Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Powerpoint for Generals

My thanks to Clayton Swisher of Al Jazeera English for pointing this one out.

It seems that US Army Colonel Lawrence Sellin was fired from his job with NATO/ISAF HQ in Kabul after he wrote a very frank assessment of the headquarters where he worked.

Having the low opinion of officers in general that I do, and a far lower opinion of senior officers, I found this just delightfully amusing to read; it confirms all my darkest suspicions about headquarters weenies.

The article by Colonel Sellin is entitled "PowerPoints R Us", and begins like this-

I have been assigned as a staff officer to a headquarters in Afghanistan for about two months. During that time, I have not done anything productive. Fortunately little of substance is really done here, but that is a task we do well.

A few select quotes for your amusement-

For headquarters staff, war consists largely of the endless tinkering with PowerPoint slides to conform with the idiosyncrasies of cognitively challenged generals in order to spoon-feed them information. Even one tiny flaw in a slide can halt a general's thought processes as abruptly as a computer system's blue screen of death.


The ability to brief well is, therefore, a critical skill. It is important to note that skill in briefing resides in how you say it. It doesn't matter so much what you say or even if you are speaking Klingon.

Random motion, ad hoc processes and an in-depth knowledge of Army minutia and acronyms are also key characteristics of a successful staff officer. Harried movement together with furrowed brows and appropriate expressions of concern a la Clint Eastwood will please the generals. Progress in the war is optional.

I can only congratulate the good Colonel Sellin on his honesty, and wish him all success in his new life as a civilian.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Problem With Having Things In Common

This is written in response to an essay by my friend and colleague Kemstone entitled "What I Have In Common With Obama And the Tea Party".

I was amused to hear Kemstone describe himself as "significantly to the left of the establishment Democratic Party". Oh, I'm not denying that it's true, it's just that being "significantly to the left of the establishment Democratic Party" doesn't put a person very far Left of center these days, given how far to the Right the Democratic Party has swung in the last two years. In fact, it's rather like damning oneself with faint praise.

The problem with staking out a middle position between two conflicting factions is that when the shit hits the fan, you start taking fire from both sides. A certain amount of self-doubt and self-criticism is what separates a decent person from a complete asshole. But too much self-doubt, self-criticism, and self-consciousness can be crippling.

The essential fact is that one cannot compromise with Evil, and the forces arrayed against us are blatantly evil. This is not demonization, this is simple fact. Regardless of the sincerity of those unenlightened persons who are being used as a cat's paw, the individuals and organizations behind the opposition are committed to fundamentally evil goals. Goals directly opposed to the very concepts of Equality and Justice which emerged in the 18th century, (with a nod of respect to the ancient Greeks), and have guided civilized men and women ever since.

The Oligarchs, the Plutarchs, call them what you will, the enormously wealthy men and women behind the Right agenda are attempting to roll back the clock on over 200 years of social progress and return us to an age in which the obscenely wealthy few ruled over the impoverished masses in absolute despotism. An age in which there was no equality, no democracy, no justice, in which the Rule of Law was suspended in favor of the privileges of the aristocracy. In short, to feudalism, the most brutally repressive social system our species has ever known.

This is fundamentally Evil and there can be no compromise with Evil, or we are lost.

That the road to hell is paved with good intentions, that is old news. It does not matter how well-intentioned the Tea Partiers are. It matters only the damage that they can do, and the fundamentally evil men and women that back them, whose tools they are, whose bidding they unwittingly do.

There can be no compromise with Evil, or we are lost.

More on the Mediocrity That is Obama

These are dark days for Progressives, let there be no doubt. The realization that our President really has sold us out is a tough thing to assimilate. Realizing that what we thought was the light at the end of the tunnel, was actually a train about to roll right over us is another tough pill to swallow.

Fortunately, there is humor to help us through. Gallows humor, yes, but humor none the less. Big thanks to ProleFeedTV for this video. He says it better than I did in my last posting here.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

An Open Letter to the Democratic Party

Dear DNC,

We sent you Democrats to Washington DC two years ago with the White House, a solid majority in the House of Representatives, and a veto-proof majority in the Senate. And what have we gotten from you?

Health-care "reform" that reforms nothing, has no public option, adds a mandate, and is actually worse than nothing. You sold us out to the HMO's and Big Pharma.

Financial "reform" that reforms nothing, does nothing, and is a totally toothless tiger. You sold us out to the Bankers and the Brokers.

A huge expansion of the War in Afghanistan that is doing nothing but filling more body bags. The offensive in Helmand, that was supposed to be the great example of the new strategy, is a failure. The Taliban are winning. The corporations are getting rich on defense contracts, and the 99ers are getting homeless. Yes, hello, there are millions of 99ers out here, remember us?

Don't ask don't tell? Thrown under the bus

Signing statements? Obama swore he would never use them, and he did.

Guatanomo? Still open.

