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Just 1,000 shy of breaking the Soviet Union's world record

by Magnifico Sat Sep 5th, 2009 at 02:05:17 AM EST

The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the U.S.-led coalition, has now more than 100,000 troops deployed in Afghanistan. McClatchy reported there are "101,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan according to Pentagon figures. The New York Times reported the level to be slightly higher at 103,000 troops for the coalition.

The Soviet Union's military force in Afghanistan was kept roughly between 80,000-104,000 troops for duration of its occupation in the 1980s. The Moscow-backed Afghan government fell despite more than nine years of Soviet military assistance and nearly 14,000 Soviet casualties.

The U.S.-led occupation force is even larger when private civilian and military contractors are added to the Western military footprint. For at least the past couple years, contractors have outnumbered U.S. troops in Afghanistan the NY Times reported on Tuesday.

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"We are not getting a Bush-like commitment to this war"

by Magnifico Thu Sep 3rd, 2009 at 08:22:53 AM EST

"I think they (the Obama administration) thought this would be more popular and easier," a senior Pentagon official said. "We are not getting a Bush-like commitment to this war."

I'm going to interpret this remark as a glimmer of independence in the White House regarding the future direction of the ongoing war in Afghanistan. The quote comes from a McClatchy article yesterday, the Pentagon is worried about Obama's commitment to Afghanistan.

The concern among members of the military leadership is that while U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal's recently submitted his assessment of the "deteriorating situation" in Afghanistan did not request additional troops, such a request could come from the Pentagon within weeks. Or, as the New York Times reported the Groundwork is laid for new troops in Afghanistan.

From the diaries - afew

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Reefer Sadness: "The future is horrific"

by Magnifico Thu Sep 3rd, 2009 at 03:50:38 AM EST

We are killing the world's coral reefs and their situation is virtually hopeless.

"The future is horrific," says Charlie Veron, an Australian marine biologist who is widely regarded as the world's foremost expert on coral reefs.

"There is no hope of reefs surviving to even mid-century in any form that we now recognise. If, and when, they go, they will take with them about one-third of the world's marine biodiversity. Then there is a domino effect, as reefs fail so will other ecosystems. This is the path of a mass extinction event, when most life, especially tropical marine life, goes extinct."

Or, as David Adam explains in his Guardian article about Why coral reefs face a catastrophic future:

Within just a few decades, experts are warning, the tropical reefs strung around the middle of our planet like a jewelled corset will reduce to rubble. Giant piles of slime-covered rubbish will litter the sea bed and spell in large distressing letters for the rest of foreseeable time: Humans Were Here.

They are not alone in their bleak outlook for the future of the world's coral reefs.

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In which I pretend to have mad forex skillz

by Magnifico Wed Sep 2nd, 2009 at 04:13:07 AM EST

When I read articles like "As Banks Repay Bailout Money, U.S. Sees a Profit" in the New York Times which claims that "The profits, collected from eight of the biggest banks that have fully repaid their obligations to the government, come to about $4 billion", I become skeptical.

My skepticism is compounded when I read in the Financial Times that the Fed makes $14bn profit on crisis loans (hat tip marco).

The Federal Reserve has made a $14bn profit on loan programmes that have provided hundreds of billions of dollars in liquidity to the financial system since the start of the crisis two years ago, according to Fed officials.

The "Bailout Propaganda Begins" blogs Matt Taibbi. He writes:

Since only a small portion of the debt has been put down by the best borrowers, and since the borrowers in the worst shape haven't retired their obligations yet, it's crazy to make any conclusions about TARP, pure sophistry. Moreover, a think tank set up to analyze TARP, Ethisphere, calculated in June that TARP was still $148 billion down overall, a debt of over $1200 per American. To start talking about what a success TARP is now is beyond meaningless.

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U.S. missile defense may not be deployed in Poland

by Magnifico Sat Aug 29th, 2009 at 03:43:05 PM EST

Gazeta Wyborcza is reporting the Obama administration will not implement the Bush administration's plan for a missile "shield" in Eastern Europe. "The missile defence system in Poland and the Czech Republic are virtually certain to be abandoned".

The Polish newspaper names Washington lobbyist Riki Ellison, chairman of the Missile Defence Advocacy Alliance, as its source. "The signals that the generals in the Pentagon are sending are absolutely clear: as far as missile defence is concerned, the current US administration is searching for other solutions than the previously bases in Poland and the Czech Republic," Ellison said.

"The administration has been sounding out for a couple of weeks now how the Congress will react when the plans for building the missile defence in Poland and the Czech Republic are dumped," Ellison said a Congressional source has told him.

