30 October 2011

Al-Asaad vs Al-Assad

I know it is a lame joke but with Tintin opening this week, I couldn't resist.

In all seriousness, this is the story of two sides waging an information war and maybe even covert operations against each other.

In This Corner: Al-Asaad

At the end of July a Syrian Colonel by the name of Riad Al-Asaad called Agence France Press to declare that he has formed the Free Syrian Army with the aim to topple the Al-Assad regime.

My reaction was: Really? Who tips a government that they are coming after them?

In September the same guy provided a nice quote to BBC's Panaroma program:
In a safe house in a bordering nation, I met one of the highest ranking defectors from the army - Colonel Riad al-Asaad, a Sunni like most people in Syria. (...)
The colonel and other officers have defected to form the Free Syria Army. Unlike Egypt and Tunisia, he is not confident that Syria's regime will fall without bloodshed.
"We are counting of defections and there are large numbers occurring every day," he said during our meeting. "But this regime cannot be taken out except by force and if they do not agree to go peacefully we will have to take them out by force." 
When it became clear that the "bordering nation" was Turkey, on 4 October, the Turkish media reported his statements about Free Syria Army and BBC quoted him  on the same day about France's unhappiness with Syria.
On Tuesday, Turkish media reported that a colonel who had defected from the Syrian army was calling for a united front against Mr Assad. 
"Opponent forces in Syria should get united and close ranks until the regime collapses," Col Riad al-Asaad, who is sheltering in Turkey, told the Anatolia news agency.  
At that point, I made a note of him, as I thought he was someone with great media contacts waging a war of perceptions.

22 October 2011

Did You Know...

...that "that Apple only pays £3.99 to manufacture a £600 iPhone."?

No wonder they had more cash than the US government during the budget crisis.

Of course they refer to the labor cost to assemble the phone not the entire phone itself.

Read the entire report at the first link.

The ruthless squeezing of labor is why there were "1 Million Workers. 90 Million iPhones. 17 Suicides."

I admired Steve Jobs the technological visionary.

The business guy who let this naked exploitation go on?

Not so much.

The US is Not Leaving Iraq

I am sometimes quite amazed how little reporting is done and how readily and fully the corporate media repeats official pronouncements.

Two days ago, President Obama announced that by the end of the year all US troops will be leaving Iraq. Whatever paper you read, everyone simply reported that the United States will be pulling out of Iraq completely.

Do you believe that after nine years, 700 billion dollars and 4,478 American casualties, the US would leave the second largest oil reserves in the Middle East and the fulcrum of oil and gas distribution network of the region, just because their stay might prove embarrassing to some Shi'ite politicians who are afraid of Moqtada al Sadr?

If you do, I know the owner of the Brooklyn bridge and I can get you a good deal.

Actually the US is not going anywhere:
But the fact is America’s military efforts in Iraq aren’t coming to an end. They are instead entering a new phase. On January 1, 2012, the State Department will command a hired army of about 5,500 security contractors, all to protect the largest U.S. diplomatic presence anywhere overseas.
And it will not be a passive security force chauffeuring diplomats in armored limousines:
The Department also has asked the Pentagon for twenty-four Blackhawk helicopters, fifty Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected (MRAP) vehicles and other military equipment.
As Jeremy Scahill reported more than a year ago:
What is unfolding is the face of President Obama's scaled-down, rebranded mini-occupation of Iraq. Under the terms of the Status of Forces agreement, all US forces are supposed to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011. Using private forces is a backdoor way of continuing a substantial US presence under the cover of "diplomatic security."

Bank of America

Whenever I wrote about the Eurozone crisis, I maintained that after TARP in the US and the Irish move to make private debt public, banksters became determined to take risk out of their business. They now bristle when someone mentions haircuts and in each and every case, regardless of the risk premiums they charged (as in Greece), they want all of their money back.

