Saturday, January 08, 2011

Five myths about why the South seceded

Five myths about why the South seceded: ..."Slavery was hardly on its last legs in 1860. That year, the South produced almost 75 percent of all U.S. exports. Slaves were worth more than all the manufacturing companies and railroads in the nation. No elite class in history has ever given up such an immense interest voluntarily. Moreover, Confederates eyed territorial expansion into Mexico and Cuba. Short of war, who would have stopped them - or forced them to abandon slavery?

To claim that slavery would have ended of its own accord by the mid-20th century is impossible to disprove but difficult to accept. In 1860, slavery was growing more entrenched in the South. Unpaid labor makes for big profits, and the Southern elite was growing ever richer. Freeing slaves was becoming more and more difficult for their owners, as was the position of free blacks in the United States, North as well as South. For the foreseeable future, slavery looked secure. Perhaps a civil war was required to end it.

As we commemorate the sesquicentennial of that war, let us take pride this time - as we did not during the centennial - that secession on slavery's behalf failed.

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Friday, January 07, 2011

YouTube - Linkin Park - Shadow of the Day (Boyce Avenue piano acoustic cover)

YouTube - Linkin Park - Shadow of the Day (Boyce Avenue piano acoustic cover): "- Sent using Google Toolbar"




Wainwright: Taseer’s Assassination Lays Bare Contradictions in Pakistani Islam | Informed Comment

Wainwright: Taseer’s Assassination Lays Bare Contradictions in Pakistani Islam | Informed Comment: "The assassination of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer has laid bare a crucial debate within the Pakistani public over the nature of Islam and the place of Islamic law in national affairs. That it is a debate among Muslims with more than one side is a point that sometimes gets lost in Western discussions of Pakistan.

An investigation into the assassination of Punjab governor Salman Taseer, killed Wednesday 4th January, has been opened. According to Stratfor, it will try to identify why Malik Qadri, the assassin, was able to fire two magazines full of bullets before being apprehended, as well as how Qadri (who was already considered suspicious because of his religious views) was allowed to become part of the personal security detail of a politician whose secular positions had aroused much ire....

- bth: this article should probably be read in full and is perhaps the most balanced discussion on why murder is tolerated in Pakistan over blasphemy. That said, it beggars belief that the media or US special forces are the cause of why an assassin was allowed to become a body guard and why the other guards failed to act and why religious clerics and so called lawyers are showering the assassin with rose petals as he enters court. What a bloody crime committed and supported by criminals and clerics and legal scholars whose shameful behavior is beyond contempt - its cowardly. And this tolerated behavior of criminality is from a country with nuclear weapons.

Part of the solution or the problem in Afghanistan?

Taliban Strength Unaffected By Allied Surge
....The U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has kept official figures of enemy strength under wraps throughout the nine-year war. But non-U.S. military assessments have tracked the growth of the Taliban from about 500 armed fighters in 1993 to 25,000 in early 2010.

"These are rough estimates, because they're not just standing around to be counted," said the NATO official who could not be named in line with standing regulations.

The Taliban are pitted against about 140,000 ISAF troops – two-thirds of them Americans – and over 200,000 members of the government's security forces.

This gives the allies a numerical advantage of at least 12:1 – one of the highest such ratios in modern guerrilla wars. At the height of the Vietnam War, the U.S. and its allies had an advantage of between 4-5 to 1 over their Communist foes.

President Barack Obama has doubled U.S. troop numbers since taking office two years ago, hoping to inflict major losses on the Taliban before a planned pullout starting this year. The intensity of combat has sharply escalated as a result, with both civilian and military casualties hitting record highs.

Despite the Taliban's ability to make up for battlefield losses, U.S. and NATO commanders now insist they are making real progress throughout the country. They say hundreds of Taliban have been killed, and others forced to abandon the movement's strongholds in southern and eastern provinces.
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Meanwhile, the training of a 300,000-strong government security force is said to be going according to the plan adopted at NATO's summit in November. It calls for a gradual hand-over to Afghan troops and initial withdrawals of foreign forces by the middle of this year, concluding in 2014, when security throughout the nation will be transferred entirely to government forces.

"As we look back on 2010, we see that we have made hard-fought progress," NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said. "Our strategy is sound and we have in place the necessary resources to accomplish it."

Military experts generally agree that international troops have seized the initiative in the war.

Peter Mansoor, a retired army colonel and professor of military history at Ohio State University, said the unchanged number of insurgents did not reflect the reality on the ground, as the Taliban had in fact sustained heavy blows over the past year.

"We have taken hundreds of their leaders off the battlefields," he said in a telephone interview.

"Next year will be clearly crucial as the Taliban try to regain lost territory around Kandahar and in Helmand, and we'll see if they can make up those losses," he said. "We will also see if we've been able to create the institutions – the government, police and army – there that can sustain themselves."

But other analysts caution that the gains could be reversed because the Taliban have not been defeated, but have simply retreated in the face of superior forces. Employing classic guerrilla tactics they melted away into other areas, spreading the rebellion into new parts of the country.

Jovo Kapicic, a retired Montenegrin general who fought in the first modern guerrilla war – in occupied Yugoslavia during World War II – said it was never a problem for insurgents to make up losses in manpower despite massive losses.

"Guerrillas who enjoy the support of the population can always bounce back," he added.

The Taliban are reported to be enjoying growing support among the population, which is exhausted by nine years of war and increasingly opposed to the foreign troop presence in their country.

