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1  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Mind the Gap on: Today at 11:08:37 AM
Mind the Gap
Global Affairs
January 28, 2015 | 09:00 GMT Print Text Size
By Jay Ogilvy
The Charlie Hebdo attack and its aftermath in the streets and in the press tempt one to dust off Samuel Huntington's 1996 book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. Despite the criticisms he provoked with that book and his earlier 1993 article in Foreign Affairs, recent events would seem to be proving him prescient.

Or was he?

While I am not about to deny the importance of religion and culture as drivers of geopolitical dynamics, I will argue that, more important than the clashes among the great civilizations, there is a clash within each of the great civilizations. This is the clash between those who have "made it" (in a sense yet to be defined) and those who have been "left behind" — a phrase that is rich with ironic resonance.

Before I make my argument, I warn that the point I'm trying to make is fairly subtle. So, in the interest of clarity, let me lay out what I'm not saying before I make that point. I am not saying that Islam as a whole is somehow retrograde. I am not agreeing with author Sam Harris' October 2014 remark on "Real Time with Bill Maher" that "Islam is the mother lode of bad ideas." Nor am I saying that all religions are somehow equal, or that culture is unimportant. The essays in the book Culture Matters, which Huntington helped edit, argue that different cultures have different comparative advantages when it comes to economic competitiveness. These essays build on the foundation laid down by Max Weber's 1905 work, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. It is only the "sulfuric odor of race," as Harvard historian David Landes writes on the first page of the first essay in Culture Matters, that has kept scholars from exploring the under-researched linkages between culture and economic performance.

Making It in the Modern World

The issue of the comparative advantages or disadvantages of different cultures is complicated and getting more so because with modernity and globalization, our lives are getting more complicated. We are all in each other's faces today in a way that was simply not the case in earlier centuries. Whether through travel or telecommunications or increasingly ubiquitous and inexpensive media, each and every one of us is more aware of the cultural other than in times past. This is obvious. What is not so obvious are the social and psychological consequences of the inevitable comparisons this awareness invites us to make: How are we measuring up, as individuals and as civilizations?
In the modern world, the development of the individual human, which is tied in part to culture, has become more and more important. If you think of a single human life as a kind of footrace — as if the developmental path from infancy to maturity were spanning a certain distance — then progress over the last several millennia has moved out the goal posts of maturity. It simply takes longer to learn the skills it takes to "make it" as an adult. Surely there were skills our Stone Age ancestors had to acquire that we moderns lack, but they did not have to file income taxes or shop for insurance. Postmodern thinkers have critiqued the idea of progress and perhaps we do need a concept that is forgivingly pluralistic. Still, there have been indisputable improvements in many basic measures of human progress. This is borne out by improved demographic statistics such as birth weight, height and longevity, as well as declining poverty and illiteracy. To put it very simply, we humans have come a long way.
But these historic achievements have come at a price. It is not simple for individuals to master this elaborate structure we call modern civilization with its buildings and institutions and culture and history and science and law. A child can't do it. Babies born into this world are biologically very similar to babies born 10,000 years ago; biological evolution is simply too slow and cannot equip us to manage this structure. And childhood has gotten ever longer. "Neoteny" is the technical term for the prolongation of the period during which an offspring remains dependent on its parent. In some species, such as fish or spiders, newborns can fend for themselves immediately. In other species — ducks, deer, dogs and cats — the young remain dependent on their mothers for a period of weeks. In humans, the period of dependency extends for years. And as the generations and centuries pass, especially recently, that period of dependency keeps getting longer.

As French historian Philippe Aries informed us in Centuries of Childhood, "in medieval society, the idea of childhood did not exist." Prior to modernity, young people were adults in miniature, trying to fit in wherever they could. But then childhood got invented. Child labor laws kept children out of the factories and truancy laws kept them in public schools. For a recent example of the statutory extension of childhood known as neoteny, consider U.S. President Barack Obama's announcement that he intends to make community college available for free to any high school graduate, thus extending studenthood by two years.

The care and feeding and training of your average human cub have become far greater than the single season that bear cubs require. And it seems to be getting ever longer as more 20-somethings and even 30-somethings find it cheaper to live with mom and dad, whether or not they are enrolled in school or college. The curriculum required to flourish as an adult seems to be getting ever longer, the goal posts of meaningful maturity ever further away from the "starting line," which has not moved. Our biology has not changed at anywhere near the rate of our history. And this growing gap between infancy and modern maturity is true for every civilization, not just Islamic civilization.
The picture gets complicated, though, because the vexed history of the relationships among the world's great civilizations leaves little doubt about different levels of development along any number of different scales of achievement. Christian democracies have outperformed the economies and cultures of the rest of the world. Is this an accident? Or is there something in the cultural software of the West that renders it better able to serve the needs of its people than does the cultural software called Islam?

Those Left Behind

Clearly there is a feeling among many in the Islamic world that they, as a civilization, have been "left behind" by history. Consider this passage from Snow, the novel by Nobel Prize-winning Turkish author Orhan Pamuk:

"We're poor and insignificant," said Fazul, with a strange fury in his voice. "Our wretched lives have no place in human history. One day all of us living now in Kars will be dead and gone. No one will remember us; no one will care what happened to us. We'll spend the rest of our days arguing about what sort of scarf women should wrap around their heads, and no one will care in the slightest because we're eaten up by our own petty, idiotic quarrels. When I see so many people around me leading such stupid lives and then vanishing without a trace, an anger runs through me…"

Earlier I mentioned the ironic resonance of this phrase, "left behind." I think of two other recent uses: first, the education reform legislation in the United States known as the No Child Left Behind Act; the second, the best-selling series of 13 novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins in which true believers are taken up by the Rapture while the sinners are "left behind." In both of these uses, it is clearly a bad thing to be left behind.

This growing divide between those who have made it and those who are being left behind is happening globally, in each of the great civilizations, not just Islam. To quote my fellow Stratfor columnist, Ian Morris, from just last week:

Culture is something we can change in response to circumstances rather than waiting, as other animals must, for our genes to evolve under the pressures of natural selection. As a result, though we are still basically the same animals that we were when we invented agriculture at the end of the ice age, our societies have evolved faster and faster and will continue to do so at an ever-increasing rate in the 21st century.

And because the fundamental dynamics of this divide are rooted in the mismatch between the pace of change of biological evolution on the one hand (very slow) and historical or technological change on the other (ever faster), it is hard to see how this gap can be closed. We don't want to stop progress, and yet the more progress we make, the further out the goal posts of modern maturity recede and the more significant culture becomes.

There is a link between the "left behind" phenomenon and the rise of the ultra-right in Europe. As the number of unemployed, disaffected, hopeless youth grows, so also does the appeal of extremist rhetoric — to both sides. On the Muslim side, more talk from the Islamic State about slaying the infidels. On the ultra-right, more talk about Islamic extremists. Like a crowded restaurant, the louder the voices get, the louder the voices get.

I use this expression, those who have "made it," because the gap in question is not simply between the rich and the poor. Accomplished intellectuals such as Pamuk feel it as well. The writer Pankaj Mishra, born in Uttar Pradesh, India, in 1969, is another rising star from the East who writes about the dilemma of Asian intellectuals, the Hobson's choice they face between recoiling into the embrace of their ancient cultures or adopting Western ways precisely to gain the strength to resist the West. This is their paradox: Either accept the Trojan horse of Western culture to master its "secrets" — technology, organization, bureaucracy and the power that accrues to a nation-state — or accept the role of underpaid extras in a movie, a very partial "universal" history, that stars the West. In my next column, I'll explore more of Mishra's insights from several of his books.
2  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Mitch Daniels: Student Debt hurting economy on: Today at 10:39:44 AM
How Student Debt Harms the Economy
In 2010-13, the percentage of younger people owning part of a new business dropped to 3.6% from 6.1%.
Mitchell E. Daniels
Jan. 27, 2015 6:34 p.m. ET

To the growing catalog of damage caused by the decades-long run-up in the cost of higher education, we may have to add another casualty. On top of the harm high tuition and other charges are inflicting on young people, and the way their struggles are holding back today’s economy, we must add the worry that tomorrow’s economy will suffer, too.

Ever-escalating tuitions, especially in the past dozen years, have produced an explosion of associated debt, as students and their families resorted to borrowing to cover college prices that are the only major expense item in the economy that is growing faster than health care. According to the Federal Reserve, educational debt has shot past every other category—credit cards, auto loans, refinancings—except home mortgages, reaching some $1.3 trillion this year. Analyses in The Wall Street Journal and by Experian in 2014 show that 40 million people, roughly 70% of recent graduates, are now borrowers. In the class of 2014, the average borrower left with an average load of $33,000.

Even though the debt balloon is a fairly young phenomenon, several damaging results are already evident. Research from the Pew Research Center and Rutgers shows that today’s 20- and 30-year-olds are delaying marriage and delaying childbearing, both unhelpful trends from an economic and social standpoint. Between 25% and 40% of borrowers report postponing homes, cars and other major purchases. Half say that their student loans are increasing their risk of defaulting on other bills. Strikingly, 45% of graduates age 24 and under are living back at home or with a family member of some kind.

Now comes evidence that it’s not just consumer spending that these debts are denting, but also economic dynamism. A variety of indicators suggest that the debt burden is weighing on the engine that has always characterized American economic leadership—and the factor that many have assumed will overcome many structural and self-imposed challenges: our propensity to innovate and to invent new vehicles of wealth creation.

For instance, the U.S., despite its proud protestations about how creative and risk-taking it is, has fallen in multiple world-wide measures of entrepreneurship. A drop in such activity by the young is playing a part. From 2010 to 2013, the Journal reported on Jan. 2, the percentage of younger people who reported owning a part of a new business dropped to 3.6% from 6.1%. Over the past 10 years, the percentage of businesses started by someone under 34 fell to 22.7% from 26.4%. Common sense says that the seven in 10 graduates who enter the working world owing money may be part of this shift.

New data strengthens this hypothesis. Working with the Gallup Research organization, Purdue scholars devised last year’s Gallup-Purdue Index, the largest survey ever of U.S. college graduates. Among its findings: 26% of those who left school debt-free have started at least one business. Among those with debt of $40,000 or more, only 16% had done so.

Controlling the cost of higher education, and expanding access to its undeniable benefits, is first of all a social and moral obligation of those in a position to affect it. Purdue is midway through what is so far a three-year tuition freeze. Coupled with reductions in the costs of room and board and textbooks, these actions have brought down our total cost of attendance for each of the last two years, for the first time on record.

Aggressive counseling of students about the dangers of too much borrowing, and the alternatives available to them, has also helped, as total Purdue student borrowings have dropped by 18% since 2012. That represents some $40 million these superbly talented young engineers, computer scientists and other new workers will have to spend, or perhaps invest in their own dreams of enterprise. At Purdue, where we give students the ownership of any intellectual property they create, and support their attempts to give birth to new products and companies, a significant number of such dreams are likely to become real.

Today’s young Americans have a very legitimate beef with previous generations. A pathetically weak recovery has left millions of them unemployed, underemployed and with falling incomes, not the rising ones their predecessors could expect. And, never forget, they are already saddled with a lifetime per capita debt of some $700,000 (to date) to pay not for debts they incurred, but for those run up in entitlement programs such as Social Security, Social Security Disability and Medicare, explicitly designed to tax the young to subsidize their elders.

