin Wall 20 years ago." But he did appear by video, delivering a few brief and bloodless remarks about how the wall was “a painful barrier between family and friends’’ that symbolized “a system that denied people the freedoms that should be the right of every human being.’’ He referred to “tyranny,’’ but never identified the tyrants - he never uttered the words “Soviet Union’’ or “communism,’’ for example. He said nothing about the men and women who died trying to cross the wall. Nor did he mention Harry Truman or Ronald Reagan - or even Mikhail Gorbachev...

[bth: usually I think Jacoby is a jerk but this editorial is worth a full read. At some point Obama has got to do more than show up. Note at the end of the article how he contrasts Obama and Lincoln.]

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Once to Every Man And Nation

in the air tonight - Google Videos

in the air tonight - Google Videos

YouTube - Kenny Rogers and The First Edition-Ruby,Don't Take Your Love

YouTube - Kenny Rogers and The First Edition-Ruby,Don't Take Your Love

YouTube - Eagles - Seven Bridges Road Live (05)

YouTube - Eagles - Seven Bridges Road Live (05)

YouTube - Keep On Tryin' - Timothy B. Schmit (Poco) cover

YouTube - Keep On Tryin' - Timothy B. Schmit (Poco) cover

Sea Transportation: China Now The Biggest Shipbuilder On The Planet

Sea Transportation: China Now The Biggest Shipbuilder On The Planet: "November 17, 2009: Sooner than anyone expected, China has surpassed South Korea as the world's largest shipbuilder. Currently, Chinese firms have orders for 54.96 million CGT of ships, compared to 53.63 million CGT. Thus China has 34.7 percent of the world market. Since 2000, South Korea has had the largest share of the world shipbuilding market. South Korea took the lead from Japan."

CGT stands for Compensated Gross Tons. This is a new standard for measuring ship yard effort. Gross tons is a measure of the volume within a ship, which CGT adds adjustments for the complexity of the ship design. Thus a chemical tanker would end up with a value four times that of a container ship. China is producing far more ships, in terms of tonnage of steel and internal volume, than South Korea, mainly because a much larger portion of Chinese ships are simple designs. South Korea has, over the years, pioneered the design, and construction, of more complex ships (chemical, and Liquid Natural gas carriers.)

China has invested much money and effort into expanding its merchant shipbuilding industry, as a way to improve its warship building capability. Three years ago, China produced about a quarter of the worlds merchant shipping, while South Korea was in first place, producing about a third. It was then believed that China would take first place in the next 5-10 years.

The big thing holding China back in the warship building area was the shortage of skilled personnel. By encouraging merchant shipbuilding, the government creates experienced ship builders for the more complex task of building warships. In most cases, merchant ships are larger than warships, and much less complex. For example, a common type of merchant ship is the VLCC (Very Large Crude Carrier) of 300,000 deadweight tons (DWT) . This is the largest size tanker than can use the Straits of Malacca to carry oil from the Persian Gulf to East Asia. These ships haul two million barrels (about 290,000 tons) of oil per trip. These ships are larger than the biggest American aircraft carriers (like the Nimitz class, that are 110,000 tons displacement, and nearly 1,100 feet long.)

The major difference between merchant vessels and warships is what equipment they have. Merchant ships are quite basic and plain. A 300,000 DWT VLCC is about the same size as a Nimitz class carrier, but costs much less to build ($130 million for the VLCC, versus over $4 billion for the carrier). Actually, it costs more to run a carrier for one year, than the VLCC costs to build. Part of that has to do with crew size, with the carrier having a hundred sailors for everyone needed to run the VLCC....

[bth: missile ships. Large commercial frames with gobs of missiles. Things to fear.]

YouTube - Intro Apocalypse Now

YouTube - Intro Apocalypse Now

Ohman cartoon choices

F-35 is far behind schedule and over budget, reports show | Business |

F-35 is far behind schedule and over budget, reports show | Business | "Work on the F-35 joint strike fighter program is far behind schedule and over budget despite the completion Saturday of a milestone test flight.