"Many people now perceive ISAF as an occupying force," said Anne Jones, a humanitarian activist and author who has lived in Afghanistan. "(They) are no longer part of the solution, they have become the problem."...

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Report says Army cut corners on body armor tests

Report says Army cut corners on body armor tests: "WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon inspector general says the Army cut corners when testing body armor used by U.S. troops.

In a report issued Wednesday, the watchdog agency says service officials did not consistently enforce - and at times lowered - ballistic testing requirements for protective vests that cost U.S. taxpayers $434 million.

Taking shortcuts around the testing standards means the Army has only limited assurance the vests met what the contract required, the report says.

The Army has agreed with an inspector general's recommendation to determine whether a recall of any of the critical battlefield gear is necessary.

The body armor used by most American forces consists of a ballistic vest with two large, specially hardened ceramic plates that protect most of the upper body from enemy bullets and shrapnel.

- bth: We've been saying this was going on for years

WikiLeaks: China Hiding Military Buildup, Intentions - World Watch - CBS News

WikiLeaks: China Hiding Military Buildup, Intentions - World Watch - CBS News: "'China's longer-term agenda is to develop 'comprehensive national power', including a strong military, that is in keeping with its view of itself as a great power,' a copy of the secret assessment provided by Foreign Affairs officials to the US embassy in Canberra said.

The cable goes on to state: 'We agree that the trend of China's military modernisation is beyond the scope of what would be required for a conflict over Taiwan. Arguably China already poses a credible threat to modern militaries operating in the region and will present an even more formidable challenge as its modernisation continues.'

Another cable written in January, 2008, released by the Norwegian Aftenposten newspaper, cast doubt on China's official explanation for a weather satellite it blew up in orbit in January, 2007.

Officially, China said the satellite's destruction by a ground-based missile was a 'scientific experiment.'

U.S. officials, however, concluded that 'China had not explained adequately the purpose of the test,' and that the test was 'inconsistent with China's stated interest in the peaceful use of outer space.'

The cable goes on to state: 'The contradiction between China's statements and actions in this area raise questions about the credibility of China's declaratory policies and commitments in other areas of national security affairs. The U.S. is refraining from any expansion of space-related cooperation with China.'

- bth: in light of China's successful satellite destruction from a ground missile, it is little wonder why the Air Force has funded and continues to develop its unmanned shuttle with bays capable of deploying or retrieving satellites.

NightWatch 20110105 - KGS - Total breakdown in Pakistani security

NightWatch 20110105 - KGS: ..."Pakistan: Update. On 5 January, Pakistani media reported more details about the assassination of Governor Taseer.

The assassin said everyone in the governor's protective detail knew of his intentions. The weird thing is no background investigation would find adverse information about a devout Muslim, not in Pakistan.

The guard who assassinated Punjab Governor Salman Taseer on 4 January told other police officers of his planned attack but was still assigned to Taseer's security detail, the Wall Street Journal reported 5 January. The assassin, Qadri, previously was removed from a counterterrorism police branch because of concerns about his Islamist leanings. He personally had requested to guard Taseer, according to a senior police official.

A dozen people have been detained, including six policemen who were on guard duty and are suspected of aiding the assassination. Investigators are looking into Qadri's ties to radical Islamist group Dawat-e-Islami.

Pakistani religious scholars warned on 5 January that anyone who grieves the assassination of the Punjab Province Governor could face the same fate, Reuters reported.

More than 500 scholars of the Jamaat-e-Ahl-e-Sunnat from the Barelvi sect of Sunnis praised the assassin's 'courage' and religious zeal, saying his deed made Muslims worldwide proud. They warned against expressions of grief or sympathy for Taseer's death. The Jamaat-e-Islami party also called Taseer's assassination justified, saying there would have been no need for someone to kill him if the government had removed him from his post.

Comment: The extent of the security breakdown is astonishing, curious and ominous. Qadri's intention to commit murder was apparently barracks gossip. The curious part is that none of his fellow officers alerted security.

No police supervisors apparently voiced concern about the conditions for Qadri's reassignment. They had to know about his intentions, or they are incompetent. Every other cop in the team knew. Either way, the whole group needs to be dismissed and charged with aiding and abetting murder.

The ominous part is that no background investigation or other safeguards can be effective when all the people in a node of a security system support murderous behavior.

Now apply the above analysis to the guards and technicians who control nuclear weapons in Pakistan. How can Pakistan Army Generals trust any results of the personnel security system, if the personnel vetting system fails to filter extremists? For that matter, can the civilian government trust the generals?

Old hands counted and tracked the colonels and generals with beards because they were the men openly sympathetic to fundamentalist Islam, unless they were Sikhs.

The Pakistani security system might catch an Indian spy, but it will not even search for an Islamist extremist who might try to steal fissile material so as to use it against blasphemers, heretics or infidels. The greatest threat to internal stability is from true believers already inside the Pakistani security forces, not from the Pakistani Taliban.

Finally, the statements of approval of murder and the encomiums for the assassin arise from an alien culture and spotlight the distance between western and Islamic ideas of life and its worth. The Muslim scholars never read John Donne's 'Meditation #XVII'. Or, having read it, rejected it....

- bth: astonishing.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Dean Criticizes Tea Party, Fears Obama Could Lose Youth Vote : Roll Call

Dean Criticizes Tea Party, Fears Obama Could Lose Youth Vote : Roll Call: "Howard Dean says the tea party movement is not fundamentally racist. But in pointed remarks Wednesday morning, the former Vermont governor and Democratic National Committee chairman said he believes the movement is driven in large part by fear of diversity.

