Bhutto was shot in the same park where Pakistan’s first prime minister, Nawabzda Liaquat, was assassinated in October 1951. Was that intended to serve as a message, or was this just the most convenient place to strike?No conclusions. Just thinking out loud.
The assassin shot her, and then blew himself up. Is that a normal pattern for Rawalpindi (a city with over 50 suicide bombers last year, as I recall)? If he had already succeeded, why would he blow himself up? Just to avoid questioning? It doesn't feel right.
Let me get this straight: a dangerous city, an obvious target, and a lone assassin who dies before he can reveal anything of interest. The conspiracy theorists--and Pakistan is loaded with conspiracy theorists--are going to have a field day.
27 December, 2007
13 December, 2007
I have a few points to add. First, these are known reserves. Two weeks ago Brazil announced finding oil fields to rival (or surpass) Venezuela. One part of the contest between Russia and Canada over the north pole is the prospect for as-yet undiscovered oil. Second, available oil is always at a given price. Change the price and you change the amount it can be profitable to produce. Third, I don't trust the estimates from the governments of Saudi Arabia and Iran. Influence in OPEC--and one's portion of the oil to be released-- is directly related to national estimates of reserves. Every country--and probably Saudi Arabia tops the list--has reasons to overestimate what they have.
Nevertheless, it's a sobering reminder of why the middle east looms so large in American (and everyone else's) strategic calculations.
12 December, 2007
At present, it looks like only two contenders are growing in support in Iowa: Huckabee and Paul. Huckabee (green line) has the explosive growth, of course, but that may run into a ceiling. Paul (red line) is just beginning to take off.
In elections, it's not just about being number one, it's about when you are number one. Timing is everything. And in a caucus state, where people get to change their minds during the process, trends are especially important.
There may be a lot of surprised (and angry) pundits in a few weeks.
08 December, 2007
Most of the better points have already been made (especially Phil on hyperpolarity and Dan txdap on variance), but I’ll add my two cents.
Size matters if there are economies of scale. Economies of scale matter most in head-to-head competition in a relatively stable environment. It also allows one more capital to throw into a project. The costs of scale are that it is more difficult to make rapid changes, or to learn from the experience of others. If, as Robb suggests, we are in a world requiring quick adaptation to asymmetric challenges (economic or security) there is a maximum size beyond which states no longer make sense, and that size may be shrinking.
Instead of unitary states or multiethnic empires, the capital accumulation problem can be handled by federations, common markets, etc. Ethnic (or cultural) autonomy promotes experimentation, but a few limited common institutions allow those experiments–if successful–to be adopted, by consensus, on the larger scale. Diversity allows choices and commonalities allow mutual support. The result looks something like the alliances among airlines (for frequent flier programs and landing rights) or among microchip manufacturers (for R and D).
And has anyone been noticing what’s happening to Belgium lately? It’s not Nigeria, by any means, but it’s getting more difficult to put together a government.
So how about this vision of the future: thousands of microstates (and virtual states) linked into networks of overlapping interest. One state will be in multiple networks, depending on issues. Any pair of states could in competitive networks and in cooperative networks at the same time.
Come to think of it, we’re not so far from that today. Fragmentation within states, coupled with regional and global institutions.
I recommend you take a look at the whole thing.
23 November, 2007
November 23, 2007: In Afghanistan, an examination of the 77 people killed by a November 6 suicide bomb attack, found that most of them were killed by bullets, not the bomb. The bullets came from the bodyguards of tribal chiefs and politicians that were at the gathering. More than a hundred people were wounded as well, and most were hit by bullets. The bodyguards fired for more than three minutes after the bomb went off. Most of the dead (61 of 77) were students from a local school. Five teachers and five bodyguards also died.Please note: I have nothing against guns, per se. I just worry about some of the idiots who carry them.
16 November, 2007
Chinese Banks Becoming Powerful Factor in the Global Financial Sector
Drafted By: Adam Wolfe
On October 25, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (I.C.B.C.), the world's largest bank by market capitalization, announced that it would purchase a 20 percent stake in Standard Bank, South Africa's largest bank. If the US$5.6 billion deal is approved, it will be the largest foreign direct investment in South Africa since the end of apartheid in 1994 and the biggest overseas investment by a mainland Chinese company.
Altering its Approach to Africa
The deal is a logical extension of China's shifting approach to Africa, which PINR first outlined in February, but it also demonstrates the growing power of China's banking sector. Until recently, most observers have focused on the bad debt held by Chinese banks, in addition to the lack of internal controls. However, with some strategic help from the Chinese Communist Party (C.C.P.), China's banking sector appears posed to grow into a powerful factor in the global financial sector. [See: "China Adjusts its Approach in Africa"]
Whereas China remains primarily interested in securing access to Africa's natural resources for its growing economy, this year has marked an evolution to the arrangement in which China increasingly involves itself in African politics in order to foster a better business relationship.
There's good news and bad news here. The good news is China is integrating itself into the world financial system. The bad news is its another sign of the relative decline of American power in this sector, and money that will not be invested in American treasury bonds. Have the Party and the banks come to the conclusion that investing in US bonds is a bad deal? That would have all sorts of consequences for the American economy, budget deficits, and taxes. Who knows--we might even have to pay more of the price of empire. And that may not be so bad after all.
24 October, 2007
12 October, 2007
Who did he think he was fooling? And why would he care?
There's a saying: Once a cheater, always a cheater. And now former Mexican presidential candidate Roberto Madrazo has proven that he exemplifies that saying perfectly. On Sept. 30, he completed the 26.2-mile Berlin Marathon in an astonishingly fast time of 2 hours, 41 minutes, and 12 seconds (or 6 minutes, 9 seconds, per mile). That time gave him a first-place finish in the men's age-55 category, a lot better than his humiliating third-place finish in Mexico's presidential election last year.
