Wednesday, March 31

Moscow metro terror bombings, Georgia, and the United States

On Monday night John Batchelor, toward the end of his discussion with Russia scholar Steve Cohen about the Moscow subway bombings, popped out with a question that made my blood run cold. He asked whether Steve had heard the "theory" that Chechen terrorists were being harbored in Tbilisi, which is the capital city of Georgia.

That was as much asking whether Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili was allowing Chechen terrorists to use Tbilisi as a staging area for attacks against Russia.

For a second I thought I'd hear a crashing sound signaling that Steve had fallen off his chair. But he rallied well, as you will note if you listen to the podcast of the conversation, which starts around the 17 minute mark. Steve was very circumspect; he's a professor of Russian history, not an intelligence analyst, although his answer indicated he understood where John was heading with the question.

To summarize his reply: To the best of his knowledge at that early stage, suspicion for the Moscow subway bombings was falling not so much on Chechen terrorists but on terrorists from other regions in the Caucasus. If I recall he also mentioned the no-man's land of Panski Gorge in Georgia as being a place where Chechen terrorists had been known to congregate in the past, which he knew was old news. (See this in-depth September 26, 2001 report for well-sourced background on the Panski Gorge-Chechens story.)

John let the subject drop after saying that he was just hearing rumors, which indicated he was waiting to learn whether the information would pan out.

At the end of his Tuesday radio show, at 10 minutes to 1:00 AM EDT, John returned to the question he'd raised the night before; this time he made no mention of rumors, which indicated he'd received confirmation on the information.

Listen to the podcast for the exact quotes but to summarize:

John said that there was a larger network than the one established by the terrorist leader who was killed on March 3 by the FSB (Russian Security Service). The larger network was "made up of several different ethnicities, all enemies of the Kremlin, seeking refuge and finding sanctuary in Tbilisi."

He also said that the U.S. government knew about the situation but that Vice President Joseph Biden had made it clear he attaches great importance to his relationship with Saakashvili.

If Washington knows about the situation so does Moscow. That means a royal mess because the Russians are well aware that Mr Saakashvili was installed in office via a U.S. and British-engineered putsch. All he had to do once he became president was know his lines and not bump into the furniture but he turned out to be a surprise.

I interject this story has been repeated many times since the U.S. got into the business of installing puppet leaders. As with Benazir Bhutto and others who seemed to be a nice Westernized friend of democracy, Mr Saakashvili was a Dr Jekell while he was living and studying in the West. Once returned to the Olde Sod, with American power at his back, he transformed into a version of Mr Hyde.

If American readers snap, 'I can't take any more, not one more thing' -- well, we spent more than a half century putting off dealing with many things, including our habit of looking the other way while our government installed puppet leaders. Now we deal with it. Understand?

However, there are several obstacles to dealing with the U.S. entanglement with Georgia; one of them, as John Batchelor indicated, could be Joseph Biden. At least as early as 2008 Mr Biden seemed to take Saakashvili under his wing (Google both names for details). So if not for strongly anti-Russian comments he made last year I might be willing to hope he was simply trying to assure Saakashvili that the State Department was not going to draw and quarter him just because he almost started World War Three in 2008.

However, there are those comments, which tend to place Biden either in the Cold War Warrior camp or what I call the Get Russia crowd; I don't know enough about him to gauge which. There's a lot of cross-pollination between those two categories but the Get Russia crowd is my term for people here and abroad who ganged up after Vladimir Putin announced, in his own way, that the rape of post-Soviet Russia was ended:

No more being overrun by foreign business interests and governments in league with Russians who'd made billions off the breakup of Russia's state-run enterprises during the Yeltsin era -- Oligarchs who didn't pay their taxes, laughed at the sight of starving Russians, created their own enforcement militias out of crime syndicates, rigged elections, and hand-picked governors and other high-level officials.

The mobsters and the Oligarchs and their Western buddies in business and government didn't take Putin's ideas lying down. They decided that in the interests of world peace and their bottom lines they had to wrest Russia back from Putin and his fellow technocrats.

Their machinations were on top of the NATO Cold War plan for world peace, which was never shelved after the Soviet Union was dissolved. The plan was to reduce Russia to the size of a postage stamp and destroy any influence it might have in its former republics. Thus, any former republic that displayed a favorable or neutral attitude toward Russia had to be taken over via a 'soft' coup that placed anti-Russian politicians in power. This plan dovetailed with the designs of the Get Russia crowd, and thus the 'Rose Revolution' in Georgia.

I'm skipping over much history to arrive at the day in August 2008 when I sat down and banged out a post titled To any all U.S. forces in Georgia: STAND DOWN

I was pretty shook up when I realized that while I and the rest of the American public had been distracted by the U.S. presidential election campaign, Saakashvili and the Get Russia crowd had brought the United States to the brink of a shooting war with Russia.

To be fair to the public we got no warning from our glorious mainstream news media; in fact the only warning came from John Batchelor's show. I can't recall at this point everything he said or even how long this was before all hell broke loose in Georgia. But I do remember he noted something strange was going on in Georgia, and he mentioned that a large number of U.S. troops and CIA operatives were there.

As to how the situation got out of control, part of it was perhaps due to Saakashvili's extreme impulsiveness. But there were some suggestions he'd launched the surprise massacre of UN-mandated Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia on the belief he'd gotten the green light from the U.S. government.

It's easy to see how he might have arrived at that impression. At the time, the U.S. military was finishing up provocative war games with Georgia's military, the United States (and Israel) had flooded the country with weapons, and there were about 1,500 CIA operatives there. God only knows how many MI6 operatives were bouncing around there as well. There were also about 1,000 Israeli military advisors hanging out. It must have been gridlock.

Unlikely we'll ever know the truth of the matter. In any event, since then Mr Saakashvili has lived with the fear he would be assassinated or otherwise summarily removed from office by the Americans -- or the British. That has only made him more paranoid and unpredictable.

If you want some idea of how paranoid, read this BBC summary of the Orson Wells-type stunt he pulled earlier this month; although he denied that he'd been involved. For readers who love this kind of stuff here's the blow-by-blow description of the hoax TV news broadcast, which tricked Georgians into believing the Russians had invaded and assassinated Saakashvili.

As to why he thought Georgians would reelect him once they realized they'd been tricked into wetting their pants in terror, maybe he didn't think that far ahead. Like the attack on the Russian peacekeepers -- seemed a good idea at the moment; beyond that a blank.

Vice President Biden has been consistently firm in calling for the democratic process to be upheld in Georgia during the upcoming presidential election and he's met with opposition politicians in Georgia. But he's also said things that Saakashvili could easily interpret to mean the United States would attack Russia with little excuse.

Another problem is that things have deteriorated greatly since 2008. Here's the situation as it stands today (and without bringing in the added problem of the Moscow bombings and terrorists in Tblisi); from a March 8, 2010 editorial:
Georgia vs Russia: Fanning the Flames
[...] Despite the likelihood that Saakashvili’s extreme pro-West policies will be reversed by a future government, the US navy is conducting war exercises at this very moment with Georgia in the Black Sea, and the Pentagon is preparing to build three military bases in Georgia and dispatch of up to 25,000 US servicemen to the country by 2015.[...]
That's just for starters; wait'll you read the entire article. Then move to this one dated March 6, 2010 (See the report for the footnotes):
Daunting Crisis in East-West Relations: U.S., NATO Intensify War Games Around Russia’s Perimeter
[...] Along with plans to base anti-ballistic missile facilities in Poland near Russia’s border (a 35 mile distance) and in Bulgaria and Romania across the Black Sea from Russia, Washington and the self-styled global military bloc it leads, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, have arranged a series of military exercises on and near Russia’s borders this year.

[For readers who interject, 'But I thought Obama had canceled the ballistic missile shields -- Surprise! ]

While the White House, Pentagon and State Department pro forma identify al-Qaeda, Taliban, Iran, North Korea, climate change, cyber attacks and a host of other threats as those the U.S. is girding itself to combat, Washington is demonstrating its true strategic objectives by deploying interceptor missiles and staging war games along Russia’s western and southern borders.

200 U.S. Marines participated in the recently concluded Cold Response 2010 NATO military exercise as part of a 14,000-troop force training for “cold weather amphibious operations, interoperability of expeditionary forces, and special and conventional ground operations” in Norway and Sweden [1] It was the fourth such military training held in Norway since 2006 and the first to be held exclusively in the Arctic Circle.


Cold Response 2010, in which U.S. Marines were involved for the first time in four years, ended on March 4. Less than two weeks afterward, from March 17-20, NATO warplanes will conduct exercises in the Baltic Sea region over Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. All three nations border Russia’s mainland or its Kaliningrad territory.


Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Dillschneider, spokesman for the Allied Air Headquarters in Ramstein, Germany, described the purpose of the upcoming air exercises near Russia’s northwestern border as “to demonstrate solidarity with NATO’s Baltic members.” [7]

Recently, as NATO repeatedly defines itself as global and expeditionary, currently waging the largest and longest war in the world in Afghanistan, it has also increasingly emphasized its “core mission” to respond militarily to alleged threats to member states under its Article 5 “collective defense” provision.

There can be no doubt as to which nation the Alliance and its American leader are sending a signal to by deploying warplanes to the Baltic region in less than two weeks. It is the same country that NATO has been flying continuous patrols over the area against for the past six years. The same one that the West had it mind when it assigned 14,000 troops for war games in the Arctic Circle earlier this month.

Overlapping with NATO’s military exercises in Russia’s far northwestern neighbor of Norway, the U.S. dispatched the guided missile destroyer USS John L. Hall to Georgia’s Black Sea port of Poti for a seven-day stay starting on February 25.

Poti is nineteen miles from Abkhazia, which America’s Georgian client Mikheil Saakashvili is anxious to employ his army – financed, trained and armed by the U.S. – to subdue despite the presence of Russian troops there.

The American ship and its crew were engaged in joint exercises with the Georgian navy and coast guard.

“However, the main task of the American vessel in the Black Sea was not the practice of Georgian-American interaction on the sea, but in tracking the drills of the Black Sea fleet,” a Russian Navy source said on March 3. A dozen Russian ships had staged “an amphibious landing of troops on the coast of Abkhazia” on February 27 as the U.S. destroyer monitored the action from a few miles down the Black Sea coast. [8]

On March 1 new U.S. ambassador to Georgia John Bass presided over the launching of the fourth radar installation on the nation’s Black Sea shore constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

On February 22 U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke arrived in Georgia after visiting the former Soviet states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to expand American and NATO military equipment transport, troop transit, overflights and other logistics for the deepening war in Afghanistan. [...]
That too is for starters. Americans should read the rest of the article to learn more about how their tax dollars, or to be more precise additional billions in debt, are being put to use in the service of global peace.

Here's another obstacle to dealing with the Georgia situation: Influence peddling:

[Lobbying firm] Gephardt Group Government Affairs has signed a $436,800 annual contract to represent the Government of Georgia. Former House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt, the firm's president and chief executive officer, will lobby for the former Soviet republic. The firm's team also includes Gephardt's former chief of staff and the firm's managing partner, Tom O'Donnell, and senior vice president Janice O'Connell, a onetime staff member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, disclosure documents filed with the Department of Justice show.
Georgia hired Podesta Group, yet another American PR [lobbying] company ...

According to Transparency International, in the months after [Georgia's August 2008 invasion of South Ossetia] Saakashvili spent $1.67 million on his American lobbyists. This does not reflect the full amount, however, as the Georgians agreed in writing to reimburse their American employees for business trips and accommodations on both sides of the Atlantic as well as to cover other "essential" spending.


When Saakashvili was asked by the anchor of the BBC "Hard Talk" about his ties to [lobbyist] Randy Scheunemann, an advisor to former U.S. presidential candidate John McCain, all he could say was that the anchor sounded just like Putin.
Sen. John McCain's top foreign policy adviser prepped his boss for an April 17 [2008] phone call with the president of Georgia and then helped the presumptive Republican presidential nominee prepare a strong statement of support for the fledgling republic. The day of the call, a lobbying firm [Orion] partly owned by the adviser, Randy Scheunemann, signed a $200,000 contract to continue providing strategic advice to the Georgian government


As a private lobbyist trying to influence lawmakers and Bush administration staffers, Scheunemann at times relied on his access to McCain in his work for foreign clients on Capitol Hill. He and his partner reported 71 phone conversations and meetings with McCain and his top advisers since 2004 on behalf of foreign clients, including Georgia, according to forms they filed with the Justice Department.

The contacts often focused on Georgia's aspirations to join NATO and on legislative proposals, including a measure co-sponsored by McCain that supported Georgia's position on South Ossetia


Another measure lobbied by Orion and co-sponsored by McCain, the NATO Freedom Consolidation Act of 2006, would have authorized a $10 million grant for Georgia.

For months while McCain's presidential campaign was gearing up, Scheunemann held dual roles, advising the candidate on foreign policy while working as Georgia's lobbyist. Between Jan. 1, 2007, and May 15, 2008, the campaign paid Scheunemann nearly $70,000 to provide foreign policy advice. During the same period, the government of Georgia paid his firm $290,000 in lobbying fees. [...]
Here's a Muckety Map showing a few of Mr Scheunemann's connections; one of them is that rascal Ahmed Chalabi, who presented himself as a great friend to the U.S. government but turned out to be in bed with Tehran's regime.

Reportedly some in McCain's camp tried to put a muzzle on Mr Scheunemann but I think the campaign was still in progress when he gave an interview to a Georgian newspaper; he as much told the reporter that once McCain was President of the United States he'd settle Russia's hash once and for all.

Mr Scheunemann next popped up on the radar after Barack Obama became President. He accompanied Sarah Palin to Hong Kong as her defense/ foreign affairs advisor for her 'breakout' foreign policy speech there.

What a cast of characters.

I need to take a break from this mess and have a sip of sherry -- for medicinal purposes only, of course. More tomorrow -- wait! I see John Batchelor has posted his own analysis to his blog:
Dangerous information that Tbilisi offers refuge and sanctuary for the Ingushetia/Chechen network that links to the Black Widow terror bombers in the Kremlin. Putin boasts of revenge. The Kremlin is exercised to hysteria that Washington offers support and morale to Saakashvili at Tbilisi. Joe Biden directly connects to Tbilisi and has since August 2008. Biden owes his choice as VPOTUS to his dash to Tbilisi those weeks before Candidate Obama chose Biden. This furious tension underlines the Kremlin disdain for the Obama administration. There will be blood.
Maybe that will make a dent in Mr Biden's cranium. Sherry, anyone?

Tuesday, March 30


The Blue Moon post has been bumped yet again; events in the news cycle, including the Moscow subway bombings, took up my attention yesterday and this morning. I'll see what tomorrow brings. I might have a post later today about the bombings, although when I can't say -- maybe sometime after noon EDT.

Regards to all,

Monday, March 29


See second post today for 9 AM ET update on Moscow train bombings with several fresh details from VOA report filed around 8 AM.

I'm hoping to post the "Blue Moon" essay by 1:00 PM ET; if not I'll hold it until tomorrow for 6 AM publication latest.

Regards to all,

Allawi's narrow victory a big defeat for Tehran's meddlers and that rascal Chalabi

In the hubbub I missed the following March 27 report by the Washington Post's David Ignatius, who scooped up much interesting information about the Pasdaran's machinations in Iraq -- and Chalabi's. (H/T Foreign Policy Initiative.) Given how much money Tehran pumped into influencing Iraq's election, no wonder Maliki looked stunned when the election results came in and demanded a recount. Still, with such a narrow margin of victory, it's going to be a cliffhanger as to whether Allawi can form a government but David focuses on the good news:
[...] The election was a stunning defeat for Iran and its spymaster, Qassem Soleimani, who commands the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guard Corps. Soleimiani had spent millions trying to stop an Allawi victory. He failed. If nothing else, that shows the resiliency of Iraqi nationalism, and anti-Iranian feeling, which the Shiite religious parties who have been governing Iraq these past five years failed to crush.

Soleimani and his Quds Force waged a broad covert-action campaign, according to U.S. military commanders and de-classified U.S. intelligence documents. Their first aim was to derail Allawi’s Iraqiya coalition, by using the Iran-backed De-Baathification Commission to disqualify as many candidates as possible. Allawi’s coalition howled about the commission’s arbitrary work, but Iraqiya quickly replaced most of those who were scratched.

Iran’s second tactic was to pressure Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, to join an alliance of Shiite religious parties known as the Iraqi National Alliance. That would probably have guaranteed victory, but Maliki -- understanding that Iranian meddling was unpopular -- decided late last year to go it alone. He’s trying to join with those same Shiite parties now, in the hope of gaining the necessary 163 seats, but it’s probably too late.

