Saturday, February 28, 2009

US combat missions will continue after 'pullout''

This is from

The withdrawal is more like a troop reduction plan. Of course the Iraqis themselves may decide that they do not want 50,000 troops staying in the country. Obama is quite flexible in meeting campaign promises. Many of the troops he is withdrawing will no doubt be simply sent to Afghanistan.

I am off to the Philippines for a month and so I may not post too often during March.

US Combat Missions in Iraq Will Continue After ‘Pullout’
Obama Pledge to Withdraw Combat Troops Won't End Combat by Troops
Posted February 25, 2009
Just one day after reports came out regarding the Obama Administration’s 19 month withdrawal plan from Iraq, the Pentagon was detailing the enormous number of troops that would remain on the ground after Obama ostensibly fulfills his promise to remove all combat troops, and all the combat they’ll be engaging in.
After the “pullout,” as many as 50,000 troops will remain on the ground, and despite being touted as a withdrawal of combat troops, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell conceded that some would continue to “conduct combat operations,” and Iraq would still be considered a war zone. The rest would be what he described as “enablers.”
President Obama promised a 16-month pullout from Iraq during the campaign, but backed off the promise under pressure from the military. Since then he has spoken of a “responsible military drawdown,” but even as he is set to officially unveil this new plan the question of when the troops will actually be out of Iraq entirely seems like it will remain unanswered.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Galoc Oil Field back on stream in the Philippines

This is from ogj.

The Philippines is almost entirely dependent upon imported oil so any increased production at Galoc will be a positive for the Philippines. The article does not say who owns the companies involved.

Galoc oil field back on stream in the Philippines
Rick WilkinsonOGJ Correspondent
MELBOURNE, Feb. 26 -- Production has resumed from Galoc oil field in the Palawan basin off the Philippines following completion of repairs and enhancements to the mooring and riser systems.
Operator Galoc Production Co. said the Rubicon Intrepid floating production, storage, and offloading vessel has been reconnected and that output would steadily be increased to 13,000-14,000 b/d of oil.
Production from the field was temporarily shut down in late December 2008 after a survey of the mooring and riser systems showed a partially detached component that would need to be reattached before the system could be reconnected to the FPSO.
Galoc holds a 58.29% interest in the field. Other partners include Nido Petroleum 22.28% and Otto Energy, which holds 18.28% indirect interest through its 31.38% stake in Galoc.

Philippines: Business sentiment cautious.

This is from Philstar.

Interesting that smaller businesses are on the whole less pessimistic than the larger ones. I suppose this is because export business in particular will see a drop in demand. Also Mindanao businesses are less pessimistic because many of them produce food which will always be in demand.

Business sentiment cautious in Philippines amid economic crisis Updated February 26, 2009 08:01 PM
MANILA, Philippines (Xinhua) - Most businesses are cautious in the first quarter of 2009, weighed down by concerns on the global economic crisis and slowdown in export growth, the Philippine central bank said today.
The overall Confidence Index slipped to -23.9 percent, the lowest-recorded level since the first quarter of 2002. Most of the 21,410 business respondents surveyed from Jan. 5 to Feb. 11 have a negative outlook, believing that the global economic turmoil will hurt both local and international markets.
Reports that export receipts are falling also weakened business sentiment. The National Statistics Office reported early this month that export earnings in December 2008 dropped by 40.4 percent to $2.672 billion on lower global demand for major exports such as electronics and textiles.
Exporters, retailers and manufacturing firms are the most pessimistic among the sectors surveyed, believing that both local and export demand will slacken further.
Philippine business owners are also concerned that they may experience some liquidity problems this year owing to an expected credit crunch, according to a survey done by the Philippine central bank.
The survey revealed that the credit access index in the first quarter slid to -12.8 percent in the first quarter of 2009.
"Respondents anticipated that the financial turmoil would make banks more risk-averse in the coming months and would likely impose stricter credit standards," the central bank said in its report.
Most business owners also reported a higher incidence of delays inpayment orders. This is why most of them expect to be less liquid in the first quarter of 2009.
The financial condition index dropped to -32.9 percent in the first three months of the year. Lean demand combined with credit tightening have also hindered planned business expansion. Only 17. 8 percent of the respondents said they plan to expand operations in the second quarter of 2009. In the first quarter of 2008, consequently, most respondents said they don't plan to hire new workers this year.
Small and medium business owners, however, are more optimistic than large-scale firms, according to the survey. Small-sized firms, which have less than 100 employees, are expecting better business environment in the second quarter. They registered a Confidence Index of 1.6 percent for the second quarter.
The central bank explained that this is because small-scale firms cater mostly to the domestic market and are less exposed to the "vagaries and downturns of global markets relative to large- sized establishments."
Companies based in Mindanao, the southern Philippines are more bullish than in other parts of the country, as most businesses there are involved in food processing and production of cash crops like pineapple and banana. Demand for food products is expected to remain steady with or without the crisis.

Panetta: Drone Attacks in Pakistan Will Continue.

Obama changes words not reality. There is no longer a war on terror although there is a battle against terrorists and extremism. There are also drone attacks begun by Bush and now continuing with the clear blessing of Obama. Meanwhile, Sharif the opposition leader in Pakistan is disqualified along with his brother from running for office. The Pakistan govt. may be on the verge of toppling if not facing civil war. The US might not mind if a govt. more willing to face casualites in the tribal areas took power but that is not likely. The drone attacks have made the Pakistani populace even more anti-American.

Panetta: Drone Attacks in Pakistan Will Continue
New CIA Director Declares Nothing Has Changed, Nothing Will Change
Posted February 26, 2009
The new Director of the CIA Leon Panetta declared yesterday that the controversial drone attacks against sites in Pakistan would continue, in spite of the growing criticism. Panetta declared that the attacks, which began under the Bush Administration, “have been successful.”
But perhaps more ominous than being the latest in a myriad of officials who have said the attacks would continue, Panetta declared that “nothing has changed our efforts to go after terrorists, and nothing will change those efforts.” After a presidential campaign that centered on the promise of change, the Obama Administration’s appointees seem to be going to great lengths to assure the public that “nothing has changed” and that “nothing will change.”
But not everything remains constant. If anything, Obama has escalated the attacks inside Pakistan. The Pakistani government’s faux-outrage is becoming less and less plausible amid a flurry of reports of their “private” support, and the government’s stability is increasingly in doubt, not only from its failing wars and the unpopular US strikes, but a failing economy and political turmoil. Insisting that nothing will change ignores the decidedly changeable reality on the ground in Pakistan.

Pakistan in Turmoil over Sharif Bans

This is from

This is totally bizarre. Just read the incident upon which the decision was made. It was associated with an attempt by Sharif to stop Musharraf's coup! Of course Sharif left a coalition with Zardari''s govt. because of their refusal to re-instate judges kicked out by Musharraf!
This is the worst sort of political manipulation and it remains to be seen whether the Zardari govt. will even survive.

Pakistan in Turmoil Over Sharif Bans
Protests in Pakistan, Stock Market Tumbles Over Political Confrontation
Posted February 25, 2009
Protests were sparked across Pakistan today when the Supreme Court decided that Nawaz Sharif, former prime minister and opposition leader, as well as his younger brother Shahbaz were ineligible to hold public offices. The ruling brought down the Punjabi Provincial government, which Shahbaz was chief minister of, and placed the province under direct national control.
Enraged supporters of the Pakistani Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) burned tires in the streets, and the stock market plummeted over 5% in a single trading session as the ban on some of the most influential opposition figures in the nation.
Sharif’s PML-N was part of a coalition government briefly after the 2008 election, but left in August when the ruling Pakistani Peoples Party (PPP) reneged on a promise to reinstate judges ousted by former President Pervez Musharraf. PML-N officials slammed the ruling as a political move by President Asif Ali Zardari, leader of the PPP.
Zardari spokesman Farhatullah Babar claimed that the PML-N was exploiting the decision to derail national unity, and urged the Sharif brothers to “control their supporters in the interest of democracy.” The ban was connected to an incident during the 1999 coup that brought Gen. Musharraf to power: then Prime Minister Sharif attempted to foil the coup by ordering Musharraf’s aircraft diverted. After Musharraf seized power, he had Sharif convicted of “hijacking” over the incident.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Sullenberger: Pay cuts driving out best pilots

This is from AP.

As if to confirm Sullenberger's observations the crash of a plane near Buffalo just recently had a crew with very little experience in flying the plane that crashed and the auto pilot was on when it would have been more prudent to have been flying the plane manually.

It is certainly true that pilot wages plumetted after deregulation and the bankrupticies after 9/11. The high price of fuel last year put even more pressure on airlines to control expenses. Now the recession will make things bad for airline labor again. Eventually this may very well have a negative effect on passenger safety.

