Saturday, September 29, 2007

"Chinese buy into conspiracy theory"

 The Battle of Waterloo. The deaths of six US presidents. The rise of Adolf Hitler. The deflation of the Japanese bubble economy, the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis and even environmental destruction in the developing world.

In a new Chinese best-seller, Currency Wars , these disparate events spanning two centuries have a single root cause: the control of money issuance through history by the Rothschild banking dynasty.

Even today, claims author Song Hongbing, the US Federal Reserve remains a puppet of private banks, which also ultimately owe their allegiance to the ubiquitous Rothschilds.

Such an over-arching conspiracy theory might matter as little as the many fetid tracts that can still be found in the west about the “gnomes of Zurich” and Wall Street’s manipulation of global finance.

But in China, which is in the midst of a lengthy debate about opening its financial system under US pressure, the book has become a surprise hit and is being read at senior levels of government and business...

Grace Pilgrimage

About 150 international peaceworkers, many of them based in the Peace
Research Center Tamera, Portugal, including Israelis and Palestinians, will
undertake a peace pilgrimage through Israel and Palestine from October 12 to
November 9, 2007 ... They will walk by foot, from Eilat through the Arava
desert, to Massada, by the Dead Sea and from there through Bethlehem to

The objective of the pilgrimage is to connect with the land and its healing
sources, to end separation and form community, and to find a concrete vision
for a Global Peace Research Village (PRV) in the Middle East. The PRV is
intended as a world model in social design, ecology and technology, which
shall be established within the next years.

Strong Euro Lures Drug Traffickers to Ship to EU Market

An interesting conspiracy theory from the grand dame of the genre

DEADLY DIVERSION: On Opium Trafficking, the CIA & the Challenger Disaster
The Challenger disaster took its time gestating - took me years to piece it together, in fact. I know perfectly well that my word on this will be doubted by anyone unfamiliar with the facts - it's my unfortunate lot in life to report these things - and that's why I suggest chasing down my sources and reading anything relevant available on the Net. My story assumes some knowledge of Mae Brussell's work on Challenger, especially regarding the timing of the explosion. Brussell's main points: There was thick layer of ice on the shuttle's launcher that morning - yet NASA claimed over the course of several days to be waiting for the temperature to rise. This is not an incidental detail. (The American prole brain is conditioned to explain essential facts away, but this one is comprehensible only in the wider context of intention in which it is consistent, not an unexplained contradiction.) I've posted this before, but like many stories I write, the significance of it is lost in a sea of Orwellian historical revision - not mine, the military-industrial media machine's. The Challenger blew up at roughly the same moment that a witness swore in to testify on federally-sanctioned heroin smuggling and money laundering - at that very moment NASA launch conditions were ideal for mass murder, as engineers from Thiokol testified openly, and prolonged flight that morning was impossible. The engineers stated that they knew the O-rings would give, that the Challenger would explode, and signed a group statement in advance that they would assume no responsibility for the decision to launch. That came from above. It is on record, not to be ignored but understood. They knew the cannon was loaded. This is not another "incidental" anomaly ... The reporters attending the drug testimony scurried out of the room when the shuttle exploded - the press never ran the story. How "coincidental." ... Let us reconstruct the Challenger disaster and the drug testimony as they occurred - this set of facts explains the lingering anomalies, which, as I say, are not so incidental - given the bloodshed that ensued, not to mention widespread heroin addiction...

Worldpress: Bohemian Radar Blues

"... A civic group opposed to the radar is making headway among the populace. Briefly, the antiradar lobby argues that there is no difference between radars and rockets, in the sense that they both can be stationed on the same site. Furthermore, such a system may also be used for both defensive and offensive purposes. They also see the radar as a unilateral tool used by and controlled from the Pentagon with the Czech military simply carrying out orders from their commanders in Washington. Another argument that reverberates with the Czechs is that it's a system that could be a prime target in the event of hostilities with or a surprise attack from Iran, North Korea or, perhaps most likely of all, Russia. ..."

Bush Attorney General Nominee Will Recuse Himself From Giuliani Issues

Judge Michael B. Mukasey, if confirmed by the Senate as attorney general, will recuse himself from any matters involving his close friend Rudolph W. Giuliani, the White House said last night, suggesting he would do so with the ongoing criminal investigation of Bernard B. Kerik.

Mr. Kerik, the New York City police commissioner during part of Mr. Giuliani's mayoral term, was a leading figure in Mr. Giuliani's consulting firm and a friend of his. He has been under investigation by federal prosecutors in New York for over a year.

Any possible criminal charges against Mr. Kerik could have political implications for Mr. Giuliani, who is the leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination.

[ Link ]

TobaccoWiki launched

TobaccoWiki is an effort "to mine the millions of pages of previously-secret, internal tobacco industry documents now posted on the Internet."

TobaccoWiki is a project of the Center for Media and Democracy in Madison, Wisconsin and the American Legacy Foundation.  The TobaccoWiki portal page can be assessed at or


Satellites confirm reports of Myanmar violence

"... Satellite images confirm reports earlier this year of burned villages, forced relocations and other human rights abuses in Myanmar, scientists said on Friday.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science said the high-resolution photographs taken by commercial satellites document a growing military presence at 25 sites across eastern Myanmar, matching eyewitness reports.

"We found evidence of 18 villages that essentially disappeared," AAAS researcher Lars Bromley said in an interview. ..."

