Saturday, July 24, 2010

Deflation - Month CPI trend

Econbrowser: Fighting deflation
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday that the seasonally adjusted consumer price index declined in June to the lowest level since November. When we start to talk about the level of the CPI rather than its rate of change, you know that deflation could once again become a key concern.

In normal times, the Fed faces a trade-off. It would like to stimulate the economy to help bring about faster output growth, but worries that the result might be too much inflation. But once we get into a regime of falling prices, those negative inflation rates can be damaging in and of themselves. With the price level currently falling and the unemployment rate alarmingly high and persistent, if there ever was a time when the Fed wanted to push down the gas pedal, now would be it.

So why doesn't it? The traditional tool by which the Fed stimulates the economy is to increase the reserves it supplies to the banking system in order to bring down the fed funds rate, which is an interest rate on overnight loans between banks. But with that interest rate now effectively at zero and banks holding excess reserves over a trillion dollars, that traditional tool has become completely irrelevant. Conventional open market operations, in which the Fed purchases T-bills with newly created reserves, are just exchanging one asset (T-bills, a short-term liability of the Treasury which pays a near-zero interest rate) for another virtually identical asset (reserves, a nominal liability of the Fed which pays a near-zero interest rate), with no consequences for any private-sector decision.

The claim that a central bank could become completely unable to debase the currency if it wanted has always seemed odd to me. Even if reserves and T-bills become equivalent assets (and at the moment they surely are), reserves are not equivalent to any number of other assets. Nothing prevents the Fed from buying longer-term assets, continuing to create reserves at will for the purpose until the yields on those assets adjust. And yet, the Fed has bought over a trillion dollars worth of mortgage-backed securities, and we're still not where we want to be.

Or for that matter, the Fed could start buying goods directly, or equivalently, let the Treasury buy the goods and have the Fed simply buy up all of the debt that the Treasury cares to issue. That the price of goods would be unaffected regardless of the quantity purchased seems quite implausible....


bth: we've got real problems. With deflation there is a disincentive to invest in plant and equipment, in expansion, in people, in commodities. The producers, the people that invest begin to get hurt, they disinvest, the banks have an incentive to just sit by on their zero cost assets from the fed and watch the economy unwind. We have got to change this as soon as possible. This original article had some interesting ideas on what the fed might do. Let's hope someone is reading it.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Russia aims to topple the 'last dictator in Europe' - Europe, World - The Independent

Russia aims to topple the 'last dictator in Europe' - Europe, World - The Independent: "Alexander Lukashenko, the moustachioed former collective farm manager often described as 'the last dictator in Europe', could be about to see his iron grip on power in Belarus turned to jelly by an intervention from his domineering neighbour and erstwhile ally, Russia.

Until recently Mr Lukashenko was expected to win presidential elections that are due in the neo-Soviet state next February at a canter. But in the last few weeks the Belarusian President has engaged in what might be an unwinnable media war with Moscow. Questions are now being asked about whether eastern Europe's great political survivor might be on his last legs.

It started two weeks ago, when Russian television aired a ruthlessly personal tirade against Mr Lukashenko, called 'The Belarusian Godfather'. The documentary told dark tales of human rights abuses, authoritarianism and persecution of the opposition. It was nothing new to seasoned observers of Belarus but the fact it was aired on Russian television – which is beamed into many Belarusian houses – was significant.

Those schooled in the traditions of Soviet-era agitprop smelled a rat, and remembered that Russian television had taken a sudden interest in uncovering human rights abuses in Kyrgyzstan earlier this year, fanning the flames of popular discontent which eventually led to a revolution that ousted the president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev. Mr Bakiyev had angered Moscow by going back on a deal to close a US airbase in his country. In a curious coincidence, the only country to offer Mr Bakiyev asylum when he fled Kyrgyzstan was Belarus, and he is now said to be living under the 'personal protection' of Mr Lukashenko.

The Belarusian President was said to be infuriated by the documentary, and responded with his own piece of media aggression, sending a television correspondent to Tbilisi to interview the Kremlin's most hated statesman – Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. The Georgian leader was given free rein to criticise Russia's political elite, in a lengthy programme shown to Belarusian viewers in a prime time slot.

Since then, the disagreement has spiralled into an all-out media war. Russian television aired 'The Belarusian Godfather – Part II', while last night television viewers in Minsk were to be treated to an interview with Latvia's President about 'imperialistic neighbours'. Also expected in Minsk in the coming days is acting Moldovan president Minai Ghimpu, who recently infuriated Moscow by instituting a 'Soviet Occupation Day' in his country. Additionally, a state-run Belarusian newspaper published extracts of a critical report on Vladimir Putin's presidency by Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.