Tea party supporters are “almost entirely over 55 and white,” Dean said when reporters asked about the tea party at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.

“Every morning when they see the president, they’re reminded that things are totally different than they were when they were born,” Dean said. “The economy and the economic uncertainty fuels all of this. But this is the last gasp of the generation that has trouble with diversity.”

“I do not believe the tea party in its soul is a racist organization,” Dean added, “not to say there aren’t racists who try to take advantage of some of the more deranged people that you find in any movement.”

“I think it’s a group of older folks who have seen their lives change dramatically. The country is not the same. The demographic that we have all known are going to have changes,” he said. “They don’t know what to do.”

The former governor believes that minorities would turn out in great numbers for Democrats in 2012, although he has concerns about the younger voters who helped to elect President Barack Obama and have become disillusioned by the perceived pace of change.

“Re-energizing idealists is not so easy. It’s going to require a lot of work to get young people back at the polls in the numbers they came out in 2008,” he said....

- bth: interesting analysis

China military eyes preemptive nuclear attack in event of crisis | Kyodo News

China military eyes preemptive nuclear attack in event of crisis | Kyodo News: "The Chinese military will consider launching a preemptive nuclear strike if the country finds itself faced with a critical situation in a war with another nuclear state, internal documents showed Wednesday.

The newly revealed policy, called ''Lowering the threshold of nuclear threats,'' may contradict China's strategy of no first use of nuclear weapons under any circumstances, and is likely to fan concern in the United States, Japan and other regional powers about Beijing's nuclear capability.

The People's Liberation Army's strategic missile forces, the Second Artillery Corps, ''will adjust the nuclear threat policy if a nuclear missile-possessing country carries out a series of air strikes against key strategic targets in our country with absolutely superior conventional weapons,'' according to the documents, copies of which were obtained by Kyodo News.

Israel said would keep Gaza near collapse: WikiLeaks - Yahoo! News

Israel said would keep Gaza near collapse: WikiLeaks - Yahoo! News: "ERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel told U.S. officials in 2008 it would keep Gaza's economy 'on the brink of collapse' while avoiding a humanitarian crisis, according to U.S. diplomatic cables published by a Norwegian daily on Wednesday.

Three cables cited by the Aftenposten newspaper, which has said it has all 250,000 U.S. cables leaked to WikiLeaks, showed that Israel kept the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv briefed on its internationally criticized blockade of the Gaza Strip.

The territory, home to 1.3 million Palestinians, is run by the Islamist Hamas group, which is shunned by the West over its refusal to recognize Israel, renounce violence or accept existing interim Israeli-Palestinian peace deals.

'As part of their overall embargo plan against Gaza, Israeli officials have confirmed to (U.S. embassy economic officers) on multiple occasions that they intend to keep the Gazan economy on the brink of collapse without quite pushing it over the edge,' one of the cables read.

Israel wanted the coastal territory's economy 'functioning at the lowest level possible consistent with avoiding a humanitarian crisis,' according to the November 3, 2008 cable....

Salman Taseer assassination points to Pakistani extremists' mounting power

Salman Taseer assassination points to Pakistani extremists' mounting power: "KARACHI, PAKISTAN - One of Pakistan's most openly progressive politicians was gunned down Tuesday in an act that violently highlighted extremists' tightening grip on the country even as the beleaguered government struggled to stay in power.
This Story

The killing of Salman Taseer, apparently at the hands of one of his own guards, marked the most prominent political assassination in Pakistan since former prime minister Benazir Bhutto's death three years ago.

The razor-tongued governor of Pakistan's most populous province was known for speaking out on behalf of women and religious minorities, and his slaying stunned the nation and alarmed U.S. officials. It also further rocked Taseer's ruling Pakistan People's Party, which is desperately trying to keep its government afloat following a key ally's defection to the opposition Sunday. ...

- bth: it is as if any voice of reason is being assassinated in Pakistan.

Pakistan releases top al Qaeda-linked terrorist leader - The Long War Journal

Pakistan releases top al Qaeda-linked terrorist leader - The Long War Journal: "A senior Pakistani terrorist linked to al Qaeda and the country's intelligence service has been released from 'protective custody.'

Qari Saifullah Akhtar, the leader of the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI, or the Movement of Islamic Holy War), was released in early December after being taken into protective custody in August 2010. HUJI is closely linked to al Qaeda and the Taliban. Ilyas Kashmiri, the operational commander for HUJI, also serves as al Qaeda's military commander and is a senior leader on al Qaeda's external operations council. HUJI is also supported by Pakistan's military and the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate.

Akhtar's release was first reported in The News on Dec. 28, 2010. US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal said that they believe the report is accurate.

Pakistani intelligence officials took Akhtar into custody in August after he was supposedly wounded in a US Predator strike in North Waziristan, The News reported. He traveled to Peshawar and then Rawalpindi, where he was taken into custody and then moved to Lahore for treatment and subsequently placed in an ISI safe house.

A US intelligence official told The Long War Journal that it is thought that Akhtar was was not arrested, but 'placed in protective custody so he can be treated for his injuries and debriefed.'

Akhtar was placed into custody at the same time that five Americans who were recruited by the HUJI leader were convicted in a Pakistani court of attempting join al Qaeda to carry out attacks for the terror network. The five Americans were recruited by Akhtar via the Internet and traveled to Pakistan in November 2009. They were arrested by police in Sargodha before they could travel to North Waziristan to join al Qaeda. [See LWJ report, Top al Qaeda leader linked to 5 Americans on trial in Pakistan.]

