02/15/2012 archive

Provoking A War With Iran

In January a young Iranian nuclear scientist was killed in a Tehran car bomb explosion, the fifth scientist to be killed since 2007. There were accusations by the Iranians that this was carried out by the Israelis with the blessings of the United States to stop Iran’s nuclear energy program. Of course there were the obligatory denials by the Israelis and the US through the State Department even though Israel had previously hinted about a covert campaign with Iran and told a parliamentary panel that 2012 would be a “critical year” for Iran in part because of “things that happen to it unnaturally”.

Robert Baer, the long-time senior CIA officer who spent 21 years working the Middle East, was on MSNBC’s ‘Hardball’ saying that he believes Israel is assassinating Iranian scientists in an attempt to provoke Iran to fight back and draw the US into a full-scale war. Baer has made this argument before considering Israel’s “track record of assassinations, from the Palestinian perpetrators of the Munich Olympic attack of 1972, to the killing of senior Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in a Dubai hotel room in early 2010″:

“If you look at the choice of target it really could only be Israel,” says Robert Baer, a former CIA agent in the Middle East, currently working on a book on assassination called The Perfect Kill. “If it was an internal group, like the MeK (Mujahedin-e-Khalq) it would be security official or policeman who had been torturing their guys. If you look at the motivation, it must be Israel.”

However, Baer adds that it is quite likely that Israel is acting in tandem with an Iranian dissident organisation. “To do this in the middle of the day, with a limpet charge and then getaway, you need a lot of people on the ground,” he says. ” You need an extensive network of the kind only someone like MeK can provide.”

Glenn Greenwald at Salon has labeled this, not murder, but terrorism

   Part of the problem here is the pretense that Terrorism has some sort of fixed, definitive meaning. It does not. As Professor Remi Brulin has so exhaustively documented, the meaning of the term has constantly morphed depending upon the momentary interests of those nations (usually the U.S. and Israel) most aggressively wielding it. It’s a term of political propaganda, impoverished of any objective meaning, and thus susceptible to limitless manipulation. Even the formal definition incorporated into U.S. law is incredibly vague; one could debate forever without resolution whether targeted killings of scientists fall within its scope, and that’s by design. The less fixed the term is, the more flexibility there is in deciding what acts of violence are and are not included in its scope.

   But to really see what’s going on here, let’s look at how a very recent, very similar assassination plot was discussed. That occurred in October when the U.S. accused Iran’s Quds Forces of recruiting a failed used car salesman in Texas to hire Mexican drug cartels to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador at a restaurant in Washington, D.C. Let’s put to side the intrinsic ridiculousness of the accusation and assume it to be true […] when that plot to kill the Saudi Ambassador was “revealed,” virtually every last media outlet – and government official – branded it “Terrorism.” It was just reflexively described that way. And I never heard anyone – anywhere – object to the use of that term on the ground that targeted assassinations aren’t Terrorism, or on any other ground.

There is quite a bit of evidence to support this. The New York Times reported that there is more truth to the plot to draw Iran into a war than not:

   The campaign, which experts believe is being carried out mainly by Israel, apparently claimed its latest victim on Wednesday when a bomb killed a 32-year-old nuclear scientist in Tehran’s morning rush hour.

   The scientist, Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, was a department supervisor at the Natanz uranium enrichment plant, a participant in what Western leaders believe is Iran’s halting but determined progress toward a nuclear weapon. He was at least the fifth scientist with nuclear connections to be killed since 2007; a sixth scientist, Fereydoon Abbasi, survived a 2010 attack and was put in charge of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization […]

   “I often get asked when Israel might attack Iran,” Mr. (Patrick, director of the Iran Security Initiative at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy) Clawson said. “I say, ‘Two years ago.’ ”

   Mr. Clawson said the covert campaign was far preferable to overt airstrikes by Israel or the United States on suspected Iranian nuclear sites. “Sabotage and assassination is the way to go, if you can do it,” he said. “It doesn’t provoke a nationalist reaction in Iran, which could strengthen the regime. And it allows Iran to climb down if it decides the cost of pursuing a nuclear weapon is too high.”

Now flash forward to recent events with the attempt to kill Israeli embassy personnel in New Delhi and Tbilisi, Georgia. The Israelis were quick to accuse Iran without any evidence that there was any Iranian involvement and, of course the US media was quick to parrot the accusations as retaliation:

The rare coordinated attempts on the lives of Israeli diplomatic representatives came a month after the latest assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist and were set against an escalating war of words between Israel and Iran over a possible Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities. The attempted attacks also coincided with the fourth anniversary of the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh, a leader of Hezbollah, a militant Shiite Lebanese group backed by Iran.

