Chaos on the Costa Concordia

Byline: | Category: Culture, Economy, Foreign Policy | Posted at: Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Via Glenn I learned that there is a great deal of debate over the failure of the “women and children first” rule to apply to the crash of the Costa Concordia.  It would appear that the consensus opinion is that either: (a) this is evidence of the coarsening of society in the hundred years since the wreck of the Titanic, or (b) this is evidence of the “victory” of the women’s right movement to overcome not just the barriers of sexism, but also its protections.

I would like to suggest a third reason, but one that is no less troubling in its implications:  the chaos came about because it was an Italian ship.

Last night I had dinner with some Canadian friends who also live here in Germany.  They had just returned from a ski weekend and we shared the same observation.   It is on crowded Alpine slopes where one learns first-hand of the vast differences in how various nationalities approach the concept of order.

Formed by the collision of the European and Mediterranean tectonic plates, this mountain range is a metaphoric division of two very different cultures.  It is on this boundary where the residents of those two cultures meet on holiday weekends.

The British queue even if it’s a queue of one.  Should an interloper attempt to cut the lift line, the English response is to politely inform the intruder that there is a queue.  Germans also queue, but they aren’t polite to the interloper.  They crossly inform intruders, in German, that they are in the wrong.  The occasional American skiing the Alps tends to start off polite like the Brit, however, should the line-cutter not oblige, is apt to forcefully enforce the queue.  All three nationalities, along with Scandinavians, Dutch, Austrians, Swiss, and the rare Canuck, share the same basic recognition that those already in the queue have higher priority, and will therefore “wait their turn.”

Italians, especially southern Italians, do not respect this concept on the slopes.  Those already ahead of them when they arrive at the lift are an obstacle to be overcome, not to be waited out.  Pushing, elbows, and skiing across the top of your own skis are all permitted according to Italian rules.

You see this on the roads too.  On the autobahns of Germany, the right lane is where you drive unless you are passing, after which you return immediately to the right.  It is this adherance to order that makes it possible for trucks travelling 100 kilometers per hour to co-exist with cars moving twice as fast.  On Italy’s autostrada, two lanes is just a suggestion.  Three cars abreast is not uncommon, as a faster car coming upon two slower travellers, passes his way forward, often on the right.

Spaniards are like this too.  French are far more Italian than they are German.  And Greeks?  Well, I can’t say, because I don’t think I’ve ever seen any Greeks skiing–probably because they can’t afford to.

Gross generalizations?  Sure.  There are rule-breaking Germans and orderly Italians.  (The latter perhaps because they hail from the northen part of Italy that until 1919 was Austria.)  But the stereotypes are true enough to give you a sense of a country’s culture. 

In German restaurants after the waitress has brought you your meal, she will return to ask, “Alles in ordnung?”  Instead of asking if she can get you anything else, she wonders, “Is everything in order?”  Order is everything.  Certainly, Germans take it to an extreme, as I complained last week.  But German order is preferable to Italian anarchy–at least in small doses.

To those who view this weekend’s catastrophe as evidence of the end of civility, I say, cheer up.  Had it been a German or British ship that went down in the North Sea, I submit that the scene would have been far more reminiscent of the Titanic’s “women and children first” rule, than the chaos of the Costa Concordia. 

On the other hand, the Concorida gives witness to the unbridgeable divide in Europe.  The Continent is two cultures separated by a common currency.  Economic chaos is the inevitable result.  And women and children may end up being the first thrown overboard.

UPDATE:  Thanks to Glenn and Rand for the links.  While you’re here, take a look around.

MORE: 

Theodore Dalrymple:  “Greeks aren’t Germans.”  True dat.  And neither are they Irish or Italian.  The EU, both in population and in physical size, approximates that of the United States.  Don’t let that fool you.  Cultural differences (akin to that scary “stereotype” thing some label as bigoted) are real.  And they are far greater than the East Coast-West Coast, North-South, urban-rural, black-white divides that you find in the United States.  Don’t let the common currency fool you; Europe is a concept not a country.  This is the European Disunion.  The “E.D.”  Make all the erectile dysfunction jokes you like.

Read the whole thing.

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The National Review endorses . . . Bush?

