Sunday, December 5, 2010

Cables Depict Range of Obama Diplomacy


BEIJING — Barack Obama came to office vowing to restore “engagement” — talking and listening to America’s most troubling adversaries and reluctant partners — as a central feature of American foreign policy. But engagement can take many forms, from friendly to wary, na├»ve to cunning, and it was never quite clear how the term would translate from a campaign sound-bite to a practical approach to the world.

Now we know, from the granular picture of engagement-in-action that emerges from that trove of 250,000 WikiLeaks cables, many from the first 13 months of the Obama presidency. Mr. Obama’s style seems to be: Engage, yes, but wield a club as well — and try to counter the global doubts that he is willing to use it.

The cables suggest that Mr. Obama’s form of engagement is a complicated mixture of openness to negotiation, constantly escalating pressure and a series of deadlines, some explicit, some vague. In the cables, the administration uses all of these tools to try to prevent the mullahs in Iran from dragging out an endless series of feints and talks until they have a bomb. The July 2011 deadline to begin withdrawing American troops from Afghanistan is a whip to get President Hamid Karzai to train his troops — so that the United States can start to leave. This policy is tailored to the needs of a new president trying to demonstrate that he is neither too inexperienced nor too soft to face the menaces of the world. In a handful of cases, the approach shows some early signs of success. But in dealing with some of the world’s most intractable governments — from the Middle Kingdom to the Middle East — Mr. Obama inevitably hits some real-world limitations.

In Russia, the policy of engagement yielded results. The cables tell a fascinating tale of intelligence-sharing on missile threats, with reasoned debates about what the Iranians and the North Koreans are capable of building. The cable traffic hints at horse trading: The Obama administration killed a missile defense site in Poland, seemingly to win Moscow’s support for sanctions on Iran.

(More here.)

FBI Plants Informant in Mosque to Incite Violence; Muslims Report Him to FBI (Not The Onion)

December 5th, 2010

Via: Washington Post:

Before the sun rose, the informant donned a white Islamic robe. A tiny camera was sewn into a button, and a microphone was buried in a device attached to his keys.

Report: U.S., South Korea closer to new trade deal


The United States and South Korea have reached an agreement regarding revisions to the free-trade deal between the two nations. This move allows the U.S. and the South Korea to move forward and look at approving the legislation, which has been delayed due to issues on both sides.

A rundown of what has been changed is as follows:
  • The U.S. can phase out its 2.5 percent tariff on automobiles over five years, instead of three.
  • Each U.S. Automaker can export up to 25,000 cars to South Korea annually provided they meet US crash standards.
  • The U.S. can continue charging a 25 percent tariff on trucks for eight years and then phase it out by the 10th year.
  • South Korea will eliminate its tariff on trucks.
Both sides report that significant progress has been made, and the revised agreement continues to be reviewed. With $68 billion in trade floating between the United States and the Republic of Korea, getting this trade agreement signed should serve to boost our national export business.

[Source: Automotive News – sub.req.]

British lawmaker denies aide is a Russian spy

London, England (CNN) -- An aide to a British lawmaker has been arrested and is facing expulsion from the country, the member of Parliament said Sunday, but he denied that she is a secret agent.
"She is not a Russian spy," Liberal Democrat MP Mike Hancock said Sunday of his aide Katia Zatuliveter.
She was detained Thursday, he said. The arrest did not become public until Sunday.
"I know nothing about espionage, but she has been subjected to a deportation order," he said. "She is appealing it, because she feels -- quite rightly -- that she has done nothing wrong".
London's Sunday Times newspaper said the British intelligence service MI5 determined that the 25-year-old was a Russian sleeper agent.
Zatuliveter has been working for Hancock for more than two years and was "vetted and cleared to have a parliamentary pass," the lawmaker said.
"It is difficult to understand the reasons for all this. She has been an excellent and conscientious employee," Hancock said in a statement, wishing her well.
"It is now in the hands of her lawyers. I am sure that in the end she will be proved to be right," Hancock said.
The Home Office -- which is responsible for domestic security and speaks for MI5 -- declined to comment on the allegations, saying it did not routinely comment on individual cases.
Russia's secret service, the FSB, and the Russian Foreign Ministry also declined to comment on the case.
Hancock represents the southern section of the English city of Portsmouth on the south coast.
He has been a member of Parliament since 1997. The Liberal Democrat party to which he belongs has been the junior partner in a British coalition government since May.
He lists Russia, Ukraine, Moldova and Romania among his interests, and is active in lawmakers' groups focused on NATO and Western Europe. CNN

Three Russian GLONASS satellites end up in Pacific

GLONASS-Proton-rocketOuch! Three Russian GLONASS satellites carried atop a Proton rocket (pictured above) crashed into the Pacific after veering off course by eight degrees. It is believed that they went down near Hawaii. Apparently rocket separation failed to occur until a higher than planned altitude.

