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11801  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Libertarian Issues on: February 25, 2009, 12:26:13 PM
Funny enough, I believe in small gov't and free markets.
11802  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Political Economics on: February 24, 2009, 11:54:52 PM
Enter Li, a star mathematician who grew up in rural China in the 1960s. He excelled in school and eventually got a master's degree in economics from Nankai University before leaving the country to get an MBA from Laval University in Quebec. That was followed by two more degrees: a master's in actuarial science and a PhD in statistics, both from Ontario's University of Waterloo. In 1997 he landed at Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, where his financial career began in earnest; he later moved to Barclays Capital and by 2004 was charged with rebuilding its quantitative analytics team.

Li's trajectory is typical of the quant era, which began in the mid-1980s. Academia could never compete with the enormous salaries that banks and hedge funds were offering. At the same time, legions of math and physics PhDs were required to create, price, and arbitrage Wall Street's ever more complex investment structures.

In 2000, while working at JPMorgan Chase, Li published a paper in The Journal of Fixed Income titled "On Default Correlation: A Copula Function Approach." (In statistics, a copula is used to couple the behavior of two or more variables.) Using some relatively simple math—by Wall Street standards, anyway—Li came up with an ingenious way to model default correlation without even looking at historical default data. Instead, he used market data about the prices of instruments known as credit default swaps.

If you're an investor, you have a choice these days: You can either lend directly to borrowers or sell investors credit default swaps, insurance against those same borrowers defaulting. Either way, you get a regular income stream—interest payments or insurance payments—and either way, if the borrower defaults, you lose a lot of money. The returns on both strategies are nearly identical, but because an unlimited number of credit default swaps can be sold against each borrower, the supply of swaps isn't constrained the way the supply of bonds is, so the CDS market managed to grow extremely rapidly. Though credit default swaps were relatively new when Li's paper came out, they soon became a bigger and more liquid market than the bonds on which they were based.

When the price of a credit default swap goes up, that indicates that default risk has risen. Li's breakthrough was that instead of waiting to assemble enough historical data about actual defaults, which are rare in the real world, he used historical prices from the CDS market. It's hard to build a historical model to predict Alice's or Britney's behavior, but anybody could see whether the price of credit default swaps on Britney tended to move in the same direction as that on Alice. If it did, then there was a strong correlation between Alice's and Britney's default risks, as priced by the market. Li wrote a model that used price rather than real-world default data as a shortcut (making an implicit assumption that financial markets in general, and CDS markets in particular, can price default risk correctly).

It was a brilliant simplification of an intractable problem. And Li didn't just radically dumb down the difficulty of working out correlations; he decided not to even bother trying to map and calculate all the nearly infinite relationships between the various loans that made up a pool. What happens when the number of pool members increases or when you mix negative correlations with positive ones? Never mind all that, he said. The only thing that matters is the final correlation number—one clean, simple, all-sufficient figure that sums up everything.

The effect on the securitization market was electric. Armed with Li's formula, Wall Street's quants saw a new world of possibilities. And the first thing they did was start creating a huge number of brand-new triple-A securities. Using Li's copula approach meant that ratings agencies like Moody's—or anybody wanting to model the risk of a tranche—no longer needed to puzzle over the underlying securities. All they needed was that correlation number, and out would come a rating telling them how safe or risky the tranche was.

As a result, just about anything could be bundled and turned into a triple-A bond—corporate bonds, bank loans, mortgage-backed securities, whatever you liked. The consequent pools were often known as collateralized debt obligations, or CDOs. You could tranche that pool and create a triple-A security even if none of the components were themselves triple-A. You could even take lower-rated tranches of other CDOs, put them in a pool, and tranche them—an instrument known as a CDO-squared, which at that point was so far removed from any actual underlying bond or loan or mortgage that no one really had a clue what it included. But it didn't matter. All you needed was Li's copula function.

The CDS and CDO markets grew together, feeding on each other. At the end of 2001, there was $920 billion in credit default swaps outstanding. By the end of 2007, that number had skyrocketed to more than $62 trillion. The CDO market, which stood at $275 billion in 2000, grew to $4.7 trillion by 2006.

At the heart of it all was Li's formula. When you talk to market participants, they use words like beautiful, simple, and, most commonly, tractable. It could be applied anywhere, for anything, and was quickly adopted not only by banks packaging new bonds but also by traders and hedge funds dreaming up complex trades between those bonds.

"The corporate CDO world relied almost exclusively on this copula-based correlation model," says Darrell Duffie, a Stanford University finance professor who served on Moody's Academic Advisory Research Committee. The Gaussian copula soon became such a universally accepted part of the world's financial vocabulary that brokers started quoting prices for bond tranches based on their correlations. "Correlation trading has spread through the psyche of the financial markets like a highly infectious thought virus," wrote derivatives guru Janet Tavakoli in 2006.

The damage was foreseeable and, in fact, foreseen. In 1998, before Li had even invented his copula function, Paul Wilmott wrote that "the correlations between financial quantities are notoriously unstable." Wilmott, a quantitative-finance consultant and lecturer, argued that no theory should be built on such unpredictable parameters. And he wasn't alone. During the boom years, everybody could reel off reasons why the Gaussian copula function wasn't perfect. Li's approach made no allowance for unpredictability: It assumed that correlation was a constant rather than something mercurial. Investment banks would regularly phone Stanford's Duffie and ask him to come in and talk to them about exactly what Li's copula was. Every time, he would warn them that it was not suitable for use in risk management or valuation.

David X. Li
Illustration: David A. Johnson In hindsight, ignoring those warnings looks foolhardy. But at the time, it was easy. Banks dismissed them, partly because the managers empowered to apply the brakes didn't understand the arguments between various arms of the quant universe. Besides, they were making too much money to stop.

In finance, you can never reduce risk outright; you can only try to set up a market in which people who don't want risk sell it to those who do. But in the CDO market, people used the Gaussian copula model to convince themselves they didn't have any risk at all, when in fact they just didn't have any risk 99 percent of the time. The other 1 percent of the time they blew up. Those explosions may have been rare, but they could destroy all previous gains, and then some.

Li's copula function was used to price hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of CDOs filled with mortgages. And because the copula function used CDS prices to calculate correlation, it was forced to confine itself to looking at the period of time when those credit default swaps had been in existence: less than a decade, a period when house prices soared. Naturally, default correlations were very low in those years. But when the mortgage boom ended abruptly and home values started falling across the country, correlations soared.

Bankers securitizing mortgages knew that their models were highly sensitive to house-price appreciation. If it ever turned negative on a national scale, a lot of bonds that had been rated triple-A, or risk-free, by copula-powered computer models would blow up. But no one was willing to stop the creation of CDOs, and the big investment banks happily kept on building more, drawing their correlation data from a period when real estate only went up.

"Everyone was pinning their hopes on house prices continuing to rise," says Kai Gilkes of the credit research firm CreditSights, who spent 10 years working at ratings agencies. "When they stopped rising, pretty much everyone was caught on the wrong side, because the sensitivity to house prices was huge. And there was just no getting around it. Why didn't rating agencies build in some cushion for this sensitivity to a house-price-depreciation scenario? Because if they had, they would have never rated a single mortgage-backed CDO."

Bankers should have noted that very small changes in their underlying assumptions could result in very large changes in the correlation number. They also should have noticed that the results they were seeing were much less volatile than they should have been—which implied that the risk was being moved elsewhere. Where had the risk gone?

They didn't know, or didn't ask. One reason was that the outputs came from "black box" computer models and were hard to subject to a commonsense smell test. Another was that the quants, who should have been more aware of the copula's weaknesses, weren't the ones making the big asset-allocation decisions. Their managers, who made the actual calls, lacked the math skills to understand what the models were doing or how they worked. They could, however, understand something as simple as a single correlation number. That was the problem.

"The relationship between two assets can never be captured by a single scalar quantity," Wilmott says. For instance, consider the share prices of two sneaker manufacturers: When the market for sneakers is growing, both companies do well and the correlation between them is high. But when one company gets a lot of celebrity endorsements and starts stealing market share from the other, the stock prices diverge and the correlation between them turns negative. And when the nation morphs into a land of flip-flop-wearing couch potatoes, both companies decline and the correlation becomes positive again. It's impossible to sum up such a history in one correlation number, but CDOs were invariably sold on the premise that correlation was more of a constant than a variable.

No one knew all of this better than David X. Li: "Very few people understand the essence of the model," he told The Wall Street Journal way back in fall 2005.

"Li can't be blamed," says Gilkes of CreditSights. After all, he just invented the model. Instead, we should blame the bankers who misinterpreted it. And even then, the real danger was created not because any given trader adopted it but because every trader did. In financial markets, everybody doing the same thing is the classic recipe for a bubble and inevitable bust.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, hedge fund manager and author of The Black Swan, is particularly harsh when it comes to the copula. "People got very excited about the Gaussian copula because of its mathematical elegance, but the thing never worked," he says. "Co-association between securities is not measurable using correlation," because past history can never prepare you for that one day when everything goes south. "Anything that relies on correlation is charlatanism."

Li has been notably absent from the current debate over the causes of the crash. In fact, he is no longer even in the US. Last year, he moved to Beijing to head up the risk-management department of China International Capital Corporation. In a recent conversation, he seemed reluctant to discuss his paper and said he couldn't talk without permission from the PR department. In response to a subsequent request, CICC's press office sent an email saying that Li was no longer doing the kind of work he did in his previous job and, therefore, would not be speaking to the media.

In the world of finance, too many quants see only the numbers before them and forget about the concrete reality the figures are supposed to represent. They think they can model just a few years' worth of data and come up with probabilities for things that may happen only once every 10,000 years. Then people invest on the basis of those probabilities, without stopping to wonder whether the numbers make any sense at all.

As Li himself said of his own model: "The most dangerous part is when people believe everything coming out of it."

— Felix Salmon ( writes the Market Movers financial blog at
11803  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Political Economics on: February 24, 2009, 11:54:02 PM

Tech Biz  :  IT    
Recipe for Disaster: The Formula That Killed Wall Street
By Felix Salmon  02.23.09
In the mid-'80s, Wall Street turned to the quants—brainy financial engineers—to invent new ways to boost profits. Their methods for minting money worked brilliantly... until one of them devastated the global economy.
Photo: Jim Krantz/Gallery Stock
 Road Map for Financial Recovery: Radical Transparency Now! A year ago, it was hardly unthinkable that a math wizard like David X. Li might someday earn a Nobel Prize. After all, financial economists—even Wall Street quants—have received the Nobel in economics before, and Li's work on measuring risk has had more impact, more quickly, than previous Nobel Prize-winning contributions to the field. Today, though, as dazed bankers, politicians, regulators, and investors survey the wreckage of the biggest financial meltdown since the Great Depression, Li is probably thankful he still has a job in finance at all. Not that his achievement should be dismissed. He took a notoriously tough nut—determining correlation, or how seemingly disparate events are related—and cracked it wide open with a simple and elegant mathematical formula, one that would become ubiquitous in finance worldwide.

For five years, Li's formula, known as a Gaussian copula function, looked like an unambiguously positive breakthrough, a piece of financial technology that allowed hugely complex risks to be modeled with more ease and accuracy than ever before. With his brilliant spark of mathematical legerdemain, Li made it possible for traders to sell vast quantities of new securities, expanding financial markets to unimaginable levels.

His method was adopted by everybody from bond investors and Wall Street banks to ratings agencies and regulators. And it became so deeply entrenched—and was making people so much money—that warnings about its limitations were largely ignored.

Then the model fell apart. Cracks started appearing early on, when financial markets began behaving in ways that users of Li's formula hadn't expected. The cracks became full-fledged canyons in 2008—when ruptures in the financial system's foundation swallowed up trillions of dollars and put the survival of the global banking system in serious peril.

David X. Li, it's safe to say, won't be getting that Nobel anytime soon. One result of the collapse has been the end of financial economics as something to be celebrated rather than feared. And Li's Gaussian copula formula will go down in history as instrumental in causing the unfathomable losses that brought the world financial system to its knees.

How could one formula pack such a devastating punch? The answer lies in the bond market, the multitrillion-dollar system that allows pension funds, insurance companies, and hedge funds to lend trillions of dollars to companies, countries, and home buyers.

A bond, of course, is just an IOU, a promise to pay back money with interest by certain dates. If a company—say, IBM—borrows money by issuing a bond, investors will look very closely over its accounts to make sure it has the wherewithal to repay them. The higher the perceived risk—and there's always some risk—the higher the interest rate the bond must carry.

Bond investors are very comfortable with the concept of probability. If there's a 1 percent chance of default but they get an extra two percentage points in interest, they're ahead of the game overall—like a casino, which is happy to lose big sums every so often in return for profits most of the time.

Bond investors also invest in pools of hundreds or even thousands of mortgages. The potential sums involved are staggering: Americans now owe more than $11 trillion on their homes. But mortgage pools are messier than most bonds. There's no guaranteed interest rate, since the amount of money homeowners collectively pay back every month is a function of how many have refinanced and how many have defaulted. There's certainly no fixed maturity date: Money shows up in irregular chunks as people pay down their mortgages at unpredictable times—for instance, when they decide to sell their house. And most problematic, there's no easy way to assign a single probability to the chance of default.

Wall Street solved many of these problems through a process called tranching, which divides a pool and allows for the creation of safe bonds with a risk-free triple-A credit rating. Investors in the first tranche, or slice, are first in line to be paid off. Those next in line might get only a double-A credit rating on their tranche of bonds but will be able to charge a higher interest rate for bearing the slightly higher chance of default. And so on.

"...correlation is charlatanism"
Photo: AP photo/Richard Drew The reason that ratings agencies and investors felt so safe with the triple-A tranches was that they believed there was no way hundreds of homeowners would all default on their loans at the same time. One person might lose his job, another might fall ill. But those are individual calamities that don't affect the mortgage pool much as a whole: Everybody else is still making their payments on time.

But not all calamities are individual, and tranching still hadn't solved all the problems of mortgage-pool risk. Some things, like falling house prices, affect a large number of people at once. If home values in your neighborhood decline and you lose some of your equity, there's a good chance your neighbors will lose theirs as well. If, as a result, you default on your mortgage, there's a higher probability they will default, too. That's called correlation—the degree to which one variable moves in line with another—and measuring it is an important part of determining how risky mortgage bonds are.

Investors like risk, as long as they can price it. What they hate is uncertainty—not knowing how big the risk is. As a result, bond investors and mortgage lenders desperately want to be able to measure, model, and price correlation. Before quantitative models came along, the only time investors were comfortable putting their money in mortgage pools was when there was no risk whatsoever—in other words, when the bonds were guaranteed implicitly by the federal government through Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.

Yet during the '90s, as global markets expanded, there were trillions of new dollars waiting to be put to use lending to borrowers around the world—not just mortgage seekers but also corporations and car buyers and anybody running a balance on their credit card—if only investors could put a number on the correlations between them. The problem is excruciatingly hard, especially when you're talking about thousands of moving parts. Whoever solved it would earn the eternal gratitude of Wall Street and quite possibly the attention of the Nobel committee as well.

To understand the mathematics of correlation better, consider something simple, like a kid in an elementary school: Let's call her Alice. The probability that her parents will get divorced this year is about 5 percent, the risk of her getting head lice is about 5 percent, the chance of her seeing a teacher slip on a banana peel is about 5 percent, and the likelihood of her winning the class spelling bee is about 5 percent. If investors were trading securities based on the chances of those things happening only to Alice, they would all trade at more or less the same price.

But something important happens when we start looking at two kids rather than one—not just Alice but also the girl she sits next to, Britney. If Britney's parents get divorced, what are the chances that Alice's parents will get divorced, too? Still about 5 percent: The correlation there is close to zero. But if Britney gets head lice, the chance that Alice will get head lice is much higher, about 50 percent—which means the correlation is probably up in the 0.5 range. If Britney sees a teacher slip on a banana peel, what is the chance that Alice will see it, too? Very high indeed, since they sit next to each other: It could be as much as 95 percent, which means the correlation is close to 1. And if Britney wins the class spelling bee, the chance of Alice winning it is zero, which means the correlation is negative: -1.

If investors were trading securities based on the chances of these things happening to both Alice and Britney, the prices would be all over the place, because the correlations vary so much.

But it's a very inexact science. Just measuring those initial 5 percent probabilities involves collecting lots of disparate data points and subjecting them to all manner of statistical and error analysis. Trying to assess the conditional probabilities—the chance that Alice will get head lice if Britney gets head lice—is an order of magnitude harder, since those data points are much rarer. As a result of the scarcity of historical data, the errors there are likely to be much greater.

In the world of mortgages, it's harder still. What is the chance that any given home will decline in value? You can look at the past history of housing prices to give you an idea, but surely the nation's macroeconomic situation also plays an important role. And what is the chance that if a home in one state falls in value, a similar home in another state will fall in value as well?


Here's what killed your 401(k)   David X. Li's Gaussian copula function as first published in 2000. Investors exploited it as a quick—and fatally flawed—way to assess risk. A shorter version appears on this month's cover of Wired.

Specifically, this is a joint default probability—the likelihood that any two members of the pool (A and B) will both default. It's what investors are looking for, and the rest of the formula provides the answer.  Survival times
The amount of time between now and when A and B can be expected to default. Li took the idea from a concept in actuarial science that charts what happens to someone's life expectancy when their spouse dies.
A dangerously precise concept, since it leaves no room for error. Clean equations help both quants and their managers forget that the real world contains a surprising amount of uncertainty, fuzziness, and precariousness.
This couples (hence the Latinate term copula) the individual probabilities associated with A and B to come up with a single number. Errors here massively increase the risk of the whole equation blowing up.
 Distribution functions
The probabilities of how long A and B are likely to survive. Since these are not certainties, they can be dangerous: Small miscalculations may leave you facing much more risk than the formula indicates.
The all-powerful correlation parameter, which reduces correlation to a single constant—something that should be highly improbable, if not impossible. This is the magic number that made Li's copula function irresistible.

11804  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Homeland Security on: February 24, 2009, 10:49:01 PM

Monday, February 23, 2009
Who Do You Believe?

Way back when, the intelligence community operated under a simple rule. Disagreements over analysis were worked out in private and when the community spoke, it was with one voice.

Ah, for the good old days. Unfortunately, in today's "leak culture," analysts--and the agencies that employ them--are anxious to air their assessments, even if they highlight divisions within the community.

Consider yesterday's revelations from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. In the matter of a few hours, both organizations offered highly conflicting views on domestic terror threats. After reading their respective opinions on these matters, members of Congress (and the public) have every right to be confused.

The dust-up began when FBI Director Robert Mueller, speaking to the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, warned that terrorists "with large agendas and little money" can use rudimentary weapons to launch Mumbai-style attacks in the United States. As the Washington Post reports:

Mueller said that the bureau is expanding its focus beyond al-Qaeda and into splinter groups, radicals who try to enter the country through the visa waiver program and "home-grown terrorists."

"The universe of crime and terrorism stretches out infinitely before us, and we too are working to find what we believe to be out there but cannot always see," Mueller said.

One particular concern, the FBI director said, springs from the country's background as a "nation of immigrants." Federal officials worry about pockets of possible radicals among melting-pot communities in the United States such as Seattle, San Diego, Miami or New York.

