Saturday, February 28, 2009

Blood on his hands

Controversy trails new Mexican ambassador to Canada
Canadian Press: Mexico's new ambassador to Canada arrived in the diplomatic corps trailing some unpleasant baggage, his appointment protested by rights organizations in both countries... 

It is his legacy as governor of the border state of Chihuahua that has garnered the most criticism. During his mandate, the rapes and murders of hundreds of women and girls began in the industrial city of Juárez. 

Barrio Terrazas famously dismissed the number of women who had died to that point as nothing unusual, and suggested the victims were to blame for walking in dark places and dressing provocatively. He resisted calling a special investigation until the final year of his mandate in 1998, and then told the New York Times: 'It's been very well handled.'... 

The FBI and investigative reporters have theories on the murders, and all are connected to organized crime... Barrio Terrazas recently told a reporter he was coming to Canada partly because of the poor security situation in his home state.

by Marcela Valdes
...González Rodríguez told Bolaño how his findings suggested that the killings in Juárez were connected to the local police and politicians and to the mercenary gangs maintained by the drug cartels. The police don't seriously investigate the murders, he explained, because they're badly trained, or they're misogynists, or they've made deals that allow the narcos to operate with impunity.

So there's no serial killer? González Rodríguez recalls Bolaño asked him. No, of course there's a serial killer, González Rodríguez replied. But it's not just one serial killer. I think there are at least two.
Image source here.

Friday, February 27, 2009

What price sanity?

Ottawa pegs direct cost 
$11.3 billion
Canadian Press: The incremental cost estimate does not include post-2011 disability and health care costs for soldiers wounded in battle or suffering from post-traumatic stress. The forecast runs considerably less than the $13.9 billion estimate parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page issued last October at the height of the federal election campaign. 

A direct comparison between the figures is difficult because Page's estimate included projection for long-term veteran's benefits and were, by his own admission, a hazy accounting because the civilian agencies refused to co-operate with his investigation. So far, 108 Canadian soldiers and one diplomat have died as part of the mission, while roughly 375 troops have been wounded.

National Post: The Department of National Defence has released a counter-insurgency manual that manages expectations for victory, urges troops to understand their adversaries' grievances and pushes for political and social solutions in concert with military force.

'Insurgency is a political problem,' reads the introduction. 'The mere attrition of insurgents is highly unlikely to result in [their] defeat.... Military forces do not defeat insurgencies; instead they create the security conditions necessary for the political resolution of the conflict.'

Prof. [Bruce] Hoffman noted the manual's insistence on understanding the enemy's 'narrative' might be its biggest accomplishment. Defined as a plausible story that illustrates real or perceived injustices and grievances, the narrative could also be described as an uprising's founding cause... Regardless of their origins and their ideology, the manual continues, the grievances can be legitimate, and a 'certain amount of empathy may be justified'...

A common pitfall, it explains, is imposing one's own values on others. 'Such an assumption and situation risks creating or exacerbating the perception that foreigners are trying to impose values and beliefs at odds with those of the indigenous population.'

It also cautions against demonizing or delegitimizing one's foes as thugs, a time-honoured mistake made by former US secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld and others. 'The classification or dismissal of a nascent insurgency as a criminal or some other movement will only fuel the insurgency through inappropriate responses.'
Image source here.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Tag Israel's Wall

Spray your tag on West Bank wall -- online
Reuters: It could turn out to be 
the world's longest graffiti space -- the massive concrete barrier separating Israel from the Palestinians.

Over the Internet, a group of Palestinian graffiti artists is offering to spray-paint your personal message on Israel's towering security wall in the occupied West Bank.

It costs 30 euros (US $40) per message and they can be as solemn or wacky as you want. Everything goes, except for obscene, offensive or extremist hate speech. Clients get three digital pictures of the finished product.

The taggers at Send a Message are members of the Palestinian Peace and Freedom Youth Forum, which set up the scheme in collaboration with a Dutch Christian organization.

'It is a new way to speak with the people, that we the Palestinians exist,' says graffiti artist Yusef Njm. 'We are not only throwing stones and clashing. We are alive. We think is a new way to tell them that we are alive.'
Image source here.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Money as Debt

Money as Debt
47-minute animated presentation

What is money and how is it created?
Debt -- government, corporate and household -- has reached astronomical proportions. Where does all this money come from? How could there be that much money to lend? The answer is... there isn't.

