Pages:  2 3 ... 565
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Iraq to Karzai-- take the deal!
on: Today at 07:02:25 AM
This piece concerns a point I have been pounding here for years.
This being from Pravda on the Hudson, no mention is made that Obama's offer was of only 3,000 troops i.e. the Iraqis could reasonably infer there was no meaningful intent instead of POTH's description "In 2011, the deal effectively broke down over Iraqi domestic politics."
Nonetheless, the fact of the advice offered Karzai is significant.
A Top Iraqi Official’s Advice to Karzai? Take America’s Deal
By AZAM AHMED
Published: December 17, 2013 2 Comments
KABUL, Afghanistan — With one of the most important chapters of Afghanistan’s history open before him, President Hamid Karzai took time this month for a personal meeting with the longtime foreign minister of Iraq, Hoshyar Zebari.
Mr. Zebari told Mr. Karzai that his government could not even secure Baghdad, the site of a May car bombing, after the American troop withdrawal in 2011.
It had been years since an Iraqi official had been to Afghanistan, and the trip was nominally meant to ease the passage of Afghan Shiites to holy shrines in Iraq. But it came right as Mr. Karzai had chosen to dig in and delay signing a security agreement with the United States, leaving long-term Western military support, and billions of dollars in aid, hanging in the balance.
In a moment of candor, Mr. Zebari offered a piece of advice to the president that would have been unthinkable from an Iraqi official just two years ago: Get over your differences with the Americans and sign the deal.
“Don’t be under the illusion that no matter what you do the Americans are here to stay,” Mr. Zebari told Mr. Karzai. “People used to say that about the American presence in Iraq, too. But they were eager to leave, and they will be eager to leave your country as well.”
When the last American troops departed Iraq in 2011, after the collapse of a similar security agreement, many Iraqis reveled in a moment of national pride, expressing faith in the government’s ability to maintain security. Since then, the country has fallen back into hellish violence, with thousands killed in sectarian attacks this year.
The Iraqi government could not even secure Baghdad anymore, despite billions of dollars in oil revenue and well-trained security forces, Mr. Zebari told the Afghan president, according to Iraqi and Afghan officials at the meeting. So how could the Afghan government, which can barely fund 20 percent of what it spends each year, hope to control the country without American help?
The conversation was a resonant moment between two leaders at different points in their respective journeys — one pondering his country’s post-American future, the other contending with it. With the benefit of hindsight, Mr. Zebari reached out to a president he scarcely knew, seizing on their shared experience at the crossroads of American involvement in the Muslim world.
Some of the parallels for Afghanistan are clear. As impasse has deepened into crisis, some of Mr. Karzai’s closest aides have seized on Iraq as proof that the Americans could just walk away, leaving the country’s security forces without military support and training in the middle of a war against the Taliban. Billions in badly needed international aid would also probably dry up, collapsing the economy. Worries about a return to civil war in Afghanistan would leap to center stage.
But Mr. Karzai had heard it all before.
American officials, in fact, have long used the withdrawal from Iraq as a cautionary example when talking with reporters and Afghan officials about the struggle to reach an Afghan security deal. And in the days after Mr. Karzai said he would put off signing the agreement, several senior American officials warned him that they would be forced to begin considering the “zero option” — a total and final troop withdrawal in 2014 — if he did not reverse course.
And that was the way Mr. Karzai appeared to take Mr. Zebari’s words, to the chagrin of Afghan officials who had hoped their president might take heed of Iraq’s troubles.
“You see?” he told the small group of Afghan officials after the meeting ended. “The Americans want this deal so badly they are even getting the Iraqis to pressure me.”
In a telephone interview, Mr. Zebari insisted his advice had merely been an expression of good will, not water-carrying for the Americans.
“Two years after the troop withdrawal, because of the rise of violence, we went back to Washington and asked them for continued support and military help,” he said, referring to a Nov. 1 trip by the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, after a huge surge in attacks by Al Qaeda in Iraq and other Sunni militants. “One should really draw from that conclusion.”
In 2011, the deal effectively broke down over Iraqi domestic politics. But within Mr. Karzai’s response to Mr. Zebari’s plea lies one of the core reasons it might yet happen that the United States leaves Afghanistan outright, too, despite urgency within parts of the Obama administration not to see a decade of lost lives and treasure blown away.
(Page 2 of 2)
Facing a world of potential consequences, Mr. Karzai again seemingly reduced the moment to himself. And whether out of paranoia or justifiable suspicion, his reaction has increasingly been to express profound distrust for his American allies.
“Even if they are not bluffing, we will not give in to the pressure to sign if our requirements are not fulfilled,” he told the French newspaper, Le Monde last week. “What I am hearing these days, and what I have already heard, is typical of colonial exploitation.”
Trying to understand Mr. Karzai’s intentions has become something of a parlor game in Kabul and Washington over the last few weeks. Has the bitterness over a failed 12-year war against the Taliban, and fear that the Americans will betray him, made him feel he must finally take a stand? Is he, as he says, using brinkmanship to ensure the best possible deal for Afghans, as he has with greater frequency in recent years?
“It might be a political game he’s playing, it might be for the sake of the nation or for his personal interests,” said Mohammad Homayoon Shinwari, an adviser to the president. “Politics is always what happens behind the curtain.”
In any case, the specter of Iraq has not just been used as a threat. It has loomed over every step of the debate on a long-term troop presence, both inside the White House and the Afghan presidential palace.
For the Americans who want to see troops stay on, the Iraqi example has served as a fallback position. “You can point to what’s been happening in Iraq, and you can say, ‘We can’t allow that to happen in Afghanistan,’ ” one senior administration official said.
Those in favor of a total withdrawal have a sense of having avoided a debacle in Iraq — that leaving incurred almost no political cost at home and most likely saved American lives. The same would be true in Afghanistan, another American official said.
Still, even those relieved at having avoided catastrophe in Iraq are reluctant to see Afghanistan descend into bloodshed.
The outcome of a grand assembly of Afghan leaders last month, the loya jirga, was an expression of urgency to seal a security deal, just one indicator that at least some of the Afghan public wants continuing American support. And American officials do not want to “punish the Afghan people” because of Mr. Karzai’s intransigence, the senior administration official said.
The officials asked not to be identified because they were describing internal discussions and delicate negotiations.
Within the Afghan government, Mr. Karzai’s stance has started to create a sense that he is on the fringe.
Even his most senior cabinet officials, including the ministers of defense and the interior, had no idea he planned to insist on delaying the deal and push for better terms until the words had left his mouth, during a speech before the loya jirga on Nov. 21 that left the audience, and other officials, shocked, according to a range of Afghan officials.
Some officials even suspect Mr. Karzai had not planned to, either: They say the words had not appeared in any drafts of the speech.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / WSJ: Prelude to Murder
on: Today at 06:58:15 AM
A Prelude to Murder: Calling Humans Vermin
After a monk called them 'mad dogs,' a Buddhist mob killed 20 Muslims in Burma.
By Susan Benesch and Michael Abramowitz
Updated Dec. 18, 2013 1:52 a.m. ET
Before the Nazis murdered six million Jews, they called them rats and vermin. Before the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, Hutu leaders declared that all Tutsi men, women and children were inyenzi, cockroaches. Today, similarly dehumanizing language is surging in countries like Burma, Greece, Nigeria and Iran—and history teaches that it can inspire mass violence if left unchecked.
Such inflammatory speech is launched from a variety of platforms: newspapers, broadcasts, pulpits, the Web, and even text messages. It's the content that's strikingly similar. In dozens of languages, human beings are described as less than human. The inciters say these pests must be eliminated as a matter of self-preservation.
In Burma, a Buddhist monk who leads the nationalist 969 Movement has compared the country's Muslim minority to "mad dogs" and African carp that "breed quickly" and are "very violent." Last March, Buddhists rampaged through a Muslim community in the city of Meiktila, torching houses and killing more than 20 people including children. The monk, Wirathu, called the violence "a show of strength."
Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
In Greece, the fascist group Golden Dawn has risen in the past few years from a fringe group to a political party with 18 seats in parliament. It ran on a platform promising to "rid Greece of the stench" of immigrants. Ilias Panagiotaris, a Golden Dawn parliamentarian, vowed at a rally before the June 2012 election that the group would "carry out raids on hospitals and kindergartens and it will throw immigrants and their children out on the street so that Greeks can take their place." Golden Dawn members have indeed carried out beatings and stabbings. Since the 2012 election, 71 violent attacks have been attributed to Golden Dawn according to the country's ombudsman—including the fatal stabbing in September of the antiracist rapper Pavlos Fissas.
In Nigeria, ongoing violence between Christians and Muslims has been fueled by inflammatory messages from both communities. In 2010, in the city of Jos, text messages warned Christians not to buy food from Muslims "because it was poisoned." Hundreds of people were killed in subsequent riots. Since 1999, more than 14,000 people have been killed in such interreligious violence, according to the U.S Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Then there is Iran, a country where dehumanizing speech is coming directly from the government itself. In a speech Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivered to the Basij paramilitary organization on Nov. 20, he returned to tropes that have long been a staple of Iran's leading religious and political figures. Mr. Khamenei referred to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a "rabid dog" and attacked European leaders for supporting Israel. They are "cringing before this creature," he said, "which is not worthy of the name of a human being, before these leaders of the Zionist regime, who look like beasts and who cannot be called human."
Such cases challenge leaders around the world who should be aware by now that speech can catalyze not just violence, but genocide.
Some countries respond with either censorship or punishment. Greece, for example, is attempting the latter with a proposed law against hate speech. But this won't solve the problem. Prosecuting extremist speakers can simply amplify their messages, and it's nearly impossible to suppress speech now that it spreads so quickly online.
A better method is for influential leaders to rebuke inflammatory speakers unequivocally and publicly. Yet neither foreign nor local leaders have forcefully condemned this incendiary rhetoric in a single one of these cases. Leaders in Burma, for instance, have been silent about torrents of anti-Muslim speech, even after they have been followed by killings.
Emphatic "counter-speech" may work. In Kenya, after months of inflammatory speech by politicians and community leaders pitting members of the Kikuyu, Luo and Kalenjin tribes against one another, and a disputed election in late 2007, violence broke out and more than 1,000 people were killed. When the country held its next presidential election on March 4, 2013, Kenyan leaders—political, religious, cultural and even athletes—spoke out against violence and violent speech. Despite another tense, close race and disputed results, there was no eruption of violence.
Directly confronting purveyors of hate and dehumanization offers the best hope of stopping the language that can escalate into physical violence. The responsibility to do so is one that leaders of all stripes, not just government officials, must not shirk.
— Ms. Benesch founded the Dangerous Speech Project, and serves as the Edith Everett Genocide Prevention Fellow at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Mr. Abramowitz directs the Museum's Center for the Prevention of Genocide.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Bullet Train Derailment
on: Today at 06:55:40 AM
California's Bullet Train Derailment
A judge says the rail authority is breaking the law. Who cares!
Dec. 17, 2013 7:16 p.m. ET
If you're in a hole, keep digging and someone will eventually come to the rescue. That seems to be the operating principle of California's high-speed rail authority, which hopes to bulldoze a growing list of legal and financial obstacles to break ground on its $70 billion bullet train early next year.
Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny ruled last month that the rail authority had failed to satisfy several procedural requirements of the 2008 ballot measure that authorized $10 billion in state bonds to build the 500-mile train from Anaheim to San Francisco. He also prohibited the state from spending state bond money until the authority complies.
Rail authority chairman Dan Richard dismissed these failures as mere carelessness. The authority must only go "back and put more information on the record," he says. "Nothing in those rulings changes our ability to move forward."
But the lapses are serious and deliberate. The authority didn't obtain required environmental clearances for 270 miles of track. And it didn't produce a financial plan identifying its funding sources for the first 300-mile segment from Merced to the San Fernando Valley, which is projected to cost $31 billion.
Private investors won't put up a dime, and the feds have provided a mere $3.25 billion in grants, which require a dollar-for-dollar state match. California has so far tapped about $600 million in stimulus funds for pre-construction work and this spring will have to put up $823 million to get more federal cash. It's not clear where the authority plans to get this money since state bonds are off limits due to the judge's ruling.
Only two options exist. The Obama Administration could eliminate its state-match requirement. Or the legislature could appropriate revenues from the state general fund. Both are politically perilous for Democrats.
Public opinion has swung sharply against the bullet train since 2008. Polls show that voters by two-to-one would derail the choo-choo in a referendum. High-speed rail helped cost Democrats a special election for a state Senate seat this summer and a Congressional race last November, both in the Central Valley.
While Mr. Richard claims the rail authority has "a very tight relationship with the feds," the state's legal disregard may be wearing thin in Washington. Earlier this month, the federal Surface Transportation Board rejected the authority's request to start construction on the first segment before environmental reviews are complete.
Despite these setbacks, which make completion of the first 300-mile segment a virtual impossibility, the White House is not blocking the authority from using federal stimulus funds to seize property and prepare ground for construction. On Friday, the State Public Works Board approved the authority's first request to take a commercial property under eminent domain.
The rail authority hopes that once enough businesses and homes are destroyed, politicians in Sacramento and Washington will feel obligated to ride to the train's financial rescue. Maybe that's the Obama Administration's plan too.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Madison, 1790; Patrick Henry
on: Today at 06:38:20 AM
"There is not a more important and fundamental principle in legislation, than that the ways and means ought always to face the public engagements; that our appropriations should ever go hand in hand with our promises." --James Madison, Speech in Congress, 1790
"The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave." --Patrick Henry
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Bitcoin and the YUan
on: Today at 06:31:36 AM
Don't let this second post cause us to miss the first one
China Bitcoin Exchange Ends Third-Party Yuan Cooperation
Virtual-Currency Exchange Can No Longer Accept Deposits in Yuan After PBOC Steps In
By Chao Deng
Updated Dec. 18, 2013 4:50 a.m. ET
SHANGHAI—Prices of virtual currency bitcoin fell 20% Wednesday and are now down more than 50% from their record high hit two weeks ago amid worries that China is moving to block the purchase and use of the currency by its citizens.
China has emerged as a big driver of the bitcoin market in recent months as enthusiasm for the currency helped send prices soaring more than tenfold in the fall. In recent weeks, prices have tumbled after China's central bank issued a warning about the risks of bitcoin and said financial institutions shouldn't do business with bitcoin-related companies.
On Wednesday, the world's largest bitcoin exchange stopped allowing customers to use yuan to buy bitcoin. Shanghai-based BTC China "has no choice but to stop accepting yuan deposits," the exchange said in a post on Weibo, China's Twitter-like microblogging website.
"Bitcoin deposits, bitcoin withdrawals and yuan withdrawals will not be affected," it added. The exchange said it "will try to provide another method for deposits" but didn't elaborate. The move means a big source of new cash driving up prices of bitcoin has been eliminated. Exchanges are an important component of bitcoin's ecosystem. Coins can be bought and exchanged privately but most retail investors use the exchanges.
"My understanding" is that the People's Bank of China told third-party payment companies on Monday they can't work any longer with exchanges, BTC China CEO Bobby Lee said on Wednesday. These payment companies are often used for e-commerce in China and are the easiest way for individuals to transfer money from their bank accounts for web purchases.
While the central bank hasn't released an official statement, a person familiar with the matter said that a meeting between the bank and several third-party payment providers took place on Monday. The person said officials suggested that third-party payment providers cease their bitcoin involvement by the end of January though no official date was set.
The person added that the central bank sees its latest stance toward third-party payment providers as a reiteration of an earlier statement that neither financial institutions nor payment institutions partake in bitcoin-related businesses. The growing popularity of bitcoin is a threat to China's strict capital controls because it allows citizens to trade yuan for bitcoin and then sell the bitcoin overseas for foreign currency.
BTC China learned about the PBOC's latest stance from third-party payment platforms only and not the PBOC, added Mr. Lee. On Sunday, TenPay, the third-party payment unit of Chinese Internet giant Tencent Holdings Ltd. TCEHY -2.39% , stopped working with BTC. The exchange switched to Yeepay, another provider, but hasn't stopped working with Yeepay as well, Mr. Lee said.
Beijing-based bitcoin exchange OKCoin issued a similar statement on its website that it would no longer work with third-party payment service providers. Users of the site will be able to withdraw their funds within 24 hours, it added. OKCoin didn't respond to emailed requests to comment.
