“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Will we find life inside of Orion in 2012?

It is likely that the new year will bring a strong indication of a planet that is sustaining life.  The consequences to religion should be profound, but then again, that would require some sane thought  and discussion. This should be a doosey. 

Why The Neocons Hate Ron Paul

Why are Americans fighting and dying in the Middle East? Why are the right wing media mouthpieces in overdrive sliming Ron Paul? I found this talk by Wesley Clark from 2008 about the cynical manipulation of American foreign policy by the Neocons and the flackery in the so-called right-wing media. Pay attention to the last 45 seconds of Wesley Clark’s speech. How do you answer his questions?

Here is the “Dangerous" Ron Paul:

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Gorillas Trying to Understand a Fellow Primate and then there are Other Animals

We interrupt your viewing pleasure to take you back to civilization:

December 27, 2011
For Somali Women, Pain of Being a Spoil of War

MOGADISHU, Somalia — The girl’s voice dropped to a hush as she remembered the bright, sunny afternoon when she stepped out of her hut and saw her best friend buried in the sand, up to her neck.

Her friend had made the mistake of refusing to marry a Shabab commander. Now she was about to get her head bashed in, rock by rock.

“You’re next,” the Shabab warned the girl, a frail 17-year-old who was living with her brother in a squalid refugee camp.

Several months later, the men came back. Five militants burst into her hut, pinned her down and gang-raped her, she said. They claimed to be on a jihad, or holy war, and any resistance was considered a crime against Islam, punishable by death.

“I’ve had some very bad dreams about these men,” she said, having recently escaped the area they control. “I don’t know what religion they are.”

Somalia has been steadily worn down by decades of conflict and chaos, its cities in ruins and its people starving. Just this year, tens of thousands have died from famine, with countless others cut down in relentless combat. Now Somalis face yet another widespread terror: an alarming increase in rapes and sexual abuse of women and girls.

The Shabab militant group, which presents itself as a morally righteous rebel force and the defender of pure Islam, is seizing women and girls as spoils of war, gang-raping and abusing them as part of its reign of terror in southern Somalia, according to victims, aid workers and United Nations officials. Short of cash and losing ground, the militants are also forcing families to hand over girls for arranged marriages that often last no more than a few weeks and are essentially sexual slavery, a cheap way to bolster their ranks’ flagging morale.

But it is not just the Shabab. In the past few months, aid workers and victims say there has been a free-for-all of armed men preying upon women and girls displaced by Somalia’s famine, who often trek hundreds of miles searching for food and end up in crowded, lawless refugee camps where Islamist militants, rogue militiamen and even government soldiers rape, rob and kill with impunity.

With the famine putting hundreds of thousands of women on the move — severing them from their traditional protection mechanism, the clan — aid workers say more Somali women are being raped right now than at any time in recent memory. In some areas, they say, women are being used as chits at roadblocks, surrendered to the gunmen staffing the barrier in the road so that a group of desperate refugees can pass.

“The situation is intensifying,” said Radhika Coomaraswamy, the United Nations’ special representative for children and armed conflict. All the recent flight has created a surge in opportunistic rapes, she said, and “for the Shabab, forced marriage is another aspect they are using to control the population.”

In the past two months, from Mogadishu alone, the United Nations says it has received more than 2,500 reports of gender-based violence, an unusually large number here. But because Somalia is a no-go zone for most operations, United Nations officials say they are unable to confirm the reports, leaving the work to fledgling Somali aid organizations under constant threat.

Somalia is a deeply traditional place, where 98 percent of girls are subject to genital cutting, according to United Nations figures. Most girls are illiterate and relegated to their homes. When they venture out, it is usually to work, trudging through the rubble-strewn alleyways wrapped head to toe in thick black cloth, often lugging something on their back, the equatorial sun burning down on them.

The famine and mass displacement, which began over the summer, have made women and girls more vulnerable. So many Somali communities have been disbanded, and with armed groups forcing men and boys into their militias, it is often single women, with children in tow, who set off on the dangerous odyssey to refugee camps.

