Saturday, March 14, 2009

Hulu - The Simpsons: Homer Evolution

Hulu - The Simpsons: Homer Evolution

Live Band Cell Phone Punishment from That Happened!

Live Band Cell Phone Punishment from That Happened!

99 words for boobs from amcc

99 words for boobs from amcc

"Lex Luthor Bailout" with Jon Hamm from FOD Team, Eric Appel, and Jon Hamm

"Lex Luthor Bailout" with Jon Hamm from FOD Team, Eric Appel, and Jon Hamm

Pakistanis believe extremism a major threat: survey

DAWN.COM | Pakistan | Pakistanis now believe religious extremism a major threat: survey
NEW YORK: Overwhelmingly, Pakistanis are worried about the impact of extremism on their country and people, says a new survey conducted by PEW (IRI) global research.



In 2008 72 per cent said they were concerned about Islamic extremism in their country, and over half — 54 per cent — said they were very concerned, the highest per centage among the eight countries on the survey where the question was asked (the others were Egypt, Jordan, Indonesia, Lebanon, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Turkey).



Similarly, an October 2008 IRI poll found that 60 per cent of Pakistanis characterized religious extremism as a serious problem. However, the same poll found limited support for using the Pakistani military to combat extremist groups.



Just 38 per cent of Pakistanis supported using the Army to fight extremists in NWFP and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), while half opposed such efforts. About one-third said they would like to see the Army confront al Qaeda, while 52 per cent disagreed with this view. There was even less enthusiasm for taking on the Taliban – 30 per cent favoured this approach, 56 per cent opposed it.



Nonetheless, support for military action had increased since IRI’s previous poll in June 2008, when only 27 per cent wanted the Army to fight extremists in NWFP/FATA, 22 per cent said it should fight al Qaeda, and 20 per cent felt this way about the Taliban.



The October poll also found considerable support for cutting a deal with radical groups — 54 per cent agreed with the statement ‘I support a peace deal with the extremists,’ while just 35 per cent disagreed. The question did not specify any particular groups of extremists, but it is clear that, as a general approach, the Pakistani public preferred compromise. Here again however, the minority supporting confrontation was growing — in June, 64 per cent had supported a peace deal and only 18per cent had opposed one.



As recently as 2004, roughly four-in-ten Pakistani Muslims said suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilians could be justified to protect Islam from its enemies. However, by the time of the April 2008 Pew Global survey — following a four year period in which numerous suicide attacks took place within Pakistan — only 5 per cent held this view.



Attitudes toward Osama bin Laden have also turned more negative, although the decline is less steep. In 2005, about half of Pakistanis expressed confidence in bin Laden to do the right thing in world affairs. Three years later, roughly one-third (34 per cent) voiced this opinion.



Dude, where's the Dharma? - On Confidence

..............Dude, where's the Dharma?: On Confidence
...More generally, confidence in an economic sense is faith in the economic system, be it socialist, capitalist or other variant.

Under that head, confidence of economic participants will rise when the actions of the faithful are rewarded, and will fall when the actions of the faithful are not rewarded. If, for example, one sees others who labor faithfully get their promised rewards, which might include a pension for many years of service, one will come to believe that they too can be so rewarded.

Consumer confidence, perhaps confidence of the masses might be better, is, under this head, a widespread belief that the system works as promised.

Currently, consumers, i.e. the masses, are said to lack confidence. I agree, in a sense, but suggest that a different, and pernicious confidence is growing- the faith that the system works, not as promised, but as revealed. Idealism is being replaced by pragmatism, which makes restoring the beneficial confidence that much more difficult.

The system, as revealed, seems only to work for a small class of people, for whom the rewards are many, regardless of transgression.

A laborer who fails to pay taxes may well lose his home and perhaps be jailed while others who fail to pay get posts in the new Cabinet because they are allegedly the "best people for the job"- a sorry commentary on the quality of US administrative personnel.

A laborer who faithfully works for a business for many years may well find that, for no fault of his own, his promised pension will not be paid in full (or at all) while a CEO who runs a business into insolvency retires with millions.

A small business which fails to properly forecast future economic conditions is forced to liquidate and fire its employees while a large bank or other favored financial institution which fails to properly forecast future economic conditions is bailed out and gets to give its employees bonuses, or other perks.

While there may be hidden issues which rationalize such events to some, I suspect these rationalizations will fail to sway those whose trust in the system they were promised was broken. Indeed, the rationalizations may only serve to increase confidence in the system as revealed, which is a cynical system.

To the extent that the ideals of America are virtuous, which is to say that non-meritorious aristocracy and monopoly do not lead to the best economic outcomes, restoring the confidence of the increasingly pragmatic masses in those ideals will only happen when the facts on the ground match the ideals.

Trust repaid is trust increased and trust broken is trust decreased.....

[bth: well said]


Dutch police arrest 7 suspected of planning attack

Dutch police arrest 7 suspected of planning attack - GEO.tv
AMSTERDAM: Dutch police on Thursday arrested seven people suspected of preparing a terrorist attack in Amsterdam, including a relative of one of the attackers who died in the 2004 bombings in Madrid.

Mayor Job Cohen said police were acting on an anonymous tip that warned an Ikea outlet or other stores in the southeast of the city might be targeted.

"It wasn't a regular bomb warning, but a warning of a planned action aimed at creating casualties in shops," Cohen said.

"Men were planning to put explosives in the shops and wanted to cause casualties in busy places," he said.

Police received the tip Wednesday night from an unregistered cell phone in Belgium. The tip also included names of one suspect and locations for police to search.

Early Thursday, authorities shut down a major Amsterdam shopping street near the ArenA soccer stadium and sealed off the nearby Ikea store. A concert by the American band "The Killers" was canceled.

District Attorney Herman Bolhaar said six men and one woman, aged 19-64, were arrested in Amsterdam. All are Dutch nationals of Moroccan ancestry.

"As far as we can tell, none involved has a history of terrorist involvement," he said at a news conference, though one suspect is related to "a person who exactly five years ago was involved in the attack in Madrid."

Police Commissioner Bernard Welten said the suspect's relative died shortly after the Madrid attacks "as a result of a suicide action."


Three Iranian Qods Force agents captured in Iraq

Three Iranian Qods Force agents captured in Iraq - The Long War Journal
Iraqi security forces captured three members of Qods Force, Iran's special operations branch, during a raid in Diyala province.