But the electronic tracking chip that runners wear on their shoes showed that Madrazo hadn't crossed two checkpoints and that he apparently ran a nine-mile stretch in just 21 minutes. (The world record for running 15,000 meters—or 9.3 miles—is 41 minutes, 29 seconds.)
With a new study decrying the failure of efforts to counter al-Qaida, and the White House acknowledging that the movement is building strength, a fundamental rethink is required.
- Image: Wikipedia
Commentary by Dominic Moran in Tel Aviv for ISN Security Watch (11/10/07)
The White House acknowledged this week that al-Qaida was building strength, giving weight to a think tank study's finding that the so-called "war on terror" has proved disastrous.
An Oxford Research Group report released this week argues that the decision to attack the Taliban was a mistake that directly benefited al-Qaida while creating a security vacuum in Afghanistan.
The report goes on to argue that the detention of tens of thousands without charge in Iraq, widespread abuse of prisoners and the CIA's extraordinary renditions program have all contributed significantly to the rising popularity of extremist groups.
The limitations of counterterrorism measures in combating al-Qaida have been underlined by the effective disappearance of the movement's leadership in the wake of the US-led invasion of Afghanistan - acknowledged in the White House report - and failure of greatly bolstered intelligence agency efforts to achieve consistent successes.
The release of the White House assessment appeared timed to coincide with congressional debate on a law sponsored by the George W Bush administration cementing domestic security agencies' right to expel illegal migrants and conduct telephone and e-mail surveillance without warrants where citizens are believed to be consorting with foreign militants.
According to reports, the US lost a significant window on al-Qaida activities last month with the precipitous leak to the media of a 20-minute Osama Bin Laden video passed on to the US government by the private intelligence firm SITE, which has been monitoring jihadi media traffic.
Firm founder Rita Katz told the Washington Post this week that the "[t]echniques that took years to develop are now ineffective and worthless." The video had yet to be loaded onto al-Qaida-linked sites when it appeared on Fox News, alerting the group that its internet network had been compromised.
09 October, 2007
OTTAWA - The Foreign Affairs Department quietly relies on a host of private security contractors to protect Canadian embassies and diplomats across the globe - a small army that needs more supervision, say opposition critics and defence experts.
The call for more oversight follows an incident last month involving the U.S. security firm Blackwater, in which 11 Iraqis died.
Canada has only employed the controversial security contractor to train members of the Canadian Forces and has not used Blackwater for embassy or dignitary protection.
However 2006 federal public account records show a handful of other U.S. and British security corporations working in Iraq have separate protection contracts with Canada for work in other countries.
Precisely what kind of service is provided by firms such as the ArmourGroup of the United Kingdom, and subsidiaries of Wackenhut Security Systems, which ran afoul of U.S. lawmakers over private prisons, isn't clear.
There are also questions about a $456,000 contract Canada's former ambassador to Kabul signed last year with Saladin Afghanistan Security Ltd.
Documents released under the Access to Information law show the agreement, which ran from June 2006 until June 2007, was to provide a quick reaction force to protect the embassy and the army's Strategic Advisor Team - both based in the Afghan capital.
Despite repeated requests for comment last week, a Foreign Affairs spokeswoman said Friday no one was available to answer questions about security arrangements.
From the Washington Times, October 7, 2007:
Arnaud de Borchgrave - Watching them drive by at 30 miles per hour, would take 75 days. Bumper-to-bumper, they would stretch from New York City to Denver. That's how U.S. Air Force logistical expert Lenny Richoux described the number of vehicles that would have to be shipped back from Iraq when the current deployment is over. These include, among others, 10,000 flatbed trucks, 1,000 tanks and 20,000 Humvees.And this assumes no unpleasant surprises, and no war with Iran.
Even in an emergency, said Col. Richoux in DefenseNews, the evacuation of 162,000 troops in 23 ground combat brigades and millions of tons of equipment would take some 20 months. Military shipping containers, end to end, would stretch from New York City to the gates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
The main resupply route for convoys that runs 344 miles from Kuwait (skirts Basra to the north) to Baghdad is already under the constant threat of hit-and-run insurgency attacks, including improvised explosive devices. Driving empty, on their way back to pick up another load in Kuwait, convoys are just as vulnerable.
According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the military has some 300,000 "heavy" items that would have to be shipped back, such as ice-cream machines that churn out different flavors upon request at a dozen bases throughout the California-size country. And before it can be loaded onto ships, equipment has to be scrubbed clean to conform to U.S. Agriculture Department regulations. The U.S. maintains some 200 wash points in Kuwait. Helicopters have to be shrinkwrapped.
Clearly any major withdrawal from Iraq would have to be a phased operation and some equipment would have to be destroyed or transferred to the new Iraqi army. Since the first Gulf war (1990-91), the U.S. Military Sealift Command has acquired a fleet of 18 large, roll-on/roll-off ships, each nearly the size of an aircraft carrier, capable of carrying more than 300,000 square feet of cargo. Eight of these ships are normally assigned to MSC's Afloat Prepositioning Ship Squadron, loaded with Army equipment and supplies in the Indian Ocean theater ready to meet up with troops flown in to an emergency situation in the Gulf region.
MSC cargo ships make regular runs to Iraq from San Diego and Jacksonville, Fla. For the first two years of the war, units were rotated in and out of theater with all their equipment. Thus, the 5,200-strong 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment's equipment — 300 armored vehicles, 57 aircraft, 900 trucks and Humvees — made the trip from Fort Carson to Kuwait three times before the Pentagon changed back to the Gulf war I and Vietnam War system of leaving the heavy stuff for the incoming replacement unit.
It’s the hottest thing we make. We are very proud of this dish. It is home cooked and the customers love it.
