Monday, December 29, 2008

Hamas Israel and History

Amid the carnage unleashed upon Gaza for making the mistake of democratically electcing a government that neither Israel or the U.S. wanted are a few uncomfortable facts. Among these are the genesis of Hamas as a group initially supported by Israel to upset the PLO movement.
Justin Raimondo gives a comprehensive history:

"Begin and his successor, Yitzhak Shamir, launched an effort to undercut the PLO, creating the so-called Village Leagues, composed of local councils of handpicked Palestinians who were willing to collaborate with Israel – and, in return, were put on the Israeli payroll. Sheik Yassin and his followers soon became a force within the Village Leagues. This tactical alliance between Yassin and the Israelis was based on a shared antipathy to the militantly secular and leftist PLO: the Israelis allowed Yassin's group to publish a newspaper and set up an extensive network of charitable organizations, which collected funds not only from the Israelis but also from Arab states opposed to Arafat.

Ami Isseroff, writing on MideastWeb, shows how the Israelis deliberately promoted the Islamists of the future Hamas by helping them turn the Islamic University of Gaza into a base from which the group recruited activists – and the suicide bombers of tomorrow. As the only higher-education facility in the Gaza strip, and the only such institution open to Palestinians since Anwar Sadat closed Egyptian colleges to them, IUG contained within its grounds the seeds of the future Palestinian state. When a conflict arose over religious issues, however, the Israeli authorities sided with the Islamists against the secularists of the Fatah-PLO mainstream. As Isseroff relates, the Islamists

"Encouraged Israeli authorities to dismiss their opponents in the committee in February of 1981, resulting in subsequent Islamisation of IUG policy and staff (including the obligation on women to wear the hijab and thobe and separate entrances for men and women), and enforced by violence and ostracization of dissenters. Tacit complicity from both university and Israeli authorities allowed Mujama to keep a weapons cache to use against secularists. By the mid 1980s, it was the largest university in occupied territories with 4,500 students, and student elections were won handily by Mujama."

Again, the motive was to offset Arafat's influence and divide the Palestinians. In the short term, this may have worked to some extent; in the longer term, however, it backfired badly – as demonstrated by the results of the recent Palestinian election.

The Hamas infrastructure of mosques, clinics, kindergartens, and other educational institutions flourished not only because they were lavishly funded, but also due to being efficiently run. Sheik Yassin and the future leaders of Hamas acquired a reputation for "clean" governance and good administrative practices, which would greatly aid them – especially in comparison to the PLO, which was widely perceived as corrupt. Indeed, "clean government" – and not the necessity of armed struggle – was the main theme of their successful election campaign."

Americans of course don't distinguish much between Sunnis (Hamas) and Shiites (Hezbollah), and thus we see Americans and Israelis trying to make the case that the problem is provoked by Iran which makes no sense at all. Israel of course is more than happy to take advantage of this and we suffer and the world suffers.As an American taxpayer I am tired of funding this travesty and as we face American financial meltdown hopefully we understand why now is the time to get with reality.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Georgia-Russia The Truth Emerges

At last some sembalance of the truth begins to emerge regarding the Georgian-Russian dispute. Mark Ames gives a coherent account of media deception especially coming out of the NY Times.His account is well worth reading and taking into consideration as the U.S. supposedly transitions to better relations with the rest of the world:

"From the moment Georgia launched its invasion against the breakaway region of South Ossetia this past August, sparking a wider war with neighboring Russia, the New York Times's news coverage depicted Georgia as an innocent victim of Russia's neo-imperialist evil. In doing so, the Times engaged in the sort of media malpractice that it promised its readers wouldn't happen again after its disastrous coverage of the lead-up to the Iraq War."

Please read on.

Lithuania Leaves Iraq

The coalition of the "willing" gets smaller every day. Quite frankly I wasn't even aware of the Lithuanian contribution to George Bush's tilting at middle-eastern windmills.God knows we will miss all 53 of them.Perhaps there's work in Georgia. As per the UPI :

"The remaining 53 members of the Lithuanian armed forces serving in Iraq concluded their mission there in a ceremony in Baghdad, the U.S. military said.

Lithuania had deployed around 100 military personnel to aid in the international effort in Iraq. Lithuanian officials in 2005 cut that deployment in half in the wake of the Dec. 15 general elections in Iraq.

Lithuanian forces provided training to Iraqi troops in combat triage, driver's training and how to identify improvised explosive devices, the U.S. military in Iraq said in a statement.

"To Iraq's benefit and through the Republic of Lithuania's efforts, you have helped to ensure a higher quality of life for all the people of Iraq," said U.S. commander Brig. Gen. Michael Ferriter.

The departure follows similar actions by scores of other coalition forces concluding their missions in Iraq as the U.N. mandate for international force expires at the end of December."

Friday, December 12, 2008

Russia to Support NATO Supply Lines in Afghanistan

This week saw further deterioration of the situation in Afghanistan via Pakistan with the destruction of hundreds of transport vehicles outside of Peshawar. While American and NATO officials attempt to downplay the signifigance of the attacks it remains that 70% of supplies for NATO come through Pakistan.
The only viable option for NATO and the U.S. is the Northern one through Russia and its CIS associates. As noted in the TimesOnline:

"Nato plans to open a new supply route to Afghanistan through Russia and Central Asia in the next eight weeks following a spate of attacks on its main lifeline through Pakistan this year, Nato and Russian sources have told The Times.

Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, the former Soviet Central Asian states that lie between Russia and Afghanistan, have agreed in principle to the railway route and are working out the small print with Nato, the sources said.

“It'll be weeks rather than months,” said one Nato official. “Two months max.”

The “Northern Corridor” is expected to be discussed at an informal meeting next week between Dmitri Rogozin, Russia's ambassador to Nato, and Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, Nato's Secretary-General.
The breakthrough reflects Nato and US commanders' growing concern about the attacks on their main supply line, which runs from the Pakistani port of Karachi via the Khyber Pass to Kabul and brings in 70 per cent of their supplies. The rest is either driven from Karachi via the border town of Chaman to southern Afghanistan - the Taleban's heartland - or flown in at enormous expense in transport planes that are in short supply.

“We're all increasingly concerned,” Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters on Wednesday. “But in that concern, we've worked pretty hard to develop options.”

The opening of the Northern Corridor also mirrors a gradual thaw in relations between Moscow and Nato, which plunged to their lowest level since the end of the Cold War after Russia's brief war with Georgia in August.

However, Nato and the United States are simultaneously in talks on opening a third supply route through the secretive Central Asian state of Turkmenistan to prevent Russia from gaining a stranglehold on supplies to Afghanistan, the sources said. Non-lethal supplies, including fuel, would be shipped across the Black Sea to Georgia, driven to neighbouring Azerbaijan, shipped across the Caspian Sea to Turkmenistan and then driven to the Afghan border.

The week-long journey along this “central route” would be longer and more expensive than those through Pakistan or Russia and would leave supplies vulnerable to political volatility in the Caucasus and Turkmenistan.

The US and Nato are, though, exploring as many alternatives as possible as America prepares to deploy 20,000 more troops - three quarters of them by the summer - to add to the 67,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan. Turkmenistan represents the only realistic alternative that bypasses Russia. A route through Iran is out of the question because Washington does not have diplomatic relations with Tehran. Afghanistan's border with China is too remote to be used.

An agreement with Georgia has already been signed and negotiations with Azerbaijan are “ongoing”, a Nato official said.

Nato began exploring alternative supply routes in response to political instability in Pakistan last year and reached an informal agreement with Russia on the Northern Corridor at a Nato summit in Bucharest in April. At the same meeting President Berdymukhammedov of Turkmenistan offered to allow Nato to take supplies across its territory and to establish logistics bases there, according to Nato sources.

Negotiations stalled after the Georgian crisis, as Nato suspended high-level contacts with Moscow and Central Asian countries grew wary of angering the former Soviet master.

They have since shown their independence by refusing to back Moscow's recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states.

Russia, meanwhile, has been offering preferential treatment to Nato members that it considers “friendly”, such as France and Germany, the only Nato members allowed to fly supplies to Afghanistan through Russian airspace. In November Germany also became the first Nato member allowed to bring supplies for Afghanistan through Russia by railway.

Russian officials say that Moscow is ready to open the Northern Corridor to all Nato members as soon as the alliance finalises its agreements with Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. The agreements cover non-military supplies such as fuel, food and clothing, and some non-lethal military equipment.

“All Nato countries will be able to use the Northern Corridor,” one Russian official familiar with the negotiations told The Times. “As far as we understand, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan have agreed to it and sent the relevant papers to Brussels. We're just waiting for Nato to sign the agreements. We've done our part.”


A spate of attacks by Pakistani militants on supply convoys to Nato and US forces has caused backlogs and border closures (Jeremy Page writes). More than 1,000 trucks are stalled on the Afghan border and haulage costs are up by almost 70 per cent.Pakistani authorities have closed the border at Torkham, near the Khyber Pass, after militants set fire to at least 260 vehicles, including American Humvees, last weekend and attacked two cargo terminals in Peshawar on Thursday."

