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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.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Reblogged:Engaging Iran
   An Appropriate American Response?

Iran has been rather belligerent of late, to say the least. America's response has been likewise stingy, again to say the least. I believe America is on the right course and, if it remains on that straight and narrow, Iran will find itself a victim of its own devices, not dissimilar to Saddam's miscalculations that led to his downfall.

Iran's belligerence began with the surprise election of President Ahmadinejad, a surprise to all except the Iranian clerics that, in all practicality, control the political landscape of Iran. Why? Why did they so badly need a reactionary fundamentalist warming the Presidential chair? The answers to such questions are often found in subsequent and consequential behavior. The short answer is the Iranian clerics needed someone like Ahmadinejad to be belligerent for them.

In the aftermath of the miscalculation of al Qaeda, the Iranian clerics have found themselves surrounded. True, the clerics never really got along with Saddam to the west and the Taliban to the east, but that was manageable. But now on both fronts they have about a couple hundred thousand combat-hardened awesomely equipped troops from an avowed foe within striking distance. And their northern and southern borders were never too friendly. Although there have been some setbacks recently, those borders have seen a strengthening of political, military and diplomatic ties to those same opposing forces of Iran.

The clerics must be feeling a little queasy.

Against the US, proxy terrorism and covert ops have been the Iranians' only military options, and economic "incentives" towards Russia, China and Europe have been traded with the skill of a haggling bazaar merchant for favors in the international diplomatic market.

What does belligerence buy for the Iranian clerics? Nationalistic "wag the dog" support has been one benefit widely touted in the press, and particularly amongst the anti-war faction in America as a rationale for not doing anything about it. Providing aid and comfort to that same anti-war faction in an effort to win the war on Main Street USA is certainly another.

Iran has also specifically threatened to use its powerful connections with terrorist organizations (that it supposedly has no ties with) against American targets should America launch any kind of attack on Iran.

And finally, Iran has raised the nuclear bogey man.

To what end?

It has oft been argued that America would utterly fail should it invade Iran, that it would not be the same as Iraq, that Iran would be America's Vietnam. Again.

Ignoring the likelihood of success or failure, I know of one group of people who are not betting the farm that an invasion of American troops would be doomed.

Yeah, those same Iranian clerics.

All this belligerence is focused on one goal, to make it as difficult as possible, if not impossible, for America to launch the same sort of diplomatic pushes for military action as Bush Sr. and Jr. did with Iraq. And I do believe they are succeeding.

But whilst the Iranians strategize and calculate down to the last decimal point, Bush isn't playing the same game. The Iranians' greatest miscalculation is assuming that if they play a really spectacular game of chess, they'll force a capitulation of American strategic interests by default. Logic, and brute geopolitical realities, will force America to concede the game.

I once got roped into a game of Risk. Now, among gamers, Risk is like Grandmasters of Chess sitting down to a game of checkers. It is a gawdawful waste of time. But we had a newbie and he got first choice. One of the cardinal rules of Risk is you do not attack too many countries at once. It just spreads yourself out too thin for the inevitable counterattack.

That is, if you are playing to win. I didn't want to win. I just wanted the game over with.

I first placed my forces all over the world, with no attempt to concentrate. Who needs continental bonuses when you don’t expect to last one round? I also made sure my placement was such that it frustrated the efforts of the newbie to concentrate anywhere too. We were quite the dance couple. On my turn, I placed all my reinforcements in one country and drove my panzers and stukas straight through the heart of his territories. Needless to say, the next guy took me out. And the newbie.

I was mirthfully informed later by one of the other guys that the newbie thought I didn’t know how to play Risk. Everyone got it, except for him.

The point is that the first rule of any strategic endeavor is to know your objectives, and those of your opponent’s. If America’s objective is a balance-of-power equation in the Middle East, merely maintaining a status quo, then we need to listen to the likes of former national security advisor for President Carter, Zbigniew Brzezinski. Iran is small fry. We can manage them with sticks and carrots.


Bush's objective, rightly so in my opinion, is to win. Or, more appropriately, to clear the decks and deal a new game. We are a country of democratic principles and values. It is incumbent upon us to encourage, even fight for, democracy. Especially in an area of such vital national security interest to America as the Middle East. Democracies are much easier to deal with, without having to resort to force of arms all the time. During the Cold War, we made do with devilish pacts with the likes of the Saudi ruling family, the Shah of Iran and Saddam, "The Butcher of Baghdad". We don't need to anymore. We can fight for democracy without looking over our shoulder for the shadow of Soviet escalation. Allowing Iran to get nukes just sets us back to those dangerous, dead-end zero-sum days.

"Cowboy" Bush is a lame duck president. He has no re-election to lose and has until 2009 to git-r-done. He has made it abundantly clear that he will not turn over the problem to the next administration.

The assumption being made in Iran is that Bush won't risk sacrificing his queen to win. The Iranians know the only thing holding us back is a lack of public stamina and will. They can count troops; they can count intercontinental bombers and carrier task groups. They have the political connections and spies in place to sense SpecOps forces infiltrating across their border with Azerbaijani.

Bush's determination to not leave this as a "legacy" to another administration and his "Axis of Evil" declaration make it clear he will do something. Bush has been signaling for some time that American troops may not, in fact, be pulled out this year, much to the consternation of Republicans who will be around (or would like to be around) in 2007, and 2009.

The only explanation I can think of is Bush fully intends to use freed-up troops in Iraq to resist any Iranian counter-offensive to American missile strikes, commando squads, etc with the intent of diminishing Iran's nuclear capability. Over the past year or two, Seymour Hersh has documented the American domestic political and bureaucratic consolidation to support this effort quite well. Given the choice between having American troops still in Iraq on November 7, 2006 supporting Iraqi security forces, or launching punitive strikes on western Iranian assets before the election, I think Bush believes the Republicans would prefer the former.

Withdrawal is not an option. If it were, then any military option to Iran’s belligerence would be, by default, taken off the table.

