Saturday, November 29, 2008

Honeycomb tire design solves roadside hazard problems for GI Joe

Several of the many upgrades that Humvees are getting in Iraq to
protect against ambush include thicker armor plating and new honeycomb
tires which are bullet proof and will keep the humvee rolling when
it’s been ambushed in a firefight or even an I.E.D. What’s
the secret? It doesn’t use air.



The Honeycombs are based on a polymeric web which will not only take
bullet fire, but also explosions from an improvised explosive device
and still let our boys in cammy get away at over 50 miles an hour. Most
injuries and deaths occur, not because of the initial IED blast –
armor can take most of that blunt force trauma – but because the
tires have been blown out. And even though current tire design calls
for a “run while flat” specification, there’s little
a tire can do when the air has been ripped out of the tire by shrapnel.
Seems run while flat tires still need small amounts of air still in
them. But the Honeycomb’s don’t, according to their
manufacturer, Resilient Technologies.



After studying every rwf tire on the market, and tires ripped to shreds
in theater, Resilient went to mother nature for the answer and came up
with a six-sided cell pattern honeycomb design that can best Emulate
the “ride feel” of pneumatic tires, while allowing shrapnel
to simply pass through the open spaces. What you end up with is a tire
that is not only more robust and durable, but also runs quieter and
cooler than current models.

And Resilient is confident they can bring
the tire, expected to be added to the Humvee design in 2011, to the
Army for the same or even less a cost as current tires.

Pakistan U-turns on sending spy chief to India

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—Pakistan on Saturday withdrew
an offer to send its spy chief to India to help investigate the Mumbai
terrorist attacks, damaging efforts to head off a crisis between the
nuclear-armed rivals.







Indian
officials have linked the attacks to "elements" in Pakistan, raising
the prospect of a breakdown in painstaking peace talks between South
Asian rivals that has alarmed the U.S.....

[bth: regrettable decision reversal.  The terrorists that wanted to drive Pakistan and India further apart have succeeded.]

Press And "Psy Ops" to Merge At NATO Afghan HQ: Sources

KABUL (Reuters) - The U.S. general commanding NATO
forces in Afghanistan has ordered a merger of the office that releases
news with "Psy Ops," which deals with propaganda, a move that goes
against the alliance's policy, three officials said.

The move has
worried Washington's European NATO allies -- Germany has already
threatened to pull out of media operations in Afghanistan -- and the
officials said it could undermine the credibility of information
released to the public.

Seven years into the war against the Taliban,
insurgent influence is spreading closer to the capital and Afghans are
becoming increasingly disenchanted at the presence of some 65,000
foreign troops and the government of President Hamid Karzai.

Taliban militants, through their website, telephone text messages and frequent calls to reporters, are also gaining ground in the information war, analysts say.

U.S. General David McKiernan,
the commander of 50,000 troops from more than 40 nations in NATO's
International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), ordered the combination
of the Public Affairs Office (PAO), Information Operations and Psy Ops
(Psychological Operations) from December 1, said a NATO official with
detailed knowledge of the move.

"This will totally undermine the
credibility of the information released to the press and the public,"
said the official, who declined to be named.

ISAF spokesman
Brigadier General Richard Blanchette said McKiernan had issued a staff
order to implement a command restructure from December 1 which was
being reviewed by NATO headquarters in Brussels, but he declined to go
into details of the reorganization.

"This is very much an
internal matter," he said. "This is up with higher headquarters right
now and we're waiting to get the basic approval. Once we have the
approval we will be going into implementation."

But another ISAF
official confirmed that the amalgamation of public affairs with
Information Operations and Psy Ops was part of the planned command
restructure. This official, who also declined to be named, said the
merger had caused considerable concern at higher levels within NATO
which had challenged the order by the U.S. general.

"DECEPTION ACTIVITIES"

NATO
policy recognizes there is an inherent clash of interests between its
public affairs offices, whose job it is to issue press releases and
answer media questions, and that of Information Operations and Psy Ops.

Information
Operations advises on information designed to affect the will of the
enemy, while Psy Ops includes so-called "black operations," or outright
deception.....

[bth: what an incredibly stupid move on the part of the US military.  It just shoots in the head, any credibility it has as a news source.  It also undermines our standing within NATO.  Sure, Fox News will report blindly whatever is fed to it by the PA but for most of the thinking world, this approach will undermine what little credibility we have left.  What a waste.  A total loss of the moral high ground so needed to win a war of ideas. So next step will be to deny and cover up bombings of weddings.  Oh, we already are doing that.  Well never mind. One wonders what a BG is thinking when he does something like this.  Just plain stupid.]

Vatican told bishops to cover up sex abuse

The Vatican instructed Catholic bishops around the world to cover up
cases of sexual abuse or risk being thrown out of the Church.

The
Observer has obtained a 40-year-old confidential document from the
secret Vatican archive which lawyers are calling a 'blueprint for
deception and concealment'. One British lawyer acting for Church child
abuse victims has described it as 'explosive'.

The 69-page
Latin document bearing the seal of Pope John XXIII was sent to every
bishop in the world. The instructions outline a policy of 'strictest'
secrecy in dealing with allegations of sexual abuse and threatens those
who speak out with excommunication
.

They also call for the
victim to take an oath of secrecy at the time of making a complaint to
Church officials. It states that the instructions are to 'be diligently
stored in the secret archives of the Curia [Vatican] as strictly
confidential. Nor is it to be published nor added to with any
commentaries.'

The document, which has been confirmed as
genuine by the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, is called
'Crimine solicitationies', which translates as 'instruction on
proceeding in cases of solicitation'.

It focuses on sexual
abuse initiated as part of the confessional relationship between a
priest and a member of his congregation. But the instructions also
cover what it calls the 'worst crime', described as an obscene act
perpetrated by a cleric with 'youths of either sex or with brute
animals (bestiality)'.

Bishops are instructed to pursue these
cases 'in the most secretive way... restrained by a perpetual
silence... and everyone... is to observe the strictest secret which is
commonly regarded as a secret of the Holy Office... under the penalty
of excommunication
'.

Texan lawyer Daniel Shea uncovered the
document as part of his work for victims of abuse from Catholic priests
in the US. He has handed it over to US authorities, urging them to
launch a federal investigation into the clergy's alleged cover-up of
sexual abuse.

He said: 'These instructions went out to every
bishop around the globe and would certainly have applied in Britain. It
proves there was an international conspiracy by the Church to hush up
sexual abuse issues. It is a devious attempt to conceal criminal
conduct and is a blueprint for deception and concealmen
t.'

British
lawyer Richard Scorer, who acts for children abused by Catholic priests
in the UK, echoes this view and has described the document as
'explosive'.

He said: 'We always suspected that the Catholic
Church systematically covered up abuse and tried to silence victims.
This document appears to prove it. Threatening excommunication to
anybody who speaks out shows the lengths the most senior figures in the
Vatican were prepared to go to prevent the information getting out to
the public domain
.'....

Friday, November 28, 2008

Big Bailouts, bigger bucks

Whenever I discussed the current bailout situation with people, I
find they have a hard time comprehending the actual numbers involved.
That became a problem while doing the research for the Bailout Nation book. I needed some way to put this into proper historical perspective.


If we add in the Citi bailout, the total cost now exceeds $4.6165
trillion dollars. People have a hard time conceptualizing very large
numbers, so let’s give this some context. The current Credit
Crisis bailout is now the largest outlay In American history.


Jim Bianco of Bianco Research crunched the inflation adjusted
numbers. The bailout has cost more than all of these big budget
government expenditures – combined:


Marshall Plan: Cost: $12.7 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $115.3 billion

Louisiana Purchase: Cost: $15 million, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $217 billion

Race to the Moon: Cost: $36.4 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $237 billion

S&L Crisis: Cost: $153 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $256 billion

Korean War: Cost: $54 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $454 billion

The New Deal: Cost: $32 billion (Est), Inflation Adjusted Cost: $500 billion (Est)

Invasion of Iraq: Cost: $551b, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $597 billion

Vietnam War: Cost: $111 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $698 billion

NASA: Cost: $416.7 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $851.2 billion


TOTAL: $3.92 trillion

Female al-Qaeda fighters surrender

Eighteen female al-Qaeda fighters have turned themselves in to US forces in northern Iraq.

