Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Money, the Fed, Banking, Monetary Policy, Dollar & other currencies, Gold/Silver
on: October 29, 2014, 04:44:37 PM
Fed Ends QE, Rate Hikes Now on Radar To view this article, Click Here
Brian S. Wesbury, Chief Economist
Robert Stein, Senior Economist
We count five key takeaways from today’s policy statement from the Federal Reserve.
First, the Fed clearly raised its assessment of the economy. Most notably, it deleted its long-standing reference to “significant underutilization” in the labor market, changing it to say that the underutilization in the labor market is “gradually diminishing.” This may not seem like much, but at the Yellen Fed a better assessment of the job market is a necessary step before raising rates and that hurdle is now much closer to being cleared. In addition, the Fed strengthened its language on consumer spending and completely deleted a reference to fiscal policy restraining economic growth.
Second, quantitative easing is finished by the end of the week, as previously projected. This doesn’t mean the Fed’s balance sheet will suddenly go back to normal. Instead, the Fed will keep reinvesting principal payments from its holdings to maintain the balance sheet at roughly $4.4 trillion. Look for the Fed to keep reinvesting principal through at least late 2015.
Third, the Fed is taking a more nuanced view on inflation, comparing market-based measures (such as the five-year forward inflation rate), which have diminished recently, to survey-based measures, which have remained stable. The Fed pointed out that energy prices should hold inflation down in the near term but inflation should still head back up toward its target of 2%.
Fourth, the Fed maintained its commitment to keep rates at current levels for a “considerable time,” but added language saying rate hikes could happen sooner or later depending on how closely actual economic data match its forecast. We think this means the Fed is getting very close to removing the “considerable period” phrase. Look for the Fed to remove the language at the mid-December meeting, when Chairwoman Yellen will have a chance to fully explain the Fed’s reasoning at the post-meeting press conference.
Last, the two hawkish dissenters at the September meeting are now back on board with Fed policy while the lone dissent at today’s meeting was a dovish one from Minneapolis Fed president Narayana Kocherlakota, who wants the Fed to commit to keeping rates low until inflation hits 2% and wants to keep quantitative easing going at the current slow pace at least through the end of the year.
The bottom line is that the Fed has been and will remain behind the curve. We believe the first rate hike could come in the second quarter of next year. But nominal GDP – real GDP growth plus inflation – is up 4.3% in the past year and up at a 3.8% annual rate in the past two years. A federal funds target rate of nearly zero is too low given this growth. It’s also too low given well-tailored policy tools like the Taylor Rule.
In the meantime, hyperinflation is not in the cards; the Fed will keep paying banks enough to keep the money multiplier depressed. But, given loose policy, we expect gradually faster growth in nominal GDP for the next couple of years. In turn, the bull market in equities will continue and the bond market is due for a fall.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / WSJ: Doctors without Scruples
on: October 29, 2014, 04:32:26 PM
Doctors Without Scruples
And why are soldiers being quarantined?
October 29, 2014
Kaci Hickox, the nurse who was briefly quarantined at a Newark, N.J., hospital after flying into the state en route from Ebola-ravaged Sierra Leone, now says she won’t comply with the three-week home-quarantine requirements in her home state of Maine. “She doesn’t want to agree to continue to be confined to a residence beyond the two days,” her New York-based lawyer, Steven Hyman, tells the Bangor Daily News.The Associated Press quotes Hyman as saying: “She’s a very good person who did very good work and deserves to be honored, not detained, for it.”
At least two other medical professionals have acted as if public-health rules don’t apply to them. The New York Post reports that physician Craig Spencer—like Hickox a volunteer for Doctors Without Borders, in his case in Guinea—“lied to authorities about his travels around the city . . ., law-enforcement sources said”:
Spencer at first told officials that he isolated himself in his Harlem apartment—and didn’t admit he rode the subways, dined out and went bowling until cops looked at his MetroCard the sources said.
“He told the authorities that he self-quarantined. Detectives then reviewed his credit-card statement and MetroCard and found that he went over here, over there, up and down and all around,” a source said.