In the last couple of days, Bloomberg reported that Bank of America is transferring its high risk derivatives (the so-called Credit Default Swaps or CDs) to a subsidiary that holds deposits. And it is doing so with the approval of Federal Reserve. What that means is that as the subsidiary benefits from insurance from Federal Deposit Insurance Corp (FDIC), high risk or toxic stuff becomes insured by the taxpayers.
The Federal Reserve and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. disagree over the transfers, which are being requested by counterparties, said the people, who asked to remain anonymous because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly. The Fed has signaled that it favors moving the derivatives to give relief to the bank holding company, while the FDIC, which would have to pay off depositors in the event of a bank failure, is objecting, said the people. The bank doesn’t believe regulatory approval is needed, said people with knowledge of its position.
Or as Yves Smith put it using more direct language:
 Remember the effect of the 2005 bankruptcy law revisions: derivatives counterparties are first in line, they get to grab assets first and leave everyone else to scramble for crumbs. So this move amounts to a direct transfer from derivatives counterparties of Merrill to the taxpayer, via the FDIC, which would have to make depositors whole after derivatives counterparties grabbed collateral. It’s well nigh impossible to have an orderly wind down in this scenario. You have a derivatives counterparty land grab and an abrupt insolvency. Lehman failed over a weekend after JP Morgan grabbed collateral.
But it’s even worse than that. During the savings & loan crisis, the FDIC did not have enough in deposit insurance receipts to pay for the Resolution Trust Corporation wind-down vehicle. It had to get more funding from Congress. This move paves the way for another TARP-style shakedown of taxpayers, this time to save depositors. No Congressman would dare vote against that. This move is Machiavellian, and just plain evil.
Isn't that a classy move on the part of banksters? They realized that with its credit rating in tatters Bank of America might find itself insolvent. How to protect all of our money? Why, we'll get it from the taxpayers. The first time we did it with TARP it begat the Tea Party. What can go wrong?

That's the kind of move that is hardly reported in mainstream media. And if you don't know about this stuff, you believe that Occupy Wall Street protesters are out of touch hippies who resent the hard working Galtian banksters.

Wikileaks and BoA

Speaking of Bank of America, aren't you curious to what happened to Wikileaks owning a hard disk full of incriminating stuff on them? Remember this from October 2009:
"At the moment, for example, we are sitting on 5GB from Bank of America, one of the executive's hard drives," he said. "Now how do we present that? It's a difficult problem. We could just dump it all into one giant Zip file, but we know for a fact that has limited impact. To have impact, it needs to be easy for people to dive in and search it and get something out of it."
When in November 29, 2010 Assange confirmed that they were intending to take down a major financial institution every body knew that it was Bank of America. The Bank went into defensive, hired Booz and Allen (a security and defense contractor), started aggressively buying domain names that can be used against its executives and prepared a comprehensive attack plan on Wikileaks and its supporters (including Glenn Greenwald.

Then something strange happened. Wikileaks' Number Two and Assange's long time collaborator Daniel Domscheit-Berg abruptly left the organization and on his way out, he destroyed part or all of the Bank of America files. He confirmed their destruction but denied having done so. And of course Bank of America also denied any involvement.

Since then everyone forgot about the fraud files that were supposed to be so explosive that the Bank frantically made comprehensive plans to deal with the aftermath of their release.


This is from the BBC site about half an hour ago
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange said that since last December an "arbitrary and unlawful financial blockade" had been imposed by Bank of America, Visa, MasterCard, PayPal and Western Union. 
"The attack has destroyed 95% of our revenue," he said.
I guess that answers my question.

21 October 2011

Reflections on Nobel Peace Prizes

When the Nobel Committee awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama (who had just two wars to his name at the time) the reactions ranged from polite puzzlement to sincere outrage. Since he added a few more wars or half wars (as Libya is known in Washington) to his record, the inappropriateness of the Committee's decision became more obvious with each passing year.

This year, the Committee chose a less controversial path and named three women "for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women's rights to full participation in peace-building work." 

My first reaction was that, after the unfortunate 2009 decision, they should have left Ellen Johnson Sirleaf out, especially since this decision came just days before Liberian elections. Unlike others, I was not too concerned about merit, in terms of her brief association with Charles Taylor. Stuff happens and everyone makes mistakes. Actually, a good friend of mine had the definitive pronouncement on this when she emailed me that "elected officials should not qualify for the Peace Prize." After the Obama decision, I say amen to that.

My second thought was that it was an interesting decision as it rewarded two socially conservative and religious women who became more progressive through their struggle. I call them reluctant feminists: their starting point was not gender equality but rather a sense of injustice which eventually forced them to question the patriarchal precepts of their society, culture and even religion.

In the process, instead of moving away from their faith, they seem to have moved away from the patriarchal elements of institutionalized religions.

13 October 2011

Dennis MacAlistair Ritchie R.I.P.

We live in a society where CEOs, hedge fund managers and all around Galtian overlords claim that they need to be compensated by the billions - that's billions with a b-  if we want them to perform.

Personally, I am not impressed by Fabrice Tourré or John Paulson.

I am impressed by people like Ray Tomlinson.

I bet you don't know who he is. He is the guy who invented the email as we know it (and love it) today. If there is one "killer application" in the last 30 years, to use venture capitalist jargon, e-mail is it.

