Monday, March 10, 2008

The Opium Glut

Illicit opium trade thriving in India: Narcotics bureau

In what could put India in an embarrassing situation, the Central Bureau of Narcotics (CBN) — the country's apex body that supervises licenced opium poppy cultivation — has revealed that the country's illicit production of opium poppy is more than its licenced production.

In its report for 2007, the enforcement and licencing agency has said that in the last year alone, it had destroyed illicit opium poppy crop over 7,753 hectares while the actual area for which the government had awarded licences was less than 6,300 hectares.

The CBN disclosure may cause further damage to the country's already dwindling reputation on the management of drug-related issues and its failure to curb trafficking despite the fact that it had been put in the "Major List" of countries identified as main drug transit or illicit drug producing sources.

The UN's annual drug report, released by the International Narcotics Control Board on Wednesday, had cautioned authorities that the country was increasingly being used as a major transit nation and a destination source for drug trafficking.

The UN study had found that cocaine was trafficked into India where it was exchanged for Afghanistan variety of fine quality heroin bound for Europe or North America, trafficked by West African syndicates.

Opium production surge ends 'heroin drought'
A joint investigation by PM and the Lateline program on ABC TV, has been given evidence that the purity of heroin is rising and prices are dropping.

The so-called heroin drought of the early part of the decade, when it seemed as if amphetamine-based drugs had taken over, has ended.

One reason is booming opium production in Afghanistan and the emergence of so-called 'Afghan Brown' heroin on Australian streets.

Opium Wars
Afghanistan's narcotics trade is back with a vengeance. Washington's latest antidrug plan is unlikely to curb it.

Back in 2003, U.S. officials worried about the drug economy in Afghanistan, where 80,000 hectares (200,000 acres) were being used to grow poppies to supply three-quarters of the world's opium, the main ingredient in heroin and a major source of funding for the country's divisive provincial politicians.

Those were the days. With Afghanistan now growing nearly 200,000 hectares of poppies and supplying a full 93 percent of the world's opium, U.S. officials are stepping up counternarcotics efforts in the restive southern provinces of Afghanistan, a move that triggered a bloody six-hour gunfight last week. The clash, the first in this year's aggressive new campaign to eradicate poppy fields, killed 25 Taliban militants fighting to protect the crops and one policeman fighting to raze them.

U.S. officials say more extensive but targeted eradication is needed to rein in the billions of narcodollars floating around Afghanistan, which they say funds and arms the escalating insurgency. In its annual International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, released on Friday, the State Department insisted that profits from drug production in southern Afghanistan were lining the pockets of warlords supporting the resurgent Taliban, pointing to the contrast between relatively poppy-free northern provinces and the growing production in the volatile south. Poppy eradication, they say, is a necessary evil in the fight to secure the dangerous and strategically critical southern provinces.

Drug business is dizzying
Re: March 1 World Digest item “2007 opium production sets record.”

I recently wrote a letter to the editor about legalizing drugs, and I received a lot of heated e-mails in response.

My opinion was that drugs should not be legalized. Now I have to ask myself, “Why not go ahead and make it legal and reap the benefits?”

Afghan farmers grew 93 percent of the world's opium, and the profits supply the Taliban with money and weapons.

It just blows me away that our government will send our military to protect Afghanistan, while at the same time Afghan farmers grow opium that is sold in the United States. The money makes it back to our enemy so we can continue to fight it.

This running around in a circle is making me dizzy.

Civilian deaths are indefensible

Alan Baker, the Israeli ambassador to Canada, finds that "no reasonable people can be expected to suffer constant, daily barrages of missiles and the deliberate murder of its civilians without the right to defend itself."

Does he think that the daily sonic booms and far-deadlier attacks by Apache gunships, Merkava tanks, naval vessels and F-16 fighter jets are not "indiscriminate," do not "terrorize a civilian population" and are "not merely illegal and immoral, but ... a violation of the most basic norms and principles of international law"? Does he think they do not constitute "a war crime of the first dimension, going against all accepted norms of civilization"?

The current high ratio of Palestinian to Israeli deaths belies the mantra that Israel doesn't target civilians. Israel does target civilians and civilian infrastructure. How else could one explain the deaths of so many children, and the destruction of hospitals, schools and homes?

~ read on... ~

Carter: Make freedom of information a global right

Every country should pass a freedom of information law to promote transparency, help fight corruption and ensure clean elections, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said on Thursday.

More than 50 countries including China, Uganda and Chile have passed access to information laws in the last decade, part of a movement to adopt the principle and give citizens access to information such as on the sources of campaign funds.

