Tuesday, February 24, 2009

US State Dept: Death of Eleven Burundian Soldiers in Mogadishu

Death of Eleven Burundian Soldiers in Mogadishu. By Robert Wood, Acting Department Spokesman, Office of the Spokesman, US State Dept, Bureau of Public Affairs
Washington, DC, February 24, 2009

The United States strongly condemns the February 22 attack on African Union peacekeepers by a violent extremist fringe in Somalia. We offer our deepest sympathy and condolences to the families of the eleven Burundian victims. Our thoughts are also with the fifteen individuals who were wounded. We commend the governments of Burundi and Uganda as well as the African Union for their courage and continued efforts to support the restoration of stability and effective governance in Somalia.

Such acts of terror are the refuge of desperate extremists who aim to strip from the Somali people an opportunity to determine their own future and achieve lasting peace and stability. These acts are also hindering the delivery of critical humanitarian assistance.

We call on all Somalis to support the new unity government led by President Sheikh Sharif and Prime Minister Omar Sharmarke and to reject the violence and extremism intended to prevent Somalia from regaining political and economic stability.

Conservative views on nominee for OLC Dawn Johnsen

Lawyer’s Lawyer, Radical’s Radical. By Andrew McCarthy
Meet Obama DOJ nominee Dawn Johnsen
NRO, Mar 3, 2009

Pregnancy provokes a welter of feelings, physical and emotional. But does anyone really think of pregnancy as slavery? Apparently so: Indiana University law professor Dawn Johnsen, Pres. Barack Obama’s nominee to head the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.

Yale-educated and ACLU-trained, Johnsen already has done one tour of duty at OLC. She spent nearly six years there during the Clinton administration (1993–98), the last two as acting chief. OLC, a critically important agency, is the administration’s lawyers’ lawyer. Staffed by graduates of top law schools who are then polished by elite judicial clerkships, it authoritatively interprets the law for the attorney general and, in doing so, drives administration legal policy. OLC’s credibility is derived from its reputation for apolitical, academic discipline — its commitment to informing policymakers of what the law is, rather than what staffers believe the law should be. Johnsen is, for that reason, a poor fit: She is an ideologue, and an unabashed one.

Her bizarre equation of pregnancy and slavery was not an off-the-cuff remark. It was her considered position in a 1989 brief filed in the Supreme Court. At the time, she was legal director of NARAL (then the National Abortion Rights Action League, since renamed NARAL Pro-Choice America). The case, Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, involved a Missouri law that did not ban abortion but restricted the use of state funds and resources for abortions. It’s an obvious distinction, but one without a difference — at least according to Johnsen. Any restriction that makes abortion less accessible is, in her view, tantamount to “involuntary servitude” because it “requires a woman to provide continuous physical service to the fetus in order to further the state’s asserted interest [in the life of the unborn].” In effect, a woman “is constantly aware for nine months that her body is not her own: the state has conscripted her body for its own ends.” Such “forced pregnancy,” she contends, violates the Thirteenth Amendment, which prohibits slavery.

The Court rejected this farcical theory, just as it has rejected other instantiations of Johnsen’s extremism. On abortion and other issues dear to the Left, she is nothing short of a zealot. She insisted that, without government-provided abortion counseling, a large number of women would be left without “proper information about contraception.” This, she claimed, would mean they “cannot be said to have a meaningful opportunity to avoid pregnancy.” The usual rejoinder to such reasoning is that nobody is forcing these women to have sex. Johnsen sees it differently, writing that these “losers in the contraceptive lottery no more ‘consent’ to pregnancy than pedestrians ‘consent’ to being struck by drunk drivers.”

In reputable private law offices and U.S. attorney’s offices throughout the country, adult supervision would prevent such a lunatic analogy from finding its way into a letter to a lower-court judge, much less into a Supreme Court brief. Obama, however, is proposing that Johnsen be the adult supervision at Justice. He would fill a position calling for dispassionate rigor with a crusader for whom strident excess is habitual.

