Saudi Arabia has selected a variant of a warship Lockheed Martin is building for the US Navy as the frigate for the kingdom’s Eastern Fleet modernization program, a source told Defense News.
The frigates sale will be the cornerstone of the modernization of the Royal Saudi Navy’s eastern fleet and its aging US warships in the Arabian Gulf.
A letter of request from the Saudi Navy that detailed requirements for the program was signed in early August, the source said, and the Saudis have asked the US Navy and Lockheed to complete a letter of agreement by November, Defense News reported.
The deal calls for four frigates capable of hosting Sikorsky MH-60R helicopters.
Saudi and US officials also are finalizing a $1.9 billion deal to buy 10 MH-60R helicopters, which can be used for anti-submarine warfare and other missions. Lockheed is in the process acquiring Sikorsky.
The ships are also expected to be fitted with a vertical launch system that can accommodate surface-to-air missiles.
The entire Eastern Fleet expansion program is expected to cost between $16 billion and $20 billion and also includes patrol boats, three maritime patrol aircraft, and 30 to 50 unmanned aerial vehicles, Defense News reported.
The four large frigates are expected to take up about 20-25% of the total cost. Saudi Arabia earlier this year budgeted $3.5 billion for the program, money that needs to be spent in calendar 2015.
The deal, if finalized, would mark the first international sale of a US littoral combat ship.
The Saudi Navy’s expansion program has been in the works for years, but US sources say Saudi Arabia’s concerns about Iran have accelerated the effort.
In July, world powers and Iran reached a deal aimed at curbing Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting sanctions. Regional neighbors worry about the threat posed by a financially strong Iran.
“An agent of influence is an agent of some stature who uses his or her position to influence public opinion or decision making to produce results beneficial to the country whose intelligence service operates the agent.” So goes the book definition but any experienced intelligence officer will note that there are degrees of cooperation and direction in such a relationship. The agent might be fully controlled and on a salary or he or she might be very loosely guided, ideologically motivated but cautious and reluctant to receive any favors in return. The key is that the agent has to be acting on behalf of the interests of the foreign government, which will at least some of the time mean working directly against the interests of his own.
I thought of how an agent of influence operates on the morning of September 9th when I opened the Washington Post and read two letters to the editor, both written by constituents, regarding Maryland Senator Benjamin Cardin’s refusal to support President Barack Obama’s Iran deal.
The first, from Carole Anderson of Bethesda said that “my U.S. senator, Benjamin L. Cardin, has forgotten that he represents Maryland — not the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, not a portion of the Jewish community, not Israel. His constituents expect him to vote based on the best interests of the United States, which in this case also is in Israel’s long-term interest, not based on what his rabbi says. He has demonstrated that he is incapable of doing his job.”
The second, from Stephen O. Dean of Gaithersburg observed that “Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin’s plan to oppose the Iran nuclear deal is an embarrassment to the people of Maryland. Though a Democrat, he allied himself with the Republicans in Congress, the Republican presidential contenders, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the powerful pro-Israel lobby. He turned his back on President Obama and rejected the long, difficult work of Secretary of State John F. Kerry and his counterparts from five other major countries. The alternative he offered is a bill he will introduce to send more U.S. taxpayer money to Israel. One wishes he took the path to peace with Iran, instead of to potential war.”
Cardin’s position was not unexpected even though he is reliably liberal on any issue but Palestine and a solid Democratic Party water boy. As an elected official, Cardin has frequently framed himself as being personally responsible for delivering benefits to his Jewish constituents. He sponsors the Senator Ben Cardin Jewish Scholars Program and also has been active in steering Department of Homeland Security (DHS) grants to what he calls “high risk” Jewish organizations in Baltimore. Due to the assiduous efforts of Congressmen like Cardin fully 97% of all DHS grants go to Jewish groups.
But as complete deference to Israel is all too common inside the beltway, I was, to put it mildly, shocked that two letters expressing such dissident views regarding Cardin actually appeared in the Post, a haven of neoconservatism on its editorial page. One might enthuse that it is perhaps a welcome sign that popular views on the extremely damaging Israel relationship really have begun to shift.
I have previously written that the so-called Corker-Cardin bill that reportedly gave Congress a chance to safely vent over the Iran deal was actually a Trojan horse in that it was intended to lead to eventual defeat of the agreement. I noted at the time that Cardin was the snake in the woodpile as he was pretending to give a lifeline to his party and president while all the time intending to vote no and do everything in his power to overturn any rapprochement with Iran.
Now what I predicted has come about. And Cardin has even admitted that he discussed with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) how he should vote. AIPAC, for all its posturing about American interests, is not a source of objective information on the Middle East as it often pretends to be. It actively and aggressively lobbies on behalf of the Israeli government and would be listed under the Foreign Agent Registration Act of 1938 but for the fact that it is politically powerful and no White House has been willing to take it on. Cardin was also heavily lobbied by his rabbi, who called him repeatedly.
Cardin justified his opposition to the agreement based on alarmist talking points that could have been, and maybe were, written by AIPAC to include, “…there cannot be respect for a country that actively foments regional instability, advocates for Israel’s destruction, kills the innocent and shouts ‘Death to America.’” And Cardin has also gone on record pledging to back up his “no” vote by introducing legislation that he is already working on that will allow congress to overturn the agreement while also sending 30,000 pound penetrator bombs to Israel that will enable Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to attack Iran, which would clearly not be in America’s interest.