The principle was essential even though it may appear more nebulous than human or democratic rights and a less important priority for developing countries than health or economic empowerment, he said.

~ read on... ~

Warnings of NATO's impending collapse

The US and its allies are not only losing the war in Afghanistan, but their military alliance, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), is also on the verge of unravelling as a result of this failure. Several Western officials, including US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, defence secretary Robert Gates, British foreign secretary David Miliband and Lord Paddy Ashdown, a British peer, have in recent days given dire warnings about NATO's impending collapse. Some of this is clearly hyperbole from worried US officials who are unable to fight alone an ill-conceived war launched in a fit of temper, hoping to persuade their reluctant allies to commit more troops to Afghanistan, but there is unmistakable truth in their assertions about a disaster-in-the-making. The Taliban have regrouped and, thanks to the US's indiscriminate bombing of villages, entire tribes in the south and southwest of the country have joined the resistance. Unlike the past, this year resistance activities have continued despite an unusually harsh winter. It has been so cold that several hundred (perhaps a thousand) Afghans have frozen to death.

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British secret agent and WWII heroine Cornioley passes on

Pearl Cornioley, who parachuted into France as a secret agent during World War II to help arm and organize the Resistance, has died. She was 93.

Cornioley was one of Britain's greatest agents operating behind German lines, according to historian Michael R.D. Foot, who has written extensively about British special operations in France.

Cornioley died at Blois Hospital in the Loire Valley on Feb. 24, Caroline Cottard, the secretary at her retirement home in Chateauvieux, southwest of Paris, said on Friday.

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Shooting in Jewish seminary threatens Jerusalem's delicate coexistence

When an Arab of east Jerusalem killed eight people at Jewish seminary, it endangered the fragile fabric of life in a city where people divided by distrust have nonetheless managed to get along.

The shooting was a shock to many Jerusalemites, not only because it followed a long period of relative quiet, but also because even in the peak years of Palestinian suicide bombings, the Arabs of east Jerusalem were largely bystanders.

In the aftermath, the city's Jews fear for their safety, while Arabs are wary of a backlash.

~ read on... ~

Chechens as Russia's Janissaries

In the semi-feudal arrangements of post-Soviet Russia, which in many ways were constructed as a feudal hierarchy of “kryshi” – overlord-protectors who engaged in complicated relations with their supervisors and vassals – immunity from persecution in one domain required a payoff: absolute loyalty to the suzerain. And Kadyrov, who always emphasized his absolute loyalty to Putin, followed this model closely. In fact, it fitted well with Chechen tradition, where a form of feudalistic tribalism has been preserved throughout most of modern history. Kadyrov implied that while he relied on Putin, Putin could also rely on him. And that was a good sign:Kadyrov's Chechens could be the crack troops of the regime – and this could also be seen in the recent deployment close to the Georgian border of a Chechen detachment, as one of the Russian regime's most reliable bodies of troops.

One might, of course, wonder why Putin should see Chechens and other people from the North Caucasus as his most reliable troops, when people from the North Caucasus are almost universally hated. In addition to being considered a source of terrorism and common law crimes, the minorities are disliked as an alien force that threatens the Slavic culture and ethnic make-up of Russia. But it is those qualities which have actually made Chechens valuable for the authorities in the case of a major conflict with ethnic Russians. And it is the Chechens who constitute the vast majority of the poor and especially the poor and restless youth.

It may be recalled that the Janissaries were mostly Slavs deeply hated by the majority of Muslim Turks. The same arrangement can be seen in the case of other regimes which assumed that they might experience trouble in dealing with the majority of the population. The Arab rulers in Egypt employed Turkic slave-warriors – the Mameluks. And, of course, the Bolsheviks relied heavily on Latvian and Chinese detachments. All of these forces were totally isolated from the majority of the population and were absolutely dependent on the rulers. Consequently, they could be used as crack troops in dealing with both foreign and, even more so, domestic threats.

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Permaculture, Co-intelligence and Holistic Politics

" ... Intelligence, I propose, is the capacity of life to create and modify patterns in its search for what works and what satisfies it. We can observe intelligence as much in the highly-evolved patterns of forest eco-communities as in the worksheets of a college math student. CO-intelligence adds the idea that such patterning is mutual, multi-dimensional, holistic, and evolving. The usual idea of intelligence -- individual rational intelligence -- is part of the linear, fragmented, causational worldview. Co-intelligence is part of a fuller holistic, systemic, relational view of the world.

The political vision of co-intelligence was foreshadowed by John Dewey in a 1937 speech entitled "Democracy as a Way of Life":

"The foundation of democracy is faith in... human intelligence and in the power of pooled and cooperative experience... to generate progressively the knowledge and wisdom needed to guide collective action.... [E]ach individual has something to contribute, whose value can be assessed only as [it] enters into the final pooled intelligence constituted by the contributions of all.