Worries China wants to clamp down on the bitcoin industry stemmed from local media reports earlier in the week on the central bank's warning to third-party payment processors. International bitcoin prices are down more than 30% since Monday, according to industry tracker CoinDesk, which incorporates prices from several large bitcoin exchanges around the world. On Wednesday, bitcoin prices fell another 20% to $550.02, down more than 50% from its high of $1,147.25 two weeks ago.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Low inflation befuddles bureaucrats
on: Today at 06:29:09 AM
From the front page of today's WSJ, some serious questions are presented:
a) We here have vociferously predicted inflation. Why have we been so wrong?
b) What the hell is wrong with deflation?
c) How did this piece wind up on the front page of the WSJ?
Low Inflation Tests World's Central Banks
Subdued Prices Persist Despite Years of Easy Money; Deflation Still a Threat
By Sudeep Reddy in Washington,
Brian Blackstone in Frankfurt and
Jason Douglas in London
Updated Dec. 17, 2013 7:28 p.m. ET
Inflation is slowing across the developed world despite ultralow interest rates and unprecedented money-printing campaigns, posing a dilemma for the Federal Reserve and other major central banks as they plot their next policy moves.
U.S. consumer prices rose just 1.2% in November from a year earlier, according to Labor Department data released Tuesday. The subdued price data came as the Fed opened a two-day policy meeting at which the fate of its $85 billion-a-month bond-buying program—an effort to hold down long-term interest rates and drive up the value of homes, stocks and other assets—is a central focus.
Meanwhile, annual inflation in the euro zone was 0.9% in November, the European Union's statistics office said Tuesday. And central banks in Sweden and Hungary cut interest rates, the latest efforts elsewhere in Europe to boost struggling economies as inflation remains low.
The downward pressure on prices presents a conundrum for policy makers across advanced economies: Should they respond with even easier monetary policy or dismiss it as a temporary development?
Central bankers worry about inflation falling too low because it raises the risk of deflation, or generally falling prices, a phenomenon that is difficult to combat through monetary policy. Some economists believe weak or falling prices can lead consumers to delay major purchases, exacerbating an economic slowdown. Even without deflation, very low inflation can be a sign of weak demand that weighs on wages, corporate profits and growth.
"We're in a world where there's still a tremendous amount of economic slack," said Joseph Lupton, a global economist at J.P. Morgan Chase. "A return to growth is not a return to health. There's a long way to go here, which is why central banks in places like the U.S., U.K. and Japan are trying to get inflation up."
Inflation in both advanced and emerging economies picked up in the early stages of the economic recovery, eventually straddling central banks' inflation targets closely enough that many policy makers were charting an exit from their extraordinary monetary policies. But persistently weak demand in recent years has pushed inflation back into uncomfortably subdued territory.
While policy makers have fretted about low inflation for years, their actions to combat it have yielded generally disappointing results. In the U.S., the Fed is wrapping up a fifth year of near-zero interest rates while also carrying out trillions of dollars of bond purchases in an effort to spark stronger hiring and investment. Employers are starting to add jobs at a steady pace, though overall economic growth remains modest.
But U.S. inflation has been below the Fed's 2% target for much of the past two years. The central bank's preferred gauge, the price index for personal consumption expenditures, increased just 0.7% in October from a year prior, according to a Commerce Department data released earlier this month.
Fed officials have forecast consistently that inflation would pick up, but that hasn't happened. Whether the Fed announces a pullback in its bond-buying program Wednesday or in coming months, it is expected to acknowledge its concerns about low inflation. That could reinforce expectations that the central bank will keep short-term interest rates near zero for years to come—as investors now widely expect.
The situation in Europe is perhaps more fraught. European Central Bank President Mario Draghi has said the euro currency bloc may see a "prolonged" period of low inflation. ECB forecasts support that view, with inflation averaging just 1.3% in 2015, well below its target of just under 2%.
Mr. Draghi says Europe doesn't face a slide into deflation like the one that plagued the Japanese economy for much of the past two decades. The ECB loosened its monetary policy more decisively than Japan did in the 1990s, he said earlier this month, and it is acting more swiftly to resolve problems with its banks. The ECB last month cut a key interest rate to 0.25% as it highlighted concerns about low inflation.
But the latest consumer-price figures mask deep divisions across the 17-member currency bloc. In healthy economies such as Germany and Austria where unemployment is low, inflation is around 1.5%. But in stressed countries along the bloc's southern periphery, consumer prices are stagnant or falling. Annual inflation was 0.7% in Italy last month and just 0.3% in Spain. The disparity makes combating low inflation broadly across the currency union difficult.
Deflationary forces deepened in recession-ravaged Greece, according to the Eurostat figures, with consumer prices down 2.9% in November from the previous year. Despite a banner year for Greek tourism, which saw visitor arrivals jump double digits to more than 17 million this year, the country's two main carriers, Aegean Air and Olympic Air, are struggling. Both carriers have offered steep discounts to fill vacant seats and their situation is so dire that, in October, the European Commission allowed the two airlines to merge—reversing its earlier ban—so as to save one or both from bankruptcy.
High inflation had been a major headache for the Bank of England in recent years, setting the U.K. apart from many other advanced economies. But inflation weakened in November to its slowest pace in four years, with prices rising just 2.1% during the month from a year earlier. That was just a hair above the Bank of England's 2% target.
Further evidence of subdued inflation was evident in U.K. wholesale prices Tuesday. Prices charged by companies at the factory gate rose 0.8% on the year in November, while raw-material costs fell by 1%.
Inflation's retreat is likely to reinforce the BOE officials' commitment to keep their benchmark interest rate at a historic low of 0.5% to underpin an accelerating U.K. economic recovery. The inflation slowdown puts the BOE "in a more comfortable position as it suggests that as growth picks up it is less likely to be concerned that inflation pressures will build up in the economy," said Blerina Uruci, an economist at Barclays.
Some developing economies, meanwhile, saw inflation accelerate enough that they were worrying about soaring prices. That changed over the past two years as demand slowed.
The slowdown in global prices has helped Brazil fight domestic inflation that peaked in June at a 6.7% annual rate and has since fallen to 5.8%, still above the central bank's 4.5% target. The country's central bank has increased interest rates by 2.5 percentage points, to 10%.
In China, the world's second-largest economy, inflation as measured by consumer prices has fallen to below 3.5% this year from 8% five years ago. Some economists say years of state-directed overinvestment in factories and a buildup of excess capacity could push prices even lower.
While China's low-cost manufacturing helped keep prices of consumer goods down in Western nations in recent years, the huge source of supply today risks exacerbating deflation worries in industrialized countries, some economists say. Excess capacity in key industries such as steel, glass and construction equipment has dragged prices down in some sectors.
China's growth slowdown also has reduced its demand for imports of items such as iron ore, copper and coal, pushing down prices in a range of global commodity markets.
"For a lot of industrial commodities—especially metals—Chinese demand is the factor that causes prices to rise or fall," said Mark Williams, an economist at Capital Economics, a London-based research firm.
Pep Boys, a Philadelphia-based supplier of tires and auto parts, blamed its disappointing financial results last week partly on weaker sales of lower-priced tires. That was "a result of competitive pressures from Asian imported tires," Pep Boys CEO Michael Odell said. He warned that the "pricing pressure could persist."
—David Roman in Madrid and Richard Silk in Beijing, Paulo Trevisani in Brasilia and Alkman Granitsas in Athens contributed to this article.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Nwe Mortgages to get more expensive in 2014
on: Today at 06:12:46 AM
Consumers can expect to pay more to get a mortgage next year, the result of changes meant to reduce the role that Fannie Mae FNMA -1.45% and Freddie Mac FMCC +0.78% play in the market.
The mortgage giants said late Monday that, at the direction of their regulator, they will charge higher fees on loans to borrowers who don't make large down payments or don't have high credit scores—a group that represents a large share of home buyers. Such fees are typically passed along to borrowers, resulting in higher mortgage rates.
Fannie and Freddie, which currently back about two-thirds of new mortgages, don't directly make mortgages but instead buy them from lenders. The changes are aimed at leveling the playing field between the government-owned companies and private providers of capital, who are mostly out of the mortgage market now. Fannie and Freddie were bailed out by the government during the financial crisis but are now highly profitable.
The Federal Housing Finance Agency last week signaled the fee increases but didn't provide details. The agency's move came one day before the Senate voted to confirm Rep. Mel Watt (D., N.C.) as its director. It isn't clear whether Mr. Watt, who hasn't yet been sworn in, weighed in on the changes. An FHFA spokeswoman declined to comment on any discussions with Mr. Watt, who also declined to comment.
Mr. Watt will face heavy pressure by consumer groups and the real-estate industry to reverse course, industry officials said Tuesday. "There will be significant opposition very quickly once people understand what is actually being implemented," said Martin Eakes, chief executive of the Center for Responsible Lending in Durham, N.C., a consumer-advocacy nonprofit.
The changes take effect in March but will be phased in by lenders earlier. The fee increases come as the Federal Reserve contemplates an end to its bond-buying program, which has kept mortgages rates low, and as new mortgage-lending regulations take effect next month.
J.P. Morgan Sues FDIC Over WaMu
"The timing of it is impeccably bad," said Lewis Ranieri, co-inventor of the mortgage-backed security. "The question becomes: how much can housing take?"
In updates posted to their websites on Monday, Fannie and Freddie showed that fees will rise sharply for many borrowers who don't have down payments of at least 20% and who have credit scores of 680 to 760. (Under a system devised by Fair Isaac Corp. FICO -1.75% , credit scores range from 300 to a top of 850.)
A borrower seeking a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage with a credit score of 735 and making a 10% down payment, for instance, would pay fees totaling 2% of the loan amount, up from 0.75% now. The 2% upfront fee could raise the mortgage rate by around 0.4 percentage points.
Borrowers with larger down payments could also be affected. Fees for a loan with a 690 credit score and a 25% down payment would rise to 2.25% from 1.5%.
Executives at Fannie and Freddie said last month that the fees they have been charging are enough to cover expected losses, but that those fees might need to rise in order to allow private investors, which target a higher rate of return, to compete. An FHFA official Tuesday said that even with the latest changes, Fannie's and Freddie's fees would be considered low relative to private firms'.
Mr. Ranieri, who runs a mortgage-investment firm, predicted that the move would backfire and hit the economy. Because the private sector isn't strong enough to lend more, "all this will do is tighten credit. You're just making housing less affordable," he said.
Industry executives also said the magnitude of the increases was a surprise. "It's like Beyoncé's album: It all of a sudden hit the market," said David Stevens, chief executive of the Mortgage Bankers Association.
In recent months, some large banks have been offering "jumbo" mortgages, which are too large for government backing, at rates below the conforming mortgages that are eligible for purchase by Fannie and Freddie for borrowers with the best credit. The higher fees could make conforming mortgages even more expensive than jumbos.
The changes follow other announcements in recent weeks that could raise loan costs for some borrowers. The Federal Housing Administration, a government agency that guarantees loans with down payments as small as 3.5%, said earlier this month that it would drop the maximum loan limit in around 650 counties. In San Bernardino, Calif., for example, the loan limit will fall to $335,350 next month from the current level of $500,000.
Separately, the FHFA said Monday it would study reducing the loan amounts that Fannie and Freddie guarantee by around 4%, bringing the national limit to $400,000 from its current level of $417,000. Those changes won't take effect before October 2014, the agency said.
Housing Starts Increased 22.7% in November to 1.091 Million Units at an Annual Rate To view this article, Click Here
Brian S. Wesbury - Chief Economist
Bob Stein, CFA - Deputy Chief Economist
Housing starts increased 22.7% in November to 1.091 million units at an annual rate, coming in well above the consensus expected 955,000 pace. Starts are up 29.6% versus a year ago.
The rise in starts in November was due to gains in both single-family and multi-family units, which were up 20.8% and 26.8% respectively. Single-family starts are up 26.2% from a year ago while multi-family starts are up 36.8%.
Starts in November increased in the Midwest, South, and West, but declined in the Northeast.
New building permits declined 3.1% in November to a 1.007 million annual rate, but came in above the consensus expected 990,000 pace. Compared to a year ago, permits for single-unit homes are up 10.5% while permits for multi-family units are up 3.9%.
Implications: Home building boomed in November, coming in at the highest level in more than five years. Despite recent volatility, the housing recovery is still strong. As the chart to the right shows, housing is clearly improving: single-family starts are up 26.2% from year-ago levels, while multi-family starts are up 36.8%. Those who are looking for signs of a slowdown will jump on the previous few months’ volatility and the weather-induced pattern. But we believe this is a mistake. Overall, the underlying trends for home building continue to rise and should remain in that mode for at least the next couple of years. The total number of homes under construction (started, but not yet finished) is up 28.3% from a year ago. Based on population growth and “scrappage,” housing starts will eventually rise to about 1.5 million units per year (probably by 2015). This is the level of construction that keeps the inventory of homes for sale at a stable level. Most of these homes will be owner-occupied but a large share will also be occupied by renters, which explains why multi-family construction has rebounded more sharply than the single-family sector over the past few years. Housing permits declined 3.1% in November but this was all due to a decline in volatile multi-family permits. Single-family permits rose 2.1%, are at the highest level since mid-2008, and are up 10.5% from a year ago. The bottom line is that no one should get worked up over every zig and zag in the data. Sometimes one indicator ticks down, like building permits; other times an indicator, like housing starts, will boom. It’s important to focus on the trends, and all trends point to further housing gains in the years ahead. In other positive housing news, yesterday, the NAHB index, which measures confidence among home builders, came in at 58 in December, up 4 points from November, and besides August, is at the highest level in eight years.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Book Review "Days of God" (The Shah)
on: December 17, 2013, 05:16:18 PM
Book Review: 'Days of God,' by James Buchan
Reza Shah single-handedly propelled Iran from a shambolic, humiliated has-been empire into a modern nation-state.
By Roya Hakakian
Dec. 16, 2013 7:04 p.m. ET
In "Days of God," James Buchan comes as close as anyone—certainly as close as any Westerner—to capturing the Iranian predicament of the past 34 years: "Those who make great revolutions forget that prisons and torture chambers survive into the new era, but good manners, good food, the small pleasures of family life, and literary excellence all go to hell. What Iranians most wished for they never gained, and what they most sought to preserve they lost."
Mr. Buchan, a British journalist and novelist, first traveled to Iran in 1974, when the shah was still at the height of his powers, and he worked for many years as a Middle East correspondent for the Financial Times. The author's grasp of Persian literature and the Persian language allows him to treat Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution with rare insight and compassion.
The book chronicles the rise and fall of Iran's Pahlavi kings, the last in a monarchical tradition stretching back 2,500 years. In Mr. Buchan's telling, Iran's turbulent 20th century was defined by the conflict between the modernizing Pahlavis and the country's powerful Shiite clergy, led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The ayatollah-turned-revolutionary had always viewed secular rulers—be they despots or democrats—as an affront to the divine sovereign, and as Mr. Buchan writes, he believed that it was the clerics who "as heirs to the Prophet and the Imams . . . must lead the Muslim community."
Those tensions exploded in the cataclysmic events of 1978-79, which Mr. Buchan covers in rich detail and delightful prose: the massive protest on Sept. 8, 1978, in Tehran's Zhaleh Square, on which the shah's security forces opened fire, dooming his regime in the process; the Khomeinists' equally brutal arson attack on Cinema Rex in Abadan, Iran, which killed almost 500; the bloody retribution aimed at the army and Pahlavi-era officials that followed the revolution; the mass executions of Khomeini's former leftist allies, led by the psychotic hanging judge Sadegh Khalkhali; the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in November 1979; the eight-year war with Iraq; the Iran-Contra affair; and, finally, Khomeini's bizarre 1989 funeral, during which 10,000 grief-stricken devotees of the ayatollah were "treated for self-inflicted wounds, heat exhaustion, and crush injuries."
