Hillary Weaves Her Web Around a New Batch of Prey

[Hillary’s favorite weapon is flattery.  Nothing is as exciting for these young individuals as the ceremonies and accolades they are now receiving.  They have probably been pre-screened for the desired personality traits suited to such an operation.  The Pakistan/US brainstorming is part of the American full spectrum assault upon Pakistan.]

Clinton Champions International Exchange Programs


FTC Easing the Way for Behavioral Advertising Aimed at Our Children

Brill: FTC Will Monitor Behavioral Ad Self-Regs

Commission will vet program for consumer ease of use

By John Eggerton — Broadcasting & Cable

Democratic Federal Trade Commission member Julie Brill gave ad trade associations a shout out for a recent behavioral advertising self-regulatory initiative, but said in general she has been underwhelmed by self-regulation in that area and that the FTC will be checking to see if the latest effort measures up.

That came in a speech this week in New York.

Two weeks ago, ad industry associations and the Better Business Bureau announced a set of self-regulatory principles for online behavioral advertising.

Those include affirmative efforts to educate consumers about behavioral marketing, creating clearer and more accessible disclosures, allowing for more consumer control of data collection, parental consent for behavioral advertising targeting kids under 13, consumer consent for “material changes” and use and programs to monitor compliance.

Advertisers are looking to head off calls for opt-in regimes, bans on targeted marketing to kids under 13, and perhaps older, and more.

In her speech, Commissioner Brill said the FTC would vet the program to see how easy it was for consumers to use, calling that a critical factor and saying if consumers don’t understand the controls provided, or can’t use them easily, “the program simply won’t be effective.” She said the commission will also be checking to see how “robust” enforcement is, and how widespread the participation is in the voluntary program.

The FTC is about to release a report on a proposed re-think of how it protects consumer privacy in the digital age.

Behind the report were its conclusions after a yearlong review that: collection of consumer information on and offline is “far more extensive” than some consumers are aware of, that consumers don’t have the ability or understanding to make informed decisions about data collection and use; that privacy is still important in a world linked by “ubiquitous” social networking; that there are benefits to consumer data collection because it allows for more personalized advertising and because it helps pay the freight for the free content consumers have come to expect online.

FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz has on more than one occasion pointed to the upside of behavioral advertising for just those reasons.

Brill also said the distinction between personally identifiable information–which gets heightened protection–and non-identifiable information is blurring.

She said the report would likely talk about “privacy by design,” or building privacy and security into the front end of the process; transparency about commercial data practices; consumer choice, and perhaps some kind of “do not track” mechanism. Brill said she would personally favor.

The report, she said, would be a framework for self-regulation and industry best practices and to provide information to policymakers.

The FTC has limited rulemaking authority, but there is privacy legislation in Congress that could still be modified to reflect suggestions from the FTC.

Obama in India Obvious Attempt to Turn the World Against China


Taking harder stance toward China, Obama lines up allies

Mark Landler and Sewell Chan, New York Times

Washington: The Obama administration, facing a confrontational relationship with China  on exchange rates, trade and security issues, is stiffening its approach toward Beijing, seeking allies to confront a newly assertive power that officials now say has little intention of working with the United States.

In a shift from its assiduous one-on-one courtship of Beijing, the administration is trying to line up coalitions — among China’s next-door neighbors and far-flung trading partners — to present Chinese leaders with a unified front on thorny issues like the currency and their country’s territorial claims in the South China Sea.

The advantages and limitations of this new approach were on display over the weekend at a meeting of the world’s largest economies in South Korea. The United States won support for a concrete pledge to reduce trade imbalances, which will put more pressure on China to allow its currency to rise in value.

But Germany, Italy and Russia balked at an American proposal to place numerical limits on these imbalances, a step that would have further isolated Beijing. That left the Treasury secretary, Timothy F. Geithner, to make an unscheduled stop in China on his way home from South Korea to discuss the deepening tensions over exchange rates with a top Chinese finance official.

Administration officials speak of an alarming loss of trust and confidence between China and the United States over the past two years, forcing them to scale back hopes of working with the Chinese on major challenges like climate change, nuclear nonproliferation and a new global economic order.

The latest source of tension is over reports that China is withholding shipments of rare-earth minerals, which the United States uses to make advanced equipment like guided missiles. Administration officials, clearly worried, said they did not know whether Beijing’s motivation was strategic or economic.

“This administration came in with one dominant idea: make China a global partner in facing global challenges,” said David Shambaugh, director of the China policy program at George Washington University. “China failed to step up and play that role. Now, they realize they’re dealing with an increasingly narrow-minded, self-interested, truculent, hyper-nationalist and powerful country.”

To counter what some officials view as a surge of Chinese triumphalism, the United States is reinvigorating cold war alliances with Japan and South Korea, and shoring up its presence elsewhere in Asia. This week, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will visit Vietnam for the second time in four months, to attend an East Asian summit meeting likely to be dominated by the China questions.

Next month, President Obama plans to tour four major Asian democracies — Japan, Indonesia, India and South Korea — while bypassing China. The itinerary is not meant as a snub: Mr. Obama has already been to Beijing once, and his visit to Indonesia has long been delayed. But the symbolism is not lost on administration officials.

Jeffrey A. Bader, a major China policy adviser in the White House, said China’s muscle-flexing became especially noticeable after the 2008 economic crisis, in part because Beijing’s faster rebound led to a “widespread judgment that the U.S. was a declining power and that China was a rising power.”

But the administration, he said, is determined “to effectively counteract that impression by renewing American leadership.”

Political factors at home have contributed to the administration’s tougher posture. With the economy sputtering and unemployment high, Beijing has become an all-purpose target. In this Congressional election season, candidates in at least 30 races are demonizing China as a threat to American jobs.

