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Monthly Archives: January 2010

The No-Fire Zone

January 31st, 2010 - 5:30 pm

The Guardian says President Obama is attempting to set up a missile defense ring around Iran to 1) protect the Sunni allies from possible attack and 2) to disincentivize Israel from attacking Iran.

The US is dispatching Patriot defensive missiles to four countries – Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Kuwait – and keeping two ships in the Gulf capable of shooting down Iranian missiles. Washington is also helping Saudi Arabia develop a force to protect its oil installations.

American officials said the move is aimed at deterring an attack by Iran and reassuring Gulf states fearful that Tehran might react to sanctions by striking at US allies in the region. Washington is also seeking to discourage Israel from a strike against Iran by demonstrating that the US is prepared to contain any threat. …

An unnamed senior administration official told the New York Times: “Our first goal is to deter the Iranians. A second is to reassure the Arab states, so they don’t feel they have to go nuclear themselves. But there is certainly an element of calming the Israelis as well.”

This would be the threat that didn’t exist, according to those who accused the last administration of scaremongering about Iran. The very same New York Times to whom a senior official is now the latest defensive measures wrote in 2007 that:

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The Natives Are Restless

January 31st, 2010 - 3:44 pm

Tom Friedman reporting from Davos says the “elite” gathered at this august forum are worried about “political instability” in the United States.

“Political instability” was a phrase normally reserved for countries like Russia or Iran or Honduras. But now, an American businessman here remarked to me, “people ask me about ‘political instability’ in the U.S. We’ve become unpredictable to the world.”

The source of this worry appears to be the reluctance of the American voter to follow the leader. Friedman writes “You can understand why foreigners are uneasy. They look at America and see a president elected by a solid majority, coming into office riding a wave of optimism, controlling both the House and the Senate. Yet, a year later, he can’t win passage of his top legislative priority: health care.” What they would prefer to see, in Friedman’s words is a ‘Confucian-Communist-Capitalist’ consensus.

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I’ll be loving you internally

January 31st, 2010 - 1:40 pm

One of the lessons learned from fighting roadside bombs is that that it is often more effective to go after the bomb makers than the bombs. The physics of counteracting IEDS that are already in close proximity work are against the defender. Once the bomb is upon you the scope for action rapidly shrinks. Ten meters standoff and 1 second to go leave very small margins for error. Demanding something that can stop a bomb within those parameters is akin to demanding magic. The same can be said of fighting aerial IEDs, or passenger-carried bombs.

Now it is harder than ever to keep a bomb from getting close.

About 2 months before the Christmas Day bomber struck CBS News produced a video describing the possible use of bombs carried within a body cavity, noting the technique had been used to try and kill “Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef, head of Saudi Arabia’s counter terrorism operations … [using] a trick from the narcotics trade – which has long smuggled drugs in body cavities – Asieri [the assassin] had a pound of high explosives, plus a detonator inserted in his rectum.” Before he was allowed to get close to the prince, Asieri was subjected to a much more arduous screening than that given to ordinary airline passengers.

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Jobs

January 30th, 2010 - 7:46 pm

The Mercatus Center at the George Mason University has an article by Veronique de Rugy claiming that one reason why unemployment statistics aren’t as bad as some might think is that a lot of people have stopped looking for work. She says more than half a million people have just quit trying. De Rugy does other work for the American Enterprise Institute and Cato, and so might be accused of taking a dim view of the situation, but she cites Bureau of Labor Statistics data for her conclusions.

Using data from the Obama administration’s website Recovery.gov and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this chart shows the month-over-month changes in the number of unemployed workers and members of the civilian labor force in tandem with the administration’s stimulus spending. By using dual measures of employment instead of simply examining monthly changes in unemployment, this chart captures the magnitude of job loss in America more completely – not only have workers lost their jobs, many more workers have also stopped looking for new employment altogether. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the month of December alone, 85,000 jobs were lost. In comparison, 661,000 people exited the labor force, or 7.7 times the amount of new unemployment.

For those who stay in the employment game things have gotten tougher. One interesting statistic examined by economist Heidi Sherholtz is the applicants to jobs ratio. In December, 2007 there were 1.7 applicants for every new opening. In November of 2009 that ratio had risen to 6.4 to every availability.

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Obama at the GOP retreat

January 29th, 2010 - 1:47 pm
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The WSJ writes:

President Barack Obama sparred with House Republicans over job growth, the deficit and health care Friday, in an unusual dialog that both brought the two sides together and also exemplified Washington’s political gridlock.