—Thai Cottage owner Sue Wasboonma, after smoke from a chili-based specialty produced by the restaurant sparked fears of a chemical attack in
27 August, 2007
published this photo to illustrate the extent of the fires plaguing Greece. Several people have already been arrested for starting the fires, but I find it hard to believe that 200 fires have been started across this country by the number of perpetrators already accused. Robb says his sources link the locations of the fires to major electrical plants. Conspiracy? A swarm attack?
Maybe. Another possibility is that more people live near electrical generating facilities (I know next to nothing about the relationship between electrical infrastructure and population density in Greece, but a relationship is plausible). In that case, we may have more copycat crimes and/or accidents in a very dry season.
Which do I believe? Neither, actually, although several possibilities (including these) are worth a look. If nothing else it illustrates the problem of identifying an "attack" when an attack may look much like a natural disaster.
17 August, 2007
06 August, 2007
It was an interesting evening. I was most impressed by the range of people--nominally "left" and nominally "right"--who were coming together in the room. Afterwards, I followed a group over to a nearby restaurant for a meet and greet. Unlike some politicians I've met, he was the same person one-on-one as he was at the podium: witty, enthusiastic, and more than a little surprised that he is getting the support he has.
Enough. Let him speak for himself:
19 July, 2007
I write a bit about Private Military Contractors. One reason for their use is to get around the Universal Code of Military Justice, local laws, international law, Congressional oversight, etc. Part of the flip side for PMCs--fighting and support--is they can be left hanging when things go wrong. People rarely even mention the casualty figures for these people (the Pentagon is in no hurry to publicize them). Many of them are just trying to a difficult job in dangerous circumstances. Some are more like the old-fashioned mercs of the Cold War. Few of them deserve to be left hanging when things go wrong--but that's too often what happens. A recent series in the Christian Science Monitor helps to shine the light on these people and their families. A sample:
Estimates of the number of private security personnel and other civilian contractors in Iraq today range from 126,000 to 180,000 – nearly as many, if not more than, the number of Americans in uniform there. Most are not Americans. They come from Fiji, Brazil, Scotland, Croatia, Hungary, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, Australia, and other countries.Click to enlarge
Source: Federal Procurement Data System/Research: Leigh Montgomery, John Aubrey/Graphic: Rich Clabaugh – Staff
"A very large part of the total force is not in uniform," Scott Horton, who teaches the law of armed conflict at Columbia University School of Law, said in congressional testimony last month. In World War II and the Korean War, contractors amounted to 3 to 5 percent of the total force deployed. Through the Vietnam War and the first Gulf War, the percentage grew to roughly 10 percent, he notes. "But in the current conflict, the number appears to be climbing steadily closer to parity" with military personnel. "This represents an extremely radical transformation in the force configuration," he says.
Until recently, there has been little oversight of civilian contractors operating in Iraq. The Defense Department is not adequately keeping track of contractors – where they are or even how many there are, the Government Accountability Office concluded in a report last December. This is especially true as military units rotate in and out of the war zone (as do contractors) and institutional memory is lost.
This lack of accountability has begun to change with a Democrat-controlled Congress. As part of the 2007 National Defense Authorization Act passed last year, Congress now requires that civilian contractors who break the law – hurt or kill civilians, for example – come under the legal authority of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So far, however, the Pentagon has not issued guidance to field commanders on how to do this.
Contrary to popular perception, most contractors are not the beefy, grim guys wearing scary sunglasses and carrying guns. But in a war like Iraq, every one from mechanics to translators has become a target. At least 916 contractors have been killed in the four-year war and more than 12,000 wounded, according to official statistics and Labor Department figures provided to the New York Times and Reuters. An unknown number experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
But unless they have previous military service, contractors are not eligible for help from the US Department of Veterans Affairs. Many have been denied treatment by insurance companies. In some cases, the companies they worked for have successfully fought legal efforts to declare the firms liable for physical or mental injury resulting from work in Iraq.
Enter Jana Crowder, a "stay-at-home mom with four kids" who started a website for moral support during the seven months her husband was an engineering contractor in Iraq.
"I had no idea what I was getting into," says Mrs. Crowder, who lives in Knoxville, Tenn. "I found a whole different war zone out there – contractors coming home physically and mentally damaged. I didn't even know what PTSD was, but I had guys calling me up saying they had nightmares, that they couldn't sleep, that they were hallucinating and crying."
It's worth a look.
I can't put it any better than the Armchair Generalist:
Downing was a real warrior. I had the opportunity to meet him about ten years ago - this was after he was retired and cruising the special consultant circuit. He was very frank and somewhat opinionated, but he was also pretty on target with his assessments. If you read the obit, you'll see he had a very distinguished military record. That's why I knew the Bush administration was hopelessly screwed up when he left the position of Deputy National Security Advisor for Combating Terrorism in June 2002. He was too smart and too qualified to put up with the amateur hour that he saw.
18 July, 2007
Iran's oil production has been declining steadily from its pre-revolution peak of 6 million barrels per day (bpd) to its present 4 million bpd - below its OPEC quota - due to war, sanctions, low investment and depletion. Iran's consumption of petrol has increased at 11 percent per year. If the present trend continues, by 2015, Iran will have become a net importer of petrol.
The Islamic Republic's official GDP is approximately US$196 billion. Yet, according to the newspaper Hamshahri, each year, the government spends roughly US$55 billion for the country's energy needs including US$35 million in direct subsidies. In other words, 28 percent of the economic output is spent on basic energy needs. These huge and cheap energy inputs are needed to run the largely inefficient state-owned enterprises, to placate the public with dirt-cheap utility rates and to help out Iran's strategic friends around the world.
Without any doubt, petrol wastage occupies the prime place among all of the various economic distortions in Iran. Despite its enormous oil reserves, Iran imports 43 percent of its petrol needs from other countries due primarily to huge domestic demands as well as lack of sufficient refining capacity.