The Cardin supported initiative to undermine the Iran agreement through further congressional meddling and delaying tactics is being referred to in some circles as “Plan B.” There are a number of aspects to it, but it involves creating new legislation and imposing other conditions that will permit additional congressional review of both the deal itself and, more particularly, Iran’s compliance. It has become axiomatic to refer to Iranians as “liars and cheaters,” setting the stage for any number of contrived revelations about their behavior.
As has often been the case in the past where friends of Israel have sought either military action or other punitive measures, the planned new congressional initiatives will likely seek to create red lines or tripwires that will mandate congressional or presidential action. In the past, these red lines have been described in a way that permits them to be interpreted subjectively, meaning that there will be a push to find fault with Tehran and that evidence might easily be manufactured to suit or even provided by Israel. Cardin appears to be the driving force behind this effort if one is to go by his own words and the praise that has been heaped upon him by organizations like Christians United for Israel.
So who does Cardin actually represent? I would suggest that he fits the mold of the classic agent of influence in that his allegiance to the United States is constrained by his greater loyalty to a foreign nation. I do not believe that he does it for money or other material favors and I would not imagine that Mossad actually gives him his marching orders, but I would bet that his contact with the Israeli Embassy and AIPAC to both obtain and synchronize with their views is frequent and ongoing. One has to hope that Cardin will both fail in his new legislative efforts on behalf of Israel and also that he will be turned out of office in the next cycle by his constituents for his failure to support actual American and Marylander interests.
The question of what to do about the Cardins of this world is, of course, clouded by the broader issue of “dual loyalty,” a label that has rightly been of particular concern for many diaspora Jews because it often is employed as a classic anti-Semitic canard. Those who promote it think that some or even most Jews can never be truly loyal to the country that they reside in, that they will always have a higher allegiance to their tribe. Since the founding of Israel that alleged supranational allegiance has also embraced the Jewish state, with questions raised regarding whether it is possible to actively promote all-too-often uncritical support for a foreign nation while living and working in another country that will inevitably have quite different national and international interests.
In reality, of course, it is not so simple. Some Jews will relate to their “tribe” more than to their non-Jewish fellow citizens but most will not and many will even regard that kind of sentiment as completely unacceptable. But all of that given, the issue of where one’s loyalty as a citizen of a nation should lie and to what degree is something that just will not go away. Nearly all of the neoconservatives who cajoled Americans into the disastrous war against Iraq were Jews and they were at least in part motivated by perceived Israeli interests. Bush Administration senior official Philip Zelikow subsequently even claimed that the Iraq war was primarily fought to eliminate a threat to Israel. And if that is not convincing enough, there is the “Clean Break” policy document that was presented to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 1996 recommending inter alia the systematic break-up of Israel’s Arab neighbors into tribal groups to “secure the realm” of Israel. Many of the signatories were the very same American Jews who later promoted the war with Iraq and are now orchestrating the agitation vis-a-vis Iran, which itself is being overwhelmingly funded by Jewish groups.
Because of the potential problem posed by divided loyalty, many Americans now believe that no citizen should hold any foreign passport in addition to that of the United States. An increasing number are beginning to understand that competing parochial loyalties of various kinds have been detrimental to the viability of the United States as a nation and destructive of Teddy Roosevelt’s once proud assertion that it doesn’t matter where we came from but “we are all Americans.”
The dual loyalty question becomes more serious when one is considering the roles of government officials, both elected and as members of the federal bureaucracy, as they are in a position where they can actually do damage. The United States is currently wrestling with problems posed by Christian officials who believe that what they are told by God preempts what they are obligated to do as bureaucrats. This type of deference to tribe and culture is also where Cardin is both tone deaf and dissimulating. He is the stereotype of what has frequently been disparagingly described as an “Israel firster.” There is absolutely no reasonable argument to be made against the Iran agreement from a U.S. perspective and the mere fact that it is opposed by Israel should have no weight, but Cardin clearly does not see things that way.
One might reasonably object that Cardin is far from unique and to be sure there are many in Washington that are feckless in their relationships with Israel’s government. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, who has declared himself to be the “shomer” or guardian of Israel in the U.S. Senate, is a case in point and undoubtedly many of the criticisms leveled against Cardin would fit just as well with Schumer. One might also note the unanimous Republican opposition to the Iran deal but that is a bit of a red herring. In many cases the attachment is more likely than not based more on politics than on any genuine affinity towards Israel. A frequently cynical kowtowing to perceived Zionist and evangelical demands is coupled with the expectation that Israel’s most powerful and wealthy backer in the U.S. Sheldon Adelson will shower his billions on the GOP and its preferred presidential candidate as long as the whole campaign is in key areas subordinate to Israeli interests. The Republican hard line is also a reflexive rejection of Obama foreign policy to create a wedge issue for 2016 and is not linked to any rational assessment of the merits of the Iran agreement.
