Friday, April 20, 2007

Taking personal responsibility

There seems to be a core divide between people who believe they are responsible for their own choices, even bad ones, and those who blame others for the bad choices they made. This is the divide between me and the Virginia Tech killer. I have no sympathy for his sob story of discrimination because I lived it myself. He knew right from wrong, and he definitely knew what he was doing was wrong or he wouldn't have shot himself. He was a loser because he blamed others for the wrong choices he made and especially because he made the additional bad choices to take his blame out on innocent people. Those of you who sympathize with this loser should take a close look at yourself because there is only one choice that differentiates you from this mass murderer.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007


Wahhabism is a what Muslims derogatorily call an extreme version of Salafism, the most conservative and violent root of Islam. A good Christian comparison would be the fire and brimstone of the Old Testament. Although the Bible contains the Old and New Testaments, most Christians create their own view of God which excludes the violence and bloodiness of the God in the Old Testament. Unfortunately, Islam is currently in the state where Salafism holds the mainstream view. However, this doesn't mean Salafi of Saudi Arabia are the same as the Salafi of Al Quaida. The difference between the two would be similar to the equivalent difference between the strict Southern Baptists and the KKK. This is why Bin Laden issues fatwahs to kill while Saudi Arabia issues fatwahs that suicide bombing is against Islam. The trouble is that the advocacy of fire and brimstone tends to breed intolerance and that is what Islam has more than Christianity now. Islam is sorely in need of its version of Martin Luther to reform Islam and bring its moderate roots like Sufism into the fore. Until this occurs, Islamic equivalents of the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition (e.g., Al Quaida and the Taliban) will likely maintain permanence.

The two battlefields

It amuses me when people talk about the US military being bent to the breaking point. Our military is a federal agency with all the bureaucracy and inefficiency that is inherent. When we talk about it reaching the breaking point today, we are talking about niceties like long periods of time away from combat, being fully equipped and trained, having sufficient support, etc. If we were in a real war like WWII, the US military would suddenly find incredible reserves of capability. That's the trouble with how we view the war in Iraq. We don't think of it or treat it like a real war like WWII. That is a complaint you will hear from many soldiers. Only a small percentage understand that this is a real war while the rest are really not affected by it and frankly don't really care except that the negative news makes them feel bad which is why there are so many people on the left who believe that they can support the troops and yet not support the mission and why there are so many people on the right who aren't providing the troops the resources and freedom they need to win.

On the other side of the coin, it amuses me when people talk up the efforts of Al Quaida, Sadr and their followers. Let's put it this way. If the US military is on the breaking point, their enemies have been broken even before they began to fight. Each successful attack is plastered all over the media, but what is ignored are the hundreds or thousands of attacks that failed and the disproportionate amount of casualties those who attack our soldiers have taken. If you had to choose a side to fight for that would ensure your greatest survival and military success, it would be definitely be the US military "on the breaking point" rather than the "triumphant" enemy.

The trouble is that battlefield of the hearts and minds of the American people became just as important as the battlefield on the ground from Vietnam and on. A loss on either battlefield means a loss on both. We are winning militarily on the ground, but we are losing the war with the American people's patience and commitment. Our enemy has the easy job because they can fail hundreds or thousands of times, but it only takes relatively few successful attacks to affect the fickle US public significantly. Not only that, we have those, mostly on the left, who use this for their own agenda as well which becomes a force multiplier for the enemy attacks on the American hearts and minds.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Congress couldn't disgust me more, but I could be wrong

The blatant addition of billions of dollars of pork in front of the eyes of the whole country to the military spending bill has peaked my disgust at congress. I don't care what party you belong to. Everybody should be questioning the politicians, especially the Democrats who were supposed to be better than the Republicans after taking over but have ended adding the bulk of the pork. The Democrats have just reverted to their standard operating procedure of corruption which led to them being kicked out during Clinton's reign. Corruption was the main issue affecting local politics which led to the Democrats retaking congress. You would think they would get the message, but either they are too stupid or too corrupt.

The middle class

The definition used in media of the American middle class is vague, at best. It isn't the statistical middle class, so comparisons over time are subjective to inaccuracies inherent to population changes, inflation and uncountable other factors. So the analysis I am doing here is the statistical middle class defined as the middle quintile (20%) of our population as defined by table HINC-05 of the census tables located at One key data that is given is the lower bound of the income for the middle class and the lower bound for the higher quintile which is basically the same as the upper bound for the middle class:


What this shows is not as headline catching as the news outlets are willing to present. What it basically says is that the 2001 recession impacted the lower and upper bounds of income for the middle class until 2003 where the upper bound started to move up and starting with 2004, both the lower and upper bounds moved up. It's nothing earth shaking, but it brings to earth what headline news tries to make
political fodder.

11/13/2007 - added line for 2006
07/15/2010 - added lines for 2007 & 2008
07/09/2013 - added line for 2011
01/04/2014 - added line for 2012

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Bureaucrats kill our soldiers

Congress' defeatist bill to set a date for withdrawal from Iraq is just the latest of a long line of bureaucracy which has, at the minimum, been a source of irritant to our soldiers and, at worst, a threat to our soldiers' lives. This bill increases the morale and extends the willingness of our enemies to fight. Congress will directly cause more deaths than necessary by their stupid and useless action. It is useless because it won't change the course of the war on our side, but it does make them look good to their anti-war constituents who they believe represent the majority of their voters. So I guess it is useful for their political careers - at the cost of US and Iraqi lives.

Sunday, March 11, 2007


300 isn't a political movie and yet the left has poured politics into it. I can only assume that having the bravery and conviction to fight evil to one's death for others is threatening to them for some reason. This would explain why they ignore our soldiers' deaths as sacrifices for us. I have had several left wing posters tell me straight out that they don't see the soldiers as sacrificing for them:

"What's your favourite movie?

Someday soon, you may ask a new acquaintance that question, and just maybe -- because it takes all kinds -- your new friend will reply, "My favourite movie is 300."

If this happens, back away slowly. Your new friend probably kills cats for fun. Worse -- your new friend may be George W. Bush. Director Zack Snyder's new dramatization of the epic Spartan stand at Thermopylae will probably go down real well at the White House, and wherever disturbed young people massacre hundreds in violent video games. Others should exercise discretion."

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Missing in Baghdad: My Father

"What happens when a call from Iraq
upends a reporter's life in New York
February 17, 2007; Page A1

About 5 o'clock on a mid-December morning, I was awakened by a call from my brother in Iraq. "Dad is missing," he said. He was upset and some of his anger spilled out at me: "You should be here," he shouted. "You don't seem to care."

My father had left home in Baghdad that morning to go to the auto-repair shop across town where he works. Fifteen minutes after he left, car bombs exploded on his route to work and he hasn't been seen since.

His disappearance set off a desperate search by my family through the netherworld of war-torn Baghdad. It also put me in the agonizing position of trying to help my family with the violent dislocations of civil war -- over the phone, from thousands of miles away. I'm the oldest son and have been studying and working in New York for more than two years. Since my father vanished, my three grown siblings and my mother have looked to me as the head of the family.

Every time I hear about a bomb going off, I brace myself for the worst possible news. Last February, my entire family went missing for two weeks, without a word. When my cellphone rings and an Iraqi number shows up on the display, I say a silent prayer before answering.