India has stated that they have no evidence that Iran was involved but they have their own motivations, as does Russia, to protect Iran. Both India and Russia are ignoring the international sanctions to get Iran back to the table for discussion of their nuclear program. But. as Glenn Greenwald noted in his article about media the push to a war with Iran the media failed to mention

….the glaring irony that the mode of attack in India is virtually identical to the one used to kill numerous Iranian scientists (“a magnetic bomb was slapped onto {the} car by a passing motorcyclist”). One thing is crystal clear, as macgupta put it in the comment section: “In any case, no matter who the perpetrators are, these attacks are a sign that we are moving closer to a war with Iran.

The Guardian has analysis of why Iran seems an unlikely culprit for the attacks on Israeli diplomats:

Tehran has good relations with Thailand, India and Georgia. Why would it endanger that by planting bombs there?

Let’s assume that sections of the military and security apparatus in Iran are responsible for the string of bombings in Georgia, Thailand and India. What would be the motive? The argument that Iran is retaliating for the murder of five civilian nuclear scientists in Iran is not plausible. If Iran wanted to target Israeli interests, it has other means at its disposal. It is hard to imagine that the Iranian government would send Iranian operatives to friendly countries, completely equipped with Iranian money and passports – making the case against them as obvious as possible.

If the Iranian Revolutionary Guards are as professional, highly trained and politically savvy as we have been told repeatedly by Israeli politicians themselves, if they have successfully trained and equipped the cadres of Hezbollah and other movements with paramilitary wings in the region, then why would they launch such a clumsy and self-defeating operation?

And why India, Georgia and Thailand, three countries that Iran has had cordial relations with during a period when Iran is facing increasing sanctions spearheaded by the United States? A few days ago, India agreed a rupee-based oil and gas deal with Iran and resisted US pressures to join the western boycott of the Iranian energy sector. As a net importer of 12% of Iranian oil, India’s total trade with Iran amounted to $13.67bn in 2010-2011. What would be the motive for damaging relations with one of Iran’s major trading partners and regional heavyweights?

In December of 2010, Greenwald appeared on Morning Joe with Joe Scarborough to why Iran is not a threat to the US or Israel. His argument still holds true.

Is this another run up to another unnecessary war in the Middle East? If it looks like a duck …….


Did Mitt Romney’s Dog Seek Asylum In Canada?

By Hunter Walker, Politicker

1/31 2:15pm

Mitt Romney may not have told the whole truth about the scandalous tale of his Irish Setter, Seamus, being strapped to the roof of his car during a 12-hour family road trip to Canada. According to a trusted Politicker tipster, two of Mr. Romney’s sons had an off-record conversation with reporters where they revealed the dog ran away when they reached their destination on that infamous journey in 1983.

Mr. Romney and his wife clearly want the world to think that, despite defecating himself, Seamus had a pleasant trip to Canada and a long life in the Romney household. However, based on what Mr. Romney’s sons allegedly told reporters about Seamus going on the lam in Canada, Seamus didn’t like being strapped to the car enough to stick around for the return trip.

Ladies’ Day

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Wednesday is Ladies’ Day

Katrina vanden Heuvel: A Make-or-Break Moment for Democracy

President Obama’s decision to endorse super-PAC money as part of his re-election effort exposed the enduring divisions within the progressive community between pragmatism and idealism. Robert Reich, for example, put his disappointment bluntly: “Good ends don’t justify corrupt means.” Jonathan Chait disagreed, writing that “if you want to change the system, unilateral disarmament seems like a pretty bad way to go about it.”

The ambivalence is palpable-and understandable. I’ve felt it myself. On the one hand, we are seeing our worst fears realized. When the Supreme Court handed down its Citizens United decision, the concern was not just that one party would take advantage of it but that both parties would decide they had to adapt to it. The president has never held high moral ground on campaign finance (he withdrew from public financing in the 2008 campaign) but his willful, if reluctant, decision to submerge himself further in a system that actively stains our democracy is troubling.

Maria Tomchick: States Settle for…a Poke in the Eye

The $26 billion settlement that state authorities wrangled out of the nation’s five biggest banks amounts to peanuts compared to the damage that was done to homeowners across the country.