In the long run I think its safe to say that Georgia, the Baltic states, and others who benefited from American strategic myopia had best forget their delusions and adjust to the new reality.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Russian Collapse....Again

Global collapse continues to make itself felt in places thought to be impervious. The Russian economy is one such place:

"On 9 December, Russia’s State Statistics Service revealed the GDP growth figures for the third quarter. And – lo and behold – they are “surprisingly bad”, “much worse than expected”, “below market expectations”, etc. (Read the reports in The Moscow Times, Bloomberg and Reuters).

You might think that by now economists would no longer be surprised by the stream of dire economic news. For anyone who has been closely following what has been happening in Russia’s economy over recent weeks, it’s increasingly obvious that it has essentially stepped off a cliff. As Danske Bank economist Lars T. Rasmussen writes in a research note: “The question is whether there will be any economic growth at all in Russia next year.”

“But surely 6.2% growth in the third quarter isn’t so bad?” I hear you say. Think again. That figure is the year-on-year change, not the quarterly change. In other words, it includes the rapid growth that took place in the first half of this year and the fourth quarter of 2007, when Russia’s GDP was still growing by 8%. The month-on-month trends show that output is already contracting. Russia’s GDP fell by 0.4% in October, according to government officials.

Now, the signs are that production in Russia is not simply stagnating: It is in fact plummeting like a stone. Industrial output, generally an early indicator of GDP trends, has been falling for months – by a cumulative 5% between July and October. And the output decline appears to have accelerated dramatically in November and December. According to the latest government figures, cited in the Moscow Times article, manufacturing production will have plummeted by an additional 10% by the end of the year."

This puts the Kremlin in a precarious and perhaps more agreeable position than it has been regarding international relations but of course this remains to be seen. Energy concerns of course contintue to drop:

"With Russia’s reserves the third biggest after China’s and Japan’s, fiscal stimulus is a “feasible option” for authorities to counter the slowdown, though with revenue from oil eroded, a spending boost “faces constraints,” wrote Vogel. Russia’s reserves may be tied up in supporting banks through the lending drought, he said.

“Lower oil-price risk scenarios imply greater-than-expected defaults in the private sector, failures among smaller banks, continuing high interest rates and banking system problems,” Vogel wrote. Commodities-based companies will cut back capital investment by 20 percent to 30 percent, he added.

Urals crude, Russia’s main export blend, was at $39.81 today, plunging almost 60 percent in the past three months. Oil prices of $70-a-barrel average are required to balance Russia’s budget.

Safety Cushion

Russia’s reserves, including oil funds that exclusively act as a safety cushion for the budget, stood at $454.9 billion in the week ended Nov. 28. The government has pledged more than $200 billion of tax cuts, loans and other measures to support economic growth.

Russia has also drained about a quarter of its foreign-cash reserves to prop up the ruble since July, which it is now allowing to gradually depreciate. Vogel expects another 15 percent decline in the ruble’s value by the middle of next year against the central bank’s basket of dollars and euros.

The currency was at 27.9128 per dollar by 4:38 p.m. in Moscow, from 27.9279 yesterday. Against the euro, the ruble traded at 36.1476, from 36.1014. The ruble was little changed at 31.6153 versus the basket.

Barcalys lowered its forecast for Russian growth next year from a 4.6 percent prediction in June. "

Monday, December 08, 2008

Ford Fails In Russia

In case you wondered how the extra-continental experiences of the Big Three were going here's an answer:

"Hopes dimmed Monday that Russia and other emerging markets could help tide over the automotive industry in the U.S. and European markets as Ford Motor followed Volkswagen and Renault in suspending production at Russian assembly lines.

Although Ford's fortunes were less than glittering elsewhere, the company has over the past decade anticipated a huge surge in demand for cars in Russia. As sales fell in the United States, Russia had remained an engine of growth for imports and the domestically assembled sedans. Ford chose Moscow as the site for its largest dealership in Europe.

In fact, the Ford Focus was the best-selling brand in Russia in recent years, easily outpacing its Japanese and European competition and proving that Ford could make profits by efficiently building a compact family car.

Demand exploded so quickly that the company at one point had a six-month backlog of orders for the Focus, which is built at a plant near St. Petersburg.

The company, citing poor sales, said Monday that it would idle that plant from Dec. 24 until Jan. 21 for an extended New Year's holiday. Focus sales in October were down 30 percent from a year earlier, the news agency Interfax reported."

"When it opened in 2002, the Ford plant became the first fully owned foreign automobile assembly line in Russia. Factories for Nissan, Toyota and parts makers followed. The district around St. Petersburg now has so many such plants that it has come to be known as Russia's Detroit.

The Russian car boom seems over now. Volkswagen and Renault have also idled Russian plants for an extended winter holiday."

Umm... let me see.... unemployed Americans,... unemployed Russians, tons of nukes, WTF is next?

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Vlad, Boris, and Sarah

A bunch of retards are gloatng over Saxby Chambliss's victory in Georgia as a sign of the potential of Sarah Palin. I believe News Hounds has it right as do Vlad and Boris (thanks to the Mississippifarian).

The Hiatus

A little explanation is in order, the past month has been a whirlwind in every way. The U.S. election was of course the culmination of local effort by Mrs.WINston Smith and to a lesser degree myself. Two days later, as according to plan, we fled to southern Chile and spent an unforgetable 10 days or so amongst the lakes, volcanoes, and wine bottles. Now it's back home and the truly challenging reality of contemporary America.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Endorsments Wanted and Not

So what's new about this?

"Desperate to downplay the seeming Al Qaeda endorsement, Team McCain quickly convened a conference call to insist that Al Qaeda's statements of support for McCain constitute reverse psychology intended to damage his prospects. McCain ally and former CIA Director Jim Woolsey claimed Al Qaeda's man was "not speaking from his heart."

Of course, when the topic was Hamas and Barack Obama, not so much.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Svetlana Bakhmina

С Днём Рождения, Светлана Бахмина! from dmitryhorse on Vimeo.

Svetlana Bakhmina is a lawyer who's main crime is defending an out of favor oligarch, Mikhail Khodorovski as well as being held on trumped up embezzlement charges.The interesting thing here is the existence of a "normal" Russian Society. Mikhail Gorbachev, who is the Russian equivalent of Jimmy Carter, is also behind this:

"Gorbachev Seeks Yukos Lawyer's Release
17 October 2008Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on Thursday called on President Dmitry Medvedev to pardon jailed Yukos lawyer Svetlana Bakhmina, who was denied early release last month despite having served half her sentence and being seven months pregnant.

In an interview published Thursday on the web site, Gorbachev said Bakhmina should be pardoned because she has already served most of her sentence and because she is pregnant and has two young children to care for.

"Why keep her behind bars?" Gorbachev told the web site. "I think Russian President Dmitry Anatolyevich Medvedev in this case can make use of his right to pardon. I would welcome that."

An online petition asking Medvedev to pardon Bakhmina on the web site had gathered more than 33,000 signatures as of Thursday evening.

Seven members of the Public Chamber on Wednesday signed a letter addressed to Medvedev calling for Bakhmina's release.

"We ask you to carry out an act of mercy and pardon Svetlana Bakhmina," they said in the letter, which was published on the chamber's web site.

"She has already served half her sentence (four years), and that means she has the right to be paroled."

The letter was signed by television journalist Nikolai Svanidze, lawyer Genri Reznik and pediatrician Leonid Roshal, among others. The Public Chamber has 126 members.

Bakhmina's supporters held a protest Monday and gathered signatures for the petition to Medvedev near Chistiye Prudy metro station in central Moscow.

Bakhmina is serving a 6 1/2-year sentence in Mordovia for embezzlement and tax evasion.

She was refused parole in September on the grounds that she had not reformed and had violated prison rules four times early in her sentence."

My point is that Russia is not your Commie Empire anymore. More like France or England pursuing it's own interests.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

"I Feel Strongly About This Particular Point Because Of A Picture I Saw In A Magazine"

Not a big fan of Colin Powell, nonetheless, who can't be moved.

Collision of Religion for McCain

This video suggests that the McCain-Palin supporters are a conflicted, quite frankly fucked -up bunch.They deserve our pity if anything, though I admit the collision of fundamentalist faiths with so much in common as they try to grapple with their mutual exclusivity is very interesting.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Cuba Has Oil? Invasion Imminent

This article points out the uncertainty of petroleum estimates however the implications are quite obvious, if you got hydrocarbons U.S. Marines may be visiting soon.The meat of the news:

"From BBC News- Cuba's oil estimates have doubled following the inclusion of offshore fields ripe for drilling. Cubapetroleo's exploration manager Rafael Tenreyro Perez said that drilling would start in the middle of 2009.

Cubapetroleo's estimates are derived from the data extracted from geographically similar oil reserves found off the coasts of the US and Mexico.