9/11 faux pas

Horrible Design Mistakes You Can't Really Prevent

We all know what happened in New York City on September 11, 2001. Online financial web site covered the events and one of their headlines was "World Trade Center Demolished In Apparent Terrorist Airstrike." The problem was there was another story listed below the headline that stated, "Heaven Can Wait for the Nasdaq's Fallen Angels."

No one intentionally placed these headlines on the same page and this type of mistake is hard to catch. Learn from others.

[ Link ]

England's bohemian 'Bright Young People'

"... If Driberg's tongue stayed firmly in his cheek, it was because all the hoaxers were personal friends. The house in Buckingham Street was owned by Bryan Guinness, a scion of the great brewing dynasty, and his wife Diana, formerly Mitford. "Bruno Hat" was impersonated by Diana's brother Tom. The paintings had been knocked up in an afternoon by Brian Howard - one of those eternally promising young men of the inter-war era who left nothing behind them but their legend - assisted by the surrealist painter John Banting. "A. R. de T." was the 25-year-old Evelyn Waugh. Together they formed the advance guard of a youth movement that, in the previous four years, had taken up permanent residence in every newspaper gossip column in England: the Bright Young People.

This sextet aside, who were the Bright Young People? Perhaps the best definition was pronounced by Waugh, whose Vile Bodies (1930) is a satirical projection of many of the real events in which they took part. Looking back on his hot youth from the debatable lands of the early 1960s, Waugh declared that "there was between the wars a society, cosmopolitan, sympathetic to the arts, well-mannered, above all ornamental even in rather bizarre ways, which for want of a better description the newspapers called 'High Bohemia'". Characterised in the public imagination by its exuberant parties and riotous practical joking - impersonation parties, circus parties, mock weddings and elaborately staged "Stunts" - it consisted of a number of intermingled social groups.

These included ex-public schoolboys from Oxford such as Robert Byron, Anthony Powell, Henry Green and John Betjeman, who would go on to make names for themselves as writers; rackety young society women such as the morphine addict Brenda Dean Paul and Elizabeth Ponsonby, whose father, the Labour leader of the House of Lords, died of drink on the eve of the blitz; but also a hard-core bohemian fringe, including such maverick scene-swellers as the painter Edward Burra and the photographer Barbara Ker-Seymer. Their milieu was a few square miles of central London, ranging from the Gargoyle Club in Dean Street and the celebrated Cavendish Hotel ("Shepheard's Hotel" in Vile Bodies) to private addresses such as the sleazy flat in Maddox Street shared by the Earl of Cranbrook's son Eddie Gathorne-Hardy and Brian Howard, where fungus grew on the disintegrating staircase and Betjeman remembered John Banting "throwing knives when in the mood". ...",,2179320,00.html?gusrc=rss&feed=10

South America: Your enemy is our friend

The Guardian
September 29, 2007
"...Red carpets, brass bands, bear hugs and a hero's welcome: there is at least one part of the Americas that loves Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

South America this week greeted the Iranian president as a brother and benefactor, defrosting him after his icy reception in New York. The leaders of Bolivia and Venezuela embraced Mr Ahmadinejad and blessed Iran's nuclear programme, underlining how much influence Washington has lost over a region it once considered its backyard.

The Iranian president signed a series of energy and trade deals during brief stopovers which extended Tehran's foothold in South America. In contrast to the insults heaped on him in New York, the visitor was feted as a strategic ally in the struggle against gringo imperialism. Cuba and Nicaragua echoed the rhetoric..."

[ full article ]

News Roundup: The Nation

Northern Ireland, South Africa in Secret Iran Peace Talks

There is no doubt that American and British authorities knew about and approved the meeting, though they were excluded from attending. Instead, the meeting was facilitated and funded by the Finnish Crisis Management Initiative [CMI] and the McCormack Graduate School at the University of Massachusetts.

At this point, virtually no American media outlets have reported the meeting, despite the importance of the parties in attendance.

Irish political consultant Quentin Oliver, who directed the successful referendum on the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, summed up the significance in a South Africa Star report: "The Iraqis saw the dynamics from us. Apartheid removed. Troubles accomodated. Baghdad next. They did it, not us. We only helped."

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Is Jena America?

"Jena is America," says Alan Bean, speaking of the Louisiana town where six black students are looking at decades in jail for a schoolyard brawl while white kids are facing nothing for hanging up nooses. Jena is America in the sense that the unequal justice there is not unique. There are "Jena Sixes" behind bars in every state. But it isn't America in the sense that the country as a whole has had no trouble at all ignoring Jena.
John Dean: From Nixon to Bush to Giuliani

John Dean knows something about White House abuse of power. He wrote a bestseller in 2004 on the Bush White House called "Worse Than Watergate." In a recent interview I asked him what he thinks of that title now. Now, he replied, a book comparing Bush and Nixon would have to be called "Much, Much Worse."

"Look at the so-called Watergate abuses of power," he said. "Nobody died. Nobody was tortured. Millions of Americans were not subject to electronic surveillance of their communications. We're playing now in a whole different league."

And how does Bush compare with the Republicans seeking to succeed him? "If a Rudy Giuliani were to be elected," Dean said, "he would go even farther than Cheney and Bush in their worst moments."

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Google: The Market-Driven Life

"... Last week, Google's stock hit an all-time high, on the strength of reports that the company will earn more this year than the $10.6 billion it earned in 2006. But while Google has almost overnight become a trusted source of information for the technologically attuned, few have thought to question the extent to which its success poses threats to both our privacy and our aspirations for the positive potential of the Internet.

