April 21, 2009
April 21, 2009
April 21, 2009
Six years ago I wrote a book called Uncle Sam’s Plantation.
I wrote the book to tell my own story of what I saw living inside the welfare state and my own transformation out of it.
I said in that book that indeed there are two Americas — a poor America on socialism and a wealthy America on capitalism. I talked about government programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Job Opportunities and Basic Skills Training (JOBS), Emergency Assistance to Needy Families with Children (EANF), Section 8 Housing, and Food Stamps.
A vast sea of perhaps well-intentioned government programs, all initially set into motion in the 1960s, that were going to lift the nation’s poor out of poverty.
A benevolent Uncle Sam welcomed mostly poor black Americans onto the government plantation. Those who accepted the invitation switched mindsets from “How do I take care of myself?” to “What do I have to do to stay on the plantation?”
Instead of solving economic problems, government welfare socialism created monstrous moral and spiritual problems — the kind of problems that are inevitable when individuals turn responsibility for their lives over to others.
The legacy of American socialism is our blighted inner cities, dysfunctional inner city schools, and broken black families.
Through God’s grace, I found my way out. It was then that I understood what freedom meant and how great this country is.
I had the privilege of working on welfare reform in 1996, passed by a Republican Congress and signed 50 percent.
I thought we were on the road to moving socialism out of our poor black communities and replacing it with wealth-producing American capitalism.
But, incredibly, we are going in the opposite direction.
Instead of poor America on socialism becoming more like rich American on capitalism, rich America on capitalism is becoming like poor America on socialism.
Uncle Sam has welcomed our banks onto the plantation and they have said, “Thank you, Suh.”
Now, instead of thinking about what creative things need to be done to serve customers, they are thinking about what they have to tell Massah in order to get their cash.
There is some kind of irony that this is all happening under our first black president on the 200th anniversary of the birthday of Abraham Lincoln.
Worse, socialism seems to be the element of our new young president. And maybe even more troubling, our corporate executives seem happy to move onto the plantation.
In an op-ed on the opinion page of the Washington Post, Mr. Obama is clear that the goal of his trillion dollar spending plan is much more than short term economic stimulus.
“This plan is more than a prescription for short-term spending — it’s a strategy for America ‘s long-term growth and opportunity in areas such as renewable energy, healthcare, and education.”
Perhaps more incredibly, Obama seems to think that government taking over an economy is a new idea. Or that massive growth in government can take place “with unprecedented transparency and accountability.”
Yes, sir, we heard it from Jimmy Carter when he created the Department of Energy, the Synfuels Corporation, and the Department of Education.
Or how about the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 — The War on Poverty — which President Johnson said “….does not merely expand old programs or improve what is already being done. It charts a new course. It strikes at the causes, not just the consequences of poverty..”
Trillions of dollars later, black poverty is the same. But black families are not, with triple the incidence of single-parent homes and out-of-wedlock births.
It’s not complicated. Americans can accept Barack Obama’s invitation to move onto the plantation. Or they can choose personal responsibility and freedom.
Does anyone really need to think about what the choice should be?
“The trouble with socialism is that you eventually run out
of other people’s money.”
April 21, 2009
Warships have done little to deter Somalia’s pirates. But following the latest spate of hijackings, the West plans to take a more robust approach to protecting shipping. Intelligence agencies are alarmed at the pirates’ increasingly close ties to Islamist groups.
A sack filled with $1 million (€770,000) in $100 bills weighs just under 15 kilos (33 pounds). Occasionally $3 million in ransom money is paid to Somali pirates for a hijacked freighter and its crew. That’s nearly 45 kilos.
Delivering millions of dollars to the pirates is a hell of a job, says Jack Cloonan, a security expert from New York. “Remember, they’re sitting there and they’re all armed to the teeth,” he says. “And you’re sitting there in your rubber raft: ‘Here’s one for you, and one for you … ‘”
Throughout his career, Cloonan has dealt with his fair share of nasty characters. As a FBI special agent, he tracked down Warsaw Pact spies and, in the wake of 9/11, al-Qaida terrorists. But transferring the money to Somalia’s often drug-addled pirates is “an extremely difficult” maneuver, he says. “It would be nice if the Somali pirates would accept a wire transfer — but they don’t.”
Cloonan has quit his government job and joined a booming industry. Shipping companies call on him for help when the pirates off the Horn of Africa have hijacked one of their ships.
