Saturday, March 31, 2012

Pakistani legislators tie opening of Pakistan supply routes to stopping drone attacks

The Pakistan parliament passed a resolution demanding drone attacks cease some time ago. Just lately the Parliamentary Committee on National Security also recommended that the attacks cease.

Now the parliament is urging the government to tie reopening supply lines to Afghanistan with stopping the drone attacks. The U.S. has made it clear that it will not cease the attacks. In fact the latest attack was today. The attacks mounted by the CIA continue and Pakistani parliamentary demands have been ignored.

There have also been demands in parliament that supplies transferred through Afghanistan should not involve munitions. Senator Mushahid Hussain said: “Permitting weaponry in the NATO supplies means that we want to keep the conflict in Afghanistan continued,” He went on:“This is for the first time that USA has taken Pakistani parliament seriously after 9/11. President Obama also suggested that they are waiting for Pakistani parliament’s decision,” There is no sign that the U.S. is taking Pakistan seriously on drone attacks at least no sign that they will stop at any rate! For more see this article.

Lawyer for Robert Bales claims U.S. forces are obstructing his investigations into Kandahar massacre

John Henry Browne the lawyer representing Robert Bales claims that U.S. forces in Afghanistan are blocking his teams fact-finding mission. He also claims that prosecutors are not cooperating with him either. Bales is the U.S. soldier accused of single-handedly murdering 17 Afghan civilians in two villages near the base where he was stationed.

Browne's team was unable to interview witnesses to the massacre. U.S. forces obstructed the team from visiting a hospital that contained injured civilians.

U.S. investigators are not sharing their own information obtained from interviews. The injured were released with no contact information available to the team. This sounds very much to be a case of obstruction of justice.

The team has only been able to interview some U.S.soldiers about the attack. Browne speculates that the lack of cooperation may reflect the weakness of the prosecution case against Bales.

Browne noted that there is an “almost complete information blackout from the government, which is having a devastating effect on our ability to investigate the charges preferred against our client.” Perhaps the government and military also wants to hide facts about the attack. Many believe that there was more than one soldier involved.

An Afghan probe claims that up to 20 U.S. soldiers were involved. At first Karzai supported the report and then completely flip-flopped and accepted the official U.S. story of one lone attacker. For more see this article.. A reporter who interviewed survivors also found witnesses who stated that more than one soldier was involved. See the attached video.

Yemen: U.S. drone strikes kill 6. Militants blow up gas line in retaliation

U.S. drone strikes killed five "suspects" and one civilian in Yemen. A first attack targeted a vehicle reported to contain people connected to Al Qaeda. However an innocent bystander was also killed as well as five others wounded. A second attack destroyed a building that was empty.

As far as Yemen is concerned drone attacks seem to be increasing rather than being scaled back as claimed by some. There was another attack in Pakistan as well.

After the strikes attackers blew up a liquid natural gas pipeline in the same general area. This has forced a halt to all production at a plant mainly run by Total SA of France.

. The militant faction Ansar al_Sharia that controls Abyan province nearby claimed credit for the attack. The text message said in part that the attack was “retaliation for the strike for which Crusader America and its obedient slave in Sanaa are responsible.” The change in government in which Saleh stepped down while his vice president Major Hadi took over and eventually became president has been applauded by the U.S. and the GCC. The new government has cooperated with the U.S. in allowing drone and other strikes. Some special forces are also operating in Yemen. For more see this article

Friday, March 30, 2012

Reporter interviews survivors of Kandahar massacre and others

The official. story is that Sergeant Robert Bales acting alone carried out the massacre of 17 civilians on March 11 in two villages near Camp Balambai. However journalist Yalda Hakim visits the area and interviews a number of people including survivors and evidence contradicting the official story emerges.

I have included the remarkable video of about 15 minutes. The cameraman Ryan Sheridan does a remarkable job IMHO.

Several children interviewed speak of a number of soldiers. Two of the children tell similar stories about one soldier entering the house and killing while others were outside with lights.

Other parts of the video also are revealing. An Afghan soldier interviewed says he told authorities that a U.S. soldier had just entered the base. This would fit with the official story of a two stage rampage. However, obviously nothing was done to stop the soldier from leaving once again!

Karzai has changed his story so that it goes along completely with the Pentagon narrative. However his chief investigator in this interview gives a different viewpoint. This is excellent reporting. It should be widely distributed. For more see this site.

Job-based health care costs over $20,000 per annum in the U.S.

Milliman Consulting estimates that job-based health care costs will be over $20,000 this year. This is the highest ever. The amount is said to be for a typical family.

Only ten years ago costs were half that amount.. Since 2008 health care costs are increasing at from 7 to 8 per cent per year.

If this trend of increases does not slow health care costs will consume more than half of a person's income by 2037 according to one study.

Health care in the U.S. was 17.3 per cent of U.S.. GDP this is the world's highest. For years health care expenditures have outpaced economic growth. From 2000 to 2009 health care costs grew 2.4 per cent more than did GDP.

Over the last five years the average worker has seen an increase of 40 per cent in the amount contributed for insurance. Fewer companies even offer coverage and for those who do premiums have risen along with deductibles.

The number of uninsured continues to climb in the U.S. The Census Bureau estimates there are about 50 million Americans who are not insured. For more see this article.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Afghan women jailed for "moral crimes"

Even though the Taliban have long been out of power in Afghanistan some of the strict moral prohibitions characteristic of their rule remain under the Karzai regime. Afghan women have been jailed for crimes such as running away --often from domestic abuse, and having sex outside of marriage.

Human Rights Watch claims that the Karzai government has not met its obligations under human rights laws. The executive director of the group said:“It is shocking that 10 years after the overthrow of the Taliban, women and girls are still imprisoned for running away from domestic violence or forced marriage,” Actually it is not all that surprising since the culture is not that easy to change and Karzai wants to keep the support of very conservative groups including the so-called reformed Taliban.

The human rights report claims that there are 400 women in prison and younger girls in juvenile facilities for offenses that include running away. The report noted:“Some women and girls have been convicted of zina, sex outside of marriage, after being raped or forced into prostitution,..Judges often convict solely on the basis of ‘confessions’ given in the absence of lawyers and ‘signed’ without having been read to women who cannot read or write. After conviction, women routinely face long prison sentences, in some cases more than 10 years.” Obviously these are odious miscarriages of justice carried out solely upon women. Even worse, many of 58 inmates who were interviewed feared they would be murdered by their family members if released in so-called honor killings.

The report cited a woman sentenced to three years in prison after fleeing a father-in-law who raped her : “I am happy in here. Here I am not afraid because I know no-one is coming in the night to kill me.”

Karzai to his credit has often issued pardons to women convicted of moral crimes. However, it is rather incongruous to give a pardon for something that should not have been a crime in the first place. For more see this article.

South Africa suffers from very high unemployment

An article in Bloomberg news paints a gloomy picture of South African development since 1994 when Nelson Mandela came into power. Mandela promised jobs and a good business climate. However now in 2012 the unemployment rate is 24 per cent.

The article claims that the threat of raising mining taxes or even nationalizing the mines is deterring investment. Nationalizing the mines would ensure that the benefits of development would go to South Africa and not foreign companies but that fact does not dawn upon Bloomberg writers.

Eighteen years later, his country has a 24 percent unemployment rate and a debate over nationalizing mines is deterring investment. Although a growth rate of 7 per cent is required to cut the jobless rate the actual growth rate is less than half that. Still that is far better than many European countries including the UK are achieving.

Of course Bloomberg is irritated by the fact that stock market is not thriving. They are not doing as well as Brazil. Brazil has an ex-Marxist guerrilla woman as president. Maybe that is what South Africa needs!

President Jacob Zuma wants to push through a secrecy law that could block reporting on corruption. The article argues that South Africa needs to be more attractive for investment. But as the article points out the Youth Wing of the ANC is pushing for more radical policies including the takeover of mines, land, and banks as a means of increasing opportunities through state development.

The Zuma government is not likely to adopt any of these more radical policies. Poor blacks comprise about 90 per cent of the South African population and without jobs their situation is dire leading to high crime rates and unrest.

The state has insisted on protecting some labor rights or as the article puts it South Africa has a labor system as rigid as France or Sweden. But those two countries have not had a bad record of economic development and both countries have or had a good social safety net..France is rated as having the best health care system in the world. Sweden has rates best in equality. If investors are considering Australia as an alternative for mining investment they should know that Australia just imposed a 30 per cent tax on mining profits. For much more see the full article here..