The women apparently surrendered so they did not have to carry out suicide bomb attacks on behalf of the militant group.

A
US military statement said local clerics and relatives of the women had
persuaded them to surrender and sign a pledge to reconcile with their
communities. It did not say where in northern Iraq.

This year has
seen a sharp rise in the number of suicide bomb attacks by women, a
favourite tactic of Sunni Islamist al-Qaeda because they more easily
evade detection by male police unwilling to search them for explosive
vests.

At least two dozen female suicide bombers have struck this
year, mostly in Iraq's volatile Diyala province, north of Baghdad,
killing scores of people
.

Major-General Mark P Hertling, the
commander of US forces in northern Iraq, said: "The fact that so many
potential women suicide bombers turned themselves in ... shows
remarkable solidarity as the people of Iraq continue to turn the tide
against al-Qaeda and their barbaric methods."

Many female bombers are motivated by a thirst for revenge for family members killed or captured by US and Iraqi troops.

Others come under pressure from male relatives to show allegiance to the Sunni Arab insurgent cause.

US
officials were not immediately able to comment on what would happen to
the women next. A programme exits to pardon insurgents who give
themselves in, if they are not wanted for major crimes, in exchange for
information on insurgent groups.

In August, a teenage Iraqi girl
who was strapped with explosives turned herself into Iraqi police
rather than carry out a bombing against them in Diyala's capital,
Baquba.


U.N. Reports That Taliban Is Stockpiling Opium

UNITED NATIONSAfghanistan has produced so much opium in recent years that the Taliban
are cutting poppy cultivation and stockpiling raw opium in an effort to
support prices and preserve a major source of financing for the
insurgency, Antonio Maria Costa, the executive director of the United Nations drug office, says.

Mr. Costa made his remarks to reporters last week as his office prepared to release its latest survey
of Afghanistan’s opium crop. Issued Thursday, it showed that
poppy cultivation had retreated in much of the country and was now
overwhelmingly concentrated in the 7 of 34 provinces where the
insurgency remains strong, most of those in the south
.

The
result was a 19 percent reduction in the amount of land devoted to
opium in Afghanistan, the United Nations found, even though the total
tonnage of opium produced dropped by just 6 percent.

The high
output per acre was attributed to a good growing season in the south, a
heavily irrigated area where the Taliban maintain a strong presence in
five provinces and have for several years “systematically
encouraged” opium cultivation as a way to finance their
insurgency, the study said.

Last year, the insurgents made as
much as $300 million from the opium trade, by United Nations estimates.
“With two to three hundred million dollars a lot of war effort
can be funded,
” said Mr. Costa, an Italian diplomat who has
served at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime for six years.

But
after three years of bumper crops, including this one, the Taliban have
succeeded almost too well, producing opium in amounts far in excess of
world demand. The result, Mr. Costa said, was now a glut that was
putting downward pressure on the price, which had dropped by about 20
percen
t.

The fact that prices had not collapsed already, he said,
was evidence that the Taliban, drug lords and even some farmers have
stockpiled the opium, more and more of which is also being processed in
Afghanistan. “Insurgents have been holding significant amounts of
opium,” Mr. Costa said
.

The surplus — as much as
11,000 tons, or more than twice world demand in the last three years
— now threatened to devalue even those stockpiles, Mr. Costa
said. In 2008, Afghanistan produced 8,500 tons of opium, the United
Nations found. World demand was estimated at about 4,400 tons a yea
r.

This
year, the Taliban are taking a “passive stance” toward
cultivation, apparently putting less pressure on Afghan farmers to
plant opium poppy. “They have called a moratorium of sorts as a
way of keeping the stocks stable and supporting the price,” Mr.
Costa said.

He said the information came from undercover
surveyors in Afghanistan who closely observed the autumn planting
season and the buzz around markets where opium is traded.

The dynamics of the opium market pointed up the problems American and NATO
forces face as they try to tamp down the narcotics trade. Eradication
itself can drive up the price and put more money into the hands of the
Taliban, while alienating poor Afghans who depend on the crop for their
livelihoods. “We’ve got to find a way to keep the prices
down and the cultivation down
,” Mr. Costa said.

He has
suggested an emphasis not on eradication of poppy crops once they are
planted, but on disrupting the trade by hitting the open-air markets
where opium is bought and sold, the convoys that transport it and the
labs where it is processed into more potent drugs, primarily heroin.

NATO
countries agreed to the logic of such an approach at a meeting in
Budapest in October, Mr. Costa said, but he added that for many years,
The international community has undervalued the role of
narcotics in creating the conditions for insurgency in
Afghanistan
.”

Despite the still-high opium output, he was
encouraged that an estimated one million fewer Afghans were involved in
opium cultivation this yea
r. The reasons varied and included drought in
some provinces beyond the south.

But it also appeared to
reflect some progress among provincial governors and shuras, or local
councils, in persuading farmers not to plant poppy, Mr. Costa said.

Part
of the incentive for farmers was the expectation of government
assistance if they planted legal crops, he said. But higher prices for
food crops also helped. The revenue from wheat, for instance, has
tripled since 2007, the United Nations said
.

But without better
economic opportunities, poppy will remain an attractive alternative for
many in Afghanistan, the source of more than 90 percent of the
world’s opium. Growth has lagged so badly, Mr. Costa noted, that
the drug trade still accounts for a third of the Afghan economy. Other
estimates put it at as much as one-hal
f.

Any progress this year
remained vulnerable, he warned. The biggest threat was if insecurity
continued to spread to previously stable parts of Afghanistan, as it
has in recent months.

Could the United Nations, NATO and
American forces keep up the declines in opium cultivation in the face
of decreased security? “The answer is no,” Mr. Costa said.
“I don’t think we can
.”

[bth: we need to continue to target the distributors and stockpiles.]

Taliban, drug lords await $770m opium bonanza


A policeman destroys a poppy field south of Kabul.

OPIUM production in Afghanistan will contribute $US500 million
($770 million) to drug lords and the Taliban this year and has
increased in the south - where Australia's troops are based -
despite a drop across the rest of the country, a United Nations
report says.


The report, to be released today by the UN Office on Drugs and
Crime, says opium production has dropped 6 per cent across the
country this year and has been eradicated from 18 of 34 provinces.
Production has been restricted almost exclusively to the troubled
southern provinces, including Oruzgan, where Australia's 1000-plus
troops are based and where production rose 26 per cent.


The report says the rises in the south indicate the continued
strength of the Taliban which - along with drug lords and corrupt
authorities - imposes a tax, or ushr, for protecting opium farmers
and traffickers.


Afghanistan supplies 90 per cent of the world's opium - and
production has risen in recent years in tandem with the growing
Taliban insurgency.


"By year end, warlords, drug lords and insurgents will have
extracted almost half a billion dollars of tax revenue from drug
farming, production and trafficking," said the executive director
of the UNODC, Antonio Maria Costa.


"Not surprisingly the insurgents' war machine has proven so
resilient, despite the heavy pounding by Afghan and allied
forces.


"Drug production and trafficking would be slowed by destroying
high-value targets like drug markets, labs and convoys - which the
Afghan army, backed by NATO, are starting to d
o."


The widespread cultivation of opium has presented a dilemma for
international forces, which have sought to pressure the Afghan
Government to curb production but are mindful that depriving
farmers of their livelihood could increase support for the
Taliban.


A Defence Force spokesman said yesterday Australian troops were
not allowed to eradicate opium crops and were only able to assist
indirectly by training Afghan forces and assisting with
reconstruction. "Eradication efforts in Afghanistan are carried out
by an Afghan-led force after careful consultation with local
authorities," said the spokesman.


