Friday, April 30, 2010
This WaPo headline from 35 years ago says "Vietcong" but, actually, Saigon's 30,000 defending troops surrendered to 100,000 North Vietnamese troops who had converged on the city 55 days after twenty North Vietnamese Army divisions invaded the South.
Thursday, April 29, 2010
The U.S. Embassy in Saigon sent its last message:
PLAN TO CLOSE MISSION AT ABOUT 0430 30 APRIL LOCAL TIME. DUE TO NECESSITY TO DESTROY COMMO GEAR THIS IS THE LAST MESSAGE FROM EMBASSY SAIGON.
The U.S. Ambassador, Graham Martin, initiated Operation Frequent Wind, the helicopter evacuation of the last remaining U.S. citizens and 'at-risk' Vietnamese allies from Saigon by U.S. Navy Task Force 76.
At 04:58, Ambassador Martin boarded a Marine CH-46 Sea Knight helo and was flown to the USS Blue Ridge. At 07:53, the final helo in the airlift extracted eleven Marine Security Guards from the embassy rooftop, and the evacuation was over.
See Tears Before the Rain for an excellent collection of first-person accounts of those last days.
Ex-CIA fugitive was subdued with Taser:
Ex-CIA operative Andrew Warren had to be subdued twice with electric shocks when a fugitive task force tried to arrest him at a Norfolk hotel this week, according to law enforcement sources.
“He appeared to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol,” a law enforcement official, who asked for anonymity in exchange for quoting from a field report on the incident, said of Warren.
The official said that Warren, ordered to put his hands behind his head, “made numerous affirmative movements toward his mid-torso,” when police spotted a gun handle in his waistband.
Police then shocked Warren, 42, with a Taser, which shoots an electrically charged wire at a target. When Warren continued to struggle, he was “dry-tasered,” or stunned with a direct application to his back.
He was tasered twice? I'll bet that hurt.
Some of his former colleagues, however, say they were not surprised at the turn of events.
They say that Warren, a Muslim convert, had earned an unsavory reputation long before his prestigious Algiers assignment, citing what they said was a habit of frequenting strip clubs and prostitutes with his informants.
“He was despised by his peers, in training and in the division, after graduation,” said one former colleague, echoing the views of a handful of others.
“His conduct in Algeria was not a surprise or aberration. These personality and performance issues were on display in his three previous tours.”
There's a bit more background on Warren and his fast-rising, and even faster-falling, CIA career from ABC News.
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
At the same time that Washington is buzzing with outrage about government officials who spent their work hours surfing the internet for porn, a Pew Research Center study has found that large numbers of adult American internet users are searching online for hardcore government information.
Some 40% of adult internet users have gone online for raw data about government spending and activities. This includes anyone who has done at least one of the following: look online to see how federal stimulus money is being spent (23% of internet users have done this); read or download the text of legislation (22%); visit a site such as data.gov that provides access to government data (16%); or look online to see who is contributing to the campaigns of their elected officials (14%).
The report also finds that 31% of online adults have used social tools such as blogs, social networking sites, and online video as well as email and text alerts to keep informed about government activities. Moreover, these new tools show particular appeal to groups that have historically lagged in their use of other online government offerings—in particular, minority Americans.
-- snip --
“Just as social media and just-in-time applications have changed the way Americans get information about current events or health information, they are now changing how citizens interact with elected officials and government agencies,” said Smith. “People are not only getting involved with government in new and interesting ways, they are also using these tools to share their views with others and contribute to the broader debate around government policies.”
Here's my next project: putting a warning notice on my office's web page that says "Some Scenes May be Too Intense For Younger Viewers."
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
It turns out that Warren had failed to appear for a court hearing in Washington DC last Wednesday, after which a bench warrant was issued for his arrest. Warren, however, was already in hiding by then because back on April 3 his neighbors in Norfolk, Virginia, had called the police to report him for indecent exposure.
Judging by the quotes from "Stacy" and "Jessica" in the news stories linked above, Mr. Warren sounds like quite the suave character. A real smooth operator. Actually, he sounds a lot more like a pimp than like James Bond.
Monday, April 26, 2010
This afternoon at 4PM, Warren was arrested at a hotel in Norfolk, Virginia, by agents of the Diplomatic Security Service, Deputy U.S. Marshals, and local police, on both a local arrest warrant and a federal warrant.
No news has been released yet beyond the sketchy facts of his arrest. However, that there was a local arrest warrant suggests to me that Warren has committed new offenses. And the federal warrant suggests that Mr. Warren may have violated the terms of his pretrial release. He was armed with a pistol when he was arrested today, which is probably another violation of the terms of his release.
Saturday, April 24, 2010
That idea must, simply must, catch on and spread to government memos. There would be no more agonizing over drafts. I could just send stuff like this:
@OBO, abt yr #memo: gr8 idea, wld ok right now but need to knw RU sending $$$ to post? plz lmk, K? JSYK, peeps askin WTF? lets go V2V. thx
Exactly 140 characters and it says everything I want to say.
[Chorus of Diplomats]
Oh my dear how boring
Just like all the others
Us to be impressed with what he's done here
Hasn't stopped to think about the paperwork
His gesture causes
We've an embassy to run here
If these people can't strike
Blows for freedom
With a valid visa
We don't need 'em
If we seem offhand then please remember
This is nothing very special
He's the fourth we've had since last November
Who do these foreign chappies think they are?
And when he's safely in the West
He'll be the hero to discuss
The media will lionise him
Fame and fortune plus
No-one will recall it's
Thanks to us
Have you an appointment
With the consul?
