Saturday, June 18, 2011

UK banks abandon eurozone over Greek default fears - Telegraph

UK banks abandon eurozone over Greek default fears - Telegraph: "Senior sources have revealed that leading banks, including Barclays and Standard Chartered, have radically reduced the amount of unsecured lending they are prepared to make available to eurozone banks, raising the prospect of a new credit crunch for the European banking system.

Standard Chartered is understood to have withdrawn tens of billions of pounds from the eurozone inter-bank lending market in recent months and cut its overall exposure by two-thirds in the past few weeks as it has become increasingly worried about the finances of other European banks.

Barclays has also cut its exposure in recent months as senior managers have become increasingly concerned about developments among banks with large exposures to the troubled European countries Greece, Ireland, Spain, Italy and Portugal. ...

- bth: major liquidity crisis is imminent. What will the US do?

Terror leader lives freely near Pakistani capital | | DAWN.COM

Terror leader lives freely near Pakistani capital | | DAWN.COM: "ISLAMABAD: On the outskirts of the Pakistani capital lives a militant considered so powerful that Osama bin Laden consulted with him before issuing a fatwa to attack American interests.

Fazle-ur-Rahman Khalil heads Harakat-ul-Mujahedeen, a terrorist group closely aligned with al Qaeda and a signatory to bin Laden’s anti-US fatwa in 1998. Khalil has also dispatched fighters to India, Afghanistan, Somalia, Chechnya and Bosnia, was a confidante of bin Laden and hung out with 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

Pakistani authorities are clearly aware of Khalil’s whereabouts. But they leave him alone, just as they tolerate other Kashmiri militant groups nurtured by the military and its intelligence agency to use against India.

Khalil is also useful to the authorities because of his unusually wide contacts among Pakistan’s many militant groups, said a senior government official who is familiar with the security agencies and who spoke on condition he not be identified fearing repercussions.

Khalil’s presence in an Islamabad suburb, confirmed to The Associated Press by Western officials in the region, underscores accusations that Pakistan is still playing a double game – fighting some militant groups while tolerating or supporting others – even after the solo US raid that killed bin Laden on May 2....

- bth: worth reading in full.

AP sources: Pakistanis tip off militants again

AP sources: Pakistanis tip off militants again:... "The latest incidents bring to a total of four bomb-making sites that the U.S. has shared with Pakistan only to have the terrorist suspects flee before the Pakistani military arrived much later. The report does not bode well for attempts by both sides to mend relations and rebuild trust after the U.S. raid on May 2 that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, a Pakistani army town only 35 miles from the capital Islamabad.

The Pakistanis believe the Americans violated their sovereignty by keeping them in the dark about the raid. American officials believe bin Laden's location proves some elements of the Pakistani army or intelligence service helped hide the al-Qaida mastermind, bolstering their argument that the raid had to be done solo.

The U.S. officials explained Saturday how they first offered the location of the third, and then the fourth site, in order to give Pakistan another chance to prove it could be trusted to go after the militants.

In the tradition of `trust but verify,' the Americans carefully monitored the area with satellite and unmanned drones, to see what would happen, after sharing the information a third and fourth time, the officials said.

In each case, they watched the militants depart within 24 hours, taking any weapons or bomb-making materials with them, just as militants had done the first two times. Only then, did they watch the Pakistani military visit each site, when the terror suspects and their wares were long gone, the officials said.

Pakistan's army on Friday disputed reports that its security forces had tipped off insurgents at bomb-making factories after getting intelligence about the sites from the United States. The army called the assertions of collusion with militants 'totally false and malicious.'

Army officials further claimed they had successfully raided two more sites, after finding nothing at the first two, but a Pakistani official reached Friday offered no details of what they found there.

The official admitted that in each raid, however, the Pakistani security services notified the local elders who hold sway in the tribal regions. The official said they would investigate U.S. charges that the militants had been tipped off....

- bth: so how many more times are we going to test the hypothesis that the Pakistani military tips off locals?

Star Shooting Intense Water Jets Into Space Spotted By Herschel Telescope

Star Shooting Intense Water Jets Into Space Spotted By Herschel Telescope: "A star shooting water is almost an oxymoron.

But a young sun-like star seems to have been spotted 750 light-years from Earth doing just that, as researchers have apparently discovered, according to PopSci. Their findings indicate that the proto-star is shoot water from its poles at about 124,000 miles per hour.

