“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Monday, December 31, 2007

All The Best for 2008. Open Bar Tonight.

Growing Up In The White House

Yesterday I was intrigued by the new nineteen year old Bhutto heir being put forward to possibly influence the fate of the World. No kidding. He even has a new slogan, "Democracy is the best revenge."

Then I watched some of the interview with Huckabee and Obama by the increasingly transparent and despicable Tim Russert. (How sweet it would be to see someone waterboard Mr. Potato Head.) Huckabee and Obama both did a fairly reasonable job on their job interviews. Like any job applicant, all the candidates want to get their foot in the door, get the job, and then figure out what they will do with it.

They, like the nineteen year old Bhutto, have their little product-differentiation routine. For instance, good old Hucks uses the old aw-shucks type of thing. Barack is a vision guy.

Well, Barack Obama has no more of a "vision" than Huckabee, McCain or Tancredo or the nineteen year old Bhutto. After being elected, the system will quickly whip the new President into line. They will find their means of governance whether they like it or not. Events will overwhelm vision and with time, experience and fate will determine how it goes. With luck, they may become a good President. Did that happen to George Bush?

Of course it did. The change in Bush over the last twenty four months is quite remarkable. If he knew then what he knows now, he would make a good President. Now that Bush knows what he is doing, but is being transferred and retired, we will have to train another new second lieutenant and call him General.  "Democracy is the best revenge."

Long, Gone Neocons

The Bush administration is no longer influenced by neocons. Instead, it's governing the way its predecessors have.

Michael Young | Reason December 27, 2007

Maybe 2008 will be the year when we will finally be rid of that vacuous belief that "the neocons" are in control of the Bush administration's foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East. Habits are hard to break, particularly lazy ones, but if anyone bothered to look more closely, they would see that the United States has not really engaged in what we might call a neoconservative approach to the region since at least 2004, when the situation in Iraq took a sudden turn for the worse.

What are, or were, the highlights of a neocon approach to the Middle East and the world before 2003, when American forces invaded Iraq? Looking back at that most prominent post-9/11 neocon statement of purpose, the administration's National Security Strategy released in September 2002 (an assemblage of contradiction in which neocon ideas were recorded alongside classical liberal internationalist ones), they were roughly the following: a desire to maintain American paramountcy at the expense of the more traditional concept of a balance of power; greater reliance on the use of force and unilateralism in America's defense, through preemptive measures if necessary; and a more activist bent in spreading democracy, freedom, and free markets throughout the world.

But the truth is that soon after the takeover of Iraq, the administration gradually began acting in the Middle East pretty much like its predecessors. It was compelled to rely on the multilateral institutions it had spurned in the run-up to the Iraq war, implicitly accepting that U.S. military might was not enough to resolve all problems. As for its commitment to an agenda of democracy and freedom, while officially this was at the heart of American concerns after Bush's second inaugural address, in reality by then it was already in decline as a policy guide.

For example, in May 2003, the U.S. was compelled to seek an international resolution to govern its military presence in Iraq. While the Security Council, in Resolution 1483, recognized Coalition forces as a ruling authority, it labeled them an "occupying authority", with both the legal obligations under that status, and the stigma. The resolution was a compromise: the U.N. pragmatically acknowledged that it had to work with the U.S. in Iraq, and used this to try shaping political outcomes in its favor; the Bush administration realized that it needed international cover, even if in September 2004, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan again reminded Washington that its invasion had been "illegal."

Only days after the Security Council authorized the creation of a United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq on August 14, 2003, a bomb attack targeted U.N. headquarters in Baghdad, killing the organization's representative there, Sergio Vieira de Mello, and almost 20 other people. The U.S. was then still trying to rule over Iraq on its own, with Paul Bremer as high commissioner. Yet it was immediately clear to the Bush administration that the attack had harmed American efforts to normalize the situation on the ground in Iraq. The subsequent dramatic drawdown of U.N. personnel denied the U.S. a valuable partner in distributing much-needed aid to an impoverished Iraqi population, as well as an often useful mediator with Iraqi leaders who refused to meet with American officials.

By 2004, the U.S. was resorting to the U.N. in other Middle Eastern crises as well. For example, the Security Council was the preferred route for U.S. efforts in 2004 to push for a Syrian military withdrawal from Lebanon. Far from going it alone, the Bush administration, in collaboration with France, its bitterest foe over Iraq, sponsored a Security Council resolution to that end. The U.S. didn't try to impose the resolution by force, even though American troops were on the Syrian border and had every reason to attack Syria because of the way it was infiltrating fighters and Al-Qaeda suicide bombers into Iraq. In fact, under even a loose interpretation of the National Security Strategy, the administration would have been justified in preemptively striking against the regime in Damascus for what it was doing to its eastern neighbor. But the U.S. held back.

Whenever Lebanon circa 2005 is mentioned, images of a "popular revolution" come to mind. The mass demonstrations against Syria after the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister, Rafiq Hariri, were a powerful democratic moment for the country, and for the Arab world as a whole. The term "Cedar Revolution" was even coined by an American official looking for a serviceable tagline to compare what was happening in Beirut to democratic uprisings elsewhere in the world.

But the reality is that the Bush administration only latched onto the democracy imagery after the anti-Syrian rallies had started, then used these to bolster the argument that, together with the parliamentary elections in Iraq earlier that year, a democratic wave was sweeping Arab societies. Between the moment in September 2004 when the U.S. backed the U.N. resolution demanding a Syrian pullout from Lebanon and the moment of Hariri's assassination in February 2005, Washington had no clue how to implement the resolution. Lebanon was not an American priority, Iraq was. The administration didn't even realize that Lebanese democracy was something it could seize upon until the Lebanese took advantage of the American democratization mood (and military presence in Iraq) to buttress their own demands for a Syrian withdrawal.

In other words, for all the talk of a neocon cabal advancing Middle Eastern democracy, the administration was mostly unaware of the democratic potential in Lebanon until the Lebanese took to the streets. Only then did the U.S. provide the vital push, with others, to force the Syrians out. The moral of the tale: that you didn't necessarily have to believe the American democracy message to profit from it, was one that Arab liberals elsewhere ignored. Most amusing, American indecision in the period before Hariri's murder resulted from Washington's adhering to the consensual internationalism it had dismissed before the Iraq war.

One can go on. Since 2006, the Bush administration has all but abandoned the democracy agenda to rally the despotic Arab regimes against Iran. Containment is the new catchword and, no surprise, it is pretty much what the Reagan, Bush Sr., and Clinton administrations spent two decades applying to post-revolution Iran. The U.S. has also returned to an old "realist" template in selling sophisticated new weaponry to the Arab Gulf monarchies to partly balance Tehran's power. Neocon aversion to Saudi Arabia, a focal point of post-9/11 disputation (even if it was never as significant as some imagined), has evaporated.

Similarly, the Bush administration now finds itself back in the oldest gig in town: the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. That a settlement is necessary goes without saying, but how unexpected that the most bureaucratically cautious operator in the Bush administration, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, should have tied her fate to resolving what many regard today as an irresolvable conflict. In so doing, Rice has applied a lesson taught by her realist predecessors: that the key to normalcy in the Middle East is peace between Israelis and Palestinians. That may be true or not, but it was always rubbish to the neocons.

So maybe it's time to stop referring to the neocon policies of the Bush administration. The neocons are gone, many for so long that no one seems to remember their leaving. What we now have in Washington is a mishmash of old political realism and improvisation, topped with increasingly empty oratory on freedom and democracy. That should please quite a few of Bush's domestic critics. He's returned to the futile routine in the Middle East that they always urged him to.

Reason contributing editor Michael Young is opinion editor of the Daily Star newspaper in Lebanon.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Arizona Democrat Enforces Laws Ignored by National Republicans

Gov. Janet Napolitano, Democrat

Business on the Border

Arizona gets tough on employers to solve its immigration problem.