For future generations to enjoy the higher living standards America has always promised, nothing matters more than that the U.S. remains a land where miracles of innovation and entrepreneurship happen consistently. As a matter of generational fairness, and as an essential element of national economic success, the burden of high tuitions and student debt must be alleviated, and soon.

Mr. Daniels, the former governor of Indiana (2005-13), is the president of Purdue University.
3  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Drone maker disables its drones from flying in restricted zones on: Today at 10:31:42 AM

Jack Nicas
Updated Jan. 28, 2015 8:38 a.m. ET

In response to the drone crash at the White House this week, the Chinese maker of the device that crashed said it is updating its drones to disable them from flying over much of Washington, D.C.

SZ DJI Technology Co. of Shenzhen, China, plans to send a firmware update in the next week that, if downloaded, would prevent DJI drones from taking off within the restricted flight zone that covers much of the U.S. capital, company spokesman Michael Perry said.

Mr. Perry said DJI also would update its firmware to disable drone flights across national borders. That later update, he said, is in response to separate news last week that authorities in Tijuana, Mexico, discovered a DJI-made drone that apparently had crashed while attempting to carry drugs into the U.S.

“We want to make sure people are being innovative and creative with the technology, but at the same time we want to make sure people are using it responsibly,” Mr. Perry said. “It’s a tricky balance … but we have to think more comprehensibly about how people are using it.”
4  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / LDS: Big change out of Mormon Church on: Today at 10:29:24 AM
Mormon leaders tried to stake out a middle ground in the escalating battle between gay rights and religious freedom on Tuesday, demanding that both ideas, together, be treated as a national priority.

At a rare news conference at church headquarters in Salt Lake City, leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints forcefully condemned discrimination against gays and vowed to support nondiscrimination laws — like one proposed in Utah — to protect people from being denied jobs or housing because of their sexual orientation.

But they also called for these same laws, or others, to protect the rights of people who say their beliefs compel them to oppose homosexuality or to refuse service to gay couples. They cited examples of religious opponents of same-sex marriage who have been sanctioned or sued or have lost their jobs.

“Such tactics are every bit as wrong as denying access to employment, housing or public services because of race or gender,” said Elder Dallin H. Oaks, a member of a group of church leaders known as the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “It is one of today’s great ironies that some people who have fought so hard for L.G.B.T. rights now try to deny the rights of others to disagree with their public policy proposals.”

The church’s announcement, an attempt to placate all sides of a divisive issue, astonished some lawmakers in the halls of Utah’s Capitol, who called it a watershed moment that could reconfigure the debate over gay rights in their socially conservative state. With the church now backing nondiscrimination laws, a bill offering such protections to those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender now appears more likely to pass after years of being stalled in the Legislature.

The church had already supported such legislation in Salt Lake City and other local Utah jurisdictions, but had held off endorsing it statewide.

“This was a major event for the Mormon Church, a major event for Utah and the L.G.B.T. community,” said State Senator Stephen H. Urquhart, a Republican who has tried unsuccessfully to pass an anti-discrimination law. “This changes the dynamic.”

The Mormon leaders at the news conference, three of the church’s male apostles and one woman, made it clear that their church does not intend to change its doctrine, which says that marriage can be only between a man and a woman, and that gay sexual relationships are prohibited.

This doctrine “comes from sacred Scripture, and we are not at liberty to change it,” said Sister Neill Marriott, a leader in church women’s organizations.

The church is now trying to position itself as a champion of both gay rights and the conservative religious opposition to gay rights. But the approach announced on Tuesday by Mormon leaders is unlikely to do much to help calm this front in the culture wars. Gay rights advocates have long maintained that denying service to gays on the basis of religious belief is no different from the discrimination against blacks that was outlawed during the civil rights movement.
Continue reading the main story Continue reading the main story
Continue reading the main story

The Human Rights Campaign, a leading gay rights organization, said the Mormon leaders’ endorsement of nondiscrimination laws may be “deeply meaningful” to gay Mormons and their families, but is “deeply flawed” as a matter of public policy.

“Doctors would still be allowed to deny medical care. Pharmacists would still be allowed to refuse to fill valid prescriptions. And landlords, as well as business operators, would still be allowed to reject L.G.B.T. people. All in the name of religion,” the Human Rights Campaign said in a statement.

Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s ethics and religious liberty commission, called the move “well intentioned but naïve.” Proposals to address discrimination against gay people in employment or housing “inevitably lead to targeted assaults on religious liberty,” he said.

Mormon leaders have in recent years joined Roman Catholic bishops, Southern Baptist pastors and other conservative evangelicals in what they have framed as a “religious liberty” campaign to defend their freedom of conscience.

But Tuesday’s announcement again shows that the Mormon Church has been trying to change its tone on homosexuality since 2008, when it faced widespread condemnation for mobilizing members and raising money to help pass Proposition 8 in California, which outlawed same-sex marriage.

In 2009, the church threw its support behind a local law in Salt Lake City protecting gay and transgender people from job and housing discrimination. But it remained largely silent on efforts to pass statewide anti-discrimination laws.

With the Legislature back in session, Mr. Urquhart is again trying pass a law that would ban housing and employment discrimination based on someone’s sexuality or gender identity.

“I think the bill, now, will pass,” he said.

But conservative lawmakers were still skeptical. Representative Jacob Anderegg, a Republican from Lehi, Utah, said the church’s change in position cleared some “potential stumbling blocks,” but he said he still had fundamental concerns.

“I can’t say definitively right now that I’m on board,” he said. “The devil’s in the details.”
5  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Chickasaw Indians had black slaves on: Today at 09:33:53 AM includes video interview with Cheadle

Veteran Hollywood actor Don Cheadle, an Oscar-nominee for the film Hotel Rwanda, sat down with a PBS interviewer to review detailed research that was done on his ancestors.

Like most Black Americans not descended from immigrants, Cheadle was hardly surprised when told his ancestors were slaves in the pre-Civil War United States.

But when he was told exactly who their slave-owners were, he was in for an absolute shock, and all of us are in for a history lesson that shatters stereotypes.



So Cheadle’s slave ancestors were owned by the Chickasaw. Not only that, they remained slaves for years after America abolished slavery because the Chickasaw nation was Sovereign, and refused to give up their slaves. And even after the U.S. had to force the Indians to free their slaves (irony) they refused to grant them citizenship, as America did, leaving the ex-slaves no nationality. They weren’t American or Chickasaw.

And according to some other ex-slaves, the Chickasaw were cruel slavemasters, as much any any White owner. Former slave Kziah Love told an interviewer in 1937, when she was 93 years old, what life had been like for an enslaved person in Indian Territory.

    “That was a sorry time for some poor old black folks,” explained Love, who remembers living in fear of her Indian slave owner. “I believe he was the meanest man the sun ever shined [sic] on … He was sho’ bad to whup niggers … He’d beat ‘em most to death … One time he got mad at his baby’s nurse and he hit her on the head with some fire tongs and she died.”

Pretty mind blowing. Were you taught this in your history class?

6  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Islam in Europe on: Today at 09:15:40 AM
Back in the 60s, there was this saying "A conservative is a liberal who has been mugged."

7  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Marine le Pen making inroads with gay vote on: January 27, 2015, 11:27:41 PM
8  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Media Issues on: January 27, 2015, 11:26:55 PM
Good catch!!!
9  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Gowdy cross examines State Dept on: January 27, 2015, 05:09:55 PM
10  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: 2016 Presidential on: January 27, 2015, 05:03:39 PM
Reflect upon this:

Hillary's running mate will be Bill Clinton.
11  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: US-China (& Japan, South China Sea-- Vietnam, Philippines, etc) on: January 27, 2015, 04:28:35 PM
Well, our pivot to the east will handle this in short order  tongue tongue tongue

It increasingly looks like NO major player of either party is paying any attention to this.  Once again this forum is a lonely sentinel.
12  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Islamism and the Left on: January 27, 2015, 04:20:10 PM
13  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Gov. Scott Walker on: January 27, 2015, 02:26:19 PM
14  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Cummings vs. Atkinnson & Gowdy on: January 27, 2015, 02:22:52 PM
15  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Cognitive Dissonance of His Glibness on: January 27, 2015, 02:04:36 PM
"Obama is offended that congress invited Netanyahu without his approval, not unlike Obama's prior unilateral invitation to S.Korea's leadership to address congress.  Meanwhile, the excuse is not to affect Israel's upcoming election, but Kerry is visiting Nigeria just prior to their election on Feb. 14, and now Obama's 2012 field campaign manager and team are in Israel.  Can we presume they're there for political purposes?  Regardless of what I personally support, I don't like hypocrisy of this sort."

16  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Sen. Marco Rubio interview on family breakdown and solutions on: January 27, 2015, 01:03:10 PM
17  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Politics of Health Care on: January 27, 2015, 10:27:06 AM
This is from a progressive site, but the point is dead on:   The Reps are years past where they should have a list of bullet points to answer the question presented here:
18  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Major CT decision; very good, very scholarly. on: January 26, 2015, 06:41:03 PM
19  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Yemen returns to its natural divided state on: January 26, 2015, 03:27:17 PM
Yemen Returns to Its Natural, Divided State
Geopolitical Diary
January 20, 2015 | 00:31 GMT Text Size Print

An ongoing rebel offensive in Yemen is, in many ways, a continuation of what the Arab state has seen since the establishment of a republican polity in 1962. The hyper-fragmentation of the country's political establishment since the ill-fated 2011 Arab Spring shows that the two decades that followed Yemeni unification in 1990 were an anomaly. Yemen has reverted to its natural state, in which different geographic, sectarian and ideological forces are locked in a "balance of weakness" preventing the country from existing as a coherent polity.

On Saturday, militiamen associated with the al-Houthi rebel movement — affiliated with the Zaidi sect of Shi'ism found in northern Yemen — allegedly kidnapped Ahmed Awad Bin Mubarak, the chief of staff to Yemeni President Abd Rabboh Mansour Hadi. Mubarak, a technocrat who was reportedly rejected by the al-Houthis in 2014 as a candidate for prime minister because of his close links to Hadi, was due to present a draft of Yemen's new constitution to the president. The al-Houthis oppose the new charter, and it appears that the abduction took place to prevent it from moving forward.

The envisioned charter calls for the reorganization of Yemen into six administrative regions. Led by the charismatic Abdul-Malik al-Houthi and his tribesmen, the al-Houthis are calling instead for two such regions — northern and southern — which would enable the movement to consolidate its recent territorial gains in an area spanning from its northern strongholds to the capital, Sanaa, and even farther south.

What is a Geopolitical Diary? George Friedman Explains.

The core of the al-Houthi movement consists of a Zaidi tribal alliance led by the al-Houthi clan. Despite months of expansion from the movement's base in the northern Saada province, the limits of the al-Houthi's influence has been made obvious by the serious resistance from the Yemeni military it is facing in Marib, Ibb and Bayda provinces. The al-Houthis themselves can go only so far in pushing southward. The al-Houthis are also well aware that Yemen's southern separatists — with whom they would ultimately like to share power — have been weakened by internal differences and the presence of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in the south.

