Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Obama is AWOL on Iran

Where are you Mr. Obama.  Why can't you use that considerable respect you say you have garned around the world and get the world to speak with one voice, or at the very least - get all those who do not support Iran to speak with one voice.

What is more important than this?

Published February 29, 2012

Associated Press

The U.S. and its European allies share fears that Iran might be seeking the capacity to make atomic arms as it forges ahead with its nuclear program. But they differ on whether it is actively working on such weapons, reflecting the difficulties of penetrating Tehran's wall of secrecy.

Comments by U.S. intelligence officials indicate that Washington still thinks the Islamic Republic stopped such secret work nine years ago. But Britain, France and Germany disagree, even though their officials are keen to show that they and the United States speak with one voice on the concerns that Iran may want to produce nuclear arms.

Such divergence could mean trouble for the West's strategy to keep Iran nuclear weapons-free.

The United States -- and more forcefully Israel -- have warned that armed attack is possible if Iran is seen to be actively working on a bomb. But the lack of consensus among allies could complicate making any such assessment. That could slow a joint response -- or result in a misguided one.

Publicly at least, the United States is standing by a 2007 U.S. intelligence assessment that said Iran had abandoned attempts to develop a nuclear bomb in 2003.

A revised report last year remains classified. But in outlining its findings to Congress last year, National Intelligence Director James Clapper avoided any suggestion that the U.S. now thinks it erred in its 2007 assessment.

Instead he focused on Iran's expanding uranium enrichment and other programs monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency as key concerns. Clapper said it's "technically feasible" that Tehran could produce a nuclear weapon in one or two years if its leaders decide to build one, "but practically not likely."

However, recent reports by the IAEA -- the U.N. nuclear agency -- explicitly challenge the U.S. view that any weapons development work was in the past. They say that some such activities "continued after 2003; and that some may still be ongoing."

The IAEA has not said what suspect work was conducted when. But in its most recent report last week repeated suspicions Iran may have:

-- conducted high-explosives testing to set off a nuclear charge
-- worked on computer modeling of a core of a nuclear warhead
-- prepared for a nuclear weapons test
-- worked on development of a nuclear payload for a missile that could reach Israel

Israel is the most public in backing the view that weapons work is continuing in Iran as it seeks to energize international public resolve to counter Tehran's nuclear drive -- and possibly pave the ground for an armed strike.

Former Mossad chief Danny Yatom told The Associated Press that the Americans have privately acknowledged that their 2007 assessment was wrong, and said: "The Iranians have never stopped their efforts to achieve military nuclear capability."

Other U.S. allies are more circumspect -- but also back the IAEA view that secret weapons work may be continuing into the present.

A British official told The Associated Press that London and Washington had the same analysis on Iran. But the official, who asked for anonymity in exchange for commenting on the confidential report answered "yes" when asked if his country agreed with the IAEA assessment.

Public statements by some British officials go even further. In a blunt statement on Iran during a visit to Washington in January, Defense Secretary Philip Hammond said his "working assumption is that they are working flat out" to produce a nuclear weapon.

Diplomats accredited to the IAEA, who also asked they not be named because of the sensitivity of the issue, said France and Germany also believed some work continued past 2003, and possibly into the present.

Complicating the picture, there are signs the U.S. may be continuing to act as a main intelligence source for the IAEA's case that Iran's weapons work is continuing -- even while publicly standing by earlier conclusions that Iran stopped nine years ago.

A senior international official refused to say directly whether Washington is providing intelligence that backs up such suspicions. He did say, however, that the United States is one of the main sources on Iran's atomic weapons work, and that the agency keeps "getting information about such activities after 2003 from all ... sources." He asked for anonymity because his information is confidential.

Experts note that U.S. intelligence sees disagreement among Iran's leaders on whether to build a bomb or just work to reach that capacity. That, they say, might even mean that some groups may be working on weapons without the knowledge of others.

"I'm not even sure the Iranians know themselves," says Bruno Tetrais, a senior research fellow with the French-based Foundation for Strategic Research. "There may be different factions with different objectives."

There is more clarity about Iran's nuclear enrichment program.

Iran has enriched tons of fuel-grade material since its clandestine program was discovered 10 years ago. More recently, worries have been compounded by its decision two years ago to start enriching at a higher level that can be turned into fissile warhead material much more quickly and easily than its low enriched uranium.

Its total low and higher-level stockpile is now enough for four weapons -- and is growing daily.
In Washington last week U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, the former CIA director, said an Iranian decision to build a nuclear weapon "is the red line that would concern us and that would ensure that the international community, hopefully together, would respond," he said.

"We will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon," he told the House Appropriations defense subcommittee.

But nuclear proliferation expert David Albright said that any breaching of the U.S. red line may only become obvious "when Iran makes a move to break out" by kicking out IAEA inspectors and openly diverting its low-enriched uranium stockpile to produce weapons-grade uranium deep underground and safe from attack.

"The warning time may not be great between such steps and the time they actually have the bomb," he said.

For Yatom, the ex-Mossad head, the time to stop Iran through diplomacy may already have passed.

"They have the know-how, the technology, the infrastructure, everything," he says. Once they decide to build a bomb, they will be able to build a bomb -- unless somebody stops them."


Taliban - Execution of Bus Passengers

Of course the Taliban can be trusted.  This was just a few over zealous people who probably regret their actions.  They were probably upset with the US and instead took it out on shia.

February 28, 2012|By the CNN Wire Staff

In an unusual attack in a relatively peaceful region of northwest Pakistan, assailants ambushed four passenger buses, pulled out Shiite males and killed 18 of them Tuesday, police said.

Pakistani officials swiftly condemned the attack, with President Asif Ali Zardari saying the "culprits of such a heinous crime will not be spared."

The attack took place in the mountainous Kohistan district in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, senior police official Muhammad Ilyas said.

The attack was unusual in both its scope and its sectarian nature in a region that normally does not see much militant activity.

Police official Khurshid Khan said this was the first time an incident of this magnitude had taken place in the area.