We sent you Democrats to DC two years ago with the White House, a solid majority in the House of Representatives, and a veto-proof majority in the Senate. If you can't get the job done with that, you are hopelessly incompetent. Or you've sold us out.

Why should we vote for you again?

Your only answer is to shriek and gibber about how evil those nasty old Republicans are. Well, yes, they are evil.

Then again, with friends like you, who needs enemies?

Kemstone on Koch Bandits

My friend and colleague Kemstone has posted an excellent article on the devious manipulations of the infamous Koch brothers.

As Kemstone notes, if evil has a face in the USA today, this is it. These are the enemy, my friends. The Koch brothers are the enemies of Democracy, the enemies of the People, the enemies of Freedom.

And they're rich as hell.

Japan's Ozawa says Americans Are Not Very Smart

In an amusing return of the classic Japanese political gaffe, political grandee Ichiro Ozawa commented that -

"I like Americans, but they are somewhat monocellular. When I talk with Americans, I often wonder why they are so simple-minded."

There was a time, not so long ago, when I would have hastened to indignantly refute such accusations. But in all truth, dear reader, look around you at the US political landscape, consider the events of the last 10 years, and ask yourself if we can really deny that his opinions are at least partially justified.

Ozawa continued -

"I don't think Americans are very smart, but I give extremely high credit for democracy and choices by its people," he added.

Oh? Now that part I can argue with.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Living With The Taliban

While this video is a far less polished and professional effort, it does strongly remind me of the excellent "Dining With Terrorists" series by Phil Rees.

Video is always a tricky medium to evaluate. We are shown a montage of images with no real way to tell under what circumstances they were shot, or whether the action portrayed is staged or candid. And this is true of all video, even that shown on mainstream media. Yet, to most of us, more polished and professional efforts are inherently more credible, until they cross an invisible threshold at which excessive polish actually erodes credibility.

So then, how shall we evaluate this video in particular?

Most of us evaluate the unknown by comparing it to the known. And just how much relevant knowledge do most of us have on this subject? There are things we think we know, but do we really know those things, or are they simply what we have been schooled to believe?

We have all heard the phrase "hearts and minds" often enough in recent months to make us ill at the very mention. Those of us old enough, remember that phrase from America's last failed adventure in direct imperialism, in a place called Vietnam. And yet in a very real sense insurgency is about precisely that; it is a political struggle, not a military struggle, and can only be won by political means. And politics, my friends, takes place in the mind.

What the Pentagon and the White House seem to have overlooked is that the hearts and minds being fought over are not just those in Afghanistan, but those in the United States of America, as well.

Reagan on the Afghan Freedom Fighters

While it has no deeper meaning, this short video clip is just too ironically amusing for me to pass up. It must be hard, being a neo-con these days, and trying to reconcile your veneration of Reagan with glaring inconsistencies like this.

Or, then again, perhaps not. Most neo-cons seem delightfully unconstrained by trivial concepts like logic, consistency, truth, or reality.

And with that, dear reader, the Raygun himself.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

A Clumsy Attempt To Smear Wikileaks

Well, well, the establishment strikes back. Or tries to and misses.

Early this morning, (well, early by California time), your favorite beady-eyed varmint, still sipping on that first cup of tea, was greeted with the news that Swedish police had issued an arrest warrant for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. And the first thought that popped into my narrow little skull was, "It's a setup".

Lo and behold, by the time I leave Al Jazeera's site and move along to news.com.au for Oz election news, AP has posted a story saying that the warrant has been withdrawn because the accusation was obviously false. Do tell.

SWEDISH prosecutors have withdrawn an arrest warrant for the founder of WikiLeaks, saying less than a day after the document was issued that it was based on an unfounded accusation of rape.

The accusation had been labelled a dirty trick by Julian Assange and his group, who are preparing to release a fresh batch of classified US documents from the Afghan war.

Swedish prosecutors had urged Mr Assange - a nomadic 39-year-old Australian whose whereabouts were unclear - to turn himself in to police to face questioning in one case involving suspicions of rape and another based on an accusation of molestation.

"I don't think there is reason to suspect that he has committed rape," chief prosecutor Eva Finne said, in announcing the withdrawal of the warrant. She did not address the status of the molestation case, a less serious charge that would not lead to an arrest warrant.

Obviously, the powers-that-be are getting truly desperate to silence Wikileaks. Knowing that any charges they could bring would be proven false, they went for the maximum mud value, accusing Assange of crimes which provoke a gut-level revulsion which transcends logic, and hoping that some of the stigma would cling to Wikileaks and its founder.

If this incident means anything at all, it means that Wikileaks and Assange, (not to mention all the nameless staffers and whistleblowers who contribute so bravely to Wikileaks), are truly on the side of Humanity, Freedom and Truth.

When the corrupt, evil old men who rule this fallen world are so afraid of a news source that they will stoop to anything to discredit that source, that is the best credential that anyone or anything could possibly have.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

How Israel Buys Influence in the USA

Recently declassified files obtained from the National Archives provide a rare look at just how Israel not only buys influence in the US media, but actually shapes the agenda of that media. These documents are from a sealed Senate investigation into the predecessors of AIPAC, (America-Israel Public Affairs Committee), and its mouthpiece WINEP, (Washington Institute for Near-East Policy).