Sullenberger: Pay cuts driving out best pilots

By JOAN LOWY and MICHAEL J. SNIFFEN, Associated Press Writers Joan Lowy And Michael J. Sniffen, Associated Press Writers
AP – US Airways flight 1549 Capt. Chesley B Sullenberger III, second from right, talks with Rep. Vern Buchanan, …
WASHINGTON – The pilot who safely ditched a jetliner in New York's Hudson River said Tuesday that pay and benefit cuts are driving experienced pilots from careers in the cockpit.
US Airways pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger told the House aviation subcommittee that his pay has been cut 40 percent in recent years and his pension has been terminated and replaced with a promise "worth pennies on the dollar" from the federally created Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. These cuts followed a wave of airline bankruptcies after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks compounded by the current recession, he said.
"The bankruptcies were used to by some as a fishing expedition to get what they could not get in normal times," Sullenberger said of the airlines. He said the problems began with the deregulation of the industry in the 1970s.
The reduced compensation has placed "pilots and their families in an untenable financial situation," Sullenberger said. "I do not know a single, professional airline pilot who wants his or her children to follow in their footsteps."
The subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee heard from the crew of Flight 1549, the air traffic controller who handled the flight and aviation experts to examine what safety lessons could be learned from the Jan. 15 accident which all 155 people aboard survived.
Sullenberger's copilot Jeffrey B. Skiles said unless federal laws are revised to improve labor-management relations "experienced crews in the cockpit will be a thing of the past." And Sullenberger added that without experienced pilots "we will see negative consequences to the flying public."
Sullenberger himself has started a consulting business to help make ends meet. Skiles added, "For the last six years, I have worked seven days a week between my two jobs just to maintain a middle class standard of living."
The air traffic controller who handled Flight 1549 said thought he was hearing a death sentence when Sullenberger radioed that he was ditching in the Hudson.
"I believed at that moment I was going to be the last person to talk to anyone on that plane alive," controller Patrick Harten testified in his first public description of his reactions to last month's miracle landing.
"People don't survive landings on the Hudson River. I thought it was his own death sentence," the 10-year veteran controller testified.
But Sullenberger safely glided the Airbus A320 into the river after it collided with birds and lost power in both engines.
Harten, who has spent his entire career at the radar facility in Westbury, N.Y., that handles air traffic within 40 miles of three major airports, struggled vainly to help get the airliner safely to a landing strip.
Making lightning-quick decisions, Harten communicated with 14 other entities in the three minutes after the bird strike as he diverted other aircraft and advised controllers elsewhere to hold aircraft and clear runways for 1549.
First, Harten tried to return the plane to LaGuardia Airport, asking the airport's tower to clear runway 13. But Sullenberger calmly reported: "We're unable."
Then Harten offered another LaGuardia runway. Again, Sullenberger reported, "Unable." He said he might be able to make Teterboro Airport in New Jersey.
But when Harten directed Sullenberger to turn onto a heading for Teterboro, the pilot responded: "We can't do it .... We're going to be in the Hudson."
"I asked him to repeat himself even though I heard him just fine," said Harten. "I simply could not wrap my mind around those words."
At that moment, Harten said he lost radio contact with flight and was certain it "had gone down."
Afterward, Harten said he told his wife, "I felt like I had been hit by a bus."
NTSB investigators have said bird remains found in both engines of the downed plane have been identified as Canada geese.
Sullenberger and Skiles said anyone who's spent much time in cockpits has encountered bird strikes but that this one was exceptionally severe in knocking out both engines. Some gulls don't even dent the airplane, Skiles said, but this "was a bigger bird than I've ever hit before."
The crew and passengers of a helicopter that crashed en route to an oil platform on Jan. 4 weren't as lucky. The National Transportation Safety Board reported Monday that investigators have found evidence birds were involved in the accident near Morgan City, La., that killed eight of nine people aboard.

Dr. Doom: Nationalise the Banks.

This is from the WSJ.

Here is another article by Dr. Doom advocating the nationalisation of some banks. It seems that Obama would rather spend umpteen billion to avoid doing this! Obama seems to be giving the banks a high speed auger to upload bucks into distressed banks bottomless cash bins.

FEBRUARY 21, 2009
Nouriel Roubini
'Nationalize' the Banks
Dr. Doom says a takeover and resale is the market-friendly solution.

New York
Nouriel Roubini is always dressed in black-and-white.
I have known him for nearly two years, and have seen him in a variety of situations -- en route to class at New York University's Stern Business School, where he's a professor; over a glass of wine in his boyish loft in Manhattan's Tribeca; at an academic conference, seated sagely on the dais; at a bohemian party in Greenwich Village, at . . . oh . . . 3 a.m. -- and he always, always wears a black suit with a white linen shirt.
Terry Shoffner
And so, in black-and-white he was, earlier this week, when he rushed into the office of Roubini Global Economics, his consulting firm in downtown Manhattan, and offered a breathless apology to this correspondent, who'd been waiting for half an hour. "Really sorry I'm late! Charlie Rose taped for way longer than he said he would."
Mr. Roubini -- a month short of 50 -- is in huge media demand, the nearest thing to a rock-star among the economists who hold our fate in their hands these days. The peculiar thing, of course, is that he's in demand because he specializes in predictions of gloom. (He has earned himself the sobriquet of "Doctor Doom.") In person, though, he's anything but a downer.
The man has instant impact on public debate. An idea he floated only last week -- that our "zombie banks" be temporarily nationalized -- aired first on, where he writes a weekly column. It has evolved, in the space of just a few days, from radical solution to almost received wisdom.
Last Sunday on ABC, George Stephanopoulos asked Lindsey Graham, the conservative Republican senator, what he thought about all this talk of bank nationalization. Mr. Graham said that he wouldn't take the idea off the table. And on Wednesday, Alan Greenspan told the Financial Times that "it may be necessary to temporarily nationalize some banks in order to facilitate a swift and orderly restructuring."
Mr. Roubini tells me that bank nationalization "is something the partisans would have regarded as anathema a few weeks ago. But when I and others put it in the context of the Swedish approach [of the 1990s] -- i.e. you take banks over, you clean them up, and you sell them in rapid order to the private sector -- it's clear that it's temporary. No one's in favor of a permanent government takeover of the financial system."
There's another reason why the concept should appeal to (fiscal) conservatives, he explains. "The idea that government will fork out trillions of dollars to try to rescue financial institutions, and throw more money after bad dollars, is not appealing because then the fiscal cost is much larger. So rather than being seen as something Bolshevik, nationalization is seen as pragmatic. Paradoxically, the proposal is more market-friendly than the alternative of zombie banks."
In any case, Republicans must now temper their reactions, he says. "The kind of government interference in the economy that we saw in the last year of Bush was unprecedented. The central bank -- supposed to be the lender of the last resort -- became the lender of first and only resort! With our recapitalizing of financial institutions, and massive government intervention in the markets, we've already crossed a significant bridge."
So, will the highest level of government be receptive to the bank-nationalization idea? "I think it will," Mr. Roubini says, unhesitatingly. "People like Graham and Greenspan have already given their explicit blessing. This gives Obama cover." And how long will it be before the administration goes in formally for nationalization? "I think that we're going to see the policy adopted in the next few months . . . in six months or so."
That long? I ask. "Six months from now," he replies, "even firms that today look solvent are going to look insolvent. Most of the major banks -- almost all of them -- are going to look insolvent. In which case, if you take them all over all at once, you cause less damage than if you would if you took over a couple now, and created so much confusion and panic and nervousness.
"Between guarantees, liquidity support, and capitalization, the government has provided between $7 trillion to $9 trillion of help to the financial system. De facto, the government is already controlling a good chunk of the banking system. The question is: Do you want to move to the de jure step."
Yet another reason why bank nationalization is a good idea, Mr. Roubini continues, is that "we started with banks that were too big to fail, but what has happened, in the process, is that these banks have become even-bigger-to-fail. J.P. Morgan took over Bear Stearns and WaMu. BofA took over Countrywide and then Merrill. Wells Fargo took over Wachovia. It doesn't work! You can't take two zombie banks, put them together, and make a strong bank. It's like having two drunks trying to keep each other standing.
"So if you took over a big bank, and you split the assets in three or four pieces, maybe you create three or four regional or national banks, and they're stronger! Nationalization -- or 'temporary receivership,' if you like, if the N-word is a political liability -- is an occasion to undo the sort of consolidation that has created an even bigger systemic problem. And the only way to do it is by essentially taking them over and breaking them up."
Here, I ask Mr. Roubini whether he has been more right -- more prescient -- in his reading of the economic downturn than all the other famous bears in America. After all, judging by the attention paid to him in the press, it is hard not to conclude that he is the leading guru of the current recession, or "near-depression," as he often calls it. My question, remarkably, induces in him some diffidence. "I don't want to personalize the analysis, you know . . . because, first of all, there were many people who got many of the elements right.
"People like [Robert] Shiller were very worried about the housing bubble. People like Steve Roach were worried about an economy based on asset bubbles leading to consumption bubbles that were unsustainable. People like Ken Rogoff talked about global imbalances in the current account deficit not being sustainable. Nassim Taleb has been worrying for a while about 'fat tail' events . . . . So lots of people signaled concern about things. I was one of those who put the dots together and thus gave a more fleshed-out picture."
To Mr. Roubini, the most interesting question isn't the one of who got it right. Instead, he asks why we "over and over again, get into these periods of irrational exuberance, when not only is there an asset bubble and a credit bubble, but people believe these are sustainable over a long time -- Wall Street, policy makers, rating agencies, academics, journalists . . . ."
What exactly is Nouriel Roubini's economic philosophy? "I believe in market economics," he says, with some emphasis. "But to paraphrase Churchill -- who said this about democracy and political regimes -- a market economy might be the worst economic regime available, apart from the alternatives.
"I believe that people react to incentives, that incentives matter, and that prices reflect the way things should be allocated. But I also believe that market economies sometimes have market failures, and when these occur, there's a role for prudential -- not excessive -- regulation of the financial system. The two things that Greenspan got totally wrong were his beliefs that, one, markets self-regulate, and two, that there's no market failure."
How could Mr. Greenspan have been so naïve, I ask, hoping to get a rise. "Well," says Mr. Roubini, "at some level it's good to have a framework to think about the world, in which you emphasize the role of incentives and market economics . . . fair enough! But I think it led to an excessive ideological belief that there are no market failures, and no issues of distortions on incentives. Also, central banks were created to provide financial stability. Greenspan forgot this, and that was a mistake. I think there were ideological blinders, taking Ayn Rand's view of the world to an extreme.
"Again, I don't want to personalize things, but the last decade was one of self-regulation. But in the financial markets, without proper institutional rules, there's the law of the jungle -- because there's greed! There's nothing wrong with greed, per se. It's not that people are more greedy now than they were 20 years ago. But greed has to be tempered, first, by fear of losses. So if you bail people out, there's less fear. And second, by prudential regulation and supervision to avoid certain excesses."
How does Mr. Roubini think the media has covered the financial crisis? "The problem," he says -- after first stating to me that he intends "no offense!" -- "is that in the bubble years, everyone becomes a cheerleader, including the media. This is the time when journalists should be asking tough questions, and I think there was a failure there. The Masters of the Universe were always on the cover, or the front page -- the hedge-fund guys, the imperial CEO, private equity. I wish there had been more financial and business journalists, in the good years, who'd said, 'Wait a moment, if this man, or this firm, is making a 100% return a year, how do they do it? Is it because they're smarter than everybody else . . . or because they're taking so much risk they'll be bankrupt two years down the line?'
"And I think, in the bubble years, no one asked the hard questions. A good journalist has to be one who, in good times, challenges the conventional wisdom. If you don't do that, you fail in one of your duties."
Mr. Varadarajan, a professor at NYU's Stern School and a fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution, is executive editor for Opinions at Forbes.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Iraq faces a new war as tensions rise in north.