Another US intelligence official said that the timing of Akhtar's detention and the conviction of the five American jihadis was 'no coincidence.'

'Pakistan's ISI often brings in its top assets when the heat is turned up; they are placed in safehouses to avoid being targeted, or to get them out of the limelight,' the official told The Long War Journal.

'This has happened in the recent past, with LeT [Lashkar-e-Taiba] emir Hafiz Saeed and JeM [Jaish-e-Mohammed] emir Masood Azhar after Mumbai in 2008,' the official said, referring to the deadly terror assault on the Indian city of Mumbai that killed more than 170 people. ...

- bth: a stunningly depressing article on just how intimate Pakistans ISI is with terrorists that are doing us harm.

Chaos as Pakistani Governor Assassinated in Islamabad -- News from Antiwar.com

Chaos as Pakistani Governor Assassinated in Islamabad -- News from Antiwar.com: "Governor Salman Taseer, member of the ruling Pakistani Peoples Party and governor of the Punjab Province, was assassinated today by one of his guards in the capital city of Islamabad. Taseer’s death adds yet more uncertainty at a time when the Pakistani political situation is in turmoil.

The assassin, Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, was a personal bodyguard and a member of Punjab’s Elite Forces. He confessed to the assassination and said he was prompted by Taseer’s condemnation of Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law as a “black law.”

Shops across the Punjabi capital city of Lahore were closed for much of the day in the wake of the killing, as members of the Pakistani Peoples Party protested and blocked traffic. The assassination drew strong rebukes from members of a number of opposition factions and long-time rivals.

Not from everyone, however, as Asadullah Bhutto, a top member of Jamaat-e Islami, responded to the announcement of Taseer’s killing during an ongoing press conference with barely restrained jubilation, announcing that “whoever has killed him is a pious man and will go directly to heaven.” Bhutto added that the PPP was to blame for Taseer’s death for not having replaced him sooner.

- bth: is this what is to become of Pakistan? Criticize Islam and be assassinated?

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

YouTube - OneRepublic / Timbaland - Apologize (Boyce Avenue piano acoustic cover)

YouTube - OneRepublic / Timbaland - Apologize (Boyce Avenue piano acoustic cover): "- Sent using Google Toolbar"

Senator wants FTC investigation of helmet makers - NFL - Yahoo! Sports

Senator wants FTC investigation of helmet makers - NFL - Yahoo! Sports: "WASHINGTON (AP)—A U.S. Senator is asking the Federal Trade Commission to investigate “misleading safety claims and deceptive practices” in the selling of new football helmets and reconditioning of used ones.

In a letter dated Tuesday—a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press on Monday night—Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., tells FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz that helmet companies “appear to be using misleading advertising claims” and that “some helmet reconditioning companies may be falsely selling used helmets as meeting an industry safety standard.”

In his letter to the FTC’s Leibowitz, Udall says he is “troubled by misleading marketing claims by Riddell, a leading helmet maker that supplies the official helmet to the National Football League.”...

- bth: its a shame that US Senators in general don't give the same attention to fraud by defense contractors in the production on helmets and body armor that are off spec.

NightWatch 20110103 - KGS- Japan and S. Korea

NightWatch 20110103 - KGS: "Japan-South Korea: Japanese Foreign Minister Maehara said he wants to visit South Korea in 2011 to discuss comprehensive security and military cooperation with South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung Hwan, according to Japanese media on 2 January.

Noting that consistent efforts and dialogue will be needed to expand the alliance beyond economic, political and cultural cooperation, Maehara said a new security alliance could include joint military exercises between South Korean troops and Japan Self-Defense Forces as well as contingency responses on the Korean Peninsula. He added North Korean provocations endanger the peace and stability of both the peninsula and the whole of eastern Asia.

Comment: Maehara prudently withheld any substantive ideas. He also did not mention the US attitude, which is probably supportive. The prelude to yesterday's statements apparently was the press rumors that in an emergency Japanese forces might assist South Korean forces in defeating North Korea … on the Korean peninsula.

In retrospect, those rumors look like a deliberate test of Korean attitudes to the possibilities of Japanese military assistance, as one of multiple options for defending the Northeast Asian democracies. The Korean backlash against the rumors showed that the Korean public is not yet ready to accept the presence of Japanese ground forces even in common defense. Too many World War II veterans are still alive.

Nevertheless, there are other options, including closer naval and air defense cooperation. Increased security cooperation between the great Northeast Asian democracies is tonight's good news. It is bad news for North Korea.

- bth: the Chinese must view this as an unintended negative consequence of N. Korean belligerence which ill serves the Chinese.

US general: Deal with tribe in Taliban bastion | Antiwar Newswire

US general: Deal with tribe in Taliban bastion | Antiwar Newswire: "The leaders of the largest tribe in a Taliban stronghold in southern Helmand province have pledged to halt insurgent attacks and expel foreign fighters from one of the most violent spots in the country, the senior U.S. Marine general in Afghanistan said Monday

Marine Maj. Gen. Richard Mills, who commands coalition forces in the southwest, said the deal was struck between local elders in the Sangin district and Helmand Governor Gulabuddin Mangal with the consultation of coalition forces. The area has witnessed some of the heaviest fighting of the war.

However it is unlikely that the violence will cease immediately in Sangin as the die-hard Taliban leadership under the command of Mullah Mohammad Omar, which is based in the Pakistani city of Quetta, will keep fighting.

