Tuesday, September 30, 2008
The problem with this recall is that it is beginning to look like it should have happened WAY sooner. The government of Gansu province in China’s west says it told the Ministry of Health on July 16th about an unusual upsurge of kidney stones among infants who had all drunk the same brand of milk. It was not until September 1st that the ministry says its experts tentatively concluded that the powder had caused the sickness. Still, nothing appeared to happen.
Prodding from the government of New Zealand may have been what eventually goaded the Chinese authorities into action. On September 8th it told them what it had learnt from Fonterra, a New Zealand dairy company that owns 43% of Sanlu. Fonterra says it was told by Sanlu of a problem with the powder on August 2nd, six days before the games. Helen Clark, New Zealand’s prime minister, said Fonterra had tried “for weeks” to persuade local officials to allow a public recall. Instead, in an unpublicised recall, powder was withdrawn from shops. It was not until Sept. 18th that the large scale 700 tonne recall was conducted.
Speculators have pointed to the Olympics as a reason that the milk was not recalled sooner. Officials did not want the games to be marred by a food scandal. However, if the olympic games were a chance for China to build up its soft power by showing the world what a great nation it has become, showcasing its economic and social progress to the world, I would call it a chance that was squandered. With reports of security crackdowns, revocation of an already limited freedom of the press, businesses forced to close in order to make room for construction of water cubes, and etiquette books passed out to citizens with instructions on how to dress and cheer when in attendance at sporting events would hardly constitute the ideas contained in the Olympic movement. And now it seems that even the health of Chinese citizens was not as important as the image of the Chinese nation during the games. From a national security standpoint, it raises questions of the quality of and truth behind a nations projected national image. If we cannot trust the quality of the milk powder coming off the shelves, can you trust the quality of the national image being projected over the airwaves?
Yesterday the stock market fell over 700 points in a single day. The reason? Terrorism? War? An attack on the computer banking system? No, it was due to the regulations (or lack thereof) related to the financial industry in this country. It was due to regulations being repealed to make it easier to blur the lines between insurance, corporate and commercial dealings. It was due to an idealistic view that everyone should be on the property latter, regardless if they would be able to pay the money back or not. It was due to overwhelming greed on the part of some financial higher-ups who decided to mask the risk of these investments thinking that they could get away with it, not realizing that many people were doing the same thing and that if everyone was found out and things fell apart there wouldn't be anything there to catch them. Who is responsible for all this?
Some will argue the fault lies with the Bush administration and its economic policies. Some will argue the Clinton administration and its push for more sub-prime loans. (The Glass-Steagall Act which regulated speculation was repealed in 1999). Some claim it goes all the way back to the Carter administration which is responsible for the creation of these lower income loans which are now clogging up the financial system. But there is one thing in common among all these administrations or possible reason: They are all American. This isn't Al Qaeda getting involved and messing up our investments, this is US. We are the cause of all this. And some my argue that the repercussions from this financial crisis will last longer and hurt more people than the attacks on 9/11. Yes, the terror attacks affected this country's psyche, but this one will hit people's pocketbooks and truly affect they way Americans live their lives. After the attacks on 9/11, many people declared that they wouldn't let the terrorists scare them into changing how they lived. But just look at stock prices to see how people are reacting to this crisis. People are changing the way they live.
If things don't improve, some people may lose their jobs, and then more, and then more. Right now there isn't a huge impact to the typical American, but it could happen. And we did this to ourselves. Many in government can admit that this current crisis has been caused because of American policy, both governmental and within the financial industry. But when asked to actually name a cause, Democrats say it's the Republicans fault and Republicans point the finger at Democrats.
Yesterday the House voted on the bill that would allow the 158 gazillion dollar bailout of the financial industry, and it was voted down to many people's shock. President Bush was very unhappy and the candidates responded as well. But the blame game started immediately; it's "their" fault, not ours. Speaker Pelosi was so certain that she had the votes she needed for the bill to pass that she decided, at the most inopportune time, to deliver a speech filled with partisan jabs. At a moment in time when nothing was needed more in this country than a bipartisan House to act together to deal with the crisis, her words actually were decisive and led some republicans to vote no on the bill. Then finger-pointing was rampant once again, with Republicans blaming the Democrats for allowing politics to be involved in the crisis, and Democrats using the same blame in regards to the Republicans. At this point, as the Wall Street Journal has put it, Congress is really living up to its 10% approval rating. Even Bush, who many love to criticize, has a higher approval rating than that.
Terrorists who act against the west want to see it fall. It appears that they really don't have to do anything to help us topple because we are more than willing to implode all by ourselves.
Monday, September 29, 2008
The Pentagon has launched AfriCom today, its first coordination of its counterterrorism, training and humanitarian programs on the continent.
The move has not been so well received, though. Several countries have refused to host the command center and many others just view it as a further move in US imperialism. Furthermore, domestic and foreign agencies worry that Africa is more or less the new frontier on the war on terror and that we will see a policy shift from democratization to uprooting groups involved with Al-Qaeda and other terror organizations.
