THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 674 May 9 - 15, 2011
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May 9, 2011
Months ago (in August, 2010) we discovered that Osama bin Laden was hiding in Abbottabad, a military town in the foothill region northeast of Islamabad. It took months to become certain of this, and all during that time the secret that we were interested in the region was meticulously kept from most of the White House Staff, the Congress, the CIA except for those who needed to know and there were few of those, the Director of National Intelligence (who seems to have been completely out of the story, and whose job and staff seem increasingly less useful), most of the US military, most of the State Department, and everyone in the Middle East.
The government of Pakistan, meanwhile, is convinced that bin Laden is hiding in the caves in the tribal areas, or has gone to earth somewhere else, but it has no suspicion that he is in hiding in their military retirement city. They have none of the clues that led the US to Abbottabad. The CIA investigates -- it is certainly reasonable to assume that at least a couple of CIA tourist teams will take their honeymoon vacations in scenic Abbottabad -- but that draws no attention from Pakistani authorities. Bounty hunters are looking for the biggest bounty ever, but none are drawn to Abbottabad. No one drops any hints to bounty hunters. The compound remains not only safe, but pretty well left alone by the Pakistani security apparatus while the CIA seeks clues to resolve the ambiguities.
The President was decisive from the beginning. He ordered mission plans to be made for the contingency that this was, in fact, Public Enemy Number One. Although the ambiguity of just who was hiding in that compound was never resolved to a certainty, eventually there was enough resolution to warrant an armed expedition from a US base in Afghanistan fairly deep into the sovereign territory of Pakistan. This was done without either the knowledge or consent of the government of Pakistan.
Two stealth helicopters containing about 40 armed warriors crossed from Afghanistan into Abbottabad. Cruising in the dead of night they came into the city and settled in over a walled compound a couple of miles from the Pakistani Military Academy in a city in which many of the Pakistani flag officers live in retirement. One helicopter crashes, but without casualties. The troops assault the compound. At some point shots are fired. There were initial reports of a fire fight, but those turn out to be untrue, probably a misinterpretation of the "shots fired" report. For forty minutes more or less the assault continues. No one from outside interferes. There is no intervention by the Pakistani police, who probably possess helicopters and certainly possess squad cars. There is no intervention by the Pakistani armed forces including whatever security forces protect the military academy. There is no intervention from neighbors. The compound under attack is said to be unusual in that it had neither telephone nor Internet connections, from which we can infer that at least some and probably most of the houses in the neighborhood had both.
After forty minutes on the ground the troops, carrying a body and all the collectible information they could gather board the remaining flightworthy helicopter. This flies unopposed and unmolested back to a US base in Afghanistan, carrying some 40 men. At some point in this operation the Pakistani government is informed that the US has invaded their sovereign territory, and that this is an official US operation, please do not interfere. The Pakistani government is astonished, but stands down; no interceptors are sent, no inspections from air or ground are made. Pakistani investigators arrive at the compound, to find that all US operatives have left. There are some people in the compound. Some are alive. Some are dead. Some have been, and perhaps remain, handcuffed. There is no one in charge, no US operatives to explain the situation. The former compound inhabitants are taken into custody and removed to a Pakistani military installation.
The next morning the situation in the neighborhood returns to something like normal. New media are not allowed in the compound, at least not at first, but they can approach its walls. Local inhabitants come out in curiosity. Food vendors appear. There doesn't seem to be any great excitement. It is not clear which Pakistani organizations have come to take charge of the investigation. Certainly none of the operatives involved in the assault are in Pakistani custody.
Meanwhile, the very heavily laden helicopter -- carrying about 40 troops including the flight crew of the destroyed helicopter, plus one dead body, plus an unknown amount of loot. From Wikipedia on the Black Hawk:
We have reports of 40 assault troops. Call it 35 including the flight crew of the downed copter. Add a dead body. That makes 36, at an average of, say, 190 pounds is 3240 pounds without equipment and a very crowded machine. The combat radius under normal load is said to be 368 miles, and the Afghani border is under 150 miles away so even fully loaded that's not a problem. It's not going to be a comfortable trip, and there's sure not a lot of room in there, but it's possible. By this time the Pakistani authorities have been told this is happening and ordered not to interfere, and for once everyone gets the word, and nothing happens.
This is the official story plus reasonable inferences. You can believe as much of this as you want to.
