Rambling Intelligence


There was Way too Much to editorialize concerning Iraq this week, so it gets its own special edition in the Weekly Rambling Intelligence feature . . .

Announcements:
One: Iraqi Slogger has gone membership only, USD 60 per month as of today.  It’s a great site, aggregating all the Iraq news, and this is your last week to link to it from Ramblin’ Gal (so you can enroll).  Two: for those of you very interested in Iraq affairs, this week Joshua Foust at the Conjecturer gave the blow-by-blow daily readout, which he does extremely well.  This post will get you started

Congress gets a Clue, or Three:
This is so funny/not: finally the Congressional members on FFMs in Iraq realized they were living in a fantasy when they discovered the cheat sheet each person in the Green Zone had on them about their Iraq votes.  It’s very sad when our best personnel in the most dangerous place have to act like they work for Dear Leader.  And it seems to suggest that partisanship, and not military knowledge, continues to run this effort right into the ground.

Worse, this information was available in Harper’s years ago, en embryo, with the wallet sized card the soldiers carry around to remind them how to treat the press.  It’s fatuity that has kept this realization from Congress for so long.  Maybe it will also come to mind that their gratuitous FFMs could be diverting staff from real work–but nah. 

For a different delegation, reality did rear its head: or its surface-to-air missile: evasive maneuvers as the last delegation left.  They were actually being shot at, which is such a bummer for the spinner’s orchestration.  Maybe they can call it the parting strains of the 1812 2007 Overture.  Or maybe that will make these lawmakers feel more falsely akin to the troops who put up with this as a matter of course. 

An independent commission set up by Congress notes the corruption and sectarianist bents of the Iraqi Police.

The U.S. General Accounting Office reports that only three of the eighteen benchmarks are being met, not eight out of eighteen (again an almost useless way to measure the benchmarks), which has electrified Congress yet again– But here’s a surprise: Bush fights back.

Matt Taibbi on the cost-plus contract at Rolling Stone: cronyism created the police academy rendered unusable by poor plumbing, a stock-exchange started by a 24 year old Republican American neophyte–and more.  It reeks.  And if you don’t trust Rolling Stone, you can read GAO Report No. 07-711, DOD cannot ensure that US-Funded Equipment Has Reached Iraqi Security Forces, (pdf, 25 pages), or the one-page Highlights.

The U.S. is not processing enough applications for Iraq refugees who have assisted the U.S. and are most at risk if things get worse: this goes double for those who have worked with contractors and are not acknowledged as being at risk.

Iraq in Iraq:
The Kurdish Region now has a fatal cholera outbreak

I see little political rapprochement-this Iraq analyst sees that political decisions are not so much the problem as that politics has not translated to economic policies, and that neither politics nor economics has been taken to the people.  One case in point: the relatively more-stable Kurdish areas are having difficulty providing utilities to its citizens, because the central Government has not built any power infrastructure in the region.  Therefore, the KRG has made its own arrangements with Qatar.  Yet another reason why the center cannot hold.

The good news is that General Petraeus solicits independent thinking and analysis from his junior officers.  One report he received was leaked to the Washington Post, which says that Iraq’s central government is a participant in Civil War.  All are denying it, because it will serve no purpose in the field, but many are acknowledging its truth in private.

Violence in Karbala, when Shia religious observation was rendered deadly between Sunni/Shia and then became inter-Shia factional fighting between Sadrists and SIIC elements.  On Tuesday, Mr. al-Sadr declares a ceasefire for six months, which, after SIIC headquarters in Najaf, Kufa, Baghdad and Iskandaria are bombed, has actually lasted more than six hours.  However, the Sadrists insist they will not take it well if their members are detained, questioned, or otherwise interfered with.  Huh.

Following al-Sadr’s lead, the Iraqi government calls for a universal cease-fire: not the other way around . . .  not too much good news this week. 

About two weeks until the September Benchmark Report. . . I’ll probably do this again next week.  There’s plenty more news where all this came from; this post could be twice as long . . .

Africa:
♦ I don’t usually cover Africa in the RI, but this article about Darfur cannot be passed by.  As usual, Dan Graeber hits the essentials in this brutal, piteous world.

Asia-Pacific:
♦ The China-U.S. trade quality war Escalates again: now it is U.S. soybeans, with considerable dirt, pesticide, and weeds.  The latter conditions would allow for perhaps large changes in Chinese biomes–sort of like the kudzu vine that took over the South.  Also U.S. oil-seed.  Best-case scenario? All of this ends up increasing quality in the long term.  In the short term: heck, no.  In the meantime, the toy-and-dog-biscuit inspections in the U.S. proceed apace.
♦ The increasing importance of relations between India and Japan.  India’s maritime might, now and in the future.
♦ Australia’s military defense strategies and the debate over economic v. military security at The Strategist.
♦ In India’s Hyderabad, 34 people die because of bombing. 