On balance, Senator Ben Cardin in his apparent collusion with both the Israeli government and its powerful domestic Lobby appears to cross lines that should not be crossed by any American elected official. My contention that he may be a de facto agent of influence for Israel is, of course, somewhat conjectural. I would imagine that Cardin rationalizes his behavior by choosing to believe that Israeli and American interests are identical, which is, of course, not true. If he claims that he is not in fact preemptively guided by Israeli interests it would be interesting to have him reveal full details of the frequency and nature of his encounters with Israeli officials and also with the components of the Israel Lobby, most particularly AIPAC, which are established conduits for relaying Israeli perspectives to accomplices in the U.S. government. I would also be interested in hearing Cardin’s views on how a war with Iran would possibly benefit the people of Maryland.
Recent statements by Bolivia’s Vice President Alvaro Garcia regarding nongovernmental organisations in Bolivia have triggered a heated debate on the left.
At an Aug. 11 media conference, Garcia accused NGOs of acting like political parties seeking to interfere in Bolivia’s domestic affairs. While respecting their right to criticize government policies, Garcia said foreign-funded nongovernmental organisations needed to understand their place within Bolivian society.
“Does this group of comrades have the right to form an NGO and produce and publish what they want? Of course they have the right to do this, but foreign NGOs do not have the right to come to Bolivia and say I am supporting Bolivia’s development while they do politics and defend the interests of transnationals,” he said.
He highlighted the fact that foreign companies and governments were the biggest backers of nongovernmental organisations. “What do we say to them?” he asked. “Finance in your own country, there is no need for you to come and interfere in our country, our relationship with foreign governments and companies is very clear: service in function of our policy and usefulness in function of a sovereign state; but not for the purposes of covert political action…”
Garcia said foreign governments were using NGOs to push policies that sought to stunt Bolivia’s development under the guise of protecting the environment. The four nongovernmental organisations Garcia singled out in particular during the media conference have been among the loudest critics of his government’s environmental policies.
In response, a number of academics from across the world signed an open letter stating concerns for what they viewed as “threats, which if they became a reality, would imply a grave blow in terms of restricting civil rights, among them, freedom of expression and association”. They argued the real issue Garcia had with these NGOs was that they had criticized his government’s shortcomings.
Others have defended these nongovernmental organisations on the basis of their role in promoting environmental struggles.
Contributing to the debate with an article on Alainet.org, Carmelo Ruiz said Garcia’s comments come at a time when falling commodity prices are exacerbating the contradictions of his government’s “progressive extractivist model”. Furthermore, he argued the Morales government was facing the threat of a rise in social and environmental protests.
Faced with this dilemma, Ruiz said critical voices had chosen to point out that “protest and repression is inevitable in extractivism”, while government spokespeople have preferred to blame discontent on “imperialist manipulations.”
Like Ruiz, many have tried to portray Garcia’s comments as something relatively new. However, his criticisms of NGOs predate his election to office or recent conflicts with certain indigenous and environmental groups.
For example, Garcia criticized the role of NGOs in Sociology of Social Movements in Bolivia, a book many of his current critics still hold up as the most authoritative studies of its kind.
In a chapter focusing on the highlands indigenous organisation CONAMAQ, Garcia notes that nongovernmental organisation financing resulted in the organisation taking on certain “bureaucratic-administrative characteristics”. It also in part explained CONAMAQ’s propensity to act less like a social movement and more like a lobby group that sought to “negotiate and reach formal agreements with government institutions and multilateral support organisms.”
The book noted how in certain communities, NGOs had artificially propped up “ayllus” (which make up CONAMAQ’s base) to compete for local influence against more radical peasant unions.
Criticism of nongovernmental organisations’ role in co-opting and dividing social movements is also present in another book he co-authored, “We Are No Ones Toys.” Notably, they appear in a chapter dedicated to the conflict between indigenous groups and coca-growers in the Isiboro-Secure Indigenous Territory and National Park (TIPNIS).
In 2011, conflict between these sectors over a proposed highway through the TIPNIS boiled over to become an issue of national, and even international significance for the Morales government.
Throughout the chapter, a number of references are made regarding the heavy influence NGOs had over indigenous communities.
Commenting in the book on the role of nongovernmental organisations in TIPNIS, local coca-grower leader Feliciano Mamani makes many of the same criticisms Garcia Linera made more than half a decade later in his book Geopolitics of the Amazon.
Mamani said: “NGOs and other interests that come for our natural resources, control indigenous people through money… where ever there are natural resources there are hundreds of NGOs confusing indigenous peoples and making false declarations….”
Since coming into office, Garcia’s criticisms of nongovernmental organisations’ relationship with social movements have not changed, however his public critique of NGOs has broadened to encompass other issues.
Garcia has argued that nongovernmental organisations had a huge influence over government ministries prior to Morales election. He recounts: “When we came into government in 2006, we found an executive carved up and handed over to embassies and [NGOs]… We could not do anything without authorization either from the embassies… or certain NGOs.”
This was in large part due to the fact that international loans and aid made up about half of the state budget for public investment.
The Morales government was able to quickly assert its control over state institutions as a result of its policy of nationalizing natural resources. Increased revenue from resource extraction put the government in the position where it could set its own policies, free of dependency or interference by foreign governments or NGOs.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, nongovernmental organisations’ hostility towards the Bolivian government has paralleled its loss of influence over state policies.
All this is also part of the context within which Garcia’s comments need to be placed.