The biggest question is, how was something this big kept secret? And just what secrets were kept? By whom, and from whom? Did Panetta keep the operation secret from the President until it was launched? Did the Pakistani government keep secrets from the Pakistani ISI? There are three entities in Pakistan: the government, the military, and the ISI. They have overlapping but not identical interests, and overlapping but very different personnel. They keep secrets from each other. The ISI created the Taliban, largely in reaction to the US abandonment of interest in the area following the Russian withdrawal from Afghanistan. Once the Russians were out, the US wasn't interested in Afghanistan. Pakistan lives next door.
More details emerge. There is ambiguity in the number of troops engaged. There are many questions about just how many CIA assets were already in place in the general neighborhood.
The one thing we may be sure of is that the official story will leave Pakistan looking perhaps stupid but not in complicity with bin Laden. We may, however, use logic to try to infer just what did happen.
I'm not feeling very good, and I'm going to go have lunch while I contemplate all this.
That certainly sounds more plausible in one way, but it also means a larger operation, with more assets. Four black helicopters from the Afghan border to Abbottabad, and no one noticed. Four come into the neighborhood and no one calls the cops. Well, that's more plausible in Pakistani than California, I suppose.
There is also the possibility that some of the agents already in place in Abbottabad took part in the raid; they may have gone out with the raiders, or made their way some other way. I suspect that someone was left behind to turn the mess over to the Pakistani authorities, who then vanished. I note that Pakistan is now 'retaliating' by outing some CIA officers who were perhaps due to be withdrawn anyway. Perhaps one of those greeted the local Chief of Police when the Pakistani came to the compound after all the excitement was done.
Since Pakistan is a very leaky outfit, but the US presumably made it clear to all three elements of Pakistan control -- the military, the government, and the ISI -- that bin Laden on their soil was a "bad", not a good. It would not have taken much warning to give bin Laden a chance to get away. Presumably he had some alternate safe house somewhere. Presumably the US had a watch on the house. All presumption, of course. I could easily write an adventure story about all this, and many will do that, but there are a lot of screwy details.
And my brain isn't working very well this week.
My thanks to all who have recently subscribed or renewed. This is KUSC pledge week, which means that it's the Spring Chaos Manor Pledge Drive, but I sort of hate to do that since I haven't had a great deal to contribute for the past week or so. I seem to be in the grip of something awful. I like to think I'm worth the money for the pledges and subscriptions and renewals, and I will be, presently; for the moment here we are.
There's a lot going on worth comment. I'm dancing as fast as I can...
California public school teachers are marching about Sacramento to insist on raising taxes since they don't want any cut in their pay. California teachers are the second highest paid in the country according to the radio (New York is the highest) and indeed, if they had a pay cut of 10% they would still be the second highest paid in the land. Alas, while we once had one of the best public education systems in the land, that is no more. There are some good schools, but the average isn't so very good. The problem comes from failing to think about the purpose of public education.
The current way of thinking is as a right, and about equality, and about entitlements.
What isn't examined is why taxpayers ought to want to pay for public education: is there any benefit to those who pay taxes to finance this entitlement? If so, how do we assure that this beneficial goal will be met?
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Well, it's hardly astonishing. Pakistani had to have cooperated in some ways; the operation was impossible without at least some leashing of the local cops. When people start assaulting houses in Beverly Hills, you expect the Beverly Hills PD to respond even if the US government is doing the assaulting. The story I have heard is that Pakistani police were telling people in the neighborhood to turn off their lights and stay indoors. There certainly was no fire fight with the local police.
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|This week:||Tuesday, May
They're rioting in Los Angeles. Well, not rioting, but a bunch of students have been whipped into a frenzy to "save their school." The school is about the worst in the district. Union contracts don't let the district just fire the incompetent teachers. The result is that the teachers are sending the pupils into the streets to save their jobs. The taxpayers get to foot the bill. I have not heard where the civics teachers stand on this matter. The students are blocking traffic and sitting in the streets.
The school in question had 5% test proficient in math last year. About 25% tested as proficient in English.
One wonders: wouldn't it be better to "save" this school by transferring all the unfirable lousy teachers in Los Angeles to it. Save the place that way. It would improve all the other schools, and it's unlikely to make that one worse. Not much could.