He and his team organize negotiations — and they know all the traps and tricks. They figure out a way to get the ransom money to Africa and ensure that the crew and freighter reach their home port safe and sound. Cloonan has liberated a number of ships over the past few months — and there’s plenty of potential for growth in his line of work.
Ever since the weather improved in early March, Somalia’s barefoot pirates have seized seven vessels, including Germany’s Hansa Stavanger, a container ship with five German officers and 19 sailors on board.
With their small fiberglass boats, the pirates are making fools of the world’s most powerful countries. No less than four international fleets of high-tech warships are patrolling the waters off Somalia’s coasts, and there are frigates and destroyers from countries like China and Russia that are working independently. All of these ships have cannons or missiles, helicopters and satellite support; some could lay waste to entire cities. But this has done little to deter the pirates, with their bashed-up outboard boats and Kalashnikovs. It’s a fight between David and Goliath — except in this case, the bad guys are playing the role of David, and the good guys are Goliath.
But now Goliath is taking a harder line. Military officers are frustrated and their governments have had enough of coughing up for boats. Every million-dollar ransom bolsters the pirates. It’s a dilemma: Countries that pay up will end up paying more and more.
The Americans and the French have changed course and started shooting at the pirates. Even the Germans considered freeing the Hansa Stavanger by force. Some of the strategies which experts in Washington, London and Berlin are developing resemble battle plans for a new military campaign — and that in a war-torn country like Somalia, which has already been the site of a number of military debacles. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says: “We may be dealing with a 17th-century crime, but we need to bring 21st-century assets to bear.”
And there’s no time to waste, now that a new threat is emerging. Intelligence agencies have managed to deeply penetrate the pirate clans. They have inside information about the bosses, arms caches, alliances and arrangements. Experts also have reason to believe that the pirates are increasingly working hand-in-hand with Islamists, who are allies of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida. It’s a terrifying alliance: The pirates supply money and arms, while the Islamists have troops and the power on land.
But it is also a highly unlikely alliance. Up until recently, the pirates and Islamists have been mortal enemies. When fighters loyal to the radical Council of Islamic Courts seized power in Somalia in 2006, they immediately put the pirates out of business because piracy violates Islamic Sharia law.
Half a year later, an invading army from US-backed neighboring Ethiopia swept aside the Islamists — and the pirates quickly headed out to sea again in search of new booty.
The Ethiopians have meanwhile largely retreated, but the new government in Mogadishu, which was elected in January, controls only a fraction of the country. The rest is ruled by Islamist groups, like the al-Shabab militias and a new faction called Hizbul Islam (Party of Islam).
The pirates want money and the Islamists want power — but these interests can overlap at times. In November of last year, conflict erupted once again after the pirates seized the Sirius Star. That wasn’t particularly clever. The supertanker belongs to the Saudis, who are also Muslims, and the Islamists naturally objected to the raid. A few shots were fired.
However, that couldn’t really shatter the alliance and, ironically, one reason for this is that the infidels are making inroads into Somalia’s coastal waters. The enemy from the outside is welding together the old adversaries. The pirates are “mujahideen because they are at war with the Christian countries,” says Sheikh Hassan Turki, the leader of Hizbul Islam. And Mukhtar Robow of the al-Shabab militias praises the pirates, saying that they are defending “the coast against Allah’s enemies.”
Ever since American snipers shot dead three pirates to rescue the captain of the US-registered freighter Maersk Alabama on Easter Sunday, the pirates have been calling for revenge — and they suddenly sound very much like the Islamists. The US is now “our number one enemy,” says Jamac Habeb, a pirate from Eyl. “We’re now out to get Americans,” says a pirate named Ismail from Harardhere. “And when we have them, we’ll slaughter them.”
If the “fragile alliance” between the pirates and the Islamists grows stronger, writes the intelligence journal Jane’s Intelligence Review, this will “increase the threat from pirate groups.” According to an analysis by the intelligence experts, the pirates are far better networked than was previously thought.
One example of this can be found in the pirate town of Harardhere, close to where the hijacked Hansa Stavanger was forced to drop anchor. The gang members in this stronghold include men from all the main clans along the coast, allowing the group to move freely everywhere. The Suleyman clan calls the shots in this region, but one of the Harardhere commanders — whose main profession is selling charcoal — is a Saleebaan.