My life has always been marked by Saddam Hussein's wars. Born to Sunni parents -- my mother a homemaker, my father a mechanic -- I grew up in a brick house in a poor Baghdad neighborhood where Sunnis and Shias lived together. War with neighboring Iran dominated my early childhood. Many nights, Iranian jet fighters roared overhead. Most afternoons, we would watch "Sowar min Al-Marakah" ("Pictures from the Battle"), a propaganda show featuring battlefield footage and the mangled corpses of Iranian soldiers. My parents once gave me medication to fight a recurring nightmare of being squashed under an Iranian tank.

I was in primary school in 1991 when Operation Desert Storm kicked off after Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. Once, a U.S. missile hit a spice factory near our home. We smelled the spices, thought it was a chemical attack and covered our mouths with wet towels. During most of my teens, we lived under U.N. sanctions on government-issued rations of staple foods.

There were happy times, too. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of the celebrations surrounding the Muslim religious holiday of Eid. During the festival, my father used to take me, my sisters and my brother to the park for amusement rides, to eat kebab and to walk at night by the Tigris River.

I always wanted to be a journalist. But under Saddam, studying journalism was pointless, since all newspapers were run and rigorously monitored by the government. In middle school, I started teaching myself English, practicing with translation texts and old American newsmagazines left in our basement by a relative. I used to spend hours memorizing vocabulary lists and looking up new words in an outdated dictionary. I dreamed of going to school in a Western country, of traveling the world and writing about it.

By 2003, at the time of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, we were already used to war. My family evacuated to the countryside, with the exception of my father, who said that if he had to die, he would rather die at home.

We returned several weeks later, after Saddam was toppled. My father welcomed us back, but he appeared broken. A secular Sunni and fervent patriot, he had been against the American invasion and never thought it would happen. Now, he had become pessimistic about the future of his country: The looting in the aftermath of the invasion disgusted him. "They stole everything from the government buildings around us," he said, as we walked in the door. "TVs, computers, and even water pipes."

But life continued. My father went back to work; my younger sister and brother went to high school, and my older sister, who had graduated with a degree in English, helped my mother around the house. I found a job as a journalist for a new local English-language paper. I reported stories on bombings, reconstruction projects and other news from all over Iraq.

The violence increased. I had been on the job less than one year when the editor, an Iraqi-American, left the country, afraid that his life was in danger. Along with three other journalists, I kept the publication alive on the Web, posting news items from an Internet cafe in downtown Baghdad.

Before he left, the editor got me in touch with Columbia University in the U.S., which shortly afterward offered me a scholarship to study journalism. My parents said I should accept. I did, and four months later I took off. The morning I left, my brother insisted on carrying my big suitcase to the cab. My mother splashed a pitcher of water behind me, an Iraqi tradition wishing a traveler a safe return home.

With $300 in my pocket, I took a 15-hour cab ride to Jordan, and a plane to New York from there.

By August 2004, I settled in New York, enjoying the life of a newcomer in his 20s. I started to take classes and learned new things, from buckling my seat belt in a plane to working out in a gym; from using a washing machine to eating sushi and tandoori dishes. Later, I landed an internship, and then a reporting job with this newspaper.

But as I was getting used to my comfortable new life, I was also regularly pulled back into Iraq, where things were getting worse. A few months after my arrival in New York, I was chatting with a friend in Baghdad on my cellphone when he told me that an acquaintance had died in a roadside bomb attack. I became afraid of getting calls from Iraq, sometimes not answering them. I considered changing my phone number so no one could call me with bad news -- but I could still call people back home when I felt like it. Other times, I became obsessed with fear and would call to check on my family and friends, burning through a 400-minute calling card in a weekend.

When Al-Askari's famous gold-domed Shiite mosque was bombed last February, violence erupted throughout Iraq. Suddenly I couldn't get in touch with anyone back home. I didn't know whether my family members were dead or alive, whether they were taken by gunmen for ethnic reasons or if it was just that their phone line was down. I stopped eating, stopped going to work. I tried calling at three different times every day, to no avail. They surfaced two weeks later, safe and sound, after having fled to the countryside to stay with distant relatives, in an effort to escape violence or retaliation against Sunnis.

During an instant-message conversation with a friend in Iraq, the war dealt me its first massive blow: Haider Al-Maliki, a friend from university in Baghdad who had come to visit me in New York the year before, was found dead, his body riddled with 13 bullets. He was stopped by unknown gunmen while in a cab in the southern city of Amarah and shot on the spot. Other friends began going to their jobs at the government and in the Green Zone in disguise, trying to avoid Haider's fate. One friend poses as a student, while another takes a roundabout route to work for fear of being followed.

Meanwhile, my sister, seeing that ethnic violence was increasing near our neighborhood, asked me if the family should buy a gun. "Ask the neighbors what they are doing," I told her, not knowing what to do. When we talked a week later, my family had opted against it.

My father kept going to work every day, despite the rising violence. It was one way of staying sane. Then, in December, he went missing, and I got my brother's frantic call.

I told my brother to calm down and said that I was here to help -- that I left the country to help the family. "You are there, with air conditioning, entertaining yourself, while we are here in hell," he retorted.

I tried to ignore the comments -- I had heard them from him before -- and told him to focus on the matter at hand. He did. After dad left, he said, there was a huge bombing near the central station where he was supposed to transfer to another bus. Dad never showed up at work and never came back home.

I told him to go to the area of the bombing -- a busy marketplace in central Baghdad -- to see where the wounded were taken. I also called three of my old friends in Baghdad to ask them to accompany him. My brother had already asked some of our cousins to visit police stations to see if my father had been taken into custody.

A few hours later, we talked again. By that time, my brother had visited a local hospital, where most victims were taken. He said that my father wasn't on the hospital's official list of the dead, so he walked around to see if he could recognize him among the wounded. He described a scene of chaos and carnage: Blood was everywhere, people were weeping in the halls, hospital staff were running back and forth -- but my father was nowhere to be found.

Two days after the bombing, I called my friend Ala and asked him to go to the hospital morgue to see if my father might be among the unidentified dead, victims who weren't carrying IDs or were burned beyond recognition. Ala went and checked three charred bodies, but concluded they were not my father. One was too fat, he said. Another had hair, while my father is bald. And the last one was too young and short to be my father.

My cousin went to a nearby police station, a mini-fortress surrounded by barbed wire and sandbags, to see if my father was mistakenly being held. He told the lieutenant that he was looking for his uncle and gave him the name. He wasn't there.

A week passed and my father still hadn't been found. On the phone, my mother sounded faint and sick but kept saying she was all right. She told me to take care of myself and that my father would come back. She insisted that my father was fine. Her proof: He was not at the morgue.

My older sister couldn't keep up appearances. She stopped eating, stopped taking showers and descended into a depression, my younger sister said. She hadn't been well for more than a year, ever since several cars exploded near her on a market square. Back then, the sight of a child's charred body had sent her into shock. For days, all she could do was hug her knees and murmur over and over: "Poor girl, they killed her, animals." She recalled running through streets awash with blood and sewage, packed with civilians pushing flat wooden carts on which they piled the wounded and the dead. Her condition improved only after she got antidepressants. But after my father went missing, she spiraled back into a severe depression. Medical assistance proved elusive this time, with violence deterring nurses from visiting.

