Thursday, May 23, 2013

Morning Twitter Messages -- May 23

Today's Oh, shit moment...


...the House Armed Services Committee’s intelligence panel to that list of skeptics. In its revision of next year’s Pentagon budget (.pdf), released Tuesday, the representatives said they would withhold half of the DCS’ funding until the Pentagon proves that the service “provide[s] unique capabilities to the intelligence community.”
“From the very beginning, we have been continuously engaged with our oversight committees to reassure Congress that our efforts are within the scope of our unique defense intelligence mission,” he adds. ”We have also been coordinating closely with our IC [intelligence community] partners to ensure that Defense HUMINT [human intelligence] capabilities remain complementary and not duplicative of other agencies’ capabilities.”

But despite the pleasant words, it’s clear that the Congressional cut is the latest jab in a decades-long knife fight between the Pentagon and Langley (and their backers) for control of America’s spies.

The Defense Intelligence Agency, which is traditionally tasked with figuring out the number and type of hardware America’s military adversaries have. Think Syrian missiles, Russian tanks, or North Korean artillery. But in recent years, the Defense Intelligence Agency has assigned to itself a new role: less analytical, and more operational. While the CIA has turned more and more to hunting terrorists in the hottest warzones, the thinking went, the DCS could develop sources in the places where the next fight might go down: China and Iran, for sure. But also countries like Yemen, where unemployment is high, and so are the number of criminal gangs looking to recruit. “That’s a fundamentally different kind of enemy to understand,” said Defense Intelligence Agency chief Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who inherited the DCS program from his predecessor but quickly embraced it in public. “Somebody who feels no hope is different [from] someone who puts on a uniform and decides he’s going to be your enemy… We have to have a different mindset to deal with it. We have to be able to go into these environments … with a much different level of preparation.”


Syrian civil war news...

Ahmad Mouath Al-Khatib Al-Hasani  is the ex-president of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces. He is also a former imam of the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus.

Khatib originally studied applied geophysics and worked as an engineer and manager for several large oil companies, including Royal Dutch Shell's Syrian division, for six years. He is a member of the Syrian Geological Society and the Syrian Society for Psychological Science. He was previously President and remains Honorary President of the Islamic Society of Urbanization.

Born in 1960, Khatib comes from a well-known and notable Sunni Muslim Damascene family. His father, Sheikh Mohammed Abu al-Faraj al-Khatib, was a prominent Islamic scholar and preacher at the Umayyad Mosque, as were his paternal forebears.

Khatib originally studied geophysics. He spent six years working as an engineer and oil engineering manager for Royal Dutch Shell Syrian division and other petrol companies in the country. He is also a member of the Syrian Geological Society and the Syrian Society for Psychological Science, and was president of the Islamic Society of Urbanization. His status as the former imam made him a key figure in Syria's Sunni religious establishment.

Khatib also established the Islamic Civilization Society, and taught Sharia (Islamic Law) at the Dutch Institute Sheikh Badr al-Din al-Husni in Damascus, and Daawa (Call to Islam) studies at the Tahzib Institute for Sharia Sciences. He traveled internationally to teach, including in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Turkey, the UK and USA.

Reuters via Yahoo News
BEIRUT (Reuters) - A Syrian opposition leader urged President Bashar al-Assad on Thursday to hand power to his deputy or his prime minister and then go abroad with 500 members of his entourage, without immunity from prosecution. 
Assad is likely to reject or ignore the 16-point peace plan proposed by Moaz Alkhatib, who resigned as head of the Western-backed opposition National Coalition in March, particularly given recent military gains by his forces against rebels 
However, Alkhatib's proposal shows a willingness to work with people associated with Assad throughout the revolt and will be seen as stretching out a hand to members of the government. 
It is unclear if Alkhatib's proposal will win support from other Syrian opposition figures gathering in Istanbul on Thursday to decide how to respond to a U.S.-Russian proposal to convene peace talks involving Assad's government next month. 
The Sunni Muslim cleric's plan, posted on his Facebook page, calls on Assad to step down in favor of Prime Minister Wael al-Halki or Vice-President Farouq al-Shara, a veteran politician who has kept a low profile since the revolt began in March 2011, prompting opposition claims last year that he planned to defect. 
Alkhatib said Assad should respond within 20 days and that he should then be given a month to dissolve parliament. Once Assad had ceded power, his government should stay in office for 100 days and restructure the military before handing over to a transitional government "which should be agreed upon and negotiated within the framework of international assurances".


Comments -- 

►If higher corporate taxes discourage the formation of new businesses  do ever-increasing payroll taxes have a similar effect on incentives to work?

►A steady decrease in excise taxes indicates a learning curve on the part of those who sell or distribute products being taxed.. The more effectively they lobby elected representatives the more carve-outs and better treatment they will receive in return for generous, carefully placed campaign contributions. 


