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Sleepwalking Again – PaulCraigRoberts.org

Sleepwalking Again – PaulCraigRoberts.org.

February 22, 2014Paul Craig Roberts

On the 100th Anniversary of World War 1, the Western powers are again sleepwalking into destructive conflict. Hegemonic ambition has Washington interfering in the internal affairs of Ukraine, but developments seem to be moving beyond Washington’s control.

Regime change in Ukraine for a mere $5 billion dollars would be a bargain compared to the massive sums squandered in Iraq ($3,000 billion), Afghanistan ($3,000 billion), Somalia, and Libya, or the money Washington is wasting murdering people with drones in Pakistan and Yemen, or the money Washington has spent supporting al Qaeda in Syria, or the massive sums Washington has wasted surrounding Iran with 40 military bases and several fleets in the Persian Gulf in an effort to terrorize Iran into submission.

So far, in Washington’s attempt at regime change in Ukraine large numbers of Americans are not being killed and maimed. Only Ukrainians are dying, all the better for Washington as the deaths are blamed on the Ukrainian government that the US has targeted for overthrow.

The problem with Washington’s plot to overthrow the elected government of Ukraine and install its minions is twofold: The chosen US puppets have lost control of the protests to armed radical elements with historical links to nazism, and Russia regards an EU/NATO takeover of Ukraine as a strategic threat to Russian independence.

Washington overlooked that the financially viable part of today’s Ukraine consists of historical Russian provinces in the east and south that the Soviet leadership merged into Ukraine in order to dilute the fascist elements in western Ukraine that fought for Adolf Hitler against the Soviet Union. It is these ultra-nationalist elements with nazi roots, not Washington’s chosen puppets, who are now in charge of the armed rebellion in Western Ukraine.

If the democratically elected Ukraine government is overthrown, the eastern and southern parts would rejoin Russia. The western part would be looted by Western bankers and corporations, and the NATO Ukraine bases would be targeted by Russian Iskander missiles.

It would be a defeat for Washington and their gullible Ukrainian dupes to see half of the country return to Russia. To save face, Washington might provoke a great power confrontation, which could be the end of all of us.

My series of articles on the situation in Ukraine resulted in a number of interviews from Canada to Russia, with more scheduled. It also produced emotional rants from people of Ukrainian descent whose delusions are impenetrable by facts. Deranged Russophobes dismissed as propaganda the easily verifiable report of Assistant Secretary of State Nuland’s public address last December, in which she boasted that Washington had spent $5 billion preparing Ukraine to be aligned with Washington’s interests. Protest sympathizers claim that the intercepted telephone call between Nuland and the US Ambassador in Ukraine, in which the two US officials chose the government that would be installed following the coup, is a fake.

One person actually suggested that my position should be aligned with the “sincerity of the Kiev students,” not with the facts.

Some Trekkers and Trekkies were more concerned that I used an improper title for Spock than they were with the prospect of great power confrontation. The point of my article flew off into space and missed planet Earth.

Spock’s mental powers were the best weapon that Starship Enterprise had. Among my graduate school friends, Spock was known as Dr. Spock, because he was the cool, calm, and unemotional member of the crew who could diagnose the problem and save the situation.

There are no Spocks in the US or any Western government and certainly not among the Ukrainian protesters.

I have often wondered if Spock’s Vulcan ancestry was Gene Roddenberry’s way of underlining by contrast the fragility of human reason. In the context of modern military technology, is it possible for life to survive humanity’s penchant for emotion to trump reason and for self-delusion to prevail over factual reality?

The risk of reporting US drone strikes – Features – Al Jazeera English

The risk of reporting US drone strikes – Features – Al Jazeera English.

Yemen researcher says he received a death threat after investigating deadly wedding-convoy attack.

 Last updated: 12 Feb 2014 14:17

A photo of alleged victims killed in a December 12, 2013 drone strike in central Yemen [Reprieve]
The disturbing phone call came after Baraa Shiban investigated a drone strike on a wedding party that killed 12 people in central Yemen in December. A clear message was delivered to the human rights researcher over the phone after a major news network reported the story based on his research.

“The caller refused to identify himself and threatened my life if I continued my investigation of the strike,” Shiban told Al Jazeera, noting he conducted similar studies of US drone operations in the past, but had never before received death threats.

Shiban works for the UK-based human rights group Reprieve and interviewed survivors two days after the attack. His investigation ascertained that 12 people were killed after four missiles were fired at the convoy. There were also 14 victims with severe wounds; some lost limbs, others their eyes.

Along with the eyewitness testimony, Shiban gained access to video and still images of the alleged victims of the drone strike. Photos of the aftermath of drone attacks – whether in the tribal regions of Pakistan, or in the deserts of Yemen – are rarely captured. Most occur in obscure regions with hostile terrain, making access difficult for journalists and activists.

I was in the front car and I heard a huge explosion. I went out to see what happened and suddenly another two missiles hit the place. Everyone in the car behind us got killed.

