15 November 2008

Let's hope Obama won't be a 'friend of Israel'

Last update - 01:48 09/11/2008
Gideon Levy / Let's hope Obama won't be a 'friend of Israel'
By Gideon Levy

Tags: Occupation, Israel News

The march of parochialism started right away. The tears of excitement invoked by U.S. president-elect Barack Obama's wonderful speech had not yet dried, and back here people were already delving into the only real question they could think to ask: Is this good or bad for Israel? One after another, the analysts and politicians got up - all of them representing one single school of thought, of course  and began prophesizing.

They spoke with the caution that the situation required, gritting their teeth as though their mouths were full of pebbles, trying to soothe all the fears and concerns. They searched and found signs in Obama: The promising appointment of the Israeli ex-patriots' son, whose father belonged to the Irgun, and maybe also Dennis Ross and Dan Kurtzer and Martin Indyk, who may, God willing, be included in the new administration.

But in the background, a dark cloud hovered above. Careful, danger. The black man, who had associated with Palestinian expats, who speaks of human rights, who favors diplomacy over war, who even wants to engage Iran in dialogue, who will allocate more funding for America's social needs than to weapons exports. He may not be the sort of "friend of Israel" that we have come to love in Washington, the kind of friend we have grown accustomed to.

What's the panic all about? The truth needs to be said: At the base of all of these fears is the angst that this president will push Israel to end the occupation and move toward peace.

Well, maybe Obama will not be a "friend of Israel." May the great change he is promising not omit his country's Mideast policy. May Obama herald not only a new America, but also a new Middle East.

When we say that someone is a "friend of Israel" we mean a friend of the occupation, a believer in Israel's self-armament, a fan of its language of strength and a supporter of all its regional delusions. When we say someone is a "friend of Israel" we mean someone who will give Israel a carte blanche for any violent adventure it desires, for rejecting peace and for building in the territories.

Israel's greatest friend in the White House, outgoing U.S. President George W. Bush, was someone like that. There is no other country where this man, who brought a string of disasters down upon his own nation and the world, would receive any degree of prestige and respect. Only in Israel.

Only in Israel does the prime minister place George Bush's portrait in his den, in his private home. Only in Israel does the prime minister travel to visit him in the White House.

That's because Bush was a friend of Israel. Israel's greatest friend. Bush let it embark on an unnecessary war in Lebanon. He did not prevent the construction of a single outpost. He may have encouraged Israel, in secret, to bomb Iran. He did not pressure Israel to move ahead with peace talks, he even held up negotiations with Syria, and he did not reproach Israel for its policy of targeted killings.

Bush also supported the siege on Gaza and participated in the boycott of Hamas, which was elected in a democratic election initiated by his own administration.

That's just how we like U.S. presidents. They give us a green light to do as we please. They fund, equip and arm us, and sit tight. Such is the classic friend of Israel, a friend who is an enemy, and enemy of peace and an enemy to Israel.

Let us now hope that Obama will not be like them. That he will reveal himself to be a true friend of Israel. That he will put his whole weight behind a deep American involvement in the Middle East, that he will try to solve the Iranian issue through negotiation - the only effective means. That he will help end the siege on Gaza and the boycott of Hamas, that he will push Israel and Syria to make peace, that he will spur Israel and the Palestinians to reach a settlement.

We should hope Obama will help Israel help itself, because that is how friendship is measured. That he will criticize its policy when he must, because that, too, is a test of true friendship.

Let him use his clout to end the occupation and dismantle the settlement project. Let him remember that human and civil rights also apply to the Palestinians, not only to black Americans. And apropos world peace, he needs to start with peace in the Middle East, home to the most dangerous of conflicts, which has been threatening the world for a century now, and is feeding international terrorism.

A true friend of Israel needs to remember that Israel may be "the only democracy in the Middle East," but not in its own backyard. That next to Sderot, which he visited, is Gaza. That "common values" must not include a cruel occupation. That friendship does not mean blind and automatic support.

Let him speak with Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas, as often as he can and with whomever is willing to talk. And let him do it before the next war, not after it. Let him remember that he has the power to do all that.

Changing the Middle East was in the power of each and every U.S. president, who could have pressured Israel and put an end to the occupation. Most of them kept their hands off as if it were a hot potato, all in the name of a wonderful friendship.

So bring us an American president who is not another dreadful "friend of Israel," an Obama who won't blindly follow the positions of the Jewish lobby and the Israeli government. You did promise change, did you not?

11 October 2008

Propaganda

Think about some of these as the elections move forward

"I have the greatest admiration for your propaganda. Propaganda in the West is carried out by experts who have had the best training in the world — in the field of advertising - and have mastered the techniques with exceptional proficiency ... Yours are subtle and persuasive; ours are crude and obvious ... I think that the fundamental difference between our worlds, with respect to propaganda, is quite simple. You tend to believe yours ... and we tend to disbelieve ours."
- Soviet correspondent based five years in the U.S.
Propaganda Quotes

"The real rulers in Washington are invisible and exercise power from behind the scenes."
- Justice Felix Frankfurter (1882-1965) U.S. Supreme Court Justice
Propaganda Quotes

"It's been demonstrated that well within two minutes of watching television, most people enter a hypnotic alpha state bordering on theta. Viewers in this state are no longer able to critically evaluate, discern, or pass judgment from their own moral database on the material being viewed. The information just flows, unimpeded, into their subconscious year in and year out."
- Jeff Rense, talk-radio host
Propaganda Quotes

"If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State."
- Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Propaganda Minister

U.S. Study Is Said to Warn of Crisis in Afghanistan

"..Afghanistan is in a "downward spiral" and cast serious doubt on the ability of the Afghan Government to stem the rise in the Taliban's influence"

An article worth checking out

03 September 2008

Reporter bashing, Palin in Church and Richard Holbrooke

I happened across some interesting links:

Seems somewhat scary how the press corp is being handled by the police.  I knew it was a dangerous occupation in other countries but I did not realize that it was such an issue here in the US.

The Democratic Convention
http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/Conventions/story?id=5668622&page=1

The Republican Convention
http://www.democracynow.org/2008/9/2/amy_goodman_two_democracy_now_producers

The second one is a bit more scary when you see the footage of the Chief reporter running out from the convention and then asking questions and immediately arrested after just watching the arrest of the camerawoman screaming “Press!” with the camera rolling. 

VP Candidate Palin Church video
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/09/02/palins-church-may-have-sh_n_123205.html


The Next President
Mastering a Daunting Agenda
Richard Holbrooke
From Foreign Affairs, September/October 2008
Summary: The next U.S. president will inherit a more difficult set of international challenges than any predecessor since World War II.
http://www.foreignaffairs.org/20080901faessay87501/richard-holbrooke/the-next-president.html

17 August 2008

A Free Press? Not This Time

A Free Press? Not This Time
Washington Post
By Olga Ivanova
Friday, August 15, 2008; Page A21
I wish I could fly back to Russia. I have been in the United States for a year, and I am studying and working here to get experience in American journalism, known worldwide for its independence and professionalism. But in recent days it has felt as though I am too late, that the journalism of Watergate is well behind us and that reporting is no longer fair and balanced.

For years I have respected American newspapers for being independent. But no longer. Coverage of the conflict between Russia and Georgia has been unprofessional, to say the least. I was surprised and disappointed that the world's media immediately took the side of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili last week.

American newspapers have run story after story about how "evil" Russia invaded a sovereign neighboring state. Many accounts made it seem as though the conflict was started by an aggressive Russia invading the Georgian territory of South Ossetia. Some said that South Ossetia's capital, Tskhinvali, was destroyed by the Russian army. Little attention was paid to the chronology of events, the facts underlying the conflict.

Last week, Georgia's president invaded South Ossetia during the night, much as Adolf Hitler invaded Russia in 1941. Within hours, Georgian troops destroyed Tskhinvali, a city of 100,000, and they killed more than 2,000 civilians. Almost all of the people who died that night were Russian citizens. They chose to become citizens of Russia years ago, when Georgia refused to recognize South Ossetia as a non-Georgian territory.

The truth is that, in this case, Russian aggression actually made some sense. Russia defended its citizens....

(the rest of the story at the link in the title....Normally I don't comment on article but the conclusion is spot on:)

.....I think that both the Russian and Georgian governments attacked civilians. I blame the governments for this war. But I am also saddened by the unfair coverage of the conflict from Russian and American media. If this is what freedom of the press looks like, then I no longer want to believe in this freedom. I prefer to stay neutral and independent, just like a professional journalist has to do.

The writer, a master's degree candidate at Duquesne University, is an intern at The Post.
_______________________________________________________________________
Another interesting article in Asia Times:
_______________________________________________________________________
http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Central_Asia/JH12Ag02.html
Russia bids to rid Georgia of its folly
Aug 12, 2008
By John Helmer

MOSCOW - One word explains why the United States, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union have obliged themselves to sit on their hands, while Russia's defends its citizens, and national interests, in the Caucasus, and liberates Georgians from the folly of their unpopular president, Mikheil Saakashvili. That word is Kosovo.

Russia sent troops into the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia to take on Georgian troops that had advanced into the territory. Four days of heavy fighting have seen thousands of casualties and the Georgian forces withdrawing. Russian troops were reported on Monday to be continuing fighting in parts of Georgia, including around the capital Tbilisi.

For all Russians, not only those with relatives in Ossetia, the near-total destruction by Georgian guns of Tskhinvali is a war crime. The deaths of about 2,000 civilians in the Georgian attack, and the forced flight of about 35,000 survivors from the town - the last census of Tskhinvali's population reported 30,000 - has been described by Russian leaders, and is understood by Russian public opinion, as a form of genocide. Ninety percent of the town's population are Russian citizens.

To Russians, the Georgian attack of August 8 looks like the very same "ethnic cleansing", which the US and European powers have treated as a crime against humanity, when committed on the former territory of federal Yugoslavia.

....Public opinion in Georgia already pins the blame on Saakashvili for the folly and loss of the Ossetian adventure. Even before it began last week, opposition leaders were calling for an end to the militarization of the country. However, as one opposition leader said on Monday, the bombing has to stop, "Otherwise, the Russians are making Saakashvili the victim."

