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Archive for November 2nd, 2009

Pakistan is selecting some drone targets

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PredatorwHellfire

The Obama administration quietly decided last March to allow Pakistan to choose some of its own targets for drone attacks, according to the New Yorker…

Earlier last week, the magazine published a piece on the use of unmanned aircraft to target Al Qaeda and Taliban suspects in Fata. On Sunday, its author Jane Mayer gave an online interview to the readers, telling them that the Obama administration agreed to allow Pakistanis to select targets to calm down Islamabad’s protests over the drone attacks.

The change in US policy led to the killing of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud in August.

The journalist, who interviewed senior US intelligence officials for the interview, wrote that on Aug 5, officials at the Central Intelligence Agency, in Langley, Virginia, watched a live video feed relaying close-up footage of Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Taliban in Pakistan.

‘He could be seen reclining on the rooftop of his father-in-law’s house, in Zanghara, a hamlet in South Waziristan. It was a hot summer night, and he was joined outside by his wife and his uncle, a medic; at one point, the remarkably crisp images showed that Mehsud, who suffered from diabetes and a kidney ailment, was receiving an intravenous drip.

‘The image remained just as stable when the CIA remotely launched two Hellfire missiles from the Predator. Authorities watched the fiery blast in real time. After the dust cloud dissipated, all that remained of Mehsud was a detached torso. Eleven others died: his wife, his father-in-law, his mother-in-law, a lieutenant, and seven bodyguards.’

In her interview, Ms Mayer noted that the use of unmanned aircraft to kill militants had both good news and bad news. According to the CIA, they’ve killed more than half of the 20 most wanted Al Qaeda suspects. The bad news is that they’ve inflamed anti-American sentiment, because they’ve also killed hundreds of civilians.

It’s way too easy to repeat some facile slogan about “War is Hell”. Politicians rely on the trick all the time. So do preachers and other pundits.

Civil War still seems to be the most reliable solution to divisions built into Pakistan [and Afghan] politics by the American flavor of Cold Warriors over the decades. The closest thing to democratic elements in those societies seem to be the side we support. Any other choices at hand?

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Written by Ed Campbell

November 2, 2009 at 10:00 pm

Small banks move in as the chain banks falter

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FirstBank of Colorado flew this message over a Rockies game

Sensing an opportunity to capitalize on public outrage over big national banks rescued by taxpayer bailouts, Edward Speed has started a campaign urging Texans to take their cash out of banks like Wells Fargo and turn it over to small homegrown institutions like his, the Texas Dow Employees Credit Union in Lake Jackson near the Gulf Coast.

His pitch drips with Texas swagger — “Real Texans bank locally” reads one of his ads. “We respectfully suggest they head on back home and make their profits where they live…”

Across the country, community banks like Mr. Speed’s are trying to tap into the public’s outrage over Wall Street greed to lure customers from their big multinational competitors.

The overarching message: You can trust us, because we did not cause the crisis and did not need bailouts.

“We’re pretty convinced that the public is very upset with these big banks, and they don’t have much use for them anymore,” Mr. Speed said in a telephone interview. “I can’t beat Wells Fargo and Bank of America nationally, but I can certainly beat their branch across the street…”

But the recession has provided an opening for small banks to promote their relative stability. According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the federal agency that insures deposits, banks with less than $1 billion in assets remained the best capitalized in the industry, meaning they have adequate cash to absorb loan defaults.

And most smaller banks have continued to extend credit to consumers and small businesses, while big banks like Citigroup continue to cut back on their outstanding loan balances. With the bankruptcy of the CIT Group, one of the biggest small-business lenders in the country, community banks sense even more opportunity to fill the void.

Just about all the friends I have in banking IT work for community banks. They knew about the crap loans, sub-prime disasters looking for a time and place to happen as early as I did – a decade ago. In general, they refused to participate in the gamble – and came through the recession smelling like a rose.

My favorite local bank has pretty much always financed more home construction loans, home mortgages than anyone else in the region. They picked up their share of foreclosures – mostly spec homes built by contractors trying to stretch into being bigger than they should have been. They’ve also picked up the lion’s share of refinanced mortgages from folks who are here to stay.

They’re still the people I would turn to for a loan.

Written by Ed Campbell

November 2, 2009 at 6:00 pm

Oops – EEEEEEEAAGH!

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It probably is best not to fiddle with switches or controls when riding in the back seat of an air force fighter plane.

A man who failed to obey that principle found himself hurtling out of the cockpit, smashing through the Perspex canopy and into space after grabbing the black- and yellow-striped handle between his legs. He had inadvertently pulled the eject lever and found himself blasted 100 metres into the sky on his rocket-powered seat…

“Much of the information has yet to be tested, but it is confirmed that a civilian passenger unintentionally ejected from a Silver Falcons Pilatus PC-7 Mk II Astra during a general flying sortie out of Langebaanweg air force base this week,” a South African air force spokesman said. “The passenger was recovered [by helicopter] unharmed, and returned to Langebaanweg. The aircraft landed safely…”

A retired SAAF instructor pilot said the passenger was extremely lucky to have survived the ejection with barely a scratch…

He discounted the possibility that the seat fired of its own accord, as too many safety features were built into the system.

“All it takes is for the firing handle [the rubbery black- and yellow-striped loop] to be pulled up about 2.5cm and you’re on your way out.”

Har!

Written by Ed Campbell

November 2, 2009 at 3:00 pm

Karzai gets new term. What about the war, then, eh?