By Terry Greene Sterling | Newsweek Web Exclusive
Dec 28, 2007 |

Eighteen years ago, when John Eisenhower opened his Scottsdale, Ariz., tree care business, he vowed to honor a 1986 federal law that prohibited hiring undocumented immigrants. The former Christian missionary named his company Integrity Tree Service Inc., but his decision not to hire undocumented workers quickly put him at a financial disadvantage. He chose to abide by the law, but his competitors hired undocumented immigrants for substandard wages and "made big money riding the backs of illegals," says Eisenhower, now 53. He survived by building a devoted clientele. Today his six to eight Latino and Anglo employees enjoy benefits and paid vacations, and his manual laborers earn up to three times the hourly rate that some companies pay their illegal workforce.

Now a controversial state law—with national implications—is slated to take effect Jan. 1 and promises to level the playing field for Eisenhower's company and thousands of other law-abiding Arizona businesses. The employer sanctions law imposes tough penalties on businesses that knowingly employ undocumented immigrants. First offenders may have their business licenses suspended for up to 10 days and must sign an affidavit promising not to hire undocumented workers in the future. Fail to comply, and companies could lose their licenses to operate altogether. What's more, the law requires all of Arizona's 150,000 companies to run new hires through a free online federal database that checks immigration status.

Foes of the law include immigrant rights activists and representatives of the construction, agriculture, hospitality and manufacturing industries, which employ large numbers of unskilled immigrant laborers. The law's opponents questioned its constitutionality in federal court, but that case was dismissed on Dec. 7. Then, on Dec. 21, Judge Neil Wake of the U.S. District Court in Phoenix cleared the way for the law to take effect on New Year's Day. Critics of the law received another blow recently, when the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco refused to grant an injunction aimed at preventing the law from taking effect.

Gov. Janet Napolitano, a moderate Democrat, became a target of criticism after she signed the law last July, after Congress had failed to reform federal immigration policy. Arizona is particularly hard-hit by illegal immigration woes, because its nearly 400-mile border with Mexico is the preferred gateway for most immigrants traveling north. An estimated 500,000 to 600,000 undocumented people live in Arizona, Napolitano says, and sanctioning employers who hire them is part of an overall strategy to fix a problem the feds have long ignored. "Without the federal government taking action, the states must move ahead," she tells NEWSWEEK. "If Arizona is a laboratory for democracy, then so be it."

The Arizona law has divided the state's business community. Some are already finding the law easy to live with. The Salt River Project, a Phoenix-based utility with about 4,300 employees, says it has run about 900 new hires through the database in the last 18 months without a major problem. Jolynn Clarke, the utility's manger of staffing, says the database check mandated by the new law is a quick and easy way to ensure that employees "really are who they say they are."

Other employers, particularly those that rely on low-skilled labor, are taking a different view. Critics say undocumented workers provide an essential workforce in a state with a relatively low unemployment rate of between 3 and 4 percent. "We are literally shutting down immigration, and as we shut down immigration, we shut down the economy," says Joe Sigg, director of government relations for the Arizona Farm Bureau, a statewide coalition of farmers and ranchers.

"This is law by hysteria," says John Augustine, whose family has farmed and ranched in Arizona since 1950 and employs about 150 workers. Augustine and other business owners have prepared for the law by retaining lawyers and auditors to review hiring and record-keeping procedures. He says his cotton and alfalfa farm doesn't hire illegal immigrants, but that doesn't mean the law won't affect his businesses. "I have a hard time finding labor now," he says. "Because there will be fewer people in the workforce, it will be even harder to find labor, and you'll pay more for it."

The law has already had a negative effect on some businesses, says Maria Arredondo, owner of Meubeleria Central, a Phoenix furniture store that caters to Latino immigrants—both legal and illegal. Customers started dwindling when news of the law first broke in the summer, and now Arredondo wonders how long she can survive. Prospective customers tell her they like her furniture and they like her prices, but they're saving their money in case they get deported. With little business income to make her home mortgage payments, Arredondo rented her house and moved with her three young children into the furniture store. "I am an American citizen," she says, "and I don't know how much longer I can hold on."

It's proving to be a difficult time for Latinos in Arizona. It didn't help that Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon recently shocked the Latino community by appointing a panel to explore whether the Phoenix police should regularly check for immigration status. Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has arrested nearly 1,400 undocumented immigrants, with the blessing of County Attorney Andrew Thomas. Arpaio relies on state laws that outlaw human smuggling and federal laws that allow officers to check citizenship or residency status in the course of their duties, for instance a routine traffic stop. "We don't arrest randomly," says Lisa Allen, a spokeswoman for the sheriff's office. But immigrants fear they may be deported if they have even one traffic violation. And now the employer sanctions law looms.

"What you have is a slow-growing panic," says Alfredo Gutierrez, who was a state senator for 14 years and now owns a Phoenix-based lobbying firm and hosts a Spanish-language radio talk show. "You have a community feeling besieged," he says. "People are saving their money and waiting. They talk about leaving, but few have. The great and overwhelming majority of people are just going to stay here. They have very few resources to go check out jobs in places like Ohio."

In the near future, safe havens in other states may be hard to find. Arizona's law is viewed as a test case by other states, "trying to create order inside of chaos" caused by federal inaction, says Sheri Steisel, director of the immigration task force for the National Conference of State Legislatures. Steisel says state legislatures passed at least 244 laws related to immigrants and immigration in 2007, a three-fold increase over 2006. Although Arizona's new law imposes the toughest sanctions on employers, 19 other states passed measures related to employment of undocumented immigrants. Oklahoma now makes it a felony to harbor, transport or shelter illegal immigrants and, like Arizona, requires employers to verify immigration status through online databases.

Opponents of Arizona's law vow they'll continue to try block the law's debut on Jan. 1. Time, however, is not on their side.

The International Community

They led. Did Bush follow their lead?

Google "International Community" and you get 8,640,000 pages. It must be a rather popular concept.

"Community" is a rather comfy word. "International" is a big word, expansive and inclusive, and we all like big ideas and we must be inclusive. A phrase that includes big things and warm comfy things is a simple seductive idea. Two of the more inclusive proponents of "International Community" were Bill Clinton and Tony Blair.

Both men, children of the sixties, liked the big rock concert, big demonstration, arm in arm process of governance. They preferred consensus and of course inclusion to help reinforce their ideas and beliefs. Blair and Clinton confirmed their ideas and the power of the "International Community" with the war on Kosovo.

Bill Richardson is so enthralled with the concept, that he and many others are calling on the "International Community" to act on Pakistan.

Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan are still unresolved, the IC is hardly in concurrence with Iran and now the call is going out for the "big chapatis", Pakistan. A read of a speech made by Tony Blair in 1999 should be made before we take a bite out of that loaf.

On 24 April 1999, Tony Blair made a speech that is hosted on A UK Government website: 'Prime Minister's speech: Doctrine of the International community at the Economic Club, Chicago' He had some interesting things to say in those warm inclusive days.

...While we meet here in Chicago this evening, unspeakable things are happening in Europe. Awful crimes that we never thought we would see again have reappeared - ethnic cleansing. systematic rape, mass murder.

I want to speak to you this evening about events in Kosovo. But I want to put these events in a wider context - economic, political and security - because I do not believe Kosovo can be seen in isolation.

No one in the West who has seen what is happening in Kosovo can doubt that NATO's military action is justified. Bismarck famously said the Balkans were not worth the bones of one Pomeranian Grenadier. Anyone who has seen the tear stained faces of the hundreds of thousands of refugees streaming across the border, heard their heart-rending tales of cruelty or contemplated the unknown fates of those left behind, knows that Bismarck was wrong.