"The ADF is authorised to act in a supporting role to assist
Afghan-led counter-narcotics operations. This includes, for
example, the provision of logistics and medical support."


The UN report says Afghan production has exceeded world demand,
which has prompted the Taliban to hoard stockpiles and await a
price increas
e.




India points finger of blame at Pakistan

...

PAKISTAN DENIAL




Pakistan has denied involvement and condemned the attacks. It has also offered full cooperation in fighting terrorism.




Zardari telephoned Singh earlier on Friday to again condemn the attacks, saying "non-state actors" were responsible.




"Non-state actors wanted to force upon the governments their own
agenda but they must not be allowed to succeed," Zardari's office cited
him as telling Singh
.




The president's office did not mention Singh's reference to an
external link or to his warning of "a cost" if India's neighbours did
not stop their territory being used to launch attacks.




The two countries have fought three wars since their independence
in 1947 and nearly went to war again in 2002 in the weeks after a
militant attack on India's parliament that India also linked to
Pakistan.




Pakistan for years supported militants battling Indian forces in
the disputed Kashmir region but reined them in after the Sept. 11
attacks on the United States.

Pakistani Defence Minister Ahmed Mukhtar said late on Thursday India should not start a blame game.




"Nobody should blame anyone without any evidence and verification,"
Mukhtar told Reuters. "We have nothing to do with these attacks. We
condemn these attack
s."




The main dispute between Muslim Pakistan and mostly Hindu India is
the Himalayan region of Kashmir, which both claim in full but rule in
part.




Pakistan for years supported militants battling Indian forces in
the disputed Kashmir region. It also backed the Taliban in Afghanistan.




But after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, then military
ruler Pervez Musharraf broke off support for the Taliban and reined in
the Kashmiri militants.




Pakistan says it offers political support for what it sees as a
freedom struggle by the Muslims of Indian-controlled Kashmir, where
troops have been battling an insurgency since 1989....






Analysis: Mumbai attack differs from past terror strikes

...A witness who saw one of the teams land by sea
adescribed the gunmen as "in their 20s, fair-skinned and tall, clad in
jeans and jackets." He saw "eight young men stepping out of the raft,
two at a time. They jumped into the waters, and picked up a haversack.
They bent down again, and came up carrying two more haversacks, one in
each hand
."



An Indian official claimed the attackers used "sophisticated
weapons," however this may be an overstatement. Reports indicate the
gunmen used automatic rifles, hand grenades, and some machineguns, as
well as several car bombs. The terrorists did not have sophisticated
weapons such as anti-aircraft missiles to attack helicopters supporting
Indian counterterrorism forces.



Getting to Mumbai



One of the more intriguing aspects of the attack is how the teams
entered Mumbai. Reports indicate at least two of the assault teams
arrived from outside the city by sea around 9 p.m. local time. Indian
officials believe most if not all of the attackers entered Mumbai via
sea.



Indian Coast Guard, Navy, Mumbai maritime police, and customs units
have scoured the waters off Mumbai in search of a "mother ship" that
transported one or more smaller Gemini inflatable boats used by the
attackers. A witness saw one of the craft land in Colaba in southern
Mumbai and disgorge eight to 10 fighters.



Two ships that have been boarded are strongly suspected of being involved in the attacks: the Kuber, an Indian fishing boat, and the MV Alpha,
a Vietnamese cargo ship. Both ships appear to have been directly
involved. The Kuber was hijacked on Nov. 13, and its captain was found
murdered. Four crewmen are reported to still be missing.



Indian security officials found what they believe is evidence
linking the boat to the attack, as well as linking the attackers to
Pakistan. "A GPS map of south Mumbai was found along with a satellite
phone on the ship, Coast Guard officials confirmed," The Times of India reported. "There were reports that this phone was used to make calls to Karachi immediately before the shootings began in Mumbai
."



Indian police also detained three terrorists from the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba,
a terror group closely allied with al Qaeda. The three men are said to
be Pakistani nationals, and claimed to have been part of a 12-man team
that launched from the MV Alpha. They said the MV Alpha departed from
Karachi.



Another Indian official said that it is "suspected that the Pakistan
Marine Agency helped the terrorists hijack the trawler (the Kuber),"
although this has not been confirmed. Another unconfirmed report
indicated the Kuber originated from Karachi, Pakistan.



The attack



After landing in Colaba, the terrorists moved north and attacked the
Colaba police station, possibly as a single unit. The attack on the
police command and control node disrupted the police response and
pinned down police units....

ISI chief to visit India to coordinate in investigation

ISLAMABAD:
Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Friday accepted a request from his
Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh to send the ISI

chief to India for sharing of
information related to the terrorist attack in Mumbai.




The Prime Minster's spokesman
Zahid Bashir said Singh had made a request to Gilani, asking him to send the ISI
chief to India to "cooperate in the investigation of the Mumbai attacks and for
sharing certain information".




Bashir told reporters: "The
Pakistani Prime Minister accepted this offer. The two sides will work out
modalities for the visit of the Inter Services Intelligence chief which is
expected to take place soon."




Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha was
recently appointed chief of the ISI by Pakistan Army chief General Ashfaq Parvez
Kayani.



This would be the
first instance of a chief of Pakistan's spy agency visiting India in connection
with the investigation of a terror attack.




Gilani had earlier said he was
"really hurt" over the loss of innocent lives in Mumbai. "And from the people of
Pakistan, and from the government of Pakistan, I really want to share the
sorrows with the people of India and the government of India," he told
reporters....

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Barak: Hizbullah now three times stronger than in 2006 war

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told the Knesset on Monday that Lebanon's Hizbullah resistance  group is three times stronger now than it was during the summer 2006 war.

"The firepower of Hizbullah has grown threefold since the second Lebanon war," he said.

"It has missiles that can reach the towns of Ashkelon, Beersheba and Dimona [in southern Israel more than 200 kilometers from the Lebanese border]. Today Hizbullah has 42,000 missiles," Barak told MPs.

Hizbullah fired nearly 4,000 rockets at northern Israel during the 34-day war in the summer of 2006, killing 160 people, the great majority of them soldiers. Israel carried out tens of thousands of air and artillery strikes, and spread about 4 million cluster bomblets, killing at least 1,200 people, most of them civilians, including hundreds of women and children.

Barak also renewed warnings issued by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert earlier this year that in any new war Israel would take even tougher action against Lebanon's civilian infrastructure than it did in 2006. During that conflict, the Jewish state pounded civilian infrastructure, including schools, a power station, Beirut's airport, dozens of bridges and thousands of homes.

"The integration of Hizbullah into the Lebanese state exposes Lebanon and its infrastructure to in-depth attacks in the event of a new conflict," he said, referring to the formation earlier this year of a national unity government in Beirut. It was unclear what Barak meant by Hizbullah's increased "integration" into the state. Hizbullah has just one minister in the current Cabinet, whereas it held three posts in the unity government that was in power at the start of the 2006 war.

Barak also renewed what he called his "support" for an extension of the six-month Gaza truce with Hamas that went into force on June 19 but has been shaken since Israel violated it with a deadly attack earlier this month.

"In the months preceding the ... truce, we were recording as many as 500 mortar or rocket attacks a month in southern Israel against just a dozen in the months since the truce." Barak rejected calls by cabinet colleagues, including Deputy Prime Minister Haim Ramon and Trade and Industry Minister Eli Yishai, for a major ground offensive into Gaza to topple the Hamas administration there.

"To all the warmongers I say: you have nothing to teach me about war or peace or my duties," said Barak, a reserve general and former army chief.

"I am defense minister, not war minister, and my job is to maintain as far as possible the maximum of security for Israeli citizens. In any case, if a pre-emptive operation proves necessary, the army will act."

Barak also reiterated Israel's refusal to rule out any option to prevent Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon. "We have said that Israel will leave no option off the table and we advise others to do the same," he told MPs.

