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Sunday, August 29

Solar Cycle 24

Earth hit by solar storm, August 2010 - NASA photo
UPDATE August 30, 5:00 AM ET
Last night John Batchelor asked science writer and space exploration historian Robert Zimmerman about Solar Cycle 24. Bob's response cast into question recent reports about the cycle, which have raised alarms that SC24 could generate massive solar storms as the cycle reaches its maximum. (See post below.)

John asked about the spectacular solar storm that lit up the Earth's magnetic field (see the picture above) and Bob replied nonchalantly that it was actually a pretty weak storm LOL.

Bob said that SC24, which began in January 2008, is already showing signs that it will have a weak maximum. He also explained that scientists have projected that about every 200 years an entire solar cycle is weak and that the current cycle is showing signs of being that type. He added that if SC24 does turn out to be as weak as projected it would be arriving right on time -- 200 years after the last weak solar cycle!

So. Although I changed the original title of this post to reflect a toned-down view of SC24, I am leaving it up because it's a good reminder to this blogger and readers that the more dramatic the news report the more carefully it must be approached. I am keenly aware of this dictum when I take in foreign relations and defense news but I admit that news about the dramatic solar storm this month and equally dramatic reports about its implications took me off guard.

(The NASA report I linked to below, published at the start of SC24, is still useful background information on SC24.)

Someday, sure as rain, Earth will be visited by destructive solar storms -- but probably not during Solar Cycle 24 if Bob Zimmerman is correct -- and after listening to his illuminating discussions on Batchelor's show over the years I give attention to his knowledge of scientific opinion on space matters.

As of this time the podcast for the Sunday interview (11:50 PM; 11:00-12:00 podcast segment) is not yet posted to the WABC radio website; it should be available later today.
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Solar Cycle 24 officially began on January 4, 2008 when astronomers noted the appearance of a reversed-polarity solar flare that was a mere dot, no wider than Earth, on the sun's vast surface. But Sunspot 981 was the harbinger of a solar storm so massive, worst-case scenario is that it will crash all the power grids on Earth. As to when the storm will strike, that's a matter of conjecture. It could be a century from now, or within the next year or two.

What has been established is that solar cycles occur in 11 year phases and that if history is a guide we're overdue for a 'big one.' Even if Solar Cycle 24 doesn't bring the big one, which can occur while a solar cycle is firing the maximum number of flares, a mini-big one during SC 24's maximum would still wreak havoc with satellites and global positioning systems.

If the big one hits in your lifetime don't worry, you won't fry or turn radioactive. It's just that if you train carrier pigeons or know how to work an abacus or slide rule you can name your price, at least until the engineers completely restore all the crashed electronic systems, which could take a year or maybe two or three or four.

But if you'd like to scare yourself silly, or you're one of those people who will be heartbroken if nothing terribly strange happens in 2012, you can read this article and focus on the worst-case predictions from scientists. The more phlegmatic Pundita readers can make do with this NASA report. And there's Wikipedia's article, for those who haven't the faintest idea what solar cycles do. They do a lot, including influencing the weather in space and Earth's climate.

Saturday, August 28

Peaceful Sneaking

"But we ARE standing on our side of the line"


This is nothing against Sebastian Gorka's discussions of asymmetrical warfare, which seems to be his area of expertise. But each time he talks with John Batchelor about Asia, Pundita can found pulling out tufts of her hair and banging her head on the nearest hard surface.

So it was last night, when the sahib held forth on the PLA (China's army) and their doctrine of unrestricted warfare, which was codified in a book that came out about a decade ago. Gorka is clearly under the impression that this kind of warfare is a recent invention of China's defense establishment.

For the sahib's benefit, the whole of India's post-Independence defense experience can be summed in one sentence: "The Indians caught them sneaking."

"Them" being the Pakistanis and the Chinese.

A favorite Chinese ploy was -- and still is -- for the PLA to get 'nomads' to drive their herds across a part of the Indian border. When the Indian military catches them at it and tells them to move back onto China's side of the border, the nomads draw themselves up to their full height and snap that they are standing on their sacred ancestral grazing lands inside China.

Then comes the call to China's military. A few Chinese officers show up, fiddle with the measuring tape then say, 'The nomads are right. They're in Chinese territory.'

The Indians tell them no, the nomads have set up camp two feet inside the Indian border. After much squabbling and more playing with measuring tape, the Indians open a map to show exactly where the border is.

The Chinese look at the map and say, 'That's a map the white man drew when he ruled you. Why do you put faith in anything the white man drew?'

I am not making any of this up.

After days or even months of argument, during which the nomads drive their herds a few more feet inside the Indian border, the Indian army finally gets the Chinese to pull the nomads back. But when they move back, they are still an inch inside the Indian border. Then the Chinese redraw their map to show the one inch to be inside Chinese territory and save the map for the next round of border disputes, which is actually never-ending because the Chinese are always testing the limits of their land's boundaries.

The nomads are just one ploy; there is the old road-building ploy ('You want us to rip up this entire road just because you think it's six inches inside your border? Now who's being petty?')

And there's the Long Lost Chinese Tribe ploy. I keep telling the Pakistanis and Iranians not to accept too much help from the Chinese because if they keep it up, one day they will discover they are Chinese. I've even warned South Africans about this. They tell me, 'Pundita, they would never try it; look at us, we're black.'

To which the Chinese will chorus, 'Black with Chinese characteristics!' Mark my words.

The Han Chinese have been practicing unrestricted warfare since anyone can remember. How does the sahib think the map of China got so big? But they do it inch by inch and foot by foot. So when they speak of 'Peaceful Rising' what they mean is 'Peaceful Sneaking.'

All this looks new to Sebastian Gorka simply because he is a Natoist. The Nato governments never paid attention to Chinese (or Pakistani) aggression toward India until they became alarmed that China was carrying out unrestricted warfare against the USA.

The alarm came a little late in the day -- after the U.S. goverment did everything it could to play China against Russia, then got deeply in hock to China.

Friday, August 27

The Vladimir Putin Reality Show rolls on


I scooped up this story of Putin's latest explois from Dan Riehl's Riehl World View. Dan and the Associated Press, which reported on the story, greeted Putin's adventure with sour grapes: Dan calling him a wuss when it turned out Putin's crossbow was firing darts to collect skin samples to help scientists track the endangered gray whale (Dude! I am so bummed. That's something Al Gore would do."), and the AP sniffing that this was the latest attempt to portray Putin as macho:
He has been photographed fishing bare-chested in Russia's Altai region, and was shown on television diving into an icy river and swimming the butterfly stroke. In April he attached a satellite-tracking collar on a tranquilized polar bear. He also has shot a Siberian tiger with a tranquilizer gun and released leopards into a wildlife sanctuary.
You left out his road-testing a Hog and his bare-chested horseback riding.

Aw, c'mon, guys. The world's rudest prime minister, one of the epithets attached to him, is just having a good time whiling away the hours until he becomes Russia's president again.

One brave lady: Venezuelan beauty queen's seven-star protest against Chavez regime


So what's brave about Stefania Fernandez, the outgoing 2009 Miss Universe, holding up her country's flag during the 2010 Miss Universe contest last week? The flag is missing the eighth star that Hugo Chavez added to it.

On August 26 Power Line blogger Scott Johnson belatedly caught the significance of Fernandez's gesture, which was missed (or studiously ignored) by the U.S. news media. Fausta's blog picked up on Johnson's find, adding links to the article he highlighted on Venezuela's incredibly high murder rate since Chavez took office, which reportedly now tops that of every current war zone in the world.

Since Chavez decreed the eight-star flag, which is his tribute to Simon Bolivar, the country's original seven-star flag has become a symbol of protest for Venezuelans who support democracy against Chavez's totalitarian regime.

Thursday, August 26

For the benefit of a naive American named Walter Russell Mead: Pakistan and the art of the con

The laying on of hands: Pakistan's President comforts a flood survivor


The "con" in con games derives from the word "confidence." Con games are so termed because the key to any effective scam is to gain the mark's confidence. But the best con games make use of a psychological trick that's also deployed by experienced salespeople: if you can get the customer to keep agreeing with you, he'll be more likely to keep saying yes when it comes time to close the sale, even if he doesn't want to buy.

The same trick works for a confidence game. Even if the mark suspects he's being scammed, he's more likely to part with his money if he's been agreeing with the confidence artist all along.

That, in a few words, is how the most skilled beggars for Pakistan's regime have managed to keep parting international organizations and charities from their money decade after decade, even though the marks know that in the past they've thrown good money after bad.

Now one would think that after all these years the marks would wise up. Well they do, so the Pakistanis who are skilled at dialing for dollars -- and every other kind of hard currency -- simply make the wind-up to the pitch longer and longer each time they run the scam. This gives the mark more and more occasions to agree.

What follows is a textbook example of this trick in action. The author, a Pakistani named Ahmed Rashid, knows that at this juncture most American taxpayers don't want another dime going to Pakistan's government. So he makes the detailing of Pakistan's sins so lurid, so utterly on target, that you find yourself muttering, 'Now there's a Pakistani who tells it like it is.' But notice how lengthy the litany of sins. After you've said 'By gum he's right,' 75 times, then comes the pitch.

