Tuesday, September 30, 2008

MI6 British Spy Camera Sold on eBay - With Secret Terror Pics

British intelligence officials are trying to find out which MI6 officer sold that Nikon Coolpix camera. On eBay. For £17. That's about $30 USD. Offhand, I think he may be unemployed soon.

An article in The Sun quotes terrorism author Neil Doyle: " 'These are MI6 documents relating to an operation against al-Qaeda insurgents in Iraq. It's jaw-dropping they got into the public domain.

" 'Not only do they divulge secrets about operations, operating systems and previously unheard-of MI6 departments, but they could put lives at risk.' "

British Officials

Displaying the sort of polite consideration that's so typical of the British character, those of Her Majesty's subjects who have come across secret documents and data have been kind enough to return them to the proper authorities. Like in June of this year, when an inattentive took papers out of Whitehall. And left them on a train.

Actually, it was two officials, two sets of secret papers, and two trains ("More secret files found on train" BBC (June 15, 2008)). Similar procedural irregularities had occurred previously, but that double-barrel whammy hit the Brit headlines and made international news ("British police investigating after secret documents about Al Qaeda left on train" International Herald Tribune (June 11, 2008)).

One might have expected that the "UK Top Secret" stamp might have reminded the absent-minded official.

That dodgy matter of documents on the trains, and now this spy camera, suggest that some people employed by the British government haven't quite grasped the importance of the second word in "military intelligence."

Selling State Secrets: For $30.50?!!

I remember, back in my youth, reading of government officials being accused of selling very sensitive information for sums of around $10,000 USD (around £5,500). Although ten thousand dollars was quite a bit of money back then, those people were sitting on information that should have been worth at least ten times that. I remember trying to decide whether I was more upset about them betraying their country, or having such abysmal business sense.

As for the British agent who sold a Nikon Coolpix worth over $100 USD (new) containing MI6 documents on eBay, for about $30 USD: that's so daft, I almost have to assume that he's a twit.

In the news:
    "For sale: Second hand camera, good condition, contains top secret MI6 terrorist records and pics"
    The Sun (U.K.) (September 30, 2008)
    • "A SECOND-HAND camera sold on eBay by a top MI6 agent held secret records used in the fight against al-Qaeda terrorists.
    • "Names, snaps, fingerprints and suspects’ academic records were found in the memory of the digital device.
    • "Alongside them were photos of rocket launchers and missiles which spooks believe Iran is supplying to Osama Bin Laden’s henchmen in Iraq."

Monday, September 29, 2008

Wall Street Bailout, Flying Fewmets, and Politics as Comic Relief

Another day, another top-rank American financial institution changes hands. At least Wachovia didn't go bankrupt, and isn't being investigated for fraud. As far as I've read.

Although I've written about the Wall Street bailout before, this post is a little off-topic, since it's not directly concerned with the war on terror. On the other hand, the excitement on Wall Street seems to be a genuinely major event, so I'll say that it's important as background, and keep writing.

Big Lending Companies Fail: So What?

One of my early reactions to the crisis du jure on the east coast was, 'so what?' I felt sorry for the office workers who'd have to start looking for jobs: and not so much for the top executives who'd be paid millions of dollars for running their companies into the ground.

I almost buy into the idea that major lending institutions need to be kept afloat, so that they can lend money to other companies, and so on down to people here in Sauk Centre, Minnesota, who are trying to buy houses.

I also accept the idea that, in the long run, the Federal Government will get the $700,000,000,000 in bad loans and investments back. Although I've got a feeling that precious few taxpayers will see their money again: unless they're the ones using government grants to study something vital, like how many paper clips a necklace for the Statue of Liberty would take.

The impression I've gotten from the news is that America's national leaders are convinced that they gotta do something, or the entire global economy will collapse.

They could be right. On the other hand, they could be wrong.

Blaming the Other Guy For Not Spending 0.7 Trillion Dollars - In the Name of Sanity, WHY?!

What I think is really interesting is how passionately America's leaders have been flinging verbal fewmets at each other, now that the other guy is completely responsible for not spending up to $700,000,000,000 on a plan that 50% of the American public doesn't want.

A Rasmussen poll that came out Saturday showed that about 24% of American voters favored the administration's plan, 25% weren't sure, and 50% knew they didn't want it ("Support for Bailout Plan Now Down to 24%" Rasmussen Reports (September 27, 2008)).
What is Wrong With This Picture?
Watching the news today was something like taking a stroll in the monkey house. I kept wanting to duck.

Republicans and Democrats were passionately throwing accusations that the other party is to blame for not spending almost three quarters of a trillion tax dollars on a massively unpopular project: in an election year.

It's barely possible that Congress thinks that those people out there that vote them into office are impressed by leaders who "do" something. Like spend lots of money. And, it's quite possible that they don't realize that, to people outside Washington, D.C., $700,000,000,000.00 is a lot of money.

Recipe for Tranquility: Pretend This is a Marx Brothers Movie

I've decided to regard what's going on in Washington, D.C., as comic relief: a sort of political analog to a Marx Brothers movie. Strange logic, wacky characters, preposterous situations.

Seriously, I don't have enough information to have an informed opinion about the bailout, whether it should be done, and if so how to do it. I'm just glad I'm not one of the people wrangling over this issue on capitol hill.
On the other hand, it wouldn't hurt to let the people in congress know how the rest of the country feels about the Wall Street bailout - one way or the other. I dug up some possibly-useful online resources:

Congressional voting records: Contact information for In the news:

Melamine,China, the 2008 Olympics, and Transparency

Melamine: There's nothing wrong with the stuff. It's fine for making plastics, like Melmac. So, why is a substance that gave the world nearly-unbreakable, dishwasher-safe, tableware making the headlines?

Melamine: Great for Melmac, Not So Good for Babies

Raw melamine isn't good to eat. In fact, it can be downright dangerous. And it's gotten into the global food supply.

The good news: Only Four babies in China have died from melamine poisoning so far.

The bad news: About 54,000 children have developed kidney stones or some other problem, because their baby formula was spiked with melamine.

More bad news: China has been exporting melamine-spiked food to countries around the world.

So far, it looks like about a dozen companies in China decided to substitute melamine for the more expensive proteins that humans can digest.

How to Boost Profits and Destroy Your Company

It must have seemed like a good idea at the time: protein tests for food register melamine as a protein, so an ethically-challenged executive might figure that passing inspections with a cheap protein substitute made sense. Besides, he wouldn't be the one trying to pass kidney stones.

The problem with getting around quality testing is that, sooner or later, something happens. In this case, babies started dying.

People notice that sort of thing. And, don't like it.

Sanlu, one of the Chinese companies with a creative approach to product standards, may not be around much longer. An executive with one of Sanlu's business partners in New Zealand said, " 'Sanlu has been damaged very badly by this tragedy. The [Sanlu] brand cannot be reconstructed.' And added he 'can't see clearly at this point' whether Sanlu group 'will stay intact.' "

Better Ideas from China: Poisoned Baby Food

Dishonest companies in America have tried using melamine to reduce costs, but it took China to make the dodge a global crisis.

I've read that two brothers who put China in the poison baby food business are facing the death penalty now. That may be a bit harsh, but I can understand the Chinese government's position.

China hasn't been having a good time with its exports lately:
  • Factory-infected consumer electronics
  • Toxic toys
  • Dubious toothpaste and food
  • Downright poisonous cough syrup
(I've written about this before: "The War on Terror? This May be The War For Freedom" (March 18, 2008), "China: Toxic Toys and Dubious Dumplings Aren't Signs of Terrorism" (January 30, 2008).)

The melamine mess involves 22 Chinese companies so far, including the dozen that were actually poisoning the food supply. This look more like a system-wide problem, than a matter of a few nitwits in executive positions.

This Isn't Mao's China

China is getting involved with the world's economy in ways that it hasn't, since Mao took over and started building an eastern workers' paradise.

I think that part of the reason that China's embarrassing tendency to poison its customers is that they're not used to dealing with people who can't be arrested for complaining.

The 2008 Olympics probably didn't help. Time magazine quoted "some critics" say it was all the attention that the games focused on China that forced an investigation ("Brief History of Melamine" (September 17, 2008)).

I also read that New Zealand was getting peeved about China's disinterest in checking out complaints of poisoned food, so the explanation's probably a bit more complicated than that.

My guess is that China's leaders really do want to make China an economic leader in the world, but don't quite know how.

And, they're not yet used to dealing with a world in which the news isn't controlled by their government, and where complaints about poisoned baby food can't be ignored away.

"Transparency," letting people know what a government or other organization is doing, isn't easy to accept. It can be embarrassing, and opens the door to Monday-morning quarterbacks and self-appointed experts. But it's also a good way to make sure that small problems get handled while they're still small.