(the rest of the story at the link above the title)

_______________________________________________________________________
Another interesting article in Asia Times, and this was written early in the conflict before most news coverage and the "opinion" that Olga Ivanova speaks about in her Washington Post atricle.
http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Central_Asia/JH12Ag01.html

see below. this was hot off the press around the time President Bush was flying back from China
_______________________________________________________________________

Saakashvili overplays his hand
By Brian Whitmore

In an effort to prod the West to Tbilisi's side in its rapidly escalating armed conflict with Russia, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili is invoking the ghosts of Cold War battles past - Moscow's suppression of the 1956 Hungarian uprising, the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia, and the Soviet incursion into Afghanistan in 1979.

The Georgian leader's strategy is clear. Tbilisi's small army is no match for the Russian military machine. Saakashvili's only chance of success in his bid to regain control of the Moscow-backed breakaway region of South Ossetia, therefore, is to globalize the conflict and turn it into a central front of a new struggle between Moscow and the West.

"What Russia has been doing against Georgia for the last two days represents an open aggression, unprecedented in modern times," Saakashvili said in a televised address on August 8. "It is a direct challenge for the whole world. If Russia is not stopped today by the whole world, tomorrow Russian tanks might reach any European capital. I think everyone has understood this by now."

So far, the West has not taken the bait. The United States and the European Union are sending envoys to Georgia to try to broker a ceasefire and Western leaders have issued predictable statements calling on both sides to show restraint.

Most European leaders, wary of antagonizing Moscow, have strived to come across as more or less balanced in the conflict. Even Georgia's closest ally in the West, the United States, has thus far offered little more than rhetorical support.

Speaking in Beijing on August 9, US President George W Bush stepped up Washington's criticism of Moscow, calling for a halt to the shelling of Georgian targets. "Georgia is a sovereign nation and its territorial integrity must be respected," Bush said. "We have urged an immediate halt to the violence and a stand-down by all troops. We call for an end to the Russian bombings and a return by the parties to the status quo of August 6."

Trying to move West
Since coming to power after the country's 2003 Rose Revolution, Saakashvili has relentlessly sought to move Georgia into the Western orbit and out of Moscow's sphere of influence. To do that, however, the Georgian leader needed to resolve the standoffs over the pro-Moscow regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which broke from Georgia with Russian assistance following wars in the early 1990s.

Prior to Saakashvili's rise, Russia was the only international player in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, with troops in both regions under a Commonwealth of Independent States-sanctioned "peacekeeping" mission.

"Saakashvili has been trying to internationalize the conflicts in Georgia since he has come to office," says Sabine Freizer, the Europe program director for the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think-tank. "It has been very much his strategy to make this an international conflict between the traditional West and Russia, speaking in language of the Cold War and saying that this is really the last frontier. He's been racking up those kind of expressions in the past few days, but this is really nothing new."

The United States has been largely receptive to Saakashvili's efforts, championing Tbilisi's attempt to join NATO, helping to train Georgia's armed forces, and offering diplomatic support on the Abkhaz and South Ossetian conflicts.

Europe, on the other hand, has been largely divided. Some EU members like Germany and France, wary of antagonizing Moscow, have been reluctant to offer Georgia anything more than lukewarm support. Newer member states like Poland, the Czech Republic, and the Baltic states, with fresh memories of Soviet domination, have been more forceful in support of Tbilisi.

Georgia moved into South Ossetia on August 7 in a large-scale operation to regain control of the Moscow-backed separatist region, following days of clashes in which both sides exchanged gun and mortar fire. Each side accuses the other of initiating the hostilities. The offensive sparked a furious reaction from Russia, which sent troops, military aircraft, and tanks to repel Georgian forces. It was the Russian military's first offensive outside its borders since the 1991 Soviet breakup.

It came as no surprise that the strongest European condemnation of Russia's incursion into South Ossetia thus far came from Lithuanian Foreign Minister Petras Vaitekunas, who said Moscow crossed "red lines" and committed "aggression and an outrageous violation of international law". Poland, likewise, has called for an emergency summit on South Ossetia.

Some analysts say that with the West divided, Saakashvili may have felt the need to try to resolve the conflicts in Georgia's favor quickly, before the Bush administration - which has been a very strong supporter of Tbilisi - leaves office:

"Why precisely now? What made Saakashvili decide that this was the right moment politically? In my opinion, one of the reasons is that Mikheil Saakashvili believes the current US administration has certain obligations toward him and the next presidential administration - particularly if this is a Democratic administration - won't feel it has any of these obligations and may modify the overall stance on Georgia," Fyodor Lukyanov, editor in chief of the Moscow-based journal Russia in Global Affairs, told RFE/RL's Russian Service in a recent interview.

If that is indeed the case, Saakashvili appears to have badly miscalculated by failing to anticipate Russia's robust response. And now that the long-simmering confrontation has escalated from a diplomatic and political clash into armed conflict, the West's options are increasingly limited.

"I really think he [Saakashvili] has taken it a step too far because if we were really going to push back the Russians, you would need something like a military intervention and that is not going to happen," Freizer says.

Analysts say the West does have some leverage over Russia. The EU, for example, could suspend negotiations over a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with Moscow; the NATO-Russia Council could be dissolved; Russia could be prevented from joining the World Trade Organization, or even kicked out of the Group of Eight.

But its energy wealth, and the influence that buys, will likely prevent anything more than a mild rebuke. Moreover, the United States and the European Union badly need Russia's cooperation on issues like curbing Iran's nuclear program.

But in the end, Moscow's efforts to be viewed as a responsible global player will certainly suffer a serious blow due to the conflict.
"Russia's image is going to take a battering," Freizer says. "Russia has been trying increase its international legitimacy as a defender of international law, not only in the Caucasus but also we've been seeing this in the Balkans as well with the positions Russia has been taking on Kosovo. It is going to be more difficult for them to stand in front of the Security Council as the big defender of international law while they're bombing civilian targets and Georgian cities."

RFE/RL's Georgian and Russian services contributed to this report.

Copyright (c) 2007, RFE/RL Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington DC 20036

The beginning of cold war phase 2.0

Bush tells Russia to get out of Georgia but Madvadev wants America to get out of Georgia – the beginning of cold war phase 2.0
Sudhir Chadda
Aug. 17, 2008

Russian President Madvadev has sent a chilling signal through his military. Bush Administration never anticipated an aggressive Russian Army and Air Force taking on Georgia with very little intelligence from the Central Intelligence Agency.

US President George Bush has to do something otherwise other East European and Central Asian nations that are looking at US for getting out of the Russian clutch will lose their confidence in US.

Military option is a nonstarter. No the net result is the start of another cold war – Phase 2.0.

President Bush warned Russia on Saturday against trying to pry loose two separatist regions in Georgia and said Moscow must end military operations in the West-leaning democracy that once was part of the Soviet empire.

Can Russia really take control of its surrounding? IS US that weak with Iraq and Afghanistan’s prolonged confrontation? It is a test of US and Russia. Russia has the power and money of oil. Nationalism is Russia is now centered on bring US down to earth.

But do not underestimate US Military power either. US can theoretically surround Russian with Nuclear missiles and escalate the cold war.

Other than oil Russia is still weak. Russian military got a real boost from Georgian military operations but still it is no match to US military.

The key lies in US military resources. If US deploys its military (no matter how small a contingent) in Georgia, Poland and other countries at risk, Russians will think twice before launching an attack.

The war of words (typical) of cold war has started. But this cold war has the real danger of getting transformed into a real hot war all on a sudden.

05 June 2008

McCain: I'd Spy on Americans Secretly, Too

McCain: I'd Spy on Americans Secretly, Too
By Ryan Singel June 03, 2008 | 5:06:25 PMCategories: Election '08, NSA

If elected president, Senator John McCain would reserve the right to run his own warrantless wiretapping program against Americans, based on the theory that the president's wartime powers trump federal criminal statutes and court oversight, according to a statement released by his campaign Monday.
McCain's new tack towards the Bush administration's theory of executive power comes some 10 days after a McCain surrogate stated, incorrectly it seems, that the senator wanted hearings into telecom companies' cooperation with President Bush's warrantless wiretapping program, before he'd support giving those companies retroactive legal immunity.
As first reported by Threat Level, Chuck Fish, a full-time lawyer for the McCain campaign, also said McCain wanted stricter rules on how the nation's telecoms work with U.S. spy agencies, and expected those companies to apologize for any lawbreaking before winning amnesty.
But Monday, McCain adviser Doug Holtz-Eakin, speaking for the campaign, disavowed those statements, and for the first time cast McCain's views on warrantless wiretapping as identical to Bush's.
[N]either the Administration nor the telecoms need apologize for actions that most people, except for the ACLU and the trial lawyers, understand were Constitutional and appropriate in the wake of the attacks on September 11, 2001. [...]
We do not know what lies ahead in our nation’s fight against radical Islamic extremists, but John McCain will do everything he can to protect Americans from such threats, including asking the telecoms for appropriate assistance to collect intelligence against foreign threats to the United States as authorized by Article II of the Constitution.
The Article II citation is key, since it refers to President Bush's longstanding arguments that the president has nearly unlimited powers during a time of war. The administration's analysis went so far as to say the Fourth Amendment did not apply inside the United States in the fight against terrorism, in one legal opinion from 2001.
McCain's new position plainly contradicts statements he made in a December 20, 2007 interview with the Boston Globe where he implicitly criticized Bush's five-year secret end-run around the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
"I think that presidents have the obligation to obey and enforce laws that are passed by Congress and signed into law by the president, no matter what the situation is," McCain said.
The Globe's Charlie Savage pushed further, asking , "So is that a no, in other words, federal statute trumps inherent power in that case, warrantless surveillance?" To which McCain answered, "I don't think the president has the right to disobey any law."
McCain's embrace of extrajudicial domestic wiretapping is effectively a bounce-back from Fish's comments, made at the Computers, Freedom and Privacy conference in Connecticut last month. When liberal blogs picked up the story that McCain had moved to the left on wiretapping, the McCain campaign issued a letter insisting that he still supported unconditional immunity, as well as new rules that would expand the nation's spy powers.
The campaign's response was consistent with McCain's past positions and votes. But it riled Andrew McCarthy at the conservative National Review Online, who read the campaign's position as a disavowal of Bush's warrantless wiretapping program, and a wimpy surrender of executive power to Congress.
"What does it mean when he says Sen. McCain does not want the telecoms put into this position again?" McCarthy asked. "Is he saying that in a time of national crisis, the president should not be permitted to ask the telecoms for assistance that is arguably beyond what is prescribed in a statute?"
That's when the campaign issued the letter explaining McCain's new views of executive power, and revealing that McCain would, in certain future circumstances, rely on the same theory of executive power in wartime.
A spokesperson for McCain's camp did not respond to a request Monday for an explanation of the difference between the new policy and the December interview.