The rumour mill spun further into action when leading Belarusian opposition activists were spotted in Moscow at the 60th birthday party of Leonid Gozman, a veteran Russian oppositionist on Wednesday. Also at the party were several Russian ministers, who apparently were engaged in long conversations with the visitors from Minsk. Yesterday's Russian press was in no doubt – the party had been a 'casting session' to look for candidates to back against Mr Lukashenko in February's elections....

bth; interesting. why now?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Congress Dead Last

JFK-Airport Bomb Plot Suspect Kadir at Terror Trial Denies Spying for Iran - Bloomberg

JFK-Airport Bomb Plot Suspect Kadir at Terror Trial Denies Spying for Iran - Bloomberg: "A former member of Guyana’s parliament accused of plotting to blow up New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, testifying at his terror trial, denied being a spy for Iran beginning in the 1980s.

“Is it fair to say that you’re a spy for the Iranian government?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Marshall Miller asked Abdul Kadir today after showing him reports on Guyana that he sent to Iran’s ambassador to Venezuela.

“No sir,” Kadir answered.

Kadir and Russell Defreitas, a former Evergreen Airlines cargo worker, are charged with participating in the plot hatched in January 2006. They circulated their plan to an international network of Muslim extremists, prosecutors allege. The plot was foiled in the planning stages with the aid of an informant, Steven Francis, who recorded the alleged plotters’ conversations and who testified at their trial in federal court in Brooklyn, New York. Kadir first took the stand yesterday.

Kadir was arrested in June 2007 on a plane in Trinidad on his way to Iran. Prosecutors argue he was going there to get operational and financial support for the plot to blow up fuel lines and tanks at the airport. Kadir testified yesterday he was going there to obtain funds for a mosque he wanted to build in Guyana and to commemorate the anniversary of the death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran’s former supreme leader. Kadir said he had gone to Iran twice before...
bth: this trial has gotten little publicity.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Memes Collide: Mel Gibson Calls The Old Spice Guy (VIDEO)

Memes Collide: Mel Gibson Calls The Old Spice Guy (VIDEO): "- Sent using Google Toolbar"

The DEW Line

The DEW Line: "- Sent using Google Toolbar"

Osama Bin Laden and Pakistan

NightWatch 20100720 - KGS
...Pakistan-US: The US Secretary of State repeated her comments, first made during an earlier visit, that "some elements of the Pakistani government, particularly its intelligence establishment, know where Osama bin Laden is hiding," The Times of India reported.

Note: The evidence supporting Secretary Clinton's comment is overwhelming. Both bin Laden and Mullah Omar should have been in Pakistani custody more than five years ago. Until both men are arrested, no American leader should trust anything said by a Pakistani leader about national security issues. After a decade of fine words, only results count. This is irreducible. Only Secretary Clinton has kept the end-game in focus....
bth: Nightwatch always offers clarity on issues I find.  So basically we have made it financially worth the while of Pakistan NOT to turn over or capture OBL or Omar as witnessed by the huge aid package we just granted Pakistan.  Yet if one reflects on the matter, capturing or killing OBL would be the one singular thing that would allow the US to withdrawal from Afghanistan and save face.  If a month from now his head showed up as a hood ornament on a Jeep somewhere, wouldn't the public outcry in the US be to pull out of Afghanistan as quickly as possible?  The financial construct the Pakistanis have built around our presence from aid to trucking fees would go away and they would be faced with only China to ally and offset India.  Could we build Pakistan a golden path away from OBL and our current predicament and toward a long term deal whereby we assisted Pakistan in a long term and meaningful way if they were to suddenly find and kill Omar and OBL?

So where were these people of power when it mattered? Silenced by fear I suspect.

Iraq war raised UK terror threat: ex-MI5 spy chief | Raw Story
...But MI5 "did not foresee" the number of Britons who became involved in extremist plots at home -- such as the July 7, 2005 bombings in London which killed 52 people -- following the conflict, she said.

"Our involvement in Iraq radicalised, for want of a better word, a whole generation of young people -- not a whole generation, a few among a generation -- who saw our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan as being an attack on Islam," she said.

"During 2003-04, we realised that the focus was not foreigners. The rising and increasing threat was a threat from British citizens and that was a very different scenario to, as it were, stopping people coming in."

Manningham-Buller also said there was "no credible intelligence" linking Iraq to the September 11 attacks in the US.

"There is no credible intelligence to suggest that connection. That was the judgment of the CIA. It was not a judgement that found favour in some parts of the American machine," she said...