Reports prepared by the Defense Contract Management Agency for Defense Department officials show that Lockheed and other contractors are months late on deliveries of test airplanes and components for future production aircraft.

The program is even farther behind on testing, and the reports say Lockheed could exhaust its development budget within a year.

Problems cited in the documents, obtained by the Star-Telegram under the Freedom of Information Act, support a recent Pentagon assessment that F-35 development will require two more years and billions of additional dollars.

The Pentagon’s top weapons buyer has called a meeting for this weekend to address the reports’ conclusions and prepare recommendations for Defense Secretary Robert Gates."...

Royal Navy aircraft carrier may be sold to India | Business |

Royal Navy aircraft carrier may be sold to India | Business | "One of the Royal Navy's new £2bn aircraft carriers could be sold off under government cost-cutting plans, the Guardian has learned.

It is understood that India has recently lodged a firm expression of interest to buy one of the two state-of-the-art 65,000 tonne carriers, which are still being built by BAE Systems in the UK"

Any sale of the long-delayed carriers would be highly controversial and would leave the Royal Navy with just one carrier. It could also force Britain to borrow from the French navy, which itself only has one carrier and is reluctant to build any more.

Last summer French president Nicolas Sarkozy proposed to Gordon Brown that the two navies co-ordinate the maintenance and retrofitting of their carriers, so that at least one of them is at sea at any time.

The government has accepted it would cost more to cancel the contract for one of the carriers than it would to carry on building. BAE Systems is also keen to increase its arms exports and would welcome the sale of such a flagship piece of hardware to a country such as India, which is keen to upgrade its military, particularly its air force....

[bth: a further indication that Britain has ceased to be a military power. It has simply lost the will]

India puts nuclear plants on alert-report | Reuters

India puts nuclear plants on alert-report | Reuters: "NEW DELHI, Nov 16 (Reuters) - India has put its nuclear power plants under alert and tightened security around them after intelligence about possible attacks, a report said on Monday.

The step comes after a man arrested in the United States on charges of plotting attacks in India was found to have travelled to Indian states that have nuclear installations.

The Press Trust of India quoted unnamed sources in the home ministry as saying that state governments had been asked to step up security around their nuclear plants as a 'precautionary measure'.

'The step is precautionary in nature. The states have been asked to increase the vigil and patrolling to thwart any sabotage attempt aimed at these vital facilities,' a home ministry official was quoted as saying."...

Monday, November 16, 2009

RAF plans huge cuts in aircraft and stations - Times Online

RAF plans huge cuts in aircraft and stations - Times Online: "AIR FORCE chiefs are preparing to cut 10,000 staff — a quarter of their manpower — and close up to five large air stations.

The plans will reduce the RAF’s strength to 31,000 personnel over the next five years, little more than half the level during the recent Iraq conflict and seriously diminishing its capability of fighting another conventional war.

It also intends to retire the majority of its Harrier and Tornado jets early, leaving it with about 80 fewer aircraft by 2025. The cuts are part of a package prepared for the 2010 annual spending round.

They are designed to pre-empt the savage cuts expected as part of the strategic defence review promised by whichever party wins power in next year’s general election."...

[bth: the british military is going right down the tubes. Its army is the size of our marine corp. Its air force is about to get a major hair cut to half its size during the recent Iraq conflict. Its a political leadership in the UK that just gave up and threw in the towel.]

RGE - The Worst is yet to Come: Unemployed Americans Should Hunker Down for More Job Losses

RGE - The Worst is yet to Come: Unemployed Americans Should Hunker Down for More Job Losses: "Think the worst is over? Wrong. Conditions in the U.S. labor markets are awful and worsening. While the official unemployment rate is already 10.2% and another 200,000 jobs were lost in October, when you include discouraged workers and partially employed workers the figure is a whopping 17.5%."

