Sunday, January 9, 2011

Random Thoughts

23% Can't Pass Test

I just read a depressing article in this weeks It said that 23 percent of the high school graduates that take the military entrance exam fail it. Our school system in this country has fallen to a tragic and dangerous level. This particular article went on to quote a pentagon survey that showed 75% of people aged 17 to 24 are not qualified for military service because of inability to pass the entrance exam, criminal records or they dropped out of high school. This should be a wake up call to a few people. If this continues it could mean a danger to our national security. The military is meeting it's recruitment goals now, but how long can that continue if you can only draw volunteers from 25% of the population?
France Is Looking for Spies To

The other day I told you about Israel’s Mossad going to the web to recruit agents. Well, it seems France is following suit. France's international spy agency is reportedly looking for a few good men.

The country's secretive spy organization, the DGSE, is recruiting hundreds of people and has received a budget boost despite tight economic times to better thwart increasingly worrisome threats like terrorism and nuclear proliferation. The agency has also honed its image as well with it’s first-ever spokesman and a new website.

The move follows recent hostage situations abroad, bomb scares at Paris' Eiffel Tower and ongoing fallout from WikiLeaks' publication of secret U.S. diplomatic cables. France is also set to ban face-covering Islamic veils, which has drawn threats from Al Qaeda and Muslim extremists.

The DGSE changes have been long in coming as part of France's efforts to beef up its network of intelligence operatives as called for in a top-to-bottom security review they completed in 2008.

Iran Still 3 Years from a Nuclear Bomb

While still physically intact Iran’s nuclear program has been hit from three fronts and according to Israel’s minister of strategic affairs the Iranian regime is now three years away from achieving an atomic bomb according to the Israeli Minister for Strategic Defense. Speaking on local radio Mosche Yaalon said, “The Iranians are facing some technical challenges and difficulties which are preventing them from brining this program to a completion. In the 90s we thought that within 10 years they would have the nuclear abilities they didn’t. these difficulties are setting back the time table and that’s why we can’t talk at this moment about the point of no return. Iran right now doesn’t have the ability to produce on its own a nuclear bomb. It may happen in the next 3 years if the process is successful. I hope the efforts of the western world to prevent it will be successful and Iran will never have a nuclear weapon.”

The is a huge change from Israel’s drum beat of a nuclear Iran by the end of 2011.
Economic sanctions continue to prevent the regime's ability to acquire both nuclear material and the equipment needed to refine it.

In the past month, assassins used car bombs to kill one of Iran’s top nuclear scientists and severely injure another. And experts are still trying to figure out exactly how much damage the Stuxnet computer virus caused to the systems running Iran’s various nuclear facilities.

Reports say websites dedicated to containing the virus are flooded with users from Iran.
Meir Javedanfar teaches Iranian studies at one of Israel's leading universities and wrote an English biography on president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. “"Iran is going to continue to work on its nuclear program. President Ahmadinejad has said so. And there is no sign Iran is stopping the civilian or military track of its nuclear program. What its going to do is make the Iranian government more careful about sabotage by international intelligence agencies,” he said.

While the Israel government refuses to comment on any involvement in the assassinations or virus attacks... Israeli military and diplomatic officials abroad have been warned to take extra security precautions out of fear Iran will seek revenge for the killings of their scientists.
Special Report
Wars in 2011
(last of a 7 part report)

Still smarting from a war with Israel in 2006 that left a precarious balance of power between Christians and Islamic fundamentalists, Lebanon today is arguably more than ever on the brink.

In the coming months, an international tribunal is expected to issue indictments against Hezbollah members for the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a step that could spark sectarian strife throughout the country. Most alarmingly, the indictments could unravel a fragile inter-Lebanese power-sharing agreement reached in Doha in 2008. In that scenario, Lebanon could see a return to political assassinations, all-out sectarian strife, or attempts by Hezbollah to assert greater political or military control. None of these scenarios are far-fetched in the coming year; indeed, they have all happened in Lebanon's very recent past. The fact that it is so hard to imagine both how the current status quo may survive and how exactly it will unravel says volumes about the state of uncertainty and shakiness which afflicts the country.

In addition to Lebanon's internal political unraveling, the country risks sliding back into war with Israel. Nearly five years after the 2006 war, relations between the two countries are both exceptionally quiet and uniquely dangerous -- for the same reason: On both sides of Israel's northern border, the build-up in military forces and threats of an all-out war that would spare neither civilians nor civilian infrastructure, together with the worrisome prospect of its regionalization, have had a deterrent effect on all. Today, none of the parties can soberly contemplate the prospect of a conflict that would come at greater cost to themselves, be more difficult to contain, and be less predictable in outcome than anything they witnessed in the past.