If Iran allows this to go that far, and I don't think Bush is partial to giving them the choice to back out, if the Iranians' counteroffensive to an American assault on their nuclear assets includes an attempt to further destabilize Iraq, I believe the Iranian clerics will be in for a rude awakening. Just how quick do you think the Sunni insurgency will last once their Iranian Shiite foes threaten Iraq? As the Sunnis find political participation increasingly possible, and much more palatable, the number of deadly feuds between the insurgents and the foreign jihadists rise dramatically. The Sunni insurgents don't want a destabilized Iraq, particularly if it comes from Shiite Iran.

And that would free up a lot of troops for a hop, skip and jump to the east. Ironically, an attack on Iran may be the best bet to neutralizing the Sunni insurgency.

I believe the Iranians' biggest miscalculation is in believing the international community, and the Middle East in particular, would not allow America to go that far and that the Russians or Chinese or Europeans could actually stop it.

Bush isn’t listening; just ask Hersh. While the Iranians try to force a game of chess and has the pearl and ebony checkered board covered, the game is poker and they can’t scare up a pair of deuces.

Watch for repositioning troops to the east. Look for the first strike post-election.

Reblogged:English in America
   ESL: Who Pays?

In the recent debate over making English the official language of the United States, the most pernicious and insidious argument against it, is the rationale that if we designate one language as the official language then we must start fully funding English as a Second Language (ESL) courses.


To become an American citizen, my wife had to pay an application fee of $330. This was not an option; it was mandatory.

Can someone refer me to the appropriate forms to get a reimbursement for this required fee? Certainly, if the government is going to require an application for citizenship, they should pay for it.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Reblogged: Ziggymania
   More Ziggy-isms

There is a plethora of commentary available for extraction from this, sarcastic and otherwise, but for the time being, I am going to take the minimalist approach.

DW-WORLD: The Iranian President Ahmadinejad has ridiculed the European offer to provide a light-water reactor as an incentive to freeze uranium enrichment. Has diplomacy failed?

Zbigniew Brzezinski: One has to recognize that when one says President Ahmadinejad, one is using the title of president which means something entirely different in the West from what it means in the Iranian system. President Ahmadinejad is not the President of Iran in the sense that the President of the US is Mr. Bush, and the President of France is Mr. Chirac.

The position of the president in Iran is roughly a third-level position. His executive powers are quite limited.

What the West has done, and what the US in part has done, is to elevate him into an interlocutor, who then uses the debate with the West to enhance his domestic political power. So I don’t consider his responses to be authoritative.

In other words, if the leader of an antagonist country is making your analysis untenable, discount the fool.

I would add, however, that when one talks about the President of the United States and the President of France, there is a sense of difference in that comparison as well.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Reblogged: Support our Troops:
   Wiccan War Widow Threatens to Sue

From the Stars and Stripes,

The widow of a Wiccan soldier killed in Afghanistan last year says after [more than six] months of waiting, she is ready to take the Department of Veterans Affairs to court to get a pentacle engraved on her husband’s memorial plaque.

Currently the National Cemetery Administration has 38 permitted religious symbols for headstones and plaques, but none for pagans or Wiccans.

After Patrick Stewart was killed in a helicopter attack last September, his wife, Roberta, asked for the encircled five-pointed star to be put on his plaque on the Northern Nevada Veterans Memorial Wall in Fernley. But since the pentacle is not currently approved by the department, his space on the wall has remained blank.

Stewart said the whole process has been upsetting not just to her but also to members of her husband’s national guard unit, which returned to Nevada in March. Several of the members were outraged to find out Patrick had not yet been properly honored, and have continued to complain to her as the issue drags on.

According to 2005 Defense Department statistics, more than 1,800 active-duty servicemembers identified themselves as Wiccans.

Whether we like someone's religious preferences is irrelevant. We are not strictly a nation of Christians. We are a nation of religious tolerance. The man died serving his country. We should honor that.

Bill Chrystal, a retired Navy chaplain and friend of the Stewarts, said the VA’s continued stonewalling has caused other problems as well. He was scheduled to hold a memorial for fallen Nevada troops later this month, but was told by state Veterans Affairs officials that Roberta could not speak because of the controversy with her application.

Chrystal, who belongs to the United Church of Christ, has since backed out of the event and will take part in a protest event to highlight the Stewarts’ fight.

“What the VA has done is the very thing that the founding fathers were opposed to,” he said. “It seems to me the whole point of our system is that the government stays out of religion, but here they aren’t. It’s not the government’s job to second guess the value of a religion.”

I foresee feature stories on this, in the wake of the protest, under the Believe it or Not category, and a few late night chuckles. Maybe David Letterman could interview Mrs. Stewart. They can get Richard Belzer to opine his theories.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Reblogged: Dimwits and Iraq
   Chomsky's Tiring Tirades

After being ripped asunder and accused of sophism by the Kennedy School of Government Student Newspaper, The Citizen, for his on-campus "War on Terror?" lecture in 2002, you would think Noam Chomsky would have long ago found a new paradigm upon which to launch his philosophies. I myself had rented this lecture from Netflix over the weekend and found his arguments to be less than equal to, but equally as maddening as, some of the more crude rhetorical exhibitions I have experienced on progressive blogs.

Yet, Noam is still plying his craft. From the Daily Star, a Lebanese newspaper (emphasis added),

[Daily Star's] Editor's note: Noam Chomsky's recent lecture at Beirut's Masrah al-Madina discussed U.S. policy toward Iraq and Iran.

About what they [the US administration] have in mind, we have little information, [but] one reasonable speculation is that Washington planners may be seeking to inspire secessionist movements that the U.S. can then "defend" against the home country.

In Iran, the main oil resources are in the Arab areas adjacent to the Gulf, Iran's Khuzestan - and sure enough, there is now an Ahwazi liberation movement of unknown origin, claiming unspecified rights of autonomy.

Nearby Iraq and the Gulf states provide a base for U.S. military intervention.

In Venezuela, oil resources are concentrated mostly in a province near Colombia, the one reliable U.S. land base in the region, a province that is anti-Chavez and already has an autonomy movement, again of unknown origins.