Spratly Islands, part II

An article published earlier today in the Philippine Daily Inquirer has a few interesting quotes on the potential for conflict in the Spratly Islands, although the parties speaking are careful to say "South China Sea". Perhaps most significant of all is the mere fact that the US Navy and the Philippines Navy are now actually talking about the potential.

The occasion was a visit by the admiral in charge of the US Pacific Command to meet with the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Ricardo David Jr.

In front of the visiting commander of the United States Pacific Command, David said the Philippines would not be part of a shooting war.

“Unang-una wala naman tayong ipuputok (In the first place, we have nothing to shoot with),” David said, drawing grins from some reporters while Admiral Robert Willard simply looked on since he could not understand Filipino.

David expressed hopes that no shooting war would occur in the South China Sea. “We want to avoid that, even our US counterpart would not like any violent activities in the South China Sea,” he said.

Yes, that was an elbow in the ribs.

And from another article in the same excellent publication -

On Sunday, the US Navy hosted a delegation of Vietnamese military and government officials on the USS George Washington, a hulking nuclear-powered aircraft supercarrier cruising in waters off Vietnam’s central coast. Chinese ships were seen shadowing the carrier in the distance.

“These waters belong to nobody, yet belong to everybody,” Capt. David Lausman, commanding officer of the George Washington, said aboard the mammoth carrier that can carry up to 70 aircraft, more than 5,000 sailors and aviators and about 1.8 million kilograms of bombs. “China has a right to operate here, as do we and as do every other country of the world.”

The problem is that the Chinese claim complete sovereignty over the entire South China Sea.

Keep an eye on this one, my friends.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Flashpoint Spratly Islands

As the competition for remaining deposits of crude oil and natural gas accelerates, an obscure group of reefs and shoals in the South China Sea may well become an important and much-contested center of attention.

The so-called Spratly Islands group consists of over 750 reefs, shoals, atolls, islets and islands at the far south end of the South China Sea. Amusingly enough, the total land area of all of these is less than 4 square kilometers. There is no indigenous population, but approximately 50 "islands" are garrisoned by one of the contending nations.

China, Taiwan, the Phillipines, Malaysia, and Vietnam have conflicting claims to all or part of the Spratlys, and the Sultanate of Brunei has claimed a fishing zone which includes the southern part of the archipelago.

Map courtesy of Wikimedia

The white symbols are existing gas wells, the black ones are existing oil wells, and the thin blank lines connecting them to the shore are pipelines. As you can see, the area all around the Spratlys has been developed.

Official sources in the West have the oil and gas deposits in the Spratlys listed as "unknown", but this is a thin lie at best. In truth it has been known at least since the 1970's, (and possibly 40 years earlier than that), that enormous deposits of oil and gas lay under the Spratlys; it has simply never been economically advantageous to exploit those resources.

According to the Chinese, however, the oil and gas deposits under the Spratlys total nearly 18 billion tons, as compared to a total of roughly 13 billion tons for Kuwait, which is considered an oil and gas giant.

In 1988, Vietnam and China fought a brisk little series of skirmishes near Johnson South Reef, in which the Vietnamese were defeated, with the loss of three small patrol vessels.

In 1995, the Chinese seized Mischief Reef from the Philippines.

So why am I bringing this up now? Because there is again a very real potential for conflict over the Spratlys in the near future. Specifically, the USA is in the process of grooming Vietnam to act as its proxy in the region.

First came the announcement that the USA would sell civilian nuclear technology to Vietnam.

Then about 3 weeks ago, on July 23, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton announced that that the U.S. had a "national interest in... respect for international law in the South China Sea" and supported a regional solution to the dispute. China responded by saying that the US offer to mediate the dispute was "an attack on China".

An article in the Telegraph on Sunday noted that the US and Vietnam are to hold joint naval exercises in the area, and this at a time when relations between the US and China are already rather strained over US sales of military hardware to Taiwan.

Interesting times, dear readers, we live in interesting times.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Conservative Paranoia

For those who have not heard me say so before, I'm a Californian. And I genuinely like Texans. California and Texas are the bookends of the region referred to as the American South-West; we share a common culture, and a common history.

But there seems to be something in the water in Texas lately, that is causing Conservatives to lose all contact with reality, and engage in wild, ranting tirades about non-existent threats.

The following video of Congressman Louie Gohmert raving about "terror babies" and the "gaping hole in America's security" is over 9 minutes long. But once you've endured the first two minutes, you've heard everything he has to say. From that point he just repeats himself in a classic example of the Big Lie technique.

Well, that was amusing, but it's just this one lunatic, right?

Well, no, actually. Here's another example, although she's only a State Representative. Apologies for the lack of embeddable video.