This is from the Independent.

So far the south and central Iraq have remained relatively calm although there are still tensions between Sunni and Shia. In the districts bordering Kurdistan however things are heating up rather than cooling down. These areas are being fought over by the central govt and Kurdish forces. Also, what is left of the Al Qaeda groups in Iraq seems to be concentrating around Mosul.

Iraq faces a new war as tensions rise in north
Violence between Iraqi Kurds and Arabs is threatening an all out conflict that could complicate US plans to withdraw troops
By Patrick Cockburn in Mosul
Monday, 23 February 2009

A new war is threatening Iraq just as the world believes the country is returning to peace. While violence is dropping in Baghdad and in the south of the country, Arabs and Kurds in the north are beginning to battle over territories in an arc of land stretching from Syria to Iranian border.
A renewal of the historic conflict between Arabs and Kurds in Iraq, which raged through most of the second half of the 20th century, would seriously destabilise the country as it begins to recover from the US occupation and the Sunni-Shia civil war of 2005-07.
The crisis between the government of the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, and the Kurds, who make up 20 per cent of the population, is coming to a head now because a resurgent Iraqi army is beginning to contest control of areas which Kurds captured when Saddam Hussein fell in 2003.
There has been a mounting number of clashes between predominantly Arab Iraqi army units and the Kurdish peshmerga forces along a 260-mile line that stretches diagonally across the northern third of Iraq, from Sinjar to Khanaqin in the south.
The tensions underpinning the conflict have always attracted less international attention than the US-Iraqi war or the Shia-Sunni conflict.
Yet if the conflict develops into a full-scale war it will complicate President Barack Obama’s plan to withdraw 142,000 US soldiers from Iraq over 16 months and redeploy many of them to the US military effort in Afghanistan.
In some respects, the Arab-Kurdish war has already started. Kurdish leaders say that in Nineveh province, Sunni Arab gunmen have killed 2,000 Kurds and 127,000 Kurds have turned into refugees over the past six years.
Baghdad and Basra have become safer in the past year but Mosul, the capital of Nineveh and Iraq’s third largest city, remains one of the country’s most violent places.
Khasro Goran, the Kurdish deputy governor of Nineveh province, who operates from heavily-fortified headquarters in Mosul, said it was “not acceptable” for non-Kurdish military units to move into disputed areas. “If they try to do so we will stop them.” On the streets outside Mr Goran’s office, once a Baath party office and now the headquarters of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, an array of competing military forces holds power.
His immediate guards are tough-looking Kurdish peshmerga in uniform. As we left their compound, they fired a shot to deter a driver who got too close. The driver promptly slewed his car across the road.
Two hundred yards further on, we passed a small Iraqi Arab unit covering a crossroads with a light machine gun mounted on a cream-coloured Chevrolet pick-up truck.
Close by, a policeman in a blue uniform held an AK-47 assault rifle. He was part of a mostly Sunni Arab force recruited in Nineveh which changed sides during an insurgent offensive in 2004 and joined the anti-government guerrillas. The rebels captured 31 police stations.
Mosul is majority Sunni Arab but on the east bank of the Tigris river which flows through the city, there are large Kurdish districts that are overlooked by a mosque on a small hill, where the Prophet Jonah is reputedly buried.
Most of the Kurds living west of the Tigris have fled or have been killed. The Christian community was driven out by attacks last year, although some Christians are now returning.
There have been so many bomb attacks in Mosul that in many places damage is no longer repaired. Pieces of smashed concrete lie where they landed after blasts several years ago.
The city is al-Qa’ida’s last stronghold in Iraq. Earlier this month, a bomb killed four US soldiers and an interpreter while gunmen killed two prominent local politicians. The police also come under frequent attack. Shortly before we arrived in Mosul, one officer was killed by a roadside bomb, the sound of which echoed across the city.
Yesterday, US and Iraqi government forces said they had launched a new military campaign to eradicate al-Qa’ida in the province, although US troops were being used only for back-up.
The Kurds in the oil province of Kirkuk and in Diyala province have also often been targeted by suicide bombers. For their part, Arabs in these areas accuse the Kurds of launching a campaign of ethnic cleansing against them.
The Kurdish regional prime minister, Nechervan Barzani, says that if the disputes are not settled by the time the Americans withdraw, “it will be war between both sides.”
Another Kurd, who did not want his name published said: “This is the day the Kurds were always afraid of. As the Americans leave, once again we are left isolated and face to face with Baghdad.”
What makes the situation so explosive in Nineveh and across the north is that over the past year the balance of power has been changing in favour of the Arabs and against the Kurds.
Minority Kurds had dominated the provincial government in Nineveh and Mosul after Sunni Arabs, despite being the majority of the population, boycotted the local elections four years ago. But new polls last month reversed the balance, sweeping an Arab Iraqi party, Al Habda, to dominance in the provincial council.
The Iraqi army is also becoming stronger. It contains both Kurdish and Arab units but it is the non-Kurdish units that are being sent north.
“The 12th division was sent to near Kirkuk without any consultation with us,” said Safeen Dizayee, a senior official of the Kurdistan Democratic Party.
“There is an effort to move away Kurdish officers above a certain rank. Eighty per cent of the army in the north is Arab, including senior staff.”
Iraqi Kurds: Unwilling citizens
*Iraqi Kurds, who speak their own language and have their own identity, did not want to be part of Iraq when its borders were drawn after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the First World War. They often rebelled in pursuit of independence or autonomy and suffered terribly under Saddam Hussein. During the Kuwait war they rose up but were defeated. They created an autonomous zone outside Baghdad’s control and since the US invasion have had autonomy through the Kurdistan Regional Government, but they control a much larger area where Kurds are the majority – this is the area now disputed. The Kurds are also an essential part of Iraq’s coalition government.

The KBR empire doing well during recession!

This is from asiatimes.

This article gives a glimpse of the extent of KBR's contracts with the military.

