Friday, November 28, 2008

Who's Behind the Mumbai Attacks, Part III

US intelligence seems to thinks the group responsible may be Lashkar-e-Toiba. From the New York Times:
WASHINGTON — American intelligence and counterterrorism officials said Friday that there was mounting evidence that a Pakistani militant group based in Kashmir, most likely Lashkar-e-Taiba, was responsible for this week’s deadly attacks in Mumbai.

The officials cautioned that they had reached no firm conclusions about who was responsible for the attacks, or how they were planned and carried out. Nevertheless, they said that evidence gathered in the past two days pointed to a role for Lashkar-e-Taiba or possibly another group based in Kashmir, Jaish-e-Muhammad, which also has a track record of attacks against India.

US intelligence has more credibility in these matter than India intelligence. If this is confirmed, it looks like bad news, especially if we begin seeing evidence support from the Pakistani government.
According to one Indian intelligence official, during the siege the militants have been using non-Indian cellphones and receiving calls from outside the country, evidence that in part led Indian officials to speak publicly about the militants’ external ties.

Lashkar-e-Taiba denied any responsibility on Thursday for the terrorist strikes. American intelligence agencies have said that the group has received some training and logistical support in the past from Pakistan’s powerful spy service, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or I.S.I., and that Pakistan’s government has long turned a blind eye to Lashkar-e-Taiba camps in the Kashmir region, a disputed territory over which India and Pakistan have fought two wars.

Officials in Washington said Friday that there was no evidence that the Pakistani government had any role in the attacks.

Washington would deny that, wouldn't they? They don't want to see a nuclear war on the peninsula. What interests me is why the head of the ISI cancelled his trip to India, and instead is sending some flunky in his place. Perhaps he know that a drip-drip of information will point to his organization, and does not wish be embarrassed by the Indians asking questions. Stay tuned.

Now I Know why It's Called "Black Friday"

Is consumerism getting out of hand? A Wal-Mart employing was trampled to death trying to hold back costumers.
In Palm Desert, two are dead after shots fired in a dispute in a Toys "R" US.

Who's Behind the Mumbai Attacks, Part II

The New York Times has an article which suggests, beyond the
Lashkar-e-Taiba possibility, that the attacks may have been carried out by the "Indian Mujehideen" (or Mujahideen, depending how you transliterate).
An Indian security official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to be identified said the name suggested ties to a group called Indian Mujahedeen, which has been implicated in a string of bombing attacks in India killing about 200 people this year alone.

On Sept. 15, an e-mail message published in Indian newspapers and said to have been sent by representatives of Indian Mujahedeen threatened potential “deadly attacks” in Mumbai. The message warned counterterrorism officials in the city that “you are already on our hit-list and this time very, very seriously.”

Does this rule out Pakistani involvement? Decidedly not. But put put the Indian Mujahideen on the suspects list with Lashkar-e-Toiba.

Who's Behind the Mumbai Attacks?

Much of the world is transfixed by the violence occurring in India's largest city, as commandoes battle Islamic militants in two luxury hotels and a Jewish community center. Terrorism, like communal violence, has become regular in India. Though far from common terrorism in India is reoccurring, not a single event as we in America have experienced it.
A heretofore unknown group calling itself the Deccan Mujahideen (named for the Deccan Plateau) has claimed responsibility. I'm guessing this is misinformation, because it seems very unlikely for an unknown terrorist organization to pull off an attack like their first time. So, who is really behind it?
One captured terrorist has confessed to being a member of Lashkar-e-Toiba, probably the most notorious terrorist group on the subcontinent. I would take this with a large grain of salt. The Indian government has a pattern of blaming attacks on this group, but have insufficient evidence to back it up.
Still, the theory that the Lashkar-e-Toiba is behind the attack seems as likely as not... being the most dangerous terrorist group in the region. This raises some question. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has stated that the terrorists were based "outside the country" (read: in Pakistan), and India would not tolerate this from "neighbors". The External Affairs minister has been even more clear in blaming Pakistan.
Do I think that they are right? Yes and no. The current government in Pakistan has made it very clear that it seeks better relations with India. The attack comes on the heals of a Pakistani peace initiative, and has pledged cooperation with India. Considering that nearly all Indian have links to Pakistan's famously out of control intelligence service (the ISI) and the civilian PM has taken steps to bring the ISI under control, it's easy to imagine that a rogue element of the ISI helped with this attack. I haven't yet seen evidence, but I have a suspicion.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Stupid CEO Tricks