The gang maintains two main bases of operations along the coast, and from here it sends raiding units, each one divided into four groups. The planners prepare the hunt — and this group reportedly also includes Sudanese and Pakistanis. Former fishermen help out with their nautical experience, while young fighters go on board the ships. The fourth group consists of negotiators who haggle over the ransom with adversaries like Jack Cloonan.
Dealing with Pirates Inc.
For more lucrative hauls, the Harardhere pirates like to team up with gangs from other towns, primarily with their associates from Kismayo, 800 kilometers (500 miles) farther south. The Kismayo gang reportedly seized the Sirius Star, for instance. All negotiations were then conducted by the men from Harardhere.
It’s a regular “Pirates Inc.,” says Cloonan, who describes it as “organized crime” on the high seas. The ship owners and the pirates start out with widely diverging negotiating positions. The gangsters demand $15 million, the shipping company offers $1 million — and the war of nerves begins.
The pirates often use the ship’s satellite telephone to call the crew’s relatives and threaten to execute the hostages. “We’ve had cases where they have threatened people on the phone, where they’ve certainly fired off guns and told us they’ve executed somebody.”
Sometimes the pirates threaten to ram the ship at full speed against the coast. Or they let the sailors go hungry because food supplies have supposedly run out. Or they simply break off all contact for days. “This is where the shipping companies go crazy,” says Cloonan.
Once Cloonan and the pirates have agreed on a sum after weeks or months of negotiations, it’s time for the ex-agent to deliver. Initially, he chartered deep-sea tugs in Mombasa to bring the bags of money to the agreed coordinates. When the hijacked ship came into sight, an unarmed man would climb into a rubber dinghy to transfer the ransom money at the side of the vessel. “And then you hope that the pirates do the right thing.” These days the bags are often dropped with a parachute from an airplane — because the pirates even seize the tugboats.
Sometimes Cloonan’s team also has to check on board if the crew is complete and in good health before paying for their release. On one occasion, they knew that a seaman on board was seriously ill. Before handing over the cash, they searched for him — and found his body in the refrigerator of the hijacked ship. He had jumped to his death from the upper deck.
The pirates are not stupid, and they’re fairly self-assured, says Cloonan. “They know that it’s a successful business model. They know that they can operate in this wide swath of area almost with impunity.”
Most groups have established their logistical operations in Garoowe and Gaalkacyo, two towns in the breakaway region of Puntland. This is where many bundles of dollars disappear into the Islamic hawala financial system, which is based on personal contacts.
But in April of last year the pirates were painfully reminded that, despite their excellent organization at sea, they are poorly equipped for fighting on land. They had just seized the French luxury yacht Le Ponant, and were about to make off with the $2 million ransom near the pirate stronghold of Eyl, when suddenly French helicopter gunships came roaring over the plain and elite units opened fire. Six pirates were taken into custody and are currently being held in France — and at least a small portion of the ransom was recovered by the military.
Afterwards, the pirates asked the Islamists for help. Some pirate gangs now pay al-Shabab units 5 to 10 percent of the ransom in exchange for protection services on land. There’s enough to go around for everyone. Last year alone, Somalia’s swashbucklers took in $30 to $100 million in ransom money.
Other pirate gangs would rather defend their land bases themselves. Starting last July, al-Shabab militiamen reportedly put a group of pirates through a 45-day series of boot camp exercises near the town of Hobyo. The sea raiders received basic infantry training and practiced tactics and communications on land. Informants working for Jane’s Intelligence Review estimate that the pirates paid $1 million for the training package.
The Islamists receive more than just money from the pirates. The pirates also smuggle weapons into the country for them — and often bring along useful equipment for themselves. During a run last October, for instance, the pirates took in four ZU-23 anti-aircraft guns — highly effective weapons that, wherever they are, could make life extremely difficult for Western helicopter pilots.
The freighters themselves are practically defenseless against the much better equipped pirates. They can sail full speed ahead or take evasive action, “but every speedboat is faster than we are,” says an officer of a German container ship. He adds that the ships of the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom have actually created an additional problem. The Americans demand that commercial ships provide information over the radio on their origin, course and destination — and the pirates hear every word.
An equally compromising situation is created by the Automatic Identification System (AIS), which was introduced in 2004 to prevent collisions by continuously broadcasting detailed information on one’s own ship to all other ships in the same waters. Receivers can be purchased on the open market. German suppliers sell them starting at €360 apiece.
