27 July, 2011

Who has the troops?

The Size Of The World's Military Forces
Make of it what you will.

Little support to 'pay troops first'


This seems shortsighted--and evil.
Two weeks after a Texas congressman tried force a House vote on his bill mandating that servicemembers be paid first in the event of a government shutdown, only nine representatives have signed on.

The so-called discharge petition requires 218 signatures.
Show me your budget, and I'll show you your priorities.

IR "isms" are like reality television

The Duck of Minerva:

It may be intellectually sloppy, but it can be the fastest way to get noticed.

International relations scholars like ‘isms’ for the same reason that television execs like reality TV. They have much lower production costs, as they are much less arduous and cognitively taxing than intense empirical work, which is the equivalent of scripted television. For regular workaday scholars, they are just the kind of brainless thing to sit down and read after a long, mentally tiring day. ‘Iron Chef’ trumps ‘The Wire’ any day. They might feel guilty about it, but this is what they end up talking about at the hotel bar at conferences, which is closest thing to a water cooler that international relations scholars have.
There are still outlets for non-‘ism’ work in excellent niche journals with a more narrow readership, where nuance and sophistication are still important, much like cable TV. But whatever you do, do not start blogging. That is a ticket straight to the D-List.
Love the analogy. If you are into this stuff at all, you'll want to read the whole thing.

25 July, 2011

The world's most pathetic superhero?

Captain Euro

The Klingon threat

Klingons invade Vulcan! (Ontario)

Intended and unintended consequences

From Mickey Edwards, The Atlantic:
Ours is a system focused not on collective problem-solving but on a struggle for power between two private organizations. Party activists control access to the ballot through closed party primaries and conventions; partisan leaders design congressional districts. Once elected to Congress, our representatives are divided into warring camps. Partisans decide what bills to take up, what witnesses to hear, what amendments to allow.

Many Americans assume that’s just how democracy works, that this is how it’s always been, that it’s the system the Founders created. But what we have today is a far cry from what the Founders intended.
Worth a read. Good analysis, thoughtful suggestions for change.

21 July, 2011

Rare honesty

Michael Hudson has a lauditory (and rare) skill: he's an economist who tells the unvarnished truth.

From Wall Street’s Euthanasia of Industry | Michael Hudson:
[Interviewer] "Michael, I read the in the newspapers that the great recession, so-called, has long since ended, but unemployment remains stubbornly high with only a measly 18,000 jobs created in June. I believe the term that was coined some time ago is a jobless recovery. What is a jobless recovery?

[Hudson] We call that a depression – in this case, caused mainly by debt deflation. Just because the stock market is being inflated by the Federal Reserve doesn’t mean that the economy itself is growing. It’s shrinking – from a combination of families and businesses having to pay off debts rather than spend their income on goods and services, and the government’s shift of taxes off finance, insurance and real estate (FIRE) onto labor and industry."
There's a lot more where that came from.

Famine and carry-out

From 20 July Nightwatch:
North Korea: The Telegraph reported, in paraphrase, that six million North Koreans might be starving, but the children of the elite can order take-out from McDonalds in China, using Air Koryo -- the national airlines -- to make the deliveries to their homes.

McDonald's has no franchises in North Korea, but has 850 in China. North Korea has no banking relationship, such as credit cards, with the United States. American dollars buy junk food in China for the families of the senior party members and have it delivered.
According to The Telegraph report, Kim Chong-il indulges this and other extravagances as bribes in return for support for his third son as the next leader of North Korea. Some North Koreans consider Chinese-made McDonald's hamburgers to be delicacies.
This could be funny if it wasn't so evil.

