Posts Tagged ‘United States’

The Devyani Khobragade case: Ambitious prosecutor seeks publicity while India objects to an attack on privilege

December 19, 2013

The Devyani Khobragade case is causing waves in India -US diplomatic relations but I have difficulty to generate much sympathy for any of the parties involved.

The diplomat: Devyani Khobragade is a consular official and not a full-diplomat and she was trying to get her maid very cheaply. She was certainly subject to treatment which was  humiliating and undignified but the affront is primarily to her pride and the culture of privilege which prevails in India (and not only India of course).

The maid: Sangeeta Richard and her husband (and their advisors) are opportunists who are trying to circumvent visa restrictions and are trying to achieve a more permanent status to stay in the US. (There is little chance that she will retain her job with Khobragade). But the maid’s behaviour is rather suspect. “Why did the US grant visas to her husband and children and fly them out to the US two days before Devyani Khobragade was arrested in full public glare and strip searched? And Sangeeta’s father-in-law is apparently on the staff of the US embassy in New Delhi. A little blackmail and massive publicity  is seen as being a “good” thing in achieving their objective. In fact the fuss being made by the Indian establishment suggests that their lawyer could even make a claim for political asylum!

The prosecutor: US attorney Preet Bharara has been remarkably voluble in justifying his actions. That itself illustrates his clear political ambitions. No US prosecutor acts without an eye to the resultant publicity and his career development and – in many cases – his political ambitions. It is inconceivable that the particular prosecutor in this case (also of Indian origin) did not calculate the boost he would get.

The Indian political establishment: The entire Indian establishment (politicians and press) have had their nationalistic hackles aroused. Their culture of privilege is being attacked. The diplomat was subjected to a “cavity search”. Good grief! This is rape! Clearly a case of official rape by rampant US officialdom on a defenceless Indian woman!! To be seen to be fighting for a “raped woman” is very politically correct these days in India. Fighting for an underpaid maid – who is not from the privileged classes – does not win the same number of brownie points. (Note that a crime against a privileged person is always much much worse than the same crime against one of the lower classes).

The US political establishment: The US is probably a little bemused at how this has got out of hand. Kerry has expressed his regret  and “empathizes with the sensitivities we are hearing from India” but has not apologised. He cannot chastise an over-ambitious prosecutor who has used due process to further his political ambitions. Bharara could have behaved in a civilised manner but chose not to. He himself – of course – belongs to the privileged class of the US.

It has all the elements of a conspiracy and en entrapment (Sangeeta Richards, her father-in-law, unnamed US officials at the US Embassy in Delhi and the New York prosecutor Preet Bharara). For a lawyer specialising in corruption, Bharara’s behaviour is close to being morally corrupt in itself. No doubt Devyani Khobragade tried to get her maid cheap but some “entrapment” and publicity-seeking is apparent.

Interesting behaviour but all rather inconsequential.

 

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Waves of aging

December 15, 2013

The aging of the world is not news, but visualising the change is done very well here:

Population By Age, Japan

Population By Age, Japan

Population By Age, U.S.

Population By Age, U.S.

Not all countries are getting older. Many developing countries still have high fertility rates, and children account for a huge share of the people in those countries. (Typically, fertility rates don’t start falling until countries hit a certain stage of economic development.)

When you look at the whole world, you see a blend of these two trends — the population of the globe is aging, on average, but there are still far more children than old people.

World Population Breakdown By Age

World Population Breakdown By Age

 

Afghan opium harvest reaches record high and Western troops prepare to withdraw – after a job well done?

November 13, 2013

This Afghan war started on 7th October 2001. Ostensibly the US, NATO and Western allies invaded to dismantle the Al Qaida infrastructure, remove the Taliban from power and to eradicate their support base by winning hearts and minds.

Twelve years on, about 10,000 Afghan security forces and about 5,000 allied forces (including contractors) have been killed. The numbers of Taliban and other Islamic fighters killed is believed to be many more than the 15,000 allied losses – perhaps as many as 30,000. Around 18,000 civilians have also lost their lives. The Taliban are still around and apparently gaining strength. I am not sure whether the intention was to destroy the drug trade or whether it was secretly to secure drug supplies. In any event the opium harvest has never been as high before.

