Belmont Club

Belmont Club

Downfall in Syria

May 9th, 2015 - 5:28 am

One of the constantly repeated themes in recent articles is that the Assad regime in Syria is on the ropes.  However, few news items explain why that is and fewer still say what that means. Anne Barnard and her team at the New York Times give a good account of Assad’s dire straits, implying that the survival of the regime is now seriously in doubt. “The Syrian Army has suffered a string of defeats from re-energized insurgents and is struggling to replenish its ranks as even pro-government families increasingly refuse to send sons to poorly defended units on the front lines. These developments raise newly urgent questions about the durability of President Bashar al-Assad’s rule.”

Nicholas Blanford of al-Jazeera suggests that a crisis is brewing in the Qalamoun region, in the mountains to the north of Damascus, in a battlefield centered around the town and convent of Sednaya. The reason for its importance is clear from a map provided by Business Insider showing areas under the control of each belligerent. The areas in pink are what remains of Assad’s control and the rebels are trying to cross the mountains cutting Syrian territory in half at its narrowest point.  If they succeed, they will be within measurable distance of destroying Assad.

Battle

The excellent Institute for the Study of War survey described Assad’s attempt to hold on to as much territory as he could, an approach termed an “army in all corners”.  But manpower limitations eventually doomed the effort as attrition wore down his core forces.  It is a measure of Assad’s weakness that the Qalamoun battle is being led by Hezbollah, a reinforcement sent to him by Iran.

The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) continues to grapple with chronic problems of attrition and political unreliability which force Assad to rely upon a small core of trusted elite military units in addition to the IRGC-QF, Hezbollah, and other Iranian-aligned forces to conduct offensive operations. Meanwhile, the use of decentralized paramilitary units such as the National Defense Forces (NDF) in increasingly prominent combat roles has fragmented the regime’s authority over its fighting force and caused cleavages in Assad’s popular support base.

These manpower limitations have led Assad to adopt a military strategy of an ‘army in all corners’ which involves the establishment and defense of remote regime outposts throughout Syria in order to pin the outer bounds of a contiguous post-war Syrian state. Assad likely hopes that this strategy will enable him to avoid decisive defeat while still outwardly claiming to control all of Syria, eventually translating into international political legitimacy. This approach may successfully prolong the staying power of President Assad, but it protracts violence and destruction throughout the country and allows jihadist groups to flourish. The passive posture maintained by Assad’s forces effectively cedes control over large swathes of countryside to ISIS, JN, and other Islamic extremist groups.

The degree to which Hezbollah is committed to the fight was underscored by its leader Hassan Nasrallah’s statement that “if Assad falls, Hezbollah falls”, implying that should they fail, a tide of Sunni Jihadhism would crest the mountain barrier to fall upon the Shi’ite and Christian communities of the Levant. “According to the report, Nasrallah made the remarks during a meeting last Thursday with Lebanese political ally Michel Aoun, a Maronite Christian who heads the Free Patriotic Movement party.”

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One Man, One Vote. Ya Think?

May 8th, 2015 - 2:52 am

Democracy is often understood to mean “one man, one vote” in the sense that every voter counts the same.  This is almost never the case. While it often means that each voter gets to drop one vote in a box, that vote is then put through a function rule which calculates its weight towards the distribution of political power.  The results are rarely one to one.

The recently concluded British elections show this clearly.  The Daily Mirror notes that while UK Independence Party attracted 3.36 million votes against the Scottish National Party’s mere 1.45 million votes, the UKIP votes netted only 1 MP and while the SNP votes got 56 members into parliament. “By 7.40am, the SNP had amassed 1.43 million votes, and earned 56 places in Westminster, with all of Scotland declared. By contrast 3.36 million votes for UKIP only converted into 1 MP at time of writing.”

Less Is More

Less Is More

In terms of input-output, a UKIP voter counted about 100 times less than an SNP voter. The function rules are defined by the voting systems in force.  ”Common voting systems are majority rule, proportional representation or plurality voting with a number of variations and methods such as first-past-the-post or preferential voting. The study of formally defined voting systems is called social choice theory or voting theory, a subfield of political science, economics, or mathematics.”