At the end of Mr Rashid's discourse I will explain, in the manner of revealing the simple trick behind a complicated feat of magic, the single fact that stands behind all the madness of modern Pakistan. But I ask you not to jump ahead. Ahmed Rashid has many important things to tell you about Pakistan, which you need to know.
The National Interest
From the Sept-Oct 2010 issue
The Anarchic Republic of Pakistan
by Ahmed Rashid

THERE IS perhaps no other political-military elite in the world whose aspirations for great-power regional status, whose desire to overextend and outmatch itself with meager resources, so outstrips reality as that of Pakistan. If it did not have such dire consequences for 170 million Pakistanis and nearly 2 billion people living in South Asia, this magical thinking would be amusing.

This is a country that sadly appears on every failing-state list and still wants to increase its arsenal from around 60 atomic weapons to well over 100 by buying two new nuclear reactors from China. This is a country isolated and friendless in its own region, facing unprecedented homegrown terrorism from extremists its army once trained, yet it pursues a “forward policy” in Afghanistan to ensure a pro-Pakistan government in Kabul as soon as the Americans leave.

For a state whose economy is on the skids and dependent on the IMF for massive bailouts, whose elite refuse to pay taxes, whose army drains an estimated 20 percent of the country’s annual budget, Pakistan continues to insist that peace with India is impossible for decades to come. For a country that was founded as a modern democracy for Muslims and non-Muslims alike and claims to be the bastion of moderate Islam, it has the worst discriminatory laws against minorities in the Muslim world and is being ripped apart through sectarian and extremist violence by radical groups who want to establish a new Islamic emirate in South Asia.

Pakistan’s military-intelligence establishment, or “deep state” as it is called, has lost over 2,300 soldiers battling these terrorists—the majority in the last 15 months after much U.S. cajoling to go after at least the Pakistani (if not the Afghan) Taliban. Despite these losses and considerable low morale in the armed forces, it still follows a pick-and-choose policy toward extremists, refusing to fight those who will confront India on its behalf as well as those Taliban who kill Western and Afghan soldiers in the war next-door. An army that has received nearly $12 billion in direct military aid from the United States since 2001, and has favored-nation status from NATO, still keeps the leaders of the Afghan Taliban in safe refuge. Pakistan’s civilians, politicians and intellectuals are helpless; they cannot make the deep state see sense as long as the West continues its duplicitous policies of propping up the military-intelligence establishment in opposition to popular society while demanding that the Pakistani civilian government wrest back control of the country.

Now there is a serious and deadly overlap—Pakistan’s extremists are determined to topple the political system and the deep state. The army is not oblivious to this reality, but it seems unwilling or unable to tackle the real issues at hand. “This is nothing but a creeping coup d’état by the forces of darkness, a coup that will spare no one,” wrote analyst Kamran Shafi in the Dawn newspaper this summer. “It is them against everyone else—an Islamic Emirate of Pakistan is the goal,” he added.

The deep state is failing its own people, who are in turn becoming more traumatized by the incessant violence, the lack of justice or security, and the perennial economic crisis. This only leads the civilian government to be even more inept, inconsequential and incapable of improving governance.

THE MOTHER of all insurgencies is taking place in the seven tribal agencies of Bajaur, Mohmand, Khyber, Orakzai, Kurram, and North and South Waziristan in the northwest-frontier region where the Pakistani Pashtun tribes—under the nomenclature of the Pakistani Taliban—are at war with the state. Amnesty International recently said that 4 million Pakistanis in this and adjoining regions are living under Taliban rule. Every time the army claims to have cleared one agency, the Taliban rebound in another with a vengeance.

Also operating from these northern bases are a dozen groups from Kashmir, Karachi and Punjab which were once trained by the military’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to fight in Indian Kashmir. They have now turned against their former handlers. The Pashtun Taliban have joined with their more sophisticated, better educated urban comrades to plan horrific acts of terrorism in Pakistani cities. Together they want to overthrow the state and establish an extremist Islamic system.

The Pakistani Taliban do not just kill police and soldiers in their barracks or even innocent civilians in mosques. On June 8 they launched a brazen attack on a convoy of trucks carrying NATO war materials for troops in Afghanistan in heavily populated northern Punjab—torching 50 vehicles. There is now talk of the Taliban shutting down Karachi port, where 80 percent of NATO supplies arrive. The public fear is that the army is losing control of the country as the extremists become ever stronger, ever more daring and ever more capable.

If local tribesmen even attempt collaboration with the state, deadly reprisals ensue. In the supposedly “Taliban-free” Mohmand Agency, people received U.S.-donated foodstuffs on July 8. The next day, while tribal elders gathered to discuss helping the army combat the Taliban, two suicide bombings killed over 100 people and wounded another 115.

Since 2004, the area has been hemorrhaging people. Out of a total population of 3.5 million, more than 1 million have fled the tribal agencies while another half a million left during the recent fighting only to become internally displaced refugees in nearby towns.

Amid the Pakistani Taliban, vicious Sunni sectarian groups prosper, galvanizing hatred of all minorities, Muslim and non-Muslim alike. The Ahmadi sect follows the teachings of a nineteenth-century religious reformer, promoting a peaceful variant of Islam. And yet in the 1970s, the Pakistani government declared the Ahmadis a non-Muslim minority and many Pakistanis today view them as heretics to Islam. On May 28 in Lahore, upwards of nine gunmen and suicide bombers blasted their way into two mosques and killed 90 Ahmadis, wounding another 110. The other minority groups, whether they be Shia, Christian, Hindu or Sikh, have lived in even greater fear since.

The Christian community, which makes up less than 2 percent of the population, is already a target. In July 2009, eight Christians were burned alive in the small Punjab town of Gojra, and in riots that followed an entire Christian neighborhood was scorched. The 17 militants arrested for these crimes were not brought to trial, and the police, facing local pressure, later let them go. A year later, riots erupted again in Faisalabad, Punjab, after two Christians were killed while being held in police custody. Since then, any Christians who can have been seeking political asylum abroad in droves.

An even-worse fate has befallen Shia Muslims. Prominent Shia technocrats—politicians, doctors, architects, bureaucrats and judges—have been singled out for assassination in all major cities, while in December 2009, 43 Shias were massacred by Sunni extremists in Karachi.

Thus the Pakistani Taliban have a two-pronged offensive: the first is to politically undermine the state and its organs through terror; the second is to commit sectarian violence against all those they believe are not true Muslims. This intolerance has developed deep roots in Pakistan over the past three decades, and it has now been boosted by the jihadist policies of al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban. The government’s inability to deal with sectarian threats has led to some Muslim groups arming themselves and taking the law into their own hands. This only leads to further loss of control by the state.

AS ISLAMIC extremist violence spreads, the very fabric of the country is falling apart. Mapping how widespread and varied the violence is gives but a hint of the disaster facing Pakistani society. Growing poverty, inflation and unemployment have led to an unprecedented increase in suicides—sometimes of entire families. One hundred ninety-one people killed themselves in the first six months of this year; at more than one death a day, it is one of the highest rates in the world. And when 113 of those happen in the country’s richest province (Punjab), it is obvious not a single Pakistani is surviving this unscathed—no matter how seemingly privileged. Violence against women is also on the rise; 8,500 violent incidents took place last year. One thousand four hundred of those were murders. Another 680 were suicides.

Freedom of information is quickly coming to a halt. Journalists receive regular threats if they do not report the statements of extremist groups, while extremist literature, newspapers and pamphlets continue to flood the market with no attempts by the state to stop them. And now leading electronics markets in major cities have been repeatedly bombed and shop owners warned to stop selling computers and TVs. Rather than combat the threat, the government has succumbed, closing down Facebook for three weeks starting in May and announcing that major web sites like Google and Yahoo will be censored for “anti-Islamic material.” This is shuttering a vibrant society and slowly turning a country that long strived for democratic openness into a closed state held hostage by radical Islam.

Meanwhile, the lack of services is creating its own anarchy. In Karachi, with a population of 18 million, violence is so endemic and its perpetrators so diverse that it is difficult to summarize. What we do know is that beyond Islamic extremism, the city is in the grip of heavily armed mafias and criminal gangs, who kill over control of water supplies, public transport, land deals and the drug trade. Car theft is rampant. The most lucrative business is kidnapping for ransom. The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reports that there were 260 targeted killings in Karachi in the first six months of this year, compared to 156 last year. Eight hundred eighty-nine murders were reported in the same period. Because the city is the melting pot of the country, much of the violence is between ethnic groups who live in virtual ghettoes and compete for the scarce resources of the city.

Ethnic violence is translated into interparty political assassinations. The Muhajir-dominated Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) which rules Karachi is made up of Urdu-speaking migrants from India. They are in a bloody war with an MQM offshoot and in intense rivalry with the largest Pashtun secular political group (the Awami National Party) as well as with the majority Sindhi population. The Muhajirs blame the Pashtuns for introducing the Taliban to Karachi, and ethnic killings are multiplying; party workers of all groups are being targeted.

