“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."

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Washington Post reporting that the Iranian General is Singing.

Former Iranian Defense Official Talks to Western Intelligence
By Dafna Linzer The Washington Post
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 8, 2007; A16

A former Iranian deputy defense minister who once commanded the Revolutionary Guard has left his country and is cooperating with Western intelligence agencies, providing information on Hezbollah and Iran's ties to the organization, according to a senior U.S. official.

Ali Rez Asgari disappeared last month during a visit to Turkey. Iranian officials suggested yesterday that he may have been kidnapped by Israel or the United States. The U.S. official said Asgari is willingly cooperating. He did not divulge Asgari's whereabouts or specify who is questioning him, but made clear that the information Asgari is offering is fully available to U.S. intelligence.

Asgari served in the Iranian government until early 2005 under then-President Mohammad Khatami. Asgari's background suggests that he would have deep knowledge of Iran's national security infrastructure, conventional weapons arsenal and ties to Hezbollah in south Lebanon. Iranian officials said he was not involved in the country's nuclear program, and the senior U.S. official said Asgari is not being questioned about it. Former officers with Israel's Mossad spy agency said yesterday that Asgari had been instrumental in the founding of Hezbollah in the 1980s, around the time of the bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut.

Iran's official news agency, IRNA, quoted the country's top police chief, Brig. Gen. Esmaeil Ahmadi-Moqaddam, as saying that Asgari was probably kidnapped by agents working for Western intelligence agencies. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Asgari was in the United States. Another U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, denied that report and suggested that Asgari's disappearance was voluntary and orchestrated by the Israelis. A spokesman for President Bush's National Security Council did not return a call for comment.

The Israeli government denied any connection to Asgari. "To my knowledge, Israel is not involved in any way in this disappearance," said Mark Regev, the spokesman for Israel's foreign ministry.

An Iranian official, who agreed to discuss Asgari on the condition of anonymity, said that Iranian intelligence is unsure of Asgari's whereabouts but that he may have been offered money, probably by Israel, to leave the country. The Iranian official said Asgari was thought to be in Europe. "He has been out of the loop for four or five years now," the official said.

Israeli and Turkish newspapers reported yesterday that Asgari disappeared in Istanbul shortly after he arrived there on Feb. 7. Iran sent a delegation to Turkey to investigate his disappearance and requested help from Interpol in locating him.

Correspondents Scott Wilson in Jerusalem and Anthony Shadid in Beirut and staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.
read the rest at The Washington Post


  1. can't wait to see how DR is gonna spin this into another nail in our (that would be US, as in just US) coffin....

  2. No, j, I do not think that an exGeneral possibily defecting to the West is much of a deal. Pro or con in regards US operations.

    Ali Rez Asgaris' last Iranian Government job was in '05, 2 years ago. He'd been being eased out, previously, but was cut totally loose when President Abacadbra took charge, in early '05.

    He's been missing for a month, the US may or may not have him:
    TEHRAN, Iran — A former Iranian deputy defense minister who disappeared from Turkey last month is not cooperating with Western intelligence agencies and his whereabouts remain a mystery, a U.S. official told FOX News Thursday.

    The Washington Post reported Thursday that Ali Rez Asgari, who is credited with founding the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, was fully cooperating with and divulging information to U.S. and other intelligence services.

    So an old, out of the loop General, one that built Hezzbollah in Lebanon, in the 80s, has been missing for a month.

    The US or Israel may or may not have him.

    Not much of anything, really.
    Unless, of course he is in Venezuela, setting up a latino HB.

  3. "The US or Israel may or may not have him."

    Maybe Sylvester’s "got" him.

  4. HB is on it's third generation of leadership, since it's founding by Ali Rez Asgaris and those other, now dead, folk.
    The previous leaders killed. Not much intel about them is pertinent to today's situation in Lebanon.

    "... some Lebanese seminarians in Najaf refused to accept the state of Lebanon, its current borders, or its consociational power-sharing formula as unassailable facts. [6] This group organized under supervision of Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, one of the leading clerics in the Shiite seminary (hawza) of Najaf in Iraq.

    Yes, boys and girls, THAT al-Sadr, the dad of the current Iraqi patriot. The founder of HB, really.

    The clerical theorized of an Islamic state woven of a clandestine network that became known as Hizb al-Da'wa(the "Party of the Calling").[7] This network is established in Lebanon of clerics who returned from Najaf like Sayyed Abbas al-Musawi.

    So, funny stuff, no where until just now has Ali Rez Asgaris been credited with founding HB.
    Wiki does not even have his name in the litney of leaders. His elevation coming with the need to make his disappearence important.