The function rules in Britain favored the SNP voters, being distributed in such a way that they could win 56 elections, much more than the inefficiently scattered UKIP ones.  The immense importance of function rules mean that political success is often less about convincing the most voters to vote for you than about changing the game in your favor.

One of the better known attempts to rig the system is gerrymandering, “the process of setting electoral districts… to establish a political advantage for a particular party or group by manipulating district boundaries.”   Once you can create a district consisting entirely of your minions you are in power forever.  This is undesirable but it turns out to be particularly difficult to draw up an electoral district without in some way advantaging, or disadvantaging a political party.  Someone is always going to cry foul.

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The Modern History of the Fatwa

May 6th, 2015 - 11:14 pm

What’s interesting isn’t that Islam4UK spokesman Anjem Choudary believes that death should come to all who insult Mohammed, but that the Western cultural elites who would be his most probable victims think it’s bigoted to even question his view. But Choudary the parasite understands, perhaps more than his hapless intellectual hosts, upon whose body he feasts and is laying his eggs, how paralyzing the venom of political correctness is. “When asked why, if Western society was so bad, he lived here, he replied: ‘We come here to civilize people, get them to come out of the darkness and injustice into the beauty of Islam.’”

The beauty of Islam was on full display when Choudary was attacked, not by vile Jews or Christians, but by Shi’ites who can give as good as they get. When they didn’t like what he said they responded by physically attacking the event. Ole’ Anjem was less than frank when he described his presence in the West as motivated by altruism for the benighted infidel.  If he were honest, he’d admit to being in London, as many others are, to avoid being kneecapped with an electric drill, because his chances of survival are scant in places dominated by the glorious civilization whose beauties he is trying to spread.

A video filmed by CoelusMedia begins with Choudary addressing the camera discussing the incarceration of an unnamed individual, but then quickly shows scenes of a violent scuffle and attack on Edgware Road. The original video upload was entitled, “Muslims fight Muslims on the streets of London during a Syrian demonstration on the Edgware Road”.

Choudary, who is famous for leading the now proscribed “Islam4UK” group as well as several other splinter organisations, led a march entitled ‘The Shia Enemies of Allah” from Regents Park Mosque which was due to end at the Syrian Embassy. Protestors marched with hard-line Salafist placards and Alqaeda flags, many of which read, “Support Jund Al Sham”.

That the dust-up was confined to fists and hard objects is due mainly to the efforts of the barbaric British police, in the absence of which AK-47s, explosive devices  and bladed weapons would  doubtless have been used. Reuters for example, describes the love-fest between Hezbollah and al-Qaeda along the Syrian border. It is but a small part of the carnage that has killed 210,000 in Syria alone. The Council of Foreign Relations explains a few things that Choudry left out of his idyllic picture.

An ancient religious divide is helping fuel a resurgence of conflicts in the Middle East and Muslim countries. Struggles between Sunni and Shia forces have fed a Syrian civil war that threatens to transform the map of the Middle East, spurred violence that is fracturing Iraq, and widened fissures in a number of tense Gulf countries. Growing sectarian clashes have also sparked a revival of transnational jihadi networks that poses a threat beyond the region. …

Alongside the proxy battle is the renewed fervor of armed militants, motivated by the goals of cleansing the faith or preparing the way for the return of the messiah. Today there are tens of thousands of organized sectarian militants throughout the region capable of triggering a broader conflict. And despite the efforts of many Sunni and Shia clerics to reduce tensions through dialogue and counterviolence measures, many experts express concern that Islam’s divide will lead to escalating violence and a growing threat to international peace and security.

But as earlier stated, it is no surprise that Choudry should fail to mention this. The truly astonishing thing is that Western intellectuals should not.

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Inspirational vs Operational

May 5th, 2015 - 5:25 pm

ISIS claimed that the failed attack on an American Freedom Defense Initiative event in Garland, Texas was its “first attack” inside America.

The Islamic State’s official radio station, al Bayan, first announced the claim for responsibility describing gunmen Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi as “two soldiers of the caliphate.” In a news bulletin al Bayan said the event at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland was targeted because it “was portraying negative pictures of the Prophet Muhammad.”

