“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."

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Forget the Middle East - America if far more interesting!

New evidence suggests Stone Age hunters from Europe discovered America


New archaeological evidence suggests that America was first discovered by Stone Age people from Europe – 10,000 years before the Siberian-originating ancestors of the American Indians set foot in the New World.

A remarkable series of several dozen European-style stone tools, dating back between 19,000 and 26,000 years, have been discovered at six locations along the US east coast. Three of the sites are on the Delmarva Peninsular in Maryland, discovered by archaeologist Dr Darrin Lowery of the University of Delaware. One is in Pennsylvania and another in Virginia. A sixth was discovered by scallop-dredging fishermen on the seabed 60 miles from the Virginian coast on what, in prehistoric times, would have been dry land.

The new discoveries are among the most important archaeological breakthroughs for several decades - and are set to add substantially to our understanding of humanity's spread around the globe.

The similarity between other later east coast US and European Stone Age stone tool technologies has been noted before. But all the US European-style tools, unearthed before the discovery or dating of the recently found or dated US east coast sites, were from around 15,000 years ago - long after Stone Age Europeans (the Solutrean cultures of France and Iberia) had ceased making such artefacts. Most archaeologists had therefore rejected any possibility of a connection. But the newly-discovered and recently-dated early Maryland and other US east coast Stone Age tools are from between 26,000 and 19,000 years ago - and are therefore contemporary with the virtually identical western European material.

What’s more, chemical analysis carried out last year on a European-style stone knife found in Virginia back in 1971 revealed that it was made of French-originating flint.

Professor Dennis Stanford, of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, and Professor Bruce Bradley of the University of Exeter, the two leading archaeologists who have analysed all the evidence, are proposing that Stone Age people from Western Europe migrated to North America at the height of the Ice Age by travelling (over the ice surface and/or by boat) along the edge of the frozen northern part of the Atlantic. They are presenting their detailed evidence in a new book - Across Atlantic Ice – published this month.

At the peak of the Ice Age, around three million square miles of the North Atlantic was covered in thick ice for all or part of the year.

However, the seasonally shifting zone where the ice ended and the open ocean began would have been extremely rich in food resources – migrating seals, sea birds, fish and the now-extinct northern hemisphere penguin-like species, the great auk.

Stanford and Bradley have long argued that Stone Age humans were quite capable of making the 1500 mile journey across the Atlantic ice - but till now there was comparatively little evidence to support their thinking.

But the new Maryland, Virginia and other US east coast material, and the chemical tests on the Virginian flint knife, have begun to transform the situation. Now archaeologists are starting to investigate half a dozen new sites in Tennessee, Maryland and even Texas – and these locations are expected to produce more evidence.

Another key argument for Stanford and Bradley’s proposal is the complete absence of any human activity in north-east Siberia and Alaska prior to around 15,500 years ago. If the Maryland and other east coast people of 26,000 to 19,000 years ago had come from Asia, not Europe, early material, dating from before 19,000 years ago, should have turned up in those two northern areas, but none have been found.

Although Solutrean Europeans may well have been the first Americans, they had a major disadvantage compared to the Asian-originating Indians who entered the New World via the Bering Straits or along the Aleutian Islands chain after 15,500 years ago.

Whereas the Solutreans had only had a 4500 year long ‘Ice Age’ window to carry out their migratory activity, the Asian-originating Indians had some 15,000 years to do it. What’s more, the latter two-thirds of that 15 millennia long period was climatologically much more favourable and substantially larger numbers of Asians were therefore able to migrate.

As a result of these factors the Solutrean (European originating) Native Americans were either partly absorbed by the newcomers or were substantially obliterated by them either physically or through competition for resources.

Some genetic markers for Stone Age western Europeans simply don’t exist in north- east Asia – but they do in tiny quantities among some north American Indian groups. Scientific tests on ancient DNA extracted from 8000 year old skeletons from Florida have revealed a high level of a key probable European-originating genetic marker. There are also a tiny number of isolated Native American groups whose languages appear not to be related in any way to Asian-originating American Indian peoples.

But the greatest amount of evidence is likely to come from under the ocean – for most of the areas where the Solutreans would have stepped off the Ice onto dry land are now up to 100 miles out to sea.

The one underwater site that has been identified - thanks to the scallop dredgers – is set to be examined in greater detail this summer – either by extreme-depth divers or by remotely operated mini submarines equipped with cameras and grab arms.

How can they listen to Netanyahu and keep a straight face?

Israelis reportedly don't plan to notify US if decision made to strike Iran
Published February 27, 2012

Israeli officials say they won't warn the U.S. if they decide to launch a pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities, one U.S. intelligence official familiar with the discussions told the Associated Press. The pronouncement, delivered in a series of private, top-level conversations, sets a tense tone ahead of meetings in the coming days at the White House and Capitol Hill.

Israeli officials said that if they eventually decide a strike is necessary, they would keep the Americans in the dark to decrease the likelihood that the U.S. would be held responsible for failing to stop Israel's potential attack. The U.S. has been working with the Israelis for months to persuade them that an attack would be only a temporary setback to Iran's nuclear program.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak delivered the message to a series of top-level U.S. visitors to the country, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the White House national security adviser and the director of national intelligence, and top U.S. lawmakers, all trying to close the trust gap between Israel and the U.S. over how to deal with Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Netanyahu delivered the same message to all the Americans who have traveled to Israel for talks, the U.S. official said.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive strategic negotiations.

The White House did not respond to requests for comment, and the Pentagon and Office of Director of National Intelligence declined to comment, as did the Israeli Embassy.

Iran claims its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, but the International Atomic Energy Agency has raised alarms that its uranium enrichment program might be a precursor to building nuclear weapons. The US has said it does not know whether the government has decided to weaponize its nuclear material and put it on a missile or other delivery device.

