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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Energy-Starved, Feedstock-Rich Latin American and Caribbean Countries Try to Catch the Biofuels Wave

Latin American and Caribbean countries, from Mexico and St. Kitts and Nevis to Peru, are trying to catch the biofuels wave.

Government officials throughout the region say they want to help reduce global warming and improve public health by producing a less-polluting fuel. The main driver, however, is the desire to create jobs, attract new investment and increase exports to the United States and Europe.

Brazil has jumped far ahead of everyone in the region. But most other countries plan to begin exporting biofuels by 2010.

No country in Latin America or the Caribbean other than Brazil is currently exporting biofuels to the US from a home-grown crop.

Companies in Jamaica, Trinidad, Costa Rica and El Salvador are importing sugar cane-based ethanol from Brazil, processing it and then shipping it duty-free to the US. Together, the four countries have exported about 90 million gallons of ethanol to the US through May this year, or about as much as Brazil.

Colombia has the most ambitious plans in the region to develop biofuels, other than Brazil.

Nearly all of the promising ventures involve sugar cane-based ethanol, because corn-derived ethanol and biodiesel from palm oil or soybeans are currently too expensive. But most countries in the region face the barrier of being high-cost sugar producers. In most countries, it's more economical to produce sugar than ethanol.

Nevertheless, spurred by publicity about ethanol's benefits and the interest of foreign investors, governments and investors throughout Latin America and the Caribbean are moving ahead with plans to turn sugar cane into ethanol for export or to replace 5 percent to 10 percent of gasoline in domestic vehicles.

In Jamaica, government officials think ethanol could revive the island's dying sugar industry.

Guatemala will soon have five sugar cane-based ethanol plants in operation with plans for three more on the drawing board, Guatemala accounts for about half of the sugar produced in Central America.

Argentine soybean oil producers expect to begin converting a portion of their crop for biodiesel exports to Europe in the next three to five years.

Chile is conducting research to turn wood chips into ethanol.

The US and Brazil--supported by the Inter-American Development Bank and the Organization of American States--are trying to accelerate efforts throughout Latin American and the Caribbean. They have targeted four countries and will begin with a needs assessment this summer. The countries are Haiti, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador and St. Kitts and Nevis, which hopes to sign a contract within the next three months to develop sugar cane with a private company.

Barbados hopes to do the same.

Cuba, where sugar has been a staple of its economy for centuries, is modernizing 11 of its 17 ethanol refineries, according to a published report last month, even though Fidel Castro has said that biofuels threaten to starve the world's poor.

In Haiti, plans for developing ethanol are in an early stage.

Jamaica, Trinidad and El Salvador, however, are importing dehydrated sugar cane ethanol from Brazilian companies, processing it and then shipping it duty-free to the United States under the Caribbean Basin Initiative and the Central America Free Trade Agreement.

This approach allows the Brazilian companies to evade the US 54-cent per gallon tariff on imported ethanol.

Ethanol counts for 40 percent of the fuel consumed by vehicles in Brazil, and the figure will rise because 83 percent of new vehicles purchased during the first five months in Brazil run on E85, which is 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline.

Brazilian producers also export ethanol to the United States despite the stiff tariff.

Colombia plans to produce ethanol for vehicles. The Congress has begun mandating a 5 percent mix of ethanol in vehicles and will require a 15 percent mix by 2010; and Columbia has even more ambitious plans to produce biodiesel through huge plantings of palm oil.

Meanwhile, Maple Energy's $120 million ethanol project in northern Peru--one of the most ambitious in Latin America and the Caribbean--will create 400 to 500 permanent jobs and hundreds more during the construction process. The company, which has just raised capital on London's Alternative Investment Market (AIM), plans to produce 30 million gallons a year beginning in 2009 from 20,000 acres of sugar cane.

Peru's northern coast offers is ideal for producing sugar cane, with hot, dry weather during the day and cool weather at night, year-round.

Peru's biodiesel potential is also being developed. China Confidential has learned that a local company has attracted international investor interest because of the company's leading-edge expertise in growing the best biodiesel feedstock that is presently available--jatropha. The hardy wonder crop is capable of producing hundreds of gallons of (inedible) plant oil per acre. Unlike soy and palm, jatropha can be grown on non-productive, poorly irrigated, marginal lands.

Research shows that the crop can prevent--and perhaps even reverse--desertification.

A mechanical means of harvesting jatropha has yet to be developed; so even though the plant can theoretically be grown commercially in the US and other developed nations, it is most suitable for the developing world. Both China and India are basing their biodiesel development strategies on large-scale jatropha cultivation.

Murdoch Reportedly Closing in on Wall St. Journal

More good news for rising China?

If news acccounts are accurate, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. is expected to reach a definitive agreement to buy Dow Jones & Co. on Tuesday evening, ending his three-month pursuit of the publisher of the Wall Street Journal.

The Bancroft family, which owns 64 percent of Dow Jones voting stock, has been deliberating over whether to accept Murdoch's $60-per-share bid, which was first announced in early May.

Media critics will no doubt be monitoring the extremely influential newspaper in the coming months for signs of editorial prejudice--or more difficult-to-detect self-censorship--in favor of China. The phenomenally successful Murdoch, who is married to a Chinese national, Wendy Deng, is a big booster of--and investor in--China. His politically conservative media properties (some would say rightwing, looking at the Fox News Channel cable TV network) tend to avoid in-depth reporting on the dark side of the country's booming economy and criticism of its alarming and opaque military expansion.

Bad for the US Economy, But Good for the Planet? Paulson Poses for China Reforestation Photo-Op

Under pressure from US lawmakers in Washington to pressure Beijing into ending the currency manipulation that has kept the yuan artificially low and given Chinese exporters an unfair trade advantage over the shrinking pool of made-in-the-US manufacturers, US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson gave the Chinese government--and his former employer, investment banking giant Goldman Sachs--a public relations gift Tuesday in the form of a photo-op in western China.

Paulson, who made some 70 trips to China as Goldman Sachs CEO to boost the firm's China business, posed for pictures at a reforestation area aimed at combating encoraching desert near Quinghai Lake. He stopped at the lake, which is threatened by desertification and climate change, to highlight booming China's environmental crisis before meeting in the Chinese capital with President Hu Jintao and other top government officials.

China's reckless rise has caused most of its environmental problems; and the country's Communist Party rulers are eager to show that they are making serious efforts to promote clean energy and save what is left of its poisoned environment. Reforestation is one solution. The term refers to creation of a carbon sink--a carbon reservoir that is increasing in size--in which plants and other organisms use photosynthesis to remove carbon from the atmosphere by incorporating it into biomass and release oxygen into the atmosphere.

The carbon sink concept has become more widely known because the Kyoto Protocol allows the use of carbon dioxide sinks as a form of carbon offset credit, which can be traded on global markets subject to obtaining United Nations approval through a formal application process.

China is seeking approval for numerous carbon offset projects. The country has also launched its own carbon trading exchange in Beijing, the first in the developing world. The Chinese climate exchange, which is being set up with UN assistance, could establish Beijing as an important center for the multibillion-dollar global trade in carbon credits and a major competitor to the private-sector exchanges established in Europe and the US.

Goldman Sachs has a significant stake in those exchanges. The firm recently purchased nearly 30 percent of the UK-listed Climate Exchange, the parent company of the European Climate Exchange (ECX). The investment, made in two transactions, formed part of the Climate Exchange's merger with the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX), strategically positioning the company--and by extension Goldman Sachs--in two significant markets.

Like China, Goldman Sachs is known for taking the proverbial long view. The New York-based firm is investing heavily in renewable energy projects, including solar, wind, ethanol and biodiesel, while taking serious steps to reduce its own carbon footprint. The firm is also funding research into reforestation and the value of biodiversity--with a view toward developing ways of monetizing and trading that value.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Iraq Parliament Breaks for Summer Vacation

It would be hard to make this stuff up.

Iraq's so-called parliament--the artificial lawmaking body of an artificial country--adjourned for a long summer vacation today. The clowns and stooges are expected to reconvene on September 4, just two weeks before America's top general in Iraq, General ("Light at the End of the Tunnel") David Petraeus, and Washington's smooth-talking envoy to Baghdad, Ryan Crocker, are due to report to Congress on the results of President Bush's "surge."

What's next? A paid holiday ... in Iran ... for the so-called Prime Minister?

For these creeps Americans are being killed and maimed?