[ ... ]

One weekend in June, 1991, a dozen Canadians met at a resort north of Toronto, under the auspices of Maclean's, Canada's leading newsweekly. They'd been scientifically selected so that, together, they represented all the major sectors of public opinion in their deeply divided country. They were facilitated by Harvard professor Roger Fisher -- co-author of the classic Getting to Yes -- and two colleagues.

Despite being political and personal strangers and despite being continuously watched by a camera crew from CTV television, these diverse ordinary citizens managed to craft a consensus vision for their country in less than three days. It was published in four pages of fine print -- part of the 39 pages Maclean's devoted to describing their efforts in the July 1st issue.

Maclean's editors pointed out that this process had proven more effective than numerous other forums run by the government for years, involving hundreds of thousands of Canadians at a cost of tens of millions of dollars. ... "

~ from Co-Intelligence and the Holistic Politics of Community Self-Organization ~

"We need a transcendental tool"

In fact, the biological sensory apparatus that perceives and interprets information for us actually reveals only a tiny fraction of what's before our eyes. That's because perceiving things like cosmic background radiation and "dark matter" -- the mysterious stuff that holds the universe together, according to modern astrophysics -- isn't essential for distinctly human tasks like making tools, walking upright, and navigating the morning commute.

"There is a reality," said Phat Vu, "but what we are experiencing as real is vastly different from what is truly there. For us to know what is truly there, we need a transcendental tool."

The conscious realists hope that mathematics will turn out to be the tool that allows them to create technology to establish a direct connection between our humble brains and the unseen universe around us. They see their work as a natural extension of the impulse that guided the earliest human scientists to try to relate empirical observations of the physical world with mystical insights.

~ from Consciousness Gets Real ~

"The greatest discovery of all science"

Imagine a pair of subatomic particles (electrons, for example) bound together in a state with zero "spin" (rotational momentum). These particles, as it happens, can't possess zero spin themselves; they must spin either "up" or "down." It follows, because of the zero spin of their bound state, that the particles must individually possess different spin states — one must be "up," the other "down."

We release our bound particles, and they shoot away from one another near the speed of light. They lie 600,000 kilometers apart within a second. If we measure the spin of one, we will instantly, across that vast distance, know the spin of its partner.

Bell compares the correlations found between our particles when we measure their spins in different locations, and shows they must communicate on some level. The separated particles not only know that they're opposites. They know about the measurements we perform on their distant partners.

~ from Patterns of The Real: Quantum Nonlocality ~

Europe’s crusade against capitalism

What a country teaches its young people reflects its bedrock national beliefs. Schools hand down a society's historical narrative to the next generation. There has been a great deal of debate over the ways in which this historical ideology is passed on — over Japanese textbooks that downplay the Nanjing Massacre, Palestinian textbooks that feature maps without Israel and new Russian guidelines that require teachers to portray Stalinism more favourably. Yet there has been almost no analysis of how countries teach economics, even though the subject is equally crucial in shaping the collective identity that drives foreign and domestic policies.

Just as schools teach a historical narrative, they also pass on “truths” about capitalism, the welfare state and other economic principles that a society considers self-evident. In both France and Germany, for instance, schools have helped ingrain a serious aversion to capitalism. In one 2005 poll, just 36% of French citizens said they supported the free enterprise system, the only one of 22 countries polled that showed minority support for this cornerstone of global commerce. In Germany, meanwhile, support for socialist ideals is running at all-time highs — 47% in 2007 versus 36% in 1991.

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Highlandism and the new globalization perspective

" ... There is perhaps a feature of the Scottish electorate that may help us towards such a diagnosis. It's the one indicated by Professor Tom Devine in his recent history The Scottish Nation 1700-2000 (1999), where he argues that the Scots have been the leaders in modern emigration. Comparatively viewed, they appear to have outdone the Greeks, the Irish, Jews, Italians and Norwegians from the 18th to the 20th centuries, and deposited a very extensive global diaspora whose size remains infuriatingly difficult to estimate. Most guesses put it at eight or nine times the size of our present-day population, and research continues today in North America, Australasia and Southern Africa to establish both its numbers and its contemporary outlook.

But my point tonight is less the migrants than as what they left behind, a population unusually affected by so much departure, over such a prolonged period of time - around two and a half centuries. In Scotland Romany or Gypsy nomads are usually called simply 'travelling people'; an appropriate label from residents who, if not travelling themselves, invariably have well-travelled relatives...