"We think what we say but I would advise that we should not elaborate, particularly at the moment, as it would do nothing but harm to Israel." - AFP, with The Daily Star

On Faltering Consumption

First, look at these three comments on consumer spending:

From the WSJ: Data Indicate Faltering Demand

Spending is declining in the consumer and capital sectors, as demand for expensive goods took its biggest spill in two years in October and consumption dropped at the sharpest rate in seven years.

From Professor Roubini wrote:

Another batch of worse than awful news greeted today Americans getting ready for the Thanksgiving holiday: free falling consumption spending, collapsing new homes sales, falling consumer confidence, very high initial claims for unemployment benefits, collapsing orders for durable goods.

And from Bloomberg: Consumer Spending in U.S. Falls 1%, Most in 7 Years

Spending by U.S. consumers dropped in October by the most since the 2001 contraction, signaling the economy is sinking into a deeper recession.
...
The biggest consumer spending slump in three decades is likely to persist as home prices fall and job losses mount, threatening the holiday sales outlook ...

emphasis added

Sounds pretty bad, and the numbers from the BEA were definitely ugly - but the numbers were slightly better than I expected. The monthly data is pretty noisy and may be revised significantly, but the reported numbers showed a 3.9% annualized real decline in personal consumption expenditures (PCE) from July to October (the period that matters for GDP), and that was somewhat better than 4.5% to 5.0% decline I was expecting. This is just one month of 4th quarter data - and PCE could get revised or decline more in November and December - but this suggests the more dire predictions (worse than 5% annualized real GDP decline) for Q4 GDP might be excessive.

Hey, a 5% annualized decline in real GDP is bad enough!

More on New Home Sales

New Home Sales and InventoryNew Home Sales Annual

First, here is a long term graph of new home sales and inventory from the Census Bureau.

Although home builders have sharply reduced housing starts - and are now starting fewer homes than they are selling (reducing inventory) - new home sales have fallen rapidly too. It has been a race to the bottom!

Also - New home sales in October might be at the lowest level since 1982, however adjusted for owner occupied units, the current year is the worst on record.

The following graph shows both annual new home sales (from the Census Bureau) and sales through October.

New Home Sales Annual In 2008, sales through October (before revisions) have totaled 436 thousand. This is slightly ahead of the pace in 1991 (432 thousand sales through October).

However sales have slowed in the 2nd half of 2008, and it appears that annual sales will be below the 509 thousand in 1991. This would mean sales would be the lowest since 1982 (412 thousand).

Of course the U.S. population and the number of households were much lower in 1982. In 1982 there were 54.2 million owner occupied units in the U.S., in 1991 there were 61.0 million, and there are approximately 76 million today.

If we use a ratio of owner occupied units to compare periods, the low in 1982 was 412 thousand X (76/54.2) = 578 thousand units (based on the number of owner occupied units today).

The calculation for 1991 gives 634 thousand units (to compare to today).

By this measure, 2008 is the worst year for new home sales since the Census Bureau started tracking new home sales (starting in 1963).

Helmet experiments aim to limit GIs' brain injuries

A video of the explosion showed grass flattening under the force of an invisible shock wave, swelling in advance of the fireball that scorched the crash-test dummy.

That same shock wave rolls up inside a soldier's helmet, which actually may focus the wave's force and increase the risk of brain injury.

A computer simulation, shown by a researcher Tuesday in San Antonio, showed the blast hitting the body, then rolling into the space between the head and the helmet and curling around the cranium, building to the strongest force as it met itself at the back of the head and combining with another pressure wave on the outside at certain points on the skull.

The kind of injury such a blast causes — traumatic brain injury, or TBI — has been called the signature wound of today's battlefield, where hidden explosives often slam a helmeted cranium against a wall or roof of a Humvee and jostle the brain inside the skull.

The RAND Center for Military Health Policy Research recently estimated about 320,000 service members have experienced a traumatic brain injury during deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Naval Research Laboratory scientist David Mott presented his team's research Tuesday at the American Physical Society's Division of Fluid Dynamics meeting in San Antonio.

Using sensors and computer models on standard Marine Corps light helmets, researchers from the NRL and Allen-Vanguard Technologies tracked the shock waves' path.

The sensors potentially could provide information to emergency workers after an injury occurs, or store the cumulative history of events, Mott said.

“They're thinking that having that information on what happens over an entire deployment may be useful,” he said.

It also may be useful in future helmet designs, he said, as scientists try to understand how explosions damage the brain.

Even a mild brain injury can cause headaches, insomnia, difficulty thinking and mood swings. Severe injury can result in the loss of cognitive and bodily functions and emotional problems.

Mott's computer simulation showed the blast as it moved around the head.

“You get a high pressure from that initial blast wave hitting any unprotected surface, and then you get focusing under the helmet as the blast wave penetrates the helmet,” he said.

One of the more surprising results, Mott said, was that when a shockwave hits a helmeted head from the side, it can combine with other shock waves wrapping around the outside of the helmet, and cause higher pressures to the far side.

Mott emphasized his computer model doesn't include padding between the helmet and the head, so the true effect of blasts on human bodies is likely to be different.

That padding is a crucial part of protecting the soldiers, said Dr. Bob Meaders, who runs a program out of his house in Montgomery, north of Houston, to send helmet kits, purchased through donations, to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Meaders began by sending helmet upgrades to his grandson's Marine company, he said.

“When they got into Iraq ... by word of mouth we were absolutely flooded,” Meaders said.

The padding he sends, he said, is as effective but more comfortable than what the military furnishes.

He testified before the House Armed Services Committee on the issue in 2006, and set up Operation Helmet to respond to the demand.

“We're closing in on 41,000 sets right now,” he said.

The organization is more than 350 troops behind in answering requests because money is tight, Meaders said.

But he hopes a recent interview he gave to Dan Rather will increase attention on his organization “so we can keep these guys out on the pointy end of the spear fixed up with what they need.”

Staff Writer Scott Huddleston contributed to this report.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

U.S. 'falling behind' bombings in Afghanistan, panel says

WASHINGTON — A congressional panel has
warned that the U.S. is "falling behind" in Afghanistan in the fight
against makeshift bombs, the No. 1 killer of U.S. troops there, after
the attacks reached an all-time high this summer.

Improvised explosive device (IED) attacks have
increased every year since 2005, according to Pentagon data. The
attacks peaked at 329 in August before declining to 264 last month upon
the arrival of colder weather, which usually hinders fighting in
Afghanistan
.


The increased deployment of IEDs has come amid a
broad offensive by the Taliban and warnings from U.S. commanders that
violence could worsen. The bombs have contributed to an increase in
casualties among coalition forces: 129 U.S. servicemembers were killed
in Afghanistan through October this year, compared with 83 combat
deaths in all of 2007
.



"We are falling behind in the (counter-IED)
battle in Afghanistan," according to a report issued last week by the
Oversight and Investigations panel of the House Armed Services
Committee. "IED attacks in Afghanistan are increasing in frequency and
lethality."

A revitalized insurgency, a shortage of security
forces and rugged roads that ease concealment of bombs have contributed
to the rise in IEDs, said Rep. Vic Snyder, D-Ark., chairman of the
subcommittee. The U.S. has about 32,000 servicemembers in Afghanistan;
commanders have asked for 20,000 more to combat the militants.


"IEDs have not gone away, and we need to do everything we can to respond to them," Snyder said.


Irene Smith, a spokeswoman for the Pentagon
agency charged with combating the bombs, disputed the conclusion that
the U.S. was not adequately keeping up with the threat.


She said the Taliban, the hard-line Islamist
movement that ruled Afghanistan until its ouster in 2001, was relying
more on IEDs because its militants usually lose when they face
coalition forces in conventional combat.


Moreover, as U.S. and allied forces expand their
patrols, "the Taliban has been forced to rigorously defend" areas they
had once regarded as safe havens. "IEDs are a main proponent of this
defense, which also contributes to the increased trend in the past
year," she said.