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Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

Afghan officials on have canceled plans for a runoff presidential vote, declaring President Hamid Karzai the winner after the withdrawal of his last remaining challenger, Abdullah Abdullah. The announcement capped a fraught election widely depicted as deeply flawed by corruption and voting irregularities…

Mr. Karzai and the Independent Election Commission had been under intense pressure from Afghanistan’s international backers, including the United States, to cancel the second round because of security perils and worries about a potential repetition of the vote-rigging that marred the first round. At a news conference, Mr. Ludin said Mr. Karzai had won the majority of votes in the first round “and was the only candidate in the second round.”

Accordingly, Mr. Ludin said, Mr. Karzai was “declared the elected president of Afghanistan.”

Advisers to President Obama called Mr. Abdullah’s decision a personal choice that would not greatly affect American policy and was in line with the Afghan Constitution. They portrayed the election of Mr. Karzai as essentially settled, enabling Mr. Obama to move forward with deciding whether to send as many as 40,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, although an announcement probably remains at least three weeks away…

Administration officials…sought to focus on security questions rather than governance and political stability, emphasizing that the chief American goal now in Afghanistan was to make sure that Al Qaeda would not re-establish bases there…

Mr. Abdullah has been under intense pressure from Western officials to avoid confrontation and end a two-month dispute over the election results. That has been in part because the outcome of the runoff had been identified as a vital benchmark before Mr. Obama was to announce his military strategy in Afghanistan.

Mr. Obama is scheduled to hold at least two Afghanistan meetings at the White House this week, following his session on Friday with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in which he pushed his military commanders to return with more specific options.

The same questions we’ve been asking remain unanswered. At what point do we justify being the cops of the world?

Kosovo, yes. Afghanistan 2001, yes. Iraq, NO – but, lies and deceit prevailed. Pakistan 2009 isn’t Pakistan 2001, Iraq 2009 isn’t Iraq 2003, Afghanistan today isn’t the same as the land we invaded in 2001 regardless what your friendly neighborhood pundit or TV talking head wants you to believe.

Obama should move beyond conventional wisdom, beyond rule by politics and opportunist consensus.

Written by Ed Campbell

November 2, 2009 at 12:00 pm

Oasis of the Seas leaves Finland

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Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

Named Oasis of the Seas, the 20-storey, 1,180ft monster is due to enter British waters in order to drop off hundreds of workers who have been making the finishing touches to its on-board luxuries.

It is en route from its shipyard in Finland – passing over the weekend under a bridge which its funnels cleared by just 2ft – before crossing the Atlantic for its official unveiling in Florida.

And nautical enthusiasts are likely to flock to the cliffs of Hampshire in the hope of catching a glimpse of the £800million behemoth, which is three times the size of the QE2 – and five times as big as the Titanic.

The Oasis of the Seas can accommodate a staggering 6,360 passengers and 2,160 crew in recession-defying luxury, with cabins including ‘multi-level urban-style loft suites’ boasting floor-to-ceiling windows.

Phew! I am not a fan of any ship too big to allow easy trolling for the catch of the day.

RTFA for more photos. Click the photo up top for a view passing beneath the bridge.

Thanks, Jägermeister

Written by Ed Campbell

November 2, 2009 at 9:00 am

UAV News – Flying robots, drones and telepresent warfare

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I receive several daily newsletters from Simon Mansfield – my favorite messenger from Oz. They run the gamut from Earth science, space science, science and economics in China – to the occasional special edition like this one dedicated to robot warfare in the air.

The UAV market has seen unprecedented growth since 2001, with its current projected value over the next 10 years estimated at $17.9 billion.

“An insatiable demand for unmanned air vehicles is fueling massive growth within this market,” said Larry Dickerson, senior unmanned systems analyst for Forecast International. “No matter how many UAVs are built, military agencies want more.”

Dickerson notes that a few years ago, UAV contracts in the millions of dollars were big news; now these awards are in the billions. “In addition to procurement, research funding for unmanned air vehicles could exceed $20 billion through 2018,” he added.

The $17.9 billion market for UAV reconnaissance systems includes all air vehicles, ground control equipment, and payloads likely to be produced between 2009 and 2018. The United States is the driving force behind this market, and U.S.-based companies will account for more than 60 percent of the market’s value. Still, demand for UAVs is growing elsewhere.

Europe is the second largest market for UAVs, with France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom working to expand their UAV fleets. However, a shortage of funding is hindering some research and procurement programs.

In Asia, new UAVs – some from local sources – are being acquired by Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. Purchases are not restricted to major powers and those facing conventional warfare threats.

This is the lead article of over two dozen. Fascinating stuff – although equally scary, since many of these military platforms – especially the smallest – are adaptable for use by police and old fashioned government snoops.

Written by Ed Campbell

November 2, 2009 at 6:00 am

400,000 names on FBI Watch List – 1,600 names added per day

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This is not a mutant Dalek

Newly released FBI data offer evidence of the broad scope and complexity of the nation’s terrorist watch list, documenting a daily flood of names nominated for inclusion to the controversial list.

During a 12-month period ended in March this year, for example, the U.S. intelligence community suggested on a daily basis that 1,600 people qualified for the list because they presented a “reasonable suspicion,” according to data provided to the Senate Judiciary Committee by the FBI in September and made public last week…

The ever-churning list is said to contain more than 400,000 unique names and over 1 million entries. The committee was told that over that same period, officials asked each day that 600 names be removed and 4,800 records be modified. Fewer than 5 percent of the people on the list are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents. Nine percent of those on the terrorism list, the FBI said, are also on the government’s “no fly” list.

And we all know what a great asset that is!

Before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the FBI needed initial information that a person or group was engaged in wrongdoing before it could open a preliminary investigation…Under current practice, no such information is needed…

Just in case you were worried about whether or not your government was spending enough time and taxpayer dollars investigating every possible personage pissed-off at the United States. Or whether they may be investigating you or your kids.

Written by Ed Campbell

November 2, 2009 at 2:00 am

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