Framing the debate however, as though it is simply about a government hiding behind the rhetoric of national sovereignty to crackdown on opponents – or alternatively, viewing all government critics as stooges for imperialism – will only lead to a dialogue of the deaf.
For starters, it should not be too hard to defend free speech at the same time as respecting Bolivia’s sovereignty.
The left has always opposed attempts by governments to crackdown on free speech, and should continue to do so when this occurs. But this is separate to the issue of allowing foreign governments and corporation to do as they please on Bolivian soil.
It is one thing to shut down nongovernmental organisations or jail opponents for what they say. Garcia has made it clear in his response to his critics that his government will not be closing down any NGO.
But it is quite another thing to deny the right of a sovereign government to control the flow of funds from hostile governments into its territory. Or is the left now going to argue that, in the name of “free speech”, foreign governments and corporations should be able to fund whoever they want in Bolivia?
We should use this opportunity to seriously discuss the various issues the debate has already thrown up. This includes, among others, the role of nongovernmental organisations in the Global South, how extractive industries have helped loosen foreign control over the Bolivian state, what alternative sources of funding might exist to enable this situation to remain, and what it would really take for Bolivia to overcome extractivism.
Military police are examining claims that a defense contractor overcharged the armed forces by hundreds of millions of pounds for fuel during the war in Afghanistan.
An audit by NATO, which ran the operations in Afghanistan, suggests the alliance was overcharged by £460 million (US$700 million) by contractor Supreme Group.
Britain is thought to have paid for about 10 percent of the fuel used in Helmand Province, southern Afghanistan, during the conflict, meaning it could have been ripped off by up to £46 million, sources told the Telegraph newspaper.
On Sunday, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) confirmed an investigation was underway.
In December 2014, the Amsterdam-based Supreme Group’s food business was found guilty of overcharging the US military for supplies during the Afghan war and paid fines of $389 million, the most ever paid by a defense contractor.
Supreme won and ran lucrative contracts for British and US forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan during the wars and currently provides fuel for the Royal Air Force (RAF) and food to the MoD on a global scale.
“We are committed to getting the maximum value for money for the taxpayer and will always seek to recover any overpayments,” a spokesman for the MoD told the Telegraph.
“We are aware of the allegations of overcharging by Supreme and we have referred the matter to the Ministry of Defence Police Criminal Investigation Department.”
“The issue continues to be addressed by NATO through follow-on reviews and investigations into the matter by Allied Command Operations,” a NATO spokesman told the paper.
“Part of unduly paid costs have already been recovered. The recovery process continues. This however remains a complex and lengthy process, whose specific details cannot be revealed until its completion.”
Outsourcing services previously controlled by the military has increasingly become a part of the MoD’s cost cutting measures.
Turbulence in the Middle East presents an obvious challenge for the Obama Administration, seeking to satisfy all major players in a series of convoluted games. Washington continues to supply weapons to “crucial ally” Saudi Arabia, where coalition airstrikes on Yemen kill innocent people and humanitarian aid is blocked from entry.
President Obama and Saudi King Salman met Friday in the Oval Office. The details of their chat remain undisclosed, though various sources earlier hinted arms supplies would be on the table for discussion.
Among possible candidates are Boeing’s GPS-guided Joint Direct Attack Munitions, according to Bloomberg. Approved for use in the Royal Saudi Air Force’s F-15s back in 2008, it’s likely they have been used for the bombardment of Yemen this year, which has reportedly claimed the lives of dozens of civilians. There are also numerous reports of the use of internationally banned cluster munition in the airstrikes, which began in March.
Reuters reported Wednesday a deal had nearly been reached for two frigates worth over $1 billion to the Saudis by Lockheed Martin Corp. The US recently approved a possible $5.4 billion sale of advanced Patriot missiles to Riyadh, the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) said in a statement in July, the same month US defense contractor Raytheon was awarded a $180 million contract to provide Saudi Arabia with guided air-to-ground missiles.
Defense buildup in Saudi Arabia, which became the world’s top arms importer this year, has considerably benefited several American weapons manufacturers. And the US relies on defense contractors to fill the void created by Pentagon budget constraints, as former US Assistant Secretary of Defense Lawrence Korb told Sputnik, adding that the Saudis have increased orders for US missile defense systems out of fear that Iran will grow stronger militarily after nuclear sanctions are lifted.
Ahead of today’s meeting with King Salman, Barack Obama announced they planned to discuss Iran, Syria, the self-proclaimed Islamic State terror group, the global economy and energy issues, among others.
“I look forward to continuing to deepen our cooperation on issues like education and clean energy and science and climate change because His Majesty is interested, obviously, ultimately in making sure that his people, particularly young people, have prosperity and opportunity into the future,” Obama said. “And we share those hopes and those dreams for those young people, and I look forward to hearing his ideas on how we can be helpful.”
No mention of any arms sales.
As western countries profit from the sales of advanced weapons systems to Riyadh — including American and British warships to maintain a blockade on humanitarian aid to Yemen — they turn a blind eye to what many call Saudi war crimes and the obvious violation of human rights under Saudi leadership at home.
“The entire affair is a blatant breach of international law, and an assault on authentic democracy and self-determination,” Canadian writer and activist Stephen Gowans noted earlier this month.