At a time of partisan paralysis in Congress, anger over China’s currency has been one of the few areas of bipartisan agreement, culminating in the House’s overwhelming vote in September to threaten China with tariffs on its exports if Beijing did not let its currency, the renminbi, appreciate.

The trouble is that China’s own domestic forces may cause it to dig in its heels. With the Communist Party embarking on a transfer of leadership from President Hu Jintao to his anointed successor, Xi Jinping, the leadership is wary of changes that could hobble China’s growth.

There are also increasingly sharp divisions between China’s civilian leaders and elements of the People’s Liberation Army. Many Chinese military officers are openly hostile toward the United States, convinced that its recent naval exercises in the Yellow Sea amount to a policy of encircling China.

Even the administration’s efforts to collaborate with China on climate change and nonproliferation are viewed with suspicion by some in Beijing.

Mr. Obama’s aides, many of them veterans of the Clinton years, understand that especially on economic issues, there are elements of brinkmanship in the relationship, which can imply more acrimony than actually exists.

But the White House was concerned enough that last month it sent a high-level delegation to Beijing that included Mr. Bader; Lawrence H. Summers, the departing director of the National Economic Council; and Thomas E. Donilon, who has since been named national security adviser.

“We were struck by the seriousness with which they shared our commitment to managing differences and recognizing that our two countries were going to have a very large effect on the global economy,” Mr. Summers said.

Just before the meeting, China began allowing the renminbi to rise at a somewhat faster rate, though its total appreciation, since Beijing announced in June that it would loosen exchange-rate controls, still amounts to less than 3 percent. Economists estimate that the currency is undervalued by at least 20 percent.

Meanwhile, trade tensions between the two sides are flaring anew. The administration recently agreed to investigate charges by the United Steelworkers that China was violating trade laws with its state support of clean-energy technologies. That prompted China’s top energy official, Zhang Guobao, to accuse the administration of trying to win votes — a barb that angered White House officials.

Of the halt in shipments of rare-earth minerals, Mr. Summers said, “There are serious questions, both in the economic and in the strategy realm, that are going to require close study within our government.”

Beijing had earlier withheld these shipments to Japan, after a spat over a Chinese fishing vessel that collided with Japanese patrol boats near disputed islands. It was one of several recent provocative moves by Beijing toward its neighbors — including one that prompted the administration to enter the fray.

In Hanoi in July, Mrs. Clinton said the United States would help facilitate talks between Beijing and its neighbors over disputed islands in the South China Sea. Chinese officials were livid when it became clear that the United States had lined up 12 countries behind the American position.

With President Hu set to visit Washington early next year, administration officials said Mrs. Clinton would strike a more harmonious note in Asia this week. For now, they said, the United States feels it has made its point.

“The signal to Beijing ought to be clear,” Mr. Shambaugh said. “The U.S. has other closer, deeper friends in the region.”

Is Death of Nabucco Bringing “Al CIA da” and Ergenekon Together in Turkey?

The clear and present danger


<center>The clear and present danger  <br><i>by</i> <br>AYDOĞAN VATANDAŞ*</center> - Nearly four-and-a-half months have passed since the whole Mavi Marmara incident. There is no longer any real reason to continue making calculations about who came out on top.

Nearly four-and-a-half months have passed since the whole Mavi Marmara incident. There is no longer any real reason to continue making calculations about who came out on top.

What we need to do now is look towards the future and figure out how we can emerge from the situation with the least amount of damage possible. First of all, there have been well-known efforts by Jewish lobbies — which have great influence over the US Congress — to have the İHH (Humanitarian Aid Foundation) officially recognized as a terrorist group. In fact, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) efforts on this front are continuing. In general, these sorts of lobbies have expended a great deal of energy through their network of influence over the US media to create the perception that the İHH is somehow connected to al-Qaeda.

Following efforts to create the appearance of ties between the İHH and al-Qaeda, there was an effort to create the perception of some sort of organic relationship between the İHH and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party). For instance, the July 17, 2010 issue of The New York Times featured a large report on its front page saying, among other things, that the AK Party was behind the whole Mavi Marmara incident. The journalist who wrote the article was Dan Bilefski. His previous article for The New York Times had been a very critical piece in which he criticized the legitimacy of the ongoing Ergenekon investigation and case. The title of the article on the Mavi Marmara incident was as follows: “Sponsor of Flotilla Tied to Elite of Turkey.”

An article published in the Oct. 21 issue of the Haaretz newspaper indicated there is proof that the Gaza aid flotilla did receive assistance from the Turkish government. According to Haaretz, evidence taken from computers seized during the raid of the flotilla showed that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and other top government authorities had lent the Mavi Marmara aid flotilla assistance. This information, in fact, came from reports taken during a meeting in İstanbul two weeks before the raid, on May 16, 2010.

Deeper cooperation against al-Qaeda

As many may recall, Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MİT) Undersecretary Hakan Fidan, who went to Iraq in September, met some time before that with his colleague from the American CIA, Leon Panetta. The CIA sent a message via Fidan to Ankara, the message being in fact a proposal for deeper cooperation against al-Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbullah, as well as the al-Qaeda’s various extensions throughout Iraq. The message could actually be read thus: “If you help us in the struggle against al-Qaeda, we could be of help to you against the PKK.” A short time after news of this made its way into the media, both America and England issued warnings to their citizens, particularly those headed for France and Germany, to watch out for terror attacks. After these warnings were issued, intelligence agencies in Pakistan were also put on high alarm.

A while after this, a Pakistani intelligence authority speaking to The Associated Press (AP) claimed that dozens of Muslims with European citizenship had gathered in Pakistan’s lawless border areas, where they were being trained for future attacks on European soil. He said that these particular people had been chosen by al-Qaeda because they could enter and exit Europe easily (due to their citizenship), and that amongst those being trained in Pakistan were Chechens, Uzbeks, Arabs and Turks. But most importantly, this same Pakistani intelligence agent said amongst the “terrorist trainees” was an F-16 pilot who had been, at one point, on duty in the Turkish Air Force.