Byline: | Category: 2012, Culture, Economy, Foreign Policy, Military, Taxes & Spending | Posted at: Thursday, 15 December 2011

In their anti-endorsement of Newt Gingrich, the editors of National Review said that, “A hard-fought presidential primary campaign is obscuring the uncharacteristic degree of unity within the Republican party.”  Alarmingly, when they reviewed the points along which there was so much unity, I found myself quite apart from their position.  So let’s pick apart each of the points the National Review says Republicans are, and should be, united about:

“All of the leading candidates, and almost all of the lagging ones, support the right to life.”  Firstly, apart from Supreme Court appointments, the President has no vote on the issue.  And even there, I don’t support a litmus test on that issue or any other aside from this question:  Do you believe that the Constitution is an unabridged list of explicit powers ceded by the States to the Federal government and that if it isn’t in there, it isn’t there?  Secondly, while I am a strong supporter of the right to life, at this time, to list this concern first–or even in the top ten–is preposterous.  How out of touch is the National Review not to recognize this?

“All of them favor the repeal of Obamacare.”  Okay.  But not enough.  Medicare Part D, the prescription drug plan pushed by George W. Bush, should also be gone.  It was unaffordable then, and doubly so now.  And as for Mitt Romney, there’s a lot of justifiable skepticism that he really supports the complete repeal of a health care plan so similar to his own?

“Most of them support reforms to restrain the growth of entitlement spending.”  This is what really sticks under my craw.  I don’t want to restrain the growth of entitlement spending; I want to slash all government spending.  I want the ponzi scheme that is Social Security to be transitioned out of government hands so that the American people themselves can control the 13.4% taken from their paychecks every month.  I want Medicaid limited only to those poor who can’t work–not those who don’t.  I want food stamps severely curtailed in recognition of the fact that America’s poor of today don’t face a starvation crisis, but an obesity epidemic.  Just as importantly, I want a candidate who recognizes that while it is our obese entitlement system that threatens to overwhelm the national debt, it’s the rampant size and scope of government and its intrusion into every facet of our lives that threatens the nation’s overall well-being.  With federal spending approximately 40 cents of every dollar spent in the nation, the government itself is is crushing the economy.  It is unsustainable, and it has to stop.

“All of them favor reducing the corporate tax rate to levels that will make the U.S. a competitive location for investment.”  Good.  But we need to hear the undeniably correct argument that corporate taxes themselves are a sham.  Corporations don’t pay taxes; their customers do.  But Republican candidates aren’t sure enough of their beliefs (or perhaps they don’t believe it themselves) to even try to advance the philosophical case.  It’s a case which must be made to show the public that all Americans–even the poor–pay these corporate taxes that Democrats pretend are only the provenance of the rich.

“Almost all of them seem to understand the dangers of a precipitate withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, and of a defense policy driven by the need to protect social spending rather than the national interest.”  This is a two-parter.  The war in Iraq is over.  It’s been that way since the end of my second tour there last spring.  By then Americans had advanced Iraq as far as we could push, pull, and prod them, but the rest was up to them.  While Obama was pushed out of Baghdad against his will, it is hardly a precipitate withdrawal–It is about a year too late.  As for Afghanistan, we accomplished our mission there by 2004.  That original mission, if you’ll recall, was to make sure that the country could not be used as a base from which to plan, coordinate, and launch large transnational terrorist attacks against the United States.  It was right and proper to continue to support Afghan forces with US special forces and other assistance coordinated and led through the Department of State.  However, a large scale Defense Department led mission to remake an uncivilized corner of the globe into a country even as successful as Iraq was, and is, doomed to fail, and to do so at great cost. 

The second part is the “need to protect social spending” that isn’t well described by the editors or the candidates.  Where is the outrage over $16 biofuel the Navy had to buy from politically favored contractors?  Where is the demand that the entire F-35 program, not just its unnecessary second jet engine, be eliminated.  Where is the call for consolidating America’s four-star military commands?  Or the demand that wartime agencies like the three-star-led, $4 billion-a-year Joint IED Defeat Organization be dismantled now that IEDs are no longer a strategic threat?  Why not the call to redeploy the last remaining troops from the Balkans?  While there is no need to reduce any combat brigade or ship, aside from those Army brigades still in Europe, and there is plenty of money to keep the remainder well-trained, there is a great need to reduce their unnecessary and redundant higher headquarters and staffs.  A top-heavy command structure has sclerotized the senior reaches of the Defense Department and turned them into just another bureaucracy in search of mission creep in order to justify their continuous expansion.  As a result the military camel’s nose is under far too many tents, like the prevention of infectious diseases, counter narcotics, countering organized crime, counter human trafficking, and border control.  Not only is this wrong from a cost point-of-view, the vast expansion of the military into domestic responsibilities is corrosive to the very fabric from which our nation was formed.  Little do I hear this complaint voiced except by Ron Paul, although his position on this matter is too isolationist and too extreme even for me.