Afghanistan Withdrawal by 2014 - The Daily Beast

Afghanistan Withdrawal by 2014 - The Daily Beast: ..."Abandoning these fantasies is difficult because it entails accepting painful realities.

First, Afghanistan has never been a unified country. No one based in Kabul has ever controlled it. One of the founding follies of America's Afghan project was its drive to give the country a strong central government. Decentralization has been the essential fact of Afghan life for centuries. By seeking to replace it with a strong regime in Kabul, it has upset complex balances and helped plunge a nation into chaos.

Second, Afghans are world champions at resisting foreign occupation. Large numbers of them will never support a Christian army from afar in a war against locals.

Third, no insurgency in modern times has ever been defeated while it enjoys a sanctuary in a neighboring country. Pakistan's assurance that it is cracking down on pro-Taliban networks is laughable. Pakistan sees no interest in crushing these networks, because it will need them to project power in Afghanistan after the US withdraws. Yet to appease Washington, Pakistan pretends to crack down, and the US dutifully praises its half-hearted campaigns.

Fourth, Karzai is not a partner with whom to win a war. He does not even want to fight. His concern is to enrich himself while the Americans are around, and build alliances that will sustain him after they leave. America's interests do not coincide with Karzai's any more than they do with Pakistan's. In fact, America's main local allies in the anti-Taliban war, Karzai and the Pakistanis, are also the Taliban's paymasters and enablers. Saudi Arabia also not-so-quietly supports the Taliban. This alliance is not made for victory.

The final reality the US wishes to avoid is that there is no way out of Afghanistan without a regional solution. Accommodating other powers is something new for American policy makers. It violates their instinctive conviction, left over from Cold War days, that the US has enough strategic power to control events more or less as it wishes. But there will only be peace in Afghanistan if the interests of Pakistan, India, Russia, and especially Iran are accommodated.

Iran has considerable ability to help stabilize Afghanistan, and in fact worked with the US to that end after the Sept. 11 attacks. Large swaths of Afghanistan were part of Iran until the 19th century. The Persian language is still spoken there. Iranian influence is deep and wide-ranging. Yet the US cannot bring itself to approach Iran for help in escaping from the Afghan quagmire.

America's refusal to face Afghan realities reflects its larger difficulty: adjusting to a new world in which its power is limited and its goals can be achieved only by cooperating with other powers. Americans prefer to pretend that times haven't changed. Karzai willingly accommodates them. He tells Western donors what they want to hear, and in exchange they allow him to steal their money.

The recent firing of America's commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, was just one fleeting scene in the escalating Afghan tragedy. This week's mind-numbing spectacle of President Karzai promising security and good governance—while a horde of foreigners cheered as if they believed him—was another. The conflict in Afghanistan will probably end for the United States, as General McChrystal's chief of operations predicted in the now-infamous Rolling Stone interview, with something that “doesn't look like a win, smell like a win or taste like a win.”

American leaders now face the challenge that their predecessors faced in the Vietnam era: how do we withdraw as quickly and painlessly as possible, in a way that allows us to claim we were not defeated? To answer that question requires confronting harsh realities. Far easier is to cheer Karzai and pretend that a Western “coalition” will be able, for the first time in history, to impose its will on Afghanistan.
bth: the reason this bullshit is allowed to continue is because those in power, not just in the US but with our NATO allies, don't have real skin in the game. They don't have their sons or daughters in the front ranks of our military, they don't have a draft and they are able to perpetuate this farce with other peoples' money.

Kimmel: Palin's "Like The Eskimo Don King" (VIDEO)

Kimmel: Palin's "Like The Eskimo Don King" (VIDEO): "- Sent using Google Toolbar"

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

China Becomes World's Biggest Energy Consumer -

China Becomes World's Biggest Energy Consumer - "hina has passed the U.S. to become the world's biggest energy consumer, according to new data from the International Energy Agency, a milestone that reflects both China's decades-long burst of economic growth and its rapidly expanding clout as an industrial giant....

5 Pakistanis among 20 held for Uganda blasts - Rest of World - World - The Times of India

5 Pakistanis among 20 held for Uganda blasts - Rest of World - World - The Times of India: "KAMPALA: Security forces have arrested more than 20 people, including five Pakistanis, for two bombings last week that killed at least 73 people in the Ugandan capital, the police chief said.

'In terms of those who are in custody, certainly it is more than 20,' Kale Kayihura told reporters. Among them were five Pakistanis who had a shop in a Kampala suburb, Kayihura said. 'They are being questioned.... They have to explain themselves,' the police chief said....

bth: I haven't seen this reported in the US

NightWatch 20100719 - KGS - On Omar and assassinations

NightWatch 20100719 - KGS: "Afghanistan: NATO has intercepted a letter from Taliban supreme leader Mullah Muhammad Omar in which he called for any Afghan supporting the government, led by President Hamid Karzai, to be captured or killed, Brigadier Josef Blotz, a spokesman for the NATO, said on Sunday.