But the cooperation of the tribal leaders in the effort to rid the area of insurgents could help shorten the war in one of the most violent places in Afghanistan....

The deal was made with the Alikozai tribe, the largest in the Sarwan-Qalah area of the Upper Sangin Valley. The tribe controls the majority of the 30 villages located in a 17-square-kilometer region, said Mangal spokesman Daoud Ahmadi. The tribe last rose up against the Taliban in 2007 but failed because of a lack of resources and coalition help.

Sangin is a strategic region for the Taliban and one they do not want to lose. It is a key crossroads to funnel drugs, weapons and fighters throughout Helmand and into neighboring Kandahar province, the spiritual heartland of the Taliban. It is also one of the last remaining sanctuaries in Helmand where the Taliban can freely process the opium and heroin that largely fund the insurgency.

"The insurgents have already begun to strike back savagely at those who desire peace but so far the elders remain steadfast," Mills said in a statement.

Mills said that his forces would continue to push into Taliban and insurgent-controlled areas and would fight back if confronted.

According to Mangal's office the deal was struck on Saturday in the center of Sangin after 25 days of negotiations.

"As they are the majority in that area we can say this will be a successful process in that area," Ahmadi said.

As part of the counterinsurgency plan mapped out by Gen. David Petraeus, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, once an area is cleared of insurgents, development and reconstruction aid will follow.

"They want schools, medical clinics, and the freedom to move about without fear of the insurgency," Mills said....



- bth: perhaps an opportunity

Monday, January 03, 2011

Obama Administration Plans Guantanamo Showdown With Congress

Obama Administration Plans Guantanamo Showdown With Congress: "Obama administration officials say they plan to reject Congressional efforts to limit the president's options on Guantanamo, setting the stage for a confrontation between the president and the new Congress on an issue that has been politically divisive since Inauguration Day.

The Guantanamo provisions, which include limits on where and how prisoners can be tried, were attached to a spending bill for military pay and benefits approved by Congress late last year. Some Administration officials are recommending that President Obama sign the spending bill and then issue a 'signing statement' challenging at least some of the Guantanamo provisions as intrusions on his constitutional authority. Others have recommended that he express opposition to the Guantanamo sections without addressing their constitutionality.

The statement, officials said, would likely be released along with a new executive order that outlined review procedures for some -- but not all -- of the 174 Guantanamo prisoners still held without charge or trial.

Obama has used signing statements in the past, but this one would carry political significance as the first test of his relationship with a Congress in which the House is firmly in Republican control.

Officials said the White House is still weighing how to calibrate the signing statement. A statement rejecting all of the bill's Guantanamo provisions would almost certainly be viewed as provocative by Congressional Republicans and some Democrats. But administration officials view the provisions as clear encroachments on the president's right to prosecutorial discretion and some are pushing for their blanket repudiation....

- bth: it will be real interesting to see how this goes down. Using a signing statement to bypass or override congress over Guantanamo is dripping with irony.

YouTube - Mozart - Requiem

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The Way Out of Afghanistan by Ahmed Rashid | The New York Review of Books

The Way Out of Afghanistan by Ahmed Rashid | The New York Review of Books:... "Here is a possible step-by-step approach, involving all the players, that is intended to build trust and confidence in the region so that ultimately negotiations with the Taliban can take place.

1. NATO, the Afghan government, and Pakistan free most Afghan Taliban prisoners under their jurisdiction and seek to accommodate them safely in Afghanistan or allow them to seek refuge in third countries. NATO guarantees freedom of movement for Taliban mediators opening an office in a friendly third country.

2. Iran enters into negotiations with the United Nations and European countries to end its safe haven for Afghan Taliban and allow them to return home or seek refuge in third countries. None of these actions includes amnesty or safe passage for al-Qaeda and its affiliated groups.

3. The Taliban respond with confidence-building measures of their own such as publicly dissociating themselves from al-Qaeda, ordering an end to targeted killings of Afghan administrators and aid workers, and an end to suicide bombings and burning schools and government buildings.

4. The US, NATO, and the UN declare their willingness to negotiate directly with the Taliban when the Taliban publicly request it, although they insist that the dialogue between Kabul and the Taliban remain the main avenue for negotiating a peace deal.

5. A new UN Security Council resolution calls for negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban to bring the war to an end. The UN resolution mandates its special representative in Kabul to help those negotiations and to start a dialogue between Afghanistan’s neighboring states to reduce their mutual antagonisms and interference; the resolution also calls for Afghan Taliban leaders who do not have ties to al-Qaeda to be struck off the list of terrorism suspects.

6. India and Pakistan enter into secret talks between their intelligence agencies in order to make their presence in Afghanistan more transparent to the other and end their rivalries. Later the two governments come to agreements that would allow each one to tolerate the other’s embassies, consulates, rebuilding activities, and trade interests in Afghanistan. Both pledge not to seek a military presence in Afghanistan or to use Afghan soil to undermine the other.

7. Central to any plan would be a deal with the separatist insurgents in the Pakistani province of Balochistan who make use of territory in Afghanistan to carry out their attacks on Pakistan. To address the problem, Pakistan issues a general amnesty for all insurgent Baloch separatist groups and dissidents and announces its intentions to discuss a new peace formula with all Baloch separatist groups to end the current insurgency. The army and ISI free all Baloch prisoners they are holding including the hundreds of “disappeared” prisoners.

8. The Afghan government makes a commitment to return all Baloch separatist leaders on its soil once agreement is reached on a political deal in Balochistan and safe passage for Baloch leaders to return home is guaranteed by the Pakistan army and an international agency such as the International Committee of the Red Cross.

