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Longwood Gardens.  February, 2013.  Photo by joanneleon.




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News and Opinion


Brilliant austerity policies.

Britain loses AAA credit rating due to poor economic growth and continued austerity

The US-based credit rating agency Moody's Investors Service announced on Saturday their decision to downgrade their rating of the United Kingdom economy from AAA to AA1 - stating that lack of economic growth and austerity continuing into 2016 are to blame.
[...]
George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, said that the move to lower the credit rating was a "stark reminder" of the debt problems that the country is facing and that the government is planning to stick to it's original deficit reduction plan. He went on to say "Far from weakening our resolve to deliver our economic recovery plan, this decision redoubles it".

[Emphasis added]

Sequestration Budget Cuts Will Deepen Recession - Both Parties Reject Stimulus

James Heintz: President Obama and GOP focus on budget cutting instead of creating more employment

I don't know if this will be the outcome, but this is what I have always suspected would happen and it would explain why they are waiting until the very last minute to deal with the sequestration.  I don't think they will be so blatant. More likely, IMHO, is a scenario where they remove almost all the defense cuts and a much smaller percentage of the domestic cuts.  In other words, a typical type of Obama deal.  The fact that Obama is visiting the Hampton Roads area of Virginia today is a bad sign.  If we are lucky, they will cancel all of the cuts and ditch the entire sequestration for now, but it's inevitable that austerity will be back in some other form.
DOCUMENT: Bill filed today would remove defense cuts from sequestration

Three Republican congressmen - Rep. Rob Wittman (R-1st D), Rep. Scott Rigell (R-2nd D.) and Rep. Randy Forbes (R-4th D.)  - talked Monday to a packed house about sequestration’s effects on Hampton Roads and the state.
[...]
Rep. Forbes announced he'd introduced a bill (H.R.773) to remove the Department of Defense from sequestration and reduce the total size of the sequester by that amount.
Rep. Forbes said the health care bill and stimulus bills equal the amount being cut out of defense under sequestration.
On Tuesday, President Obama will be at Newport News Shipbuilding making his case for getting a deal. The yard, Virginia's largest industrial employer with more than 21,000 workers, has already felt the impact. The Pentagon put off this month's scheduled overhaul of the carrier USS Abraham Lincoln.

The Republicans kabuki is that they are ready to go forward with the cuts.  They will want the Democrats to be the ones canceling cuts.  Obama already told the country during the presidential debates that the defense cuts are "not going to happen" but what about the domestic cuts?  It seems a bit too late to craft an entirely new bill with complex spending cuts, CBO analysis, etc.  or something that adds new revenue.  Maybe the Republicans will make a promise to do revenue hikes later if the defense cuts are removed from the sequester right now.  Or maybe, yet again, the Senate will have written a revenue bill and the House will end up accepting it.
Virginia Republicans: Stop sequester

Virginia Beach and nearby Newport News, represented by Rigell in the 2nd Congressional District, is now at the center of the sequester debate as it’s home to a large population of active and retired servicemen and women, military interests and the Newport News shipyard. President Barack Obama will use the shipyard as a backdrop on Tuesday to call on Congress to stop the sequester.
[...]
At this point, Rigell, Forbes and Wittman represent a small minority of Republicans who are actively trying to stop the sequester before its implementation. [...]

Many in the Republican Conference believe that the sequester should be allowed to take hold even if that means some pain in their communities. They think that’s the only way Washington will ever tighten its belt. And they are completely unwilling to swallow any hint of tax hikes Obama insists on as part of a deal to avoid or replace the sequester.
But even among the three Virginia congressmen, there are divisions on how to approach the cuts. Wittman said there are smarter ways to address deficit reduction that don’t hurt the military. Rigell said there are ways to cut defense spending that wouldn’t be as harmful as the sequester. Forbes said he introduced a bill that would take national defense spending out of the sequester altogether and not cut spending elsewhere.

Rigell even has expressed openness to new revenues as part of the mix to avoid the sequester and get the budget back on track.

“What I do not want to happen [is] for the House go into lockdown and reject the Senate bill but not offer an alternative — that’s unacceptable to me. At that point, I’ll call our leadership out and say, ‘No, we’ve got to produce a bill,’” Rigell said after the forum.

Top Senate Republican doubts damage from defense cuts

Cornyn conceded that until now he had been parroting what Defense Secretary Leon Panetta continuously warns -- that automatic, government-wide cuts could jeopardize national security.

But the veteran senator said he looked into it and will now argue that even if the cuts go through on March 1, the Pentagon will still see its budget go up.
[...]
Still, Senate Republicans are considering a proposal this week that could alleviate some impacts of the cuts by giving the president flexibility to decide where they would occur.
[...]
Part of the reason Senate GOP leaders have not decided yet how broad that flexibility should be -- whether it should apply just to the defense cuts, as many Republicans want, or to domestic cuts as well — is due to differences in opinion among Republicans over how much power to give the president.
[...]
A competing Senate Democratic proposal would replace the automatic spending cuts with a mix of tax increases on wealthier Americans and more targeted spending reductions than those currently required. Democratic leaders believe it will get more than 50 votes -- so they will be able to claim it won a majority in the chamber -- but will fall short of the 60 it would need to win Senate approval.

