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November 30, 2002

Another own-goal in Africa?

For a bunch of erstwhile holy warriors, those Al Queda guys sure seem to be murdering a lot of innocent Moslems.

Thursday's coordinated attacks on an Israeli-owned beach hotel in Mombasa and a nearly simultaneous failed missile attack on an Israeli chartered airline, look to be the work of our friends from the Arabian peninsula. Fortunately, the jamokes using what appear to be a pair of SA-7 missiles either fired from outside the missile's operational range or suffered some sort of malfunction. If they had succeeded in hitting the Boeing 757, they likely would have killed most of the 272 people on board.

In the event, the net results of the failed operation was the murder of 12 people, 9 of whom were Kenyan citizens and very likely Moslem, given the hotel's location along the heavily Moslem East African coast. Similarly, in the August 1998 Al Queda attacks on US embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, a total of 220 people were killed, of whom only 12 were American citizens. More than 4,000 other people were injured in the explosions. According to the CIA World Factbook, Moslems account for 10% and 35% of Kenya and Tanzania's populations, respectively.

I am not a Koranic scholar, but I believe that the Prophet does frown upon random murder of other believers in the one true faith.

November 30, 2002 at 08:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 28, 2002

Time for another branch of the armed forces?

In this new, post-cold war, post-guerilla war world, do we need to consider a more fundamental "transformation" of our armed forces than even Paul Wolfowitz in the throes of an acid flashback could conceive?  Here's what I have in mind:

Establishing a new branch of the service that would be "tasked" (to use some of that cool military-speak) with operating on the cusp between war and peace.  This force would be trained and equipped to perform the following missions:

  • Peacekeeping

  • Point defense (e.g. protecting embassies, nuclear power facilities, key infrastructure)

  • Military government (as in an occupied Iraq, or in Kosovo immediately after NATO forces assumed control)

  • Disaster and humanitarian aid

  • "Nation building" (as in contemporary Afghanistan)

Currently, these tasks are assigned to either the Marine Corps (which is responsible for R&D on non-lethal weapons and is the service best suited to "expeditionary" deployment) or the Army (which has more resources, but is slower, heavier, and requires more support elements to perform a specific mission), or special forces units (which have the talent and the skills to cope in difficult environments and react as the situation requires, however, they are expensive, scarce, and more urgently needed for military missions that they are uniquely equipped to handle).  However, both the Army and USMC are primarily oriented towards accomplishing their war-fighting mission.  Training or developing tactics and equipment for non-warfare missions is a very low priority.  Few officers earn general's stars by excelling in peacekeeping or "force protection".

Establishing a separate command with no other mission than less-than-warfare operations would facilitate developing forces specially trained and equipped for these missions.  Specialized units could be created with expertise in South Asia, East Asia, African and Latin American languages, cultures and environmental conditions.  Tactics and doctrine for performing these less than glamorous tasks could also be refined, taking advantage of modern technology and communications resources.

In a way, they would be the equivalent of a gendarmerie, or an amalgam between a military and a police force.  Like a police organization, the emphasis would be upon preventing violence and strictly limiting the use of force. 

From a recruiting perspective, these non-war-fighting units might appeal to young people that are less interested in the traditional armed forces.  Kind of a hard-core version of the Peace Corps.

Just a thought...

November 28, 2002 at 06:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 27, 2002

Gore's TV War

I'll say this about algore version 3.0, he is certainly more entertaining than the old, "new Al Gore".

I saw him on Letterman the other night and he was actually funny. In a first for me, he came off as a real human being; poking fun at himself, laughing. He even appeared to be sincere, at least when he wasn't trying to be serious and talk about policy issues. I found myself liking him, thinking that if he could ever act that comfortable in his own skin and somehow expunge his horrible tendency to lecture everyone as if we were all slightly dim-witted 7 year olds, he could be a formidable candidate. (Hopefully it will never come to that, and if my feelings of affection for Al ever get too strong, I can always flip through his new pair of books at Barnes & Noble until I regain my senses.)