This is a just war, based not on any territorial ambitions but on values. We cannot let the evil of ethnic cleansing stand. We must not rest until it is reversed. We have learned twice before in this century that appeasement does not work. If we let an evil dictator range unchallenged, we will have to spill infinitely more blood and treasure to stop him later"...

..."We need to begin work now on what comes after our success in Kosovo. We will need a new Marshall plan for Kosovo, Montenegro, Macedonia, Albania and Serbia too if it turns to democracy. We need a new framework for the security of the whole of the Balkans. And we will need to assist the war crimes tribunal in its work to bring to justice those who have committed these appalling crimes.

This evening I want to step back and look at what is happening in Kosovo in a wider context"...

..."Twenty years ago we would not have been fighting in Kosovo. We would have turned our backs on it. The fact that we are engaged is the result of a wide range of changes - the end of the Cold War; changing technology; the spread of democracy. But it is bigger than that

I believe the world has changed in a more fundamental way. Globalisation has transformed our economies and our working practices. But globalisation is not just economic. It is also a political and security phenomenon.

We live in a world where isolationism has ceased to have a reason to exist. By necessity we have to co-operate with each other across nation"...

..."We are all internationalists now, whether we like it or not"...

..."national interest is to a significant extent governed by international collaboration and that we need a clear and coherent debate as to the direction this doctrine takes us in each field of international endeavour."...

..."Many of our problems have been caused by two dangerous and ruthless men - Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic."...

..."The most pressing foreign policy problem we face is to identify the circumstances in which we should get actively involved in other people's conflicts. Non -interference has long been considered an important principle of international order. And it is not one we would want to jettison too readily. One state should not feel it has the right to change the political system of another or forment subversion or seize pieces of territory to which it feels it should have some claim. But the principle of non-interference must be qualified in important respects. Acts of genocide can never be a purely internal matter. When oppression produces massive flows of refugees which unsettle neighbouring countries then they can properly be described as "threats to international peace and security". When regimes are based on minority rule they lose legitimacy - look at South Africa."...

He forgot to mention Rhodesia, rather I mean Zimbabwe, of course. How could I forget?

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Iowa Loyal Jirga

The Deciders

Thursday is the day. A whole lot has happened in the last week and Iowa will set the tone for where America heads next. It is a virtual three way tie for the Democrats between Hillary, Obama and Edwards. The Republican establishment is out to crush the Republican leader, Mike Huckabee. Giuliani has fallen off the charts. McCain is still in the game and the Romney phenomenon looks more and more less phenomenal. The Iowans will speak. Will the people listen?

Plan A was a Freak Accident Waiting to Happen

Plan A is shot to hell, Musharraf is all but finished, Pakistan is at a cross roads and the US and UK planners are looking like bungling incompetents.

Plan A, Benazir Bhutto propping up and providing backbone to Pervez Musharraf so that he could finally get tough on the extremists, has been shot to hell and the experts tell us that there is no Plan B. Leaving aside (for now) the questions about the incompetence of implementing Plan A, we are now forced to scramble for Plan B which could include the Islamist connected Nawaz Sharif.

The problem is that we no longer know what to believe. Take the initial reports of the attack - A gunman/suicide bomber attacked Ms. Bhutto shooting her in the head and neck before detonating his bomb. Initial reaction; that's unusual, a trained, professional suicide bomber. Cool and calm even in the face of death. A real assassin. It makes more sense that the shooter and the bomber would be two different people. Considering how "doped-up" some of these bombers have been you wouldn't expect them to be marksmen and even if they were, you could understand that they might have a case of the nerves which precluded hitting the side of a barn.

The point is, the initial reports coming out a chaotic scene are merely initial reports coming out a chaotic scene. A bomb goes off, people are lying dead or dying and after a momentary stunned silence, the screaming begins and out of the smoke comes the initial signals. The problem is these reports are heard and filed away in the back of the mind. Everything heard after that is weighed and filtered against the "initial reports" and this sets a high hurdle for the truth.

The medical finding about the cause of Bhutto's death may well be true but too easily dismissed as too coincidental. When you first heard the news, didn't you think to yourself something like the following: "She was attacked by a gunman and a suicide bomber but you're telling me that the cause of death was a "freak accident? Give me a break!"

One day after Benazir Bhutto's death, the Pakistanis tried to pin the blame on al-Qaeda. From the Telegraph UK:

Here is a translation of the transcript of the alleged telephone conversation from senior al-Qa'eda leader Baitullah Mehsud to another militant said to have been intercepted after the assassination.

Maulvi Sahib (MS): Asalaam Aleikum (Peace be with you)

Baitullah Mehsud (BM): Waleikum Asalam (And also with you)

MS: Chief, how are you?

BM: I am fine.

MS: Congratulations, I just got back during the night.

BM: Congratulations to you, were they our men?

MS: Yes they were ours.

BM: Who were they?

MS: There was Saeed, there was Bilal from Badar and Ikramullah.

BM: The three of them did it?

MS: Ikramullah and Bilal did it.

BM: Then congratulations.

MS: Where are you? I want to meet you.

BM: I am at Makeen (town in South Waziristan tribal region), come over, I am at Anwar Shah's house.

MS: OK, I'll come.

BM: Don't inform their house for the time being.


BM: It was a tremendous effort. They were really brave boys who killed her.

MS: Mashallah (Thank God). When I come I will give you all the details.

BM: I will wait for you. Congratulations, once again congratulations.

MS: Congratulations to you.

BM: Anything I can do for you?

MS: Thank you very much.

BM: Asalaam Aleikum.

MS: Waaleikum Asalaam.

My first reaction after "walleikum Aleikum" was "Sounds fishy to me." I thought it was a little too timely. Too "johnny on the spot". Suddenly the ISI was the FBI and the bad guys were just dumb asses blabbering all on the telephones. How convenient. I don't totally discount it but I think that if the Pakistanis could produce the translated intercept so quickly, there's a lot more that they could have done and didn't do. A lot more that they knew and weren't telling us. The Musharraf Government has no credibility against Mr. BM's denials:

Bhutto Aides Reject Government Claim


Sat Dec 29, 4:22 AM EST

An Islamic militant group said Saturday it had no link to Benazir Bhutto's killing, dismissing government claims that its leader orchestrated the assassination.

Bhutto's aides also said they doubted militant commander Baitullah Mehsud was behind the attack on the opposition leader and accused the government of a cover-up.

The dispute and conflicting reports about Bhutto's exact cause of death were expected to further enflame the violence wracking this nuclear-armed nation two days after the popular former prime minister was killed in a suicide attack.

Musharraf is done. His goose is cooked. He has no credibility anymore. He should have stepped down when his book was just released and he was being feted at Davos. He would have been lauded as a courageous and honorable man. He should have quit when he was ahead but he didn't do that, he clung to power and now, no one believes him.

Once again, we've shot ourselves in the foot and Osama is frenetically playing bongo drums in a Waziristan motel room. Considering the disaster that was Plan A, one has to wonder about the competency of its planners who seem to be the products of outcome based education. Its time for new planners.

Where Were You on September 26th, 1983?

Stanislav Petrov may have prevented all out nuclear war between the U.S. and the USSR

With great power goes great responsibility, or so it should. But what happens when our rulers and masters overlook a detail or two, or make a mistake? Sometimes we get very lucky and have a small but sensible man step forward, break some rules and in doing so saves the World. Meet Stanislav Petrov.

September 26th, 1983: The Day the World Almost Died

By TONY RENNELL The Daily Mail
Last updated at 01:00am on 29th December 2007

Stanislav Petrov, a lieutenant-colonel in the military intelligence section of the Soviet Union's secret service, reluctantly eased himself into the commander's seat in the underground early warning bunker south of Moscow.
It should have been his night off but another officer had gone sick and he had been summoned at the last minute.

Before him were screens showing photographs of underground missile silos in the Midwest prairies of America, relayed from spy satellites in the sky.