Sunni-Shiite Muslim violence has been minimal in the past and this is the first time an organized terrorist attack targeting either group has taken place," he said.

A Pakistani Taliban spokesman, Ahmed Marwat, told CNN that his group claims responsibility for the attack.

The interior minister, Rehman Malik, immediately formed a team to investigate the incident and promised a report within three days, the Associated Press of Pakistan reported.

The buses were carrying passengers from Rawalpindi to the city of Gilgit in northwest Pakistan, Ilyas said. Gilgit is an area with a considerable population of Shiites.

Assailants stopped the buses early Tuesday morning and ordered the passengers out, he said.

They then singled out the male Shiite passengers, lined them up and shot them, Ilyas said.

Eight others were injured in the attack, but Sunni passengers were unharmed, he said.

Even though the area is not known for militant activity, Pakistan -- a majority Sunni Muslim nation -- has a long history of sectarian violence. Shiites make up roughly 20 percent of a population of about 170 million.

Muhammad Amir Rana -- the head of an Islamabad based think tank that monitors militant activity in the region -- says in recent months tensions have escalated between Sunni's and Shiites in the district of Kohistan with a number of targeted killings. He says the killings were usually single deaths that didn't make headlines. Rana says local leaders were trying to bring peace between the sects in the region.

"I think this is a result of the rising tension in the region in the past couple of months," he said. "We've seen targeted killings there but nothing of this magnitude. This can destroy the peace talks that were taking place in the area between different groups."


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Who Pays Taxes? Apparently 1/2 of you don't, but isn't the super rich only 1%, so who are the 0ther 49% not paying taxes!

Posted By Rob Bluey
February 19, 2012 @ 9:32 am  

This year’s Index of Dependence on Government [2] presented startling findings about the sharp increase of Americans who rely on the federal government for housing, food, income, student aid or other assistance. 

Another eye-popping number was the percentage of Americans who don’t pay income taxes, which now accounts for nearly half of the U.S. population. Meanwhile, most of that population receives generous federal benefits.

“One of the most worrying trends in the Index is the coinciding growth in the non-taxpaying public,” wrote Heritage authors Bill Beach and Patrick Tyrrell. “The percentage of people who do not pay federal income taxes, and who are not claimed as dependents by someone who does pay them, jumped from 14.8 percent in 1984 to 49.5 percent in 2009.”

That means 151.7 million Americans paid nothing in 2009. By comparison, 34.8 million tax filers paid no taxes in 1984.

The rapid growth of Americans who don’t pay income taxes is particularly alarming for the fate of the American form of government, Beach and Tyrrell warned. Coupled with higher spending on government programs, it is already proving to be a major fiscal challenge.

“This trend should concern everyone who supports America’s republican form of government,” Beach and Tyrrell wrote. “If the citizens’ representatives are elected by an increasing percentage of voters who pay no income tax, how long will it be before these representatives respond more to demands for yet more entitlements and subsidies from non-payers than to the pleas of taxpayers to exercise greater spending prudence?”


Monday, February 20, 2012

The Macro Viewpoint: US against the World

China's economy is pulling away, soon to over take the world, India will follow, and in 3rd place the US.  Even 3rd place isn't for sure, the EU may yet pull out of the downward spiral and pull even with the US.  Russia could pull a comeback from behind and be a 5th place pulling into 4th with its massive energy resources.

A fragmented United States - politically and economically, make it less likely the US will mount a serious challenge to even the EU.  As our economic might wanes, we lose the resources to fund a military and inevitable cuts to the military will occur leaving us tied for 1st or even in 2nd place.

All that may well be the dreams others have, their wish-list you might say, of what the world could look like.

And then there is the reality - it ain't so.

India with a dalit population of over 140,000,000 people, and another 100,000,000 million who are in backward or destitute castes, and that doesn't count the poorer castes who are not counted as backward or others.  The number is probably closer to 300 million.  A population the size the United States.  India does not have the infrastructure nor the apparatus to handle these numbers nor to raise any of them up.  A permanent 300 million under class in a country that services the US and Europe. 

India's climb up, is an allusion.  The idea of paying for oil with gold is a silly proposition  by silly people.  Imagine a train with the gold on it to pay for oil shipments!  And it will pass through ... Pakistan. 

China - a country with a population about the same, 300 million in poverty, with no hope of ever climbing out.  A country where the government tells the world what its growth rate is.  Their per capita will never be equal to the average American's income.  Never.  Their growth is in part built on another illusion - national productivity.  Parts of the Chinese state are productive, but the majority of it is not.  Their economy will falter, perhaps already has, but we won't know about it for at least a year or two. 

On paper China looks imposing, but it is only a paper tiger.

The EU - it is closer collapse than to barely treading water.  Signing on to that sinking ship has perils I doubt everyone is aware.  Europeans are not reproducing themselves.  Their overall population growth is below 1.8 and in 20 years their governments and systems will cease to exist as we know them.  In 10 years the euro will not exist and or not in its current form, its value will be minimal, and the European economy will be, as always, sluggish at best.

Russia - they produce nothing.  Their population makes nothing.  Their per capita is among the lowest in an industrialized state.  Their population are either leaving Russia, drunk, unemployed, or have ceased having children.  They have oil and gas - and when those resources are less needed, or they use up sizable quantities - Russia will descend back into the dark ages.

Africa will not, for several decades, even look like it could climb out of the hand basket.  Africa is closer to descending into the abyss of hell than it is to aspiring to a 3rd world status.

The United States - our economy is not as bad as those of the other countries.  Our population growth is moderate.  Our political will is linked to the current administration and with a new administration, we will again see a light and rise again to engage the world.  What we lack at this moment is the political will to fight, and that can be changed.

The prescription for the rest of the world is not so easy - easy to offer or to remedy.

the world

Friday, February 17, 2012

Iran: September / October ?

October Surprise?

 Friday 17 February 2012 12.27 EST

Officials in key parts of the Obama administration are increasingly convinced that sanctions will not deter Tehran from pursuing its nuclear programme, and believe that the US will be left with no option but to launch an attack on Iran or watch Israel do so.