If you don't we know what his
Be, he will not see you, with respect it
Buggers up his very taxing schedule
Pushing peace and understanding
Let us hope this won't affect it
Far too many jokers
Cross the border
Not a single document
Russia must be empty
Though we're all for
Basic human rights it makes you wonder
What they built the Berlin wall for
Who do these foreign chappies think they are?
And when you've filled in all the forms
And been passed clear of all disease
Debriefed debugged dedrugged disarmed
And disinfected please
Don't forget the guys
Who cut your keys
And no mention of Chess would be complete without One Night in Bangkok:
I've never passed through a foreign red light district - while on official TDY business, you understand - without these lyrics running through my head:
Whaddya mean? Ya seen one crowded, polluted, stinking town --
Tea, girls, warm, sweet
Some are set up in the Somerset Maugham suite
Get Thai'd! You're talking to a tourist
Whose every move's among the purest
I get my kicks above the waistline, sunshine
An earlier evacuation of stranded citizens from a Southeast Asian country (1975)
The UK press reported today that 350 angry and stranded British tourists caused a near-riot at Bangkok's international airport, in a scene that resembled 'the last days of Saigon':
Hundreds of angry and frightened Britons left stranded in Thailand by the volcanic dust cloud today were battling for plane seats out of the country's capital.
Many were left to sleep on cardboard mats in Bangkok airport after their money ran out.
Some were also without a meal or roof over their heads because non-European airlines - including Thailand's main air carrier - declined to offer customers hotel accommodation which must be offered by air carriers under EU regulations.
The problems in Thailand have been exacerbated by a violent attempted coup being mounted on the streets of the capital by 'Red Shirts', supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, which have left more than 20 dead.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has urged people to avoid Bangkok except for essential travel and elevated it to the No 1 destination from which to repatriate British tourists.
British consular officers are doing what they can to help, and at least one of the stranded tourists is appreciative.
'I would surely like to get my own back on these airline people. But the Embassy people here have been absolutely great. They are trying to put pressure on the airlines to get us out.
By the way, from what I can learn about the British embassy in Bangkok it is a nice place with 7,000 square meters of "new residential accommodation, recreational facilities and staff amenities," but it does not have a helipad.
Friday, April 23, 2010
Along those lines, here's a report from Jane's Strategic Advisory Services about al-Qaeda and the adaptability of its command and control structure.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
That's such a harmonic convergence of fluffy feel-goodism that I'm getting quite lightheaded. As soon as I get home, I think I'll have to lie down and reminisce about the 60s. ("If you're go-ing, to San-Fran-cisco, ..... ")
Even the Office of Overseas Buildings Operations is getting into the act with an announcement about their green building program:
These sustainability efforts exhibit the Department of State’s commitment to environmental stewardship and provide platforms demonstrating a policy of eco-diplomacy.
Today is Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day, by official resolution of the U.S. Senate. You can read the Resolution's whereas' at that link, and learn how TODASTWD "recognizes the goals of introducing our daughters and sons to the workplace" and so forth.
As someone who takes the long view of things, I feel I must point out that taking our children to work is nothing new.
At least it's only once a year now, and not every day.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
The WaPo is running a primer on financial derivatives today, hoping to educate the public on the complicated matters that lie at the heart of the civil suit against Goldman Sachs for securities fraud. An informed public needs a working knowledge of collateralized debt obligations, credit-default swaps, and such, in order to follow that news story.
But forget it! You'll learn less from that dry and boring - not to mention rudimentary - primer than you can learn from my favorite country singer, Merle Hazard. Merle is the only country singer to write songs about mortgage-backed securities, and his first big hit, H-E-D-G-E, will teach you about everything in that WaPo article plus more. Seriously.
Merle's website has lots more good music and financial infotainment. In particular, check his extras page for a link to an academic presentation that breaks down the lyrics of H-E-D-G-E and explains them in a less poetic but still succinct style.
Here's Merle's follow-up to H-E-D-G-E, which is about what happened to over-leveraged bond traders after their CDOs got marked down to market. And if you aren't sure what the terms 'over-leveraged' and 'CDO' and 'marked down to market' mean, then you are Merle's target audience.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
An earlier evacuation of Britons from a European beach (1940)
It was touch and go at first, but plucky British resolve eventually saved the day.
Navy rescues stranded UK holidaymakers:
It had all the makings of a mutiny. When stranded Britons were told they weren't allowed to board the Royal Navy ship they believed had been sent to rescue them, their exhaustion and frustration spilled over.
They had struggled by coach, train and car through the night to reach the northern Spanish port of Santander.
After all, Gordon Brown had sent the HMS Albion to ferry them home with soldiers returning from Afghanistan. They had heard it on TV and the radio.
But after watching the troops board followed by 200 'vulnerable' Britons, they were told the ship was full.
As tempers boiled over, Captain Chris Wait, from the Royal Marines, explained : 'We're absolutely full. We can't take any more people.'
Publican Denis Ryan, 51, from Greenwich, South East London, who had reached Santander at 1am after a 36-hour train and bus journey from Malaga, summed up the feeling.
'Gordon Brown's been on television saying he's sending this ship to northern Spain to bring us home and David Milliband's been doing the same thing,' he protested.
'We made this horrendous journey to get here only to discover a select few people that are being allowed on the boat. I don't understand why they told us to come.'
While they argued and some claimed they had been told by the British Embassy in Madrid to travel to Santander, diplomats and senior officers discussed the crisis.
Suddenly there was a U-turn and Commander Geoff Wintle said: 'We're going to get everyone on. Nobody is being left behind.'
Britannia still rules the waves.
