Friday, December 29, 2006

RFID Passport Alterations

Saw this linked at Beyond the Beyond. That link will take you to another RFID article at the blog.

The suggestions on how to disable the RFID chip in the passport are pretty funny.
1) RFID-tagged passports have a distinctive logo on the front cover; the chip is embedded in the back.

2) Sorry, “accidentally” leaving your passport in the jeans you just put in the washer won’t work. You’re more likely to ruin the passport itself than the chip.

3) Forget about nuking it in the microwave – the chip could burst into flames, leaving telltale scorch marks. Besides, have you ever smelled burnt passport?

4) The best approach? Hammer time. Hitting the chip with a blunt, hard object should disable it. A nonworking RFID doesn’t invalidate the passport, so you can still use it.

Though at least they tell you the potential legal issue:
Getting paranoid about strangers slurping up your identity? Here’s what you can do about it. But be careful – tampering with a passport is punishable by 25 years in prison. Not to mention the “special” customs search, with rubber gloves. Bon voyage!
I'm thinking the Faraday wallet is just a better idea. Doesn't alter the passport and get you into the legal issues, it just blocks the radio waves that are used to activate and read the chip.

I definitely don't like RFID chips. Just too many things being secreted into your stuff that can't be easily detected, and in the end, can be used to figure out information about you that you may not want revealed.

The latest RFID scare relates to them in pressure gages on your tires. Engadget discuss this scare as being an overblown scare. Maybe so, my take is that when there is a way to gather information on a person, someone will do it. Sooner or later that information will be used inappropriately.

Consider when the technology starts being put into identifying cars, such as in license plates. This article discusses the use of RFID in license plates in the UK.
The new e-Plates project uses active (battery powered) RFID tags embedded in the plates to identify vehicles in real time. The result is the ability to reliably identify any vehicle, anywhere, whether stationary or mobile, and - most importantly - in all weather conditions. (Previous visually-based licence plate identification techniques have been hampered by factors such as heavy rain, mist, fog, and even mud or dirt on the plates.)
It gives big brother another edge in fighting crime, but I'm uncertain that the benefit will be justified. And anything that the government can use to identify you, someone else can figure out as well. When that happens, people start abusing the information.

More information, isn't necessarily a good thing, especially when it is handed to the bad guys freely.

Bush Administration's Flipping on the 2nd Amendment

I've heard this in a couple of places, and the context is just strange. I'm really wondering if some policy pencil pusher put this out and back doored the Administration. The declaration that the 2nd Amendment is a collective right is a complete flip from what Ashcroft originally stated, and this inconsistency strikes one as one pencil pusher going independent.

This is the wording of the document posted at The War on Guns.
As in the NPRM, under Sec. 460.53, a space flight participant may not carry on board any explosives, firearms, knives, or other weapons.

XCOR inquired whether the FAA had the authority to impose security requirements under its statute and the U.S. Constitution. The Second Amendment to the Constitution provides that "[a] well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.'' This right is not unfettered. Nearly every statute restricting the right to bear arms has been upheld. For example, in 1958, Congress made it a criminal offense to knowingly carry a firearm onto an airplane engaged in air transportation. 49 U.S.C. 46505. Additionally, nearly all courts have also held that the Second Amendment is a collective right, rather than a personal right. Therefore, despite the Second Amendment collective right to bear arms, the FAA has the authority to prohibit firearms on launch and reentry vehicles for safety and security purposes. [Emphasis added-DC]
I left in the emphasis that David Codrea placed in his blog.

This seems like a very odd place to be making this level of policy, especially when the original AG took a completely conflicting stand. One would hope that this sloppy legal stand will be rectified, but that said, I'm not confident.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

MA Congress and Gay Marriage

First, let me say that I support gay marriage. I don't particularly care whether you call it marriage or not, but I understand the concern of religious folk that "marriage" be a term reserved for the male/female legal bond. But even for those states that have a Defense of Marriage law, I think that Vermont-style "civil unions" are the future. Plenty of public opinion polls show that those who oppose gay marriage largely oppose the use of the word, not the legal rights in confers. And let's face it, in terms of conversation, everyone is going to use the word marriage, because we all know what it means and it's a lot easier to say than "civil-unionized", and in 20 years or so the culture will call it marriage and the legal term will be somewhat moot.

However, more than supporting gay marriage, I support the constitution and its process. So the fact that the lawmakers in my fair state see fit to ignore their constitutional duties because it suits them really torques me.

The state’s highest court ruled Wednesday it had no authority to force lawmakers to vote on a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, but it still criticized them for not acting.
The high court, in its ruling, rebuked lawmakers for that move, saying drafters of the provision that allows citizen petitions “did not intend a simple majority of the joint session to have the power effectively to block progress of an initiative.”

That much seems clear. There is a process for the public to get amendments on the ballot, and it should be followed, not side-stepped.

The court goes on to say:

“Those members who now seek to avoid their lawful obligations, by a vote to recess without a roll call vote ... ultimately will have to answer to the people who elected them,” the court said.

Ah, well, there's a dream. In a reasonable state, yes, the lawmakers would be held accountable by the people in the very next election. But this is Massachusetts, home of the knee-jerk liberal, where people vote Democrat because they are physically incapable of doing anything else. The state where the public voted to force the lawmakers to roll-back the "temporary" tax hike, the lawmakers ignore the will of the people, and they STILL got reelected. So when they ignore their constitutional duties on Jan 2, I don't really expect there will be any political repercussions. It would be nice if I'm wrong, but I strongly suspect that everyone east of Rt 495 is brain dead. The irony is that if George Bush did something like this, he'd be villified by the very people who will consider our lawmakers heroes for thwarting the constitution. But there's no need for intellectual thought when you're morally righteous, is there?

This state is a fine example of what happens when any one party remains in control for too long.

NRA Cracked Graphic Novel

This is weird, though it does look real. I'm wondering if it isn't an escapee of a draft version of their most recent propaganda line.
In short: Wonkette posted jpeg scans from a digital copy sent in by an anonymous tipster. Elsewhere, some at Daily Kos and a popular gun law forum (and, for a while, me) expressed doubts over authenticity (c'mon, it was so far-out! lobsterrorists!). Then, Wonkette shared the original doc with BoingBoing (PDF link), a Wonkette commenter determined it appears to have been illustrated by Chris Gall, and everyone agreed -- not a hoax (though we're still awaiting response from the NRA). Here's a link to the updated BoingBoing post with embedded blog-drama, and there are fresh posts at Wonkette (Link), Kos (Link) and the CA-CCW forum (Link). And below -- readers say Adobe Reader reveals what are apparently hidden notes from the NRA assigner to the illustrator.
You can look at it yourself. I'm not particularly impressed by the commentators on the topic. It's kind of funny to see many of the loons calling others loony. Like these comments that must be intended to be humorous, but no doubt will be posed by many as serious.
IMAGE: Brochure excerpt. Guns will protect you from tsunamis. Who knew?
And the lobsterrorist thing. Funny if you stick with the humor, but I'm going to bet that the spin of the gun grabbers won't stop there.

I'm betting this is completely real. The NRA does definitely get out of touch with reality periodically.

Peace Keepers in Africa

Yep, Somalia and Sudan are going so very very well. I'm wondering when the UN will come out and condemn Ethiopia for their part in Somalia.
"We will capture Mogadishu any time within the coming hours," government spokesman Abdirahman Dinari told The Associated Press, saying the country was in a state of emergency. "We are now at the entry points of the city."

President Abdullahi Yusuf was expected to offer the clans a truce later Thursday.

Residents south of the city said Islamist forces were streaming south toward the port city of Kismayo. Yusuf Ibrahim, a former Islamic fighter who quit Thursday, said about 3,000 fighters left for Kismayo.

Islamists acknowledged they had left Mogadishu but said they were not giving up their fight. Abdirahman Janaqow, a senior leader, told The Associated Press he ordered his forces out of the capital to avoid bloodshed.

"We decided to leave Mogadishu because of the safety of the civilians," Janaqow said in a telephone interview. "We want to face our enemy and their stooges in a separate area, away from civilians."

A well-known clan leader, Hussein Haji Bod, asked people to remain calm and said elders would meet Thursday to discuss the "future of the capital." The largest market in the capital was closed for fear it would be looted.