Former Soviet Union:
♦ Italy’s ENI is re-negotiating in Kazakhstan over delayed extraction and environmental issues.
♦ Little beef-kiev-cake for ya.  Holy Samovar!!
♦ Mr. Saakashvili of Georgia on living next to Russia at Robert Amsterdam.  Russia denies all.
♦ Russia’s LUKoil cuts supplies to Germany by 30% over the last two months.

Latin America:
♦ Hurricane Dean in Mexico: at least 26 have died from the storm.
♦ Peru’s earthquake: at least 510 are dead, with more casualties being found.  Quisiera expresar mis condolencias al gente de las dos paises.
♦ The FEALAC symposium met this week this week in Brasilia, as reported by Boz. According to AFP, the Forum for East Asian-Latin American Cooperation includes: Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam, and from Latin America: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Chile, Ecuador, El Salvador, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela.
♦ Venezuela–now cutting bus fares for the indigent in London.  Now buying 98 Ilyushin aircraft from Russia, for cargo or passengers . . . or, not.
♦ According to an extract provided from this post, Castro is in no way dead.  So there you are.
♦ Pollution from blue jeans in Mexico.

Middle East:
♦ Afghanistan:  Just three out of many from FPA Central Asia’s Afghanistan Aggregator, plus one update:
◊ Afghanistanica has a great post on Afghanistan scholars to watch, read, and study.
◊ Another article on the mystery of not-enough translators for Afghanistan, also at Afghanistanica.
◊ Mr. Foust at Registan.net on basic flaws in reconstruction aid .  A good start on the issue, with links for more.
◊ Friendly fire (what a term) from U.S. aerial bombardment kills 3 British soldiers and injures two more in Helmand Province. 
Iran:
◊ New in-the-works U.S. intelligence report is pessimistic about Iran, as reported by AP.  More nukes, no overthrow of Ahmadinejad, more weapons traffic. . .
◊ Iran plans to continue developing a 2,000 pound ‘smart bomb’.  Great.
♦ Iraq:
◊ Iraq’s elites are still leaving as fast as possible. 
◊ A Berlin study says Iraq will disintegrate soon.  The new U.S. NIE  on Iraq is not hopeful. 
◊ The Brits are leaving Basra any day now.

Iraq / U.S. Politics:  I tried to cover this in the op-ed war posts that I wrote yesterday.  Here is one post on Mr. Allawi, and here is one on a must-read editorial from staff officer veterans of Iraq.

Energy:
♦ Storm damage notwithstanding, Pemex is back in business, bringing oil to the U.S.
♦ Storm damages notwithstanding, Energy Prices a little more stable overall.  As of August 23rd: Brent crude, USD 69.58; West Texas intermediate, USD 69.68. 
♦ Rounding out the North American picture on U.S. energy imports, The Oil Drum has started a series on oil sands extraction, which does not look attractive. 

Overall, the message this week to me is two-fold: we need to plan international endeavours so carefully, in terms of both physical and energy security. 

Have a great week, everyone!

Sorry I scamped out on you last week.   I missed you all, and I hope to do bettah.

Asia-Pacific:
♦ China suffers another product recall, and the WSJ says it is at least partly a design flaw that has nothing to do with China.  I have already blogged that it is partly a management failure that has nothing to do with China.  But now it’s also baby bibs.
♦ Highly contagious swine virus in China, international community on alert.
♦ One thing I missed last week and is beautiful for covering a region we don’t know well: The Strategist keeps on with some in-depth study of Melanesia, this time resource wars.
♦ Kevin Rudd on Australia’s campaign trail.  I heard Mr. Rudd speak at Brookings Institution this past April and I wish him well. 
♦ The ADB again announces inroads against extreme poverty in Asia, but a widening income gap.
♦ Hizb-ut-Tahrir conference in Jakarta is well-attended.
♦ A large amount of my attention this week has been the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Bishkek and military games in Xinjiang & Chelyabinsk.  Check out the FPA Central Asia blog for the latest.  This is all so important, whether you are a Central-Asia watcher or not.  To wit, next entry:

Former Soviet Union:
♦ Russia’s new military budget: fat–means Russia’s new military might: formidable.  More on buzzing NATO.  More on Russia bombing Georgia.  More
♦ Kazakhstan has Parliamentary elections Saturday, August 18th.

Latin America:
♦ Peru’s earthquake has killed hundreds.
♦ Venezuela, the new Central Asia: Mr. Chavez wants to be perpetually re-elected.   Umm, can’t he find anyone in Venezuela who thinks like he does?
♦ Venezuela buys AK-47s . . . and we want to know why.
♦ Help for Argentina in procuring energy resources.
♦ Boz covers the stuffed suitcase that is getting attention everywhere better than anyone. . . in Bags o’ Cash series, 4 parts, easy read, gracious!

