Friday, April 29

Marriage of Prince William and Catherine Middleton and the reaffirmation of Christian and English values

"Fate – monstrous and empty, you whirling wheel, stand malevolent, well-being is vain and always fades to nothing, shadowed and veiled you plague me ..."
-- from O Fortuna, 13th Century poem written by renegade Christian monks to mock the failures, abuses and limitations of the Christian Church

Marriage of HRH Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, to Catherine Middleton at the Collegiate Church of St Peter at Westminster, site of British coronations since 1066

I was surprised to learn that Glenn Beck had dismissed the marriage of William and Kate and refused to watch it. ("Yawn: There was a royal wedding today ... Despite the fact that no one cares about this wedding, the news is wall to wall coverage of all the pomp and circumstance.") Of all people Glenn, who is a vociferous critic of the trammeling of Christian values in America by secularists, should have recognized the profound importance and symbolism of the marriage ceremony in Westminster Abbey today.

Pomp and circumstance were not the points of a sacred play in which the Duke of Cambridge and his bride were only supporting actors. The star of the play was the Church of England as it carried out one its most important functions: acting as symbolic intermediary in the mystical connection between the divine and British rulers. One will have to wait for the next coronation to see the function made explicit (or view footage of the coronation of the present British monarch) but the monarchy endures in Great Britain for the same reason there are few atheists on an icy road.

Those who would sniff at the monarchy and its connection with Church -- which would you prefer, a tradition upheld by centuries of practice or the eccentric ruminations of a former senator from Chicago, who was quite literally deified during the 2008 U.S. presidential election by many thousands of very desperate young Americans?

Thank you very much, the British prefer to hedge their bets on their own eccentric politicians by hewing to the atavistic idea that in this world of vast wheeling forces of fate, a leader invested with sacred rituals might have a little extra pull during the darkest times with whatever passes for a divinity. The marriage of William and Kate was a reaffirmation of this idea.

The marriage ceremony also reaffirmed English cultural values, which had been so thoroughly abandoned in the United Kingdom that by 2008 the Archbishop of Canterbury -- the same archbishop who officiated at the marriage -- was calling for the formal recognition of Sharia law, and the Royal United Services Institute defense think tank was warning that the loss of British values and national identity caused by "flabby and bogus" government thinking about multiculturalism had made the country vulnerable to attack from Islamic terrorists.

The carefully directed and controlled filming of the marriage ceremony kept images of the few Arab potentates in attendance out of the live feed that was seen around the world, and the waving of thousands of British flags to the tunes of Anglican hymns by onlookers watching the marriage on huge screens outside the abbey was just one detail in the choreographed tribute to being English.

The Anglican church's tolerance was given a nod by seating of representatives from other religions in a discreet place of honor. But the homily delivered by the Bishop of London to the newly married couple served notice that a religion must set limits to tolerance. The lesson emphasized that the estate of marriage in the Christian tradition pertains to a union between male and female:
In a sense every wedding is a royal wedding with the bride and the groom as king and queen of creation, making a new life together so that life can flow through them into the future.
The entire ceremony was an attempt at restoring civilizational certainty, which the English had frittered away over the course of a half century.

The United States of America cannot follow the British and establish a monarchy, but one would hope that if the British find some measure of success at defending the civilization on which their most fundamental values are based that this will waft to American shores in the manner of the mini-skirt and the Beatles.

Better hope -- nay, better pray -- this will happen and happen soon, before many more thousands of American youth stare down the barrel of nihilism, with nothing to serve as their moral compass but the teaching that the U.S. Constitution is a outmoded document thought up by old white men.

Tuesday, April 26

Corrections and update to Sai Baba post

UPDATE AND CORRECTIONS - 4:20 AM ET, Tuesday April 26
From Rediff's series of short reports on Sai Baba's death, some corrections to information I pulled from other news reports posted on Sunday and posted here. According to Rediff:

> 6,000 police (not 10,000) had been deployed to help keep order.
> Sai Baba will be buried, not cremated. The burial will be in the hall inside Prasanthi Nilayam where he gave darshan.
> Whatever unrest in Puttaparthi in the immediate wake of the news of Sai Baba's death was either exaggerated by an earlier press report or very short lived. Rediff reports:
Meanwhile, the devotees who were extremely angry with the members of the trust for withholding information on Sathya Sai Baba's health, have now made their peace with the passing of the spiritual leader.

They now say that it was Baba's wish to stay on at the hospital for this long so that his devotees would not be shocked at the news.
Rediff also reports:
The manner in which the trustees, police personnel and volunteers have managed the rush of devotees -- who have flocked to the town to pay their last respects to Sathya Sai Baba -- is commendable. Not a single incident of unruly behaviour has been reported so far.
Inside Sai Kulwant Hall, where his body lies in state, at least 100 volunteers are managing the crowd skillfully. They are dressed in white shirts, trousers and a blue scarf inscribed with Om Sai Ram. These volunteers constantly urge the devotees to stick to their queues.
This comports with what I recall about the work of the volunteers at Sai Baba's ashram. There was never an incident of violence during even the largest festivals, and that the volunteers managed to feed and otherwise serve the huge crowds without incident during those times was something to behold.

Also of note is that the Dalai Lama has expressed his condolences about the death of Sai Baba; although his message is brief, that he made it public is extremely important for reasons that would be of interest only to those who keep tabs on the rocky course of Tibetan Buddhist-Hindu relations.

Monday, April 25

There is no contraption: The Tale of Sathya Sai Baba and the Spitball

Around 2 AM on Saturday I read a summary of a speech that Noam Chomsky had given in Amsterdam in March. I don't agree with Chomsky's politics or his unrelievedly negative view of American defense/foreign policy but I have a soft spot in my heart for him because of what he did decades ago to the Behaviorists and in particular the followers of B. F. Skinner. 

You would need to have lived through that era in the United States to know how close the Behaviorists came, with the cooperation of U.S. public school educators, at turning American public school students into Stepford Children. The Behaviorists, building on the research of Pavlov, had found what totalitarians had always sought: they'd discovered how to condition their human test subjects into adopting just about any kind of behavior they wanted to produce. Then they'd peddled their findings to the U.S. government and school systems.

By the time Noam Chomsky finished taking apart the theories of the Behaviorists, the field they'd come to dominate, psychology, had turned on them, and the U.S. government and school administrators had backed away from them.   

So I was alarmed while reading his Amsterdam speech to discover that Chomsky, the very antithesis of machine-like behavior, had in his old age constructed a kind of mental contraption in which the vast varieties of human experience were reduced to the Oppressed and the Oppressors.

Under ordinary conditions my reaction would have been to dash off a cutting essay for this blog but because of the inestimable service Chomsky rendered American schoolchildren I couldn't bring myself to do that. Yet I didn't want to let my observation go without remark. Chomsky is one of the most influential intellectuals in the world, and if he'd drifted into echoing the mechanistic Behaviorist outlook was something that needed to be pointed out in the public sphere.

So I put on my thinking cap. Suddenly I recalled a prank Sathya Sai Baba had played on me many years before. The recollection had come from the outfield but it would be a way to illustrate my point about Chomsky. After I'd slept on it I decided to ditch the idea. I had enough on my plate without receiving emails from devotees of Sathya Sai Baba informing me I was being disrespectful to him, Hindus who told me I was insulting their religion and clowns telling me Sai Baba was a fraud and a pederast. Noam Chomsky would just have to wait until I came up with a less incendiary way of driving home my points.

Around 2 AM Sunday I checked Google News one last time before calling it a day. One particular headline caught my eye. It referred to Sathya Sai Baba in the past tense.

"Must be a typo," I muttered.

That's how I learned Sai Baba had been gravely ill for weeks and had died that morning.

Now it was decision time. I didn't deserve to give him a proper eulogy and it would be up to others to attempt to detail the millions of humanitarian projects done over almost a century in his name or inspired by his example and teachings.

Nor could I be the one to explain what British-ruled India was like in the year of his birth or tell about Sathya Sai Baba's single-handed resurrection of religious traditions that centuries of British and Mogul influence had wiped out. His contributions in those areas would be for Indian historians to document.

What I could do was what I'd thought of doing: tell a story from my experiences with Sathya Sai Baba to illustrate that this realm is not bound by the laws of political discourse and that the human spirit is not circumscribed by victimhood.

