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Monthly Archives: January 2013

What Difference Does It Make?

January 23rd, 2013 - 1:17 pm

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What difference does it make?

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What difference does it make?

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What difference does it make?

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What difference does it make?

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What difference does it make? No difference at all.


The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99
Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99
No Way In at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99

All The Difference in the World

January 23rd, 2013 - 9:28 am

The New York Times quoted Algerian sources as saying that several of the Egyptian al-Qaeda captured in the hostage incident at a desert gas plant were also present in the attack on the US consulate at Benghazi.  “The Egyptians involved in both attacks were killed by Algerian forces during the four-day ordeal that ended in the deaths of at least 38 hostages and 29 kidnappers, the official said. But three of the militants were captured alive, and one of them described the Egyptians’ role in both assaults under interrogation by the Algerian security services, the official said.”

This news broke as Hillary Clinton was testifying about Benghazi before legislators. She did not directly deny the possibility during her testimony .  According to the Washington Post “asked about reports about a link between the Benghazi attacks and an assault last week on a natural gas complex in Algeria near the border with Libya, Clinton said, ‘We don’t have any way to confirm it as yet.’”

Pressed if she still believed the attack was the result of a video produced in LA she shouted “what difference does it make?”  According to Washington Post the she then matter-of-factly unburdened herself:

the Arab Spring revolts that swept the Middle East and North Africa were not predicted. “This is a great opportunity, as well as a serious threat to our country,” she said of the upheaval that persists across the region. “I hope we seize the opportunity.” She said it would not be easy because the countries have no experience of democracy.

“We now face a spreading jihadist threat,” Clinton said. Many al-Qaeda operatives have been driven out of Afghanistan and Pakistan, she said. But she added: “We have to recognize this is a global movement.” U.S. forces can kill its leaders, but until democracy grows in the region, “we’re going to be faced with this level of instability,” she said.

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In Fraud We Trust

January 22nd, 2013 - 1:16 pm

Only hours after Leo Linbeck III described the ruling elite’s infatuation with Rosseau’s volonté générale — “the will of the political organism, an entity with a life of its own quite apart from that of the individual members of which it is built”, President Obama unwittingly commented on it by making the collective the new cornerstone of American freedom. He said in a recent speech that our freedoms are defined only within the context of the state.

But we have always understood that when times change, so must we; that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action.

For the American people can no more meet the demands of today’s world by acting alone than American soldiers could have met the forces of fascism or communism with muskets and militias. No single person can train all the math and science teachers we’ll need to equip our children for the future, or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores. Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation, and one people.

Chris Matthews liked it so much he called it the new Gettysburg address. Many of us would find it more akin to another famous speech, one heard on the Internet that goes “all your base are belong to us.”

Matthew J. Franck of the National Review, unlike Matthews understood Obama’s speech at once and directly apprehended the link between Obama’s inaugural and the reification of the volonté générale.

But the most notable thing about the speech is not what it contains but what it lacks. The overwhelming impression one gets is that in Obama’s America, there is no civil society — no arena of private action, of voluntary responsibility, of free associations of citizens for solving the community’s problems. There are only the government (by default, the federal government, at that) and the individual. This is the “Life of Julia” campaign philosophy rendered in inaugural rhetoric: Without government’s aid in every aspect of our lives, we are lost, we are helpless, we are nothing. Every “we,” every “our,” every reference to “the nation” in this speech was a reference to a government solution to a “problem.” In this vision of America, no families, churches, charities, voluntary groups, or other institutions of civil society make any appearance at all. And when there are only the government and the individual, we know which one will be in charge.

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Zero Dark Shorty

January 21st, 2013 - 7:12 pm

How do you fight an idea? The Islamists who attacked on the BP gas field in Algeria can’t be characterized by the normal descriptor of nationality.  That they came in every conceivable shape and size was highlighted by a Daily Mail report that the mastermind of the Benghazi attack, himself one-eyed, at one time employed an axe-wielding dwarf as an executioner.

Ruthless al-Qaeda kingpin behind the Algerian hostage crisis, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, is said to have once employed a 3ft 6ins-tall killer named ‘Mohamed the Dwarf’ during a terror campaign in the 1990s. …

Hundreds of executions are believed to have been carried out by the axe-wielding dwarf who murdered men, women and children after they had been dragged from their beds.

The dwarf and 50 heavily-armed extremists once dragged entire families into the street and forced them to line up for execution. … ‘At the head of the line was a dwarf, wearing a canvas hood and a scarf covering his face. ‘He had a large knife in one hand and an axe in the other.