Disgusting.

How about this idea for an exit strategy: shoot or deport all Iraqi religious leaders--Shiite and Sunni--and put the national soccer team in charge? Aside from some Baathists and Communists, the athletes seem to be the only notable Iraqis with a national identity.

Spy Stories: Hamas Salivating Over Fatah Files

Iran's Palestinian ally, Hamas, is reportedly ready to go public with a massive trove of intelligence information that the Islamist group captured during its takeover of the formerly Fatah-controlled Gaza Strip.

The revelations relating to CIA traning of Fatah intelligence officers and management and manipulation of Fatah intelligence operations beyond Gaza could prove especially embarrassing to the United States, and provide Shiite Iran (and Hezbollah) and Sunni Al Qaeda and associated jihadist movements with loads of ammunition for their global propaganda offensive.

Coinciding with the Bush administration's proposed arms packages for Saudi Arabia and Israel, and the rising Islamist threat to Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf, evidence of secular Palestinian espionage in Arab countries--conducted on behalf of Washington--reinforces the image of the US as an imperial power opposing the Muslim masses.

Honey-traps (sexual blackmail), hidden cameras and microphones ... Hamas claims to have all the dirt. We'll know soon enough if they are bluffing.

Like His Ally, Abe Defies Public Opinion


Are we living in an era of globalized arrogance and incompetence--and pathetic political spin?

Great democracies deserve better....

In the United States, President Bush misleads and mismanages, and defiantly vows to "stay the course," contrary to public opinion and the sentiment in Congress, even among lawmakers affiliated with his own party. Nothing seems to bother Bush; he smiles and sneers while US foreign policy goes to hell in a handbasket.

In Israel, the worst Prime Minister in the nation's history refuses to resign or accept responsibility for a disastrous war that exposed Israel's weaknesses and vulnerabilities ahead of a seemingly inevitable conflict with an avowed, nuclearizing foe. Like his ally, Bush, Ehud Olmert acts as though everything is hunky-dorey. After all, the Israeli economy is booming!

Now, it's the turn of another embattled Bush ally to defy public opinion--Japan's scandal-plagued Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. He says he has no plans to step down despite growing calls to quit a day after his ruling coalition suffered a major defeat in elections for the upper house of parliament. Instead, he announced his intention to reshuffle his cabinet in September.

Newspaper editorials Monday said Abe--who, polls show, may be even be more unpopular in his country than Bush is in the US--should consider Sunday's election a vote of no confidence.

Preliminary official results showed Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its junior coalition partner, the New Komeito Party, with 103 seats--a loss of 30 seats--far short of the 122 needed to control the upper house. Half of the upper house's 242 seats were contested.

Final results, which have yet to be announced, are expected to show the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan made large gains.

Since taking office last September, Abe has been sharply criticized for his government's mishandling of pension records, and for a series of corruption scandals involving Cabinet members.

Abe's LDP controls Japan's lower house of parliament, which chooses the prime minister. A defeat in the upper house will make it harder to pass legislation and could pressure LDP members to choose a new leader

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Electoral Aftershock: Abe's 'Utter Defeat' Could Cause LDP Partner to Reconsider Relationship

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called it an "utter defeat," which may prove to be an understatement.

The results of Sunday's upper house elections in Japan constituted a political earthquake that could lead to a fracturing of the relationship between Abe's scandal-plagued Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its smaller coalition partner, the New Komeito Party, which is informally backed by the powerful Buddhist lay organization, Soka Gakkai.

While appreciative of Abe's efforts to improve relations with China, many New Komeito members are unhappy with his campaign to raise Japan's security profile and rewrite its pacifist constitution.

The Soka Gakkai, which founded New Komeito's predecessor party (Komeito), is deeply committed to a humanistic foreign policy that avoids military conflict and intervention.

The LDP-New Komeito coalition lost its majority in the upper house to the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) in the coalition's first nationwide electoral test since Abe took office 10 months ago. With five seats left to be decided, public broadcaster NHK said the LDP and New Komeito had won 43 seats compared to 59 for the DPJ. The coalition needed 64 to keep their majority in the upper house, where half of the 242 seats were up for grabs.

Abe has vowed to remain in office; and his coalition will not be ousted from government because it has a big majority in the more powerful lower chamber, which elects the premier. With the DPJ controlling the upper house, however, laws will be hard to enact, threatening policy paralysis.

A deadlock could spark a snap election for the lower house, although the governing coalition will be wary of risking another defeat. No general election need be held until 2009.

The conservative-leaning LDP has dominated Japanese politics and governed the country for most of the years since its founding in 1955.

There is a general sense that Abe is too focused on foreign policy and that the LDP has lost touch with ordinary people and their everyday concerns, especially the need to preserve and protect the pensions promised to Japan's ageing workers.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Chinese Communist-Capitalism Crushing Workers

America's 19th century robber barons and horrific sweatshop owners--and China's 20th century Koumintang fascists--would all be proud.

Rising China's state-sponsored capitalism is spawning a rising pattern of anti-labor corporate violence. Brutal beatings--and cold-blooded killings--are becoming commonplace as well-connected companies deploy hired goons and thugs to keep the peace and crush strikes and protests.

The country's 200 million migrant workers, mostly poor farmers and the unemployed who seek work in the booming urban centers, are the main victims.

China's rapid economic growth has lifted overall living standards, but has caused a growing income gap between the 800 million peasants and more affluent city dwellers, leading to increasing social unrest.

The flood of impoverished rural migrants to China's rapidly expanding cities is creating a new underclass with the potential for massive social unrest. Not for nothing did outgoing premier Zhu Rongji warn in 2003 that if migrant workers were not given a greater share of the new wealth, it could undermine social stability and economic growth.

Bob Geldof Backs Jatropha-Based Biodiesel for Africa

While China steps up plans for large-scale jatropha plantations, as reported by China Confidential, companies seeking to commercially cultivate jatropha in South Africa face a serious hurdle--the South African government, which prohibits intentional growing of the oilseed wonder crop.

The South African Department of Agriculture currently classifies jatropha--a hardy, inedible perennial that can be grown on non-productive wasteland, prevent and maybe even reverse desertification, and produce over 400 gallons of biodiesel feedstock per hectare--as an invasive tree.

A giant weed, basically.

Which is truly tragic, given jatropha's awesome potential for ending the cycle of poverty in Africa and much of the developing world.

One person who would like to see South Africa change its view is Bob Geldof. The singer-songwriter, actor and Live Aid/Live 8 activist has joined the campaign to promote green energy in Africa by agreeing to serve as a special adviser to the biomass company Helius Energy. The company, which is listed on London's Alternative Investment Market (AIM), is currently in discussion to supply the South African power utility Eskom with renewable energy, generated mainly from jatropha-based biodiesel and biomass.

Geldof recently told reporters that green energy could stimulate the economic growth required to lift Africa from poverty. He met with the media following a fact-finding trip to Swaziland, where he visited jatropha plantations planted by pioneering biodiesel producer D1 Oils. The company has obtained the rights to plant more than 40,000 hectares of jatropha in Africa, including Swaziland and Zambia.

Pointing to a jatropha seedling on the table, Geldof said that “the potential effect of this little fellow is enormous”.

He said that he was impressed by the “life-changing” potential that the cultivation of jatropha trees could have on desperately poor African communities.

“I do not use the word ‘life-changing’ lightly,” Geldof said, adding that jatropha was the first solution that he had seen in his more than two decades of involvement in causes that offered Africans jobs, cash crops and economic power.

Geldof was accompanied by Helius Energy chairperson Alex Worrall and Helius Energy cofounder and D1 Oils Africa CEO Demetri Pappadopoulos, who said that the first power from jatropha biomass could be produced in the next three years when D1 Oils Africa expects to harvest the first commercial crops in Swaziland and Zambia.

Besides being in discussion with Eskom, Helius Energy is in talks with the government of Zambia concerning the establishment of new power plants and the upgrading of existing facilities.

Helius is also in discussion with the Swazi government for a power supply agreement.

In another positive development, petrochemicals giant BP and the parent company of D1 Oils Africa, Aim-listed D1 Oils, have announced plans to establish a global joint venture based on the planting of jatropha trees--a major advance for use of jatropha as a biodiesel feedstock.