Middle East:
♦ Two respected foreign policy professors expand a controversial article into a soon-to-be controversial book about U.S.-Israeli relations.  This NYT article has links to the original piece and some background.  Whatever you might think of their opinion, one has to admire the courage of their convictions.  I’m glad that they have brought this to examination: everything important deserves scrutiny.
♦ FPA War Crimes reports on the verdict in the Padilla detention/terrorism case.  For more background, you can stay with that blog, because Daniel’s been covering it thoroughly.  The Conjecturer also analyzes it, by taking a look at the limits and mandates of the DIA in re: Padilla.

Afghanistan: [ edited down from FPA Central Asia ]
♦ Now that Britain is pulling out of Iraq, they plan to focus more on Afghanistan.
♦ An AP article that titularly is about Barack Obama is actually a report on civilian deaths in Afghanistan.  Though the U.S. or NATO does not keep figures on civilian deaths (either a mistruth or a mistake) AP does: 231 civilians were killed by militants; 286 by troops; and 20 in crossfire, unattributable to either party. 
♦ On August 15th, a New offensive started against the Taliban in Tora Bora. 
♦ Two S. Korean hostages released.  That means there’s 19 left.
♦ New Counternarcotics strategies sound the same as old counternarcotics strategies.  This is a must-read article by Mr. Weitz over at World Politics Review, complete with maps, and, new UNODC figures estimating another rise in opium production, this time by 15%.
♦ U.S. would certainly take out al-Q targets in Pakistan, but not in a way that would make Pakistan angry.  But Pakistan seems to be already upset at the prospect: a highly literate editorial at Pakistan Daily.
Australia’s work in Uruzgan, at My State Failure blog.

Iran:
♦ Is it semantically correct? I don’t know, but the Quds Force is going to be designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. of A.
♦ Mr. Ahmadinejad in Turkmenistan and Bishkek for SCO meetings.

Iraq:
♦ Targeting the Yazidi sect in Nineveh near Mosul.  Four hundred are dead.  Do we call this genocide?  As Iraq increasingly settles in sectarian patterns, every bombing will be a kind of genocide or sect-killing; yet Yazidis have been a deliberate target since at least April.  al-Q is blamed immediately, but the reasons haven’t been divulged.
♦ Abu Aardvark’s Marc Lynch reports that the last-ditch political rapprochement for September’s Benchmark Report and ultimately for Iraq’s political viability is dead in the dirt.  h/t: FP Passport. RFE/RL has a slightly different take, citing Mr. Talibani: “Sunni are welcome to join our coalition.” It ends up the same, however: Sunni have not joined the coalition.  In my newsletter this month, I’ve discussed the way Sunni concerns have been sidelined. . . in the oil law. . .
Iraq-Iran pipeline deal signed.
♦ Iraq Slogger special report on the Bridges of Baghdad.

U.S. Politics:
♦ Mr. Rove waltzes on out of the White House, ostensibly to avoid Congressional investigation.  No doubt he will write a book that exculpates him from all wrong decisions, minimizes his impact on poor outcomes, and maximizes his genius in those extraordinary outcomes, and dishes against all those who tried to block his progress.  uh, sure.  . . Can’t wait.  They store a lot of extra, non-partisan, all-purpose whitewash in the White House, and I’m sure he took a bucket of it with him.
♦ Candidate Romney says the way his sons support U.S. efforts in Iraq is by campaigning for Dad.  Oh, Bleah.  Vanity to the max.
♦ U.S. military suicides are running very high.  Twenty-eight soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan this year.  Such deaths denote despair, and that despair radiates outward into the military community: their close associates, who also must deal.  ♦ Related to my many comments on the U.S. Farm Bill: CARE International is finding USDA aid too much trouble, too expensive, and way counterproductive in meeting famine in poverty-stricken countries. 

Political Economy:
Selling to Islam at the Public Sector Development blog.

Energy:
♦ Oil prices: USD 69.84 for Brent crude, USD 71.76 for West Texas Intermediate, as of August 16th. 
♦ The EBRD pulls out of Sakhalin-2 investment.

I’m running a little late this weekend: computer problems. . .
You know, most of these entries are really U.S. politics-based this week:  I suppose that’s generally true, but seems especially prominent this week.

Asia-Pacific:
♦ China is still working through the graft by petty officials: after issuing a month-long amnesty in the wake of slavery cases and product adulteration cases, 1800 officials have stepped up and confessed. Here is a link to the Chinese-language only Incorruptible Fighter Web site: just so you know it’s out there.
♦ The IAEA sends a delegation to: Japan–in order to investigate nuclear plants damaged by earthquakes first, and scandal second. 
♦ Cambodian tribunal will try former Khmer Rouge prison administrator.
♦ World Hizb-ut-Tahrir Conference starts this coming week in Indonesia.

Former Soviet Union:
♦ Belarus under the pincers: in the face of mounting debt for energy, Gazprom threatens to cut supplies by 30%.  It was going to be 50%, but Belarus paid USD 190 million out of the USD 456.16 million that they owed so far this year.
Russian Sub♦ Drop a flag and USD 4 million, gain a continent: I don’t think so.  But it does create complications in international law.
♦ U.S. declines to renew the START treaty.
♦ Turkmenistan’s president consolidates power through trials we never heard about.