“The three were arrested inside al-Khalis district, north of Baaquba city,” an Iraqi official told Voices of Iraq.

Iraqi and US forces have killed one Qods Force operative and captured 14 since mid-October 2008 during raids throughout southern and central Iraq....




U.S. Strike Kills 21 in Pakistan, Officials Say

U.S. Strike Kills 21 in Pakistan, Officials Say - NYTimes.com
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Three missiles thought to have been fired from remotely piloted American aircraft struck a Taliban training camp in northwestern Pakistan and killed 21 militants, according to a local government official and news reports on Friday.

Fifteen other people were wounded in the strike, from about 9:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Thursday, on a training camp some 20 miles from Parachinar, the capital of the Kurram tribal area, according to the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The camp was under the command of Fazal Saeed, a local militant commander aligned with the Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud. On Friday evening, the official said the dead were all militants.

The attack was the sixth on Mr. Mehsud’s camps in the tribal areas since President Obama took office, expanding the covert war run by the Central Intelligence Agency and carried out largely by remotely piloted aircraft.

[bth: note how the local government official is so aware of the camp, the casualties and that all of them are militants.  How close is the government to the militants?]


45 percent of world's wealth destroyed: Blackstone CEO

45 percent of world's wealth destroyed: Blackstone CEO | Reuters
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Private equity company Blackstone Group LP (BX.N) CEO Stephen Schwarzman said on Tuesday that up to 45 percent of the world's wealth has been destroyed by the global credit crisis.

"Between 40 and 45 percent of the world's wealth has been destroyed in little less than a year and a half," Schwarzman told an audience at the Japan Society. "This is absolutely unprecedented in our lifetime."...


Navies Combat Somali Pirates With Choppers, Internet Chat Room

Navies Combat Somali Pirates With Choppers, Internet Chat Room - Bloomberg.com

March 13 (Bloomberg) -- When nine Somali pirates attacked a German-operated cargo freighter in the Gulf of Aden last week, they were in for a high-tech surprise.

An international force of three vessels and two helicopters responded, using sophisticated communications methods that included GPS navigation and even an Internet chat room. Less than three hours later, the buccaneers were in the brig.


...Since late January, Papaioannou also has had a new tool: a third computer in the command room carries an Internet chat channel. On a recent visit, sailors from the Psara, two U.S. warships and the Spanish frigate SPS Victoria were exchanging instant messages in English about their positions and about unconfirmed reports of a fire on board a boat in Somalia’s Mogadishu harbor.

In a corner of the room, which bristled with radar and radio equipment, hung a Jolly Roger flag. Black-and-white photos of suspected pirate ships were tacked to the wall.

The EU formed the Atalanta mission after Somali pirates in September seized a Ukrainian ship carrying tanks and, in November, a Saudi tanker carrying fuel. Task Force 151 will grow to six this month with the arrival of frigates from Singapore and Turkey.

The coordination paid off on March 3, when the freighter MV Courier, operated by German shipping company Gebrueder Winter, sent a distress signal at 10:12 a.m. local time as it came under grenade fire from a skiff....

[bth: interesting to see how the coordination off Somalia is occurring using commercial websites and internet chat rooms]


Friday, March 13, 2009

U.S. Jet Shoots Down Iranian Drone Over Iraq (Updated)

U.S. Jet Shoots Down Iranian Drone Over Iraq (Updated) | Danger Room from Wired.com
An American fighter jet shot down an Iranian drone as it was flying over Iraq, U.S. military sources in Baghdad tell Danger Room.

Details of the previously-unreported shoot-down, which occurred last month, are still sketchy. But we do know that American commanders have long accused Tehran of supplying weapons and training to all sorts of Iraqi militant groups. Shi'ite militias fired Iranian rockets at U.S. troops in Iraq, according to the American military; Sunni militias allegedly used Iranian armor-piercing bombs to reduce U.S. vehicles to ribbons....

[bth: worth reading in full.  This clearly demonstrates that UAV technology has become generally available among world governments.  To date we've been dealing with non-state entities, but Iran and many others are capable and fielding UAVs which we will have to contend with.  ... Early aircraft in WWI blunted the surprise attacks the Germans had planned and allowed the French to protect Paris and the English to prevent a disaster in Belgium - all within a few months of late 1914.  UAVs will allow Iran, Hezbollah and others to spot US and NATO forces that previously would have gone undetected.  Would the US have been successful in the First Gulf War flanking through the desert if Saddam had had an ample supply of quick and expendible UAVs?]


U.S. household wealth falls $11.2 trillion in 2008

U.S. household wealth falls $11.2 trillion in 2008 | U.S. | Reuters
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. households suffered a record 9 percent drop in wealth and pared debt in the fourth quarter as a deepening recession battered confidence and finances, Federal Reserve data showed on Thursday.

Household net worth dropped by $5.1 trillion from the prior quarter to $51.5 trillion. For the full year, net worth dropped by $11.2 trillion, reflecting steep declines in the housing and stock markets.

The declines in household net worth were the largest since quarterly and annual records began in 1951 and 1946, respectively, said the Fed -- the U.S. central bank.

Since a second-quarter 2007 peak of $64.4 trillion, household wealth has dropped by about 20 percent, effectively wiping out four years of gains. That has put a chill on consumer spending and added to Americans' anxiety about their economic well-being.

Michael Feroli, an economist with JPMorgan in New York, called the $5.1 trillion quarterly drop a "showstopper."

"Given where the S&P 500 (stock index) is now and recent house price data, we estimate consumers have lost about another $2.5 trillion in the first quarter of the year," he said.

The slump in wealth has coincided with an increase in the personal savings rate, which suggests households that had counted on rising real estate and stock market gains to replace traditional savings were now rebuilding rainy-day funds.

In the second quarter of 2007, when household wealth peaked, the savings rate was a low 0.3 percent. In the fourth quarter of 2008, it reached 3.2 percent. Many economists expect the percentage to at least double in the next couple of years.

But while economists have long warned that consumers were saving too little, a swift increase in savings in the midst of a recession can worsen the downturn. Consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic output....