Essentially, it's creating water bullets that it shoots deep into interstellar space, according to National Geographic. This star is no more than 100,000 years old, and is located in the northern constellation Perseus.

The star was found by ESA’s Herschel Space Observatory, which was able to see through a dense layer of gas that surrounded it. According to PopSci, the telescope picked up the light signature of both hydrogen and oxygen which are coming together as liquid water before vaporizing near the massive jets of gas that spew from the the star's poles....

- bth: How the building block of life gets created?

Friday, June 17, 2011

NightWatch 20110616 - KGS - Israel getting real about missile defense

NightWatch 20110616 - KGS:..."Israel: On 19 June the Defense Forces will begin a nationwide civil defense exercise, called Turning Point 5, that will include the largest simulation of missile interceptions ever held by the air force, The Jerusalem Post reported.

The exercise will involve all the air force's missile defense systems -- David's Sling, Iron Dome and Arrow. Hundreds of 'missiles' will be fired, in simulation, into Israel from Iran, Gaza, Syria and Lebanon.

The week-long drill will test the responses of the Home Front Command, the Israel Police, the Defense Ministry's National Emergency Administration and other emergency services to a large scale missile attack. Eighty municipalities and local authorities will participate.

Comment: This will be a high cost war preparation precisely because it involves large distortions to normality by civil sectors of the economy. These are not opportunity costs. I

In considering civil defense drills in Israel, there are only two scenarios: Israel attacks and prepares the home front for retaliation or Israel expects to be attacked. The confusion and disarray in Arab states tends to rule out the existence of any threat from Arab or Muslim states that would justify a civil defense exercise of this size and cost.

A national civil defense exercise in preparation for an Israeli attack is never held close to the time of an attack. This exercise does not mean that Israel has decided to attack anyone, such as Iran, but it means that it might and Israel has begun taking the appropriate long term, prudent preparations and precautions. High civilian costs of military-related activities are always a hallmark of real war preparations....

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On Juan Cole CIA Profile

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

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Ex-Spy Alleges Bush White House Sought to Discredit Critic - NYTimes.com

Ex-Spy Alleges Bush White House Sought to Discredit Critic - NYTimes.com: "WASHINGTON — A former senior C.I.A. official says that officials in the Bush White House sought damaging personal information on a prominent American critic of the Iraq war in order to discredit him.

Glenn L. Carle, a former Central Intelligence Agency officer who was a top counterterrorism official during the administration of President George W. Bush, said the White House at least twice asked intelligence officials to gather sensitive information on Juan Cole, a University of Michigan professor who writes an influential blog that criticized the war.

In an interview, Mr. Carle said his supervisor at the National Intelligence Council told him in 2005 that White House officials wanted “to get” Professor Cole, and made clear that he wanted Mr. Carle to collect information about him, an effort Mr. Carle rebuffed. Months later, Mr. Carle said, he confronted a C.I.A. official after learning of another attempt to collect information about Professor Cole. Mr. Carle said he contended at the time that such actions would have been unlawful.

It is not clear whether the White House received any damaging material about Professor Cole or whether the C.I.A. or other intelligence agencies ever provided any information or spied on him. Mr. Carle said that a memorandum written by his supervisor included derogatory details about Professor Cole, but that it may have been deleted before reaching the White House. Mr. Carle also said he did not know the origins of that information or who at the White House had requested it.

Intelligence officials disputed Mr. Carle’s account, saying that White House officials did ask about Professor Cole in 2006, but only to find out why he had been invited to C.I.A.-sponsored conferences on the Middle East. The officials said that the White House did not ask for sensitive personal information, and that the agency did not provide it.

“We’ve thoroughly researched our records, and any allegation that the C.I.A. provided private or derogatory information on Professor Cole to anyone is simply wrong,” said George Little, an agency spokesman.

Since a series of Watergate-era abuses involving spying on White House political enemies, the C.I.A. and other spy agencies have been prohibited from collecting intelligence concerning the activities of American citizens inside the United States.

“These allegations, if true, raise very troubling questions,” said Jeffrey H. Smith, a former C.I.A. general counsel. “The statute makes it very clear: you can’t spy on Americans.” Mr. Smith added that a 1981 executive order that prohibits the C.I.A. from spying on Americans places tight legal restrictions not only on the agency’s ability to collect information on United States citizens, but also on its retention or dissemination of that data.