The types of reforms the Bloomberg article would like are unlikely to be politically palatable although certainly less corruption is desirable and attempts to block reporting of corruption does not bode well for the future. However, South Africa will hardly be unique in passing laws that protect a government from revealing what it is up to!

BRICS to extend each other credit in local currencies lessening dollar dependency

Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) will now provide credit in local currencies. This will not only facilitate growth in trade but it will also lessen dependence on the U.S. dollar as the medium for trade.

The chief economist at Deutsche Bank said:" The idea is in line with many interests and economic exigencies in the world economy,” “The euro and dollar are no longer seen as unquestionable monopolies in the role of reserve currencies. Clearly the world needs more reserve currencies.” The BRICS are moving away from too much dependence upon standard exchange currencies such as the dollar and euro. Not only will such a move increase the BRICS influence but if the West tries to impose sanctions on them for whatever reason trade will go on.

The trend towards using new currencies in trade has been developing for some time. China and Russia use the rouble and yuan in their trading relationships and have been for several years. Russia is now planning to develop a similar deal with India.

The BRICS are also contemplating a development bank that could provide an alternative to the World Bank and the IMF. It would function as a lending agency for joint BRICS projects. For more see this article.

U.S. drone attack surge in Yemen

The U.S. is revving up its drone war against militants in Yemen with the support of the new government there. The U.S. has ordered dozens of drone attacks. The U.S. is particularly interested in attacking bases of AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula).

Back in Sept. last year drone attacks killed the U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki who was a propagandist for Al Qaeda. Later his son and nephew were also killed in drone attacks.

Since last May 26 attacks have been recorded..There have been nine attacks in 2012 already five in March. Thirty militants were allegedly killed in 3 attacks on the city of Zinjibar held by a militant group. The number of attacks this year are comparable to the ten that have taken place in Pakistan.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism in the UK has estimated that as many as 516 have been killed in drone attacks. Over a hundred were civilians.

The attacks are mounted mostly from a base in Djibouti by the CIA or U.S. special forces command. However no details are ever confirmed about the missions. Amnesty International among other groups has called on the U.S. to take responsibility for its covert actions and to investigate evidence of multiple civilian deaths. For more see this article.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Romney would deny coverage to uninsured people with preexisting conditions

According to David Edwards in this article the front-running presidential candidate Mitt Romney claims not only that the Obamacare law ought to overturned but that people with preexisting conditions should be denied coverage.

This certainly would seem to be the implication of what Romney said on a recent Jay Leno show. Leno said that he knew people who could not get insurance before the Obama health care bill passed. Leno told Romney that he thought that people with preexisting conditions should be covered by insurance.

Romney noted that people with preexisting conditions who had been insured before would continue to be insured even if Obamacare were overturned. Leno then says:“Suppose they were never insured?”

Romney replies:.“Well, if they’re 45 years old, and they show up, and they say, I want insurance, because I’ve got a heart disease, it’s like, `Hey guys, we can’t play the game like that. You’ve got to get insurance when you’re well, and if you get ill, then you’re going to be covered,’” So if you cant get insurance because you have preexisting conditions Romney says you should not be insured. You must get insurance when you are well! Edwards conclusion seems correct from what Romney replied.

While Romney thinks people should get insurance when they are well one might think that he should be in favor or forcing them to do so as Obamacare does for everyone. For more see the full article. A video of the interview is at the bottom of the article.

Netherlands funds climate change evaluation and adaptation project in Vietnam.

The Netherlands sponsored the project that will consider the present and future impact of climate change in the Vam Co River basin in southern Long An province. The project will cost almost a half million dollars.
The project will also try to assess vulnerability of different locations in the area and also evaluate methods of adaptation in response to floods and/or saltwater damage.
The project will work with local communities to reduce climate risks and develop ways of reacting effectively to possible disasters, especially poor farmers, and fishermen.
If the project is successful it may be used as a model and extended to other areas. The Van Co River has its source in Cambodia and flows 35 kilometres through Long An province. The province has a population of about one million. For more see this article

Alberta to receive 1.2 trillion in oil royalties over next 35 years

At least that is the amount calculated by the Canadian Energy Research Institute. At the same time royalties increase so do emissions from oil and gas extraction. Emission amounts are expected to triple over the same time period. See this article.

No doubt Albertans will welcome these projections. The province should be able to have budget surpluses and low taxes. The Institute predicts that oil production will rise from the present 1.6 million barrels a day to 5.4 million barrels a day by 2045.

The report of the Institute notes:“While technological innovation within the oil sands industry (in addition to carbon capture and storage) is expected to help reduce these emissions, the emissions are still expected to rise,” Carbon emissions are projected to increase from 45 million tonnes annually to 159 million tonnes by 2045.

Alberta has roughly 170 million barrels of proven oil reserves. This is the world's third largest supply. Only Saudi Arabia and Venezuela have greater reserves. For much more see the full article.

These projections are far into the future. One would hope that by then there would be a much greater proportion of our energy needs supplied by alternative sources. Perhaps by 2045 extraction of oil from the Tar Sands will be uneconomic. Otherwise with the increased emissions our planet will be damaged more than 1.2 trillion could ever fix.

Nuclear weapons worldwide data

This BBC article lists countries with nuclear weapons and how many they have.

Total world nuclear warheads are estimated be 20,000. Many however are not operational.

Only about one quarter or 5,000 of the total are operational. Countries are secretive about how many nuclear weapons they have. Israel officially does not even admit it has any.

The Federation of American Scientists has made estimates of stockpiles of each nuclear country based on information that is available.

Russia has the largest stockpile with 2,430 operational weapons and an estimated 10,000 in all. The U.S. has 1,950 that are operational with a total of 8,500.

In comparison to the U.S. and Russia other countries have relatively few nuclear warheads. France has 290 operational and 300 stockpiled. China is said to have 0 operational but 240 stockpiled.. The UK 160 operational and 225 stockpiled.. Israel has 0 operational but about 80 stockpiled.

Pakistan has 0 operational but between 90 and 110 stockpiled. India also has 0 operational but about 80to 100 stockpiled. The two countries are about equal in stockpiles.

Finally North Korea has 0 operational and less than 10 stockpiled. Obviously there is a huge task ahead if nuclear weapons are to be eliminated. No doubt Russia and the U.S. could both eliminate some of their stockpiles without endangering any power balance.

U.S. supplying arms to South Sudan as conflict with Sudan heats up

Two months ago Obama decided to send a handful of troops to South Sudan. He also has sold weapons to the new country. The South has been independent only since last July but there are continuing disputes about the border.

In the latest dispute Sudan sent warplanes over a South Sudanese provincial capital. South Sudan's Information Ministry also reports that the planes bombed an oilfield in the area.

As usual each side accuses the other of starting the conflict. Sudan claims that the South Sudanese military is being backed by Darfur rebels.

South Sudan gained independence after a civil war that had lasted decades. Tensions between the two countries threaten another war. The Obama administration's decision to help out the South militarily could draw the U.S. into yet another war. For more see this article.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Israel prevents UN Human Rights Council from probe into West Bank settlements

The UN Human Rights Council launched an investigation last week into Jewish settlements in the West Bank However the Israelis have broken off all relations with the Council. As a result a fact finding team will not be allowed to enter the territory or do any investigating.

An Israeli official said:"We are not working with them anymore," "We had been participating in meetings, discussions, arranging visits to Israel. All that is over." The U.S. voted against the investigation the only country to do so.

Israel claims that the UN group is hypocritical and biased against Israel. No doubt any group that considers the settlements illegal will be biased in Israel's view. An official complained:"They systematically and serially make all kinds of decisions and condemnations against Israel without even symbolically considering our positions," However, the official said that Israel would continue to cooperate with other UN bodies.

The UN Human Rights Council has objected to Israeli construction of new housing units for settlers in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The group said that these actions undermine the peace process. The settlements are considered illegal by the International Court of Justice. However Israel is expanding them giving them more bargaining chips if and when the peace process ever begins again. For more see this article.

ACLU sues Obama administration under Freedom of Information Act

The ACLU is suing under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The group seeks information on the guidelines Obama officials use in deciding on targets to be killed in drone attacks.

The request “seeks to find out when, where and against whom drone strikes can be authorized, and how the United States ensures compliance with international laws relating to extrajudicial killing”. The administration has refused to provide any information on these issues. The CIA is insisting to federal courts that it is unable even to confirm or deny the existence of the drone program.The CIA argues that revealing any of that information would endanger national security. This is such astonishing nonsense that it is almost beyond belief.

