Financing Counter-Insurgency and Social Evolution in Afghanistan, Alaska Style

Afghan Minerals_USGS

This (geo)graphic was extracted from a 2007 report by the USGS.

Back in 2003, Steve Clemons wrote an Op-Ed in the New York Times suggesting the adoption of the Alaska Permanent Fund (APF) model in Iraq.

In the 1970’s, during the construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, the state realized that the new oil leases would produce an enormous windfall. Its citizens set up the Alaska Permanent Fund to manage this income, directing that the revenue be invested, the principal remain untouched and the gains be used for state infrastructure investments. A part of the proceeds was distributed as dividends to every Alaskan. By July 2002, the fund had grown to more than $23.5 billion. Dividend payments to Alaskan families averaged about $8,000 per year.

Unfortunately, the Bush Administration did not head Steve’s advice, and Iraq’s oil revenues were not harnessed to achieve such an equitable distribution of Iraqi oil wealth.  Moreover, the way that the Iraqi oil infrastructure was ultimately institutionalized ensured that the Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish populations were not happy (see here for a great discussion of the issues that delayed legislation:, and certainly not “bought-in” to the national strategy.  Frankly, the approach the Administration chose could not have gone much worse.

Afghanistan, on the other hand, has been thought to be entirely different because it was a country without any real natural resources…until now.  A New York Times article New York Times article recently shined a light on a 2007 report by the US Geological Survey entitled Preliminary Assessment of Non-Fuel Mineral Resources of Afghanistan, 2007.  The NYT author, James Risen, indicated that there could be as much as $1Trillion dollars in such mineral assets in Afghanistan.

General Stanley McChrystal’s counter-insurgency strategy is premised upon protecting the population, and ensuring a viable economy in Afghanistan.  Moreover, there is a huge need for social evolution in Afghanistan, of a kind and scale that can only be brought by an economic and industrial revolution. Perhaps it is time to think about how an Alaska Permanent Fund type mechanism could be established that would allow the exploitation of these resources to actually help Afghans, BEFORE the industrial interests from the US, China, India and Iran tear the country apart, no doubt by strengthening the hands of insurgents and warlords.  Free money is actually not difficult to sell to people.  But, a real leader will be needed to institutionalize something this bold, in a way that would favor the population over global industrial interests.

My New Favorite Food


(Geo)graphic of the Incan Empire stolen straight off the WWW.

Quinoa(keen-wah) comes to us from the Andes,where it has long been cultivated by the Inca. Botanically a relative of swiss chard and beets rather than a “true” grain, quinoa contains all the essential amino acids that the human body cannot make on its own.

Not only is it my new favorite ingredient, but Wikipedia gives it pretty cool coverage which I plagiarize beginning now:

The Incas,who held the crop to be sacred,[3] referred to quinoa as chisaya mama or mother of all grains, and it was the Inca emperor who would traditionally sow the first seeds of the season using ‘golden implements’.[3]. During the European conquest of South America quinoa was scorned by the Spanish colonists as food for Indians, and even actively suppressed, due to its status within indigenous non-Christian ceremonies.In fact, the conquistadors forbade quinoa cultivation for a time and the Incas were forced to grow corn instead.[citation needed]

Not to mention that it is good for lowering my epically bad cholesterol.  In searching out the health benefits of quinoa, I found this great article entitled How to lower your cholesterol absolutely free (no prescription required).  The scariest segment of this article, which had nothing to do with quinoa per se, is this –

“It is the hydrogenation of these oils that makes them toxic to the human body. They belong to a class of ingredients known as metabolic disruptors. This is a class of ingredients that interferes with normal human metabolism and includes ingredients like sodium nitrite, MSG,aspartame, and white flour.”

Could you imagine the difference it would make if the FDA changed the food labeling rules to require that hydrogenated oils, sodium nitrite, MSG, aspartame and white flour were all called metabolic disruptors!  Hard to sell that as healthy.

Quinoa baby!