15 July, 2011

I'm sure it's just a coincidence

Revealing Harry Potter Ad Placement

Revealing Harry Potter Ad Placement

The failure of the establishment

Walter Russell Mead does it again (from his blog on The American Interest):

I don’t want to make this a habit, and I suspect he doesn’t either, but Paul Krugman and I are once again in (very) partial agreement. We both think the American elite has intellectually and morally lost its way, and we agree that the problems our country faces today have more to do with elite breakdown than popular stupidity.
That is not what the elite thinks, by and large. To listen to many bien pensant American intellectuals and above-the-salt journalists, America faces a shocking problem today: the cluelessness, greed, arrogance and bigotry of the American public. American elites are genuinely and sincerely convinced that the American masses don’t understand the world, don’t realize that American exceptionalism is a mental disease, want infinite government benefits while paying zero tax, and cling to their Bibles and their guns despite all the peer reviewed social science literature that demonstrates the danger and the worthlessness of both.
[In reality] The American people are less prejudiced, more globally aware and more willing to meet other cultures and societies halfway than ever before. Minorities today are better protected in law and more fairly treated by the public than ever in our history. No previous generation has been as determined to give women a fair chance in life, or to attack the foul legacy of racism. The American people have never been as religiously tolerant as they are today, as concerned about the environment, or more willing to make sacrifices around the world to promote the peace and well being of humanity as a whole.

By contrast, we have never had an Establishment that was so ill-equipped to lead. It is the Establishment, not the people, that is falling down on the job.
Here in the early years of the twenty-first century, the American elite is a walking disaster and is in every way less capable than its predecessors. It is less in touch with American history and culture, less personally honest, less productive, less forward looking, less effective at and less committed to child rearing, less freedom loving, less sacrificially patriotic and less entrepreneurial than predecessor generations. Its sense of entitlement and snobbery is greater than at any time since the American Revolution; its addiction to privilege is greater than during the Gilded Age and its ability to raise its young to be productive and courageous leaders of society has largely collapsed.

It's worth a full read.

I really hope this works

From The Guardian

Iceland is crowdsourcing its new constitution.

In creating the new document, the council has been posting draft clauses on its website every week since the project launched in April. The public can comment underneath or join a discussion on the council's Facebook page.
The council also has a Twitter account, a YouTube page where interviews with its members are regularly posted, and a Flickr account containing pictures of the 25 members at work, all intended to maximise interaction with citizens.
Meetings of the council are open to the public and streamed live on to the website and Facebook page. The latter has more than 1,300 likes in a country of 320,000 people.
The crowdsourcing follows a national forum last year where 950 randomly selected people spent a day discussing the constitution. If the committee has its way the draft bill, due to be ready at the end of July, will be put to a referendum without any changes imposed by parliament – so it will genuinely be a document by the people, for the people.
Comment: Randomly-selected councils. Meetings open to the public. All the usual social media sites. This could prove to be very interesting.

Have you wondered what America's real space program looks like?

Gallery: America’s Secret Space Arsenal | Danger Room | Wired.com

I'm especially interested in the video of NOSS in orbit. It explains a lot of anomalous "UFO" sightings and it illustrates our natural tendency to "fill in the blanks" when we don't have much data.

The party's over

Theories are great, but data are better

Pakistan's Middle Class Extremists | Foreign Affairs

14 July, 2011

A question I'd like to see answered

From Danger Room:

In a letter that Sens. Mark Udall of Colorado and Ron Wyden of Oregon will send later on Thursday, obtained by Danger Room, the senators ask Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, “Do government agencies have the authority to collect the geolocation information of American citizens for intelligence purposes?”

Both senators are members of the panel overseeing the 16 intelligence agencies. In May, they sounded warnings that the Obama administration was secretly reinterpreting the Patriot Act to allow a broader amount of domestic surveillance than it had publicly disclosed.
“[R]ecent advances in geolocation technology have made it increasingly easy to secretly track the movements and whereabouts of individual Americans on an ongoing, 24/7 basis,” they write. “Law enforcement agencies have relied on a variety of different methods to conduct this sort of electronic surveillance, including the acquisition of cell phone mobility data from communications companies as well as the use of tracking devices covertly installed by the law enforcement agencies themselves.”
Geolocation is a particular interest of Wyden’s. Technically, there are few obstacles to clandestine geodata collection, since most mobile phones feature built-in GPS. So along with a House Republican, Jason Chaffetz, Wyden introduced a bill that would require warrants for law enforcement to collect geodata. As our sister blog Threat Level has reported, a patchwork of inconsistent recent court rulings has yet to resolve whether geolocation data is protected by the Fourth Amendment.

