Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Politkovskaya Lives On In Print

The writing of murdered Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya continues to resonate even after her death in the fall of 2006. Her most recent work in English ,"A Russian Diary: A Journalist"s Final Account of Life, Corruption, and Death in Putin's Russia" has recently been published and gives an enlightening if not searing account of political life in contemporary Russia.The failure of the political opposition, media concentration, and collapse of independent journalism are disturbing in their implications for Russian society as well as other societies including our own. This release coincides with release in Russia of her book,"Za Shto" or "Why" which is now being promoted by Mikhail Gorbachev, who is part owner of Novaya Gazetta, her former paper.
Posthumously she has recieved several awards including the International Publishers' Association Freedom Prize and has an award pending from the American National Press Club in July. Vladimir Putin on the other hand was recently awarded the less coveted "Closed Oyster" award for "hampering the development of free media", the first non-German to do so.
Americans by and large don't tend to kill journalists unless of course they happen to be Serbians or work for Al-Jazeera.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Most Far-Out Mission


I love this, the most far out project NASA has embarked upon ever to Pluto, the Kuiper Belt, and beyond. Anything that's to last to the 2020's represents forward thinking.

The Boris Yeltsin Photo Series

It would be hard to find a collection of photos that encapsulate the trajectory of Yeltsin's life better than this.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Do Two Wrongs Make a Right?

Pavel Podvig sheds new insight on the recent Russian initiative for missile defense on the Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces website:

"This potentially opens a possibility to turn two wrongs - the U.S. missile defense and the Russian unreasonably loud opposition to it - into something of a right - a concrete joint U.S.-Russian program that would allow the two countries to establish close contacts between their militaries, which eventually is the only way to dispel all kind of suspicions and misunderstandings.

I was hoping for just this kind of an outcome of the current missile defense debate when I wrote about this issue about two months ago and I'm glad to see that Russia and the United States are getting closer to it. We are not there yet, though - although the Missile Defense Agency was thinking about a radar in the Caucasus, I don't think it would be ready to abandon it's Eastern European plans. But it's a reasonably good start."


Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Mystery of Andrei Kozlov

The murder of Andrei Kozlov last September has had a number of unusual aspects including his position as the number two guy at the Central Bank of Russia, his attempts to clear up corrupt practices in Russian banking, his untimely death, and subsequent prosecution and closure of the case in atypical fashion by the Russian authorities. It appears that this scenario things seem to be unraveling. The International Hearld Tribune reports the following:

"Now, however, the authorities in Austria have cast doubt on the quality of the Russian sleuthing in Kozlov's murder, which they linked to a multimillion-dollar money laundering scheme that made use of a bank in Vienna."

Futhermore:

"The New Times, an independent magazine in Moscow that first reported the story, suggested that Kozlov was killed as he tried to halt a money laundering operation run for corrupt officials in the Russian government.

In August, Kozlov had informed an Austrian bank of suspicious transfers from a bank in Russia, according to Hersztera.

As the authorities in both countries were quietly rolling up the suspected money laundering channel, Kozlov on Sept. 1 revoked the license of Diskont Bank, an obscure "pocket bank" that operates discreetly and without visible customers.

The Austrian police have not identified the bank. However, Raiffeisen Zentralbank, one of Central Europe's largest, conceded in a statement that it had received the wire transfers from Diskont Bank. The New Times, citing anonymous Russian Interior Ministry officers, said that $60 million was transferred in the final days of August last year.

After the murder of Kozlov, the Austrian state attorney forwarded evidence - including the information Kozlov had provided about money laundering - to the Russian prosecutor general.

The Austrian state attorney did not receive a response from the Russian authorities, either on the initial money laundering investigation begun by Kozlov or on the possible link to his murder, Hersztera said."


The Exile gets to the pithier possiblities:

"What's strangest in all this is the idea that Kozlov tried to meddle and shut down this scheme. Wasn't he aware that he was probably directly fucking with Putin's pension plan? Does it show that Kozlov was indeed a reformer? Or is that Russia's banking industry has competing clans working and plotting in secrecy against each other, and Kozlov was getting too powerful for his own good? Whatever the case, Frenkel's arrest - the hired killers, witness testimonies that were later retracted, the evidence and the media campaign that automatically assumed his guilt - was all part of grandiose warm-up to a show trial. It was a sick set-up orchestrated at the highest levels of government. As for Frenkel, judging by the media's reaction to this new information, it looks like he's going to hang."

Frenkel of course being the patsy originally arrested as per the International Herald Tribune, Feb 21, 2007:


"VREMYA NOVOSTEI

MORE SUSPECTS EMERGE IN KOZLOV CASE: Aleksei Frenkel, a former banker who stands accused of ordering the killing of Andrei Koslov, the former deputy head of the Russian Central Bank, may not have acted alone. According to information obtained by the newspaper, the Prosecutor General's Office has identified several more people linked to the case, including three accused of laundering tens of millions of dollars stolen from the Central Bank of Turkmenistan. A source from the prosecutor's office said that all suspects had been identified; all were bankers; and all were sure they could not be punished."