According to the company, Cuba's undersea geology is "very similar" to the vast Mexican Cantarell and Poza Rica oil fields.

Recent estimates by the US Geological Survey indicate that only 9 billion barrels of oil lie within Cuba's portion of the Gulf of Mexico.

Tenreyro, however, believes his company has a better knowledge of Cuba's offshore geology.

At a news conference in the capital Havana, he said: "I'm almost certain that if [USGS officials] ask for all the data we have, their estimate is going to grow considerably."

If the estimates prove true, Cuban oil reserves will rival that of the US (with 21 billion barrels) and will be double that of Mexico's 11.7 billion barrels.

Cuba currently produces 60,000 barrels of oil a day."

As if the U.S. needs another simplistic excuse to deal with it's energy crisis.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Alaska, Gazprom, and Palin

As reported here last June, Gazprom has been showing interest in developing Alaskan energy projects. Further proof continues to emerge with the report of Gazprom executives reported to be in talks with Alaskan officials as well as other multinationals with interests in the area. The International Herald Tribune reports that even while Sarah Palin continues her ill-informed ramblings about Russia and Putin talks are going on:

"MOSCOW: Gazprom, the biggest Russian energy company, offered to help Alaska increase natural gas supplies to the U.S. mainland, even after Governor Sarah Palin warned against Russian resurgence while campaigning for vice president.

The Russian state-run natural gas company sent eight senior executives to Anchorage for talks Monday with officials from the state Department of Natural Resources and with the ConocoPhillips chief executive, Jim Mulva, state and company officials said.

Gazprom, which supplies a quarter of the natural gas used by Europe, is seeking to increase its reach with projects around the world, including in North America. The courtship of Alaska comes less than a month after Palin criticized Prime Minister Vladimir Putin for "rearing his head" regarding the Russian maritime border with her state.

"The timing is as interesting as the visit itself," said Chris Weafer, chief strategist at UralSib Financial in Moscow. "Gazprom's entire senior management goes into Sarah Palin's backyard during a contentious election. There's a message there."

The Gazprom chief executive, Aleksei Miller, was accompanied by his deputies Valery Golubev, who served alongside Putin in the KGB, and Alexander Medvedev, who oversees Russian exports of natural gas. Gazprom said its executives had held a working breakfast with Walter Hickel, a former governor of Alaska and a supporter of Palin....Miller said in June that Gazprom had approached ConocoPhillips and BP on joining their Denali pipeline project, designed to deliver Alaskan natural gas to the Continental United States. At the same time, Gazprom expressed interest in a rival pipeline project backed by TransCanada.

Gazprom did not specifically discuss pipeline projects during the meeting with Alaskan officials, said Marty Rutherford, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Natural Resources.

"They were talking very generically," she said. "They would love to partner with us and other firms."

Talks with Conoco, which is based in Houston, focused on "broad-based business opportunities," a company spokesman, Charlie Rowton, said."

The fact that this may actually be serious is supported by the involvement of Eni, an Italian energy firm with close connections to Gazprom as evidenced by developments reported in the Petroleum News and other places:

"Eni and Gazprom have agreed to sign a new binding document by the end of October 2008 relating to the development of the Artic Gas assets that Eni acquired in 2007.

In particular the agreement will relate to the development plan as well as the offtake and transportation of the gas from Artic Gas.

The agreement to be signed will enable Gazprom to enter the Libian upstream. Eni and Gazprom also reviewed the progress made on South Stream."

"Eni Petroleum recently secured its first drilling permits for the Nikaitchuq offshore unit in the Beaufort Sea. The Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission issued permits for a development well and service well, both located at Oliktok Point.

The Italian major sanctioned the $1.45 billion project this past January, laying out a plan for drilling around 80 wells from a combination of onshore and offshore pads. The company also plans to build independent processing facilities to support the unit."

You do have to wonder if Govenor Palin even has a clue about any of these goings ons even as she's touted as an energy expert.Suspect the truth may lie a little closer to these observations made at MSNBC:

"The Alaska governor, whom McCain cited as probably knowing more about energy than anyone in this country, "seemed to have problems Thursday explaining whether the government bans oil exports -- especially from her state's North Slope fields…. No Alaska oil has been exported since 2004, and little if any since 2000, according to the Energy Information Administration and the Congressional Research Service. And Congress has never imposed outright bans on oil exports. Congress prohibited exports of Alaska oil in 1973 when the Alaska oil pipeline was built. But that ban was lifted in 1996 when there were large volumes of Alaska oil coming down from the North Slope and U.S. demand was soft. The Alaska ban has never been reinstated."

The Washington Post delves into Palin's calendar as governor for the last two years, and it finds that this last 12 months, she was a lot busier boosting her own PR than in the first 12 months. "During her first months in office, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin kept a relatively light schedule on her workdays in Juneau, making ceremonial appearances at sports events and funerals, meeting with state lawmakers, and conducting interviews with Alaska magazines, radio stations and newspapers.”

“But this spring, Palin's official calendar chronicles an extraordinary rise to national prominence. A fresh face in Republican politics, she was discovered by the national news media at least in part because of a determined effort by a state agency to position her as an oil and gas expert who could tout Alaska's determined effort to construct a natural gas pipeline. An outside public relations expert hired under a $31,000 contract with the state Department of Natural Resources pitched the ‘upstart governor’ as a crusader against Big Oil, a story line that Palin has adopted in her campaign as Sen. John McCain's running mate. The contract was the only time the Palin administration hired an outside consultant to set up media interviews, a function performed in many states by government employees."

Out of touch and out of the loop and in a worst case scenario our next President?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Icelandic-Russian Bailout

You may not have noticed but Iceland, a NATO member, had it's economic system collapse last week. Iceland has a population of approximately 350,000 and a per capita income of $35,000 (U.S. 41,000). It is now looking at a 5.4 billion dollar rescue from Russia.The implications are interesting to say the least. Jim Kunstler in Clusterfuck Nation sums it up nicely:

"Iceland is the poster-child du jour for this. The little island nation of about 320,000 souls (roughly half of Vermont's population) lately grew a banking sector that thrived on something-for-nothing finance. In little more than a month, its banks have imploded like mini death stars, leaving Iceland with a pariah currency. Since it has to import just about everything, and it suddenly finds itself unable to pay for imports, the people are stripping the grocery markets of whatever remains there now. You wonder what they will do in two weeks. Ten years from now there may be 32,000 of them left, subsisting on blubber sandwiches."

While the Russian stock market has taken even bigger hits than the U.S. the damage has been relatively contained as opposed to the melt down of the Russian economy under Yeltsin in 1998. The other aspects of new found Russian wealth are explored inthe "Moscow Times":

"The government is sitting on a giant pile of cash that it plans to invest in foreign assets. It began to flex its economic muscle this week, when the prime minister of Iceland announced that Russia may lend it 4 billion euros ($5.4 billion) to shore up its teetering financial system. Who would have thought that, given the chaotic Russia of the 1990s, a mere 10 years later it would be in the position to bail out a developed country and NATO member? Even more surprising is the fact that this helping hand for Iceland comes at a time when the domestic stock market is in a free fall and trading on the Moscow stock exchange is routinely halted.

The Kremlin thinks that now is the time to buy assets cheaply, using the current financial crisis to emerge as a powerful global economic player. As Prime Minister Vladimir Putin remarked at a recent meeting with the CEO of state-owned bank VTB, "Perhaps we should buy something [abroad]? Something that is up for grabs?" According to Arkady Dvorkovich, an economic aide to President Dmitry Medvedev, the government will support -- both diplomatically and financially -- the expansion of Russian companies abroad.

Following the Russian-Georgian war, the West is scared that the Kremlin will use its cash not just for economic purposes, but as an aggressive foreign policy tool as well. Should the West really consider blocking Russian investments abroad as a way to influence Russia?

Trying to erect an Iron Curtain around Russian funds and businesses will prove counterproductive. Indeed, a large-scale "invasion" of Russian business would be a positive development, because it would foster economic interdependence. This is true even if the economic expansion is led by state-owned companies and by Russian wealth funds. By investing in U.S. and European assets, Russia's government and business elites are buying a stake in the global economy. This should bring better mutual understanding and a more rational and accountable foreign policy.

Paradoxically, despite recent hits to the country's stock market, Russia remains awash in cash. The government just rolled out a $130 billion bailout plan for the country's ailing banking system. As a percentage of gross domestic product, this would be equivalent to about $1.3 trillion in the United States -- almost double the plan designed by U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. Yet, even this package has not significantly eaten into Russia's wealth funds and the world's third-largest currency reserves.

The government's Reserve Fund, created to cushion the economy from a fall in oil prices, stands at $140 billion, and the National Welfare Fund, intended to invest in high-return vehicles, holds another $30 billion. Although the National Welfare Fund is not officially a "sovereign wealth fund," it is already among the 10 largest such funds, rivaling the Brunei Investment Agency.