History will have to tell us if this was a job well done or something else.

Reuters: Afghan opium crop hits record high ahead of Western withdrawal

Afghan opium cultivation has hit a record high as international forces prepare to leave the country, the United Nations said on Wednesday, with concern that profits will go to warlords jockeying for power ahead of a presidential election next year. The expansion of poppy to 209,000 hectares (516,000 acres), will embarrass Afghanistan’s aid donors after more than 10 years of efforts to wean farmers off the crop, fight corruption and cut links between drugs and the Taliban insurgency. …..

The area under poppy is 36 percent higher than in 2012, and eclipses the previous record set in 2007, when 193,000 hectares (477,000 acres) were cultivated, the U.N. anti-drugs agency said in a report. Total output is estimated at 5,500 tonnes of opium, up 49 percent from 3,700 tonnes in 2012. Farm-gate profits are expected to approach $1 billion, or 4 percent of gross domestic product. Some of those profits will be funneled off by the Taliban to fuel their insurgency. …… 

A kg of opium costs some $200 at the farm-gate. This produces about 100 g of pure heroin. The street price of heroin is about $170 per gram (2012 prices) for typically 40% pure heroin (75% is considered high). The $200 dollars for the 1 kg of opium is thus marked-up to about $40,000 as street-heroin. If the profits at the farm-gates are $1 billion, it can be expected that the profits on the streets from the processed drugs must be of the order of 50 – 100 times greater.

A steady profit stream of $50 – 100 billion per year clearly will – and does –  cause many to salivate.

The Spoils of War:

Each kg. of opium produces 100 grams of pure heroin. The US retail prices for heroin (with a low level of purity) is, according to UNODC of the order of $172 a gram. The price per gram of pure heroin is substantially higher.

The profits are largely reaped at the level of the international wholesale and retail markets of heroin as well as in the process of money laundering in Western banking institutions. 

The revenues derived from the global trade in heroin constitute a multibillion dollar bonanza for financial institutions and organized crime.

Why bug the papal election if not to influence the election – or the next Pope?

October 30, 2013

The report is that the NSA eavesdropped on the papal election. That they may have done so does not surprise. But if they did they must have had some purpose – one presumes. And what other purpose could there be except to either influence the election itself, or to gain influence over whoever was elected pope?

Were the US cardinals privy to the bugging by the NSA? Were they perhaps getting secret text messages from the NSA as to how the election was progressing? Perhaps they were even getting instructions. How heavy was the betting on the outcome of the election? Any possibilities of spot-fixing? The Sistine Chapel is supposed to have the means to scramble all mobile signals but getting past these ought to be child’s play for the NSA.

The possibilities are endless. It has all the makings of a wonderful conspiracy theory. Maybe even another book by Dan Brown? Perhaps the NSA can even listen in on Pope Francis using his hotline to his Superior.

And wouldn’t it be wonderful if it were true?

I shall be following Papal pronouncements with great interest to see how closely Pope Francis follows a pro-US line!!!!!!!!!

RawStory: 

US secret services allegedly eavesdropped on cardinals before the conclave in March to elect a new pope, Italian weekly magazine Panorama claimed Wednesday.

“The National Security Agency wiretapped the pope,” the magazine said, accusing the United States of listening in to telephone calls to and from the Vatican, including the accommodation housing cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio before he was elected Pope Francis.

The allegations follow a report on surveillance website Cryptome which said the United States intercepted 46 million telephone calls in Italy in December 2012 and early January 2013.

Among those, “there are apparently also calls from and to the Vatican,” Panorama said.

“It is feared that the great American ear continued to tap prelates’ conversations up to the eve of the conclave,” it said, adding that there were “suspicions that the conversations of the future pope may have been monitored”.

Bergoglio “had been a person of interest to the American secret services since 2005, according to Wikileaks,” it said.

