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Belmont Club

Monthly Archives: December 2009

The pointing finger points

December 18th, 2009 - 2:03 pm

The Associated Press reports Copenhagen gripped by a diplomatic frenzy, even as the principals worked to cobble together a two-page statement of principles to present in place of a specific agreement. President Obama and China’s Wen met once again, kindling hopes that something might yet be salvaged from the meeting. Diplomats had a “handful of hours” left to pull off a “miracle”.

The Times Online said the negotiators were jettisoning the ballast in an effort to keep the conference aloft. “Key safeguards on climate change were sacrificed today in a desperate attempt by world leaders to achieve a compromise at the Copenhagen summit.” But the Times Online also hinted that the conference was being derailed, rather than dependent upon a miracle by Barack Obama, who appears to have nothing left to say to the Chinese leader. The President of Russia has already left and the Japanese leader was already packing his bags.

Gordon Brown and some other leaders prepared to stay overnight as the final stages of the negotiations were prolonged by a dispute between the US and China over remarks made by President Obama.

But reports this evening that President Medvedev of Russia had already left the talks while Japan’s Prime Minister, Yukio Hatoyama, was planning to leave later last night heightened the feeling that time was running out for a deal.

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A Deal in Copenhagen?

December 18th, 2009 - 12:53 am

The BBC reports that a deal is close to emerging at the “climate change” talks in Copenhagen. The key news is that China has agreed to cut back on its pollution and the US is going to kick in some money. Only about $100 billion a year from initial reports.

A deal appears to be in sight for the final day of the UN climate change talks but there are fears it may not prevent a 3C (5.4F) temperature rise. … China signalled concessions on the monitoring of emission curbs while the US said it would commit money for developing countries. …

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said her administration was prepared to help establish funding of $100bn a year for developing countries if a deal emerged that met US requirements.

The US wants to be able to verify Chinese compliance, but China was resisting any action that might infringe on its sovereignty. Meanwhile, President Obama boarded an airplane bound for the Danish capital, exuding confidence that a deal was in the cards. The NY Daily News reports:

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Rough Places

December 17th, 2009 - 9:46 pm

Whatever one wants to call it, the little unpleasantness which hove into public view on September 11 continues to simmer. It will not be wished away. Yemeni security forces struck at an al-Qaeda stronghold on its border, claiming 34 mlitants killed. Other says over 60 were killed and most were civilians. The Telegraph describes “fears the unstable Arab state is becoming a strategically important base for al-Qaeda”.

Fearful that Yemen is in danger of becoming a failed state, America has now sent a small number of special forces teams to improve training of Yemen’s army in reaction to the threat.

“Yemen is becoming a reserve base for al-Qaeda’s activities in Pakistan and Afghanistan,” said a US military official.

“As Pakistan’s campaign on the frontier affects the syndicates of terror on its territory and operations step up in Afghanistan, it is a place that offers relief to al-Qaeda operatives.”

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Pirates of the airwaves

December 17th, 2009 - 1:18 pm

Wired described how Shi’ite insurgents have been able to intercept US drone downlinks by simply pointing some satellite dishes up and soaking up the unencrypted transmissions. All they had to do next was find some commercially available software to view it.

“U.S. military personnel in Iraq discovered the problem late last year when they apprehended a Shiite militant whose laptop contained files of intercepted drone video feeds,” Wall Street Journal reports. “In July, the U.S. military found pirated drone video feeds on other militant laptops, leading some officials to conclude that militant groups trained and funded by Iran were regularly intercepting feeds.”

How’d the militants manage to get access to such secret data? Basically by pointing satellite dishes up, and waiting for the drone feeds to pour in. According to the Journal, militants have exploited a weakness: The data links between the drone and the ground control station were never encrypted. Which meant that pretty much anyone could tap into the overhead surveillance that many commanders feel is America’s most important advantage in its two wars. Pretty much anyone could intercept the feeds of the drones that are the focal point for the secret U.S. war in Pakistan.

Using cheap, downloadable programs like SkyGrabber, militants were apparently able to watch and record the video feed — and potentially be tipped off when U.S. and coalition forces are stalking them. The $26 software was originally designed to let users download movies and songs off of the internet.

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Coping in Copenhagen

December 16th, 2009 - 2:47 pm

The Politico and Roger Simon (who is in Copenhagen) depict a scene of chaos and division that the management can do little to hide. Politico hints that some politicians are beginning to sense that the heretofore unsinkable ship is down by bow and foundering and are, with stealthy tread, making for the First-Class lifeboats.

in a surprise move that captured growing uncertainty over conference — Denmark’s climate minister, Connie Hedegaard, stepped aside as president of the conference, handing the gavel to Rasmussen, as head of the host country.

Outside, Danish police — who have been accused of heavy-handedness by human rights groups — clashed with thousands of environmental activists who descended on the complex from a nearby train station and demanded entry to the Bella Center.

BBC video showed truncheon-bearing Danish police shoving the crowd backward as protesters gasped and covered their faces to avoid breathing tear gas.