Anyway, Josh Benson has a great article on Gore in this week's NY Observer(Gore’s TV War: He Lobs Salvo At Fox News) . Gore evidently spent a lot of time on the phone with Benson and true to form, whenever Gore feels intellectually expansive in a non-scripted format, he came up with some really wacky stuff. Take this excerpt, for example:

Mr. Gore has a bone to pick with his critics: namely, he says, that a systematically orchestrated bias in the media makes it impossible for him and his fellow Democrats to get a fair shake. "Something will start at the Republican National Committee, inside the building, and it will explode the next day on the right-wing talk-show network and on Fox News and in the newspapers that play this game, The Washington Times and the others. And then they'll create a little echo chamber, and pretty soon they'll start baiting the mainstream media for allegedly ignoring the story they've pushed into the zeitgeist. And then pretty soon the mainstream media goes out and disingenuously takes a so-called objective sampling, and lo and behold, these R.N.C. talking points are woven into the fabric of the zeitgeist."

Gore's media analysis is fair enough, as far as it goes, though I wonder if the RNC really has folks that are on the ball enough to orchestrate anything. But granting that this happens, what does Al think goes on at the DNC with regard to the "mainstream" press? Is Howell Raines at the Times part of this vast right wing conspiracy? The original three networks? CNN?

What I find a little scary is that Gore (and other folks from the same ideological zip code) perceive the existence of debate and alternative points of view expressed in the broadcast media as being somehow unfair. Can he really be so blinkered that he genuinely believed that the traditional "mainstream" media are unbiased? That they didn't (for the most part) share his ideological perspective and therefore decide what was news and how to report it on that basis? I'm reminded of that famous (and undoubtedly apocryphal) story about the woman from Manhattan's Upper West Side (our version of Marin County) who "just knew" that the election had to have been stolen because she didn't know a single person who had voted for Bush.

Welcome to the marketplace of ideas, Al. You'd better get used to it 'cuz it ain't going to go away.

November 27, 2002 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 26, 2002

Burqa* Burning: Islamofascism's Achilles Heel?

George Melloan's thoughtful piece in today's WSJ [link for subscribers only] on the prospect for a broader conflict between the West and Islam, reminded me of an idea I've been toying with recently:

Can an effort to improve the status of women in the Islamic world help make the world a safer, more stable place?

Speaking in general terms, and with the obvious caveat that many women and men do not conform to these broad generalizations, women differ from men in several important respects:

  • Women are generally much less violent than men, particularly when unprovoked

  • Women tend to be less susceptible to abstract, intellectual justifications for doing things that would not be acceptable in every day life, like, for example, putting a bomb on a bus full of school children, or going to war for any number of reasons other than self defense

  • When it comes to guns vs butter, women will almost always go for the butter

  • (And last, but not least) Women are too busy working, raising children, keeping a family together, etc. to waste time on terrorist conspiracies

If you don't believe this, just think for a minute about how the political scene in America would change if only men (or only women) had the right to vote.

I'm not sure how far to take this idea, but I'll bet you beemers to burqas that if and when women are allowed to play a more equal part in the social, political and economic life of Islamic societies, that those societies will be a lot less tolerant of Jihadist aggression.

* For an amusing speech on burqas see "Is that a burqa on the bedroom floor?" by Sarah Lawrence, to buy a burqa click here.

November 26, 2002 at 05:40 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 25, 2002

Yet another "stir" in academia... - Colleges Balk at FBI Request For Data on Foreign Students

From today's Journal:

FBI agents have asked some colleges and universities for help in amassing extensive electronic dossiers about their foreign faculty and students, including information that many educators contend schools can't release without a court order...

The FBI requests are raising delicate questions for schools about how much to divulge voluntarily. The dilemma pits the FBI's goal of acting fast to prevent attacks against public concern about too quickly signing away privacy rights. Some schools point out the FBI already has been given new powers under the USA Patriot Act and can get vast amounts of information on students with a court order. Yet the FBI isn't always using those formal legal channels...
But the requests are causing a stir in academia. The Department of Education has issued guidance on educational privacy laws that says releasing information voluntarily about students in a way that singles them out based on their citizenship, gender or race, for example, would be considered "harmful or an invasion of privacy."

You get the point.

Here's a little context for you. In the early 1980s I was a graduate student at Oxford, courtesy of a scholarship from Her Majesty's government. After having lived in England for two years, I was surprised (and a little alarmed) to find a telephone message from the Thames Valley Police tucked in my pigeon hole. (At least back in those ancient times, Oxford was not very big on things like telephones and computers. People communicated mainly by a free inter-college postal system using pen and ink. Think Harry Potter without the quills and owls.) Anyway, the note said to call them as soon as possible.