45 percent of world's wealth destroyed: Blackstone CEO

45 percent of world's wealth destroyed: Blackstone CEO | Reuters
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Private equity company Blackstone Group LP (BX.N) CEO Stephen Schwarzman said on Tuesday that up to 45 percent of the world's wealth has been destroyed by the global credit crisis.

"Between 40 and 45 percent of the world's wealth has been destroyed in little less than a year and a half," Schwarzman told an audience at the Japan Society. "This is absolutely unprecedented in our lifetime."...


Can We Defeat the Taliban? by David Kilcullen

Can We Defeat the Taliban? by David Kilcullen on National Review Online
On the basis of my field experience in 2005–08 in Iraq, Southeast Asia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, I assess the current generation of Taliban fighters, within the broader Taliban confederation (which loosely combines old Taliban cadres with Pashtun nationalists, tribal fighters, and religious extremists), as the most tactically competent enemy we currently face in any theater. This judgment draws on four factors: organizational structure, motivation, combat skills, and equipment.

Taliban organizational structure varies between districts, but most show some variation of the generic pattern of a local clandestine network structure, a main force of full-time guerrillas who travel from valley to valley, and a part-time network of villagers who cooperate with the main force when it is in their area. In districts close to the Pakistan border, young men graduating from Pakistani madrassas also swarm across the frontier to join the main force when it engages in major combat — as happened during the September 2006 fighting in Kandahar Province, and again in the 2007 and 2008 fighting seasons.

These multifaceted motivations provide Taliban fighters with a strong but elastic discipline. Although opportunities may arise for us to “divide and conquer” elements of the enemy, in practice local ties tend to far outweigh government influence. Thus we need to induce local tribal and community leaders who have the respect and tribal loyalty of part-time elements to wean them away from loyalty to the main-force Taliban. Appealing to the self-interest of local clandestine cell leaders may also help isolate them from the influence of senior Taliban leaders who are currently safe in Pakistan.

Clearly, the weakest motivational links within the Taliban confederation are those that are based on the “accidental guerrilla” syndrome and that draw local part-time fighters to fight alongside the main force when it is in their area. Local security measures such as neighborhood-watch groups and auxiliary police units, creation of alternative organizations and life pathways (including jobs and social networks) for young men, protection from Taliban intimidation, and alternative economic activities are potential approaches to detaching these individuals from main-force influence. The main force itself is highly cohesive in most districts and relatively invulnerable to direct penetration or infiltration. But the habit of recruiting part-time local fighters to join the main force, including forced recruitment, might expose the main force to indirect infiltration.

TALIBAN STRENGTHS
In terms of combat skills, reporting from units in the field, as well as my participant observations, suggest extremely high competence in some areas but some equally significant lapses in others. Key areas of skill include ambushing, use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), sniping, field defenses, and reconnaissance. Weaknesses include a tendency to operate in a set routine, lack of communications security, poor indirect-fire skills, dispersed tactical movement, and sloppiness in the security of cross-border infiltration.
...

[bth: this is an excellent and useful article and worth reading in full]




How to Surge the Taliban

Op-Ed Contributors - How to Surge the Taliban - NYTimes.com
....American and allied officers are trying to work around such obstacles, and should be aided by the recent creation of a United States Forces-Afghanistan headquarters in Kabul to coordinate with NATO. Still, more needs to be done to develop a comprehensive counterinsurgency plan, even if that risks alienating some of the 41 coalition countries.

Such a plan will probably require American forces beyond those already on their way, but the overall requirement will remain well below that of Iraq. Seven American ground brigades are likely to be in Afghanistan by the end of the year — two of them focused on training and the rest on combat. Two or three more might be needed next year to provide security in western Afghanistan, which has almost no United States forces. That would result in 45,000 to 55,000 ground troops, plus support units, as compared to more than 160,000 (22 brigades) in Iraq at the height of the surge.

In addition to sending more soldiers, we must also increase our efforts to expand the Afghan security forces. It may be impossible to speed up the pace of building the Afghan National Army, but the current proposed end-strength of 134,000 troops is far too low. We should immediately commit to a goal of 250,000 troops for the army, and a substantial increase in the national police as well. Afghan troops also need lots of better equipment — everything from armored vehicles to night-vision goggles.

One glaring lacuna in the international effort is the lack of focus on developing a justice system. NATO forces are not authorized to detain enemy combatants for more than 96 hours, after which they must be turned over to Afghan authorities. Some American forces have more latitude, but they are holding only 621 detainees, compared to the 24,000 detained in Iraq at the height of the surge. Insurgents taken prisoner by Afghan forces are generally released by the ineffective judicial system.

The lack of a functioning legal system not only makes it harder to quell the violence but provides an opening to insurgents who run their own Shariah courts. So, while the long-term solution is to help Afghanistan build a court system (something that isn’t getting the attention it deserves), the American military should also expand its detention facilities and press for expanded detention authority.

There are many who claim that a large-scale commitment isn’t necessary. Some say we have no interest in making Afghanistan a functioning state — all that matters is preventing Al Qaeda from re-establishing safe havens, and we can do that by killing terrorist leaders with precision air strikes or covert raids.

The key question for those who advocate pulling back is this: Where will we get the intelligence to direct the raids? If we have few troops on the ground, we will have to rely on intercepted communications. But seven years into the fight, the terrorists have learned a thing or two about keeping their communications secret. The only way to get the intelligence we need is from the residents, and they won’t provide it unless our troops stay in their villages to provide protection from Taliban retribution.

This struggle is not just about Afghanistan. It is also about tracking and effecting what is going on in Pakistan’s tribal areas. That is where the global Qaeda leadership is. It is the nexus of terrorist groups including the Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is implicated in the Mumbai, India, attacks last November; the Tehreek Nifaz-e-Shariat Mohammadi, which now has control of the Swat region in Pakistan; and Baitullah Mehsud’s Pakistani Taliban, which are said to have plotted the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the former Pakistani prime minister.

From their positions across the border in Afghanistan, American forces can literally see these areas. They can also gather invaluable intelligence from, and spread our influence to, the tribes that straddle the frontier. But we get that vantage point only as long as we have something to offer the Afghans — security, improved quality of life, hope for a better government. If we abandon them, we will become blind to one of the most dangerous threats to our security, and also hand our most determined enemies an enormous propaganda victory — their biggest since 9/11....