The secret warning is likely to worry US officials and begin the high level meetings with Israel and the US far apart on how to handle Iran.

But the apparent decision to keep the U.S. in the dark also stems from Israel's frustration with the White House. After a visit by National Security Adviser Tom Donilon in particular, they became convinced the Americans would neither take military action, nor go along with unilateral action by Israel against Iran. The Israelis concluded they would have to conduct a strike unilaterally -- a point they are likely to hammer home in a series of meetings over the next two weeks in Washington, the official said.

Barak will meet with top administration and congressional officials during his visit. Netanyahu arrives in Washington for meetings with President Barack Obama next week.

The behind-the-scenes warning belies the publicly united front the two sides have attempted to craft with the shuttle diplomacy to each other's capitals.
"It's unprecedented outreach to Israel to make sure we are working together to develop the plan to deter Iran from developing a nuclear weapon," and to keep them from exporting terrorism, said Maryland Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee.

He traveled there with the intelligence committee chairman, Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., to meet Israel's prime minister and defense minister, along with other officials.

"We talked about the fact that sanctions are working and they are going to get a lot more aggressive," Ruppersberger added.

They also discussed talked about presenting a unified front to Iran, to counter the media reports that the two countries are at odds over how and when to attack Iran.
"We have to learn from North Korea. All those (peace) talks and stalling and they developed a nuclear weapon," he said. "We are going to send a message, enough is enough, the stalling is over. ... All options are on the table.”

"I got the sense that Israel is incredibly serious about a strike on their nuclear weapons program," Rogers told CNN on Monday. "It's their calculus that the administration ... is not serious about a real military consequence to Iran moving forward.

"They believe they're going to have to make a decision on their own, given the current posture of the United States," he added.

U.S. intelligence and special operations officials have tried to keep a dialogue going with Israel, despite the high-level impasse, sharing with them options such as allowing Israel to use U.S. bases in the region from which to launch such a strike, as a way to make sure the Israelis give the Americans a heads-up, according to the U.S. official, and a former U.S. official with knowledge of the communications
Cooperation has improved on sharing of intelligence in the region, according to one current and one former U.S. official. Israel is providing key information on Syria for instance, now that the U.S. has closed its embassy and pulled out both its diplomats and intelligence officials stationed there, the U.S. official said.


Monday, February 27, 2012

How Many More US Troops Have to Die for a Broken Mission?

Afghan airport hit by suicide car bombing

At least six people have been killed in a suicide car bomb attack at Jalalabad airport in eastern Afghanistan, police say. They say several other people were injured when the bomb exploded at the gates of the airport.

The Afghan Taliban have said they carried out the attack.

Afghanistan has seen days of deadly protests following the burning of Muslim holy books at a US military base near Kabul a week ago.US officials say the books were destroyed inadvertently. All the casualties at the airport appeared to be civilians, said provincial police official Obaidullah Talwar.

The airport serves both civilian and international military aircraft. Meanwhile, Afghan authorities are still hunting a 25-year-old Afghan policeman believed to have shot dead two senior Nato officers at the interior ministry in Kabul on Saturday.

Afghan officials named the suspect as police intelligence officer Abdul Saboor from Parwan province.

The identities of the dead Nato officers have not been confirmed but they are believed to have been an American colonel and major.Reports said the gunman opened fire in a secure room in the ministry - one of the highest security buildings in the capital - at close range.

On Sunday, France and Germany followed the US and Britain in withdrawing civilian staff from Afghan government institutions in the wake of the killings.

President Hamid Karzai has appealed for calm amid anger at the burning of copies of the Koran at the Bagram air base.

In his televised address on Sunday, Mr Karzai "condemned with the strongest words" the treatment of the Korans but added: "Now that we have shown our feelings it is time to be calm and peaceful."

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Philosophy does set you free , but along the road destroys everything you hold dear.

Standing Against the Will of the Majority:

Hat Tip: Quirk

Why are we Paying a $20 Neocon Tax on Each Tank of Gasoline?

U.S. Agencies See No Move by Iran to Build a Bomb
Published: February 24, 2012


WASHINGTON — Even as the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog said in a new report Friday that Iran had accelerated its uranium enrichment program, American intelligence analysts continue to believe that there is no hard evidence that Iran has decided to build a nuclear bomb.

Recent assessments by American spy agencies are broadly consistent with a 2007 intelligence finding that concluded that Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons program years earlier, according to current and former American officials. The officials said that assessment was largely reaffirmed in a 2010 National Intelligence Estimate, and that it remains the consensus view of America’s 16 intelligence agencies.

At the center of the debate is the murky question of the ultimate ambitions of the leaders in Tehran. There is no dispute among American, Israeli and European intelligence officials that Iran has been enriching nuclear fuel and developing some necessary infrastructure to become a nuclear power. But the Central Intelligence Agency and other intelligence agencies believe that Iran has yet to decide whether to resume a parallel program to design a nuclear warhead — a program they believe was essentially halted in 2003 and which would be necessary for Iran to build a nuclear bomb. Iranian officials maintain that their nuclear program is for civilian purposes.

In Senate testimony on Jan. 31, James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, stated explicitly that American officials believe that Iran is preserving its options for a nuclear weapon, but said there was no evidence that it had made a decision on making a concerted push to build a weapon. David H. Petraeus, the C.I.A. director, concurred with that view at the same hearing. Other senior United States officials, including Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have made similar statements in recent television appearances.

“They are certainly moving on that path, but we don’t believe they have actually made the decision to go ahead with a nuclear weapon,” Mr. Clapper told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

Critics of the American assessment in Jerusalem and some European capitals point out that Iran has made great strides in the most difficult step toward building a nuclear weapon, enriching uranium. That has also been the conclusion of a series of reports by the International Atomic Energy Agency’s inspectors, who on Friday presented new evidence that the Iranians have begun enriching uranium in an underground facility.