At the same time, aid workers and United Nations officials say the Shabab, who are fighting Somalia’s transitional government and imposing a harsh version of Islam in the areas they control, can no longer pay their several thousand fighters the way they used to. Much as they seize crops and livestock, giving their militants what they call “temporary wives” is how the Shabab keep many young men fighting for them.

But these are hardly marriages, said Sheik Mohamed Farah Ali, a former Shabab commander who defected to the government army.

“There’s no cleric, no ceremony, nothing,” he said, adding that Shabab fighters had even paired up with thin little girls as young as 12, who are left torn and incontinent afterward. If a girl refuses, he said, “she’s killed by stones or bullets.”

One young woman just delivered a baby, half Somali, half Arab. She said she was selected by a Somali Shabab fighter she knew, brought to a house full of guns and handed off to a portly Arab commander, one of the many foreigners fighting for the Shabab.

“He did whatever he wanted with me,” she said. “Night and day.”

She said she escaped when he was sleeping.

The Elman Peace and Human Rights Center is one of the few Somali organizations helping rape victims, run by Fartuun Adan, a tall, outspoken woman whose husband, Elman, was gunned down by warlords years ago. Ms. Adan says that since the famine began, she has met hundreds of women who have been raped and hundreds more who have escaped forced marriages.

“You have no idea how difficult it is for them to come forward,” she said. “There’s no justice here, no protection, people say ‘You’re junk’ if you’ve been raped.”

Often, the women are left wounded or pregnant, forced to seek help. Ms. Adan wants to expand her medical services and counseling for rape victims and possibly open a safe house, but it is hard to do on a budget of $5,000 a month, provided by a small aid organization called Sister Somalia. Ms. Adan wept on a recent day as she listened to the 17-year-old girl recount the story of seeing her friend stoned to death and then being gang-raped herself.

“These girls ask me, ‘How am I going to get married, what’s going to be my future, what’s going to happen to me?’ ” she said. “We can’t answer that.”

Some of the women in Ms. Adan’s office seem to have come from another time. They have made it here, with help from Elman’s network, from the deepest recesses of rural Somalia, where women are still treated like chattel.

One 18-year-old who asked to go by Ms. Nur, her common last name, was married off at 10. She was a nomad and says that to this day she has never used a phone or seen a television.

She spoke of being raped by two Shabab fighters at a displaced-persons camp in October. She said the men did not bother saying much when they entered her hut. They just pointed their guns at her chest and uttered two words: stay silent.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Want to Know What Goes on Beyond Closed Doors?

About Us

Logo of Intelligent Agent

Intelligent Agent provides near-field radar sensors for robotics and automation.

Intelligent Agent was founded by the two technology enthusiasts Elias Bakken and Øyvind Nydal Dahl in 2009.

Both with strong technical backgrounds from the Nanoelectronics group at the University of Oslo, Norway.

The first period of operation comprised mostly of consulting work and creating proof-of-concept demos using

Ultra-Wideband (UWB) radar technology. This provided us with a large base of radar signal processing knowledge for UWB radar.

Then the robotics and automation industry got our attention. We realized that there were no available off-the-shelf sensors on the market that could handle near-field sensing in harsh environments. So we decided to build one.

Today we are a small innovative company, dedicated to provide high quality near-field radar sensors that are easy to use for a global market.

Intelligent Agent AS
Rådhusgata 9c
0151 Oslo

Philadelphia 2011 Mob Scene

Monday, December 26, 2011

Afghanistan Reconstruction - Can the US Government Do Anything Right?

