sunset from behind the wire

sunset from behind the wire

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

White Powder and the Afghan Economy

Opium and the politics of opium has dominated Afghanistan for a very long time. It's also the principal cash crop of the Kurds (American allies in Syria and Iraq). Therefore, while we wage a war on opiates at home in the US, we support the production of opium in the Middle East and the Asian Subcontinent by not destroying the crops - many of which are produced by our allies.

It's not a new story. And it may be time to shamelessly plug my book, "White Powder: A Novel of the CIA and the Secret War in Laos".

Context and Precedent

The vast bulk of heroin that hits the street in the USA today comes from Latin America (it must be somewhere around 95%+). Much of it is grown in Guatemala, Honduras and Southern Mexico. So while Afghan/Thai/Myanmar/Kurdish/Laotian heroin is a problem, it's more of a problem to Asia than it is to the US. The Mexicans control distribution (by in large) in the US.

Afghanistan

Afghanistan produced a record opium poppy harvest in 2017. On 21 May, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released its latest report on opium poppy production in Afghanistan. It also produced a shorter summary of key points in the report. Virtual Mirage (your favorite blog) reproduced excerpts from the UNODC report’s executive summary and analytical comments from the UNODC’s separate summary of the report for your consumption. 
“The survey results found a clear and well-established link between lack of government control, insecurity and increased opium poppy cultivation. Lack of governmental presence and security are driving factors for opium cultivation and opium cultivation further destabilizes the country by funding insurgency and anti-government groups.”
UNODC Report opening paragraphs. “In 2017, opium poppy cultivation increased sharply to an unprecedented record high of 328,000 hectares from an estimated 201,000 hectares in 2016. Between 2016 and 2017, the area under cultivation with opium poppy increased by 127,000 hectares – the increase alone exceeded the levels of annual cultivation of 2009 and 2010.”

“Opium poppy cultivation increased strongly in almost all major poppy cultivating provinces. In Helmand province alone, cultivation increased by 63,700 hectares (+79 per cent) which accounted for about half of the total national increase between 2016 and 2017. Strong increases were observed also in Balkh (+10,000 hectares or almost five times more than in 2016), Kandahar (+7,500 hectares or +37 per cent), Nimroz (+6,200 hectares or +116 per cent), and Uruzgan (+6,000 hectares or +39 per cent).”

UNODC analysis: Potential heroin production is unprecedented. “Last year's record levels of production led to unprecedented levels of potential heroin production. From the 2017 opium harvest, some 550-900 tons of heroin of export quality (purity between 50 and 70 per cent) can be produced.

UNODC Report excerpt. “The record high opium production in Afghanistan led to a rapid expansion of the illegal opiate economy in 2017. Being worth between US$ 4.1 to 6.6 billion in 2017, it was of considerable size when compared to Afghanistan's overall economy, namely between 20 and 32 per cent of GDP. The opiate economy had about the size of the entire agricultural sector of the country and exceeded by far the value of Afghanistan’s licit exports of goods and services in 2016 (estimated at 7 per cent of GDP).”

UNODC analysis: The illegal economy rapidly expanded. With a value of up to 32 per cent of Afghanistan’s GDP, opium poppy is a lucrative cash crop. It has become a crucial component of the Afghan economy that secures the livelihoods of many Afghans who engage in cultivation, work on poppy fields or partake in the illicit drug trade.

Jobs for the Poor

Opium poppy cultivation is labor intensive. In 2017 it provided up to 354,000 full time jobs just for weeding and tending the fields

UNODC Report excerpt. “The income earned at the farm-gate supported the wider, licit rural economy. Afghan farmers purchase food, have medical expenses, and purchase daily needs products. These expenses - paid from opium money - benefited local bakers, butchers and other small-scale businesses in rural Afghanistan. Opiates have thus created an illegal economy that has permeated the rural society to the extent that many communities – not only farmers – have become dependent on the income from opium poppy to sustain their livelihoods.

Comment: The illegal rural economy supports the legal rural economy.