Consider this! A number of Obama administration officials have publicly not only recognised the existence of the program but praised it as being effective. Obama recently said:“we are very careful in terms of how it’s been applied,” and and the program is “a targeted, focused effort at people who are on a list of active terrorists, who are trying to go in and harm Americans, hit American facilities, American bases and so on.” Former CIA Director and current Defense Secretary Leon Panetta also spoke about the program noting that the drone program has “been very effective at undermining al Qaeda and their ability to plan those kinds of attacks.” Finally Attorney General Eric Holder in a speech tried to justify the program in legal terms.Should not all these officials be prosecuted for endangering the national security of the U.S. by revealing all this about a drone attack program that cannot be admitted even to exist?

Obama administration officials are free to say whatever they like about the program for their own political ends. But when the public seeks basic information it cannot be revealed for reasons of national security. For much more see the full article in Salon.

Syria accepts UN peace plan

Kofi Annan praised Syria's acceptance of the six point plan. However, it remains to be seen if Assad will carry out the requirements. In the past he has often simply continued with his crackdown. Annan said that acceptance of the plan was a first step to creating a dialogue between the government and opposition.

There is to be a cease-fire by the government forces and a two hour halt to allow humanitarian aid in conflict areas. There are also to be talks to attempt to agree to a political solution.

The opposition in the form of the Syrian National Council welcomed the plan and the Assad government's response. Bassma Kodmani a member of the group said: “we welcome all acceptance by the regime of a plan that could allow the repression and bloodbath to stop.”We hope that we can move toward a peace process,”

For his part Assad said:"Syria is ready to make a success of any honest effort to find a solution for the events it is witnessing." But Assad added that he cannot stop protecting his citizens. Translated that might mean he cannot stop shelling rebel held areas. I hope my translation is incorrect. Assad said:"No political dialogue or political activity can succeed while there are armed terrorist groups operating and spreading chaos and instability,” Given that Al Qaeda linked groups will keep on with terror attacks Assad's statement is not a good omen. He will use any violence to maintain his own violence.

Both Russia and China support the UN initiative and so there will be considerable pressure on Assad to comply. For more see this article.

Billions in cash smuggled out of Afghanistan

Worried about future security Afghans have smuggled out 8 billion dollars by car, private jet, and through border crossings. Although Afghans are now limited to taking only 20 ,000 out of the country no doubt that limit is regularly broken.

Khan Hadawal who is deputy governor of the Bank of Afghanistan said:"It's hard to estimate exactly how much is going out of Afghanistan, but I can tell you in 2011, 4.5 billion was (flown) out of Afghanistan," Much of the money goes to Dubai where many of the Afghan elite who benefit from the NATO occupation will probably retire if things go bad when NATO withdraws.

The article notes that there is some construction of new multimillion-dollar communities in Kabul hoping to convince Afghans to stay in Afghanistan. Apartments in one community will start at $ 70,000. Much of Kabul was destroyed by years of war.

Foreign aid keeps the Afghan economy running. If this aid dwindles or dries up many worry that the Afghan government and economy will not be able to sustain itself. For more see this article.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Justin Raimondo on the death of Shaima Alawadi

Justin Raimondo is a well known U.S.libertarian and editorial director of He writes of the killing of the 32 year old Iraqi woman Shaima Alawadi and of hate of Muslims.

Alawadi's teenage daughter found her mother dead in a San Diego suburb El Cajon California. Someone broke in and beat the woman to death with a tire iron. A note was left next to the body that said:“Go back to your own country, you terrorist.”

Raimondo notes that this type of hate is not new in San Diego. In 2010 there were protests over a plan to build a mosque in Temecula near by.. A woman in a hijab was removed from a Southwest Airlines plane because the pilot felt uncomfortable about her being on the flight. Last year a Muslim cab driver who was observed praying was repeatedly punched. As Raimondo sums up there is a cloud of hate darkening the otherwise sunny skies of this California town.

Raimondo refers to a video that I have included as a sign of the hatred in the area. The video shows an inter-religious charity event for the homeless. Children and women in hijabs walk into the place where the event was being held. The crowd shouts: "Go home, go home, go home." This is the same message that was left beside Alawadi's body.

Raimondo believes that the U.S. is becoming a society where sickness is quickly becoming a norm. Not just mental sickness he believes but a moral sickness. As grounds for saying that it is becoming a norm is the fact that no one is surprised by such events as Aalwadi's brutal murder any more.

Many of these hate groups consider themselves Christians and model Americans. Raimondo points out the incongruity that a religion based on love and turning the other cheek in effect turns to vicious hatred of other religions. For the rest of the story see the entire article.

As usual Raimondo often uses fiery rhetoric and perhaps exaggerates in making his case. The video attached is itself a confirmation of the points that Raimondo makes. However the very fact that the video shows a charity event for the homeless shows there is another side of America.


French President Sarkozy proposes to jail frequent visitors to terror websites

In an over-reaction to the horrific killings by a French terrorist who had trained in an Al Qaida camp French president Sarkozy has proposed jailing frequent visitors to jihadist websites.

Of course Sarkozy would have to exempt all the many CIA, British, French, and numerous other intelligence agents who are regular visitors. This in itself might be a formidable task to filter them out. The fact that these lurkers were not jailed would also alert the terrorists as to who were likely agents!

At a political rally Sarkozy said:“Anyone who regularly consults Internet sites which promote terror or hatred or violence will be sentenced to prison,” “What is possible for pedophiles should be possible for trainee terrorists and their supporters, too.”

Of course many reporters and researchers log on to these jihadist websites. The public would be cut off from any accounts of what is happening on these websites by reporters or research by academics.

While there is nothing quite like this being proposed in the U.S. the author notes that the U.S. is now proposing to keep information on your browsing etc. for up to five years. So if you did look at these sites and fall under suspicion of being a terrorist the information could be used by investigators. For more see this article. From the polls it looks as if Sarkozy will not remain president of France much longer so French lurkers on jihadist sites need not worry.

Afghan guard shoots and kills two UK soldiers

NATO Major Jason Waggoner confirmed the event and said that the gunman was shot and killed. The shooting happened in Camp Bastion in Helmand province. The British built the base which accommodates about 21,000 people.

According to a spokesperson for the province.British soldiers made a remark to an Afghan guard. They told the guard that he had incorrectly patted down an individual at the gate. The guard in response pointed his machine-gun and shot dead the two soldiers who had made the remark.

While tensions between Afghans and NATO troops was already high it is even higher since the Kandahar massacre that killed 17 civilians. Afghan army personnel and police recruited by the Taliban has so far killed 20 NATO soldiers. However in cases such as this one suspects the killing was simply an angry response to an insult. For more see this article.

Pakistan's President Zardari calls for end to U.S. drone strikes

The leader of the Pakistan opposition pointed out that Pakistan has had two motions in parliament that the attacks cease. Now the parliamentary review group has demanded the attacks cease as a condition for renewing normal relations with the U.S. The first two motions the opposition leader noted have never been acted upon so it is simply embarassing to pass another one.

However, Zardari never seems to be fazed by inconsistency between his rhetoric and reality. The reality is that the U.S. has said it will not cease the attacks. In fact it may not even compromise by letting the Pakistanis have foreknowledge of when attacks are happening or a say in when and where they should happen. However, Zardari wiill probably go on saying one thing in public and tacitly agreeing with the U.S. in private.

Zardari said that the parliamentary review process shows that democracy has taken root in Pakistan. But it may be a root without fruit. Zardari also said that negotiations with the U.S. should work within the parameters set by parliament and not bypass it. However the drone issue will become a problem if Zardari is serious about this. But there are other demands as well.

A spokesperson for the president said that Zardari demanded greater transparency in the Pakistan U.S. relationship. Really? Does he want the public to know that there will probably be tacit agreements on issues such as drone attacks?

During talks with U.S. officials Zardari also suggested that there might be preferential tariffs for Pakistani goods entering the U.S. Zardari also expressed concern about the Afghan drug trade. He said that large amounts of drugs were entering Pakistan from Afghanistan.

Zardari said that money from the trade financed the Afghan insurgency and that it was important for the U.S. and NATO to intercept the drugs.

Zardari also told the U.S. officials that drone attacks were violations of Pakistan's sovereignty, and were counterproductive. He claimed that civilian casualties fueled militancy and should stop. This sort of rhetoric is nothing new but that Zardari is saying this within the context of renewing normal relations with the U.S. may mean that he is serious this time. Most likely he is serious in the sense that he will use the demand to get concessions from the U.S. on other issues. Zardari also defended Pakistan's decision to continue with a natural gas pipeline project from Iran. For more see this article

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Senegal: President Wade concedes defeat in runoff election.