In the news and reports:
  • "UPDATE 2-Cadbury withdraws China chocolate on melamine concern"
    Reuters (September 29, 2008)
    • "(Repeats to correct typographical error in headline) (Rewrites with Cadbury statement, comments and shares)
    • "HONG KONG/LONDON, Sept 29 (Reuters) - British confectionery group Cadbury Plc (CBRY.L: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) said on Monday it was withdrawing all of its 11 chocolate products made in Beijing on concern over the possibility of contamination with melamine in its Chinese plant.
    • "The London-based group said its products, including Dairy Milk chocolate, were being recalled from mainland China and the export markets of Taiwan, Hong Kong and Australia as a precautionary step pending further supply of fresh product.
    • "A growing list of Chinese milk and milk-related products have been taken off shelves around the world in recent weeks after it came to light that some milk had been contaminated with melamine which led to thousands affected and four deaths...."
  • "New Zealand dairy finds melamine in export product"
    International Herald Tribune (September 29, 2008)
    • "WELLINGTON, New Zealand: A New Zealand dairy company on Monday suspended exports of a product used mainly in baby milk formula after tests found it was contaminated with low levels of the industrial chemical melamine.
    • "The Tatua Cooperative Dairy Co. stopped exports of the dairy protein lactoferrin after tests showed it contained four parts per million of melamine, Tatua chief executive Paul McGilvary said.
    • "Infant milk products in China that have been blamed for killing at least four children and leaving tens of thousands of others sickened had melamine levels of about 2,500 parts per million, he said...."
  • "Melamine scandal hits candy makers"
    CNN (September 29, 2008)
    • "HONG KONG, China (AP) -- British chocolate maker Cadbury on Monday became the latest foreign company to be hit by China's tainted milk scandal, ordering a recall of its Chinese-made products after saying tests "cast doubt" on their safety.
    • "Two U.S. food makers were meanwhile investigating Indonesian claims that high traces of the industrial chemical melamine had been found in Chinese-made Oreos, M&Ms and Snickers, but stressed the same goods had tested negative in other Asian countries.
    • "They said they were looking into all possibilities, including counterfeiting.
    • "The milk scandal erupted earlier this month when China's public learned that melamine, which is used to make plastics and fertilizer, had been found in milk powder and was linked to kidney stones in children. Contamination has since turned up in liquid milk, yogurt and other products made with milk.
    • "Four deaths have been blamed on the bad milk and some 54,000 children have developed kidney stones or other illnesses after drinking tainted baby formula...."
  • "Indonesia says melamine found in 12 China food products"
    Reuters (September 28, 2008)
    • " JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia's health ministry said melamine had been detected in 12 food items from China, including cookies, candies and drinks, as the fall-out from China's tainted-milk scandal spread to Southeast Asia's biggest economy.
    • "Indonesia's Food and Drug Monitoring Agency found that 12 out of 19 Chinese milk products on sale in the country tested positive for melamine, the health ministry said in a statement posted on its website (http://wwww.depkes.go.id) [!]...."
  • "WHO says mother’s milk best for infant health"
    Viet Nam News (September 27, 2008)
    • "HA NOI — Breast-feeding infants is an effective way to prevent them from being exposed to unsafe foods, said Dr Jean-Marc Olive, World Health Organisation Representative to Viet Nam, yesterday.
    • "At a press briefing held by the WHO and the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) in response to the contaminated milk scandal in China, Olive said the scandal highlighted the need to breast-feed infants for at least six months to help enhance growth and brain development...."
  • "FDA Updates Health Information Advisory on Melamine Contamination "
    Food and Drug Administration (United States) (September 26, 2008)
    • "The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is alerting consumers that seven Mr. Brown instant coffee and milk tea products are being recalled by the Taiwanese company, King Car Food Industrial Co. Ltd., due to possible contamination with melamine. King Car Food Industrial Co. used a non-dairy creamer manufactured by Shandong Duqing Inc., China, which was found to be contaminated with melamine. The recalled products are:
      • Mr. Brown Mandheling Blend Instant Coffee (3-in-1)
      • Mr. Brown Arabica Instant Coffee (3-in-1)
      • Mr. Brown Blue Mountain Blend Instant Coffee (3-in-1)
      • Mr. Brown Caramel Macchiato Instant Coffee (3-in-1)
      • Brown French Vanilla Instant Coffee (3-in-1)
      • Mr. Brown Mandhling Blend instant Coffee (2-in-1)
      • Mr. Brown Milk Tea (3-in-1)
      "The FDA recommends that consumers not consume any of the above Mr. Brown instant coffee and milk tea products. The FDA also recommends that retailers and foodservice operators remove the products from sale or service.
    • "As of September 25, 2008, the FDA testing of milk based products imported into the United States from China has not found melamine contamination...."
  • "EU bans baby food with Chinese milk"
    CNN (September 25, 2008)
    • "(CNN) -- The European Union announced a ban on imports of baby food containing Chinese milk Thursday, after tainted dairy products linked to the deaths of four babies turned up in candy and other Chinese-made goods that were quickly pulled from stores worldwide...."
  • "Macau tests finds Chinese cookies tainted with melamine"
    GMANews (September 25, 2008)
    • "HONG KONG – The Macau government says its tests have found excessive amounts of the industrial chemical melamine in Chinese-made chocolate-filled cookies...."
  • "China's Sanlu Milk May Not Survive 'Tainted Milk' Controversy"
    AHN (September 24, 2008)
    • "Wellington, New Zealand (AHN) - The New Zealand partner of Chinese Sanlu milk brand, the company at the center of China's industrial chemical melamine-contaminated baby milk formula scandal, said the brand will not recover from its current problems...."
  • "FDA Updates Health Information Advisory on Melamine Contamination "
    Food and Drug Administration (September 23, 2008)
    • "On September 12, 2008, in light of reports from China of melamine contaminated infant formula, the FDA issued a Health Information Advisory to proactively reassure the American public that there is no known threat of contamination in infant formula manufactured by companies that have met the requirements to sell such products in the United States. That advisory also warned members of Chinese communities in the United States that infant formula manufactured in China, possibly available for purchase at Asian markets, could pose a risk to infants...."
  • "Third African country bans China milk powder brands"
    AFP (September 21, 2008)
    • "BUJUMBURA (AFP) — Burundi became the third African nation to ban Chinese milk products, after tainted milk from the country killed four babies in China and made thousands of others ill, the government said Sunday...."
  • "Epidemic and Pandemic Alert and Response (EPR) - Melamine-contaminated powdered infant formula in China"
    World Health Organization (September 18, 2008)
    • "18 September 2008 -- Over 6240 cases of kidney stones in infants with three deaths have been reported from across China as of 17 September. Kidney stones in infants are very rare.
    • "The Ministry of Health of China has confirmed that these cases are related to melamine-contaminated powdered infant formula consumed by the infants. While the exact onset date of illness resulting from contamination is unknown, a manufacturer received a complaint of illness in March 2008.
    • "Following inspections conducted by China’s national inspection agency, at least 22 dairy manufacturers across the country were found to have melamine in some of their products (levels varied between 0.09mg/kg and 2.560 mg/kg). Two companies exported their products to Bangladesh, Burundi, Myanmar, Gabon and Yemen. While contamination in those exported products remains unconfirmed, a recall has been ordered from China. ...
  • "Brief History of Melamine"
    Time (September 17, 2008)
    • "Melamine, the cheap compound used to bulk up baby formula in China that has sickened at least 1,200 babies across the country and killed at least two so far, once had a much less dubious purpose and, in fact, can be found in some form in most American homes...."
  • "Filler in Animal Feed Is Open Secret in China "
    The New York Times (April 30, 2007)
    • "ZHANGQIU, China, April 28 — As American food safety regulators head to China to investigate how a chemical made from coal found its way into pet food that killed dogs and cats in the United States, workers in this heavily polluted northern city openly admit that the substance is routinely added to animal feed as a fake protein...."
  • "Melamine in pet food may not be accidental"
    USA Today (April 20, 2008)
    • "A nitrogen-rich chemical used to make plastic and sometimes as a fertilizer may have been deliberately added to an ingredient in pet food that has sickened and killed cats and dogs across the country, public and private officials say. A leading theory is that it was added to fake higher protein levels...."

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Dead Pirates May Tell Tales

I think that concerns about an Iranian ship taken by pirates carrying small arms and chemical weapons to Somali Islamist rebels may be a best-case scenario.

News from Africa is that after some Somali pirates tried to inspect the Iranian ship's cargo, they got serious skin burns, their hair fell out, and some of them died. One article quotes a spokesman as saying "It must have been a very dangerous chemical," which fits with concerns about chemical weapons.

When I read about skin burns, hair falling out, and some deaths, I remembered descriptions of severe radiation poisoning. Some chemicals can cause these symptoms, too, but I think it's possible that Iran is importing heavy metals like plutonium.