07 May 2008

More commercial bee colonies lost

SAN FRANCISCO, California (AP) -- A survey of bee health released Tuesday revealed a grim picture, with 36.1 percent of the nation's commercially managed hives lost since last year.

Last year's survey commissioned by the Apiary Inspectors of America found losses of about 32 percent.

As beekeepers travel with their hives this spring to pollinate crops around the country, it's clear the insects are buckling under the weight of new diseases, pesticide drift and old enemies like the parasitic varroa mite, said Dennis vanEngelsdorp, president of the group.

This is the second year the association has measured colony deaths across the country. This means there aren't enough numbers to show a trend, but clearly bees are dying at unsustainable levels and the situation is not improving, said vanEngelsdorp, also a bee expert with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.

"For two years in a row, we've sustained a substantial loss," he said. "That's an astonishing number. Imagine if one out of every three cows, or one out of every three chickens, were dying. That would raise a lot of alarm."

The survey included 327 operators who account for 19 percent of the country's approximately 2.44 million commercially managed beehives. The data is being prepared for submission to a journal.

About 29 percent of the deaths were due to colony collapse disorder, a mysterious disease that causes adult bees to abandon their hives. Beekeepers who saw CCD in their hives were much more likely to have major losses than those who didn't.

"What's frightening about CCD is that it's not predictable or understood," vanEngelsdorp said.

On Tuesday, Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Dennis Wolff announced that the state would pour an additional $20,400 into research at Pennsylvania State University looking for the causes of CCD. This raises emergency funds dedicated to investigating the disease to $86,000.

The issue also has attracted federal grants and funding from companies that depend on honeybees, including ice-cream maker Haagen-Dazs.

Because the berries, fruits and nuts that give about 28 of Haagen-Dazs' varieties flavor depend on honeybees for pollination, the company is donating up to $250,000 to CCD and sustainable pollination research at Penn State and the University of California, Davis

17 April 2008

Obama’s modest proposal: no hue, no cry?

Obama’s modest proposal: no hue, no cry?

by Greg Zsidisin
Monday, April 7, 2008
[Editor’s Note: This is part 1 of a three-part article.]

If elected President, Senator Barack Obama plans to delay Project Constellation for at least five years, putting the saved money into a new $10-billion-a-year education program that would, in essence, nationalize early-education for children under five years old to prepare them for the rigors of kindergarten and beyond.

Why single out the space budget to cut for this program? “NASA is no longer associated with inspiration,” Obama told a campaign rally audience in March. The silence from space advocacy groups in response to this policy, made public in November, has been deafening. As I have discovered in recent weeks, Obama is personally adamant about this approach, if the details of its implementation remain hazy.

The proposal
Obama’s education platform document, released last November, ends with the following paragraph (emphasis added):

IX. A COMMITMENT TO FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY
Barack Obama’s early education and K-12 plan package costs about $18 billion per year. He will maintain fiscal responsibility and prevent any increase in the deficit by offsetting cuts and revenue sources in other parts of the government. The early education plan will be paid for by delaying the NASA Constellation Program for five years, using purchase cards and the negotiating power of the government to reduce costs of standardized procurement, auctioning surplus federal property, and reducing the erroneous payments identified by the Government Accountability Office, and closing the CEO pay deductibility loophole. The rest of the plan will be funded using a small portion of the savings associated with fighting the war in Iraq.

The trouble is, it’s not really clear exactly what part(s) of the NASA budget Obama would cut to pay for getting the under-four set into pre-K programs.
The “early education plan” in question is a proposed “Zero to Five Plan” aimed at nationalizing an Obama-supported program in Illinois. This plan would create a “Presidential Early Learning Council”, fund and expand state funded pre-K programs, encourage universal pre-school in all states, and even “expand evidence-based home visiting programs to all low-income, first-time mothers” to “help improve the mental and physical health of the family.” Existing pre-K efforts aren’t good enough: “Pre-kindergarten for four-year-olds is important, but it is not enough to ensure children will arrive at school ready to learn.”

The trouble is, it’s not really clear exactly what part(s) of the NASA budget Obama would cut to pay for getting the under-four set into pre-K programs. Obama’s separately released quasi-official space policy does indeed leave out any mention of the Moon or Mars, Constellation’s intended ultimate destinations. However, it states support for development of the Ares 1 rocket and Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV). “As president, Obama will support the development of this vital new platform to ensure that the United States’ reliance on foreign space capabilities is limited to the minimum possible time period. The CEV will be the backbone of future missions, and is being designed with technology that is already proven and available.”

Since Constellation is focused in its early years on Ares 1 and CEV development, what exactly will be deleted? Specific lunar exploration planning? Downstream work on the Ares 5 heavy-lift rocket? These aren’t specified, but in any event cutting them will provide no real benefit in the earlier years of an Obama administration.

It is probably fair to point out here that there are two other presidential candidates, and both have refreshingly provided specific – if not precise – statements on space.

In a short page on his campaign website, presumptive Republican nominee John McCain says he is “proud to have sponsored legislation authorizing funding consistent with the President’s vision for the space program, which includes a return of astronauts to the Moon in preparation for a manned mission to Mars.” This convoluted statement, which seems to imply that he wants us to continue to work on Constellation’s Moon/Mars goals, falls under the airy lead quote attributed to McCain: “Let us now embark upon this great journey into the stars to find whatever may await us.”

Clinton, meanwhile, in a science policy statement issued on Sputnik’s 50th anniversary, said she wants “a balanced strategy of robust human spaceflight, expanded robotic spaceflight, and enhanced space science activities.” While she hasn’t endorsed Moon/Mars, she has spoken of the need to develop the Ares launch vehicle. Her policy does imply that she might seek a reorienting of NASA priorities, in that it specifically calls for more money for Earth monitoring, climate change studies, and aeronautics.

Obama in Wyoming
As fate would have it, I had the chance to ask Obama about his policy at a recent town hall meeting in Wyoming. In an unlikely scenario, both he and Clinton were stumping through this lightly populated, heavily Republican state in their tight battle for convention delegates. While Clinton did not take questions at her Casper rally, Obama did.

It was clear to me that, at least as of early March 2008, Barack Obama is vocally insistent that we should forget about the Moon or Mars.
Frankly, Obama showed himself to be eloquent, forthright, smart, and engaging. Watching him in person, it was easy to see why he has become the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination. Personally, I now have no doubt he would be a formidable opponent to John McCain in the general election.

Mine was the third question after his short speech, after one off-mike query that I think was an autograph request, and another about the plight of Native American children on Wyoming’s Wind River Reservation.

After a brief summary of the policy, I asked, “Why are you specifically pitting the space program against education, and where’s the vision in shutting down the [human] space program?”

My question, and Senator Obama’s response, were included in several newspaper accounts. As recounted by John McCormick of the Chicago Tribune:

During the question-and-answer portion of an event at a recreational center here, Obama was asked about the nation's space program.

“I grew up on Star Trek,” Obama said. “I believe in the final frontier.”

But Obama said he does not agree with the way the space program is now being run and thinks funding should be trimmed until the mission is clearer.

“NASA has lost focus and is no longer associated with inspiration,” he said. “I don't think our kids are watching the space shuttle launches. It used to be a remarkable thing. It doesn't even pass for news anymore.”

Obama seemed to resent my question. A little later, he addressed another on energy, and spoke of the need for an alternative energy effort. He concluded by turning to my direction and saying pointedly, “And that, sir, is what our next Apollo Program should be.”

It was clear to me that, at least as of early March 2008, Barack Obama is vocally insistent that we should forget about the Moon or Mars, and use the money to fund part of his Zero-to-Five Plan.

Where is everybody?
Even if this policy were merely election-year posturing, even if Congress would squelch such a plan, the space community faces a good possibility of having four or eight years under an antagonistic President who considers space little more than a budget target.

If enacted, of course, it would have a significant impact on the future of space, especially coming as it does with the scheduled end of the shuttle in 2010, concerns over a space workforce “brain drain” akin to that after Apollo, and uncertainty over the future course of space exploration.

Wouldn’t spaceflight advocates at least respond to the notion that exploration is superfluous enough to be de-funded to pay a fraction of the cost of a pre-K education initiative?

Wouldn’t those inclined to see the current Moon/Mars effort scrapped for something else, such as a “better” space effort, or a movement towards more commercial spaceflight, use this as an opportunity to advocate their visions?

For a variety of reasons, the answer appears to be basically “No.” I decided to find out why, and that will be the subject of Part 2 of this article.

Greg Zsidisin organized a number grassroots space demonstrations and rallies for the National Space Society, including one outside the 1992 Democratic National Convention in Manhattan. The views expressed here are strictly his own.

Stage Set for Transfer of CIA Records to National Archives

A memorandum of understanding (pdf) signed this month by the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Archivist is expected to enable the transfer of many permanently valuable historical CIA records that are 50 years old or older to the custody of the National Archives (NARA), officials of both agencies said today.

Up to now, “we haven’t had a framework” for such transfers, said Joe Lambert, the new CIA chief information officer. And so, with few exceptions, “we haven’t transferred anything [to the Archives] in the past.” (Exceptions include certain CIA records related to the JFK assassination, Nazi war crimes, and a few other topics, as well as translations of foreign news reports.)

The new memorandum “lays the groundwork for routine transfer of CIA records” to the National Archives once they become 50 years old, said Assistant Archivist Michael J. Kurtz. “This will institutionalize the process.”

The memorandum itself does not seem very promising. It imposes a number of binding requirements on NARA officials, including referral to CIA of any request for records that have not already been approved for public release. No binding requirements are imposed on CIA, beyond an open-ended commitment to “review” any such requests.