The president has made clear in public, and in private to Israel, that he is determined to give sufficient time for recent measures, such as the financial blockade and the looming European oil embargo, to bite deeper into Iran's already battered economy before retreating from its principal strategy to pressure Tehran.

But there is a strong current of opinion within the administration – including in the Pentagon and the state department – that believes sanctions are doomed to fail, and that their principal use now is in delaying Israeli military action, as well as reassuring Europe that an attack will only come after other means have been tested.

"The White House wants to see sanctions work. This is not the Bush White House. It does not need another conflict," said an official knowledgeable on Middle East policy. "Its problem is that the guys in Tehran are behaving like sanctions don't matter, like their economy isn't collapsing, like Israel isn't going to do anything.

"Sanctions are all we've got to throw at the problem. If they fail then it's hard to see how we don't move to the 'in extremis' option."

The White House has said repeatedly that all options are on the table, including the use of force to stop Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon, but that for now the emphasis is firmly on diplomacy and sanctions.

But long-held doubts among US officials about whether the Iranians can be enticed or cajoled into serious negotiations have been reinforced by recent events.

"We don't see a way forward," said one official. "The record shows that there is nothing to work with."

Scepticism about Iranian intent is rooted in Iran's repeated spurning of overtures from successive US presidents from Bill Clinton to Barack Obama, who appealed within weeks of coming to office for "constructive ties" and "mutual respect" .

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's claim this week that Iran loaded its first domestically-made fuel rod into a nuclear reactor, and Iran's threat to cut oil supplies to six European countries, were read as further evidence that Tehran remains defiantly committed to its nuclear programme. That view was strengthened by the latest Iranian offer to negotiate with the UN security council in a letter that appeared to contain no significant new concessions.

If Obama were to conclude that there is no choice but to attack Iran, he is unlikely to order it before the presidential election in November unless there is an urgent reason to do so. The question is whether the Israelis will hold back that long.

Earlier this month, the US defence secretary, Leon Panetta, told the Washington Post that he thought the window for an Israeli attack on Iran is between April and June. But other official analysts working on Iran have identified what one described as a "sweet spot", where the mix of diplomacy, political timetables and practical issues come together to suggest that if Israel launches a unilateral assault it is more likely in September or October, although they describe that as a "best guess".

However, the Americans are uncertain as to whether Israel is serious about using force if sanctions fail or has ratcheted up threats primarily in order to pressure the US and Europeans in to stronger action. For its part, the US is keen to ensure that Tehran does not misinterpret a commitment to giving sanctions a chance to work as a lack of willingness to use force as a last resort.

American officials are resigned to the fact that the US will be seen in much of the world as a partner in any Israeli assault on Iran – whether or not Washington approved of it. The administration will then have to decide whether to, in the parlance of the US military, "pile on", by using its much greater firepower to finish what Israel starts.

"The sanctions are there to pressure Iran and reassure Israel that we are taking this issue seriously," said one official. "The focus is on demonstrating to Israel that this has a chance of working. Israel is sceptical but appreciates the effort. It is willing to give it a go, but how long will it wait?"

Colin Kahl, who was US deputy assistant secretary of defence for the Middle East until December, said: "With the European oil embargo and US sanctions on the central bank, the Israelis probably have to give some time now to let those crippling sanctions play out.

"If you look at the calendar, it doesn't make much sense that the Israelis would jump the gun. They probably need to provide a decent interval for those sanctions to be perceived as failing, because they care about whether an Israeli strike would be seen as philosophically legitimate; that is, as only having happened after other options were exhausted. So I think that will push them a little further into 2012."

The White House is working hard to keep alive the prospect that sanctions will deliver a diplomatic solution. It has pressed the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, to quieten the belligerent chatter from his own cabinet about an attack on Iran. The chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, general Martin Dempsey, was dispatched to Jerusalem last month to talk up the effect of sanctions and to press, unsuccessfully, for a commitment that Israel will not launch a unilateral attack against Iran.

Dennis Ross, Obama's former envoy for the Middle East and Iran, this week said that sanctions may be pushing Tehran toward negotiations.

But in other parts of the administration, the assumption is that sanctions will fail, and so calculations are being made about what follows, including how serious Israel is in its threat to launch a unilateral attack on Iran's nuclear installations, and how the US responds.

But Iran's increasingly belligerent moves – such as the botched attempts, laid at Tehran's door, to attack Israeli diplomats in Thailand, India and Georgia – are compounding the sense that Iran is far from ready to negotiate.

Feeding in to the considerations are the timing of the American election, including its bearing on Israeli thinking, as well as the pace of Iranian advances in their nuclear programme.

Obama has publicly said that there are no differences with Israel on Iran, describing his administration as in "lock step" with the Jewish state.

But the US and Israel are at odds over the significance of Iran's claim to have begun enriching uranium at the underground facility at Fordow, near the holy city of Qom, and therefore the timing of any military action.

Israel's defence minister, Ehud Barak, has warned that Iran cannot be allowed to establish a "zone of immunity" at Fordow where it is able to work on a nuclear weapon deep underground protected from Israel's conventional weapons. Earlier this month, Barak said Israel must consider an attack before that happens.

The Americans say there is no such urgency because the facility is just one among many Tehran needs to build a nuclear weapon, and that other sites are still vulnerable to attack and sabotage in other ways. The US also has a more powerful military arsenal, although it is not clear whether it would be able to destroy the underground Fordow facility.

Kahl said part of Washington's calculation is to judge whether Israel is seriously contemplating attacking Iran, or is using the threat to pressure the US and Europe into confronting Tehran.

"It's not that the Israelis believe the Iranians are on the brink of a bomb. It's that the Israelis may fear that the Iranian programme is on the brink of becoming out of reach of an Israeli military strike, which means it creates a 'now-or-never' moment," he said.