Dymaxion – Say it Five Times Fast


(Geo)graphic brought to you by a French Marxist, Francois Chesnais via a great, off-beat, and very strange article by Brian Holmes.

I was fishing around for the name of the map projection used in one of my new favorite books – “Strategic Atlas: A Comparative Geopolitics of the World’s Powers” by Gerard Chaliand and Jean-Pierre Rageau – and came up with this Wikipedia page.  Unsatisfied by the explanation provided by wikipedia (though their graphics rock), I continued with the GoogleMachine on the InterWeb (which is a series of tubes…) and found Holmes’ treatment, which I quote below.

“Published in France in 1994, this book was among the early attempts by the Marxist Left to grasp the industrial and financial transformations unfolding on a global scale. And it opens with a map, showing the hierarchy of inclusion and exclusion at work in an integrating world.

The projection we see here is, ironically, a variation on the Dymaxion map created in the 1950s by the radical utopian designer Buckminster Fuller. In his eyes, ordinary maps caused humanity to “appear inherently disassociated, remote, self-interestedly preoccupied with the political concept of it’s got to be you or me; there is not enough for both.” (8) The Dymaxion map was conceived to eliminate the north-south distortion of the common Mercator projection, as well as artificial divides between the continents. Conflating the ideas of “dynamic + maximum + tension,” the word “dymaxion” was understood as equivalent to Fuller’s ecological motto, “doing more with less.” In the 1960s he would develop the idea of a “World Peace Game” to be played by teams of citizens or diplomats shifting global resources across an immense version of this map, with the aim of developing humanity’s cooperative capacities through simulations on a world scale. (9) But in the map that Chesnais presents, the Fuller projection is used to show how the major nodes of the Triad – or the “world oligopoly” – are integrated into a single, densely connected space of competition and cooperation, where major industrial and financial groups of each region constantly seek to “do more with more,” that is, to infinitely accumulate more capital. At the same time, the earth appears divided into three regional systems, each differentiated hierarchically according to degrees of access to the major flows of money, trade and information that constitute the world oligopoly.”

Finding the Wayfinders

Polynesian Wayfinder Map
(Geo)graphic brought to you by the Polynesian Voyaging Society.

Late last year, I was waiting in a orthodontist’s office waiting room, and ran across one of the coolest articles I have read in a while. It was an article byWade Davis on Polynesian wayfinding in the magazine National Geographic Adventure. Rather than steal the National Geographic Adventure (which in retrospect I should have done), I figured I would find it online. I assumed that my initial failure to find the article online was due to user error. Week after week, in my abundant spare time, I Googled various combinations of search terms, and came up short. Finally, finding myself back in the waiting room, I rummaged for the magazine, and it was gone.

As it turns out, I was flummoxed because that was NationalGeographic Adventure’s last edition, and the content was never put on the web. Read here for a sad explanation of the course of events (and for a pretty cool blog). But, in the course of searching for the article, I learned even more about open ocean Polynesian migration routes, the Polynesian canoe replicas Hokule‘a and Hawai‘iloa, and the art of wayfinding. I’ve spent so much time working in the worlds of GPS, telematics, and digital navigation technologies that the notion of finding one’s way across hundreds of miles of open ocean in a canoe with nothing more than ancient wayfinding techniques is insane. The folks that populated Polynesia were hardcore.

The “star compass” is their basic mental construct for navigation. The wayfinder memorizes the “houses of the stars”, which are where the constellations come out of the ocean and recede into the ocean. The star compass requires knowledge of different kinds of birds, their flight paths, and the distances that they are capable of ranging from land. It involves reading the luminescent plankton and other sea life and knowing what that means in terms of your proximity to a current or a landmass. And, then there is knowledge of currents’ locations and where they go, as they will quickly take you to predictable places. It goes on and on. And, all this without a clock or speedometer from which one might gauge speed.

Anyways, the Davis’ piece communicates this in an amazing way. Sorry, but I have not gotten to a library to scan in the article and post it. Since NatGeo failed to put their last issue on the web, does that make it Fair Use? Until then, you will just have to live with the less inspirationally written version from the PolynesianVoyaging Society of a different voyage.

