Sunday, October 12, 2014

Wherefore By Their Fruits, Part 1


It was not my intention to write about this, but military operations have begun, this will end neither well nor soon, and this ties in to other series I am writing, so here begins another series. :)

As you of course know, after high-profile beheadings of Western journalists, multinational operations have begun against the self-proclaimed Islamic State or IS, known among Western governments as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant or ISIL, and known among Western media as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria or ISIS.


There has been much debate over which name to use. The term Islamic State is not commonly used in the West, which leaves the debate between ISIS and ISIL. For a variety of reasons, the media has settled on ISIS, and that will be the term I will use in this series.

Some of the discussion over which name to use is significant, however. By calling itself simply "the Islamic State", the group has doubled-down on its establishment of a caliphate, basically making a unilateral claim to lead the world's Islamic terrorist movement in battle against all infidels. While many other terrorist groups around the world have expressed support, including Boko Haram of Nigerian fame and Abu Sayyaf of the Philippines, ultimately, if all these guys get their way and start collectively defeating world infidel forces (to include all the apostate Muslim forces from countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia), there will have to be a decision as to who will really lead the jihadists. It is obvious to me that, amid many uses of the word "takfir" (apostate), such a decision would be arrived at violently.

__________


Basically, Al Qaeda had two horses in the Syrian civil war race: the Al Nusrah Front, and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). However, ISIS left the Al Qaeda fold to go it alone. From The Resurgence of Al-Qaeda in Syria and Iraq by Azeem Ibrahim at the US Army War College Strategic Studies Institute, May 2014, page 16 (28 of 81 in the pdf; numbers in superscript refer to notes - in cases where I have not reproduced them, see the original):

While ISIS and the Al Nusrah Front attract media attention because of their al-Qaeda affiliation, past or still existing, the other fighting factions in Syria deserve attention regarding their ideology and makeup as "moderate" forces, possible counterweights to al-Qaeda. The Syrian Islamic Front is the biggest alliance of salafi-jihadis, and, while many would like to see them as "moderate," they are committed first to defeating Assad's troops and then to creating an Islamic state, as opposed to al-Qaeda which is committed first and foremost to global jihad.

So in other words, the differences among the factions boil down to this: 1) Al Qaeda wants to go on a global jihad; 2) ISIS has by its name "The Islamic State" declared itself a caliphate, and now wants to go on a global jihad; 3) the "moderates" want to depose the current Syrian government of Assad, then declare an Islamic State, then expand their jihad on to other targets.

The very next paragraph explains how this Islamic state would work. Continuing with The Resurgence of Al-Qaeda in Syria and Iraq by Azeem Ibrahim at the US Army War College Strategic Studies Institute, May 2014, page 16 (28 of 81 in the pdf):

Aron Lund's recent comprehensive reporting for Syria in Crisis32 notes that the Islamic Front wants "to establish an independent state where God's merciful law is sovereign and where the individuals of this state enjoy justice and a dignified life." It spurns the term "civil state" (dawla madaniya) as misleading and rejects democracy and parliamentary rule. They appear to be envisioning "a republican theocracy supervised by religious scholars where there is some degree of political competition within sharia-compliant but otherwise modern institutions and where the role of politicians is to administer a strict application of sharia rather than to make laws of their own."

In other words, there will be dictatorship by a small group of individuals who will decide what is Islamic and what is not, and membership in the group can be expected to change, and the group itself may be replaced with other groups.

It is not difficult to imagine that this will happen not democratically, since democratic processes are generally spurned, but rather by the will of Allah, which will naturally manifest itself in a violent manner as internal politics becomes a matter of convincing a strong enough faction to make takfir (apostate) out of the targeted faction.

However, this process of extremists declaring each other takfir has resulted not only in a great deal of violence within and among extremist groups; it has also alienated many Muslims. Skipping back in The Resurgence of Al-Qaeda in Syria and Iraq by Azeem Ibrahim at the US Army War College Strategic Studies Institute, May 2014, to page 13 (25 of 81 in the pdf):

Al-Zawahiri, from his refuge in Pakistan, has belatedly realized that the militants' increasing ferocity and widespread practice of takfir (declaring other Muslims infidels) is not winning over the Muslim world.23




To understand better the relationship between ISIS and Al Qaeda's Al Nusrah Front, as well as the relationship between these two and other Sunni militant groups in Syria, we skip ahead in The Resurgence of Al-Qaeda in Syria and Iraq by Azeem Ibrahim at the US Army War College Strategic Studies Institute, May 2014, to page 18 (30 of 81 in the pdf):

The Al Nusrah Front (Jahbat al-Nusrah) is directly subordinate to al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. The rival ISIS, led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, despite its resurgence in Iraq, is being run as a renegade operation since al-Baghdadi defied al-Zawahiri's leadership. These two al-Qaeda branches have an estimated 6,000-7,000 operatives,36 and new recruits are continuing to arrive in large numbers. The other salafist rebel groups in Syria total about 100,000;37 thus the proportion of fighters with formal al-Qaeda loyalty is comparatively small. There are many groups who are on record as disavowing al-Qaeda, but that adhere to the salafi-jihadi objectives, adding to the complexity of predicting the strength of al-Qaeda as a distinct ideology, network, and organization.

This would support the view that al-Qaeda is divided effectively from other jihadist groups in Syria. Thus, not only is it at war with the regime and those who follow the Shia traditions, but is also at variance to other radical Sunni groups. In addition, even those who directly share its ideology are split into two factions. This may indicate that there are limits to its ability to influence events. However, in combination with its resurgence in Iraq, it is clear that al-Qaeda is again a major force.


The analysis of that paper had its focus on Al Qaeda. However, since then, ISIS has come to the forefront.

What distinguishes ISIS from the other groups, then, is this: 1) unlike the other Sunni groups, the so-called "moderate" forces, ISIS feels it is ready to take on the entire world, both infidels and takfir alike, beginning right now; 2) unlike Al Qaeda, ISIS has gone ahead and declared itself a caliphate, seizing and claiming territory as a base for the jihad against the rest of the world; and, 3) unlike Al Qaeda, which is trying to profit from lessons about how past atrocious behavior alienated potential supporters, ISIS seems bent on behaving as atrociously as Allah wills.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Commanders of the Faithful, Part 3


In Part 1 we began looking at how mosques are actually considered, by leaders in the Muslim world, not just as places of worship, but as centers of political and even military activity. In Part 2 we looked at money, and considered how it snakes its way in to the campaign coffers of political leaders, seeing in particular how Barack Obama and George W. Bush had both received financial support from the Middle East. Towards the end of the post, I wrote:

Once these guys start laundering money to a campaign, there are all kinds of ways to do it. Some foreign billionaire sends a few million to some associates in the US. That money goes to US citizens. Those citizens then have a list of campaigns, PACs and other entities to donate to; these PACs and entities know who they have to pass the money on to, or how it has to get spent. Sometimes, these middlemen keep a small cut for channeling the money.

A little farther on, near the end, we finished with one quote and added a little analysis:

After years of practice, and using methods pioneered by Islamic terrorist groups, they are very, very good at making money vanish.

Notice the last author's comments, about how the left uses the same methods to finance elections that Islamic terrorist groups use to finance holy terror.

We now begin to consider foreign influence coming from another direction, and moving to another destination. Specifically, we look at how foreign powers which, though our allies, have connections that are questionable (to say the least), and how they generate support in Washington.

__________


You may recall the unrest in Egypt in recent years. As part of the "Arab Spring", long-time ruler of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, resigned, and during elections supervised by the military, Mohamed Morsi was elected to replace him in June, 2012. By November, Morsi, who had been a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood until his resignation from that organization upon assuming the presidency, established himself as essentially a dictator, granting himself unlimited powers to protect Egypt.

By June 30, 2013, the first anniversary of Morsi's election, Morsi was quite unpopular, and protests erupted demanding his resignation. The military intervened on behalf of the protesters, and in early July Morsi was forced out.

So, for about one year, from the end of June, 2012, until the beginning of July, 2013, Morsi was president of Egypt, and for much of that time ruled basically as a dictator.

It was during this time that an important vote came up in the Senate regarding a legislative amendment that would stop the sale of F-16 fighter aircraft and M1 tanks to Egypt. The amendment was defeated, meaning the sale and delivery could go forward.

In January, 2013, with Morsi - who had been a leading figure in the Muslim Brotherhood until he resigned to become president of Egypt - still firmly ruling Egypt with near-dictatorial powers, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul was speaking in the Senate in favor of the amendment that he had introduced to stop the arms transfer. From US Senate Shoots Down Bid to Halt Sales of F-16s, Tanks to Egypt, January 31, 2013:

(CNSNews.com) – The U.S. Senate Thursday defeated an amendment that aimed to prevent the Obama administration from transferring F-16 fighter aircraft and Abrams tanks to an Egypt in disarray.