On my way to the gym one recent day, I got a call from my brother with more bad news. A mortar shell hit near my house and damaged the already-fragile bedroom walls. "Do you know that your mother and sisters are sleeping in the hallway shivering in this cold winter?" my brother said. I told him I would send money. Exasperated, he said that even with money they wouldn't be able to fix the room and that they would sleep in my old bedroom from now on.

I feel responsible for my family, but at the same time helpless. I am not a U.S. citizen, or a permanent resident. My guest status here prevents me from being able to bring my family to join me. I ask them to stay strong and take care and stay indoors. I try to give them hope, although I know it could be a false hope. Sometimes I stop calling them for a few weeks to avoid listening to all this.

I've considered going back many times, mostly because I miss my family and I haven't seen them for more than two years. But that is risky -- both because of the growing violence and because it's not certain that I could leave the U.S. and return. My mother says I should stay here. "Don't even think of coming back," she told me on the phone a few weeks ago. "People are leaving, not coming."

These days, my mother and sisters don't go outside the house at all. None of them have traveled before. They don't have passports. And they don't have the money it takes to buy tickets, taxi rides, hotel rooms. They say there are no guarantees of finding a way to make a living in neighboring countries like Jordan.

I seek consolation in small things that remind me of home. I keep three envelopes with my mother's recipes scribbled on them -- lentil soup, tomato sauce with beans and Iraqi-style biryani -- next to my bed. When bad things happen back home, I cook them. My laptop is stocked with songs about Baghdad. I search the Internet for pictures of Iraq before the U.S. invasion. Pictures of the Tigris River. Of bustling Baghdad streets. Of the past that is no longer.

Occasionally, I talk to the few Iraqis I know in the U.S. -- a friend in Michigan, another in Massachusetts. A small Iraqi-flag key chain hangs on a nail sticking out of my wall.

Bombings in the news send me scurrying to my computer for information about the exact time and location of the explosions. I lay curled under my green comforter, going over in my mind where my family members and friends might have been at the time.

New friends keep me company. While civil war raged in Iraq, I attended parties celebrating Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's. At Christmas break, I went to the home of a friend's aunt in Connecticut; I shopped for gifts -- books, a T-shirt, a scarf, a tie -- and we ate a big dinner.

I don't tell my friends in America too much about what is happening with my family in Iraq. I try to avoid talking about the war because it's so far removed from the world of restaurants, coffee shops, and polite conversations. I worry people won't understand or don't want to be bothered. During a recent dinner in New York's Chinatown, a friend asked, "How's your family?" When I told her about my father, she was shocked. She offered condolences and said I shouldn't hesitate to ask her for help. I felt grateful, but a little awkward because I knew that neither she nor anyone else who means well can really change things for my family.

Sometimes, my family becomes hopeless and says my father must be dead -- otherwise he would have returned by now. Other days, they are more optimistic, saying that he may have been taken by kidnappers and he will be released.

The last time we talked, my younger sister pleaded with me to help her find a way out of Baghdad. She said she would cook and clean for me, if I could just figure out a way to get her out of there. It made my heart sink.

Trying to check on the fate of my father, I called my brother on his cellphone -- the only phone in my family's possession -- late last month. That day, bombs had gone off on a Shiite market where he likes to shop for DVDs and CDs. Press reports said there were more than 80 dead. He did not pick up his phone. Not the next day either. I recently reached a friend in Iraq, who said he had seen my brother. But I'm still waiting for him to call back.

Write to Sarmad Ali at"

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

North Korea's song and dance

It looks like another agreement has been reached with North Korea. Expectations are low since the song and dance that North Korea has repeated in the past is to break their side of agreements. Not a drop of oil should go to North Korea until they have dismantled their nuclear weapons program, and more than just tape and cameras should be used to make sure North Korea doesn't just restart their program when they feel like it.

The negotitations went unusually quick this time. I suspect the thumbscrews of holding the cash in banks that North Korea uses for its counterfeiting operation has forced its hand, and the nuclear program is most likely draining the country's resources and not resulting in anything useful in the foreseeable future.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

AMT: Democrat shortsightedness comes back to bite them

The Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) was passed by Democrats and the fiscal liberal called Nixon in 1969 to "tax the rich". It was created because congress didn't want to fix the bureaucratic tax code which allowed so many loopholes especially for those who could afford competent CPAs and tax lawyers. Instead they added a whole bunch of extra rules for a parallel tax system which denied many ways that the rich were using to avoid paying taxes. Not that it really mattered because it only added to the complexity of the tax system and the rich just found other loopholes. The first major mistake that shortsighted fiscal liberals made was to make AMT rules to make it affect only high income earners not take inflation into account. As a result, those who are considered rich in 1969 are now increasingly those in the middle class, and because of the complexity of the AMT rules, it could actually affect anyone regardless of how much they make. What has come back to bite the Democrats in their own butt has been the AMT removal of deductions like state and local taxes. Guess which states have higher state and local taxes? Right. Democratic states with their greater ideas of income redistribution and greater welfare and entitlement provisions require far greater taxes, so they end up taking up the greater burden of the AMT than red states. This is just one example of how shortsighted liberals with their ideas of a socialist/communist state taking care of the people ends up hurting
the people far more in the long run.

Criminal gets justifiably shot and US agents go to jail

Former Border Agent Ignacio Ramos was beaten severely in jail. What was his crime? He shot a drug smuggler at the Mexican border when he tried to flee. It has been revealed that those who have more sympathy for illegal aliens violating our laws than our defense people who enforce the laws have fabricated much of the testimony that put Ramos and fellow agent Jose Alonso Compean in jail. This boils my blood and should anger any true American. There are too many Americans that Bin Laden justifiably label as destructive to the USA and would cause the country to fold like house of cards given enough pressure.

Friday, February 9, 2007

My prediction of the current North Korean negotiations outcome

Although I hope it will be different, I predict that the current negotiations over the North Korean buclear weapons program will repeat history. North Korea will come in with their laundry list of demands which they expect to have a greater ability to extort with their successful nuclear detonation. The USA will come in with, hopefully, the usual stance that we will no longer cave into North Korea's blackmail tactics like in the past and hold firm that North Korea has to disarm permanently before anything else is discussed. The end result will be a breakoff in the talks, and hopefully this time, it will allow UN sanctions with greater teeth like the crackdown on banks associated with North Korea's counterfeiting operations have taken.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Suicide rate of US soldiers in Iraq

Osama Bin Laden and Al Quaida in Iraq make a big deal about the US soldier rate of suicide in Iraq which is about 10.5 per 100,000 in 2004, 19.9 per 100,000 in 2005 and probably higher in 2006. They claim it is their successes which is hurting the morale of US soldiers which is the cause. The trouble is that morale has been consistently high in the US military in Iraq, and Al Quaida's successes are laughable. Since 9/11, Al Quaida has lost their main sanctuary in Afghanistan, and they are clawing for survival even in Iraq and Pakistan. Stress is a recognized factor in suicide, but the stress leading to suicide may not be combat related. Tina Priest recently committed suicide after she was raped by a fellow soldier and placed on antidepressants. What may be an ignored significant source of suicide in Iraq is boredom. What people miss who use headline news as their window into soldiers' lives in Iraq is that the bulk of the time many soldiers spend in Iraq is in boredom. In many cases, the boredom is associated with being forced to stay in one place with no form or variation of mental diversion which then becomes akin to being stuck in a prison cell. With some people, this causes inner issues to come to the fore of their mind and can become consuming. It doesn't take war to drive people to suicide. Countries like Japan and Finland have higher rates of suicide which even leaves out a poor economy as a cause, and if you just count men, which the military still predominently consists of, far more countries have even higher rates of suicide. See Countries like South Korea whose high competition in education has been known to cause high rates of suicide among students whose greatest woe was a slump in grades or test scores. This doesn't mean that the increase in suicide rates in the US military in Iraq should be ignored, but no credence should be given to the reasons our enemies give for it.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Wafaa' Al-Natheema