The bugged conversations were divided into four categories: “leadership intentions”, “threats to financial systems”, “foreign policy objectives” and “human rights,” it claimed.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said “we have heard nothing of this and are not worried about it.”

Obama’s leadership style is one of “Don’t ask, don’t be told”!

October 29, 2013

When one is President (or a CEO or a General), there are some “unacceptable” activities and behaviours that your organisation indulges in that it is better not to know.  This is a delicate skill that is not easily learned. To know, but not to be seen to know. To be informed but to avoid being told what you don’t wish to know. So that ignorance always remains as a defence if the “unacceptable” action or behaviour is ever revealed.

“Don’t ask, don’t be told”.

I don’t usually expect the Washington Post to be overly critical of a sitting Democratic President. But Obama’s apparent ignorance of what is done by his administration is getting embarrassing. A couple of articles in the Washington Post by Dana Millbank and Jennifer Rubin take Obama to task.

Jennifer Rubin: The list is growing every week: The IRS scandal, the deteriorating security situation in Libya, spying on German Chancellor Angela Merkel, spying on journalists and the Obamacare mess. Those are just a few of the things we have been told at one time or another that President Obama he didn’t know about before learning about them in the media. Note to media: You have a critical job in briefing the president, so err on side of over-inclusion.

Then there are the things he had wrong or knew better but said anyway: There is a fatwa in Iran against nuclear weapons, “You will get to keep your health-care plan,” the Benghazi attack was related to an anti- Muslim video, and no predecessor had been compelled to negotiate a budget deal in the context of a potential government shutdown.

This prompts several questions: Who is running the government? Why is the president content not to know so many things? At this point one has to conclude he is intentionally ignorant.  …….

….. The list goes on. You would think the president at some point would be embarrassed to be the least-informed man in Washington, D.C.

Dana MillbankFor a smart man, President Obama professes to know very little about a great number of things going on in his administration.

On Sunday night, the Wall Street Journal reported that he didn’t learn until this summer that the National Security Agency had been bugging the phones of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other world leaders for nearly five years. 

That followed by a few days a claim by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that Obama didn’t know about problems with the HealthCare.gov Web site before the rest of the world learned of them after the Oct. 1 launch.

It stretches credulity to think that the United States was spying on world leaders without the president’s knowledge, or that he was blissfully unaware of huge technical problems that threatened to undermine his main legislative achievement. But on issues including the IRS targeting flap and the Justice Department’s use of subpoenas against reporters, White House officials have frequently given a variation on this theme.

Question: What did Obama know and when did he know it?

Answer: Not much, and about a minute ago…….

Some might argue that this is not a “leadership” style but an abdication of leadership.

 

 

In a democracy, oppositions must oppose, governments must govern

October 9, 2013

I was listening yesterday to President Obama’s press conference where he accused the Republicans of “extortion”.

“But I also told him that having such a conversation, talks, negotiations shouldn’t require hanging the threats of a government shutdown or economic chaos over the heads of the American people. …. 

….. members of Congress, and the House Republicans in particular, don’t get to demand ransom in exchange for doing their jobs. And two of their very basic jobs are passing a budget and making sure that America’s paying its bills. They don’t also get to say, you know, unless you give me what the voters rejected in the last election, I’m going to cause a recession.

…. So let me explain this. If Congress refuses to raise what’s called the debt ceiling, America would not be able to meet all of our financial obligations for the first time in 225 years.”

He sounded petulant. It sounded like “Give me back my ball” to me.

But the fundamental foundation of any democracy is that ruling parties govern, to the extent that they have the ability and as they may be constrained by the opposition. It is a fundamental of preventing excesses by a majority against a minority that oppositions oppose to the best of their ability. Oppositions must oppose as best they can. Governments must govern given such opposition. It is the task of government to make the compromises necessary to be able to govern. And the bottom line is that the Republicans in the House are opposing and that Obama and his Democrats are failing to govern.