What kind of idiot, on the way to ask for a loan, takes a jet. The heads of the Big Three, apparently.
These men, as if we needed any more proof, are morons. After that PR travesty, GM is selling two of its 5 jets, while Ford is looking at selling its five.
Corporate jets which high-flying executives get access to are just one part of our culture of inequality. It may surprise you, but there is no law of the universe that states that CEOs must be paid tens of millions of dollars... only a few decades ago, a CEO made only 40 times what a normal worker makes, rather than several hundred times. It was only when people started arguing that we need exorbitant salaries to attract those most qualified (like these 3 morons) that CEO pay went through the roof.
This seems an especially good illustration of what's wrong with conservatism. Throughout this entire automaker bailout debate demonizing unionized workers for receiving benefits, but somehow don't see anything wrong with this.
This is also a good illustration of why these bailouts need string and rules. I don't want to see an automaker bailout end up in some scumbags CEO's account, like some of the money from our other bailout has.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

In the Senate

I can almost see it: a paper showing Ted Stevens Holding in turn holding a newspaper declaring STEVENS DEFEATS BEGICH a la the infamous Chicago Tribune headline DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN. This is another one the papers got just as wrong. After much tutting over Alaska sending a felon to the the senate, it appears it won't be (well, ok, Don Young).
This bring the number of Democrats in the Senate up to 58, with 2 race yet to be decided (the Franken-Coleman recount in Minnosota and Saxby-Chambliss run-of in Georgia). There are also two independents in the Senate, both of whom caucus with the Democrat. Bernie Saunders is a socialist from Vermont, and then of course Joe Lieberman, who received the slightest of wrist slaps. Obviously, Obama is interested in keeping him onboard.

US Industrial Policy

Steve Coll, writing for his blog on the New Yorker website, makes a good point. Various pundits have claimed the US doesn't have a planned industrial policy. Coll points out that we do, we just call it defense contracting.
Another fallacy of the current debate, often a theme of op-ed essays from the right, but an argument not limited to conservatives, is the notion that the American system is, and should be, fundamentally biased against industrial policy—that is, the use of the commanding heights of the federal government to pick winners and losers in the economy, whether these are whole industries or companies within industries. In fact, we already have a massive industrial policy, funded by the federal budget—it’s referred to as defense contracting.

Why does the United States have one of the most robust aircraft-manufacturing industries in the world? The answer is not that pure free markets have, through the workings of a natural law, granted us such a bounty. Yes, Boeing has been disciplined and strengthened by global-market competition, particularly with Airbus, but large-scale federal spending on defense contracts has crucially strengthened Boeing’s position as a locus of human capital, design experience, and innovation. In 2006, the federal government spent more than sixty billion dollars on aircraft manufacturers. Boeing received $20.8 billion, according to Government Executive magazine. (Lockheed-Martin received $27.3 billion, and Northrup-Grumman $16.7 billion.)

Why does the United States have one of the most sophisticated, innovative electronics industries in the world? Raytheon’s take from the Pentagon in 2006: $10.4 billion; Computer Sciences, $2.7 billion. And so on. General Motors received $806 million dollars that year, mostly from the Army, enough to make it the fortieth largest defense contractor on the list, just ahead, startlingly, of Johns Hopkins University, which received more than seven hundred million dollars, most of it from the U.S. Navy. (Note to self: Why?)

So we have an outsized industrial policy, centered on our national-defense strategy. General Motors receives a lot less than Boeing because our current strategy favors aviation over ground transportation. This strategy has shaped our patterns of employment and innovation—the subsidies do not remain only within the military, but spill across the civilian economy as well. Our industrial policy has also given us less inspirational national capabilities such as world-beating personal-security and mercenary services (Blackwater).

The larger argument Coll is making is that ultimately a bailout for the automakers is beneficial and necessary. James Surowiecki argues the same thing at his New Yorker blog.


