So there I was: I had just had major surgery, a hip replacement. I had bled more than expected, and my normally high blood pressure was something like 80/48. There were puddles of hacky goo in my lungs from lying flat for too long so I had spells where I literally couldn't breathe, and I was befuddled with drugs. My doc had decided that maybe I needed a couple units of blood, and my nurse had set up everything for the transfusion.
I had a teevee in my room, and while the blood dripped I could watch it between drug-fuelled dreams that left no memory. At one point there were two shows on at once about hunting for ghosts. The History Channel had a show about the Big Bang. There was a show on about people raising money for a new porch by selling the things in their attic, and there were quite a few shows with handsome young lawyers-cops-detectives-investigators who were exchanging deadpan dialogue with comely young female investigators-detectives-cops-lawyers.
There was news, too. There are lots of news channels: Fox, MSNBC, CNBC, CNN, Headline News, and maybe one or two others. As I lay helpless, they told me about the important things going on in the world: Drew Peterson had been arrested. Nancy Pelosi was having a peeing contest with the CIA. President Obama went somewhere. Somebody had come up with pictures of Miss California's nippies.
I can't recall anything else they told me. Maybe it was the drugs. But as proprietor of Rantburg, which in fact carries more and better quality news than the New York Times, I wanted to know what was going on in Swat. You know, the place in Pakistain that's located next door to Chitral, where Osama bin Laden has his Secret Fortress of Doom?
And Sri Lanka was at the tipping point, the ugly evil that was the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam ready to wink out of existence after 25 years of brutal warfare as the EU bitched, moaned, and tried their best to stop it from happening.
I don't think there was a word about Swat on any of the competing news channels. The furry-faced, buck-toothed Mullah Fazlullah continues driving around in his SUV with its secret, unlocatable FM radio transmitter, his ruthless myrmidons locked in mortal combat with the Mighty Pak Army.
There was a crawl across the bottom of the screen of Fox News that contained the words "Prabhakaran" and "dead." One crawl, one time. If I hadn't happened to be lucid at that moment I'd have missed it.
The transfusion finished. I turned the teevee off. I think the last thing I saw before I had more drugs was Steve Urkel. I slept, healing a tiny bit more as the blood of the anonymous donor mixed with my own, making me a little stronger.
By Monday morning I was feeling my old self, just aching differently. My physical therapists, two easy-going corpsmen just back from the Gulf of Aden, showed me how to do the stairs on crutches, and I knew where the computer room was. I made it there in the evening and found Rantburg was hung. Once I'd fixed that problem I could catch up on the actual news:
A thousand turbans were said to have been whacked in Swat.
Mogadishu was about to fall to al-Shabaab.
A Qaeda big turban was arrested in Karachi with a truckload of arms and ammunition.
North Korea was shrieking, howling, and spewing spittle at South Korea over Kaesong.
Pakistain's President Ten Percent was going to take the war to Waziristan once he's reconquered Swat.
An 11-year-old had been blown into the Great Beyond while brewing explosives at home in Khan Younis.
Joe Biden had revealed the location of his Secret Vice Presidential Bunker of Doom®.
The Tamil Tigers had surrendered. Prabhakaran was said to be dead. There would be pictures confirming that the next day.
Maybe it's just me, but any one of those items, with the possible exception of North Korea's continuing temper tantrums, is more important in the grand scheme of things than the disposition of most of Drew Peterson's wives or even Miss California's nippies. Our "informed electorate" is being fed pablum.
All this has to do with the very definition of the word "news." If anyone has lots of money they want to invest in putting together the "International News Channel" I can be hired for a moderate amount to oversee the operation. I can see it now:
desks for Afghanistan, Pak-India, Arabia, the Muddle East, Iran and Central Asia, Europe, Russia, North Africa, Subsaharan Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia, North America and the Far East,
each manned by telegenic young presenters (maybe even who originate from those areas)
backed by subject matter experts competing among themselves to get the best stories up.
At least one story from each area a day
Agreements with not only similar news organizations, ala Fox-Sky News, but also Geo TV in Pak, al-Arabiya, al-Iraqiya, even ITAR-TASS, Xin Hua and al-Jazira.
Cut the opinion, push the facts: all Shepherd Smith, no Kieth Olberman.
Try and present the news with the assumption the audience has a 3-digit IQ
Add regular chunks of humor and even snark
Maybe we could keep the Lurid Crime Tales down to one or two a week, preferably involving the 11th earl of Someplace getting shot by his buxom taxi dancer mistress. We could maybe have a few nekkid royals, but absolutely no movie stars or pop singers (unless they've been killed by royals or politicians).
Rantburg is number 1 on my news list. I was thinking of combining it with PJ TV, Professional Soldiers, Optionarmageddeon, and the Corner on NRO. I am all about getting some kind of international news service up sometime. Though, I prefer to let the bezzle get cleared out first.
The quality of service from Rantburg is far above par, in fact, count on a donation.
Had I not had this news service for the past few years, I would have been in the dark so I want to extend my deep appreaciation and blessings to the staff here for consistancy, stability, snark, and just an overall professional product.
My deepest thanks and prayers for your speedy recovery.
Sorry, this sort of thing should really be something more like a blog entry, but as I don't have one, I'm going to abuse the system just this once.
I've been following the Sri Lanka situation for years, ever since the LTTE broke through and took the big army base at Elephant Pass in 2000 (due to total incompetence and cowardice by the SLA). Afterwards, they fought back and forth, with peace negotiations, NGO assistance, etc. and yet it was always obvious that there would always be a war as long as either side existed. Since the Tigers could never win, only the SL government could win, and that seemed far-fetched while the Norwegians were considered influential. But lo and behold, A Miracle Occurred and the right combination of political balls (rare as...uh...what's rarer than unobtainium?), military competence, and opportunity came to pass.