For the sake of the surviving pirates, I hope that someone with a good medical forensics lab can study samples, and figure out what's making them sick.

For all our sakes, I hope that the Iranian cargo is identified. If the pirates suffered from radiation poisoning, United Nations and other efforts to rein in Iran's nuclear program are very important, indeed.

In the news:
  • "Pirates die strangely after taking Iranian ship"
    The Times (South Africa) (September 28, 2008)
    • "A tense standoff has developed in waters off Somalia over an Iranian merchant ship laden with a mysterious cargo that was hijacked by pirates.
    • "Somali pirates suffered skin burns, lost hair and fell gravely ill 'within days' of boarding the MV Iran Deyanat. Some of them died.
    • "Andrew Mwangura, the director of the East African Seafarers' Assistance Programme, told the Sunday Times: 'We don’t know exactly how many, but the information that I am getting is that some of them had died. There is something very wrong about that ship.'
    • "The vessel's declared cargo consists of 'minerals' and 'industrial products'. But officials involved in negotiations over the ship are convinced that it was sailing for Eritrea to deliver small arms and chemical weapons to Somalia's Islamist rebels...."
    • "...The ship is owned and operated by the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines, or IRISL, a state-owned company run by the Iranian military.
    • "According to the US Treasury Department, the IRISL regularly falsifies shipping documents to hide the identity of end users, uses generic terms to describe shipments and operates under various covers to circumvent United Nations sanctions.
    • "The ship set sail from Nanjing, China, at the end of July. According to its manifest, it was heading for Rotterdam where it would unload 42500 tons of iron ore and 'industrial products' purchased by a German client....
    • "...The pirates did reveal that they had tried to inspect the ship’s cargo containers when some of them fell sick — but the containers were locked...."
  • "Pirates demand ransom for Egyptian ship"
    Reuters (September 8, 2008)
    • "...'It was supposed to be released, but now they are saying the $200,000 was for facilitation only. They want more money for the ransom,' said Andrew Mwangura, of the Kenyan-based East African Seafarers' Assistance Programme.
    • "He said the pirates were angry because when they opened the cargo of the Iranian ship, several Somalis died, while others lost hair and suffered skin burns. 'It must have been a very dangerous chemical,' he said, without identifying the substance...."

Hitler, Appeasement, and the Munich Parallel

I'll have to review my opinion of the arrangement that Chamberlain and company made with Hitler before World War II's big kickoff.

Researching another post, I ran into "Retiring Hitler and 'Appeasement' from the National Security Debate" (Jeffrey Record, in Parameters (Summer 2008)), on the U.S. Army War College website. The part of the article I landed in, thanks to the search terms I was using, included this quote: "...when neoconservative critics of appeasement speak about how Hitler could and should have been stopped prior to 1939, they mean forcible regime change of the kind the United States launched against Saddam Hussein in 2003. But it is here that the neoconservatives and others who believe in the continuing validity of the Munich analogy enter the fantasy realm of historical counterfactualism...."

These days, wild claims about neocons fly around like redolent missiles in the monkey house. I wasn't impressed. Particularly that business about "counterfactualism."

There seemed to be interesting, and maybe useful, references in the article, so I kept skimming.

I still wasn't impressed. The author pointed out, accurately enough, that threats like Hitler's Germany aren't at all common. Hitler, Record points out, planned "...a German racial empire stretching from the English Channel to the Ural Mountains...."

Compared with what I understand to be Al Qaeda's goal, Hitler's proposed empire seems comparatively modest. I considered the possibility that the author thought that only nations could pose a threat to other nations.

Nope. Record seems to realize that Al Qaeda is a real threat, and could be "Hitlerian:"

"A potential threat of genuinely Hitlerian proportions could arise in the event that al Qaeda acquired deliverable nuclear or biological weapons. Like Hitler, al Qaeda is undeterrable and effectively unappeasable; all it lacks is Hitler’s destructive power. As a fanatical, elusive nonstate actor, it presents little in the way of decisive targets subject to effective retaliation, and its political objectives—the complete withdrawal of American power from the Muslim world and the destruction of existing Arab regimes as a precursor to the establishment of a single Islamic caliphate—are literally fantastic. Possession of weapons of mass destruction would render al Qaeda a far more dangerous threat than deterrable or weak enemy states. Though the differences between the German dictator and the Arab terrorist leader are obvious, the similarities are impressive. Hitler was a secular German state leader obsessed with race, while Osama bin Laden is an Arab nonstate actor obsessed with religion. Both are linked by bloodthirstiness, high intelligence, a totalitarian mindset, iron will, fanatical ideological motivation, political charisma, superb tactical skills, utter ruthlessness, and—above all—undeterrability. One distinction is that Hitler lacked the means to strike the American homeland, whereas bin Laden already has."

This is a far cry from the silly side of academia's usual antics, like
  • Ward Churchill's "On the Justice of Roosting Chickens: reflections on the consequences of U.S. imperial arrogance and criminality" - and his comparing "technocratic corps at the very heart of America's global financial empire" working in the World Trade Center on 9/11 as "little Eichmanns."
  • Columbia's welcoming Iran's President Ahmadinejad, but pulling Minutemen founder Gilchrist's invitation to speak. Columbia banned Gilchrist because he has extremist views (he claims that people coming into this country should obey the law while doing so)
Record isn't blaming America for the War on Terror, he isn't excusing Al Qaeda, and he is, as far as I can tell, sticking to facts.

I think it's arguable that England and France wouldn't have been able to make Hitler change his mind by using military force. For starters, those countries, and the rest of Europe, had experienced hard times during the thirties, just like America.

And, if I remember my history correctly, the winning side in World War I had been so distressed by the conflict that they didn't ever want it to happen again: a reasonable desire. So they adopted the Wilsonian idea of disarmament: at best a debatable idea.

I'm not going to try to boil down an article of over 4,400 words in a blog post, but I think that Record may have a point.

However: "Retiring Hitler and 'appeasement' from the national security debate does not mean that the United States should negotiate with any and all enemies or that it should refrain from using force against all threats that are not Hitlerian in scope. The United States is a great power with occasionally threatened interests whose protection sometimes requires the threat of or actual use of force."

Somali Pirates, Barbary Pirates, Ransom, and the War on Terror

We can learn so much from Egypt.

Here's One View

The owners of the Egyptian MV Al-Monsourah paid a little over a million American dollars, and in exchange got their ship and its 25 crew members back, safe and sound.

Meanwhile, America is endangering the lives of the people on a Ukrainian ship off the Somali coast. The presence of an American destroyer, with its implied threat of violence, threatens an escalation of tension.

Why can't America learn to talk to people? Violence never solves anything.

Here's My View

The USS Howard is keeping an eye on pirates and the Ukrainian cargo ship Faina they're holding. Besides the crew, the ship is carrying 33 Russian-built T-72 tanks and a substantial quantity of ammunition and spare parts.

The military hardware was bound for Kenya, and America would just as soon see that it got there.

So would Russia. The Howard is standing in for the Russian missile frigate Neustrashimy, or Intrepid, that's steaming toward Somalia.

I'll grant that the presence of all those big, rough sailors is a risk. The Somali pirates "warned of dire consequences if any military action was taken to try to free the ship," as the Associated Press put it.

On the other hand, I don't think that paying someone to do something you don't want them to do makes sense. Rewarding behavior enforces that behavior. Rewarding undesirable behavior is nuts.

Which is why America has had a policy of not negotiating with terrorists for decades. This country hasn't always followed that policy to the letter, but American leaders tend to be more practical than ideologically pure. Which I see as sensible.

Some kinds of "practical" are more practical than others in the long run, though. An example:
  • About 1550: Pirates control the Barbary Coast, routinely plunder shipping in that area
  • 1662: England applies practical diplomacy, starts paying ransom
    • Barbary pirates stop hitting British ships
    • Other countries trading in the Mediterranean begin paying tribute
  • About 1776: England stops paying tribute for rebellious North American colonies
  • 1785: The Dey of Algiers seized an American ship
    • America didn't pay tribute
    • The Dey jailed the crew, waited for America to anted up
  • 1794: The Dey has plundered eleven American ships, and is waiting for ransom in exchange for hundred and nineteen survivors
  • 1797: Adams administration follows European wisdom, pays tribute to Barbary pirates
  • 1801: Jefferson administration inherits budget in which one out of every five dollars goes to the Barbary pirates
    • America starts military action against pirates
    • 1812: War of 1812 begins, lasts until 1814
      • Anti-piracy campaigns go on the back burner
      • Size of the American Navy is drastically reduced
    • 1815: America formally declared hostilities against Algiers
      • Algiers fell
      • 1816: Anglo-Dutch bombardment of Algiers marks end of Barbary Coast piracy
Repeating what I wrote in an earlier post, what I see as a lesson from the Barbary pirates situation is:
  • Diplomacy and concession work, for a while
  • Using military force doesn't always result in disaster
  • Things take time

What Not to Learn From the Barbary Coast Issue

Researching this post, I found out that piracy, at least in the Mediterranean, is supposed to be something that Islam made up.