A vote to block the measure proposed by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) – an amendment to the debt limit bill – passed by a 79–19 vote.

In a strongly worded floor statement, Paul questioned the wisdom of providing the sophisticated weaponry at a time when "many see Egypt descending into chaos."

He based his argument on the Egyptian government's conduct, President Mohammed Morsi's expressed radical views, and the possibility that the weapons could be used in a future conflict against Israel.

Every Democrat in the Senate voted in favor of proceeding with the sale.

On the surface, the logic behind allowing the sale to proceed seemed to make some sense. Skipping down in US Senate Shoots Down Bid to Halt Sales of F-16s, Tanks to Egypt:

Rejecting Paul's amendment, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) characterized it as simplistic, short-sighted and potentially harmful to U.S. interests.

"Would that this amendment was as simple as the junior senator from Kentucky described it," he told senators after Paul had spoken. "His amendment would hinder our military assistance program, licenses for commercial sales of all major military equipment, including aircraft, ships, tanks, armor, parts and so on.

"It would mean a loss of thousands of American jobs. We'd incur more than two billion dollars in contract-termination penalties for U.S. taxpayers," Leahy said.

"But we'd also put at risk our access to the Suez Canal, the over flight by the U.S. Air Force over Egyptian territory, cooperation in the Sinai, Gaza, Syria, our emphasis and our ability to keep the Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement going.

"Do I have problems with the way the Morsi government is going? Certainly," he said. "But removing our ability to be involved, with keeping that peace agreement and our ability to influence those – this is not the way to do it."

But, we were still looking at arming the military of a nation that borders Israel, one which the Muslim Brotherhood had just taken over, and one where a new Islamist constitution had just been passed in a referendum.

To be sure, in reviewing reports from that time frame, it is my distinct impression that the Egyptian military was actually a fairly strong ally of the United States. Ultimately, it was the Egyptian military the ousted Morsi, and replaced him with a leader that was far more... I hate to use the term "moderate", but he is a guy who does not support the Muslim Brotherhood.

Presumably, Senators had access to material, both classified offical information, and unclassified information, including that available to the general public, which would allow their staffers to consider this; presumably, Senators looked not just at Morsi, but at the Egyptian military, its leaning, and its ability to influence internal Egyptian politics, before signing off on the sale.

However, I still have concerns about the Democrats in the Senate voting to ship sophisticated arms to the military of a nation that was at the time dictatorially ruled by a de facto leader of the Muslim Brotherhood.

How does a Senator really get influenced to go forward with such an arms sale? Obviously, there are many factors, but not the least of these is money from the country receiving the sophisticated arms.

__________


The Glover Park Group is a registered foreign agent of the Government of Egypt.


Their job includes supporting Egyptian government communications with the US government, the business community, non-governmental audiences and the media.


The Glover Park Group has an affiliated political action committee.


This political action committee gave $1500 to Senator Mark Udall (D - Colorado) in June, 2012, shortly after Morsi came to power in Egypt.


This same PAC also gave another $1000 to Senator Udall in March, 2013, after Udall had supported the sale of these high-tech weapons to Egypt.



Senator Mark Udall raises big money. Over half of his money is itemized individual contributions, but when one factors in smaller individual contributions, which do not have to be itemized, you realize nearly three-quarters of his money comes not from PACs, but from individuals.


However, in this cycle alone, he has raised over $2 million from PACs. It's not surprising he is listed in a July, 2013, article as among the top ten recipients of lobbyists' money.

Speaking of lobbyist money in Mark Udall's campaign coffers, Senator Udall has also received $2000 from JSTREETPAC, a PAC associated with J Street, an organization which supports dialogue over confrontation and diplomatic solutions over military solutions, especially in regards to Israel and the Middle East.


While I personally agree that diplomacy and dialogue are favorable to war, it is my opinion that if Israel were to unilaterally commit exclusively to diplomacy and dialogue, the Islamic Arab states that surround Israel would overrun and destroy that nation quite quickly, as they have so often tried to do in the past.

I find it interesting that JSTREETPAC, which supports dialogue and diplomacy, gave money to a Senator who voted to send sophisticated weapons to Egypt when Egypt was controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood, and when the Muslim Brotherhood was pushing through a draft of an Islamist constitution.


By order of the Prophet (peace be upon him), stay tuned for more!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Trivia, Part 3


In Part 1 we began by reviewing old news about how Rupert Murdoch's media empire used intrusive and illegal means to spy on celebrities in the United Kingdom. We then fast-forwarded to the then-breaking scandal whereby Hollywood celebrities were finding very personal photos appearing in public. We next began reviewing how cell phones work, with an eye towards establishing that basically any use of a cell phone can compromise personal material and information. We saw how cell phone towers can be disguised, and we looked at transportable cell towers, which are used to temporarily restore coverage when towers are out. Finally, we looked at reports about devices called "interceptors" and how they are used to spoof cell phones and access information they should not be able to access.

In Part 2 we looked more in-depth at the definitions of 3G and 4G cell phone technology, and saw just how portable legitimate cell phone "towers" can be - they can fit in the palm of your hand. Then, we looked at portable devices that could be used to spoof cell phones, and saw one that wears kind of like a bullet-proof vest under an overcoat. We finished by seeing that, with these concealable interceptors, it was possible to identify a cell phone belonging to a certain person, locate it, and then jam it or intercept the signals for the purposes of surveillance or spoofing, all without the cell phone operator even knowing.

The security breaches used by means of introduction in Part 1 centered on Apple products. It may therefore be worthwhile to review some relatively recent news about technology that specifically spies on Apple equipment.

At the end of last year, the German news magazine Der Spiegel ran an article entitled Shopping for Spy Gear: Catalog Advertises NSA Toolbox (December 29, 2013), in which the magazine called attention to particulars concerning the United States' National Security Agency spy technology. This was when news of the NSA ANT catalog broke to the general public.



It should be noted that this topic is of particular importance in Germany, especially since the story broke that the United States intelligence community collects intelligence on our ally Germany. Particularly noteworthy in the the scandal is the fact that the United States was caught spying on Chancellor Angela Merkel herself.


According to the highly-classified catalog mentioned above, as of six years ago today the NSA had in development something called DROPOUTJEEP, which was described as (I have included explanatory notes and links in [brackets]):

a software implant for the Apple iPhone that utilizes modular mission applications to provide specific SIGINT [Signals Intelligence] functionality. This functionality includes the ability to remotely push/pull files from the device. SMS retrieval, contact list retrieval, voicemail, geolocation, hot mic. camera capture, cell tower location, etc. Command, control, and data exfiltration can occur over SMS [short message service] messaging or a GPRS [general packet radio service] data connection. All communications with the implant will be covert and encrypted.


The catalog explains that the implant had to be installed via "close access methods", but that a "remote installation capability" would be pursued.

In my opinion, it is a safe bet that this been fielded, including with the "remote installation capability", in the intervening six years.

Another software implant that was underdevelopment six years ago, and is likely fielded and improved today, is the GOPHERSET, which pulls information from the target's SIM (subscriber identity module) card, and texts it out to the person who is doing the spying.


In fact, the Interactive Graphic: The NSA's Spy Catalog gives a nice overview of the NSA-advertised capabilities as of the time the catalog was created:

Cell Phone Networks

When it comes to monitoring and tracking mobile phones, the NSA's ANT division has an entire range of products on offer. These include everything from specially equipped mobile phone models that make it possible to physically track another mobile phone, to fully equipped GSM base stations capable of masquerading as a network operator's official mobile phone antennas, and thus monitor and record conversations or text messages from mobile phones within their range. One only has to think of the alleged tapping of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's mobile phone for examples of their potential uses. Several of these specialized mobile phone base stations also have the capability to determine the exact location of any mobile phone user within their range. Then there is a device called "CANDYGRAM" -- referred to by the ANT technicians as a "telephone tripwire" -- which sends a text message to a command center as soon as certain mobile phone users enter its range.



There is also CROSSBEAM, which records voice data and sends it to the guy doing the spying - a wiretap for the on-the-go cell phone generation:



The extensive capabilities that the NSA has fuel the ongoing scandal in Germany, where government officials and ordinary citizens are outraged that the NSA targets Germany with them. An excerpt from NSA, GCHQ have secret access to German telecom networks – report provides background on these capabilities:

US and UK intelligence services have secret access points for German telecom companies' internal networks, Der Spiegel reports, citing slides created in the NSA's 'Treasure Map' program used to get near-real-time visualization of the global internet.

The latest scandal continues to evolve around the US' NSA and the British GCHQ, both of which appear to be able to eavesdrop on German giants such as Deutsche Telekom, Netcologne, Stellar, Cetel and IABG network operators, according to Der Spiegel's report based on material disclosed by Edward Snowden.