For Johnsen, no impediment to abortion-on-demand passes muster: She opposes 24-hour waiting periods, parental-consent requirements for minors, and laws against partial-birth abortion. In 2007, when it upheld the partial-birth ban in Gonzales v. Carhart, the Supreme Court clinically described the standard abortion procedure (i.e., the dismemberment and evacuation of the unborn child) to contrast it with the more barbaric partial-birth method. Johnsen’s reaction — voiced while proposing “A Progressive Agenda for Women’s Reproductive Health and Liberty” for the left-leaning American Constitution Society — was to complain that “every first-year law student’s constitutional law casebook” now contains “gruesome descriptions designed to make abortions sound like infanticide.” Moreover, as she declaimed in a 2006 op-ed opposing Samuel Alito’s confirmation, opposition to all restrictions on abortion — not just acceptance of Roe v. Wade — should be a litmus test for judicial nominees. “The notion of legal restrictions as some kind of reasonable ‘compromise’ — perhaps to help make abortion ‘safe, legal, and rare,’” she wrote, “proves nonsensical.”

Johnsen’s other bĂȘte noire is national security — at least to the extent it involves detaining terrorists and enemy combatants as military opponents rather trying them as civilian criminal defendants. Her 2008 academic article “What’s a President to Do? Interpreting the Constitution in the Wake of Bush Administration Abuses” gathers the Left’s full array of anti-war tropes and disguises them as legal analysis. There is the determination to ignore the terrorist attacks of the 1990s, such that the War on Terror is presented as something President Bush started after 9/11 rather than a years-long jihadist provocation to which the United States finally responded after 9/11. This framework would make it impossible to prosecute as war crimes such pre-9/11 atrocities as the bombings of the USS Cole and the embassies in East Africa. Johnsen further denigrates as an “extreme and implausible Commander-in-Chief theory” Bush’s rationale for warrantless surveillance of suspected al-Qaeda communications into and out of the United States. In fact, the practice was strongly supported by federal court precedent and has since been reaffirmed by the appellate court Congress created specifically to consider such issues. And Johnsen has recently written that the new administration “should order an immediate review to determine which detainees should be released and which transferred to secure facilities in the United States” for civilian trials.

It is especially galling to consider Johnsen’s smearing of John Yoo, the Cal-Berkeley law professor who, as a Bush OLC staffer, principally authored DOJ’s so-called torture memo. In contrast to Johnsen’s perversion of anti-slavery law to suit her abortion agenda, Yoo was not twisting the law to advocate torture. He was soberly attempting to construe a legal term, “severe . . . pain or suffering,” part of the statutory definition of torture that had not yet been interpreted by the courts. This is what OLC does: It struggles to understand the state of the law, irrespective of staffers’ predilections, so that policymakers can act in full awareness of their options. For this, Johnsen impugns not merely Yoo’s scholarship (“irresponsibly and dangerously false”) but also his good faith. She upbraids the Bush administration for its use of waterboarding to interrogate top al-Qaeda detainees, blithely presuming its illegality despite the complex questions surrounding that claim (including the fact that that Congress has declined to make waterboarding a war crime). Indifferent to the fact that our enemies train to resist known interrogation methods, Johnsen wants all tactics spelled out explicitly in advance.

Particularly rich is Johnsen’s diatribe against Bush’s purportedly outlandish claim of power to ignore statutes that encroach on executive authority. When Johnsen served in the Clinton administration (which invented extraordinary rendition, detained Cuban refugees without trial at Guantanamo Bay, conducted warrantless national-security searches, and attacked a foreign country without congressional authorization), OLC’s official position was that “the President has enhanced responsibility to resist unconstitutional provisions that encroach upon the constitutional powers of the Presidency.” The office opined that several statutes (including privacy provisions in the federal wiretap law) could not bind the president, and Johnsen herself authored a 1997 OLC opinion concluding that presidents were above consumer-credit-disclosure laws. In that case, she broadly asserted that “statutes that do not expressly apply to the President must be construed as not applying to him if such application would involve a possible conflict with his constitutional prerogatives.”

