Saturday, October 09, 2004

I'm Back IV... Europe...

The big news is of course that Turkey got the green light. Hopefully, the process won't be aborted by either side. Since opposing majorities in public opinion in most EU countries is often mentioned in English-language news, I note that several polls in at least Germany (which has the most Turkish immigrants) show significant majorities in favour of Turkey joining on the medium to long term. Which is what most Turks themselves expect anyway. And what I would view as healthy, also considering that we Central-Eastern Europeans will pose some major problems (and not through a migration many in the West fear, it's more about values and political culture and adapting to institutions) for quite some years.

In this respect, I was happy to see that Edward at A Fistful Of Euros, whom I agree on Turkey but not on econo-demographics, was among the few who didn't forget that Romania and Bulgaria are about to join too, and that doing it in 2007 as envisaged might be more problematic than Turkey.

I'm Back III... Economics...

Rather loosely...

As I write this, the oil price is breaking records again - Nymex at $53.31, Brent at $49.68 (dated) and $49.71. Is this Peak Oil? I don't think so - it's close, given that there aren't many untapped capacities, but not yet, Peak Oil will be when demand outstrips production even without the combination of hurricanes and sabotage in a number of supplier countries. And when that happens, I'd expect prices to exceed the inflation-corrected record of 81.30.

Meanwhile, the latest US jobs data shows moderate growth, with last month's figure downward revised. (link to the official data.) Since the US population grows by roughly 280,000 every month (calculated from US Census Bureau data), and the increase in the working-age population should be about the half of this (140,000), from June on the absolute job growth doesn't make up for population growth. On a longer timescale, Bush is some 0,8 million below his January 2001 figure, while population went up some 11 million; that is, Bush is 6,3 million jobs short of just keeping up with population growth.

Meanwhile, the Bush government shot another own goal by bringing the issue of EU state loans for Airbus before the WTO (abadoning an 1992 agreement thereby): the EU retorted within an hour by bringing the issue of US subsidies for Boeing (either from Washington state or through federal government agencies like NASA et al) before the WTO - they must have awaited the US step. (In both cases some $3.4 billion is said to be the sum.) It is rumoured the reason was not elections, but that Boeing panicked upon rumours that Airbus would start the project of an A350 to directly rival the 7E7.

The interesting observation to make is how Japan became an inofficial subcontractor of US government policies. I lately noted (not in this bog) that when the US finally withdrew its $18 million special support for Islam Karimow's Usbekistan, Japan cruised up with a preferential loan of $120 million. And I didn't fail to notice that unlike at least one player in most Asian hubs, no Japanese airline ordered Airbus's A380 so far, while Boeign's new 7E7 program was started thanks to a single, but massive order of fifty planes from a Japanese airline. Now articles say Japanese industry would contribute a sizable portion of the 7E7 project, with subsidies from that government too (the EU wants to speak about this at the WTO, too).

Friday, October 08, 2004

I'm Back II... On Iraq & the Media...

The big story is supposed to be the Duelfer Report, which admits there were no WMD in Iraq. However, we knew that already - from Hussein Kamel's 1995 testimony (released weeks before the war), from a critical assessment of the work of UNSCOM and UNMOVIC, from the collapse of US and British claims thanks to the work of UNMOVIC and mostly British journalists even before the war, and also from an 1995 document the CIA team then led by David Kay found (and leaked to the Washington Post), which was clear about the unilateral WMD destruction when it summed up what Hussein Kamel could possibly talk about.

On this issue, the New York Times's dissembling of the aluminium tubes story is more important - a really thorough article that not only exposes how well the real use of the tubes was known in 2001 already and how unserious the centrifuge interpretation was, and the politicians' role in pushing it, but also the NYT's omission on several ocassions to expose this earlier. (Now if only they had put this on the front page - and would be more critical of current claims and spin.)

One should view the Duelfer Report in the light that it is not a report by the independent UNMOVIC but the CIA, and not the report by the ISG's first leader - David Kay - who was already a zealous partisan out to find anything to support a foregone conclusion but had to be replaced when he would admit defeat - it is a report by its second leader, chosen for partisanship. So the admission of a lack of both WMD stocks and WMD programmes is the DUH! part, and the spurious inferences about Saddam's post-sanctions intentions (that is, Saddam's daydreams as inferred by the CIA from claimed Saddam remarks in part claimed to be what onetime underlings claimed and interpreted, with all claims obtained in custody under questionable and unverifiable circumstances - heh) plus the regurgitated claims about beneficiaries of the Oil-For-Foods programme's corruption (without bothering to ask the accused about the charges) is what deserves to be considered with the credibility of a second-order partisan.

