Friday, February 29, 2008

President of the United States of Whatever

It appears to be safe to say that Dmitri Medvedev will be the next President of Russia as of March 2nd. Americans including the Democratic candidates for president are falling all over themselves with concern about the electoral process in Russia. I hope that I am not the only one embarrassed over the lack of insight demonstrated by both Clinton and Obama regarding Russia. For some reason reflexive anti-Russian politics seems to be a safe haven in the American scene. Russia Blog highlights the low points during the most recent debate:

"During Tuesday evening's debate, neither Hillary Clinton nor Barack Obama seemed especially comfortable discussing Russia's heir apparent, Dmitry Medvedev. You could tell from the impish delight with which moderator Tim Russert sprang his surprise question -- "What can you tell me about the man who's going to be Mr. Putin's successor?" -- that a revealing exchange would follow.

First, Sen. Clinton correctly noted that "he's a hand-picked successor... who is obviously being installed by Putin." Then, she weighed in on the side of Russia analysts who view Medvedev as little more than Vladimir Putin's puppet, characterizing the former as having "very little independence" (some experts say the jury's still out on this). She concluded, "I have no doubt, as president, even though technically the meetings may be with the man who is labeled as president, the decisions will be made by Putin." (Again, an open question.)

Mischievously, Russert then asked, "Who will it be? Do you know his name?" Clinton responded with a couple sorry attempts to pronounce "Medvedev," and finally gave up and said "whatever."

Russia Today's video clip of Clinton's slip-up

Russert then turned to Clinton's rival, asking, "Senator Obama, do you know anything about him?" Obama's answer, essentially, was "not really":

Well, I think Senator Clinton speaks accurately about him. He is somebody who was hand-picked by Putin. Putin has been very clear that he will continue to have the strongest hand in Russia in terms of running the government.

Obama went on to criticize President Bush's Russia policy, complaining, "[W]e did not send a signal to Mr. Putin that, in fact, we were going to be serious about issues like human rights, issues like international cooperation that were critical to us. That is something that we have to change."

If Obama thinks that beating up on the Russians over human rights is going to have a positive impact on the Russian political landscape or elicit more cooperation at this point, he's sorely mistaken. The next U.S. president is going to have to come to grips with a Russia that is saying, "Screw you, West. You messed up our country in the 90s, and we're going to do things our way now." It's a Russia that is deeply paranoid about NATO expansion and U.S. involvement in its traditional sphere of influence in Central Asia, worried about missile-defense installations in Eastern Europe, and increasingly aggrieved about not getting its perceived due in the world. And it's a Russia that is flush with petrorubles and no longer needs handouts from anyone.

The United States needs to convince this Russia to cooperate on a number of key fronts -- Iran's nuclear program, loose nukes, and counterterrorism, to name a few. I'm sorry to say it, but human rights just isn't the top U.S. priority right now. It may not make for good campaign rhetoric, but the smart play is to welcome Medvedev and encourage him to be the liberal reformer he has hinted he might become. Maybe he does turn about to be Putin's mini-me, but there's no need to make that a self-fulfilling prophecy."

American hypocrisy is even more blatant regarding what happened to Gary Kasparov and "The Other Russia". Yes they've been excluded from the ballot, however the process is not dis-similar to what happened to Dennis Kucinich, Mike Gravel, John Edwards, to say nothing of the Green Party, who never see the light of day in American presidential politics

On the other hand the debate among the three parties in Russia have produced moments such as the following captured again by Russia Blog that are quite unforgettable:

Get the Hell Out of the Studio!
Scoundrel. I’ll Rip Your Head Off!

"Take him out, and shoot the scoundrel!" Better than Saturday NIght Live, and real...

Presidential candidate Vladimir Zhirinovsky about presidential candidate Andrey Bogdanov: “He’s a scoundrel. Look at his face! The guy’s sick! A typical schizoid! Any psychiatrist will tell you, the guy is a wacko…”

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Choosing a President or Choosing a War?

While American voters earnestly go about selecting candidates for the presidency it might behoove them to more closely examine some of the more bellicose comments that seem to come from all of the top contenders. It's easy to start with John McCain, a warrior who never met a war he didn't like, and who genuinely believes that just about all of the conflicts the U.S. has been involved in during the last 50 years could have had happier endings with just a few more bombs. He appears ready to go to war with a long list of potential adversaries but his adrenaline is particularly directed towards Iran to the point even some conservatives get nervous as noted at In the National Interest:

"On Iran and its nuclear program, McCain has been so flippantly bellicose—singing "Bomb bomb bomb bomb Iran" to the Beach Boys tune—that some conservatives have warned that a President McCain would take America to war with Iran. McCain last Sunday said: "There's going to be other wars. . . . I'm sorry to tell you, there's going to be other wars. We will never surrender but there will be other wars." Presumably, McCain was suggesting his view that a war with Iran was inevitable. When asked by Joe Scarborough about McCain’s statement, Pat Buchanan replied: "That is straight talk. . . . You get John McCain in the White House, and I do believe we will be at war with Iran." Buchanan said, "That's one of the things that makes me very nervous about him," adding, "There's no doubt John McCain is going to be a war president. . . . His whole career is wrapped up in the military, national security. He’s in Putin’s face, he’s threatening the Iranians, we're going to be in Iraq a hundred years." But if McCain’s strategic vision is to strike Iran militarily, he has not explained how that might be achieved without further endangering the already failing U.S. mission next door in Iraq, which he also believes in continuing without a timetable.

