Monday, November 26

Bapa Rao channels George Orwell to study the link between truly awful political prose and awful government

Time was, Americans worried that the death of the Republic would be violent and sudden, in the manner of the Weimar Republic waking up one morning and finding itself the Third Reich. These days we know better; the death is a slow bleed from a thousand small cuts delivered not by goons but by educated sleight-of-hand artists who are paid to conjure a plausible explanation for anything at the expense of the inherent logic of language.  So one troubling aspect of Bapa Rao's August 3 writing for Outlook India magazine is that Americans don't need to know Indian politics to understand his observations.

He notes that in India politicians rarely write for the public. But that's because Indian politicians rarely have to field a challenge from the public about the massive corruption that afflicts government there. Now that a sustained challenge has been mounted Indians are set to experience what's happened in America since the 2009 Tea Party rebellion, which has been government officials fighting each other for space in editorial pages in order to defend the indefensible in the most confusing arguments they can think up.

Yet even Americans can gain insights from Bapa Rao's analysis of the labyrinthian arguments of the Oxford-educated Salman Khurshid, who was serving as Minister of Law and Justice at the time of the writing and was appointed Minister of External Affairs on October 28 by the ruling Congress Party.

Another development since August is that Khurshid became upset last month about a public accusation that he and his wife had embezzled from a trust their family set up to aid the physically handicapped. The BBC reported on October 17:
India's Law Minister Salman Khurshid has warned anti-corruption activist Arvind Kejriwal against visiting his constituency.

"He can come to Farrukhabad but should keep in mind that he has to return too," he was filmed telling a meeting.

Mr Khurshid said as the law minister, he had to "work with the pen. But I will also work with blood," he added.
Work with the pen he does, as you will see shortly. And considering he will also have to work with the U.S. Department of State in the course of his new duties he was hastily given an image makeover after his outburst.

Before turning over the floor to Bapa Rao, I'll thank him and Outlook India for giving me permission to republish his essay. I added a few additional links; this for readers who don't know about Anna Hazare ("Anna" is a Marathi word for father or elder) and the anti-corruption protests that coalesced around him in 2011.

For readers who want more information on the protests, which by 2012 had spread nationwide, I think this BBC profile of Arvind Kejriwal is helpful. Although Hazare is by no means a mere figurehead it's actually Kejriwal who organized the protests and kept them on track. Recently, in a surprising move, he struck off on his own to form a new political party. The name of the party is Aam Aadmi ("common man"); this usurps the motto of the dynastic Congress party, which has as much concern about the common man as did the court of Louis the 16th.

The new party, which has rooting corruption from government as the central platform, was launched just today -- November 26.  Readers who think the platform sounds hopelessly naive should read the Wikipedia article about Kejriwal, and do so before it gets updated again by another prankster in India's political establishment; even during the past couple days sentences have been lost to 'editing' notations regarding footnotes. Although the article writer's first language is obviously not English he or she provides enough data to indicate that Kejriwal knows exactly what he's doing, and knows where all the bodies are buried, as befits someone who worked for India's version of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service for more than a decade.

As to how India's political establishment and the one in the USA have been viewing Kejriwal's progress -- take a wild guess. I think a more interesting question is how the new party will be watched by anti-corruption activists in the USA and other countries, such as China. But now it's time to turn back the clock to early August, to a time before Aam Aadmi launched, before Salman Khurshid found himself publicly accused of corruption, and before the American documentary District of Corruption was released in the USA.

Unscrambling The Politician’s Prose
by K.V. Bapa Rao
Outlook India
August 3, 2012

Salman Khurshid's article Dunk Us All Into Liquid Oxygen doesn't quite manage to conceal that the ongoing events at Jantar Mantar reflect the anger of a great many Indians at the extent and scale of the culture of corruption in India’s political class.

The Indian people are pretty well hardened to the ineptitude and corruption of their politicians. But, as the recent power grid crash shows -- in a week that gave us a burning train, communal riots, highway deaths, attacks on women and another grid crash -- the politicians are always a step ahead of the people’s ability to take things in their stride. They see to it that we never lose our sense of wonder: what sort of minds, what thinking process, what value system, could possibly drive such a single-minded commitment to failure and disaster?

It’s all very well to say that they are venal and stupid; but that really isn’t any kind of answer. Consistent and massive failure in all imaginable fields is never the result of mere individuals acting out of ill intent; it needs organization. And an organization requires a guiding value system that drives a rationale for comprehensive failure and corruption. It is this value system and shared mental process that is revealed when a politician writes the rare article for public consumption.

Back in 1946 George Orwell wrote a short but insightful essay, Politics and the English Language, to explain the connection between badly-written prose and slimy political lies. The creator of the fictional Ministry of Truth (actually a factory of lies) made a lifetime study of the lies of public figures and the language they use for telling those lies. Orwell has this to say about politicians’ words:
In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible. [Atrocious and morally unjustifiable things] can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness.
Orwell’s insight was that when politicians write badly, the rotten prose is no accident but a direct result and symptom of the rotten values and rationale that the writers are trying to conceal. No one can write without revealing their brain at work; when you write to lie and deceive, it is hard for the brain to reconcile what it believes to be true with the deception which it is being asked to perpetrate in logical and clear prose. As a result, the writing ends up failing on both fronts: the prose comes out unclear and barely coherent, while the truth peeks out from the covers, and can be extracted, with some effort by the reader. This extracted truth is the “brutal argument” that Orwell is talking about.

Indian  politicians usually keep their brains well out of public view; they carefully avoiding putting words down for people to read and criticize. So Khurshid’s recent article in Outlook affords a rare opportunity to apply Orwell’s methods to probe an Indian politician’s mind and piece together the brutal argument that he is not giving us, but is not quite able to conceal either.

The title of the article, Dunk Us All Into Liquid Oxygen, is a wry allusion to a popular quotation attributed to the late Hindi film actor Ajit, known for his roles as clownish villains spouting quirky dialogue. Torment by “liquid oxygen” at the hands of Ajit’s henchmen would leave the victim in a painful state of being simultaneously not-alive (due to the liquid) and not-dead (due to the oxygen).

The piece is evidently intended as a plaint against the India Against Corruption (IAC) organization that is currently involved in a national agitation (against political corruption) and hunger strike at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi. Khurshid professes “caring” for Anna Hazare -- a prominent activist who has been on the hunger strike -- but insinuates that Hazare, while himself a good person, is, sadly, a lousy judge of character who keeps company with some very bad persons whom Khurshid ostentatiously refrains from naming. Khurshid expends a great many words on the dangers that these unnamed persons pose to the delicate fabric of society, in a darkly conspiratorial tone reminiscent of entrenched old-school demagogues inveighing against “outside agitators” out to pollute, and destroy, our precious political system.

Khurshid leaves no doubts at all about the sheer intense wickedness of these nameless enemies of the people. He signs off with a famous verse from the famous poem, The Second Coming by the famous poet W.B. Yeats:
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
It seems that Khurshid is actually quite angry with critics who have been giving his colleagues in the political class a hard time about corruption over the past year or so. In the article, he lays the blame squarely on these critics (who are “the worst”) for a deepening cynicism in the public about politics and the political system, and by conscious omission, holds the political class blameless and unjustly maligned. It is another thing that, to the public, it appears as though the political animals have been laying into the public weal like so many drunken monkeys unleashed on a banana boat. And just as those monkeys might, politicians become very cross indeed when someone has the nerve to try to thwart their orgy.

The gorging monkey analogy is rather unkind perhaps, but still apt. If the political class is driven by visions of loaves and fishes of office dancing in their eyes, they are hardly likely to take an interest in raising their standards of service to the public above simian levels, so to speak. Colossal power failures, trains lacking safety systems that were standard elsewhere in the 20th century, deadly roadways, subsistence levels of potable water, grinning indifference to enemy attacks on the nation’s cities, unspeakable sanitation, a disgraceful health care systems, a dodgy education system -- these and the rest of the dysfunctions besetting India all make sense now; they are built and maintained by the political equivalent of partying monkeys, when they can spare the time, that is.

