Still think that such an atrocity – reported by the Times – is impossible?:
American-led troops were accused yesterday of dragging innocent children from their beds and shooting them during a night raid that left ten people dead.
Afghan government investigators said that eight schoolchildren were killed, all but one of them from the same family. Locals said that some victims were handcuffed before being killed.
Western military sources said that the dead were all part of an Afghan terrorist cell responsible for manufacturing improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which have claimed the lives of countless soldiers and civilians.
“This was a joint operation that was conducted against an IED cell that Afghan and US officials had been developing information against for some time,” said a senior Nato insider. But he admitted that “the facts about what actually went down are in dispute”.
The allegations of civilian casualties led to protests in Kabul and Jalalabad, with children as young as 10 chanting “Death to America” and demanding that foreign forces should leave Afghanistan at once.
President Karzai sent a team of investigators to Narang district, in eastern Kunar province, after reports of a massacre first surfaced on Monday.
“The delegation concluded that a unit of international forces descended from a plane Sunday night into Ghazi Khan village in Narang district of the eastern province of Kunar and took ten people from three homes, eight of them school students in grades six, nine and ten, one of them a guest, the rest from the same family, and shot them dead,” a statement on President Karzai’s website said.
Assadullah Wafa, who led the investigation, said that US soldiers flew to Kunar from Kabul, suggesting that they were part of a special forces unit.
“At around 1 am, three nights ago, some American troops with helicopters left Kabul and landed around 2km away from the village,” he told The Times. “The troops walked from the helicopters to the houses and, according to my investigation, they gathered all the students from two rooms, into one room, and opened fire.” Mr Wafa, a former governor of Helmand province, met President Karzai to discuss his findings yesterday. “I spoke to the local headmaster,” he said. “It’s impossible they were al-Qaeda. They were children, they were civilians, they were innocent. I condemn this attack.”
In a telephone interview last night, the headmaster said that the victims were asleep in three rooms when the troops arrived. “Seven students were in one room,” said Rahman Jan Ehsas. “A student and one guest were in another room, a guest room, and a farmer was asleep with his wife in a third building.
“First the foreign troops entered the guest room and shot two of them. Then they entered another room and handcuffed the seven students. Then they killed them. Abdul Khaliq [the farmer] heard shooting and came outside. When they saw him they shot him as well. He was outside. That’s why his wife wasn’t killed.”
A local elder, Jan Mohammed, said that three boys were killed in one room and five were handcuffed before they were shot. “I saw their school books covered in blood,” he said.
The investigation found that eight of the victims were aged from 11 to 17. The guest was a shepherd boy, 12, called Samar Gul, the headmaster said. He said that six of the students were at high school and two were at primary school. He said that all the students were his nephews. In Jalalabad, protesters set alight a US flag and an effigy of President Obama after chanting “Death to Obama” and “Death to foreign forces”. In Kabul, protesters held up banners showing photographs of dead children alongside placards demanding “Foreign troops leave Afghanistan” and “Stop killing us”.
A rift has opened between the Obama administration and some of its closest allies – Democratic leaders and environmental organisations – over its refusal to publicly disclose the location of 44 coal ash dumps that have been officially designated as a “high hazard” to local populations.
The administration turned down a request from a powerful Democratic senator to make public the list of 44 dumps, which contain a toxic soup of arsenic and heavy metals from coal-fired electricity plants, citing terrorism fears.
The federal government is encouraging farmers to spread a chalky waste from coal-fired power plants on their fields to loosen and fertilize soil even as it considers regulating coal wastes for the first time.
The material is produced by power plant “scrubbers” that remove acid-rain-causing sulfur dioxide from plant emissions. A synthetic form of the mineral gypsum, it also contains mercury, arsenic, lead and other heavy metals.
The Environmental Protection Agency says those toxic metals occur in only tiny amounts that pose no threat to crops, surface water or people. But some environmentalists say too little is known about how the material affects crops, and ultimately human health, for the government to suggest that farmers use it.
“This is a leap into the unknown,” said Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. “This stuff has materials in it that we’re trying to prevent entering the environment from coal-fired power plants, and then to turn around and smear it across ag lands raises some real questions.”