The Treasure Map program, dubbed "the Google Earth of the Internet," allows the agencies to expose the data about the network structure and map individual routers as well as subscribers' computers, smartphones and tablets. The German telecoms had "access points" for technical supervision inside their networks, marked as red dots on such a map, shown on one of the leaked undated slides, Spiegel reports, warning it could be used for planning sophisticated cyber-attacks.

Notice that both the US and the UK are involved, with the UK's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) mentioned.

Five powerful countries of the English-speaking industrialized world routinely share signals intelligence data - including communications intelligence - via the Five Eyes program, described in some circles as "the most powerful espionage alliance in world history."

It is worth recalling that we established in Part 1 that Rupert Murdoch's media empire had been intruding into the lives of celebrities in the United Kingdom using a variety of means, including by bribing law enforcement officers in order to gain access to restricted cell phone tracking information.

With that in mind, it is interesting to consider all the capabilities the NSA was advertising it had in its 48-page catalog as of several years ago, when the catalog was leaked. These capabilities are presumably now in the hands of law enforcement throughout the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Canada - the Five Eyes program's member countries - and one can similarly assume that the intelligence agenies of the United States at least, if not of other Five Eyes countries as well, have by now even more advanced capabilities.

With all this capability in the hands of all these people - who can be bribed or coerced, and who make mistakes - is there any real expectation of security and privacy as one uses one's cell phone to text a message or take a picture?

More to follow...

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Mary Landrieu and Democrat Clout

Republican Bill Cassidy is leaving Louisiana's 6th Congressional District seat to run against incumbent Democrat Senator Mary Landrieu.

This leaves LA CD 6 as an open seat; also, this means that there are a total of five Democrats, including incumbent Senator Landrieu, three Republicans, including Congressman Cassidy, and one Libertarian running for the US Senate seat from Louisiana in 2014.

In 2012, Republican Bill Cassidy won LA CD 6 with 79.4% of the vote; no Democrat was in the race. In 2010, incumbent Cassidy won with nearly two-thirds of the vote against Democrat Merritt E. McDonald, Sr., who had just over one third of the vote. In the past several elections, this district showed solid support for the Republican Party. We can project that this district is safe for the Republicans.

However, in 2014 there is a Democrat challenger: Edwin Edwards. Edwards, 87, is a former governor of Louisiana, the longest-serving state governor in post-Reconstruction America, and a former Congressman. Accused of corruption, ties to organized crime, receiving illegally-donated campaign money, and other crimes, Edwards was finally sent to prison in 2002, convicted of a variety of charges, including racketeering, extortion and money laundering.

While in prison, Edwards divorced his second wife, then met a woman 51 years younger than he is; the two were married six months after Edwards' release from prison in 2011. The story of Edwards' marriage to his young wife Trina is the subject of a reality show, The Governor's Wife.

In light of this background, it is interesting that Louisiana Democrat Mary Landrieu has skipped endorsing Edwards for the LA CD 6 race. Landrieu's dodge of endorsing Edwards as well as her dodge of explaining why she would not endorse him have played well with at least some in Louisiana.

Louisiana Democrat Senator Mary Landrieu
Official US Senate Photo

The question that comes to mind is: Why? Why would she not endorse him?

Louisiana uses a non-partisan blanket primary system which, ironically, was adopted in 1975 by then-governor Edwards. The Louisiana primary election is thus on November 4; if no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, then the top two candidates will compete in the general run-off election on December 6.

With two other Democrats running in the 6 CD race this year, the Democratic State Central Committee of Louisiana has already endorsed Edwards, as well as Landrieu herself. (I can understand endorsing an incumbent Senator against challengers, but I wonder how the other two Democrat candidates in the Congressional race must feel about being sidelined so the Democrats can give the ball to a convicted criminal.)


In fact, the matter has received media attention including a published list of Louisiana Democrat Central Committee members who may have been involved in endorsing a convicted criminal for Congress, along with some analysis as to why this might be happening and how it might impact the Senate race:

They know Edwards can't win, and there are other Democrats in the race. They have perfectly legitimate "outs" here; it's not necessary to endorse Edwin Edwards and bring upon themselves the shame and ridicule inherent in such a decision. They're doing it because they think Edwards can turn out the black vote in the 6th District and thus help Mary Landrieu in December. Plain and simple; they think Edwards can do it, and the Democrats in the race who are not coming off a stretch in federal prison on public corruption charges – Peter Williams and Richard Lieberman, by name – can't.

So they'll endorse a criminal in order to keep one of their candidates viable for another office. That he's a criminal doesn't bother them in the least. Wonder why that is.

We saw how Democrats governed this state for 100 years, and rampant criminality was the norm. And they're still endorsing criminals. Maybe somebody can explain how this endorsement is legitimate politics and not at the very least a looking of the other way at public corruption, but we doubt it.

If there are any Democrats in this state who don't support criminal conduct in public office, they ought to make a run at Peterson's chairmanship of the Louisiana Democrat Party. Until that time, we're going to call that a criminal syndicate disguised as a political party.

Why does Senator Landrieu not follow suit with the Louisiana Democratic Party, the organization that endorsed her, and endorse Edwards? Especially considering the suggestion that the whole reason Edwards was endorsed in a race he is believed to not be able to win is to get out the vote to support Landrieu so the Democrats can retain her in her seat in the US Senate?

__________


Just as CD 6 seems to be quite safe for Republicans, some information suggests the entire state is leaning more toward Republicans. For example, Louisiana currently has 5 of 6 Congressmen, 1 of 2 Senators, and 7 of 7 statewide elected officeholders from the GOP; in statewide and Congressional offices, Democrats face a near shut-out. Additionally, the Louisiana Family Forum is said to report that the Louisiana legislature has over the past decade begun to vote much more conservatively on family and life issues, suggesting a trend that could work toward Republican advantage this year.

Additionally, the history of Senator Landrieu's elections sends mixed signals as far as predicting the outcome of her bid for re-election. In Louisiana's 2008 election for the US Senate, Landrieu took just over 52% of the vote in November, allowing her to win re-election without a run-off.

However, in 2002 Landrieu took 46% in the open primary, with Republican challenger Suzanne Haik Terrell coming in second with just over 27%. Landrieu then won re-election in the run-off, taking just under 52% of the vote.

What is very interesting, though, is the controversy surrounding Landrieu's first election to the US Senate, which happened in 1996. Initially, Republican Woody Jenkins took over 26% of the vote, with Landrieu taking just over 21% in the primary. This sent these two to the run-off election, where exit polls showed Jenkins ahead of Landrieu 51% to 49%. However, a late surge in Democrat stronghold New Orleans left Landrieu taking New Orleans by 100,000 votes, placing her just barely over the top statewide, with a 5788-vote margin; outside New Orleans, Jenkins had 53% of the vote.

Jenkins appealed the matter to the Senate Rules Committee, asking the Senate not to seat Landrieu, charging that her election was won fraudulently. It should be noted that 1996 was also the year Bill Clinton won re-election, and that the Senate was controlled by Republicans since the 1994 election. After a stormy 10-month investigation, the Senate let the election results stand.

More recent analysis shows that Senator Landrieu's hold on much of Louisiana may be less tenuous, but that it may also have peaked.

In this light, Senator Landrieu may be making a statement about former governor Edwards, but she may also be simply distancing herself from a convicted dirty politician whose own campaign will benefit hers by turning out voters in a race where literally every vote is expected to count: she needs the votes Edwards may bring to the polls, but can't afford to lose the votes of those who support her but not Edwards.

__________


Scandals - however pertinent or not - seem to be a significant backdrop to this race.

For example, one scandal which seems to be getting some traction centers around Senator Landrieu's use of officially-funded transportation for campaign- and fundraising-related activities. Known in some circles as "Chartergate", the scandal has landed Senator Landrieu the nickname "Air Mary".

Apparently, Senator Landrieu racked up some $34,000 of questionable travel expenses since 2000. In response, Landrieu has promised that her staff will conduct a thorough review of her travel expenses. Then, there have been cries that the review has not been done as fast as it should have.


More significant than the concern that 11% of her total travel expenses were improperly billed, however, is the growing picture of Landrieu as a Washington insider, not someone who represents the Republican-leaning state of Louisiana. From The Scandals Are Catching Up With Mary Landrieu by Scott McCay, September 16, 2014:

But the travel scandal is a giant piece of a building narrative of Landrieu as a privileged Washington insider out of touch with the people she purportedly represents. A web ad put together by Karl Rove's American Crossroads PAC hammered Landrieu for her D.C. attachments and $2.5 million Washington mansion last month, and with Chartergate back in full flower that narrative is taking hold.