The Reserve Fund and the National Welfare Fund combined rival Singapore's Temasek Holdings, currently sixth in the world, and lag just behind the China Investment Corporation. By design, this money is intended to be invested outside Russia. As today's financial crisis has made many Western assets cheap, they are now within reach of the country's government and leading companies.

Russian private and state-owned companies have already invested abroad extensively, often buying stakes in large foreign companies. Overall, the top 25 Russian companies hold $59 billion in foreign assets and are the third-largest investors in emerging economies, following Hong Kong and Brazil. Even though the financial crisis has wiped out the Russian stock market, some of the best-run companies have endured a softer blow than their Western counterparts and will therefore be shopping in the global market next year.

Russian corporations' foreign investments have already generated a heated debate in both the United States and Europe -- even when investment was made by a private company. The largest controversy surrounded a merger that Russian steel giant Severstal sought with Luxemburg-based Arcelor. Severstal was rejected in favor of Mittal Steel, with some commentators claiming that the decision was made on political grounds. But no investment by a private Russian company has, so far, been vetoed by Western governments."

If Russians were to buy the GM plant in Janesville WI I suspect the inhabitants would be glad to have an economic bailout of their locality. Unfortunately for them this will probably not happen.The question for many Americans is to look around at what is grown and eaten in your neighborhood and buy that up. It is what you will have in the long run.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Debatable Debates

While I am an Obama supporter by default I must admit that last night's so-called debate was enough to make me turn off the sound at one point and watch video on the laptop from the Real News.Between Brokaw's incessant interruptions about the time limits and McCain's pre-senile ramblings there really wasn't much happenning. After last week's much anticipated VP debate I guess I wasn't surprised at the lack of content.I will say that Sarah Palin's robotic performance was enough to produce psychic vomit dripping from the ceiling. My favorite commentary comes from Michelle Goldberg of the Guardian:

" Palin, however, has single-handedly so lowered the standards both for female candidates and American political discourse that, with her newfound ability to speak in more-or-less full sentences, she is now deemed to have performed acceptably last night.

By any normal standard, including the ones applied to male presidential candidates of either party, she did not. Early on, she made the astonishing announcement that she had no intentions of actually answering the queries put to her. "I may not answer the questions that either the moderator or you want to hear, but I'm going to talk straight to the American people and let them know my track record also," she said.

And so she preceded, with an almost surreal disregard for the subjects she was supposed to be discussing, to unleash fusillades of scripted attack lines, platitudes, lies, gibberish and grating references to her own pseudo-folksy authenticity.

It was an appalling display. The only reason it was not widely described as such is that too many American pundits don't even try to judge the truth, wisdom or reasonableness of the political rhetoric they are paid to pronounce upon. Instead, they imagine themselves as interpreters of a mythical mass of "average Americans" who they both venerate and despise.

In pronouncing upon a debate, they don't try and determine whether a candidate's responses correspond to existing reality, or whether he or she is capable of talking about subjects such as the deregulation of the financial markets or the devolution of the war in Afghanistan. The criteria are far more vaporous. In this case, it was whether Palin could avoid utterly humiliating herself for 90 minutes, and whether urbane commentators would believe that she had connected to a public that they see as ignorant and sentimental. For the Alaska governor, mission accomplished.

There is indeed something mesmerising about Palin, with her manic beaming and fulsome confidence in her own charm. The force of her personality managed to slightly obscure the insulting emptiness of her answers last night. It's worth reading the transcript of the encounter, where it becomes clearer how bizarre much of what she said was. Here, for example, is how she responded to Biden's comments about how the middle class has been short-changed during the Bush administration, and how McCain will continue Bush's policies:

Say it ain't so, Joe, there you go again pointing backwards again. You preferenced [sic] your whole comment with the Bush administration. Now doggone it, let's look ahead and tell Americans what we have to plan to do for them in the future. You mentioned education, and I'm glad you did. I know education you are passionate about with your wife being a teacher for 30 years, and god bless her. Her reward is in heaven, right? ... My brother, who I think is the best schoolteacher in the year, and here's a shout-out to all those third graders at Gladys Wood Elementary School, you get extra credit for watching the debate.

Evidently, Palin's pre-debate handlers judged her incapable of speaking on a fairly wide range of subjects, and so instructed to her to simply disregard questions that did not invite memorised talking points or cutesy filibustering. They probably told her to play up her spunky average-ness, which she did to the point of shtick - and dishonesty. Asked what her achilles heel is - a question she either didn't understand or chose to ignore - she started in on how McCain chose her because of her "connection to the heartland of America. Being a mom, one very concerned about a son in the war, about a special needs child, about kids heading off to college, how are we going to pay those tuition bills?"

None of Palin's children, it should be noted, is heading off to college. Her son is on the way to Iraq, and her pregnant 17-year-old daughter is engaged to be married to a high-school dropout and self-described "fuckin' redneck". Palin is a woman who can't even tell the truth about the most quotidian and public details of her own life, never mind about matters of major public import. In her only vice-presidential debate, she was shallow, mendacious and phoney. What kind of maverick, after all, keeps harping on what a maverick she is? That her performance was considered anything but a farce doesn't show how high Palin has risen, but how low we all have sunk."

Why is American political discourse so dissconnected from the realities of empire collapse and meglomanic militarism? Part of the problem resides in the duopoly of the two-party system which has been a bi-partisan effort to bring us to the abyss we are currently peering into.No one questions the 600 billion plus military budget that supports the empire of bases that has characterized the national security state that most Americans call protecting the "freeworld".
An intergral part is Commission on Presidential Debates which since 1985 has constricted political discourse in the U.S. As reported by Fairness and Accuracy In Media:

"The origins of the Commission on Presidential Debates can be traced to 1985 discussions between the national chairs of the Democratic and Republican parties, Paul Kirk and Frank Fahrenkopf, which led to an agreement to cooperate in the production of "nationally televised joint appearances conducted between the presidential and vice-presidential nominees of the two major political parties…. It is our conclusion that future joint appearances should be principally and jointly sponsored and conducted by the Republican and Democratic Committees." (Joint Memorandum of Agreement on Presidential Candidate Joint Appearances, 11/26/85)

For an example of a real debate I would cite this recent exchange in the upcoming Canadian elections where there were actually five parties represented:

"Stephen Harper admitted Thursday that the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was a mistake - one that Canadian troops would have been plunged into had he been prime minister in 2003.

The grudging admission came during the second televised leaders debate as the five leaders discussed the Canadian mission in Afghanistan.

Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe needled Harper about the embarrassing revelation that whole sections of a speech about the Iraq war, delivered by Harper as opposition leader in 2003, were lifted almost word for word from a speech delivered two days earlier by Australia's prime minister at the time, John Howard.

A Conservative speechwriter resigned Tuesday after taking the blame for plagiarizing Howard's speech.

Duceppe said the Afghan mission has proved longer and more dangerous than anticipated because U.S. President George W. Bush diverted American troops to Iraq.

"If the situation is so tough in Afghanistan, certainly a large part of that is because of the error made by George Bush by going in Iraq," he said to Harper.

"Do you realize today that you were making a huge error by supporting Bush and Australia ... and would you make the same decision today as you were proposing Canada to do in 2003?"

The prime minister initially tried to dodge the question.

"I've made it very clear Canada is not going to Iraq. Obviously you know the answer to that question," he said.

But Duceppe continued to badger him as Harper tried to steer the discussion back to Afghanistan: "This is not the question I asked. . . I want to hear it. Do you admit it was an error of George Bush and you made the same error?"

Harper finally answered: "It was absolutely an error. It's obviously clear the evaluation of weapons of mass destruction proved not to be correct. That's absolutely true and that's why we're not sending anybody to Iraq."

Green Leader Elizabeth May shot back: "We're only not sending anyone to Iraq because you weren't prime minister at the time."

Harper's admission was in stark contrast to the speech he gave in the House of Commons - much of it cribbed from Howard - on the first full day of the Iraq invasion in March 2003.

"Alliances are a two-way process," he said at the time.

"We should not leave it to the United States to do all the heavy lifting just because it is the world's only superpower."

Harper urged Canada to join Bush's "coalition of the willing" in Iraq, relying heavily on American assertions that Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein had stockpiled weapons of mass destruction.

"As the possession of weapons of mass destruction spreads, the danger of such weapons coming into the hands of terrorist groups will multiply, particularly given in this case the shameless association of Iraq with rogue non-state organizations," he argued.

"That is the ultimate nightmare which the world must take decisive and effective steps to prevent. Possession of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons by terrorists would constitute a direct, undeniable and lethal threat to the world, including to Canada and its people."

Harper was not so verbose on Thursday.

He had little to say beyond his admission that he and Bush were mistaken. Asked about it after the debate, Harper immediately changed the subject."