(BTW, the unusually strong Guardian editorial put it this way: "The basis for this claim - garnered from interviews with captured scientists and the former Iraqi leader himself - is as incomplete as it is tantalising. But it is founded on inference and supposition not on fact - though it has been emphasised by US and British officials desperately spinning the meaning of the report.", read the rest too.)

(UPDATE 13/10: Even better quote from CNN, via Left I:

SCOTT RITTER, FMR. U.S. WEAPONS INSPECTOR: I absolutely agree that the facts can only lead you in one direction, that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction capability, that the United Nations had, indeed, succeeded in disarming Iraq in 1991. The programs were dismantled by 1995. And Charles Duelfer's report clearly underscores this.

Where I disagree is the notion of intent. I don't think we can afford to take at face value anything the Bush administration or Bush administration appointees say regarding weapons of mass destruction that paint the Bush administration's decision to go to war in a favorable light. There is no substantive factually based data that sustains the notion of intent. We have Charles Duelfer providing speculation, innuendo, hearsay and rumor. But we don't have a confession from Saddam Hussein or his senior leadership. And void of that, I think, we need to question this assertion.

Ritter also wrote on the issue in the Independent, so did Hans Blix.

L. Paul Bremer's little fallout with the neocons isn't that important either - it would be amusing to listen to them exposing how both the planning and the progress of the occupation was botched, wouln't mainstream US commenters be fast to fall in line on either side of the dualism, rather than see that both sides happen to be right in their criticism...

As for more important issues.

Some US and right-wing Anglo-Saxon editors gathered some courage to publish articles truly critical of current claims of US military propaganda. Regarding Zarqawi, an article that appeared in the British Telegraph and the Australian The Age details why "American intelligence obtained through bribery may have seriously overstated the insurgency role of the most wanted fugitive in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi" - and relates this to the daily bombing of Fallujah. Excerpts:

We were basically paying up to $US10,000 ($A13,700) a time to opportunists, criminals and chancers who passed off fiction and supposition about Zarqawi as cast-iron fact, making him out as the linchpin of just about every attack in Iraq," one agent said.

"Back home this stuff was gratefully received and formed the basis of policy decisions. We needed a villain, someone identifiable for the public to latch on to, and we got one."

...the insurgency is led not by foreign-born Arabs but by members of Iraq's Sunni minority.

"The overwhelming sense from the information we are now getting is that the number of foreign fighters does not exceed several hundred and is perhaps as low as 200," one agent said.

"From the information we have gathered, we have to conclude Zarqawi is more myth than man. At some stage, and perhaps even now, he was almost certainly behind some of the kidnappings. But if there is a main leader of the insurgency, he would be an Iraqi. But the insurgency is not nearly so centralised to talk of a structured leadership."

Military intelligence officials complain that their reports to Washington are largely being ignored and accuse the Pentagon of over-reliance on electronic surveillance and aerial and satellite reconnaissance by the CIA.

In recent weeks America has claimed a series of precision air strikes on targets in Fallujah identified by the CIA as housing known Zarqawi associates. [As I suspected, they are shooting into suspicious crowds, any crowd is suspicious - including yet another wedding party...]

It has denied that there were any civilian casualties, despite television pictures showing dead and wounded women and children being pulled from the rubble of flattened homes.

From the last part, you can see why I think this is more important: the US air force is killing dozens every day based on just as phony an intelligence as the WMD one, while in their minds fighting a just as cartoonishly overblown single man (Zarqawi) as then Saddam. If a combination of execution without trial ("there's a suspected terrorist, let's kill him"), collective punishment ("there's a suspected terrorist in da house, let's kill everyone"), racism ("'they' attacked us") and bad intel is bad enough, what to make of all of this done while fighting a phantom, like some drug addict shooting his girfriend while fighting a hallucination? Western values, what are they...

(Oh, and as Raed points out, it is the height of hypocrisy to speak much about the children killed by the resistance's bomb - a bomb aimed at US troops, who got those children into danger by handing out candy; and then lose no word about the children killed in another Fallujah bombing or Gaza raid.)

Meanwhile, another article that appeared in Newsday and the Boston Globe references an Arab intelligence service (from the text, my bet is on Jordan) report that Zarqawi is most likely in Mosul, not Fallujah. The article is the best so far not in a European source, dismantling four of the five main spins about Zarqawi - i.e., that 1) he is an al-Qaida operative (rather than head of a rival organisation), that 2) he was harbored by Saddam, that 3) he oversaw a poison factory and network, 4) his would be the strongest Resistance sub-group (rather than media-savvy, but inferior even to the Kurdish fundies of Ansar-e-Islam), that 5) he is Fallujah based (rather than in the Northern regions):

...according to an Arab intelligence assessment, Zarqawi is not capable of carrying out the level of attacks in Iraq that he has claimed and that American officials have blamed on him.

