Friday, November 22, 2013

Six Islamist factions unite in largest Syria rebel merger - JP

Six Islamist factions unite in largest Syria rebel merger | JPost | Israel News

BEIRUT - The six largest Islamist rebel factions in Syria declared a new Islamic Front on Thursday, forming the largest alliance of opposition fighters yet in the 2-1/2-year conflict.

Syria's fractious rebel forces have tried many times to unify their ranks and failed. Islamist rebel commanders, in a video aired on al Jazeera, said their new union would not only seek to oust President Bashar Assad but establish an Islamic state....

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Charting America's Transformation To A Part-Time Worker Society, Following 6 Straight Months Of Full Time Job Declines - Zero Hedge

Charting America's Transformation To A Part-Time Worker Society, Following 6 Straight Months Of Full Time Job Declines | Zero Hedge

...In a nutshell: in December 2007 there were 121.7 million full time jobs, while 24.8 million Americans were part-time workers for economic reasons; fast forward to November 2010 where we find that 111.1 million employees are now full time, while the rank of the part-times have increased to 27.6 million. And it is not rocket science, that converting a population to part-time workers has a disastrous impact on wealth. As Stockman presented previously, discussing part-time employment "with an average wage of $20,000 a year, that is not a breadwinning job, you can't support a family on that, you can't save on that. Those jobs will not generate income that will become self-feeding into spending." Yet more and more people are forced to work part-time, even as full time working Americans are now at their lowest since February 2010. But for some odd reason the market remains transfixed that 39k very much adjusted and completely unrealistic people may have found a job on private payrolls in November, even as full time jobs dropped by 478k....

India-Pakistan: The Taliban Declares War On Everyone - The Strategy Page

India-Pakistan: The Taliban Declares War On Everyone

...As Indian military analysts, especially those working for the media, switch their attention from Pakistan to China they are being forced to face some unpleasant facts. The most unpleasant of all is that the Chinese forces are better equipped and that situation is getting worse for India. This is a bitter new reality for Indians to deal with. For decades, when Pakistan was the main foe, India always had the technological edge, in addition to spending more than five times as much on defense and having nearly twice as many troops. But in the last decade the Pakistani threat has declined and China has become the main antagonist. China has about as many troops, but spends more than three times as much as India on defense. Increasingly Chinese forces are equipped with more modern gear, and more of it than their Indian counterparts. Now India knows how Pakistan has felt for so many years and it is not pleasant....
-bth: a good article worth reading in full.

Current ponderings on the economy and politics


·         Public assessment of the direction of the country is now negative 45%. Yes that’s negative. The assessment of the President on the economy is now net negative 20. In the good news department, his approval in foreign policy is only net  negative 14.5 and was actually better when he nearly took us to war with Syria. Ironically will his numbers go down further if he successfully negotiates a nuclear deal with the Iranians? It is hard to say when the public trust is lost.
·         Caterpillar Dealer Statistics which are good current indicators of economic trends are down in ALL geographic regions with N. America being the least down and Asia/Pacific down 26% in October.  China nears a banking crisis of its own making.  India is definitely in a slump relative to its population growth and currency devaluing rising energy needs while Japan is trying to inflate its way out but finds its imports of energy in a post Fukushima world challenging its ability to export. It is like the entire world is running up the down escalator faster and faster.
·         One can denote the long-term structural decline of the US GDP in these 4 charts.   We’re not investing in our own infrastructure and our people are underemployed on balance with no government support for the middle class in an increasingly competitive international ecosystem.
·         The recent budget debacle and the loss of insurance for nearly 5 million cannot bode well for consumer sentiment and spending trends of the US consumer to which the world depends in the coming quarters. While we might hope that Washington would be a positive contributor to the well being of Americans, we would reasonably expect that it at least do not harm – yet reality seems otherwise.  Washington does matter – unfortunately it is dragging an oar in the water while the rest of the US has to row harder and harder.


·         Obama’s approval rating is now -15.  This is near W’s worst numbers which is quite an accomplishment given how much the country wants him to succeed.
·         The disapproval of Obamacare is a net negative 17.
·         Congressional approval was always a joke but it is now negative 76.2% with 85% of the country disapproving and only 8.5 approving.   One wonders how incumbents are polling in their districts regardless of party affiliation which might explain the decline in congressional town hall meetings. So just to restate – 85% of Americans disapprove of Congress. Even tea baggers have to be having second thoughts if they think at all.
·         There has been some talk on the forum of late that 2014 will see the Republicans stomped by Democrats in congress; victors carried on the shoulders of an adoring public, and so consequently it doesn’t make sense to negotiate a budget with anyone that disagrees with us until then – just keep on sequestering on and on until FY 2015/16.  But as this data shows the generic ballot of Democrat to Republican which had seen a powerful benefit to Democrats in the budget debacle last month has been entirely erased by Obamacare’s manic breakdown. It’s as if Obamacare’s rollout was Obama’s Katrina in the eyes of the public. Democrats generic advantage is now down to +1.  Maybe there will be a dead cat bounce as those that have lost their insurance figure out how to enroll on the website and express their gratitude in 2014 but it seems unlikely now. The advantage we obtained by appearing less unreasonable than the Republicans has been lost to incompetence in basic rollout of the singular most important program of our two term administration. It is one thing to say we the Democrats are less less carrying than the Republicans toward the middle class and poor, but it is another to be incompetent or at best incapable which is what we are without an actual approved budget.  The status quo simply will not do. We must do better.
·         Not surprisingly as the parties start to look for a presidential candidate in 2016 they are looking everywhere but Washington.  I’d suspect it will be a governor at this point. This might explain the unusual quietness of Biden and Hillary. Perhaps elections, like wars, aren’t so much won but lost. The linked article has an interesting discussion between Rep. Paul Ryan and Iowa Governor Branstad. How well does a capable governor like Deval Patrick fit into the national discussion? Probably better than we thought a few months ago.
·         We’re going to have our work cut out for us in 2014. Anyone have a good lemonade recipe?

