Saturday, November 19, 2011
Senator Edward Kennedy visits First Parish in Bedford, MA in USA
Standing in front of the WWI memorial are Rep. Charlie Murphy, Brian Hart, Elizabeth Hart, Vicki Kennedy, Sen. Ted Kennedy, Alma Hart
NAIROBI, Kenya — U.S. cables made public by WikiLeaks show that the United States warned Kenya two years ago not to launch an offensive in southern Somalia against al Qaida-allied al Shabab rebels, but a U.S. official also offered to check on the "feasibility" of a U.S. review of the plans.
Kenya went ahead with an invasion a month ago, saying it was a response to a recent series of kidnappings near the border between the two countries. But the existence of the cables undercuts Kenya's claim that the move had not been long planned.
The cables paint a contradictory picture of whether the United States encouraged Kenya's invasion of its neighbor.
Taken as a whole, they seem to lend credence to Washington's claims that it had neither encouraged nor supported the invasion. But one particularly lively cable depicts a senior U.S. official asking Kenya's foreign minister if Kenyan troops shouldn't consider trying to take Kismayo, the Shabab stronghold seaport, on their own or with the help of Somali militias, and promising the review of the plans by an American team. The tactics described in that cable match the plan Kenya appears to be trying to execute....
Friday, November 18, 2011
Foreign hackers targeted U.S. water plant in apparent malicious cyber attack, expert says - Checkpoint Washington - The Washington Post
Foreign hackers broke into a water plant control system in Illinois last week and damaged a water pump in what appears to be the first reported case of a malicious cyber attack damaging a critical computer system in the United States, according to an industry expert.
On Nov. 8, a municipal water district employee in Illinois noticed problems with the city’s water pump control system, and a technician determined the system had been remotely hacked into from a computer located in Russia, said Joe Weiss, an industry security expert who obtained a copy of an Illinois state fusion center report describing the incident.
“This is a big deal,” said Weiss. The report stated it is unknown how many other systems might be affected....
US officials say they have uncovered a major drug-smuggling tunnel under the border with Mexico and seized an estimated 14 tons of marijuana.
Customs officials said the tunnel linked warehouses in Tijuana, Mexico, and Otay Mesa, in California.
Pictures of the tunnel showed wooden supports and electric cables indicative of lighting and ventilation systems.
Dozens of such tunnels have been found in recent years as US police have cracked down on overland smuggling.
More than 30 have been discovered this year, Mexican authorities said, according to AFP news agency.
The tunnels are also used to smuggle illegal migrants into the US.
Nine or 10 tons of marijuana was found on the US side of the tunnel while Mexican police seized five tons on their end, said Derek Benner, a special agent with the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
The tunnel was estimated at 400 yards (365m) in length but it was not clear how deep or wide it was.
Other tunnels found by US police have included tracks, lights and ventilation systems.
- bth: Again a major story that does not show up in US news but from a foreign source, this time the BBC
TTACKERS have thrown rocks and broken glass at a march by Coptic Christians in Cairo, injuring 10, in the latest outbreak of sectarian violence less than two weeks before elections.
About 400 Christians marched through the Cairo neighbourhood of Shubra overnight to mark the end of 40 days of mourning after sectarian clashes that killed 27 people, most of them Christians, witnesses said.
During the march, attackers threw stones, bricks and broken glass on the marchers from a six-floor apartment building, said marcher Hossam Victor. Clashes broke out and 10 people were injured, two of them seriously.
Mr Victor and other marchers blamed supporters of Gamal Saber, an ultraconservative Islamist candidate in Egypt's elections, set to begin on November 28.
"They rained rocks and glass down on us from the building, and the police stood by and watched without doing anything," he said...
- bth: interesting that we have to look to foreign news sources for information like this about Egypt. This story is from Australia.
... Afghanistan: Afghanistan will likely plunge into civil and regional war if the United States does not leave a residual force of 20,000 to 30,000 troops in the country after 2014, along with significant economic aid, a senior Afghan opposition figure said Thursday. 'The state will disintegrate' and Afghan security forces will break into factions, said Mohammad Hanif Atmar, a former minister in the government of President Karzai.