Days of God
By Roya Hakakian
(Simon & Schuster, 410 pages, $27.99)
A most portentous moment in modern Iranian history marks the opening of "Days of God": the 1926 coronation of Reza Shah, an elite cavalry officer in the Cossack Brigade and the founding patriarch of the Pahlavi dynasty. The author describes Reza Shah as an ambitious king-to-be, who aspired to emulate Ataturk in neighboring Turkey with a rapid program of modernization. While noting Reza Shah's flaws—hubris, above all—Mr. Buchan concludes that "Reza was the most influential Iranian of the last century, more influential even than Ruhollah Khomeini." The judgment is sound: Reza Shah almost single-handedly propelled Iran from a shambolic, humiliated has-been empire into a modern nation-state. His great influence notwithstanding, he was forced to abdicate the throne by the World War II Allies in 1941 in favor of his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
In recounting the 50-year rule of the Pahlavis, father and son, Mr. Buchan sharply breaks from the dominant, anti-Pahlavi narrative in the West. At the heart of that narrative is the notion that U.S.-Iran tensions today can be traced back to the 1953 coup, led by the CIA and MI6, against the shah's populist prime minister, Mohammad Mossadegh. But according to Mr. Buchan, the real actors behind the anti-Mossadegh "coup" were the Iranian middle class, the merchants of the bazaar and, above all, the Islamist clergy, who loathed Mossadegh's secularism.
For the clerics, Mossadegh's overthrow was merely one episode in a centurylong quest for power that culminated in the Ayatollah Khomeini's 1979 takeover. The historical lesson is clear: The mullahs didn't form a spiritual, benign force that suddenly took the stage in 1978 in support of the oppressed masses against an evil king. Rather, they were pragmatic and persistent political actors with a long-standing thirst for power.
Gradually, as the book's narrative arrives at 1979 and the horrific years that followed, the author's perspective shifts from that of authoritative historian to objective contemporary reporter. He recounts the 444-day ordeal that became known as the hostage crisis in America, but the significance of it for the domestic politics of Iran is mentioned only as an aside. What appeared to the international community, especially the U.S., as an egregious display of enmity toward America also enabled the Khomeinists to consolidate their hold on power at home. But Mr. Buchan notes this pivotal insight only in a passing quotation from the arch-hostage taker Mohammad Mousavi-Khoeiniha : "We have reaped all the fruits of our undertaking. We defeated the attempt by the [Iranian] Liberals to take control of the machinery of government."
During the long 14 months it took until the hostages returned home, seismic shifts took place inside Iran, changing the nation as the world knew it. Mr. Buchan's analysis of all this is sometimes quick, too quick. In the interval, "the Islamic Republic freed the American diplomatic hostages, established its legal code, extirpated its enemies, and covered up its women," he writes.
Another barely analyzed incident is the fatwa against Salman Rushdie issued by the ayatollah in 1989: "Why Khomeini chose to condemn that author, that literary work, and at that time is not obvious to me," Mr. Buchan writes. That Khomeini depended on homemade and other crises—hostage taking, war with Iraq—is a point usually lost on even the most insightful Western experts, Mr. Buchan among them. Western writers are trained to seek underlying, logical rationales for the behavior of rogue and revolutionary regimes. But some men, and some regimes, simply thrive on chaos.
Ms. Hakakian is the author, most recently, of "Assassins of the Turquoise Palace," which received the 2013 Asian American Literary Award in nonfiction.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Worst Mistake of 2014?
on: December 17, 2013, 05:07:49 PM
Washington's Worst Mistake of 2014?
Veteran regulators warn against making asset managers too big to fail.
Dec. 16, 2013 7:19 p.m. ET
Some consequences of government action remain largely unforeseen until a moment of crisis. That will not be the case if Washington regulators forge ahead on a misguided attempt to treat every large financial firm like a bank.
An experienced and bipartisan group of former regulators is calling it misguided right now. In a nearby letter, former senior officials who oversaw banking, futures and securities markets note the "flawed analysis" and "fundamental misconceptions" contained in a recent report on asset managers by the Treasury Department's Office of Financial Research.
The report, requested by the federal Financial Stability Oversight Council, is widely viewed as a first step toward applying bank regulation to large managers of mutual funds and hedge funds. In today's letter, the veteran regulators explain why restraints that may be appropriate for bankers that play with taxpayer money are antithetical to vibrant capital markets.
For example, a bank examiner should naturally look skeptically at a federally insured institution that is "reaching for yield." But finding a cash-generating asset at a low price is the essence of investing and essential to wealth creation. As the former regulators write, "Investors of all kinds, including asset managers who invest their customers' money, necessarily seek to 'buy low and sell high.' The federal government cannot—and should not—attempt to influence investors' inclinations whether, when and why to buy or sell securities."
The regulators also note that the new federal stability council, which is chaired by the Treasury Secretary and is a creature of Dodd-Frank, suffers from a disturbing lack of transparency and flawed governance. These are problems Congress should address.
But in the meantime the council can best serve the country by resisting the urge to expand the taxpayer safety net. The council's bank regulators have enough to do without trying to remove risk from investing.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: ASA votes to boycott Israel
on: December 17, 2013, 11:06:52 AM
Shame of the Academy
The American Studies Association votes to boycott Israel.
Dec. 16, 2013 7:20 p.m. ET
The political corruption of the American academy is by now an old story, but every so often it reveals itself in a new and shocking way. The latest example comes from the professors of the American Studies Association, which on Monday announced that two-thirds of its members had voted in favor of boycotting Israel.
Jonathan Marks reports nearby on the association's internal politics, and readers won't be surprised at the bullying tactics employed to pass the boycott resolution. This is how the modern academic and media left operate.
Yet it's still worth pondering what must go through the mind of a professoriate, presumably dedicated to free political speech, that would choose to boycott the most democratic country in the Middle East. The country in which Arabs are treated far better and have far more rights than they do in most Arab lands. And the country that is America's most reliable ally. We can only imagine what these same professors must teach their students about the supposed crimes of America.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / If you are looking for consistency from me on this, you will not find it
on: December 17, 2013, 10:59:15 AM
Obama's NSA review panel has some dangerous proposals.
Dec. 16, 2013 7:21 p.m. ET
'Gentlemen do not read each others' mail." That was Secretary of State Henry Stimson's immortal logic for closing the Cipher Bureau in 1929 and depriving the U.S. of the capacity to read foreign diplomatic cables as world-wide threats grew. The danger now is that President Obama, Congress or both will shift to a comparably blinkered strategy on antiterror surveillance—and for no better reason than Stimson's.
Amid the deluge of Edward Snowden intelligence disclosures, Mr. Obama appointed a five-member panel to review the National Security Agency's methods and the balance between security and privacy. The panel recently sent a draft report to the White House, and a version is expected to be made public next month.
But the word on Capitol Hill is that the scope and radicalism of the recommendations stunned even this White House, not least because the task force was stacked with Obama loyalists. If the details are anything like the leaks, then the panel is advising the government to seriously degrade U.S. counterterror defenses and shut down several valuable surveillance assets in a dangerous world.
• Bulk metadata collection. One of the worst proposals would effectively cripple the NSA's ability to collect, store and analyze telephony records, or the time, duration and originating and terminating numbers for phone calls. This program was authorized by Section 215 of the Patriot Act and collects a vast amount of information, even if the database is only searched narrowly on the basis of specific facts as approved by judges on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, or FISC. The minimization procedures are strict enough that the NSA only used the 215 program to make 300 queries in 2012.
The panel would prohibit the NSA from collecting metadata and instead require telecom providers to retain their own records for the phone calls placed on their networks. The NSA would need to make Section 215 requests individually to each carrier.
The problem is that metadata is only useful if it is pooled, formatted and organized so it can be searched quickly and accurately. Intelligence is not an on-demand technology but an ongoing, painstaking process in preparation for questions that no one can know until U.S. spooks need immediate answers.
Say the CIA station chief in Yemen acquires a phone number and wants to know who the target was calling in the U.S. The FISC would still likely approve the query. But instead of keeping the data in one place under a collection-first policy, the NSA would need to turn to the telecom companies one by one, including foreign companies that operate inside the U.S.
The NSA would then need to aggregate the links to the original number from scratch, potentially missing the "hops" when a person of interest receiving a call dials someone else. This is a great way to overlook a terror cell inside the U.S.
Any potential risks to privacy are the same, so there's no extra protection against abuse. Personal information may be even less secure if not housed at the data farms NSA built specifically for that purpose. The delays and intentional inefficiencies, however, will make metadata far less effective in practice.
• Foreign-to-foreign intercepts. The panel attempts to quell the European uproar over purely foreign surveillance by the U.S. by suggesting some kind of agreed-upon code of conduct among allied intelligence agencies. The target here is the President's core constitutional power for warrantless overseas wiretapping, also authorized by Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Put aside the hypocrisy of the foreign leaders who have looser limits on domestic surveillance than the U.S. complaining about spying when they also spy on the U.S. The U.S. has good reasons to surveil even close allies whose interests are never perfectly in sync with ours. The European Union is now threatening to blow up the Swift antiterror finance program, while the 9/11 plot was hatched in Hamburg.
Any kind of agreement on universal sharing or international information norms that are meant to exempt countries from U.S. surveillance and scale back overseas collection makes the NSA more dependent on its European counterparts. Their mistake becomes our dirty bomb explosion. Any binding enforcement mechanisms short of a treaty approved by the Senate is unconstitutional, and in any case subjecting U.S. spycraft to foreign approval is preposterous for a nation serious about defending itself.
• A more adversarial FISC process. The FISC judges are not now operating as a judiciary but instead fill a quasi-legal management role over NSA. This dilutes accountability for the political branches, but the Obama panel wants to go further and appoint a public advocate whose job is to argue against the NSA as in a public lawsuit.
This roving ACLU corps would second-guess the agency and presumably urge the judges to reject or limit NSA requests. But as we have learned from the Snowden dossier and the documents the NSA has declassified in response, the FISC already sees its role less an a neutral arbiter and more as an opponent of the government. The court is now disclosing how many times it forces the NSA to charge its orders or procedures, as if that reveals anything of substance. Introducing another layer of opposition inevitably means fewer approvals and even less accountability.
Speaking of which, the Director of National Intelligence post currently filled by James Clapper was designed post-9/11 to integrate the intelligence silos and focus national security responsibilities in the White House. He is a Presidential appointee. But now a senior Administration official tells the New York Times NYT +0.43% without attribution that the panel report means "We're not leaving it to Jim Clapper anymore." If so, Mr. Clapper should be fired for not being up to the job.
Mr. Obama seems to view the NSA as some independent operation running on autopilot, but the programs that keep the country safe are his responsibility. In that sense his panel choices were a fiasco waiting to happen. Task force member Cass Sunstein is a noted economist but the Harvard professor is hardly an expert in technology or intelligence law. University of Chicago law professor Geoffrey Stone was a prominent critic of antiterror surveillance during the George W. Bush years.
The report lands at a bad political moment, with tea party Republicans and anti-antiterror Democrats smelling opportunity and sociopaths with stolen documents campaigning to harm U.S. national security. Federal Judge Richard Leon ruled Monday that phone metadata collection is unconstitutional, part of a larger post-Snowden legal assault.
Now Mr. Obama's own commission wants to introduce more obstacles to the surveillance that is America's main remaining advantage over terror networks. If Mr. Obama won't toss the report, grownups in Congress should do it for him.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / WSJ: Data Mining used to recruit sick people
on: December 17, 2013, 10:55:18 AM
Data Mining to Recruit Sick People
Companies Use Information From Data Brokers, Pharmacies, Social Networks
by Joseph Walker
Dec. 16, 2013 6:53 p.m. ET
Some health-care companies are pulling back the curtain on medical privacy without ever accessing personal medical records, by probing readily available information from data brokers, pharmacies and social networks that offer indirect clues to an individual's health.
Companies specializing in patient recruitment for clinical trials use hundreds of data points—from age and race to shopping habits—to identify the sick and target them with telemarketing calls and direct-mail pitches to participate in research.
Blue Chip Marketing Worldwide, a drug-industry contractor, found patients for an obesity drug by targeting people with characteristics suggestive of a sedentary lifestyle, like subscribing to premium cable TV and frequent fast-food dining. Acurian Inc., one of the largest recruitment companies, says innocuous personal details—a preference for jazz, owning a cat or participation in sweepstakes—helped it home in on patients for an arthritis study.
Some health-care companies are pulling back the curtain on medical privacy without ever accessing personal medical records, by probing readily available information from data brokers, pharmacies and social networks. Joseph Walker reports. Photo: Getty Images.
"We are now at a point where, based on your credit-card history, and whether you drive an American automobile and several other lifestyle factors, we can get a very, very close bead on whether or not you have the disease state we're looking at," said Roger Smith, senior vice president of operations at Horsham, Pa.-based Acurian, a unit of Pharmaceutical Product Development LLC.
Targeted advertising has long been used in the retail industry, but its use in health care is raising new concerns. Privacy experts and bioethicists say that as data-mining methods become more sophisticated, it is becoming harder to keep medical conditions private. Targeted consumers have complained to regulators about intrusive tactics and worries that their medical records have been compromised.
Next in Tech: App Helps Patients Track Care
"My private information, especially my medical information, I'm extremely protective of it," says Delbert Kerby, 62 years old, of Rocklin, Calif. The telecommunications consultant says he was surprised when telemarketers called him last year about a study of arthritis. The company didn't leave its name, he says, but he filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission about the call. (He has arthritis but has no idea how the company targeted him.)
Federal law bars doctors, insurers and other health-care providers from sharing or selling personally identifiable information in patients' medical records without permission, under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA. The law doesn't, however, protect the clues that people leave about their health outside of their medical records—when they make credit-card purchases or search the Internet. Law professor Nicolas P. Terry calls such information "medically inflected data."
"I think patients would be shocked to find out how little privacy protection they have outside of traditional health care," says Mr. Terry, professor and co-director at the Center for Law and Health at Indiana University's law school. He adds, "Big Data essentially can operate in a HIPAA-free zone."
Research firms and patient recruiters, including both Blue Chip and Acurian, say they abide by HIPAA and privacy laws.
Experian EXPN.LN -0.09% PLC, the Dublin, Ireland-based data broker and credit-reporting company, says its marketing-services unit sells data to numerous health-care marketing companies. "However, we do not share any protected health information, and therefore are not providing data that would fall into HIPAA requirements," says Gerry Tschopp, senior vice president for public affairs.
A driver of the trend is the need to speed up recruitment and completion of clinical trials. Drug makers often need thousands of patients for late-stage trials, which can take years to accomplish, lengthening the time it takes to bring a drug to market while the clock is running on the drug's patent exclusivity.
When Orexigen Therapeutics Inc., OREX -2.18% a La Jolla, Calif.-based biotechnology company, needed to enroll 9,000 patients into a study of its diet drug Contrave last year, it turned to Blue Chip. Consultants had said it would take two years to finish enrollment, a timeline that was "not acceptable," says Mark Booth, Orexigen's chief commercial officer.
Blue Chip, of Northbrook, Ill., recruited half of all study patients, helping to complete enrollment in a little over six months, Mr. Booth says. With consumer profiles purchased from data companies like Experian, Blue Chip applied a computer algorithm to flag clues about a person's weight, such as fast-food dining and a history of shopping online for clothes, a trait indicative of obesity because overweight people often can't find plus-sizes in traditional stores or are uncomfortable shopping in public, Blue Chip says.
"The types of magazines you buy, how often you buy running shorts, all of those things tell a story," says Blue Chip Executive Vice President Ken Shore.
Orexigen said last week it had submitted a new drug application for Contrave, and the FDA could make a decision in 2014.
The majority of patients are still recruited through traditional channels such as health-care providers and television ads; newer methods like data mining and social networks account for about 14% of the tactics used by drug makers and their contractors, according to the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development. Blue Chip, which also uses traditional advertising, says it charges about $2,000 for each patient it enrolls into a study.
Profiling patients based on demographics and purchasing habits, however, can be more effective in finding people who aren't online or haven't recently sought medical treatment, recruitment professionals say.
FTC Commissioner Julie Brill says she is worried that the use of nonprotected consumer data can be used to deny employment or inadvertently reveal illnesses that people want kept secret. "As Big Data algorithms become more accurate and powerful, consumers need to know a lot more about the ways in which their data is used," Ms. Brill says.
Acurian, which has worked with large drug and medical-device companies such as Eli Lilly LLY -0.48% & Co. and Medtronic Inc., MDT +0.02% has been the subject of more than 500 complaints to the FTC over the past two years, alleging violations of telemarketing laws, according to records obtained through a public records request. The FTC hasn't taken any actions against Acurian, said agency spokesman Mitchell Katz. The commission doesn't comment on current investigations as a matter of policy, he said.
Acurian, named as a defendant in a federal lawsuit related to its telemarketing practices, declined to comment on the allegations. In court documents, the company has said that calls related to medical studies aren't advertisements as defined by law.