A Joint Terrorism Task Force led by the FBI, for instance, continues to investigate a group in Minneapolis after one young man last fall flew to Somalia and became what authorities believe to be the first U.S. citizen to carry out a suicide bombing. As many as a half-dozen other youths from that community in Minnesota have vanished, alarming their parents and raising concerns among law enforcement officials that a dangerous recruiting network has operated under the radar.

But later in the day, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security downplayed the domestic terror threat:

"We are not immune to an attack from a home-grown terrorist, but the probabilities and sustainability of such an act are very low," said DHS spokesman Michael Keegan.

Keegan said the American immigrant story is one reason the United States is less vulnerable to home-grown terrorism than other countries.

"People come to the United States to be part of something special, to practice their beliefs without worries of persecutions based on their religious faith, political views or personal life styles," he said. "When you give citizens the opportunity to live in an environment that promotes personal growth and happiness, you're essentially promoting the wellness and safety of an entire nation rather than a community of homegrown terrorist cells."

Mr. Keegan will get brownie points for political correctness, but there is a certain fallacy in both his logic and his assumptions. True, the overwhelming majority of immigrants in this country are law-abiding and hard-working, but there are radicalized elements within that broad community, particularly among Muslims.

We assume that Keegan is familiar with the Fort Dix 6. That terror plot, aimed at killing soldiers at the New Jersey army post, involved recent emigres from various Islamic countries. And the Fort Dix conspiracy isn't the only foiled terror attack that originated among Muslim immigrants or their offspring.

So, does that automatically disqualify the comments of Mr. Keegan and the assessments of his department? Not necessarily. DHS has its own analytic resources, though they pale in comparison to those of the FBI. While that doesn't give the bureau a monopoly on the truth, the comments of the FBI Director should carry more weight than a p.r. flack from DHS.

Normally, we're not fans of Congressional hearings, but this public disagreement practically begs one. The chairman of the House and Senate intelligence committees should summon Mr. Mueller, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano and their top analysts for a closed door review of the intelligence.

Disagreements within the intelligence community are hardly new and they can actually prove beneficial, forcing agencies to develop a consensus on critical topics. But issuing such divergent opinions--only hours apart--does little to inspire confidence. On matters as important as domestic terror threat assessments, we need more convergence and less conflict.
11805  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Political Economics on: February 24, 2009, 09:01:12 PM
Why Scott Grannis is wrong:

NOTE: Scott Grannis lives in a house that overlooks a beach. I live in an apartment that overlooks urban decay. My best chance for a decent retirement probably hinges on getting a job driving someone like Scott Grannis around.

Approximately 74.9 percent of the U.S. families surveyed in 2004 had credit cards, and 58 percent of those families carried a balance. In 2001, 76.2 percent of families had creditcards, and 55 percent of those families carried a balance. (Source: Federal Reserve Bulletin, February 2006.)
Total U.S. consumer debt (which includes credit card debt and noncredit-card debt but not mortgage debt) reached $2.55 trillion at the end of 2007, up from $2.42 trillion at the end of 2006. (Source: Federal Reserve)
After an almost unbroken streak of increases, total U.S. consumer revolving debt fell $973.5 billion in November 2008. About 98 percent of that debt was credit card debt.  (Source: Federal Reserve)

43 out 50 states are running budget deficits. 43 out of 57 doesn't sound near as bad though, right Barry?


**These assclowns are in charge**

What if They Held Breakout Sessions and Everyone Broke Out?

By Dana Milbank
Tuesday, February 24, 2009; A03

Holding a "fiscal responsibility summit" at the White House in the middle of a government spending spree is a bit like having an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting at a frat house on homecoming weekend.

This could explain the sparse attendance at yesterday's session. Economic Recovery Advisory Board Chairman Paul Volcker, penciled in to lead the session on taxes, didn't come. Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, listed as a moderator of the health-care panel, was also missing, as was Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn, who had been tapped as a leader of the procurement session. Another mysterious absence: CIA Director Leon Panetta, the Clinton budget director, who was expected to lead the budget panel.

"It is wonderful to see the speaker here," President Obama said at the start of his remarks. True: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was in the first row, having walked in 10 minutes after the program began.

"And," the president continued, "we've got, uh, our representative -- I don't see Harry here." Also true: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had another engagement, across town at the Newseum.

The attendance list distributed by the White House came with excuses helpfully printed after the names. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.): "Will not join breakout sessions." Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.): "Arriving at 2:30," 90 minutes late. Pelosi: "Will not join breakout sessions."

The president, assembling the summiteers in the East Room, gave them their orders: "I want you to question each other, challenge each other," he said. "I look forward to hearing the results when you report back."

The participants then filed out into the main foyer of the White House for juice, coffee and piano music. Sen. John Cornyn (Tex.), a member of the Republican leadership, was seen fleeing before the breakout sessions began.

The lawmakers got right to work. In the health-care session, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said he had considered giving up martinis to improve his health but "I was elated when I found it didn't make any difference." Alcohol was also a topic in the budget session, where Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.) proposed that the president solve the problem by locking everybody in a room with three bottles of gin.

When Obama announced the summit last month, it had the sound of something big. But the administration didn't settle on a date until recently, and some participants didn't receive invitations until Friday. According to one report, not denied by the White House, Obama dropped plans to announce a new Social Security task force at the gathering.

There were signs yesterday of the hasty arrangements. In the tax-reform session, Rep. David Price (D-N.C.) arrived to discover that his name tag identified him as Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.). White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, listed as one of the moderators of the procurement panel, arrived just 10 minutes before the end.

"Oh, nice of you to join us," said Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.). Emanuel said nothing.

But Emanuel didn't need to say anything. The summit was about symbolism -- conveying the sense that Obama, at a time of fiscal profligacy, cares about fiscal restraint -- and by that measure, it succeeded admirably.

"Today, I'm pledging to cut the deficit we inherited by half by the end of my first term in office," the president told the attendees. This remarkable feat would be made possible only by the fact that the current year's deficit was an eye-popping $1.3 trillion and rising when Obama took over; even half that amount would still be a record.

After two hours away from the cameras in their breakout sessions, the summit-goers rejoined Obama. To nobody's surprise, they announced no major breakthroughs. But, with television cameras rolling, they gave Obama something almost as valuable: lavish praise for the summit. It was "very, very productive" (Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md.), "a terrific start in the White House" (Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D.), and "all of us are enormously grateful" (Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont.). Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) likened Obama's outreach to the biblical "Parable of the Sower."

Even Republicans gushed. "It's a great opportunity, I think, for us to really come together on some of these very, very big issues," said Rep. Eric Cantor (Va.), the No. 2 House Republican.

A couple of Republicans in the audience needled Obama, but the president, from the stage, easily put down their challenges.

"Your helicopter is now going to cost as much as Air Force One," Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) chided.

"The helicopter I have now seems perfectly adequate to me," Obama answered, to laughter. "Of course, I've never had a helicopter before."

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.) complained that Pelosi had shut Republicans out from legislative talks. "This is a good first step," he said of the summit. "But if this is all we do, it's a sterile step."

"The minority has to be constructive," Obama told the congressman, and not "just want to blow the thing up."

For all the no-shows and the lack of planning, the summit had, in the end, provided something of value: a rare, public back-and-forth between the president, lawmakers and interest groups. No doubt some of the no-shows will wish they had been there -- and, luckily, they may get a second chance.

"We've scheduled a health-care summit next week," the president told the summiteers. "Not that I've got summititis here."



CBO: Obama stimulus harmful over long haul
Stephen Dinan (Contact)
Wednesday, February 4, 2009

President Obama's economic recovery package will actually hurt the economy more in the long run than if he were to do nothing, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said Wednesday.

CBO, the official scorekeepers for legislation, said the House and Senate bills will help in the short term but result in so much government debt that within a few years they would crowd out private investment, actually leading to a lower Gross Domestic Product over the next 10 years than if the government had done nothing.


11806  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Political Economics on: February 24, 2009, 08:49:13 AM
California: A Casualty of the Left   
By Dennis Prager | Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Virtually throughout its history, and certainly in the 20th century, California has been known as the place to go for dynamism and growth. It did not become the richest, most populous, and most productive state solely because of its weather and natural resources.

So it takes a lot to turn California around from growth to contraction, from people moving into the state to a net exodus from the state, from business moving into California to businesses leaving California.

It takes some doing.

And the Left has done it.

California’s Democratic legislature has been more or less able to do whatever it wants with California. The Wall Street Journal has described the result:

“The Golden State -- which a decade ago was the booming technology capital of the world -- has been done in by two decades of chronic overspending, overregulating and a hyperprogressive tax code.…”

One might argue that’s this is a politically biased assessment. So here are some facts, not assessments:
California’s state expenditures grew from $104 billion in 2003 to $145 billion in 2008.
California has the worst credit rating in the nation.
California has the fourth highest unemployment rate in the nation, 9.3 percent -- higher even than the car manufacturing state of Michigan.
California has the second highest home foreclosure rate.
California’s tax-paying middle class is leaving the state. California’s net loss last year in state-to-state migration exceeded every other state's. New York, another Left-run state, was second.
Since 2000, California’s job growth rate -- which in the late 1970s was many times higher than the national average -- has lagged behind the national average by almost 20 percent.
California has lost 25 percent of its industrial work force since 2001.
Joel Kotkin, one of the leading observers of urban America, the presidential fellow in urban futures at Chapman University, recently wrote an essay on California, “Sundown for California.” He begins with these words:

“Twenty-five years ago, along with another young journalist, I co-authored a book called “California, Inc.” about our adopted home state. The book described ‘California’s rise to economic, political, and cultural ascendancy’...But today our Golden State appears headed, if not for imminent disaster, then toward an unanticipated, maddening, and largely unnecessary mediocrity.”

That is what left-wing policies have done to California. In Kotkin’s words, “the state legislature decided to spend its money on public employees and impose ever more regulatory burdens on business.”

Last week, Intel, the world’s largest maker of computer chips, announced that it would invest $7 billion to expand its facilities. Where? In Arizona, Oregon, and New Mexico. But not in California, the state in which Intel is headquartered.

The Left is bringing the greatest state to its knees.

What generations created, the Left destroys. There are few productive and noble institutions in America that the Left has not hurt or attempted to hurt. But while the Left destroys a great deal, it constructs almost nothing (outside of government agencies, laws, and lawsuits).

Take the Boy Scouts. For generations, the Boy Scouts, founded and preserved by Americans of all political as well as ethnic backgrounds, has helped millions of American boys become good, productive men. The Left throughout America -- its politicians, its media, its stars, its academics -- have ganged up to deprive the Boy Scouts of oxygen. Everywhere possible, the Boy Scouts are vilified and deprived of places to meet.

But while the Left works to destroy the Boy Scouts -- unless the Boy Scouts adopt the Left’s views on openly gay scouts and scout leaders -- the Left has created nothing comparable to the Boy Scouts. The Left tries to destroy one of the greatest institutions ever made for boys, but it has built nothing for boys. There is no ACLU version of the Boy Scouts; there is only the ACLU versus the Boy Scouts.

The same holds true for the greatest character-building institution in American life: Judeo-Christian religions. Once again, the Left knows how to destroy. Everywhere possible the Left works to inhibit religious institutions and values -- from substituting “Happy Holidays” for “Merry Christmas” to removing the tiny cross from the Los Angeles County Seal to arguing that religious people must not bring their values into the political arena.

And, then there is education. Until the Left took over American public education in the second half of the 20th century, it was generally excellent -- look at the high level of eighth-grade exams from early in the 20th century and you will weep. The more money the Left has gotten for education -- America now spends more per student than any country in the world -- the worse the academic results. And the Left has removed God and dress codes from schools -- with socially disastrous results.

Of course, it is not entirely accurate to say that the Left builds nothing. It has built vast government bureaucracies, MTV, and post-1960s Hollywood, for example. But these are, to say the least, not positive achievements.

In his column this week, Thomas Friedman describes General Motors Corp., as “a giant wealth-destruction machine.” That perfectly describes the Left many times over. It is both a wealth-destruction machine and an ennobling-institution destruction machine.
Dennis Prager hosts a nationally syndicated radio talk show based in Los Angeles. He is the author of four books, most recently "Happiness is a Serious Problem" (HarperCollins). His website is To find out more about Dennis Prager, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at
11807  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Political Economics on: February 24, 2009, 08:47:43 AM
11808  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Homeland Security on: February 24, 2009, 08:01:28 AM

FBI Director Warns of Terror Attacks on U.S. Cities
By Carrie Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 23, 2009; 3:19 PM

FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III today warned that extremists "with large agendas and little money can use rudimentary weapons" to sow terror, raising the specter that recent attacks in Mumbai that killed 170 people last year could embolden terrorists seeking to attack U.S. cities.

At a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, Mueller said that the bureau is expanding its focus beyond al-Qaeda and into splinter groups, radicals who try to enter the country through the visa waiver program and "home-grown terrorists."

"The universe of crime and terrorism stretches out infinitely before us, and we too are working to find what we believe to be out there but cannot always see," Mueller said.

One particular concern, the FBI director said, springs from the country's background as a "nation of immigrants." Federal officials worry about pockets of possible radicals among melting-pot communities in the United States such as Seattle, San Diego, Miami or New York.

A Joint Terrorism Task Force led by the FBI, for instance, continues to investigate a group in Minneapolis after one young man last fall flew to Somalia and became what authorities believe to be the first U.S. citizen to carry out a suicide bombing. As many as a half-dozen other youths from that community in Minnesota have vanished, alarming their parents and raising concerns among law enforcement officials that a dangerous recruiting network has operated under the radar.

"The prospect of young men, indoctrinated and radicalized in their own communities . . . is a perversion of the immigrant story," Mueller said.

For the first time, Mueller also disclosed details about FBI efforts to assist Indian authorities probing a November siege by conspirators with ties to a terrorist group in Pakistan. FBI Special Agent Steve Merrill, a legal attache posted to the bureau's office in New Delhi, had been preparing to play cricket for the American team competing at the Maharajah's annual tournament, the FBI director recalled.

Instead Merrill detoured to Mumbai, where he helped to rescue Americans trapped in the burning Taj Hotel and coordinated the arrival of the bureau's rapid deployment team.

Analysts and agents from the FBI ultimately conducted 60 interviews including one of the lone surviving attacker, Ajmal Amir Kasab. Forensics experts pulled fingerprints from improvised explosive devices and recovered data from damaged cellphones, once "literally wiring a smashed phone back together," Mueller said.

11809  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Obama's Stunted Stimulus on: February 24, 2009, 12:16:17 AM

Obama's Stunted Stimulus
By Robert J. Samuelson
Monday, February 23, 2009; A19

Judged by his own standards, President Obama's $787 billion economic stimulus program is deeply disappointing. For weeks, Obama has described the economy in grim terms. "This is not your ordinary run-of-the-mill recession," he said at his Feb. 9 news conference. It's "the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression." Given these dire warnings, you'd expect the stimulus package to focus almost exclusively on reviving the economy. It doesn't, and for that, Obama bears much of the blame.

The case for a huge stimulus -- which I support -- is to prevent a devastating downward economic spiral. Spending is tumbling worldwide. In the fourth quarter of 2008, the U.S. economy contracted at a nearly 4 percent annual rate. In Japan, the economy fell at a nearly 13 percent rate; in Europe, the rate was about 6 percent. These are gruesome declines. If the economic outlook is as bleak as Obama says, there's no reason to dilute the upfront power of the stimulus. But that's what he's done.

His politics compromise the program's economics. Look at the numbers. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that about $200 billion will be spent in 2011 or later -- after it would do the most good. For starters, there's $8 billion for high-speed rail. "Everyone is saying this is [for] high-speed rail between Los Angeles and Las Vegas -- I don't know," says Ray Scheppach, executive director of the National Governors Association. Whatever's done, the design and construction will occupy many years. It's not a quick stimulus.

Then there's $20.8 billion for improved health information technology -- more electronic records and the like. Probably most people regard this as desirable, but here, too, changes occur slowly. The CBO expects only 3 percent of the money ($595 million) to be spent in fiscal 2009 and 2010. The peak year of projected spending is 2014 at $14.2 billion.

Big projects take time. They're included in the stimulus because Obama and Democratic congressional leaders are using the legislation to advance many political priorities instead of just spurring the economy. At his news conference, Obama argued (inaccurately) that the two goals don't conflict. Consider, he said, the retrofitting of federal buildings to make them more energy efficient. "We're creating jobs immediately," he said.

Yes -- but not many. The stimulus package includes $5.5 billion for overhauling federal buildings. The CBO estimates that only 23 percent of that would be spent in 2009 and 2010.

Worse, the economic impact of the stimulus is already smaller than advertised. The package includes an obscure tax provision: a "patch" for the alternative minimum tax (AMT). This protects many middle-class Americans against higher taxes and, on paper, adds $85 billion of "stimulus" in 2009 and 2010. One problem: "It's not stimulus," says Len Burman of the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. Congress was "going to do it anyway. They do it every year." Strip out the AMT patch, and the stimulus drops to about $700 billion, with almost 30 percent spent after 2010.

The purpose of the stimulus is to keep declines in one part of the economy from dragging down other sectors. The next big vulnerable sector seems to be state and local governments. Weakening tax payments create massive budget shortfalls. From now until the end of fiscal 2011, these may total $350 billion, says the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), a liberal advocacy group. Required to balance their budgets, states face huge pressures to cut spending and jobs or to raise taxes. All would worsen the recession and deepen pessimism.

Yet, the stimulus package offers only modest relief. Using funds from the stimulus, states might offset 40 percent of their looming deficits, says the CBPP's Nicholas Johnson. The effect on localities would probably be less. Congress might have done more by providing large, temporary block grants to states and localities and letting them decide how to spend the money. Instead, the stimulus provides most funds through specific programs. There's $90 billion more for Medicaid, $12 billion for special education, $2.8 billion for various policing programs. More power is being centralized in Washington.

No one knows the economic effects of all this; estimates vary. But Obama's political strategy stunts the impact from what it might have been. By using the stimulus for unrelated policy goals, spending will be delayed and diluted. There's another downside: "Temporary" spending increases for specific programs, as opposed to block grants, will be harder to undo, worsening the long-term budget outlook.

Politics cannot be removed from the political process. But here, partisan politics ran roughshod over pragmatic economic policy. Token concessions (including the AMT provision) to some Republicans weakened the package. Obama is gambling that his flawed stimulus will seem to work well enough that he'll receive credit for restarting the economy -- and not be blamed for engineering a colossal waste.
11810  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Race, religion, ethnic origin on: February 23, 2009, 11:57:37 PM

Heather Mac Donald
Nation of Cowards?
So says Eric Holder, but what’s really cowardly is racial dishonesty.
19 February 2009

Attorney General Eric Holder, a Clinton administration retread, wants to revive Bill Clinton’s National Conversation on Race. (What’s next? Hillarycare?) Holder recently told his Justice Department employees that the United States was a “nation of cowards” for not talking more about race. “It is an issue we have never been at ease with and, given our nation’s history, this is in some ways understandable,” Holder said. “If we are to make progress in this area, we must feel comfortable enough with one another and tolerant enough of each other to have frank conversations about the racial matters that continue to divide us.”