Wright links to an academic paper (When Heads Roll: Assessing the Effectiveness of Leadership Decapitation) - a great read - which he summarizes this way:
There’s no way of answering this question with complete confidence, but it turns out there are some relevant and little-known data. They were compiled by Jenna Jordan of the University of Chicago, who published her findings last year in the journal Security Studies. She studied 298 attempts, from 1945 through 2004, to weaken or eliminate terrorist groups through “leadership decapitation” — eliminating people in senior positions.
Her work suggests that decapitation doesn’t lower the life expectancy of the decapitated groups — and, if anything, may have the opposite effect.
That conclusion seems right to me. I've lost track of how many times it was announced that we had just killed the Number Three al-Qaeda leader in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Pakistan, but it sometimes seemed like we were killing the al-Qaeda S3 (see page 36 of this document if that term is unfamiliar) about every month or two. The Number One guy stays well hidden, of course, and I guess the Number Two is too important to expose himself much, so it's the poor Number Three who has to run operations in the field and ends up catching a missile.
Do all those sudden terminations of senior staff officers degrade al-Qaeda in the end? The numbers seems to say they do not.
Not that there is much difference between a real tweet and a parody, but here they are:
(a) Baggage claim in miami is annoyingly far away [Jared]
(b) No matter how much time I spend on an airplane, I still enjoy flying through the clouds [Jared]
(c) African Kitamu beans make awesome cafe au lait! anyone know if SBUX has a Fair Trade deal with Rwanda? [Me]
(d) There is literally a dark cloud over DC. So much for early summer [Jared]
(e) So hard to fill out customs forms legibly when the plane is landing [Me]
(f) Had a big idea this morning - green computers. electronics make up 70% of all hazardous waste! [Me]
(g) Hummus is just super! never knew that when I was growing up [Me]
(h) I'm desperate for Sbarro right now, not sure what that is all about [Jared]
(i) I'm scientifically fascinated by the ash cloud and it's whereabouts [Jared]
(j) So amazing to look down at all the plains and mountains between DC and Stanford. Super places I'd like to go someday! [Me]
If you're one of Jared's 310,800,561 followers on Twitter, then you already know that the world last heard from him three hours ago when he informed us of his lack of progress toward the San Francisco airport:
Stuck in traffic on the 101 en route to SFO. Typically not a good sign when u have come to a dead stop
I'm sure we'll get an update right after Jared lands at his destination. Maybe with some awesome Deep Thoughts about social media that were sparked by the in-flight movie, or about a super encounter with a Facebook Friend at the airport's Java Juice stand, or an awesomely super e-mail that he got while in flight. And, of course, there will be exclamation points and smilies involved.
I'm starting to see that Twitter is a window into a particular mindset, a totally subjective one in which the most interesting thing about any matter is the fact of the author's interest in it.
That mindset simply begs to be ridiculed, so I think I'll regularly poke fun at tweets. Maybe I'll sponsor an Imitation Jared Tweet Contest, with some kind of prize for the entry that best makes fun of self-obsessed policy wonks who live inside the wilderness of mirrors - a little T.S. Eliot reference there, since Jared's evidently a fan - of social media. Where could I find a corporate sponsor for that?
Monday, April 19, 2010
It has also been 1-year to date since @jack signed me up for @twitter at a picnic table in US Embassy Baghdad
We all own Jack a debt of gratitude for that.
I don't know what it is about Jared's tweets that so infuriate me. Probably the incredible self-absorption that would make someone suppose the entire world - or anybody other than maybe his mother - could possibly care less about his every stray thought.
Here's a test. Which of these tweets is real and which did I make up as a parody of a twittering twit preoccupied with himself?
(a) Baggage claim in miami is annoyingly far away
(b) No matter how much time I spend on an airplane, I still enjoy flying through the clouds
(c) African Kitamu beans make awesome cafe au lait! anyone know if SBUX has a Fair Trade deal with Rwanda?
(d) There is literally a dark cloud over DC. So much for early summer
(e) So hard to fill out customs forms legibly when the plane is landing
(f) Had a big idea this morning - green computers. electronics make up 70% of all hazardous waste!
(g) Hummus is just super! never knew that when I was growing up
(h) I'm desperate for Sbarro right now, not sure what that is all about
(i) I'm scientifically fascinated by the ash cloud and it's whereabouts
(j) So amazing to look down at all the plains and mountains between DC and Stanford. Super places I'd like to go someday!
The crisis, which passed through its fourth day, provided a vivid reminder of the degree to which millions in the developed world have come to depend on regular airline travel for tourism, family visits, business and commerce in perishable goods. Eurocontrol, the Brussels-based body that regulates continental air traffic, said about 28,000 flights would normally have been scheduled in the skies over Europe for Monday but fewer than a third of them were able to take off.
U.S. tourists - and you knew this was coming - feel neglected by their local consulates, and are perplexed that no one from the U.S. government has magically whisked them home already.
U.S. travelers in Paris complained the U.S. consulate there did not seem to have concrete advice on how to get home, suggesting instead that they sign up on a list and be patient. "I find it pretty troubling that travelers are informing the embassy about what's going on right now," said Timothy Newell, a nurse from Richmond, Va. "They don't seem to have much interest in our plans or what we're going to do."
I'm sure it's unpleasant to have your April vacation in Paris extended by a few days. But allow me to point out that Mr. Newell hasn't been robbed or assaulted, he isn't freezing or starving, and he hasn't been the victim of terrorism. At worst, he's out of money and needs an emergency loan.
As for the lack of concrete advise on how to get Mr. Newell home, I'm sure the U.S. consulate is open to suggestions. If Newell figures out how to get himself home, can he pass the secret along to President Obama? The U.S. government wasn't able to get Obama to Poland yesterday.