This source, whom the AP declined to identify by name, asserted that al-Qaeda placed much importance on this Turkish officer, saying, “What we learn from this is that even  very well trained people can join the ranks of al-Qaeda here.”

What should really be considered here is that the source for this particular piece of news was the AP. Also, it was the AP that brought the allegations of there being organic relations between the İHH and the AK Party to the media’s agenda. The AP published an interview with French judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere — who has been involved in many terrorism cases and who is investigating the İHH — directly following the Mavi Marmara incident. Bruguiere, alleging that the İHH had an “open and long-term relationship with terrorism and jihad,” said, “In essence, ever since bin Laden began to target the American nation, they have been helping out al-Qaeda.” Bruguiere, talking about a man named Fatih Kamil who worked for the İHH, said that Kamil had been arrested in France in 1999 and that one of his followers, Ahmed Ressam, was arrested and sentenced to 22 years in prison after an attempted bombing attack on the Los Angeles Airport, also in 1999. The French judge then also recalled that in 1998, during the Feb. 28 process, a search that took place at the İHH center in İstanbul turned up weapons and falsified documents, then alleging that the organization was also sending money, weapons and fighters to war zones such as Bosnia and Afghanistan. Bruguiere, who is responsible for investigating the financial sources of terror groups operating in the US and the EU, alleged in his interview that he believed the fact that the İHH was still operating, despite the many suspicions surrounding it, was owing to the fact that it is was receiving assistance from the Turkish government.

Links between İHH and al-Qaeda

And so the AP, which worked hard to complete the perception of links between the İHH and al-Qaeda in the wake of the Mavi Marmara incident, now turned its attention to creating the perception that a Turkish Air Force pilot had joined the ranks of al-Qaeda trainees in Pakistan.

Before long, the Turkish flag even showed up in the well-known “South Park” animated series, in relation this time with al-Qaeda. In the “Jersey Things” episode of the series broadcast on Oct. 13, al-Qaeda was shown attacking in airplanes that had the Turkish flag. In the episode, when more and more people from New Jersey moved to South Park, the locals of South Park ask for help from Osama bin Laden to rid the city of its new denizens. Bin Laden does come to their help, carrying out an attack that kills the New Jerseyites using airplanes that bear Arabic writing and Turkish flags on them. This incident was shortly followed by another of images on a DVD cover prepared by the New York Christian Action Network showing a Turkish flag planted in the burning rubble of the Sept.11 attack on the Twin Towers.

In short, it is now clear that in the wake of the Mavi Marmara incident, there has been an attempt to place a giant net over the head of Turkey. In the meantime, it should be noted that al-Qaeda’s number two man, Ayman al-Zawahiri, has threatened Turkey three times over the past two months. Al-Qaeda perceives not only the ruling AK Party but also the entire Gülen community as a threat in Turkey.

An attack on European soil carried out by al-Qaeda that would include a former F-16 pilot from the Turkish Air Forces would:

1. Badly damage Turkey’s international esteem and image. It would also appear to confirm ties between the İHH and al-Qaeda, as well as between the İHH and the AK Party.

2.  Turn Turkey into an open target for certain countries.

3. Help to create the perception of just how correct Supreme Military Council (YAŞ) decisions were, if in fact said officer from the air forces was proved to have been thrown out of the military as a result of a YAŞ decision.

4. No doubt it would, most importantly, render the legitimacy of the AK Party’s international relations questionable and lead to a desire to see a redesign of Turkish internal politics.

The al-Qaeda-Ergenekon links in the 2003 HSBC attack and the synagogue attack should not be forgotten. To wit, sometimes organizations that never come together at all can work together by adhering to the idea of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

*Aydoğan Vatandaş is a journalist based in New York and the author of several books, including “Armageddon.”


“Wherever Law ends Tyranny begins”

John_Locke1 “Wherever Law ends Tyranny begins”

The assessment of English philosopher John Locke (1632 – 1704)  that wherever law ends tyranny begins seems to be borne out by present-day reality as concerns are mounting over the implications of the legal vacuum, weak policy guidance and lack of civilian control under which the American War on Terror  — with at least the silent , if at times awkward, consent of its NATO allies —  is conducted.

The muddled legal, institutional accountability and moral environment around this War on Terror since the  9/11 attacks on New York, have global implication far beyond the issue of the security of the US.

Some elements of the way this war is being conducted, like seemingly indiscriminate attacks by American unmanned aerial vehicles(UAVs) or drones, according to an article by Fred Branfman, prompted Philip Alston, the United Nations special representative on extrajudicial executions, to  state that “this strongly asserted but ill-defined licence to kill without accountability is not an entitlement which the USA or other states can have without doing grave damage to the rules designed to protect the right to life and prevent extrajudicial executions”.

In the same article Branfman writes that the “notion that a handful of US military and CIA officials have the right to unilaterally and secretly murder anyone they choose in any nation on earth, without even outside knowledge let alone oversight, is deeply troubling to anyone with a conscience, belief in democracy, or respect for international law”.

A UN report earlier this year stated that “some have suggested that drones as such are prohibited weapons under international humanitarian law because they cause, or have the effect of causing, necessarily indiscriminate killings of civilians, such as those in the vicinity of the targeted person”.

Not only a remote-control war

It is, however not only these remote-control attacks on funeral processions in Pakistan from as far away as 7 000 km that are problematic. Different reports quote different figures, but the US now has, according to a June report in the Washington Post Special Operations forces (SOF) “deployed in 75 countries, compared with about 60 at the beginning of last year. In addition to units that have spent years in the Philippines and Colombia, teams are operating in Yemen and elsewhere in the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia”.

It is estimated that some 13 000 SOF troops are deployed world-wide in 40% of the 192 countries that make up the United Nations.