And yet, in a very real sense, the fact that these two reactionary idiots are baying at the moon is not the worrisome part. The truly worrisome part is the number of my fellow Americans who are actually willing to take such nonsense seriously.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Cholera in Pakistan

I've said before that sometimes I hate being right.

In the second paragraph of my post on August 10th, I said that the situation in Pakistan was "ripe for an massive epidemic of cholera or worse".

Sure enough, today it was announced officially that cholera has begun.

AJE is obviously trying to keep it low-key, nobody wants to start a panic. You'll notice in this video they dance around the subject, using the generic term "disease", and describing all the symptoms, but only actually mentioning the word "cholera" once, at about 1:34

It doesn't take a genius to predict this, of course. Floods, inadequate sanitation, large numbers of dead bodies left unburied in wet conditions, these things produce cholera quite predictably and reliably. And cholera, dear readers, is one of those diseases which can spread through a vulnerable population with unbelievable rapidity. And 15 million Pakistanis have been displaced from their homes by these floods.

It is by no means inconceivable that the death toll from this could reach into the hundreds of thousands or even millions. Let us earnestly hope that I am utterly and completely wrong this time.

Friday, August 13, 2010

PEGI's Paradox

I do not usually post on Fridays, and I seldom ever post about trivial personal issues. Today being Friday the 13th, I'm going to break both of those rules.

Proceed at your own risk.

PEGI stands for Pan-European Game Information, actually a more detailed rating system than that used by ESRB, (Entertainment Software Ratings Board) which basically only rates for sex and violence. The PEGI system also includes flags for drug abuse, racism, and gambling. Rumor has it PEGI may currently be studying the feasibility of a flag for "sexist attitudes and/or exploitation of women".

To quote from the PEGI website, "The PEGI system was developed and based on existing systems in Europe. In the drafting of the PEGI assessment form and the shaping of the system organisation, society representatives such as consumers, parents and religious groups have been largely involved."

Oh great, religious groups, isn't that a delightful kettle of fish? You can bet that no pagans were invited to sit on that panel, and I severely doubt that much input from Islamic clergy went into the final mix. Can you imagine the nightmare of trying to reconcile computer games with the sharia? Can we pause a moment to boggle at the thought of World of Warcraft or City of Heroes with all the female characters in burqa?

As an aside, how are they going to handle this when Turkey becomes a full member of the EU?

But I digress from the main topic here. PEGI and ESRB are essentially censorship organs. No, they do not nominally have the power to openly prohibit a game from being sold, but they do have that power in fact. They have that power because, while the model is slowly changing, game publishers depend on retail sales to make a profit. And most retailers will not touch an unrated game, or one that has a rating they consider unacceptable. And the few retailers that will handle such games will not display them prominently enough to generate impulse sales.

This means that failing to get an acceptable rating from the relevant rating agency is the kiss of death to a game in most cases. There do exist exceptions. The Grand Theft Auto series became such a phenomenon that the later games in the series generated their own demand, a demand so extreme that retailers could not (or would not) refuse to carry them, in spite of grief and controversy over ratings, so-called "hidden content", etc.

So the bottom line, when we get past all the circumlocutions and look at the final net effect, is censorship. Censorship based in part on religious sensibilities, specifically Judeo-Christian religious sensibilities. Most writers would at this point tell you how you should feel about that. Being a Pagan, (and a lazy bastard), I'll let you figure it out for yourselves.

The differences between the two rating agencies, European and US, are not profound, but they are notable. The ESRB, betraying the puritanical origins of our American society, is mostly concerned with sex and nudity. Never mind the fact that most of us get every meal there for the first 6 months of our lives, apparently once we have been weaned the mere sight of a woman's breasts is enough to cause grave and irreparable psychological damage, twisting the All-American Boy from the path of Eagle Scout to that of axe-murder chainsaw rapist. The scary part is that there are people who actually believe this crap, and know in their hearts that all of us who don't agree will burn in hell forever.

PEGI, in accordance with European attitudes, is quite a bit more laissez-faire about nudity or partial nudity, but more concerned with violence than ESRB. And, if the additional ratings offered by PEGI are an indicator, by other issues of political correctness which are not even rated for by ESRB.

An amusing example was offered by "Giants", an RTS game from many years ago. One race in the game were mermaids. Topless mermaids, oh my, no seashells! Now, ESRB was thoroughly scandalised by this, and threatened a "kiss-of-death" rating unless it was amended, but had no problem with the level of "violence" portrayed in the game. PEGI was upset with the amount of blood and gore, but had absolutely no problem with the topless mermaids. So the game developer patched the mermaids with a bandeau, and made the blood green instead of red. PEGI and ESRB declared young gamers saved from trauma and a life of psych counseling by their vigilance once again. And a few weeks after the game was published, most video game magazines published the tip that if you went into the game directory and renamed or deleted a certain small file, the bandeau disappeared and your cartoon mermaids had boobs again.

Which brings us neatly to the real point here, the true paradox.