On Monday, Amnesty International accused the Saudi-led, US-backed coalition of using internationally banned weapons in Yemen in a report that also lambasted the US for supplying the coalition with intelligence and material support, and the disastrous consequences for local populations the war perpetrates.
One of the most depressing things about watching — even from a distance — the quadrennial race for the White House is seeing what passes for debate on the one area where the president does have some Constitutional authority: foreign policy.
Candidates who have spent little or no time studying or traveling to the rest of the world, and, in the fashion of many Americans in the age of Empire, see the rest of the world as just a series of US colonial outposts, apparently consider foreign policy unworthy of serious consideration.
So little do Republican candidates care about foreign policy that most of them have “outsourced” their foreign policy to a single neocon-dominated foreign policy shop called the “John Hay Initiative.” If you wonder why most Republican candidates sound exactly the same on foreign policy, it’s because they are nearly all getting their advice from the same people.
When nearly all candidates look to someone like Eliot Cohen, a founding member of the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), to provide an off-the-shelf foreign policy, it should be no surprise that the “debate” in the Republican party is only over which country to attack first.
Any candidate who thinks so little about something so important as America’s place in the world should be automatically disqualified.
But the neocons love it! The “experts” who brought us the 2003 Iraq war and the Libya “liberation” are still in the driver’s seat when it comes to foreign policy.
“Jeb!” has John Hay Initiative members Michael Chertoff and Michael Hayden (remember those crooks?) on board as his advisors.
Marco Rubio reportedly draws from Hay Project member Roger Zakheim, the son of GW Bush administration “vulcan,” Dov Zakheim. Zakheim père, we remember, joined with his fellow neocons to lie the US into war with Iraq, enriching the military-industrial complex, before absconding to the “private sector” to make his millions from the same military-industrial complex. Zakheim quickly and quietly left his position as the Pentagon’s chief financial officer after a trillion dollars went missing and the Government Accountability Office was critical of his handling of matters.
Scott Walker, a soporific candidate who nevertheless still gives neocons like Bill Kristol the vapors, also shops the neocon Walmart of foreign policy, the John Hay Initiative. It should be no surprise, then, that at his big foreign policy coming out speech at the Citadel military college Friday, he unveiled an “aggressive” foreign policy — crying out “America will not be intimidated. And neither will I” — as he promised more war and vowed that “the retreat is over!”
Is this the retreat he is talking about?
Walker reportedly taps into the McCain Institute’s David Kramer, a John Hay member, for his foreign policy wisdom. Kramer is another PNAC alumni, also putting in time at the CIA-affiliated Freedom House and as director of the Bush State Department’s Office of Policy Planning. This must explain Walker’s obsession with taking out Iran. He vowed to “roll back the theocrats in Tehran,” but in fact unlike the US, Tehran has not invaded another country in hundreds of years. What’s to “roll back?”
If Walker actually paid any attention to the quality of advice he gets from his PNAC/John Hay gang he might call for his money back. Walker’s speech was peppered with macho language about “defeat[ing] the barbarians of ISIS,” while also vowing to destroy the two forces actually fighting ISIS — Syria and Iran! In fact, his vow to use the US military to overthrow the Syrian government would without question result in the greatest ISIS victory to date — control of Syria. One need not sympathize with Assad to recognize that he is literally the only thing keeping the whole of Syria out of the hands of ISIS.
John Hay Initiative “experts” also wrote the foreign policy speeches of candidates Carly Fiorina and Chris Christie. No doubt they were behind Fiorina’s astonishingly ignorant vow to make her first call as president to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to “to reassure him that we stand with the state of Israel” and to make her second call to Iran to “to tell him that whatever the deal is that he signed with Obama, there’s a new deal and the new deal is this: Until you submit every facility [where] you have nuclear uranium enrichment to a full set of inspections, we’re going to make it as hard as possible for you to move money around the global financial system.”
These neocons should be in jail, not still deeply ensconced in the Beltway foreign policy halls of power, dining in sumptuous splendor while the rest of America is impoverished by the destructive wars they push. Their lies have cost millions of innocent lives overseas as well. They are a cancer on the country. Any candidate who cares so little about the issues as to accept a “virtual staff” of foreign policy “experts” from those who have gotten every single major foreign policy issue of our time totally and catastrophically wrong has no business holding any elected office.
John Hay? I’d rather shop for a foreign policy expert at Walmart.
Just a few hours after an arrest warrant was issued against him, Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina, who had vowed he would not resign, announced he would step down from office, his press team announced this Thursday morning.
Jorge Ortega, the president’s spokesman said that Molina submitted his resignation at midnight local time just hours after a judge issued an arrest warrant in his name late Wednesday.
Prosecutors accuse the president of masterminding a scheme to embezzle millions of dollars from customs service as part of a fraud ring, which the country’s vice president has already been jailed and faces charges over.
The allegations against Molina were made by influential sectors in Guatemala, including the office of human rights, the agricultural, rural, industrial, and financial committees, the Peasant Unity Committee, the Catholic and Evangelical churches and members of civil organizations.
The Central American country is still struggling to recover from the U.S.-funded civil war (1960-1996), which saw more than 200,000 Guatemalans killed, most of them Indigenous Mayans. It currently faces high rates of poverty and ranks among one of the most corrupt countries in the world, according to the 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index by Transparency International.