9. Pakistan issues a timetable and deadline of between six to twelve months for all Afghan Taliban leaders and their families who want to do so to leave Pakistan and return to Afghanistan. Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the UN would jointly help those Taliban not wishing to return home and not on any terrorism list to seek political asylum in third countries. Simultaneously Pakistan would undertake military action in North Waziristan in an effort to destroy remnants of al-Qaeda and Afghan and Pakistani Taliban who may remain and try to sabotage any peace process. Even if such action were not fully successful, the aim would be to limit their capacity to sponsor insurgency.

10. The Afghan government works to build a national consensus inside the country among all ethnic groups, civil society, and the tribes before entering into formal negotiations with the Taliban. Negotiations also start between the US and the Taliban. The US agrees to sharply restrict killing of Taliban leaders by drones and other means.

Many questions hover over such a plan. It is a tragic loss that Richard Holbrooke, who would have been a strong leader in advancing such steps, died before they could be pursued. The former Taliban officials I talked to seemed open to a sequence of this kind. Whether their comrades in Pakistan can be persuaded to make a series of compromises and to estrange themselves from al-Qaeda is far from clear. But if after ten years the war is to be ended and the “end state” is to be actually achieved, then some such series of steps will be needed.

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Wikileaks: Israel Plans Total War on Lebanon, Gaza | Informed Comment

Wikileaks: Israel Plans Total War on Lebanon, Gaza | Informed Comment: ..."The paper says that US cables quote Ashkenazi telling the US congressmen, “I’m preparing the Israeli army for a major war, since it is easier to scale down to a smaller operation than to do the opposite.”

The general’s plans are driven by fear of growing stockpiles of rockets in Hamas-controlled Gaza and in Hizbullah-controlled Southern Lebanon, the likely theaters of the planned major new war. Ashkenazi does not seem capable of considering that, given a number of Israeli invasions and occupations of those regions, the rockets may be primarily defensive.

Ashkenazi told the visiting delegation that Israeli unmanned drones had had great success in identifying rocket emplacements in southern Lebanon, and that it had been aided in this endeavor by the US National Security Agency,which spies on communications.

The new, major war will be a total war on civilians, Ashkenazi boasted: “In the next war Israel cannot accept any restrictions on warfare in urban areas.” (I den neste krigen kan Israel ikke godta noen restriksjoner på krigføring i byområder in Norwegian, or let us just translate it into the original German: In den nächsten Krieg, den Israel kann keine Beschränkungen Kriegsführung in städtischen Gebieten.) Mind you, the civilian deaths deriving from this massive and unrestricted bombing campaign on targets in the midst of civilian urban populations will be “unintentional.” Planning to bomb civilian areas with foreknowledge that you will thereby kill large numbers of civilians is a war crime.

Ashkenazi also admitted to then Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) that Hamas is not in control of even more radical groups, which had infiltrated cells into Hamas itself, and which had rocket-making capabilities. In public, Israeli officials routinely demonize Hamas for every rocket fired from the lawless, besieged territory of Gaza, but here in private Ashkenazi was admitting the opposite. He even admitted that Israeli intelligence had no means to distinguish the even-more-radical from the merely Hamas.

Other State Department documents on the same theme say that last year this time Hizbullah had about 20,000 rockets, some of which can now reach Tel Aviv, and that the Shiite militia will attempt to stretch out its supplies for a two-month-long war, and would try to lob about 100 rockets at Tel Aviv per day.

In the 2006 Israeli war on Lebanon, one fourth of the Israeli population was be forced to move house. It will be more this time, and for longer.

The memos reveal that none of the goals of Israel’s 2006 war on Lebanon and its 2008-9 war on little Gaza were achieved, and that both Hamas and Hizbullah have effectively re-armed. What makes Ashkenazi think things would be different this time? Israel hawks have doomed themselves to the particular hell of Sisyphus, forced to roll the same stone up the hill over and over again with no hope of ever balancing it on the summit.

You know, Israel could have a peace treaty with Syria and Lebanon tomorrow by giving back the Golan Heights and the Shebaa Farms, and by accepting a two-state solution. Instead, its Dr. Strangeloves are planning out massive bombings of areas thick with innocent civilians and willing to subject Tel Aviv to two months worth of rocket fire.

Nor will the United States be held harmless from the blowback in the region caused by another Israeli war of aggression. Before September 11, Israel hawks used to make fun of Americans who warned that eventually there would be hell to pay for the Israeli strangulation of the Palestinians (for the argument, see this posting). And, imagine what a war would do to gasoline prices and to the world economy. My deepest fear is that US support for Israeli militarism, and the terrorism that support inevitably engenders, will be what finally finishes off the civil liberties enshrined in the American Constitution.

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Qaeda ordered bombing of Egypt church 2 weeks ago

Qaeda ordered bombing of Egypt church 2 weeks ago: "Al-Qaeda affiliate, the Islamic State of Iraq, had ordered its militants to attack Egypt's Coptic Christians two weeks before a Church was bombed in Alexandria killing 21 people, according to a statement posted on the group's website.

The website, named the Network of Islamic Glory, carried a statement calling militants to 'wake up' and prepare for 'bombing churches during Christmas celebrations.'...The group mentioned names of many churches to be targeted, including the Coptic Christian Saints Church in Alexandria, which was bombed on Saturday.

The group provided comprehensive details of each target church and concluded the details with words saying, "This is all what I could gather, my dear brother."...