The retreat here for House Republicans went on for nearly 90 minutes. At times combative and confident, Mr. Obama fielded questions on a range of topics, from the national debt to health care to trade. “I’m having fun,” he said at one point.

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True … or not true

January 28th, 2010 - 8:13 pm

Liberating or enslaving? What are the real implications in the SCOTUS Citizens United v. FEC ruling? At the State of the Union address President Obama accused the court of opening the floodgates to corporate and foreign influence.

“With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that, I believe, will open the floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections”

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Not everyone in the President’s audience agrees. But what does the decision really mean? One way to get a sense is to look a professional legal opinion, after the Read More.

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KSM

January 28th, 2010 - 7:05 pm

Despite the fact that Senators Diane Feinstein and Senator Jim Webb want the trial of Khalid Sheik Mohammed moved out of New York City, the Obama administration is determined to hold the trial in that venue. Webb urged Attorney General Eric Holder to to rethink his decision in a letter was endorsed by Republican Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Susan Collins and Blanche Lincoln and Joe Lieberman. Webb said that:

The attacks of 9-11 were acts of war, and those who planned and carried out those attacks are war criminals. Today, those who subscribe to the same violent ideology … continue to plan and execute attacks against innocent civilians all over the world. It is not in our national interest to provide them further publicity or additional advantage.

In a separate move, Dianne Feinstein the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee urged the administration to reconsider its decision to try KSM in New York City. “In my view, from an intelligence perspective, I think the situation has changed with the Christmas attack,” Feinstein said on MSNBC, citing confidential intelligence briefings. Earlier Mayor Bloomberg urged the White House to reconsider its plans, citing resultant security threats to the city.

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The State of the Union Speech

January 27th, 2010 - 8:16 pm

The text is here. Some excerpts follow, prefaced with my summary.
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Secret Wars

January 27th, 2010 - 6:44 pm

The Washington Post describes the guiding philosophy of Barack Obama’s War on Terror or whatever it is now called. It consists of supporting “allies” with large amounts of money, technology and expert advice and drones to carry out low-key operations. The Post writes in an article entitled “U.S. deeply involved in secret Yemeni strikes” that Obama:

has embraced the notion that the most effective way to kill or capture members of al-Qaeda and its affiliates is to work closely with foreign partners, including those that have feeble democracies, shoddy human rights records and weak accountability over the vast sums of money Washington is giving them to win their continued participation in these efforts.

There is considerable potential downside to this strategy. The most obvious is that it involves the US on the side of rulers who may be hated by their populations. Lee Smith in his book The Strong Horse, argues that the “war on terror” — or whatever it is now called — was in many ways an externalization of the Arab/Muslim struggle to resolve their political future. Religious vs secular, democratic vs authoritarian, modern vs traditional. The Bush “freedom agenda” was an attempt to take one side of this debate in an effort to resolve the underlying differences.

The Obama administration has removed America from involvement in those issues and returns it to the traditional approach of dealing with regimes. In an interview with Michael Totten, Lee Smith argued the problem with this approach was that the regimes themselves were the source of terror. They provoked it, supported its currents and rode its waves. Smith said:

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The medium is the massage

January 27th, 2010 - 2:11 pm

‘What we have here is a failure to communicate.’ This is what the White House thinks is at the root of its current political difficulties. Jeff Zelany of the NYT writes that sources in Washington say the President will not change course. He will simply try to explain it to an obtuse public in a clearer way.

When Mr. Obama presents his first State of the Union address on Wednesday evening, aides said he would accept responsibility, though not necessarily blame, for failing to deliver swiftly on some of the changes he promised a year ago. But he will not, aides said, accede to criticism that his priorities are out of step with the nation’s.

As Mr. Obama navigates a crossroads of his presidency, a moment when he signals what lessons he has drawn from his first year in office, the public posture of the White House is that any shortcomings are the result of failing to explain effectively what they were doing — and why.

But there is concern among some pundits that the President may have put the cart before the horse. According to Kate Pickert of Time, a majority of Americans believe that the health care system isn’t broken enough to require the kind of fix that President Obama proposes — even if it were a “fix”. The lessons drawn from the earlier Clinton attempts was that the problem wasn’t explained thoroughly enough. They confidently believed that with a little more education the public would get it. Unfortunately, they still have not.
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