Wednesday, September 24, 2008

U.S. - Army now to help 'control crowds'

Guard Equipment To Top $32B Over Next 4 Years, Gates Says

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said funding for the National Guard has reached a record level. Gates said the increase comes at a time of the largest mobilization of America's citizen soldiers since World War II.

In a speech prepared for the National Guard Association meeting in Baltimore, the Pentagon chief said the Army National Guard will be fully modernized by 2013 and that "for the first time ever," Guard units will be getting the latest equipment given to active duty troops.

The Guard will be getting a little more than $30 billion in the budget that begins next month, and Gates said spending on Guard equipment will top $32 billion over the next four years....
 

Army Unit to Deploy in October for Domestic Operations

Beginning in October, the Army plans to station an active unit inside the United States for the first time to serve as an on-call federal response in times of emergency. The 3rd Infantry Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team has spent thirty-five of the last sixty months in Iraq, but now the unit is training for domestic operations. The unit will soon be under the day-to-day control of US Army North, the Army service component of Northern Command. The Army Times reports this new mission marks the first time an active unit has been given a dedicated assignment to Northern Command. The paper says the Army unit may be called upon to help with civil unrest and crowd control. The soldiers are learning to use so-called nonlethal weapons designed to subdue unruly or dangerous individuals and crowds.

 

Brigade homeland tours start Oct. 1

The 3rd Infantry Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team has spent 35 of the last 60 months in Iraq patrolling in full battle rattle, helping restore essential services and escorting supply convoys.

Now they're training for the same mission — with a twist — at home.

Beginning Oct. 1 for 12 months, the 1st BCT will be under the day-to-day control of U.S. Army North, the Army service component of Northern Command, as an on-call federal response force for natural or manmade emergencies and disasters, including terrorist attacks.

It is not the first time an active-duty unit has been tapped to help at home. In August 2005, for example, when Hurricane Katrina unleashed hell in Mississippi and Louisiana, several active-duty units were pulled from various posts and mobilized to those areas.

But this new mission marks the first time an active unit has been given a dedicated assignment to NorthCom, a joint command established in 2002 to provide command and control for federal homeland defense efforts and coordinate defense support of civil authorities.

After 1st BCT finishes its dwell-time mission, expectations are that another, as yet unnamed, active-duty brigade will take over and that the mission will be a permanent one.

"Right now, the response force requirement will be an enduring mission. How the [Defense Department] chooses to source that and whether or not they continue to assign them to NorthCom, that could change in the future," said Army Col. Louis Vogler, chief of NorthCom future operations. "Now, the plan is to assign a force every year."

[...]

The 1st of the 3rd is still scheduled to deploy to either Iraq or Afghanistan in early 2010, which means the soldiers will have been home a minimum of 20 months by the time they ship out.

In the meantime, they'll learn new skills, use some of the ones they acquired in the war zone and more than likely will not be shot at while doing any of it.

They may be called upon to help with civil unrest and crowd control or to deal with potentially horrific scenarios such as massive poisoning and chaos in response to a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or high-yield explosive, or CBRNE, attack.

Training for homeland scenarios has already begun at Fort Stewart and includes specialty tasks such as knowing how to use the "jaws of life" to extract a person from a mangled vehicle; extra medical training for a CBRNE incident; and working with U.S. Forestry Service experts on how to go in with chainsaws and cut and clear trees to clear a road or area.

The 1st BCT's soldiers also will learn how to use "the first ever nonlethal package that the Army has fielded," 1st BCT commander Col. Roger Cloutier said, referring to crowd and traffic control equipment and nonlethal weapons designed to subdue unruly or dangerous individuals without killing them.

"It's a new modular package of nonlethal capabilities that they're fielding. They've been using pieces of it in Iraq, but this is the first time that these modules were consolidated and this package fielded, and because of this mission we're undertaking we were the first to get it."

The package includes equipment to stand up a hasty road block; spike strips for slowing, stopping or controlling traffic; shields and batons; and, beanbag bullets.

"I was the first guy in the brigade to get Tasered," said Cloutier, describing the experience as "your worst muscle cramp ever — times 10 throughout your whole body.