The report boasted of more attacks to come, warning, “We tell America that what is coming will be even bigger and more bitter, and that you will see the soldiers of the Islamic State do terrible things.”

The apartment the assailants shared in Phoenix was searched Monday by FBI agents, who are trying to follow how the attackers plotted their operation and what their links might have been with foreign jihadists. Shortly before the attack Simpson tweeted he had sworn allegiance to ISIS.

The Obama administration is unwilling to admit it just yet, saying it is investigating these claims, presumably to determine whether to accept it or not. “White House spokesman Josh Earnest said many people tried to capitalize on the influence of the group by claiming allegiance when they were not directly affiliated.”

U.S. officials said separately that investigators did not know whether the group was opportunistically claiming credit when it had little or no direct or indirect involvement.

One U.S. official said investigators believed it was possible, if not likely, that IS played an “inspirational” rather than “operational” role in the attack.

That would mean the gunmen may have immersed themselves in items posted online by Islamic State and other groups such as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula intended to incite violence but that the group played no role in directing an attack on the Texas event.

The distinction between “inspirational” and “operational” is apparently the bright line used to bin who those who cannot take credit from those who can. ISIS itself makes no such clear distinctions. It’s model of organizational expansion allows for remote, non-physical recruitment. For example, the Fort Hood shooter mailed in his pledge of allegiance to the group.

The Army psychiatrist who killed 13 people at Fort Hood has written a letter to the leader of ISIS, asking to become a citizen of the Islamic State’s caliphate, his attorney said Thursday.

“The letter states that Nadal Hasan wants to become a citizen of the Islamic State caliphate,” attorney John Galligan said. “He wrote it in the last few weeks.” …

Described as a two page letter, it was addressed to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the notorious leader of ISIS who declared himself the caliph — the religious ruler — over what he calls the Islamic State that he says stretches from western Syria to eastern Iraq. …

“I formally and humbly request to be made a citizen of the Islamic State,” Hasan wrote in the letter, according to Fox News.

The government determined that Hassan had no links to ISIS in the ordinary meaning of the word. In fact, the administration has balked at even calling the Fort Hood incident a terrorist attack. Hassan was influenced by “inspirational” rather than “operational” means. But that did not mean it was ineffective. Alessadria Massi of the International Business Times writes that “inspirational” linkages are quite prevalent in ISIS’ expansion model.

How do you go from being a teenager in Middle America to pledging allegiance to the bloodthirsty Islamic State? There’s a lot of vetting along the way, terrorism experts said.

“People collaborating with IS can be ordinary people,” said Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi, a Shillman-Ginsburg Fellow at the Middle East Forum. “They don’t have to be religious fanatics. They could be anyone provided you give your pledge of allegiance to ISIS.”

In countries like the U.S., Canada and Britain, potential recruits must find a jihadi mentor, which can be done online or through ISIS supporters in their local communities, according to Imam Syed Soharwardy, founder of the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada.

“I cannot believe that there is no one from ISIS on the ground here in Canada or the U.S. or Europe. They are now recruiting, so they are absolutely here,” he told IBTimes. “IS people, those who are very rigid fanatics, they do live in this country, they do recruit. They do facilitate in recruitment.”

The mentor-recruit relationship often begins through religious seminars, community activities or classes that might look normal to the average Westerner, Soharwardy said. Of the five known foreign fighters in Syria from Calgary, Alberta, three attended the same mosque, Soharwardy said.

In other words, ISIS relies for expansion on the force of propaganda or proselytization more than the traditional army model of direct command and support. You make your bayat, accept the attack guidelines, follow the general strategy — find a gun, knife, acid or a car to use as a weapon — and you’re good to go.

ISIS’s weapons are ideas, which cannot be stopped by TSA screeners at an airport.  In many ways the ISIS approach is a more extreme form of the Wermacht’s “saddle orders” which proved so effective against the French Army.  Instead of handing their commanders World War 1 style maps with phase lines, Guderian gave his commanders “objectives” and turned them loose.

ISIS is thoroughly modern.  Look at the results and ask yourself if because not operational, then not effective. So why is the administration so concerned with finding out if ISIS legalistically controlled the Garland attackers?  Because adopting the “inspirational” and “operational” distinction allows governments to avoid the nettlesome problem of radical mosques.  And avoiding the problem of radical mosques means that you can avoid offending Muslim voters.  And radical mosques can be a problem.