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Afghan youths are seeking a new life in Europe

by Magnifico Sat Aug 29th, 2009 at 05:02:28 AM EST

According to an article and accompanying photo essay, "The Lost Boys of Afghanistan", in The New York Times, thousands of Afghan minors have come to European Union countries seeking asylum.

"The boys pose a challenge for European countries many of which have sent troops to fight in Afghanistan but whose publics question the rationale for the war."

Thousands of lone Afghan boys are making their way across Europe, a trend that has accelerated in the past two years as conditions for Afghan refugees become more difficult in countries like Iran and Pakistan. Although some are as young as 12, most are teenagers seeking an education and a future that is not possible in their own country, which is still struggling with poverty and violence eight years after the end of Taliban rule.

Estimates by the Separated Children in Europe Program have about 100,000 unaccompanied children from non-EU countries living in the EU. Many of the minors are not asking for "protection in any form."

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Widespread fraud and low turnout mar Afghan election

by Magnifico Thu Aug 27th, 2009 at 12:56:09 AM EST

Preliminary results for last Thursday's election in Afghanistan have been released by election officials. While initial results put Afghan President Hamid Karzai with a slight 2 percent lead over Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, his nearest rival, results released on Wednesday showed Karzai pulling ahead with 44.8 percent of the vote compared to Abdullah's 35.1 percent based on returns from 17 percent of the nation's polling stations.

After the polls closed, the New York Times reported the Afghan election was called a success despite Taliban attacks. "American officials were quick to declare the poll a success -- worth the expanding commitment of troops and money to an increasingly unpopular and corruption-plagued government."

Before the election, Western officials feared the Taliban would completely disrupt the election with violence. The Guardian noted that US and NATO officials were quick to proclaim poll a success despite violence, low turnout, and fears of electoral fraud.  

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Karzai legalizes rape, sells out Afghan Shia women for votes

by Magnifico Fri Aug 14th, 2009 at 07:27:32 PM EST

Human Rights Watch has discovered that Afghan President Hamid Karzai has allowed a regressive law to come into force that strips away women's rights that are enshrined in Afghanistan's constitution in order to win votes.

The law gives a husband the right to withdraw basic maintenance from his wife, including food, if she refuses to obey his sexual demands. It grants guardianship of children exclusively to their fathers and grandfathers. It requires women to get permission from their husbands to work. It also effectively allows a rapist to avoid prosecution by paying "blood money" to a girl who was injured when he raped her.

The law was written in secret by a hard-line Shia cleric and backed by conservative Shia members of the Afghan parliament in March. When the law was made public in April, there was a loud international outcry of protest. U.S. President Obama said the law was "abhorrent" and made U.S. objections known to the Afghan government.

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LQD: Tony Blair's Mother Speaks Out

by Magnifico Wed Jul 22nd, 2009 at 01:37:30 PM EST

Terry Jones — ex-Python, historian, director, writer, bon vivant — has a funny, but serious 'Comment is free' piece at The Guardian.

He's not a very naughty boy
He's just been led astray by that Cheney kid. Or so Tony Blair's mother would have it ...

Tony Blair's mother writes ...

I'm so worried about Tony. I kept warning him about those rough American kids he used to hang out with when he was prime minister, but he wouldn't listen.

"I wish I were in their gang," he used to say. "It's the toughest in the 'hood."

"Fine, Tony," I'd say. "As long as they don't get up to mischief."

Well, it's beginning to look as if I were right all along, and they were not only getting up to mischief but were doing things that were actually illegal, and I'm worried stiff that it might rebound on Tony.

Jones, er Mother Blair, then writes on to comment on her Tony's gang friends.

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Iceland applies for EU membership

by Magnifico Sun Jul 19th, 2009 at 04:45:42 AM EST

Wasting no time acting upon the Althingi's historic vote, Reuters reports Iceland delivers its application to join the EU.

"The (Icelandic) ambassador to Sweden has met with the secretary of state and has handed in to him the application of accession to the EU," said Urdur Gunnarsdottir.

Iceland's formal application letter (pdf) states, "The Government of Iceland has the honour to present hereby, in conformity with Article 49 of the Treaty of European Union, the application of the Republic of Iceland for membership of the European Union."