These SOF units operate under top-secret conditions off so-called killing lists (compiled by a secret bureaucratic process) and according to an official quoted by the Washington Post the Special Operations capabilities requested by the White House go beyond unilateral strikes and include the training of local counter-terrorism forces and joint operations with them. ” In Yemen, for example we are doing al three.”

In September of this year there were also reports about the deployment of a fleet of US Predator B drones along the US border with Mexico aimed at the illegal drug trade and the cultural and linguistic threats Mexican migrants pose to the US leading to what Professor Juanita Darling of San Francisco State University calls “a feeling of increased militarisation on the border”.

Blurring of mandates

Referring to the blurring of chains of command and mandates of various instruments of state the New York Times in December last year reported: “The political consensus in support of the drone programme, its antiseptic, high-tech appeal and its secrecy have obscured just how radical it is. For the first time in history, a civilian intelligence agency is using robots to carry out a military mission, selecting people for killing in a country where the United States is not officially at war.”

According to one former intelligence official “the extraordinary power ceded to the CIA operations directorate … evoked serious concerns in the intelligence community. It allowed the directorate to collect the intelligence on potential targets in (Pakistan’s) Federally Administered Tribal Areas, interpret its own intelligence and then make lethal decisions based on that interpretation – all without any outside check on the judgments it was making, even from the CIA’s own directorate of intelligence”.

At the same time Tom Englehardt reports on his TomDispatch.com-site: “…Oh, and keep in mind that more than two-thirds of the IC’s intelligence programmes are controlled by the Pentagon, which also means control over a major chunk of the combined intelligence budget, announced at $75 billion (2 1/2 times the size it was on Sept. 10, 2001, according to Priest and Arkin), but undoubtedly far larger).

“And when it comes to the Pentagon, that’s just a start. Massive expansion in all directions has been its m.o. since 9/11.  Its soaring budget hit about $700 billion for fiscal year  2010 and is projected to hit $726 billion in fiscal year 2011.  Some experts claim, however, that the real figure may come closer to the trillion-dollar mark when all aspects of national security are factored in.  Not surprisingly, it has taken over a spectrum of State Department-controlled civilian activities, ranging from humanitarian relief and development (aka “nation-building”) to actual diplomacy.  And don’t forget its growing roles as a domestic-disaster manager and a global arms dealer, or even as a Green Revolution energy innovator. “

What about the cyber war

The legal and policy challenges the US Department of Defence (DOD) — which has created a US Cyber Command — and other national governments face in dealing with the increasing threat of cyber war was also highlighted by a panel discussion hosted by theHeritage Foundation in August this year.

It came to the conclusion that: “The United States is hamstrung in defending itself in cyberspace by a lack of policies and legal framework for waging war in the new military domain.”

The national and international laws of armed conflict that govern conventional warfare don’t adequately address issues raised about fighting a war online with digital weapons against enemies who cannot be identified, according to this panel of government and private-sector experts.panelists said.

Offensive action by the military will require policy decisions and legal authorities that have not yet been made, said Herb Lin, chief scientist on the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board at the National Academy’s National Research Council.

At present the US National Security Agency’s (NSA) “warrantless dragnet surveillance” programme, is being challenged in the Appeal Court. The case follows on reports in December of last year that the NSA has been domestically intercepting the phone calls and Internet communications of millions of ordinary Americans in what is claimed to be in violation of the privacy safeguards established by Congress and the US Constitution.

At the same time there are increasing tensions between Washington and members of the European Union over   insistence by the Americans for  access to information  on international internet transactions concluded by European citizens.

From the UK The Telegraph reports on moves that are afoot by Britain’s Home Office to revive plans that will allow security services and the police to spy on the activities of every Briton who uses a phone or the internet.

The newspaper reports that the “move was buried in the Government’s Strategic Defence and Security Review, which revealed: We will introduce a programme to preserve the ability of the security, intelligence and law enforcement agencies to obtain communication data and to intercept communications within the appropriate legal framework.

“This programme is required to keep up with changing technology and to maintain capabilities that are vital to the work these agencies do to protect the public.

“Communications data provides evidence in court to secure convictions of those engaged in activities that cause serious harm. It has played a role in every major Security Service counter-terrorism operation and in 95 per cent of all serious organised crime investigations.

“We will legislate to put in place the necessary regulations and safeguards to ensure that our response to this technology challenge is compatible with the Government’s approach to information storage and civil liberties.

Guy Herbert, general secretary of the No2ID campaign group, reportedly said: “We should not be surprised that the interests of bureaucratic empires outrank liberty.

Not the end of the list

This article but scratches the surface of the issue of the legal, policy and oversight vacuum in which present-day warfare — which, more often than not, is not on a state-on-state basis —  is developing.

Other aspects of it include:

The handling of prisoners of war:  HYPERLINK “http://harpers.org/archive/2010/10/hbc-90007739” ;  HYPERLINK “http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/05/21/AR2009052103483.html” ;  HYPERLINK “http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1010/43649.html#ixzz133KC1LAu“.

The strain it puts on civil-military relations:  HYPERLINK “http://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/articles/6774/over-thehorizon-warning-signs-in-u-s-civil-military-relations” http://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/articles/6774/over-thehorizon-warning-signs-in-u-s-civil-military-relations

To what extent the privatisation of war is creating problems in enforcing legal accountability for acts of war:  HYPERLINK “http://www.alternet.org/story/148007/” http://www.alternet.org/story/148007/

The extent to which one country passes laws to conduct war on terror impacts on other jurisdictions:  HYPERLINK “http://www.gasandoil.com/goc/company/cnm102852.htm” http://www.gasandoil.com/goc/company/cnm102852.htm

(Next week we will look at the cost and the effectiveness of the War on Terror)

Former Russian PM: Obama’s ‘reset’ with Moscow is good for Putin, bad for human rights

The Obama administration is ignoring, and thereby enabling, the Russian government’s gross abuse of human rights and its gutting of the country’s  democracy, according to Russia’s former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov.