And let’s not forget Nancy Snyderman, a Princeton, N.J., physician who entered voluntary quarantine after a fellow traveler to Liberia was diagnosed with Ebola. On Oct. 9 the Planet Princeton website reported that “Snyderman allegedly was seen sitting in her car outside of the Peasant Grill in Hopewell Boro this afternoon. A reader reported that a man who was with her got out of the car and went inside the restaurant to pick up a take-out order. Another man was in the back seat of her black Mercedes. Snyderman had sunglasses on and had her hair pulled back, the reader said.”
The state issued a mandatory quarantine order, and on Oct. 13 Snyderman “issued an apology to the public . . . but did not indicate that she had violated the voluntary confinement agreement . . . or take personal responsibility for the violation.”
At least Doctors Without Borders is off the hook for Snyderman. She works for NBC as chief medical correspondent.
Meanwhile, the Defense Department has announced that all U.S. servicemen “returning from areas affected by Ebola in West Africa” will be subjected to “a 21-day monitoring period.” As noted here yesterday, that has already been the de facto policy. The Pentagon press release doesn’t use the word “quarantine,” but every media report we’ve seen does.
The statement quotes a Pentagon spokesman as saying Secretary Chuck Hagel “believes these initial steps are prudent, given the large number of military personnel transiting from their home base and West Africa and the unique logistical demands and impact this deployment has on the force.” It’s hard to disagree, though one might add: and the irresponsible, if not downright dishonest, behavior of various civilian medics.
But of course Hagel’s announcement means that the Obama administration has two directly opposite policies on Americans returning from Ebola lands: quarantine for those in uniform, laissez-faire for civilians. And “laissez-faire” doesn’t quite capture it: The administration not only is not imposing a quarantine on civilians but is actively pressuring states to refrain from doing so. Hickox was released after—and possibly because of—that campaign.
What accounts for the double standard? Or, as a reporter put it to President Obama yesterday: “Are you concerned, sir, that there might be some confusion between the quarantine rules used by the military and used by health care workers and by some states?”
Let’s go through the president’s response point by point.
“Well, the military is a different situation, obviously, because they are, first of all, not treating patients.”
According to the Washington Post, some of them will “test samples for presence of the virus,” but if they are not going to have direct contact with Ebola sufferers, that would seem to militate against quarantining them upon return.
“Second of all, they are not there voluntarily, it’s part of their mission that’s been assigned to them by their commanders and ultimately by me, the commander in chief.”
Perhaps the president is unaware that the U.S. does not have military conscription. Which we suppose would be understandable, since Obama was 11 when the last draftee reported for duty.
“So we don’t expect to have similar rules for our military as we do for civilians. They are already, by definition, if they’re in the military, under more circumscribed conditions.”
Press secretary Josh Earnest had developed that argument further at a briefing two hours earlier:
There are a wide range of sacrifices that our men and women in uniform make for the sake of efficiency and for the sake of uniformity and for the success of our military.
So to take a more pedestrian example than the medical one that we’re talking about, there might be some members of the military who think that the haircut that’s required may not be their best, but that’s a haircut that they get every couple of weeks because it is in the best interest of their unit and it maintains unit cohesion.
We’ll return to the point, but let’s note here that taking servicemen out of circulation for three weeks obviously does not promote efficiency, and that instituting a policy that applies only to the relatively small number of servicemen stationed in Ebola lands obviously does not promote uniformity. That leaves only the catchall “success of our military” category to justify the quarantine.
Back to Obama:
“When we have volunteers who are taking time out from their families, from their loved ones and so forth, to go over there because they have a very particular expertise to tackle a very difficult job, we want to make sure that when they come back that we are prudent, that we are making sure that they are not at risk themselves or at risk of spreading the disease . . .”