Mr. Smith and several other experts on national security law said the question of whether government officials had crossed the line in the Cole matter would depend on the exact nature of any White House requests and whether any collection activities conducted by intelligence officials had been overly intrusive. ...

- bth: for those following these matters at the time, it is not surprising in the least. This was happening on a regular basis. Cole was bashed hard as he tried to switch to Yale and I think Princeton only to be enticed to stay in Michigan. At the same time the White House was going after Cindy Sheehan and others. Sadly the CIA's spying on Americans which is against the law is yet another example of Big Brother government at work. By by 1st and 4th amendments.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Vietnam shift could see return of US ships to Cam Ranh Bay - FT

FT.com / Asia-Pacific - Vietnam shift could see return of US ships
...“Who’s going to take up the offer to visit?” says Carl Thayer, an expert on security in the South China Sea at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra. “Precisely those navies that China doesn’t want in the South China Sea, including the Americans, Australians, South Koreans and Indians.”

One senior Asian defence official argues that the US will be keenest to take advantage of the opportunity to use the base, which offers great protection from storms and is located close to key commercial shipping lanes and the disputed islands.

“The US has a Pacific fleet and it’s been more aggressive than many other countries in trying to build closer contacts with Vietnam to counter China’s rise,” he says.

The planned reopening of the base to foreign naval vessels is a sign of the shifting global strategic sands, with China’s inexorable rise causing concern among those such as Vietnam and the US, pushing these old enemies closer together.

Although Vietnam has developed deep economic and political ties with its larger northern neighbour since the 1990s, the relationship is coming under pressure because of China’s increasingly aggressive behaviour in the South China Sea, according to Ian Storey, a fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, who studies maritime security.

Vietnam map

China, which recently built a large naval base on Hainan island, to the north of the disputed waters, increasingly has the capability to deploy coercive diplomacy in the South China Sea, says Mr Storey. Recent incidents where Chinese maritime surveillance vessels have tried to sabotage Vietnamese oil exploration ships show Beijing also has the political will to do so.

Hanoi has responded by seeking to internationalise the territorial dispute, calling on other claimants to some of the contested Paracel and Spratly Islands – Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan – to hold joint talks and attempting to bring in the US as a mediator.

Despite macroeconomic difficulties, Vietnam has boosted its spending on military hardware, agreeing to buy a number of Sukhoi SU-30 jetfighters and six Kilo-class diesel submarines from Russia.

Once delivered in the next year or two, the submarines are expected to be based at Cam Ranh Bay, which analysts say Russia has agreed to refurbish as part of the $2bn contract to supply the craft. Echoing the patriotism of many Vietnamese, Mr De says he does not want to see any foreign forces in the bay.

But changing dynamics of global security mean that, in a twist of fate, American and Russian ships may soon be back at Cam Ranh Bay, this time working alongside each other and the Vietnamese to counterbalance an ever stronger China.

-- bth: how the wheel turns!

Pakistan Arrests C.I.A. Informants in Bin Laden Raid - NYTimes.com

Pakistan Arrests C.I.A. Informants in Bin Laden Raid - NYTimes.com: ...."But the United States is reliant on Pakistan to apply pressure on Taliban leaders, over whom they have historically had great influence.

For now, at least, America’s relationship with Pakistan keeps getting tripped up. When he visited Pakistan, Mr. Panetta offered evidence of collusion between Pakistani security officials and the militants staging attacks in Afghanistan.

American officials said Mr. Panetta presented satellite photographs of two bomb-making factories that American spies several weeks ago had asked the ISI to raid. When Pakistani troops showed up days later, the militants were gone, causing American officials to question whether the militants had been warned by someone on the Pakistani side.

Shortly after the failed raids, the Defense Department put a hold on a $300 million payment reimbursing Pakistan for the cost of deploying more than 100,000 troops along the border with Afghanistan, two officials said. The Pentagon declined to comment on the payment, except to say it was “continuing to process several claims.”