The third Iranian tactic was to pump money to the two Shiite parties in the Iraqi National Alliance that it was supporting. A U.S. military commander told me in February that Iran was sending $9 million a month to the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and $8 million a month to the political party of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

The election result was a setback, too, for Ahmed Chalabi, former darling of the neo-conservatives in the U.S. and now one of Iran’s best friends in Iraq. According to a de-classified intelligence document I was given in February:

“Iran supports de-Baathification efforts engineered by Ahmed Chalabi for the purpose of eliminating potential obstacles to Iranian influence. Chalabi is also interested in Iran’s assistance in securing the office of prime minister.”

The document noted that Chalabi met with Soleimani in Iran last November to plan strategy. I guess there won’t be any victory parties at Chalabi’s house in the Mansour district of Baghdad this weekend.

Despite its election setbacks, Iran is sure to have influence in Iraq no matter who becomes prime minister. Even Allawi is said to have made contact with Iran before the elections to assure Iranian leaders that, while he wants Iraqi sovereignty, he won’t be hostile to his neighbor.

Two female suicide bombers kill or maim close to 100 on Moscow subway trains (UPDATED 9:00 AM ET)

VOA report approx. 8:00 AM ET has fresh details:
Senior Russian officials say terrorists from the troubled Northern Caucasus could be behind two deadly explosions that ripped through Moscow's subway during morning rush hour on Monday.


In a televised Kremlin meeting, FSB Director Alexander Bortnikov said preliminary information indicates the first device contained the equivalent of four kilograms of TNT, the second up to two kilograms. Bortnikov also shared a possible motive.

The security official says the FSB's preliminary version of the attack points to involvement of terrorist groups from the Northern Caucasus. He says his agency will consider this the working version, because body parts of two female suicide bombers found on the scene link them to the Northern Caucasus.

The deputy speaker of Parliament, Alexander Torshin, told the Interfax News Agency the choice of Lubyanka [metro] was not accidental, because FSB agents come to work through the station.

Torshin also pointed to a connection in the Northern Caucasus, noting that the bombings could be in retaliation for killings announced this month of two prominent Islamic rebel leaders in the region. [see March 7 report I linked to below] Both were allegedly linked to Doku Umarov, an Islamist leader in Chechnya wanted by Russia on charges of terrorism, kidnapping and murder.

No one has claimed responsibility, but the last suicide bombings in Moscow six years ago were blamed on separatist rebels seeking Chechen independence.

Russia has fought two wars against Chechnya since the 1990s - the latest effort to quell regional separatism since it was conquered by Russia in the 19th century. Residents of Chechnya and other Caucasus republics complain of widespread corruption and unemployment. Many come to Russia in search of work.

Ordinary Russians have also been quick to blame the Northern Caucasus. VOA interviewed six metro passengers at random, and each pointed to the region as the likely source of the attack. Olga notes many workers come from the Caucasus to Moscow in search of a living, but earn relatively little compared to long-time residents of the capital.

Olga says the newcomers get the least desirable jobs, earn no more than $600 a month and must work every day like a slave. She notes many Muscovites earn five times their wages.
London Times Online March 29 approx. 2:59 AM ET:
At least 34 people were killed and dozens more injured when female suicide bombers attacked two Moscow metro stations at the height of rush hour this morning. [BBC live blogging coverage: 0753 GMT: at least 37 dead]

The first blast came at the Lubyanka station in central Moscow at 0756 (0356 GMT) killing 22 people.

The headquarters of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB), successor to the Soviet-era KGB, is located above the station which is just yards away the Kremlin.

Around 45 minutes later at 0838 (0438 GMT) the second explosion happened at Park Kultury station, killing at least 12 more people. "There are killed and injured," a security source said.

The blasts were caused by two women wearing belts packed with explosives, Moscow's chief prosecutor Yuri Syomin told reporters.

Surveillance camera footage posted on the Interbet showed motionless bodies lying in Lubyanka station lobby and emergency workers treating victims.

Passengers, many of them in tears, streamed out of the station, one man exclaiming over and over "This is how we live!"

No group immediately took responsibility for the blasts, but suspicion is likely to fall on Chechen militants and other groups from Russia's North Caucasus, where Russia is fighting a growing Islamist insurgency.

Russian emergencies ministry spokeswoman Irina Andrianova said the first explosion happened as a metro train stopped at the Lubyanka station that was packed with peak hour commuters.

"The blast hit the second carriage of a metro train that stopped at Lubyanka," she said. Commuters were killed both on the platform and in the carriage and at least 10 people were wounded, she said.

The second blast also took place in a train carriage while it was stationary at the platform, she added.

The twin attacks practically paralysed movement on the city's main roads, as emergency vehicles sped to the stations. Helicopters hovered over the Park Kultury station area, which is next to the city's renowned Gorky Park. [More -- lots more from the Times report]
It's possible this attack was in revenge for the killing of eight terrorists earlier this year. The fact that the Lubyanka Metro station is above the headquarters of the FSB (Federal Security Services), Russia's version of the CIA and formerly the KGB, is suggestive, and so is the timing -- the attacks came within little more than three weeks of the following announcement (I've seen other accounts that the Lubyanka metro is "next door" to FSB HQ; it's also close to the Kremlin according to one report):
Russia says alleged passenger train bomber killed
March 07, 2010

MOSCOW — The head of Russia's main security agency has confirmed that a prominent militant connected with last year's fatal bombing of a passenger train has been killed in Ingushetia.

In footage shown on Russian television, Federal Security Service director Alexander Bortnikov made the report to President Dmitry Medvedev.

Bortnikov said Alexander Tikhomirov, a Caucasus rebel ideologue who went by the nom de guerre of Said Buryatsky, was among eight insurgents killed in a police operation this week in the hamlet of Ekazhevo.

Bortnikov said Saturday that evidence found after the attack directly linked Tikhomirov and the other dead militants to last November's bombing of a Moscow-St. Petersburg express train, in which 26 people died.
Are the women suicide bombers in the present attacks among the famous 'Black Widow? suicide bombers' I don't know whether that Shahidka unit, which Chechen terrorist mastermind Basayev created, outlived his death; I haven't followed the story since he was killed.

In any event the women who attacked the Moscow subway today are probably in that same mold as the Shahidkas. For readers whose memory is a little hazy on the subject, from the Wikipedia article I linked to above:
The ranks of the Shahidkas are filled mainly with 15-19 year old women. According to journalist Julia Jusik many of the women have been sold by their parents to be used as shahidkas, others have been kidnapped or tricked. Another group come from wahhabist families and are pressured to become shahidkas by their family.

Only one out of ten act out of conviction or want revenge or want to die. Many have been prepared to the suicide by way of narcotics and rapes (making them ineligible for marriage). Several have been pregnant at the time. Mainly they are given no training at all in preparation for the suicides as no weapon skill is needed to strap on the explosives. Many don't even blow themselves up, but are blown up by remote control. [...]

Friday, March 26

Yippee! Democracy wins out in Iraq!

VOA March 26 4:40 PM ET:
Iraq's electoral commission has announced final results of the March 7 parliamentary election and in a surprise, the bloc led by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi won 91 seats in the parliament, two more than the coalition led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who says he does not accept the results.
It's no surprise to me; Iraqis just got tired of Iranian vote stuffing. Tehran's flunky al-Malaki is terribly upset. Aw. Where is my Kleenex box?

Will violence follow? We'll see soon enough what Tehran has up its sleeve. For now, I celebrate; a lot of American blood and treasure went into getting Iraq to the point where free and fair elections could be held in the country without Iranian influence running the show. So this is great day for the USA as well as Iraq -- and for the entire Middle East not to mention democracy itself:
The long-awaited results of the Iraqi parliamentary election surprised and angered some and brought cheer to others.

As the top vote-getter, Mr. Allawi will be given 30 days to try and form the next Iraqi government. If he fails to do so, President Jalal Talabani will chose the leader of another political bloc to try and form a government.

Prime Minister al-Maliki spoke immediately after the results were announced and with a grave tone repeated his call for a manual recount of the election results:

He says that Iraq's future as a democratic state is riding on the results of this election and there must be a manual recount to ensure a total transparency of the results.

Prime Minister al-Maliki says he would attempt to form the next government, along with the Kurdish alliance of President Jalal Talabani and any other political blocs that would join in.

Members of his coalition surrounded him in solidarity, as he spoke to the media.

Despite the prime minister's demand for a manual recount, U.N. representative Ad Melkart insisted that all polling stations were subject to repeated recounts and that no systematic fraud was detected:

"All results of almost 50,000 voting stations have been checked at least 8 times," said Ad Melkart. "On the basis of specific complaints submitted by different entities, specific audits have been held in places with indications of irregularities. Ballot boxes that could not stand the test have not been included in the count. We have not found evidence of systematic failure or fraud of widespread nature. The U.N. calls on all candidates and entities to accept the results."