Professor Gets A Camera Implanted Into His Head

professor head cameraSome students joke that their teachers have eyes in the backs of their heads. A New York University professor is now closer to that reality, having had a camera surgically implanted into the back of his cranium. Wafaa Bilal, an Iraqi born photography professor at the university’s Tisch School of the Arts, had the procedure done at a piercing studio last month for an art project commissioned by a museum in Doha, Qatar, he said. “This will expose the unspoken conditions we face,” Bilal said Thursday. “A project like this is meant to establish a dialogue about surveillance.” The project is called “The 3rd I,” and will make use of the posterior camera by taking a snap-shot photographs each minute of Bilal’s everyday activities for one year, he said.

Six killed in China Internet cafe blast

BEIJING — At least six people were killed and 38 injured when a powerful explosion hit an Internet cafe in southwest China on Saturday evening, reducing it to ruins, state media reported.

The blast ripped through the cafe in Kaili city in Guizhou province at about 11:00 pm (1500 GMT), state television said Sunday, citing local police.

The broadcast showed rescue workers pulling victims from the devastated building and rushing the injured to hospital.

The blast may have been triggered by "inflammable and explosive materials" kept in a nearby storage room, the report said.

Police were still investigating the cause of the explosion, which also smashed windows in neighbouring buildings.

Banning Transplants

Aaron Carroll points to an article by Marc Lacey in the NYT to illustrate problems in our health care system. Arizona is now refusing to pay for some kinds of transplants for Medicaid patients.
Effective at the beginning of October, Arizona stopped financing certain transplant operations under the state’s version of Medicaid. Many doctors say the decision amounts to a death sentence for some low-income patients, who have little chance of survival without transplants and lack the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed to pay for them.
“The most difficult discussions are those that involve patients who had been on the donor list for a year or more and now we have to tell them they’re not on the list anymore,” said Dr. Rainer Gruessner, a transplant specialist at the University of Arizona College of Medicine. “The frustration is tremendous. It’s more than frustration.”….
State Medicaid officials said they recommended discontinuing some transplants only after assessing the success rates for previous patients. Among the discontinued procedures are lung transplants, liver transplants for hepatitis C patients and some bone marrow and pancreas transplants, which altogether would save the state about $4.5 million a year.
“As an agency, we understand there have been difficult cuts and there will have to be more difficult cuts looking forward,” said Jennifer Carusetta, chief legislative liaison at the state Medicaid agency…
Across the country, states have restricted benefits to their Medicaid programs, according to a 50-state survey published in September by the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured. But none have gone as far as Arizona in eliminating some transplants, which are considered optional services under federal law.
Before the Legislature acted, Arizona’s Medicaid agency had provided an analysis to lawmakers of the transplants that were cut, which many health experts now say was seriously flawed. For instance, the state said that 13 of 14 patients under the state’s health system who received bone marrow transplants from nonrelatives over a two-year period died within six months.
But outside specialists said the success rates were considerably higher, particularly for leukemia patients in their first remission.
Accompanying the article we have pictures of a plumber who needs a heart transplant.

This article encapsulates several of the problems we face with health care issues. First, when we deny care to people, some will die. People who oppose reform like to think that emergency room care, funded by the government, will keep everyone from dying. They like to think that no one will actually die because they cannot obtain care. That is not true. Some people will die. Many more will have difficulty working or caring for themselves and family. Not all life saving care is emergency care, as we see with transplants.

Another problem we see illustrated is the difficulty in deciding what care we should pay for. Arizona is not stopping payment for all transplants. It is stopping transplants on some that it thinks have poor results. The ones it chose to stop funding are transplants for which there is at least some controversy. They are, at least in some studies, lower yielding transplants with higher failure rates. However, they do have some success. Not performing the transplant is certain death for some of those not receiving them. How do we then decide what we will pay for? People do not want government deciding (death panels), but they do not want to pay for procedures that do not work. With these procedures that do work in these patients, but with lower success rates, there is no bright line available for decision making.

I wrote not long ago about Avastin use in breast cancer. it has been clearly shown to not increase life expectancy or increase quality of life. Still, people do not want Avastin taken off the list of drugs for which Medicare will pay. They want to retain the choice of using that drug, and having it paid for. This becomes worse with these transplants which actually do work sometimes. Which leads to our next problem. .

Any attempts to cut health care spending leads to pictures in the newspaper. These pictures will almost always sympathetically portray those losing their benefits. In this NYT article we have family pictures. With Medicare cuts we will see the elderly eating cat food or with loving family gathered around them. If we do not get pictures, we get demagoguery. Think death panels or claims that the budget is being balanced on the backs of the elderly. Which leads to another issue.