To tell the story, however, I would need to turn back the clock to about 30 years ago, to a time when Puttaparthi was still a sleepy little village; a time when there was no airport, train station and "super-speciality" hospital serving Prasanthi Nilayam ashram; to a time before the grounds in front of the mandir (temple) at Prasanthi Nilayam had been expanded to the size of two football fields and paved over with marble and roofed.

This wasn't the earliest era at the ashram, when guest accommodations were just large sheds and Sai Baba freely walked the grounds and casually chatted with visitors. But it was a time when the formal, twice-daily darshan (in this context "seeing the ultimate truth, especially in the form of a holy person or divine figure") on the temple grounds was a simple affair. The crowds during the non-holiday times were still small enough that Sai Baba could easily interact with people sitting crosslegged on the ground in the darshan rows arrayed on the temple grounds.

It was also a time when a lottery system was instituted to determine who got to sit where on the darshan rows. When I first arrived the old seating system was still in effect, the old system being sharp elbows and scrimmaging.

The new system was part of the reality of the ever-growing numbers of people who were visiting the ashram. But it came about after Sai Baba, who lived at that time on the top floor of the temple, asked, "What is that thundering herd of elephants outside my window every morning?"  

Thus, the lottery system, to the great relief of the foreign devotees -- and in particular the Germans, who could not bring themselves to battle for seating position outside a temple, and so never got anywhere near the front of the darshan line until the lottery system.

The Indian villagers for their part were philosophical about the new system; after hogging the front line ever since darshan on the mandir grounds was first instituted, they were willing to put the matter of seating in God's hands.

I never took a camera to the ashram but I've found a photograph on the internet that to my memory seems pretty much the way the temple and darshan area looked like while I was at Prasanthi Nilayam. The photo helps set the stage for my story so I include it here. Because the temple grounds and the process of darshan played a significant role in the tale of Sai Baba and the spitball I'll go into some detail to describe both.

The circular construct in front of the temple is ornamental grillwork enclosing vegetation and Sai Baba's Sarva Dharma (all faiths) symbol. The circle also separated the seating sides on the temple grounds for males and females.  The gold-painted statue is of the elephant-headed god Ganesh, remover of obstacles.  

The area to the right of the circle in the photo was reserved for women; a part of the men's area on the left, which isn't shown, had some shade. The women's side had no shade, no matter what time of day.

It's not clear in the photograph but there was a veranda running the length of the front of the temple. It was there that schoolchildren and sometimes visiting VIPs were seated. People chosen by Sai Baba from the darshan line for an interview inside the temple were also directed to sit on the veranda until darshan ended.

The brownish stuff on the ground is packed sand that was swept by volunteers before people entered the temple grounds for darshan. Although Sai Baba left Prasanthi Nilayam during the hottest months, often by the time darshan got underway the sun had risen high enough that the unshaded area on the women's side was not unlike sitting in a toaster oven.

The blazing sun was hard on elderly women in frail health. This prompted me to write a letter of complaint to ashram administration, which eventually resulted in small roofed seating structures being built along the wall that marked off the darshan area on the women's side from the rest of the ashram. 

No umbrellas were allowed during darshan. But people were allowed to bring cushions and folded blankets with them for darshan, which gave a little relief to one's bottom from the scorching sand. The comforts were abused by some Westerners, who brought cushions as wide as boats in the attempt to eke out space on either side of their place on the darshan row; this so they didn't have to sit what was for a Westerner uncomfortably close to others.

The counter-tactic was Indian volunteers who walked along the darshan rows, glowering at the worst offenders, making scooching movements with their hands and hissing, "Move over to make more space for others."

If the space hogs didn't like being squished they always had the option of decamping to the back rows, and the real wimps could sit on chairs to the side of the darshan line.

However, all this adjusting and measuring of millimeters around one's personal space could include minor squabbles when people tried to advance their position by sticking their knees into the backs of the people in front of them or leaning on the back of the person in front.  This unsporting behavior on temple grounds sometimes resulted in Sai Baba not coming out for darshan.

Then everyone got to go through the entire routine at the next scheduled time for darshan, and the next, until enough people drew a connection between their rowdiness and Sai Baba's refusal to leave the temple.

I add that the veterans eschewed cushions, preferring to endure scorched bottoms for the chance to quickly advance if someone nearby gave up a choice position on the darshan line.

Just another day at the office at Prasanthi Nilayam, "the abode of perfect peace."

There was a low curving wall marking off the temple grounds where darshan took place. People left their footwear along the outside of the wall before proceeding to the grounds; this practice of shoe removal was only done for darshan periods.  

A large sandy area just outside the temple grounds is where the lottery lines formed for the women's side. (I can't recall where the men's side formed their rows.) When there were so many people in the ashram that the lottery area couldn't accommodate them, which happened during festivals, the darshan on the mandir grounds was suspended. Then the large Poornachandra auditorium was opened for darshan; seating there was on a first-come, first-served basis with hordes of volunteers present to maintain order.

The lottery system was simple: as people entered the area after breakfast or the afternoon snack they sat behind the person who'd entered before them. When one line stretched back so far, a volunteer directed the next person entering the area to start a new line.

When all the lines had been established the person sitting at the head of each line drew a chit from a bag held out by a volunteer. The number on the chit showed the order in which the line would proceed onto the temple grounds.

The formation of the darshan rows was split into two -- one formation of rows facing the temple and the other facing the opposite end of the mandir grounds. This arrangement provided the opportunity for two front rows. Thus, it could be hard to tell during the lottery drawing which number on the chit meant a front row seat.

Only those in Line 1, the first to enter the mandir grounds, were guaranteed a front row seat. This line made up the first row in the formation that faced the opposite end of the grounds. I'll call this formation Block A. Much else depended on the number of people in the ashram on that day and how long the lottery lines were. When the crowd was small, sometimes people on the Number 2 line hit it lucky and got to sit in the first row in Block A if there was still enough space in the front row to accommodate a few more people.

When the first formation filled up, the line with the next number got to form a first row in the formation facing the temple -- Block B. And so it went until the Block B formation filled up. Then everyone settled down to wait for Sai Baha to emerge from the temple.

His darshan walkabout varied, but in general he stopped first to speak with the people seated on the verandah. Then he proceeded to the men's side of the temple grounds, stopping sometimes to chat with a man, taking letters offered to him, blessing books or other objects held out to him, allowing some in the front row to touch his feet, and sometimes materializing vibhuti (sanctified ash) or objects such as rings and religious medallions, and choosing people for an interview.

The routine was repeated on the women's side. There were complaints from the women about being second, although sometimes Sai Baba reversed the process and visited the women's side first. But the women's side could take twice as long to visit as the men's side because the babies (both male and female) were with their mothers on the women's side.

Women would hold up their babies for a blessing, no matter how far back they sat on the darshan lines. Maneuvering the babies and their mothers to the front or side of a row where Sai Baba was standing could take time. And often he'd materialize talismans for the babies and mark their foreheads with vibhuti and talk at length with the mothers about the babies. Then he would talk with the mothers about their home situation in general, make vibhuti for them, and so on.

By visiting the women's side last Sai Baba could take more time with the women without keeping the men waiting -- a point the complainers didn't tend to consider.

That's all the technical details I can recall of the darshan process on the mandir grounds and I think that's enough detail for the purposes of my story. I'll add two points, the significance of which will become clear when the story gets underway:

> The person at the head of lottery line who drew the Number 1 chit would enter Block A first and would have no one seated on her right.

> The low curving brick wall was repeated on the Block A side; again, it separated a side of the temple grounds from the rest of the ashram. It was behind this wall that a woman I'll call Vicky was standing during a part of the story. So while she could see Sai Baba when he approached Block A, she couldn't see what was happening amongst the women in the first row of the block who were facing Sai Baba. Nor could she readily hear what was being said on the front row of Block A.

The details I've provided about the mandir darshan suggest that Prasanthi Nilayam wasn't so much a melting pot as a clash of cultures that was kept to a dull roar by Sai Baba's oversight and a small army of dedicated Indian volunteers. Prasanthi Nilayam 30 years ago was a microcosm of every problem arising from 'East meets West,' and every problem arising from the clashes between modern and traditional societies.

Indeed, one way to describe Prasanthi Nilayam in those days is to say it was in the vanguard of the globalized society.

