Saturday, January 31, 2009

Re: Lamentations and Bonuses

A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.

The sky is falling.

We got the hideous Bush financial rescue plan/Tarp/non-Tarp...I still have no idea where that money is going or has gone. Now we get the stimulus package. Still more talk of the bad investments bank.

I'm thinking now that we should amend the constitution. If there were some way to quantify looming economic crises...based on the decible level of the squeals of congress or the press perhaps. The amendment would delay governmental action. The larger the crisis, the longer the delay. I'm kidding of course, kinda.

The greedy Wall Streeters pull this stunt AFTER the car execs flew to Washington on thier corporate jets last fall. Tone deaf if nothing else. I'd like to see the bonuses paid the execs of the companies actually doing the laying off as opposed to the Streeters. Maybe I'm not familiar enough with the types of things going on on Wall Street but I always think of the Oliver Stone vision of broker types.

Wall Street bonuses

Last week, American companies announced around 65,000 layoffs. I don't know exactly how much those folks were making, but let's pretend that it cost $100,000 (salary plus benefits) to employ each of these people. That's probably high for an average, but it'll do for a rough number. That totals $6.5 billion for a year. Meanwhile, in 2008, Wall Street awarded bonuses of $18.3 billion. $18.3 billion. That money could have instead employed all the folks laid off in the past three weeks for a full year. I sometimes tend to write off complaints about executive salaries and benefits, figuring it's really just a drop in the bucket and that the corporation is making a choice between greater profits for shareholders and paying its execs well. But in these times, the choice isn't between exec salaries and profits, it's between exec salaries and jobless families.

I like that Obama and McCaskill used their platforms to offer a scolding, but they need to recognize that the Bush bailout plan for which they voted didn't do a good job of procuring safeguards for the use of the money. The idiots here were not the execs; they're greedy, not stupid. Bush, Paulson and Congress, on the other hand, . . . (And just a reminder that both Obama and McCain supported the bailout bill, so there was no choice on that front in the 2008 election.)

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Lamentation of the Day

I wish we had moved much more slowly on the Stimulus Plan. I know, President Obama had hoped to have something to sign on day one, but I wish his fingerprints were more prominent. To me, this just seems like Democrat more of the same. I regret that if the President had just taken a couple of months...he still could have put more $$$ into the economy this year than the current plan (not that I'm a Keynesian now but if we're going to spend like this, let's get it into ifnrastructure and not the NEA...the NEA funds may be a good idea, but stimulus it is not). Pelosi in particular really seemed to thwart the President's wish for bipartisanship. Shock.

Scooter's Problems with Steele

I know Bennett loves him but I've got some problems with this guy. First, there will be charges of,, too!

Second, from a purely selfish standpoint, he's kinda weak on the 2d Amendment.

Finally, he has a real tendency to lapse into (maybe lapse isn't the right word...I think he's catholic school educated so it almost comes across more as affected) brother-speak. I only say that from hearing him host Bennett's show...probably I've heard him about 15 or 18 hours since the election. I guess he's entitled but it goes against one of the hopes I have for the current administration, namely that African-Americans (males in particular) will see that getting a good education isn't acting white and that the preservation of the family (dads sticking around and being a parent) is important.

Getting that high school diploma and keeping the family together just about guarantees middle-class status.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Stratfor on Yemen

Fred Burton and Scot Stewart on Yemen:

The media wing of one of al Qaeda’s Yemeni franchises, al Qaeda in Yemen, released a statement on online jihadist forums Jan. 20 from the group’s leader Nasir al-Wuhayshi, announcing the formation of a single al Qaeda group for the Arabian Peninsula under his command. According to al-Wuhayshi, the new group, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, would consist of his former group (al Qaeda in Yemen) as well as members of the now-defunct Saudi al Qaeda franchise.
The press release noted that the Saudi militants have pledged allegiance to al-Wuhayshi, an indication that the reorganization was not a merger of equals. This is understandable, given that the jihadists in Yemen have been active recently while their Saudi counterparts have not conducted a meaningful attack in years. The announcement also related that a Saudi national (and former Guantanamo detainee) identified as Abu-Sayyaf al-Shihri has been appointed as al-Wuhayshi’s deputy. In some ways, this is similar to the way Ayman al-Zawahiri and his faction of Egyptian Islamic Jihad swore allegiance to Osama bin Laden and were integrated in to al Qaeda prime.

While not specifically mentioned, the announcement of a single al Qaeda entity for the entire Arabian Peninsula and the unanimous support by jihadist militants on the Arabian Peninsula for al-Wuhayshi suggests the new organization will incorporate elements of the other al Qaeda franchise in Yemen, the Yemen Soldiers Brigade.