The expensive mansion in the Washington area is only part of another scandal, this one dealing with Landrieu's residency. From Judge throws out suit challenging Mary Landrieu's residency by Julia O'Donoghue, September 5, 2014:

Baton Rouge state court judge Wilson Fields dismissed a lawsuit challenging U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu's Louisiana residency Friday morning after hearing approximately 45 minutes of discussion on the case.

[snip]

Landrieu is Louisiana's only Democratic statewide elected official and considered one of the most vulnerable incumbents in the U.S. Congress up for reelection this fall. Her campaign has said attacks related to her Louisiana residency are political in nature and were never legally sound.

[snip]

Landrieu listed her parents house in New Orleans as her Louisiana domicile when she qualified to run for office earlier this month. The Senator, her eight siblings and mother own the New Orleans house together, though Landrieu also owns a home with her husband in Washington D.C.

One thing Senator Landrieu says she brings to the table as an incumbent who has now spent three terms in DC, something that a challenger would not bring to the table simply because that challenger is not a three-term incumbent, is "clout". From 16 questions for Mary Landrieu by Philip Rucker, May 27, 2014:

The Washington Post: What is your argument for a fourth term? Why should the voters of Louisiana keep you there? What is the case you're trying to make?

Sen. Mary Landrieu: "The voters over 18 years have established great clout in Washington. It doesn't belong to me; it belongs to them. As chair of the energy committee, they sit at the head of the table with the gavel. As chair of homeland security, the state sits at the head of the table with the gavel. It's not easy -- you can't just be awarded those gavels. It comes with time and it comes with persistence. So I think, you know, the state has clout that it should really think carefully about before giving up. It turns into jobs and opportunities and projects and funding that comes to the state.

However, the whole "clout" thing just plays into the theme of a privileged insider, one who may be out of touch with the people of the state that sent her to Washington to begin with. Back to The Scandals Are Catching Up With Mary Landrieu for its conclusion:

George Will once said that a good scandal merely reinforces what people already believe about its subject, and the Air Mary disclosures fit nicely with that truism. Landrieu, in fact, has touted her status as a powerful member of the D.C. elite as an asset to her voters through the years. Tepid media coverage to date aside, how ironic that Louisianans tailgating at LSU or gathering around office water-coolers should be discussing that very subject as proof in their minds she's been in Washington too long.

So, does Senator Landrieu represent Louisiana in the US Senate?

Or, does she represent the Democrats?

__________


Senator Mary Landrieu has been endorsed by the gun control crowd. The Hayride, a conservative Louisiana news source established in 2009, had this to say (September 23, 2014):

The same gun control advocacy group that has endorsed House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has also just endorsed Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), citing her support for gun control.

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's "Gun Sense Voter" group endorsed Landrieu last night because she voted for the Manchin-Toomey gun control amendment back in 2013 that Bloomberg, himself, lobbied for.

Republican National Committee spokesman Ben Voelkel called Landrieu out-of-touch with the state, opting to vote with President Obama and Bloomberg on issues like gun control.

"Law abiding Louisianans deserve to have their Second Amendment rights protected, not attacked like Senator Landrieu and her anti-gun allies have made it their mission to do," said Voelkel. "Mary Landrieu has lost touch with Louisiana, which is why she keeps supporting Washington, D.C. mandates like ObamaCare and gun grabbers like Michael Bloomberg."

A legitimate question to ask is: To what extent does Senator Landrieu represent Democrat interests instead of Louisiana interests?

Searchlight Leadership PAC is a PAC affiliated with Democrat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid from Nevada. Such leadership PACs can give money directly to candidates, but also, under certain circumstances, they can spend an unlimited amount of money to influence certain election outcomes. Having an important job as Senate Majority Leader, Reid is a big name, and brings in big money to his PAC. He can then channel this money to help other Senators get elected. By helping get Democrats elected, Reid maintains his own powerful position: first, he maintains the Democrats in the majority, thus maintaining himself as majority leader; second, since he has helped these other Democrats, they owe him favors, and this increases his power, and one favor they owe him is to support him as majority leader in the Senate (or as minority leader, should it go that way).


This PAC moves big money, and has for years. A quick look at their candidates page shows some races that Senator Reid thinks are key to holding the Senate.


However, a Democrat Senator facing a tough re-election bid in a Republican state might find that having her name on Reid's website - or even having her state marked on the map on his website - might be a little counterproductive. So, to find the money going from this PAC to Senator Landrieu in this election cycle, one may have to dig a little deeper.

In March and again in June of 2013, Harry Reid's Leadership PAC donated $5000 to Mary Landrieu's campaign.


But, it only begins there. Money doesn't just get sent from someone to Reid's PAC to some other politician's campaign; it also goes directly from that someone to this other politician's campaign. It also gets moved to other PACs and then to that other politician's campaign. When you compare the list of donors to Landrieu's campaign with the list of donors to all these PACs, and then compare the list of PACs that these donors give to with the list of PACs that give to Landrieu's campaign, you start to get the idea. :)

These politicians in Washington have a generous sampling of attorneys sprinkled in among them, and they are the ones who write these campaign finance laws. They make it complicated so the voting public cannot easily understand what is going on, but so the politicians themselves understand exactly what is happening. They make it difficult for us to follow the criss-crossing money trails, but they know exactly how to launder money through the system they themselves organized to the appropriate campaigns to keep themselves in power.

__________


The Democrats have an agenda, and Mary Landrieu plays a key role in that agenda.

Their main goal is to keep enough of the voters of Louisiana, a state which certainly supports conservative values, in the dark or confused, that the Democrats themselves remain in power pushing their radical agenda.

And the Democrats are doing everything they can, from endorsing criminals in other races to funneling money into Landrieu's campaign, all to keep their clout at the expense of the decent people in Louisiana.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

People as Playthings, Part 3


Part 1 introduced, via an investigative report video, how the official explanation of the Amerithrax case, where weapons-grade anthrax was mailed to certain political leaders and media figures, was not the true story. I finished with this:

It seems to me the idea was not to maximize casualties among the American people, but rather, to maximize publicity about the potential for casualties. Unlike hoaxes a few years previously, this time the perpetrator did indeed have high-grade anthrax, and wanted to make sure America knew that, but without inflicting actual mass casualties, and while trying to make it look like Al Qaeda may have been responsible.

Who had both motive and opportuntity to do this?

In Part 2, we began to weave together a variety of other information, painting a picture of the connections between narcotics traffickers and terrorists, and the flow of heroin from places where it is produced along the Afghan-Pakistan border, and the United Kingdom, which is a significant destination country.

We then saw how then-recent outbreaks of anthrax among heroin users in the United Kingdom and in Western Europe were closely related to each other, and were related to no other outbreaks of anthrax among humans; in particular, the evidence suggested the heroin had been contaminated during transshipment through Turkey. In particular, we saw how one outbreak in 2009-2010 seemed connected to another outbreak in 2012, when the blog post was written, and then wondered: if the contamination occurred by accident in Turkey, why did we not hear about an outbreak of anthrax among heroin traffickers there? And, if it was just an accidental contamination, how could the very same strain of anthrax have been responsible, by accident, in two outbreaks separated by two years? (However, we do now have more information on this: there are people in Turkey who have developed a degree of immunity to contamination with anthrax by handling the material. Perhaps I will write about this at some point.)

We then considered additional information explaining how getting users to inject anthrax might be a far better method to contaminate them than trying to get them to inhale it.

I then pointed out that, in the Amerithrax case, the goal seemed to be to gain publicity while minimizing casualties: in other words, terrorization was the objective. However, using the same logic to analyze the more recent outbreaks, I concluded that it now looked like the objective was to spread the disease and cause death. This conclusion was in sharp contrast to the conclusions of officials looking into the matter.

However, others now seem to be beginning to share my concerns, as one respected blog has seen anthrax in heroin as a possible sneaky means of conducting bioterrorism. This is the concluding excerpt of Heroin's Anthrax Problem by Rebecca Kreston, August 30, 2014:

Anthrax is widely feared for its potential as an agent of bioterrorism; the media-induced panic attack that is occasionally invoked usually relies on images of shadowy terrorist cells spraying spores from planes above cities or perhaps into malls filled with aimless shoppers. However, this frightful microbe's recent entry into our communities was far more insidious and unexpected, relying on an altogether different type of illicit network that spreads harm.

I find this quite interesting, considering the increased use of heroin in the United States.

First we might want to consider some background that I believe can be found elsewhere here at my blog, but which, in any case, I have come across during my research and which is pertinent.

After the invasion of Afghanistan to oust the Taliban following the 9/11 attacks, poppy production there soared; it was especially big along the border with Pakistan. Furthermore, whereas previously poppies had to be transported to some place such as Turkey for refining into heroin, after the invasion refining of heroin began to be done in Afghanistan, right under the eyes of US and allied military forces.