And any attempt by a President McCain to address Iran’s nuclear program through diplomacy, particularly at the UN Security Council, would be undermined by McCain’s almost gratuitous aggressiveness toward Moscow. When the administration was trying to reach an understanding with the Kremlin on missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic, McCain undermined the talks by saying "the first thing I would do is make sure that we have a missile defense system in place in Czechoslovakia and Poland, and I don't care what his [Putin’s] objections are to it." McCain has also similarly called for Russia’s expulsion from the Group of Eight. While Washington should address mounting concerns about Russian domestic issues with Moscow, McCain’s stance has been so uncompromising and confrontational that as president he would fatally undermine any effort to rally consensus at the Council on Iran and other matters."

The Democratic Party having disposed of Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel on the left, and John Edwards in the center, now finds itself with a somewhat more finely nuanced choice between Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton. While both are ostensibly against the war in Iraq it's not clear that they are particularly prepared to leave without some kind of remaining American presence and commitment. They both make the mandatory noises about strengthening the U.S. military but there doesn't appear to be much questioning of the underlying premise why such a large and increasingly economically unsupportable force is needed.

Clinton seems to be leading the way as far as actively exacerbating various problems, particularly in the Balkans, one of her husband's supposed success stories. Jeremy Scahill observes:

"Beyond the obvious hypocrisy of the US condemnations of Serbia and the sudden admission that international law exists, the Kosovo story is an important one in the context of the current election campaign in the United States. Perhaps more than any other international conflict, Yugoslavia was the defining foreign policy of President Bill Clinton's time in power. Under his rule, the nation of Yugoslavia was destroyed, dismantled and chopped into ethnically pure para-states. President Bush's immediate recognition of Kosovo as an independent nation was the icing on the cake of destruction of Yugoslavia and one which was enthusiastically embraced by Hillary Clinton. "I've supported the independence of Kosovo because I think it is imperative that in the heart of Europe we continue to promote independence and democracy," Clinton said at the recent Democratic debate in Austin, Texas. A few days before the attack on the US embassy in Belgrade, Clinton released a Molotov cocktail statement praising the declaration of independence. In it, she referred to Kosovo by the Albanian "Kosova" and said independence "will allow the people of Kosova to finally live in their own democratic state. It will allow Kosova and Serbia to finally put a difficult chapter in their history behind them and to move forward." She added, "I want to underscore the need to avoid any violence or provocations in the days and weeks ahead." As seasoned observers of Serbian politics know, there were few things the US could have done to add fuel to the rage in Serbia over the declaration of independence -- "provocations" if you will -- than to have a political leader named Clinton issue a statement praising independence and using the Albanian name for Kosovo."

Additionally she managed to get into a rather bush-league verbal altercation with Vladimir Putin which produced this comment in The Moscow Times:

"Warning against personalizing diplomacy, Clinton was playing off U.S. President George W. Bush's famous remark about looking into Putin's eyes and getting a sense of his soul. Her exact words were: "He was a KGB agent. By definition he doesn't have a soul." That kind of smart-aleck, college-girl remark may have played well in a small-town gathering of voters, but it doesn't play well on the international stage. Confirming national stereotypes is always comforting because it frees people from the rigors of thought. Her remark inadvertently also confirmed two Russian stereotypes about Americans -- the clueless (Bush) and the snooty (Clinton).

The Russian leadership, of course, also makes plenty of derogatory remarks about the United States that are, like Clinton's, designed for domestic consumption only. But there are real differences. Putin almost never mentions the United States directly and certainly would never say anything openly hostile about Bush personally. Putin's veiled assertions can, however, be more pervasively poisonous than outright denunciations, and some of the differences can be written off as cultural.

One thing does, however, seem certain. Whatever actual configuration Russian politics assumes after the March 2 presidential election, Putin is going to be a force to be reckoned with for a good while to come. That's no secret and should have been clear to Clinton. So where was her vaunted experience when that remark was made?

It wasn't something Barack Obama would have said. He's got too much soul."

Obama for his part has been the most circumspect in this department but even he feels the need to wield the American Big Military Stick as witnessed by his comments on Pakistan which if anything has become even more volatile and anti-American, as noted at ww4report:

" So, while (legitimately) calling out Clinton over her support of the illegal unilateral aggression in Iraq, Obama calls instead for illegal unilateral aggression in Pakistan. OK, this could be Zbigniew Brzezinski talking (not that that lets Obama off the hook), and there is just enough wiggle room for ambiguity here. But it's pretty clear what he means in light of his speech last summer at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in DC, in which he said (Chicago Tribune, Aug. 2, 2007):

I understand that President Musharraf has his own challenges. But let me make this clear. There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again... If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf will not act, we will.

The timing of Obama's comments is also ominous. The New York Times reported Feb. 22 that last month the Bush administration reached a "quiet understanding" with the Musharraf regime that "allowed an increase in the number and scope of patrols and strikes by armed Predator surveillance aircraft launched from a secret base in Pakistan—a far more aggressive strategy to attack Al Qaeda and the Taliban than had existed before. But since opposition parties emerged victorious from the parliamentary election early this week, American officials are worried that the new, more permissive arrangement could be choked off in its infancy."