A parallel hypocrisy is illustrated by Johnsen’s rants about how the Bush administration “politicized” the Justice Department. Her solution to this problem: Politicize the Justice Department. She argues that job applicants who may have been passed over by the Bush administration for holding leftist political views should get “special consideration” in DOJ hiring but, at the same time, maintains that nominees for the federal judiciary should be rejected out of hand if they embrace constitutional originalism or are members of the judicially conservative Federalist Society. Johnsen would also press the DOJ to advance the leftist agenda by having its Environment and Natural Resource Division “pursue innovative litigation and policy initiatives, such as the pressing issue of climate change.”

Johnsen’s attraction for Obama is obvious. The principal target of her Webster brief was the settled principle that the Constitution’s recognition of various fundamental rights (and the judicial invention of such “rights” as abortion) does not confer an entitlement to governmental aid to exercise those rights. For Johnsen, this is anathema, the denial of “economic justice” and thus of equal protection. “Economic justice,” a favorite Obama phrase, is the Left’s euphemism for the “redistributive change” Obama criticized the radical Warren Court for failing to embrace. Rather than the hoary construction of the Constitution as “a charter of negative liberties,” one that says only what government “can’t do to you,” Obama urges a new bill of rights defining what government “must do on your behalf.”

In Dawn Johnsen’s dizzying jurisprudence, government has no business invading individual privacy and regulating abortion but is obliged to coerce taxpayers into underwriting abortions as a first step in what she unapologetically calls “the progressive agenda” of “universal health care, public funding for childcare, paid family leave, and . . . the full range of economic justice issues, from the minimum wage to taxation policy to financial support for struggling families.”

If Johnsen is confirmed, OLC will be transformed from a source of non-ideological legal analysis to a culture-war agitator. And its value to the Department of Justice may be lost.

Glover: The market must be unashamedly rigged to force supply below demand

Manchester Calling, by Chris Horner
Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Here's Julian Glover in yesterday's Guardian on cap-and-trade:

The market must be unashamedly rigged to force supply below demand. The obvious way would be to cut the number of permits in circulation, but in a recession no government will be brave enough to do that. . . .

Like medieval pardoners handing out unlimited indulgences, governments have created a glut. Reformation must follow. Wanted — a modern Martin Luther to nail a shaming truth to industry's door: Europe's whizz-bang carbon market is turning sub-prime.

Center for Biological Diversity Declares Legal War on [Global Warming] U.S. Economy, Self-Governance

Center for Biological Diversity Declares Legal War on [Global Warming] U.S. Economy, Self-Governance, by Marlo Lewis
Planet Gore/NRO, Feb 24, 2009

The CBD, the folks who successfully petitioned and sued the Fish & Wildlife Service to list the polar bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), announced last week the opening of a new Climate Law Institute (CLI) that will “use existing laws and work to establish new state and federal laws that will eliminate energy generation by the burning of fossil fuels — particularly coal and oil shale.” CBD says it has dedicated an “initial $17 million” to the project.

As I noted in a previous post, Kassie Siegel (who will direct the CLI) made clear two years ago that she viewed the polar bear listing as a regulatory stepping stone to “halting” greenhouse-gas emissions. Specifically, she argued that Section 7 of the ESA should require federal agencies to reject applications for “new coal-fired power plants, oil shale leasing programs, limestone mines for cement manufacturing, and dozens perhaps hundreds of other projects [that] are individually and cumulatively having an appreciable effect on the atmosphere.” She also hinted that Section 9 of the ESA could prohibit private entities from combusting fossil fuels.

Last November, the CBD filed a notice of intent to sue EPA to set tougher pH standards under the Clean Water Act (CWA) to combat ocean acidification due to industrial emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2). The accompanying press release makes no bones about the organization’s broader agenda: “stronger pH standards could translate into measures that regulate pollutants such as carbon dioxide.” Although the ESA and CWA may become significant fronts in the carbon litigation wars, the Clean Air Act (CAA) is currently the central battleground. Climate Czarina Carol Browner announced yesterday that EPA will soon issue an endangerment finding for greenhouse gases — the prerequisite to regulating greehouse-gas emissions from new motor vehicles and stationary sources under various CAA provisions.