Yesterday, Iceland's parliament, the Althingi, voted to start membership talks with the European Union. The vote was 33-28 with two members abstaining. ForexTV reported the vote was seen as a victory for Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir, "who has been pushing for joining the EU and the adoption of the euro as the recession-hit country's currency."

promoted by whataboutbob

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2 Weeks Later: Operations Khanjar and Panther's Claw

by Magnifico Fri Jul 17th, 2009 at 06:28:03 AM EST

Two large NATO coalition military offensives are underway in Afghanistan. Here is one example of what NATO troops face. The Guardian has what the newspaper is calling the First ever image of IED roadside explosion in Afghanistan.

The photo by Manpreet Romana shows a U.S. Marine running for safety moments after an IED blast. The roadside bomb explosion was photographed in the Garmsir district of Helmand province.

"The huge cloud of smoke and dirt in the picture, taken yesterday in the southern Helmand province, obscures the bodies of two other U.S. marines killed by the improvised explosive device (IED)."

From the diaries by afew

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A EuroTrib Plinther?

by Magnifico Tue Jul 7th, 2009 at 02:14:52 PM EST

The fourth and vacant plinth in London's Trafalgar Square is now open for people to stand on and do anything they want for one hour at a time. It is part of an arts project called: One & Other.

The plinthers are chosen by lottery. I would enter and if randomly selected, would stand on the plinth myself and be willing to hold a nice European Tribune sign as part of my time, but unfortunately I am not British and only people living in the UK may apply.

So seeing that I won't be travelling to London, I think it would be neat if one of the British ETers would sign up for a plinth standing and hold up a big ET sign complete with the site's URL from the majesty of the plinth. Or maybe, a Europe is Doomed™ sign as a caution snark to all.

Here's some background from The New York Times, Briefly Ascending to the Spotlight, Britons Take Their Place Among Giants.

Plinthers, as they are being called, are allotted specific slots and expected to show up on time, even if it is, say, 2 a.m. or raining. They must spend the hour alone, but are otherwise allowed to do whatever they feel like doing, within reason.

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"The great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity"

by Magnifico Fri Jul 3rd, 2009 at 09:16:44 AM EST

Writing in the the current print issue of Rolling Stone, journalist Matt Taibbi exposes Goldman Sachs, the "world's most powerful investment bank", for the "great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money" that it truly is.

In "The Great American Bubble Machine", Taibbi outlines how Goldman Sachs has either influenced, shaped, or simply created five market bubbles since 1929 and how now, the bankers are planning to use the greenhouse gas emissions cap-and-trade scheme as their penultimate bubble.

While I do not agree with some of the conclusions he makes, there is enough in his 9,700 word essay that can make the blood boil.

"The first thing you need to know about Goldman Sachs is that it's everywhere," he begins. But, "any attempt to construct a narrative around all the former Goldmanites in influential positions quickly becomes an absurd and pointless exercise, like trying to make a list of everything."

diary rescue by whataboutbob

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America's apple pie threatened by loss of Central Asia's forests

by Magnifico Mon May 11th, 2009 at 03:32:13 AM EST

During last year's U.S. presidential campaign, Barack Obama campaigned on a pro-pie platform. But apple pie, an epitome of Americanness, is threatened by the apple's stagnant gene pool.

Like many Americans, the apple is an immigrant to the United States. The apple's ancestors came from Central Asia. Today, wild apple trees grow in the Tien Shan Mountains in Western China and in neighboring Kazakhstan. Almaty, the former capital, of Kazakhstan literally means 'the Father of Apples'.

In addition to wild apple, Central Asia is home to more than 300 wild fruit and nut species, including plum, cherry, apricot, pistachio, walnut and many other important food trees from which domesticated varieties are thought to originate.

A team of international scientists have completed an inventory of Central Asia's trees and identified 44 species in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan as globally threatened with extinction.

promoted by afew

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G-20 Faith in Free Trade Remains Unbroken

by Magnifico Sat Apr 4th, 2009 at 01:50:51 AM EST

The absolutism of the key tenets of neo-liberalism: privatisation, deregulation, balanced budgets have all been rejected by all but the most dogmatic. Apart from one that is: the primacy of free trade.

So writes Noreena Hertz, economist and author, in her op-ed at Spiegel Online: "Is Protectionism Really All that Bad?"

Despite the nationalization of banks, calls for increased regulation, and massive trillion dollar deficits amassed, the status of free trade remains "basically sacrosanct", she writes. "'Free trade is good' continues to be presented as a totemic truth, ring-fenced from debate or interrogation."

An examination of the G-20 communiqué (pdf) from this week's meeting seems to confirm Hertz's assertion.

The G-20 leaders stated: "We believe that the only sure foundation for sustainable globalisation and rising prosperity for all is an open world economy based on market principles, effective regulation, and strong global institutions."