I've read stranger ideas.

Even though it's not on a par with 'Nero was a Christian agent,' I think that Joshua E. London's Heritage Foundation lecture is off base. True, the land that Americans called the Barbary Coast was the Maghrib: the Islamic lands west of Egypt. And, the Barbary pirates were Muslims: many of them, anyway. But I'm really dubious about the idea that the idea of jihad led to piracy.

You could use that sort of logic to prove that Blackbeard was a missionary for the Church of England. Which is nonsense, by the way.

Besides, there's been piracy in the Mediterranean at least since the time of Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. That's a long time before Mohammed was born. My guess is that piracy started pretty soon after someone got the idea of moving material on logs or rafts.

In the news:

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Warriors Destroy Tactical Flower Market

It's anyone's guess who dropped a bomb in a New Delhi flower market today.

A young boy, about 10, saw two people drop a package from a bike and leave. They ignored him when he told them that they'd dropped a package. When he picked it up, it exploded.

Nobody's claimed responsibility for this particular attack, but an outfit calling itself the Indian Mujahideen said that they're the ones who took out a a park and crowded shopping areas two weeks ago.

Sometimes, the valor of these holy warriors leaves me nearly speechless.
  • "New Delhi flower market blast kills boy"
    CNN (September 27, 2008)
    • "NEW DELHI, India (CNN) -- A young boy was killed and 17 people hurt when a bomb exploded in south New Delhi Saturday, an Indian police spokesman said...."

North Korea Un-disables Reactor

Have I mentioned that the War on Terror isn't exactly simple? A bomb went off in New Delhi today, Somali pirates are demanding ransom for a Ukrainian ship and Russian tanks intended for Kenya, and now North Korea seems to be restarting its nuclear program.

Oh right: one more thing. North Korea's own Dear Leader, Kim Jong Il, isn't sick, and didn't have a stroke. Those are lies made up by the enemies of North Korea. According to a North Korean official, anyway. Healthy, ill, or dead, Kim Jon Il hasn't been seen since he missed that September 9 parade celebrating North Korea's 60th anniversary.

What is fairly certain is that North Korea is restarting its reactor (the one it dramatically deactivated back in June), so that it can process plutonium.

Odds are pretty good that North Korea has enough plutonium from its Yongbon reactor to make six nuclear weapons, once it's processed. And the capacity to process about one bomb's worth of plutonium every two months.

Now I read that it's America's fault. No news there.

And, that North Korea is building apartments and hotels on what for that country is a grand scale. It could be unrelated to the nuclear weapons program, but it's occurred to me that nuclear bombs are worth a certain amount of money. It's possible that North Korea has learned a lesson from the capitalists.

In the news:
  • "N.Korea says boosts self-defense from hostile U.S"
    Reuters via The Washington Post (September 27, 2008)
    • "UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - North Korea wants to press ahead with denuclearization of the Korean peninsula but is strengthening its 'self-defensive capability' in the face of hostile U.S. policy, a North Korean official said on Saturday.
    • "The U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency said earlier this week that Pyongyang was expelling agency monitors from its Soviet-era nuclear plant that produces plutonium and plans to start reactivating it next week, rolling back a disarmament-for-aid deal. ..."
  • "North Korea in the midst of a mysterious building boom"
    Los Angeles Times (September 27, 2008)
    • "Who's paying for the major face lift underway in Pyongyang? The impoverished nation says it is, but analysts are skeptical...."
    • "Even North Korea's most notorious clunker, an unfinished 105-story hotel that looms vacant over the city, is under construction again after sitting idle for nearly two decades.
    • "All are slated for completion by 2012, the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung. The deadline appears to have taken on new urgency for the appearance-conscious North Koreans, who fret that their capital has become a laughingstock.
    • " 'We know we need to modernize. We want to make the city comfortable for the people who live here and for tourists,' said Choe Jong Hun, an official with the Committee for Cultural Relations With Foreign Countries...."
  • "Officials: Korean nuclear mission for US envoy"
    Associated Press (September 27, 2008)
    • "NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. officials say an American diplomat plans to visit North Korea next week in a bid to salvage a faltering international effort to get the communist country to give up nuclear weapons....
  • "North Korea nuclear deal could break down"
    Reuters (September 26, 2008)
    • "SEOUL (Reuters) - International talks on ending North Korea's nuclear arms ambitions could be heading for a breakdown after Pyongyang said it would restore a plutonium- making plant, South Korea's foreign minister said on Friday...."
  • "North Korean nuclear plant seals removed"
    CNN (September 24, 2008)
    • "(CNN) -- North Korea has made another move toward possibly restarting its suspended nuclear program, the U.N. nuclear agency reports.
    • "At the reclusive nation's request, the International Atomic Energy Agency has removed surveillance equipment and seals from the Yongbyon nuclear facility, agency spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said...."

American Destroyer USS Howard Watching Ukrainian Ship With Belize Flag and Russian Tanks Taken by Somali Pirates: Nothing's Simple, These Days

Here's what we know so far: A Ukrainian ship, sailing under a Belize flag, carrying Russian Tanks to Kenya, was seized by Somali pirates. Now an American destroyer, the USS Howard DDG 83, is near the Somali coast, keeping an eye on the ship.

And the pirates want ransom for their captives and booty.

"It's déjà vu all over again." I've written about the Barbary pirates before. Follow the links if you're interested.

In the news:
Update (October 7, 2008)
This particular example of Somali piracy is still in the news. I'm planning another post, soon.

Meanwhile, I received a comment which starts with "It is not necessary to lie!"

So, a little clarification: The tanks were, apparently, manufactured in Russia, sold by a Ukrainian entity, and were to be received by the Kenyan government.

And, before someone assumes that I'm accusing the Somali government of piracy: The Somali pirates are, to all indications, acting independently of, and in defiance of the government of Somalia. I do not believe that the Somali leader(s) are complicit in this piracy. In fact, it sounds like Transitional Federal President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, Prime Minister Nur "Adde" Hassan Hussein and the rest of the Mogadishu government, would be only too happy for the pirates to stop giving Somalia a bad name.

Russia, Iran, Nuclear Weapons: Not Much Has Changed

A few headlines jumped out at me as I went through the news today, and started what I'll call a chain of thought. "Chain of association" might be a better term.

I'm not as concerned with Russia's upgrading their weapons systems, nuclear and other, as you might think. For a number of reasons, Russia has made quite a lot of money in oil lately, and is finally able to afford military spending on this scale.

Like it or not, countries need to defend themselves from time to time. From pirates, among other things.

Iran's leadership, on the other hand, still hopes for an early demise for the 'American empire,' showing that they're on the same page as as Venesuela's leader and some of the more colorful of America's academics.

Which is one reason why I'm genuinely concerned that Iran is still going ahead with it's 'peaceful' nuclear program that Iran's leaders insist is strictly for civilian uses. Maybe one of the more oil-rich countries in the world is in desperate need of energy. On the other hand, given the Iranian president's stated preferences regarding Israel, America, and other non-Iranian entities, it's easy to see Iran's nuclear ambitions as having a more militant nature.

Then, there's the curious relationship between Russia and Iran. Granted, Iran is right next door to Russia, which might explain some of the on again-off again friendliness. But I keep thinking of odd alliances in the twentieth century.

In the news:
  • "Iran calls new UN resolution not constructive"
    International Herald Tribune (September 27, 2008 )
    • "...Saeed Jalili said in remarks carried by state television that the new resolution would cause "mistrust" and would not help global peace and security.
    • "On Friday, the U.S. and Russia led a new effort to condemn Iran's controversial program that includes no new sanctions. The brief resolution seeks to reaffirm three previous ones, which imposed sanctions on Iran for refusing to halt its uranium enrichment program....
  • "Russia aims to upgrade nuclear arsenal"
    CNN (September 26, 2008)
    • "...Russia's economic troubles after the 1991 Soviet collapse hit the armed forces hard. But in recent years, flush with oil money, the Kremlin has been pumping more money into new weapons systems."
  • "No new sanctions in next U.N. Iran vote"
    Reuters (September 26, 2008)
  • "Ahmadinejad: 'American empire' nearing its end"
    CNN (September 24, 2008)
  • "Iran describes nuke talks as 'constructive' "
    CNN (July 19, 2008)
    • "... Under the proposal, Iran would be allowed to continue to use the more than 3,000 centrifuges it already has but could not make more. In exchange, the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany would not impose further sanctions against Iran during that period.
    • "Iran says it is pursuing nuclear power only for energy purposes...."

Saudi Arabia's National Day, Islam, and Tribalism: This is Big

Tired of Islamic tribalism and 'Death to people we don't like?' You aren't the only one.