If a US break with Musharraf and/or a real democratic opening in Pakistan merely pave the way for unilateral US or NATO aggression, we could be going very quickly from the frying pan to the fire. It would be a bitter irony if it happens under a new president so many are now supporting because of his ostensible anti-war creds..."

So it appears that the U.S. is in for a change but it is disheartening to see the front runners continuing in the time honored bi-partisan traditions of American militarism and hegemony. Given the economic outlook coupled with peak oil energy and climate change this Americentric approach is as about as viable as Russian communism and as likely to join it in the history books.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

FSB vs. Emo

In an unusual move the FSB has taken a position against an entire genre of music, namely Emo. Quite frankly until discussing this with my son and daughter I myself was somewhat clueless about the whole movement. According to the Other Russia the FSB in Nizhny- Novgorod has identified Emo as a musical movement subversive to society and youth in particular:

"The FSB informed the educators that “the emo ideology negatively influences the unformed teenage psyche. According to the ideology, its members are immortal, and each one’s dream is to die of blood-loss in a warm bath, by cutting the veins on the wrist region. Many of the teenagers are depressed, withdrawn in their thoughts, and the girls are very inclined toward suicide on account of unrequited love. The young people drawn to the emo movement imagine that they have an ‘allergy to happiness.’”

While one can wonder if living in Nizhny-Novgorod could predispose to these thoughts, disturbingly my kids indicate the FSB is right.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Who is in the FSB? , a Russian website dedicated to things special and accessed via Novaya Gazetta, has an updated FSB personnel structure list for your entertainment or whatever.

"The Structure of the FSB: Headquarters Staff

"The structure of the Federal Security Service* as a result of the implementation of a presidential decree of 11 July 2004. On 2 December 2005 the President amended Decree Nє 960 of 11 August 2003 "Questions of the RF Federal Security Service". Now the FSB is permitted to have one first deputy director of the FSB who is the chief of the FSB Border Service, and three deputy directors of the FSB, including one state secretary who is [also] a deputy director of the FSB.

Director - Nikolay Platonovich Patrushev

  • First Deputy - Sergey Smirnov, Chairman of the Council of the RATS ShOS (Regional Anti-terrorist Structure of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization)
  • First Deputy Director - Vladimir Yegorovich Pronichev, Chief of the Border Service of the Russian FSB
  • Deputy Director - General-Colonel Vladimir Bulavin, Chief the staff of the National Antiterrorist Committee (NAK) and Deputy Chief of the Federal Operations Staff
  • Deputy Director and State Secretary - General-Major of Justice Yuriy Sergeyevich Gorbunov, appointed 20 December 2005. He previously headed the department of security legal issues of the RF Presidential Administration's State and Legal Directorate.
  • Deputy Director - Aleksandr Bortnikov
  • Deputy Director - Vyacheslav Ushakov
  • Deputy Director - Sergey Buravlev, former chief of the 16th Center (preceded by Vladimir Anisimov)
1. Counterintelligence Service (SKR) - General of the Army Oleg Vladimirovich Syromolotov
  • The Directorate of Coordination and Analysis of Counterintelligence Activity - former chief was A. Ruch'yev, who has been appointed chief of the FSB Directorate of St. Petersburg.
  • The Directorate of Counterintelligence at Facilities
  • The Directorate of Information Support to Operational Detective Activity
  • The Department of Military Counterintelligence - General-Colonel Aleksandr Bezverkhniy (source - RF Government Decree Nє 656 of 31 August 2002); Vladimir Nosov and S. A. Korenkov are deputy chiefs (source: Presidential Decree Nє 1550 of 28 December 2005).
2. Service to Protect the Constitutional System and Combat Terrorism (SZKSiBT) - Aleksey Sedov (preceded by A. Bragin); General-Major Aleksandr Mashkin and Vladimir Muratov (former chief of the Dagestan FSB Directorate) are deputy chiefs
  • Directorate to Combat Terrorism and Political Extremism (UBTPEh) - Mikhail Belousov (source: RIA Novosti); first deputy chief is Sergey Borisovich Shurygin (source: Central Electoral Commission Decree Nє 144/984-4 of 29 April 2005)
  • Antiterrorist Center/Special Center - Aleksandr Tikhonov. E-mail:
  • Directorate to Combat International Terrorism (UBMT) - Yuriy Sapunov Directorate for the Organization of Operations
  • Operational Detective Directorate (ORU)…(I. Mironov until 2004); first deputy chief is Yevgeniy Kolesnikov; A. Plotnikov is a deputy chief
3. Border Service - Vladimir Yegorovich Pronichev

4. Economic Security Service (SEhB) - General of the Army Aleksandr Bortnikov (previously, Yuriy Yevgen'evich Zaostrovtsev); first deputy is Yu. V. Yakovlev (source: Presidential Decree Nє 1615 of 27 December 2004)