There is another civil war going on in Baluchistan Province between Baluch separatists and the army. A province long deprived of development, political freedom and revenue, this is the fifth insurgency by the Baluch tribes against the army since Pakistan’s founding. The ISI maintains that Indian agents based in Afghanistan and the Arabian Gulf states are arming and funding the Baluch. The insurgents launch ambushes and assassinations, and lay land mines every day. They have begun killing prominent non-Baluch who long ago settled in the province. School teachers, university professors and officials have proven the easiest targets—and this in a province that professes a literacy rate of only 37 percent (20 percent for women) compared to the national average of 54 percent. This summer Interior Minister Rehman Malik said that four separatist Baluch “armies” funded by India had forced 100,000 people to migrate from the province.

Baluch militants killed 252 non-Baluch settlers from January to June of this year, also assassinating 13 army officers. The army in turn has brutalized Baluch society and several thousand young Baluch are said to be missing, presumed in prison and being tortured. The army’s insistence that the entire Baluch problem is caused by India and that the Baluch have no grievances of their own simply leads to further escalation of violence and further alienation of the population. The province erupted in days of riots and strikes after prominent Baluch nationalist leader Habib Jalib was gunned down in Quetta in mid-July.

The local justice system in Pakistan is in dire straits. Policemen, judges and lawyers are frequently intimidated by terrorist groups. Evidence is rarely collected against the arrested perpetrators of attacks, and either the police or judges release the suspects. If not, the terrorists are quite capable of freeing their own by force from jails, courthouses and hospitals. After the Ahmadi killings, terrorists attacked a hospital where one of their arrested comrades was being treated under heavy police guard. In June, terrorists attacked a Karachi courthouse, freeing four members of their group undergoing trial for the earlier massacre of 43 Shias in the city.

It is now a cliché to describe how a worsening economy and the lack of education and job opportunities have helped spawn Islamic extremism in Pakistan and elsewhere. Yet it is a trope worth repeating.

PAKISTAN’S GEOPOLITICAL assertiveness in the midst of all this chaos is a result of the military’s overwhelming power. It may be losing its hold on vast amounts of territory to the extremists, but it is taking control of Pakistan’s national security and foreign policy away from the government. As the country is now led by weak and widely considered to be incompetent and corrupt civilian rule with President Asif Ali Zardari, the husband of slain leader Benazir Bhutto, at the helm, the armed forces have found it relatively easy to carry out their own programs.

Following its election, the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) sought to reform the policies of the Musharraf era. This included improving relations with India, Iran and Afghanistan and ending Pakistan’s regional isolation. They failed.

Zardari’s overtures regarding India were rebuffed, not only by New Delhi, but also by the Pakistan army—such civilian initiatives are considered an encroachment on military territory. And the November 2008 massacre in Mumbai by Pakistani extremists paralyzed engagement with India for nearly two years. India accuses the ISI of having a direct role in the massacre, which Pakistan denies. Yet Lashkar-e-Taiba, the militant group behind the massacre, has not been curbed.

The situation in Afghanistan isn’t much better. Although Zardari improved personal relations with President Hamid Karzai, it had little impact on the army’s posture—an anti-Karzai, anti-ruling-government strategy. Only recently has the army decided that with a U.S. troop withdrawal starting next year, Karzai and the Afghan Taliban need to be brought together. The Afghan Taliban leadership has had sanctuary and support from the military since its retreat into Pakistan in 2001. Though former-President George W. Bush never attempted to tackle this conundrum, President Barack Obama has privately acknowledged what must be done, trying hard to bring Kabul and Islamabad together. Certainly, any recent success can’t be chalked up to the civilian leadership in Pakistan. The army says it wants to see a stable and peaceful Afghanistan after the U.S. withdrawal, and to that end it is trying to promote talks between Karzai and the various factions of the Taliban. However, many Afghans remain suspicious of an army that wants an Afghanistan free of Indian influence.

Zardari and the PPP no longer make any moves that oppose the army’s foreign-policy aims. And over the past two years, a strident judiciary, at times backed by the military, has whittled away at the president’s power, trying repeatedly to undermine Zardari or force him to resign by resurrecting old corruption charges against him and by asserting its influence over the constitution—which is in fact Parliament’s prerogative. This judicial collision with parts of the government has further stymied the country’s reputation and put off aid donors and investors. It is destroying Pakistan’s democratic character. Making matters worse, the all-powerful General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has just received a three-year extension to his term as army chief. It was a move that stunned the country. Many Pakistanis concluded that this further reduced the power of civilian authority.

Political instability is precisely what Pakistan does not need. The country requires a sustained period of democracy under civilian governance—even if it is a bad, poorly functioning democracy. If Zardari is unpopular or ineffective, then he should be removed in the next election, not through a judicial or military coup.

FOR DECADES, a cyclical pattern of military rule followed by its collapse and replacement by elected but weak civilian governments has occurred. In time, they too fall—often with a prod from the ISI—and the military returns. Repeated military rule has resulted in the decline of political parties, the exile or execution of civilian leaders, their lack of experience or knowledge when they do come to power, and the unwillingness of young professionals to get involved in politics. The political class has seen no new blood for a generation.

The PPP suffers from all these problems and more. However, it remains the only national party in Pakistan, for it has support in all the provinces—Baluchistan, Sindh, Punjab and the former North-West Frontier (now called Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa). Every other party, including the Pakistan Muslim League–N (the main opposition group), has degenerated. They are now nothing more than regional organizations representing local ethnicities or territories. Only the political alliance the PPP has forged in Parliament can claim to forward a national agenda; it includes regional parties belonging to all ethnic groups. If the government had the total support of the military and the judiciary, there would be a chance of greater stability and better policy options.

Despite the severe problems it faces, the PPP has accrued some political successes in which lie hope for the future. After much delay and procrastination, Parliament passed the Eighteenth Amendment to the constitution in April 2010 that incorporates over 100 changes to the 1973 version of the document, virtually restoring it to its original form and doing away with authoritarian amendments made by successive military dictators.

From having a de facto presidential form of government under military rule, Pakistan has now reverted back to having a parliamentary form of government with the elected PPP Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani as the chief executive. The amendment also introduces a new judicial commission to choose judges for the higher courts (justified surely, but it has unsurprisingly angered the judiciary and further prolonged the conflict between it and the PPP).

The amendment also grants an unprecedented degree of autonomy to the four provinces, increases decentralization, and brings many social subjects such as health care and education under provincial control for the first time. This has long been the demand of the three smaller provinces which have felt deprived by the concentration of wealth and power in Punjab. Now the government is giving an additional 10 percent of the federal tax take to the provinces under a new National Finance Commission Award. And Punjab made a rare sacrifice by giving part of its share to the poorer provinces. Over 70 percent of federal taxes now revert back to Baluchistan, Sindh, Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa. For the first time there is relative peace between the center and the periphery.

In an effort to continue these steps toward stability, the PPP has moved to give greater autonomy to the northern areas abutting China. This is especially remarkable because they are part of the territory involved in the Kashmir dispute between Islamabad and New Delhi. Because of the areas’ proximity to India, Pakistan has exercised control over the region, which has never had self-government. That is now changing.

What is still missing is a plan to bring the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA)—the seven tribal agencies—into the mainstream of governance. Currently this territory has considerable autonomy from Islamabad; the government of the former North-West Frontier Province has no jurisdiction over FATA. Instead, the area is ruled by the president and laws drafted by the British during the Raj. This has led to a power vacuum that has produced a terrorist safe haven. Even though the army claims to have a counterterrorism strategy for the area, it is a plan that cannot work until the army is willing to accept a political agenda that brings FATA under the central government’s control.

DESPITE THE incompetence of the government, the groundwork is now being laid for a genuine democratic dispensation through provincial autonomy, decentralization and the rebuilding of democratic institutions—theoretically making it more difficult for the army to seize power again.

If these steps are matched with equivalent advances in restoring economic stability, reviving local and foreign investment, combating terrorism and Islamic extremism on a nationwide basis, and modernizing the judicial and police systems, Pakistan has a far brighter future than is currently portrayed.

For now, a staggering foreign debt of $54 billion is crippling the country. An estimated growth rate of 4.1 percent for 2009–10 (a negligible improvement from last year’s 1.3 percent) means Pakistan is likely stuck in this financial quagmire. An energy crisis that leads to 14 hours a day of electricity cuts has crippled industry, farming and exports.

The irresponsible handling of the economy is only deepening the crisis. This year’s $38 billion budget has seen a 30 percent increase in military expenditures from last year. This clearly leaves little money for health and education. With 28 percent of the funds reserved for servicing foreign debt, nearly 60 percent of the budget is taken up by that and defense. The entire development pool of $9.2 billion is provided by foreign donors.

Pakistan needs financial aid desperately. Europe is extremely hostile to further bailouts of the country because it is well aware that the military is still spending more money arming itself against India than it is spending to fight the Taliban. On a recent trip to the European Union in Brussels, Prime Minister Gilani was sharply taken to task for his failure to provide good governance and greater transparency on how aid dollars are being utilized.

It is to the credit of the current U.S. administration that it sees and understands that progress is being made, and is providing both financial aid and political support to deepen these changes. For the first time, under the Kerry-Lugar bill, there is U.S. aid that is specifically earmarked for civilian rebuilding rather than military spending.