He and his men watched and listened on headphones for any sign of movement - anything unusual that might suggest the U.S. was launching a nuclear attack.

Stanislav Petrov may have prevented all out nuclear war between the U.S. and the USSR

This was the height of the Cold War between the USSR and the U.S. Both sides packed a formidable punch - hundreds of rockets and thousands of nuclear warheads capable of reducing the other to rubble.

It was a game of nerves, of bluff and counterbluff. Who would fire first? Would the other have the chance to retaliate?

The flying time of an inter-continental ballistic missile, from the U.S. to the USSR, and vice-versa, was around 12 minutes. If the Cold War were ever to go 'hot', seconds could make the difference between life and death.

Everything would hinge on snap decisions. For now, though, as far as Petrov was concerned, more hinged on just getting through another boring night in which nothing ever happened.

Except then, suddenly, it did. A warning light flashed up, screaming red letters on a white background - 'LAUNCH. LAUNCH'. Deafening sirens wailed. The computer was telling him that the U.S. had just gone to war.

The blood drained from his face. He broke out in a cold sweat. But he kept his nerve. The computer had detected missiles being fired but the hazy screens were showing nothing untoward at all, no tell-tale flash of an missile roaring out of its silo into the sky. Could this be a computer glitch rather than Armageddon?

Instead of calling an alert that within minutes would have had Soviet missiles launched in a retaliatory strike, Petrov decided to wait.

The warning light flashed again - a second missile was, apparently, in the air. And then a third. Now the computer had stepped up the warning: 'Missile attack imminent!'

But this did not make sense. The computer had supposedly detected three, no, now it was four, and then five rockets, but the numbers were still peculiarly small. It was a basic tenet of Cold War strategy that, if one side ever did make a preemptive strike, it would do so with a mass launch, an overwhelming force, not this dribble.

Petrov stuck to his common-sense reasoning. This had to be a mistake.

What if it wasn't? What if the holocaust the world had feared ever since the first nuclear bombs dropped on Japan in 1945, was actually happening before his very eyes - and he was doing nothing about it?

He would soon know. For the next ten minutes, Petrov sweated, counting down the missile time to Moscow. But there was no bright flash, no explosion 150 times greater than Hiroshima. Instead, the sirens stopped blaring and the warning lights went off.

The alert on September 26th, 1983 had been a false one. Later, it was discovered that what the satellite's sensors had picked up and interpreted as missiles in flight was nothing more than high-altitude clouds.

Petrov's cool head had saved the world.

He got little thanks. He was relieved of his duties, sidelined, then quietly pensioned off. His experience that night was an extreme embarrassment to the Soviet Union.

Petrov may have prevented allout nuclear war but at the cost of exposing the inadequacies of Moscow's much vaunted earlywarning shield.

Instead of feeling relieved, his masters in the Kremlin were more afraid than ever. They sank into a state of paranoia, fearful that in Washington, Ronald Reagan was planning a first-strike that would wipe them off the face of the earth.

The year was 1983 and - as a history documentary in a primetime slot on Channel 4 next weekend vividly shows - the next six weeks would be the most dangerous the world has ever experienced.

That the U. S. and the Soviet Union had been on the brink of world war in 1962, when John Kennedy and Nikita Krushchev went head-to-head over missiles in Cuba, is well known. Those events were played out in public. The 1983 crisis went on behind closed doors, in a world of spies and secrets.

A quarter of a century later, the gnarled old veterans of the KGB, the Soviet Union's secret service, and their smoother counterparts from the CIA, the U.S. equivalent, have come out from the shadows to reveal the full story of what happened. And a chilling one it is. From their different perspectives, they knew the seriousness of the situation.

'We were ready for the Third World War,' said Captain Viktor Tkachenko, who commanded a Soviet missile base at the time. 'If the U.S. started it.'

Robert Gates - then the CIA's deputy director of intelligence, later its head and now defence secretary in George Bush's government - recalled: 'We may have been on the brink of war and not known it.'

That year, 1983, the rest of the world was getting on with its business, unaware of the disaster it could be facing.

Margaret Thatcher won a second term as Prime Minister but her heir-apparent, Cecil Parkinson, had to resign after admitting fathering his secretary's love child. Two young firebrand socialists, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, were elected MPs for the first time.

Police were counting the dead bodies in serial killer Dennis Nilsen's North London flat, the Brinks-Mat bandits got away with £25million in gold bullion and 'Hitler's diary' was unearthed before being exposed as a forgery.

England's footballers failed to qualify for the European finals.

The song everyone was humming was Sting's Every Breath You Take - 'Every breath you take, every move you make, I'll be watching you.' It was unwittingly appropriate as that was precisely what, on the international stage, the Russians and Americans were doing.

On both sides there were new, more powerful and more efficient machines to deliver destruction. The Soviets had rolled out their SS-20s, missiles on mobile launch pads, easy to hide and almost impossible to detect.

Meanwhile, the Americans were moving Pershing II ballistic missiles into Western Europe, as a direct counter to a possible invasion by the armies of the Warsaw Pact (as the Soviet Union and its satellites behind the Iron Curtain were known).

They were also deploying ground-hugging cruise missiles, designed to get under radar defences without being detected.

Then Reagan, successor at the White House to Jimmy Carter, upped the ante in a provocative speech in which he denounced the Soviet Union as 'the Evil Empire'.

His belligerence rattled the new Soviet leader, Yuri Andropov, a hardline communist and former head of the KGB whose naturally suspicious nature was made worse by serious illness. For much of the ensuing crisis he was in a hospital bed hooked to a dialysis machine.

His belief that Reagan was up to something was reinforced when the President announced the start of his 'Star Wars' project - a system costing trillions of dollars to defend the U.S. from enemy ICBMs ( Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles) by shooting them down in space before they re-entered earth's atmosphere.

He saw this as an entirely defensive measure, but to the Russians it was aggressive in intent. They saw it as a threat to destroy their weapons one by one and leave the USSR defenceless.

Even more convinced of Washington's evil intentions, Andropov stepped up Operation RYAN, during which KGB agents around the world were instructed to send back any and every piece of information they could find that might add to the 'evidence' that the U.S. was planning a nuclear strike.

In the Soviet Union's London embassy, Oleg Gordievsky, a KGB officer masquerading as a diplomat, was ordered to watch out for signs of the British secretly stockpiling food, petrol and blood plasma.

In the KGB's Lubyanka headquarters, every small detail was chalked up on a board, filling it with words until the mountain of 'evidence' appeared overwhelming. But the problem was, as a U.S. observer noted, that the KGB, while strong on gathering information, was hopeless in analysing it.

In reality, what it was compiling was the dodgiest of all dossiers, in which the 'circle of intelligence' remained a dangerously closed one. Not for the last time in matters of war, the foolhardiness of fitting facts to a preconceived agenda were exposed.

East-West tension increased when an unauthorised aircraft flew into Soviet air space in the Bering Sea, ignoring all radio communications. Su-14 intercept fighters were scrambled to shoot it down in the belief that it was a U.S. spy plane.

It turned out to be a civilian flight of Korean Airlines, KA-007, that had strayed off course en route from Alaska to Seoul.

All 269 passengers and crew died. Reagan denounced the 'evil Empire' again, and Moscow detected once again the drumbeats of war.

And then came the event that nearly triggered catastrophe. 
On November 2, 1983, Nato - the U.S.-led alliance of western forces - began a routine ten-day exercise codenamed Operation Able Archer to test its military communications in the event of war.

The 'narrative' of the exercise was a Soviet invasion with conventional weapons, which the West would be unable to stop.

Its climax would be a simulated release of nuclear missiles. Command posts and nuclear bases were on full alert, but, as the Soviets were repeatedly told, no actual weapons were involved.

The words 'EXERCISE ONLY' screamed out from every message. But the Soviet leadership, with its eye on Reagan's supposed recklessness, chose not to believe them. Andropov, in his sick bed, and his Kremlin advisers were gripped not just by current paranoias but by past ones.

