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news & opinion with no titillating non-news from the major non-news channels.


I am: progressive, not a wild-eyed Progressive; liberal, but shun liberals and Liberals; conservative, but some Conservatives worry me; absolutely NOT a libertarian. I am: an idealist, but no utopian; a pragmatist, but no Machiavellian. I am a realist who dreams.


I welcome all opinions.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The "new" reality:
Does Obama get it - yet?

Here are the three above-the-fold headlines on Google News just now:

Obama urges world to stand united

Obama: Nations Must Work Together on Climate Change, Economy

Obama: World failing to deal with challenges

So, Mr. President, if the world refuses to step up to the plate and
"work together to confront the most pressing challenges of today"
will you, sir, as the leader of the free world, lead the world - kicking and screaming - to someplace they apparently have no desire nor courage to venture?

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

A Tale Told by Three Idoits

"Public Option" is not an option!

One morning last week, I got to my MTC bus stop ten minutes early, so I felt secure in the knowledge that I would get to work on time. Sure enough, at the designated time, the bus pulls up and I and a dozen or so other fellow adventurers climb on board.

Little did we know we were in for a real adventure that would take a sharp left turn into the twilight zone.

As we settle in, another bus of the same route designation pulls up in front of our carriage. A minute later, without comment, it proceeds to run the route sans any passengers (forgive me, for when it comes to ludicrous insanity, there is nothing more suited than la French). We, the passengers that is, remain seated and immobile.


It seems that the driver of the first part was, in fact, the driver of the second part and his departation time did not commence for another twelve minutes. It seems he assumed that the bus of the second part, which in fact was the bus of the first part, was late (he was, by one minute) and generously saddled up to our boarding point and graciously let us on.

Unfortunately, he told no one that he was not the bus of the first part but rather the bus of the second part.

Nails in the coffin:

1) the local bus supervisor was right there, in his government paid MTC van following the actual bus of the first part, but made no effort to inform the passengers that they were on the wrong bus (enough with the first and second part designations, please!); and

2) the response I got from my subsequent complaint to higher authorities basically said the fault lay with the passengers for it is their responsibility to be at the proper MTC bus stops at the designated time and to ensure they get on the right bus.

"I'm sorry for your loss ma'am but you have to realize - the stent the doctors put in your husband's artery was in fact an arterial blocker. The nurses gave them the wrong device because the manufacturer labeled the supplies wrong. We are, after all, a public utility and therefore owned by the public and therefore the public is responsible for ensuring these sorts of things don't happen (and these things would not happen if we had a larger budget) and therefore as a member of the public you are to blame for your husband's death. We offer our heartfelt condolences."

I just love these things!

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Best regards,


Friday, June 19, 2009

Parsing words in Farsi

According to the BBC, Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

Responding to allegations of electoral fraud, the ayatollah insisted the Islamic Republic would not cheat. "There is 11 million votes difference," the ayatollah said. "How can one rig 11 million votes?"

Translation: We cheated, but we didn't authorized that much cheating.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Misc ManInSpace posts from The Register

8th September 2008 - NASA chief blasts US space policy in leaked email

5th January 2009 - Obama may militarise NASA to save money

30th April 2009 - NASA gets cold feet on Moon base plan

10th June 2009 - Zaphod Beeblebrox home sun 'shrinking', may have blown up

----------> Betelgeuse. 430 lys away. Already gone supernova??

12th June 2009 - German lad hit by 30,000 mph meteorite

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Libertarian Conspiracy Theories:
What financial crisis?

The Independent, that wanna-be bastion of libertarian philosophy, has declared Terrible Credit Crunch of 2008—The Greatest Hoax of All Time?

The crux of Dr. Higgs' argument is , and I quote,

Probably the most important measure of credit-market conditions is the amount of commercial-bank credit outstanding. These figures show that although the middle part of 2008 does stand out in the long view, it does so not by virtue of credit’s frightening contraction, but only by virtue of its hitting a six-month plateau from April through September.

At no time during that interval, however, did the amount of commercial-bank credit outstanding fall below the amount outstanding at the beginning of the year. In short, credit was actually ample, indeed, at an all-time high; it simply stopped growing as usual for six months, stuck at about $9.4 trillion, while one Wall Streeter after another told NPR that “no money is moving; the credit market is completely shut down” or some such cock-and-bull story.

The Good Doctor (yes, in Economics no less) backs up his claim with a damaging graph of Total Bank Credit (TOTBKCR), courtesy of the St. Louis Fed.

Now with the recent events still fresh in my mind, this sounded so patently screwy, I had to look into it. Disclaimer: I am not an economist, just a fair-minded independent citizen who takes anything "experts" say with a grain of salt (I know, I know - but I still insist I am NOT a libertarian).

To wit: The issue is not, despite Dr. Higgs' spin, that outstanding bank credit disappeared overnight; the issue is that the sources of NEW credit were rapidly drying up. I guess the Good Doctor doesn't have a mortgage and is probably one of those fortunate souls who pays off his credit cards every month, but most people including commercial businesses don't. The credit markets could completely evaporate and yet it would still take months for his precious chart of OUTSTANDING credit to crash. Take another look at the Good Doctor's chart, cuz this is where the spin is - as he indicates, for nearly all of 2008, the outstanding commercial credit flattened out. In fact, it starts to flatten out just about the time the Fed has said that the current recession started.

Well, that makes sense. GDP falls, businesses stop financing new ventures and capital expenditures and start paying down their debt, er, outstanding commerical credit. But even in a recession, businesses borrow money, often with their own commericial paper. That don't show on the Good Doctor's chart, because he wants you to watch his right hand, not his left. You see, this chart is not the only publication from the St. Louis Fed. In one very recent publication, they make this extraordinary statement:

To understand what is behind the aggregate figures (on bank lending), we compute two measures of changes in loans ... the flow of credit can be divided into two parts: credit expansion (banks making new or expanding old loans) and credit contraction (banks terminating nonperforming loans). Net bank loan changes are the differences between these two.


The first two quarters of 2008 show sharply decreased expansion and increased contraction, followed by a third-quarter rebound. This pattern is consistent with previous recessions, but luckily not as marked as during the savings and loan crisis of the early 1990s.

and follow that up with this publication:

It is generally agreed that the U.S. economy’s current financial problems began with heightened uncertainty regarding the quality of certain mortgage-backed securities. It is also generally agreed that these concerns were amplified by, and led to, a virtual collapse of the credit insurance market (italics added) when investors discovered that credit-default insurers likely would be unable to perform on their guarantees. As a result, financial market participants, fearful of exposure to now-uninsurable counterparty risk, sharply reduced lending to others. By this path, a crisis of confidence regarding the solvency of counterparties became a liquidity crisis.

The relevant data is the credit INSURANCE market, not how much old credit is still on the books. And to drive the final nail in the Good Doctor's abode, businesses often finance short term requirements, like payroll and debt servicing, with commercial paper which they sell on the open market - and banks are one of the biggest consumers of that paper. In one month, from mid September to mid October, the cost of financing that short-term paper skyrocketed as the interest rates the banks charge themselves quadrupled!

I wish my fresh laundry dried up that quickly; imagine my savings if I didn't have to run the dryer for every load of clothes!

The issue, my Dear Doctor, is that new sources of credit were drying up, or getting too expensive. In other words, if I may presume to instruct the Good Doctor, the credit markets were already fragile from the onset of the recession. When the house of cards fell in on the fraud we called securitzed mortgages, it threatened to drag a slowing economy down the drain. Take another look at your chart Dear Doctor. The spike in outstanding commercial bank credit just after that infusion of funds looks to me like we should be praising, not condemning. Unless you have another explanation for that spike that eludes me.

The Independent calls its newsletter The Lighthouse. Given that this uninspired publication values untenable philosophy over facts, I think The Sirens would be a more accurate description.

Well, libertarians DO believe in caveat emptor, don't they?

Friday, September 05, 2008

Global Warming:
natural fluctuations or man-made?

The glaciers of the world are melting. One in Switzerland in particular raises the question if the current cycle (yes, there is a deliberate bias in those two words here) is a natural climatic fluctuation or man-made. Artifacts that are thousands of years old are only now being exposed by melting glaciers. The obvious conclusion is that at one time it was much warmer, long before CO2 emissions were an issue. So, is it live, or is it Memorex?