The article continues on to discuss the strategic importance of Africa for US oil imports (the article fails, though, to mention the diamond imports that give our hip-hop artists their bling) noting that some 17% of crude imports come from the continent. Also noted is the competition with China over influences and resources. The Pentagon, however, says oil and China are not the reasons for their presence.
So what it all boils down to is this: the last 5 years of US "influence" in the world has our African friends rightly concerned. The thought of having a US military presence on the continent is quite unsettling to some, regardless of the motives. I would assume that the top US priority is rooting out terrorism, especially in the Horn. But when have we stretched ourselves too far?
Saturday, September 27, 2008
A recent article in The Times declared that Russian president Dmitry Medvedev announced that Russia is going to build a new space and missile defense shield as part of a plan to upgrade its nuclear arsenal. In addition to his desire to build this missile shield, the Russian president put his country’s armed forces on permanent combat alert status. This follows a series of events in the previous week where Russia sent a battle cruiser and submarine to participate in joint exercises with Venezuela, agreed to sell nuclear technology to Venezuela, and announced that it is going to build closer ties to Latin American countries. This should get some people’s attention in Washington, but should hardly cause anyone to think that Russia is going to challenge the U.S. anytime soon.
The question that must be asked is how much of a threat do Russia’s actions pose to the United States? Are they going to challenge the U.S. for supremacy in the Caribbean or just be a thorn in our side that won’t go away?
As the world’s sole superpower, the United States has done as it sees fit in the world for the past 15-20 years while Russia struggled after the fall of the Soviet Union and only began to recover once oil prices started to rise after 2001. As we saw when Russia invaded Georgia, they are still using tactics from the Cold War era involving large formations of men and tanks that cannot be moved swiftly in addition to using outdated T-72 tanks. If one reads the Times article further it states that Medvedev’s plans are not going to fully implemented until 2020. By that time, the U.S. will have plenty of F-22 and F-35 planes in addition to new aircraft carriers and DDG-51, and maybe a few DDG-1000, destroyers to blow anything off the face of the earth that Russia throws at it.
Russia is not much of a threat to the United States. Most likely they are playing all of this up for their domestic constituency so that they will feel good about themselves and take pride in their country again. Putin pulled Russia out of the turmoil of the 1990s and reasserted his country on the world stage and Mevdedev is merely continuing Putin’s policies of making Russia seem as strong as possible for the citizens of the motherland. However, if any opportunities present themselves for Russia to stick it to the U.S., like we did to them by placing a missile defense system in Poland, then they will do it. The U.S. should take notice of Russia’s actions but should hardly lose any sleep over it. It will take much longer than 10 years for Russia to truly challenge the United States militarily. Taking action against Venezuela if they were to begin a civilian nuclear program is a whole different discussion for another day.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
If you're someone who stays somewhat abreast of Middle Eastern culture & news then this is probably no big surprise to you. However, I think this would probably be quite surprising to many Americans, who see "the terrorists" as some sort of monolithic bloc.
The point here, which is probably obvious to Patterson School students, is that not all groups and states in the Middle East are the same, and that not all groups and states who are antagonistic toward the US are the same. The most obvious case in point is the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. Another more recent example would be Iran's early support for the US led invasion of Afghanistan to depose the virulently anti-Shi'ite Taliban government.
While these distinctions between groups may seem elementary to IR graduate students, it doesn't seem to be so clear to foreign-policy-guru presidential candidates:
Speaking to reporters in Amman, the Jordanian capital, McCain said he and two Senate colleagues traveling with him continue to be concerned about Iranian operatives “taking al-Qaeda into Iran, training them and sending them back".In another instance, McCain referred to Al Qaeda as a "sect of Shi'ites".-Washington Post (March 2008)
Admittedly, McCain isn't the worst of the '08 presidential contenders in this regard. That honor goes to Mittens Romney (no, not this one), who frequently conflated groups as disparate as Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood.
The overall story is rather confusing, and I had a hard time with the article, but the basic gist was:
1) The MV Iran Deyanat reached the Gulf of Aden August 20, with an expected arrival in the Suez Canal on August 27th. The trip should only take the ship 4 or 5 days, however. According to the manifest, it was carrying iron ore and "industrial products", bound for the Netherlands.
2) Sometime shortly after entering the Gulf of Aden (definitely before August 23rd), the ship was hijacked by pirates around Puntland in northern Somalia.
3) While negotiations for a $2 million dollar ransom were being worked out, the pirates asked for the local "authorities" (the people who run Puntland) to come investigate the ship. While no one recognizes Puntland, it is a self-governing autonomous area, where law and order are pretty well established on land. This is typical, as the pirates seek some legitimacy by claiming to stop illegal fishing and weapons sales. The pirates claimed to find weapons bound for Eritrea there.
