Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Ramadi strategy 2006

The Ramadi strategy 2006, prior to the surge, begins success.

It’s a dilemma familiar to counterinsurgency strategists: much of the fighting in Ramadi and other places continues because of the American presence, not in spite of it. U.S. commanders tasked with clearing Ramadi, the latest insurgent hub in Anbar Province, aren’t looking to assault the city with U.S. troops. They want local security forces instead to retake the city gradually. And in recent months a group of tribal leaders in Anbar Province has been working with U.S. forces in that effort, forming a coalition of sheiks who have sent hundreds of their followers to join the Ramadi police force as well as the Iraqi army.
The Ramadi strategy, which in essence replaces U.S. troops with Iraqis even as the fight unfolds, shows some early signs of success. Despite bursts of fighting in Ramadi almost daily, schools are opening, and Iraqi police are circulating on their own in neighborhoods that were previously no-go areas. The end game is far from certain in Ramadi and other violent towns in Anbar Province like Hit and Haditha. But the plan already in motion there now means any additional combat troops President Bush may order to Iraq would be better put to use in Baghdad, which everyone agrees must be stabilized for anything else to work in Iraq.

When U.S. strategy in Iraq called for pulling American forces back to large, heavily protected bases last year,Army Col. Sean MacFarlandwas moving in the opposite direction. He built small, more vulnerable combat outposts in Ramadi’s most dangerous neighborhoods — places where al-Qaeda had taken root.
“I was going the wrong way down a one-way street,” MacFarland says.
Soon after, MacFarland started negotiating with a group of Sunni sheiks, some of whom have had mixed loyalties in the war. His superiors initially were wary, fearful the plan could backfire, he says. He forged ahead anyway.

This month’s breakthrough came when Lt. Col. Patrick Frank, responsible for west Baghdad’s dangerous Bayaa, Jihad and Amal neighborhoods, met Sept. 3 with tribal leaders belonging to the Mahdi Army at Camp Falcon, a sprawling U.S. base.To preserve the movement’s posture of not negotiating with Americans, the tribal leaders did not discuss their affiliation, but their identity was well known. “The organization we are extending our hand to is the Jaish al Mahdi,” Frank said, using the group’s Arabic name. A Sadr follower in west Baghdad confirmed that Shiite and Sunni tribal leaders were in negotiations with the Americans for a truce in the area.

MacFarland was bucking Odierno I believe, which would not have been pretty. Too bad MacFarland was not testifying about his plan instead of Patraeus representing him.

These are examples of the backbone of the army at the Captain, Lt. Col., and Col. level, where retention is severely declining. Smart people given an impossible task.

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Gallup world poll and extreme global thought

This analysis of Gallup Poll data offers insights for us to seriously think about. It also fits in with John Robb’s expert theory on terrorisms.