But as more foreigners from myriad societies took their place among Sai Baba's devotees, the Indians had to learn to "move over and make more space." This caused great resentment, particularly among the villagers, who didn't see why the foreigners couldn't get their own Avatar of the Lord and leave theirs alone.

And the emerging urbanized Indian middle class of Sai Baba devotees, traditionally more tolerant of foreigners, also had to struggle with resentment, as its members saw Sai Baba becoming less and less available for interviews. They struggled, too, with worries that Prasanthi Nilayam and Hinduism itself would be overtaken by Westernization.

For their part the Western devotees, whose ideas of the divine and monotheism were vastly different from the Hindu ones, were put off by the way so many Indians treated Sathya Sai Baba as a household Hindu god.

Such Westerners didn't understand that Sai Baba was acting not so much in the manner of a Hindu god as in the manner of the ideal kings in the ancient world, who were bound by duty to grant a reasonable request put to them by any subject who approached them for help. Those kings did double duty as judges, as a reading of the Old Testament makes clear.

One of Sai Baba's most important functions among the Indians was to resolve disputes. Again, this was a chief function of kings in ancient times.  While both foreigners and Indians asked Sai Baba for healing from physical ailments, one line separating the Westerners from the Indians was that Westerners tended to approach Sai Baba in a quest for 'answers' -- whether answers to personal problems or spiritual questions -- whereas many Indians wanted his help in settling disputes.

There were striking exceptions; e.g., Westerners who'd made Sanskrit a lifetime study or were scholars of Indian history, but most of the Westerners who visited the ashram simply didn't have the knowledge to put the historical and religious significance of the traditions around Sathya Sai Baba in proper context.

That was okay with Sai Baba, who placed his teaching emphasis on character development and universal values. But the Westerners' dearth of knowledge about the ancient traditions that Sai Baba represented meant they tended to supply the context for him rom their own experience. For many of the American Westerners this worked out to a concept of Sai Baba that was a concatenation of New Age philosophies, pop American psychology and Judeo-Christian theology. This version of Sai Baba made no sense to the rural Hindus and even to many urbane Hindus, which also contributed to an undercurrent of tension at the ashram.

These gulfs in understanding say nothing about the resentments among followers of different Hindu sects who venerated Sai Baba but stayed with their own sect and its dogmas.

Add to this caste prejudices that lurked in even the most prosaic situations at the ashram, which Western foreigners in particular rarely noticed. Even the darshan lottery system had upset the caste ecosystem. No longer could a group of Indians shut out members of a lower caste from 'their' part of the darshan line.

Yet all the above doesn't begin to describe what the ashram was like. One part Canterbury Tales, one part Tales of the Arabian Nights; the human drama at its most sublime and wretched, its most silly and mundane, all worked into a tapestry of the mystery of the divine and its involvement with human affairs.

It's against this backdrop that my tale of Sai Baba and the spitball unfolds. Here I'll break off and take up the story in the next post.


Friday, April 22

Adm. Mullen CYA as Rana prepares to rat out ISI. Meanwhile Rawalpindi rats out Obama and Cameron.

"Adm. Mullen has long been the most outspoken member of the U.S. government in support of Pakistan's military efforts. Adm. Mullen has used his close relationship with Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, the Pakistani army chief of staff, to prod the military to step up its actions against militants."
- Wall Street Journal, October 15, 2010

On April 20 America's top military officer, Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, seemingly turned on a dime. In Pakistan to meet with senior military officials, he told Pakistan's largest-circulation English language newspaper, Dawn:
"It's fairly well known that the ISI has a longstanding relationship with the Haqqani network. Haqqani is supporting, funding, training fighters that are killing Americans and killing coalition partners. And I have a sacred obligation to do all I can to make sure that doesn't happen. So that's at the core -- it's not the only thing -- but that's at the core that I think is the most difficult part of the relationship."
Long War Journal's Bill Roggio is skeptical about the strength of Mullen's grasp of the concept of sacred obligation; Bill points out that Mullen had stopped short of addressing the key point, which is that Pakistan's military actively supports the Haqqanis:
"Pakistani officials of course denied supporting the Haqqani Network, and claim they haven't taken on the Haqqani Network due to the focus on the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. This of course is untrue, and Admiral Mullen of course knows that."
Yes. Bill adds: "Despite his 'sacred obligation' to stop US soldiers dying at the hands of Pakistan-backed terror groups, Admiral Mullen cannot bring himself to call Pakistan to account for its actions. And as a result, more US soldiers will die as the dyfunctional 'alliance' between the two nations is nursed along."

True, true, all true; however, that Admiral Mullen would risk the close relationship he's cultivated with General Kayani by publicly uttering an implied criticism of Pakistan's military is an eyebrow raiser; that he did this at the worst juncture in U.S.-Pakistan relations since 2001 and while a guest of Pakistan's government was confounding. (1)

I don't think one has to dig deep for the solution to the mystery. On April 12, the day after ISI head Lieutenant-General Ahmad Shuja Pasha spent four hours dressing down CIA chief Leon Panetta and Admiral Mullen about CIA activities in Pakistan, the Times of India reported that court documents had been made public indicating that a conspirator in the 2008 Mumbai massacre was prepared to rat out the ISI in U.S. courtroom testimony. According to the Times of India:
David Headley aka Daood Gilani and Tahawwur Hussain Rana, the two Pakistani expat footsoldiers who allegedly planned and conducted the Mumbai recce before the 26/11 terrorist carnage, have implicated the Pakistani government and its intelligence agency ISI in the ghastly attack.

In court documents that have surfaced ahead of his upcoming trial in Chicago, Rana says his acts of providing material support to terrorists in the Mumbai attacks as alleged by US prosecutors "were done at the behest of the Pakistani government and the ISI, not the Lashkar terrorist organization."

The documents also cite Rana invoking his friend David Headley's Grand Jury testimony in which the latter too implicates ISI.
A report filed in today's edition of the Asia Times Online about the upcoming trial underscores the seriousness of Rana's claim:
What observers believe could be the most significant outcome of the trial is an irrefutable evidence of ISI complicity. The jury, according to the documents, could have Rana and Headley confess that they were with the Lashkar and the ISI.

Headley has already admitted that he worked for the ISI, but it was a secret testimony heard by a grand jury. "I also told him (Rana) how I had been asked to perform espionage work for the ISI," Headley had reportedly owned up.

Some time ago [Headley] had turned an FBI informer, primarily to escape the electric chair, and at the Chicago hearing he is expected to make a clean breast of his involvement in the Mumbai bloodbath. His anticipated account of the surveillance plan for the Mumbai attacks could lead to clinching proof against Rana.
I interject that the report refers to the ISI as having "alleged" ties with the Pakistani army but that's an error. The ISI is a branch of the military and despite the compartmentalization of the two agencies to provide deniability for the military, the ISI does nothing of substance without the knowledge and orders of the military.

However, the key point is there's clear indication that within a matter of days, when the Rana trial gets underway, the shit is finally going to hit the fan. In my view that means Mullen is scrambling to cover his ass. And if Rana really does sing like a bird, Mullen won't be the only one in Washington scrambling.

Yet to illustrate just how sincere the U.S. military command and the Obama administration are about taking Pakistan's military to task, it surfaced today that under pressure from Rawalpindi the Obama administration had agreed to provide Pakistan's military with 85 'Raven' surveillance drones.

That the drones are small-sized versions of the ones the CIA uses in Pakistan and aren't armed is not the central point. The point is that Pakistan's military doesn't need drones to monitor activities of terror organizations in Pakistan under its control. And in any case it has its own drones -- not as nice as the Ravens but still serviceable. Pakistan's military and ISI want the Ravens to help monitor organizations in Pakistan that are unfriendly to Rawalpindi and to monitor India.

That's not the half of Washington's insincerity. On the same day Mullen was in Pakistan to chastise the ISI the Asia Times Online was reporting:
Pakistan Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gillani led an unprecedented entourage, including Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kiani and Lieutenant-General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, the director general of the Inter-Service Intelligence, to Kabul last week to officially inaugurate the peace reconciliation process with the Taliban under the auspices of Washington and London.

