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Monday, 17 November 2008

A Pak Wink and a Pentagon Nod in the NWFP

It was only a few months ago that Pakistani forces were directly engaging, and forcing retreat of, US military incursions in the borders region of northwest Pakistan, the North West Frontier Province.  The government, both under Musharraf and Zardari, have repeatedly complained about violations of sovereignty, and such actions would not be tolerated.

Despite the florid protests, the NWFP has actually seen an increasing frequency of aerial attacks by Predator drones in the last few months, while the fulminations of the Pakistani politicians have seemed somewhat subdued.

Well, something has popped up that explains that curious arrangement.
The United States and Pakistan reached tacit agreement in September on a don't-ask-don't-tell policy that allows unmanned Predator aircraft to attack suspected terrorist targets in rugged western Pakistan, according to senior officials in both countries. In recent months, the U.S. drones have fired missiles at Pakistani soil at an average rate of once every four or five days.

The officials described the deal as one in which the U.S. government refuses to publicly acknowledge the attacks while Pakistan's government continues to complain noisily about the politically sensitive strikes.

The arrangement coincided with a suspension of ground assaults into Pakistan by helicopter-borne U.S. commandos. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari said in an interview last week that he was aware of no ground attacks since one on Sept. 3 that his government vigorously protested.
In what maybe described as yet another salutary benefit of the highly anticipated departed of the much loathed Bush administration, Pakistanis seem somewhat more willing, perhaps better described as 'less unwilling,' to endure the bombing with the advent of a

The Slings and Arrows of Outrageous Fortune

Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer 
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them?

-- Hamlet

By "outrageous fortune," I doubt Shakespeare had in mind the kind of wholesale wealth transfer currently being enacted by the Bush administration's Treasury Department, but such a turn of phrase is entirely appropriate to what is transpiring in the country right now.  I am not, by implication, advocated an armed insurrection, but we certainly need to somehow oppose this insanity.  Unfortunately, there seems nary a peep of protest about the monstrous scam being perpetrated within a shock doctrine paradigm.

Below is my article in the Indypendent Reader on the looting of the Treasury, a sham that we otherwise know as "the bailout."  This article was submitted two weeks ago and prior to a couple of other news nuggets that have since exposed themselves; the $2 trillion in secret, opaque loans to person or persons unknown and whom the Fed has refused to identify, and the little noticed $140 billion Wall Street tax break, illegally ordered by a fiat from the Treasury Department.  Which tells us only that there has been far more to the looting than what was already known and indicates the likelihood that there most certainly will be more of that to come. 

Bailout Boondoggle

When Treasury Secretary and bald-pated "former" Goldman Sachs


Friday, 14 November 2008

IEA Oil Report: The End of Oil is Nigh

The International Energy Agency has released their latest World Energy Outlook and it is, in a word, grim.  Grim, that is, if you imagined a forever world of happy motoring, exurban sprawl and big box junk retailing, a la the Wal*mart paradigm.  The IEA tells us that, in order to maintain supply with projected world demand
projections call for cumulative investment of over $26 trillion (in year-2007 dollars) in 2007-2030.
This is an estimate $4 trillion larger than last year's WEO.  In other words, things are rapidly getting worse, as depletion rates of the world's top oil fields are projected to be hitting 8.6% by 2030.

One of my favourite energy tracking investment newsletters, Energy & Capital, has a great summary of the report.  Their outlook, as with all investment advisors, is strongly geared toward making monster profits from the looming implosion of oil markets, but that means they don't live a state of denial about the realities facing the world, which is why I take note.

IEA Oil Report: "Time is Running Out."

The agency struck a new tone of urgency in the report, as it sharply reduced its outlook for the growth of world oil production
< [...]More

NSA Secrets and Lies: An Interview with James Bamford

Baltimore's own City Paper interviews James Bamford.  Alternately hated, then loved, then hated again by agency muckety mucks, Bamford is the preeminent chronicler of the National Security Agency.

Read it all, but the provenance of Bamford's early investigations is rather interesting.  It all began with a seemingly benign agency newsletter.
CP: Did you get any push-back from the agency when you started writing about it? After all, it's supposed to be top secret.