Judge Qassem al Abboudi of the electoral commission told Iraqi politicians that the final results of the March 7 parliamentary election would be published in three newspapers and that candidates would have three days to take complaints to the courts.

Both Shi'ite and Sunni Moslem religious leaders urged their followers during Friday prayers in mosques across the country to remain calm and not to respond to any perceived provocations.

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill expressed confidence in the integrity of the vote count and urged all political blocs to "conduct talks on the formation of the new government in a spirit of cooperation..and to refrain from inflammatory rhetoric or action."

Thursday, March 25

Convergence, Part 2: Yellow Dust

This essay picks up from Tuesday's post, Convergence: orange lava, red rust, yellow dust, blue moon

Every year millions of people, the sticklers among us, engage in a ritual called Spring Cleaning. Copious amounts of dust that accumulated in neglected nooks and crannies during the winter are vacuumed, shaken, swept, and otherwise removed from our domiciles. Where the dust goes from there is not our concern. Every year Mother Nature engages in the very same ritual and with the same obviousness to where the dust goes.

Thusly, every Spring, Korean Air has to wash Yellow Dust off jets arriving from China. The dust, a corrosive oxide when it reacts with moisture on the ground, is not easy to remove. According to this article in the Korea Times it takes 6,000 liters of water and between 7-8 hours for 9 workers to wash down just one B-747 jumbo jet at a cost of 3 million won. And because Yellow Dust is a pollutant, the washing has to be done at special sites where waste water disposal plants are located.

Think of that, the next time you board a Korean Air flight, and be sure to tell the pilot how spiffy the plane looks. Compliments might ease a little of the sting that the Korean government feels about the situation.

"We give the Chinese trees to plant," snapped one official. "But they plant them where they want to plant them. Along roads."

True, true, you're not going to do much to halt the march of desertification by beautifying the highways. But the ping side of the ping-pong table is that China's Yellow Dust storms have been going on since time immemorial. One of the earliest written records of the storms is from 1150 BC, during the Shang Dynasty.

Yes but during the past decade or so these storms have become more toxic due to China's massive industrialization schemes. The winds sweep up everything that's not nailed down and is light enough to ride the dust plume, or can be pulled up the plume's electrical charge. And the winds are only getting fiercer and more frequent. So it's not just sand, silt and dust that's being dumped by the ton onto cities and croplands around a large area of East Asia and parts of Russia. From a 2001 report quoted in Wikipedia's article on Yellow Dust (also called Asian Dust):

Sulfur (an acid rain component), soot, ash, carbon monoxide, and other toxic pollutants including heavy metals (such as mercury, cadmium, chromium, arsenic, lead, zinc, copper) and other carcinogens, often accompany the dust storms, as well as viruses, bacteria, fungi, pesticides, antibiotics, asbestos, herbicides, plastic ingredients, combustion products as well as hormone-mimicking phthalates.
Ah yes, but these Yellow Dust storms, as with dust storms that swirl out of Australia, the Sahara and other regions, are also life-giving: Central and South American rain forests get most of their mineral nutrients from the Sahara; iron-poor ocean regions get iron; and dust in Hawaii increases plantain growth.
The storms are getting more destructive with every year that passes:
Often, people are advised to avoid or minimize outdoor activities, depending on severity of storms. For those already with asthma or respiratory infections, it can be fatal. The dust has been shown to increase the daily mortality rate in one affected region by 1.7%. ... The dust storms also affect wildlife particularly hard, destroying crops, habitat, and toxic metals interfering with reproduction. Coral are hit particularly hard. Toxic metals propagate up the food chain, from fish to higher mammals. Air visibility is reduced, including canceled flights, ground travel, outdoor activities, and can be correlated to significant loss of economic activity. Japan has reported washed clothes stained yellow.
Probably no one has ever totted up the grand total for the cost of these storms because they can affect a number of countries. The March 20 storm that blew into Beijing and other parts of northern mainland China went on to slam Hong Kong, and Taiwan and South Korea were hit with the worst Yellow Dust storms on record from just that one storm.
March 20, 2010: Massive sandstorm turns Beijing’s streets yellow. (Reuters)
(TIME - March 22)
Springtime sandstorms are common in China, as Siberian winds blow dust and sand off the Gobi desert across east Asia — sometimes as far as North America. But the size of the storm that began Saturday [March 20] has surpassed what China's capital has seen recently. The storms began in desert areas of the Chinese region of Inner Mongolia and the adjacent central Asian nation of Mongolia, which is suffering from the combination of a dry summer followed by a brutally cold winter. The UN has set aside $3.7 million in aid to help Mongolia recover from the extreme conditions, which have left thousands short of food and fuel and killed more than 2 million sheep and other livestock.

In China, the annual sandstorms have been exacerbated by desertification. Agricultural expansion, overgrazing and population growth starting in the 1950s strained already dry regions in western China. By 2004, 27% of the country's landmass suffered from some degree of desertification, according to the Chinese Meteorological Administration. China has invested heavily in planting trees and small shrubs over former croplands to prevent the spread of arid land eastward. The government has reported the rate of desertification has slowed after 2000, but says climate change and other environmental pressures means more than 186,000 square miles (300,000 sq km) of land are still at risk. [...]
Something must be done to get these storms under control!

Dust Masks Acid Rain 'Time Bomb' in China
Dust storms may be a blessing in disguise since they neutralize sulfuric and nitric acid particles before they fall to Earth.

By Michael Reilly, Mar 31, 2009, Discovery News

Powerful dust storms that whip across China's north and central deserts are infamous for blotting out the skies over Beijing. They wreak havoc with transportation and industry, and pose a serious health risk to the 17 million people who live there.

But they may be a blessing in disguise. According to a new study, the dust is protecting the city from a horrible case of acid rain.

And government reforestation and farmland management programs may be backfiring, inviting corrosive precipitation into the country's capital region.

Acid rain is a known scourge in China's heavily industrialized southern and northeastern reaches, threatening soil quality, forests and food supplies.

But for all its smog-ridden reputation, Beijing remains comparatively acid-free; an island amid the country's sea of coal-burning, sulfur-belching power plants. The reason is the region's regular dust storms. The calcium-rich dust acts as a buffer, neutralizing sulfuric and nitric acid particles before they fall to Earth.

"Beijing city is surrounded by some desert areas," Zhifan Xu and Guilin Han of the Chinese Academy of Sciences wrote in their study, which appears in the April issue of the journal Atmospheric Environment. "The soil dust from these areas can contribute a large amount of alkaline material to precipitation and to neutralize the acidic ions."

Xu and Han found the effect was greatest in late spring and summer, when westerly winds periodically howl out of arid regions, and entrain dust on their way to Beijing. During such episodes, rainwater reached a peak pH of 7.62 and was routinely measured above the preindustrial global background level of 5.2.

But the researchers note that average pH has dropped 1.5 units since the 1980s. Government efforts to stem deforestation, desertification, and topsoil erosion in agricultural areas are at least partly to blame.

"In order to improve air quality in Beijing, the Chinese government has taken some powerful measures to control sand-dust storms in northwest China since the 1990s," they wrote. Since then, calcium measured in rainwater has fallen by nearly 40 percent.

"This is a time bomb waiting to happen in China," Gene Likens of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in New York said. "Once you clean up the dust particles, all that material that was buffering and neutralizing the acidity is gone." [...]
All this points to another blessing in disguise, another conversion of events on the human timeline: The economic depression, which saw Americans and others in the Western world having to back on purchases of Chinese goods, shuttered many factories in China. That's a tough way to cut emissions that create acid rain. So now it's time to put down the ping-pong paddles and think.

As you can see, much time and money has been dedicated to fighting the wrong war, although I'm happy to report that China's government, as is their habit in many matters, has fudged about the success of their war against the deserts. Actually, every time they plant masses of trees and bushes in the barren areas, the wind howls out of the deserts and blows over most of the vegetation.

However, this Deus Ex Machina approach to problem-solving carries serious downsides, and it's only a stopgap measure. To continue with Gene Likens's observations:
The problem isn't dust, though. It's the sulfur emissions from coal-fired power plants, and nitrogen oxides emitted from automobiles and airplanes that are only now coming to the fore as China improves its dust problem.

The situation is much the same in the northeastern United States and Canada, though further advanced. There, natural buffers -- calcium magnesium in soils and bedrock -- are so depleted from half a century of acid rain that forests continue to suffer to this day, even though federal regulations regulations have cut acid deposition in half.