Talking to reporters, he said that Omar had issued the directive in June. 'The message was from Mullah Omar, who is hiding in Pakistan, to his subordinate commanders,' he said, adding, the order was to fight coalition forces to death, and to capture and kill any civilian supporting or working for the government or the forces. The letter also said that women should also be killed if found to be helping or providing information to the coalition force.

Comment: The fighting data during the past year show a Taliban assassination focus on killing spies, sympathizers and supporters of the government. The focus of targeting began to narrow early this year on government employees and leaders, such as district councilors, tribal elders, police and security chiefs and local government officials. This began long before June.

The letter from Omar in June seems to authorize a general expansion of a more limited program, a special form of terror to dissuade people from working for the government in any capacity. It seems to be failing because jobs are so scarce. However, quality suffers in that corruption and illiteracy increase.

- Sent using Google Toolbar"

Over classification for political purposes

My Way News - Post documents growth of intelligence since 9/11
...In its first installment of a series of reports, the Post said there are now more than 1,200 government organizations and more than 1,900 private companies working on counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in some 10,000 locations across the U.S.

Some 854,000 people - or nearly 1 1/2 times the number of people who live in Washington - have top-secret security clearance, the paper said....

bth: One obvious culprit to the explosive growth of Top Secret classifications is politics. 

For example the CIA used it to control information when the federal government expanded the number of intelligence agencies post 9-11. 

Another is in the Department of Defense and I would specifically reference overclassification of information on body armor, vehicular armor and counter IED activity.  Now common sense should play a role here.  But back in 2006 Rumsfeld was getting reamed by the House Armed Services Committee for at the time only having a couple of hundred electronic jammers in Iraq despite billions being provided by Congress.  Rep. Taylor all but called Rumsfeld a liar, I think about April or March of that year. 

Rumsfeld then to blunt criticism especially  going into an election that November had the Sec. of the Navy classify all information related to counter IED activity.  The result was that for several years the only photos of vehicles damaged by IEDs were recycled old photos from prior years and reporters such as those down in VA that wanted to report on the poor quality of equipment the marines were receiving were actually disembedded for their reporting. 

So what?  Well what happened is that the insurgents continued to get good information and post it on the internet as witnessed by their change in tactics, but the American public, the families, the civilian government became detached and then disinterested in a field that could have saved many lives.  Small companies and non traditional government contractors and academics that lacked the costly and largely unnecessary security clearances were taken out of the information loop and their services became unusable as a result.  Well innovation slowed down as the field of viable players reduced to only the largest contractors, costs skyrocketed and as far as the general public was concerned it was out of sight out of mind.  Troops couldn't figure out why the public seemed to disengage from their warfighters and the life and death struggle they were in - it was classified. 

Reporters in Iraq dropped to a few dozen.  Media coverage in the US virtually stopped.  So for Rummy and his successors they weren't subject to criticism anymore because they classified the information so  shitty body armor, fraudulent testing procedures and corrupt contractors were allowed to function under the stealth of a classified program.  Making it worse large contractors with the cost and infrastructure in place consolidated commercial contracts at the expense of smaller and more nimble US companies.  Also, the US stopped sharing technical advances, equipment and know how with our Nato allies with the result that more and more of them were killed in Afghanistan and in some cases Iraq. 

Ironically the insurgents were probably more informed than American contractors.  By watching their videos it was clear that they were targeting vehicles that did not have jamming equipment per Rep. Taylor's concerns in the first place.  The British, German and Arab news sources were always more forthright about this issue. It got to a point where JIEDDO classified so much that small companies depended on monitoring insurgent video posting to understand what was happening in the field.

After the November 2006 election, Bush cut his losses and fired Rumsfeld, but the over classification continues and there is no one at the helm to stop it.  Those in the system benefit from the system as the rest of the country disengages and moves on.

Insane Stunts In Black And White: Parkour From The 30s (VIDEO)

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British PM's visit to U.S. clouded by BP worries - Yahoo! News

British PM's visit to U.S. clouded by BP worries - Yahoo! News: "LONDON (Reuters) – David Cameron hopes his first trip to Washington as British prime minister will showcase a flourishing friendship with President Barack Obama, but it may be overshadowed by U.S. concerns over BP.

BP Plc's role in the U.S. Gulf Coast oil spill and speculation about any influence the British oil giant may have had over the release of the Lockerbie bomber from a Scottish prison last year has complicated relations ahead of Tuesday's talks.