By Pratap Chatterjee
President Barack Obama will almost certainly touch down in Baghdad and Kabul in Air Force One sometime in the coming year to meet his counterparts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he will just as certainly pay a visit to a United States military base or two. Should he stay for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or midnight chow with the troops, he will no less certainly choose from a menu prepared by migrant Asian workers under contract to Houston-based KBR, formerly Kellogg Brown & Root and once a subsidiary of Halliburton. If Obama takes the Rhino Runner armor-plated bus from Baghdad Airport to the Green Zone, or travels by Catfish Air's Blackhawk

helicopters (the way mere mortals like diplomats and journalists do), instead of by presidential chopper, he will be assigned a seat by US civilian workers easily identified by the red KBR lanyards they wear around their necks. Even if Obama gets the ultra-red carpet treatment, he will still tread on walkways and enter buildings that have been constructed over the last six years by an army of some 50,000 workers in the employ of KBR. And should Obama chose to order the troops in Iraq home tomorrow, he will effectively sign a blank check for billions of dollars in withdrawal logistics contracts that will largely be carried out by a company once overseen by former vice-president Dick Cheney. Questions for the Pentagon If Obama wants to find out why KBR civilian workers can be found in every nook and cranny of US bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, he might be better off visiting the Rock Island Arsenal in western Illinois. It's located on the biggest island in the Mississippi River, the place where Chief Black Hawk of the Sauk nation was once born. The arsenal's modern stone buildings house the offices of the US Army Materiel Command from which KBR's multibillion dollar Logistics Civilian Augmentation Program contract (LOGCAP) have been managed for the last seven years. This is the mega-contract that has, since the September 11, 2001 attacks, generated more than $25 billion for KBR to set up and manage military bases overseas (and resulted, of course, in thousands of pages of controversial news stories about the company's alleged war profiteering). Even more conveniently, Obama could pop over to KBR's Crystal City government operations headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, just a mile south of the Pentagon and five miles from the White House. On Crystal City Drive just before Ronald Reagan National Airport, it's hard to miss the KBR corporate logo, those gigantic red letters on the 11-story building at the far corner of Crystal Park. Many people who know something about KBR's role in Iraq and Afghanistan might want Obama to question the military commanders at Rock Island and the corporate executives in Arlington about the shoddy electrical work, unchlorinated shower water, overcharges for trucks sitting idle in the desert, deaths of KBR employees and affiliated soldiers in Iraq, million-dollar alleged bribes accepted by KBR managers, and billions of dollars in missing receipts, among a slew of other complaints that have received wide publicity over the last five years. But those would be the wrong questions. Obama needs to ask his Pentagon commanders this: Can the US military he has now inherited do anything without KBR? And the answer will certainly be a resounding "no". Keeping a Volunteer Army HappyTim Horton is the head of public relations for Logistical Supply Area Anaconda in Balad, Iraq, the biggest US base in that country. He was a transportation officer for 20 years and has a simple explanation for why the army relies so heavily on contractors to operate facilities today:
What we have today is an all-volunteer army, unlike in a conscription army when they had to be here. In the old army, the standard of living was low, the pay scale was dismal; it wasn't fun; it wasn't intended to be fun. But today we have to appeal, we have to recruit, just like any corporation, we have to recruit off the street. And after we get them to come in, it behooves us to give them a reason to stay in.Even in 2003, the US military was incredibly overstretched. For the Bush administration to go to war then, it needed an army of cheap labor to feed and clean up after the combat troops it sent into battle. Those troops, of course, were young US citizens raised in a world of creature comforts. Unlike American soldiers from their parents' or grandparents' generations who were drafted into the military in the Korean or Vietnam eras and ordered to peel potatoes or clean latrines, the modern teenager can choose not to sign up at all. As Horton points out, the average soldier gets an average of $100,000 worth of military training in four years; if he or she then doesn't re-enlist, the military has to spend another $100,000 to train a replacement. "What if we spend an extra $6,000 to get them to stay and save the loss of talent and experience?" Horton asks. "What does it take to keep the people? There are some creature comforts in this Wal-Mart and McDonald's society that we live in that soldiers have come to expect. They expect to play an Xbox, to keep in touch by e-mail. They expect to eat a variety of foods." A quarter-century ago, when Horton joined the US Army, all they got was a 14-day rotational menu. "We had chili-mac every two weeks, for crying out loud. What is that? Unstrained, low-grade hamburger mixed with macaroni. Lot of calories, lots of fat, lots of starch, that's what a soldier needs to do his job. When you were done, you had a heart attack." Today, says Horton, expectations are different. "Our soldiers need to feel and believe that we care about them, or they will leave. The army cannot afford to allow the soldier to be disenfranchised." When I visited with him in April 2008, Horton took me to meet Michael St John of the Pennsylvania National Guard, the chief warrant officer at one of Anaconda's dining facilities. St John led me on a tour of the facility, pointing out little details of which he was justly proud - like the fresh romaine lettuce brought up from Kuwait by Public Warehousing Corporation truck drivers who make the dangerous 12-hour journey across the desert, so that KBR cooks have fresh and familiar food for the troops. Stopping at the dessert bar St John explained, "We added blenders to make milkshakes, microwaves to heat up apple pie, and waffle bars with ice cream." The "healthy bar" was the next stop. "Here," he pointed out, "we offer baked fish or chicken breast, crab legs, or lobster claws or tails." "Contractors here do all the work," St John added. He explained that he had about 25 soldiers and six to eight KBR supervisors to oversee 175 workers from a Saudi company named Tamimi, feeding 10,000 people a day and providing take-away food for another thousand. "They do everything from unloading the food deliveries to taking out the trash. We are hands off. Our responsibility is military oversight: overseeing the headcount, ensuring that the contractors are providing nutritional meals and making sure there are no food-borne illnesses. It's the only sustainable way to get things done, given the number of soldiers we have to feed." Horton chimes in: "I treat myself to an ice-cream cone once a week. You know what that is? It's a touch of home, a touch of sanity, a touch of civilization. The soldiers here do not have bars; all that is gone. You've taken the candy away from the baby. What do you have to give him? What's wrong with giving him a little bit of pizza or ice cream?" Between a chili-mac military and a pizza-and-ice-cream military, the difference shows - around the waistline. Sarah Stillman, a freelance journalist with the website TruthDig, tells a story she heard about a PowerPoint slide that's becoming popular in Army briefings: "Back in 2003, the average soldier lost fifteen pounds during his tour of Iraq. Now, he gains ten." Stillman says that the first warning many US troops receive here in Baghdad isn't about IEDs (improvised explosive devices), RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades), or even EFPs (explosively formed projectiles). It's about PCPs: "pervasive combat paunches". Privatizing the US ArmyKBR has grossed more than $25 billion since it won a 10-year contract in late 2001 to supply US troops in combat situations around the world. As of April 2008, the company estimated that it had served more than 720 million meals, driven more than 400 million miles on various convoy missions, treated 12 billion gallons of potable water, and produced more than 267 million tons of ice for those troops. These staggering figures are testimony to the role KBR has played in supporting the US military in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries targeted in former president George W Bush's "global war on terror". And in the first days of the new Obama administration, the company continues to win contracts. On January 28, 2009, KBR announced that it had been awarded a $35.4 million contract by the US Army Corps of Engineers for the design and construction of a convoy support center at Camp Adder in Iraq. The center will include a power plant, an electrical distribution center, a water purification and distribution system, a waste-water collection system, and associated information systems, along with paved roads, all to be built by KBR. How did the US military become this dependent on one giant company? Well, this change has been a long time coming. During the Vietnam War in the 1960s, a consortium of four companies led by the Texas construction company Brown & Root (the B and R in KBR) built almost every military base in South Vietnam. That, of course, was when Lyndon B Johnson, a Texan with close ties to the Brown brothers, was president. In 1982, two years into Ronald Reagan's presidency, Brown & Root struck gold again. It won lucrative contracts to build a giant US base on the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia, a former British colony. In 1985, General John A Wickham drew up plans to streamline logistics work on military bases under what he dubbed the Logistics Civilian Augmentation Program (LOGCAP), but his ideas would remain in a back drawer for several years. In the meantime, Dick Cheney, as secretary of defense in the administration of the elder George Bush, loosed the American military on Iraq in the First Gulf War in 1991, and hired hundreds of separate contractors to provide logistics support. The uneven results of this early privatizing effort left military planners frustrated. By the time Cheney left office, he had asked Brown & Root to dust off the Wickham LOGCAP plan and figure out how to consolidate and expand the contracting system. President Bill Clinton's commanders took a harder look at the new plan that Brown & Root had drawn up and liked what they saw. In 1994, that company was hired to build bases in Bosnia and later in Kosovo, as well as to take over the day-to-day running of those bases in the middle of a war zone.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Philippines: US urges caution on Philippines defence treaty review

This is from AFP.

The US wonders why there is so much anti-Americanism in the world. This episode is a perfect example. Even though the Philippine Supreme Court has ordered the marine back into Philippine custody he is being retained by the US. Earlier he was more or less snatched from Philippine custody by the US while in a local facility. The claim by the US is that until final appeals are exhausted he can remain in US custody. No matter what interpretation the Philippine Supreme Court makes. The Arroyo govt. must obviously have co-operated with the US in allowing the marine to be removed from local custody originally!