"That's what's actually driving the timeline by the middle of this year. But there's a countervailing factor that [Ehud] Barak has mentioned – that they're not very close to making a decision and that they're also trying to ramp up concerns of an Israeli strike to drive the international community towards putting more pressure on the Iranians."

Israeli pressure for tougher measures against Tehran played a leading role in the US Congresss passing sanctions legislation targeting Iran's financial system and oil sales. Some US and European officials say those same sanctions have also become a means for Washington to pressure Israel not to act precipitously in attacking Iran.

The presidential election is also a part of Israel's calculation, not least the fractious relationship between Obama and Netanyahu, who has little reason to do the US president any political favours and has good reason to prefer a Republican in the White House next year.

There is a school of thought – a suspicion, even – within the administration that Netanyahu might consider the height of the US election campaign the ideal time to attack Iran. With a hawkish Republican candidate ever ready to accuse him of weakness, Obama's room to pressure or oppose Netanyahu would be more limited than after the election.

"One theory is that Netanyahu and Barak may calculate that if Obama doesn't support an Israeli strike, he's unlikely to punish Israel for taking unilateral action in a contested election year," said Kahl. "Doing something before the US gives the Israelis a bit more freedom of manoeuvre."

Obama is also under domestic political pressure from Republican presidential contenders, who accuse him of vacillating on Iran, and from a Congress highly sympathetic to Israel's more confrontational stance.

Thirty-two senators from both parties introduced a resolution on Thursday rejecting "any policy that would rely on efforts to 'contain' a nuclear weapons-capable Iran". The measure was dressed up as intended to protect the president's back, but it smacked of yet more pressure to take a firmer stand with Iran.

One of the sponsors, senator Joe Lieberman, said that he did not want to discount diplomatic options but if the president ordered an attack on Iran he would have strong bipartisan support in Congress. Other senators said there needed to be a greater sense of urgency on the part of the administration in dealing with Iran and that sanctions are not enough.

Others are critical of sanctions for a different reason. Congressman Dennis Kucinich said this week he fears sanctions are less about changing Tehran's policy than laying the ground for military action. He warned that "the latest drum beat of additional sanctions and war against Iran sounds too much like the lead-up to the Iraq war".

"If the crippling sanctions that the US and Europe have imposed are meant to push the Iranian regime to negotiations, it hasn't worked," he said. "As the war of words between the United States and Iran escalates it's more critical than ever that we highlight alternatives to war to avoid the same mistakes made in Iraq."


Monday, February 13, 2012

Feb 13, 9:11 PM EST
Associated Press

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- Venezuelan presidential candidate Henrique Capriles on Monday called for "balanced elections" and criticized the use of government money and slanted coverage in state media as President Hugo Chavez seeks re-election.

Capriles is expected to face a tough race against Chavez, who even after 13 years in office remains a hero to many of his supporters and maintains a visceral connection to a significant segment of the poor in Venezuela. Chavez also will likely use a bonanza of public spending as he seeks re-election in the Oct. 7 presidential election.

Capriles complained that government-run television coverage is tilted against him.

"Let's have some balanced elections," Capriles said at a news conference a day after handily winning the opposition's first-ever presidential primary.

The 39-year-old candidate, who is governor of Miranda state, also strongly criticized Chavez's economic policies. He condemned the government's expropriations of hundreds of businesses, apartment buildings and farms over the past decade.

"All the expropriations have been a failure," Capriles said. "The companies that have been seized by the state must be reviewed one by one."

He said some of those businesses could be privatized if he defeats Chavez.

Capriles warned that newly stiffened price controls won't work and predicted many items will become scarce. He said deodorant could start to vanish from stores, laughing as he said that Venezuelans might need to start to live with body odor.

Capriles touted the turnout of about 3 million ballots cast out of 18 million registered voters as a major achievement.

"Venezuela woke up with a new political reality," Capriles said.

Vice President Elias Jaua said that it was positive for the opposition to have recognized the authority of the National Electoral Council. Some Chavez opponents have questioned its independence in the past.

"We hope that this same recognition exists Oct. 7 when Hugo Chavez wins the elections," Jaua said on state television. He said the opposition should respect the electoral council as an impartial arbiter, as well as the role the military will play in maintaining security during the vote.

Chavez has said no one can question the fairness of the country's electoral system, and that his government's spending is aimed at promoting the country's development and addressing the needs of Venezuelans.
[Especially if the government spends $4 billion in the two weeks leading up to the election and only $1 billion the other 350 days of the year.  Of course no one can question the government.]

About 16 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the primary, far surpassing the opposition's goal of 10 percent to 12 percent.

Venezuelan pollster Luis Vicente Leon called the turnout historic, both for the opposition and for the country. He said previous primaries by Chavez's party haven't drawn so many voters.

Venezuela has grown heavily polarized, with most either admiring or despising Chavez. About one-fourth of voters are in neither political camp, though, and in that group about 10 to 15 percent are likely to cast ballots, Leon said. Many of the swing voters are young people who have grown up during Chavez's presidency, Leon said.

In order to compete, Capriles will likely need to win over voters who leaned pro-Chavez in the past, who have grown disillusioned with the government and don't strongly identify with either side.

Adam Isacson, an analyst at the Washington Office on Latin America, said the opposition seems to be on solid footing.

"They have a charismatic, credible candidate who - since he has spent most of his adult life in Chavez's Venezuela - doesn't carry the baggage of the corrupt governments that came before Hugo Chavez," Isacson said. "And the opposition no doubt benefits from a bout of 'Chavez fatigue' in Venezuela: even many voters who think fondly of Hugo Chavez may feel that 14 years is enough, and his cancer has made many start to envision a post-Chavez Venezuela for the first time in a while."

Chavez's approval ratings have topped 50 percent in recent polls, and his struggle with cancer doesn't appear to have hurt his popularity. The 57-year-old president says he's cancer-free after undergoing surgery and chemotherapy last year, and has been energetic in his hours-long television appearances, apparently trying to show he can still keep up with a younger challenger.

Steve Ellner, a political science professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, said he thinks one significant hurdle facing Capriles is to try to "challenge Chavez's claim to being the president of the non-privileged as well as the defender of Venezuelan nationalism."