Often U.S. policy-makers and other intellectuals draw an analogy between the Cold War and the current “global war on terror” and recommend analogous strategies, because, after all, both conflicts battled over people’s hearts and minds. But results from Gallup’s surveys in the Muslim world point to important differences between the two conflicts and real risks in confusing them by applying similar strategies.
At the heart of the Cold War analogy is the belief that religious fanaticism fuels extremism and therefore replacing Muslims’ worldview with Western liberalism is the path to victory against terrorism. To begin to understand the danger of this diagnosis, we must first understand the factors that do and do not drive sympathy for violence.
As a starting point, Muslims do not hold a monopoly on extremist views. While 6% of Americans think attacks in which civilians are targets are “completely justified,” in both Lebanon and Iran, this figure is 2%, and in Saudi Arabia, it’s 4%. In Europe, Muslims in Paris and London were no more likely than were their counterparts in the general public to believe attacks on civilians are ever justified and at least as likely to reject violence, even for a “noble cause.”
After analyzing survey data representing more than 90% of the global Muslim population, Gallup found that despite widespread anti-American sentiment, only a small minority saw the 9/11 attacks as morally justified. Even more significant, there was no correlation between level of religiosity and extremism among respondents. Among the 7% of the population that fits in the politically radicalized category — those who saw the 9/11 attacks as completely justifiable and have an unfavorable view of the United States — 94% said religion is an important part of their daily lives, compared with 90% among those in the moderate majority. And no significant difference exists between radicals and moderates in mosque attendance.
Gallup probed respondents further and actually asked both those who condoned and condemned extremist acts why they said what they did. The responses fly in the face of conventional wisdom. For example, in Indonesia, the largest Muslim majority country in the world, many of those who condemned terrorism cited humanitarian or religious justifications to support their response. For example, one woman said, “Killing one life is as sinful as killing the whole world,” paraphrasing verse 5:32 in the Quran.
On the other hand, not a single respondent in Indonesia who condoned the attacks of 9/11 cited the Quran for justification. Instead, this group’s responses were markedly secular and worldly. For example, one Indonesian respondent said, “The U.S. government is too controlling toward other countries, seems like colonizing.”
The real difference between those who condone terrorist acts and all others is about politics, not piety. For example, the politically radicalized often cite “occupation and U.S. domination” as their greatest fear for their country and only a small minority of them agree the United States would allow people in the region to fashion their own political future or that it is serious about supporting democracy in the region. Also, among this group’s top responses was the view that to better relations with the Muslim world, the West should respect Islam and stop imposing its beliefs and policies. In contrast, moderates most often mentioned economic problems as their greatest fear for their country, and along with respecting Islam, they see economic support and investments as a way for the West to better relations. Moderates are also more likely than the politically radicalized to say the United States is serious about promoting democracy.
While the politically radicalized are as likely as the moderate majority to say better relations with the West is of personal concern to them, they are much less likely to believe the West reciprocates this concern and therefore much less likely to believe improved relations will ever come. In short, perceptions of being under siege characterize those who sympathize with extremism.

Several thoughts occur to me. I am also not an expert on these matters so I must rely on readings to try to figure out what is going on and what policy I can reasonably support.

1. I am averse to ‘global truths’ because I have never found them adequate to explain human behaviors or produce accurate planning information.
2. History often shows the deficiency of such approaches after the fact, which I will not explore on this post. Such perceptions are used to confirm a priori beliefs instead of leading to questions to be solved. Perhaps this is a matter of temperament for some, or calculation for others.
3. In a speech, asking questions of nuance is very hum drum and has no punch or ring to it. Advertising needs catchy stimuli to work, so works on our limbic system the most dramatically. As a way to develop policy…not so good.

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Pinochio becomes a real boy?

The Pinochio Law carries the fiction of companies as persons to greater depth, finally.

Last week, the British government agreed to introduce a new law titled the “Corporate Manslaughter Statute.” This law is remarkable because it attempts to make companies–not persons–criminally responsible for deaths caused by a firm’s gross negligence. In this column, I will examine the law’s structure, its history, and finally, I will ask how American law approaches the same problems the Corporate Manslaughter Act is designed to solve.

The Corporate Manslaughter Act
The British law allows the state to prosecute a corporation or partnership (an “organization” for short) for the crime of manslaughter if the organization causes the death of a person as the result of its “gross” breach of a duty owed under the law of negligence. However, in order for the state to prove its case, it must prove that a substantial element of the gross breach of duty resulted from the way in which the organization’s activities were “managed or organised by its senior management.”

The penalties for violating the act are quite interesting. First, a court can impose unlimited financial penalties on the organization, once it is convicted. Second, a court may issue a “publicity order,” which requires the organization to publicly announce (through advertisements, it seems) that it has been successfully prosecuted for corporate manslaughter and is subject to any other penalties the court may have ordered.

The third and final potential penalty is that the court can order the organization to publicly take remedial steps to correct the conditions that led to the breach of duty. This penalty could have potentially far-reaching consequences, depending on how the courts choose to interpret it. For example, under this remedy, suppose a court decides that a design defect was the result of conscious indifference to the safety of others (such as in the famous Ford Pinto case). The court could simply order a manufacturer to change the design of their product–a power that no American court currently possesses.

The Impetus for the British Law: Spectacular and Disturbing Accidents
The most direct explanation for the advent of the British law is that there have been a number of spectacular industrial and transportation accidents in the United Kingdom since the Thatcher era of privatization. This is especially true in the area of rail traffic, where the public has become increasingly uneasy about the degree to which the private train operators who took over public lines have placed profit about the public good.