Here’s the bottom line:  The National Review codifies for Republicans a platform that defines . . . well, George W. Bush.  Sorry, but that just doesn’t cut it anymore.  I supported him in 2004 on national security grounds, while fully acknowledging his domestic flaws.  These days our own domestic flaws, far more than our enemies, are our greatest national security threats.  A return to the programs of George W. Bush is simply too little, too late.  If the National Review wants to reincarnate the platforms of previous Presidents, they ought to at least strive for Ronald Reagan–or better yet, Calvin Coolidge or Grover Cleveland.

UPDATERedState concurs with the Bushiness of the NR editorial.

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Is Iraq over?

Byline: | Category: Foreign Policy, Iraq, Military | Posted at: Monday, 17 October 2011

Released quietly over the weekend was the news that talks between US and Iraqi officials have broken down leading to a near-complete withdrawal of American forces from Iraq by the end of the year.  While there is a chance that this is part of a typical Arab negotiating ploy–threaten to walk away from the deal in order to gain a positional advantage–if in fact this is the end of US involvement, it is a good thing for both countries.

I spent two tours in Iraq: the first during the Surge and through the Charge of the Knights  offensive and the second a year later during the turnover of authority to Iraqi officials.  The changes I saw during both tours were immense.  As a result of the Surge, US casualties dropped significantly; by May of 2008 there were days at a time without American deaths.  When I returned the second time, there were weeks and months at a time without US combat casuaties.  (For a contemporary take on the changing security situation in Iraq, read this.)

I left Iraq the last time on election day, March 3, 2010, with much the same attitude that I had when I left Germany on September 5, 1995.  I knew both times that the US had accomplished its mission in both countries and that I would never be back in either nation in uniform again. 

Of course, today I’m back with US forces in Germany.  While I’m here at US European Command, a higher headquarters that has a regional planning focus, there are still three ground maneuver brigades and roughly 40,000 American forces in Germany more than twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.  Quite frankly, it is preposterous that US ground forcess occupy German soil long after there is any threat to Germany. 

While Iraq is not nearly as stable as Germany, it is far more stable than most prognosticators would have predicted just a few short years ago.  In short, just as in Germany, our work in Iraq is done.  The rest is up to the Iraqis.  They are as capable governmentally and militarily as they can get with our assistance.  So it is a good thing if American forces depart the country sooner than later. 

Now if we could just get ground forces out of Germany where our work is done (and Italy, and Japan, and South Korea) . . .

*Note, these opinions are mine alone, and do not reflect the position of DoD or of EUCOM, where thousands of American military and retired military expats love their American taxpayer-supported European lifestyle.

UPDATE:  Thanks to Glenn for the link.  While you’re here, please take a look around.

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A counter-terrorism bleg

Byline: | Category: Foreign Policy, Military | Posted at: Friday, 23 September 2011

In case you weren’t aware, I am a military operations research analyst for the U.S. Army.  One of the stories associated with the origins of my field of work involves a study of Royal Air Force bombers returning to England after missions over the Continent during WWII.  Time and time again the same parts of aircraft were pockmarked with holes from enemy anti-aircraft fire.  A study was convened to determine ways to reinforce those areas of the aircraft in order to protect the crew.  Prior to the study’s conclusion Patrick Blackett, an experimental physicist and early operations research proponent, offered the seemingly counterintuitive idea that the focus was completely wrong.  Instead of looking at where the holes were, they should concentrate on where the holes weren’t.  Since every part of the aircraft was equally likely to be hit by enemy fire, the real threat to the safety of the crew was in those areas of returning aircraft that almost never saw damage–his idea being that, when damage occurred in those areas, the aircraft likely didn’t return. 

Blackett’s mathematically based intuition, was of course, correct.  The areas of returning aircraft that exhibited comparatively little damage were places like cockpits and fuel tanks.  The larger lesson was that sometimes what we see obscures our ability to see what isn’t there.