Delaying the sequester and putting through some of the cuts with some revenue -- death by a thousand cuts is the Senate Dems plan.  Letting Obama move money between buckets in the Senate Republicans plan.
Dems, GOP tee up rival sequester bills in Senate as deadline nears

The Senate will vote this week on two proposals to stop the cuts, known in Washington as the sequester, but neither version is expected to pass, according to Senate aides.
[...]
The dueling votes could take place as soon as Wednesday, but a senior Democratic aide said Thursday is the more likely date. Each proposal must garner 60 votes to pass, and there is no Plan B.

The Republican plan would maintain the level of spending reductions but give President Obama more flexibility to minimize their impact on military preparedness and other vital government services, such as air traffic control and airport security screening.

The Democratic package, meanwhile, would freeze the sequester through the end of the calendar year and offset the $110 billion cost with an even mix of spending cuts and tax increases.

I've read about these Afghan militias before.  I am trying to remember if they are the ones connected with the warlords.  I feel pretty certain that some bloggers will write about this to clarify, including the folks over at emptywheel.
NATO says there’s no evidence to support Afghan allegations of misconduct by US special forces

The decision followed a meeting of Karzai’s National Security Council during which Wardak provincial governor Abdul Majid Khogyani and local officials said that Afghans working with U.S. special forces were responsible for the disappearance of at least nine men and the murder of an Afghan university student. Khogyani and the other officials also presented allegations that the Afghans working for the American special forces were involved in abusive behavior.

The armed Afghans are not part of the Afghan security forces, the government has said, implying that they are members of secret militias working with the American special forces.

Yep, Jim over at emptywheel is on it.  I knew I had read about these militias.  They are called "arbakai".  Jim cites this article from September, 2012, which I've excerpted below.  This could turn out to be another embarrassing situation for the administration since the government has denied the existence of this program.
Afghans Protest Vengeful Militias

In both cases, residents complained that the groups received support and protection from American Special Operations forces, which the United States military has denied. The Special Operations units train arbakai militiamen only when they are enrolled in official programs for recruits of the Afghan Local Police, American officials insist.

That training program has recently been suspended, however, in the wake of a series of so-called insider killings of American and other international coalition soldiers by members of the Afghan security forces and recruits. In the past month, 15 coalition service members have been killed that way, including five members of Special Operations units, according to the American military.

In much of Kunduz Province, in northern Afghanistan, the arbakai militias support the government against what had been a growing presence of Taliban insurgents, especially in Pashtun areas. Many residents complain that the groups often operate outside the law, extort unofficial taxes from local residents and are prone to act on the basis of ethnic loyalties.

Gov. Anwar Jegdalak of Kunduz called the attackers in Kanam members of “irresponsible armed militias” who had accused the villagers here of cooperating with the Taliban and sheltering them. Officials said “a large group” of gunmen carried out the attack; villagers said they counted 20 to 30.

Kanam is one of many small pockets of ethnic Pashtun people in Kunduz, where the police and militias are dominated by ethnic Tajiks, who make up the majority of residents. Many of those groups are led by former warlords and aligned with their former militia commanders, who now hold high government positions.

Jim White over at emptywheel.
Karzai Expells Special Operations Forces From Afghan Province Over Program at Heart of Petraeus’ “Success”

Today’s story in the Washington Post covering Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s decree expelling US Special Operations forces from a province just outside Kabul illustrates how completely the upper levels of the US military have been ignoring reality in Afghanistan. The Post reported that the “announcement appeared to come as a surprise to American military officials”. For those who have been paying attention, it has been clear that Afghanistan has been upset for years over a program tied to US Special Operations forces that develops what amounts to private militias which are sometimes under the Afghan Local Police name and sometimes not. These groups are particularly lawless and have been reported to participate in revenge killings, disappearances and torture (which are also the specialties of JSOC). And this program was at the heart of David Petraeus’ operations when he took over in Afghanistan

Hacking incidents and the rise of the new Chinese bogeyman
Many are beginning to realise that the military digital complex can be more profitable than its industrial complex.

This all makes for excellent drama. State sponsored villainy, high-tech skullduggery and victims facing clear and present danger. [...]

Does China have a military unit dedicated to Computer Network Operations (CNO)? Certainly. But this is perfectly normal for most developed countries today. [...]

So the existence of a dedicated Chinese unit signals intelligence and cyberwar is not news, [...]

The new policy document pushed through by the White House includes the promise of "Enhanced Domestic Law Enforcement Operations" and "Improved Domestic Legislations" as two of its five strategic action items.

The penny drops.