The decision had already been made that the Afghanistan and Pakistan governments will occupy a central role in a reconciliation process that could bring the Taliban into the mainstream Afghan political process.
There is a long-held understanding within Pakistan's military that any reconciliation process with the Taliban would require a whole package dealing with the Taliban, al-Qaeda and the affiliated group on one side and another with the Western coalition, India and other regional players. The job requires credible leadership.
According to the report's author, Asia Times Pakistan Bureau Chief Syed Saleem Shahzad, the leadership is being supplied by Imran Khan; the report provides considerable detail to explain why this is so and why Khan is the next likely civilian leader of Pakistan.

With some understatement Khan is not U.S.- or NATO-friendly. At the time Shazad filed his report Khan was leading a two-day sit-in outside Peshawar, the capital of northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, "planned for Saturday and Sunday to block supply convoys ferrying goods to North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops in Afghanistan."

Here I'll interject that last year Shahzad's sources inside Pakistan's military allowed him to scoop the rest of the press about the Saudi government's central role in backchannel negotiations between Karzai and the Taliban.

In the wake of Shahzad's bombshell report the negotiations were hotly denied in Kabul and Washington. Then the hotly-denied negotiations were ostentatiously abandoned with much fanfare to the press. But while details of the negotiations that Shahzad recounted sounded like Rawalpindi's wish list, the gist was true as had long been rumored. Many months prior to the Asia Times Online report in 2010, which they published on September 11 as their cute way of twisting the knife, John Batchelor's radio show had mentioned the deep involvement of the Saudi government in backchannel negotiations with the Taliban and Karzai's regime.

I bring up that history to underscore that Shahzad is not sitting around in his office in Islamabad making things up. He has good sources.

Of course one doesn't have good sources inside what's in effect a military dictatorship without acting as a conduit for the regime's propaganda. So elements of Shahzad's latest report, and I think in particular his talk about al Qaeda running rings around the ISAF, can be taken with a grain of salt. Yet even if Pakistan's military is simply using Imran Khan as a pawn in its chess game with the CIA, and even if his report overstates Pakistan's ability to cow Hamid Karzai, Shahzad raises an alarm that should be heeded.

His report as much shouts that Barack Obama and David Cameron are pussyfooting around, this time under cover of the din from Libya, still trying to toss the hot potato of Afghanistan to Rawalpindi.

The only way they could possibly pull off the feat is if Pakistan's military cooperated and put on a show of being a good NATO puppet. The show is threatening to flop before it gets to opening night if Rana spills his guts in a Chicago courtroom. And I think to bring this home to Washington, or maybe in the spirit of revenge, someone in Pakistan's army or ISI decided to point out the tracks of little cat feet.

As to how the pussyfooting helps General David Petraeus persuade Taliban and al Qaeda fighters that there's no use trying to wait out the ISAF, let's ask President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron for the answer.

(1) The Washington Post's David Ignatius, whose opinions in my view track with thinking at the U.S. Department of State, tried to downplay the seriousness of the disagreements between Islamabad and Washington in his April 11 column. But while there was an element of horse-trading in Rawalpindi's high dudgeon about the Raymond Allen Davis Affair and CIA activities in Pakistan, the New York Times report I linked to above, titled, Pakistan Tells U.S. It Must Sharply Cut C.I.A. Activities, is not as overblown as Ignatius portrayed it.

Tuesday, April 19

Two codes of silence support Mexican crime cartels operating in the USA

"You know what happens in Mexico if I start talking. You know what they will do [to my children]."
-- Sinaloa cartel member Frediberto Pineda to FBI agents after his arrest in South Carolina

The story of Mexican cartels in the United States is not news but the Los Angeles Times April 17 report, written by Richard A. Serrano of the Times Washington Bureau, fills in some blanks and underscores that the cartel operations are by no means limited to U.S. southwestern border cities. This excerpt from the report conveys the scope of the Mexican cartels' reach in the United States:
Atlanta has become a major cartel hub, where cocaine is stored in lockers, storefronts and homes, then trucked to cities such as Columbia, according to federal officials. The Tijuana cartel has set up shop in Seattle and Anchorage, they added. Elements of the Juarez cartel have been busy in four dozen cities, including Minneapolis. The Gulf cartel has reached into Buffalo, N.Y.

When the FBI started looking into the South Carolina drug trade, agents never imagined the investigation would lead them to a Mexican cartel. In all, the effort here has led to charges against 116 people in eight separate indictments, 33 firearms seized, four vehicles impounded, 27 wiretaps approved, and $600,000 in cash and well over $1 million in drugs confiscated. So far, 111 of the defendants have been convicted, while one suspect awaits trail and four fugitives are on the loose.

No one believes Columbia has become drug free, but the city is the first in the nation to have successfully disrupted a cartel that was so deeply ingrained in a U.S. community. The success is being hailed by law enforcement officials as a major victory. "We've been standing at a dam and putting our fingers in the holes," said lead prosecutor Asst. U.S. Atty. Stacey D. Haynes.
The FBI is going to many need more fingers to dam the tide of Mexican cartels operating stateside. In Mexico, the crime syndicates retain their power through a code of silence, enforced by a reign of terror. In the United States, a code of silence is enforced by a reign of unacknowledged, unofficial censorship in the American news and film industries, which refuse to portray Mexican society as it really is.

The only major-release film in the United States to show the real Mexico was the 2004 Man on Fire. On one level the film is a revenge tale that's so stomach-turning it makes Death Wish, the 1974 classic revenge flick, look like a school picnic. On another level Man on Fire is the only clear-eyed portrayal of Mexico to make it into movie theaters across the United States in the modern era. Yet the film couldn't be produced today in America because it shows in graphic fashion that Mexican civil society is itself stomach-turning.

Even Mexican-American and Mexican immigrant criminal gangs have been scrubbed from Hollywood's list of acceptable film topics. The 2005 remake of John Carpenter's 1976 Assault on Precinct 13 had to switch the locale from Los Angeles to Detroit and substitute a group of corrupt white police for Carpenter's zombie-like gang and its clear reference to Mexican-American gangsters.

The chickens came home to roost on Sunday night when the Hollywood superstar couple Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore admitted to CNN's Piers Morgan that they'd had a hard time garnering support among their circle for the foundation, which they started this year to combat the child sex trade.

Even after a CNN graphic flashed on the screen showing that 63 percent of child sex slaves were in the United States, and even after Kutcher had described how the U.S. Department of State had taken Moore and him to the Mexican-U.S. border to let them see firsthand the victims of the cross-border trade in kidnapping children for sex, Kutcher's dicussion skated around any allusion to Mexico. Even the innocuous name for their foundation and its vague mission statement ("DNA Foundation, which stands for fundamental right to freedom for every person because it's within our DNA.") skirts the issue of Mexico's role in the child sex, kidnapping, and slavery trades that have spread like cancer into the United States.

So while DNA Foundation stands for the fundamental right to freedom, Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore are not free to publicly discuss the role of Mexico in human trafficking. Not with all their wealth, not with all their international fame and star status are they free, not unless they want to risk being blacklisted in Hollywood and watch their foundation become untouchable.

Thus, one of the most painful interviews I've watched on national cable television, as Piers Morgan patiently waited for an answer while Kutcher cast around for a reason to explain reluctance on the part of many Hollywood celebrities to support DNA. The transcript for the interview doesn't fully convey Kutcher's discomfiture; only the video (not yet posted to the CNN website) of the interview shows it. But the reason he finally summoned is painful enough to behold:
MORGAN: The campaign, obviously, has been gathering a little momentum and you launched it big time this week with a big series of videos involving lots of famous people. It wasn't the easiest sell reading some of your comments [at Twitter] about this. A lot of people, famous friends of yours, didn't want to get involved.

Why was that, do you think?

KUTCHER: Well, I think that there's -- I think that there's a subsect of what we're looking at it and it's sort of dangerously bleeds over into something that people are very accustomed to. You know --

MORGAN: Prostitution?

KUTCHER: Right. So what we're focusing on is child sex slavery. Right? And when the line bleeds into prostitution, people have a little bit of trepidation because they say to themselves, what, if you're 18 years old, 19 years old, 20 years old, and you decide that this is what you want to do with your life, you should be able to choose that.

And none of us are sitting here saying that that's not -- that we don't respect someone's right to choose that. But at the same time, when you look at it and you say, all right, if the average age of entry is 13, what 13-year-old girl is choosing this as their profession and does a 13-year-old really have that choice? [...]
For Ashton Kutcher's benefit, see STRATFOR's May 2010 map showing the drug routes and also human smuggling/slave trafficking routes.