In Bolivia, the gas resources are in richer eastern areas dominated by elites of European descent that bitterly oppose the government elected by the indigenous majority, and have threatened to secede. Nearby Paraguay is another one of the few remaining reliable land bases for the U.S. military.

The logical fallacy of that argument is, to quote Chomsky in his own unmistakable style, "so obvious that it takes real effort to miss it. In fact, I should go home right now because it is obvious."

With regards to Iran's declared need for peaceful nuclear energy,

Today, the standard claim is that Iran has no need for nuclear power, and therefore must be pursuing a secret weapons program.

Henry Kissinger explained that "For an oil producer such as Iran, nuclear energy is a wasteful use of resources." As Secretary of State 30 years ago, Kissinger held that "introduction of nuclear power will both provide for the growing needs of Iran's economy and free remaining oil reserves for export or conversion to petrochemicals," and the U.S. acted to assist the Shah's efforts.

Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz, the leading planners of the Bush 2 administration, worked hard to provide the Shah with a "complete nuclear fuel cycle - reactors powered by and regenerating fissile materials on a self-sustaining basis, precisely the ability they are trying to prevent Iran from acquiring today" (Washington Post).

U.S. universities were arranging to train Iranian nuclear engineers, doubtless with Washington's approval, if not initiative.

Kissinger was asked about his reversal, and responded with his usual engaging frankness: "They were an allied country." So therefore they had a genuine need for nuclear energy, pre-1979, but have no such need today.

The point is, only Chomsky is saying Iran "had a genuine need for nuclear energy, pre-1979". He can quote Kissinger out of context all he wants, but what Kissinger said was we let the Shah pursue it because he was a useful ally, not because the Shah actually needed nuclear energy. Nor was the Shah sponsoring proxy terrorists to target American interests. What the Shah did do for us is to counter Soviet political maneuvers in the Middle East.

But that seems so obvious.

Sometimes I can't tell if Chomsky is playing with us, or if he really takes himself seriously.

Reblogged: Ziggy politics
   Democratic War Council?

From the Washington Post's Society Page, Reliable Source

Hey Isn't That . . . ?

- Nancy Pelosi lunching with former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski in a cozy booth at Washington's Teatro Goldoni yesterday.

Brzezinski had been in Europe of late touting his Four Point program for US troop withdrawal from Iraq (Ziggy is a much more complex man than John Kerry, who could only come up with a Dual-Stage program).

The Four Point program consists of,

1) Washington should suggest to the Iraqi authorities that they publicly ask the United States to pull out of Iraq,

2) set a date for pullout,

3) Iraq should invite its neighbors to a "regional conference of Muslim countries" aimed at stabilizing the situation in Iraq,

4) the United States should call an international conference to discuss funding for the reconstruction of Iraq.

Ziggy characterizes this as an option that would allow Washington to disengage gradually in Iraq, "without victory, but also without defeat".

But, the question on everyone's mind is, what's up with the big pow-pow between Ziggy and Pelosi?

Monday, May 15, 2006

Reblogged: Nat'l Security and Bureaucracy
   Callin' home the pigs

[As security clearance] applications continue to pile up, government contractors are concerned that the growing value of already-cleared job applicants will make hiring burdensome.

"When you have an event like this occur, it creates a psychological impression that [the] stock [of already-cleared job applicants] is more valuable," said Richard Piske, vice president and general manager of Kelly FedSecure, which recruits people with varying levels of security clearance. Piske said in some instances, applicants' belief that their value has spiked makes them "very difficult to negotiate with."

Reminds me of the Project Manager (PM) certification bonanza that hit the Information Technology (IT) industry a few years back. With liability issues revolving around the Great Y2K Scare, companies used project management certification to "certify" they took "every reasonable effort" to ensure business continuity across that dreaded second as the odometer rolled from the end of one millennium to the beginning of the next. To this day, IT project managers with a piece of paper still think they call the shots, but are generally completely useless when it comes to actually managing a project.

IT projects consequently take longer and cost more. Unless the IT techie simply ignores PM standards and pretends the project is merely a customer request and can be handled from within the department. More often than not, the "customer" on these requests is strangely the same person making the change, and signing off the approval.

At the Department of Homeland Security, not only are we going to start hearing the call of Woooooooooo, Pig! Sooie! much more often, as "managerial" costs increase on both sides of the feed trough, but national security may be compromised as contractors try to take shortcuts and the government starts "fast tracking" security clearances.

In this context, I have to ask: isn't "Security Clearance" an oxymoron?

Read more here.

Credit: OutsideTheBeltway

Reblogged: Military Life
   Tribute to a Soldier

From the Fayetteville (NC) Observer online,

[James R. Jordan] can look back on a 31-year Army career in which he became command sergeant major of the Army’s only airborne signal brigade, which is based at Fort Bragg. That’s the top job for an enlisted signal soldier . . .

Jordan was bumping up against his 30-year retirement date when the 35th Signal Brigade got orders to go to Iraq in 2004. He talked to his family and decided he should go.

“Jordan put his life on hold to go to deploy to Iraq with his soldiers,” said [Command Sgt. Maj. Joseph] Allen, who made the same decision as command sergeant major of the 1st Corps Support Command . . .

Leadership means making tough decisions - decisions that become tougher in wartime, Jordan said, noting that some young officers who excelled in school couldn’t cut it on the battlefield.

“Some people went as leaders and didn’t come back as leaders,” he said. “The idea is, you’ve got to do your job to a standard. We held them to a standard. If you didn’t do a standard, you were removed.”

Making a wrong decision in Iraq is “not like getting lost on the back 40 at Fort Bragg,” Jordan said.

I agree with James Joyner at OutsideTheBeltway, a decorated vet of Operation Desert Storm himself, when he says, The Jordan family work ethic served both brothers quite well, taking them to the top of their careers.