The number of IED attacks in Afghanistan in
October was still lower than in Iraq, where there were 411 such attacks
last month — down from a peak of more than 2,500 per month at
times in 2006 and 2007
.


Dakota Wood, a military analyst with the Center
for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said another factor boosting
the number of IED attacks in Afghanistan is the existence of havens for
insurgents in neighboring Pakistan. Another is a shortage of drones and
other surveillance tools that can help spot insurgents planting bombs.


Afghanistan needs more and better trained local security forces to minimize the threat from IEDs, he said.


"There's no simple answer," he said. "If there's
one thing we need, it's greater presence on all fronts. We need greater
security for locals so that when they see bad guys, they feel safe
enough to point them out."


[bth: of course IED attacks are on the rise.  They work.  They hit us where we are weakest - on the roads and in places where we cannot counter attack.  The mountains didn't get taller in Afghanistan this year and if anything the number of Afghan police and army personnel has risen.  The simple answer is that the insurgency is getting larger and more sophisticated.  If memory serves the Soviets lost over 10,000 vehicles on the roads.  This threat isn't going away.]

Fallon: US needs strategy on China

WASHINGTON—In 2005, the nation's top military commander in the Pacific confronted Pentagon hawks who insisted he prepare for a future war with China, warning then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld that the United States was headed for disaster if it insisted on confronting the Chinese militarily.

"There were people who warned me that you'd better get ready for the shoot 'em up here because sooner or later we're going to be at war with China," retired Navy Admiral William J. Fallon recalled. "I don't think that's where we want to go. And so I set about challenging all the assumptions."

In his first extensive interview since resigning from the Navy earlier this year, Fallon told the Globe that the US desperately needs to come up with a strategy for dealing peacefully with a rising China.

Fallon, currently a fellow at MIT's Center for International Studies, is well known for his differences with the Bush administration, especially over Iran policy. He resigned unexpectedly in March as chief of the US Central Command -- responsible for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- after publicly voicing criticism over its refusal to engage diplomatically with Iran. An Esquire magazine profile of Fallon in March -- in which he was quoted stating some of his Iran views -- set off the media firestorm leading to his resignation.

But it is clear that Fallon clashed with top Bush administration officials bent on using American military might over other levers of power -- such as diplomacy and economic cooperation -- several years before he took command of US forces in the Middle East in March 2007.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Globe on Monday, Fallon recalled that after he became chief of the US Pacific Command in 2005, "I came back here about once a month and sat down with Secretary Rumsfeld. I'd walk through what I was thinking, why I was thinking that way. There were people who didn't like that."

US-China relations had soured in 2005 after the Pentagon issued a high-profile report highlighting a growing threat from China, and after Rumsfeld publicly rebuked China's military build-up in a Singapore speech.

Describing the message he brought back from the region at the time, Fallon said he told his superiors, "What are the priorities, guys? Do you want to have a war [with China]? We can probably have one. But is that what you really want? Is that really in our interest? Because I don't think so."

The friction with some of his political bosses in Washington continued when Fallon, a former Navy pilot, was picked by Rumsfeld's successor, Robert M. Gates, to run Central Command in 2007, just as the "surge" of additional US combat forces was getting underway to try to quell skyrocketing violence, much of it blamed on neighboring Iran.

He said he quickly realized that dealing with Iraq's neighbors -- including Iran and Syria -- would be critical to bringing long-term security to Iraq -- not a popular position in the Bush administration.

"One of the challenges was as the guy in charge of the region I can't solve Iraq just from working the inside," Fallon said. "That's Gen. [David] Petraeus' game. He is my commander working inside Iraq. But I have to do something about the neighborhood and the idea that we were going to ignore Iran and Syria, for example, and just focus on Iraq was ridiculous."

Fallon told the Globe that the Esquire article was "unfortunate." "The story came out and it was obviously a political attack on the president and used me to put the president in a very awkward position. The rest of the news hounds jumped all over it and it became a free-for-all," he said.

Looking ahead, Fallon said he believes the war in Iraq "is essentially over."

"We have some combat activity still ongoing occasionally up in the Mosul area, but other than that it's pretty much over and been over," he said.

However, the war in Afghanistan, while showing some progress in recent months as a result of increased cooperation with neighboring Pakistan, is "probably a bigger challenge than Iraq," Fallon said.

He said Pakistan has had some success taking on Al Qaeda militants in South Waziristan along the border with Afghanistan, but it will be far more difficult in North Waziristan where Arab fundamentalists have married into the tribes and established strong links with the locals.

Bryan Bender can be reached at bender@globe.com

[bth: when Mullen was appointed I was afraid of him. I thought that they Administration was putting the admiral in charge in order to open a naval war with Iran.  In retrospect, Mullen probably kept us from war with Iran by facing down the hardliners within the administration.  He also may have done this country and the world an incalculable favor by keeping us from direct confrontation with China - something neither the US nor China needs.  Finally his fateful interview a year ago was a breath of candor and circumspection that was missing from all other military personnel of that time and from the civilian administration.  I think Mullen will go down in history as a great leader in a very difficult time.  For what its worth I personally respect and admire the man.]

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Afghan teacher wants acid thrown on her attackers

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — A 23-year-old teacher burned in an acid attack
on 15 schoolgirls and instructors wants the Afghan government to throw
acid on her attackers and then hang them. Kandahar's governor said
Tuesday that authorities had arrested 10 alleged Taliban militants for the Nov. 12 attack in this southern city and that several confessed to taking part.


Gov. Rahmatullah Raufi
said the men would be tried in open court, a pledge that pleased
Nuskaal, a first-year math teacher who suffered acid burns on her
shoulders.


"Those girls were simply
going to school to get an education," said Nuskaal, who like many
Afghans goes by one name. "My parents told me that security isn't good
enough and that they were worried about me teaching. But I told my
parents I won't stop teaching. I'm not afraid."


After the attack, President Hamid Karzai called for the perpetrators to be executed in public. Nuskaal said the attackers should have acid thrown on them first.


Men
riding motorbikes squirted acid from water bottles onto three groups of
students and teachers walking to school. Several girls suffered burned
faces and were hospitalized. One teenager couldn't open her eyes for
days after the attack, which sparked condemnation around the world.


Afghanistan's
government called the attack "un-Islamic," while the United Nations
labeled it "a hideous crime." First lady Laura Bush decried the
attackers as cowardly.


The government
charged Tuesday that high-ranking Taliban fighters paid the suspects a
total of $2,000 to carry out the attack. The assailants came from Pakistan but were Afghan nationals, said Doud Doud, an Interior Ministry official.


Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi denied Tuesday that any of the group's members were involved.


Kandahar province is the spiritual birthplace of the Taliban, the hard-line Islamic militiamen who ruled Afghanistan
from 1996 to 2001 and are now waging an insurgency against Karzai. The
area is one of Afghanistan's most conservative, a place where women
rarely venture far from home.


Islamic extremists
have attacked many schools to discourage girls from getting an
education. Raufi, the governor, said students at the Mirwais Mena girls
school didn't return to class for three days after the acid attack.


Girls
were banned from schools under hardline Taliban rule, and women could
leave their homes only if they were clad in a body-hiding burqa and
accompanied by a male relative.


Afghanistan
has made a major push to improve access to education for girls since an
American-led offensive ousted the Taliban following the Sept. 11 terror attack on the U.S.


Fewer
than 1 million Afghan children — mostly boys — attended
school under Taliban rule. Now, roughly 6 million do, including 2
million girls.


But many conservative families still keep girls at home.


Kandahar
province's 232 schools serve 110,000 students, but only 26,000 are
girls, the governor said. There are just 10 schools solely for girls,
Raufi added.....

NECN "He was a very good soldier"

Monday, November 24, 2008

Marines drafting plan to send more troops to Afghanistan

Reporting from Marine Headquarters At Al Asad, Iraq -- Marine Corps
leaders are devising a plan to send thousands of additional combat
troops to Afghanistan to wage aggressive warfare against the Taliban
that they expect could take years
.