Six foot five or three foot six seems less important than the willingness to live the cause. And what cause is that? It’s the one we don’t want to talk about. Then there’s the Canadian terrorist mastermind named Shedad, who Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal claimed “was coordinating the attack” on the gasfield citing reports that someone with a strong “north American accent” went around collecting hostages. The government of Canada is still trying to confirm whether this is true. But as one academic put it the Islamists adopt whatever guise they need at the moment — even the benign image of Canada — to pass undetected.

Christian Leuprecht, a political science professor at Queen’s University and the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont., also noted that the discovery of a Canadian passport in the charred and bloody aftermath is not smoking-gun proof that a Canadian was involved.

“A Canadian passport is popular among people who are trying to fly under the radar when conducting operations that would normally be considered illicit,” he said.

“Let’s make sure we have an actual genuine Canadian passport here and then let’s make sure the passport actually belonged to the person from whom we are taking it.”

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A Tale of Two Cités

January 20th, 2013 - 4:43 pm

Guest column by Leo Linbeck III

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. But what “best” for some is “worst” for others, and vice-versa.

Today, President Obama was sworn in for his second term. This event was a “best” for his stalwart supporters, such as Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, and is a sign of a bright future:

The Houston congresswoman said she is confident that the diverse faces of Texans in Washington for the second inauguration of President Barack Obama will “build the new era of Texas Democrats.”

For thousands of demonstrators at “High Noon” rallies across the country, it might not yet be the “worst of times,” but the sense was clear that Frank Miller and his gang were on the noon train:

In Connecticut, a rally for gun rights drew about 1,000 people at the state Capitol, where lawmakers have reacted to the Newtown shooting with proposals to tighten gun-control rules, including limiting access to assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

That did not sit well with gun owner Jessie Buchanan, who attended the rally in Hartford.

“They could take away the 10-round magazine today and tomorrow it would be the five-round and the next day it would be the whole thing,” Buchanan said.

One suspects that many of these ralliers viewed the Second Inauguration as a sign of the “worst of times,” at least with respect to the Second Amendment.

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Strange Customs in Far Away Lands

January 19th, 2013 - 10:57 am

Blame it all on the movie Speed.

Harry: Alright, pop quiz: The airport. Gunman with one hostage, he’s using her for cover, he’s almost to the plane. You’re a hundred feet away.

Jack: …

Harry: Jack?

Jack: Shoot the hostage.

Harry: What?

Jack: Take her out of the equation. Go for the good wound and he can’t get to the plane with her. Clear shot.

Harry: You are deeply nuts, you know that? “Shoot the hostage”… jeez…

Life imitated art in Algeria, according to one Filipino worker who was taken hostage. The Algerian rescue force seemed relatively unconcerned who got hit as long as they took down the Masked Brigade, who depending on what source you believe, started their attack from either Libya or the Niger. “Ruben Andrada, 49, a Filipino civil engineer … described how he and his colleagues were used as human shields by the kidnappers, which did little to deter the Algerian military.”

With detcord wrapped around his neck and caught in the gunbattle between the Masked Brigade and Algerian forces, he regarded his chances of survival as doubtful. Andrada retreated into that classic Filipino attitude: “bahala na”. He thought ‘leave it to God’ as bullets kicked up the ground around him.

“When we left the compound, there was shooting all around,” Andrada said, as Algerian helicopters attacked with guns and missiles. “I closed my eyes. We were going around in the desert. To me, I left it all to fate.”

But when the vehicle carrying Andrada turned turtle in the desert, he gave fate a hand and scrambled from the wreckage to escape. His fellow hostages were not so lucky. All around him were strewn the corpses and body parts of people.

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Sheikh and You Shall Find

January 18th, 2013 - 1:11 pm

“Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has said he will urge US President Barack Obama to free the blind sheikh jailed for the 1993 World Trade Center attack,” according to al-Ahram.   This comes as Algerian Islamists offered to trade American hostages taken in a raid on an Algerian gas field for the same blind sheikh. Great minds think alike.

The situation was fluid, but the U.S. said one thing was carved in stone: It would not be cutting any deals with the captors.

“The United States does not negotiate with terrorists,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said of reports the militants were seeking the release of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, who is serving a life term for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, and Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani scientist convicted of trying to kill U.S. soldiers after being arrested in Afghanistan in 2008.