China Turns 60

China's 60th Anniversary Parade, Beijing, China

This (geo)graphic provided by Jeff Kerridge at Digital Globe.

“China celebrated its 60th anniversary of the creation of the communist party today in Beijing with a massive parade and flyover.Tons of people, military equipment, floats, and aircraft participated in the parade. Attached is a shot taken by our QuickBird satellite of Tiannamen Square with lots of bright colors and another image that captures an AWACS aircraft inflight…Some of the coolest stuff I’ve seen us collect.  Hope you enjoy it!”

I’m pretty sure this is not quite as good in pan!

Seven Deadly Sins

Seven Deadly Sins

This (geo)graphic was generated by Wired Magazine in this great little article.

This is a fantastic idea.  Greed, envy, wrath, sloth, gluttony, and lust should become a series of maps maintained by the Federal government!  Done correctly, this could tell us a lot!  Unfortunately, I think the author chose poor proxies.

Particularly for gluttony and sloth.

What in the World is Going On?


This (geo)graphic comes from the World Elections blog.


So, the press coverage of the Iranian election has been somewhat bewildering.  It has been bereft of any real discussion of the political and clerical institutions that drive Iranian politics, as well as of any real discussion of the various groups, their worldviews, and their interests.  But, that is hardly new.  Then into my inbox comes STRATFOR’s coverage on the election.  Below is the piece that came today.  Not surprisingly, it in no way comports with the information (if it can be called that) being conveyed by the press (e.g., WashPost, network news, cable news, and I will even blame Jon Stewart).


Is it that institutional journalism is reporting the facts, and George Friedman is force feeding us with the world filtered through a geopolitics filter?  Or, is it that institutional journalism has absolutely no useful frame of reference in to arrange the “facts” that they observe.  I believe we are all suffering from the later.


I dare any one of them to have George onto their show’s, or to reprint this piece in their pages.  There really should be a some sort of service that you can send pieces like this to in order to figure out why no one else is describing the situation this way.  I think I will ask Fred Hiatt and see what he thinks.




By George Friedman

Speaking of the situation in Iran, U.S. President Barack Obama said June 26, “We don’t yet know how any potential dialogue will have been affected until we see what has happened inside of Iran.” On the surface that is a strange statement, since we know that with minor exceptions,the demonstrations in Tehran lost steam after Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called for them to end and security forces asserted themselves. By the conventional wisdom, events in Iran represent an oppressive regime crushing a popular rising. If so, it is odd that the U.S. president would raise the question of what has happened in Iran.

In reality, Obama’s point is well taken. This is because the real struggle in Iran has not yet been settled, nor was it ever about the liberalization of the regime. Rather, it has been about the role of the clergy– particularly the old-guard clergy — in Iranian life, and the future of particular personalities among this clergy.

Ahmadinejad Against the Clerical Elite

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ran his re-election campaign against the old clerical elite, charging them with corruption,luxurious living and running the state for their own benefit rather than that of the people. He particularly targeted Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, an extremely senior leader, and his family. Indeed, during the demonstrations,Rafsanjani’s daughter and four other relatives were arrested, held and then released a day later.

Rafsanjani represents the class of clergy that came to power in 1979. He served as president from 1989-1997, but Ahmadinejad defeated him in 2005. Rafsanjani carries enormous clout within the system as head of the regime’s two most powerful institutions — the Expediency Council, which arbitrates between the Guardian Council and parliament, and the Assembly ofExperts, whose powers include oversight of the supreme leader. Forbes has called him one of the wealthiest men in the world. Rafsanjani, in other words,remains at the heart of the post-1979 Iranian establishment.

Ahmadinejad expressly ran his recent presidential campaign against Rafsanjani, using the latter’s family’s vast wealth to discredit Rafsanjani along with many of the senior clerics who dominate theIranian political scene. It was not the regime as such that he opposed, but the individuals who currently dominate it. Ahmadinejad wants to retain the regime,but he wants to repopulate the leadership councils with clerics who share his populist values and want to revive the ascetic foundations of the regime. TheIranian president constantly contrasts his own modest lifestyle with the opulence of the current religious leadership.