-- bth: so it was known. I wonder if this ties to the Qaeda group rounded up in Turkey just before New Years?

India, Pakistan and their growing nuclear arsenal | Analysis & Opinion |

India, Pakistan and their growing nuclear arsenal | Analysis & Opinion |:.... "Nevertheless the race to expand nuclear weapons programme as also missile development adds another layer of instability in South Asia, with Afghanistan and Pakistan at the centre of the turmoil and home to al Qaedaand allied militant groups. The question is why now ? Why is Pakistan seeking to expand its arsenal ? Is this a numbers game ? Are the rivals getting sucked into a nuclear arms race without intending to ?

Mark Hibbs, a nuclear affairs expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told me in a conversation last month there was a “budding arms race” on between India and Pakistan, although nowhere near the scale of the Cold War duel between the United States and the Soviet Union.

And it’s been some years in the making with the rest of world unable or perhaps unwilling to stop it. As early as 2008, the United States had evidence of an increase in Pakistani nuclear activity, according to diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks and published by The Guardian. Peter Lavoy, an intelligence officer briefing NATO permanent representatives on the The National Intelligence Estimate for Afghanistan and Pakistan in December 2008 said ” despite pending economic catastrophe, Pakistan was producing nuclear weapons at a faster rate than any other country in the world.

Another secret cable dated November 2009 and written by then U.S. ambassador to Islamabad Anne W. Patterson provides a glimpse of Pakistani thinking on nuclear security and why it was stonewalling the launch of negotiations for a fissile material cutoff treaty. First off, the India-United States civilian nuclear accord which the two countries signed off in 2008 dramatically changed the strategic landscape in South Asia. Pakistani officials saw the pact as unshackling India’s nuclear weapons programme by giving New Delhi access to fuel imports to run its civilian nuclear energy plants while saving its domestic uranium reserves for its weapons programme. Thus any numerical advantage held by Pakistan over India in terms of nuclear warheads didn’t matter in the long run because it could continue to produce fissile material at home long after Pakistan had exhausted its reserves.

Secondly, an increase in high-technology defense and space trade between India and the United States, Russia, and others had improved the quality of India’s nuclear systems, according to Pakistani thinking. While Pakistan faced trade barriers and was denied access to foreign technology on account of proliferation concerns, India was no longer held back by these constraints and was using market access to improve its nuclear delivery vehicles.

Third, India’s growing conventional military superiority backed by one of the world’s fastest growing economies had forced Pakistan to turn to nuclear weapons to blunt the edge. While India was buying planes, tanks and heavy artillery, Pakistan was struggling to maintain its military at current levels. On top of that, the Indian military’s Cold Start doctrine of rapid mobilisation and offensive action inside Pakistan had compelled Islamabad to work harder on its nuclear deterrent with many experts suggesting it transform its nuclear arsenal into small, tactical weapons to be used in the battlefield against superior Indian conventional forces. It’s another matter that it remained open to question whether India really had the capability and the will to implement the Cold Start doctrine as I wrote in this analysis based on another set of U.S. cables.

Finally, the Indians were eyeing missile defence even though this could be years away, Pakistani officials argued. Which would make it imperative for Pakistan to improve its nuclear deterrent, both in quality and quantity.

- bth: in all this discussion, one asks, what about China? Doesn't China have a strong incentive to strengthen military ties and nuclear capabilities of Pakistan to put pressure on India?

Glaspie Memo Vindicates Her, Shows Saddam’s Thinking | Informed Comment

Glaspie Memo Vindicates Her, Shows Saddam’s Thinking | Informed Comment: ..."The memo does shed light on Saddam Hussein’s paranoid and desperate mind set. He maintained that Iraq was in financial crisis after the Iran-Iraq War, and provoked his translator to tears by saying that stipends for orphans were about to be cut off. He accused the US of conspiring with Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates to have them break their petroleum export quotas, set by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, so as to keep oil prices low. (Iraq at that time claimed that it lost $1 bn. in revenues for every dollar the price of oil fell as a result of Kuwaiti and other over-production). He also claimed that Iraq had been serving US interests in fighting the war with Iran (1980-1988), since the US public in the aftermath of Vietnam would never have put up with the US military taking 10,000 casualties in a single battle, as the Iraqi soldiers had.

This discourse seems to me to give a clue as to why Saddam was not afraid of a US reprisal for his invasion of Kuwait. He thought the US was paralyzed by the Vietnam Syndrome; and he thought that the US was anyway his enemy by then and attempting to undermine his country’s economy. No wonder he threw caution to the winds and invaded Kuwait a few days later.

In any case, Ms. Glaspie’s detractors owe her an apology.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

YouTube - Moonlight Sonata

YouTube - Moonlight Sonata: "- Sent using Google Toolbar"

McClatchy blog: Nukes & Spooks - Julian Assange's book deal

McClatchy blog: Nukes & Spooks

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been forced, forced, forced to sign a $1.3 million book deal to pay his mounting legal bills.

New York publishing house Alfred A. Knopf confirmed Monday that it has signed Assange on to write his autobiography. There are no specifics on when it will be published.

"I don't want to write this book, but I have to," Assange told the Sunday Times in an interview. "I have already spent 200,000 pounds for legal costs and I need to defend myself and to keep WikiLeaks afloat." Assange has been charged with sexually assaulting two women in Sweden.

After being held in a London jail for a week, he was released on house arrest in a British mansion owned by one of his supporters. He has vehemently denied the charges, saying he is being chased for publishing government documents on WikiLeaks.