They were the World War II generation, forever conscious of how Hitler had fooled Stalin and launched his savage Operation Barbarossa against the Soviet Union in 1940 under the pretext of an exercise.

In the war that followed, 25million Soviet citizens died and the Motherland came close to caving in. To allow history to repeat itself would be unforgivable.

Now, the Kremlin watched and listened in horror as the West went though this drill. Top priority 'flash telegrams' went to Gordievsky and others in KGB stations around the world demanding 'evidence' that this exercise was a disguise for a real nuclear first-strike.

In Washington, the effect that Able Archer was having on the Soviet leadership was completely missed. In fact, rather than winding up for a war, Reagan was doing the opposite.

At Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland, he had recently had a private screening of a made-fortelevision film called The Day After, which was a fictional reconstruction of the aftermath of nuclear war.

The former Hollywood cowboy was more affected by this than by any military briefings he might have had. The film predicted 150 million dead. In his diary he wrote: 'It left me greatly depressed. We have to do all we can to see there is never a nuclear war.'

The old war horse was changing course and soon he would begin to make overtures to Moscow that would lead to his first visit there, a building up of relationships and an easing of East-West tensions.

He very nearly did not get the chance. As Able Archer wound up to its climax, so too did the Kremlin's paranoia. In the Nato exercise, Western forces were on the brink of firing a theoretical salvo of 350 nuclear missiles.

In the Soviet Union, the military went on to their equivalent of the U.S. defence forces' DefCon 1, the final warning of an imminent attack and the last stage before pressing the button for an all to real massive retaliation.

On airfields, Soviet nuclear bomber pilots sat in their cockpits, engines turning, waiting for orders to fly. Three hundred ICBMs were prepared for firing and 75 mobile SS-20s hurriedly moved to hidden locations.

Surface ships of the Soviet navy dashed for cover, anchoring beneath cliffs in the Baltic, while its submarines with their arsenals of nuclear missiles slipped beneath the Arctic ice and cleared decks for action.

WHAT saved the situation were two spies, one on each side. Gordievsky, the KGB man in London, was really a double agent working for British Intelligence. He warned MI5 and the CIA that Able Archer had put Soviet leaders in a dangerous frame of mind.

It was the first inkling the West had had that the exercise was being viewed with such panic, and the Americans responded instantly by down-grading it. Reagan then made a very visible journey out of the country as a signal to the Soviets that he was otherwise engaged.

Meanwhile, an East German spy, Topaz - real name Rainer Rupp - had infiltrated the Nato hierarchy at a high level and was privy to many of its secrets, was asked by Moscow urgently to confirm that the West was about to go to war.

Deeply embedded Topaz would know for sure, and all he had to do was dial a certain number on his telephone to confirm his master's fears. His finger stayed off the buttons. His message back was that Nato was planning no such thing.

Moscow took a step back from the brink its own fevered imagination had created. At the same time, Able Archer reached its end, the simulation over, the personnel involved stood down. The date was November 11 - Armistice Day.

Only later did the West grasp how close the world had come to apocalypse. Reagan and his advisers were shocked, and more impetus was put behind finding ways to end the arms race with the Soviet Union.

The near-miss of 1983 has long been known by historians of the Cold War. But this documentary will bring it to a wider audience.

Today, the West's relations with post-communist Russia and its aggressive leader, Vladimir Putin, are strained. Bombers and spy planes nudge rival air space, testing nerves, just as they did in the early 1980s. The situation is ripe for misunderstandings.

Those events, 24 years ago, are also a reminder that, for all the concerns about global warning, mankind's greatest danger may still be its vast nuclear arsenals.

It has largely gone unnoticed that this year, with increasing fears of proliferation, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moved its Doomsday Clock up to five minutes to midnight, closer to nuclear catastrophe than at almost any time since the phoney war of 1983.

1983: The Brink Of Apocalypse is on Channel 4 on Saturday January 5, at 7.30pm.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Waterboarding - Terrifying but not Torture

The Point | In defense of waterboarding,
The Philadelphia Enquirer

By Mark Bowden
No one should be prosecuted for waterboarding Abu Zubaydah.

Several investigations are under way to find out who ordered the destruction of CIA interrogation videotapes, apparently an effort to cover up evidence of torture. Leaving aside for a moment the wisdom of destroying the tapes, I'd like to take a look at what was allegedly done to Zubaydah, and why.

When captured in Pakistan in 2002, Zubaydah was one of the world's most notorious terrorists. The 31-year-old Saudi had compiled in his young life 37 different aliases and was under a sentence of death in Jordan for a failed plot to blow up two hotels jammed with American and Israeli tourists. The evidence was not hearsay: Zubaydah was overheard on the phone planning the attacks, which were then thwarted. He was a key planner of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, was thought to be field commander of the attack that killed 17 U.S. sailors on the USS Cole, and was involved in planning a score of other terror attacks, successful and unsuccessful. He was considered to be a primary recruiter and manager of al-Qaeda training camps.

He was, in short, a highly successful, fully engaged, career mass murderer. Think back to those pictures of workers crouched in windows high up in the burning World Trade Center towers, choosing whether to jump to their death or be burned alive. This was in part Abu Zubaydah's handiwork.

At the time of his capture in 2002, just six months after the Sept. 11 attacks, there was strong reason to believe Zubaydah knew virtually the entire organizational structure and agenda of al-Qaeda around the world. He was supervising ongoing plots to kill hundreds if not thousands of people. He was, for obvious reasons, disinclined to share this knowledge. Subjected briefly to waterboarding - less than a minute, according to published reports - he became cooperative and provided information that, according to the government, resulted in preventing planned attacks and capturing other key al-Qaeda leaders.

In the six years that have passed since the Manhattan towers collapsed, we have gained (partly through the interrogation of men like Zubaydah) a much clearer understanding of al-Qaeda and the threat it poses. While the chance of further murderous attacks is always with us, it is fair to say few of us feel the same measure of alarm we did then. The diminishment of this threat is at least in part due to the heroic efforts of the CIA, the military, and allies around the world in targeting terrorist cells.

In the process, the menace of Zubaydah himself has deflated. Today, he is just another little man in a orange jumpsuit at Guantánamo. Our national concern has shifted from stopping him to figuring out what to do with him.

And to second-guessing what was done to him. Waterboarding is a process by which a detainee is strapped down and forced to ingest and inhale water until he experiences the terror of drowning. It is not torture in the traditional sense of inflicting pain; it inflicts fear, intense, visceral fear, without doing physical harm. It is a method calculated to straddle the definitions of coercion and torture, and as such merely proves that both methods inhabit the same slippery continuum. There is a difference between gouging out a man's eyes and keeping him awake, and waterboarding falls somewhere in between.

In the unlikely event that Zubaydah knew nothing of value and that every bit of information he divulged was false, it was still reasonable to assume in 2002 that this was not the case. If his interrogators were able to stop one terror attack by waterboarding him, even if they violated international agreements and our national conscience, it was justified. All nations have laws against killing, but all recognize self-defense as a legitimate excuse. I think the waterboarding in this case is directly analogous, except that Zubaydah himself, although he richly deserves it, was neither killed nor permanently harmed.

I can understand why someone at the CIA ordered the videotapes destroyed. It was both to protect those who did it (more from their own government, I suspect, than from terrorist reprisals) and to prevent the images from ever becoming public. We have seen the disastrous, self-defeating consequences of such pictures, which untethered from context assume a damaging life of their own. Whoever made the call now runs the risk of being prosecuted for obstruction of justice, a risk I am sure was evaluated before making the choice.

Here's where the issue gets confusing. No information gained by coercive methods ought to be admissible, ever, in a trial or tribunal. Torture can be used to twist (the word torture literally means "to twist") testimony in any desired direction. The goal of any criminal proceeding is justice, and torture produces only the kind perfected during the Inquisition.