You may take it as a general rule: get the worst 10% of the teachers out of a school, distributing their students to the remaining teachers, and you will improve the school, probably very dramatically. So designate one awful school as the place to send all the worst teachers. It won't hurt that school much, because not much can. It complies with the silly laws and rules that make it impossible to fire bad, incompetent, malicious, and generally unsatisfactory teachers, and it will do some good for the other schools. Admittedly it's a silly way to improve a school system, but it may well be the only possible way, since there appears to be no way to change the rules.
Up in Sacramento some teachers are trying to occupy the capitol building.
All of this assumes that the purpose of the schools is to be concerned about the rights of teachers, union contracts, pensions, pay (second highest in the country) and other entitlement matters, not with any actual performance or education. The law doesn't require that anyone be educated, but it is very detailed about who gets paid, and how much. Similarly the teacher contracts don't require that anyone learn anything, but they are very explicit on how hard the teachers must work. One of the current demands is that teachers receive more paid time off for union activities which will count as time in grade. Another is that the state raise taxes since it can't pay the current rates. There does not seem to be any movement to cut salaries and benefits in order to avoid layoffs when the state runs out of money. Layoffs will of course be by seniority, not by merit.
The purpose of the school system is to pay teachers and administrators, both while they work and after they retire. The teachers are inviting the public to join them in their demand for higher taxes. The taxpayers are invited to come out and demand that their taxes be raised.
I suspect I wasn't as clear as I might have been. I took all my numbers from what was reported to us, and it was obvious that the story couldn't have been true as reported. And since it is now admitted that the compound was under observation for months by CIA operatives in a "safe house", but there is no account or even mention of their involvement, it becomes even more obvious that what we have been told is not true, whether or not the people telling us these stories believe it or not.
This operation wasn't possible without some Pakistani involvement, although the probability that Pakistan can or will admit that is quite low. My familiarity with this kind of operation is limited largely to analysis, theory and war games prior to 1972, and many years later a long discussion of the Iran operation with Colonel Beckwith back when we were discussing my writing the Delta Force book. (I do wish I had done that book; at the time there were formidable obstacles. Ah well.) I defer to your command experience in these matters. Having said that I am generally in agreement that 40 is too many, given that the house was under observation for months. Perhaps an entry team of 8 shooters, with another team of a dozen for perimeter security. The perimeter team also includes the communications and command cell. Finally a reserve of 10 whose main job is to hang on while everyone else bugs out. And possibly a very smooth talking liaison guy with a Platinum American Express Card and some Kruger Rands whose job is to make nice with the local authorities...
Eventually the whole story will come out, but unfortunately it will trickle, with many "eye witness" accounts by people who were not actually involved, and many more by "command cell participants". There won't be confrontations, just contradictions. It has been that way for a few thousand years...
The day has been eaten with medical appointments and recovering Roberta's car from the shop. I am in theory recovering from what has laid me low for the past weeks, but I fear my brain isn't working all that well. I am almost ashamed to remind you that this is KUSC pledge week, meaning that it is time to remind you to subscribe or renew your subscription (and my thanks to those who have just done so).
May 11, 2011
The big news in California is that the San Diego
District Attorney is bringing suit to overturn former Governor
Schwarzenegger's commutation of the plea-bargain sentence of 16 years given
to Esteban Nunez, son of the former California Assembly Speaker Fabio Nunez.
The facts here are not much in dispute. Nunez and companions were denied admission to a party at San Diego State University, and returned with knives to attack those who had denied them entrance. One boy was killed, and others were wounded in the resulting fight. The original charge was murder. Nunez and his companions were convicted of voluntary manslaughter, Nunez pleading guilty. On essentially his last day in office Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger commuted the sentence to 7 years. His explanation was that Nunez had not committed the actual murder. At another time he added that he knew the young man. Schwarzenegger and Fabio Nunez are friends, and Schwarzenegger has remarked that of course one helps one's friends.
The commutation was almost universally condemned in California, with few -- I know of none -- public figures approving of the Governor's act. Commentators said this was literally a favor for a friend, that it was unjust, and a parody of the executive clemency power.
The suit by the San Diego DA seeks to overturn the commutation and restore the original sentence on the grounds that a California initiative known as Marsy's Law requires notification of the victims or victims' families whenever any convict applies for clemency. It also requires notification of relevant judges and public prosecutorial officials. The law does not require that the Governor seek the approval of any of these people; merely that they be notified.