"Capriles needs to come up with a set of concrete measures that are innovative and reach out to the popular classes," Ellner said.

Capriles is a moderate who describes his views as center-left.

He said he expects personal attacks from Chavez to increase, and suggested that he, too, might become more confrontational in response. So far, Capriles has largely avoided direct or personal barbs.

Capriles said he's ready to confront Chavez, but wants the discussion to focus on issues related to Venezuela's most pressing domestic problems.

"If they want me to get into the ring, I'll get into the ring, but my objective is knocking out corruption, unemployment, the hospital infrastructure that doesn't function," Capriles said.

Capriles said he would welcome a televised debate. Chavez didn't immediately respond to that challenge.

The leftist president said before the primary that all of his rivals represent the interests of the rich and the U.S. government.

Chavez has already kicked his campaign machinery into gear. He has increased spending by launching new social programs that offer cash benefits for the poor and invested heavily in new railways, public housing and cable car systems in Venezuela's hillside slums. As the election nears, he will inaugurate other big-ticket projects that grab attention, including the planned launch of Venezuela's second Chinese-made satellite shortly before the October vote.
[This point is well worth noting.]

Capriles might not be able to compete with Chavez's spending nor his ability to take over the airwaves of all TV and radio stations when he deems appropriate. But Capriles can count on ample campaign funding from anti-Chavez donors, as well as high visibility in opposition-aligned media including the television channel Globovision, private radio stations and newspapers.

Chavez has warned voters that if they don't re-elect him, his social programs called "missions" would vanish. That threat, though disputed by Capriles, could have an influence on some in the run-up to the vote.

Many working-class Venezuelans say they still believe in Chavez and his socialist-inspired program, even as some "Chavistas" openly complain of inefficiency and corruption within his government.

"There are good things and bad things because nobody's perfect, but ... he's helped poor people a lot," said Heidi Lopez, a 33-year-old who raves about the discounted food at government-run markets and plans to vote for Chavez again.

Some of Capriles' supporters say they think he has a good chance of winning over Venezuelans who otherwise might lean pro-Chavez because he has taken a largely non-confrontational approach while promising solutions to problems including 26-percent inflation and one of the highest murder rates in Latin America.

Diego Prada, a 23-year-old marketing manager, said Capriles' inclusive approach resonates among many.

"People are tired of so much confrontation," Prada said.

So ... why was that paragraph worth noting?  Hmm. 

What is wrong with the Chinese buying US debt?  What is wrong with the Chinese buying European debt?  Yet our political system could reject demands made by the Chinese and the American people could reject Chinese ultimatums.  Our political system has checks and balances, has a process that permits opposition.  We have a healthy political system where two parties thrive and opposition is very vocal.

In Venezuela there is no legitimate opposition - even the opposition candidate is a left of center figure.  It is a matter of two lefts, one further than the other.  The government, run by Chavez, dominates everything - and control is total.  Within that system the Chinese have begun their advance, and there is no structure in place to prevent them from rolling through.  The Chinese will splash around money, and opportunity to stick a finger the eye of the US, and the obedient troglodytes will do as they are told, even if they believe they are articulating independent thought. 

There is no structure to prevent the Chinese from buying off the top 2-3 people and Chavez mandating whatever the Chinese demand.  In time, the wealth and proximity to power will swallow them up, leaving Venezuela as a puppet of China, and Chavez is intellectually incapable of recognizing this advance by the Chinese and Iranians.  He thinks they all hate the US and he welcomes them.  He believes he has the control, but he is losing it, and Iran is gaining inches, China is gaining feet, and Venezuela is losing, while Chavez prances around.


EU: Sinking Below the Waves

And as I have stated many times, it couldn't happen to a better, more deserving bunch of self-serving elitist states.

Moody's adjusts ratings of 9 European sovereigns to capture downside risks

Global Credit Research - 13 Feb 2012

London, 13 February 2012 -- As anticipated in November 2011, Moody's Investors Service has today adjusted the sovereign debt ratings of selected EU countries in order to reflect their susceptibility to the growing financial and macroeconomic risks emanating from the euro area crisis and how these risks exacerbate the affected countries' own specific challenges.

Moody's actions can be summarised as follows:

- Austria: outlook on Aaa rating changed to negative
- France: outlook on Aaa rating changed to negative
- Italy: downgraded to A3 from A2, negative outlook
- Malta: downgraded to A3 from A2, negative outlook
- Portugal: downgraded to Ba3 from Ba2, negative outlook
- Slovakia: downgraded to A2 from A1, negative outlook
- Slovenia: downgraded to A2 from A1, negative outlook
- Spain: downgraded to A3 from A1, negative outlook
- United Kingdom: outlook on Aaa rating changed to negative

end to the euro

By Bruce Thornton
February 13, 2012

In 1868, a British army led by Sir Robert Napier sailed from India to Abyssinia (Ethiopia) to rescue several English and European hostages from the mentally unstable, sadistic King Theodore. Theodore had become enraged a few years earlier because his letter to Queen Victoria asking for military assistance had been ignored, and so he retaliated by taking the hostages. Napier’s expedition required the building of a port, railroad, and road in order for his army of 13,000 soldiers to march to Theodore’s stronghold Magdala, 400 brutal miles from the coast. After the three-month march, the British met Theodore’s army at Magadala and routed it. The hostages were released, and Theodore committed suicide. Then Napier led his army back to the coast and sailed away, surprising many who believed that rescuing the hostages was a pretext for colonial expansion.

The Abyssinian expedition illustrates the British awareness that an empire must defend not just its material interests, but also its prestige. Insults and injuries to its citizens cannot be tolerated, for rivals and enemies will interpret such forbearance as a weakness to be exploited. The expedition was an expensive, massive undertaking, but one necessary in order to warn the Empire’s potential enemies that England would pay any price to defend its honor and interests. Power is not just about material resources, but also the perceptions of others that power will be used, a perception that works as a force multiplier. As Vergil says in the Aeneid, “They have power because they seem to have power.”