Gamers want the boobs. (Male gamers, anyhow. What female gamers want, I am in no way qualified to say.) Yes, that's right. I came right out and said it. Gamers want to see flesh, and lots of it. Artfully concealed and occasionally revealed is my personal preference, but Your Mileage May Vary. Politically incorrect to say, but there you have it. And it's true.

Which means that ESRB and PEGI are, for the most part, in the business of preventing the consumers from obtaining what they want.

Having crossed the Rubicon of political correctness with trumpets blaring, I may as well go the rest of the way with this topic. Do I want to see the average video game looking like something from Score.com? HELL NO! The vast majority of current porn is vulgar and tasteless. Not because it's porn, but because it's porn with no artistry. Such things are hellishly difficult to describe precisely, but try digging up some old 70's porn, something classic like Seka. Difficult to find anymore, but not impossible. Watch this carefully for a few minutes, looking not at the T&A but at the film-making. Some of the old 70's porn was just as trashy as anything today, but most did display an artistry, a sense that the people behind the cameras had some background in art.

This is a much better idea, I think, of what the results would look like if the reins were loosened a bit on artistic design in video games. Look at video games in Japan, and what they get away with. And Japanese society doesn't seem to be teetering on the brink of collapse. Then again, Japan has a whole different slant on sex and human interaction in general, (not to mention life, death, and everything else) and comparisons with western society are always tricky.

Am I suggesting that we would or should see characters making the beast with two backs in the next MMORPG? No, absolutely not, or at least not in public, please. Topless characters as an option which can be toggled on or off in game options and occasional full frontal nudity? Yes, why not? And while I personally have no interest in man-sausage, if you think such things cannot be or are not being depicted in graphic art, go to Jlist.com and search on the word "yaoi". Talk about something to really freak out the bible-thumpers...

Trying to predict the results of lifting or relaxing a long-standing prohibition on human behavior is never easy. Even the so-called experts do not exactly have a good track record. And the current situation is by no means intolerable. The average horndog gamer gets enough titillation (gotta love that word) to keep his interest up, so to speak.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

More Afghan Civilians Killed by NATO

Once again, there is anger in Afghanistan over apparently needless killing of Afghan civilians by NATO forces during a raid on a family home. Clayton Swisher reports for Al Jazeera.

What I found particularly disturbing was the manner in which one of those killed was reported to have answered the door for the NATO troops, spoken to them in English, and then suddenly been shot to death. NATO acknowledges the raid took place, but refuses any further comment.

This incident, which is sadly representative of dozens more, is all the more controversial coming on the heels of a UN report stating that civilian deaths in Afghanistan are up 31% so far this year.

So, hearts and minds, eh?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Phony Terrorism in Africa

There are strange events afoot in Africa, and the US government is counting on the fact that you and I do not know enough, or care enough, to realize the fact. More specifically, a phony "terrorist organization" has been cobbled together and turned loose, in order to justify the creation of US Africa Command, and "opening a new front in the global war on terror". Is this sounding familiar yet?

In truth, the situation is complex, it involves people and organizations with names that no American can pronounce easily, and it is all happening in a part of the world which receives only sporadic coverage from the world's news organizations.

First, let's look at a map and see where these events are occurring.

The term for this region is "The Maghreb", as shown in green, and it consists of 5 nations and one "disputed territory". If you hate geography, skip the next paragraph.

Specifically, Algeria is the big wedge-shaped one in the middle, Libya is on the far right, Tunisia is the little wedge at the top between those two, Morocco and Western Sahara are the coastal strips at top left, and Mauritania is the bloc at the bottom left.

Just remember that Algeria is the biggest one in the middle, and you'll be fine, as it is Algeria we are mainly concerned with.

The other term one hears thrown around is "The Sahel", and some news stories, (when one hears news stories on the region at all), use these two terms as though they were interchangeable, which they definitely are not. As you can see from this map, The Sahel is a strip, shown in brown, from coast to coast, just south of The Maghreb.

Very well, enough of background, down to the meat of the story. In 2002 and 2003, the Algerians, with US help, concocted a scheme to get their hands on some of that anti-terrorism money that the USA was throwing around so freely.

So the Algerian secret intelligence agency, known as DRS, found themselves a bandit called "Le Para", and encouraged him to create a band of Islamic "Freedom Fighters" under the name of GSPC. Shortly thereafter, GPSC kidnapped a group of 30-some tourists in the Sahara desert region of Algeria, thereby providing the USA with a handy-dandy excuse to open a new front.

Make no mistake, dear reader, this was approved from the top, by Donald Rumsfeld himself, who was then Defense Secretary. The purpose was to justify a US military presence in Africa, which would then position the US military to dominate African oil resources. In January 2004, Bush launched his Pan-Sahel Initiative, which introduced US military and mercenaries to Chad, Mauritania, Mali, and Niger. In 2007 that was expanded to Algeria , Senegal, Nigeria, Morocco, and Tunisia. Africom, the US Africa Command, was created in 2008.