Once Iran takes further steps to actually enrich weapons grade fuel — a feat that the United States does not believe Iran has yet accomplished — the critics believe that it would be relatively easy for Iran to engineer a warhead and then have a bomb in short order. They also criticize the C.I.A. for being overly cautious in its assessments of Iran, suggesting that it is perhaps overcompensating for its faulty intelligence assessments in 2002 about Iraq’s purported weapons programs, which turned out not to exist. In addition, Israeli officials have challenged the very premise of the 2007 intelligence assessment, saying they do not believe that Iran ever fully halted its work on a weapons program.

Yet some intelligence officials and outside analysts believe there is another possible explanation for Iran’s enrichment activity, besides a headlong race to build a bomb as quickly as possible. They say that Iran could be seeking to enhance its influence in the region by creating what some analysts call “strategic ambiguity.” Rather than building a bomb now, Iran may want to increase its power by sowing doubt among other nations about its nuclear ambitions. Some point to the examples of Pakistan and India, both of which had clandestine nuclear weapons programs for decades before they actually decided to build bombs and test their weapons in 1998.

“I think the Iranians want the capability, but not a stockpile,” said Kenneth C. Brill, a former United States ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency who also served as director of the intelligence community’s National Counterproliferation Center from 2005 until 2009. Added a former intelligence official: “The Indians were a screwdriver turn away from having a bomb for many years. The Iranians are not that close.”

To be sure, American analysts acknowledge that understanding the intentions of Iran’s leadership is extremely difficult, and that their assessments are based on limited information. David A. Kay, who was head of the C.I.A.’s team that searched for Iraq’s weapons programs after the United States invasion, was cautious about the quality of the intelligence underlying the current American assessment.

“They don’t have evidence that Iran has made a decision to build a bomb, and that reflects a real gap in the intelligence,” Mr. Kay said. “It’s true the evidence hasn’t changed very much” since 2007, he added. “But that reflects a lack of access and a lack of intelligence as much as anything.”

Divining the intentions of closed societies is one of the most difficult tasks for American intelligence analysts, and the C.I.A. for decades has had little success penetrating regimes like Iran and North Korea to learn how their leaders make decisions.

Amid the ugly aftermath of the botched Iraq intelligence assessments, American spy agencies in 2006 put new analytical procedures in place to avoid repeating the failures. Analysts now have access to raw information about the sources behind intelligence reports, to help better determine the credibility of the sources and prevent another episode like the one in which the C.I.A. based much of its conclusions about Iraq’s purported biological weapons on an Iraqi exile who turned out to be lying.

Analysts are also required to include in their reports more information about the chain of logic that has led them to their conclusions, and differing judgments are featured prominently in classified reports, rather than buried in footnotes.

When an unclassified summary of the 2007 intelligence estimate on Iran’s nuclear program was made public, stating that it had abandoned work on a bomb, it stunned the Bush administration and the world. It represented a sharp reversal from the intelligence community’s 2005 estimate, and drew criticism of the C.I.A. from European and Israeli officials, as well as conservative pundits. They argued that it was part of a larger effort by the C.I.A. to prevent American military action against Iran.

The report was so controversial that many outside analysts expected that the intelligence community would be forced to revise and repudiate the estimate after new evidence emerged about Iran’s program, notably from the United Nations’ inspectors. Yet analysts now say that while there has been mounting evidence of Iranian work on enrichment facilities, there has been far less clear evidence of a weapons program.

Still, Iran’s enrichment activities have raised suspicions, even among skeptics.

“What has been driving the discussion has been the enrichment activity,” said one former intelligence official. “That’s made everybody nervous. So the Iranians continue to contribute to the suspicions about what they are trying to do.”

Iran’s efforts to hide its nuclear facilities and to deceive the West about its activities have also intensified doubts. But some American analysts warn that such behavior is not necessarily proof of a weapons program. They say that one mistake the C.I.A. made before the war in Iraq was to assume that because Saddam Hussein resisted weapons inspections — acting as if he were hiding something — it meant that he had a weapons program.

As Mr. Kay explained, “The amount of evidence that you were willing to go with in 2002 is not the same evidence you are willing to accept today.”

The Gibson Guitar Threat

Friday, February 24, 2012

Who is paying the price for Iranian sanctions?

The media has picked up a new refrain and it goes that the Iranian threat is causing oil and gasoline prices to go up. Those increasing prices will add more misery to the home economy of a huge percentage of the US population but they are not being caused by the Iranian threat. Gasoline prices are going up because of US and European economic threats and action against Iran.

According to the following article, 25% of the US population pays half their income on housing costs. This is further indication of the  terrible condition of the US housing market. Add to this misery, increasing energy prices and  the economic situation worsens for US households.  

You cannot listen to any talk radio program without hearing some cheery voice telling you how to make money on the opportunities offered by the foreclosure mess. The same so called right-wing radio is calling for more  misery  by demanding more US military action against Iran and that misery will fall on the bottom half of US households.

I would argue that right-wing values should be those that fight for nationalist objectives on doing what is best for the USA and the economic security of US households, the basic guardians of family values.

Let ’s at least tell the truth: Oil prices are not going up because of Iranian threats. Oil prices are going up because of western actions against the Iranian economy. The aggression is against Iran and not the other way around. The lower half of US households, as usual are those that will pay the price for the stupidity of their rulers and masters. 


More households spend half of pay on housing
Renters hit hardest, with rent costs rising as income falls

By Amy Hoak, MarketWatch

CHICAGO (MarketWatch) — With rent and other housing costs rising and incomes falling, a growing share of working households are spending more than half of their income on housing, according to a new report from the Center for Housing Policy.