But Allen Weinstein, the Archivist of the United States, said the memorandum would pave the way for regular transfers of CIA records to the Archives, and would ultimately result in improved public access to those records.

“Access is a multi-step process,” said Gary M. Stern, General Counsel at the National Archives. “Getting the records into the Archives is the first step.”

Having “listened carefully to the words and the music, I was convinced that this [agreement] would serve the public interest,” said Dr. Weinstein. “I wouldn’t have signed it otherwise.”

The memorandum’s words, at least, can be found here: fas.org/sgp/othergov/intel/nara-cia.pdf

CIA is expected to provide to NARA an index of records subject to transfer in the next few weeks, with actual transfers to follow sometime thereafter.

A March 2000 National Archives evaluation of “Records Management in the Central Intelligence Agency” provided some detailed insight into the subject.

At that time, NARA held that “CIA retention of permanent files for 50 years is no longer appropriate” and should be reduced to something closer to 30 years. But by default and inaction, 50 year retention of records by CIA has now become the goal that the agencies are striving for.

13 April 2008

Behind Obama and Clinton

For some time I have been trying to find out "who's on the team" of the Presidential candidates. Trying to determine who influences the candidates positions. The following is some of what I have found:

Behind Obama and Clinton
Thu, 07 Feb 2008 09:34:24 -0600
By Stephen Zunes
Who's whispering in their ears says a lot
Voters on the progressive wing of the Democratic Party are rightly disappointed by the similarity of the foreign policy positions of the two remaining Democratic Party presidential candidates, Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama. However, there are still some real discernable differences to be taken into account. Indeed, given the power the United States has in the world, even minimal differences in policies can have a major difference in the lives of millions of people.
As a result, the kind of people the next president appoints to top positions in national defense, intelligence, and foreign affairs is critical. Such officials usually emerge from among a presidential candidate’s team of foreign policy advisors. So, analyzing who these two finalists for the Democratic presidential nomination have brought in to advise them on international affairs can be an important barometer for determining what kind for foreign policies they would pursue as president. For instance, in the case of the Bush administration, officials like Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and Richard Perle played a major role in the fateful decision to invade Iraq by convincing the president that Saddam Hussein was an imminent threat and that American forces would be treated as liberators.
The leading Republican candidates have surrounded themselves with people likely to encourage the next president to follow down a similarly disastrous path. But what about Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton? Who have they picked to help them deal with Iraq war and the other immensely difficult foreign policy decisions that they’ll be likely to face as president?
Contrasting Teams
Senator Clinton’s foreign policy advisors tend to be veterans of President Bill Clinton’s administration, most notably former secretary of state Madeleine Albright and former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger. Her most influential advisor – and her likely choice for Secretary of State – is Richard Holbrooke. Holbrooke served in a number of key roles in her husband’s administration, including U.S. ambassador to the UN and member of the cabinet, special emissary to the Balkans, assistant secretary of state for European and Canadian affairs, and U.S. ambassador to Germany. He also served as President Jimmy Carter’s assistant secretary of state for East Asia in propping up Marcos in the Philippines, supporting Suharto’s repression in East Timor, and backing the generals behind the Kwangju massacre in South Korea.
Senator Barack Obama’s foreign policy advisers, who on average tend to be younger than those of the former first lady, include mainstream strategic analysts who have worked with previous Democratic administrations, such as former national security advisors Zbigniew Brzezinski and Anthony Lake, former assistant secretary of state Susan Rice, and former navy secretary Richard Danzig. They have also included some of the more enlightened and creative members of the Democratic Party establishment, such as Joseph Cirincione and Lawrence Korb of the Center for American Progress, and former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke. His team also includes the noted human rights scholar and international law advocate Samantha Power – author of a recent New Yorker article on U.S. manipulation of the UN in post-invasion Iraq – and other liberal academics. Some of his advisors, however, have particularly poor records on human rights and international law, such as retired General Merrill McPeak, a backer of Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor, and Dennis Ross, a supporter of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.
Contrasting Issues
While some of Obama’s key advisors, like Larry Korb, have expressed concern at the enormous waste from excess military spending, Clinton’s advisors have been strong supporters of increased resources for the military.
While Obama advisors Susan Rice and Samantha Power have stressed the importance of U.S. multilateral engagement, Albright allies herself with the jingoism of the Bush administration, taking the attitude that “If we have to use force, it is because we are America! We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall, and we see further into the future.”
While Susan Rice has emphasized how globalization has led to uneven development that has contributed to destabilization and extremism and has stressed the importance of bottom-up anti-poverty programs, Berger and Albright have been outspoken supporters of globalization on the current top-down neo-liberal lines.
Obama advisors like Joseph Cirincione have emphasized a policy toward Iraq based on containment and engagement and have downplayed the supposed threat from Iran. Clinton advisor Holbrooke, meanwhile, insists that “the Iranians are an enormous threat to the United States,” the country is “the most pressing problem nation,” and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is like Hitler.
Iraq as Key Indicator
Perhaps the most important difference between the two foreign policy teams concerns Iraq. Given the similarities in the proposed Iraq policies of Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama, Obama’s supporters have emphasized that their candidate had the better judgment in opposing the invasion beforehand. Indeed, in the critical months prior to the launch of the war in 2003, Obama openly challenged the Bush administration’s exaggerated claims of an Iraqi threat and presciently warned that a war would lead to an increase in Islamic extremism, terrorism, and regional instability, as well as a decline in America’s standing in the world.
Senator Clinton, meanwhile, was repeating as fact the administration’s false claims of an imminent Iraqi threat. She voted to authorize President Bush to invade that oil-rich country at the time and circumstances of his own choosing and confidently predicted success. Despite this record and Clinton’s refusal to apologize for her war authorization vote, however, her supporters argue that it no longer relevant and voters need to focus on the present and future.
Indeed, whatever choices the next president makes with regard to Iraq are going to be problematic, and there are no clear answers at this point. Yet one’s position regarding the invasion of Iraq at that time says a lot about how a future president would address such questions as the use of force, international law, relations with allies, and the use of intelligence information.
As a result, it may be significant that Senator Clinton’s foreign policy advisors, many of whom are veterans of her husband’s administration, were virtually all strong supporters of President George W. Bush’s call for a U.S. invasion of Iraq. By contrast, almost every one of Senator Obama’s foreign policy team was opposed to a U.S. invasion.
Pre-War Positions
During the lead-up to the war, Obama’s advisors were suspicious of the Bush administration’s claims that Iraq somehow threatened U.S. national security to the extent that it required a U.S. invasion and occupation of that country. For example, Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security advisor in the Carter administration, argued that public support for war “should not be generated by fear-mongering or demagogy.”
By contrast, Clinton’s top advisor and her likely pick for secretary of state, Richard Holbrooke, insisted that Iraq remained “a clear and present danger at all times.”
Brzezinski warned that the international community would view the invasion of a country that was no threat to the United States as an illegitimate an act of aggression. Noting that it would also threaten America’s leadership, Brzezinski said that “without a respected and legitimate law-enforcer, global security could be in serious jeopardy.” Holbrooke, rejecting the broad international legal consensus against offensive wars, insisted that it was perfectly legitimate for the United States to invade Iraq and that the European governments and anti-war demonstrators who objected “undoubtedly encouraged” Saddam Hussein.
Another key Obama advisor, Joseph Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment, argued that the goal of containing the potential threat from Iraq had been achieved, noting that “Saddam Hussein is effectively incarcerated and under watch by a force that could respond immediately and devastatingly to any aggression. Inside Iraq, the inspection teams preclude any significant advance in WMD capabilities. The status quo is safe for the American people.”
By contrast, Clinton advisor Sandy Berger, who served as her husband’s national security advisor, insisted that “even a contained Saddam” was “harmful to stability and to positive change in the region,” and therefore the United States had to engage in “regime change” in order to “fight terror, avert regional conflict, promote peace, and protect the security of our friends and allies.”
Meanwhile, other future Obama advisors, such as Larry Korb, raised concerns about the human and material costs of invading and occupying a heavily populated country in the Middle East and the risks of chaos and a lengthy counter-insurgency war.
And other top advisors to Senator Clinton – such as her husband’s former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright – confidently predicted that American military power could easily suppress any opposition to a U.S. takeover of Iraq. Such confidence in the ability of the United States to impose its will through force is reflected to this day in the strong support for President Bush’s troop surge among such Clinton advisors (and original invasion advocates) as Jack Keane, Kenneth Pollack, and Michael O’Hanlon. Perhaps that was one reason that, during the recent State of the Union address, when Bush proclaimed that the Iraqi surge was working, Clinton stood and cheered while Obama remained seated and silent.
These differences in the key circles of foreign policy specialists surrounding these two candidates are consistent with their diametrically opposed views in the lead-up to the war.
National Security
Not every one of Clinton’s foreign policy advisors is a hawk. Her team also includes some centrist opponents of the war, including retired General Wesley Clark and former Ambassador Joseph Wilson.
On balance, it appears likely that a Hillary Clinton administration, like Bush’s, would be more likely to embrace exaggerated and alarmist reports regarding potential national security threats, to ignore international law and the advice of allies, and to launch offensive wars. By contrast, a Barack Obama administration would be more prone to examine the actual evidence of potential threats before reacting, to work more closely with America’s allies to maintain peace and security, to respect the country’s international legal obligations, and to use military force only as a last resort.
Progressive Democrats do have reason to be disappointed with Obama’s foreign policy agenda. At the same time, as The Nation magazine noted, members of Obama’s foreign policy team are “more likely to stress ’soft power’ issues like human rights, global development and the dangers of failed states.” As a result, “Obama may be more open to challenging old Washington assumptions and crafting new approaches.”
And new approaches are definitely needed.
Stephen Zunes is a professor of politics and international studies at the University of San Francisco and an analyst at Foreign Policy In Focus, where this article was republished from with permission.

31 March 2008

Beware, Inventors Worldwide

Beware, Inventors Worldwide
Shun-Kuo Su 03.18.08, 6:00 AM ET
http://www.forbes.com/2008/03/14/patents-taiwan-reform-oped-cx_sks_0318patents.html?partner=alerts
Many Americans probably assume that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office awards patents exclusively to American inventors. But in 2006, almost half of all patents granted by the U.S. were awarded to foreigners.