As explained here, here, and here, an endangerment finding for greenhouse gases would open a regulatory Pandora’s box. An estimated 1.2 million previously unregulated buildings and facilities would be vulnerable to new controls, paperwork, and penalties under the CAA’s Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) pre-construction permitting program. Millions would be vulnerable to new paperwork and emissions fees under the Act’s Title V operating permits program. The endangerment finding could also set a precedent compelling EPA to establish national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) for greenhouse gases — standards America would likely fail to meet even if we shut down all U.S. factories, power plants, and automobiles. Through litigation under the CAA and other statutes, we could end up with Kyoto-on-Steroids without the people’s elected representatives ever voting on it — and with nobody accountable to the electorate for the compliance burdens and economic fallout.

As you’d expect, EPA, in its Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR), outlines several administrative remedies to limit the number of entities subject to regulation under PSD and Title V, and to avoid a NAAQS rulemaking for greenhouse gases. However, as explained in my ANPR comment, each of these devices involves a more or less brazen attempt by EPA to assume legislative power and amend the statute.

However you slice it, litigation-driven global-warming regulation threatens to short-circuit self-government and subvert the separation of powers. It is a constitutional crisis in the making.

Industry Views: Energy development is the “ultimate shovel-ready project”

Industry views: Access to Affordable Energy Essential to Any Successful Economic Recovery Plan
IER reminds President, Congress that American energy development is the “ultimate shovel-ready project”
Institute for Energy Research, February 18, 2009

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Institute for Energy Research (IER) president Thomas J. Pyle issued the following statement this afternoon in advance of President Obama’s primetime address to Congress:

“President Obama’s plans to reboot our economy must include the responsible development of our massive and homegrown energy resource base. If we allow the private sector to explore for and produce American energy for American consumers, we open the door to millions of new jobs, billions in new revenue for the taxpayer, and the very real prospect of breaking our dangerous dependence on Middle East oil—all things we desperately need right now.

“American energy resource development is the ultimate shovel-ready project. The energy far off our coasts and deep underneath our feet not only can fuel our cars and heat our homes, it can also help power the engine of our economic recovery—without writing more checks that the Treasury can’t cash. If the President wants to create a responsible plan to recapture American prosperity, he will recognize the importance of American energy production.”

James Q. Wilson reviews The Art Instinct, by Denis Dutton

The Evolution of Art. By James Q. Wilson
James Q. Wilson reviews The Art Instinct, by Denis Dutton.
AEI, Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Art suffuses our lives. Whether it's bluegrass, heavy metal, Frank Sinatra or Mozart, music moves us all. On a trip to a foreign city, visiting an art museum is a mandatory exercise. Imaginative writing affects many of us, though--alas--with decreasing frequency.

Why should art be important? Being seen as an "art lover" may increase our status, but otherwise art is not useful. Yet art has been part of the human experience since Paleolithic man painted on the walls of caves in Lascaux, France, and Altamira, Spain, more than 30,000 years ago. Art preceded cities, agriculture and writing.

Denis Dutton, an art professor in New Zealand, has proposed a bold new explanation. He argues that humankind's universal interest in art is the result of human evolution. We enjoy sex, grasp facial expressions, understand logic and spontaneously acquire language--all of which make it easier for us to survive and produce children. In "The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution," Dutton contends that an interest in art belongs on this list of evolutionary adaptations.

In making his case, Dutton has to refute the late Stephen Jay Gould's argument that human culture is a socially formed byproduct of our large brains. Dutton easily overcomes this argument by pointing out how many "byproducts"--such as a spoken language--have given humans a huge evolutionary gain. But he must still explain why an interest in art gives us an edge. This is no easy task. Just because many people have a trait does not mean that it confers an evolutionary advantage. I like the Boston Red Sox, but I doubt that preference was genetically passed on to my children. (Happily, they became Sox fans anyway.)

Drawing on Charles Darwin's second great book, "The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex," Dutton argues that art, like broad shoulders in a man and a narrow waist in a woman, facilitates seduction. We tell stories, sing songs, invent tales, recount jokes and draw pictures in order to find a mate and, having found one, produce children. We value art because, Dutton claims, it may be made of rare and valuable materials and require much skill to produce. People value wealth and skill in choosing a mate. We can add to Dutton's argument the fact that when 3-month-old infants are shown pictures of women who had been rated by adults as either attractive or unattractive, the babies looked much longer at the attractive ones.