Gotta love those Islamist war lords for their concern about the civilians. Weren't these the same ones whose fighters were hiding behind women and children when they were attacking US forces?
The Council of Islamic Courts seized Mogadishu in June and went on to take much of southern Somalia, often without fighting. They were later joined by foreign militants, including Pakistanis and Arabs, who supported their goal of making Somalia an Islamic state.
I wonder what happened to those war lords? Did they finally find religion, or are they just gone? I'm sure the Pakistanis and Arabs are making the environment much more secure. Probably setting up their IED factories right now preparing for the insurgency against the Government forces and the Ethiopians.
The Islamists seemed invincible after capturing the capital, but they have been no match for Ethiopia, which has the strongest military in the Horn of Africa. Ethiopian forces crossed the border Sunday to reinforce the internationally recognized Somali government, which was bottled up in Baidoa, 140 miles northwest of Mogadishu.

Ethiopia's prime minister has said that his country was "forced to enter a war" with the Council of Islamic Courts after the group declared holy war on Ethiopia, a largely Christian country that has feared the emergence of a neighboring Islamic state.

The conflict in Somalia has drawn concern from the United States, which accuses the Islamists of harboring al-Qaida terrorists, and other Western powers.

Meles Zenawi, the Ethiopian prime minister, said Tuesday he had been given unconfirmed reports that as many as 1,000 people had died and 3,000 were wounded since the fighting began on Saturday.

I'm still waiting for the condemnations of Ethiopia by the Human rights groups and the UN. I haven't found any sanction for their actions, so acting preemptively this way must be illegal. I mean, no country has any right to preemptively attack to provide themselves with security. Haven't we heard that quite a lot lately?
Two years ago, the United Nations helped set up the interim government. It has been unable to assert much authority, in part because it has been weakened by clan rivalries.

The competition for control of Mogadishu since 1991 has involved the Abgal and Habr Gadir clans, who came together earlier this year to support the Islamic council. Most of the shooting and looting in Mogadishu on Thursday was coming from Abgal clan strongholds.

The Islamists tried to supplant the influence of the clans by appealing to Somalis as Muslims. Many Somalis were grateful for the order the movement imposed. But many also chafed at the strict enforcement of Islamic codes.
Ah, there is where those war lords went, they became part of the Islamist Court. Of course, the UN's efforts in Somalia will now be put forward as a success, even though it took another country to invade Somalia to put their approved government into place.

And while on the topic of the inept UN:
Sudan raised new questions Wednesday about its commitment to a U.N. peace effort in the violence-wracked Darfur region as its ambassador ruled out any U.N. peacekeeping troops — an element of the world body's proposal.

The surprise statement came just minutes after the U.N. Security Council announced that it welcomed the Sudanese president's acceptance of the U.N. plan to help end the escalating conflict — a plan that includes deployment of a "hybrid" African Union- United Nations force.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan had told Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in a letter earlier this month that every effort would be made to find African troops for a hybrid force of 17,300 military personnel and 5,300 police, but if that proved impossible the U.N. would use "a broader pool of troop contributing countries."

But Sudan Ambassador Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem told reporters on Wednesday evening that the hybrid force must be smaller and have no U.N. peacekeepers, only U.N. technical and logistical experts supporting African troops.

"The force is African, the leader is an African," he said. "There is support and logistical support staff by the U.N., wearing their own helmets, but they are not going to engage in peacekeeping activities."
Nice to see the UN gumming these guys to death. The teeth of the UN aren't playing, so no peace keeping occurs. I'm sure that "hybrid" force from the AU will be real effective too. The Sudanese government isn't playing, just blocking and stirring up the mess. It's not in their interest to assist the AU or the UN in settling things down, and no doubt we'll be hearing about another Islamist Court coming into Darfur.

Pajamas Media has more on Ethiopian success and ThreatsWatch has this related statement:
Outlined are major reasons for both the current success and the likely future difficulties a beaten Islamic Courts Union al-Qaeda ‘franchise’ will have in mounting an insurgency on par with that in Iraq. It is Thursday’s Global Conflict ‘must-read.’

But the most important lesson that Western observers - Americans in particular - must clearly understand is that the decisive factor is no more complex than a matter of will.

From the PM article:
There may be lessons for the United States in Ethiopia’s success. Abdiweli Ali, an assistant professor at Niagara University who is in contact with transitional government military commanders on the ground, says that Ethiopia has less concern than the U.S. about civilian casualties. There is no reliable estimate of civilian deaths, but the number is believed to be in the hundreds. “We’re fighting wars with one hand tied behind our backs,” Professor Ali says. “In Iraq we’re trying to be nice, thinking we’ll give candy to people on the streets and they’ll love us. But people will understand later on if you just win now and provide them with security.”

A second lesson relates to the media. The Ethiopian government is generally less sensitive to media criticism than the U.S. government—and is likely to encounter far less criticism in the first place, since the press traditionally gives short shrift to coverage of Africa.

Obviously these two lessons are tied together. The US has more concern for civilian casualties due to being forced to be under the public scrutiny at all times. It's the right thing to do for the most part, but even when the US is being excessively cautious, they are still blamed for casualties that never occurred but are blasted through the media satisfying the insurgencies propaganda needs.

I think the lesson on the MSM is more potent than the one on civilian relations. They do want security, but they don't want it from us. That point is being completely ignored here. This is also a reason why a change in tactics needs to be pushed forward to get control of the militias and use them for provisioning security. The control part of that equation is far more important, since many of the sectarian and tribal friction has come from militias that are beyond the control of the central government.

Give the media and the human rights groups time, they'll be condemning this event loudly, though not nearly as shrilly as they condemn the US.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Big Brother's Got Some New Lists

First one I caught linked at SayUncle. This one is the universal US DoJ list.
The Justice Department is building a massive database that allows state and local police officers around the country to search millions of case files from the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and other federal law enforcement agencies, according to Justice officials.

The system, known as "OneDOJ," already holds approximately 1 million case records and is projected to triple in size over the next three years, Justice officials said. The files include investigative reports, criminal-history information, details of offenses, and the names, addresses and other information of criminal suspects or targets, officials said.

The database is billed by its supporters as a much-needed step toward better information-sharing with local law enforcement agencies, which have long complained about a lack of cooperation from the federal government.

But civil-liberties and privacy advocates say the scale and contents of such a database raise immediate privacy and civil rights concerns, in part because tens of thousands of local police officers could gain access to personal details about people who have not been arrested or charged with crimes.

This one begs all kinds of questions. Like what happens when a criminal record gets expunged by the court. Wonder who is doing the maintenance on the monster database to clean up. What happens to the records when someone dies? Does the data get removed or does it stay there for ever? Is there a means to track what the police are doing when they access the system? (I'm referring to accountability for the users so that there is some record to indicate when police have used this database inappropriately. As in a criminal undertaking by a law enforcement officer.)
In an interview last week, McNulty said the goal is to broaden the pool of data available to local and state investigators beyond systems such as the National Crime Information Center, the FBI-run repository of basic criminal records used by police and sheriff's deputies around the country.

By tapping into the details available in incident reports, interrogation summaries and other documents, investigators will dramatically improve their chances of closing cases, he said.

"The goal is that all of U.S. law enforcement will be able to look at each other's records to solve cases and protect U.S. citizens," McNulty said. "With OneDOJ, we will essentially hook them up to a pipe that will take them into its records."

It does sound like a useful tool, except for the possibility that the system will be abused and that there are going to be no protections or even attempts at accountability.
McNulty and other Justice officials emphasize that the information available in the database already is held individually by the FBI and other federal agencies. Much information will be kept out of the system, including data about public corruption cases, classified or sensitive topics, confidential informants, administrative cases and civil rights probes involving allegations of wrongdoing by police, officials said.

But civil-liberties and privacy advocates -- many of whom are already alarmed by the proliferation of federal databases -- warn that granting broad access to such a system is almost certain to invite abuse and lead to police mistakes.

Barry Steinhardt, director of the Technology and Liberty Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, said the main problem is one of "garbage in, garbage out," because case files frequently include erroneous or unproved allegations.

"Raw police files or FBI reports can never be verified and can never be corrected," Steinhardt said. "That is a problem with even more formal and controlled systems. The idea that they're creating another whole system that is going to be full of inaccurate information is just chilling."