Update at 9:30 PM
Dipnote has stated the obvious, as must be done at times like this:
The Department of State is sympathetic to the thousands of travelers who have been unable to get to their destinations because of the volcanic ash cloud in Europe that has hindered air traffic. We are in close contact with the European authorities at all times and are doing everything possible to assist stranded U.S. citizens who require emergency consular assistance.
-- snip --
The Department of State is not evacuating U.S. citizens at this time. U.S. Government evacuation options are constrained by the same factors that are affecting commercial transportation. Furthermore, U.S. Government-facilitated travel by sea would take time to arrange and undertake, by which point commercial travel is likely to have resumed. The cost to travelers to repay an evacuation loan would be equivalent to the commercial rates for cross-Atlantic sea travel.
Translation - we feel your pain, we share your concern, we wish we could help, but we have no magic carpets to fly you home on. Just sit down, keep your cool, and wait for the crisis to pass.
Sunday, April 18, 2010
Foreign Policy magazine has the story of that fatwa, Sheikh to Terrorists: Go to Hell:
Pakistani newspapers recently picked up an intriguing story from the country's security establishment. Reporters learned that their government had intercepted a secret message circulating within Tehrik-e-Taliban, the most prominent of several militant groups trying to overthrow the government in Islamabad. The jihadists, it seemed, had just added a new target to one of their death lists. His name is Tahir ul-Qadri, and he's no government official. He's one of Pakistan's leading Islamic scholars, an authority on the Quran and Islamic religious law.
It's no wonder the terrorists want to see Qadri dead. Last month he promulgated a 600-page legal ruling, a fatwa, that condemns terrorism as un-Islamic. A few Western media outlets gave the news a nod, but the coverage quickly petered out. And that's a pity, because the story of this fatwa is just beginning to get interesting. "I have declared a jihad against terrorism," says the 59-year-old Qadri in an interview. "I am trying to bring [the terrorists] back towards humanism. This is a jihad against brutality, to bring them back towards normality. This is an intellectual jihad." This isn't empty rhetoric. Last year militants killed one of Qadri's colleagues, a scholar named Sarfraz Ahmed Naeem, for expressing similar positions.
The fatwa was published in London on February 10, 2010. Here's a preface in English which was published on Sheikh Qadri's website. I found Chapter 3 particularly interesting, since it is on "The Forbiddance of the Indiscriminate Killing of Non-Muslims and of Torturing Them." Page 37 of the preface refers specifically to the protection guaranteed to ambassadors from non-Muslim countries and others working on diplomatic assignments.
Foreign Policy's article continues:
So it's not too hard to imagine why the Taliban aren't amused. "Qadri has been very bold in saying that these terrorists are awaited in hell," says Hassan Abbas, a Pakistani scholar at Harvard University's Belfer Center. "He is clearly provocative, in a positive sense, and this courageous act is also noteworthy." He notes that the fatwa includes a number of specific criticisms of the conservative Deoband movement, whose teachings underlie many of the militant Islamic groups in South Asia -- something that has angered many of the Deobandis. (Qadri himself is a prominent representative of the Barelvi school of Sunni Islam -- a Sufi-influenced group that, says Abbas, has historically outnumbered the Deobandis in Pakistan.) But few of the hard-core jihadis are likely to be swayed by Qadri's formidable scholarly credentials. It's a different constituency that Qadri has in mind -- namely the wavering middle.
-- snip --
This is, in a word, pretty strong stuff -- additional evidence, if any were needed, that the so-called "war on terror" pales beside the war within Islam itself, the continuing, subtle, and utterly vital struggle for the soul of the faith. So it will be worth keeping an eye on the impact these 600 pages will have on Islam's restless minds in the years to come. "The real contribution of the fatwa cannot be evident in a matter of a few weeks," argues Abbas. "The message will go out slowly." But go out it will. Stay tuned.
Saturday, April 17, 2010
The Washington Post has published a rather touching ode to the U.S. Government pen today:
Among the elaborate seals, bronze statues and marble hallways that adorn federal Washington, there is another symbol of the machinery of government that is often overlooked: the lowly ballpoint pen.
-- snip --
Blind workers assemble the pens in factories in Wisconsin and North Carolina under the brand name Skilcraft as part of a 72-year-old legislative mandate. The original 16-page specifications for the pen are still in force: It must be able to write continuously for a mile and in temperatures up to 160 degrees and down to 40 degrees below zero.
It has been used in war zones and gas stations, and was designed to fit undetected into U.S. military uniforms. According to company lore, the pen can stand in for a two-inch fuse and comes in handy during emergency tracheotomies.
They could hardly be any more plain and utilitarian, but I can attest that they do work as advertised, and - at less than $7 a dozen - they cost almost nothing. You can't say that about anything else the government does.
I haven't used one for many years, but we have a constant supply of Skilcraft government pens in my office's supply cabinets. If you've ever worked in a U.S. Government office, you've probably seen them. If you served in any branch of the U.S military, then you certainly have used them.
The pens are part of government office folklore - like that bit about emergency tracheotomies - and they have even inspired a Haiku:
Skilcraft ballpoint pen
"For official use only"
Lives at my house now
The U.S. Government Pen is a regular public servant among writing instruments, and I hereby salute it.
Didn't people once cross the Atlantic by passenger ship, even as recently as the 1960s and 70s? Maybe we should look into that again, because the Ash Cloud That Ate Europe is staying around for a while. According to the New York Times, the Airport Crisis Spreads as Ash Moves East:
A cloud of ash from an Icelandic volcano shut down much of air travel to and from Northern Europe for a third straight day and flights were likely to be disrupted through Monday morning as a massive transportation gridlock spread around the world.