Recognizing the threat Ahmadinejad represented to him personally and to the clerical class he belongs to, Rafsanjani fired back at Ahmadinejad, accusing him of having wrecked the economy. At his side were other powerful members of the regime, including Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani, who has made no secret of his antipathy toward Ahmadinejad and whose family links to the Shiite holy city of Qom give him substantial leverage. The underlying issue was about the kind of people who ought to be leading the clerical establishment. The battlefield was economic: Ahmadinejad’s charges of financial corruption versus charges of economic mismanagement leveled by Rafsanjani and others.

When Ahmadinejad defeated Mir Hossein Mousavi on the night of the election, the clerical elite saw themselves in serious danger. The margin of victory Ahmadinejad claimed might have given him the political clout to challenge their position. Mousavi immediately claimed fraud, and Rafsanjani backed him up. Whatever the motives of those in the streets, the real action was a knife fight between Ahmadinejad and Rafsanjani. By the end of the week, Khamenei decided to end the situation. In essence, he tried to hold things together by ordering the demonstrations to halt while throwing a bone to Rafsanjani and Mousavi by extending a probe into the election irregularities and postponing a partial recount by five days.

The Struggle Within the Regime

The key to understanding the situation in Iran is realizing that the past weeks have seen not an uprising against the regime, buta struggle within the regime. Ahmadinejad is not part of the establishment, but rather has been struggling against it, accusing it of having betrayed the principles of the Islamic Revolution. The post-election unrest in Iran therefore was not a matter of a repressive regime suppressing liberals (as inPrague in 1989), but a struggle between two Islamist factions that are each committed to the regime, but opposed to each other.

The demonstrators certainly included Western-style liberalizing elements, but they also included adherents of senior clerics who wanted to block Ahmadinejad’s re-election. And while Ahmadinejad undoubtedly committed electoral fraud to bulk up his numbers, his ability to commit unlimited fraud was blocked, because very powerful people looking for a chance to bring him down were arrayed against him.

The situation is even more complex because it is not simply a fight between Ahmadinejad and the clerics, but also a fight among the clerical elite regarding perks and privileges — and Ahmadinejad is himself being used within this infighting. The Iranian president’s populism suits the interests of clerics who oppose Rafsanjani; Ahmadinejad is their battering ram.But as Ahmadinejad increases his power, he could turn on his patrons very quickly. In short, the political situation in Iran is extremely volatile, just not for the reason that the media portrayed.

Rafsanjani is an extraordinarily powerful figure in the establishment who clearly sees Ahmadinejad and his faction as a mortal threat.Ahmadinejad’s ability to survive the unified opposition of the clergy, election or not, is not at all certain. But the problem is that there is no unified clergy. The supreme leader is clearly trying to find a new political balance while making it clear that public unrest will not be tolerated. Removing”public unrest” (i.e., demonstrations) from the tool kits of both sides may take away one of Rafsanjani’s more effective tools. But ultimately,it actually could benefit him. Should the internal politics move against theIranian president, it would be Ahmadinejad — who has a substantial public following — who would not be able to have his supporters take to the streets.

The View From the West

The question for the rest of the world is simple: Does it matter who wins this fight? We would argue that the policy differences between Ahmadinejad and Rafsanjani are minimal and probably would not affect Iran’s foreign relations. This fight simply isn’t about foreign policy.

Rafsanjani has frequently been held up in the West as a pragmatist who opposes Ahmadinejad’s radicalism. Rafsanjani certainly opposes Ahmadinejad and is happy to portray the Iranian president as harmful to Iran,but it is hard to imagine significant shifts in foreign policy if Rafsanjani’s faction came out on top. Khamenei has approved Iran’s foreign policy under Ahmadinejad, and Khamenei works to maintain broad consensus on policies.Ahmadinejad’s policies were vetted by Khamenei and the system that Rafsanjani is part of. It is possible that Rafsanjani secretly harbors different views,but if he does, anyone predicting what these might be is guessing.