The announcement also provided links to downloadable versions of the latest issue of the group’s online magazine, Sada al-Malahim, (Arabic for “The Echo of Battle”). The Web page links provided to download the magazine also featured trailers advertising the pending release of a new video from the group, now referred to by its new name, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
The translated name of this new organization sounds very similar to the old Saudi al Qaeda franchise, the al Qaeda Organization in the Arabian Peninsula (in Arabic, “Tandheem al Qaeda fi Jazeerat al-Arabiyah”). But the new group’s new Arabic name, Tanzim Qa’idat al-Jihad fi Jazirat al-Arab, is slightly different. The addition of “al-Jihad” seems to have been influenced by the Iraqi al Qaeda franchise, Tanzim Qaidat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn. The flag of the Islamic State of Iraq also appears in the Jan. 24 video, further illustrating the deep ties between the newly announced organization and al Qaeda in Iraq. Indeed, a number of Yemeni militants traveled to Iraq to fight, and these returning al Qaeda veterans have played a large part in the increased sophistication of militant attacks in Yemen over the past year.

Four days after the Jan. 20 announcement, links for a 19-minute video from the new group titled “We Start from Here and We Will Meet at al-Aqsa” began to appear in jihadist corners of cyberspace. Al-Aqsa refers to the al-Aqsa Mosque on what Jews know as Temple Mount and Muslims refer to as Al Haram Al Sharif. The video threatens Muslim leaders in the region (whom it refers to as criminal tyrants), including Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, the Saudi royal family, and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. It also threatens so-called “crusader forces” supporting the regional Muslim leaders, and promises to carry the jihad from the Arabian Peninsula to Israel so as to liberate Muslim holy sites and brethren in Gaza.
An interview with al-Wuhayshi aired Jan. 27 on Al Jazeera echoed these sentiments. During the interview, al-Wuhayshi noted that the “crusades” against “Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia” have been launched from bases in the Arabian Peninsula, and that because of this, “all crusader interests” in the peninsula “should be struck.”

A Different Take on Events

Most of the analysis in Western media regarding the preceding developments has focused on how two former detainees at the U.S. facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, appear in the Jan. 24 video — one of whom was al-Shihri — and that both were graduates of Saudi Arabia’s ideological rehabilitation program, a government deprogramming course for jihadists. In addition to al-Shihri who, according to the video was Guantanamo detainee 372, the video also contains a statement from Abu-al-Harith Muhammad al-Awfi. Al-Awfi, who was identified as a field commander in the video, was allegedly former Guantanamo detainee 333. Prisoner lists from Guantanamo obtained by Stratfor appear to confirm that al-Shihri was in fact Guantanamo detainee No. 372. We did not find al-Awfi’s name on the list, however, another name appears as detainee No. 333. Given the proclivity of jihadists to use fraudulent identities, it is entirely possible that al-Awfi is an alias, or that he was held at Guantanamo under an assumed name. At any rate, we doubt al-Awfi would fabricate this claim and then broadcast it in such a public manner.

The media focus on the Guantanamo aspect is understandable in the wake of U.S. President Barack Obama’s Jan. 22 executive order to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and all the complexities surrounding that decision. Clearly, some men released from Guantanamo, and even those graduated from the Saudi government’s rehabilitation program, can and have returned to the jihadist fold. Ideology is hard to extinguish, especially an ideology that teaches adherents that there is a war against Islam and that the “true believers” will be persecuted for their beliefs. Al Qaeda has even taken this one step further and has worked to prepare its members not only to face death, but also to endure imprisonment and harsh interrogation. A substantial number of al Qaeda cadres, such as al-Zawahiri and Abu Yahya al-Libi, have endured both, and have been instrumental in helping members withstand captivity and interrogation.

This physical and ideological preparation means that efforts to induce captured militants to abandon their ideology can wind up reinforcing that ideology when those efforts appear to prove important tenets of the ideology, such as that adherents will be persecuted and that the Muslim rulers are aligned with the West. It is also important to realize that radical Islamist extremists, ultraconservatives and traditionalists tend to have a far better grasp of Islamic religious texts than their moderate, liberal and modernist counterparts. Hence, they have an edge over them on the ideological battlefield. Those opposing radicals and extremists have a long way to go before they can produce a coherent legitimate, authoritative and authentic alternative Islamic discourse.

In any event, in practical terms there is no system of “re-education” that is 100 percent effective in eradicating an ideology in humans except execution. There will always be people who will figure out how to game the system and regurgitate whatever is necessary to placate their jailers so as to win release. Because of this, it is not surprising to see people like al-Shihri and al-Awfi released only to re-emerge in their former molds.