[bth: I'm not at all sure I agree with him but think Kagan's article should be read in full.  I worry about the intelligence issue if we pull back or out.  On the other hand if our intelligence was worth anything we'd have had OBL or Omar by now and neither happened.  There is also that logistical thing which makes 50,000 troops almost impossible without selling our soul to Iran or Russia.]



How to Leave Afghanistan

Op-Ed Contributor - How to Leave Afghanistan - NYTimes.com
....We can’t defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan, as the last seven years have shown. Numbers are part of the problem: most Taliban are members of Afghanistan’s majority tribe, the Pashtuns. More confounding, the Taliban and their Qaeda allies have found in northwestern Pakistan a refuge that has proved almost impregnable. These factors make overcoming the enemy in Afghanistan infinitely harder than it was in Iraq.

What we can do is effectively reduce the risk of terrorist attacks from Afghanistan against its neighbors, the United States and its allies. We can do this in a way that would allow for the withdrawal of American forces, though economic and military aid would continue.

The first step is to provide significantly increased economic support, arms and training to friendly Afghans as United States combat forces gradually depart over, say, three years. We could use the intervening time to increase present counterinsurgency operations to better protect Afghans and give them a boost to fight on their own, if they have the will.

The second step is to try to separate less extremist elements of the Taliban from their leadership and from Al Qaeda. Mr. Obama is already considering reaching out to Taliban moderates, and he could do this through the Afghan government and covert contacts. No group is monolithic once tested with carrots and sticks, as we saw in Northern Ireland and Iraq.

The Taliban are no exception. While most of them want to drive America out, they have no inherent interest in exporting terrorism. As nasty as the Taliban are, America’s vital interests do not require their exclusion from power in Afghanistan, so long as they don’t support international terrorists.

Third, while we should talk to the Taliban, Washington can’t rely on their word and so must fashion a credible deterrent. The more the Taliban set up shop inside Afghanistan, the more vulnerable they will be to American punishment. Taliban leaders must have good reason to fear America’s military reach. Their leaders could be hit by drones or air strikes. The same goes for their poppy fields, from which they derive considerable income. Most important, Mr. Obama must do what the Bush team inexplicably never seemed to succeed in doing — stop the flow of funds to the Taliban that comes mainly through the Arab Gulf states. At the same time, he could let some money trickle in to reward good behavior.

Fourth, President Obama has to ring Afghanistan with a coalition of neighbors to show the Taliban they have no place to seek succor, even after an American departure. The group would include China, India, Russia, NATO allies, and yes, Iran. They all share a considerable interest in stemming the spread of Afghan drugs and Islamic extremism. China and Russia should be more willing to help in this anti-Taliban effort as the American military presence recedes from their sensitive borders......

[bth: worth reading in full though I'm not sure i agree with him.  I fear disengagement will reduce our intelligence gathering ability.  What to do?  Very unclear]


Is Admiral Blair next?

Sic Semper Tyrannis : Is Admiral Blair next?
That's a fair question.

The vicious clique that deprived us all of the chance to have Charles Freeman as chairman of the NIC had as its principal goal the ability to control the content of US national intelligence estimates of concern to Israel. The analytic paper in which these servants of a foreign power have the greatest interest is that concerning Iran.

Israeli general staff intelligence believes that the Iranians possess an immediate ability to assemble at least one nuclear weapon and are close to achieving an industrial ability to manufacture such weapons and their matched delivery systems.

Admiral (Ret.) Dennis Blair has testified before Congress that US intelligence (using the same data) does not agree. The National Intelligence Council (NIC) of the United States believes that the Iranians could not have enough weapons grade fissile material to make ONE atomic weapon until 2010. (Some members of the NIC would say 2015) Admiral Blair has also testified that the NIC does not believe that the Iranians have yet made a decision to manufacture nuclear weapons. So far they have not produced uranium concentrated enough to use in fission weapons.....


Al-Qaeda Threatens US Embassy

Informed Comment: Al-Qaeda Threatens US Embassy
The USG Open Source Center translates from Urdu an article on planned al-Qaeda attacks on on US facilities in Pakistan under cover of turmoil provoked by the long march..

Pakistan: Al- Qa'ida Said Plans To Target Long March, US Properties in Country
Report by ANN: "Long March: Al-Qa'ida Has Formed 10 Squads To Attack US Properties: Sources"
Khabrain
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Document Type: OSC Translated Text . . .

Islamabad --Al-Qa'ida has formed 10 squads to attack US installations and properties (in Pakistan) in case of turmoil during the long march and demonstration. A suicide bomber has been sent from North Waziristan to Islamabad. It has been learned from highly informed sources that the squads formed by an Al-Qa'ida mastermind will attack the US Embassy, Consulate, or US nationals in Lahore, Rawalpindi, and Islamabad in case of turmoil.

The British High Commission or Consulate may also be targeted. The sources say that Commander Qazi Hussein Mahsud has sent Rizwan, a 15-16-year-old suicide bomber -- son of Ali Akbar, resident of North Waziristan -- along with three terrorists to Islamabad.He has blue eyes. He has been told to target the lawyers' long march or very important persons.

(Description of Source: Islamabad Khabrain in Urdu -- Sensationalist daily, generally opposes Pakistan People's Party. Circulation of 30,000.)

End/ (Not Continued)


Taliban poised at the gates of Kabul - CNN.com

Taliban poised at the gates of Kabul - CNN.com: "KABUL, Afghanistan (CNN) -- A top Taliban commander has told CNN his insurgents are poised and ready to attack Kabul and could strike virtually anywhere in the city."

It would be tempting to put this down to Taliban propaganda except one of Kabul's top cops is saying the same thing.

"We are working on a security strategy for the city and if we don't get it right, they [the Taliban] can attack at any minute, at any hour, any time," says Commander Mohammed Daud Amin, in charge of securing the Kabul district that includes the Presidential Palace and many government ministries.

Proof of the menacing threat came just last month when eight Taliban fighters, bristling with weapons and suicide vests, burst into three government buildings in the center of Kabul.

Police and security forces managed to kill all the insurgents before they could detonate their vests, but 20 people were killed and dozens were wounded....

AIPAC lobbied reporters on 'background' over intel nominee

The Raw Story | AIPAC lobbied reporters on 'background' over intel nominee
The nation's most powerful pro-Israel lobbying group sent off-the-record emails to reporters in an apparent effort to derail President Barack Obama's choice to chair the National Intelligence Policy Council, despite saying they were not lobbying against the nominee.