At this rate it's just a matter of time until China's dusty protection is gone, too.

"The only way to solve the problem is to attack the root causes, the fossil fuel-based emissions," Likens said. "We're going to have to start doing something very different."
Doing something "very different" has been hard because the most direct solution has been lost in the shuffle of grandiose schemes to stop 'climate change.' Add to this, every environmental faction has put in their two cents' worth on how best to deal with China's dust storms.

Yes, poor land management and rampant desertification are a huge problem, as is the Yellow Dust itself. I interject that no small part of the problem is that Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea are not going to continue spitting toxic dust out of their mouths while paying through the nose to clean it up. The Chinese government's silly attempt to shift the blame to Mongolia (see the TIME article) fools no one. There will be grave political ramifications if the dust storms continue to increase in frequency and severity. But first things first. And here China is fortunate in that the United States has already done the heavy lifting when it comes to understanding acid rain:
In 1980, the U.S. Congress passed an Acid Deposition Act. This Act established a 10-year research program under the direction of the National Acidic Precipitation Assessment Program (NAPAP). NAPAP looked at the entire problem. It enlarged a network of monitoring sites to determine how acidic the precipitation actually was, and to determine long term trends, and established a network for dry deposition. It looked at the effects of acid rain and funded research on the effects of acid precipitation on freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems, historical buildings, monuments, and building materials. It also funded extensive studies on atmospheric processes and potential control programs.
This research effort led to the Acid Rain Program, a cap and trade system designed to control emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides.
Overall, the Program's cap and trade program has been successful in achieving its goals. Since the 1990s, SO2 emissions have dropped 40%, and according to the Pacific Research Institute, acid rain levels have dropped 65% since 1976. ... However, this was significantly less successful than conventional regulation in the European Union, which saw a decrease of over 70% in SO2 emissions during the same time period [...]
I haven't studied the issue but I'd assume France's extensive use of nuclear power plants has had a big influence on those good numbers. If so, the United States lost much precious time in delaying building of such plants.

In any event, the Acid Rain Program is a good use of the cap and trade idea. Unlike current attempts to apply cap and trade to CO2 emissions, the ARP deals with a narrow and highly objective phenomenon, which has been thoroughly researched.

From all this, one might read the bizarre snowstorm during the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit as an editorial comment. It's a snow job to attempt to persuade China that they must do their share to save the planet by applying cap and trade to their CO2 emissions. Better to start with the reasonable stuff: Just try to get some of those acidic ions under control.

As a spur to concerted action in that direction it's helpful to know that human activity is not the only cause of acid rain. It's also caused by volcanic eruptions
releasing sulfur dioxide.

If those who read the first Convergence essay are suddenly sitting up straight and blinking rapidly -- yes, well: the eruption of Iceland's Laki volcanic system in 1783-1784, shot an estimated 120 tons of sulfur dioxide into the skies. That caused what's known as the "Laki haze" to descend on Europe.

Humanity could dodge the bullet this time around, if only for the foreseeable future. Yet even if the Laki system doesn't go haywire, the Katla eruption, if it happens, would be a reality check. There will be global consequences just from an isolated major eruption on Katla; the only question would be how severe.

For Katla watchers, web cameras have been set up to record the doings. Here's a March 24 report on how things are going since the Eyjafjallajokull eruption:
The volcano at incredibly powerful Mount Katla in Iceland might yet blow its lid, according to scientists quoted in news reports today. Incredible fountains of orange and black lava have since Saturday been burning through the white surface of the Eyjafjallajokull glacier in the southern part of the country. The activity is only on the rise as plumes of steam stretch into the sky. Magma is still flowing into the volcano area, meaning it could grow, according to Stöd 2.

"Eyjafjallajokull hardly makes a move without Mount Katla wanting to get in on the action," said Pall Einarsson, a geophysicist at the University of Iceland to Reuters. "It is therefore of utmost importance to watch events carefully." [...]
See the website for a photograph of Katla's last major explosion, in 1918, and for links to the web cams.

Tomorrow: Convergence, Part 3: Blue Moon.

Tuesday, March 23

Convergence: orange lava, red rust, yellow dust, blue moon

Two old scourges return

In 1999 two entirely unrelated events arose in different locations on the globe: In Iceland the large Katla volcano, which had been dormant since 1955 and not seen a major eruption since 1918, showed signs of awakening. In Uganda, an agronomist received confirmation that spores he'd sent to a South African lab for testing were from a mutation of P. graminis, a fungus commonly known as wheat stem rust. Since 1999 the two events have quietly pursued their independent courses but now, driven by natural forces, they inexorably move toward each other on humanity's horizon.

Both events are connected with old scourges that were so lethal to humans they shaped the course of civilization, both ancient and modern.

Orange Lava

On its own Katla is a dangerous volcano; its last major eruption, in 1918, caused severe flooding in Iceland and from one account I read (see the Times Online link below) an appreciable global impact. But Katla is not a lone wolf. It's part of a volcanic fissure in Iceland's south, the Laki, which in turn is part of a large and complex volcanic system in Iceland. Some of the volcanoes in the system seem 'mechanically' related to each other -- an eruption in one causes an eruption in another -- although scientists don't yet understand the mechanics.

The last time there were major sustained eruptions of the Laki, which included eruptions of the adjoining Grímsvötn volcano, something like a nuclear winter was visited on large swaths of humanity.

On March 20, 2010 a small volcano in Iceland with the jaw-busting name of Eyjafjallajokull erupted. (For those who hate reading words they can't pronounce, it's AY-uh-full-ay-ho-kul.) The eruption, despite it lava flow and spectacular pyrotechnics, wasn't much more than a belch, and it didn't cause any loss of life or property damage in Iceland. Yet the eruption raised alarm among volcanologists; that's because every time Eyjafjallajokull has erupted since record-keeping began, Katla follows with its own eruption.

If the historical pattern holds, how long have we got before Katla blows? I've read estimates that range from "a few weeks to a few months' to "sometime within a year of the Eyjafjallajokull eruption."

As to whether we'll get any warning, there are conflicting answers to this question. One account has it that Iceland's volcanic eruptions don't give warnings, unlike the volcanoes on the Pacific Rim. They're unique among the world's volcanoes; there's not even enough seismic activity to warn of an impending eruption.

A National Geographic article in 2008 tells a different story:
Recently scientists have been keeping an eye on the region around Upptyppingar, a mountain north of Vatnajökull. Located in the country’s remote interior, this area has not seen a volcanic eruption since the end of the Ice Age, about 10,000 years ago.

But geologists point to an upsurge in seismic activity last year as a sign of an imminent eruption. According to volcanologist Haraldur Sigurdsson of the University of Rhode Island, the earthquake activity “started at unusual depth—about 25 kilometers (15.5 miles)—which is just under the crust in Iceland, and it is getting shallower and closer to the surface.” At the current rate of upward motion of the magma—as much as one kilometer a month, Sigurdsson says—an eruption might be expected sometime in 2008. [It doesn't seem this has happened yet.]

Some scientists speculate that the filling of the new reservoir behind Kárahnjúkar Dam, some 13 miles away, may be to blame for the increased seismic activity. Sigurdsson notes that Earth’s crust could bend under the weight of the water and begin to break, resulting in faults and possibly triggering earthquakes. Geologists have no firsthand experience with volcanic eruptions at Upptyppingar, making it difficult to predict exactly what will happen—or to pinpoint a cause. [...]
Perhaps the resolution between the conflicting answers is that volcanoes in the Laki fissure don't give warnings whereas other volcanic regions do, although that's an uneducated guess.

In any event Katla is quiet right now. And the USGS disputes anecdotal reports of small earthquakes in Iceland following the Eyjafjallajokull eruption on March 20. Evidently whatever rumblings occurred were so trifling they couldn't be called quakes.

Here is where I think it gets interesting. The previous Eyjafjallajokull eruptions that preceded the Katla ones occurred in the years 920, 1612, and between 1821 and 1823. But the 'nuclear winter' eruptions in the Laki occurred from 1783 to 1784 over an eight-month period:
The lava shot to heights of 1.4 kilometres and more than 120 million tonnes of sulphur dioxide was released into the atmosphere. A quarter of the island's population died in the resulting famine and [the eruptions] transformed the world, creating Britain's notorious "sand summer", casting a toxic cloud over Prague, playing havoc with harvests in France -- sometimes seen as a contributory factor in the French Revolution -- and changing the climate so dramatically that New Jersey recorded its largest snowfall and Egypt one of its most enduring droughts.
That description from the March 21 (London) Times Online hardly conveys the devastation visited on the human race. A more detailed, and macabre, description is found Wikipedia's article on the Laki.