While losing 200,000 jobs per month is better than the 700,000 jobs lost in January, current job losses still average more than the per month rate of 150,000 during the last recession.

Also, remember: The last recession ended in November 2001, but job losses continued for more than a year and half until June of 2003; ditto for the 1990-91 recession.

So we can expect that job losses will continue until the end of 2010 at the earliest. In other words, if you are unemployed and looking for work and just waiting for the economy to turn the corner, you had better hunker down. All the economic numbers suggest this will take a while. The jobs just are not coming back.

There's really just one hope for our leaders to turn things around: a bold prescription that increases the fiscal stimulus with another round of labor-intensive, shovel-ready infrastructure projects, helps fiscally strapped state and local governments and provides a temporary tax credit to the private sector to hire more workers. Helping the unemployed just by extending unemployment benefits is necessary not sufficient; it leads to persistent unemployment rather than job creation.

The long-term picture for workers and families is even worse than current job loss numbers alone would suggest. Now as a way of sharing the pain, many firms are telling their workers to cut hours, take furloughs and accept lower wages. Specifically, that fall in hours worked is equivalent to another 3 million full time jobs lost on top of the 7.5 million jobs formally lost....

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Afghanistan: British troops in Helmand kill 80 Taliban in 10 days of fighting - Telegraph

Afghanistan: British troops in Helmand kill 80 Taliban in 10 days of fighting - Telegraph: "The battles occurred in two separate areas of Nad e'Ali in central Helmand, where the 1st battalion the Grenadier Guards Battle Group are based.

More than 60 insurgents are thought to have been killed close to Patrol Base Waheed after the Taliban launched a series of 'Kamikaze-style' attacks against British troops."

In the southern area of the district, which is also controlled by the Grenadier Guards, soldiers from the battalion's reconnaissance platoon killed an estimated 16 fighters in a carefully planned ambush last Saturday, although it is difficult for the British Army to be precise about enemy casualties.

The attacks follow the deaths of five members of the battle group who were shot dead by a rogue Afghan policeman 12 days ago. Although the Taliban claimed that the policeman was an insurgent agent, there is a growing belief among British commanders that he was probably acting alone.

The first battle began last week when soldiers from the Grenadier Guard's No2 Company, commanded by Major Richard Green, ambushed Taliban fighters, who had been launching a series of "shoot and scoot" attacks against the British base.

Troops lured the Taliban towards their positions. Lying in wait were two teams of snipers, who immediately shot dead four Taliban gunmen as they approached the scene. A further four insurgents were killed as they attempted to attack the British base.

The following day another battle erupted when British troops patrolling in the area were attacked. As the troops withdrew to their base, around 20 Taliban mounted a daring attack but virtually all were killed or injured in the assault.

The Taliban continued to attack the base every day for most of last week but each assault was repelled, with the Taliban suffering heavy casualties.

In one incident, several Taliban fighters were killed in a Javelin missile strike, while the insurgent leaders were holding an attack Shura (meeting) prior to an assault....

[bth: what's unclear is whether this is a normal tempo that is getting publicity from the MOD to offset the loss of five soldiers last week or is it a real pickup in tempo or a change in UK tactics.]

Afghan roadside bombs a new priority for U.S.

Afghan roadside bombs a new priority for U.S.: "Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is creating a department-wide task force to focus on ways to counter the roadside bombs that have caused 80 percent of U.S. casualties in Afghanistan.

The challenges are different from those in Iraq, Gates told reporters Thursday before a visit to a Wisconsin factory that is producing a rugged new armored vehicle for use in Afghanistan. He said most of the improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, in Iraq are based mainly on artillery shells and are triggered electronically. Those in Afghanistan, he said, are made primarily from fertilizers such as ammonium nitrate, with mines as detonators.

He also pointed out that Afghanistan's terrain is different, its road system is different -- streets running from paved to unpaved to nonexistent -- and the bomb builders' networks are structured differently than in Iraq.

'I have decided I need to focus my attention on this problem,' he said.