Steinhardt noted that in 2003, the FBI announced that it would no longer meet the Privacy Act's accuracy requirements for the National Crime Information Center, its main criminal-background-check database, which is used by 80,000 law enforcement agencies across the country.

That last bit makes me especially nervous. How are names tracked of people who aren't criminals but are part of the cases? What if you're robbed and get into a report, how is that handled in relation to the criminal investigations? The GIGO factor is extremely worrisome.
McNulty and other officials said the data compiled under OneDOJ would be subject to the same civil-liberties and privacy oversight as any other Justice Department database. A coordinating committee within Justice will oversee the database and other information-sharing initiatives, according to McNulty's memo.
That's supposed to make me feel more secure? Unfortunately the Privacy Act protections won't likely see the light of day until you sue the government about an abuse. I don't know if LEO really hate their internal audit system as much as the TV dramas make it out, but having worked with auditors previously, I'm betting they do, and audits will be a complete waste.

Then there is this from Schneier.
If you've traveled abroad recently, you've been investigated. You've been assigned a score indicating what kind of terrorist threat you pose. That score is used by the government to determine the treatment you receive when you return to the U.S. and for other purposes as well.

Curious about your score? You can't see it. Interested in what information was used? You can't know that. Want to clear your name if you've been wrongly categorized? You can't challenge it. Want to know what kind of rules the computer is using to judge you? That's secret, too. So is when and how the score will be used.

U.S. customs agencies have been quietly operating this system for several years. Called Automated Targeting System, it assigns a "risk assessment" score to people entering or leaving the country, or engaging in import or export activity. This score, and the information used to derive it, can be shared with federal, state, local and even foreign governments. It can be used if you apply for a government job, grant, license, contract or other benefit. It can be shared with nongovernmental organizations and individuals in the course of an investigation. In some circumstances private contractors can get it, even those outside the country. And it will be saved for 40 years.

Little is known about this program. Its bare outlines were disclosed in the Federal Register in October. We do know that the score is partially based on details of your flight record--where you're from, how you bought your ticket, where you're sitting, any special meal requests--or on motor vehicle records, as well as on information from crime, watch-list and other databases.

Civil liberties groups have called the program Kafkaesque. But I have an even bigger problem with it. It's a waste of money.

Joy, another list, and this one is even worse.

My problem with these lists is that they don't go away and they don't get maintained. Once someone screws something up you have to practically kill someone to get a repair. And you're the one who will have to pay the price of arrests or delays if some one screws up. Worst of all, this last one is so secretive that intelligent discussion can't even take place. Why it's secret is beyond me.

John Kerry - Loved by the Military

Caught this linked from Captain's Quarters.

Just too funny. Go and see the picture yourself at HotTalk.

"This is a true story.....Check out this photo from our mess hall at the US Embassy yesterday morning. Sen. Kerry found himself all alone while he was over here. He cancelled his press conference because no one came, he worked out alone in the gym w/o any soldiers even going up to say hi or ask for an autograph (I was one of those who was in the gym at the same time), and he found himself eating breakfast with only a couple of folks who are obviously not troops.
What is amazing is Bill O'Reilly came to visit with us and the troops at the CSH the same day and the line for autographs extended through the palace and people waited for two hours to shake his hand. You decide who is more respected and loved by us servicemen and women!"
Bet this won't find any air time in the MSM. (Oh, I did look, and couldn't find anything like this.)

I'm frankly surprised that there isn't any reports of troops at least flipping him off. After the amount of crap he's spewed into the news denigrating the military, you'd think one of them would at least call him a jackass.

I'd have given Kerry the benefit of the doubt for being snubbed by the troops, but the political thing to do to try and recover from his case of stupidity would be to try and be seen with the troops on this occasion. Or any occasion for that matter.

Optimum Solutions

Barone makes a good point, which flies in the face of all the Demospratic whining. Optimum solutions don't always exist. And historically, they rarely have.
We Americans, despite our current grumblings, are fundamentally an optimistic people. Our optimism has helped us achieve great things. But it can also be a problem. There is an assumption in public life that every problem has an optimum solution, all gain and no pain. Much of our political debate takes the form of yelling that everything would be just fine if the other side weren't so stupid that it failed to see the perfectly obvious policy.

The debate over Iraq has often been based on this assumption. The Bush administration has been blasted for dissolving the Iraqi army (actually, allowing it to disperse), which left it harder to maintain order. But maintaining Baathist officers in place would have produced much oppression and left weapons in the hands of many determined enemies. There was no optimum solution here -- there were serious downsides to either policy.

A superficial view of our history buttresses the assumption that there's always an optimum policy. In times of crisis, we seem always to have found great leaders -- Washington, Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt. In war, we have always surged through to victory.
We forget now, but there was opposition to Roosevelt's decision to go after Hitler first (hadn't we been attacked by the Japanese, not the Germans?) and to support Stalin (an indubitably evil leader). And there were many times -- not just moments, but agonizingly long months -- when it seemed that victory was impossible. Our military strategy and tactics were far from perfect. And the Soviets did gobble up Eastern Europe and North Korea, as well. But the less-than-optimum choices Roosevelt and Churchill made, in retrospect and on balance, look preferable to any alternatives.

George W. Bush now faces an array of less-than-optimum choices on Iraq. On the campaign trail and on Sunday interview shows, many Democrats and a few Republicans for months blithely talked of withdrawal. But as they have faced the probable consequences, spelled out by among others the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group, the downside risks seem ominous.
I've been trying to recall any serious conflict where there was an optimum solution. Most have nothing but very bad choices. The friction point with the present problem is the difference between the choices that Bush is making versus the desired choice that the Dems are pushing. And with Biden's choice of running away, we can all be assured that failure will have a dangerous result.
Bush has stressed that he has followed the advice of his military leaders. But he needs to do more. He needs to engage now with his new secretary of defense and his military leaders, in the aggressive and detailed way that Churchill and Roosevelt did, probing and critiquing their proposals, eliciting from them plans that can reduce the sectarian violence in Baghdad and the Baathist and Al-Qaida attacks there and in Anbar province to tolerable levels. Even over Christmas, as Churchill and Roosevelt did.
Bush also needs to talk to the people. He doesn't have to specify the military decisions that are made, but he should specify the other activity that is being enacted or changed. I think being vague on exactly what the military will be doing is the right method, for to tell the public too much detail is to give the enemy a substantial understanding of the new tactics, and that will mean more unnecessary military deaths.

Democrats and Failing Iraq

Incredible. You'd think that Biden and his ilk would be more intelligent than to start yelping for bugging out of Iraq, but no, they've decided that they do indeed want to run away. And have lots of investigations on the way. And this is better than how Bush as been handling it, how?
After years of playing a marginal role in the Iraq war, congressional Democrats plan to move quickly next month to assert more control and undercut any White House effort to increase troop levels.

As President Bush prepares to outline his plan for Iraq in a major speech in the next few weeks, Democratic leaders will counter with weeks of oversight hearings, summoning military officers, administration officials and foreign policy experts to Capitol Hill.

The Democratic plans put Congress on a collision course with Bush over the direction of the nearly 4-year-old war. And they signal a new phase in a war that had been directed almost exclusively by the White House with little dissent from the GOP-controlled Capitol.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), the incoming chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said Tuesday that he intended to call key administration officials, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, to testify at as many as a dozen hearings.

At the same time, the chairmen of both chambers' armed services committees and of the House International Relations Committee also plan to hold hearings.

"I hope the president and his people will listen," Biden said.
Marginal role? Hmm. Last I checked the war-time powers in Article II have those powers controlled by the President. I guess I need to check that again.

Biden, the Vietnam war era senator is just the person to start the cowards run. I'm sure he and Murtha can do their best to ensure that by running away now we will completely fail to form some peaceful solution in Iraq. At least Bush has been trying to succeed, while these jerks are striding to lose, again.
Democrats won control of Congress in an election that turned on voters' unhappiness with the war. But Democrats have struggled for years to articulate an alternative to the Bush administration's policies.

As recently as last year, when Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) called for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, many in the party agonized over whether that position would permanently tar Democrats as weak. But as discontent with the war has grown, sapping Bush's popularity, Democratic lawmakers have become increasingly outspoken.

And senior party leaders now appear to be uniting behind the call for a phased withdrawal of U.S. forces, a position that was bolstered by the release this month of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group's report.