US urges caution on Philippines defence treaty review
1 day ago
MANILA (AFP) — The United States Monday cautioned the Philippines against reviewing their defence treaty, in a row over a US Marine's appeal against a 40-year jail sentence for raping a Filipina.
US envoy Kristie Kenney said it was "premature to talk about reviewing" the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) while the case of Lance Corporal Daniel Smith was being scrutinised.
Smith was convicted in 2006 of raping the Filipina after he took part in war games in the Philippines.
He was initially sent to a local jail to start his 40-year sentence, but was later transferred to a facility inside the US embassy in Manila when the case went on appeal, triggering public outrage. The appeal has yet to be heard.
The US embassy has ignored an order by the Philippines' Supreme Court ordering Smith to be returned to Philippine custody.
A number of Philippine senators have called for the VFA to be reviewed or revoked altogether.
"I think we should take guidance," Kenney told reporters Monday, stressing that Washington took all its treaties "very seriously."
"We don't sign them lightly. We pay attention to them and we do our best to comply. So we do take any thought of review very seriously," she said.
Some pro-US officials and legislators have warned that killing the treaty could force Washington to downgrade defence ties with Manila, which the Bush administration considered a key regional ally in the global war on terrorism.
The VFA outlines the rules governing conduct of US troops participating in joint military exercises here.
The treaty's ratification in 1999 provided the legal cover for the resumption of large-scale joint military exercises between the two allies.

End times for New York Times.

It seems that many print media are on the verge of failure. At least their failure will save a lot of trees for posterity! Advertising seems to be migrating to other media and advertising is the life blood of for profit media. As this article points out the decline of newspapers could be precipitous during the present downturn rather than gradual as many others predict.
January/February 2009 The Atlantic
Can America's paper of record survive the death of newsprint? Can journalism? End Times
by Michael Hirschorn
Virtually all the predictions about the death of old media have assumed a comfortingly long time frame for the end of print--the moment when, amid a panoply of flashing lights, press conferences, and elegiac reminiscences, the newspaper presses stop rolling and news goes entirely digital. Most of these scenarios assume a gradual crossing-over, almost like the migration of dunes, as behaviors change, paradigms shift, and the digital future heaves fully into view. The thinking goes that the existing brands--The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal--will be the ones making that transition, challenged but still dominant as sources of original reporting. But what if the old media dies much more quickly? What if a hurricane comes along and obliterates the dunes entirely? Specifically, what if The New York Times goes out of business--like, this May? It's certainly plausible. Earnings reports released by the New York Times Company in October indicate that drastic measures will have to be taken over the next five months or the paper will default on some $400million in debt. With more than $1billion in debt already on the books, only $46million in cash reserves as of October, and no clear way to tap into the capital markets (the company's debt was recently reduced to junk status), the paper's future doesn't look good. "As part of our analysis of our uses of cash, we are evaluating future financing arrangements," the Times Company announced blandly in October, referring to the crunch it will face in May. "Based on the conversations we have had with lenders, we expect that we will be able to manage our debt and credit obligations as they mature." This prompted Henry Blodget, whose Web site, Silicon Alley Insider, has offered the smartest ongoing analysis of the company's travails, to write: "`We expect that we will be able to manage'? Translation: There's a possibility that we won't be able to manage." The paper's credit crisis comes against a backdrop of ongoing and accelerating drops in circulation, massive cutbacks in advertising revenue, and the worst economic climate in almost 80 years. As of December, its stock had fallen so far that the entire company could theoretically be had for about $1 billion. The former Times executive editor Abe Rosenthal often said he couldn't imagine a world without The Times. Perhaps we should start. Granted, the odds that The Times will cease to exist entirely come May are relatively slim. Many steps could be taken to prolong its existence. The Times Company has already slashed its dividend, a major source of income for the paper's owners, the Sulzberger family, but one that starved the company at precisely the moment it needed significant investments in new media. The company could sell its share of the brilliant Renzo Piano-designed headquarters--which cost the company about $600million to build and was completed in 2007, years after the digital threat to The Times' core business had become clear. (It's already borrowing money against the building's value.) It could sell The Boston Globe--or shutter it entirely, given what the company itself has acknowledged is a challenging time for the sale of media properties. It could sell its share in the Boston Red Sox, close or sell various smaller properties, or off-load, the resolutely unglamorous Web purchase that has been virtually the only source of earnings growth in the Times Company's portfolio. With these steps, or after them, would come mass staffing cuts, no matter that the executive editor, Bill Keller, promised otherwise. It's possible that a David Geffen, Michael Bloomberg, or Carlos Slim would purchase The Times as a trophy property and spare the company some of this pain. Even Rupert Murdoch, after overpaying wildly for The Wall Street Journal, seems to be tempted by the prospect of adding The Times to his portfolio. But the experiences of Sam Zell, who must be ruing the day he waded into the waking nightmare that is the now-bankrupt Tribune Company, would surely temper the enthusiasm of all but the most arrogant of plutocrats. (And as global economies tumble around them, the plutocrats aren't as plutocratic as they used to be.) Alternatively, Google or Microsoft or even CBS could purchase The Times on the cheap, strip it for parts, and turn it into a content mill to goose its own page views. Regardless of what happens over the next few months, The Times is destined for significant and traumatic change. At some point soon--sooner than most of us think--the print edition, and with it The Times as we know it, will no longer exist. And it will likely have plenty of company. In December, the Fitch Ratings service, which monitors the health of media companies, predicted a widespread newspaper die-off: "Fitch believes more newspapers and newspaper groups will default, be shut down and be liquidated in 2009 and several cities could go without a daily print newspaper by 2010."

Lobe: Storm brews between US and Israel

This is from the asiatimes.

It remains to be seen whether Obama can achieve any real agreement with Iran since no less than Bush Obama's aim is to ensure that Iran's nuclear programme does not go ahead. However, Obama has supported the attempt to reconcile Hamas and Fatah. If this is successful and Egypt proposes a peace agreement that the US could support there could be real conflict with Israel as Lobe suggests. We will just have to wait and see. Obama no doubt will be loathe to bring down the wrath of the Israel lobby on his administration when he is already facing multiple serious challenges.

Storm brews between US and Israel
After eight years of the closest possible relations, the United States and Israel may be headed for a period of increased strain, particularly as it appears likely that whatever Israeli government emerges from last week's election will be more hawkish than its predecessor. Iran, with which President Barack Obama has pledged to engage in a "constructive dialogue", and the future of its nuclear program will no doubt be the greatest source of tension between the two allies. The new president's commitment to achieving real progress on a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict may also provoke serious friction. This will particularly be the case should a reunified Arab League launch a major new push for the adoption of its 2002 peace plan, which provides for Arab recognition of Israel in return for the
latter's withdrawal from all occupied Arab lands. Last week's election produced a clear majority for right-wing parties led by the Likud Party of former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who has repeatedly declared his opposition to a settlement freeze, territorial concessions and the creation of a viable Palestinian state. With the endorsement of Avigdor Lieberman, whose party, Israel Our Home, came a strong third in last week's general elections, Netanyahu appears increasingly likely to become prime minister. Even if the more-centrist Kadima leader, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, can patch together a government of national unity, the right-wing parties will be able to effectively block major concessions in any peace talks, in the absence of any external pressure. "Given the philosophical differences between Kadima and Likud on peace issues, such a unity government would be hard-pressed to make the historic decisions needed to reach a deal with the Palestinians," wrote former US Middle East peace negotiator, Aaron David Miller, in the Jewish publication Forward this week. But Obama and his Middle East Special Envoy George Mitchell may indeed be willing to exert pressure on Israel - among other things, by tabling their own views about a final peace agreement and how precisely it might be achieved - especially if ongoing Arab efforts to reconcile Hamas and Fatah in a new coalition government succeed. If all goes well on that front, the Arab League, fortified by a developing rapprochement between Syria and Saudi Arabia, could announce the latest version of its 2002 peace plan at next month's summit in Doha, according to Marc Lynch, a George Washington University specialist on Arab politics. Such a move "could galvanize the situation and put the onus on whatever Israeli government emerges to respond positively", he wrote on his widely read blog on the Foreign Policy website this week. "If you have a unified Palestinian government and a unified Arab move for peace," added Daniel Levy, a former Israeli peace negotiator, "then it's much more likely that Obama will step up his own efforts - ideally, working with an Israeli government that's ready to go along with a serious peace process, but, if not, being willing to make his disagreement [with that government] known." The result could be a serious test between the next Israeli government and its influential US advocates. The Obama administration clearly believes that real progress toward resolving the 60-year-old conflict is critical both to restoring Washington's credibility among the Arab states and curbing the further radicalization of the region's population - particularly in the wake of Israel's recent military offensive in Gaza. A more likely source of tension between the US and Israel, however, will be Iran's nuclear program. "It's very important to realize that Iran is going to be the most likely issue on which Israel and the United States will have a serious difference of opinion, if not a confrontation, in the next year," warned former US ambassador Samuel Lewis after the Israeli elections. Although Netanyahu has been the most outspoken, virtually the entire Israeli political and military establishment has described Iran's alleged nuclear ambitions as an "existential" threat to the Jewish state. They have suggested that Israel should be prepared to unilaterally attack Tehran's key nuclear facilities as early as next year if it cannot persuade Washington to do so. Already last year, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert asked former president George W Bush for bunker-busting bombs, refueling capacity and permission to fly over Iraq for an attack on Iran, according to a new book by New York Times correspondent David Sanger, entitled Inheritance. That request was strongly opposed by Pentagon Chief Robert Gates, who has been retained by Obama, and ultimately rejected by Bush. According to Bush's former top Middle East aide, Elliott Abrams, Bush - who almost never denied the Israelis anything - was worried that any attack on Iran risked destabilizing Iraq. While the violence in Iraq has continued to decline, US military commanders insist that stability there remains "fragile", so Bush's concerns about the implications for Iraq of a US or Israeli attack on Iran are likely to be shared by Obama. Even more important, however, is the new administration's conviction that Afghanistan and Pakistan - which, like Iraq, also border Iran - constitute the true "central front in the war on terror". This assessment was backed up by Obama's announcement this week that he will deploy 17,000 more US troops to Afghanistan over the next few months, bringing the total US and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) troop strength there to some 80,000. Top US civilian and military officials dealing with "AfPak", as the new administration has dubbed the two countries, have made clear that they hope to enlist Iran, with which Washington cooperated in ousting the Taliban in 2001, in helping to stabilize Afghanistan. ''It is absolutely clear that Iran plays an important role in Afghanistan," Obama's Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, said in Kabul earlier this week in an interview during which he pointedly declined to repeat Bush administration charges that Tehran was aiding the Taliban. "[Iran has] a legitimate role to play in this region, as do all of Afghanistan's neighbors," he insisted. Most regional specialists, including Bruce Riedel, who co-chairs the White House's "AfPak" policy review, and John Brennan, Obama's top counter-terrorism adviser, have long argued that Iran's cooperation would make Washington's effort to stabilize the region and ultimately defeat al-Qaeda markedly easier while, conversely, its active opposition, as in Iraq, is likely to make the task considerably more difficult. That assessment has, if anything, gained strength in just the past few weeks as Washington has scrambled to secure new supply lines into land-locked Afghanistan after a key bridge in Pakistan's Khyber Pass was destroyed by Taliban militants there and Kyrgyzstan threatened to end Washington's access to its Manas air base. While US efforts to compensate have focused so far on the overland route through Russia and the Central Asian "Stans", a growing number of voices have noted that a much less costly and more efficient alternative route would run from Iran's southern ports into western Afghanistan. Although Tehran would no doubt be very reluctant to permit the US military to use its territory at this point, NATO's supreme commander, US General John Craddock, said earlier this month that he had no objection if other NATO members could negotiate an access agreement with Iran. Of course, it is not yet clear whether US success in "AfPak" - and Iran's possible role in securing it - will help trump Washington's concerns about Tehran's nuclear ambitions. But the clear priority stabilizing Southwest Asia is being given by the new administration, and the abrupt change in the rhetoric emanating from Washington about Iran - not to mention abiding concerns regarding Iran's ability to destabilize Iraq - clearly run counter to Israel's efforts to depict Tehran's nuclear program, as in Netanyahu's words, "the greatest challenge facing the leaders of the 21st century ... ". Obama will surely make it more difficult for Netanyahu or anyone else in the next Israeli government to "harness the US administration to stop the threat". Jim Lobe's blog on US foreign policy can be read at (Inter Press Service)