A Medtronic spokeswoman said the company had hired Acurian for projects like contacting patients from completed studies, but not to identify new study subjects. An Eli Lilly spokeswoman said the company works with Acurian on recruitment campaigns, including through direct mail.
Larna Godsey, of Wichita, Kan., says she received a dozen phone calls about a diabetes drug study over the past year from a company that didn't identify itself. Ms. Godsey, 63, doesn't suffer from the disease, but she has researched it on the Internet and donated to diabetes-related causes. "I don't know if it's just a coincidence or if they're somehow getting my information," says Ms. Godsey, who filed a complaint with the FTC this year.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Patriot Post: CO school shooting review
on: December 17, 2013, 10:52:59 AM
CO School Shooting Review
The student who shoot and wounded two in a Colorado high school before killing himself did so with a legally purchased shotgun, not an "assault weapon," and he had no criminal background. (Joe Biden has been known to recommend shotguns from time to time.) There are already calls to "do something" again about "gun violence," especially since we just observed the one year anniversary of Sandy Hook, but as National Review's Charles C.W. Cooke writes, "Everything that the shooter did ... was already illegal. He walked into a school with a firearm. That's illegal. He shot at people with intent to kill and maim. That's illegal. He attempted to commit premeditated murder. That's illegal." Two final notes: 1) He was stopped by an armed resource officer at the school, and 2) this was no Tea Party crazy; one fellow student described the perp as "very proud of being a socialist."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Hamilton on concentration of wealth, 1788
on: December 17, 2013, 10:45:54 AM
"As riches increase and accumulate in few hands, as luxury prevails in society, virtue will be in a greater degree considered as only a graceful appendage of wealth, and the tendency of things will be to depart from the republican standard. This is the real disposition of human nature; it is what neither the honorable member nor myself can correct. It is a common misfortunate that awaits our State constitution, as well as all others." --Alexander Hamilton, speech to the New York Ratifying Convention, 1788
I would note that
a) the concentration of wealth has greatly increased under the economic fascism of the "progressive" economics of the current administration.
b) the alleged increase in concentration under Reagan was due to those in high brackets who were hiding the money in tax shelters (which made sense at the 70% rate prior to Reagan) allowed that money to be "seen" by the tax code as rates went down under Reagan. Thus the data appeared to show an increase in concentration when in fact "the rich" were actually paying more.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / FDA challenges antibacterial soaps
on: December 17, 2013, 10:40:13 AM
FDA Seeks Stricter Rules on Antibacterial Soaps
Companies Would Have to Prove Their Products Are Safe, Effective
Save ↓ More
Thomas M. Burton and
Updated Dec. 16, 2013 6:56 p.m. ET
The FDA is raising safety concerns about antibacterial soaps, which they say are not more effective at preventing illness than plain soap. Tom Burton reports on Lunch Break. Photo: AP.
WASHINGTON—The Food and Drug Administration is challenging the underpinnings of the antibacterial-soap industry by requiring makers to prove that their ingredients are safe and accomplish more than regular hand soaps in fighting bacteria.
The federal agency Monday proposed a rule requiring makers of antibacterial hand soaps and body washes to demonstrate that their products are safe for long-term daily use and are more effective than plain soap and water in preventing illness and spread of infections.
The federal agency acted Monday after some scientists and consumer groups had become skeptical about the advantages of antibacterial soap and after recent studies suggesting that one ingredient—triclosan—could interfere with human hormone activity.
Janet Woodcock, head of the FDA's drug unit, said the extra scrutiny was merited because people are using antibacterial soaps in everyday settings "where the risk of infection is relatively low."
Antibiotics of the Future
Q&A: FDA Weighs In on Antibacterial Soaps
Two groups representing makers of soaps and detergents protested the move. "We are perplexed that the agency would suggest there is no evidence that antibacterial soaps are beneficial, as industry has long provided data and information about the safety and efficacy of these products," said a joint statement from the American Cleaning Institute and the Personal Care Products Council.
The latter group, whose members include more than 600 companies, has previously highlighted academic studies that found fewer microbes on hands that were washed with antibacterial soap.
Companies sold $5 billion worth of soap, bath and shower products in the U.S. last year, according to market-research firm Mintel Group, whose data also showed that as many as two-thirds of shoppers in this area look for liquid hand soap that is antibacterial.
A spokeswoman for German conglomerate Henkel AG HEN3.XE -0.60% , which owns the Dial brand, said the company is reviewing the FDA's statements, takes the agency's proposal seriously and will work with the agency to provide consumers with safe and effective products. Colgate-Palmolive Co., which owns the Softsoap brand, didn't respond to requests for comment. The brands also make liquid hand soaps without antibacterial properties.
The directive doesn't affect hand sanitizers that don't need water and generally contain alcohol. In fact, the FDA encourages people to use these if soap and water aren't available.
Criticism of the antibacterial soaps centers around three allegations: They may not fight germs any better than regular soaps; their ingredients may have side effects in humans; and they may promote the rise of resistant bacteria.
Andrea Gore, a University of Texas toxicology professor who has studied antibacterial ingredients, hailed the FDA's action, saying there has been an "exponential increase in evidence" about triclosan and its effect on human hormones.
Likewise, Stuart Levy, a microbiologist at the Tufts University School of Medicine, said, "This has been on the agenda for a number of years, and finally we are hearing from the FDA that they are in line with what was recommended by experts to their advisory board several years ago."
Over the decade from 2000 to 2010, several countries in Europe and elsewhere restricted the use of triclosan in consumer products. Reckitt Benckiser RB.LN -1.23% PLC, a British-based consumer-products company known for making Lysol, said it has been phasing out triclosan in all its U.S. products. Currently, it is producing just one containing triclosan, and a spokesman said none of the company's products in the U.S. will contain the ingredient by the end of 2014.
Antibacterial soaps often are sold over the counter at pharmacies and elsewhere. The FDA previously classified them as "generally regarded as safe and effective." But under the proposed rule issued Monday, it is reversing the burden of proof.
Now, manufacturers will have to turn over to the FDA more data on the safety of the soaps and on their effectiveness if they are to stay on the market labeled as "antibacterial soap."
The agency said the new data will need to include evidence from clinical studies demonstrating the soaps' superiority over simple hand-washing with regular soap and water.
The agency said many soaps labeled "antibacterial" or "antimicrobial" contain ingredients mentioned in the proposed rule, such as triclosan and triclocarban. The FDA said some soaps labeled "deodorant" may also contain such substances. The agency said there is some evidence that the substances carry health risks like bacterial resistance and hormonal effects.
After receiving comment and companies' data, the FDA said it expects to make a final decision by September 2016, either banning certain products or allowing them based on new evidence.
"Antimicrobial ingredients proliferated in consumer soaps and washes without ever having to prove their long-term safety or effectiveness," said Sen. Edward Markey (D., Mass.), who has been trying to remove triclosan from the market.
Not all antibacterial soaps contain triclosan. At a Washington, D.C., drugstore display Monday, several soaps described as antibacterial didn't have the ingredient while two did—Dial and the drugstore's brand.
Write to Thomas M. Burton at email@example.com
and Serena Ng at
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / WSJ: Antibiotics of the future
on: December 17, 2013, 10:32:39 AM
Antibiotics of the Future
Scientists hunt for new antibiotics amid a rise in resistant germs
By Shirley S. Wang
Dec. 16, 2013 7:06 p.m. ET
As bacteria continue to develop resistance to existing antibiotics, scientists are working on new strategies to combat bug-borne infections and diseases, Shirley Wang reports. Photo: AP.
Scientists are working to develop new strategies to combat the growing threat of germs that current antibiotics can't fight.
Some researchers are testing new substances, such as silver, to combine with antibiotics to boost their killing power. Other researchers are making use of genetic sequencing of bacteria to help develop killer drugs at a faster pace than medical science was capable of in the past.
Another strategy aims to render harmful bacteria incapable of infecting people, rather than killing the germs outright. One such technique would neutralize disease-causing toxins by disrupting the bacteria's internal mechanisms.
Antibiotic resistance is a growing threat to public health, medical officials say. Common germs such as Escherichia coli, or E. coli, which can cause urinary tract and other infections, and Neisseria gonorrhoeae, which causes gonorrhea, are becoming harder to treat because they increasingly don't respond to antibiotics. Some two million people in the U.S. are infected each year by antibiotic-resistant bacteria and 23,000 die as a result, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC says it doesn't have historical numbers.
One of the biggest threats is from Enterobacteriaceae, a family of germs that naturally lives in the gut and includes E. coli, the CDC says. There are about 9,000 cases a year of infections from the germs that can't be treated with usual antibiotics, resulting in 610 deaths. In 1998, there was just one case. Patients who don't respond to normal antibiotics are given older drugs that had been discontinued because of severe side effects, such as kidney damage, the CDC says.
Scientists say that Enterobacteriaceae are particularly hard to kill because of an outer cell wall that prevents many antibiotics from penetrating. James J. Collins, a professor of biomedical engineering at Boston University and Harvard University, and his colleagues recently discovered that adding trace amounts of silver—long known to have antimicrobial properties—allows the common antibiotic vancomycin to work against E. coli, whereas the antibiotic isn't effective against the microbe on its own. The silver appears to make the outer walls of the bacteria more permeable, allowing the antibiotic to get in and do its job, says Dr. Collins, who published the findings in the journal Science Translational Medicine in June.
(Some pharmaceutical companies are experimenting with other types of additives with the aim of short-circuiting bacteria's defenses.)
Researchers at Merck & Co., in Whitehouse Station, N.J., are targeting an enzyme called beta-lactamase that lives in certain bacteria and neutralizes antibiotics sent to destroy them. By adding an enzyme-inhibiting agent called MK-7655 to the antibiotic imipenem, researchers managed to kill about 97% of a type of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that causes urinary-tract infections and pneumonia, according to Nicholas Kartsonis, head of clinical development of antibacterial, antifungals and non-hepatology viruses at Merck Research Labs.
Synthetic Biologics Inc. is taking advantage of beta-lactamase's ability to neutralize antibiotics by adding a modified version of the enzyme to the drugs. The aim is to prompt the antibiotic to break down when it reaches the bowel, where side effects and drug resistance for bacteria called Clostridium difficile, or C. difficile, develops, but to leave the antibiotic intact in the bloodstream. The process should allow larger doses of antibiotics to be administered without the patient suffering typical side effects such as gastrointestinal problems, says John Monahan, who heads research and development for the Rockville, Md.-based company.
C. difficile, which causes life-threatening diarrhea and is blamed for 14,000 deaths a year, can spread rapidly in hospital patients on antibiotics. Although there are drugs to treat C. difficile, the bacteria are resistant to many antibiotics used to treat other types of infections.
Antibiotics naturally lose their effectiveness over time as bacteria populations build up resistance, and new drugs need to be continually developed to take their place. But antibiotic development by pharmaceutical companies slowed sharply after about 1990, in part because they are less profitable than other drugs used to treat chronic diseases. Compounding the problem has been an overuse of antibiotics in people and farm animals, which has accelerated the creation of antibiotic-resistant germs.
"Antibiotics have a finite lifetime because resistance is inevitable," says Michael Fischbach, a bioengineering and therapeutic sciences professor at the University of California, San Francisco. "Therefore, there's always a need to innovate."
Bacteria have ways of defending themselves against other bacteria, and most antibiotics are derived from the toxins they use. Identifying and developing new antibiotics is a long and slow process. Now, scientists are able to more efficiently scrutinize microbes for undiscovered antibiotics by sequencing their genomes and then using computer analysis to look for gene patterns that suggest a new antibiotic recipe. Typically, antibiotics are encoded by anywhere from 10 to 40 genes.
Sean Brady, head of the Laboratory of Genetically Encoded Small Molecules at Rockefeller University in New York, and his colleagues recently zeroed in on half a dozen gene sequences. The team found that the genes were encoded for toxins that appeared in lab testing to be active against pathogens resistant to the antibiotic vancomycin, which is commonly used to treat infections in the gut. The research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science in June.
The number of U.S. patients per year whose infections aren't treatable with the existing array of antibiotics
Whether the antibiotic will be useful in treating people remains to be seen, says Dr. Brady. The main problem with identifying new antibiotics isn't that they don't work, but that they cause severe side effects or toxicity, drug makers say.
Another group of researchers, headed by Dr. Fischbach at the University of California, has found a handful of new antibiotics that kill methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, by sequencing genomes of bacteria found in the environment. MRSA can cause a range of illnesses from skin infections to pneumonia and bloodstream infections.
An unusual strategy doesn't aim to kill bacteria at all, but rather to make them less harmful. Since bacteria only cause infections when their population has reached a certain threshold, called a quorum, researchers are looking for ways to disrupt the chemical signals the bugs use to communicate with each other. Another approach aims to neutralize toxins or disrupt other signaling molecules that are necessary for bacteria to be infectious.
"We don't challenge them to a duel but basically confuse them into not causing infection," says Gerry Wright, a professor of biochemistry and biomedical sciences at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.
Dr. Brady and his team at Rockefeller University demonstrated that disrupting a cluster of genes reduced the virulence of a microbe that causes infection affecting the lungs, bones and joints. The researchers published the work late last year in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Prager: "Tolerance" now means govt. coerced celebration
on: December 17, 2013, 10:25:56 AM
I like and respect Dennis Prager a lot, but though I agree with the essence of his conclusion here, I note that out of disgust for just how far we have taken the notion of prohibiting discrimination, I would consider going much further and simply say "We are free to choose with whom we associate and with whom we do business. Period."
“Tolerance” Now Means Government-Coerced Celebration
Tuesday, Dec 17, 2013
Jack Phillips owns the Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colo., about 10 miles from downtown Denver. In July 2012, two gay men, Charlie Craig and David Mullins, asked Phillips to provide the cake for their wedding celebration. Though same-sex marriage is not allowed in Colorado — the Colorado Constitution states that “Only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state” — the two men had been married in Massachusetts.
As acknowledged by all parties, Phillips told the men, “I’ll make you birthday cakes, shower cakes, sell you cookies and brownies, I just don’t make cakes for same-sex weddings.”
Jack Phillips is an evangelical Christian, and his religion does not allow him to participate in same-sex marriages or celebrations of same-sex marriages.
In other words, Phillips made it clear from the outset that he does not discriminate based on the sexual orientation of a prospective customer. He will knowingly sell his products to any gay person who wishes to purchase his baked goods.
Nevertheless, Craig and Mullins went to the ACLU, which then sued Phillips. On Dec. 6, administrative law Judge Robert N. Spencer handed down his decision:
“The undisputed facts show that Respondents [Masterpiece Cakeshop] discriminated against Complainants [Craig and Mullins] because of their sexual orientation by refusing to sell them a wedding cake for their same-sex marriage, in violation of ? 24-34-601(2), C.R.S.”
The section of the C.R.S. (Colorado Revised Statutes) cited by Judge Spencer reads:
“It is a discriminatory practice and unlawful for a person, directly or indirectly, to refuse, withhold from, or deny to an individual or a group, because of … sexual orientation … the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of a place of public accommodation.”
Thus, under penalty of fines and, potentially, jail:
1. Jack Phillips must participate in an event that the Colorado constitution explicitly prohibits.
2. He must do so against deeply held religious convictions.
3. He must do so despite the fact that there are hundreds of other cake makers in the Denver area.
Those who support this decision argue that religious principles do not apply here: What if, for example, someone’s religious principles prohibited interracial marriages? Should that individual be allowed to deny services to an interracial wedding?
Of course not.
Here’s why that objection is irrelevant:
1. No religion practiced in America — indeed, no world religion — has ever banned interracial marriage. That some American Christians opposed interracial marriage is of no consequence. No one assumes that every position held by any member of a religion means that the religion holds that position.
2. If opposition to same-sex marriage is not a legitimately held religious conviction, there is no such thing as a legitimately held religious position. Unlike opposition to interracial marriage, opposition to same-sex marriage has been the position of every religion in recorded history — as well as of every country and every American state until the 21st century.
3. The Colorado baker made it clear to the gay couple — as acknowledged by the court — that he would be happy to bake and sell cakes to these gay men any other time they wanted. Therefore, he is not discriminating against people based on their sexual orientation. He readily sells to people he knows to be gay. What he is unwilling to do is to participate in an (SET ITAL) event (END ITAL) that he opposes for legitimate religious reasons. Until, at the most, 10 years ago, no one would have imagined that a person could be forced to provide goods or services for a same-sex wedding.