Command Sergeant Major Jordan's "little" brother is Michael Jordan.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Reblogged: 2006
   Quantifying What Everyone Already Knows

The New York Times released their NYT/CBS Poll results for the week of May 4-8, 2006. I am not a big fan of polls. Too much emphasis is oft placed on the voluminous minutiae of the Numbers of the Week game, and on emaciated summaries of long term trends. There is a lot of fascinatingly boring stuff in the NYT/CBS Poll, but what I find most curious, and unsurprising, is the details in one of the long term polling results.

Since 1992, the Poll has reported on the following question,

How would you describe your views on most political matters? Generally, do you think of yourself as liberal, moderate, or conservative?

A simple straightforward question that can only confuse and frustrate the most ardent career-minded politician. But guess what? The trend on all possible answers has been remarkably flat. Individual political orientations do not change with the prevailing wind. That must be why the NYT puts that data at the very bottom, along with all the other tediously boring demographic information. No news is bad news.

But for 14 years, self-reported political orientations have fluctuated around a solid base by no more than 3 or 4%.

Liberal - 20%, Moderate - 42%, Conservative - 33%

Tuesday, James Joyner reprinted another related observation from Rollcall.com whilst he explained Why 2006 Isn’t Like 1994,

In a recent New Models survey, we asked voters to place Democrats, Republicans and themselves on a nine-point ideological scale with one being “very liberal” and nine “very conservative.” Of those tested, voters perceived Howard Dean as the most liberal at 3.7. They gave the Democratic Party a 3.9 rating. Both President Bush and the Republican Party got a 6.6 rating. The numbers take on real meaning, however, when put in the context of how voters see themselves ideologically. On average, voters put their own political ideology at 5.7 - clearly center-right, and within less than a point of the GOP. The voters’ perception of Democrats, on the other hand, was significantly to their left.

I think this goes a long way to validating my own personal belief that people are not stupid. While most people maintain lifelong beliefs and values, politicians scamper through the middle ground harvesting support. True, you need broad support to win elections, but we expect the consensus of political parties to shift as factions come and go. But not individual people, unless they suffer from a multiple personality disorder.

So as John Kerry continues to sail the political winds, as Al Gore "re-invents" himself more times than the Internet switches data packets, as Hillary Clinton navigates the shoals and fights a headwind towards the distant center of the channel; the only Democrats of Character, the only Democrats who have taken political stands are the ones appealing to that Liberal 20%. Dean. Wellstone. Kennedy.

Not that I enjoy preaching to the choir (ok, maybe a little), but now I understand, in excruciating detail, why Howard Dean is still running the Democratic show....

The Democrats still don't get it.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

   An insiders' view of the inside

George Friedman writes an insightful piece titled simply, The Intelligence Problem. Not that the good Doctor does not fail to take advantage of a little free PR in his own newsletter, but his analysis of the national Intelligence Community, from the perspective of a private IC analyst, stands on its own.

Stratfor: Geopolitical Intelligence Report - May 9, 2006

The Intelligence Problem

By George Friedman

Porter Goss has been fired as director of the CIA and is to be replaced by Gen. Michael Hayden -- who is now deputy to Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte and formerly was director of the National Security Agency (NSA). Viewed from beyond the Beltway -- and we are far outside the Beltway -- it appears that the Bush administration is reshuffling the usual intelligence insiders, and to a great extent, that is exactly what is happening. But there is more: White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten, having decided such matters as who the new press secretary should be, has turned to what is a very real problem for President George W. Bush: a vicious battle between the White House and the CIA.

The fight is simply about who bears the blame for Iraq. The White House and the Defense Department have consistently blamed the CIA for faulty intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and over the failure to predict and understand the insurgency in Iraq. The CIA has responded by leaking studies showing that its intelligence indeed was correct but was ignored by Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The truth, as usual, lies somewhere in the middle. There certainly were studies inside the CIA that were accurate on the subject -- but given the thousands of people working for the agency, someone had to be right. The question is not whether someone got it right, but what was transmitted to the White House in then-Director George Tenet's briefings. At this point, it really does not matter. There was a massive screwup, with plenty of blame to go around.

Still, it is probably not good for the White House and the CIA to be in a vicious fight while a war is still going on. The firing of Goss, who was a political appointee brought in to bring the agency to heel, is clearly a concession to the CIA, where he and his aides were hated (that is not too strong a word.) Hayden at least is an old hand in the intelligence community, albeit it at the NSA and not the CIA. Whether this is an attempt to placate the agency in order to dam up its leaks to the press, or whether Bush is bringing in the big guns to crush agency resistance, is unclear. This could be a move by Rumsfeld to take CIA turf. But in many ways, these questions are simply what we call "Washington gas" -- meaning something that is of infinite fascination within Washington, D.C., but of no interest elsewhere and of little lasting significance anywhere.

The issue is not who heads the CIA or what its bureaucratic structure might be. The issue is, as it has been for decades, what it is that the CIA and the rest of the intelligence community are supposed to do and how they are supposed to do it. On the surface, the answer to that is clear: The job of the intelligence community, taken as a whole, is to warn the president of major threats or changes in the international system. At least that appears to be the mission, but the problem with that definition is that the intelligence community (or IC) has never been good at dealing with major surprises, threats and issues. Presidents have always accepted major failures on the part of the IC.

Consider. The IC failed to predict the North Korean invasion of South Korea. It failed to predict Chinese intervention there. It failed to predict the Israeli-British-French invasion of Suez in 1956. It failed to recognize that Castro was a communist until well after he took power. It failed to predict the Berlin Wall. It failed to predict or know that the Soviets had placed missiles in Cuba (a discovery that came with U-2 overflights by the Air Force). It failed to recognize the Sino-Soviet split until quite late. It failed to predict the tenacity of the North Vietnamese in the face of bombing, and their resilience in South Vietnam. The IC was very late in recognizing the fall of the Shah of Iran. It was taken by surprise by the disintegration of communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. It failed to predict the intentions of al Qaeda. And it failed in Iraq.