Since the beginning of the year, warships have been able to protect vessels that pass through a protected corridor in the Gulf of Aden. But the pirates have immediately reacted to this move. They are increasingly using mother ships to tow their small attack skiffs far out into the Indian Ocean. No navy in the world has enough ships to cover that area.
Nevertheless, last Wednesday Clinton unveiled a four-point plan to stop piracy. All four points concern conducting talks, in other words, only meetings. But she indicated that it may also be possible to “take action” against pirate bases on land.
US Vice Admiral Kevin Cosgriff, who commanded US naval forces in the Middle East until last year, has named two options. One is to “go ashore light,” where US Marines would destroy the pirates’ boats, fuel and bases. The other option is to “go ashore big” and conduct sustained land operations against the pirates and their clan leaders — a tactic with incalculable risks, says the vice admiral.
A clever alternative might be what is known as “containment,” which has been proposed by the International Association of Independent Tanker Owners. Pirates need ports and they have very few suitable locations in Somalia, mainly Harardhere, Hobyo, Eyl and Boosaaso. A warship stationed off each port could prevent armed boats from sailing. That would be much easier than monitoring an entire ocean.
April 21, 2009
April 21, 2009
April 21, 2009
An extended period of a heavy workload has precluded me from serious blog posting for the last few months. While my workload has not decreased, the state of affairs on the right side of the blogosphere merits serious attention.
Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs has been under increasing assault for the past few months. Some conservative bloggers are upset at what they perceive is the ‘new’ editorial positions his blog has staked out, reflecting positions that are increasingly in conflict with their own.
It is my opinion that Johnson is being unfairly targeted.
To be clear, Johnson doesn’t need me to defend him. He is quite capable of defending himself. There are those who have serious differences with him and others who have made their adversarial relationship personal. It is not my intention to determine the motivations of his critics.
Charles Johnson has remained a force in the blogosphere because he is intellectually consistent. His positions have not changed or wavered. Remarkably, he has managed to aggravate the entire political spectrum, no small feat. Even his harshest critics (on either side) cannot dismiss him or the influence his blog has because when all is said and done, his arguments are relevant to his supporters and detractors.
It is my intention to explore some of Johnson’s opinions and ideas.
In a recent conversation, a fellow psych blogger remarked Johnson’s focus on evolution/creationism was becoming a ‘distraction’. I responded that I thought the conversation was not distracting and in fact, was necessary. I also said that I agreed with him. My friend was somewhat curious, noting that I was a believer in God. I replied that I saw no conflict between faith and science and I understood where Johnson was coming from.
Creationism is is predicated on certain assumptions and unlike evolution, has yet to stand the same real scientific scrutiny and analysis. Until such time as creationist theories are subject to the same scrutiny as has the science of evolution, those creationist theories cannot be afforded the same or equal status to the theories of evolution. While Darwinist based theories may at times be imperfect, it is clear that evolution offers us a clearer picture in how we understand our world than does creationism. That is no threat to religion or faith. For believers, God’s Creation is a profoundly magnificent endeavor. Evolution can be a part of the Great Design.
Johnson does not and has not denigrated believers. It is also just as clear that Johnson’s stance on evolution is predicated on keeping religion out of the classroom, where it has no place.
Suppose a few schools in predominantly Muslim school districts wanted to serve up the Islamic creation story (replete with references to sons of pigs and apes as God willed) as opposed to the very familiar and shared Judeo-Christian version we all know. How would Jewish or Christian believers react? Further, proponents of creationism increasingly insist their beliefs have social and political consequences- and they insist that those with dissimilar views are not unlike some of the most murderous regimes of the last century. Do we want our schools to reflect that same kind of Madrassa type schooling? The question isn’t moot. More and more, different religious ideologies are finding their way into school textbooks and curriculum. Is that what we want?
Let’s keep it closer to home and a little more real. Jews reject Christ as the messiah and Christians regard Jews as unredeemed and unsaved. We may speak of each other in the most glowing terms (because it suits us at the moment) but when you get right down to it, dogma and doctrine rule the day. Fidelity to faith is the clearest rejection of moral relativism. While today we might be talking about creationism, suppose tomorrow we venture into religiously based morality? Suppose that religiously based morality were to include religions that are not sympathetic to Christianity or Judaism. How do you suppose those conversations might go?
Charles Johnson’s position on is creationism right and unequivocal- and believers of all stripes and faiths ought to be most grateful. Religion based education of any kind has no place in our schools. We can teach morals and ethics without specific religious overtones and that is certainly something we ought to be doing. It is unfortunate that in our zeal to remove all religious dogma and doctrine influence from schools, we have gone overboard in excoriating all forms of religious expression. Johnson does not criticize Christmas trees, creches, menorahs or other religious symbolism. His argument is with religion based instruction.