The Southall rail crash of 1997, in which 10 people died in a high-speed train in London, illustrated for many the weakness of the old laws. The company that operated the train, GWT, was prosecuted for common-law manslaughter, but the case failed, despite the voluminous evidence that there was a systematic failure of safety management. Similar disasters involving ferry wrecks and gas works explosions helped reinforce the impression that corporations were not answerable in court because senior management always pointed the finger at someone else.

British versus American Law on Corporate Responsibility
In the United States, as in England, it is very difficult to hold either organizations or their officers responsible for gross negligence. For example, while many law students learn about the success civil tort plaintiffs had in suing Ford for failing to spend $13 per car to strengthen a gas tank known to be vulnerable to rear- end collisions, few learn that, at the same time, a prosecutor brought a case in criminal negligence against Ford in Indiana—and lost the jury trial.

In conclusion, the new Corporate Manslaughter Act is a fascinating experiment. Americans who are interested in deterring organizational wrongdoing should watch carefully to see how British judges apply the law, which prosecutions are and are not brought, and whether the law has a measurable, positive impact on either accident costs or liability costs. If the U.S. Supreme Court continues to cut back on the availability of punitive damages under state and federal law, perhaps the gap in deterrence–if there is one–created by the Supreme Court’s recent decisions could, in the future, be filled by something like the Corporate Manslaughter Act.

America relies on private litigation to obtain redress of harm, but this method does not regard the company as a person in the way other parts of US law allow. The British proposal allows for this viewpoint of the fiction of ‘person’ but does not have the private citizen mechanism for ‘punitive damages’ that US law allows. What do we wish for?
(BTW, I made up the title, just like The McGyver heist between Switzerland and China)

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Cherry picking facts from captured agencies

dmarek suggested this article about government functions regarding the FDA.

“The FDA doesn’t disagree with the scientific information about cherries, but it does say that cherries have not been recognized as safe and effective when used as labeled. Do we need a double-blind placebo-controlled study to prove cherries promote health?

Jeffrey May, editor of CCH Trade Regulation Reporter (the “publication of record” in the antitrust and trade regulation fields), quotes Rep. Ron Paul as saying there is a need to stop “federal bureaucrats from preventing Americans from learning about simple ways to improve their health.”

In answer, even when the FDA had 1000 agents and up to date labs in the 1990’s, it was way too busy. Now, when global sourcing makes for a lot of proven risk so far, the FDA has 422 agents and out of date labs, whose work is screened by a political appointee from the White House. Ouch!

Also, in another vein some info on treatments for PTSD is related to the issue of best practice and health care.

There is a wonderful, rigourous double blind study by a well known expert in trauma research that suggests YOGA as a form of treatment of choice for many people as opposed to more behavioral (non-motor oriented) therapies. Significant difference ( in the reducing symptoms category), but a 50% dropout rate. Behavioral techniques had significantly lessor results but a 10% dropout rate.

Mental health cannot charge for Yoga lessons however, so the study was published in a non-psych journal after being refused by professional journals. Informed consent suffers, and so do clients who are not offered reasonable alternatives. I believe informed individual consent is a very conservative viewpoint, is it not?

Blue Cross/Blue Shield in MA will not pay for EMDR, a treatment stated as one of the best practice treatments in Britain, the VA, DoD, etc. An odd world we live in.

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Air Force increase as predicted

The Foreign Policy In Focus a think tank, reports increases in the role of the US Air Force in Iraq.