The report did not set a specific timetable for withdrawing troops but did suggest numerous changes in the administration's policies, including more diplomatic engagement with Iraq's neighbors, another prescription embraced by congressional Democrats.
Got to love how the Dems want the runaway portion of the ISG and appear to be ignoring the possibility of an increase in troops to separate the parties and get them under control.
Rather than talk of reducing the number of U.S. soldiers in Iraq, the White House has focused in the weeks since the release of the Iraq Study Group report on a temporary increase in troops that proponents say will help control the growing sectarian violence.

Senior congressional Democrats, including Biden, have attacked that plan, arguing that beginning a phased withdrawal is the best way to force Iraqis to take responsibility for halting the violence between Sunnis and Shiites.

As he outlined his scheduled hearings in a Tuesday conference call with the media, Biden expressed hope that by airing more viewpoints on Iraq, congressional leaders, particularly Republicans, could persuade the president to reconsider the idea of deploying more soldiers.
This is exactly the time when the President needs to start taking the offensive with informing the public. The Iraq war, and troop increases are very unpopular by all recent polls, and that is a problem that isn't going to get any better if the President just hides away and doesn't push doing the right thing. One thing the Dems have is a lot of shrill voices that get lots of air time. His message is quite simple, fail now and there will be hell to pay. There are several things that could and probably will result. The "Civil War" in Iraq will likely actually become a full fledged civil war which will attract the Islamic radicals to both sides destabilizing the region extremely. The result will be increased oil prices which will cool the world economy and our economy greatly. The terrorists, which for the most part have to stay well hidden in Iraq will be able to move openly and train openly, and then attack the west openly.

But I'm sure those issues will only get better if Biden and the other dolts in his mold get to have committee hearings on it.
Biden said he planned to call retired diplomats, military officers and academics, in addition to Rice, before his committee. He said he was unsure whether he would summon former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

On the House side, Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Burlingame) is planning to call the lead authors of the Iraq Study Group report — former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Rep. Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.) — to appear before his International Relations Committee.

And House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) last week promised a series of oversight hearings aimed at uncovering and correcting abuses in the war effort.

"Asking the tough questions — 'Why did this happen? Why did you make a decision to do this or that?' — that does influence behavior," Skelton said.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) has said he plans several January hearings.

The flood of congressional hearings next month will probably shed unfavorable light on the way the Bush administration has prosecuted the war in Iraq.
These pathetic asses are going to do their best to ensure failure. And with that failure will come the increase in threats to the US in many theaters. But the Dems will have won their political war to their political benefit, to our security failure. Can anyone honestly argue that this is going to have even moderately good results?
"We should not exaggerate the ability of the United States Foreign Relations Committee or the Congress to get a president to act in a manner in which the Congress thinks is more rational or more appropriate," Biden said Tuesday. "There's nothing the United States Congress can do by a piece of legislation to alter the conduct of a war that a president decides to pursue.

"This is President Bush's war," he said.
There is the crux of the issue. This isn't "President Bush's War." It is in fact all of ours. It doesn't matter if you don't like how we got into the war, the point frankly is completely irrelevant. We are in this conflict and we must conclude it in a manner that will ensure some certainty of stability in the region. Biden's declaration misses the point that if we fail we all get damaged, and by pointing fingers and blaming Bush, Biden is just playing politics in its most worthless manner. Yep, he looks good, but we all suffer.

God I hate politicians.

Friday, December 22, 2006

School Board Trustees

You can go to the Volokh Conspiracy link for the original article link. This doesn't require much commentary since it's quite amusing just from the report.

Vancouver school board trustee Sharon Gregson [publicly argues that] Canadians need to broaden their thinking about handgun ownership. "There is a thinking that guns can only be bad and related to crime, and that's not my experience as a legal gun owner, participating in a gun sport," Ms. Gregson said, explaining why she decided to get a handgun permit in Utah....

But some of Ms. Gregson's colleagues have urged the trustee, a married mother of four, to stop shooting her mouth off. Trustee Clarence Hanson said her comments send the wrong message to kids.

"I was quite shocked," Mr. Hanson said after he heard Ms. Gregson on a morning radio program yesterday, in which she argued in favour of easier access for permits to carry a concealed gun, especially for women who feel threatened. "As a school trustee, my concern is basically, we have a number of children ... who sometimes feel harassed and bullied. I don't want them to get the impression that this is the way to protect yourself," Mr. Hanson said. "If they get a feeling that a school trustee who represents them thinks it's okay to protect yourself in this way, ... we're going down a dangerous road, I think." ...

Ms. Gregson said she did not mean to suggest that kids in the school system be urged to carry guns. However, she did suggest that the outcome of the Montreal massacre might have been different if any one of Marc Lepine's 14 female victims had been carrying a weapon.....

Mr. Hanson said he wants to talk to Ms. Gregson about her comments. "I think when we become a school trustee, you've raised the bar a little bit for yourself. So you have to help set an example out there."

The head of the Canada's main gun-control lobby[, Wendy Cukier,] denounced Ms. Gregson's comments as well .... "It's an absurd comment. It's completely contrary to Canadian traditions. It has no basis in fact, and for someone who is associated with schools to be making those comments is particularly alarming, especially a woman." ...

Beyond the obvious gun related comment, I'm wondering why Mr. Hanson thinks he should have words with Ms. Gregson. Could it be that he's setting a bad example here which he should be taken to task for? It's quite apparent to me that he's trying to censor Ms. Gregson. Her right to free speech apparently is of no concern to him. Though if I were Ms. Gregson, I'd be considering where to tell Mr. Hanson to go.

Go to VC for the comments, they're quite entertaining.

9mm Evidence

Now here is a perfect reason to NOT use 9mm for self defense. [h/t Voloky Conspiracy]

In the middle of Joshua Bush's forehead, two inches above his eyes, lies the evidence that prosecutors say could send the teenager to prison for attempted murder: a 9 mm bullet, lodged just under the skin.

Prosecutors say it will prove that Bush, 17, tried to kill the owner of a used-car lot after a robbery in July. And they have obtained a search warrant to extract the slug.

But Bush and his lawyer are fighting the removal, in a legal and medical oddity that raises questions about patient privacy and how far the government can go to solve crimes without running afoul of the constitutional protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.

I'm betting if the guy he attacked had used a .45 this wouldn't be an issue. From what the rest of the article says, it appears that there must of been something strange about the shot.
Investigators say that Bush was part of a group of gang members who broke into a used car lot and tried to steal vehicles. According to police, Bush tried to shoot businessman Alan Olive, and when Olive returned fire, a bullet struck the teenager and burrowed into the soft, fatty tissue of his forehead.

Prosecutor Ramon Rodriguez said gang members who took part in the robbery identified Bush as one of those involved. When he was questioned about a week later, Bush admitted taking part in the robbery but not the shooting, police said.

"The officers noticed the guy looks like hell. One of his eyes is black and he has a big old knot on his forehead," Rodriguez said. "He tells police he got hurt playing basketball."

A few days later, Bush went to the hospital and told doctors he had been hit by a stray bullet as he sat on a couch in an apartment.

"Officers started putting events together," Rodriguez said.

Of course the lawyers are twisting this all around.
Prosecutors said they continue to look for a doctor or hospital willing to remove the bullet.

All sides agree that removing the bullet would not be life-threatening. But Bush's family and attorney say it would be a violation of the teenager's civil rights and set a dangerous precedent.

"When the medical profession divorces itself from its own responsibility and makes itself an arm of the state, it's a dangerous path," said Rife Kimler, Bush's lawyer.

Wonder where this lawyer was when his client was robbing and trying to kill the guy that shot him. Another reason for the .45, you don't have to worry about those civil rights fights.

Orin Kerr goes on to describe the legal issue with the search:
There is a Supreme Court decision that covers this kind of case: in Winston v. Lee, the Court held that "the reasonableness of surgical intrusions beneath the skin depends on a case-by-case approach, in which the individual's interests in privacy and security are weighed against society's interests in conducting the procedure." This means that the legality of the warrant depends on a pretty context-sensitive balance: on one hand, how much is retrieving the bullet likely to help the government's case, and on the other hand, how much harm is it likely to cause to the young man who will have the bullet extracted?

Insurance Company Bonus'

Wonder how the bonus' will be this year in the insurance world.
"After years of record losses, property insurers appear to be getting off lightly in 2006," Swiss Re said. "Catastrophe losses of only $15bn will allow them to replenish their risk capital, depleted by record payments for hurricane damage in 2005 and 2004."