Most commentators are happy about this. Some are thrilled. The common comment is that the commutation ought to be overturned with the original sentence restored. This is simple justice.
On the face of it this is a simple enough matter, but I don't find it so. The purpose of executive clemency is part of the scheme of separation of powers; it is a final exception to the rule of police, prosecutors, judges, and public bureaucracies. The power has always been personal and discretionary, and many executives have used it in ways that some find unattractive, or even corrupt. Many Presidents and Governors have been accused of improper use of the power of clemency. That is an almost inevitable consequence of a grant of discretionary clemency. Even so, few attempts to constrain or limit executive clemency have been successful, and for good reason: the fear that a worse injustice will result from attempts to impose limits or require some kind of consultation with political or judicial or bureaucratic entities. It is not a good day for justice when a flagrant offender gets off more lightly than the public believes proper; but it is a far worse day for justice when an unjust sentence is imposed and there is nothing that can be done about it.
I've no brief for young Nunez, but I have a strong belief that tampering with executive clemency is a very bad idea. It is absolute and discretionary, and thus subject to nearly inevitable abuse. Executive clemency cannot undue all injustices nor will it ever be applied equally; but it is a necessary safety valve. Perhaps -- almost certainly -- the Governor was wrong to do this; but it was within his power, and the courts have no business being involved. If the prosecutor can find evidence of improper action on the Governor's part, let him be charged; but that will still not overturn his act of clemency, nor should it. Adding bureaucratic layers to clemency is a bad idea.
May 12, 2011
A disturbing thought. My first thought was, no, things are not that broken here, but on reflection I wonder. Certainly our judicial system produces weird results, and recent appointments to the Supreme Court provide few reasons to expect improvement.
We have sown the wind for decades. I suppose I ought not be surprised when we begin to reap.
The San Diego DA continues to argue sociological and political reasons for reversing the commutation of Esteban Nunez's sentence. This diminishes the people's faith in government. It undercuts the plea bargain made by the prosecution and defense and agreed to by the judge. It was unjust, a political favor, and all around a bad idea. So far as I know every bit of that is true, but that does not change the principle. We rightly distrust arbitrary power, and generally we do not grant arbitrary power to do harm. The legislature cannot convict an individual by bill of attainder, nor can the President simply order someone to the Tower (or the DC jail, or the Fort McNair Stockade, or the brig on some warship anchored in the Potomac) by Executive Order. All that was put into the Constitution and rightly so. And yet, after considerable debate, the executive power of clemency was given the President (and in nearly all cases to state Governors) as a personal and arbitrary power with no requirement for review, advice, or consent from any other body.
Injustice consists of treat equal matters unequally, or unequal matters equally. Arbitrary power always creates the opportunity for injustice even as it creates the opportunity for the executive to end an injustice. There is never perfection in human institutions.
There are many far more dangerous imperfections in our constitutions. both State and Federal, than the clemency power.
Rush Limbaugh suggests that the soon to be laid off workers at the National Zoo could have their jobs saved if they were employed to take care of the alligators in the new moat that will supplement the southern border fence...
May 13, 2011
Friday the Thirteenth Falls on Friday
The nomination dances have begun.
It's pretty well inevitable that the Democratic candidate for President will be President Obama. Prior to the Civil War there were several sitting Presidents who didn't get nominated for reelection but in those days there were no primary elections. Lyndon Johnson probably could have fought his way to the 1968 nomination for a second full term, but the growing unpopularity of the Viet Nam War and other dissent took the fire out of his belly and he decided to call it quits. That's extremely unlikely in the case of Barrack Obama, and it's about the only way he wouldn't be the Democratic nominee. We can call that side of the ticket pretty well decided.
On the Republican side it's all chaos.. There are serious candidates, candidates are clearly not serious, and candidates who don't look very serious but might be. There is no one standout candidate. It will be interesting to watch the dance.