Google's dramatic growth is a reflection of its role as the most powerful player in the world of interactive marketing. Ninety-nine percent of Google's annual revenues (according to its 10K filing with the SEC) comes from selling targeted advertising on its search engine, which is driven by a massive consumer data collection system. ..."

[ full article ]

Privacy advocates criticize White House ID theft plan

"... CDT and other groups are calling for national reforms to replace what they see as an outmoded federal regulatory regime. Currently, the Privacy Act of 1974 places limits on the exposure and management of records in government databases. And some companies that handle personal data, such as credit-reporting firms, are subject to various consumer-protection statutes, including safeguards for data-quality and confidentiality.

But Sohn said existing laws miss new security and privacy threats posed by the "revolution in data technology, in terms of the ability to gather, store and manipulate large quantities of data."

Reform advocates say consumer protections should not only keep people informed when data-security is breached, but also afford greater control over personal records before and after violations occur.

Groups like CDT say federal laws should explicitly guarantee consumers’ right to know what data is gathered about them, and the power to "freeze" credit reports to preempt fraud and misuse. As a preventative measure, they say, companies should be required to implement policies for securely storing and using data, backed with potential civil penalties for non-compliant firms.

Fundamentally, critics argue that the most effective way to combat identity theft is to minimize the amount of data available for stealing.

Some of the groups’ proposed reforms would nationalize consumer-protections already in place on the state level. They would also expand disclosure and transparency in the relatively unregulated "data-broker" industry – companies that cull and sell consumer information for marketing and other purposes.

Fundamentally, privacy and consumer groups say the most effective way to combat identity theft is to minimize the amount of data available for stealing. Groups such as the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), for example, support strict limits on the use of social-security numbers as an identifier.

EPIC Executive Director Marc Rotenberg said fraud could also be deterred through laws that "make [companies] liable when harm results from the misuse of the data they collect." Forcing information-hording institutions to foot the cost of potential mishaps, he said, would be a built-in security check, as they would "internalize the real cost of collecting and using personal information." ..."

[ full article ]

Tomgram: Karen Greenberg, Guantanamo Forever

As the presidential election season heats up, Republican candidates have opted for "Guantanamo-forever" policy positions. Retiring Republican Senator Chuck Hagel recently complained that the notorious detention facility -- once the proud public face of the President's attempt to move incarceration and mistreatment offshore and beyond the reach of American courts -- has bizarrely enough become "a Republican litmus test." At the same time, at Guantanamo itself, anger and factionalism are on the rise, not among prisoners but warders, while the attempt to set up what Wall Street Journal reporter Jess Bravin calls "a free-standing court system to try alleged foreign terrorists" founders for the nine hundredth time. More than five years after being inaugurated, the prison complex has so far adjudicated exactly one case to the point of conviction -- a simple plea bargain (essentially negotiated between President Bush and Australian Prime Minister John Howard) that transferred small-fry Taliban follower David Hicks back to Australia where he is to be freed at the end of this year.

In the meantime, the Pentagon official overseeing Guantanamo's nonexistent terrorism trials and the chief prosecutor of those trials are, reports Bravin, at each other's throats. Wrote Col. Morris Davis, the prosecutor, to the Wall Street Journal: "If someone above me tries to intimidate me in determining who we will charge, what we will charge, what evidence we will try to introduce, and how we will conduct a prosecution then I will resign." He's also lodged a formal complaint against Gen. Thomas Hartmann, legal adviser to the administrator running the trial system, "refused to file any additional charges against Guantanamo inmates until the dispute is resolved," and sent a separate complaint to the Pentagon inspector general. Time-consuming investigations are slated to follow.

And so it goes in George Bush's offshore Bermuda Triangle of Injustice where infamy, fiasco, mismanagement, and incompetence have been stirred into a fatal brew, discrediting a country -- ours -- that has proven, as Karen Greenberg, the Executive Director of the Center on Law and Security at New York University (whose last Tomdispatch piece was "Gitmo Decorum") makes clear, incapable of asking basic questions about this administration's detention policy. Tom

Relax, Mitt

Guantanamo's Not Closing
By Karen J. Greenberg

"Some people have said, we ought to close Guantanamo. My view is, we ought to double Guantanamo." -- Mitt Romney, Republican presidential debate, May 15, 2007

Take a breath, Mitt. Whatever you may think, your bravado statements about doubling the size of Guantanamo -- part of your bid to lead the American people faster and farther into the Global War on Terror -- are by no means completely off-the-wall. True, President Bush and Secretary of Defense Gates have both stated that closing Guantanamo might be the best way out of the legal limbo we've been in ever since that facility opened five and half years ago as the crown jewel of the administration's offshore network of secret prisons. But forget what they say. Check out what they're doing. The closing of Guantanamo -- and a winding down of the administration's detention and interrogation policies -- may be farther away than most of us think. As elsewhere in this administration's record, casual talk of refashioning a failed policy masks an inflexible commitment to "staying the course." ...


Jane Goodall sounds alarm on race for biofuel

"... Primate scientist Jane Goodall said on Wednesday the race to grow crops for vehicle fuels is damaging rain forests in Asia, Africa and South America and adding to the emissions blamed for global warming.

"We're cutting down forests now to grow sugarcane and palm oil for biofuels and our forests are being hacked into by so many interests that it makes them more and more important to save now," Goodall said on the sidelines of the Clinton Global Initiative, former US President Bill Clinton's annual philanthropic meeting.