The goal of an intelligence operation in wartime, on the other hand, is to elicit accurate, timely information to thwart attacks. In this setting, interrogation is a process, one in which a prisoner is rewarded for the truth, and punished for lying. It is designed to save lives and ensure the success of a military operation. Coercive methods are rarely necessary. Most often, prisoners can be induced to cooperate by being nice to them. There are many other interrogation methods proven to be useful that do not require so much as raising one's voice. But there will always be hard cases like Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheik Mohammed, another mastermind of Sept. 11. With prisoners like these, defiant and dangerous, the only right question to ask is, What works?

What does work? Opponents of torture argue that it never works, that it always produces false information. If that were so, then this would be a simple issue, and the whole logic of incentive
disincentive is false, which defies common sense. In one of the cases I have cited previously, a German police captain was able to crack the defiance of a kidnapper who had buried a child alive simply by threatening torture (the police chief was fired, a price any moral individual would gladly pay). The chief acted on the only moral justification for starting down this road, which is to prevent something worse from happening. If published reports can be believed, this is precisely what happened with Zubaydah.

People can be coerced into revealing important, truthful information. The German kidnapper did, Zubaydah did, and prisoners have throughout recorded time. What works varies for every individual, but in most cases, what works is fear, fear of imprisonment, fear of discomfort, fear of pain, fear of bad things happening to you, fear of bad things happening to those close to you. Some years ago in Israel, in the course of investigating this subject exhaustively, I interviewed Michael Koubi, a master interrogator who has questioned literally thousands of prisoners in a long career with Shin Bet. He said that the prisoner who resisted noncoercive methods was rare, but in those hard cases, fear usually produced results. Fear works better than pain.

It is an ugly business, and it is rightly banned. The interrogators who waterboarded Zubaydah were breaking the law. They knew they were risking their careers and freedom. But if the result of the act itself was a healthy terrorist with a bad memory vs. a terror attack that might kill hundreds or even thousands of people, it is a good outcome. The decision to punish those responsible for producing it is an executive one. Prosecutors and judges are permitted to weigh the circumstances and consider intent.

Which is why I say that waterboarding Zubaydah may have been illegal, but it wasn't wrong.

Mark Bowden is a former staff writer at The Inquirer and is now national correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly.

Waterboarding obviously is terrifying and it certainly seems to be an effective tool but is it torture? No!

Fixing Pakistan, Unintended Consequences.

Final moments (click to enlarge)

Bhutto Family Mausoleum

Bhutto has been martyred. The doctor who declared her to no longer be alive used the words. Benazir Bhutto was used in life to get back in a game where she probably did not belong. Who used her? We will find out more over the next days and weeks.

You can be sure of one thing. She was given assurances that were not met. Whatever they were, she also had her own reasons for leaving a pleasant safe life to make her audacious move back into Pakistani politics. Her personal history contained some unfinished business.

Unfinished business is a huge motivator. We will soon see how the process she started evolves. With each day, we will get further from the truth. Further? Yes, because the immediate future of Pakistan can take many turns. The manipulation has begun and will continue, to suit the purposes of the political spin masters. 

The White House announced that she has died for "Democracy". That's fine, but I have one observation. When the Shah started to lose power in Iran, President Carter intervened to control the outcome. Could things have been made made any worse in Iran with the US staying out of the mix? I doubt it and I doubt it will be any different this time. 

Salvaging U.S. Diplomacy Amid Division

Published: December 28, 2007
WASHINGTON — The assassination of Benazir Bhutto on Thursday left in ruins the delicate diplomatic effort the Bush administration had pursued in the past year to reconcile Pakistan’s deeply divided political factions. Now it is scrambling to sort through ever more limited options, as American influence on Pakistan’s internal affairs continues to decline.

On Thursday, officials at the American Embassy in Islamabad reached out to members of the political party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, according to a senior administration official. The very fact that officials are even talking to backers of Mr. Sharif, who they believe has too many ties to Islamists, suggests how hard it will be to find a partner the United States fully trusts.

The assassination highlighted, in spectacular fashion, the failure of two of President Bush’s main objectives in the region: his quest to bring democracy to the Muslim world, and his drive to force out the Islamist militants who have hung on tenaciously in Pakistan, the nuclear-armed state considered ground zero in President Bush’s fight against terrorism, despite the administration’s long-running effort to root out Al Qaeda from the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

Administration officials say the United States still wants the Pakistani elections to proceed, either as scheduled on Jan. 8 or soon after. But several senior administration officials acknowledged that President Pervez Musharraf may decide to put off the elections if the already unstable political climate in Pakistan deteriorates further.

The administration official said American Embassy officials were trying to reach out to Pakistani political players across the board in the aftermath of the Bhutto assassination.

“Look, most of the people in Musharraf’s party came out of Nawaz’s party,” the official said, referring to Mr. Sharif and speaking on condition of anonymity because of diplomatic sensitivities. While he acknowledged that an alliance between Mr. Sharif and Mr. Musharraf was unlikely given the long enmity between the men, he added, “I wouldn’t predict anything in politics.”

Foreign policy analysts and diplomats said that if there were one thing that Ms. Bhutto’s assassination has made clear, it was the inability of the United States to manipulate the internal political affairs of Pakistan. Even before the assassination, the United States had limited influence and did not back Ms. Bhutto to the hilt.

“We are a player in the Pakistani political system,” said Wendy Chamberlin, a former United States ambassador to Pakistan, adding that as such, the United States was partly to blame for Mr. Musharraf’s dip in popularity. But, she added: “This is Pakistan. And Pakistan is a very dangerous and violent place.”

That said, Pakistan has never been more important for the United States than it is right now as it teeters on the edge of internal chaos. Bush administration officials have been trying mightily to balance the American insistence that Pakistan remain on the path to democracy and Mr. Musharraf’s unwillingness to risk unrest that would allow Al Qaeda and the Taliban to operate more freely, particularly with American and NATO troops next door in Afghanistan.

That is why the administration had been fighting so hard, amid skepticism from many of its allies, to broker an agreement in which the increasingly unpopular Mr. Musharraf would share power with Ms. Bhutto after presidential and parliamentary elections. American officials viewed the power-sharing proposal partly as a way to force Mr. Musharraf onto a democratic path, and partly to relieve the growing pressure for his ouster.

On the basis of that plan, Ms. Bhutto returned to Pakistan in October after eight years of self-imposed exile.

But the power-sharing deal never came to fruition, as the increasingly besieged Mr. Musharraf imposed a series of autocratic measures that left him politically weakened.

Administration officials continued to prod Ms. Bhutto toward an arranged marriage with Mr. Musharraf even during the emergency rule. Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte traveled to Pakistan in November, and spoke by telephone to Ms. Bhutto while Mr. Musharraf had her under house arrest. With both sides balking at the power-sharing deal — an agreement one Bush official acknowledged was “like putting two pythons in the same cage” — Mr. Negroponte continued to push Ms. Bhutto to agree to the plan, according to members of Ms. Bhutto’s political party.

“I think it was insane,” said Teresita Schaffer, a Pakistan expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, of the proposed alliance. “I don’t think Musharraf ever wanted to share power.”

Until this week, Bush administration officials were still hoping that Mr. Musharraf and Ms. Bhutto would form an alliance between their political parties after Pakistan’s Jan. 8 elections, which would bring about as close to a pro-American governing coalition in Pakistan as the United States was likely to get.

The Bhutto assassination upends that plan, but Bush administration officials on Thursday had still not given up hope that Mr. Musharraf may be able to strike a ruling coalition with whoever becomes Ms. Bhutto’s successor in her Pakistan Peoples Party.