The president of Senegal, Abdoulaye Wade conceded defeat as results showed his opponent Macky Sall with a huge lead. Wade is 85 and his decision to seek reelection sparked violent protests.

Wade seems to have accepted defeat with some grace. He phoned Macky Sally and congratulated him on his victory. Wade was liked my many in the west because of his neoliberal policies that welcomed foreign investment.

 Some feared that Wade would somehow try to remain in office as Mugabe another octogenarian has done in Zimbabwe. Wade came into power in 2000 but of late his popularity has waned as the cost of living and unemployment have both increased. For more see this article.

Australia: Labor party soundly defeated in Queensland state election

Anna Bligh leader of the Queensland Labor Party has resigned after a crushing defeat for her party in the Queensland election. Labor's vote share was dropping to about 27 per cent from about 43 per cent.

The triumphant Liberal National Party received almost 50 per cent of the vote up over 8 per cent. The increase for the LNP and decline for Labor resulted in a probable 7 seats for Labor and 78 for the LNP,. Results were not final when this report was issued by ABC news.

This is the Queensland Labor Party's worst ever defeat. Anna Bligh is resigning from parliament as well. She said:"I will be standing aside as the leader of the Labor Party and further I will be resigning as the member for South Brisbane," Most likely successors to Bligh were defeated in the election although Bligh had kept her own seat. Nine Labor government ministers were defeated.

The new premier elect is Campbell Newman. Newman was gracious in his remarks about Bligh:"I thank her for her service to Queensland... I particularly again pay tribute to her fantastic leadership during Cyclone Yasi and the floods. She did do a tremendous job and she needs to always be remembered for that,"

One of Newman's key goals is to reach a 4 per cent unemployment rate. He pledged also to cut waste and inefficiency in the government. The devastating defeat may cause concern federally as the Labor Party is the government at present. For more see this article.

Pakistani opposition leader opposed to reopening NATO supply routes

According to a report by SANA(South Asian News Agency) the leader of the Pakistan opposition in the National Assembly Chaudry Nizar Ali Khan , Pakistan should not at this time re-open NATO supply routes. Chaudry claims that restoring the routes would create unrest in the country.

Chaudry is particuarly angry at the government for doing nothing about two resolutions passed by parliament that demanded the end of drone attacks. Instead of doing anything concrete to ensure the resolutions were carried out, the Pakistani government has now tabled another resolution demanding the same action!

Passing another resolution claims Chaudry dishonours the parliament. He also claims that nothing in the recommendations of the parliamentary committee on restoring U.S. Pakistan relations does anything to balance to U.S. Pakistan relations. Given that the U.S. provides a lot of aid both military and otherwise to Pakistan, the country can probably not expect much balance.

Chaudry also said:“I am saying continuously that foreign intelligence agents are working in Pakistan without any license, Government should bring the details of those before the masses. "" He noted too that the government continually passed laws in its own interests. Surely that is not a crime but common everywhere! For more see this article.

Islamic groups dominate process to choose panel to draft constitution

Parliamentarians are meeting to choose a 100 member group that will draft a new Egyptian constitution. Fifty members of the panel will be sitting parliamentarians.

An Al Jazeera correspondent noted:"We have over 1,000 names that have been nominated. It's up to these hundreds of MPs to whittle them down to just 100.Fifty of that 100-member constituent assembly will be sitting parliamentarians and the other 50 will be trade unionists, members of civil society and so on,"

The Islamist Muslim Brotherhood gained the majority of seats in recent elections to parliament. The Salafist Islamist Nour Party also did very well. As a result it is expected of the 50 parliamentarians to be chosen about 40 will be Islamists. No doubt there could be many Islamists within the other fifty as well. All combined , liberal Egyptian parties have less than one third of parliamentary seats.

A leader of the liberal Justice Party walked out of the sessions when his proposal that 25 seats be reserved in the constituent assembly for public figures was rejected. This move seems to make little sense. If a majority is opposed to what you propose then you lose. That is the way the democratic system works.

The Muslim Brotherhood claims it wants representatives from all groups and parties. It probably does but naturally it would like also to retain majority control.

Liberals are up in arms over what is happening. In spite of the fact that Islamist groups won handily in the elections it seems to me that the liberals really cannot accept that decision by the voting public.

Liberal activists and judges are filing suit to challenge the decision to appoint half of the members of the constituent assembly from the sitting parliamentarians. Khaled Fahmy from the American University in Cairo said:"This can actually result in a very tilted constitution that reflects the interests of only one segment of the population, which is the Islamists," No doubt the Islamists will try to tailor the constitution to their beliefs, beliefs that must be shared by a large number of Egyptians. Of course liberals dislike those beliefs because they conflict with theirs! See this article for more. The Egyptian people ultimately get to vote on whether they approve the constitution or not in a referendum.

U.S. trained Mali coup leader

The leader of the Mali coup Captain Amadou Sanogo participated in a U.S. training program and has visited the U.S. several times. Sanogo trained as a part of the U.S. International Military Education and Training Program. The program is sponsored by the State Department.

Participants are handpicked by U.S. embassy staff in the countries involved. Sanogo with soldiers loyal to him staged a coup and looted the presidential palace in the process. The democratically elected president Amadou Toure is being held by the coup leaders. Sanogo staged the coup just a month before elections.

Sanogo says that the government did not provide enough resources to fight Tuareg rebels in the north. No doubt he hopes that the U.S. or others will provide military aid. Some of the Tuareg fought for the Gadaffi regime in Libya.

The coup was relatively bloodless. The coup claims that three were killed and about 40 wounded. However, these are figures from those who staged the uprising.

Sanogo claims he will call an election as soon as he puts down aa Tuareg insurgency in the north of the country. Good luck! Tuareg rebellions began back in 1916 and there have been five since. The most recent rebels have merged as the National Movement for Liberation of Azawad. See this article.

There has been widespread looting by soldiers in Bamako. Sanogo blames the looting on ill intentioned individuals. These individuals of course are among those who brought him to power.

The U.S. has condemned the coup, so has the African Union. The African Union suspended Mali's membership in the Union. The U.S. will continue its 140 million dollar aid program and has no plans to suspend it. For more see this article.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Iraq signs one billion U.S. oilfield service deal with South Korean firm

The contract was won by Samsung Engineering for work to be done on the West Qurna oil field. This is phase two in the development of the untapped oil field.

The Iraqi Oil Minister Abdul Luaibi said:“The project includes building a complete establishment on the ground to produce oil of around 500,000 barrels per day,” The completed first phase would lead to production of 1.8 million bpd (barrels per day).

Samsung was picked from a group of five short-listed companies. The contract involves construction of an oil pipeline for export, a tank farm, a gas processing plant, a power distribution system, an oil gathering system, central processing facilities and finally a water supply system. For a billion dollars one should expect quite a few things to get done! For more see this article.

U.S. rejects Afghan recommendation to stop drone attacks.

   A Pakistani parliamentary committee has presented a list of 40 recommendations to a joint meeting of the Pakistani Senate and National Assembly for renewing ties with the U.S. Among the recommendations is that drone attacks cease.
    According to reports the U.S. Ambassador Cameron Munter has told the Pakistani foreign minister that the U.S. will not cease drone strikes on the Tribal areas. The Pakistanis claim the attacks are counter-productive, increase anti-American feeling, and violate Pakistan's sovereignty. However up until the break off of relations after a NATO attack killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November many think that there clearly was implicit approval by Pakistan of the drone attacks. Of course in public this approval was never admitted. In fact ruling party officials along with the opposition condemned the attack. There was even a motion in parliament that they cease.
    No doubt the Pakistanis will be able to get some of their recommendations accepted by  the U.S. Pakistan is proposing a tax on all NATO supplies passing through Pakistan. They also want an apology for the airstrike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. The U.S. apparently is willing to offer an apology.. However, on the issue of drone strikes the U.S. clearly is firm on continuing them in spite of the hostility it is causing and the problems it creates for Pakistani politicians.
  In the U.S. Senator Joe Libierman said: “drone strikes are critically important to America's national security. So obviously, I do not believe they should stop.” US Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein said “I think the key is whether Pakistan will go into North Waziristan and other places and take out those terrorist leaders who are essentially fuelling and leading attacks against our troops in Afghanistan,”  For more see this article.

Friday, March 23, 2012

African Union suspends Mali membership after military coup

Rebels in Presidential Palace

As well as suspending Mali the AU is sending a mission to Mali to investigate after mutinying soldiers took over power. The AU met on Friday and said it would deploy a group to Bamaka the capital of Mali immediately.