UNODC analysis: It is grown throughout the country. In the Western and Northern regions, farmers cultivated poppy in more than a third of the villages; in the Eastern region in more than 50 per cent and in the Southern region in almost 85 per cent of villages

In addition to farming households, opium provides access to daily wage labor to a large number of local and migrant workers hired by farmers. In 2017, opium poppy weeding and harvesting provided the equivalent of up to 354,000 full time jobs to rural areas. Wages from poppy cultivation support all the essential services of village life, including bakers, butchers, local clinics and small businesses.

The Afghan Ministry of Counter-Narcotics (MCN)/UNODC estimated that in 2017, insurgency groups, including the Taliban, accrued a minimum of US$ 116 - 184 million from taxing the opiate production in Afghanistan.

Comment: The quarterly report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan’s Reconstruction that was published last month judged that the security situation worsened somewhat, compared to conditions a year ago.

The UNODC report adds another perspective. The extent of poppy cultivation has evolved into a critical component of village life. All essential services in the village are financed by the wages from poppy cultivation. In this system, destroying poppy crops is the same as destroying general village livelihood. The ripple effects from eradication reach the entire village, including any security people who receive bribes to augment their salaries.

Poppy culture has evolved into an important measure of Taliban influence. It was not always the case because the Taliban banned poppy cultivation when Mullah Omar ruled in Kabul. When driven from power, the Taliban came to rely on it to finance their uprising.

Poppy cultivation information puts new light on discussions of the area of government or Taliban control. When an area is controlled or influenced by the Taliban that seems to mean that poppy cultivation flourishes openly. In areas influenced by the government, that seems to mean poppy cultivation is largely ignored.

With opium poppy cultivation contributing up to one third of GDP, involving a minimum of a third of the villages plus providing a third of a million wage-paying jobs, this crop is ineradicable without further impoverishing Afghanistan. The Taliban are not just fighting for a different government. They are fighting for the livelihood of more than half of the farm villages in Afghanistan.

Monday, May 21, 2018

International Update

Adventures in Norkland

North Korea apparently continues the preparations for dismantling the nuclear test site at Punggye-ri. The Daily NK reported its sources said that the government has ordered a crash effort to repair and improve the railroad tracks between Wonsan and the tests site. 

North Korea intends to transport foreign journalists by rail because other modes of transportation are poor or do not exist. The rail lines are neglected but are repairable.

On 19 May, a North Korean military officer and a civilian defected to South Korea. They were spotted in waters north of Baengnyeong Island” near the inter-Korean border, a source told Yonhap news agency. The source said, “They expressed willingness to defect.”

Baengnyeongdo is one of several islands off North Korea’s southwest coast but south of the seaward extension of the Military Demarcation Line. That extension is called the Northern Limit Line. South Korean forces garrison the islands.

If the defections are genuine, their timing is awkward for North-South relations. North Korea could use the incident to cause further strain with South Korea. 

Military defections are infrequent. The last was the December 2017 defection by an enlisted soldier at Panmunjom. Officer defections are rare. The last was in 2008. South Korean news sources reported that since 2000 14 North Korean officers have defected. Nevertheless, genuine defectors can provide timely insights about popular attitudes towards Kim Jong Un and his diplomatic outreach. Defector sources reported that North Koreans are not aware of a potential summit with the US.
If the defectors are North Korean agents, then the intelligence business has not been curtailed as part of the peace offensive.
On 19 May, North Korea demanded that South Korea transfer to North Korea 12 waitresses who defected from a North Korean state-run restaurant in Ningbo in northeastern China in 2016. The North Korean Red Cross issued a statement that said, “The South Korean authorities should … send our women citizens to their families without delay and thus show the will to improve North-South ties.”

North Korea claims the women were kidnapped by South Korean intelligence agents. South Korea claims that the women defected on their own and want to remain in South Korea.

This new demand looks like the North is going out of its way to be provocative, trying to see how far it can push South Korea to get concessions. That signals that a change in attitude has occurred in the leadership. North Korean leaders appear to have reverted to their comfortable, historic position of hustling the South Koreans. The charm offensive seems to have been replaced by the extortion offensive, rather quickly. Resurrecting old issues and compelling new talks on them to gain more concessions is vintage North Korean practice. The image of a more refined, calmer, conciliatory North Korea is beginning to look like a thin veneer. 