Khurshid devotes a considerable portion of his article to fretting about what is to become of India’s pluralistic political system in the face of the debilitating demands of the dark forces, that is to say, the anti-corruption activists. On the face of it, this is nonsense -- corruption, or its impact, is the most pluralistic thing there is, sparing no one of whatever persuasion. Khurshid’s article is rather incoherent but not altogether useless. If we apply Orwell’s ideas and carefully read past, and into, the vaguely-worded but relatively well-written peroration, we can expose the “brutal argument.” Here are Khurshid’s concluding words:
The role of democratic politics is to find a workable arrangement between competing claims, ensuring, in the process, the stability of society. Where this breaks down, we are left exposed to the forces of unwholesome upheaval, even violence. The strength of Indian democracy is our unity in diversity. If the accommodation of legitimate interests is questioned every time, politics will not be a place for angels and idealistic young men and women. Young India will no longer dream, but will suffer the agony of unending nightmares. With the death of innocence in our times, what then will we tell our children? Who will join politics or become a judge? Will we bequeath to generations to come the lost years, because courage failed the good?
Khurshid evidently means to say that stability is paramount, and trumps all other concerns. Agitating against defalcations by the political class, harshly criticizing politicians, reacting to their bad-faith pretence at responsiveness with anger and refusing to back down -- all these things are the forces of unwholesome upheaval, and lead to bad consequences like the reluctance of young people to dream about becoming politicians, to be welcomed, nurtured and mentored as Khurshid himself was by his Congress Party.

But the conditions in which the majority of Indians are forced to live -- dangerous, deprived and unsanitary conditions engineered by Khurshid’s own political class -- are hardly a reasonable interpretation of stability or security, except by the inhumanly low standards that were imposed on the Indian people by persons like Khurshid, persons he evidently respects and admires. And if the Indian people don’t tear each other apart in despair and rage, it is no thanks to the politicians but due to the civilisational value system that Indians carry in their collective DNA.

So, what, then, is this stability that would be threatened when politicians are criticized? Well, the political class endeavoured, quite successfully, to insulate itself from the worst of the crippling consequences of its own corruption and comprehensive ineptitude, and the insulation has held steady. Anger directed at the political class could conceivably lead to a loss of this insulation, and politicians may have to actually put up with the consequences of their actions. With this in mind, we can now translate Khurshid’s words into plain English prose as follows, which would help us understand why he took the time to write his article:

Public corruption is not important. More precisely, it is far less important than political stability, which is to be maintained by a system of sharing the spoils of office with all political actors who can make enough trouble, thus pacifying them. When people actually confront corruption, but won’t settle for a cut of the action, it disrupts this political order. In the politicians’ eyes, this is the worst possible thing that can happen to India. Ergo, those that engage in such confrontation are the worst possible persons and therefore deserve the harshest possible treatment.

It is serious business, but the operative phrase above is “harshest possible.” Sometimes, harsh is less possible than at other times. After some experience, the politicians have learned to treat Anna Hazare with kid gloves. Less charismatic but still somewhat powerful colleagues of Hazare can be set apart from Hazare and blamed for destroying the country, but it is better to maintain a veneer of plausible deniability and avoid naming them, since they might possibly come around to be co-opted at some time.

Then there are powerless citizens like the hapless Gurgaon housewife Rajbala (no doubt one of the dark forces that worry Khurshid so) whom it was entirely possible to beat to death when she irritated the politicians by protesting against corruption. In the meantime, it is only prudent that the enabling machinery of protest and confrontation be crippled by effectively criminalizing, by default, all use of the internet.

If this is the honest rationale veiled by Khurshid’s opaque prose, then it is no wonder that, when tossing in the obligatory piety about commitment to accountability, debate and so forth, his prose dissolves into incomprehensible and self-contradictory near-gibberish:
Not for a moment should my position be thought to be seeking immunity from accountability. Ipso facto treating it as such would mean reluctance of the adversary to join in an open debate -- the essence of democracy, in whose name many self-opinionated, harsh, even irresponsible positions are being taken.
No one in their right mind would even try to interpret what the “ipso facto …” sentence could possibly mean. Considering the brazen opaqueness of that sentence and the evident impunity with which Khurshid utters it, what follows can only be a cliché-ridden falsehood:
Let me say it with all the emphasis at my command: We stand for the fullest transparency and accountability.
Here is Orwell again, about what lies behind such insults to the language:
The inflated style itself is a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.
When employed to camouflage a “brutal argument” with platitudes, cant and bombast, the frontal lobe of the brain blows a fuse, prose rebels, twists itself into knots, and turns into a hideous caricature, albeit one which still retains a flavour of the truth.

What Khurshid’s article doesn’t quite manage to conceal is the reality that the ongoing events at Jantar Mantar reflect the anger of a great many Indians at the extent and scale of the culture of corruption in India’s political class. Anger induces rigidity of outlook; mass anger has a way of generating simplistic and ultimately unhelpful, even harmful answers. However, considering the depth, breadth and duration of the politicians’ malfeasance, and their stubborn imperviousness to self-correction, the expressions of anger have been rather mild and the proposed solutions rational, lawful and fairly reasonable, for all their flaws.

Khurshid and his political colleagues are livid that people are angry with them; they simply refuse to admit the fact that the people’s anger is entirely justified, and that it is entirely the politicians’ fault that the people are angry. If today the politicians feel trapped, tormented and hectored on all sides, it is but the proper and deserved consequence of their own actions. Khurshid’s shoddily-written tantrum of an article is a symptom of the continued reliance of the politicians on bluff and bluster in their efforts to divide and neutralize the organizers of the agitation and dissipate the people’s anger.

Khurshid’s concerns about the risks posed by the people’s anger to the stability of society are disingenuous. The agitation has remained peaceful for over a year, a remarkable thing for a grassroots street movement. Khurshid and his fellow politicians have vast, virtually unlimited powers, and they do use them quite ruthlessly to protect their rather sweet little racket. Khurshid’s fear is that, once people feel empowered to scrutinize politicians, they will turn on the politicians with the same fervour that politicians exhibit when thwarted. He worries too much -- unlike the government of which Khurshid is a member, the anti-corruption agitators, for all their anger, haven’t yet beaten anyone to death yet for confronting them, nor have they criminalized the use of the internet.

The minister is right about one thing -- we do need capable young people of good character to enter the political profession, since the people cannot do without hired help to act as their proxies in the exercise of power and in the management and development of shared resources. A key requirement of the job would be the temperament to cheerfully accept intense scrutiny and criticism, even when it is unfair, all the while learning and striving to deliver higher standards of service, and communicating honestly and clearly with the employer.

The apprentice politician might find Khurshid’s article of some use -- as an Orwellian cautionary tale to show that defending the indefensible is morally wrong and rots your prose.

Saturday, November 17

The Northeast catches a break

From Accuweather today: "It no longer appears that a nor'easter will have an impact on the Northeast, while it is expected to shift out to sea early next week. Instead, dry weather is in store for the region into Thanksgiving week."

Thursday, November 15

New York Times translates The Fiscal Cliff into plain English

November 15, 2012:
Demystifying the Fiscal Impasse That Is Vexing Washington
By Jackie Calmes
The New York Times

Many Americans must be wondering: What is all this about a “fiscal cliff”? And why did it receive so little attention during the presidential campaign?

Well, it’s complicated — the so-called cliff, that is.
Not exactly the best way to start off, if the writer wants assure the reader that he knows what he's talking about. But all joking aside if you're mystified about the meaning of the cliff and how it all came about, the Q&A format is helpful. At least if he's wrong on any part, he's very clear. That always puts you ahead of the game because it's actually better to be clear and wrong than fuzzy and correct. This way, people can quickly identify your mistakes, whereas if you're right and fuzzy it can be centuries before your points are understood.