“We have no democracy at all. We don’t have any future of a democratic state. Everything has been lost, everything has been taken from the people by the authorities,” Kasyanov said in a wide ranging interview with Foreign Policy. “The power has replaced all institutions … like Parliament, like independent judiciary, like free media, etc. That’s already obvious for everyone.”

The former Russian head of government, who was ousted by current Prime Minister Vladimir Putinin 2004, is on a mission this week to send a two-fold message to U.S.-based Russia watchers: that the upcoming elections next year in Russia will not be free and fair, and that the “reset” policy of the Obama administration has wrongly caused the United States to abandon its role as a vocal critic of Russian democratic and human rights abuses.

“We would like our friends in the West, in Europe and the United States, those who are interested in a democratic Russia… we would like these friends just to open their mouths,” Kasyanov said, explaining that he will meet with academics and experts at the German Marshall Fund, the Council on Foreign Relations, Columbia University, and other places. He neither sought nor was granted any meetings with U.S. government officials.

Kasyanov said that he supports the substantive aspects of President Obama’s reset policy, such as cooperation on non-proliferation, but that a parallel track should be established to simultaneously exert pressure on Russian leadership to adhere to basic standards when it comes to human rights and freedom of expression.

“I would wish the reset process would become a little bit more principled, rather than closing its eyes to everything that’s going on Russia in the sphere of public life and in the sphere of civil society,” he said. “You shouldn’t just change your principles, the values your government is standing on.”

He said that U.S. diplomats at various levels of the Obama administration are ignoring negative trends in Russia in the hope of avoiding even minor confrontations with the Kremlin that might upset the warming of bilateral ties.

“They just don’t criticize anything, they don’t produce any reports on any unacceptable developments… It’s not principled, now it looks like the administration closes it eyes on anything that’s going on in Russia,” he said.

Right now, independent organizations are not allowed to participate in elections and virtually no new political group has been allowed to register itself as a recognized entity since 2004, according to Kasyanov. There is undue pressure on Russian non-governmental groups, such the arrest and trial of organizers who displayed a controversial art exhibit at the Moscow’s Andrei Sakharov Community Center, a case that is now being referred to the European Court of Human Rights.

France and Germany are meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on such issues, but they are operating under the illusion that there could be some significant break between him and Putin on such issues, according to Kasyanov.

“What we need is just general support from the West… We need moral support,” he said. “Right now, [Russian citizens] feel that Americans have just given up on Russia, that they are not interested at all.”

Kasyanov dismissed the working group on human rights being led by the NSC’s Mike McFaul and the Kremlin’s Vladislav Surkov. McFaul explained the Obama administration’s approach to Russian human rights in October 2009, saying, “We came to a conclusion that we need a reset in this respect too and we should give up the old approach that had been troubling Russian-American partnership.”

“This Commission blah blah blah discussing human rights, that’s imitation, that is not useful operation. That shows to Russians that the U.S. government has chosen a different path, not human rights and democracy. It’s absolutely the wrong thing to do,” Kasyanov said.

As for his take on the relationship between Medvedev and Putin, who some see as increasingly divergent on key issues, he explained, “Their relations are very simple, boss and senior assistant who temporarily occupies the position of president of the country.”

When asked if he thinks Putin will run for President in 2012, he said, “I wouldn’t say ‘run,’ just step in.”

UPDATE: A State Department officials confirms that Kasyanov was offered a meeting with Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Dan Russel, but that the meeting didn’t happen due to scheduling issues.

Don’t Oversell an EU-Russia Reset

By Calvin Garner
Staff Editor
October 25, 2010

On October 18-19, French, German, and Russian heads of state met at the Deauville Summit to discuss future military and economic cooperation between the EU, NATO, and Russia. Some observers in the U.S. and European media have likened the meeting and the promise of future cooperation to the start of an EU-Russia reset, similar to the US strategy that started in March 2009. Advocates of the reset point to a string of policy successes and a general trend of moderation in Russian foreign policy over the last 20 months as reasons why a similar policy would be good for Europe.

Since Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin ascended to the presidency in 1999, the main goals of the Russian state have become clear: reverse the privatization and decentralization of power that occurred in the 1990s and consolidate political control within the Kremlin; reclaim Russia’s role as a major player on the world stage; and reassert dominance over the states of the former Soviet Union. Both the EU and the U.S. find all of these goals problematic.

While the U.S. reset policy has produced some successes, EU leaders should be very clear about what a Russia-reset can and cannot do for Europe. The EU should not expect that Russia, if engaged by an EU policy reset, would come to view its strategic objectives any differently. An examination of the basis for U.S.-Russia reset and what it has accomplished shows why.

The U.S.-Russia reset was based on reducing the acrimony between the two countries, whose diplomatic relationship was at a post-Cold War nadir, and identifying areas of mutual interest. These objectives represent the low-hanging fruit of international diplomacy. Moreover, Russian and U.S. political elites implicitly accept that there are some very big areas of policy difference, but that both sides are best served by focusing on other issues for the time being.

How has the policy been successful? Russia has signed the new START Treaty, which will renew the US-Russian nuclear arms reduction regime, allowed the passage of NATO troops and materiel over and across its territory, begun to participate in international efforts to isolate Iran, and indicated that it may support an anti-ballistic missile system in Europe. These developments benefit U.S. interests and, as such, should be viewed as wins for the Obama administration. But when weighing the benefits of the reset, Europe should bear in mind that none of the US policy victories of the last 20 months undermine or suggest a change in the fundamental Russian interests outlined above. There is no evidence to suggest, for example, that Russia would not favor another gas war with Ukraine, shooting war with Georgia, or vitriolic anti-Western rhetoric if it thought it would serve its core interests.