One of the serious candidates is Newt Gingrich. Newt is an old friend. He has generally sound political principles. When I was active in national politics he was one of the few national politicians reliably in favor of investment high technology. He was sound in both principle and practice in the scary times of the Cold War, and a reliable if sensibly critical supporter of Ronald Reagan at a time when the outcome of the Seventy Years War was not predictable. Those were scary times: 26,000 warheads aimed at the United States, under the control of a changing parade of masters. Newt was able to work with Reagan. After Bush I turned out every Reagan supporter in the White House and Newt was Minority Whip, Newt was a sound and reliable source of conservative criticism: some readers may recall his House speeches in those times, and how he carefully built the coalition that led to the 1994 House majority after Bush l lost the White House to Clinton in 1992.
Although there is a great deal of nonsense about his involvement in Global Warming, his position on that is pretty close to mine: we don't know. For a good statement of his position, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l9mTRDhWTJM It's very close to what I have been saying since the 1970's when I met Newt. Our policies ought to be governed by prudence, and it is an act of hubris to pretend that we really "know the science." We do not know. Newt has many sources in the sane science community, and not he not only listens, he solicits opinions. I first met him after he read A Step Farther Out and took the trouble to get my telephone number fr0m my editor and called me to discuss it. Newt Gingrich has been a principled conservative with a sense of history for a very long time.
Another serious candidate is Mitt Romney, who is being bashed repeatedly over his adopting a state health care plan for Massachusetts that is similar in parts -- but not details -- to the Obama health care plan. His defense is that he thought it was a good idea for the state of Massachusetts at the time, but he is opposed to Obama's national health care plan. Lost in this debate is an important principle: Federalism. This is how things are supposed to work in these United States. Leaving matters like this to the states -- particularly now that the Seventy Years War with the Soviet Union is ended -- is precisely how things are supposed to work. I have never met Mitt Romney, and I haven't really looked at his principles in any great detail, but I do note that he won governorship in Mass.
Note that I am not endorsing anyone here. I am not rejecting anyone here. I am not deliberately overlooking anyone here. Over time I will have something to say about other candidates as they make their announcements. These are my observations, and there will be more.
The goal for the next election is to change the course the Republic has taken. The Republic is headed for the rocks; that has to be stopped. Once we are not sunk we can look at our destination.
If that last paragraph is ambiguous, what I meant is that the first thing that has to be done is to win the next election. This is not the time to "stand up for principle" and select a candidate on ideological grounds. It is important that someone run who can win. Of course one can go too far in sacrificing principle for electibility.
I subscribe to Atlantic because every year or so it will have an article of this quality on a subject of importance. I heartily recommend this to everyone interested in education; and I consider the education crisis enormously important, the biggest danger to the Republic.
Of course many think that the only problem is money. But that was what the teachers said back in 1983 when the Commission concluded that "If a foreign government had imposed this system of education on the United States we would rightly consider it an act of war." More money was paid. The schools continued to deteriorate. Money does not fix the problem and more money will not fix the problem.
on another subject of importance
May 14, 2011
.I am a bit under the weather and have taken the day off. The Writers of the Future barbeque with the contest winners and judges was at the Roosevelt Hotel last night. We left early because Roberta thought I ought to, and she was right. I spent a good part of the dinner talking to Kristine Kathryn Rusch about what's going on in the business of writing. She has put a lot of the story up on her web site http://kriswrites.com/ and if you have any interest in the business of writing, you should not miss it. In particular the whole field of agents and agenting is changing, and it happened without my noticing it much because I have had about the best agent in the business for a very long time. Now the Hollywood style agents, many of whom who value their markets more than they do any client, are moving into the publishing business. In particular some of them are themselves becoming an odd hybrid of epublisher and agent.
Her advice, and mine, is that you must be very careful of what contracts you sign, and that includes 'agenting" contracts. When I first began in this business it was usual to have handshake agreements with agents. Later on there came about contracts between authors and agents -- Sprague and Catherine de Camp were strenuous advocates of such things. Now the contracts are usual, and a lot of new writers, thrilled to "get an agent" sign some really bad contracts.
Nowadays the subsidiary rights -- audio rights and epublishing rights -- are often worth more than the print rights for many books. The whole business has got very complicated.
I'll have a lot more on this another time when I'm feeling up to it.
May 15, 2011
This afternoon is the Writers of the Future dinner and awards presentation at the Roosevelt Hotel, indeed in the very room in which the first Oscar ceremonies were held. I'll be getting into my black tie shortly. I'll try to get some pictures. I took the camera to the barbeque Friday night, but I didn't think to take any pictures. My head isn't really working very well this week. With luck I'll be back in form tomorrow.
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