The country's average daily use is around 70 million liters per day, roughly equal to China's daily consumption, but the latter's population is 18 times larger. Economists attribute several factors for this situation. These include gas-inefficient automobiles, high population growth, the voraciousness of consumers and its super cheap petrol prices.
Until 27 June, petrol was 9 cents a liter, making it among the cheapest in the world. It takes no more than US$5 to fill up a car in Iran, compared to US$40 on the average in the US and US$90 in neighboring Turkey.
27 June, 2007
President George W. Bush would like to see a lengthy U.S. troop presence in Iraq like the one in South Korea to provide stability but not in a frontline combat role, the White House said on Wednesday.
Iraq is too important, geopolitically and strategically, to leave. But note something else: the model being suggested is South Korea, not Japan or Germany. South Korea was a dictatorship (albeit a friendly one) for a long time. Democracy was desired, and encouraged insofar that it didn't threaten US interests, but it was never the primary goal of American policy. It's a long way from the neocon vision of remaking the Middle East. It also fits the architecture of the new American embassy, Fort Baghdad.
The United States has had thousands of U.S. troops in South Korea to guard against a North Korean invasion for 50 years.
Democrats in control of the U.S. Congress have been pressing Bush to agree to a timetable for pulling troops from Iraq, an idea firmly opposed by the president.
White House spokesman Tony Snow said Bush would like to see a U.S. role in Iraq ultimately similar to that in South Korea in which "you get to a point in the future where you want it to be a purely support model."
"The Korean model is one in which the United States provides a security presence, but you've had the development of a successful democracy in South Korea over a period of years, and, therefore, the United States is there as a force of stability," Snow told reporters.
So much of the EU debate seems like attempts to force square pegs into round holes. There seems to be an abiding faith that somehow, if we all just keep talking, we'll suddenly find that there are no nationalists after all. It's a faith I don't share.
Europe’s next steps26 - 06 - 2007
Rather little - but more than nothing. The new European Union treaty does make possible a number of the essential reforms which the union needs in order to be capable of facing immediate global challenges and further enlargement, and indeed without which it would stagnate and might even gradually disintegrate over the years ahead.
Perhaps the most important of these changes are those which strengthen the capacity of the EU to pursue a more independent foreign and security policy. The creation of an EU foreign minister (with the title "high representative for foreign policy and security") who will also be a vice-president of the European commission and who will have the support of an embryo EU diplomatic service (to be called the "external action service") is significant. But capacity is one thing: whether or not the political will exists among the member-states who will still determine policy to take advantage of that enhanced capacity is another.
The creation of a president of the council is a useful step but not one likely to transform the political realities of how member-states function at EU level. Interestingly the way is left open for a future merger of the offices of president of the council and president of the commission. The extension of decision by qualified majority voting (QMV) affects relatively few major policy areas with the exception of some aspects of justice and internal affairs. These are precisely the areas where the United Kingdom has been given "opt in" rights when it wishes to take part. It may do so more often in practice than it is letting on at present because of London's concerns about more coordinated action on crime, migration and terrorism.
The EU will be given a "legal personality" (over British objections) but this will change little in terms what happens in practice. It may get its first outing over a possible successor treaty to the Kyoto climate-change pact.
After the hype
None of the changes to the EU voting system or the way the institutions will work in future provides the slightest justification for a referendum to approve what are a series of technical amendments to existing EU treaties. These amendments - no more than the previous, misnamed "constitutional" treaty which was approved by eighteen member-states but vetoed by two - involve no significant change to what passes for a British constitution. The incoming British prime minister Gordon Brown is dropping large hints that he wishes to see "constitutional reform" - maybe this will make the task of negotiating these future EU treaties somewhat easier.
The overhyped theatricality surrounding the negotiations illustrates the continuing incapacity of some national government leaders to come to terms with the supranational politics needed to bring effective governance to the process of globalisation. The absurd posturing of the Polish and British leaders illustrates with particular force how great the gulf is between the new global economic and political realities and the myopic preoccupations of domestic politicians.
The Polish prime minister's justification for a new voting system as compensation for Poland's loss of population as a result of the horrors of the second world war was positively surreal - but no more than the Tony Blair/Gordon Brown campaign to exclude the British people from the legal provisions of the EU charter of fundamental rights. Among the populations of the twenty-seven EU countries only the British now have the privilege of being "protected" from the legal scrutiny of the European court of justice if their state authorities should in future violate existing British laws and also charter provisions - which range from a ban on torture and arbitrary arrest to the rights of working people to defend their interests through strike action.
Some very tricky drafting issues remain to be tackled by the incoming Portuguese presidency to ensure that the intergovernmental conference in late (probably October) 2007 converts the Brussels mandate into a firm agreement. But the odds must now be on the treaty amendments coming into force in time for the European parliament elections in June 2009. It will be interesting to see whether those elections are also used by the European parties to make a fight over the issue of who should be elected as the next president of the commission and around what kind of programme.
Sometimes I feel a sense of deja vu. So many of the Soviet experts were so interested in figuring out the details that they missed the structural contradictions. They (not I) couldn't imagine a world without a USSR, even as it was becoming unmanageable, and even as it tore itself apart. How many Europeanists can imagine a world without an EU? It may be closer than we think.
KREMLIN REJECTS “FOREIGN” APPROACH TO RUSSIAN HISTORYI can't say I'm surprised by the revisionist history. But I find the idea intriguing that Bush was taken in so easily by Putin because he saw the Russian as another fundamentalist Christian.
Last week President Vladimir Putin met with a selected group of delegates attending a Kremlin-organized conference, “Timely Issues in Teaching Modern History and Social Science.” Putin told the teachers: “Many school books are written by people who work to get foreign grants. They dance to the polka that others have paid for. You understand? These books, regrettably, get into schools and universities.” Putin demanded new history textbooks that “make our citizens, especially the young, proud of their country” and reiterated “no one must be allowed to impose the feeling of guilt on us.”