And you know what? The good guys totally kicked ass. The leash was off and they were allowed to do what they were trained to do. Behaving in a civilized fashion, as much as they could, they took the war to the enemy and defeated him utterly. A blockade was unrelentingly enforced, no matter how much HRW screamed on its website. The government was steadfeast in its conviction and refused to lose sight of its goal, even if it meant getting a few stains on the constitution (inter arma enim silent leges). The Tamil Tigers were forced into an ever-smaller perimeter and pushed into the sea. Their retreat cut off, they fought to the last man and were annihilated. The mesmerising Hitler-like leader was shot and killed and his body, ID card, and dogtags were publically diplayed to the world.
It's just nice, for once, to see the good guys win a decisive victory in the GWOT. You know, I lately have this strange idea in the back of my head to go to Sri Lanka and find out what it's like there. "You ask, What is our policy? I will say; It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us...that is our policy. You ask, What is our aim? I can answer with one word: Victory--victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory there is no survival."
--Winston Churchill, first speech as prime minister to the House of Commons, May 13, 1940
North Korea's recent grandstanding may be motivated by internal power struggles over who is to succeed ailing leader Kim Jong-il, Korean and U.S. diplomats speculate.
In an interview with VOA on Wednesday, Scott Snyder, the director of the Center for U.S.-Korea Policy at the Asia Foundation, said the internal situation in North Korea is ominous and recent actions including the launch of a long-range rocket seem to have something to do with the succession question. There are opinions that for want of a properly prepared heir apparent, one of Kim's sons will end up as a figurehead for one or the other power group in the North.
A senior South Korean government official on Thursday said, "We understand that recent acts by North Korea are not actually messages for the U.S., as we believed during the early days of the Obama administration."
North Korea launched a long-range rocket, arrested two female American journalists, boycotted the six-party talks on its nuclear program and threatened another nuclear test despite the Obama administration's expression of willingness to talk.
"In the past, North Korea took a flexible attitude toward South Korea when it was at loggerheads with the U.S.; and when it was at odds with the South, the North adopted a strategy of seeking dialogue with the U.S. But in recent days, the North has taken a rough stance toward both," a diplomatic source said. "The North doesn't seem to have made any calculations but appears to be in some other trouble."
And that concerns Kim's ill health and the issue of his succession, experts speculate. After his stroke last year, the question of the succession, for which no preparations had been made, suddenly came to the fore. As a result, it appears that the hardline military seized all the power it could and stoked international tensions to keep society under control.
That also suggests that a softening of the North's position is for the time being unlikely.
Posted by: Steve White ||
05/22/2009 00:00 ||
Top|| File under:
I doubt that 'Emperor Kim' has had any real control for a few years now.
Various POSTERS/ARTICS on WORLD MIL FORUM + OTHER make no bones that NOKOR is a "FACE OF CHINA" [PRC = CCCC/CPC], + a de facto CHIN "BUFFER STATE", etc. CHIN's desired or proposed JOINT PRC-NK MASSIVE INFRASTRUCTURE PROJS [Dual Use"] essens means that any sovereignty the STARVING DPRK thinks it has will be steadily inevitably lost to Chin + CHIN "SOFT POWER" in future time. PRAGMATICALLY, it behooves NOKOR = DPRK to dev indigenous nucweapons, OVERTLY AGZ THE US-ALLIES BUT COVERTLY REALISTICALLY AGZ CHINA. Iff CHIn is success in its endeavors, it means in LT that SOUTH KOREA WILL BE THE ONLY ANCIENT KOREAN TERRITORY ACTUALLY CONTROLLED BY KOREANS.
Lest we fergit, CHINA > desires to extend its sovereignty into the NORTH-EAST CHINA SEAS = SEA OF JAPAN INCLUD CONTINENTAL SHELF. MEANING ANY FUTURE REMNANT OF ANCIENT KORYE = SOUTH KOREA WILL BE SURROUDED ON THREE SIDES-PLUS BY CHINA.
Thats the question President Obama and Congress will soon face. While many states have severe fiscal problems, the depth and unusual persistence of Californias budget problems the state has run deficits for most of the decade has emptied Sacramentos till. On its current path, California will run short of the cash it needs to pay its bills in late July.
Its highly unlikely that the states political leaders will be able to fix the problem themselves. Typically, states build up a cushion of tax revenues in the spring to pay expenses through the fall, when little cash comes in. But enormous drops in tax revenue have left California without the savings to meet even one months worth of expenses.
The other methods of cash management transfers to the general budget from other state accounts and short-term borrowing in the credit markets are no longer enough to address the problem. Californias leaders have drawn so deeply in recent years on the states hundreds of special funds that there is little cash left to repurpose.
And selling short-term notes in the credit markets is difficult because of Californias credit rating, the lowest of any state. Even if the state could pay high interest costs, California may require more cash more than $20 billion by some estimates than it can plausibly acquire in the markets.
It is true that Californias Legislature and governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, could take bold action to conserve cash. But the size of the deficit and the states governing system make such action next to impossible. A two-thirds vote of the Legislature is required to pass any budget or raise any tax in the state, and compromise has become a dirty word.
A legislative deal reached in February to address part of the budget problem came under such fierce attack from the left (for its spending cuts) and from the right (for its tax increases) that voters rejected five of its major components in a special election on Tuesday. The state Republicans, egged on by right-wing talk radio hosts, have started campaigns to recall two Republican lawmakers who voted for the compromise. California is not a patient that can heal itself.
What to do? Bankruptcy would appear to be out. Federal law authorizes only local governments, not states, to seek bankruptcy protection. Yet in California, irresponsible voices on the right (and a few on the left) have suggested testing the limits of the law and forcing the state to begin to delay or default on its obligations.
That would be a disaster, not only for California, but also for the country. Financial analysts fear that the failure of Californias government could further damage the states economy (and by extension, the nations) and shake confidence in the bond markets, making it difficult for cities and counties to borrow and perhaps sending some local governments into real bankruptcy.
Others in Sacramento including the Assembly speaker, Karen Bass, and the state treasurer, Bill Lockyer are investigating the possibility of federal assistance. This could take several forms. The Treasury could offer guarantees on any short-term bonds that California sells to raise cash. Or money from the Troubled Asset Relief Program could be used to backstop such notes. Or Washington could speed up some of the stimulus money earmarked for the state.