I have had arguments with people who don't share my views on their blogs and mine. I am argumentative, but I don't use profanity and attempt to back up everything I say. Every opponent I have encountered have been reasonable until I encountered Wafaa' Al-Natheema. Wafaa' Al-Natheema is a hypocrite. She speaks of freedom and supports liberals on her blog especially if they are anti-war. However, she doesn't tolerate dissent. She doesn't comprehend what freedom means especially freedom of speech. That is fine. She can run her blog the way she wants, but if she is going to retain my original comment and won't let me respond to responses to my comment, she should remove all my comments at my request. I won't have even my original comment on a blog run by a totalitarian. She should follow the methods of Saddam and totally delete all dissent.

Unlike you, I welcome your comments and will not delete them or prevent your ownership of your own words.

Monday, January 22, 2007

The battleground of the will of the American people

The will of the American people is a battleground, and the vast majority of Americans are open turf for the combatants. How many? Bush's approval rating was around 90% at it's high point and now it is around 30%: Approval.htm

So about 60% of the American people are like a willow tree bending in the wind. The military has to start investing some significant resources into psyops on our own people. We have been underestimating the importance of the battle over the minds and hearts of the American people, but our enemies haven't. They have filled the vaccuum we have left.

This doesn't mean that we resort to lying propaganda because if you're in psyops, you know that lies will always end up hurting you more in the long run. What it means is that the military has to get the truth out about what is happening in Iraq and other theatres of operation and maintain credibility by admitting faults and problems but always making sure to show the whole picture which headline news misses by its nature.

One way to inprove psyops on the homefront is to combine secops and psyops. Limitations on soldiers' ability to tell stories from the front should be balanced with the benefits it has on the will of the American people. Again, it shouldn't be used to be biased to give more good news than bad but to give a better picture of the whole situation to maintain credibility.

I hope this isn't a new idea for the military. Because of the increase in media coverage, the battleground that is the will of the American people is as important as the physical battleground soldiers fight and build on. Losing either one means losing both.

Oil price plunge starting to hurt Chavez

Chavez's pet project spending and piling on recurring costs haven't decreased, but Chavez is showing signs that he is starting to run out of money to fund them. He has announced he is increasing the price of domestic gasoline produced by the state owned oil company. When asked about the effect on the poor, his ignorant response was that the poor don't drive cars, so it won't really affect them. Transportation of goods affects the poor in every aspect, and increasing the cost to transport goods will hurt the poor. On top of the 17% inflation rate which Chavez is doing nothing to alleviate, it's not a good time to be a Venezuelan. If you are able to keep ahead of the curve economically, you will be labeled as one of the rich elite by Chavez and have your property confiscated. Communism is not yet dead, but Chavez is proving why it is dying.

Friday, January 19, 2007

About Iraq's "Last chance"

You know the old saying: "How do you know when politicians are lying? When their lips are moving." After the "last chance", life goes on. After your side loses a game or an election, life goes on. If you lose, it's usually not as bad as you feared. If you win, it usually isn't as good as you hoped. People make predictions, but the factors that affect the actual result number at least as many as the number of people involved. There are things you control and things you don't. If you never try in fear that things you don't control will stop you, you will never accomplish anything.

I ran out of fortune cookies.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

My two cents for today

The key to decreasing the violence doesn't lie in the governments. It lies in the hands of the Iraqis who do the bulk of the killings and rebuilding. The main problem with the security forces in Baghdad, both the US and Iraqi, is that they are not good policemen. They are good at killing an obvious enemy, but they are not good at dealing with criminal elements like the kidnappers and their helpers, the "chewers". As a result of this policing vacuum, it has been filled by organized crime. Except for the high profile attacks usually by Al Quaida or one its extreme Sunni allies and the surge of Shiite revenge attacks afterwards, the everyday killings have become less personal and more businesslike with money and territory being the key motivators. Sadr's and SCIRI's militias are two competing gangs who unite only when facing the Sunni gangs. Ideologists like Al Quaida and its small number of Sunni extremist allies are becoming more and more marginalized although they continue to perform high profile attacks. It will take time for Iraqis to eventually tackle the gangs effectively, but unlike past US occupations before the Vietnam War, the US and Iraq doesn't have the luxury of having the US stay indefinitely in force. Although Al Quaida is losing ground in Iraq, Al Quaida's war on the battleground that is the American people's will is succeeding, and the American people will not have the US become Iraq's umbrella for a prolonged period because of this. What this means for Iraq most likely soon after the 2008 elections is that instead of one single umbrella maintaining some level of stability until they get their act together, Iraq will be pulled by multiple external forces: Iran and Saudi Arabia being the major opposing ones ones with Syria, Jordan and Turkey playing lesser roles. God help them.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Sectarian fighting just business, nothing personal

Just an article about the Sunni insurgents attitude towards Al Quaida that I want to remember:

'The jihad now is against the Shias, not the Americans',,1989397,00.html

"As 20,000 more US troops head for Iraq, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, the only correspondent reporting regularly from behind the country's sectarian battle lines, reveals how the Sunni insurgency has changed

One morning a few weeks ago I sat in a car talking to Rami, a thick-necked former Republican Guard commando who now procures arms for his fellow Sunni insurgents.

Rami was explaining how the insurgency had changed since the first heady days after the US invasion. "I used to attack the Americans when that was the jihad. Now there is no jihad. Go around and see in Adhamiya [the notorious Sunni insurgent area] - all the commanders are sitting sipping coffee; it's only the young kids that are fighting now, and they are not fighting Americans any more, they are just killing Shia. There are kids carrying two guns each and they roam the streets looking for their prey. They will kill for anything, for a gun, for a car and all can be dressed up as jihad."

Rami was no longer involved in fighting, he said, but made a tidy profit selling weapons and ammunition to men in his north Baghdad neighbourhood. Until the last few months, the insurgency got by with weapons and ammunition looted from former Iraqi army depots. But now that Sunnis were besieged in their neighbourhoods and fighting daily clashes with the better-equipped Shia ministry of interior forces, they needed new sources of weapons and money.

He told me that one of his main suppliers had been an interpreter working for the US army in Baghdad. "He had a deal with an American officer. We bought brand new AKs and ammunition from them." He claimed the American officer, whom he had never met but he believed was a captain serving at Baghdad airport, had even helped to divert a truckload of weapons as soon as it was driven over the border from Jordan.

These days Rami gets most of his supplies from the new American-equipped Iraqi army. "We buy ammunition from officers in charge of warehouses, a small box of AK-47 bullets is $450 (£230). If the guy sells a thousand boxes he can become rich and leave the country." But as the security situation deteriorates, Rami finds it increasingly difficult to travel across Baghdad. "Now I have to pay a Shia taxi driver to bring the ammo to me. He gets $50 for each shipment."