...The underlying puzzle has always been not why there are so many nation states and distinct ethnic cultures but - why are there so few. In his classic Nations and Nationalism (1983) the social anthropologist Gellner observes that, although no one will ever know exactly, there can't be less than somewhere between six and eight thousand identifiable ethno-linguistic populations scattered round the globe.

Why, then, are there less than two hundred or so national states? When he was writing in 1983 there were well under two hundred U.N. representatives, and though this number has grown, forecasts for the later twenty-first century don't usually envisage more than something between two hundred and twenty or thirty new (and naturally mostly smaller) independent states.

Gellner's characteristic explanation of this disparity was in terms of overall social and cultural development. The culprit, he argued, had been first-round industrialization and urbanization...

...Globality is decreed in advance to possess one overall or commanding meaning: either Neo-liberal progress or some new universal oppression, choose your side. In fact, what globality may be ushering in is more like a range of conflicts, it may be too much to say 'battlefields' - but certainly terrains of decision, alternative directions and possibilities. Umberto Eco has identified one of these alternatives clearly, and amusingly, in his Putting the Clock Back.

Look at the world since the First Gulf War, he asks: just who is so plainly clinging to past patterns and habits? We see the explosion and spread of what he labels 'neo-war', the curse of US-led globalization. That is, of threatened and actual incursions against largely phantasmagoric enemies like 'Terrorism' and Islam or (on the other side) 'the West' and crusade-style Christianity or Evangelism.

The aim of these is to maintain and mobilize the mass public opinion upon which great (or would-be great) power élites still depend, against the individualism, privatization and indifference that accompany so many transnational blessings and successes. Societies have mutated far more than states. And this is why the latter find themselves tempted into another version of the 19th century Restoration that tried to impose stability, values (etc.) between Napoleon 1st and the 'Springtime of Nations' in 1848. Brown and Bush can't literally put the clock back, any more than Prince Metternich could; but at least they can try to slow it down a bit, with plausible aggression (ideally involving Mass Destruction threats), and of course the new forms of persuasion provided by the revolution in communications. ... "

~ from The Edinburgh Lectures - March 4, 2008 - Globalization and Nationalism - The New Deal ~

US to train Pakistan troops hunting militants

The United States will send dozens of military advisers to Pakistan to train soldiers who are fighting extremist groups in the country's restive tribal areas, it emerged today, the first meaningful deployment of American troops in the country.

After weeks of negotiations between the US and Pakistan's new army chief of staff, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, a squad of American trainers will arrive later this year to teach soldiers how to handle counter insurgency operations, rather than a conventional land war against India.

The trainers will focus on the Frontier Corps, a force of about 8,500 soldiers, drawn from tribal groups along the Afghan border. The majority of the Pakistani army comes from Punjab and is often regarded as a "foreign force" in the border region, which is dominated by Pashtuns.

~ more... ~

Ban the 'nanny state': High cost, low benefit of prohibition

Prohibitions impose huge costs on individuals and society, yet produce few
benefits in return -

A major new study, released today by the Institute of Economic Affairs,
argues that the expansion of the 'nanny state' should be halted. A
'banning culture' has seen greater restrictions placed on what
individuals are permitted to do with their own bodies on private property.

The study, conducted by a distinguished international panel of experts
under Dr John Meadowcroft of King's College London, examines the
outlawing of the manufacture, distribution, sale or provision of
particular goods and services by consenting adults. A wide range of issues
are covered including gun control, prostitution and recreational drugs.

~ from End 'nanny state' bans, argues major new study ~

Cheney "impeachable, indictable and criminally negligent"

Former CIA Agent Robert Steele on Dick Cheney:

Robert David Steele Vivas is known for his promotion of Open Source Intelligence (OSI). He is a former Marine Corps infantry and intelligence officer for twenty years and was the second-ranking civilian (GS-14) in U.S. Marine Corps Intelligence from 1988-1992. Steele is a former clandestine services case officer with the Central Intelligence Agency.

Pentagon theft of your data...

...can have more serious consequences than either you or the Pentagon imagined, as this post in Daily Kos suggests.

The Religious Experience of Philip K. Dick

In a cartoon by R. Crumb

view it here.

Accidents happen - death of spook who supported declassification

A Central Intelligence Agency employee who supported Agency declassification activities was killed in a traffic accident late last year. Perhaps befitting a CIA classification official, his name has not been publicly acknowledged by the Agency.

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Vote Zucchini Pickles for President in 2008

Who is Zucchini Pickles?

Zucchini Pickles is a jar of zucchini squash which was grown, harvested and pickled in 1973 by a family in northern Minnesota.

[ Photos

Why is Zucchini Pickles running for president?