However, no real change is possible without a change taking place in the army’s obsessive mind-set regarding India, its determination to define and control national security, and its pursuit of an aggressive forward policy in the region rather than first fixing things at home.

It is insufficient for the army to merely acknowledge that its past pursuit of foreign-policy goals through extremist proxies has proven so destructive; it is also necessary for the army to agree to a civilian-led peace process with India. Civilians must have a greater say in what constitutes national security. Until that happens, the army’s focus on the threat from New Delhi prevents it from truly acknowledging the problems it faces from extremism at home.

The army’s track record shows that it cannot offer political or economic solutions for Pakistan. Indeed, the history of military regimes here shows that they only deepen economic and political problems, widen the social, ethnic and class divide, and alienate the country from international investment and aid.

Today there is much greater awareness among the Pakistani people that extremism poses a severe threat to the country and their livelihoods. There is also a much greater acceptance that ultimately civilian rule is better than military or mullah dictatorship. What is still lacking in the war against extremism, however, is a consistent and powerful message from both the government and the army that they will combat all terrorists -- not just those who threaten their security. Pakistan’s selective approach to extremism has to end before it can defeat the problem and move on to become what its founders originally intended it to be.
**************
Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani journalist and writer, is the author most recently of Descent into Chaos: The U.S. and the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia (Penguin, 2009). His book Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia (Yale, 2010) has been updated and republished on the tenth anniversary of its original release.
I wish Walter Russell Mead could have seen the Chinese Communists when they first came to Washington to beg from the IMF and the World Bank. They were so skinny their bones were practically sticking out of their skin. They had to wear Mao suits because they were such a bag of bones that Western suits looked ridiculous on them. And these were high-level cadres.

They were a surly lot of beggars. Their rudeness and belligerence were matched only by their atrocious English. And frankly, even those who showed mastery of English gave few signs of intelligent life.

They stood in marked contrast to the elegantly suited Pakistanis, whose British-accented English was as superb as their manners and charm, and who were by then old hands at wheedling development loans out of the international banks. Many of those Pakistanis were brilliant; they understood the most arcane financial deals as if by osmosis. They mastered every aspect of development philosophy with the same ease, and made significant contributions to it.

Little more than a quarter century later, the Chinese practically own the IMF and the World Bank -- and the U.S. Treasury, to boot. And the Pakistanis are still wheedling funds out of those institutions.

There are many factors to help explain the 'Chinese Miracle' but those tend to overlook how far behind the Chinese were, when they first turned to the West for help, and how many handicaps they had to overcome.

So how is it that the Chinese were able to pull ahead of the Pakistanis so quickly even though they started behind them?

The answer is that the Chinese did not want to be dependent on those Western institutions. China's government still takes advantage of the benefits of those institutions, but it doesn't need them anymore. The Pakistanis saw dependence on those institutions as a way of life, on the assumption that the salad days of those institutions would never end.

The Chinese came to Washington absolutely determined that China would stand on its own feet and as quickly as possible, and they never wavered in their determination. They soon learned how stacked the development game was in favor of the donor governments, yet they spent little time grumbling. Whatever setbacks they received, they just worked twice as hard in response.

In short, the Chinese wanted terribly for their country to succeed. The Pakistani elite wanted to keep on doing what they'd done under the British, and before the British arrived in India. They wanted to be carried, and they worked very hard in their own way toward that end. That their country came to a shambles, they got exactly what they worked for. To this day, they are still being carried.

Why are the Pakistanis content to be seen as beggars and con artists? They don't see themselves that way.

When the Muslims conquered swaths of India and settled there to rule, they took on the affectations of the rulers already there, who acted in the manner of the most powerful Indian gods. And the most powerful Indian gods, as with the most powerful gods in every ancient civilization, have moods that can turn in an instant from beneficence to cruelty, and who are fickle and tricky when humans least expect it. The qualities that modern Westerners find admirable: dependability, truthfulness, trustworthiness -- these are the qualities, from the viewpoint of Pakistan's elite, of a good servant, not a master.

I've explained before that when Pakistan and India gained independence, Pakistan's elite went from being propped up by the British to being propped by the United States. Thus, old ways of thinking about leaders got frozen in time in Pakistan.

If you ask a Pakistani Muslim whether he believes in the gods, most would probably say no. But the attitudes they admire, the attitudes of the elite that they both despise and tolerate, are bound up with an almost atavistic respect for an ancient tradition, in which rulers were seen by their subjects to have the destructive and beneficent powers of a god.

The upshot? As Ahmed Rashid himself once explained, if one of Pakistan's 'feudal' landlords put up his dog for political office, everyone in the lord's district would vote for the dog.

Wednesday, August 25

Fears that Islamabad will divert most foreign flood aid to Sindh and Punjab

See B Raman's latest post. This is a realistic fear that is backed by history.

Pundita blows a gasket, Part 2

At the request of a reader, at 5 PM ET I added links to comments I made in the Mexico post about US meddling in 2006 Mexico's presidential election.

Note that the Washington Post report I link to on Dick Morris does not explain why Manuel López Obrador told Vicente Fox to shut up during the presidential campaign. For that answer and the answers to many other things you'd need to read Mexico's Stolen Election, another link I added to the comments.

The report explains that Fox broke Mexican law by making anti-Obrador speeches during the campaign. Yet the opposition and their American consultants used Obrador's remark to portray him as a dangerous demagogue.

Isn't there a U.S. law against the U.S. government meddling in foreign elections? Yes, but the meddling is done through 'cutouts.' Old story. Yet while surveying the carnage on both sides of the U.S. southern border, and the utter wreck of today's Mexico, I can only shake my head in wonder at that much ill-advised meddling.

Pundita blows a gasket

See 3:00 PM update to Mexico post today. I wasn't supposed to be on the internet today. Now just see what happened when I decided to peek at the day's headlines. When I return from vacation I am dedicating this blog to organic vegetable growing or fashion tips. I give up. Washington has won.

Mexico Watch: Calderón gets around to explaining roots of Mexico drug crime (UPDATED 2X)

Wonder why it took him so long. Wouldn't have anything to do with not wanting to collect taxes, would it? From Bloomberg's report today titled Bodies of 72 People Found in Mass Grave in Northern Mexico After Shootout
[...] Calderon said today that the country needed to boost security efforts on the local level in order to more effectively combat drug traffickers.

More than 400 municipalities in Mexico don’t have their own police force, and 90 percent of those that do have fewer than 100 officers, Calderon said at an event in Mexico City to discuss security with political leaders.

More than 60 percent of municipal police officers receive a monthly salary of 4,000 pesos ($306) or less, he said.

“The root of crime in Mexico is at the local level,” Calderon said. “The municipalities haven’t been able to respond with efficiency to the challenge of insecurity.”
Thanks so awfully much for letting us know, Mr Calderón. I guess from your announcement today it's not just dope-smoking, gun-smuggling gringos that are at fault, as you charged the other day. [banging her head on the keyboard] Sigh.
***************
3:00 PM and 5:00 PM Updates
Latest update includes revisions to text re López Obrador and Mexico's presidential election, links.
***************

Remember what López Obrador said in 2005 when George Bush told Vicente Fox that he needed to raise taxes? He said there was no need to raise taxes; just collect the taxes already on the books.

For that (and for the cardinal sins of failing to please the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and announcing that Mexicans shouldn't have to go to the United States to find work) López Obrador was branded as mentally unbalanced, a Communist, and a friend of dictators.

Now how did that view of him arise during the Mexican presidential campaign? For the answer, we could start by asking the U.S. ad agencies that Calderón reportedly hired during the campaign. And we could ask Americans Dick Morris and Rob Allyn, who were hired as consultants for the Calderón campaign.

See this report in addition to the ones I included above, for more on U.S. meddling in Mexico's 2006 presidential election.

So here we are today, dealing with a narco war that is "failure to collect taxes from rich Mexicans" spelled backward, and with American tax money being poured into the drug war.

And with deep thinkers yammering that the only real solution is to legalize pot in the USA. How's that supposed to work, pray tell? The legal dope industry would be so heavily regulated and taxed in the USA that Mexico would still be the primary grower, an industry that the drug lords would still control.

And with Calderón calling Americans who complain about being overrun by illegal immigrants "racists."

And with Mexican drug gangs running riot in the United States.

What can I call the deep thinkers in Washington's Mexico Policy Establishment? How to describe them? Idiots! Parakeet brains --no no that would be insulting parakeets.

And here's that map again, in case anyone missed it:


And here's my August 23 commentary on the map, in which I observed that it was actually Calderón who was the insurgency because clearly the drug lords were Mexico's government, and the post titled Mexico: If it walks like an insurgency and quacks like an insurgency ...

I give up. Washington has won. I'm going on vacation before my doctor puts me on blood pressure medication. Bye.