If all that's not entirely clear, well, it's complicated.

U.S. Deepwater Horizon disaster: BP will pay record criminal fine, plead guilty to felony misconduct

Somehow I don't think this means anyone's going to jail.

Black Ops

Never assigned an official crest or patch, SOG personnel accepted this unofficial self-designed insignia
-- From Wikipedia's article on MACV-SOG

My favorite exchange from John Batchelor's discussion last night with Robert M. Gillespie, author of Black Ops, Vietnam: An Operational History of MACVSOG, was when John asked, "What can a small team do against tens of thousands?"

Gillespie replied with a grin in his voice, "Be as clandestine as possible."

From Amazon's overview of the book, which was published September 15, 2011:
Without doubt the most unique U.S. unit to participate in the Vietnam War, the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam Studies and Observations Group (MACVSOG) was a highly-classified, U.S. joint-service organization consisting of Army Special Forces, Navy SEALs, Marine Force Reconnaissance units, the Air Force, and the CIA. Committed to action in Southeast Asia even before the major U.S. build-up in 1965, it also fielded a division-sized element of South Vietnamese military personnel, indigenous Montagnards, ethnic Chinese Nungs, and Taiwanese pilots.

During its nine-year existence, MACVSOG participated in most of the significant operations of the conflict, including the Gulf of Tonkin incident, the Tet Offensive, the incursion into Cambodia, the Green Beret murder case, the Phoenix program, and the Son Tay POW raid.

The story of this extraordinary unit has never before been told in full and comes as a timely blueprint for today's unconventional warfare.

Published in cooperation with the Association of the United States Army.
From one review of the book that's posted at the U.S. Naval Institute website:
Assembled from declassified documents and memoirs, Black Ops Vietnam is an in-depth focus on the deeds of this elite group, and its true stories are especially relevant amid today's problematic, complex, and difficult ongoing counter-insurgency operations. Highly recommended, especially for college library military history shelves."
The Midwest Book Review, November 2011
Yes, the book is especially relevant to the present conflict -- to counterterrorism operations as well as counterinsurgency ones. But one wonders why so many of the lessons learned from MACV-SOG's relationships with the U.S. and South Vietnamese military command structure and political Washington, which were often tragic, seemed to have been ignored in this era, and in the Afghan conflict in particular.

It's from that angle, the aspect of a vital special operations team that was being tasked with doing so much and not receiving the kind of support it really required, that John approaches the book.

He remarked at the end of the discussion, "It's worth considering that we had allies 50 years ago and we lost them." 

We have allies in Iraq and Afghanistan, but we seem intent on losing them, too. 

John's talk with the author is available on Flash Player and can also be downloaded from the WABC Radio website (11 PM-12 AM - Wed, Nov 14) segment. 

I note this is the second time this week that John has dedicated an hour of his show to a Vietnam War history.  (See my post, Black April, for information about the first.) So I'm wondering if there's a Batchelor Vietnam War series in the making, even though he's discussed many Vietnam War books over the years.

If I'm right, and if he carries the book discussions over to the weekend, a reminder for those who're interested:  No podcasts for the Saturday and Sunday shows. And he doesn't publish the roster of the night's guests/topics until near the end of the show or after it's aired. So it's potluck. Of course you can always listen to the show online while it's being aired or tape it. Visit the WABC website, linked above, to listen online

"Dust Bowl:" New Ken Burns documentary on 1930s disaster finds echoes in 2012 drought

From this report on the Burns documentary, at the least it looks to be an important contribution to oral histories of the United States:
Burns Captures Dust Bowl Hardships in Documentary
by Sean Breslin
The Weather Channel
November 14, 2012

For Dust Bowl survivors like 88-year-old Don Wells, the scenes of devastation will never leave his mind, yet they are still difficult to describe.

Let me tell you how it was -- I don't care who describes that to you, nobody can tell it any worse than what it was," he said. "No one exaggerates it. There was no way to for it to be exaggerated. It was that bad."

Award-winning filmmaker Ken Burns accepted the challenge, painting a picture of the debilitating Dust Bowl. In his documentary, "The Dust Bowl," Burns speaks to residents of the Heartland who saw it firsthand, like Wells, who grew up in Cimarron County, Okla. and still lives there today.

The film will premiere Sunday, November 18, 2012 at 8 p.m. on PBS.

"We're blissfully unaware of the historical events that brought us to this moment," said Burns. "It is just harrowing -- it feels Biblical -- when you deal with the consequences of it. And we are able to find witnesses in their late-80s and 90s who were children back then, and teenagers."

An event surrounded by so much folklore, the Dust Bowl was one of the most crippling natural disasters of the 20th century. Millions of acres of crops were obliterated, thousands of residents were killed and countless budding farmers were chased from their way of life.
Those who endured the hardships of the Dust Bowl continue to age, and eventually their voices will fall silent. But through Burns' new documentary, their stories of a trying time in American history will never be lost.
How do the 1930s disaster and the 2012 drought compare?  This year's drought ranks as the 10th-largest severe drought since 1895, according to a  July 16 report for The Weather Channel titled 2012 Drought Rivals Dust Bowl, which presented new data. An in-depth analysis for The Weather Channel, published July 21, drills down into the question:
The Dust Bowl: 2012 vs. 1930s
By Becky Kellogg

There have been many comparisons between 2012's growing drought and the 1930's Dust Bowl. Both happened in a time of economic downturn. Both are accompanied by stunning images of dry, withered land. Both have sparked deep concerns about the state of the environment and whether our land and lifestyles are sustainable.

However, there are huge differences.

"In terms of percent area of country affected by drought (as measured by the Palmer Drought Index), the 1930's Dust Bowl decade is the worst drought on record by spatial area," says Richard Heim, a meteorologist and drought expert with NOAA's National Climactic Data Center.

The Dust Bowl was not solely caused by drought. It was a complicated conflux of three factors that combined to create a natural disaster of epic proportions: weather, poor farming practices, and lack of environmental understanding. In essence, the Dust Bowl was a perfect storm of a natural disaster.
Kellogg then examines the meteorological, agricultural and social aspects of the disaster. I think the review makes a good introduction to the Burns documentary.

As to whether another perfect storm is on its way, Ken Burns seems to think so. From the Weather Channel report on his documentary, he termed the Dust Bowl "the largest man-made ecological disaster in American history, to that point."

If that's indeed precisely what he said, I think he's on shaky ground when one considers Kellogg's analysis. The Dust Bowl represented a convergence of factors, including weather patterns. However, he's on more solid ground when he looks beyond the Dust Bowl conditions:
Based on his research for the documentary, Burns is convinced the Great Plains are ripe for disaster yet again.

"It's definitely going to happen again, because for most of that time, we'd been drawing on the vast Ogallala Aquifer, which is not sustainable water," he said.

"We're pulling through a million straws, from the sandhills of northern Nebraska down to central Texas -- [on] this glacial melt that's been there.
The misuse of the Ogallala Aquifer, which I discussed some years ago on this blog, is well-documented. As to where the present drought stands:


Wednesday, November 14

Memo to GOP: Would you get your mind off Obama and focus on the weather reports?

Glenn Beck and it seems a great many others, including those in the Republican party, are worried that the Democratic  machine got Obama  reelected by using Behaviorist psychology.  Breaking News:  The Leftists have only been screwing with voters' heads since they studied Pavlov's experiments. 

But Glenn of all people should know that the political machines, both the Democratic and Republican, are fast going the way of the electric typewriter.

So can we please kindly focus on the latest report from AccuWeather? To help maintain focus, look at the red streak on the right of the AccuWeather map above.  That's the same region where Superstorm Sandy, and the nor'easter that followed on Sandy's heels, hit the worst. 