America’s foreign fiascos

Pioneer INDIA

The haste shown by the US in winding up its operations in Iraq and the prospect of a similar exit plan from unstable Af-Pak reveals the hollowness of America’s strategic vision
America’s Iraq mission seems futile from both the Iraqi as well as its own long-term perspective. The exit of the US troops after imposing a nine-year long war which claimed the lives of 4,500 of its own soldiers and cost $1 trillion, was disgracefully hurried. Despite the decade-long association with locals, the departing soldiers were not even given time to say their goodbyes. They not only kept the details of their final trip secret but also convinced local tribal leaders and government officials that nothing was going to change.
The stated goal of the 2003 Iraq invasion was to remove a regime that allegedly developed and used weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Saddam Hussein was accused of human rights abuses and the America-led powers pulled out all the stops to manipulate the will of the United Nations.
However, if George W Bush’s stated goals of 2003 are subjected to scrutiny today, it all turns out a waste. Saddam is gone, but there was no evidence of WMD. Iraqi society is completely torn between the Shia majority and the Sunni minority. In the absence of American forces, the fragile attempts to get the two warring sides to work together could collapse.
Signs of chaos are already descending on Iraq. The Sunni-backed political block is boycotting Parliament to protest the so-called dictatorship of Shia Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Tension further escalated with the Maliki Government calling on the Kurdish region to hand over
Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi, another prominent Sunni figure in the Allawi-led “Iraqiya” block, on terror charges.
In terms of US interests, there are three major counts of failure. 
  • First, the US has been unable to set up a stable democratic Government which can work to America’s advantage. Instead, the shaky Government has given ample opportunity for Iran to interfere in its internal affairs and work against US interests.
  • Second, due to the high cost of war — $ 1 trillion — the US administration has lost Americans’ support for future military adventures in any other country.
  • Third, the US has been accused of inventing the whole WMD scare and demonising Saddam only for securing control of Iraq’s oil reserves. The Americans had hoped the reconstruction of Iraq would be paid for by the Iraqis with payment in the form of oil at pre-fixed prices. But this didn’t work out. Therefore, the commercial rationale of going to war against Saddam Hussein and effecting regime change came to a grand zero.

Following the Cold War, America perceived a major challenge to the new world order from rogue states which allegedly posed serious danger to regional stability in many corners of the globe. It is here that the US assumed special responsibility for developing a strategy to engage, neutralise and contain “Backless States” to transform them into constructive members of the international community and work in the US’ favour.
Additionally, under George HW Bush and Bill Clinton, domestic political and commercial interests also played a significant role in determining and shaping this containment and engagement policy. Though the so-called “rogue” countries constituted a distinct group of nations, the concept did not translate into a singular American policy. Rather it generated debates on whether to go for containment or engagement with those States.
For example, with Syria and Pakistan, the US went for engagement, while for Iraq and Afghanistan, it chose containment. Depending on the target country, the objective of the US engagement or containment policy has been to precipitate either regime change or transform their political outlook. The latter was put on display in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The banality of ethnic war theorist John Mueller once argued that public support for the American wars in Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq can be explained with “a simple association”. As casualties mount, support decreases, says this theory. In this context, it’s not hard to understand why the support for the Iraq war among Americans dropped so fast. So, keeping in mind the public preference of the same outcome — victory — at lower cost or war — casualties — the US recently changed tack and resorted to use of drones for surgical operations.
The drone policy was successful in eliminating America’s greatest enemies — Osama bin Laden and others — but the image of the world’s only superpower took a beating. President Barack Obama was accused of cowardice after Iran blatantly refused to hand over the wreckage of the drone it had shot down. It has already threatened to bomb Turkey if the US or Israel tries to destroy its nuclear installations. General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, head of the aerospace division of the powerful Revolutionary Guard, threatened to target Nato’s missile defence shield in Turkey, installed to prevent Iranian missile attacks on Israel. Even the US-EU threat to block Iran’s oil exports is not feasible as this would more than double crude prices, with devastating consequences on a fragile global economy.
The Iraq experience of the US could become a model for withdrawal of its military from Afghanistan. But the 2014 target is set to open a can of worms in the Af-Pak region. According to a World Bank estimate, 97 per cent of Afghanistan’s economy is tied to international military and donor spending. With the Senate Foreign Relations Committee warning of severe economic depression in Afghanistan after 2014, it is not only the nation building that is at stake but the certainty of revival of terror networks in whose pursuit the US invaded Afghanistan.
US-Pakistan relations are at their lowest. As if the covert operation to take out Osama bin Laden was not enough, the United States military had to take a confrontationist attitude towards the Pakistani military. The “friendly fire” which led to the death of 24 Pakistani soldiers was followed by a diplomatic row which saw Washington maintain a rigid stance against the Pakistanis’ protests. This was quite unbecoming of a world power.
While Pakistan is heavily dependent on US defence and economic aid, the presence of the Haqqani network in Islambad suggests that Pakistan is actively aiding the enemies of America. The great American tragedy is that Washington knows full well that the ISI and Pakistani Army are working with the Haqqani network, but it is impotent when it comes to responding in a manner which leads to a resolution.
The officially stated goals of US foreign policy, as mentioned in its Foreign Policy Agenda, are to create a more secure, democratic, and prosperous world for the benefit of the American people and the international community. But going by the experience on ground, it seems America has failed woefully.
--The writer is Joint News Editor, The Pioneer