The Guardian has a fascinating piece on house prices which deserves to be read and studied in detail. In London in 2013 the median house price had reached 300,000 while the median salary was 24,600. House prices are 12.2 x salary. That means it is in practice impossible for working people, without inherited wealth, to buy a house.
But the point is, that it should be equally impossible to rent a house. Landlords look for a rental return of approximately 6% of rental value. So that would put median rent in London at around 18,000 pa, which is a realistic figure. But nobody on a salary of 24,600 before tax can pay 18,000 pa in rent. So we should be at a stage where it is impossible for Londoners who have not inherited homes to live there at all.
Very little of the apparent gravity-defying power of the London property market is due to foreign buyers. Their major effect is very much concentrated on the top end of the market. Very few wealthy foreign buyers are purchasing semis in Plumstead or Acton. For prices to be this distorted from the potential of local buyers to pay would require literally hundreds of thousands of foreign purchasers in all segments of the market. They just do not exist.
No what is causing this incredible distortion is the conjunction of buy to let and state housing benefit. The state pays out 18 billion pounds a year in housing benefit, and the vast majority of that goes straight into the pockets of private landlords in the South East of England. State housing benefit underpins the entire system.
Now the brilliance of the trick is that, as it is labeled a benefit, the left fight to keep housing benefit as though it benefited poor people. In fact this is a great illusion. It does nothing of the sort. What would truly benefit poor people is lower rent or affordable homes. Housing benefit goes straight into the pockets of the landlord class.
The landlord class of course encompasses the political class, many of whom (including Cherie Blair, famously) are also landlords. As housing benefit is paid for from general taxation, the entire system is a massive transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich, and above all from the North and West to the South and East. The landlord class benefit not only from the taxpayer giving them enormous rents, but from the possession of artificially inflated property on which they can raise further money for more speculation.
The problem is national but is much worse in London and the South East of England. The reason that IDS has not made a serious assault on housing benefit is that it puts money straight into the pockets of most of his Tory chums. The largest benefit recipients in the UK are the great landlords.
The policy mix to tackle this must include building much more council housing, but must also include a phasing out of the payment of state housing benefit to private landlords. Let me put this simply – given a 6% rental return, pumping in 18 billion pounds of state money a year to rents adds 288 billion pounds to property values. Let me say that again because it is very, very important but not that easy to follow.
Given a 6% rental return, pumping in 18 billion pounds of state money to rents adds 288 billion pounds to property values. That explains how you reach the apparently impossible situation of median property at twelve times median income.
The landlord class will endeavour to ensure that any phasing out of such benefit causes maximum dislocation pain to tenants. But correcting the situation is an economic necessity. Ultimately property values have to halve, and rents too. That will provide pain to not just the landlord class but the entire Ponzi economy that Blair built. The ratio of property prices to income almost trebled in the Blair/Brown years, and is the aspect of their economic charlatanry which still overhangs us.
Seen from Edinburgh, another reason to escape to Independence as quickly as possible. The problem is not nearly so acute in Scotland. In England the situation can continue for a while. The Conservative government is delighted with this massive transfer of money to the rich. But once interest rates start to rise, it will bring a crash of gigantic proportions.
The newly-released batch of Hillary Clinton emails provides further proof that Freedom of Information (FOI) law has been blatantly violated. The documents include material directly responsive to a FOI request I made back in 2012 after the Benghazi terrorist attacks on the U.S. compounds. However, the material was not produced at the time, as required by law. Once again, there appears to be nobody who holds government officials and agencies accountable for their routine violation of this law. So the infractions occur frequently and with impunity. If nobody polices our government officials and agencies–if they are above the law–then how does a lawful society function?
Click here to view the WSJ database of emails. One of the many emails that should have been provided under FOI in 2012, but was not, is to Clinton from Huma Abedin on Sept. 14, 2012. Others include Clinton communications on Benghazi with her chief aide Cheryl Mills.
Several local police forces in California got on the police body-cameras bandwagon well before police killings around the nation in the summer of 2014 triggered a broad push for their adoption. The Rialto Police Department was the focus of a 2013 New York Times story that emphasized how much body cameras improved interactions between officers and the public.
But in Oakland, it appears authorities will only release the body-camera videos when they exonerate police, and that the video will be kept from the public and the media in other circumstances on the grounds that it is part of an ongoing investigation. The East Bay Express recently reported on how the Oakland police are dealing with four police killings. In two cases, Police Chief Sean Whent won’t release any body-cam footage. In the other two cases, police wouldn’t release the footage to the public. Instead, on Aug. 19, the Oakland Police Department held a screening for 11 members of the media.
This account is from the East Bay Express :
[The] videos included police body camera footage taken by officers who were chasing Richard Linyard and Nathaniel Wilks (in two separate incidents). On July 19, Linyard was allegedly fleeing the police on foot when he was later found wedged between two buildings. A coroner’s report said Linyard died from injuries he suffered when he was apparently stuck between the buildings.
On August 12, Wilks allegedly fled the police in a vehicle and then on foot. Several officers confronted and shot Wilks near the intersection of 27th Street and Martin Luther King, Jr. Way.