– Mohammed Abdullah al-Taisi,drone victim

 

On December 12, 2013 , about 60 people were traveling in a convoy to attend the wedding near the city of Radda, in Yemen’s central province of al-Bayda. At about 4:30pm, the drivers halted the vehicles when they heard an aircraft approach.

“I was in the front car and I heard a huge explosion,” recalled victim Mohammed Abdullah al-Taisi. “I went out to see what happened and suddenly another two missiles hit the place. Everyone in the car behind us got killed.”

Equipped with the evidence Shiban went to the media, and a day later he received the call threatening his life.

“Just because the people were in a convoy of trucks, they were assumed to be militants and the decision was made to target them,” he said. “The people who died were shepherds and farmers. There was clearly a wedding party.”

Fear and anger

Drones piloted by the CIA and the Pentagon have operated in Yemen since 2002, killing hundreds of people – mostly members of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, but also dozens of civilians.

Peter Schaapveld is psychologist who traveled to Yemen to study the programme’s effects. He told British members of parliament in March 2013 that the constant presence of drones in the skies was causing a “psychological emergency” in the country.

“What I saw in Yemen was deeply disturbing,” Schaapveld said . “Entire communities – including young children who are the next generation of Yemenis – are being traumatised and re-traumatised by drones. Not only is this having truly awful immediate effects, but the psychological damage done will outlast any counter programme and surely outweigh any possible benefits.”

Reports of the missile strike, on a seemingly innocent wedding party, have infuriated nearly every sphere of Yemeni society, including many of the country’s top politicians.

Family members of drone strike victim Aref al-Shafee [Abubakr al-Shamahi/Reprieve] 

“The fact that the Yemeni parliament has just passed a resolution banning drones in Yemeni airspace, and that the National Dialogue has criminalised the use of drones for extrajudicial killing, demonstrates that a national consensus has been reached that these brutal and unlawful attacks are unacceptable,” Shiban said.

Reprieve said the US government is now investigating the strike in Radda following Shiban’s work. The human rights group said the Defense Department was targeting Shawqi Ali Ahmed al-Badani , whom the White House accused of organising a bomb plot that led to 19 US embassies being closed last year.

‘US values and policy’

Caitlan Hayden, a spokeswoman for the US National Security Council, noted that Yemen’s government had stated the targets of the operation were “dangerous” senior al-Qaeda figures. She said she couldn’t comment on this specific attack.

“We take extraordinary care to make sure that our counterterrorism actions are in accordance with all applicable domestic and international law and that they are consistent with US values and policy … And when we believe that civilians may have been killed, we investigate thoroughly,” Hayden told Al Jazeera .

But one survivor of the December drone attack, Salam al-Taisi, insisted no one from the wedding party was involved in terrorism. “None of the victims had anything to do with al-Qaeda or any other group. They were all from the area and all were poor villagers,” he said.

The deaths in Baydah have more resonance considering President Barrack Obama’s announcement upholding the “highest standard” when conducting operations using unmanned aerial vehicles.

“Before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured,” Obama said in a speech at the National Defense University on May 23, 2013.

Yemen’s security forces have also scrutinised Shiban’s work on the US drone programme. But it’s not just the Yemeni police that have shown interest in him.

Baraa Shiban from human rights group Reprieve [Al Jazeera]

On September 23 last year, he arrived in the United Kingdom with the intention of speaking at a conference at Chatham House . But at Gatwick Airport he was stopped by police and questioned under Schedule 7 of the British government’s Terrorism Act 2000.

“I was asked about my investigation of the covert US drone attacks in Yemen. When I asked why the question was relevant, I was threatened with further detention,” Shiban said.

Drone-reporting dangers

Apparent attempts to suppress any kind of criticism of US covert operations are not new.

In Pakistan, an anti-drone campaigner set to testify before European parliaments has gone missing in the city of Rawalpindi. Kareem Khan , whose brother and teenage son were killed in a drone attack in December 2009, was picked up at his home by security forces in the early hours of February 5, his lawyer said. He hasn’t been heard from since.

Shiban said he is also well aware that the path he’s on now could lead to the same fate of Yemen-based journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaye .

On December 17, 2009, the Yemeni military announced it had successfully destroyed an al-Qaeda camp in al-Majala in Abyan province. But after travelling to the town, Shaye discovered it wasn’t at all an operation carried out by his government, but in fact a US cruise missile strike. And he discovered the people who died weren’t al-Qaeda fighters but innocent civilians. Among the 41 people killed, more than two-thirds were women and children.

Shaye was arrested on August 6, 2010 by Yemeni security forces and charged that October with aiding al-Qaeda by recruiting new operatives for the group. By January 2011, he was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison.

International human rights groups condemned his trial as a sham , which couldn’t provide any credible evidence of his alleged al-Qaeda associations. Shaye was being punished for exposing a US covert operation that resulted in a massacre.

After being incarcerated for nearly three years, Shaye was pardoned in July 2013 but one of the conditions of his release is he must not leave the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, for two years.

Asked about Shaye’s case, and the threats he’s received to his own life, Shiban said he’s determined to carry on highlighting the impact of drone strikes.