4) Here comes the weird part: On September 4th, when the authorities got there, they found that many of the pirates had weird burns, loss of hair, and other complications. Many of them had already died.
5) On the 6th, an agreement was reached for the $2 million, but never followed through. On the 10th, the US levied sanctions against the Iranian shipping company, and negotiations were broken off. On the 12th, the US offered $7 million for the ship.
6) Currently, there are French and US Naval vessels off the coast, to inspect the ship as soon as it leaves Somali waters. They can do so under the suspicion that it is carrying weapons to Eritrea. The Russians are sending ships down there now as well. It's been suggested that Iranian subs (Iran has subs??) might try to take the ship down before anyone can get to it.
My overall question: What the hell could be causing the medical complications? The article says that chemical weapons are unlikely (but rumored), but what else could it be? Some kind of radiation? There's nothing nuclear or radioactive mentioned in the manifest either. Random outburst of an epidemic of some kind that causes burns??
And where would it have picked up such an odd cargo? If it picked up either radioactive material or chemical weapons in China, and is trying to smuggle them into Iran, why would it be going into the Gulf of Aden/Suez, which has a rather large peninsula between it and Iran. (And any means of smuggling from there to Iran would likely go through Iraq, which would not be a good idea.)
The idea that they were smuggling weapons to Eritrea makes more sense, because Eritrea is on the way. But...chemical weapons?
I'm honestly looking for explanations here. (And, on top of that, the question of the $7 million ransom the US offered, $5 million more than the Iranians agreed to.)
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Michael Klare talks about the tendency toward resource wars in the future that apply to this very problem. As nations continue to grow and develop, gaining higher levels of income and living standards, they demand more and more water. Klare suggests that most nations prefer to rely on their own supplies of strategic resources whenever possible, but this will become more impossible with global water supplies because there is a finite amount of water in some instances. Many nations around the world rely on fresh water flows through major rivers. This is a problem because a river may flow through several countries before it gets to the nation in question. Klare notes that the Nile flows through nine countries, meaning that one country may run the risk of losing its water if another cuts off the supply.
Water becomes even more scarce when rich(er) country governments divert water to irrigate farmland for their constituents with little regard for displaced and therefore unheard populations. For example, Israel's move to divert water from land farmed by Palestinians to irrigate land farmed by Israeli settlers. The Palestinians who are dependent upon agriculture for their meager livelihoods do not have a voice in the decision-making process and therefore do not have the ability to protest these moves. A recent article from Reuters notes the disparity of lush and thriving Israeli crops located next to dry and brown Palestinian crops.
When populations are divided from vital resources, such as water, they begin to seek ways to gain access to vital resources. The end result is perhaps violence and revolution. The potential problem for the Israelis is that continued Palestinian oppression will build more of a case for the Palestinian population to revolt. Klare's resource wars may come to fruition if it becomes a question of whether to starve or fight for water. The rich countries will not really have a problem gaining access to water reserves; they have enough money to buy up available reserves at almost any price. The issue is for the poor and desperate populations of the world that will not have the money to afford high water prices. These groups will either face starvation or the incitement of violence.
In the coming years as environmental problems worsen around the globe, due to pollution and global warming among others, the United States may find that its national interest will be to protect and maintain vital resources for poverty stricken and resource vulnerable populations. We talked about the prominence of the need to recognize human dignity as part of a strategy for national security, perhaps the US would be best served by a policy that enables oppressed peoples to gain access to vital resources such as water.
For further reading, try this article from the BBC from May of 2007.
Week after week, we hear either Iran or North Korea complain because they are on the State Sponsor of Terrorism List. In some cases, they tend to complain about its more fashionable, 21st Century name, "The Axis of Evil". Seriously, get over it. Who cares about a list? What does it really mean? Didn't we learn as kids that "sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will never hurt us"? Surely, we can't be so ignorant as to think that North Korea would really dismantle its nuclear program completely just to be removed from this list. Nor should we believe that Iran really gives a hoot about the Axis of Evil (they know they are evil, and the truth hurts). They don't, and it certainly shouldn't be considered a negotiating piece if Iran ever earns a spot at the bargaining table.
Sure, it would be easy for me, an American, to say I could give a rat's rear about this list. But actually, I do care about the list. It makes perfect sense. Why shouldn't we label those governments that have the capacity and irrationality to harm or assist in the endangerment of others through development, use, or proliferation of weapons of mass destruction? It seems like our duty. In the end, those nations on the list should hate being on it, as it was designed to hurt them, and in fact, to embarrass them into different politics. Our allies should embrace the list and enforce the sanctions that go along with its repercussions.
As silly as it is that we actually care what Iran and North Korea think about this list, it is even more hysterical to listen to Americans that oppose the list. Many of them blame the Bush administration for the list, or for upholding its importance. Some would say that "it is a laminated paper on the desk in the oval office that can be erased and added to as if it were nothing."