Chairman of the AU Jean Ping said that the coup was a backward step for Mali and to attempts to promote democracy in Africa. The coup toppled President Amadou Toure's democratically elected government. The armed forces have complained that the government has not provided the resources they need to fight Tuareg rebels in the north of the country.

The rebels who call themselves the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad are Tuareg who live in the Azawad area that straddles several different African countries. Some of them fought for Gadaffi in Libya and have now returned many with weapons.

The rebels insist that they will dislodge the Malian armed forces and the Malian administration from all the Azawad area which is in the north of Mali. Both the World Bank and African Development Bank announced they were suspending all development aid to Mali pending the restoration of constitutional government.

The rebels claim to have seized the town of Anefis which is on the highway linking the two main northern towns of Gao and Kidal. In the capital Bamako residents say that bread and fuel supplies were running low as the soldiers looted gas stations and shops and even took cars. For more see this Al Jazeera article.

Obama nominates Jim Yong Kim as U.S. choice for World Bank president

The only other candidate in the running at present is the Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. In a surprise move another top candidate Jeffrey Sachs withdrew and threw his full support behind Kim.

By tradition since 1944 an American has always been head of the World Bank and a European head of the IMF. This year there is a more open nomination and selection process. However, it looks as if the tradition will probably prevail. Sachs had the support of many developing nations. Perhaps many of them will now back Kim.

Jim Yong Kim was never a top candidate of those mentioned as being considered by Obama. Lawrence Summers was thought to be the likely U.S. candidate. However many were critical of the choice including some Europeans. Europe is expected to support the U.S. choice.

According to this BBC article Kim is a leading figure in global health. He worked in the WHO as director of the HIV/Aids dept. He also founded a health charity. Kim moved to the U.S. when he was five and grew up in Muscatine Iowa. He has an MD and PhD in anthropology from Harvard. He became president of Dartmouth College in 2009.

The choice is welcomed by many. It is certainly a victory for those who did not want to see Summers become bank president. Others see it as more than that. See this article. Robert Naiman wrote this to me in an email:""If you care about access to basic health services in poorcountries, it's a big victory. If you care about breaking down barriers to access to essential medicines in poor countries, it's a big victory." We will see.

I just wonder what Sachs' aim is in all this. He touted himself as eminently qualifiied for the job and had others write glowing reviews about his qualifications but then at the last moment he withdraws and supports Kim! Were there behind the scenes negotiation? Meanwhile there is one developing world candidate, the finance minister of Nigeria still in the running but she may turn out to be another part of what seems to be a concerted effort to show that the tradition has really changed while in fact she has no chance of winning. She is supported by three African countries. For more see this article.

Top U.S. commander wants 68,000 U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan in 2013

When asked by Sen. John McCain about future withdrawals Gen. John Allen replied:“My opinion is that we will need significant combat power through the end of 2013. . . . Sixty-eight thousand is a good going-in number.., “but I owe the president some analysis on that.”

However Allen stressed that no decision had been made and that he would make recommendations to the White House only after the departure this September of the 23,000 surge troops sent in 2010.

Allen said he was confident that his opinions would be considered by the White House. Obama seemed to be signaling subtly that he may be changing his own views on withdrawal. He said he did not want a "steep cliff" at the end of 2014 when all NATO combat troops are scheduled to be withdrawn as set out in an agreement with the Afghan government.

Behind the scenes and without much commentary from the press negotiations are going on between the U.S. and Afghanistan on a long term U.S. presence in the country after 2014.. One of the sticking points is night raids that Karzai has long opposed. That this issue even comes up shows that the U.S. would still be in Afghanistan in a combat role.

Even though polls show the U.S. public is weary of the Afghan war and a majority want a withdrawal, the reality is that the U.S. intends to stay actively involved indefinitely .

The coalition hopes to have 352,000 Afghan army and police in place by the end of this year. Although some reports put the cost at 4 to 5 billion a year a defense spokesperson said it would be more than that. The total annual revenue of the Afghan government is about 2 billion. Wonder who will cover the extra costs? For more see this article.


Thursday, March 22, 2012

Afghan authorities now support official U.S. story about Kandahar massacre

Just a few days ago Afghan investigators maintained that there were a number of U.S. soldiers involved in the Kandahar massacre. Here is a statement by a local Kandahar MP:“All the villagers that we talked to said there were 15 to 20 men who had conducted a night raid operation in several areas in the village,” He also noted that the villages attacked were each about 4 kilometers north and south of the base.

Now Afghan officials say that there has been no confirmation that multiple U.S. soldiers took part in the killing. A top official said: that ""nobody personally said that they had seen a group of troops in this incident. The evidence collected from the villagers was not enough to confirm that there was more than one shooter.” This contradicts the Afghan investigators own accounts and other reports of eyewitness accounts.

At least now there is agreement between the Afghans and U.S on the matter. However, the Afghan public in general may not be convinced of the lone shooter story no matter what officials may say.

No one has really explained the discrepancies in the different stories. There is other evidence also that supports the view that there could have been more than one soldier. First there is the distance that the two villages attacked are apart. Second there is the fact that a few days earlier U.S. soldiers had threatened the inhabitants of one of the villages,' For more see this article.

There are sharp differences within the Karzai administration as to how critical or how supportive the government should be of NATO and the U.S. Those urging more support and less criticism may have the upper hand at least on this issue. See this article.

Iraq VP accuses government of torturing his bodyguard to death

The Iraqi Vice President al-Hashemi blamed the death of one of his bodyguards on the Iraqi government. The body of Amer al-Batawi was given to his family last week. No cause of death was listed on his death certificate. The government arrested al-Batawi in a sweep of his staff three months ago.

The government accuses al-Hasehmi and his staff of supporting or even engaging in terrorism. Al-Hashemi was able to flee to Kurdistan where he remains. Many think that Maliki is simply trying to consolidate his power

Meanwhile violence continues in Iraq as Al Qaeda seems to be coordinating numerous attacks. The other day 22 Iraqis were killed and 30 wounded. For more see this article. There is conflict both within the Iraqi government over Maliki's increasing dictator-like acts and in the streets as Islamic radicals step up attacks hoping to increase sectarian strife.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Rick Santorum attends sermon by evangelical Rev. Dennis Terry

No worry about political correctness at this meeting.. Terry intones: "We don't worship Buddha" So how about American Buddhists? "We don't worship Mohammad". So what about American Muslims? "We don't worship Allah. We worship God." I thought Allah was God the one and only God both in Christianity and Islam. " We worship God's Son Jesus Christ" So what about American Jews?

Rev. Terry goes on about abortion, gay marriage etc. At the end of the evening he prays over Rick Santorum saying: "God, have favor on Rick Santorum." I have included a video of part of Rev. Terry's speech. . No doubt not all old time religion was of this sort. However this type of evangelical exclusionist fervour is no doubt prevalent in parts of the U.S. right now as the Reverend Terry shows us. Terry also thinks that Christians are the key to turning the U.S. economy around. No doubt these are Christian entrepreneurs looking for new markets in China, Malaysia, and India etc.

Obama promises speedy approval of southern leg of Keystone-XL pipe line

President Obama is on tour defending his energy policies against Republican attacks. They blame the president for high gas prices. Obama will argue that he is promoting projects that will help ease the crisis.

In Cushing Oklahoma on March 22nd he is expected to claim that he will expedite building of part of the projected Keystone XL pipeline from Cushing to Texas. Trans-Canada had already announced that they were going to speed up construction.

In January the president denied approval for the pipeline based partly on concerns by the state of Nebraska. But he invited Trans Canada to re-apply, an invitation Trans-Canada accepted. At the same time Trans-Canada said it would procede separately with the segment from Cushing to Texas.

On Feb. 27 the White House said that it would ""take every step possible to expedite the necessary federal permits."" Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn claimed the president's promise of fast-tracking permits was meaningless. The southern section is all in the U.S. and does not require presidential approval. Obama's strong support for this portion of the KeystoneXL pipe line is not likely to go down well with environmentalists and will be seen as meaningless by the Republicans. However, perhaps ordinary citizens may feel that he is tackling the high cost of fuel problem.

Obama notes that domestic oil and gas production has increased every year since he took office. Oil production is the highest in eight years and natural gas production at a historic high.

Many environmentalist are concerned about natural gas production using fracking. The health and environmental risks of the process are greatly under-estimated according to some analysts. See this article.

While environmentalists may applaud Obama for his emphasis upon alternative energy sources, at the same time they will be upset by the fact at the same time he is touting development of more oil fields and natural gas exploration that often involves fracking. For more see this article.