The five banks who’ve agreed to the settlement are Bank of America (who purchased the nation’s largest mortgage lender, Countrywide Financial), JP Morgan Chase (who bought Bear Stearns), Wells Fargo (who bought Wachovia), Citigroup (who was a major recipient of federal government bailout money), and Ally Financial (formerly GMAC and now majority owned by the US Treasury).

Are you seeing a pattern here? All of these banks have been the recipient of federal bailout funds and some, like Ally Financial, are still dependent on US taxpayers. Nevertheless, they’ve stockpiled enough cash that they could pay the $26 billion settlement today and not take a hit to their bottom lines. But that’s not what they’ll have to do. The settlement terms are much sweeter than that.

Miranda Spencer: Natural Gas and the News: Fracking Messages ‘Brought to You by Our Sponsors’

When it comes to natural gas extraction via “fracking,” TV journalism has some serious competition: energy industry commercials.

Like ads for political candidates that run concurrently with broadcast news coverage of the presidential race, ads promoting natural gas (and other fossil fuels) have long been running in concert with news segments about the topic, most recently touting the prospect of a “boom” made possible by the controversial extraction method known as hydraulic fracturing of the shale sprawling beneath more than 30 U.S. states.

During the past three years, Extra! found, there has been exponentially more propaganda for the wonders of natural gas on our screens each night than theoretically objective news segments about natural-gas extraction.

Marian Wright Edelman: Still Hungry in America

“There were some times where, you know, we wouldn’t have that much food, and I would tell my mom, ‘I’m not hungry, don’t worry about it,’ and I lost a lot of weight. I remember I used to be a size five, and I went from a size five to a size zero,” a New York high school senior said in December.

In 1967, as a young civil rights lawyer in Mississippi, I was asked to testify before the Senate Subcommittee on Employment, Manpower, and Poverty in Washington about how the anti-poverty program in Mississippi was working. The Head Start program was under attack by the powerful Mississippi segregationist delegation because it was operated by church, civil rights, and Black community groups after the state turned it down. After defending the Head Start program, I told the committee I had become increasingly concerned about the growing hunger in the Mississippi Delta. The convergence of efforts to register Black citizens to vote, Black parents’ challenges to segregated schools, the development of chemical weed killers and farm mechanization, and recent passage of a minimum wage law covering agriculture workers on large farms had resulted in many Black sharecroppers being pushed off their near feudal plantations which no longer needed their cheap labor. Many displaced sharecroppers were illiterate and had no skills. Free federal food commodities like cheese, powdered milk, flour, and peanut butter were all that stood between them and starvation. I invited the Senators to come to Mississippi and hear directly from local people about the positive impact the anti-poverty program was making. They did.

Kathy Kelly: Cold, Cold Heart

It’s Valentine’s Day, and opening the little cartoon on the Google page brings up a sentimental animation with Tony Bennett singing “why can’t I free your doubtful mind and melt your cold, cold heart.”

Here in Dubai, where I’m awaiting a visa to visit Afghanistan, the weather is already warm and humid. But my bags are packed with sweaters because Kabul is still reeling from the coldest winter on record. Two weeks ago, eight children under age five froze to death there in one of the sprawling refugee camps inhabited by so many who have fled from the battles in other provinces. Since January 15, at least 23 children under 5 have frozen to death in the camps.And just over a week ago, eight young shepherds, all but one under 14 years of age, lit a fire for warmth on the snowy Afghan mountainside in Kapisa Province where they were helping support their families by grazing sheep. French troops saw the fire, and acted on faulty information, and the boys were all killed in two successive NATO airstrikes. The usual denunciations from local authorities, and Western apologies, followed. (Trend News, February 10, 2012).

So I’m thinking about warmth, and who we share it with and who we don’t.

Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez: An Unlikely Environmental Evangelist

I was not raised in any religion, nor do I follow any religious practices now.  I don’t believe in God as a benevolent white man in the sky, nor do I believe that one needs to sit in a particular building, listening to a particular preacher, to reach out to the divine.

But I have always felt a deep spiritual connection to the natural world.  When I was 8 or 9, I used to go out into the woods and sit alone in my “spot,” which was a circle of mossy stones at the top of a big stone ridge, ringed by maples and centered around a grassy glade.  It was a small circle, no bigger than 10 feet in diameter.  I would just sit there and look and listen to the birds in the trees above me, the small insects on patrol in the grass, feeling the wind ruffling against my face and a kind of inner exultation and delight that I can only describe as religious ecstasy.

No one taught me to do this, and it wasn’t until much later, reading personal narratives by indigenous elders, that I was able to put this early spiritual connection with nature into a broader polytheistic cultural framework.