As new oil supplies become harder to find, many countries such as Brazil and Indonesia are racing to grow domestic sources of vehicle fuels, such as ethanol from sugarcane and biodiesel from palm nuts.

The United Nations' climate program considers the fuels to be low in carbon because growing the crops takes in heat-trapping gas carbon dioxide.

But critics say demand for the fuels has led companies to cut down and burn forests in order to grow the crops, adding to heat-trapping emissions and leading to erosion and stress on ecosystems..."


Burma: Another carnage with an unknown death toll

"... According to one version the army often moves in three trucks because there is one platoon to shoot, one to pick up the bodies and one to clear up afterwards.

One witness said that the government has dug a pit in the centre of a football field near the Shwedagon Pagoda and surrounded it with a bamboo fence. Its purpose, up to this point, is unknown.

In another indication that the true death toll may be far higher than the confirmed figures suggest, a source from the National League for Democracy, citing hospital contacts, said 30 bodies had been brought to the hospital on Wednesday.

Most counts put fatalities on that day at around five. Hospital workers are too terrified to speak about the subject..."

Alternative politics: Individualist Anarchism

Individualist Anarchist Resources

Asia Times: Shades of a new Cold War

A massive wrench thrown in Putin's works

By M K Bhadrakumar

It almost seemed since the month of May that in the battles of the Caspian energy war, Russian President Vladimir Putin was destined to glide serenely from victory to victory until next March when he leaves office in the Kremlin.

But a backlash was bound to happen. Putin's standing as the ace player in the Great Game of our times had surely become an eyesore for Western capitals.

You could tell it from the stillness in the air, as the autumn began stealthily approaching the Central Asian steppes, that something was afoot. Are we heading for a season of unraveling, with the West bracing, no matter what it takes, for a marathon jawing that would somehow punctuate the claustrophobic intensity of the Kremlin's string of success stories in May-June - and create an alternative?

In focus is Turkmenistan, the energy-rich gas powerhouse of Central Asia. These have been manic weeks in Ashgabat. The melodrama is acute. But then the inscrutable space between victory and the chimera of victory has always been very narrow in Central Asia.

September 1 was the cutoff date that the Kremlin penciled in for the signing of agreements relating to the Russian-Kazakh-Turkmen gas deal that Putin had wrapped up during his sensational Central Asia summit on May 12. But September is drawing to a close, and not only have the agreements not been signed, the main protagonist, Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimukhamedov, is unavailable in Ashgabat. He has proceeded on an extended visit to the United States, accompanied by bigwigs in the Turkmen oil and gas industry. It suddenly dawns that in one big throw of the dice, the US and the European Union are desperately playing themselves back into the game, which Moscow thought it had all but secured.

The empire strikes back
On May 12, at the tripartite Central Asia summit in the city of Turkmenbashi, Turkmenistan, Putin, Berdimukhamedov and Kazakh President Nurusultan Nazarbayev announced their intent to upgrade and expand gas-transportation pipelines from Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan along the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea, directly to Russia. Simultaneously, it was announced that the Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan-Kazakhstan-Russia pipeline of the Soviet era would also be modernized.

The intention was to overhaul the Soviet-era pipeline system known as Central Asia-Center, ensuring it would have a capacity of 90 billion to 100 billion cubic meters (bcm) at the Russian border by 2010 so that it could handle the production of the vast Turkmen and Uzbek gas fields. Moscow wanted the relevant inter-government agreements to be signed by September 1 so that the corporate agreements could be concluded by the end of the year, and consortiums could be formed by early 2008. Moscow expected actual construction to commence by the middle of next year.

The entire project is predicated on the belief that Russia will have almost exclusive access to Turkmenistan's vast gas reserves and will hold a near-monopoly on Turkmen gas exports.

Watchers of the Great Game concluded that Putin had dealt a death blow to all Western plans to bring Turkmen gas to the European market bypassing Russian territory, which has been the leitmotif of the United States' Central Asia policy over the past 15 years.

On the one hand, the Russian stratagem to get exclusive hold over Turkmen gas meant that the proposed trans-Caspian pipeline project and Nabucco pipeline project, and the existing Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline and Odessa-Brody-Poland pipeline - westward energy routes to Europe supported by the US - were all doomed. On the other hand, Moscow was poised to tighten its control of the transit and use of Central Asian oil and gas, apart from drawing the region's bulk of future outputs to transit routes under Russian control.

Without doubt, in their totality, the May 12 agreements meant that Moscow inflicted a strategic defeat on the United States' Central Asia policy. To reinforce the success, Putin visited Austria on May 23-24 and signed various agreements under which the Russian gas company Gazprom would enlarge its market share in Austria and gain direct access to the retail trade, and Russia would use Austria as a transit corridor for European markets in Italy, France, Hungary, Germany, Slovenia and Croatia. With this, the Nabucco pipeline project's future, in particular, looked extremely gloomy.

Everything seemed to work in Moscow's favor when on June 23 a memorandum was signed in Rome between Gazprom and Italy's ENI on a 900-kilometer pipeline project across the Black Sea from Russia to Bulgaria with an annual capacity of about 30bcm. The undersea pipeline, on reaching Bulgaria, would have two options for the Bulgaria-Italy route. A southwestern option would be through Greece and the Adriatic seabed in the Otranto Strait to southern Italy, while a northwestern route would run from Bulgaria via Romania, Hungary and Slovenia (and possibly Austria) to northern Italy. Bulgaria and Greece promptly announced their intention to join the project, known as the South Stream project. The Wall Street Journal aptly described it as a "pipeline into the heart of Europe".