The part of the I-95 corridor where Sandy did the worst damage represents 20-25 percent of the nation's retail sales. So the very last thing we need is another nor'easter hitting around the Thanksgiving holiday and Black Thursday.  (Many retailers are extending Black Friday sales to Thanksgiving Day.) And this is saying nothing about relief efforts for Sandy victims that have gotten bogged down. More about that later, but right now:
Thanksgiving Air Travel Jeopardy
By Meghan Evans, Meteorologist
November 14, 2012; 5:47 PM EST

Another nor'easter during Thanksgiving week will put travel in jeopardy for the holiday, while a storm also hits the West Coast.

A nor'easter may form over the western Atlantic by Sunday, sending rain and wind into parts of the mid-Atlantic and Northeast through at least the middle of the week.

"How close to the coast the storm tracks will determine how unsettled the weather gets in the I-95 corridor to the Appalachians," Expert Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski said.

There is potential that the nor'easter could strengthen and move farther inland into New England at midweek. In this scenario, there is some potential for a wintry mix or snow over the mountains of northern New England.
If you live within the red blotch on the West Coast, then you'd want to read the rest of the report. 

Petraeus offers to testify this week before House, Senate panels on Benghazi

Fox News, Nov 14:
Former CIA Director David Petraeus has agreed to testify about the Libya terror attack before the House and Senate intelligence committees, Fox News has learned.
The logistics of Petraeus' appearance are still being worked out. But a source close to Petraeus said the former four-star general has contacted the CIA, as well as committees in both the House and Senate, to offer his testimony as the former CIA director.

Fox News has learned he is expected to speak off-site to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Friday about his Libya report. The House side is still being worked out.
While Petraeus prepares to give his side, lawmakers have begun to openly question when Petraeus first knew about the investigation that uncovered his affair -- and whether it impacted his statements to Congress on Sept. 14 about the Libya terror attack.

Petraeus briefed lawmakers that day that the attack was akin to a flash mob, and some top lawmakers noted to Fox News he seemed "wedded" to the administration's narrative that it was a demonstration spun out of control. The briefing appeared to conflict with one from the FBI and National Counterterrorism Center a day earlier in which officials said the intelligence supported an Al Qaeda or Al Qaeda-affiliated attack.

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., told Fox News he now questions whether Petraeus' statements -- which were in conflict with both the FBI briefing and available raw intelligence -- were in any way impacted by the knowledge the FBI was investigating his affair with Broadwell.

King questioned whether the investigation "consciously or subconsciously" affected his statements to Congress.

Fox News' Catherine Herridge contributed to this report.
The next hurdle will be getting the various congressional committees investigating Benghazi to hold a joint hearing. There's a committee that oversees defense, one for the CIA, and yet another for the State Dept. The problem is that with classified information being given at the closed-door hearings, the committees can't share what they learn. This makes it hard to get a clear picture of what actually happened during the attack in Benghazi and how the key agencies, including the White House, responded to the attack.

Millions of functionally illiterate Americans: one reason millions of good U.S. jobs go unfilled

"I would honestly say it's probably an entry level problem. It's those basic skill sets. Show up on time; you know -- read, write, do math, problem solve. I can't tell you how many people, even coming out of higher ed with degrees, who can't put a sentence together without a major grammatical error. It's a problem. If you can't do the resume properly to get the job, you can't come work for us. We're in the business of making fasteners that hold systems together that protect people in the air when they're flying. We're in the business of perfection."
-- Ryan Costella, Click Bond company, Nevada; from 60 Minutes interview (see below)

Another reason so many U.S. jobs go begging: an unholy union of banks, government and universities has sold Americans on the myth that they have to go into hock to get an education that provides a good-paying career path.

The myth has been crumbling under the onslaught of the U.S. economic downturn, as millions of college graduates have found themselves with no job and a mountain of student-loan debt. Many such graduates are shaking off the myth the hard way (H/T Belmont Club):
Then there’s Michael DiPietro, 25, of Brooklyn, who accumulated about $100,000 in debt while getting a bachelor’s degree in fashion, sculpture, and performance, and spent the next two years waiting tables. He has since landed a fundraising job in the arts but still has no idea how he will pay back all that money.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s an obsolete idea that a college education is like your golden ticket,” DiPietro says. “It’s an idea that an older generation holds on to.”
Another myth is that all the good jobs in U.S. manufacturing have moved offshore.

Last Sunday's 60 Minutes challenged the myths in a segment called Three million open jobs in U.S., but who's qualified? You can watch the segment at the 60 Minutes website, which also posts the transcript for the segment.

This is not the first time 60 Minutes has made a yeoman attempt to haul American thinking about education into the 21st century, but it keeps running into the same concrete barrier and razor wire.

Underlying all the myths are a few ugly facts that serve as the barriers:

1. If large numbers of high school graduates head for technical schools and entry-level jobs in businesses that provide training in hi-tech occupations, this would throw many professors and college administrators out of work.

2. If universities lose their social cachet it would be harder for them to steer millions of American minds into politically correct thinking, which as we all know is key to harmonizing the USA with the International Community. 

3.  Foreign governments such as -- [furrowing her brow and thinking hard] such as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia would find it harder to get more bang for their grant money in influencing what young American university students learn about.

4. With smaller university enrollments, companies that build spas, gyms, restaurants and multi-million dollar sports complexes for college campuses would find it harder to get universities to shell out for such student amenities.

5. If large numbers of functionally illiterate Americans in large northeastern cities and western cities such as Los Angeles become literate the Democratic Party would risk losing a big chunk of its voter base.

6. Banks that write student loans and credit card companies that live off perpetually broke college grads would see their profits take a big hit.

Of course nobody in banking, the Ivy Halls or Democratic Party headquarters sits up nights wondering how to prevent millions of Americans from becoming literate and taking rational paths to outfitting themselves for a career. But you know how it is, human nature being what it is: everybody is for progress until the progress threatens to overturn his own applecart.

Faced with that unpleasant prospect human nature tends to charge forward by sitting backward on the horsie.  So that's how you get solutions such as demanding the government make college education free.

Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on how you want to look at it, realities larger than people's applecarts eventually bulldoze the barriers.

Black April

Battle of Xuan Loc, South Vietnam

"Through it all, Veith dispels the misconception that the South Vietnamese fought poorly and disintegrated in the face of a resolute North Vietnamese onslaught. Unit after unit fought with valor against overwhelming odds. Perhaps the most valiant was the South Vietnamese 18th Division, defending Xuan Loc, 40 miles northeast of Saigon, which withstood the Communist battering from 9 to 21 April and forced the North Vietnamese Army to pay a high price in casualties before succumbing.

"At the beginning of the text, Veith deflates one rampant myth — that the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army were independent entities. Nearly all U. S. military leaders bought into the North Vietnamese propaganda that the war was a rebellion by patriotic southerners assisted by a sympathetic northern neighbor. Veith demonstrates that North Vietnam was from the beginning the aggressor, completely in control of its southern subordinates. It violated the Paris Accords almost as soon as they were signed and never flinched in its determination to conquer South Vietnam."
-- From Tom Glenn's review of the magisterial Black April:  The Fall of South Vietnam, 1973-75 by George J. Veith

Last night John Batchelor interviewed George Veith about the book, which was published May 2012. The interview is available on flash player, or download from the WABC radio website (Tuesday, 11 PM segment).

Now look, I'm going to warn American readers, especially those who lost a relative in Vietnam, that Veith's book presents much new material. See the Amazon website, linked to above in the book title, for  information on the material. 

John's conversation with the author is more a synopsis of the book than an interview. When Veith didn't cover enough ground fast enough, John pretty much took over, summarizing events and referencing maps he'd spread in front of him.

The upshot is that within about 40 minutes the listener has a clear picture of how easily the U.S. Congress could have helped South Vietnamese forces beat the Communists and without risk to American life.