It's about time that piracy make it back into the news. Recently, Somalian pirates made a slash by hijacking a Saudi Arabian supertanker.
Kenneth Anderson of Opinio Juris (a blog focused on international law) points out that this is a good chance for president Obama to show our mettle enforcing international law on the high seas.
# One is to act in a way to demonstrate that the operation is a military one within the traditional law of the sea responding to piracy - one fights and detains any who survive in order to prosecute, but the operation is not law enforcement as such. (And the law used to prosecute could usefully be the traditional law of piracy - common enemies of humanity, etc.)
# Second, the US can demonstrate the traditional US commitment to the rule of international law on the high seas and freedom of the seas.
# Third, it can act with allies and friends - India, for example - to create patrols and the reinforcement of multilateral sovereign duties; many countries find their vessels and interests at stake here. It might even manage to re-acquaint the British government with its international law obligations, by making clear through joint declarations of states undertaking patrols that asylum is not an option.
# Fourth, it might even find a way that the US could support the ICC without triggering the usual issues for the US, by sending (or at least opening discussions on sending) captured pirates to trial at the ICC.

One of the odd things I took from the post: Britain is currently ignoring the pirates because they're worried the pirates would claim asylum in Britain. Captured pirates could be beheaded (for murder) or have their hands chopped off (for theft) under Islamic were they sent back to their country of origin, hence they could plausible make claims for asylum.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

HRC at State?

One of the biggest pieces of gossip to come out of the Obama transition is the tidbit that he's considering Hillary for Secretary of State. If the rumors prove true and Obama picks Hillary, he's probably taking a page from one of his favorite books Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals, about Lincoln's cabinet.
Lyndon Johnson said "it's best to keep them in the tent pissing out than outside pissing in" (yeah, he was a weird guy). Though the literal interpretation of this doesn't work, it seems pretty solid. Obama doesn't want Hillary outside of his administration, or the press flocking to her to pass judgement on him.
People have said her support of the Iraq war ought to disqualify her... by such a standard none of the top contenders is qualified. It seems possible that Obama and Clinton won't mesh into an effective team, but I see nothing objectionable about the pick if the he thinks it's worth it.

Spy Stuff

I saw Quantum of Solace yesterday. I enjoyed it, though the bar has clearly been set too high by Casino Royale. One of the most interesting things about the movie is how the face of villainy has changed our modern world. In Ian Flemings books, Bond is pitted against the evil of the Soviet Union and it's spy organization SMERSH. In the older movies, SMERSH was swapped out for the fantastical organization SPECTRE, headed famously by the cat-stroking, bald Blofeld. Quantum now fills the rule of SPECTRE, but unlike SPECTRE, the Americans and British have a working relationship with Quantum.
Private organizations are involved in similar actions to Quantum all the time . The Wonga Coup is one such example, though it admittedly failed. Organizations like Executive Outcomes are fairly similar to Quantum, though they're clearly not as far reaching.
Juan Cole has a long post about the evolution of James Bond from left to right, which I recommend. (Warning: spoilers ahead)
In the new film, Dominic Greene is a secret member of Quantum, a mercenary coup-making consulting firm. That is, it is represented as a private contractor to which the CIA is willing to farm out coup-making instead of doing it directly. Greene's cover is that of the head of a conservation organization that buys up land in poor countries to ensure it is preserved from despoilment. In fact, he despoils it. In a complicated and not very plausible plot twist, Greene appears to be buying up land under which he is convinced there is oil, but in fact is trying to corner the market on Bolivia's aquifers so as to overcharge the country for its water after the military coup unseats Morales.

The CIA is convinced to back Quantum both because it wants leftist governments in Latin America overthrown and because Quantum would re-privatize Bolivia's fossil fuels. Greene observes to CIA field officer Greg Beame that the way the Bush administration bogged the US down in the Middle East allowed several Latin American countries to move left (obviously, the referents are Venezuela, Bolivia and Brazil).

Though the parts of the actual plot hatched by Dominic Greene are far-fetched, but not as much as you would think. The films villain, Dominic Green, has hatched a scheme to engineer a water shortage in Bolivia. This plan (reminiscent of Noah Cross's scheme in Chinatown) is clearly inspired by the actual water privatization
in Bolivia
undertaken at the behest of the IMF.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Whither Conservatism?