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Obama's "la mission civilisatrice"

by Magnifico Fri Apr 3rd, 2009 at 03:03:33 AM EST

In a fascinating article, Thomas Fuller an International Herald Tribune reporter, writes of Antoine Fayard, his maternal great-grandfather and a French colonial engineer "who built and designed roads, dams and canals across colonial Indochina."

Fuller writes of his journey through Laos and Vietnam where he visited the locations his great-grandfather had been in the 1900s.

I knew where Fayard had traveled because our family had preserved his letters to his mother, photographs he took and a large and minutely detailed, hand-drawn silk map of what is now southern Laos.

Since reading Fuller's article, "100 Years on, Tracing an Engineer's Legacy", I've mulled over the idea that maybe Americans have another lesson to learn from European colonialism when it comes to President Barack Obama's 'new' strategy for Afghanistan.

Lessons from history are not always obvious. While Afghanistan is not Vietnam, I found some interesting parallels in the "civilian surge" part of Obama's strategy with the efforts of French colonialists.

From the diaries - afew

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Two American news stories on the European safety net

by Magnifico Mon Mar 30th, 2009 at 06:58:09 PM EST

Reporting on Europe in American newspapers usually seems pretty dodgy. Without living in continental Europe or being able to read local newspapers written in the vernacular language, a reader like me is left to the reporting of the English-language press and the insights of European friends and bloggers.

Last Thursday, the New York Times really reported that European social safety nets provide a built-in economic stimulus, however it came across as a screed on how European nations aren't doing their part to stimulate the economy. The story's headline actually read: "Aided by Safety Nets, Europe Resists Stimulus Push".

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How can this be Obama's "smarter Pakistan policy"?

by Magnifico Thu Mar 19th, 2009 at 08:12:02 AM EST

Little more than a week ago, U.S. President Barack Obama said in an interview with the New York Times:

At the heart of a new Afghanistan policy is going to be a smarter Pakistan policy. As long as you've got safe havens in these border regions that the Pakistani government can't control or reach, in effective ways, we're going to continue to see vulnerability on the Afghan side of the border. And so it's very important for us to reach out to the Pakistani government, and work with them more effectively.

How then is expanding the war in Pakistan "smarter" policy? How is this reaching out? The NY Times is reporting on a trial balloon being floated by anonymous senior officials in the administration --

President Obama and his national security advisers are considering expanding the American covert war in Pakistan far beyond the unruly tribal areas to strike at a different center of Taliban power in Baluchistan, where top Taliban leaders are orchestrating attacks into southern Afghanistan.

front-paged by afew

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Signs of Obama's solidifying Afghanistan strategy

by Magnifico Wed Mar 11th, 2009 at 05:41:28 AM EST

Last month, U.S. President Barack Obama ordered 17,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan without setting clear goals and an exit strategy. "This increase is necessary to stabilize a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, which has not received the strategic attention, direction, and resources it urgently requires," Obama said at the time.

Since the announcement three weeks ago, signs are beginning to emerge to what Obama's Afghanistan strategy will be. Obama mentions three tools -- the military, economic development, and diplomacy -- he has available to eliminate the threat to the United States.

"We've got to recast our policy so that our military, diplomatic and development goals are all aligned to ensure that al Qaeda and extremists that would do us harm don't have the kinds of safe havens that allow them to operate. At the heart of a new Afghanistan policy is going to be a smarter Pakistan policy," Obama told the NY Times on Friday.

From the diaries - afew

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U.S. Ambassadorships and Obama's Big Campaign Donors

by Magnifico Fri Feb 20th, 2009 at 04:36:53 PM EST

For all the money small donors brought to the presidential campaign of Barack Obama, I doubt a small donor's name will ever be floated for an ambassadorship. Small money donors are not rewarded with access or ambassadorships.

The Washington Post is reporting Louis Susman, a "mega-fundraiser" for Obama, may get "primo" ambassador job. Susman, "who gave and bundled some major bucks" for Obama's campaign is likely to be nominated as the next U.S Ambassador to the United Kingdom, pending the outcome of "negotiations".

What makes Susman qualified to represent the United States to one of America's closest allies? First, he raises gobs of money for Democratic candidates! Last year alone, he contributed $118,187 to 36 different candidates or political action committees.

In 2004, Susman helped raise $247 million for John Kerry. "Susman was an early backer of Obama's -- getting on board even before Obama declared his candidacy in early 2007 -- and was one of the campaign's biggest bundlers."

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