Putin pledged to hand out government grants to authors who will write proper new textbooks. Following his recent pattern, he used the meeting to again lash out at the United States. “Yes, we had terrible pages in Russia’s history,” he said. “Let us recall the events since 1937, and let us not forget that. But in other countries [the U.S.], it has been said, it was more terrible.” Putin suggested that Washington’s use of nuclear weapons against Japan at the end of World War II was worse than Stalin’s political repression and mass murder. Putin also cited the U.S. bombing campaign and use the defoliant Agent Orange during the Vietnam War (official transcript, www.kremlin.ru, June 21).
The teachers’ delegation dutifully rallied to Putin’s patriotic call. Leonid Polyakov, chair of the department of political science at the Higher School of Economics and author of a new, officially approved textbook, announced that his colleges have undertaken the task to create a “national-patriotic ideology.” These principles will help teachers in the “civic-patriotic education” of students as a supplement to “traditional military-patriotic education.”
Polyakov implied that Russia did not lose the Cold War, but instead “voluntarily disarmed” and imported a “shaky, abstract ideology of universal values, of words ‘freedom,’ ‘democracy,’ ‘market,’ ‘human rights,’ and ‘civil society’.” According to Putin, this foreign ideology has created a “mishmash” in Russian heads and in Russian society that must be corrected. Later, speaking on a Russian First Channel talk show Sunday, June 24, Polyakov argued that the invasion of Afghanistan by Russian troops in 1979 was neither a crime nor a mistake, but a Cold War decision in Russia’s interest, taken after due diligence by the Kremlin.
Polyakov graduated from university in 1973 as a Marxist philosopher and teacher of Marxist-Leninist Social Science. Putin graduated from university two years later, already recruited to become a KGB spy. Polyakov told Putin that today he is a happy man after being called upon to write a new textbook, that his life efforts, experience, and education are once again needed and that social science is back in the curriculum.
In Moscow during communist rule, it was often said that Russia is a nation with an unpredictable past. History was written one way and then repeatedly rewritten again. After the collapse of the USSR in 1991, it seemed for a time that the writing of textbooks and history in general would be freed of strict state control. Of course, historians, teachers, and journalists had been trained during the communist-era, but in a relatively free country new methodologies, untainted by totalitarianism, could rise -- but freedom did not last in Russia.
Putin specifically noted that the history of World War II and Russia’s history after 1991 are wrongly interpreted and must be rewritten. Today Stalin has again been rehabilitated as a leader who made mistakes, but still secured victory over Nazi Germany. The 1990s -- a decade when Russia was a freer state than at anytime before or since -- today is demonized. The pro-Kremlin youth movement Molodaya Gvardia has announced it will be organizing marches in Yekaterinburg and other cities in support of Putin and against the regime’s critics under the slogan, “No return to the 1990s” (RIA-Novosti, June 26).
Maybe even more important than the rewriting of history, is that Putin once again in unequivocal terms spelled out that he considers any Russian citizen or organization that receives any grants or other financial support from abroad in any form to be a paid agent of foreign interests -- a traitor. The traitors dance a “polka” ordered by the enemies of Russia. In fact, Putin said it was a “butterfly polka” (polka-babochka) -- a dance few perform or know anything about. The expression itself is totally alien to modern Russian ears. It is an expression from the Stalinist era that Putin perhaps remembered from long ago, and it is a notion of total paranoia and xenophobia, minted during a time when anti-Americanism was the cornerstone of “military-patriotic education.”
Putin’s personal paranoia and anti-Americanism seem to be growing and are increasingly dominating external and internal Russian politics. This does not mean that Russia is indeed reverting to communist totalitarianism. Putin is not a “Commie,” but a strictly observant Orthodox Christian, which is almost as demanding as being a strictly observant Orthodox Jew. It apparently was Putin’s explicit Christian observance that fooled George W. Bush at their first meeting in 2001 into seeing a reclusive Kremlin dictator as a potential close ally. That was a total illusion, since many in the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church tend to be as anti-Western, anti-American, xenophobic, and just as paranoid as are Russian Communists, the military, and the former KGB.
15 June, 2007
Douglas Farah, here, makes some interesting points on what it all means for Hamas, the Islamic Brotherhood, and Al-Qaeda.
"I think the Palestinians have lost everything," said Kukali, who makes his living conducting public-opinion polls among his people.
"They have lost their land. They have lost their money. They have lost their support from abroad. Now they have lost their minds."
Relatives of the nearly 8,000 Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) men and boys who were massacred in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica in 1995, have filed a lawsuit against the Dutch government and the UN, seeking compensation for failing to prevent the genocide.
The 228-page complaint accuses Dutch troops securing Srebrenica under a UN mandate of abandoning their positions when Bosnian Serb paramilitary forces approached on 11 July 1995, and handing thousands of men and boys over to be killed.
The lawsuit, prepared over the past six years, alleges that although the UN was aware of a pending Bosnian Serb military offensive at least two weeks before it began, neither the Dutch forces nor the UN took steps to save the local population of some 40,000, and were instead concerned only about the wellbeing of their own forces.
Munira Subasic, who lost 22 immediate and extended family members in the Srebrenica massacre, is the president of the Mothers of Srebrenica nongovernmental organization. Subasic accompanied some 300 women from Srebrenica to The Hague, where they handed over their complaint. The case will eventually be heard in a Hague district court.
"Western nations talk a lot about rule of law and justice, they write books and it is time for them to show that Europe really respects the law. And it is time for victims and their families to find their peace," Subasic told ISN Security Watch in a telephone interview.
A Bosnian and Dutch team of lawyers representing the plaintiffs base the case on Dutch, French and UN reports on the Srebrenica massacre. The lawyers say they will prove that the Dutch state and the UN were responsible for the fact that the enclave fell and genocide took place and therefore liable.