Thus, the movement is not seeking to replace the Yemeni military-dominated political order established by former President Ali Abdullah Saleh — a dynamic that is struggling to persevere under the leadership of Saleh's successor, Hadi. Instead, the al-Houthis are aiming to become the kingmakers in a new power-sharing system divided into the northern and southern administrative regions, in which the movement and the southern separatists would have the majority of power, with establishment factions as junior stakeholders. The al-Houthis are willing to allow the old guard led by Hadi to maintain some semblance of a central government in Sanaa — at least until the movement can further solidify its position and the southerners are able to gain ground in their own region.

Certainly the al-Houthis have emerged as the largest political force in the country, but they remain locked in a balance of weakness involving the old order, anti-Houthi tribes, al Qaeda and the southern separatists. It is unlikely that the al-Houthis will be able to break out from this constrained order anytime soon. But considering the broader geo-sectarian struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran (in which Yemen has become a key battleground) and the sheer number of camps and competing factions within the two main Yemeni separatist movements, Yemen over the long haul will not be able to exist as a nation-state in the classical sense of the term.

The Yemeni condition represents the broad general trend within the Arab world that remains in the throes of autocratic meltdown, as seen in Libya and Syria. The states that remain standing — namely Saudi Arabia and Egypt — face similar challenges of how to maintain their dominions in such an anarchic environment.

Read more: Yemen Returns to Its Natural, Divided State | Stratfor
Follow us: @stratfor on Twitter | Stratfor on Facebook
20  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / WSJ: Good article on current First Amendment jurisprudence on: January 26, 2015, 02:28:34 PM

The Assassin’s Veto
USA Today finds a deadly common ground.
James Taranto
Jan. 23, 2015 3:57 p.m. ET

(Note: We’ll be off Monday, returning Tuesday.)

“Common ground” is vastly overrated as a political virtue, and USA Today demonstrates why. In a pair of the paper’s recent op-eds one finds common ground between an Islamic supremacist and the dean of an American journalism school. Both men agree that free speech should be severely curtailed in a way that would empower violent extremists.
Iraqis burn the French flag. ENLARGE
Iraqis burn the French flag. Photo: Associated Press

Two weeks ago this column faulted USA Today for its choice of writer to rebut the paper’s pro-free-speech editorial the day after the Charlie Hebdo massacre. The “opposing view” came from Anjem Choudary, described in his shirttail bio as “a radical Muslim cleric in London and a lecturer in sharia.”

Many of our readers supported USA Today’s editorial decision on the ground that it is a public service to inform readers of the true attitudes of Islamic radicals, too often whitewashed by the media and political leaders. We acknowledged the next day that they had a point.

But what can one say about this week’s column by DeWayne Wickham, dean of Morgan State University’s School of Global Journalism and Communication in Baltimore? Choudary and Wickham make nearly identical arguments. Their columns are titled, respectively, “People Know the Consequences” and “ ‘Charlie Hebdo’ Crosses the Line.” Neither man expressly endorses the terrorists’ actions, but both strongly imply the victims had it coming because they offended their killers’ religious sensibilities.

Choudary: “Because the honor of the Prophet is something which all Muslims want to defend, many will take the law into their own hands, as we often see. Within liberal democracies, freedom of expression has curtailments, such as laws against incitement and hatred. . . . So why in this case did the French government allow the magazine Charlie Hebdo to continue to provoke Muslims, thereby placing the sanctity [sic] of its citizens at risk?”

Wickham: “If Charlie Hebdo’s irreverent portrayal of Mohammed before the Jan. 7 attack wasn’t thought to constitute fighting words, or a clear and present danger, there should be no doubt now that the newspaper’s continued mocking of the Islamic prophet incites violence. And it pushes Charlie Hebdo’s free speech claim beyond the limits of the endurable.”

Oddly, Wickham frames his argument in terms of First Amendment law, which, as he acknowledges, doesn’t apply in France. “Given the possible ripple effects of Charlie Hebdo’s mistreatment of Islam’s most sacred religious figure,” he writes, “at least people in this country should understand the limits America’s highest court has placed on free speech.”

To which one might add: especially people in this country who take it upon themselves to educate their fellow citizens, whether on campus or in the pages of a national newspaper. Wickham knows something about First Amendment law—but only enough to make an embarrassing show of how much he doesn’t know.

Wickham’s argument rests on two doctrines from early-20th-century First Amendment law: “clear and present danger” (Schenck v. U.S., 1919) and “fighting words” (Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 1942). It is ludicrous to suggest that either doctrine would justify censoring a magazine’s irreverent depictions of Muhammad.

It is doubtful that Schenck is even good law anymore. “The Supreme Court hasn’t used the ‘clear and present danger’ test for First Amendment cases in decades,” notes blogger “AllahPundit”:

    The test now for inflammatory speech is the Brandenburg test, a strciter [sic] standard that allows the state to criminalize incitement only in narrow circumstances—when the speaker intends to incite violence and violence is likely to quickly result. Charlie Hebdo’s Mohammed cartoons may have met the “likely” prong of that test but they sure didn’t meet the “intent” part.

We discussed Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969) in last Friday’s column. There are additional reasons to think the Brandenburg doctrine would be inapplicable in defending a hypothetical effort to censor Charlie Hebdo. Brandenburg dealt with speech that advocated violence, something Charlie Hebdo has never to our knowledge done. And the incitement whose prospects the justices weighed and dismissed was of violence by supporters of the speaker—in Brandenburg, a Ku Klux Klan leader—not of an angry or violent reaction from opponents of his viewpoint.

The fighting-words doctrine, which is still good law, would be inapplicable for overlapping reasons. Fighting words have in common with incitement that a necessary element of their definition is the instantaneity of their effect. In Chaplinsky, Justice Frank Murphy defined fighting words as “those which by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace.” The key words here are “utterance” and “immediate.” To put it in laymen’s terms, if you encounter a stranger on the street and insult him—in Chaplinsky’s case by shouting, “You are a goddamned racketeer!”—you can’t escape prosecution by claiming you were just exercising your right to free speech and he started it by throwing the first punch.

One can imagine a case in which a Charlie Hebdo caricature would constitute fighting words (albeit of a symbolic nature): if, say, a latter-day Chaplinsky taunted a Muslim on the street by waving a copy of the magazine and a fight ensued, both men could be booked for a breach of the peace. But the publication of offensive words or images is not fighting words. In fact, Chaplinsky had been handing out leaflets whose substantive message was similar to the insult he uttered (“denouncing all religion as a ‘racket’ ”). He was cited only for the spoken provocation.

The massacre at Charlie Hebdo was nothing at all like a street fight or a riot. It was a carefully premeditated act of mass murder. To cite it as a justification for censorship is not just misguided but monstrous. In the months after 9/11 it became a cliché that if the government took this or that action in an effort to counter terrorism, “the terrorists will have won.” In this case, if Choudary and Wickham had their way the terrorists really would win—which is to say that they would succeed in their goal of suppressing by force criticism of or irreverence toward Islam.

Call it the assassin’s veto. And there is no principled basis to apply such a doctrine only in cases of Islamic supremacist violence. Martin Luther King and other civil-rights leaders were assassinated by white supremacists angry over the things the victims had said. By Wickham’s logic, that would have justified government censorship of speech in favor of civil rights. If the courts adopted the Wickham doctrine, extremists of all stripes would have a powerful incentive to kill.

There’s more. In citing the outdated clear-and-present-danger doctrine, Wickham does not specify its object—i.e., the answer to the question: Clear and present danger of what? In Schenck, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes did not limit the answer to violence, or to panic (Wickham tiresomely cites Holmes’s dicta about falsely shouting “Fire” in a crowded theater).

Here is the relevant passage in full: “The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.” That is sweeping enough to include speech encouraging the violation of any valid law.

In Schenck, the “substantive evil” in question was the evasion of the military draft during World War I. The case upheld the conviction of a Socialist Party official for sending antiwar leaflets through the mail. If the clear-and-present-danger doctrine applied today—or at the time of the civil-rights movement—it would justify arresting and convicting people for encouraging, even indirectly, nonviolent civil disobedience or other unlawful protest tactics.

Perhaps one can mount a defense of the Wickham piece similar to the one our readers offered of the Choudary one. If one takes Wickham’s views as representative of the attitudes of American academia—a proposition that may be too sweeping but is not altogether outlandish—then it is in the public interest to expose them. Perhaps the debate we ought to be having is whether there is any reason for journalism schools to exist if they’re run by people with so little regard for free expression.
21  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Elizabeth "Forked Tongue" Warren, Fauxcahontas, Harvard's first woman of color on: January 26, 2015, 01:07:35 PM
An Opening for Elizabeth Warren If She Wants It
Hillary Clinton’s daunting lead in national polls masks much closer results in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Douglas E. Schoen
Jan. 25, 2015 7:31 p.m. ET

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren told Fortune magazine this month that she won’t run for president in 2016, deepening the sense that the Democratic nomination is Hillary Clinton’s for the asking. Yet in contemporary politics the landscape can change dramatically, seemingly overnight. Before 2008 Barack Obama said repeatedly that he wasn’t running for president.

If Elizabeth Warren doesn’t change her mind, it could be because of intimidating national polls showing Mrs. Clinton with an overwhelming lead. Most recently, a CNN/ORC poll had the former secretary of state with a 66%-9% advantage over Ms. Warren.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2013. ENLARGE
Sen. Elizabeth Warren and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2013. Photo: Bloomberg News

But these numbers don’t tell the whole story, and if Ms. Warren eventually does get into the race, it could be because the numbers in the crucial primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire are not nearly so scary.

In my own recent polling there, I found a much more competitive landscape. Telephone interviews with 400 likely caucusgoers in Iowa and 400 likely primary voters in New Hampshire, conducted Jan. 13-15, suggest that Ms. Warren is already considerably more competitive than national polls suggest. In a head-to-head Clinton-Warren matchup in Iowa, Mrs. Clinton ran 15 points ahead of Ms. Warren, at 51%-36%. Surprisingly, caucus-voting Iowa Democrats already appear to be thoroughly familiar with the Massachusetts senator, and well-disposed toward her, with a 75%-7% favorability rating. Mrs. Clinton has great favorables, too: 93%-6%.

But Mrs. Clinton’s favorables don’t appear to make her invulnerable to a populist challenge from the left, as a Warren campaign would almost certainly be. My polling shows that there is a significant opening with Democratic primary voters who are extremely liberal in ideology and populist in orientation.

I also tested Mrs. Clinton’s message, based on her public statements, of charting a new direction and standing up for working people against Ms. Warren’s more explicitly populist direction in which government addresses fundamental unfairness in American society through more oversight of Wall Street and policies to reduce income inequality. In that message comparison, Ms. Warren polled a mere four points behind Mrs. Clinton, at 31% to 35%.

Ms. Warren could find similar encouragement in New Hampshire, the nation’s first primary state and neighbor of the senator’s state of Massachusetts. Among likely Democratic primary voters, Mrs. Clinton led Ms. Warren by only nine points, 51%-42%. The two had virtually identical favorable ratings at 89%-5% for Ms. Warren, 90%-5% for Mrs. Clinton.

Ms. Warren’s populist message resonates more strongly in New Hampshire than in Iowa. New Hampshire residents, when polled on the specific Clinton and Warren messages, had Ms. Warren within hailing distance of Mrs. Clinton, at 38%-31%. When respondents were asked the sort of question that a campaign might pose—whether they’d vote for Mrs. Clinton, described as close to Wall Street and a supporter of the Iraq war, versus Ms. Warren as a true progressive who stands up to Wall Street—Ms. Warren polled ahead of Mrs. Clinton, at 47% to 42%.