What do all the rest of you think? As a practical matter, can we say there is a reasonable expectation of privacy?
Hell--can we assume a reasonable expectation of privacy anywhere?

13 July, 2011

The Dude abides

Scholars and The Big Lebowski

"A bowling alley. A severed toe sporting a neatly polished nail. An aging hippie and his best friend, a Vietnam War veteran with a hair-trigger temper.

If those images don’t add up to anything for you, feel free to flip the page. If they do, it means you’re familiar — perhaps intimately so — with one of the most analyzed, deconstructed and eclectically interpreted films of recent decades: The Big Lebowski.

Joel and Ethan Coen‘s subversive comedy, in which a slovenly slacker (Jeff Bridges) in modern-day L.A. gets caught up in a convoluted kidnapping case, was neither a critical nor a popular success when it was released in 1998. But it gradually became a cult classic, attracting a large, committed group of followers — including more than a few academics.

In anticipation of the 10th annual Lebowski Fest, a gathering of fans taking place July 15 and 16 in Louisville, Ky., we decided to pour ourselves a white Russian and peruse some of the scholarly papers the film has inspired. Probably by design, it’s impossible to get a firm handle on The Big Lebowski, but there’s value in tracing its disparate thematic threads and discovering the patterns they create. Think of it as research that ties the room together."
I wonder if Mark knows about this? 

It's more than the great firewall

BBC News - China: 1.3 million websites shut in 2010:
The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said there were were 41% fewer websites at the end of 2010 than a year earlier.
Chinese officials have tightened regulations on the internet in recent years, and they launched a crackdown on pornography websites in 2009.
The academy's researcher said there was no link, insisting China had a 'high level of freedom of online speech'.
Liu Ruisheng said that despite the declining number of sites, the number of web pages had risen to 60 billion during 2010 - a 79% increase on the previous year.
Comment: It should be interesting to see how well this works. There's lot of talent in China--and much of it looks for ways around official censorship.

A victory for the flying spaghetti monster

BBC News - Austrian driver's religious headgear strains credulity

I wonder how much trouble it would be to do this with my PA driver's license?

12 July, 2011

Holy sh#!t

From Danger Room: 100 Firefights, Three Weeks: Inside Afghanistan’s Most Insane Fight: "

Editor’s note: These Marines’ tour was one of the most brutal of the entire war. In its first three weeks in Afghanistan’s Sangin district, the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines got into more than 100 firefights, and sustained 62 casualties. The insurgents managed to negate the Marines’ night-vision gear, and rendered their traditional close-combat tactics useless. Things got so bad, the 3/5’s superior officers even suggested pulling their troops back.
That didn’t happen. Instead, the 3/5 went after the militants, hard. They went on the offensive constantly. They leveled booby-trapped compounds without apology. They didn’t bother with school-building until the insurgents were back on their heels. Nor did they mess with the poppy growers; the Marines had more than their fair share of enemies.