However, Dutch officials are transferring the blame to the UN, which allegedly failed to provide sufficient support to defend the town. Dutch officials say compensation claims should be directed at the perpetrators of the massacre, Bosnian Serbs, whose several high-ranking officers have been sentenced for their roles in the Srebrenica massacre.
For its part, the UN said last weekend that it was immune from legal action, citing Article 2 Section 2 of the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the UN.
"The survivors of the Srebrenica massacres are absolutely right to demand justice for the most heinous crimes committed on European soil since World War II […] but this immunity in no way diminishes the UN's commitment to assist the people of Srebrenica," UN spokeswoman Marie Okabe told a press conference.
Okabe also said that the UN is learning from its mistakes and would not rest "until it's fully equipped to prevent such tragedies from occurring in future within its peacekeepers' midst."
A Bosnian lawyer representing the victims, Semir Guzin, told ISN Security Watch that the UN's argument did not stand up to scrutiny because although the world body is granted immunity for the fulfillment of its goals, genocide in Srebrenica genocide was not one of those goals.
"The UN and the Dutch government breached their obligations to prevent genocide as laid down in the Genocide Convention, and there is no immunity for that," Guzin said.
"After all, isn't it hypocritical that the UN, as the world's main moral authority and leader of the fight for justice, is trying to avoid justice by playing the immunity card?" Guzin told ISN Security Watch.
I love it when you can see facts in a new way. Here, for example, is a map of the U.S. where each state is labeled with the name of a country with a comparable GDP. Note that it is not GDP per capita, but the GDP of each state, without any consideration of population.
Thanks to the strangemaps blog.
They're coming to harvest the produce you eat.
They're coming to work your gardens.
They're coming to nanny your kids.
They're coming to...do whatever the hell other jobs Mexicans do in the U.S.
They're coming because, despite what you tell yourself, you want them to come.
You want them to come, because none of you who are going to bother to read this ever had any intention of spending your lives in an orchard or in a field, 12 - 14 hours or more a day, five or six or seven days a week in the blazing sun breaking your back to harvest produce. Because you never had any intention of spending your days planting flowers and pulling weeds and spreading fertilizer and changing mulch in someone's garden. Because you never had a dream of taking care of someone else's kids for a living while their parents are gone. Because you never had any intention of doing the myriad other menial jobs you now think are being taken from you.
You went to college, instead. Or got any number and types of technical certifications. Or joined the military. Or started your own business. Or got a job that requires a higher skill level and/or a linguistic and cultural fluency that an immigrant doesn't have. You wrote off those jobs as beneath you, and assumed that there's a whole bunch of 'other' Americans (not you, or most anyone you know, of course...but out there, in some abstract sense) clamoring for them.
The thing is, though, it seems that those Americans we think of as 'others' consider Americans they don't know as 'others,' as well. And they all seem to think that those 'others' want those jobs and would be doing them if it weren't for the sneaky immigrants.
Oddly enough, I don't recall ever reading any stories about born and bred Americans, Minutemen included, lining up outside of farms and the like looking for that sort of work, despite the ~5% unemployment the U.S. has today. Nor do I recall reading any such instances years back when unemployment was much higher (bear in mind, I'm talking about the past 30 years or so. No need to bring the Great Depression to my attention). People were still eating in the recession, and crops were still being grown and harvested, so I can't imagine that those jobs simply didn't exist for a few years...
"A-HA! Because the Mexicans drive down the wages for those jobs!"
Indeed, they do. Because you want them to. Because just as you won't work those jobs for those wages, the employers won't pay you the wages that might make those jobs seem more enticing. Because if they did, you, and the vast majority of other Americans, wouldn't buy those goods at the resulting price. Not when there's always imports competing with them. And you and most others couldn't afford those personal and home services if they were provided by born and bred Americans.
Of course, low wages to us are several times what they'd make doing the same thing back home. Crowded, spartan living conditions to us are probably almost luxurious to them. A generally rotten, unacceptable deal to us must be a pretty sweet deal indeed to them, or they wouldn't be coming in droves like they are.
And make no mistake, they will continue to come as long as it is profitable for them to do so. They come because, whether you like it or not, there's a demand for them. They come because of the basic law of supply and demand. They come because our system works. Short of digging WWI-style trenches along the border, complete with minefields and machine guns nests and pre-sighted artillery and orders to shoot border jumpers on sight (none of which is ever going to happen, you and I all know), they will come. Anything we do short of the extreme, politically impossible and morally unacceptable, will be building a razor wire fence to stop a tsunami. A useless waste of time and effort on one hand, and an embarrassing display of impotence on the other.
So, instead of making fools of ourselves trying to prevent the inevitable, why don't we concentrate our energies on making the inevitable work out better for us?
Our immigration system can't process people at the rate they're coming in? Expand it, and/or streamline the visa process. More people want in than the quotas allow? Raise the quotas. If there aren't jobs, they won't come.
They're overwhelming our welfare state? Trim the welfare benefits (yes, I know, easier said than done).
They don't speak English, aren't familiar with the cultural norms? Teach them. Get an ESL job in Cali or Texas. Or volunteer. Or freelance.
Find a bunch of them and get a business loan or investment and open a genuine, gourmet Mexican restaurant, or simple diner in your area. Organize them to teach private Spanish lessons. Start a landscaping firm and use their cheap labor. What? Someone's already doing that in your neighborhood? Do it faster, better, cheaper.
Be a capitalist and entrepreneur and seek out and exploit opportunity.
Anything. Just stop lamenting the rising and setting of the sun.
06 June, 2007
As a matter of principle, I have no problem with contracting it out. The contracted work could well be better--except when (a) the contractor, claiming "trade secrets," can avoid oversight, and/or (b) the contractor is so dependent on the renewal of a contract that it gives the client what the client wants to hear. Condition (a) means there's no way for Congress to know what's going on. Condition (b) turns the outside contractor into a yes-man for whatever administration is in power. Put (a) and (b) together, we have a self-reinforcing set of illusions--and everyone pays for it.