These assaults are part of what may be the best kept secret of the Iraq-Afghanistan conflicts: an enormous intensification of US bombardments in these and other countries in the region, the increasing number of civilian casualties such a strategy entails, and the growing role of pilot-less killers in the conflict.
According to Associated Press, there has been a five-fold increase in the number of bombs dropped on Iraq during the first six months of 2007 over the same period in 2006. More than 30 tons of those have been cluster weapons, which take an especially heavy toll on civilians.
The U.S. Navy has added an aircraft carrier to its Persian Gulf force, and the Air Force has moved F-16s into Balad air base north of Baghdad.
Balad, which currently conducts 10,000 air operations a week, is strengthening runways to handle the increase in air activity. Col. David Reynolds told the AP, “We would like to get to be a field like Langley, if you will.” The Langley field in Virginia is one of the Air Force’s biggest and most sophisticated airfields.
The Air Force certainly appears to be settling in for a long war. “Until we can determine that the Iraqis have got their air force to significant capability,” says Lt Gen. Gary North, the regional air commander, “I think the coalition will be here to support that effort.”
The Iraqi air force is virtually non-existent. It has no combat aircraft and only a handful of transports.
Improving the runways has allowed the Air Force to move B1-B bombers from Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean to Balad, where the big aircraft have been carrying out daily strikes. A B1-B can carry up to 24 tons of bombs.
The step-up in air attacks is partly a reflection of how beaten up and overextended U.S. ground troops are. While Army units put in 15-month tours, Air Force deployments are only four months, with some only half that. And Iraqi and Afghani insurgents have virtually no ability to inflict casualties on aircraft flying at 20,000 feet and using laser and satellite-guided weapons, in contrast to the serious damage they are doing to US ground troops.
Besides increasing the number of F-16s, B1-Bs, and A-10 attack planes, Predator flight hours over both countries have doubled from 2005. “The Predator is coming into its own as a no-kidding weapon verses a reconnaissance-only platform,” brags Maj. Jon Dagley, commander of the 46th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron.
The Air Force is also deploying a bigger, faster and more muscular version of the Predator, the MQ-9 “Reaper” — as in grim — a robot capable of carrying four Hellfire missiles, plus two 500 lb. bombs.
The Predators and the Reapers have several advantages, the most obvious being they don’t need pilots. “With more Reapers I could send manned airplanes home,” says North.
At $8.5 million an aircraft — the smaller Predator comes in at $4.5 million apiece — they are also considerably cheaper than the F-16 ($19 million) the B1-B ($200+ million) and even the A-10 ($9.8 million).
The Air Force plans to deploy 170 Predators and 70 Reapers over the next three years. “It is possible that in our lifetime we will be able to run a war without ever leaving the US,” Lt Col David Branham told the New York Times.
The result of the stepped up air war, according to the London-based organization Iraq Body Count, is an increase in civilian casualties. A Lancet study of “excess deaths” caused by the Iraq war found that air attacks were responsible for 13% of the deaths — 76,000 as of June 2006 — and that 50% of the deaths of children under 15 were caused by air strikes.
The number of civilian deaths in Afghanistan from air strikes has created a rift between the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the United States.
“A senior British commander,” according to the New York Times, has pressed U.S. Special Forces (SF) to leave southern Afghanistan because their use of air power was alienating the local people. SFs work in small teams and are dependent on air power for support.

As I have been stating for awhile, the increase in the use of the Air Force is being accelerated. The notion of drones being piloted from Nevada is more disturbing than if they were piloted from the Green Zone or the Air Force base George Bush visited recently. Still, the beat goes on and on.

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The Jester

Jester’s Court update e-mail from Fool.com.

The JC this week focuses on another acronym: PE. According to Slate.com, private equity firms have started buying up their own debt at significantly reduced prices. As the author explained, it works a little like this:

You pay your friend a few dollars so that you can host a small party while she’s out of town. You leave the pool filled with garbage, beer cans, and human waste. The next day you show up dressed as a pool cleaner and charge your friend a few bucks to mop up the mess you made.
Click here to enjoy the full article.

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Chickens and the eggs…a parable or paradox?

The Cato Institute’s James Bovard in 1995 had thoughts on private versus public monies.