In 2010, about 24% of U.S. households paid more than half of their income on housing costs, compared with about 22% in 2008, the report said.

In its report, the Center, which is the research arm of the National Housing Conference, a nonprofit affordable-housing advocate, used U.S. Census data from 2008 to 2010 on housing costs and income.

For homeowners, housing costs included first and second mortgage payments, property taxes, insurance, homeowner association fees and utilities. For renters, housing costs included rent and utility costs.

Renters were hit particularly hard in recent years, as incomes decreased and rents rose. Incomes among renters fell 4%, while renters’ housing costs rose 4%, the report said.

“More and more people are interested in renting,” said Laura Williams, research associate at the Center for Housing Policy and author of the report, in a news release. “Some prefer it because it allows them to be more mobile in a tough job market. Others are postponing purchasing a home or facing difficulties obtaining a mortgage.”

Supply of rental properties is tight, and adding new inventory takes a while: There’s a long lead time between the when demand is identified and product materializes. In the meantime, the rental market has tightened, and rents went up as vacancy rates fell, Williams said.

But homeowners are also struggling: While housing costs fell about 2% for them during the two years, household incomes fell more than twice as much, mainly due to the decrease in the median number of hours worked each week. Homeowners’ income fell 5% during the period, according to the report.

“One of the big underlying points of the study is that sometimes the broader trends we see in the market aren’t reflected in the real-life experience of the individual,” said Jeffrey Lubell, executive director of the Center, in a phone interview.

“In the market, we’ve seen a decline in home prices and people think that housing is affordable,” he said, although a look at the income data shows that isn’t the case. Many working homeowners have had to deal with layoffs or reduced hours, he said.

There also has been a drop in working households overall, according to the report. There were 45.1 million working households in 2010 — about half of those homeowners and half renters — down almost 5% from 47.3 million in 2008. A “working household” is one in which a member worked at least 20 hours a week and had household income of no more than 120% of the median income for the area.

California was the state with the highest share — 34% — of working households who spend more than half of their income on housing.

California was followed by Florida, where 33% of households spend more than half of their income on housing; New Jersey, 32%; Hawaii, 30%; and Nevada, 29%.

The metro areas with the highest share of households spending more than half of income on housing, in order: Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach; Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana; San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos; Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, Calif.; and New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Guess Who Pays the Price for Stupidity.

Two U.S. troops have been shot to death and four more wounded by an Afghan solider who turned his gun on his allies in apparent anger over the burning of Korans at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan, an Afghan official tells CBS News.

A statement from the International Security Assistance Force - Afghanistan, the international coalition in the country, confirmed that two troops were killed in Eastern Afghanistan on Thursday by "an individual wearing an Afghan National Army uniform."

ISAF does not typically give the nationality of casualties until family members have been notified, but the CBS News source in the Afghan government said those killed and injured in the attack in the eastern Ningarhar province, along the border with Pakistan, were Americans.

The source also said the shooting appeared to be motivated by the burning of Korans at the sprawling U.S. Bagram air base, north of Kabul, but he did not provide additional details as to what led him to that conclusion.

The suspect apparently joined other protesters already demonstrating against the U.S. at an American military outpost and opened fire with an automatic weapon, according to the Afghan source.

There have been violent anti-U.S. protests for three days across Afghanistan, since the American military apologized for what it said was the accidental "improper disposal" of religious materials, including Muslim holy books, at Bagram. The U.S. is cooperating with the Afghan government to investigate the incident.

The protests Thursday at U.S. and NATO military bases around Afghanistan and in the capital city of Kabul saw renewed clashes between demonstrators and police, with security forces in Kabul reportedly opening fire and wounding several protesters. Five protesters were reportedly killed by police at protests in the north and south of the country.

For U.S. and NATO commanders in Afghanistan, the main concern is what may come after Friday prayers in 24 hours. Friday is the holy day in the Muslim week, and protests are typically much larger as thousands of Muslim men flood out of mosques and converge in cities and towns in protest.

While calls from some Afghan parliamentarians for citizens to try and attack Americans are unhelpful - especially coming from an ally - they pale in significance against the potential damage which the religious leaders could inflict if they urge similar attacks in their Friday prayer speeches.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai's office said Thursday that President Obama had sent a letter to him formally apologizing for the incident at Bagram, and top U.S. commander Gen. John Allen, who ordered the investigation, is making intense efforts to keep that probe as open as possible, but the investigation is not appeasing Afghans, who are tired of apologies.

Mission Accomplished Update

Iraq attacks kill at least 48 in Baghdad and Baquba


At least 48 people have been killed and dozens injured in a wave of bombings and shootings across Iraq, police say.

The violence targeted predominantly Shia areas, in particular police officers and checkpoints.

In Baghdad, nine people died in two successive blasts in the central Karrada district. Outside the capital, at least two were killed in Baquba.

No group has yet said it was behind the violence. Attacks in Iraq have risen since US troops withdrew in December.

Tolls from other attacks around Baghdad include:

  • six dead after a car bomb in Shia-dominated Kadhimiya, norht of Baghdad
  • six killed by gunmen at a police checkpoint in the Sarafiya district of the capital
  • two dead and five injured in an explosion in the western al-Mansour district
  • two killed and 10 injured in two explosions in Dorat Abo Sheer, southern Baghdad
  • two killed and nine wounded in an attack by gunmen using weapons with silencers, targeting a police patrol in Saidiya, southern Baghdad
  • seven injured, most of them policemen, in a blast in al-Madaen, south of Baghdad
  • five civilians injured in a bomb explosion in Taji, north of Baghdad

There are also reports of bombings in the provinces of Salahuddin and Kirkuk.

The capital of Salahuddin province is Tikrit, the home town of former leader Saddam Hussein, who was executed in 2006.