One can only imagine what a presidential debate including Ralph Nader and Cynthia McKinney might add to the real debate which is curiously missing in this campaign. I would encourage interested readers to Open Debates which addresses the Debate debate.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Continuing Crunch

A big question in my mind and probably others is how big is the investment of our "leaders" and others?
It's hard to find figures on this but there are some articles that provide some ideas:

"Henry Paulson, who was recently nominated to be the next treasury secretary, is facing a lot of tough choices. Should the former CEO of Goldman Sachs continue to promote environmental causes in an administration that loathes them? What should he say about the dollar? Should he buy a condo in Washington, or a mansion? Then there's the trickiest question of all: What should he do with the mountain of money he's earned at Goldman Sachs over the years?

Not since Nelson Rockefeller served as vice president during the Ford administration has a senior government official arrived in Washington with such a high net worth. Paulson owns some 4.58 million shares in Goldman Sachs (including restricted stock) worth about $700 million at today's price and surely has millions more in other instruments.

Conflict-of-interest laws say senior government officials can't hold on to investments that could benefit from decisions they might make. Meeting this requirement is comparatively easy for an upper-middle-class secretary of agriculture. Sell your stock in Archer Daniels Midland and direct your financial adviser to avoid it and similar stocks. But for a plutocrat who is about to become secretary of treasury, it's a much more difficult call. He can't choose the default mode that worked so well for former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, who put his cash into government bonds. Treasury secretaries are forbidden from buying government debt—after all, they issue that debt. (The T-bill strategy worked out remarkably well for Greenspan, who saw his net worth rise every time he slashed rates.) And putting the money in the simplest form of investment—a dollar-denominated savings account—would be both a poor investment for Paulson and a potential conflict of interest. After all, treasury secretaries frequently discuss currency exchange rates."

Trying to find info on Bernake has proven even more opaque. According to this he has modest holdings (not):

"With his income-earning potential, this is a man who can afford to take on a little more risk.

This assessment is based on news stories written when the Federal Reserve last week released the chairman's financial disclosure form that outlines in broad terms his personal finances. The annual disclosure is mandated by law with the Federal Reserve board members reporting their assets and income within broad ranges rather than by exact figures.

News reports on release of the disclosure form highlighted Bernanke's holdings in Canadian treasury bonds. What caught my eye, however, is the fact that the bulk of his portfolio is tied up in just two funds: a large cap stock fund and a fixed-rate annuity.

The CREF Stock Large Cap Blend fund and TIAA Traditional Bernanke holds are valued each at somewhere between $500,001 and $1 million, the Associated Press reported.

Bernanke, Fed chairman since February 2006, reported total assets ranging between $1.2 million and $2.5 million. That means the CREF stock fund and the TIAA annuity together could account for up to about 80 percent of his overall portfolio, depending upon where the exact asset figures fall within the broad ranges given."

This puts the concerns of an average American somewhere in the unmeasurable range of human suffering!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Growing Planetary "Meth" Problem

It may turn out that Nature's activities will over shadow the recent implosion on Wall Street. According to the Independent massive releases of methane are now being observed for the first time off the coast of northern Siberia:

"The first evidence that millions of tons of a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide is being released into the atmosphere from beneath the Arctic seabed has been discovered by scientists.

The Independent has been passed details of preliminary findings suggesting that massive deposits of sub-sea methane are bubbling to the surface as the Arctic region becomes warmer and its ice retreats....

Orjan Gustafsson of Stockholm University in Sweden, one of the leaders of the expedition, described the scale of the methane emissions in an email exchange sent from the Russian research ship Jacob Smirnitskyi.

"We had a hectic finishing of the sampling programme yesterday and this past night," said Dr Gustafsson. "An extensive area of intense methane release was found. At earlier sites we had found elevated levels of dissolved methane. Yesterday, for the first time, we documented a field where the release was so intense that the methane did not have time to dissolve into the seawater but was rising as methane bubbles to the sea surface. These 'methane chimneys' were documented on echo sounder and with seismic [instruments]."

At some locations, methane concentrations reached 100 times background levels. These anomalies have been seen in the East Siberian Sea and the Laptev Sea, covering several tens of thousands of square kilometres, amounting to millions of tons of methane, said Dr Gustafsson. "This may be of the same magnitude as presently estimated from the global ocean," he said. "Nobody knows how many more such areas exist on the extensive East Siberian continental shelves.

"The conventional thought has been that the permafrost 'lid' on the sub-sea sediments on the Siberian shelf should cap and hold the massive reservoirs of shallow methane deposits in place. The growing evidence for release of methane in this inaccessible region may suggest that the permafrost lid is starting to get perforated and thus leak methane... The permafrost now has small holes. We have found elevated levels of methane above the water surface and even more in the water just below. It is obvious that the source is the seabed."

The preliminary findings of the International Siberian Shelf Study 2008, being prepared for publication by the American Geophysical Union, are being overseen by Igor Semiletov of the Far-Eastern branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Since 1994, he has led about 10 expeditions in the Laptev Sea but during the 1990s he did not detect any elevated levels of methane. However, since 2003 he reported a rising number of methane "hotspots", which have now been confirmed using more sensitive instruments on board the Jacob Smirnitskyi."

That was two days ago, now British scientists report the existence of more methane plumes in the arctic:

"British scientists have discovered hundreds more methane "plumes" bubbling up from the Arctic seabed, in an area to the west of the Norwegian island of Svalbard. It is the second time in a week that scientists have reported methane emissions from the Arctic."

The implications of this are potentially severe:

"Underground stores of methane are important because scientists believe their sudden release has in the past been responsible for rapid increases in global temperatures, dramatic changes to the climate, and even the mass extinction of species."

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Voter Suppression Underway In Wisconsin

In one of the most egregious exercises in voter suppression I've ever seen, J.B. Van Hollen, Republican State Attorney General of Wisconsin, is attempting a last minute blatant purging of voter records in the state which could affect as many as 1 million voters in Wisconsin.As noted :

"Van Hollen's suit would require election officials to conform to a recent federal law and cross check all new voter registrations or voter change of address since 2006. Opponents said that would create havoc during the election."

In a prepostorous statement on Thursday he denied consulting with Republican party officials or the McCain campaign:

"Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said this afternoon he never discussed his lawsuit against the state's election authority with the state Republican Party or the presidential campaign of U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona before he filed the suit.

"There was no discussion with anybody involved in leadership with the Republican Party (or the McCain campaign) about this lawsuit before it was brought," he said.

The comments from Van Hollen came just hours after Van Hollen aide Kevin St. John left open the possibility that had happened.

Van Hollen said he did not believe any of his aides discussed the matter with the party or campaign either.

"I can't say for certain what they have or haven't done with every minute of their day any more than they could speak about mine, but I have no reason to believe - none of them have reported to me - that anybody involved in the Republican Party or the McCain campaign about this lawsuit," he said."

Oh, by the way, Van Hollen is the co-chair of the McCain campaign in Wisconsin. Sensing that the credulity of even the most brain-dead observer was being streched thin a new statement was issued:

"The lead Department of Justice attorney for Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen’s lawsuit against the state’s election authority met with Republican Party representatives about a week before filing the suit.Justice attorney Steven Means said Friday he met with Republican attorneys Chris Mohrman and Jim Troupis at their request to discuss the Government Accountability Board’s policy on checking voter information. Other Republicans participated in the meeting via conference call, but Means said he could not recall who they were.

Van Hollen sued the board last week to force it to check more voters to make sure their voter registration information matches driver’s license records. The suit could affect 241,000 to 1 million voters.

Van Hollen, a Wisconsin co-chairman of the presidential campaign of John McCain, has said the lawsuit was not motivated by partisan ties. On Thursday, he said he knew of no contacts between his agency and the Republican Party about the issue.

Since then, the department has said at least two attorneys had contact with the party before the suit was filed."

At this point citizens of some countries would be re-enacting the villagers' march on Baron von Frankenstein's castle, the Democrats, however could only muster the following somewhat less than outraged comment:

"State Democratic Party Chairman Joe Wineke said the visit by Means to GOP lawyers showed that Republicans are “using the chief law enforcement officer of the state to do Republican shenanigans.”

Shenanigans hardly describes mass disenfranchisment of the electorate. Is it too late to call in observers from the EU or perhaps the Central Election Commission of the Russian Federation?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Big Melt 2008 Edition

The above photos are illustrations of a huge ice shelf that recently disintegrated from Ellsmere Island in the Canadian arctic last month.According to a report by the BBC the above piece is approximately 20 square miles and according to a climatologist at Trent University "these changes are irreversible under the present climate." More startling views can be found here.
Meanwhile the Arctic Sea Ice News and Analysis site reports that August of 2008 has seen the second lowest extent of sea ice on record following last year's all-time (so far) record.
Most disconcerting is to observe the antics of the Republicans' nominee for V.P. as she tries to maintain her credibility with her Low Information base while at the same time not wanting to appear as totally Reality-Challenged to the muddled masses of the American political center.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Three Fests in One Week

Living in Wisconsin has some advantages besides cheese and beer and last week was a great illustration. Labor Day was marked by Labor Fest which was topped off by a visit by Barak Obama to a crowd of 20,000 enthusiastic people. His speech was short on specifics which was partially due to Hurricane Gustav, the National Disaster that wasn't, and the vacuous nature of American politics courtesy of our neutered media.