Special agents from the TSA’s Office of Inspection interrogated two U.S. bloggers, one of them an established travel columnist, and served them each with a civil subpoena demanding information on the anonymous source that provided the TSA document.
The document, which the two bloggers published within minutes of each other Dec. 27, was sent by TSA to airlines and airports around the world and described temporary new requirements for screening passengers through Dec. 30, including conducting “pat-downs” of legs and torsos. The document, which was not classified, was posted by numerous bloggers. Information from it was also published on some airline websites.
“They’re saying it’s a security document but it was sent to every airport and airline,” says Steven Frischling, one of the bloggers. “It was sent to Islamabad, to Riyadh and to Nigeria. So they’re looking for information about a security document sent to 10,000-plus people internationally. You can’t have a right to expect privacy after that.”
Transportation Security Administration spokeswoman Suzanne Trevino said in a statement that security directives “are not for public disclosure.”
“TSA’s Office of Inspections is currently investigating how the recent Security Directives were acquired and published by parties who should not have been privy to this information,” the statement said.
Frischling, a freelance travel writer and photographer in Connecticut who writes a blog for the KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, said the two agents who visited him arrived around 7 p.m. Tuesday, were armed and threatened him with a criminal search warrant if he didn’t provide the name of his source. They also threatened to get him fired from his KLM job and indicated they could get him designated a security risk, which would make it difficult for him to travel and do his job.
“They were indicating there would be significant ramifications if I didn’t cooperate,” said Frischling, who was home alone with his three children when the agents arrived. “It’s not hard to intimidate someone when they’re holding a 3-year-old [child] in their hands. My wife works at night. I go to jail, and my kids are here with nobody.”
Frischling, who described some of the details of the visit on his personal blog, told Threat Level that the two agents drove to his house in Connecticut from DHS offices in Massachusetts and New Jersey and didn’t mention a subpoena until an hour into their visit.
NEW YORK — When financial titan Goldman Sachs joined some of its Wall Street rivals in late 2005 in secretly packaging a new breed of offshore securities, it gave prospective investors little hint that many of the deals were so risky that they could end up losing hundreds of millions of dollars on them.
McClatchy has obtained previously undisclosed documents that provide a closer look at the shadowy $1.3 trillion market since 2002 for complex offshore deals, which Chicago financial consultant and frequent Goldman critic Janet Tavakoli said at times met “every definition of a Ponzi scheme.”
The documents include the offering circulars for 40 of Goldman’s estimated 148 deals in the Cayman Islands over a seven-year period, including a dozen of its more exotic transactions tied to mortgages and consumer loans that it marketed in 2006 and 2007, at the crest of the booming market for subprime mortgages to marginally qualified borrowers.
In some of these transactions, investors not only bought shaky securities backed by residential mortgages, but also took on the role of insurers by agreeing to pay Goldman and others massive sums if risky home loans nose-dived in value — as Goldman was effectively betting they would.
Some of the investors, including foreign banks and even Wall Street giant Merrill Lynch, may have been comforted by the high grades Wall Street ratings agencies had assigned to many of the securities. However, some of the buyers apparently agreed to insure Goldman well after the performance of many offshore deals weakened significantly beginning in June 2006.
Goldman said those investors were fully informed of the risks they were taking.
These Cayman Islands deals, which Goldman assembled through the British territory in the Caribbean, a haven from U.S. taxes and regulation, became key links in a chain of exotic insurance-like bets called credit-default swaps that worsened the global economic collapse by enabling major financial institutions to take bigger and bigger risks without counting them on their balance sheets.
The full cost of the deals, some of which could still blow up on investors, may never be known.
Before the subprime crisis, the U.S. financial system had used securities for 40 years to generate $12 trillion to help Americans finance their houses, cars and college educations, said Gary Kopff, a financial services consultant and the president of Everest Management Inc. in Washington. The offshore deals, he lamented, “became the biggest contributors to the trillions of dollars of losses” in 2008’s global meltdown.
