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Monthly Archives: December 2009

Let me try again

December 30th, 2009 - 3:54 pm

Watts up With That reports that the French have ruled a proposed carbon tax scheduled to start on Jan 1, 2010 to be unconstitutional. Here are more details:

Here’s a Deustch-Welle news article on the reversal.

France’s Constitutional Council says the country’s proposed carbon tax is illegal. This is a severe blow to French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s plans to fight climate change.

France’s Constitutional Council has struck down a carbon tax that was planned to take effect on January 1st. The council, which ensures the constitutionality of French legislation, said too many polluters were exempted in the measure and the tax burden was not fairly distributed.

It was estimated that 93 percent of industrial emissions outside of fuel use, including the emissions of more than 1,000 of France’s top polluting industrial sites, would be exempt from the tax, which would have charged 17 euros per ton of emitted carbon dioxide.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has argued the tax is necessary to combat climate change and reduce the country’s dependence on oil.

However, the council’s ruling is a severe blow to both Sarkozy’s environmental plan as well as France’s budget for 2010. The government now has to find a way to come up with about 4.1 billion euros in revenue that was expected from the tax.


You can’t always get what you want

December 29th, 2009 - 2:36 pm

With the airlines facing the possibility of losing passengers due to a fear of more TSA hassles some in the industry are taking a look at extending the same protection to people that they have long extended to cargo. Stewart Baker of Skating on Stilts has more:

Lots of people have suddenly discovered the value of intelligence and good data for keeping terrorists off planes.  The latest convert is Kevin Mitchell of the Business Travel Coalition, who says that, since 9/11 “the highest and best use of each incremental security dollar spent should have been on intelligence gathering, risk-management analysis and sharing, and on fundamental police work such that terrorists would never reach an airport, much less board an airplane.” …

Thanks, Kevin.  But that would mean a lot more to travelers if you hadn’t spent so much time after 9/11 trying to, well, stop the government from spending incremental dollars on intelligence gathering and risk-management analysis and sharing, which at the time you were calling “invasive screening” and “data mining.”

Kevin Mitchell’s Business Travel Coalition was a leader in opposing Automated Targeting System (ATS), the database that is used by CBP to keep terrorists out of the country.


Iran again

December 28th, 2009 - 3:26 pm

The Guardian reports that large numbers of security forces have been deployed in the major public squares of Teheran as enemies of the regime, some of whom also opposed the Shah, declared the days of the current order numbered. They compared the current leaders to the most hated personages in Iranian history.

Plainclothes agents and special police units were reported to be deployed in overwhelming numbers in four of Tehran’s main squares – Enghelab, Haft-e Tir, Valiasr and Ferdowsi – which formed part of the focal point of yesterday’s fierce confrontations. Three city-centre underground stations were also closed as authorities sought to block off gathering points for protesters. …


President Obama urges America to learn

December 28th, 2009 - 2:58 pm

A White House spokesman alerted the public to a speech in which President Obama would urge America to learn from the recent attempt to blow up an airliner over detroit. Reuters quoting White House spokesman Bill Burton reported that “He believes it is critical we learn from this incident and take the necessary measures to prevent future acts of terrorism, and he will reference the fact that we need to keep up the pressure on those who would attack our country.” He announced a series of reviews to identity the weaknesses in the security system and said:

“This incident demonstrates that an alert and courageous citizenry are far more resilient than an isolated extremist. As a nation, we will do everything in our power to protect our country. As Americans, we will never give in to fear or division. We will be guided by our hopes, our unity and our deeply held values. That’s who we are as Americans.”

Meanwhile, al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the actions of this isolated extremist. CNN reports that “Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility for the attempted Christmas Day terrorist attack on a plane about to land in the United States, saying it was in retaliation for alleged U.S. strikes on Yemeni soil.”


Spin versus spool

December 28th, 2009 - 7:04 am

Janet Napolitano’s talking points emphasizing that “the system worked” to prevent a terrorist attack seem to be fizzling just as badly as Mutallab’s bomb.  Even CNN is ripping into it, as their video shows.  It’s becoming a running joke. As the previous post argued, treating this problem with upbeat spin isn’t going to work. It should never have even been tried.

While the solution to the public ridicule is likely to be improved spin, it doesn’t begin to address the real problems . One of them was casually revealed by the statement that there are over 500,000 names on an extended terror suspect’s list.  A list with that many records is of limited utility unless it can winnowed down to a tractable set in a given situation.  You really want to be able to use this data to answer specific questions like: is this man related to such and such an event or should this person fly? Simply saying that the terrorist is in the list is like saying the needle is in the haystack. It wasn’t of much use in keeping him off the plane.