Historically, the American IC has been superb when faced with clearly defined missions. It had the ability to penetrate foreign governments, to eavesdrop on highly secure conversations, to know the intentions of a particular foreign minister at a particular meeting. Given a clear mission, the IC performed admirably. Where it consistently failed was in the amorphous mission of telling the president what he did not know about something that was about to change everything. When the IC was told to do something specific, it did it well. When it was asked to tell the president what he needed to know -- a broad and vague brief -- it consistently fell down.

This is why the argument going on between the CIA and the White House/Defense Department misses the point. Bush well might have ignored or twisted intelligence on Iraq's WMD. But the failure over Iraq is not the exception, it is the rule. The CIA tends to get the big things wrong, while nailing the lesser things time and again. This is a persistent and not easily broken pattern, for which there are some fundamental causes.

The first is that the IC sees its task as keeping its customers -- the president and senior members of his administration -- happy. They have day-to-day requirements, such as being briefed for a meeting with a foreign leader. The bread-and-butter work of the IC is the briefing book, which tells a secretary of state what buttons to push at a ministerial meeting. Ninety-nine percent of the taskings that come to the IC concern these things. And the IC could get 99 percent of the task right; they know that this minister is on the take, or that that minister is in a terrible fight with a rival, or that some leader is dying. They do that over and over again -- that is their focus. They are rarely rewarded for the risky business of forecasting, and if they fail to forecast the invasion of South Korea, they can still point to the myriad useful things at which they did succeed.

When members of the IC say that no one sees the vital work they do, they are right. And they are encouraged to do this work by their customers. If they miss the fall of the Soviet Union, it is the bread-and-butter work that keeps them going. If the nuts and bolts of intelligence compete with the vital need of a government to be ready for the unexpected, the nuts and bolts must win every time. The reason is simple: The unexpected rarely happens, but meetings of the G-8 happen every year. The system is built for the routine. It is hard to build a system for the unexpected.

A second problem is size. The American IC is much too big. It has way too many resources. It is awash in information that is not converted into intelligence that is delivered to its customers. Huge organizations will lose information in the shuffle. The bigger they are, the more they lose. Little Stratfor struggles to make sure that intelligence flowing from the field is matched to the right analyst and that analysts working on the same problem talk to each other, and it is tough. Doing it with tens of thousands of sources and intelligence officers, thousands of analysts and hundreds of briefers is a failure waiting to happen. All of the databases dreamt of by all of the information technology people in the IC cannot make up for total overload.

It can be argued that there is no alternative. The United States has global interests and thus must have global and massive resources. But the fact is that global interests are not well-served by a system that is too large to function efficiently. Whatever the need is, the reality is that managing the vast apparatus of the IC is overwhelmingly difficult, to the point of failure. Moreover, the management piece is so daunting that finding space to look for the unexpected -- and transmit that finding efficiently to the customer -- has been consistently impossible. The intelligence services of smaller countries sometimes do much better at the big things than massive intelligence services. The KGB was an example of intelligence paralysis due, among other things, to size.

A third issue is the cult of sourcing. There is a belief that a man on the ground is the most valuable asset there is. But that depends on where he is on the ground and who he is. A man on the ground can see hundreds of feet in any direction, assuming that there are no buildings in the way. It always amuses us to hear that so-and-so spent three years in some country -- implying expertise. We always wonder whether an Iranian spending three years in Washington, D.C., would be regarded as an expert around whom analysis could be built. Moreover, these three-year wonders frequently start doing freelance analysis, overriding analysts who have been studying a country for decades -- after all, they are "on the ground." But a blond American on the ground in the Philippines is fairly obvious, especially when he starts buying drinks for everyone, and the value of his "intelligence" is therefore suspect. Sourcing is vital; so are the questions of who, where and for how long.

The most significant weakness of the cult of sourcing is that the most important events -- like the Chinese intervention in Korea -- might be unreported, or -- like the fall of the shah -- might not be known to anyone. These things happened, but there was an intelligence collection failure in the first case; the second failure stemmed not from a collection problem, but from a purely analytic one. In any case, the lack of a source does not mean an event is not happening; it just means there is no source. There is no question but that sources are the foundation of intelligence -- but the heart of intelligence is the ability to infer when there is no source.

Another problem is the IC's obsession with security, compartmentalization and counterintelligence. The Soviet Union's prime mission was to penetrate the U.S. IC. Huge inefficiencies were, therefore, appropriately incurred in order to prevent penetration. The compartmentalization of sensitive information increases security, but it pyramids inefficiency. Al Qaeda is not engaged in penetrating the IC. It is dangerous in a different way than the Soviets were. Security and counterintelligence remain vital, but shifting the balance to take current realities into account also is vital. Intelligence work involves calculated risk. The current system not only keeps smart and interesting people out of jobs, but more important, it keeps them from access to the information they need to make the smart inferences that are so vital. That would seem to be too high a price to pay in the current threat environment. Information on China can be compartmentalized; information on the Muslim world could be treated differently.

The IC wants consistent messaging. They want to produce one product that speaks with a single coherent voice. The problem is that the world is much messier than that. Giving a president the benefit of the official CIA position on a matter is useful, but not as useful as allowing him to see the disputes, discomfort and doubts stemming from the different schools of thought. Those disagreements are sometimes treated as embarrassing by the IC -- but honest, public self-criticism builds confidence. Stratfor -- and we are not comparing our tiny outfit to the IC, with its massive responsibilities -- publishes an annual report card with our forecasts, specifying where we succeeded and failed. We may as well; our readers and clients know anyway.

This may not be what the president wants, of course, and Negroponte and Hayden will want to give him what he wants. But the head of an intelligence agency is like a doctor: He must give the patient what he needs and try to make it look like what the patient wants. In the end, it doesn’t matter what you do, as Porter Goss has just found out. Negroponte and Hayden will probably lose their jobs anyway -- through resigning or being sacked, or through Bush's second term ending. Even if they are lucky, their jobs won't last much more than two years. There is no percentage in hedging, when you think of it that way.