Comment: The above assertion is not true in part. A residual US force would be primarily a target that would be too weak to prevent a return to civil war. As for the prediction of civil war -- or more accurately tribal war -- there is no power on earth than can stop it, whether the US keeps soldiers in Afghanistan or not. It has never stopped.
Nothing has been settled since 2001, including the terms for the distribution of wealth among the tribes; the role of Islam in government; ethnic relations between North and South; the ultimate form of the state; and finally, security....
Thursday, November 17, 2011
... For China, the week’s developments could suggest both an economic and a military encirclement. Top leaders did not immediately comment on Mr. Obama’s speech, but Mr. Liu, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, emphasized that it was the United States, not China, seeking to use military power to influence events in Asia.
The Global Times, a state-run news organization known for its nationalist and bellicose commentaries, issued a stronger reaction in an editorial, saying that Australia should be cautious about allowing the United States to use bases there to “harm China” and that it risked getting “caught in the cross-fire.”
Analysts say that Chinese leaders have been caught off guard by what they view as an American campaign to stir up discontent in the region. China may have miscalculated in recent years by restating longstanding territorial claims that would give it broad sway over development rights in the South China Sea, they say. But they argue that Beijing has not sought to project military power far beyond its shores, and has repeatedly proposed to resolve territorial disputes through negotiations. ...
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
In some ways, the last remaining detainees are the worst of the worst.
At the beginning of Barack Obama’s presidency, the U.S. military began arranging for some 10,000 American-held detainees in Iraq to be freed or sent to Iraq’s justice system. At the end of that process a little more than 100 such prisoners have remained locked up because they are considered particularly dangerous.
One such prisoner is a senior Hizbullah operations planner named Ali Musa Daqduq. In March 2007, U.S. special-operations forces captured Daqduq and he was taken into U.S. custody, where he remains to this day. U.S. military spokesmen in 2007 said Daqduq hatched the plot that killed five American soldiers in Karbala by dressing operatives in fake U.S. Army uniforms.
In less than two months, there is a good chance Daqduq will be handed over to Iraqi authorities, and even Defense Secretary Leon Panetta concedes he will not likely be tried in Iraq.
- bth: 1 word. Guantanamo
KABUL, Afghanistan – Support for the Taliban among Afghans has steadily declined in recent years and people strongly back a government peace initiative, according to a survey funded in part by the U.S. government.
But the survey released Tuesday by the nonprofit San Francisco-based Asia Foundation also showed a population weary of insecurity and corruption, and distressed by poverty and corruption.
The survey found that an overwhelming majority of Afghan adults, 82 percent, back reconciliation and reintegration efforts with insurgent groups. It said that the number of people who said they sympathized with the aims of Taliban had dropped to 29 percent compared to 40 percent last year and 56 percent in 2009.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been making peace overtures to the Taliban for years with the backing of the international community. These efforts however were dealt a major blow by the Sept. 20 assassination of former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was leading the government's U.S.-backed initiative.
The survey was conducted prior to Rabbani's death.
Beyond that, while the survey showed some confidence in Afghanistan's economic development, it also showed dissatisfaction with the state's ability to deliver both security and clean government.
"The biggest problem at the national level is insecurity, followed by unemployment and corruption" said Bruce Tolentino, the foundation's country representative.
A lack of security was identified as the biggest problem in the country by 38 percent of those polled, especially in the south and east where insurgents are fighting Afghan security forces and U.S.-led coalition troops. Of those asked, 71 percent said they feared traveling from one part of Afghanistan to another.
Although roughly half of those polled thought the Afghan police and army were "unprofessional and poorly trained," a growing number of people thought they were steadily improving. There was also a small reduction in the number of people who feel the two security forces can operate without foreign help, although a majority think they can't....