Seriously, this list has existed since 1979. It is maintained not by the President, but by the US State Department. ( http://www.state.gov/s/ct/c14151.htm )
So oft are people ignorant on these things that they often try to blame one administration, and in fact, they target the entirely wrong political party. Syria was the first state added to the "list" in 1979. Therefore, Jimmy Carter (shhh, don't tell anyone, but he was a Democrat, not a Republican or a neoconservative - how crazy?!?) passed his list through four Presidents to its current holder, W. The states on the list include Cuba, Syria, Iran, Sudan, and North Korea.
If you're interested in their rap sheets, link here (http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/crt/2005/64337.htm ).
As the list stands, the last nation added was the Sudan. It was added in 1993 (hold on to your seat) by Bill Clinton.
In 2002, a speechwriter in the White House used the term Axis of Evil, and the president officially coined it. I was passed out and unconscious on 9/11/2001, but one of my friends said something horrible, even evil, happened that day. So, really, I have no idea where that name came from, or why we can't call it how we see it.
Let's just get the facts on the table before we start bashing people, and let's get off the list, its just name-calling...who does that hurt? After all, the majority of people reading this are on the Great Satan's rolls.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
The Russian invasion of Georgia over the conflict in South Ossetia raised many questions about Russia's stance on break-away regions. They had widely condemned the West for its support of Kosovar independence, yet seemed to support it for South Ossetians. This precedent may be tested again as tensions rise just north of the border with Georgia in the autonomous region of Ingushetia.
The Ingush became part of the Russian empire in 1810 and were part of the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Socialist Repbublic from 1936-1944 when they were disbanded and deported to Central Asia. Upon return at the dissolution of the Soviet Union, they found that their neighbors, namely N. Ossetians, had taken their land. Lawlessness has prevailed their for 15 years, and their is a rising tide of Islamic extremism (several of the Beslan terrorists were from Ingushetia). Many want to be independent of Russia.
On September 12th, the director of the Ingush Motor Vehicle department was assassinated. The problem is he was the president of Ingushetia's first cousin. At the funeral there were many protestors screaming for blood-revenge and invoking the name of Allah. President Murat Zyazikov is pro-Kremlin and a personal ally of Premier Putin. His stance has angered many of the Ingush people and there has been a budding opposition there in recent times. Accidentally, so the Russian police claim, the owner of opposition website ingushetia.ru was shot four times and dumped out of a vehicle after being detained on August 31st(Oops!). On July 3 Russian police officers and a senior intelligence official were killed by separatists. Or organized crime enemies. One can never be sure.
Moscow has criticised Zyazikov for his weak response to the rising unrest. Opposition groups are calling for his resignation or they will declare their independence,"just like Abkhazia and South Ossetia". There have been adequate provocations on both sides. The 'accidental' killing of a popular opposition leader ignited the base seeking independence. The murder of the president's cousin, though not clear who's responsible, is being used to call for oppression of the opposition. This, in turn, is further convincing the minority of their need for a collective front of resistance. These events are incredibly similar to the summer unrest in South Ossetia - which was celebrated with a war.
So, as drones are continued to be shot down and rhetoric exchanged over Georgia, a fresh crisis is awaiting on the way back to Moscow.
According to the Economist, water scarcity is now a bigger problem than food scarcity. The article here focuses on the water problems in much of the rest of the world, but even the US is having unprecedented problems.
Last year, the US state of Georgia almost ran out of drinking water, and got into a border dispute with Tennessee in order to get the rights to a river in the area. Every year, western mayors spend a large chunk of their time and resources trying to come up with new ways of getting water for their constituents. At the same time, the US is paying for the water for farms in the desert, farms that then proceed to use the least efficient irrigation procedures possible, because they're not the ones paying for the water.
If we cannot get it right, despite our relative abundance of water, what will happen in the poorer countries that are so badly hit? Many theorists expect "water wars" in the near future. The areas with physcial scarcity are all of the danger zones that we spend so much time worrying about for other reasons. It seems that it would be smart to start investing in ways to reduce water use now, so that the booming populations will have access to enough water later. If Georgia and Tennessee can start feuding now over water access, what is likely to happen when two unstable autocratic states (in a world of anarchy, no less) start arguing?
Monday, September 22, 2008
This trial brings up an interesting debate in the realm of national security and terrorism- are those who engage in terrorism best dealt with through military and/or intelligence actions, or through law enforcement and civilian courts?
The debate in the US has taken on a different characterization recently with the Supreme Court ruling on whether military trial procedures in Guantanamo were constitutional. Yet, the US also has a history of using civilian courts to convict terrorists, as with both the conviction of Ramzi Yousef, the alleged mastermind of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, and the conviction of “homegrown” terrorists like Timothy McVeigh of the Oklahoma City bombing.