2006 has produced the third-lowest loss for insurers in the past 20 years, after 1997 and 1988, Swiss Re said, mainly due to the quiet US hurricane season this year. It said that Europe had also been spared expensive catastrophes but warned that the year "is by no means over".

Last year Swiss Re said that natural and man-made catastrophes caused economic losses of about $225bn in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina swept through the US. Insured losses amounted to $80bn.

This always begs the question, do insurance companies ever have losses?

The article has some interesting tables on where and how much disaster losses occurred.

It also raises the question of how insurance coverage has changed in recent times. My father owns a small business and his insurance sky rocketed last year for a policy that had no increase in coverage. In fact the specific outline of situations not covered was longer than the policy or what is covered.

RFID Passport Cloning

Schneier had this one posted, but no discussion.

This type of thing just aggravates me. The choices that governments have made to increase security have been pretty poor, and this one is just appalling in how easy it is to steal the information from a passport and clone it. If the guys in this report are accurate then the end holder of a passport should beware.
So when Lukas Grunwald and Christian Bottger realised they could clone the new ePassport they were pretty sure it would be identical to the original, and undetectable. So how did they do it?

The chip inside the ePassport is a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chip of the type poised to replace the barcode in supermarkets.

A new British biometric European Union passport, which is embedded with a microchip
The 'enhanced' security features of ePassports are being questioned

The good thing about RFID chips is that they emit radio signals that can be read at a short distance by an electronic reader.

But this is also the bad thing about them because, as Lukas demonstrated to me, he can easily download the data from his passport using an RFID reader he got for 200 Euros on eBay.

Lukas is less forthcoming about where he got what is called the Golden Reader Tool, it is the software used by border police and it allows him to read the chip on his ePassport, including the photo.

Now for the clever bit. Thanks to a software he himself has developed, called RFdump, he downloads the passport's data onto his computer and then onto a blank chip.

Using a standard off-the-shelf component you can just buy at a component store you can have a cloned ePassport in less than five minutes.
The only thing that I balked on in the technical section was that "Golden Reader Tool." Not sure how they got it, and the fact that they could get it should be enough to worry someone.

I wonder if they have to actually have the passport in order to do the cloning. Or do they just need to have an RFID reader. Considering that you can find information on how to make long distance RFID readers online, it strikes me that the potential for information just being sniffed in a parking lot on the way to the terminal is a concern.

There is a defense though. A Faraday Wallet. Fortunately, this defense should be fairly simple, though you'd have thought that the implementer would have thought of a way to provide some form of defense for the passport since the design is so very poor.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Commentary on a Larger Military

Periodically I run across Arkin's column, and usually I'm confronted with this guys complete lack of a clue. You'd think the discussion on increasing the size of the military would be something that he'd have an easy time discussing, but he wanders off topic immediately.
Five years after Sept. 11, barely five weeks after a losing election, the President of the United States decides America needs a larger military?

These guys can't see past today's events to craft a strategy for tomorrow.

They say that the Army and Marine Corps has been stretched to a breaking point, that more troops are needed to fight the "long war" against global terrorism.

I might be convinced that America might need a larger (or different) military to address the challenges it will face in the future. But what it needs FIRST is to get out of the Iraq, a move that would instantly alleviate the pressures on today's military.

What does leaving Iraq have to do with correcting the manning of the military? If you argue that it will solve the manning issue, you neglect the security problem with failing to finish the Iraq war correctly. Alleviating pressure on the military won't happen if Iraq gets worse. It may even cause more pressure. At this time most of the fight against terrorists is occurring in Iraq. I know there are many who say that they wouldn't be fighting us if we weren't there, but that argument is superfluous. We are in Iraq, and if we leave the terrorists will follow. Don't forget the lesson learned from Afghanistan. (Remember what happened to the Jihadis when the Russians left? Yeah, they started attacking the west.)

The point of increasing manning is that the US has shrunk the size of the military too far to be effective in multiple theaters. Iraq is a sizable theater, and the manning necessary has required the command to dip into the reserves and National Guard. The whining thereof has been deafening. But, does Arkin discuss the changes to make a more effective military? Nope, he wants a larger non-military.
And America needs a larger non-military. Whether it's Iraq, drugs in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Africa, hurricane Katrina, or the increase in domestic crime it is so clear only Washington can't see that our tendency to see a military solution to everything is not only wrong but has had profound negative effects.
There is a slight problem with this logic. Who is going to do the war on terror if not the military? What civilian agency is going to provide large numbers of personnel to work unarmed in a zone of conflict? It's not that the US sees a military solution in every problem, it's that the military solution generally is there first. The conflict in Afghanistan would not have found any solution in any non-military method. That should be clear. I understand Arkin obviously must think Saddam should still be in power, but that was a military solution that, like all insurgencies, requires more than just military solution. But to put forward that a solely non-military solution is possible in Iraq is blindly stupid.

Of course, he then goes on to denounce the Generals.

News also came yesterday that Gen. John Abizaid, the overall commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, plans to retire in March. The Arabic speaking Abizaid was once seen as a soothing tonic after the bumbling Gen. Tommy Franks skedaddled from the scene less than a month after "victory" in Iraq in 2003. Culturally aware, politically sensitive, polished, he has reportedly been offered higher posts in the government.

Some in the Pentagon view Abizaid's departure as part of a bigger plan for a "new" strategy in Iraq, as if he is responsible for putting us in the losing column. The conventional wisdom is that Abizaid has "resisted" efforts to increase troop levels. As I wrote on Monday, the truth is far more complicated.

But the truth is that if the Pentagon indeed is intent on doing something really different in Iraq, then it is a repudiation of what has already been done. Confirmation of this theory would mean that Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad has to be the next to go, along with Gen. Peter Pace, who has turned out as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs to be a visionless yes-man.

The Los Angeles Times reports that a leading candidate to replace Abizaid is Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, an even more polished, media-friendly, soldier intellectual, which commanded the 101st Airborne Division in the 2003 war. Petraeus later deployed to northern Iraq, where he led the early "training" effort of Iraq forces, and has since driven Army counter-insurgency doctrine from Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas.

Maybe Petraeus is the Godsend everyone says he is: I guess I see him instead as captain of two losing teams, the stand up/stand down strategy, which these same guys thought was working, and the now abandoned effort to defeat the insurgency and provide security for the population, a strategy that never was and a play book that is not even being eyed as the plan for the future.

Abizaid has been the CentCom commander longer than any other general. His moving out is pretty much the norm, though it does open up changes in the command structure. Not sure why he seems to dislike Petraeus. His experience with counter-insurgency is exactly what is needed for the military component and providing security. Especially if he goes along the historical successful doctrine of establishing government controlled militias which allow the Iraqis to provide their own security. Arkin seems to think that defeating the insurgency and providing security are not inclusive. In fact, they are, and all insurgencies that have succeeded have required both.

Unfortunately, Arkin is another of the talking heads that has little concept that insurgencies require complicated and multifaceted solutions. And since the overall solution hasn't been working, then it must be that it can't succeed. This continued defeatism in the press gets us no where and soon will ensure that the Iraq conflict ends with the public running away from another conflict.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Skelton and the Reason Why Wars Aren't Fought by Committees

I was really hoping that Bush would announce some interim steps to some major announcement to what the action in Iraq will be. The political opinions floating around are pretty much useless. Mainly due to the fact that they don't actually have a say in what will be the actions taken and the political games are doing nothing but confuse the public as to what action is planned. Skelton is a perfect example:
Missouri Democrat Ike Skelton, who will become chairman of the House Armed Services Committee next month, said he opposes any temporary increase in the number of U.S. troops in Iraq to help secure Baghdad.

"I don't think it will change a thing," Skelton told reporters today in Washington. "It could exacerbate the situation further.''

President George W. Bush is exploring sending more troops to Iraq to help quell violence and train Iraqi security forces, White House spokesman Tony Snow said today.

Skelton said additional U.S. forces deployed in Iraq would have an undefined mission and send the wrong message to the Iraqi government about their role in securing the country.