The upstream source for the South Stream project would be largely Central Asian and Siberian gas. Russia's game plan was obvious: maximize its control of the export routes for Central Asian gas. Russia signaled that it was outstripping the US both in regard of the upstream race for Central Asian gas as well as in the race for control of transit and downstream activity.

Alarm bells began ringing in Washington. On May 30, Vice President Dick Cheney's deputy assistant for national security affairs, Joseph Wood, rushed to Baku, Azerbaijan. He had a single message: Washington intended to meet the Russian challenge head-on and would persist with the policy of opening direct access to Central Asian oil and gas through Azerbaijan and Georgia, bypassing Russian territory and Russian pipelines. He stressed the US would push ahead with the Nabucco and Turkey-Greece-Italy gas transport projects. He told the Azerbaijani leadership that it should take the initiative to sort out Azerbaijan's bilateral disputes with Turkmenistan so that the latter could be drawn into the proposed gas projects.

Simultaneously, on June 1, Steven Mann, US principal deputy assistant secretary of state, held talks with Berdimukhamedov in Ashgabat. Mann strongly pitched for the trans-Caspian gas pipeline project (Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan to Georgia to Turkey to Europe). He conveyed Washington's keen interest that Turkmenistan should sell its gas to the European market directly, without the Russian intermediary.

Other senior US officials began fanning out to the Caspian region carrying similar messages that it would be far more advantageous for the Central Asian gas- and oil-producing countries to deal with European buyers directly. Thus US assistant secretary of state Richard Boucher visited Kazakhstan and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza visited Azerbaijan in the first week of June. Washington also began pressuring the European Union to display a sense of urgency in forestalling the looming Russian monopoly over Central Asia's gas exports.

Washington's primary intent was to sow seeds of doubt in the Turkmen mind regarding the wisdom of putting all its eggs in the Russian basket. On June 21, Washington upped the ante when Admiral William Fallon, commander of the US Central Command, arrived in Ashgabat and was received by Berdimukhamedov. Fallon carried a brief on energy cooperation. The consultation was evidently productive. On June 27, when Evan Feigenbaum, US deputy assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, arrived in Ashgabat with a delegation of American oil majors, he heard good news. "The president [Berdimukhamedov] stated publicly, very clearly, that Turkmenistan remains interested in the trans-Caspian pipeline," Feigenbaum later told the media.

He said his message to the Turkmen leader was, "American policy on energy has been very clear for a very long time. Monopoly tends to work to the disadvantage of producers ... The point is, what is good for the United States is good for the global energy supply and global energy security. That has been the basis of our conversation with Turkmenistan and other producers in this part of the world."

Ten days after Feigenbaum's discussions, Matthew Bryza, deputy assistant secretary of state, arrived in Ashgabat. On the eve of the visit, Bryza said in Washington on July 10, "There is a large - huge - supply of natural gas in the far-western reaches of Turkmenistan, which, if the market decides, will make its way to Europe via Azerbaijan ... And I'll leave for Turkmenistan tomorrow to see if we can help Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan build on the momentum they've already created in their relations."

A wrench in the wheel

Moscow certainly took note of these strange goings on - a stream of senior US diplomats attired in pinstripe suits with top executives of oil majors with suspiciously heavy-looking attache cases in tow, trooping out of Ashgabat hotel rooms almost every week. If there was any doubt about what they were up to, that became clear in late July when US-based energy company Chevron announced its intention to open an office in Ashgabat and participate in the development of Caspian energy resources.

On July 3, at a public ceremony in Ashgabat marking his 50th birthday, Berdimukhamedov said Turkmenistan maintained its "neutral status" and had "equal relationships" with all. He added, "Without joining any kind of political alliances, we will carry on with our efforts to build new gas pipelines to carry our gas to China, and to Pakistan and India via Afghanistan, and to Europe via the Caspian Sea. This means that we will have equal and mutually beneficial relations with Russia and the United States, with European countries, and with our neighbors as well." (Emphasis added.)

Even if Moscow kept up an air of confidence about Berdimukhamedov, a degree of uneasiness was inevitably creeping in. This became apparent when in an interview with the Russian media on July 6, Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Denisov hit out that the string of Russian successes in the Caspian energy war was "getting on Washington's nerves". He continued, "The US has been lobbying the idea of an East-West energy corridor for a long time. Its aim is to arrange the transportation of hydrocarbons from the Caspian region bypassing the territories of Russia and Iran."

He warned the "notorious trans-Caspian gas pipeline" would run into obstacles, since the status of the Caspian Sea was yet to be determined, and second, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan were involved in disputes over the ownership of a number of fields. "In addition, the special nature of the Caspian should be taken into consideration. Here the risks are very high due to the closed nature of the water system, the geology of the sea bed and the presence of strong underwater currents," Denisov pointed out.

Indeed, Denisov has a point. Moscow is betting on how Washington will be able to cross such formidable hurdles. Russia and Iran are literally in a position to throw a wrench in the wheel if they sense that Washington is getting close to the realization of the trans-Caspian project. Both Moscow and Tehran will be keenly watching Berdimukhamedov's discussions in the US during his current visit. It couldn't have escaped their attention that highly influential US oil majors from Texas, which carry much clout within the George W Bush administration at the highest levels, are sponsoring the visit of the Turkmen delegation to the US. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who once served on the board of directors of Chevron, is scheduled to meet with Berdimukhamedov.