Most Islamic events in the Middle East seem to include the same familiar themes: Death to America; Death to Israel; follow Islam or die. For some events, like Hajj, these 'death to people we don't like' celebrations seem to be more of a sideshow. Then, there are get-togethers like Al Quds Day that show all the tolerance of a Ku Klux Klan rally.

It's hard not to get the idea that Islam is dedicated to wiping out everyone who doesn't agree. Of course, people have gotten odd ideas about Christianity by observing the Klan, and assuming that all Christians are like them.

The Saudi kingdom, which regards itself as a protector of Islam, seems to be wrestling with the idea that declaring open season on network owners may not be entirely appropriate. (The chief Saudi judge's network fatwa was quite reasonable, in its own way: he said it was only okay to kill network owners if they were immoral.)

It's about time. There's reason to believe that Muslims on the street are getting fed up with crazy fatwas. That 'death to Mickey Mouse' outburst wasn't an isolated incident, and today's Middle East is no more isolated than any other place with electrical power and Internet connections.

The Saudi Monarch Says Terrorists are Giving Islam a Bad Name?!

It looks like Saudi Arabia has been going through some tough reality checks:
  • 2001: Saudi's leaders
    • Deny that any Saudis were involved in the 9/11 attacks
      • Until evidence piled up that the majority of the hijackers were Saudi citizens
    • Declare that foreigners were defaming Saudi Arabia by using the names and identities of Saudi citizens
  • 2007: Saudi Arabian jihad rehab program cures Al Qaeda fighters of terrorism
    • 1,500 Al Qaeda members released, after promising to commit no more terrorist attacks
      • On the Saudi Arabian peninsula
  • 2008: Saudi Arabia's king says that terrorists are giving Islam a bad name
This week's National Day statement was definitely not 'business as usual.' The news I've read doesn't say whether the Saudi king made his ground-breaking remarks in English, with a more standard-issue statement in Arabic, or whether we're looking at translations of what the king was saying to his subjects.

Either way, this is big. I think that there's a chance that a major player in the War on Terror may be realizing that Al Qaeda and the Taliban are no more good for Islam and Muslims than they are for anyone else.

In the news:

Same old, same old:
  • "ISO organizes Al-Quds rally"
    Daily Times (Lahore, Pakistan) (September 27, 2008)
    • "KARACHI: Imamia Students Organization Pakistan (ISOP) President Asif Qambri has said that the issue of Al-Quds can only be resolved through war and insisted that his organization is ready to fight for the cause.
    • "Qambri was addressing the 'Al-Quds Rally' organized by ISO Karachi on Friday. The rally was attended by thousands of men, women and children and proceeded from the Numaish Chowrangi to Regal Chowk, Saddar.
    • "The rally was addressed by Maulana Munawar Naqvi, Jamaat-e-Islami leader Dr Mehraj-ul-Hudda Siddiqui, Maulana Mirza Yousuf Hussain, Agha Aftab Haider Jafferi, Maulana Shaikh Muhammad Hasan Salahuddin and Maulana Syed Ali Murtaza Zaidi.
    • "The speakers declared Israel as the biggest terrorists of the world and stressed the need to launch a war against the nation. 'If we really want to end terrorism, the elimination of Israel is essential,' they said. The speakers said that it was shameful that the first Qibla of Muslims, the Bait-ul-Muqaddas, was under the occupation of Jews...."
  • "Iran Denounces Support of Israel"
    Time (September 26, 2008)
    • "(TEHRAN, Iran) — A former Iranian president warned the West on Friday that its support for Israel would backfire, as hundreds of thousands of people staged rallies in support of Muslim claims to the holy city of Jerusalem.
    • "Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who is still considered influential in Iranian politics, said the U.S., Britain and France back Israel — and this is dangerous.
    • " 'They will put themselves in trouble, eventually,' Rafsanjani said during a Friday prayer ceremony in Tehran marking 'Al-Quds Day.' Al-Quds is the Arabic word for Jerusalem...."
The Saudi king said what?!
  • "Change marks Saudi Arabia's National Day"
    CNN (September 27, 2008)
    • "(CNN) -- Saudi Arabia's National Day -- traditionally a day for reflections on self, religion and faith -- was marked Tuesday by an unexplained change in the traditionally conservative Saudi kingdom.
    • "Perhaps it was the kingdom's increasing access to the Internet, King Abdullah's efforts to reform and moderate his kingdom, general fatigue with the bad name imposed on Saudis by terrorists and other radicals who claim to represent them, or any combination of reasons.
    • " 'Unfortunately, the image of Islam is being tarnished by none other than Muslims themselves,' the monarch declared. He spoke clearly and repeated the word 'unfortunately' several times. 'If we want to be honest with ourselves, we have to accept this reality that the sons of Islam are the ones desecrating this pure religion,' he said, adding, 'Islam disowns them and disowns anyone who tries to give it a bad name.'...
    • "...In an editorial in the pro-government newspaper Al-Watan, columnist Saleh Muhammad al-Shihi expressed disappointment with what he calls his nation's limiting tribal mentality that stifles his longing for diversity.
    • " 'No one can leave the boundaries of the tribe whose name he carries,' he wrote. 'This tribe represents to you an existential value, but one that denies you the right to being different. It wants you to be a carbon copy of your seventh ancestor even down to your mustache... Many tribal rules are similar to the state laws. But state laws can be at least amended to serve the interests of the people, while no one dares amend tribal authority and rules.'
    • "Al-Shihi added, 'What is even more painful is that many of these tribal rules are on a par with many religious fatwas or edicts with the exception that tribal fatwas and rules don't die out even if half the tribe dies because of them I have come to experience and appreciate diversity. If I was not different, if you weren't different, if she wasn't different, we wouldn't be able to coexist in peace and happiness. We differ about the path as each of us has his own preferred path, yet we all agree on the destination.'..."
[Emphasis mine]

Friday, September 26, 2008

Omar Bakri Mohammed and His Daughter: I Sympathize, but Denial's Not the Answer

Rumors about Barack Obama being Muslim are probably still bouncing around the Internet like demented bumblebees.

He must be, some would argue, because:
  • He's got a funny name
  • He wasn't born in America
  • He attended a Muslim school in Indonesia
    • He also attended a Catholic school, but the "Obama's Catholic" idea didn't catch on
  • His father was a Muslim
    • Born in a Muslim family, yes, a practicing Muslim, no
There's more at Snopes.com.

I agree, family background makes a big difference in what people believe. One way or another.

But having a Muslim father doesn't guarantee that the children will all act the way daddy wants. A case in point: "Daughter of hate preacher has secret life as pole dancer" (MailOnline (September 26, 2008)).

I wouldn't use the term "hate preacher" myself, but Omar Bakri Mohammed does seem to teach a rather strict, exclusive, brand of Islam.

He also says that news (and photos) expose his daughter's profession are "... 'a fabrication' and described it as an attack on him and Islam.

" 'The more you put pressure on me, the stronger I become. Islam will conquer Britain,' he said.

" 'I have not seen my daughter for nine years, but because she is a member of my family people want to make things up about her.

" 'You are going to pay a heavy price. You can read it any way you like. The time is now.'..."

I don't blame him for being upset. My wife and I have three daughters, and I wouldn't want any of them to be pole dancers. But if it happened, I don't think I'd try the denial gambit.

Particularly with photos like that one in the news.

Wannabe Terrorists, Somali Pirates, and Russian Tanks

The arrest of two men in Cologne is probably an example of why there haven't been quite so many terrorist attacks after 9/11. The two men, a Somali and a German born in Somalia, probably weren't planning to hijack the KLM plane.

On the other hand, police "...had obtained a suicide note written by the men that stated they wanted to take part in jihad – or holy war – and die in a terrorist attack, said Katharina Breuer, a spokeswoman for North Rhine-Westphalia state police...."

The pair were apparently headed for Pakistan, and my guess is that they were going to team up with Al Qaeda, the Taliban, or some other outfit with bases there.

Pirates and Booty on the High Seas

Sounds like the sort of book you buy in a grocery, doesn't it?

It's quite real, though: "A Ukrainian ship carrying tanks and ammunition has been seized by pirates off the coast of Kenya, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry told CNN...."

The Faina, flying a Belize flag, was carrying tanks, ammunition, and spare parts from Nikolayev, Ukraine, to the Kenyan port of Mombasa. Kenya had bought them from Ukraine.

There's a Russian patrol ship, the Neustrashimy, headed for Somalia. It looks like Russia doesn't approve of pirates interfering with trade. Can't say that I blame them.

Remember the Barbary Pirates?

My guess is that not too many people think of the Barbary pirates when reading the day's headlines. History isn't a really hot subject in today's culture.

