Posted by: quiscus | January 23, 2011

January 23, 2010

1.  “Undisciplined spending in the name of defense

Never heard of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency? You’re not alone. A fair guess is that nine of 10 Washington pundits and political insiders don’t know the NGA exists, while perhaps one in 100 can describe its function.

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency has 16,000 employees — nearly as many as Google  — and a “black” budget thought to be at least $5 billion per year. The NGA is building a new headquarters complex with the stunning price of $1.8 billion, nearly the cost of the Freedom Tower rising in Manhattan. That new headquarters, near Fort Belvoir, Virginia, will be the third-largest structure in the Washington area, nearly rivaling the Pentagon in size.

Here is the kicker: most of the photography and topographic information generated by the NGA at great expense to taxpayers is very similar to what Google and Microsoft give away for free.

This Google view of the current headquarters of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, available free, differs only a little from what the NGA produces at fantastic expense. Zoom in: the image is good enough to count the cars in the NGA headquarters lot, inspect the small wood to the west where employees stroll, determine that NGA communication and power cables are buried. (No satellite dishes or utility poles.) There is ample resolution to select which of the four current NGA structures a targeting planner wants the cruise missile to hit. Here is the Microsoft Bing view, which even shows condensate rising from the HVAC station.

Google and Microsoft are doing nothing wrong by posting these images — unless it’s wrong to take aerial views, in which case the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is in the wrong, too.

The key point is that Google and Microsoft are able to give away topographic information, or sell it at low cost — for $399, Google Earth Pro offers better resolution — while a defense agency spends billions of dollars to do the same. As free-market entities, Google and Microsoft are concerned with cost-effectiveness. The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, exempt from cost controls and public scrutiny, wants to run up the price: its bureaucrats benefit from empire-building.

This is everything that’s wrong with defense spending in a nutshell.”

2.  “Tunisia

Having already abolished the so-called ‘Ministry of Information’ and pre-publication censorship, the Tunisian Customs administration announced Saturday that imported books, magazines, CDs, films, and other electronic media would forthwith be exempt from any requirement that the importer receive prior permission to bring them in. When I was in Tunisia a few years ago I went around looking for Arabic bookstores. Mostly I just found little stationaries with a small stock of slim books by Tunisian authors– mostly novellas as I remember. I saw an enormous Western-style book store brimming with French books, and it seemed to me that the Ben Ali regime was carefully limiting access to Arabic books for the literate middle and working classes, but was giving the Francophone educated upper middle class access to a much wider range of literature (presumably on the theory– mistaken, as it turned out– that this cosmopolitan class was anyway on the regime’s side).

The idea of books and videos just flowing into an Arab country with no let or hindrance is breathtaking (even Lebanon censors, and its censorship may be getting worse.) On the other hand, the Tunisian government will keep in place internet filters are censorship.”

3.  “Barack Obama: As Bad as Bush

His enemies call him a tyrant and a dictator, but he is neither. Hugo Chavez is a tireless champion of the poor and a committed Christian socialist. The only difference between Chavez’s type of Christianity and Barack Obama’s, is that Chavez walks the walk.

Surprised? Don’t be. Any foreign leader who attempts to control his country’s resources, improve human rights, or distribute the nation’s wealth more equally among its people, is the de facto enemy of the United States. People thought that things might change under Obama, but they were wrong. He’s as bad as Bush. ”

4.  “America’s treatment of detainees

Relatedly, the ACLU has obtained new documents which shed more harsh light on the 190 War on Terror detainees who died in American custody.  Specifically, many of these documents — autopsy reports and military investigations – – show that at least 25 to 30 of those cases were “unjustified homicides,” i.e., murder.  It’s long been known that many detainees were killed by their treatment during interrogation.  I wrote about many of these cases here over a year ago, and Gen. Barry McCaffrey has said:  “We tortured people unmercifully.  We probably murdered dozens of them during the course of that, both the armed forces and the C.I.A.”  But these new documents show that these deaths at the hands of U.S. captors were even more deliberate, brutal and widespread than previously known:


In one such case, a detainee was killed by an unnamed sergeant who walked into a room where the detainee was lying wounded “and assaulted him … then shot him twice thus killing him,” one of the investigating documents says. The sergeant than instructed the other soldiers present to lie about the incident. Later, the document says an unnamed corporal then shot the deceased detainee in the head after finding his corpse.

Appropriately, The Weekly Standard today has an interview with former Bush Attorney General Michael Mukasey in which he slams Eric Holder for the mere possibility that some of these detainee deaths will be criminally investigated, calling it a “witch hunt.”  That view is not an aberration, of course.  The Brookings Institutions’ Benjamin Wittes last week criticized the Obama DOJ for merely leaving open the possibility of prosecution for some of these CIA interrogators who were so sadistic and lawless that they even exceeded the boundaries of the torture permission slips given to them by the Bush DOJ.  Both Mukasey and Wittes are speaking for the consensus of America’s political class.  They — and it — literally believe that anyone acting as part of the American government should be able to get away with murder — which they’ll argue in between sermons on the evils of other nations’ human rights abuses and the need for the U.S. to “do more” to stop such abuses.”

5.  “Superpower Collapse Soup

If there is one thing that I would like to claim as my own, it is the comparative theory of superpower collapse. For now, it remains just a theory, although it is currently being quite thoroughly tested. The theory states that the United States and the Soviet Union will have collapsed for the same reasons, namely: a severe and chronic shortfall in the production of crude oil (that magic addictive elixir of industrial economies), a severe and worsening foreign trade deficit, a runaway military budget, and ballooning foreign debt. I call this particular list of ingredients “The Superpower Collapse Soup.” Other factors, such as the inability to provide an acceptable quality of life for its citizens, or a systemically corrupt political system incapable of reform, are certainly not helpful, but they do not automatically lead to collapse, because they do not put the country on a collision course with reality. ”

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