Fighting Bob Fest met for the 7th time Saturday September 6th, and was attended by a record crowd of 10,000 people who were inspired by the likes of Robert McChesney, Phil Donahue, Bill McKibben, Jim Hightower, Matt Rothschild, and Scott Ritter. Scott Ritter in particular was a compelling speaker, an embodiment of real patriotism in an era of phony bullshit, ala Bush, Cheney, and Palin. His call for all of us to become "people of interest" to the government harkens back to the words of Benjamin Franklin:

"Those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither."

Lastly today we visited "Indian Summer Festival" a reminder of the true origins of America accompanied by a visitor from Yakutsk Siberia who might be closer to our roots than most of the Europeans there.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Arctic Sea Ice Update

The Arctic sea ice meltdown seems to be approaching historical proportions as per Arctic Sea Ice News and Analysis:

"Sea ice extent has fallen below the 2005 minimum, previously the second-lowest extent recorded since the dawn of the satellite era. Will 2008 also break the standing record low, set in 2007? We will know in the next several weeks, when the melt season comes to a close. The bottom line, however, is that the strong negative trend in summertime ice extent characterizing the past decade continues."

BTW the Northwest Passage is or will be open momentarily.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Wisconsin Visitors to the Twin Cities

With the upcoming Republican convention heading for the Twin Cities visitors from nearby states are making plans. The visitors from Wisconsin promise to be a diverse lot including Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice. Interestingly in case of too much Peace and Justice Milwaukee's finest have stepped to do their part to "protect the convention". Protect from what is not exactly clear. From the Journal Sentinal:

"Milwaukee aldermen voted 13-0 Tuesday to send 36 police officers to help protect the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., next month.Police Chief Edward Flynn also revealed for the first time that he and Deputy Inspector Denita Ball will travel to St. Paul to observe the Milwaukee unit’s performance for one or two days of the four-day convention. Flynn said he believed the federal government would pay all expenses for him and Ball, even though they won’t be there for crowd control.

St. Paul police appealed to other Midwestern law enforcement agencies — including the Wisconsin State Patrol and the Madison Police Department, which aren’t sending officers — for help in dealing with the crowds of spectators and protesters expected to descend on the convention Sept. 1-4. Both President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney plan to speak at the convention.

Because the U.S. Secret Service is in charge of convention security, the federal government is reimbursing all police costs.

Flynn told the Common Council he wanted to send a platoon from his Major Incident Response Team partly in the spirit of mutual aid, and partly to give his officers valuable training to prepare for presidential candidate visits in an election year.

The chief promised aldermen that police would maintain full staffing throughout the city while their colleagues are away. All of the officers involved will use time off to attend the convention, and the federal government will pay them at overtime rates, Flynn said.

Ald. Jim Witkowiak said his constituents were worried that police response time in Milwaukee would deteriorate during the convention. But Witkowiak said he was reluctantly supporting the deployment for training purposes, based on commitments from Flynn and his command staff to maintain normal service levels.

Council President Willie Hines Jr. said aldermen may have responded differently if the request came earlier in the summer, when major incidents have been more common. But with crime down, the assurances that the trip wouldn’t affect police service and wouldn’t cost local taxpayers anything were the keys to approving Flynn’s request, Hines said.

Mayor Tom Barrett’s spokeswoman has said Barrett supports the deployment for the same reasons.

In response to questions from aldermen, Flynn said his officers would be on the front lines alongside St. Paul police, but they wouldn’t have arrest powers. That means they could handcuff suspects, but officially a St. Paul officer would make the arrest and the Milwaukee officer would be considered a witness, the chief said.

Wisconsin State Patrol Superintendent Dave Collins refused to send any of his state troopers after state lawyers ruled they couldn’t have arrest powers.

St. Paul police spokesman Tom Walsh said the State Patrol and Madison police agreed to send officers but then backed out. Collins said he never agreed to anything. Madison Police Capt. Tom Snyder told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that he had voiced interest months ago in sending officers, but the formal request from St. Paul came too late to work out schedule conflicts with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Badgers football home opener and an Ironman triathlon.

In addition to officers from other cities, St. Paul police will receive logistical support from the Minnesota National Guard, Walsh said.

The council interrupted its August recess to approve Flynn’s request and to grant late applications from downtown bars seeking permission for outdoor liquor sales during the 105th anniversary festivities for Harley-Davidson Inc. Hines took pains to note the recess was not a monthlong vacation."

No arrest powers but at least a chance beat the shit out of those who take too literally the Bill of Rights.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Georgian Potpouri

The Georgian Russian Osettian Abkhazian American Israeli stand-off has cooled a bit and I've had a chance to review various reactions including the video above which reflects Russian concerns with the mental health of Mr. Saakashvili that aren't frequently noted in the American media. Some of the most insightful comments have, ironically, come from the U.S.Among my favorites include Jim Kuntsler from "Clusterfuck Nation", who sets the scene very well:

" For one thing, the latterly explorations of this very old oil region -- first opened to drilling in the 19th century -- proved somewhat disappointing. US officials had been touting it as like unto "another Saudi Arabia" but the oil actually produced from the new drilling areas of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and the other Stans turned out to be preponderantly heavy-and-sour crudes, in smaller quantities than previously dreamed-of, and harder to transport across the extremely challenging terrain to even get to the pipeline head in Baku.
Meanwhile, Russia got its house in order under the non-senile, non-alcoholic Vladimir Putin, and woke up along about 2007 to find itself the leading oil and natural gas producer in the world. Among the various consequences of this was Russia's reemergence as a new kind of world power -- an energy resource power, with the energy destiny of Europe pretty much in its hands. Also, meanwhile, the USA had set up other client states in the ring of former Soviet republics along Russia's southern underbelly, complete with US military bases, while fighting active engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, if this wasn't the dumbest, vainest move in modern geopolitical history!
It's one thing that US foreign policy wonks imagined that Russia would remain in a coma forever, but the idea that we could encircle Russia strategically with defensible bases in landlocked mountainous countries halfway around the world...? You have to ask what were they smoking over at the Pentagon and the CIA and the NSC?
So, this asinine policy has now come to grief. Not only does Russia stand to gain control over the Baku-to-Ceyhan pipeline, but we now have every indication that they will bring the states on its southern flank back into an active sphere of influence, and there is really not a damn thing that the US can pretend to do about it."

Another alternative source would be Dmitri Orlov who has impeccable credentials:

"It turns out that I am somewhat qualified to write on the subject: when I was in grad school (linguistics) I studied Abkhaz, the curious language spoken by the indigenous population of the separatist republic of Abkhazia. (Abkhazia is involved in the current conflict, working to flush Georgian forces out of the Kodor gorge, which is the one piece of their territory that remains under nominal Georgian control, as well as providing volunteers to help the South Ossetian side.) Later, finding that the Abkhaz side was woefully underrepresented, I started a web site, ("Apsny" being the Abkhaz word for Abkhazia), where, with help from Prof. Hewitt of the School of Oriental and African Languages in London, Prof. Chirikba, an Abkhaz linguist, and many others, I tried to present facts uncurried by extreme nationalist sentiments. At that time, the internet was dominated by the Georgian side, which was eager to accuse the Abkhaz of atrocities while discounting their own role in the bloody and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to regain control of the breakaway republic, in which some ten thousand people had died and many more had been displaced. For my diligent service, which spanned more than a decade, I received voluminous hate mail and many death threats from the Georgian side, as well as official expressions of gratitude from the Abkhaz side. Be that as it may, I find both the Georgians and the Abkhaz quite amazing, I am sure that the world would be much poorer without them, and I wish they would leave each other in peace, so that I can go and visit either place as I wish."

I especially appreciated the following:

"To the conquering Russians, Georgia represented the rich, creamy heart of the incredibly tough nut of the Caucasus region. In contrast to the many small and taciturn mountain tribes, many of them either Moslem or animist, here was an Orthodox Christian nation with great traditions of art, music, architecture, poetry, an unparalleled joie de vivre, and a delicious national cuisine. Georgians easily secured for themselves a pleasant role within the empire. Leaving administrative chores to the Russians and commerce and the trades to the Armenians, they were free to indulge in more pleasant pursuits, such as feasting, falconry, and entertaining foreign visitors. This trend had carried over into Soviet times, making Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic a favored tourist destination, a prosperous place complete with amusing wines, delicious food, an exuberantly friendly population that spoke your language, and majestic mountains for a backdrop. In the interest of maintaining public order, the Russians tried to be even-handed in their treatment of the non-Georgian tribes. Knowing full well just how much trouble they can be, they administered their territories as autonomous units within Georgia. One of the more glaring exceptions to this was the arbitrary administrative inclusion of Abkhazia within Georgia, which was done by Joseph Stalin (Dzhugashvili), who was a Georgian, and which in many ways laid the ground for the current conflict.