Given that front-runners in primaries typically draw their highest poll numbers at the start of a race, when their name-recognition advantage is most pronounced, Mrs. Clinton’s best hope would be to solidify her current support. Worst case: She suffers the same slippage she did in Iowa in 2008 when she finished a poor third after showing a resounding lead of 58%-12% over then-Sen. Obama.

The implications are clear. Hillary Clinton is vulnerable in the Democratic primaries, something her new adviser Joel Benenson (currently an Obama pollster who previously worked for me) is presumably in the process of finding out. The results from my polling also suggest that potential candidates who would offer populist messages—former Sen. Jim Webb from Virginia and Sen. Bernie Sanders from Vermont—also have the potential to narrow significantly Mrs. Clinton’s current lead.

If either Mr. Webb or Mr. Sanders gets into the race, Ms. Warren might have second thoughts—a split of the populist vote could pave the way for Mrs. Clinton. The former secretary of state could further complicate matters for potential challengers from the left by developing her own theme to appeal to an electorate that sees American society as fundamentally unfair.

Tom Donahue, the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, last week attacked Ms. Warren’s “economic populism” and charged that she stands for more regulation and government control of business. That’s music to the ears of many Democratic primary voters, who seem ready to embrace candidates who take on big business, the banks and Wall Street—some of Ms. Warren’s favorite targets. In other words, the Democratic presidential contest could go very quickly from a foregone conclusion to a fierce contest.

Mr. Schoen served as a political adviser and pollster for President Bill Clinton from 1994 to 2000.
22  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Did Iran kill Alberto Nisman? on: January 26, 2015, 12:54:49 PM

Mary Anastasia O’Grady
Jan. 25, 2015 7:37 p.m. ET

It’s hard to know who had most to gain—and the least to lose—from the death of Argentine federal prosecutor Alberto Nisman. I’d say it’s Iran.

Nisman was scheduled to testify last week to the Argentine Congress about his investigation into the 1994 bombing of a Buenos Aires Jewish community center that killed 85. In 2006 he indicted seven Iranians and one Lebanese-born member of Hezbollah for the crime. None have been captured, though the Lebanese suspect was killed in 2008 in Syria.

Earlier this month Nisman filed a criminal complaint in an Argentine court, alleging that President Cristina Kirchner and Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman had crafted a secret agreement with Iran to let the terrorists off the hook in exchange for Iranian oil largess and Iranian purchases of Argentine grain.

Nisman claimed he had a solid case against la presidenta and her alleged co-conspirators, and he released a summary of a 300-page report on his investigation. He promised to reveal more at the hearing.

But his objective was never to bring down the president. He sought justice for the bombing victims, and on Jan. 14 he spoke of a new plan to secure it on the Argentine television program “A Dos Voces.” “It’s close to coming out,” Nisman said, “and I say close because I’ve already made the decision, and we are making final revisions. There is a way for the Iranians to be extradited . . . [so] that [they] face trial in the Republic of Argentina.”

Less than a week later the prosecutor turned up dead. His body was found the night before the Jan. 19 hearing in the bathroom of his Buenos Aires apartment with a single .22-caliber bullet through the head.

It took almost no time for President Kirchner’s secretary of security, Sergio Berni, to arrive at the apartment and declare the cause of death an apparent suicide.

There has since been only confusion. First came word that the service door to the apartment was locked from the inside; then a locksmith called to the scene contradicted that. First there were only two ways into the apartment. Then investigators announced there is a third, and that recent footprints were found in that narrow corridor. First it was suggested that the test for gunpowder on Nisman’s hands was important. When the test for gunpowder was negative, it was dismissed as unimportant because, well, that can happen with small bullets. Countless questions remain, including why his bodyguards reportedly were not on watch in front of his door and why the journalist who broke the news that he was found in a pool of blood fled the country over the weekend.

The lead investigator in the case has not issued a final ruling, and those who knew Nisman say the suicide theory stretches credulity. He had spent 14 years on the bombing case and was about to march into Congress with two years of judicially approved wiretaps that he believed would expose a game of footsie between Mrs. Kirchner and Tehran.

Nisman was in good spirits about the matter, as indicated in his TV appearance. He was divorced, but by all accounts close to his teenage daughters. It seems unlikely that he would have pulled the trigger without leaving them so much as a farewell note. His ex-wife, who is an Argentine judge, says she does not believe he committed suicide.

Argentines smell a rat, not the least because the kirchneristas have earned a reputation for corruption and coercion, and this looks like a mob hit. Late last week even Mrs. Kirchner seemed to realize that the suicide narrative wouldn’t fly. After remaining silent for days, she announced her own theory: Nisman was murdered by rogue members of the Argentine intelligence service who are trying to bring her down.

These enemies, she said, concocted the story that she and Mr. Timerman had made a deal to receive oil and sell grain in exchange for providing impunity to the terrorists. The secretary of the presidency backed her up. Nisman “could not have written this nonsense,” he said. “It is totally clear he had nothing to do with it, but there were people around him who had a different agenda.”

Of course the way to learn whether Nisman was driven to kill himself, or whether he was killed by disloyal spies who used him, would be to air every detail of his report. If she really wants to get to the bottom of things Mrs. Kirchner will name and support a new, independent prosecutor. But that might get her into trouble with Iran.

If Nisman was murdered, it involved a level of sophistication not normally associated with Argentina but not uncommon for Iran. Tehran has more than 40 years of experience knocking off meddlesome individuals abroad and is now trying to allay global distrust as it bamboozles Barack Obama about its nuclear-weapons program. Nisman’s search for truth may have put a target on his back.

Write to O’
23  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: US Economics, the stock market , and other investment/savings strategies on: January 26, 2015, 12:45:02 PM
Monday Morning Outlook
GDP, Strong Again To view this article, Click Here
Brian S. Wesbury, Chief Economist
Robert Stein, Deputy Chief Economist
Date: 1/26/2015

With all the focus on Europe in general and Greece in particular, it’s important to keep in mind that the US economy continues to move forward. After real GDP dropped in the first quarter of last year, some analysts were predicting another recession. By contrast, we said the drop was due to unusually harsh winter weather and the economy would rebound quickly.
And rebound it did. Real GDP grew at a 4.6% annual rate in the second quarter and a 5% rate in the third. On Friday, the government will report its initial estimate for real GDP growth in Q4 and we think the economy grew at a 3.3% annual rate. If we’re right, real GDP was up a Plow Horse 2.6% in 2014, slightly faster than the 2.3% pace the economy has averaged since the recovery started in 2009.
For 2015, we’re forecasting 2.7%. Some analysts are lifting their forecasts based on plummeting oil prices and Europe’s quantitative easing, while some might mark them down due to Greece. But these are all sideshows.
Lower oil prices may push up non-oil spending, but oil production will now expand more slowly. QE in Europe is not going to help boost growth; it’ll just stuff European banks with as many useless excess reserves as US banks hold already. And our exports to Greece are less than 0.01% of US GDP.
Instead, investors need to focus on the fundamentals that drive the economy, which haven’t changed. Monetary policy remains loose, tax rates are not going up (regardless of what President Obama said in his State of the Union address), and entrepreneurs are still innovating.
Below is our “add-em-up” forecast for Q4 real GDP.
Consumption: Auto sales increased at a 0.5% annual rate in Q4 while “real” (inflation-adjusted) retail sales outside the auto sector were up at a tepid 1.8% rate. But services make up about 2/3 of personal consumption and those were up at about a 4.5% rate. So it looks like real personal consumption of goods and services combined, grew at a 3.8% annual rate in Q4, contributing 2.6 points to the real GDP growth rate (3.8 times the consumption share of GDP, which is 68%, equals 2.6).
Business Investment: Business equipment investment and commercial construction were both unchanged in Q4. Factoring in R&D suggests overall business investment grew at a 0.8% rate, which should add 0.1 point to the real GDP growth rate (0.8 times the 13% business investment share of GDP equals 0.1).
Home Building: A 9% annualized gain in home building in Q4 will add about 0.3 points to real GDP (9 times the home building share of GDP, which is 3%, equals 0.3).
Government: Public construction projects continued to increase in Q4 while military spending picked up as well. As a result, it looks like real government purchases grew at a 1.1% annual rate in Q4, which should add 0.2 percentage points to real GDP growth (1.1 times the government purchase share of GDP, which is 18%, equals 0.2).
Trade: At this point, the government only has trade data through November, but the data so far suggest the “real” trade deficit in goods has gotten a little smaller. As a result, we’re forecasting that net exports add 0.1 point to the real GDP growth rate.
Inventories: After a weather-related lull in Q1, companies built inventories at a very rapid pace in Q2. Since, then that pace has neither slowed nor sped up further, meaning inventories are a net zero for GDP, neither adding nor subtracting.
The US government has expanded way too much in the past decade or so, which is why we have a Plow Horse economy rather than a Race Horse economy. But, even in this environment, the private sector still has room to grow. Not just in Q4, but in 2015 and likely beyond.
24  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / ISIS being driven out of Kobani? on: January 26, 2015, 12:34:37 PM
25  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: A jihadi diary from Gitmo on: January 26, 2015, 12:32:51 PM
From Inside Prison, a Terrorism Suspect Shares His Diary
‘Guantánamo Diary’ by Mohamedou Ould Slahi
JAN. 25, 2015
Books of The Times


There’s a revealing moment in Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s gripping and depressing “Guantánamo Diary” when a new interrogator is assigned to question him. By this point, Mr. Slahi has been asked the same questions and given the same answers for years. But the new military interrogator, a woman he describes as “quiet and polite,” surprises him with a novel inquiry about what he knows of another terrorism suspect’s travel to Iraq in 2003.

The problem, as Mr. Slahi gently points out to his questioner, is that he has been locked up since 2001 and held at the military prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, since 2002, so there is no chance that he could have such information. The interrogator smiles and explains that she asked anyway, because “I have the question in my request” from her bosses.

Much of the attention accorded to Mr. Slahi’s extraordinary memoir has justifiably gone to his excruciating account of his suffering during a “special interrogation” that lasted for months in 2003 and was personally approved by Donald H. Rumsfeld, then the secretary of defense. By Mr. Slahi’s account, which is corroborated by multiple government investigations, his treatment involved extended sleep deprivation, loud music, shackling for days in a freezing cell, dousing with ice water, beatings, threats that he could be made to disappear and that his mother would be arrested and gang-raped.

But another overwhelming impression from his book, published after a seven-year legal battle and with heavy redactions from military censors, is of the woeful incompetence of some of the government’s efforts to keep the country safe from terrorism. That is no surprise to students of bureaucracy. When it comes to the military and intelligence agencies, however, secrecy makes blunders far easier to hide, and outspoken foes of big government give it a pass as soon as fears of terrorism are invoked.

The torture methods approved for Mr. Slahi, for instance, mimicked those used by America’s Communist adversaries in the Cold War, which were famous for producing false confessions. Predictably, Mr. Slahi describes how, desperate to stop the brutal treatment, he finally decided to tell the interrogators whatever he thought they wanted to hear, fabricating plots and implicating others in nonexistent crimes. Some interrogators, though, doubted his confessions and asked for a polygraph test. He denied plotting terrorism or supporting Al Qaeda, and the test results variously showed “no deception” or “no opinion,” undermining his supposed admissions.