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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Secret History of Iraq’s Invisible War | Danger Room | Wired.com

The Secret History of Iraq’s Invisible War | Danger Room | Wired.com: ..."In Afghanistan, however, the terrain favored the low tech. All the gadgets the Americans had bought and built for Iraq proved largely worthless against a new slew of throwback threats. The bombs were largely made of wood and fertilizer, making them practically invisible to metal detectors. No command wires were needed to set them off; just the pressure of an unlucky boot. The placement of the bombs added to their effectiveness. The U.S. military’s new hard-shelled, blast-deflecting vehicles were built for Iraq’s well-paved roads. So the insurgents put their explosives in the gullies and the mud paths, where the trucks were useless. The bomb-handling robots couldn’t handle the rough terrain, either. And, during the summer, the weather was so hot, EOD technicians didn’t even bother wearing their protective suits.

As the fighting grew more intense — and the U.S.-led coalition poured more troops into the Afghan campaign — the total number of bombs there crept up, from 1,931 in 2006 to 3,276 in 2008. By July, 2010, that figure had reached nearly 1,400 explosives found or detonated a month. It’s stayed about that high ever since.

The deaths and injuries caused by these bombs continued to mount, as well. In July 2008, 25 American troops were wounded by Afghan IEDs. In July 2009, that figure was 174. In July 2010, the number was 378 injured — about 15 times higher than the casualty count from two years before.

JIEDDO shifted its focus to compensate. Jammers alone weren’t going to do much against these no-tech weapons. The organization spent more on surveillance and intelligence analysts, trying to find ways to crack apart Afghanistan’s IED networks.

But even if those networks are shredded tomorrow, there’s a sense in the Pentagon that the improvised bomb has now become a permanent threat. Over the last six months, there’s been an average of 245 jury-rigged explosives found or detonated — outside of Iraq and Afghanistan. The IED has gone global....

- bth: this is an excellent article on jammers and counter IED techniques although it fails to mention IR triggers and the general ineffectiveness of countering nonmetallic pressure plates and trip wires and low metal content IEDs.

DOD financial crisis of 2004 and the timing of the missing $6.6 billion in Iraqi money

Iraq: Missing Iraq money may have been stolen, auditors say - latimes.com

LA Times: "....For the first time, federal auditors are suggesting that some or all of the cash may have been stolen, not just mislaid in an accounting error. Stuart Bowen, special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, an office created by Congress, said the missing $6.6 billion may be "the largest theft of funds in national history."

The mystery is a growing embarrassment to the Pentagon, and an irritant to Washington's relations with Baghdad. Iraqi officials are threatening to go to court to reclaim the money, which came from Iraqi oil sales, seized Iraqi assets and surplus funds from the United Nations' oil-for-food program.

It's fair to say that Congress, which has already shelled out $61 billion of U.S. taxpayer money for similar reconstruction and development projects in Iraq, is none too thrilled either.

"Congress is not looking forward to having to spend billions of our money to make up for billions of their money that we can't account for, and can't seem to find," said Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills), who presided over hearings on waste, fraud and abuse in Iraq six years ago when he headed the House Government Reform Committee.

Theft of such a staggering sum might seem unlikely, but U.S. officials aren't ruling it out. Some U.S. contractors were accused of siphoning off tens of millions in kickbacks and graft during the post-invasion period, especially in its chaotic early days. But Iraqi officials were viewed as prime offenders..."

-- bth: This LA Times article on the missing $6.6 billion in Iraqi money is fascinating. No one in the media has raised this point, but I will put to to you - when this transfer of $6.6 billion occurred in May 2004, the US military was broke.

Around February 2004 Wolfowitz told Congress that the US military did not need additional capital. He lied. I could do the math at the time, as I was following the Iraq burn rate ($7 billion per month if I recall) against funds set aside for the war and it was clear that the DOD would be out of funds between June and July 2004.

I went and talked to Sen. Kennedy about this in January and February of that year. At one meeting in his office (the one in the Capitol itself) we discussed the need for a supplemental to get additional funding to troops for body armor and vehicular armor. There were two staffers in the room who pointed out that a supplemental had not happened since Korea and that it was very unlikely. Sen. Kennedy was more circumspect about the possibility however and we discussed the lies Wolfowitz had told Congress.

In April 2004, I think around the 15th, the Comptroller of the DOD Dov Zakheim retired, again after saying we didn't need more cash from Congress up until that point. He lied. Or as the lawyers might call it perjury, but since I'm not a lawyer I'll just say he lied like a dog.