The Impending Intrusion of Reality


Much to my amazement "Peak Oil" is now being seriously described in the MSM notably Business Week. In this article Eugene Linden describes what he calls a "mortal threat to the U.S. economy:

" Peak oil refers to the point at which world oil production plateaus before beginning to decline as depletion of the world's remaining reserves offsets ever-increased drilling. Some experts argue that we're already there, and that we won't exceed by much the daily production high of 84.5 million barrels first reached in 2005. If so, global production will bump along near these levels for years before beginning an inexorable decline.

What would that mean? Alternatives are still a decade away from meeting incremental demand for oil. With nothing to fill the gap, global economic growth would slow, stop, and then reverse; international tensions would soar as nations seek access to diminishing supplies, enriching autocratic rulers in unstable oil states; and, unless other sources of energy could be ramped up with extreme haste, the world could plunge into a new Dark Age. Even as faltering economies burned less oil, carbon loading of the atmosphere might accelerate as countries turn to vastly dirtier coal."

Did you hear any of the presidential candidates discuss any of this during the media circus debates for either party? Did Wolff Blitzer touch on this? Cold, dark, and immobile is where we are likely to find ourselves sooner than we think.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Can You Still See Anything?

The folks at ArmsControlWonk have a fascinating piece about recent air borne laser testing which occurred earlier this week above the central U.S. If you were a pilot or passenger in this area and weren't blinded I guess you were lucky.

Where Did the Money Go?


Lost amongst the debate about defunding the war is actual amount and scope of "defense" spending in the U.S. Being involved in the health care aspect of things you sometimes get the impression that runaway health care costs are going to bankrupt the country. I found the above graphic to be particularly sobering as where the money is really going. In a country supposedly concerned about the future of energy it is interesting to see this ranks dead last in government discretionary spending.
DefenseNews.com has interesting news about the international effects of unbridled arms spending throughout the world. The political silence on the part of both "parties" is deafening and an indictment of the American political system. Robert Dreyfuss puts it very clearly as to where the U.S. stands:

"By one count, U.S. defense spending in 2008 will amount to 29 times the combined military spending of all six so-called rogue states: Cuba, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria. The United States accounts for almost half -- approximately 48% -- of the entire world's spending on what we like to call "defense." Again, according to the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation, U.S. defense spending this year amounts to exactly twice the combined military spending of the next six biggest military powers: China, Russia, the U.K., France, Japan, and Germany."

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Secret American Satellites Found by the French

Space.com reports that the French have identified 20 to 30 previously unlisted objects in low Earth orbit believed to belong to the U.S. At issue is the U.S. practice of publishing sensitive data regarding other countries intelligence gathering satellites.

"The published U.S. information excludes sensitive U.S. defense satellites, but regularly publishes data on the orbits of other nations' military hardware....

"We have discussed the Graves results with our American colleagues and highlighted the discrepancies between what we have found and what is published by the U.S. Space Surveillance Network," said one French defense official responsible for the Graves operation. "They told us, 'If we have not published it in our catalogue, then it does not exist.' So I guess we have been tracking objects that do not exist. I can tell you that some of these non-existent objects have solar arrays."

Col. Yves Blin, deputy head of the space division at the French joint defense staff, said France would wait until it had acquired, with the help of the German radar, further information about the 20 to 30 secret satellites in question before beginning serious negotiations with the United States on a common approach for publishing satellite orbit information.

"Right now we do not have enough cards in our hand to begin negotiations," Blin said here at the Graves radar transmitter site June 7. "We need more time to be sure of what we are seeing. At that point we can tell our American friends, 'We have seen some things that you might wish to keep out of the public domain. We will agree to do this if you agree to stop publishing the location of our sensitive satellites."











Thursday, June 07, 2007

Putin Outmaneuvers Bush......Surprise?

In a move that some say startled George Bush, Vladimir Putin offered to establish a joint American-Russian anti-missile base in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan is now an independent country and its proximity to Iran would appear to be an ideal location for a missile defense site.
Interestingly while Azerbaijan is an independent country it does have Russian military bases notably at Gabalin . Moskovskaya Gazetta reports that the Azerbaijanis are receptive to the idea as well, no doubt seeing the benefit of having both superpowers relying on their facilities.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Why Will Kosovo Be a Real Flashpoint

Kosovo the spiritual home of the Serbs may be the the real flashpoint of the East and West. Frankly this is a Slavic/Orthodox homeland of which Russia is the historical guardian. WWI started here and destroyed three if not four empires and killed millions.
Even pro American Slavs recognize the potential to worsen American relations in the area.