... Russia and China will not fall for the imposition of a no-fly zone over Syria. I also doubt NATO is willing to foot the bill for another no-fly zone. Perhaps the biggest drawback to a no-fly zone is the impression (and fact) that a no-fly zone is just another form of Western invasion. A NATO led no-fly zone would be too big, too noisy and too photogenic to ignore. It drowns out the real sacrifices and accomplishments of the rebels. This is what happened in Libya and an OpEd piece by Ramzy Baroud today in the Eurasia Review warns of a Western hijacking of the Syrian uprising.
A better course is the UW approach of sabotage, subversion and guerrilla warfare. The Syrian rebels can be armed and trained to create their own no-fly zone. Didn't we do this with the mujahideen heros in Afghanistan? The Syrian rebels should also be trained to use guerrilla tactics rather than taking on Syrian security forces toe to toe. Target government lines of communication. Ambush fuel and supply convoys. Be patient. Gradually wear down the government forces and allow the opposition groups to coalesce and strengthen. Turkey's cooperation in this UW approach would be needed. Keeping the footprint to no more than a hundred or so SF trainers and advisors, preferably working with the Turkish military, would draw less international attention that a no-fly zone and, I would argue, be more effective. I stick by my initial answer to Colonel Lang.
The fate of Syria is no longer likely to be influenced by the Syrian people themselves, nor by their government. All eyes are now on the United States. US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton tried to clarify the US position in her recent comments. In the case of Libya, NATO and Arab countries banded together “to protect civilians and help people liberate their country without a single American life lost,” she said. But in other cases, as in Syria, “to achieve that same goal, we would have to act alone, at a much greater cost, with far greater risks and perhaps even with troops on the ground.” For now, according to Clinton, US priorities in the region would have to remain focused on “our fight against al-Qaeda; defense of our allies; and a secure supply of energy” (The Washington Post, November 7).
Russia and China, worried that another US regime change venture could jeopardize their interests in the region, remain steadfast behind Damascus and critical of the factions that oppose the Assad regime. “We are concerned with news of ongoing aggression by extremist gunmen such as those which took place in Homs, Hama and Idlib in recent days with the provocative aim of forcing security agencies and the army in Syria to retaliate, and then launching a campaign via international media outlets,” said Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov in a recent statement (The Lebanese Daily Star, November 11).
The lines are thus drawn, between US-led Western camp and Russia and its own camp, which vehemently rejects a repeat of a Libyan scenario in a volatile region of unmatched geopolitical significance.
Whatever the outcome of this tussle, the Syrian uprising is increasingly being deprived of its own initiative. Currently, the issue of Syria is being entrusted to the Arab League, which lacks both credibility (since it is too divided between regional interests) and any history of successful political initiatives. On November 2, Syria announced that it had agreed to an Arab League plan which called for the withdrawal of security forces from the streets, the release of prisoners and talks with the opposition.
However, it is very probable that some Arab countries are keen to employ the league in a similar fashion to the way it was used with the war on Libya: a mere springboard that eventually allowed NATO’s war to take place. Signs of such a scenario are becoming clearer, especially following the league’s vote to suspend Syria’s membership on November 12. Indeed, In a New York Times editorial on November 8, the role of the Arabs seems to be confined to just that. The Arab League “should eject Syria and urge the United Nations Security Council to condemn Mr. Assad and impose international sanctions against the regime,” the Times counseled. “Russia and China will find it harder to block a Security Council resolution – as they did in October – if the Arab world calls for action that goes beyond the sanctions already imposed by the United States and Europe.”
And so the saga continues. If Syria doesn’t wrestle its fate from the hands of these self-serving forces, the Syrian uprising and Syria as a whole will continue to be marred by uncertainties and foreboding possibilities.
Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza's Untold Story (Pluto Press, London), now available on Amazon.com
Oakland Mayor Jean Quan let slip in an interview with the BBC that she had been on a conference call with the mayors of 18 cities about how to deal with the Occupy Wall Street movement. That is, municipal authorities appear to have been conspiring to deprive Americans of their first amendment rights to freedom of assembly and freedom to petition the government for redress of grievances.