The Marines would like to
deploy more than 15,000 troops if Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and
Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, newly named head of the U.S. Central
Command, approve. About 2,300 Marines have already been sent to
Afghanistan to replace units from Twentynine Palms, Calif., and Camp
Lejeune, N.C., that are returning home after eight months.

Gates said Friday that he wanted to supplement
the more than 30,000 American troops, mostly from the Army, already in
Afghanistan. An additional 30,000 troops from other North Atlantic
Treaty Organization countries and allies are also stationed in
Afghanistan to combat the Taliban and other Islamist insurgent forces.

The
office of President Hamid Karzai said Sunday that President-elect
Barack Obama called Karzai during the weekend to say his administration
would dedicate additional aid to fight militants in Afghanistan, the
Associated Press reported.

The Marine proposal was sharpened
during a series of meetings in Afghanistan, Iraq and Bahrain in the
last week involving generals and other top officers. Marine Commandant
Gen. James T. Conway was in contact with a group headed by Lt. Gen.
Samuel Helland, commanding general of the Marine Force Central Command,
traveling from base to base.





"Treat every day as a combat mission," Helland
wrote in a battle plan for one of his commanders. "Have a plan to kill
the enemy hiding among the innocent
."

The Marines have long made
no secret of their desire to depart from Iraq and redeploy to
Afghanistan, where they were the first conventional U.S. troops in 2001
to invade the country to assist local forces in toppling the Taliban
regime.

Finding troops will not be easy unless there is a
significant drawdown in Iraq, where Marines have been deployed to Anbar
province, west of Baghdad, since 2004. The Marines have about 22,000
troops in the sprawling province, assigned mostly to back up Iraqi
security forces if the Sunni Arab insurgency attempts to rebound.

Maj.
Gen. John Kelly, the top Marine in Iraq, who met with Helland last
week, said there could be a "significant" reduction in Anbar within
months without endangering progress made toward routing the insurgency
and strengthening the Iraqi economy, political structure and security
forces.

Kelly, in an interview, said his views were not prompted by the Marine Corps' desire to redeploy to Afghanistan
.

"All
my recommendations and decisions have nothing to do with Afghanistan,"
said Kelly, commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward).
"I'm absolutely focused on Iraq. I work 20-hour days. I don't have time
to read about Afghanistan."

Marine leaders say the fight in
Afghanistan will be different from the conflict in Iraq, where the
Marines teamed with Sunni tribal sheiks to crush the insurgency and
bring a measure of stability to the province.

In his orders to
Col. Duffy White, commander of an air-ground task force deployed
recently to Afghanistan, Helland warned that Afghanistan would be
different because of its terrain, politics and culture and the presence
of the coalition formed by NATO, the Afghan army and the U.S.

Iraq
veterans should not be allowed to rest on the laurels of their success
in Anbar, wrote the blunt-spoken Midwesterner and combat veteran of
Vietnam. "Once a mistake is made, the excuse 'This is how we did it in
Iraq' will not suffice," Helland wrote.

Sending a large force
into landlocked Afghanistan presents significant challenges for the
Marine Corps, a sea service that operates best when it can be linked to
a ship-based resupply system.

One plan being discussed by Marine
brass would be to use Russian air cargo contractors flying aged
aircraft. The U.S. already uses such contractors to bring
mine-resistant armored vehicles into Iraq and Afghanistan
.

If
upper officers are keen on going to Afghanistan, so are many of the
young Marines in Iraq. As Helland met with corporals and sergeants
there, several offered to reenlist if they could be assured of going to
Afghanistan, where they face a much higher probability of engaging in
combat.

For the Marines, there is a sense of unfinished business
in Afghanistan. In early December 2001, soon after the Taliban
government was routed, Marines were part of a plan to attack the
mountains of the Tora Bora region where Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden
was believed to be.

But even as Marines waited at Kandahar
airport to board helicopters, U.S. officials called off the attack,
preferring that Afghan forces finish the task of capturing or killing
Bin Laden and his top lieutenants. Instead, Bin Laden and many of the
others escaped and are still at large.

Maj. Gen. Thomas
Waldhauser, meeting with Marines of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Regiment,
last week at the austere Forward Operating Base Delaram in Afghanistan,
characterized the Marines as "starting over" in that country.

Waldhauser,
commander of the Camp Pendleton-based 1st Marine Division, praised the
Two-Seven, which has begun returning home, for its success in mentoring
Afghan police, killing Taliban fighters and making contacts with tribal
leaders.

"You guys have lived the dream," he said

[bth: the problem with sending marines is that they are assault troops and there isn't even a hint of COIN or hearts & minds stuff in these comments.  I suspect we'd gain more with local civil works projects than troops - electricity, clinics, etc. and training many more Afghan police and army units.]

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Denny's Introduces 'Just A Humongous Bucket Of Eggs And Meat'

Denny's Introduces 'Just A Humongous Bucket Of Eggs And Meat'

British Hillbilly Armor

Photo

[bth: this Reuters photos posted Nov 23, 2008 is captioned" A British military vehicle drives past an Afghan man in Lashkar Gah, capital of Helmand province October 20, 2008".  Note the hillbilly armor strapped to the drivers door frame and the lack of even shielding for the gunner.  This crap is US/Iraq circa 2004.  The Brits are 4 years behind the curve on vehicles.  It goes a long way to explaining the increase in British casualties, especially to IEDs.  This vehicle is IED bait.]


[bth: this just sort of says it all. One wonders what would happen if we actually tried to provide electricity to the normal population with the resulting increase in radio communications, tv and other contacts with the outside world - not to mention the associated huge improvements in daily life for normal Afghans.]

Operation Enduring Failure

http://justworldnews.org/archives/003216.html

Asia is not going to be civilized after the methods of the West. There is too much Asia and she is too old. --Rudyard Kipling



It's been seven years since the initiation of Operation Enduring
Freedom in Afghanistan, what's going on? Well, it's certainly enduring.
The Taliban government has been overthrown and replaced, but it's not
going well, nobody's yet declared "mission accomplished" and apparently
Afghanistan has become even more important to the US.



President-elect Obama, during his visit to Afghanistan, said that United States needs to focus on Afghanistan in its battle against terrorism.

    "The Afghan government needs to do more. But we have to
    understand that the situation is precarious and urgent here in
    Afghanistan. And I believe this has to be our central focus, the
    central front, on our battle against terrorism."


"Precarious and urgent" -- the enemy is at the gates, according to
Obama, in the "battle against terrorism." Obama has obviously drunk the
endless "war on terorism" Kool-Aid. When one starts with wrong
assumptions one'll never be successful. It'd be Bush redux. Okay, more
on that in the next piece, now back to Afghanistan.

A draft report
by American intelligence agencies has concluded that Afghanistan, that
graveyard of empires, is in a “downward spiral” and casts
serious doubt on the ability of the Afghan government to stem the rise
in the Taliban’s influence there, according to American officials
familiar with the document.



And the International Herald Tribune agrees:

    This
    has been the deadliest year for NATO forces and Afghan forces in
    Afghanistan since the invasion in late 2001, as Taliban insurgents have
    attacked persistently, in particular with ambushes and roadside bombs.
    The offensive has severely curtailed efforts by NATO and the government
    to expand their control from towns into the countryside.

    As the summer fighting dragged on, it became clear that 19,000
    foreign troops deployed in the southern provinces, alongside thousands
    more Afghan soldiers and police officers, were in a stalemate with the
    insurgents, as one senior NATO commander put it.




Stalemate? If you're not winning, you're losing, it seems to me, when your goal is to control the country.