Why so much foreign interest in the American system? U.S. patents are renowned for being the world's strongest form of intellectual property protection.

It's therefore puzzling that the U.S. Congress is looking to radically change this system. Given America's growing concern about its image abroad, U.S. leaders would be making a grave error undermining their patent system. It stands as a key component of America's soft power.

What is Congress looking to do?

First, it would replace America's unique "first-to-invent" rule with a "first-to-file" system. Under "first-to-invent," the first person to actually invent a product is granted a patent. "First-to-file" merely awards the first person to arrive at the patent office.

"First-to-file" stacks the deck against individuals and small firms, as only large corporations have the legal and financial resources to navigate the patent bureaucracy effectively.

Second, the bill would eliminate patent-holders' protection against frivolous lawsuits. A cumbersome post-grant review process would be the new method of adjudication, allowing patents to be challenged almost indefinitely.

These and other changes in the proposed legislation would cause inventors' costs to skyrocket. Patent values would erode as their legal stature fall into question.

That uncertainty spells trouble for the future of research-intensive innovation. Currently, foreigners are driving much of the innovation passing through the Patent Office. Inventors the world over depend on the U.S. to protect the intellectual property that drives their entrepreneurial ambitions.

Without its strong patent system, the American market would look significantly less appealing--and American influence would wane considerably.

My home country of Taiwan, for example, relies heavily on the American patent system. In 2006, Taiwanese inventors edged out their U.S. counterparts, nabbing 3.3 patents per 10,000 inhabitants, compared with 3.1 per 10,000 in the U.S.

And it is not just Taiwanese inventors flocking to the U.S. Patent Office. It's the busiest patent authority in the world; of the nearly 450,000 patent applications received by the U.S. Patent Office in 2006, about 210,000 were filed by foreigners.

Weakening the U.S. patent system would damage an important source of foreign goodwill toward America. The ramifications would be especially damaging to important allies.

Even more distressing, the U.S. Congress seems strangely unconcerned that large-scale counterfeiters and copycat artists would profit handsomely under the new system. Such companies, often wholly or partly state-sponsored, thrive on weak protection of intellectual property rights.

The Government Pharmaceutical Organization (GPO) in Thailand is a great example. In late 2006 and early 2007, the state-owned company violated the patents of three popular drugs: the anti-AIDS medicines Kaletra and Efavirenz and the heart-disease drug Plavix. Thailand's government blessed the move.

It's likely that organizations like the GPO will be even more brazen in seizing intellectual property if patent protections are weakened.

Other copycat companies have already said they will do as much. "Seeking invalidation of patents is likely to be a part of the patent strategy that Indian generics companies may follow in the U.S.," promised the secretary general of the Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance.

Such a coordinated attack on American patents would be devastating to inventors--and to consumers who rely on their products.

In deciding whether to pass the Patent Reform Act, Congress must choose whether it wants to protect the world's most productive and innovative minds or prop up manufacturers whose only contributions are made through imitation.

The choice should be easy.

Mr. Shun-Kuo Su served as Majority Whip of Taiwan's Provincial Assembly from 1977 to 1980. He also served as a professor of law at the Chinese Culture University. He is currently chairman of a nonprofit organization promoting better ties between Taiwan and the U.S.

10 March 2008

Coming Soon: Nothing Between You and Your Machine

Coming Soon: Nothing Between You and Your Machine
By JOHN MARKOFF
Published: March 9, 2008
Menlo Park, Calif.

IT has been more than two decades since Scotty tried to use a computer mouse as a microphone to control a Macintosh in “Star Trek IV.”

Since then, personal computer users have continued to live under the tyranny of the mice, windows, icons and pull-down menus originally invented at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center in the 1970s and popularized by Apple and Microsoft in the next decade.

Last year, however, the arrival of the Nintendo Wii and the Apple iPhone began to break down the logjam in technological innovation for the way humans interact with computers.

Both devices extend the idea of directly controlling objects on the screen and blending that ability with visually compelling physics software that brings computer screens to life in new, immersive ways. With a Wii, a wave of the hand can slam a tennis ball in cyberspace; with the iPhone, a flick of a finger can slide a photograph across the screen like paper on a table.

The idea of directly manipulating information on a computer screen is almost as old computer graphics terminals, going back at least to 1963, to Ivan Sutherland’s Sketchpad drawing system he created at M.I.T. for his Ph.D. thesis. Since then, a thriving scientific and engineering discipline has sprung up around systems that bridge what was originally called the man-machine interface. There has been a broad exploration of pointing devices, alternatives to keyboards for entering information, voice-recognition technologies, and even sensors that capture and interact with human brain waves.

What is new is a convergence of more powerful and less expensive computer hardware and an inspired set of mostly younger software designers who came of age well past the advent of the original graphical user interface paradigm of the 1970s and ’80s.

This new generation is “mostly under 25,” said Joy Mountford, who until last month was vice president for design innovation at an advanced development group at Yahoo. “They come from a world of fluid media, and they multitask at an extraordinary level.”

One intriguing example of this new immersive approach to Web navigation is the PicLens software from Cooliris, a 10-person start-up based here.

This software plug-in for Web browsers tries to make it possible to navigate, find and share information by directly browsing the images, video and other digital media that are increasingly common on the Web.

PicLens currently offers a small icon cue inset in each Web photo that lets users know they are at a site like Facebook, Google or Flickr that can be browsed with the software. Clicking on the icon transports the user away from the conventional page-oriented Web into an immersive browsing environment.

The software does away with the browser frame and gives the user the effect of flying through a three-dimensional space that feels like an unending hallway of images. In the future, the Cooliris designers plan to make it possible to browse text and video as well.

“I’ve wondered for a long time why the computer interface hasn’t changed from 20 years ago,” said Austin Shoemaker, a former Apple Computer software engineer and now chief technology officer of Cooliris. “People should think of a computer interface less as a tool and more as a extension of themselves or as extension of their mind.”

Some of these ideas can be traced back to the 1990s, to work done at the M.I.T. Media Lab. In 2002, a former student there, John Underkoffler, brought the idea of direct manipulation to life in “Minority Report,” the science-fiction movie. (In the movie, Tom Cruise interacts with a wall-size transparent computer display directly with his hands.) More recently, the idea of a multitouch display, where images could be moved or scaled by direct touch, was brought to life both by Jeff Han, a computer science researcher at the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences at New York University and by W. Daniel Hillis and Bran Ferren, researchers at the consulting firm Applied Minds, who developed a “touch table” world map.

The transition to more immersive displays is happening in part because of more powerful computer hardware, but also because of an explosion of more powerful programming tools. These tools offer visual effects that were once within the grasp of only the most skillful programmers to a wide audience with only basic skills.

“The old paradigm is breaking down,” said Paul Mercer, senior director of software at Palm Inc. “It used to be that you needed to be a visionary and technologist like Michelangelo, but we’re turning that corner.”

INDEED, the more powerful graphics-oriented software has spilled over into the creation of palettes for a new generation of software-oriented artists. One new programming language, Processing, is an extension of Sun’s Java designed specifically for students, artists, designers, researchers and hobbyists who are interested in programming images, animations and interactions. It has been used extensively at “Design and the Elastic Mind,” a digital art exhibition now at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Voice, too, is finally beginning to play a significant role as an interface tool in a new generation of consumer-oriented wireless handsets. Many technologists now believe that hunting and pecking on the tiny keyboards of cellphones and P.D.A.’s will quickly give way to voice commands that will return map, text and other data displayed visually on small screens.

“We’re on the verge of creating something as compelling as touch, except with voice,” said Mike McCue, general manager of the Tellme subsidiary of Microsoft.

The common theme of all of the technologies will be a new kind of immersive experience.

“If you’re looking for what’s next after the Web browser, this is it,” said Bill Joy, a partner at the Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers, the venture firm that is funding Cooliris.

06 March 2008

Whistle-Blower: Feds Have a Backdoor Into Wireless Carrier

Whistle-Blower: Feds Have a Backdoor Into Wireless Carrier -- Congress Reacts
By Kevin Poulsen March 06, 2008 | 8:15:00 PMCategories: Spooks Gone Wild