It sounds here as if the president is continuing his justification of the military quarantine, but it turns out the “volunteers” he means here are the Doctors Without Borders types, who, he said in his prepared statement “are doing God’s work over there.” (Maybe, but didn’t God say something about bearing false witness?) The sentence continues:
“. . . but we don’t want to do things that aren’t based on science and best practices. Because if we do, then we’re just putting another barrier on somebody who’s already doing really important work on our behalf. And that’s not something that I think any of us should want to see happen.”
All of which leaves unanswered the central question: If a policy of quarantining returning personnel runs counter to “science and best practices,” how does it promote, in Earnest’s phrase, “the success of our military”?
Absent a satisfactory answer to that question, the answer to the question “Why are you quarantining servicemen?” seems to boil down to: “Because we can.” Because it is in the nature of military service to demand a considerable sacrifice of personal freedom. But if the administration viewed that as sufficient justification, it would not have pressed for legislation abolishing restrictions on service by homosexuals.
Anyway, we know of no one who denies that Hagel had the authority to establish the quarantine policy, absent a contrary order from the commander in chief. But the White House also concedes that states have the authority to order quarantines for civilians.
At his Monday press briefing, Josh Earnest answered a reporter’s question about the absence of “an overarching federal policy that rules” by saying this: “You can sort of take this up with James Madison, right? We have a federal system in this country in which states are given significant authority for governing their constituents. That is certainly true when it comes to public safety and public health.”
What is at issue, then, is the administration’s purely discretionary decisions to order quarantines for servicemen and lean on states not to order them for civilians—a contradiction with no obvious basis, and no basis the World’s Greatest Orator and his spokesman have managed to articulate, in philosophy, law or science.
Either servicemen are being subjected to burdens with no basis in “science or best practices,” or the administration is risking public health by prioritizing the personal comfort of civilian medical workers. Why in the world are they doing this?
Odd as it to say about this administration—especially with an election less than a week away—it’s hard to imagine the motive is political. CBS News reports that 80% of respondents in a new poll “think U.S. citizens and legal residents returning from West Africa should be quarantined upon their arrival in the U.S. until it is certain they don’t have Ebola”; just 17% disagree. (Though to be sure, that 17% is almost double the proportion describing themselves in another recent poll as “enthusiastic” about Obama.)
Let us suggest two practical distinctions, either or both of which may explain the disjunction in policy. The first is that forestalling the military quarantine order would have required Obama to overrule a recommendation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff—that is to say, to make a decision. Pressuring the governors, by contrast, involves only behind-the-scenes kibitzing and public bloviation.
The second is snobbery. Recall that quote from Nurse Hickox’s lawyer: “She’s a very good person.” She and others like her, according to the president, are doing God’s work, and—in pointed if inaccurate contrast to military servicemen—are “experts.” The logic would go something like this: You can’t quarantine her. She’s one of us.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / WSJ: Harry Reid vs. our Founding Fathers
on: October 29, 2014, 04:11:42 PM
The crucial actor here is Sen. Robert Menendez , the tough-minded New Jersey Democrat and Foreign Relations Committee chairman. Sen. Menendez’s position is vital because Majority Leader Harry Reid will give the president a pass, as he has for six years. Sen. Reid’s genuflection to the White House raises serious issues because it fundamentally undermines James Madison ’s vision of how the Constitution limits overweening government power.
The problem, as the Founders saw it, is to prevent the president or Congress from acquiring unchecked power, as they will inevitably try to do. The solution was to divide powers between the executive and the legislature and hope that they would be constrained by countervailing institutional interests. But Harry Reid is a “party man,” not a “Senate man.” The question is whether Sen. Menendez and perhaps other senior Democrats with strong foreign-policy credentials, such as New York Sen. Charles Schumer and California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, will break ranks with Sen. Reid and the White House.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Money, the Fed, Banking, Monetary Policy, Dollar & other currencies, Gold/Silver
on: October 29, 2014, 12:47:08 PM
Interesting posts Doug.