Perhaps deciding how to punish and stop terrorists depends on the type of threat and the identity of the “terrorists” in question. In Britain, most of the men on trial were residents or citizens of the UK, though of immigrant roots. They carried out their preparations on British soil. This has a number of similarities to the case of Timothy McVeigh. Contrast that to the inmates in Guantanamo who were captured in Afghanistan during a military action and treated as enemy combatants. Should country of residence and citizenship be the dividing line between those who will be tried in civilian court and those who are sought and punished by other means?
It remains to be seen which method will be most effective in fighting terrorism. Are there differences between “homegrown” terrorists and those who plot the attacks thousands of miles away from their targets? Is military and/or covert action a necessity with some of these terrorists, or can the civilian law enforcement and judicial system bring them to justice? How can evidence be gathered and still be admitted in civilian court if intellegence is used to gather the information? Do issues of national security demand a higher level of secrecy, even in terrorism trials? And Finally, which method may be most useful to deterring terrorists before they commit their acts? Both methods are currently being pursued and perhps in time it will become clearer which may be a more effect means of keeping people safe from terrorist acts.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
This post builds somewhat upon the post from last week on the joint Venezuelan/Russian naval exercise and some of the subsequent comments. I didn't bring this topic up in class today because I wanted to save it for the blog, so here goes.
A domestic political crisis in Bolivia seems to be exacerbating already rising tensions between the United States and several Latin American nations. The series of events that has led to the expulsion of ambassadors in both the northern and southern hemispheres began with a political squabble in the landlocked country.
Richer areas of Bolivia chafed at populist President Evo Morales' plans to redistribute oil wealth from their areas to poorer areas of the country and to establish a separate legal structure for Bolivia's indigenous majority (Morales is the first Bolivian president of indigenous descent). Opposition to these plans has evolved into open rebellion and clashes between the president's supporters and opponents had left 30 dead as of this past weekend.
The soft-spoken Morales accused the US of providing support for the anti-government forces and subsequently expelled Ambassador Phillip S. Goldberg (a career ambassador, DIP 777 students). Bombastic Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a Morales ally, expelled the US ambassador in Caracas in a show of solidarity with La Paz. Chavez also suggested that the US has taken steps to remove him from power as well (which it seems probably happened at least once with the 2002 coup attempt). The US has responded with the expulsion of both the Bolivian and Venezuelan envoys in Washington.
Leaders of Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Ecuador (and probably Uruguay and Peru, soon), and even staunchly pro-American Colombia have also expressed their solidarity with Morales in this affair.
Morales' list of complaints against the US include:
- meetings between Goldberg and anti-Morales governors on the eve of the rebellion
- a military attache at the US embassy having a relative smuggle a large quantity of .45 caliber ammunition into the country
- the revelation by an American Fulbright Scholar that an embassy official was attempting to get him/her as well as Peace Corps volunteers involved in intelligence gathering in Bolivia
- condescending behavior toward the Bolivian government by Goldberg
- Goldberg's posing for a photo with a Colombian paramilitary operative
Speaking of President Morales, this Daily Show interview of him was really odd...
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
The European Union has certainly evolved since the establishment of the European Steel and Coal Community in 1951. It has extended its influence across the continent by lowering trade barriers amongst members in order to create a common market, implementing a common currency for most of the members, and by acquiring more members which currently encompasses 27 countries. Overall, the EU has had tremendous success in uniting Europe, and in promoting a peaceful existence amongst members; however, there are modern-day challenges that inevitably face the EU and the institution will have to develop collective strategies to deal with them.
The national security challenges range on a spectrum from international terrorism to drug and human trafficking, issues that are essentially on the entire global west agenda. The EU has attempted to devise a common defense strategy encompassing decisive diplomacy and a military, but so far it has not been an overall success. This is due in part to the reservations that member governments are having in authorizing a set of policies that may be contradictive to domestic policies. These reservations are certainly valid, but it also goes to show that creating a completely unified set of standards can be a lengthy process; however, the clock is ticking and the new world system is slowly emerging. The sooner the EU can attain policy solidarity in the ESDP than the sooner it will be able to manage its own conflicts, gather as a single unified force, and reduce its heavy reliance upon other collective security institutions, thus, enabling it to gain even more credibility in the ever changing world order.
Monday, September 15, 2008
Centrifuges are utilized throughout the world for a multitude of peaceful purposes, like separating milk. However, they are most ominously utilized in the process of enriching uranium for the purposes of reactor fuel or weapons material. In fact, it is the quality and quantity of centrifuge(s) which dictates the rate and volume of enriched material output and enables stockpiling capabilities. Therefore, in accordance with the recent NY Times article, it is quite worrisome to note the recently declared efficiency gains made by Iran in regards to its centrifuge technology.
To begin, this revelation – if true – thrusts the world once more into worry over the now undeniable progression of an Iranian nuclear program. This ongoing development in international affairs is only exacerbated by a more confrontational Iran (following the leadership of Mahmud Amedinejahd) which appears at the moment to be manipulating the fear of nuclear armament as leverage in the expansion of influence and importance in the region. This system of diplomatic and political operating in itself is dangerous due to the potential of a renewed arms race, the prospect of a preemptive attack, and the chance of destabilization.