As for the American news media, last year CNN eased out Lou Dobbs after his relentless daily reporting on Mexican drug-war violence brought forth a crescendo of complaints from organizations purporting to represent the "Hispanic vote."

CNN's investigative report, Murder in Mexico: What Happened in Falcon Lake, premiered on April 16, goes nowhere near confronting the realities in Mexican society that underlie and fuel organized crime in the country.

As to reports on Mexico's child kidnapping industry it was left to NPR, which is not a mainstream news outlet, to do the heavy lifting in its report about the missing girls in Ciudad Juarez. (H/T Caledoniyya) But that was two years ago.

The last time a major American press outlet clearly addressed racism in Mexico, a topic which is masked in the Mexican and American news media by references to 'poverty,' was in 1995. I would be surprised if the topic has ever made it onto American national television. Wikipedia has a very short article on the topic although it does manage to scratch the surface:
Almost uniformly, people who are darker-skinned and of indigenous descent make up the peasantry and working classes, while lighter-skinned, Spanish-descent Mexicans are in the ruling elite. Because of this, many of the Mexicans of indigenous descent in poverty are left to join one of Mexico's drug cartels as their only means of survival. [...]
Not to understand Mexico's racism and that the country simply never transited from its Spanish colonial era is to understand nothing about the forces that shape Mexico's criminal culture and the code of silence that supports it.

A government can only do so much; until the U.S. news and filmmaking industries do their part to educate the American public about the real Mexico, the U.S. federal government won't feel enough pressure to really stand up to Mexico's government. It will continue to resist U.S. state governments that want to take stronger action to limit cross-border human and drug trafficking. And it will continue to uphold a code of silence in the United States that allows so much horror to work itself into the fabric of American society.

I realize breaking the code of silence in the American news and entertainment media would take courage, including a willingness to endure boycotts. But maybe, if the editors of the major newspapers, producers at the major cable and TV broadcast networks and heads of major film studios sat down together in a room, and said, 'Let's do this,' there would be a little safety in numbers.

This unified approach would help all concerned withstand the wrath of the Mexican government, the U.S. Treasury and Department of State, U.S. Congress, the most powerful labor unions and 'humanitarian' and immigrant activist organizations, the American agribusiness and construction industries, major American banks doing big remittances business with Mexico, the World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, and the International Monetary Fund.

To help shore their determination, the standard-bearers of American journalism could watch Man on Fire and focus on Mariana Guerrero, a newspaper columnist for Diario Reforma, and AFI Detective Miguel Manzano. Whether or not the characters are based on real people or composites of such, Mexicans of almost superhuman courage and tenacity really do exist and make it their calling to stand up to organized crime. To maintain the code of silence in American journalism about the real Mexico is to betray such Mexicans and the profession of journalism.

If American television wants to start its reports on the real Mexico with a less incendiary topic than racism, it could investigate the remnants or evolution of Mexico's old camarilla system, inherited from Spain, and try to determine how the present-day cliques feed into government corruption supporting the crime cartels. To my knowledge no open-source investigation has dealt with this very important and complex subject.

The best information available in English on Mexico's camarillas and ways they might have evolved in the past two decades is found in David Ronfeldt's admittedly dated examination in the late 1980s. (H/T Zenpundit)

Ronfeldt spent 20 years working on U.S.-Latin American security issues with emphasis on Mexico and Cuba; he believes that what remains of the camarillas, or what they morphed into, could explain the country's amazing ability to keep lurching along despite the rule of the crime cartels.

Scroll past the updates in Why Mexico May Not Fall Apart (which contain several excellent discussions of Mexico's present security situation) to get to Ronfeldt's discussion of Mexico's camarillas.

Metacognition, pie-making, and metaphysics of the U.S. federal budget

I'm proud to announce that Mark Safranski, the Zenpundit author, included in his latest roundup of recommended reading and viewing my attempt to pry loose from the spirit world answers to the mystery of Nicolas Sarkozy. The roundup also highlighted a wonderful short essay on the U.S. federal deficit by Dave Schuler at The Glittering Eye. The essay, published on April 15, is titled Deluged With Budgets, Overwhelmed With Questions.

I wish I'd seen the essay before I wrote about Donald Trump because Dave brings out the essence of what I struggled to say in my criticism of the Tea Partiers and the Democrats and Republicans. I realized while reading his essay that all these people had turned a fiscal topic into a branch of metaphysics.

Dave first quotes economist Paul Krugman's observation that radically different approaches to dealing with the federal budget, as exemplified by the theories of Paul Ryan and Barack Obama, weren't just about visions of society. "There was also a difference in visions of how the world works." Then Dave observes:
Indeed there were, and I found them visions that varied from mistaken to delusional to demagogic. But it likely explains why the 2011 budget was so late: there are conflicting and irreconcilable visions of how the world works and all parties finally came together on the single point they could agree on (getting re-elected).
Eureka! That's just why I ran screaming to Donald Trump for refuge. If Trump becomes President he plans to let them all continue arguing about the number of budget cuts that angels can fit on the head of a pin, while he goes out and scares up revenue streams for the USA that don't depend on the federal budget.

Official Washington really has gone bonkers, you know that? I didn't realize how far gone Washington was, until I took in Trump's real-world approach to dealing with America's financial crisis.

Anyhow after Dave nailed the situation he deconstructed some of the daffier theories about the budget. I'll grant that part of the daffiness is rooted in political survival, but my question is whether any of the politicians can make sense when they're not trying to appeal to voters. That I should think is the litmus test.

So while Mark's roundup only mentions in passing one of his own recent posts, I think we could all do with a review of our thinking processes, which Mark recommends in his post:
Something I try to impart in my students is the practice of metacognition. Not that I expect them to execute a precision analysis of their thought process the first time through, or even the fiftieth.

Instead, I am trying to break them of habitually moving on mental autopilot, running “tapes” in their head recorded by cultural osmosis, to stop and ask themselves, what do I really think here? With skepticism and active, focused, attention. For more than a few it is the first time in their lives experiencing what it is like to be intellectually awake and in control of their own thinking.
Yessireeebob, unless we remember to think about how we think, we always run the risk of making the data we analyze conform to what we think it should mean. Dave Schuler properly terms this very human trait "epistemic closure;" I call it "pie-making."

Think of a pie pan as your agenda and the data you collect as the dough, with your analysis of the data as the pie filling. The data that don't fit into the agenda you exclude, in the manner of a baker slicing superfluous dough from around a pie pan.

You can get away with this approach sometimes for years; you bake wonderful pies that are considered delicious by those who see things from your point of view. Then one day you look up and ask, 'Where did all these Black Swans circling above my head come from?'

The catastrophic events appearing out of the blue are made from all the dough you sliced from your pies -- all the data you considered to be out of whack with your agenda and thus, having no validity.

So the biggest problem with the agenda-driven approach to data analysis is that it eventually conditions what the brain 'sees' -- and doesn't see. And that, I submit, is how so many people in Washington came to act like the townfolk in The Emperor's New Clothes.

One might blame the susceptibility to cognitive blindness on the very severe pressures Washington lawmakers and the executive branch have been under because of America's fiscal crisis. But when that many people are blinded in such fashion an additional psycho-epistemological phenomenon, well known in scientific research, could be in play: your ability to continue seeing the value in a loopy working hypothesis is in direct proportion to the funding you receive to continue your line of research lol.

Bad Pundita! Don't laugh! Ah well, I can't help it; I get such a bang out of watching the genius we call human nature being itself. Damn the neurons and synapses, full speed ahead!


Sunday, April 17

Barack Obama wants to make me a better person. Donald Trump wants to make me rich. Guess who'd get my vote for U.S. President?

Trump Tower Chicago, 10th tallest building in the world

During his presidential election campaign Barack Obama promised Americans that his administration would reflect hope; instead we got a bunch of pall-bearers. He promised us change. We got a dirge for America.

It's not possible to socially engineer a nation out of a debt crisis and I'm tired of hearing Obama say it can be done. I can't stand politicians who mix up concepts to argue a position. Ending a debt crisis = being a better person. Ending a debt crisis = being healthier. Ending a debt crisis = bouncing balls off the moon. A high school debating club could shred Obama's nachos-and-grapes comparisons but no, Congress wastes millions arguing about the nachgrape.