Taken as a whole, it would seem that North Korea is of two minds. Something is wrong in Pyongyang. (more wrong than usual) It would be interesting if Kim Jong Un defected to the US during the summit in Singapore. I'm not suggesting that it would happen. Only that it would be interesting. Maybe he'd defect to China and not the US? How would THAT play?

China

Chinese strategic bombers made their first landings in the Paracels. According to a statement released by the Ministry of National Defense on 18 May, “A division of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) recently organized multiple bombers, such as the H-6K, to conduct take-off and landing training on islands and reefs in the South China Sea in order to improve our ability to ‘reach all territory, conduct strikes at any time and strike in all directions.” 

The Chinese H-6K is China's version of the old Soviet Badger aircraft.
“It said the pilot of the H-6K bomber conducted assault training on a designated sea target and then carried out take-offs and landings at an airport in the area, describing the exercise as preparation for “the West Pacific and the battle for the South China Sea”. (CNN carried a report on their website as well. Not a bad report. Though their video media section only carried negative stories about President Trump and Stormy Daniels) 

The Chinese statement did not identify the island used by the bombers. However, multiple news agencies determined that the island was Woody Island in the Paracel Islands. Woody Island is the administrative center for Xisha District and contains the Chinese military headquarters for the South China Sea.

The H-6K has a combat radius of 3,500 kms/2,200 miles. It is a cruise missile carrier as well as a bomber. From Woody Island, Chinese H-6K bombers can patrol the entire South China Sea area claimed by China. In the Spratly Islands, the three runways China built on man-made islands can accommodate fighter aircraft, but not the bombers.

Strategic bomber deployments to Woody Island are another enhancement to Chinese capabilities to enforce its claim to the area within the nine-dash line, on the map.

India-Jammu and Kashmir State

Ramadan is here again. If I was in my old house, there would be parties and loud music every night when the sun went down and the Mohammedans feasted in homes all around me. Now that my house is in Mohammedan hands, I'm sure that they'll be splashing poolside. On the Subcontinent, India declared a Ramadan ceasefire, and Pakistan fired across the border. 

On 16 May, Indian announced it would halt operations against militants in Jammu and Kashmir State during Ramadan. It is the first Ramadan ceasefire in 18 years.

In India, including Jammu and Kashmir State, Ramadan began on 17 May. Not all groups welcomed the Indian ceasefire pledge. The Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist group said that honoring the ceasefire would be a sin. It said it intended to continue its attacks.

Border exchanges of fire continue. On 18 May, Pakistani and Indian border forces exchanged first near Sialkot in Pakistan, just hours announced it would cease operations during Ramadan. The cross-border firing and shelling began overnight and spread to dozens of posts in the Jammu region of the Himalayan territory, said Indian police officer S.D. Singh. The exchanges of fire killed eight civilians and one Indian soldier.

Syria

In the past two days, news sources have reported two large explosions at different locations. On the 18th, large explosions occurred near the airport at Hama. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported 11 people died and that the explosion was caused by a technical problem.

On the 21st an explosion occurred at a military base that is used by Iranians, south of Damascus.

Syrian sources said the earlier explosion was caused by farmers who set fire to their fields and lost control of it. News sources speculated both were Israeli attacks.

Power

Power requires neither permission nor forgiveness. 

I'm sure that was the sense of certainty in the triumph of the Democrat Party in the last presidential election that Barack Hussein Obama felt. Orwell said it best, perhaps, "If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever." (1984) The feeling of power and invincibility must have been heady when he ordered the FBI into the Trump Campaign, when his minions created false FISA Court surveillance warrants and when his political adversary was wiretapped.

It wasn't the first time. Under Obama, the National Security Agency collected data on electronic transmissions of American citizens without a warrant. It was an age that Hillary planned to expand upon - and there was the pesky problem of hundreds of millions of firearms and trillions of rounds of ammunition in private hands. The Founding Fathers understood that free people are armed and that slaves are not.