What have been the failures of the reset policy? Perhaps most significantly, the reset has been unable to slow the marginalization of opposition parties or the silencing of dissenting voices within Russia. Former Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov is currently touring the US trying to spread this message. Making a policy “reset” the cornerstone of EU-Russian relations threatens to leave out the important issue of human and civil rights abuses that are perpetrated or condoned by the Russian government. If Europeans care about moving Russia closer to liberal democratic norms, they need to understand that “reset” has not been an effective way to do so.

Reset proponents often identify a general moderation in Russian behavior on the international stage over the last two years. But there are two reasons why this period of moderation should not be misinterpreted. First, two years is a very short time to draw conclusions about efficacy of policy or to predict future behavior in international relations. In fact, two years ago the shooting in Georgia had just barely stopped; indeed, Russia continues to station troops in the Georgian separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, thus violating the territorial integrity of a sovereign state. Second, there are compelling reasons other than US action that explain why Russian policy has moderated in the past few years.

Lower commodity prices have resulted in a weakened financial position for Russia, an exporter of oil and natural gas, limiting its ability to throw its weight around internationally. Additionally, Russia no longer faces an openly hostile government in Ukraine and trounced Georgia, a Western ally and anti-Russian government, in the 2008 war. Finally, with each passing year, dissent is further extinguished in Russia and opposition parties have less chance to mount anything but token resistance to Putin’s policies. If any of these developments were to be reversed, there is no reason to think that the moderation trend would not be immediately reversed as the Kremlin turned to its previous tactics to protect core interests.

There is always a case to be made for improving the tone of diplomatic relations and finding areas of compromise, and an EU-Russia reset may do just that. Such steps may even lead to resolution of thornier issues. But neither the Europeans nor the Americans should think that the fruits of a “reset” policy mean that Russia has changed its goals or its tactics in a fundamental way.

This image is being used under Creative Commons licensing. The original source
can be found here.

Protestors: Putin must go

Protestors: Putin must go


Russian Press – Behind the Headlines
© Alex Steffler

Novaya Gazeta

Eight hundred protestors gathered on Moscow’s Pushkin Square on Saturday to demand Vladimir Putin’s removal from office.

Strange as it may seem the authorities gave the recently established Five Demands Committee the green light to hold this protest.

The Committee includes members of a variety of Russian political movements such as the Left Front, the Moscow Council, the Nations of Freedom, Oborona, the Society of Blue Buckets, the United Civil Front, Solidarity and the Vpered (Forward) Socialist Movement. Chess genius Garry Kasparov, human rights activist Lev Ponomaryov, Ilya Yashin and Sergei Udaltsov are among those who sit on its organizing committee.

“We declare these five demands and we will keep coming out onto the streets until they are fulfilled,” said Dmitry Georgievsky, a member of Moscow’s Solidarity movement. Their demands were spelled out on placards held high above the crowd: the removal from power of Putin’s government, the dissolution of parliament, free and competitive elections, a shake-up of the police and secret services, and a transparent state budget.

Opposition unites against Putin

The flags fluttering over the square belonged to many movements: Solidarity, Left Front, the Social Democratic Party, the United Civil Front. “People with different views have gathered here, people from the left and right … But one thing unites us: we want free elections,” said Ilya Yashin. “The authorities like to repeat that they have no rivals, and that there is no alternative to Putin. But if United Russia really does enjoy the support of everyone in the country, why then is it so afraid of us?” he went on to say. “Look, it is fencing itself off from its own people with an army of cops and security,”

The police were out in force: Police buses surrounded the square.

“Only our numbers can help us get rid of this monstrous regime. We are for non-violent protest,” politician Garry Kasparov echoed.

Konstantin Yankauskas from the activist group Solidarity spoke of the effectiveness of street protests. He recalled that the authorities had tried to start renovation work on Pushkin Square several days ago and even partially fenced it off with concrete blocs but thanks to public protest the blocs were removed and the work curtailed.

Daniil Poltoratsky, a member of the Vpered (Forward) Socialist Movement, stressed that if there is to be any real change, Putin must go not only as a politician, but as an embodiment of the entire regime. “We demand a radical shakeup of the whole system,” he shouted from the stage.

Old habits?

Lev Ponomaryov said that under Putin’s regime Russia was once again seeing political prisoners. The singer-songwriter Natella Boltyanskaya sang a song about a “gnome” tightening up screws across the country.

About 800 people gathered on Pushkin Square, most of them middle aged or pensioners. Behind them, the Pushkinsky cinema was swathed in an ad for a new film: “The City of Thieves.” “Very apt,” one of the speakers joked. “Just about sums up our authorities.”

Rossiiskaya Gazeta

Algorithms and Red Wine–Is the ‘digital hive’ a soft totalitarian state?

Algorithms and Red Wine

Is the ‘digital hive’ a soft totalitarian state?

By Joe Bageant
Ferrara, Italy

JoeferSitting in a bottliberia, one of those wine bars that brings out food to match your particular choice of wine, mystified by the table setting. What was that tiny baby spoon for? Cappuccino surely, at some point, but why no big spoon to go with the knife and fork? The things a redneck American does not know grow exponentially in Bella Italia, starting with the restaurants — not to mention several civilizations beneath one’s feet. Being in a house that has been continuously occupied for over 1000 years — resisting the temptation to piss in the hotel room bidet, that sort of thing.

One thing the Italians can never be accused of is being a culture given to vinyl sided sameness, fast food franchises. Another thing is lack of a good educational system, given that Italy’s is among the very best in the world. So here I am sitting with some college kids trying to hang onto my end of a discussion of evolutionary consciousness, and whether Italy can withstand the cultural leveling of globalism.

“And Mr Bageent, what do you think of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s concept of the hive mind and the noosphere? Can monolithism and totalitarianism possibly be resisted in the cybernetic age?”