Tuesday, August 24

John Batchelor Show Tue: Bloomberg Sr. Economic Analyst Joesph Brusuelas, et al. re bond bubble, US housing mkt., Fed Reserve, etc. plus Australia

I have become a fan of Joe Brusuelas through his appearances on the John Batchelor Show. He has what I'd call a steel-trap mind; very precise and organized, and it shows in his speech pattern; the result is that he conveys complex economic issues with great clarity. Tonight he co-hosted the show for a time; below, John Batchelor's excerpts from the discussions.

For readers who want to hear the discussions in their entirety the podcasts for the segments are posted (as of 1:00 AM 8/25) at the WABC radio web page.

Also, I note that John has been closely following the political situation in Australia, both on his show and his blog, ever since Rudd's government collapsed. See the 8/24 summaries below and podcasts for the latest reports on the election from WSJ and Dow Jones reporters and John's latest post on Oz

Tuesday 24 August 2010
By John Batchelor on August 24, 2010
Co-host: Joesph Brusuelas, Bloomberg senior economic analyst

Tuesday 905P Eastern Time: Jeremy J Siegel, Wharton, in re: bond bubble. [Summary] People are so spooked, they'll buy 10-yr Treasurys at 2-1/2% - unprecedented,. Lemmings line up to buy bond funds. After the last several days it's hard to say "too gloomy." Assumption that the economy will bounce back? As a professional economist I see productivity as the most important factor - and right now I see some high numbers that'll translate into higher incomes and disposable spending. it may take a year or more, but it'll happen. We have a large number [of people working on the most advanced questions]; we're going to have a v strong economy. The Fed seems to be in a food fight - those who think we should print money vs those who think we should raise rates.

And then there's Bernanke. "We need to be sure that the money supply does not shrink." Bernanke is right: he's a monetary policy expert who's studied the Japan deflation and the 1930s depression. He'll do everything to prevent a repeat of the 1930s. That's why we won't be a Japan. Their bubble broke in 1989, deflation didn't start till twelve years later. The main thing that made the '30s disastrous was a 30% decline in the consumer price index; no one could pay his debts. You cannot allow that to happen. I think Bernanke will persuade the Open Market Committee to add enough liquidity to prevent deflation.

JBrusuelas: Would you agree with Bullard, St Louis Fed, to do whatever it takes but slowly? What's the most efficacious method here?

JS: I don't think we need another trillion and a half. I'd move up between $200 and 400 bil. I'd actually buy packages. Long-term loan rates are high; the Fed should buy auto loans, credit card loans, business loans. This would bring down the rates and add liquidity to the system. One of the biggest inhibiting factors is that we'll end this year in a few months and nobody know what any of the taxes will be in 2011. Unprecedented. Advisors don't know what to tell their clients. Obama must come out and tell us what he proposes for 2011. Unless he comes up with some tax policies - not punitive ones - that is, those alone would bring about a large rally in the Street.

Tuesday 920P Eastern Time: Paul Vigna, in re: The existing home-sales housing number is really bad. Nobody expected good news - and then it was down 27%. Nobody thought it'd be that bad. It's back to the worst level since 1996; the housing market is falling off a cliff. This is the aftereffect of the homebuyer tax credit. What we're seeing now is where the housing market really is. Also, the supply of homes for sale is now at 12 months. A new cyclical high.

JBr: The data are so grim, so bad on so many levels. The share of distressed homes as a share of overall sales inched up to 32%. One-third of the market is severely discounted homes. As that share is captured, it'll create a negative feedback loop. It's happening at exactly the wrong time, at the Q3. This is why the response today was across asset classes. This is more than the tax subsidy ending; this is a dress-rehearsal for deflation. Consumers are behaving rationally: they don't believe that the housing market has bottomed out and they won't buy till they do.

PV: What is the Fed going to do? They have their annual meeting in Jackson Hole; Bernanke will speak on Friday. What can they do? They've nailed interest rates to the floor; they've bought a trillion in bonds and will buy 200 billion more. What else can they do?

JB: Paul Vigna reports that the housing number shocked the WSJ newsroom. Joseph Brusuelas was on TV when the news came out: he heard deep sighs all around. Is Congress part of the problem? Yes - one of those 2,000-page [legislation] bills. No cost control. We need very simple solutions, which do exist. This thing is building on fear. The Obama administration is a deer frozen in headlights. We could be near a major sell-off in the market.

Tuesday 935P Eastern Time: Joseph Brusuelas; Paul Vigna, Markets Hub, WSJ; Laurence Kotlikoff ("The US is bankrupt."), Boston University, in re:

LK: unprecedented housing decline: it was expected in a general sense; the real question is what will happen in three or four months. I'm a pretty dismal economist, but we could alarm the public. If you own a home and hte price goes down, if you just stay in your home you're OK. We've got the same eqpt, persons, behavior, as we did two years ago.

PV: the mkt would be impressed if Bernanke said "quantitative easing." They've been doing this, which is how they expanded their balance sheet [i.e., put us all trillions in debt]. Printing money is the best thing for the stock market, but not for the rest of us.

[Brusuelas]: The discipline of economics is in a sorry state right now, caught between the fantasy of a perfect market and .[?] Banks have about $800 billion in excess reserves. The real solution is fundamental reform in healthcare, tax policy, financial conduct. National savings rate is 1%. It was 13% in 1960.

Tuesday 950P Eastern Time: Paul Vigna, et al., in re: The Fed can't do much about employment. They can print money, but they can't print jobs, as Larry Kudlow wrote last week.

[Batchelor] Now we have QE lite.

J Brusuelas: More to do with risks of deflation in the economy. The idea of deflation has taken hold in the housing market. George Melloan has a column today in the WSJ, says the reason companies won't spend cash and banks won't lend is a lack of certainty. Essentially, a capital strike. The WH has the tools; will it use them?

Tuesday 1005P (705P Pacific Time): Mary Kissel, WSJ Asia, in re: The still-unresolved Australian elections, as seen from Hong Kong again. For the moment. seems to favor the Liberals, although marginally. Tony Abbot told the truth and has transformed Australian politics. Labour lost a lot of votes to the Greens; as they gain more protest votes, they'll move the party to the left. See: OzWaits and AusVotes on twitter

Tuesday 1020P (720P Pacific Time): John Fund, WSJ, in re: President Obama has become one of the biggest millstones around Democrats' necks heading into the fall elections.

Tuesday 1035P (735P Pacific Time): Elizabeth Rosenthal, NYT, in re: GM crops in Europe

Tuesday 1050P (750P Pacific Time): John Tamny, RealClearmarkets, in re: housing is a black hole for the economy

Tuesday 1105P (805P Pacific Time): John Burns, NYT, in re: WikiLeaks's Assange: molestation charges

Tuesday 1120P (820P Pacific Time): Rachel Pannett, DowJones, in re: Australian continued minority government negotiations. Debriefing the election. Australian dollar ("the kwid") recovers; miners rise. Broadband plans may be the battleground.

Tuesday 1135P (835P Pacific Time): Bob Zimmerman, author, in re: astrobiology; oxygenation in ancient ocean margins precedes atmospheric rise

Tuesday 1150P (850P Pacific Time): Nick Wade, NYT, in re: Harvard fake-science investigation of Marc Hauser.

Tuesday/Wed 1205A (905 Pacific Time): John Schwartz, NYT, in re: Katrina five years later - a new Corps of Engineers wall, crenelated.

Tuesday/Wed 1220A (920 Pacific Time): John Vinocur, NYT, in re: Obama and Merkel: both in trouble with Europe

Tuesday/Wed 1235A (935P Pacific Time): George Melloan, WSJ, in re: The Fed, deflation, inflation, stagflation

Tuesday/Wed 1250A (950P Pacific Time): Exeunt.
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French Revolution, Pakistani style


Altaf Hussain, exiled leader of Pakistan's MQM (Muttahida Quami Movement political party) is calling for a French-style revolution in Pakistan. Here is his idea of revolution:
He called on "patriotic generals to initiate martial law-like steps against federal politicians" and legal proceedings against those "who save their crops and divert floods towards the localities as well as villages of the poor".

In a country where most leading politicians are also titled hereditary landlords, he called for a French Revolution-style redistribution of land between the classes in response to unprecedented destruction.
Anything else Pakistan's military can do for you, Mr Hussain? Peel you a grape?

Somebody please send that man a history of the French Revolution but the Cliff Notes is that France's downtrodden knew the king's troops were not going to revolt for them. So they did it themselves. A difficult concept to get across, to be sure, in a land where even the peasants think like a pasha.
Tarbela, Pakistan -- Everyone here remembers the Americans.

They came with their blueprints, their engineering know-how and their money. By the time they left in the early 1970s, they had helped build a world-class dam that kept parts of Pakistan dry this month while vast stretches of the country drowned.

"This dam gives great benefit to the nation, and if not for the Americans it would never have been constructed," said Syed Naimat Shah, a local contractor.

But Shah hasn't seen any new assistance from the Americans in decades, and apparently many Pakistanis haven't, either. The U.S. government has provided about $18 billion in civilian and military aid to Pakistan since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks made this country America's most essential, and vexing, ally. Yet according to a Pew Research Center survey released last month, half of Pakistanis believe the United States gives little to no assistance here.