With regard to the proffered justification of protecting savers, unless I am missing something the author fails to address the protections in place by FDIC, SIPIC, and the like.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Madison: Why we are not a democracy
on: October 29, 2014, 12:37:08 PM
"[In a democracy] a common passion or interest will, in almost every case , be felt by a majority of the whole; a communication and concert results from the form of government itself; and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party or an obnoxious individual." --James Madison, Federalist No. 10, 1787
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Qatar's insidious influence on the Brooking Institute
on: October 28, 2014, 12:50:45 PM
IPT Exclusive: Qatar's Insidious Influence on the Brookings Institution
A Four Part Investigative Series: Brookings Sells Soul to Qatar's Terror Agenda
by Steven Emerson, John Rossomando and Dave Yonkman
October 28, 2014http://www.investigativeproject.org/4630/ipt-exclusive-qatar-insidious-influence-on
Part 1 of a 4-part series.
The Brookings Institution bills itself as "the most influential, most quoted and most trusted think tank in the world," but should it be?
Brookings' long-term relationship with the Qatari government – a notorious supporter of terror in the Middle East – casts a dark cloud over such a lofty claim to credibility.
A September New York Times exposé revealed Qatar's status as the single largest foreign donor to the Brookings Institution. Qatar gave Brookings $14.8 million in 2013, $100,000 in 2012 and $2.9 million in 2011. In 2002, Qatar started subsidizing the Brookings outreach program to the Muslim World which has continues today. Between 2002 and 2010, Brookings never disclosed the annual amount of funds provided by the Government of Qatar.
Sources of funding should not automatically discredit an organization, but critical facts and claims about Brookings should be examined in light of them, starting with a harsh indictment by a former scholar.
The Investigative Project on Terrorism has reviewed the proceedings of 12 annual conferences co-sponsored by Brookings and the government of Qatar comprising more than 125 speeches, interviews, lectures and symposia; a dozen Brookings-based programs that were linked to the Qatari financed outreach to the Muslim world; and analyzed 27 papers sponsored and issued by the Brookings Institution and scholars based in Washington and at the Brookings Doha Center since 2002. Our review, which will be detailed in a four-part series beginning with this story, finds an organization that routinely hosts Islamists who justify terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians and American troops, who advocate blasphemy laws which would criminalize criticism of Islam, and which never scrutinizes or criticizes the government of Qatar, its largest benefactor.
"[T]there was a no-go zone when it came to criticizing the Qatari government," Saleem Ali, who served as a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar in 2009, told the New York Times.
"If a member of Congress is using the Brookings reports, they should be aware — they are not getting the full story. They may not be getting a false story, but they are not getting the full story." Ali noted that he had been told during his job interview that taking positions critical of the Qatari government in papers would not be allowed, a claim Brookings vigorously denies.
"Our scholars, in Doha and elsewhere, have a long record of objective, independent analysis of regional affairs, including critical analysis of the policies of Qatar and other governments in the region," Brookings President Strobe Talbott said in response to the Times story.
Unfortunately for Talbott, Qatar's own Ministry of Foreign Affairs openly acknowledges that the partnership gives Qatar exactly what it wants: a public-relations outlet that projects "the bright image of Qatar in the international media, especially the American ones," a statement announcing a 2012 memorandum of understanding with Brookings said.
Indeed, their close collaboration stretches back more than a decade.
After Islamist terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Shanksville, Pa. on September 11, 2001, the Brookings Institution looked to Qatar to answer the question, "Why do they hate us?"
Former Qatari emir, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani answered Brookings' call in 2002, providing the think tank with the necessary seed money and resources to initiate its engagement with the Islamic world.
The alliance culminated with the 2002 Doha Conference on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, co-sponsored by the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution and Qatar. Qatar underwrote the conference's cost.
Ambassador Martin Indyk, who headed the Saban Center at the time, and other Brookings leaders noted their desire to "build strong bridges of friendship" and avoid a "clash of civilizations."
Indyk took a leave of absence from Brookings in 2013 and the first half of 2014 to serve as President Obama's envoy for the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. Indyk placed excessive blame on Israel for their failure.