Each of those ideas, or a combination of the three, offers hope. However, as a condition of any assistance, the federal government should charge the state a fee that includes penalties if it fails to make major changes in its budgeting process. At a minimum, California should be required to submit for federal approval a multiyear plan to meet its obligations and to eliminate its structural deficit. Washington might also require the establishment of a board to oversee state finances. (Federal loan guarantees to New York City in the 1970s provide one model.)
There would be fierce resistance to federal aid. Other states may wonder why California deserves special attention its a fair point, and it might be wise for the government to offer similar guarantees to other states in distress. California officials might worry about the loss of sovereignty. And Democrats in the administration and Congress, many of them Californians, may be tempted to help a Democratic state without conditions.
But they shouldnt. By attaching strings to any aid, the federal government would give the state its best chance at saving itself.
Most important, President Obama should press Californias elected officials and its voters 61 percent of whom supported him last November to make constitutional changes. Among these would be the elimination of the gridlock-creating two-thirds vote for budgets and tax increases, and new curbs on ballot initiatives that mandate spending for popular programs without identifying new tax dollars to pay for them.
Federal officials may resist intervening at first, out of misplaced caution. But the combination of the states size and its dysfunction means that Washington will probably have to intervene sooner or later. There can be no American recovery if California collapses.
Take away all our states' rights, let Bambi install his own obsequious little satraps all over the country to run the states instead of elected governors and legislators. Then stop calling it the United States of America and just call it the People's Republic of America.
Hmmm. I think it's better to let Kaliphornia's governor and legislators simmer in their own witch's brew until they can somehow muster the guts they need to make some cuts. The pressure's on now and they have to do something. It's gonna hurt but it needs to be done.
I recall 11 southern states got some federal oversight and some constitutional changes. Others may also refer to that event as a 'hostile takeover' which seems to be the norm in Washington these days. However, iirc, the states didn't have votes in Congress till the process was completed. If you're looking for precedent. If they can skirt the Constitution creating West Virgina out of Virginia, then if California is too big to fail, then it's too big.
The issue is raising taxes (or borrowing money) vs cutting spending. The Democrats want to raise taxes, the people want to cut spending.
Unlike California, the feds can print money and avoid the issue*. Obama's pollsters are trying to figure out a way to shovel cash to California (and New York and New Jersey and Michigan and etc.) without a) pissing off every other state in the union and (b) pissing off Californians who want to cut spending.
TARP II for state and local governments would probably not pass. I suspect that there will be some additional "stimulus" bill passed to help all states maintain basic services (ie. keeping all SEIU members employed).
* The administration is operating under the implicit assumption that it can print and spend, and then deftly avoid inflation with future, unspecified, policy changes.
...I still say that a Federal court will impose new taxes and tax hikes to save California.
Posted by: Mike Kozlowski ||
05/22/2009 19:05 Comments ||
cuts are due. IIRC the state budget has increased 20% over the last 5 years, while population has barely increased (many are bailing to cheaper climes). The typical teacher makes 35% (a number I saw quoted this week) more than the national average. Our prison system and guard pay is a disgrace financially. I read that there are 120 paid State boards and commissions. There's fat to be cut. Time they found it. I would start with a part-time legislature like Texas's, to limit their time for mischief, and cut legislature pay and office staff
Posted by: Frank G ||
05/22/2009 19:12 Comments ||
With a Federal budget deficit nearing $2,000 billion, siphoning off another $20 or 30 billion to California won't even be noticed.
Ed - I don't want a Fed bail out. I want this state to clean its' act up on its' own. It will be painful, and the squealing will be leftish and high-pitched. I'll have to pay more for my youngest to attend San Diego State. Oh well.
Posted by: Frank G ||
05/22/2009 19:44 Comments ||
Obama can't afford to have the CA electorate (at 12% of the nation) turn against the sitting government and Democratic Party the next election. He will do whatever required to placate them. If it requires he divert 0.5-1.0% of the Fed budget, then it's little effort for much political gain for him.
For a warning about America's fiscal future, consider yesterday's news from Britain. United Kingdom stocks, bond futures and sterling all fell after Standard & Poor's lowered the country's credit outlook. U.S. shares and the dollar also fell on the U.K. news.
Citing concerns about the ballooning public debt, S&P said it may downgrade the U.K.'s top-level sovereign credit ratings if the government doesn't get its finances under control. Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling forecast last month that the country's debt will rise to 59% of GDP in fiscal 2009-10 from 51.9% last year, peaking at 79% in 2013-14. But S&P considers these numbers too optimistic.
"Even factoring in further fiscal tightening, the U.K.'s net general government debt burden may approach 100% of GDP and remain near that level," S&P credit analyst David Beers said. "A government debt burden of that level, if sustained, would in S&P's view be incompatible with a 'AAA' rating." Humiliation aside, a downgrade would further damage Britain's public finances and the economy as interest rates and borrowing costs rose.
S&P is hardly the last word on national finances, and in our view the credit raters worry too much about debt per se as opposed to economic growth. They tend to take too negative a view of tax cuts, for example. But in both the U.K. and U.S. today, the politicians in power equate government spending with growth. So on present course, Britain's credit future could well be America's in the coming years as U.S. spending soars.
Even the White House concedes that U.S. debt held by the public as a share of GDP will hit 70% in fiscal 2011, by far the highest level since 1951 and up from 40.8% in 2008, before declining. (See nearby chart.) But that forecast beyond 2011 depends on very rosy assumptions about renewed growth and future spending restraint.
The dollar's standing as the world's reserve currency gives the U.S. somewhat more protection against losing its AAA rating. But the world's creditors are making their own judgments about U.S. fiscal credibility on a daily basis, and those judgments will show up in the value of the dollar and the yields on Treasury debt. Those investors didn't like what they saw yesterday, perhaps because they think the British are showing where out-of-control spending leads.