For Obama administration officials, that's a source of deep anxiety -- and frustration. Pakistan is at the center of U.S. hopes to turn around the flagging Afghan war, but persistent anti-American feelings limit the extent of Pakistani cooperation. On her visit to Pakistan last month, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton mused that Americans must wonder "why we're sending money to a country that doesn't want it."

Pakistanis insist they are not ungrateful. They just don't see any tangible impact from the massive sums the United States spends. Unlike assistance from decades ago, the money from the post-Sept. 11 era, Pakistanis say, tends to vanish without a trace.

"Everyone here hates the American government," said Shah, a spirited 71-year-old with a stark white beard and a sharp tongue. "I haven't seen a penny of this U.S. assistance."

Analysts say there are many reasons: poor coordination with the Pakistani government, a lack of understanding of Pakistan's needs and a reluctance to produce iconic projects, lest they become targets for terrorists. ...

Word has begun to spread in Tarbela that the Americans are coming back, and former mayor Firdous Khan said he would welcome them.

He said he admired the American engineers who helped build the dam for their ability to get things done without delay, and without demanding a bribe.

But decades later, surveying his town's potholed streets, its archaic sewer system and its vast population of unemployed young men, Khan's mind turns to regret: "I just wish they had stayed."
Why stop with fixing your potholes? How about if we wipe your butts for you?

No, Madam Secretary, we're not wondering why you're giving money to lazy, shiftless people who're mad that Americans don't perform to their expectations. We're wondering why we're giving money to lazy, shiftless people in Washington who don't respect the tax dollars they're entrusted with. That's what we're wondering about.

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Monday, August 23

Ah! I see from this map of Mexico that we've had everything backward.

It has occurred to me that I should start actually reading the briefs Stratfor sends me. Thank goodness the BBC does read their copies, which is how they got hold of just the kind the map that I snapped in an earlier post today was needed. Here is the map.



I was asking in the August 20 post whether Mexico was facing an insurgency. Now what does that map tell you? Yes, by gum there is an insurgency in Mexico. The insurgency is President in Name Only Felipe Calderón and the troops loyal to him. The government in Mexico is very clearly the drug cartels.

And from the map, the only reason this hasn't made it into the headlines is that the nation's capital is in territory under dispute by the cartels.

Well well well, three wells make a river. Bingo! Have a nice day. What else am
I supposed to say? My idea for a good English-language daily newspaper on Mexico came ten years too late?

Solutions? Before solutions must come a clear statement of the problem. Mexico is in the same boat as Pakistan and several other countries: their elite doesn't have to live with the mess it's created. The country's wealthy can afford to live elsewhere much of the year while their faithful retainers stay behind and deal with business. They can jet or helicopter away at a moments' notice. They have armies of guards to protect them. They have the money to pay bribes for any municipal service, such roads and wells, that they want from officials. And much of their wealth is parked in bank accounts outside the country.

If all that sounds vaguely familiar -- it's as much describing the Antebellum period in America. By then the wealthiest plantation owners didn't live in the south; they lived in places such as Rhode Island and Massachusetts. The south was too backward, and too hot, for those who didn't have to live there. The elite just showed up down south to attend social functions when the weather there cooled off and the insects died back. Otherwise they left a black slave in charge of the plantation and he reported to a white overseer.

In short, the elite -- people who traditionally have the best track record at fomenting and seeing through social revolutions -- have even far less impetus to revolt in the globalized age than they did in earlier eras.

U.S. dodging Danielle's bullet, it seems

Image taken this afternoon. Washington Post weather gang thinks all models point to the storm heading away from USA:
... The latest hurricane track models nearly unanimously keep Danielle well out to sea, moving the storm toward the west-northwest and northwest for the next several days before recurving it north and then northeast away from the U.S. East Coast. ...

Note re 'Mexico insurgency' and 'Balochistan' posts

> Because I published the 'Mexico insurgency' essay late on Friday afternoon I've reposted it at the top of essays I posted this weekend and early this morning. That's one essay I hope readers don't overlook.

> Within moments of publishing the Balochistan-Pak military post early this morning (time stamped 12:37 AM but actually published at 1:13 AM), I began to wonder if Pakistan's Nation newspaper had gotten one over. I quickly revised the post, but this is to alert readers who saw the post between 1:13 and 1:28 AM that there is an updated version, to which I added a link to B. Raman's July 31 analysis about the extent to which Islamabad has lost its grip on Balochistan.

> I was asking in the Cuernavaca post earlier today for a map of the regions in Mexico that were controlled by the drug gangs. The BBC included one in their Aug. 22 post on the beheadings in Cuernavaca.


Mexico: If it walks like an insurgency and quacks like an insurgency, is it an insurgency?

For the answer, U.S. citizens can take this quiz:

1. Name two states in Mexico.

2. In what state is Mexico's capital city located?

3. What is the full name of Mexico's president?

4. Does Mexico have a vice president and if so what is his or her name?

5. What countries border Mexico?

6. What are Mexico's major political parties?

7. What type of government does Mexico have?


That's right, fellow citizens of the United States of America: We haven't the faintest idea whether Mexico's government is dealing with drug wars or an insurgency because of where Mexico is situated:

On the far side of the moon.
-------->

See that little blotch where the arrow points to? That's the precise location of Mexico on the moon's far side.

I don't want to hear readers in Tucson or San Diego tell me that's not true. Do your cities produce an English-language daily newspaper on Mexico?

Does Mexico produce an English-language daily? Not according to Wikipedia's list of Mexico's newspapers, which shows there is not one single English language newspaper produced in Mexico, even though Mexico is part of NAFTA.

Now why is that, do you think?

You can come up with a truthful answer, or you can use the graceful explanation I've provided.

If you say, 'Oh Pundita it's expensive to produce a good newspaper' -- who's talking about a print edition?

And I don't want to hear that a good English-language website about Mexico's daily affairs would be expensive to produce. The Iraq Slogger website was expensive to produce, which is why the owners of the site finally had to make it a subscription site. That's because they had to pay informants who were risking their lives to bring them news of what was going on in Iraq. They had to pay for good English translations, summaries and analysis of Arabic-language Iraqi daily newspapers. They had to pay for summaries and analysis of the best daily mainstream English-language press reports on Iraq. And they had to pay for good original reporting on the country.

But a factor in the amazing turnaround in the situation in Iraq is that Iraq Slogger, which got off the ground around the time of the Iraq 'surge,' provided Americans, including the U.S. government and news media, with the first comprehensive picture of what was happening in the country.

CNN took out subscriptions to Iraq Slogger for its news team, and surely every other major TV and print news producer followed suit. And through a grant every desk at the U.S. Department of State had access to Slogger. In addition, any academic or non-profit blog or website with a serious interest in Iraq received a free subscription on request.

Slogger wrapped up when the major phase of U.S. operations ended in Iraq and the U.S. public turned its attention away from the country. But it's hard to explain in a few words just how useful Iraq Slogger was. Before Slogger it had taken professional research outfits, bloggers, reporters, U.S. legislators' assistants, civil servants, and even military analysts hours of scouring the internet daily to scrape together tiny snapshots of the situation in Iraq that never added up to a clear picture.

Everything changed with the introduction of Iraq Slogger, which was started by Eason Jordan and Robert Young Pelton. With a few keystrokes to log onto the site, the important daily news from the country was all there, along with all the news from Washington related to Iraq, right before your eyes.

Daily visits to Slogger, particularly when combined with daily readings at Bill Roggio's Long War Journal website (which focused on the U.S. military's kinetic operations in Iraq), finally provided a clear picture of the war effort, and how it intersected with Iraq's resurrection from the ashes of Saddam Hussein's regime.

The upshot was that within six months of Iraq Slogger's existence the quality of mainstream reporting and analysis on Iraq skyrocketed -- and with that, so did public and government understanding of the situation in the country, not only in the United States but in Europe and the Middle East, as well.

The American public and official Washington desperately need a Mexico Slogger but we have nothing like it. Yet such a site would be easy for a group of bilingual American (or Mexican) bloggers to put together because all it would require would be English translations of news, analyis, and opinion in Mexico's newspapers and TV. No original reporting or analysis would be necessary; that would simply be icing on the cake.

As to why Americans don't have such a website, I don't know. I do know that those on both sides of the border who have the most invested in cheap Mexican labor and remittance transfers to Mexico don't want Americans to have a clear picture of what's going on in Mexico.

So take the explanation I offered. Far side of the moon. Because let me tell you; there is no sound reason why an oil rich next-door neighbor to the world's lone superpower nation should be such a basket case that millions of its people have to leave their country to get a day's wages, or because they get tired of dealing with corruption and years of red tape just to secure a small business loan in Mexico.

That means you shouldn't be fooled by U.S. labor unions, immigrant rights groups, and politicians that claim Mexico's downtrodden are just trying to feed their families when they slip across the border.

Downtrodden Mexicans can't feed their families in Mexico because Mexico's government won't enforce tax collection among the country's well off. The downtrodden can't feed their families in Mexico because the entitlements for the country's poorest aren't there, due to the crummy tax base. They can't feed their families in Mexico because rather than collect taxes already on the books, Mexico's government went on a campaign to 'persuade' even the poorest émigrés in this country to ramp up remittances to their families back home and told the families to depend on the remittances.