Smug, sly, self-satisfied ghouls like Big Jim Comey and Robert Mueller are the perfect agents of "change" because they believe(d) that they had a messianic style mission to remove the stone from the shoe of the deep state. President Trump was never the "Republican" choice. The deep state Republicans and the media liked JEB! because he was a useful tool, a dim bulb, a legacy ruler who would fail  in his campaign - but fail graciously. His campaign slogan was "Jeb can fix it." $100 million bought him an early failure - largely due to Donald Trump, who mocked him and America saw that the retarded Bush was an incompetent goof.

The globalists don't trust America or its people. Americans are armed, they are remarkably resistant to the sort of Hope and Change offered. You'll note that Barack lost the legislature completely and gave President Trump a majority in both houses. He was also the best firearms salesman that the world ever saw. Under his watch, America geared up (for Hillary?) for trouble. Those pesky, despicable people in fly-over country who trusted to their God and guns never caught the vision that the bi-coastal elites peddled on mainstream television and in the elite media.

Now there is Trump. And you know they'd like to kill him. But killing him won't work unless they smear him first. They don't want a martyr. Think of that the next time you watch CNN.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Slow-Motion Coup (Sunday Sermonette)

The complicit and engaged corrupt, elite media, the Obama Administration and its catspaws in the media and the FBI have engaged in an effort to topple a duly elected President of the United States. The evidence is there for all to see and the current efforts of both the New York Times and the Washington Post to soften the blow that will fall from disclosures that the FBI infiltrated the Trump Campaign for the benefit of the Clinton Campaign (first) and to provide an "insurance policy" (their words, not mine) in the event that Donald Trump was elected president, are black marks upon our nation that will resonate. It was those actions for and on behalf of the Obama Administration that we now see played out. 
Is the FBI an enemy of the State? Make of it what you will, but the leadership and cadre at the very top clearly was acting against America. Is it still? Well, we don't know, do we. They expected Hillary to be elected and all of this filth would have been swept under the rug.
The current spin from the corrupt, lying, elite media is worth a brief review: "Obama’s FBI was not “spying” on the Trump campaign but used an “informant” to “investigate Russia ties.” The Washington Post is claiming that the Obama FBI was not going after Trump . . . they were “protecting him.” They claim that the nation and President Trump owe the FBI a huge debt of gratitude. It's not unlike having somebody take a dump in your bowl of cornflakes and expect you to thank them for giving you more to eat.

The Mueller Investigation has taken on the centerpiece of the slow-motion coup and the problem that they have is that there is not a scintilla of evidence that Donald Trump did ANYTHING wrong. 

Now for the sermonette: We all know that the Deep State has prospered in their efforts to bring America down. They've sold us out in trade deals, Barack sold us out to Iran, Barack was caught on a hot microphone colluding with Russian President Medvedev, and it's not only the Democrats. The RINOs too are just as much to blame. We don't have a wall with Mexico, we have ruinous trade deficits all over the planet. And they really hate the president for wanting to change their scam.

Thoughts are ephemeral. They evaporate the moment they occur, unless they are given action in material form. Wishes and intentions are the same. Meaningless, unless they impel you to one choice or the other, some deed or course of action, however insignificant. Thoughts that lead to action can be dangerous. Thoughts that do not, mean less than nothing.

Actions by the FBI need to be punished by prison terms. Treason needs to be dealt with not because of thoughts, but because of the actions that follow them. Deep State actors need to be exposed and need to be deposed because of what they did while in a position of honor, trust and profit for this nation.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Israel, Palestine - and American Inner Cities

Yesterday, The Jerusalem Post reported  that up to 8,700 Palestinians have been wounded and around 100 people killed in the rioting that Hamas started on 30 March.

The Great March of Return that Hamas launched in Gaza on 30 March culminated on Nakba Day (Day of Catastrophe) on 15 May. Fewer civil disorders occurred on 16 and 17 May.

Context and Precedent: In 1988, Yasir Arafat instituted Nakba Day to commemorate the exodus of some 700,000 Palestinians before and after the Israeli declaration of independence in 1948.

These were not peaceful protests in any sense because the participants gathered at the fences prepared for violent confrontation. The Israelis also were prepared and issued multiple warnings. The confrontation was one-sided, as it always has been. 