" - We warned the U.S. against a unilateral resolution of the Kosovo question," said Konstantin Remchukov, an opposition friendly editor-in-chief of the Putin-critical Nezavisimaya Gazeta. "We said that it would irreversibly lead to a broad wave of anti-Americanism in Russian society and accusations of double standards."

" - Everyone agreed that, after such an event, there would be little to keep Transdniestria, South Ossetia and Abkhazia from seceding from Moldova and Georgia," said Irina Yasina, program director of the U.S.-supported Open Russia foundation and a former guest at the George W. Bush White House."

To add to the complications is the potential Turkish role which , given the situation in Iraq, may become even more complex:

"Today, June 5, Turkish NATO forces in Kosovo assume a one-year command of NATO’s Multinational Task Force South (MNTF-S), one of NATO’s five regional commands of Kosovo Force (KFOR), responsible for establishing and maintaining security in the disaffected Serbian province. NATO peacekeepers have been deployed in Kosovo since 1999 under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244.
Turkish Brigadier General Ugur Tarc─▒n will command MNTF-S, which also includes Azerbaijani and Georgian teams. Ankara is to send an additional 300 soldiers to reinforce the contingent. In a collateral “hearts and minds” initiative, a Turkish medical unit within the battalion will also provide health services for Kosovar civilians. Turkey will hand over command of the Task Force to Austria in May 2008. At this year’s transfer ceremony Tarcin said, “We will be putting another stone to ensure and to improve security and stability. I believe that everyone knows how necessary a safe atmosphere is for the reconstruction and development of Kosovo.” It seems most unlikely that Belgrade will be pleased with the deployment, especially given the historic Turkish presence in the province.

Turkey has a longstanding presence in Kosovo, having ruled it for nearly six centuries following the battle of Kosovo in 1389, when Ottoman forces defeated the Serbian army of Prince Lazar. The current deployment suggests that NATO has concluded that Turkey, the sole Muslim member of the alliance, has a unique peacekeeping role to play in Muslim areas of NATO operations; last month Turkey also assumed command of NATO's Kabul Command, part of its Afghan International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), NATO largest ground operation in its history."

With U.S. Russian tensions, U.S. Turkish tensions who knows what will happen? Its likely to be an unpredicted outcome .

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Prescription Drug Reform Comes to China

China's former head of its food and drug agency has been sentenced to death after accepting bribes amounting to 6.5 million Yuan from eight companies. During his tenure the Sydney Morning Herald reported the following,

"During his tenure, dozens died in China from bad drugs and food products. In 2004 at least 13 babies died of malnutrition in Anhui province after being fed fake milk powder containing no nutrition.

The safety of China's food has also come under the international spotlight after wheat gluten and rice protein containing toxic scrap was exported to the United States and used in pet food, killing some cats and dogs."

Contrast this with the fate of Lester Crawford, disgraced former deputy and (briefly) head of the FDA. Here are a few concerns that arose during his time,

"His three-year tenure at FDA was marked by increasing criticism and a particularly rocky final 12 months. The painkiller Vioxx was pulled off the market for safety problems, FDA was embarrassed last fall when its British counterparts shut down a supplier of U.S. flu vaccine for tainted shots, and over the summer recalls of malfunctioning heart devices mounted."
His fate:

"In October 2007, Crawford pled guilty to charges that he hid his ownership in stock in food and drug companies that the FDA regulates. He was sentenced earlier this year to three years probation and fined $90,000.

For the past year or so, Crawford has worked at a consulting firm, Policy Directions.

And he's scheduled to appear as a keynote speaker later this year at the FDA Regulatory and Compliance Symposium at Harvard University."




Monday, June 04, 2007

New Missiles New Uniforms

If new missiles weren't enough the Russian military is looking into a fashion overhaul as well according to Pravda. Russian designer Valentin Yudashkin is apparently in the running and if these samples from his website are any indication this could be interesting.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Speaking of Putin...

I couldn't resist what appears to be a promising new strip at The Exile.

Comic Relief


It's good to see complex issues brought to the level of comics as this sample of Ted Rall via EurasiaNet does so well.

Friday, June 01, 2007

The Worst Generation

I'll have to admit that the verdict seems to be in, the Boomer Generation is the the worst. Why not, a group that could have eliminated hypocrisy and corruption elevated it to new heights or lows, personified by our current president-pretender. Why is the War on Drugs now almost indistinguishable from the War on Terror. When even Paul Begala admits he hates the Boomers you know something is up. John Lennon, a detestable Boomer in his own right, said "the dream is over, the dream is dead." And that was in 1970. Vice Magazine has a particularly unflattering portrait of generational icons.