Today, money is debt.
If there were no debt, there would be no money.
If this is puzzling to you, you are not alone.
This fast-paced and entertaining animated feature by Paul Grignon, artist and videographer, explains today's magically perverse debt-money system in terms that are easy to understand.
Image source here.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Iran: Look again, the view might change

Iran: the enemy that almost isn't
Doug Saunders, The Globe and Mail: In that spring [2003], Mr. Khatami sent a Swiss official to Washington to make the peace offer. In exchange for recognizing Israel, cutting off Hamas and proving it had abolished any nuclear-weapons plans, Iran wanted an end to sanctions, normal diplomatic relations with the US and recognition of its role in the region. So what happened? Well, nothing. George W. Bush was president, the Iraq war was just approaching the 'mission accomplished' phase, and nobody in the White House thought it would look good to make peace with Iran... As one State Department official directly involved with the Iranian offer told me, "It was like we missed the biggest Middle East peace opportunity of the decade, just so we could keep saying, 'axis of evil.'"...

"As long as we are monitoring their facilities," IAEA chief Mohammed ElBaradei said recently, "they cannot develop nuclear weapons. And they still do not have the ingredients to make a bomb overnight." The countries that have actually produced atom bombs on the sly in recent years -- India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel -- have done so by refusing to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, so there are no inspectors.

Jim Lobe, Asia Times: After eight years of the closest possible relations, the United States and Israel may be headed for a period of increased strain... Iran, with which President Barack Obama has pledged to engage in a 'constructive dialogue,' and the future of its nuclear program will no doubt be the greatest source of tension between the two allies. The new president's commitment to achieving real progress on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may also provoke serious friction. This will particularly be the case should a reunified Arab League launch a major new push for the adoption of its 2002 peace plan, which provides for Arab recognition of Israel in return for the latter's withdrawal from all occupied Arab lands.

The Telegraph [UK]: With co-operation from the United States, covert operations have focused both on eliminating key human assets involved in the nuclear programme and in sabotaging the Iranian nuclear supply chain... As US-Israeli relations are bound to come under strain over the Obama administration's outreach to Iran, and as the political atmosphere grows in complexity, an intensification of Israeli covert activity against Iran is likely to result....

Mossad was rumoured to be behind the death of Ardeshire Hassanpour, a top nuclear scientist at Iran's uranium plant, who died in mysterious circumstances from reported 'gas poisoning' in 2007. Other recent deaths of important figures in the procurement and enrichment process in Iran and Europe have been the result of Israeli 'hits'... according to Western intelligence analysts. 'Israel has shown no hesitation in assassinating weapons scientists for hostile regimes in the past,' said a European intelligence official... 'They did it with Iraq and they will do it with Iran when they can.'

Der Spiegel interviews former Knesset President Avraham Burg.
Burg: Israel is like an abused child who becomes a violent parent. If there is a collective like the Jews which was so brutally abused, is it possible that this collective will never be able to liberate itself form the trauma? Is it possible that this nation will never get out of this vicious circle?...
Spiegel: 'The Shoah is more present in our lives than God,' you wrote. That sounds like blasphemy.
Burg: How can the truth be blasphemous?... When you use the Holocaust as a total example to compare everything against, by the end of the day you annihilate so many things. You say to yourself, Gaza? Well, it was not nice, but it wasn't the gas chambers, either. This is the logic: Because nothing is the Holocaust, everything is permitted.

Roger Cohen, The New York Times: I inquired how he felt about the chants that punctuate life in Iran. "Let them say 'Death to Israel,'" he said. "I've been in this store 43 years and never had a problem. I've visited my relatives in Israel, but when I see something like the attack on Gaza, I demonstrate, too, as an Iranian."... Perhaps 25,000 Jews live on in Iran, the largest such community, along with Turkey's in the Muslim Middle East. There are more than a dozen synagogues in Tehran; here in Esfahan a handful caters to about 1,200 Jews, descendants of an almost 3,000-year-old community...

I asked Morris Motamed, once the Jewish member of the Majlis, if he felt he was used, an Iranian quisling. "I don't," he replied. "In fact I feel deep tolerance here toward Jews." He said 'Death to Israel' chants bother him, but went on to criticize the 'double standards' that allow Israel, Pakistan and India to have a nuclear bomb, but not Iran... One way to look at Iran's scurrilous anti-Israel tirades is as a provocation to focus people on Israel's bomb, its 41-year occupation of the West Bank, its Hamas denial, its repetitive use of overwhelming force. Iranian language can be vile, but any Middle East peace -- and engagement with Tehran -- will have to take account of these points.
Image source here.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Amnesty to US: Stop arming Israel

Amnesty calls on US to suspend arms sales to Israel

Amnesty International Report:

AI: Israel is a significant manufacturer of conventional arms, falling within the top 10 of arms exporters in the world, but also relies on imports of military equipment, parts and technologies... 