Melting Swiss glacier yields Neolithic trove, climate secrets

by Hui Min Neo

BERN (AFP) - Some 5,000 years ago, on a day with weather much like today's, a prehistoric person tread high up in what is now the Swiss Alps, wearing goat leather pants, leather shoes and armed with a bow and arrows.

The unremarkable journey through the Schnidejoch pass, a lofty trail 2,756 metres (9,000 feet) above sea level, has been a boon to scientists. But it would never have emerged if climate change were not melting the nearby glacier.

So far, 300 objects dating as far back as the Neolithic or New Stone Age -- about 4,000 BC in Europe -- to the later Bronze and Iron Ages and the Medieval era have been found in the site's former icefields.

"We know now that the discoveries on Schnidejoch are the oldest of this kind ever made in the Alps," said Albert Hafner, an expert with the archaeology service in Bern canton.

They have allowed researchers not only to piece together snapshots of life way back when, but also to shed light on climate fluctuations in the past 6,500 years -- and hopefully shed light on what is happening now.

"For us, the site itself is the most important find because we have this correlation between climate change and archaeological objects," Hafner said.

"We know that people were only able to walk on this site when it was relatively warm," said Martin Grosjean, executive director of a national network called Swiss Climate Research. "When it was too cold, the glacier advanced and it was not a passable route."

Scientists have long known there were periods of warmer weather in the region but the artefacts allowed them to identify the exact years, when the site would have been passable on foot.

According to Grosjean, such data could help sharpen forecasts for the future by taking into account patterns of natural temperature fluctuation.

The treasure trove preserved in the icefields was discovered after two hikers noticed a strange piece of wood lying upon some stones in 2003.

It turned out to be a quiver -- a case for arrows -- made from birch bark and dating as far back as 3,000 B.C. Hafner said this object may be the most significant single discovery at the site.

"It is the only quiver found that is made of birch bark. It is unique in Europe," he said.

Since then, even older objects have been excavated, including a wooden bow estimated to predate by 1,000 years the famed "Oetzi the Iceman" -- a 5,100-year-old frozen body found high in the Tyrolean Alps on a glacier straddling Italy and Austria in 1991.

Experts have deduced that many of the most valuable items may have originated from one ill-fated person, probably carrying the quiver, bow and arrows and clothed in leather pants and shoes.

"We think the person may have been killed during an accident because there were several objects from the same period found on the site," said Hafner. "It is unlikely that people would be leaving these objects so high up in the mountain."

The leather samples are also the oldest of their kind ever found, said Grosjean. "Leather decays easily in ambient temperatures. We know there were villages by the lakes in Switzerland but we've never found such leather objects," he said.

Analysis showed the pants' patch was made from a domesticated goat that resembled a breed recorded in Laos in those days.

"But the chances that the goat migrated from Laos are very slim. It could be a species that we had never before recorded to have been present in the Europe. Or its lineage may have died out since," said Grosjean.

Five years on, discoveries continue as the glaciers retreats.

"Last week, we found another Roman coin," said Grosjean, while Hafner said talks were underway with several museums on a future exhibition of the finds.

And with climate change, more such sites could emerge.

"The leather pieces are the oldest such finds now but maybe in the coming years, with other glaciers retreating around the world, they may not be the oldest for long," said Grosjean.

A recent UN Environment Programme report said by the end of the century, swathes of mountain ranges worldwide risk losing their glaciers if global warming continues at its projected rate.

"The ongoing trend of worldwide and rapid, if not accelerating, glacier shrinkage ... may lead to the deglaciation of large parts of many mountain ranges by the end of the 21st century," the report warned.

One wonders if the global warming of 4000 BC was caused by increasing methane emissions from domesticated cattle?

Friday, July 18, 2008

Truth from a potential Adversary

This first paragraph from Asia Times Online speaks volumes:

China's four-play

With US President George W Bush in essence rendered to lame-duck status and Republican Party stalwarts such as Donald Rumsfeld missing in action, China has a unique opportunity to accelerate its path toward becoming the world's second superpower.

...and... from an earlier ariticle:

A country that cannot stomach civilian losses and is limited from engaging in massive retribution will in essence have to rethink its strategic paradigm. In a matter of a few years, the US will go back to defending itself domestically from hostile forces, rather than projecting its power globally.

It is the end of the American century.

For fifteen years, I have listened to Chinese in-laws about how the 21st Century is the Chinese century. I have always taken them seriously, if not prophetically. Some would say (we know who they are) there is nothing wrong with taking a back seat, that there is nothing written in the stars that says American supremacy is eternal. I don't necessarily disagree, but I refuse to be fatalistic about it.

The past affects the present and the present affects the future.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Another one bites the dust...

Baghdad - The leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, Abu Ayyub al-Masri, was arrested in the northern city of Mosul, the Iraqi Defense Ministry spokesman said Thursday.

Further Iranian and Syrian complicity in Lebanon

News Scrap:

In other parts of the city, Lebanese troops in armored personnel carriers raced among neighborhoods trying to contain the fighting and shooting in the air to disperse crowds.

“This is the first day of the civil war,” said a government supporter who gave his name as Omar, in a Sunni neighborhood. “They are the aggressors, and they will be buried here.”

A few miles away, supporters of Hezbollah vowed to continue the protest until Mr. Siniora’s government fell.

“We are staying here,” said a protester who gave his name as Abu Rish. “We have money and support from Iran and Syria and we can go on like this for another 50 years.”

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Need Another Seven Astronauts

Back in '86, that was the punchline to a rather morose joke.

I don't think NASA has learned anything.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (AP) -- The space station's two American astronauts went out on a riskier-than-usual spacewalk Wednesday to fix one of two equipment failures that have crippled their power system and threatened to stall construction.
Whitson and Tani performed virtually the entire job in the darkness of night, pausing during the daytime swings around Earth when 160 volts of electricity would course through the cables. As an added precaution, the spacewalkers were advised not to point any nonessential lights at the solar wing in question to prevent power generation.

Because the [200 pound] motor serves as the structural backbone for the solar wing, the spacewalkers had to make sure the wing didn't come off and fly away.

Since when did NASA engineers switch from redundant systems to multi-purpose systems?

Friday, April 20, 2007

Gunman in Johnson Space Center:
   or is he??

From Yahoo/AP:

HOUSTON - A Johnson Space Center building was evacuated Friday after reports of a gunman inside, Houston police said. Police were called about 1:40 p.m. for Building 44, which houses communications and tracking development laboratory, news reports said.

Johnson Space Center security officers and Houston police, including a SWAT team, were dispatched to the scene.

NASA spokesman Bill Jeffs said he could not confirm whether there was a gunman or whether any shots were fired.

"It's an ongoing situation," he said.

If there is no gunman, what situation??

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Earth to Reid:
   Shut the eff up!

From a CFR report dated yesterday:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said Bush “must search his soul, his conscience” to recognize that a bill calling for a troop drawdown next year is right for the country. The talks took place on an especially bloody day in Iraq, with multiple bombings killing nearly two hundred people (Reuters). The White House wants to give time for Bush’s surge strategy, which aims at pacifying the capital to permit the space for political progress among Iraqi factions, to work.

Look, I understand and accept that Reid, et al, has every right to stand in opposition to foreign policy. But, with rights come responsibility.

Iraqis are DYING because the insurgents are emboldened by the domestic politics of the Democratic Party. Or, do you really believe the increased attacks have absolutely nothing to do with their intended effect on American politics?

If the old adage, "enemy of mine enemy" carries any weight, then the charge of Reid, et al, being in bed with the insurgents has validity. Both are benefiting from, and feeding off of, each others actions.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Damned if you do, damned if you don't:
   More Dem short-sidedness

White House considers war overseer

The White House is considering naming a high-powered official to oversee the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and report directly to President Bush and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley.

The goal would be to improve the coordination of military and civilian efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan by different parts of the government.

The Washington Post reported that the White House has approached at least three retired four-star generals in recent weeks, but they have declined to be considered for the position.


Democrats poked fun at the White House for searching for an official to oversee the wars.