Watson said OPD showed videos to select members of the media in order to dispel inaccurate reports that officers beat Linyard, and claims that Wilks was shot in the back. Both incidents sparked protests. “We held the viewing in the interest of the public, to be able to share information through fair and balanced reporting,” said Watson.
Watson, however, said that the video footage will not be released to the broader public, and that OPD believes the California Public Records Act allows the department to withhold the footage because it is evidence in several ongoing investigations.
‘Completely wrong’ to withhold some video
As the Bay Area News Group reported, giving the police the right to pick and choose which videos to release outraged local civil-rights lawyer Jim Chanin. “I think it’s completely wrong to have selective showings of one shooting and not another shooting, depending on how the department feels . … There’s an inference now that if (police) don’t show you a video, there could be something wrong or improper about (another) shooting,” he said.
Meanwhile, in Sacramento, a bill that would establish statewide procedures on access to and use of policy body-camera footage appears to have failed, U-T San Diego columnist Steve Greenhut wrote on Friday.
In April, a comprehensive bill by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, passed its initial committee vote. Per its official description, “Assembly Bill 66 would provide guidelines about when the cameras are to be operated, require notification of those being recorded, and prohibit law-enforcement officers involved in serious use-of-force incidents that result in serious bodily injury or death from viewing the video until they have filed an initial report.” Whent, the Oakland police chief, testified in favor of the bill.
But Weber’s bill was effectively killed within weeks. As Dan Walters wrote in the Sacramento Bee :
Weber’s body camera bill was beaten up in the Assembly Privacy and Consumer Protection Committee. Police unions, whose endorsements politicians crave, strongly opposed it as unfair, and the committee insisted that only local authorities decide when cops can see body videos.
What does it mean if the majority of what’s published in journals can’t be reproduced?
The ability to repeat a study and find the same results twice is a prerequisite for building scientific knowledge. Replication allows us to ensure empirical findings are reliable and refines our understanding of when a finding occurs. It may surprise you to learn, then, that scientists do not often conduct – much less publish – attempted replications of existing studies.
Journals prefer to publish novel, cutting-edge research. And professional advancement is determined by making new discoveries, not painstakingly confirming claims that are already on the books. As one of our colleagues recently put it, “Running replications is fine for other people, but I have better ways to spend my precious time.”
Once a paper appears in a peer-reviewed journal, it acquires a kind of magical, unassailable authority. News outlets, and sometimes even scientists themselves, will cite these findings without a trace of skepticism. Such unquestioning confidence in new studies is likely undeserved, or at least premature.
A small but vocal contingent of researchers – addressing fields ranging from physics to medicine to economics – has maintained that many, perhaps most, published studies are wrong. But how bad is this problem, exactly? And what features make a study more or less likely to turn out to be true?
We are two of the 270 researchers who together have just published in the journal Science the first-ever large-scale effort trying to answer these questions by attempting to reproduce 100 previously published psychological science findings.
Attempting to re-find psychology findings
Publishing together as the Open Science Collaboration and coordinated by social psychologist Brian Nosek from the Center for Open Science, research teams from around the world each ran a replication of a study published in three top psychology journals – Psychological Science ; Journal of Personality and Social Psychology ; and Journal of Experimental Psychology : Learning, Memory, and Cognition. To ensure the replication was as exact as possible, research teams obtained study materials from the original authors, and worked closely with these authors whenever they could.
Almost all of the original published studies (97%) had statistically significant results. This is as you’d expect – while many experiments fail to uncover meaningful results, scientists tend only to publish the ones that do.
What we found is that when these 100 studies were run by other researchers, however, only 36% reached statistical significance. This number is alarmingly low. Put another way, only around one-third of the rerun studies came out with the same results that were found the first time around. That rate is especially low when you consider that, once published, findings tend to be held as gospel.
The bad news doesn’t end there. Even when the new study found evidence for the existence of the original finding, the magnitude of the effect was much smaller — half the size of the original, on average.
One caveat: just because something fails to replicate doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Some of these failures could be due to luck, or poor execution, or an incomplete understanding of the circumstances needed to show the effect (scientists call these “moderators” or “boundary conditions”). For example, having someone practice a task repeatedly might improve their memory, but only if they didn’t know the task well to begin with. In a way, what these replications (and failed replications) serve to do is highlight the inherent uncertainty of any single study – original or new.
More robust findings more replicable
Given how low these numbers are, is there anything we can do to predict the studies that will replicate and those that won’t? The results from this Reproducibility Project offer some clues.
There are two major ways that researchers quantify the nature of their results. The first is a p-value, which estimates the probability that the result was arrived at purely by chance and is a false positive. (Technically, the p-value is the chance that the result, or a stronger result, would have occurred even when there was no real effect.) Generally, if a statistical test shows that the p-value is lower than 5%, the study’s results are considered “significant” – most likely due to actual effects.
Another way to quantify a result is with an effect size – not how reliable the difference is, but how big it is. Let’s say you find that people spend more money in a sad mood. Well, how much more money do they spend? This is the effect size.
We found that the smaller the original study’s p-value and the larger its effect size, the more likely it was to replicate. Strong initial statistical evidence was a good marker of whether a finding was reproducible.