There are fears the death toll from Thursday's violence could rise.

Last week, at least 18 people were killed in a suicide attack near the Iraqi police academy in the capital.

Shia targets have come under increasing attack since the government of Shia Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki moved against senior members of the predominantly Sunni Iraqiya political bloc.

The day after US troops withdrew, a warrant was issued for the arrest of Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi, who is accused of financing death squads.

Mr Hashemi, who denies the charges, is currently in Iraqi Kurdistan, under the protection of the regional government.

The BBC's Rafid Jabbouri, in Baghdad, says al-Qaeda in Iraq said it carried out previous waves of attacks in December and January.

However, he says he spoke to a senior government official, who said the upsurge in violence since the withdrawal of US troops was politically motivated. The official blamed Mr Hashemi for planning and co-ordinating the attacks.


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Pace of violence picks up in Afghanistan over US burning of Kuran.

KABUL – The Afghan Interior Ministry says seven people have been killed in clashes between Afghan security forces and protesters demonstrating against the burning of Muslim holy books at a NATO military base.
The ministry says in a statement the deaths occurred Wednesday in the Afghan capital of Kabul, in the eastern city of Jalalabad, and in the provinces of Logar and Parwan.
It said four of the dead were killed during a protest in Parwan.
The ministry said security guards at a U.S. base outside Kabul killed one man, while one man each was killed during protests in Jalalabad and Logar.

The American embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan is on lockdown as protests rage in multiple Afghan cities over an incident the U.S. says was inadvertent burning of Muslim holy books at a military base.
"The Embassy is on lockdown; all travel suspended," the embassy announced on its Twitter page Wednesday. "Please, everyone, be safe out there."

Read more:

Yo Warren, Shut-up or write a checK

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Amazing Stupidity in Afghanistan: Chinese Making Oil Deals, US Military Burning Korans

NY TImes

KABUL, Afghanistan — Attempting to contain a violent reaction already gathering steam, the NATO commander in Afghanistan issued a fervent apology on Tuesday for foreign troops having “improperly disposed” of Korans and Islamic materials.

Afghans threw stones toward Bagram Air Base on Tuesday.
As protesters swelled in numbers at the gates of Bagram Air Base, where the incident occurred, Gen. John R. Allen released a statement apologizing to President Hamid Karzai and the Afghan people.

“ISAF personnel at Bagram Air Base improperly disposed of a large number of Islamic religious materials which included Korans,” the statement said.

“When we learned of these actions, we immediately intervened and stopped them. The materials recovered will be properly handled by appropriate religious authorities.

“We are thoroughly investigating the incident and we are taking steps to ensure this does not ever happen again. I assure you ... I promise you ... this was NOT intentional in any way,” he said.

There were unsubstantiated reports circulating among the protesters of NATO personnel taking a load of Korans and starting to burn them.

What is clear is that Afghan employees on the base intervened to stop them, according to a report from an employee on the base and General Allen’s statement.

“I would like to thank the local Afghan people who helped us identify the error, and who worked with us to immediately take corrective action,” said the statement.

Previous incidents of desecration of the Koran have set off extremely violent reactions in Afghanistan. The last one, when a Florida pastor burned the Koran a year ago, triggered protests across the country, including an outburst in Mazar-e-Sharif where a crowd overran the United Nations compound and killed 12 people, including seven foreigners.

It is not clear how close the NATO personnel came to destroying the Korans, but one worker, Abdul Wahid, 25, said that at 11 p.m.: “American soldiers brought a pickup truck loaded with new copies of the Koran in its trunk and dropped it in burning pitch and set fire and started burning the Koran.”

Mr. Wahid said that he and two friends tried to stop the soldiers. “We said, ‘We will give it to our mullahs,’” he said.

Western officials said they did not believe that any Korans were actually set on fire, but that an investigation was under way and they would have information later Tuesday.

The crowd at Bagram, estimated at more than 2,000, shouting “Death to America” and “We don’t want them anymore.” according to witnesses who were reached by telephone. Witnesses said gunfire could be heard and security forces were firing rubber bullets.

Some in the crowd were singing Taliban songs and several Urdu speakers, described as Pakistanis, were making speeches to the crowd.

The protesters closed the district government building and stopped people attempting to come to the center of the city.

Western officials warned foreigners to stay at home.

“I offer my sincere apologies for any offense this may have caused, to the President of Afghanistan, the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, and most importantly, to the noble people of Afghanistan,” General Allen’s statement said.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Post Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo and Libya interventions result in weak, corrupt and violent non-democratic countries.


One year on: chaotic Libya reveals the perils of humanitarian intervention

The mission to remove Gaddafi was a noble one. But it provides a further lesson in the pitfalls of such actions.

In the immediate aftermath of the fall of Muammar Gaddafi's regime in Libya last summer, Stewart Patrick, writing in Foreign Affairs, made a bold prediction. The fall of Tripoli, opined the former US State Department official, was "the first unambiguous military enforcement of the Responsibility to Protect norm, Gaddafi's utter defeat seemingly putting new wind in the sails of humanitarian intervention".

Even as Patrick wrote, his argument was apparently bolstered by a presidential study directive on mass atrocities that offered a menu of potential policy options in the face of large-scale human rights abuses. It was a document, he averred, which was a significant triumph for Samantha Power, the author of A Problem From Hell and the "intervention hawk" credited with persuading President Obama to back the anti-Gaddafi forces militarily.

That was then. Now, on the first anniversary of the uprising against the regime and with Libya in increasing turmoil, the certainties of last summer look less compelling. As recent reports by human rights groups and journalists have made clear, the country has descended into rival fiefdoms of competing militias, not least in Misrata, which, as the Guardian argued on Friday, has set itself up as a "city state" with its own prisons and justice system. Human rights abuses are rife. Corruption is endemic. The new post-Gaddafi state, far from coalescing into meaningful institutions, is becoming ever more fractured.