Cameron's office has tried to play down the concern, saying the U.S. debate over how the terminally ill Libyan convicted of the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am flight was allowed to return home 'may come up' but is not a 'major issue.'

Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs said the matter would likely be raised, but Afghanistan was expected to top the agenda.

Asked in an interview with BBC television whether the oil giant lobbied to have Libyan intelligence officer Abdel Basset al-Megrahi released, Cameron replied: 'I've no idea what BP did. I'm not responsible for BP.'

BP has confirmed it lobbied the British government in late 2007 over a prisoner transfer agreement with Libya, but said it was not involved in talks on the release of al-Megrahi, which was strongly opposed by the Obama administration.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said last week there is no evidence BP was involved in the release or that the decision to free him was made to facilitate oil deals for BP....
bth: BP got the British government to release a mass murderer and terrorist. BP through its own gross negligence virtually destroyed the Gulf of Mexico and the lives of millions. The UK government cut and ran in Basra and are about to do the same in Afghanistan. Their army is the size of our marine corp and shrinking fast. It is shrinking as a world power. What is special about this special relationship from the American perspective? I don't see anything good coming from this meeting.

Prosecutor: Accused Mass. spy stole $100m in secrets for China - Local News Updates - MetroDesk - The Boston Globe

Prosecutor: Accused Mass. spy stole $100m in secrets for China - Local News Updates - MetroDesk - The Boston Globe: "WORCESTER -- A federal judge in Worcester is pondering whether to grant bail to a 45-year-old Westborough man who, in a highly unusual case, is accused of economic espionage for allegedly sending trade secrets about insecticides to China.

Kexue Huang faces a dozen counts of economic espionage to benefit a foreign government or instrumentality, as well as five counts of interstate or foreign transport of stolen property.

Assistant US Attorney Scott Garland said only six or seven people had ever been charged with the crime. He said the value of the information that Huang allegedly passed on exceeded $100 million.

The allegations mainly concern the period from January 2003 to February 2008, when Huang worked at Dow Chemical in Indiana. Huang allegedly conveyed the information to Hunan Normal University, prosecutors said today at a bail hearing in federal court in Worcester....

Spying on Who? Us?

The Washington Post story by Dana Priest and the government counter stories about the explosive growth of US spying agencies and their contractors builds up a lot of smoke but is there a fire?

One theory is that they are a huge, financially costly and highly inefficient mash up of organizations that offset one another so that the only real protection against an airplane bomber is a vigilant passenger sitting across the aisle.

Another theory is that the government uses private contractors to do their dirty work outside of the oversight and purview of Congress.

What I would like to know specifically is are these agencies spying on overseas contacts and terrorists or are they spying on Americans. There is a persistent rumor that ALL email traffic is monitored and that contractors are used to break US laws on behalf of government agencies. Is this true?

If Dana Priest has evidence of this, she should present it. Otherwise it would appear we are looking at just more federal bureaucracy working at cross purposes.

Bombshell Report: 550 IDF Officers And Soldiers Interrogated About Possible War Crimes In Gaza

Bombshell Report: 550 IDF Officers And Soldiers Interrogated About Possible War Crimes In Gaza: "On July 18, a bombshell report appeared in the Israeli daily Yediot Aharanot. The article, which has only been published in Hebrew and was buried on page 8 as a small news item, stated that 550 officers and soldiers who participated in Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip in late 2008 and early 2009 have been investigated by IDF military police for possible war crimes. Among them is the former commander of the Givati Brigade, Ilan Malka, who was interrogated for an air strike that resulted in the killing of 21 members of one family in Gaza City. At least one other soldier is accused of using human shields, or “use of neighbor” tactics. In fact, nearly all battalion commanders who participated in Cast Lead have been interrogated regarding their conduct. Maybe Judge Goldstone wasn’t so crazy after all.

A full translation of the article is below:...

Poll: D.C. elites a world apart - Andy Barr -

Poll: D.C. elites a world apart - Andy Barr - "In their opinions on policy and politicians ranging from President Barack Obama to Sarah Palin, elites in Washington have a strikingly divergent outlook from the rest of the nation, according to a new POLITICO poll released Monday.

Obama is far more popular while Palin, the former Alaska governor, is considerably less so. To the vast majority of D.C. elites, the tea party movement is a fad. The rest of the nation is less certain, however, with many viewing it as a potentially viable third party in the future.

