Saturday, December 03, 2011

Family Guy Pat Tillman - YouTube

Family Guy Pat Tillman - YouTube

Small Wars Journal: Marines Leaving Afghanistan

This Week at War: The Pakistan Equation | Small Wars Journal

According to an Associated Press story, the U.S. Marine Corps is planning for a large drawdown of its contingent in Afghanistan. On a Thanksgiving visit to an outpost on the Helmand River, Gen. James Amos, the Marine Corps Commandant, called on his men to "savor being out here together, because it's going to be over [soon]."

The Afghan surge that President Obama ordered in December 2009 increased the Marine contribution to Afghanistan to 19,400 troops, 900 of whom are leaving by the end of this month. During his visit, Amos promised that the Marine contingent in Afghanistan will drop "pretty dramatically" in 2012. Obama has ordered 23,000 U.S. troops out by next October, 10,000 of which could be Marines, more than half of the U.S. force in Helmand Province.

Whether Afghan security forces in the province will be ready to pick up the slack remains to be seen. In any case, the Marine Corps, which since the surge has continuously rotated two of its nine infantry regiments to Helmand, will get a head start on the planned 2014 wind-down of America's combat role in the war. Offered Amos: "Am I OK with that? The answer is 'yes.'"

As an institution, the Marine Corps has an interest in getting on with its future. This will mean cutting the Marine Corps to conform to current fiscal realities inside the Pentagon, while simultaneously refocusing the Corps on preparing for crisis response and expeditionary contingencies in the Asia-Pacific region.

Last March, a Marine Corps force structure review group produced a plan for restructuring the Corps after Afghanistan. The plan called for reducing the service's headcount from 202,000 to 186,600 and reducing some of the Corps's infantry, tank, artillery, and fighter-jet squadrons by 10-20 percent. North Carolina's Jacksonville Daily News recently listed some impending cuts to the II Marine Expeditionary Force (II MEF), the Marine Corps's East Coast establishment, which happens to be located outside the Corps's new Asia-Pacific priority region. Disbanded units in II MEF will include an entire infantry regiment, another regimental headquarters, numerous aircraft squadrons, and a long list of support units. As perhaps the best indication of where II MEF will soon rate compared to its two Asia-Pacific brothers, its commander will be downgraded from a three-star general to only two.

If Amos and his colleagues seem eager to a get a jump-start on the post-Afghanistan future, bureaucratic positioning inside the Pentagon may be a motivation. By seizing the initiative over both its downsizing plan and its future roles and missions, Marine leaders may believe they will have more control over the outcome. If Marine Corps leaders can sell politicians on the Corps's new Asia-Pacific mission and quickly adjust the Marine Corps to that role, these leaders may believe they stand a better chance of fencing off the Marine Corps from further cuts after 2014. The Army, by contrast, may not be so able to control its own fate. Should the Pentagon budget face further downward pressure after 2014, the post-Afghanistan U.S. Army, presumably only then done with fighting, could face the brunt of the cuts.

The Marines also took early exits from Iraq and Vietnam. This time, it has a specific plan to restructure itself to support the Obama administration's explicit "pivot" toward the Asia-Pacific region. Getting a head start on the future seems like smart maneuvering. But whether it will actually put a hard floor under the Corps's budget cuts over the rest of the decade remains to be seen.

- bth: Marines are an early bellwether of things to come.

Pentagon whistleblower Franz Gayl is reinstated | iWatch News

Pentagon whistleblower Franz Gayl is reinstated | iWatch NewsA Navy review board has overturned a Marine Corps decision to strip one of its senior science advisors of his security clearances, intervening directly in a case that attracted attention among lawmakers on Capitol Hill and among advocates of enhanced legal protection for military whistleblowers.

Franz Gayl, who complained publicly in 2007 that the Corps had squashed an urgent request from U.S. soldiers in Iraq for heavily armored vehicles, was stripped of his clearances last year and suspended indefinitely with pay. The Corps acted after alleging that he improperly placed a thumb drive in his restricted office computer.

Gayl promptly accused his superiors of retaliating for his whistleblowing, and sought legal protection. But the Corps twice sought to end his pay, most recently in September. The last attempt was thwarted by the Office of Special Counsel, an independent agency, which asserted in a legal filing last month that Gayl “is a public whistleblower who has put his career at risk out of concern for the safety of service members in combat.”

The Navy board, ordering an abrupt turnaround in his predicament, said in a statement to Gayl on Nov. 7 that he was again eligible for needed clearances, even as it chastised him for “disregard for direction from your supervisor” and for failing to follow security procedures. Marine Brigadier Gen. Michael A. Rocco, who directs the Corps’ strategy and plans division where Gayl worked, responded with a message to Gayl that “I have decided to cancel the proposed indefinite suspension.”