Charles "Chas" Freeman, Obama's intelligence council pick, withdrew after an acrimonious debate over his views on China, Israel and Saudi Arabia. Freeman was the US ambassador to the Saudi kingdom from 1989-1992. He previously made remarks suggesting a more friendlier take on the Chinese communist government.

But his views on Israel got the most airing, especially after he was attacked by a former chief lobbyist for the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee who is under indictment for espionage and will go to trial in May. Ex-AIPAC lobbying chief Steve Rosen told the Washington Post Wednesday that he had been in contact with journalists but not members of Congress.

AIPAC did not publicly lobby against Freeman's nomination. In response to a question about their lobbying work, spokesman Josh Block said the group
"took no position on this matter and did not lobby the Hill on it."

That may not be exactly true. In a story Thursday, veteran intelligence correspondent Walter Pincus revealed that Block had responded to reporters' questions about the group's views by sharing critical press clips about Freeman on background -- meaning that the material could not be attributed to the Israeli lobby group.

"Block responded to reporters' questions and provided critical material about Freeman, albeit always on background, meaning his comments could not be attributed to him, according to three journalists who spoke to him,"...


Thursday, March 12, 2009

BBC NEWS | Technology | Robot planes take to thA comparison of unmanned aerial systemse skies

Page last updated at 10:22 GMT, Thursday, 12 March 2009
E-mail this to a friend Printable version
Robot planes take to the skies

By Daniel Emery
Technology reporter, BBC News

Mantis pilotless aircraft
Designers are working on making pilotless aircraft semi-autonomous

The Ministry of Defence has showcased current and next-generation unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV).

The event was held as part of National Science and Engineering Week - an annual event celebrating science, engineering and technology - and to give manufacturers the chance to show off some of their creations.

Military use of UAVs has been growing fast. Twenty years ago, they were a bonus item for the armed forces, now they are seen as an essential part of the modern warrior's arsenal.

Chart comparing UAVs

UAVs are mainly used for reconnaissance, although some of the larger models can also drop weapons.

On show was equipment currently deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as prototypes and models of new technology that could be in service in the next few years.

The role of unmanned vehicles was to do "dull, dirty, and dangerous work and lessen the risk to the troops," said General Andrew Figgures, the officer in charge of MoD procurement, at the event..

T-HAWK MICRO AIR VEHICLE
T-Hawk Micro Air Vehicle
The US Navy has 90 T-Hawks
Built by Honeywell, this 8kg hovering air vehicle carries a regular and night vision camera, enabling troops to get a stable eye-in-the-sky.

The device, with a price tag of $250,000 (£180,000) is already in use with the US Navy and is currently on trial with British forces and the US 25th Infantry Division in Iraq.

Speaking to the BBC, Adrian Harding from Honeywell, said the device was almost unique in the market.

"Unlike most other UAVs, which have to make numerous passes over a target, we can hover overhead and have constant eyes on the ground," he said.

WATCHKEEPER
Watchkeeper UAV
The Watchkeeper UAV has seen service in Iraq and Afghanistan

Thales' UAV is already in active service in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Unlike many UAVs, Watchkeeper does not need to be "flown" by an operator. The device is autonomous, choosing the best flight path to get to a destination set by an operator.

Speaking to the BBC, Sergeant David Alexander - serving with the 32 Regiment, Royal Artillery - said that the Watchkeeper had already helped save lives.

"It's easy to operate. Really easy. We have two-man teams, one who directs where the aircraft needs to go, and the other who monitors the images coming in.

"It's main use is spotting possible IED [improvised explosive devices] by looking for disturbed soil, wires or possible enemy combatants.

"The work is really satisfying as you help save lives."

MQ-9 REAPER
MQ-9 Reaper
The Reaper first saw active service with the RAF in 2007

The successor to the well known Predator UAV, the Reaper gives the armed forces a larger, faster aircraft with a greater payload.

Originally called Predator B, the aircraft has been designed to perform high-altitude surveillance, reconnaissance and so-called hunter-killer missions.

While the Predator could operate up to an altitude of 25,000ft (7620m) and a speed of 120mph (193kph), Reaper can go up to 50,000 feet at speeds of over 240 mph. It can also carry a weapon payload in excess of 1.3 tonnes.

The Reaper is already in service with the RAF and USAF and the developers are working on further modifications.

DESERT HAWK III
Desert Hawk III
The Desert Hawk III can be hand launched by a soldier

Another UAV, but much smaller than Reaper, Desert Hawk III is a hand-launched drone that is used by troops to carry out surveillance. The device fits inside a backpack carried by troops.

Developed by Lockheed Martin, the UAV has a range of up to 15km and can be in the air for up to 90 minutes.

At present, an operator controls the Desert Hawk III from a laptop and transmitter, although the developers are working on a customised and more durable control system.

CASPER 250
Casper 250
UK police have also tested the Casper 250

British firms are also working on small UAVs that can be carried in a backpack.

Birmingham-based Sonic Communications has built the Casper 250 Man-pack, a battery-powered UAV that is ready for launched within 20 minutes of being unpacked.

The developer's say the device becomes "silent and invisible" once it reaches 100m, can stay airborne for more than 90 minutes and has a range of 12 miles.

Casper has two interchangeable cameras, for night or day use, and can transmit the images either directly to the ground control station or to a command and control centre.

TARANIS & MANTIS
Taranis pilotless concept
It is thought the first test flight will take place in 2010

BAE Systems is working on two very different UAVs.

Mantis is a large pilotless aircraft, with a wingspan of 22m, can stay airborne for more than 24 hours and operate at more than 40,000 feet.

Speaking to the BBC, BAE's head of communications, Adam Morrison, said the Mantis could survey or patrol an area with great accuracy.

"Most UAVs are controlled on the ground, even if that control is a bunker somewhere in the US. Because of the human element, you're never going to get a precise and regular course over time.

"With Mantis, you can cover an area with almost regular monotony, which means not only constant coverage, but you can spot if anything in that area has changed.

"You could also use it for maritime patrol and with the autonomous nature of the plane, all you need to tell it is which airfield it takes off and lands at, the length of runway and off it goes."