The box of 700 bullets that Rami buys for $450 today would have cost between $150 and $175 a year ago. The price of a Kalashnikov has risen from $300 to $400 in the same period. The inflation in arms prices reflects Iraq's plunge toward civil war but, largely unnoticed by the outside world, the Sunni insurgency has also changed. The conflict into which 20,000 more American troops will be catapulted over the next few weeks is very different to the one their comrades experienced even a year ago.

In Baghdad in late October I called a Sunni insurgent I had known for more than a year. He was the mid-level commander of a small cell, active against the Americans in Sunni villages north of Baghdad. Sectarian frontlines had been hardening in the city for months - it took us 45 minutes of haggling to agree on a meeting place which we could both get to safely. We met in a rundown workers' cafe.


"Its not a good time to be a Sunni in Baghdad," Abu Omar told me in a low voice. He had been on the Americans' wanted list for three years but I had never seen him so anxious; he had trimmed his beard in the close-cropped Shia style and kept looking towards the door. His brother had been kidnapped a few days before, he told me, and he believed he was next on a Shia militia's list. He had fled his home in the north of the city and was staying with relatives in a Sunni stronghold in west Baghdad.

He was more despondent than angry. "We Sunni are to blame," he said. "In my area some ignorant al-Qaida guys have been kidnapping poor Shia farmers, killing them and throwing their bodies in the river. I told them: 'This is not jihad. You can't kill all the Shia! This is wrong! The Shia militias are like rabid dogs - why provoke them?' "

Then he said: "I am trying to talk to the Americans. I want to give them assurances that no one will attack them in our area if they stop the Shia militias from coming."

This man who had spent the last three years fighting the Americans was now willing to talk to them, not because he wanted to make peace but because he saw the Americans as the lesser of two evils. He was wrestling with the same dilemma as many Sunni insurgent leaders, beginning to doubt the wisdom of their alliance with al-Qaida extremists.

Another insurgent commander told me: "At the beginning al-Qaida had the money and the organisation, and we had nothing." But this alliance soon dragged the insurgents and then the whole Sunni community into confrontation with the Shia militias as al-Qaida and other extremists massacred thousands of Shia civilians. Insurgent commanders such as Abu Omar soon found themselves outnumbered and outgunned, fighting organised militias backed by the Shia-dominated security forces.

A week after our conversation, Abu Omar invited me to a meeting with insurgent commanders. I was asked to wait in the reception room of a certain Sunni political party. A taxi driver took me to a house in a Sunni neighbourhood that had recently been abandoned by a Shia family. The driver came in with me - he was also a commander.

The house had been abandoned in a hurry, cardboard boxes were stacked by the door, some of the furniture was covered with white cloths and a few cheap paintings were piled against a wall. The property had been expropriated by the local Sunni mujahideen and we sat on sofas in a dusty reception room.

Abu Omar had been meeting commanders of groups with names like the Fury Brigade, the Battalions of the 1920 Revolution, the Islamic Army and the Mujahideen Army, to discuss options they had for fighting both an insurgency against the Americans and an escalating civil war with the Shia.

Abu Omar had proposed encouraging young Sunni men to enlist in the army and the police to redress the sectarian balance. He suggested giving the Americans a ceasefire, in an attempt to stop ministry of interior commandos' raids on his area. Al-Qaida had said no to all these measures; now he wanted other Iraqi insurgent commanders to support him.

'Do politics'

A heated discussion was raging. One of the men, with a very thin moustache, a huge belly and a red kuffiya wrapped around his shoulder, held a copy of the Qur'an in one hand and a mobile phone in the other. I asked him what his objectives were. "We are fighting to liberate our country from the occupations of the Americans and their Iranian-Shia stooges."

"My brother, I disagree," said Abu Omar. "Look, the Americans are trying to talk to us Sunnis and we need to show them that we can do politics. We need to use the Americans to fight the Shia."

He looked nervously at them: suggestions of talking to the Americans could easily have him labelled as traitor. "Where is the jihad and the mujahideen?" he continued. "Baghdad has become a Shia town. Our brothers are being slaughtered every day! Where are these al-Qaida heroes? One neighbourhood after another will be lost if we don't work on a strategy."

The taxi driver commander, who sat cross-legged on a sofa, joined in: "If the Americans leave we will be slaughtered." A big-bellied man waved his hands dismissively: "We will massacre the Shia and show them who are the Sunnis! They couldn't have done anything without the Americans' support."

When the meeting was over the taxi driver went out to check the road, then the rest followed. "Don't look up, we could be monitored, Shia spies are everywhere," said the big man. The next day the taxi driver was arrested.

By December Abu Omar's worst fears were being realised. The Sunnis had become squeezed into a corner fighting two sides at the same time. But by then he had disappeared; his body was never found.

Baghdad was now divided: frontlines partitioned neighbourhoods into Shia and Sunni, thousands of families had been forced out of their homes. After each large-scale bomb attack on Shia civilians, scores of mutilated bodies of Sunnis were found in the streets. Patrolling militias and checkpoints meant that men with Sunni names dared not venture far outside their neighbourhoods, while certain Sunni areas came under the complete control of insurgent groups the Shura Council of the Mujahideen and the Islamic Army. The Sunni vigilante self-defence groups took shape as reserve units under the control of these insurgent groups.

Like Abu Omar before him, Abu Aisha, a mid-level Sunni commander, had come to understand that the threat from the Shia was perhaps greater than his need to fight the occupying Americans. Abu Aisha fought in Baghdad's western Sunni suburbs, he was a former NCO in the Iraqi army and followed an extreme form of Islam known as Salafism.


Deep lines criss-crossed his narrow forehead and his eyes half closed when he tried to answer a question He seemed to evaluate every answer before he spoke. He claimed involvement in dozens of attacks on US and Iraqi troops, mostly IEDs (bombs) but also ambushes and execution of alleged Shia spies. "We have stopped using remote controls to detonate IEDs," he volunteered halfway through our conversation. "Only wires work now because the Americans are jamming the signals."

On his mobile phone he proudly showed me grainy images of dead bodies lying in the street, their hands tied behind their backs . He claimed they were Shia agents and that he had killed them. "There is a new jihad now," he said, echoing Abu Omar's warning. "The jihad now is against the Shia, not the Americans."

In Ramadi there was still jihad against the Americans because there were no Shia to fight, but in Baghdad his group only attacked the Americans if they were with Shia army forces or were coming to arrest someone.

"We have been deceived by the jihadi Arabs," he admitted, in reference to al-Qaida and foreign fighters. "They had an international agenda and we implemented it. But now all the leadership of the jihad in Iraq are Iraqis."

Abu Aisha went on to describe how the Sunnis were reorganising. After Sunni families had been expelled from mixed areas throughout Baghdad, his area in the western suburbs was prepared to defend itself against any militia attack.

"Ameriya, Jihad, Ghazaliyah," he listed, "all these areas are becoming part of the new Islamic state of Iraq, each with an emir in charge." Increasingly the Iraqi insurgency is moving away from its cellular structure and becoming organised according to neighbourhood. Local defence committees have intertwined into the insurgent movement.

"Each group is in charge of a specific street," Abu Aisha said. "We have defence lines, trenches and booby traps. When the Americans arrive we let them go through, but if they show up with Iraqi troops, then it's a fight."