Is he nuts? Leave aside for a moment Holder’s purely decorative call for a “frank” conversation about race. The Clinton-era Conversation also purported to be frank, and we know what that meant: a one-sided litany of white injustices. Please raise your hand if you haven’t heard the following bromides about “the racial matters that continue to divide us” more times than you can count: Police stop and arrest blacks at disproportionate rates because of racism; blacks are disproportionately in prison because of racism; blacks are failing in school because of racist inequities in school funding; the black poverty rate is the highest in the country because of racism; blacks were given mortgages that they couldn’t afford because of racism. I will stop there.

Not only do colleges, law schools, almost all of the nation’s elite public and private high schools, and the mainstream media, among others, have “conversations about . . . racial matters”; they never stop talking about them. Any student who graduates from a moderately selective college without hearing that its black students are victims of institutional racism—notwithstanding the fact that the vast majority of black students there will have been deliberately admitted with radically lower SAT scores than their white and Asian comrades—has been in a coma throughout his time there.

Education bureaucrats maintain an incessant harangue on white racism because they see the writing on the wall: most students are indifferent to race and just want to get along. If left to themselves, they would go about their business perfectly happily and color-blindly, and the race industry would wither on the vine. Thus the institutional imperative to remind black students constantly about their victimization and the white students about their guilt. Last month, the elite Phillips Academy at Andover proudly announced a student presentation on White Privilege: A History and Its Role in Education. Would the student have come up with such a topic on her own without the school’s educators deliberately immersing her in such trivial matters? Of course not.

But if Attorney General Holder is really sincere about wanting a “frank” conversation about race, he should put the following items on the agenda:

The American electorate. The country just elected its first black president. And it actually didn’t talk a lot about Barack Obama’s race during the election, thank heavens, because most Americans were more interested in the candidate’s ideas than in his skin color. There were undoubtedly hundreds of thousands of people who wouldn’t vote for Obama because of his race. I would guess that their average age was 75. There is no question that a great many geriatric Americans continue to harbor the rankest racism for blacks, but guess what? They’re not going to be around for much longer. Young people growing up in the last 30 years live on a different planet when it comes to racial attitudes—until the educrats start playing with their minds.

We might also talk about those legions of older, black Americans who have held on to their love of country and belief in its ideals, despite having been subjected to America at its worst. I have had the privilege to speak to many such individuals for my work, and they have broken my heart with their dignity and nobility. Rather than reflexively consulting professional race activists for insights into race in America, the media and politicians might for once seek some voices that contradict the mandatory “angry black male” trope.

Crime. Holder told his Justice Department employees that they had a special responsibility to advance racial understanding, according to the Associated Press. Uh-oh. Before and during Holder’s first stint at Justice, when he served as Clinton’s deputy attorney general, the department’s civil rights division specialized in slapping onerous federal consent decrees on police departments. Its assumption was that racial disparities in cops’ stop-and-arrest rates reflected police racism, not racial disparities in crime rates.

Before Holder and his attorneys revive that practice, they should study certain facts that remain taboo in the mainstream media. For instance, the homicide rate for black men between the ages of 18 and 24 is well over ten times that of whites. And disparities in other violent-crime rates are just as startling. In New York City, one of the nation’s safest large cities, 83 percent of all gun assailants were black during the first six months of 2008, according to victims and witnesses, though blacks make up only 24 percent of the city’s population. Add Hispanic perps, and you account for 98 percent of all shootings in New York City. The face of violent crime in cities is almost exclusively black or brown. That explains why someone might feel a sense of trepidation when approached by a group of black youths. That’s not racism; it’s the reality of crime. And it’s that reality that determines whom the police stop, frisk, and arrest.

Education. Commentators on NPR’s “black” show, News and Notes, recently groused about the lack of black policy experts on the Sunday talk shows but ignored the possibility that the education gap might have something to do with it. Blacks, they said, need to be twice as qualified as whites to get a job. Let’s look at the evidence. The black high school drop-out rate approaches 50 percent. On the 2006 SAT, the average score in the critical-reading section was 434 for blacks, 527 for whites, and 510 for Asians; in the math section, 429 for blacks, 536 for whites, and 587 for Asians; and in the writing section, 428 for blacks, 519 for whites, and 512 for Asians. America’s lousy showing in international math, science, and reading tests compared with Japan and Western Europe is influenced in large part by the low scores of blacks and Hispanics. If blacks and Hispanics performed at the level that whites do, the U.S. would lead all industrialized nations in reading and would lead Europe in math and science, according to a study published in the Phi Delta Kappan in 2005.

Likewise, after their first year of legal education, 51 percent of blacks labor in the bottom tenth of their class; two-thirds reside in the bottom fifth. Blacks are four times as likely as whites to fail the bar exam on the first try. Until such achievement disparities are eliminated, any allegations of racial discrimination in the absence of proportional numbers of black policy wonks—or law partners, chemists, engineers, or investment bankers—is absurd, especially when the nation’s elite institutions are doing everything they can to recruit black students, professors, and employees. Perhaps Holder could confront the stigma against academic achievement among many black youth, who deride studying and staying out of trouble as “acting white.”

The family. Closing the educational achievement gap will be difficult as long as the black illegitimacy rate is nearly 71 percent, compared with a white rate of 26 percent. Taxpayers foot the bill for this family breakdown—when fatherless children who never learned self-control and self-discipline disrupt classrooms and prevent other children from learning, and when the same fatherless children get sucked up into gang life and fail to connect with the world of work and responsibility. Many poor single mothers work heroically to raise law-abiding sons, but the odds are against them.

When communities resist an influx of Section 8 housing-voucher holders from the inner city, say, they are reacting overwhelmingly to behavior. Skin color is a proxy for that behavior. If inner-city blacks behaved like Asians—cramming as much knowledge into their kids as they can possibly fit into their skulls—the lingering wariness towards lower-income blacks that many Americans unquestionably harbor would disappear. Are there irredeemable racists among Americans? To be sure. They come in all colors, and we should deplore all of them. But the issue of race in the United States is more complex than polite company is usually allowed to express. If Eric Holder wants to crank up our racial preoccupations even further, let him at least do so with a full airing of the facts.

Heather Mac Donald is a contributing editor of City Journal and the John M. Olin Fellow at the Manhattan Institute.
11811  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Meltdown on MSNBC: The Leg Tingle Is Gone? on: February 23, 2009, 11:50:32 PM

Monday, February 23, 2009

Meltdown on MSNBC: The Leg Tingle Is Gone?

I can hardly believe what I'm watching on MSNBC right now. Chris Matthews is almost critical — no, not even almost, he's flat-out critical of President Obama on the economic front. He mentions an earlier conversation with CNBC's manic stock analyst Jim Cramer and a University of Maryland professor (Peter Morici?) knocking Obama for several economic decisions — that the stimulus bill needed more real infrastructure and less pork, that the housing bill isn't inspiring confidence and doesn't look like it will work, and that no one has faith in Tim Geithner's solution for the banks.

Howard Fineman of Newsweek says Obama has been "grim and a little distant at the same time . . . Tim Geithner hasn't inspired any confidence anywhere, as far as I can tell."

Matthews: "He seems like Barney Fife to me."

Eugene Robinson: "I actually referred to him as Doogie Howser, Treasury Secretary, and I think it's a little unfair." Much laughter ensues.

More Fineman: "Despite his high approval rating and obvious intellect and goodwill, he hasn't quite yet seemed to convey the sense that he knows the way forward and that he can get us there . . . I thought the first fifteen minutes of this show were devastating. Not that Jim Cramer is the only person they have to convince, but they have to convince people that they know what they're doing, that they're not just feeling their way forward." Robinson points out that they are feeling their way forward.

Matthews: "I thought 8,000 was the floor, and it looks like 6,000 is the floor. People are angry, I'm getting angry."
11812  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Media Issues on: February 23, 2009, 11:41:39 PM
Cry for the impact that "soak the rich" has on the non-rich as money flees overseas. Look at California today and telll me it's working well with horrific levels of taxation and goverment overspending. Think this will somehow turn out different when tried on a national level?

The Obama-Kool Aid will be getting very bitter, very soon.
11813  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Media Issues on: February 23, 2009, 07:59:58 PM
Really? Compare TARP vs. the Porklus and Barry-O's "Soak the rich" class warfare.
11814  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Political Economics on: February 23, 2009, 07:00:01 PM

Obama's deficit goals count on rosy assumptions

Feb 23, 6:27 PM (ET)


WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama's ambitious goal of cutting the federal deficit in half relies on a perfect - some might say improbable - convergence of factors: a recovered economy, a tax boost for the rich and success in easing foreign entanglements.
In calling for a deficit of about $530 billion in four years, Obama has established a marker by which to measure his first-term performance as president. The dollar figure could be his albatross or his badge of success.
"This will not be easy," Obama said Monday as he kicked off a fiscal summit at the White House. "It will require us to make difficult decisions and face challenges we've long neglected."
For Obama, the challenge is clear: He will have to increase spending on health care and energy if he wants to accomplish the policy overhaul he promised during his campaign, yet he also needs to cut spending elsewhere and increase revenue to meet his deficit goal.
All this, even as he employs accounting practices he says will more honestly depict the size of the federal budget.
For him to succeed, the economy will have to meet current forecasts that it will begin to turn around gradually during the second half of the year. Even so, Obama might still have to seek billions more to help rescue the beleaguered financial sector.
Administration officials say Obama will also achieve budget reductions through lower spending on the war in Iraq. However, it is unclear how much of those savings he will then devote to Afghanistan, where he already has agreed to boost troop strength.
Further budget assistance would come from increases in taxes for wealthier Americans. Administration officials have said Obama will meet his campaign pledge to end President George W. Bush's tax cuts for people who make more than $250,000. Those tax cuts are to expire at the end of 2010.
Obama plans other tax cuts for most Americans, but any tax hike is likely to meet stiff resistance from congressional Republicans. And if the economy has not improved, there will be pressure on him not to raise taxes on any segment of the population, no matter how rich.
Such a discussion about taxes would be especially charged in the middle of the 2010 midterm elections.
What's more, banks are paying dividends on the assets that the government purchased in its rescue effort. The government could see a return on its investment in later years if banks can buy those assets back. The government experienced a similar increase in spending in the 1990s when the Resolution Trust Corp. bailed out the savings and loan industry. Eventually the government got its money back and more, contributing to the low deficits of the era.
"A lot of things have to go right between now and then," Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody's, said in an interview before he addressed the White House summit. "The policy response to the crisis has to work for the budget to stick to the script."
Administration aides say they inherited a budget deficit of $1.3 trillion and project the deficit to grow to $1.5 trillion by Sept. 30, the end of the current fiscal year. But much of that is emergency spending designed to contain the economic crisis and assist banking institutions. Once that spending stops, the deficit will shrink on its own.
In fact, if the $787 billion economic stimulus package recently signed into law and the government's other billions spent on mortgages and banks amounted to the only additional spending undertaken between now and 2013, the deficit would be likely to dip in four years to a sum lower than Obama's goal.
"So the question is really can they do that (reduce the deficit) as well as implement the agenda that he was elected on," said William Gale, director of economic studies at the Brookings Institution.
Obama's target would place the deficit at about 3 percent of gross domestic product. The GDP is a measure of a country's economic activity and many economists say deficits during a stable economy should amount to no more than 2 to 2.5 percent. At $1.5 trillion, the deficit would hit a whopping 10.6 percent of GDP this year.
Obama's 3 percent goal would still only lower deficits to ranges similar to those under Bush. Zandi said the key is whether the deficits are on a falling path
The president is also counting on achieving his deficit target by reducing wasteful programs - a perennially elusive aim of many an administration. For instance, he said he wants to halt federal support for huge agriculture companies that don't need the help. He also would end tax breaks for companies shipping jobs abroad. Yet, such companies have staunch defenders in Congress who have fought off similar efforts in the past.
Obama also said Monday he would return to the pay-as-you-go rule the government used in the 1990s to help control federal deficits. Back then, the law required that any tax cut or increase in federal benefits like Medicare had to be paid for with a tax increase or spending reduction elsewhere in the budget.
Obama's embrace of that rule will take effect after enactment of the recent stimulus package.
The stimulus law includes language preventing the alternative minimum tax from raising levies on millions of middle-class families this year. If the pay-as-you-go rules were applied to that tax provision, it would have forced Obama and Congress to find $70 billion in savings to pay for it - an exercise none of them would have enjoyed.
Associated Press Writer Alan Fram contributed to this article.
11815  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Political Economics on: February 23, 2009, 05:30:42 PM
6000 by July.
11816  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Media Issues on: February 23, 2009, 05:28:16 PM
Companies need to man up and tell NAN and others to shove it. Don't hire him. Don't fall for his IMHO empty boycott threats.

There are plenty of other spokespeople of all backgrounds to whom African Americans will listen.

People are over the likes of Sharpton and Jackson, as well as their counterparts. Unfortunately, no one has thought up a good way of making their ridiculous "messages" obsolete and exposing them for the self-aggrandizing frauds that they are.

Gee, our President could. Oh wait, he's busy running the economy into the ground right now. Oh, yeah and he's a product of the Jackson-Sharpton-Wright school of "Hate Whitey".
11817  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iran on: February 23, 2009, 12:11:09 AM

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Advance the Clock

Just five days ago, we noted the apparent inevitability of an Israeli strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. Comparing that possibility to the famous "Doomsday Clock" (made famous by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists), we calculated that, if an Israeli attack is depicted in those terms, then the "strike clock" now reads two minutes until midnight.

And it may be time to advance the hands yet again. Benjamin Netanyahu, the man who will most likely be the next Prime Minister of Israel, has reiterated his determination to halt Tehran's nuclear ambitions. In a TV interview just weeks before the Israeli election, Mr. Netanyahu stated flatly that "Iran will not be armed with a nuclear weapon."

In an interview with Israel's Channel 2 TV, Netanyahu said if elected prime minister his first mission will be to thwart the Iranian nuclear threat. Netanyahu, the current opposition leader and head of the hardline Likud party, called Iran the greatest danger to Israel and to all humanity.

When asked if stopping Iran's nuclear ambitions included a military strike, he replied: "It includes everything that is necessary to make this statement come true."

Mr. Netanyahu's remarks were part of an interview with all three candidates for Prime Minister. Opinion polls show Netanyahu with a lead over Ehud Barak's Labor Party, and and Kadima's Tipi Livni, just nine days before the election.

The interview format was odd, at least by American standards. While the candidates were together in a Channel 2 studio, they did not debate each other. Instead, they responded to questions from You Tube users. Netanyahu was the only candidate asked about the Iranian threat; Mr. Barak (the current Defense Minister) and Ms. Livni, the Foreign Minister, were asked about how they would respond to the Hamas rocket threat.

Netanyahu's comments were the latest indication that the next Israeli government will deal decisively with Iran. Last week, the respected International Institute for Strategic Studies predicted that Tehran will have enough fissile material for at least one nuclear weapon by the end of 2009.

While that doesn't mean that Iran will have a ready-made bomb within twelve months, it is a reminder that Tehran is approaching the point of no return. As their stockpile of enriched uranium continues to grow, the Iranians will be able to create a small nuclear arsenal, even if Israel strikes key nuclear sites. Timing for the attack is also being influenced by Tehran's pending acquisition of the S-300 air defense system. When the S-300 achieves operational capability--probably later this year--Israeli operational planning will become much more complicated.

The third factor is the recent change in the White House, and Israeli perceptions that Barack Obama will be more conciliatory toward Iran. So far, the new president has done little to dissuade that notion. There are unconfirmed reports that the administration is crafting a new letter to the Iranian leadership, and just lask week, Mr. Obama said he wanted a "comprehensive approach" toward Iran, with diplomacy (presumably) taking the lead.

It's little wonder that Israel feels increasingly isolated, and believes it has no choice but to deal with Iran on its own. Mr. Netanyahu's remarks don't guarantee an Israeli attack, but prospects for that option have certainly increased, given the likelihood that Likud will win next week's election.

We'd say President Obama's "comprehensive solution" will soon be overcome by events. The strike clock now reads 90 seconds to midnight--and ticking.
11818  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Two miles from the US on: February 22, 2009, 07:49:39 PM

When Mexico collapses, will this be happening on the streets of cities in the Southwest? 


11819  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Political Economics on: February 22, 2009, 07:25:56 PM
Put me down for 200 points at a minimum. Fraaaaaaaaak.....
11820  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Wow, the markets will love this! on: February 22, 2009, 06:24:23 PM

Obama's First Budget Seeks To Trim Deficit
Plan Would Cut War Spending, Increase Taxes on the Wealthy
By Lori Montgomery and Ceci Connolly
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, February 22, 2009; A01

President Obama is putting the finishing touches on an ambitious first budget that seeks to cut the federal deficit in half over the next four years, primarily by raising taxes on businesses and the wealthy and by slashing spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, administration officials said.

In addition to tackling a deficit swollen by the $787 billion stimulus package and other efforts to ease the nation's economic crisis, the budget blueprint will press aggressively for progress on the domestic agenda Obama outlined during the presidential campaign. This would include key changes to environmental policies and a major expansion of health coverage that he hopes to enact later this year.

A summary of Obama's budget request for the fiscal year that begins in October will be delivered to Congress on Thursday, with the complete, multi-hundred-page document to follow in April. But Obama plans to unveil his goals for scaling back record deficits and rebuilding the nation's costly and inefficient health care system tomorrow, when he addresses lawmakers and budget experts at a White House summit on restoring "fiscal responsibility" to Washington.

Yesterday in his weekly radio and Internet address, Obama said he is determined to "get exploding deficits under control" and said his budget request is "sober in its assessments, honest in its accounting, and lays out in detail my strategy for investing in what we need, cutting what we don't, and restoring fiscal discipline."

Reducing the deficit, he said, is critical: "We can't generate sustained growth without getting our deficits under control."

Obama faces the long-term challenge of retirement and health programs that threaten to bankrupt the government years down the road, as well as the more immediate problem of deficits bloated by spending on the economy and financial system bailouts. His budget proposal takes aim at the short-term problem, administration officials said, but also would begin to address the nation's chronic budget imbalance by squeezing savings from federal health programs for the elderly and the poor.

Even before Congress approved the stimulus package this month, congressional budget analysts forecast that this year's deficit would approach $1.2 trillion -- 8.3 percent of the overall economy, the highest since World War II. With the stimulus and other expenses, some analysts say, the annual gap between federal spending and income could reach $2 trillion when the fiscal year ends in September.

Obama proposes to dramatically reduce those numbers, said White House budget director Peter Orszag: "We will cut the deficit in half by the end of the president's first term." The plan would keep the deficit hovering near $1 trillion in 2010 and 2011, but shows it dropping to $533 billion by 2013, he said -- still high but a more manageable 3 percent of the economy.

To get there, Obama proposes to cut spending and raise taxes. The savings would come primarily from "winding down the war" in Iraq, a senior administration official said. The budget assumes continued spending on "overseas military contingency operations" throughout Obama's presidency, the official said, but that number is lower than the nearly $190 billion budgeted for Iraq and Afghanistan last year.

Obama also seeks to increase tax collections, mainly by making good on his promise to eliminate some of the temporary tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003. While the budget would keep the breaks that benefit middle-income families, it would eliminate them for wealthy taxpayers, defined as families earning more than $250,000 a year. Those tax breaks would be permitted to expire on schedule in 2011. That means the top tax rate would rise from 35 percent to 39.6 percent, the tax on capital gains would jump to 20 percent from 15 percent for wealthy filers and the tax on estates worth more than $3.5 million would be maintained at the current rate of 45 percent.