  • Directorate of Counterintelligence Support to Industrial Enterprises (Directorate P)
  • Directorate of Counterintelligence Support to Transportation (Directorate T) - chief of A. V. Fedorov (source: Government Directive Nє 431-r of 18 April 2005)
  • Directorate of Counterintelligence Support to the Financial System (Directorate K)
  • Directorate of Counterintelligence Support to the MVD, MChS [Ministry of Emergency Situations], and Ministry of Justice (Directorate M) Organizational Analysis Directorate - chief is General-Lieutenant Yuriy Aleshin
  • Directorate to Combat Contraband and Illegal Drug Trafficking - S. Fomenko
  • Administrative Service
5. Current Information and International Relations Service (formerly Service for Analysis, Forecasting, and Strategic Planning) - Viktor Ivanovich Komogorov (also the President of the Dinamo Sports Club. Source: Government Directive Nє 701-r of 29 May 2003).
  • Analysis Directorate
  • Directorate for the Coordination of Current Information (UKOI)
  • Strategic Planning Directorate
  • Department of Unclassified Information; e-mail:
  • Directorate of International Cooperation - General-Lieutenant Aleksey Fedorovich Kuzyura; Mikhail Pavlovich Orlov is a deputy chief and V. A. Grobovoy is a scientific consultant (source: Government Directive Nє 291-r of 13 March 2002)
6. Service of Organizational Personnel Work - General- Lieutenant Ye. N. Lovyrev; General-Major Yevgeniy Solov'yev is the former chief.
  • Directorate of Special Registrations; e-mail
  • Organizational Planning Directorate
  • Personnel Directorate; A. Kotov is a deputy chief
7. Oversight Service - Aleksandr Ivanovich Zhdanykov
  • Inspection Directorate
  • Auditing Directorate
  • Directorate of Internal Security - General-Lieutenant Aleksandr Kurpyashkin, who previously headed Directorate M; Nail' Mukhitov is a deputy chief. E-mail:
8. Scientific and Technical Service - Nikolay Klimashin; first deputy is A. I. Presnov (source: Government Directive Nє 1212-r of 12 December 2005)
  • Directorate of Orders and Deliveries of Weapons, Military and Special Equipment
  • Directorate of Operational Technical Measures (UOTM). E-mail:
  • Scientific Research Institute of Information Technologies - General- Major Sergey Ivanovich Kuzin; Sergey Pavlovich Rastorguyev is a deputy chief
  • Scientific Research Center; V. V. Letunovsky is the first deputy (source: Presidential Decree Nє 182 of 19 February 2005)
9. Activity Support Service - Mikhail Shekin, preceded by General-Colonel Sergey Shishin; first deputy is N. K. Novikov (source Government Directive Nє 1026-r of 23 July 2005)
  • Finance and Economics Directorate
  • Directorate of Material and Technical Support (UMTO)
  • Directorate of Capital Construction - A. Kruglov
Subdivisions Directly Subordinate to Headquarters
  • Investigative Directorate - General-Lieutenant Nikolay Oleshko, preceded by Mil'chenko, who was preceded by General-Lieutenant S. D. Balashov
  • Directorate of Scientific and Technical Support (UNTO)
  • Institute of Criminology
  • Directorate of Administration
  • FSB Reception Office (department-level); Chief is Colonel Vitaliy Aleksandrovich Kondrat'yev (staff of six people)
  • Treaty and Legal Directorate
  • Special Events Service
  • Communications Security Center (created from the Main Directorate of Communications Security of FAPSI [Federal Agency for Government Communications and Intelligence]). Viktor Sergeyevich Gorbachev is the chief; A. S. Kuz'min is a deputy chief.
  • Information Security Center - V. V. Skorik; first deputy is G. Ya. Dzhioyev; A. V. Gerasimov is a deputy chief. The Center was created from the Directorate of Computer and Information Security of the Counterintelligence Department - V. M. Matrosov (preceded by Boris Nikolayevich Miroshnikov, who transferred to work at the GUSTM [Main Directorate for Special Technical Measures] of the MVD).
  • Russian FSB Center for Licensing, Certification, and Protection of State Secrets (LSZ Center)
  • Center for Special Equipment; first deputy is L. Yu. Borodinov (source Presidential Decree Nє 182 of 19 February 2005)
  • Center for Current Border Research; O. V. Ulevatyy is the chief (source: Presidential Decree Nє 182 of 19 February 2005)
  • Operational Search Directorate (OPU)
  • Directorate of Assistance Programs - V. N. Dvornikov, preceded by Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Zdanovich (now Deputy Chairman of the VGTRK [All-Russian State Radio and Television Company])
  • Public Relations Center - Sergey Ignatchenko is the chief. He was preceded by Andrey Laryushin and, before him, Vasiliy Stavitsky
  • Registry and Archives Directorate (URAF) - General-Major Vasiliy Khristoforov (Yakov Fedorovich Pogoniy is the former chief); Vladimir Konstantinovich Vinogradov is a deputy chief
  • Central Archive - Nikolay P. Mikheykin; A. T. Zhadobin is a deputy chief (source: Government Directive Nє 1618-r of 3 December 2001)
  • Directorate of Communications Security (Directorate R). E-mail:
  • Directorate of Aviation; Hero of Russian N. Gavrilov is the chief
  • Directorate of Special Communications; A. Presnov is the chief
  • Military Medical Directorate (VMU) - Aleksey Lapin (source: Granitsa Rossii article of 16 June 2004, "Sochi Vstrechaet Solnechnym")
  • Military Construction Directorate - Yu. G. Klysh is a deputy chief
  • Provost Service
  • Watch Officer Service
  • Tenth Department (military mobilization); Gennadiy S. Samtsov
  • FSB Academy; Valentin Aleksandrovich Vlasov is the chief; Sergey Mikhaylovich Kolobashkin is a deputy chief (he is mentioned in a Moscow Government Decree Nє 616-71 of 8 August 2000); Aleksandr Borisovich Alekseyev is also a deputy chief (Moscow Government Decree Nє 654-pp of 5 August 2003)

    For reference: a division is up to seven personnel, a department is at least eight personnel and a directorate is at least 55 personnel.