Think about it, you may not be on FaceBook or use Windows in your computer but you use email everyday. Zuckerberg and Bill Gates are worth billions.

Tomlinson? Not so much. He is my hero.

So is or was Dennis Ritchie who passed on today. This is the guy who created the C language. C is a revolutionary software development language which gave programmers access to hardware like never before. Most computer programs you use have been created by this language or an extension of it, like C++ (pronounced cee plus plus) or C# (pronounced C Sharp). Even Java and JavaScript are cousins of that language tree.

He was also one of the critical creator of UNIX operating system. UNIX is still used in most heavy duty servers and for all mission-critical applications. It was also at the center of the Open Source movement, which eventually begat Linux, which is UNIX for ordinary folks.

If you remember, the widely praised luminary Steve Jobs used UNIX to develop the NeXT Operating System which later became the Mac OS X.

As someone put it today: "Ritchie's influence rivals Job's; it's just less visible."

So, next time a hedge fund manager or a CEO who was brought in to "slash" cost (which always means lay off working people) complain about "inadequate compensation" tell them about Dennis Ritchie.

Or Ray Tomlinson.

I'm Just Sayin'

Yesterday, a very good friend of mine sent me a link to a Turkish newspaper site. The piece claimed that Shimon Peres, the President of Israel, thanked the Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan profusely for his role in the imminent release of Private Shalit. Reportedly, Peres said that he was pleasantly surprised that Erdogan would leave everything aside and focus on the humanitarian aspect.

My friend's message was "well, I thought you were a contrarian idiot but maybe you are on to something here."

Since I don't regularly read Turkish papers (too much sound and fury, as I explained before), I googled "Shalit, Peres, Erdogan" and I got just a handful of relevant hits. Almost half of them were from Ynetnews, confirming the Turkish news site's report about Peres. The tone was what you would expect from Ynetnews but gave Erdogan credit for the successful completion of the mission:
"I was told that it was done by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan," Peres said of the man who has been constantly attacking Israel since the flotilla raid on a Turkish Gaza-bound ship.  
They also corroborated the original story's observation that Peres would not provide any details about Turkey's role.

Then I stumbled upon two interesting sites. One was from Israel Hayom, except the date was not yesterday's but July 3 of this year and it said:

The recent warming of ties between Turkey and Israel continues, with senior Israeli officials confirming on Saturday night that Turkey has made efforts toward a breakthrough in negotiations for the release of abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. 

Although the Prime Minister’s Office has refused to comment directly on the intensive discussions over Shalit’s release, one senior Israeli official revealed that over the past few weeks, relations between Ankara and Jerusalem have strengthened, and that the subject of Shalit’s release from captivity had been discussed.
Remember that this covers the time period about which neocon folks said that Erdogan is trying to destroy Israel and to start World War III.

Then I found this site which bills itself as "the authoritative source on Pakistan's security and strategic affairs" and it confirmed the July story by linking to Zaman, a conservative Turkish daily very close to the current government:
Claims emerged in July that an Israeli-Turkish businessman gave Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan a letter from Noam Shalit, the father of the soldier, asking him to convince Hamas to accept a German mediator's swap deal proposal. Erdoğan then reportedly pledged to handle the matter personally.
More importantly, there was this bit of information,
 Noting that Turkey was informed about the deal by Hamas ahead of the agreement, Davutoğlu said Turkey expressed support for the deal.
That sounds a lot like Hamas asked Turkey if they were fine with the deal before signing on the dotted line. I doubt that Turkey has ever had that kind of sway over Hamas.

Like Peres, Davutoglu (Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs) would not say anything about Turkey's role other than this:
“Turkey is ready to contribute to every phase of this process,” he added.
What I find significant in all this is not that Turkey helped with the liberation of Private Shalit. I don't know what they did and I am not interested in giving them credit for a process about which I know next to nothing. What I find enlightening is that behind all the blustery rhetoric that got everyone worked up, Israel and Hamas clearly had trust in Turkey and were able to work with it to achieve a very important result for both sides. So much so that Hamas sought their final approval for the deal and Israel acknowledged their assistance.

Tellingly, no party divulged Turkey's role in the process, including the Turks.

I have been claiming that a process of stabilization and peace making has been set in motion in the Middle East and Turkey was given the role of honest broker in the region. And that was the primary reason for the fiery anti-Israel rhetoric, which gave them street creds, as it were, by providing a much needed distance from the US and Israel. This incident clearly shows that this new role could be used beneficially to achieve larger goals.