U.S. presidential campaign very expensive

Reuters has posted a partial list of money raised and expenditures up to Feb. 29 during the U.S. presidential primaries and campaign. See this article.

The information is taken from Federal Election Commission filings. The data also contain information on the Super PAC's that can raise and spend unlimited amounts. Here are a few of the dollar figures.

Barack Obama raised 120.1 million. He spent 135.4 million. However , he still has 42 million on hand with oustanding debt just over 30,000 dollars.

The second place Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum raised 15.6 million while spending 13.1 million. He has 2.6 million on hand. No doubt he will need to go up against Mitt Romney. He has outstanding debt approaching one million.

Among the Super PACs Restore Our Future which supports front running Republican candidate Mitt Romney raised 43.2 million while spending 32.7 million so far. In contrast Endorse Liberty a Super PAC supporting Ron Paul raised only 3.7 million and spent 3.5. For more see the full article. U.S. election cost big bucks and no doubt big contributors expect a return on their investment through policies friendly to their cause. As someone--I forget who-- said: "The U.S. has the best democracy money can buy.""

Financial sanctions against Iran causing difficulties for U.S. companies

Iran has been cut off from not only the U.S. banking system but now through being disconnected from SWIFT is not able to use other global systems. SWIFT is a huge cooperative serving over 10,000 financial institutions and corporations in 210 countries around the world. SWIFT enables users in different countries to facilitate financial transactions.

A recent decision by the EU council to sanction Iranian banks means that SWIFT must disconnect Iran from its system. SWIFT is incorporated in Belgium and must comply with the decision. See this article.

Iranian banks are cut off from the U.S. financial system as well. Large Iranian state companies work around the system using barter and gold but smaller private companies in Iran cannot pay outstanding bills to U.S. and other companies-- at least not through normal channels.

An Iranian company that makes diapers owes American Pulp and Paper based in Washington State, 3.8 million dollars for material already shipped that is used in making diapers. However the Iranian company is blocked from using any of the usual channels to pay for the shipment. There are no sanctions apparently on these goods and also pharmaceutcals. However, Iran will not be able to buy them nor companies sell them because of these payment difficulties.

I just wonder if the use of financial institutions as a weapon against countries in disfavor will not ultimately lead to new financial institutions operating entirely outside of western influence. For more see this article. I would think that some international capitalists might not favor these sorts of actions. Political disagreement is one thing capitalist trade between nations is quite another!

Afghanistan: Villagers threatened by U.S. troops days before Kandahar massacre

While the official NATO story is that the Kandahar killings were the work of one lone soldier, the Afghans insist that there were a number of soldiers. Some eyewitnesses report seeing a single soldier others a number of soldiers. Some accounts report them as being drunk.
Now a new report from Mokhoyan one of the targeted villages indicates that U.S. soldiers threatened the villagers just days before the attack.
Villagers report that U.S. troops rounded up all the men from the villages after a roadside bombing. They lined them up against a wall and told them that they would “pay a price” for the bombing.
Villagers said the bombing was on March 7 or 8th. Some stories say that the one soldier suspected in the attack Robert Bales was upset that a friend had a lost a leg in a bomb attack. Perhaps the attack was this one near the village.
As usual the military would neither confirm nor deny that there were bomb attacks in the area. They had nothing to say about the threats claimed by the villagers.
The reports of the threats give at least some support to the Afghan view that there was an organised group of soldiers involved in the attacks not a lone soldier. However, it also supports Robert Fisk's view that the attack was based upon a desire for revenge not mental illness. For more see this article.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

U.K. teenager charged for Facebook comment

Azhar Ahmed made a comment on Facebook about the six British soldiers killed last week in Afghanistan. What there was of cognitive content to his comment was that people made a big fuss about the deaths of the British soldiers but paid little attention to the deaths of Afghans. Most of the post is comprised of insults in vulgar and often vicious language. The text of the message can be found here.

I have never favored legislation against hate speech. Legislation just leads to those who express this hate becoming even more alienated. They feel--correctly in my opinion--that the government is suppressing them. However many countries have such laws including Canada. At first Ahmed was charged with "racially aggravated public order offences". For some reason they decided against going ahead with that charge. Perhaps because the rant does not seem to be directed at any racial group but at UK soldiers and their supporters. The charge has been changed to sending a grossly offensive message. U.S. talk show hosts such as Rush Limbaugh better stay away from the U.K.

For his part Ahmed has pleaded not guilty and maintained that he did not make the posting in the first place. I suppose it is quite possible that someone else put it there to get Ahmed in trouble.

The prosecutors are already rounding up witnesses who say they found the post offensive. Police were posted around the courthouse where Ahmed appear for a hearing. About 50 protesters shouted "jail to those who insult our troops." Ahmed has been released on bail and will face another hearing in July. For more see this article. I wonder why Facebook is not being charged for allowing the comment to appear on its pages?

Australia imposes 30 per cent tax on iron ore and coal mine profits

The government has been fighting for two years with mining companies over the level of new taxes. The Green party which supports the Labor bill wanted to raise the rate to 40 per cent and include other mining groups. The Labor Party too originally had planned for a 40 per cent tax rate on mining.

Passage of the laws represents a great win for Julia Gillard the prime minister. She passed the laws in spite of leading a minority government. Green Party members helped.

The taxes will hit some industry giants including Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton, and Xstrata. The tax will generate 11.2 billion (U.S.) in revenue over the first three years.

Gillard said in defense of the bill:"Australians know how important the mining industry is, but they also know that we can only dig up and sell the resources once," "The Minerals Resource Rent Tax will deliver Australians with a fair return on the resources they own 100 per cent.""The Gillard government believes all Australians should share in the benefits of the mining boom, not just a fortunate few,"

Mining groups oppose the tax. In particular small and medium size mining groups complained that the tax was so complicated that compliance with the terms would be difficult and expensive for smaller and medium size mines. For more see this article.

Pakistan demands end to drone strikes as a condition of renewing U.S. relations

A parliamentary committee in Pakistan's parliament has demanded an end to U.S, drone strikes as a condition for renewal of relations between the U.S. and Pakistan.

Some time ago the parliament had demanded an end to the strikes to no effect it would seem. Pakistan's parliament is discussing how to mend U.S. Pakistan relations. Relations have been particularly bad since a U.S. attack killed 24 soldiers near the Afghan border in November.

Razza Rabbani who chaired the committee making the recommendations also insisted that the U.S. should unconditionally apologize for the killings. Neither this nor the ceasing of drone attacks are likely I expect.

The U.S. seems quite willing to pay the price of having to use alternate routes as Pakistan has closed the Afghan border to supply convoys. Pakistan also forced the U.S. to close an air base in Pakistan.

Pakistan indicated recently that the issues may soon be resolved. The U.S. may pay higher transit fees for goods passing through Pakistan. On the drone issue it seems as if Pakistan might agree to the attacks if they were coordinated with the Pakistanis and they received notice of when and where they would occur. The U.S. may not be willing to grant this because militants might be notified of pending attacks. There is no trust between the two sides it seems.

A report last month by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism put the civilian death toll from the attacks at between 282 and 535. This includes 60 children. These are figures since Obama came to power. Obama has greatly increased attacks from the Bush era. For more see this article.

Monday, March 19, 2012

UBS: Gold prices may soften as stock prices rise and investor confidence increases

With stock markets around the world marching higher and Europe's sovereign debt crisis easing, investors have become increasingly warm to a global economic recovery. And this more optimistic view will weigh on the price of gold, UBS said on Monday.

"We see gold now in a challenging environment and so downgrade our one-month target to $1550 from $1775 and three-month forecast to $1600 from $1950," Edel Tully said in a note on Monday.

"The broad market view of the global economy, particularly the U.S., is now more accepting of a sustainable recovery and reduced cyclical risks."

Tully says the recent spike in U.S. Treasury yields is the latest sign that investors are banking on an economic recovery and easing their appetite for risk. He says the market is also beginning to question the Federal Reserve's stance on holding interest rates into 2014 -- adding that economists at UBS believe rates may begin to move in the middle of 2013.

He says in Europe the economic picture may not be as dark as previously thought, and this may add further pressure on the price of the precious metal.

"Recent evidence suggests that the outlook for the European economy may actually not be as bleak as initially feared," he says. "Although Q4 GDP growth contracted by 0.3%, leading indicators of late point to a less-severe scenario; those have prompted our economists to upgrade their 2012 full-year forecast to -0.4% from -0.7%."

Tully says it's clear that gold is "capped in this environment" and a quick look at physical demand is a good indicator on whether it's nearing a floor.