When the 3/5 came home, they told counterinsurgency historian Mark Moyar all about their deeply unconventional approach to what was already an unconventional war. An excerpt from Moyar’s 74-page after action report follows.
On Oct. 13, the day 3/5 took control of Sangin, the first Marine patrol to leave the wire came under fire 150 feet from the perimeter. One member of this patrol was shot dead. Within the next four days, another eight Marines died.
The extent of the resistance encountered in Sangin surprised many of the Marines. It was stronger than any Taliban resistance that Marines had witnessed previously in Afghanistan. During prior major Marine operations in Helmand, the insurgents had fought toe-to-toe for a few days and then relied primarily on IEDs [improvised explosive devices] and small hit-and-run ambushes. The insurgents in Sangin kept attacking in large numbers, and regrouped for counter-attacks after the initial volleys instead of dispersing.
To maintain morale, officers and NCOs kept their Marines focused on the need to defeat the enemy and avenge the fallen, and kept them active so that they did not have time to mope. “You really can’t prepare a Marine to lose his good buddy or see another one of his buddies with both his legs blown off,” said Captain Chris Esrey, commander of India company. “The best way to overcome that is to get right back out on a patrol the next day because it doesn’t happen every time you go out.”
Comment: "War is Hell" doesn't cover the half of it. These people do the impossible. I can't help but wonder, though--in the long run, was it worth it?

Karzai’s Brother Dies A Gangster’s Death in Kandahar

From Danger Room

Karzai’s Brother Dies A Gangster’s Death in Kandahar:

Since Ahmed Wali Karzai lived like the Tony Montana of Afghanistan, it almost seems inevitable that half-brother of the Afghan president died the way he did.

The man known by the U.S. military as AWK was gunned down in his Kandahar home by one of his own bodyguards, Sardar Mohammad, on Tuesday morning. Very conveniently, other members of the AWK guard force killed Mohammad.

The Taliban are claiming credit for the assassination. But AWK, who ran the Kandahar provincial council, had no shortage of enemies. Deep breath: there’s probably going to be a power struggle in Kandahar now.

AWK was a classic warlord. More powerful than the province’s governor, he had connections to the drug trade, fueled by American largesse, and controlled a fearsome private militia. The U.S. military, alarmed that AWK’s corruption made the Taliban’s argument for it, thought him so dangerous to the war effort that it considered putting him on its “kill or capture” list. Officials at the U.S. embassy in Kabul debated prosecuting him. But AWK reportedly was the CIA’s man in Kandahar — which blunted U.S. moves against him and exposed the incoherence of American anti-corruption strategy.

But AWK also maintained a large patronage network that kept him in power. Last month, Matthieu Aikins of Harper’s reported that a “who’s who of pro-government figures” convened to discuss a push to install him as Kandahar’s governor. AWK paid for the event.

Follow Aikins’ tweets for granular English-language information on the aftermath. But a struggle to fill the void left by AWK’s death may already be underway. Aikins guesses that the governor, an import from British Columbia propped up by AWK, is looking for the exits. Possible successors to AWK include the similarly corrupt (and violent) Gul Agha Shirzai, now the governor of Nangahar; and police chief Abdul Raziq, whom Aikins once described as ”a ruthless, charismatic figure, a man who brooked no opposition to his will.”

The U.S. propped up AWK for years on the promise that the stability of a strongman trumped any concerns about corruption. Now that “stability” is gone — right as insurgent attacks have barely leveled off in Afghanistan, the Taliban seek to retake Kandahar, and the U.S. hopes to hold it as some of them start to come home.

Comment: I'm glad to see him go, but sad to see what's coming. When will we learn not to put faith in strongmen?

Is this for real?

From the Small Wars Journal:

SFA in Africa, Training Video # 1

The war for the Planet of the Apes has begun?

11 July, 2011

Playing Chicken

From The Economist:
"This newspaper has a strong dislike of big government; we have long argued that the main way to right America’s finances is through spending cuts. But you cannot get there without any tax rises. In Britain, for instance, the coalition government aims to tame its deficit with a 3:1 ratio of cuts to hikes. America’s tax take is at its lowest level for decades: even Ronald Reagan raised taxes when he needed to do so.

And the closer you look, the more unprincipled the Republicans look. Earlier this year House Republicans produced a report noting that an 85%-15% split between spending cuts and tax rises was the average for successful fiscal consolidations, according to historical evidence. The White House is offering an 83%-17% split (hardly a huge distance) and a promise that none of the revenue increase will come from higher marginal rates, only from eliminating loopholes. If the Republicans were real tax reformers, they would seize this offer.