Latin America:
♦ Almost every time Cuba has come up in U.S. presidential politicking so far, it’s been as a dirty word associated with “socialized medicine”.  Now, a new post with Great Comments at Two Week’s Notice talks about potential U.S. agricultural trade ties with Cuba. 
♦ Another dirty word: “immigrant.”  Uh, this issue is very complicated, but it seems the U.S. has forgotten that the use of this word in such a way tends to denigrate the experience of ancestors of most U.S. citizens: my great-grandparents for one.  Let’s get a reasonable policy without inciting (or incurring) contempt.
♦ Professor Weeks has another great post on “The Wall” currently being boon-doggled (excuse me: built) at the U.S.-Mexico border, and how it becomes a rallying point for international discourse between Latin American States. 
♦ Last of all, and also related to U.S.-Latin American relations, the CAFTA agreement is still being hotly debated within Latin America.  Costa Rica votes on the referendum October 7th.  Good luck with that wall, Arizona . . .
♦ Mexico’s EPR guerrilla group has bombed again: last time, oil pipelines; this time, a store.
♦ Venezuela is purchasing more Argentine bonds (already have purchased 4.2 billion worth): this has to do with high energy prices, and a volatile, insecure bond market.

Middle East:
♦ Israel launches an air raid in Gaza: two Islamic Jihad members escape; two killed, 15 wounded.
Lebanon votes to replace two assassinated officials: turnout, about 45%. Waleed Eido, a Member of Parliament, was assassinated in June of this year; and Pierre Gemayel, a Cabinet Minister, had been assassinated last November.  The opposition is proclaiming victory–votes still being counted.
♦ Hamas sponsors some weddings by providing celebrations and economic help to newlyweds.  Now this is an important post at The Arabist–at the core of Hamas’ capabilities, a personal approach that continually confound institutional-based efforts at developing friends in the Middle East.

Afghanistan: (partly cross-posted at FPA Central Asia)
♦ Focus on the UK’s Operation Chakush in Helmand.
♦ UNAMA discovers mass graves in Afghanistan.
♦ Hostage news: Four of Afghanistan’s judges were taken hostage two weeks ago in Ghazni province; their bodies were found on Wednesday this week.  The hostage from Germany, one of two German hostages kidnapped last month, had been previously reported in the news as dead from a heart attack.  News recently released indicates that he died of gunshot wounds.  A second South Korean hostage was killed of the 22 first seized on July 19th.  So far the U.S. and ISAF forces have agreed not to attempt freeing the hostages by force.
♦ Dateline, Camp David: President Karzai is due for an informal summit with Mr. Bush on August 5th and 6th.
In Transit to Afghanistan has made one solid post after another this week.  In this post, the blog discusses dangers in Waziristan and the most-likely strategies that the U.S. should take against the terrorist havens in the region.  Another post points us to terrorist expert Peter Bergen’s newest analysis on Afghanistan’s burgeoning insurgency.
Iran:
♦ Now swapping oil with Nicaragua: no doubt through Mr. Chavez de Venezuela’s agency. 
♦ Now building its own fighter jets.
Iraq:
♦ The oil law still confuses us: on August 3, a senior member of the Dawa party has said: no oil law under occupation.   But on August 2, the Oil Minister of Kurdistan said that the oil law was proceeding–for the Kurdistan region.   In other words, Kurdistan continues to deal, and the Federals have not yet caught up. 
♦ They won’t, either, for the next month: the Sunni delegation decamped, and the Council of Representatives has begun its August break–or, August to September break.  Not boding well for the U.S. benchmark report in September.
The UN General Assembly will probably pass an increased mandate for the UN in Iraq.  Expected Vote date: perhaps this upcoming week.

U.S. Politics:
It's the Point.♦ My earmark makes more sense than your earmark: I listened to the proceedings on C-Span radio, but here is the NYT article on “single-source” contracts that are defined as necessary and appropriate by the U.S. House of Representatives, and were attached to the military spending bill.  I’m pretty sure it was Representative Flake who satirized earmarks by calling a ball-point pen in military spending jargon (paraphrase) a “polymer-based, multi-purpose portable communication facilitating mechanism”, which was truly my favorite part of the debate.  Language is a beautiful thing, and scarcely more creative than in use by scoundrels with something to hide.  However, as the NYT pointed out, this is less pork than usual for the dominant party, and they didn’t look ashamed, either.
♦ U.S. Energy bill passed: and it requires the U.S. to use renewable energy sources for 15% of utilities. 
♦ U.S. Congress passes  a 6-month long interim eavesdropping bill to catch terrorists, or private citizens, depending upon one’s point of view: and increase security or reduce privacy, again depending upon one’s point of view.
🙂 In case you’re wondering at all this activity: Congress is trying to go on vacation.