I certainly don’t know enough about the issues involved to have any decided opinions. But I do think that the US debt is an indicator of many years of profligacy. Obamacare itself may be a wonderful thing but the opposition in the House don’t think so. Passing any budget (and it is actually approving an increase of a debt limit) cannot just be a formality where the ruling party merely gets its way and the opposition knuckles under. One could argue that passing a “balanced budget” is some kind of a fiduciary responsibility of the representatives but this is not such a question. It is for the passing of a grossly “unbalanced budget” and to, thereby, increase the national debt.

So when an opposition does what it is supposed to and succeeds in opposing any measure proposed by a ruling party, it is actually evidence of a failure to govern. There can be no failure of the responsibility of the opposition to oppose.

What Obama seems to be complaining about is that he has not the ability to find the compromises to be able to overcome the opposition!

Keeping score in the great Syria chess game

September 24, 2013

It is not possible to say who won or who lost. The Great “Game” will take a long time to reach a conclusion. All that can be done is to see who’s winning and who’s losing.

David Cameron is losing and may have lost. He took a slap in the face from the House of Commons. If he had managed the vote in his favour, the US strike on Syria would have taken place almost immediately. Whether the strike would have achieved much will never be known but Obama would have “walked” his “talk”. Milliband seemed to be winning since he had defeated Cameron but it is becoming clear that he had played his trump far too soon and allowed Putin to make his play. And Milliband can be credited for letting down the US and the special relationship. Tony Blair lost. He showed up as a “rabid dog” revelling in going to war (to try and justify his bad judgements during the Iraq war). And nobody took him very seriously.

Barack Obama is losing. He has confirmed his reputation as a ditherer and that he is risk-averse to the point of being  seen as being ruled by his fears. He has effectively shifted the balance of power in going to war from the Presidency towards Congress. This power given up will be difficult to regain. Without the backing of the UK he was forced to look for ways to extricate himself from his “red line” box.

John Kerry was point-man for Obama and was – for a time – the potential scape-goat. But he has repositioned himself and may even take away some credit for the Russian play. His throw-away line about “no strike if Syria gave up their chemical weapons” is now being spun as an intentional statement.

Francois Hollande is losing. His support for Obama was not enough to allow the US to carry out a strike on Syria. The value of French support – compared to the UK support which was not forthcoming – was diminished. And then to make matters worse his Parliamentarians made it quite clear that they did not support his position even though they were not required to vote. Having supported a strike he was not quite adroit enough to claim any credit for the alternate diplomatic path that resulted. Getting Freedom Fries reverting to be French Fries was his only consolation.

Vladimir Putin and Sergei Lavrov are winning. The diplomatic path is now their creation. Suddenly Russia is the peace-maker in the face of US war-mongering! Not only was the US strike on their ally delayed indefinitely, it is now Assad’s Syria – and not the various opposition groups – which is required to engage with the international community. Any opposition forces who seem to be coming in the way of inspecting or securing control of the chemical weapons can now be attacked by Assad with the full support of the international community. Russia can continue supplying Syria with conventional weapons.

The Syrian Opposition groups (including Al Qaida) are losing the civil war. Assad can now get more weapons replacements than they can. Al Qaida need a weakened Assad to create a winning position and they need a prolonged civil war to achieve dominance among the opposition groups. Both objectives would have been assisted by a US strike.

Bashar al-Assad is winning. He does not really need chemical weapons which cannot effectively be used anyway. Any US strike on his forces is postponed indefinitely. With no prospect of any no-fly zone being declared his air-force could be decisive in the civil war. The supply of conventional weapons from Russia is assured. His claim that rebels and terrorists were responsible for the use of Sarin is backed up by Russia and the UN weapons inspectors have no option but to investigate this (and they are on their way back to Syria).