Since 2001, the USA has been by far the major supplier of conventional arms to Israel based on the value of export deliveries of all conventional arms including government to government as well as private commercial sales. US foreign military sales to Israel have continued on a large scale. 

The US authorities reported to the UN that the USA commercially traded $1,313 million in 'arms and ammunition' to Israel in the years from 2004 to 2007, of which $447 million was traded in 2007. Israel did not report this trade to the UN. These figures for US trade would normally exclude gifts of military equipment and associated or 'dual use' equipment and technologies. 

In addition to this trade, the USA has provided large funding each year for Israel to procure arms despite US legislation that restricts such aid to consistently gross human rights violators... 

Put simply, Israel's military intervention in the Gaza Strip has been equipped to a large extent by US-supplied weapons, munitions and military equipment paid for with US taxpayers' money.
Image source here.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The US awakes from denial, but to what?

What We Don't Know Will Hurt Us
Frank Rich, The New York Times: One of the most persistent cultural tics of the early 21st century is Americans' reluctance to absorb, let alone prepare for, bad news. We are plugged into more information sources than anyone could have imagined even 15 years ago. The cruel ambush of 9/11 supposedly 'changed everything,' slapping us back to reality. Yet we are constantly shocked, shocked, by the foreseeable. Obama's toughest political problem may not be coping with the increasingly marginalized GOP but with an America-in-denial that must hear warning signs repeatedly, for months and sometimes years, before believing the wolf is actually at the door.

Paul Woodward, War in Context: There is a pathological optimism inherent in every colonial enterprise. And while a pillar of America's founding mythology is that this is a nation which cast off the chains of a colonial power, that myth serves to obscure the fact that with or without British oversight, the American project always required that America be conceived as a quasi-divine creation and not a colonial imposition on an already inhabited land. This image of an immaculate conception has thus always made it difficult for America to develop a healthy sense of the tragic. Yet a fixation on a hopeful future inevitably requires a denial of death.

The Wall Street Journal, interview with Nouriel Roubini: How long will it be before the administration goes in formally for nationalization? 'I think that we're going to see the policy adopted in the next few months... in six months or so.' That long? 'Six months from now, even firms that today look solvent are going to look insolvent. Most of the major banks -- almost all of them -- are going to look insolvent. In which case, if you take them all over all at once, you cause less damage than you would if you took over a couple now, and created so much confusion and panic and nervousness.'

Chris Hedges, Truthdig: The specter of social unrest was raised at the US Army War College in November... The military must be prepared, the document warned, for a 'violent, strategic dislocation inside the United States,' which could be provoked by 'unforeseen economic collapse,' 'purposeful domestic resistance,' 'pervasive public health emergencies,' or 'loss of functioning political and legal order... Further, DoD [the Department of Defense] would be, by necessity, an essential enabling hub for the continuity of political authority in a multi-state or nationwide civil conflict or disturbance.'

In plain English, something bureaucrats and the military seem incapable of employing, this translates into the imposition of martial law and a de facto government run out of the Department of Defense.
Image source here.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

'The greatest need of all is an exit strategy'

Afghanistan has the smell of South Vietnam in 1965
Joseph L. Galloway, McClatchy: What's desperately needed now are a far more subtle definition of what constitutes success in Afghanistan and a simultaneous injection of aid projects to improve the lot of a population that's endured more than three decades of war and civil war.

The greatest need of all is an exit strategy that takes into account the fact that Afghanistan is surrounded by neighbors, some of them predatory, who have a keen interest in the outcome -- Pakistan, Iran and Russia.

Meanwhile, US commanders are stuck fighting a losing war in a landlocked country with long and insecure supply lines through Pakistan, where rebels and thieves pounce on the vulnerable convoys almost at will -- and more troops will need more supplies.

To put it bluntly, Afghanistan today has the smell of South Vietnam in early 1965, just as the US began ramping up for a war that would last a decade and cost the lives of more than 58,000 Americans and as many as 2 million Vietnamese before it ended in [US] defeat.
Image source here.