Even the book’s redactions are a tedious reminder of the government’s frequent haplessness. Much black ink was expended, for instance, to try to keep readers from learning that some of Mr. Slahi’s Guantánamo interrogators were women. Why the censors decided their gender should be secret is anybody’s guess. Still, they missed enough feminine pronouns that their efforts at cover-up were undone.

Another dubious redaction draws a rare outburst of sarcasm from Larry Siems, who edited the book and lays out the facts of Mr. Slahi’s case dispassionately in his introduction and many footnotes. When a guard tells him not to worry because he’ll soon be home with his family, Mr. Slahi writes, “I couldn’t help breaking in [redacted].” Mr. Siems comments in a footnote, “It seems possible, if incredible, that the U.S. government may have here redacted the word ‘tears.’ ”

To be sure, Mr. Slahi’s pre-Guantánamo résumé cried out for scrutiny, especially after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Born in Mauritania, he had joined Al Qaeda in 1990 to fight Afghanistan’s Communist government alongside Osama bin Laden. A cousin, also Mr. Slahi’s brother-in-law, was an aide to Bin Laden. In Germany, Mr. Slahi had once crossed paths with Ramzi bin al-Shibh, later a planner of the Sept. 11 attacks. Mr. Slahi had lived in Montreal and prayed at the same mosque as Ahmed Ressam, arrested in 1999 on charges of trying to bring explosives into the United States for the failed “millennium plot.”

Based on that history, the government concluded that Mr. Slahi was a “senior recruiter” for Al Qaeda and for a time, listed him as the most dangerous terrorist at Guantánamo. But it has never formally charged him. Mr. Slahi says he left Al Qaeda in 1992, long before it began to target America. His encounter with Mr. Bin al-Shibh lasted one evening and involved no discussion of anti-American plotting, he claims. And Mr. Ressam had left Montreal before Mr. Slahi arrived, and by his account, they never met.

A federal judge who reviewed Mr. Slahi’s habeas petition in 2010, James Robertson, concluded that the government’s evidence was “so attenuated, or so tainted by coercion and mistreatment, or so classified, that it cannot support a criminal prosecution.” The judge said the government’s fear that Mr. Slahi could rejoin Al Qaeda if freed “may indeed be well founded,” but that such concerns did not justify his continued imprisonment. Judge Robertson ordered his release. Despite President Obama’s vow to close the prison, his administration challenged that decision. An appeals court overturned the release order, and Mr. Slahi, now 44, remains in limbo at Guantánamo, where he has been held without trial for more than 12 years.

Mr. Slahi emerges from the pages of his diary, handwritten in 2005, as a curious and generous personality, observant, witty and devout, but by no means fanatical. In the imperfect but vivid English he learned as a fourth language after being sent to Guantánamo, he writes enthusiastically of reading the Bible (several times), “Fermat’s Last Theorem” and “The Catcher in the Rye,” which he says “made me laugh until my stomach hurt.” He came to consider Guantánamo and its staff members his “new home and family,” developing friendships with numerous guards and interrogators, discussing religion, playing chess and watching movies with them. He expresses empathy even for some of his tormentors, saying that “many people in the Army come from poor families, and that’s why the Army sometimes gives them the dirtiest job.”

Though it was written nearly a decade ago, “Guantánamo Diary” arrives at a relevant moment. In his State of the Union address last week, President Obama renewed his pledge to close the Guantánamo prison before leaving office. But the recent attacks in Paris, after the beheadings by militants in Syria, have reignited the anxieties that have kept that prison going for so long.

In such an atmosphere, some Americans may worry: What if Mr. Slahi is simply a clever liar who has successfully hidden his past crimes for 12 years? His book quite effectively undercuts that notion. More important, “Guantánamo Diary” forces us to consider why the United States has set aside the cherished idea that a timely trial is the best way to determine who deserves to be in prison. The overwhelming majority of the remaining 122 detainees have not been charged.

“So has the American democracy passed the test it was subjected to with the 2001 terrorist attacks?” Mr. Slahi asks at the end of his book. “I leave this judgment to the reader,” he adds, noting that “the United States and its people are still facing the dilemma of the Cuban detainees.” Nearly a decade after he wrote those words, the dilemma has not been resolved.


By Mohamedou Ould Slahi

Edited by Larry Siems. Illustrated. 379 pages. Little, Brown and Company. $29.
26  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: The Shrinking Middle Class on: January 26, 2015, 12:26:55 PM
27  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / This sounds promising on: January 26, 2015, 12:21:57 PM
28  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: Islam in French Prisons on: January 26, 2015, 12:19:05 PM

PARIS — The typical trajectory of most French Islamist terrorists follows four steps: alienation from the dominant culture, thanks partly to joblessness and discrimination in blighted neighborhoods; a turn to petty crime, which leads to prison, and then more crime and more prison; religious awakening and radicalization; and an initiatory journey to a Muslim country like Syria, Afghanistan or Yemen to train for jihad.

Stints in prison were seminal for Chérif Kouachi, Amedy Coulibaly and other major figures of French jihadism in recent years — Mohammed Merah, Mehdi Nemmouche, Khaled Kelkal — as both a rite of passage and a gateway to radicalism.

Muslims account for about 7-10 percent of France’s total population but around half of its prison population of 68,000. Muslims are even more numerous in facilities near large cities, particularly in maisons d’arrêt, which hold prisoners serving shorter sentences.

Precise figures are unavailable because laïcité, France’s strict form of secularism, prohibits officially asking and collecting data about people’s religious preferences. These estimates are based on research I conducted in French prisons in 2000-3 and again in 2011-3, when I interviewed some 160 inmates and many guards, doctors and social workers in four major facilities, some among the largest in Europe. Fifteen of those inmates had been sentenced for terrorist acts.

Many Muslims feel marginalized when they get to prison, due to exclusion and bigotry from the white majority in mainstream society, and their own counterracism. Although in urban prisons they are a majority, they continue to feel victimized and trapped. Very few guards are Muslim, and prison officials, who tend to be hypersecular, have little understanding of Islam, for example confusing fundamentalism with extremism.

“Look at how a Catholic or a Jew is treated, and look at how we are treated,” Abdelkarim, a Frenchman of Italian origin in his late 20s who was serving a five-year sentence for armed robbery, told me in 2012. “They have their weekly prayers; in this prison we don’t have Friday prayers. Their rabbi can go to all the cells; our Muslim minister cannot. There’s kosher food, but no halal meat. They despise us, and they call that laïcité.”

In fact, Muslim ministers can visit Muslim inmates in their cells but usually don’t do it for lack of time, and halal meat is increasingly available. But such misperceptions are common, and they only reinforce the appeal of Islam as the religion of choice for the stigmatized and the oppressed. Unlike Christianity, it has an anti-Western and anti-imperialist bend.

One young French inmate of Algerian origin told me in 2013, “If you are a Muslim and ask to participate in the Friday prayers, they take your name down and hand it over to the Renseignements Généraux.” (The Renseignements Généraux is the French equivalent of the FBI.) He added: “If I try to take my prayer carpet to the courtyard, they prohibit it. If I grow a beard, the guards call me Bin Laden, smiling and mocking me. They hate Islam. But Islam can take revenge!”
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Continue reading the main story

Adherence to radical Islam is largely the transfer into the spiritual realm of that particular combination of indignation, rancor and wholesale rejection encompassed by the expression, widespread among prisoners, “avoir la haine” (to have hate). For some inmates, especially those who were only nominally Muslim and nonpracticing, violent aspirations emerge first, with religiosity — and often a very approximate understanding of Islam — grafting itself onto to them later.

Abdelkarim, who converted to Islam (and adopted an Arabic name) about a decade before I met him, acted as an informal Salafist chaplain; his prison counted about 1,000 Muslim inmates and just one Muslim minister, an older gentleman from North Africa out of touch with the young prisoners’ concerns. Each time Abdelkarim sang the call to prayer at dawn he would be sent to solitary confinement for a few days; eventually he was transferred to another jail. Nationwide, there is only about one Muslim minister for every 190 inmates, leaving self-proclaimed ulama to proffer their own religious guidance.

Radical preaching catches on because it offers young Muslim prisoners a way to escape their predicament and develop a fantasy of omnipotence by declaring death onto their oppressors. During my research in 2000-3, the prisoners idolized Khaled Kelkal, whose network killed eight people in a Paris subway station in 1995 to punish the French government for backing a military coup against an Islamist party in Algeria. A decade later their new icon was Mohammed Merah, who in 2012 shot down seven people, including soldiers and Jewish children, in the name of radical Islam; some inmates even impersonated him. Now the new celebrities will be the Kouachi brothers and Coulibaly.

About three months ago, the authorities at Fresnes, a very large prison known for its strict discipline, started experimenting with separating suspected Muslim radicals from the general population, grouping them in special cells. Although it is too early to assess the measure’s effectiveness, the provisional results are mixed.

The prisoners’ segregation at Fresnes is incomplete, owing to the shape of the 19th-century building. With rows of cell blocks branching out perpendicularly from a central corridor, the inmates can communicate with each other simply by shouting. The radicalized prisoners now have less influence on other inmates, especially ones who are impressionable or have mental disorders. But they are in closer contact with one another, allowing them to organize and make plans.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls announced recently that the quarantine program would be expanded in several prisons around Paris. The proposal needs to be refined. Seasoned jihadists must be separated from untested radicals and the returnees from, say, Syria and Iraq, who may have been traumatized or disappointed by their experience of jihad and still stand a chance of being reintegrated into mainstream society.

More must also be done to address the legitimate claims of Muslim inmates. Collective Friday prayers should be allowed in all French prisons, for example. The government announced last week that 60 Muslim ministers would be trained to supplement the 182 or so currently in service. This is a welcome proposal. But at least three times as many ministers are needed, and they must be more uniformly distributed throughout the prisons. Above all, they will need to be coached to better understand and address the concerns of disaffected young Muslim prisoners.

Indeed, reform must begin with respect. For if French prisons have become a breeding ground for radicalism, it is partly because they mistreat the Islamic faith itself.