But that is only the better half of the story. Beneath the surface, tensions are mounting with no obvious safety valve. The deterrence regime has helped keep the peace, but the process it perpetuates -- mutually reinforcing military preparations, Hezbollah's growing and more sophisticated arsenal, escalating Israeli threats -- pulls in the opposite direction and could trigger the very result it has averted so far.

Nigeria's 2010 was about as rough as they come: The country's president disappeared on medical leave -- and then died -- hundreds were killed in sectarian violence between Muslims and Christians in the country's middle belt, and a rebel amnesty in the oil-producing Niger Delta region completely unraveled, leading to a string of bombing attacks and kidnappings.

And 2011 also looks rocky for Africa's most populous country. A presidential election is slated to be held in the spring; the last election in 2007 left international observers awestruck by flagrant intimidation and ballot stuffing. Voting in Nigeria has never been a pretty affair, and despite promises to reform the electoral system, the old habits of intimidation and vote buying die hard. After the polling does takes place, post-election turmoil is also entirely possible, particularly if one region or group is unhappy with the result. Nigeria's many regions -- north, south, west, east, and everything in between -- count on office-holders to pass out patronage and favors, so the stakes of losing are high.
Whoever it may be, Nigeria's new leader will have urgent tasks ahead. The rebellion in the Niger Delta is flaring up again, with militants promising to continue attacking oil facilities and government offices. A once effective anti-corruption commission has lost its momentum. And vast economic inequality is the order of the day, leaving oil wealth in the hands of a few while the majority of the country's 140 million people languish.

Guinea enters 2011 on a hopeful path. In December, the West African country inaugurated its first-ever elected leader, Alpha Condé. After decades of strongman rule, followed by a 2009 coup, this new leadership seems nothing less than miraculous.

Yet the back-story offers some sense of just how deep tensions run. After the country's president died in December 2008, a small group of military leaders took over, declaring themselves the new leaders of Guinea. So corrupt and ineffectual had the former president been that many welcomed the junta's rule. But it soon became apparent that the military president, Moussa Dadis Camara, was equally inept. The pinnacle of that failure came in September 2009, when his troops massacred over 150 peaceful protestors in a local stadium.

International condemnation flooded the country, putting pressure on the junta to hold elections. Meanwhile, Camara was shot by a fellow junta member and sent to Morocco for treatment. His successor, Gen. Sekouba Konate, appointed a civilian interim leader and organized the recent election.

But throughout the junta's brief reign, the military took the opportunity to enrich and entrench its role in the economy, a fact that remains today despite the nominal civilian leadership. Guinea's military now has a strong stake in controlling mineral wealth -- the country is the world's largest producer of bauxite -- and other major industries. In the past, it has used strong-arm tactics to get its way, economically and otherwise, and this old habit will surely die hard. Having tasted the fruits of power under the junta, the military may not so easily return to its barracks.

Democratic Republic of the Congo
Years after the official end of the Second Congo War, which raged from 1998 to 2003 and was responsible for up to 4.5 million deaths, whole swathes of the enormous Central African country remain in upheaval. In the eastern Kivu provinces, an undisciplined national army battles with rebel groups for territorial control. Amid the frenzy of violence and rape that follows in their path, the world's largest U.N. peacekeeping force is at a loss to protect even those civilians that live close to its bases.

Lurking behind the conflict is Congo's vast natural wealth, the very embodiment of the so-called resource curse. Government, militants, private corporations, and local citizens all angle to tap the gold, cobalt, copper, coltan and host of other minerals under the country's soil -- which are focused in the east and south of the country. Meanwhile, the central government lies nearly 1,000 miles to the west, separated from its eastern provinces by impenetrable jungle, a different language, and ethnicity. Rebel groups still roam the eastern border regions, exercising their authority with impunity and cruelty. Neither the government nor rebel groups have the strength to win, but both have the resources to keep fighting indefinitely.

Adding to the misery are appalling humanitarian conditions. Only a third of Congolese in rural areas have access to clean water, an estimated 16,000 children die each year before ever reaching the age of five, and life expectancy has actually fallen by five years since 1990.

Unless the Congolese and regional governments try different tactics, there is no end in sight to Congo's troubles. In an ideal world, military campaigns in North and South Kivu provinces would be suspended until better-trained troops can be deployed -- troops than can carry out targeted operations while protecting civilians. Meanwhile, governments in Africa's Great Lakes region should convene a summit and negotiate agreements on economic, land, and population-movement issues. A worst-case scenario would see more of the same: a mosaic of armed groups in eastern Congo continue to fight indefinitely, with civilians paying a terrible price.

Live Long and Prosper....

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