A few days later Rami was telling me about the Sunni insurgents in his north Baghdad area. A network of barricades and small berms blocked the streets around the car in which we sat talking. A convoy of two cars with four men inside whizzed past. "Ah, they are brothers on a mission," Rami said.

Like every man of fighting age, Rami was required to take part in his local vigilante group, guarding the neighbourhood at night or conducting raids or mortar attacks on neighbouring Shia areas.

But he paid $30 a week to a local commander and was exempted.

According to Rami and other commanders, funding for the insurgents comes from three sources. Each family in the street pays a levy, around $8, to the local group. "And when they go through lots of ammunition because of clashes," Rami said, "they pay an extra $5." Then there are donations from rich Sunni businessmen, financiers and wealthier insurgent groups. A third source of funding was "ghaniama", loot which is rapidly becoming the main fuel of the sectarian war

'A business'

"Every time they arrest a Shia, we take their car, we sell it and use the money to fund the fighters, and jihad," said Abu Aisha. The mosque sheik or the local commander collects the money and it is distributed among the fighters; some get fixed salaries, others are paid by "operations", and the money left is used for ammunition.

"It has become a business, they give you money to kill Shia, we take their houses and sell their cars," said Rami. "The Shia are doing the same.

"Last week on the main highway in our area, they killed a Shia army officer. He had a brand new Toyota sedan. The idiots burned the car. I offered them $40,000 for it, they said no. Imagine how many jihads they could have done with 40k."

· Names have been changed in this report."

Monday, January 15, 2007

Condoleezza Rice: A Remarkable Woman

Nowadays, we don't even give it a thought that an African American woman (and single as Senator Boxer has pointed out) is our Secretary of State, the highest ranking cabinet secretary under the president. Many men and women paved the way for Rice, but before Rice, it wasn't even thought feasible to have an African American woman as our National Security Advisor let alone Secretary of State. Because of Rice, there are many boys and girls out there who see her as a role model and will make it even more insignificant what race, gender or even marital status people are in any position in our country. Those with little or no sympathy with Bush should at least recognize his willingness to give Rice the opportunity to break down barriers.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Immediate effects of the "surge"

Ok. This is what is happening even as we speak. Sunni insurgents who aren't just protecting their neighborhood are moving to Diyala because it is out of the areas Bush mentioned the surge is going to affect. Shiite militias are taking off their uniforms and blending in with the civilians. Those who are doing the killings are taking a cautious approach of waiting to see what the effect of Bush's surge will be. An immediate effect will be a dip in killings as the killers take a thoughtful pause. Meanwhile, current US and Iraqi forces are trying to implement the "puddles spreading" strategy by spreading areas of security by creating sequential gated communities. That is why you see jet fighters flying over parts of Baghdad. By Gates' comments, this surge will last less than a year. During this time, the US and Iraqi security forces will attempt to create large swaths of area of denial in both Baghdad and the Anbar province. The two major obstacles to the short term success of the surge is Maliki's conflict of interest with Sadr and the US bureacracy. The major obstacles to the long term success of the surge is the ability of the forces hiding in Diyala to seep back and the ability to keep the Shiite militias disarmed. After the surge, it will be up to the Iraqi security forces to keep the security gained. God help Iraq if they aren't ready. As for the US, this is effectively Bush's last major action in Iraq. He has spent what is left of any political capital left on this. Any other major decision including a Vietnam-like withdrawal will most likely wait for the 2008 elections.

Three basic types

"There are three basic types: the Wills, the Won'ts and the Can'ts. The Wills accomplish everything. The Won'ts oppose everything. The Can'ts won't try anything." -V.I.N.CENT.

Friday, January 12, 2007

In the slums of Baghdad

Just pictures of Iraqis that embedded journalist Michelle Malkin has taken that I want to remember:

"My Hot Air colleague Bryan Preston and I have been in Iraq, embedded with an incredibly dedicated Army unit in Baghdad tasked with training Iraqi security forces (both Shia and Sunni) conducting counterinsurgency operations, and carrying out civil affairs work. Yes, there is danger and chaos and unspeakable bloodshed in parts of Baghdad. Sectarian violence--compounded by everyday street crime and tribal conflict--is rampant. Corruption, incompetence, and apathy infect the Iraqi government. You've gotten endless news coverage of all that. But there are also pockets of success and signs of hope amid utter despair. I'll give you more details of our embed unit after we get home. We have much to report and will be publishing a multi-part video and audio series, blog posts, and op-eds on security conditions, media malpractice, and the big picture on the war next week. Having met, watched, and interviewed a broad cross-section of our troops during our brief but fruitful travels, my faith in the U.S. military has never been stronger-- but I will not sugarcoat my skepticism and doubts about decisions being made in Washington. For now, I'm posting a few pictures I took from one of our recent trips on patrol through the slums of Baghdad."

The greatest enemy is the time

Just wanted to remember this article by Bill Roggio:

"Die Weltwoche pubilshed an article on my experiences and impressions on Iraq and Anbar province, titled The greatest enemy is the time. The article is published in German, so I have reproduced the text here:

The greatest enemy is the time

How do the American soldiers see the situation in the Iraq? Our reporter went in the heart of the Sunni resistance, Anbar province. A report from the front:

As President Bush unveiled his new vision to move forward on Iraq, the political debate in the United States has continuously degenerated into a simple, binary choice of withdrawal to prevent further American casualties, or surge more troops to attempt to restore order in Baghdad. After spending two months out of the last 12 in the land between the two rivers, one thing I've learned is nothing is simple about Iraq, and there are no easy solutions to the vast array of problems. But despite the constant media portrayal of Iraq as a hopelessly violent nation, Iraq is not a nation without hope.

The average life of an insurgency is about nine years. In Iraq, the insurgents and al-Qaeda hope to wear down the will of the American government and people, and precipitate a premature withdrawal. When I talk to American troops about Iraq, their greatest concern isn't for their safety, but they are worried the American public has given up on the war before they can complete their mission. They watch the news - CNN, MSNBC and FOX News are beamed into the mess halls, some even possess satellite dishes with access to BBC World, Al Jazeera and hundreds of programs at their fingertips. Internet is readily available in many areas. I surfed the web in the center of Fallujah on wireless Internet.

American troops watch the news and follow the debate in real time. They will tell you the war they see on television isn't the war they are fighting. To the troops, the war as portrayed on television is oversimplified and digested into sound bites. The soldiers are portrayed as victims and the violence is grossly exaggerated.

From my own experiences with two months in Iraq out of a year, I had not personally witnessed an ambush, a roadside bombing or other attack. The closest action I saw were some poorly aimed mortar attacks in Fallujah, or a near by patrol getting hit (the bullets and RPGs never made contact). And this is in Anbar province, the most dangerous region in Iraq. I make it a point to accompany the troops on foot and mounted patrols on daily basis. This is not to say attacks do not occur on a daily basis in Anbar – they do,and Anbar is a dangerous place, but just not to every soldier at every minute on every day in every city and town.

The nature of the insurgency in Iraq is complex, and cannot be simply framed as a sectarian war or a war against "U.S. occupation." The insurgency is designed to destroy any semblance of a democratically elected Iraqi government, and is directed at the developing Iraqi security forces, the Iraqi government and institutions, U.S. and Coalition forces, and against sectarian targets.