I believe that everything in our world is tinged with spiritual significance.  And I believe that human beings, because we are unique among animals in being able to see the effects of our actions on the larger landscape of the planet, and to both predict and alter the future, have a special moral imperative to do what we can to be the responsible stewards of the natural world of which we are a part.

The Mortgage Settlement: More Jokes

The Big Five Banks received another love tap from the Federal Reserve just a few day after the 49 state mortgage settlement was announced. They were fined a mere $766.5 million on February 9, 2012.  The release of documents also revealed this:

NOW, THEREFORE, before the filing of any notices, or taking of any testimony or adjudication of or finding on any issues of fact or law herein, and without this Consent Assessment Order constituting an admission by (bank) of any allegation made or implied by the Board of Governors in connection with this matter, and solely for the purpose of settling this matter without a formal proceeding being filed and without the necessity for protracted or extended hearings or testimony, it is hereby ORDERED by the Board of Governors…”

In other words not only was the fine piteously low considering the amount of equity that was lost by the victims through fraud, the banks don’t have to even admit that they committed a crime.

The other joke is the National Mortgage Settlement website. Remember David Dayen at FDL questioned why the site was a .com and not a .gov well the Department of Justice slapped a disclaimer on the site.

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

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And Richard (RJ) Eskow takes to task Edward J. DeMarco. He is the Bush holder-over head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) which overseas Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. DeMarco is refusing to issue principal reductions, negotiate lower interest rates, push refinancing deals through the system that would dramatically reduce foreclosures. It would do far more than last week’s settlement deal can ever hope to accomplish and without Congressional approval. It only requires the stroke of its DeMarco’s pen. Fannie and Freddie, which taxpayers repurchased and bailed out after they were destroyed by ‘privatized’ mismanagement and Wall Street greed, hold more than half the mortgages in the country.

De Marco refuses to carry out his agency’s assignment for ideological reasons. The Defense Department’s mission is to protect the American people from attack, and the FHFA’s mission is to protect American homeowners – and in so doing, help the economy as well.

But instead of making it easier for homeowners to get relief, De Marco and his lieutenants are making it harder. Outrageously, they’re even paying a financial manipulator millions in taxpayer money to bet billions against the same homeowners.They’re betting that these homeowners can’t refinance, while at the same time making it harder for the to do it..[..]

As a letter from Reps. Elijah Cummings and John Tierney reveals, a former FHFA employee testified that there was a pilot program in principal reduction but “was terminated by senior officials at Fannie Mae who were ‘philosophically opposed’ to the concept of reducing principal.”

The more these homeowners lose out, the more money the financial guy makes. [..]

DeMarco didn’t reveal the existence of this program or its termination in his Congressional testimony. He also misled Congress and the public when he said that principal forgiveness for all (underwater) mortgages would cost “almost $100 billion,” since $100 billion is the estimated total of all underwater principal, not just the amount that would be reduced for distressed homeowners.

Another FHFA study showed that not reducing principal on these mortgages would cost more than $100 billion, as Cummings and Tierney noted, while yet another showed that a well-designed principal reduction program would actually save taxpayers $28 billion.

DeMarco didn’t mention those studies, either. [..]

DeMarco defends his unwillingness to carry out his duties by claiming that principal reductions for underwater homeowners – some of whom are still paying seven percent interest or more for nonexistent home value, when the prevailing rate is as much as three points lower – “would not meet (the FHFA’s) responsibilities as conservator of Fannie and Freddie.” He told Congress that “FHFA has a statutory responsibility to preserve and conserve the enterprises’ assets.”

What agency on Earth has a greater responsibility to not spend money serving its purpose than it does to do its job? It seems absurd, doesn’t it? DeMarco’s suggesting that not doing anything is a greater obligation for his agency than carrying out the function for which it was created.

And President Obama is stuck with this right wing banker crony because Congress won’t confirm Obama’s nominee and he can’t be fired because the FHFA is an independent agency. At least that’s the claim by the White House and DeMarco.

Read the rest Eskow’s article, it will leave you head shaking.

On This Day In History February 15

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

February 15 is the 46th day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 319 days remaining until the end of the year (320 in leap years).

On this day in 1903, toy store owner and inventor Morris Michtom places two stuffed bears in his shop window, advertising them as Teddy bears. Michtom had earlier petitioned President Theodore Roosevelt for permission to use his nickname, Teddy. The president agreed and, before long, other toy manufacturers began turning out copies of Michtom’s stuffed bears, which soon became a national childhood institution.