The other UAV it is working on - Taranis - is very different. The £124m, four year project to develop it hopes to create an unmanned, stealth, deep-strike aircraft as part of the Government's strategic unmanned air vehicle experiment.

Initial ground trials are scheduled for late 2009, with a maiden flight scheduled for 2010.



Lessons Learned, Russian-Style

Lessons Learned, Russian-Style « Kings of War
By jenimitchell

Russia Has ‘Chechnya’ Ploy for Afghanistan

In today’s Asia Times, Dmitry Shlapentokh hypothesises Russian Plans B and C should the US fail abominably in Afghanistan.

A considerable segment of the Russian elite is not anti-American, and even less so anti-European. Their main concern is the Muslim East. Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s representative at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), emphasized this point in a recent interview in which he said that the US’s defeat in Afghanistan would be “a great catastrophe for Russia” as Islamists would immediately spread across Central Asia and the Caucasus. He added that the US presence in Afghanistan was in Russia’s best interests, implying that the best outcome was if the US stayed there indefinitely.

However, Rogozin said he doubted the US would stay long enough to finish the job....

So what’s Plan C? According to Shlapentokh, the Russians learned a thing or two in their Caucasian adventures.

Russia is clearly a long way from building a [rapid-reaction] force of any note, if at all, and Moscow, acutely aware of this, has another plan, which is drawn from the template adopted successfully in Chechnya.

This involves establishing a sphere of influence in northern Afghanistan, where the major ethnic groups are Uzbeks and Tajiks, unlike the Pashtuns that dominate other parts of the country and which support the Taliban…

In Chechnya, Moscow tamed nationalist Chechens by dishing out considerable largesse to President Ramzan Kadyrov. This included not only money but a huge mosque erected in the capital Grozny. The resistance was steadily incorporated into Kaydrov’s forces; and Akhmed Zakaev, the leader of the virtual Chechen government in exile, has even implied he might return.

This would pit Kadyrov, as Moscow’s proxy, against Chechen rebel leader Dokka Umarov’s Caucasus Emirate jihadis. If this happens, it would mark the transformation of Chechnya from the major headache of the Kremlin into a major cushion against the jihadi threat.

Similarly, in Afghanistan, Russia could stretch its hand into the north to establish a credible buffer. It is even possible that embattled President Hamid Karzai could be drawn into this circle.

Now, I’m not necessarily buying what he’s selling. First, the obvious, go-to debunker: Afghanistan is not Chechnya. Second, how exactly is this magical sphere of influence to be created? (Afghanistan is really not Chechnya.) Third, by the time the situation deteriorated to this point (the US on the run, total breakdown) I doubt there would still be a President Karzai at all. And northern Afghanistan may well be a battleground again, not a potential buffer area.

Still, I find this very interesting because no doubt Russia is considering its options should the US and NATO fail in Afghanistan — and not seeing very much to like. How much are the Russians reflecting upon their Chechen experience? To what extent will they try to cling to their traditional posture in Central Asia? How will they balance the wish to constrain the US foothold in the region, with the negative effects of US failure in Afghanistan? Good questions that seem to be getting more attention these days, fortunately.

[bth: interesting analysis.  Worth reading in full.  They don't want us to fail, but they don't want us to succeed either.]


Congressional Approval

If the Republicans want new leadership, they simply need to flush

If the Republicans want new leadership, they simply need to flush « Margaret and Helen
Margaret, do me a favor and ask that Republican husband of yours a quick question: During this very difficult time for the country, who does he want in charge? A Harvard law graduate and former constitutional law professor, or a disc jockey with a drug addiction who flunked out of college, divorced three wives and publicly made fun of a disabled person? Because that is the choice we have between Barack Obama as leader of the free world and Rush Limbaugh as leader of the Republican party.

Sure, you can try to justify Rush Limbaugh by citing the number of people who tune in their radios to hear him vocally masturbate each day - roughly the same number of people who think Bush was a great President. But trust me, pandering to idiots isn’t anything to write home about. All it takes is a microphone and a failing public education system. If it wasn’t Rush, it would have been some other cynic who decided respect and honor is no substitution for fame and fortune.

In my opinion Rush Limbaugh is a piece of shit that really needs to be flushed. But the Republican party has let him get so big, it’s going to take more than one flush to get rid of him. Until then, the rest of us have to live with the smell....

[bth: Helen and Margaret really get things going.  Worth a full read]


Student facing 20 years in hell

Student facing 20 years in hell - Asia, World - The Independent
Sayed Pervez Kambaksh, the student journalist sentenced to death for blasphemy in Afghanistan, has been told he will spend the next 20 years in jail after the country's highest court ruled against him – without even hearing his defence.

The 23-year-old, brought to worldwide attention after an Independent campaign, was praying that Afghanistan's top judges would quash his conviction for lack of evidence, or because he was tried in secret and convicted without a defence lawyer. Instead, almost 18 months after he was arrested for allegedly circulating an article about women's rights, any hope of justice and due process evaporated amid gross irregularities, allegations of corruption and coercion at the Supreme Court. Justices issued their decision in secret, without letting Mr Kambaksh's lawyer submit so much as a word in his defence.

Afzal Nooristani, the legal campaigner representing Mr Kambaksh, accused the judges of behaving "no better than the Taliban". Hundreds of millions of dollars have been poured into Afghanistan's legal system and 149 British soldiers have died there since 2001, but experts admit that state justice is still beyond the reach of most ordinary Afghans.

[bth: hello.  where is a political leader willing to step in here?  US?  NATO?  Afghanistan? anybody?]


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

If - a poem by Rudyard Kipling

If - a poem by Rudyard Kipling
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream and not make dreams your master;
If you can think and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build'em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings---nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Employment Decline Now Worse than 1981-82

The middle-age, middle-income squeeze

The middle-age, middle-income squeeze - MIT News Office
-Older workers taking lower-wage jobs due to broad-based market shifts, MIT study shows

Stephanie Schorow, MIT News Office
March 10, 2009

If long-term job market trends continue, the person asking, "Do you want fries with that?" will be increasingly likely to have a college education, an MIT analysis finds.

Dramatic shifts in the U.S. labor market in the last 25 years are relegating older workers -- even those with a college education -- to lower-wage jobs, according to a research paper by MIT Economics Professor David Autor.