Likewise, A Homeland Security official let it slip in a phone interview that the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security had been strategizing with cities on how to shut down OWS protests. The FBI is said to have advised using zoning ordinances and curfew regulations, and to stage the crackdown with massive police force at a time when the press was not around to cover the crackdown.
Wonkette suggests that the PATRIOT Act is implicated here, but I’m not sure how that works. Actually the techniques discussed are standard for US police forces in dealing with peaceful protests (the only routine technique missing is that of putting saboteurs among the protesters who cause destruction and create an image of them as violent.
What these two reports show is a high-level conspiracy to deprive Americans of their constitutional right to protest peacefully....
...Tim Lynch notes that “Rarely now will somebody shoot at the Marines in southern Helmand, and when they do, it is from so far away that it is hard to notice anybody is even shooting at you.” The threat now is IEDs, and the Marines are suffering so many casualties that many of them, tragically, have issued standing orders to their Corpsman to let them die if they lose their gonads and are unable to reproduce.
The Taliban don’t fight unconventionally – they fight asymmetrically. In Helmand now after Garmsir in 2008 when the Marines killed more than 400 Taliban fighters, and the hard work of Marines in Now Zad and Sangin, the threat is IEDs. In RC East it’s interesting that the Taliban see their position as so strong that outnumbering their opponent is still seen as asymmetric warfare, regardless of what the kill ratio actually shows.
... But the Israeli military would face a daunting challenge.
Iran has so many scattered, buried nuclear sites — perhaps 50 or more —s that Israel’s air force and its U.S.-provided long-range F-15s would have a difficult time executing the kind of broad strategic campaign needed to hit most of them.
“And by virtue of dispersing them, Israel’s best chance is to get one or two targets. On top of this, [Israeli pilots] still have the problem of penetrating an integrated air defense system and doing so over a long distance.”
Mr. Johnson added: “If they were using nuclear weapons, they might have a chance of really causing significant damage to these sites.”
“There are really not much more than half a dozen critical targets in Iran’s nuclear program,” he said. “Iran needs their entire complex, so Israel does not have to destroy everything in order to disable the program.”...
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
...Manning still is in pre-trial confinement, 560 days after he was arrested.
Manning was charged on July 5, 2010, with transferring classified materials on his personal computer, and communicating national defense information to an unauthorized source. An additional 22 charges were added on March 1, 2011, including wrongfully obtaining classified material for the purpose of posting it on the Internet knowing that the information would be accessed by the enemy; the illegal transmission of defense information; fraud; and aiding the enemy. In April, 2011, he was found fit to face a court martial and currently awaits the first hearing....
- bth: Manning may be guilty has hell but that is for a military court to decide. 560 days without even a pre-trial hearing is just wrong.
Not only did the police, at the orders of billionaire mayor Michael Bloomberg, abruptly move on the protesters, they are alleged to have deliberately kept the press away, which is clearly unconstitutional if true.
The US constitution prohibits Congress from restricting the right of citizens to assemble peacefully and to petition for redress of grievances. For a history of the relevant US Supreme Court cases, see this link.
The government is also forbidden to interfere with the workings of the free press, so that the NYPD’s attempt to keep reporters away from the scene of their unprovoked attack on the demonstrators compounds the unconstitutionality of it all.
One of the ways that the First Amendment has been constrained is that fewer and fewer public spaces are still considered “public” (Zucotti Park is privately owned even though it is a park in a city).
In contrast, our emails, bank transfers, and our automobiles parked in our driveways have all been declared “public.”
So the government has invaded private space, declaring it public for purposes of monitoring the public (a violation of the Fourth Amendment). And it has pushed the public out of formerly designated public space by allowing its privatization, so as to prevent the public from demonstrating and peaceably assembling and seeking redress of grievances.
Over time, the US government has gradually found ways to render the Bill of Rights increasingly toothless, and to move us toward authoritarian governance and constant domestic surveillance.-- bth: people need to be paying attention to what is going on. Our constitutional rights are being slashed by an increasingly bureaucratic and unresponsive central government.