The wild Iranian card

Iran fully shares Russia's antipathy toward US "poaching" in the Caspian region. This was in full display when Berdimukhamedov visited Tehran on June 15-16. Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad cautioned his Turkmen counterpart, "Certain powers are in their own interests turning the issue of the Caspian Sea into a challenge among regional countries ... certain bullying powers are after the oil and energy resources of the Caspian Sea, but the environment and security of the sea has a major impact on the life of the littoral states."

Ahmadinejad made it clear that Iran will strongly oppose the US presence in the Caspian region. The Iranian position is that the establishment of sustainable security within the Caspian region must be the prerogative of the littoral states (Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Iran) and no US involvement will be allowed. Russia sees eye-to-eye with the Iranian position.

However, Tehran also has its own agenda in the energy sphere, separate from Russia's, in opposing the US-sponsored trans-Caspian gas pipeline project. Tehran has consistently canvassed for increased exports of Turkmen gas, oil and petrochemical products through Iran. Given Turkmen-Azeri tensions, Ashgabat also traditionally feels more comfortable about exporting its gas via Iran rather than routing it through Azerbaijan.

The mutual interest of Tehran and Ashgabat to route gas via Iran to the Western market found its expression when the energy ministers of Turkey and Iran signed a memorandum in Ankara on July 13 on gas deliveries from Turkmenistan and Iran via Turkey to Europe. The idea didn't quite come out of the blue, but it was nonetheless startling in its freshness. To be sure, the proposal was a direct snub to Russia. It in essence aimed at helping to revive the Nabucco gas pipeline project.

It would open up Iran's gas reserves for Western markets, thereby reducing Europe's dependence on Russian supplies. The proposal involved 20bcm of gas reaching Turkey annually from Iran and 10bcm from Turkmenistan via Iran. The entire volume (30bcm) would be added to the Azerbaijani gas already reaching the Nabucco pipeline heading to Europe, which would assure the project's viability. The Iranians threw in a big carrot for Turkey, offering to the Turkish Petroleum Corp the right to develop the South Pars blocks 22, 23 and 24 without any tendering and on a buy-back arrangement.

At one stroke, the Turkish-Iranian proposal strove to undercut Putin's gains through May-June in establishing monopoly on Turkmen gas. It underscored how Europe could exploit Iran's ambitions as an energy exporter if only the Iran nuclear issue didn't get in the way. In fact, but for the standoff with Iran, the Turkish initiative fitted admirably well with Washington's own energy strategy toward the Caspian.

Not surprisingly, Washington put its foot down on the Turkish initiative. But the jury is still out. Most certainly, Washington will have been quietly pleased that Turkey's memorandum of understanding with Iran is at the very least likely to reinforce misgivings in the Turkmen mind about committing itself to the Russian-Kazakh-Turkmen inter-governmental agreement handing over to Moscow virtual monopoly in the export of Turkmen gas.

The sequence of dramatic developments has shown that rivalries over the Caspian energy reserves are getting a great deal more rough and ruthless. All means are fair if the end is in sight - as in love or war. It will be interesting to watch how Washington reacts to the Turkish-Iranian tango, as time unfolds. Will it remain adamant that Europe should have no truck with Iranian gas? Or will it coyly step aside and let Iran compete with Russia in the European gas market?

Ashgabat's China option
Meanwhile, Ashgabat began some maneuverings of its own. It did its homework and concluded it could bargain better with Moscow if it had a European option (with US backing, of course) and, furthermore, that it could do better still bargaining with Moscow and the Europeans by developing a "China option". At any rate, Berdimukhamedov arrived in Beijing on a two-day visit on July 17 at President Hu Jintao's invitation.

Before leaving for Beijing, he said his visit marked "not only a new page in the chronicles of Turkmen-Chinese cooperation, but also a milestone in the implementation of Turkmenistan's foreign-policy strategy". He intended to build on an agreement his predecessor Saparmurat Niayzov had signed during his visit to Beijing in April 2006 envisaging the construction of a Turkmenistan-China gas pipeline project capable of delivering 30bcm of Turkmen gas annually for a 30-year period commencing in 2009.

The joint communique issued after Berdimukhamedov's visit to Beijing said Beijing regarded China-Turkmen relations as an "important component" of China's foreign policy, while Ashgabat viewed relations with China as "one of the priority directions" of its foreign policy.

But Turkmenistan's dealings with China haven't gone down well in Western capitals. They fear that the West collectively will be the loser if Ashgabat chooses to send its surplus gas to China instead of to Europe via the Nabucco pipeline. Indeed, China's breakthrough in Turkmenistan has been impressive.

During Berdimukhamedov's visit to Beijing in July, China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) signed a production-sharing agreement for exploring and developing gas fields on the right bank of Amu Darya River in eastern Turkmenistan with known reserves of 1.7 trillion cubic meters of gas. This was in addition to the CNPC's previously existing US$1.5 billion contract for gas-field exploration in southeastern Turkmenistan during the 2007-10 period.