Another remarkable feature of the Jan. 27 video is that it showcased four different leaders of the regional group, something rarely seen. In addition to al-Wuhayshi, al-Shihri and al-Awfi, the video also included a statement from Qasim al-Rami, who is suspected of having been involved with the operational planning of the suicide attack on a group of Spanish tourists in Marib, Yemen, in July 2007.

In our estimation, however, perhaps the most remarkable feature about these recent statements from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is not the appearance of these two former Guantanamo detainees in the video, or the appearance of four distinct leaders of the group in a single video, but rather what the statements tell us about the state of the al Qaeda franchises in Saudi Arabia and Yemen.


That the remnants of the Saudi al Qaeda franchise have been forced to flee their country and join up with the Yemeni group demonstrates that the Saudi government’s campaign to eradicate the jihadist organization has been very successful. The Saudi franchise was very active in 2003 and 2004, but has not attempted a significant attack since the February 2006 attack against the oil facility in Abqaiq. In spite of the large number of Saudi fighters who have traveled to militant training camps, and to fight in places such as Iraq, the Saudi franchise has had significant problems organizing operational cells inside the kingdom. Additionally, since the death of Abdel Aziz al-Muqrin, the Saudi franchise has struggled to find a charismatic and savvy leader. (The Saudis have killed several leaders who succeeded al-Muqrin.) In a militant organization conducting an insurgency or terrorist operations, leadership is critical not only to the operational success of the group but also to its ability to recruit new members, raise funding and acquire resources such as weapons.

Like the Saudi node, the fortunes of other al Qaeda regional franchises have risen or fallen based upon ability of the franchise’s leadership. For example, in August 2006 al Qaeda announced with great fanfare that the Egyptian militant group Gamaah al-Islamiyah (GAI) had joined forces with al Qaeda. Likewise, in November 2007 al Qaeda announced that the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) had formally joined the al Qaeda network. But neither of these groups really ever got off the ground. While a large portion of the responsibility for the groups’ lack of success may be due to the oppressive natures of the Egyptian and Libyan governments and the aggressive efforts those governments undertook to control the new al Qaeda franchises, we believe the lack of success also stems from poor leadership. (There are certainly other significant factors contributing to the failure of al Qaeda nodes in various places, such as the alienation of the local population.)

Conversely, we believe that an important reason for the resurgence of the al Qaeda franchise in Yemen has been the leadership of al-Wuhayshi. As we have noted in the past, Yemen is a much easier environment for militants to operate in than either Egypt or Libya. There are many Salafists employed in the Yemeni security and intelligence apparatus who at the very least are sympathetic to the jihadist cause. These men are holdovers from the Yemeni civil war, when Saleh formed an alliance with Salafists and recruited jihadists to fight Marxist forces in South Yemen. This alliance continues today, with Saleh deriving significant political support from radical Islamists. Many of the state’s key institutions (including the military) employ Salafists, making any major crackdown on militant Islamists in the country politically difficult. This sentiment among the security forces also helps explain the many jihadists who have escaped from Yemeni prisons — such as al-Wuhayshi.

Yemen has also long been at the crossroads of a number of jihadist theaters, including Afghanistan/Pakistan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the Levant, Egypt and Somalia. Yemen also is a country with a thriving arms market, a desert warrior tradition and a tribal culture that often bridles against government authority and that makes it difficult for the government to assert control over large swaths of the country. Yemeni tribesmen also tend to be religiously conservative and susceptible to the influence of jihadist theology.

In spite of this favorable environment, the Yemeni al Qaeda franchise has largely floundered since 9/11. Much of this is due to U.S. and Yemeni efforts to decapitate the group, such as the strike by a U.S. unmanned aerial vehicle on then-leader of al Qaeda in Yemen, Abu Ali al-Harithi, in late 2002 and the subsequent arrest of his replacement, Mohammed Hamdi al-Ahdal, in late 2003. The combination of these operations in such a short period helped cripple al Qaeda in Yemen’s operational capability.

As Stratfor noted in spring 2008, however, al Qaeda militants in Yemen have become more active and more effective under the leadership of al-Wuhayshi, an ethnic Yemeni who spent time in Afghanistan as a lieutenant under bin Laden. After his time with bin Laden, Iranian authorities arrested al-Wuhayshi, later returning him to Yemen in 2003 via an Iranian-Yemeni extradition deal. He subsequently escaped from a high-security prison outside the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, in February 2006 along with Jamal al-Badawi (the leader of the cell that carried out the suicide bombing of the USS Cole).