As Ian Martin, the UN's envoy to Libya, argued late last month: "The former regime may have been toppled, but the harsh reality is that the Libyan people continue to have to live with its deep-rooted legacy; weak, at times absent, state institutions, coupled with the long absence of political parties and civil society organisations, which render the country's transition more difficult." And the lessons of what has happened in Libya cannot be seen in isolation. Rather, they add impetus to the question of when and how humanitarian military intervention should be employed at the time when calls for a new intervention in Syria are mounting. For the reality is that far from being an unambiguous success, Libya has proved once again the limitations of military intervention for regime-change in its various guises.

In Iraq, Afghanistan – in Kosovo to a lesser degree — and now Libya, what has been left after intervention has been a series of weak and corrupt fragile states, where violence is often commonplace and anything resembling real democracy utterly absent.

Part of the problem stems from an overarching naivety in the terms of the doctrine of intervention – in particular "Responsibility to Protect", pushed by the likes of Power – which has operated on the assumption that removing a bad regime must lead inevitably to a happier outcome. That view, in turn, has its roots in a confused understanding of how the concepts of legitimacy and the use of force interact in times of war and how the recent history of conflict can create the permissive climate for further violence.

For while few would deny that states using violence against their own populations delegitimise themselves, when that abuse is then deployed to argue for the use of force to remove regimes, it creates a complex dynamic that risks normalising conflict in the new political space, as has occurred in Iraq and Libya. Perhaps even more worrying has been the starkly visible trend towards ever-more hands-off engagement in the post-conflict reconstruction that has mirrored an apparent desire for intervention to be ever cheaper in terms of blood and treasure.

After the fall of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein's regime, efforts were made, even if they were ultimately botched and deeply flawed, to remould the political space backed by huge resources. In Libya, "intervention lite" has been followed by an even lighter reconstruction, now unravelling with increasingly disastrous results.

Indeed, the failure of recent high-profile interventions – to a greater and lesser degree – far from putting new wind in the sails of humanitarian intervention, as Patrick claimed, has served to dramatise its ambiguities and shortcomings. These failures have raised once again the vexed questions of what should be the threshold for intervention, of proportionality and how far the organising notion of sovereignty should be undermined in international law.

All of which has led to a fundamental paradox. While it is difficult to counter the core moral principle of humanitarian intervention articulated by the likes of Power and US legal academic Fernando Tesón – the latter has argued that because the major purpose of states and governments is to guarantee human rights, then governments that violate human rights should not be protected by international law – it is far more difficult to commend the real and practical outcomes.

I have visited enough human rights-abusing regimes to understand the force of the moral argument in favour of preventing such abuses, especially when they are conducted on a grand scale. But having covered the interventions – and the bloodshed that has followed in Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan – I find it hard to be as complacent as the pro-intervention lobby often appears to be, finding as much to criticise in the abuse after intervention as before.

Perversely, the greatest danger for those pushing most forcefully for intervention is that the dubious consequences of recent interventions may ultimately discourage states from intervening in clear-cut and egregious cases of widespread atrocity and genocide of the kind that inspired the anger of the likes of Power in the first instance – in Bosnia and Rwanda.

What to do then? The answer is that if the notion of humanitarian intervention is not to be utterly discredited, there has to be a rigorous, realistic and practical understanding of what is required – not simply to remove abusive regimes, but to guarantee genuine freedoms, democracy and transparency in the post-conflict period.

For that to occur requires that the doctrine be married with a far higher threshold for intervention and a more profound understanding of both the actors involved and the potential consequences. Because the grim alternative – still visibly present in the relationship with countries such as Bahrain and Saudi Arabia – is a return to a kind of Kissinger-style policy realism that turns a blind eye to abuse.

If intervention is to be a tool, it must be a tool of last resort, backed by the promise of serious post-conflict engagement, costly and time-consuming as it is, with an explicit understanding that "Responsibility to Protect" should not simply mean the prevention of widespread atrocities in the first place, but responsibility for the prevention of civil war in the conflict's aftermath and for reconstruction.

Otherwise, the doctrine invoked to end one horror will become known as the doctrine that gave birth to so many others.


Saturday, February 18, 2012

Being Half-Assed at Half Mast

Cris Christie has trivialized a centuries old tradition by flying the US Flag in remembrance of a drug addicted singer that overdosed on liquor and prescription drugs in a hotel bathroom. He is not the first to do so in recent history but his is one of the more stupid moves. We may as well fly it at half staff permanently for the ever growing legions of victims, past present and future.

Give up your currency, give up your freedom.