The survey also reveals to a surprising degree how those involved in the policymaking and the political process tend to have a much rosier view of the economy than does the rest of the nation — and, in some cases, dramatically different impressions of leading officeholders, political forces and priorities for governing. ...
bth: people working for the federal government are assured of a paycheck and retirement. The rest of America lives on the edge. I am continually dismayed at what I see in DC when I go down there regularly every couple of weeks. They just are detached from reality, suspect it, and just really don't care.

Negotiating with the Taliban: a bitter pill

White House shifts Afghanistan strategy towards talks with Taliban | World news | The Guardian
....There is growing disenchantment in the US with the war in Afghanistan and members of the Senate's foreign relations committee last week questioned Holbrooke over what they described as a lack of clarity on an exit strategy.

The US has no agreed position on who among the leaders of the insurgency should be wooed and who would be beyond the pale. The Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, would be a problem as he provided Osama bin Laden with bases before the 9/11 attacks.

The US would also find it problematic to deal with the Pakistan-based insurgents led by Sirajuddin Haqqani, whose group pioneered suicide attacks in Afghanistan. The third main element in the insurgency is Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who has hinted he is ready to break ranks.

A source with knowledge of the process said: "There is no agreed US position, but there is agreement that Karzai should lead on this. They would expect the Pakistanis to deliver the Haqqani network in any internal settlement."

The US has laid down basic conditions for any group seeking negotiations. They are: end all ties to al-Qaida, end violence, and accept the Afghan constitution.

A senior Pakistani diplomat said: "The US needs to be negotiating with the Taliban; those Taliban with no links to al-Qaida. We need a power-sharing agreement in Afghanistan, and it will have to be negotiated with all the parties.

"The Afghan government is already talking to all the shareholders‚ the Taliban, the Haqqani network, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and Mullah Omar. The Americans have been setting ridiculous preconditions for talks. You can't lay down such preconditions when you are losing."

Some Afghan policy specialists are sceptical about whether negotiations would succeed. Peter Bergen, a specialist on Afghanistan and al-Qaida, told a US Institute of Peace seminar in Washington last week that there were a host of problems with such a strategy, not least why the Taliban should enter negotiations "when they think they are winning".

Audrey Kurth Cronin, a member of the US National War College faculty in Washington, and the author of How Terrorism Ends, said talks with Mullah Omar and the Haqqani network were pointless because there would be no negotiable terms.

She said there could be talks with Hekmatyar, but these would be conducted through back channels, potentially by a third party. Given his support for jihad, she said, "it would be unreasonable to expect the US and the UK to do so".

Asked how Obama's Afghan strategy was progressing, a senior former US government official familiar with the latest Pentagon thinking said: "In a word, poorly. We seriously need to be developing a revised plan of action that will allow us a chance to achieve sufficient security in a more sustainable manner."....

bth: the problem as I see it is that the Taliban et al thinks they are winning as do the Pakistani ISI and Karzai.  Perhaps they are.  Time certainly is not on our side and all parties know it. Can we fracture the Taliban?  Can we partition Afghanistan?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Battle Rattle - A Marine Corps Times Blog – Video: Marines, journalists caught in Afghanistan firefight

Battle Rattle - A Marine Corps Times Blog – Video: Marines, journalists caught in Afghanistan firefight: "- Sent using Google Toolbar"

bth: note the crew cabin remained intact and there was no fire

First Turkish-made drone ANKA rolled out / PHOTO [ WORLD BULLETIN- TURKEY NEWS, WORLD NEWS ]

First Turkish-made drone ANKA rolled out / PHOTO [ WORLD BULLETIN- TURKEY NEWS, WORLD NEWS ]: "The Turkish unmanned aerial vehicle 'ANKA' was rolled out with a ceremony held in capital Ankara on Friday.

Numerous high-level Turkish officials including General Staff Chief Gen. Ilker Basbug, Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul, Land Forces Commander Gen. Isik Kosaner, Naval Forces Commander Gen. Esref Ugur Yigit, Air Forces Commander Gen. Hasan Aksay and Undersecretary for Defense Industries Murad Bayar attended the ceremony at the headquarters of Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI)...

bth: this is a pretty big deal and the system looks surprisingly like US and Israeli drones. Now Turkey has been licensing UAV technology from Israel (namely software and comms) and like other Israeli clients, it then puts this technology into a locally build chassis. I think this makes lots of sense for Israel and for clients like Pakistan, China etc. Now Turkey was heavily invested in UAV systems from Israel but it looks like they are now trying to cut their own path. I saw this for unmanned ground vehicles from Turkey last September at DSEI in London. Their UGV system was a good first pass but needed some work to be prime time. You could see that it hadn't been taken out in the field much - weak radios etc. I suspect the same for this UAV drone. But on the other hand Turkey is going to be a power to deal with and if Bibi just tried to jack the Turks around over UAV technology and the Kurdish problems, well Turkey just yanked back. The original linked site has a half dozen photos and all the military brass turned out. The Turks are making a statement.