Of some importance

December 27th, 2009 - 2:52 pm

Marc Ambinder at the Atlantic explains the President’s muted reaction to the failed attempt to blow up the NWA to Detroit: he doesn’t want to dignify the attack by giving it attention. Now in all fairness to President Obama, this is Ambinder’s analysis of events, not the President’s.

There is a reason why Obama hasn’t given a public statement. It’s strategy.

Here’s the theory: a two-bit mook is sent by Al Qaeda to do a dastardly deed. He winds up neutering himself. Literally.

Authorities respond appropriately; the president (as this president is wont to to) presides over the federal response. His senior aides speak for him, letting reporters know that he’s videoconferencing regularly, that he’s ordering a review of terrorist watch lists, that he’s discoursing with his secretary of Homeland Security.

But an in-person Obama statement isn’t needed; Indeed, a message expressing command, control, outrage and anger might elevate the importance of the deed, would generate panic (because Obama usually DOESN’T talk about the specifics of cases like this, and so him deciding to do so would cue the American people to respond in a way that exacerbates the situation).


Storm petrels

December 27th, 2009 - 4:09 am
YouTube Preview Image

Rep Pete Hoekstra blinks out a message to the public by raising a series of loaded questions in a Fox News interview.

  • Has the al-Qaeda franchise in Yemen made a strategic decision to attack the United States?
  • The Ft Hood shooter was also connected to Yemen, “is there a pattern”?
  • Is US intelligence failing to connect the dots?
  • Is the White House stonewalling on inquiries by the House?
  • Is al-Qaeda evolving techniques to “get [weapons] into other environments where they can do significant damage”?


White powder

December 26th, 2009 - 12:41 pm

CBS News quotes officials who say the Nigerian attempted to blow up a Northwest Airlines plane over Detroit using PETN, whose method of “preparation involves the nitration of pentaerythritol with a mixture of concentrated nitric and sulfuric acid. The preferred method of nitration is the ICI method, which utilizes concentrated nitric acid (98%+) alone, as mixed acid can create unstable sulfonated by-products.”  Pentaerythritol is a crystalline organic compound that can be described as “white powder”, seen in this advertisement. CBS says:

The suspect in the attempted bombing of Northwest Flight 253 used a highly explosive substance called PETN, a law enforcement official told CBS News Saturday. The explosives were carried in a soft plastic container – possibly a condom – though much of the packaging was destroyed in the fire, the official said. …

A high-ranking law enforcement official told CBS News that the suspect apparently used a syringe to inject a chemical into the powder, which was located near his groin. It is a technique not seen in previous attempted attacks and it’s possible that this incident was a test of whether the materials could pass screening and how effective they might be at causing damage, the source said.

This video shows the effects of one third of an ounce of PETN on a small tree.

Speeches without words

December 26th, 2009 - 5:07 am

The most effective speeches in political history are rarely orations. Truly great speeches do not communicate ideas to an audience so much gather and punctuate sentences that are already half-formed in everyone’s thoughts. A truly great orator does not manufacture a moment. He is part of it and consequently knows when to step aside and give voice to the event itself.  Then the speech becomes part of the action rather than a substitute for the actions themselves. Really powerful speeches are astonishingly obvious, brief to the point of curtness and remarkably, entirely devoid of the word “I”.

Edward Everett, who had served as Secretary of State, U.S. Senator, U.S. Representative, Governor of Massachusetts, president of Harvard University, and Vice Presidential candidate was the main speaker at Gettysburg. His speech, which took over an hour to deliver, can be found here.  It is erudite, full of soaring phrases and classical allusions and almost no one remembers it. Abraham Lincoln’s much shorter address, on the other hand,  is known verbatim to millions. It is plain and contains no fancy words. Most remarkably yet, it does not contain a single instance of the first person singular. Not once in his most famous address does Abraham Lincoln say, “I”.


Over Detroit

December 25th, 2009 - 3:31 pm

An incident previously described as a passenger setting off firecrackers on a Northwest Airlines flight between Amsterdam and Detroit is now being referred to as a possible terrorist attack.  Fox News reports that a passenger tried to ignite a powder aboard the aircraft and was said to have been acting under instructions from al-Qaeda.

A male passenger reportedly linked to terrorist organization al-Qaeda ignited a powdery substance prior to landing on a Delta Airlines flight to Detroit Friday. The suspect is believed to be Nigerian, Fox News reported. …

The suspect, who suffered second-degree burns, told federal investigators he was directed by al-Qaeda, though authorities are questioning the veracity of that statement, ABC reported. A federal situational awareness bulletin noted that the explosive was acquired in Yemen with instructions as to when it should be used, ABC said.

The FBI was on the scene, Detroit office spokeswoman Sandra Berchtold told NewsCore. Berchtold declined to comment on the reports of a terrorist connection.

Earlier the BBC had described the event as involving “firecrackers”.