Posted by: Steve White ||
05/22/2009 00:00 ||
Top|| File under:
59% of GDP in fiscal 2009-10 from 51.9% last year, peaking at 79% in 2013-14. But S&P considers these numbers too optimistic. "Even factoring in further fiscal tightening, the U.K.'s net general government debt burden may approach 100% of GDP and remain near that level," S&P credit analyst David Beers said. "A government debt burden of that level, if sustained, would in S&P's view be incompatible with a 'AAA' rating."
And yet Obama will burden America with another $11 trillion public debt within 10 years, going from 40% of GDP to 100+%. Welcome to El Rupublico de Banana del Norte.
Let's face it, this is shaping up as George W. Bush's best month in years. The last time the 43rd president enjoyed this kind of vindication was when a bedraggled Saddam Hussein was pulled from a hole in the ground by American soldiers in 2003. All of Barack Obama's efforts to cast the Bush administration as an immoral stain on American history have not merely collapsed, but collapsed on the heads of Bush's most public and vocal critics.
Here's a non-stammering Nancy Pelosi talking about Bush last July: "God bless him, bless his heart, president of the United States -- a total failure, losing all credibility with the American people on the economy, on the war, on energy, you name the subject."
Don't mind if I do. How about national security? It turns out that support for a criminal investigation of Bush policies yielded an important finding after all: Pelosi's own long-standing agreement with the Bush administration's toughest measures. On that point she's in sync with the rest of the country. A CNN/Opinion Research Corp poll found that Americans approve of the interrogation methods Bush okayed by a margin of 50% to 46%. In other words, she didn't have to go through the condemnation charade to begin with.
Then there's Iraq. That July interview with Pelosi is quite a goldmine. When faced with a 14% approval rating for Congress, she counters: "Everything I see says this is about ending the war. . . " Well, that's not happening anytime soon. Everything I see says "ending the war" was as phony as Nancy Pelosi's outrage. Hillary Clinton went to Baghdad three weeks ago to reassure the Maliki government that the Obama administration will not abandon Iraq. On top of that, Gen. Ray Odierno said the U.S. might "maintain a presence" in some Iraqi cities beyond the scheduled draw-down date if the Iraqis request it. Did Pelosi mean the other war, in Afghanistan? Obama has done an outstanding job of taking that challenge seriously, and for those keeping score, his pick of Gen. Stanley McChrystal (the man who hunted down Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq) has met with the gushing approval of Dick Cheney.
And speaking of Dick Cheney: Not only has he proved to be an important and articulate defender of the Bush administration's national-security policy; his repeated interviews and statements have done Bush the service of drawing fire away from the former president. Bush not only looks wise these days; he looks modest and thoughtful as well. And Cheney's (denied) request to declassify more CIA interrogation memos explodes the myth of the "most secretive administration in American history."
Let us not forget the Guantanamo Bay detainee facility. For years adduced as a monument to the Bush administration's disdain for due process and human rights, Gitmo was slated to be shut down by Barack Obama as a first order of business. Today, the posture without a plan has come up against a bi-partisan roadblock. Thursday, the House denied the Obama administration a requested $80 million to close the facility. The Senate's version of the bill in question contains $50 million for the Pentagon to shutter the place, but the money can only be tapped 30 days after Robert Gates devises a plan to relocate detainees outside the U.S. -- so far France will take one. To top it all off, on Friday Obama announced the revival of Guantanamo military tribunals.
On Iran, the Obama administration is veering from its stance of bottomless "respect" and "perseverance." This week Obama set early October as a "target" to determine whether Iran is really deserving of all that extended goodwill. Additionally, the administration has drawn up benchmarks to gauge Tehran's cooperation in halting their march toward a nuclear weapon. As Robert Kagan put it, "[Obama's] policy toward Iran makes sense, so long as he is ready with a serious Plan B if the negotiating track with Tehran fails." The October non-surprise will be the revelation that Bush wasn't merely neglecting to smile at the mullahs and to ask nicely.
Finally, there's the strange and frankly unsettling image makeover of the Saudi royals. The Bush family's alleged intimacy with an extremist monarchy formed the very backbone of the anti-Bush industry. Yet, upon taking office Barack Obama commented on the bravery of King Abdullah and went on to virtually adopt the Saudi Peace Initiative as American policy. The administration is also seriously considering sending released Guantanamo detainees through the Saudi "jihad rehab" program. A week ago, "60 Minutes" aired a prime-time broadcast praising the same absurdity. The free pass Barack Obama gets on his all-encompassing embrace of Riyadh leaves the score of anti-Bush best sellers and documentaries looking a little less than credible.
President Obama, and the country at large, is finding out that George W. Bush's most controversial policies were not born of ideological delusion, American arrogance, or missionary zeal. They were imperfect but sound (with the exception of our ties to Riyadh) responses to complicated threats. But the validation of the last president runs a very distant second to the most compelling aspect of all this: the drama over CIA interrogations and Guantanamo will hopefully serve to set the administration on a more serious national security course. And it would be helpful if the American public finally dropped moral outrage as the preferred mode of political argumentation.
The author makes an interesting point about the 'home bio-hacker'. Read the article, but keep this happy thought in mind --
-- he's wrong.
He's not wrong about the potential risk of a home bio-hacker, but it's not because the home bio-hacker is going to generate, with deliberate and malice aforethought, something that will wipe out humankind. Rather, two things --
1) the home bio-hacker will do something incredibly stoopid and release something into the environment, and more importantly,
2) any half-way decent cell and molecular biologist in any half-way decent laboratory in a university, college, pharmaceutical company or government laboratory can do far, far worse.
I'm a cell biologist as well as a physician. I have ALL the equipment I need in my modest laboratory, and ALL the expertise, to hack not just an E coli (child's play), but some really nasty vectors if I had a mind to do so. I can take a gene, any gene, mutate it as I wish, and insert it into a plasmid. I can teach any E coli to carry that plasmid. I can put that gene into a virus like adenovirus or lentivirus and then release it into the environment. I can put that gene into a really virulent bacterium (e.g., Ebola).