At an April 2013 Brookings forum in Washington, Indyk mentioned that he and Qatar's al-Thani had remained friends for "two decades." This relationship dates to when Indyk served as special assistant to President Clinton and senior director for Near East and South Asian affairs at the National Security Council.
Indyk noted that he approached the sheik after the 9/11 attacks, informing him that Brookings planned to launch a project focused on American engagement with the Islamic world.
"And he said immediately, 'I will support it, but you have to do the conference in Doha.' And I said, 'Doha, well that sounds like an interesting idea,'" Indyk said at the 2013 forum. "Three years into that, he suddenly then told me we want to have a Brookings in Doha. And I said, 'Well, okay, we'll have a Brookings in Doha, too,' and we ended up with the Brookings Doha Center" (BDC), in 2008."
Brookings' Qatar-based scholars see their host country with rosy spectacles, ignoring the emirate's numerous terror ties.
Sultan Barakat, research director at the Brookings Doha Center (BDC), portrayed Qatar as an emerging peacemaker in the Muslim world and as a force for good in a 2012 report titled, "The Qatari Spring: Qatar's Emerging Role In Peacemaking."
"… [D]uring the Arab Spring, Qatar has emerged as a 'reformer'; that is, as a vocal and progressive leader of modern Arab nations, with the willingness and the capacity to utilize a broad range of both hard- and soft-power initiatives to achieve its foreign policy goals," Barakat wrote.
Highlighting Qatar as a regional peacemaker seems strange in the light of its longstanding support for Hamas and allegations that its leaders aided al-Qaida in the past. Cables released by Wikileaks and other U.S. government documents demonstrate these connections proved disturbing to American policymakers.
"Qatar's overall level of [counter-terrorism] cooperation with the U.S. is considered the worst in the region," a top level U.S. State Department official wrote in a secret Dec. 30, 2009 State Department cable. "Al-Qaida, the Taliban, UN-1267 listed LeT (Pakistan's Lakshar- e-Taiba), and other terrorist groups exploit Qatar as a fundraising locale."
The official also noted that Qatar's security services fail to act against known terrorists because the Gulf state feared terrorist reprisals "out of concern for appearing to be aligned with the U.S." Another 2008 State Department cable noted that Qatar's government "has often been unwilling to cooperate on designations of certain terrorist financiers."
Qatar's royal family has a long history of harboring terrorists. Former Minister of Islamic Affairs Sheikh Abdallah bin Khalid bin Hamad al-Thani, a member of the royal family, personally invited 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to relocate his family from Pakistan to the emirate during the 1990s, according to the 9/11 Commission Report. Mohammed accepted a position as project engineer with the Qatari Ministry of Electricity and Water which he held until 1996, when he fled back to Pakistan to evade capture by the United States.
Mohammed dedicated much of his considerable travel while working for the ministry to terrorist activity.
Qatar Charity, formerly the Qatar Charitable Society and currently headed by Hamad bin Nasser al-Thani, a member of Qatari royal family, demonstrates a lingering link between Qatar and terror financing.
Russia's interior minister accused Qatar Charitable Society of funneling money to Chechen jihadist groups in 1999. Al-Thani responded to the accusation in a 1999 interview with Al-Jazeera, saying his government would not interfere with the funding because the Russian actions in Chechnya were "painful for us as Qatari, Arab, or Muslim citizens."
Qatar Charitable Society played a key role in financing the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, according to the U.S. government.
Recent reports suggest the charity's connection with al-Qaida persists. Maliweb, a U.S.-based independent news source, accused Qatar Charity of significantly financing "the terrorists in northern Mali operations." French military intelligence reports accused Qatar of funding Ansar Dine – a group that works closely with al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb – and MUJAO in Mali at the time of France's January 2013 intervention.
U.S. court documents note additional ties between Qatar Charity and al-Qaida dating back to the 1990s. Osama bin Laden complained to an al-Qaida member following a failed 1995 assassination attempt against former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak that the then-Qatar Charitable Society funds had been spent in the operation. Consequently, the terror mastermind became concerned that his ability to exploit charities for al-Qaida's ends would be compromised.