Zarqawi's own militant group has fewer than 100 members inside Iraq, although Zarqawi has close ties to a Kurdish Islamist group with at least several hundred members...

...Al-Zarqawi has spent considerable time in Mosul, and he might be hiding there rather than in Fallujah, where U.S. forces have launched numerous air strikes since June on what they describe as al-Zarqawi safe houses. Al-Zarqawi is drawn to Mosul because of the concentration of Ansar members there, and because the city of 2 million people is easier to hide in than Fallujah.

Al-Zarqawi's ties to al-Qaida are unclear, and he is more likely an independent operator than a lieutenant of bin Laden's. (That has been the view of Arab and European intelligence officials for several years.) Al-Zarqawi is also likely to see his own group, Tawhid and Jihad (Arabic for "Unity and Holy War"), as being in competition for recruits with al-Qaida.

...Since Powell's speech, some U.S. officials backed away from the story of al-Zarqawi's Baghdad hospital visit, saying the militant still has both his legs.

..."A year ago, hardly anyone had heard of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Today, he is a superman who is responsible for bringing chaos to Iraq," said Diaa Rashwan, a leading expert on Islamic militants at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. "The Americans overestimated him for political reasons. It is easier to put all the blame on one man than to deal with an insurgency that includes Iraqi nationalists, former Baathists and Islamists."

I was also almost incredulous reading this article exposing the truth behind the Allawi government's 'sovereignity' - one in the Telegraph, on the ocassion of the aborted release of female detainees at Abu Ghraib - but with lots of other examples. Meanwhile, lesser elements of the bureaucracy try to establish sovereignity (or maybe a credibility with the population) in provocative ways: indicting a Chalabi associate for calling for talks with Israel or demanding the US to give back the Green Zone!

I'm Back... First On Environmental Issues

In the course of the month I stopped blogging (sorry - hadn't much time), the most important news in my view (but one not getting the headlines amid all the US Presidential debates buzz and the daily Iraq, Gaza etc. carnage) was that Russia is about to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. The goverment OKd it, now it's the Duma's turn; but given the way Tsar Vladimir I of the Putins dealt with democracy, that is only a formality. The Kyoto Agreement already has more than twice the required 55 signatories, and now it will have the required more-than-55% of the 1990 CO2 exhausts of industrialised countries among the signatories, so it will come into effect.

I note three points in relation to this. The first is that contrary to jubilant US right-wingers and some other gloomily accepting their analysis, I didn't thought Putin wants to kill the treaty - it seemed quite clear to me that he wants to blackmail Europe to get the highest possible prize. Now, I have to look whether there was any secret deal; or if Putin was satisfied with German Chanchellor Schröder's continuing apologism for his Chechnya and anti-democratic policies, or if he just gave up trying in vain to gain more.

The second point also clouds the joy: it is that these four years meant a loss of momentum, with the focus of public opinion shifting away, which also means politicians won't make the issue a priority again for some time. Worse, paradoxically, the downturn of the global economy from late 2000, rather than forcing the political, economic and media elites to realise that what caused it - the economic religion of our days, neoliberalism - is bunk, made them believe just this bunk is the solution to the budget problems now chronic, thus deepening their orthodoxy and their too narrow focus on the economy. It will be a rough ride 'till 2012.

Third, opponents and critics have argued that Kyoto leaves out developing countries like China and India, and that a 5% reduction is nowhere near the needed 50 to 75%. However, the first is simply not true: developing nations are exempted only in the first ten-year period (well, now less; target date 2012) - but China and India are signatories, which means they will be bound by the yet to be determined targets of the second and further periods. Also, while a 5% reduction is not much to stop global warming, achieving it will mean uncoupling economic growth from CO2 emissions growth - and once that has been achieved, further major reductions will be easier.

Finally, an anecdotic argument for wind power. I often champion the cause of wind power, so I did at Left I, with (off-topic) followups in the comments to this and this post. Someone objected, saying he lives near a wind farm, which is a big problem for birds. But as the studies known to me indicate that older, small hence fast-rotating windmills, on lattice towers, placed in bird migration routes, and unavoidable places like mountain passes are what increase the danger, and the one wind park where counts of dead birds were really high was the combination of all of the above, I ventured a guess that this someone lives near Altamont Pass - and I was right!