JB: I had a difficult time. My advance was fairly small, I was living in Massachusetts, I didn't really know anyone in intelligence, and I hadn't written anything before. And I was going up against NSA.

One of the things I was good at in law school was research, so I thought maybe I'd try using the Freedom of Information Act. The problem with that was, NSA is really the only agency excluded from the act. If you sent them a [FOIA] request, they would just send you a letter back saying [under Section 6 of the National Security Agency Act] we don't have to give you anything, even if it's unclassified.

But I found this place, the George C. Marshall Research Library in Lexington, Virginia, and William F. Friedman, one of the founders of the NSA, had left all his papers there. When I got down there, I found the NSA had gotten there just before me and gone through all of his papers and taken a lot of his papers out and put them in a vault down there and ordered the archivist to keep them under lock and key. And I convinced the archivist that that wasn't what

Painting a Picture with a Palette of Pain

Yesterday's New York Times Business front page was portrait of falter and failure, as grim a prognosis as anything seen so far with consumer spending diving off a cliff.
  • Retailers Feel Pinch …
  • Life Insurers Facing Cuts
  • Golden Years, Tarnished
  • Chip Makers Cut Outlook
  • City of London Struggles
That was just page one. There was more.
  • Best Buy Cuts Outlook
  • Hedge Fund Managers to Testify…
  • Major Indexes Fall Sharply…
  • Flat-Screen Makers Plead Guilty [to price fixing]
  • UBS Executive Indicted
  • Macey's Posts Loss as Sales Decline…
Then there is today's Business page:
  • Worst May Be Yet to Come for Citigroup
  • … Bailout Plan Falters
  • BT Group to Cut 10,000 Jobs
  • Holiday Season Looking Cheerless
  • German Economic Data Show Recession
Sounding a discordant note, Bush chimes in with his usual cognitive dissonance, telling the world to keep government out of markets, lest they get in the way of all that wonderful efficiency.
  • Bush Speaks in Defense of Markets


Obama's Bailout Muzzle

Certainly, some have noted Obama's amazing silence on the question of the Wall Street bailout.  Supporters, though, have basked in the sun of their perceived saviour, languishing in a stupor of munificent dreams, despite some obvious and disconcerting omissions in Obama's rhetoric.  Any discussion of the bailout or criticisms of Treasury Secretary and former Goldman Sachs honcho Hank Paulson by Obama are certainly a glaring feature.  That is, until you understand one thing:
Overall, Obama is flat-out kicking McCain's ass when it comes to Wall Street contributions, raking in nearly $9 million from securities and investment executives, compared to $6.2 million for McCain. Obama has received more contributions from Goldman Sachs than from any other employer — more than $627,000 at this writing — not to mention $398,021 from JP Morgan Chase, $353,922 from Lehman Brothers and $291,388 from Morgan Stanley. Even among hedge-fund executives, who have an unequivocal interest in electing McCain, Obama is whipping the Republican, collecting $500,000 more than McCain.

Those worried that Obama might be all talk when it comes to needed reform had a real scare in July, when the senator failed to show up to vote for the Stop Excessive Speculation Act, a bill designed to curb rampant oil speculation. Oil speculators provide the perfect microcosm of what happened to the economy under Bush. Back in 2001, investment banks like Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan got together and created an online exchange called the ICE for trading energy commodities. The ICE ended up buying the British-regulated International Petroleum Exchange; it then opened trading windows in the U.S., allowing Wall Street investment banks to make oil-futures trades on American soil, on their very own commodities exchange, without any federal regulation whatsoever.

"In financial terms, they were

Nixon, Lies and Videotape

Fester at Newshoggers put up this Ken Hughes documentary (10 min) and it is fascinating. If you need more proof that US foreign policy is driven by domestic concerns, look no further as you watch Nixon and Kissinger discuss Vietnam withdrawal options within the context of the 1972 presidential elections. Lying to the American public figures prominently.