This is a stimulating but not entirely satisfactory argument. Some forms of art may have evolutionary explanations that do not involve sexual selection, and some forms of beauty may not be linked to art at all. Take music: we can imagine men and women singing to one another for sexual reasons, but we can also imagine music being used to induce sleep, energize an army, or identify friends and enemies.

Or painting: zoologist Desmond Morris and others have encouraged chimpanzees to paint. Some of their works were hung in museums, without being labeled as the work of chimps, and they received much acclaim. Did these animals paint to lure sexual partners? It seems unlikely. Likewise, the cave paintings done 30 millennia ago probably had no connection with romance (many were done in remote parts of caves in which no one lived) and may have been produced by shamans for religious purposes.

And we may value beauty even when no human has produced it. Anthropologists have shown that people in many cultures value views of the seashore, a sunset or a mountain peak much more than they like flat ground or hot sun. We have been born with a love for certain kinds of beauty that in turn influences how we react to music, painting and literature.

Dutton recognizes these limitations to his explanation of why art has persisted. His love of music, he notes, cannot be confined to its role in sexual communication; as a child he was entranced (as was I) with Beethoven's Seventh Symphony, long before he had the faintest interest in girls. Moreover, art, especially music and poetry, helps us see into the human personality. When I dated the girl who later became my wife, we went off to dance to Tommy Dorsey. That certainly involved sexual selection. But that cannot explain why every year we attend a Mozart opera. As with everyone else, we value beauty even though we define it differently from people who enjoy the Sex Pistols.

Evolution has, without any doubt, left people with an appreciation for both natural and man-made beauty, but sexual selection explains, I think, only a small part of the reason. But read Dutton's book: his masterful knowledge of art and his compelling prose make it a thing of beauty.

James Q. Wilson is chairman of the Council of Academic Advisers at AEI.

A.Q. Khan’s Acquittal

A.Q. Khan’s Acquittal. By A. Vinod Kumar
IDSA, February 20, 2009

Though anticipated, the timing of the Islamabad High Court’s verdict to release disgraced nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan from house arrest has surprised many, since it came days before the first ever visit by Richard Holbrooke, President Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Zardari government has tried to play safe by citing this as a decision taken by an ‘independent’ judiciary. Such arguments are, however, unlikely to find many takers. To mollify international opinion, which surprisingly has not been as forceful as expected, Islamabad has indicated the option of appealing against the verdict. However, a government which has dilly-dallied on fixing responsibility over the Mumbai attack despite evidence of involvement of Pakistan-based groups, is unlikely to seriously attempt to block Khan's release.

However, Khan’s release itself could have been masterminded by the Zardari government. There are many reasons to support this postulation. First, it could be a direct message to Holbrooke, and to Obama, that Pakistan would be assertive in its policies despite US pressure. Besides sustaining the defiance by General Musharraf on Washington’s demand to hand over Khan for interrogation, President Zardari could have wanted to project his authority and political independence through Khan’s release.

The presumptive spin-offs are many. It could be a message to the Pakistan Army on the gradual assertion of civilian (read PPP) power. Khan, a revered man in Pakistan, had been critical of General Musharraf and the Army for incarcerating him after a forced confession. Though Musharraf had pardoned Khan for his deeds, the disgraced scientist had responded to the court verdict by saying that “god had already punished Musharraf as he can’t now freely come out”. By blaming Musharraf and the Army authorities for his forced confession, Khan had struck a chord with major political parties, which had demanded his release in the run up to the general elections. The day might not be far when Khan makes a foray into politics, aspiring to assume a political or constitutional position. As for the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) government, Khan’s acquittal meant correcting a wrong done by Musharraf, and thus implicitly the Army. Once US pressure eases, the PPP could try to gain political mileage for ‘freeing’ Khan from prolonged incarceration. It would also be an opportunity for the Party to remove the slur of September 2007, when the late Benazir Bhutto declared in Washington that she would hand over Khan to the IAEA if returned to power.