Obama also proposes "a fairly aggressive effort on tax enforcement" that would target corporate loopholes, the official said. And Obama's budget seeks to tax the earnings of hedge fund managers as normal income rather than at the lower 15 percent capital gains rate.

Overall, tax collections under the plan would rise from about 16 percent of the economy this year to 19 percent in 2013, while federal spending would drop from about 26 percent of the economy, another post-World War II high, to 22 percent.

Republicans, who are already painting Obama as a profligate spender, are laying plans to attack him on taxes as well. Even some nonpartisan observers question the wisdom of announcing a plan to raise taxes in the midst of a recession. But senior White House adviser David Axelrod said in an interview that the proposals reflect the ideas that won the election.

"This is consistent with what the president talked about throughout the campaign," and "restores some balance to the tax code in a way that protects the middle class," Axelrod said. "Most Americans will come out very well here."

The budget also puts in place the building blocks of what administration officials say will be a broad restructuring of the U.S. health system, an effort aimed at covering some of the estimated 46 million Americans who lack insurance while controlling costs and improving quality.

"The budget will kick off or facilitate a focus on getting health care done this year," the senior official said, adding that the White House is planning a health care summit. The event has been delayed by former senator Thomas A. Daschle's decision to withdraw from consideration as health secretary because of tax problems, a move that left Obama without a key member of his health team.

Administration officials and outside experts say the most likely path to revamping the health system is to begin with Medicare, the federal program for retirees and people with disabilities, and Medicaid, which serves the poor. Together, the two programs cover about 100 million people at a cost of $561 billion in 2007. Making policy changes in those programs -- such as rewarding physicians who computerize their medical records or paying doctors for results rather than procedures -- could improve care while generating long-term savings, experts say.

Obama's budget request would create "running room for health reform," the official said, by reducing spending on some health programs so the administration would have money to devote to initiatives to expand coverage. The biggest target is bonus payments to insurance companies that run managed-care programs under Medicare, known as Medicare Advantage.

The Bush-era program has attracted nearly a quarter of Medicare beneficiaries to private health insurance plans that cover a package of services such as doctor visits, prescription drugs and eyeglasses. But the government pays the plans 13 to 17 percent more than it pays for traditional fee-for-service coverage, according to the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, which advises Congress on Medicare financing issues.

Officials also are debating whether to permit people as young as 55 to purchase coverage through Medicare. That age group is particularly vulnerable in today's weakened economy, as many have lost jobs or seen insurance premiums rise rapidly. The cost would depend on whether recipients received a discount or were required to pay the full price.

In addition to the substantive proposals, Obama's team boasts of improving the budget process itself. For years, budget analysts complained that former president George W. Bush tried to make his deficits look smaller by excluding cost estimates for the war in Iraq and domestic disasters, minimizing the cost of payments to Medicare doctors and assuming that millions more families would pay the costly alternative minimum tax. Obama has banned those techniques, the senior official said.

Staff writer Shailagh Murray contributed to this report.
11821  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Big Picture WW3: Who, when, where, why on: February 22, 2009, 05:37:58 PM
February 21, 2009, 7:00 a.m.

From Islamabad to Bradford
Degrees of accommodation.

By Mark Steyn

‘It is hard to understand this deal,” said Richard Holbrooke, President Obama’s special envoy. And, if the special envoy of the so-called smartest and most impressive administration in living memory can’t understand it, what chance do the rest of us have?

Nevertheless, let’s try. In the Swat Valley, where a young Winston Churchill once served with the Malakand Field Force battling Muslim insurgents, his successors have concluded the game isn’t worth the candle. In return for a temporary ceasefire, the Pakistani government agreed to let the local franchise of the Taliban impose its industrial strength version of sharia across the whole of Malakand Region. If “region” sounds a bit of an imprecise term, Malakand has over five million people, all of whom are now living under a murderous theocracy. Still, peace rallies have broken out all over the Swat Valley, and, at a Swat peace rally, it helps to stand well back: As one headline put it, “Journalist Killed While Covering Peace Rally.”

But don’t worry about Pakistani nukes falling into the hands of “extremists”: The Swat Valley is a good hundred miles from the “nation”’s capital, Islamabad — or about as far as Northern Vermont is from Southern Vermont. And, of course, Islamabad is safely under the control of the famously moderate Ali Zardari. A few days before the Swat deal, Mr. Zardari marked the dawn of the Obama era by releasing from house arrest A. Q. Khan, the celebrated scientist and one-stop shop for all your Islamic nuclear needs, for whose generosity North Korea and Iran are especially grateful.

From Islamabad, let us zip a world away to London. Actually, it’s nearer than you think. The flight routes between Pakistan and the United Kingdom are some of the busiest in the world. Can you get a direct flight from your local airport to, say, Bradford?


Bradford, Yorkshire. There are four flights a week from Islamabad to Bradford, a town where 75 percent of Pakistani Britons are married to their first cousins. But don’t worry, in the country as a whole, only 57 percent of Pakistani Britons are married to first cousins.

Among that growing population of Yorkshire Pakistanis is a fellow called Lord Ahmed, a Muslim member of Parliament. He was in the news the other day for threatening (as the columnist Melanie Phillips put it) “to bring a force of 10,000 Muslims to lay siege to the House of Lords” if it went ahead with an event at which the Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders would have introduced a screening of his controversial film Fitna. Britain’s Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, reacted to this by declaring Minheer Wilders persona non grata and having him arrested at Heathrow and returned to the Netherlands.

The Home Secretary is best known for an inspired change of terminology: Last year she announced that henceforth Muslim terrorism (an unhelpful phrase) would be reclassified as “anti-Islamic activity.” Seriously. The logic being that Muslims blowing stuff up tends not to do much for Islam’s reputation — i.e., it’s an “anti-Islamic activity” in the same sense that Pearl Harbor was an anti-Japanese activity.

Anyway, Geert Wilders’s short film is basically a compilation video of footage from various recent Muslim terrorist atrocities — whoops, sorry, “anti-Islamic activities” — accompanied by the relevant chapter and verse from the Koran. Jacqui Smith banned the filmmaker on “public order” grounds  — in other words, the government’s fear that Lord Ahmed meant what he said about a 10,000-strong mob besieging the Palace of Westminster. You might conceivably get the impression from Wilders’s movie that many Muslims are irrational and violent types it’s best to steer well clear of. But, if you didn’t, Jacqui Smith pretty much confirmed it: We can’t have chaps walking around saying Muslims are violent because they’ll go bananas and smash the place up.

So, confronted by blackmail, the British government caved. So did the Pakistani government in Swat. But, in fairness to Islamabad, they waited until the shooting was well underway before throwing in the towel. In London, you no longer have to go that far. You just give the impression your more excitable chums might not be able to restrain themselves. “Nice little G7 advanced western democracy you got here. Shame if anything were to happen to it.” Twenty years ago this month, Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative ministry defended the right of a left-wing author Salman Rushdie to publish a book in the face of Muslim riots and the Ayatollah Khomeini’s attempted mob hit. Two decades on, a supposedly progressive government surrenders to the mob before it’s even taken to the streets.

In his first TV interview as president, Barack Obama told viewers of al-Arabiya TV that he wanted to restore the “same respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years ago.” I’m not sure quite what golden age he’s looking back to there — the Beirut barracks slaughter? the embassy hostages? — but the point is, it’s very hard to turn back the clock. Because the facts on the ground change, and change remorselessly. Even in 30 years. Between 1970 and 2000, the developed world declined from just under 30 percent of the global population to just over 20 percent, while the Muslim world increased from 15 percent to 20 percent. And in 2030, it won’t even be possible to re-take that survey, because by that point half the “developed world“ will itself be Muslim: In Bradford — as in London, Amsterdam, Brussels, and almost every other western European city from Malmo to Marseilles — the principal population growth comes from Islam. Thirty years ago, in the Obama golden age, a British documentary-maker was so horrified by the “honor killing” of a teenage member of the House of Saud at the behest of her father, the king’s brother, that he made a famous TV film about it, Death Of A Princess. The furious Saudis threatened a trade boycott with Britain over this unwanted exposure. Today, we have honor killings not just in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, but in Germany, Scandinavia, Britain, Toronto, Dallas, and Buffalo. And they barely raise an eyebrow.

Along with the demographic growth has come radicalization: It’s not just that there are more Muslims, but that, within that growing population, moderate Islam is on the decline — in Singapore, in the Balkans, in northern England — and radicalized, Arabized, Wahhabized Islam is on the rise. So we have degrees of accommodation: surrender in Islamabad, appeasement in London, acceptance in Toronto and Buffalo.

According to ABC News, a team of UCLA professors have used biogeographic theories to locate Osama bin Laden’s hideout as one of three possible houses in the small town of Parachinar, and have suggested to the Pentagon they keep an eye on these buildings. But the problem isn’t confined to three buildings. It ripples ever outwards, to the new hardcore sharia state in Malakand, up the road to nuclear Islamabad, over to Bradford on that jet-speed conveyor-belt of child brides, down to the House of Lords and beyond.

Meanwhile, President Obama has removed Winston Churchill’s bust from the Oval Office and returned it to the British. Given what Sir Winston had to say about Islam in his book on the Sudanese campaign, the bust will almost certainly be arrested at Heathrow and deported as a threat to public order.

— Mark Steyn, a National Review columnist, is author of America Alone.

© 2009 Mark Steyn
National Review Online -
11822  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Homeland Security on: February 22, 2009, 04:50:35 PM

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Coming to America, Redux

Last month, during the transition between the Bush and Obama Administrations, there was a major homeland security "war game." For two-and-a half hours on a day in mid-January, senior federal officials reacted to a series of simulated, terrorist bombings across the country, responding to medical needs, managing the investigative process and ensuring that protective forces were deployed.

The exercise was unique for a couple of reasons. First, the Bush team allowed their Obama counterparts to "sit in" on the exercise and ask questions, giving them a foundation for their own drills and policies in the future. Secondly, the war game scenario was based on a familiar threat, one that remains at the forefront of homeland security concerns. According to Jake Tapper of ABC News (one of the few journalists to write about the event), the half-day exercise condensed two days of IED attacks, targeting economic and transportation centers across America.

Obviously, there's no potential shortage of threats for a homeland security exercise, from a nuclear blast in a U.S. city, to a sudden anthrax epidemic unleashed by terrorists. That's why the IED focus is particularly illustrative. Almost almost eight years of combat in Afghanistan--and nearly six years into the Iraq mission--security officials are acutely familiar with the threat from improvised explosive devices, and they remain concerned about similar attacks here in the homeland.

We're written about the IED threat in the past, most recently in 2007 after a "mass graduation" of Al Qaida suicide bombers at a training camp in Afghanistan. More than 300 terrorists participated in the ceremony, which was recorded by a Pakistani journalist. The tape included warnings in English that some of the bombers were destined for targets in the west.

Fortunately, those attacks failed to pan out. Many of the suicide bombers were probably diverted to Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, where they were killed by allied forces. Others were rolled up by domestic security operations between Pakistan's tribal regions and their intended targets.

But those measures aren't 100% effective. Sooner or later, a suicide bomber or IED cell will slip through and launch a bloody campaign on American soil. And, in many respects, the domestic end represents the weakest link in the security chain. Our nation is filled with thousands of potential targets, including shopping malls; "big box" retailers, transit stations, schools, community centers, hotels, churches, hospitals and other locations were Americans gather, work or shop in large numbers.

Protecting all of these facilities is virtually impossible. But it's more disconcerting that security many of these stores (and other public facilities) ranges from lax to virtually non-existent. Admittedly, members of the general populace aren't privy to all protection measures--nor should they be. But anyone familiar with basics of physical security can get a general grasp of the plan at their local mall, "box" retailer or other public place.

Many of these institutions have invested heavily in security cameras that cover the interior and exterior of the building. There's also (typically) a uniformed security staff and a few undercover store detectives as well. But these precautions are aimed more at shoplifting than the terrorist threat.

Clearly, no one expects the security staff of a store or public building to stop a terrorist attack by themselves. That's where local, state and even federal authorities come in. But getting them to respond quickly can be problematic; potential terror targets are sometimes located on the edge of town, or in high-traffic areas.

A determined psychopath or a team of terrorists can inflict a lot of damage before the local SWAT team arrives. That was painfully evident when a lone gunman, with a history of mental problems, opened fire in an Omaha mall two years ago. Police officers responded in less than 10 minutes but by that time, the gunman had killed eight people, including himself. A few months earlier, an 18-year-old man shot and killed five individuals at a Salt Lake City Mall. Only the quick actions an armed, off-duty police kept the carnage from being much worse.

According to a RAND Corporation study (released before the Omaha massacre), shopping malls and big box outlets could reduce their vulnerability to such attacks by implementing a series of security measures. The cost? Between $500,000 and $2 million per location.

That may seem like a relatively small price to pay, but no one's rushing to add new layers of security. The commercial real estate and retail sectors are hurting in the economic slowdown; mall owners and their tenants would balk at the cost of new security measures, which would further impact their bottom line.

But defeating domestic terror requires more than effective physical security at the site of a potential attack. It requires planning and coordination with local law enforcement, and periodic response drills. Unfortunately, such exercises occur infrequently; there's the matter of cost, and no one wants to really highlight the fact that a local store, mall, school or hospital could be a terror target.

And, as The Wall Street Journal observed in 2005, there's the matter of national priorities and leadership. During the first half of the decade, Israel suffered though the latest--and bloodiest-- Palestinian intifada; more than 1,000 civilians died at the hands of terrorists, mostly through suicide bombings.

When diplomatic overtures failed to produce any results, the Israeli government took more tangible steps. Palestinians suspected of supporting the terror campaign were locked up; the leaders of bomb cells were targeted for assassinations. Physical barriers between Israeli and Palestinian population centers made it much for difficult for terrorists to reach their targets.

Those measures reduced the number of bombings--and civilian casualties--by more than 90%. As you might expect, the Israel anti-terror campaign was widely criticized by law and human rights advocates. But the crack-down achieved its desired results.

Here in the U.S., we haven't faced the threat endured by Israelis. But suicide bombings are IED attacks in the homeland are not a matter of "if," but "when." It's no surprise that such threats formed the scenario for last month's homeland security drill. Experts believe that type is almost inevitable in the coming years.

At some point, the Obama Administration must tell the public how it will deal with such threats, and prevent them in the future. Hopefully, the Obama team will realize that the bomber threat requires more than a "law enforcement" response--before that first explosive device goes off.
11823  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan on: February 22, 2009, 12:23:25 PM
I had no idea either. Interesting.
11824  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Race, religion, ethnic origin on: February 22, 2009, 08:06:50 AM
First, WTF is the flag of the republic of new Africa?  huh

Second, what's the number of black people murdered by white supremacists in 2008? How does that compare to the number of black people murdered by black people in 2008?
11825  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan on: February 22, 2009, 08:00:21 AM
Keep in mind that the crusades only kicked off after about 300 years of jihad being waged against europe.
11826  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan on: February 21, 2009, 11:21:29 PM
In islam, there is no concept of "let's live in peace with non-muslims forever". There is only "Smite unbelivers until they submit" or make a hudna until you can "smite the unbelivers until they submit".

“I will instill terror into the hearts of the unbelievers: smite ye above their necks and smite all their finger-tips off them.” Qur'an 8:12.

 “But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem.” Qur'an 9:5.

“And an announcement from Allah and His Messenger, to the people (assembled) on the day of the Great Pilgrimage- that Allah and His Messenger dissolve (treaty) obligations with the Pagans....grievous penalty to those who reject Faith.” Qur'an 9:3.

“Fight them, and Allah will punish them by your hands, cover them with shame....” Qur'an 9:14.

“Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.” Qur'an 9:29.
11827  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan on: February 21, 2009, 10:27:58 PM
A truce, until muslims are strong enough to defeat those they made a truce with. Then the truce is ended.
11828  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan on: February 21, 2009, 12:51:31 PM
Who can tell me what "hudna" means?
11829  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Ok, someone explain this to me.... on: February 21, 2009, 12:07:15 PM
**Ok, someone explain to me how Gitmo terrorists deserve constitutional rights, but Tibetans and Chinese citizens don't.**

Hillary: We won’t let human rights get in the way of trade with China
posted at 10:15 am on February 21, 2009 by Ed Morrissey   

After all of the wailing and gnashing of teeth over both human-rights violations and trade-pact cheating in China from the Left during the last eight years, one would expect a Democratic administration to take a much tougher line on both.  With Hope and Change coming to the White House, Obama voters had every right to think that their new hero (bigger than Jesus Christ!) would lead the way to Truth and Justice.  For Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, though, the answer to WWJD and WWBOD is — what Bush did:

Amnesty International and a pro-Tibet group voiced shock Friday after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton vowed not to let human rights concerns hinder cooperation with China.

Paying her first visit to Asia as the top US diplomat, Clinton said the United States would continue to press China on long-standing US concerns over human rights such as its rule over Tibet.

“But our pressing on those issues can’t interfere on the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crisis,” Clinton told reporters in Seoul just before leaving for Beijing.

T. Kumar of Amnesty International USA said the global rights lobby was “shocked and extremely disappointed” by Clinton’s remarks.

Hillary wanted to stress that human rights are important, but that the Obama administration has its priorities.  They appear to be ranked in this order:

Business (trade).
Business (energy policy).
Security (North Korea and Taiwan).
Reminding China not to enslave, beat, and kill people.
I think that the Bush administration put security first, followed by trade and human rights — and got pilloried for it by Democrats over the last eight years.  We heard nothing but how Bush wanted to suck up to Beijing, and that he didn’t care about people, blah blah blah.  Perhaps I missed it, but I don’t recall a statement by Condoleezza Rice or Colin Powell that baldly stated that the US cared less about human rights than trade than this statement from Hillary Clinton does.

I’m torn on this.  The apparent pragmatism of the Obama foreign-policy team encourages me, but not as much as their fumbling amateurishness discourages me.  Most of us care about human-rights violations (and so did the Bush administration), but to give the game away in the opening days takes all the pressure off of Beijing for the next four years.  They know that the US will give them a pass on human rights as long as they keep trading with the US and toss Obama a few bones on climate change.
11830  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Political Economics on: February 20, 2009, 06:56:25 PM

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Obama Markets
On Election Day 2008, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at 9,625.

On Inauguration Day 2009, the DJIA closed at 7,949.09.

Today the Dow is at 7,342, down 124 points on the day, and down 600 points in the month since Obama became president. (By the time you read this, it will have changed, of course.)

Many factors affect stock prices on any given day, but to the extent that the market has responded to Obama's election and taking office, it has been in one steady direction: down.

Doesn't the message seem clear? With massive government borrowing, with higher taxes seen as inevitable, with the government taking from those who did pay their mortgages to bail out those who didn't, with details of much-touted financial rescues still sparse, with demonization of American businesses . . . who in their right mind would want to invest in a company right now? Why buy stock in companies that are going to be punished six ways to Sunday by an ever-growing government?

(Okay, those want to buy low and sell high would be buying now. But overall, investors are saying they see the nation's economic conditions as getting worse, with not much improvement in sight: shrinking or disappearing profits and dividends, continued drops in stock prices, and a bigger tax bite when you do make money. Why bother, then?)