“This is an issue of vital importance to Yemen’s future, and I and other human rights activists will continue to defend the basic rights and democratic wishes of the Yemeni people,” he said.

Manipulating the Data on CIA Drone Strikes against Civilians: Leaked Pakistani Document contradicts US Accounts | Global Research

Manipulating the Data on CIA Drone Strikes against Civilians: Leaked Pakistani Document contradicts US Accounts | Global Research.

 

drone

A secret Pakistani government document contradicts several of the US’s rare public statements on the CIA’s drone strikes in Pakistan.

The document outlines over 300 drone strikes dating between 2006 and September 2013. It is compiled by local officials using a network of on-the-ground agents and informants reporting to the FATA Secretariat, the tribal administration.

It is the fullest official record of the covert campaign yet to emerge, providing the dates, precise times and exact locations of drone strikes, as well as casualty estimates. The document abruptly stops routinely recording civilian casualties after the start of 2009, but overall casualty estimates continue to be comparable to independent estimates such as those compiled by the Bureau.

Yahya al Libi - As Sahab Media

The US description of Yahya al Libi’s death differs from the version in the Pakistani document.

Related story – Leaked official document records 330 drone strikes in Pakistan

Neither US nor Pakistani officials routinely acknowledge strikes or provide estimates of casualties. But occasionally the US’s view of individual strikes emerges – usually through an anonymous official quoted in a mainstream media outlet.

The secret document shows that Pakistani officials sometimes filed a rather different assessment from the US’s occasional public statements.

For example, in June 2012, the CIA launched the latest in a series of attempts to kill Abu Yahya al Libi, al Qaeda’s second-in-command. Congressional aides told Los Angeles Times reporter Ken Dilanian that after the strike, the CIA showed video of the strike to politicians who are charged with overseeing the drone programme. This showed a missile killing ‘just one person’ – al Libi.

But contemporaneous media reports, as well as later field investigations by Amnesty Internationaland the Bureau, found a far higher casualty toll. These found that the attack was a sequence of three strikes, including an attack on rescuers. Amnesty found that 10-16 died in total. Six were civilians who had come to rescue the injured after the initial blast.

A named CIA spokesman strongly rejected the allegation that lawmakers might have been shown only partial footage of the strike, calling the claim ‘baseless’. But the Pakistan government document records 10 deaths.

Related story – Bureau investigation finds fresh evidence of drone strikes on rescuers

The Pakistani document also contradicts the US account of a strike in 2011. Drones attacked a large gathering of men who had gathered in a public space in Dattakhel one morning in March 2011. The Pakistani government was quick to protest that the attack had killed tribal elders who had gathered for a jirga – a traditional form of mediation.

US officials speaking on condition of anonymity have poured scorn on this claim. ‘These people weren’t gathering for a bake sale. They were terrorists,’ one told the New York Times the day after the strike.

The New York Times later published the results of the Bureau’s first field investigation into drones, naming 19 individuals killed in this strike. An unnamed US official who briefed the paper continued to insist the dead men were legitimate targets.

‘The fact is that a large group of heavily armed men, some of whom were clearly connected to al Qaeda and all of whom acted in a manner consistent with AQ-linked militants, were killed,’ he said.

Related story – Get the data: Pakistani government’s secret report on drone strikes

The leaked Pakistani document stops regularly recording civilian casualties in January 2009, but occasionally uses ambiguous language that suggests non-combatants were among the dead. For this strike, the document appears to privately echo what the Pakistani government was already saying in public: ‘The attack was carried out on a Jirga and it is feared that all the killed were local tribesmen.’

A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Bureau yesterday: ‘While we will not be commenting on the details or locations of purported counterterrorism operations, there is a wide gap between US assessments of civilian casualties and non-governmental assessments.’

He added: ‘There is no credible information to substantiate claims that US counterterrorism actions have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of innocent civilians, but there are parties interested in spreading such disinformation.’

In the case of the jirga strike, multiple international organisations – including a field investigation byAssociated Press – have identified civilian casualties, and Pakistan’s army chief complained about a high civilian death toll. The case has been used as a basis for a complaint to the UN Human Rights Council and a legal challenge in England.

The US government has protested over the claims of civilian casualties but has never indicated who it was targeting.

The same New York Times article contains a third example. The anonymous official rejected the Bureau’s description of a separate strike, on December 6 2010.

Journalists reported that a drone fired on a vehicle carrying three alleged militants as it drove through the village of Khushali. ‘The sources say one militant was able to escape from the car and hide inside a nearby shop. The drone then fired two more missiles at the shop killing the militant, as well as two civilians inside,’ CNN reported.

Presented with this finding, the unnamed official told the New York Times: ‘There were two strikes that day, and neither matches the claim. One targeted a car, killing two militants who had visited several Al Qaeda compounds that day; the other killed a handful of militants, including a top AQ [al Qaeda] terrorist.’

But again the document appears to contradict this, noting: ‘At about 1840 hours US Drone carried out missile strike at a shop in village Khushali Tori Khel, Tehsil Mirali, North Waziristan Agency’.