31 May, 2007
The Financial Times cites a "senior World Bank manager" who "said there would be mixed feelings about Mr Zoellick’s nomination, with respect for his diplomatic skills offset by
concern about his hard-driving management style. The manager said MrZoellick was “highly regarded” but seen as a “bit abrasive” with his staff."
You ask me, a "bit abrasive" isn't bad, especially around the club we call the World Bank.
Blake Hounshell at the Foreign Policy blog is downright ephusive:
It's true that Zoellick made little headway on Darfur or Doha, butI wonder how this one slipped through the vetting process. Condi, did you push it?
these are herculean challenges that require sustained presidential
engagement. (After all, the cossacks work for the Tsar.) On China
policy, Zoellick made a hugely positive impact as a thoughtful
counterweight to Pentagon hawks. His September 2005 remarks
to the National Committee on United States-China relations were the
most insightful comments made by any Bush official over the past six
27 May, 2007
This is not a cheery analysis, I admit, but it's not hopeless--unless we assume the U.S. can't resupply it. This raises the possibility of a mini-Berlin airlift. Is that in the plan?
24 May, 2007
May 23, 2007: An all too believable accusation is making the rounds in the European media. The charge is that, last year, a UN investigative team learned that some UN peacekeepers had sold arms and bartered gold with members of an illegal militia in the Congo in 2005. Specifically, a Pakistani unit operating in the town of Mongbwalu (northeast Congo) was involved in the arms trade and illegal gold purchasing operations. The report said a "small number" of personnel were involved. The arms traded to the militiamen were arms that had been "harvested" (collected) from various militias. The "circular arms trade" is an old problem that has cropped up in numerous insurgencies. Guerrilla arms are seized and then sold back to the guerrillas by criminal gangs or soldiers operating with criminal gangs. In the case of the Congo, it looks like some of the peacekeepers were "freelancing" on their own.Unconfirmed, but not all that surprising.
13 May, 2007
It's always probematic to apply physical metaphors to social phenomena. People plan and choose and anticipate and attach meanings. Nevertheless, the metaphor can be useful for a first pass at teaching an important idea. With that in mind, take a look at BLACKFIVE's analogy between networks/communities and curved space.
It's worth a look.
11 May, 2007
One Vietnam veteran, an old retired colonel, once said this to me: “Most of the people in our society are sheep. They are kind, gentle, productive creatures who can only hurt one another by accident.” This is true. Remember, the murder rate is six per 100,000 per year, and the aggravated assault rate is four per 1,000 per year. What this means is that the vast majority of Americans are not inclined to hurt one another.Where do you stand?
Some estimates say that two million Americans are victims of violent crimes every year, a tragic, staggering number, perhaps an all-time record rate of violent crime. But there are almost 300 million Americans, which means that the odds of being a victim of violent crime is considerably less than one in a hundred on any given year. Furthermore, since many violent crimes are committed by repeat offenders, the actual number of violent citizens is considerably less than two million.
Thus there is a paradox, and we must grasp both ends of the situation: We may well be in the most violent times in history, but violence is still remarkably rare. This is because most citizens are kind, decent people who are not capable of hurting each other, except by accident or under extreme provocation. They are sheep.
I mean nothing negative by calling them sheep. To me it is like the pretty, blue robin’s egg. Inside it is soft and gooey but someday it will grow into something wonderful. But the egg cannot survive without its hard blue shell. Police officers, soldiers and other warriors are like that shell, and someday the civilization they protect will grow into something wonderful. For now, though, they need warriors to protect them from the predators.
“Then there are the wolves,” the old war veteran said, “and the wolves feed on the sheep without mercy.” Do you believe there are wolves out there who will feed on the flock without mercy? You better believe it. There are evil men in this world and they are capable of evil deeds. The moment you forget that or pretend it is not so, you become a sheep. There is no safety in denial.
“Then there are sheepdogs,” he went on, “and I’m a sheepdog. I live to protect the flock and confront the wolf.” Or, as a sign in one California law enforcement agency put it, “We intimidate those who intimidate others.”
If you have no capacity for violence then you are a healthy productive citizen: a sheep. If you have a capacity for violence and no empathy for your fellow citizens, then you have defined an aggressive sociopath--a wolf. But what if you have a capacity for violence, and a deep love for your fellow citizens? Then you are a sheepdog, a warrior, someone who is walking the hero’s path. Someone who can walk into the heart of darkness, into the universal human phobia, and walk out unscathed.
28 April, 2007
Students at Turner County High School (Ashburn, GA.) held an integrated prom for the first time in the school's history.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has agreed to add the Wiccan pentacle to the list of symbols it will inscribe on headstones in military cemeteries.
The Russians are bringing back the grandiose (and financially disasterous) plan to build a tunnel under the Bering Straight. Last time this was tried, Stalin used slave labor from the Gulag.
The International Theological Commission of the Roman Catholic Church has found that unbaptized babies may, after all, go to heaven. Limbo is in, shall we say, limbo.
The World Health Organization reports there are now between 300 million and 800 million malaria cases a year. Eighty percent of the victims are children, and "millions of whom could hae been saved over the years" if DDT hadn't been unfairly banned after Silent Spring. If there is a Limbo, perhaps Rachel Carson is there.
18 April, 2007
ISN Security Watch - Darfur: The great sacrifice
Darfur: The great sacrifice
As the situation in Darfur deteriorates, with reports of the regime using military planes disguised as UN aircraft bombing villages, international, particularly US inaction removes the last chance for millions of innocent civilians.
The government of Sudan is said to be disguising military planes as UN and African Union (AU) aircraft in order to fly arms into its troubled Darfur region and to bomb villages, the New York Times News Service reports, citing an unpublished UN report.