Perhaps more important, however, is the impact this technological development will have on the threat assessment produced by the United States in reference to Iran. With the increasing probability that Iran will soon have the capacity to produce weapons grade uranium (and produce in increasing volume), there will inevitably be a powerful shift in U.S. assessment and policy towards Iran to compensate for the burgeoning threat posed by a new, nuclear power in the Middle East.
This newest development will inevitably increase the tension in an already tenuous situation, and will hopefully generate a new pressure for multilateral negotiations, but will more likely expedite the danger of a volatile confrontation.
"Nuclear Agency Says Iran Has Improved Enrichment"
Saturday, September 13, 2008
The Department of Defense’s recent decision to cancel the current program replacing the Air Force’s aging fleet of airborne tankers is just another example of the problems of procurement within the Air Force and the DOD as a whole. A government auditor delivered a report to Congress in June describing the current state of procurement within the DOD. The auditor stated that the federal government spent $295 billion more than was expected on major US weapon systems in the previous fiscal year. Senator Carl Leven of Michigan said that this overrun was the “equivalent to two new aircraft carriers, eight attack submarines, 500 V-22 Ospreys, 500 Joint Strike Fighters, 10,000 mine-resistant armored vehicles and the Army's entire $130 billion Future Combat System program.” The result of these cost overruns means that more DOD programs will either be delayed or canceled altogether at a time when these programs are needed to replace aging and worn-out equipment.
The Air Force’s tanker replacement program first experienced problems in 2003 when the first plan to lease 100 Boeing 767s at a cost of $20 billion over 10 years was canceled by Congress. Then the Air Force decided to solicit bids for a replacement tanker, valued at $35 billion. Boeing and Northrop Grumman who worked with the European company EADS submitted two bids. While Northrop and EADS won the competition, Boeing filed a formal protest with the Government Accountability Office, which upheld their protest on the grounds that the competition was unfair and recommended that the competition be reopened. The replacement for the current fleet of aging tankers will now be delayed until at least next year once the new president is in office, unless any more unforeseen protests arise. All of these problems come at a time when the tanker replacement program has been named the #1 procurement priority of the Air Force.
If the Air Force, and the DOD, is going to fix these problems any time soon then it must realize that it can’t just keep throwing more money at programs thinking that it will solve their problems. All that it does is waste more of the tax payers’ money that could be better used on programs that we know are going to work. If the Air Force, or any branch of the military, is going to name a program their #1 priority, then you would think that they would put their best people on it and make sure that it was handled right. Let’s just hope that the DOD gets these problems figured out before our equipment starts to break down when we are called on to defend a NATO country from Russian aggression.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
So, why is it in Venezuela right now, if only for a few days? Well, Chavez himself might get to fly one. This seems to be deliberate provocation. To be fair, apparently Venezuela has a decent air force, and may currently lack training. However, bringing in a heavy bomber that you don't plan on selling to the country doesn't seem like a good way to train them. If they're running missions together, a less advanced (and less threatening) bomber would probably do just as well.
What is especially interesting is that, according to the same article, China has actually sold Chavez some airplanes. However, the Chinese ones are training and "light attack aircraft." In other words, China is letting Chavez have little piddly stuff that the US wouldn't worry about. They're also getting more back than Russia is.
The most unbelievable part, though, is Chavez's idea that this will bring about a "pluri-polar" world, and that it shows the end of "Yankee hegemony." A pair of Russian bombers in Venezuela for a few days, even with a few Russian ships near harbor, by no means show an end of American hegemony in the Western hemisphere. Perhaps the US will think twice before doing anything in Venezuela; you'd better believe Russia will think a lot more than twice before coming to Chavez's aid. If nothing else, Chavez is going out of his way to make this whole thing more provocative than it originally needed to be; I wonder how Russia feels about that? If they're just tweaking the US, then it might make sense. Otherwise, they (like us before) might want to think about the wisdom of allying with crazy people.
A recent FBI report on Neo-Nazi attempts to recruit from within the US military and to send existing group members into the military to train for future "race wars" highlights the issue of domestic terrorism in the United States. A little over a decade ago, following the Oklahoma City Bombings, domestic terrorism was the issue of the day. Far-right wing domestic extremism was also brought to the fore during the 90s by two other dramatic events: confrontations between federal agents and the Weaver family in Ruby Ridge, Idaho and Branch Davidian followers of David Koresh in Waco, Texas.
I also remember lots of news reports during the 90s (even though I was just a little kid) about conspiracy-minded non-government sanctioned militias (most notably the Michigan Militia) stockpiling weapons and training in preparation for, I dunno, the arrival of black helicopters or some such. My understanding of the situation is that most of these groups kind of lost their cache and their fervor after 2000 with the election of President Bush, who had views more in line with theirs.