On top of that, this was very high-quality heroin. It was hitting the streets in the West as high-quality heroin, and even experienced junkies were overdosing, because they were not used to the quality and purity.

We consider now some excerpts from some recent news articles.

First, from 'The meat and potatoes' of fighting drugs, September 2, 2014:

Chelsea [Massachusetts] is in the middle of a heroin epidemic. In March, Gov. Deval Patrick declared a public health emergency in Massachusetts in response to the growing opioid addiction sweeping the entire state. From 2000 to 2012, the number of unintentional opiate overdoses in Massachusetts increased by 90%, he said.

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, it's happening all across America. The demand for heroin is reaching unprecedented proportions -- fueled in part by a growing number of people who get hooked on prescription painkillers and soon need a cheaper way to get high.

Like heroin, the painkillers morphine, methadone, hydrocodone and oxycodone are all opioids and have a similar effect on the nervous system.

Heroin, however, is cheaper to get and easier to find.

[snip]

From Southeast Asia or Mexico, the drugs make it into the United States, [Lt. Detective David] Betz says. The drugs are smuggled into New York, then Connecticut and Rhode Island before heading into Massachusetts and the Boston area. From there, it is a short trip across the Tobin Bridge to Chelsea. Betz says small cities often have a tougher battle against drugs than bigger cities because of lower income and resources.

This gives you an idea how extensive the growing heroin problem is becoming in the United States.

Lt. Betz is said to have mentioned Mexico and Southeast Asia as the sources. However, well over 90% of the global heroin supply has come from Afghanistan and just across the border in neighboring Pakistan, basically since the invasion. While Mexico and Southeast Asia are heroin producers, we have to question the drug distribution networks, and wonder how much of the heroin showing up in America is coming from the world's major supplying region, Southwest Asia.

According to UN World Drug Report 2014 (page X):

There is evidence that Afghan heroin is increasingly reaching new markets, such as Oceania and South-East Asia, that had been traditionally supplied from South-East Asia.

Thus, even if the heroin is "from" Southeast Asia, Southeast Asia might just be a transshipment point for Afghan heroin.

Continuing with excerpts from UN World Drug Report 2014 (pgs 28-30):

According to Indian authorities (i.e. country report submitted by India to Thirty-seventh Meeting of Heads of National Drug Law Enforcement Agencies, Asia and the Pacific, and the reply submitted by India in response to the 2011 UNODC annual report questionnaire) heroin from South-West Asia reaches India across the India-Pakistan border and tends to be trafficked onward to destinations such as Europe, the United States and South-East Asia. These destinations are presumably more lucrative markets than India, given the relatively low price of heroin in India (reported to be the equivalent of $8.6-$13 per gram, as of 2011, compared with a range of $100-$400 per gram of heroin from South-West Asia in the United States and an average price, taken from 17 countries in Western and Central Europe and weighted by population, of $72, both in the same year).

[snip]

Moreover, Indian authorities also indicate illicit cultivation of opium poppy in some pockets within India, suspected diversion of opium from licit cultivation and manufacture of “brown sugar” (also referred to as “low-quality heroin”) by indigenous groups.110, 111 Thus, it appears that the consumer market in India is mainly supplied by heroin of domestic origin, quite plausibly derived from a minor proportion of licitly produced opium diverted into the illicit market.

And (from pg 31):

Apart from heroin originating in Latin America, heroin from South-West Asia may be reaching the North American market in larger quantities. Canada, which continues to identify Pakistan and India as being among the prominent countries of provenance for heroin reaching its market, mentioned an increase in the number of heroin seizures from couriers on commercial airlines in the latter part of 2012 and in early 2013, and reported that this could be due to a resurgence in the use of heroin across Canada, as well as possible export to other countries, such as the United States.118 However, the United States has not reported a significant flow of heroin from Canada. India and the United States both indicated that there was a flow of heroin from India to the United States; it is plausible that the flow of heroin reaching North America from India, while probably still small in relation to the size of the North American consumer market, is of South-West Asian origin (as discussed above).

Consquently, aside from an indirect impact on the heroin market from Southwest Asia, driving prices down and quality up through competition, there is a direct impact: correlating this information with other information here at the blog, heroin from regions of the world controlled by Islamic terrorist groups is reaching the United States, and the money benefits, in part, Islamic terrorist groups.

Next, with drug overdoses in Rhode Island up to 142 so far this year (not all from heroin; some from prescription drugs), New England governors joined together to put the fight against heroin on the front burner. From Governors Unite to Fight Heroin in New England by Katharine Q. Seelye, June 17, 2014:

WALTHAM, Mass. — Facing a heroin crisis that they say has reached epidemic proportions, the governors of five New England states met here on Tuesday to devise a regional strategy to combat the rise in overdoses and deaths from opioid abuse.

This is not just a problem in New England. From Low cost fuels growing heroin problem in Columbus by Mark Webber, September 6, 2014:

COLUMBUS, Ind. -- A plentiful and easy-to-get supply of heroin is creating a growing addiction problem in Columbus that law enforcement and lawmakers agree will take years to get under control.

Columbus Regional Hospital officials have noticed a significant jump in heroin abuse among patients over the past year, said Dr. Kevin Terrell, the emergency room medical director.

"We've gone from seeing 111 patients for heroin and pain pill abuse in 2009 to 169 patients in 2013," Terrell told The Republic. "With 118 patients seen for heroin and other narcotics in just the first half of 2014, we're on pace to see a large jump in drug abuse compared to last year."

This summer, the Columbus Police Department has been called to an average four to five heroin-related incidents a week, Police Chief Jon Rohde said.

The increasing numbers aren't a surprise to police.

In late 2012, local officers began recognizing they were witnessing the "calm before the storm," Columbus Police Department Lt. Matt Myers said.

So, heroin use in the United States is becoming more of a problem.

And, considering that "injectional anthrax" is a newly-coined term for contracting anthrax by injecting contaminated heroin, how long until this problem reaches America? And, when it does, will it be by accident or by design?


Back to the question I posed in Part 1, and unasked corollaries: Who had both motive and opportunity to scare the United States by mailing letters laced with weapons-grade anthrax to US Senators and media figures? Who would benefit by demonstrating an ability to cause mass casualties, without actually causing mass casualties?

Interestingly, the 2001 Amerithrax incident, in the wake of 9/11, has motivated US authorities to consider anthrax a real bioterrorism threat, as well as making them more concerned about its use as a weapon against US military forces.

As a result of this, one US company is seeing some growth.


Here are excerpts from Facility That Produces Anthrax Vaccine Moving To Mich., from September 21, 2013:

LANSING (AP) - Emergent BioSolutions Inc. is planning to open a new Michigan facility to expand production of its BioThrax anthrax vaccine to protect U.S military personnel against a leading biological weapons threat.

The Rockville, Md.-based company said it could take until 2014 or 2015 until the Lansing facility completes a review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and receives certification, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Large-scale production has been a challenge and the expansion will help meet that goal, said company chief executive and president Daniel Abdun-Nabi.

"The reality is that BioThrax is the gold standard for anthrax vaccinations," said Abdun-Nabi. "The last challenge ... is to provide large-scale production."

Emergent BioSolutions announced in 2011 that the U.S. government formally ordered 44.8 million doses of BioThrax anthrax vaccine in an agreement worth as much as $1.25 billion over five years.

[snip]

Anthrax "is your No. 1 threat organism," said Jeffrey Adamovicz, a research microbiologist at the Wyoming State Veterinary Lab and a former chief bacteriologist in the Army’s infectious disease lab in Maryland.

The U.S. is seeking to develop more advanced vaccines. For now, BioThrax will remain a significant part of the stockpile, said Robin Robinson, director of the federal Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

"It's an insurance policy," Robinson said of BioThrax. "We don't know if these other vaccines are going to work."

And, in a more recent update to this aspect of the story, Emergent BioSolutions has won a contract to make a new vaccine. From Emergent BioSolutions wins $29M NIH contract for anthrax vaccine by Lindsay VanHulle, September 8, 2014:

LANSING – Emergent BioSolutions Inc. won a $29 million federal contract to make a new form of the anthrax vaccine, the company said today.

The Rockville, Maryland-based biopharmaceutical company said in a statement its five-year contract with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, will produce what it hopes will be the next generation of the anthrax vaccine.

Emergent is the nation's only producer of the anthrax vaccine, BioThrax, which is made at Emergent's Lansing facility on North Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. About 450 worked in Lansing as of October 2013.

It was not immediately clear where the new vaccine would be made or how it might affect Lansing operations. Emergent officials could not be reached for comment.

Emergent said the contract will fund production and other non-clinical functions for an application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for an "investigational new drug." The vaccine Emergent wants to test is a dry version that could help it survive at warmer temperatures, which ultimately could cut the need for cold storage when shipping.