Tuesday, November 13


For the next few weeks Pundita will be talking a great deal about U.S. domestic issues; however, as with all other posts I've put up over the years about such issues I don't see these as a departure from foreign/defense policy.

It's been coming clearer and clearer since 2006, when William Easterly published his landmark rant that in this era the best way for the United States of America to further its international interests is by establishing a new model of conduct for itself.

This on the sound theory that when a country is deeply in hock to another and depending on very unsavory regimes for help, that's not the right time for the country to say to others, 'Do things the way we say you should do them.'

So right now it's not a matter of leading from the front or the behind; it's a matter of leading by example. And frankly in a lot of areas we're not setting a good example.

John Batchelor and the teaching of American war history

The Siege of the Alamo

For months John Batchelor's staff hasn't been providing downloadable podcasts or instant replays for his weekend radio shows (which can be heard online at the time of broadcast). The weekend shows most often feature in-depth interviews with authors about their books -- and Batchelor usually gives between 20 and 50 minutes to to each author. Because he's the best interviewer in American broadcasting and maybe in the world, and because he reads from cover to cover every book he discusses (authors leap to be a guest on his show for this reason), each interview is a literary gem in itself. And given Batchelor's interest in the books he discusses -- he only talks about books he likes -- the interviews are not only educational they're also highly entertaining.

A glance through just a few months' worth of the published show schedules will give you an idea of the incredibly varied book topics that interest John Batchelor. But it's his discussions about books on U.S. war history that I want to highlight in this post.

The U.S. public educational system has greatly cut off American students from their own history. There are various reasons for this but the upshot is American adults who have very little understanding of their cultural heritage, and distorted and incomplete views of what they do know about it.

The situation goes double for the teaching of U.S. war history. This had unfortunate consequences in Afghanistan, as I've pointed out before on this blog. War is a big part of American history, as it is for Afghans, so if there was ever a basis for simpatico between two peoples, it was through discussion of this shared aspect of their histories. Yet so few American soldiers are knowledgeable about American wars that this avenue of establishing understandings with Afghans wasn't open to them.

I think I know why the American educational system wants to quash the teaching of war history, but the great danger in this is a U.S. military that's cut off from its own past. This leads to a military that's more mercenary in outlook than defense-oriented.

So what I'm going to do over the next few weeks, admittedly catch-can fashion, is highlight John Batchelor's discussions about books on American war history. Of course if you have an interest in hearing the weekend discussions after they've been aired, you're out of luck -- at least until Batchelor's staff re-institutes the weekend podcasts.

Happily the book discussions that occur on holidays falling on weekdays are still available as downloads or replays. Such is the case for last night's four book discussions, which fell on the day that U.S. Veterans Day (Nov 11) is officially observed as a national holiday (Nov 12):  

The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses Grant in War and Peace by H.W. Brands

The Blood of Heroes: The 13-Day Struggle for the Alamo and the Sacrifice That Forged a Nation by Jim Donovan

1861: The Civil War Awakening by Adam Goodheart

Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War by Tony Horwitz

Sunday, November 11

U.S. Veterans Day: Afghan and Iraq wars combat wounded now more than 50,000

Charity Navigator, a reputable charity rating service, has a three-page review of 58 charitable organizations that help American veterans. To keep it simple Navigator uses a star award system but also provides a comprehensive explanation of how it rates charities.
Iraq, Afghanistan War Wounded Pass 50,000
By David Wood
The Huffington Post
October 25, 2012 - Updated October 26

WASHINGTON -- More than 50,000 Americans have been combat-wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan since 2001, a grim measure of the cost of more than a decade of war.

According to Defense Department accounting, the number of wounded reached 50,010 on [Oct 25].

The names of the wounded are not released. Unlike those killed in combat, whose names are released and whose remains are brought home in sober, white-glove ceremony, those who are wounded are flown home on medical evacuation aircraft and carried off on stretchers in anonymity.

Among the wounded are some 16,000 severely injured, casualties who would have died on the battlefield just a generation ago. But new medical procedures, protective gear such as body armor and faster medical evacuation are saving more than 90 percent of all those who fall in battle.

According to the U.S. Army surgeon general's office, military surgeons have performed 1,653 major limb amputations since 2001.

The wounded also include the growing number of American troops whose genitals were damaged or destroyed by roadside bomb blasts. Since 2005, almost 1,900 have suffered genital wounds, according to Defense Department data through July 2012.

The wounded statistics describe only those with physical wounds. The unseen wounds of war -- including post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and other forms of combat trauma -- are not included and are harder to track. Since 2002, the Defense Department has recorded 43,299 patients diagnosed with TBI, but many more may have gone undiagnosed. At present, the Department of Veterans Affairs is taking in 4,000 new cases of veterans with PTSD each month.

Because most of the wounded are young, they will need decades of help, some of it intensive care by health care professionals. Others will require regular replacement of costly, sophisticated prosthetic limbs. The VA is now training and paying family members of many of the wounded to care for them.

Even so, the overall health care costs will be significant. Harvard economist Linda Bilmes has estimated that the health care bill for the wounded could reach half a trillion dollars over the next few decades. Unlike Social Security, there is no money set aside to pay for future veterans' health care costs. Instead, veterans are dependent on annual appropriations approved by Congress.

Saturday, November 10

Oh no. Not another Benghazi timeline

[flipping the last pen in her pen cup in the air]

Would you look at when the Pentagon released this timeline? Not that they wanted the news to go into the Dead News Zone or anything like that, this being only one of the deadest days in the political calendar year:
Pentagon releases Benghazi timeline, defends response
by David Alexander
Sat Nov 10, 2012 2:10am EST

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Pentagon leaders knew of the September 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi an hour after it began, but were unable to mobilize reinforcements based in Europe in time to prevent the death of the U.S. ambassador, according to a timeline released on Friday.
Stop right there because that's not what SecDef Leon Panetta said little more than two weeks ago. He said they weren't going to deploy forces into harm's way without a clear picture of what was going on and they didn't have a clear picture. Remember that?

[eying a #10 pencil in her pen cup]

Anyhow, for the fools who're still trying to make sense out of what happened in Benghazi and how Washington responded to the attack, here for comparison is the unofficial CIA timeline -- leaked to the New York Times on Nov 1 by unnamed CIA sources (C.I.A. Played Major Role Fighting Militants in Libya Attack.)

See also the CYA explanation about why the unnamed sources waited until Gen. Petraeus was in the Middle East to slip their timeline to the New York Times (Petraeus’s Quieter Style at C.I.A. Leaves Void on Libya Furor - Nov 2).

Not to be confused with the Nov 3 New York Times report, Libya Attack Shows Pentagon’s Limits in Region, in which if I recall the Pentagon explained that both the lone AC-130 gunship and lone armed drone in the American arsenal happened to be situated at the time of the Benghazi attack on the far side of the moon.

As to how many timelines have been released so far, Pundita has lost count. Of course this latest flurry of timelines is all ahead of the congressional inquiries next week on the Benghazi Affair; these in yet another attempt by Congress to figure out what actually happened.

But I'm happy to pass along the news that the State Department is being a veritable fountain of helpfulness to all these congressional inquiries. To show you how helpful, after The Cable's Josh Rogin posted his Nov 8 report, Benghazi documents available to senators only when they are out of town, someone from State hastened to assure him that the documents could be reviewed any time that any relevant professional staff and Congress member wanted to see them. I guess that cuts out the Domino's Pizza delivery guy.

For readers who're just dying to know whether Gen. Petraeus will be testifying at any of the hearings -- according to another update to Rogin's post, why yes he will.

Onward, in the immortal words of David Ronfeldt.

[flipping the pencil in the air]

Why does FBI investigation of Gen. Petraeus remind me of David Letterman and the man who tried to blackmail him?

That will be my only comment on Petraeus's abrupt resignation as head of the CIA, beyond noting that if Obama tried to present Petraeus with a Sophie's Choice, the general did as well with the role of Sophie as  Gen. Stanley McChrystal did, don't you dare laugh Pundita it's not funny. Now I must return to pondering somewhat more important Black Swan events.