Then that same month, Wolfowitz came back to Congress and told the respective Armed Services committees that he needed at least $26 billion (if memory serves though it might have been $24) right away and that he didn't want any of it marked for specific use. At that point, Congress wasn't buying any of his bullshit and in fact specified around $22 billion for specific purposes (namely missing armor, vests, ammunition, etc.). Wolfy and Rummy had maintained along with Zakheim and the other neocons that the Iraqis would pay for their own liberation. With what you might ask? Well about $6.6 billion I'm guessing.

This was very important because I'm convinced that somewhere around April -May 2004 the financial situation in the Pentagon was so desperate that I think they spent the payroll money for the last quarter of the fiscal year for the Army to cover the shortfall. An unpaid army was not a thought Congress or the President wanted to face in an election year (Bush v. Kerry) and so it forced all parties to agree to a massive supplemental (the first of many) to pay for the war. That supplemental was passed in August 2004 with no fanfare but a near unanimous vote. Why? Because no one wanted to be blamed for 'not supporting the troops' and because they knew that the last quarter of the fiscal year was paid for by an accounting trickery.

I'll put the unpleasant thought out there. The US military took the $6.6 billion as their own off the books operating fund and probably never paid it back. And further they couldn't have acted alone as that money went from the NYC to Maryland to Baghdad.

Zakheim went to Booz Allen. Wolfy then left in 2005 to the World Bank where he paid for his girl friend.

Bad accounting? Right. It will take another decade of obfuscation before the details comes out if ever. Unfortunately normal reporters are just too damned lazy to background research their stories, the officers will have retired and the Iraqi politicians who steal liberally from their own people will be gone one way or another.

It's is worth remembering that we handed out over 100k weapons to Iraqis without accounting for them either.

General Marshall would have called all this dereliction of duty.... I wish he were here.

‘A Gay Girl in Damascus’ displays how the internet can be manipulated for propaganda

‘A Gay Girl in Damascus’ displays ease of fudging authenticity online - The Washington Post

"The Internet taught us that we could be anyone; it’s a lesson that was comforting for middle school geeks and convenient for fabulists who were not content with their “real” lives. Thousands of people take advantage of it every day — fudge the truth, fake the numbers, fuss with the age and weight. The entire online dating business is powered by people whose online selves are a little taller and wealthier than their offline ones. People create throwaway personas for message boards that are used, then abandoned.

This week it was revealed that Amina Arraf, the wildly popular gay Syrian female blogger, wasn’t. Who she was: a straight man from Georgia, living in Scotland. On Monday, another twist: Paula Brooks, the deaf lesbian editor of Lez Get Real — who had criticized Tom MacMaster for creating the identity of Amina — wasn’t either. She was Bill Graber, a straight man living in Ohio...."

-- bth: the story here isn't about straight guys impersonating gay girls. The story is that the web can be used as a propaganda tool, not just by lonely middle aged men but by governments, social activists and companies. It is also the honey pot of lazy reporters who do not qualify their sources before quoting them. This phenomenon has far more dangerous consequences than fake alien autopsies of yesteryear. Governments will start using this approach if they haven't already. So will hate groups. It was only a couple of years ago that the US government for example was paying Iraqi sources to plant stories into newspapers and in one case I tracked down a blog which supposedly originated from an Iraqi civilian to a server in NJ heavily used by the US government. When the story broke about US paid propaganda via the Pentagon, the blog mysterious disappeared and within a few days all trace of it in Google cache (which tells you something about Google). Ironically one 'tell' was the stiff government issue like format and perfect spelling. What is to prevent the Israeli's, the Syrians, the Russians or social activists from doing the same.

Memphis Belle - Framework - Photos and Video - Visual Storytelling from the Los Angeles Times

Memphis Belle - Framework - Photos and Video - Visual Storytelling from the Los Angeles Times: "- Sent using Google Toolbar"


Memphis Belle

Farther down in the Times article, pilot Maj. Robert K. Morgan, 24, explained the damage the Memphis Belle took:

“The old girl really went through hell,” he remarked, running his finger over a train of patched bullet holes. “She’s had to have a whole new wing, a new tail, a new landing gear and nine new engines since we first went to work on the Heinies. Why, one time we came back with 62 gashes in her.”