The problem with that scenario, though, is that Pakistani political parties are much more about strong, powerful individuals — like Mr. Musharraf, Ms. Bhutto, or Mr. Sharif — than about the parties themselves. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice telephoned Ms. Bhutto’s second-in-command, Makhdoom Amin Fahim, to offer sympathy, and she pledged to continue to support elections in Pakistan, administration officials said.

Mr. Bush’s continued strong support for Mr. Musharraf could further erode his already declining popular support, even if the administration still sees his leadership as the best guarantor of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.

“The danger is the centrist elements of Pakistan will be so demoralized,” said Stephen P. Cohen, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. He criticized the administration for not nurturing Pakistan’s opposition for so long after Mr. Musharraf’s coup in 1999. He expressed hope that the United States could still urge moderate parties to ally themselves with Mr. Musharraf, forming a governing coalition, assuming that the elections go ahead.

“It should wake up anybody who thinks that Pakistan is a stable country and that we can deal only with Musharraf,” Mr. Cohen said of the assassination.

Ms. Schaffer and other Pakistan experts say the administration was making a mistake by viewing Mr. Sharif with suspicion. They said that he was a moderate who will work with the United States in the fight against terrorism, citing his cooperation with Clinton administration.

Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, was in Islamabad with Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy, Democrat of Rhode Island, on a scheduled trip and preparing to meet Ms. Bhutto at 9 p.m. Thursday when the news of the bombing broke. They watched the news in their hotel, with initial reports that she had escaped injury giving way to confirmation of her death.

“I think our foreign policy relied on her personality as a stabilizing force,” Mr. Specter told reporters by telephone.

“Now, without her, we have to regroup.”

Helene Cooper reported from Washington, and Steven Lee Myers from Crawford, Tex. David E. Sanger contributed reporting from Vermont and David Rohde from New York.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

“A Daughter of the East.”

Benazir Bhutto. June 21, 1953 - December 27, 2007.

Benazir Bhutto is dead and Pakistan and the world are poorer for it.

Born on June 21, 1953 she was a peer to many of us who watched her as she entered the world stage. Educated in a Pakistani Catholic convent and at Radcliffe, Harvard and Oxford she was intelligent, thoughtful and articulate. She was beautiful in those early days; a woman in full bloom. She was the total package when, at 35 years old, she was elected the Prime Minister of Pakistan.

For all her privilege, her life was no bed of roses. Her father, the Prime Minister, was overthrown, convicted of conspiracy in the murder of a political opponent and hung by the Pakistani military in 1979. A brother died under mysterious circumstances in the South of France in 1980, another was killed by uniformed Pakistani police. Her husband served eight years in jail for corruption charges. She was no saint and had to flee her country amid the politics and prosecutions about corruption. It's been said that more than once, she nearly brought her country to financial ruin.

She was a modern woman and brave. When she returned to Pakistan, she knew the risks she was taking and yet she took them. She described herself as a "Daughter of the East." Today the East killed yet another daughter.

Bhutto Murdered

Islamic democracy, yea right. My scepticism about the crusade for democracy on the recent previous post stands.

Blast hits Benazir Bhutto rally

Pakistani former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has been killed in a presumed suicide attack, a spokesman for the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) says.

There has been an explosion at an election rally in Pakistan shortly after former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto had addressed it.
At least eight people have been killed in the suspected suicide blast in the city of Rawalpindi. Ms Bhutto is reported to be unhurt.

Earlier on Thursday at least four people were killed in election violence close to the city.

Ms Bhutto returned from self-imposed exile in October.

Exit gate

"The blast took place after she had left the rally," a spokesman for Ms Bhutto, Jameel Soomro, said. "She is safe."

At least eight people were killed by the explosion, reporters on the scene say. Some police officials say 15 people were killed.

Ms Bhutto had been addressing supporters of her Pakistan People's Party (PPP) in a park in the garrison city.

Police say a suspected suicide attacker detonated the bomb at one of the exits to the park as people were leaving.

When Ms Bhutto returned to Pakistan in October, her cavalcade was hit by a double suicide attack that left some 130 dead.

The PPP has the largest support in the country.

Pakistan has been beset by violence in recent months.

Earlier on Thursday at least four people were killed ahead of an election rally that Pakistan's former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was preparing to attend close to Rawalpindi.

Predictions for 2008

A democrat in waiting.

One story that has fascinated me over the years has been that of Kosovo. It is the ultimate Carterization of US foreign policy, the preachy, condescending, and evangelical triumphal crusade for democracy, the application of which was extended to Iraq.

That Wilsonian dream was pretty much retired by the close of the Cold War, put away by tough practical men.

Carter, doffed the political mantel and wore it like a cardigan. He dusted off democratic certitude and used it to dissuade the supporters of the Shah from saving their own necks. Many of them heeded Jimmy's solemn advice and were executed by the mullahs, who brought us Iran I.

The democratic crusade has been losing some support lately, but still is referred to when dealing with China and Russia.

Every argument for supporting lopsided trade with China centers around its helping spread democracy to China.

"Democracy will be coming to the Middle East", was another recent expensive trek.

My prediction for 2008 is that Russia and Serbia will not permit Kosovo independence, (which is a euphemism for enlarging Albania). Will the American public finally tire of our Jimmy Carter foreign policy? What do you think 2008 will have in store for us?

Serbia to Shun EU Path if Kosovo Independence Recognized

Serbia said it would reject any offer of membership of the European Union or NATO if they recognized the breakaway province of Kosovo as an independent state, raising the stakes in a long-standing diplomatic battle.
Serbia's national assembly voted 220 to 14 in favor of a resolution, which stated that Serbia would not sign international treaties that did not acknowledge its territorial integrity and sovereignty over Kosovo. The vote which took place on Wednesday, Dec 26, was specifically referring to the Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) which would move Serbia along the path to EU membership should it sign on next month.

Kostunica said Serbia will never accept Kosovo's independence
As discussions began in the assembly earlier in the day, Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said: "At this moment a powerful resolution which parliament will pass today must be our last line of defence from violence and unilateral independence."

Both President Boris Tadic and Prime Minister Kostunica, leaders of the two central parties in Serbia's center-right ruling coalition, backed the resolution, as did the nationalist Radicals and Socialists in the opposition.

But, the discussions over the resolution pitted parliament's nationalist and pro-Western parties against each other, with analysts speculating that the debate served more as a campaign platform for presidential elections in January.

"Blow to Serbia's EU ambitions"

The opposition Liberal Democratic party, led by Cedomir Jovanovic, rejected the resolution, saying the draft represented "a blow to Serbia's ambitions to become an EU member."

Pro-Western Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic expressed hope that Serbia would sign the SAA by the end of January, despite the resolution, but also without forfeiting sovereignty over Kosovo.

Belated funeral of 30 Kosovo Albanians killed during the 1998-99 war between Serbs and Albanian guerrillas
Serbia said it would postpone its decision on NATO membership, and said it would oppose a European Union supervisory mission ready to take over from the United Nations in Kosovo unless it won Security Council approval. Russia has already blocked the move in a bid to support its Serb ally.

"Serbia will never accept the independence of Kosovo," Tadic told parliament on Wednesday, adding that the diplomatic campaign against it would resume at a United Nations Security Council meeting scheduled for Jan. 9.

He also warned that if NATO peacekeepers failed to protect Kosovo's minority Serbs, "the Serbian Army is ready."

Kosovo ready to declare independence

Most Serbs live in northern Kosovo -- more or less already partitioned from the area dominated by the 90-percent Albanian majority. Kosovars, for their part, are preparing to declare independence in the next few months, with support from the European Union and the United States.

The United States and a number of EU countries have indicated
they will recognise a unilateral declaration of independence by
Kosovo Albanians, after the failure of almost two years of
UN-sponsored negotiations on the southern Serbian province's
The United Nations has administered Kosovo since 1999, when a NATO bombing campaign drove out Serb forces who had fought ethnic Albanian separatists. 10,000 civilians had perished in previous clashes and 800,000 people were driven out of the country.