"Someone needs to tell Steve Hadley that position is filled, it's the commander in chief, unless the decider's become the delegator," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

A Decade late:
   George Soros and "self-evident" truths

Ok Ok. So Soros said this nearly 10 years ago and I am only now getting round to poking a stick at it.

The principles of the open society are admirably put forth in the Declaration of Independence. But the Declaration states, 'We hold these truths to be self-evident,' whereas the principles of the open society are anything but self-evident; they need to be established by convincing arguments. (emphasis in original text- ed.)"

My memory is a bit fuzzy; didn't someone once make a comment about ideas and systems of government that require an intellectual elite to understand?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Cooking the books

Over at the Independent Institute, a libertarian organization, Ivan Eland trivializes the potential of terrorism with the following quote,

According to Ohio State political scientist John Mueller, the lifetime probability that international terrorists will kill any one American is a miniscule one in 80,000—about the same as the same person being killed by a comet. Of course, the chances are even lower if you are an American living in America (instead of overseas) and not residing in New York, Washington, Chicago, or Los Angeles.
The American people should worry about things that have a greater chance of killing them—for example, the average American’s lifetime chances of being killed in an auto accident are one in 100.

Ok, lets see. First we quote an expert and then we quote some statistics. Ergo, Eland MUST be right.

Let's exercise a little critical thinking first. Where is the good Prof from Ohio getting this one in 80,000? Not sure, but when I divide the total population in America by the 80,000, I get 3,750. Say isn't that close to the number of people that died on that terrible morning in New York, in Washington, on the fields of Pennsylvania? So, the argument really is, SINCE 9/11, crude statistics point to a 1 in 80,000 risk. And what was that risk on 9/10? Dividing 300 million by a much much smaller number and we get one in several million. The one in 100 statistic for auto deaths have been fairly stable and predictable for decades.

Apples and oranges, dude. And who says we don't take automobile deaths seriously?

The issue is not what is the snapshot risk, at one point in history, but that the risk is dramatically increasing. Anyone care to speculate what that risk would be if Bush had not taken such an aggressive and draconian policy against terrorism to nip it in the bud before that statistic reached one in 100?

Of course, this disingenuous argument is really intended to buttress up their libertarian isolationist arguments.

Friday, March 09, 2007

And now for something completely different ...

What kind of die are you?

I am a d4

Take the quiz at dicepool.com

You are a four-sided die, a d4. Otherwise known as a tetrahedron, a "Caltrop", or (to a lesser degree) "Ol' Pointy". This crap bores you, so I'll get to the point. Others tend to see you as petty, conniving, manipulative, argumentative, defensive, greedy, and needlessly antagonistic. You see yourself as focused, effective, efficient, influencing, shrewd, tactical, and direct. Both points of view are in fact correct. You always know the best way to get things done, a fact that never wins sympathy with others. Whenever you manage to gain control of a situation, your solutions are swift and brutal. Unfortunately everyone else is convinced that granting you such power is, "a bad thing" and often conspire to keep it out of your hands. Such short-sighted fools!



Tuesday, September 26, 2006

   Three Strategies to Change the United Nations

From Newt Gingrich's Sept. 26 "Winning the Future" newsletter,

The spectacle of hate and anti-Americanism being vigorously applauded by those sustained by our aid and contributions to international organizations does more than just discredit the participants - it calls the whole UN process into question. The recent, modest efforts at reform there have clearly failed. The United States needs to immediately undertake three strategies to transform the UN from the anti-American, anti-freedom forum it now is into an effective champion for the spread of democracy and human rights.

1. Hold Dictators and Demagogues Accountable: Following Chavez's tirade of lies and personal insults to our President, the United States should have taken him on, not ignored him. We should have demanded that he personally apologize and that the General Assembly censure him. We owe it to ourselves and to an effective UN to confront head-on every lie about America and freedom uttered there.

2. Demand Our Money's Worth: America contributes 22 percent of the United Nation's budget, but what do we get for our money? We need to begin to use all our resources - our diplomacy and our economic muscle - to organize the votes worldwide to profoundly reform the UN. All of our ambassadors must be tasked with using whatever carrots and sticks are available in our relations with other countries to see that the UN is reorganized. Because if the United Nations isn't organized in support of democracies and against dictatorships, what are we and our money doing there?

3. Put the Burden of Proof on Them: America should begin to seek out and create alternative forums for dealing with other nations until the United Nations has proved to us it is reformed. The burden of proof should be on the United Nations to show us that it can be something more than a soapbox for tyrants and a megaphone for hate.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

What is Lebanon REALLY angling for?

I am not up on all the ins and outs of Lebanese politics, but it seems to me the view of a suffering state beset and torn asunder by regional strife may be a bit oversimplistic.

Lebanon, as a nation, has a unique opportunity to reclaim its sovereignty. Backed by UN resolutions and, more importantly, actual international support, the Lebanese government is sending 15,000 troops to restore its sovereign rights in southern Lebanon.

But their nemesis is not Israel; it is Hezbollah.

As Israel takes the lumps for Lebanon, both in casualties and in politics, for attempting to route Hezbollah out of its cozy arrangement, Lebanon does not seem too eager to leverage international support against Hezbollah into real success. In response to Israel's raid deep in the Bekaa Valley, undertaken in part to combat continued arms smuggling from Iran and Syria to Hezbollah,

Lebanese Defense Minister Elias Murr threatened to halt the army's deployment in south Lebanon if the United Nations does not take up the issue of the raid. A stop to the deployment would deeply damage efforts to move in an international force to strengthen the cease-fire.

"If there are no clear answers forthcoming on this issue, I might be forced to recommend to the Cabinet early next week the halt of the army deployment in the south," Murr told reporters after a meeting with U.N. representatives.
Lebanon appears to be more interested in playing politics with the UN (a la Iran, North Korea, Iraq under Saddam) than establishing a nation. If Lebanon is truly interested in nationhood beyond intertribal politics, maybe they could reroute those troops and occupy the Bekaa Valley instead.

Israel vs Hezbollah Ceasefire violations:
   uhm, excuse me. Point of order

Stephen Erlanger of the New York Times reports on the post-ceasefire Israeli raid deep in the Bekaa Valley,

JERUSALEM, Aug. 19 — Israeli aircraft and commandos carried out a raid deep into Lebanon on Saturday, clashing with Hezbollah forces near Baalbek and killing three, Lebanese officials said. One Israeli officer died.

The Israeli army confirmed the raid some 60 miles north of the border and said it was aimed at disrupting the continuing shipment of weapons to Hezbollah guerrillas from Iran and Syria.

Hezbollah said its fighters repulsed the commandos, who were airlifted in together with two jeeps near the village of Bodai. Israel said that one officer was killed, another seriously wounded and a third lightly wounded.

Both any resupply of weapons and the raid itself appear to constitute violations of the cease-fire resolution passed by the United Nations Security Council.

If the raid was a defensive response to a clear violation by Hezbollah, how can Israel's actions be cast in the same light?

Oh, I forgot. In this modern era of international justice, legality and morality have nothing in common....

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Israel vs Hezbollah (Stratfor.com):
   What the Israelis are waiting for

In inimitable character, George Friedman of Stratfor.com posits, if strategy is rational, then the consequences of that strategy should be revealing.

Friedman makes no bones about Hezbollah's strategy in today's Special Report,

Now that the war has started, it cannot maneuver in the open, for fear of Israeli air power; therefore, it is holding its positions, absorbing the airstrikes and engaging Israeli troops as they approach. Hezbollah continues to fire rockets at Israel. The longer it fights and the more resistance it offers, the more of a psychological blow it inflicts on the Israelis and the more it improves its credibility as a fighting force and its influence among groups resisting Israel. In an ideal form, the Israelis would be drawn into Lebanon, forced into an occupation and forced to fight the kind of counterinsurgency in which the United States is now engaged in Iraq.

But what of the Israelis? What in the name of everything rational are they doing?

Israel's stated goal is the destruction of Hezbollah's ability to wage war. [...] Israeli forces also must do this without being drawn into an occupation that Hezbollah and others could draw out into an extended counterinsurgency operation. In other words, Israel's goal is to shatter Hezbollah without an extended occupation of Lebanon.