You can see from a comparison of the dates of the Katla and the major Laki eruptions that they don't comport. That means that at least since record-keeping began, the Katla eruptions seemingly didn't cause the Laki to go haywire as it did in 1783. However, during those earlier times Iceland didn't have the Kárahnjúkar Dam, heavy earth-moving equipment, and extensive tunneling.

As to why Icelanders would feel the need to build dam complexes -- in a land that has been described as "unsuitable for much of anything beyond raising sheep," and which has plenty of natural sources of power -- I do not know, and I am not sure I want to know.

I do know that trying to keep up with the Joneses in the EU trade scramble has led more than one EU government to back questionable projects for their nation. As to whether this observation applies to Iceland -- again, I don't think I want to know, which is why I haven't clicked on the links in Kárahnjúkar Hydropower website that refer to heavy industry and Alcoa in Iceland.

To finish up with lava, we can only hope that Katla, if it erupts, will give off just a small burp, as it did in 1955, then go back to sleep; that its eruption if it happens won't rouse the whole Laki fissure; and that the tectonic plates the country perches on are not so hyper that a major explosion on Katla would set off a chain reaction in other volcanic regions on the island.

Red Rust

Wheat stem rust has been one of civilization's deadliest enemies going back to ancient times -- going back to the cultivation of wheat. When the blood-red fungus took hold, certain death by starvation awaited farming communities that depended on wheat as the food staple. Then, in the 1940s, a young Iowa native and agronomist named Norman Borlaug went to war against wheat stem rust. A mind-warpingly tedious war, as he described it.

Genetic modification in this case was simply years of grueling trial and error, and finally cross-breeding strains of wheat that resisted the fungus. That led to the Green Revolution. Buh-bye wheat stem rust, humans won, cross that scourge off the list.

But in the best tradition of horror stories a few spores of the fungus survived, unnoticed, in the Ugandan highlands. They evolved into an incredibly smart pathogen, one that learned that constant mutation was the way to beat the new-fangled fancy wheat hybrids.

The fungus was aided by human complacency. In 1999 the USDA yawned that the mutation, dubbed Ug99 (Ug for Uganda, 99 for the year of its discovery) did not pose a threat to the descendents of Bourlag's hybrid wheat strains, and that the odds of it spreading outside Uganda were remote.

The story of Ug99's spread outside Uganda, and the race among agronomists to outfox it before it's responsible for the death of a billion humans, is a frightening and fascinating tale, beautifully told in Wired Magazine's March issue. A big thanks to the McNorman blogger for sending me the article. However, I've decided against quoting passages from the article; it's not that long and you really need to read it from start to finish to get a clear picture of the seriousness of the threat posed by Ug99, and its wind-blown continent-hopping travels.

The hope here in the United States is that Ug99 can be stopped before it reaches the Western Hemisphere. If not, "God help us," said one American scientist.

At least according to this organization, scientists have identified 100 strains of wheat that have shown resistance to Ug99. Yet it keeps mutating in response to hybrids it encounters.

Another big problem is getting wheat farmers the world over to abandon their tried-and-true strains of wheat for ones more resistant to Ug99, and which might not grow so well in their regions. It's taking a massive education campaign and one that's racing against time. Ug99 has already wreaked havoc on Kenya's subsistence farmers.

As to why there isn't some kind of fumigant that could be used against Ug99, I haven't studied the issue enough to know the answer.

I do know that while we were trying to save the planet from warming, we diverted much attention and money from simple actions to save ourselves -- actions such as improving our response to earthquakes, hurricanes and other extreme weather.

Even Ug99 could have been stopped before it got out of the gate if we'd thought in more practical terms. The fungus was discovered only by accident; that's because routine testing programs were suspended when it seemed wheat rust stem was a thing of the past.

That's enough of the laundry list for one day; I'll pick up from this point tomorrow.

Sunday, March 21

Aaron Klein does the best reporting on Israel-Palestinian conflict. When will Jerusalem and Washington listen?

I don't know whether it's because he's associated with the politically conservative World Net Daily, or simply because he's outside the think tank-academic establishment, but in my view Aaron's reporting on Israeli defense matters has never received the attention it deserves from foreign relations/ defense policy experts in the U.S.

It's a little easier to see why his reports can be ignored by Israeli policy experts: he is highly critical of the Israeli government's approach to the Palestinian situation.

And yet, year in and year out, Aaron's reports from Israel are the best window on what's happening with the Hamas-Fatah-Israeli conflict. That's because he goes straight to the source and he listens when the source talks. He really does "schmooze with terrorists," to quote the title of one of his books.

Aaron has built up such trust with his sources that when Hamas was falsely accused of marrying off underage girls, they turned to him for help in setting the facts straight for the public.

The trust has paid off many times in scoops. The years since 9/11 can run together in my mind but I think it was in 2008, in the summer, that Hamas agreed to a cease fire with Israel. Jerusalem was certain Hamas was on the level that time, even though Hamas had broken cease fires before.

Aaron rang up his sources in Hamas and asked what they planned to do with the cease fire. They told him they planned to use it to rearm and regroup, which he duly reported on John Batchelor's radio show.

Weeks passed, then with no warning Hamas began firing rockets into Israel. And it came out that they'd been very busy during the cease fire. They'd copied Hezbollah's style of tunnel building and turned Gaza into a warren of cement tunnels. So then the Knesset was shocked to discover that Hamas had used the cease fire to rearm and regroup.

This is also the story in Washington. For all their access to classified signals intelligence reports and high-level political contacts, the NSC and Congress are generally the last to know. But by gum, no matter how many times they're caught short, they still won't heed Aaron's reports.

Maybe they think that whatever Muslim terrorists tell a Jewish reporter can't be trusted -- although after five years of Aaron reporting from the Middle East and getting the story right, that excuse wouldn't hold water.

Aaron's view is that the terrorists have a great need to be heard and understood by the Jews -- and by the rest of the world. This is something the wonks, and the politicians who form their opinions by reading policy papers, don't like to acknowledge. But if the wonks aren't fluent in both Arabic and Hebrew, and don't have reliable sources inside Hamas and Fatah, their theories about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict derive from the voices in their heads.

As to how a nice Jewish boy got on first-name basis with Arab terrorists -- from all I've heard of his reports on the John Batchelor Show, which I've been listening to since he first appeared on the show, I'd say the short answer is that he's a real investigative reporter. You can’t turn over rocks from the safety of a press room or the halls of academia. You have to get out there on the ground and commit to spending years out there. That type of reporting is a calling, not an occupation.

Yet perhaps the best explanation is found in a reply he gave when Front Page Magazine interviewed him in 2007: Jamie Glazov asked about the desecration of ancient Christian and Jewish landmark sites by Muslim fanatics. After outlining some of the attacks Aaron observed:
Meeting with these holy site desecrators, I wasn't angry at them. How can I fault evil for being evil? I cannot be upset when their society, which preaches suicide terror and extreme anti-Semitic propaganda, desecrates holy Jewish sites the minute Israel evacuates.
Aaron saves his anger for Jews who refuse to confront the situation and the Israeli government "for repeatedly giving up land and expecting the Palestinians will respect our holy sites and allow freedom of worship."

And yet his phlegmatic acceptance of the evil practiced by the terrorists, his refusal to patronize them, means they don't feel they have to lie to him. That's an enviable situation for a reporter. I just wish more people in the defense and political establishments in Washington would take advantage of the news that Aaron turns up.

Happily the general public has access to Aaron's Middle East reports via his column for World Net Daily (he is the site's Jerusalem Bureau Chief), his reports for the John Batchelor Show (check the daily podcasts of John's show at the 77 WABC AM radio website), and his own show on WABC on Sundays (2 to 4 PM Eastern Time). The show can be heard online and podcasts are available at the WABC website.

For his show last week Aaron interviewed, among others, the chief of Hamas in Gaza, Mahmoud al-Zahar, who rarely gives interviews to the English media. Here's the lineup for today's show (H/T RBO, which has permission to 'cross-post' Aaron's reports for WND):
Broadcasting live from Tel Aviv, Aaron Klein will confront the Obama administration's generated crisis with the Israeli government over whether Jews can build homes in Jerusalem.

Joining Klein will be Danny Danon, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party.

Also, Klein will play an interview he conducted this week with Jeremy Ben Ami, the director of J Street, a Jewish organization that claims to be pro-Israel but which sided with Obama against the Jewish state and is highly critical of Israeli policies. Hear the question that resulted in Ben Ami hanging up on Klein!