Farhad Khosrokhavar is a sociologist at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales and the author, most recently, of “Radicalisation.”
29  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Saudi Arabia & the Arabian Peninsula on: January 26, 2015, 12:10:50 PM
30  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / So much for privacy on the government's site on: January 26, 2015, 12:01:10 PM
31  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Oceans warming? on: January 26, 2015, 11:47:08 AM
32  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Jobs boom thanks to ending unemployment benefits extension on: January 26, 2015, 11:41:29 AM
Jobs Boom Thanks to Ending Unemployment Benefits Extension
Jan. 26, 2015
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“After a breakthrough year for America, our economy is growing and creating jobs at the fastest pace since 1999,” Barack Obama boasted in his State of the Union address. Indeed, he mentioned “jobs” some 19 times. The trouble is, it’s not his policies that are growing the job market – it’s the end of his policies. Democrats have long claimed that paying people not to work creates jobs, but as Ronald Reagan once quipped, “Our liberal friends … know so much that isn’t so.” According to a new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research, roughly 60% of 2014’s job growth came because Democrats' lavish unemployment benefits were not extended again. The study is by no means the last word on the subject, as there are innumerable factors that go into something so complex as the job market. But as National Review’s Patrick Brennan summarizes: “The general economic consensus has always been that unemployment insurance slightly boosts the unemployment rate. … [W]e still have unemployment insurance, of course, because we want a safety net for people in the event of job loss. That just has to be balanced against the costs that the program imposes on the labor market.” More…

Oh, and by the way, look to Texas for all the jobs. According to American Enterprise Institute’s Mark J. Perry, “It’s a pretty impressive story of how job creation in just one state – Texas – is solely responsible for the 1.169 million net increase in total US employment (+1,444,290 Texas jobs minus the 275,290 non-Texas job loss) in the seven year period between the start of the Great Recession in December 2007 and December 2014. The other 49 states and the District of Columbia together employ about 275,000 fewer Americans than at the start of the recession seven years ago, while the Lone Star State has added more than 1.25 million payroll jobs and more than 190,000 non-payroll jobs (primarily self-employed and farm workers).”
33  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / ASteroid flies by earth today on: January 26, 2015, 11:40:25 AM
34  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Cyberwar, Cyber Crime, and American Freedom on: January 26, 2015, 11:05:55 AM
JOURNAL: Attack leaves 140 million people w/o power in Pakistan.
Posted: 25 Jan 2015 01:32 PM PST
Militants toppled two transmission pylons causes a cascade of failure that plunged most of Pakistan (140 out 190 m people) into a blackout.  Here's some insight into this:
   Apparently, the attackers found a systempunkt.  A systempunkt is the node in any network (physical or social) where it is the most vulnerable.  An attack on a systempunkt can generate cascades of failure that take down the entire network. Its possible, although unlikely, the attackers knew this was the network's systempunkt when they destroyed it.
   The success of this attack was largely due to the strain on Pakistan's grid.  Pakistan's demand for electricity stands an estimate 14,000 MW, but it only produces 7,000 MW due to gross mismanagement, high debt, theft, fuel shortages, regulatory failure, etc.  You name it.  This shortfall has led to load shedding of up to ~15 hours a day already.  As we know, when a complex network is operating at or near its capacity, it is many times more vulnerable to collapse and thereby much easier to attack. 
   This attack will prompt more attacks on the grid as other groups attempt to replicate the success it had. The reason is that militant groups in Pakistan (and across the world) use open source development to improve themselves.  When an attack this simple and inexpensive yields outsized results, other groups will copy it in an attempt to do the same. 
Attacks like these can be very damaging.  How so?  People don't blame the attackers for blackouts.  They blame the government.  In fact, the inability of a government to deliver the basics of energy and fuel is more damaging to its legitimacy than problems with security (it routinely led the list of reasons Iraqis were angry at the government).
PS:  It's easy to find systempunkts like this in the KSA as well as the USA.
35  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Sharyl Attkinson gives serious speech at Hillsdale U. on: January 25, 2015, 11:49:12 PM
For those of you who do not recognize the name, she has done OUTSTANDING work on Operation Fast and Furious and Benghazi.   Her research was hacked off her computer, apparently by some secret govt. agencies.  About one hour.

Not the most exciting of speakers, but the content is quite rich.

She does very well on TV panel talk shows.

For other journalism talks by serious people see
36  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / R.I.P. Ernie Banks, 83. on: January 25, 2015, 11:40:48 PM

Ernie Banks, the Eternally Hopeful Mr. Cub, Dies at 83
Ernie Banks, the greatest power-hitting shortstop of the 20th century and an unconquerable optimist whose sunny disposition never dimmed in 19 seasons with the perennially stumbling Chicago Cubs, died Friday. He was 83.
His death was announced on Major League Baseball’s website, which did not give a cause.
“It’s a beautiful day, let’s play two” became the mantra of the man known as Mr. Cub, a fixture in what he called the friendly confines of Wrigley Field. The most popular Cub ever in a franchise dating to the 1870s, Banks became as much an institution in Chicago as the first Mayor Daley, Studs Terkel, Michael Jordan and George Halas.

37  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Theft of F-35 Secrets on: January 25, 2015, 09:59:31 PM
38  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Russia's Emerging Holy War on: January 25, 2015, 09:56:14 PM

Russia’s Emerging Holy War

At the beginning of this week, President Barack Obama explained that Russia, hit hard by Western sanctions, is losing in its confrontation with the West and NATO caused by Vladimir Putin’s aggression in Ukraine. In his State of the Union address, Obama displayed similar swag and bluster against both the Kremlin and Congressional Republicans, seemingly without regard for any recent events. As the President explained:

We’re upholding the principle that bigger nations can’t bully the small — by opposing Russian aggression, supporting Ukraine’s democracy and reassuring our NATO allies. Last year, as we were doing the hard work of imposing sanctions along with our allies, some suggested that Mr. Putin’s aggression was a masterful display of strategy and strength. Well, today, it is America that stands strong and united with our allies, while Russia is isolated, with its economy in tatters. That’s how America leads — not with bluster, but with persistent, steady resolve.

“Every one of these sentences is, to put it mildly, a stretch,” explained one seasoned Kremlin-watcher, and the news this week from Ukraine has been grim, contra Obama’s hopeful pose. While Russia’s economy remains seriously hurt from sanctions and, even more, the sharp drop in oil prices, the notion that this is taming Putin’s baser urges is not only untrue, it’s more likely the opposite of the truth, as I cautioned a month ago.

Facts have increasingly been getting in the way of this White House’s messaging, on many fronts, so just as Obama now calls for political bipartisanship, after six years of doing the opposite, all the while ignoring the massive blowout of his own party by the Republicans in Congress that just happened again, for the second time in his presidency, Obama likewise seems to think that a bit of swag, plus a public taunt, aimed at Putin when the former KGB man is down on his luck will have the desired geopolitical effect. This White House does not seem to dwell on the fact that, while the domestic enemy may be politically obstructionist, the foreign enemy has all sorts of Special War unpleasantness in his arsenal, not to mention thousands of nuclear weapons.

If nothing else, the current crisis has demonstrated to Russians, with Kremlin prodding, that the United States remains their Main Enemy that it was for decades, now led by the arrogant and weak Obama, who is hated by the Russian public. The Chekists who run Putin’s Russia, who protested for years that America wanted to defeat Russia’s post-Cold War resurgence, that the U.S. will stop at nothing to bring Russia to heel while humiliating it, have been proved right, at least as far as most Russians are concerned.

To the shock and dismay of hopeful Westerners, including nearly all NATO leaders, the hard hit of sanctions has caused Russians to hate the West, not Putin. Most Russians view their war in Ukraine as a legitimate defense of Russians and Russian interests, certainly nothing like America’s aggressive wars of choice halfway around the world, and they are backing the Kremlin now.

Word of this defiance has even crept into The New York Times, which otherwise is a pitch-perfect expression of the WEIRD worldview. As Russian troops are advancing deeper into Ukraine, fresh from victory at Donetsk, NYT asked what on earth is going on here, why would Russians want more war now that the cost of it all to their economy is becoming obvious? The explanation was proffered by a Moscow economist: “The influence of economists as a whole has completely vanished,” he opined about the Kremlin: “The country is on a holy mission. It’s at war with the United States, so why would you bother about the small battleground, the economy?”

Once again, Westerners have imagined Putin is just like one of their leaders — cautious, timid even, obsessed with Wall Street and finely tuned to what big donors care about — when our Chekist-in-Charge is nothing of the sort. With perfect timing, Patriarch Kirill, the head of the powerful Russian Orthodox Church, addressed the Duma this week, for the very first time, delivering a speech long on social conservatism, including a plea to ban abortions to help Russian demographics, as well as a caution to ignore the West’s dangerous “pseudo-values.” Putin’s Russia is inching ever closer to Byzantine-style symphonia, and in the war against America and the West that is coming — and, according to many Russians, is already here — the Kremlin wants its people to be spiritually fortified for a long fight.

Bankers and oligarchs, who get much attention from the Western media, have become peripheral figures in Moscow. Months before the Ukraine crisis broke with Russia’s seizure of Crimea, Putin privately warned wealthy men whom he deemed friends and supporters to start getting their money out of the West, as tough times were coming. In the Kremlin’s view, oligarchs who failed to do this, and are now facing ruin, have nobody to blame but themselves. Any billionaires who criticize Putin too freely will meet with prison or worse.

It’s increasingly clear that the security sector, what Russians term the special services, are running the show. They are Putin’s natural powerbase, his “comfort zone” in Western parlance, plus they are the guarantor of his maintaining power as the economic crisis worsens. Current reports indicate that Putin’s inner circle now is made up entirely of siloviki, to use the Russian term, men from the special services:  National Security Council head Nikolai Patrushev, Federal Security Service (FSB) head Aleksandr Bortnikov, Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) head Mikhail Fradkov, and Defense Minister Sergei Shoygu.

Patrushev headed the FSB from 1999, the beginning of Putin’s presidency, to 2008, and was a previously a career KGB officer, serving in Leningrad counterintelligence just like Putin: and just like Putin, he is a Chekist to his core. Current FSB director Bortnikov, who took over from Patrushev in 2008, is another career Chekist who joined the KGB after college and, yet again, comes out of the Leningrad office. Fradkov is not officially a Chekist by background, having spent the early years of his Kremlin career in foreign trade matters, but he was “close” to the KGB during that time, and he has headed the SVR, the successor to the KGB’s elite First Chief Directorate, since 2007; it says something about Putin’s confidence in him that Fradkov survived the 2010 debacle of the exposure of the SVR’s Illegals network in the United States, which was nearly as demoralizing to the SVR as the Snowden Operation has been for U.S. intelligence. The last, Shoygu, who has headed the powerful defense ministry since 2012, is not a military man by background, yet has longstanding ties to military intelligence (GRU).

As Russia’s economic crisis has mounted, Putin has unsurprisingly turned to fellow Chekists, some of them very like himself by background. They share a worldview which is conspiratorial and deeply anti-Western; they view America as their Main Enemy and now believe Obama is on a mission to destroy Russia. That they will not allow, and they will stop at nothing to halt what prominent Orthodox clerics recently have termed the “American project” that wants to destroy Holy Russia. This volatile combination of Chekist conspiracy-thinking and Orthodox Third Rome mysticism, plus Russian xenophobia and a genuine economic crisis, means that 2015 promises to be a dangerous year for the world. The Kremlin now believes they are at war with the United States, an Orthodox Holy War in the eyes of many Russians, and that struggle is defensive and legitimate. It would be good if Obama and his staff paid attention. This is about much more than Ukraine.
39  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Law Enforcement issues and LE in action on: January 25, 2015, 06:40:14 PM
Very compelling footage.  In such a moment the pastor must have been very stressful for him.  There were moments there where to my eye if the BG still had one more exertion in him, he might have had a free shot.
40  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Islam in Europe on: January 25, 2015, 02:56:20 PM

Excellent contribution Doug.
41  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Bitcoin and the Digital Currency Revolution on: January 25, 2015, 11:24:46 AM
Bitcoin and the Digital-Currency Revolution
For all bitcoin’s growing pains, it represents the future of money and global finance.
Paul Vigna and Michael Casey discuss their new book "The Age of Cryptocurrency" as well as the mystique and challenges facing Bitcoin and the virtual currency business. P.
Jan. 23, 2015 12:44 p.m. ET

About a half-billion dollars worth of it vanished from an online exchange in Tokyo. A prosecutor in Manhattan arrested the 24-year-old vice chairman of its most prominent trading body on drug-related charges of money laundering. Its founder’s identity remains a mystery, and last year, it shed two-thirds of its value, losing an additional 44% in just the first two weeks of January. In his year-end letter to investors, Warren Buffett’s advice about it was emphatic: “Stay away.”