"The Iraqis need to understand the responsibility for their future is theirs," he said.
Only a couple of problems with this. First, there hasn't been any announcement that there will be additional troops sent. Second, there hasn't been any statement of what said troops would do. Reports regarding discussions seem to point to the Generals not wanting to send more troops or to their desire that troops sent will have a clearly defined mission. That mission at present is vaguely to provide security in Baghdad. I would hope that those military planners are trying to look at just what the mission specifics are and where the deployments would be used. Skelton's statement implies that the troops are going and that they will have no mission. Another case of a politician talking for the press coverage, but not attached to reality.
Skelton called the conflict in Afghanistan "the forgotten war" and said his committee would examine battles with al-Qaeda forces on the Pakistani border and the country's growing drug production.

Additionally, Skelton said the committee would focus on the fight against terrorism in other countries, ensuring that the military has all the resources it needs, preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and ensuring that U.S. armed forces are prepared for future threats.

"We always seem to prepare for the last war, and we can't do that now," he said.

Skelton dismissed calls by other Democrats, including Representative Charles Rangel of New York, on the need for a military draft. He said current recruiting levels are sufficient to sustain the armed forces.
Skelton isn't totally wrong about Afghanistan, but the stability there is better than Iraq, and quite frankly will have less of an impact on the region than failure in Iraq.

As for the troop preparedness, I think we can be worried about that. I don't have much confidence that Gates will be one to stand up to the entrenched military leadership and continue the updating of the military that Rumsfeld started. I truly hope he has the muscle to continue forcing the military out of the near peer mind set and make a more agile and responsive military. His statement about being prepared for the last war is humorous, seeing that is a rut the US can't seem to ever break out of. I'd postulate that the political games played with funding are nearly as responsible for the behind-the-times nature of the military as much as the behind the times generals.

Now the question of the House Armed Services Committee's activities in the near term. How will they move toward upgrading the military. It's good to see that Skelton is at least on board with the increase in overall troop levels.
Still, Skelton told reporters that since the mid-1990s he has said that the Army and Marines Corps were too small. He pointed to remarks last week by Army Chief of Staff General Peter Schoomaker calling for a gradual increase in the Army's 507,000- person force as an issue the committee will review.

"We are going to have to pay attention to this," Skelton said. "You are stretching and straining the force, and if you want a strong, viable military, you're going to have to make it possible for them to have `predictable' lives."

"I worry that at some point you are going to break these forces," Skelton added. "The first thing we need to do is stop the bleeding. The stretching and the straining of the troops is serious."
"Predictable lives?" What in the hell is he talking about? The nature of the military is that its need is not predictable. If the troops lives are predictable then the military's abilities and actions are predictable, and that is a bad thing. I'm hoping he's not looking to go back to the Reserve and National Guard status where they don't ever get used except for national disasters.

I also wonder what Skelton's stand was when the Clinton administration was "decreasing the size of the government."

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Teddy Awards

I don't like Joe Klein. His Teddy (Theodore Roosevelt) Awards pretty much prove my reasoning for that dislike.
"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again...who spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly ..."

Another year gone. Time again for this column—which was named after the Theodore Roosevelt quotation cited above—to take note of some of the people who performed honorably as winners and losers in the public arena. This was not a terrific year for elected officials; only one is mentioned in this column, and he lost his race. Happily, the public arena is not limited to elected U.S. politicians. There were others who made their mark in 2006.

Kofi Annan's 10 years at the United Nations were not a "triumph of high achievement," but the Secretary-General was a force for civility throughout. His work—and the efforts of the U.N. inspection teams—in the months leading up to the Iraq war deserves special mention. The U.N.'s search for weapons of mass destruction was rigorous and accurate: there were no weapons to be found. Annan quietly understood that an American invasion would be a disaster. He suffered physically and mentally over his failure to prevent the war. After the invasion, he experienced a mild nervous collapse. For a time, he actually lost his voice. For his pains, he was subjected to a chorus of know-nothing blatherings by U.S. critics who blamed him—inaccurately—for the U.N.'s oil-for-food scandal and ridiculed him for his failure to bring the rest of the world into line behind an incomprehensible series of U.S. foreign policy errors. He, more than any other public figure this year, embodies Teddy Roosevelt's definition of "the man in the arena."
Great quote, too bad it's coming from a dolt like Klein. I suppose his hero worship of Annan should be no surprise. The know-nothings that blamed Annan for the corruption in the UN can't possibly have any points in their derision over a Secretary-General who over saw one of the most corrupt and useless UN's in all history. Annan deserves the derision thrown his way. His refusal to allow outside auditing of the UN and specifically on the oil-for-food CF is astounding. The additional issues with corruption related to UN forces raping in Africa, along with other allegations of UN officials on their party tours during national disasters have raised the observant persons ire to an all time high. Should I even mention the complete lack of any use for the "peace keeping" UN forces that do nothing except hide in their conclaves. If the President of the US is ultimately responsible for the actions of soldiers in situations like Abu-Gharaib, shouldn't Annan be held to the same standard? Or is this the usual do as I say not as I do politics.
Al Gore's documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, was nothing new to those who have listened to the former Vice President's inspired ranting about global warming for the past quarter-century. But it was time for that message to be delivered clearly, cleverly, with renewed urgency to a new audience. Gore's reinvigoration was a reminder that he has been prescient on a great many issues. He was one of the few Democrats to vote, correctly, in favor of the first Gulf War. He was one of the few Democrats to argue, correctly, on Sept. 23, 2002, that Bush's pre-emptive invasion of Iraq would be a serious mistake. Now Gore seems liberated, less awkward than he has ever before appeared in public and eager to propose more inconvenient truths—like the need for a tax on fossil fuels. I don't know if he's running for President. Probably not. But he should.
Ah yes. Al "the internet" Gore. His movie didn't even try to bring a reasonable telling of the issue of global warming to the table. The hyped screeching of Doom persists in his flavor of environmentalism. The thought of a fossil fuel tax is still astounding that it finds any traction with anyone that isn't a complete idiot. Klein loves the thought of course. Let's not forget that taxing the fossil fuels won't help anyone that is dependent on them and certainly won't hurt the big fuel providers in their profits. The end users will be punished, and you think the present cries for help from the old and poor to pay for heating oil is bad now, wait till the tax man puts the clamp on their heating oil or electricity. Is he running for president? Sure, and making Hillary look like a more reasonable candidate every day. Wonder if he's figured out who he is yet.

I'll skip Jim Leach as being a big yawn and not even in the arena of what could be an award.
Last summer Lieut. General David Petraeus invited me out to visit the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kans. Every U.S. Army major spends a midcareer year going to school there. Most of these officers are headed to Iraq or Afghanistan, and the curriculum has been revised to include intensive language courses in Arabic and Pashtu, the history and culture of Islam, a hefty dose of counterinsurgency strategy and tactics, plus the standard military disciplines. I came away inspired and infuriated: if only the Bush Administration—and the public—took the mission as seriously as the Army does! What a shame that we've inserted these fine people into such a mess.
Petraeus deserves this mention. Sadly Klein decides to make an asinine statement about Bush not caring which is to spin Klein's own distorted reality as our own. Shame to insert soldiers into a conflict that must succeed? Rubbish. The causation of the war is now completely irrelevant, no matter the howling of the anti-war parties. Success in Iraq can help change the course of the Middle-East and stabilize the region to the point where it could become a partner in the the world economy rather then a continuing threat. But to understand that Klein would need to step back from the petty whining of the anti-war crowd and understand that we are in the stream of events and the soldiers are one of the primary oars to completing this successfully.

Who would I have voted for? Rumsfeld for one. He did a very good job fighting a war and updating the US military in a theater where the services resisted extremely to change, and the monday morning quarterbacks constantly second guessed every action taken. The vilification of Rumsfeld was astounding for its complete lack of perspective. The constant bitching about how the Armed Services were used has always astounded me, for it is the yelping of those who don't understand that war is a fluid event and the enemy changes. Could things have gone better, yep, but I'm betting those that yell the loudest about him would have done far worse. Not that I expect many to agree with me on that one.

How about John Bolton? With the extreme vitriol thrown at him, he did an astoundingly effective job at the UN. Most of his critics even admitted that. But jackass' like Lincoln Chafee blocked his nomination and with the change of party control in the Senate, there is no reason to think that he would ever get in for political reasons alone.

I wonder if Klein understands that Theodore Roosevelt was a Republican?