Underpinning Gayl’s longrunning dispute with the Corps was its resistance to a wrenching policy shift at the height of the Iraq conflict away from the longstanding development of two new light troop and amphibious carriers to the quick production of a heavy vehicle, known as the MRAP, which officers and soldiers in Iraq said they needed to protect them from roadside bombs.

The shift was ordered in 2007 by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who made MRAPs the Pentagon’s top procurement priority partly because of news reports recounting Gayl’s complaints about Marine Corps foot-dragging. To the chagrin of some Corps leaders, one of the lighter carriers was eventually cancelled because of its high costs and other problems.

In meetings with lawmakers that year, Gayl accused the Corps leadership of institutional inertia and said its commanders were too wedded to programs that were already funded; he further charged that their failure to monitor and respond to an urgent request from the battlefield had caused needless deaths. He argued that his remarks were protected by civil service whistleblowing protections....

bth: Gayl put his career on the line to get the Marine Corp to respond to urgent needs requests for MRAPS. It pretty much ruined one of the brightest civilian careers in the military. Now perhaps after it has all settled down, this country might find some productive work for an analyst that has both guts and integrity - unlike many of his superiors.

K Street, Wall Street line up behind Sen. Scott Brown in his race against Elizabeth Warren | iWatch News

K Street, Wall Street line up behind Sen. Scott Brown in his race against Elizabeth Warren | iWatch News

Sen. Scott Brown’s campaign and his political action committee are hustling for millions of dollars from K Street lobbyists and Wall Street interests to keep the Massachusetts seat of iconic Democrat Edward M. Kennedy in Republican hands.

Whether the freshman senator can win re-election in the predominantly Democratic state could be a critical factor in GOP efforts to wrest control of the Senate.

Next week, Brown backers are slated to hold at least two fundraisers to fill the coffers of Scott PAC and his campaign. On Dec. 7, his campaign is hosting a money bash at the National Theater, where the play “Jersey Boys” is currently running. And on Dec. 11, Scott PAC is holding a fundraiser at Fed Ex Field when the Washington Redskins take on the New England Patriots.

Financial service lobbyists and other K Street advocates have for weeks been working hard to help the freshman senator win his high-stakes battle for re-election against Elizabeth Warren, a liberal Harvard law professor. Warren is anathema for many finance-sector lobbyists and Wall Street leaders who abhor the newly created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau— a centerpiece of the financial services overhaul—of which Warren was the intellectual architect....

Preparing for Withdrawal: German Military Fears Civil War in Afghanistan - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News - International

Preparing for Withdrawal: German Military Fears Civil War in Afghanistan - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News - International
... Unofficially, however, many see the gathering, which will bring Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai together with NATO foreign ministers, as but a prelude to withdrawal. US President Barack Obama has begun the American drawdown and has said it will be complete by 2014. His NATO allies, including Germany, have followed suit, with Germany planning to reduce its presence in Afghanistan by 950 troops by the beginning of 2013. The remaining 4,400 troops are to leave by the end of 2014.

NATO has referred to the process as a handover of security responsibility to Afghanistan. But a report in the German tabloid Bild on Friday, citing secret US military intelligence documents as well as confidential German military documents, indicates that military officials in both countries believe that civil war in Afghanistan will be the result.

The paper quotes what it describes as a secret, collaborative appraisal by the US and German militaries as saying: "When the ISAF troops leave the country, there will be civil war." (Eds. note: Quote translated from the German.) The paper says that once withdrawal is complete, leaders of the insurgency, who are currently in Pakistan, "will return to Afghanistan."

'Meeting Our Goals'

While it is certainly no secret that the situation in Afghanistan remains far from stable, the pessimism displayed in the secret documents stands in stark contrast with the message political leaders have been eager to convey. Just in June, when Obama announced the beginning of the US drawdown, he said that troop reduction had become possible because "we are meeting our goals."

In a message posted on the German Foreign Ministry website, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle also does not question that Afghanistan forces will be able to take over full responsibility for security in the country in 2014. Westerwelle has been a leading voice in Germany pushing for withdrawal, driven by widespread voter frustration over the length and cost of the engagement....

"The mission fulfilled the political aim of showing solidarity with the United States," Harald Kujat, formerly Germany's top-ranked soldier and a leading planner of Germany's mission to Afghanistan 10 years ago, told the Mitteldeutsche Zeitung in October. "But if you measure progress against the goal of stabilizing a country and a region, then the mission has failed."...

- bth: as the article points out the main goal of the German government was to show solidarity with the Americans.

Mexican army dismantles gang's antennas, radios - Yahoo! News

Mexican army dismantles gang's antennas, radios - Yahoo! News

MEXICO CITY – Mexican army troops dismantled a telecommunications system set up by organized crime in four northern states, authorities said Thursday.