Iceland's Viking Victory

EMU shroud-wavers need a better argument (Photo: PA)
Congratulations to Iceland.
Fitch has upgraded the country to investment grade BBB – with stable outlook, expecting government debt to peak at 100pc of GDP.
The OECD's latest forecast said growth will be 2.4pc this year, after 2.9pc in 2011.
Unemployment will fall from 7pc last year to 6.1pc this year and then 5.3pc in 2013.
The current account deficit was 11.2pc in 2010. It will shrink to 3.4pc this year, and will be almost disappear next year.
The strategy of devaluation behind capital controls has rescued the economy. (Yes, I know there is a dispute about exchange controls, but that is a detail.) The country has held its Nordic welfare together and preserved social cohesion. It is slowly prospering again, though private debt weighs heavy.
Nobody is forcing the elected government out of office or appointing technocrats as prime minister. The Althingi sits untrammeled in its island glory, the oldest parliament in the world (930 AD).
The outcome is a vindication of sovereign currencies and national central banks able to respond to shocks.
The contrast with the unemployment catastrophe and debt-deflation spirals across Europe's arc of depression is by now crystal clear. Those EMU shroud-wavers who persist in arguing that exit from the Europe would be suicidal will have to start coming up with a better argument.
Is it now so clear the Iceland will join the EU and the euro? Don't bet on it.
Here is the Fitch text:
Fitch Ratings has upgraded Iceland's Long-term foreign currency Issuer Default Rating (IDR) to 'BBB-' from 'BB+' and affirmed its Long-term local currency IDR at 'BBB+'. Its Short-term foreign currency IDR has also been upgraded to 'F3' from 'B' and its Country Ceiling to 'BBB-' from 'BB+'. The Outlooks on the Long-term ratings are Stable.
"The restoration of Iceland's Long-term foreign currency rating to investment grade reflects the progress that has been made in restoring macroeconomic stability, pushing ahead with structural reform and rebuilding sovereign creditworthiness since the 2008 banking and currency crisis," says Paul Rawkins, Senior Director in Fitch's Sovereign Rating Group.
"Iceland has successfully exited its IMF programme and gained renewed access to international capital markets. A promising economic recovery is underway, financial sector restructuring is well-advanced, while public debt/GDP appears to be close to peaking on the back of a robust fiscal consolidation programme," added Rawkins.
As the first country to suffer the full force of the global financial crisis, Iceland successfully completed a three-year IMF-supported rescue programme in August 2011. Despite some setbacks along the way, the programme laid the foundations for renewed access to international capital markets in mid-2011 and an encouraging rebound in economic growth to 3% for 2011 as a whole. Flexible labour and product markets and a floating exchange rate have facilitated the correction of external imbalances and contained the rise in unemployment, while the financial system has shrunk to one fifth of its former size.
Iceland has been among the front runners on fiscal consolidation in advanced economies: the primary deficit has contracted from 6.5% of GDP in 2009 to 0.5% in 2011 and Iceland appears to be on track to attain primary fiscal surpluses from 2012 and headline surpluses from 2014.
Fitch believes that gross general government debt may have peaked at around 100% of GDP in 2011 (excluding potential Icesave liabilities); net debt is significantly lower at around 65% of GDP, reflecting appreciable deposits at the Central Bank (CBI). Barring further shocks, Iceland should see a sustained reduction in its public debt/GDP ratio from 2012, assuming economic recovery continues and the government adheres to its medium term fiscal targets. Ample general government deposits at the CBI and record foreign exchange reserves
ameliorate near-term fiscal financing concerns. However, the risk of additional contingent liabilities migrating to the sovereign's balance sheet remains high.
Iceland's unorthodox crisis policy response has succeeded in preserving sovereign creditworthiness in the face of unprecedented financial sector distress. However, legacy issues remain, notably the protracted dispute over Icesave, an offshore branch of the failed Landsbanki that accepted foreign exchange deposits in the UK and the Netherlands, and the slow unwinding of capital controls imposed in 2008.
The impact of Icesave on Iceland's sovereign creditworthiness has diminished over time and Landsbanki has begun to remunerate deposit liabilities. Nonetheless, Fitch considers that Icesave still has the capacity to raise public debt by 6%-13% of GDP, should an EFTA Court ruling go against Iceland. Resolution of Icesave will be important for restoring normal relations with external creditors and removing this uncertainty for public finances.
Capital controls continue to block repatriation of USD3bn-USD4bn of non-resident investment in ISK-denominated public debt and deposit instruments. Fitch acknowledges that Iceland's exit from capital controls promises to be lengthy, given the underlying risks to macroeconomic stability, fiscal financing and the newly restructured commercial banks' deposit base.
So far, Iceland has been relatively unaffected by the eurozone sovereign debt crisis and, although growth is expected to slow to 2%-2.5% in 2012-13, Fitch does not expect Iceland to slip back into recession. However, the private sector remains heavily indebted – household debt exceeds 200% of disposable income and corporate debt 210% of GDP – highlighting the need for further domestic debt restructuring, while the key export sector has been held back by capacity constraints and a lack of investment exacerbated in part by the slow unwinding of capital controls.
Fitch says that future sovereign rating actions will take a broad range of factors into account including continued economic recovery and fiscal consolidation and progress towards public and external debt reduction. Iceland is still a relatively high income country with standards of governance, human development and ease of doing business more akin to a high grade sovereign than low investment grade. Accelerated private sector domestic debt restructuring, a progressive unwinding of capital controls, normalisation of relations with external creditors and enduring monetary and exchange rate stability would help to further advance Iceland's investment grade status.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Nato’s Malignant Godchild

Armed militias are threatening the security and stability of Libya, Amnesty International has warned.
The human rights group says at least 12 detainees held by militias have died after being tortured since September.
The report is being released to coincide with the one-year anniversary on Friday of the revolt that toppled Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
Last month, the UN said about 8,000 pro-Gaddafi supporters were being held by militia groups.
The interim government has said it is trying to reassert authority, but correspondents say it has largely failed to rein in the groups.
'Nobody responsible'
According to Amnesty, some groups of former rebels are committing human rights violations with impunity, unchecked by the interim government.
"Nobody is holding these militias responsible," Donatella Rovera, senior crisis response adviser at Amnesty International, told AP news agency.
The report cites detainees who said they been suspended in contorted positions, beaten for hours with whips, cables, plastic hoses, metal chains and bars, and given electric shocks with live wires and taser-like electroshock weapons.
In one detention centre, in Tripoli, investigators found severely tortured detainees who interrogators tried to conceal, Amnesty said. The report is based on research conducted in Libya in January and February.
The group noted that African migrants and refugees - who were accused during the conflict of being "mercenaries" for Muammar Gaddafi - were among those being abused.
Militias have also been responsible for fatal clashes in Tripoli and fighting in other towns in recent months.
On Tuesday, thousands of fighters from across western Libya held a parade in the capital, displaying heavy machine guns and rocket launchers, and firing rifles in the air.
In the past month, the BBC has seen corroborating evidence of torture in Misrata, Libya's third city, as well as the town of Gharyan, south of the capital Tripoli.
In January, the BBC saw the corpse of a man whose body bore the marks of torture, including beating and electric shocks.
On Friday, there will be celebrations across the country to mark the one-year anniversary of the start of the revolution that - it was hoped - would usher in a new era.
There is now a real fear that some of the very men who - with the support of Nato - fought the battle to topple the old regime, are now jeopardising the country's future.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Five Hundred Years of the Female Face