Iran's Continued Defiance and Internal Shifts

The Iranians are still pushing the nuclear issue, and Russia is still going to sell them nuclear fuel. I'm still not sure how you can have sanctions against them when one of the largest partners to both sides is excessively wishy-washy on whether Iran should face sanctions and then they continue to sell them exactly what they need to proceed.
The United Nations Security Council will vote within days on whether to impose sanctions on Iran for refusing to halt its nuclear program, the U.S. government said.

"We are hopeful that we can get a vote in the very near future," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said yesterday. Nicholas Burns, the U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs, told Cable News Network that sanctions will be passed against Iran ``in the next several days."

Talks on a resolution to pressure Iran to abandon uranium enrichment have been deadlocked for months. The U.S. government, which says the regime in Tehran is intent on developing a nuclear weapon, backs a resolution that would bar it from acquiring any materials and technology that could be used to develop an atomic bomb.

Russia, which is constructing a commercial nuclear reactor for Iran, opposes a proposed travel ban and asset freeze on officials involved with "proliferation sensitive" activities.
Though there is some sign of discontent with the ruling regime. The elections appear to be moving against the extreme conservatives like Ahmadinejad. The problem is, since the liberal candidates are disqualified from the start, it's hard to measure just how angry the Iranian people may be.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad suffered an embarrassing blow in local council races, according to partial election results yesterday, in voting viewed as a sign of public discontent with his hard-line stance.

The balloting in Iran represented a partial comeback for opponents of Ahmadinejad, whose Islamic government's policies have fueled fights with the West and brought Iran closer to United Nations sanctions.

Former president Hashemi Rafsanjani, a relative moderate, polled the most votes of any Tehran candidate to win reelection to a key assembly post.

"Ahmadinejad's list has suffered a decisive defeat nationwide," said the Islamic Iran Participation Front, the largest reformist party. "It is a big no to the government's authoritarian and inefficient methods."

The biggest victory was seen as being for "moderate conservatives," supporters of Iran's cleric-led power structure, who have been sharply critical of Ahmadinejad, saying he has needlessly provoked the West with harsh rhetoric and has failed to fix the country's faltering economy.
Looks to me like nothing much will be changing in the near term. The UN Security council is toothless without Russia's compliance, and the people of Iran aren't allowed to fully display their displeasure in the voting booth. No movement inside or outside, so the status quo appears to be all that can be expected.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Idiots Perspective on War

James Carroll of the Boston Globe is an Idiot. No, wait, calling him an idiot is to insult idiots world wide. But then I can't come up with a term lower than idiot at the moment, so I'll go with it.

Another of the "It's all America's fault" crowd. I love his historical perspective. He uses the Bible. Oh how quaint. Couldn't actually find any history that isn't locked into a religious text. Just had to pop out Cain and Abel. I'll leave out his biblical rhetoric.
Instead of the originating sin of parents, the Cain-and-Abel combatants of today's Middle East (from the insurgent parties in Iraq, to the warring factions of Lebanon, to the antagonists in Israel and Palestine, now including the fratricidal Palestinians) are burdened by the fatal flaw of the United States of America. The indispensable nation, it turns out, proves indispensable only for the spread of chaos. The grievances of the Middle East are ancient, but so is the capacity for fragile balance, now upset. Iraqis, Lebanese, Israelis, and Palestinians all make violent choices and bear the weight of violent consequences, but the immediate context within which those choices are being made has been overwhelmingly established by violent choices made in Washington.

The Bush administration embraced the cult of war when it did not have to. Bush re-legitimized that cult, and sponsored it anew. In this, he was supported by the American people, its press and its political establishment. In the beginning, the nation itself re affirmed war as the way to justice-and-peace. We did this. The first fallacy lived. By now, even Washington's one self-proclaimed "victory" has led to further defeat. The "good" war in Afghanistan put in place structures of oppression that promised an inevitable resumption of savagery, which has begun.

There you go. Not that the Bush administrations actions were reactions to being attacked by terrorists. No that wouldn't be a reasonable thing to defend ones self. Cult of war is cute, though another cliche that lacks any real substance for debate. How the US is the catalyst of the Chaos in the middle east isn't stated. I'd give you that on the present Iraq war. But as for the Israeli/Palestinian conflict or the Israeli/Lebanese/Hezbollah conflict I don't see it. The US supports Israel in its right to existance and thus self-defense. If that is wrong, I suppose any one that defends themselves against an agressor is wrong, and I truly think Carroll would say that is a truth.
This column began with an eye on the far past. Because of the destructiveness of modern weapons, there will be no distant future unless humans, having seen through the congenital illusion of justice-and-peace through violence, come to the rejection of war. That must begin now. Democrats, take heed: Bush must not be allowed to further the chaos. Having led the world into this moral wilderness, America has a grave responsibility to lead the way out. We have to cease killing other people's children, which is the way to stop them from killing ours. Stop the war by stopping.
Wars stop by the combatants just stopping? I don't know of any historical basis for that. Usually the side that just stops gets butchered. One doesn't stop others butchering your children by lying down. That just ensures that they will be butchered. Reality. Something Mr. Carroll has been out of touch with for a long time.

Big Brother is Watching

From SayUncle. It appears that some of this posting has been attracting hits from some LEO agencies.
I’d like to give a shout-out to my homie Ray-ray from the U.S. Dept. of Commerce Implementation Center.

Given the ATF’s recent ruling that the Akins Accelerator is a machine gun after having ruled it wasn’t (be wary of fickle bureaucrats), there have been quite a few searches for Akins Accelerator landing at this site from various .gov agencies, including:

U.S. Dept. of Commerce Implementation Center
Dept. of Treasury
Office of asset forfeiture

And they’ve been hanging out for a while when reading. I never bought one but was going to after I got my Christmas shopping done. Guess that’s out of the question now.

Not that I'm particularly surprised. The question is, are they reading for info collection and legal investigations or is this intimidation? I'd like to avoid the postulation of intimidation, but in a world where it is so simple to avoid having your viewer information link you directly to the agency that they work for, you'd think they'd be a bit more subtle.

"Person of the Year" - Cop Out

Lame. Lame. Lame. Can't actually find anyone worth making person of the year, well, make it everyone.

Congratulations! You are the Time magazine "Person of the Year."

The annual honor for 2006 went to each and every one of us, as Time cited the shift from institutions to individuals - citizens of the new digital democracy, as the magazine put it. The winners this year were anyone using or creating content on the World Wide Web.

"If you choose an individual, you have to justify how that person affected millions of people," said Richard Stengel, who took over as Time's managing editor earlier this year. "But if you choose millions of people, you don't have to justify it to anyone."

What a crock. Imagine having to actually work to find someone and justify their naming.

They would have done better just to have had an online poll, at least that way they could blame the cattle, uh, people who voted.

Another View of the ISG Report

Niall Ferguson makes some fairly interesting observations about the ISG Report positioned against how the MSM has reported it.
Most commentators have interpreted the report of the Iraq Study Group as a well-crafted admission of defeat. Predictably, that was exactly how President Bush himself reacted to it. "I… believe we're going to succeed," he told reporters on Thursday. "I believe we'll prevail… One way to assure failure is just to quit, is not to adjust, and say it's just not worth it."

Addressing one of the report's key recommendations, he bluntly declared that Iran and Syria "shouldn't bother to show up" for negotiations about Iraq if they don't "understand their responsibilities to not fund terrorists" and if the Iranians won't "verifiably suspend" their uranium enrichment programme.

Yet anyone who bothers to read the ISG's report carefully — as opposed to skimming the executive summary — can see that it neither proposes "quitting" Iraq nor pins serious hope on Iranian or Syrian assistance. Quite the reverse.

Persuasion in the realm of grand strategy is more a matter of rhetorical art than science. The first essential step is to identify your target audience. Most readers of the report assume that it is directed at President Bush. That is wrong. Its principal target audience is Congress, and particularly the new Democratic majorities in both houses. And the aim is not to persuade a stubborn president to admit defeat. Rather, the report's aim is to persuade legislators that withdrawal from Iraq — no matter how much their constituents may yearn for it — is not an option. The report's other intended readership is Arab governments throughout the Middle East. The message for them is the same: an American exit from the region is what you most have to fear.
I have to say that Bush's statements on Syria and Iran talks being non-starters was something that should have been left unsaid. Though the ISG Report is fairly restrained in its enthusiasm on the topic, it does make a case for trying to get them involved. I think there is a tactical action on this point that is still being missed. Taking a diplomatic mission to these countries will force them into the arena of public opinion in the Middle-East more than they are now, and if they refuse to assist openly, they will be on the losing side of the propaganda war. I do see a Information War occurring in the Middle-East right now and the US has been fairly weak on succeeding their. I don't expect that we could get much out of Syria or Iran, but we could push them into being the fall guys who would allow other countries to participate who would never help otherwise. I'm looking at Saudi Arabia and Turkey specifically.