02/20 12:44 PM
11831  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Energy Politics & Science on: February 20, 2009, 06:22:30 PM

Obama’s energy secretary surprised to learn he’s in charge of oil policy
posted at 7:11 pm on February 20, 2009 by Allahpundit   

Like Treacher says, the difference between Obama and Jesus is that Jesus knew how to assemble a cabinet.

At a forum with reporters on Thursday, the head of the department that has traditionally taken the lead on global oil-market policy, was asked what message the Obama administration had for the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries at its meeting next month.

“I’m not the administration,” the Cabinet secretary replied. “I will be speaking and learning more about this in order to figure out what the U.S. position should be and what the president’s position is.”…

The day before, reporters asked him about OPEC output levels after a speech to a group of utility regulators. He responded that the issue was “not in my domain.”

He confessed later to, er, “naivete.” File this away in the “Confidence Boosters” drawer along with Krauthammer’s piece today on The One’s early foreign-policy wobbles and that WaPo story from a few days ago about how Geithner, given two months to prepare a financial rescue plan, had to scrap the whole thing at the last minute and go a different route. Exit question: At least the Transportation Department’s has its eye on the ball, right?
11832  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Energy Politics & Science on: February 20, 2009, 05:32:14 PM
That's really scary , , ,

BTW did any one catch that CA's budget crisis could have been solved if only they allowed off-shore drilling? 

California must be sacrificed on the altar of leftist politics. Oil companies are eeeeeevil!
11833  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Oh Fcuk! on: February 20, 2009, 05:10:00 PM

Energy Secretary Steven Chu may be a Nobel laureate Ph.D. in physics, but his first forays into energy policy suggest he's a neophyte when it comes to the ways of Washington.
At a forum with reporters on Thursday, the head of the department that has traditionally taken the lead on global oil-market policy, was asked what message the Obama administration had for the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries at its meeting next month.
"I'm not the administration," the Cabinet secretary replied. "I will be speaking and learning more about this in order to figure out what the U.S. position should be and what the president's position is."
Chu, who is still without a deputy, said he feels "like I've been dumped into the deep end of the pool" on oil policy.
The day before, reporters asked him about OPEC output levels after a speech to a group of utility regulators. He responded that the issue was "not in my domain."
Later, in a conference call to reporters, he said his answer reflected "more of my naiveté than anything else."
11834  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Big Picture WW3: Who, when, where, why on: February 20, 2009, 04:45:41 PM
- Pajamas Media - -

An Open Letter to President Obama on Appeasing Iran
Posted By 'Reza Kahlili' On February 20, 2009 @ 12:30 am In . Column1 01, . Positioning, Iran, Middle East, Politics, US News, World News | 54 Comments

Three decades after the Islamic revolution, the West still fails to understand the political structure of Iran and the mentality behind it. That ignorance endangers the world, for the madmen who rule Iran in their iron grip are bent upon launching Armageddon.

Several U.S. presidents underestimated the crazed policies that the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini forced on the Iranian people beginning in 1979. If Barack Obama doesn’t take this nightmarish threat seriously, Israel could very well be destroyed — and that destruction could expand to Europe and America.

We only have to look at history to see all too clearly Washington’s folly at trying to appease Tehran.

President Carter and his national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, began America’s misguided policy toward radical Islam, Carter by calling Khomeini “a man of God” and Brzezinski with his plan to help Islamic militants confront the Soviet Union. Unfortunately, that policy of negotiation and hope for a moderate leader in Iran who would open the doors to the West continued under President Reagan.

While I was writing coded messages under dimmed light in the middle of the night informing the CIA about the mullahs’ terrorist activities and the Revolutionary Guards’ expansion in Iran and elsewhere in the Middle East, the U.S. government was meeting in private with the Revolutionary Guards in Geneva, Brussels, Frankfort, and Mainz during the mid-1980s. The Guards negotiators at these meetings, close associates of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, were assigned the names “the Engine” and “the Relative” and had met with U.S. negotiators several times, including Oliver North. The CIA facilitated a trip for “the Relative” to Washington, D.C., where he was even given a tour of the White House.

At the time, the CIA knew that the barracks bombing in Lebanon, which killed 241 American servicemen, was the work of the Guards under Rafsanjani, then the speaker of parliament; Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the president at the time; and Imam Khomeini, the supreme leader. The CIA was aware of all the kidnappings, torture, and killing of hostages, such as CIA agent William Buckley, who was executed by Islamic Jihad — a front name for the Guards and their activity in Lebanon. But despite Iran’s treachery, the U.S. government entertained a long list of demands by the Guards to clear the way for improved relations.

Washington’s efforts resulted in securing the release of only a few hostages, and in return the Guards received many shipments of American weapons, some of which ended up in the hands of the terrorist group Hezbollah, based in Lebanon. Later, many more hostages were taken and more demands made.

Kazem, my then-commander in the Guards, had told me, “The dumb cowboys think we will help release their hostages in Lebanon and improve our relationship with them. They are giving us arms, lots of arms. Haj Agha Rafsanjani knows how to play with these bastards and how to milk them.”

This shortsightedness continued with President George H.W. Bush, who ignored the Iranian involvement in the Pan Am bombing over Lockerbie (as I had reported to the CIA) in his secret negotiations with Rafsanjani, the Iranian president at the time, who had promised better relations. That effort also failed, just as President Clinton (who looked the other way at Iran’s involvement in the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia) failed in negotiating with Mohammad Khatami, the next Iranian president, with another promise of cooperation while secretly purchasing parts for Iran’s nuclear project.

The Revolutionary Guards recently performed multiple tests on surface-to-surface missiles fired from a ship. One needs to ask what the purpose is for such tests. Could it be that they intend to launch missiles against an enemy far from Iran, perhaps from a ship closer to that enemy’s border?

With the help of North Korea, the Guards are working on long-range ballistic missiles in tests that are concealed by their space project. Other tests include expanding the reach of their Shahab-3 missiles to cover Europe, which currently are capable of targeting Tel Aviv, Riyadh, U.S. bases in Iraq, and the Fifth Fleet headquarters in Bahrain. The Guards now have more than 100 Shahab-3 missiles in stock while working to develop a nuclear warhead. At the same time, the Iranians are increasing the number of centrifuges (over 5,000 as of November 2008) for the enrichment of uranium while enough nuclear material has already been produced to make a nuclear bomb.

A nuclear-armed Iran under the thugocracy of the mullahs is near, maybe in a matter of months, and any misconception about their intentions will have grave consequences.

Several hadiths (statements by Prophet Mohammed and his successors/descendants) compiled by Islamic scholars form the ideology of radicals most faithful to Mahdaviat. This belief currently rules every aspect of the Iranian government, and its members believe that it is their sacred duty to prepare for the reappearance of Mahdi, the 12th Shi’ite imam. The coming of Mahdi only awaits the last sign, as all of the following events have already taken place:

A Seyyed rising to power in the land of Fars (Fars is the original homeland of the Persian people) carrying the flag of Allah: Ayatollah Khomeini, a Seyyed (descendant of Prophet Mohammed), came to power by the revolution in Iran establishing the Islamic Republic in 1979.

A major war between the Fars and Arabs in which God will deny both a victory: Time and place in this hadith refer to the Iran and Iraq war in the 1980s; neither side won.

Storming the Ka’bah and the subsequent bloodshed: In 1987, Khomeini ordered a clash during the Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca to bring about Mahdi’s return. I informed the CIA beforehand. This bloody incident (402 people were killed, mostly Iranian pilgrims) bore a close resemblance to the climate described in the relevant hadith.

A light in the sky striking the enemy in the name of Allah: The hadith speaks of an event in which a thunderous light from the sky strikes the enemy of Islam in praise of Allah. The mullahs believe the September 11, 2001, suicide attacks by al-Qaeda in the United States relate to this hadith.

The occupation of Afghanistan: This hadith refers to the invasion of Afghanistan, now underway, before the reappearance of Mahdi.

The sky over Iraq becoming red from the bloodshed: This hadith reveals a war in Iraq where many men, women, and children are slaughtered by the enemies of Islam. Shi’ites believe the occupation of Iraq by the United States is the subject of this hadith.

Economic meltdown: This hadith reveals that before the end of time and the coming of Mahdi, the world will experience extreme hardship; people will suffer economically and will not be able to make ends meet. Trade will come to a standstill. Strife will multiply. Both Iran and al-Qaeda take credit for the current global economic crisis. Al-Qaeda calls the 9/11 attacks the onset of this crisis and Iran takes credit for having the American forces tied up in Iraq. The mullahs in Iran had already done an evaluation of a prolonged war in Iraq and how it would hurt the U.S. financially.

A black man gaining power in the West and ruling the largest army on Earth: This hadith, relating to Imam Ali, the prophet’s cousin and son-in-law and the most revered figure in Shi’ite Islam, says: “Before the return of Mahdi, a tall black man will rule the West and the largest army on Earth. He will carry a ‘clear sign’ from my son, Hussein Ibn Ali [the third Shi'ite imam].” Shi’ites believe Barack Obama, with his middle name Hussein, is this man.

And the last sign before the coming of Mahdi:

Chaos, famine, and havoc will engulf the Earth. Major wars with dark clouds (atomic wars) will burn the Earth. One-third of the Earth’s population will be killed and the rest will suffer hunger and lawlessness: The mullahs believe it is their responsibility to bring about an atomic war, which will fulfill the last sign and facilitate the coming of Mahdi.

It is hard for the West to understand this ideology or to even consider such a ridiculous belief. However, one needs only to look back at 9/11 and think of why they did what they did. Was it just hatred for what America stands for or what the West has done to them? Or is it a belief — a self-sacrifice to bring glory to Islam?

Barack Obama and his administration must not fall prey to another Iranian tactic of mixed signals in negotiations. He must realize what every administration before his has failed to understand: the ideology of the mullahs is deeply rooted in a fanatical belief and time is running out. Radical Islamists are earnest in their dedication to their cause. I know. I spent years in the foxholes with them.

“Jihad on infidels, killing them until there are no more sinners on Earth and all are believers of Allah.” (Quran: Sura 2:192)

Can President Obama dissuade Iran from destabilizing the world and prevent it from launching Armageddon? I pray for his success.

Article printed from Pajamas Media:

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11835  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Big Picture WW3: Who, when, where, why on: February 20, 2009, 03:11:33 PM
Aside from all that, he's doing a great job....
11836  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Big Picture WW3: Who, when, where, why on: February 20, 2009, 03:08:19 PM
**Aside from tanking the economy, Ogabe is tanking our national security. You Obots will have a lot to answer for.**

Obama's Supine Diplomacy
By Charles Krauthammer
Friday, February 20, 2009; A23

The Biden prophecy has come to pass. Our wacky veep, momentarily inspired, predicted in October that "it will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama." Biden probably had in mind an eve-of-the-apocalypse drama like the Cuban missile crisis. Instead, Obama's challenges have come in smaller bites. Some are deliberate threats to U.S. interests, others mere probes to ascertain whether the new president has any spine.

Preliminary X-rays are not very encouraging.

Consider the long list of brazen Russian provocations:

(a) Pressuring Kyrgyzstan to shut down the U.S. air base in Manas, an absolutely crucial NATO conduit into Afghanistan.

(b) Announcing the formation of a "rapid reaction force" with six former Soviet republics, a regional Russian-led strike force meant to reassert Russian hegemony in the Muslim belt north of Afghanistan.

(c) Planning to establish a Black Sea naval base in Georgia's breakaway province of Abkhazia, conquered by Moscow last summer.

(d) Declaring its intention to deploy offensive Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad if Poland and the Czech Republic go ahead with plans to station an American (anti-Iranian) missile defense system.

President Bush's response to the Kaliningrad deployment -- the threat was issued the day after Obama's election -- was firm. He refused to back down because giving in to Russian threats would leave Poles and Czechs exposed and show the world that, contrary to post-Cold War assumptions, the United States could not be trusted to protect Eastern Europe from Russian bullying.

The Obama response? "Biden Signals U.S. Is Open to Russia Missile Deal," as the New York Times headlined Biden's Feb. 7 Munich speech to a major international gathering. This followed strong messages from the Obama transition team even before the inauguration that Obama was not committed to the missile shield. And just to make sure everyone understood that the Bush policy no longer held, Biden said in Munich that the United States wanted to "press the reset button" on NATO-Russian relations.

Not surprisingly, the Obama wobble elicited a favorable reaction from Russia. (There are conflicting reports that Russia might suspend the Kaliningrad blackmail deployment.) The Kremlin must have been equally impressed that the other provocations -- Abkhazia, Kyrgyzstan, the rapid-reaction force -- elicited barely a peep from Washington.

Iran has been similarly charmed by Obama's overtures. A week after the new president went about sending sweet peace signals via al-Arabiya, Iran launched its first homemade Earth satellite. The message is clear. If you can put a satellite into orbit, you can hit any continent with a missile, North America included.

And for emphasis, after the roundhouse hook, came the poke in the eye. A U.S. women's badminton team had been invited to Iran. Here was a chance for "ping-pong diplomacy" with the accommodating new president, a sporting venture meant to suggest the possibility of warmer relations.

On Feb. 4, Tehran denied the team entry into Iran.

Then, just in case Obama failed to get the message, Iran's parliament speaker rose in Munich to offer his response to Obama's olive branch. Executive summary: Thank you very much. After you acknowledge 60 years of crimes against us, change not just your tone but your policies, and abandon the Zionist criminal entity, we might deign to talk to you.

With a grinning Goliath staggering about sporting a "kick me" sign on his back, even reputed allies joined the fun. Pakistan freed from house arrest A.Q. Khan, the notorious proliferator who sold nuclear technology to North Korea, Libya and Iran. Ten days later, Islamabad capitulated to the Taliban, turning over to its tender mercies the Swat Valley, 100 miles from the capital. Not only will sharia law now reign there, but members of the democratically elected secular party will be hunted as the Pakistani army stands down.

These Pakistani capitulations may account for Obama's hastily announced 17,000-troop increase in Afghanistan even before his various heralded reviews of the mission have been completed. Hasty, unexplained, but at least something. Other than that, a month of pummeling has been met with utter passivity.

I would like to think the supine posture is attributable to a rookie leader otherwise preoccupied (i.e., domestically), leading a foreign policy team as yet unorganized if not disoriented. But when the State Department says that Hugo Chávez's president-for-life referendum, which was preceded by a sham government-controlled campaign featuring the tear-gassing of the opposition, was "for the most part . . . a process that was fully consistent with democratic process," you have to wonder if Month One is not a harbinger of things to come.
11837  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Way Forward for Reps/Conservatives on: February 20, 2009, 02:47:19 PM

I'd post some pics of libertarians, but I can't stomach going to "9/11 troof" websites right now.   grin
11838  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Way Forward for Reps/Conservatives on: February 20, 2009, 02:25:11 PM
Got a better option?
11839  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Cognitive Dissonance of His Glibness on: February 20, 2009, 02:18:49 PM
C'mon, Obots. Tell us what a great job Ogabe is doing and how we've got it all wrong.
11840  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan on: February 19, 2009, 09:17:42 PM

Mostly this appears to be boilerplate drug eradication procedure.

This caught my attention:

During 2007, President Karzai weighed the possibility of limited aerial spray eradication of opium poppy, but ultimately declined to approve the program.

My jaded, cynical nature makes me wonder who got paid and how much for this policy decision. It is my understanding that opium poppies grow like weeds in Afghanistan, requiring very little in the way of cultivation.
11841  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Way Forward for Reps/Conservatives on: February 19, 2009, 07:39:49 PM
As much as Obama is going to ruin things, the question will be how much we can do to recover from the damage inflicted.
11842  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Homeland Security on: February 19, 2009, 11:56:49 AM


Beginning in the late 1980s, the Colorado Attorney General's Office successfully prosecuted members of a fundamentalist Sufi-militant Islamic sect known as "JAMAAT UL FUQRA". Five FUQRA members were ultimately prosecuted between 1993 and 1994.

"FUQRA" is an Arabic word, which translates most accurately as "the impoverished". The sect advocates the purification of the Islamic religion by means of force and violence. Sheikh Mubarik Ali Jilani Hasmi, who is known by many other aliases, and who also calls himself the sixth Sultan Ul Faqr, originated this group in Pakistan.

In addition to being suspected of committing numerous acts of domestic terrorism, FUQRA members in the United States have been suspected of committing fraud against various governmental entitlement programs in an effort to financially support their activities.

Colorado's investigation indicated that the United States FUQRA movement was composed of approximately 30 different 'Jamaats' or communities, somewhat mobile in nature. Most of these 'Jamaats' are believed to currently exist today, along with what investigators deemed to be several 'covert paramilitary training compounds' -- one of which had been located in a remote mountainous area near Buena Vista, Colorado prior to Colorado's prosecutions in the mid-1990s. The corresponding FUQRA 'Jamaat' to the Buena Vista compound was located in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Colorado's investigation of FUQRA was initiated in 1989 when Colorado Springs Police Department detectives, initially investigating a series of burglaries, were contacted by the owner of a storage locker site and were told about a locker of, what appeared to be, abandoned property.

In September 1989, detectives executed a search warrant of the storage locker upon suspicion of illegal explosives. The search of the locker disclosed numerous items believed to belong to the FUQRA sect then residing in that area. Several explosive components-- thirty to forty pounds of explosives, three large pipe bombs, a number of smaller improvised explosive devices, shape charges, ten handguns-- some with obliterated serial numbers-- silencers in various stages of manufacture, military training manuals, reloading equipment, bomb-making instructions, and numerous FUQRA-related publications were located in this storage area. Titles of some of the publications included "Guerilla Warfare", "Counter Guerilla Operations", "Understanding Amateur Radio", and "Fair Weather Flying," and "Basic Blueprint Reading and Sketching." Several silhouettes for firearms target practice were also discovered, including one with the words "FBI Anti-terrorist team" written on the target's torso bullseye.

Of great interest to law enforcement officials were documents concerning potential 'targets' for destruction and murder in the Los Angeles, Tucson, and Denver areas, including surveillance-type photographs, maps with hand-drawn overlays, notes, etc., concerning these targets. In addition, references to Buckley Air National Guard Base, Rocky Mountain Arsenal, the Air Force Academy, and electrical facilities in Colorado, and Warren Air Force Base, and two Wyoming National Guard armories in Wyoming were found. A somewhat detailed description of a firebombing attack on what is believed to have been the Hare Krishna Temple in Denver was also discovered. An attack, as described in these writings, did, in fact, take place in Denver in August 1984, causing an estimated $200,000 in damage. Investigation by Denver authorities at that time revealed that a Hare Krishna Temple in Philadelphia, where FUQRA activity also had been noted, was firebombed in a similar fashion.

Among the many documents found in the Colorado Springs' storage locker were numerous blank birth certificates; blank social security cards; several sets of Colorado drivers' licenses, each containing a picture of the same individual, but each with a different identity; and many underground press publications concerning the assembly of phony identification -- to be reproduced in a manner to "withstand even close government scrutiny".

Finally, the search disclosed a number of workers' compensation claims, which ultimately led to a full-scale fraud investigation being conducted by the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment in coordination with the Colorado Attorney General's Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation Joint Terrorist Task Force.