YouTube - Gordon Lightfoot - Don Quixote

YouTube - Gordon Lightfoot - Don Quixote: "- Sent using Google Toolbar"

Leslie H. Gelb Talks to Veterans Leader About Troops With PTSD - The Daily Beast

Leslie H. Gelb Talks to Veterans Leader About Troops With PTSD - The Daily Beast: "America’s top officials were notably absent at the launch of a new veterans' center to care for brain-damaged soldiers. Leslie H. Gelb talks to its chief fundraiser, Arnold Fisher, about our duty to troops with war’s mental wounds.

It was inauguration day for the nation’s most modern facility for the treatment of active-duty soldiers and veterans suffering from brain injuries and psychological disorders—5,000 of them with families on hand. At the podium in Bethesda, Maryland, stood Arnold Fisher, the chief fundraiser for this precious center that may need to care for hundreds of thousands of victims, searching in vain for one White House official, one Cabinet officer, one member of the Joint Chiefs, one senator. He found none. And he asked again and again, “Where are they?”

...But there was Fisher at the podium. A corporal in the Korean War, Fisher is now a successful real-estate developer, builder, and philanthropist. He avoids confrontation and the limelight, but he could not suppress his dismay about the absences that inaugural day. “Here we are in the nation’s capital, the seat of our government, the very people who decide your fate, the people who send you out to protect our freedoms. And yet, where are they?” he asked the attendees. “And while we appreciate that much of our military leadership is present, our government should be behind this effort,” he continued. “I know these are difficult times. I read newspapers. I see the news. And still, where are they? They call you out. You are injured. We are all here. Where are they?” According to a Rand study in 2008, approximately 300,000 soldiers who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression, and 360,000 soldiers report having sustained a traumatic brain injury. The same study found that of the soldiers who seek treatment, only slightly more than half receive minimally adequate care. Rand is not Chicken Little and does not cry “the sky is falling,” unless it is. It has been over two years since that study was released, and the Army has just recorded its highest suicide rate on record, 32 during the month of June....

bth: this state of the art facility was financed with private donations and given, GIVEN, to the federal government which couldn't figure out how to do it themselves, and only 2 congressmen showed up. Mother fuckers. God damn... I've seen the Intrepid group in action and the work of Mr. Fisher. I've got to say they are miracle workers. Absolutely fabulous. Generous, kind, caring, responsive do not even begin to describe them. And our own Pentagon, VA, Administration ass clowns send second stringers at best. And Michelle Obama who claims to focus on military families (we were even on her advisory committee once upon a time)... well that dance recital was job one. Anger does not begin to describe my emotional response. As well pull out of Iraq, with all that was lost, and with all the human tragedy still unfolding, one asks, "was it worth it?"

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Blumenauer demands that Pentagon explain KBR immunity deal |

Blumenauer demands that Pentagon explain KBR immunity deal | "U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer is demanding that the Pentagon explain how war contractor Kellogg, Brown and Root may have been granted immunity from harming any soldier or civilian in Iraq.

In a sharply worded letter Wednesday, Blumenauer gave the secretary of defense five days to produce details of KBR's claims of indemnification. The details of a secret agreement have emerged in a U.S. District Court case in Portland and were reported Tuesday in The Oregonian. Blumenauer said he plans to take his concerns to colleagues on the House Armed Services Committee.

'I find this mind-numbing,' Blumenauer said after sending the letter to Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates.

Twenty-six Oregon Army National Guard veterans who guarded KBR employees restoring Iraqi oil production in 2003 are suing the contractor, claiming the contractor knowingly or negligently exposed them to a cancer-causing chemical. Another 140 Indiana National Guard veterans have filed a similar suit.

KBR defends its conduct at the Qarmat Ali water-treatment plant, saying it 'was governed at all times by the terms of its contract with the United States military.'....Heinrich told Army officials that KBR refused to do the job unless granted "broad coverage." KBR required that the U.S. Treasury -- taxpayers and not the contractor -- pay for any property damage, injury or death of any soldier or civilian working at a KBR site. That applied even if the harm resulted from KBR negligence.

"We proposed some language that we preferred to have in terms of the indemnification," Heinrich said, adding that the agreement was typed up during that single meeting with an Army attorney. Heinrich said an amended contract was signed shortly afterward by the secretary of the army -- at the time Tom White -- or someone at the "secretariat level."