4. If a baker refused on religious grounds to provide the wedding cake for a polygamous wedding, should the state force him to do so? If a baker refused to provide a cake to a heterosexual couple that was celebrating living together without getting married, should the state force him to?
Some years ago, Jonah Goldberg wrote a bestseller titled “Liberal Fascism.” If you think that title is an exaggeration, read the book. Or just watch what liberals are doing to those who oppose same-sex marriage.
In the name of tolerance, the left is eroding liberty in America.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Race, religion, ethnic origin, LGBT, "discrimination", & discrimination.
on: December 17, 2013, 10:16:24 AM
Oy vey. What a fustercluck.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: Kurdistan
on: December 16, 2013, 02:24:44 PM
By Reva Bhalla
At the edge of empires lies Kurdistan, the land of the Kurds. The jagged landscape has long been the scene of imperial aggression. For centuries, Turks, Persians, Arabs, Russians and Europeans looked to the mountains to buffer their territorial prizes farther afield, depriving the local mountain dwellers a say in whose throne they would ultimately bow to.
The hot temperament of this borderland was evident in an exchange of letters between Ottoman Sultan Selim I and Safavid Shah Ismail I shortly before the rival Turkic and Persian empires came to blows at the 1514 Battle of Chaldiran in northern Kurdistan. The Ottoman sultan, brimming with confidence that his artillery-equipped janissaries would hold the technological advantage on the battlefield, elegantly denigrated his Persian foes:
Ask of the sun about the dazzle of my reign;
Inquire of Mars about the brilliance of my arms.
Although you wear a Sufi crown, I bear a trenchant sword,
And he who holds the sword will soon possess the crown.
Safavid Shah I, also writing in Turkish, poetically retorted:
Should one embrace the bride of worldly rule too close,
His lips will kiss those of the radiant sword ...
Bitter experience has taught that in this world of trial
, He who falls upon the house of 'Ali always falls.
The armies fought to the limits of their empires and, after a series of wars culminating in the Treaty of Zuhab of 1639, the Zagros Mountains came to define the borderland between the Ottomans and Persians, with the Kurds stuck in the middle.
A Rivalry Reborn
The Turkic-Persian competition is again being fought in Kurdistan, only this time, energy pipelines have taken the place of gilded cavalry. At a recent energy conference in the northern Iraqi Kurdish city of Arbil, I listened as hundreds of energy executives murmured excitedly in the audience as Ashti Hawrami, the minister of natural resources for Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region, declared in perfect, British-taught English that an oil pipeline connecting Kurdish oil fields to Turkey is complete, operational and will be pumping oil by the end of the year with or without Baghdad's consent. This, effectively, was as much a Kurdish declaration of independence as it was a Turkish-backed Kurdish declaration of war against Baghdad and its Persian sponsors.
Roughly 25 million Kurds occupy a region that stretches from the eastern Taurus Mountains in Turkey through the Jazira Plateau of northeastern Syria across the mountains and plateaus of southeastern Anatolia before dead-ending into the northern spine of the Zagros Mountains, which divide Iran and Iraq. This is a territory spread across four nations with bitter histories and a shared commitment to prevent Kurdish aspirations for independence from eroding their territorial integrity. For Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Iran, this restive buffer had to be preserved and contained, though it could also be exploited. The fratricidal tendencies of the Kurds, bred by their divisive mountainous home, gave the surrounding states a useful tool to undermine one another whenever the need arose.
As power changed from indigenous empires to colonial hands, from monarchs to Baathist tyrants, from hardcore secularists to Islamists, the Kurds remained too divided and weak to become masters of their own fate able to establish a sovereign Kurdish homeland. The Kurds themselves are divided and sequestered along geographical, tribal, linguistic, political and ideological lines across the four states they inhabit. But unique circumstances over the past decade enabled a politically coherent Iraqi Kurdistan to temporarily defy its own history and inch toward quasi-independence.
A String of Good Fortune
The chain of events began with the 2003 toppling of Saddam Hussein. His attempts to eradicate Iraq's Kurdish population through chemical attacks in the Anfal campaign of the late 1980s and other aggressions in the region eventually led to the creation of a U.S.-imposed no-fly zone in northern Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War. With the threat in Baghdad effectively neutralized and U.S. troops covering Mesopotamia, Iraq's Kurdish leadership put aside their differences to form the Kurdistan Regional Government, further solidifying the boundaries of the northern autonomous zone.
Ultimately, the United States was a strong but unreliable protector for the Kurds. When U.S. troops withdrew from Iraq, a nervous Kurdistan looked to energy firms as their next-best insurance policy. So long as Western energy firms were committed to making money in northern Iraq, their presence would give Arbil the leverage it needed to balance against a government in Baghdad, slowly re-strengthening under Shiite dominance and committed to keeping Kurdish oil revenues under its control.
But as tensions with Baghdad grew over the distribution of energy revenues, the Iraqi Kurds unexpectedly found a sponsor in Ankara. The moderate Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party had effectively neutered the military's political influence in Turkey and was ready to experiment with a new strategy toward its Kurdish population. Instead of suppressing Kurdish autonomy with an iron fist, Ankara went from regarding Kurds as confused "mountain Turks" to recognizing Kurdish language and cultural rights and launching its most ambitious peace negotiation to date with the Kurdistan Workers' Party. This policy of engagement extended to Iraqi Kurdistan, where the Turkish government was earnestly eyeing Kurdish oil and natural gas to fuel Turkey's expensive energy appetite and loosen Russia's energy grip over Ankara.
At this point, Iran was too preoccupied to effectively balance against Turkey's deepening involvement in Iraqi Kurdistan. The Iranian regime was busy defending its allies in Syria and Lebanon while trying to manage a highly antagonistic relationship with the United States. Meanwhile, Baghdad had its hands full in trying to manage intra-Shiite rivalries and fending against a reinvigorated jihadist threat spurred by the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and the Syrian civil war -- all while trying to prevent the Kurds from breaking out on their own.
A cooperative Ankara, a weak Damascus, a preoccupied Tehran, an overwhelmed Baghdad and a host of anxious investors formed the ingredients for an audacious pipeline project. It began furtively in 2012 as a natural gas pipeline designed to feed the domestic Kurdish market. When the pipeline quietly skirted past the power plant it was supposed to feed, underwent a conversion to transport oil and began heading northward to Turkey, the secret was out: Turkey and the Kurdistan Regional Government were working to circumvent Baghdad and independently export Kurdish energy.
As the pipeline construction progressed, Kurdish peshmerga forces continued spreading beyond formal Kurdistan Regional Government boundaries in disputed areas and held their ground against demoralized Iraqi army forces. And in the name of guarding against a real and persistent jihadist threat, Kurdish forces built deep, wide ditches around the city of Arbil and are now building one around the disputed oil-rich city of Kirkuk, marking the outer bounds of a slowly expanding Kurdish sphere of influence.
A Complicated Future
We have now arrived at the question of when, and not if, Kurdish oil will flow to Turkey without Baghdad's consent. The completion of the tie-in of the pipeline at a newly constructed pumping and metering station at Fishkhabor near the Turkish border, bypassing the station controlled by Iraqi federal authorities, marks the boldest foreign policy move that Turkey has made in a very long time.
Kurdistan Energy Projects
Click to Enlarge
Turkey has put itself in a position where it can receive 250,000 to 300,000 barrels per day of crude from Iraqi Kurdistan (potentially including crude that could later be pumped from the disputed Kirkuk field through the Khurmala Dome complex in Kurdish territory) at the Turkish border. From Fishkhabor, the crude will reconnect to a 40-inch pipe that runs parallel to a 46-inch pipe traveling westward to the Ceyhan port terminal. While the 46-inch pipe of the Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline in federal Iraqi territory is operating at just one-fifth of its capacity due to disrepair and frequent militant attacks, Turkey and the Kurdistan Regional Government are essentially appropriating the section of the 40-inch pipe lying in Turkish territory to complete their independent energy project.
Plans are quietly being discussed to build another parallel line on the Turkish side to Ceyhan to completely divorce the pipeline infrastructure from any claims by Baghdad. Even now, by Ankara and Arbil's design, Baghdad has no physical means of interrupting the oil flow through the new pipeline route. And while Baghdad can quietly try to facilitate, or at least turn a blind eye to, jihadist attacks in Iraqi Kurdistan in a bid to undermine investor confidence, Kurdish security and intelligence can still put up a formidable defense against threats from both jihadists and Iraqi national forces -- that is, at least until Baghdad develops its air force and regains the military bandwidth to refocus on the north.
The speed and cunning with which the pipeline was completed demand respect, even -- however reluctantly -- from an outraged Baghdad. At the same time, the geopolitical tectonic plates are shifting once again in this volatile region, promising to complicate the energy strategy engineered by Arbil and Ankara down the line.
Iran may have been too distracted to balance Turkey in Kurdish lands over the past decade, but the coming years will look different. Iran and the United States are both serious about reaching a strategic rapprochement in their long-hostile relationship. Though there will be obstacles along the way, the foundation for a U.S.-Iranian detente has been laid. Turkey is already starting to adapt to the shifting balance of power, struggling to reach an accommodation with Baghdad, Tehran and Washington over the thorny issue of how payments from this new export pipeline will be handled. For now, the United States is trying to avoid becoming entangled in this political morass, prioritizing its negotiation with Iran while publicly maintaining a "one Baghdad, one Iraq" policy. But with time, the United States will regain its ability to manage a balance of power between Shiite Iran and Sunni competitors such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia. The more U.S.-Iranian relations progress, the more time and attention Iran can give to strong-arming regional allies, like Baghdad, in the face of a deepening Turkish footprint in northern Iraq.
The age-old Turkic-Persian rivalry will reawaken in Kurdistan as Iran reinforces its Shiite allies in Baghdad to pressure the Kurds, using military operations in its own Kurdish region to justify cross-border interventions. Iran is also already starting to discuss energy exploration in the border region with Iraqi Kurdistan, asserting that if Arbil has a problem with such activities, it can take it up with Baghdad. But the sharpest tools Iran and its allies in Baghdad have to undermine Turkey's alliance with the Kurdistan Regional Government are the Kurds themselves.
The past decade of Kurdish unity between Massoud Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party and Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan is highly anomalous and arguably temporary. Iraq's Kurdish region has effectively been split between the Barzani and Talabani fiefs politically, militarily and economically, with the Kurdistan Democratic Party ruling the northern provinces of Dohuk and Arbil and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan ruling Suleimaniyah to the south. Though the two parties have demonstrated the ability to suppress their rivalry in times of extreme stress or opportunity, the fault lines that intersect this fractious Kurdish landscape are still present. On the surface, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan have united their peshmerga forces into a single, unified ministry. In reality, the political lines dividing Peshmerga forces remain sharper than ever. Further complicating matters is the political rise of the Gorran movement, a faction that broke away from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan now that the latter is suffering from a leadership vacuum. Though the Gorran can only claim votes at this point, it is only a matter of time before it, too, develops its own peshmerga forces, creating an even wider imbalance of power among Iraq's main Kurdish parties.
The cracks in the Kurdish landscape will be exploited the more competition grows between Turkey and Iran. One does not even have to reach far back in history to get a sense of just how deep Kurdish rivalries can run. The Kurdistan Democratic Party and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan were engaged in an all-out civil war from 1994 to 1996 that arose from a property dispute. More willing to turn to their regional adversary than compromise with their ethnic kin, the Kurdistan Democratic Party reached out to Ankara and even Saddam Hussein for assistance, while the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan took help from Iran. Those fault lines have tempered since the fall of Hussein, but the influx of oil money into an already highly corrupt and competitive leadership, a growing imbalance of power among the main Kurdish parties and a developing rivalry between regional forces Turkey and Iran will apply enormous stress on the Kurds' brittle union.
For now, Kurdish and Turkish officials and energy executives alike will brush these inconvenient warnings aside; their eyes will remain set on the hundreds of thousands of barrels of crude and billions of cubic meters of natural gas lying beneath Kurdistan's rocky surface. From their point of view, how could Baghdad refuse the commercial benefits of another viable export line out of Iraq? It's only a matter of time, they say, until Baghdad comes to the negotiating table on Ankara's and Arbil's terms and a win-win solution is achieved.
But matters of territorial integrity, financial sovereignty and nationalism are not easily trifled with at the intersection of empires. This is easy to forget when watching heavy concrete blocks being lifted by cranes over Arbil, a bubble of a city where two five-star hotels are filled with expats and Versace-clad locals who look like they belong in a "coming soon" promotion on the oil riches about to be bestowed on Iraqi Kurdistan.
Just a few miles from that glitzy scene is a crowded, smoke-filled cafeteria filled with women in head scarves, screaming children and a mix of men wearing business suits and the traditional Shal-u-Shepik style of baggy trousers with thick bands around the waist. Carts filled with tea in tulip-shaped glasses, warm sheets of flatbread, Kurdish kabob, hummus, cucumbers and radishes rattle noisily through a maze of long tables. Across from me, a young Kurdish man with bright eyes and an American flag on his phone fidgets in his seat. After a long pause, he says, "you know … we have a saying here. Kurdistan is a tree. After a long time, we grow tall, we become full of green leaves and then the tree shrivels and becomes bare. Right now, our leaves are green. Give it enough time. This tree won't die, but our leaves will fall to the ground again."
Editor's Note: Writing in George Friedman's stead this week is Reva Bhalla, vice president of Global Analysis.
Read more: Letter from Kurdistan | Stratfor
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / How Robots will change the World
on: December 16, 2013, 02:14:01 PM
Google/GOOG has purchased Boston Dynamics, a developer of advanced robots and related software for the U.S. military. Boston has "gained an international reputation for machines that walk with an uncanny sense of balance and...run faster than the fastest humans," the NYT writes.
Boston's products include Atlas, a humanoid robot able to handle difficult terrain; and Cheetah, the fastest legged robot in the world with a top speed of over 29 mph.
Boston is Google's eighth robotics acquisition this year, with the Web giant looking at manufacturing and retail applications.
A video of Boston Dynamics BigDog, scarily impressive. Especially when you consider this technology is from 5+ years ago...https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W1czBcnX1Ww&
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Schneier: Crypto-Gram
on: December 16, 2013, 12:04:43 PM
December 15, 2013
by Bruce Schneier
BT Security Futurologist firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.schneier.com
A free monthly newsletter providing summaries, analyses, insights, and commentaries on security: computer and otherwise.
For back issues, or to subscribe, visit <http://www.schneier.com/crypto-gram.html>.
You can read this issue on the web at
<http://www.schneier.com/crypto-gram-1312.html>. These same essays and news items appear in the "Schneier on Security" blog at <http://www.schneier.com/blog>, along with a lively and intelligent comment section. An RSS feed is available.
** *** ***** ******* *********** *************
In this issue:
NSA Spying on Online Gaming Worlds
NSA Tracks People Using Google Cookies
NSA And U.S. Surveillance News
How Antivirus Companies Handle State-Sponsored Malware
Surveillance as a Business Model
Evading Airport Security
Crypto-Gram Has Moved
The TQP Patent
** *** ***** ******* *********** *************
NSA Spying on Online Gaming Worlds
The NSA is spying on chats in World of Warcraft and other games. There's lots of information -- and a good source document. While it's fun to joke about the NSA and elves and dwarves from World of Warcraft, this kind of surveillance makes perfect sense. If, as Dan Geer has pointed out, your assigned mission is to ensure that something never happens, the only way you can be sure that something never happens is to know
*everything* that does happen. Which puts you in the impossible position of having to eavesdrop on every possible communications channel, including online gaming worlds.
One bit (on page 2) jumped out at me:
The NMDC engaged SNORT, an open source packet-sniffing
software, which runs on all FORNSAT survey packet data, to
filter out WoW packets. GCHQ provided several WoW protocol
parsing scripts to process the traffic and produce Warcraft
metadata from all NMDC FORNSAT survey.
NMDC is the New Mission Development Center, and FORNSAT stands for Foreign Satellite Collection. MHS, which also appears in the source document, stands for -- I think -- Menwith Hill Station, a satellite eavesdropping location in the UK.
Since the Snowden documents first started being released, I have been saying that while the US has a bigger intelligence budget than the rest of the world's countries combined, agencies like the NSA are not made of magic. They're constrained by the laws of mathematics, physics, and economics -- just like everyone else. Here's an example. The NSA is using Snort -- an open source product that anyone can download and use
-- because that's a more cost-effective tool than anything they can develop in-house.http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/09/nsa-spies-online-games-world-warcraft-second-life
Dan Geer's essay:https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2013/11/dan_geer_explai.html
** *** ***** ******* *********** *************
NSA Tracks People Using Google Cookies
The "Washington Post" has a detailed article on how the NSA uses cookie data to track individuals. The EFF also has a good post on this.