The digital currency known as bitcoin is only six years old, and many of its critics are already declaring it dead. But such dire predictions miss a far more important point: Whether bitcoin survives or not, the technology underlying it is here to stay. In fact, that technology will become ever more influential as developers create newer, better versions and clones.

No digital currency will soon dislodge the dollar, but bitcoin is much more than a currency. It is a radically new, decentralized system for managing the way societies exchange value. It is, quite simply, one of the most powerful innovations in finance in 500 years.

If applied widely to the inner workings of our global economy, this model could slash trillions in financial fees; computerize much of the work done by payment processors, government property-title offices, lawyers and accountants; and create opportunities for billions of people who don't currently have bank accounts. Great value will be created, but many jobs also will be rendered obsolete.

Bitcoin has some indisputable flaws, at least in its current iteration. Its price fluctuates too wildly. (Who wants the cost of their groceries to vary by 10% from week to week?) Its anonymity has made it a haven for drug dealers. “Wallets” (as the individual software applications that manage bitcoin holdings are known) have proven vulnerable to cyberattack and pillaging, including the wallets of big exchanges such as Tokyo’s Mt. Gox and Slovenia’s Bitstamp.

Even though the core program that runs bitcoin has resisted six years of hacking attempts, the successful attacks on associated businesses have created the impression that bitcoin isn’t a safe way to store money. Until these perceptions are overcome or bitcoin is replaced by a superior digital currency, the public will remain suspicious of the concept, and regulators will be tempted to quash it.

Like any young technology, bitcoin is a work in progress, but its groundbreaking core software program is constantly being improved. It is open-source and copyright-free, and thus accessible to anyone who wants to peer inside it, copy it, suggest improvements or create applications for it.

Inspired by this potential, “probably 10,000 of the best developers in the world are working on bitcoin,” estimates Chris Dixon, a partner at the venture-capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. This volunteer army has developed military-grade encryption to make bitcoin wallets more secure and insurable and also new trading tools to help stabilize the price. The faults of digital currency are being resolved.

The workings of bitcoin and other digital currencies can be confusing. When we think of a currency in the abstract, we tend to think of a physical currency in the offline world—a dollar bill or a gold coin—so we imagine bitcoin as some sort of digitally rendered equivalent, much as a Word document is a digital stand-in for a physical page of text.

But there is no such thing as the digital equivalent of a dollar bill. Bitcoins exist purely as entries in an accounting system—a transparent public ledger known as the “blockchain” that records balances and transfers among special bitcoin “addresses.” Owning bitcoin doesn’t mean having a digital banknote in a digital pocket; it means having a claim to a bitcoin address, with a secret password, and the right to transfer its balances to someone else.
Whether bitcoin survives or not, the technology underlying it is here to stay. ENLARGE
Whether bitcoin survives or not, the technology underlying it is here to stay. Photo: Bloomberg News

This ledger is what gives bitcoin its potential to disrupt global finance. In the current dollar-based monetary system, we entrust banks and other fee-charging intermediaries to act as gatekeepers to nearly every transaction. Those centralized institutions maintain closely guarded in-house ledgers and, with that information, determine whether their customers have enough credit to write checks, buy goods with credit cards or wire money.

With bitcoin, the balances held by every user of the monetary system are instead recorded on a widely distributed, publicly displayed ledger that is kept up-to-date by thousands of independently owned, competing computers known as “miners.”

To understand how it works and why it is more efficient and less expensive than the existing system, let’s take a single example: buying a cup of coffee at your local coffee shop. If you pay with a credit card, the transaction seems simple enough: You swipe your card, you grab your cup, you leave.

In fact, the financial system is just getting started with you and the coffee shop. Before the store actually gets paid and your bank balance falls, more than a half-dozen institutions—such as a billing processor, the card association ( Visa , MasterCard , etc.), your bank, the coffee shop’s bank, a payment processor, the clearinghouse network managed by the regional Federal Reserve Banks—will have shared part of your account information or otherwise intervened in the flow of money.

If all goes well, your bank will confirm your identity and good credit and send payment to the coffee shop’s bank two or three days later. For this privilege, the coffee shop pays a fee of between 2% and 3%.

Now let’s pay in bitcoin, assuming that your favorite coffee shop accepts it (more than 82,000 merchants world-wide already do). If you don’t already have bitcoins, you will need to buy some from one of a host of online exchanges and brokerages, using a simple transfer from your regular bank account. You will then assign the bitcoins to a wallet, which functions like an online account.

Once inside the coffee shop, you will open your wallet’s smartphone app and hold its QR code reader up to the coffee shop’s device. This allows your embedded secret password to unlock a bitcoin address and publicly informs the bitcoin computer network that you are transferring $1.75 worth of bitcoin (currently about 0.0076 bitcoin) to the coffee shop’s address. This takes just seconds, and then you walk off with your coffee.

What happens next is crucial. In contrast to the existing system, your transaction is immediately broadcast to the world (in alphanumeric data that can’t be traced to you personally). Your information is then gathered up by bitcoin “miners,” the computers that maintain the system and are compensated, roughly every 10 minutes, for their work confirming transactions.

The computer that competes successfully to package the data from your coffee purchase adds that information to the blockchain ledger, which prompts all the other miners to investigate the underlying transaction. Once your bona fides are verified, the updated blockchain is considered legitimate, and the miners update their records accordingly.

It takes from 10 minutes to an hour for this software-driven network of computers to formally confirm a transfer from your blockchain address to that of the coffee shop—compared with a two- to three-day wait for the settlement of a credit-card transaction. Some new digital currencies are able to finalize transactions within seconds.

There are almost zero fees, and the personal information of users isn’t divulged. This bitcoin feature especially appeals to privacy advocates: Nobody learns where you buy coffee, the name of your doctor or—if you’re into that sort of thing—where you buy your illegal drugs.

Because the fees in the current credit-card system are paid by merchants and because banks indemnify cardholders against theft of their personal data, such savings and privacy benefits often don't impress American consumers. But even if we don’t bear those costs directly, we pay them through hidden fees and pricier cups of coffee.

The advantages of digital currency are far more visible in emerging markets. It allows migrant workers, for example, to bypass fees that often run to 10% or more for the international payment services that they use to send money home to their families.

Bitcoin’s unidentified creator—a person or persons operating under the pseudonym of Satoshi Nakamoto —has provided a novel solution to a problem that has dogged societies for centuries: the distrust among strangers in commercial transactions with one another. In any exchange, how could someone feel secure unless there is a face-to-face handover of physical currency or some other valuable good?

When banks were invented in Florence in the late 1400s, a centralized solution emerged: People didn’t have to worry about trusting strangers anymore; they could just trust their banks to absorb the credit risk. Using internal ledgers to keep track of everyone’s balances, banks became the middlemen through which exchanges could now occur.

Banking unleashed the Renaissance, the Industrial Revolution and the modern age. But a new problem arose: As the world’s monetary intermediaries, banks became powerful—perhaps overly powerful—repositories of information and influence. The financial system was and remains vulnerable to bank failures, as we were painfully reminded during the financial crisis of September 2008.

One month after that meltdown, Satoshi Nakamoto released the initial document describing bitcoin. For the first time, people had a decentralized solution to the financial-trust problem. Here was a new form of currency that could be transferred online without involving fee-imposing, third-party institutions.

But many still ask: How can a bitcoin have value if it isn’t “backed” by gold or a government? If you can’t hold a currency in your hands, if it doesn’t bear some central authority’s insignia, how can it be worth anything?

Here we have to remind ourselves of some economic fundamentals: Money’s essence doesn’t reside in tangible currencies, which have no intrinsic value—beyond, say, a dollar bill’s modest usefulness as a bookmark. Much the same can be said of bitcoins, which are made up of bits and bytes.

In the broadest sense, money is, instead, an all-encompassing, society-wide system for keeping up with who owns or owes what. Physical currencies are simply symbols or tokens in that system, representing a shared standard of value for tracking wealth holdings. What Nakamoto’s blockchain invention offers is an online, decentralized and fully public mechanism for recording those shifting balances. It deals directly with the essence of money.

As promising as that idea may seem, there hasn’t been much public buy-in, largely because of the concerns about volatility, insecurity and criminality that have continued to dog bitcoin. Although many companies now accept bitcoin (the latest and biggest being Microsoft Corp. ), global usage of the digital currency averaged just $50 million a day in 2014. Over that same period, Visa and MasterCard processed some $32 billion a day.

Still, a “Who’s Who” of Internet pioneers is betting on a bright future for bitcoin. Ignoring its careening exchange rate, such investors as Netscape founder Marc Andreessen and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman put $315 million into bitcoin-related projects last year—triple the venture-capital investment of 2013, according to the digital-currency news site Coindesk. And 2015 has kicked off with an announcement by the digital wallet provider Coinbase of a $75 million injection of new funds by investors including the New York Stock Exchange and the venture arm of the Spanish banking giant Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA .

What most excites these investors is bitcoin’s promise as a platform whose future applications are almost unimaginably broad. They see a precedent in the core Internet protocols adopted in the 1980s, when no one foresaw such things as Facebook , Twitter or Netflix . Already, hundreds of specialized apps are being built on top of the digital-currency blockchain software, which is seen in this context as a kind of base operating system.

Some developers are building digital-currency tools for the world’s 2.5 billion “unbanked” people, in a bid to bring them into the global financial system. Others are packing additional information into the core programs to create applications well beyond currency transfers: software-managed “smart contracts” that need no lawyers, automated databases of digital assets and copyright claims, peer-to-peer property transfers and electronic voting systems that can’t be rigged.

A key idea here is that data in a blockchain ledger is made irrefutable by the computing consensus that goes into it. A blockchain is distributed across many independent computers rather than residing on a central server. So, unlike bank- or merchant-based data, such information is, in theory, invulnerable to attack or corruption. It is considered impossible for an outsider to hack thousands of computers simultaneously and there are no insiders to manipulate the central server’s software. This, in theory, makes blockchain data reliable and incontrovertible.

As innovation in digital currency accelerates, it will matter less whether Mom and Pop own bitcoin or even know what it is. Big multinationals and financial institutions could incorporate its decentralized technology into their payment and database systems while we obliviously keep using our dollars or euros.

If bitcoin thus becomes an ubiquitous if largely invisible part of the world economy, many believe that its price will rise. A small but growing number of hedge funds and family investment offices are betting on just that, taking stakes in bitcoin-investment vehicles.

But the growth of digital-currency technology has even more profound implications. It could reduce financial costs overall and leave more money in people’s pockets. At the same time, it could spell job losses—potentially rendering obsolete millions of positions in traditional intermediary services.

These aren’t idle concerns. Wall Street bankers and Federal Reserve staffers are discussing ways that this technology could make the financial system more efficient. Regulators in New York’s Department of Financial Services and elsewhere are designing rules to reduce the risks from digital currencies even as they encourage innovation. The governments of the U.K. and Mexico are exploring the use of blockchain technology to enhance financial networks and strengthen economic governance.

Despite the scandals and price swings in bitcoin’s brief history, the financial establishment is taking notice. One key reason, as former U.S. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers told us, is that the “substantial inefficiencies” of an outdated financial system make it “ripe for disruption.” That alone means it would be “a serious mistake to write off [digital currencies] as either ill-conceived or illegitimate,” Dr. Summers said.