Plus, Klein will expose how Obama helped to fund "Alinsky Academy."
You might also want to check out Aaron's latest book, The Late Great State of Israel, which unfortunately is as timely today as when it was published in May 2009.

For readers who are completely new to Aaron's reporting, here are the opening paragraphs from a September 2008 report for WND, which I saved because it was an important warning that Washington and Jerusalem ignored until it was too late.
'Peace partner' funding 'al-Qaida'

JERUSALEM – Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah organization has been providing financial support to al-Qaida allies in the Gaza Strip, including some of the most radical Islamist organizations in the territory, according to information obtained by WND.

Fatah, considered moderate by U.S. and Israeli policy, has been backing the Al-Qaida allies in a bid to destabilize the rival Hamas' leadership in Gaza. Hamas violently seized control of Gaza from Fatah last June, after Abbas unilaterally dismantled the democratically elected Hamas-led PA. [...]
And yes, for people who cannot live without social media, Aaron uses Twitter.

Thursday, March 11

Silly mistake replicated over past century invalidates temperature records used to 'prove' global warming but IPCC says Let's not dwell on the past

The computer programmer's dictum, "Garbage in, garbage out," applies as well to scientific research. The truth is that you can't turn the question, 'Is the planet getting warmer?' into a rational working hypothesis. That this was done anyhow, and that an equally dead-end question for a scientist, 'Do humans contribute significantly to global warming?' was tacked onto the first unscientific question, points to a crisis in the teaching of scientific epistemology and the practice of scientific method. Now just see where the crisis has led:

It turns out that manually-taken temperature records are worthless as an indicator of global temperatures because weather stations around the world have been compromised. This is because nobody thought to factor in environmental differences that artificially raise readings taken by the thermometers. (See report, below.)

What kind of environmental differences are we talking about here? Some thermometers at the temperature-collecting stations are located next to air-conditioning units, which as everyone who's ever had an air-conditioner knows blow hot air outside. One weather station is next to a waste incinerator. Then there's the weather station at Rome airport, which catches the hot exhaust fumes of jets taxiing down the runways. (1)

The more run-of-the mill oversights are simply that many of the stations were built before urbanization placed buildings, which generate heat, in close proximity to the weather stations. (1)

So in a very literal sense it's blowing hot air to claim that temperature records show the planet is warming:
“The temperature records cannot be relied on as indicators of global change,” said John Christy, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, a former lead author on the IPCC [The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change].

The doubts of Christy and a number of other researchers focus on the thousands of weather stations around the world, which have been used to collect temperature data over the past 150 years.

These stations, they believe, have been seriously compromised by factors such as urbanisation, changes in land use and, in many cases, being moved from site to site.

Christy has published research papers looking at these effects in three different regions: east Africa, and the American states of California and Alabama.

“The story is the same for each one,” he said. “The popular data sets show a lot of warming but the apparent temperature rise was actually caused by local factors affecting the weather stations, such as land development.”

The IPCC faces similar criticisms from Ross McKitrick, professor of economics at the University of Guelph, Canada, who was invited by the panel to review its last report.

The experience turned him into a strong critic and he has since published a research paper questioning its methods.

“We concluded, with overwhelming statistical significance, that the IPCC’s climate data are contaminated with surface effects from industrialisation and data quality problems. These add up to a large warming bias,” he said.

Such warnings are supported by a study of US weather stations co-written by Anthony Watts, an American meteorologist and climate change sceptic.

His study, which has not been peer reviewed, is illustrated with photographs of weather stations in locations where their readings are distorted by heat-generating equipment.


Terry Mills, professor of applied statistics and econometrics at Loughborough University, looked at the same data as the IPCC. He found that the warming trend it reported over the past 30 years or so was just as likely to be due to random fluctuations as to the impacts of greenhouse gases. Mills’s findings are to be published in Climatic Change, an environmental journal.

“The earth has gone through warming spells like these at least twice before in the last 1,000 years,” he said.(1)
If you're a scientist who staked your professional reputation on defending global warming, what is your response in the face of a massive reality check? Naturally, you brazen it out:
Kevin Trenberth, a lead author of the chapter of the IPCC report that deals with the observed temperature changes, said he accepted there were problems with the global thermometer record but these had been accounted for in the final report.

“It’s not just temperature rises that tell us the world is warming,” he said. “We also have physical changes like the fact that sea levels have risen around five inches since 1972, the Arctic icecap has declined by 40% and snow cover in the northern hemisphere has declined.”

The European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts has recently issued a new set of global temperature readings covering the past 30 years, with thermometer readings augmented by satellite data.

Dr Vicky Pope, head of climate change advice at the [U.K.] Met Office, said: “This new set of data confirms the trend towards rising global temperatures and suggest that, if anything, the world is warming even more quickly than we had thought.” (1)
Actually, the latest findings suggest the world is entering a cooling period.(2) And it's beyond me how augmenting irretrievably bad historical data with satellite data could produce a definitive conclusion of any kind.

As for Kevin Trenberth's assertions, he's a victim of bad timing. In January the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center in Colorado released findings that Arctic summer sea ice has increased by 409,000 square miles, or 26 per cent, since 2007.(2) And just days after the Times Online quoted Trenberth's observation about rising sea levels (see footnote 1), the scientists who published the findings publicly retracted their conclusions after other scientists pointed out technical errors in the research.(3)

I hasten to add this doesn't mean sea levels aren't rising; for all anyone knows the levels are even higher than the figure given by Trenberth. Nor does the evidence of expanding Arctic sea ice necessarily invalidate claims that each year multiyear Arctic ice (the ice which has built up over years), is being replaced by thinner first-year ice.(4) What it does mean is that science has to go back to the drawing board -- an exercise that defines scientific inquiry. However, this exercise is too uncertain for governments that have invested heavily in climate change legislation and taxation, so a creative compromise has been reached:
Review of U.N. panel's report on climate change won't reexamine errors

by David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 11, 2010

An outside review of a U.N. panel -- promised after flaws were uncovered in the panel's most recent report on climate change -- will not recheck that report's conclusions and will instead focus on improving procedures for the future, officials said Wednesday.

U.N. officials defended their decision, saying that there is still no reason to doubt the most important conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In a landmark report in 2007, the panel found "unequivocal" evidence that the climate was warming.

"Let me be clear: The threat posed by climate change is real," Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said during a news conference at U.N. headquarters in New York. "Nothing that has been alleged or revealed in the media recently alters the fundamental scientific consensus on climate change, nor does it diminish the unique importance of the IPCC work."


In recent months, scientists have questioned several items in the report. In one case, the panel said incorrectly that Himalayan glaciers were expected to melt by 2035. Critics also said the panel relied improperly on data from advocacy groups, not peer-reviewed science.

On Wednesday, U.N. officials said the outside review of the panel will be overseen by the InterAcademy Council, an association of national academies of science from around the world.

Robbert Dijkgraaf, a Dutch professor who will serve as co-leader of the review, said the flaws identified in the 2007 report could be used as "case studies." But, he said, the review's focus will be on the future -- on examining the panel's leadership, methods of sourcing and conflict-of-interest policies -- in preparation for its next report, due in 2013.[...]
David Fahrenthold should have examined the InterAcademy Council's website more carefully because terming the council an "association of national academies of science from around the world" is a very incomplete description. Here are the IAC's "Partner Organizations:"
InterAcademy Panel (IAP)
InterAcademy Medical Panel (IAMP)
International Council of Academies of Engineering and Technological Sciences (CAETS)
International Council for Science (ICSU)
Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW)

Other international organizations include:

United Nations
United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
United Nations Development Program (UNDP)
United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP)
Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)
World Health Organization (WHO)
World Bank
Asian Development Bank (ADB)
Inter-American Development Bank (IADB)
African Development Bank (AFDB)
European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD)
European Union (EU)
From their own description of their organization, the InterAcademy Council exists to advise national governments and international organizations such as the World Bank and the United Nations "on the great global challenges of our time."

So while it's technically true that the IAC does not work for the United Nations it's misleading to call it an "outside" reviewer of a UN-sponsored project. The IAC advises the United Nations on projects that the UN has already deemed worthy, which is the case for the UN panel on climate change.

As to conducting a "reexamination" of data that support the IPCC conclusions -- there hasn't yet been an examination. There has only been ad hoc criticism of various aspects of data related to climate change research.

However, I'll concede that a comprehensive evaluation of the climate change data can't be done without a convocation that would match the Council of Trent in length. That's because the flaws in climate change research are actually 'the crisis in modern science' spelled backward.