The Defense Department said soldiers confiscated 167 antennas and 166 power supplies that gang members used to communicate among themselves and to monitor military movements.

The operation also netted more than 1,400 radios and 2,600 cellphones in the border states of Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon and Coahuila and in the state of San Luis Potosi, a statement said....

- bth: curious that so much emphasis would be put on the communications devices by the Mexican army.

Russia could deliver death blow to Nato, say analysts

Russia could deliver death blow to Nato, say analystsISLAMABAD: With the Russian threat to cut land routes for supply to NATO troops in Afghanistan, the Afghan battleground may turn into a cold death trap for NATO, defence analysts believe. They say that Pakistan should utilise the opportunity for a peaceful and prosperous Pakistan by pulling it out of the American war.

Russia has threatened to cut off NATO supply routes to Afghanistan if the alliance doesn’t compromise on its missile defence plans. “If NATO doesn’t give a serious response, we have to address matters in relations in other areas,” Russian news services reported. Russia’s cooperation on Afghanistan may be an area for review, the news services reported.

Pakistan has already cut the NATO supply route after the Mohmand Agency attack by NATO troops that killed twenty-six Pakistani soldiers. Lt General (retd) Hameed Gul while talking to The News said that Russia would utilise every option to take revenge from the Americans and time has come for the Russians to do this. He said that Russia wants to join hands with Pakistan and Pakistan should re-consider its policy towards Russia. “Americans and NATO troops have been strangled in Afghanistan and time has come for Pakistan to avail the opportunity that it missed on 9/11 to regain the respect and sovereignty”, Gul said.

He mentioned that Americans will have to leave Afghanistan and will ask for concessions and Pakistan should negotiate with them for their exit. If Russia cuts the supply then the route will be from Georgia to Baku and then to Azerbaijan, which means NATO will never get the supply, said Gul.

“Now NATO troops will have to exit Vietnam style, and that too by using Pakistan’s airspace because Iran will never let USA use its airspace”, the retired General said. He mentioned that the war against terror that was started with our own people will come to an end at once and there will be peace in no time once the Americans leave Afghanistan. He said that Indian interests in Afghanistan were growing but India will get nothing from Afghanistan.

Maria Sultan, defence analyst, while talking to this correspondent said that if the Russians also cut the supply line of NATO then it will turn out to be cold death for NATO troops. “They will literally be strangled in Afghanistan with 90000 troops and as they admit that they have reserves for three months which actually means they have reserves for two months and then NATO will have to airlift the troops and during the airlift only 15 to 20 percent can be alive out of the 90000 troops”, Maria said.

She mentioned that in Afghanistan, everything comes from outside and the insurgency this year has been very high as 700 causalities have been reported. Therefore after the Russian decision, Afghanistan will turn into a reverse Kargil for NATO. “They will have weapons but no bullets to fire; and if Pakistan shuts the air corridors on NATO then it would be a cold death for them and America will have to renegotiate with Pakistan”, she said.

- bth: this is a Pakistani ISI wet dream as usual spewed out by retired Gen. Gul. I post it because we need to see what the Pakistani Islamist and Nationalist leadership is thinking - mainly how to defeat the Americans.

Pakistan Says U.S. Info Was Wrong - WSJ.com

Pakistan Says U.S. Info Was Wrong - WSJ.com
... NATO's main alternative to shipping through Pakistan is the so-called Northern Distribution Network, a system of rail, sea and truck routes that begin at Baltic and Black Sea ports and extend to Afghanistan through Central Asia. Officials said the military is drawing up contingency plans to temporarily expand the amount of cargo entering Afghanistan through that network to meet up to 75% of NATO's immediate resupply needs. The network, however, has its limits, since it was set up to only carry nonlethal supplies.

Officials said the biggest concern for NATO was a potential shortage of fuel if the border stays closed for long. NATO relies heavily on land routes through Pakistan to bring in much of the fuel Western forces use. "If two months go by we are talking megacrisis," said one official.

If Pakistan keeps the border closed for more than two months, officials said, the military might need to start reducing the pace of military operations in order to stretch out the supplies that it has, officials briefed on Pentagon planning said.

The official predicted that the Obama administration will not wait more than a month to begin to step up pressure on the Pakistani to open the border. The U.S. could threaten to withhold aid or exert other pressure on the government to begin to allow at least some critical supplies through.

-bth: how is it possible to win a war where the enemy or frienemies control our supply lines? It isn't.

Friday, December 02, 2011

FOIA Documents Show FBI Illegally Collecting Intelligence Under Guise of “Community Outreach” | American Civil Liberties Union

FOIA Documents Show FBI Illegally Collecting Intelligence Under Guise of “Community Outreach” | American Civil Liberties UnionNEW YORK – The FBI has been illegally using its community outreach programs to secretly collect and store information about activities protected by the First Amendment for intelligence purposes, according to FBI documents released today by the American Civil Liberties Union.