It would be made in part from BioThrax, the product made in Lansing, Emergent said in a statement.

Also, from EBS Gets Funded, HPTX Pulls Plug On Diabetes Drug Candidate, Panther On The Mend, September 8, 2014:

(RTTNews.com) - Emergent BioSolutions Inc. ( EBS ) has been awarded a five-year contract, valued at up to $29 million, by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to develop a dry formulation of NuThrax, the company's next generation anthrax vaccine candidate. NuThrax is currently under phase II testing.

Emergent BioSolutions was founded in 1998 under the name BioPort (see Emergent BioSolutions: Company History).

The executive chairman of the board of directors is American businessamn Fuad El-Hibri, who was the CEO of Emergent BioSolutions until his 2012 retirement from that position.

Mr. El-Hibri also provides leadership to the El-Hibri Foundation which "builds a better world by embracing the universally shared values of Islam: peace and respect for diversity."



As an aside, it is interesting to look at campaign finances.

Among political donations, Mr. El-Hibri has given to President Bush's 2000 campaign. In an interesting connection with my previous two posts, Mary Landrieu and Obamacare and Mary Landrieu, Keystone Phase IV, and Louisiana, Mr. El-Hibri supported Senator Landrieu in 2002.

(In an effort to protect privacy, big black boxes block out information for other contributors and little black boxes black out Mr. El-Hibri's address in the images of this documentation.)


In fact, Emergent BioSolutions has an employee PAC, which was also a big supporter of Senator Landrieu in 2002. Once you start looking at the money trails... :)

More recently, Mr. El-Hibri supported Barack Obama in his 2004 bid for the Senate, and he supported Hillary Clinton in her bid for the Democrat Presidential Nomination for 2008.



Funny where the rabbit trails (and money trails) lead, isn't it?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Mary Landrieu and Obamacare

Note: This blog post is adapted from background research done by request; it does not read like my typical blog posts. :)

The question arose regarding where Democrat Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana stands regarding the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as "Obamacare".

Before I begin, I have a question:

Louisiana Democrat Senator Mary Landrieu
Official US Senate Photo

When we "little people" get a government photo, like for our driver's license, it never comes out this good. Why?

:)

Anyway, I will begin by providing a summary of the situation, which is explained in The $4 Billion Typo in Obamacare's 'Louisiana Purchase', March 6, 2012 (see also The New Louisiana Purchase: Obamacare's $4.3 Billion Boondoggle).

When the Democrats were trying to pass Obamacare, they needed 60 votes in the Senate. This gave Democrat Senators who were not totally behind the program a disproportionate amount of influence, since Senate Democrat leadership would have to cut a deal with them to secure their vote.

A formula called the Federal Medical Assistance Percentages (FMAP) specifies how the federal government will assist state Medicaid programs, requiring the federal government to contribute at least half.

Both Senator Landrieu and Republican Governor Bobby Jindal were seeking additional federal money for Medicaid, though Governor Jindal did not want it to be part of the ACA. Specifically, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana was receiving a great deal of federal money, so Senator Landrieu wanted to seek increased Medicaid funding in order to gradually bring federal funding back down to the normal level, thus "weaning" Louisiana off the increased funding.

In an effort to buy Senator Landrieu's vote, Senate Democrats included some very complicated language that was intended to give an additional $100 million in 2011 and another $100 million in 2012.

Obama did not like the special deals needed to get Obamacare passed, but voiced support for this particular passage, incorrectly stating that it was not just for Louisiana, but for any state that had suffered a natural disaster, and thus would apply to Hawaii.

Later, though, when the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) looked at this passage, they came to the conclusion that, rather than phasing out the provision after two years, it actually increased federal subsidies to Louisiana. Specifically, in 2012, it was $700 million, then beginning in Fiscal Year 2013, it increased the federal share of Lousiana Medicaid from 61% to 72%. The total ran to well over $4 billion.

When the Republicans tried to fix it, the deal that went through Congress still left well over $1 billion of erroneously spent money for Louisiana. Louisiana Republican Bill Cassidy [Landrieu's principal Republican contender, a congressman from Lousiana's 6th district, first elected in 2008, who previously served in the Lousiana State Senate for one term] then asked why this particular part of the law was being addressed, while leaving the rest of the law intact.

The $4 Billion Typo in Obamacare's 'Louisiana Purchase''s author, Avik Roy, finishes by pointing out that the entire law is crafted like this, poorly written and leaving loopholes that guarantee insolvency.

Be this as it may, Landrieu does not support repealing Obamacare. According to an article in a New Orleans news source, Sen. Landrieu joins 5 Senate colleagues pushing for changes in Affordable Care Act, dated March 26, 2014,

"I hear stories every day from individuals, families, and small businesses in Louisiana about how the Affordable Care Act is actually working to provide for first time quality and affordable choices in the health insurance marketplace," Landrieu said. "They often comment that they are extremely happy that this is coverage they can finally count on."

"However, from some constituents I have picked up a few recommendations about how this law can work better. As I have said from the beginning, the Affordable Care Act is not perfect. No law is. That is why I am happy to join with several of my colleagues to put forth some ideas to make it work even better. I hope some, if not all of these, suggestions will gain support from Republicans and Democrats to become law."


Landrieu's attempt to fix Obamacare was the theme of her first campaign TV spot for this election. According to a Louisiana news source Sen. Mary Landrieu releases television commercial, June 16, 2014,

Landrieu, D-La., filed the legislation last month after it was determined that the Affordable Care Act was leading to insurance companies canceling millions of individual insurance plans, including nearly 93,000 in Louisiana, for failing to meeting the health care law's minimum coverage standards and for not meeting the requirements of the law's grandfathered clause.

President Barack Obama had promised that people would be able to keep their insurance plans if they liked them, and Landrieu previously supported that assertion.

Landrieu's bill would require that insurance companies continue offering the plans that are being canceled. However, it is unlikely the Senate leadership will ever allow a vote on her bill.

Still, after facing pressure from Democrats, Obama announced a "fix" last month that would allow insurance companies to continue offering health insurance plans to customers next year that were in the process of being discontinued. The difference is that Obama's tweak allows, but does not require, insurance companies to keep offering the plans through 2014, while Landrieu's bill is a mandate.

Landrieu's new "Keeping the Promise" ad touts her legislative push and concludes, "The Result: People now allowed to keep health care plans."

The article states that the Republicans have criticized Landrieu over this:

The National Republican Senatorial Committee quickly responded Wednesday that Landrieu's ad is "the most disingenuous television ad of the year." The NRSC asserts that Obama and Landrieu knew years in advance that the health plan cancellations were coming and only acted at the last minute for political grandstanding.

"How can Louisianians trust anything Mary Landrieu says after she's repeatedly deceived them about Obamacare for the last four years and continues to do so today?" NRSC Press Secretary Brook Hougesen said.

In my opinion, Landrieu's crime is not in deliberately deceiving Louisiana or America. Landrieu's crime is doing what Pelosi suggested: passing the bill to find out what's in it. It is inexcusable that these people write laws that are longer than a contract with the devil. Congress should never pass a law that is so long it cannot be read and understood by one reasonably well-educated and prudent person in a reasonable period of time. Landrieu never should have voted for the law without at least having a staff member go through the entire thing, and point out potential problems. This is Landrieu's crime: not doing her job of protecting Louisiana and America while legislating in Washington.

In my opinion, the other main point concerning Obamacare is that, regardless of whether Landrieu backed into supporting it, was maneuvered into supporting it, or whatever, she supports fixing this monster, while her main opponent supports repealing it. For example, according to Americans for Prosperity hits Landrieu for ObamaCare support, February 12, 2014:

"Sen. Landrieu has always said the Affordable Care Act isn't perfect and supported numerous legislative measures to fix or improve it. When she learned that individuals who liked their health insurance could no longer keep it, despite the President's promise, she wrote legislation to insure that the promise was kept. As a result, the President issued guidance allowing states and insurance companies to renew individual health plans for another year," Landrieu's campaign said in a release Wednesday.

It should be noted that President Obama's "guidance" mentioned in this passage was a series of executive orders. From Obama's Executive Power Pen Is Already Worn Out, Februaru 24, 2014:

And speaking of the Affordable Care Act, Obama has found yet another use for executive orders: changing and amending his own laws. For awhile it seemed like every week brought yet another unilateral presidential amendment to Obamacare. Don’t like the mandate on small companies? Fine, we’ll just postpone it. How about the requirements on big companies? Fine, we can ease those too. In all, the president has issued 22 modifications or delays of his signature legislation.

(For a more complete accounting of changes to Obamacare, as of July 18, 2014, see 42 Changes to ObamaCare... So Far.)

I would further comment that, for all the bad press Republicans have received for their executive orders, it seems quite hypocritical that Obama is so over the top with his. Now in his sixth year in office, he has signed 183, compared to Bush's 291 in eight full years, and Clinton's 364 in eight years. (Source: List of United States federal executive orders.)