Verification Key to Unlocking the Green (as in US Dollars) in Chinese Renewable Energy Projects

Renewable energy projects are likely to lead China's next round of Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) bids, according to Interfax-China. The reason, the news services says, is that relatively low-cost but less sustainable investments in energy efficiency and cutting hydrofluorocarbon emissions have lost favor with the Chinese government.

But Interfax adds that renewable projects are facing difficulties with registration with the United Nations--the final essential step in making the credits tradable on the international market. Many projects lack proven methodologies that allow for verification of meeting the strict standards required to be included on the CDM list.

According to the Kyoto Protocol that came into force in 2005, companies in Europe, Japan, Canada and other countries that signed the agreement must meet greenhouse gas emission targets by implementing measures domestically, by buying European Union Allowance (EUA) credits from Europe, or by funding CDM projects in developing countries such as China and India to obtain Carbon Emission Reduction (CER) credits in order to offset over-quota emissions in their own countries.

The global carbon market, now estimated at $30 billion, could grow to $1 trillion within a decade.

The UN expects China to account for 41 per cent of all carbon credits issued by 2012.

The Chinese government recently established a carbon trading exchange in Beijing--the first outside Europe and the US--in a joint venture with the UN Development Program.

Renewable energy projects could be a way for China's government to bring carbon trading benefits to the country's poorer, rural regions. CDM projects have typically focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from chemical industries in China's richer coastal areas.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Israelis Doubt 'Mutual Assured Destruction' Would Deter Devastating Missile Strikes by Nuclear Iran

Amid reports that Chinese companies have increased shipments of sensitive military technologies to Iran, some Israeli analysts have developed a chilling new argument for preemptive military action against the nuclearlizing, non-Arab nation: relative size.

The Israeli view is that Islamist Iran is simply too big--and too suicidal--for Israel to depend on the doctrine, or threat, of "mutual assured destruction" to deter Tehran from launching an all-out conventional assault on the tiny (Massachusetts-sized) Jewish state, which, though widely assumed to have a formidable nuclear arsenal, could still be destroyed with one nuclear bomb.

The mass-murdering mullahocracy, which promises its followers both a "world without Zionism" and a "world without America," has missiles that can strike all over Israel; and Iran's missile-mad Arab allies, secular Syria and Islamist Hezbollah and Hamas, can also inflict devastating damage on Israeli population centers. Iranian nuclear-tipped missiles could neutralize Israel's nuclear deterrent--i.e. "going nuclear" in order to save the state from a catastrophic defeat.

Devil's Game: Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia

We hate to admiit it, but the Saudis are apparently right: Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki is for all practical purposes an Iranian agent and a covert ally of the anti-American, Shiite Islamist cleric Moktada al-Sadr.

The Bush administration probably secretly agrees that Maliki can't be trusted, but prefers to avoid confronting him because he is Washington's man at the end of the day, and no more trustworthy candidate can be found to replace him.

There is no Iraqi government in sight that would be capable of surviving more than a few weeks absent US military intervention. It is also far too late in the game for a Diem-style solution--a US-backed coup or assassination--to the Iraq debacle. The war is a disaster that has discredited the legitmate case for intervention and perhaps even the argument for waging war against Islamism itself.

American hawks are caught between a rock--i.e. the administration's phony "war on terror"--and a hard place--the war critics' tendency to treat the global conflict with Islamism as an international law enforcement problem.

In the Middle East, meanwhile, the intrigue intensifies. Responding to Saudi fears of Iranian expansion--and Saudi support for Sunni insurgents in Iraq--the Bush administration is pushing a major arms package for the ultra-oil-rich kingdom that has actually done more to spread Islamism internationally than any power on earth apart from Iran.

Korean Maritime Border Dispute Heats Up

A long-festering maritime border dispute between the Koreas--North Korea has angrily ended the latest round of high-level military talks over the issue--could cause the North to drag its feet on implementing the six-nation nuclear disarmament deal, or even to test-fire more missiles in a provocative show of defiance.

The following historical background is excerpted from a VOA article:

Communist North Korea invaded capitalist South Korea in 1950. A 1953 armistice halted the fighting, but the war was never formally concluded by a peace treaty. The 248-kilometer-long no-man's-land bisecting the Korean peninsula, where this week's talks took place, is demilitarized, but emplacements and troops on either side make it one of the most heavily armed borders in the world.

That tension extends out to the two countries' sea border, which was at the heart of the dispute on Thursday. The United Nations established a maritime division between the Koreas known as the Northern Limit Line in 1953.

North Korea has rejected that border for decades as illegal, and fought deadly naval skirmishes with South Korea in waters west of the peninsula in 1999 and 2002. Experts say the area is rich in seafood and other ocean resources, fueling competition over territorial markers.

As it has done in previous military talks, Pyongyang made redrawing the Northern Limit Line its central demand this week. South Korea refused to discuss the demand, saying the talks should aim for more simple, tactical goals.

South Korea says it had hoped to build on a historic test of a cross-border railroad line in May by seeking security mechanisms for future rail crossings. Seoul also hoped to refine arrangements for defusing future naval conflicts, such as a telephone hotline between the two capitals. Pyongyang says those issues can only be addressed after the maritime border issue is resolved.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Hawaiian Jatropha Attracts Japanese Attention

Japanese investors are investigating the potential for growing jatropha--an inedible oilseed crop that is an apparently ideal feedstock for biodiesel processing--in Hawaii.

Plans are already underway to build two large biodiesel plants in Hawaii. Seattle-based Imperium Renewables intends to build a $90 million processing plant at Barbers Point to produce 100 million gallons of biodiesel a year.

Maui Electric Co. and BlueEarth Maui Biodiesel have also proposed a $61 million refinery on the Valley Isle to produce up to 120 million gallons a year of biodiesel to produce electricity.

Both companies would start operations using imported vegetable oil pending availability of local crops.

Various ventures are also said to be considering cultivation of jatropha in the western and southwestern regions of the United States mainland. The hardy perennial produces relatively large amounts of oil--200 gallons per acre compared with only 40 gallons per acre for soy and 70-80 gallons per acre for canola--and can be grown on non-productive, marginal land.

China Confidential has learned that Japanese and Chinese companies are exploring the potential for growing jatropha in Peru, where the plant may have originated, while at least one Chinese company is reportedly trying to tie up large tracts of land in Haiti for the same purpose.

China Calls Chen 'Scum' and 'Schemer'

China has branded Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian "scum" and a "schemer" ... and "a destroyer of peace and stability" ... after the United Nations rejected Taiwan's bid to join the world body.

The Taiwan Work Office of the Communist Party of China's Central Committee and the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, or Cabinet, made the remark in a statement, according to the Xinhua News Agency.

Xinhua said "Taiwan independence activities are doomed to fail."

China Confidential has learned that Taiwan's application was returned unopened by the UN Office of Legal Affairs.

In announcing its rejection, the UN cited a 1971 resolution that recognizes the People's Republic of China as the lawful representative to the world body.

The out-of-hand rejection is a serious blow to Taiwan's unpopular, pro-independence president.

China's International Image Still Strong

Tainted food and spy scandals and an opaque military buildup are not likely to affect China's mpressive "soft power" successes--i.e. its use of diplomacy, culture and trade to influence public opinion around the world--in the immediate future.

In fact, Beijing seems to have a more favorable international image than Washington. In a recent study by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, for example, most people polled in Africa and Latin America said that China had a more positive impact on their nation than the United States.

Even in Australia, a longtime US ally, a study by the Lowy Institute showed nearly 70 percent of Australians viewed China positively; only half the Australians polled had positive feelings about the US.

Arab League Visit to Israel Reflects Fear of Iran

There is no denying that Wednesday's frst-ever visit to Israel by Arab League representatives was symbolically significant. The newsmaking trip may have also been politically significant, even though (a) it was only a one-day visit to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem; (b) the two envoys, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit and Jordanian FM Abdelelah al-Khatib, hail from countries that have already signed peace pacts with Israel; (c) the diplomats avoided making their dramatic, pro-peace statement on behalf of the Arab League; and (d) the head of the League, Secretary-General Amr Moussa, immediately dampened hopes for peace by saying the men had no mandate to speak on behalf of the 22-member group.