This investigation revealed that Colorado Springs FUQRA members had defrauded the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment of approximately $350,000 dollars between September 1984 and January 1992. The mobility and multiple addresses and identities of the various FUQRA members posed a significant challenge to early detection and normal prevention of the fraud. As a result of the two-year investigation, five FUQRA members were indicted by the statewide grand jury in September 1992 on racketeering charges involving theft, mail fraud, and forgery. Six months after the indictments, further racketeering charges, including theft of rental property, conspiracy to commit murder and arson (the Denver Hare Krishna Temple), were also filed against the five individuals and a sixth person -- all FUQRA members. Some of the fraudulently obtained workers' compensation funds were traced directly to payments for a parcel of land near Buena Vista used by the group as a residence compound and training site.

One of the FUQRA defendants convicted is James D. Williams. After his conviction in 1993 for conspiracy to commit first degree murder, racketeering, and forgery, Williams fled and remained a fugitive until being apprehended in Virginia in August 2000. He was returned to Colorado and sentenced this past March to 69 years in prison. From at least the middle 1980's through 1990, Williams was a leader of a Colorado FUQRA.

The conviction for conspiracy to commit first degree murder referred to a comprehensive written plan for the murder of a Tucson, Arizona Muslim cleric, Rashad Khalifa. Khalifa was murdered in January 1990 in a manner that was remarkably similar to the written plan.

It is believed the activities of UL FUQRA across the nation continue. Just recently the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms (BATF) arrested one of the former Colorado defendants and FUQRA member, Vincente Rafael Pierre, in Virginia on alleged ammunition violations. In California, a FUQRA member was arrested on the suspected murder of a Fresno County Deputy Sheriff this last August. In addition, FUQRA operates something called the Quranic Open University in Los Angeles, which has received over $1.5 million dollars over the course of the last two years in charter school funding. This entity is also located in New York City and Philadelphia. There are believed to be active UL FUQRA training compounds still existing in New York, Michigan, South Carolina, California, and perhaps other states.

FUQRA or its members have been investigated for alleged terrorist acts including murder and arson in New York, Detroit, Philadelphia, Toronto, Denver, Los Angeles and Tucson. UL FUQRA is suspected of more than thirteen firebombings and, at least, as many murders within the United States
11843  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Homeland Security on: February 19, 2009, 11:29:02 AM

Terror Training Camps On American Soil
by Robert Spencer
Posted 02/19/2009 ET

“We are fighting to destroy the enemy. We are dealing with evil at its roots and its roots are America.”

So said the Pakistani Sheikh Muburak Gilani, leader of the jihad terrorist group Jamaat ul-Fuqra. And the way that he and his organization are “dealing with evil at its roots” is to set up jihad terror training camps all over the United States -- often under the noses of government and law enforcement officials who are either indifferent or too hamstrung by political correctness to do anything about it.

Sheikh Gilani is no shrinking violet, and Jamaat ul-Fuqra is a force to be reckoned with both in the United States and elsewhere. Journalist Daniel Pearl was on his way to interview Gilani when he was kidnapped and beheaded in 2002. The following year, a member of Jamaat ul-Fuqra, Iyman Faris, pled guilty to plotting to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge. In 2005, the Department of Homeland Security included the group among “predicted possible sponsors of attacks” on American soil. And in 2006, the Department of Justice reported that Jamaat ul-Fuqra “has more than 35 suspected communes and more than 3,000 members spread across the United States, all in support of one goal: the purification of Islam through violence.” That means, of course, violence against unbelievers.

Yet despite the fact that Justice and the DHS are obviously aware of what is going on, Jamaat ul-Fuqra continues to operate, relatively unhindered, in the United States. A new documentary from the Christian Action Network, Homegrown Jihad: The Terrorist Camps Around the U.S., tells the whole shocking story. CAN spent two years visiting many of these Jamaat ul-Fuqra terror compounds, at great risk to network personnel. The documentary filmmakers dared to go inside these camps, cameras rolling, to ask compound leaders pointed questions about who they were and what they were doing.

The documentary reveals that these compounds are dedicated to the training of Muslims in terrorist activities. Most of these camps are tucked away in remote rural areas -- Hancock, N.y., Red House, Va. -- as far away from the watchful eye of law enforcement as possible. And what goes on in them is truly hair-raising: a training video that the network obtained shows American Muslims receiving training in how to fire AK-47 rifles and machine guns, and how to use rocket launchers, mortars, and explosives, as well as training in kidnapping, the murder of hostages, sabotage, and subversive operations.

Yet the State Department doesn’t include Jamaat ul-Fuqra on its Foreign Terrorist Organization Watch List. And so far the mainstream media’s reaction to the documentary has run from indifferent to hostile. CBS News ran a hit piece on the film last Wednesday, saying that “officials describe the film to CBS News as ‘sensationalistic’ and without any real foundation. According to one official, it is strictly designed to upset and inflame people and does not present a true picture of any so-called ‘homegrown Jihad’ danger. No current intelligence exists to suggest any threat connected with this group, which officials describe as ‘wannabes’ and not terrorists.”

No current intelligence? Someone should notify the Colorado Attorney General’s Office, which currently has posted on its website a page about Jamaat ul-Fuqra. “In addition to being suspected of committing numerous acts of domestic terrorism,” it says, “FUQRA members in the United States have been suspected of committing fraud against various governmental entitlement programs in an effort to financially support their activities.” And “FUQRA or its members have been investigated for alleged terrorist acts including murder and arson in New York, Detroit, Philadelphia, Toronto, Denver, Los Angeles and Tucson. UL FUQRA is suspected of more than thirteen firebombings and, at least, as many murders within the United States.”

The Homegrown Jihad documentary, which premiered last week in Washington, does a great service in shedding light on this group’s activities. We can only hope that American law enforcement officials wake up out of their politically correct fever dream in time to close these camps and end once and for all the possibility that these jihadists could mount an attack on American citizens.
11844  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Obama brings Chicago corruption to DC on: February 19, 2009, 10:05:14 AM

GM:  GREAT find.  I've moved it to the Electoral Fraud and Corruption thread.
11845  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan on: February 18, 2009, 09:59:05 PM

The SIU and TIU will carry on their work in a secure facility within the new National Interdiction Unit (NIU) base that opened in 2007. The Afghan government established the NIU in 2004 with DEA assistance. The NIU currently consists of 181 members, with an authorized strength 216. NIU officers receive a substantial amount of tactical training. The aim of this program is to have SIU and TIU investigations culminate in the issuance of arrest and search warrants executed by the NIU. The investigations conducted by the SIU and NIU with DEA assistance will be prosecuted at the Counter Narcotics Tribunal through the Criminal Justice Task Force (CJTF), which consists of Afghan prosecutors and investigators mentored by experienced Assistant U.S. Attorneys and U.S. Department of Justice Senior Trial Attorneys. The CJTF mentors have also been working with the Afghan authorities to create a formal legal process to gain authority for controlled deliveries of narcotics to trafficking suspects.

Haji Baz Mohammad, a major Afghan trafficker, was extradited to the United States in October 2005. In July 2006, he pled guilty to conspiracy to import heroin into the U.S. and in October 2007 was sentenced to more than 15 years in prison for running an international narcotics-trafficking organization that imported millions of dollars worth of illegal drugs into the United States. Similar to the indictment of Haji Bashir Noorzai, an Afghan drug kingpin who was indicted and then arrested in the United States in 2005, Baz Mohammad’s indictment also alleged that he was closely aligned with the Taliban.

During 2007, two drug traffickers with links to the insurgency volunteered to be transported from Afghanistan to stand trial in the United States. The first, Mohammad Essa, was a key heroin distributor for the Haji Baz Mohammad network in the United States. Essa had fled the United States when Baz Mohammad was sent to stand trial in New York. In December 2006, he was apprehended in Kandahar Province by the U.S. military, during a battle with insurgents, and he was voluntarily transferred to the United States in April 2007. The second was Khan Mohammad, who was a supporter of the insurgency and arrested in Nangarhar Province in October 2006. He was indicted for selling opium and heroin to CNPA/NIU informants, knowing that the drugs were destined for the United States. He agreed to return to the United States for trial and was transferred to U.S. authorities in November 2007 and will stand trial in Washington, D.C.

Corruption. Although the illicit production or distribution of narcotic or psychotropic drugs and other controlled substances and the laundering of proceeds from illegal drug transactions are illegal, many Afghan government officials are believed to profit from the drug trade. Narcotics-related corruption is particularly pervasive at the provincial and district levels of government. Corrupt practices range from facilitating drug activities to benefiting from revenue streams that the drug trade produces.

On June 28, 2007, five Afghan Border Police officers were arrested while transporting 123.5 kg of heroin from Nangarhar to Takhar Province. The heroin was seized outside Kabul. At the time, the officers were transporting the heroin in a Border Police truck. The officers worked for Border Police Commander Haji Zahir, also alleged to be a drug trafficker. Defendants in the case included his personal body guard and his nephew, who acts as his personal secretary. Though this seizure did not result in Zahir’s arrest, he was suspended from his position as commander in Takhar Province. The investigation into his involvement with this shipment continues.

Since Attorney General Sabit’s appointment in September 2006, he has become an anti-corruption activist, dismissing prosecutors across the country for corruption and pursuing corruption investigations against politically sensitive targets. A new reform-oriented Supreme Court Justice, Abdul Salam Azimi, was also appointed by President Karzai in August 2006. Azimi was asked by President Karzai to lead a completely Afghan-driven interagency commission to develop a government-wide anti-corruption strategy, the report of which is expected to be released in 2008.

Agreements and Treaties. Afghanistan is a party to the 1988 UN Drug Convention, the 1971 UN Convention, and the 1961 UN Single Convention on Psychotropic Substances. Afghanistan is also a party to the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime. Afghanistan has signed, but has not yet ratified, the UN Convention Against Corruption. The Afghan government has no formal extradition or legal assistance arrangements with the United States, but American mentors are working with the Criminal Justice Task Force to help draft such a law. The 2005 Afghan Counter Narcotics law, however, allows the extradition of drug offenders under the 1988 UN Drug Convention. Haji Baz Muhammad, mentioned above, was extradited to the United States under the authority of the 1988 UN Drug Convention in October 2005. In 2006, however, a similar effort to extradite Misri Khan, a major trafficker, and his associates met with a request from President Karzai that the defendants first stand trial at Afghanistan’s Counter Narcotics Tribunal, which subsequently sentenced the defendants to 17 years in prison. The defendants are still incarcerated in Afghanistan as of December 2007.

Illicit Cultivation/Production. Based on UNODC data, the number of hectares under poppy cultivation in Afghanistan increased 17 percent, from 165,000 ha in 2006 to 193,000 in 2007. Resulting opium production reached a record 8,200 MT. The opium yield per hectare was the highest in five years, increasing from 37 kg/ha in 2006 to 42.5 kg/ha in 2007. UNODC attributed the high yield to ideal weather conditions, even though floods in Uruzgan moderated intensive poppy cultivation in that province. The number of people involved in opium cultivation increased in 2007 from 2.9 million to 3.3 million. According to UNODC estimates, 14.3 percent of Afghans were involved in opium cultivation during 2007. Considered in terms of its estimated $4 billion illicit export value, opium represented about one-third of Afghanistan’s total GDP (licit and illicit). On the other hand, the portion of narcotics money actually received by farmers was a small share of the whole: opium poppy’s $1 billion farm-gate value accounted for only 11 percent of total licit and illicit GDP.

Poppy is a hardy, low risk crop. High profits, access to land and credit, and trafficker-facilitated access to illicit markets outside of Afghanistan make poppy immensely attractive to farmers in Afghanistan’s circumstances. However, the reduction of poppy cultivation in the poorer northern and central provinces and the explosion of poppy cultivation in agriculturally rich areas such as Helmand, Kandahar, and Nangarhar, where poppy has displaced wheat and other legitimate crops, disproves the notion that most farmers grow poppy because they have no viable alternatives. In its 2007 Opium Survey for Afghanistan, UNODC stated “opium cultivation is no longer associated with poverty and is closely linked to the insurgency.”

Thirteen of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces were poppy-free in 2007. This compares favorably to the six provinces that were declared poppy free in 2006. In Badakhshan, according to UNODC, the governor combined persuasion and eradication to slash cultivation from 13,056 ha in 2006 to 3,642 ha in 2007. Governor-led eradication cut opium production in Balkh from 10,037 ha in 2006 to zero in 2007. Many farmers in Balkh province reverted to planting marijuana, a traditional crop in Balkh. UNODC estimated that 70,000 ha of marijuana were cultivated country-wide in 2007, an increase of 20,000 ha over 2006.

The eastern province of Nangarhar demonstrated the historic volatility of Afghan poppy cultivation with a 285 percent jump in area planted in 2007 to 18,739 ha, placing the province second to Helmand in total cultivation. Nangarhar farmers had previously responded to a strong anti-narcotics campaign by the governor by virtually ceasing to grow poppy altogether in 2005. This fluctuating trend continued in fall and winter 2007, when the new governor, Gul Agha Sherzai, pursued his own pre-planting and eradication campaign, which is anticipated to cause a substantial drop in cultivation in 2008.

Afghanistan’s poppy free provinces are in the relatively secure central and northern parts of the country, while poppy cultivation has exploded where the insurgency is strong, particularly in the south and southwest. The United States, UK, UNODC, ISAF and other major international stakeholders now acknowledge that a symbiotic relationship exists between the insurgency and narcotics trafficking in Afghanistan. The Taliban taxes poppy farmers to fund the insurgency. Traffickers provide weapons, funding, and personnel to the insurgency in exchange for the protection of drug trade routes, poppy fields, and members of their organizations. For their part, narcotics traffickers thrive in the insecurity and absence of governance in areas where the Taliban is active. The nexus between militants and narcotics trafficking was vividly illustrated when the Taliban gained control in February 2007 of the Musa Qala district in northern Helmand. When Afghan and coalition troops retook the district nine months later, they found that Taliban governance had deliberately sheltered a flourishing narcotics industry. The full production cycle, from raw opium to finished heroin, was traded in Musa Qala’s open narcotics markets, benefiting local traffickers and Taliban tax-collectors alike.

The southern province of Helmand province was in a class of its own in 2007, growing 53 percent of Afghanistan’s poppy crop with 102,770 ha under cultivation. Helmand’s 2007 poppy crop increased 48 percent over 2006. Poppy cultivation has quadrupled in Helmand since 2005 and has almost entirely taken over a once prosperous agricultural region growing legal crops. Helmand opium production is organized on a large scale, employing thousands of seasonal migrant laborers and supporting cultivation with systems of credit and distribution. Massive amounts of development assistance to Helmand have not held back the explosion of poppy cultivation and trafficking there. As the recipient of $270 million in FY2007 alone, if Helmand were an independent country, it would be the sixth largest recipient of bilateral USAID development assistance in the world.

Drug Flow/Transit. Drug traffickers and financiers lend money to Afghan farmers in order to promote drug cultivation in the country. Traffickers buy the farmers’ crops at previously set prices or accept repayment of loans with deliveries of raw opium. In many provinces, opium markets exist under the control of regional warlords who also control the illicit arms trade and other criminal activities, including trafficking in persons. Traders sell to the highest bidder in these markets with little fear of legal consequences, and gangsters and insurgent groups tax the trade.

Drug labs operating within Afghanistan process an increasingly large portion of the country’s raw opium into heroin and morphine base. This process reduces the bulk of raw opium about one-tenth, which facilitates its movement to markets in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East with transit routes through Iran, Pakistan, and Central Asia. Opiates are transported to Turkey, Russia, and the rest of Europe by organized criminal groups that are often organized along regional and ethnic kinship lines. Pakistani nationals play a prominent role in all aspects of the drug trade along the Afghan/Pakistan border.

Precursor chemicals used in heroin production must be imported into Afghanistan. Limited police and administrative capacity hampered efforts to interdict precursor substances and processing equipment. Afghan law requires the tracking of precursor substances, but the MCN has failed to create an active registry to record data. Progress in this regard requires the establishment of new laws, a system for distinguishing between licit and potentially illicit uses of dual-use chemicals, and a specialized police force to enforce the new system. UNODC has established a five-man unit at CNPA that is charged with tracking precursor chemicals.

Domestic Programs/Demand Reduction. The Afghan government acknowledges a growing domestic drug abuse problem, particularly opium and increasingly heroin. In 2005, Afghanistan’s first nationwide survey on drug use was conducted in cooperation with UNODC. This survey estimated that Afghanistan had 920,000 drug users, including 150,000 users of opium and 50,000 heroin addicts, with 7,000 intravenous users.

The NDCS includes rehabilitation and demand reduction programs for drug abusers. Given Afghanistan’s shortage of general medical services, however, the government can only devote minimal resources to these programs. To address demand reduction needs, the UK and Germany have funded specific demand reduction and rehabilitation programs. For its part, the United States is funding five, 20-bed residential drug treatment centers in Afghanistan, including the only residential facility in the country dedicated to serving female addicts. In 2007, the United States also supported 26 mosque-based drug education programs, five drug prevention/life skills pilot programs in Afghan schools, drug prevention public awareness programs, and a research study on the effects of second-hand opium smoke.

IV. U.S. Policy Initiatives and Programs

Bilateral Cooperation/The Road Ahead. In 2007, the United States enhanced its five pillar Afghanistan counternarcotics strategy, which calls for decisive action in the near term and identifies a more extensive array of tactics in all sectors, including:

Use public information campaigns to win support for the Afghan government’s counternarcotics program. The U.S. Embassy will increase support for radio, print media, and person-to-person outreach campaigns. Particular emphasis will be placed on grassroots, person-to-person community outreach activities through the Multiplying Messengers and PEP programs, which engage local community, religious, and tribal leaders on counternarcotics issues.
Attack the problem at the provincial level. The U.S. expanded the Good Performer’s Initiative in 2007 to provide greater incentives to governors, including those who succeed in keeping their provinces poppy-free. Provincial counternarcotics planning will be integrated with military planning at local commands in key provinces such as Helmand and Nangarhar.
Engage in a stronger eradication campaign. Until such time as the Government of Afghanistan approves more efficient and safe methods of eradication, the United States will continue to support the centrally-led PEF program, which conducts non-negotiated eradication to increase the impact of eradication by targeting large landowners and by encouraging governors to eradicate where it will have the greatest deterrent impact.
Develop alternative sources of income to poppy in rural areas. USAID continued its comprehensive Alternative Development Program (AD), which is providing $228,950,000 for AD projects in the major opium cultivation areas of Afghanistan. Starting in late 2006, USAID implemented a rural finance program that provides credit to farmers and small- and medium-sized enterprises in areas where financial services were previously unavailable.
Accelerate narcotics-related investigations, arrests, prosecutions, and incarcerations. In keeping with the overall justice sector strategy pursued jointly by Afghanistan, the United States, and international partners, the United States will expand its training efforts in Afghanistan for provincial and district-level prosecutors during 2008.
Destroy drug labs and stockpiles. The NIU and the U.K.-sponsored Afghan Special Narcotics Force (ASNF), in cooperation with the DEA, will target drug labs and seize drug stockpiles.
Dismantle drug trafficking/refining networks. DEA will work closely with the CNPA, NIU, and ASNF in pursuing criminal investigations and disrupting the narcotics trade.
11846  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan on: February 18, 2009, 09:57:38 PM

Southwest Asia
International Narcotics Control Strategy Report
Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
March 2008

I. Summary

Narcotics production in Afghanistan hit historic highs in 2007 for the second straight year. Afghanistan grew 93 percent of the world’s opium poppy, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Opium poppy cultivation expanded from 165,000 ha in 2006 to 193,000 ha in 2007, an increase of 17 percent in land under cultivation. Favorable weather conditions and expanded planting in more fertile agricultural areas also boosted Afghanistan’s yield per hectare. UNODC estimates that Afghanistan produced 8,200 MT of opium in 2007, an increase of 2,556 MT over the 5,644 MT produced in 2006. In 2007, opium production was 34 percent above 2006 levels and nearly double the amount produced in 2005. The export value of this year’s illicit opium harvest, $4 billion, made up more than a third of Afghanistan’s combined total Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $11.5 billion.