Friday, February 20, 2009

'Israel is run by war criminals'

Prominent Canadians speak out against the war on Gaza: Judith Weisman (video)

Medea Benjamin, Alternet: What I saw was like a form of collective punishment, leaving behind a trail of grieving mothers, angry fathers and traumatized children. To get a sense of the devastation, [see] Gaza: Massacre of Children... Anyone who can view the slides and still repeat the mantra that 'Israel has the right to self-defense' or 'Hamas brought his upon its own people,' or worse yet, 'the Israeli military didn't go far enough,' does a horrible disservice not only to the Palestinian people, but to humanity...

'The message,' I can report, has been received. It is a message that Israel is run by war criminals, that the lives of Palestinians mean nothing to them... How tragic that a nation born out of the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust has become a nation that supports the slaughter of Palestinians.

AFP: US Democratic representatives Brian Baird and Keith Ellison expressed shock at the plight of the war-shattered Gaza Strip... 'The amount of physical destruction and the depth of human suffering here is staggering,' Baird said... 

Ellison harshly criticized restrictions on the delivery of desperately needed goods into the coastal strip that has been under a crippling Israeli blockade... 'People, innocent children, women and non-combatants, are going without water, food and sanitation, while the things they so desperately need are sitting in trucks at the border, being denied permission to go in. The stories about the children affected me the most. No parent, or anyone who cares for kids, can remain unmoved by what Brian and I saw there.'

Baird said the situation he saw was 'shocking and troubling beyond words. The personal stories of children being killed in their homes or schools, of entire families wiped out, and relief workers prevented from evacuating the wounded are heart wrenching.'

In the bombed-out Gaza Strip, schooling, already hit by a shocking Israeli siege, has become a greater struggle after three weeks of massive bombing and attacks that left dozens of schools in ruins and students too traumatized to learn. More than 37 primary and secondary schools in Gaza were destroyed or damaged in three weeks of Israeli air, sea and land attacks. Gaza's 521 schools have been forced to operate morning and afternoon shifts of no more than four hours each to accommodate 450,000 students, many of them suffering from post-war trauma.

Amira Hass, Haaretz: During and after the operation in Gaza, there were a number of reports about people (including women and children) who were shot at by soldiers while trying to escape and waving white flags... Local and international organizations are investigating them in the context of preparing complaints and lawsuits against the IDF.

Sameh Habeeb and Janet Zimmerman, Al-Ahram Weekly: 'The soldiers were eating chips and chocolate, and they were smiling when they killed my daughters. My mother, my wife and my three daughters all held white flags when they tried to leave the house.'... When asked why he thought they would kill his children, Abed Rabbo replied, 'I am certain they were drunk or were given orders to kill everyone including the children. This was on Haaretz a couple of days ago, that many Israeli rabbis were giving orders to leave no one alive... I know if I go to the court about what happened the Israeli army would create thousands of pretexts to make their soldiers appear innocent. They have done this with many other cases before.'

McClatchy: Eight other residents in this northern Gaza Strip neighborhood told McClatchy in separate interviews that Israeli soldiers had conscripted them to check homes for booby traps, to smash holes in the walls of houses so that soldiers could use them as escape routes or to try to pull dead Palestinian militants from the rubble... 'The testimony seems pretty extensive and presents grave suspicions that Israeli soldiers forced Palestinians to perform dangerous tasks,' said B'Tselem spokeswoman Sarit Michaeli. 'And the fact that we're seeing these allegations on such a wide scale leads us to suspect that this was policy and not the decisions of one or two random soldiers.'
Image source here.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

POTUS and the GG

Canadian Press: OTTAWA -- Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean was the first of a handful of Canadian dignitaries to greet Barack Obama as he stepped off Air Force One onto Canadian soil for the first time as US president.

'You would never have imagined that you and I could both be here like today, coming from African descent,' Jean was quoted as telling the president as they began what insiders described as 'soft and warm' exchange...

An Obama quip had Jean leaning back, laughing and throwing an arm around the president's back as they strode side-by-side into the reception centre for a private chat. 

Jean's spokeswoman Marthe Blouin said 'at that moment she was telling him that she felt it was like a love affair between him and Canadians.'