Monday, November 14, 2011
Siegfried Sassoon (1886–1967). Picture-Show. 1920.
|SQUIRE nagged and bullied till I went to fight,|
|(Under Lord Derby’s Scheme). I died in hell—|
|(They called it Passchendaele). My wound was slight,|
|And I was hobbling back; and then a shell|
|Burst slick upon the duck-boards: so I fell||5|
|Into the bottomless mud, and lost the light.|
|At sermon-time, while Squire is in his pew,|
|He gives my gilded name a thoughtful stare:|
|For, though low down upon the list, I’m there;|
|‘In proud and glorious memory’ ... that’s my due.||10|
|Two bleeding years I fought in France, for Squire:|
|I suffered anguish that he’s never guessed.|
|Once I came home on leave: and then went west...|
|What greater glory could a man desire?|
... Questions of retaliation, accountability
In its own report about the problems at Dover, the Office of Special Counsel, a federal watchdog agency, harshly criticized the Air Force’s investigation, saying that several of its “findings are not supported by the evidence presented and thus do not appear reasonable .”
Carolyn N. Lerner, the head of the Office of Special Counsel, also accused the Air Force of not fully holding those responsible to account: “I question whether the Air Force has taken appropriate disciplinary action.”
Her office is also investigating whether Dover punished the whistleblowers for speaking out. Two mortuary workers, James G. Parsons Sr., an autopsy embalming technician, and David Vance, a mortuary inspector, were fired last year. Lerner’s office quickly intervened, saying the terminations appeared to be reprisals for cooperating with federal investigators who were probing the mortuary. Two days later, Parsons and Vance were reinstated.
They were not the only employees who allegedly faced retribution for speaking out. Zwicharowski and Mary Ellen Spera, a mortuary specialist, also faced disciplinary actions “in reprisal for disclosing similar wrongdoing,” Lerner wrote in her report.
At a news conference, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said that the alleged reprisals were “a serious issue” and that he will “ensure that all appropriate action” is taken.
At Arlington, there were also charges that whistleblowers were punished for speaking out.
In 2004, Smith, then the cemetery’s budget director, was concerned about what he thought were questionable contracts related to its effort to digitize burial records. He warned an official from the Office of Management and Budget, which forced Arlington to temporarily stop spending any more money on the project.
Shortly afterward, Smith said he was harassed and ultimately suspended for three days without pay. The Office of Special Counsel declined to take action on his complaint. But he also filed a grievance with the union, which successfully appealed his suspension. Smith retired from Arlington in 2007.
Another Arlington Cemetery employee, Gina Gray, who worked as a public affairs officer, also says she was fired in 2008 for bringing some of the cemetery’s problems to light. She has been credited with helping federal investigators discover many of Arlington’s problems.
Smith said he was not surprised that it took whistleblowers to expose the problems at Dover.
“What is surprising is that they were able to prevail and force the government to give them their jobs back,” he said. “I’m glad to hear that’s what happened.”
At a congressional hearing last year, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) blasted Army officials for ignoring Smith’s warnings. She and others have also been critical of the Army, saying it should have punished those in charge more severely.
While they were forced from their positions, Arlington’s top leaders, Superintendent John C. Metzler Jr. and his deputy Thurman Higginbotham, retired with full benefits last year. Metzler received a letter of reprimand, which was removed from his file when he retired.
There has been a similar outcry over how the leadership at Dover has been treated.
Air Force Col. Robert H. Edmondson, the former mortuary commander from January 2009 to October 2010, is still on active duty but has been reassigned. He was issued a letter of reprimand. Quinton R. “Randy” Keel, who served as division director, was demoted in August and was assigned to another job at Dover that was created specifically for him. Trevor Dean, the mortuary’s top civilian deputy, also still works at Dover but voluntarily accepted a transfer to a lesser position in September.
In her report, Lerner wrote that she was concerned “that the retention of the individuals responsible for serious violations of rules and regulations, gross mismanagement, dishonesty, and misconduct sends an inappropriate message to the workforce.”