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Immunity Zone

May 3rd, 2015 - 11:56 pm

A Texas event attended by Pamela Geller, Geert Wilders and Robert Spencer was attacked by an undetermined number of persons.  Two of the suspected assailants were killed and one was injured by the cops.  A police officer was also wounded, but not critically.  The scene is still being combed for explosives and evidence.

There are probably many pundits who are comforting themselves by thinking: “I’m not Pamela Geller and therefore I will be safe.  I don’t say what she says.  I don’t know who she knows.”  Therefore this trouble will pass me by.

But the truth is, no one is safe.  Not left-wing artists in Europe nor Nigerian schoolgirls nor high school students in Pakistan.  Not agricultural college kids in Africa nor Yazidis in their remote mountain villages. Not people working a regular day in Manhattan on bright September days.

No one is safe.

Last weekend 6,000 people were rescued from boats trying to make their way from North Africa to Southern Europe.  A quarter million people have died in Syria.  Yemen is now writhing in what one would in an earlier day call “war” — suffice to call it the other cross border incursion —  apart from Russia’s incursion into Ukraine.

These facts, by themselves, are unremarkable.  What is truly astounding is the dogged evasiveness with which the administration and most leaders of the Western world are determined not to see them; the insistent will to maintain the atmosphere of “business as usual”.  Ed Miliband, the head of the British Labor Party, wishes to criminalize “Islamophobia” and President Obama has repeatedly declared the “war on terror” is over.

All the best places chorus, “what me? Worry?”  There is no war.  There is no problem that a little silence, a little censorship and a little John Kerry won’t amend. Yet no one is safe.

At this point no one expects Western leadership to have answers. But the public can reasonably expect the leadership to ask questions, at the least to face the facts.  No one wants war.  But speaking of which, though some have been brought to an end by surrender, and others by victory, never in the annals of history has one been concluded by denial.

Everyone who thinks “I am safe” should remember that if the storm that is manifestly brewing on the horizon should rise to its full towering force and strike no one will be spared.  To close or to open your eyes: those are the only alternatives on offer.

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Ten Cents a Dance

May 3rd, 2015 - 7:32 pm

The outbreak of Arab Spring in late 2010, coupled with the Obama administration’s rapid withdrawal from the Middle East replicated on a large scale what Democrats accused president George Bush of doing: destabilizing the existing regimes.  But while Bush was held responsible for toppling Saddam Hussein, the subsequent events which rocked Egypt, Libya, Syria and provided an opening through which Iran extended its influence into Iraq and Lebanon, replicated instability on a region-wide scale.

With press attention focused on Egypt and Syria, Yemen was largely ignored by the media despite the fact that the administration regarded “al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) … the greatest direct threat to the United States”.   Yet despite its importance, the sense that it was “all quiet on the Yemen front” prevailed because of the administration’s repeated claim that Yemen was its shining example of smart counterinsurgency.

As late as March of 2015, long after the recognized Yemeni government had been toppled and American advisers had been driven from the scene, Josh Earnest continued to insist “that Yemen did serve as a template for the kind of strategy that we would employ and have employed to mitigate the threat from extremists around the world.” But in fact, Yemen was disintegrating.

  • The Arab Spring threw American counter-terrorism policy in Yemen into crisis. That policy had relied on the exchange of military, economic, and counter-terrorism assistance for cooperation from the Yemeni government in the fight against AQAP. When challenged by popular protest, the Saleh regime predictably focused its resources on protecting the Yemeni state rather than on pursuing al Qaeda, and the U.S. withheld assistance for fear that it would be used to oppress the Yemeni people.
  • AQAP has exploited the ongoing instability in Yemen and established sanctuaries from Yemen’s border with Saudi Arabia to the southern coastline. A local militant group linked with AQAP has secured territory in the south and implemented shari’a rule in areas under its control.

After it disntegrated it actually got worse.  Yemen became a battlefield between the two major contenders for Islamic supremacy, Saudi Arabia and Iran.  Now it became a vortex pulling in superheated air from all the surrounds feeding the fires that were already burning within.