Energy:
♦ Oil prices: Brent crude, USD 75.11; West Texas Intermediate, USD 76.13 per barrel: after a large speculative rise this week, the price calmed a little back down.
♦ The National Petroleum Council is talking sense: they noted the difference between national Energy Security and national Energy Independence.  The first is possible; energy independence is not.  Energy security will be a combination of a. moderating demand, b. expanded/diversified energy supplies (I would include alternate energy here) and c. strengthening global trade.  Just a note: U.S. demand is expected to go up 50-60% by 2030.   China and India might need more oil, but the biggest consumer remains the United States.

Have a great week.

Asia/Pacific:
♦ In Australia, the charges against Dr. Haneef have been dropped in connection with the UK car bombings; his prosecutors were shown to have lied, possibly in order to enhance pre-election anti-terrorist credentials.
♦ China continues to crack down on governmental corruption, this time in Shanghai.

Former Soviet Union:
♦ Thanks to Robert Amsterdam blog for bringing forward some new papers on EU-Russia relations.  First: an article by Mr. Lynn at Bloomberg  suggests that the EU cease trading Russian stocks when the Russian Federation expropriates assets from EU companies investing in Russia.  This tit-for-tat on the editorial side is matched by an policy analysis from the Centre for European Reform, which concludes that there are no “strategic partnerships” between the EU and Russia based on “common values” .  What with disputes over gas & oil,  missiles, and oh, yeah, plutonium and extradition, it has been kind of tough lately . . .  🙂 
♦ Yukos assets–Lot 19, worth USD 1.2 billion, is up for auction.  Starting bid: USD 300 million.  What a bargain!  But it looks like Rosneft will get the goods.  In the meantime, more claims against Yukos’ post-bankruptcy assets, these filed from a ruling in a London Court.  Uh-huh. 
♦ The U.S., always somewhat ambivalent about its strategic interests in Central Asia, is signalling more pull-out from the region.  In the meantime, more trouble at Ganci AFB in Manas, Kyrgyzstan.  Ganci relations have never been handled correctly. The Latest: the air traffic controllers are threatening a strike.

Latin America:
♦ Energy news: Mexico announced USD 76.5 million in new investment to shore up their failing oil reserves.  Their top-producing Cantarell Field offshore has hit its peak, and new investment is required.  This also has an effect on Mexico’s budget for the short-term at least: PeMex profits have paid for Mexico’s social services for years.
What U.S. Company?Boz takes a look at the double standard in Colombian-U.S. relations: accusations of aid to terrorists in Colombia by U.S. companies–not investigated by the Justice Department, and More.  Hint on the company: They must be bananas to do such a thing.  (Drawing: from VivirLatino).
♦ The IMF’s Managing Director Rodrigo Rato is on a world tour to re-establish or renew relations with member countries, with Latin American states one high priority–one issue will be giving Brazil, for instance, more voting share commensurate with their economy.  Also, Mr. Rato’s likely successor, Mr. Straus-Kahn, has started a world tour in Africa, but will swing through Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil on his way around the world.  This is all upcoming and highly important: Latin American states rejected IMF reports as inaccurate this last April, which means they also reject methods proposed by IMF based upon those reports.

Middle East:
♦ Saudi Arabia may receive up to USD 20 billion in weapons from the U.S. and Saudi Arabia gets dissed for its destabilizing influence in Iraq.  The weapons systems are to help aid Saudi Arabia as well as other Persian Gulf states who will get military enhancement a chance to counter Iran nuclear capability.  In the meantime, Secretaries Rice and Gates are making another pitch to the Saudis to aid Iraq’s government.
♦ Afghanistan: Canada, Germany, and the Netherlands are reportedly weakening their commitment to ISAF, following casualties and the likelihood of more.
◊ One of the South Korean hostages has been killed.  Negotiations continue for the other 22 hostages.
◊ Some timeless principles of counter-insurgency-including individual talent-at Afghanistanica.
◊ Reuters builds a Timeline of Hostage Incidents in Afghanistan
◊ Carl Robichaud at Afghanistan Watch talks about strengthening the capabilities of the Afghanistan Police: what needs to happen and what is happening.  A must-read.

Iraq:  If you’ve stopped here at all this week, you’ll have seen a lot of analysis of the July Benchmark Report to the U.S. Congress.   First, RG has featured the benchmarks themselves, their purpose and importance, in the Iraq Primer series of posts.  Right now this blog is about halfway through an analysis of the report itself: already complete, one overview of the report’s organization, and one post on amnesty and political benchmarks.  Please keep checking back: in this effort, my own personal benchmark is to inform the debate, not choose a side.  Whoever we are and whatever we believe, we have to be ready for September’s report, with better than one-note analyses to aid us.
◊ Joshua Foust at The Conjecturer writes on the Scott Thompson debate, where a soldier recounts the sick/mean/gallows humor of the troops and the resulting firestorm, and then segues into what I would call the must-view portion: slave labor emplyed by contractors constructing the U.S. Embassy to Iraq.  The testimony on video is very convincing-and disheartening. 
◊ Biggest corruption case ever in Iraq being investigated, Major Cockerham accepts USD 9.6 billion in bribes from contractors, and the scandal is likely to radiate outward.
◊ PTSD: 116 official U.S. troop suicides reported amid Iraq-stationed troops, not counting the dozens still under investigation, and not counting the ones back home.