Thus far, Israel's strategy has focused on an air campaign. Supplementing the air campaign has been a substantial mobilization of ground forces and a very shallow insertion of these forces along the southern Lebanese frontier. This is where the mystery begins.

Historically, Israel has tried to fight wars as quickly as possible. There are three reasons for this. First, Israel is casualty-averse and fears wars of attrition. [...]. Second, large-scale mobilization is extremely expensive for Israel economically. [...Third,] the United States normally supports Israel but usually wants to see cease-fires put into place as quickly as possible. Therefore, Israel typically has to end major, conventional combat operations as quickly as possible.

But to this point, Israel is fighting a very different war. It essentially has been conducting an extended air campaign without significant engagement on the ground.

Historically, the air campaign has been seen as incapable of delivering victory except in concert with a ground campaign. In this particular campaign, Israel clearly has not achieved either of its two objectives. First, rocket fire from Hezbollah has not been suppressed. [...] Second, the air campaign, from the little we have seen, does not appear to have broken Hezbollah's will to resist.

It is difficult, thus, to envision the air war as the totality of the campaign. If the Israelis have counted on this to be sufficient, it has failed so far. It also is difficult to imagine the Israeli air force having convinced the army that an air campaign by itself would suffice. Therefore, we are drawn to one of two conclusions: Either the main effort will come on the ground but has not yet been launched, or the Israelis envision some diplomatic solution to the problem of Hezbollah. In other words, the air campaign is either preparation for a ground invasion, or it is designed to set the stage for a political settlement.

There are three possibilities here:

1. Israel is going to go with the air campaign indefinitely.
2. Israel is going to negotiate a diplomatic solution.
3. Israel is going to wage a ground campaign.

We have explained why the first two options do not appear viable to us. Unless Israel's battle damage assessment of the airstrikes is showing its intelligence people something we can't see from afar, the air campaign is a valuable preparation for a ground war but not a substitute. Unless some sort of strange deal is in the works with Syria, which we doubt, we do not see the shape of a diplomatic settlement. And unless Israel is going to declare victory and just stop, we don't see the war ending. Therefore, our analysis continues to point to a major ground operation.

Stratfor.com believes the Israelis are preparing for a major ground offensive. But what and when is the big mystery.

People we have contacted in Israel keep talking about Israel having some surprises. We already are surprised by the amount of time between the initiation of the air attack and the initiation of a major ground offensive. If the Israelis have more surprises waiting, it will be interesting to see what they are. However, at this point, unless Israel wants to abandon the goal of rendering Hezbollah harmless for an extended period of time, it would seem to us that a massive raid in force, followed by destruction of infrastructure in detail, followed by withdrawal, is the most realistic option remaining.

We have been told to expect surprises in how Israel does this. We agree fully: We are surprised. We see the Hezbollah plan and it is unfolding -- not as well as it might have hoped, but not that poorly either. We await the Israeli solution to the problem posed by Hezbollah. There will be at least one clear criterion for victory or defeat on both sides. If Hezbollah continues to attack Haifa and other major cities without Israel being able to stop it, or it halts those attacks only after a diplomatic compromise, Hezbollah would have achieved its strategic goal and Israel would have lost. If Israel can end the attacks without making political concessions, Israel would have won. At a certain point, it is as simple as that.

Here is my thought. Hezbollah clearly wanted to provoke Israel and drag them into a war it did not want.

Given that the nearest major military threat to Israel after Hezbollah is Syria, is Israel trying to provoke Syria?

Monday, July 24, 2006

Israel vs Hezbollah:
   A kidnapping too far?

Former Ambassador Dennis Ross makes some guardedly optimistic observations in an article to be published in The New Republic next Monday,

Hezbollah, until now, has branded itself as a protector of the Lebanese people, not the representatives of a foreign agenda.

That self-image is no longer tenable. Many Arab (and non-Arab) observers see an Iranian hand guiding Hezbollah. Isn’t it interesting, they ask, that Hezbollah’s attacks coincided with the deadline the European Union set for Iranians to respond to its proposed nuclear deal?

Those who view the Israeli offensive in Lebanon as counterproductive to U.S. foreign policy miss an emerging reality: Iran is waging a struggle to achieve regional dominance that threatens the United States and all its friends in the Middle East. The good news is that Hezbollah has unmasked Iran’s intentions, which even Arab leaders now appear to recognize. As such, with the right U.S. steps, the current crisis may be turned into an opportunity.

When Hezbollah was fighting Israeli “occupation,” it was untouchable. But the general Arab narrative has been that the violence, meaning terrorism, is driven by occupation: no occupation, no violence. Saudi Arabia has taken the lead in denying that Hezbollah’s act represented “resistance” -- hallowed in Arab psychology -- and declared it “reckless.” Then, over the weekend, at the Arab League, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al Faisal -- hardly a paragon of unscripted language -- called Hezbollah’s actions “unexpected, inappropriate, and irresponsible.” He told his counterparts, “These acts will pull the whole region back to years ago, and we cannot simply accept them.” The foreign minister’s remarks were then endorsed by Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and the Palestinian Authority. (The Palestinian Authority represented Mahmoud Abbas, not the Hamas-led cabinet.) In Lebanon, you could hear similar noises. Walid Jumblatt and other parliamentarians asked what gave a party (Hezbollah) the right to commit the country to war, with all its attendant costs.

It is not only Israel that may demand the Lebanese army assume positions along the border, something that the Lebanese government was required to do, according to U.N. Security Council Resolution 425. The Arab world may join in making this possible, determined to prevent Hezbollah from being able to repeat this scenario in six months’ time.

Israel will demand this as an outcome, since it will not accept the preexisting status quo vis-à-vis Hezbollah or Hamas. Israel is now trying to reestablish its deterrent. Withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza were interpreted as signs of weakness, and a new Israeli government is now acting to prove that, if you attack Israel, you pay a terrible price.

Reestablishing the Israeli deterrent is also necessary as part of the struggle with Iran and its proxies. They have provoked these twin conflicts, and they must not be seen as gaining from them. This is part of a larger struggle, and Islamists must begin to lose their swagger; they must be discredited and their more secular opponents must begin to gain.

Israel vs Hezbollah:
   'Fight on All Fronts'

From a December 2003 Washington Institute Policy Focus, 'Fight on All Fronts': Hizballah, the War on Terror, and the War in Iraq,

The events of September 11, 2001, played a major role in galvanizing Hizballah to intensify its strategy and violent activities. The group’s spiritual leader, Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, acknowledged that “the stage after September 11 is similar to a major earthquake” and that “Islam is living a crisis that it never witnessed in all of its history.” Indeed, the al-Qaeda attacks on the United States, the subsequent U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan, and the ensuing “war on terror” all threatened to rob Hizballah of the strategic gains it had made following the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon. The Bush administration’s post–September 11 policies also raised the possibility that both Hizballah and its state sponsors might eventually be targeted in a continuing campaign against the “axis of evil.” In response, the organization decided to escalate both its attacks on Israel and its support of the Palestinian intifada, primarily as a means of obstructing U.S. action in the region and concentrating international attention on the Palestinian arena.

Our 'disproportionate' response to 9/11, just as Israel's 'disproportionate' response to the twin attacks in the past month, seriously threatened the enemy. As a result, they stepped up their attacks to obstruct our further actions in the region.

Think about that for a moment. We endanger our enemy's position, they respond, and we are supposed to abandon that merely because the enemy reacted violently to their potential demise? No. Their reaction validates our offensive. They would not be committing resources and assets if our strategy wasn't effective.

We should be pressing the advantage. That is basic strategy and tactics. We do have an objective, do we not?

Have we not learned anything in 10,000 years of warfare and political violence?

Middle East:
   Where the rubber hits the road

A summary from William Kristol at the The Weekly Standard,

Bush and Blair were, famously, caught on an open mike at the G-8 summit in St. Petersburg. Blair demonstrated a shrewd understanding of what was at stake for Syria's dictator, Bashar Assad: "He thinks if Lebanon turns out fine, if we get a solution in Israel and Palestine, Iraq goes in the right way . . . he's done." And Bush explained, simply and correctly, that the first step was "to get Hezbollah to stop doing this s---."