A U.S. government office in Quantico, Virginia, has direct, high-speed access to a major wireless carrier's systems, exposing customers' voice calls, data packets and physical movements to uncontrolled surveillance, according to a computer security consultant who says he worked for the carrier in late 2003.
"What I thought was alarming is how this carrier ended up essentially allowing a third party outside their organization to have unfettered access to their environment," Babak Pasdar, now CEO of New York-based Bat Blue told Threat Level. "I wanted to put some access controls around it; they vehemently denied it. And when I wanted to put some logging around it, they denied that."
Pasdar won't name the wireless carrier in question, but his claims are nearly identical to unsourced allegations made in a federal lawsuit filed in 2006 against four phone companies and the U.S. government for alleged privacy violations. That suit names Verizon Wireless as the culprit.
Pasdar has executed a seven-page affidavit for the nonprofit Government Accountability Project in Washington, which on Tuesday began circulating the document (.pdf), along with talking points (.doc), to congressional staffers hashing out a Republican proposal to grant retroactive legal immunity to phone companies who cooperated in the warrantless wiretapping of Americans.
According to his affidavit, Pasdar tumbled to the surveillance superhighway in September 2003, when he led a "Rapid Deployment" team hired to revamp security on the carrier's internal network. He noticed that the carrier's officials got squirrelly when he asked about a mysterious "Quantico Circuit" -- a 45 megabit/second DS-3 line linking its most sensitive network to an unnamed third party.
Quantico, Virginia, is home to a Marine base. But perhaps more relevantly, it's also the center of the FBI's electronic surveillance operations.
"The circuit was tied to the organization's core network," Pasdar writes in his affidavit. "It had access to the billing system, text messaging, fraud detection, web site, and pretty much all the systems in the data center without apparent restrictions."
The 2006 lawsuit (.pdf), which is suspended pending an appeals court ruling, describes a similar arrangement, naming Verizon.
Because the data center was a clearing house for all Verizon Wireless calls, the transmission line provided the Quantico recipient direct access to all content and all information concerning the origin and termination of telephone calls placed on the Verizon Wireless network as well as the actual content of calls.
The transmission line was unprotected by any firewall and would have enabled the recipient on the Quantico end to have unfettered access to Verizon Wireless customer records, data and information. Any customer databases, records and information could be downloaded from this center.
That doesn't mean Pasdar's affidavit confirms the claims in the lawsuit. He acknowledges speaking with the attorneys on that lawsuit before it was filed, so he may be the source in that complaint as well. But he insists he did not name Verizon or any other phone company to the lawyers.
"I don't know if I have a smoking gun, but I'm certainly fairly confident in what I saw and I'm convinced it was being leveraged in a less than forthright and upfront manner," Pasdar says.
Verizon spokesman Peter Thonis says he can't confirm or deny a Quantico arrangement, or comment on whether Pasdar did contract work for the company.
"What you're talking about sounds as if it would be classified and involving national security, so I wouldn't be able to find out the facts," Thonis writes in an e-mail.
Postscript: In response to some of the comments here and elsewhere: No, it's not CALEA. CALEA requires phone companies to give the FBI real time access to call content and call detail information on specific targets when presented with a warrant. It does not oblige them to give the FBI or anyone else direct unmonitored access to switches, billing systems or databases.
For more on the FBI's CALEA network, check out Ryan's article on the subject from last year.
Update: Democratic leaders in the House are taking Pasdar's claims seriously. John Dingell, the chairman of the Energy and Commerce committee, wrote a Dear Colleague letter (.pdf) today, addressing the issue.
Mr. Pasdar's allegations are not new to the Committee on Energy and Commerce, but our attempts to verify and investigate them further have been blocked at every turn by the Administration. Moreover, the whistleblower's allegations echo those in an affidavit filed by Mark Klein, a retired AT&T technician, in the Electronic Frontier Foundation's lawsuit against AT&T. ...
Because legislators should not vote before they have sufficient facts, we continue to insist that all House Members be given access to the necessary information, including the relevant documents underlying this matter, to make an informed decision on their vote. After reviewing the documentation and these latest allegations, Members should be given adequate time to properly evaluate the separate question of retroactive immunity."

04 March 2008

Machinists Urge U.S. to Halt Technology Transfers to China

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) is calling on the U.S. Department of Commerce to suspend a new program that allows companies in China to gain expedited access to sensitive U.S. aerospace technology, including telecommunication and composites technologies with potential military applications.

"It is naive to assume that relaxing export restrictions on sensitive aerospace technology does not represent a significant threat to U.S. jobs, companies and communities," says IAM International President Tom Buffenbarger. "It is equally naive to ignore the national security implications of such technology transfers to China."

In a letter to the Under Secretary of the Commerce Department's Bureau of Industry and Security, Buffenbarger took issue with one company in China that was recently approved for such expedited technology transfers under the Commerce Department's Validated End-User program.

"The approval of one of these companies, Boeing Hexcel AVIC I Joint venture will involve work on the Boeing 787 program that could have been performed by U.S. workers," says Buffenbarger. "We find it very difficult to believe that your actions are good for U.S. workers or the U.S. economy."

The Boeing Hexcel venture represents additional national security concerns, according to a report by the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, an independent research foundation that monitors the spread of arms technology. "Reducing control on exports to such companies increases the risk that American goods will help China improve its armed forces, and that American goods will be sent illicitly to Syria or Iran." The Wisconsin Report also notes that Boeing and Hexcel have been cited in the past for multiple violations of export controls.

The IAM is among the nation's largest labor unions, representing nearly 720,000 members in manufacturing, transportation, shipbuilding and defense related industries. Click http://www.wisconsinproject.org/pubs/reports/2007/inchinawetrust.pdf to view the Wisconsin Project Report. For more information about the IAM, visit: www.goiam.org.

26 February 2008

Are Patents Headed For Extinction?

Well put!

Commentary
Are Patents Headed For Extinction?
Joe Kiani 02.25.08, 6:00 AM ET

IRVINE, CALIF. -
Successful free enterprise requires an effective system of property ownership rights. Economists like Hernando de Soto believe that such rights are the underpinning of capitalism and explain how for decades America's strong patent system has fostered economic growth and innovation in the face of intensifying international competition. Although many factory jobs have moved overseas, knowledge workers have enjoyed improved living standards in the United States.

That picture will change for the worse if the Patent Reform Act of 2007 (S.1145), now being considered by the Senate, is enacted in its present form. This bill, together with two recent patent-unfriendly Supreme Court rulings, represents one of the worst assaults on intellectual property protection in the 218-year history of our patent system.

By undermining the value and certainty of patents, the bill could inflict a long-term blow on our economy, innovation and innovative companies--particularly small, entrepreneurial medical technology companies. That's bad news for patients, clinicians and our health care system. These companies devise revolutionary medical technologies that save lives and lower costs by shortening hospital stays, reducing medical errors, and eliminating risky procedures. But these inventions require entrepreneurial spirit and huge investments, which are only encouraged by adequate patent protection.

Investing in medical technology start-ups is a high-stakes gamble. These inventions require years of costly research and development, clinical testing and regulatory approval before they can be marketed. Many great ideas never make it. Investors need assurance that a new venture's patents are secure.

I would never have been able to raise (after mortgaging my condo) the nearly $100 million required to develop and market our breakthrough pulse oximeters if I couldn't offer the assurance that the devices would be protected from marauders. In fact, in 2004, a jury awarded Masimo (nasdaq: MASI - news - people ) $134 million in a patent case against our dominant rival, which infringed our patents shortly after we introduced our product.

The harm the new patent bill promises to inflict on innovation and property rights far outweighs any possible benefit from any worthwhile provisions.

Three provisions are especially troubling. One would restrict damages levied on infringers in patent lawsuits by basing the award on the price difference between the infringing and previous product. Every consumer knows that new products--PCs, software, cellphones, for instance--that incorporate cool new features are often sold at the same or lower price than previous versions. Under this scenario, the inventor whose innovation was taken from him would probably receive no damages under S. 1145.

Another onerous change would diminish a patent's value by permitting it to be challenged not just for a relatively short period of time after it is granted, but for its entire life.

Then there's the disturbing "Pre-Grant Publication" section of the bill. The patent grant is a bargain between an inventor and the public that was conferred by the Constitution. In return for disclosing his invention, the inventor is given a limited time (15 to 20 years) to exclude others from using it. However, the current proposal would require him to disclose his ideas well before he is told what protection, if any, he will receive in return. That is not right.

In fact, this bill may turn out to be a severe blow to a patent system that has already been significantly eroded by two recent Supreme Court rulings. In May 2006, in eBay (nasdaq: EBAY - news - people ) vs. MercExchange, the Court limited the use of permanent injunctions in infringement cases. Then in April 2007, in KSR International vs. Teleflex (nyse: TFX - news - people ), the Court lowered the standard for demonstrating that a patent is invalid because it appears obvious.

The full impact of these rulings remains unclear. Accordingly, I recommend that Congress either postpone new patent legislation or eliminate the provisions that will weaken our patent system, until we can gauge the effect of these decisions.

In making this proposal, I was inspired by a story that one of my engineering professors used to tell to highlight the importance of feedback and control theory. "If people had paused to see how many buffaloes they had already killed before they killed more, the buffaloes would not have become practically extinct." Likewise, if Congress enacts this legislation--which was conceived prior to the Supreme Court rulings--before assessing the impact of those rulings, patent protection could go the way of the buffalo.

This patent bill is being promoted by America's largest information technology companies, notably IBM (nyse: IBM - news - people ), Cisco (nasdaq: CSCO - news - people ), HP (nyse: HPQ - news - people ), Google (nasdaq: GOOG - news - people ) and Microsoft (nasdaq: MSFT - news - people ). Even though these companies have flourished under the protection of the existing patent system, they are now attacking it.

Perhaps they don't recognize the unintended consequences of the changes they're seeking. But the Chinese certainly do. In a November 2007 article in Chinese Intellectual Property News, Cheng Yongshun, a respected Chinese intellectual property judge, wrote that this bill will be "friendlier to the infringers than to the patentees in general, as it will make the patent less reliable, easier to be challenged and cheaper to be infringed." That, of course, will allow more knockoff Chinese products to flood the U.S. market.

So while the supporters of this bill may benefit in the short term from unrestrained patent infringement, I believe that they and the rest of the world will suffer in the long run.

American ingenuity and innovation are beacons of progress for the world. But they can't survive without strong intellectual property protection. At a time when our economy is slowing and health care costs continue to rise, lawmakers must encourage innovation by strengthening patent protection rather than weakening it. Regrettably, this bill, as it now stands, would do the latter.

Joe Kiani is the founder and CEO of Irvine, Calif.-based Masimo.

30 January 2008

Holy War! Researchers say EEs have a 'terrorist mindset'

Holy War! Researchers say EEs have a 'terrorist mindset'

Junko Yoshida
(01/28/2008 10:07 AM EST)
URL: http://www.eetimes.com/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=205920319

MANHASSET, N.Y. " Is there a thread that ties engineers to Islamic terrorism?
There certainly is, according to Diego Gambetta and Steffen Hertog at Oxford University, who recently published a paper titled, "Engineers of Jihad." The authors call the link to terrorism "the engineer's mindset."

The sociology paper published last November, which has been making rounds over the Internet and was recently picked up by The Atlantic, uses illustrative statistics and qualitative data to conclude that there is a strong relationship between an engineering background and involvement in a variety of Islamic terrorist groups. The authors have found that graduates in subjects such as science, engineering, and medicine are strongly overrepresented among Islamist movements in the Muslim world. The authors also note that engineers, alone, are strongly over-represented among graduates who gravitate to violent groups.

However, contrary to popular speculation, it's not technical skills that make engineers attractive recruits to radical groups. Rather, the authors pose the hypothesis that "engineers have a 'mindset' that makes them a particularly good match for Islamism," which becomes explosive when fused by the repression and vigorous radicalization triggered by the social conditions they endured in Islamic countries.

But what is the engineer's mindset?

The authors call it a mindset that inclines them to take more extreme conservative and religious positions.

A past survey in the United States has already shown that the proportion of engineers who declare themselves to be on the right of the political spectrum is greater than any other disciplinary groups--such as economists, doctors, scientists, and those in the humanities and social sciences.