"So far, though, there have been no constructive signals in that regard, with the response from physical markets very inconsistent," he says.

While Tully may be correct. Some analysts think that the market is at its peak or near it and bound for a sharp decline. Any new troubles in such debt ridden countries as Ireland, Spain, Italy, Portugal or Greece might change the mood of investors and lead to a sharp reversal of recent rises in markets. Other factors such as the Iran nuclear crisis or the rise in oil prices could also negatively effect stock prices. For more see this article.

Afghan investigators claim more than a dozen U.S. soldiers involved in Kandahar killings

As with NATO airstrikes and night raids in Afghanistan the story told by Afghan authorities and many locals is completely contradictory to the official story usually. According to the U.S. and NATO official story the Kandahar shootings were the work of one lone U.S. soldier.

However, Kandahar MP Naheem Hameedzain reports that that an Afghan investigation has concluded the shootings were carried out by a team of U.S. soldiers. He said:“All the villagers that we talked to said there were 15 to 20 men who had conducted a night raid operation in several areas in the village,” He noted as well that the villages attacked were quite a distance apart. The accused Robert Bales would have had to walk several kilometers between attacks.

Most western mainstream media repeat the official mantra as if it were the obviously correct version. At least in the first reports most papers did note that there were a number of eyewitnesses who reported that there were a number of soldiers. In later reports these seem to be forgotten.

The Afghan parliament has reacted to the U.S. refusal to try Bales in Afghanistan by unaminously voting that Afghanistan withdraw from the existing military agreement (SOFA) with the U.S. However Karzai has not signed the resolution so far. He did complain that the U.S. did not cooperate with the Afghan probe into the killings. Indeed Bales was whisked off to the U.S. no doubt before the Afghans had any chance to interview him. For more see this article.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Review of book on Philippine American war of 1899

A review of a new history of the 1899 Philippine-American war by Candice Millard can be found here in the New York Times. The history is called "Honor in the Dust" by Gregg Jones.

Millard notes that in reading the history she was struck not by how much war has changed in the hundred and some years since but how many scenes were quite similar to what has happened in recent wars. At first the Americans were greeted as saviors by many but in a short time they become despised as occupiers.

As in Iraq the U.S. in a short time declared victory but fighting continued. There were graphic accounts of torture by the Americans in newspapers.

Jones describes the interrogation of a Filipino mayor thought to have helped the insurgents. American soldiers used what they called the water cure a technique developed during the Spanish Inquisition described as follows:"" After tying the mayor’s hands behind his back and forcing him to lie beneath a large water tank, they pry his mouth open, hold it in place with a stick and then turn on the spigot. When his stomach is full to bursting, the soldiers begin pounding on it with their fists, stopping only after the water, now mixed with gastric juices, has poured from his mouth and nose. Then they turn on the spigot again."" Needless to say this seems to be an even crueler variant of water boarding.

When President McKinley first entered the Philippines during the Spanish American war in 1898 he said that it was for Filipinos’ “liberty and not our power, their welfare and not our gain, we are seeking to enhance.” But by 1900 which just happened to be an election year McKinley was giving in to dreams of empire. He noted “territory sometimes comes to us when we go to war in a holy cause.” “Shall we deny to ourselves what the rest of the world so freely and justly accords to us?” The crowd he was addressing shouted a resounding "No"

Within the U.S. itself there was vocal opposition to this imperialism. Critics included Mark Twain and former president Grover Cleveland. Theodore Roosevelt however was a constant critic of the anti-war faction and of McKinley himself for not being hawkish enough. For the rest of the story see the full review.

Saudi Arabia reported to be sending military equipment to Syrian rebels

AFP reports that a top Arab diplomat told them: "Saudi military equipment is on its way to Jordan to arm the Free Syrian Army," Of course the diplomat insisted on remaining anonymous and so the report may be incorrect. Russia has been arming the Assad regime.

Jordan has denied that there is any such move and insists it wants a diplomatic solution. Jordan's economy is suffering from the conflict. For its part Syria claims that Saudi Arabia is sending terrorists to wreak havoc in the country.

Certainly recent suicide bombing that have killed dozens often at key government installations shows that terrorists are at work in Syria wherever they came from. The rebels have claimed that these attacks could be staged by the government to paint the opposition as terrorists. This is extremely unlikely given the nature of the targets.

Assad is definitely slaughtering many people who simply want democracy and have no connection to terrorism. On the other hand it is also clear that there is a majority Sunni, minority Shia conflict involved in Syria that is developing into a civil war. There is even an army of sorts formed mostly from soldiers who have defected from the Syrian forces. As a majority Sunni country the Saudi monarchy would be happy to see the Asssad Shia minority Alawite group replaced by the Sunni majority. This certainly would curb Iranian influence in the regime. The move has little to do with promoting democracy per se. Saudi Arabia is hardly a beacon of democratic reform!

On the side of the rebels are Al Qaeda--and also Hamas for that matter. Al Qaeda or other militants are no doubt behind the suicide bombings not the Syrian government. For much more see this AFP article. in Yahoo news.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Pakistan claims drone strikes violate their sovereignty

Excuse the pun but Pakistan drones on and on about this issue. Parliament has even passed a motion that the attacks must stop. However they haven't. There was a pause after the U.S. killed a couple of dozen Pakistani troops on the Afghan border but that was all. They have resumed.
It seems obvious that at least until the pause there was tacit agreement within the Pakistani government and military concering the drone attacks. In fact Pakistani intelligence probably helped with targeting.
However, the issue seems to be taken more seriously now after two drone strikes killed at least 15 people in South Waziristan. The Pakistani government was quick to deny that it was involved. The government says it was not consulted at all with respect to any recent strikes.
The Pakistani government claims that they warned the U.S. to stop carrying out the strikes. The Pakistani ambassador Sherry Rehman said they told the U.S. this on March 9 after strikes that killed 13 people.
Foreign Office spokesperson Abdul Basit that there was no question that the drone attacks violated Pakistan' sovereignty. He said:"Pakistan has been using all diplomatic channels to bring an end to the strikes that are damaging our efforts against militancy and terrorism. Voices are also being raised in the West against these illegal drone strike," But all that has happened is that drone attacks have resumed. Basit did not talk of shooting down the drones as an option.
By continuing the attacks the U.S. puts the Pakistan government in an almost impossible position. They must complain about them as a political necessity. However, they are dependent upon the U.S. for aid and have not shown any willingness to really confront the U.S. except by verbiage that makes them look more silly and ineffective by the day. They will pay come the next election. For more see this article.

Robert Fisk on Kandahar Killings: Soldier not deranged. He killed in revenge.

Fisk says he is tired of all the ""deranged"" stories being promoted in the press. Of course if this were a suicide bomber Fisk points out he would be a wicked terrorist with complete disregard for innocent lives. Fisk remarks the deranged explanation is quite common as when innocents were killed by U.S. troops in Haditha. Fisk lists a number of papers that touted the deranged story including the Guardian, Financial Times and New York Times, and Le Figaro.

Fisk suggests that if the the soldier had killed his fellow Americans it would make more sense to think that he was deranged. However killing Afghans makes sense. Afghans just a day or so before had killed two U.S. soldiers during a protest against the Koran burning. He had seen a comrade have his leg blown off. Just as the Afghans harbor desires for revenge against U.S. troops so do U.S. troops have similar desires because of their experiences.

Fisk remarks that Commander General John Allen just three weeks or so ago told his troops"" "now is not the time for revenge for the deaths of two US soldiers killed in Thursday's riots". They should, he said, "resist whatever urge they might have to strike back" after an Afghan soldier killed the two Americans. "There will be moments like this when you're searching for the meaning of this loss,""" It is clear that the commander thought revenge attacks were a possible result of the feelings building up within the ranks.

While Fisk does a great service by pointing out the likely revenge element in the attack this does not completely discredit the deranged soldier stories. The event was probably not the result of some single cause but a combination and part of the combination is probably the soldier's mental condition. After all, no doubt the feelings of wanting revenge are probably quite common among the troops but it did not lead them to kill innocent Afghan civilians. But one could also point out no doubt many soldiers are stressed out and may freak out but they do not kill innocent civilians. For more see this article.