The real secret about Iraq is the nature of the conflict you will encounter really depends on where you are geographically. In the regions where Sunni, Shia and other ethnic groups live together, such as Baghdad and the surrounding areas, the violence is largely sectarian in nature. Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Ansar al-Sunnah, along with some other Sunni insurgent groups purposefully attack Shia civilians to stir the sectarian violence and foment a civil war. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the deceased leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, admitted a civil war was his goal in a letter to Osama bin Laden in late 2003. Muqtada al-Sadr's radical Shia Mahdi Army roams Sunni neighborhoods in and around Baghdad to execute Sunnis and incite Sunni reprisals, helping to stoke the fires of a Sunni-Shia war.

In the Shia dominated south, a power struggle is occurring between rival political organizations for control over government institutions and oil revenue. North of Baghdad, Ansar al-Sunnah, a violent terrorist organization that espouses the beliefs of Osama bin Laden, along with the Islamic Army in Iraq focus their attacks largely on U.S. forces and the Iraqi government.

In Anbar province, where I embedded in the city of Fallujah last December, sectarian violence is virtually non-existent. In fact, Sunni tribes have rallied to protect their Shia neighbors numerous times in the past and drove of al-Qaeda attempts to 'cleanse' the region of Shia. Al-Qaeda blood ran in the streets the few times they tried to purge the Shia from Ramadi.

In Fallujah, Ramadi and greater Anbar province, Al-Qaeda in Iraq the most dominant insurgent organization. Al-Qaeda focuses its attacks on Iraqi government security forces, government institutions, as well as U.S. Army and Marine units operating in the region. Their ability to fund the insurgency in the impoverished province is their greatest weapon. Unemployed Sunnis are a paid well (as much of $1,000 according to a military intelligence source) to attack Iraqi and Coalition forces. While there is a large volume of insurgent attacks, the large majority of attacks fail. The fact is an overwhelming majority of roadside bombs are discovered and detonated by Iraqi or Coalition forces.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq is attempting to unite the fractious insurgent groups in the western and northern Sunni majority provinces, and has created an umbrella political organization called the Islamic State of Iraq. Some smaller Sunni insurgent groups, along with some leaders of Iraqi tribes and have been rolled under the banner of the Islamic State of Iraq, along with al-Qaeda in Iraq's Mujahideen Shura Council.

To counter al-Qaeda's attempt to 'Iraqify' the jihad, the U.S. and Iraqi government are working to institute political, economic and military solutions. While I was in Fallujah, I witnessed two of the three pillars in action: the military and political efforts.

In the political sphere, I attended several meetings, including the Anbar province mayor's meeting, hosted by the governor of Fallujah, and the Fallujah city council meeting. Security dominates the discussions, as do reconstruction projects. The political leaders clashed with the Army representatives over certain security policies. The politicians were encouraged to assist with the recruitment of local police, and to work with the tribal leaders to meet the goals. In a recent police recruitment drive at the end of December, the city of Fallujah recruited 80 new candidates. The goal was 60. In Anbar province, 1,115 recruits joined the police.

In the military sphere, the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police are beginning to work together to tamp down the insurgency in the city. The Iraqi Army has a brigade (about 2,000 soldiers) inside the city, and has completely taken ownership of the battle space. The Iraqi Police number about 700, and are beginning to assert themselves despite being targeted by al-Qaeda. The Iraqi Police in Fallujah have even developed a 30 man Special Missions Group force which trained to enter building and detain insurgents.

Inside Fallujah, there is no U.S. Marine or Army presence, save the members of the Police and Military Transition Teams – small, 15 to 20 man teams that are embedded within the police and Army units. I embedded as a reporter with both the Police and Military Transition Teams in Fallujah. The Marines in these teams take great risk in dong their daily job. They live, eat and sleep with their Iraqi counterparts, and are wholly dependent on them for security. Their American backup is stationed outside the city limits.

As brave as the American Marines are, their Iraqi counterparts outshine them. The police, who are local to the city, are specifically targeted by insurgents. Since the late sumer, 21 Iraqi police were murdered by insurgents. Their families are regularly threatened with violence. Several police officers told me how that while they were home they would sit with their backs to the door, AK-47 in hand, as they feared their homes would be stormed and their families would be killed.

The Iraqi Army lives inside the city in forward operating bases, without heavy weapons of their own. They depend on American air, artillery and mortars to bail them out when needed. The Iraqi soldiers, or jundi, patrol the streets on foot up to four times a day. Despite the fact that they, as Iraqis, are viewed as 'occupiers' by many residents of Fallujah, the soldiers have built their own intelligence networks. While on foot patrols in Fallujah, I watched as Iraqi soldiers were called into courtyards by residents who wanted to provide information on insurgent activity. The Fallujans, while terrified of the insurgents, are tired of the violence and wish to move on.

The police and soldiers do their jobs with very little resources. Some haven't been paid in a year. Supplies and equipment such as helmets, bullet proof vests, uniforms and batteries are in high demand demand, as the Iraqi Army logistical system is broken. The police just received armor Humvees to patrol the city, and have been up-armoring their pickup trucks with scrap armor kits. Despite these problems, morale and fighting spirit are not an issue. In fact, the police and Army believe that, if given the right equipment, they can defeat the insurgents without U.S. help.

While embedded with an Iraqi Army infantry unit in Fallujah, I watched a program called al-Zawraa. The jundi call this channel 'Muj TV' (for mujahideen television), as it broadcasts violent insurgent, al-Qaeda and Ansar al-Sunnah videos, as well as calls for violence against the Shia “Persians.” Al-Zawraa is run by a Mishan al-Jabouri, a former Sunni member of parliament who is now wanted by the government and living in Syria.

The Iraqi soldiers watch al-Zawraa to get to know their enemy, to motivate them to fight the insurgents and for amusement. The videos are replayed in a near loop, and the soldiers recognize the locations of the attacks as many of them served throughout Iraq. When asked if they feared al-Qaeda and the insurgents, the answer was emphatically “No, just give us guns like you have, tanks like you have and we'll take care of them.”

Nationwide, the Iraqi Army and Police clearly are not ready to fight the insurgents and militias on their own. Baghdad and Ramadi are clearly two cities where the police and Army would collapse without U.S. backing. But the police and soldiers in Fallujah believe they can. Pride, courage and fighting spirit are certainly traits these soldiers do not lack. They will need time to develop the capacity to fight on their own, and time is the one commodity the West seems to be short of."

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Democrats: Stay the Course

Pelosi says that the Democrats won't cut existing funding for the war in Iraq, but they will make it difficult to pass funding for the increase in soldiers. So, they just want to stay the course.

Mind you, Bush is not a micromanager. Bush, as he did when he was governor of Texas, hires the best people he can and delegates almost all his authority to them. It is obvious that the actual nuts and bolts of this new plan came from Gates and the new generals who specialize in counter-insurgency. The Democrats have shown no such source of qualified sources for their lack of a stance let alone a better plan.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

After the surge

Tonight Bush will make a speech of what has basically been already leaked in detail. He will state that he plans to send over 20,000 additional soldiers into Iraq temporarily to pacify the violence specifically in Baghdad and the Al Anbar province. I have no doubt our soldiers will succeed in the short term, but for it to have a long term success, it relies on the Iraqis to maintain the peace after our soldiers leave. The enemy tends to feel the edges of the area of denial and continuously look for weaknesses like an octopus with a shelled meal. This operation will make them withdraw, but it will take an effective Iraqi security force to keep them at bay.