Countrywide, NATO's force in Afghanistan includes about 20,000 troops
from the United States and 8,000 from Britain — the two highest
contributors. In addition, there are some 12,000 U.S. troops in the
country operating outside NATO's command. Germany in September approved
an increase of 1,000 troops for Afghanistan, for a maximum of 4,500
German troops in the country. However, politicians have kept German
soldiers from deploying to Afghanistan's volatile southern reaches,
where mainly U.S. forces are locked in a tough fight against al-Qaida
and Taliban militants. Canada, Italy and France each contribute around
2,500 troops to the NATO mission, and the Netherlands 1,700. Australia
and Poland each sent around 1,000, and dozens of other nations provide
smaller numbers, for a total of about 55,000 foreign troops. Repeated
US demands for more NATO troops has been largely fruitless.

The shortage of ground troops has created a greater reliance on
deadly airstrikes, not only on wedding parties (six parties attacked
and two brides dispatched) but in general. The frequency with which
such civilian casualties are now occurring on both sides of the border
-- in Afghanistan as well as in Pakistan's tribal areas -- is seriously
hurting US and coalition standing in the region. Killing civilians is
counterproductive. President Karzai:

    "We cannot win the fight against terrorism with airstrikes."
    Clearly, without a change in strategy from the current one of military
    primacy, more ground troops are required.
    FM 3-24: In a COIN environment, it is vital for commanders to adopt
    appropriate and measured levels of force and apply that force precisely
    so that it accomplishes the mission without causing unnecessary loss of
    life or suffering.


Part of the problem is the multiplier effect when civilians are killed--recruiting for the resistance. A Western military officer:

    "This isn't a scientific fact, but what we say is that for every
    guy we kill, we probably are recruiting at least three new guys."
    FM 3-24: Ultimate success in COIN is gained by protecting the populace, not the COIN force.


Can the Anbar Awakening, useful in Iraq, be exported to Afghanistan? President-elect Obama:

    "Iraq and Afghanistan are very different countries. We cannot
    expect to simply export the Awakening strategy from the tribes of
    Al-Anbar to the tribes of Helmand ... Any initiative to separate
    moderate from radical elements will have to be deeply rooted in the
    efforts of Afghans themselves."




Barack Obama has said he plans to add about 7,000 or 8,000 troops to the NATO mission, as he wrote in a July NYT Op-Ed:

    "As president, I would pursue a new strategy, and begin by
    providing at least two additional combat brigades to support our effort
    in Afghanistan. We need more troops, more helicopters, better
    intelligence-gathering and more nonmilitary assistance to accomplish
    the mission there."


Say what? Putting more troops into the Afghan morass is a new strategy?

At least two additional brigades will be sent. Why? The goal, according to the 2008 Democratic Party Platform, is "Win in Afghanistan."



Obama: "we need more troops." But how many more troops are really
needed to "win in Afghanistan?" At the accepted counter-insurgency
soldier/citizen ratio of 1:50, with a population of 32 million, a total
of 640,000 troops would be required.

    FM 3-24: Most density recommendations fall within a range of 20 to 25 counterinsurgents for every 1000 residents


The Afghan National Army (ANA) is now at 68,000. According to US Major General Cone, who is training them, they are effective.

    "The ANA are leading about 60 percent of the operations they
    participate in and have proven themselves as an effective fighting
    force. . . ."


Check that verbage: "Of the operations they participate in . . ." It doesn't tell us anything.



Let's look at what the Brookings Institute(pdf) reports:

    Out of 85 ANA battalions on paper only one is capable of acting
    independently, only 30% of ANA forces rank in the top two tiers of
    combat readiness and 22 battalions are "not yet formed or not
    reporting".


That's not all. General Cone:

    The Afghans have had a high AWOL rate, absent without leave which
    "has been under 10 percent and it ran for a good number of months at 5
    (percent) to 7 percent and then we had a slight peak as we went into
    Ramadan and Eid and many of them had problems returning."


Oh goody, many of them "had problems returning." Do they have a stomach
problem, no guts? Or, more likely, they are reluctant to shoot fellow
citizens who are resisting a foreign military occupation. This reminds
me of the eternal Vietnam question: Why can't our guys fight like their
guys? It must have something to do with whom their sponsors are.

General Cone again:

    The ANA is also in the midst of expanding from their current strength of 68,000 to an end strength of about 134,000."

Good
luck. The ANA has grown slowly, according to Brookings, numbering just
6,000 soldiers in 2003, increasing to about 25,000 through 2005, and
then going up to 36,000 in 2006, 50,000 in 2007, and 58,000 in April
2008 (not 68,000, according to Brookings), so who knows how long it
would take to add 66,000 more soldiers to its ranks, and how many of
them would be effective? Year-to-Date ANA re-enlistment is currently
50% -- that's not good. Half the people they train soon leave.

Even if the ANA gets up to desired strength, which is very
doubtful, there would be a need according to the COIN ratio for half a
million foreign troops. In fact, the outgoing commander in Afghanistan,
General Dan McNeil,
was reported to have said last June that 400,000 NATO troops would be
required, which is in the ballpark. Let's assume that the commander
knew his stuff and stick with this figure of 400,000.



By comparison, in Iraq the coalition has about 155,000 troops plus 256,000 in the New Iraqi Army (according to the most recent State Department report)(pdf)
for a total of about 400,000 troops. Iraq has four million fewer people
than Afghanistan, a much smaller geographic area and an easier terrain.



The 345,000 (400K-55K) additional foreign troops needed in
Afghanistan wouldn't come from our NATO partners, of course. Defense
Secretary Robert Gates said recently that he did not expect America's NATO allies to provide many more troops for the war in Afghanistan.



Australia has opted for no increase in its contribution, Canada plans to pull its military out in 2011 and no additional British troops will be available for any surge in Afghanistan.



Any new forces for Afghanistan would have to come from the US
military, either from Iraq or from new recruitment. General Petraeus
seems reluctant to remove troops from Iraq. President Bush
announced in September a reduction of US forces in Iraq from 15 to 14
combat brigades early next year, and the 14 brigades are scheduled to
remain in Iraq through next year. (Note: The wild card in this plan is
the proposed bilateral US/Iraq agreement.)



Admiral Mullen has said that setting a fixed timeline for getting U.S. troops out of Iraq, as Obama has suggested, would be dangerous.

    "I think the consequences could be very dangerous in that
    regard," said Admiral Mullen. "I'm convinced at this point in time that
    making reductions based on conditions on the ground are very important."


In regards to Afghanistan, Mullen
has said that it isn't going well now and more troops are needed even
with the 6,000 to 7,000 more U.S. troops that will go into the country
in the next few months. “Even when they arrive,” he said,
“we will still be short of troops that the commander needs there.
. .[because] the insurgency is growing.”



Oh good, we're already in a downward spiral and still the insurgency
is growing. (Of course it's growing, as US forces destroy more wedding
parties and villages.) Where would the 300,000 plus additional American
troops needed to "win" against this growing insurgency come from?



First a flashback: Memories of Vietnam, where forty-one years ago
General Westmoreland famously asked for 200,000 more troops to add to
the existing 550,000 in Vietnam. The request brought down the Lyndon
Johnson presidency. Vietnam at the time had about 38 million people, a
bit more than the Afghanistan population of 32 million. South Vietnam
was only a quarter the size of Afghanistan, but of course there was the
involvement of North Vietnam.



Afghanistan is the new central front of the "war on terror" but the
number of additional troops (300,000+) that would be required for
military success (or failure, since success is by no means certain) is
unobtainable without a tremendous increase in recruitment or a military
draft. President-elect Obama has called for universal public service,
which would be voluntary and non-military, but might this be changed?
Could the urgency of the need for success in Afghanistan with the
concomitant requirement for hundreds of thousands more troops lead to a
military draft, perhaps? Anybody feel a draft?



What should the US policy be in Afghanistan, military victory or something else?