From the Black Swan reporting desk: On the death of marshes and U.S. coastal cities

The red line shows the extent of the storm surge William Fritz and colleagues produced with their model. In black is the actual extent of Hurricane Sandy's surge on Staten Island. The house in pink shows where Alan Benimoff collected debris to map Sandy's surge.
CREDIT: William Fritz and Alan Benimoff

I was beginning to wonder if there would be any public discussion of the connection between massive damage done by Superstorm Sandy to the eastern coastline and the virtual disappearance of American wetlands on the East coast -- a topic I addressed in my November 1 post, Then and Now...

A report, published November 9 at Accuweather's Our Amazing Planet, suggests that the question is indeed being addressed by people who understand its full implications:
Sandy's Storm Surge Mapped - Before It Hit
by Douglas Main, OAP Staff Writer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In June, William Fritz and his colleagues developed a model showing how New York's geography would amplify a storm surge in the event of a large storm, spelling trouble for low-lying urban areas.

Then came Hurricane Sandy.

"The storm surge happened almost exactly as we modeled it," said Fritz, a geologist at the College of Staten Island, where he's also the interim president. The only difference: Sandy's surge was slightly larger than the model predicted, topping out at 14 feet (4.3 meters) instead of the 12 feet (3.7 m) the model showed.

But that's a small difference in terms of the damage wrought. Fritz's colleague Alan Benimoff mapped the storm surge on Staten Island by looking at the extent of washed-up debris. The point where Benimoff reported storm-tossed flotsam was only slightly farther than the model predicted — the width of one house, he said. [...]

The authors presented their model here yesterday (Nov. 6) at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America.
The geography of the New York City area makes it very vulnerable to storm surges. The coasts of Long Island and New Jersey meet at a 120-degree angle, perfect for concentrating the surge and sending it directly toward Staten Island, Fritz said. From here, the water flows into New York Harbor, but it has nowhere to go except inland, thanks to water moving south from the Long Island Sound through the East River. The Sound, angled to the northeast, accentuates the storm surge as winds from the northeast (typical of hurricane and extra-tropical cyclones) pile up water and send it toward New York City, Fritz said.

"Most people don't think, or didn't think, of New York City as being in the hurricane belt," he said. Hopefully that will change, he said: "My message is that we need urban planning to account for flooding. People should make no mistakes that hurricanes will come again."
Fritz also used his time in the spotlight to address a situation that many Americans would prefer not to talk about:
There are several lessons to be learned from their model, and the experience of Sandy, Fritz told OurAmazingPlanet.

First, "we need to protect the dunes and marshes that we still have," he said. The hardest hit area of the island used to be a marsh, he added.

Second, it may make sense to rebuild and re-establish these natural "sponges." And finally, it simply doesn't make sense to build apartments and houses in low-lying areas, because they will flood, Fritz said.

"We need to look at rezoning these areas, and using them for parks and day-use areas," he said.

If dunes and marshes that used to line Staten Island and elsewhere still existed, they could have slowed encroaching waters and allowed people more time to get out of their homes, Fritz said. Instead, flooding occurred in a matter of minutes or even seconds, surprising some people sheltering in their basements, he said.

"What was once a dune has long since been paved over, and water flooded down into the old marsh," he said.

Staten Island hit hard

Hurricane Sandy hit Staten Island hard, with about half of the deaths that occurred in New York City happening there. The storm claimed the lives of one student at the College of Staten Island and a faculty member's wife, Fritz said.
From a November 7 Accuweater report linked to above (Why Hurricane Sandy Hit Staten Island So Hard), the peak of the surge on Staten Island was 16 feet, not 14 feet as cited by Main. I don't know how to square the discrepancy in the two reports.  But I'm wondering if the surge hitting at high tide and full moon (a full moon has an impact on high tide) would explain why the model fell short by 2 or 4 feet, as the case may be, if the geologists didn't factor those two events into a scenario.

In any case, given how hard the island was hit, it's a tragic irony that it was researchers on Staten Island who predicted with such accuracy how a large storm surge would affect the borough..

How long have the lowest-lying American coastal cities got?

Read another Accuweather report linked to in Main's writing, the one about New York's vulnerability to storm surges, for a rough guess as to the answer.  All things being equal, the projections discussed by scientists give hope that we won't have to think about putting New York and Washington, DC on stilts any time soon.

But again, that's all things being equal.  If you watched the Weather Channel's Sandy: Anatomy of a Superstorm and studied reports on the strange nor'easter that followed in the wake of Sandy, which was itself a strange convergence of no less than five natural events (three storm systems, high tide and full moon), I think you'll agree it's not just a matter of time and the steady progression of rising sea levels.

 It's also a matter of Black Swan events before the lowest-lying coastal cities face devastating floods, unless the first lines of defense against an angry ocean, dunes and marshes, are rebuilt and maintained.

Speaking of Black Swans, anecdotes from some friends and acquaintances here in Washington suggest that the flooding in the city from Sandy was a little more extensive than reported. I think that's because the anecdotes were about minor nuisance flooding that didn't become evident until days after the storm. So nobody reported the water damage to any city agency. But there's a faintly ominous aspect to the stories because these people had never before experienced the slightest flooding in their domicile or business.

While this is just a speculation, it's possible that the 5.8 magnitude earthquake that shook Washington last year -- another Black Swan event -- opened up hairline cracks in building foundations that set the stage for unexpected water damage from Sandy, which delivered only a glancing blow to the city. We may learn more about this odd little side note to Sandy's aftermath come the spring of 2013, after melting starts from predicted heavy snowstorms in Washington this winter.

The point being it's not wise to pin the fate of large cities on the hope that all things will remain equal all the time. Black Swans and Black Swan events are not that rare, and bread almost invariably falls buttered-side down.

Another point to wring from all this: Restoring and preserving marshes/dunes is a relatively cheap way to defend the lowest-lying American coastal cities. Yet this might be just why the topic is so unattractive to legislators and the legions of nonprofits that promote environmental issues.

One can't employ that many PhDs and industries in marshland restoration projects. It really just takes volunteers willing to wear hip boots and slosh around in muck to turn the tide -- literally.

Friday, November 9

Zenpundit's recommended reading list of prez-election analysis

Uck what an icky subject to deal with. Better him than me.

Lady Gaga pledge to Red Cross for Sandy victims: $1 million. Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation pledge to Sandy victims: Zero (UPDATED)

My view is that no effort should be considered 'small' when it comes to private aid to victims of a natural disaster. However, with the United States looking at a very difficult winter and spring, I was struck by this comment at The Weather Channel in response to a Nov. 8 AP report there about Lady Gaga's million-dollar pledge:
Whitney Smith - University of Florida: "While some pop stars are donating $1 per ticket sold to his/her concerts and designers are asking you to spend a certain amount to have a portion donated, Gaga is asking for nothing. Just a whole lot of giving. Inspirational. Truly amazing."
I'd say so, too.  From the AP report:
The New York-born singer posted on her blog Wednesday that she is pledging the money on behalf of her parents and sister. She also said she "would not be the woman or artist that I am today" if it weren't for places like the Lower East Side, Harlem, the Bronx and Brooklyn.

She writes: "Thank you for helping me build my spirit. I will now help you rebuild yours."
AP also reported yesterday that another big star with roots in New York is pledging aid:
Jerry Seinfeld has added a show in Long Island to his new comedy tour and will donate all proceeds from it and two other performances to Superstorm Sandy relief.
The problem with efforts such as Seinfeld's and the star-studded benefit concerts on behalf of Sandy victims is the perennial one.  Unless everyone involved donates their salaries and the profits from advertising, renting spaces for the concerts, etc., a great deal of the proceeds from the fundraisers goes to covering expenses. 