After the election of president-elect Obama and the drubbing the Republican party has taken nearly all across the country in the last two election, we must now ask the question: what direction will the Republican party take? On the Colbert Report William Buckley Junior commented that he hoped that a Obama victory would cause soul searching all over the Republican party, then added "it probably won't happen".
It probably won't happen. There's been a moderate amount of sniping between conservative intellectuals (George Will, David Brooks) and the populist conservatism, but it hasn't been nearly enough to begin to remake the movement. Jonathan Freedland reminds us of the time the Tories have spent in the wilderness. Freedland tries to make the op-ed a chance for Republican's to learn the lesson of their sister across the Atlantic, but I wouldn't be surprised if the story has some predictive power: it will be a long painful process for the Republicans to modernize their party.
Conservatism's wings are clearly discontented. The base clearly connected with Sarah Palin in a way that no one else did. Sarah Palin clearly inhabits an alternate universe, and the base lives there with her. Everyone else, including most of the rest of the GOP, finds her laughable and scary. However much of a crush the base has on Sarah Palin, they won't be able to get her past the corporate establishment. Palin 2012 is the new Thompson 2008: a dud. Similarly, the harsh economic time offers the Republicans a chance to become the party of Tancredo, blaming Mexican immigrants for the problems our nation is having, but as long as the corporate elite holds on, the party can never fully become the party of nativism.
The Republican could still be a problem though. My guess is that the party will double-down, taking refuge in the comforting belief that their losses came because they deviated from the conservative faith. I suspect they will become the party of neo-Hooverism, opposing increases in spending precisely when such increases are needed to stimulate the economy, and simultaneously attempting to blame Obama for the economy. This isn't as bad as it sounds at first. Ezra Klein:
he question is not whether the Republican leadership is cowed, but whether their ability to impose broad party discipline erodes and moderates decide that they're better off playing a constructive role in the first few years of the Obama administration. Ask yourself this: What leverage does Mitch McConnell -- whose party affiliation almost cost him reelection in Kentucky -- have on Susan Collins, who just rode her bipartisan credentials to a landslide win?

The Democrats weren't effective as opposition to Bush because there were always a few who were willing to play ball. The Republican party, even if the leadership decides to resists, probably doesn't have the party discipline to block Obama's agenda. We'll see.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Rahm Emmanuel: Fucking Intense

From an old Rolling Stone article about Rahm Emmanuel:
Friends and enemies agree that the key to Emanuel's success is his legendary intensity. There's the story about the time he sent a rotting fish to a pollster who had angered him. There's the story about how his right middle finger was blown off by a Syrian tank when he was in the Israeli army. And there's the story of how, the night after Clinton was elected, Emanuel was so angry at the president's enemies that he stood up at a celebratory dinner with colleagues from the campaign, grabbed a steak knife and began rattling off a list of betrayers, shouting "Dead! . . . Dead! . . . Dead!" and plunging the knife into the table after every name. "When he was done, the table looked like a lunar landscape," one campaign veteran recalls. "It was like something out of The Godfather. But that's Rahm for you."

Of the three stories, only the second is a myth — Emanuel lost the finger to a meat slicer as a teenager and never served in the Israeli army. But it's a measure of his considerable reputation as the enforcer in Clinton's White House that so many people believe it to be true. You don't earn the nickname "Rahmbo" being timid.

At every step, we've thought that Barack Obama is less ruthless than he is. Personally, he's easygoing, but he knows too have someone like Rahm Emmanuel around to bang heads together.

Also check out... Obama at a roast for Rahm Emmanuel. Two especially good parts:
It hasn't been easy for Rahm though as a young man he had a serious accident. I think, as many of you were aware of this, he was working at a deli, accident with a meat slicing machine, he lost part of his middle finger, and as a result of this, this rendered him practically mute.

Some of you may also know that Rahm’s brother Ari is a model for the lead character, on the big hit on HBO, Entourage. What some of you might not know that Rahm himself is also an inspiration for that other HBO character, Tony Soprano.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Crime Doesn't Pay

Last week, I was all for revoking Alaskan Home Rule... Alaska sent two criminals to congress Ted Stevens and Don Young... together a smorgasbord of corruption and slime.
Perhaps this won't be the case, it appears that Begich now leads Stevens by... 3 votes.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Center-Right Nation?

One idea I've been hearing ad nauseum from media yakkers is the idea that America is a "center right nation" (a couple of examples can be found here, including from the loathsome Karl Rove).
We are, I suppose, a center right country when compared to Western Europe, but this is already much discussed. I don't think any politician would confuse the United States with Sweden, though the more astute observer might note that Sweden provides a greater degree of economic security to it's people without sacrificing prosperity.
This is not, I think, what the pundits mean when they say we are a center-right nation. Americans agree more with the sort of policies espoused by moderate conservative candidates. This is clearly untrue. Even before Obama routed John McCain, it was clear majorities of Americans agree with Democratic positions. Generally, Republicans lose on issues but when on flim-flam. As Paul Krugman notes of the most recent presidential race.
[B]ear in mind that the campaign, in its final stages, was really about different philosophies of governing. This wasn’t like the 2004 campaign, which was essentially fought over fake issues — Bush running on national security and social issues, then claiming that he had a mandate to privatize Social Security. In this election, Obama proudly stood up for progressive values and the superiority of progressive policies; John McCain, in return, denounced him as a socialist, a redistributor. And the American people rendered their verdict.