I have been writing and saying that surveillance is the business model of the Internet, and that government surveillance largely piggy backs on corporate capabilities. This is an example of that. The NSA doesn't need the cooperation of any Internet company to use their cookies for surveillance purposes, but they do need their capabilities. And because the Internet is largely unencrypted, they can use those capabilities for their own purposes.
Reforming the NSA is not just about government surveillance. It has to address the public-private surveillance partnership. Even as a group of large Internet companies have come together to demand government surveillance reform, they are ignoring their own surveillance activities. But you can't reform one without the other. The Free Software Foundation has written about this as well.
Little has been written about how QUANTUM interacts with cookie surveillance. QUANTUM is the NSA's program for real-time responses to passive Internet monitoring. It's what allows them to do packet injection attacks. The NSA's Tor Stinks presentation talks about a subprogram called QUANTUMCOOKIE: "forces clients to divulge stored cookies." My guess is that the NSA uses frame injection to surreptitiously force anonymous users to visit common sites like Google and Facebook and reveal their identifying cookies. Combined with the rest of their cookie surveillance activities, this can de-anonymize Tor users if they use Tor from the same browser they use for other Internet activities.http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2013/12/10/nsa-uses-google-cookies-to-pinpoint-targets-for-hacking/
Me on this issue:https://www.schneier.com/essay-467.htmlhttp://www.darkreading.com/vulnerability/schneier-make-wide-scale-surveillance-to/240163668
Corporations calling for less surveillance:https://reformgovernmentsurveillance.com/
Free Software Foundation's statement:https://www.fsf.org/news/reform-corporate-surveillance
Tor Stinks presentation:http://www.theguardian.com/world/interactive/2013/oct/04/tor-stinks-nsa-presentation-document
** *** ***** ******* *********** *************
NSA and US Surveillance News
Nicholas Weaver has a great essay explaining how the NSA's QUANTUM
packet injection system works, what we know it does, what else it can
possibly do, and how to defend against it. Remember that while QUANTUM
is an NSA program, other countries engage in these sorts of attacks as
well. By securing the Internet against QUANTUM, we protect ourselves
against any government or criminal use of these sorts of techniques.http://www.wired.com/opinion/2013/11/this-is-how-the-internet-backbone-has-been-turned-into-a-weapon/
The US is working to kill United Nations resolutions to limit
This is a long article about the FBI's Data Intercept Technology Unit
(DITU), which is basically its own internal NSA.http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2013/11/21/the_obscure_fbi_team_that_does_the_nsa_dirty_work
There is an enormous amount of information in the article, which exposes
yet another piece of the vast US government surveillance infrastructure.
It's good to read that "at least two" companies are fighting at least
a part of this. Any legislation aimed at restoring security and trust
in US Internet companies needs to address the whole problem, and not
just a piece of it.
As more and more media outlets from all over the world continue to
report on the Snowden documents, it's harder and harder to keep track of
what has been released. The EFF, ACLU, Cryptome, gov1.info, and
Wikipedia are all trying. I don't think any are complete.https://www.eff.org/nsa-spying/nsadocshttps://www.aclu.org/nsa-documents-released-public-june-2013http://cryptome.org/2013/11/snowden-tally.htmhttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_surveillance_disclosure
And this mind map of the NSA leaks is very comprehensive.http://www.mindmeister.com/326632176/nsa-css
This is also good:http://www.tedgioia.com/nsa_facts.html
** *** ***** ******* *********** *************
How Antivirus Companies Handle State-Sponsored Malware
Since we learned that the NSA has surreptitiously weakened Internet
security so it could more easily eavesdrop, we've been wondering if it's
done anything to antivirus products. Given that it engages in offensive
cyberattacks -- and launches cyberweapons like Stuxnet and Flame -- it's
reasonable to assume that it's asked antivirus companies to ignore its
malware. (We know that antivirus companies have previously done this
for corporate malware.)
My guess is that the NSA has not done this, nor has any other government
intelligence or law enforcement agency. My reasoning is that antivirus
is a very international industry, and while a government might get its
own companies to play along, it would not be able to influence
international companies. So while the NSA could certainly pressure
McAfee or Symantec -- both Silicon Valley companies -- to ignore NSA
malware, it could not similarly pressure Kaspersky Labs (Russian),
F-Secure (Finnish), or AVAST (Czech). And the governments of Russia,
Finland, and the Czech Republic will have comparable problems.
Even so, I joined a group of security experts to ask antivirus companies
explicitly if they were ignoring malware at the behest of a government.
Understanding that the companies could certainly lie, this is the
response so far: no one has admitted to doing so. But most vendors
** *** ***** ******* *********** *************
Surveillance as a Business Model
Google recently announced that it would start including individual
users' names and photos in some ads. This means that if you rate some
product positively, your friends may see ads for that product with your
name and photo attached -- without your knowledge or consent. Meanwhile,
Facebook is eliminating a feature that allowed people to retain some
portions of their anonymity on its website.
These changes come on the heels of Google's move to explore replacing
tracking cookies with something that users have even less control over.
Microsoft is doing something similar by developing its own tracking
More generally, lots of companies are evading the "Do Not Track" rules,
meant to give users a say in whether companies track them. Turns out the
whole "Do Not Track" legislation has been a sham.
It shouldn't come as a surprise that big technology companies are
tracking us on the Internet even more aggressively than before.
If these features don't sound particularly beneficial to you, it's
because you're not the customer of any of these companies. You're the
product, and you're being improved for their actual customers: their
This is nothing new. For years, these sites and others have
systematically improved their "product" by reducing user privacy. This
excellent infographic, for example, illustrates how Facebook has done so
over the years.
The "Do Not Track" law serves as a sterling example of how bad things
are. When it was proposed, it was supposed to give users the right to
demand that Internet companies not track them. Internet companies fought
hard against the law, and when it was passed, they fought to ensure that
it didn't have any benefit to users. Right now, complying is entirely
voluntary, meaning that no Internet company has to follow the law. If a
company does, because it wants the PR benefit of seeming to take user
privacy seriously, it can still track its users.
Really: if you tell a "Do Not Track"-enabled company that you don't want
to be tracked, it will stop showing you personalized ads. But your
activity will be tracked -- and your personal information collected,
sold and used -- just like everyone else's. It's best to think of it as
a "track me in secret" law.
Of course, people don't think of it that way. Most people aren't fully
aware of how much of their data is collected by these sites. And, as the
"Do Not Track" story illustrates, Internet companies are doing their
best to keep it that way.
The result is a world where our most intimate personal details are
collected and stored. I used to say that Google has a more intimate
picture of what I'm thinking of than my wife does. But that's not far
enough: Google has a more intimate picture than I do. The company knows
exactly what I am thinking about, how much I am thinking about it, and
when I stop thinking about it: all from my Google searches. And it
remembers all of that forever.
As the Edward Snowden revelations continue to expose the full extent of
the National Security Agency's eavesdropping on the Internet, it has
become increasingly obvious how much of that has been enabled by the
corporate world's existing eavesdropping on the Internet.
The public/private surveillance partnership is fraying, but it's largely
alive and well. The NSA didn't build its eavesdropping system from
scratch; it got itself a copy of what the corporate world was already
There are a lot of reasons why Internet surveillance is so prevalent and
One, users like free things, and don't realize how much value they're
giving away to get it. We know that "free" is a special price that
confuses people's thinking.
Google's 2013 third quarter profits were nearly $3 billion; that profit
is the difference between how much our privacy is worth and the cost of
the services we receive in exchange for it.
Two, Internet companies deliberately make privacy not salient. When you
log onto Facebook, you don't think about how much personal information
you're revealing to the company; you're chatting with your friends. When
you wake up in the morning, you don't think about how you're going to
allow a bunch of companies to track you throughout the day; you just put
your cell phone in your pocket.
And three, the Internet's winner-takes-all market means that
privacy-preserving alternatives have trouble getting off the ground. How
many of you know that there is a Google alternative called DuckDuckGo
that doesn't track you? Or that you can use cut-out sites to anonymize
your Google queries? I have opted out of Facebook, and I know it affects
my social life.
There are two types of changes that need to happen in order to fix this.
First, there's the market change. We need to become actual customers of
these sites so we can use purchasing power to force them to take our
privacy seriously. But that's not enough. Because of the market failures
surrounding privacy, a second change is needed. We need government
regulations that protect our privacy by limiting what these sites can do
with our data.
Surveillance is the business model of the Internet -- Al Gore recently
called it a "stalker economy." All major websites run on advertising,
and the more personal and targeted that advertising is, the more revenue
the site gets for it. As long as we users remain the product, there is
minimal incentive for these companies to provide any real privacy.
This essay previously appeared on CNN.com.http://edition.cnn.com/2013/11/20/opinion/schneier-stalker-economy/index.html
Evading "Do Not Track":http://www.informationweek.com/security/privacy/advertisers-evade-do-not-track-with-supe/240162521
Internet tracking by corporations:http://www.wired.com/business/2013/10/private-tracking-arms-race
The public/private surveillance partnership:https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2013/08/the_publicpriva_1.html
Al Gore's remarks:http://www.vancouversun.com/news/Former+vicepresident+Gore+predicts+lawmakers+will+rein/9129866/story.html
** *** ***** ******* *********** *************
Fokirtor is a Linux Trojan that exfiltrates traffic by inserting it into
SSH connections. It looks very well-designed and -constructed.http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/11/15/stealthy_linux_backdoor/http://www.symantec.com/security_response/writeup.jsp?docid=2013-061917-4900-99
Tips on how to avoid getting arrested, more psychological than security.http://www.theatlanticcities.com/politics/2013/11/ex-cops-guide-not-getting-arrested/7491/#.UnvMMyUq1dw.email
Rebuttal and discussion:http://blog.simplejustice.us/2013/11/08/how-to-bend-over-and-please-a-cop/
Renesys is reporting that Internet traffic is being manipulatively
rerouted, presumably for eavesdropping purposes. The attacks exploit
flaws in the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP). The odds that the NSA is
not doing this sort of thing are basically zero, but I'm sure that their
activities are going to be harder to discover.http://www.renesys.com/2013/11/mitm-internet-hijacking/http://arstechnica.com/security/2013/11/repeated-attacks-hijack-huge-chunks-of-internet-traffic-researchers-warn/
Safeplug is an easy-to-use Tor appliance. I like that it can also act
as a Tor exit node. I know nothing about this appliance, nor do I
endorse it. In fact, I would like it to be independently audited before
we start trusting it. But it's a fascinating proof-of-concept of
encapsulating security so that normal Internet users can use it.http://www.pogoplug.com/safeplug
Ralph Langer has written the definitive analysis of Stuxnet. There's a
short, popular version, and long, technical version.http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2013/11/19/stuxnets_secret_twin_iran_nukes_cyber_attack?page=full
Earlier this month, Eugene Kaspersky said that Stuxnet also damaged a
Russian nuclear power station and the International Space Station.http://www.timesofisrael.com/stuxnet-gone-rogue-hit-russian-nuke-plant-space-station/
Some apps are being distributed with secret Bitcoin-mining software
embedded in them. Coins found are sent back to the app owners, of
course. And to make it legal, it's part of the end-user license
agreement (EULA). This is a great example of why EULAs are bad. The
stunt that resulted in 7,500 people giving Gamestation.co.uk their
immortal souls a few years ago was funny, but hijacking users' computers
for profit is actually bad.https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2013/12/the_problem_wit_5.html
Here's a new biometric I know nothing about: your heartwave.http://techcrunch.com/2013/09/03/nymi/http://bionym.com/resources/NymiWhitePaper.pdf
Telepathwords is a pretty clever research project that tries to evaluate
password strength. It's different from normal strength meters, and I
think better. Password-strength evaluators have generally been pretty
poor, regularly assessing weak passwords as strong (and vice versa). I
like seeing new research in this area.https://telepathwords.research.microsoft.com/
This is the best explanation of the Bitcoin protocol that I have read.http://www.michaelnielsen.org/ddi/how-the-bitcoin-protocol-actually-works/
** *** ***** ******* *********** *************
Evading Airport Security
The news is reporting about Evan Booth, who builds weaponry out of items
you can buy after airport security. It's clever stuff.
It's not new, though. People have been explaining how to evade airport
security for years.
Back in 2006, I -- and others -- explained how to print your own
boarding pass and evade the photo-ID check, a trick that still seems to
work. In 2008, I demonstrated carrying two large bottles of liquid
through airport security. There's a paper about stabbing people with
stuff you can take through airport security. And there's a German video
of someone building a bomb out of components he snuck through a
full-body scanner. There's lots more if you start poking around the
So, what's the moral here? It's not like the terrorists don't know
about these tricks. They're no surprise to the TSA, either. If airport
security is so porous, why aren't there more terrorist attacks? Why
aren't the terrorists using these, and other, techniques to attack
planes every month?
I think the answer is simple: airplane terrorism isn't a big risk. There
are very few actual terrorists, and plots are much more difficult to
execute than the tactics of the attack itself. It's the same reason why
I don't care very much about the various TSA mistakes that are regularly
Bypassing the boarding pass check at airport security:https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2006/11/forge_your_own.htmlhttps://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2012/10/hacking_tsa_pre.html
Carrying lots of liquids through airport security:https://www.schneier.com/news-072.html
Stabbing people after airport security:https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2009/11/stabbing_people.html
Bringing a bomb through a full-body scanner:https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2010/01/german_tv_on_th.html
Why terrorism is difficult:https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2010/05/why_arent_there.html
** *** ***** ******* *********** *************
I did a Reddit "Ask Me Anything" on 22 November.http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/1r8ibh/iama_security_technologist_and_author_bruce
0-Day Clothing has taken 25 Bruce Schneier Facts and turned them into
T-shirts just in time for Christmas.http://www.zerodayclothing.com/schneierfacts.php
I have a new book. It's "Carry On: Sound Advice from Schneier on
Security," and it's my second collection of essays. This book covers my
writings from March 2008 to June 2013. (My first collection of essays,
"Schneier on Security," covered my writings from April 2002 to February
2008.) There's nothing in this book that hasn't been published before,
and nothing you can't get free off my website. But if you're looking
for my recent writings in a convenient-to-carry hardcover-book format,
this is the book for you. Unfortunately, the paper book isn't due in
stores -- either online or brick-and-mortar -- until 12/27, which makes
it a pretty lousy Christmas gift, though Amazon and B&N both claim it'll
be in stock there on December 16. And if you don't mind waiting until
after the new year, I will sell you a signed copy of the book.https://www.schneier.com/book-co.html
I'm speaking at the Real World Cryptography Workshop in New York on
** *** ***** ******* *********** *************
Crypto-Gram Has Moved
The Crypto-Gram mailing list has moved to a new server and new software
(Mailman). Most of you won't notice any difference -- except that this
month's newsletter should get to you much faster than last month's.
However, if you've saved any old subscribe/unsubscribe instructions that
involve sending e-mail or visiting http://listserv.modwest.com
will no longer work. If you want to unsubscribe, the easiest thing is
to use the personalized unsubscribe link at the bottom of this e-mail.
And you can always find the current instructions here:https://www.schneier.com/crypto-gram-sub.html
** *** ***** ******* *********** *************
The TQP Patent
One of the things I do is expert witness work in patent litigations.
Often, it's defending companies against patent trolls. One of the
patents I have worked on for several defendants is owned by a company
called TQP Development. The patent owner claims that it covers SSL and
RC4, which it does not. The patent owner claims that the patent is
novel, which it is not. Despite this, TQP has managed to make $45
million off the patent, almost entirely as a result of private
settlements. One company, Newegg, fought and lost -- although it's
planning to appeal
There is legislation pending in the US to help stop patent trolls. Help
TQP vs Newegg:http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2013/11/newegg-on-trial-mystery-company-tqp-re-writes-the-history-of-encryption/2/
Pending US legislation:https://www.eff.org/cases/six-good-things-about-innovation-acthttps://action.eff.org/o/9042/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=9416
** *** ***** ******* *********** *************
Since 1998, CRYPTO-GRAM has been a free monthly newsletter providing
summaries, analyses, insights, and commentaries on security: computer
and otherwise. You can subscribe, unsubscribe, or change your address on
the Web at <http://www.schneier.com/crypto-gram.html>. Back issues are
also available at that URL.