Inside the building, U.N. officials revoked the credentials of about 100 accredited members of the green group Friends of the Earth for staging a series of small protests on Tuesday.

The dynamics of this crisis may be simple. A series of events, notably the Climategate revelations to which the cold snap in Britain has added psychological credence, has shifted a significant amount of public opinion to skepticism. But the real damage is being inflicted by the environmental left. They had been bought off by political promises which were barely capable of fulfillment when the tide of public opinion had not yet been turned. With the public increasingly skeptical, the environmental Left rightly sees that it has no chance of getting what it wants. Whenever the Left doesn’t get what it wants it does what comes naturally: it becomes more militant.  Roger Simon relates a telling anecdote of streets crowded by hangers-on and empty power lunches. Oops, did I say power?

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The Cornucopia

December 16th, 2009 - 1:33 pm

National Defense Magazine describes the situation many of us find ourselves in. The US military is now collecting so much sensor data on the battlefield that it is literally being overwhelmed by it.  Moreover, it finds itself constipated by legacy rules and regulations which prevent the information from being provided to combatants who need it. In an article entitled “Military ‘Swimming In Sensors and Drowning in Data’”, Stew Magnuson writes:

Synthesizing all these collection disciplines and disseminating them quickly is the challenge facing the military. If intelligence is the “coin of the realm,” as Clapper and other senior leaders said at the GEO-Int conference here, then the military may soon have more cash than it can spend.

“We’re going to find ourselves in the not too distant future swimming in sensors and drowning in data,” said Lt. Gen. David A. Deptula, Air Force deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

The problem started when a sharp increase in the quantity and quality of sensors began to outpace the analysis capabilities of the Air Force. One increased according to Moore’s Law while the other increased linearly, if at all. For example, new capabilities on the MQ-9 Reaper alone will increase the video feeds in a 24 hour period from that platform from 39 to more than 3,000. Who’s going to watch that feed? The Air Force has decided that whoever it is, it ain’t gonna be people. Automated systems are the planned upgrade path.

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Waiting

December 15th, 2009 - 3:11 pm

A number of trends have made is possible to guess what the possible crisis points might occur in the next year and a half. The first trend is the growing problem of Pakistan.  An article in the New York Times describes the growing gap between the US and Pakistani strategies for fighting Islamic extremism in South Asia. For now the cracks can be papered over, but not for much longer. Briefly, Pakistan has wanted to be a dominant influence the pace and scope of US activity in Afghanistan and limit American response to militants operating in their country. The US can no longer play this game. Something may have to give.

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The Monkey Trap

December 14th, 2009 - 4:08 pm

With President’s Obama’s approval ratings down to 44% and his approval index at its lowest points ever, the administration may have difficulty getting the 60 votes needed to obtain health care “reform”, even after a proposal to appeal to voters aged 55 to 64 was included. Megan McArdle writes that Joe Lieberman’s opposition even to the current compromise will make “progressives … livid”. While the numbers may be against the Democrats now, they will move heaven and earth to get the votes and will stop at nothing to get them.

It’s highly unlikely that Democrats will keep exactly 58 seats plus Bernie Sanders. At that point, one way or another, Joe Lieberman becomes largely superfluous. And the Democrats are going to have their knives out.

But the answer to her self-posed question is elsewhere on the Atlantic article. Maybe it’s not Lieberman who’s cutting his own throat but the Democrats themselves. The harder they try with health care “reform” the lower they fall in the polls. Why? maybe because many voters have concluded that health care not about health so much as about money. The trust is gone; the words remain the same by the melody is broken; the administration has lost that lovin’ feelin’. McArdle notes that the louder they sing, the more the audience stops its ears.

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The Five Minutes

December 13th, 2009 - 2:56 pm

Robert Lundgren, working off data found by Bob Ballard’s exploration of the wreck of the IJN battlecruiser Kirishima, has reinterpreted the official reports to rewrite what happened during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal.  The accepted story is that the Kirishima which entered the scene in company with destroyers, fired on and disabled the shorted-out USS South Dakota.  In the meantime, the USS Washington fired a series of accurate salvos which inflicted 9 16 inch and 40 5 inch hits on the battlecruiser, causing it to lose control and eventually scuttle itself.

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Civis Romanus Sum

December 13th, 2009 - 2:05 am

Professor Philip Hamburger at Columbia Law School, in his paper, “Beyond Protection” recalls the nearly forgotten doctrine of Protection in connection with the problem of terrorism. Protection (and my understanding of the term is doubtless imperfect as a layman) is apparently a legal theory in which the legal rights of the defendant vary according to the degree of his allegiance to the country he sets himself against. Professor Hamburger writes:

This Article explains the principle of protection and its implications for terrorism. Under the principle of protection, as understood in early American law, allegiance and protection were reciprocal. As a result, a person without allegiance was without protection, including the protection of the law. Not owing allegiance, such a person had no obligation to obey American law; moreover, not having protection, he had no rights under such law. This was the principle on which early American law dealt with enemy aliens and other persons who did not owe allegiance, including those who today would be called “terrorists.”

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