He said that he knew that, that he'd been informed that he was very popular in Canada. Then he joked and added, 'Well it's good to know because if things do not go well for me in the States I know I can come to Canada.'
Image source here.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The 'reluctant empire' and its 'long war'

Only one who knows the disastrous effects of a long war can realize the supreme importance of rapidity in bringing it to a close. -- Sun Tzu, The Art of War (6th Century BC)

Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post: [General David] Petraeus helped lay the groundwork for a much more prolonged engagement in Iraq... The new strategy was in fact a road map for what military planners called 'the long war.'... How does this end? Probably the best answer came from Charlie Miller, who did the first draft of policy development and presidential reporting for Petraeus. 'I don't think it does end. There will be some US presence, and some relationship with the Iraqis, for decades... We're thinking in terms of Reconstruction after the Civil War.'

Jeff Huber: The generals' gambit, as Ricks explained it to David Gregory on Meet the Press, is 'they feel they have made huge sacrifices, that they have had friends die and sons bleed, and that they don't want to throw that all away on the -- you know, because some guy said on the campaign trail, 'We're going to get all these guys out.'' ... Obama can either accede to their goal, which is and always has been a permanent military occupation of Iraq, or be vilified as the wimp who betrayed the troops because of a campaign promise he made to get the peace pansy vote.

Cernig: CJCS Admiral Mullen advanced the theory that America is a reluctant empire, a hegemon only because its allies trust it and want it to rescue and protect them... just like ancient Rome... Note he doesn't deny America's empire exists -- just the obvious reasons for it. It's simply a retelling of the British Victorian 'White Man's Burden' fable for a New American Century.

Alan Bock: The United States may not be able to afford the empire it has built... It wouldn't be the end of the world if the American empire retreated and eventually was no more. Berlin, Paris, London, Vienna, Moscow, Tokyo, Istanbul, Beijing, Delhi, Rome, and dozens of other cities have their charms yet, even if they are no longer the centers of great empires. Washington would have more charms than it does now if it ceased to be the geopolitical center of the world and the Pentagon was converted to condos.
Image source here.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

COIN = colonialism

The Guardian: Two decades after the Soviet withdrawal, ever more resources are being poured into a war with scant chance of success. At this stage of their war the Russians were preparing to leave. Now the US and NATO want to get further in... The idea that, unlike Iraq, Afghanistan is the 'right war' is a self-deluding trap. A military 'surge' may procude short-term local advances but no sustainable improvement, and it will cost the US and Britain enormous sums. Pouring in aid will take too long to win hearts and minds, and the money will mainly go to foreign consultants and corrupt officials.

AP: [In 2008] United States, NATO and Afghan forces killed 829 civilians, or 39 per cent. Of those, 552 deaths were blamed on air strikes.

Doug Saunders: Within the US military, this is known as population-centric counterinsurgency... In practice it looks and sounds a lot more like old-fashioned colonialism... There are good reasons to be suspicious of this approach. 'We do not believe in counterinsurgency,' a senior French commander tells me. 'It means the entire population has become the subject of your war, and you either will have to stay there forever or you have lost.'... I ask one one [US] officer how long it is going to take to make this new strategy bear fruit. 'Look,' he says, 'we're still in Germany and Japan 60 years after that war ended. That's how long it can take. I fully expect to have grandchildren who will be fighting out here.'

Image source here.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Revolution: call and response

'Revolutionary conditions'
Paul Woodward, War in Context: The widening gap between the interests of the corporate-state and the interests of ordinary people [is] becoming more glaringly visible. Ultimately and who's to say how rapidly, this might create revolutionary conditions. Given that we live in a society well inoculated by superficial distractions and pervasive ignorance, the tipping point may not be close at hand. Even so, more than at any other time the conditions seem ripe for the articulation and organization of a global revolutionary movement. Trotsky could only dream of living at such a time.

Open Democracy: The aspiration to what might be called the internationalisation of dissent has not yet been fully realised. But there are more than glimpses of the phenomenon in social, environmental and workers' movements -- reflecting the fact that one result of globalisation is the much wider understanding of the transnational nature of marginalisation and exclusion. There is every chance that the early 2010s will indeed see the rise of fully transnational anti-elite movements triggered by wholesale deprivation, fuelled by anger, and armed with the hunger for an inclusive and just world. In time, they may be as or even more potent than the anti-colonial movements of the 1950s and 1960s.

Alternet: 'In one variation, three teachers (two actors and a real subject) administered a test and shocks. When the two actors disobeyed the experimenter and refused to go beyond a certain shock level, 36 of 40 subjects joined their disobedient peers and refused as well.' Put in a political context, this is perhaps the most important lesson Milgram has to teach us. The best hope people have of resisting an oppressive system is to validate their experiences alongside other people. There is no more basic antidote to authoritarianism than support, solidarity and community.