But Beijing has reason to be nervous. In the ultimate analysis, will Ashgabat deliver what it promises, or use the China option as a bargaining chip vis-a-vis the Europeans? The Turkmen deal matters a lot to Beijing. The proposed Turkmenistan-China gas pipeline is expected to run to China's Xinjiang Uighur autonomous region and link up with the 6,500km pipeline under construction (to be completed by 2010) connecting Xinjiang to Guangzhou. Even though Berdimukhamedov assured his Chinese hosts in Beijing that the "Turkmen side will do everything it can to implement the agreements ... [and] Turkmenistan has enough surplus gas for export in various directions", doubts persist in the Chinese mind.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao gave vent to Beijing's anxieties when he told the visiting Turkmen president of the need to "implement bilateral agreements, [and] work closely on the gas project". The joint communique also made a pointed reference to "the need to strictly abide by, and conscientiously implement" Chinese-Turkmen energy cooperation agreements.

Shades of a new cold war
If the Turkmen-Chinese energy deals go through, the West stands to lose heavily. There simply might not be sufficient surplus gas left for export to Europe. In comparison, Russia is better placed to absorb the entry of the Chinese competitor on the Turkmen gas scene. As for Tehran, its overriding priority is that the "Great Satan" (US) is kept away from Turkmen energy reserves at any cost. Iran welcomes China's presence in Central Asia. Besides, a Turkmenistan-China gas pipeline system could easily be connected to Iran at a future date, giving Tehran direct access to the Chinese energy market.

These cross-currents have found expression in recent weeks. In the middle of August, on the eve of the annual summit meeting of the Shanghai Corporation Organization (SCO) in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, the US Trade and Development Agency offered a financial grant to Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan for conducting feasibility studies to build trans-Caspian undersea pipelines. The timing was perfect. Washington wanted to restrain Turkmenistan from drawing too close to the SCO, as that would be a great leap forward in the realization of an Asian energy grid.

Also, Washington finally succeeded in getting the EU to get its act together for a coordinated energy policy toward Central Asia and Russia. On September 14-15, a conference was held in Budapest where the EU resoundingly affirmed its intention to press ahead with the Nabucco project. Andris Piebalgs, the EU's energy commissioner, described Nabucco as an "embodiment of the existence of a common European energy policy". The EU appointed the former foreign minister of the Netherlands, Jozias van Aartsen, coordinator for the Nabucco project.

The conference clarified the contours of the 3,300-kilometer Nabucco, which will now originate in eastern Turkey and run through Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary to Austria, with a capacity of 30-35bcm annually. European banks, especially the European Investment Bank and the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development, will fund the project, estimated to cost 5 billion euros (US$7.1 billion).

Parallel to US diplomatic efforts in Ashgabat, the EU has also begun working on the Turkmen leadership. There is a new sense of urgency in Brussels as the EU seems to have concluded that any effort to break dependence on Russian supplies will have to begin with Ashgabat.

Immediately after the Budapest conference, Austrian Economics Minister Martin Bartenstein visited Ashgabat. (Austria has a pivotal role in the Nabucco project.) Berdimukhamedov told Bartenstein that Turkmenistan has "multiple vectors in its energy policy and in creating alternative energy export routes, including in the southern direction through the Caspian Sea, it is prepared to deliver natural gas to European countries". In other words, he put on record Ashgabat's keenness to export its gas directly to the European market without the Russian intermediary.

At the same time, British Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks also visited Ashgabat. (Wicks is the first cabinet minister from Britain to visit Turkmenistan in the past nine years.) His visit followed a high-powered BP delegation, which held discussions in the Turkmen capital. Wicks took up the trans-Caspian pipeline project (Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey route) with Berdimukhamedov. He said this feeder pipeline for Nabucco would be of "special importance" to the EU, which would fund the project.

Wicks told the media later that Moscow is butting into Ashgabat's energy policy. He said, "The right to decide on this matter is Turkmenistan's and Azerbaijan's, and nobody else's. Oil and gas issues are not just energy issues; they are national-security issues for many countries. The EU's cooperation with the countries in the [Caspian] region should be seen through the prism of energy security and national security of all the states involved in these projects."

Most important, Wicks offered to Berdimukhamedov that if Turkmenistan sold its gas directly to the European market, it would be paid at the rate of the prevailing market price rather than the discounted price at which Russia buys Turkmen gas for re-export to Europe.

At the same time, the EU has also shifted gear in curbing Gazprom's expansion into European markets. On September 19, the European Commission (EC) adopted a plan that virtually aims at preventing Gazprom from buying pipeline networks in the EU. While the plan has to travel a long way to become fully fledged legislation, and there are question marks about the efficacy of its implementation, it is clear that the EU is deliberately erecting a new barrier between it and Russia.

This goes beyond a mere energy issue. The Wall Street Journal wrote, "How to handle Russia ... has been one of the bloc's most divisive foreign policy issues in recent years ... [The proposal] reflects an evolution in attitudes that has seen EU countries that once firmly supported Moscow change their tone."

The daily added, "This is partly the result of changes in EU leadership, which has seen close friends of Russia such as former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Italy's Silvio Berlusconi and France's Jacques Chirac replaced. Russia's actions are also responsible for the change ... [Moscow's] willingness to use energy supply as a weapon of foreign policy spooked and angered European leaders."

Clearly, a sort of "trans-Atlantic solidarity" is forming in Brussels on energy dialogue with Russia. This has obvious political and strategic overtones. More and more European countries are accepting Washington's demarche that the West must speak with one voice in relations with Russia.