Chris Woods, who ran the Bureau’s drones project at the time and is now writing a book about armed drones, said: ‘When the Bureau first challenged CIA claims of zero drone civilian casualties in 2011, anonymous US officials used the New York Times to disparage some of its findings. An official denied, for example, that a shop had deliberately been targeted in December 2010. This secret FATA document, never intended for public release, indicates that a shop was indeed hit that day.’

He continued: ‘The CIA’s ongoing role in the Pakistan drone campaign appears to be the greatest obstacle to much-needed transparency in cases such as this.’

The US official told the Bureau: ‘US counter-terrorism operations are precise, lawful, and effective. The United States takes extraordinary care to make sure that its counterterrorism actions are in accordance with all applicable domestic and international law, and that they are consistent with US values and policy.’

But other observers criticised the US policy of releasing information through selective leaks rather than a more routine disclosure policy.

Mustafa Qadri, the Amnesty International researcher who investigated strikes for the organisation’s report, Will I Be Next?, said: ‘Ultimately the US bears primary responsibility for disclosing the full extent of its drone program, the facts about how many have been killed and the factual and legal basis for these deaths.’

Follow Alice Ross on Twitter and sign up to the drones newsletter

US physically hacks 100,000 foreign computers – Americas – Al Jazeera English

US physically hacks 100,000 foreign computers – Americas – Al Jazeera English.

The United States has implanted devices in nearly 100,000 computers to spy on institutions such as the Chinese and Russian military, EU trade groups and agencies within Saudi Arabia, India and Pakistan.

The New York Times on Tuesday cited documents from the National Security Agency, computer experts and US officials stating that the NSA uses radio wave technology to gain access to otherwise encrypted computers or machines that are not connected to the internet.

The Times reported that the agency has been inserting tiny circuit boards into computers for several years. The technology allows non-internet connected computers to be hacked, and bypasses encryption and anti-spyware systems that otherwise prevent hacking over the world wide web.

The NSA calls the effort an “active defence”‘ and has used the technology to monitor units of the Chinese and Russian armies, drug cartels, trade institutions inside the European Union, and US allies including Saudi Arabia, India and Pakistan, the Times reported.

Among the most frequent targets has been the Chinese army, the Times reported.

The United States has accused the Chinese Army of launching regular attacks on American industrial and military targets, often to steal secrets or intellectual property.

US officials have protested when Chinese attackers have placed similar software on computer systems of US companies or government agencies.

The NSA said the technology has not been used in computers in the US.

“NSA’s activities are focused and specifically deployed against – and only against – valid foreign intelligence targets in response to intelligence requirements,” Vanee Vines, an agency spokeswoman, said in a statement to the Times.

“We do not use foreign intelligence capabilities to steal the trade secrets of foreign companies on behalf of – or give intelligence we collect to – US companies to enhance their international competitiveness or increase their bottom line.”

How the U.S. Employs Overseas Sweatshops to Produce Government Uniforms | A Lightning War for Liberty

How the U.S. Employs Overseas Sweatshops to Produce Government Uniforms | A Lightning War for Liberty.

The following article from the New York Times is extraordinarily important as it perfectly highlights the incredible hypocrisy of the U.S. government when it comes to overseas slave labor and human rights. While the Obama Administration (and the ones that came before it) publicly espouse self-important platitudes about our dedication to humanitarianism, when it comes down to practicing what we preach, our government fails miserably and is directly responsible for immense human suffering.

Let’s get down to some facts. The U.S. government is one of the largest buyers of clothing from overseas factories at over $1.5 billion per year. To start, considering our so-called “leaders” are supposedly so concerned about the state of the U.S. economy, why aren’t we spending the money here at home at U.S. factories? If we don’t have the capacity, why don’t we build the capacity? After all, if we need the uniforms anyway, and it is at the taxpayers expense, wouldn’t it make sense to at least ensure production at home and create some jobs? If a private business wants to produce overseas that’s fine, but you’d think the government would be a little more interested in boosting domestic industry.

However, the above is just a minor issue. Not only does the U.S. government spend most of its money for clothing at overseas factories, but it employs some of the most egregious human rights abusers in the process. Child labor, beatings, restrictions on bathroom brakes, padlocked exits and much more is routine practice at these factories. Even worse, in the few instances in which the government is required to actually use U.S. labor, they just contract with prisons for less than $2 per hour using domestic slave labor. Then, when questions start to get asked, government agencies actually go out of their way to keep the factory lists out of the public’s eye, even going so far as denying requests when pressed for information by members of Congress.

Sadly, as usual, at the end of the day this is all about profits and money. Money government officials will claim is being saved by the taxpayer, but in reality is just being funneled to well connected bureaucrats.

From the New York Times:

WASHINGTON — One of the world’s biggest clothing buyers, the United States government spends more than $1.5 billion a year at factories overseas, acquiring everything from the royal blue shirts worn by airport security workers to the olive button-downs required for forest rangers and the camouflage pants sold to troops on military bases.