    Also: Council of FSB Veterans; V. P. Pirozhkov is the Chairman (source: Presidential Decree Nє 418 of 27 April 2002)

    System of FSB Organizations

    According to the Regulation Concerning the Federal Security Service adopted in accordance with Presidential Decree Nє 960 of 11 August 2003, the system includes:

    [The following] are directly subordinate to the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation:

  • FSB directorates (departments) for individual regions and RF subjects (territorial security organizations)
  • FSB directorates (departments) in the RF Armed Forces, in the field, and in other military formations, and also in their headquarters organizations (security organizations in the field)
  • FSB directorates (departments) which exercise separate authority of the Russian FSB or support the activity of organizations of the Federal Security Service and Border Troops (other security organizations)
  • Aviation subunits, special training centers, special subunits, and enterprises, educational institutions, scientific research, expert, forensic, military medical, and military construction subunits and other institutions and subunits designed to support the activity of the Federal Security Service

    *The chart has been compiled from open-source materials and does not claim to be complete"

Loose Satellite Now a Target -- Why?

As mentioned in a previous post American reconnaissance satellite USA-193 was to come to Earth soon. Now it has been announced that it will be shot down by a missile fired from a U.S. Navy ship. Ostensibly concerns about the remaining rocket fuel on the 5000 lb. craft is the reason for the unusual move. As the Times On Line reports the actual hazard appears to be small:

" The statistical risk of death or injury is considered small. Even when the space shuttle Columbia broke up over Texas and scattered debris over two states no one on the ground was hurt. Two thirds of the Earth’s surface is covered with water. In the past 50 years about 17,000 man-made objects have re-entered the atmosphere, including the 78-ton Skylab space station that fell into the Indian Ocean and across west Australia in 1979."

Others however question the effects of the announced shoot-down, among them Jeffrey Lewis from ArmsControlWonk, who makes the following observations:

"I am very worried about the debris creation — particularly the debris that the light-weight interceptor will kick into higher orbits when it hits the massive (bus-sized) satellite. Thnk, as Geoff Forden suggested, of a ping pong ball hitting a superball.

Virtually all the debris should come down quickly. Cartwright said 50 percent would come down within two orbits, with the rest coming down in weeks and months. That seems plausible, at first blush.

But those two orbits could be hairy and some of the debris will remain in orbit. Michael Griffin, NASA Administrator, said there are “good times and bad times” to conduct the intercept, based on the position of the ISS but that “bad times are not all that bad” comparing the risk to an order of magnitude lower than flying the shuttle.

Last I checked, the PRAN for the shuttle was 1 in 100. Extrapolating, there would be only a 1 in 1000 chance of wiping out the ISS."

Other purposes for doing this seem to be more belligerent especially after American concerns about a Chinese anti-satellite program. Plus there is the question of whether there is something about this satellite that the U.S. doesn't want others to know about, as noted by The Times On Line:

"USA 193 was launched on December 14, 2006, from the Vandenberg US Air Force Base in California. Once it reached orbit it failed to communicate with its ground controllers, making it uncontrollable. Though its design is top-secret, it is reported to be a high-resolution radar satellite that would take images for the National Reconnaissance Office.

Defence analysts have suggested that the Pentagon may be reluctant to allow a large piece of its most sophisticated technology to fall into the hands of a rival such as Russia or China."

The whole thing seems odd.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Oil Candidates

Who are the candidates from oil? Oil Change International has a very interesting graphic to trace where the money is and more importantly where (and to whom) it is going.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The World's Stake in the U.S. Elections

The Congolese child soldiers above are not voting in any of the U.S. primaries but like the rest of the world have have an interest vested in the outcome of the U.S. elections. It is easy for Americans to get caught up in the hoopla and rhetoric of change emanating from the various campaigns but it is easy to loose sight of the global issues at stake and the steep price for failure that the world pays if the status quo goes unchanged.
One the greatest damages inflicted on the U.S. by the Bush administration has been to the reputation and prestige of the country. Unfortunately America's regard in the world was probably overestimated by it's citizens to even prior to GWB but now it is unarguably worse. To really gauge if America undergoes meaningful change as a result of the upcoming elections it's helpful to look at just a few of many issues by which the country can be judged.
The Middle East with the long neglected plight of the Palestinian people is an area the brings into sharp focus the world's view of American lack of balance and justice. As Laurie King-Irani at Electronic Intifada reports there appears to be little cause for optimism that this will change regardless of who gets the Democratic nomination:

" I was living in Nazareth, conducting my dissertation research. When I found out Clinton had been elected, I let out a whoop of joy and believed that a new era of sanity, justice and decency had dawned.

Several months later, I began to wonder. While at a conference in Jerusalem I picked up a copy of New York Times. The lead story in the magazine, entitled "St. Hillary," featured a cover photo of Hillary Clinton dressed completely in white and looking quite self-righteous. In the course of reading the article, I learned that while in Law School at Yale, Hillary had decided, during a classroom debate about Palestine/Israel, that some people were "simply evil," and thus had no rights because they undertook terrorist actions. (I'm not sure if she was still a registered Republican back then ...)