History is filled with examples of how costly it is for a nation to allow its prestige to be damaged, thus weakening its power and inviting aggression. By 1938, Hitler had no respect for the English or the French despite their combined military might, given their failure to respond to Germany’s serial violations of the Versailles settlement over the previous two decades. Thus Hitler’s brilliant manipulation of diplomacy in the Czechoslovakia crisis, when England and France, as Churchill would write later, “presented a front of two over-ripe melons crushed together.” Hitler agreed: a year later, he would respond to England and France’s guarantee of Poland’s security by sneering, “I saw them at Munich. They are little worms.”

Likewise the U.S. paid the price for its loss of prestige following the abandonment of South Vietnam in 1975. As Jimmy Carter publicly announced a “crisis of confidence,” fretted over America’s “recent mistakes” and “recognized limits,” and cut spending on the military, an emboldened Soviet Union went on a geopolitical rampage throughout the Third World. Equally ominous was the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the seizure of the embassy hostages, a grievous affront to our prestige met with toothless sanctions, U.N. resolutions, secret negotiations, and the whole repertoire of excuses to substitute talk for action. A byproduct of this blow to U.S. prestige was the creation of an oil-rich jihadist regime in the heart of the Middle East, one that immediately started creating and supporting terrorist groups that for 30 years have murdered Americans. A series of jihadist attacks followed Iran’s victory over the superpower America, from the 1983 Beirut bombing of the Marine barracks, to the 2000 attack on the U.S.S. Cole, none of which were met with a punitive response that would have made clear the overwhelming price to be paid for assaulting America’s interests and citizens. So it was no surprise that Osama bin Laden, convinced that America was a “weak horse” with “foundations of straw,” on September 11, 2001 sent his jihadists to attack the very centers of American power and prestige in Washington D.C. and New York.

The short-lived restoration of American prestige wrought by George Bush’s routing of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the destruction of the Hussein regime in Iraq soon dissipated in the administration of Barack Obama and his promise to “embrace a new era of engagement” and a “new way forward” with America’s enemies. In practice this has meant his solicitous “outreach” to thug regimes like Iran and Syria, the appeasing and unreciprocated “reset” of relations with Russia, the Carter-like pledges that America would be a “partner mindful of his own imperfections,” the undercutting and hounding of stalwart allies like Israel, the craven apologies to the Muslim world for a “colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims,” and the abandonment of unsavory allies like Hosni Mubarak, who nonetheless better served America’s interests than the Muslim Brothers soon to run Egypt are likely to.

All we have gained from Obama’s “new way forward” is further damage to our prestige, and the perception that America is an unreliable friend and a contemptible enemy. Iran blusters, threatens, and continues to work furiously on obtaining nuclear weapons, with the patent support of Russia and China. Russia ignores our sermons on international morality and provides diplomatic and material support to Syria’s Bashar al Assad’s brutal slaughter of his citizens. Our precipitous withdrawal from Iraq promises to squander all that has been gained for the last 9 years and to further strengthen Iran. The Taliban have marked our announced 2014 withdrawal date from Afghanistan on their calendars, in the meantime tempting us into “peace negotiations,” and demanding as the price just for starting talks the release of their murderous colleagues from Guantanamo, 5 of whom Obama is thinking of releasing as a “good will gesture.” The allegedly “moderate” Palestinian Authority is moving closer to forming a unity government with the genocidal Hamas, without any worries that the near $1 billion in U.S. financial support will stop. And most recently, the interim Islamist government in Egypt has indicted 16 American NGO workers and kept the 6 still in Egypt from leaving the country, virtually kidnapping them. Like the Palestinians, the Egyptians don’t respect us enough to fear that we will cut off the more than $1.5 billion in annual aid.

In short, thanks to Obama’s foreign policy, our enemies and rivals do not believe that we will vigorously defend our interests and citizens. We have the most lethal military power in the history of the world, but we lack the prestige based on the certainty of friend and foe alike that we will use that power to protect our friends and punish our enemies. Great powers decline for many reasons, but losing respect for their power is surely one of them.


Sunday, February 12, 2012

Athens Burns While the Greeks Fiddle

Why we are different is easy to see.  It is clear - Americans do not burn down their cities, every other week they do not enter the capital city and protest, the utility companies do not go on strike every other weekend and the transporation sector does not strike every third week.  Our political system has its flaws, but not like the gaping holes in the EU - and every state in the EU. 

Greece cannot hope to fix its problems as long as the people expect more for free and to tax the rich for all the free stuff, but to otherwise not pay for it.  Oh yes, there are some Americans who are very much like this, who do want to tax and soak the rich while they sit on their asses and get free stuff ... BUT fortunately the majority are not lost to reality as yet.

By Harry Papachristou and Yannis Behrakis
ATHENS | Sun Feb 12, 2012 6:43pm EST

ATHENS (Reuters) - The Greek parliament approved a deeply unpopular austerity bill to secure a second EU/IMF bailout and avoid national bankruptcy, as buildings burned across central Athens and violence spread around the country.

Cinemas, cafes, shops and banks were set ablaze in central Athens as black-masked protesters fought riot police outside parliament.

State television reported the violence spread to the tourist islands of Corfu and Crete, the northern city of Thessaloniki and towns in central Greece. Shops were looted in the capital where police said 34 buildings were ablaze.

Prime Minister Lucas Papademos denounced the worst breakdown of order since 2008 when violence gripped Greece for weeks after police shot a 15-year-old schoolboy.

"Vandalism, violence and destruction have no place in a democratic country and won't be tolerated," he told parliament as it prepared to vote on the new 130 billion euro bailout to save Greece from a chaotic bankruptcy.

Papademos told lawmakers shortly before they voted that they would be gravely mistaken if they rejected the package that demands deep pay, pension and job cuts, as this would threaten Greece's place in the European mainstream.

"It would be a huge historical injustice if the country from which European culture sprang ... reached bankruptcy and was led, due to one more mistake, to national isolation and national despair," he said.