"I'm not a small guy, I weigh 230 pounds ... it put me on my knees in seconds."

The brigade will not change its name, but the force will be known for the next year as a CBRNE Consequence Management Response Force, or CCMRF (pronounced "sea-smurf")....

Karl Marx - finally achieving media celebrity status

A Political "Solution" by Thomas Sowell
 
Who was it who said, "crack-brained meddling by the authorities" can "aggravate an existing crisis"? Ronald Reagan? Milton Friedman? Adam Smith? Not even close. It was Karl Marx. Unlike most leftists today, Marx studied economics.
 
 
 
But Marx, despite the failure of communism, had important and interesting things to say about globalisation, although few people were listening. His model economy made it clear that capitalism tended towards monopoly, which should lead to strong regulation. But Wall Street bankers resist regulation in the way that small children resist going to bed. Marx's "theory of immiseration", which stated that profits would increase faster than wages, so workers would become poorer in time, was proving correct. Inflation-adjusted wages in the late 1990s were lower than in the 1970s, with one exception – those working on Wall Street.

Capitalism went forward, unchecked and often without regulation; even the world's last major communist country, China, embraced it. But the Chinese were smarter than anybody had thought. Utilising their vast resources and workforce, they became the world's factory. Five years ago my then 10-year-old son asked me: "Is everything made in China?"

[ ... ]
 
Soon everything won't be just "made in China", but owned by China. Perhaps Savile Row suits one day will no longer be the clothing of choice on Wall Street, but instead blue tunics, just like Chairman Mao's. Bankers will be carrying little red books, reminding them of the importance of regulations, not to deal in financial instruments that they don't understand and not to lend to people who cannot pay them back.
 
 
 
Daily Telegraph readers had a shock last week when they opened their paper to find the main cartoon was of Karl Marx laughing in his grave at the woes on Wall Street.

One of the effects of this financial crisis was Marx's analysis of capitalism being debated across the media. These are ideas that we were told had been dead and buried in the rubble of the Berlin Wall.

 

Capitalist crisis - Karl Marx was right

"It is a moment Karl Marx would have relished. From every angle financial capitalism is taking a battering" (The Guardian).

The economic witch-doctors and soothsayers of capitalism were wrong and the socialists and Marxists were right. This is what the collapse of Lehman Brothers - the fourth largest investment bank in the world - means.

The financial 'bloody Sunday' was followed by 'meltdown Monday' and the collapse of share prices worldwide. This has shattered the current ideological foundations - and much more besides - of capitalism.

Capitalism's representatives argued that the collapse of Stalinism and, with it, the planned economies of Russia, Eastern Europe and elsewhere, left capitalism as the only effective vehicle for delivering goods and services to the peoples of the world. The future was one of endless rises in living standards.

We argued that the inherent contradictions within capitalism - a system based on production for profit and not need - remained, particularly the economic cycle of 'boom and bust'. These, however, were masked for an historical period by the unprecedented 'financialisation' of the system through the massive extension of credit.

But like an elastic band stretched to breaking point, it was bound to snap at some stage. Lehman Brothers, for instance, was 'leveraged' - that is, borrowed - on a monumental scale of 35 times the value of its assets. It was 164 years old, had survived two world wars, the depression of the 1930s and a collapse and rescue in 1984 but has now been brought to its knees by this crisis. Yet its chief, Dick Fuld, known as the 'gorilla' for his aggressive manner, paid himself £22 million last year when the weaknesses of the bank were already obvious! He will not suffer - except from loss of face - but the 25,000 Lehman Brothers employees will.

 

Henry Ford, Karl Marx and You by Scott Roberts

Ford's living wage took auto workers, whom Marx would have called the proletariat, and turned them into a type of worker Marx did not fully anticipate; the middle-class worker.

Marx saw the world as basically a struggle between the haves (the capitalist) and the have-nots (the working-class proletariat). He noted that other classes existed, but believed that as time (and capitalism) moved forward, these other relatively minor-sized classes would eventually disappear, and society would become stratified until only the two classes remained, which would then become more and more polarized as time went on.