I wished my Palestinian friends and neighbors could sit and chat with Hillary Clinton for a little while about the daily realities and systematic discrimination that they faced then -- and face even more so now -- under occupation. Now a particularly exciting election year is upon us. Before the Democratic race narrowed down to Obama and Clinton, I was rooting for Dennis Kucinich, because his message resonated with my "Big Issue": fair, just, and sane US foreign policies in the Middle East and outrage at the treatment of the Palestinian people................................

" Last summer, I watched a CNN broadcast during which the Democratic hopefuls underwent a cable catechism examination administered by Soledad O'Brien. Former Senator John Edwards and Clinton were grilled on their personal faith and how it has helped them in their private lives.

Obama got the booby-trapped political question: "Are Palestinians treated badly by Israel?" His answer was lame, and appeared ill-informed. Given that he is probably not ill-informed, however, it might have been dishonest. Obama responded that "although Palestinians are often put in situations that we would not want our own families to endure," it was sadly necessitated by the paramount need to safeguard Israelis from dangerous terrorists.

Obama is a lawyer. He should know something about the Geneva Conventions. He should know a bit about Israeli violations of international law, and the dozens of UN resolutions that have criticized the Israeli government and called for an end to the occupation.

Despite increasing activism, the existence of alternative news media, and growing public discomfort with the Bush administration's Middle East misadventures, it's really disappointing that an attractive front-runner in this key election did not feel secure enough to tell the truth. The public is way out in front of Congress on this issue, but given the demands of campaign funding and the fear of the sorts of underhanded attacks that AIPAC (the American Israeli Public Action Committee, i.e., the pro-Israel lobby) inflicts on those who deviate from a pro-Israeli narrative, anyone who hopes to attain office in Washington, DC is held hostage to the lobby's single-minded goal of assuring unconditional support for Israel no matter how badly it behaves."

Another area that tests American ethics as well as quite a few others is the ongoing slaughter in the Congo. While Darfur gets the lion's share of American attention to Africa for reasons that are worth questioning, the by far bloodiest conflict on the continent has been playing out for more than a decade. Frequently cited as one of those places where the bloodshed is just part of third-world lack of education and post-colonial backwardness, the real story is an indictment of the greed of the West for natural resources and the inhumanity that is tolerated and promoted as useful tool to ensure an uninterrupted flow of gems and minerals. Keith Harmon Snow on Dissident Voice has an invaluable article to help sort out the sordid mess, sadly once again the U.S. has some explaining to do:

"Maurice Templesman is one of the top funders of Barrack Obama and Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party. Templesman was the unofficial ambassador to the Congo (Zaire) for years, but a new Israeli-American tycoon has replaced him. In the world of bling bling and bling bang, some things change, some stay the same. The CIA, the MOSSAD, the big mining companies, the offshore accounts and weapons deals—all hidden by the Western media. The holocaust in Central Africa has claimed some six to ten million people in Congo since 1996, with 1500 people dying daily.1 But while the Africans are the victims of perpetual Holocaust, the persecutors hide behind history, complaining that they are the persecuted, or pretending they are the saviors. Who is responsible?"

Lastly what of the American empire? This is a project that has been an example of bipartisan cooperation since the inception of the American National Security State at the end of WWII. According to Chalmers Johnson, respected former CIA analyst and now contributor to the American Empire Project, the scope of this empire is mind-boggling and probably economically non-sustainable:

"The worldwide total of U.S. military personnel in 2005, including those based domestically, was 1,840,062 supported by an additional 473,306 Defense Department civil service employees and 203,328 local hires. Its overseas bases, according to the Pentagon, contained 32,327 barracks, hangars, hospitals, and other buildings, which it owns, and 16,527 more that it leased. The size of these holdings was recorded in the inventory as covering 687,347 acres overseas and 29,819,492 acres worldwide, making the Pentagon easily one of the world's largest landlords.

These numbers, although staggeringly big, do not begin to cover all the actual bases we occupy globally. The 2005 Base Structure Report fails, for instance, to mention any garrisons in Kosovo (or Serbia, of which Kosovo is still officially a province) -- even though it is the site of the huge Camp Bondsteel built in 1999 and maintained ever since by the KBR corporation (formerly known as Kellogg Brown & Root), a subsidiary of the Halliburton Corporation of Houston.

The report similarly omits bases in Afghanistan, Iraq (106 garrisons as of May 2005), Israel, Kyrgyzstan, Qatar, and Uzbekistan, even though the U.S. military has established colossal base structures in the Persian Gulf and Central Asian areas since 9/11. By way of excuse, a note in the preface says that "facilities provided by other nations at foreign locations" are not included, although this is not strictly true. The report does include twenty sites in Turkey, all owned by the Turkish government and used jointly with the Americans. The Pentagon continues to omit from its accounts most of the $5 billion worth of military and espionage installations in Britain, which have long been conveniently disguised as Royal Air Force bases. If there were an honest count, the actual size of our military empire would probably top 1,000 different bases overseas, but no one -- possibly not even the Pentagon -- knows the exact number for sure."

The Empire is a true holy cow in the temple of American self interest and reflects at the very least the country's inability to to come to grips with its foreign petroleum dependency. Any president with a mandate for change and the fortitude to deal with this would be nothing short of a revolutionary. The question is are there any out there?