“The trust that community outreach efforts aim to create is undermined when the FBI exploits these programs to gather intelligence on the very members of the religious and community organizations agents are meeting with,” said Michael German, ACLU senior policy counsel and a former FBI agent. “The FBI should be honest with community organizations about what information is being collected during meetings and purge any improperly collected information.”...

- bth: the issue needs to be about rapport and trust with the community in advance of a problem; so the FBI can go to the community it knows when a problem arises. Instead it becomes an intelligence gathering opportunity where the Muslim community is viewed as the enemy. The FBI needs to change its approach to community awareness and interface.

Instant view: Jobless claims rise above 400,000 | Reuters

Instant view: Jobless claims rise above 400,000 | Reuters

(Reuters) - New claims for unemployment benefits rose unexpectedly last week, popping above 400,000 for the first time in just over a month and reinforcing the view that the battered labor market was healing only slowly.

KEY POINTS: * Initial claims for state unemployment benefits climbed to a seasonally adjusted 402,000 from an upwardly revised 396,000 in the prior week, the Labor Department said on Thursday. * Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims at 390,000....

bth: Does federal government unpredictability create uncertainty in the labor market? Anecdotal evidence I have is yes.

Economy Creates 120,000 Jobs, Rate Tumbles to 8.6 Percent - CNBC

Economy Creates 120,000 Jobs, Rate Tumbles to 8.6 Percent - CNBC
Job creation remained weak in the U.S. during November, with just 120,000 new positions created, though the unemployment rate slid to 8.6 percent, a government report showed Friday.

CNBC.com

The rate fell from the previous month's 9.0 percent, a move which in part reflected a drop in those looking for jobs. The participation rate dropped to 64 percent, from 64.2 percent in October, representing 315,000 fewer job-seekers.

The actual employment level increased by 278,000. The total amount of those without a job fell to 13.3 million.

The drop in participation rate is significant in that had the labor force remained steady, the jobless rate would have dropped to 8.8 percent, according to Citigroup calculations. If the labor force had followed trend growth, unemployment would be at 8.9 percent.

"Overall, the continued modest employment gains reflect an economy that plods along at an uninspiring pace," Kathy Bostjancic, director of macroeconomic analysis at The Conference Board, said in a statement. "These modest job gains are still not enough to propel economic growth to a sustainable 2 percent-plus growth path."

The measure some refer to as the "real" unemployment rate, which counts discouraged workers, also took a fall to 15.6 percent from 16.2 percent, its lowest level since March 2009....

-bth: Obama will claim unemployment is on the decline, which is technically true, but look at the real unemployment rate of 16.2% and the very low level of employed to population. That actual employment rose 278K is a plus but not a trend. Give me 3 months of that consistently and you have my attention.

Tower Defense and Aerospace Factory Workers Party at Lunch

Tower Defense and Aerospace Factory Workers Party at Lunch

Tower Defense and Aerospace Factory Workers Party at Lunch: MyFoxDETROIT.com


bth: its astonishing that the company, the unions, the other employees and the police would tolerate this behavior - especially at a defense contractor which almost certainly has mandatory drug testing. What the hell is going on here? They are making lifesaving military armor. Where is the DoD IG?

Labor Force's Share Of Income Plunges To Lowest Recorded Level

Labor Force's Share Of Income Plunges To Lowest Recorded LevelThe labor force's share of income has plunged to its lowest level since the measure was first recorded.

The labor force's share of income -- or the percentage of national income -- fell to a nearly 60-year-low last quarter, according to data from the Federal Reserve bank of St. Louis. The share dropped to 57.1 percent, according to economist Nouriel Roubini, compared to an average of nearly 65 percent percent before the year 2000.

The low-level of national income that the labor force is taking home signals that though employers may be experiencing a growth in productivity, the rise in income is going towards company profits, not workers. The figures are just one measure indicating that income inequality is on the rise. The top one percent of earners saw their incomes grow by 275 percent between 1979 and 2009, according to the Congressional Budget Office, while the bottom fifth of earners experienced a 20 percent rise in income during the same period.

And though the economy is technically in recovery, that doesn't mean Americans' wallets are seeing a boost. The U.S. median income dropped in 2010 for the second year in a row to $26,364. Meanwhile, millionaires control nearly 40 percent of global wealth, according to an October report from Credit Suisse.

Overall, the U.S. median income has fallen more during the recovery than during the recession, according to an October study from two former Census Bureau officials.

But despite those falling wages, companies are squeezing all they can out of workers. Profits-per-employee rose in 2010 for the second year in a row, according to an October analysis from Sageworks. The report also indicated that corporate profits have been increasing without a corresponding boost in wages...