The New York Times: The International Monetary Fund expects that by the end of the year, global economic growth will reach its lowest point since the Depression... The fund said that growth had come to 'a virtual halt,' with developed economies expected to shrink by 2 percent in 2009. 'This is the worst we've had since 1929,' said Laurent Wauquiez, France's employment minister. 'The thing that is new is that it is global... It is in every country, and it makes the whole difference.'

Raw Story: In a report to the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dennis Blair, Obama's intelligence chief, said... that the growing economic crisis has become the greatest threat to US security, outpacing even terrorism... 'Instability can loosen the fragile hold that many developing countries have on law and order, which can spill out in dangerous ways into the international community... There could be a backlash against US efforts to promote free markets because the crisis was triggered by the United States... We are generally held to be responsible for it.'

The Guardian: The Iraq war was just the first of this century's 'resource wars,' in which powerful countries use force to secure valuable commodities... Sir David King predicts that with population growth, natural resources dwindling, and seas rising due to climate change, the squeeze on the planet will lead to more conflict... This strategy could also be used to find and keep supplies of other essentials, such as minerals, water and fertile land... 'Unless we get to grips with this problem globally, we potentially are going to lead ourselves into a situation where large, powerful nations will secure resources for their own people at the expense of others.'
Image source here.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

BC has top livability rating in Cascadia

Vancouver Sun: British Columbia leads the Pacific Northwest in terms of human health, energy efficiency and smart growth [according to] Seattle-based Sightline Institute's Cascadia 2009 Scorecard... which covers BC, Washington, Oregon and Idaho. The Sightline Institute is a non-profit research centre and think-tank founded in 1993.

'British Columbians live an average of two years longer than residents of Washington and Oregon and Vancouver sets the pace for the Northwest in creating pedestrian-friendly neighbourhoods,' Sightline research director Clark Williams-Derry said in a statement.

BC residents use almost one-third less energy per person (gasoline and electricity) than residents of the other regions in the Pacific Northwest, the report said...

When it comes to health, BC residents live an average of 81.6 years, two years longer than residents of the northwestern states and topping all other US states and Canadian provinces. 'If BC were an independent nation it would have the second longest lifespan in the world, after Japan.'
Image source here.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

WMD #1: Testosterone

Male hysteria 
and the market meltdown
Toronto Star: Is the world of high finance hormonally challenged? It's usually women accused of hormone-driven behaviour, but men, it transpires, are also at the mercy of their biochemistry. And in few places more than the single-minded, avaricious, coarsely competitive, sharp-elbowed -- and overwhelmingly male -- finance sector, where risk-taking is the modus operandi and greed, at least until recently, was all good...

Heather-Anne Irwin, a former investment banker and equity specialist, now with Rotman School of Management [says]: 'I wouldn't blame the economic crisis just on testosterone, but I think a lot of it had to do with men not wanting to admit to other men that they didn't understand certain things that were happening... There's a lot of bravado, aggression, guys trying to position themselves. It's easy for group-think to take over.' Especially in a world where money equals status equals power.

In the past, whenever anyone suggested that the finance culture is too aggressively male, a surge of foaming sexist ridicule was unleashed. But not now... It isn't just the would-be alpha males in the day-trading room whose biology may have contributed to the current crisis. The hormonal ups-and-downs of sober-suited bankers, brokers and fund managers -- the more senior types who put together complex deals that took weeks, even months, to complete -- could have played an even bigger role.

Males are four times more likely than females to behave antisocially.
Image source here.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Zombie banks and Doublethink

The issue which has swept down the centuries and which will have to be fought sooner or later is the people versus the banks... And remember, where you have a concentration of power in a few hands, all too frequently men with the mentality of gangsters get control. History has proven that. All power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely. -- John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton

To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies -- all this is indispensably necessary. -- George Orwell, 1984

Jacques Attali, Wall Street Journal: The global banking system is... on the brink of bankruptcy. So the worst-case scenario is the most likely scenario: a collapse of the banking system followed by world-wide inflation... This panic could be set off by the realization of the insolvency of the system... A number of determined groups, with even limited means, could organize speculative attacks on banks, leading to their collapse... It could even be followed by hyperinflation, provoked by the immensity of the monetary means created since the start of the crisis... a global Weimar.