Both parties have in recent months been guilty of fiscal recklessness. Right now, though, the blame falls clearly on the Republicans. Independent voters should take note."

08 July, 2011

Our "friends" in Pakistan

From the July 7th Nightwatch:

Pakistan-North Korea: Special comment. The international news media have reported that Pakistan provided North Korea the technology and sample centrifuges for making Highly Enriched Uranium for nuclear weapons. 
The source of the revelation is a newly disclosed letter sent in 1998 from a senior North Korean official to Abdul Qader Khan, the father of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program. The letter contains details of  bribes or payoffs to then Chief of Army Staff General Jehangir Karamat and another general. It was signed by North Korean National Defense Commission member Chon Pyong Ho. The letter mentions missile components sent to Pakistan and the dispatch of a new emissary who has been in Egypt, Libya, Syria and Iran - all conventional weapons or missile clients of North Korea.Pakistani officials have charged the letter is a forgery by A.Q. Khan so as to distribute blame for his conviction for selling strategic secrets. Khan is under house arrest, but always swore he acted under orders from the highest authorities. In 1998, those would have been General Karamat and then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Those luminaries always claimed Khan acted on his own in selling Pakistan's strategic nuclear secrets to North Korea.US intelligence people have said the letter looks authentic, according to press reports. And this time they have it right. The transaction in 1998 involved strategic assets which North Korea and Pakistan guard jealously. Pakistan desperately needed a reliable nuclear weapons delivery system after India tested its nuclear weapons in 1998. Pakistan had tested its nuclear technology in response. The date of the letter is July 1998.North Korea had plutonium for fissile material, but was in the market for uranium enrichment technology. North Korea had the NoDong medium range ballistic missile as a delivery system, a reliable weapons carrier, to trade for enrichment technology. Most nuclear weapons states have both plutonium and highly enriched uranium processes for producing fissile material.The individuals mentioned in the letter include people who must be involved in such a transaction, namely General Karamat and Chon. Chon Pyong Ho was the chief of the Second Economic Committee, the North Korean name for the group that supervises the military industrial complex - all the plants that make ballistic missiles, nuclear weapons and all other military ordnance. He is a classmate of Kim Chong-il, who still chairs the National Defense Commission. 
Karamat probably did not take a bribe as he claims. Any money from North Korea would have been diverted into Pakistan Army secret funds. Chon Pyong Ho's involvement indicates the highest level of the North Korean government was involved directly in the transaction.  That raises a prima facie inference that Chon was dealing with his counterparts in Pakistan. RThe Chief of the Army Staff is the highest ranking military officer in Pakistan. A.Q. Khan was the project director and middleman.The facts are that the four prototype uranium enrichment centrifuges that the North obtained were made in Pakistan and supplied by A.Q. Khan, by his own admission. The Ghauri missiles in the Pakistan Army came from North Korea and are  NoDongs.The obvious inference is that this was a high level arrangement authorized by both governments. This was not a simple swap because of the huge follow-on investments in land and equipment required to build Ghauri missile production and testing facilities and bases in Pakistan and to build a nuclear enrichment centrifuge cascade in North Korea. These were large-scael and expensive undertakings by both countries.In short, in 1998, Pakistan, a US friend, provided nuclear weapons technology to North Korea, an enemy with whom the US was and is still at war. The letter adds details about the physical exchange of strategic assets in 1998. 
Pakistan-US: Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral. Mike Mullen said 7July that the murder of a Pakistani journalist was sanctioned by the Pakistani government. Mullen said he did not have reason to disabuse that the Pakistani government knew about the murder. 
Comment: The journalist was Syed Saleem Shahzad who was murdered in May for reporting on infiltration of the Pakistan armed forces by anti-government Islamic militants. For Mullen and other US officials to make unconditional statements about Pakistani government culpability means that the evidence is conclusive. 
The above two reports are studies in Pakistani democracy.

Sometimes it feels like we've made an alliance with Hitler in order to fight Mussolini.