Such domestic dimensions notwithstanding, the actual motive behind Khan’s acquittal could be political posturing towards Washington. Islamabad has consistently invoked red herrings when pressure is mounted by the US on taking action against extremist elements within Pakistan. As a special envoy on Pakistan-Afghanistan, Holbrooke had the specific task of extracting Pakistan’s commitment in dealing with the Taliban both inside Afghanistan as well as against those groups that are controlling major parts of the Federally Administered Tribal Regions (FATA).

Far from supporting US operations in the porous Afghanistan-Pakistan borderlands, Islamabad has resisted efforts by American forces to launch frontal attacks against militant groups in FATA, which has become a launch pad for the Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan. With Obama’s assertion that Pakistan has to be accountable for its actions against such groups, Holbrooke had the clear task of pushing Islamabad to the wall. By releasing Khan a few days before his visit with little heed for international retribution, Islamabad has signalled to Washington its determination to take decisions according to its choice. Islamabad might have felt that such assertiveness could impart it with greater leverage during negotiations with the special envoy. That Washington was floored by the Khan coup was manifested in the anti-climactic conclusion to the much-hyped first visit by Holbrooke. But for a visit to the tribal areas and reported assurances by the Pakistan government on monitoring Khan’s movements, there was little that Holbrooke could achieve in his first outing. Rather, within hours of his return to Washington, Islamabad had agreed on a truce with pro-Taliban elements in the Swat Valley. This is not just a setback to the Obama administration, but actually an affront to Holbrooke.

Earlier, on the sidelines of the Munich Conference, US Deputy Secretary James Steinberg was given a verbal assurance by Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi that Khan’s release would not pose a proliferation risk. Incidentally, President Obama has also maintained a discreet silence while allowing his junior officials to communicate with Pakistan on the implications of Khan’s release. Even in his phone conversation with President Zardari on February 12, Obama was not reported to have referred to Khan’s acquittal. While not wanting to let the Khan episode dilute the pressure on Pakistan’s commitment to the war on terror and anti-Taliban campaigns, an obvious reason for de-emphasising Khan’s release would be the strongly held belief that Khan no longer has the wherewithal to run a proliferation network. Further, heightened monitoring of his activities after his release could restrict him from reviving his old proliferation links.

However, not many are ready to buy such assurances as it is felt in some quarters that Khan’s network functioned with the full backing of the Pakistan Army, which can continue to use Khan through other avenues. Also, the fact that Khan’s accomplices had earlier established contact with al Qaeda is a cause for worry. Further, Khan’s potential metamorphosis into a political leader would have ominous consequences, especially if he favours an extreme right orientation. Another puzzling factor to be discerned is whether the Army had any role at all in Khan’s acquittal, despite his pronouncements against the Army.

Nevertheless, Khan’s release could come with high costs. With the infamy of being a dangerous state which hosts both terror groups as well as nuclear proliferators, Pakistan could come under immense international pressure and monitoring as more countries begin to express apprehensions on Khan’s release. Obama could be forced by the powerful US non-proliferation lobby to tighten the tab on Pakistan’s nuclear assets. For that matter, concerns over the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear assets have dominated the non-proliferation discourse in the US, especially in the Congress, where it is strongly felt that the Zardari government is a lame duck when it comes to handling nuclear weapons. Consequently, Khan in a political garb would be a bigger nightmare for Western capitals than his modest life as an extraordinary ex-scientist in pursuit of ‘altruist’ evangelism.

A Vinod Kumar is Associate Fellow, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.

Obama Should Reconsider Militaristic Approach in Afghanistan

Obama Should Reconsider Militaristic Approach in Afghanistan. By Amitabh Pal
The Progressive, February 19, 2009

President Obama seems to have opted for a military strategy to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan. He needs to reconsider.

With his announcement this week that he is sending 17,000 more U.S. troops to that country, he seems for the moment to have committed himself to a force-based approach, notwithstanding his disclaimer that he’s “absolutely convinced that you cannot solve the problem of Afghanistan, the Taliban, the spread of extremism in that region solely through military means.” The Obama Administration has apparently given up on bringing about development and democracy in Afghanistan, as evidenced by two recent pronouncements. Defense Secretary Bob Gates told Congress, “If we set ourselves the objective of creating some sort of Central Asian Valhalla over there, we will lose,” while Obama himself opined that, “We are not going to be able to rebuild Afghanistan into a Jeffersonian democracy.”