Putting aside my fears about what I was about to be nicked for, I called and was relieved to hear that they only wanted me to come in to the local police station, bring my passport, and update my registration as a foreign student. Evidently, and unbeknownst to me, all foreign students were automatically registered with Old Bill upon matriculation, and every two years the coppers followed up to make sure you were still where you were supposed to be and actually doing some studenting.

Jack booted fascism, eh?

BTW, does anyone else remember those weird TV PSA's from the early 1960s reminding everyone that "alien registration day" required all non-citizens to fill out some forms at their local post office? As a 5 or 6 year old, I remember finding this very funny with visions of Martians and Venusians lining up at the post office windows to register. I wonder when we stopped doing all that stuff...

November 25, 2002 at 09:24 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Must Read Article in this Sunday's NYT Magazine

(Its not often that I find myself saying that about the NYT.)

Barry Bearak's profile of Scott Ritter, former UNSCOM arms inspector, former USMC Major turned channeler of Ramsey Clarke, is a fascinating read. Ritter, you may recall, used to be the principled advocate of tougher arms inspections on Iraq who resigned from UNSCOM in 1998 because Iraq was stonewalling the inspectors and the UN was unwilling to do anything it. His current line is, well, confused. Bearak's parting quote from Ritter sums it all up:

''My heart's telling me to kill Saddam, or, I don't know, maybe my gut tells me that,'' he said. ''My heart's telling me to do what the Constitution says, but the gut's saying kill Saddam. And my brain has no clue which way to go here. It's just twisted. And I'm honest when I say I get up every morning and I just want to get the hell out of this.''

November 25, 2002 at 12:34 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 24, 2002

Ideas under development

Partially in the spirit of full disclosure, and partially as good place to park my notes so I don't forget about them, here are some ideas I think would be interesting to develop further:

  1. The Real Voodoo Economics

    Why does the media persist in embracing the collective delusion that the U.S. President is responsible for the economic cycle? Given that the Prez, in our system, has no control over monetary policy and only limited control over fiscal policy, by what theory do the pundocracy believe that the President influences the level of economic activity over a short to medium term horizon? Is this dumb or what?

  2. Witchhunting Season

    Up here in Columbia County (about 100 miles North of the Empire State Building), we are in the thick of deer hunting season. Walking around outside, your aural landscape is punctuated by isolated and occasionally staccato outbursts of high powered rifle fire. Not that I have anything against it, mind you. Deer are just giant rats, only cuter. But walking outside, you are careful to wear bright colors, and warn the kids not to stray too far from the house.

    Anyway, 100 miles to our South, Elliot Spitzer is in the thick of what seems like its been a very long witch hunting season. And he's already bagged a respectable number of scalps: Merrill Lynch, taking the dive for the low end money; Citigroup, tossing the luckless Michael Carpenter over the railing in an effort to distract the sharks; and a (possible) multi-billion dollar settlement from the securities industry is in his sights.

    So far, so good. But anyone who has been paying any attention at all for the last five years recognizes that we (collectively) participated in a classic market bubble. And, again in classical style, the bubble has burst, leading to a prolonged decline in market valuations, multiples, and 401k balances.
    But this is America. When anyone suffers an injury, even if their own foolishness or greed played some part in the events, somebody else has to pay. Hence the "will it float?" drama writ large upon our the pages of our daily business press.

    Blech. My question is this: Mr. Spitzer is an ambitious Democrat from NY State, where Wall Street plays a major role in the local economy and certainly in funding the ambitions of young pols. Where does he think he is going with this inquisition and how will it help him become Governor/President/whatever?

    Answers, anyone?

  3. Saddam's Real Challenge

    I forget the exact date... December 8th? Something like that. Anyway, the Iraqi government is on the hook to provide the fearsome Mr. Hans Blix with an accounting of their WMDs. President Bush has broadly implied that a reiteration of the (current) Iraqi line that they have no WMDs will be seen as sufficient grounds to start the troops rolling towards Baghdad. The issue that Saddam and his co-dependents must be wrestling with is how much do they have to give up to maintain the fiction of compliance with the recent UNSC resolution? Which of their sites do the Americans already know about? How can they list only those sites that have already appeared on foreign intelligence radar screens while maintaining as much of crown jewels (of mass murder) as possible?