    So clandestine.

  5. There is no statute of limitations on murder or conspiracy to commit murder. If the involvement of any of the current Iranian regime or retired members of past regimes can be shown to sundry murders across the globe, including but not limited to Lebanon (1983), Argentina (1992 & 1996), and Saudi Arabia (1996), the Iranian regime will be further marginalized. It is difficult to travel or negotiate with outstanding arrest warrants in pursuit. Furthermore, the legal morass would impede even sympathetic Europeans and, as importantly, desperately needed capital markets.

    It has been estimated that upwards of 40% of the Iranian GDP is lost to official corruption. The general did not enter a monastery and swear a vow of silence. Indeed, his influence and alliances with members of the Iranian elite did not end with his retirement from public life. An American example would be James A. Baker III. To the instance, the general may well point the way to attachable offshore bank accounts and investments, not to mention foreign facilitators of the Iranian regime, including members of the present French, German, and Russian governments and private sector, I would wager.

  6. re: no where until just now has Ali Rez Asgaris been credited with founding HB.

    Although it might be disinformation, Mossad does not agree.

  7. They say he was involved, then, now?

    Which he may well have been, then.
    But, back in the day, he was not well known as the "founder" of HB, at least publicly.

    Seeing as that was twenty plus years ago the amount of current info he'd have, well who knows.

    Everyone denies having him.
    The whole thing could be disinformation.

  8. But we DO know the Original Al was one cool dude, down with the Shiite brothers, andl had his Shiite down cold.

  9. Nobody has ever explained to poor old ignorant me about how brother Al Sistani has stayed alive through all the turmoil of the past.
    Not from a lack of me asking.

  10. Mr Sistani stayed out of Iran, his home country, he's stayed out of politics, in Iraq.
    He stayed at home, out of harms way.
    He refused to meet ANY Americans, in Iraq.
    He refused to even open a letter from Mr Bush, let alone have it read.

    Mr Sistani, he's learned to go with the flow.

  11. George Washington was "instrumental" in founding American republic.

  12. Hey, Rufus (or anyone):
    If you were a VP in this company, what do you figure you'd be facing, besides looking for work?
    (odds on things like prison time, and etc)
    Just Curious!
    New Century

  13. "Criminal Problems"
    Like Mr Liddy has "Criminal Problems"!
    "New Century got into trouble because its systems didn't predict the level of repurchases accurately enough, said Zack Gast, a financial sector analyst at the Center for Financial Research and Analysis (CFRA), a research firm.
    The company was particularly aggressive in how it accounted for the cost of buying back loans, Gast explained.

    The conservative approach is to set aside money based on the assumption that if forced to repurchase problem loans, originators will likely have to resell again them at a lower price, Gast said.

    Instead, New Century only provisioned for the cost of repurchasing the loans. Once those assets were back on its balance sheet, the company recorded 100% of their value, Gast noted.
    "The pool of loans sitting on their balance sheet has been valued at the wrong price," he concluded.

    New Century's problems have sparked concern that the company could be next on warehouse lenders' hit list.
    "Investors and warehouse lenders could lose confidence in New Century," Merrill Lynch analyst Kenneth Bruce wrote in a note to clients on Feb. 8.

    "New Century's business model is highly reliant on liquidity, so if investor confidence deteriorates and credit facilities are constrained, a liquidity event could ensue."

    "Finance companies that go out of business usually do so because of a lack of liquidity," Bruce reminded his clients ominously.
    New Century has financing agreements with lots of large banks..."
    I guess in a "Liquidity Problem" people's pants get wet?

  14. Farmers and Beach Dweller Fellers just don't have the cajones for urban warfare, Bobal!
    Google's Tubesteak Snack?
    But some major media groups, who produce much of YouTube’s most popular content, remain skeptical. At the same investor conference where Mr. Schmidt had spoken, Philippe Dauman, the president and chief operating officer of Viacom, had this to say:

    People aren’t going to spend money for user-generated content like a cat going to the bathroom. We want to provide advertisers a quality environment that they would pay more for.

  15. Sub-prime lenders, when Greentree entered the mobile home land/home business, they'd write just about anyone.

    Then, as Conseco Life, they recieved alot of consumer complaints.

    Conseco went belly up and BK'd over the deal, in '02. It sure was fun while it lasted, though.

  16. That'll upset j willie, doug.

    If Google were to lose market value, over YouTube, would that mean Google ads were not producing either results for the Advertiser or profits for the Company?

    100 times revenue, now that is a multiple I'd sell out at.
    Buy in, at 100 times revenue, now that'd be outside my value investment profile.

    PE ratio, I do not think there are any Earnings, at YouTube.

  17. That's some kind of disinformation campaign, Bobal.
    Probably from when Ash has nothing better to do than write notes and set sail to them in beer bottles.
    Sweet, *Satisfied* Sonia!

  18. J Willie's a Principal in Google?

  19. "The problem is that Greentree wrote 30-year loans on thousands of mobile homes -- making it almost a certainty that the loan would outlast the trailer, which in fact is just what has happened"
    Hope they all got good jobs with the Feds:
    Brownie probly hired them as Mobile Home Experts for FEMA.

  20. Ethanol Driving Up Meat Prices, Congress Told

    First they came for Tortillas, and Rufus remained silent...

  21. From Michael Totten (c/o Winds of Change):

    MJT: “Can you give us any hints about those basic facts you wish you could divulge?”

    David: “…I can only repeat matters that have already been leaked…

    “For example, the reports on the Hezbollah bombings of the Jewish community center and Israeli embassy in Argentina state there was increased communication activity from the Iranian Embassy before the attacks, leading to the conclusion the Iranian embassy was used to coordinate these attacks. Quite obviously, this is only the publicly disclosable part of the intelligence regarding the bombing -- it is very likely that it is not only the volume of these communications that was monitored, but also their contents. This example also proves Iranian embassies have been used by Hezbollah in the past. One can safely assume this practice continues today.”

    On the Record with IDF Intelligence


  22. They aren't STUPID, Allen!
    What proof does anybody have that the Iranian Govt knows anything about what these individuals are up to?

    Michael Ledeen is a Maroon!


  23. It hits the poor hardest, Rufus, as always, not that you envirocapitalists give a s....

  24. If I am elected, the poor will all be given Carbon Credits to sell to the highest bidder.
    Sealed w/a little black footprint.

  25. A bushel of corn, @ 60 lbs will produce 20 lbs of chicken, regardless of the price of the corn.

    At 8 cents per pound, each pound of chicken has 24 cents worth of corn in it. A live chicken goes, what, about 5 lbs, $1.20 worth of corn per chicken.

  26. "... Chairman and Co-Chief Executive Officer Tim Smucker said in a conference call with analysts and investors.

    "We do not expect cost pressure to let up in the near term, and it appears it may be necessary to implement more price increases as we enter the next fiscal year," Smucker said on the call.

    What is triggering the increases, at least to a degree, is the soaring price of corn. Corn prices have nearly doubled since early 2006, from the usual $2-something-a-bushel to the current $4-plus-a-bushel range. The main reason: the boom in corn-based ethanol, which is devouring so much grain that it has roiled the markets.

    Corn is the largest U.S. crop and it affects every other food commodity, sometimes as a food ingredient (like corn sweeteners), or feed (for livestock and poultry). Robust corn prices also mean that farmers will grow more corn — which means they'll grow less wheat and other crops, affecting those commodities, too.

    The ripples are only now hitting the food industry, and consumers. On Tuesday, Coca-Cola's largest bottler said it was laying off 3,500 workers worldwide because of higher commodity costs, including sweetener made from corn.

    "There has been a fundamental change in the sweetener market driven by corn, ultimately driven by the corn used in ethanol," said William Douglas, the bottler's chief financial officer.

    In the past, farm groups have often complained that food companies like to blame rising crop prices for higher food costs, although commodity prices are typically a tiny percentage of actual supermarket prices.

    Hormel Foods has many products affected by rising feed corn prices, ranging from its pork products like Spam, its Hormel Chili and Dinty Moore stew, and its Jennie-O Turkeys. Ettinger said Friday turkey feed costs alone rose by $10 million from last year.

    "While we are directly affected by the higher grain costs in our turkey operation, we fully expect to see higher costs in pork and beef raw materials over time as well," Ettinger said. "We plan to make similar pricing adjustments to our pork and beef products, in order to pass along these higher costs."

    On Friday, Hormel officials reported that first-quarter net earnings rose 9 percent to

    $75.3 million, on sales of $1.5 billion, a 6 percent increase from last year. Nevertheless, its stock fell $1.07 a share Friday, to close at $38.06, due at least partly because of concern about the impact of feed costs and rising prices.

  27. Oklahoma and Texas cattle producers could be facing lower prices for their calves in 2007.

    With corn prices increasing from the $2-$2.50 range to upwards of $4 during 2006, Steve Swigert, an agricultural economist with The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, is advising cattle producers to prepare for decreased profits.

    "For every 25 cents per bushel increase in the price of corn, calves are worth about $6 less per hundredweight," Swigert said. "That means a 500-pound calf would be worth $30 less."

    Estimates worsen when based on the $1-plus increase in the price of corn during fall 2006 alone. Based on that rate of increase, a 500-pound calf would be worth $120 less per head.

    "Corn prices could be in the $3 to $4 range, so we could expect the price of 500-pound calves - with a fed cattle market in the mid-$80 range - would be about $90 per hundredweight to $115 per hundredweight," Swigert said. "Prior to the price of corn going up, 500-pound calves were worth $120 to $130."

    The reason for the increase in corn prices has been widely credited to the additional anticipated usage of corn by ethanol plants in 2007. Currently 107 ethanol plants are in production with 46 more plants expected to come online during the upcoming year.

    "From the tax credit the ethanol plants receive, they can justify paying $4.74 for a bushel of corn if oil is at $70 per barrel. They have a significant incentive to continue expansion," Swigert said. "Also, we have a large volume of fund trading in the corn market, causing a lot of volatility in corn futures. Unless we have a 12 billion bushel corn crop in 2007, it doesn't appear things are going to get any better if you are a cattle producer."

  28. Isn't that a *static* analysis, 'Rat, assuming the chickens would continue to eat just as much corn, no matter what it cost?
    I know my chicks would be out looking for worms, if they knew what was good for them.

  29. What is the overall energy gain when corn is used, Rufus?
    ie, Corn takes quite a bit of energy and fertilizer to grow, harvest, transport, and process.

    Where are all the Switchgrass Plants?

  30. First comment, others to follow:

    DR says, "100 times revenue, now that is a multiple I'd sell out at.
    Buy in, at 100 times revenue, now that'd be outside my value investment profile."

    But its right in a growth investor's profile, like when I bought into AOL in 1994 ($1000) and sold out 25000% later ($250,000). PE was infinite when i bought & same when I sold (before they snookered TimeWarner). I did the same with w/Qualcomm, the dominant provider of chipsets/software for cellphones.

    When you previously addressed this subject, you said:

    As I recall you used goggle's market value to extol the success of advertising on the Web.

    Though the two are only marginally connected. It's people thinkin' they know the future value of market share, that's what drives google, more so than operating profits.

    You almost got that right, but not quite. It's the present value of future market share that professional growth investors bet on ((the smart money that's buying before others know to buy and selling when the herd is buying). First and foremost, they bet on a market where growth is easily discerned. Then they look for the best team with the best plan for winning in the market. In 1994, AOL, Compuserve and Prodigy had been in the online business for 10 years, but only Steve Case and Bob Pittman of AOL SAW that online was simply a surfboard to ride the Internet wave/tsunami that they could see coming. Compuserve & Prodigy were owned by HR Block & IBM, respectively. Wonder why AOL won? AOL never made much net profit. Just like the cable companies, they reinvested in their own growth, because the expansion phase of any industry, it's not about net profits, it's about market share. Plenty of business school theses have been written documenting that market share in a growth market is the most likely determinant of long term value creation and eventually, profitability. In Google's case, there wasn't even a long term. In less than five years, Google went from no revenue to 25% of the US gross online ad revenue (9/30/05). Interestingly, at that same time, Yahoo had 24% of US gross online ad revenue. A year later (9/30/06), Google had 31% market share, Yahoo 27%, yet Google's market cap was up 25% (+42% today), while Yahoo was down 25% (- 9% today). Both expanded market share, yet Yahoo went down. Why? Because of the composition of that market share. Google's share of search queries conducted during the month of January was 54% and GROWING (Dec-51%); all other search engine players' market share declined (see chart here). Search engine queries equals the inventory of searches available to be monetized. Not only does Google "own" that market, it also possesses by far the most efficient and effective capability for monetizing it via advertising. There remains yet another perhaps even more powerful lever in Googles arsenal. Search is the top tool for acquiring new customers for online retailers; 36% of new online customers are acquired via search, 30% via organic traffic - no other factor exceeds 11%. For many, many companies, the cost of customer acquisition is also an order of magnitude cheaper online than in "reality".

    So, add all that up and you might begin to see why Warren Buffett and GE only buy companies that are first or second in market share in their markets. Or, why the smart money bets on Google being one of those over the long haul.