Their being so well coddled within the fold of the great empire cultivated in the Georgians a sense of exceptionalism and entitlement vis à vis their smaller and poorer neighbors, which, once the Soviet Union collapsed and the Russians departed, gave rise to a particularly rabid, venomous, and ultimately self-destructive brand of nationalism. The first post-independence Georgian leader, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, was killed rather quickly. Part of his nationalist rhetoric involved labeling other tribes, such as the Abkhaz and the Ossetians, as newcomers and gypsies, who are only welcome as "guests" on Georgian soil. Next up was Eduard Shevardnadze, who was Foreign Minister of the USSR under Gorbachev, and who was more or less handed Georgia as his personal fiefdom by the West, as his reward for idly standing by and smiling pleasantly while the Berlin wall was being torn down. He was given UN recognition and foreign aid, and told to go ahead and try to preserve "Georgia's territorial integrity." At this he failed miserably, causing a senseless bloodbath and a flood of refugees. Shevardnadze slowly sank into a morass of corruption and national decay, until finally even the West decided that he smelled bad and unceremoniously replaced him with a shiny new face: the American-educated Mikhail Saakashvili. And this brings us to the current conflict, which he started. It is unclear why he decided to start it, but then his American education might offer a clue: the US doesn't seem to need good reasons to start wars either.

It may be difficult for some people to grasp why it is that the Abkhaz or the Ossetians do not much fancy suddenly becoming Georgian, so let me offer you a precise analogy. Suppose Los Angeles, California, were to collapse as the USSR once did, and East L.A. quickly moved to declare its independence. Suppose, further, that the 88% of its population that is Hispanic/Latino voted that the other 12% were free to stay on as "guests," provided they only spoke Spanish. The teaching of English were to be forbidden. After some bloody skirmishes, East L.A. split up into ethnic enclaves. Then some foreign government (say, Russian, or Chinese) stepped in and started shipping in weapons and providing training to the Latino faction, in support of their efforts to restore East L.A.'s "territorial integrity." As a non-Hispanic resident of East L.A., would you then (1) run and hide, (2) stay and fight, or (3) pick up a copy of "Spanish for Dummies" and start cramming?

The Abkhaz and the South Ossetians have made their preference very clear by applying for and being issued with a Russian passport. That's right, the majority of the present native population of these two "separatist enclaves" are bona fide citizens of the Russian Federation with all the privileges appertaining thereto. Lacking any other options, they are happy to accept protection from Russia, use Russian as their lingua franca, and fight for their right to be rid of Georgians once and for all. One of the privileges of being a Russian citizen at this stage, when Russia has recovered from its political and economic woes following the Soviet collapse, is that if some foreign entity comes and shells a settlement full of Russian citizens, you can be sure that Russia will open one amazingly huge can of whoop-ass on whoever it feels is responsible. Add to that the atrocities allegedly perpetrated by the Georgian forces, such as finishing off wounded Russian peacekeepers, and you can see why the normally shy and reticent Russian army might get behind the idea of making sure Georgia no longer poses a military threat to anyone. The Georgians have really done it to themselves this time, and we should all feel very sorry for them. They are not evil people, just incredibly misguided by their horrible national politicians. The West, and the US in particular, bear responsibility for enabling this bloodbath by providing them with arms, training, and encouraging them to fight for their "territorial integrity."

Don't expect these subtlies to see the light of day in the U.S. anytime soon.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Georgia Israel Connection

With each day it becomes more obvious who is involved with the Georgian-Russian fiasco and the finger points more and more to the Neo-Con Right and their Israeli Partners in Insanity, the same folks who lead us into Iraq and would love to see the same irrationality in Iran. As the Israeli source says:

"Israel is following with great concern the developments in South Ossetia and Abkhazia and hopes the violence will end," its foreign ministry said, adding with uncharacteristic doveishness, "Israel recognizes the territorial integrity of Georgia and calls for a peaceful solution."

There is a reason for this that is quite obvious as explained in Electronic Intifada:

"While Israel was keen to downplay its role, Georgia perhaps hoped that flattery might draw Israel further in. Georgian minister Temur Yakobashvili -- whom the Israeli daily Haaretz stressed was Jewish -- told Israeli army radio that "Israel should be proud of its military which trained Georgian soldiers." Yakobashvili claimed rather implausibly, according to Haaretz, that "a small group of Georgian soldiers were able to wipe out an entire Russian military division, thanks to the Israeli training" ("Georgian minister tells Israel Radio: Thanks to Israeli training, we're fending off Russian military," Haaretz, 11 August 2008).

Since 2000, Israel has sold hundreds of millions of dollars in arms and combat training to Georgia. Weapons included guns, ammunition, shells, tactical missile systems, antiaircraft systems, automatic turrets for armored vehicles, electronic equipment and remotely piloted aircraft. These sales were authorized by the Israeli defense ministry (Arie Egozi, "War in Georgia: The Israeli connection," Ynet, 10 August 2008).

Training also involved officers from Israel's Shin Bet secret service -- which has for decades carried out extrajudicial executions and torture of Palestinians in the occupied territories -- the Israeli police, and the country's major arms companies Elbit and Rafael.

The Tel Aviv-Tbilisi military axis appears to have been cemented at the highest levels, and according to YNet, "The fact that Georgia's defense minister, Davit Kezerashvili, is a former Israeli who is fluent in Hebrew contributed to this cooperation." Others involved in the brisk arms trade included former Israeli minister and Tel Aviv mayor Roni Milo as well as several senior Israeli military officers.

The key liaison was Reserve Brigadier General Gal Hirsch who commanded Israeli forces on the border with Lebanon during the July 2006 Second Lebanon War. (Yossi Melman, "Georgia Violence - A frozen alliance," Haaretz, 10 August 2008). He resigned from the army after the Winograd commission severely criticized Israel's conduct of its war against Lebanon and an internal Israeli army investigation blamed Hirsch for the seizure of two soldiers by Hizballah.

According to one of the Israeli combat trainers, an officer in an "elite" Israel army unit, Hirsch and colleagues would sometimes personally supervise the training of Georgian forces which included "house-to-house fighting." The training was carried out through several "private" companies with close links to the Israeli military.

As the violence raged in Georgia, the trainer was desperately trying to contact his former Georgian students on the battlefront via mobile phone: the Israelis wanted to know whether the Georgians had "internalized Israeli military technique and if the special reconnaissance forces have chalked up any successes" (Jonathan Lis and Moti Katz, "IDF vets who trained Georgia troops say war with Russia is no surprise," Haaretz, 11 August 2008).

Yet on the ground, the Israeli-trained Georgian forces, perhaps unsurprisingly overwhelmed by the Russians, have done little to redeem the image of Israel's military following its defeat by Hizballah in July-August 2006.

The question remains as to why Israel was involved in the first place. There are several reasons. The first is simply economic opportunism: for years, especially since the 11 September 2001 attacks, arms exports and "security expertise" have been one of Israel's growth industries. But the close Israeli involvement in a region Russia considers to be of vital interest suggests that Israel might have been acting as part of the broader US scheme to encircle Russia and contain its reemerging power.

Since the end of the Cold War, the US has been steadily encroaching on Russia's borders and expanding NATO in a manner the Kremlin considers highly provocative. Shortly after coming into office, the Bush Administration tore up the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty and, like the Clinton administration, adopted former Soviet satellite states as its own, using them to base an anti-missile system Russia views as a threat. In addition to their "global war on terror," hawks in Washington have recently been talking up a new Cold War with Russia.

Georgia was an eager volunteer in this effort and has learned quickly the correct rhetoric: one Georgian minister claimed that "every bomb that falls on our heads is an attack on democracy, on the European Union and on America." Georgia has been trying to join NATO, and sent 2,000 soldiers to help the US occupy Iraq. It may have hoped that once war started this loyalty would be rewarded with the kind of round-the-clock airlift of weapons that Israel receives from the US during its wars. Instead so far the US only helped airlift the Georgian troops from Iraq back to the beleaguered home front.

By helping Georgia, Israel may have been doing its part to duplicate its own experience in assisting the eastward expansion of the "Euro-Atlantic" empire. While supporting Georgia was certainly risky for Israel, given the possible Russian reaction, it has a compelling reason to intervene in a region that is heavily contested by global powers. Israel must constantly reinvent itself as an "asset" to American power if it is to maintain the US support that ensures its survival as a settler-colonial enclave in the Middle East. It is a familiar role; in the 1970s and 1980s, at the behest of Washington, Israel helped South Africa's apartheid regime fight Soviet-supported insurgencies in South African-occupied Namibia and Angola, and it trained right-wing US-allied death squads fighting left-wing governments and movements in Central America. After 2001, Israel marketed itself as an expert on combating "Islamic terrorism."

Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez recently denounced Colombia - long one of the largest recipients of US military aid after Israel -- as the "Israel of Latin America." Georgia's government, to the detriment of its people, may have tried to play the role of the "Israel of the Caucasus" -- a loyal servant of US ambitions in that region -- and lost the gamble. Playing with empires is dangerous for a small country.