So, what I got from looking into this:

1) Landrieu should have had her people go over the entire law, rather than passing it and then trying to fix it.

2) Landrieu should be working to repeal the disaster, not fix it.

Even as it is, Landrieu has been characterized as "crawfishing", a Louisiana term for backpedaling. From Democratic Sen. Landrieu Walks A Fine Line In Red Louisiana, February 25, 2014:

When Landrieu became one of the most vocal critics of the botched rollout of the health care law, [Parish] Williams [fifth generation shrimp boat owner] says he thought that Landrieu was just trying to save her political skin in true Louisiana form — "crawfishing," he calls it.

"It means backing up. It's what it means — backing up," Williams.

If she really wants to do Louisiana and America a favor, she should crawfish all the way on Obamacare, and work to repeal it.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Mary Landrieu, Keystone Phase IV, and Louisiana

Note: This blog post is adapted from background research done by request; it does not read like my typical blog posts. :)

Background: Louisiana and the Oil and Gas Industry

Louisiana's industrial base is diverse, including shipping, shipbuilding, general manufacturing, commercial fishing, tourism, agriculture and forestry-related products. However, out front is mineral production, mainly centered on production and processing of oil and natural gas.

Louisiana contains just under 10 percent of known US oil reserves, making the state the third largest producer of petroleum in the US. Louisiana produces over one quarter of all US natural gas. Additionally, home to 16 refineries, Louisiana is the nation's third leading refiner, and ranks second in the nation in primary production of petrochemicals.

These statistics are available at Info Louisiana; for more historical background, see Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association.

Some further information of interest includes these facts:

Industrial Capacity Louisiana has the greatest concentration of crude oil refineries, natural gas processing plants and petrochemical production facilities in the Western Hemisphere.

Petroleum and Petroleum Refining Louisiana is America's third largest producer of petroleum and the third leading state in petroleum refining.

Offshore Oil Production Louisiana pioneered offshore oil and gas exploration and drilling. The first well ever drilled out of sight of land was off the Louisiana coast. Most of the techniques used in offshore oil exploration around the world today were developed in Louisiana.

The bottom line is that oil and gas are big to Louisiana, and Louisiana's oil and gas are important to America.

Background on the Keystone Pipeline Project

The Keystone Pipeline is a four-phased project designed to transport crude oil from Alberta, Canada, to refineries in the United States.

Phase I runs from the Hardisty Terminal in the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin in Alberta across the southern part of Canada, then down eastern North and South Dakota to Steele City in southern Nebraska. From there, it turns east to Wood River and later Patoka, Illinois. It was completed in the summer of 2010.

Phase II runs south, connecting Steele City, Nebraska, to Cushing, Oklahoma. Also known as the Keystone Cushing Extension, it was completed in February, 2011.

Phase III continues southward from Cushing to Port Arther in eastern Texas. Opening in January, 2014, Phase III brought oil all the way to the refineries on the US Gulf Coast. However, the Houston Lateral Project, known as Phase IIIb, is still under construction. Begun in 2013, and scheduled for completion in mid-2015, it will stretch 48 miles to oil refineries in the Houston area. By reaching these refineries, refining capacity will increase to better meet the supply being made available by the Keystone Pipeline project.

The current political polemic surrounds Phase IV of the project, which is essentially a shortcut from the Hardisty Terminal in Alberta directly to Steele City, Nebraska. Also known as Keystone XL (which stands for eXport Limited), Phase IV was proposed in 2008. Though approved by the Canadian government in September, 2009, and by South Dakota in February, 2010, questions arose regarding the impact the pipeline would have on the environment and on cultural resources, and whether the additional pipeline capacity was actually needed.

Environmental Concerns

One key question regarding the Keystone XL pipeline is a proposed path through the Sandhills region in Nebraska. Early economic development of this region tried unsuccessfully to make it into productive cropland. By the 1930's, however, the move had been made from using it as crop land to using the area for grazing cattle. Currently, the region supports over half a million beef cattle, though this industry is fading away as the older generations of cattle ranchers die out and the younger generations move to the cities.

Far more significant, however, is the fact that this grassland sits atop the Oglalla Aquifer, which is a major source of water for plains and western states. The main part of this aquifer is centered in Nebraska - in fact, most of Nebraska sits above it - but the aquifer reaches from southern South Dakota all the way to the Texas Panhandle, western Texas and eastern New Mexico. Not only is the Oglalla Aquifer a major source of water for such a large area, but it is a shallow water table aquifer, which could make it more vulnerable to surface contaminants. Spanning eight states, the Oglalla Aquifer provides drinking water to 2 million people and supports $20 billion in agriculture.

Most current government studies indicate that, if the proper environmental safeguards are followed, the potential negative impact of Keystone XL to the aquifer would be minimal to non-existent. In fact, Professor Emeritus James Goeke, a research hydrogeologist at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln, who has spent 40 years studying the Oglalla Aquifer, had this to say:

During the past 40 years, my colleagues and I at the Conservation and Survey Division of the University of Nebraska have focused our research on this aquifer. I personally have drilled more than 1,000 test holes into and through its complexities; I have analyzed the volume and behavior of the waters it holds. Here are several important findings.

1. The slope of the regional water table is from west to east; the deep waters within the host rocks move persistently downhill eastward. Approximately 80 percent of the Ogallala Aquifer lies to the west of the proposed alignment, "uphill" of the pipeline's route. Spilled oil could not move upward against gravity.

2. Along much of the alignment, the depth to water is over 50 feet. Sediments above the top of the aquifer contain fine-grained deposits like silts and clays. In a 25-year study of an oil spill near Bemidji, Minn., the Geological Survey reported that "apparently fine-grained layers impeded the infiltration and redistribution of oil."

3. If areas of the Ogallala were exposed to leaks from the pipeline, the highly varied layers within the rock formation itself would serve to localize the impact of a spill.

4. In places along the pipeline's route, there are locations where the water table is near or at the land surface. It is my understanding that in these areas, TransCanada will encase the pipeline in a waterproof covering and cement jacket.

All this comforts me with the knowledge that a leak from the XL pipeline would pose a minimal risk to the aquifer as a whole. However, we should require TransCanada to post a bond for any cleanup in the event of a spill.

However, to address ongoing concerns, options have been put forward, including eight impacting Nebraska, of which six would reduce pipeline mileage crossing the Sandhills or Oglalla areas, and one would supposedly have avoided this entire part of Nebraska. In 2011, the Nebraska legislature unanimously passed two bills for the governor's signature that enacted a compromise path for the pipeline, agreed upon by the builder TransCanada.

Furthermore,

1) other pipelines (the Pioneer and Pony Express pipelines) have crossed the Oglalla Aquifer for years, and

2) (from TransCanada in eye of the storm, September 8, 2011) TransCanada CEO Russ Girling:

notes that TransCanada has built similar pipelines in North America for half a century, there are 200,000 miles of similar coil pipe in the United States today, that with the 57 improvements above standard requirements demanded by U.S. regulators so far, Keystone XL will be the safest pipeline ever built.

Cultural Concerns

Cultural concerns center on the impact the pipeline might have to culturally significant locations, such as historical buildings or archeological sites, and environmental degradation that may impact the way of life of people in the area.

Native American protestors were arrested outside the White House in 2011 for protesting Keystone XL. Many concerns centered on the demolition or physical disturbance of Lakota archeological sites, quoting from TransCanada's application to South Dakota:

Construction and operation of the Project can potentially affect NRHP eligible sites. These can include prehistoric or historic archaeological sites, districts, buildings, structures, objects, and locations with traditional cultural value to Native Americans or other groups. Project impacts can include: the physical disturbance during construction of archaeological sites located within the construction ROW; the demolition, removal, or alteration of historic or architecturally significant structures/features; and the introduction of visual or audible elements (e.g., pump stations) that can alter a site's setting.

However, the concerns may have been taken out of context. The above passage explains what impact is possible, and serves as an introduction the remainder of paragraph, which details how negative impact on culturally significant features will be avoided:

Impacts to NRHP-eligible sites will be mitigated through avoidance or data recovery techniques approved by DOS in consultation with the South Dakota SHPO. Mitigation may include, but will not be limited to, one or more of the following measures: 1) avoidance through the use of realignment of the pipeline centerline, relocation of pump stations, or changes in the construction and/or operational design; 2) data recovery, which may include the systematic professional excavation of an archaeological site or the preparation of photographic and/or measured drawings documenting standing structures; and 3) the use of landscaping or other techniques that will minimize or eliminate effects on the historic setting or ambience of standing structures.