Energy:
♦ Oil prices this week ended up, but not with the meteoric rises of the last two weeks.  Brent crude, USD 77.28; West Texas Intermediate, 76.88.  The gap between the Brent and WTx price is decreasing–no predictions here though.
♦ Shell announces 18% profit for the quarter.  That does not mean that their long-term picture looks so rosy-sweet: still Sakhalin Island problems continue to obtrude.  Shell lost half its share earlier this year, after years of investment–ostensibly for ecological infractions.  Now that Gazprom has taken those shares, the pipeline is being shut down again–for ecological infractions.
♦ Conoco lost 94 percent of its profit in second quarter due to Venezuelan expropriation of its production.

Asia-Pacific:
♦ This year alone: Floods and landslides in China have killed 411 people as of Tuesday and inflicted 4.9 billion in losses to the state, particularly in the Northern provinces.
Last week, I reported that China executed  Mr. Zheng Xiaoyu over corruption and product safety violations.  This week, the Shanxi slavery case (also reported in previous RI) has resulted in one execution and several prison terms for officials of the brickyard.
♦ China’s diplomatic forays in Oceania–for various very good reasons.  The title sums up what I think about China’s foreign policy overall: The Long Game.

Former Soviet Union:
♦ Runaway inflation: Russia’s grain and oilseed prices went up 15% in the last two weeks, thereby affecting food prices for flour and flour products, condiments, and other staples.  Overall, inflation is jumping as well, due again to agriculture–trade embargoes in produce and meat, crackdowns on illegal immigrants who sell in food markets, and so forth.  Bt it is also due to increased money supply at Central Bank, and oil wealth uninvested.
♦ Again, Khodorkovsky gets charged:this time before parole hearing.  Robert Amsterdam also features the pressure that a Big 4 accountant, PriceWaterhouse Coopers, has been receiving in regard to Yukos books, which they audited and approved for the months of Khodorkovsky’s new charges.  After intense pressure, PwC has withdrawn all its audits and evidences, leaving Mr. K in jail for sure, despite all calls to the rule of law.
♦ Death to Russian environmentalists:  100km/63 miles from Lake Baikal, a large freshwater lake, is going to be the site of a uranium enrichment facility.  Protesters, camping out near the site, since July 14, were attacked: one dead, several in serious condition.  Two bullyboys arrested . . . so far . . .

Latin America
♦ Dear U.S. citizens: it is your patriotic duty (or, at least, wise) to peruse this collection of articles at Bloggings by Boz to see how U.S. demand for drugs, the lapse of the automatic weapons law, and different gun control strategies between the U.S. and Mexico are causing murder of Mexican law enforcement officials.  Since at least the 1960’s the United States has insisted that Mexico stop drug traffic to the U.S.–and now it turns out that the U.S. is the drug-runner’s best supplier.  My fellow U.S. citizens: we could definitely be creating a failed state, right here on our border: and won’t that be great?  Maybe it’s time for U.S. citizens who want to preserve the right to bear arms to consider what kind of an arms-control regime they feel would optimize both their rights and their safety.  Because there are no rights without safety–only necessities.
♦ Also at Boz (on sidebar, so I’ll link it directly: Venezuela’s police taking a hand in facilitating cocaine traffic to Europe.  Le Monde Diplomatique has a great map of drug traffic from the Americas, circa 1998, that is beautiful and informative.
♦ Greg Weeks looks at changes to presidential term limits in Bolivia, Venezuela, and elsewhere.
♦ Brazil cuts up stiff about U.S. farm subsidies in the new U.S. Farm Bill–and rightly so. . .  Anti-CAFTA Costa Rican doctors say CAFTA will cause the Americas to cut on “the stiffs”–uh, human organ trade.  But of course not?  Ick.
♦ High oil prices are affecting Argentina’s ability to access energy–and run its industry.

Middle East:
♦ Israel frees 120 of its 256 Palestinian political prisoners–almost all members of Fatah party.  Welcome home.  Now all these people need a job, so that means economic jumpstarts–the pressure isn’t off–just different.
♦ Afghanistan:   Another week where Afghanistan’s concerns are left out in U.S. politics.  See U.S. politics, below.  But also:
Two German hostages, held since July 18, are executed by the Taliban.  Twenty South Korean hostages, who were to set up hospital services in Kandahar, are still missing.
♦ Iran: Foreign policy initiatives with allies ruled this week, with hostages second:
On Thursday, Iran’s Mr. Ahmadinejad makes a visit to Syria, trying to keep a loyal ally with new pressures on it loyal; and Iran tells Central Asian states that the U.S. is a de-stabilizing force in the region, echoing Russia.  Here is the backup article used at the post as well.
While U.S. detainees in Iran had to come on air and “confess” their treasonous activities for which they were arrested.  Iran says televised interviews reveal a plot; U.S. sources say — not.  What they apparently said would not look like conspiracy to us, but part of their customary duties, given their profession as think-tank analysts: basically, talking to people about politics and economics.  But that’s part of the cultural divide here: not to be dismissed.
♦ Iraq:  The U.S. generals ask for time to surge and surge again.