But even though the Obama administration has called on Western buyers to use their purchasing power to push for improved industry working conditions after several workplace disasters over the last 14 months, the American government has done little to adjust its own shopping habits.

Labor Department officials say that federal agencies have “zero tolerance” for using overseas plants that break local laws, but American government suppliers in countries including Bangladesh, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Mexico, Pakistan and Vietnam show a pattern of legal violations and harsh working conditions, according to audits and interviews at factories. Among them: padlocked fire exits, buildings at risk of collapse, falsified wage records and repeated hand punctures from sewing needles when workers were pushed to hurry up.

In Bangladesh, shirts with Marine Corps logos sold in military stores were made at DK Knitwear, where child laborers made up a third of the work force, according to a 2010 audit that led some vendors to cut ties with the plant.Managers punched workers for missed production quotas, and the plant had no functioning alarm system despite previous fires, auditors said.Many of the problems remain, according to another audit this year and recent interviews with workers.

At Zongtex Garment Manufacturing in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, which makes clothes sold by the Army and Air Force, an audit conducted this year found nearly two dozen under-age workers, some as young as 15. Several of them described in interviews with The New York Times how they were instructed to hide from inspectors.

“Sometimes people soil themselves at their sewing machines,” one worker said, because of restrictions on bathroom breaks.

And there is no law prohibiting the federal government from buying clothes produced overseas under unsafe or abusive conditions.

Why am I not surprised…

“It doesn’t exist for the exact same reason that American consumers still buy from sweatshops,” said Daniel Gordon, a former top federal procurement official who now works at George Washington University Law School. “The government cares most about getting the best price.”

Labor and State Department officials have encouraged retailers to participate in strengthening rules on factory conditions in Bangladesh — home to one of the largest and most dangerous garment industries. But defense officials this month helped kill a legislative measure that would have required military stores, which last year made more than $485 million in profit, to comply with such rules because they said the $500,000 annual cost was too expensive.

As usual, it is all about the money. You think average Americans are seeing any of that massive profit? Believe me, someone is and it’s not you.

At Manta Apparels, for example, which makes uniforms for the General Services Administration, employees said beatings are common and fire exits are kept chained except when auditors visit. The local press has described Manta as one of the most repressive factories in the country. A top labor advocate, Aminul Islam, was organizing there in 2010 when he was first arrested by the police and tortured. In April 2012, he was found dead, a hole drilled below his right knee and his ankles crushed.

Conditions like those are possible partly because American government agencies usually do not know which factories supply their goods or are reluctant to reveal them. Soon after a fire killed at least 112 people at the Tazreen Fashions factory in Bangladesh in November 2012, several members of Congress asked various agencies for factory addresses. Of the seven agencies her office contacted, Representative Carolyn Maloney, Democrat of New York, said only the Department of the Interior turned over its list.

Federal officials still have to navigate a tangle of rules. Defense officials, for instance, who spend roughly $2 billion annually on military uniforms, are required by a World War II-era rule called the Berry Amendment to have most of them made in the United States. In recent years, Congress has pressured defense officials to cut costs on uniforms. Increasingly, the department has turned to federal prisons, where wages are under $2 per hour. Federal inmates this year stitched more than $100 million worth of military uniforms.

The Marine Corps and Navy still do not require audits of these factories. The Air Force and Army exchanges do, but the audits can come from retailers, and defense officials fail to do routine spot checks to confirm their accuracy.

The Marine Corps and Navy still do not require audits of these factories. The Air Force and Army exchanges do, but the audits can come from retailers, and defense officials fail to do routine spot checks to confirm their accuracy.

For now, Bangladesh’s garment sector continues to grow, as do purchases from one of its bulk buyers. In the year since Tazreen burned down, American military stores have shipped even more clothes from Bangladesh.

This is the human equivalent of factory farming and every decent American citizen should be appalled that this is happening on multiple levels. Please share this post to raise awareness.

Full article here.

In Liberty,
Mike

The Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity : World Danger Spots for 2014

The Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity : World Danger Spots for 2014.

written by eric margolis
Kiev Nov

Where are the world’s most dangerous places in 2014?

*Mostly forgotten, but the highly dangerous, Indian-controlled portion of disputed Kashmir. Rebellion against Indian rule by Kashmir’s majority Muslims is again boiling. Over 1.6 million Indian and Pakistani troops, backed by nuclear weapons, are in confrontation. Skirmishing along Kashmir’s Line of Control is frequent. The nuclear strike forces of both India and Pakistan are on a perilous hair-trigger alert, with about three minutes warning of an enemy attack.

A false warning of incoming missiles or aircraft, a border clash, or a massive offensive by India exasperated by guerilla attacks from Pakistan could set off a war that could kill millions and pollute the entire planet with radioactive dust. India and Pakistan aside, hardly anyone even thinks about beautiful, remote, perilous Kashmir.

*Korea’s Demilitarized Zone, the world’s second most dangerous place where 1.5 million North and South Korean troops, and 28,000 Americans, face off. Tension crackles along the DMZ. Some 11,000 N Korean guns and rockets are targeted on South Korea’s capitol, Seoul. The North is believed to have 4-6 crude nuclear devices that could hit S Korea or Japan.