One of the Pentagon’s top policymakers has recently warned
that a “surge” of U.S. troops to Afghanistan like the one
executed in Iraq 18 months ago doesn’t recognize the complexities
of the Taliban and al Qaeda-sponsored violence there and could
backfire. Eric Edelman,
the Pentagon’s top civilian policy advisor to Defense Secretary
Robert Gates, said the situation in Afghanistan is far different than
the one faced by U.S. troops in Iraq during the darkest days of
sectarian violence in 2006.



Imagine that, a top guy at the Pentagon counseling against increased
military force. No wonder the corporate media didn't report it.



But if not more troops, then what? This, from a Foreign Affairs article:

    "The crisis in Afghanistan and Pakistan is beyond the point
    where more troops will help. U.S. strategy must be to seek compromise
    with insurgents while addressing regional rivalries and insecurities. .
    .The goal of the next U.S. president must be to put aside the past,
    Washington's keenness for 'victory' as the solution to all problems,
    and the United States' reluctance to involve competitors, opponents, or
    enemies in diplomacy."--Barnett R. Rubin and Ahmed Rashid


That's the long-term solution. There is also an immediate problem with the Karzai government according to Sarah Chayse, noted American author and NPR journalist now living in Kandahar:

    "If there isn’t an immediate, urgent, and energetic switch of
    priorities toward demanding — in the name of the Afghan people
    — a significant improvement in the behavior of [Afghanistan]
    government officials, it is a lost cause."

I'm afraid that
that common sense based on the evidence will not prevail and that this
war
, now in its eighth year, barring an outright Soviet-style defeat,
will go on for a very long time in a fruitless quest for "victory"
without proper recognition of the current failures. After all, with all
its failures, it is thought of as the "good war." What do you think?

[bth: not a good war, but perhaps a necessary one.]

Goldman Slashes U.S. Growth Forecasts, Says Recession Deepens

Nov. 21 (Bloomberg) -- Goldman Sachs Group Inc. increased
its recession estimates, saying gross domestic product is
declining at a 5 percent annual rate in the current quarter and
will drop 3 percent and 1 percent in the next two quarters.


Unemployment will reach 9 percent by the fourth quarter of
2009, Goldman economists led by Jan Hatzius wrote in a research
note today.

Baghdad officials worry after 3 planeloads of arms arrive in north of country

BAGHDAD - Kurdish officials this fall took
delivery of three planeloads of small arms and ammunition imported from
Bulgaria, three U.S. military officials said, an acquisition that
occurred outside the weapons procurement procedures of Iraq's central
government.

The
large quantity of weapons and the timing of the shipment alarmed U.S.
officials, who have grown concerned about the prospect of an armed
confrontation between Iraqi Kurds and the government at a time when the
Kurds are attempting to expand their control over parts of northern
Iraq.

The
weapons arrived in the northern city of Sulaymaniyah in September on
three C-130 cargo planes, according to the three officials, who spoke
on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the
information....

Across the Curve: Part Two

...

The 10 year note is trading at 2.997. That is an historic low yield,too.


Here is a late run for the history books. The 2year note yields 98
basis points. The 3 year note yields 1.17 percent. The 5 year note
yields 1.88 percent. I have given you the 10 year note and the bond
yields 3.44 percent.


Someone told me earlier that I order to earn 10 basis points on a T bill you had to move to April.


The breakeven spread on 10 year TIPS is about zero. The market is predicting no inflation for 10 years.


Mortgages underperformed swaps by nearly 1 ½ points...

GLOBAL TRENDS 2025: THE NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE COUNCIL'S 2025 PROJECT

From
the Chairman of the National Intelligence Council



"Global
Trends 2025: A Transformed World
" is the
fourth unclassified report prepared by the National
Intelligence Council (NIC) in recent years that
takes a long-term view of the future. It offers
a fresh look at how key global trends might develop
over the next 15 years to influence world events.
Our report is not meant to be an exercise in prediction
or crystal ball-gazing. Mindful that there are many
possible "futures," we offer a range of possibilities
and potential discontinuities, as a way of opening
our minds to developments we might otherwise miss.


Some
of our preliminary assessments are highlighted below:



  • The whole international system—as constructed
    following WWII—will be revolutionized. Not
    only will new players—Brazil, Russia, India
    and China— have a seat at the international
    high table, they will bring new stakes and rules
    of the game.
  • The
    unprecedented transfer of wealth roughly from
    West to East now under way will continue for the
    foreseeable future.
  • Unprecedented
    economic growth, coupled with 1.5 billion more
    people, will put pressure on
    resources—particularly energy, food, and water—raising
    the specter of scarcities emerging as demand outstrips
    supply.
  • The
    potential for conflict will increase owing partly
    to political turbulence in parts of the greater
    Middle East.

As
with the earlier NIC efforts—such as
Mapping The Global Future 2020
—the project's
primary goal is to provide US policymakers with
a view of how world developments could evolve, identifying
opportunities and potentially negative developments
that might warrant policy action. We also hope this
paper stimulates a broader discussion of value to
educational and policy institutions at home and
abroad.











Purchase
a Hardcopy
of "Global
Trends 2025: A Transformed World" from the
Government Printing Office (ISBN 978-0
-16
-081834-9)
(33.4 MB)

New Supply Routes To Afghanistan

"[In Afghanistan] a small army would be annihilated and a large one starved."
Duke of Wellington (1769-1852) (source)





With recent attacks on convoys through the Khyber pass, the line of
communications through Pakistan to Afghanistan is in deep trouble. WaPo
reports:

Security
restrictions forced customs officials to slow the flow of
traffic to 25 trucks every few hours. Before the Taliban raid and
border closure last week, an average of 600 to 800 tractor-trailers
moved through Torkham a day, according to Afghan customs officials.
Customs officials said they hoped at best to see 200 trucks pass
through on Tuesday.



The U.S. military asking suppliers to evaluate alternatives:

The
first option is to move cargo between Northern Europe and various
destinations in Afghanistan through Caucus’ and Central Asia. The
second option is to move cargo between CONUS and Afghanistan through
Asia and Central Asia.


Some European countries have arranged transport via railroad through
Russia and Uzbekistan to Afghanistan. The U.S. seems not be willing to
depend on Russian goodwill. That leaves the red and the green lines as
the only possible transport routes. Both are much longer than the
current blue route through Pakistan.



bigger

The
request for information to suppliers says the new route's capacity
should eventual be some 75,000 twenty foot container equivalent units
(TEU) per year. Those would be some 200 medium truck loads every day on
roads build for much less traffic.



That is certainly not enough to replace the 600 to 800 daily trucks
passing through Torkham, but it would certainly relief that line.
Unless more troops are needed.



Lt. Col. John Nagl, who works for General Petraeus on a new Afghanistan plan, wants more troops:

Nagl says he believes the U.S. needs to double its American troops from
30,000 to 60,000 in Afghanistan. He also says the Afghan National Army
needs to grow from 70,000 to 250,000. That may mean getting more help
from the international community.

Double
the U.S. troops will need double as much in supplies. The Afghan troops
will also need lots of ammunition, fuel, food and other materials. (So
many Afghan troops would cost much more than the Afghanistans total
GDP. Who will finance them how long?)




And who will finance the logistics for U.S. troops?



The troops in Iraq also had a transport problem. But the road from
Kuwait to Baghdad is much shorter than the one from Bremerhaven or
Shanghai to Kabul. And while fuel to Iraq could come from refineries in
Kuwait, where will the fuel for the additional troops in Afghanistan
come from? It does not seem to be included in the above TEU
calculation.



A retreat from Iraq would relief the U.S. from some costs. But to
supply a soldier in Afghanistan might easily cost double or triple as
much as to supply a soldier in Iraq. Has Obama thought about how he
will finance that war?



While a large U.S. army in Afghanistan may not starve these days, what about children in the U.S.?


[bth: the comments posted to the Moon of Alabama article are quite good and worth the read.  The only thing I would add is why are we shipping water which we could purify locally in Afghanistan? Also doesn't this lend itself to supporting greater training of indigenous forces and more use of US special forces versus the heavy logistics footprint required by conventional forces?]