Baghdad Rejects Oil Revenues Mechanism Proposed by Turkey - RUDAW

Baghdad Rejects Oil Revenues Mechanism Proposed by Turkey

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s State of Law Coalition has rejected a Turkish proposal for an escrow account to monitor Iraqi oil revenues and resolve a pending payment issue between Baghdad and Erbil.

“Iraq is a sovereign country and it does not seek counseling from foreign countries for distribution of its revenues,” said Khalid Saadi, an MP from the State of Law Coalition. “Iraq has laws to settle these issues,” he added.

Last Saturday, Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz proposed a mechanism to end the long-standing dispute between Iraq and its autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) over the sharing of oil revenues. Yildiz said that he discussed the issue with Iraq’s Deputy Prime Minister for Energy Affairs Hussein Shahristani, but has not yet heard back from him.

“The distribution of the revenues would be carried out by Iraq, we would only hold these deposits at a Turkish state bank," said the Turkish energy minister.

Saadi said that Yildiz’s proposal would only lead to further deterioration of relations between Baghdad and Ankara.

After two years of strained relations over Syria, Sunni populations in Iraq and Kurdistan energy deals with Ankara, Iraq and Turkey mended relations earlier this month through exchange visits by their respective foreign ministers.

The Iraqi parliament has failed to pass the Hydrocarbon Law, which has been languishing since 2007 over disagreements between Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites.

Meanwhile, Farhad Atrushi, a member of the Iraqi parliament’s Oil and Gas Committee, expressed doubt that Baghdad would ever agree to Turkey's proposal. “Article 112 of the Iraqi constitution allows the KRG to run its oil affairs,” he argued.

That article of the Iraqi constitution allows the federal government, in cooperation with the producing regional government and governorates, to manage oil and gas extraction. It also allows the right to distribute revenues “in a fair manner in proportion to the population.”

Atrushi concurred with Saadi that the distribution of Iraqi revenues is an Iraqi internal matter, but believed that other stakeholders should be taken into consideration. “Undoubtedly, this is a domestic matter, but Turkey is still a party in this issue because Kurdistan’s oil pipelines go through Turkey. In addition, the biggest Turkish oil company has investments in Kurdistan’s oil sector,” he said.

Atrushi maintained that the Kurdistan Region should not be treated like another province. “The region has been governing itself for years,” he noted.

The KRG demands that Baghdad pay the fees for international oil companies operating in Kurdistan, which it says amount to $5 billion.

Over such disputes, the KRG has halted exporting some 100,000 barrels per day since December 2012 through Iraqi-Turkish pipeline that are managed by the central government.

Sulaimani Gun Markets Doing Brisk Business From Syria War

Sulaimani Gun Markets Doing Brisk Business From Syria War

SULAIMANI, Kurdistan Region – Gun and ammunition prices have shot up -- and the cost of a Kalashnikov bullet has doubled – at Sulaimani’s gun markets since the civil war across the border in Syria, local gun vendors say.

The Syrian war which began with an uprising in March 2011 against President Bashar Assad, has meant brisk business for the gun shops in Sulaimani, where the price of a bullet for a Kalashnikov AK-47 rifle is now $2 a piece, the shop owners say.

Many of the customers who buy guns are wealthy Kurds, said Aso Mohammed, a gun dealer in the city.

“They are interested in buying pistols which range from $500 to $12,000,” and are not necessarily involved in illegal activities he said. Criminals usually get their guns from outside, he added.

Handguns in greatest demand are Italian Cougar pistols for $12,000 a piece, Croatian Glocks for $2,900 or a cheaper Beretta mi 1951 for $900, sellers said. They said most buyers for these types of handguns were aged between 24 and 35.

“A particular type of AK-47, locally known as ‘Gim Sarukh’ is in great demand, with prices as high as $4,500,” said another arms man. He said tribal chiefs and VIPs were the main buyers.