For more fun things in the annals of "national security," check the trove of stuff at the Presidential Recordings Program hosted by the Miller Center for Public Affairs. You'll begin to understand why Bush, Cheney and Rove have tried to "lose" all those presidential records.More

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Blackwater Arms Bazaar

Via The Public Record, Government Executive is reporting that Blackwater is facing heat, and some potentially hefty fines, for illegal arms shipments to Iraq and Jordan.
the State Department's Directorate of Defense Trade Controls, which is responsible for export controls on some arms, is moving to hit the North Carolina-based firm with what could be millions of dollars in fines for shipping weapons to police training facilities in Iraq and Jordan without proper licensing, according to three officials briefed on the probe.

One official said 900 weapons were shipped improperly, though another said the figure is lower. Each weapon shipped could constitute a separate violation and carry a hefty fine. Sources said the foul-up may have been unintentional but left the company unable to properly account for the weapons.

"They didn't do the original paperwork, therefore they don't know where the guns are," said one source.
This follows on the heels of a current grand jury investigation of the now infamous Nisour Square shooting, in which seventeen Iraqi civilians were killed. That grand jury may well indict the Blackwater guards involved.

No wonder Blackwater wants to move operations to the high and pirate-filled seas off Somalia, where prying eyes are few and

China, Iraq Complete $3.5 Billion Oil Contract

At the end of August, China and Iraq were on the cusp of completing an agreement on an oil services contract that, at that time, was climbing upward and toward $3 billion. At the time, ratification by the Iraqi cabinet was still pending.

Well, that ratification has now occurred and the oil contract has grown to $3.5 billion. Shockfront is forced to once again note the irony in one salient fact of the transaction: this is the "first major oil-development deal that Iraq has made with a foreign company since the American-led invasion."

Perhaps even more ironical than China being awarded the first major oil contract in Iraq since the 2003 US invasion, is that the fact that
Iraq had agreed to provide security for Chinese workers.
That Iraq could even agree to provide security to Chinese workers is a direct result of years of US taxpayer funded training of Iraqi security forces.

Western companies are still expecting to get in on the big awards and await the passage of a now much modified Iraq Oil Law.  Nonetheless, it seems highly unlikely that Dick Cheney had the Chinese National Oil Company in mind when he and his Energy Task Force advisers were examining Hussein era oil contracts and maps of Iraqi oil fields.

Of course, those dismissive of the geopolitical and petro-political nature of the Iraq invasion can now use the China-Iraq deal as prima facie evidence that the invasion was not about oil, that US forces really were there to deliver freedom to the Iraqi people, who could then exercise that benevolently delivered freedom to award [...]More

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

4300 Year Old Pyramid Discovered in Egypt

Ancient Egypt continues to deliver on the history front.
Archaeologists have discovered a new pyramid under the sands of Saqqara, an ancient burial site that remains largely unexplored, Egyptian authorities announced Tuesday. The 4,300-year-old monument most likely belonged to the queen mother of the founder of the Sixth Dynasty, the antiquities chief, Zahi Hawass, said. The pyramid is the 118th discovered in Egypt. “To find a new pyramid is always exciting,” Mr. Hawass said. “And this one is magical. It belonged to a queen.”


US Debt Expansion Threaten Asian, Gulf State Economies

Repercussions of US debt expansion under the Wall Street giveaway spread to US dollar holders.
Faced already with evaporating credit and export demand, cash-rich economies in Asia and the Gulf now face a growing threat from a new quarter: an erosion of the very savings they are counting on to cushion them.

At the root of the concerns is the dramatic increase in the amount of money the US government will need to borrow for its financial rescue package. Also, with calls growing for a second massive economic stimulus package, economists say the US government’s fund raising is likely to push down the value of the US dollar and with it the massive dollar holdings of central banks and sovereign wealth funds from Asia and the Gulf.
Some fear the ballooning US debt could even force Washington to go farther, asking creditors to accept delays or even reductions in its repayments.

“At current run rates, this is inevitable,” said Paul Schulte, the regional strategist at Nomura International in Hong Kong, who estimates the US budget deficit could exceed US$1 trillion (Dh3.6 trillion) next year.