What the Iraqis could do themselves to improve the situation would be to expand peaceful areas of Iraq. The main one is the Kurdish north. If the Kurds can overcome their anti-Arab prejudice and the Sunnis and Shiites can overcome the reverse prejudice, northern Iraq could be used as a base to spread the boundary of peace south.

In the end, no matter what the US does, peace can only come from the Iraqis.

Monday, January 8, 2007

Robbery occurred at hair salon my wife was at

At about 11:15am today, my wife was at a hair salon sitting down with curlers in her hair and about to have chemical solution applied when a white male with a beard and fleece clothing smoking a cigarette entered the salon. He started making a commotion and had his hand inside his pocket and pointing as if he had a gun. My wife ran out the door with curlers in her hair and ran next door to an insurance store and told the business owner that the salon was being robbed next door. The store owner ducked behind her desk and promptly called her husband. My wife at that point called 911 on her cellphone. The 911 asked for the address, and since she didn't know, she asked the store owner who then threw a business card at my wife while still ducking behind her desk. The 911 operator was asking a series of other questions and at the same time the store owner threw the door key at my wife and told her to lock the door while still ducked behind her desk. So my wife was talking to the 911 operator while trying to lock the door which wasn't cooperating at the same time. The store owner was yelling at her at the same time presumably to try to make my wife lock the door faster. The police showed up a few minutes later, but the robber had left with not much money since it was still morning and most likely didn't stick around because he knew my wife had run out the store. The police took statements, and my wife wasn't able to leave the scene of the crime until around 4pm. My wife said she was glad that I wasn't there because I would have done the stupid thing and try to attack the robber. She knows me all too well. I would have chanced that he really didn't have a gun since he kept his hand in his pocket, and in close quarters with multiple people to keep an eye on, there would have been an opening for me to tackle him, pin his gun hand with one hand or knee and whale on his head with my elbow. That should at least incapacitate him then, I would use my belt to hogtie him. But this is just wishful thinking at this point.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Minimum wage

The imposition and subsequent increases of minimum wage hurts the economy and hurts the working poor who actually work at minimum wage the most. When the minimum wage was first imposed in 1933, it resulted in the loss of jobs of 500,000 blacks:

"For example, the minimum wage provisions passed as part of another act in 1933 threw an estimated 500,000 blacks out of work"

Proponents of minimum wage increases often show that increases in minimum wage have not resulted in increased unemployment or decreased economy or show states with higher minimum wage have higher employment, but they state numbers at times when the economy is expanding which would mask the negative effects of minimum wage, and different states with totally different economies can't be compared. What would be needed would be statistics of what the economy would be for the same location and economic history, but that is not possible. During economic rise, the negative effects of increasing the minimum wage are minimized because businesses can afford to pass the additional cost to their customers who then can afford it because they have the money, but the increased cost to consumers does have an impact on demand so that it is lower than it would have been without the higher cost. So the minimum wage acts as factor in pulling down the economy. Where the increase in minimum wage hurts most is long past the point at which the minimum wage is increased. When the economy enters its next cyclical downturn, that is when the additional cost hits the hardest and when unemployment is worse than it would have been without the minimum wage increase. The working poor are the worst hit because they tend to stay at minimum wage because they lack the skills for higher paying jobs. When the minimum wage squeeze is felt the most by businesses, it the same working poor that the politicians who say they are protecting are the ones hurt the worst. Instead of getting a living wage, these people end up with no wage at all. The government needs to be stopped from helping us shortsightedly to the point where they actually hurt us in the long run.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

How Somalia applies to Iraq

Before the Ethiopians intervened, it looked as if the Somali Islamic Council was unbeatable. Even people who weren't devout muslims flocked to support the Council. When the Ethiopians put lie to the invincibility of the Council, suddenly support evaporated. This applies to Iraq because Al Quaida, the insurgents and Sadr's militias also use the ruse of being more powerful than they truly are to gain the support of people. Every day, the deaths and intimidation makes it seem as if they can't be stopped, but in reality, they are an extremely small minority that is embarassingly ineffective in gaining any real control of the country. In order for the Iraqi central government to gain the support of the people to move forward, it needs to tear away the veil of strength these minority groups have. Nobody wants another Fallujah operation, but it looks like strong demonstrations of actual strength, like the Ethiopians performed, are necessary to show just how weak the opposition is and bring the majority of Iraqis under its wings.

Apologies to those who feel I talk down to them

My wife often tells me that when I talk to people, I am polite and frank, but I tend to give an air of condescension when I give my point of view. I apologize to all I have argued on forums and blog comments if I seem to belittle them. It is just my style. It isn't your fault that your ability to argue is limited.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Democrats the dividers\

"House Democrats intend to pass a raft of popular measures as part of
their well-publicized plan for the first 100 hours. They include
tightening ethics rules for lawmakers, raising the minimum wage,
allowing more research on stem cells and cutting interest rates on
student loans.

But instead of allowing Republicans to fully participate in
deliberations, as promised after the Democratic victory in the Nov. 7
midterm elections, Democrats now say they will use House rules to
prevent the opposition from offering alternative measures, assuring
speedy passage of the bills and allowing their party to trumpet early

"The episode illustrates the dilemma facing the new party in power.
The Democrats must demonstrate that they can break legislative
gridlock and govern after 12 years in the minority, while honoring
their pledge to make the 110th Congress a civil era in which Democrats
and Republicans work together to solve the nation's problems. Yet in
attempting to pass laws key to their prospects for winning reelection
and expanding their majority, the Democrats may have to resort to some
of the same tough tactics Republicans used the past several years.

Democratic leaders say they are torn between giving Republicans a say
in legislation and shutting them out to prevent them from derailing
Democratic bills."

The funny thing is that tightening of ethic rules is getting the most
resistance from within Pelosi's own ranks with Murtha leading the
opposition. As for raising the minimum wage, it hurts the poor the
most because they are the ones who occupy the bulk of minimum wage
jobs due to lack of skills and lose jobs when small businesses are
squeezed by minimum wage increases. I guess the Democrats just want to
screw the poor so their college kids can get paid higher in their
waiter/waitress jobs. As for federal funding of stem cell research,
that's actually not a priority as private funding is taking off as
companies see the profit within reach. As for cutting interest rates
on student loans, students wouldn't need the student loans if the
school costs didn't outstrip inflation. The fact is that the
government's long term subsidization of colleges has removed the
market forces to keep costs down. It is the case where the government
causes more harm by trying to help as in the case with minimum wage,
social security, health care insurance, etc. etc. etc.

Anyway, the Democrats won't be able to get anywhere close to what they
want to get done. There is no guarantee that the slim majority in the
Senate means that all Democrats will toe the line making that side a
black hole for bills. As is always the case, the ones in majority will
now encounter the filibuster threat. And after that, there is the
president's veto, and for bills affecting the executive branch, there
is the presidential constitutional signing statement which could
effectively rewrite the bills. It will be the same gridlock until 2008
when it will come to a blaming contest of who is to blame for the lack
of progress. Unfortunately for the Democrats, gridlocks have been
unkind to them politically regardless of whether their party holds the
presidency or the legislature.