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Canada, Energy Giant With Clay Feet

Canada is now joining an increasing number of nations that realize that exporting all or most of your energy resources to a country with an insatiable appetite may not be in your best interest in the long run. A recent article in the Winnipeg Free Press notes that Canada exports 67% of its oil to the U.S. but still imports 40% of its energy from offshore sources. Prior to NAFTA only 30% of Canadian oil was sent south, now it has more than doubled.
Even worse Canada maintains no Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Gordon Laxer explains why this is especially foolish:

"Canada needs Strategic Petroleum Reserves — short-term stores of oil that can be released during supply shortages to meet regional needs.

Canada is a producer and net exporter of oil. Yet this national status masks an important regional divide; Eastern Canada is a net importer of oil, receiving up to 90 percent of its oil from overseas, much of it from OPEC countries like Algeria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Eastern Canadians are vulnerable to global oil supply shocks.

The International Energy Agency (IEA), of which Canada is a founding member, requires member countries that are net importers to maintain emergency oil reserves of 90 days of net imports. It does not require this of net exporters, as exporters are sensibly assumed to ensure domestic oil needs before exporting their surpluses.

Unfortunately, unlike in most industrial countries, Canadian governments in recent years have not prioritized domestic energy security. Canada exports 67 percent of the oil it produces to the United States, and NAFTA's "proportionality" clause prohibits Canada's government from reducing this proportion, even in times of crisis. And there is not enough east-west oil pipeline capacity to transport western oil to Eastern Canadians in times of supply shock.

Strategic Petroleum Reserves have been employed for nearly a century to protect against short-term oil shortages. They have been created in the IEA countries, the European Union, China, India, the Anglosphere countries of Britain, Australia and New Zealand, and other countries. In addition to its very large SPR, the United States also has a smaller home heating oil reserve in its northeast.

Global demand for oil is growing and supply is increasingly tight. Peak global oil production will arrive soon, if it hasn't already. A report prepared for the US Department of Energy reviewed 12 studies of peak oil; of these, eight predicted global peaking by as soon as 2010, several predicting the peak earlier. Tight supplies mean that small disruptions have big effects on both price and availability. Disruptions can occur because of natural disasters such as hurricanes, terrorist attacks or embargoes.

At the same time as demand growth is outpacing new supplies, producing countries are beginning to re-nationalize oil reserves and production. Currently, about 80 percent of global oil reserves are controlled by state-owned oil companies. Most of these public oil companies have a nationalist orientation, looking after domestic needs. At the same time, the proportion of Canada's imports from North Sea countries is rapidly shrinking, while our imports from OPEC countries are growing.

The growth in global oil demand is now being led by East Asian and South Asian countries with large populations. These countries are increasingly purchasing oil through long-term supply contracts, which will further reduce global market availability during times of oil supply shocks.

With Eastern Canadians dependent on oil imports, with severe trade and infrastructure limits on Canada's ability to re-direct western oil to the East in the near future, and with a global oil supply that is increasingly tight and vulnerable, Canada needs to develop SPRs.

IEA guidelines call for SPRs to have 90 days supply of imported oil, which for Canada would mean approximately 76 million barrels. However, SPRs are expensive to build and operate, and slow to fill. We can reduce the size of SPRs needed, and Canada's vulnerability to oil supply shocks, by reducing our oil imports.

If Canada reversed the flow of the Montréal to Sarnia pipeline, which currently brings foreign oil through southern Ontario, it could bring Western Canadian oil to Québec and reduce imports by almost a third. Taking the portion of Newfoundland oil that is currently exported and re-directing it to Eastern Canada could further reduce import levels. In combination, the pipeline reversal and redirecting Newfoundland's oil would cut imports to perhaps half of current levels. This would reduce the size of the SPRs needed to approximately 38 million barrels. Finally, taking measures to reduce oil consumption could further reduce imports, as well as help Canada comply with our international legal obligations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Locations of SPR facilities would need to be determined by a combination of environmental, economic, social and political factors, and would need to take account of vicinity to refineries and transportation logistics. SPR sites are needed in Southern Ontario, Québec and Atlantic Canada. Siting and designing SPRs would require research and public deliberation. Environmental and social impact assessments, including cumulative impacts, would have to be carried out.

Such processes need to be done properly, and would be time consuming.

However, in the meantime, Canada could develop temporary emergency supplies. Many European countries have long required their oil industry to hold emergency supplies. Eastern Canadian refinery inventories — currently hovering at eight to 21 days of supply — could be required to rise to provide the emergency cushions.

Canada needs to protect its eastern citizens by developing national strategic petroleum reserves. This would address our vulnerability to short-term supply shocks. At the same time, the Canadian government needs to put Canadians first by developing strong federal/provincial partnerships aimed at energy security and environmental protection."

Needless to say this will probably not make America happy but maybe it would cause them to get off the petroleum dole, reduce their military (petroleum protection service) obsession, or worst case, invade Canada.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Russian-American Uranium Deal

In a deal that otherwise went unnoticed in the U.S., the U.S. and Russia have agreed to a uranium trade deal worth ~ 5-6 billion dollars. The irony of Russians supplying American nuclear facilities at the same time as Iran is interesting to say the least.It appears that 1 in 5 American nuclear facilities will be running on Russian uranium. According to RIA Novosti:

"The adoption of the amendments will allow Russian and American companies directly, without intermediaries, to conclude contracts for the delivery to the U.S. low-enriched uranium from Russia at market prices, albeit only from 2011.
Experts predict that with the agreement expiring in 2013 direct supplies of enriched uranium may take as much as 20% of the American market.
Washington is interested in expanding cooperation with Moscow in civil nuclear power. According to the U.S. Nuclear Energy Institute, the American market will have a uranium shortage in 2011-15. Under the new agreement with Russia, which provides for incremental liberalization of the U.S. market for Russian companies supplying uranium, nuclear fuel imports will start gradually increasing from 2011. In 2014, supplies should rise ten-fold compared with 2013.
A high-ranking source in Russia's Federal Nuclear Power Agency (Rosatom) said yesterday: "This agreement benefits us. We are interested in gaining free access to the American market to utilize capacities of our four uranium-enrichment plants."
At the moment Russia has 40% of the world's uranium enrichment capacity, which is not fully utilized. According to the source, Russia's nuclear cooperation with the U.S. will entail not so much the uranium mined and enriched in Russia, as services for enriching nuclear fuel for American plants."