I offer that background to accompany this Stratfor article about “lone wolf” terrorist attacks.  In recent months I’ve noticed that the focus of anti-terrorism has begun to shift to include countering so-called lone wolves and Al Qaeda “inspired” individual actors.  Major Nidal Hassan’s attack on soldiers at Fort Hood is often identified as one such example. This Stratfor piece by Scott Stewart rejects that focus.  Stewart’s key point is this: “When a group promotes leaderless resistance as an operational model it is a sign of failure rather than strength.”

Tragic though the loss of life from lone wolf attacks is, that tragedy obscures our vision of what isn’t there. And what isn’t there is an organized threat.  As a military assessor, my counter-intuitive observation is that a shift to lone wolf attacks might in fact be an indicator of having achieved a desired effect against an enemy organization.  In other words, is it possible that an increase in lone wolf attacks, along with a corresponding fall in organized activity, means that we are succeeding?

I passed this idea around to a few others today and would like your thoughts as well.  I’d particularly like some help with this question:  how would you distinguish between what I’ve postulated and “an army of Davids” networked enemy?

UPDATE:  Thanks for all the responses.  I’m working on piecing this together, though unfortunately, much of it may be for a product that I can’t share.

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The Truman Show has never had a sequel

Byline: | Category: 2012, Foreign Policy, Military | Posted at: Monday, 12 September 2011

The “Obama is Truman” meme is already becoming a cliche. (Not to mention, the fact that it is never a good sign for a candidate to be Trumanized–especially this early in the game.)

Nonetheless, Jay Cost dismantles the comparison by differentiating the domestic conditions of 1948 and now.  While Cost mentions in passing Truman’s role in ending World War II, it merits much greater notice.  Truman, after all, was the man who ordered two nuclear strikes against the nation that had attacked America only seven years before, and who–in the minds of many Americans of my grandparents era–had saved tens or hundreds of thousands of American lives from being lost in an attack on the Japanese mainland.  The gratitude of a generation is still palpable as long as any of that generation still lives.

While President Obama was certainly correct to authorize the raid that killed Bin Laden, his one notable foreign policy success pales when measured against Truman’s credentials.  It certainly won’t be enough to innoculate Obama from further foreign policy concerns on top of his numerous domestic failures.  This lends only more weight to Cost’s criticism that Obama has dim hopes if he is planning to come from behind against a modern Dewey.

Read the whole thing.

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A Winning Platform for 2012, part 1: Five Wars We Should Stop Waging

Byline: | Category: 2012, Foreign Policy, Government, Iraq, Military, Regulations, Taxes & Spending | Posted at: Tuesday, 12 July 2011

America is engaged in five costly wars today.  Two have been won.  Three have been lost.  And it’s time for America to withdraw from all five.

America won the war in Iraq.  Call it the Flypaper Theory, if you want, but America not only deposed a despot, we destroyed a menace.  Al Qaeda, ignorant of geography and history, left Afghanistan for Iraq and lost on the battlefield of America’s choosing.  It was long, it was costly, and it was brutal at times.  But American Soldiers, Sailors, Airman, and Marines–and let us not forget the contribution of our 33 coalition members–carried the day.  Iraq is as stable as we can hope, and Al Qaeda died in Mesopotamia, where legend says life began.  What happens from here is up to the Iraqis themselves.  It’s time for us to declare victory and leave.

America won the war in Afghanistan too.  At least that’s true if we consider the fight there from the point of view of the original objective, which was to ensure that Afghanistan could no longer be a base from which Al Qaeda could plan, train, and launch future attacks against the United States.  That is no longer true.  What is also not true is that the “country” of Afghanistan can advance even to the point where Iraq currently is.  Afghanistan is an amorphous location on the map, the land equivalent of seas labeled “Here there be monsters.”  Declare victory, draw a line, and let it be known that what happens inside that line is their business.  What happens outside that border is our business.  Then leave.

The third war is in Libya.  It was a folly from the start.  There was very little potential upside.  But the downside is the possible demise of the NATO alliance and the loss of American face.  We’re closer to the latter.  I still can’t believe that we let ourselves get suckered into a war by Italy and France.  Declare defeat, leave Libya with our tail between our legs, and hope that NATO and our honor can survive.

The next two wars are similar to Libya in that we have no hope of a victory–at least not given our current tactics.