Rafsanjani is a pragmatist in the sense that he systematically has accumulated power and wealth. He seems concerned about theIranian economy, which is reasonable because he owns a lot of it. Ahmadinejad’s entire charge against him is that Rafsanjani is only interested in his own economic well-being. These political charges notwithstanding, Rafsanjani was part of the 1979 revolution, as were Ahmadinejad and the rest of the political and clerical elite. It would be a massive mistake to think that any leadership elements have abandoned those principles.

When the West looks at Iran, two concerns are expressed.The first relates to the Iranian nuclear program, and the second relates toIran’s support for terrorists, particularly Hezbollah. Neither Iranian faction is liable to abandon either, because both make geopolitical sense for Iran and give it regional leverage.

Tehran’s primary concern is regime survival, and this has two elements. The first is deterring an attack on Iran, while the second is extending Iran’s reach so that such an attack could be countered. There areU.S. troops on both sides of the Islamic Republic, and the United States has expressed hostility to the regime. The Iranians are envisioning a worst-case scenario, assuming the worst possible U.S. intentions, and this will remain true no matter who runs the government.

We do not believe that Iran is close to obtaining a nuclear weapon, a point we have made frequently. Iran understands that the actual acquisition of a nuclear weapon would lead to immediate U.S. or Israeli attacks. Accordingly, Iran’s ideal position is to be seen as developing nuclear weapons, but not close to having them. This gives Tehran a platform for bargaining without triggering Iran’s destruction, a task at which it has proved sure-footed.

In addition, Iran has maintained capabilities in Iraq andLebanon. Should the United States or Israel attack, Iran would thus be able to counter by doing everything possible destabilize Iraq — bogging down U.S.forces there — while simultaneously using Hezbollah’s global reach to carryout terror attacks. After all, Hezbollah is today’s al Qaeda on steroids. The radical Shiite group’s ability, coupled with that of Iranian intelligence, is substantial.

We see no likelihood that any Iranian government would abandon this two-pronged strategy without substantial guarantees and concessions from the West. Those would have to include guarantees of noninterference in Iranian affairs. Obama, of course, has been aware of this bedrock condition, which is why he went out of his way before the election to assure Khamenei in a letter that the United States had no intention of interfering.

Though Iran did not hesitate to lash out at CNN’s coverage of the protests, the Iranians know that the U.S. government doesn’t control CNN’s coverage. But Tehran takes a slightly different view of the BBC.The Iranians saw the depiction of the demonstrations as a democratic uprising against a repressive regime as a deliberate attempt by British state-run media to inflame the situation. This allowed the Iranians to vigorously blame some foreigner for the unrest without making the United States the primary villain.

But these minor atmospherics aside, we would make three points. First, there was no democratic uprising of any significance in Iran.Second, there is a major political crisis within the Iranian political elite,the outcome of which probably tilts toward Ahmadinejad but remains uncertain.Third, there will be no change in the substance of Iran’s foreign policy,regardless of the outcome of this fight. The fantasy of a democratic revolution overthrowing the Islamic Republic — and thus solving everyone’s foreign policy problems a la the 1991 Soviet collapse — has passed.

That means that Obama, as the primary player in Iranian foreign affairs, must now define an Iran policy — particularly given IsraeliDefense Minister Ehud Barak’s meeting in Washington with U.S. Middle East envoyGeorge Mitchell this Monday. Obama has said that nothing that has happened inIran makes dialogue impossible, but opening dialogue is easier said than done.The Republicans consistently have opposed an opening to Iran; now they are joined by Democrats, who oppose dialogue with nations they regard as human rights violators. Obama still has room for maneuver, but it is not clear where he thinks he is maneuvering. The Iranians have consistently rejected dialogue if it involves any preconditions. But given the events of the past weeks, and the perceptions about them that have now been locked into the public mind,Obama isn’t going to be able to make many concessions.