Serbia, which considers Kosovo its cultural cradle, has offered the two million Albanians in the breakaway province broad autonomy, but Kosovars insist on total independence.

War criminal thought to be in Serbia

Outgoing chief UN war crimes prosecutor Carla Del Ponte
Earlier on Wednesday, Serbia's war crimes prosecutor Vladmir Vukcevic said that wartime Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic was hiding in his country. He said that the "noose is tightening" around the fugitive, but said the officials did not yet know Mladic's precise location.

It was the first admission by a Serbian official that Mladic, who is wanted for genocide and crimes against humanity for his role during the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia, is in hiding in Serbia. In particular, Mladic and Bosnian Serb wartime political leader Radovan Karadzic are wanted for the July 1995 massacre of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the eastern Bosnian enclave of Srebrenica.

Belgrade has repeatedly claimed it does not know Mladic's whereabouts. However, Carla Del Ponte, the outgoing chief prosecutor of the United Nations war crimes court in The Hague, Netherlands, has insisted he is in Serbia.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Carving up the Trade Pig.

Mercantilism is nothing more thsn the using the power of the state throughout the economy to enrich the state. A mercantilist economy is a managed economy. Mercantilism is controlling the means and sources of producing goods and services for the national benefits of one state against another. It is based on manipulated trade and invariably leads to militarism and can result in war.

It was thought that free trade was the antidote, but then again, what is free trade?
I think I know it when I don't see it.

The End of Free Trade

By Robert J. Samuelson Washington Post
Wednesday, December 26, 2007; Page A21

Here's today quiz. What do the following have in common: (a) Vladimir Putin; (b) China's currency, the renminbi; (c) the U.S.-Peru trade agreement; and (d) Hugo Chavez? Answer: They all reflect the "new mercantilism."

It's an ominous development affecting the world economy. Even as countries become more economically interdependent, they're also growing more nationalistic. They're adopting policies intended to advance their own economic and political interests at other countries' expense. As practiced until the mid-19th century, mercantilism aimed to do just that.

It was an economic philosophy that favored large trade surpluses. At the time, this had some logic. Trade was an adjunct to military power. Exports earned gold and silver coin, which financed armies and navies. But mercantilism fell into disfavor as a way to promote national prosperity. Free trade, argued Adam Smith and David Ricardo, would benefit all countries, because each would specialize in what it did best -- the doctrine of "comparative advantage." The post-World War II economic order took free trade as its ideal, even though trade barriers were lifted slowly. Now mercantilism is making a comeback, as governments try to manipulate markets to their advantage.

The undervalued renminbi is a glaring example. China's leaders have staked their country's political stability on export-led job creation driven by an artificially cheap currency that puts competitors -- Mexico, India and other developing countries as well as the United States and Europe -- at a disadvantage. China's trade surpluses have swelled. In 2007, the current account -- a broad trade balance -- will register a $400 billion surplus, about 12 percent of gross domestic product, says economist Nicholas Lardy of the Peterson Institute. That's up from $21 billion, or 1.7 percent of GDP, in 2000. As a share of GDP, China's current account surplus is "triple Japan's level in the 1980s when Japan-bashing was at its peak."

Mercantilist notions also affect the energy trade. "A bear at the throat" is how the Economist recently described Europe's reliance on Russia for about a quarter of its natural gas. Putin talks of a gas cartel, and Europeans fear that their dependence exposes them to political blackmail. Ch¿vez is already less subtle. He dispenses Venezuela's oil to Cuba and other friendly countries at discounted prices. The specter is that scarce energy supplies, now available to all on commercial terms, will be increasingly allocated by political commitments.

Finally, the retreat from global trade agreements also reflects the new mercantilism. The Doha round of worldwide trade talks is floundering. Countries feel more comfortable with nation-to-nation and regional trade agreements, where they have more control over the terms. The World Trade Organization counts about 400 such agreements; the U.S.-Peru pact is the latest.

The paradox is that as the Internet and multinational companies strengthen globalization, its political foundations are weakening. Of course, opposition is not new. Even if free trade benefits most countries, some firms and workers lose from added competition. But for most of the postwar era, a pro-trade consensus neutralized this opposition. That consensus is now fraying.

Two powerful forces had shaped it, notes Harvard political scientist Jeffry Frieden. First was the belief that protectionism worsened the Great Depression. Everyone wanted to avoid a repetition of that tragedy. The second was the Cold War. Trade was seen as a way of combating communism by promoting the West's mutual prosperity. Both ideas bolstered political support for free trade. For years the global trading system flourished on the inertia of these impulses, whose relevance has faded.

In a booming world economy, the resulting tensions have so far remained muted. China's discriminatory trade practices, for example, have excited angry rhetoric, but not much else. The Chinese have generally deflected protests by, among other things, announcing large import orders at crucial moments. When European officials recently visited, there was a placating order for 160 Airbus planes worth an estimated $15 billion.

But would a global slowdown change that if other countries blamed Chinese exports for destroying their domestic jobs? Would import quotas or tariffs follow? Already, China has turned from the world's largest steel importer to the largest exporter, says Lardy. In the United States, the present pattern of global trade is viewed with increasing hostility: U.S. deficits are seen as eroding industrial jobs while providing surplus countries with the dollars to buy large pieces of American firms.

The world economic order depends on a shared sense that most nations benefit. The more some countries pursue narrow advantage, the more others will follow suit. "What's the glue that holds all this together?" asks Frieden. "Is there a common agreement about cooperation that allows governments to give up something to maintain the international order?" It's an open question whether these conflicting forces -- growing economic interdependence and rising nationalism -- can coexist uneasily or are on a collision course.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

That Ancient Yuletide

1924 Vision of Christmas Yuletide.


Yule celebrations at the winter solstice predate the conversion to Christianity. It was, in pre-conversion times, the name of a feast celebrated by sacrifice on mid-winter night of January 12th according to the Norwegian historian Olav Bø. [3] Though there are numerous references to Yule in the Icelandic sagas, there are few accounts of how Yule was actually celebrated, beyond the fact that it was a time for feasting.

According to Adam of Bremen, the Swedish kings sacrificed male slaves every ninth year during the Yule sacrifices at the Temple at Uppsala. 'Yule-Joy', with dancing, continued through the Middle Ages in Iceland, but was frowned upon when the Reformation arrived.

The custom of ritually slaughtering a boar on Yule survives in the modern tradition of the Christmas ham and the Boar's Head Carol.

"On Yule Eve, the best boar in the herd was brought into the hall where the assembled company laid their hands upon the animal and made their unbreakable oaths. Heard by the boar, these oaths were thought to go straight to the ears of Freyr himself. Once the oaths had been sworn, the boar was sacrificed in the name of Freyr and the feast of boar flesh began. The most commonly recognised remnants of the sacred boar traditions once common at Yule has to be the serving of the boar's head at later Christmas feasts".

According to the medieval English writer the Venerable Bede, Christian missionaries sent to proselytize among the Germanic peoples of northern Europe were instructed to superimpose Christian themes upon existing pagan holidays of the area, to ease the conversion of the people to Christianity by allowing them to retain their traditional celebrations. Thus, Christmas was created by associating stories of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, the central figure of Christianity, with the existing pagan Yule celebrations, similar to the formation of Halloween and All Saint's Day via Christianization of existing pagan traditions.

The confraternities of artisans of the 9th century, which developed into the medieval guilds, were denounced by Catholic clergy for their "conjurations" when they swore to support one another in coming adversity and in business ventures. The occasions were annual banquets on December 26,"feast day of the pagan god Jul, when it was possible to couple with the spirits of the dead and with demons that returned to the surface of the earth... Many clerics denounced these conjurations as being not only a threat to public order but also, more serious in their eyes, satanic and immoral. Hincmar, in 858, sought in vain to Christianize them."