NightWatch 20110613 - KGS - On Syria

NightWatch 20110613 - KGS: "Syria: For the record. Syrian armed forces stormed Jisr al-Shughour, in northwestern Syria, on 12 June and clashed with armed groups that had taken over the city. Soldiers captured militants who were located inside the hospital. Clashes took place both inside and around the city.

Comment: This is the payback for the massacre of 120 security personnel last week. The BBC reported that the government forces have spread beyond Jisr al-Shughour in pursuit of the armed elements and are burning crops and houses in a scorched earth program.

The al Asad government, using the resources it has committed to date is unable to suppress the opposition, which has now begun to erode the loyalty of some military units, but does not yet appear to be in danger. News services have poor fidelity on military defections, partly because the opposition has better public relations than the Syrian government. Nevertheless, the government still has a near monopoly of firepower.

In addition, as a general rule in monitoring internal instability, as long as the government is fighting the activists on the periphery, it is not in danger, provided the troops remain loyal. Alternatively, until the activism reaches and sustains itself in Damascus, the regime will not fall. The military defections reported thus far have raised hope among some observers that the forces are fracturing, but, in fact, the defections have made no measurable impact on the security situation.

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Monday, June 13, 2011

Official: Billions missing in Iraq may be ‘largest theft of funds in national history’ | The Raw Story

Official: Billions missing in Iraq may be ‘largest theft of funds in national history’ | The Raw Story

Approximately $6.6 billion in cash was likely stolen after being flown to Iraq during the months that followed the U.S.-led invasion, Pentagon officials said recently.

Stuart Bowen, the U.S. Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, told The Los Angeles Times that the sum just might be "the largest theft of funds in national history."

The cash was part of a series of shipments totaling more than $12 billion, taken largely from the U.N. "oil-for-food" program and the sales of Iraqi oil. Officials in the Bush administration had hoped the massive pallets of cash would help calm Iraq's civilian population following the chaotic and violent invasion and toppling of Saddam.

The funds -- which were separate from a $53 billion appropriation Congress approved for Iraqi reconstruction efforts -- were cobbled together by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York before being flown to Baghdad and distributed to interim Iraqi ministers, who U.S. officials see as the most likely culprits in the theft: an allegation that's not officially been leveled.

The Pentagon admitted last year that it could not account for over $8.7 billion in Iraqi reconstruction funds, and that about $2.6 billion of it was sent out without any documentation at all.

Investigators said in 2005 that Bush officials apparently neglected to put procedures in place to track the money or hold recipients accountable for its proper applications.

Iraqi officials have since threatened to take the U.S. to court to reclaim the funds.

Pakistani Taliban deny twin blasts that killed 39 - Yahoo! News

Pakistani Taliban deny twin blasts that killed 39 - Yahoo! News: ..."A small initial blast at around 11:30 pm local time Saturday drew onlookers and emergency services before a second more powerful blast, believed to be from a suicide strike, detonated and was heard for miles around.

'Death toll has risen to 39 in the blasts as four wounded people died in hospital,' senior local police official Ijaz Khan told AFP, adding that the explosions were just four minutes apart.

'The first blast was quite small but as people gathered close to the site of the explosion, the second one, which was real big one, went off.'

Nearly 4,500 people have been killed across Pakistan in attacks blamed on Taliban and other Islamist extremist networks based in the nearby tribal belt since government troops stormed a radical mosque in Islamabad in 2007....

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Sunday, June 12, 2011

‘A Gay Girl in Damascus’ comes clean - The Washington Post

‘A Gay Girl in Damascus’ comes clean - The Washington Post: "For nearly a week, the world followed the saga of Amina Arraf, the blogger who was celebrated for her passionate, often intimate writings about the Syrian government’s crackdown on Arab Spring protesters. Those writings stopped abruptly last Monday, and in a posting on her blog, “A Gay Girl in Damascus,” a cousin said Amina had been hauled away by government security agents.

News of her disappearance became an Internet and media sensation. The U.S. State Department started an investigation. But almost immediately skeptics began asking: Had anyone ever actually met Amina? On Wednesday, pictures of her on the blog were revealed to have been taken from a London woman’s Facebook page.

And Sunday, the truth spilled out: The gay girl in Damascus confessed to being a 40-year-old American man from Georgia.

The persona Tom MacMaster built and cultivated for years — a lesbian who was half Syrian and half American — was a tantalizing Internet-era fiction, one that he used to bring attention to the human rights record of a country where media restrictions make traditional reporting almost impossible.