But there’s no chance the sheikh will be freed and Nuland’s principled stand should serve as a warning that America does not give in to murderers. Meanwhile, U.S. Ambassador in Afghanistan James Cunningham said the United States wants serious peace negotiations with the Taliban but that it has not yet been possible to get the process underway.

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“Ortiz is Done”

January 17th, 2013 - 7:06 pm

Margery Eagan of the Boston Herald thinks poetic justice has been served.

Just days ago, speculation was rampant. Gov. Carmen Ortiz? U.S. Sen. Carmen Ortiz?

Well, that’s all over now.

U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz is done. Finished. Forever linked to bringing the full and frightening weight of the federal government down upon a 26-year-old computer genius — and a suicide risk.

Is she? At first glance you might think so.  After all another article says “Emotional Carmen Ortiz `terribly upset’ over Swartz suicide”. But on closer reading the article the reasons for her distress are rather different from what you may think. “She is ‘terribly upset’ she is being blamed for his suicide.”

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My Hat Has Got Three Corners

January 17th, 2013 - 3:46 pm

Tragic news that 30 hostages were killed in by Algerian forces trying to free them from their Islamist captors underscore how hard it is to carry off rescue operation without causing heavy casualties.  Reuters reports:

Thirty hostages and at least 11 Islamist militants were killed on Thursday when Algerian forces stormed a desert gas plant in a bid to free many dozens of Western and local captives, an Algerian security source said …

Two Japanese, two Britons and a French national were among at least seven foreigners killed, the source told Reuters. Eight of the dead hostages were Algerian. The nationalities of the rest, as well as of perhaps dozens more who escaped, were unclear.

The reality of average combat probably comes as a shock to a world accustomed to the cinematic portrayals of the nearly superhuman exploits of the SEALS and SAS.  But these units are the Mozarts of mayhem, and their members are drawn from the right hand tail of the distribution. Just as Mozart is unlikely to perform in person for you, as the Islamist conflict spreads, people caught in the middle will find their lives depend on soldiers from the middle or left hand tail.

The Algerians probably did their best. But in reality their task was hard. If the world is in shock it is because the hegemon made it look so easy.  For seventy years the seas have remained open to navigation.  Airplanes crisscross the skies with impunity. No one could seriously disrupt the peace. Why when Saddam, who had one of the largest armies in the world took on the hegemon, the US forces went through them as if they weren’t even there.

The ease was only apparent, a product of the overmatch between the hegemon and the challenger. But as the hegemon retreats and it becomes every country for itself, no longer will the world have the luxury of reviling the 101st Airborne, or the 2nd Armored division. As these units leave the field, they peanut gallery have to do it themselves.  There will be less of an overmatch. And countries will discover that it wasn’t as easy as it seemed.

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Crime Story

January 17th, 2013 - 8:59 am

The prosecution and suicide of Aaron Swartz took place in a context of celebrity. Swartz  besides being a highly skilled developer  was also a political person. “Swartz also focused on sociology, civic awareness and activism. In 2010 he joined the Harvard University Center for Ethics. He cofounded the online group Demand Progress (known for its campaign against the Stop Online Piracy Act) and later worked with U.S. and international activist groups Rootstrikers and Avaaz.”

So was the person who prosecuted him, Carmen Ortiz. She was gunning for high office in Massachusetts. The appropriateness of Ortiz’s legal actions is beyond my competence to comment on, but the context of her actions is pretty interesting anyhow. The Boston Globe ran a highly revealing article on Ortiz shortly before Swartz committed suicide, describing her as the protege of high Democratic Party officials. The Globe article began with this bombshell:

In a recent private meeting, the [Mass] House speaker and Senate president were stunned when Governor Deval Patrick, according to a person briefed on the conversation, raised the prospect of US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz running for governor and spoke favorably of the prosecutor whose investigation of the state Probation Department has rattled the Legislature.

According to the person, Patrick said the federal prosecutor, whose Puerto Rican-born parents raised her in a New York public housing project, has a great story to tell about her successful legal career. He left the impression he was suggesting that the two should meet her.

The phrase “a great story to tell” may be the most fatal political expression of modern times. Ortiz had just assumed her new position as US Attorney for Massachusetts and was already set to aim for higher office. “In 2009, she was nominated to the position by President Barack Obama. Ortiz is both the first woman and the first Hispanic to serve as U.S. attorney for Massachusetts. … Noteworthy prosecutions by her office include those of Tarek Mehanna (ending in conviction) and Aaron Swartz (committed suicide prior to trial).”

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