The war on drugs is over.  Drugs won.  Legalize marijuana.  Don’t even bother taxing it; it’s too easy to grow.  As for cocaine and the harder stuff . . . I’m sorry to report that it’s going to be with us for a while.  I wish that weren’t the case, but we can’t afford the border interdictions, the invasions of privacy, and the formidable policing and prisons.  The bad news is that a lot of people are going to die at their own hands.  The good news is that a lot of people who were going to die from drugs anyway are still going to die at their own hands, and we’ll save a lot of money as a result.  Cold, callous, and cruel, I admit.  But it’s high time (pun intended) to admit that society bankrupts itself when it takes on the task of protecting people from themselves.  Nobody is any better for it, and we’re all poorer as a result.  Don’t worry, there is one upside.  Schools, industry, and banks will find that negative drug tests are a pretty reliable indicator of future success.  Admissions, hiring, and loans will be subject to private drug testing.  That will likely do more to encourage the end of a drug culture than any advertisement of a frying egg or Coast Guard frigate could ever accomplish.

The last of our five wars is the war on poverty.  Poverty didn’t win, but it isn’t in retreat either.  What is in retreat is the notion that people’s lives are improved as a consequence of giving them what they didn’t earn.  Did extending home ownership to those who couldn’t afford it make their lives better when the result was foreclosure?  Do college loans that cripple a new couple under a pile of six-figure debt before they’ve ever made their first house payment serve anybody but the banks who made the loans?  America has the wealthiest poor people, and the least appreciative.  Let’s try a new tack: let the prices of houses, college, and medicine fall to where they would naturally be were it not for the government propping them up.  The poor will find many more opportunities as a consequence of the cheaper prices that result from a free market.  The way Washington waged war on poverty was to define poverty up.  Sure, we should help the truly needy.  But not everyone needs everything.  Protect the very least among us and let the rest of us be free to fend for ourselves.

Wars are a terrible thing to wage and thus, should not be entered into lightly.  Each one requires the nation’s full commitment, a viable strategy, clear and attainable objectives, and a plan to leave.  Today America is fighting five wars it apparently has no intention to leave.  But wars cannot successfully be waged indefinitely.  It’s long past time to leave.

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A Proposed Constitutional Amendment

Byline: | Category: Foreign Policy, Government, Military, Taxes & Spending | Posted at: Thursday, 30 December 2010

Glenn points us to an amendment proposal designed to force Congress to operate under the same laws that apply to citizens.  It’s an interesting idea, albeit one that might contradict the portion of Article I, Section VI exempting Congress from arrest during session.

But since we’re on the subject of Amendments that impart fairness (or rather, equality), here’s my proposal:

1.  Congress shall levy no tax on individual citizens except that it be applied equally to all and without threshold, exemption, deduction, credit, exception, or limitation of any kind.

2.  The Federal government shall be required to operate without an annual fiscal deficit except in years containing a period of declared war, not to exceed four consecutive years or to exceed a total of four years in any consecutive ten year period.

Discuss.

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Why is the US Navy going to the rescue?

Byline: | Category: Foreign Policy, Military, Taxes & Spending | Posted at: Tuesday, 9 November 2010

At the risk of sounding like a heartless bastard, why is the US Navy going to the rescue of a foreign-flagged cruise ship that is not in danger? 

Some have argued that since Carnival Cruise Lines is paying for the food, that it’s okay.  That, however, doesn’t nearly replace the value of the training time that the USS Ronald Reagan might lose by being diverted to this mission.  Not to mention, an aircraft carrier is hardly the economic choice to deliver a mere 5 tons of food.  If it has to be a naval vessel, why not the USS Rentz, a guided missile frigate within the Reagan’s carrier group?  Its two helicopters are each capable of lifting about 4 tons per sortie. 

But there’s a larger issue at stake:  The United States Navy has taken on the task of protecting the world’s oceans–but to whose benefit? And at whose cost?  The Carnival Splendor is a Panamanian-flagged ship.  So let the Panamanian Navy come their rescue.

Today, ships bearing a flag of convenience carry most of the world’s cargo and passengers.  That’s true even when the shipping lines’ owners are based in the United States.  In this case, Miami-based Carnival Cruise Lines operates the Splendor for weekly cruises out of the Port of Los Angeles.  There’s nothing at all Panamanian about Carnival.