On Sunday, MacMaster apologized on the blog. “While the narrative voice may have been fictional, the facts on thıs blog are true and not mısleading as to the situation on the ground,” he wrote. “I do not believe that I have harmed anyone — I feel that I have created an important voice for issues that I feel strongly about.”

MacMaster, a Middle East peace activist who is working on his master’s degree at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, wrote that he fictionalized the account of a gay woman in Syria to illuminate the situation for a Western audience.

The hoax raises difficult questions about the reliance on blogs, tweets, Facebook postings and other Internet communications as they increasingly become a standard way to report on global events. Information from online sources has become particularly important in coverage of the Middle East uprisings, especially in countries that severely restrict foreign media — or that use social media against protesters....

-- bth: I have been approached over the years by at least one person using a fake internet personae and with regard to ME policy issues. The motive remains a mystery to me. I think the are those building fake personae over the years for the purpose of disinformation and that this is occurring in some cases, Israel, with government sanction. I would not be surprise to see the US doing it as well on al Qaeda forums. Media needs to be very careful about using unverified internet sourcing. Videos can be faked and posted, so can pictures and indeed entire people. This article and the Gay Girl in Syria is an example of what can happen. Perhaps "Uncle Tom's Cabin" was the equivalent for a different era where fictional persona outlined from real people and places drive populations to war.

Live-blogging Rove in N.H.

Live-blogging Rove in N.H.: ..."Karl Rove said New Hampshirites love to pepper candidates with questions, while Iowans love to hear them deliver a speech.

In South Carolina, meanwhile, there are “tribes” across the state that require a candidate to make their case to the chiefs.

“It’s a weird process,” Rove said.

Nonetheless, he said the nomination is worth having because President Obama is vulnerable.

He said when an incumbent is stuck around 50 percent in polls with opponents who are not that well known, he is at risk for losing....

- bth: interesting.

The Sultan of Istancool: Is Erdogan's Success Pulling Turks Away from Europe? - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News - International

The Sultan of Istancool: Is Erdogan's Success Pulling Turks Away from Europe? - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News - International

...On balance, the argument over whether Turkey should join the EU comes down slightly in favor of the eternal accession candidate, a reflection of the mixed feelings that Europeans have had toward their complicated neighbor for decades. Nevertheless, from a rational point of view, wouldn't the pros outweigh the cons if Turkey were to join the European family? Hasn't it made impressive progress in the 12 years since it formally became a candidate and began efforts to satisfy the EU's criteria? And wouldn't closer ties to Europe be the best way to prevent this progress from being reversed?

It's more likely that the Europeans and the Turks will continue to spend years talking at cross-purposes, but without expressing the two truths that everyone knows by now: that Europe doesn't want Turkey -- and that soon Turkey will no longer need Europe....


--- bth: an excellent article worth reading in full.

2011 Winner of the PFC John D. Hart Humanitarian Memorial Award



2011 graduate and winner Benjamin Richter stands with PFC John D. Hart's Mother Alma and Father Brian Hart. The location was the graduation ceremony of the Bedford High School 2011 class held this year in Tsongas Center.

Rep. Rohrabacher - a moron

Restaurant and Teacher’s Home Are Attacked in Iraq - NYTimes.com: ...."Meanwhile, Iraqi officials on Saturday bristled over published remarks from a visiting American congressman, Representative Dana Rohrabacher, Republican of California, who suggested that Iraq should one day consider repaying the United States for the billions of dollars spent here.

Aliya Nasaif, a member of Parliament, said she would demand the Foreign Ministry seek compensation from the United States for the damage done to Iraq over the last eight years.

And a government spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, told an Iraqi television station that the government had asked the visiting delegation to leave Iraq. By the time he spoke, however, the congressmen were already on their way back to the United States.

A spokesman for the American Embassy in Baghdad would not comment on Mr. Dabbagh’s remarks.

“Congressional visitors do not necessarily express the views of the U.S. administration or even a majority of the Congress,” the spokesman, David J. Ranz, said. “The visitors this weekend made that clear in their remarks.”

Mr. Rohrabacher said he was “very shocked” at the Iraqis’ response to what he called an honest exchange of views.