The UN Security Council committee report is said to provide photos of one example of a white-washed Sudanese military plane with the UN logo stenciled on its side parked at an airport in Darfur, while rows of bombs wait to be loaded.
09 March, 2007
What I infer from this data and the Neurolearning Blog post is that the most favorable time for any effort, external or indigenous, to engage in a positive restructuring of a nation's societal rule-sets may be when a given country's youth bulge hits their early twenties. A narrow window of time when the most physically vigorous and largest section of the population has reached mental maturity in terms of accepting, comprehending and processing abstractions yet are most open to new ideas and desirous of a productive future for themselves.
Signs of Qaeda resurgence - International Herald Tribune
WASHINGTON: Senior leaders of Al Qaeda operating from Pakistan have re-established significant control over their once-battered worldwide terror network and over the past year have set up a band of training camps in the tribal regions near the Afghan border, according to American intelligence and counterterrorism officials.
American officials said there was mounting evidence that Osama Bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, had been steadily building an operations hub in the mountainous Pakistani tribal area of North Waziristan. Until recently, the Bush administration had described Bin Laden and Zawahri as detached from their followers and cut off from operational control of Al Qaeda.
The United States has also identified several new Qaeda compounds in North Waziristan, including one that officials said might be training operatives for strikes against targets beyond Afghanistan.
American analysts said recent intelligence showed that the compounds functioned under a loose command structure and were operated by groups of Arab, Pakistani and Afghan militants allied with Al Qaeda. They receive guidance from their commanders and Zawahri, the analysts said. Bin Laden, who has long played less of an operational role, appears to have little direct involvement.
Officials said the training camps had yet to reach the size and level of sophistication of the Qaeda camps established in Afghanistan under Taliban rule. But groups of 10 to 20 men are being trained at the camps, the officials said, and the Qaeda infrastructure in the region is gradually becoming more mature.
(March 10 is OBLs birthday. Remember to send a card.)
22 February, 2007
Mark Steyn is always a fun read. A recent sample:
ACCORDING to my dictionary, the word "ally" comes from the Old French. Very Old French, I'd say. For the New French, the word has a largely postmodern definition of "duplicitous charmer who undermines you at every opportunity".
For the less enthusiastically obstructive NATO members, "ally" means "wealthy country with no military capability that requires years of diplomatic wooing and black-tie banquets in order to agree to a token contribution of 23.08 troops." Incidentally, that 23.08 isn't artistic licence on my part. The 2004 NATO summit in Turkey was presented as a triumph of multilateral co-operation because the 26 members agreed to contribute between them an additional 600 troops and three helicopters to the Afghan mission. That's 23.08 troops and a ninth of a helicopter per ally. In fairness, Turkey chipped in the three helicopters single-handed, though the deal required them to return to Ankara after three months.
And these days troops is something of an elastic term, too. In Norwegian, it means "fighting men who are prepared to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Americans, as long as they don't have to do any fighting and there are at least two provinces between their shoulders and the American ones". That's to say, Norway is "participating" in Afghanistan, but, because its troops are "not sufficiently trained to take part in combat", they've been mainly back at the barracks manning the photocopier or staging amateur performances of Peer Gynt for the amusement of US special forces who like nothing better than to unwind with five acts of Ibsen after a hard day hunting the Taliban.
15 February, 2007
From Ivan Eland, another note of sanity in an insane world.
American Chronicle: A Foreign Policy that Only Tarzan Could Love
What do I have to do to get involved with the Independent Institute? They often seem to say what I want to say, and usually they do a better job of saying it than I do.
A new audiotape surfaced Tuesday from al Qaeda's deputy leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri. In this latest message, al-Zawahiri pledges allegiance to Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, who he calls the leader of the worldwide jihadist movement. Even more striking, there is no mention whatsoever of al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden. This suggests that al Qaeda has been weakened to the point that a major shift in the leadership of the wider jihadist movement is under way. There is no proof that bin Laden is dead, but he is certainly missing in action...
These circumstances have created a situation that has allowed Mullah Omar to reassert himself as the leader of the jihadists...
In fact, the Taliban resurgence to a great degree has been made possible by the renewed al Qaeda commitment to the Taliban insurgency. Now that bin Laden is no longer leading al Qaeda, and with the Taliban revived as a major force, al-Zawahiri has no choice but to acknowledge Mullah Omar as the supreme jihadist leader. Al Qaeda's dependency on the Taliban (as opposed to the other way around) will create a struggle over operational planning and allocation of resources -- directly impacting the network's global reach.
12 February, 2007
DefenseLink News Transcript: DoD News Briefing with Secretary Gates
What I have said in my testimony is that I think that the words "civil war" oversimplify a very complex situation in Iraq. I believe that there are essentially four wars going on in Iraq. [my emphasis] One is Shi'a on Shi'a, principally in the south; the second is sectarian conflict, principally in Baghdad, but not solely; third is the insurgency; and fourth is al Qaeda, and al Qaeda is attacking, at times, all of those targets.
So I think I just -- you know, I -- it's not, I think, just a matter of politics or semantics. I think it oversimplifies it. It's a bumper sticker answer to what's going on in Iraq.
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02 February, 2007
My wife survived an unexpected case of Thyroid cancer. The Thyroid is now out,with over thirty of her lympth nodes. The surgeon was very thorough. A radioactive iodide treatment in a few weeks should simultaneously locate and destroy any remaining tumor.
Although we didn't get to visit her family over the holidiays, her mother drove up here and rescued us just when it was beginning to feel overwhelming. I'm lucky to have a mother-in-law like her.
Although the tumor attached itself to the vocal cords, it was removed with minimal damage. Susan needs some special training to get more of her voice back, but the recovery so far has been remarkable. She's singing again! (Quietly, to be sure, but so what?)
It's easy to look at the negative. Seeing the positive takes a little more effort--for me, at least--but it's a lot better for everyone, and there's a lot to be thankful for.