To review: We have Sunni and Shia (a Shia sect, to be sure, but nonetheless backed by Tehran) in the Yemeni capital. To the east, where the country’s main gas pipeline runs, rebel tribes are engaged in a campaign of sabotage to extort political and financial concessions from the central government. Further east, in the energy heartland, local grievances over money and governance have meant freedom of movement for AQAP. And finally, there’s the south, once independent, where secessionists are gaining ground again and…you got it…making room for AQAP.

In short, the trouble in Yemen is not simply sectarian woe in Sana’a, and the challenge for the United States is not merely in ensuring that we have a partner in the Yemeni capital. The trouble is with what President Barack Obama memorably labeled “the Yemen model.” At this point, it’s not just that the model itself — partnership with local government to defeat al Qaeda and associated movements — is in trouble; it’s that the entire nation of Yemen may well cease to exist as we know it. And doubling down on the notion that all that matters is the presidential palace in Sana’a is mindless.

John Kerry, perhaps disbelieving Josh Earnest’s assurances about templates, is desperately trying to glue the remaining pieces together again into some facsimile of a state.  How far he will succeed remains to be seen.

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The Big 21

May 2nd, 2015 - 3:28 am

There are some weeks when you know it’s the 21st century not because the last seven days are markedly different from its immediate predecessor, but because a confluence of  news stories emphasizes how different the problems — and the opportunities — of the current age have become.

Think about it.

A major league baseball game played to an empty stadium, but most of the audience could still watch it.  An American billionaire space entrepreneur has launched a tourist spacecraft from a Texas spaceport to compete with the one in development from a California spaceport.  A probe is nearing Pluto, the last of the “classic nine” planets to be visited.  Then it will be on its way to the Kuiper Belt objects beyond Pluto.

Another American space billionaire has announced a consumer energy storage device that promises a limited amount of independence from the grid.  Microsoft has launched an augmented reality product  that will superimpose holographic images on the “real world.”  Robots are now commonplace. Perhaps most fascinating of all, a research group at NASA claims it has asserted that propellantless drive works  — although very serious questions remain over whether the results are a false positive or even fraudulent.  However, if it’s real then the articles point out that we will be able to travel to other planets in weeks, rather than years.

But here to remind us there’s another side to the 21st century are demands by Muslims for a “right of return” to Spain, because their medieval ancestors were unlawfully dispossessed.  The Atlantic says studies show that the millenial generation will be relatively childless, saying that “today’s twentysomethings have a lower birthrate than any previous generation. … For Hispanic and black women, the majority of the fertility decline was explained by falling birth rates among unmarried women. … For white women, though, the story was very different: ’81 percent of the decrease in fertility is attributable to declining marriage rates.’”  In Baltimore, employment is as low as the murder rate is high.  Not a single Fortune 500 company is headquartered there.  If the 21st century is here, they haven’t gotten the word.

It seems, as Dickens would put it, “the worst of times and the best of times.”  A time of divergence.  A moment when people are going backward while some are looking forward. The reason that both aspects often appear together is suggestive.  Creation is destructive.  The American health care system,  which Europeans rightfully revile as the world’s highest-cost system, is also history’s most inventive.  ”America is a global leader in medical innovation. The US solely developed or contributed significantly to 9 of the top 10 most important medical innovations since 1975 as ranked by a 2001 poll of physicians, while the EU and Switzerland together contributed to five. Since 1966, Americans have received more Nobel Prizes in Medicine than the rest of the world combined. From 1989 to 2002, four times more money was invested in private biotechnology companies in America than in Europe.”

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Run To the Left

April 30th, 2015 - 5:42 pm

How does one put the following data points together?