ACTA - Poland leading the protest for freedom

Poland Leads a New Struggle for Freedom
By Claudia Ciobanu

WARSAW, Feb 14, 2012 (IPS) - Last weekend saw tens of thousands of people across Europe taking to the streets in protest against the international treaty to enforce intellectual property rights. European politicians are gradually distancing themselves from the treaty, largely as a result of citizen mobilisation initiated in Central Europe.

Several hundreds gathered in front of the presidential palace in Warsaw Saturday Feb. 11, for a two-hour modest protest. That was a far cry from the intense street actions that drew thousands in all major cities in Poland a little over two weeks back.

But, in a way, Polish protesters had already done their part: their own government, which had signed the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), postponed ratification and inaugurated a period of public debate; European Parliamentarians of various political orientations are declaring they will not ratify the treaty; and ACTA has become an issue for European debate, with coordinated demonstrations taking place on Saturday in almost every EU country.

On Feb. 11, 15,000 protested in Munich, 10,000 in Berlin, 4,000 in Sofia, 2,000 in Prague, and hundreds in other Western and Eastern European cities.

ACTA is meant to establish an international legal framework for targeting counterfeit goods, generic medicines and copyright infringement online. Critics of the act, however, argue that it is "an offensive against the sharing of culture on the Internet" and condemn the lack of public debate over such a significant treaty.

According to La Quadrature du Net (quoted above), an advocacy group defending the rights and freedoms of citizens on the Internet, "ACTA would impose new criminal sanctions forcing Internet actors to monitor and censor online communication. It is thus a major threat to freedom of expression online and creates legal uncertainty for Internet companies. In the name of trademarks and patents, it would also hamper access to generic drugs in poor countries."

European awareness about the threats ACTA could pose was first raised when activists successfully opposed similar copyright protection acts to be applied in the U.S., such as the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA). But opposition to ACTA catalysed on Jan. 26, when the European Union and 22 of its member states signed the act in Japan. The treaty had already been signed by eight non-EU members and it is supposed to come into force after ratification by six signatories.

The week of the signing, protests exploded in Poland. Sociologist Gavin Rae from Kozminski University of Warsaw argues that the signing of ACTA by the centre-right government of Prime Minister Donald Tusk was taken particularly hard by Poland’s educated youth for whom the Internet is "not simply an additional activity, but a means of life, where people communicate, socialise, share information, and, crucially, work."

According to Rae, Poland’s youth had already been feeling vulnerable as well as betrayed by the country’s political class, and ACTA acted as the last straw, causing one of the most striking episodes of citizen mobilisation in post-socialist Poland.

"The recent attack on online freedom came at a time when already the country’s youth had been feeling threatened," Rae told IPS. "Unemployment is high in Poland and a third of all Poles are working in temporary, insecure contracts – not counting the numerous ‘self-employed’. The youth is particularly affected by this ‘precariat’."

According to 27-year old activist Piotr Bratkowski, a participant in the anti-ACTA Warsaw protests, some sections of the Polish youth might have socio-economic complaints but are not comfortable using the language of the political left to fight such battles.

Gavin Rae concurs: "The present elite in Poland never wastes an opportunity to wrap itself in the flag of the previous, anti-communist opposition movement and reminisce of the days when they had to fight for freedom. The young generation is now the guardian of such freedoms and it is turning against this elite that it deems wants to take them away."

As a result of the Jan. 24-26 Polish protests, Tusk declared the ratification process of ACTA temporarily halted, and launched a longer period of public debate over the act, with an initial discussion gathering artists, decision-makers and the general public already taking place Feb. 7. Meanwhile, at the Feb. 11 demonstration, activists were collecting signatures to call for a referendum over ACTA. At least 500,000 signatures are needed to trigger the procedure in Poland.

National ratifications are necessary for implementation of criminal penalties included in ACTA, which fall outside the remit of EU law.

Over the first two weeks of February, other governments in Central and Eastern Europe followed Tusk’s example, in response to significant grassroots opposition to ACTA in their own countries. The Czech government has stopped the ratification process and called for a public debate, with the Latvians following suit. Slovakians, who had not signed the treaty, announced they would delay committing to ACTA. The Slovenian ambassador signing the ACTA treaty in Japan has since apologised for her "civically negligent" action.

On Feb. 10, Germany announced it would not sign until it sees the decision of the European Parliament (EP) – the first Western European government to delay adopting ACTA.

Most activists’ eyes are also turned to the EP, whose ratification scheduled for June this year is a condition for the EU-wide implementation of ACTA.

Activists from La Quadrature du Net are advising people how to contact their representatives in the various EP committees which have a say over the final vote. Meanwhile, several groups are collecting signatures in opposition to ACTA to submit to the EP, with petition site Avaaz having gathered over 2,250,000 endorsements so far.

Some EP members have already nodded in the activists’ direction - Greens and the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) have expressed opposition to the ratification, alongside EP president Martin Schultz (S&D) - although the largest group in the EP, Christian-Democrat European People’s Party (EPP), continues to be in favour of the treaty.

MEPs opposing ACTA have announced they intend to call on the European Court of Justice to weigh in on ACTA’s compatibility with EU law, a procedure that can take up to two years. (END)