Gates has recently expressed concern about whether the Pentagon groups working on the threat -- the Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO), the intelligence community and the commanders in the field -- are properly integrated and sufficiently flexible. JIEDDO is the multibillion-dollar agency set up to lead and coordinate the Defense Department's efforts against roadside bombs.

Two weeks ago, however, the Government Accountability Office criticized the agency for not having a database that includes both its own projects and those being carried out independently by the individual services. In addition, the GAO said, JIEDDO "lacks a means as well as reliable data to gauge the effectiveness of its counter-IED efforts," according to its Oct. 29 report to the House Armed Services subcommittee on oversight and investigations. ....

[bth: I'll give Gates credit for coming after these issues head on.]

TSONGAS BILL DELIVERS: For parents who lost son, new armor a victory - Lowell Sun Online

TSONGAS BILL DELIVERS: For parents who lost son, new armor a victory - Lowell Sun Online: "LOWELL -- They smiled politely, but behind the eyes of Alma and Brian Hart, the pain was there as they stood quietly in the back of the room at the Lowell Veterans Center where U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas and Brig. Gen. Peter Fuller were displaying new, lightweight body armor.

The Harts, of Bedford, lost their 20-year-old son, Army Pfc. John Hart, in 2003, when he came under attack from rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire while on patrol outside Kirkuk, Iraq, in an unarmored Humvee.

'The quality of the body armor has improved since our son was killed,' said Brian Hart. 'It's easier to wear, easier on their backs, but it hasn't gotten any lighter to wear because they've increased the coverage area. Now, they're making it"
tailorable, which makes a lot of sense. And they're giving it to everybody, which is a plus."

The new Interceptor Body Armor, also called Mission Tailorable Body Armor, is 3 to 6 pounds lighter than its predecessor, according to Fuller, who demonstrated the armor before a small group of people, including Lowell Veterans Center Team Leader Jacob Romo. Fuller said that 58,000 units are coming off line, thanks in part, to legislation filed by Tsongas and signed into law by President Obama last month.

"We just continually listened to what the soldiers were saying," Fuller said, explaining that enemy IEDs (improvised explosive devices) were hitting the soldiers in the upper arms.

"Now we give them some flak protection up there, Fuller said. "We tried giving them hard arm protection, but they lose their flex mobility. We gave them protection around the throat. Enemy snipers were trying to have the wounded troops just bleed out. They knew they couldn't hit you in the chest and punch through the armor, but they could hit you in the thigh, and strike a major artery, so we put protection in the groin area."

The Harts winced. Soon, they were standing right by the general and it was as if he was speaking just to them. They were introduced by Lt. Col. Sam Poulten.

"General, this is Alma and Brian Hart. They lost their son in Iraq," said Poulten, noting Brian Hart's work with the late U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy and former U.S. Rep. Marty Meehan in retrofitting armored vehicles in 2004.

Fuller shook their hands, stared into their eyes and quietly said, "Thank you. Thank you so much. God bless you."

Tsongas said she has heard from soldiers who told her that they would remove their body armor, even when they were in dangerous combat situations, because of the weight and the way it restricts movement.

"I was shocked to hear this," she said. "I know our nation has the resources and innovation to figure out how to protect our soldiers in a way that does not inhibit their ability to do their job, or put them at even greater risk."

Tsongas worked with Fuller and her colleagues on the Armed Services Committee to develop legislation to fund research, development and procurement of stronger, more flexible and lighter-weight body armor. The bill was included in the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act and was signed by Obama on Oct. 28.

The bill devotes specific funding to body-armor development and procurement instead of from a general account that funds a vast array of military technology and equipment. Fuller said that when troops were first deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq after Sept. 11, 2001, seven out of 10 troops did not have body armor.

"Our son called us one time and we talked about body armor," said Alma Hart. "When the general said that, my heart jumped. I said 'That was our boy.' He didn't have the body armor. Now they'll have what they need.