Marx never anticipated America; a powerful western nation brimming with middle-class workers, managers and professionals, a nation where even industrial workers lived a life of prosperity; working forty-hour workweeks, owning their own home, having access to healthcare, retirement plans, and quality public education for their children. Most importantly, in America, class was fluid; any child could grow up and become a `doctor, a lawyer, a scientist or even a wealthy industrialist.

In 1929, with the collapse of the American stock market and the onset of the Great Depression, the future of America's middle-class workers was seriously threatened. President Franklin Roosevelt introduced Social Security, work programs, and additional labor law safeguards that helped lure workers away from the siren song of Marxist ideology.

Has history proven Marx wrong?

The wave of communist-based nationalism that swept the world during the 20th century has ebbed. Russian-style centralized economic planning has clearly been an abysmal failure. With China's turn to state-supervised market capitalism, the remaining Marxist states scattered across the world seem quaint holdouts of a long-past era. Today, it appears that American-style market-capitalism has successfully led to wealth being spread across the spectrum of American society.

Or has it?

World Bank contradicts itself

The 2009 edition of World Bank's highest-circulation publication, Doing Business, which the bank launched earlier this month in Washington, continues the bank's tradition of applauding countries that exploit their workforce and ignore international labour and other human rights standards.

In the most amazing example, the bank has lauded Belarus for its top-ranking 'Employing Workers' indicator, even though the ILO has condemned the authoritarian regime's curtailing of workers' rights as a violation of Core Labour Standards.

The European Union has withdrawn trade preferences for Belarus because of its ILO violations, yet the World Bank has given Belarus a gold star for the very things that the European Union and the ILO have condemned. How the bank can suggest Belarus is a good place to do business when the country is on the outs with the EU is not explained.

The bank's annual Doing Business report has had a long standing habit of giving the best 'Employing Workers' ratings to countries having the lowest level of mandated workers' rights and social protection.

Two of the top four countries listed by the bank as being the best places in the world for labour issues have not ratified a single one of the eight Core ILO labour rights conventions, while another has ratified only two out of the eight core conventions.

According to the bank, countries with the lowest level of workers' protection have what the bank considers the best labour regulations. The same report lauds countries for being good 'reformers' for, in the bank's view, making it easier for companies to do business there.

~ more... ~

 

Pashtuns say they are caught in someone else's war

An estimated 40 million-50 million Pashtuns live in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Mostly organized into dozens of tribes, the Pashtuns live in the heart of the South-Central Asian region, which since the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, has turned into the central front in the war on terrorism. The group is often associated with extremist Taliban members and Pashtun tribes are accused of sheltering international terrorists.

Since the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the region has seen more than 1 million Pashtuns killed and millions more displaced in various rounds of fighting in that country.

But over the past five years, fighting has also devastated large parts of the once peaceful Pashtun border regions in Pakistan. Thousands of government soldiers, militants, and civilians have been killed.

These already impoverished regions now face a near economic collapse as a humanitarian crisis develops. The fighting in Bajuar and Kurram tribal districts in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) has already displaced some 300,000 civilians during the past few weeks — some of them even seeking refuge in Afghanistan.

Local leaders say that millions of Pashtuns in the area are the biggest victims of terrorism.

Afrasiab Khattak, a senior leader of the Pashtun Nationalist Awami National Party in Peshawar, says that on both sides of the border "Pashtuns have paid a very heavy price in the war against terror."

~ more... ~

 

'We are beyond suckers'

When Nassim Taleb talks about the limits of statistics, he becomes outraged. "My outrage," he says, "is aimed at the scientist-charlatan putting society at risk using statistical methods. This is similar to iatrogenics, the study of the doctor putting the patient at risk." As a researcher in probability, he has some credibility. In 2006, using FNMA and bank risk managers as his prime perpetrators, he wrote the following:

The government-sponsored institution Fannie Mae, when I look at its risks, seems to be sitting on a barrel of dynamite, vulnerable to the slightest hiccup. But not to worry: their large staff of scientists deemed these events "unlikely."