Pity the news hounds jumped on the second quote and not the first.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Boots on the ground:
   Marines in Beirut

An excerpt from a WaPost article on the ongoing events in Lebanon:

about 40 U.S. Marines landed on a beach in Beirut at dawn to help with the evacuation
Semper fi, my friends.

New World Order 2:
   What is Democracy, Really?

A response from Cliff May, president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, during an interview with The Echo Chamber Project, July 28th, 2004:

When we talk about the democratic societies, it means more than the right to vote, for example. People don’t always understand that democracy does not mean that the two wolves sit down with the sheep and vote on what to have for dinner. When we talk about democratic societies and democratic institutions, what we mean are such things as the rule of law, and an independent judiciary, and a free press, and a way for citizens to choose or at least consent to who governs them. And probably property rights are a very important component of that as well. You can prioritize this -- But those are the kinds of concepts that people need to understand -- And by the way, even here in the west -- or here in the United States -- I think we don’t necessarily understand these concepts very well. We operate within them perfectly well, but that’s not the same. Its like saying, "Well, I can drive a car, but that doesn’t mean I could build a car -- or even fix a car." And when we talk about a country that has lived under tyranny, where you’re trying to bring democratic institutions, you have to do more than operate a system that is already in use. You have to create systems. And that’s a very tricky thing to do. It has not been very successfully done very many times in history. It has happened, but it’s not been easy.

Right on target.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Man and Woman:
   My Fantasy CD

Track 1: Treat Her Right - George Thorogood
Track 2: Pretty Woman - Roy Orbison
Track 3: Legs - ZZ Top
Track 4: Fever - Peggy Lee
Track 5: When A Man Loves A Woman - Percy Sledge
Track 6: Got Me Under Pressure - ZZ Top
Track 7: Stand By Me - Ben E. King
Track 8: You Talk Too Much - George Thorogood
Track 9: If I Could Be Where You Are - Enya
Track 10: Move It On Over - George Thorogood
Track 11: Stand By Me - Ben E. King (Euro disco version)
Track 12: These Boots Are Made For Walkin' - Nancy Sinatra
Track 13: Don't Do Me Like That - Tom Petty
Track 14: Core 'ngrato - Luciano Pavarotti
Track 15: Drifting - Enya
Track 16: Treat Her Right - George Thorogood

ok, ok. no more.

New Deal; New Direction:
   Democratic jingoism at its best

From USNewswire,

Democrats are proposing a New Direction, where we have robust diplomacy, which is dependent on a military second to none, where we build diplomatic alliances that help us fight terrorism, stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, keep the peace in the world, stop global warming, alleviate poverty to end the fury of despair that breeds terrorism in the world, and protect the American people at home and where our interests are threatened throughout the world, in way that is fiscally sound and respects the contributions of our veterans.

Excuse me. I need to practice my rolling on the floor exercises.

New World Order

In the run-up to the 2006 elections, strident calls to return to an multilateral international order based on Cold War institutions are on the increase. Columbia University Professor of International Politics Robert Jervis offers a quintessential argument that the twin goals of Bush’s hegemonic (his word) foreign policy, to encourage democracy around the globe and transform the international order, to defeat the threat of terrorism and bring peace is idealistically appealing but fundamentally flawed.

Current doctrine emphasizes that peace and cooperation can exist only when all important states are democratic [and asserts] it is an illusion to believe that [the international order of the Cold War] can be maintained. One way or another, world politics will change drastically. The questions are who will change it and whether it will be for better or worse. In a way that should shock Henry Kissinger and other students of the order established by the Congress of Vienna, U.S. foreign policy should be more closely modeled after Napoleon than after Talleyrand and Metternich. The United States simply cannot maintain its hegemonic position through the policies advocated by realists and followed before September 11, 2001, so current doctrine argues that the United States must instead be a revolutionary power.

As Gregory Gause has written, the connection between tyrants and terrorists is tenuous at best. The Palestinian semistate is democratic, but will it abandon its use of terrorism? The extent of Pakistan’s sponsorship of terrorism in Kashmir and India has not ebbed and flowed with the extent to which Pakistan has been democratic. Iran sponsors some terrorism and yet is much more democratic than Saudi Arabia, which does not. Aside from killing their vocal opponents who have gone into exile, most nondemocracies shun terrorism, especially because terrorists are difficult to control.

Common sense and most academic thinking argue that a hegemon’s prime objective should seek to maintain the prevailing international system, but that is not the world in which we live today. Measured in any conceivable way, the United States has a greater share of world power than any other country in history. Whether it is referred to as the world leader by those who approve of its policies or an empire by those who oppose them, it is a hegemon in today’s unipolar world order. The irony is that Washington seeks to change the rules of that order. Why?
Jervis’ argument is flawed.

Using those sterling examples of democracy, Hamas, Iranian mullahs, the military coup of Pakistan, Jervis implicitly argues that elections make a democracy (Jervis also includes Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez in that august group. Where, I ask, is Cromwell and Robespierre?) But to be a democracy, those elections must also encompass an electoral franchise that represents the people, there must be real choice (oops, Iran just fell off the radar screen), the process must be unencumbered by intimidation (again, Iran falls, as well as Pakistan and Venezuela), and the ruling party must still respect the rule of law and the rights and dignity of the individual (oops, there goes Hamas). The right to rule in a democratic society is not a blank check.

To claim any state is democratic whilst acknowledging it uses and sponsors terrorism is an oxymoron of the highest order!

Why indeed would Washington seek to change the rules of that order!

Arguing that the attempt by the Bush Administration to impose global hegemony is a hypocrisy (again, his word) of how a hegemon must behave, Jervis ignores simple common sense, and his own logic. “A hegemon’s prime objective should seek to maintain the prevailing international system, but that is not the world in which we live today.”

Exactly. Except the prevailing international system was designed, whether by intent or by consequence, to maintain a bipolar world. Jervis' title, The Remaking of a Unipolar World, deceives itself into believing that the "prevailing" international system is conducive to both a bipolar as well as a unipolar world. As Bush made abundantly clear, when calling the United Nations to task and live up to its chartered obligations, “Will the United Nations serve the purpose of its founding or will it be irrelevant?”

Most of understood that was essentially a rhetorical question.

Jervis raises the strawman argument in asserting that 9/11 is the rationale for changing the world order, “The most simple and obvious explanation for this strategic shift is the September 11 attacks.” Using the above arguments, he goes on to show that 9/11 is not a sufficient reason.

Jervis gets it wrong.

9/11 did not change the world.

1989 did.

The perfect epitaph for the welfare state

From a crude attempt to kill the messenger, a blogosphere quote taken wholly out of context, and made right,

Repressive agendas do not grow...they stagnate...they do not look for a better way to do things unless it’s for self-serving reasons, because that upsets their egg cart .... To expect change...by doing the same thing over and over again...is the definition of insanity....


Tuesday, July 18, 2006

War with China:
   Taepodong Crisis: Faulty Assumptions

After Kim Jong-il's madly belligerent missile thrust into the Sea of Japan, much of the resultant commentary and analysis are making three tragically wrong assumptions:

  1. the Taepodong-2 launch failed
  2. targeting the Taepodong-2 toward America was the intent of the exercise
  3. the Chinese are concerned that their "mad dog" is out of control

In yesterday's Stratfor.com's Geopolitical Intelligence Report, Rodger Baker takes their patented "the-results-speak-for-themselves" look at what actually happened:

North Korea has done it again. A week after it tested seven missiles, including the long-range Taepodong-2, a resolution condemning its actions has stalled in the U.N. Security Council (UNSC), South Korea is criticizing Japan for hyping the launch, Japan is openly discussing changes to its constitutional military restrictions, and the United States is asking China to use its negotiating capabilities to bring some stability to the situation. If North Korea was largely marginalized leading into July, it is now once again the center of attention -- and controversy.

When the Taepodong-2 finally lifted off ... it flew within parameters for just 40 seconds, before either breaking up or suffering engine troubles. But not all the details of the missile's flight path are clear. According to some reports, the missile performed normally for some 40-42 seconds, burned out and fell into the ocean.