But the United States hasn’t even truly tried. As the New Internationalist points out, Afghanistan has received just a fraction of the aid per capita that countries like Bosnia and East Timor obtained in the aftermath of their destruction, and military spending in the country is many times the amount disbursed as developmental assistance.

By opting for a military-first approach, Obama has troubled many of his allies and indeed some within his own party. Among them is a person who previously held Obama’s job, and another who narrowly missed in his bid to be Obama’s predecessor.

“I would disagree with Obama as far as a surge that would lead to a more intense bombing of Afghan villages and centers and a heavy dependence on military,” Jimmy Carter told Amy Goodman. “I would like to see us reach out more, to be accommodating, and negotiate with all of the factions in Afghanistan.”

“Our military commitment must be matched with realistic goals, beginning with a comprehensive new bottom-up strategy acknowledging Afghanistan's history of decentralized governance and recognizing the capabilities of our NATO and Afghan allies,” writes John Kerry in the Washington Post.

A number of progressive organizations are also disagreeing with Obama, and not just in the United States. When Professor Lisa Schirch of Eastern Mennonite University contacted Afghan civil society leaders, they told her that “a troop surge alone will result in more civilian casualties, more village raids, further alienation of the local population and growing local resistance to foreign troops,” and that “the Taliban could use a troop surge as an opportunity to recruit local people to their cause.”

The dangers of an approach dependent so heavily on the military are very readily apparent. A U.N. report released earlier this week provides solid evidence. Last year set a record for civilian deaths in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban. While the Taliban were responsible for more than half of the casualties, pro-government forces (U.S., NATO and Afghan troops) were responsible for two-fifths. The most infamous incident was last August, when an American air attack killed perhaps 90 civilians, leading to a harsh denunciation by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, a supposed American ally.

“Civilian deaths have become a political flash point in Afghanistan, eroding public support for the war and inflaming tensions with President Hamid Karzai, who has bitterly condemned the American-led coalition for the rising toll,” a New York Times piece reports. “President Obama’s decision to deploy more troops to Afghanistan raises the prospect of even more casualties.”

The funny thing is that a man as smart as Obama should know that the Taliban resurgence is in good part due to two reasons that no amount of additional troops can solve: the malfeasance of the Karzai government, and the shelter given to the Taliban leadership by the Pakistani security apparatus.

U.S. officials have apparently linked Karzai’s brother, Ahmed Wali, to the drug trade. And U.S. exasperation at the corruption in the Afghan government is so intense that Senator Joe Biden last February walked out of a dinner with Karzai when the latter kept professing innocence.

Besides, much of the Taliban leadership is out of reach of U.S. forces, safely holed up as it is in Quetta, the capital of the Pakistani province of Baluchistan. You see, many in the Pakistani intelligence network still regard the Taliban as a bulwark against Indian influence, since Karzai is friendly with India. Among the Taliban menagerie ensconced in the provincial capital is reportedly the organization’s dreaded leader Mullah Mohammed Omar.

“Taliban leader Mullah Omar is living in Pakistan under the protection of its ISI intelligence agency, a captured Taliban spokesman has said,” the BBC reported in January of 2007.

A much better strategy for Afghanistan, it seems, would be for Obama to heavily lean on his buddies in Kabul and Islamabad, plus to apply a heavy dollop of nation-building to the country. But for now, alas, Obama seems to be going in a different direction.

Social networks and the military

. . . and Connections, by Fred Schwarz
The Tank/NRO, Friday, February 20, 2009

In the Digital Age, military forces are struggling, as they have since the Bronze Age, to circulate information efficiently among themselves without cluing the enemy in as well. Strategy Page reports that, ostensibly for security reasons, the British Army recently tried to bar its soldiers from blogging, posting comments on websites, using social-networking sites, and playing on-line games. The Brit brass quickly learned that this particular horse left the barn long ago, as a virtual mutiny among the troops led to a quick withdrawal of the order.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Army is finding ways to take advantage of modern information technology while addressing legitimate secrecy concerns:

The military got into the act by establishing official message boards, for military personnel only, where useful information could be discussed and exchanged. All this rapid information sharing has had an enormous impact on the effectiveness of the troops, something that has largely gone unnoticed by the mass media.