So while every effort helps, I think American stars in the entertainment industries, including professional sports, might want to look at Lady Gaga's pledge as the aid path to emulate for helping Sandy victims. 

The bottom line is that FEMA is overstretched, as are all government agencies involved in U.S. disaster relief and rebuilding from disasters.  I advised years ago that the USA needs an American version of the World Bank/IDA to aid in developing and reconstructing U.S. regions that are in serious need. Until this advice is implemented it's going to fall more and more to individuals to help American regions devastated by natural and economic disasters.

However, right now Americans have to get through the winter, which is on track to produce heavy snows along the northeast I-95 highway corridor including regions hit hardest by Sandy. Then we have to get through the spring, which could see devastating flooding when the predicted heavy snows from the winter melt. Again, the flooding would include regions devastated by Sandy.

Anyone who has seen The Weather Channel's one-hour cable TV special, Sandy: Anatomy of a Superstorm (first aired Nov. 4) has a good idea of just how devastating the storm was and how wide the range of issues spinning off from the storm's impact.

Speaking of the range, I think one of the most troubling issues presented by the program comes in the last few minutes, when discussion turns to aging satellites that are being decommissioned -- and with no plan to replace them until 2017.  Budget shortfalls. 

Yet we learn from the program that it was extensive satellite tracking of the storm's growth which made predictions for Sandy's path and severity so incredibly accurate. This saved many lives because it alerted New York and New Jersey officials early in the storm's growth that mandatory evacuations had to be ordered and where to pinpoint the evacuation orders. 

As to what we're going to do until 2017 with many of those satellites going out of service -- the Weather Channel didn't know; nobody seems to know at this point. Perhaps Bill and Melinda Gates can rip themselves away from promoting condom use and better toilets in the 'developing' world long enough to throw a few fundraisers for replacing the satellites earlier than 2017.  

There are other serious warnings in the Weather Channel special so if you haven't seen it yet, you might want to keep an eye on the cable channel's schedule because the show will probably be rebroadcast many times this month.

All this is saying nothing about the increasingly serious drought in the American Midwest, an issue I'll address in another post, and which has received virtually no attention from private charitable organizations.

Before I hear from the Gates Foundation, I am aware that their website lists World Vision International, which has been providing aid to Sandy victims, as one of the charitable organizations the foundation has supported at one time or another:
We supported CARE—on behalf of Catholic Relief Services, the International Rescue Committee, Mercy Corps, Oxfam Great Britain, Save the Children US, and World Vision International—in implementing an emergency capacity-building initiative that increases coordination and effectiveness in global emergency response at the country, regional, and headquarters levels.
Just to be clear, whatever support the foundation provided or provides to the charity, that is not the same as pledging financial aid to Sandy victims.   


Thursday, November 8

Dengue Pandemic: So how's a world without DDT been working out?

Twenty years ago, just one of every 50 tourists who returned from the tropics with fever was infected by dengue; now, it is one in six, said Dr. Velayudhan, the W.H.O. official. The Portuguese archipelago of Madeira is in the midst of an epidemic.

On Oct. 9, Puerto Rico’s Health Department declared a dengue epidemic after at least six people died and nearly 5,000 people were sickened.

For those who arrive in India as adults, “you have a reasonable expectation of getting dengue after a few months,” said Dr. Joseph M. Vinetz, a professor at the University of California at San Diego. “If you stay for a longer period, it’s a certainty.”

The great danger of having hundreds of millions of people in India with undiagnosed and unacknowledged primary infections is that a sudden shift in the circulating dengue strain could cause a widespread increase in life-threatening illnesses.

A Puerto Rican friend once told me about DDT spray trucks coming through her neighborhood in San Juan in the 1950s. She and the other children on the block would run outside to get sprayed by DDT. They all survived their repeated encounters with the stuff. The mosquitoes did not.

However, the return of DDT couldn't make large pools of stagnant water disappear. So Indians and Thais and everyone else in the world where mosquitoes can thrive, including in Miami, had better start neighborhood stagnant water watches and cleanups, and not wait for governments to do it. Here's why:
Part of India’s problem is that some officials view reports of dengue infections as politically damaging. In September, Mamata Banerjee, the chief minister of West Bengal, dismissed reports of an increasing number of dengue-related deaths, saying doctors were misdiagnosing.

“So everyone is earning a bad name,” she said at a news conference.
Not since that idiot who ran South Africa proclaimed AIDS wasn't a problem in his country has an official so ostentatiously played ostrich about the unrestrained spread of a disease:
As Dengue Fever Sweeps India, a Slow Response Stirs Experts’ Fear
By GARDINER HARRIS with additional reporting by Hari Kumar
November 6, 2012
The New York Times

NEW DELHI — An epidemic of dengue fever in India is fostering a growing sense of alarm even as government officials here have publicly refused to acknowledge the scope of a problem that experts say is threatening hundreds of millions of people, not just in India but around the world.

India has become the focal point for a mosquito-borne plague that is sweeping the globe. Reported in just a handful of countries in the 1950s, dengue (pronounced DEN-gay) is now endemic in half the world’s nations.

“The global dengue problem is far worse than most people know, and it keeps getting worse,” said Dr. Raman Velayudhan, the World Health Organization’s lead dengue coordinator.

The tropical disease, though life-threatening for a tiny fraction of those infected, can be extremely painful. Growing numbers of Western tourists are returning from warm-weather vacations with the disease, which has reached the shores of the United States and Europe. Last month, health officials in Miami announced a case of locally acquired dengue infection

Here in India’s capital, where areas of standing water contribute to the epidemic’s growth, hospitals are overrun and feverish patients are sharing beds and languishing in hallways. At Kalawati Saran Hospital, a pediatric facility, a large crowd of relatives lay on mats and blankets under the shade of a huge banyan tree outside the hospital entrance recently.

Among them was Neelam, who said her two grandchildren were deathly ill inside. Eight-year-old Sneha got the disease first, followed by Tanya, 7, she said. The girls’ parents treated them at home but then Sneha’s temperature rose to 104 degrees, a rash spread across her legs and shoulders, and her pain grew unbearable.

“Sneha has been given five liters of blood,” said Neelam, who has one name. “It is terrible.”

Officials say that 30,002 people in India had been sickened with dengue fever through October, a 59 percent jump from the 18,860 recorded for all of 2011. But the real number of Indians who get dengue fever annually is in the millions, several experts said.

“I’d conservatively estimate that there are 37 million dengue infections occurring every year in India, and maybe 227,500 hospitalizations,” said Dr. Scott Halstead, a tropical disease expert focused on dengue research.

A senior Indian government health official, who agreed to speak about the matter only on the condition of anonymity, acknowledged that official figures represent a mere sliver of dengue’s actual toll. The government only counts cases of dengue that come from public hospitals and that have been confirmed by laboratories, the official said. Such a census, “which was deliberated at the highest levels,” is a small subset that is nonetheless informative and comparable from one year to the next, he said.

“There is no denying that the actual number of cases would be much, much higher,” the official said. “Our interest has not been to arrive at an exact figure.”

The problem with that policy, said Dr. Manish Kakkar, a specialist at the Public Health Foundation of India, is that India’s “massive underreporting of cases” has contributed to the disease’s spread. Experts from around the world said that India’s failure to construct an adequate dengue surveillance system has impeded awareness of the illness’s vast reach, discouraged efforts to clean up the sources of the disease and slowed the search for a vaccine.

“When you look at the number of reported cases India has, it’s a joke,” said Dr. Harold S. Margolis, chief of the dengue branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Neighboring Sri Lanka, for instance, reported nearly three times as many dengue cases as India through August, according to the World Health Organization, even though India’s population is 60 times larger.

Part of India’s problem is that some officials view reports of dengue infections as politically damaging. In September, Mamata Banerjee, the chief minister of West Bengal, dismissed reports of an increasing number of dengue-related deaths, saying doctors were misdiagnosing. “So everyone is earning a bad name,” she said at a news conference.