Zucchini Pickles is running for president of the United States of America because he is currently unemployed and feels that sitting on a shelf in a cupboard is not a constructive use of his time.

How could a jar of pickles be qualified to run the most powerful country on earth?

Zucchini Pickles was born in the USA and will be 35 years of age in the summer of 2008, and those are two necessary requirements for becoming a US president. There may be other requirements as well, but we haven't really looked that far into the process.

Technical and legal requirements aside, how could a jar of pickles have the intelligence and wisdom to lead the USA?

Well, you could ask that about any of the other candidates. Have you taken a good look at them?

Forget about the other candidates for a minute. The US has by far the largest military in the world, and is a huge part of the world economy. The responsibility is far too great to rest on a mere jar of pickles!

Really? I ask you to take a look at our current and past several presidents. Compare their knowledge and wisdom with any jar of pickles.

Ok, I see your point. But why should Americans vote for Zucchini Pickles instead of one of the other candidates?

Glad you asked! Here are just a few reasons.

Zucchini pickles will never:

    * Lie to the American People.
    * Break a campaign promise
    * Become involved in any sexual scandal (the pickle will stay in the jar, so to speak.)
    * Throw up on a foreign official
    * Choke on a pretzel
    * Make up goofy words
    * Launch an attack on a foreign country just to boost his popularity
    * Give tax breaks to companies that outsource American jobs
    * Or pretty much anything else you could think of

Additionally, in times of severe food shortage, the pickles are still technically edible.

'How much does one week of Bush's wars cost?'

Glad you asked. If we consider the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan together - which we might as well do, since we and our children and grandchildren will be paying for them together into the distant future - a conservative single-week estimate comes to $3.5 billion. Remember, that's per week!

By contrast, the whole international community spends less than $400 million per year on the International Atomic Energy Agency, the primary institution for monitoring and preventing the spread of nuclear weapons; that's less than one day's worth of war costs. The US government spends just $1 billion per year securing and destroying loose nuclear weapons and bomb-making materials, or less than two days' worth of war costs; and Washington spends a total of just $7 billion per year on combating global warming, or a whopping two weeks' worth of war costs.

So, perhaps you're wondering, what does that $3.5 billion per week actually pay for? And how would we even know? The Bush administration submits a supplemental request - over and above the more than $500 billion per year the Pentagon is now receiving in its official budget - to pay for the purported costs of the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and for the global "war on terror". If you can stay awake long enough to read the whole 159-page document for 2008, it has some fascinating revelations.

For example, to hear the howling of the white-collar warriors in Washington every time anyone suggests knocking a nickel off administration war-spending requests, you would think that the weekly $3.5 billion outlay is all "for the troops". In fact, only 10% of it, or under $350 million per week, goes to pay and benefits for uniformed military personnel. That's less than a quarter of the weekly $1.4 billion that goes to war contractors to pay for everything from bullets to bombers. As a slogan, insisting that we need to keep the current flood of military outlays flowing "for Boeing and Lockheed Martin" just doesn't quite have the same ring to it.

You could argue, of course, that all these contracting dollars represent the most efficient way to get our troops the equipment they need to operate safely and effectively in a war zone - but you would be wrong. Much of that money is being wasted every week on the wrong kinds of equipment at exorbitant prices. And even when it is the right kind of equipment, there are often startling delays in getting it to the battlefield, as was the case with advanced armored vehicles for the US Marine Corps.

But before we get to equipment costs, let's take a look at a week's worth of another kind of support. The Pentagon and the State Department don't make a big point - or really any kind of point - out of telling us how much we're spending on gun-toting private-contract employees from companies like Blackwater and Triple Canopy, our "shadow army" in Iraq, but we can make an educated guess.

For example, at the high end of the scale, individual employees of private military firms make up to 10 times what many US enlisted personnel make, or as much as $7,500 per week. If even one-tenth of the 5,000 to 6,000 armed contract employees in Iraq make that much, we're talking about at least $40 million per week. If the rest make $1,000 a week - an extremely conservative estimate - then we have nearly $100 million per week going just to the armed cohort of private-contract employees operating there.

Now, let's add into that figure the whole private crew of non-government employees operating in Iraq, including all the cooks, weapons technicians, translators, interrogators and other private-contract support personnel. That combined cost probably comes closer to $300 million per week, or almost as much as is spent on uniformed personnel by the air force, army, navy and marines.

By one reliable estimate, there are more contract employees in Iraq alone - about 180,000 - than there are US troops. There are thousands more in Afghanistan. But since many of these non-military employees are poorly paid subcontract workers involved in cooking meals, doing laundry and cleaning latrines, the total costs for the services of all private-contractor employees in Iraq probably runs somewhat less than the costs of the uniformed military. Hence our estimate.

So, if $650 million or so a week is spent on people, where does the other nearly $3 billion go? It goes for goods and services, from tanks and fighter planes to fuel and food. Most of this money ends up in the hands of private companies like Boeing, Lockheed Martin and the former Halliburton subsidiary, Kellogg, Brown and Root.

The list of weapons and accessories paid for from our $3.5 billion is long and daunting:

$1.5 million for M-4 carbines (about 900 guns per week).
$2.3 million for machine guns (about 170 per week).
$4.3 million for Hellfire missiles (about 50 missiles per week).
$6.9 million for night vision devices (about 2,100 per week).
$10.8 million for fuel per week.
$5 million to store and transport that fuel per week.
$14.8 million for F-18E/F fighter planes per week (one every four weeks).
$23.4 million for ammunition per week.
$30.7 million for Bradley fighting vehicles (10 per week).

And that's only a very partial list. What about the more mundane items?

"Laundries, showers and latrines" cost more than $110,000 per week.
"Parachutes and aerial delivery systems" cost $950,000 per week.
"Runway snow removal and cleaning" costs $132,000 per week.
Flares cost $50,000 per week.

Some of these figures, of course, may cover worldwide military operations for the US armed forces. After all, by sticking the acronym GWOT (global war on terror)in the title of any supplemental war-spending request, you can cram almost anything into it.

Then there are the sobering figures like: $2.4 million per week for "death gratuities" (payments to families of troops killed in action) and $10.6 million per week in "extra hazard pay".

And don't forget that all the death and destruction lurking behind these weekly numbers makes it that much harder to get people to join the military. But not to worry, $1 million per week is factored into that supplemental funding request for "advertising and recruitment" - not enough perhaps to fill the ranks, but at least they're trying.

Keep in mind that this only gives us a sense of what we do know from the public Pentagon request; there's plenty more that we don't know. As a start, the Pentagon's breakdown of the money in its "emergency" supplemental budget leaves huge gaps.

Even your own congressman doesn't know for sure what is really in the US war budget. What we do know is that the Pentagon and the military services have been stuffing more and more projects that have nothing to do with the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, or even the "war on terror", into those war supplementals.

Layered in are requests for new equipment that will take years, or even decades, to build and may never be used in combat - unless the Iraq war really does go on for another century, as Republican presidential nominee John McCain recently suggested. These "non-war" items include high-tech armored vehicles and communications devices for the army as well as new combat aircraft for the air force.

Even though these systems may never be used on the US's current battlefields, they are war costs nonetheless. If they weren't inserted into the supplemental requests for Iraq and Afghanistan, they might never have been funded. After all, who wants to vote against a bill that is allegedly all "for the troops", even if it includes weapons those troops will never get?

These add-ons are not small change. They probably cost in the area of $500 million per week.

Given all of this, it may sound like we have a fair amount of detail about the costs of a week of war. No such luck. Until the "supplemental" costs of war are subjected to the same scrutiny as the regular Pentagon budget, there will continue to be hundreds of millions of dollars unaccounted for each and every week that the wars go on. And there will be all sorts of money for pet projects that have nothing to do with fighting current conflicts. So don't just think of that $3.5 billion per week figure as a given. Think of it as $3.5 billion ... and counting.

~ full article ~

Iran gas: China waits as India wavers

China is emerging as a potential partner in the proposed multi-billion dollar, 2,700-kilometer gas pipeline originally intended to link Iran, Pakistan and India.

Washington, at odds with Iran because of its perceived pursuit of nuclear weapons, has been hostile to the US$7.5 billion IPI pipeline and has urged India, considered a new strategic South Asian ally, not to go ahead with the project.

China, always on the lookout for new energy sources, has conveyed to Pakistan it would be willing to import 1.05 billion cubic feet (bcf) of gas per day if India opts out of the project, according to reports quoting officials in Islamabad.

Pakistan, which is smarting under Washington's decision to offer a nuclear-technology agreement to India but deny a similar deal to Pakistan, plans to import 2.2 bcf of gas a day from Iran through the pipeline.

Last month, a Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman said, "If there are prospects of China joining the IPI project with or without India,  we will welcome it. Pakistan is committed to the pipeline because of its desire to achieve energy security."

In similar vein, an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson said in Tehran, "Other countries are eager for implementation of the [IPI] project. China is putting pressure that she wants to join the project. We don't have a lot of time. It is time to expedite the decision-making."

New Delhi is not taking the "China threat" very seriously, at least for now, with part of the argument being that India will pay more for the gas. An Indian official at the Petroleum Ministry said, "Going by China's past record, it is unlikely that Beijing will pay as much as Iran is likely to get out of India."