This FBI report is, to me, a reminder that domestic terrorism is still an issue in the United States. It is difficult to tell whether the media's shift away from reporting on such groups since the 90s is a result of the decline of these organizations, a shift toward reporting on international terrorism since 9/11, or some combination of the two.
If you're interested in keeping tabs on these sorts of issues, the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project is the only source that I'm aware of tracking and reporting on white nationalist, neoconfederate, Christian identity, black separatist, & other extremist groups in the US. They even have a cool interactive map that lets you track hate groups in your home state!
Tuesday, September 09, 2008
In a side-splitting article in the most recent Sports Illustrated, Chris Ballard cited an August report from a Chicago research group that showed that US employers lose more than Jamaica’s GNP during the 17 week regular season of the National Football League. “Hey mon” you say, who is the culprit. Well, possibly you. If you recently drafted a roster of players that you will never meet, pay, or interact with, and you refer to them as “your” team, than you are the problem. Fantasy football owners will cost their employers more than $9.2 Billion (BILLION!!!) dollars in lost work over the season (according to Ballard, you could also buy 9 NFL franchises for that amount).
Fantasy football is not alone. Fantasy sports are participated in by fans around the nation in nearly every popular American sport…Baseball, Basketball, Golf, NASCAR, and flipcup (OK, maybe not). In the much shorter three week period of the NCAA Basketball Tournament, fans truly go ‘mad’. In March of every year, fans slip away to check scores, research teams, and fill out their brackets for office polls. Experts argue that more than $3.8 Billion is lost by US employers from the day the NCAA Selection Committee publishes its bracket until the morning after the Championship game. By dividing the loss to employers by the weeks in which the loss takes place, March Madness (or the NCAA Tournament for those that aren’t afflicted by the addiction) trumps Fantasy Football at more than $1.26 Billion per week in lost revenue.
The Olympics also had a huge impact on employers. According to Neilson Online, more than 2 million people visited the video section of www.nbcolympics.com on Aug. 11 -- the first full day of work after the Olympics began. Yahoo!'s Olympic Web site's visitors were up 86 percent in the same time period.
This argument has less to do with America’s addiction to football, and the fantasy fallout of that sport than it does with efficiency in the workplace. Surely, employers lost serious bank while American fixated on media outlets showing the play-by-play assault on Baghdad in 2003. Without fail, Governor Palin has already impacted employers as Americans try to answer the questions, “Who is she?” and “Are there any better pics on Google images?” The election year will certainly affect the employers.
In pure National Security terms, $9.2 and $3.8 billion are hardly a drop in the bucket of the Department of Defense’s $440 billion budget or the $170 billion in extra-budgetary supplements used to help pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But, when you break down the defense budget, the nation will spend less this year on Missile Defense ($8.8 B), the Joint Strike Fighter ($6.1 B), Future Combat Systems ($3.7 B), and the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ships ($1.2 B) than one might estimate is being wasted by Americans and their online games. Though it may be hard to translate a loss by US employers into National Security and defense funding, it goes without saying that Jamaica might want to do its very best to deter its citizens from becoming so infatuated with these distractions.
If the US populace is affected this greatly by fantasy sports, March Madness, and the news in general, one must wonder how it affects soldiers who are operating in combat or in defense of the nation. I can only imagine a Commander in his command post switching windows on his PC when no-one is watching so that he can drop Tom Brady from his roster and add one of Week 1’s rookie heroes. (Perhaps someone on the blog can address this?)
This development comes at the same time a former Japanese intel officer claims that Kim died in 2003 and has 4 body doubles. Rumors like these are usually based off inabilities to explain incongruent events. The existence of these rumors in such close proximity point to something developing in the North concerning Kim Jong-Il.
The innocent explanation of Kim's absence from the parade (which he attended in 1998 and 2003) is, according to one analyst, " He has nothing to show his people, with a deadlock in nuclear disarmament talks and in normalisation talks with Japan on top of food shortages."
The explanation that Kim Jong-Il has actually died, or is in serious condition, is bolstered by two additional facts: 1) A team of Chinese doctors were dispatched to the DPRK around the time of Kim's reported collapse and have yet to return 2) North Korea's recent rhetoric concerning the six-party talks, disarmament, and rebuilding the Yongbyon reactor.
The official statement from North's foreign ministry criticized the 'verification requirement' as an unjust demand. They made a counter-demand of verification that no nuclear weapons are in South Korea and assurances that U.S. will not send them there. Most telling, they invoked the term 'nuclear deterrent' for only the second time since 2006. The state-run media has used the term 'war deterrent' numerous times - in comparison with sparse prior mentions - since the date of Kim's reported collapse (possibly a stroke, or complications with his diabetes).