Afghanistan’s drug trade is undercutting efforts to establish a stable democracy with a licit economic free market in the country. The narcotics trade has strong links with the anti-government insurgency, most commonly associated with the Taliban. Narcotics traffickers provide revenue and arms to the Taliban, while the Taliban provides protection to growers and traffickers and keeps the government from interfering with their activities. During recent years, poppy production has soared in provinces where the Taliban is most active. Five relatively higher-income, agriculturally rich provinces along the Pakistan border accounted for 70 percent of Afghanistan’s 2007 poppy production, with Helmand Province alone accounting for 50 percent. At the same time, poppy cultivation declined in many of the poorer, but more secure northern and central provinces, with 13 provinces poppy-free in 2007, compared with only six provinces so designated in 2006. These statistics address the misconception that most farmers grow poppy because they have no economic alternative; poppy is flourishing in the areas with the richest land and best developed agricultural marketing and distribution networks. Nationwide, UNODC estimates that approximately 14.3 percent of Afghans were involved in poppy cultivation in 2007, up from 12.6 percent in 2006.

For the most part, farmers choose to plant opium poppy because it is a profitable, hardy, and low-risk crop. Credit is available, abundant manual labor makes harvesting cheap, and it is easy to market. Economic assistance alone will not overcome the overall narcotics problem in Afghanistan. Some provincial governors have reduced or eliminated cultivation through determined campaigns of persuasion, law enforcement, and eradication. Alternative development opportunities can yield acceptable incomes, but must also be backed by measures to increase risk to those who plant poppy. This risk should fall heaviest on those who plant the most.

The Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GOIRA) is working cooperatively with the international community to implement its current counternarcotics strategy more effectively. Eliminating narcotics cultivation and trafficking in Afghanistan will require a long-term national and international commitment. The Afghan government must take decisive action against poppy cultivation soon to turn back the drug threat before its further growth and consolidation make it even more difficult to defeat. During 2007, President Karzai weighed the possibility of limited aerial spray eradication of opium poppy, but ultimately declined to approve the program.

II. Status of Country

During 2007, Afghanistan increased its position as the world’s largest heroin producing and trafficking country, with 93 percent of world cultivation. Afghanistan is involved in the full narcotics production cycle, from cultivation to finished heroin, with drug traffickers trading in all forms of opiates, including unrefined opium, semi-refined morphine base, and refined heroin. Terrorist violence such as roadside bombs, suicide bombings, and attacks on police rose across the country during 2007. Still, the overall Afghan economy continued its brisk growth rate of more than 10 percent annually over the last five years. Improvements to Afghanistan’s infrastructure since 2002 have created more economic alternatives and enhanced the Afghan government’s ability to combat drug trafficking in some parts of the country, even though improvements such as roads and modern communications can also be exploited by narcotics traffickers. Increased insecurity in Afghanistan’s south, where most poppy was grown, impeded the extension there of governance and law enforcement. Narcotics traffickers also exploited government weakness and corruption. Large parts of Afghanistan’s best agricultural lands in Nangarhar, Kandahar, Uruzgan, Nimruz, Farah, and Helmand provinces suffered from Taliban activity.

III. Country Actions Against Drugs in 2007

Policy Initiatives. In January 2006, the Afghan government inaugurated an eight-pillar National Drug Control Strategy (NDCS) calling for coordinated action in the areas of Public Information, Alternative Livelihoods, Law Enforcement, Criminal Justice, Eradication, Institutional Development, Regional Cooperation, and Demand Reduction. The NDCS approach is similar to U.S. and UK counternarcotics strategies for Afghanistan. While the NDCS is generally viewed as a sound strategy, the Afghan government failed in 2006 and 2007 to implement it in ways that could stop the growth of the country’s narcotics problem. The Ministry of Counter Narcotics, charged with directing implementation of the NDCS, was unable to effectively influence other government agencies. Counter Narcotics Minister, Habibullah Qaderi, resigned in July 2007 for personal reasons; the delay in appointing a successor struck some observers as indicative of the Afghan government’s lack of commitment to the fight against narcotics.

Following UNODC’s announcement of poppy cultivation figures in August 2007, President Karzai convened the second annual national counternarcotics conference. This meeting brought together representatives from key Afghan government Ministries, governors from the 17 largest poppy producing provinces, tribal elders, police chiefs, religious leaders, and members of the international community. Afterward, the Ministry of Counter Narcotics (MCN) held a pre-planting season planning session for the 17 governors in attendance. The Afghan government instructed provincial and district leaders to launch pre-planting information campaigns to reduce poppy cultivation. The response from governors was uneven. Some governors (notably those in Balkh, Nangarhar, and Badakhshan) developed vigorous anti-poppy campaigns, while others did little to discourage poppy cultivation. The acting Minister of Counter Narcotics led government delegations to key narcotics-producing provinces to hold anti-narcotics shuras or community councils.

In mid 2007, the Afghan government’s Policy Advisory Group (PAG) added counternarcotics as one of its key policy pillars. The PAG was formed in late 2006 by the Afghan Government, in cooperation with the U.S., UK, Canada, the Netherlands, NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), and United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), to deal with critical issues in the unstable southern provinces of Helmand, Kandahar, Farah, Zabol, Nimroz, and Uruzgan. In October 2007, the Afghan government agreed in the PAG to a 50,000 hectare national eradication target for 2008, 25 percent of the expected crop. The Afghan government also agreed to arrest high-level traffickers and provide one to two battalions (140-280 personnel) of Afghan National Army forces as protection for police eradication operations. Concerned that his forces would be stretched too thin, the Minister of Defense raised objections to their deployment to provide force protection to poppy eradicators. To date, the situation remains unresolved.

In November 2007, President Karzai issued an edict announcing the 2008 terms of the Good Performers Initiative (GPI), a U.S.-UK-funded initiative started in 2006 to reward provinces for successful counternarcotics performance. On the basis of UNODC poppy cultivation estimates to be released in August 2008, GPI will fund development projects proposed by governors of poppy-free provinces, provinces that reduce their poppy crop by more than 10 percent, and provinces that make a good faith effort to reduce poppy but fail to meet other GPI criteria. To date, the U.S. government has agreed to contribute $35 million to the GPI, while the UK has promised $6.5 million.

The Counter Narcotics Trust Fund (CNTF), in which some GPI funds are deposited, frustrated governors with delays in approving and implementing 2007 GPI projects. As of November 2007, CNTF had disbursed just $4.1 million of $10 million deposited a year earlier for GPI projects. Under U.S. and UK pressure, CNTF undertook to reform its grant-administration procedure in the fall of 2007. In order to promote faster disbursal of smaller GPI grants and provide additional incentives to governors, the U.S. Embassy is establishing a process by which it can directly disburse up to $50,000 for 2008 GPI projects.

The U.S.-funded Afghan government Poppy Elimination Program (PEP) developed and disseminated counternarcotics information to farmers and the general public in seven major poppy-growing provinces. In addition to organizing local shuras during pre-planting season, the provincial PEP teams worked to build public support for eradication activities undertaken by authorities.

Justice Reform. The Afghan government’s Criminal Justice Task Force (CJTF), with assistance from the U.S., UK and other donors, uses modern investigative techniques to investigate and prosecute narcotics traffickers under the December 2005 Counter Narcotics Law. Narcotics cases are tried before the Counter Narcotics Tribunal (CNT), which has exclusive national jurisdiction over mid- and high-level narcotics cases in Afghanistan. Under the new law, all drug cases that reach certain thresholds must be prosecuted by the CJTF before the CNT. The thresholds are possession of two kg of heroin, ten kg of opium, and 50 kg of hashish. Secure facilities, including offices, courtrooms, and a detention facility, for the CJTF and CNT will be opened at the Counternarcotics Justice Center (CNJC), constructed by the U.S. government in early 2008.

The Afghan government, with assistance from the U.S. and UNODC, refurbished a section of the Pol-i-Charkhi prison to house 100 maximum-security narcotics convicts. This prison is Afghanistan’s largest and is the site of frequent disturbances and unrest due to poor conditions, poor prison management, and lack of resources. Through the Corrections System Support Program (CSSP), the United States is helping to improve the corrections system with training, capacity-building, and infrastructure. The CSSP works closely with the U.S.-funded Justice Sector Support Program (JSSP), which has over 60 U.S. and Afghan justice advisors in Kabul and four provinces providing training, mentoring, and capacity-building for Afghanistan’s criminal justice system.

Law Enforcement Efforts. Eradication efforts, though stronger in 2007 than 2006, failed to keep pace with expanded poppy cultivation. Without an aerial eradication program, poppy reduction was limited to labor-intensive manual eradication efforts in medium to high threat areas. According to UNODC estimates, 19,047 ha were eradicated in 2007 compared to 15,300 ha in 2006. Governor-led eradication (GLE) accounted for 15,898 ha, and the Poppy Eradication Force (PEF), a U.S.-supported, centrally-deployed police unit specifically trained and equipped for eradication activities, eradicated another 3,149 ha of poppy in Helmand, Uruzgan, and Takhar provinces. The percent of the poppy crop eradicated increased from 8.9 percent of planted poppy in 2006 to 9.9 percent in 2007. For the most part, both GLE and PEF eradication were arranged through negotiations with poppy-growing communities, a practice that reduced eradication’s deterrent effect. Even so, violent resistance to manual ground-based eradication increased in 2007, resulting in 17 fatalities.

Narcotics law enforcement was hampered by corruption and incompetence within the justice system as well as the absence of governance in large sections of the country. Although narcotics make up one-third of Afghanistan’s GDP, no major drug traffickers have been arrested and convicted in Afghanistan since 2006. In addition, too few high-level drug traffickers served terms in Afghanistan’s prisons during 2007. However, from January to October 2007, the CJTF prosecuted 409 lower-level cases.

In 2003, the Ministry of Interior (MOI) established the Counter Narcotics Police of Afghanistan (CNPA), comprised of investigation, intelligence, and interdiction units. At the end of 2006, the CNPA had approximately 1,500 of its 2,900 authorized staff, including the 500-member PEF. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) works closely with the CNPA to offer training, mentoring, and investigative assistance in order to develop MOI capacity.

The DEA operates permanently assigned personnel and the Foreign-deployed Advisory Support Teams (FAST) in Afghanistan. The FAST teams, which consist of eight special agents, one intelligence analyst, and one supervisor, operate in Afghanistan on 120-day rotations and deploy around the country with the Afghan National Interdiction Unit (NIU). During 2007, FAST and the NIU deployed to Herat, Farah, Helmand, Kandahar, Kunduz, and Nangarhar Provinces to conduct operations.

From September 2006 through September 2007, the CNPA reported the following seizures: 4,249 kg of heroin, 617 kg of morphine base, 39,304 kg of opium, and 71,078 kg of hashish. During the same period, the CNPA also destroyed 50 drug labs. The CNPA seized 37,509 kg of solid precursor chemicals and 33,008 liters of liquid precursors. The CNPA also reported 760 arrests for trafficking under the provisions of the Afghan Counter Narcotics law where possession of 2 kg of heroin (or morphine base), 10 kg of opium, or 50 kg of hashish mandates automatic jurisdiction for the CNT.

During 2007, the Afghan government, with DEA support, created two vetted units, the Sensitive Investigative Unit (SIU) and the Technical Investigative Unit (TIU), to investigate high-value targets. They will gather evidence through means authorized under Afghanistan’s Counter Narcotics Law and approved through the Afghan legal system. Personnel in these units were recruited from a wide variety of Afghan law enforcement agencies and had to pass rigorous examinations. The SIU was fully functional by the end of 2007, while the TIU will begin its work in 2008.

11847  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan on: February 18, 2009, 06:57:56 PM

Returning to the discussion of the opium drug trade:

Like you, I have often wondered why we simply don't burn the fields.   As best as I can tell it is because we fear a massive response of anger on the part of all those who benefit from it.  Yet the opium trade finances the war against us, even as apparently it finances major corrupt chunks of the central government.

The cognitive dissonance of all this is perhaps the single hardest thing for me to get my mind around.

As I understand our current efforts, we are trying to destroy the crops as best we can. The scale of the crops and the profitability of opiates tharwts our best attempts thus far.
11848  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Self Defense with Pistols on: February 18, 2009, 12:01:20 PM

   I've been  reading the forum for a long time, but I believe this is the first time I've posted.  I'm a little surprised that the discussion has not mentioned wound ballistics.  From what I've learned, and I'm by no means an expert, the number one thing you are looking for is depth of penetration and number two is permanent cavity.  Ideally you should have 18 inches of penetration, but for a self defense round you require at least 12.  This is to ensure you hit vitals with your shot.

   I've also heard that only 60% to 70% of  hollow point bullets expand after impact because they strike bone or get shrouded in clothing.  So you want to look at the permanent cavity you attain with an unexpanded round.

**There are additional factors to consider. With the .45 ACP hollow point, out of less than a 5 inch bbl., it's much less likely to expand with the lesser velocity, but the HP then acts like a semi-wadcutter with a larger crush cavity even though it doesn't expand vs. a FMJ round.**

   What I've been able to see from looking at the available statistics is that there are a number of 9mm rounds that penetrate as well as the .45 but none expand as much, and the majority of the time the .45 slug penetrates further.  So wouldn't the logical conclusion be to use a double stack .45?

**This makes sense if the bad guys you are engaging were made of ballistic gellatin. Ballistic gel only provides a consistant medium for testing purposes. There are more than a few real world shooting where .45 rounds have failed to penetrate into the thorasic cavity, stopping in subcutanious fat and/or muscle. Plenty of real world shootings where handgun rounds failed to pentrate the human skull. If a double stack .45 works for you, fine. Many people can't conceal or run one well. If 2 millimeters makes you feel safer, cool. Just don't think that a slight difference in diameter or velocity makes a big difference. All handguns suck. Handguns make little, zit looking holes. Rifles and shotguns rip things apart. One need not be a forensic pathologist to tell the difference between a handgun, shotgun or rifle GSW. **

   My personal opinion is to find a gun that suits you and practice until it is an extension of yourself.  For example I use an M4 for home defense because I've had extensive training with it.  I prefer a 1911 because it's what I grew up shooting and I'm the most proficient with it.  When I fire a Glock or double stack 1911's I'm much less accurate due to the wider grip, I tend to pull left for some reason.  Anyways, the real key is shot placement and being comfortable with your weapon.

   “When a training gun stops firing (due to running out of pellets), the shooter is still in the fight and still trying to shoot his enemy as well as trying to not be hit by him.  We see them continue to try to work the trigger for one or two times before there is a realization that there has been a stoppage (malfunction or empty gun).”

   I thought that was an interesting comment as well.  I hadn't noticed the same thing in my training except at the beginner levels.  It may be due to different platforms as well.  The majority of the training I have participated in was using either blanks or simmunition and has generally been for m4/m16 series rifles and/or m9 pistols.  I'm guessing by “pellets” he's talking about airsoft guns, but I can't be sure and I don't want to pretend to know more than I do.

   Also I don't want to make it sound like I'm some high speed CAG operator or anything like that.  I've spent some time as an armed guard, and I'm currently in a Support Company for the U.S. Army Special Forces.  So I have some experience, but take it with a grain of salt.  smiley

P.S.  It's good to finally talk to you guys, I really have been just reading for years now.

11849  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Homeland Security on: February 17, 2009, 09:39:17 PM
Alpha and Vympel units waited for the “go” command to enter the school. The problem was that none of the “higher ups” could or would give the order. Finally the units began the entry after not being able to stand by any longer as their Russian children were being slaughtered. Patch made elements of both units began their rescue attempt. A large portion of Alpha was 18 miles to the south in the city of Vladikavkaz practicing a prepared assault on a school that was similar to Beslan School #1. Vympel would bear much of the brunt of the initial rescue attempt.

Obviously, the Spetsnaz units were placed in a position that forced them to engage. Some with in rescue teams used their own bodies as shields as they attempted to protect the fleeing hostages that were pouring out of the gym. The Alpha and Vympel teams made entry through windows and “mouse holes” they blew into the walls of the school with explosive breaches. One Vympel element attempted to enter the school through the main entrance, but it was heavily barricaded and wired with explosives. A tank round finally gave them a way inside.

The armed civilians also started firing their weapons at the school. Others surged forward toward the school with the Spetsnaz teams. Some helped hostages through the windows and rushed them to safety. Others can be seen in photos helping with fire hoses showering water into the gym. The civilians were playing a role in the incident from start to finish…. for good, bad or worse. At this point crowd control was literally non-existent.

Six year old Aida Sidokova was blown out the window of the gym after the initial bombs went off. There is a series a photos taken by a photographer that documents part of her story. The photographer was imbedded with a Russian sniper team positioned outside the school. The photos start off by showing Aida and another woman lying on the ground outside the gym in the courtyard. The woman and Aida then start to raise up. The woman flees the area. Aida, dressed in only her underwear with her skinny legs covered in blood, is then photographed climbing back into the gym through the same windows she was blown out of... her attempt to re-enter the gym was successful. The very last photo shows the roof collapsing and the gym engulfed in flames.

Many of the surviving hostages in the gym were forced into the kitchen and cafeteria area of the school. Once there they were forced to stand in front of the windows acting as human shields to protect the terrorists from incoming bullets. The terrorists told them to scream to the military (and in all probability civilians) to stop the assault on the school.

As Vympel and Alpha teams made their way into the school engaging their targets the hostages continued to stream out of the school. In the end it took ten hours for the Russians to retake the school with the last remaining terrorists were killed on the north side of the southern wing of the school. Alpha and Vympel blasted the barricaded hostiles with RPG and RPO’s, basically blowing that section of the school apart. Beslan School #1 was finally back in Russian control. Hostages continued to stream out of the school during all this in an attempt to escape the carnage. As you view and study the photos of the event several things become evident.

You will notice that most of the children are either naked or in their underwear. This was due to the fact that the gym acted as a greenhouse of sorts with the windows and all the people stuffed inside. The heat inside the gym became unbearable. You will also notice that most of the hostage make up were women and younger children. This may be due to the fact that many of the older, hence stronger / faster kids, were able to flee the school grounds when the assault was initiated. The younger children had no recourse other than to follow the terrorists directions. Note: the lower number of older students was also determined because the older students found such festivities “not cool,” as the event was designed for the younger children. There were also a fairly significant number of men to women hostage ratio. This may be due to the fact that fathers tend to avoid this type of activity and many may have been working at the local businesses and factories.

You will also notice that many of the victims (especially the children) were being carried by other civilians. This was due to them being injured, exhausted, malnourished / dehydrated and panicked. Despite their actions throughout the incident it could be safe to say that some of the civilian males saved the lives of hostages by assisting them to safety.