The industrialization of scientific research has meant that huge issues, such as the overuse of computer modeling in lieu of sound research paradigms, have not been tackled in meaningful fashion by the scientific community. To be human is to err and science is allowed its fair share of mistakes. But the large number of 'stupid' mistakes being turned up in connection with climate change research points to a broken system.

1) World may not be warming, say scientists; Jonathan Leake; (U.K.) Times Online, February 14, 2010

2) The mini ice age starts here; David Rose; (U.K.) Mail Online; January 10, 2010

3) Climate scientists withdraw journal claims of rising sea levels; David Adam; (U.K.) Guardian; February 21, 2010

4) Is Global Warming Real? Here's the Evidence, Part III: The Arctic Ice Cap; William R. Wilson; Hub Pages website; January 2010

Wednesday, March 10

Snow on Barcelona's beach. What next?

March 10, 2010, (U.K.) Guardian:
Nearly a quarter of a million people in north-eastern Spain were without power yesterday after the heaviest snowfall in decades brought major disruption to the region. A metre (3 feet) of snow fell in the Pyrenees leaving 6,000 travellers stranded and blocking up to 40 roads on the border between Spain and France. Barcelona recorded its heaviest snowfall since 1962 causing road, rail and flight chaos.

Catalonia's interior minister, Joan Boada, said the power cuts, caused by a fault in a high-tension cable, were affecting the area around Girona, 60 miles north of Barcelona.

Spain's border with France at La Junquera was closed causing 30-mile traffic jams while 170,000 pupils had the day off as schools were shut, local newspapers reported. About 3,000 people were put up in a town hall overnight and many others stranded in their cars as railway lines and roads became impassable, Boada said.

Tens of thousands more were unable to get home after snow fell at lunchtime and many left their offices to photograph the rare scenes of central Barcelona and its beach lying under a blanket of snow.

"I've never seen anything like this here in all my life," said Barcelona resident Raquel Lasmarias, 35. [...]

Indonesian police find Dulmatin and kill him. Oh happy coincidence!

March 5, 2010, Inter Press Service
The administration of President Barack Obama hopes to resume U.S. training of an elite Indonesian military unit whose members have been convicted of gross human rights abuses in East Timor and elsewhere in the sprawling archipelago.

The leadership of Indonesia’s controversial special forces division — the Komando Pasukan Khusus, or Kopassus — has been in Washington to discuss the proposal this week.

Its meetings here come ahead of President Barack Obama’s state visit to Indonesia later this month. The trip will launch "The U.S.-Indonesia Comprehensive Partnership" — a bilateral strategy to enhance security and economic cooperation between the two countries. [...]
March 10, 2010, Reuters
"Today I can announce to you that after a successful police raid against the [three] terrorists hiding out in Jakarta yesterday, we can confirm that one of those that was killed was Dulmatin, one of the top Southeast Asian terrorists," [Indonesia's president] Yudhoyono said in a speech in Australia's parliament house in Canberra.

The series of police raids that led to Dulmatin's death will be seen as a coup in Indonesia's fight against Islamist radicals ahead of President Barack Obama's visit March 20-22. [...]
Isn't this great news? Dulmatin was a very bad man and unfortunately a bright one; he was nicknamed "The Genius" for his skill at bomb making. He also had more lives than a cat; at one point in 2008 he was believed to be dead and buried in the Philippines.

I've heard a plausible explanation as to why Dulmatin might risk returning to Indonesia, even though he was on the country's Most Wanted list and knew that Yudhoyono was turning over every rock in Indonesia in the hunt for terrorists. A spectacular suicide bombing during President Obama's visit would be a great blow to Yudhoyono's government. And -- so the explanation goes -- Indonesia's government had taken out so many terrorists in recent years that there might not have been anyone left in the whole wide world of al Qaeda franchises who could have done the same bang-up job in Indonesia as Dulmatin.

As to how he was tracked down in Indonesia, there is a plausible explanation for that too; you can read about it in the Reuters report I linked to above.

For the types who get nervous when they see happy coincidences and plausible explanations pile up -- now, now! One must always make room for the alignment of the planets. When you combine a fortuitous arrangement of the stars with a little elbow grease and a military's crying need for aid money, training, and spare parts for military equipment, there is no limit to what can be accomplished.

Look at Pakistan. In the space of a few weeks the military there has found, captured or killed so many terrorists, and helped the U.S. military locate so many of the varmints in Afghanistan and Pakistan's badlands, that Foreign Policy had to put together a Cheat Sheet; this in the attempt to keep track of just the major kills. And there have been so many kills by recent "covert" UAV operations that Long War Journal has put up a handy graph and pie chart in the attempt to keep track of them. Yes indeed, terrorist corpses are now piling up faster than anyone can keep count.

Instead of thumbing their noses at all these happy coincidences, American cynics in particular should think about their responsibilities. If you don't know what your responsibilities are -- Yohanes Sulaiman, a lecturer at the Indonesian Defense University and the executive director of the Center for Democracy, Integrated Peace, and Security Studies, explained it all quite wonderfully last week for readers of the Jakarta Post:
While the US had lifted its arms embargo on Indonesia, Indonesia still faces difficulties in procuring more arms from the US due to cost, bureaucratic hassle and [American] congressional hostility. Of course, it can be argued the Indonesian military needs to undergo structural reform first.

Still, the fact remains the Indonesian military is vastly under-equipped and needs more equipment and spare parts to defend the huge expanses of Indonesian territory.

As US forces are stretched thin due to commitments in Iraq, Afghanistan and all over the world, the US needs a friendly Indonesia to maintain the stability of the region in the face of threats from a rising China and radical religious terrorists, not to mention criminal elements such as human traffickers or drug smugglers. It is only fair the US help Indonesia modernize and equip its military forces.
To which General Kayani, the Pakistan military's chief of staff, would add, 'Those are my lines!'

As to what Yohanes Sulaiman means, exactly, when he observes that "Of course, it can be argued the Indonesian military needs to undergo structural reform" -- ahhhh, it's complex. If you're game for plowing through a little complexity we'll return to Charles Fromm's March 5 report for Inter Press Service, which was snapped up by that curmudgeonly anti-war website, Anti-War. Ready?
[...] The Kopassus [Indonesia's special forces] have been notorious for employing brutal tactics since the 1970s, particularly in East Timor, Aceh, Papua and Java. Various human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the East Timor Action Network, have accused the unit of murder, torture and kidnapping among other egregious rights abuses.

The plan to resume U.S. training, however, proposes to limit participation to younger members of Kopassus, as their age would make it more likely that they had not participated in the group’s most notorious abuses.

The new efforts to engage the Indonesian military follow Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s comments last week at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee meeting that the administration hoped to expand its military partnership with Indonesia and enhance counterterrorism cooperation.

However, this policy is not without opposition. Critics argue that Kopassus continues to commit serious abuses with impunity and that restoring a cooperative relationship could actually prove counter-productive.

"U.S. military assistance harms reform and sets back human rights accountability in Indonesia," said John M. Miller, national coordinator of the East Timor Action Network (ETAN).

"The best way to prevent future violations is to hold accountable those responsible for the multitude of human rights crimes committed by the Indonesian military in East Timor, West Papua, and elsewhere. Many of these crimes occurred while the U.S. was most deeply engaged with the Indonesian military providing the bulk of its weapons and training," he added.

Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, sent an open letter to the White House late last month in which he called for Obama to "seize this opportunity to reaffirm that human rights and the rule of law are essential pillars of U.S. engagement in Indonesia."

Roth also asked him to "condition even limited re-engagement with Kopassus" on the firing "of any personnel previously convicted for human rights abuses," and the establishment of a tribunal to thoroughly investigate the disappearance of some two dozen student activists in 1997 and 1998. Rights groups have charged that Kopassus units were responsible.

He also called for wide-ranging structural reforms to enhance civilian control of the military in all realms, from the jurisdiction of military tribunals to the vast military-run businesses that exercise a major influence in the Indonesian economy, particularly in resource-rich regions, such as Papua.
Clear now on the meaning of "structural reform" for Indonesia's military?

Just remember it's all about choices and attitude. You can choose to go through your life bitter and morose at the thought you're being extorted by lying, corrupt, scoundrels who will eschew radical Islam only so long as their palms are greased. Or you can choose to look on the sunny side: think that your tax dollars are helping thousands of young men in less-privileged countries receive the very best training and weapons the U.S. military and American defense contractors can provide.

If you decide to go through life with a smile on your face, then join me in wishing on a star, dancing through clover, and celebrating happy coincidences.