Post-Gaddafi Nightmare: Libya rebels unleash revenge

Former Libyan rebels offered military jobs

Libya will include thousands of former rebels who helped topple Muammar Gaddafi in its armed forces from January, the defence minister said on Sunday, testing the government's ability to get rebel leaders to cede command of their fighters.

7:00AM GMT 26 Dec 2011 TELEGRAPH

Although rebels met a deadline imposed by the National Transitional Council (NTC) to withdraw this week from the capital Tripoli, militias led by rival commanders still guard key installations and checkpoints across the city.

The lack of a fully functioning army and police force, has given militias free rein to fight turf wars after the uprising that ended Gaddafi's 42-year dictatorship in August.

"The programme aims at including the revolutionaries in many fields including defence," Osama al-Juwali, interim defence minister told a news conference also attended by interim interior minister Fawzi Abd al-All.

"The idea is to inject new blood in the army which was marginalised by the tyrant (Gaddafi)," said Mr Juwali who was commander of the Zintan militia that captured Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam in November.

Abd al-All said the rebels were also invited to take up positions in the interior ministry which, he said, was understaffed. He said they could also apply for civilian jobs in government offices through the ministry of labour.

Lifting of the UN Security Council sanctions this month on Libya's central bank and a subsidiary means that the interim leaders have access to cash that could be used to offer the fighters well-paying government jobs.

Juwali said that part of the plan was to train the rebels to take up high-ranking positions in the military.

He said it would take a month to register and allocate them to the military, police and other civilian posts, and months before they were trained to guard borders and installations, including oilfields and refineries, now held by rival militias.
"Everyone is allowed to join the special forces, the navy and others," he said. Talks were being held with a number of countries to train rebels inside and outside Libya for the military, he said.

Gaddafi ignored the military, giving control to security militias led by either his sons or confidants.

Mr Juwali said he was not concerned about occasional skirmishes among rebel factions and that he was continuously in contact with most of the rebel leaders.

"I am not worried about the revolutionaries," he told Reuters after the conference. "The revolutionaries ask me every day when can they hand in their weapons and ammunition, but I tell them to wait until we have the facilities to store them."
The latest major turf war broke out this month when armed men in the vehicles of Libya's new national army tried to take control of Tripoli's international airport from a powerful Zintan militia unit.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Peace on Earth

Peace on Earth, can it be
Years from now, perhaps we'll see
See the day of glory
See the day, when men of good will
Live in peace, live in peace again

Peace on Earth, can it be
Every child must be made aware
Every child must be made to care
Care enough for his fellow man
To give all the love that he can

I pray my wish will come true
For my child and your child too
He'll see the day of glory
See the day when men of good will
Live in peace, live in peace again

Peace on Earth, can it be
Can it be

It's all I want
Merry Christmas

A Christmas Present from Melody

Nothing New on the Menu

 This week the Republicans under the House leadership of John Boehner made Barack Obama look sensible and presidential. The candidates were telling us   how awful all the other candidates are. The Republican establishment is playing the race card on Ron Paul, always a sign that a candidate or party is nervous.
 I agree. They are. All  awful.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Be Happy, Go Lucky Strike for Christmas

Is it too late to cancel the election?