Enough already.

I've had it with anal-retentive Obamaviks telling Americans to ask for less, to sacrifice more. And I'm tired of Tea Partiers demanding small government and Republicans talking about debt reduction as the road to prosperity. I've come to despise the words "reduce" and "small" as much as the term "social justice." I don't want to be a victimized anymore by compromises in Washington that amount to political anorexia.

For years Donald Trump ran a budget deficit larger than the GDP of many nations but instead of trying to reduce himself, make himself smaller, he made himself bigger: he expanded and kept expanding and got richer and richer in the process.

Don't lower the boat, bring in the tide. That's the Trump philosophy. Translated into a governing philosophy it means making the United States an attractive place to people who know how to create real wealth. Then see where America's budget deficit stands.

As to Karl Rove's claim that Donald Trump has become a "joke candidate" by asking to see Barack Obama's birth certificate -- Rove is a political strategist, not a negotiator, and from his criticism I question whether he'd recognize a negotiation tactic if he tripped over one.

There is an alternate theory about why Rove tried to discredit Trump as a GOP candidate, and which Mediaite spelled out:
Rove and the Republican establishment have an added reason to keep Trump at bay: if he does, indeed, land the nomination, Trump has made enough connections and kept enough of his money over decades to depend significantly less on the party structure to fund his campaign. In other words, a President Trump would owe significantly fewer favors to Republican fundraisers than other candidates of less luxurious backgrounds.
But if Karl Rove takes in the first 15 minutes of Sean Hannity's interview with Donald Trump on Friday night, April 15 on FNC, maybe it'll dawn on him why Trump is harping at this time about the birth certificate and several other questions about Barack Obama and his associations -- questions that Hillary Clinton, John McCain, and the mainstream media avoided asking during the presidential primaries and campaign.

Or Rove can resolve the mystery simply by waiting; if Trump runs against Obama in the presidential race it'll be clear by then that by asking early on about the birth certificate, Trump had offered Obama and Obama's political strategists a deal. They could run a reasonably clean campaign against Trump. Or Trump could bring into the national presidential debate every question about Obama that's ever been raised and the results of every investigation into the questions. The latter would mean a hollow victory for Obama if he squeaked out a win. It would also mean that if Obama lost, he'd be lucky to land a job lecturing at a college in Mashed Potato Falls, Wyoming.

As to whether I'm so desperate for a Trump presidency I'd support what seems to be his position on Afghanistan (immediate and complete U.S. pullout) -- I think I could demonstrate to him that the United States has a right to a piece of Afghanistan's fabulous natural resources, and that we get to there from here first by abandoning Obama's Afpak strategy, then by pulling off a fast, decisive and lasting victory in Afghanistan.

The way to work the seeming miracle is almost childishly simple: install Amrullah Saleh in Hamid Karzai's stead, then order the U.S. military command and Department of State to do everything Saleh recommends about dealing with Pakistan.

Shazam! Easy as pie -- except for having to wear body armor when breaking the news to State that its social engineering experiments in Pakistan were over.

However, I don't want to think about all that stuff right now. I just want to get to the part where President-elect Trump is sitting in his boardroom at Trump Tower Fifth Avenue on the morning of November 7, 2012, and he looks into a TV camera and says to President Obama .....

Thursday, April 14

Libya Possum Chronicles

Gadhafi kept saying Qatar was supplying the rebels with arms and no one would believe him but now someone's ratted out Qatar and they've admitted they've been secretly supplying arms. So that's where the French-made missiles have been coming from. The Guardian has the story.
I didn't get a chance to watch TV news coverage yesterday but while I was perusing last night's rush transcript for CNN's main news report, The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer, I noticed that at the top of the hour Wolf said:
"Just days after NATO took control of operations in Libya, a surprising revelation about the U.S. military's role, what the Pentagon is now saying.
I then scrolled through the transcript, looking for what CNN had to say about the "surprising revelation," which The New York Times had broken sometime in the late afternoon. I scrolled and scrolled until finally I came upon these words, near the end of the transcript:
BLITZER: All right, Brianna. Thanks very much.

This footnote. You can read more from Jay Newton-Small about the CNN/"TIME" political roundtable over at

Just days after NATO took control of operations in Libya, a surprising revelation about the U.S. military's role, what the Pentagon is now saying.


BLITZER: Let's take a look at some of today's "Hot Shots."

In London, workers begin preparations for the royal wedding. [...]
Blame it on the transcript service -- unless one wants to argue that the only people truly able to keep up with the way editorial policies percolate through the news media are (a) retired police who served on a vice squad for at least a decade and (b) retired plainclothes detectives who were employed for at least a decade by a major casino. People who've worked in those fields for years really have seen it all -- every scam, every sleight-of-hand.

Not that I'm calling CNN a scam, but I'm just saying that the attitude and experience of say, a veteran vice squad cop is the best help to spotting the news media equivalent of black ice on the road.

Moving along to the Times report we learn that President Obama was playing possum regarding the nature of the U.S. military involvement in Libya, then in response to complaints at NATO that the U.S. wasn't doing enough, the Pentagon popped out with the announcement, then Times reporters began dialing their sources. My favorite part of the report is the discussion about nuance:
Pentagon Says It Has Kept Up Some Strikes on Libya

Published: April 13, 2011
The New York Times

WASHINGTON — Pentagon officials disclosed Wednesday that American warplanes had continued to strike targets in Libya even after the Obama administration said the United States was stepping back from offensive missions and letting NATO take the lead.

Although American officials had said that no aircraft would fly offensive strike missions, unless officially approved in Washington, 11 warplanes have flown 97 sorties intended to electronically jam or otherwise suppress Libyan air defenses since April 4, when command of the mission was handed over to NATO and the United States publicly said it was stepping back to a supporting role.

The number of actual missile strikes during those missions was only three; all were against Libyan air defense systems, whether radars, command-and-control sites or surface-to-air missiles. Two of them were to destroy hard-to-find and hard-to-strike mobile targets.

In explaining the gap between public statements and operational details, officials said the trio of strikes on Libyan targets since April 4 were classified as defensive, not offensive.

The distinction was that these attacks were intended to incapacitate Libyan radars, antiaircraft batteries or command centers in order to protect NATO strike aircraft, and were not offensive actions against Libyan government forces threatening civilians.

Pentagon officials had to scramble Wednesday to explain the latest nuance about the American mission in Libya.

The administration has expended enormous effort calibrating its explanation of the intervention there to a variety of audiences: the American public, Libyans still loyal to the government or rebel sympathizers, and people in Europe and the Arab world.

At a minimum, the disclosure of strikes dating back several days — on April 4, 6 and 7 — revealed a tin ear for how the facts of daily combat operations would compare to public statements that left the impression that the United States had ceased dropping bombs and missiles on Libya.

The continued operation of American warships and warplanes in both supporting and attacking roles is evidence that, while NATO is in command, the United States military remains the partner with specific capabilities that are required for the alliance to operate effectively.

American officials had said that only support aircraft — like refueling, reconnaissance and command-and-control planes — would be part of the daily operation. Any NATO desire for American strike aircraft, in particular the A-10 tank-buster and the AC-130 flying gunship — would have to be requested formally and approved in Washington.

But the 11 American warplanes assigned to a mission called Suppression of Enemy Air Defense are flying as part of the NATO-led mission.

“It is a purely defensive mission,” the Pentagon said in an official statement. Later, the Pentagon press secretary, Geoff Morrell, added, “It is completely consistent with how we have described our support role ever since the transition to NATO lead.”

The American aircraft assigned to suppressing Libyan air defenses are six F-16CJ aircraft and five E/A-18G warplanes, according to Pentagon officials. Working together, they can detect and jam adversary air defense systems and attack them with missiles, some specifically designed to home in on radar emissions.

The disclosure came one day after fissures opened among the allies over the scope and the intensity of attacks against Libyan government forces. Britain and France, in particular, called on NATO and its partners to intensify strikes.
I see a problem with Obama prodding the Pentagon to admit in public that the U.S. government had been playing possum. Isn't this admitting that even with more American air support than was publicly known, Gadhafi has still managed to eke out a stalemate? So what's it going to take to deal with Gadhafi to the satisfaction of CNN, Nicolas Sarkozy, and David Cameron?