Afghan troops kill 70 U.S. soldiers since 2007

Often reports of Afghan soldiers killing U.S. trainers simply do not include what actually happened. The Pentagon reported the recent killing of Lance Cpl. Edward Dycus that he died “while conducting combat operations.”.
An Afghan soldier shot Dycus in the back of the head on Feb. 1 while he was standing guard at a joint Afghan-US base in Helmand province. Dycus's parents however received a note that he was killed by an Afghan soldier.
In the last six weeks alone 7 U.S. soldiers have been killed by their Afghan partners. Following the burning of the Korans at Bagram Air Base an Afghan killed two U.S. soldiers on Feb. 23.
In this instance the Pentagon also disguised what actually happened. The official report said that the soldiers died of "wounds suffered when their unit came under small arms fire."
The U.S. military had ample warning of what was going to happen. In May 2011 Jeffrey Bordin a behavioral scientist with the U.S. army in Afghanistan issued a report. Bordin said there was a crisis of trust between U.S. and Afghan forces. He said this could result in an unprecedented number of killings between allies in modern history.
As one would expect the reception of this report was very harsh. But even ISAF admits that ten months after the report the numbers of those killed by Afghan forces is still quite high. The other side of the coin is that there are probably many cases where U.S. troops kill Afghans out of revenge. In fact Robert Fisk suggests that revenge killings by U.S. troops is a real danger recognized by commanders and that the recent Kandahar killings may be revenge killings. See this article. For more see this article.

Afghanistan: Karzai complains U.S. not cooperating with Afghan investigation into Kandahar area killings

In a meeting with tribal elders and officials President Karzai condemned Americans refusal to to cooperate with the Afghan investigation into the recent killing of civilians in the Kandahar area. Karzai said:“This has been going on for too long,.. “this is by all means the end of the rope here.”

Although the U.S. has promised its own investigations the accused has already been removed to a prison in Kansas in the U.S. No doubt the Afghan authorities had no chance to interview him and probably never will. Karzai noted that his delegation rejected the current U.S. version of a single shooter and the group thought that “this was not carried out by one man and was a deliberate and intentional act.”

From the beginning of this event I have been struck by the fact that on the whole western main-stream media have for the most part simply accepted the official U.S. view in spite of a number of eyewitness testimonies that flatly contradict the story.

There have been calls by Afghan legislators that the accused face a public trial in Afghanistan. Of course the U.S. would never allow him to be tried by Afghans and it is exceedingly doubtful that they will ever let him return to Afghanistan even for a U.S. military trial.

In the press several authorities point out that the accused could face major punishment even the death penalty. The U.S. has never executed one of their own for ages although there are some on military death row. For more see this article.

Friday, March 16, 2012

India's purchase of Iranian oil brings protests from the U.S.

India has managed to forge a good relationship with the West especially the U.S. Now the U.S. is putting pressure on India to stop purchasing Iranian oil. However that oil is key to India's continued economic growth.
Through support for India the U.S. is able to provide a check to Chinese influence in the Asia-Pacific area. To damage relations with India over the purchase of Iranian oil would be very short-sighted in the view of some analysts.
Sreeram Chaulia of the Jindal School of International Affairs notes:“In the last ten years, if the Unites States has achieved anything of strategic value in Asia, it is the closeness with India,” “And I don’t think it would want to jeopardize all that for the sake of punishing Iran.” Chaulia went on:“It would be strategic suicide on the part of the United States to actually go ahead and impose sanctions on Indian companies,” However perhaps many U.S. politicians will demand that Obama bring India in line and punish the country for opposing the boss.
However another analyst noted that the U.S. has already had some success in putting pressure on India. Some Indian companies have withdrawn investment from Iran and financial organisations are struggling to reroute their financial dealings due to sanctions. For more see this article.

Ethiopia attacks camps inside Eritrea

From 1998 to 2000 Eritrea and Ethiopia fought a border war in which about 80,000 people died. The Ethiopian government claims that Eritrea harboured subversive groups that were being trained for missions in Ethiopia.

Eritrea has also been accused of supporting Islamist Al-Shabab in Somalia as well. Ethiopia earlier entered into Somalia to try and help stem the rebellion. The Ethiopians were no doubt encouraged in their adventures by the U.S.

So far the Eritrean government has not commented on the attack that was directed at several camps in Eritrea. This is the first attack in Eritrean territory since the end of the border war. The Ethiopians see Eritrea as helping rebels in the Afar region. For more see this article.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The last quarter of 2011 saw the Greek jobless rate hit a record high at 20.7 per cent. Greece received a 130 billion euro bailout. However to receive the bailout Greece had to make severe budget cuts including reducing the number of government jobs.

The public and especially unions are angry. Consumer confidence is declining as well. The statistics agency ELSTAT indicated that jobs were being lost at an increasing rate. The unemployment rate of 20.7 in the last quarter of 2011 compares to 17.7 in the third quarter and 14.2 per cent in the final quarter of 2010.

Worst hit are Greek young people. In the 15 to 29 age range almost 40 per cent are unemployed. A year earlier the rate was 28 per cent itself a very high rate.

The Greek economy shrank 7 per cent in 2011 and is expected to remain in recession in 2012 for the fifth year in a row. Under these conditions it is difficult if not impossible for Greece to increase revenue and pay off its debts. No doubt the solution according to the Troika overseeing the bailout will be to demand further belt tightening.

Greece's December jobless rate was about double the euro zone average of 10.6 per cent. However, Spain's rate was even worse in the last quarter of 2011 at 22.9. For more see this BNN article.

Karzai demands NATO stay in major bases by year's end

In a double blow to the NATO mission in Afghanistan Karzai demanded that the U.S. confine its troops to major bases by 2013 and the Taliban have suspended ongoing peace talks. Both the U.S. and NATO have been trying to arrange talks with the Taliban for two years and the recent talks showed some signs of progress. However the Taliban have as a condition of an agreement that NATO forces withdraw.
The Karzai declaration would hasten the transition to Afghans taking control for security but it would also prevent any attempts by the U.S. and special forces to attack the Taliban and increase village security.
The Taliban have withdrawn from talks because they claim the U.S. has changed preconditions for the talks. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has just left Afghanistan after two days of talks including with president Karzai. Apparently Karzai's statement was a surprise. NATO and the U.S. will be furious. However, Karzai has been at loggerheads with NATO and the U.S. rather often. He may very well back down or more likely just not carry through with his demand. In his meeting with Panetta, Karzai did not bring up the issue of the transfer of the soldier accused in the killing spree to Kuwait. Afghan legislators have demanded he be tried in Afghanistan.

Pakistan still not opening Afghan border to U.S.

After a recent meeting of Pakistani leaders no decision was made to reopen the Afghan border. Most supply deliveries as well as troop withdrawals are made through crossings from Pakistan.

The meeting of a leadership council decided to leave the decision on the opening to the Pakistani parliament. Given that the parliament long ago passed a motion demanding that drone strikes cease but the attacks continued, it is unlikely that the parliament would pass a motion to open the border. The government is already seen as too pro-American by much of the populace. There are elections coming up.

A week or so ago the commander of CENTCOM James Mattis predicted a reopening soon. The border has been closed since last November after the U.S. killed a number of Pakistani soldiers in a border attack. Prime Minister Gilani said it would last several weeks. Another month and it will have lasted half a year!

The Pakistani government is already facing very strong anti-American sentiments among much of the population. The parliament is not about to stoke the anti-American fires or face defeat at the polls. Meanwhile Russia that has roused the ire of the U.S. for supporting Syria seems set to offer a base to the U.S. from which it can supply Afghanistan and also transport troops. See this article. Russia is anxious that the U.S. continue the Afghan war. Shouldn't that be a reason for the U.S. to think about getting out!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Accused soldier in Kandahar killings flown out of Afghanistan

The U.S. sergeant accused in the deaths of 16 Afghans has been flown out of the country. The destination of the flight was not disclosed.

The announcement was made late at night and there has been no comment yet from Afghan officials. Afghan legislators have been demanding that the soldier be tried in Afghan courts. However, in Afghanistan U.S. soldiers are subject to U.S. military law. The U.S. would never allow him to be tried by Afghans.

The announcement comes as U.S. defence secretary Leon Panetta arrived in Afghanistan to meet with commanders and local officials. A Pentagon spokesperson said that the sergeant was flown out"based on a legal recommendation...We do not have appropriate detention facilities in Afghanistan,".. "in this kind of case". Translated I think this means that the U.S. is very worried that attempts might be made by Afghans to get at the sergeant causing more conflict with Afghans if he were to stay in Afghanistan. However the result of this move may be to anger the populace even further.

A U.S. official would only say the accused had been taken to a "pretrial confinement facility" in another country but would not identify the country. The Afghan government however was notified of the move. No word as to whether the Afghans objected.

While one military official said the transfer did not mean the trial would take place outside of Afghanistan another official said legal proceedings would continue in his place of detention. For more see this Al Jazeera article.

UPDATE: The soldier was flown to Kuwait

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...