Despite seven years of war and months of discovery in the U.S. District Court case in Portland, that clause remained secret until Heinrich's testimony under oath.

A furious Blumenauer sent a letter to Gates, saying, "I am deeply concerned that the Department's contracts appear to leave the U.S. service members doubly exposed: first to the unsafe environment created by these contractors and second as taxpayers potentially paying for the legal defense of the very contractors causing harm."

Visa policy changed for US diplomats

DAWN.COM | Front Page | Visa policy changed for US diplomats: "ISLAMABAD: In a bid to end a row with the US over diplomatic and official visas, President Asif Ali Zardari has asked Foreign Office to enhance the visa authority of the country’s ambassador to Washington.

The move comes a day before Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Islamabad for a second round of the Strategic Dialogue.

The proposal from the Presidency asked Foreign Office to authorise Ambassador Hussain Haqqani to issue visas for diplomats, officials and military personnel for up to one year.

At present, the ambassador is authorised to issue three-month entry visas to incoming diplomats and officials, all of whom after arriving here seek an extension, entailing extensive vetting by security agencies. The vetting process takes up to six weeks, causing piling up of applications.

Sources said the prime minister had assented to the proposal and the new visa policy would be implemented soon.

The visa issue has been a persistent irritant in bilateral relations...

bth: amazing how a couple of billion in aid will clear up a visa problem.

Video: Army Tests ‘HULC’ Super-Strength Gear, No Gamma Rays Allowed | Danger Room |

Video: Army Tests ‘HULC’ Super-Strength Gear, No Gamma Rays Allowed | Danger Room | "- Sent using Google Toolbar"

After long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. military begins to treat mental injuries as combat wounds --

After long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. military begins to treat mental injuries as combat wounds -- "The 300-pound bomb blasted Marine Staff Sgt. James Ownbey's mine-resistant truck so high that it snapped power lines before it slammed to the dusty ground in western Iraq.

Ownbey, knocked briefly unconscious by the blast, awoke to suffocating black smoke and a swirling cloud of dirt. He felt for the vehicle's door, then stumbled into the sunlight where he was joined by the rest of his woozy, three-man crew. Their bodies were sore, but they looked fine.

A Marine general visiting from Washington heard about the blast and came to see the survivors. As Gen. James F. Amos laid a hand on Ownbey's neck, his aide snapped a picture, proof of the new vehicle's efficacy against insurgent bombs.

"I kind of felt separated from myself," Ownbey recalled of the aftermath of the 2007 blast. "It didn't feel like anything was real."

Two years after the explosion Amos and Ownbey met again, this time in a cramped room at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda. Ownbey had been overtaken by terrifying panic attacks, puzzling memory loss and strange rib-snapping coughing fits that left him hospitalized for weeks at a time. Doctors diagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury, caused by battlefield concussions.

For Amos, seeing Ownbey's condition was the moment that the bloodless trauma of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars became tangible. "I thought we can't do this anymore," said Amos, referring to the military's slow response to treating PTSD and traumatic brain injury.

Ownbey's descent from dazed survivor to bed-ridden Marine exemplifies the debilitating passage of troops afflicted with PTSD and traumatic brain injury. His story also traces the military's awakening.

Senior commanders have reached a turning point. After nine years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, they are beginning to recognize age-old legacies of the battlefield - once known as shellshock or battle fatigue - as combat wounds, not signs of weakness. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, Amos's Army counterpart, has been especially outspoken. "PTSD is not a figment of someone's imagination," Chiarelli lectured an auditorium of skeptical sergeants last fall. "It is a cruel physiological thing."

The challenge facing Amos and Chiarelli has been convincing an undermanned force that PTSD and traumatic brain injury are real injuries that demand immediate care. The generals also have run up against an overburdened military medical system that is short on doctors and reluctant to take risks with new types of treatment.

"I have been asked . . . should you have figured this out sooner?" said Amos, who was recently tapped to be Marine Corps commandant. "Yeah, we should have. But we didn't. It has been evolutionary." ...

bth: I want to encourage you to read this very important and informative article on traumatic head injuries. Its a superb article by Jaffe.

Car bomb attack in Juarez Mexico - inevitably heading our way

Four dead in Juarez bombing | KTSM News Channel 9
Juarez-- People in Juarez are recovering from a car bomb that killed four Thursday night. The victims include two federal agents, an ambulance worker and a doctor who was in the area when the bomb went off.

Tonight, we have learned that it was a car bomb that was detonated with the same kind of sophistication that is used by terrorist groups like Hezbollah.

A number of people were injured during the attack. Today we know that seven federal police agents were severely injured. A news photographer from channel 5 in Juarez remains in critical condition...