Israel replaces envoy to Egypt talks, Hamas angry

This is from Reuters via

No doubt Gilad was out of line to criticise his own government's policy justified as the critique might have been. To tie the peace deal with the release of an Israeli soldier captured long ago just complicated matters since there has been a separate negotiation on this matter going on for a long time now. Hamas was bound to reject the inclusion and that has happened.
With an even more hard line govt. being formed in Israel the peace process may very well bog down even more. Perhaps as Jim Lobe claims in another article I have posted, there may be conflict brewing between the US and Israel but we will have to wait and see.

Israel replaces envoy to Egypt talks, Hamas angry
REUTERSReuters North American News Service
Feb 23, 2009 11:56 EST

* Hamas accuses Israel of poor faith
* Dispute reveals fault lines in coalition
(Adds Olmert comment, paragraph 4)
By Dan Williams
JERUSALEM, Feb 23 (Reuters) - Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will replace Israel's lead envoy to Egyptian-brokered truce talks with Hamas after he publicly criticised the government's negotiating strategy, officials said on Monday.
Amos Gilad, an adviser to Defence Minister Ehud Barak, has shuttled to Cairo to try to consolidate the Jan. 18 ceasefire that ended a three-week Israeli assault in Hamas-ruled Gaza.
Progress has been frustrated by renewed violence and a demand by Olmert that an easing of a blockade on the Palestinian territory, sought by Hamas, be preceded by an agreement by Hamas to free a captured Israeli soldier.
Olmert's office said in a statement Gilad's suspension would not hamper efforts to secure the soldier's release.
In a critique quoted by an Israeli newspaper last week, Gilad said the government had an inconsistent approach to the talks that risked insulting the Egyptians.
"It was totally unprofessional and unseemly for a civil servant to publicly attack his boss," an official in Olmert's office said, announcing that Gilad would be replaced as envoy to the negotiations.
A Barak aide hit back, saying Olmert was hurting Israel's interests by deciding "not to avail himself of Amos Gilad's abilities and experience".
The dispute showed political and personal fault lines in the caretaker coalition, where Barak's centre-left Labour party is junior partner to Olmert's centrist Kadima.
Both parties appear to be heading into opposition as a result of Israel's parliamentary election on Feb. 10 and the decision last Friday by President Shimon Peres to ask right-wing Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu to form a government.
Hamas accused Israel of poor faith and urged Egypt to respond to the reshuffle by opening its own border with Gaza.
"This shows that the Zionist occupation government has no intention of reaching an agreement on the truce or of concluding a prisoner swap," said Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman.
In his comments quoted in the newspaper Maariv, Gilad deplored Olmert's attempt to wed the talks on an expanded Gaza truce to efforts to cobble together a deal in which Gilad Shalit, a soldier abducted by Hamas-led Palestinian gunmen to Gaza in 2006, would be freed.
Hamas wants Israel to release 1,400 jailed Palestinians, including senior leaders, in exchange for Shalit. The Olmert government has baulked at some of the names on the roster.
"Until now, the prime minister hasn't involved himself at all," Maariv quoted Gilad as saying in the Feb. 18 article.
"Suddenly, the order of things has been changed. Suddenly, first we have to get Gilad. I don't understand that. Where does that lead, to insult the Egyptians? To make them want to drop the whole thing? What do we stand to gain from that?"
Another Israeli newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, said on Sunday Olmert believed Gilad had failed to keep Egypt, which also borders the Gaza Strip and plays a key role in efforts to stem Palestinian arms smuggling, to its truce commitments. (Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Editing by Andrew Dobbie)
Source: Reuters North American News Service

Monday, February 23, 2009

Obama continues Bush policy on detainees at Bagram: indefinite detention, no legal rights.

This is from Rawstory.

So we have a sort of Bush lite in Obama. In fact it is not even very lite. Obama has also retained the practice of rendition while restricting interrogation methods. In fact he is outsourcing torture. Obama has also sided with Bush on use of the state secrets act in a recent case.
Note that even though Guantanamo is in Cuba and Bagram in Afghanistan neither country has anything to say about persons held in their territory by the US.

Despite rhetoric, Obama continues Bush policy on detainees: Indefinite detention, no legal rights
John ByrnePublished: Saturday February 21, 2009

Bagram airbase flies under the radar but will continue to operate without US lawIn a stunning departure from his rhetoric on Guantánamo Bay prison, President Barack Obama signaled Friday he will continue Bush Administration policy with regard to detainees held at a US airbase in Afghanistan, saying they have no right to challenge their detentions in US courts -- and denying them legal status altogether."This Court’s Order of January 22, 2009 invited the Government to inform the Court by February 20, 2009, whether it intends to refine its position on whether the Court has jurisdiction over habeas petitions filed by detainees held at the United States military base in Bagram, Afghanistan," Acting Assistant Obama Attorney General Michael Hertz wrote in a brief filed Friday. "Having considered the matter, the Government adheres to its previously articulated position."The move seems to be a reversal from Obama's much-trumpeted announcement to close the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba in January, in which he promised to return the United States to the "moral high ground" and "restore the standards of due process"The US Supreme Court previously ruled that it was unconstitutional to hold detainees at Guantánamo Bay without giving them access to US courts. Following that ruling, more than 200 detainees filed suit in the District Court for the District of Columbia.The Obama Administration announcement would appear to fly in the face of that ruling. The Court, while often supportive of previous Bush Administration terror policies, has strongly resisted efforts to curb its role in the legal aspect of US detention systems.Bagram prison, where approximately 600 detainees are being held without charge or even term limits on their stay, is located about 30 miles north of Kabul in a coverted Soviet Union base. The US is mulling a $60 million plan to expand the facility, which would double its current size.It's been closed to journalists and human rights activists, but open to lawyers. The lawyers, however, apparently have no recourse for their potential clients.Bagram has added more than 100 prisoners since 2005, giving it a population more than double that of the current Guantánamo Bay (245).It's uncertain whether the Supreme Court would uphold Obama's position. In the Guantanamo case, "the Court deemed the Bush administration's system for determining whether to continue holding detainees -- akin to a parole board -- was an inadequate substitute for habeas relief," Legal Times wrote Friday. "The Court also recognized that the United States exercised de facto sovereignty over the base, placing Guantánamo within its jurisdiction. But "the Court did not address Bagram, but said in some circumstances noncitizens being held in territories under U.S. control may have limited constitutional rights," Legal Times added."Yesterday's announcement that the Obama administration has not even considered departing from the very same unjust and inhumane policies of his predecessor, is an ominous sign that human rights and the rule of law are simply not a priority of this administration," the International Justice Network, who is counsel in all the cases under review, said to Raw Story in a statement. "We expected more from this President when he promised that we would not trade our fundamental values for false promises of security. Unless there is a serious reconsideration of this issue at the highest levels of the Obama government, America will not be able to put this dark chapter of our history behind us."Another detainee lawyer also bemoaned the filing."The decision by the Obama Administration to adhere to a position that has contributed to making our country a pariah around the world for its flagrant disregard of people’s human rights is deeply disappointing," the International Rights Clinic's Barbara Olshansky, who represents three Bagram detainees, told the paper. "We are trying to remain hopeful that the message being conveyed is that the new administration is still working on its position regarding the applicability of the laws of war -- the Geneva Conventions -- and international human rights treaties that apply to everyone in detention there."