. . . Most junior officers grew up with the Internet, and many of the older ones were using the Internet before it became popularized in the 1990s. Even the generals of today, have experience with PCs when they were young, so have no trouble getting into this new form of communication. The military is eagerly building a "battlefield Internet" for use during combat, and parts of this are up and running and heavily used in Iraq and Afghanistan.

So information technology, properly used, can promote intra-military communication and keep it from going extra-military. At Counterterrorism Blog, Roderick Jones discusses another part of the communications revolution: Twitter, and how it promotes communication between the military and the public, with benefits for both.

Twitter emerged as a powerful networked communications platform during the Mumbai terrorist attacks, when a stream of tweets marked #Mumbai (# being the global tagging system Twitter employs) gave a seemingly real-time commentary on events as they unfolded in Mumbai. Similarly, Twitter has been used to communicate the message and activity surrounding the riots in Greece using the #Griot tag. These are examples of the network effect working with a rapid communications platform and developing a powerful narrative from many different observation points. The style is anarchic but increasingly compelling. . . . Twitter in conjunction with other tools, continues the trend of making ordinary citizens active producers of potentially actionable intelligence.

While the potential remains for accidental disclosures of sensitive information, on the whole, Jones writes, Twitter has already shown itself to be a valuable tool “in the National Security space.”

02/20 05:13 PM

Report: Italy's crime is the nation’s No. 1 business

Italian Mob Revenue Surges to $167 Billion From 2007. By Flavia Krause-Jackson
Bloomberg, Jan. 30, 2009

Revenue raked in by Italy’s mob surged 40 percent last year, turning crime into the nation’s No. 1 business, Eurispes said in its annual report.

Income increased to 130 billion euros ($167 billion), up from about 90 billion euros in 2007, according to figures supplied by Eurispes and SOS Impresa, an association of businessmen to protest against extortion. Drug trafficking remains the primary source of revenue, bringing in about 59 billion euros, and the mob earned 5.8 billion euros from selling arms, the Rome-based Eurispes research group said today.

“During a crisis, people lower their guard,” Roberto Saviano, who wrote the bestseller “Gomorrah” about the Camorra crime bosses, said in an interview. “Studies show the criminal market never suffers during a crisis. I’m convinced that this crisis is bringing huge advantages to criminal syndicates.”

Organized crime groups siphon 92 billion euros, about 6 percent of Italy’s gross domestic product, from Italian businesses a year through protection payments, usurious interest rates on loans and other forms of extortion, Eurispes estimates. That works out to 250 million euros a day and 10 million euros an hour, Eurispes said. Italians are struggling to make mortgage payments and support their families as the worst recession since 1975 threatens jobs and makes banks more reluctant lenders.

“With people more desperate, loan sharks thrive,” Amedeo Vitagliano, an Italian crime expert at Eurispses, said in a telephone interview. “While the country is on its knees, the mob rejoices.”

Tide Turning?

There are signs that the tide could turn against the mob. Italy’s biggest employers’ group, Confindustria, a year ago took its strongest stance against organized crime in its 98-year history, announcing that any members found to have paid the Sicilian Cosa Nostra an extortion payment, known as the “pizzo,” would be expelled. Still, when the new rule was announced, only five members of the association admitted having received mob threats.

The country’s main criminal syndicates are the Mafia in Sicily, the Camorra based around Naples and the ‘Ndrangheta that operates from Calabria, the region located at Italy’s southern toe.

Eurispes estimates that the Italian authorities confiscated 5.2 billion euros in assets from the mob last year. The Camorra had 2.9 billion euros seized, the report says. The Sicilian Mafia had 1.4 billion euros sequestered and ‘Ndrangheta, 231 million euros, Eurispes said.