There is some possibility that North Korea intentionally scrubbed the launch. On the one hand, simply putting the missile away after leaving it on the pad for more than a month would have been viewed as capitulation -- and that could have weakened the internal cohesion of the regime.

But on the other hand, while North Korea has always walked close to the line, it has been very careful not to cross it. A successful Taepodong-2 test could have shifted the strategic calculation of Japan or the United States toward North Korea. Tokyo already had warned that if any part of the Taepodong-2 fell on Japanese territory, it would be considered an act of war. And while Washington has been relatively lax toward North Korea, aside from rhetoric and the occasional economic lever, all bets would be off should North Korea demonstrate the ability to pose a concrete threat to the U.S. mainland.

Whether Pyongyang failed to succeed or succeeded to fail, the Taepodong-2 was not the only missile launched that morning. North Korea is intending again to trade its missile launches for concessions from its neighbors and the United States. If a moratorium on missile tests is coming anyway, this launch represented a final chance to assess improvements to North Korea's missile systems, particularly as the country so rarely tests its ballistic missiles. Testing six short- and intermediate-range Hwasong and Nodong missiles -- the real bulk of North Korea's missile force -- would allow the country's military to learn more in a single day about their own capabilities and upgrades than they had in the entirety of the preceding decade.

It is these overlooked missiles that are the true face of North Korean missile technology. Pyongyang's Nodong missiles have the capability of reaching most of Japan, including U.S. bases in Okinawa. North Korea has more than 100 of these mobile missiles, making them an extremely valuable commodity. And its short-range Hwasong series can strike anywhere in South Korea and potentially parts of Japan.

Amid all of this, China appears to be the least fazed by the North Korean tests.

The Chinese once again have found the world turning to them for a solution. Given the Security Council deadlock, China is the only viable path to negotiations with North Korea. For China, the missile launches have reinforced Beijing's importance to the United States and even Japan.

In the weeks leading up to the missile tests, Beijing had proposed various ways to restart the stalled six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear program -- talks from which both Washington and Pyongyang had basically walked away. As the primary coordinator and host of the talks, Beijing has leverage with all the participants -- but China found few takers (aside from South Korea) for its recent proposals. All of that changed, however, when North Korea actually tested the missiles. Washington sent envoys to Beijing and held out the possibility of bilateral talks with Pyongyang (which North Korea has demanded in order to discuss economic sanctions and frozen assets) on the sidelines of the six-party discussions.

While it is not certain that China facilitated the North Korean missile tests, it does seem that Pyongyang was certain the tests wouldn't trigger China to turn on it. If Beijing were truly upset, it could make that rather clear to North Korea in very painful ways. It hasn't. Rather, the Chinese have called on all parties to return to dialogue -- dialogue facilitated by and benefiting China.

For China, the issue is not North Korea; Kim Jong-il is merely a useful fool. China wants Taiwan back; that is, and always has been, on the short list of China's high priority foreign policy goals, and the US Navy's Pacific Command, particularly the 7th Fleet, is the biggest obstacle to that end. Given the disparate capabilities between Chinese and American conventional forces, the Chinese have pursued asymmetrical means. To support an assault on Taiwan, that has translated militarily into an emphasis on anti-satellite, submarine, nuclear and cruise missile technology to defeat the 7th Fleet, whether it is acquired indigenously, bought or stolen. Politically, in the past decade there has been considerable Chinese covert and (facially innocuous) diplomatic activity in the South Pacific. In time of war, this would provide the Chinese deep access into the US Pacific Command's rear area.

But even if the Chinese were to be wildly successful in acquiring the military technology and establishing bases of operations deep in the US Navy's rear, the risks are still way too high. China could not in the foreseeable future ever take on American global military might, mano-a-mano.

Recent hostilities in the Middle East are illuminating. In the wake of 9/11 and the encircling invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, Iran did not become deliberately and openly belligerent towards the United States until it was clear the occupying forces to their east and west were in no position to take advantage of that posture. Encouraging unrest through tacit support of the Sunni insurgency and political support for Shiite ascendency was Iranian's opening moves. A smart tactician does not atack a stronger adversary without encouraging some form of diversionary demonstrations, splitting their opponents attention, if not their forces.

And yesterday, Hezbollah has captured two Israeli soldiers, a la Hamas. Both terrorist organizations, one to Israel's north and the other to it's southwestern flank, are beginning to coordinate diplomatic blackmail with each other.

During World War II, Hitler could have easily consolidated his holdings if he had just stopped when the going was good. But he got greedy and ended up fighting a two-front war.

The United States can take on China vis-a-vis Taiwan without breaking too much of a sweat. Unless it is forced into splitting its forces defending South Korea and Japan against a mad dog gone amok on the Korean Peninsula and in the Sea of Japan.

Keeping that dog on a leash is China's strategy. The fear that China may lose control in North Korea scares the entire region. A fear that China is quite willing to exploit.

Every now and then you have to take the dog out for a walk. The time to be afraid, really afraid, is when China "drops" the leash in North Korea. The price of stopping the mad dog might very well be Taiwan.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Israel is NOT the aggressor

At The Nation, Palestinian writer and editorialist Marwan Bishara unilaterally blames Israel for the latest escalation of tension and violence in the Middle East,

The Israeli government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has exploited the capture of Army Corporal Gilad Shalit to restore the country's diminished deterrence against militant Palestinian factions, to break the elected Hamas government and to impose its unilateral territorial solution on the West Bank. But when the dust finally settles, Israel's offensive against the besieged territories--and now Lebanon--will have left the region with more destruction and death and the Israeli government with the same strategic deadlock. That's why instead of lashing out against their neighbors, Israelis must end the vicious cycle of provocations and retaliations, and pursue meaningful negotiations to end the occupation.

The Olmert government bases its campaign against Palestinian civilian infrastructure on three fallacies: that Israel does not initiate violence but retaliates to protect its citizens--in this case a captured soldier; that its response is measured and not meant to harm the broader population; and that it does not negotiate with those it deems terrorists.

But Israel's offensive did not start last week. The three-month-old Israeli government is responsible for the killing eighty or more Palestinians, some of whom were children, in attacks aimed at carrying out illegal extrajudicial assassinations and other punishments. Hamas has maintained a one-sided cease-fire for the past sixteen months, but continued Israeli attacks made Palestinian retaliation only a question of time. (Palestinian factions not under Hamas's control had been firing home-made rockets across the border off and on during this period--almost always with little or no damage or casualties--but these factions maintained that the attacks were in response to Israeli provocations.)

Precisely. Pity Bishara does not see the answers in his own words.

Palestinian factions not under Hamas's control had been firing home-made rockets across the border off and on during this period ... from Hamas controlled territory.

Israel has every legitimate right to demand both Hamas and Lebanon take responsibility for acts committed against Israel from within their borders. The ability to control one's territory is a necessary precursor to sovereignty. Israel has every right to take necessary actions to protect its citizens, including its armed forces, from harm.

Are governments in exile responsible for acts committed within their country? Of course not. They have no control, no authority to prevent it. Lebanon and Hamas can claim neither authority nor sovereignty over territory they cannot nor will not control.

"Meaningful negotiations" require at least two sincere participants.

(The editors at The New Republic take a similar stance in defense of Israel and make a larger observation between the Hamas and Hezbollah kidnappings, and Syria and Iran.)

Friday, June 30, 2006

WaPost dickers with bickering recording

From the Washington Post,

A Spat Over Iraq Revealed On Tape: Rice and Russian Caught Bickering At Private Lunch

That alone should be enough reason to put down the paper and find something else to read.

Basically, at a meeting of foreign ministers in Moscow, a recording was "made when an audio link into the room was accidentally left on".

After reading the transcript, I think the real story is one of juvenile reporters getting a little slap and tickle "gotchas" on the foreign ministers, particularly Secretary Rice and the spokespeople at the State Department. And how did they get that recording, huh?

I guess the rest of the news from the meeting was not worth reporting.

bin Laden wants Zarqawi's body

From an AP story in the New York Times,

Bin Laden said Bush should return al-Zarqawi's body and that Jordan's King Abdullah II should allow the militant's family to bury him. The Jordanian government has said it will never allow al-Zarqawi to be buried in his homeland because of a November triple suicide bombing his followers carried out in Amman hotels that killed 60 people.