Willem Buiter, Financial Times: Many (probably most, possibly all but a handful) high-profile, large border-crossing universal banks in the north Atlantic region are dead banks walking -- zombie banks kept from formal insolvency only through past, present and anticipated injections of public money. They have indeterminate but possibly large remaining stocks of toxic -- hard or impossible to value -- assets on their balance sheets which they cannot or will not come clean on... The public financial support offered... has been a complete failure.
Image source here.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Canada #2 in world public opinion

World Public Opinion (PIPA)Evaluations of Canada are the second most positive out of all countries. On average, 59 per cent have a positive view. Eighteen countries have a predominantly positive view, while views are divided in Egypt and predominantly negative in Turkey... 

Notable increases in positive views of Canada have occurred across the globe, including in the Philippines (83%, up from 67%), the United States (82%, up from 65%), China (75%, up from 65%), Italy (74%, up from 62%), and the United Kingdom (74%, up from 65%). Positive attitudes in Egypt have also dramatically increased (26%, up from 12%), making Egypt's views of Canada's influence divided overall.

Widespread majorities continue to give positive evaluations of Canada in France (79%), Australia (77%), Chile (64%), Germany (64%), Spain (64%) and Central America (58%). Attitudes also lean positively in Mexico (43% positive to 16% negative), Indonesia (36% positive to 21% negative), and India (30% positive to 13% negative).

Attitudes about Canada have become considerably more negative only in Turkey and Russia. Views have become sharply more negative in Turkey (49%, up from 20%), while positive views have fallen as well, but less dramatically (20%, down from 28%). In Russia, positive views deteriorated significantly, falling 15 points over the previous year (36%, down from 51%), although overall views of Canada still lean positive.

Image source: World Public, a project managed by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland. Complete report (.pdf) here.

Say what?

General James Jones, 
Remarks to the Munich Security Conference
Thank you for that wonderful tribute to Henry Kissinger yesterday. Congratulations. As the most recent National Security Advisor of the United States, I take my daily orders from Dr. Kissinger, filtered down through General Brent Scowcroft and Sandy Berger, who is also here. We have a chain of command in the National Security Council that exists today.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

'Prospects are more than bleak'

Right Wing Sweeps Israel;
Juan Cole, Informed Comment: Logically speaking, there are only three other plausible future relationships of Israel and the Palestinians:

1. Apartheid, with Israeli citizens dominating stateless Palestinians and controlling their borders, land, water and air... Over time, this outcome would break down, since it would be unacceptable to the rest of the world...

2. Expulsion. The Israelis could try to violently expel the Palestinians (and possibly Israeli-Palestinians as well), creating a massive new wave of refugees in Jordan or Egypt's Sinai. (This option would almost certainly end the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan and might well push the Arab states into the arms of Iran, creating a powerful anti-Israel military coalition and a huge set of threats to the United States.)

3. One State. The Israelis could be forced over time, by economic and technological boycotts, to grant citizenship to the Palestinians of the occupied territories.

Carlo Strenger, The Guardian: Prospects are more than bleak. These elections have proven that even though Israel is a hi-tech powerhouse with a strong army and a functioning democracy, it no longer has the ability to think strategically, act morally and truly manage its own fate. Given that the Palestinians have lost any cohesiveness and have no functioning leadership, the region is likely to deteriorate into chaos and violence... 

Israel's tragedy is that the motivation for the Zionist project was to allow Jews a life of dignity, freedom and self-determination. Instead Israel is turning into a ghetto, progressively oblivious of the outside world, with a paranoid and often dehumanising attitude toward Arabs and deafness towards the values of the western world to which it wants to belong. The resulting moral blindness was dramatically shown in the way the Gaza operation was conducted.
Image source here.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Afghans blame US/NATO more than Taliban

Afghan support falls for US-NATO presence
AFP: A nationwide survey of Afghans shows plummeting support for US and NATO/ISAF forces in Afghanistan, and a rise in the number who believe attacks on those troops are acceptable... The biggest complaint: civilian deaths resulting from US and NATO air strikes, which 77 percent say is unacceptable because the risk to civilians outweighs the strikes' value in fighting insurgents... Only 18 percent of the Afghans surveyed believe that the number of US and NATO/ISAF forces should increase, while 44 percent want the number of foreign troops to drop... 'Thirty-six percent of those surveyed mostly blame US, Afghan or NATO/ISAF forces or the US or Afghan governments for the violence that's occurring, up by 10 points from 2007,' ABC said. Only 27 percent mainly blame the Taliban, down by 9 points.
Image source here.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Lack of trust will kill the greenback

Willem Buiter,
Financial Times: During the decade leading up to the crisis... there was a steady erosion in business ethics and moral standards in commerce and trade. Regulatory capture and corruption, from petty corruption to grand corruption to state capture, became commonplace. Truth-telling and trust became increasingly scarce commodities in politics and business life. The choice between telling the truth... and telling a deliberate lie or half-truth became a tactical option. Combined with increasing myopia, this meant that even reputational considerations no longer acted as a constraint on deliberate deception and the use of lies as a policy instrument...