U.S. Politics: It’s all about terror, detainees, the rule of law, and lost privacy.
♦ More domestic spying?  Slate’s Fred Kaplan thinks so, based upon some carefully-worded excerpts from the newest National Intelligence Estimate (pdf, 7 pages).  I discuss the NIE in previous post.
♦ Mr. Bush gets down and gets busy on the GWOT and your dinner plate: 
◊ New Executive Order leaves out Afghanistan in financial sanctions.
◊ New Executive Order for greater food safety: another Interagency Working Group.  No doubt China will take this personally–how about Congress?
◊ New Executive Order re-enables CIA torture–but not military torture.  This will, if nothing else, continue to obstruct coordination and cooperation in Afghanistan, as many ISAF states are hesitant to cooperate on any actions that require imprisonment of potential malefactors.  Without trust, cooperation cannot be absolute.
♦ The DC Federal Appeals court orders that Guantanamo files be turned over to detainee defense lawyers.  Next: The Supreme Court.

Energy:
♦ Oil prices as of July 20, 2007: up,  another USD 4 per barrel in one week for the second week in a row.  Brent crude, USD 78.34; West Texas intermediate, USD 75.39. 
♦ The Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce is predicting USD 100 per barrel oil prices by next year, a figure that seems believable considering that the price is going up one to three dollars per week lately.  Goldman Sachs is predicting USD 95 per barrel oil by the end of the year.  This will undoubtedly be blamed upon OPEC supply constraints, okay, and we could equally blame high-consumption . . .but to be honest, my air conditioner is ON. (h/t Energy Blog)
♦ The National Petroleum Council (of the United States) has a new five-point strategy for energy security.  At least one comment on this post is hilarious: hundreds of experts, 18 months, and the obvious solutions–?  but you know, that’s how it works in a democracy.  A long consensus-building before action is taken and dollars committed.
♦ Nuclear power woes: post-earthquake, a Japanese nuclear plant leaks–and, —two German nuclear plants under question after one of them has an electrical fire, prompting corporate dismissals and public debates.
♦ Japan to sell 10% of its 77% stake in Westinghouse to Kazakhstan–which, since Kazakhstan has 30% of the world’s uranium reserves, is a good deal for Westinghouse.

Away from all this:
Buckingham Palace LibraryThe libraries of the successful do not include books on how to succeed, but how to think.  Amazing and wonderfully liberating, isn’t it, to read for pleasure?  Keep checking back: I’m sharing mine, a little at a time . . .

Asia-Pacific:
♦ China executes the former Head of Food Safety, Zheng Xiaoyu.  He had headed that administration from 1998 through 2005.  Inside China, babies had died from being fed nutritionally-useless adulterated powdered milk; and recent scandals concerning pet food, toothpaste, fish, and so forth had focused attention upon him, along with the discovery that 20% of China’s exports are substandard.  Most recently,China refused to import chicken from the U.S. for salmonella and illegal growth hormones.  You can call that tit-for-tat if you want, but the truth is, the U.S. does not, for the most part, manufacture healthful chicken–too many antibiotics and hormones are used, and the salmonella story crops up periodically to gross us all out.
♦ The Democratic People’s Republic of (North) Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear facility has been closed, although final steps will take another three weeks; 6200 tonnes of heavy oil delivered as part of the agreed-on compensation for the shut-down.  Another 43,800 tonnes is in the offing: the 50,000 tonnes has a total worth of USD 22 million.  Currently, the DPRK has little power going to its industry or residences; its power capacity is estimated at 7.8 million kilowatts, but has been running at about 30% of that capacity.  This fuel oil will help re-start industry in North Korea, which is on the verge of bankruptcy.
♦ A really strange world view from the DPRK revealed: Andrei Lankov discusses the mind-set, probable setting, and the authenticity of a policy speech between government officials. 

Former Soviet Union:
♦ Building a house of (radioactive) stone: Another security/public health concern in Central Asia that has not been well-addressed since the 1990’s–unsecured uranium mine debris, which is foraged for cash by the poor and sometimes, the stone used to build houses by the homeless.  NonPon discusses this using Tajikistan as an example, but this problem has also been discussed in re: Kyrgyzstan for non-proliferation reasons.  “An avenue of cooperation” that looks like a dead end.
♦ Another Ukrainian bank sold: at first, this looks like an odd insertion here, but it relates to 1. continued integration of world finance markets, as European banks look eastward for a new customer base; 2. a possible force domestically against isolationism, particularly economic isolationsism in the face of Russia’s desire to recapture influence, 3. possible support for Odessa-Brody Gdansk pipeline, which avoids Russia to get oil to Europe, and 4. possible multi-million-dollar sweetheart deals for various Ukrainian kommersant.