A central piece of evidence for those who contend that India suffers hundreds of times more dengue cases than the government acknowledges is a recent and as yet unpublished study of dengue infections in West Bengal that found about the same presence of dengue as in Thailand, where almost every child is infected by dengue at least once before adulthood.

“I would say that anybody over the age of 20 in India has been infected with dengue,” said Dr. Timothy Endy, chief of infectious disease at Upstate Medical University in Syracuse.

For those who arrive in India as adults, “you have a reasonable expectation of getting dengue after a few months,” said Dr. Joseph M. Vinetz, a professor at the University of California at San Diego. “If you stay for a longer period, it’s a certainty.”

The reason that such an extensive epidemic can hide in plain sight is that as many as 80 percent of dengue infections cause only mild symptoms of fatigue, said Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. For many, the disease is experienced as “maybe just a fever that someone shrugs off.”

But the remaining 20 percent may be affected by more serious flulike symptoms, with high fever, vomiting, searing pain behind the eyes, skin rash, and muscle and joint aches that can be so intense that the illness has been dubbed “breakbone fever.”

The acute part of the illness generally passes within two weeks, but symptoms of fatigue and depression can linger for months. In about 1 percent of cases, dengue advances to a life-threatening cascade of immune responses known as hemorrhagic or shock dengue.

This potentially mortal condition generally happens only after a second dengue infection. There are four strains of the dengue virus, and infection with a second strain can fool the immune system, allowing the virus to replicate. When the body finally realizes its mistake, it floods the system with so many immune attackers that they are poisonous. Such patients must be provided intravenous fluids and round-the-clock care to avoid death.

Twenty years ago, just one of every 50 tourists who returned from the tropics with fever was infected by dengue; now, it is one in six, said Dr. Velayudhan, the W.H.O. official. The Portuguese archipelago of Madeira is in the midst of an epidemic.

On Oct. 9, Puerto Rico’s Health Department declared a dengue epidemic after at least six people died and nearly 5,000 people were sickened.

The great danger of having hundreds of millions of people in India with undiagnosed and unacknowledged primary infections is that a sudden shift in the circulating dengue strain could cause a widespread increase in life-threatening illnesses.

“We have been fortunate so far,” said Dr. Kakkar of the Indian public health group. “But if, God forbid, we come across that situation we probably need far better health-care management and inpatient care facilities.”

Trucks spewing pesticides against mosquitoes are now a regular presence in New Delhi neighborhoods, but rapid and disorderly urbanization — a hallmark of India’s development — increases the risks of dengue proliferation, so few believe the government here can do much to halt its spread.

The best hope for relief is a vaccine, but a recent trial of the most advanced vaccine candidate largely failed.

“I think we’re looking at 10 to 12 years before we see an effective vaccine, and that’s if we’re lucky,” Dr. Halstead said. “In the meantime, we’re in trouble.”

Hari Kumar contributed reporting

Wednesday, November 7

A note on the psycho-epistemology of understanding complex news events

The [NATO] policy in Afghanistan is confusing to me, and if it’s confusing to me, who does this every day, it’s got to be confusing to someone whose primary responsibility is to raise their family and go to work.”

-- Representative Mike Rogers (MI-R), Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee; remark made some months back.

I notice the U.S. public isn't so confused it can't understand the intricacies of NBA bracketing and football scandals

It's the method of presentation, not the subject matter, that makes it hard for the public to understand NATO policy and U.S. foreign/defense policy general. That's why I suggested after 9/11/01 that major U.S. TV news outlets use sportscasters to deliver news on foreign affairs and take a scorecard approach to keeping the American public abreast of key developments in foreign affairs.

A couple people in the news media I talked with about the idea liked it. But the problem with the  approach is that it makes confusing things clear.  Washington's FP establishment would collapse if the American public clearly understood foreign affairs.

U.S. presidential election: Well, it's now government by bipolar attorneys

Bipolar attorneys being the only people with the mental ability and the physical stamina (at least during their manic phase) to comprehend the regulatory regime that with Obama's reelection will replace representative democracy in these here United States.

Have a nice day!

Britain seeks to pull USA more deeply into Syrian rebellion

Don't worry, whatever goes wrong we'll leave the Americans holding the bag   

British PM David Cameron in Abu Dhabi  with UAE Prez Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan  (Photo: PA)

"I'm a believer in the growth of democracy and human rights but we should recognise that all countries are different. They have different pathways, different histories, different cultures." 
-- British Prime Minister David Cameron, November 6, 2012

As near as I can figure from the following report the plan is to go around the EU by pressuring the Obama administration to arm the Syrian 'rebels' -- or, if the administration has been shipping arms in clandestine fashion to the 'rebels' via Libya, to ship weapons aboveboard. Oh and the rebels want money in addition to more weapons.  Lots of money. 

No worries; the British will supervise!  But after what they did to us in Basra, in Helmand and in post-Gaddafi Libya, one would think the closet monarchists in Washington had learned their lesson. Somehow I don't think they did.

November 7, 2012 [emphasis mine]:
Britain to organise armed Syrian rebels into efficient fighting force

Britain is to increase its involvement in Syria's bloody civil war by offering to organise the rebels fighting President Bashar Al Assad into a stronger force

By Christopher Hope in Amman and Ruth Sherlock
The Daily Telegraph

In a significant departure MPs will be told today that the UK will directly deal with the armed opposition in Syria for the first time.

Previously Britain has only held talks with the political leaders outside the country over a conflict that has left tens of thousands civilians dead and over 1 million people displaced.

Britain yesterday vowed to step up its efforts to bring about an end to a regime that has presided over a civil war that has cost as many as 40,000 people lose their lives.

The first National Security Council meeting after the US presidential election which is likely to be chaired by Prime Minister David Cameron, will be dedicated to the crisis in Syria.

That meeting is likely to look at ways to bring America on board with a more direct strategy towards Syria now that the next US president has been elected for a four year term.

 Britain is not allowed by a European Union arms embargo to supply weapons to Syria - a fact which Mr Cameron signalled was "frustrating" during a three day visit to the Middle East.

William Hague, the foreign secretary, will tell an opposition conference in Doha today that he "has authorised diplomats to have direct contact with military figures on the ground" through secure communication links with armed rebels.

The man favoured to win western backing for a new opposition front at the Qatar conference told The Daily Telegraph he planned to establish an interim government inside the 'liberated' parts of northern Syria.

It would seek international recognition, request a fund of "more than a billion dollars", and military support to "defend ourselves from the regime's war planes".

A written ministerial statement is due to be laid in Parliament outlining the new initiative, which will be coordinated by the team led by Jon Wilks, a senior official at the Foreign Office.

Downing Street said Britain wanted to also help the rebel fighters within Syria to work together to topple Assad, as happened in Libya to face Col Muammar Gaddafi's brutal regime.

A Number 10 source said: 'At the moment there are lots of different groups. They haven't come together and coalesced in the way in Libya all with the shared aim of toppling Gaddafi. This is all about helping them to do it.

"We are engaging with the opposition to try and encourage them come together much more on the ground.

"The point of it will be to talk to the leaders of the local armed groups. What we've concluded is that it's too hard to do this by only talking to people outside the country.

"The opposition have been very clear that they want help from the international community."

Britain will also stress to the rebels the need to respect the human rights of captured Government, the source added.

Britain is prevented from physically arming the rebels by a European Union arms embargo which prevents any military hardware being supplied to any Syrians.

But Mr Cameron signalled that he was frustrated by the embargo and the inactivity of the United Nations.

He told British newspaper reporters: "On Syria, I'm frustrated that we aren't able to do more, either at the UN where I'd like us to push harder for clearer resolutions calling on Syria for a clear political transition. But we'll keep pushing.

'Obviously we're part of an EU arms embargo so we're not able to take that step."