“Il regno mondiale dei computer, global computerization. Do all those disassociated shards of human input constitute an overarching hive intelligence? Or are they the emergence of further evolutionary structures?”

“Ahem, uh, well, Timothy Leary once convinced me that they are,” I said. “But after the drugs wore off, I was not so certain. And now I’m certain again that he was right. But, with a far more chilling outcome than he or Chardin could have ever predicted.”

Which was pretty good for pulling it out of my ass.

In any case, it seems that 40 years in retrospect, the human hive enjoys monolithism and totalism far more than anyone would have ever guessed back in the sixties. Most of industrial humanity, as it turns out, is, or would be, quite happy to come home from a hard day in the mines and settle down to Facebook or Twitter or hive broadcast “news” and passive entertainments, distributed by unseen “corporate entities.” I dunno, I think I liked dope and live music and sex better. But as all three diminish in my life with age, I’ve learned to settle for the Larry King Show and/or a lot less at times.

Big Al and the Tuscaloosa sprinkler man

On the other hand, this whole business of the new hive cybernetic connectivity, could be just a swarm of data bits with no particular significance, in and of themselves, other than the magical thinking belief that they do. Which ain’t no small thing, given that what we agree upon as reality is achieved by social consensus. Hell, to some people Beelzebub still stalks the earth. To others, America is a free republic, not a company town. We all have our hallucinations.

One thing for sure. Most people in the (over)developed world think the connectivity and speed of the algorithms behind the cyberhive are worth it. Even teachers teach to a standardized test so students will conform to an algorithm, and if that ain’t hive mind, I don’t know what is.

Besides, if the worship of algorithms is not worth it, it does not matter. Whether we be Tanzanians à la Darwin’s Nightmare, or some Stanford professor writing economic algorithms, the people who control all our lives in the globalized economic world believe they are.

For example, bankers and investment houses believe intelligent algorithms (Big Al) can calculate human risk in making loans. That an algorithm can predict whether a 35-year old lawn sprinkler installer in Tuscaloosa will be able to steadily make $2,300 monthly payments on his $220,000 twice refinanced “snout-house” (so-named because of the four-car garage sticking out the front) for 30 years. Most of us would be more than happy to make that prediction for them, and with far greater accuracy, for a fraction of what they paid the pinhead to write the algorithm.

In the pre-digital hive era there were limits to what the organic human brain, and therefore the mind, plus past experience, could calculate, then evaluate. At some point, one was forced to recognized the limits of a financial proposition or investment. Famliarity with the actual basis of an investment was necessary. (Hmmm. Lawn sprinklers, huh? And yer paying on a new Dodge Ram too?”) But there was no stopping such things as computer-assisted hedge funds, and the techno nerds’ faith that you could remove the human risks through complex algorithmic structures. So mythical financial instruments such as derivatives and layers of bets on derivatives, and bets on those bets, bloomed out there in the “virtual economy,” sending out algorithmic spores that spawned even stranger financial flora. The whole of it could not be understood by any single human participant. Even the individual parts were understood only by their specific designers. As in, “Just trust me on this Marv. This instrument even creates its own collateral” (which many of them did). Information, of course, is not reality, not even close to the juicy anecdotal stuff of which our daily lives are made. In essence, investment is reduced to an algorithmic Google search for debt, which is wealth to a banker, then mathematically rationalizing that debt as wealth for the rest of us.

Life is lived anecdotally, not algorithmically. And anecdotal evidence is not allowed in the new digital corpocracy. As one poster on Democratic Underground put it, “Anecdotal now has this enforced meaning such that no one is supposed to believe what they experience, what they see, hear, taste, smell, etc. The Powers That Be have basically extinguished the notion of inductive reasoning. Everything has to be replicated in a laboratory and since 90% of all the labs in this nation are operated by Corporate Sponsored monies, not much truth comes out of them.”

The trouble with the algorithmic age is that life is not a finite sequence of steps that define and contain the algorithmic concepts used. Even when created with the best of intentions — and we can all agree by now there were few good intentions at Goldman Sachs when they were creating and bundling these mutant investments — they cannot account for our uninsured sprinkler installer getting cancer, or divorcing the other half of the household income — or the end of America’s residential construction orgy.

The digital folly is never ending. The knock-on effect just keeps rolling. The latest is the rising scandal of millions of illegal foreclosures created by MERS (Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems), which enabled the big financial firms to securitize and swap mortgages at super high speed. But not to worry. Nancy Pelosi and Christopher Dodd are on the case, and there is sure to be a Congressional committee appointed. Whoopee! Have one on me.

Meanwhile, we have our social networking software to better weave us into the hive. Social networking software, now there’s a term that should scare the piss out of anyone with an IQ over 40. It means the database as hive reality. Facebook, online banking, shopping, porn, years of one’s life playing electronic games or whatever, online dating and reducing romance and companionship to fit the software. Or 4,000 Facebook “friends,” data on 4000 Americans voluntarily collected for Facebook corporation. The concept of “friends” is cheapened, rendered meaningless as it passes through a database. In fact, all human experience is cheapened by that process. Information is not reality.

Flatworm economics

As my second wife, who was a mathematician, can tell you, I know as much about algebra as a flatworm. So I turn to experts when I write this stuff — or sometimes just make it up as I go. But even a dumb person can ask questions. And one of my questions as I sit here background Googling the subject is this: Does a search engine really know what I want, or am I dumbing down to fit its hive algorithms? If the latter is the case, then why don’t we just bring back PCP?

Anyway, allegedly, the hive does many things better than paid experts. Wikipedia is an example of this assertion. Most web content is generated by hive inhabitants for free, profiting the new elite cybernetic ownership class, which is to say some corporation or other. This also means that content becomes worthless. That the efforts of skilled and devoted journalists, artists and others become valueless, unsellable, just more info-shards in the hive. Only advertising has value in the cyberhive. In a nation whose social realism has been represented by advertising for three quarters of a century, that was to be expected.