In other words, the remittance monies were largely not used by Mexicans as disposable income and to get a leg up in the society; they were used to subsist on.

Thus, 2005 found Pundita blog snapping that Mexico's then-President Vicente Fox was going straight to hell for pushing remittances as the solution to Mexico's problems. I demanded to know what was going to happen to the remittances if the U.S. economy went into a downturn.

I learned what happened, soon enough. On July 1, 2009 Michael E. Miller at Bloomberg wire service reported for Business Week that Mexico remittances had plunged in the worst drop on record
... Money sent home by Mexicans working abroad fell by 19.9 percent in May, the biggest monthly decline on record as the U.S. recession slashed jobs.

Remittances dropped to $1.9 billion from $2.4 billion in May 2008, the [Mexico] central bank said on Wednesday. The amount of money sent home in the first five months of 2009 fell 11.3 percent to $9.2 billion compared with the same period last year.

Remittances are the second-biggest source of foreign currency after oil exports in Mexico, and their decline has contributed to the country's own economic downturn.

Mexico's economy shrank by 8.2 percent in the first quarter from the same period last year, putting it on track for the worst recession since the so-called Tequila Crisis of 1995. ...Mexico, the world's third largest recipient of remittances after India and China, has seen them fall since late 2007. ...
Another Bloomberg report on the same day brought the really bad news:
... Diminished savings of immigrants, the impact of the swine flu outbreak and slowing migration from Mexico to the U.S. caused the drop in [remittance] transfers, said Greg Watson, remittances specialist at the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington.

“Since the beginning of the [financial] crisis, we knew immigrants were tapping their savings, and the big question was how long those coping mechanisms could last,” Watson said in a telephone interview. “We could be seeing now that those coping mechanisms have run their course.”...
Run their course they did. When the U.S. economy crashed and stayed on its back, families in Mexico that depended on remittances to put food on the table were facing starvation.

Rather than starve, many went to work for the drug cartels. You can trace a line between the plummeting remittance payments during the deep U.S. recession and the escalating violence in Mexico.

So here we are today, with the U.S. press suddenly alarmed that Mexico's "drug violence" had surged into Monterrey, Mexico's business capital and richest city.

And here we are, with Reuters reporting that Mexico's main opposition party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, is "vowing to oppose extending the country's value-added tax to food and medicine after shooting down the proposal when last hatched by Calderón in 2009."

As to why a country such as Mexico would have a value-added tax at all, which forces struggling small businesses and even the country's poorest to pay through the nose for purchases -- go ask Mexico's oligarchs, the International Monetary Fund, or the U.S. Department of State.

You can also trace lines between the U.S. banking rules created to make remittance transfers cheap and easy; the spike in illegal immigrants coming from Mexico to work in the U.S. home construction industry; the spike in speculation in the U.S. housing market, and the explosion in the crazy mortgage and derivatives markets accompanying the speculation -- that is, until the huge speculative bubble burst.

If you really like playing with tracing paper, you can draw lines between burgeoning agribusiness in U.S. regions that have to depend on the critically important Ogallala aquifer for mega-farming operations; the rise in illegal immigrants coming from Mexico to work for agribusiness in those regions; and the fast-depleting aquifer, which is being stripped of water reserves faster than they can be replaced.

When you're finished with tracing lines you'll be staring at the truism that there is no such thing as a free lunch, no more than there's such a thing as dirt-cheap Mexican labor.

Both Mexico and the United States have paid a catastrophically high price for the desire to get something for next to nothing. Yet with rare exceptions the U.S. news media have been silent as the grave about the price.

And so we arrive at Mexican President Felipe de Jesús Calderón Hinojosa's increasingly desperate flailing, as he contemplates turning the clock of Mexico's judicial system backward to allow for anonymous prosecutions of drug criminals, launches a verbal offensive against the United States for American drug use and weapons smuggling into Mexico, and asks Mexican legislators for fresh ideas on how to stop the drug lords' march on Mexican society. Which for some unknown reason he doesn't see as an insurgency.

Accusation that Pak military diverted floodwaters to Balochistan to save military airbase from flooding (Updated 2X)

Flooding in Jaffarabad, Balochistan - 8/23
According to this report from The Nation, filed today: “'We did not get proper relief in Dera Murad Jamali and kept marching until we reached Quetta,' said Aziz, an affected person of Jaffarabad ... He said that owing to the wrong policies of the local administration and tribal elders the whole Jaffarabad district had been inundated.'"

Pinning blame on the locals is a far cry from the accusation that The Nation published earlier. So this is a fog of war situation. It's a gamechanger if the military indeed diverted floodwaters -- and even if the accusation doesn't pan out it will be hard if not impossible to tamp down the accusation in Pakistan.

However, the primary source for the accusation is a report in the rabidly anti-American Pakistani newspaper, The Nation. According to the same report, the Pakistani regime had earlier announced that the airbase couldn't be used for flood relief operations because it was under control of the U.S. military:
Jacobabad airbase saved at cost of Balochistan
By: Imran Mukhtar, August 21, 2010

ISLAMABAD – Deputy Chairman Senate Mir Jan Mohammad Khan Jamali on Friday made a stunning statement that an airbase was being saved from floodwaters at the cost of Balochistan and as a result more than 85 percent part of Jaffarabad has been inundated by flood.

The statement came after Secretary Health Khushnood Lashari on Wednesday informed the Senate Committee on Health that Shahbaz Airbase (Jacobabad) could not be used for relief operations in the flood-affected areas of Jacobabad as the airbase was under the control of US.

Jamali, however, did not elaborate his point and limited his remarks to this statement while talking to this scribe. He also severely criticised the PPP-led government for its mishandling of the disaster. “The people should compare how Z A Bhutto’s PPP had handled the flood situation in 1976 and how the present PPP rulers are managing it, this would unfold many things,” he added.

The Deputy Chairman Senate has also written a letter to Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry requesting him to take a suo motto notice to ascertain the responsibility of the devastation caused by breaching of Thori Band near Guddu Barrage at Indus River. The breach has caused destruction at a massive level in district Jaffarabad of Balochistan. The letter has raised many eyebrows that the people even sitting in the Parliament are also seeking justice from the Supreme Court.

In his letter (No. DCS/2010 dated August 18, 2010) addressed to the CJP, a copy of which is available with The Nation, Jamali blamed that ‘the breach on the left bank of Indus is reportedly to save some influentials’ standing crops and lands without an assessment of the destruction to residents of the district of Jaffarabad’.
That accusation against "influentials" is in line with similiar ones from other quarters but that's not the same as saying the Pakistani military diverted floodwaters for an airbase being used by the Americans.

To continue with The Nation report:
The letter says, “The breach inundated all the four tehsils of Jaffarabad district and the water rose to a height of 7 feet destroying every single building, household of the rural communities.

About 85 percent of the inhabitants of Jaffarabad have, therefore, become Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the districts of Nasirabad, Sibi and Quetta”.

Jamali also said in the letter that out of the one million population of Jaffarabad, 0.85 million inhabitants had lost their houses, crops, livestock and livelihoods while 5-7 ft deep water had destroyed 90 percent of the agriculture land including crops and infrastructure as well as communications.

He in his letter attributed this devastation to a callous and anti-human attitude of the authorities concerned.

The Deputy Chairman Senate while talking to The Nation on Friday also said that thousands of people had taken shelter at Saifullah Magsi and Kherther. “The people of Balochistan have been stranded in Bungel Derra, Ahmed Sial, Faizal-ul-Faqir, Goth Ghulam Mohammad, Goth Ali Ghulam Lashari and Goth Patogi due to the torrential rains and heavy floods and they have to be rescued within no time,” he said.

He also stressed that the Army should have to be moved to rescue these thousands of people.
What is clear is that Balochistan is already a tinderbox. See B. Raman's July 31 report, Weakening Pakistani hold in Balochistan, which details the extent to which the central government in Islamabad is being rejected there.

And yesterday Carlotta Gall reported for the New York Times:
... A former prime minister, Zafarullah Khan Jamali, a member of Parliament whose constituency in neighboring Baluchistan was 90 percent underwater, warned that the mood would only worsen. “These people will be out in the streets, this is what I see,” he said. “I have been through many floods, in ’56, ’73, ’76 and 2007, but I have never seen a government less bothered.” He added, “The state is a failure, and the people will come out, and naturally nothing can stop the wave of people.”

Asked if he was talking about a revolution, he said: “Yes. We are heading toward that, very fast.”
According to what one of John Batchelor's sources told him last night Jamali is now homeless.(1) His home was inundated with the floodwaters.

1) H/T John Batchelor Show, Sunday, 11:50 PM segment. Sunday podcast for the show not posted yet at WABC site).

Mexico Watch: Cuernavaca falls to drug lords

Update 5:15 PM
Here is the map I was looking for.