Studies that were rated as more challenging to conduct were less likely to replicate, as were findings that were considered surprising. For instance, if a study shows that reading lowers IQs, or if it uses a very obscure and unfamiliar methodology, we would do well to be skeptical of such data. Scientists are often rewarded for delivering results that dazzle and defy expectation, but extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
Although our replication effort is novel in its scope and level of transparency – the methods and data for all replicated studies are available online – they are consistent with previous work from other fields. Cancer biologists, for instance, have reported replication rates as low as 11%–25%.
We have a problem. What’s the solution?
Some conclusions seem warranted here.
We must stop treating single studies as unassailable authorities of the truth. Until a discovery has been thoroughly vetted and repeatedly observed, we should treat it with the measure of skepticism that scientific thinking requires. After all, the truly scientific mindset is critical, not credulous. There is a place for breakthrough findings and cutting-edge theories, but there is also merit in the slow, systematic checking and refining of those findings and theories.
Of course, adopting a skeptical attitude will take us only so far. We also need to provide incentives for reproducible science by rewarding those who conduct replications and who conduct replicable work. For instance, at least one top journal has begun to give special “badges” to articles that make their data and materials available, and the Berkeley Initiative for Transparency in the Social Sciences has established a prize for practicing more transparent social science.
Better research practices are also likely to ensure higher replication rates. There is already evidence that taking certain concrete steps – such as making hypotheses clear prior to data analysis, openly sharing materials and data, and following transparent reporting standards – decreases false positive rates in published studies. Some funding organizations are already demanding hypothesis registration and data sharing.
Although perfect replicability in published papers is an unrealistic goal, current replication rates are unacceptably low. The first step, as they say, is admitting you have a problem. What scientists and the public now choose to do with this information remains to be seen, but our collective response will guide the course of future scientific progress.
A huge chunk of the $17 billion in bailout money the IMF granted to Ukraine in April 2014 has been discovered in a bank account in Cyprus controlled by exiled Ukrainian oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskyi, the German newspaper Deutsche Wirtshafts Nachrichten (DWN) reported on Thursday.
In April last year $3.2 billion was immediately disbursed to Ukraine, and over the following five months, another $4.5 billion was disbursed to the Ukrainian Central Bank in order to stabilize the country’s financial system.
“The money should have been used to stabilize the country’s ailing banks, but $1.8 billion disappeared down murky channels,” writes DWN.
Ihor Kolomoyskyi, the former governor of Dnipropetrovsk, is one of Ukraine’s richest businessmen, with a business empire that includes holdings in the energy, media, aviation, chemical and metalwork industries. At the center of Kolomoyskyi’s wealth is PrivatBank, Ukraine’s largest financial institution, which claimed the bulk – 40 percent – of the bailout money which had been earmarked for stabilizing the banking system.
“Theoretically, the IMF should retain direct control over the distribution of funds. In fact, it seems that the banks chose their own auditors.”
DWN notes that the IMF reported in January 2015 that the equity ratio of Ukraine’s banking system had dropped to 13.8 percent, from 15.9 percent in late June 2014. By February 2015 even PrivatBank had to be saved from bankruptcy, and was given a 62 million Euro two-year loan from the Central Bank.
“So where have the IMF’s billions gone?”
The racket executed by Kolomoyskyi’s PrivatBank was uncovered by the Ukrainian anti-corruption initiative ‘Nashi Groshi,’ meaning ‘our money’ in Ukrainian.
According to Nashi Groshi’s investigations, PrivatBank has connections to 42 Ukrainian companies, which are owned by another 54 offshore companies based in the Caribbean, USA and Cyprus. These companies took out loans from PrivatBank totaling $1.8 billion.
These Ukrainian companies ordered investment products from six foreign suppliers based in the UK, the Virgin Islands and the Caribbean, and then transferred money to a branch of PrivatBank in Cyprus, ostensibly to pay for the products.
The products were then used as collateral for the loans taken out from PrivatBank – however, the overseas suppliers never delivered the goods, and the 42 companies took legal action in court in Dnipropetrovsk, demanding reimbursement for payments made for the goods, and the termination of the loans from Privatbank.
The court’s ruling was the same for all 42 companies; the foreign suppliers should return the money, but the credit agreement with Privatbank remains in place.
“Basically, this was a transaction of $1.8 billion abroad, with the help of fake contracts, the siphoning off of assets and violation of existing laws,” explained journalist Lesya Ivanovna of Nashi Groshi.
In March Kolomoyskyi was dismissed from his position as governor of Dnipropetrovsk after a power struggle with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko; the fraud was carried out while he was governor of the region in East-Central Ukraine.
“The whole story with the court case was only necessary to make it look like the bank itself was not involved in the fraud scheme. Officially it now looks like as if the bank has the products, but in reality they were never delivered,” said Ivanovna.
Such business practices have earned Kolomoyskyi a fortune currently estimated by Forbes at $1.27 billion, and were known to investigators beyond Ukraine’s borders; Kolomoyskyi was once banned from entering the US due to suspicions of connections with international organized crime.
Despite these suspicions, it appears that Kolomoyskyi is unlikely to face justice, as he is currently living in exile in the US; he fled Ukraine earlier this year. Ukraine has been granted a further $3.6 billion in debt relief from creditors. Russia, despite its membership in development lending institutions, has refused to contribute funds to Ukraine due to concerns emanating from this and other instances of widespread graft.