-- snip --
Volcanic ash is primarily made up of silicates, akin to glass fibers, which when ingested into a jet engine can melt, causing the engine to flame out and stall.
Prop planes are just as vulnerable as jets to volcanic ash, from what I've seen on the internet, so we can't call the last remaining DC-3s back into commercial service.
It looks like travelers to Europe, including about a dozen people from my office alone who obtained TDY travel orders in the last week or so, are simply going to have to cool their heels for a few days longer.
By the way, the NYT helpfully provided a phonetic spelling of the name of the Icelandic volcano that caused all this trouble. It's spelled "Eyjafjallajokull," and is pronounced "EY-ya-fyat-lah-YO-kut." By the time I master that volcanic eruption of vowel sounds, the air travel crisis will be over.
Friday, April 16, 2010
The U.S. Department of State’s Bureaus of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) and Administration announced today the award of a $138 million contract to build a New Embassy Compound (NEC) in Dakar, Senegal.
The NEC in Dakar will be constructed by B.L. Harbert, International of Birmingham, Alabama. The project consists of a chancery building, three compound access control facilities, Marine Security Guard Quarters, a parking garage, a recreation facility, vehicle maintenance, shop facility, and a mail screening facility. The NEC will provide a more secure, safer, and more functional facility for the 455 employees who will work at the embassy.
The new facility will incorporate sustainable design and the embassy is planned to qualify for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) certification. Included in the project will be solar collectors for electricity generation and hot water. Water-conserving plumbing fixtures will yield an average 35% reduction in potable water consumption. Irrigation water needs will be achieved by using native and drought-tolerant plants, along with efficient irrigation technologies. The facility will include heat recovery chillers and daylight harvesting systems to reduce electrical demands.
The 9.9-acre site, located in the Pointe des Almadies of Dakar, Senegal, was acquired from a private company, Vacances Cap Skirring, for $15.5 million in 2007. The NEC will replace the existing embassy building, which has been occupied by the United States Government since 1979.
The Dakar NEC is the 37th major security construction project undertaken by OBO in Africa in the last ten years. OBO has completed 27 projects and the Dakar NEC joins nine additional projects in design or under construction on the continent. The Dakar NEC is the 105 project awarded since the East African bombings in 1998.
The scheduled completion date for the Dakar NEC is spring 2013.
Fortress Embassies have their critics. (No, make that "their haters.") Having no aesthetic sensibility myself, I happily leave the architectural criticism to others. For my money, the bottom line on OBO's program of new embassy construction is in slide #18 of this presentation. Three years from now, Embassy Dakar's 455 employees will be in good company.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
Who are the men and women of the IRS? They are the people who collect the revenue that allows the government to finance our troops who are in harm's way, help our wounded warriors, pay Grandma's Medicare bills, cover the costs of keeping our food and drugs safe, and do so many of the other things the vast majority of us want our government to accomplish.
Yes, if you support our troops, you have to support the work of the Internal Revenue Service.
So ... the IRS doesn't just enforce the tax laws, it also deserves the love and respect of every American.
Good luck with that, E.J.
If you haven't been following his tweets, here is some of what you have missed in just the last two weeks:
-- @scottbelsky my bet is on best-seller!
-- @Farah_Pandith make sure you get the Timbuktu stamp! I was at that Mosque in 2002, it is amazing. Go see mud mosque at Djenee too
-- Example of why I think DARPA is awesome! highlight is at 1:23... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cHJJQ0zNNOM
-- Headed to DARPA w/@alecjross this morning. DARPA created the Internet as well as various cool robots!
-- Want to once again wish @katiewdowd a happy birthday!
-- Having lunch w/my favorite "princess warrior" @padmasree in DC #RusTechDel
-- Still in search of answers to yesterday's tumbleweed incident
-- @coolmaz you are right, corrected :)
-- @padmasree, when are you in DC? I better see my favorite warrior while you are in town. No excuses :)
-- Does snoozing actually make you more tired? Is it less practical than sleeping the extra 30 minutes? What's the science of all this?
-- Besides common sense, are there any studies that suggest sleep is less sound w/the tv on?
-- @gideonyago remember "searching for a matzah ball in Doha"
Jared is only - what? - something like twenty-two years old. The LOC can reasonably expect to harvest another 60 or more years of his daily tweets. Judging by the last two weeks, that would definitely be a cultural patrimony worth protecting.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
According to today's announcement:
Have you ever sent out a “tweet” on the popular Twitter social media service? Congratulations: Your 140 characters or less will now be housed in the Library of Congress.
That’s right. Every public tweet, ever, since Twitter’s inception in March 2006, will be archived digitally at the Library of Congress. That’s a LOT of tweets, by the way: Twitter processes more than 50 million tweets every day, with the total numbering in the billions.
The Library has a big initiative to handle digital preservation, and that's surely a good thing, but I kind of figured they would preserve selectively, as in, the body of human knowledge, our nation's cultural heritage, and stuff like that. What's the purpose of preserving every tweet ever sent? Other than to document how inane and self-obsessed people can be?
Historical tweets are already being preserved elsewhere, I'm happy to see.
I've found Twitter to be handy for breaking news events, and I follow a few Twitter accounts from politicians and think tanks, but when I've browsed accounts at random just to see what people were tweeting, I've usually come away shuddering. Even the tweets from this much-hyped Big Brain pretty quickly turn into self parody.
Please forgive the following rant, but, since I'm speaking of that guy, how many times can he say "awesome!" and "super!" and why does he end so many tweets with exclamation points or emoticons?
I just looked at his account and found this stunner:
April is the crulest month, not just for T.S. Elliot, but also for #Rwanda. Plz join in remembering 800,000 people who lost their lives
Now, that strikes me as just tacky. If you are going to use an epigraph from T.S. Eliot in a post about remembering the Rwandan genocide, have the sensitivity to make it an appropriate one. "After such knowledge, what forgiveness?" from Gerontion would suit the topic. But quoting the first line of The Waste Land just because it mentions the month of April is superficial and lame. And spelling counts - crulest?
Rant over. Something about that guy's precocious schoolboy persona gives me an irresistible urge to give him a wedgie and snap a towel at him.
So glad to get that off my chest! Awesome! Super! :)
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
That's pretty sweeping. Here's the key text of the Lacey Act:
It is unlawful for any person to import, export, transport, sell, receive, acquire, possess, or purchase any fish, wildlife, or plant taken, possessed, transported, or sold in violation of any Federal, State, foreign [!], or Indian tribal law, treaty, or regulation.
A civil penalty can be as much as $10,000 ... For a felony offense, a maximum $250,000 fine per individual and $500,000 per organization, and/or up to 5 years imprisonment for each violation of the Act can be assessed. A misdemeanor offense carries a maximum $100,000 fine per individual and $200,000 per organization, and/or up to 1 year imprisonment ... Vehicles, aircraft, vessels, or other equipment used during the commission of the crime may be forfeited to the government in cases involving felony convictions.
Now, many types of foods are banned in many different places, both foreign and domestic. To name just a few:
-- Foie gras is banned in Turkey, the European Union, and Israel
-- Raw milk is banned in 22 states of the USA as well as Canada
-- Trans fats are banned in New York City
-- Pork, alcohol, and any animal that was not slaughtered in an approved Halal manner are banned in Islamic countries
-- Shellfish is banned by Kosher dietary laws
-- The European Union bans genetically modified foods and restricts or regulates almost everything else
So where does that leave the common patriotic American citizen, like me, when he makes dinner? Or even when he shops for groceries, since it is prohibited to "receive, acquire, possess, or purchase any fish" etc., that is illegal in any jurisdiction in the world, even if you were acting in good faith and didn't know that particular fish, etc., was outlawed in Timbuktu or New York City? There is no way to know what's legal to eat.
I am engaging in multiple Lacey Act violations even as I type this, since I've been cooking mussels (a shellfish) by steaming them over a mixture of water, garlic and cheap white wine (alcohol) and will consume them after applying a little butter (trans fat). If only I had some foie gras and raw milk, I could be on a crime spree that might, theoretically, put me in prison for years and cost me everything I own.
Are we all constantly violating laws that we don't even know exist? It seems we are. How exactly did this situation come about?
I'm writing a strong letter to my Senators and Representative in the morning, right after I violate the Lacey Act some more by possessing suspect coffee.
Monday, April 12, 2010
I spent last weekend hanging out at the beach in South Carolina, just piddling around on the sand, sitting on the porch, reading a little. You get the picture. Got back last night, with a few observations:
-- Starbucks Via instant coffee is a more than acceptable substitute for real coffee on those occasions when you're feeling too lazy to drive several miles to get something better. Another good alternative that I just discovered is the coffee at Sonic drive-ins, which can be ordered with a shot of espresso.
-- The beach economy continues to be dominated by the Big Three retail commodities: pancakes, t-shirts, and fireworks.
-- Cell phone dead zones, or at least areas of limited data service, are surprisingly common even on the edges of metropolitan areas. When my Blackberry was becalmed in these communications doldrums, it felt like I was skipping school!
-- Wi-Fi hot spots that do not require user authentication still exist, and I had little trouble scarfing up unsecured signals with my Palm T/X from outside hotels and restaurants. It was just enough to keep in touch with the blogosphere and approve a comment or two.
I had over 100 e-mails on my first day back to work, plus SPOT reports about bomb threats and emergency evacuations, cables to read, memos to clear, taskers to reply to, and meetings to attend. I'm just counting the days until my next vacation.
Friday, April 9, 2010
I'm off in a few minutes for a long weekend trip to the lowcountry of coastal South Carolina, where I'll stay in a beach place so tranquil and remote that the only Starbucks for miles around is inside a Piggly Wiggly store, and the only Wi-Fi availability will be what I can snatch from hotel parking lots. (I exaggerate, but only slightly and not about Piggly Wiggly, they really do have the only Starbucks around.)
What's more, I'm not bringing my notebook computer. That means I'll be reduced to my basic cyber load of a Blackberry and a Palm T/X. That's right, I'm the last man in America still using a personal digital assistant, but, this weekend, the T/X will be my primary means for reading Kolbi's weekly round up.
It will be like looking at the FS blogosphere through a keyhole, but what's the alternative? The weekly round up is must-read stuff.
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
In a response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, the Pentagon claims that "Poodle Blanket" contingency plans from 1961 for a possible confrontation over West Berlin (no longer divided) with the Soviet Union (no longer a country) still need to be secret for fear of damage to current U.S. national security, according to documents posted today by the National Security Archive at George Washington University (here).
It's hard to believe that we still have a national security interest in keeping Poodle Blanket under wraps, especially because many key documents about it were declassified and published almost twenty years ago. As the NSA post continues:
In the early 1990s, the State Department's historical series, Foreign Relations of the United States, published a number of documents on "Poodle Blanket" -- including the highest level National Security Action Memorandum 109.
You can read the whole post, as well as those State Department documents, here.
Why the Taliban's U.S. Consulate Bombing Could Backfire:
The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has claimed credit for a devastating attack on the U.S. consulate in Peshawar, Pakistan, a city of three million just miles from the Afghan border. Could the Taliban group, despite its aim to topple Pakistan and expel the U.S., unintentionally do what the last three U.S. presidents have been unable to: Align Pakistani and U.S. interests against the Taliban and al-Qaeda?
-- snip --
Ironically, the militants that so threaten Pakistan are the state's own creation. During the Afghan civil war of the 1990s, Pakistan constructed along the Afghan border a vast infrastructure of madrassas and Islamic charities meant to train and fund an endless stream of militants ...... But in the years since, with [Ahmad Shah] Massoud now long gone, the fundamentalist insurgents have increasingly turned their efforts against Pakistan itself, which the insurgents see as too secular and too close to the U.S. The madrassa-opium-insurgency triangle functions as a self-sustaining and independent fighting force, which has careened out of Pakistan's control. Like Frankenstein's monster, the creation has grown too strong and turned against its creator.
-- snip --
The good news is that these [Talaban attacks on Pakistani targets] are spurring Pakistan to finally turn against the pro-Pakistan militants they've long supported or tolerated. In recent weeks, Pakistan has won praise from U.S. officials for arresting a string of Afghan Taliban leaders. As anti-Pakistan groups like the TTP continue to intermingle with state-nurtured militants like Jalaluddin Haqqani, Pakistan will no longer be able to turn a blind eye. Since the 1998 attacks on American embassies in Kenya, the U.S. has struggled and failed in lobbying Pakistan to turn against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Hundreds of millions of dollars of U.S. aid money could not bring Pakistan around, but a common enemy just might.
I suppose stranger things have happened.
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Consumer Notice: This post is certified 100% free of Matters of Official Concern that are not referenced from publicly available sources of information.
[Note: Since the embedded video above has been unavailable as often as not, try this link. Please accept my apologies.]
The video above is the best of the TV news reports I've seen about yesterday's attack on the U.S. Consulate in Peshawar, Pakistan. The narrator goes a bit far by calling the consulate "the seat of America's secret war on militants in Pakistan," but, OK, I guess that's within an acceptable range of hyperbole. It has a good description of the tactics used by the Taliban crew, and also an impressive amount of audio of the firefight that went on for over ten minutes in front of the consulate's entry control point as the attackers used rifles and hand grenades to try to force their way past the consulate's armed guards and Pakistani security forces.
The video also has a very brief glimpse of the end of the fight. At that point, the attackers who were on foot had failed to create a breach in the consulate's perimeter that could be exploited by the last of their two truck bombs, and they can be seen standing with their arms raised, apparently surrendering, when the last truck bomb was detonated behind them, killing them.
Also today, I saw a pretty good report of the incident by Stratfor, the private risk analysis firm, Pakistan: The Results of the Peshawar Attack:
A total of nine people, including the attackers, have died as a result of an April 5 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Peshawar, Pakistan. No Americans were killed, but according to the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, three of those killed were local security personnel protecting the consulate.
-- snip --
The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the approximately 20-minute attack, which used two vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) that targeted the main vehicle checkpoint leading into the consular compound. It appears the attackers intended to breach the checkpoint with the first IED and drive the second device up to the front of the consulate before detonating it, presumably to breach the building’s exterior and allow gunmen to enter.
-- snip --
U.S. diplomatic missions are extremely hard targets, with multiple concentric rings of security. The U.S. Consulate in Peshawar, a city frequently targeted by the TTP, is no exception. Simply gaining access to the street on which the consulate is located requires passing through Pakistani military checkpoints. The main diplomatic compound is behind both a wall and a series of less-strategic buildings positioned in a way that would limit the damage inflicted upon the mission in attacks such as the one on April 5.
-- snip --
Despite the complexity of the attack, the militants were unable to inflict much damage ...... Neither the VBIED nor the attackers were able to break through the delta barriers protecting the entrance to the consulate. However, due to its size, the second VBIED did damage buildings inside the compound — a feat not achieved in a handful of other recent attacks against U.S. diplomatic missions in Sanaa, Yemen; Istanbul; and Karachi, Pakistan.
So, on the most basic level, what happened here is that the U.S. State Department took physical security measures in Peshawar - onerous, expensive, and difficult to implement measures, which you can find a generic description of on pages 11 and 12 of this publicly available source of information - to ensure that it would be able to protect its employees, using its own resources, until the Pakistani government had the time it needed to respond to the attack.
Monday, April 5, 2010
A photo taken today outside the entrance to the U.S. Consulate in Peshawar
The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, has issued a statement condemning today's attack on U.S. Consulate Peshawar:
April 05, 2010
Islamabad - The United States condemns the terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate General in Peshawar today. At least two Pakistani security guards employed by the Consulate General were killed in the attack and a number of others were seriously wounded. The coordinated attack involved a vehicle suicide bomb and terrorists attempting to enter the building using grenades and weapons fire. This attack, and the one earlier today in Lower Dir which killed and wounded many others, reflects the terrorists' desperation as they are rejected by people throughout Pakistan.
Personnel at the U.S. Consulate in Peshawar are at the forefront of U.S. support for the Government of Pakistan's security and development agenda in the FATA and NWFP. The U.S. is grateful for the support of Pakistan's security forces in Peshawar, who responded quickly to this attack in support of the U.S. Consulate.
The Taliban, and specifically Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, has taken responsibility for the attack, according to local news media.
Evidently, the consulate's security measures prevented the attackers from succeeding in getting a vehicle-borne explosive device inside the consulate grounds. However, two of our local guards were killed and others were injured. As always when our security measures frustrate a terrorist attack, my reaction is to see this as something less than a victory. They lost, but we didn't really win.
As for details of the attack, take all immediate reports with a big grain of salt. That said, the best news media reporting I've seen as of noon today came from France 24:
At least six militants armed with explosives and two car bombs targeted the heavily guarded US consulate in Peshawar, a city of 2.5 million on the edge of Pakistan's lawless tribal belt, setting off multiple explosions.
The United States condemned the "terrorist" attack, saying at least two Pakistani security guards employed by the consulate were killed and a number of others seriously wounded.
"The coordinated attack involved a vehicle suicide bomb and terrorists attempting to enter the building using grenades and weapons fire," said the US embassy in Islamabad.
Police said two car bombs exploded -- at a checkpoint 50 metres (yards) from the mission and the second laden with about 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of explosives close to the consulate gate, followed by an exchange of fire.
North West Frontier Province information minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain told reporters that five security officials and six militants were killed, comparing the attack to last October's assault on Pakistan's military headquarters.
"The terrorists used similar tactics and the same pattern they adopted in the GHQ assault. They had vehicles, they had rocket launchers and they had suicide attackers," he told reporters at the main hospital in Peshawar.
The security barrier near the US consulate gate was damaged, and shells from rocket-propelled grenades and hand grenades were left lying in the area, which was sealed off by Pakistani police and army.
There was some video taken during the attack (see here and here), but it doesn't tell you much other than to substantiate the reported size of the explosive charges.
It was a busy day for the Pakistani Taliban. Shortly before the attack on our consulate, a suicide bomber struck a rally held by a Pashtun nationalist party, killing 41 persons. Also today, the Taliban attacked a NATO fuel truck terminal in northwest Pakistan, torching tankers used to supply fuel to NATO coalition forces in Afghanistan.
Note: The car bombs that were intended for our consulate seem to have done significant damage to a nearby Pakistani military office building, as well as to some military residences. Photos of that damage - like the one below, which I saw on both BBC and CNN - could be misleading. Just to clarify things, that building is not / not the U.S. consulate.
Saturday, April 3, 2010
The Cold War is now history, which is a good thing, especially because WE WON. The U.S. government is starting to declassify many records about the period and release some personnel from their old secrecy agreements. As a result of this new openness, men of a certain age are coming forward with their personal accounts, and that brings me to a good piece of oral history in this weekend's LA Times Magazine, The Road to Area 51:
Area 51. It's the most famous military institution in the world that doesn't officially exist. If it did, it would be found about 100 miles outside Las Vegas in Nevada's high desert, tucked between an Air Force base and an abandoned nuclear testing ground.
Then again, maybe not -- the U.S. government refuses to say. You can't drive anywhere close to it, and until recently, the airspace overhead was restricted -- all the way to outer space. Any mention of Area 51 gets redacted from official documents, even those that have been declassified for decades.
-- snip --
"We couldn't have told you any of this a year ago," [Colonel Hugh "Slip" Slater, 87, who was commander of the Area 51 base in the 1960s] says. "Now we can't tell it to you fast enough." That is because in 2007, the CIA began declassifying the 50-year-old OXCART program. Today, there's a scramble for eyewitnesses to fill in the information gaps. Only a few of the original players are left.
The LA Times is correct that no military institution or facility named Area 51 exists. It's an Officially Certified True Fact that neither the U.S. Air Force nor any other Defense Department entity operates any place by that name. The Air Force can't speak for everyone, of course, and anyway, the place is no longer called Area 51. It's gone through a few names over the years, and is currently known - delightfully - as Homey Airport.
For a place that supposedly doesn't exist, Homey Airport sure gets photographed a lot.
The best thing about stories of Area 51 and Cold War secrecy is the excuse it gives me to embed this old video about Homey D. Clown. Not unlike the U.S. government when people nibble around the edges of its deepest darkest secrets, "Homey don't play dat."
Friday, April 2, 2010
Some things may be cheap in Afghanistan. Renting land anywhere near the U.S. Embassy in Kabul apparently is not. Seems the embassy is leasing a 4.8-acre property from an Afghan landlord to build a 45-meter-wide access road during new construction at the embassy. Later, the land could provide additional access to the expanded embassy compound.
-- snip --
Okay, so how much is this costing us? The rent is $859,440 a year, the embassy said in a recent letter to the Senate. That comes out to just under $4.50 a square foot. "In addition to the rent, the lease provides for payment of $550,000 as compensation for buildings and improvements" on an adjacent site already taken over by the embassy and a "one-time payment of $150,000 for the demolition and removal of a small mosque" on the new parcel, which is "the cost for the landlord to rebuild the mosque elsewhere."
This is a five-year lease, renewable "automatically and indefinitely" unless the U.S. government cancels. Nine hundred grand to lease the land? Was this a talking point that President Obama forgot to raise with President Karzai the other day?
I have two things to say about that, one of them significant and one of them trivial.
First, the trivial. Mr. Kamen's math is wrong. Since there are 43,560 square feet in an acre, the cost per square foot to lease a 4.8-acre parcel at $859,440 is $4.11, not $4.50. So there!
Secondly, that sounds like a good price for land in a capital city. I haven't researched other land leases in Kabul - and neither has Mr. Kamen, I'm sure - but I have looked up the asking prices for parcels of land in Washington DC. Here's one I picked pretty much at random, a small parcel on Rhode Island Avenue that is for lease at $5.50 per square foot per year. It even has an existing building that the landlord will remove for the new tenant, just like the parcel in Kabul.
I guess the WaPo owes an apology to U.S. Embassy Kabul, or, more likely, to the real estate people in the Office of Overseas Buildings. Those guys can bargain like rug merchants!