I mean really, haven’t you ever gone to a baseball game that was so awful you made the sensible decision to leave early and beat the traffic. It is a simple economic trade of value, exchange a lousy game for a more enjoyable ride home.

The first vote has yet to be cast but it ain’t looking too good for the Republicans. At double time, it went from "anyone could beat Obama" to "amateur hour." Our choice is coming down to who is the least awful. The Republican Party seems to be most adept at making Obama look good. Obama can’t believe his luck. The party began for Obama when Republican, Jack Ryan, from the state of Illinois was forced to withdraw from the 2004 United States Senate race due to an alleged sex scandal involving his relationship with his ex-wife. It seems Ryan wanted to take his then wife to a sex club for the pleasure of watching another man bone her. Jump forward to the next Boehner, the Republican House Leader and you get my drift.

How Beatable Does He Look?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Ready for the next war in the Middle East?

"You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you'll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go."
-Siegfried Sassoon

The media consensus on Israel is collapsing

Across the political spectrum, once-taboo criticism is now common

With Hamas and Fatah meeting this week in Cairo, reconciliation between the rival Palestinian political parties is likely only a matter of time. Official U.S. policy holds that Hamas is only a terrorist entity, and any agreement between the two factions jeopardizes continued U.S. aid.  There is reason to believe, however, that more flexible, productive positions will be expressed in the U.S. media. Slowly but unmistakably, space is opening up among the commentariat for new, critical ideas about Israel and its relationship to the United States.
Freedom of this sort was visible in the pages of the New York Times last week. Thomas Friedman, the paper’s foreign affairs columnist, wrote that American leaders were betraying the country by outsourcing their foreign policy to Israel. A standing ovation given to the Israeli prime minister by the U.S. Congress this year was “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby,” he wrote. Phrased bluntly as it was, Friedman’s sentence was startling. As the quintessential establishment columnist, Bill Clinton’sfavorite pundit and a thrice Pulitzer Prize-winner, Friedman is often seen in the U.S. as authoritative on the Middle East and rivaled only perhaps by the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg in the influence of his writing on popular discussion.
Not surprisingly, Friedman’s piece elicited furor from those policing the conversation about Israel. The Israeli ambassadorAmerican Jewish CommitteeJerusalem Postand even members of Congress gang-swarmed Friedman, accusing him of anti-Semitism and hatred of Israel. It was not the first time in recent months Friedman has been critical of Israel policy. In September, he wrote of the Obama government that the “powerful pro-Israel lobby in an election season can force the administration to defend Israel at the U.N., even when it knows Israel is pursuing policies not in its own interest or America’s.” A more damning critique of Israel and the lobby would be difficult to make.
Even so, Friedman is not the only Times-man to let go the pro-Netanyahu line. Columnist Roger Cohen is even more critical of Israel than is Friedman, and like Friedman he is notable for being a liberal supporter of the Iraq War — not exactly a radical, in other words. Cohen now regularly writes about Israel’s “illiberalism,” says U.S. foreign policy has been “Likudnized,” and calls opposing Israeli oppression of the Palestinians the most important task currently facing diaspora Jews.
Cohen believes the new conversations he has contributed to represent “changes going on in the U.S. Jewish community,” he said in a phone interview. “Jewish identify in postwar America was built very much on the Holocaust and support for Israel, and for younger American Jews that may have less resonance. There may be a rethinking of that form of attachment to Israel.”
J Street, the organization devoted to lobbying for Israel from a liberal perspective, is both reflective of, and a stimulant to, a more balanced conversation about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Cohen says. If he is right, J Street is performing its job well. Public discussion about the Mideast conflict is still nowhere near evenhanded in the United States, but it is more so than it used to be.