But America and the European nations were facing a serious problem back in the early nineteenth century. Actually, it was a problem that had been going on for a long time. The short version is that an American president finally decided that the traditional diplomatic approach to the Barbary pirate question wasn't working, and sent troops in to sort out the problem.

It took fourteen years, but America rooted out the pirates, and ended raids that had been going on for two and a half centuries. (More about the Barbary pirates: "Barbary Pirates, Tribute, and Tripoli" (November 12, 2007).)

In the news:

Washington's Financial Bailout Brouhaha: American Government at Work

The brouhaha in Washington over a three-quarters-of-a-trillion bailout of arguably irresponsible financial companies makes me glad to be an American.

It's also churning my stomach, but that's another matter.

Behind all the it's-the-other-guy's-faulting and occasional preference for theory over fact, what we're seeing is the checks-and-balances design philosophy built into American government at work.

It's in the American culture, too. Thanks to the messy sort of freedom we have in America, people who don't agree with whoever is in authority can say so, and explain why.

Case in point: Stop the Housing Bailout!. The fellow who put up this website has a definite point of view, and it isn't the one favored by Washington:
  • "This site is dedicated to stopping the government's planned bailout of the housing market. A bailout requires responsible Americans to pay for the acts of greedy bankers, mortgage brokers, flippers, and over-extended home-borrowers. In other words, the government wants you to pay for the blunders of others who knew, or should have known, better.
  • "Equally as important, a bailout would permanently price out of the housing market all those responsible Americans...."
I haven't read the entire site, and haven't made up my mind about his ideas, but this isn't just a rant. Aside from stating his position, the website urges visitors to protest, shows where protests are happening, gives contact information for members of Congress, and reminds us that all representatives, and quite a few senators, are up for re-election.

It's Loud, It's Messy, But It Works

One of the strengths I see in American government, and culture, is that it's rather hard to make decisions that affect everyone without a lot of discussion. Also arguing, haranguing, posturing, and the odd temper tantrum.

One person, or a restricted set of like-minded people, can make mistakes. Big ones. Not because they're ignorant or malicious, but because they can't see all sides of an issue. They're human, and our minds only stretch so far.

A large number of people with a diverse set of backgrounds and viewpoints can make mistakes, too. Sometimes they're big ones.

All in all, I'd rather live here, than in a country where people had to go through proper channels to lodge complaints, and where the news media was well-managed. In China, for example, a company has been selling poison baby food: an embarrassment in that generally well-regulated country.

The official news, though, isn't troubling the people about that so much. The focus is on China's manned orbital mission and upcoming spacewalk.

It's not just China, of course, where people are encouraged to politely refrain from stating unwelcome opinions. For example, the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Myanmar are quite careful to protect their subjects from ideas and discussions that might upset them.

America's approach is much less tidy, but I think we profit from letting all sorts of ideas get in.

In the news: About the Chinese orbital mission:

Thursday, September 25, 2008

McCain Had A Stroke! Look at His Left Eye!!

(Updated September 25, 2008)

Probably not, and Barack Obama isn't a Muslim.

However, this issue seems a bit more reasonable than the 'Jews and blacks can't trust moose hunters' warning we heard yesterday. If the worst-case scenario that some political enthusiasts seem to hope for is true, Mr. McCain may have a medical condition that requires prompt attention. And, one that could affect his performance in office.

Whether there's any factual basis for the latest buzz remains to be seen. I just hope that voters distinguish between reality and desire, or fear, on November 4.

In the news (appearing in Google's news search):
  • "What happened to John McCain's left eye?"
    GaySocialite.com (September 25, 20080
    • "...Now everyone is asking, "What happened to John McCain's left eye?" Did he have a stroke?..."
  • "John McCain's left eye affliction: not stroke but Bell's Palsy?"
    InEntertainment (September 25, 2008)
    • "...At first people thought that he might have suffered a stroke at some stage, but according to a number of Internet sources, he has Bell’s palsy or facial paralysis. This condition is temporary, but it does take some time to correct itself...."
  • "Is John McCain having a melanoma relapse?"
    The Young Turks (September 25, 2008)
    • ".Droopy eyes, $5000 worth of 'American Idol' make up and cancelled [!] campaign events... something is rotten in the state of the Repubican [!] Campaign, and it might be McCain's health....
    • "...one of the possible explainations [!] that could fit with his symptom is a stroke....
    • "...The droop on the left side of the face very well could be the sign of pressure on the right hemisphere of the brain...."
    • "...'Damage to the right hemisphere of the brain leads to cognitive-communication problems, such as impaired memory, attention problems and poor reasoning. In many cases, the person with right brain damage is not aware of the problems that he or she is experiencing (anosognosia).'
    • "This pretty much explains everything that has been going on with the McCain campaign for the last week actually...."
As I explained in a previous post, this blog isn't political, but politics do affect the War on Terror.
Update (September 26, 2008)

The hype about McCain's health has hit the news. There's an ad out, warning that McCain is probably so sick that he'll drop dead.

"Liberal Groups Attack McCain's Health"
CBS News (September 25, 2008)
  • "(WASHINGTON) Two liberal political action committees, Brave New PAC and Democracy for America, launched an aggressive attack on John McCain's health this morning in an ad featuring unflattering images of his melanoma scars. The ad calls for McCain to release his medical records, something he already did earlier this year.
  • "...The ad closes with a graphic asking, 'Why won't John McCain release his Medical Records?'
  • "In addition to the ad, the groups initiated a petition for doctors with the hopes that with enough signatures they will 'ultimately deliver the petition and create enough grassroots support to get a full disclosure of the [medical] records,' Brave New PAC spokesman Axel Woolfolk told CBS News. So far they say they have collected 2,500 signatures.
  • "However, the thing is, McCain has released his medical records...."
There's some very serious entertainment value in aspects of this presidential campaign. If the stakes weren't so high, I'd be able to enjoy it a lot more.

Representative Alcee Hastings Warns Jews About Sarah Palin

There's a presidential election coming up here in America. Across the country, responsible citizens are preparing to make a calm, sober, reasoned decision as to which set of candidates should be elected.

Our national leaders are helping us, by sharing their wisdom and experience. Here's a sample:

"If Sarah Palin isn't enough of a reason for you to get over whatever your problem is with Barack Obama, then you damn well had better pay attention," according to Congressman Alcee Hastings. "Anybody toting guns and stripping moose don't care too much about what they do with Jews and blacks. So, you just think this through."

His audience loved it, laughing and applauding.

Representative Hastings' remarks have received very little attention in national news, but a south Florida newspaper did explain that "...U.S. Rep. and Palm Beach County congressional delegation member Alcee Hastings meant to disparage Sarah Palin, but not the nation's hunters and sportsmen...." And, it's CNN's fault, because the network didn't explain how off-base Palin is on topics other than moose hunting.

Taking a line through " 'sarah palin hot photos' and the American Presidential Election," it's going to be a long, dreary, road to November 4.

In the news: This blog still isn't political. But
  • America determines who leads using a political process
  • America's leadership over the next several years will make a great difference in how the War on Terror is conducted
  • So, politics is inextricably entangled in the War on Terror
While I'm on the subject, there seems to be buzz about McCain's left eye.

This just keeps getting better and better.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

FDR Got on the Television: Who Knew?

Anybody can make a mistake, but this was a big one.

"...When the stock market crashed, Franklin D. Roosevelt got on the television and didn't just talk about the, you know, the princes of greed. He said, 'Look, here's what happened'...." - Joe Biden, in an interview on the "CBS Evening News," as reported by the Associated Press.

I approve of political figures referring to historical events and personalities. It shows a depth of knowledge, and understanding of the world, which is important in leadership positions. Historical references also, I believe, encourage voters to look beyond appearance and style, and consider how current events came to be.

Providing that the historical references are accurate.

Since launching this blog, I've learned that some people think:
  • Nero was working for the Christians
  • The CIA created Al Qaeda
  • Georgia's invasion was an American plot to get McCain elected
("Who Knew? Assertions and Assumptions from All Over" (April 2, 2008))

This diversity of opinion and world view is part of the human condition.

When it comes to national leaders, though, I prefer people who live in my world: the one in which Herbert Hoover was president in 1929, and television was introduced to the American public at the 1939 World's Fair.

FDR's fireside chats, a ground-breaking use of new media, were broadcast by radio. Mr. Biden is right about one thing. The first fireside chat was about banking. But it was broadcast in 1933.

Mr. Biden's alternative history is particularly funny, or embarrassing, since the president in 1929 was a Republican, Herbert Hoover. At the time, and over the years, Democrats and others have blamed Hoover for the stock market crash. "Hoovervilles" isn't a term that shows up very often today, but I would have expected a national-level politician to know about a major American disaster that happened during a rival party's administration.

I saw the interview on television. The 'Franklin D. Roosevelt' remark is available on YouTube:

Biden: FDR Led When Market Crashed
YouTube (September 23, 2008)
video (0:20)

I've posted before about the importance of knowledge. As I quipped, "knowledge is power: and I like power."