In December, North Korea’s new ruler, Kim Jong-un, had his powerful uncle arrested and shot. This was another sign of the Pyongyang regime’s instability, and dangerously erratic behavior by youthful hothead leader, Kim Jong-un. War could erupt anytime along the DMZ. Just as likely, North Korea could collapse, sending 25 million starving northerners to seek refuge in South Korea, something that Seoul dreads.

*The dear old Mideast. Syria may continue disintegrating into warring mini-states. The US, Saudi, Israel, and Turkey sparked the uprising against Syrian ruler Bashar Assad to punish Iran, causing millions of refugees to flood the region. This after the US invasion of Iraq caused 3 million refugees. Iran and Saudi Arabia (backed by secret ally Israel) will fight over Syria’s bleeding body as this once lovely country is relentlessly destroyed. Yemen will continue to burn.

Intense efforts are underway by American neocons and their hired hands in Congress to get the US to attack Iran, or at least force the US to go to war against Iran if Israel initiates a conflict. Meanwhile, Israel is gearing up for another invasion of Lebanon aimed at destroying Hezbollah, and it may intervene directly in Syria. Egypt, now ruled by a fascist military junta, is working hand in glove with Israel and Saudi Arabia. The so-called Israel-Palestinian peace agreement is a very bad joke, a Mideast Kabuki dance in which no one believes.

*East Africa – A new cauldron of trouble. Efforts by Washington to forge a US-led African protectorate of South Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, Somalia – dominated by close US ally Ethiopia – have run into trouble. All are dictatorships that are rent by tribal, ethnic and regional problems.

Watch the new US Africa Command get drawn ever deeper into East, Central and North Africa, all regions, by no coincidence, with oil.

*China Sea – China has blundered into open confrontation with Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines over its claims to islets in the East China Sea. This has caused the US to beef up its Pacific forces and alliances. Japanese and Chinese warplanes and ships play a daily game of chicken around the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. China’s aggressive stance is causing Japan to increase military spending and may, along with North Korean threats, cause Japan to deploy nuclear weapons – which it can produce in only 90 days.

Chinese, usually deft, cautious diplomats, have alarmed much of East Asia for no good purpose. China’s government has been foolishly fanning the flames of nationalism among young people. All this resonates with the same type of idiotic, primitive behavior that unleashed World War I. The clock is ticking down rapidly.

*Strife-torn Ukraine is another powder keg. Its western half wants to join Europe; the Russian-speaking eastern half wants to reunite with Russia. The West is busy stirring the pot in Kiev. Moscow is furious and sees nefarious western plots to begin tearing apart the Russian Federation, which is beset by rebellion in the Caucasus. All this threatens a clash between Russia and NATO. Diplomacy, not subversion, is urgently needed.

Flickr/Oxlaey.com

Top 10 Global Risks for 2014 | Zero Hedge

Top 10 Global Risks for 2014 | Zero Hedge.

With another new year upon us mortals, we thought it is time again to check out the top 10 global risks ranked by Oxford Analytica.  Not surprisingly, from a geographical perspective, a majority of the top global risks come from the Middle East region (at 40%) and the Asia-Pacific region, specifically China, and North Korea (at 30%).  U.S., Europe, and Russia round out the rest.

 

 

Source: Oxford Analytica

 

The ranking is mostly based on the potential size of global impact.  However, putting them under the lens of probability, a difference picture emerges (see graph below)

 

Chart Source: Oxford Analytica

While the economic related risks such as a sharp slowdown in China, EU disintegration, and deflation in the U.S may rein supreme in terms of global impact, the probability of them materializing is actually less likely than the geopolitical risk in the Middle East (Syria, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan), and Asia (China, North Korea).

 

In terms of the type of risk, seven out of the top 10 risks are geopolitical, while only three are financial or economic.  So if we look at probability from this perspective, we are more likely to see a war or regime topple before another financial crisis rippling through the world again.

 

Regarding the ‘U.S. Deflationary Trap’, the Fed said last month it would reduce its monthly asset purchases by $10 billion to $75 billion, while also expressed worries about inflation.  Meanwhile, Fed’s balance sheet has ballooned to $4 trillion, we seriously doubt the U.S. deflationary scenario after Fed’s helicoptered five years worth of QEs.

 

 

At this point, we at EconMatters believe that the Federal Reserve removing the Liquidity Punchbowl not because everything is fixed with the US economy, and we have fully recovered from the financial crisis of 2007, but because they have no other choice in the matter given the obvious asset bubbles they have created in the credit, bond and equity markets.

 

For now, the inflationary effect from QEs is mostly trapped in the stock and commodity markets (i.e. enriching the 1%), but inevitably it will manifest and spill over to the consumer side of things hitting hard on the 99%.  The removal of this liquidity, the resultant implications for financial markets, and potential future inflationary consequence of Fed’s QEs remain an under appreciated risk to the global economy in our humble opinion.