The authors note that the mindset is universal.

Whether American, Canadian or Islamic, they pointed out that a disproportionate share of engineers seem to have a mindset that makes them open to the quintessential right-wing features of "monism" (why argue where there is one best solution) and by "simplism" (if only people were rational, remedies would be simple).

27 January 2008

Bush Order Expands Network Monitoring

Bush Order Expands Network Monitoring
Intelligence Agencies to Track Intrusions
By Ellen Nakashima
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 26, 2008; Page A03
President Bush signed a directive this month that expands the intelligence community's role in monitoring Internet traffic to protect against a rising number of attacks on federal agencies' computer systems.

The directive, whose content is classified, authorizes the intelligence agencies, in particular the National Security Agency, to monitor the computer networks of all federal agencies -- including ones they have not previously monitored.
Until now, the government's efforts to protect itself from cyber-attacks -- which run the gamut from hackers to organized crime to foreign governments trying to steal sensitive data -- have been piecemeal. Under the new initiative, a task force headed by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) will coordinate efforts to identify the source of cyber-attacks against government computer systems. As part of that effort, the Department of Homeland Security will work to protect the systems and the Pentagon will devise strategies for counterattacks against the intruders.

There has been a string of attacks on networks at the State, Commerce, Defense and Homeland Security departments in the past year and a half. U.S. officials and cyber-security experts have said Chinese Web sites were involved in several of the biggest attacks back to 2005, including some at the country's nuclear-energy labs and large defense contractors.

The NSA has particular expertise in monitoring a vast, complex array of communications systems -- traditionally overseas. The prospect of aiming that power at domestic networks is raising concerns, just as the NSA's role in the government's warrantless domestic-surveillance program has been controversial.

"Agencies designed to gather intelligence on foreign entities should not be in charge of monitoring our computer systems here at home," said Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. Lawmakers with oversight of homeland security and intelligence matters say they have pressed the administration for months for details.

The classified joint directive, signed Jan. 8 and called the National Security Presidential Directive 54/Homeland Security Presidential Directive 23, has not been previously disclosed. Plans to expand the NSA's role in cyber-security were reported in the Baltimore Sun in September.

According to congressional aides and former White House officials with knowledge of the program, the directive outlines measures collectively referred to as the "cyber initiative," aimed at securing the government's computer systems against attacks by foreign adversaries and other intruders. It will cost billions of dollars, which the White House is expected to request in its fiscal 2009 budget.

"The president's directive represents a continuation of our efforts to secure government networks, protect against constant intrusion attempts, address vulnerabilities and anticipate future threats," said White House spokesman Scott Stanzel. He would not discuss the initiative's details.

The initiative foreshadows a policy debate over the proper role for government as the Internet becomes more dangerous.

Supporters of cyber-security measures say the initiative falls short because it doesn't include the private sector -- power plants, refineries, banks -- where analysts say 90 percent of the threat exists.

"If you don't include industry in the mix, you're keeping one of your eyes closed because the hacking techniques are likely the same across government and commercial organizations," said Alan Paller, research director at the SANS Institute, a Bethesda-based cyber-security group that assists companies that face attacks. "If you're looking for needles in the haystack, you need as much data as you can get because these are really tiny needles, and bad guys are trying to hide the needles."

Under the initiative, the NSA, CIA and the FBI's Cyber Division will investigate intrusions by monitoring Internet activity and, in some cases, capturing data for analysis, sources said.

The Pentagon can plan attacks on adversaries' networks if, for example, the NSA determines that a particular server in a foreign country needs to be taken down to disrupt an attack on an information system critical to the U.S. government. That could include responding to an attack against a private-sector network, such as the telecom industry's, sources said.

Also, as part of its attempt to defend government computer systems, the Department of Homeland Security will collect and monitor data on intrusions, deploy technologies for preventing attacks and encrypt data. It will also oversee the effort to reduce Internet portals across government to 50 from 2,000, to make it easier to detect attacks.

"The government has taken a solid step forward in trying to develop cyber-defenses," said Paul B. Kurtz, a security consultant and former special adviser to the president on critical infrastructure protection. Kurtz said the initiative's purpose is not to spy on Americans. "The thrust here is to protect networks."

One of the key questions is whether it is necessary to read communications to investigate an intrusion.

Ed Giorgio, a former NSA analyst who is now a security consultant for ODNI, said, "If you're looking inside a DoD system and you see data flows going to China, that ought to set off a red flag. You don't need to scan the content to determine that."

But often, traffic analysis is not enough, some experts said. "Knowing the content -- that a communication is sensitive -- allows proof positive that something bad is going out of that computer," said one cyber-security expert who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the initiative's sensitivity.

Allowing a spy agency to monitor domestic networks is worrisome, said James X. Dempsey, policy director of the Center for Democracy and Technology. "We're concerned that the NSA is claiming such a large role over the security of unclassified systems," he said. "They are a spy agency as well as a communications security agency. They operate in total secrecy. That's not necessary and not the most effective way to protect unclassified systems."

A proposal last year by the White House Homeland Security Council to put the Department of Homeland Security in charge of the initiative was resisted by national security agencies on the grounds that the department, established in 2003, lacked the necessary expertise and authority. The tug-of-war lasted weeks and was resolved only recently, several sources said.

Staff researcher Richard Drezen contributed to this report.

'Iran producing 300 tons of UF

Jan 27, 2008 15:14 | Updated Jan 27, 2008 17:40
'Iran producing 300 tons of UF6'
By ASSOCIATED PRESS
TEHERAN, Iran
An Iranian official said Sunday that the Islamic republic has increased its production to more than 300 tons of a gas used for uranium enrichment, a semi-official news agency reported.
The announcement comes as the UN Security Council is deciding whether to impose new economic sanctions against Iran for refusing to roll back its nuclear activities.

"The Isfahan uranium conversion facility is active, and it has produced more than 300 tons of UF6," otherwise known as uranium hexaflouride gas, the Fars news agency quoted Javad Vaidi, deputy of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, as saying in meeting to members of the Revolutionary Guards. The Fars news agency is considered close to the elite branch of Iran's military.

The central Iranian cities of Isfahan and Natanz house the heart of the Iran's nuclear program.

In Isfahan, a conversion facility reprocesses raw uranium, known as yellowcake, into uranium hexaflouride gas. The gas is then taken to Natanz and fed into the centrifuges for enrichment.

Centrifuges spin uranium gas into enriched material, which at low levels is used to produce nuclear fuel to generate electricity. But further enrichment makes it suitable for use in building nuclear weapons.
A report by UN nuclear watchdog in November confirmed that Iran had stockpiled nearly 270 metric tons of the precursor gas used in enrichment.

The UN Security Council has been trying to pressure Iran to freeze uranium enrichment. But Iran has repeatedly refused, and officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency have privately said Teheran is expanding the program.

The Security Council is considering a new draft resolution that calls for additional sanctions against Iran, including bans on travel. Two sets of sanctions have already been imposed on Iran for refusing to halt enrichment.

The five veto-wielding members of the council - the US, Britain, France, China and Russia - along with Germany, agreed last week on the basic terms of the new resolution. Diplomats have said the full, 15-nation Security Council will likely approve it next month.

Iran insists its enrichment activities are intended only to produce fuel for nuclear reactors that would generate electricity, but the US and others suspect Teheran's real aim is to produce nuclear bombs. A US intelligence report released last month concluded Teheran had stopped its nuclear weapons program in late 2003 and had not resumed it since.

Iranian officials have said they plan to generate 20,000 megawatts of electricity through nuclear energy in the next two decades.

18 January 2008

Modeling Urban Panic

“The goal of this project is to develop a reusable and behaviorally founded computer model of pedestrian movement and crowd behavior amid dense urban environments, to serve as a test-bed for experimentation,” says Torrens. “The idea is to use the model to test hypotheses, real-world plans and strategies that are not very easy, or are impossible to test in practice.”

Such as the following: 1) simulate how a crowd flees from a burning car toward a single evacuation point; 2) test out how a pathogen might be transmitted through a mobile pedestrian over a short period of time; 3) see how the existing urban grid facilitate or does not facilitate mass evacuation prior to a hurricane landfall or in the event of dirty bomb detonation; 4) design a mall which can compel customers to shop to the point of bankruptcy, to walk obliviously for miles and miles and miles, endlessly to the point of physical exhaustion and even death; 5) identify, if possible, the tell-tale signs of a peaceful crowd about to metamorphosize into a hellish mob; 6) determine how various urban typologies, such as plazas, parks, major arterial streets and banlieues, can be reconfigured in situ into a neutralizing force when crowds do become riotous; and 7) conversely, figure out how one could, through spatial manipulation, inflame a crowd, even a very small one, to set in motion a series of events that culminates into a full scale Revolution or just your average everyday Southeast Asian coup d'état -- regime change through landscape architecture.'

Use the link in the title to get some more info. or......

click here: www.geosimulation.org/crowds/

which is the better site

China is allowing its currency to rise more rapidly. Why?

CHINA'S ECONOMY
Jan 10th 2008


China is allowing its currency to rise more rapidly. Why?

IN 2005 two American senators introduced a bill into Congress that threatened to slap a tariff of 27.5% on all Chinese imports unless the yuan was revalued by the same amount (their estimate of how much the currency was undervalued). That legislation was dropped, but several other China-bashing bills are still working their way through Congress and accusations about "unfair" Chinese competition will surely play a big role in this year's presidential election. Many American politicians and economists talk as if the yuan was still fixed against the dollar. Yet on current trends, by the time the next president enters the White House the yuan could be within spitting distance of the magic figure demanded in 2005.

Since the beginning of October the yuan has climbed at an annual rate of 13% against the dollar--its fastest pace since China stopped pegging to the dollar in July 2005 (see chart). Since 2005 it has appreciated by a total of 14%. The offshore forward market is pricing in another 8% increase over the next 12 months; several economists are betting on a rise of 10% or more.