It is amusing, I guess, to see the same people who labeled Obama as a socialist now claiming he only won because of his moderate policies. This does indicate one thing though: the center-right thesis is worthless because it is not falsifiable. The proponents of this idea still cling to it even as the country votes in the moderate left. It's become a feel-good fantasy for those who can't accept the progressive path this country is headed.


We did it as a nation, not only by electing a man who deserves to be president, as still-president Bush manifestly does not, but by electing a black president. Though I was alive for the fall of the Soviet Union, I obviously don't remember it occurring, so the most amazing event in my life has been the election of a black president. In downtown Ann Arbor, a spontaneous crowd of mostly students took to the street when the victory was announced, chanting "Obama", "yes we can" or "yes we did". The crowd snaked around the city and campus. The police game out, they've been waiting 40 years for students to take to the streets again, well, better late than never.
People also took to the streets in celebration in cities all over the country...
I agree with what Michelle Obama said. This is the first time in my life I have been proud to be an American.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Get him outta here

OK, so I'm pretty sure he's not up for election this year, but I think the Democrats must start making a file on Orrin Hatch. He's a liar in the highest order, in addition to being a Republican. I've been receiving his nasty emails all campaign season, but this one is one that should sink him with a nice "Orrin Hatch sent out a campaign email that straight up lied".
Here's the one in question:
Matt --

Today is the day we've all been working towards -- Election Day.

Please vote today.

Don't know where to vote? Find out at

Remember, there are stark differences between where Republicans want to lead our nation, and where the liberals would take us ...

... Over $1 trillion in new government spending, massive tax hikes on families and small businesses, liberal activist Supreme Court judges, censorship of conservative talk radio and a crushing 25% cut to our military.

Thank you,
Orrin Hatch
Senator Orrin Hatch
Vice Chairman,
National Republican Senatorial Committee

P.S. Please forward this email to your friends, family and neighbors to remind them to vote today.

I don't know where that 25% cut to the military came from. It will probably be more like $25. Maybe it was a typo?
Our military is bloated and the military-industrial complex is way too entrenched in Washington. Cutting more than the military's fingernails would be a good move for our country. Instead, Orrin Hatch uses lies to try to pump up the email-literate Republican vote.

I'm glad we're set to win big today, but we shouldn't stop thinking about the future, a future where liars like Orrin Hatch get the boot from their lofty, lobbyist-infested offices.

Saturday, November 1, 2008


Previously, I've compared Sarah Palin with Dan Quayle. Now, I feel this remark was deeply unfair: Dan Quayle was a class act compared to Sarah Palin. To perused just a few stories about the governatrix....

1. Sarah Palin accused the mainstream media of mainstream media of violating her First Amendment right to free speech by daring to criticize her.
“If [the media] convince enough voters that that is negative campaigning, for me to call Barack Obama out on his associations,” Palin told host Chris Plante, “then I don’t know what the future of our country would be in terms of First Amendment rights and our ability to ask questions without fear of attacks by the mainstream media.”

I should hardly need to point out that this is particularly insidious because it completely turns the First Amendment on its head, making it a damper on free speech.

2.Palin suggested our nation is at war with Iran. One hopes this is merely a slip of the tongue...

3.NPR's Talk of the Nation brought Lawrence Eagleburger, specifically to make for John McCain. upon being asked whether Sarah Palin was qualified, responded "of course not", though he added that, hopefully with teaching she could do an "adequate" job. As Gail Collins said:
This was a particularly cruel blow since Eagleburger is not just one of the five former secretaries of state that the McCain campaign constantly cites as having endorsed the ticket. He is one of the four who McCain was actually able to remember during a recent interview on “Meet the Press.”

Fortunately for McCain, Eagleburger appeared on FOX to spout stupid Republican talking points (he sounded much more intelligent on Talk of the Nation by the way) some good old Maoist self-criticism.

4. Finally, there's the two comedians who convinced Palin that she was talking to Nicolas Sarkozy... at least she takes prank well enough.