This trend appears likely to steepen in the current recession, as employers accelerate the rate at which they shed nonessential positions.

In a paper co-authored with graduate student David Dorn, "This Job is 'Getting Old': Measuring Change in Job Opportunities using Occupational Age Structure," which was presented last month at the American Economics Association conference, Autor analyzes a phenomenon that he refers to as the "hollowing out" of the U.S. job market from 1980 to 2005.

"One of the most remarkable developments in the U.S. labor market of the past two and a half decades has been the rapid, simultaneous growth of employment in both the highest- and lowest-skilled jobs," Autor says. European labor markets echo this shift....


Household net borrowing has contracted for first time in 50 years

PIMCO - Global Perspectives March 2009 Clarida A Lot o

[bth: no shit Sherlock.  The best return a household can make on an investment is to buy down their freaking credit card debt.  Government guaranteed banks unilaterally jacked rates up credit card rates on normal Americans for no damned good reason.  So why should Citi get government guarantees from the American taxpayer and then jack up their credit card bills to 25-30%?  Usury.  So are folks going to put their money into homes?  Into commodities?  Into the stock market or bonds with untrustworthy financial institutions and a generally deflationary environment?  Or are they going to pay down those bastards that just jacked their credit cards up?  Guess what.  People aren't stupid.  They know a good credit risk when they see it and they see it in themselves. Get 25% after tax return by paying down your debt and not investing in some jive turkey from Wall Street or trusting some Washington politician that doesn't have a clue.   People are making rational decisions with their own money based on the information and choices in front of them.... Unfortunately the downside of this is that consumer spending will fall and unemployment will rise dramatically.]


New Keynesian Multipliers

Greg Mankiw's Blog: New Keynesian Multipliers
The latest research from John F. Cogan, Tobias Cwik, John B. Taylor, and Volker Wieland:

New Keynesian versus Old Keynesian Government Spending Multipliers

Renewed interest in fiscal policy has increased the use of quantitative models to evaluate policy. Because of modelling uncertainty, it is essential that policy evaluations be robust to alternative assumptions. We find that models currently being used in practice to evaluate fiscal policy stimulus proposals are not robust. Government spending multipliers in an alternative empirically-estimated and widely-cited new Keynesian model are much smaller than in these old Keynesian models; the estimated stimulus is extremely small with GDP and employment effects only one-sixth as large and with private sector employment impacts likely to be even smaller.

Much of the new Keynesian research literature has focused on monetary policy. In light of recent developments, I am sure we will see a lot more work on fiscal policy. This paper is one of the first salvos in that debate.

[bth: WTF? I don't like this.  Get me a one armed economist.  Fast]


Top cybersecurity official quits, says NSA has too much power

The Raw Story | Top cybersecurity official quits, says NSA has too much power
Last week's resignation of the top cybersecurity official for the Department of Homeland Security has revealed a thorny bureaucratic rivalry between the National Security Agency and the resigned official who accuses NSA of having too tight a hold on cybersecurity.

After less than a year as director of the National Cyber Security Center, Rod Beckstrom resigned on Friday, citing a lack of funding and efforts by the NSA to dominate government cypersecurity. The Wall Street Journal has his letter of resignation, which can be read here.

In the letter to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, Beckstrom charged that NSA "effectively controls DHS cyber efforts" through employee detailees to NCSC from NSA, technology insertions and the proposed move of the NCSC to NSA's Fort Meade facility.

"While acknowledging the critical importance of NSA to our intelligence efforts, I believe this is a bad strategy on multiple grounds," Beckstrom wrote. "The intelligence culture is very different than a network operations or security culture."

Beckstrom said as director he objected to the "subjugation" of NCSC under NSA and had advocated for a "credible civilian government cybersecurity capability" that cooperated with NSA but didn't answer to....

[bth: not good at all]



I AM BLOGGER, HEAR ME ROAR! aka how bloggers beat msm

I AM BLOGGER - HEAR ME ROAR!
...The mainstream media's attitude is perhaps best typified by the story of Fox News and the Monsanto Growth Hormone. A team of reporters, Steve Wilson & Jane Akre, researched the effects of synthetic bovine growth hormone on cattle and discovered that a great deal of evidence exists that people who consume the meat or dairy products from treated cattle can suffer adverse health effects. Monsanto got wind of the story and together with dairy associations pressured Fox News to shut the story down. Fox News ordered the reporters to change the story, the reporters refused and Fox fired them. The reporters sued and LOST on appeal when the court ruled that since there is no law requiring the media to tell the truth about anything, the mainstream media is within their legal rights to fire reporters who refuse to lie! As a side note, that legal precedent is troubling when one realizes that our national elections are counted by a privately owned company, owned jointly by the TV networks (who are not bound by law to tell the truth) and not subject to either citizen or governmental oversight.

So, when it comes to regaining their credibility, the mainstream media has a huge mountain to climb. It should come as no surprise that the mainstream media, rather than start telling the truth, has decided that it is easier to try to discredit the bloggers. And so we get phony blogs operated by public relations firms and various intelligence agencies that put out total nonsense, such as pods on the 9-11 planes, so that the mainstream media can point to it on cue and say "See, we told you they were loons", as Popular Mechanics did in their March 2005 issue.

But in the end, such dirty tricks only work if the public doesn't know the tricks are there, and because of the blogs, the tired old cold-war-relic propaganda tricks are now widely known and easily spotted by the public at large. The numbers make it clear. Total viewership of the network news is in decline, while readership of the blogs is exploding. The public has become skeptical and now trusts only themselves to sort out what is true and what is false. That is a very healthy thing.

The battle between the mainstream media and the blogs isn't starting. It's already over. The blogs won.

[bth: an article worth reading in full]



Real Consumption and Confidence

Correlation and Causation

George Washington's Blog: The Truth About Blogs

George Washington's Blog: The Truth About Blogs:... "So what is 'news'? What the largest newspapers choose to cover? Or what various leading experts are saying - and oftentimes heatedly debating one against the other?

As blogger Michael Rivero pointed out years ago, mainstream newspapers aren't losing readers because of the Internet as an abstract new medium. They are losing readers because they have become nothing but official stenographers for the powers-that-be, and people have lost all faith in them.