Moreover, Shalit was a major sticking point in all this and now that both sides claimed victory, his release could be the turning point towards serious negotiations for a two-state solution.

Maybe, just maybe, Lieberman's corruption case will come to a head soon and we will see some speedy changes without him flushing the peace process down the toilet.

08 October 2011

Steve Jobs RIP

I was saddened to hear of Steve Jobs' passing. That is truly a young age and it is a terrible loss for the technology world.

But I hesitated to post anything about it because I had already written an in memoriam piece back in August, highlighting his unbroken record of genius moves.

Then, I read this quote from his 2005 Standford commencement speech and I knew that I had to salute the man one more time.
Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
Coming shortly after his cancer diagnosis, this is a very profound and brave thought.

May he rest in peace.

07 October 2011

UNESCO and the Palestinian Membership

UNESCO is one of the most important specialized UN agencies.
Its stated purpose is to contribute to peace and security by promoting international collaboration through education, science, and culture in order to further universal respect for justice, the rule of law, and the human rights along with fundamental freedoms proclaimed in the UN Charter. 
These are lofty goals and very important portfolios. Unfortunately, this specialized agency with a lot of potential is not really an independent institution as its activities are closely controlled and framed by the member states.

Partly because of that and partly because of the aimless management of a series lackluster Director Generals, it gradually faded into the background and by now it is an invisible agency that is routinely confused with UNICEF.

The current Director General, Irina Bokova is a very dynamic and capable person and she has been working tirelessly to put the agency back on the map. Unlike any other UN agencies, she has made gender equality the cornerstone of her mandate and has been working to transform UNESCO's work in education, science and culture by highlighting previously ignored areas of concern such as the secondary education of girls. But her efforts are generally thwarted (if not gently sabotaged) by the very vocal and dominant member states.

And they are well placed to be able to do that.

You see, UNESCO has three constitutional organs. One is the Secretariat headed by the DG, the second is the General Conference where all 190-plus members of UNESCO sit and the third is the Executive Board, which is composed of 58 member states chosen by the General Conference. They meet twice a year to examine the work of the organization and to decide on its budget.

The Board and the General Conference can modify, redirect and stop any UNESCO policy and activity. They can impose their vision upon the organization.

In that vein, these 58 ambassadors who make up the Executive Board met two days ago and voted to give Palestine full member status (more accurately, recommended to the General Conference such membership).

This is a pointless PR stunt on the part of the member states but the media reported it as UNESCO's board members making that decision, thereby giving the impression that UNESCO Secretariat and the DG has an in-house board (like that of a corporation) and that board made that decision. It was 54 member states that did that (40 voted in favor and 14 abstained).

The problem is that it is not the member states that will pay for the consequences of that vote but the organization itself. If you have been reading this blog, you know that my working hypothesis is that the US has a grand plan to stabilize the Middle East and part of that plan is to implement the two state solution. Along the way they need to pacify Likud and its partners (such as AIPAC domestically and Yisrail Beiteinu in Israel) by reacting strongly to symbolic pro-Palestinian gestures.

One such reaction could simply mean the end of UNESCO.
Kay Granger, chairwoman of the House subcommittee that oversees foreign aid, said U.S. funding for UNESCO could be cut if full membership was granted.
"Since April, I have made it clear to the Palestinian leadership that I would not support sending U.S. taxpayer money to the Palestinians if they sought statehood at the United Nations," Granger said in a statement.
"Making a move in another U.N. agency will not only jeopardize our relationship with the Palestinians, it will jeopardize our contributions to the United Nations," said Granger, who recently held up some $200 million of aid for Palestinians.
Obviously Granger is not part of my hypothesis, as she is a conservative congresswoman from Texas supporting AIPAC and Likud. She would have done so regardless.

But the point remains that, given their current chess game (and the upcoming election), the administration would be unable to even argue against such a vote (let alone stop it) and UNESCO could lose 22 percent of its funding just so that some member states could feel smug about rubbing Israel's nose in it.

I suggested a week ago that UN granting Palestinians statehood will mean very little. That is because of this:

There is no viable Palestinian state right now. A contiguous space needs to be negotiated. And right now is the best time to do so because of the dynamics created by the so-called Arab Spring.

If UN membership is meaningless symbolic victory, acquiring membership to a specialized UN agency is just an empty PR stunt. It will do nothing for Palestinian statehood and it could simply lead the US to leave the organization as they did under Reagan.

So, I would be amused with such a pointless move if it didn't put the organization in jeopardy. I would support it if it furthered the likelihood of Palestinian statehood.

But destroying UNESCO just to pull a stunt does not sit well with me.