Meanwhile, the whistleblowers said they hoped that the investigations would bring much-needed change to the mortuary and refurbish the mortuary’s reputation. Spera ended her letter to the special counsel this way:
“I pray that my actions and those of the current leadership have restored faith in you, the American public.”
Staff researchers Julie Tate and Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.
--bth: in both the Arlington situation and the Dover mortuary affair, the whistle blowers ended up losing their jobs while the senior administrators got off with reprimands or transfers. In the Gina Gray case, she was horribly harassed and even electronically spied upon illegally by the director. Based on the information I've seen with regard to Arlington's contracting, I'm surprised criminal charger were never filed against the administrator and assistant administrator. Oddly I took the issues at Arlington to a member of congress when Gina first told me about it but no one would touch it in deference to the Virginia delegation and specifically Webb who did nothing.
Sunday, November 13, 2011
Jeffrey Feltman, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, during his testimony on Syria at the U.S. Senate this week, summarized Turkey’s contribution to the events in Syria in three points: Sheltering refugees, opening up a space for Syrian oppositions to organize and imposing arms embargo on the Syrian regime. Luke Bronin, deputy assistant secretary at Department of Treasury, at the same panel, stated, ”it is hard to overstate Turkey’s break with Syria.” Both officials compared Ankara’s close relations with Damascus only a year ago with today and appeared as if they were explaining a miracle taking place and they are certainly not alone.
One senior official from Ankara this week gave detailed account about how Turkey’s Syrian policy evolved over the summer. According to this official, “pursuing realist policy to protect our economic interests in Syria was one of the options. But we quickly brushed aside this option as we thought such policy only give more room to Assad to increase his pressure, possibly kill or torture many more people. In such a turn of events, we might have ended up facing with 300 to 500 thousand people in our borders as refugees.”
Following Davutoglu’s visit to Damascus in August, Ankara realized Assad has no intention to reform and it began its tough stance against him by blending moral concerns with realism while dealing with the situation next door.According to this top official, Ankara came to a conclusion that as democracy is spreading around its neighborhood, Turkey only benefits from it....
Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, and Pakistani Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani on Friday met in the Shangri-La resort hotel on the sidelines of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) summit in an attempt to repair ties damaged in the aftermath of the killing of Afghan Peace Council Chief, Burhanuddin Rabbani.
According to reports, the Afghan president has refused to move forward until "Islamabad fully cooperates in the Burhanuddin Rabbani murder probe and takes practical steps to stop violence in his country".
There have been allegations in Afghanistan that the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was behind the killing of the former Afghan president and that the suicide bomber was a Pakistani citizen linked with the so-called ‘Quetta Shura'.
A Pakistani official has described the talks the talks, that lasted over an hour, as tense as both sides blamed each other for the current ‘impasse' in the relationship.
"The prime minister began his discussion by expressing regret over the blame game initiated by Afghanistan following the assassination of Rabbani," said the official, who chose to remain anonymous. "It is unfair that you accuse us publicly," the official quoted Gilani as telling Karzai.
The official has said that Gilani told Karzai that Pakistan would cooperate in the investigation about Rabbani's assassination under the mechanism that Pakistan, Afghanistan and Turkey agreed at the Istanbul conference.
Relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan started going frosty recently after Afghan Peace Council Chief and former president Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani was assassinated in a terrorist attack at his home, carried out by a person posing as Taliban messenger.
-bth: note there is no denial that Pakistan did this, only Pakistan is only upset that they are being accused publicly.
WASHINGTON—The Obama administration has quietly drawn up plans to provide a key Persian Gulf ally with thousands of advanced "bunker-buster" bombs and other munitions, part of a stepped-up U.S. effort to build a regional coalition to counter Iran.
The proposed sale to the United Arab Emirates would vastly expand the existing capabilities of the country's air force to target fixed structures, which could include bunkers and tunnels—the kind of installations where Iran is believed to be developing weapons.
The move represents one way the Obama administration intends to keep Iran in check, as it struggles to find adequate backing for ...