In the following Edge original essay, Taleb continues his examination of Black Swans, the highly improbable and unpredictable events that have massive impact. He claims that those who are putting society at risk are "no true statisticians", merely people using statistics either without understanding them, or in a self-serving manner. "The current subprime crisis did wonders to help me drill my point about the limits of statistically driven claims," he says.

[ ... ]

The current subprime crisis has been doing wonders for the reception of any ideas about probability-driven claims in science, particularly in social science, economics, and "econometrics" (quantitative economics).  Clearly, with current International Monetary Fund estimates of the costs of the 2007-2008 subprime crisis,  the banking system seems to have lost more on risk taking (from the failures of quantitative risk management) than every penny banks ever earned taking risks. But it was easy to see from the past that the pilot did not have the qualifications to fly the plane and was using the wrong navigation tools: The same happened in 1983 with money center banks losing cumulatively every penny ever made, and in 1991-1992 when the Savings and Loans industry became history.

It appears that financial institutions earn money on transactions (say fees on your mother-in-law's checking account) and lose everything taking risks they don't understand. I want this to stop, and stop now—the current patching by the banking establishment worldwide is akin to using the same doctor to cure the patient when the doctor has a track record of systematically killing them. And this is not limited to banking—I generalize to an entire class of random variables that do not have the structure we think they have, in which we can be suckers.

And we are beyond suckers: not only, for socio-economic and other nonlinear, complicated variables, are we are riding in a bus driven by a blindfolded driver, but we refuse to acknowledge it in spite of the evidence, which to me is a pathological problem with academia. After 1998, when a "Nobel-crowned" collection of people (and the crème de la crème of the financial economics establishment) blew up Long Term Capital Management, a hedge fund, because the "scientific" methods they used misestimated the role of the rare event, such methodologies and such claims on understanding risks of rare events should have been discredited. Yet the Fed helped their bailout and exposure to rare events (and model error) patently increased exponentially (as we can see from banks' swelling portfolios of derivatives that we do not understand).

Are we using models of uncertainty to produce certainties?

This masquerade does not seem to come from statisticians—but from the commoditized, "me-too" users of the products. Professional statisticians can be remarkably introspective and self-critical. Recently, the American Statistical Association had a special panel session on the "black swan" concept at the annual Joint Statistical Meeting in Denver last August. They insistently made a distinction between the "statisticians" (those who deal with the subject itself and design the tools and methods) and those in other fields who pick up statistical tools from textbooks without really understanding them. For them it is a problem with statistical education and half-baked expertise. Alas, this category of blind users includes regulators and risk managers, whom I accuse of creating more risk than they reduce. 

So the good news is that we can identify where the danger zone is located, which I call "the fourth quadrant", and show it on a map with more or less clear boundaries.  A map is a useful thing because you know where you are safe and where your knowledge is questionable. So I drew for the Edge readers a tableau showing the boundaries where statistics works well and where it is questionable or unreliable.  Now once you identify where the danger zone is, where your knowledge is no longer valid, you can easily make some policy rules: how to conduct yourself in that fourth quadrant; what to avoid.

So the principal value of the map is that it allows for policy making. Indeed, I am moving on: my new project is about methods on how to domesticate the unknown, exploit randomness, figure out how to live in a world we don't understand very well. While most human thought (particularly since the enlightenment) has focused us on how to turn knowledge into decisions, my new mission is to build methods to turn lack of information, lack of understanding, and lack of "knowledge" into decisions—how, as we will see, not to be a "turkey".

~ more... ~

 

George Carlin: 'You are all diseased'



Carlin rants prophetic about airport security.

The complete show, "You Are All Diseased" is the title for the 1999 HBO live broadcast stand-up special with comedian George Carlin, recorded on February 6, 1999 and released on CD in May of that year. The legendary comic comes back to the Beacon Theater to angrily rant about airport security, germs, cigars, angels, children and parents, men, names, religion, god, advertising, Bill Jeff and minorities.

'Airport security' turns out to be prophetic.

Google
 

image from http://www.spitting-image.net

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