Note how neatly this positions US military units, (and mercenary contractors, special forces, and intelligence assets), right on top of both Algerian gas resources, and Nigerian oil deposits.

In 2006, the Algerians assassinated a Tuareg minister in Niger to provoke a rebellion by that minority. And next year, Algerian intelligence units aided by 100+ US special forces, assisted a Tuareg rebellion in Mali. All of this with the general intention of stirring up unrest and conflict in the area, in order to justify the presence of US forces. When the Tuareg rebellions did not get enough media play to be noticed in the States, the US and Algerian intelligence put their heads together ands came up with their next ploy. Remember the GPSC, the phony terrorists from the beginning of this long story? They changed their name to "Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb", or AQIM. Now the US could say, "Al Qaeda has established itself in Africa!", and finally the military got the media attention they craved.

And just as the kicker, the Sahel region also includes the uranium deposits which France relies upon in order to fuel its extensive nuclear power industry.

All well and good for the powers-that-be, one might think. Except that the Algerian DRS, which controls this phony "Al Qaeda" creation, is not so biddable as the US and Europe expected, and seems to be pursuing its own policies independent of foreign concern. Again, sound familiar yet?

The similarities to the manner in which the western-created Mujahideen became the current Taliban are apparent. As is the similarity to the story of Frankenstein's monster.

Further reading on the subject Here and Here, in the form of two essays by Jeremy Keenan, professorial research associate at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London University, and author of The Dark Sahara: America's War on Terror in Africa.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Pakistan Goes From Bad To Worse

The plight of the 99ers here in the US remains grim, but the situation in Pakistan has gone beyond that.

Farhan Safdar is a volunteer working for Doctors Worldwide, the British medical relief organisation, in the Pakistani province of Nowshera. What he is carefully not saying in his blog is that the situation is ripe for a massive epidemic of cholera or worse. Contaminated water, unburied dead bodies, huge numbers of refugees crowded into camps with grossly inadequate sanitation facilities, these are a certain recipe for disaster.

The United Nations is issuing a call for "hundreds of millions" in emergency aid, according to an announcement yesterday from UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon. The UN has also said that the devastation from these floods is worse than the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean, the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan (see a pattern here yet?), or last year's earthquake in Haiti.

Landslides in the Swat Valley, in Pakistan's Northwest, have cut the region off completely from surface traffic. And torrential rains have made it very difficult for helicopters to fly.

Meanwhile, Pakistan's Express Tribune is reporting that food prices have quadrupled overnight. With the UN reporting that 1.4 million acres of crops have been destroyed in the Punjab region of Pakistan alone. Note, however, that the UN statement does not specifically say food crops, and a great deal of cotton is grown in Southern Pakistan.

My heart goes out to the people of Pakistan, but I cannot help but wonder, where is the rest of the Islamic world? Where are the Saudis, with their trillions in oil money? They claim to the the ultimate arbiters of Islamic correctness, why have they not stepped forward to help their fellow Muslims? By all means let us assist Pakistan, but let the umma help as well.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Helping Pakistan More Important Than Helping Americans?

Pakistan is in trouble.

Not just the same old troubles it has had for years, but catastrophic flooding on top of all that. The rains began about 10 days ago, and at first the devastation was mostly in the North. The once-beautiful Swat Valley, scene of the Pakistani Army's last big offensive against the Taliban, has been smashed and broken.

At first, the flooding was described as the worst in 100 years. Now, with the original misery added to by a second torrential storm, and the havoc spreading into the entire South of the country, it is being called the worst flooding the region has ever known.

There are many videos available, but for visual impact, this report by Kamal Hyder of AJE is probably best.

The USA has been there to help from the very beginning, as witness this story from Armed Forces Press Service, dated August 3rd. Ten Million dollars in immediate aid with more to follow, 200,000 packaged meals conforming to Islamic dietary restrictions, bridges, water purification units, and untold amounts of other aid.

I agree with the decision to help the Pakistani people. Conscience demanded it of us, and I would not ever suggest that we should have failed to send the aid.

But let us contrast this immediate help with the treatment afforded the 99ers, American workers who have been out of work for long enough to exhaust all available UI benefits. Congress has done nothing for the 99ers. President Obama has done nothing for the 99ers. Congress, in fact, went home a week early in order to campaign for re-election. Without doing anything to help the 99ers survive.

The 99ers are US citizens, the Pakistanis are not.

The 99ers have paid US taxes all their working lives, the Pakistanis have not.

The 99ers will be voting in US elections this November, the Pakistanis will not.

So, I ask you, dear reader, why is it more important to help Pakistanis, than to help our own people? What logic justifies abandoning 4 million plus US workers, who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own, whose lives have been smashed and broken so that greedy Wall Street bankers could earn a fatter bonus, who have worked hard and paid taxes all their lives, who voted and believed in the America to which we pledged our allegiance every morning in class, since we were little children?

What is America coming to? How have our so-called elected leaders managed to become so desperately out of touch with reality?