The State of Surveillance: TBIJ

The State of Surveillance: TBIJ

A secretive multi-billion dollar industry is offering cutting-edge systems that enable governments to identify, track and monitor people through their phones and computers, a cache of hundreds of surveillance brochures and other marketing materials reveals.

A German company offers the ability to track ‘political opponents’; an Italian company claims it can remotely seize control of smartphones and use them to listen into conversations and photograph the owners; a US company allows users to ‘see what they [the target] see’; and a South African company offers tools for recording billions of phone calls and storing them forever.

These brochures and other marketing material, known as the ‘Spy Files’, are released today by WikiLeaks and London-based human rights group Privacy International. They shine a light on this shadowy industry, which is worth $5bn (£3.2bn) and is growing fast. These brochures are not readily available: instead, they are handed out to key contacts – often government agencies and police forces – at trade shows that are closed to the public and the press.

A Hollywood script?
A Bureau analysis of the ‘Spy Files’ reveals, for the first time, the breadth of the surveillance industry and its incredible capabilities. The documents have been collected from over 130 companies based in 25 countries from Brazil to Switzerland, and reveal an array of technologies so sophisticated, it often seems to have come out of a Hollywood film.

But the ‘Spy Files’ and their contents are real. They add weight to the campaigners who claim these proliferating technology companies constitute a new, unregulated arms industry.

Ross Anderson, professor of security engineering at Cambridge University, said: ‘These documents reveal an industry selling tools not just for targeted lawful interception… but for mass surveillance. These tools allow governments to harvest the emails, chat and text messages of entire populations, store them, search them and analyse them. Just as Google lets you search the web, these tools let a secret policeman track everyone who said a rude thing about a dictator. So it’s not surprising they’ve turned up in places like Egypt, Syria and Iran.’...

bth: I find it astonishing how readily we are willing to give up our rights once protected under the 1st and 4th amendments.

WikiLeaks Releases Documents on Government Surveillance Tactics -- News from Antiwar.com

WikiLeaks Releases Documents on Government Surveillance Tactics -- News from Antiwar.com

WikiLeaks has released secret files shining light on the mass surveillance practices of dozens of governments and the corporate contractors that provide the technology.

The whistle-blowing organization, according to a press release and a new “Spy files” section of the website, is “releasing a database of hundreds of documents from as many as 160 intelligence contractors in the mass surveillance industry.” This latest release – with the help of “Bugged Planet and Privacy International, as well as media organizations form six countries” including the Washington Post in the U.S. – includes 287 documents, but the “Spy files” project will be ongoing.

“In the last ten years,” reads the press release, “systems for indiscriminate, mass surveillance have become the norm.” Some national security contractors even “record the location of every mobile phone in a city, down to 50 meters. Systems to infect every Facebook user, or smart-phone owner of an entire population group are on the intelligence market.”...

Mexican public warming to US military aid in drug war? - CSMonitor.com

Mexican public warming to US military aid in drug war? - CSMonitor.com
Since the days of the Mexican-American War, US intentions south of the border are regarded with the highest degrees of suspicion. Today, as Mexico struggles under a barrage of violence related to drug trafficking, the idea of American military assistance is anathema to the public.

But that might be starting to change. A majority still opposes such a scenario. But according to a Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project survey released Wednesday, that opposition is shrinking. Of Mexicans surveyed, 38 percent favor US troop help today, up from 26 percent in 2010.

Seventy-four percent say they welcome US help to train police and the military, and 64 percent support more money and weapons for Mexican authorities.

IN PICTURES: Mexico's drug war

Those changing views have not registered among politicians in Mexico, where the US stepping too hard is always an opportunity to appeal to the electorate.

Case and point is the brouhaha unleashed after the New York Times published an article in early August about US intelligence officers operating south of the border to help combat traffickers with the cooperation of the government....

Feds Seize 32 Tons Of Marijuana From Underground U.S.-Mexico Border Tunnel | Fox News

Feds Seize 32 Tons Of Marijuana From Underground U.S.-Mexico Border Tunnel | Fox News

SAN DIEGO – Tis the season for finding cross-border drug tunnels.

The latest secret passage -- equipped with a hydraulic lift, electric rail carts and a wooden staircase -- was discovered Tuesday on the U.S.-Mexico border, highlighting an emerging seasonal trend. For three years, authorities have found sophisticated tunnels shortly before the winter holidays in what officials speculate is an attempt by drug smugglers to take advantage of Mexico's fall marijuana harvest.

The discovery of the 600-yard tunnel resulted in seizures of 32 tons of marijuana, one of the largest pot busts in U.S. history. It linked warehouses in San Diego and Tijuana and was equipped with lighting and ventilation. Wooden planks lined the floor about 40 feet underground.

tunnel_113011.jpg

Nov. 30, 2011: View from inside a tunnel recently found in the northern border city of Tijuana, Mexico.