"What scares you about Abu Musab after he's dead?" bin Laden said, addressing Abdullah. "You know that his funeral, if allowed to happen, would be a huge funeral showing the extent of sympathy with the mujahedeen."

I am sure the Administration would gladly hand over the body to bin Laden, if he should care to present himself and sign for it.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Spin test:
   Reid: "But, we said it first!"

On the Senate floor Monday, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid made this statement about one of General Casey's proposals for possible troop withdrawals out of Iraq,

Mr. President, this afternoon, I would like the Senate to note how similar General Casey’s apparent plan to withdraw U.S. forces is to the plan put forward by Senate Democrats last week.

Our plan—designed by Senators Levin and Reed—said much the same thing as our military leaders said in the New York Times. Specifically, that it is time for Iraqis to take responsibility for their own security and government, so that the phased redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq can begin by year’s end.

As we all know, the Republican Majority rejected the Levin/Reed proposal, even though it represents our best chance at making sure our troops in Iraq succeed and Iraq as a country succeeds. And even though it is entirely consistent with the plan of our top military commander in Iraq.

By rejecting our amendment, Republicans made clear they were intent to “stay the course” and stay forever in Iraq.

But Mr. President, I wonder how the Majority feels today, now that that General Casey’s plan is in the open?

Reid misses (ignores??) the point. The Levin/Reed proposal was rejected because the majority believes troop withdrawals should be based on success on the ground, not the arbitrary timetables that the Democrats propose every six months. Stay the course, indeed. Forever? That is Reid's word, not the Republicans. That the majority has, and is, deferring to the commanding General; that the commanding General is indicating that time may be approaching, does not vindicate the catcalls from the left.

Stand up every hour of the day and declare the sun is about to rise doesn't make you a prophet when it finally happens.

To answer Reid's not-so-rhetorical question, how does the Majority feel about withdrawal in the wake of the General's plans, well, I leave that to your imagination.

The words "Ok" and "Cool" come to mind.

Protecting America:
   Law enforcement vs Police State

Does technology threaten our traditional American values?

In the past, the FBI attempted to modernize their investigatory tools with Carnivore computer software to monitor emails, which is analogous to wiretapping. And it has been charged that the US Army's Able Danger data mining efforts before 9/11 could have prevented that horror, as well as the attack on the USS Cole, had there not been as much a privacy stigma on using such potentially powerful technologies.

The federal government's response to 9/11 has led it to more aggressive investigatory practices. There was LibraryGate, AT&TGate and now SWIFTGate, where the Treasury Department and the CIA have been examining international bank transactions that traverse the SWIFT network, which is the world's largest financial communication network run by a consortium of international financial institutions.

The news stories (notably here and here) about the government getting access to these international bank transactions does not trouble me. Not only do I not believe in the inevitability of slippery slopes, but the fact that major news agencies are once again braying like donkeys and circling like vultures at this latest "violation" of privacy rights has got my ire.

According to the New York Times,

The program, however, is a significant departure from typical practice in how the government acquires Americans' financial records. Treasury officials did not seek individual court-approved warrants or subpoenas to examine specific transactions, instead relying on broad administrative subpoenas for millions of records from the cooperative, known as Swift.

Being a bank employee of many years who is required to regularly review my obligations under the Bank Secrecy Act of 1970 and the US PATRIOT Act of 2001, I take exception to this misrepresentation of facts.

The collection and reporting of data on large cash deposits, withdrawals and wire transfers (in excess of $10,000) is routine and mandatory among US banks (pdf files from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency at the Treasury Department, here and here). The purpose of such reporting is to ferret out money laundering by organized crime. This is a legitimate law enforcement activity. So is catching terrorists and their financiers.

The $10,000 threshold is the only requirement necessary to trigger an investigation. In fact, banks and their employees are required to fill out Suspicious Activity Reports (SAR) for lesser amounts where there is reasonable suspicion that the transaction is not kosher. Even a bank employee living beyond ones' means qualifies as a red flag. And this data collection does not even require the ubiquitous "administrative subpoena" mentioned in both articles, nor is the bank or its employees permitted to reveal to the target of the SAR that a report is being made. That the government desires similar access to SWIFT international transactions does not surprise nor alarm me.

The real question is, when does law enforcement activities become precursors to a police state? In these recent invasion of privacy "scandals", it seems the defining issue is not the violation of privacy per se, but the potential invasive scope of these technologies. Wiretapping (a new technology for the 20th century law enforcement community) was inherently singular. Putting in one wiretap did not expose millions to surveillance. Data mining, email packet sniffing, etc opens the flood gates as the discrimination between discrete targets and mass collection blurs in cyber-virtuality. The digitization of telephony has opened similar barn doors in recent years. Even in this latest expose, SARs are likewise singular; one SAR manually filled out for one bank transaction.

That there is a potential danger to privacy, and that public policy needs to catch up with technology, I do not dispute. But in every outrage, there has been little, if any, actual abuse reported. We need a more rational and measured response.

Or so the Democrats keep saying.

I just don't get the knee-jerk, batten-down-the-hatches hysterical Luddite hype.

   Taking the Long View

Patrick Clawson, deputy director for research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, takes a long view towards Iraq's future,

Iraq is most likely to see a protracted internal war and economic difficulties for years to come. A mildly optimistic scenario is possible but so are some outcomes that would be destabilizing for the region, unpleasant for Iraq, and detrimental for U.S. interests.

Iraq's difficulties are disappointing to the Iraqi people, who so hoped that the American invasion would at least mean a return to peace after twenty-three years of war and near-war. The violent insurgency now raging is not likely to end any time soon; neither the government nor the insurgents are strong enough to win a decisive victory. Instead, the war is likely to continue for some years, and -- especially if the forces behind the current government prevail -- the fighting is likely to phase down rather than to end abruptly.

The interesting question to ask is what will be the situation five to ten years from now, for that is a time frame long enough that one or the other side could have become strong enough to prevail. It is possible that by then, modest democratic forces will have prevailed. Yet the most likely future is that Iraq will remain a weak and fragile society challenged by an insurgency. However, it is also possible that an Islamist state will emerge. Also, there is always the outside chance Iraq will split apart.

The prospects for Iraq are not particularly attractive. The most likely attainable outcomes would still leave a weak and divided society, not just a fragile government. As a rough rule of thumb, reconstructing a society after a major war takes fully as long as the war did; for instance, Germany's recovery from the six years of war from 1939 to 1945 took until the middle 1950s. Saddam led Iraq into twenty years of war, first against Iran and then against the U.S.-led coalition. It therefore would be optimistic to expect that Iraq could recover for some decades. Moreover, pre-Saddam Iraq was no paradise. It was at best a middle income country with serious tensions among the ethnic communities. Meanwhile, some of Iraq's neighbors -- especially the Arab monarchies and Turkey -- have made great economic, social, and yes, even political advances. Even the regional laggards -- namely, Syria under Assad, father and son, and the Islamic Republic of Iran -- have done remarkably better than Saddam's Iraq. As a result, there is little prospect that for many, many decades to come Iraq will be able to recover the same position relative to its neighbors that it had when Saddam came to power. His rule effectively ruined Iraq's chances for regional leadership for a century.

That is the best case. Much worse cases are quite possible. Most troubling for the international community is the situation in which Iraq becomes once again a source of regional instability, this time due to unrest, terrorism, and communitarian violence spilling over from Iraq onto its neighbors. It is striking how little Iraq's neighbors are doing to counter such a threat. Indeed, Syria and most especially Iran are feeding the flames that may one day engulf them.

The difficult situation in Iraq was almost certainly made worse by errors in the U.S.-led occupation. That said, the fundamental cause of the problems is the social destruction during Saddam's days, which drove Iraqis to seek security in elemental communal structures of sect and ethnic group. Saddam hollowed the government and the other social institutions of the Iraqi middle class. He empowered radicals of many sorts, including in his last decade intolerant Islamists. No matter how his rule ended, Iraq would have been a mess afterwards.

So what should be done? As Clawson inferred, this is more than just a problem of Iraqi stability; the whole region is at stake.