Please feel free to forward CRYPTO-GRAM, in whole or in part, to
colleagues and friends who will find it valuable. Permission is also
granted to reprint CRYPTO-GRAM, as long as it is reprinted in its entirety.
CRYPTO-GRAM is written by Bruce Schneier. Bruce Schneier is an
internationally renowned security technologist, called a "security guru"
by The Economist. He is the author of 12 books -- including "Liars and
Outliers: Enabling the Trust Society Needs to Survive" -- as well as
hundreds of articles, essays, and academic papers. His influential
newsletter "Crypto-Gram" and his blog "Schneier on Security" are read by
over 250,000 people. He has testified before Congress, is a frequent
guest on television and radio, has served on several government
committees, and is regularly quoted in the press. Schneier is a fellow
at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, a
program fellow at the New America Foundation's Open Technology
Institute, a board member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an
Advisory Board Member of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, and
the Security Futurologist for BT -- formerly British Telecom. See
Crypto-Gram is a personal newsletter. Opinions expressed are not
necessarily those of BT.
Copyright (c) 2013 by Bruce Schneier.
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Stratfor: Territorial Power and Lootings
on: December 16, 2013, 11:55:04 AM
Argentina, Territorial Power and the Meaning of Lootings
Thursday, December 12, 2013 - 19:02 Text Size Print
The power of mass public discontent has always played a critical role in Argentine politics, as we were reminded Thursday when the Argentine government announced that it would deploy additional security in the province of Buenos Aires to confront expected riots and lootings Dec. 19 and 20. The announcement came along with reports that shop owners are buying weapons in anticipation of having to defend their stores.
Power in Argentina has a strong territorial element. From presidents and governors to union leaders and protest groups, power is measured in the number of people political actors can take to the streets. To a large extent, this phenomenon is the natural heir of Peronism, one of the most significant populist movements in the modern era. Peronism has its roots in the process of mass migration from the countryside to the city, the product of industrialization in the first half of the 20th century. Peronism presented itself as a movement of inclusion in the political life for the masses of people who had traditionally been neglected by the political system.
What is a Geopolitical Diary? George Friedman explains.
It is no coincidence that the founding myth of Peronism focuses on the events of Oct. 17, 1945, when several thousand people rallied in Buenos Aires to demand the release of then-Labor Minister Juan Peron, who was put in prison by the military regime in Argentina. This event established a direct connection between territorial power and political power that marked Argentina's politics for the next six decades. Indeed, the current government of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has built its foundation of the legacy of Peron.
In modern Argentina, territorial power is still a key feature of political power. The most powerful political leaders are those who can organize the largest rallies -- which in turn means that they can lead the largest number of people to polling stations when necessary. For this reason, the heart of political power in Argentina is located in the province of Buenos Aires, the wealthiest and most populous province of Argentina. Particularly important are the areas of the province that surround the city of Buenos Aires. These are vastly populated and relatively poor areas, which means that their populations are particularly susceptible to the patronage-based system that defines Argentine politics.
In this context of territorial power, lootings have political significance. Together with rallies, lootings are an effective way to undermine political groups in power. Lootings have a psychological impact because they instill an image of anomie and lack of control by the government. Lootings particularly frighten the middle and upper classes because they create an impression that private property and street safety are at risk.
Looting is not uncommon, but sustained periods of looting riots are. And in two cases in the past 25 years, looting preceded the fall of presidents. In 1989, the first president since the return of democracy in Argentina, Raul Alfonsin from the Radical Civic Union party, resigned amid hyperinflation and lootings. In 2001, another president from the Radical Civic Union, Fernando de la Rua, resigned after a week of lootings and protests in several cities across the country.
Both resignations had a lasting political impact in Argentina and generated a very strong connection in the public mind between lootings and political crises. In 1989 and 2001, the Radical Civic Union accused the Peronists of orchestrating the lootings. Certainly, lootings do not happen without social unrest. In 1989 and 2001, Argentina was going through severe economic crises, and people were extremely upset with the government. But while the accusations against the Peronists were never confirmed, countrywide lootings need some degree of political incentives or organization.
The current wave of lootings finds its immediate origin in a police strike, but it has deeper roots, as it occurs in a context of a growing economic and political crisis. Inflation is very high, which particularly affects the income of the lower class. The middle class, hurt by growing fiscal pressure, has to a large extent withdrawn its support for Fernandez's government. For its part, the upper class is affected by the increasing distortions in exchange rates and is concerned about rising crime.
December is a special month for Argentines, because it is when Christmas and vacation bonuses are paid. It's also the month when people want to purchase holiday gifts and their economic situation becomes more palpable. The economic crisis of 2001 reached its highest point in December, when some 20 people were killed during lootings and protests against the government. After December, the summer begins and the political and economic tensions often unwind. For this reason, the next two weeks are crucial for the stability of the Argentine government.
But even if the current wave of lootings subsides, it is only the beginning of two very intense years for Argentina. Fernandez lost congressional support in the midterm elections, cannot be re-elected and lacks a clear successor. She still has two years in office, but Peronists within and outside her close factional allies have begun to look for her successor. Much of that search will take place in meetings among mayors, governors, lawmakers and union leaders. But as with many times in the past, the bid for power will also take place in the streets.
Read more: Argentina, Territorial Power and the Meaning of Lootings | Stratfor
Follow us: @stratfor on Twitter | Stratfor on Facebook
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Wesbury on Bitcoin
on: December 16, 2013, 11:11:34 AM
How Much Does that Burger Cost in Bitcoins?
The digital scrip doesn't meet the requirements to be a real currency.
By Brian Wesbury
Dec. 15, 2013 6:33 p.m. ET
In the 1930s, when the Federal Reserve let the money supply contract, there was a true shortage of currency. At least 150 communities experimented with scrip—printing their own money to grease the wheels of commerce. None worked, and all have disappeared.
Today, because of worries about the Fed printing too much money, a private online global scrip, called Bitcoin, has been created. This scrip is supposed to protect society from inflationary monetary policy.
Could Bitcoins become an alternative to the money or monies that exist across the globe? One of the biggest investors in Bitcoins thinks so. The Winklevoss twins, of Facebook FB +0.62% fame, think the market for Bitcoins could increase 100-fold to more than $400 billion. And a Costa Mesa, Calif., luxury car dealer is reportedly selling cars, including a Tesla S and a Lamborghini Gallardo, for Bitcoins.
Bitcoins are "mined" by running a computer algorithm, creating a digitized code. That code can then be used to complete online transactions. The algorithm makes it progressively harder to mine Bitcoins as the total number increases. Preset limits supposedly cap the maximum number of Bitcoins at 21 million, and right now there are roughly 12 million in existence. Rising hope of wider acceptance drove the price of a Bitcoin to more than $1,200 a few weeks ago. But when Baidu.com, BIDU -0.30% the Chinese web services company, said it would not accept the scrip, the price fell sharply and it currently trades near $900.
Bitcoins meet most of the criteria of money. They are a medium of exchange, a unit of account, a store of value and a standard of deferred payment. But what ultimately gives money value is that it is accepted by others in trade for something of value. And that is why scrip doesn't work.
Let's say a barber in a Wisconsin town accepts scrip for haircuts and uses it to eat at a local restaurant that buys its produce from a local farmer. As long as each of these businesses kept all their purchases in the community, all would be well. But why would a scissor manufacturer in Germany or China or even Chicago accept this scrip? The car dealer in California, for example, is not actually accepting Bitcoins for his vehicles—they first have to be converted to U.S. dollars.
To become a true alternative currency, Bitcoins need to be accepted in a wide enough swath of society to facilitate the normal transaction of business. If they aren't, they will always trade at a discount to their potential value.
Right now, total cash and deposits in the U.S. banking system (the M2 money supply), is roughly $11 trillion. Assuming 21 million Bitcoins are mined and they become an accepted currency, each one could be worth as much as $524,000. This is a massive potential appreciation from their current level.
However, the list of companies that accept Bitcoin as payment for actual transactions make up what I estimate to be less than one-hundredth of a percent of all spending, or GDP. Since money gets its value from the goods, services and assets that it can purchase, a Bitcoin is currently worth only 0.01% of its true potential, or about $52.40.
Bitcoins require storage space (in a computer), power to run the computer (electricity), security (from hacking), and computational power (serious encryption) on both sides of a transaction. There are firms that act as middlemen in Bitcoin transactions, and firms that make a market in Bitcoins, but they are new and have no serious financial track record. Many Bitcoin transactions facilitate illegal commerce. The Bitcoin world is not friction-free, or clean.
And is it really true that no more than 21 million Bitcoins can be produced? Hackers keep getting better, and the temptation to expand the supply of money has been powerful (and profitable, for the issuer) since the time of the Romans. These costs and questions all impact the value of a Bitcoin substantially.
To become a real alternative currency, Bitcoins must be recognized by a majority of businesses and consumers. They must be as safe, or safer, than currency issued by a central bank. And they must be transportable. Currently, the Bitcoin does not meet any of these requirements, and this is why it is trading for much less than its actual convertible U.S. dollar value.
If you believe Bitcoin in time will become an alternative to the world's currencies, there are huge potential profits as the value of a Bitcoin rises to $524,000—or higher if drug dealers and other nefarious users are willing to pay a premium for anonymity.
But to be truly successful, Bitcoins have to win the battle of money on all levels of competition and that is a very high hurdle to clear.
Mr. Wesbury is chief economist at First Trust Advisors LP.
Tricky Dog, who is a very bright fellow and has been following bitcoin comments:
Marc - he makes a few salient points but he is vague on the prospects or the details. Moreover, he does not seem to understand BitCoin (asking if only 21 million can be produced - it is an algorithm, not a choice). And it was not "created" due to any concerns about the Fed printing too much money. It was created to eliminate central authorities all together.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Peter O'Toole's epitaph
on: December 16, 2013, 10:28:16 AM
From an interview with actor Peter O'Toole, who died Saturday, on TCM Word of Mouth, December 2008:
Many years ago I sent an old, beloved jacket to a cleaner, the Sycamore Cleaners. It was a leather jacket covered in Guinness and blood and marmalade, one of those jobs . . . and it came back with a little note pinned to it, and on the note it said, "It distresses us to return work which is not perfect." So that will do for me. That can go on my tombstone.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / WSJ: Move to reform Patent Law
on: December 16, 2013, 10:24:38 AM
Jimmy Carter's Costly Patent Mistake
His 1979 proposal has led to ill-conceived protection for software ideas and a tidal wave of litigation.
L. Gordon Crovitz
Dec. 15, 2013 6:31 p.m. ET
Washington doesn't agree on much, but all three branches of government now have plans to reform the country's patent system. What's not widely understood is that this marks the failure of one of Washington's most ambitious experiments in industrial policy.
Today's patent mess can be traced to a miscalculation by Jimmy Carter, who thought granting more patents would help overcome economic stagnation. In 1979, his Domestic Policy Review on Industrial Innovation proposed a new Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, which Congress created in 1982. Its first judge explained: "The court was formed for one need, to recover the value of the patent system as an incentive to industry."
The country got more patents—at what has turned out to be a huge cost. The number of patents has quadrupled, to more than 275,000 a year. But the Federal Circuit approved patents for software, which now account for most of the patents granted in the U.S.—and for most of the litigation. Patent trolls buy up vague software patents and demand legal settlements from technology companies. Instead of encouraging innovation, patent law has become a burden on entrepreneurs, especially startups without teams of patent lawyers.
Samsung and Apple attorneys battle over software patents, Nov. 15. Reuters
Until the court changed the rules, there hadn't been patents for algorithms and software. Ideas alone aren't supposed to be patentable. In a case last year involving medical tests, the U.S. Supreme Court observed that neither Archimedes nor Einstein could have patented their theories.
Many software patents simply describe ideas that happen to be carried out through digital technology. Amazon got a patent for the concept of "one-click checkout." Apple AAPL +1.27% last year applied for a patent on the idea of offering author autographs for e-books. There are so many software patents that smartphones include some 250,000 purportedly patented processes, which is why Google, GOOG +1.04% Samsung and Apple are suing one another around the world.
In software, innovations build on one another so seamlessly there is no way to follow them. There is no national registry of software. Developers and engineers can't track who claims patents to what processes. In contrast, drug researchers consult a publication called the Orange Book that lists all the patents for pharmaceuticals, enabling them to avoid infringements.
A system of property rights is flawed if no one can know what's protected. That's what happens when the government grants 20-year patents for vague software ideas in exchange for making the innovation public. In a recent academic paper, George Mason researchers Eli Dourado and Alex Tabarrok argued that the system of "broad and fuzzy" software patents "reduces the potency of search and defeats one of the key arguments for patents, the dissemination of information about innovation."
The Government Accountability Office agrees. "Many recent patent infringement lawsuits are related to the prevalence of low-quality patents; that is, patents with unclear property rights, overly broad claims, or both," it said in a recent report. "Claims in software-related patents are often overly broad, unclear or both." Boston University law professors Michael Meurer and James Bessen have estimated the direct and indirect costs of litigation against technology companies at $80 billion per year.
Instead of focusing on the problem with software patents, reforms backed by the White House and Congress would tweak patent litigation for all industries. The House this month passed a bill requiring more specificity in claims and limiting costly discovery, but doing nothing about dubious software patents.
The House rejected a proposal that would have expedited the process for the Patent Office to review questionable software patents. Lobbyists from companies like IBM IBM +2.33% and Microsoft, MSFT +0.49% which make billions of dollars a year from licensing software patents, helped block this reform.
For now, the best prospect for real reform is in the Supreme Court, which earlier this month agreed to hear CLS Bank v. Alice Corp., a case about whether a bank's computerized process for settling transactions via an escrow can be patented. A judge on the appeals court noted this idea was "literally ancient," developed during the Roman Empire, and should not get a patent now just because a computer is involved.
The Supreme Court has invalidated software patents in earlier cases, but the justices need to draw a brighter line with clear limits for the lower courts, especially the Federal Circuit. Simply qualifying ideas or business processes with the phrase "and do it on a computer" shouldn't be enough.
The justices should also acknowledge that creating a special court to promote patents is an experiment gone awry. Far from helping the economy, software patents are a litigation tax on new technology. The Constitution calls for patents "to Promote the progress of Science," not for patents to undermine innovation.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Some CO sheriffs refusing to enforce new gun laws
on: December 16, 2013, 10:20:44 AM
By ERICA GOODE
Published: December 15, 2013 459 Comments
GREELEY, Colo. — When Sheriff John Cooke of Weld County explains in speeches why he is not enforcing the state’s new gun laws, he holds up two 30-round magazines. One, he says, he had before July 1, when the law banning the possession, sale or transfer of the large-capacity magazines went into effect. The other, he “maybe” obtained afterward.
He shuffles the magazines, which look identical, and then challenges the audience to tell the difference.
“How is a deputy or an officer supposed to know which is which?” he asks.
Colorado’s package of gun laws, enacted this year after mass shootings in Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn., has been hailed as a victory by advocates of gun control. But if Sheriff Cooke and a majority of the other county sheriffs in Colorado offer any indication, the new laws — which mandate background checks for private gun transfers and outlaw magazines over 15 rounds — may prove nearly irrelevant across much of the state’s rural regions.
Some sheriffs, like Sheriff Cooke, are refusing to enforce the laws, saying that they are too vague and violate Second Amendment rights. Many more say that enforcement will be “a very low priority,” as several sheriffs put it. All but seven of the 62 elected sheriffs in Colorado signed on in May to a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the statutes.
The resistance of sheriffs in Colorado is playing out in other states, raising questions about whether tougher rules passed since Newtown will have a muted effect in parts of the American heartland, where gun ownership is common and grass-roots opposition to tighter restrictions is high.
In New York State, where Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed one of the toughest gun law packages in the nation last January, two sheriffs have said publicly they would not enforce the laws — inaction that Mr. Cuomo said would set “a dangerous and frightening precedent.” The sheriffs’ refusal is unlikely to have much effect in the state: According to the state’s Division of Criminal Justice Services, since 2010 sheriffs have filed less than 2 percent of the two most common felony gun charges. The vast majority of charges are filed by the state or local police.