The New York Times published a Christmas Eve expose of Goldman Sachs’s so-called “Abacus” synthetic collateralized debt obligations (CDOs). They were created with credit derivatives instead of cash securities. Goldman used credit derivatives to create short bets that gain in value when CDOs lose value. Goldman did this for both protection and profit and marketed the idea to hedge funds.
Goldman responded to the New York Times saying many of these deals were the result of demand from investing clients seeking long exposure. In an earlier Huffington Post article, I wrote about Goldman’s key role in the AIG crisis; it traded or originated $33 billion of AIG’s $80 billion CDOs. AIG was long the majority of six of Goldman’s Abacus deals. These value-destroying CDOs were stuffed with BBB-rated (the lowest “investment grade” rating) portions of other deals. These BBB-rated portions were overrated from the start. Many of them eventually exploded like firecrackers.
Goldman said it suffered losses due to the deterioration of the housing market and disclosed $1.7 billion in residential mortgage exposure write-downs in 2008. These losses would have been substantially higher had it not hedged. Goldman describes its activities as prudent risk management. Many Wall Street firms wound up taking losses. The question is, however, how did they manage to get through a couple of bonus cycles without taking accounting losses while showing “profits?”
The answer is that they sold a lot of “hot air” disguised as valuable securities. Goldman claims this was prudent risk management. In reality, Goldman created products that it knew or should have known were overrated and overpriced.
If Wall Street had not manufactured value-destroying securities and related credit derivatives, the money supply for bad loans would have been choked off years earlier. Instead, Wall Street was chiefly responsible for the “financial innovation” that did massive damage to the U.S. economy.
– Suicide bomber attacks CIA base in Afghanistan, killing at least 8 Americans (Washington Post):
A suicide bomber infiltrated a CIA base in eastern Afghanistan on Wednesday, killing at least eight Americans in what is believed to be the deadliest single attack on U.S. intelligence personnel in the eight-year-long war and one of the deadliest in the agency’s history, U.S. officials said.
– CIA Officers Are Killed in Afghan Attack (Wall Street Journal)
– CIA workers killed by ‘Afghan soldier’ (BBC News):
Eight Americans working for the CIA have died in a bomb attack in Afghanistan, the worst against US intelligence officials since 1983.
A suicide bomber disguised as a Afghan soldier killed eight US civilians inside base used by the CIA and wounded at least six others, officials said, in an audacious attack that marked a bloody end to 2009.
Reports in the Washington Post suggested that at least four of the dead were agents, but the CIA refused to confirm that any of its staff were involved.
Locals said they heard a massive explosion just before dusk yesterday and saw a huge plume of smoke rising from inside the heavily guarded compound, close to the capital of Khost province, in southeastern Afghanistan.
“We heard firing, but that’s normal,” said shopkeeper Mir Wali, 28, who lives around 200 metres from the camp perimeter. “We thought they were practising on the range.
“But then we heard a loud, loud, really loud explosion. I though a rocket had landed on my house. When I came outside to see what had happened there were helicopters flying over the base, patrolling very close to the ground.”
Eyewitnesses said they saw at least three air ambulances – Black Hawk helicopters marked with distinctive red crosses – landing and taking off from inside the compound moments after the attack.
US embassy officials confirmed eight American civilians were killed in the explosion, but the CIA has neither confirmed nor denied whether its staff were involved.
Change you can believe in!
Dec. 30 (Bloomberg) — To close out 2009, I decided to do something I bet no member of Congress has done — actually read from cover to cover one of the pieces of sweeping legislation bouncing around Capitol Hill.
Hunkering down by the fire, I snuggled up with H.R. 4173, the financial-reform legislation passed earlier this month by the House of Representatives. The Senate has yet to pass its own reform plan. The baby of Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank, the House bill is meant to address everything from too-big-to-fail banks to asleep-at-the-switch credit-ratings companies to the protection of consumers from greedy lenders.
I quickly discovered why members of Congress rarely read legislation like this. At 1,279 pages, the “Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act” is a real slog. And yes, I plowed through all those pages. (Memo to Chairman Frank: “ystem” at line 14, page 258 is missing the first “s”.)