But the envoys did speak; and their message clearly reflected a growing fear among many Arab leaders that the Iranian-backed Islamizing of the Middle East threatens themselves as well as Israel. Secular Syria's alliance with non-Arab, Islamist Iran and its Shiite Lebanese Arab proxy, Hezbollah, is regarded as a dangerous deviation, caused partly by America's failure to lure Damascus away from Tehran and partly by the failed policies of a weak but cunning ruler, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. In sharp contrast with his late father, Hafez, who ruthlessly crushed the Muslim Brotherhood when it threatened his regime, the present president has unsuccessfully sought to appease Syrian Islamists, who have risen in strength and influence to an alarming degree. (The younger Assad actually accelerated a budding Islamist alliance that his father began in a cynical attempt to counter American influence and plans for a so-called New Middle East. After years of battling and suppressing rightwing political Islam, the pseudo-socialist Baath Party surprisingly succumbed to the temptation of trying to use and manipulate its ideological foe.)

The survival of many Arab governments--and Arab identity itself--is increasingly called into question in ways never before seen. Hence, the historic visit to Israel.

"We are extending a hand of peace on behalf of the whole region to you, and we hope that we'll be able to create the momentum needed to resume fruitful and productive negotiations" between Israel, the Palestinians and Arab states, al-Khatib said in Jerusalem.

The envoys urged Israel to consider the Saudi-sponsored Arab League peace plan, which calls for Jerusalem to cede all land captured during the Six-Day War of 1967 in exchange for full Arab recognition of the Jewish state. Israel would also have to agree to creation of a Palestinian state and a "just solution" for the Palestinian refugee problem.

"Time is of the essence," Gheit told Israeli President Shimon Peres.

Gheit and al-Khatib also met Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni ahead of talks with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

The delegation also met today with Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader of the Likud opposition. Israeli news reports quoted Netanyahu as saying he rejected the Arab initiative and told the envoys that he does not believe withdrawals are a basis for peace, instead emphasizing closer economic cooperation.

China Confidential has learned that the envoys hinted that Israel could also be granted Arab League observer status as part of a land-for-peace accord, joining Eritrea and India as the organization's observers.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Has Bush Lost His Mind?

Has Bush lost his mind? Is he mentally unstable, as one of America's most politically conservative newspapers, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, recently suggested?

Many Republicans are quietly asking themselves and each other those questions, as the incredibly unpopular President persists in misrepresenting the Iraq war while irrationally defending his increasingly embattled--and clearly unqualified and untrustworthy--Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales.

The movement to draft US Senator Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican, is gaining.

China Promises EU Action on Product Safety

The European Union Commissioner for Consumer Protection, Meglena Kuneva, told reporters Tuesday that Chinese officials have said they will follow through on their agreement to provide quarterly reports on investigations into dangerous Chinese products exported to the EU.

"I received a political commitment of the highest level, and I will watch how this political commitment will be translated into practice," Kuneva said.

Kuneva said China is obliged by a memorandum of understanding, signed with the EU in early 2006, to fully investigate EU complaints of unsafe Chinese products and to provide a summary of enforcement efforts in quarterly reports. However, in the last year, she said, China has provided only two reports.

"The first report was very poor in respect of tracking down, the second was better but still not sufficient," she said. "That's why I'm here."

Half of all unsafe exports last year to the EU came from China. The EU is China's largest trading partner and one in four products imported to the EU come from China.

But those products include children's toys with high lead or chemical content or small parts that posed a choking hazard, batteries that may explode and lamps that could electrocute.

China is under pressure to better enforce product safety standards after a series of revelations about tainted and deadly exports.

Chinese officials last week announced the closure of a company that exported mislabeled chemicals that were used in cough syrup in Panama, resulting in the deaths of dozens of people there in the last year.

Two other companies were closed for using toxic chemicals in pet food ingredients believed to have killed hundreds of dogs and cats in North America earlier this year.

The United States has refused exports of Chinese farm-raised fish and seafood after drugs banned in the US were found in shipments.

Chinese officials acknowledge some Chinese companies are responsible for unsafe exports, but insist the vast majority of products are safe.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Radioactive Water Leaked into Sea of Japan

Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) said Monday that radioactive water at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant leaked into the Sea of Japan through a pipe for electric cables following a powerful earthquake a week ago.

TEPCO, which operates the plant, said 1.2 tons of water with small amounts of radioactive material leaked from a pool for spent fuel at the No. 6 reactor, went through the pipe and other channels into a water storage tank in the basement and was released into the sea as part of regular water discharge. The pool, located on the fourth floor of the reactor building, is about 12 meters deep and was filled with water up to around the 11-meter point at the time of the July 16 quake.

The water in the pool for spent fuel poured into a hole located more than 10 meters away due to the strong shaking from the earthquake and went into the pipe for electric and other cables that extends from the hole to the lower floors.

The pipe, with a diameter of about 8 centimeters, was filled with putty, but the water was believed to have squeezed through tiny gaps in the putty and gone through a ventilation duct and a drain outlet and into a wastewater tank on the first basement floor.

Operations at the plant, where the quake also caused a fire, remain suspended following an order from Kashiwazaki Mayor Hiroshi Aida, who cited safety concerns. The plant straddles Kashiwazaki and the village of Kariwa in Niigata Prefecture.

Japanese Ruling Party Facing Likely Setback

The times are changing.

Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party--which has dominated the country's politics for six decades--and its coalition partner, the New Komeito (Clean Government) Party are expected to suffer serious setbacks in the July 29 elections for half of the 242 seats in the upper house of the Diet (parliament).

Ichiro Ozawa's Democratic Party of Japan wants to take control of the upper house of Japan's parliament and move the country toward a viable two-party democracy.

The debate over constitutional revision, especially regarding the war-renouncing Article 9, is a major issue for New Komeito. The staunchly pacifist party was founded by and is informally backed by Soka Gakkai (Value Creation), the Buddhist lay organization that has over 15 million members, who practice a particular form of Nichiren Buddhism.

New Komeito is committed to preserving the language in Article 9 renouncing war and the threat or use of force. However, the party is said to be considering clarifying the role of the Self-Defense Forces to allow for participation in international peacekeeping missions.

The United States has been encouraging Japan to take a more aggressive stance, militarily, in response to threats from North Korea and China's massive military modernization and expansion.

Tibet World's Fastest Warming Country

The world's roof is rapidly overheating.

In fact, China's official Xinhua news agency reported Sunday that the mountainous region of Tibet is warming faster than anywhere else on earth, and that the climate change could have a long-range negative impact on much of Asia's water supply.

Xinhua said a weather study in TIbet by the Tibet Meteorological Bureau concludes that the average annual temperature there is going up three-tenths of a degree (0.3 Celsius) every 10 years.

Tibet's average temperature is reportedly rising seven and one-half times as rapidly as in China, where measurements show an average annual increase of four-tenths of one degree (0.4 Celsius) every 100 years. Worldwide, the temperature rise over the past century is only slightly higher.

This year's comprehensive international report on climate change by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says temperatures worldwide have risen less than three-quarters of one degree (0.74 Celsius) in the past 100 years.

Scientists say rising temperatures on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau mean that snow cover will decrease and glaciers will melt at an accelerated rate throughout the area commonly called the roof of the world. This is expected to have a sharp impact on water supplies serving all countries in the region.

China is overtaking the United States as the world's largest emitter of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming.

Chinese scientists have been warning for years that climate changes in Tibet could dry up major Chinese rivers and trigger drought, sandstorms and desertification.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

North Korea Could Test-Fire More Missiles

North Korea will probably test-fire more missiles and may even explode another atomic device before the end of this year, according to analysts in Japan and Australia.

Having shut down its Yongbyon reactor, which produced weapons-grade plutonium, Pyongyang is escalating demands for money and energy--including, incredibly, a light-water nuclear reactor--and recognition and "security guarantees" from its arch enemy, the United States.

The North shows no sign of actually ending its nuclear program--it is clearly unwilling to come clean regarding suspected uranium enrichment--while continuing to allocate scarce state resources to its long-range missile and biological and chemical warfare programs.

The flawed six-nation nuclear deal with the Hitlerian Stalinist/Kimist regime is at best a triumph of symbolism over substance; at worst, appeasement leading to catastrophe.

It is only a matter of months or years before the North--an ally of nuclar-arming, Islamist Iran--is capable of accurately targeting the US mainland with nuclear-tipped missiles.

A US Opening to 'Moderate' Islamism?

Old habits are hard to break.

Like a recidivist abuser of alcohol or drugs, the United States is apparently again attempting to manipulate radical Islam, or Islamism, in order to defeat an enemy, much the way Washington did during the Cold War.