A dealer speaking on condition of anonymity to avoid issues with police said that between $85,000 to $90,000 worth of arms are traded in Sulaimani every day. Sellers said that the trade was legal in Sulaimani, and that buyers names were passed on to the police....

-bth: The price of guns and ammunition may be a good indicator of local expectations.

U.S. drone kills senior militant in Pakistani seminary

U.S. drone kills senior militant in Pakistani seminary - Yahoo News Canada

PESHAWAR, Pakistan/KABUL (Reuters) - A suspected U.S. drone strike on an Islamic seminary in Pakistan killed a senior member of the Taliban-linked Haqqani network early on Thursday, Pakistani and Afghan sources said.

It was the first drone strike in the nuclear-armed South Asian nation since Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud was killed on November 1 in an attack that sparked a fierce power struggle within the fragmented insurgency.

Maulvi Ahmad Jan, an adviser to Sirajuddin Haqqani, the feared head of the Taliban-linked Haqqani network, was in the madrassa when at least three rockets hit his room in the Hangu district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa just before sunrise.

"Yes it's true, we lost another valuable figure this morning," a senior Haqqani official told Reuters...

-bth: the situation between the Haqqani's and US has gotten quite personal.

Lebanon blasts expose Iran and Qaeda face-off over Syria -AFP

Lebanon blasts expose Iran and Qaeda face-off over Syria - Yahoo News

Beirut (AFP) - Twin bombings against Iran's embassy in Hezbollah's Beirut stronghold point to a confrontation between Tehran and Al-Qaeda in Lebanon, which is paying a heavy price for the Syrian war, analysts said.

"It is a direct confrontation between Al-Qaeda on one side, and all those who back the Syrian regime and Iran on the other," said Hilal al-Khashan, a political science professor at the American University of Beirut.

"The two blasts are a direct message to Iran that says: 'You are the origin of the problem in Syria, we will face you directly, not by proxy.'"...

-bth: I hope we have a counter terrorism backchannel open to Iran.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

US, Afghans work toward agreement on night raids - Boston Herald

US, Afghans work toward agreement on night raids | Boston Herald

...While Pakistan was not mentioned, Karzai routinely accuses its neighbor of harboring members of the Afghan Taliban.

The Bilateral Security Agreement is a sweeping document that incorporates the usual Status of Forces Protection Agreement, which the U.S. signs with every country where its troops are stationed. The document covers everything from taxation and customs duties to a promise to protect Afghanistan from hostile action.

While Afghans may be divided over the agreement, they are also pragmatic and know they need international forces in the country, said Kabul University professor Hamidullah Faruqi.

"They will guarantee our stability. They will show to our neighbors that Afghans are not alone, and the financial aid that will come along with this agreement will benefit Afghans, and Afghans know this," he said.

Since the Taliban were ousted following the U.S. invasion in 2001, the government has turned to the traditional Loya Jirga to decide key milestones in Afghanistan's transition to democracy, including the framing of a constitution.

In eastern Afghanistan, scores of university students wearing headbands bearing an inscription from the Quran burned an effigy Tuesday of U.S. President Barack Obama to protest the pact and its provision relinquishing prosecution of American soldiers in an Afghan court. A protest meeting also was held Monday in the Afghan capital of Kabul.

-bth: time to walk away, walk away

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Iran unveils biggest indigenous drone

PressTV - Iran unveils biggest indigenous drone

Iran has unveiled its biggest domestically developed unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), which can be used for reconnaissance and combat operations.

The remote-controlled aircraft, dubbed Fotros, was put on display at the headquarters of the Iranian Armed Forces Aviation Industries Organization (IAFAIO) in Tehran during a ceremony attended by Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Hossein Dehqan on Monday morning.

The drone has been designed and manufactured by experts at Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industries Company, which is affiliated to the IAFAIO, and in cooperation with the country’s academic centers to meet the nation’s defense needs, said the top commander.

The strategic UAV has an operational radius of up to 2,000 kilometers, an operational altitude of 25,000 feet and flight endurance of up to 30 hours, said the defense chief.

The Fotros drone can be used for reconnaissance and surveillance, and has the potential to carry out combat operations once armed with air-to-surface missiles and other types of rockets, the top general noted....
-bth: drone technology has become widespread and internationalized.

Gettysburg Address Delivered 150 Years Ago Today

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war.

We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that this nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Electronic Skin

Monday, November 18, 2013

In Kabul, clinic funded by U.S. military closing because of lack of government support

In Afghanistan, clinic funded by U.S. military closes because of lack of government support - The Washington Post

ABUL — By next month, there will be no more doctors at the clinic once deemed a model for Afghanistan. The shelves of the pharmacy are already empty. The modern X-ray and dialysis machines, rarities in one of the world’s poorest countries, sit unused in a building that was inaugurated by a top U.S. general.

The project, launched by the Pentagon in 2007, is closing — its funding depleted and the Afghan government unable to provide support. Earlier this month, a patient came to see a doctor but found the clinic nearly abandoned....

-bth:why would we give any hope whatever to the clinic or the Afghan government going forward?