***************

What we need is a map of Mexico showing all the regions now under control of the drug lords. But I guess that would be too much to ask of the U.S. Department of State. Oswald Alonso reports for AP:
CUERNAVACA, Mexico (Aug. 22) -- The decapitated bodies of four men were hung from a bridge Sunday in this central Mexican city besieged by fighting between two drug lords. A gang led by kingpin Hector Beltran Leyva took responsibility for the killings in a message left with the bodies, the attorney general's office of Morelos state said in a statement. The beheaded and mutilated bodies were hung by their feet early Sunday from the bridge in Cuernavaca, a popular weekend getaway for Mexico City residents.

Cuernavaca has become a battleground for control of the Beltran Leyva cartel since its leader, Arturo Beltran Leyva, was killed there in a December shootout with marines. Mexican authorities say the cartel split between a faction led by Hector Beltran Leyva, brother of Arturo, and another led by Edgar Valdez Villarreal, a U.S.-born kingpin known as "the Barbie."

The message left with the bodies threatened: "This is what will happen to all those who support the traitor Edgar Valdez Villarreal." ...
See also August 20 Pundita post, Mexico: If it walks like an insurgency and quacks like an insurgency, is it an insurgency?

Sunday, August 22

Ground Zero mosque: Steve Diamond explains the mysteries of Zebra Politics

Since early 2008 law professor and political scientist Stephen F. Diamond has done everything but rent a brass band to warn about Barack Obama's views on education. Crossposted here is the latest chapter in his ongoing deconstruction of Barack Obama's terribly strange political views -- strange to the majority of Americans, that is, who scratch their heads about how a small number of radicals have infiltrated the American education system and inserted themselves into the American political mainstream. Those Americans are going to keep scratching their heads until they buckle down and do their homework.

With his April 22, 2008 essay titled, Who "sent" Obama?, Steve became the first person to explain to the public the extent of Obama's involvement with the Chicago Annenberg Challenge and its meaning. Yet by the time the American Right grudgingly admitted that a Leftist might have something important to say and picked up on the CAC angle, it was too late to head off Obama.

Steve didn't stop with explaining the CAC. In essay after essay at his old Global Labor blog, he demystified obscure political concepts, explained political history that was unknown to the majority of Americans, named people close to Obama that few Americans outside education circles had heard about. And he got down on his tummy and drew little stick figures to show the greatest threat posed by 'old-school' American radicals such as former Weatherman terrorist William Ayers.

One doesn't need to agree with everything Steve says about the Left and Communism to get the benefit of his teachings, so I'm hoping that one day more Americans will start studying them. The question is whether the day will arrive too late to prevent damage to American society that could take generations, if ever, to undo.

For readers who're new to his writings -- before tackling his discussion of Zebra Politics, you might read one of his background essays on the totalitarian minded American radicals who've flown under the radar in the USA by terming themselves Leftists. I recommend his October 6, 2008 post, The David Blaine Award Goes to ... to start.

You can look on the sidebar at Steve's King Harvest blog for essays that contain more of his core teachings. And if you are serious about understanding these totalitarians, which he terms simply "authoritarians," you can read his book, From 'Che' to China: Labor and Authoritarianism in the New Global Economy (October 2009). At 40 bucks a copy in paperback it's written specifically for labor attorneys, but don't let that daunt you -- and you can always spread around the cost with a group purchase of the book.

Before turning over the podium to Steve, the other day I added his blog to my sidebar as a reminder to readers to check in there on a regular basis. Sometimes he suspends public access to the blog for a few weeks, but it always opens again.

Behind the Ground Zero Mosque Imbroglio - Obama’s “Zebra Nation” worldview at work
by Stephen Diamond
August 20, 2010, King Harvest

Anyone who listens to Obama’s Ramadan comments on the NYC Ground Zero mosque realizes he was certainly NOT making a legal argument about anyone’s rights.

After all, that argument is about whether the state would interfere with religious freedom and there is zero evidence that was ever a risk to whomever is really behind this provocation.

So it follows that the proponents of the mosque hardly needed the intervention of the President of the United States to defend their constitutional freedoms.

The President in fact was making an argument FOR the mosque, for its political value in his eyes. As he says to build the mosque is to assert (his idea of) our political values.

He is wrong about that but let’s at least get one thing clear: that speech was a calculated POLITICAL intervention, on the eve of the most important political period of his presidency. It seems he almost immediately realized the mistake he had made, stepping on yet another racial or ethnic land mine (recall there was first the Henry Louis Gates affair, then the Terror Trial in NYC idea and then Shirley Sherrod, and now the Mosque). That led to his attempt to draw an altogether too fine distinction between rights and common sense the next day.

But he said what he said and he clearly believed it. Watching the video makes clear his conviction and his welcoming of the applause it garnered from the White House Ramadan audience.

So what motivates this President to continually risk political capital in order to take provocative actions? There is a consistency to his efforts, it seems to me. His view is one shaped by the diversity politics of the last 25 years, an effort that represents in the US the larger form of stalinoid [Stalinist], third worldist and authoritarian politics as it exists in a post-Cold War era.

At the core is an attempt by a few to gain political leverage and power by exploiting actual ethnic or racial or class issues in a manner that does very little to resolve those issues but can do a lot to advance the cause of those few. When the actual Communist Party was somewhat of a force in this country, for example, it used to profess to be concerned about the “black question.” And the party was able to attract many followers around the broad left from the 30s to the 70s because of its apparent commitment to racial equality. That is what explains the affiliation of figures like Paul Robeson or Frank Marshall Davis with the party if not actually in it.

Their line, however, was that racism was a permanent and enduring part of America because America was capitalist and once America was socialist it would then be possible to end racism. I actually heard that line used by CP trade unionists when I was a union activist in the 1980s. The reality, of course, was that the CP was only interested in its own bureaucratic survival and only if that was consistent with the political line of the Russian mother ship. The zig-zag nature of the party drove as many thousands out of the party as into it over the years.

Unfortunately, some who were in its orbit adopted even harder and more authoritarian political views. And these began to infect the left as well, particularly in the late 60s and the 70s. This was the period in which people like Mike Klonsky, who was raised in a household that worshipped Joe Stalin, decided he would have to worship Chairman Mao after the Red Army crushed the Czech uprising of 1968. (It apparently never occurred to Klonsky to consider supporting the Czech people themselves! Certainly Mao was no more on their side than Deng’s crowd was on the side of the Tiananmen worker/student uprising.)

Klonsky and his comrades like Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn in the SDS movement that morphed into a terror cult known as the Weather Underground put race politics in the forefront of their worldview. They actually adopted an even harsher version of the old CP line that America would be racist as long as it was capitalist. For them, “fighting racism” in ever more absurd fashion was the only way to be on the left.

And it was the race-based nature of their politics that Ayers took with him when he surfaced from the Underground and rejoined his former SDS comrade, Klonsky, in a wing of the American world of education policy. There Ayers propagated a revised version of his race politics and recruited Barack Obama to help him carry it out through the $150 mn Chicago Annenberg Challenge. The core of their message was to use the despair of minority and poor parents to attempt to break the power of the teachers’ union and the Chicago school administration in favor of “local school councils.”

This reactionary idea of “local control” of schools by parents was first trotted out in 1968 by the black power movement and SDS in New York City where it led to a very difficult strike by mostly white teachers. When Ayers and Obama got involved in the late 80s they used the same idea to target a largely black teachers’ union relying on the support of hispanic community groups! No wonder they got praise from the Heritage Foundation and support from wings of the Chicago business elite.

Thus the heart and soul of Obama’s race politics, shaped by figures like Ayers and Valerie Jarrett during the Chicago School Wars, was to view America as an indelibly racist nation. Diversity politics fits this mold perfectly because it erases the notion of “e pluribus unum” and replaces it with what some around Obama apparently call “Zebra Politics” - the idea that we live in a “Zebra Nation” with its permanently divided black and white stripes. (As best as I can determine the idea was borrowed, inaptly, from South Africa, a nation which has suffered a very different form of racial division.)

In our “Zebra Nation,” resolution of racial and ethnic division in favor of a genuinely integrated and pluralist nation is impossible so provocative demands are used instead to gain leverage by “shouting fire in a crowded theater,” thus shocking any (white) people from responding or even better clearing the room entirely and allowing control of the space to shift. Examples abound: calling for open borders with Mexico, waving Mexican flags en masse at immigrant rights’ marches, abandoning the goal of Brown v. Board of Education and integration in schools and housing and instead calling for a return to Plessy v. Ferguson and “separate but equal,” or, in an international context, the so-called Gaza “Freedom” Flotilla.

This same approach is what lies behind the provocation of proposing the mosque in the first place and Obama was clearly intent on riding that sentiment. And that is a way of understanding his use of the Henry Gates situation, the Sherrod affair and the Terror Trial in NYC.

Of course, many on the left fall for this phoney radicalism just as they did in the era of the CP. Then, the CP was really an arm of the Kremlin but posed as a radical anti-racist pro-worker organization. Yet it would not fail to betray its radicalism at the whim of its Moscow handlers. Those on the left today who fall for the apparent radicalism of a Bill Ayers or a Barack Obama or a Van Jones or a Valerie Jarrett should pay attention to what is happening with economic and foreign policy. The same bankers who nearly destroyed the economy remain in power, GM is back after shedding its unruly workers at plants like those in Fremont, California and the predator drones continue their illegal and deadly flights.

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