Belmont Club

Blood and Money

The recent headlines around the world revolve around two subjects: blood and money. Syria is bombarding its rebels while France pushes for ‘secured zone to protect civilians’. Turkey is seen as a door to a Syrian “humanitarian corridor”. Sources say “the French proposal is a work in progress. Turkish officials, whose government could be among the main actors, say they are still unsure what the proposal entails, and there were many scenarios.” One of the things it probably entails is finding a way to convince the US to create a safe environment for all those humanitarian activities to take place.

Either that or the Europeans are thinking of opening a corridor themselves with all that entails.

The headlines note that Arab League deadline to Damascus has passed, with no response from Syria, which means they’re going to give them another deadline or talk to someone who can make an ultimatum stick (see paragraphs above).  The press says that “on Friday, the U.N. Committee against Torture said it had received reports of widespread abuses in Syria, including the torture of children detained by security forces.” That’s a sign that the ‘responsibility to protect’ meme is about to make another appearance.

Meanwhile the Arab Spring is not quite the uplifting march to democracy that many hoped it would be. Egypt shows signs of split over military rule as it finishes up with more a repressive government than the one it replaced. The new Egyptian PM claims more powers than his predecessor.

In a televised statement, he said the military has given him greater powers than his predecessor and he wouldn’t have accepted the job if he believed military ruler Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi had any intention of staying in power.

“The powers given to me exceed any similar mandates,” he said, looking uncomfortable, grasping for words and repeatedly pausing as he spoke. “I will take full authority so I’m able to serve my country.”

The demonstrators are not going to like that, which probably means some Coptic churches are going to be burned because that solves something somehow. But it’s all going to be fixed by international diplomacy. The International Criminal Court‘s prosecutor says Libya can put Moammar Gadhafi’s son and one-time heir apparent on trial at home though ‘international judges’ must be involved.  Why is it that the US never gets to name the judges or siphon out the oil?  Is it because they ‘led from behind’?

When Donald Trump said “you know, in the old days, when you won a war, to the victor go the spoils. Why don’t we take the oil?”, Gawker was apopletic with outrage.

Gilded dildo casket Donald Trump sure was peeved during his weekly call into Fox News’ illiterate dementia variety hour, Fox & Friends, today. Muammar Qaddafi, he’s no good, sure, but why do the people of Libya now get to manage all of that sweet untapped brent crude under the sands of their own country? Can’t NATO, meaning America, just sort of take it now?

Gawker is probably outraged that “international judges” have extended their authority over Libya or that oil is now flowing to Italy. Take the oil? Nah. They’re saving it for the “international community”.

Other parts of the Middle East are also in the process of regime change, though not exactly of the kind the West would have preferred. “The U.N. secretary-general’s envoy to Yemen says all parties have agreed on a plan under which longtime President Ali Abdullah Saleh would step down. … The findings of an independent investigation into Bahrain’s 10-month-old unrest are still under wraps, but the Gulf kingdom’s leaders are working to control its possible fallout. … A moderate Islamist party, Ennahda (Renaissance), won the most seats in Tunisia’s Constituent Assembly and has announced a coalition with a liberal and a left-of-center party.”

Bet they’re not doing it for the oil. Anyway, most of the other news over Thanksgiving was about money.

In Europe,”Standard & Poor’s dealt yet another blow to Eurozone debt, cutting Belgium’s rating.”  Bond yields on short-term Italian debt rose above 8 per cent on Friday, a euro-era high interest rate. This as the FTSE 100 shed £107 billion during nine straight days of losses. The Financial Times says “the cost to European banks of swapping euros for dollars for one-year paper on Friday rose near levels seen during the height of the 2008 credit crunch as policymakers’ failure to arrive at a crisis solution risked freezing inter-bank lending.”

Amidst this sea of gloom, the Economist asks, “is this the end?” Jeremy Warner at the Telegraph warns, ‘prepare for Eurogeddon’. Even Paul Krugman is getting worried though why he should worry about Europe, whose economic model is so much more advanced than America’s is something of a mystery. But never fear:  a German newspaper says the end is not yet nigh as “nervous EU leaders prepare for the final battle”.