Perhaps the single greatest weakness of the IC is its can-do attitude. It cannot do everything that it is being asked to do -- and by trying, it cannot do the most important things that need to be done. It has had, as its mission, covering the world and predicting major events for the president. It has failed to do so on major issues since its founding, finding solace in substantial success on lesser issues. But it is possible that the bandwidth of the IC, already sucked up by massive management burdens, is completely burned up by the lesser issues. It may be that the briefing book to the president for his next meeting with the president of Paraguay or Botswana will be thinner, or he might just have to wing it. The republic will survive that. The focus must be on the things that count.

Rethinking why there is an intelligence community and how it does its job is the prerequisite for Hayden and Negroponte to be successful. We do not believe for a minute that they will do so. They don't have enough time in office, they have too many meetings to attend, they have too many divergent views to reconcile into a single coherent report. Above all, the CIA has to be prepared to battle the real enemy, which is the rest of the intelligence community -- from the Defense Intelligence Agency to the FBI. And, of course, the odd staffer at the White House.

This report may be distributed or republished with attribution to Strategic Forecasting, Inc. at www.stratfor.com.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Chicken in sight!:
   Pickle it!

My base ... my wing ... my squadron.

Tip to Captain's Quarters, Outside The Beltway and Freedom Dogs.

Below, the Eagle (Ninety Fifty) was one of ours.

The mascot's name, during my tenure, was Apex.

He hated any officer carrying a clipboard.

Throw da bums out!:
   Why one looney progressive says we can't

inthesetimes.com, a left-wingnut progressive magazine, is espousing How corporate America perpetuates the health care crisis.

In hawking his book (actually it is a guidebook to help people see exactly how politicians’ lies, myths and half-truths justify government policies that allow Corporate America to rip us off), David Sirota proclaims,

Let’s be honest—very few political operatives, politicians or pundits actually want to explore the real-life, day-to-day economic challenges facing the American people, because to explore them would ultimately force us to admit that our entire venerated political system is totally corrupt.
I’m not naïve. I know that corporations exist for one reason and one reason only: the relentless, single-minded pursuit of profit, no matter who gets shafted. That is their stated purpose in a capitalist society, and that’s fine. But in our country, corporations aren’t supposed to pursue this purpose in a vacuum, unchecked, unregulated, unopposed. There is supposed to be a counterweight, a government separate from Big Business whose job is to prevent the corporate profit motive from destroying society.

Yes, Virginia, he really is that naive.

But that government, as we all know, is long gone. Our government has been the victim of a hostile takeover. Over the last thirty years, Corporate America has applied its most effective business tactics to the task of purchasing the one commodity that’s not supposed to be for sale: American democracy.

So, how did they pull it off? Reinvesting corporate profits.

In 2004 alone, the four biggest health insurance companies reported $100 billion in revenues. That’s $273 million a day, every day, 365 days of the year.

That’s the kind of cash that allowed the health industry to spend more than $300 million on lobbying in 2003, and another $300 million on campaign contributions to politicians since 2000. Their agenda is pretty simple: stop any proposals to curb health care profiteering by private insurance companies.

Ok, time to take the gloves off. I post my rebuttal and the subsequent discussion.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

I'm not lost, we're just not there yet:
   Science exposes the fallacy about men and asking for directions

From the 2006 National Geographic-Roper Survey of Geographic Literacy:

From the total of 53 factual questions, men got an average of 30.2 answers right, versus 27.0 correct for women. Looking at specific types of questions, there is no significant difference between women's and men's performance on questions requiring map reading skills, and they give similar answers - both right and wrong ones - on a majority of the factual questions. Yet men score better on matching countries with their continent, and on finding countries on the Asia, Middle East and world maps. For instance, 17% of men get all four countries included in this survey on the Middle East map right, compared to 11% of women.

Amen. If men really were lost, we'd still be out there somewhere.


Meet The Press needs economist with GED:
     Tim Russert struggles with supply and demand

Steve Verdon at OutsideTheBeltway has a straightfaced commentary on, well, here's the first couple lines,

MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Secretary, if demand is up but supply is down, why are the profits so high?

MR. BODMAN (Secretary of Energy): For that reason.

MR. RUSSERT: No, think about that.

MR. BODMAN: You know?

MR. RUSSERT: Play it out.

MR. BODMAN: Demand is up.

MR. RUSSERT: Correct.

MR. BODMAN: Right?


MR. BODMAN: So you’ve got more demand, you’re going to force price up.

You’ve got limited supply, and you’re going to have…

Verdon draws a picture for Russert. Actually, two. And they're very good ECON 101 pictures.

Rachel Sklar at The Huffington Post did a Sunday wrap up on the show, Russert Watch: Gas Is Expensive, Oil Companies Are Greedy, Change Is Inevitable. As a wrap, I think I'll stick with the lining on my cat box.

Even though she acknowledged the stand up routine - Now that, ladies and gentlemen, is comedy gold, even though she acknowledged that the oil corps. earned 8.5 cents profits per dollar last year, not far off the the all-industry pan-economy average of 7.7 cents, Rachel went out of her way to disparage and trivialize all that with that immediately struck me as actually a pretty significant premium, considering the massive output -- I mean, the oil companies sell more dollars than a lot of other industries.

Personally, I'd have stuck with the "Who's on first?" routine.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

To win 2008, one must lose 2006:
   Dems must be desperate, or delusional

James Forsyth at TNR argues that losing in the 2006 elections will actually help the Democrats in the 2008 presidential election.

Consider that the GOP has three potential candidates for 2008 - Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, and Condoleezza Rice - with 50-percent-plus approval ratings from Democrats, Republicans, and independents alike. The Democrats have none. An opponent with these kinds of numbers would be more or less impossible to defeat. But if Republicans maintain their majorities, it becomes far more likely that Democrats will not have to face one of these candidates.
With the religious right feeling confident, Rudy Giuliani ... would probably conclude that his socially liberal views and lifestyle put the nomination out of his reach.
If 2006 is seen as a demonstration of the power of Christian conservatives, [John] McCain will have to continue his assiduous courting of them well into the primary season and under intense media scrutiny. Cozying up to those he once dismissed as "agents of intolerance" won't do much for his straight talk reputation - the key to his appeal to swing voters.
The only scenario under which one can imagine [Condoleezza Rice] getting into the race is if the GOP appears to be in crisis and she is drafted as the electoral savior. If Republicans survive 2006, it is hard to imagine they would decide that circumstances require them to recruit a presidential candidate who has never run for public office.