Latin America:
Oil pipeline bombings in Mexico; and it takes time to recover.
Mr. Fujimori still at large in Chile and un-extradited to Peru.
♦ President Lula of Brazil and the anti-corruption trials continue to prevail.
♦ Political economy: The Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) needs to be passed, and certain elements of structural reform in place, before the EU can make its own deals with CAFTA-integrated countries.  Costa Rica is seen as the leader toward integration: if they can manage to pass it, it is more likely that others in the region will. 

The Middle East:
♦ Afghanistan: The news agencies are so filled with Iraq, it’s the blogs that are doing right by Afghanistan’s news, synthesizing and evaluating it.  3 great posts:
◊The Pashtun Genocide and how to stop it at Registan.net.  This arresting title is accompanied by a painful summary of all the reason why civilians have died and are dying in Afghanistan, including warlordism, air strikes, and starvation. . . and has some nice references to negotiating principles that might help remedy the effects.  A good read, and
◊ Another good read that is directly related from The Strategist: How to Not Win.
◊ Third, My State Failure Blog takes on the difficulty of a literate reading of Afghanistan events on video: take the time to go through all of these syntheses: Thought-Provoking, and you’ll have a better grasp on the issues in general than before, in Afghanistan and past it.

♦ Iran is asking the Japanese to pay for oil shipments in yen, not dollars, in order to stave off possible U.S. banking barriers.
♦ Iran wants to settle nuclear-proliferation differences with IAEA and not the Security Council.  Whatever works: although, it would be nice if Iran would slow down in order to show the IAEA, the UNSC, and everyone else, that they really do want to make some agreements.  But no–still enriching.

Iraq in DC:
It appears that all the main battles were fought in DC this week,  but they were skirmishes merely.
♦ I already posted on the NYT editorial favoring a reasoned Iraq withdrawal.  Here is an answer from Ambassador Ryan Crocker, also at the NYT, who says there is much more to endure–mostly for the Iraqi people, but also for our own.  In the meantime, the White House is not sure whether to throw a bone to an increasingly mobilized Congress–or to try to sit tight until the September reports from General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker.
♦ The interim report delivered to Congress this week notes that the Surge is having some success marred with failure, and unfortunately presented like a scorecard–nearly 50% complete.  It means little that 8 of 18 benchmarks are met if the successes fall under the failure of the unmet criteria.  Such an observation is not a matter of taking sides, since both of them are using this silly formula.  It would be better to note that these benchmarks are so highly interrelated that it is “all or none”.
♦ President Bush spoke somewhat haltingly and with little in the way of new metaphors about the reasons we were in Iraq.   The speech again lumped all terrorists and all motives together by putting the Iraq insurgency in the same hands as the Twin Towers Massacre.  Unfortunately, this lumpenbogey is fiction.  By treating varying groups as one, we have only one main set of measures against. it.  In the meantime, al-Qaida is stronger than ever, according to a National Intelligence Estimate.
♦ The U.S. troops do not get a break.
♦ The lack of armored vehicles tied directly to single-source, poorly-fulfilled contract to Force Holdings, Inc. that were approved by high officials but protested by other high officials.  Also Armored Holdings, Inc. is cited in above article; more details on their sloppy work here, and, for contrast, AH has been awarded another contract.

Iraq in Iraq:
♦ Troops from long-suffering Turkey at the Iraq/Turkey border.
♦ The UN High Commission on Refugees estimates that 2,000 people flee Iraq daily.  If you have some, please send the UNCHR some cash.

Political Economy/Energy:
♦ On Wednesday, the Brent price was already in the USD 74 range; and it kept going up.  As of Friday, July 13th: Brent crude, USD 76.78 per barrel; West Texas intermediate, USD 73.19.  Like I said, last week: why stop at estimates of USD 80? Which makes the next two entries even more important:
♦ The search for better biofuel crops at the Energy blog.  This is about ingenuity, agriculture, economics, energy, and politics: and two different weeds.
HR 2337, the United States’ upcoming energy bill, is briefly discussed at The Oil Drum.

Political economy/World finance:
♦ The World Bank’s Private Sector Development blog posts a study on the rise of money laundering to USD 1 trillion per year.
♦ Two U.S. Senators/candidates protest China’s manipulation of currency in re: the U.S. deficit, while China worries that they’ll be burned by the U.S. junk mortgage market.

Terrorism:
♦ Mr. bin Laden is back with a new video clip, urging yet more martyrdom.  The bounty on him is now USD 50 million. Mr. al-Zawahiri also took a turn on the camera this month, featured in a clip at the Washington Post.

I’m stopping here, but you know there’s more:

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