Last night veteran MENA region CNN Senior International Correspondent Ben Wedeman, who is fluent in Arabic and one of the media's best 'eyes on the ground' in Libya, spelled out the bad news in his nightly report for Anderson Cooper's AC360 show (10:00 PM ET). (The "General Kimmit" Cooper refers to is BRIGADIER GENERAL MARK KIMMITT (RET.), FORMER U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND DEPUTY DIRECTOR FOR PLANS AND STRATEGY):
COOPER: Ben, General Kimmitt made an interesting point about the Gadhafi military, the Gadhafi forces, pro-Gadhafi forces being a learning enemy, that they have adapted their tactics. The same cannot be said at all for the opposition forces. They do not seem to be a learning force.

WEDEMAN [reporting from Benghazi]: No, no, not at all. In fact, they seem to be learning almost nothing. Certainly compared to the Gadhafi forces who have changed their tactics completely. Initially they were using tanks and heavy weaponry. Now they're running around in the desert in pickup trucks, almost indistinguishable from the rebels.

The rebels however don't seem to be learning anything, and it seems that even the level of enthusiasm seems to be draining off a bit because they realized that at least in this part of the country, that they can't move forward. And, therefore, you see fewer and fewer men at the front lines.

You almost never see a senior commander there. We did notice that they have some new weaponry. We did see for instance the other day they have these MILAN anti-tank missiles made in France.

They did have some night-vision goggles, but they didn't even know how to use the night-vision goggles. They didn't realize that you need to put batteries inside. So they don't seem to be increasing their training. There's very little leadership at the front. Communications continues to be poor. And therefore, I don't think anyone realistically can expect any sort of advance from the east given these conditions.
There's more to the discussion, which anyone who's closely following the Libya situation might want to read; it begins near the top of the rush transcript. The CNN editorial viewpoint is strongly in favor of the U.S. supporting the rebels to the fullest extent possible so while the opinion part of the nightly discussions on AC360 (and other CNN news shows) is slanted in that direction, it's because of their viewpoint that they're closely tracking the situation.

As to whether last night's AC360 mentioned the Pentagon's news -- yes, briefly, but as you can see Cooper turned it into fodder for the argument that the U.S. needs to do much more. But he also clearly indicates that at this point, the U.S. and other NATO countries will be left holding the bag:
COOPER: Well, we learned today American aircraft are still being used in strikes against air defense systems and for jamming enemy radar and aerial refueling, but tank-busting American A-10 Warthog attack planes like these they stopped flying missions last week.

And a number of countries like Qatar and the UAE involved in the air effort refuse to let their planes be involved in attacks on Gadhafi forces for political reasons back home.

The question now with a stalemate on the ground between opposition forces and Gadhafi's army and Libyan civilians still suffering in places like Misrata and Tripoli and elsewhere, is NATO doing enough?

Wednesday, April 13

USG warns that Americans could be specific targets of drug gangs in 3 Mexican states

I'm posting about half the April 13 Wall Street Journal report that broke the story, so if you haven't already seen it at the Journal's website I urge you to go there and read the entire report, which includes an interactive map that tracks the pattern of violence in Mexico.
U.S. Warns of Mexico Peril

The Wall Street Journal

James R. Hagerty, Clare Ansberry and David Luhnow contributed to this article

MEXICO CITY—For the first time in Mexico's drug war, the U.S. government said its employees and citizens could be the targets of drug gangs in three Mexican states, a disclosure that could signal danger for Americans south of the border.

The little-noticed warning, published last Friday in a warden's message from the U.S. Consulate General in Monterrey, said U.S. officials had "information that Mexican criminal gangs may intend to attack U.S. law-enforcement officers or U.S. citizens in the near future in Tamaulipas, Nuevo León and San Luis Potosí."

In Tamaulipas state, 32 bodies were found in mass graves on a ranch on Tuesday, bringing the total discovered there since last week to 120, authorities said. On Friday, the U.S. State Department said an American man was reported kidnapped from a bus in the state, but it wasn't known if he was among the dead.

The Consulate's message could have major implications for Americans across Mexico, who have lived in and visited the country under assurances from both governments that drug-related violence wasn't directed toward them. An estimated one million U.S. citizens live in Mexico and millions more visit each year.

Among the cities covered in the warning is Monterrey, the country's northern business hub where U.S. companies like Whirlpool Corp. and General Electric Co. have their regional bases.

Tamaulipas state shares 230 miles of border with Texas and handles important cross-border traffic through Nuevo Laredo and Reynosa; San Luis Potosí is a popular tourist destination, famous for its silver mines.

Whirlpool declined to comment on the warning. GE didn't immediately have a comment.

A division president of one major U.S. company canceled a planned visit to Monterrey scheduled for the end of April after the Consulate warning, company officials said.

U.S. State Department officials wouldn't comment on what triggered the warning.

"My guess is that this is a generic threat that they want to take seriously but not send people into panic mode," said Eric Olson, a senior associate at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. "Phrases like 'may intend' and 'near future' sound very unspecific to me, although worrisome nonetheless."

Mexican officials had no immediate comment on the warning, which seemed sure to add to rising tensions between Washington and Mexico City over the drug war. U.S. Ambassador Carlos Pascual was pressured to resign recently after comments he made about the Mexican army's inefficiency in diplomatic cables and published by WikiLeaks angered President Felipe Calderón.

Until recently, experts and officials on both sides of the border agreed that Mexican drug cartels focused their attacks on rivals and the occasional Mexican law-enforcement official but had little incentive to target outsiders.

Recent events have begun to call that assumption into question, including the killing of a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer and the wounding of another in San Luis Potosí in February by gunmen from a drug gang. [...]

Libya: Under increased pressure from Sarkozy and Cameron, Merkel hangs tough; Obama, staring into abyss of U.S. debt crisis, votes "present."

This in from The New York Times:
Pentagon Says It Has Kept Up Some Strikes on Libya
By Thom Shanker

WASHINGTON — Pentagon officials disclosed Wednesday that American warplanes had continued to strike targets in Libya even after the Obama administration said the United States was stepping back from offensive missions and letting NATO take the lead.
There's more to the report, much more, but I'll just note here that according to the Times "the disclosure came one day after fissures opened among the allies over the scope and the intensity of attacks against Libyan government forces. Britain and France, in particular, called on NATO and its partners to intensify strikes."
April 13, 2011, from Reuters updated report on Libya:
On Tuesday [French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe] criticised NATO for not doing enough to stop the bombing of Misrata. French daily Le Monde reported that Defence Minister Gerard Longuet had also said more U.S. participation in military strikes was needed in order to stem attacks by Gaddafi's army.
March 31, 2011, from the transcript of Eliot Spitzer's March 31 interview with French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy on CNN's In the Arena:
SPITZER: Let's fast forward this because there's so much more to the story. [Sarkozy] gets them -- you go to Paris, he then recognizes the [Benghazi council] government --

LEVY: And I tell [Sarkozy], I tell him absolutely. I tell him there is French flags today in Benghazi. If there is a bloodbath, the blood of the people of Benghazi will go on the French side --

SPITZER: You made a moral argument to him.

LEVY: Not only I made the moral argument, I spoke with my heart. I spoke with my consciousness, and I -- it was a conversation from one heart to another heart. He is president of France, but he's a man --

SPITZER: And he then did this without even speaking so, we're told, to his foreign minister, to the leadership of his party? You must be one persuasive advocate.

LEVY: Not -- that is not the point. I think that he knew -- he understood that if he began to put everybody in the story, nothing would happen. You know, bureaucracy, administration, European partners --

SPITZER: So what you're saying --

LEVY: So what -- Mrs. Merkel did after -- how she tried to block the process. Just imagine if Sarkozy had told her before. She would have done even more.

SPITZER: So he acted when other people spoke. He moved when the U.N. was dithering. You can -- don't need to be so polite. And the consequence of this was that by leading, everybody else followed -- the United Nations, the United States.

LEVY: Yes.
In the Spirit World post (April 11) I had to bite my tongue to avoid voicing my suspicion that France's President Nicolas Sarkozy had used an uprising in Libya as an excuse to pummel Germany's government out of its increasingly stubborn opposition to any and all schemes emanating from Brussels that require Germany to keep writing large checks. However, I tried to convey what my tongue wouldn't say by making shameless use of the spirit world, which is how an old French proverb ("You have to know how to give an egg to get an ox") got dragged into the story.