The flag a ship sailed under once meant something.  It symbolized that the full weight of the nation was behind that vessel.  Woe be to those who might attack it.  Nowadays the flag means nothing but the opportunity to pay a lower tax rate.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, per se, but when a ship finds itself under attack by pirates or in distress at sea, the flagging country–often Liberia, the Marshall Islands, the Bahamas, or Panama–doesn’t offer much in the way of support.  They don’t have to:  the ships’ owners know that the US Navy will come to the rescue.

The American taxpayer now bears the full brunt of the world’s shipping.  Cruise operators and shipping lines pay nothing for the privilege of American naval protection.  Not to mention, offloading this cost means that the US indirectly subsidizes the producers of foreign goods. 

This has to stop.  It was only a couple generations ago that the globe’s two greatest naval powers–the US and Britain–also flagged a large number of the world’s ships.  The costs those commercial operators paid for the privilege, in turn, helped to fund the navies that protected their voyages.  It wasn’t a tax, it was a fee for service.

Since then, the US has required of US-flagged ships some silly rules that have nothing to do with safety–like regulating that the ships’ crews be unionized.  That should be overturned.  But the privilege of American naval protection comes at a cost–a cost not borne by those currently benefitting from that protection.  It’s time to make the world pay for the world’s shipping costs.  If a ship’s owners want the US Navy to protect their voyages, they need to pay the US Navy’s price.

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Sucker

Byline: | Category: Foreign Policy, Military | Posted at: Monday, 2 March 2009

A Russian News Agency (take it with a grain of salt) reports:.

Obama ‘ready to drop shield plans for Russian help on Iran’

If that is true, America will get neither a shield nor Russian help with Iran.

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#6 looks like it might be coming true (sadly)

Byline: | Category: Foreign Policy, Iraq | Posted at: Tuesday, 3 February 2009

In late December I made a prediction that sadly might be coming true:

Political unrest in Kyrgyzstan will be the impetus for overt Russian involvement in the Central Asian country, and will put at risk continued American presence at its air base in Manas and the entire Afghan operation.

If this report is accurate, then we can count this as an accurate prediction.  (It is accurate.)

RIA-Novosti quotes Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev as saying that his government “has made the decision to end the term for the American base on the territory of Kyrgyzstan.”  

Let us hope it is Soviet Russian propaganda and a complete falsehood.  (You do know that Pravda is the Russian word for “truth,” don’t you?) 

One month into 2009 and already we can make some assessments of my other 2009 predictions. 

It looks like #2 is coming true: Israel and Hamas have agreed on a cease fire of some sort.  For now.

#7 is well on its way to coming true too:  “President Obama will rename the “Global War on Terrorism” to something else, but nothing else (Guantanamo, Patriot Act, etc.) will significantly change.”  So far we know that Gitmo isn’t going to change within a year.  No word on any changes to the Patriot Act.  Nor do I expect to hear of any.

One prediction I got only half right.  I said that Roland Burris would be a Senator (YES) and Rod Blagojevich would still be a governor (NO) at the end of the year.  I figured that the Illinois legislature never wanted Blago bringing witnesses into the chamber and implicating most the elected population of Chicago.  Little did I know that the law in the Land of Lincoln is so screwed up that the accused isn’t even allowed to present witnesses on his behalf, thus removing the state senate’s impeachment inhibitor. 

Check out the rest of the predictions here.

(ht: GR)

UPDATE:

More here.

ALSO:

The Taliban destroyed a major Pakistani bridge on the main supply route used to supply NATO forces in Afghanistan.  Ten trucks stopped by the downed bridge were then torched yesterday by assailants. 

I’ve said all along that logistics, not Iraq, was the factor that limited the size of American involvement in Afghanistan.  If our forces lose their Northern aerial supply route and their main ground supply route, we could lose the ability to sustain even the troops currently in Afghanistan, much less another 30,000.

Afghanistan and Iraq are two vastly different countries.  Iraq is actually not unlike Eastern Europe, in the sense that it too suffered four decades of incompetent dictatorship, which itself followed years of devastating warfare.  However, not too long ago Iraq was a prosperous and modern civilization (for the region).  Afghanistan has never been prosperous, modern, or for that matter, even a country in the sense that we think of country.  Just as in Eastern Europe, Iraq is a country that is being re-born.  In Afghanistan it is being born for the first time.  Our expectations there must be so much less than even what we hope to achieve in Iraq.

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