This is either a desperate PR ploy to marginalize a Republican victory in 2006, or the Democrats still think all they have to do is stand back and let the Republicans self-destruct.

They still don't get it.

Paper Tiger Update:
   Russia to back UN on Iran, maybe

Opinion from Russian News and Information Agency,

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Pyotr Romanov) - The Paris meeting on Iran, which the media dubbed "secret" because journalists were barred from it from start to finish, ended in failure as expected.

The positions of the sides remained the same. The United States wants the UN Security Council to pass the toughest possible resolution on Iran's nuclear file. By and large, the Europeans are leaning toward the U.S. proposal, while permanent members of the Security Council Moscow and Beijing insist on talks. The negotiators were trying hard to conceal what has long become an open secret.

Trying to help Beijing and Moscow out of the predicament, U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton has suggested that they should abstain from voting on the problem at the Security Council. If the Council is torn apart by contradictions and fails to exert pressure on Iran, the U.S. and other countries may themselves punish Iran. Other U.S. officials have expressed the same opinion. U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack has just made another statement to this effect.

Moscow also has to adjust its position. Chairman of the Duma committee on international affairs Konstantin Kosachyov has just declared that Iran's ostentatious refusal to comply with the Security Council requirements was fraught with serious consequences. He did not rule out sanctions against Iran.

As I implied last Friday, the UN Security Council will increasingly end up in brinkmanship battles. Something has to give. Either the UN becomes more idealistic, enforcing its own mandates, or the world has to change back to a geopolitical theater like the Cold War or the Great Games of the 19th Century.

Gadfly feeding time:
   Ms. Geyer high on testosterone

Georgie Anne Geyer once again gets on her high horse calling for "rational realism" and dismisses any argument of staying in Iraq, of standing up to people who have called for evil upon us, as too much "testosterone".

Rhymes of History:
   Random synaptic firings

If, as Bernard Lewis said, "Make no mistake, those who are unwilling to confront the past will be unable to understand the present and unfit to face the future"; if, as Santayana is once to have said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it"; if, as Mark Twain, or at least, Will Rogers quoting Twain (??) is alleged to have said, "The past does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme"; then a recent blogging foray of mine shines a little light on recent history, and what may be coming.

My vision is shaped and formed by Strauss and Howe's Generations and Fourth Turning. They posit that history, or at least American history, has revolved about a 4-generation spiral. I apply this by looking at where we were 80-100 years ago and lay it down like a template to today. Now, the template doesn't always fit as well as O.J.'s glove, but sometimes there are useful comparisons. The last time we were here was just before WW1, the height (and depth) of geopolitical realism.

We were also in the midst of an industrial and technological revolution with the expansion of transcontinental railroads, the emerging oil industry and electro-techno gadgets that were transforming our lives before and after the Great Depression, and a political atmosphere counter-reacting to recent mass immigrations. Unseen in the near future was a nascent global economy devastated, in part, by protectionist tariffs and a global war of ideology, first against fascism and then communism.

Getting the chills yet?

We now have the geopolitical realism of Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski, the smoldering ideologies of Islam, and authoritarian nationalism (particularly China), globalization, and the incredible transformation that computer technology is still impacting on economies, before and after the IT Tech bubble.

Heady stuff for someone who scoffs at Revelations and Nostradamus.

Personal note: how about cycles of cycles, a metacycle of generational cycles?

Aiding and abetting Palestinian financial interests:
   Captain Ed objects

At the Captain's Quarters, Captain Ed objects to statements made by James Wolfensohn, the Quartet's international envoy to the Middle East, who resigned "on Sunday because of restrictions in dealing with the Islamic militant group Hamas, which dominates the Palestinian Government." The Quartet is the UN, the US, the EU and Russia.

Ben Fishman, researcher and special assistant at The Washington Institute, wrote a piece at the Institute yesterday on this same issue. As I posted at the Captain's Quarters,

A couple nuggets [from Fishman's article],

Assisting the development of such a peaceful and democratic alternative -- as distinct from an immediate overthrow of Hamas -- will require the United States to support programs driven internally by Palestinians that can foster a broad-based political movement. Bolstering a centralized Fatah-like organization run by elites will only lead to further corruption and the continued alienation of the Palestinian public.
Even though some Fatah figures may ultimately return to power as a pragmatic political leadership, the United States should not disburse funds to Fatah until the movement, or some element of it, begins the comprehensive political reform and internal housecleaning it continues to avoid three months after suffering a humiliating defeat at the polls.
Before the United States begins large-scale funding of potential alternatives to Hamas, it is important to survey more concretely what organizations and individuals are currently undertaking projects focused on secular education, women's empowerment, advocacy of peace and nonviolence, or other objectives that counter those of Hamas.
Concurrent with the work of the survey team, the United States should begin to develop the infrastructure for creating an independent, Palestinian-led body that can function as a vehicle for delivering grants and actively monitoring the activities of grantees.
Free media and communications is an area that requires substantial investment to enhance the ability of moderate organizations to affect the Palestinian public discourse. For organizations advocating nonviolence, democracy, and reform to gain traction, they must have avenues to express their opinions openly and to challenge Hamas's policies and expose its failures through investigative reporting. Whether the most effective medium for engaging the public will be widely distributed listservs, blogs, text messaging networks, or more traditional outlets in print or radio, invigorating the internal Palestinian debate will be an essential component of any assistance package.

My take on this is, if we dump the money at Fatah's feet simply because they are currently the "best" option, we have learned nothing from the sterile strategies of geopolitical realists since Metternich (as if WWI wasn't a big enough lesson).