The name Teddy Bear comes from former United States President Theodore Roosevelt, whose nickname was “Teddy”. The name originated from an incident on a bear-hunting trip in Mississippi in November 1902, to which Roosevelt was invited by Mississippi Governor Andrew H. Longino. There were several other hunters competing, and most of them had already killed an animal. A suite of Roosevelt’s attendants, led by Holt Collier, cornered, clubbed, and tied an American Black Bear to a willow tree after a long exhausting chase with hounds. They called Roosevelt to the site and suggested that he should shoot it. He refused to shoot the bear himself, deeming this unsportsmanlike, but instructed that the bear be killed to put it out of its misery, and it became the topic of a political cartoon by Clifford Berryman in The Washington Post on November 16, 1902. While the initial cartoon of an adult black bear lassoed by a white handler and a disgusted Roosevelt had symbolic overtones, later issues of that and other Berryman cartoons made the bear smaller and cuter.

Morris Michtom saw the drawing of Roosevelt and the bear cub and was inspired to create a new toy. He created a little stuffed bear cub and put it in his shop window with a sign that read “Teddy’s bear,” after sending a bear to Roosevelt and receiving permission to use his name. The toys were an immediate success and Michtom founded the Ideal Novelty and Toy Co.

At the same time in Germany, the Steiff firm, unaware of Michtom’s bear, produced a stuffed bear from Richard Steiff‘s designs. They exhibited the toy at the Leipzig Toy Fair in March 1903 and exported 3,000 to the United States.

By 1906 manufacturers other than Michtom and Steiff had joined in and the craze for “Roosevelt Bears” was such that ladies carried them everywhere, children were photographed with them, and Roosevelt used one as a mascot in his bid for re-election.

American educator Seymour Eaton wrote the children’s book series The Roosevelt Bears, while composer John Bratton wrote “The Teddy Bear Two Step” which, with the addition of Jimmy Kennedy‘s lyrics, became the song “The Teddy Bears’ Picnic”.

Early teddy bears were made to look like real bears, with extended snouts and beady eyes. Today’s teddy bears tend to have larger eyes and foreheads and smaller noses, babylike features that make them more attractive to buyers because they enhance the toy’s cuteness, and may even be pre-dressed.

136th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show- Day 2

For Immediate Release!

Westminster Announces Major Changes For 2013

Includes additional venue, expanded limit, additional classes

On the eve of its annual show, The Westminster Kennel Club announced today a number of changes for its 2013 show, including an additional venue for breed judging, a larger entry limit, and the expansion of dogs eligible for competition.

Breed judging and benching will take place at Piers 92/94 in New York City, located at West 55th Street and the West Side Highway, both days of the show, Monday and Tuesday. Group and Best In Show judging, as well as the Junior Showmanship Finals, will still be held at Madison Square Garden in the evening.

The entry limit will be increased to 3,200 dogs (up from 2,000 in 2012) and will include competition in the classes for dogs that have not yet earned their championships, but have won major points. In addition, Best of Breed winners of National Breed Club specialties will be invited to pre-enter. The top five dogs in each breed in breed point standings will continue to be invited to pre-enter, as in the past.

The 2013 Westminster Kennel Club All Breed Dog Show will be held on February 11-12.

Results so far

Unless you like Meta I shot my best commentary yesterday.  This has been instructive in a few ways.  It’s reminded me that these densely packed tables are hard to assemble on a deadline even if you have the formatting mostly worked out.

What strikes you as you assemble this are how many variations there are of the basic Sporting Breeds and that Hounds and Terriers have split off into their own groups.  There’s certainly a story behind that but I don’t know it.

The other thing it has reminded me of is upcoming March Madness.  Women’s AND Men’s.  I plan to post Anchor pieces for each time block (2 Afternoon, 2 Evening).  Especially in the early rounds I’d like to recruit some designated Game Reporters to comment on developments and scoring so I don’t have to do a 12 hour 4 Network surf.  Another abject plea for assistance after the brackets.

I’ve found a source for the dog names, but it’s a whole other thing to integrate it with the breed list.  My aim is to announce each as it appears on screen, but that’s very difficult to actually achieve.  We’ll see.

TV Coverage starts at 8 pm on USA, repeated at 8 am tomorrow.

Tonight’s groups are Sporting, Working, and Terrier.  We will have Best in Show.  I’ll try to chat and update as we go along.  Pretty table below.