The official said Iran and Pakistan had "deliberately" introduced China as a possible party in the IPI to "pressurize" India, as it would be "politically unwise for India to let China walk away with the extra gas as has happened in Myanmar".

A gas purchase agreement has been finalized by Islamabad and Tehran that will be formally signed this month, while India has kept away from recent talks, citing various reasons, including political instability in Pakistan.

~ read on... ~

Pakistan's grand bargain falls apart

In the latest suicide attack on the military, the fourth in five days, bombers on Tuesday targeted the Navy War College in Lahore, killing six people and injuring 18. This string of attacks leaves the new military chief, Lieutenant General Ashfaq Pervez Kiani, with the unpopular choice of having to take off the velvet glove to reveal an iron fist against militancy.

The chief beneficiary of this would be Musharraf, who has rapidly been losing his grip in the wake of Kiani's popular steps of reconciliation. Politicians elected in last month's polls for a new Parliament have already indicated they want to oust Musharraf for his heavy-handed role in prosecuting the "war on terror" during his eight years as a military ruler.

The militants are also concerned now. Under Kiani's initiative, they would have been restricted to isolated areas on the border areas and, apart from token raids against them by the Pakistani military, been allowed to get on with their "business".

The understanding was that once the Taliban and al-Qaeda were thus contained, it would create space for the forces of democracy to assert themselves in the country under the new government, and Musharraf could walk into the sunset.

In the longer term, these measures could have ended the hostilities in Pakistani society that were the result of eight years of military rule and Pakistan's active participation in the "war on terror".

Guns at the ready
According to Asia Times Online contacts, a military operation is imminent, starting from a base camp in Peshawar in North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). The main focus will be Mohmand and Bajaur agencies, and some other tribal areas, to pre-empt the Taliban's spring offensive in Afghanistan.

Under the initial plan, the operation would have been largely symbolic and the militants had been convinced that if they remained at the forefront and fought against Pakistani troops, their positions would be exposed to the foreign supervisors and they would sustain huge losses.

Instead, if they struck ceasefire deals and retreated from forward positions to the border regions, they would be helped with advance information about possible raids and they could take alternative measures for their survival. They were categorically told that the operation was inevitable, so it would be best for them to take rear positions and flit on both sides of the border for their survival.

The military rationale for adopting this approach was based on pragmatic grounds - that it would cause the militants to evacuate the main tribal areas for Afghanistan or the tribal fringes. This would allow secular Pashtun sub-nationalist forces to regain a hold in the area and develop an atmosphere of peace and reconciliation.

The military would ensure that Musharraf could then make an honorable exit. These steps were aimed at ending hostilities between the military establishment and political parties, as well as the militants. At the same time, it would help bring the extremely alienated right-wing military section in NWFP and in Punjab province (mostly non-commissioned officers) on board.

They have been actively involved in leaking information to militants, and in some cases have been hand-in-hand with them in attacking officers and camps. A senior official told Asia Times Online that Tuesday's attack in Lahore could have been done by members of the camp.

The grand bargain is unraveling, though. The recent missile attack by a US Predator drone on militants in the tribal area helped stir the militants' skepticism of any deal and different independent groups continued to attack the security forces.

The first glimpse the iron fist came last week when Kiani ordered more than 1,000 raids in several cities and hundreds of suspected militants were arrested. This was the biggest operation in the past 12 months and followed the assassination of the surgeon-general of the Pakistani army.

Pakistan therefore finds itself back at square one, with the old divisions of pro-American and anti-American revived in the military and no doubt stoked by Musharraf during his meeting with Admiral Mullen. This is Musharraf's chance to regroup in the pro-American camp by presenting himself as being in the best position to serve US interests in the region.

~ from Asia Times Online ~

'How's that for a nation of sleepers on the job?'

Mark Rosekind, co-founder and president of Alertness Solutions in Cupertino, told the San Francisco Chronicle that people are "biologically programmed" to be sleepy twice a day, between 3 and 5 am and 3 and 5 pm. Sleeping less than 40 minutes is a sufficient power nap, he noted, and anything more is tantamount to taking NyQuil during the day - unless you can get in a full two hours for a complete deep sleep cycle without the boss batting an eye.

In China, the law has provided for an apres-lunch nap, and reductions in work time have increased productivity. HR Focus magazine noted that according to the Chinese government, there was a 30% increase in productivity since the effective implementation of the shorter, 40-hour working week, in 1996 (down from an average 48 beforehand).

So don't fear of learning bad lessons about productivity from the Chinese workplace. Just take the new terminal expansion at Beijing Capital Airport as a case in point.