Al-Wuhayshi’s established ties with al Qaeda prime and bin Laden in particular not only provide him legitimacy in the eyes of other jihadists, in more practical terms, they may have provided him the opportunity to learn the tradecraft necessary to successfully lead a militant group and conduct operations. His close ties to influential veterans of al Qaeda in Yemen like al-Badawi also may have helped him infuse new energy into the struggle in Yemen in 2008.

While the group had been on a rising trajectory in 2008, things had been eerily quiet in Yemen since the Sept. 17, 2008, attack against the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa and the resulting campaign against the group. The recent flurry of statements has broken the quiet, followed by a Warden Message on Jan. 26 warning of a possible threat against the compound of the U.S. Embassy in Yemen and a firefight at a security checkpoint near the embassy hours later.

At this point, it appears the shooting incident may not be related to the threat warning and may instead have been the result of jumpy nerves. Reports suggest the police may have fired at a speeding car before the occupants, who were armed tribesmen, fired back. Although there have been efforts to crack down on the carrying of weapons in Sanaa, virtually every Yemeni male owns an AK-variant assault rifle of some sort; like the ceremonial jambiya dagger, such a rifle is considered a must-have accessory in most parts of the country. Not surprisingly, incidents involving gunfire are not uncommon in Yemen.

Either way, we will continue to keep a close eye on Yemen and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. As we have seen in the past, press statements are not necessarily indicative of future jihadist performance. It will be important to watch developments in Yemen for signs that will help determine whether this recent merger and announcement is a sign of desperation by a declining group, or whether the addition of fresh blood from Saudi Arabia will help breathe new life into al-Wuhayshi’s operations and provide his group the means to make good on its threats.

This report may be forwarded or republished on your website with attribution to


Via Facebook, I've connected with a friend from junior high school who now owns a Crossfit gym. He is rabidly enthusiastic about Crossfit. It helped him lose 50 pounds and be "stronger, fitter, leaner" at 45 than he was at 25. Crossfit is an exercise regime that uses its website to designate a workout for each day, but they don't recommend embarking on a Crossfit program without a few hours of training with a certified Crossfit trainer (they are sprinkled about the country) to learn proper techniques and how to scale or modify the workouts for your fitness level. The daily workouts "as prescribed" are brutal. Observe. The first time I watched this video, I quit midway through thinking that I'd seen enough and gotten the picture. But I just watched it all the way through and realize that it just continues to get more compelling to the end. And the cameraman finally finds the story.

I did a miniature version of Sunday's workout and am still sore.

Monday, January 26, 2009

A post for Big Families

Putting aside all the demographic plusses the Mark Steyn discusses in America Alone, I had the privilege of attending a memorial service this weekend for a guy who died way too early at 48 (maybe off a bit on the age but far too young). I witnessed a Large Extended Family coming together is support of one another like I've never seen before.

I know that the support and love had a great deal to do with the Patriarch and late Matriarch of this family but also with the quality of their children one of whom was the subject of the service. It also had a great deal with the quality of the friends of those children (also speaking well of the Patriarch and Matriarch because of the childrens' choice of friends).

I was particularly touched by the feelings expressed by a (now adult) former stepson of the deceased. This stepson gave nothing but grief to his former stepfather in his late adolescent years...but acknowledged that his former stepfather had treated him like his real father (implicitly acknowledging that that means being chastised when the circumstances call for it).

The discussions, the hugs, the tears, the efforts to make things the best possible for the children of their late father...I was moved beyond belief.

Families make a big difference.

This family is special.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Book report: A Partisan's Daughter

This is de Bernieres' most recent novel. It is a departure in style from previous novels. Instead of a huge cast of characters, this has only two prominent characters. One is Roza, a 20-something single woman who meets Chris, a 50-something married man. When they meet, he believes she's a prostitute; she claims to have been a prostitute who's now out of the business. They forge a friendship over the course of months of periodic meetings. Each meeting is a story-telling session, with Roza telling Chris stories of big adventures (with a fair amount of cruelty) in her life. They're falling in love through this time, though neither admits their feelings. Spoiler alert: in the end, he gets drunk one night and offers to pay her for sex and calls her a bitch when she refuses. She's crushed, their friendship is over and their romance is over before it begins. We get a dose of Yugoslav/Serb/Croat history through Roza's life. I'm not recommending it. Had a decidedly Milan Kundera feel. If you want Milan Kundera, read Milan Kundera. If you want de Bernieres, read Birds Without Wings.

[Update: I've just re-read this and realized there are a couple things I should say. 1) as I've said in earlier posts, de Bernieres is one of my favorite authors who's written two of my all-time favorite books so I hold him to a higher standard; 2) I didn't mean to dis Milan Kundera; just saying that there's no reason to read de Bernieres channeling Kundera.]