This is America. Forced religious instruction, cultural mores and tribalism are antithetical to everything this nation stands for. Millions of immigrants came to these shores precisely because they and their children would not be indoctrinated. Why there so many people in this country who insist we must become a monument to mediocrity, no different from the very nations with whom we take issue, is a mystery.
Johnson reminds us that in a free society we do not care about your beliefs. We do care about your actions and your behavior. Your beliefs are your own and we really don’t care what you believe. Do not tell us we need to care about your beliefs and your concerns above all else and above our own concerns and beliefs.
Johnson makes clear if and when you make those assertions, you will be resented and marginalized- not for your beliefs but rather because you attempt to jump to the head of the line. You are not more important than anyone else by virtue of what you believe. It is our actions and willingness to live and let live that has distinguished America and Americans form other nations. We cannot force beliefs down anyone’s throat, no matter how well meaning.
American conservatives and members of the Republican Party are not beholden to the religious Right. The Republican party is not an exclusive club with strict admission policies. The party of Lincoln was inclusive and tolerant, not exclusive and strident. That lesson is of no small import. There are Muslims who say that Lincoln was a Muslim- and they are serious. Why should their claim be taken less seriously?
Johnson is often taken to task as being ‘soft’ on radical Islamism, an idea that would be hilarious if his critics weren’t so earnest.
In the curious world of the blogosphere, the more outrageous and egregious a story of radical Islamism is told, the more credible the story teller becomes. Authors want to whip their readers into a frenzy and expect other bloggers to validate their ever more radical ideas, beliefs and even conspiracy theories and join the anti Muslim parade. After all, everyone loves a parade, right?
Charles Johnson doesn’t do parades.
Islam will not be eradicated from the face of the earth and Muslims in America and Europe will not all be deported or summarily shot.
Not all Muslims are terrorists and not all Muslims support terrorism. Those who are sympathetic to terrorists are unfortunate and ignorant wretches, no different than that portion of the American population who believed Black Americans were lessers and were sympathetic to southern slave owners, or those European Christians who regard Jews as lessers and turned a blind eye to anti semitism and the Holocaust, or the Kahanists who advocate the elimination of the Palestinians (and Arabs) who refuse to recognize their God given rights, etc., ad nauseum and ad infinitum.
Johnson will not be a party to the shrill and frenzied calls from some quarters of the blogosphere. Some of those calls are well meaning to be sure. Sometimes Johnson may misread some of his critics as they misread him. He makes no apologies for his position. He is suspicious of the background of many of those involved in the European anti Islamist movement, and with good reason. Many of the political figures and parties he excoriates have less than savory backgrounds and there is good reason to believe that some of these figures and parties have adopted more palatable positions and ideologies for reasons of expediency only. Given the nature 0f the political beast, he is standing on firm ground. The onus of proof of sincerity lies on those politicians, not on those who question them.
Nevertheless, it is also clear that some of Euro politicos of whom Johnson is so suspicious may in fact be on the up and up. The rise of European Islamism has had an profound effect on whole segments of the population, not unlike the events of 9/11 had profound impact on many liberals and progressives in this country. In the same way those of us that are right of center made room for them, we have to acknowledge that there are some in Europe who may have found the way into our camp. Great saints often began life as great sinners. That truth is best not forgotten.
Glenn Beck derisively referred to Charles Johnson as a ‘Jazz musician’, as if somehow, that was an insult. In fact, that is a compliment of the highest order.
It has been said that Jazz is really the story of America, that playing those improvised notes in relation to and in response to the music is in fact the story of our sucess as a nation. We are never bound to the notes on the page and are always at our best pushing the envelope and coloring outside the lines. Charles Johnson and Little Green Footballs are examples of what we do best. We challenge ourselves, we challenge others and we challenge the status quo.
Charles Johnson possesses great passion for this nation. More importantly, he is a fierce defender of every citizen of this country, irrespective of their beliefs. He may be brash, he may be confrontational and he may even be wrong sometimes but in the end, he is an enemy to none, save those who would trample those things we hold dear.
When the history of bloggers is told, his story and fierce efforts to make us better citizens of this great and inclusive nation will be remembered.
The rest of us should be so fortunate.