This time around, however, the enemy is not the Soviet Union, which no longer exists--partly because of the US-supported jihad in Afghanistan that proved to be Moscow's Vietnam--but Islamism itself. The US is rerportedly reaching out to oxymoronic moderate-radical Islam to isolate and contain ultra-radical Islam--mainly, Al Qaeda, which was spawned by the struggle in Afghanistan, and assocated jihadist movements. Put differently, the US is seemingly sympathetic to--and tacitly supporting--rightwing political Islam as a counter to far-right political Islam.

Secular alternatives are nowadays no longer in favor in Washington and among key members of the foreign policy establishment; hence, a push to engage, if not embrace, the Muslim Brotherhood--which in reality only differs with Al Qaeda over strategy and tactics and minor theological issues--and the mixed signals sent out by the US to two increasingly threatened Muslim allies: secular, democratic Turkey and Islamic but not yet Islamist, authoritarian Pakistan. Though the two countries are clearly dramatically different in terms of history, culture, and geography, they are both counting on their armed forces to check the Islamist tide.

The military is the political party that matters most in most Muslim societies; and Turkey's military is staunchly secular and can be expected to fight fiercely if need be to preserve Turkey's impressive secular institutions and traditions. In Pakistan, however, the military and intelligence agencies have a sordid history of siding with Islamists--Pakistan basically created and then sustained the Taliban and cooperated closely with Al Qaeda before 9/11--but for reasons that may have more to do with self-preservation than ideology. The nation's intelligence agencies, in particular, have tended to play the Islamist card as a hedge, seeing Islamism as the winning team in the battle for Muslim hearts and minds.

The developing US strategy of supporting supposedly moderate Islamists, guided by an appeasement-oriented State Department, is dangerous and almost certainly as self-destructive, or downright suicidal, as the bipartisan, pro-Islamist policy that spanned some six decades and blew back so horrifically in the Islamist attacks of 9/11. Most immediately, anti-Islamist forces in Turkey and Pakistan are likely to be undermined in ways that may recall Jimmy Carter's craven betrayal of Iran's pro-Western Shah and the Carter administration's failed efforts to cozy up to the Ayatollah Khomeini and his legions of mad mullahs and the secular Iranians whom they duped into helping to bring about the toppling of the modernizing monarch.

POST SCRIPT: Tomorrow, July 22, marks the 28th anniversary of the assassination--on US soil--of Ali A. Tabatabai, who, as founder-president of the Iran Freedom Foundation, had become the most visible and ouspoken opponent of Khomeini's regime. A gentle, dedicated proponent of democracy--though he served as a press attache at Iran's Embassy in Washington, he had actually once been targeted and harassed by Iran's dreaded secret police--Tabatabai was shot to death in his own Bethesda, MD suburban home, not far from the US capital. The killer was Dawud Salahuddin--born David T. Belfield--a US citizen who had converted to Islam, whose photo appears below.

Belfield fled to Tehran, where he still lives under the protection of the monstrous mullahocracy. He confessed to his crime in a chilling on-camera interview with the ABC News program 20/20 that aired on Friday, January 19, 1996. He also admitted to killing Tabatabai in an interview with The New Yorker magazine, describing the deed as "an act of war and a religious duty."

"In Islamic religious terms, taking a life is sometimes sanctioned and even highly praised, and I thought that event was just such a time," Belfield said.

An African-American who grew up in Bayshore, Long Island in a Baptist family, and attended Howard University for one semester, Belfield reportedly converted to Islam at the age of 18. He frequented an Iranian student center run by anti-Shah islamists. During the early 1970s he spent time visiting prisons around Washington to, "bring the message of Islam to black inmates," possibly as part of an Iran-supported recruitment effort.

Belfield has worked as a freelance writer and occasionally traveled to Arab countries and North Korea.

Incrediby, he played a sympathetic major character in the internatinally acclaimed 2001 feature film Kandahar.

Back to Bethesda. After killing Tabatabai while disguised as a US Postal mail carrier, Belfield fled the country using a phony passport assumed to have been provided by Iranian agents with the help of Algeria. It is also assumed that the Carter administration allowed Belfield to escape to avoid provoking the Khomeini regime.

Fawning liberal journalists (many of whom cheered the Shah's overthrow) have never confronted or seriously questioned Carter about the assassination.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Crazy Condi Crusades for Muslim Kosovo


America's worst-ever Secretary of State--is she insane or a closet Islamist?

Amid worsening news from Iraq and Pakistan (where Al Qaeda and the Taliban and their pro-Islamist warlord allies have established a new Afghanistan-style state-within-a-state on the border with inreasingly threatened Afghanistan, and Islamist bombers are targeting Chinese nationals, among other infidels), Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, and even Turkey, where Islamists are on the rise, thanks, in part to America's idiotic, self-defeating democracy crusade, Condoleezza RIce is blisfully backing independence ... at all costs ... common sense be damned ... for predominantly Muslim Kosovo ... effectively paving the way for a future Islamist state in Europe ... even if it means needlessly antagonizing Russia, whose cooperation could be essential in defeating Islamist Iran and Islamism in general.

Then, again, one wonders if crazy Condi and the rest of the seemingly deranged Bush administration gives a damn about defeating Islamism. Nearly six years after the Islamist Al Qaeda attacks of 9/11, Bush and Co. have done more for Islamism and Iran than anyone could have ever imagined. Thanks to the arrogant and ignorant Bush--and crazy Condi--a contained secular enemy, Iraq, has been transformed into an Iranian Shiite Islamist satellite, Gaza has become an Islamist terror base, and Saudi-sponsored Islamist hate-mongers are firmly entrenched ... in the United States.

Kosovo will get its independence from Serbia "one way or another" despite Russia's objections at the United Nations, Rice said on Thursday.

She told reporters traveling with her to Lisbon for a meeting of the so-called quartet of Middle East mediators that her boss, Bush, had made it very clear that Kosovo should have its independence from Serbia.

"The United States is absolutely committed to that," said Rice, who will see Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Lisbon at the meeting of the quartet, which comprises the US, Russia, the European Union and the UN.

Asked whether Washington was prepared to move on Kosovo's path to independence outside of the UN, Rice replied: "We are committed to an independent Kosovo and we will get there one way or another."

Sheer lunacy.

Who benefits from an independent Kosovo? Where is the logic in provoking Russia? Why are relations with Russia so bad--and getting worse? Why is the US driving Russia and China closer together?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Quake-Caused Nuclear Leaks Worse than Reported

A Japanese power company has acknowledged that more radioactive material leaked from an earthquake-hit nuclear power plant than it previously reported.

The Tokyo Electric Power Company, which operates the nuclear plant in Kashiwazaki, says the level of radiation in water that leaked into the Sea of Japan was 1.5 times higher than initially estimated. The company says the leak still is not a health hazard.

Tokyo Electric also has acknowledged that around 100 barrels containing low-level nuclear waste tipped over and some lost their lids during Monday's 6.8 magnitude earthquake.

Earlier Wednesday, the mayor of Kashiwazaki summoned the head of Tokyo Electric and ordered him to keep the nuclear plant closed until its safety is ensured.

[China Confidential has learned that the plant may never reopen.]

Japanese researchers also are investigating whether a fault line runs underneath the seaside plant.

International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, chief Mohammed ElBaradei has called for a thorough investigation of the incident. He offered his agency's assistance in reviewing the accident and drawing any necessary lessons.

Authorities say 10 elderly people died and as many as 1,000 were injured in the earthquake, which also destroyed homes and cut water, gas and power supplies. More than 12,000 people have sought shelter at schools and community centers.

-VOA

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

'I' Word Rumors and Whispers

As reported by China Confidential, the dreaded "I" word--impeachment--is on the lips of Washington insiders, including, even, certain Republicans.

A delusional President, intellectually challenged and increasingly detached from reality, irrationally pursuing a no-win war in Iraq while a resurgent Al Qaeda gathers and trains in what has become the new Afghanistan--lawless, pro-Islamist Northwest Pakistan--this is the unfolding national nightmare that is causing some Conservatives to think the unthinkable--namely, pressuring the deeply unpopular President and his despised Vice President to resign.

Nebraska's senior US Senator, Republican Chuck Hagel, would make a good President, some say.

And it's only July.

Atomic Alternative: Accident in Japan Highlights Deadly Downside of Nuclear Power Plants

A blow to nuclear power, a boost for green energy.