Most of the basic grunt work to generate a nasty vector can be purchased in kit form. Isolate RNA? Buy a kit. Mutate a gene (targeted mutagenesis)? Buy a kit. Gel purify a plasmid? Buy a kit. These kits are comparatively inexpensive, have high quality control and just plain work. If you can bake a cake you can use these kits.
The knowledge is out there. Many of the tools are public domain and paid for by the NIH. Want a gene sequence? Hit BLAST. Need methods to do your work? Hit PubMed. Need tools, equipment and kits? All the major vendors are on-line, provide detailed information and technical reference material, and will sell to most places in the world.
I won't create such a monstrosity of a vector, of course, since I'm honest and decent and have no wish to cause misery. But there are hundreds of thousands of people trained to do these sorts of things in our country and more across the world. And it's not just the physicians and PhD's one might worry about -- it's all the various technologists and research associates. Those are the folks who actually do the work in most laboratories, and they are the ones who, if so inclined, could sneak around and put together something that would be very harmful. Particularly in the universities where the controls and security are more lax, this wouldn't be hard.
There are plenty of intelligent scientists in Muslim countries (and elsewhere) who could be tempted to create a horrific vector. They could be bankrolled. The equipment, kits and materials generally aren't rigorously controlled. In the same way AQ Khan snuck around to create the Islamic bomb, a like-minded scientist could create the Islamic phage. Or the Tamil phage. Or the FARC phage. You get the idea.
Think about that happy thought as you read about 'home bio-hackers'.
For years, I have warned in these columns and elsewhere that the future weapon of mass destruction we should most fear is not a nuke. Rather, it is a genetically engineered plague, a plague no one has ever seen before and against which no one has any immunity. In the time it would take to identify the new disease, develop a vaccine, distribute the vaccine and have it become effective, modern societies could suffer death rates equivalent to those of the Black Death: up to two-thirds of the population.
Regrettably, it appears that dreaded future has now arrived. The May 12 Wall Street Journal carried a front-page story titled "In Attics and Closets, 'Biohackers' Discover Their Inner Frankenstein."
In Massachusetts, a young woman makes genetically modified E. coli in a closet she converted into a home lab. A part-time DJ in Berkeley, Calif., works in his attic to cultivate viruses extracted from sewage.
Continued on Page 49
As haphazard and mismanaged our Public Health and sanitation system is, it's a millennium beyond various pits around the world. They will be hit the hardest and with the West scrambling to cover its own with resources dwindling [as transportation is shut down in the isolation phase], the usual 'trouble spots' will basically disappear figuratively and literally. I too believe that nukes are so 20th century and that DNA knowledge and the ability to create 'designer' plagues [and their antidote] will be something to really get humanity to the edge. What the 'bad boys' don't consider is that in one of the media event acts of terrorism may take out a loved one of somebody who can in fact make this stuff and who will not wait upon diplomacy or 'human rights' groups to mangle justice to get his/her own.
That's all I needed to add to my impotent frustration rage list. Along with the Obamatron, tanking economy, nuclear dirt bags in the Mid-East, NORKville, etc. I'm going to quit interacting with anyone that might bring me down even farther. As it is I'm looking up at soles.
Luckily I'm old enough that when the manure hits the rotary impeller for the big one I can just c'est la vie.
The worst bio threats may be engineered, but indirect, as it were.
"In the early 1990s a European genetic engineering company was preparing to field test and then commercialize on a major scale a genetically engineered soil bacteria called Klebsiella planticola.
"What they discovered was not only startling, but terrifying-- the biotech industry had created a biological monster--a genetically engineered microorganism that would kill all terrestrial plants."
"K. planticola was designed to increase the production of lactose fermentation of agricultural wastes. But research showed this GM-strain actually killed any wheat planted into the soil where the GM-strain was dispersed.
"K. planticola actually sticks to the root system of plants by creating a slime-like layer. The GM- K. planticola would then be connected to the plants root system and while it is there it would produce ethanol in levels of 17 ppm (~1-2 ppm ethanol is deadly for plants).
"K. planticola can attach to any plants, not just wheat, so essentially all global plant life could have been put into jeopardy because of a genetically altered bacteria."
This article was addressed in one of our comments, and discussed more fully at Belmont Club. I have a few words to spend on it, too.
The conflict in Sri Lanka has long provided lessons for militant groups around the world. The Tamil Tigers taught terrorists everywhere the finer (or more savage) points of suicide bombing, the recruitment of child soldiers, arms trafficking, propaganda and the use of a global diaspora to collect resources. The Tigers "were the pioneers in many of the terrorist tactics we see worldwide today," says Jason Campbell, an Iraq and Afghanistan analyst at the Brookings Institution. So let's admit, right off the bat, that we're talking about terrorists. They conducted guerrilla warfare, conventional military and naval operations, they established and ran a state-within-a-state, and the tools they relied on were fundamentally illegitimate: murder, coercion, hostage-taking, and all the other things that civilized governments either forswear or hang about with such controls that conditions don't quite cross the line into oppression.
But now that the Tigers have been defeated, governments and security forces around the world may try to learn from the success of the Sri Lanka government. It's called empirical observation. The military's very big on it, politicians not so much. You'd think that reporters, like Time magazine purports to employ, would rely on empirical observation pretty much exclusively, especially since they don't, for the most part, have a deep knowledge of most anything else.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his army have turned the conventional wisdom on fighting insurgencies on its head, adopting strategies and tactics long discredited, both in the battlefield and in the military classroom. That statement right there should have instructors and students at Leavenworth and St. Cyr and Sandhurst looking closely to see precisely why the received wisdom standeth upon its head. We will now watch Mr. Reporter change the sheets and fetch fresh blankets for Procrustes' bunk.
Since they appear to have worked against the Tigers, other countries wracked by insurgencies -- from Pakistan to Sudan to Algeria -- may be tempted to follow suit. Since they actually worked you'd expect so, wouldn't you?