On this one I am going to extrapolate and make some assumptions. This jumped out at me. Bear with me.

For instance, the state said that 13 of 14 patients under the state’s health system who received bone marrow transplants from nonrelatives over a two-year period died within six months.
I am guessing that not many in the Arizona legislature have a medical background. I am also assuming that many of them have a rudimentary grasp of statistics. Using such a small number of patients to determine policy is not a sound practice. If the expected survival rate is 30%-50%, a larger sample size is needed to make sure that you are deciding correctly. The would have been best served by looking at national rates where you have large enough numbers to be meaningful. Which leads to the last topic.
It is much more likely that spending cuts for transplants will take place in the Medicaid population. The poor do not reliably vote or make contributions to elections. They do not have the money to effectively advocate for themselves. Imagine the public outcry if Medicare announced that it would not pay for these services. Cutting services to the poor will gain politicians votes from some people, cutting care to the elderly risks losing office.
As is so often the case when it comes to public spending, we see that people want to cut spending, i.e. pay less in taxes, but they do not want to cut the actual services that spending provides. At best, they want to cut spending in areas that will not hurt their own constituents, or cost them votes. Already, the Arizona politicians who cut transplant spending are having second thoughts. I will leave you with the words of the state representative who is also chairman of the Appropriations Committee. (Aaron Carroll’s thoughts are here.)
But a top Republican, State Representative John Kavanagh, has already pledged to reconsider at least some of the state’s cuts for transplants when the Legislature reconvenes in January. Mr. Kavanagh, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said he does not believe lawmakers had the full picture of the effect of the cuts on patients when they voted.
“It’s difficult to be linked to a situation where people’s lives are jeopardized and turned upside down,” he said in an interview. “Thankfully no one has died as a result of this, and I believe we have time to rectify this.”

Terror Threat: WikiLeaks Threatens U.S. With Information Nuke

December 5th, 2010 (17) Posted By Pat Dollard.

Sunday Times:
Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, has circulated across the internet an encrypted “poison pill” cache of uncensored documents suspected to include files on BP and Guantanamo Bay.

One of the files identified this weekend by The Sunday Times — called the “insurance” file — has been downloaded from the WikiLeaks website by tens of thousands of supporters, from America to Australia.
Assange warns that any government that tries to curtail his activities risks triggering a new deluge of state and commercial secrets.

The military papers on Guantanamo Bay, yet to be published, have been supplied by Bradley Manning, Assange’s primary source until his arrest in May. Other documents that Assange is confirmed to possess include an aerial video of a US airstrike in Afghanistan that killed civilians, BP files and Bank of America documents.

One of the key files available for download — named insurance.aes256 — appears to be encrypted with a 256-digit key. Experts said last week it was virtually unbreakable.

The US Department of Defence says it is aware of the WikiLeaks insurance file, but has been unable to establish its contents. It has been available for download since July.

Assange has warned he can divulge the classified documents in the insurance file and similar backups if he is detained or the WikiLeaks website is permanently removed from the internet. He has suggested the contents are unredacted, posing a possible security risk for coalition partners around the world.

Assange warned: “We have over a long period of time distributed encrypted backups of material we have yet to release. All we have to do is release the password to that material, and it is instantly available.”
The “doomsday files” are part of a contingency plan drawn up by Assange and his supporters as they face a legal threat. He is wanted in Sweden over sexual assault allegations, and the US administration is reviewing the possibility of legal action after the release of 250,000 diplomatic cables.

Ben Laurie, a London-based computer security expert who has advised WikiLeaks, said: “Julian’s a smart guy and this is an interesting tactic. He will hope it deters anyone from acting against him.”

Nigel Smart, professor of cryptology at Bristol University, said even powerful military computers would be unable to crack the encryption. He said: “This isn’t something that can be broken with a modern computer. You need the key to open it.”

The file is 1.4 gigabytes in size, which would be big enough for a compressed version of all the files released this year and additional data.

Assange said last year that he had been leaked a computer hard drive from an executive at Bank of America and warned this month he was planning a major release on a large American bank. He also claims to have confidential files on BP and other energy companies. Tens of millions of personal computers were hijacked last week in an act of sabotage that crippled the WikiLeaks website. WikiLeaks revealed that a “denial of service” attack that temporarily shut down the website used a network of “zombie” computers, which were infiltrated by the hackers.

WikiLeaks is now battling for its survival. Amazon, which hosted the website, refused further access to its servers last week. A site that provided WikiLeaks with its domain name,, also cut off its service because it said it was being inundated with sabotage attacks.

Some of the contingency plans were revealed when the site re-emerged on Friday with a Swiss address, The new name was provided by the Swiss Pirate party, which champions internet freedom. Assange has also set up contingency servers in Sweden.