The chaos outside parliament showed how tough it will be to implement the measures. A Reuters photographer saw buildings in Athens engulfed in flames and huge plumes of smoke rose in the night sky.

"We are facing destruction. Our country, our home, has become ripe for burning, the centre of Athens is in flames. We cannot allow populism to burn our country down," conservative lawmaker Costis Hatzidakis told parliament.

The air in Syntagma Square outside parliament was thick with tear gas as riot police fought running battles with youths who smashed marble balustrades and hurled stones and petrol bombs.

Terrified Greeks and tourists fled the rock-strewn streets and the clouds of stinging gas, cramming into hotel lobbies for shelter as lines of riot police


Friday, February 10, 2012

Why the World Needs the United States

FEBRUARY 11, 2012

History shows that world orders, including our own, are transient. They rise and fall, and the institutions they erect, the beliefs and "norms" that guide them, the economic systems they support—they rise and fall, too. The downfall of the Roman Empire brought an end not just to Roman rule but to Roman government and law and to an entire economic system stretching from Northern Europe to North Africa. Culture, the arts, even progress in science and technology, were set back for centuries.

Modern history has followed a similar pattern. After the Napoleonic Wars of the early 19th century, British control of the seas and the balance of great powers on the European continent provided relative security and stability. Prosperity grew, personal freedoms expanded, and the world was knit more closely together by revolutions in commerce and communication.

With the outbreak of World War I, the age of settled peace and advancing liberalism—of European civilization approaching its pinnacle—collapsed into an age of hyper-nationalism, despotism and economic calamity. The once-promising spread of democracy and liberalism halted and then reversed course, leaving a handful of outnumbered and besieged democracies living nervously in the shadow of fascist and totalitarian neighbors. The collapse of the British and European orders in the 20th century did not produce a new dark age—though if Nazi Germany and imperial Japan had prevailed, it might have—but the horrific conflict that it produced was, in its own way, just as devastating.

If the U.S. is unable to maintain its hegemony on the high seas, would other nations fill in the gaps? On board the USS Germantown in the South China Sea, Tuesday.

Would the end of the present American-dominated order have less dire consequences? A surprising number of American intellectuals, politicians and policy makers greet the prospect with equanimity. There is a general sense that the end of the era of American pre-eminence, if and when it comes, need not mean the end of the present international order, with its widespread freedom, unprecedented global prosperity (even amid the current economic crisis) and absence of war among the great powers.

American power may diminish, the political scientist G. John Ikenberry argues, but "the underlying foundations of the liberal international order will survive and thrive." The commentator Fareed Zakaria believes that even as the balance shifts against the U.S., rising powers like China "will continue to live within the framework of the current international system." And there are elements across the political spectrum—Republicans who call for retrenchment, Democrats who put their faith in international law and institutions—who don't imagine that a "post-American world" would look very different from the American world.

If all of this sounds too good to be true, it is. The present world order was largely shaped by American power and reflects American interests and preferences. If the balance of power shifts in the direction of other nations, the world order will change to suit their interests and preferences. Nor can we assume that all the great powers in a post-American world would agree on the benefits of preserving the present order, or have the capacity to preserve it, even if they wanted to.

Many of us take for granted how the world looks today. But it might look a lot different without America at the top. The Brookings Institution's Robert Kagan talks with Washington bureau chief Jerry Seib about his new book, "The World America Made," and whether a U.S. decline is inevitable.

Take the issue of democracy. For several decades, the balance of power in the world has favored democratic governments. In a genuinely post-American world, the balance would shift toward the great-power autocracies. Both Beijing and Moscow already protect dictators like Syria's Bashar al-Assad. If they gain greater relative influence in the future, we will see fewer democratic transitions and more autocrats hanging on to power. The balance in a new, multipolar world might be more favorable to democracy if some of the rising democracies—Brazil, India, Turkey, South Africa—picked up the slack from a declining U.S. Yet not all of them have the desire or the capacity to do it.

What about the economic order of free markets and free trade? People assume that China and other rising powers that have benefited so much from the present system would have a stake in preserving it. They wouldn't kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.

A Romney Adviser Read by Democrats

Robert Kagan's new book, "The World America Made," is finding an eager readership in the nation's capital, among prominent members of both political parties.

Around the time of President Barack Obama's Jan. 24 State of the Union Address, Washington was abuzz with reports that the president had discussed a portion of the book with a group of news anchors.

Mr. Kagan serves on the Foreign Policy Advisory Board of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, but more notably, in this election season, he is a foreign policy adviser to the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney.

The president's speech touched upon the debate over whether America is in decline, a central theme of Mr. Kagan's book. "America is back," he declared, referring to a range of recent U.S. actions on the world stage. "Anyone who tells you otherwise, anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, doesn't know what they're talking about," he continued. "America remains the one indispensable nation in world affairs—and as long as I'm president, I intend to keep it that way."

Says Mr. Kagan: "No president wants to preside over American decline, and it's good to see him repudiate the idea that his policy is built on the idea that American influence must fade."

Unfortunately, they might not be able to help themselves. The creation and survival of a liberal economic order has depended, historically, on great powers that are both willing and able to support open trade and free markets, often with naval power. If a declining America is unable to maintain its long-standing hegemony on the high seas, would other nations take on the burdens and the expense of sustaining navies to fill in the gaps?

Even if they did, would this produce an open global commons—or rising tension? China and India are building bigger navies, but the result so far has been greater competition, not greater security. As Mohan Malik has noted in this newspaper, their "maritime rivalry could spill into the open in a decade or two," when India deploys an aircraft carrier in the Pacific Ocean and China deploys one in the Indian Ocean. The move from American-dominated oceans to collective policing by several great powers could be a recipe for competition and conflict rather than for a liberal economic order.