Monday's earthquake-caused accident at Japan's supposedly safe, seven-reactor Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant is a major setback for an industry--worldwide--which has been trying to recast itself in a green hue. The accident highlights the unacceptable risks associated with civilian atomic energy, regardless of its potential benefits.

Simply put, the downside--mass death and destruction--can't be justified by the upside.

The Tokyo Electric Power Company plant, which is located at the epicenter of the deadly quake that hit northwestern Japan, suffered some 50 malfunctions, including fires, burst pipes, water leaks and ... radioactive ... waste spillage.

The magnitude 6.8 quake killed at least nine people and injured another 1,000.

Inexplicable--and inexcusable--delays in notifying the public triggered outrage among anti-nuclear activists and criticism from top officials.

Japan's 55 nuclear reactors, which supply 30 percent of the quake-prone country's electricity, have a long history of accidents and coverups.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Contamination Wars: China Counterattacks

China's announced blocking of imports of some US processed meat that showed signs of contamination--which affects some of the largest US food companies, including Cargill Meat Solutions and Tyson Foods--is the opening salvo in a multi-front counterattack against critics who have questioned the safety of Chinese exports.

As previously reported by China Confidential, Beijing intends to expose the export by US companies of recycled waste vegetable oil and slaugtherhouse animal fat renderings to Asia and Latin America for use as animal feed additives. The firms, which control the collection of recycled restaurant grease in the US, are legally prohibited from selling such products into the US food chain because of the fear of mad-cow disease from the animal components.

The US exports could be processed into biodiesel; but relatively expensive collection and refining methods make foreign food-chain markets more attractive to the US rendering and waste oil collection giants.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Mexican Drug Gang Threatens US Media

General "Black Jack" Pershing must be turning in his grave.

Nearly six years after the Al Qaeda attacks of 9/11, a mass-murdering Mexican drug gang has threatened to kill American journalists who report on the violence between rival cocaine cartels and security forces along Mexico's border with the United States.

In response, two Texas-based newspapers have pulled their reporters from the city.

How sickening and sad, how truly tragic ... for every law-abiding American and Mexican.

Great nations deserve better.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

US Criticizes China for Arms Transfers to Iran

Voice of America (VOA) reported Thursday that an American official accused China of failing to do all it should to stop militarily significant supplies from reaching Iran, even though China voted for United Nations sanctions aimed at preventing Tehran from developing nuclear weapons.

Ambassador Don Mahley, who is Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for international security and nonproliferation, told the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission that Chinese companies sold items to Iran that the United States considers banned under UN resolutions aimed at preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons capability.

Commonly called the China Commission, the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission is a Congressional advisory body that was created in the year 2000 to monitor, investigate, and submit to Congress an annual report on the national security implications of the bilateral trade and economic relationship between the US and China, and to provide recommendations, where appropriate, to Congress for legislative and administrative action.

Mahley spoke on the first day of a two-day public hearing in Washington on China’s Proliferation and Impact of Trade Policy on Defense Industries in the US and China. The hearing will examine the impact of China’s proliferation practices on US national security, China’s compliance with its own nonproliferation laws and regulations and international proliferation norms, the development of indigenous defense industrial capacity in China, and the impact of trade practices and manufacturing in China on the US defense industrial base.

"There have been transfers, which we have addressed with the Chinese, in which we believe that the transfers were not permitted by UN Security Council resolutions 1737 and 1747," Mahley said.

He added that Beijing does not dispute that the transfers occurred, but differs with Washington about whether the transfers violate the UN resolutions. Mahley efused to publicly name specific equipment or technology, but he said they were "involved" with Iran's missile and nuclear programs.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense David Sedney testified that the Chinese government has taken what he called a legalistic approach to the UN resolutions, which do not call for a blanket ban on such transfers to Iran.

"Very clearly, the transfers that Ambassador Mahley's talking about are things that are not consistent with the spirit of those U.N. resolutions and the purpose and intent of them," Sedney said.

Sedney also questioned Chinese sales of conventional arms to Iran.

"Supplying conventional weapons to Iran, at a time when Iran is supplying and funding groups in Iraq, Lebanon and Afghanistan, that are confronting and sometimes killing American troops and our allies, that is not the activities that I would expect of a strategic or of a cooperative partner," he said.

Sedney also highlighted US concerns that Beijing is allowing transfers of what he described as a wide variety of dual-use and conventional technologies to countries like Burma, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.

A Conservative Questions US Foreign Policy

WARNING! This opinion piece is not for die-hard, true-believing Bush backers (or Bush bashers, for that matter) or anyone else whose ideology interferes with his or her ability to think clearly about complex issues and pressing problems. Others are encouraged to continue reading....

Absorbing the news about Iraq, Pakistan and Al Qaeda, one cannot help but reel at the sheer stupidity and utter incompetence of the Bush administration. It has actually discredited ... and appears to be losing ... the war against radical Islam, or Islamism.

The foreign policy failures transcend the war, important as it is. From Asia to Latin America, American foreign policy is an awful mess as rising China and resurgent Russia remarkably draw closer together and the United States increasingly resembles the dying (but still dangerous) hegemon depicted by Chinese analysts and propagandists.

With the above in mind, many questions cry out for answers. A baker's dozen ... the list appears below.

1. Immediately following the Al Qaeda attacks of 9/11--the worst-ever attacks on American soil--why didn't President Bush ask Congress for a formal declaration of war on Afghanistan, the Taliban-controlled country that sheltered and aided Al Qaeda?

2. Why didn't the President end immigration from predominantly Muslim lands--and revoke the visas of virtually all aliens from Muslim lands--pending a US victory over Islamism?

3. Invoking World War II, with the whole nation and much of the world seemingly supporting the US, why did the President proclaim a war on terrorism--a tactic or strategy--instead of rallying the nation for an all-out assault against Islamism, the enemy that had actually attacked the US and was clearly only using terrorism until it could get its hands on nuclear bombs or nuclear-tipped missiles? FDR did not identify the Nazi/Fascist enemy as blitzkriegism or concentration camp-ism....

4. Why was the Bush administration so concerned with airlifting home Saudi nationals in the immediate aftermath of 9/11? Why did the White House lie about this unprecedented operation until the media forced its disclosure?

5. Why did the US fail to respond to the attacks from Afghanistan with blinding speed and awesome ferocity, annihilating Al Qaeda and the Taliban while setting an example for decades to come regarding the likely fate of foreign foes who dare to slaughter Americans on US soil? Why were Taliban leader Mullah Omar (anyone remember that monster?) and Al Qaeda chief Osama Binladen (whose ultra-rich relatives were among those secretly airlifted home to Saudi Arabia) and their most senior leaders (including Binladen's top henchman and Al Qaeda's chief ideologist, Egyptian physician and probable Anwar Sadat assassination co-conspirator Ayman al-Zawahri) given so much time to plot and plan their escape from Afghanistan? Why did the US rely on notoriously unreliable Afghan warlords to kill or capture the enemy leaders? Why wasn't the Tora Bora cave complex that served as the last Al Qaeda stronghold before Binladen's escape wiped off the map? Why are the mass-murdering Islamist criminals still at large?

6. On 9/12, why did the US immediately focus on Iraq instead of Iran? Why did the US use 9/11 as a pretext for invading a contained secular enemy, Iraq, instead of ending the nuclearizing, missile-mad mullahocracy? (Again, one can't help but think about WW II and FDR. Imagine if the US had responded to the attack on Pearl Harbor by invading Stalinist Russia in order to install democracy capable of spreading to Germany, Japan, and Italy. Not an exact analogy, but still...)

7. Speaking of Iraq, if the Pentagon really believed Saddam had weaons of mass destruction (anyone remember the so-called ring of chemical fire around Baghdad and the deployable WMD arsenals allegedly stored in vast, man-made, command-and-control bunker complexes?) why did it grant unprecedented access to the media, embedding satellite video-phone-equipped reporters with front-line troops in order to transmit live, 24/7 moving images of the conflict? It defies logic and common sense to think that the Pentagon would have risked exposing millions of TV viewers to gruesome pictures of American troops under chemical attack.

8. Why did the US invest so heavily in nuclear-armed-and-proliferating Pakistan--an Islamist-leaning nation whose intelligence agencies practically created the Taliban and worked closely with Al Qaeda--and still do--and apparently ignore secular Syria? Did the administration make every possible effort to lure Syria away from Iran? It is hard to believe that back then the despot of Damascus, himself threatened by the Islamist tide, could not have been bought for a few billion dollars a year in foreign assistance.