    Oh yeah, You Tube. One billion against a $150-200 billion market cap does not constitute a significant financial risk for Google. In fact, my guess is they have allocated that and more to the development of the video advertising market. Their primary decision was how to spend it, not whether to spend it. They decided that buying the lead horse in a business where first to market has proven to be a significant competitive advantage was more likely to get them where they want to go than building it from scratch.

    And finally, can't remember what legacy media company exec that was talking about "quality" online environment, but that's the same as the music labels pining for the old days of records & CD's, or like Time, NYTimes & others trying to get online subscription fees for commodity content. Waste of time.

    For the best state of the industry report, search for Mary Meeker state of the Internet. She's the Internet analyst for Morgan Stanley.

  31. One other thing about that $1B - paid in Google stock, not cash. The sellers bet far more on Google than Google bet on them. That deal structure also provides the best alignment of interests - all boats rise or fall together.

  32. Phillipe Daumann is Viacom COO. In the old media business, you can't tell customer from competitor. Disney, TimeWarner, Viacom, Comcast - always trying to outmaneuver each other. Viacom is threatened by Google; Google is not threatened by Viacom. Google is in the catbird's seat. They have no "content" to sell and will approach the market with a much different, fresher perspective of how to monetize it. Old media has been doing the same trick for 75+ years; playing in a government controlled market of scarcity (FCC controlled airwaves which are/were the distribution outlets). Government has absolutely no fucking control over the Internet and old media has to play a game where they can't make the rules like they did the last 75 years. Page, Brin & Schmidt don't carry that burden; they are free to see the market for what it is and without trying to protect "content libraries". Provides them with much more flexibility and probably a broader field of vision.

  33. From Michael Totten (c/o Winds of Change):

    MJT: “Can you give us any hints about those basic facts you wish you could divulge?”

    David: “…I can only repeat matters that have already been leaked…

    “For example, the reports on the Hezbollah bombings of the Jewish community center and Israeli embassy in Argentina state there was increased communication activity from the Iranian Embassy before the attacks, leading to the conclusion the Iranian embassy was used to coordinate these attacks. Quite obviously, this is only the publicly disclosable part of the intelligence regarding the bombing -- it is very likely that it is not only the volume of these communications that was monitored, but also their contents. This example also proves Iranian embassies have been used by Hezbollah in the past. One can safely assume this practice continues today.”

    On the Record with IDF Intelligence


  34. J. willie. Care to make some guest posts at the Elephant? If inclined, email us and expect an invitation.

  35. J Willie,
    Google had their own video, as you will recall, but as you point out, youtube had the share.
    Those two guys worked at paypal, and used what they learned about how paypal took care of their customers to good effect.
    How is the Google/Paypal competition working out?

    Google's simplicity and usability is one of their ongoing advantages.
    I looked into windows live or whatever it is, and was not impressed at all:
    Most disgusting was their sticking the microsoft logo intrusively onto users pages.

  36. Doug,

    Laughed at your observation about the logo - so true. I checked out the OfficeLive betas as well. The only thing I see of value in it is that they are providing a hosted version of Sharepoint in the non-free versions. I assume once you start paying for it, that logo and all ads go away, but I didn't pay so I don't know for sure. I'm using the free stand alone version of Sharepoint, called Office Live Collaboration, which remains in Beta. Sharepoint rocks. It is the fastest growing Microsoft software package in quite a while. Of course, its free with Windows Server, which is required to run it. Or you can get hosted versions for $10-20 per month, depending on storage requirements (lots of ridiculous gouging going on for storage - shop carefully). Sharepoint truly facilitates collaboration and there are something like 30-40 business apps available for free with it; these apps work in a seamless fashion with MS Office and with each other and include functionality as a simple crm/contact manager, recruiting tracking/resume database, job listings, employee information/recordkeeping, sale managment, competition tracking, project management, document management, team workspaces, forums, resources and calendar managment tools. Anybody can add work process rules to the pre-existing packages and customize it to their individual business requirements. Enterprises will do so in a big way. Small businesses much less so - its a lot of existing stuff they can use out of the box. That's what it is like - an intranet/internal portal. I highly recommend it and think it will become fairly ubiquitous.

    Google/Paypal. My view, shared by many, is the Google fucked up by not buying Paypal. And paypal fucked up by selling to Ebay. While there is a fit there, it is not as natural or as easy to implement and monetize at Ebay as it would have been for Google. Google had their chances at Paypal & must have played it too conservatively. I think that outcome was replayed repeatedly as they discussed the YouTube deal, which was also being hotly pursued by YHOO & MSFT at the same time. Sergei, Larry & Eric did not want to lose again.

    And that's a wrap for tonight.

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