It may appear as if Beijing has caved in to Washington's demands. But the main reason why China is allowing the yuan to rise faster is because its policymakers believe the benefits to China from a rising currency now outweigh the costs. Beijing's top concern today is inflation, which rose to 6.9% in November. On January 9th the government announced tighter price controls on a range of products. The People's Bank of China (PBOC) increased interest rates six times in 2007, but this is unlikely to squeeze inflation, which has been driven largely by a jump in food prices caused by supply-side shocks. A faster pace of currency appreciation offers a more powerful weapon: it will help to reduce imported inflation, especially of food and raw
materials. By reducing the need to intervene to hold down the currency, it will also curb the build-up of foreign-exchange reserves and hence monetary growth.

Another reason for the shift in policy is that the costs of holding down the yuan are rising. The PBOC has so far succeeded in "sterilising" most foreign-exchange inflows--printing yuan to buy incoming dollars and then selling bonds to banks in order to mop up the resulting excess liquidity. It has even made a profit on this activity, because the return on its dollar reserves exceeded the rate it paid out on sterilisation bonds. Now, however, the PBOC is losing money. Thanks to falling interest rates in America and rising rates in China, Chinese rates are now higher than those in America and the gap is likely to widen this year. Since the shrinking yuan value of China's dollar reserves also has to be reported as a loss, the cost of currency
intervention is higher still.

Higher yields in China than in America are also likely to mean bigger inflows of foreign capital. The PBOC would then have to buy even more foreign exchange to hold down the yuan, increasing the required amount of sterilisation. On January 3rd the one-year dollar LIBOR rate (the cost of funding a carry trade using dollars) fell below the Chinese one-year deposit rate for the first time since China abandoned the dollar peg. Add in the expected appreciation over the next year, and investing in yuan is highly attractive.

China's capital controls give it some protection from speculative inflows, but they are leaky. Businesses can build up positions in yuan by over-invoicing exports and under-invoicing imports. Some economists argue that a big one-off revaluation would help to stem inflows by reducing the expected future appreciation of the yuan. But Chinese policymakers have stressed the need for gradual adjustment. To show that the currency is not just a one-way bet, the PBOC may try to nudge the yuan a bit lower in coming days.

The yuan's rise is unlikely to silence flag-waving American Congressmen or economists. The slide in the dollar since 2005 means the yuan has risen by only 5% in trade-weighted terms, according to the Bank for International Settlements. China's current-account surplus has risen from 4% of GDP in 2004 to 11% last year, so any gauge that defines the equilibrium exchange rate as the rate that would eliminate the surplus would suggest the yuan is now even more undervalued. In 2005 Morris Goldstein and Nicholas Lardy at the Peterson Institute for International Economics estimated the yuan was 20-25% undervalued. By late 2007 they thought it was at least 30-40% undervalued despite its gain over the previous two years.

But other economists say it is wrong to define the yuan's correct value by the size of the current-account surplus. In particular, it is unclear how a revaluation would correct China's savings-investment imbalance, which underlies that surplus. A recent report from the Conference Board, an American business-research organisation, argued that: "Although an undervalued currency contributes to China's trade surplus, it is not a primary cause of it and has very little to do with the bilateral United States-China trade deficit."

Most Congressmen believe otherwise. The problem with China's appreciation by stealth is that it gets no credit from its critics for doing so. If China had delivered the past two years' currency appreciation in one go it might now be getting less flak from its detractors in America.

14 January 2008

A lackluster report card for Bush's Middle East junket

A lackluster report card for Bush's Middle East junket
by EDWARD M. GOMEZ
January 14 2008

Apparently, George W. Bush's handlers, desperate to improve his international image in the waning months of his period in the White House, were hoping to win more bang for the American taxpayers' bucks they spent last week sending their man to the Middle East to talk about making peace after many years of making non-stop war. However, in politics, stuff happens. Bush was upstaged in the news by the headline-making drama of the New Hampshire primary, by the growing tide of worry about a recession that has developed on his watch, and even by the antics of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his fashion-model/pop-singer girlfriend.

Unfortunately for Bush's team, despite the considerable expense of his public-relations junket to Israel and several Arab countries, many news media in the region - and even some major news outlets beyond it - did not give the Republican pol's trip high marks.

Bush appears to be hoping against hope that, for the sake of his reputation, the Israelis and Palestinians will make peace before he leaves the White House, thereby allowing the glow of the resolution of their long conflict to rub off on Bush himself. However, in a news-analysis piece on the even of Bush's trip, Britain's Times pointed out: "The Bush administration believes that a Palestinian state can be born by the end of 2008 if the two parties now engage seriously in negotiating the thorny issues of future borders, Jewish settlements, the status of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees." But the "reality on the ground, in places the presidential cortège will not be visiting, is very different. The Palestinian lands, which would form the future state, are divided by Jewish settlements and the Israeli security wall. Their inhabitants are trapped in a no-man's-land that can barely support a poor rural economy, let alone become the foundation for a thriving sovereign state." Meanwhile, the Gaza Strip "is now completely in the hands of the Islamic militant movement Hamas, whose fighters are engaged in daily rocket duels with the Israeli military. It is far more likely that the two sides will go to war in this crowded strip before it becomes part of a stable future Palestine."

» The Herald Sun, apparently somewhat surprised by the intensity of the criticism, pointed out that numerous "Arab commentators poured scorn on...Bush's vision of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal [emerging] within a year." Noting that, in Israel, Bush had urged both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to make "difficult choices," the Australian newspaper reported: "But in Egypt, the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel, [the] liberal-opposition newspaper Al-Wafd described Bush as 'the most hateful visitor' and a 'war criminal.'" The Egyptian paper observed: "After all the destruction you have caused and which your country continues to cause, you have wished to end your rule by playing the role of peacemaker....But you are lying as you have lied before to the people of the Middle East and to your own people."

Syria's official Ath-Thawra intoned: "Before and during his visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories,...Bush more than once urged Israel to stop settlement expansion and called for the creation of an independent Palestinian state....These are only beautiful words of peace." Rami Khouri, a Palestinian-Jordanian and U.S. citizen, and journalist and editor associated with Lebanon's Daily Star, "said Washington's refusal to accept the verdict when groups like the Islamist Palestinian group Hamas were elected to power, left Bush open to accusations of hypocrisy." Khouri commented: "If you preach majority rule and the rule of law as a desirable global norm but refuse to respect it when Israeli interests are concerned, you come across as a hypocrite, at best, and a deceitful cheat, at worst...." (Cited by the Herald Sun)

» Saudi Arabia's Arab News, in an editorial headlined "Cynicism with Reason," noted: "We ought to be celebrating...Bush's declaration that a Palestinian state is 'long overdue.'...We should be excited by his call for an end to the Israeli occupation, all the more because 'occupation' is a word so rarely used by the Americans in relation to the Israelis. But there will be no dancing in the streets of Ramallah or Jericho or any other Palestinian town - or any Arab one....It is impossible to feel any excitement about Bush's words - because no Palestinian, no Arab believes he will, or can, deliver....[T]here are good reasons - the most powerful being that we have been here, heard it all, too many times before, and to no effect."

Arabs are cautious or doubtful in response to Bush's latest pronouncements, Arab News added, for "two specific reasons." "The first is Washington's historic alliance with Israel, which despite the ringing words about a Palestinian state, Bush himself fully re-endorsed during his visit [last] week. We can be absolutely certain that Washington is not going to exert the pressure needed to force the Israelis into making the necessary concessions for there to be a fully sovereign Palestinian state. Even if Bush wanted to (which has to be seriously questioned), Congress would not let him; certainly not in the limited time available." Arab News said many Arabs' second concern about Bush "is the man himself. He has proved a disaster of a president - for the U.S., for the Middle East, for the world. Everything he touches turns to dust and ashes." (See also the Hindu)

» In the United Arab Emirates, the Gulf News published an editorial called "Letter to George W. Bush." Citing a litany of Bush's controversial accomplishments and events or people that have indelibly marked his period in office, it stated: "Dear Mr. President: Lest you forget[:] Invasion of Iraq. Thousands of dead. Looting the National Museum. Disbanding the Iraqi army. Donald Rumsfeld. Shock and awe. Jay Garner. Paul Bremer. Inciting sectarianism. Abu Ghraib. Thousands of detainees without charges. Torture. Oil. Ghost WMDs. The Niger connection. Halliburton. Blackwater. Deadly security contractors. Mercenaries. Fallujah. Haditha massacre. Blind support of Israel. Instigating the suffering of Gaza. Ignoring the expansion of illegal colonies. Defying United Nations resolutions. Securing 'a Jewish State.' Allowing Israelis to extend the destruction of Lebanon in the 2006 war. Providing Israel with new bunker-buster bombs to attack Lebanese towns. The War on Terror. 'The Crusade.' Clash of civilizations. Where is Osama Bin Laden? Afghanistan. Bagram massacre. Bombing media offices. Guantánamo Bay. Kangaroo courts. Indefinite detention. Presidential orders to ignore Geneva Conventions. 'Unlawful enemy combatants.' Illegal National Security Agency wiretapping. Fingerprinting visitors. Black prisons. Kidnapping foreign citizens on foreign lands. Khalid Al Masri. Abu Omar. Maher Arar. Central Intelligence Agency. 'Aggressive interrogation techniques.' Destroying the torture tapes....Denial of global warming. Rejecting Kyoto Protocol. Marginalization of the United Nations. John Bolton. Paul Wolfowitz and the World Bank. Karl Rove. Alberto Gonzales. Firing attorneys. Nepotism. False democracy promises. Dick Cheney, Dick Cheney and Dick Cheney....The list goes on."

The Gulf News editorial continued: "Mr. President[,]...It has been reported that you are here to 'lecture' us on democracy and human rights. But with a record like yours, you will not be very convincing....Regional peace...will not be achieved by escalating tension and threatening to change regimes. And most importantly, it will not be achieved by supporting Israel, which continues to defy international law, occupy Arab lands, oppress the Palestinians and rebuff peace initiatives....We hope you have enjoyed the trip so far. The scenery is great. The food is exotic. As for the more 'serious' things, it is unlikely you will make any difference."

Posted By: Edward M. Gomez (Email) | January 14 2008 at 07:51 AM
Edward M. Gomez, a former U.S. diplomat and staff reporter at TIME, has lived and worked in the U.S. and overseas, and speaks several languages. He has written for The New York Times, the Japan Times and the International Herald Tribune.