9. Why did the US so badly underestimate Hamas? Who in the administration was/is reponsible for promoting the notion of a moderate, even democratic, brand of Islamism? You might as well be talking about democratic fascism or moderate Nazism....

10. Why did the Pentagon feel the need to fabricate and lie about the circumstances surrounding the wounding and capture of Jessica Lynch and the friendly-fire killing of Pat Tillman? Have the jerks ressponsible for damaging US credibility with these horrible hoaxes been appropriately punished or fired?

11. Why has the US failed to cooperate closely with Russia in the war against Islamism and instead focused on alleged Russian human rights abuses in restive Muslim areas ... while moving into Central Asia, Moscow's traditional sphere of influence, in ways that recall the "Great Game" between imperial rivals Czarist Russia and Britain? Why has US foreign policy under Bush seemed bent on antagonizing a post-Communist Kremlin and driving it closer to its Cold War-era Communist rival, China (e.g. the Shanghai Cooperation Organization)? Where is the logic, the common sense in this policy?

12. Why does the US so passively submit to China's currency manipulation and military expansion--including development of space weapons and a blue-water navy--and downplay the growing Chinese threat to the US economy, the US food supply, and US national security?

13. Why does the Bush administration seem so disconnected from reality and absolutely incapable of communicating to the American people--and the international community--in a truthful, accurate and effective manner?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Israel Intelligence: Iran Achieving Atomic Aims

Israel's Military Intelligence says Iran is well on its way to becoming an atomic power.

The agency says the Islamist nation is on track to cross the "technological threshold" enabling it to independently manufacture nuclear weapons within six months to a year and attain nuclear capability as early as mid-2009.

Other Israeli intelligence agencies reportedly take a somewhat more pessimistic view. The famed foreign intelligence service, known as the Mossad, for example, reportedly believes Iran could be less than a year away from both crossing the nuclear threshold and producing an atomic bomb.

Some Israeli analysts believe Iran may already be in possession of one or more radioactive "dirty bombs."

Republicans Thinking the Unthinkable

They call it the nuclear option, but it has nothing to do with Iran or nuclear power. Instead, the term refers to a last-ditch, desperate move to save the Republican Party from utter defeat and disintegration.

China Confidential has learned that a small but growing number of Republican lawmakers and party insiders are beginning to think the unthinkable--namely, the possibility of supporting the impeachment of both President Bush and Vice President Cheney if the President persists in prolonging the Iraq war beyond the time necessary for an orderly pullout.

Republicans are turning against the war and away from Bush. It would probably take another mega-terrorist attack on the United States--or a successful US attack on Iran's nuclear and missile facilities--to rally the party and the nation behind the deeply unpopular President.

There is a palpable sense in Washington that a lot of dirt about the war--from the runup and rationale for the invasion to the funneling of funds to post-Saddam factions and secret dealings with Iraqi insurgents--is about to surface.

Most Democrats in Congress still oppose impeachment; but should they change their minds as a result of a new scandal, or pressure from their constituents, they may find a surprising number of Republicans ready to join the bandwagon.

Post Script: The rumor in Paris and Beijing, as China Confidential has reported in ths past, is that sooner or later a prominent Republican party elder will confront Bush and Cheney in order to engineer a so-called silent coup, or Nixon/Ford-style, solution to the US political crisis--i.e. the resignation and replacement of Cheney followed by the resignation of Bush.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

China Silences Corrupt Official by Killing Him

China executed a former director of its food and drug agency Tuesday for approving fake medicine in exchange for cash, while officials announced steps to safeguard food at next summer's Olympic Games.

Xinhua news agency reported the execution of Zheng Xiaoyu, who was sentenced to death in May for accepting cash and gifts worth more than $830,000 from pharmaceutical companies. Xinhua said his appeal was rejected because of the immense damage he had caused to public health and safety.

During his time as chief, the administration approved many medicines that did not meet standards, including six fake drugs. One antibiotic allegedly caused the deaths of at least 10 people.

Zheng was the highest level official to be executed in seven years.

The speed with which his appeal was rejected and the death sentence was carried out suggests the authorities wished to make an example of Zheng, as a warning to other would-be bribe-takers. Corruption is rampant in rising China.

But China Confidential sources say Zheng was also executed to silence him. He knew too much about too many sons and daughters of high-ranking Communist Party officials.

The dirty little secret about China's state sponsored capitalism is that the biggest gains and opportunities are reserved for those with the strongest party--and military--ties.

In addition to Zheng, five other drug supervision officials have also received sentences for corruption ranging from 13 years to life in prison.The measures include ensuring athletes' food is free of substances that could trigger a positive result in tests for banned performance-enhancing drugs. Many of China's recent food woes have been tied to the purity of ingredients, flavoring, artificial colors and other additives.

China's food and drug administration spokeswoman, Yan Jiangying, told reporters on Tuesday that the country's food and drug safety was "unsatisfactory" and the country was facing a tough situation in supervising standards.

"As a developing country, China's food and drug supervision work began late and its foundations are weak," she said. "Therefore, the food and drug safety situation is not something we can be optimistic about."

Al Qaeda Threatening Britain, Gaining in Kosovo

The Al Qaeda threat to Britain is growing--perhaps by the hour.

The terrorist group's second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, has threatened to retaliate against Britain for giving a knighthood to novelist Salman Rushdie. In a 20-minute audiotape, Osama Binladen's deputy said Al Qaeda was preparing a "very precise response."

In the meantime, the United States is attempting to appease radical Islam in Europe by pushing ahead with a plan for the independence of Kosovo, a province of some two million people in southern Serbia that has been under United Nations administration since the anti-Serbian NATO bombing campagin of 1999. About 90 percent of Kosovo's population is Muslim, half of which are secular. The remaining half is not only observant but increasingly influenced by Islamist ideas. This is particularly true in rural areas, where Islamists, including groups linked to Al Qaeda, have made striking inroads under UN auspices.

Not for nothing is resurgent Russia opposed to the US plan: an independent Kosovo represents nothing less than a victory for jihadists and radical separatists across the globe.

But the Bush administration does not agree with that view. Rather, it is continuing a policy of support for the establishment of Muslim states in the Balkans that dates back to the Clinton administration--and even the administration of the first President Bush.

Like much of what Washington has done--or not done--since 9/11, the Kosovo plan makes no sense.

Pakistani Cleric Killed; Assault Tests Regime

The Red Mosque showdown, during which Pakistani security forces killed Islamist cleric Abdul Rashid Ghazi and about 50 of his followers, is a crucial test of the Musharraf regime.

Hundreds of armed Pakistani tribesmen and Islamist students are openly rallying and plotting against the government in various parts of the country.

The US Embassy recommended that Americans in Pakistan limit their movements, warning that "terrorist elements" were threatening attacks on Pakistani government, police and army institutions.

Eight soldiers died and 29 were wounded in Tuesday's assault on the mosque complex, which served as a Taliban base in the heart of Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, and a safe haven for members of Al Qaeda-linked groups.

One such group, the Army of Mohammed, or Jaish-e-Mohammad, is responsible for terrorist attacks in the disputed territory of Kashmir. Funding for the group is mainly provided by Pakistanis living in Great Britain.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Notes on the North Korean Missile Threat

Notes from Japan on the threat from North Korea....

Japan is increasingly concerned that its security needs are being overlooked by the six-party talks aimed at dismantling North Korea's nuclear development program.

Not only is the nuclear disarmament deal terribly flawed, in Tokyo's view; the accord ignores North Korea's ongoing missile development.

It would take just 10 minutes for a North Korean missile to hit the Tokyo metropolitan area....

Nuclear armed North Korea and nuclear arming Iran continue to cooperate on missile development. Pyongyang's Rodong missile, with a range of 1,000 kilometers, is the same model as Tehran's Shahab-3. The warhead of a Rodong missile can pack 700 kilograms of explosives. If its load capacity exceeds one ton, it would, in principle, be possible to mount a small nuclear weapon on the missile.

North Korea will eventually have the capacity to attack Hawaii and Alaska--and the United States mainland--with Taepodong-2 missiles.

This means that Iran will have the same capacity--unless the Islamist-Kimist cooperation is stopped....

Contrary to State Department efforts to downplay North Korean capabilities, US intelligence agencies are monitoring the possible development and manufacturing of North Korean nuclear warheads.