But Rajapaksa's triumph has come at a high cost in civilian lives and a sharp decline in democratic values -- and he is no closer to resolving the ethnic resentments that underpinned the insurgency for decades. Lesson 1: Given a ruthless enemy for whom human life is dirt cheap, there is likely to be a high cost in human lives. Lesson 2: Given that same ruthlessness on the part of the enemy, a certain amount of ruth is required on the side of the good guys. The nonsense about how Churchill never stooped to waterboarding remains nonsense. The sterling qualities of my father's generation didn't include squeamishness. What's exemplary about them is the fact that even after Coventry, while they were willing to smash Hamburg and Dresden to cinders they didn't dehumanize the enemy to the extent today's exemplars of ostentatious squeamishness dehumanize the rest of us.
Sri Lanka doesn't have whatcha call a deep tradition of "democracy." It's the home of Lesser Vehicle Buddhism, the gentler, less superstitious sort, as opposed to the Mahayana flavor that flowered in in Vietnam, China, and Japan. Post-independence, I believe they actually had a Trotskyite president. So Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus would probably have gone unremarked, maybe even unnoticed in Lanka. It's the innate kindliness inherent in the Pali version of Buddhism that kept Tamils from being slaughtered in droves or herded into concentration camps.
Perhaps Sri Lanka's success should come with a warning label for political leaders and military commanders elsewhere: Do not try this at home. "There is a Better Way! It is embodied in received wisdom! If you only do the same things over and over, eventually you will receive the results you're looking for." That makes sense. Not a lot of sense, but sense. Of a sort.
Rajapaksa's campaign has a bit in common with the one General David Petraeus deployed so successfully in Iraq, and is rolling out in Afghanistan. It does in the sense that it involved looking at the facts on the ground and building plans that addressed the facts. Mr. Reporter, I believe, is merely insinuating that Petraeus is a ruthless bastard.
Just as the American general was able to use Sunni insurgents to fight al-Qaeda in Iraq, Sri Lanka's President turned a splinter group of Tigers into allies. Turning Colonel Karuna (and protecting his person during the subsequent attempts to assassinate him) squashes the assumption that the Sinhalese majority is wiping out the Tamil minority. There's been a Tamil presence in northern Lanka since people starting making boats. It's the setting of the stories about Rama and Hanuman, among others. To my uneducated eye there's no physical difference to be seen between the two peoples -- the result, I think of 2500 years of the way of a man with a maid and probably vice versa. The Tamils of the past, with their Hindu ways, have been absorbed over time into Lanka's Buddhist society, given sufficient time. Tamil kingdoms, particularly in the north, were pretty common.
The differences we're discussing are linguistic and cultural. Over 2500 years this hasn't been a problem, but with the advent of radio, teevee and the internet it's been easier to hang on to the differences. Even without change in the immigration rate, it takes longer, perhaps even forever, for the smaller culture to be absorbed into the larger.
Colombo and Washington (and other Western capitals) also cooperated in cutting off funding to the Tigers from a global network of sympathizers. Lesson 3: Cut off the money flow. Money's fungible. It'll buy butter, guns, or politicians and it won't care a whit.
Beyond that, however, the Rajapaksa counterinsurgency doctrine seems ripped from a bygone era. The main principles are: Here's the real meat of the article, of course. Brute Force Works
Modern military wisdom says sheer force doesn't quell insurgencies, and that in the long run political and economic power-sharing along with social reconciliation are the only ways to end the fighting. I think the "modern military wisdom" being quoted here is that taught in journalism school. It's kinda-sorta true in the Clausewitzian sense: "war is the extension diplomacy." But there's much to be said for the suggestion that "grab 'em by the balls and their hearts and minds will follow." Oderint dum metuant works, too. Diplomacy, you might say (Clausewitz actually did) is the extension of war. The idea is to achieve national objectives. It doesn't have anything to do with getting a passing grade in Journalism 200 or impressing the cute blonde with the freckles. If there weren't practical limits to the amount of political and/or economic power sharing the state was willing to do there wouldn't really be anything to fistificate about, would there?
But the Sri Lankan army eventually broke down the Tigers in an unrelenting military campaign, the final phase of which lasted more than two years. That sort of sustained offensive hasn't been tried anywhere, in decades. Actually it has. The Lankans have been watching the rest of the world, probably a lot more closely than the rest of the world has been watching them. One of the things they saw was Paleostine, a confict that's now been going on for 60 years, and the evolution of the PLO, where Yasser Arafat grew old and died standing foursquare in the way of any resolution that didn't involve Jews meeting seawater. Regardless of the proposals, regardless of any agreements, nothing really changed.
Lesson learned: Many of these affairs are personality-based. Had Yasser managed to shoot himself through the femoral artery and keel over dead while addressing the UN General Assembly the course of history would have pivoted, whether a lot or a little we don't know. But things wouldn't be the same. The same principle of intransigience in the face of talks applied to the Algerian revolution where de Gualle surrendered in a war that was won, and in Vietnam, where the U.S. Congress showed that its idea of "long term" commitment corresponded to the approximate gestation period of the hippo.
So the Lankans would have had to look for something that actually did work. How about Chechnya? Faced with an adversary whose wrapping were decidedly loose, the Russers flattened much of Grozny, rode roughshod over the Chechens, who deserved the experience, and one by one picked off the leadership of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. The key to victory lay not with Djokar Dudaev, the subsequent line of big turbans up through and beyond Maskhadov who were supposed to be running things, the succession of Arabs who were supposed to be powering behind the throne, but with Shamil Basayev. Once Shamil was reduced to his component parts the festivities fizzled. The element of chance there was that either "head" of the Chechen movment, Doku "Count Dooku" Umarev is incompetent or that he prefers to meet his maker later rather than sooner.
Is there another exemplar they could have examined? How about Iraq? The carnage there was "horrible" by non-military standards. We've lost 4300 or so dead and I don't know how many maimed since 2003. This is 2009, which makes it six years, or an average of 716 dead per year. Zhukov would have considered 4300 dead a good day.