  • The mayor of a major American city faced with riots tells her police for to “let them loot, it’s only property.”
  • Economists were surprised by an unexpected decline in US growth from an expected 1.0% growth to an actual 0.2% in the first quarter of 2015.
  • The administration is now in the business of helping families pay ransoms to Islamic kidnappers as Josh Earnest told reporters “Speaking generally, helping with a ransom payment … is not tantamount to paying a ransom.”
  • Former Gitmo prisoners are now demanding reparations from the US taxpayer.
  • Navy ships are now escorting American flagged vessels through the Straits of Hormuz as Iran’s foreign minister boasts that Congress can’t stop Obama’s deal with Tehran. John Boehner agrees he doesn’t have the votes to stop the president.
  • The Clinton Foundation failed to disclose 1,100 foreign donations as Frank Giustra responded “we’re not trying to hide anything.”
  • Hillary Clinton, in a major speech, broke her silence on the riots in Baltimore and proposed  an “end to the era of mass incarceration”.
  • Vermont Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders, a self-described socialist, has announced he is running for president.
  • The administration will not let states even ask people to establish they are citizens when they register to vote.
  • A poll shows that a “strong majority of young voters would like to see a Democrat stay in the White House in 2016.”  The millennials can’t wait to see Hillary, or preferably Warren or Sanders, in the White House.

How to put those data points together? By remembering how the migrant boat from Libya sank on the way to Italy. The passengers crammed into the ship rushed blindly to one side to catch a glimpse of a freighter, thereby capsizing it.  The perfectly describes the Left, who , facing catastrophe on every front is doing the only thing it knows how: doubling down on Leftist canon.  Everyone is now stampeding left, because that will save the boat.

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Two Conflicts

April 29th, 2015 - 2:12 am

Despite the administration’s attempts to make nice to Iran, the press has reported that a total of two US ships were intercepted by the Iranian navy in the Gulf.  Only one ship, the Maersk Tigris, a Marshall Islands-flagged vessel, was taken into custody.  Media reports suggested the actions were in retaliation for the turn-back of an Iranian convoy to Yemen a few days ago.

Iran’s seizure of the Maersk Tigris is the second time in a week it has harassed transiting vessels under U.S. protection in the Strait of Hormuz.

A senior defense official at the Pentagon said that on Friday, the Maersk Kensington, a U.S.-flagged cargo vessel, was intercepted by four Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy patrol craft.

“In the incident, the [Iranian] patrol craft at one point encircled the Maersk Kensington, and eventually followed the ship as it continued on its course. The [Iranian] units eventually withdrew from the area,” the official said.

Iran’s harassment of ships in the Strait follows its attempt last week to send a convoy of vessels to Yemen, which was eventually turned away after the arrival of the U.S. aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt.

The incident with the Kensington, however, differs from Tuesday’s seizure of the Maersk Tigris, a Marshall Islands-flagged vessel. The Marshall Islands is a protectorate of the U.S., and dependent upon the U.S. for its defense and security.

The other possible motive for the naval action is Tehran’s desire to retaliate for Saudi airstrikes which blew up a Yemeni runway which an Iranian plane was about to land on. “CAIRO/ADEN (Reuters) – Jets from a Saudi-led alliance destroyed the runway of Yemen’s Sanaa airport on Tuesday to prevent an Iranian plane from landing there, Saudi Arabia said, as fighting across the country killed at least 30 people.”

The tit-for-that comes as a political shakeup is under way in Saudi Arabia. According to the New York Times “King Salman of Saudi Arabia issued a series of surprise royal decrees early Wednesday, shaking up the line of princes slated to succeed him to the throne, replacing a number of ministers and further enhancing the power of his own line.” Salman also replaced the top internal security and foreign affairs officials.

In moves announced on Saudi state television, Salman replaced Crown Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz and named the powerful interior minister, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, as next in line.

He also named his son, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as deputy crown prince and relieved the long-serving foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, who has shaped the kingdom’s foreign policy for nearly four decades.

This reshuffle follows the announcement that 93 persons were arrested in connection with a plot to attack the US embassy in Riyadh.  ”The timing of the alleged attack coincides with a U.S. decision to halt all consular services for a week starting March 15 at the Embassy and diplomatic missions in Jiddah and Dhahran. The list of targets recalls a wave of attacks launched by Al Qaeda inside the kingdom from 2004 to 2007 … and threatened the stability of one of the world’s most important oil-producing nations.”