The 'spokesman statement' from the North also mentioned that steps concerning the rebuilding of the Yongbyon reactor will take into account the demands of relevant North Korean agencies. In 2002, a concrete statement was issued in which no consideration was given to 'multiple or competing voices within the regime' in regards to nuclear activities.
These considerations lend credence to rumors that something is wrong in North Korea. There is no heir-apparent and North Korean leaders are aware of that a crisis in leadership could present and opening for the toppling of their government by Western interests. The rhetoric on the reactor, and invoking a 'nuclear deterrent', could well be their attempts at deterring the West while they are in the midst of a crisis.
Why would they derail the talks? Why invoke the strong language of 'nuclear deterrent'? Why issue a statement that mentions different, possible dissenting voices within the power structures of the government? Kim Jong-Il has given no such consideration to other agencies of the government and their wishes. If he is still running North Korea at the moment, these statements represent a departure from his past behavior and his style of governing.
Thursday, September 04, 2008
Former UN ambassador Richard Holbrooke recently asserted in an article in Foreign Affairs that, with the recent rise in energy prices, we are experiencing "the greatest transfer of wealth from one set of nations to another in history."
The transferers (read: suckers) in this case are the major oil consumers: the US, Europe, China, Japan & India. And the transferees are the major oil exporting nations. Seems all well & good--the producers have a product that the consumers want, so they sell it, get rich, & everybody's happy.
Unfortunately, it ain't that simple.
The rub here is, of course, that many of the states growing fat off the global spike in energy prices are home to unsavory regimes with, in many cases, foreign policy goals antithetical to those of the major consumers (especially those of the US, Europe, & Japan). And the recipients of the oil-gluttonous countries' cash, clearly aware of their increased clout, are exhibiting a dangerous new swagger on the world stage. Witness Mahmoud Ahmadinejad flouting western attempts to reign in Iran's nuclear ambitions, Hugo Chavez threatening Colombia and calling out President Bush in front of the UN General Assembly, & Vladimir Putin generally stirring shit up in the Caucasus.
So, the logical solution here would be to stop using so much foreign energy. The American political establishment seems to have reached consensus on this--the buzzword of the day being "energy security." Democrats urge us to wear sweaters, inflate our tires, & build windmills, while Republicans exhort us to "drill, baby, drill" (seemingly oblivious to the global nature of hydrocarbon markets).
Of course, any steps taken toward these goals will probably be all for naught if the emerging economies in India & China develop rates of energy consumption approaching those in the wealthy west and the petro-pushers simply shift to a new set of energy-junky clients.
So, what's the solution here? A major decrease in foreign oil consumption by wealthy countries with high consumption rates coupled with some sort of major assistance program designed to help emerging economies develop in a less energy-consumptive manner seems like the only solution from my vantage point.
This problem is huge, pressing, & has been seemingly ignored for the past few decades. And we're not even delving into the environmental impact of the current worldwide energy regime & global climate change...
Tuesday, September 02, 2008
Arnold Wolfers makes it clear in "National Security" As an Ambiguous Symbol, that "numerous domestic factors such as national character, tradition, preferences and prejudices will influence the level of security which a nation chooses to make its target". By analyzing American culture, it is readily apparent that a high level of national security will always remain a key tenet of the American national interest.
Though some may argue that democracies should not be violent in nature, it is imperative to realize that though there may be a paucity of wars amongst democracies, that democratic societies themselves are often violent. With this in mind, we should take a look at our own society. In doing so, it readily becomes clear that security is upheld as our most critical national interest by our character, traditions, and our preferences.
We are a nation that emerged as a result of a violent revolution. That revolution is glorified in our history books, movies, and folklore. Our society upholds the heroes of the revolution, and carries forth from that era a belief that weapons are integral to the security of our homes and our nation. Furthermore, the American frontier was also won through struggle. The violent expansion westward was made possible in many ways by the right to bear arms.
With violence, comes the need for security. Americans are not only violent in their dealings with the outside world. The American culture embraces violence in nearly every part of society: sports, movies, musical lyrics, and video games. In The Clash with Distant Cultures (1995), Richard Payne cites numerous staggering statistics that depict the American tendency toward violence.
- 1991 poll: 72% of Americans believe force is appropriate to maintain international justice, whereas, 70% of Japanese feel it is inappropriate
- 400,000 students carried weapons to school...in 1987!
- 66 Million loaded weapons reported in American homes...for the purpose of security
- Gun accessibility - only 75 of 35,000 license requests denied in 1990.
- Murder rates (reflects use of violence to solve problems, per 100,000 citizens -1998 stats) US – 8.4, Canada – 5.5, Germany – 4.2, UK – 2.0, Japan – 0.8
- Average 16 year old has witnessed more than 200,000 acts of violence
When cultural values and norms reflect a nature of violence and an emphais for security against that violence, it is only logical that a nation immersed in violence will be more liklely to hold security as a supreme national interest. The reality is that culture, not realism, accounts largely for the American tendency to place national security as the main focus in terms of national interest.