The religious numnutz swarming to Iraq from all over the world were controlled by one personality, who was not only well-funded and skilled at working out agreements among like-minded groups, but also probably clinically insane, which made him damned hard to predict. But once we rendered Zarqawi into meat, the quality of the resistance against us went down. The stage was set for the behind the scenes negotiations and temporary alliances that brought things under control. The same thing didn't happen when we caught Sammy, nor when we hung him, though something similar might have had we caught and hung Izzat Ibrahim. Negotiations Don't Work
After numerous attempts at mediation -- most notably by Norway -- led to nothing, Rajapaksa basically abandoned the pursuit of a negotiated solution. Once the military had the upper hand, there was little effort to treaty with the Tigers. That was a pretty bald statement of fact. In fact, as President Rajapaksa would probably admit, sometime negotiations work, sometimes they don't. They really don't work with people who have no intention of adhering to the agreements they make, or who make those agreements only as stepping stones to grabbing further concessions after rearming and regrouping. What's the sense of "confidence building measures" if the other side's out to get you? Both diplomacy and military action are tools. Sometimes the choice isn't between peace and war, but between war and total war. Collateral Damage Is Acceptable
In the final months of fighting, the Sri Lankan military offensive hardly differentiated between civilian and Tiger targets. Refugees fleeing the fighting said thousands of innocents were being killed in the army's bombardments. Modern militaries typically halt hostilities when large numbers of civilians are killed. I'm going to let that statement go unrebutted, but I can't off the top of my head think of when that's actually happened. Civilians aren't intentionally targeted by civilized armies, but if they get in the way there are only minimal actions that can safely or effectively be taken. And a commander who endangers his mission because of civilian presence is doing something other than his duty.
Let's not forget that the Tamil Tigers were using not only human shields, but human walls, and deliberately forcing them into situations where enough would be killed in the crossfire to scandalize Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. That is not the same as the national army refusing to differentiate between enemy and innocent bystander.
The Sri Lankan army barely paused. Reva Bhalla, director of analysis at Stratfor, a global intelligence firm, says Rajapaksa's "disregard for civilian casualties" was a key to the success of the military operation. Because we're empathetic folk, we grieve over civilian casualties. We were empathetic in the Civil War, too, where we'd get large numbers of men and throw them at each other at places like Antietam. Winfield Scott -- Old Fuss and Feathers -- who commanded the Union forces at the beginning of the war, drew up a plan that involved chopping up and squeezing the component parts of the South, rendering it incapable for continuing the war. It was ridiculed in the press, command passed to McClellan, and it wasn't until Grant adopted a similar plan three and a half years later that the Confederacy was forced into checkmate -- and not, we might add, before Sherman went Marching Through Georgia.
War should not be undertaken lightly -- I think Clausewitz mentioned that, too, as did Sun Tsu and Jomini. Once undertaken, though, it can be pursued as a half measure, with casualties spread out over time and victory by no means certain, or pursued quick and hard, with the casualties concentrated in time. The press's boilerplate on the Lanka war keeps saying that there have been 70,000 dead over the course of the war. But if the Lankan government had stomped the Tigers with both feet in 1984 at a cost of 7000 dead they'd be better off now, wouldn't they? If they'd stomped the Tigers in 1984 at a cost of 70,000 dead -- and I think they'd have been hard put to kill that many -- the reconstruction would be over by now and Lanka might even be one of the Asian Tigers, like Malaysia. The lesson might be termed "pay me now, or pay me later." This "Collateral Damage is Acceptable" sumrise is ironic; these same people have no problem with a 'reasonable level of violence' that produces the same or more causualties. It's just the the slow drip-drip-drip of dead and wounded doesn't disturb these folks' continental-breakfast the way Sri Lanka's bloody finale did. Critics Should Shut Up -- Or Else
For a democracy, Sri Lanka's recent record on press freedom is an embarrassment. To reiterate, Lanka's formally a democracy, in practice a formerly functional oligarchy that I suspect will reemerge in a slightly different form as the war recedes into the past.
Journalists who dared question the government (and not just over the military campaign) have been threatened, roughed up, or worse. The Jan. 8 murder of Lasantha Wickrematunge, a crusading editor -- and TIME contributor -- was an especially low point. In recent months, as the fighting intensified, journalists and international observers were kept well away, ensuring very little reporting on the military's harsh tactics and the civilian casualties. Military-press relations in wartime can be pretty complicated. The military, as a simple matter of self-preservation, doesn't want those whose goals are inimical to achieving the war's objectives holding their collective elbow. Tamilnet wasn't distinguished by any favorable reporting about the government forces, was it? So what the author's suggesting is that the Tigers, with their controlled propaganda arm churning out atrocity stories about the government forces day and night, weren't counter-balanced by Lanka's relatively free press. A relatively free press means that not all the stories produced are going to favor one side. The non-free Tamil Tiger press did favor only one side. Therefore Mr. Time Report is cheesed that the government side didn't allow and facilitate reporting that would have been about 2:1 biased toward the Tigers, part of it on the "government" side being supplied by guys with cyanide pill talismans around their necks..
Lack of accurate reporting from the war front was one reason why the international outcry against the military's heavy-handedness was so muted -- especially in the U.S. I'm wondering if the writer is wearing one of those talismans.
The other reason, especially in the U.S., is that Sri Lanka is a small, far away country full of very long, hard to pronounce names. I wouldn't know anything about the country were it not for Rantburg, and I love scuba diving and the writings of Arthur C. Clarke.
Rajapaksa also benefited from the post-9/11 global consensus that insurgent groups using terror tactics "can no longer call themselves freedom fighters," according to Daniel Markey, a South Asia expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. "The Tigers didn't understand this, and paid a significant price." They were fighting for the freedom of the Tigers, not of the Tamils. The Tamils were cannon fodder. The Colombo government, I suppose, could be worse than the Tigers, but it's hard to imagine how: child impressments, corvee labor, the sacrifice of self for the good of the state. They'd have to do all that before they could surpass the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam.