Interestingly, the Wall Street Journal had a piece recently that said Assange paid himself two-thirds of WikiLeaks budget for his salary or $86,000 in 2010.

I wonder how much he will really reveal in light of the furtive public life he has led so far. Either way, it is an interesting development that a man known for publishing what other people write will now have to final produce his own words.


--- bth: the comments attached to the original article are certainly worth reading.

Sudan Withdraws From Darfur Peace Talks

Sudan Withdraws From Darfur Peace Talks

DOHA, Qatar — A Sudanese official says his government has withdrawn from peace talks with Darfur rebel groups, but it is still committed to making peace.

Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir threatened to call off the talks in Qatar and return negotiations to Sudan if agreement was not reached by Thursday, and he carried out his threat.

Chief government negotiator Ghazi Salaheddine says the Sudanese delegation will leave for Khartoum on Friday.

Ahmed Hussain Adam, a rebel spokesman, described the move as "a declaration of war" in remarks to Al-Jazeera TV.

Last minute disagreements foiled a goal to reach an accord by the end of the year.

The talks were also marred by renewed clashes between government and rebel forces. Thousands were displaced during the new fighting.

-- bth: so and now there will be renewed civil war?

Seceding from Secession - NYTimes.com

Seceding from Secession - NYTimes.com: ..."The Intelligencer’s editors were among the Virginians who had begun advocating disunion of a different kind. A front-page headline on Jan. 1 proclaimed: “A WARNING TO THE SECESSION TRAITORS IN OUR MIDST. Western Virginia will Secede from Eastern Virginia, if she Secedes from the Union.”

Perhaps in deference to the occasion, however, the editorial page struck a gentler, more hopeful note that New Year’s Day. Gazing a year ahead, into the uncertain future, the editors wrote: “We hope that if 1862 comes to us all, it may come amidst different scenes from those which we are now beholding throughout the country. – That it may … see no miserable rattlesnake flag substituted in any section of the Union for the glorious stars and stripes.”

But this New Year’s wish was destined to be unfulfilled. The year 1862 would open upon a divided nation and a divided commonwealth.

Before long, one of the orators at the Parkersburg meeting – a promising young Wood County attorney – would be sworn in as governor of a brand-new state. And Stonewall Jackson’s cousin would become West Virginia’s first federal judge, appointed to the bench by Abraham Lincoln.

- bth: a fascinating and extraordinary read.

With Air Force's new drone, 'we can see everything'

With Air Force's new drone, 'we can see everything':.... "Technological advances now make it possible for a soldier on the ground to receive any portion of a panoramic view in real time, streamed to a portable device about the size of an iPad, Poss said. At the same time, nine other soldiers can get the same or a different view. The images will be stored so analysts can study them to determine, for instance, who planted an improvised bomb or what the patterns of life in a village are.

The Air Force has also taken tips from the purveyors of pop culture. It is working with Harris Corp. to adapt ESPN's technique of tagging key moments in National Football League videotape to the war zone. Just as a sportscaster can call up a series of archived quarterback blitzes as soon as a player is sacked on the field, an analyst in Afghanistan can retrieve the last month's worth of bombings in a particular stretch of road with the push of a button, officials said.

The Air Force placed a contractor on the set of a reality TV show to learn how to pick out the interesting scenes shot from cameras simultaneously recording the action in a house. And taking a page from high-tech companies such as Google, the Air Force will store its reams of video on servers placed in used shipping containers in Iowa.

The Air Force is looking to mount wide-area surveillance cameras on airships that can stay aloft for up to two weeks.

'This is all cutting-edge technology that is being fielded in a short period of time,' said retired Lt. Gen. David A. Deptula, who served as deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. ...

- bth: I can see this Gorgon Stare technology being hugely useful. However what we are missing in Afghanistan and Pakistan is effective human intelligence. We don't need to see all the houses in Quetta. We need to know which specific one to attack.

Mubarak: We will Cut off the Head of the Snake; Al-Azhar: This was an Attack on all Egyptians | Informed Comment

Mubarak: We will Cut off the Head of the Snake; Al-Azhar: This was an Attack on all Egyptians | Informed Comment: "The semi-official Egyptian newspaper, al-Ahram, reports that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak asserted in a speech to the nation on Saturday that a foreign hand was behind the car-bombing of a Coptic Christian church in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria shortly after midnight on Saturday morning, which killed 21 and left nearly 100 persons wounded, some seriously. Al-Sharq al-Awsat reports that the bombing provoked a riot by local Christians, who blamed police and security forces charged with protecting the church, in which police were charged and automobiles damaged. Most of the victims of the blast were Christians, but they included Muslim police detailed to guard the church.

In general the rhetoric of Egyptian Muslim officialdom depicted the radicals’ attack on the Coptic Christians as an assault on the Egyptian nation. The Egyptian secret police have by now infiltrated all known Muslim fundamentalist groups in Egypt, which is why there has been so little violence in the Nile Valley in recent years. The group that carried out this church bombing was therefore likely ‘newskins,’ fundamentalists with no record who were unknown to the security forces. This scenario would be consistent with the terrorist cell being made up of foreigners...

- bth: I put a lot of weight behind Dr. Cole's analysis of the situation. Perhaps Egyptians will yet rise to the occasion and preserve the multiculturalism lost elsewhere in the Middle East. Worth reading in full.

Informed Comment: Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion

Informed Comment: Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion: "- Sent using Google Toolbar"