"This is an incredibly efficient tunnel designed to move a lot of narcotics," said Derek Benner, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's special agent in charge of investigations in San Diego said Wednesday.

Authorities recovered nearly 17 tons of marijuana at the warehouse in San Diego's Otay Mesa area, nearly 12 tons inside a truck in Los Angeles and about 4 tons in Mexico. Six people were charged in federal court in Southern California with conspiracy to distribute marijuana.

As U.S. authorities heighten enforcement on land, tunnels have become a major tack to smuggle enormous loads of marijuana. More than 70 passages have been found on the border since October 2008, surpassing the number of discoveries in the previous six years

Two weeks ago, authorities seized 17 tons of marijuana in connection with a tunnel that linked warehouses in San Diego and Tijuana.

Raids last November on two tunnels linking San Diego and Tijuana netted a combined 52 tons of marijuana on both sides of the border. In early December 2009, authorities found an incomplete tunnel that stretched nearly 900 feet into San Diego from Tijuana, equipped with an elevator at the Mexican entrance....

Yoga is the work of the devil, says Vatican's chief exorcist (and he doesn't like Harry Potter much either) | Mail Online

Yoga is the work of the devil, says Vatican's chief exorcist (and he doesn't like Harry Potter much either) | Mail Online

Father Gabriel Amorth has carried out more than 70,000 exorcisms in his capacity as Chief Exorcist at the Vatican.

The 85-year-old can boast 25 years in the post after being appointed by the late Pope John Paul II.

At a conference today, he surprised the delegates by revealing some of his greatest dislikes - yoga and Harry Potter.

Father Amorth, a colourful and often outspoken personality, said:'Practising yoga brings evil as does reading Harry Potter. They may both seem innocuous but they both deal with magic and that leads to evil.'

He added:'Yoga is the Devil's work. You thing you are doing it for stretching your mind and body but it leads to Hinduism. All these oriental religions are based on the false belief of reincarnation.'

Father Amorth, speaking on the subject of People And Religion at a fringe event at the Umbria Film Festival in Terni, spoke of his distaste for JK Rowling's young wizard.

He said:'People think it is an innocuous book for children but it's about magic and that leads to evil. In Harry Potter the Devil is at work in a cunning and crafty way, he is using his extraordinary powers of magic and evil...

- bth: nuts

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

BBC News - UK to expel all Iranian diplomats over embassy attack

BBC News - UK to expel all Iranian diplomats over embassy attack

The UK is to expel all Iranian diplomats following the storming of its embassy in Tehran, Foreign Secretary William Hague has announced.

He said he had ordered the immediate closure of the Iranian embassy in London.

Tuesday's attack by hundreds of protesters followed Britain's decision to impose further sanctions on Iran over its nuclear programme.

The sanctions led to Iran's parliament reducing diplomatic ties with the UK.

Mr Hague said he was demanding the immediate closure of the Iranian embassy in London, with all its staff to leave the UK within 48 hours.

"If any country makes it impossible for us to operate on their soil they cannot expect to have a functioning embassy here," Mr Hague told MPs....

- bth: I can't help but think Iran will be the loser in this downward diplomatic spiral.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Exclusive: MoD failed to act over Snatch safety alert - Home News - UK - The Independent

Exclusive: MoD failed to act over Snatch safety alert - Home News - UK - The Independent

Soldiers' deaths in roadside bomb attacks on Land Rovers in Iraq, and then Afghanistan, led defence officials to run tests that exposed the vehicles as 'mobile coffins'. But troops were still forced to use them – with lethal results

Defence chiefs continued sending British troops out in lightly armoured Land Rovers dubbed "mobile coffins" for years after their own tests proved the vehicles were critically vulnerable to attack from roadside bombs, secret documents have shown.

Secret tests of the Army's vehicles carried out in 2005 revealed that even when soldiers wore body armour the Snatch Land Rovers provided little protection from Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), which ripped through the "basic level of protection" provided by the vehicles. Some 37 British service personnel have died as a result of attacks on Snatches since 2001 – more than 20 of them since 2005, the year the tests were carried out. The vehicles are still in use in Afghanistan.

A series of internal papers, part of an assessment of the Army's vehicle fleet conducted six years ago, detail work to "assess the lethality of fragmentation against Snatch", and lay bare "scenarios where Snatch is overmatched by the threat". But, although the tests revealed the Snatch "performed poorly", the Ministry of Defence (MoD) withheld the reports, claiming that "disclosure of such information could prejudice the safety of the armed forces". [bth: note when the test results confirmed what was essentially already known by the MOD the MOD withheld the information.]

The families of soldiers killed in Snatches last night condemned the Army's policy on the vehicle; the Snatch has been modified several times since 2005, but still awaits replacement by a more modern and better-protected alternative.