Make shift aid stations were set up in secure areas around the school. Most of the escaping hostages begged for water from their rescuers and first responders. The Russian authorities planned poorly for the medical treatment side and there were limited numbers of medical assets around the school. For some victims the “Golden Hour” was ticking away. Many of the victims wandered the aid areas looking for family members… children looking for parents… parents looking for children… brother looking for sister and so on. The anguish of Beslan was to continue as families received the news of dead loved ones… some of this came immediately as they identified bodies other news came later as DNA results became apparent in later months.

By 11:00pm the Russian military had taken the battered school back from the Chechens and their extremist allies. Imagine a ten-hour battle in and around an American school. The North Hollywood bank shootout in 1997 between two bank robbers and LAPD lasted less than an hour. And even though the North Hollywood bank actors were heavily body armored they were shooting from minimal use of cover and concealment with a vehicle being their only real option. Imagine dozens of motivated individuals with brick and mortar as cover.

Eleven Vympel and Alpha soldiers were killed re-taking the school. Other Spetsnaz units lost ten other brave men… another sixty-three were wounded. Compare these casualties to any American police department. Stories of heroism on the part of these Russian units should be acknowledged… this may be our American police officers if a similar event happens here. One of the individual incidents that I am aware of involved a Vympel officer grabbing a terrorist in the gym. The officer saw that the man was about to throw a grenade into a crowd of hostages who had survived the initial explosions. The officer tackled the terrorist and held him in a bear type hug until the grenade exploded and killed them both. Another Vympel officer was shot in the neck while trying to cover the fleeing hostages from sniper fire coming from the second floor of the school. He literally bled to death while never giving up or retreating from his position that was completely exposed in the school courtyard. These are just two brief examples and I bet there are hundreds of stories just like these. These acts not only included heroism (true heroism) on the part of the Spetsnaz units, but these are also stories of unbelievable brave acts on the parts of the teachers, parents and even the older students who sacrificed their lives to save others.

One of the Chechens made it out of the school. He was found hiding under a truck by the Russians. His name was Norpasha Kulayev and he was sentenced to “life” in prison in the summer of 2005.

During this 53 hour incident the most recent numbers I have seen are as follows:
1,132 hostages
334 dead
186 children dead
700+ wounded

Old Soviet habits die hard in the Russian military and political machine. Nobody would take charge of the school scene. Command and control was poor. Lower level officers and officials had no chain of command to turn to. Shooters for the Spetsnaz teams around the school couldn’t get anyone in a position of authority to give the order to move in on the school after the bombs went off. After waiting so long they decided to go in on their own.

Wounded children and adults were spread out all over southern and western Russia (including Moscow) for medical treatment. It took weeks, even months, for some families to find out that their relatives had survived. It should be noted that Moscow is 1000 miles from Beslan. One female survivor who was a teenager reported that it took her awhile to realize that she was now safe while in the hospital. In her mind she perceived the doctors and nurses as being terrorist who continued to want to harm her.

Entire generations were destroyed in the Beslan incident… especially younger generations where all the younger siblings were killed. Some children survived but one or both of their parents did not. Pictures were put up on the walls of Beslan streets of unclaimed child survivors.

During the Cold War America depended on the Russians / Soviets loving their children as much as we did. The heroism of the shooters who re-took the school compiled with the grief of the people of Beslan and Russia itself…. proved that they do. Russian citizens left bottles of water and other beverages at the school as a symbolic attempt to quench the thirst of the dead, dying and injured. They also left stuffed dolls and animals in acknowledgment of the child victims… the youngest of the dead being two years old. This continues to be what can now be considered a tradition at the cemetery where the dead are buried. Toys and drinks are left at the gravesites of the victims slaughtered at the school.

Victims of the siege reported that the hostage takers were injecting something into themselves during the incident. Heroin is a major drug in that area of the world. However, the descriptions of the terrorists behavior after the injections are much more consistent with some type of amphetamine based stimulant. The victims reported that they became much more hyper and aggressive and physical / sexual abuse increased towards the hostages after the drug ingestion. We should take note of this as what would be normally be conceived as a recreational drug is now being used as a strategic option against us. If this behavior is observed in future incidents we should not assume that we are dealing with drug addicted thugs… but a crack team of assailants who have an agenda and strategy already set in motion. The drugs are simply an effective part of the original plan.

Some have attempted to state that the Russian military units started the assault on September 3rd thus causing the bombs to detonate. This doesn’t make sense for several reasons. The main Spetsnaz units had only 133 operators around the school that were “on duty” at the time that bombs went off. Another 133 operators were “off duty” on a two minute stand-by. By American police standards this seems like a lot, but their planned assault called for at least twice that many to be at the school. In an exchange of E mails I learned of an important fact from the photographer embedded with a sniper team. He stated that he did not notice anything in Spetsnaz behavior to indicate a planned assault at the time the bombs went off in the school.

The Russians correctly estimated that there were around fifty terrorists in the school. They also knew that it would take 10 to 1 superiority ratio for each entrenched terrorist to be taken out… plus another 50% of ready reserve to back up the initial assault team. Obviously, if you do the math the numbers needed did not match what an experienced military, like the Russians had at Beslan, would need for a planned assault / rescue. Also, don’t forget that most of the primary unit (Alpha) assigned for this type of mission was miles away practicing for the planned assault if it came to that. There were other military units at Beslan with Alpha and Vympel. But they rarely train with or draw assets from them. Also, as we already discussed it actually took an extended period of time for the Vympel and the remaining Alpha troops to go into the school because the government officials balked at giving the order.

The Russians were caught flat-footed. They had no formal assault plan yet and after the bombs went off any type of plan that they might have been trying to formulate converted into “just save as many kids as you can”. .. period. The results are what we have in the history of what occurred at Beslan School #1.

It has been noted that the floorboards of the library had been torn up. Some have assessed that because of this weapons were hidden under the library floor months prior to assault in September. In all practicality a more obvious answer would be that the terrorists were looking for tunnels being dug underneath the school by Russian forces for a planned assault and entry point into the school. The Russians had done this at the Dubrovka Theatre (the play that was being put on was called Nord Ost, which this incident is commonly known as) play in October 2002. The terrorists at Beslan probably learned from this an were looking for the tunnels, which did not exist, at the school.

The only thing that has come out of the Beslan School siege is death, depression, despair and lessons. As police officers in the United States and around the world we were powerless to do anything for the victims while this incident was in motion. However, we can learn from the lessons that can be taken away from this tragedy. If we don’t we may suffer the consequences in a manner that is much more than anything we have dealt with in the past on our soil. These lessons were not free… they came with a price… the cry of the bear cubs… in September 2004.

Note: Aida Sidakova survived her ordeal at Beslan School #1. She was later asked why she climbed back into the gym. She stated she wanted to be with her mother who was still inside.

References and resources:
Terror at Beslan – John Giduck (
Children of Beslan – HBO documentary
Three Days in September – Showtime documentary

Greg Ferency of SWAT Digest can be reached at

The ITOTA is an international association designed to offer quality professional training and information sharing. The ITOTA recognizes the need to expand and share tactical knowledge by focusing on the wealth of experience that exists in the global tactical community.
11850  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Homeland Security on: February 17, 2009, 09:38:35 PM
ITOTA: Beslan and the cry of the bear cubs

Editor's Note: PoliceOne has partnered with the International Tactical Officers Training Association (ITOTA) to bring you feature articles from their outstanding quarterly publication. The following article first appeared in the pages of SWAT Digest magazine and is reprinted by permission of the publisher. Check back on (or around) the third Tuesday of every month for features and opinions presented in partnership with our friends at ITOTA in our ongoing effort to provide SWAT operators around the country with the best information available on issues important to SWAT operators.


By Greg Ferency, SWAT Digest

“He (God) kept the best… the most beautiful ones… the best children”
12 year old girl… Beslan hostage survivor

The Day of Knowledge is an important day in Russia. This is the first day of school and they take it much more seriously than their American counterparts. It is a day of celebration and festivities. The first day of school in Russia always is on September 1st and young Beslan students dressed in their best on that faithful morning. They came with gifts and flowers for the teachers. They also came with joy and excitement.

The city of Beslan (population 40,000) was celebrating the first day of school like the rest of Russia. Beslan School #1 had drawn approximately 3000 people due to the fact that it handled grades 1-11.

At Beslan School #1 a party of sorts was held outside the school. Teachers, students, parents and relatives met, hugged, sang and welcomed each other on school grounds. The students then lined up according to grade, a perfect formation and an advantage for those who were about to come. At approximately 9:20am, the rage of terror struck, approximately three dozen Chechen and Islamic extremists pulled up in two large trucks and jumped out. This was the catalyst for several others hidden among the crowd to jump into action. In total approximately forty nine heavily armed terrorists charged and took the lives of a massive amount of innocent people over a period of sixty two hours.

They executed a plan of action, which involved wrangling the adults and students into the school building. They fired their weapons in the air and on the ground in an effort to maximize panic and submission to their demands. It was incredibly effective. Speed was vital to them and they had planned and done their job well. At first some of the victims thought the original shots being fired was a military drill or police “chasing bandits”. One teenage student thought this exact scenario until she saw a “bearded man” yell at her… “Why are you standing here? You are all being taken hostage!” A police officer and security guard engaged the attackers with minimal effect. They didn’t have much of chance and were quickly cut down. However, it is just possible their actions allowed an amount of potential victims to get away. No matter how small or large that unknown number was it was significant.

What can now be considered hostages were herded into the school with threats of death to themselves and more importantly to their children. Families were split up in the chaos and many children were left on their own to deal with this frightening event. The hostages were effectively driven into, what could be loosely called by American standards, a gym in school. The siege had begun.

In a matter of minutes the terrorists had taken approximately 1,132 innocent souls. Almost immediately the citizens of Beslan gathered around the school forming a human fence around the hostages and terrorists. The hostage takers consisted of Chechen and Islamic extremists, this included two “Fiancés of Allah”. The “Fiancés of Allah” are women who are under the age of twenty-five and had a male member of their family killed in the Chechen War. The women strapped explosives to their bodies to be used as mobile human bombs.

The group eventually divided themselves in three command and control elements:

“Control group” – supervised and controlled the hostages.
“Security group” – protected the group from barricaded positions within the school. “Leader group” – gave orders and controlled limited negotiations.

After the hostages were forced into the gym mothers attempted to calm their children by telling them that they were in a movie, a military exercise or it was just “a game”. Even with the terrorists attempts to control everyone it was obviously chaotic inside the gym. The terrorists were constantly threatening the children that they would be shot if they continued crying. A forty six year old man who attempted to calm the other hostages down was executed in front of everyone in the gym. His body was then drug out of the gym leaving an ominous blood trail. This was an obvious submissive tactic to let the hostages know that they had no problem killing their prey.

The group then began wiring explosive devices amongst the hostages. The bombs were placed around and above the sitting hostages, including a basketball goal that would later play a catastrophic role in the events of this incident. Most of the bombs were primitive but deadly. They were embedded with nails and other objects to act as shrapnel to increase their effectiveness. The terrorists claimed to have wired one of the bombs to a foot controlled “dead mans switch”. It appeared in the form of a pedal. This was one of two dead man switches that they claimed to have and the foot pedal can be seen in video footage the terrorists sent out to the Russian authorities to let them know that it existed. A terrorist would keep his foot on the pedal. If he was shot or lifted his foot off the pedal for any reason the bomb(s) would detonate. Russian authorities now believe that the dead mans switch was a fake. But, whether it was or not was irrelevant to the hostages at the time. Hence, it was effective.

Early on the first day the hostages were told to give up their cell phones along with any cameras, including video cameras. They were told that if anyone hid a cell phone and were caught they and others around them would be shot. In the end a pile of these devices were on the floor. The terrorists found a video camera that a father had brought to video his child going to school. They used it for their own and videotaped the hostages along with themselves. The videotape was later found by a group of boys going through the carnage of the school after the event was over. The videotape can be seen in several documentaries about the Beslan event and can viewed on some video web sites. It offers some limited insight into conditions of the hostages on the first two days of the siege as well as the mindset of the terrorist holding them. In this video a bomb can be seen hung so low that anyone walking under it would have hit their head on it. It was obviously slung this way for maximum killing effect.

Fear and death were not over yet for day one of the siege. Up to sixteen men and boys were taken to the second floor (room 206) of the school and lined up against the wall of one of the classrooms. They were then executed outright. Their bodies were then tossed out a window onto the ground below. It is probable that the terrorists viewed these men as a possible threat and wanted to get rid of them quickly. These men were probably large in stature, appeared to be healthy and most likely posed a liability. It made no difference if the threat perception was real or not. Several other men were forced to assist them in the fortification of the school. They were forced to assist in barricading the windows and door from the outside. After their efforts were complete they were shot dead and left where they lay. This brutal group had something else in store for the young attractive female hostages. They were singled out and one by one taken to another room of the school where they were sexually assaulted over the entire course of this event. This included the barrels of assault weapons and other forbidding objects.

As day one progressed and the hostages suffering continued Russia began its response to the school. The 58th Infantry Division arrived at Beslan. This division is a standard military entity made up of mostly young conscripts. They were in no way prepared to handle this situation. What they found was a melee of armed angry civilians that had surrounded the school by the thousands. Many of the men were armed with their own weapons and were threatening to storm the school. The Russian authorities did not help matters any by announcing that there were only 354 hostages in the school. The crowd knew the number was much higher and this number incensed them, as well as the terrorists in the school when the number reached them. This down playing of the numbers did not help the authorities in any way. All it did was escalate suspicion of them by the Beslan civilians and caused the anger of the terrorists to pour over onto the hostages in the school.

Russia sent numerous other military and government Special Forces to Beslan. These groups are known as “Spetsnaz” units. The word Spetsnaz comes by combining the words “Special Purpose Forces”. Although several responded, the two primary units assigned to the school were Alpha and Vympel. These units responded from Chechnya and Moscow. Alpha can be best compared to America’s Delta Force or CAG, as they are now known. Vympel is Russia’s formal “terrorist type” unit. They conduct the missions that are very specialized and unpleasant. They are also trained to go behind enemy lines and cause havoc. Both are top notch units and trained well in what they do. Again, upon their arrival they found a scene that was chaotic at best… both behind the walls of the school and streets outside of it. During this time snipers began taking up positions around the school.

In regards to negotiations with the terrorists… they were limited at best. The terrorists had a bloody end planned for this incident and talking to them was not going to divert them.

Civilians continued to gather around the school. Over the course of the siege and up to its catastrophic end the civilians stayed at the school. Many refused food or to sleep in solidarity with the hostages inside the school. For logistical reasons this helps nothing and might be construed as a bad idea… no matter how noble. If an event like this ever occurs in the United States we can assume that the end will also be bloody to say the least. First responders, especially law enforcement, may very well be decimated with officers wounded and killed. Other first responder agencies will also be pulled to their furthest brink. The one element that has potential to remain strong is the community. People may need places to stay. Children victims may need blankets and someone to hold on to until the proper entity can assist them. Food may need distributed. In other words the community may be called in some low level, but important factor when the final bullet is fired. Hence, they will need to be strong, rested, fed and ready to assist if that is asked of them.

It is amazing how the civilians were able to intermingle with the security forces around the school. Males with rifles with some fueled with vodka continued to place themselves in positions to fire at the school. They exchanged verbal insults and gestures with the terrorists inside the school. The Russian authorities may have feared that if they attempted to disarm the civilians of their weapons they would be involved in a firefight with the very same people whose children were being held hostage inside the school.

As the morning of September 2nd came to Beslan little had changed for the hostages. Parents continued to try to comfort their children as well as keep the calm. Those with medical conditions started to feel the effects of the lack of their medication, food and water.

One politician was allowed inside the school for negotiations on the second day of the siege. He was Ruslan Aushev. Aushev was a former Russian general who later became the President of Ingushetia. Ingushetia lies between Chechnya and North Ossetia (where Beslan is located). Chechnya and Ingushetia are predominately Muslim while North Ossetia is mostly Christian. The Inguish, including Aushev, are very sympathetic to Chechnya and its bid for independence. A number of the terrorists that took over the school had Inguish origins.

Aushev was allowed inside the school. The video footage that the terrorists took with their new camera shows him attempting to get the terrorists to release some of the hostages. The school principal can also be seen pleading for the children. The terrorist to whom they were speaking with agrees to release some of the nursing babies. When they were released mothers were forced to make decisions no parent should never have to do. They were forced to leave with their babies but leave older children behind. As they left the school Aushev left with them carrying a baby that a mother gave up to stay behind with her older child. Aushev followed the released mothers out of the school with the child and he was never able to return to the school.

This was not a kind act by the terrorist. It was at best a standard stalling tactic. As in, “see we are releasing hostages”. Babies do not know terrorism or any other act of violence. They only know they are hot, hungry, thirsty and not having a good time. As we all know this usually translates into crying. These particular babies were driving the terrorists crazy. However, they probably knew enough to know that if they started executing babies outright this would be the one thing to cause a riot of sorts among the mothers inside. Hence, this was probably a strategic move on their part as much as anything else.

Interviews with the former hostages stated that many started losing hope of a peaceful resolution as day two went on. The terrorists also became more hostile and unpredictable towards them. Many of the hostages had gone without food or water since the siege began the day before. They started drinking their own urine and eating pedals off the flowers that they had brought for the teachers to celebrate the Day of Knowledge. Everything bad from day one transferred over to day two. Hostages continued to be sorted out for various forms of harassment and abuse. This continued as day two grew into day three of the siege of Beslan School #1.

The hostages continued to obviously deteriorate as the morning September 3rd arrived. Many hostages and civilians outside the school later reported that there was something in air on September 3rd. They knew something was going to happen on this day. Parents stated that the children inside the school no longer responded to the terrorists threats and the gunfire that usually followed. They were exhausted, dehydrated and numb to all stimuli around them. One mother even said that some of the mothers pondered doing something to spark an end to this horror. The mental stability of the hostages and even the terrorist (even they began arguing with each other) appeared be to breaking down.

At approx 1:05pm that something did happen. One of the bombs hanging from a basketball goal fell and detonated. It was followed by another explosion several seconds later. This set off a trigger of events that proved catastrophic for all. The explosions obviously killed many people immediately. They obviously injured many parents, teachers and children alike. Some survivors described a deafening silence and zero visibility from the debris of the explosions. As time progressed hostages began jumping out the gyms windows in an effort to make a dash for escape and life. The terrorist realized what was happening and started firing into the fleeing victims. One teenage female hostage stated that she was finally able to fall asleep. She was awakened by the explosions and was surrounded by “dead bodies”. She escaped out of a hole blown into the gym wall with a friend. Several minutes after the second explosion the roof of the gym caught fire and collapsed. This took even more innocent lives. One child survivor stated that he saw other children melting alive.

Confusion was apparent on both sides. The Russian military thought the terrorists set the bombs off on purpose. The terrorist thought the Russians had started their assault on the school. Just prior to the explosions going off the terrorists had agreed to allow the Russian authorities to remove the bodies of the men killed on day one of the attack and thrown out the window. As the men were doing this the explosions occurred. This may very well have seeded the terrorists belief that the assault was planned on the Russian side and the body removal was an attempt to place soldiers in a strategic position. These brave rescuers assigned to remove the bodies were fired upon… one was killed.

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