I believe that we are seeing, in a very broad sense, something akin to world politics in the 1920s. There is an obvious need for real reform and much work is required to build a modern society in the Middle East. Yet all the costs-benefit analyses, the real ones, the ones that count, the ones that decisions are being made upon, are too focused on parochial and short term interests, and a willing blindness to the dangers in the foreseeable future. Coordinated international efforts are about as ineffective and lost as the League of Nations was. For all his efforts Wilson could not get America to reject its growing isolationist movement, much less temper European lust. Bush, I fear, is suffering from a similar predicament. But Wilson was too much of an internationalist to force the issue.

If history is much of a guide, and if the Chinese economic dynamo falters, we may be making similar comparisons, ten years hence, to the 1930s. We need to make effective changes now, while we can still afford it.

Real progress in Iraq requires real progress in the whole of the Middle East. To be more than a bit cavalier about it, all we need is one good sheriff.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Reblogged: Disingenuous Dimwits
   Feingold: the Archetypical Braying Donkey

Harsh words, perhaps. But I have a very rational and logic explanation for portraying Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) as the ultimate personification of the Democrats’ traditional mascot.

Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki has offered amnesty to insurgents who have not committed terrorist acts, including those who have killed American and Iraqi forces in combat. On Meet the Press, Feingold, perhaps the one Democratic Senator who has honestly and consistently opposed the Iraq War, has expressed outrage over giving

amnesty for people who have killed or are trying to kill American troops, ... [and] we, as Americans, cannot tolerate the idea that people who have murdered American soldiers should get off scot-free.

Senator. A moment of your time, if you please. An armed conflict is a conflict between armed combatants. When the war is over, arms are laid down and combatants go home. Like it or not, the insurgency has been an armed conflict between the Iraqi insurgents on one side and Iraqi and coalition troops, especially American, on the other. Those who have committed acts of terrorism against non-combatants are explicitly exempt from al-Maliki’s peace offer.

The purpose of war is to prevail. Soldiers carry weapons, not for defense, but to kill the enemy. That is not murder, regardless of which side you are on. That is why when our own troops come home they will not be arrested for murder. If an insurgent has restricted his combat to enemy soldiers, if a peace is negotiated, then an amnesty is not even needed. They lay down their arms and go home and POWs are released. Combatants are not criminals, no matter how much you may hate them for killing our soldiers. That is in accordance with every notion of warfare.

If a significant number of insurgents accept the offer, it would be in complete alignment with the sacrifices our troops have already made in Iraq over the past three years and we would not be dishonoring their service. It would also be a resounding affirmation of President Bush’s strategy since Day One. We are not there to kill insurgents; we are there to help establish peace and democracy in Iraq, particularly as a bulwark against terrorism.

But the good Senator is in favor of one kind of amnesty,

I understand that there might have to be amnesty for certain individuals have—who have committed some kind of criminal acts.

You mean, crimes like murder? The beheading of civilians, of diplomats, perhaps?

Feingold is playing to both a 2006 and a 2008 audience. He cannot accept the Commander-in-Chief getting credit for ending a war, for prosecuting a war until the enemy gives up. He cannot accept the wind being taken out of his campaign sails.

Feingold’s politicking is what makes the horror of war, so horrible.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Reblogged: 2006
   Blue, Then Pink

As we gear up for the summer campaigns, pundits scramble for meaningful indicators. I think I found one.

Potbellies is a sub shop aggressively expanding in and around my neck of the woods. Great sandwiches built to order on an incredible human assembly line that makes Subway blush. Located in the Crystal Court of the IDS tower in downtown Minneapolis, the line stops traffic cold in our skyway by 11:30 (for sun-drenched readers, many northern cities have built transparent hamster tubes elevated above the streets, opening up the second floor of the connected buildings that substitute for sidewalks and retail space -- and yes, "sidewalk" cafes -- on even the coldest of January days, or the hottest of our dog days of summer). Yet the people at Potbellies get you in and out so fast, you still have plenty time to enjoy your sub, even on the most stingiest lunch break. My favorite is the Italian, the works, no oil, extra jalapenos.

But the indicator has nothing to do with food. Waiting in line, you see a wide variety of patrons lined up just like you for that succulent sub. Stepping into line today for a highly anticipated gastronomical treat, I was immediately accosted by the most horrific of sights: four guys in front of me with the same light blue dress shirt, over tan trousers.

Just ... like ... me.

Now, I am not the most fashionably conscious guy. I wouldn't know a Teva from a Toga without professional help. In fact, when it comes to fashion, I am as stuporforic as a Sunday afternoon six-pack casualty. The fact that I wear what appears to be a fashionable outfit is a strictly a credit to my wife. But when it comes to an exposure from dreaded "Bobbsey-Twin" characterizations, I take frightful note.

My first instinct was to beat a hasty, but dignified retreat. Unfortunately, it was 11:30 and I was quickly encircled by Potbellies reinforcements. Breathing exercises helped me to resign myself to this indignity. It was then I noticed a whole lot of blue. Over tan. Men as well as women. Intrigued, I took what little time is afforded queued Potbellies aficionados to open my eyes and observe my habitat. Two out of five Potbellies patrons wearing dress shirts (yes, I actually counted them) were clad in blue. Watching the scurrying diurnal skyway migration of workers from office to lunch, I saw the same thing all around. And not just any variety of blue, but shades of light blue. In a state that is still a Blue Stater, but weakening at every election, I wondered what this might portend, if anything.

But then I saw the contra-indicator that confirmed the trend. The second most popular color was pink. Or as some might say, light red. The ratio of blue to red was 3:1.

I wonder if there is a similar national trend...

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Reblogged: Dimwits and losing America
   Revisionist Political History

I have often concluded domestic political analysis with "The Democrats still don't get it."

Well, have heart. For those with latent progressive tendencies (aka Reagan Democrats), there appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel.

Peter Beinart, editor-at-large at The New Republic, offers this defense of President Bill Clinton's legacy,

The moral and intellectual critique [of Clinton's legacy by liberal activists, and by Republicans] starts with the assertion that Clinton stood for little other than his own political survival. By draining the party of its core convictions, the critics allege, he left Democrats in the intellectual wasteland in which they find themselves today.

The charge ignores two small things: the 1970s and the 1980s. In reality, the Democratic Party didn't lose the confidence of its convictions when Clinton became president; it lost them when he was in graduate school.

From Harry Truman through Lyndon Johnson, Democrats stood for three basic things: enlightened anti-communism, an expanding welfare state, and racial integration. Between 1968 and 1972, under pressure from Vietnam and racial conflict, two of those three collapsed. By 1972, George McGovern was urging the virtual abandonment of anticommunism and advocating racial quotas. Then, in 1976, Democrats nominated a relative economic conservative, Jimmy Carter, who showed little interest in extending Johnson's Great Society largesse. And, poof--there went principle number three.

From 1976 to 1992, each Democratic presidential nominee tried to put Humpty Dumpty back together, and each failed, until Clinton.

He became the first candidate in two decades to offer a coherent response. His adviser Bill Galston called it the "politics of reciprocal responsibility." Government would provide opportunity, but it would demand responsibility in return; it would not give something for nothing.

If Clinton convinced Americans that government action could be moral, he also convinced them that it could be responsible. By reducing the budget deficit, he helped restore the Democratic Party's reputation for economic stewardship, which had been gravely damaged under Carter. And, by using market mechanisms to achieve traditional liberal goals, he found ways to fight poverty in an environment where large new programs were politically impossible.


Except it ignores two small things: the 1980s and the 1990s. These decidedly non-liberal ideas, morality in government, fiscal responsibility, personal responsibility, free market mechanisms, were germinated and pushed for by a rejuvenated Republican Party, rejuvenated by Reagan's Democrats. Clinton, ever the politician, saw the change in political winds and tacked his sails accordingly. It has been the Democratic Party since then, controlled by liberal activists, that persists in sailing due east, when the wind is blowing directly west.

Clinton was not a visionary; he was a very intelligent pragmatist. And that is the only legacy his presidency holds for the Democratic Party.

Yes, the Democratic Party lost their way long ago. But it was the Republican Party that found it for them.

That is what they still don't get.