First comes the bogeyman, and then comes the protection we need - more legislation and more law enforcement. Again, this all has a strangely familiar feeling.

There is a huge lobby in the US desperate to reclaim engineering jobs that have been shipped to China, and there is a huge lobby of hawks who are beginning to realise that the military digital complex can be even more profitable than the military industrial complex was. There is a powerful lobby that constantly pushes for increased regulation and there is an ever-increasing call for freedom-restricting technology that limits anonymity and online whistle-blowing.

All of them benefit from hyping the Chinese-Cyber-Demon and we would be well advised to make sure that we don't let scary headlines, injured pride and our desire for online safety make us give up essential online liberties. We have made this mistake before.

The coming collapse of Iran sanctions
Imposing secondary sanctions on non-US entities transacting with Iran could backfire on Washington if implemented.

Besides exaggerating sanctions' impact on Iranian attitudes and decision-making, this argument ignores potentially fatal flaws in the US-led sanctions regime itself - flaws highlighted by ongoing developments in Europe and Asia, and that are likely to prompt the erosion, if not outright collapse of America's sanctions policy.      

Virtually since the 1979 Iranian revolution, US administrations have imposed unilateral sanctions against the Islamic Republic. These measures, though, have not significantly damaged Iran's economy and have certainly not changed Iranian policies Washington doesn't like.

[...] Beyond unilateral and multilateral measures against Iran's economy, the US has, since 1996, threatened to impose "secondary" sanctions against third-country entities doing business with the Islamic Republic. [...]

Secondary sanctions are a legal and political house of cards. They almost certainly violate American commitments under the World Trade Organisation, which allows members to cut trade with states they deem national security threats but not to sanction other members over lawful business conducted in third countries. If challenged on the issue in the WTO's Dispute Resolution Mechanism, Washington would surely lose.  
[...]
If, at congressional insistence, the administration later this year demands that China sharply cut Iranian oil imports and that Chinese banks stop virtually any Iran-related transactions, Beijing will say no. If Washington retreats, the deterrent effect of secondary sanctions will erode rapidly. Iran's oil exports are rising again, largely from Chinese demand.

How Israel legitimises torturing Palestinians to death
Israel's policy of torture has left many dead and completely lacks accountability.

When it announced his death, Israeli Prison Service claimed Arafat - who leaves a pregnant widow and two children - died from cardiac arrest. However, the subsequent autopsy found no blood clot in his heart. In fact, the autopsy concluded that Arafat, who turned 30 this year, was in fine cardiovascular health.

What the final autopsy did find, however, was that Jaradat had been pummelled by repeated blows to his chest and body and had sustained a total of six broken bones in his spine, arms and legs; his lips lacerated; his face badly bruised.
[...]
Arafat was killed under torture. Torture is routine. But the following is not routine: upon the announcement of his death, thousands of Palestinians, already unified in solidarity with the arduous struggle waged by Palestinian hunger striking prisoners, responded in force. At least 3,000 prisoners refused their meals; thousands poured into the streets of Gaza and impassioned demonstrations erupted across the West Bank. While the State of Israel continues to deploy its deadly arsenal of weapons to repress Palestinians, the banality of the evil of this regime is, as it will always be, eclipsed by the mighty Palestinian will for self-determination.

Karzai expels US forces from Afghan province
Afghan government accuses US special forces in Maidan Wardak province of furthering "instability and insecurity".

"Such actions have caused local public resentment and hatred," the statement read.

Sunday's announcement comes hours after two bombings targeting intelligence officials and police in Logar province, which was also mentioned as an area of concern during the weekly security meeting.

The ministry of defence has been assigned to insure that US special forces withdraw from Wardak within two weeks time.

DiFi Makes Her Point … Maybe?

The day after the stench of torture ruined Zero Dark Thirty’s Oscar hopes, Reuters reports that the Senate Intelligence Committee has dropped its probe of the movie.

One day after “Zero Dark Thirty” failed to win major awards at the Oscars, a congressional aide said on Monday the Senate Intelligence Committee has closed its inquiry into the filmmakers’ contacts with the Central Intelligence Agency.

The intelligence committee gathered more information from the CIA, film director Kathryn Bigelow, and screenwriter Mark Boal and will not take further action, according to the aide, who requested anonymity.

From wikipedia's featured list:
Highest Grossing Films

Traditionally, the highest-grossing films have been war films, musicals and historical dramas, but franchise films have been the best performers in the 21st century, especially the Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean series. The only films in the top ten that do not form a franchise are the top two, Avatar and Titanic, both directed by James Cameron. Disney has enjoyed success with its Pixar brand, of which the Toy Story films have been the best performers. James Bond, Star Wars, and Indiana Jones are still among the highest-grossing franchises, despite starting over thirty years ago. Gone with the Wind (poster pictured) was the highest-grossing film for 25 years and, adjusting for inflation, would remain so.





Blog Posts and Tweets of Interest


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