Sunday, February 22, 2009

US admits Afghan civilian deaths

This follows the predictable pattern. The US claims all casualties or most in an incident are Taliban but the Afghan locals and officials claim many civilian casualties. The US then investigates and changes their tally at least somewhat depending on the particular case. Of course in this instance there is the marvelous spin to the effect that the investigation shows how serious the US takes these instances. Indeed, when their erroneous reporting is taken to task and their is Afghan outrage. However, the policy that produces the casualties is not changed.

US admits Afghan civilian deaths

An investigation into a missile strike carried out by US-led forces in Afghanistan earlier this week has found that 13 civilians were among 16 people killed, the US military has said.
The military made the admission on Saturday, after originally saying that 15 opposition fighters had been killed in the strike in the Gozara district of Herat province.
Afghan officials insisted all along that six women and two children were among those killed.
Following Afghan outrage over the attack, US generals undertook an investigation, travelling to Gozara and talking to locals there.
The generals said some anti-government fighters had also been killed in the strike.
Michael Ryan, a US brigadier general, said that the investigation proved how seriously the US takes civilian casualties.
The US has come under increasing criticism over the past few months over the deaths of civilians in military operations in Afghanistan.
Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, said that rising civilian deaths was a source of tension between Kabul and Washington.
There are currently 80,000 US and Nato soldiers in Afghanistan, battling Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters.
Barack Obama, the US president, announced last week that an additional 17,000 troops would be sent to the country, in addition to the 38,000 already stationed there.

CIA expands its covert war in Pakistan

It sounds as if these extended attacks may have been welcomed by Pakistan since they are aimed at those who are claimed to have assasinated Bhutto. However, such bombings produce collateral damage that often simply recruits more militants.

CIA expands its covert war in Pakistan
WASHINGTON — Over the past week, the Obama administration has expanded the covert war run by the CIA inside Pakistan, launching attacks against a militant network seeking to topple the Pakistani government.
The two missile strikes on training camps run by Baitullah Mehsud represent a broadening of the American campaign inside Pakistan, which has been largely carried out by unmanned drone aircraft. Under President George W. Bush, the United States frequently attacked militants from al-Qaida and the Taliban involved in cross-border attacks into Afghanistan, but had stopped short of raids aimed at Mehsud and his followers, who have played less of a direct role in attacks on American troops.
Strikes continue
The strikes are another sign that President Barack Obama is continuing Bush administration policy in using the military and intelligence agencies against suspected terrorists in Pakistan, as he had promised to do during his presidential campaign. At the same time, Obama has begun to scale back some of the Bush policies on the detention and interrogation of terror suspects, which he has criticized as counterproductive.
Mehsud was identified early last year by both American and Pakistani officials as the man who orchestrated the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister and the wife of Pakistan’s current president, Asif Ali Zardari. Bush included Mehsud’s name in a classified list of militant leaders whom the CIA and American commandos were authorized to capture or kill.
It is unclear why the Obama administration decided to carry out the attacks, which American and Pakistani officials said occurred last Saturday and again on Monday, hitting camps run by Mehsud’s network. The Saturday strike was aimed specifically at Mehsud, according to Pakistani and American officials. The Monday strike, officials say, was aimed at a camp run by Hakeem Ulah Mehsud, a top aide to the militant.
By striking at the Mehsud network, the United States may be seeking to demonstrate to Zardari that the new administration is willing to go after the insurgents of greatest concern to the Pakistani leader. But American officials may also be prompted by growing concern that the militant attacks are increasingly putting the civilian government of Pakistan, a nation with nuclear arms, at risk.
Mehsud a target
For months, Pakistani military and intelligence officials have complained about Washington’s refusal to strike at Mehsud, even while CIA drones struck al-Qaida figures and leaders of the network run by Jalaluddin Haqqani, a militant leader believed responsible for a campaign of violence against American troops in Afghanistan.
According to one senior Pakistani official, Pakistan’s intelligence service on two occasions in recent months gave the United States detailed intelligence about Mehsud’s whereabouts, but, he said, the United States did not act on the information. Bush administration officials had charged that it was the Pakistanis who were reluctant to take on Mehsud and his network.
The strikes came after a visit to Islamabad last week by Richard Holbrooke, the American envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan.
On Friday, Holbrooke declined to talk about the attacks on Mehsud. The White House also declined to speak about Mehsud or the decisions that led up to the new strikes.
Tension over truce
Senior Pakistani officials are scheduled to arrive in Washington next week at a time of rising tension over a declared truce between the Pakistani government and militants in the Swat region of Pakistan.
While the administration has not publicly criticized the Pakistanis, several American officials said in recent days that appeasing the militants would only weaken Pakistan’s civilian government. Holbrooke, who returned to Washington earlier this week, said that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and others would make clear in private, and in detail, why they were so concerned about what was happening in Swat, the need to send more Pakistani forces to the West, and why the deteriorating situation in the tribal areas added to instability in Afghanistan.

Chomsky on Obama and the Israel Palestinian conflict

Chomsky does not mince his words although there are a few places when this transcription of an interview with Chomsky seems to garble the English somewhat.
There are a few signs that things might be changing a little for the better as the US has apparently approved of steps to bring about reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah. With a quite right wing government in the offing for Israel there may very well be some conflict between the US and Israel but as this article points out Obama has so far toed the Israeli line almost completely.