Brussels is in effect demanding that Moscow choose between controlling transmission networks in Europe and remaining a supplier of energy. But the idea goes beyond that. EC President Jose Manuel Barroso told the media, "We need to place tough conditions on ownerships of assets by non-European companies to make sure we all play by the same rules." In actual terms, Barroso demanded that the Kremlin should give European oil companies the chance to buy assets in Russia if Gazprom wanted to buy in the EU.

But Moscow sees reciprocity in a different way. The Kremlin asserts that state control over Russia's energy reserves is not something unique to Putin's Russia. It says the situation is the same in France or Norway, for example. The influential chairman of the Russian Duma's (parliament's) international affairs committee, Konstantin Kosachev, warned that Russia would retaliate. "We shall have to restrict our foreign partners' access to the corresponding strategic industries of the Russian economy to the same extent we are denied access to certain branches of the west European free-market economies," he said in Moscow on September 19.

He stressed, "Nobody should expect Russia will display endless philanthropy and unremittingly sacrifice its national interests for the sake of preserving an illusion of partnership. This will never happen."

The blasts of the new cold war have begun blowing across the oil and gas fields of the Caspian region. History is repeating itself. It was over control of the fabulous Baku oilfields that a concerted Western military intervention took place at the time of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. The "Baku Commissars" of the Red Army, who resisted, became the stuff of Soviet folklore. And in World War II Adolf Hitler committed his Panzer divisions in a desperate drive to seize control of the Baku fields.

The blasts beginning to blow across the Caspian region threaten to be every bit as unpredictable as the turbulence triggered by the US missile-defense controversy and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's continued expansion into the territories of the former Soviet Union.

Caspian summit in Tehran
Thus as Caspian leaders assemble in Tehran for their summit in about two weeks' time, a huge East-West divide has appeared, which seemed improbable even six months ago. Putin arrives in Tehran on October 16 on his first visit to Iran. At stake are several tense issues.

Putin will want to hear from Berdimukhamedov what is going on in the complicated Turkmen mind. He will look forward to hearing from Berdimukhamedov, fresh from his visit to the US, that Ashgabat is still committed to the May agreements on quadripartite energy cooperation involving Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

Certainly, Putin won't be pleased with a legacy that in the closing months of his presidency, middle-level US diplomats and oil executives might have stumped him in Russia's Central Asian backyard. Moscow will pull out all the stops to prevent this. Admittedly, Moscow has much leverage and Ashgabat will be aware of the perils of brazen independence from Russian influence.

Meanwhile, China too will be closely watching for signs if Berdimukhamedov intends to fulfill the commitments he made in Beijing during his July visit. If Berdimukhamedov decides to opt for the latest Western packages on the trans-Caspian pipeline, Turkmenistan's cooperation with China may suffer. That would raise doubts about the prospects of China receiving 30bcm of Turkmen gas annually for the next 30 years.

As regards Tehran, it will try to persuade Berdimukhamedov that consorting with the US might not prove to be for his own good in the medium and long terms. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, on the contrary, will encourage Berdimukhamedov to continue undeterred and instead move along the track of the trans-Caspian pipeline project.

One thing is certain. Settlement of the Caspian Sea's status will remain postponed, as the present differences among the littoral states preclude the possibility of major trans-Caspian projects of the sort that the EU and the US espouse - and that suits Russia and Iran.

Of overarching importance will be the impact of all this on Russia-Iran relations. The two countries share common concerns over Ashgabat's energy policy in the coming months as well as on Caspian Sea issues. Russian-Iranian convergence of interests on regional issues has once again surged to the forefront. A question remains: How will this geopolitical reality influence Moscow's policy at a time Washington is hoping to isolate Iran?

Of course, if Washington succeeds in effecting Turkmenistan's "defection", that will constitute a severe setback for Russia's regional interests. The Central Asian states, especially Kazakhstan, will draw their own conclusions, which in turn could impact on Commonwealth of Independent States integration.

It may be twilight in the White House in Washington. A highly controversial era may be coming to a close. Bush's friends may be beginning to desert him. Der Spiegel wrote this week, "Sixty corporate CEOs [chief executive officers] who had previously donated primarily to the Bush campaigns - including John Mack of Morgan Stanley, Rupert Murdoch of News Corporation and Terry Semel of Yahoo - are now giving more money to the Democrats ... It is all too apparent that the political energy is seeping out of the West Wing of the White House."

But Der Spiegel's list of the 60 renegade US corporate giants cannot include the oil majors. Cheney and Rice have just about ensured that.

M K Bhadrakumar served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for more than 29 years, with postings including ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-98) and to Turkey (1998-2001).
[ Link ]

CSMonitor: Aid group stresses link between human rights and development

- - -  Tostan's success, it seems, comes from its novel approach: "When people learn their rights," says Khalidou Sy, Tostan's program director in Senegal, "they begin to demand that those rights be respected." They look for ways to change their lives and community to make that possible.

This approach – to start with human rights, and the rest will follow – has gained the aid group international recognition. In August, it won the $1.5-million Conrad N. Hilton prize, the world's largest humanitarian award. Past winners have included Doctors Without Borders and the International Rescue Committee. Tostan was chosen from among 250 nominees.

"What made Tostan stand out as unique is its incredible ability to help people make decisions for themselves," says Judy Miller, vice president of the Hilton Foundation, which created the prize, "to prepare them with all the information, the skills, and the knowledge, and then train them so that they can actually set their goals and work together and move forward to help everybody in village life."  - - -

[ full article ]


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