FDR's Televised Fireside Chats and Today's News

For some reason, Katie Couric's exclusive interview with Joe Biden, broadcast by CBS News, no longer contains Mr. Biden's little slip about Franklin D. Roosevelt and television.

Here's the CBS News online version of Katie Couric's Joe Biden video:

Watch CBS Videos Online
CBS News
video (5:02)
(From CBS Exclusive: Joe Biden.)

There are many possible explanations for CBS deciding to edit Mr. Biden's alternatively-accurate version of history out of the interview. However, it's hard to shake the suspicion that CBS News is following the 'all the news we feel like printing' editorial philosophy.

The Los Angeles Times, on the other hand, acknowledges that Mr. Biden was "off by 4 years and 1 president." I appreciate this nod to accuracy. The L.A. Times also asserts that Mr. Biden is "otherwise pretty accurate." Which reminds me of the dusty old joke, "aside from that, how did you like the play, Mrs. Lincoln?"

In the news: Joe Biden information: Related posts, on "Who Knew? Assertions and Assumptions from All Over"

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Marines Blew Up the Islamabad Marriott!

No, not really. But it looks like we'll be hearing that they're to blame.

Few things are simple, and Saturday's attack on the Islamabad Marriott hotel is no exception.

Just the Facts: And Innuendo

You've probably heard that the Marriott in Islamabad burned after a truck bomb attack last Saturday.

You may even have heard that it's America's fault. More specifically, it's the fault of the Marines.

Sure, the Anjuman Fidayeen-e-Islam, or The Fedayeen of Islam, a bunch that nobody seems to have heard of before, say they did it. But it was the fault of the Marines. Or America.

That seems to be the implication of an article in Prensa Latina, published today.

They could be right. I don't doubt the facts, as stated:
  • "...The case emerged when Representative Mumtaz Alam Gilani denounced a mysterious and secret movement last Wednesday night by US Marines who supposedly were introducing iron boxes without being checked by security personnel of the hotel
  • "This happened after the Chief of US Troops, Admiral Mike Fullen, had a meeting in Islamabad with the country's main military chiefs.
  • "In a statement, the US embassy insists today that it was a support team that usually precedes or accompanies American authorities.
  • "The News reports, however, that the government already had information that various rooms on the fourth floor of the Marriott were permanently occupied by US authorities and had equipment and other material used for espionage...."
("Mystery Shrouds Pakistan Iron Boxes" (Prensa Latina (September 23, 2008))

As I see it, Prensa Latina's facts are
  • Marines "supposedly" carried boxes into the Marriott without having the house detectives look inside
  • An unusually anonymous source in "the government" says that there's a nest of foreign (American, in this case) spies in the hotel
  • Some time after the Marines took the boxes into the hotel, a truck blew up at the gate
  • Then the hotel burned down
My hat's off to Prensa Latina, for the way they wrote the article. Specifying that the containers were iron boxes conjured visions of Fu Manchu-style intrigue, Humphrey Bogart movies, even secret pirate treasure.

It could be pure coincidence that the mailing address for Prensa Latina gives is "Calle 23 esq. N Vedado, La Habana - Cuba," but I think that Prensa Latina might have a well-defined editorial slant regarding America.

Good Guys, Bad Guys, and Everyone In Between

Secret agents and mysterious iron boxes aside, there's quite a great deal of uncertainty about Saturday's explosion.

One of the few things that are known is that it was a big explosion, a big fire, and that a lot of people got killed. Over four dozen, at least. One Pakistani official called it the biggest attack in seven years.

At best, I think it'll be years before we know who actually sent some suicide driver in that truck. The modus operandi suggests Taliban and/or Al Qaeda: both of which have reasonably secure bases in the tribal regions of Pakistan. But methods can be copied, so it's anyone's guess who is responsible.

According to CNN, Al-Arabiya TV reported that it, Al-Arabiya, got an audio recording from some groups calling itself "The Fedayeen of Islam," but noted that it, Al-Arabiya, couldn't tell if the recording was the real McCoy, or if the name of the group was for real.

Assuming that CNN's coverage of Al-Arabiya's reporting of a previously-unknown group's audio recording is accurate:
  • The Fedayeen of Islam say that 250 U.S. Marines and other U.S. and NATO officials were inside the hotel when it burned
  • The Fedayeen of Islam 'regretted the attack,' but that it was necessary - They've got demands
    • American-Pakistani joint efforts must end
    • All military operations in Pakistan's tribal regions must end
    • There's more, but CNN didn't go into that
    • "Mujahadeen" prisoners in American prisons must be released
CNN said that it "cannot independently verify the claim."

So far, we've got mysterious iron boxes, a claim of responsibility from an unknown organization that demands the release of prisoners that nobody else seems to know about. All the story needs now is the possibility that high-level Pakistani officials knew about the attack before it happened.
Dinner Plans, or No Dinner Plans: That is the Question
One of the questions, anyway.

Pakistan's Interior Ministry head, Rehman Malik, said that Pakistan's president, prime minister and other leaders had planned to dine at the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad on Saturday night. Then, President Asif Ali Zardari asked to move the event to the prime minister's compound.

Which was a good thing for President Zardari. If he'd been at the Marriott, he'd most likely be as dead as the Czech Ambassador, Ivo Zdarek.

The hotel management, on the other hand, insists that there were no dinner plans, changed or otherwise, for the Pakistani officials at the Marriott. And Pakistani Senator Javed Ashraf Qazi said he was invited to the dinner but it was always scheduled to be at the prime minister's office. Which could be true.

Even the professional and cautious CNN wrote that the lack of fit between the stories of the Pakistani Interior Ministry chief, a Pakistani senator, and the Marriott management "raised questions as to how much the government knew about the planned attack...."

Since the person who said 'plans were changed' was named, and since Rehman Malik is Pakistan's Interior Ministry head, I think there's a chance that plans were changed: possibly for innocent reasons. Innocent or not, if Senator Javed Ashraf Qazi's assertion isn't accurate, there's a whacking great coincidence here, at the very least.
With Friends Like These -
Like Yemen, Pakistan is an ally of America. With Al Qaeda and Taliban bases operating within its borders.

Pakistan either can't or won't remove those bases.

And, Pakistan's government doesn't want any help. Last week, we heard that a Pakistani leader gave Pakistan's troops orders to shoot America soldiers if they tried to deal with Al Qaeda or Taliban forces inside Pakistan.

On the other hand, maybe they didn't. Some Pakistani officials said it wasn't so.

Now, the Associated Press is saying that two American intelligence officials reported Pakistani troops and tribesmen shooting at American helicopters inside Pakistan. And, that the Pentagon said it wasn't so.
Looking for Certainty? Read a Spy Novel
As I said about another issue, "If you're not a bit confused...you're not paying attention."

Good guys? Bad guys? It isn't that simple. We've got a situation where
  • National leaders in the Middle East are dealing with people living within their territory who don't like the idea of nations - and have the firepower to be more than annoying
  • Terrorists (or activists, or whatever you want to call them) are as hard to keep track of as mercury that's been hit with a hammer - They
    • Aren't tied to one territory, as nations are
    • May have the support of people who think that Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and similar groups
      • Are defending Islam
      • Deserve support, based on tribal loyalties
    • May dissolve and re-form under new names
  • Conflicting accounts are broadcast around the world before bureaucracies get facts through 'regular channels' and decide what to say
  • News organizations, from The New York Times and Prensa Latina to CNN, are dealing with a world that doesn't fit their Cold War templates
And that's just scratching the surface.

Oh the other hand, although there probably aren't (purely) good guys and (purely) bad guys, I think there are (fairly) good sides and (decidedly) bad sides.

Al Qaeda, the Taliban, the Iranian regime, and other like-minded organizations, do seem to have a clear idea of what they want: a world that's run much more tidily, and according to their rules.

The burqa-yes, trouser-no dress code alone would hard for westerners to live with. Never mind what would happen to the status of women, and anyone who didn't see eye-to-eye with the local imam.

Americans, and quite a few other people, have gotten used to living with a degree of personal freedom that doesn't seem to be part of Al Qaeda's dream.

We won't find perfectly good guys in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Indonesia, or America. But I think there are people who are willing to keep followers of Osama bin Laden and Iran's ayatollahs from replacing the bikini with the burqa, and turning the clock back to the good old days, when the local despot had life-and-death control over his subjects.

In the news:

"Video emerges of Marriott bombing - 21 Sept 08"
YouTube video
video (1:49)

Famous People Say America Must Lead

No, it isn't a sign of the Apocalypse.

These aren't famous celebrities, just famous people. Specifically, former American secretaries of state. Including Henry Kissinger: a man who's so well-known, my spell checker recognized his name.