Pakistan’s government deflates dream of gas-powered cars | World news | theguardian.com

Pakistan’s government deflates dream of gas-powered cars | World news | theguardian.com.

CNG

Motorists in Pakistan are being forced to wait for hours to refuel their cars with compressed natural gas. Photograph: Farooq Naeem/AFP/Getty Images

When Pakistan first started promoting compressed natural gas to the nation’s motorists in the 1990s, the alternative to petrol seemed like a wonder fuel.

Getting motorists to convert their cars to run on cleaner, cheaper gas would cure urban pollution and lower demand for the imported oil that was gobbling the country’s foreign currency reserves.

Car owners loved it and today 80% of all cars in Pakistan run off compressed natural gas (CNG), according to the Natural and Bio Gas Vehicle Association (NGVA), a European lobby group. Only Iran has more gas cars running on the road.

But as the country struggles with a chronic gas shortage, Pakistan’s 20-year CNG experiment seems to have been thrown into reverse gear.

The government has introduced strict rationing. And there have even been discussions about shutting down thousands of gas stations for the whole of thewinter. “CNG is finished in Pakistan,” said Owais Qureshi, the owner of a handful of once lucrative gas stations in Rawalpindi. “I’m not going to invest any more money in it.”

It has been years since he has been legally allowed to sell and install CNG conversion “kits”: essentially large gas cylinders that are placed in the boot of a car to feed the engine. The system allows for cars to still be able to use petrol instead, if required.

Although CNG is popular with an estimated 2.8m motorists in Pakistan, according to the NGVA, the increasingly scarce resource is also in demand from other sectors – including the country’s factories and for domestic use.

“The government has been left with little choice but to put a lid on it because there simply isn’t much gas left,” said Farrukh Saleem, an economist. “It has been a massive policy failure because the government actively promoted CNG knowing full well that natural gas reserves would not last beyond 25 years.”

Successive governments heavily subsided CNG, ran schemes to encourage car conversions and dished out licences to political allies to build gas stations.

But abandoned stations are now a common sight around the country. So too are queues of hundreds of motorists waiting to fill their cars on Wednesdays – the last remaining day of the week in many places on which CNG is legally allowed to be sold.

This weekly ordeal for CNG users is compounded by a chronic lack of electricity, the other aspect of Pakistan’s energy crisis. And because electricity is needed to run the gas compressors used by CNG stations car re-filling grinds to a halt during the many power cuts.

But cash-strapped motorists are usually prepared to queue for many hours for the gas to be turned back on, with many saying they cannot afford the higher price of petrol.

“All over the world countries are promoting CNG but in Pakistan they are killing it off,” said Ghiyas Abdullah Paracha, chairman of All Pakistan CNG Association.

“If we don’t have enough gas we should import LNG [liquid natural gas].”

Pakistan, however, has failed to build the infrastructure needed to import large amounts of gas from overseas. A legal challenge by Pakistan’s activist supreme court killed off one scheme to build a massive LNG terminal in Karachi.

The other lifeline for Pakistan’s CNG supply is a controversial, multi-billion dollar pipeline to import natural gas from Iran. But Pakistan lacks the cash to build its half of the pipeline and the US has warned that completing the project would be in breach of US economic sanctions imposed on Iran.

Even as natural gas is being touted elsewhere in the world as a great alternative to petrol, soon it may be a mere memory in Pakistan.

Paracha fondly recalls the grand opening of the first CNG station in Karachi, which was built with foreign aid money. “It was the start of a revolution,” he said. “Before CNG came you could not see the sky in the cities because the air was so polluted.”

 

The Private Sector Is Borrowing Again – And That’s Not Good

The Private Sector Is Borrowing Again – And That’s Not Good.

Since at least the 1980s, US policy has been to convince us to borrow as much as possible on pretty much anything we could think of. This worked brilliantly until 2008, when homeowners, consumers and businesses hit a wall and private sector defaults began to exceed new loans. Another Great Depression was imminent.

But instead of allowing this natural cleansing process to run its course, governments around the world stepped into the breach themselves, borrowing tens of trillions of dollars to replace evaporating private sector debt. The idea, to the extent that there was one, was to buy time for traumatized consumers and businesses to relax a bit and start borrowing again.

This appears to be happening. The latest Fed Z.1 report shows overall US debt growing again, with the private sector leading the way.

US debt growth percent change 2013 v1

It’s not surprising that near-zero interest rates and trillions of dollars of newly-created currency would get people borrowing again. What is surprising is that anyone thinks this is a good thing. In 2013 total US debt, equity prices, household net worth, large-bank assets and derivatives books, and a long list of other debt-related measures pierced the records they set in 2007. In other words we’ve recreated the conditions that prevailed just before the world nearly fell apart.

Will the result be different this time? It’s hard to see how, especially since developed-world governments now have roughly twice as much debt as they did back then, so their ability to ride to the rescue will be limited.

As this is written the Fed is announcing that it will scale back its debt monetization to only $75 billion a month, or $900 billion a year. Its balance sheet, which just hit $4 trillion, will grow by nearly 25% in 2014, to nearly $5 trillion, which is a measure of how much new currency it is creating and pumping into the banking system.