As for Israel itself, with the Bush Doctrine having failed to give birth to the "new Middle East" that the US needs to maintain its power in the region against growing resistance, an ever more desperate and rogue Israel must look for opportunities to prove its worth elsewhere. That is a dangerous and scary thing."

I suppose this may potentially involve the U.S. in the Iranian-Israeli conflict.God help us Inshallah.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Deadly Chickens Return to Roost in The Caucases

With the outbreak of war in the Caucasuses Americans are experiencing a new onslaught of mis-information that will assure that no one has any sort of historically informed sense of what really is going on. A good example was the address to the American people by Mikhail Saakashvili of Georgia that I happened to catch on CNN yesterday morning. There Saakashvili portrayed a small democratic nation being attacked with little regard for civilians, hospitals, small babies, and everything else that Americans hold dear, by Russians. And thus the Cold War is defrosted, warmed up, and served anew.
The American people may be forgiven for their usual state of historical amnesia but claims from the likes of Condeleeza Rice and George Bush of American impartiality and desire for peace should be viewed with suspicion to say the least.

F. William Engdahl provides an insightful look into the situation in an article written two weeks ago:

"The Caucasus Republic of Georgia as nations go does not appear to be a major global player. Yet Washington has invested huge sums and organized to put its own despot, Mikhail Saakashvili, in the Presidency in order to close a nuclear NATO iron ring around Russia. Now US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is in Tbilisi making sharp statements against Moscow for supporting the independent neighbor states of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, in essence blaming Moscow for an imminent war Washington has incited in order to bring Georgia into NATO by the December NATO Summit.

The Western media has either ignored the growing tensions in the strategic Caucasus region or has intimated, as suggested by Condoleeza Rice, that the entire conflict is being caused by Moscow’s silly support of "breakaway" republics Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In reality, a quite different chess game is being played in the region, one which has the potential to detonate a major escalation of tensions between Moscow and NATO.

Since the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact in 1991, one after another, former members as well as former states of the USSR have been coaxed and in many cases bribed with false promises by Washington into joining the counter organization, NATO.

Rather than initiate discussions after the 1991 dissolution of the Warsaw Pact about a systematic dissolution of NATO, Washington has systematically converted NATO into what can only be called the military vehicle of an American global imperial rule, linked by a network of military bases from Kosovo to Poland to Turkey to Iraq and Afghanistan. In 1999, former Warsaw Pact members Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic joined NATO. Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, and Slovakia followed suit in March 2004. Now Washington is putting immense pressure on the EU members of NATO, especially Germany and France, that they vote in December to admit Georgia and Ukraine."

He further goes on to suggest that the U.S. has actively encouraged the Georgians in their nationalistic delusions and also connects the dots to Western policy in Kosovo:

"The Bush Administration is adding gasoline to the fire in the Caucasus. In Tbilisi on July 10 the US Secretary of State, Rice, told the press, "Russia needs to be a part of resolving the problem and solving the problem and not contributing to it. I have said it to the Russians publicly. I have said it privately."

The effect of her comments, blaming Moscow for the escalating tensions, is to signal US support for the Georgia side in their efforts to force Russian troops form South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

This past May Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh said he was willing to conclude a military treaty with Moscow similar to that between USA and Taiwan. "Abkhazia will propose to Russia the signing of a military treaty that would guarantee security to our republic," Bagapsh stated. "We are also prepared to host Russian military bases on our territory within the framework of this treaty. I would like to emphasize that this would not go against the precedents already existing in international practice. For instance, this treaty could be analogous to the treaty between the US and Taiwan."

Just as Moscow refuses to recognize the sovereignty of Kosovo, so Washington refuses to admit the sovereignty of Abkhazia. In May a senior US State Department delegation was in Abkhazia meeting with local Non Governmental Organizations there as well as the President. In the past, from Serbia to Georgia to Ukraine, Washington intelligence agencies have used various NGOs, the US Congress-financed National Endowment for Democracy, the CIA-linked Freedom House and Gene Sharp’s misleadingly-named Albert Einstein Institution to steer a wave of regime changes which became known as "Color Revolutions." In each case the new regime was pro-Washington and anti-Moscow as in the case of Saakashvili in Georgia and Viktor Yushchenko in Ukraine. Both countries begin seeking NATO entry after the success of the US-financed Color Revolutions.

In all this Washington is definitely playing with potential nuclear fire by escalating pressure to push Georgia and Ukraine into NATO. The Foreign Minister of the Czech Republic, Karl Schwarzenberg on July 8 signed an agreement allowing US deployment of special radar facilities on Czech soil as part of the top secret US "missile defense" it alleges is aimed at rogue missile threats from Iran. As even former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger recently pointed out, the Bush Administration’s categorical refusal to pursue the 2007 counter-offer of then-President Vladimir Putin to station US radar at the Russian leased reconnaissance facility in Azerbaijan instead, was a provocative mistake. It makes abundantly clear that Washington is aiming its military strategy at the dismantling of Russia as a potential adversary. That, as I have written previously, is a recipe for a possible nuclear war by mis-calculation. Rice’s latest Caucasus and Czech visit only added to that growing danger. "

Mark Almond at the Guardian describes some additional background to Saakashvili's calculations and likens him to General Galtieri of Argentina and the ill-fated Malvinas war:

"Unlike in eastern Europe, for instance, today in breakaway states such as South Ossetia or Abkhazia, Russian troops are popular. Vladimir Putin's picture is more widely displayed than that of the South Ossetian president, the former Soviet wrestling champion Eduard Kokoity. The Russians are seen as protectors against a repeat of ethnic cleansing by Georgians.

In 1992, the west backed Eduard Shevardnadze's attempts to reassert Georgia's control over these regions. The then Georgian president's war was a disaster for his nation. It left 300,000 or more refugees "cleansed" by the rebel regions, but for Ossetians and Abkhazians the brutal plundering of the Georgian troops is the most indelible memory.

Georgians have nursed their humiliation ever since. Although Mikheil Saakashvili has done little for the refugees since he came to power early in 2004 - apart from move them out of their hostels in central Tbilisi to make way for property development - he has spent 70% of the Georgian budget on his military. At the start of the week he decided to flex his muscles.

Devoted to achieving Nato entry for Georgia, Saakashvili has sent troops to Iraq and Afghanistan - and so clearly felt he had American backing. The streets of the Georgian capital are plastered with posters of George W Bush alongside his Georgian protege. George W Bush avenue leads to Tbilisi airport. But he has ignored Kissinger's dictum: "Great powers don't commit suicide for their allies." Perhaps his neoconservative allies in Washington have forgotten it, too. Let's hope not.

Like Galtieri in 1982, Saakashvili faces a domestic economic crisis and public disillusionment. In the years since the so-called Rose revolution, the cronyism and poverty that characterised the Shevardnadze era have not gone away. Allegations of corruption and favouritism towards his mother's clan, together with claims of election fraud, led to mass demonstrations against Saakashvili last November. His ruthless security forces - trained, equipped and subsidised by the west - thrashed the protesters. Lashing out at the Georgians' common enemy in South Ossetia would certainly rally them around the president, at least in the short term."

He too illuminates American and European duplicity and the possible consequences:

"Western geopolitical commentators stick to cold war simplicities about Russia bullying plucky little Georgia. However, anyone familiar with the Caucasus knows that the state bleating about its victim status at the hands of a bigger neighbour can be just as nasty to its smaller subjects. Small nationalisms are rarely sweet-natured.

Worse still, western backing for "equip and train" programmes in Russia's backyard don't contribute to peace and stability if bombastic local leaders such as Saakashvili see them as a guarantee of support even in a crisis provoked by his own actions. He seems to have thought that the valuable oil pipeline passing through his territory, together with the Nato advisers intermingled with his troops, would prevent Russia reacting militarily to an incursion into South Ossetia. That calculation has proved disastrously wrong.

The question now is whether the conflict can be contained, or whether the west will be drawn in, raising the stakes to desperate levels. To date the west has operated radically different approaches to secession in the Balkans, where pro-western microstates get embassies, and the Caucasus, where the Caucasian boundaries drawn up by Stalin, are deemed sacrosanct.

In the Balkans, the west promoted the disintegration of multiethnic Yugoslavia, climaxing with their recognition of Kosovo's independence in February. If a mafia-dominated microstate like Montenegro can get western recognition, why shouldn't flawed, pro-Russian, unrecognised states aspire to independence, too?

Given its extraordinary ethnic complexity, Georgia is a post-Soviet Union in miniature. If westerners readily conceded non-Russian republics' right to secede from the USSR in 1991, what is the logic of insisting that non-Georgians must remain inside a microempire which happens to be pro-western?

Other people's nationalisms are like other people's love affairs, or, indeed, like dog fights. These are things wise people don't get involved in. A war in the Caucasus is never a straightforward moral crusade - but then, how many wars are?"