Iran is winning. President Hassan Rohani is on a roll. First Hizbollah – at Iran’s bidding – helped to keep the Syrian opposition groups at bay when they seemed to be gaining ground. Then he supported the Russian diplomatic initiative. That was followed by an interview  on NBC  and an op-ed in the Washington Post to assure the US and the world that Iran had no intention of developing WMD of any kind including nuclear weapons. Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, sent Rosh Hashanah greetings to Jews worldwide via Twitter and caught the Israelis off-guard. Now Rohani is on his way to address the UN General Assembly. Willy-nilly they are now a part of the diplomatic path for Syria and cannot just be ignored. That engagement allows the Iranian charm offensive to proceed as well on other fronts.

Israel is both winning and losing. It was Israeli intelligence intercepts – not US  – which led to Obama’s threatened strike. A strike by the US was definitely preferred by the Israelis though their objective was to maximise turbulence for as long as possible in Syria.  To be able to get the US to threaten a strike as they wished based on selective intelligence was a coup. Not to have the strike consummated was a setback. If the Iran/Russia influence grows and Assad is more secure than before, then these are also setbacks.

Turkey is losing. The Islamic government was perhaps the strongest supporter of a strike on Assad. Their dislike of Assad is so strong that they would even have supported a strike by Israel. But Turkey’s subservience to and support for all groups Islamic ( Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt) is now becoming an embarrassment for Europe. Their application to join the EU is – I think – already lost.

The Great Game has a long way to run. It has been running for a thousand years and there are many more twists and turns to come. Many pieces will be lost and won by all the parties and there may never be a check-mate and a clear winner in this game. Having a clear winner always requires having a clear loser. Having a clear loser in the Middle East is not always a good thing.

And so a stalemate is probably the closest there is to a win-win.

German helicopter probes US consulate in Frankfurt for spy station

September 10, 2013

The US NSA’s wide-spread surveillance of friends and foes alike revealed by the Snowden documents is creating an atmosphere of distrust. South American countries are not pleased after the revelations that leading politicians have had their e-mails intercepted and hacked by the NSA. Of course many of the intelligence agencies in European countries have been complicit in the indiscriminate surveillance. Now it seems that the NSA have also probably been helping US companies by spying on their rivals such as Petrobras, SWIFT and other foreign firms.

In Sweden you haven’t really arrived if you aren’t important enough to have had your e-mail intercepted!

But suspicions are now running very high about all US installations.

The Local:

A German police helicopter has flown low over the US Consulate in Frankfurt looking for a secret listening station, prompting a call from the American ambassador to Germany’s foreign ministry.

The helicopter circled low over America’s consulate in Frankfurt on August 28th on the orders of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff Ronald Pofalla, magazine Focus reported on Monday.

Pofalla had declared the NSA spying scandal – sparked by whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations of a mass surveillance programme – over. 

But the helicopter flight, whose mission was to gather evidence of the supposed spying station – hints at the German government’s lack of trust in its ally’s spying activities on German soil. The helicopter slowly flew twice over the consulate at a height of 60 metres to photograph the site, Focus reported. 

Probably the only safe course is now for any country and for any company with US competitors to assume that they are being spied upon and to assume that every US government installation abroad is involved in the surveillance.

Are Obama / Kerry preparing a face-saving exit?

September 9, 2013

UPDATE!

Looks like my speculations  this morning may not be so far off the mark:

Washington Post: 

Syria ‘welcomes’ Russia proposal on chemical arms

========================================================================

It might just be wishful thinking on my part or it could be that Obama and Kerry are preparing a face-saving path to abandoning their strike on Syria rather than suffer a humiliating rejection in the the US House of Representatives.

For the first time that I have noticed, Kerry is now “offering” Assad a way to avoid a strike – by giving up all his chemical weapons. I could be mistaken but I perceive the beginnings of a change in Kerry’s strident tone. The rhetoric for a strike from Kerry and Obama is not letting up – but it’s the first time that a possibility of a strike not happening has been mentioned. Of course if Congress and the Senate back Obama then there will be no need to back down and the exit path will become unnecessary. I also noted some US voices suggesting that Obama could postpone any vote in Congress until after some – so far – undefined moves in the UN as being advocated by the EU and other countries (including Russia). Putin for his part has also indicated that if the UN were shown the evidence and concurred then he would also support some – as yet unspecified – UN action against Syria.