Why have the 99ers been abandoned?

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Arabs Lose Faith In Obama

A new study by the US-based Brooking Institution reveals that Arabs have lost faith in President Obama.

No kidding? What a surprise!

I suppose this is grounds for some limited celebration. After all, it's nice to know that public opinion in the USA and public opinion in the Arab world are so closely aligned. You have lost faith in our President? Hey, cool, so have we!

Early in the Obama administration, in April and May 2009, some 51% of the respondents in the six countries expressed optimism about American policy in the Middle East. In the 2010 poll, only 16% were hopeful, while a majority - 63% - was discouraged.

Well, that's not surprising, giving the shameless way our President has pandered to the Israel Lobby, while pressuring the Palestinians to agree to direct talks, in spite of Israel's refusal to budge an inch on negotiating positions. And the burning tragedy of this is that by strong-arming the Palestinians into agreeing to talks, we strengthen the radical right-wing government of Netanyahu and his racist sidekick Avigdor Lieberman.

But the utter failure of Obama's Middle East policies is apparent in the next item. In 2009, only 29% of respondents thought it would be a good thing for Iran to possess nuclear weapons. Now the figure is up to 57%. Over half. And these are Arabs, who have an ancient rivalry with the Persians. This is unprecedented, my friends.

But it gets worse.

In past, Arab public opinion has been harsh on the US government, but generally positive toward the American people. Now even that has changed. Now the Arab street is beginning to blame us, individual US citizens. Over half had an "at least somewhat negative" view of Americans, and barely a quarter held an "at least somewhat positive" view of us.

61% of those polled said that their biggest disappointment with Obama was the Israel-Palestine issue.

54% of those polled said the one thing that would most improve their opinion of the USA was a peace deal between Israel and Palestine.

The nations polled were Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates.

Here is the story at Reuters Africa

Here is the story at Al Jazeera English

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Embarrassing Pentagon Incompetence

The Pentagon papers were released in the New York Times in 1971. That has been nearly 40 years now. You'd think that gross incompetence by the Pentagon would by now have lost its ability to embarrass us. Perhaps this is just my day for confessing to naivete, but I find this is not so.

When I found this article, entitled 'Pentagon Demands Wikileaks Files', in the print edition of Al Jazeera English today, I was actually embarrassed for my country. Only briefly, and just a little, but the feeling was heartfelt and sincere.

My second reaction was a flash on an old Cheech and Chong routine, in which Sister Mary Elephant indignantly demands, "Young man, now give me that knife!". Ah, the cultural artifacts of an ill-spent youth returned to haunt me. Wikileaks will give them the rest of the files alright, in much the same way that Sister Mary got the knife delivered to her.

It's difficult to say which aspect of this demand made me squirm the most.

On the one hand there is the unspeakable arrogance of the demand itself, as though the Net were at the command of the US government, as though Australia were not a sovereign and independent nation, as though trotting out the same tired old arguments would somehow change the fact that the Supreme Court slapped down an attempt to block the Pentagon Papers on the same grounds 39 years ago. Has a decade of rampant American Exceptionalism saturated their tiny brains to the point that they have come to believe their own bullshit propaganda?

On the other hand there is the painful evidence of gross technical incompetence, or actually worse; that those at the top echelons of the Pentagon utterly fail to comprehend the nature of the 21st century. Consider the following two paragraphs from the story linked above -

A Pentagon task force of around 80 people is combing through the materials already posted on the website and flagging up documents deemed to pose a risk. Morrell said that foreign governments were being notified of dangerous material.

The analysts have already carried out about 400 initial 'word searches' of the leaked documents and are continuing to work around the clock to carry out a more detailed study of what exactly has found its way into the public domain.

In the 11 days since the files were released to the public, a team of 80 people has managed to carry out 400 "word searches". Even allowing for the fact that the Wikileaks servers were absolutely swamped the first day, I don't really need to spell out the reasons why this is laughable, do I? No, I didn't think so.

The US military is chock-full of bright young men and women with technical skills that put mine utterly to shame. Why then does the US military suffer from this institutional senility when it comes to dealing with the realities of the Net? This demand reveals a fatal failure to understand that once information has been released online, there is no hiding it again. "Give us back the documents", the Pentagon cried. Say fucking what?

It just makes me cringe.

Sometimes I miss Ronnie

Yes, as shocking a confession as it may be for a Progressive, I do miss Ronnie Reagan sometimes.

Oh not his policies, those failed the USA as badly as they failed California when he was Governor here. What I sometimes miss is the man himself.

I miss the way Reagan had of delivering a speech that made you feel like things were going to be alright. Daddy was home now, and the bad guys were in deep kimchee. By contrast, Obama makes a speech, and you leave wondering, "WTF did he just say?".

Ronnie projected calm, authoritative competence, even when he was halfway gone with Alzheimer's. Of course he wasn't all that competent, but he sure faked it well, didn't he? Obama's rhetorical style seems to revolve around waving his hands to distract from the emptiness of his words. (Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!).