As CNN program notes put it: "5 former Secretaries of State tell Christiane Amanpour & Frank Sesno what advice they have for 'The Next President.' " Frank Sesno wrote a commentary on the discussion, "Former Secretaries of State to next President: Get over it. Get real. Be smart" (CNN (September 19, 2008)
Frank Sesno, CNN Special Correspondent), that contained quite a bit of good sense.

I think that Mr. Sesno summed up their discussion, and his commentary, in this paragraph:

"Here's what the secretaries' bottom line was: get over it. Get real. Be smart. The world is a complicated place. America has to lead. Play down the ideology, they seemed to say, and approach the world rationally and with perspective. Imagine that."

Those ideas are so startling, I'll repeat them as a bulletized list.
  • Get real
  • Be smart
  • The world is a complicated place
  • America has to lead
  • Play down the ideology
  • Approach the world
    • Rationally
    • With perspective
I don't agree with every detail, but the general approach is sensible. Some of Sesno's commentary is drearily familiar:

"... they laid out three things the next president should do to start to fix it: close Guantanamo, end torture and take the lead on climate change.

"On Russia, the message was similarly realistic. Georgia fired the first shot in that little August war..."

Isn't This Politics?

Some of these issues are used by politicians, but with one exception they are directly related to the War on Terror.

I don't have the "intelligent" stand on any of the four issues.
  1. Guantanamo?
    • Al Qaeda and Professor Churchill probably want it closed
    • It provides a topic for anti-American propaganda
    For that matter, leaders of organized crime probably want ADX Florence closed: but that doesn't mean it's a good idea
  2. Torture?
    My guess is that this refers to unpleasant interrogation techniques like waterboarding - "everyone" may know it's torture, but I'm not so sure
    • I don't think that the American military tortures its own troops
    • The American military subjects its troops to waterboarding, as part of their training
    • Waterboarding may not be torture
  3. Climate change?
    • Yes, there are changes going on
      • When I was young, we were supposed to be concerned about the coming ice age
      • Now, we're supposed to be concerned about global warming
    • I know a little too much about paleontology to be hooked
      • Climate change happened before the Industrial Revolution
      • Climate change happen is happening
      • Climate change will probably continue to happen
  4. Russia and Georgia?
    • Yes, Georgia "fired the first shot," moving troops into a part of Georgian occupied by Russia - against American advice
    • A "little August war?"
      • Viewed against the backdrop of the ages, as one event in the unfolding of the universe, yes: it was a "little August war"
      • I wouldn't want to tell that to someone living in Georgia, though
The prison at Guantanamo, and the "torture" of prisoners are familiar topics related to the War on Terror. I've argued that the Russian invasion of Georgia is also related to the conflict: As for climate change, I don't think that Osama bin Laden is trying to sink New York City by melting the ice caps, and I have doubts about big bad industry destroying the Earth. I'm not even sure whether the changes that have happened during my lifetime are natural, artificial, or a combination of both.

I do think that the 'America-is-killing-us-all' version of climate change is on a par with the (successful, multi-billion dollar) silicone breast implant lawsuits.

America Must: Lead?!

What I found most remarkable about Mr. Sesno's commentary was his apparent acceptance of the idea that "America must lead." This is a far cry from feeling that America is just another country, like Sudan or Myanmar, except not quite as nice, and shouldn't act without getting permission from people who know better.

I think that nations of the world need leadership, and that America is the least unqualified candidate for the position. I'd love to live in a world where people act nicely because it's the right thing to do, but that's not the way it is. America has the economic and military clout to get attention when saying, "we should do this:" and (in general) the good sense to act after talking things over with other nations.

But what about Iraq?

America unilaterally invaded Iraq with a coalition of over two dozen other countries. The occupation of Iraq by the coalition was under a United Nations mandate.1

I emphatically do not believe that America is an ideal nation. But I think that America is a nation of ideals: including that of personal freedom. Given a choice between a world where American leadership gives nations a direction to follow, and one in which the leaders of all nations debate until everyone agrees on a course of action, I'll take American leadership.

Saying that actions should be taken only when there's a consensus among nations sounds very open-minded. Until you realize that the council of equals would include places like Myanmar, France, the Solomon Islands, Venezuela, China, Sudan, and Sri Lanka. The debates of such a council might be entertaining, along the lines of a World Wrestling Entertainment event, but hardly productive.

I'm glad to see that five former secretaries of state agree that American leadership is a good idea. I'm even happier to see that their opinion got some attention.

Mr. Sesno's commentary generated quite a bit of discussion (now closed). For me, the vox populi was quite a contrast to what the former officials had to say. Despite the impression left by some of the comments, presidential candidate Obama was not mentioned in Mr. Sesno's piece.

I've cherry-picked a sample, and put what I think are key points in bold. I don't necessarily agree with these comments, but I think it's informative to see what people say, with an American election coming up.
  • Maureen/CA
    September 19th, 2008 3:07 pm ET
    • "Yes Yes Yes! We do need a president that will engage. We need someone who will approach these leaders with diplomacy, intelligence, and understanding. This is what Obama has been saying all along during this campaign. McCain has the same attitude that Bush has. Don't talk to anyone that you do not like. This does not help to try to resolve anything. Frankly, it is an immature and unprofessional attitude to have for anyone, muchless the President of the United States."
  • James
    September 19th, 2008 4:24 pm ET
    • "The hardest thing the next president will have to do, is find a way to justify the lives lost and time and money spent in being in Iraq in the first place, much less after the new president is in.
    • "The U.S. hasn't lost credibility because George Bush decided to act like a stubborn child, we lost credibility because we didn't spank the child and put him to bed. The world is punishing us, not because we suffered a momentary lapse of reason, but because that momentary lapse hasn't seemed to lapse yet.
    • "How long will our government continue to claim to be the victim even as we make victims of others?
    • "The fact is, and I'm hoping to see some sort of reconing in your interviews tonight, the U.S. has lost it's credibility in the world because, not only did we rape Iraq and impregnate it with the idea of Democracy in retaliation for what Osama Bin Laden masterminded, unbeknownst to Iraqis, on September 11th, but we have also, so far, failed to take out or capture the initial attacker; Osama Bin Laden is still free, but hey… if they happen to come apon[!] him… we Americans, and the rest of the world, is expected to believe they'll act appropriately?! I think not.
    • "If you find my parallel disingenuous, please, enlighten me… and the 67% of the rest of the world who believes EXACTLY as I do."
  • JB in Chicago
    September 20th, 2008 2:10 pm ET
    • "jrq: please don't confuse the military with the foreign service (i.e. diplomats, ambassadors, etc.). what the former secretaries of state were saying is that we need more serving in that capacity because we have less people in foreign service than in one military aircraft carrier. i think you missed the point completely. you don't always have to rule with an iron fist."
  • Alec
    September 20th, 2008 2:55 pm ET
    • "'America has fewer people in the foreign service today, he said, than serve on one aircraft carrier. That's got to change.' That may explain why a single aircraft carrier is more beneficial to the U.S. foreign policy than the entire foreign service."
  • Angie
    September 20th, 2008 2:55 pm ET
    • "I agree wholeheartedly and it is refreshing to hear these words actually being said. I have thought the same thing myself - but what I don't understand is why wasn't this agenda - or why isn't this agenda - being followed. We - America - need to take the lead if we are going to be the leader in the free world. The days of threatening, intimidation, obnoxious 'stay the course' even if its wrong attitude need to end. I hear the word 'change' from the presidential candidates but no one has laid out a clear concise agenda - its still all rhetoric and thats[!] what scares me. Do they have a plan for our eventual demise or a plan for success? Most people think of foreign affairs as not our problem, I think the next President needs to address why it is our problem - because that connection needs to be explained."
  • Bob
    September 20th, 2008 3:26 pm ET
    • "Its a[!] humorous but sad to think of feeble minded sarah palin somehow standing with these intelligent and accomplished people. What a clown she is."
  • Paul
    September 20th, 2008 4:10 pm ET
    • "Interesting! However, I am always amazed at how the left thinks we can defeat our enemies by talking to them. The only way talking will work is if we move towards there way of thinking because they are not going to move towards our way.
    • "These people strap bombs to themselves and…
    • "Do you really think we can talk to them?"
  • suzanne
    September 21st, 2008 3:59 am ET
    • "Kudos for something intelligent and informative! Obama is spot on!!!"
  • Strom
    September 21st, 2008 4:40 am ET
    • "Good points but the answer isn't throwing money at the problem. Like education, we already spend enough in total but much of it is wasted. What we actually need in the Foreign Service is more Americans and far less contracted foreigners."

1 It's not too surprising that many people didn't see American involvement in Iraq as part of a multi-national effort carried out under the rules of a United Nations mandate. Details like that don't always get into the news. Facts like that are not exciting, and don't quite fit the 'all the news we feel like printing' approach that some news services seem to take.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.