Sue Smith, whose son Phillip Hewett was killed by a roadside bomb attack on a Snatch patrol in Iraq in July 2005, said she was "absolutely disgusted" to learn about the levels of concern laid bare in the documents. She added: "If it was a business they'd have been done for corporate manslaughter, they'd have been shut down."

Official documents released to the Iraq inquiry last year revealed that ministers had been warned that Snatches – originally bought for use in Northern Ireland – needed to be replaced in 2006. But in a "vehicle protection presentation" held on 16 March 2005 – the second anniversary of the Iraq invasion – the defence technology company QinetiQ reported that "Snatch performs relatively poorly but in line with expectations" when attacked by projectiles.

A copy of the document, obtained by The Independent on Sunday under freedom of information laws, showed that the investigation concluded that "Snatch as expected is overmatched", and also raised questions over the ability of body armour to protect troops.

Another study two weeks later conceded there was "a significant knowledge gap in the area of behind armour effects for the Snatch vehicle", and laid bare its vulnerability to attacks from larger devices.

The papers refer to "test data supplied by Defence Intelligence" that implies the weakness of the vehicles in the face of bomb attacks, noting that "Snatch [plus] Soft body armour or helmets provide some increase in protection". It warns that "The Snatch vehicle has also been increasingly exposed to attacks from IEDs during recent deployments." [bth: this is a nice way of saying that kevlar was thrown on the bottom of the vehicle when the Army issued nothing else to help the soldiers and that it offers something better than nothing.]

In an assessment of the best type of additional protection, the QinetiQ experts stated: "As expected, the plate body armour performs better". But it took more than a year before upgraded Osprey plate armour was provided to soldiers in combat – when the MoD spent £16m on 16,000 sets of the armour – and for ministers to admit they needed to buy hundreds of vehicles "with improved protection for deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan".

An emergency review of the Snatch vehicles was not announced until 2008 – after a tide of protests from the families of service personnel who had been killed or suffered horrific injuries in a series of IED attacks in Afghanistan.

Despite the dangers being known by the MoD more than six years ago, not one of the replacements for the Snatch has arrived in Afghanistan. Officials took five years before deciding to place an "urgent operational requirement" in 2010 for armoured vehicles to replace the Snatches. The replacement – the Foxhound – is part of a £200m package of 200 light patrol vehicles ordered by the MoD.

The Conservative MP Patrick Mercer, a former Army officer, said soldiers had called Snatch "the mobile coffin" for years. He added: "Myself and others pointed out [its] inadequacy as far back as 2005; that was only partially addressed by the wearing of extra body armour. It is not acceptable that this vehicle is still being used in the most dangerous of areas."

Jocelyn Cockburn, a solicitor who represents several families of soldiers who died in Snatch Land Rovers during the Iraq war, said: "The MoD's defence to Sue Smith's case is that there was no particular threat to Snatch associated with IEDs in July 2005 when Phillip Hewett died. It is denied that there was an identified risk to Snatch from IEDs in July 2005."

An MoD spokeswoman said the Snatch was upgraded four times since 2004, because better-armoured alternatives were not available. Older Snatch variants were no longer used on operations and the MoD had ordered more than 2,500 new armoured vehicles. She added: "Commanders have a range of vehicles they can use, but have to balance the level of protection with the tactics they want to employ."

Case study

Private Phillip Hewett, 1st Battalion, the Staffordshire Regiment

Sue Smith's son was 21 when he died – killed in a Snatch Land Rover in Iraq. Phillip Hewett, a private in the 1st Battalion Staffordshire Regiment, died on 16 July 2005 in a roadside bomb attack on a patrol in Al Amarah.

His mother, 50, from Tamworth in Staffordshire said: "The shrapnel severed his main carotid artery so Phillip bled to death. The only thing that gives me some comfort is that he was unconscious, but I know that he was peppered with shrapnel.

"I'm absolutely disgusted [to learn about the documents]... I knew about Snatches before Philip died because his father was in the Army – he was in Northern Ireland, and they weren't allowed out in a Snatch because of roadside bombs.

"So I had nine years with a soldier telling me that Snatches weren't safe, and then my son gets killed in one."

-bth: I read this knowing how the families felt and how the MOD lied and it makes me ill. I certainly was aware that these were deathtraps by at least 2005. That they are still in use in Afghanistan is just a sin against soldiers. My apologies to the Independent for posting this article in full but things like this have a way of disappearing from the web and I wanted to see that a record was kept. It is important to note that vehicle alternatives were available by about 2004 and that by 2006 they were widely used by US forces. Also by 2005 US forces were not leaving the base in anything other than armored humvees which were massively better than these Snatch death coffins. MOD committed a crime of neglect and negligence against its soldiers.