Japanese sources say North Korea's nuclear test last October may have been for a nuclear warhead....

China Sees ISI Hand in Pakistan Crisis

China sees the current crisis in Pakistan as a showdown between army officers still loyal to Pakistan's deeply unpopular president, Pervez Musharraf, and pro-Islamist elements of the military and the all-powerful Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, which has steadfastly supported both the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

The Chinese view is that the ISI engineered the Red Mosque standoff in order to finally end Musharraf's rule, and that last week's failed assassination attempt--the latest in a string of attempts on the president's life--was part of the coup conspiracy.

Chinese experts on Pakistan note that the Red Mosque is located close to ISI headquarters and has cooperated closely with the agency while also serving as a base for Taliban representatives and agents in Islamabad.

With increasing numbers of its citizens coming under attack by Islamists in Pakistan, the Chinese government has demanded greater security for its nationals living in the South Asian country.

Three Chinese workers in northwest Pakistan were killed Sunday by Islamists linked to the Red Mosque.

General Musharraf came to power in a military coup in 1999. He enraged Pakistani militant groups (a) by abandoning support for the Taliban harboring Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden after 9/11, and (b) by pursuing peace with India over the disputed territory of Kashmir.

Depending on the outcome, the crisis in Pakistan has the potential of causing some Chinese government officials to reconsider their country's accommodation of (and attempts to manipulate) Islamism in order to counter and frustrate the United States.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Guest Commentary: Stop the Mullah Regime

The single biggest proliferator of venomous hatred being spewed at the world and anyone who does not practice Islam, infidels, is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran. Ahmadinejad, known affectionately by Iranians as “The Monkey”, has revealed the true intentions of the Mullahs to the world. The Mullah Regime does not represent Iranians. They are a regime which oppresses and mercilessly kills Iranians who dare to stand up against it, and a regime which tries to replace any sense of Iranian nationhood with Islamic and Arabic values.

While one might dismiss Ahmadenijad’s provocative statements and actions as mere ludicrousness, it is important to note that during the rise of Adolph Hitler, the same stance was taken by the world community.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Mullah regime present a grave threat to the stability in Iran and the world. The “Iran Problem” is now a world problem.

-Campaign to Stop Ahmadinejad and the Mullah Regime

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Intelligence Items: Greece, Colombia, Brazil

Anarchists are terrorists. That's the message from senior police sources in Greece, who say that anarchist activists, such as those who hurled petrol bombs at the Culture Ministry in central Athens on Tuesday, will henceforth be monitored by the national anti-terrorist unit.

A presidential decree reclassifying the activities of self-styled anarchists within the category of terrorism was made public last week. But police officers confirmed the shift in their operations yesterday....

The US Embassy in Bogota, Colombia is warning US citizens traveling to or residing in Colombia that the Embassy has received information indicating that the terrorist organization known as the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) may be planning to target US citizens in the town of Melgar, in Tolima Department. The Embassy recommends that US citizens avoid travel to Melgar until further notice. For US citizens already in Melgar, the Embassy urges them to maintain a low profile and to avoid restaurants, bars, and other public places until further notice....

Concerned about the heightened threat of terrorist attacks against US citizens and interests abroad, the US State Department has issued a public announcement about the Pan American Games, which will be held in and around Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from July 13–29. The Games could be the focus of terrorist acts or other forms of violence.

US citizens planning to attend matches or participate in other large-scale public gatherings during the Games are advised to use caution and stay alert to their surroundings at all times. Even gatherings intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence. Practicing personal safety measures can effectively reduce the risk of being a victim of violent crime, sexual assault, general assault, or extortion.

Rio de Janeiro continues to experience a high incidence of violent crime. Tourists are particularly vulnerable to street thefts and robberies at the major tourist attractions and the main beaches in the city, as well as areas adjacent to these popular destinations. Walking on the beaches is very dangerous at night. During the day, travelers are advised not to take valuable possessions to the beach. All travelers are urged to protect valuable personal items at all times, including passports, credit cards, jewelry, and other personal valuables, in order to guard against loss or theft.

Shantytowns, known as favelas, are interspersed with tourist areas in Rio. The government has recently attempted to reestablish control in these areas, leading to firefights with automatic weapons between drug gangs and police. Given the high caliber of the weapons, stray bullets from firefights in favelas have killed a number of people in other parts of the city. On June 25, 2007, Rio’s international airport was shutdown for a short period of time due to police action in a nearby favela.

Incidents affecting tourists in 2006 included the robbery of cars and of a tourist bus going into the city from the airport, and the murder of a Portuguese tourist at 8:30 a.m. on Copacabana beach. Drug gangs often are responsible for violence, such as the burning of public buses in 2005 that killed some passengers. While no US citizens were injured, visitors and residents alike should be aware that such incidents do pose a threat and could result in closed shops and disrupted municipal services.

In Rio de Janeiro city, motorists are allowed to treat stoplights as stop signs between the hours of 10 PM and 6 AM to protect against holdups at intersections. While most police officials are honest, corrupt police officials extorted money from American tourists in 2006....

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Analysts See Signs of Al Qaeda Offensive

Early warning.

Analysts are concerned that the failed London and Glasgow bombings and release of a new video speech by Al Qaeda's No. 2 commander, Egyptian cleric Ayman al-Zawahri, could signal the start of a major new terrorist offensive by the Islamist group.

The video appeared on a website Wednesday used by Islamist militant groups. The video called for unity in jihad and the overthrow of "corrupt" Muslim governments in the Middle East.

Zawahri accused the Saudi Arabian royal family of corruption, condemned Palestinian concessions to Israel, and criticized the Egyptian government as an ally of the United States.

Russia Threatens to Aim Missiles at Europe

Like China, its former rival and rising ally, authoritarian, resurgent Russia is making problems for the United States on several fronts.

Moscow supports nuclear armed North Korea and nuclear arming Iran while opposing US moves to create a European missile shield gainst possible missile attacks from the Stalinist/Kimist and Islamist rogue states.

On July 4, while Americans were celebrating their independence, the Kremlin said it would aim missiles at European countries if Washington goes ahead with its missile shield, which Russia considers a threat. Russia hinted it may station missiles in its most westerly region bordering EU members Poland and Lithuania if the US does not cooperate over plans for a European missile shield.

At a meeting with US President George W. Bush this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed an expanded plan for missile defense cooperation that would involve Russia and NATO sharing data about missile launches from Iran and North Korea.

Enriched by high oil prices, Russia is not inclined to assist or compromise with the embattled Bush administration. US-Russian relations are likely to get worse before improving.

Independence Day Digest

From the current (June 30-July 6) edition of The Economist:

"China is the country that most worries the Pentagon.... Its communist rulers are investing heavily in a blue-water navy, which may one day include aircraft carriers, apparently to establish a defensive perimeter deep in the Pacific along a chain of islands that runs from Japan to Guam and Papua. China is also modernising its nuclear arsenal.

"For the moment the Chinese seem interested in regional dominance, particularly keeping America at bay in any future conflict over Taiwan. They are emphasising 'asymmetrical' means designed to blunt America's technological superiority: hoping to deny Amerca the use of the seas with long-range anti-ship missiles and submarines, paralyse its highly computerised forces through cyber-warfare and neutralise spy and communications satellites. In January, China tested an anti-satellite missile. Its defence budget is thought to be expanding by around 12% a year...."

China's Stalinist/Kimist vassal, meanwhile, may be implementing the (flawed) six-nation nuclear accord. But North Korea remains a serious threat, according to US Forces Korea Commander Gen. B.B. Bell. He told reporters at the National Press Center in Seoul, South Korea on Monday that Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program is "extremely provocative, threatening and dangerous," and criticized the regime's testing of short-range missiles last week while nuclear inspectors were visiting.

"These were not failure missile tests. These were successful tests," Bell was quoted as saying by Stars and Stripes.

North Korea fired three surface-to-surface missiles last week that landed in its own waters, the third time since May 25 that the country has test-fired short-range missiles.

The missiles are modern, rapid, and easier to handle than those North Korea has used in the past, Bell said.

"These missiles in general appear to be performing as they are designed," he said.

North Korea's conventional weapons aren't as advanced as those used by the United States and South Korea, he said, but it has more than 250 long-range weapons systems that clearly are aimed at South Korea.

"This is a very real threat which cannot be ignored," Bell said.