Similarly, it is conceivable that disruption of the surface ecosystem could impact surface water. Many Lakota consume the water and fish that can be obtained from the surface waters. However, again, in the application, means of mitigating, minimizing or otherwise addressing such situations are discussed.

Economic Issues

As mentioned above, there has been a bit of a glut of oil moved down from Canada to storage tanks along the currently-existing Keystone pipeline. Relieving this bottleneck by opening Phase IIIb so more oil can be refined in the Houston area is one solution.

The question then arises: If there is a bottleneck within the United States, why would we need Phase IV to bring more oil in from Canada to the place where the bottleneck has developed? Again quoting from TransCanada in eye of the storm, September 8, 2011, wherein TransCanada CEO Russ Girling was being interveiwed:

The unhappiest lot will be refiners in the Gulf Coast, who are facing in the next couple of years expiring contracts for oil from Venezuela, and grim prospects to get it back, since China has already stepped in to grab it for its own use.

"The facts are that the U.S. needs 10 million barrels a day of imported oil," Mr. Girling said. "That is not going to change any time soon. This is not a debate of oil versus alternative energy. This is a debate about whether you want to get your oil from Canada or Venezuela or Nigeria. Our customers are telling us we are directly displacing barrels that would have come from Venezuela. The facts are that national security and energy security is enhanced by the building of this pipeline and delivering Canadian oil into this market place."

If Canadian oil doesn't reach the Gulf on an environmentally friendly buried pipeline, Mr. Girling said the alternative is oil that will be brought in by tanker, a mode of transportation that produces higher greenhouse gas emissions and that puts the environment at greater risk.

This, then, explains the need for the Keystone Pipeline Phase IV, especially along the Gulf Coast: should the US lose contracts for Venezuelan oil, a pipeline bringing in Canadian oil can help keep the refineries working, and this would impact jobs in Louisiana. Even if the pipeline does not go to Louisiana, tanker shipments could be diverted there, away from refineries serviced by the pipeline.

However, this may not be the case, either. From Keystone’s Impact on Venezuela Muted by Waning Imports, August 25, 2013:

It's an article of faith among supporters of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline: approving the project would allow the U.S. to use more crude from Canada and less from Venezuela and other unfriendly regimes.

The reality, according to analysts and others who watch global energy trends, is more complex. U.S. imports of crude from Venezuela have been falling for decades, though TransCanada Corp. (TRP)'s proposed pipeline may hasten the trend.

Moreover, the refineries in Texas and Louisiana that would process Keystone's oil have expanded their capacity and may simply absorb the additional stock to feed markets here and abroad for fuel, especially diesel that is in high demand in Brazil and other Latin American countries.

Consequently, there is legitimate concern that the real issue is whether US refineries are expanding their capabilities in order to supply products, especially diesel, to Latin American markets, and, thus, whether the Keystone XL pipeline might merely be a means of meeting this need.

Regardless, it seems pretty clear that if the oil is not moved via the Keystone infrastructure, including the increased capacity of the XL pipeline, then it will be moved via less-environmentally-sound means to the same refineries. Canada is currently looking into building increased pipeline capacity to get the oil to its Pacific ports, and there has already been an increase in movement of oil into the United States from Canada via trains with tanker cars. From 'Trains or pipelines,' Doer warns U.S. over Keystone, July 28, 2013:

Canada is telling the U.S administration it will see a sharp increase in cross-border crude-oil shipments by rail if President Barack Obama fails to approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

In a telephone interview from Washington, Canadian Ambassador Gary Doer said oil companies are increasingly turning to trains – and even trucks – as the construction of pipelines has failed to keep up with the boom in North American crude production, and that trend will grow if the President turns down Keystone XL.

"His choice is to have it come down by a pipeline that he approves, or without his approval, it comes down on trains. That's just the raw common sense of this thing, and we've been saying it for two years and we've been proven correct," Mr. Doer said Sunday. "At the end of the day, it's trains or pipelines."

Thus, the delaying tactics of Obama and the Democrats are actually serving to prejudice the environment, by forcing oil to be moved via railroad, maritime tankers, and even highway tanker trucks. These all burn fossil fuel and pollute the atmosphere moving the oil; furthermore, these have an increased chance of an oil spill.

In the face of this, the oil industry is having to move forward. From U.S. Refiners Don't Care if Keystone Gets Built, September 5, 2013:

But [Valero Energy Corporation] says it no longer considers the pipeline critical to its business. The company is now expanding rail terminals at its refineries in Benicia, Calif.; St. James, La.; and Quebec to receive more crude oil shipments, including heavy Canadian crude. Part of the reason is the long wait for Keystone. "If we just sat around and waited for Washington, we'd never get anything done," Valero spokesman Bill Day said.

Nearly 200,000 rail cars in Canada carried crude oil or fuel during the first seven months of 2013, up 20% from the year before, according to the latest data from the American Association of Railroads.

Senator Landrieu and Keystone XL

It is in this context that we have to consider Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu's efforts to get the Keystone XL project moving forward.

Maneuvering in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives has a goal of taking President Obama out of the loop for approval of this project. The Northern Route Approval Act passed in the House on May 22, 2013 (see House votes to override Obama on Keystone). That, of course, sends the act to the Senate where, in February of this year, Senator Landrieu took over as chair of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. The expectation was that, with Senator Landrieu's support, it might be possible to get the bill through the Democrat-controlled Senate. However, so far, this has not been the case. In fact, Senator Landrieu's explanation of why is interesting.

In 16 questions for Mary Landrieu from May 27 of this year, Senator Landrieu talks about how much "clout" she has in Washington, clarifying that the clout belongs to the State of Louisiana. Implicit in this is the need for Louisiana to keep her in the US Senate in order to keep that clout. However, when asked about moving Keystone XL forward, her response seemed to "crawfish":

Post: "You mentioned Keystone. How, if you're chairman of the committee and you look ahead to the next two years, how do you get anything done there when the president and his administration have not green-lighted the Keystone pipeline? And indeed, there's a lot of hostility to that in your party."

Landrieu: "I'm helping to lead the building of the Keystone pipeline, but it's going to take a lot of Democrats and Republicans at every level from other parts of the state to come together. My goal right now is to get this presented in the Senate, to get it voted on in the Senate. The president could veto it. I mean, it's his right. I would argue that he shouldn't."

Post: "How to convince him to change his mind when he hasn't changed it already?"

Landrieu: "Well, that's not my job. I wish I could. And I'm going to do everything I can to try. But, you know, [Senate Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell has more power than I do and he hasn't been able to. The Chamber of Commerce has a tremendous amount of power; they've not been able to change the president's mind. The president knows that there's some Democrats and some Republicans that are really strong for the Keystone pipeline. We've presented so much evidence to him, we think. But, you know, he's got a job to do, I've got a job to do and the Senate's got a job to do and I hope that we can eventually get that pushed through. But it takes time. It's been five years, I think it should've been done three years ago. But we're going to continue to push. And I'm going to push for additional infrastructure."

When asked how she would convince President Obama to change his mind, Senator Landrieu responded by saying: "Well, that's not my job."

As I see it, here is the crux of the whole issue.

I left that quote in its context, with a link to the article, so what she said can be considered in the context in which she said it.

But, as I see it, this is the crux of the whole issue: Senator Landrieu believes that changing Obama's mind on this matter is not her job. And this is obvious when considering the situation in its entirety.

Senator Landrieu is a Democrat trying to survive in a state that leans Republican. The only way she can do so is to bury her own personal beliefs, as she does with same-sex marriage (which she personally supports), and vote in a manner more consistent with what her electorate expects.

Similarly, her state is a big refiner of oil, and the Keystone XL pipeline would be good for her state's economy. So, she has to support the project. But, in the end, she is still a Democrat. How far will she go to fight her own Democrat President and her own Democrat colleagues in Washington? Instead, she makes a show of fighting the battle, but she is not committed. This way, she can put on a good show for the voters back home, secure in the knowledge that it's all a show, and the Democrats in Washington will continue on the course they are on.

The fact that we have demonstrated that Democrat policies regarding Keystone XL hurt the environment by forcing oil to move by sea, by railway and by highway, in an environmentally unsound and even dangerous manner, jeopardizing the very environment Democrats claim to be protecting, is just icing on the Democrats' hypocritical cake. The issue is as it so often has been: a question of politics over principle, an issue of sacrificing the very things they claim they are trying to protect - in this case most notably the environment - all for the sake of pandering to extremist groups who themselves are, at best, uninformed and misinformed.

Perhaps the people of Louisiana would be better served by a Senator whose core beliefs are in line with policies that will reflect the best interests of Louisiana and of America, a Senator who actually sees eye-to-eye with the electorate, rather than one who thinks one way but votes the other for political expediency.

Perhaps the people of Louisiana would be better served by a Senator who gets to Washington and fights to change the President's mind or to go around him, rather than one who says that doing so is not her job.