Three academics, Tony JudtStephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, deserve a lot of credit for expanding the permissible. Whatever one thinks of their analyses or prescriptions, they endured opprobrium and ostracism, to state the obvious: The unconditional U.S.-Israeli relationship is good for neither the U.S. nor Israel. Walt has an important perch at Foreign Policy’s website, which he uses to regularly espouse his once-radical views on Israel.
Criticism of the special relationship, once rare, is now frequent. Newsweek/Daily Beast’s Andrew Sullivan  has become a regular source of attacks on the unqualified U.S. support for Israeli policy. Time magazine’s Joe Klein has been similarlyoutspoken. “If you don’t think that the Israel Lobby has an enormous influence on the Congress, you’re deluding yourself,” he wrote recently.
Peter Beinart, also of Newsweek/Daily Beast, inspired headlines with his critique of the “Failure of the American Jewish Establishment.” He has a forthcoming book sure to get a lot of attention called “The Crisis of Zionism.” Former New York Observer writer Philip Weiss has created a one-stop shop for critics of Israel and U.S. policy. And, of course, Salon’s own Glenn Greenwald regularly questions the bipartisan consensus on Israel.
As one would expect, these developments are causing a great deal of consternation from those determined that views favorable to the Palestinians never get a hearing. In 2006, the American Jewish Committee released its infamous report accusing these new critics of Israel of being simply anti-Semitic. Last year, Lee Smith of Tablet magazine made the odd charge that publications like the Atlantic and Salon encourage Jew-hating writers in the hopes of increasing page views. Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol has lamented that charging Israel’s critics with “anti-Semitism” doesn’t effectively silence them any longer. And this week Iran-Contra convict Elliott Abramscriticized Friedman and Klein because they exemplify the mainstreaming of Walt and Mearsheimer’s ideas.
But it isn’t only pundits and academics. Diplomats and the people who would be on the center-right of American politics (if such a thing still existed) have been vocal about their alienation from U.S. discussion of Israel. Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Institution, an advisor to three presidents on Middle East and South Asian issues, told me in an email that “Fear of angering extreme evangelicals and the old lobby still inhibit real debate about Israel in American politics.”
Paul Pillar, former CIA bigwig, has become a stark critic of Israel for the National Interest. He has defended the comparison of Israel’s occupation policies with apartheid South Africa, and says that he agrees with all of Walt and Mearsheimer’s analysis, including the most incendiary charge — that the Israel lobby was instrumental in pushing the U.S. to invade Iraq.
Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff for Colin Powell, has been similarly outspoken about the power of what he calls “the Jewish lobby.” Jack Matlock, Ronald Reagan’s ambassador to the Soviet Union, has written that by far the greatest threat to Israel’s security and well-being is the policies of its own government. And in 2009 longtime diplomat Chas Freeman blasted the Israel lobby for successfully ending his nomination to be chairman of the National Intelligence Council.
For all the discussion-widening in the chattering classes, official U.S. foreign policy has changed little, if at all. Obama has overseen unprecedented military deals between Israel and the United States, and all but abandoned the Palestinians in the international diplomatic arena. Newt Gingrich’s historically discredited claim that the Palestinians are an “invented people” shows that American politicians still take some of the most extreme positions in the Israeli polity as gospel.
Still, at the outset of his term Obama made the biggest rhetorical push against Israeli settlement policy that any U.S. president ever has, only to back down in the face of Israeli objections. The resulting animosity between Netanyahu and the administration is no secret. Democratic rank-and-file voters are also less supportive of Israel than they used to be, and less so than Republicans are now. The new conversation about Israel has yet to make its way into Congress and the executive branch, but that day may be coming