It would appear to us that in this, as in many other things, Obama will be following the Bush strategy — namely, criticizing Iran without actually doing anything about it. And so he goes to Moscow more aware than ever that Russia could cause the United States a great deal of pain if it proceeded with weapons transfers to Iran, a country locked in a political crisis and unlikely to emerge from it in a pleasant state of mind.

This report may be forwarded or republished on your website with attribution to

Intergalactic Planetary Planetary Intergalactic Another Dimension


This (geo) graphic was pulled from one of Vint Cerf’s presentations at the NRO.

I can’t believe I had not heard of this before last week, but Vint Cerf’s presentation on his work on the Interplanetary Internet was one of the cooler presentations that I have seen in a while.  Actually it was just a small part of his overall presentation, but it was for me the most notable part.  Cerf was the co-creator of TCP/IP during the original ARPANet project, and he had great network diagrams of when they connected their hub at UCLA to only a handful of other nodes.  This was how small the original experiment was (and Cerf mea culpa’d several times about his mistaken choice of a 32 bit name space over a 128 bit name space a la IPV6).  That made this whole Interplanetary Internet thing seem a little bit less crazy to me, as the experiment simply involved uploading the new DTN (Disruption-Tolerant Networking) protocol software onto a few spaceborne platforms and conducting some dial tone experiments.

What I thought was very cool was that he was asked by DARPA to test DTN in a tactical battlefield environment in order to see whether “Disruption Tolerant Networking” might apply to an Earth-based context in which disruption was expected.  Indeed, according to Cerf, it performed very well, with many advantages over TCP/IP.  Apparently tests demonstrate that 10-15 times more data gets pushed through the network under DTN than with TCP/IP.  Cerf said something about getting DTN on the Android platform, so there might be an opportunity for a large-scale Earth-based test sometime soon.

I hope Cisco, F5, Juniper and the others are listening!

Every Toxic Mortgage Asset Has A Parcel Number

Cowan Parcel Barcode

Thanks to David Cowan for this (geo)graphic pulled from a PPT he posted here.

For over a year, I have been listening to David Cowan, a colleague from the Secretary of Interior’s National Geospatial Advisory Commitee, on which we both sit, talk about the importance of a national cadastral data set.  Frankly, it all sounded good to me, but I had no idea of the criticality of…parcels.  At this last week’s meeting David hauled out a new marketing line for his pet project – “Every toxic mortgage asset has a parcel number”.

OK, now this is serious.  We have gone from trying to explain why the Federal government should invest in various nation-wide mapping layers (e.g., imagery, elevation, transportation, hydrography, demographics…..parcels!) and a system of systems to manage it all, to one, just one of these layers constituting a $1 Trillion problem for US taxpayers.  The bulk of my focus on the dysfunctional US National Spatial Data Infrastructure over the past decade has been fon the opportunities lost to our country’s national security.  But, as Secretary Gates said, the economy right now is our biggest national security threat.  And, the fact that an NSDI capable of tracking PARCELS, of all things, could have served as an “indications and warnings” (I&W) system that could have prevented the meltdown of the global economy.  Perhaps US Strategic Command should have owned a parcels I&W system, alongside its global nuclear I&W system!

Just in case you are not making the connection, every mortgage backed security is comprised of mortgages that exist somewhere on Earth.  More specifically, each mortgage is of a property that is uniquely identified by a parcel number, which can be found on any city or county parcel map.  Only, there is no national registry of parcels.  And, there is no Federal regulation requiring every mortgage to be tied to a parcel.  As such, we now have mortgage backed securities which have a mix of mortgages that each represent different risks.  And, since we cannot tie them to a specific parcel, we have no way of disentangling them.  If mortgages were tied to parcels, then each security could promptly be mapped and assessed for their risk.  Hell, Zillow would be able to knock this out in a jiffy.  But, they are not.

So, one would imagine that getting a national parcels layer implemented within a non-dysfunctional National Spatial Data Infrastructure would become a high priority for the Obama Administration to aid recovery and disentangle all of the toxic assets.

Just in case you are interested, there is a working group you can join.