The reading was especially painful since this reform sausage is stuffed with more gristle than meat. At least, that is, if you are a taxpayer hoping the bailout train is coming to a halt.
If you’re a banker, the bill is tastier. While banks opposed the legislation, they should cheer for its passage by the full Congress in the New Year: There are huge giveaways insuring the government will again rescue banks and Wall Street if the need arises.
Here are some of the nuggets I gleaned from days spent reading Frank’s handiwork:
— For all its heft, the bill doesn’t once mention the words “too-big-to-fail,” the main issue confronting the financial system. Admitting you have a problem, as any 12- stepper knows, is the crucial first step toward recovery.
— Instead, it supports the biggest banks. It authorizes Federal Reserve banks to provide as much as $4 trillion in emergency funding the next time Wall Street crashes. So much for “no-more-bailouts” talk. That is more than twice what the Fed pumped into markets this time around. The size of the fund makes the bribes in the Senate’s health-care bill look minuscule.
— Oh, hold on, the Federal Reserve and Treasury Secretary can’t authorize these funds unless “there is at least a 99 percent likelihood that all funds and interest will be paid back.” Too bad the same models used to foresee the housing meltdown probably will be used to predict this likelihood as well.
“To be thorough, investigations of these and other questions would have to reach into the Obama Treasury Department. One of the most aggressive creators of the questionable investments was a firm called Tricadia, whose parent firm was overseen by Lewis Sachs, now a senior adviser to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.”
Doing ‘God’s work‘!
During the bubble, Goldman Sachs and other financial firms created complicated mortgage-related investments, sold them to clients and then placed bets that those investments would decline in value. The practice, detailed in The Times by Gretchen Morgenson and Louise Story, allowed Wall Street to profit handsomely as its clients tanked. It also amplified the financial meltdown, spreading the losses to pretty much everyone.
These deals are now the targets of various government and industry-led investigations. It may turn out that some or all of the products and practices were not illegal, in part because the derivatives at the heart of the transactions have been largely deregulated since 2000.
There are several outrages here. Despite pledges to rein in the excesses, financial reform legislation is months away from passage. The House-passed bill would impose some controls over derivatives, although it is unclear whether it would stop this particular practice. The Senate has not yet produced a bill. And neither the White House nor Capitol Hill has adequately addressed the bigger question of how to curb the high-risk proprietary trading by banks that has created conflicts with clients and endangered the economy at large.
Meanwhile, Wall Street continues to defend what looks to us as rank financial speculation. The way the wizards explain it, betting against one’s clients is one of many techniques to prudently guard against loss.
A small Chinese power generator possesses the impudence to challenge Goldman, who is doing ‘God’s work‘!
Message from China to Goldman Sachs:
BEIJING, Dec 29 (Reuters) – A small Chinese power generator on Tuesday rejected demands from a Goldman Sachs unit to pay for nearly $80 million lost on two oil hedging contracts, part of a long-running dispute over how China deals with derivatives losses.
Goldman Sachs (GS.N) was one of the foreign banks, along with Citigroup (C.N), Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley (MS.N), blamed by the state assets watchdog for providing “extremely complicated” and difficult to understand derivatives products. [ID:nPEK242617]
Shenzhen Nanshan Power (000037.SZ) (200037.SZ) said in a statement that it received several notices from J. Aron & Company, a trading subsidiary of Goldman Sachs (GS.N), for at least $79.96 million as compensation for terminating oil option contracts.
“We will not accept the demand by J. Aron for all the losses and related interests,” said Nanshan, in line with the stance it took last December.
“We will try our best to negotiate with J. Aron and resolve the dispute peacefully…but the possibility of using a lawsuit can not be ruled out when talks fail,” it added.
“J. Aron told us in one notice that if we do not pay the money, they will reserve the right to launch a lawsuit and will not send us any further notice.”
The State Assets Supervision and Administration Commission said in September that it would back state-owned companies in any legal action against the foreign banks that sold them oil derivatives, which resulted in losses when oil prices dived late last year. [ID:nPEK14474]