Of course the real global economic problem is seven billion people in increasing competition for ever scarcer vital resources. But capitalism loves competition, as long as, A: it is the people’s capital involved, and B: it is not the capitalists doing the competing. Either way we’re talking money here and what most people consider to be “economics.” Economics equals money. Right?

But the actual world revolves around meeting our genuine needs, which may or may not involve money. In the big picture, money is just one small, much abused abstract tool. Money has been abused from the beginning, probably about fifteen minutes after the first shekel was minted, but now the abuse has reached such levels that the entire notion of money is collapsing in on itself. Our concept of money needs to be reevaluated and probably abandoned in the distant future.

The bottliberia waiter comes with something on a plate I can actually — by pure luck — identify. Octopus gnocchi. The conversation rolls on.
“What do you believe allowed such abuse and calamity?” I ask.

An intense young woman leans across the table, all black hair and red lips, making an old man moan and sigh inwardly.

“Fossil fuels, of course,” she says. “An unnatural supply of energy. But once that is gone, we’re going to have to go back to a whole different way of doing everything. Everything.”

“Spot on,” I agree. At that moment she could have gotten me to agree that the earth is flat.

But the truth is that each gallon of fossil fuel contains the energy of 40 man-hours. And that has played hell with the ecology of human work, thanks mostly to the money economy. For instance, a simple loaf of bread, starting with the fossil fuels used to grow the wheat, transport, mill, bake, create the packaging materials and packaging, advertise and distribute it, uses the energy of two men working for two weeks. Yet this waste and vast inefficiency is invisible to us because we see it only in terms of money, jobs and commerce. Cheap oil allowed industrial humans to increasingly live on environmental credit for over a century. Now the bill is due and no amount of money can pay it. The calorie, pure heat expenditure as energy, is the only currency in which Mother Nature trades. Period.

Despite that America produced such thinkers on the subject of living simply as Thoreau, modern hydrocarbon based civilization has driven expectations of material goods and convenience, and the transactions surrounding those expectations, through the stratosphere. Money has abstracted the notion of work to the point where, I dare say, there are not 100,000 people in America who truly understand that, although there are at least a few million trying to understand and liberate themselves.

I’m gonna take a wild shot here and say that understanding and liberation, come through self-discipline and self-denial, and that it’s nearly impossible for Americans to practice self-discipline. They cannot imagine why self-discipline, and a more ascetic life, becoming less dependent on the faceless machinery of algorithm driven virtual money, is necessarily liberating.

If there can be a solution at this late stage, and most thinking people seriously doubt there can be a “solution” in the way we have always thought of solutions, it begins with powering down everything we consider to be the economy and our survival. That and population reduction, which nobody wants to discuss in actionable terms. Worse yet, there is no state sanctioned, organized entry level for people who want to power down from the horrific machinery of money. There are too many financial, military and corporate and governmental forces that don’t want to see us power down (because it would spell their death), but rather power up even more. That’s called “a recovery.”

When viewed from outside the virtual money economy, and from the standpoint of the planet’s caloric economy, probably half of American and European jobs are not only unnecessary, but also terribly destructive, either directly or indirectly. Yet what nation or economic state acknowledges the need for a transition away from jobs that aren’t necessary. None, because such an economy could not support the war machines or the transactional financial industries that dominate our needs hierarchy for the benefit of the few. Loaning us money we have already earned, stuffing us with corn syrup. And I won’t even go into the strong possibility that everybody does not need to be employed at all times for the world to keep on turning.

Like the Reagan Years on speed

One of the Italian students, Mariarosa, asks, “Is it true that so many Amerians are struggling and suffering right now?”

“No,” I reply, “not in the real sense. If they are suffering, most of them are suffering from commodities withdrawal. What they really are is people oppressed by metastasized capitalism. Which is its own form of suffering, I guess. They are squeezed hard for profit every moment of their waking lives. They’ve got families and dare not make a move, even of they knew how.”

Everyone nods in agreement.

“It’s coming to Italy too,” says one young man. Again, all nod in agreement.

Yet, despite Berlusconi, despite the rigthtist takeover in progress in Italy — which I am guessing will be successful, because I’ve seen it all before in America through globalization — so many are still able to ask the right questions. They seem able to filter what they need and what is best for the majority, from what they want. But looking at the overall country is like watching the Reagan era unfold again before your very eyes. Only faster. All of these kids probably own an iPod or cell phone, the only difference being that they do not let them interrupt a good meal.

The third bottle of wine arrives and the topic turns to global competition, and the EU charges that “Italy is not competitive enough.” A student named Cristiano, sits directly across form me, sporting one of those fashionable three-day beards (I tried that once — people just asked me: “How long have you been depressed, Joe?) Cristiano offers that cooperation would get us all a lot farther than competition.” Applause from everybody on that one. I raise my glass in salute. I’ve raised a few too many glasses in salute in my life, but what the hell.

Societies such as Italy, Greece and many others are viewed by global capitalism as inferior economies. Especially agrarian societies: different rates of exchange and economies of scale, are set for them because capitalism benefits from the bonuses of synergies in scale and the virtual economy. Never do global capitalists want to see regional food security, energy security, or any other kind of security for that matter.

And I look at the faces of these young men and women, who are among the brightest, best educated and common good oriented the world has to offer. A taxi’s headlights flash through the window of the darkened bottiliberia. Each face is illuminated for a moment, then golden dimness again prevails. And I am saddened.

I do not expect that the world they have inherited will show them one ounce of mercy. But it is heartening to see clear competent minds drawing the right conclusions.

And I ask myself, what chance does America’s far less informed, and purposefully misled public stand against all this?

One shudders.