    Talk about high stakes poker. I wonder if Saddam is managing to keep up his swimming regimen while he wrestles with these (for him at least) existential issues.

November 24, 2002 at 01:48 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 23, 2002

Homeland Security: the view from inside the Beltway

Last Thursday, Al Hunt's "Politics & People" column in the Journal including the following paragraph:

"To be sure, President Bush played the politics of homeland security brilliantly. The White House and most congressional Republicans resisted calls for a new agency for nine months after Sept. 11. But the GOP then used it effectively in the midterm election to knock off a handful of Democrats."
Perhaps. But let me offer another interpretation of events. Recall those scary weeks following 9/11, when no one knew to what extent the attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon were merely the opening acts of a broader offensive. Informed opinion was rife with speculation about dirty bombs, anthrax, shipping containers filled with unimaginable horrors being unleashed upon our centers of population. The clear priority for our law enforcement and intelligence agencies was to detect and prevent future attacks.

In this environment, embarking upon a major reorganization of our intelligence and law enforcement communities would have diverted significant resources and management attention away from terrorism. As a former management consultant, I can attest that all organizations' efficiency and performance are adversely effected by the process of organizational change. Any person, no matter how patriotic and well-motivated, can't help but be distracted by questions like who will they report to?, will their jobs be secure?, will the scope of their power and responsibilities change?, etc.

Therefore it probably made a lot of sense not to dilute the attention of the domestic security agencies until the extent of the immediate terror threat could be assessed and defeated. Once this was accomplished, and the true dimensions of that threat were better understood, it was then appropriate to consider how best to organize to meet this new challenge.

It might be a naive and old-fashioned notion, but perhaps the Bush administration's decisions regarding the new Homeland Security Department were motivated by an attempt to actually serve the interests of the American people, rather than merely political calculation. Whatever the motivation, delaying the largest reorganization of the federal government in the last 50 years until more than six months after the terror attacks was clearly sound management.

But am I alone in finding it offensive that so many of the Beltway pundits appear to be incapable of thinking of anything in other than political terms? Maybe we need term limits for journalists and the Washington pundocrats so that they can remember what real life is like.

November 23, 2002 at 07:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 22, 2002

Another Baer Mauling in NYC

Infamous District Court Judge Harold Baer has come up with another stinker of a decision:

"NEW YORK (Reuters) - In a victory for a Ku Klux Klan group, a federal judge on Tuesday ruled that a New York state law violates the U.S. Constitution by barring public demonstrators from wearing masks.

In his decision, U.S. District Judge Harold Baer held that the law violates the free speech rights of the Butler, Indiana-based Church of the American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. If the judge's decision is upheld, members of the group would be able to hide their identities by wearing hoods and masks at future New York rallies.

The city said it would appeal."

You may recall that in March 1996, Judge Howard Baer, Jr., a Manhattan U.S. District Court jurist and Clinton appointee, set off a storm of criticism when he ruled that 80 pounds of cocaine and heroin found by police in a car could not be used as evidence.

The incident in Washington Heights (a lower middle class, largely Hispanic neighborhood in Northern Manhattan) involved two New York City police officers who observed a woman slowly drive down a street at 5 a.m., double park her car and open her trunk. Four men then emerged from between parked cars and placed two large duffel bags in the trunk. When the men spotted the police officers they ran away from the car and the woman drove off. After following the out-of-state rental car for several blocks, the officers stopped the car, searched the trunk, found the drugs and arrested the woman.

In declaring the drugs inadmissible, Judge Baer said there was no probable cause to search the car because it is not unusual for people to be leery of police in an inner-city neighborhood like Washington Heights.

After the public outcry about this ruling, including criticism from President Clinton and calls for his impeachment by Senator Dole, Baer reversed his decision and removed himself from the case.

In the current case, Judge Baer ruled that an 1840s NY State statute that prohibits two or more persons from "congregating" in public while wearing masks to obscure their identities was unconstitutional. To my way of thinking, preventing anonymous mobs from congregating in our cities is hardly an infringement of political speech. The law did nothing to restrict people's rights of assembly or free expression: it merely required that they show their faces while doing so.

Maybe the impeachment issue should be revisited in the 108th Congress...

November 22, 2002 at 01:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack