Thursday, August 30, 2012

Chronic Politics

Washington DC's newest advocacy group has come out in support of President Obama's reelection, but the WaPo reports there are doubts about the group's grassroots bona fides.

When the U.S. Medical Marijuana Chamber of Commerce this week endorsed President Obama for reelection, folks in the media were surprised that an industry that hadn’t been too thrilled with the administration was rallying behind it.

Even more surprised by the development? Mainstream marijuana activists, many of whom have never heard of the organization or its founder, Tom Leto. The major lobbying and advocacy groups have so far held off on endorsing a presidential candidate — they say Obama hasn’t lived up to a vow to back off raids.

-- snip --

Leto, a California-based promoter of hydroponic equipment, explained the gen­esis of the company, a story that only adds a bit of mystery: He was working with the New York PR firm Todd Shapiro Associates to help market his hydroponics business when the concept snowballed into a nationwide organization advocating federal legalization of medical marijuana.

The U.S. Medical Marijuana Chamber of Commerce evidently consists of just Tom Leto plus a website that features a marvelously incoherent statement of endorsement for Obama. Check out the stoner syntax of this sentence:

“Recent research has shown that Obama’s Medical Marijuana usage is a big reason in which he understands the value of Federally allowing this industry to exist.”

Here's a good rule for all weed legalization lobbyists: don't toke up until after you're done drafting policy papers, because otherwise you might come across like a self-parody of a doper wasteoid.

Leto's legislative proposal, which has the heading "HR TK420" - oh, 420, I get it! - would make the USMMCOC the sole authority to tax, regulate and control the newly legalized marijuana industry. That would be a sweet deal if he could get it, but I think there are some heavily armed Mexicans and others who might take issue with that monopoly.

The WaPo story suggests that stoners may tend to be a bit paranoid. Maybe so. Or maybe you're freaking out, man.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Mexican Standoff Over August 24 Shooting Incident

Mexican authorities are still being tight-lipped about Friday's shooting incident, in which two U.S. Embassy employees and a Mexican Navy officer were wounded by gunfire while driving to a naval facility south of Mexico City. The first report from the Associated Press called the incident "a confused running gunbattle," and that remains the case nearly three days later. See Diplopundit's write-up (here) for details of what little is known.

The first official Mexican press release came from the Naval Ministry, and it placed blame on the federal police for misidentifying the embassy vehicle. A Mexican Attorney General's Office spokesman confirmed Saturday that all the shots were fired by federal police units, and he added that Mexico's top police official, Public Security Secretary Genaro Garcia Luna, personally went to the site of the shooting, indicating how seriously he is taking the incident. I've seen unconfirmed reports that twelve federal policemen were relieved of duty pending investigation, however, federal police spokesman Ramon Salinas told CNN yesterday that he would have no further comment and that in the future all information must come from the office of Mexican President Felipe Calderon. President Calderon's office did not respond to a request from CNN.

The U.S. Embassy in Mexico City waited about twelve hours before sending out its first, and so far only, press release.

So, what exactly happened? Did narcos attempt to stop the embassy vehicle, thereby provoking a chase by federal police? If so, it seems they got away clean, leaving no trace behind. Or did federal police mistakenly assume the embassy vehicle was operated by narcos using fake diplomatic plates - which would be an entirely plausible scenario - and fire on it when it evaded their ambush? Did the embassy employees mistake a cluster of federal police vehicles for a narco ambush and flee, leading to mutual confusion? Were the federal police posing as narcos, in some kind of a ruse? Were the federal police themselves narcos?

That last question is the big one, and such suspicion is warranted. Just last week Mexico announced that it replaced all 348 federal police officers assigned to security details at the Mexico City International Airport as a result of the June 25 incident in which three officers were shot to death by fellow officers who were involved in trafficking drugs through the airport.

Mexican press reports say the two embassy employees were treated at a hospital in Cuernavaca for only two hours before they were taken elsewhere. From that, I conclude that somebody thought it prudent to get them into U.S. control as soon as their conditions were stable enough for them to travel.

Since there are two witnesses to the incident who are not under the control of the Mexican government, I assume we will eventually get a satisfactory explanation of what happened.

FYI, Google Earth has good overhead and Street View imagery of the location of the incident. Search for "El Capulin, Morelos, Mexico" and look for the intersection of two east-west highways, Mexico 95D and the Cuernavaca-Ciudad De Mexico. The shooting reportedly took place on a side road about 100 meters north of the large square paved space (which is a Pemex gas station) in between the two highways.

The Mexican news media report that I've embedded above has a depiction of the incident starting at about the 1 minute mark, and well as more still photos and video of the Mexican response to the crime scene than I've found anywhere else.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Most Eyebrow-Raising Headline Of The Week

"Nepali man bites snake to death in revenge attack"

Apocalypse Not

Obama's fundraising appeals went off the deep end again today. Obama wonders: is this ‘the end?’

“It’s August 23rd,” Obama wrote in a fundraising email with “the end?” as its subject line. “And 75 days from now, I’ll either be looking at another four years in the White House — or the end of this opportunity.”

He asked for contributions of $5 or more, saying “we’re getting outspent by wide margins in critical battleground states — and what we do about that today could be the difference between winning and losing on November 6th.”

How desperate is Obama for campaign cash? According to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission (summarized here) Obama has raised and spent way more than Romney so far in 2012. He raised $348 million to Romney's $193 million. He spent $263 million to Romney's $163 million. And he has nearly three times more cash on hand than Romney, $87,747,678 to $30,181,373.

This is the end? My only friend, the end? Of our elaborate plans, the end? Of everything that stands, the end?

Yes, in the silly season that hits Washington every fourth year this qualifies as The End.   

[Colonel Kurtz voice] "the horror ... the horror."

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Narco War in Ciudad Juarez Has A Winner

It looks like the narco war in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, that sub-state conflict on our southern border that has raged on with such excessive violence, and which two years ago reached into the U.S. Consulate staff and their families, has now settled down.

Good news, to be sure, but maybe for a bad reason, as the WaPo reports today - In Mexico’s Murder City, the War Appears Over:

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico — When this city was among the most murderous in the world, the morgue ran out of room, the corpses stacked to the ceiling in the wheezing walk-in freezers.

Medical examiners, in plastic boots, performed a dozen autopsies a day as families of victims waited outside in numbers sufficient to require a line.

For all this, Mexico has not made much sense of one of the most sensational killing sprees in recent history, which has left 10,500 dead in the streets of Juarez as two powerful drug and crime mafias went to war. In 2010, the peak, there were at least 3,115 aggravated homicides, with many months posting more than 300 deaths, according to the newspaper El Diario.

But the fever seems to have broken.

In July, there were just 48 homicides — 33 by gun, seven by beatings, six by strangulation and two by knife. Of these, 40 are considered by authorities to be related to the drug trade or criminal rivalries.

Authorities attribute the decrease in homicides to their own efforts — patrols by the army, arrests by police, new schools to keep young men out of gangs and in the classroom.

Yet ordinary Mexicans suspect there is another, more credible reason for the decrease in extreme violence: The most-wanted drug lord in the world, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, and his Sinaloa cartel have won control of the local drug trade and smuggling routes north.

Put that crown squarely on Guzman's head, because "El Chapo" (Shorty) is by acclamation the biggest drug lord ever. How big is that, exactly? Well, no one on the outside knows exactly, but the New York Times had a very informative essay last June on Cocaine Incorporated that gives you a pretty good idea of how big:

So in a spirit of empirical humility, we shouldn’t accept as gospel the estimate, from the Justice Department, that Colombian and Mexican cartels reap $18 billion to $39 billion from drug sales in the United States each year. (That range alone should give you pause.) Still, even if you take the lowest available numbers, Sinaloa emerges as a titanic player in the global black market. In the sober reckoning of the RAND Corporation, for instance, the gross revenue that all Mexican cartels derive from exporting drugs to the United States amounts to only $6.6 billion. By most estimates, though, Sinaloa has achieved a market share of at least 40 percent and perhaps as much as 60 percent, which means that Chapo Guzmán’s organization would appear to enjoy annual revenues of some $3 billion — comparable in terms of earnings to Netflix or, for that matter, to Facebook.

-- snip --

Even so, the business generates such volumes of currency that there is only so much you can launder or reinvest, which means that money can start to pile up around the house. The most that Martínez ever saw at one time was $30 million, which just sat there, having accumulated in his living room. In 2007, Mexican authorities raided the home of Zhenli Ye Gon, a Chinese-Mexican businessman who is believed to have supplied meth-precursor chemicals to the cartel, and discovered $206 million, the largest cash seizure in history. And that was the money Zhenli held onto — he was an inveterate gambler, who once blew so much cash in Las Vegas that one of the casinos presented him, in consolation, with a Rolls-Royce. “How much money do you have to lose in the casino for them to give you a Rolls-Royce?” Tony Placido, the D.E.A. intelligence official, asked. (The astonishing answer, in Zhenli’s case, is $72 million at a single casino in a single year.) Placido also pointed out that, as a precursor guy, Zhenli was on the low end of the value chain for meth. It makes you wonder about the net worth of the guy who runs the whole show.

When the Sinaloa cartel got that kind of crazy-big it could afford to mop up its remaining enemies and consolidate control over its market. That consolidation allows it to operate as a true cartel for the first time, and when cartels are cartels, public safety wins:

To anyone conversant with economics, reading stories about the Mexican drug wars has long come with a bit of irony. The drug trafficking organizations are commonly known as cartels, but the horrific violence stems precisely from the fact that they aren't cartels. In a legal competitive marketplace in a country with an effective legal and law enforcement apparatus, firms compete by trying to offer a good value proposition to their customers. In an illegal market, firms can compete by trying to kill one another. And in Mexico, that kind of violent competition has been running amok leading to a massive body count. Insofar as you get true cartels—stable, anti-competitive arrangements—then a lot of the problems associated with the drug market go away. There are no competitors to kill, leading to less violence and fewer risks to bystanders.

The U.S. Government once offered a reward of 5 million Gringo dollars for the capture of Guzman, but I can no longer find that offer online, so it may be that we have withdrawn it out of embarrassment. After all, five million would hardly be enough to motivate anyone who is close enough to Guzman to rat him out. He and his crew probably spill that much money.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Watch Obama Fight Budget Numbers With Psychokinesis

Big Tip 'o the Hat to Naked DC for this C-SPAN clip in which Barack Obama spends a solid six minutes trying to kill Paul Ryan using nothing but the concentrated power of his mind. It's even better than The Men Who Stare At Goats.

Oh, and Joe Biden was there, too.

This year I will definitely watch the VP debates.

Friday, August 17, 2012

"The Star Spangled Banner" Sung In The Key Of 18,000 Revs Per Minute

Now that the U.S. Army has decided to cut back on NASCAR sponsorships, I suggest that it look into Formula One racing.

NASCAR isn't bringing in enough Army recruits to justify the sponsorship costs (which are considerable - $26 million went to Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his No. 88 Chevrolet alone), so the Army might want to try something new.

You may say, "Well, Formula One is way too Euro to go over in the American heartland" and I wouldn't disagree. NASCAR has deep Appalachian roots while F1 is all about blatantly foreign stuff, like open-wheel cars and the metric system. F1 even has umlauts, such as in "Nürburgring."

But the Red Bull racing team's stroke of genius takes all that foreign taint away. The Army ought to hire those guys to play the national anthem at every racing event we have. If that doesn't make American motorheads stand up and salute, I don't know what will.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Julian Assange Turns A Whiter Shade Of Pale

I had no idea that the UK is legally prepared to unilaterally withdraw recognition of a diplomatic premise. Not that I think they will actually do it, at least, not over the minor melodrama that is Julian Assange's Excellent Ecuadorian Embassy Adventure, but I am pleased that they at least raised the possibility.

The BBC reported today on the UK 'threat' to arrest Wikileaks founder:

The UK Foreign Office says it can lift the embassy's diplomatic status to fulfill a "legal obligation" to extradite the 41-year-old.

The law the UK has informed Ecuador it could use in the case is the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987 [read it here].

It allows the UK to revoke the diplomatic status of an embassy on UK soil, which in this case would potentially allow police to enter the building to arrest Mr Assange for breaching the terms of his bail.

The act was introduced after PC Yvonne Fletcher was shot outside the Libyan Embassy in London in 1984.

You can see a contemporary British TV news report on the murder of 25-year-old Police Constable Fletcher here. All these years later, delivering her killer to justice is still a political football between the UK and the new, improved, Libya.

The idea of a host country revoking the diplomatic recognition of a premise that is being used for un-diplomatic activity appeals to me. Has the U.S. made that kind of legal provision? If not, we should.

The New York Times has some details on Assange's condition inside the Embassy of Ecuador:

The WikiLeaks founder sleeps on an air mattress in a small office that has been converted to a bedroom, according to accounts of those who have visited him. He has access to a computer and continues to oversee WikiLeaks, his lieutenants have said. Reporters outside the building have seen food being delivered from nearby restaurants.

His presence is a challenge for employees of the embassy. One British government official, citing a conversation with a member of the embassy staff, said that the situation was surreal.

A diplomat familiar with Mr. Assange’s situation said that he spent his time in a back room, which gets no direct sunlight. Several weeks ago he had a bad cold and appeared depressed, the source said.

“He can’t get outside to see the sun,” his mother, Christine Assange, said in a recent interview conducted in Quito for BBC Mundo, a BBC Web site. “I’m worried about his health, as I would be for anybody who is having to stay indoors and not get exercise and have sunlight.”

She said some of Mr. Assange’s friends have encouraged him to put on music and dance as a way of getting physical activity and that they had also brought sunlamps.”

I still say Assange looks like David Bowie's Thin White Duke stage persona from the 1970s.

Maybe the sunlamps will help Assange with his vitamin D deficiency and seasonal affective disorder. But I don't think anything can help him with that major case of melanin impoverishment he's got going on. Assange is undoubtedly the lightest-skinned human being ever to come out of Australia. If he gets any paler he might turn translucent and slip right past the British police on watch outside the embassy.

Give him some color with this before he gets away.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

U.S. Embassy Oslo's Fake-But-Real Bomb Scare

So somebody in Oslo forgot to remove a dummy bomb from an embassy vehicle and that oversight caused a big commotion, including an expensive response by Norwegian emergency services, and even the cancellation of a children's soccer game. That's right, a children's soccer game! All very embarrassing for the Ambassador.

Looking on the sunny side of this incident, at least it shows that our vehicle inspection procedures work, and that's good to know.

Whenever this sort of human error happens, which is often, I marvel again over the fact that there are people who think the U.S. government faked the moon landing, covered up the real truth about the Kennedy assassination, and collaborated with extraterrestrials to invent stealth technology.

ABC News has the following report, Sorry About the Fake Bomb

U.S. officials apologized today for mistakenly leaving a fake bomb attached to an embassy vehicle in Oslo and causing a bomb scare that led to the evacuation of the U.S. embassy, Norway's royal palace and part of downtown Oslo.