Israel is a Terrorist State by Definition: ChomskyFollowing is an excerpt of Professor Chomsky’s interview with Christiana Voniati, who is head of International News Department POLITIS Newspaper, Nicosia, Cyprus.By Christiana VoniatiFebruary 21, 2009 "Countercurrents" -- Voniati: The international public opinion and especially the Muslim world seem to have great expectations from the historic election of Obama. Can we, in your opinion, expect any real change regarding the US approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
Chomsky: Not much. Quite the contrary: it may be harsher than before. In the case of Gaza, Obama maintained silence, he didn’t say a word. He said well there’s only one president so I can’t talk about it. Of course he was talking about a lot of other things but he chose not to talk about this. His campaign did repeat a statement that he had made while visiting Israel six months earlier –he had visited Sderot where the rockets hit- and he said “if this where happening to my daughters, I wouldn’t think of any reaction as legitimate”, but he couldn’t say anything about Palestinian children. Now, the attack on Gaza was at time so that it ended right before the inauguration, which is what I expected. I presume that the point was so that they could make sure that Obama didn’t have to say something, so he didn’t. And then he gave his first foreign policy declaration, it was a couple of days later when he appointed George Mitchell as his emissary, and he said nothing about Gaza except that “our paramount interest is preserving the security of Israel”. Palestine apparently doesn’t have any requirement of security. And then in his declaration he said of course we are not going to deal with Hamas -the elected government the US immediately, as soon as the government was elected in a free election the US and Israel with the help of European Union immediately started severely punishing the Palestinian population for voting in the “wrong way” in a free election and that’s what we mean by democracy. The only substantive comment he made in the declaration was to say that the arab peace plan had constructive elements, because it called for a normalization of relations with Israel and he urged the arab states to proceed with the normalization of relations. Now, he is an intelligent person, he knows that that was not what the arab peace plan said. The arab peace plan called for a two state settlement on the international border that is in accord with the long standing international consensus that the US has blocked for over 30 years and in that context of the two state settlement we should even proceed further and move towards a normalization of relations with Israel. Well, Obama carefully excluded the main content about the two state settlement and just talked about the corollary, for which a two state settlement is a precondition. Now that’s not an oversight, it can’t be. That’s a careful wording, sending the message that we are not going to change their (Israel’s) rejectionist policy. We ‘ll continue to be opposed to the international consensus on this issue, and everything else he said accords with it. We will continue in other words to support Israel’s settlement policies- those policies are undermining any possible opportunity or hope for a viable Palestinian entity of some kind. And it’s a continued reliance on force in both parts of occupied Palestine. That’s the only conclusion you could draw.
Voniati: Let us talk about the timing of the assault on the Gaza Strip. Was it accidental or did it purposefully happen in a vacuum of power? To explain myself, the global financial crisis has challenged the almost absolute US global hegemony. Furthermore, the attack on Gaza was launched during the presidential change of guard. So, did this vacuum of power benefit the Israeli assault on Gaza?
Chomsky: Well, the timing was certainly convenient since attention was focused elsewhere. There was no strong pressure on the president or other high officials of the US to say anything about it. I mean Bush was on his way out, and Obama could hide behind the pretext that he’s not yet in. And pretty much the same was in Europe, so that they could just say, well we can’t talk about it now, it’s too difficult a time. The assault was well chosen in that respect. It was well chosen in other respects too: the bombing began shortly after Hamas had offered a return to the 2005 agreement, which in fact was supported by the US. They said, ok, let’s go back to the 2005 agreement that was before Hamas was elected. That means no violence and open the borders. Closing the borders is a siege, it’s an act of war……… not very harmful but it’s an act of war. Israel of all countries insists on that. I mean Israel went to war twice in 1956 and 1967 on the grounds, it claimed, that its access to the outside world was being hampered. It wasn’t a siege, its access through the Gulf of Aqaba was being hampered. Well if that is an act of war then certainly a siege is, and so it’s understood.
So Khaled Mashaal asked for an end of the state of the war, which would include opening the borders. Well, a couple of days later, when Israel didn’t react to that, Israel attacked. The attack was timed for Saturday morning – the Sabbath day in Israel – at about 11:30, which happens to be the moment when children are leaving school and crowds are miling in the streets of this very heavily crowded city… The explicit target was police cadets… Now, there are civilians, in fact we now know that for several months the legal department of the Israeli army had been arguing against this plan because it said it was a direct attack against civilians. And of course, plenty civilians will be killed if you bomb a crowded city, especially at a time like that. But finally the legal department was sort of bludgeoned into silence by the military so they said alright. So that’s when they opened –on a Sabbath morning. Now two weeks later, Israel – on Saturday as well- blocked the humanitarian aid because they didn’t want to disgrace Sabbath. Well, that’s interesting too. But the main point about the timing was that there was an effort to undercut the efforts for a peaceful settlement and it was terminated just in time to prevent pressure on Obama to say something about it. It’s hard to believe that this isn’t conscious. We know that it was very meticulously planned for many months beforehand.
Voniati: In a recent interview with LBC, you said that the policies of Hamas are more conducive to peace than the US’s or Israel’s.
Chomsky: Oh yes, that’s clear.
Voniati: Also, that the policies of Hamas are closer to international consensus on a political peaceful settlement than those of Israel and the US. Can you explain your stance?
Chomsky: Well for several years Hamas has been very clear and explicit, repeatedly, that they favor a two state settlement on the international border. They said they would not recognize Israel but they would accept a two state settlement and a prolonged truce, maybe decades, maybe 50 years. Now, that’s not exactly the international consensus but it’s pretty close to it. On the other hand, the United States and Israel flatly reject it. They reject it in deeds, that’s why they are building all the construction development activities in the West Bank, not only in violation of international laws, US and Israel know that the illegal constructions are designed explicitly to convert the West Bank into what the architect of the policy, Arial Sharon, called bantustan. Israel takes over what it wants, break up Palestine into unviable fragments. That’s undermining a political settlement. So in deeds, yes of course they are undermining it, but also in words: that goes back to 1976 when the US vetoed the Security Council resolution put forward by the arab states which called for a two state settlement and it goes around until today. In December, last December, at the meetings of the UN’s General Assembly there were many resolutions passed. One of them was a resolution calling for recognition of the right of self-determination of the Palestinian people. It didn’t call for a state, just the right of self-determination. It passed with 173 to 5. The 5 were the US, Israel and a few small pacific islands. Of course that can’t be reported in the US. So they are rejecting it even in words, as well as –more significantly- in acts. On the other hand, Hamas comes pretty close to accepting it. Now, the demand which Obama repeated on Hamas is that they must meet three conditions: they must recognize Israel’s right to exist, they must renounce violence and they must accept past agreements, and in particular the Road Map. Well, what about the US and Israel? I mean, obviously they don’t renounce violence, they reject the Road Map – technically they accepted it but Israel immediately entered 14 reservations (which weren’t reported here) which completely eliminated its content, and the US went along. So the US and Israel completely violate those two conditions, and of course they violate the first, they don’t recognize Palestine. So sure, there’s a lot to criticize about Hamas, but on these matters they seem to be much closer to –not only international opinion- but even to a just settlement than the US and Israel are.
Voniati: On the other hand, Hamas has been accused of using human shields to hide and protect itself. Israel insists that the war was a matter of defense. Is Hamas a terrorist organization, as it is accused to be? Is Israel a terrorist state?
Chomsky: Well, Hamas is accused of using human shields, rightly or wrongly. But we know that Israel does it all the time. Is Israel a terrorist state? Well yes according to official definitions. I mean, one of the main things holding up cease fire right now is that Israel insists that it will not allow a cease fire until Hamas returns a captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit - he’s very famous in the West everybody knows he was captured. Well, one day before Gilad Shalit was captured, Israeli forces went into Gaza City and kidnapped two Palestinian civilians (the Muamar Brothers) and brought them across the border to Israel in violation of international law and hid them somewhere in the huge Israeli prisons. Nobody knows what happened to them since. I mean, kidnapping civilians is a much worse crime than capturing a soldier of an attacking army. And furthermore this has been regular Israeli practice for decades. They’ve been kidnapping civilians in Lebanon or on the high seas…They take them to Israel, put them into prisons, sometimes keeping them as hostages for long periods. So you know, if the capturing of Gilad Shalit is a terrorist act, well, then israel’s regular practice supported by the US is incomparably worse. And that’s quite apart from repeated aggression and other crimes. I don’t like Hamas by any means, there is plenty to criticize about them, but if you compare their actions with US and Israel, they are minor criminals.
Voniati: Though of Jewish decent, you have been repeatedly accused of anti-Semitism. How do you respond?
Chomsky: The most important comment about that was made by the distinguished statesman Abba Eban, maybe 35 years ago, in an address to the American people. He said that there are two kinds of criticism of Zionism (by Zionism I mean the policies of the state of Israel). One is criticism by anti-Semites and the other is criticism by neurotic self-hating Jews. That eliminates 100% of possible criticism. The neurotic self-hating Jews, he actually mentioned two, I was one and I.F. Stone, a well-known writer was another). I mean that’s the kind of thing that would come out of a communist party in its worst days. But you see, I can’t really be called anti-semite because I’m jewish so I must be a neurotic self-hating Jew, by definition. The assumption is that the policies of the state of Israel are perfect, so therefore any kind of criticism must be illegitimate. And that’s from Abba Eban, one of the most distinguished figures in Israel, the most westernised … praised, considered a dove.
Voniati: How do you comment on the Davos incident concerning Erdogan’s verbal attack against Peres?
Chomsky: It was impolite. You are not supposed to behave like that at Davos. But the idea that Peres was given 25 minutes to justify major atrocities and aggression, that’s what’s shocking. Why have that at Davos? I mean, do you allow Saddam Husein in such a gathering to justify the invasion of Kuwait? So Erdogan reacted, in my view, not in accord with the gentile atmosphere of the collection of the people who but basically appropriate under the circumstances.
Voniati: Have you, by any chance, been informed about the Cypriot-flagged vessel "Monchegorsk" that is docked in Limassol and seems to have been carrying weapons to the Hamas-run Gaza Strip? Israel and the United States requested that the vessel be stopped...
Chomsky: I don’t know about the Iranian vessel but I do know that right in the middle of the Gaza attack, Dignity was blocked in international waters and attacked by the Israeli navy and almost sunk. Now, that’s a major crime. That’s much worse than piracy off the coast of Somalia for example. If the Iranian vessel was stopped in international waters, that’s completely illegitimate. Israel has no authority to do anything in international waters. And the talk about not sending arms to Gaza …I mean, do they stop sending arms to Israel? I mean right in the middle of the Gaza war, the pentagon announced that it was sending a huge shipman of armaments to Israel. Did anybody stop that? They should say that those armaments are not intended for use by the Israeli army. The pentagon also announced that they are being prepositioned, that is, that they re being placed in Israel for the use of the US army In other words what they re saying is –and it’s been true for a long time- is that the US regards Israel as an offshore military base of its own, which they can use for their aggressive acts throughout the region.
Avram Noam Chomsky, 80, is an American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, political activist, author, and lecturer. He is an Institute Professor emeritus and professor emeritus of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Chomsky is well known in the academic and scientific community as the father of modern linguistics. Since the 1960s, he has become known more widely as a political dissident, and a libertarian socialist intellectual.
Christiana Voniati is head of International News Department POLITIS Newspaper, Nicosia, Cyprus. E-mail: - Blogspot:

Facebook loses more users in Europe last quarter but is growing elsewhere

Facebook finds its user base had gone down in Europe the company reported as it announced its third-quarter earnings. This is the second qu...