Of course Assad would not/could not just give up his chemical weapons and certainly not to the US. But it is not unthinkable that he may be willing to put them under the control of his Russian allies. So if a suitable “formula” is evolved where the Russians perhaps “take charge” of Assad’s chemical weapons or in some other way secure their “safe-keeping” then Kerry and Obama could claim that their objective of preventing any further such attacks has been achieved. And if in addition the Russians are acting – or seen to be acting – on behalf of the UN in arranging such a scenario it would not only give Assad a way of saving face but also give the US the possibility to claim that Assad has conceded the supremacy of the UN. More importantly if such a scenario were being arranged it would give Obama and Kerry a “reason” for waiting with the vote in the House and for waiting with the strike.

If , in spite of the “red line having been crossed”, a US strike can be avoided by Assad ceding control of his chemical weapons then it seems to me to be something within the realm of negotiation. Especially when the benefits to the US of a very limited strike are not very evident. The benefits of such a strike  may mainly accrue to Al Qaida.

The key remains the US Congress. All “face saving” only becomes necessary and only comes into play if Obama expects to lose a vote in the House even after (and if) he has won a vote in the Senate. The next few days will tell if Obama’s rhetoric is holding sway in the House or whether he will need to use his exit strategy.

Abe wins and Rudd loses while Kerry lobbies for Obama’s war

September 8, 2013

It is a misty Autumn morning this Sunday and the last week has had its mix of stories. But a few small encouraging events are over-shadowed by the darkness of Obama’s determination to go to war. Abe won for Tokyo while Rudd lost for Abbott and Kerry lobbies the world for money and support for Obama’s war.

Shinzo Abe made a personal commitment to the IOC that the Fukushima radiation leaks were and would be under control. Tokyo was awarded the 2020 summer Olympic Games yesterday in Buenos Aires beating Istanbul by 60 votes to 36. Madrid had crept up to be perceived as a front runner with their low key, “low cost” games but the mood was not for “restraint”. Delegates were getting tired of financial crises. Moreover they were tired of doping scandals and these could not be ruled out in Madrid or Istanbul. And once Madrid lost to Istanbul in a run-off for second place, the Madrid support – especially from Europe and the Americas – was not ready to let the Games go to an Islamist country for the first time ever. Of Madrid’s initial 26 votes in the first round, only 10 went to Istanbul in the final voting. And that left Tokyo which is a good thing

In Australia, the bookies and the national polls turned out to be pretty well right. Kevin Rudd lost and Tony Abbott won as a consequence. But the Labour loss could have been much worse.  A clear majority in the Lower House for the Coalition but not in the Senate where they only secured the avoidance of a Red/Green majority. The Carbon Tax is toast but it will take a bit of horse trading in the Senate to finally bury it.  The peculiar nature of preference votes means that the Senate composition will not be firm for a few days and there will be some new Senators which could lead to some unusual alliances. The Greens will actually have an extra Senator but thier alliance with Labour may not be as clear-cut. The overbearing self-righteousness of Australian bureaucracy may begin to be curbed. Tony Abbott has already asked his bureaucrats to prepare to stop the Carbon Tax and to stop the asylum boats. The Carbon Tax may well go in 2014 and that is a good thing.

And in the meantime President Obama pursues his war with no objectives. He flew back to the US to shore up domestic support for his war on Syria. He is scheduled to make his weekly address on Tuesday and to have six interviews with leading news anchors broadcast on Monday. Remarkably it is the hawks and neo-cons in the US who are the strongest supporters of his war.. A “coalition of mutual contempt” according to the Atlantic.  John Kerry is travelling around Europe lobbying the European countries. His list of countries supporting the US is “now into double figures”. Even self-appointed policemen have to be paid and Kerry is also meeting with the Arab League in Paris today and its members have offered to pay for the entire cost of Obama’s war! A strike on Syria by the US seems inevitable and that is a bad thing.


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