The next stage of the plan is to get the banks to start lending this money, which would, through the magic of fractional reserves, produce loans in some large multiple of the original amount. So we might be on the verge of trading a nasty-but-comprehensible Kondratieff Winter for something a lot wilder.

 

The Strike that Rattled US-Pakistan Relations – Geopolitical Monitor

The Strike that Rattled US-Pakistan Relations – Geopolitical Monitor  (source) drone

US drone strikes have long been a sticking point in US-Pakistan relations. To the Obama administration, they are a key tool in the fight against terrorism, evident in the various high-ranking commanders they’ve eliminated from the regional militancy equation. To Islamabad, however, they represent a breach of state sovereignty, and their tendency to kill civilians serves to undermine government writ in Pakistan’s tribal territories.

If drone strikes are the crack running along the edifice of US-Pakistan relations, then US aid is the plaster used to mask it. The Obama administration quietly resumed a $1.6 billion military aid package to Pakistan last month. On hold since the 2011 Osama Bin Laden raid, the resumption suggested that Pakistan’s new Nawaz Sharif administration would defer back to the old dynamic of “US strikes, Pakistan condemns” with regards to the issue of extraterritorial drone strikes.

And it might have done just that if not for a case of poor timing. Last week, after four years of trying, the US managed to kill Hakimullah Mehsud, the leader of the Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP), in a drone attack in North Waziristan. The strike came days after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced that government negotiators were headed to the tribal areas to initiate a peace process; and weeks after Hakimullah himself told the BBC he would be willing to negotiate with Islamabad (albeit pushing an inflexible demand of establishing Sharia law throughout Pakistan).

The Hakimullah strike has plunged Prime Minister Sharif into a trap of his own making. He campaigned heavily on ending US drone strikes during the general election that swept him into power, and though his recent trip to Washington was long on praise for US-Pakistan cooperation and solidarity, he still made it clear to reporters that he had stressed the need for ending drone strikes in his talks with President Obama.

In another case of curious timing, the Sharif visit coincided with a leaked memo being published in the Washington Post. The memo in question outlined tacit cooperation from past Pakistani governments on US drone strikes within Pakistan.

All this serves to increase the potential severity of diplomatic fallout from the Hakimullah strike. Prime Minister Sharif has essentially left himself with no other option than to come down hard on Washington. He has already organized various high-level meetings with his army chief of staff and diplomats, with a stated aim of re-assessing Pakistan’s relationship with the United States. Opposition parties are also fanning the flames. Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) is calling for another blockade of NATO supply lines into Afghanistan, even threatening to act independently in its capacity as ruling party of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. The prospect of another shutdown of supply routes through Pakistan would probably be taken seriously by the Obama administration, as these routes are expected to play an important part in the scaling down of NATO troop levels in Afghanistan over the next year. Prime Minister Sharif has yet to comment one way or another on the PTI plan.

The other casualty of the Hakimullah strike is the nascent peace process, which some would argue was doomed to begin with given the fundamental incompatibility between the TTP’s demands of Sharia law and guarantees within the Pakistani constitution.  For one, the government’s impotence as a guarantor of security for a peace process has been laid bare. Whether one believes Prime Minister Sharif’s claims he received a US pledge to halt strikes during peace talks or not, the end result is the same: Washington believes that Pakistan should be fighting, not talking, with militants in its tribal regions.

Officials in Islamabad can thus condemn the fallacy of US foreign policy all they want, but it won’t change the fact that time is now needed for the TTP to come back to the negotiating table, and this intermediate period will likely be marked by a wave of reprisal attacks within Pakistan.

Some media outlets have suggested that the Hakimullah strike could actually end up assisting the peace process, pointing to the inflexibility of Hakimullah’s views and the existence of more amenable personalities waiting in the wings. Khan Said, also known as “Sajna,” is one cited example. He became the group’s second-in-command after Waliur Rehman was killed by a US drone strike in North Waziristan in 2013.

A more likely result in the short term however is that the new leader, whether Khan Said or Asmatullah Shaheen Bhittani, will defer to the more tried-and-tested method of going on the offensive to consolidate support within the movement. Peace offers, particularly those involving major concessions, generally extend from leaders with the personal authority to silence inevitable dissenters within their organization.  Ironically enough given his brutal modus operandi, Hakimullah Mehsud was more of a fit for peace than whoever his successor will be – at least for the time being.

In sum, the assassination of Hakimullah Mehsud has shifted the likelihood of success in TPP-Islamabad peace talks from “not likely” to “impossible” over the short term. It has also put Prime Minister Sharif on the spot, as he now must choose between being a leader who backs up his tough anti-drone strike rhetoric with action, or one whose rote objections ring as hollow as those who he recently replaced.

Whatever form his decision takes, it will definitely be setting the tone for future relations between Washington and Islamabad.

Zachary Fillingham is a contributor to Geopoliticalmonitor.com

via The Strike that Rattled US-Pakistan Relations – Geopolitical Monitor.

 

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