The Jerusalem Post published on 14 May – Israeli Independence Day -- a lengthy, cogent analysis of the Hamas-instigated movement as self-destructive and self-victimized. The so-called marchers twice burned the only border crossing point for humanitarian aid and goods to Gaza. They disrupted the power and fuel lines for the Gaza Strip which is chronically short of power. The Palestinian men sent women and children to the border fences, knowing they would be shot.

The Israelis understand the problems in great detail, but the Hamas-instigated riots appear driven by pre-modern impulses that defy modern solutions and prescriptions.

Palestinian leaders say the marches and clashes are important because they send a message to the world. For the past two weeks, the Palestinians have been heard around the world. They have raised awareness at a great cost in lives and treasure. The message has been sent. The world is aware.

h/t Andrew Price
Every time the Palestinians send their message, the Muslim and western nations say all the right words of outrage. The Israelis get blamed for excessive use of force, until the next time. The major change is that the Palestinians in Gaza make their people’s living conditions worse.

The actions of the Palestinian leadership in Gaza and the West Bank are sufficient to sustain the life of their political system, but only because they are in a power-sharing relationship with Israel and aid donors. The Palestinian component of the power-sharing system is not self-sufficient and cannot prevent the collapse of its population without help. The Palestinians are dependents of the external components of the power-sharing arrangement.

The external components of the power-sharing arrangement – Israel and the aid agencies -- provide sufficient systemic sustenance to prevent the Palestinians from collapsing but not enough to make them whole, healthy or prosperous under present management.  It has been surviving under these conditions for 70 years. This is the system preferred by various and successive generations of Palestinian leadership because dependence on them keeps them valid, important and in power. 

Comparison

There is a comparison between Palestine, and its leadership and American inner cities and Democrat Party hegemony. Keeping a class of people dependent, miserable and by controlling the aid that reaches them, insures that power continues. It's cynical, but the calculus works. The corrupt, sly, elite media in the US (and they also cover the Palestinian situation) work hard to insure that the people never understand their role as poor and dependent pawns in a money game that is played at their expense.

It is no wonder that the media in the US is so frantic - so desperate to remove President Trump from office, because he does not buy into their false narrative in the way that so many former US presidents have. It could upset the applecart in the inner cities in America - and if the dependent class are employed, and happier, who knows what might transpire among those artificially depressed people?

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Another Perspective

The reasons for suspending talks with South Korea are very different from those that prompted the threat to reconsider the US summit. North Korea suspended talks with South Korea because of the B-52's in the Max Thunder exercise. In Asia, a military exercise that contains the word “thunder” always implies B-52 attacks.

When Kim Jong Un said he understood routine training by forces in Korea, he also indicated that did not include offensive strategic assets deployed from outside. Somehow someone in South Korea and/or the US missed this point, ignored it, or has a tin ear.

The scheduled deployment of strategic bombers plus any other assets not based in South Korea caused the suspension of the talks. They are the iconic offensive weapon system in the USAF arsenal since the Vietnam War. In 1965, the B-52 operation in Vietnam used the word thunder, as in Operation Rolling Thunder. 

Belated appreciation of this caused the US to reconsider deploying the bombers this week. Talks will be held after the air clears.

The potential negative fallout and the nattering worries of the academics on the sidelines are all manageable by a great power. None of them are reasons to cancel a meeting between heads of state. 


Peace is their profession.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Serious Re-enacting

Neustadt-Glewe is a small German town, in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, in the district of Ludwigslust-Parchim. Last year, some serious re-enactors gathered together with seriously authentic arms and armor to relive the bloody past of that area in the age of Vikings. Live steel re-enactment is not a high school prom - not in the least.

The armor used by Vikings was no different than that used by English or German warriors of the same era. There were no horns on the helmets, and the blades were similar. Armor went from padded gambesons, to chain male, to laminar, to boiled leather curasses. The age of uniforms was still centuries in the future. 

Most warfare was fought from the shield wall. If your wall held and your brothers protected you as you protected them, they you might live to fight another day. Centuries later, the yew bow would render those sorts of formations less effective, as did the introduction of the handgun and Swiss pike - but those were also in the future.