And do the Chinese really value an open economic system? The Chinese economy soon may become the largest in the world, but it will be far from the richest. Its size is a product of the country's enormous population, but in per capita terms, China remains relatively poor. The U.S., Germany and Japan have a per capita GDP of over $40,000. China's is a little over $4,000, putting it at the same level as Angola, Algeria and Belize. Even if optimistic forecasts are correct, China's per capita GDP by 2030 would still only be half that of the U.S., putting it roughly where Slovenia and Greece are today.

Multipolar systems have historically been neither particularly stable nor particularly peaceful. Nearly a halfmillion combatants died in the Crimean War (depicted in "The Taking of Malakoff" by Horace Vernet, pictured here.)

As Arvind Subramanian and other economists have pointed out, this will make for a historically unique situation. In the past, the largest and most dominant economies in the world have also been the richest. Nations whose peoples are such obvious winners in a relatively unfettered economic system have less temptation to pursue protectionist measures and have more of an incentive to keep the system open.

China's leaders, presiding over a poorer and still developing country, may prove less willing to open their economy. They have already begun closing some sectors to foreign competition and are likely to close others in the future. Even optimists like Mr. Subramanian believe that the liberal economic order will require "some insurance" against a scenario in which "China exercises its dominance by either reversing its previous policies or failing to open areas of the economy that are now highly protected." American economic dominance has been welcomed by much of the world because, like the mobster Hyman Roth in "The Godfather," the U.S. has always made money for its partners. Chinese economic dominance may get a different reception.

Another problem is that China's form of capitalism is heavily dominated by the state, with the ultimate goal of preserving the rule of the Communist Party. Unlike the eras of British and American pre-eminence, when the leading economic powers were dominated largely by private individuals or companies, China's system is more like the mercantilist arrangements of previous centuries. The government amasses wealth in order to secure its continued rule and to pay for armies and navies to compete with other great powers.

Increasing tension and competition saw its climax in World War I (U.S. troops in France, 1918, pictured here).

Although the Chinese have been beneficiaries of an open international economic order, they could end up undermining it simply because, as an autocratic society, their priority is to preserve the state's control of wealth and the power that it brings. They might kill the goose that lays the golden eggs because they can't figure out how to keep both it and themselves alive.

Finally, what about the long peace that has held among the great powers for the better part of six decades? Would it survive in a post-American world?

Most commentators who welcome this scenario imagine that American predominance would be replaced by some kind of multipolar harmony. But multipolar systems have historically been neither particularly stable nor particularly peaceful. Rough parity among powerful nations is a source of uncertainty that leads to miscalculation. Conflicts erupt as a result of fluctuations in the delicate power equation.

War among the great powers was a common, if not constant, occurrence in the long periods of multipolarity from the 16th to the 18th centuries, culminating in the series of enormously destructive Europe-wide wars that followed the French Revolution and ended with Napoleon's defeat in 1815.

The 19th century was notable for two stretches of great-power peace of roughly four decades each, punctuated by major conflicts. The Crimean War (1853-1856) was a mini-world war involving well over a million Russian, French, British and Turkish troops, as well as forces from nine other nations; it produced almost a half-million dead combatants and many more wounded. In the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871), the two nations together fielded close to two million troops, of whom nearly a half-million were killed or wounded.

The peace that followed these conflicts was characterized by increasing tension and competition, numerous war scares and massive increases in armaments on both land and sea. Its climax was World War I, the most destructive and deadly conflict that mankind had known up to that point. As the political scientist Robert W. Tucker has observed, "Such stability and moderation as the balance brought rested ultimately on the threat or use of force. War remained the essential means for maintaining the balance of power."

There is little reason to believe that a return to multipolarity in the 21st century would bring greater peace and stability than it has in the past. The era of American predominance has shown that there is no better recipe for great-power peace than certainty about who holds the upper hand.

President Bill Clinton left office believing that the key task for America was to "create the world we would like to live in when we are no longer the world's only superpower," to prepare for "a time when we would have to share the stage." It is an eminently sensible-sounding proposal. But can it be done? For particularly in matters of security, the rules and institutions of international order rarely survive the decline of the nations that erected them. They are like scaffolding around a building: They don't hold the building up; the building holds them up.

International order is not an evolution; it is an imposition. It will last only as long as those who favor it retain the will and capacity to defend it.

Many foreign-policy experts see the present international order as the inevitable result of human progress, a combination of advancing science and technology, an increasingly global economy, strengthening international institutions, evolving "norms" of international behavior and the gradual but inevitable triumph of liberal democracy over other forms of government—forces of change that transcend the actions of men and nations.

Americans certainly like to believe that our preferred order survives because it is right and just—not only for us but for everyone. We assume that the triumph of democracy is the triumph of a better idea, and the victory of market capitalism is the victory of a better system, and that both are irreversible. That is why Francis Fukuyama's thesis about "the end of history" was so attractive at the end of the Cold War and retains its appeal even now, after it has been discredited by events. The idea of inevitable evolution means that there is no requirement to impose a decent order. It will merely happen.

But international order is not an evolution; it is an imposition. It is the domination of one vision over others—in America's case, the domination of free-market and democratic principles, together with an international system that supports them. The present order will last only as long as those who favor it and benefit from it retain the will and capacity to defend it.

There was nothing inevitable about the world that was created after World War II. No divine providence or unfolding Hegelian dialectic required the triumph of democracy and capitalism, and there is no guarantee that their success will outlast the powerful nations that have fought for them. Democratic progress and liberal economics have been and can be reversed and undone. The ancient democracies of Greece and the republics of Rome and Venice all fell to more powerful forces or through their own failings. The evolving liberal economic order of Europe collapsed in the 1920s and 1930s. The better idea doesn't have to win just because it is a better idea. It requires great powers to champion it.

If and when American power declines, the institutions and norms that American power has supported will decline, too. Or more likely, if history is a guide, they may collapse altogether as we make a transition to another kind of world order, or to disorder. We may discover then that the U.S. was essential to keeping the present world order together and that the alternative to American power was not peace and harmony but chaos and catastrophe—which is what the world looked like right before the American order came into being.

useless nations

Make Mine Freedom - 1948

American Form of Government

Who's on First? Certainly isn't the Euro.