Indeed, only 5% of the pundits discussing various government bailout plans on cable news shows are real economists. Why not hear what real economists and financial experts say?

To the extent that blogs offer actual news and the mainstream media does not, the latter will continue to lose eyeballs and ad revenues to the former."

[bth: worth reading in full]

Black Friend Finder from FOD Team

Black Friend Finder from FOD Team

Kid Uses Fart Machine During City Council Meeting from That Happened!

Kid Uses Fart Machine During City Council Meeting from That Happened!

Pentagon Knowlingly Exposed US Soldier to Toxic Waster: Leaked Memo

Pentagon Knowingly Exposed U.S. Soldiers To Toxic Waste: Leaked Memo
The Pentagon allegedly endangered U.S. soldiers by implementing and covering-up dangerously toxic waste-incineration practices at Balad Airbase in Iraq during years past, as revealed in a leaked Air Force memo [PDF]. Raw Story, which first reported the leak, writes this:

The document, written by an environmental engineering flight commander in December of 2006 and posted on Wikileaks on Tuesday, details the risks posed to US troops in Iraq by burning garbage at a US airbase. It enumerates myriad risks posed by the practice and identifies various carcinogens released by incinerating waste in open-air pits.

...

According to the document, a US Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventative Medicine investigator said Balad's burn pit was "the worst environmental site I have ever personally visited," including "10 years working... clean-up for the Army."

Last December, Army Times reported on the rise of symptoms among soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan who had suffered direct exposure to burn pits:

Though military officials say there are no known long-term effects from exposure to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than 100 service members have come forward to Military Times and Disabled American Veterans with strikingly similar symptoms: chronic bronchitis, asthma, sleep apnea, chronic coughs and allergy-like symptoms. Several also have cited heart problems, lymphoma and leukemia.

The story then goes on to discuss a Pentagon report titled "Just the Facts" which, given the now-leaked memo, reeks of obfuscation. According to Army Times, "Just the Facts" admits the "occasional presence" of possibly harmful toxins but then attempts to write-off the cancerous Balad Airbase miasma as harmless:

But "the potential short- and long-term risks were estimated to be low due to the infrequent detections of these chemicals," the paper states. "Based on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency guidance, long-term health effects are not expected to occur from breathing the smoke" at Joint Base Balad.

The leaked memo [PDF] was written by Lt. Col. Darrin Curtis, a Bioenvironmental Engineering Flight Commander, with the subject line, "Burn Pit Health Hazards". According to Curtis:

In my professional opinion, there is an acute health hazard for individuals. There is also the possibility for chronic health hazards associated with the smoke; thus the information is being made a permanent part of each Airman's medical record. I base this assessment on the data that I have reviewed and on-site smoke plume assessments (boots on the ground).




Brown in the USA | The Daily Show | Comedy Central

Brown in the USA | The Daily Show | Comedy Central

Jon Stewart Rips Into Jim Cramer Again (VIDEO)

Jon Stewart Rips Into Jim Cramer Again (VIDEO)

Chas Freeman pulls out

Chas Freeman pulls out - Ben Smith - POLITICO.com
The controversial appointee to chair President Barack Obama’s National Intelligence Council walked away from the job Tuesday as criticism on Capitol Hill escalated.

Charles W. Freeman Jr., the former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, had been praised by allies and by the director of national intelligence, Dennis Blair, as a brilliant, iconoclastic analyst. Critics said he was too hard on Israel and too soft on China, and blasted him for taking funding from Saudi royals.

Freeman “requested that his selection to be Chairman of the National Intelligence Council not proceed,” Blair’s office said in a statement. “Director Blair accepted Ambassador Freeman’s decision with regret.”

The withdrawal came after Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) grilled Blair at a Senate Armed Service Committee hearing Tuesday. Lieberman cited his “concern” about “statements that [Freeman] has made that appear either to be inclined to lean against Israel or too much in favor of China.”...

[bth: basically the Israeli lobby did a hack job on him.  We are essentially letting a foreign power vet our diplomats.  This is not good.]



Asia Times Online :: China News, China Business News, Taiwan and Hong Kong News and Business.

Asia Times Online :: China News, China Business News, Taiwan and Hong Kong News and Business.: "Because of its deep strategic and economic relationship with Pakistan, the inviolability of Chinese interests has been largely accepted by all the major political players inside Pakistan and its sphere of influence in western Afghanistan.

However, in a development that Beijing undoubtedly finds very disturbing, China is getting sucked into the security crisis in the Pashtun border areas of Pakistan."...

[bth: worth a read in full]

U.S. Eyes Iran for Resupply of Afghan Forces - Middle East Times

U.S. Eyes Iran for Resupply of Afghan Forces - Middle East Times: "The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama is mulling a plan that would use Iranian territory to rescue the deteriorating logistics network currently used to supply U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, administration officials said."...

[bth: positive and significant]

Coalition cuts combat brigades by half since peak of US 'surge' - The Long War Journal

Coalition cuts combat brigades by half since peak of US 'surge' - The Long War Journal: "The number of US and allied combat brigades deployed in Iraq has been cut in half since the height of the 'surge' in the summer of 2007, while the number of Iraqi security forces has nearly doubled during the same period of time."...

[bth: both numbers are indeed significant and positive developments]

2/14 touts advanced artillery system

2/14 touts advanced artillery system - Marine Corps News, news from Iraq - Marine Corps Times
The reservists with Battery D, 2nd Battalion, 14th Marines, had been at Camp Barber only three weeks in February when they conducted a successful field test of their High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, a first for any Marine unit operating in Afghanistan and a sign of what’s in store for the insurgency there, officials said in a news release.

HiMARS is more advanced than a traditional howitzer, Maj. Frankie P. Delgado, battery commander, said in the release. With its three-man crew, the system cradles six 200-pound rockets. Its range can exceed 40 miles, and the rockets, guided by a Global Positioning System, are accurate to within 26 feet.

“It’s like a scalpel versus a butcher knife,” Delgado said.

One of HiMARS’ six rocket tubes can inflict the same damage as one artillery cannon, and it’s a more subtle alternative to airstrikes, he said. The enemy won’t ever see the rocket until it’s too late.

The battery, whose members are based in El Paso, Texas, deployed to Helmand province in support of Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force — Afghanistan. The unit is tasked with targeting “higher value” targets, Delgado said.