In the end, the rise of digital currency may be a matter of evolutionary destiny. The Internet has disrupted and decentralized much of the world economy, but the centralized world of finance remains stuck in the 15th century. Digital currency can help it adapt and survive.

Adapted from “The Age of Cryptocurrency: How Bitcoin and Digital Money Are Challenging the Global Economic Order,” to be published Tuesday by St. Martin’s Press.
42  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Ed Rothstein: Lincoln on: January 25, 2015, 07:15:08 AM
Lincoln’s Lexicon
‘Lincoln Speaks: Words That Transformed a Nation’ at the the Morgan Library and Museum traces the president’s development of a personal, public language.
By Edward Rothstein
Jan. 21, 2015 6:21 p.m. ET
WSJ New York

Lincoln Speaks: Words That Transformed a Nation
The Morgan Library and Museum
From Jan. 23 through June 7

On a ragged fragment of faded juvenilia from 1826 or so—a scrap page marked with scrawled sums, ink blots and handwriting exercises—you can make out a familiar name. Nearly four decades later, it reappears as a signature at the bottom of an 1864 printing of the Emancipation Proclamation. And both can be seen, to different effect, at a fascinating exhibition opening Friday at the Morgan Library and Museum.

The earlier example is in a rhyming doodle proclaiming a teenager’s aspiration: “Abraham Lincoln / his hand and pen / he will be good but / god knows when.” The latter is, perhaps, the doggerel’s fulfillment. And as we make our way through this exhibition, we see it happen; we see when Abraham Lincoln becomes good, even great; in some ways, too, we see how.

The exhibition’s title is “Lincoln Speaks: Words That Transformed a Nation.” And so they did. The curators—Declan Kiely of the Morgan and Sandra M. Trenholm of the Gilder Lehrman Collection—offer pointed, pungent examples in Lincoln’s hand, including fragments of robust early speeches, notes with clipped military commands and letters with diplomatic cajoling, punctuated by images of Lincoln and Civil War carnage. The documents are gathered from the Morgan, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, the Shapell Manuscript Foundation, the Library of Congress and elsewhere, many shown publicly for the first time, in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War’s end and of Lincoln’s death.

Hovering above them all are Lincoln’s most extraordinary expressions of public mission in the Gettysburg Address and the second inaugural; they get less attention here than they might, but the trajectory is the focus, not the view from the peaks.

Along the way we encounter subtle examples too, including a compassionate letter in which, as president, Lincoln consoles a young woman who just lost her father—his friend—in the Civil War: “In this sad world of ours, sorrow comes to all; and to the young, it comes with bitterest agony, because it takes them unawares. The older have learned to ever expect it.” Lincoln adds that time will offer relief: “I have had experience enough to know what I say.” He had recently lost his 11-year-old son, Willie.

Examples of aftershocks and influence are here too, including a letter John Stuart Mill wrote just after the assassination, expressing “profound veneration” for Lincoln: “He taught the United States & the world that a love of truth & a high morality are the main qualities of real statesmanship.” An 18-minute film features contemporary reflections by President Clinton, the playwright Tony Kushner and other commentators.

Today, at a time when political rhetoric tends toward pedestrian formula or polemical posturing, it is bracing to see Lincoln develop a personal language that shaped a war’s rationale, that helped explain while it helped inspire. There is no comparable example I can think of until Winston Churchill rallied Britain in 1940 and 1941, when that “great island nation” stood nearly isolated against Nazi attacks. Without their resolute declarations, the past 150 years would look very different.

We are reminded from the very start that Lincoln, self-taught and with few resources, took words seriously. He memorized the worn copy we see of Samuel Kirkham’s English Grammar in Familiar Lectures (1828). The imperious phrasings of the King James Bible left their mark. And Lincoln could recite long passages of Shakespeare from memory. A volume of his “Macbeth” is displayed, as is his copy of another touchstone: Alexander Pope’s “Essay on Man.” Lincoln cherished Edgar Allan Poe and found fellow feeling with that writer’s melancholia; here is one of young Lincoln’s verses: “I range the fields with pensive tread / And pace the hollow rooms / And feel (companion of the dead) / I’m living in the tombs.”

Lincoln was justly modest about his poetic efforts. But rhythm, repetition, wit and somber expectations are recurring strands in his reading and speaking. The exhibition notes: He “chose words with a lawyer’s precision and poet’s sense of rhythm.” His speech also had, Harriet Beecher Stowe said, “the relish and smack of the soil.” And a colleague recalled that when roused, Lincoln “would come out with an earnestness of conviction, a power of argument, a wealth of illustration, that I have never seen surpassed.”

We see examples in Lincoln’s speeches prepared for the 1858 debates with Stephen Douglas, written in a clear large hand for easy consultation while speaking. Arguing over slavery, Lincoln, an admirer of Aesop’s fables, invokes the ant who will “defend the fruit of his labor” against any assault. How much more, by having all fruits taken away, must the slave “constantly know that he is wronged.” And despite many attempts to justify slavery as “a very good thing,” Lincoln writes, “we never hear of the man who wishes to take the good of it, by being a slave himself.”

There is the “smack of the soil” in this argument: a hard practicality. Lincoln, though cherishing ideals, was no idealist; he was a pragmatist and, in that respect, a politician. Bronze casts of his hands were made by Leonard Wells Volk in 1860, just after Lincoln was nominated as presidential candidate for the Republican Party. We see the lineaments and veins of his left hand, but not within the fuller flesh of the right: It was swollen from his having shaken so many others.

Lincoln’s pragmatism and his focus on the Union left him open to charges that he was not serious about dismantling slavery. Yet the evidence suggests caution, not skepticism. As president, he also issued an order that any time the South kills or enslaves a black Union soldier taken prisoner, a Southern prisoner would get similar treatment.

The exhibition implies consistency over decades, but the issue is more complex. The first inaugural address, delivered in March 1861, after the Confederate States of America had been declared, still repudiated attempts to eliminate slavery where already practiced. Even the Emancipation Proclamation was deliberately limited, freeing slaves only in rebellious states. Lincoln didn’t want to alienate border states, but he also believed this was all he had authority to do. The Proclamation rested on his powers as commander in chief (not president) acting “in time of actual armed rebellion.” It declared itself simply a “fit and necessary war measure.” That is why there is no persuasion in it. The language is dry, unmemorable.

The Gettysburg Address is the opposite. It is compressed, allusive, abstract. It doesn’t specify a particular place or fact or law. It is an explanation of principle. And here Lincoln’s rhetorical powers get full play. At a time when the numbers of war dead were overwhelming, when pressures were mounting for compromise, it detaches the war’s purpose from its bloody battlefields. Lincoln combined his advocacy of the Union with his opposition to slavery: They were aspects of the same issue. At stake was whether any nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the idea of equality could long endure. Lincoln resolutely insisted there was a “great task remaining before us” along with much “unfinished work” before there could be a “new birth of freedom.”

And so he mapped out the century that followed.

Mr. Rothstein is the Journal’s Critic at Large
43  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Valerie Jarret vows vengence on: January 25, 2015, 06:21:32 AM
44  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Seattle's minimum wage claims on: January 25, 2015, 05:49:47 AM
45  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: the titles of the teachers in the fillipino martial arts ("Kali") on: January 24, 2015, 10:41:16 PM

I've no reason to suspect trickery here, but only you are responsible for you, but apparently one can download the Yambao book here!
46  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Holocaust memorial; record keeping on: January 24, 2015, 10:02:53 PM
47  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Politics of Health Care on: January 24, 2015, 10:00:51 PM
Worthy comments.
48  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Sen. Rand Paul supports anti-ISIS air strikes on: January 24, 2015, 01:25:04 PM
49  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / I'm willing to consider this on: January 24, 2015, 01:19:59 PM
Obviously playing with fire on this, but the point is not without merit , , ,


(Pam Gellar) She called on Muslim groups in the U.S. “to renounce the aspects of Islam that contradict constitutional freedoms, or face sedition charges if they try to advance those elements.”****
50  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Euro weenies on: January 24, 2015, 01:17:35 PM
Russian Aggression, Western Talk
Vladimir Putin wages war on Ukraine, while Europe hopes to ease sanctions.
Updated Jan. 23, 2015 6:59 p.m. ET

Barack Obama devoted two short paragraphs in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday to the crisis in Ukraine. “We’re upholding the principle that bigger nations can’t bully the small,” the President said, “by opposing Russian aggression, and supporting Ukraine’s democracy, and reassuring our NATO allies.” Thanks to American and European sanctions, he added, “Russia is isolated with its economy in tatters.”

Vladimir Putin begs to differ. Russian forces on the same day opened fire on Ukrainian positions in the rebel-controlled Luhansk region, not far from the Russian border, according to a Ukrainian military spokesman. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko cut short his trip to Davos to deal with the “worsening situation” on the home front.

Moscow has issued the usual denials about reinforcing the rebels in Luhansk, calling its regulars “volunteers” and sneering at “hallucinations about a ‘Russian invasion,’” as a Russian Defense Ministry spokesman put it. There are now some 9,000 such volunteers fighting alongside pro-Kremlin rebels in eastern Ukraine, according to Mr. Poroshenko, and they are armed with hundreds of tanks, heavy artillery and personnel carriers.

“For months now there has been a push by the separatists for expansion of their territory,” a Western diplomat at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe told us. The rebels have “a lot of ammo,” the official said, “and that’s coming from somewhere. This could not be happening without sophisticated logistical support from the Russian Federation.”

Meanwhile, the Western diplomatic push continues. The German, French, Ukrainian and Russian Foreign Ministers held a new round of talks in Berlin on Wednesday. The aim is a cease-fire along the lines of September’s failed Minsk Protocol, but as Mr. Poroshenko told reporters, “To have a complete de-escalation we don’t need any blah-blah-blah. We need just to withdraw Russian troops.”

It doesn’t help that the West’s commitment to sanctions is flagging. “I think the sanctions must stop now,” French President François Hollande said on Jan. 5. He added: “It has been costly for him. . . . Mr. Putin does not want to annex eastern Ukraine. What he wants is for Ukraine not to fall into the NATO camp.”

Mr. Hollande’s musings on Russia’s intentions were echoed by European Union foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini, whose bureaucracy in a discussion paper circulated to EU foreign ministers suggested bifurcating the Ukraine issue into the annexation of Crimea and Russia’s “destabilization of eastern Ukraine.” If Moscow pulls back from eastern Ukraine, the paper said, sanctions could be rolled back and cooperation resumed.

European foreign ministers later clarified that there are no immediate plans to lift sanctions, but the Mogherini paper revealed the depth of Western misunderstanding of Russia: Just as Mr. Putin feels the pressure of falling oil prices, Mr. Hollande and Ms. Mogherini telegraph a willingness to welcome him back into good Western graces if only he’ll settle for his gains so far. The West should instead be maintaining the pressure, so the Russian people come to understand the costs of Mr. Putin’s revanchism.

The Russian leader doesn’t want to deal with the West like a normal nation. He wants to re-create Kremlin dominance over Russia’s near abroad and use energy exports as a political weapon against Western Europe. If the West permits him, he will consolidate his gains, continue to stir trouble in Ukraine and wait until the right moment to go on the offensive again.
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