“The Iraqi people are going to be some of the richest people in the world,” he said in a telephone interview, referring to Iraq’s vast reserves of oil and gas. “Once they start developing those natural resources and become more prosperous, there’s no reason for us not to expect that they would consider paying back some of the enormous amounts of money that we’ve spent on their behalf.”

- bth: so this guy makes this statement while the US is trying to negotiate some sort of on going base presence in Iraq. What kind of reaction did this douche bag actually think he was going to get?

Obama’s Secret Afghan Exit Formula: Leslie H. Gelb With Exclusive Details - The Daily Beast

Obama’s Secret Afghan Exit Formula: Leslie H. Gelb With Exclusive Details - The Daily Beast

By July 15, President Obama will unveil a plan to reduce U.S. forces in Afghanistan by upward of 30,000, but to withdraw them slowly under military guidance over 12 to 18 months, according to administration officials.

In sum, the quick exiters get the big 30,000 or so number, and the die-harders get one last year-plus at near full strength to weaken the Taliban. Ain’t democracy grand? Officials caution that since no announcement will be made for almost a month, and since Obama is still being battered from all sides, the projected withdrawal total and end dates could change somewhat. No one, not even Obama’s most intimate national-security aides—Tom Donilon, Denis McDonough, and Ben Rhodes—can be certain of their boss’ final calculations, but key officials feel confident that the president’s secret thinking will generally hold....

-- bth: an article worth reading in full and drawing the one conclusion that matters - this has nothing to do with fighting conditions, strategy or objectives in Afghanistan and everything to do with domestic politics.

What is the American Objective in Afghanistan?

Lawmakers push for a new Afghan strategy - The Washington Post
...“The debates are going to be about the specifics of implementing the strategy we have embarked on. I don’t really see why we’d be focusing on revising it,” said a senior administration official who, like others interviewed, spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal White House discussions.

The official said that there is “huge pressure on the Taliban” and that an “Afghan-led political process that didn’t exist before is taking some shape. Al-Qaeda is on its heels; bin Laden is dead.”

“Right now, when we do these discussions, we’re looking at how do you sustain these gains and do the transition in a way that maximizes the chances of keeping the American people safe,” the official said.

But in recent weeks, a pair of high-profile proxies have emerged representing the two sides of the administration’s internal discussion over the pace of the troop withdrawal — Kerry and Gates.

Kerry has called the war’s $10 billion-a-month cost “unsustainable,” and on Wednesday, his committee issued a report critical of the economic assistance program that is a key part of the counterinsurgency strategy’s goal of bringing stability and government to parts of the country once controlled by the Taliban.

Kerry is a longtime friend and former Senate colleague of Vice President Biden, who in the 2009 war strategy review argued for a smaller U.S. military mission in Afghanistan that would focus on weakening a-Qaeda, rather than on defeating the indigenous Taliban insurgency.

With bin Laden’s death, the civilian advisers who favor that approach, led by national security adviser Thomas E. Donilon, have a fresh argument for a more targeted — and less expensive — military mission at a time of severe fiscal strain at home. A second senior administration official said, “Kerry is obviously someone who is respected here, and he would be heard,” adding that others would be as well.

In an interview, Kerry said that “part of the struggle here is to get people here, my colleagues included,” to focus on “what is the objective.”...

-- bth: having monitored very closely presidential decisions on war since 2000 I would have to say that the chief strategy of Obama is to get reelected.  There is no other clear objective in Afghanistan and our policy makers there cannot even agree on how many al Qaeda there actually are there and the degree of fit between the Taliban and al Qaeda there.  If I had to guess he will pull out 15,000 troops a year for the next 2 years until the election but keep a strong lingering presence there, or at least until they are called away to Libya or Yemen or Mexico or Somalia. Keep in mind that Afghanistan is polling at issue number 15 with the top five issues being economic in the US.

Young suicide bomber pushing ice cream cart adds to record Afghanistan death toll - Telegraph

Young suicide bomber pushing ice cream cart adds to record Afghanistan death toll - Telegraph: ..."In May, 368 Afghan civilians killed in the conflict, and nearly 600 wounded, in what the UN said was the highest monthly total since its records began four years ago.

Other fatal attacks on Saturday included the assassination of a senior police official in a suicide bombing in Khost that also killed three bystanders. ...

- bth: I can't understand the locals tolerance for Taliban which kill so indiscriminately.