In Liberty County, Fla., a jury in October acquitted a sheriff who had been suspended and charged with misconduct after he released a man arrested by a deputy on charges of carrying a concealed firearm. The sheriff, who was immediately reinstated by the governor, said he was protecting the man’s Second Amendment rights.
And in California, a delegation of sheriffs met with Gov. Jerry Brown this fall to try to persuade him to veto gun bills passed by the Legislature, including measures banning semiautomatic rifles with detachable magazines and lead ammunition for hunting (Mr. Brown signed the ammunition bill but vetoed the bill outlawing the rifles).
“Our way of life means nothing to these politicians, and our interests are not being promoted in the legislative halls of Sacramento or Washington, D.C.,” said Jon E. Lopey, the sheriff of Siskiyou County, Calif., one of those who met with Governor Brown. He said enforcing gun laws was not a priority for him, and he added that residents of his rural region near the Oregon border are equally frustrated by regulations imposed by the federal Forest Service and the Environmental Protection Agency.
This year, the new gun laws in Colorado have become political flash points. Two state senators who supported the legislation were recalled in elections in September; a third resigned last month rather than face a recall. Efforts to repeal the statutes are already in the works.
Countering the elected sheriffs are some police chiefs, especially in urban areas, and state officials who say that the laws are not only enforceable but that they are already having an effect. Most gun stores have stopped selling the high-capacity magazines for personal use, although one sheriff acknowledged that some stores continued to sell them illegally. Some people who are selling or otherwise transferring guns privately are seeking background checks.
Eric Brown, a spokesman for Gov. John W. Hickenlooper of Colorado, said, “Particularly on background checks, the numbers show the law is working.” The Colorado Bureau of Investigation has run 3,445 checks on private sales since the law went into effect, he said, and has denied gun sales to 70 people.
Page 2 of 2)
A Federal District Court judge last month ruled against a claim in the sheriffs’ lawsuit that one part of the magazine law was unconstitutionally vague. The judge also ruled that while the sheriffs could sue as individuals, they had no standing to sue in their official capacity.
Still, the state’s top law enforcement officials acknowledged that sheriffs had wide discretion in enforcing state laws.
“We’re not in the position of telling sheriffs and chiefs what to do or not to do,” said Lance Clem, a spokesman for the Colorado Department of Public Safety. “We have people calling us all the time, thinking they’ve got an issue with their sheriff, and we tell them we don’t have the authority to intervene.”
Sheriffs who refuse to enforce gun laws around the country are in the minority, though no statistics exist. In Colorado, though, sheriffs like Joe Pelle of Boulder County, who support the laws and have more liberal constituencies that back them, are outnumbered.
“A lot of sheriffs are claiming the Constitution, saying that they’re not going to enforce this because they personally believe it violates the Second Amendment,” Sheriff Pelle said. “But that stance in and of itself violates the Constitution.”
Even Sheriff W. Pete Palmer of Chaffee County, one of the seven sheriffs who declined to join the federal lawsuit because he felt duty-bound to carry out the laws, said he was unlikely to aggressively enforce them. He said enforcement poses “huge practical difficulties,” and besides, he has neither the resources nor the pressure from his constituents to make active enforcement a high priority. Violations of the laws are misdemeanors.
“All law enforcement agencies consider the community standards — what is it that our community wishes us to focus on — and I can tell you our community is not worried one whit about background checks or high-capacity magazines,” he said.
At their extreme, the views of sheriffs who refuse to enforce gun laws echo the stand of Richard Mack, a former Arizona sheriff and the author of “The County Sheriff: America’s Last Hope.” Mr. Mack has argued that county sheriffs are the ultimate arbiters of what is constitutional and what is not. The Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, founded by Mr. Mack, is an organization of sheriffs and other officers who support his views.
“The Supreme Court does not run my office,” Mr. Mack said in an interview. “Just because they allow something doesn’t mean that a good constitutional sheriff is going to do it.” He said that 250 sheriffs from around the country attended the association’s recent convention.
Matthew J. Parlow, a law professor at Marquette University, said that some states, including New York, had laws that allowed the governor in some circumstances to investigate and remove public officials who engaged in egregious misconduct — laws that in theory might allow the removal of sheriffs who failed to enforce state statutes.
But, he said, many governors could be reluctant to use such powers. And in most cases, any penalty for a sheriff who chose not to enforce state law would have to come from voters.
Sheriff Cooke, for his part, said that he was entitled to use discretion in enforcement, especially when he believed the laws were wrong or unenforceable.
“In my oath it says I’ll uphold the U.S. Constitution and the Constitution of the State of Colorado,” he said, as he posed for campaign photos in his office — he is running for the State Senate in 2014. “It doesn’t say I have to uphold every law passed by the Legislature.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Mike Tyson on Philosophy
on: December 16, 2013, 08:48:18 AM
Mike Tyson Explores Kierkegaard
The former heavyweight champ considers philosophy and love.
By Mike Tyson
Dec. 13, 2013 6:15 p.m. ET
I'm currently reading "The Quotable Kierkegaard," edited by Gordon Marino, a collection of awesome quotes from that great Danish philosopher. (He wanted his epitaph to read: "In yet a little while / I shall have won; / Then the whole fight / Will all at once be done.") I love reading philosophy. Most philosophers are so politically incorrect—challenging the status quo, even challenging God. Nietzsche's my favorite. He's just insane. You have to have an IQ of at least 300 to truly understand him. Apart from philosophy, I'm always reading about history. Someone very wise once said the past is just the present in funny clothes. I read everything about Alexander, so I downloaded "Alexander the Great: The Macedonian Who Conquered the World" by Sean Patrick. Everyone thinks Alexander was this giant, but he was really a runt. "I would rather live a short life of glory than a long one of obscurity," he said. I so related to that, coming from Brownsville, Brooklyn.
What did I have to look forward to—going in and out of prison, maybe getting shot and killed, or just a life of scuffling around like a common thief? Alexander, Napoleon, Genghis Khan, even a cold pimp like Iceberg Slim—they were all mama's boys. That's why Alexander kept pushing forward. He didn't want to have to go home and be dominated by his mother. In general, I'm a sucker for collections of letters. You think you've got deep feelings? Read Napoleon's love letters to Josephine. It'll make you think that love is a form of insanity. Or read Virginia Woolf's last letter to her husband before she loaded her coat up with stones and drowned herself in a river. I don't really do any light reading, just deep, deep stuff. I'm not a light kind of guy.
— Mr. Tyson is the author of "The Undisputed Truth."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: US actually acts!
on: December 16, 2013, 08:44:28 AM
Leading From the Front in Ukraine
A welcome exception to the Obama foreign policy.
Dec. 15, 2013 7:00 p.m. ET
Addressing hundreds of thousands at Kiev's Independence Square on Sunday, John McCain said, "We are here to support your just cause, the sovereign right of Ukraine to determine its own destiny freely and independently." The Arizona Senator's appearance was a highlight of the latest pro-democracy rally in the Ukrainian capital. And for once the vocal critic of President Obama's foreign policy was reinforcing rather than dissenting from Administration policy.
Entering the fourth week of protests, the outcome of the political showdown in Ukraine hasn't been decided. But this crisis is a good reminder that the U.S. can still bring influence to bear even on internal foreign disputes in a way that no other country can. Over the past five years the Obama Administration has repeatedly shown friends and adversaries that it is reluctant to stand up for America's interests and values. Ukraine shows what the better policy of leading from the front looks like.
For weeks the U.S. had maintained a guarded neutrality in the standoff. The Administration finally found its voice when President Viktor Yanukovych sent his riot police early last Wednesday morning to clear a large encampment from Independence Square. The images from Kiev even roused a remarkable public intervention from Secretary of State John Kerry, who noted his "disgust" with the Yanukovych government. "That's the strongest statement John Kerry has ever given in his life," Mr. McCain told us in Kiev.
Vice President Joe Biden has made several calls to Mr. Yanukovych. The U.S. threatened to impose visa bans and financial sanctions on Ukrainian leaders, whose worst nightmare is to be denied access to their bank accounts and property in the West. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel reinforced the message in a telephone call to the country's military chief, who can be counted on to share it with others in the security establishment. The Europeans made similar noises.
Lo and behold, such Western pressure can work, especially when it sides with a popular uprising against an oppressive ruler. Mr. Yanukovych has pulled the riot police back and reached out to the opposition while still offering few concessions. The protests were sparked by his refusal to sign an "association" treaty with the EU, and Mr. Yanukovych is still looking to get an economic lifeline from Russian President Vladimir Putin. But the protest movement has broadened beyond the EU question to demands for the rule of law and more democratic transparency in this post-Soviet country of 46 million.
Victoria Nuland provided one of many enduring images from Ukraine's uprising. After her meeting with President Yanukovych in Kiev last Wednesday after the attempted crackdown, the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs said in a light snow storm: "I hope the people of Ukraine know that the U.S. stands with you in your search for justice, for human dignity and security for economic health, and the European future that you have chosen and deserve."
We're not sure what accounts for the Administration's change of heart and mind. Perhaps it is a recognition, at last, that Mr. Putin means no good for U.S. interests. Whatever the motivation, we'll take it.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Saudis upset, want seat at table
on: December 16, 2013, 08:34:02 AM
"We've seen several red lines put forward by the president, which went along and became pinkish as time grew, and eventually ended up completely white."
PRINCE TURKI AL-FAISAL, the former intelligence chief of Saudi Arabia, accusing President Obama of indecision on issues in the Middle East.
Quoted in Pravda on the Hudson
ONACO—A leading Saudi prince demanded a place for his country at talks with Iran, assailing the Obama administration for working behind Riyadh's back and panning other recent U.S. steps in the Middle East.
Prince Turki al-Faisal, an Arab royal and a brother of Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, said Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states were stunned by the secret American-Iranian diplomacy that led to the breakthrough deal between Iran and other world powers last month.
His comments in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, rare in their bluntness, came on the sidelines of a security conference here at which he publicly blistered the U.S. for its role in Syria and in the region. The Arab royal said the failure by Washington and the United Nations to take decisive steps to end the violence in Syria—which has claimed over 130,000 lives—bordered on "criminal negligence."
Last week, the State Department said it had suspended nonlethal aid to the Syrian rebels after warehouses they controlled in northern Syria were overrun by Islamic militants with ties to al Qaeda. Saudi Arabia has armed some of those same rebels.
"The U.S. gave us the impression that they were going to do things in Syria that they finally didn't," Prince Turki said on the sidelines of the World Policy Conference in Monaco. "The aid they're giving to the Free Syrian Army is irrelevant. Now they say they're going to stop the aid: OK, stop it. It's not doing anything anyway."
Prince Turki also echoed concerns raised by Israel and members of the U.S. Congress that the interim nuclear accord with Iran didn't go far enough to ensure Tehran won't develop atomic bombs.
The talks with Iran that have been taking place in Geneva involve the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany, a diplomatic bloc called the P5+1.
"It's important for us to sit down at the same table" as the global powers, Prince Turki said. "We have been absent."
Speaking on Sunday to European and Arab business leaders, he accused the White House of blindsiding Riyadh with its overtures to Iran, Saudi Arabia's primary adversary.
Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Gulf nations are supporting the Sunni-dominated rebels in Syria, while Shiite Iran is supporting Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad, which is dominated by Alawites, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
"What was surprising was that the talks that were going forward were kept from us," he told the World Policy Conference. "How can you build trust when you keep secrets from what are supposed to be your closest allies?"
A senior administration official on Sunday declined to comment on the state of the U.S.-Saudi relationship. But the official confirmed that the White House didn't notify Saudi Arabia about the secret talks with Iran—which were initiated at high levels last March in Oman—until this fall "when things became substantive."
The official said the U.S. has since been regularly conferring with Riyadh on the state of the nuclear talks with Iran, which resulted in an interim agreement to curb Tehran's nuclear program. U.S. and European officials said there were no plans to widen the negotiations with Iran to involve Saudi Arabia and the other leading Gulf states, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.
In regards to Syria, Secretary of State John Kerry defended U.S. policy there, saying on Sunday the Obama administration continues to work toward a diplomatic solution and to unify the opposition.
"We are committed to try to bring people together…and all try to work in the same direction, which is to get a political settlement in Syria," Mr. Kerry said on ABC's "This Week."
Prince Turki currently holds no position in the Saudi government. But his previous roles as Saudi intelligence chief and ambassador to Washington often place him as an unofficial spokesman for the kingdom's royal family and King Abdullah, according to Arab and American officials.
The 68-year-old was a college classmates of Bill Clinton's at Georgetown University and coordinated closely with the Central Intelligence Agency in arming and training the Afghan rebels fighting the Soviet Union in the 1980s.
The Iranian nuclear accord rattled the Middle East and the Arab states who are in a competition with Tehran for influence in countries like Syria, Iraq and Yemen. The deal is also under attack from Israel and leading members of Congress, who fear it doesn't do enough to dismantle Iran's nuclear infrastructure. Tehran says its program is purely for civilian purposes.
The Geneva agreement calls for Tehran to freeze for six months the most dangerous parts of its nuclear program, including the production of near weapons-grade fuel, in exchange for the easing of some Western sanctions. During that period, Tehran and the P5+1 will seek to forge a more comprehensive deal to end the nuclear threat.
The interim agreement has appeared fragile in recent days.
On Friday, Iranian diplomats abruptly walked out of talks in Vienna focused on implementing the Geneva accord after the Obama administration barred from international trade roughly a dozen Iranian companies that the U.S. said were violating sanctions on Iran's nuclear program.
Iran's government said the American designations violated the terms of the agreement, even though the U.S. said the companies were blacklisted under previously established laws.
The discord over the agreement could also be felt in Monaco, where Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif was supposed to join Prince Turki as a keynote speaker at the forum.
At the last moment, however, Mr. Zarif pulled out, citing his mother's ill health. Conference organizers believed Iran's displeasure over the new U.S. penalties were the reason for the Iranian foreign minister's absence.
Still, Mr. Zarif told CBS News on Sunday that the talks with the P5+1 would continue, despite the American sanctions.
In his place, Iran's ambassador to France said in Monaco that the actions taken by the U.S. would undercut the ability of Mr. Zarif and President Hasan Rouhani to make good on their pledges to improve relations with Washington and the West.
"We hope Congress and other interests in the U.S. won't throw a spanner in the works," said Ambassador Ali Ahani. "President Rouhani has promised the Iranian people prior to his election that he'd seriously try to settle the matter. If he's able to settle it, this will be a very positive point."
Prince Turki this weekend also reasserted his government's frustration with Mr. Obama's unwillingness to aggressively take steps to arm the Syrian rebels seeking to topple Mr. Assad or to follow through on proposed military strikes this summer against his regime.
The Arab royal stressed that relations between Washington and Riyadh have waxed and waned since diplomatic ties were formally established in the 1930s. But he said that the stark differences over Iran and Syria, as well as the stalemate over American-led efforts to create an independent Palestinian state, have left the Saudi-American alliance in a "process of evolution."
"Obviously…there are differences between us and the U.S.," Prince Turki said. 'We have a huge defense and security agreement with the United States, forestalling terrorist attacks. That's ongoing without any problems."
—Carol E. Lee in Washington contributed to this article.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Patriot Post: Cornelia Pillard confirmed
on: December 16, 2013, 08:20:24 AM
Once again, Senate Democrats took advantage of having "gone nuclear" and ending the filibuster for judicial nominees. In the dark of night Thursday, the Senate confirmed Cornelia Pillard to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals by a vote of 51-44. That makes two additional Obama nominees on the court with the lightest workload, and it gives leftists a 6-4 advantage on the court that hears most challenges to executive actions. On top of that, National Review's Patrick Brennan calls Pillard "probably the most extreme of President Obama's judicial nominees this year." Why? Well, for example, Brennan says she opposed a church's right to be exempt from normal employment-discrimination law in order to decide on a minister. The Supreme Court disagreed with her, 9-0. Beware...
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Jefferson, notes on the State of VA, 1781/ Madison on human nature
on: December 16, 2013, 08:12:49 AM
"History by apprising [citizens] of the past will enable them to judge of the future; it will avail them of the experience of other times and other nations; it will qualify them as judges of the actions and designs of men; it will enable them to know ambition under every disguise it may assume; and knowing it, to defeat its views." --Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, Query 14, 1781
"Were the pictures which have been drawn by the political jealousy of some among us, faithful likenesses of the human character, the inference would be that there is not sufficient virtue among men for self-government; and that nothing less than the chains of despotism can restrain them from destroying and devouring one another." --James Madison