But it seems that some of the firepower for that Last Battle was supposed to come from elsewhere. The Guardian reports that “Eurozone leaders were tonight looking again to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to help countries in distress as bond yields in Italy and Spain hit new highs and the credit-ratings agency Standard & Poor’s (S&P) downgraded Belgium.” That probably means America, or maybe China.

Not that America was in any great shape to help. US stocks recorded their worst Thanksgiving-week loss for the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index since 1932 “as concern grew that Europe’s debt crisis will spread”. The banks, after being asked by the Fed to “stress test” their balance sheets to European exposure were afraid that the mere act could tighten credit to where it snuffed out lending. CNBC quotes sources who say that the lenders who were out on a high wire were loath to walk back to the start line.

“The banks are back, the banks are in good shape, the banks are ready and able to assist the economy. Then along comes this annual abortion of a stress test,” Bove said in an interview. “You’re going to see that they’re going to have to stop lending money, they’re going to have to dump loans, they’re going to have to increase cash positions.”

“They’re going to have to increase capital ratios by shrinking their balance sheet,” he added. “Everything they’ve achieved, everything that we’ve got to move us forward gets stopped and put in reverse by the stress test.”

Never mind. It’s for a good cause. The cause of financial stability, European Unity and all that. But times may be hard enough to push Saudi Arabian terror cells to resort to hacking for a living; although as in many other things they’ve had to turn to overseas workers to do it.

Philippine and United States authorities arrested Wednesday four members of a Filipino hackers group whose operation is allegedly being financed by a Saudi Arabia-based terrorist group.

Wednesday night’s operation stemmed from the complaint of AT&T, a US-based telecommunication company and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) regarding the activities of Filipino hackers who hacked the system of AT&T.

The hacking activity resulted in about US$2-million in losses incurred by the company, said Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (DILG) Director Samuel Pagdilao Jr. …

ATCCD chief Gilbert Sosa identified the arrested suspects as Macnell Gracilla, 31, of Carmen Rosales, Pangasinan and resident of Unit 5, Montiville Place, Greenville Subdivision, Sauyo, Quezon City; Francisco Manalac, 25, and his live-in partner Regina Balura, 21, both of 89 Sampaguita Extension, East Bagong Barrio, Calooocan City; and Paul Michael Kwan, 29, of 21 Hebrew St., West Bagong Barrio, Caloocan City.

Revenues derived from the hacking activities of the Filipino-based hackers were diverted to the account of the terrorists, who paid the Filipino hackers on a commission basis via local banks.

After Zamir’s arrest in 2007, a Saudi-national took helm of the operation of the group, who also maintained its link with the group of Filipino hackers based in Manila.

If the Saudi national were in US custody, he might even now be suffering the indignity of watching a Koran handled without white gloves. Fortunately for the Filipino suspects, they are in the custody of Philippine police, for whom the phrase  “give them the works” still retains its original meaning.

There is little detail on what the hackers were actually doing, but given its relatively small scale, it’s possible they were stealing credit card numbers or something like that. Here’s a link to the FBI’s Holiday Shopping Tips which may be in the general vicinity of their criminal activity. “In advance of the holiday season, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center reminds shoppers to beware of cyber criminals and their aggressive and creative ways to steal money and personal information.”

Blood and money are roughly the same industry in many parts of the world. At least in the Middle East they have an affinity for each other. The globe has become a very small place where all that may separate the Russian Mafia, al-Qaeda, the FBI and little old lady in Idaho is a single click. What will be the end of it? One of the things we should be thankful for is that most of us will get a chance to see what happens next and with each other’s help make more sense of it than otherwise. But maybe the thing to remember is that when you hear about people doing things for a cause and for ideals, check your wallet. “The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons.”

Shop safely and shop well.

Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99
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