According to The Independent:
# China has designed and built a new airport terminal double the size of Heathrow's Terminal Five in four years, which is less time than the Heathrow planning enquiry.
# China aims to build 97 regional airports in the next decade, of which 45 are scheduled for completion in five years. The UK has not built a new airport since City airport was commissioned in 1987.
# The UK frets over replacing nuclear power stations and there is dedicated opposition to a new coal-fired station. China completes a new power station every four days.

~ from Don't be lazy, snooze at work ~

Readiness For Endless War

Not so many years ago, many hoped Europe might step up as a counterweight to US imperial policies. Such hopes were focused in particular on Germany - not only as the leading European power, but as a known moderating, non-military force in international politics.

US vituperation of the reputed European preference for diplomacy and peaceful conflict resolution as well as official Britain, in the person of Richard Cooper, former prime minister Tony Blair's international-relations guru, deemed it necessary to lecture "post-industrial Europe" about the need for "double standards" and colonial ruthlessness to beat down benighted non-Westerners, seemed to give substance to these hopes.

Well, Germany and the European Union did step up - but rather differently than expected. And it was no electoral twitch that set the stage for "better be wrong with the United States than being right against it". Since Angela Merkel's visit to Washington (as the conservative opposition leader) on the eve of the US invasion of Iraq, to denounce then-chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's decision to oppose the war, the return to US good graces was not only the main conservative foreign-policy project; it turned rapidly into the supreme project of the German political class - including the Social Democrats.

Merkel became the chancellor-to-go-to, the most trusted European interlocutor for the US political class to work jointly and determinedly to harden US global hegemony against the consequences of America's Iraq-inflicted weakness - this not only in the wider Middle East but also, and especially, with regard to Russia and China, the Bush administration's original enemy of choice before the "birth pangs of a new Middle East" consumed so much of its political capital.

Overcoming the domestic constraints on its ability to use the German army more extensively for "humanitarian interventions", for the defense of "Western civilization" against Islamist terrorism, is an important, though not the most important, part of the Merkel government's "the West united behind the US" policy. Notwithstanding the absence of public debate on its strategic implications - eg, of the US (and Israeli) doctrine of preventive war, the abolition of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's geographical restrictions, the mission of "securing access to raw materials" - the rejection on general principles of a more activist military role by a majority of Germans has not (yet) been overcome.

This has far-reaching consequences: it has, in a significant way, rebooted German elite attitudes and expectations toward the EU, and toward Germany's relationship with France. The public discourse about foreign policy as well as the underlying elite mindset is changing - from "responsibly conservative" to the channeling of the demons Hannah Arendt dealt with in her search for the origins of 20th-century disorder: (British) imperialism, Western militarism and racism. And since the majority of Germans is (again) far behind the curve of elite opinion, the efforts of "re-educating" them (as Der Spiegel recently demanded again) are as consistently strident as they are mythologizing.

But there are also quite a number of senior officials and politicians, still serving or retired, who are looking with dismay or worry at the evolution of German policies in response to the crisis of US-German relations. Their publicly voiced concerns are focused on the expansion of German military commitments - of the easy to get into, but next to impossible to get out of sort - and the rapid deterioration of relations with Russia.

~ from Germany, The Re-engineered Ally (Part 1) ~

Part 2: Broken machinery: Forces that oppose or even appear to question American interests face a simple choice: "Us or chaos."


An open source video compilation, Propaganda offers a critical look at the "mainstream" media, featuring interviews and lectures by Noam Chomsky, bell hooks, John Pilger, Amy Goodman, music by dead prez and much more!

Negotiating away EU data protection

The EU and USA are negotiating in a secret committee - High Level Contact Group - to come up with a proposal covering data protection in all future exchanges of personal data to the USA. To this end they are discussing: Data Protection principles for which common language has been developed (EU document, pdf). Paul Rosenzweig, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy at the US DHS said, in November 2007, on the EU requirement that data can only be passed to third states whose laws passed the "adequacy" test guaranteeing equivalent rights: "The EU should reconsider its decision to apply notions of adequacy to the critical area of law enforcement and public safety. Otherwise the EU runs the very real risk of turning itself into a self-imposed island, isolated from the very allies it needs" (Privacy and Security Law) He is also opposed to the EU's draft Framework Decision on data protection in police and criminal matters (covering the exchange of personal data within the EU), on this: "The draft seeks to apply the same tired, failed standards of adequacy that it has applied in its commercial laws." [EC Directive 95/46/EC) The 1974 US Privacy Law gives no protection to non-US citizens, from the EU or elsewhere.


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