If my suspicion is correct then it would be closer to the truth to say that Sarkozy laid an egg in the effort to get an ox. I don't know if the Libyan situation represents the first time a country started a war on the advice of a philosopher -- and it's splitting hairs to say it's not a war -- but that's what happened.

(Read the entire transcript from the Spitzer-Levy discussion if you're having trouble imagining a universe in which a head of state uses as a philosopher as a forward observer.)

The (U.K.) Guardian, which has been keeping a close eye on Sarkozy and the French press since all of this started, clearly thinks that Sarkozy's hawkishness is motivated by domestic political reasons; I'm not so sure it's that simple or that Sarkozy is that cynical. The Reuters report spoke of signs that "cracks" were appearing in the NATO alliance because of the Libya situation. The cracks had appeared even before Germany refused to support the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq; what we're seeing today, in the argument about Libya, is a window on the gulf that opened up in NATO in 2009 (See the Spirit World post). The Washington Post reported this morning:
[...] Both the French and British governments have complained that other countries in the 28-member [NATO] alliance are not doing enough.

The differences in approach to the intervention were also apparent on Wednesday, when foreign ministers and other officials of the nations involved in the bombing campaign gathered in Doha, the Qatari capital. The officials planned to weigh options and seek ways to accelerate a negotiated end to what has become an inconclusive civil war of see-saw battles for cities along Libya’s Mediterranean shore.[...]
But there was no civil war until French, and then UN and NATO interventions, created one. There was an uprising, fueled by anti-Gadhafi Libyans watching cable television reportage on the 'Arab Spring' and principally the Egyptian protests -- but without realizing that what they were seeing on TV of the protests was a military coup masquerading as a people's revolution.

(I suspect I would find the same situation in Tunisia if I started digging; this on account of there is no such thing as a bloodless revolution against an authoritarian regime unless the military backing the regime gives the green light.)

As for a negotiated settlement, the rebels don't want one; they want their own country. To get from here to there they want weapons, military training, more NATO bombing campaigns, and money -- lots of money -- from the 'international community.' So now the United Nations is frantically dialing for dollars to ward off what it terms a humanitarian disaster, and today the U.K. foreign secretary William Hague "called for Libya's rebel movement to receive international funding as Nato members and their allies met for talks on the north African country's deadlocked civil war." This, according to the Financial Times.

Meanwhile, over in the USA, Washington is peering into the abyss. From Eliot Spitzer's interview with Reagan Administration budget director, David Stockman, on April 11:
STOCKMAN [...] We are issuing $6 billion of debt every day and suddenly the field has changed in terms of who's buying that. Japan was buying a lot. They're out of business because of this tragedy. They're turning inward.

China was buying a lot. They just had a trade deficit for the first time in five or six years. They'll be buying much less [U.S.] debt. The Fed was buying a huge amount in QE2 [second phase of Fed's quantitative easing] They're done in June.

And then today one of the biggest bond funds, the biggest hedge fund in the world, announced that they're shorting the Treasury bond. In other words, they're selling the bond. They're not buying it. So I think we're in -- you know, facing this serious crisis within weeks and months.[...]
"Serious crisis?" We're seeing the ground opening beneath our feet.

The good news is that after noticing that the earth was moving even the most hawkish expansionists in Washington have gotten very quiet about Libya these last few days, and that our nation's president has had much practice from his time in Congress at simply voting "present."

So as things stand at this moment -- to return to the Washington Post report:
[T]he Obama administration appeared to reject the possibility of an expanded U.S. military role [in Libya] in the near future. A State Department spokesman insisted Tuesday that NATO was performing adequately in enforcing the no-fly zone and said the alliance was fine-tuning its tactics to address complaints about the campaign’s effectiveness.

“We have every confidence in NATO’s ability to carry out the task of enforcing the arms embargo, as well as the no-fly zone and the protection of civilians in Libya,” the spokesman, Mark Toner, told reporters in Washington.

“The U.S., of course, as needed, would help out if requested in other capacities. But, really, our role has receded.”
Here's hoping, because according to the Post the pressure on Obama is ramping up:
Maurizio Massari, a spokesman for Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, said NATO countries should furnish arms to the rebels fighting to topple Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi, saying that was the best way to assure the the rebels’ defense. The suggestion implied that the NATO-led air strikes were incapable of protecting the insurgents and their de facto capital, Benghazi, from persistent assaults by Gaddafi loyalists.

But news agency reports said that Belgium, backed by Germany, contended that providing arms to the rebels would go beyond the scope of the U.N. Security Council resolution that authorized Western bombing against Gaddafi’s troops as a way to protect civilian populations.

Tuesday’s unusual public criticism of the Libya operations from French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe and British Foreign Secretary William Hague raised questions about NATO’s ability to smoothly conduct such a large-scale and sustained military operation without the United States playing a commanding role, as it has in the past.

“The Americans have the numbers of planes, and the Americans have the right equipment,” said Francois Heisbourg, a military specialist at the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris.
The only way I can see out of this mess, at present, is to first send Bernard-Henri Levy back to Benghazi. Have him explain to the rebel leaders the facts of life in a post-Japan tsunami world, and in a world where NATO no longer marches in lockstep.

Then send Libya's former foreign minister Moussa Koussa back to Tripoli. Have him explain to Col. Gadhafi that there's a face-saving dénouement but that it would hinge on his not wreaking revenge on the Benghazi rebels.

Yes yes supposedly Koussa is a defector but whether or not this is true he could return under the protection of NATO, as a negotiator.

According to the Guardian, Koussa was planning on meeting today with rebel leaders who were in attendance at the Doha meeting. No word yet on how that turned out but whatever settlement offer could be broached at this point, I think it would be heard most clearly from the French.

As long as the rebels believe that France will continue to carry the standard for them at all costs, they will not be in a mood to settle. The longer they remain in that mood the closer Libya's humanitarian crisis moves toward catastrophe
-- a catastrophe that will spill into neighboring countries and Europe, as Libya's humanitarian crisis has already done.

The bottom line is that even with a military victory and control of several oil fields, the rebels are not capable of starting and managing a nation without massive assistance that Germany is not going to provide, the French and British can't afford to provide, and that the USA would be stark-raving mad to provide.

As to where my advice would leave America's promotion of democracy -- which promotion would that be? The debacle in Afghanistan, which has resulted in the country's Muslim hardliners running the show in Kabul? The bloodbath that occurred in Iraq because Paul Bremer confused an economic theory -- Neoliberalism -- with the principles of sound democratic government? (1) The misapplication of Gene Sharp's tactics to Iran? The installation of U.S. puppets during the Orange and Rose revolutions? Or how about if we go all the way back to Indochina and ask whatever happened to the great democracy promotion that resulted in the Vietnam War?

My second essay on this blog praised the principle of the democracy doctrine. But my third essay, and many subsequent ones, argued that Washington had to learn to play it straight when promoting democracy around the world.

Yet playing it straight is only half the task; the other half requires knowing how to intelligently promote democracy. We're not there yet, and now Germany and the United States cannot afford to help patch mistakes after the fact. So the operative phrase for U.S. foreign policy in this era must be "Look before you leap."

1) For readers who didn't closely follow the doings of the Coalition Provisional Authority under Paul Bremer: To his everlasting credit he played a key role in getting a written Constitution for Iraq. Beyond that it was pretty much a fog on account of Washington having had much experience at setting up democracy stage shows, but little experience with setting up the real thing.

But President Bush had his heart set on Iraq having a real democracy, not the stage-managed imitation. So Bremer, a Kissinger disciple, was forced to improvise. That worked out in part to his ordering Iraq's moribund state-run factories shut so that a healthy private sector could establish. In this, he was following good Neoliberal economic principles. However comma he had also ordered de-Baathification, which had routed Baathists from Iraq's military.

With no paychecks from factories or the military, large numbers of Iraqi males were watching their families starve. And so they went to work for the insurgency or al Qaeda. I forget how much AQ was paying for each IED laid -- maybe around 40 bucks a pop -- and to families of suicide bombers, but it was a paying job and thus, the bloodiest chapter in Iraq's post-Saddam history.

Finally some people at the U.S. Department of State gave up trying to argue with Bremer over the issue and staged their own insurgency. They reopened a few of the factories in contravention of Bremer's edict, just to get paychecks generated.