This morality tale has important consequences for a government's ability to conduct effective countercyclical policy. For a fiscal stimulus (current tax cut of public spending increase) to boost demand, it is necessary that the markets and the public at large believe that sooner or later, measures will be taken to reverse the tax cut or spending increase in present value terms...

I believe that the anticipated future US Federal deficits and the growing contingent exposure of the US sovereign to its financial system... will cause the dollar in a couple of years to look more like an emerging market currency than like the US dollar of old... If the increased deficits undermine the credibility of the sustainability of the fiscal programme, then the effect on the currency could be negative immediately.
Image source here.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

US/NATO Afghan supply routes blocked

Juan Cole: First, the Taliban destroyed a crucial bridge west of Peshawar over which NATO trucks traveled to the Khyber Pass and into Afghanistan. 75% of US and NATO supplies for the war effort offloaded at the Pakistani port of Karachi and sent by truck through the Khyber Pass... Then the Taliban burned 10 trucks carrying such materiel, to demonstrate their control over the supply route of their enemy...

Well, you might say, there are other ways to get supplies into Afghanistan. But it is a landlocked country. Its neighbors are Pakistan, China, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Pakistan is the most convenient route, and it may be at an end. China's short border is up in the Himalayas and not useful for transport. Tajikistan is more remote than Afghanistan. The US does not have the kind of good relations with Iran that would allow use of that route for military purposes. A Turkmenistan route would depend on an Iran route, so that is out, too. So what is left? Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.

More bad news. Kyrgyzstan has made a final decision to deny the US further use of the Manas military base, from which the US brought 500 tons of materiel into Afghanistan every month... The US has opened negotiations with Uzbekistan, which had given Washington use of a base but ended that deal after it massacred protesters at Andizhon in 2005. Some Uzbeks charged that the US had promoted an 'Orange Revolution' style uprising similar to the one in the Ukraine...

In the light of these logistical problems... and given that no clear, attainable, finite mission in Afghanistan has ever been enunciated by US civil or military leaders, it is no wonder that President Barack Obama is reported to be putting the 'Afghan surge' or the sending of 30,000 new troops to Afghanistan on hold...

Aljazeera English reports on the blocking of the supply routes in Pakistan... You would almost never get this range of opinion in expert comment on such an issue on American corporate news. Aljazeera's philosophy, of allowing all sides of an issue to be heard, seems to me far superior to the American approach of having a US centrist debate a US far-right conservative.
Image source here.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Atrocities against women in Congo

Turning Pain to Power
Women's Media Center: Disturbing stories out of the Congo: women and young girls raped by militia men in front of their families; rape victims ranging from as young as six months to as old as 83 years; women and girls faced with unwanted pregnancies and raped intentionally by men known to have AIDS... To date an estimated 400,000 women and girls have been raped.

There is also a devastating epidemic of women and girls whose vaginas and reproductive organs have been completely destroyed from being violated with guns, bottles and sticks, often resulting in a condition called fistula, a rupture that results in the uncontrollable leakage of urine and feces. The traumatized rape victims are then further stigmatized and ostracized by their families and communities... 

Says [Dr. Denis] Mukwege, awarded the UN Human Rights Prize in December 2008 for his humanitarian work, 'attacking women, the bearer of life, with this level of terror, I believe it has nothing to do with sexual desire. I think it's about destabilizing society, trying to destroy society.'... [Playwright Eve] Ensler says 'We still live in a world where femicide is taken for granted, where the raping of women, the destruction of women, is a given. Not extraordinary.'

The 'Turning Pain to Power Tour' supports a joint V-Day and UNICEF campaign... The organizers call for specific measures to end impunity for perpetrators and to economically and socially empower women and girls so they can lead in the prevention of sexual violence and in the rebuilding of a country devastated by conflict. The tour will also raise needed funds for the Panzi Hospital and build and open the City of Joy, a center where survivors will be provided with support to heal and training to develop their leadership and life skills.
Image source here.