Like oil there appears to be a "Peak Uranium" effect with gradually diminishing supplies, increasing demand, and increasing cost. As noted in this article on "The Oil Drum":

"Any forecast of the development of nuclear power in the next 25 years has to concentrate on two aspects, the supply of uranium and the addition of new reactor capacity. At least within this time horizon, neither nuclear breeding reactors nor thorium reactors will play a significant role because of the long lead times for their development and market penetration. This assessment results in the conclusion that in the short term, until about 2015, the long lead times of new and the decommissioning of ageing reactors perform the barrier for fast extension, and after about 2020 severe uranium supply shortages become likely which, again will limit the extension of nuclear energy."

No free lunches even radioactive ones.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Kosovo: The Next War?

While progressive Americans try to select the Democratic candidate most likely to extract the U.S. from Iraq another crisis brews that will test the next president. The issue of independence of Kosovo from Serbia will come to a head within the next month or so potentially pitting the U.S. and some of the E.U. against Serbia and Russia. Americans tend to view the last Balkan war under Bill Clinton as a "Good War" where American might some how stopped aggression and genocide. The reality is more complicated and challenges the concept of Wilsonian Democracy popular in both sides of the American political monolith.

Diane Johnstone, one of most incisive of American critics of the U.S. actions in the Balkans, sums up American behavior under Bill Clinton:

"To provide a casus belli, the Clinton administration orchestrated sham negotiations at the French château in Rambouillet. The U.S. abruptly promoted Hashim Thaqi, the head of the armed "Kosovo Liberation Army", to head the Kosovo Albanian delegation, shoving aside more reputable Albanian leaders such as Ibrahim Rugova. No direct encounters between the Serbian and Albanian delegations were even allowed. Both were ordered to accept a comprehensive plan drafted by the United States, allowing for NATO occupation of Kosovo. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright bullied Thaqi into reluctantly accepting the ultimatum, with back-stage assurances that he would eventually get his own "independent Kosova". The Serbs had agreed to the principle of autonomy of Kosovo, and their parliament had drafted a proposal--totally ignored at Rambouillet. But the Serbian delegation rejected the ultimatum, which included an annex that would have allowed NATO occupation of the whole of Serbia. This rejection was the result Ms Albright sought. On the pretext that Serbia had "refused to negotiate", NATO could wage its victorious little "humanitarian" war."

Now however the finishing touches are being put on the situation with independence being a done deal:

This year, the world has been provided with the spectacle of much more prolonged sham negotiations. For weeks and months, the West's semi-official media have put out "news" reports that the negotiations to settle the Kosovo problem were not getting anywhere. This was not news because the negotiations were framed in such a way that they could not possibly succeed.

"The Serbian and Albanian sides can't agree", the pseudo-diplomats say of their pseudo-diplomacy. They mean, the Serbian side has not agreed to the Albanian demand for an independent Kosovo. This was the only proposal with U.S. support. It amounted to yet another ultimatum to the Serbs. The Albanians knew they had the support of the United States and NATO, who are occupying Kosovo militarily. They had no incentive to bargain. They could just wait for the negotiations to fail, sure they would be given what they want by occupying Great Powers."

Of course now a resurgent Russia is to blame as well:

"The West is putting the blame for this failure on Vladimir Putin. The servile press is puffing up Putin's status as the latest world class bad guy, motivated by "power" and a perverse desire to annoy the virtuous Americans. Since the Americans back the Albanian demand for independence, the Russians, out of contrariness, back the Serbian position.

This is not exactly accurate. The Serbian position is to offer very comprehensive autonomy to Kosovo, a self-government just short of formal independence. The Russian position is to be ready to support any agreement reached between the two sides.

Western reporters and commentators refuse to grasp what this means. It means that the Russians are insisting on genuine negotiations, between the two parties, the Serbian government and Kosovo Albanian separatists. They are not saying what the outcome of such genuine negotiations would be. They might reach some sort of compromise providing for some sort of independence. The point is that such an agreement, reached by both parties, would be legal under international law. Independence proclaimed unilaterally by Kosovo Albanians, without negotiated agreement with Serbia, would constitute a clear violation of international law. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has repeatedly warned that a unilateral proclamation of independence could provoke further interethnic violence in the region and set a dangerous precedent for many other countries with ethnic minorities.

In the level of principles, the contrast is not between the U.S. backing Albanian Kosovo independence and Russia backing Serbia. It is between Russia backing diplomacy and the United States backing force."

Of interest is the position of Hillary Clinton who stakes out a position that will further estrange Russian-American relations for the foreseeable future as noted here.

Pravda has the latest Russian Foreign Ministry statement.