China, India perform dangerous new dance - The Washington Post

China, India perform dangerous new dance - The Washington Post

But it was also a sign of rising frictions between India and China, and of what experts see as a dangerous new game between the world’s most populous nations.

Threatened by China’s rapidly growing ties with its South Asian neighbors, India is increasingly trying to penetrate Beijing’s traditional sphere of influence, and the mutual irritations are beginning to show.

Coming just after India and Vietnam agreed to jointly explore two ocean blocks just off the fiercely contested Spratly Islands, Singh’s stance in Bali prompted a frosty response from the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

“We don’t hope to see outside forces involved in the South China Sea dispute and do not want to see foreign companies engage in activities that will undermine China’s sovereignty and rights and interests,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Lin Weimin told reporters in Beijing.

The Chinese Communist Party newspaper put it even more bluntly in an editorial last month, accusing India and Vietnam of “reckless attempts in confronting China” and warning that Indian society was unprepared for a “fierce conflict” with China on the issue.

A 15th round of talks between leading diplomats from both sides originally scheduled for Monday was called off at the last minute, with Indian media blaming growing "dissonance" after the summit in Bali. Specifically, media reports said China had demanded the Indian government prevent the Dalai Lama from speaking at an international Buddhist conference due to take place in the Indian capital this week, a condition the authorities in New Delhi refused to accept.

On one level, the discord reflects China’s sensitivities over the South China Sea and resistance to outside interference in its dispute with nearly every country in the region over the potentially resource-rich ocean.

But it also represents a deterioration in relations between India and China over the past six years, and a new strategic contest in which each country has been increasingly active in what would once have been seen as the other’s “back yard.”...

bth: excellent article on a complicated and important subject.

Iraq gives Mahdi militants preferential treatment - The National

Iraq gives Mahdi militants preferential treatment - The National
Baghdad // Mahdi Army militants who fought against US troops say they are putting down their weapons and returning to their normal lives as American forces leave Iraq.

But some Iraqis say the Shiite militia will remain intact in some form and continue to wield considerable influence in the country. Also, many of the militiamen are joining the government's security services under a secret deal between the government and the Sadrist movement, media reports say. Critics say the militants are getting preferential treatment when they apply for admission.

Since the US-led invasion of 2003, the Mahdi Army, loyal to cleric Muqtada Al Sadr, battled with US soldiers and Iraqi troops or, more commonly, planted bombs in roadside ambushes or fired mortars at military bases. It claimed to be able to call on tens of thousands of fighters.

Even after the Sadrist movement called a ceasefire in 2008 and won an influential place in Iraq's mainstream politics, militants associated with its armed wing continued to stage sporadic attacks against US troops, particularly in Shiite-dominated southern Iraq.

Now, however, some of the fighters - it remains unclear exactly how many - say the time has come to put their weapons aside and return to civilian life...

An arrangement with the government designed to entice the Sadrists to abandon militancy may already be unfolding, according to Iraqi media reports. Hundreds of Mahdi Army fighters have joined security services, some at high ranks, even though they are less qualified than other applicants, the reports say.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, two Iraqi government civil servants with knowledge of recruitment practices confirmed that such a deal had been struck. They said government staff had been told to approve job applications submitted by former Mahdi Army fighters, in preference to similar applications by ordinary Iraqis.

The militants "are being taken into the interior ministry, the defence ministry, the air force, the border guards, Baghdad operations command, everywhere," said one of the officials.

He said the Sadrists had handed a list of more than 1,000 names to the authorities and that those on the list were to be given work even if they were not as well qualified as other applicants.

"Lots of the military people are not happy about it. These Mahdi Army people will be in the security services and some are going straight in at a high rank, captain and above, despite not having the qualifications," the official said.

Government officials have dismissed as media speculation claims that the prime minister, Nouri Al Maliki, has cleared the way for former militants to join the army and police. With a bloc of some 40 members of parliament, the Sadrists have been an important source of support for Mr Al Maliki's fragile governing coalition, and a frequent critic of his leadership....

"These militias represent the real challenge to Iraq's future security and stability," said Bakir Sadiq, a Kurdish MP. "Iraq will be challenged by neighbouring countries that want to exert influence, and they will seek to do that in part though these militias."

Critics of the Sadrists accuse them of being an Iranian proxy, one of the levers Tehran uses to exercise some control over Iraqi politics.

And people who have suffered at the hands of the Mahdi Army doubt the militants will quietly join civilian life.

"The Mahdi Army will take advantage of the situation when the Americans have gone. They will not just go back to normal life," said Nahidar Al Musawi, a widow from Amarah whose husband was killed by militants for working with the Iraqi security forces.

"They claim to be interested in jihad against occupation, but I have seen them up close and they are really criminals, interested in money and power and sex, nothing more than that."