ADM’s finagling in Washington may have cost taxpayers and consumers more than $40 billion since 1980, counting the cost of the sugar program ($3 billion in higher prices each year), the ethanol program, and federal food giveaways and export subsidies. Some of those dubious programs probably would have been enacted even if Andreas had not been foisting cash on every politician in sight, but ADM deserves credit for being a decisive force in enacting and perpetuating many of the federal government’s most abusive policies.
ADM’s political strategy has long been based on the ideas that politicians should control prices and markets and that ADM and Andreas should control politicians. Some commentators may conclude that the ADM experience proves the need for campaign finance reform, but that would be the triumph of hope over experience. Campaign finance laws have been repeatedly revised in recent decades, yet politics does not smell any better.(137) As long as the politicians are shoveling out billions of dollars in handouts, some citizens will find a way to reward politicians for “looking after their interests.”
Besides, at a time when Congress is rightfully moving toward removing millions of able-bodied citizens from welfare rolls, there is no excuse to perpetuate handouts for a company like ADM. If a company can afford endless advertisements on national television, it is safe to conclude that it does not need any help from American taxpayers.
The Supreme Court, in Savings and Loan Association v. Topeka (1875), stated, “To lay with one hand the power of the government on the property of the citizen and with the other to bestow it upon favored individuals to aid private enterprises and build up private fortunes is none the less a robbery because it is done under the forms of law and is called taxation.”(138) Andreas apparently can buy politicians, but that does not mean that ADM has a right to shake down American consumers and taxpayers.
Congress, in the pending farm bill and in legislation to extend the ethanol gasoline fuel tax credit, has an excellent chance to shut down the ADM gravy train. Congress’s action on the ADM agenda will be an appropriate litmus test of the new Republican leadership’s spine. If Congress cannot stand up to ADM, how can they be expected to stand up for American taxpayers and consumers in other, less egregious cases?

Even the WTO GATS pressure will not move this mountain very soon. How do we know who captured whom? And is that a sane way to think? And the Dems passed the Agricultural Bill 2007.

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Private and public feedback and function discussion

It seems there are a few rules that emerged from yesterday’s discussion about private versus public functions and efficiencies.

1. Government functions are inefficient all on their own. There are not enough feedback mechanisms to make government efficient at any point in time, and its functions serve ‘minimal’ or no purpose. With the taxing ability, however, it does not go out of business and just gets bigger.

2. Private market functions have inefficient times called market failures but pricing weeds out winners and losers continuously as they serve buying preferences of customers. Winners and losers are companies only, and not the players so much.

3. 1 and 2 have no moral and ethical considerations as a societal preference, since pricing (and some others?) is the key mechanism that makes sense to sort everything out.

4. Government is the preferred method of coercion because it is more ‘efficient’ in the art of coercion than private companies.

5. Private companies that capture government functions are blameless, since government opportunity costs make it seductively irresistable and coerces companies into such behavior.

6. ‘Eventual’ corrections is a term for private companies (no time given or examples) for not adapting, whereas government is incapable of adapting except when it changes policy.

7.

Please correct any misconceptions I have about yesterday’s discussion.

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Old meaning, new boost for Feb. 14

The headlines read Valentine flowers boost US economy

Wilting flowers

When researchers at Bar-Ilan University in Israel put cut flowers in a weak solution of Viagra — one-fiftieth the amount taken by men for impotence — the flowers survived for two weeks instead of one. They suspect the Viagra works through its effects on nitric oxide, which is also how the drug treats erectile dysfunction.

Actually, off-label uses can be productive.

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Patriots and viewpoints

Alternet reports the following:

The Op-Ed by seven active duty U.S. soldiers in Iraq questioning the war drew international attention just three weeks ago. Now two of the seven are dead.

Sgt. Omar Mora and Sgt. Yance Gray died Monday in a vehicle accident in western Baghdad, two of seven U.S. troops killed in the incident which was reported just as Gen. David Petraeus was about to report to Congress on progress in the “surge.” The names have just been released.

The controversial Times column on Aug. 19 was called “The War As We Saw It,” and expressed skepticism about American gains in Iraq. “To believe that Americans, with an occupying force that long ago outlived its reluctant welcome, can win over a recalcitrant local population and win this counterinsurgency is far-fetched,” the group wrote.

One of the other five authors of the Times piece, Staff Sergeant Jeremy Murphy, an Army Ranger and reconnaissance team leader, was shot in the head while the article was being written. He was expected to survive after being flown to a military hospital in the United States.

It closed: “We need not talk about our morale. As committed soldiers, we will see this mission through.”

I offer a few moments silence for these men and their families.

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