That may be one lesson insurgencies worldwide can learn from the Tigers' downfall. Lesson 4: Some organizations are truly evil, to the root and the branch, and need to be wiped out ruthlessly.
Agreed, Fred. But a good number of them are going bankrupt without our help.
Oh wait - maybe you weren't referring to the NYT even if they have helped to steal an election by suppressing important information about ACORN & a certain presidential campaign and deliberately undermined the war and ..... ?
President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his army have turned the conventional wisdom on fighting insurgencies on its head, adopting strategies and tactics long discredited, both in the battlefield and in the military classroom.
Oh, pray tell oh writer, which military classrooms and which battlefields did you gain your vast knowledge of the conduct of war? /sarc off
Much of this is fine analysis but it minimizes an important point.
The Tamil Tigers did not have many multiple international supporters, apologists and agents. Thus, the government had greater freedom of action. Hamas, Hezbollah, AlQueda have numerous tenured professors, NGOs, media big shots and leftists in Congress (and the WH), to cry for them, to lie for them and to obfuscate for them. Thus the degree of freedom that the victims of terror (US, Israel, Hindus, Etc) is reduced.
Posted by: Lord garth ||
05/22/2009 8:04 Comments ||
Boo Hoo, the bad guys lost and Petraeus is evil...why do I even bother reading crap from TIME???
Posted by: Art ofWar ||
05/22/2009 9:40 Comments ||
Lack of accurate reporting from the war front was one reason why the international outcry against the military's heavy-handedness was so muted especially in the U.S.
Right there you blow your argument out of the water, Mr. Unbiased Journalist Guy. Actually, you blew it away right at the start with the title of the article.
In other new, Time has an Obama on the cover for the 17th time, this time it's M'chelle and her superbly toned arms and giant can
Posted by: Frank G ||
05/22/2009 10:30 Comments ||
Believe it our not, The Boston Globe...
SRI LANKA'S government was right to finish off the Tamil rebels, despite the risk to and ultimate loss of civilian life. Decisively ending the civil war, which lasted 26 years and killed more than 70,000, will save more lives than were lost in the final assault.
United Nations officials, Western leaders, and human rights groups had called on Sri Lanka to agree to a cease-fire to allow civilians to flee the shrinking enclave where government forces had finally hemmed in the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Complying with the request would have been a major strategic mistake.
Those international voices ignored - or maybe didn't know - the pattern to pauses in the civil war: The Tamil Tigers used every cease-fire to rest, recruit, and rearm. Then they took the offensive. That's how they broke a 2002 cease-fire. Another ended in 1995 when the rebels, dramatically, sunk government navy ships.
Beginning this January, Sri Lanka faced the risk that rebel commanders would slip out alongside innocent civilians and live to keep fighting. It had happened before. In 1987, 70,000 troops from neighboring India flushed the Tigers from their northern stronghold in Jaffna. Most of the rebels escaped to reconstitute an insurgent force that would fight for two more decades.
Americans and citizens of other countries that have suffered terrorist attacks should be glad to see the Tamil Tigers and their maniacal leader, Vellupillai Prabhakaran, done for good. They bequeathed the world the suicide bomber. What other deadly innovations would they have produced had the fighting force survived?
As a foreign correspondent covering the region, I saw enough of the Tamil Tigers' terrorism in the late-1990s to know the world is a safer place after their defeat. There was the suicide truck bombing of the country's central bank that killed more than 80 and devastated downtown Colombo, the capital. It was my first trip to the country, and I had rolled past the bank building in a taxi about 15 minutes before the blast.
I also covered the aftermath of the bombing inside a commuter train headed out of Colombo. Peering into one of the train's damaged cars, I unconsciously clutched my forehead as I surveyed the floor and spotted a shoe, scattered groceries, strands of hair and streaks of blood. I was imagining what it must have been like to be idly riding home after a day's work, perhaps bringing home food for that night's dinner, when the bomb exploded in the crowded, enclosed car.
Not only majority Sinhalese were inside that commuter train and downtown near the central bank. Did the Tamil Tigers care about killing other Tamils? No. The Tigers actually targeted Tamil individuals who did not go along with their bloody program.
After I left the region, assassins bombed Harvard-trained lawyer Neelan Tiruchelvam and shot Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, both Tamils. I knew them to be decent men who did not deserve that fate.
For the 12 percent of Sri Lankans who are Tamils, for whom the Tigers claimed to fight, the shame is that indefensible methods tarnished a just cause. Sinhalese discrimination against Tamils, sometimes with violent expression, sparked the rebellion. Sri Lanka has paid a heavy price, in life and treasure, for attempting to subordinate Tamils, who were favored during British rule and still dominate the intellectual elite.
Here's hoping the Sinhalese have learned a costly, painful lesson and, in victory, are big enough to negotiate a new dispensation for the Tamils. I think they may be. Back after the central bank bombing, I heard a hotel manager confess to disrespecting Tamils as a young man and acknowledge, with apparent regret, such acts provoked the violence.
At this point, it would be reasonable for the government to grant a measure of autonomy to Tamil-majority areas of the north and east - short of creating a separate state, which never made much sense on a relatively small island.
If it can heal its ethnic wounds, Sri Lanka has a bright future. With the climate of the Caribbean, a relatively literate population, a savvy business class, and three deepwater ports, the South Asian country could become as prosperous as Singapore, if peace reigns.
Kenneth J. Cooper, a former member of the Globe staff and a former South Asia bureau chief of the Washington Post, is a freelance journalist.
A multi-volume chronology and reference guide set detailing three years of the Mexican Drug War between 2010 and 2012.
Rantburg.com and borderlandbeat.com correspondent and author Chris Covert presents his first non-fiction work detailing
the drug and gang related violence in Mexico.
Chris gives us Mexican press dispatches of drug and gang war violence
over three years, presented in a multi volume set intended to chronicle the death, violence and mayhem which has
dominated Mexico for six years.