I miss the feeling of confidence which was inspired by the leadership of Ronnie Reagan. It may have been false confidence, but it was damned comforting all the same. Obama inspires more the sort of feelings which a father has, watching his 16-year old daughter drive off in the family car for a hot date. Something like, "Please, god, don't let her get preggers or wreck the car..."

Yes, I confess, I was a (wince!) Republican in my youth. And if you don't think being a pro-choice Conservative was an uncomfortable business back in the heyday of the Moral Majority, you are severely lacking in imagination.

Oddly enough, Ronald Reagan was a Democrat when he was younger. Isn't politics strange?

Summing up it all up, I suppose what I really miss isn't Ronald Reagan after all. I suppose what I really miss is being sufficiently young and naive to believe the in the sincerity of politicians. Or Santa Claus.

Do you remember being young, asking our parents awkward questions, and getting that line about "When you're older you'll understand"? Remember that?

Our parents lied.

Inside Story - Lebanon

AJE has posted a new edition of Inside Story, offering a detailed look at the situation along the disputed border between Lebanon and Israel.

While I realize we have been focusing heavily on this issue in the last few days, it is a potential flashpoint for a war that could rapidly spread throughout the region, which would have dire effects for the USA.

Think it through, my friends. Obama cannot afford to do anything but support Israel right now, with the November elections looming large, and his approval numbers in the toilet already. Netanyahu knows this, and is a master at manipulating the USA. Indeed, he has openly bragged of his ability to do so on more than one occasion.

There will not soon be another time when Israel can act with such impunity, and it would be very much unlike the Israelis not to exploit such a window of opportunity.

Now consider the quarter-million Americans deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq. Think about the routes by which their supplies reach them, mostly through Muslim countries. If Israel goes to war in Lebanon, and the USA supports Israel unconditionally, as we have always done in the past, will those Muslim countries still allow US supply routes to pass through their nations?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Lebanese Border Fight Only a Skirmish?

Well, a few hours on, and things seem to have settled down. Now this is being called simply a "Border Clash", rather than open war, as I had earlier stated. Note that Israel and Lebanon are formally still at war, and have been for decades.

Another point that I neglected to mention previously is the existence of a permanent UN peace-keeping force called UNIFIL, which is supposed to patrol the UN-designated border between Lebanon and Israel, what is called the "Blue Line". Unfortunately, Israel and Lebanon cannot seem to agree just where that border lies. And UNIFIL was conspicuous by its absence when the fighting was taking place.

AJE now has a more detailed report available. It would appear that I was not the only one expecting this to blow up more than it so far has; Al Jazeera brought Zeina Khodr in from her usual area of specialization in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

War on the Lebanese Border

On Friday and Saturday, I wrote about the tense situation in Lebanon.

This morning, (Tuesday), Israel attacked across the Lebanese border. What makes this different from previous Israeli incursions is the target. Previous Israeli attacks have been against Hezbollah, (the "Shiite Militia" or "Terrorist Organization", depending on your perspective). This time Israel is fighting the Lebanese Army.

So far the only coherent report I can find is from Al Jazeera; Rula Amin from Beirut, and Jacky Rowland in Jerusalem.

No doubt, dear reader, you will be greatly comforted to note that the UN is calling on both sides to exercise restraint. Because that has just worked so well in the past.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Marines in Helmand Province

There is really very little words can add to this video. The video is 15 minutes in length, and the story develops a bit slowly, at first, so be patient.

The beginning and end focus on men identified as "Special Forces". The middle is about the Marines. There is a connection, you will see.

One word of warning, Marines are Marines, and they talk like Marines. If there's someone within range of your speakers, (wife, kid, boss, GF, probation officer, whatever), that you don't want hearing multiple F-bombs in rapid succession, use headphones.

Video by Sean Smith, embed courtesy of Journeyman Pictures

Dutch pull out of Afghanistan

The last Dutch forces have left Afghanistan, ending a 4-year deployment that the Netherlands has declined to renew. NATO's request that the Netherlands extend that commitment caused such uproar in the Netherlands that the government was forced to call early elections, which it then lost. Now the new Netherlands government has absolutely refused to stay in Afghanistan any longer. As an ugly aside, this election also saw a sizable increase in power for a right-wing racist party, buoyed in part by public disgust with the Afghan war.

Given the unpopularity of the Afghan war in Europe, (and indeed everywhere else), one cannot help but wonder if this may signal the beginning of a general European exit from the war. Of course, from the point of view of those of us in the US who oppose the war, this cannot help but be a good thing. But the Obama administration can be counted on to engage in serious arm-twisting of European "allies". Allies who are increasingly feeling that they have been used, abused, lied to, and manipulated.

Stepping back from the news for a moment, and speaking on an individual level, I have not felt such angry, ugly anti-American sentiment from Europeans since the low-point of US popularity in the 1970's. People all around the world are seriously unhappy with us at the moment, my friends, and the world has become too small a place for that to be safe.