The Persuasion argirment, with regards to the congress doesn't get me much thoughs. If their idea was to persuade the Congress, then they could have made their arguments toward a win rather than just surviving. That would get more people on your side rather than just reading the MSM and then shrugging it off.
The second step in the process of persuasion is to conjure up a nightmare vision of the future if the action you envisage is not taken. In The Economic Consequences of the Peace, for example, John Maynard Keynes depicted Central and Eastern Europe laid waste by anarchy and civil war, if the 1919 Versailles Treaty were not revised and Germany appeased. In his 1946 "Long Telegram", George F Kennan portrayed the entire world subverted by a ruthless Soviet Union, if the United States did not adopt a policy of retaliation and containment. Both masterpieces of persuasion; both highly influential.

The worst-case scenario proposed by the Iraq Study Group is the one about which I have been writing since February: "Sectarian warfare, growing violence [and] a slide toward chaos", leading to "the collapse of Iraq's government and a humanitarian catastrophe". Here are the report's most important lines: "Neighbouring countries could intervene. Sunni-Shia clashes could spread … across the Islamic world. [There could be] Shia insurrections — perhaps fomented by Iran — in Sunni-ruled states. Such a broader sectarian conflict could open a Pandora's box of problems."

The consequences would be much more than a propaganda victory for al-Qaeda and a humiliation for the United States, which is what they worry about on Capitol Hill. In such a conflagration, no Middle Eastern government — with the exception of the fundamentalist Shiite regime in Teheran — could feel secure. And that is precisely why Arab rulers should dread an American exit.

That's convincing. Al-Qaeda has done better at getting their propaganda out that it is a glorious win for the faith to drive out the westerners. They don't even want the thought of civil strife to be acknowledged, mainly because it would make the sectarian friction more evident and allow the moderates to make some gains in smoothing out the problems. Again, a propaganda or information operation that would be in our interest to make progress on.
Step three in the art of persuasion is to propose remedies that sound attractive to your target audience. These the ISG has produced, and in profusion. But you need to read the small print of all 79 recommendations. Consider the long-anticipated "diplomatic offensive to build an international consensus for stability in Iraq and the region". Much has been made of the willingness of the ISG's co-chair, James A Baker III, former Secretary of State, to open negotiations with Iran, once a reviled member of President Bush's "Axis of Evil", as well as with Syria, no friend of the United States.

"A nation can and should engage its adversaries and enemies," declares the report in a sentence that Mr Baker must surely have written, and should offer them "incentives as well as disincentives". Note that word "disincentives". Mr Baker's idea here is not to go cap in hand to Damascus and Teheran. Rather, as he explained to the press this week, it is to "flip the Syrians" by appealing to Sunni solidarity, and to isolate the Iranian regime by exposing its "rejectionist attitude".

In other words: get the leaders of all Iraq's neighbours into the same room and play "spot the Shia". The calculation is that if Iranian aspirations to regional hegemony can be laid bare, then it will be much easier to get broad support for some serious "disincentives".

Funny how that part about disincentives is nearly completely missed in reporting.

I'll skip the part on troop numbers. In fact I think his argument is a bit fuzzy due to his naming more people from the DoS and the DoJ coming in, which wouldn't be from the DoD.

He also discusses more money for economic assistance which doesn't really address that a lot of that money has been redirected to protecting existing infrastructure from the insurgents. Personally, I think the use of economic aid as a carrot for cooperation of various groups could be helpful if used in a tactful manner. You can't just yell that we won't help you if you don't help us. There needs to be more subtlety than that.

If the ISG Report was supposed to be such a success in the art of persuasion, I'm afraid I don't see it. It was too easily twisted out of shape by the press and those who want extreme measures in Iraq. Unfortunately, the citizens of the US will just take the word of the MSM rather than reading the report, and the back pressure on the congress from the constituency will block the viability of many of the good ideas in the report.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Castrating Intelligence

Nothing like oversight to really wreck a system. No doubt that this was coming when the Dems took over, but with Leahy's screeching and now Pelosi's plans, I'm thinking that things are going to end in a wreck.
House Democrats unveiled plans Thursday to create a single congressional panel to oversee both the budgets and operations of American intelligence agencies, a realignment that would give lawmakers greater control of the expanding U.S. espionage community.

The proposal would mark the first significant change in congressional oversight of U.S. spy agencies since the House and Senate intelligence committees were created in the mid-1970s.

It also would allow the newly elected Democratic majority to exert more influence over the nation's 16 U.S. spy agencies.

Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) said the reorganization "removes the barriers" between existing committees that control spending and monitor the overseas operations of the CIA and other spy services.

"This panel will have the responsibility to hold hearings, to consider the budget for intelligence," Pelosi said. "Its purpose is to protect the American people with the best possible intelligence."
Have you ever worked a job where there were more auditors than workers? I have, in the nuclear industry. It typically starts with the workers getting ready and then the auditors poor in and get in the way. Then the auditors begin providing "helpful" suggestions on how to engineer the job. Which usually stops the job because the engineer that documented the process isn't there. So they go and talk to the engineer who gets really angry having now to justify a simple procedure to a bunch of fools who didn't bother coming to the procedural review, but now want to throw their weight around. I've done this at multiple levels, from worker, to engineer, to technician, to auditor. (I'm an excellent auditor by the way. I don't say squat unless the work wanders away from procedure.)

Can anyone tell me how more oversight of the intelligence community is going to make it better?

Does this strike anyone else as a power grab?
The proposal is designed to fix flaws in congressional oversight that were outlined by the commission that investigated the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

In particular, that panel concluded that congressional controls were routinely undermined because the lawmakers responsible for monitoring the overseas operations of the CIA and other agencies lacked authority over spy agency budgets.
There is some benefit, no doubt to some increase, but I'm betting that that isn't what's going to happen here. I'm betting on a bunch of investigations on previous issues solely for political purposes. Pretty much what you'd expect when the opposition regains power.
Pelosi's plan is aimed at closing that loophole by creating the Select Intelligence Oversight Panel. It would develop a detailed budget for intelligence agencies, then deliver that blueprint to the defense subcommittee, which sets the so-called black budgets of U.S. espionage.
That truly scares me. Letting politicos have detailed control of a budget. Not only will funding for secret things be made public, but they won't be secret any more. Politicians are so good at keeping secrets.

Wonder if they'll do anything about the oversight regarding security leaks from the intelligence agencies. Nah, that would remove a convenient path for getting them information that they aren't supposed to spread around.

It's almost like a train wreck. I can't not watch.

Ghoulish Politics

Yeah, I know the politicos have to consider what could happen, but the amount of press related to this has been nauseating.
Democratic Senator Tim Johnson lay in critical condition but was described as recovering yesterday after emergency overnight surgery to repair bleeding inside his brain. His illness raised questions over whether the Democrats would hold their newly won control of the Senate.

Johnson was on "an uncomplicated postoperative course," the US Capitol physician said after visiting the 59-year-old South Dakota lawmaker yesterday afternoon. Johnson had a hemorrhage in his brain caused by a rare and sometimes fatal condition.

"He has been appropriately responsive to both word and touch. No further surgical intervention has been required," said the physician, Admiral John Eisold. He had said earlier, "The senator is recovering without complication."

Johnson was responding to the voice of his wife, Barbara, and following directions after the surgery, the senator's office said in a statement. "He was reaching for and holding her hand."

Johnson was stricken as Democrats prepared to take a 51-to-49 majority in the new Senate when it convenes next month. Democrats seized control of both chambers of Congress from Republicans in November midterm elections.

If Johnson were to leave office, a replacement would be named by South Dakota's Republican governor, Mike Rounds. A Republican appointee would create a 50-50 tie and effectively allow the GOP to retain Senate control because of Vice President Dick Cheney's tie-breaking vote.
Don't you think it would be better to just wait a little bit to see how he does before making plans?