This next item will be the final entry to this list. Additional blog posts may come later. As I put this item together my heart breaks, partly because the message is not good (Israel's historic, on-going and totally effective weapon in the I-P conflict has always been divide-and-conquer, keeping the two main Palestinian groups fighting each other) but more because the typical American reader has no idea what it's about. I cannot blame the media. The job of media is to keep up with the news. I cannot blame commentators and those who write op-eds for magazines and newspapers. There are plenty of them on all sides to furnish all the information anyone needs to be informed.

It makes me sad that so many people know so little and have no need to escape from their cage of ignorance.  If you ask most people to explain terms like West Bank, settlements, PA, Fatah, Hamas or Abbas you will likely trigger a deer in the headlights look. 
Thanks for reading.

Neither Hamas nor Fatah is truly eager for reconciliation
Dalia Hatuqa
May 23, 2013

At first blush, this month's news from Cairo, of a new Hamas-Fatah reconciliation, appears positive enough to conjure some hope. Hamas and Fatah, at loggerheads since 2007, said they will form a national unity government within three months. 
Mousa Abu Marzouk of Hamas and Azzam Al Ahmed of Fatah also agreed in Cairo on steps that seem to address most of the outstanding issues. Once the composition of the new unity government is settled, Palestinian Authority (PA) president Mahmoud Abbas is to decree national elections and there will also be a plan for elections to the presidency, the Legislative Council, and the National Council, the Palestinian parliament in exile. 
The kisses and handshakes in Cairo would have been hailed as epochal, except that they follow an all-too-familiar pattern: several previous agreements have faded away in back-and-forth accusations, followed by trips to Cairo, for still more talks. 
Considering the hurdles the two sides are supposed to overcome in the next three months, there is plenty of room for backsliding and another failure. To start with, the composition of the caretaker government has been a difficult hurdle. A reconciliation two years ago stalled over the composition of the interim government. The second agreement, signed in Doha, also never materialised. 
Will the resignation of Salam Fayyad, the former Palestinian prime minister, pave the way for a new unified government? Hamas never recognised his authority, nor did many of Fatah's members who grew weary of his fight against corruption. However, 71 per cent of Palestinians surveyed recently said they believed Mr Fayyad's resignation would not affect reconciliation prospects 
The consensus seems to be that Mr Abbas would lead this government, in addition to leading the PA, the PLO and Fatah. But even with Mr Abbas at the helm, any government including Hamas is bound to raise the ire of the United States, which calls Hamas terrorist and is the biggest donor to the PA. 
The PA has been crippled by dwindling international aid and a stifled economy. There are fears that should a national unity government be forged, the US would impose punitive measures.
And yet 90 per cent of Palestinians tell pollsters that Hamas and Fatah should pursue reconciliation anyway. (The same poll, by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center, showed that 20 per cent say Fatah is blocking reconciliation; 29 per cent blame Hamas.)
Hamas has little to gain from reconciliation. The rise of Islamist movements in the region has left Hamas emboldened. 
With western governments and intelligence services cooperating with Islamists in Egypt and Turkey, Hamas is in no hurry to dilute its power in a unity government.
Mr Abbas's credibility, meanwhile, is continuously being put to the test. With settlements growing and the economy in a shambles, Mr Abbas and Fatah are trying to tackle intensified frustration. 
Israel has no interest in Palestinian unity, and progress on the diplomatic front is equally bleak. John Kerry, the US secretary of state, has been shuttling among the Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians and Egyptians since March, but his attempts at reviving Palestinian-Israeli talks have been fruitless. He did extract a promise from the PA that it would not apply to join any more international organisations for the next few months. 
But his efforts to secure a settlement freeze have stalled, indeed Israel said it would legalise four settlement outposts previously slated for demolition. 
Scepticism about reconciliation, and talks with Israel, is deep on the streets of Palestine. Visiting Washington last week, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, said peace talks would be futile without Hamas, and a unity government was essential. Mr Erdogan is to visit Gaza and the West Bank soon, showing that Turkey, like Egypt and Qatar, has an interest in moulding Hamas into a party moderate enough to enter the arena of negotiations. 
Reconciliation would let the Palestinians talk with Israel from a stronger position, and would pave the way for elections, so Palestinians could have their say about Fatah and Hamas, which have long been disappointing them. 
In the West Bank, Palestinians have grown weary of futile "agreements" and talks. Public workers have gone unpaid for months while prices climb - because, some say, of Mr Fayyad's economic policies. 
In the Gaza Strip, Hamas proved itself no better; today it is embroiled in corruption and questionable business practices. Hamas has also been cracking down on personal liberties, from men's haircuts to women's smoking. 
As it stands, neither group really wants to give up any power to a unified authority. There is also the question of security coordination with the Israelis; Fatah does it, Hamas rejects it.
And there is the question of what role Hamas will play in the PLO, which it has yet to join. Will the group adhere to all agreements previously signed by the Organisation with Israel? 
A new more mainstream Hamas, supported by Egypt, Turkey and Qatar, scares the PA and Fatah, as it would threaten to replace them as a potential negotiating partner with Israel. The political capital needed to get the two sides over all these hurdles is enormous, and a real willingness to reconcile these differences seems non-existent at the moment.

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