The prospect of getting lower returns on money they have lent the US, or of seeing the value of those holdings drop further, could put Asian and Gulf governments in a bind. Many governments are already dipping into their savings to offset the effects of the global slowdown.

With that in mind, the Chinese stimulus package must be noted. The $586 billion plan, aimed at massive infrastructure development, which includes construction of housing, new railways (how novel!), subways, airports and roads, indicates that the Chinese see


"War is a Racket"

Click on image for a larger version
On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, Armistice was signed in 1918, marking the end of the war that was to end all wars. Little known to most of the muddy ranks who fought that dreadful fight, the cads had profited handsomely in what was a bountiful money making enterprise. It would not be the last war.  "Last war" is phrase only uttered by someone who is either lying or has no idea the purpose behind humanity's endless engagement with war and conflict.  

On this Remembrance Day, to all the poor schmucks whose patriotism was played to get them to fight wars for hoodlums, gangsters, rogues and scoundrels, Shockfront salutes you in your sincerity of purpose and curses those rotters who put you in that pointless grave.  On this day more than others, let us not forget that war is mostly just a racket, and a deadly, malicious, criminal one at that.


WAR is a racket. It always has been.

It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only


Taliban Hijacking Threatens NATO Supply Route

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Taliban forces brazenly, though bloodlessly, hijacked a 13 vehicle NATO convoy on the Khyber Pass, which comprised trucks full of wheat and military supplies.  Security expert and retired Pakistan Army general, Talat Masood, said the incident 
"might just be the most flagrant hijacking of a supply convoy yet."
He further indicated that Pakistani authorities, reeling from protests over American military incursions, may be little inclined to seriously investigate the attack, but rather use the incident as leverage on the Americans and NATO forces.
"I wouldn't be surprised if Pakistan is reluctant to strongly follow up on this incident," says Masood, of the hijacking. The government and military are probably frustrated with America's continued lack of response to Pakistani protests against cross-border strikes, he continues.

"They might be tempted to highlight their leverage over the situation in Afghanistan," he says.

Not exactly comforting noises of allied cooperation.

Two military humvees were seized, which the Pakistani military says need to be recovered.  Apparently, the loss of the vehicles has put a crimp in plans for a


Another AIG Junket

In the wake of news that the AIG bailout will expand to an impressive $150 billion, a move greeted with an unseemly corporate glee, AIG executives have been discovered to have been luxuriating themselves in yet another posh resort weekend bender, this time in Phoenix, AZ.  Obviously aware of the impropriety of such an appearance, signs and AIG logos were stricken and hotel employees said that during the conference they "can't even say the word [AIG]." 

Local station KNXV-TV has the report.  

Monday, 10 November 2008

Secret Deals and Plunge Report

Readers will be able to reach their own conclusions about the state and health of the American economy from the spate of stories that hit the headlines today as the Bush administration expands its legacy of criminal enterprise.  "Former" Goldman Sachs CEO, Hank Paulson, remains in the business of keeping Wall Street showered with gifts, while the economy outside Manhattan dives.  The prognosis: grim and grimmer.
  • Treasury Czar Paulson exercised some slight of hand with a sweeping yet almost unnoticed repeal of Section 382 of the tax code that could see American banks reaping a windfall of as much as $140 billion.  General opinion is that the move is probably illegal.  Says one tax law attorney, "[i]t was a shock to most of the tax law community…I've been in tax law for 20 years, and I've never seen anything like this."  In a remarkable statement, one congressional aide said that illegality takes a backseat to the health of the market. "We're all nervous about saying that this was illegal because of our fears about the marketplace." Which tells you all you need to know about the state of the rule of law in the United States.
  • Despite assurances of "transparency" in troubled times, the Federal Reserve is refusing to disclose the identity of recipients of $2 trillion in so-far secret, emergency loans to … well, no one knows except the Fed and the recipients.  Bloomberg News has filed an FOIA lawsuit for recipient identities.
  • After posting a third quarter loss of $24.47 billion, the bailout of troubled insurance giant, AIG,  is
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