Our support in Palestine should be based on democratic principles and ideology, and not what the current geopolitical realists and pundits say is expedient.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

400,000 march in LA immigrant boycott:
   birth of a movement, or a school holiday?

from theNation.com,

The marchers, estimated by the police at 400,000 people, were almost all Mexican-American and mostly young.
When hundreds of thousands take to the streets on a day like today, we are witnessing the birth of a movement for social justice of historic proportions.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Iran stirs the pot a bit more:
   Attacks Kurdish positions inside Iraq

Iran doesn't stop trying.

On Sunday, Iraq's defense ministry said Iranian forces had entered Iraqi territory and shelled PKK positions over a period of 24 hours.
"We have security cooperation accords with neighboring countries and we act within the framework of these accords. There is no cause for concern over this kind of thing with neighboring countries," he said.

no cause for concern over this kind of thing with neighboring countries??

Dude, you violated Iraq's territorial sovereignty!

The framework that Iran is acting under is ostensibly it's,

treaty with Turkey to fight the outlawed PKK, which has waged a 15-year insurgency against Ankara for self rule in Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeast.

In return, Turkey has pledged to fight the Iranian armed opposition group, the Iraq-based People's Mujahedeen.

But, given that Iran has lost its brass-knuckled bid to keep Jaafari as Iraqi Prime Minister, there are more compelling explanations at work here. Iran wants Iraq to remain unstable, both to strengthen its leverage with the Iraqi Shi'ites and to make life as difficult as possible for the American troops in Iraq. Stirring up resentment in the Iraqi Kurdish community with the ruling Shi'ites inability to clamp down on sectarian violence is a great way to keep the different factions from trusting each other.

And, as I have repeatedly argued, the greatest strength of democracy is the ability to reach compromises. Every Iraqi democratic success has been critically dependent on opposing sects willingly making compromises to reach agreements peacefully.

Iranians are not stupid. And their recent attack has borne fruit.

"I warn Iran that their aggression against our party's positions in Iraq will have consequences," [PKK leader in Iraq, Rustom] Judi said after an April 20 attack.

Let's hope Iraq's new prime minister, Shi'ite Jawad al-Maliki, makes some demonstration of solidarity with Iraqi Kurds in taking action against Iran's violation of Iraqi's sovereign territory.

Chavez, the Great Democrat:
   More Boston Globe editorial lunacy

The Boston Globe editorializes on Chavez' oil discounts to American consumers via CITGO,

Many Venezuelans are far poorer than the Americans who will benefit from the discounted oil. A case can be made that Chavez should help his own countrymen first. Americans, however, are major consumers of Venezuelan oil. It's appropriate for Chavez to offer discounts as an informal rebate to the customers who are most affected by high prices.

Representative Joe Barton, the Texas Republican who heads the Energy and Commerce Committee, is investigating to determine whether the oil deal is ''part of an unfriendly government's increasingly belligerent and hostile foreign policy." If this is belligerence, let's have more.

No, really. Read that again.


Chavez is merely offering as an informal rebate to the customers who are most affected by high prices?? But it is okay that he isn't using that money to help his own people, the very people who put him in office??

Chavez, the Humane Oil Executive with a Big Heart; the Great Humanitarian! Shame on Rep. Barton for questioning Chavez' noble motives. Shame on him for calling a spade, a spade.

I suppose the BG editors were likewise very appreciative of Chinese humanitarian and financial assistance to the Democratic Party during a tough presidential campaign.

Yes, let's have more!

   Some people will just never get it

Exercise in deconstruction:

The Boston Globe editorializes,

The imminent US troop reductions that [US Army General George] Casey invoked may make it easier, not harder, for Iraqis to overcome the legacy of Saddam Hussein's despotism and foreign occupation.

The thrust of the BG's argument is this:

I turned the outside lights off this morning before sunrise. And then the sun came up. Ergo, my light switch controls the sun.

Lemme 'splain.

The BG prefaced their blinding bit of logic with this,

For all the Bush administration's talk of troop levels being determined solely by the security situation in Iraq, it seems obvious that the primary reason for official hints of troop reductions is that Republican candidates are fearful of going to voters in November as members of the Bush war party. Predictably, this was not the reason given by US Army General George Casey, who said after meeting with Rumsfeld and Rice Wednesday that the formation of a new Iraqi government will create conditions for a reduction in US troop levels.

The only thing obvious to my dimwitted intelligence is that the possible reduction in troop levels is a consequence of the troops coming close to having completed their mission. We have had three separate and very successful Iraqi electoral pollings, the vote 15 months ago setting up a transitional government to create a constitution, a vote on that constitution in October (?), and general elections last December. And let us not forget that the first real test of the Iraqi government have been successful. The three competing parties had to find common cause and compromise to form a government out of those electoral results, which they just did. Time will tell if the few Sunni insurgent holdouts follow their brethren of last year and give up the insurgency in favor of real political participation.

That the BG's reason for official troop withdrawal talk was "predictably ... not the reason given by .. Casey" is just possibly because the BG is, gasp!, wrong.

Sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar.

Paper Tiger:
   Sudan says No to UN troops??

Friday I alluded to the dissolution of the UN World Order, arguing that the self-serving national interests of the five veto-wielding are corrupting the UN's global mission, namely, preventing war. I also made reference to an article in the Weekly Standard archives by Michael Brandon McClellan that called the UN a Paper Tiger.

At a NATO foreign ministers' meeting in Sofia, Bulgaria, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice "said yesterday that NATO leaders have agreed to take on a more "robust" role in Sudan's Darfur region and urged other international bodies to prepare the way."


A senior U.S. official said that NATO would be "enabling collaborative efforts" of other international players and cannot do much before they make the first steps.

"We have to be able to get into Sudan," the official said, alluding to Sudan's refusal to let U.N. peacekeepers in.

Now, I certainly appreciate that it takes time to get agreement among the various members of the UN to tell Sudan, "tough. We are coming." But when we talk about Paper Tigers, when we decry that the UN oft gets held hostage by the vast majority of member countries who are governed by authoritarian rule themselves, are calls for dissolution really too strongly worded?