The device had been placed beneath an embassy vehicle as part of a security drill and then mistakenly left there. It was spotted by security guards at the embassy's front entrance when someone tried to drive the vehicle onto embassy grounds just after 11 a.m. local time, triggering the evacuation of the embassy and the palace, the cancellation of an international children's soccer game nearby, and an interruption of nearby subway train traffic.

Deputy State Dept. spokesperson Patrick Ventrell confirmed that the device had been used in a previous drill and then forgotten.

"This morning at our U.S. Embassy in Oslo, Norway," said Ventrell, "Embassy security staff identified a suspicious device in an Embassy-owned vehicle and took appropriate precautions. Upon investigation, the device was determined to be a non-threatening training device previously used in an exercise."

"We regret any disruption caused by this incident not only for visitors to the Embassy and others, but neighbors, and we take any potential threat seriously and respond immediately."

In Oslo, the U.S. ambassador apologized to police via a phone call, according to Norwegian media. An embassy spokeswoman also issued a public apology. "The Embassy regrets the uproar this caused," said Marit Andersen. "But to ensure the safety of embassy employees, visitors and our neighbors, it is necessary that we take every security threat seriously and act accordingly. The Embassy would like to express gratitude for the extremely fast and professional response from Norwegian emergency services."

The Oslo bomb squad, emergency services and other agencies responded to the bomb alert. The children's soccer game was cancelled so the field could be used to land helicopters. The Oslo squad removed the object and determined that it was a dummy bomb. The Oslo City Council, according to Norwegian media, is seeking compensation for the police response.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Nine U.S. Troops Punished in Cartagena Prostitution Scandal

Troops and prostitutes - nothing new there

The U.S. Secret Service was quick to investigate the prostitution-and-misconduct scandal that occurred during the Presidential trip to Cartagena last April. As a result of that investigation, eight Secret Service agents were fired or resigned, three were cleared, and one lost his security clearance.

The U.S. Southern Command, however, took its time investigating the military members who supported that Cartagena trip, and has only now released its report.

From the WaPo, report says military members brought prostitutes to Colombia hotel:

A dozen U.S. service members brought women, likely prostitutes, to their hotel rooms in Colombia and also allowed dogs to soil bed linens and building grounds shortly before President Barack Obama arrived in the country for an April summit, according to a military investigation that followed the announcement of punishments for the men.

The dogs ran out of control, too? Yes, but ignore that part for now. Back to the troops:

Seven Army soldiers and two Marines have received administrative punishments for what the report described as misconduct consisting “almost exclusively of patronizing prostitutes and adultery.” Three of the service members have requested courts martial, which would give them a public trial to contest the punishments.

Since 2005, the Uniform Code of Military Justice has outlawed the patronizing of prostitutes. It is punishable by dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and confinement for one year. I don't know whether any servicemen have ever actually been convicted of that offense - possibly none have - but given the high level of political interest in this scandal, those three guys could be the first.

The military report concluded that “the combination of unstructured free time, the prevalence of legalized prostitution and military members’ individual choice to commit misconduct,” were the primary causes of the transgressions. It also found that there was no evidence that the interaction with prostitutes presented any risk to national security, and that no sensitive materials were compromised.

That unstructured free time does pile up when you're on TDY, doesn't it?

The investigation also concluded that there was no broad coordinated effort to commit the misconduct or to cover it up later, although there were some instances where military members may have made misleading or “factually unlikely” statements when questioned about the matter.

Factually unlikely statements? That's a very generous way for SOUTHCOM to characterize it.

By the way, the Cartagena prostitute whose complaint about being short-changed led to all these investigations is now reported to be opening a non-profit organization to assist women who want to get out of prostitution.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Put Down That Beer, POTUS Needs $5

A month or so ago, the Obama re-election campaign suggested that newlyweds should cut out the wedding gifts and ask their guests to instead send the equivalent in donations to Obama.

Thanks to Naked DC for pointing out the latest donation pitch, tweeted earlier today:

There are ninety-seven more days of campaigning still to come. Bottoms up!