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The Crisis of the Blue Model

April 27th, 2015 - 10:38 pm

The greatest ship disaster in American history is probably one of the least known. The river steamboat Sultana, laden with over 2,400 passangers, blew her boilers and sank with the loss of 1,800 lives on April 27, 1865.   That was more than the number who perished on the Titanic but the story of the Sultana was overpowered by more dramatic contemporaneous events, notably the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the manhunt for John Wilkes Booth.  Everyone remembers the Lincoln assassination.  Nobody remembers the steamboat.

In similar fashion, the story of the Corinthian College closures in California have been eclipsed by continuing race riots in Baltimore. The narrative in Baltimore has all the drama and visuals,  but the saga of Corinthian College is in its own way as important as events in Maryland,  being about the wholesale destruction of the futures of tens of thousands of young people — or whether they ever had any at all.

The Corinthian network of schools, based in California has shut down Heald College, Everest College and WyoTech College leaving 16,000 students across six states “with questions about how they would finish their educations and how they would pay off the loans that they had taken out to ‘get ahead.’”  But perhaps “education” isn’t exactly the right word for what they were offering. The system is being closed in response to accusations of being a diploma mill that encouraged students to take out government student loans amounting to over a billion dollars. This enormous debt enabled the hopeful to pay Corinthian fees in exchange for instruction of questionable quality that left many unemployable but loaded with student loans.  The LA Times relates the case of one aspiring dental assistant.

Julio Colis, 19, said he was worried about the $10,000 in loans he took out to finance his education. He was studying to be a dental assistant, and said his plan B was to go to East Los Angeles College.

“I’m worried about the debt we have, like what we would have to pay on it,” he said. “I had talked to one of the counselors before about getting a bad feeling about this place and she said, ‘Don’t worry.’”

“Don’t worry.”  These are famous last words that often signify you’re about to have the rug pulled out from under you.

The school knew it was closing but never told students or helped them get into other schools. It goes to show how greedy they were. They should offer some kind of refund for their deceit.

High levels of student debt have been a central issue for Corinthian, which has been under investigation by more than a dozen state attorneys general and federal investigators over allegations of aggressive and fraudulent marketing, and unfair financial aid practices.

Median federal loan debt for Corinthian’s Everest College programs in Southern California ranged from $9,000 for a dental assistant program to $28,000 for a criminal justice degree, according to school disclosures. The average price at one of Corinthian’s Everest campuses in Southern California is $20,000 to $25,000 per year, according to federal data.

It’s partly a California saga, the story of a well connected cabal ripping off the taxpayer. The New Republic described how Corinthian, with a bevy of Democratic party heavy hitters on its board, was investigated by California AG Kamala Harris for going too far after having been given a second chance at the last minute by Jerry Brown, until it finally shut itself down.

On June 6, 2007, the California attorney general’s office was on the verge of suing Corinthian Colleges for intentionally and blatantly lying to prospective students about the company’s record of placing graduates into jobs. The AG’s complaint against the giant, publicly traded for-profit higher education company had been written, and a request prepared for a preliminary injunction to bar Corinthian from continuing to make false claims about its job placement rates. The press office was busy contacting reporters to let them know that there would be a news conference the next day announcing the suit.

The press conference was never held. At the eleventh hour, Attorney General Jerry Brown surprised the lawyers in his office by telling them he was stopping the lawsuit. A month and a half later, Brown (who is now California’s governor) announced that his office had reached a $6.5 million settlement with Corinthian, which has annual revenues of about $1.6 billion. The agreement required the school chain to provide $5.8 million in restitution to students who had been misled. It also forced the company to shut down nine of its campuses’ worst-performing programs. And it permanently enjoined Corinthian from continuing to deceive students about its job placement rates.

Yet in another way the Corinthian story is universal, of a piece with the Baltimore riots and the now fading Atlanta Public School cheating scandal.  The question these events jointly pose is whether the Blue Model has any life left in it. For years lower-income people, especially African Americans, have been sustained by the dream of a middle-class prosperity that lay at the end of government funded-conveyor belts.  Corinthian was the epitome of a people-mover into the good life, a process that Hillary Clinton calls middle-class economics.  The deal was is that if one voted for those who promised to “spread the wealth”  they in return would open doors closed for centuries by racism, patriarchy or gender specificity so that the masses could enter the broad uplands of the Dream.

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