Qatar also funded the Ahfad al-Rasoul Brigade in Syria, which engaged in joint operations with Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaida's Syrian affiliate.
Qatar played a similar role in Libya where it has openly funded and armed jihadists. IHS Jane's Defence Weekly found that Qatar sent a C-17 cargo plane to provide arms to a
militia loyal to Abdelhakim Belhadj, a Libyan warlord who fought alongside Osama bin Laden in Tora Bora in 2001 and was in touch with the leader of the 2004 Madrid train bombing.
Brookings scholar Bruce Reidel openly acknowledged in a Dec. 3, 2012 piece published in The Daily Beast that Syria's al-Qaida branch benefitted from arms supplied by Qatar.
In a separate Aug. 28, 2013 column in Foreign Policy magazine titled, "The Qatar problem," Brookings scholar Jeremy Shapiro observed that Qatar had undermined "U.S. efforts to isolate and delegitimize Hamas." Shapiro laid blame for Qatar's misbehavior at the feet of American policymakers. Yet he argued that the U.S. should not "oppose Qatar at every turn" and that it should "thus should seek to get the best deal on every transaction" with the emirate, which he classed as neither a friend nor a foe of the United States.
However, such observations have not translated into public criticism of Qatar or recommendations that the emirate alter its stances by Indyk, Talbott or other top people who been involved in managing Brookings' partnership with Qatar. They also have not brought about any public talk of reassessing Brookings relationship with the emirate.
The think tank denies that Qatari money and the involvement of a senior member of the emirate's royal family in its BDC translates into subservience to Qatar's foreign policy objectives.
"Brookings is an independent research institution, none of whose funders are able to determine its research projects," Indyk said after the New York Times story. "I hope nobody really believes that I cashed a check for $14.8 million dollars, which is what's going around in right-wing Jewish circles. We should all take a deep breath about some of these lurid, scandalous stories."
The figure Indyk cites stems from Brookings Foreign Government Disclosure. The nearby United Arab Emirates ranked a distant second among foreign government donors with a $3 million donation in 2010 and another $3 million in 2012.
Qatari involvement in Brookings goes beyond conventional donor relations, evidenced by Sheik Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr Thani's appointment as chairman of the BDC's board of advisers.
Even if Qatar exerts no overt control over Brookings' activities and policy positions, partnering with Qatar to discuss bridge-building with the Islamic world following 9/11 appears peculiar considering the oil-rich emirate's established ties with Islamic extremist groups and individuals at the time of the attacks.
Heritage Foundation scholar James Phillips slammed Brookings' cooperation with Qatar in comments to the Investigative Project on Terrorism.
"Qatar finances foreign entities for a reason: to advance its own foreign policy goals, which entail working closely with Islamist ideologues to empower Sunni Arab movements, including Hamas," Phillips said. "By accepting Qatar's money, Brookings risks appearing to be a tool of Qatar and unfortunately could help to legitimize such Islamist groups in the West.
"The implicit quid pro quo inherent in accepting money from foreign governments is one reason that the Heritage Foundation does not accept funding from foreign governments, which often attach strings to their donations, or even from the U.S. government."
Despite denials from both Talbott and Indyk, numerous examples illustrate how Brookings' pro-Qatar bias manifests itself, not always in what its Qatar-based scholars say, but in what they omit. A review of Brookings studies mentioning Qatar finds a consistent description of the emirate as a force for peace; complimenting its commitment to democracy and human rights; and education.
Even worse, Brookings reports gloss over the harsh realities of jihad terror and Islamism, instead recommending that the U.S. reach out to and cooperate with Islamist and jihadist groups.
Brookings calls for U.S. rapprochement with al-Qaida-linked group
In a January Foreign Policy magazine piece, Brookings scholars Will McCants, Michael Doran and Clint Watts urged the Obama administration against classifying Ahrar al-Sham, an organization backed by Turkey and Qatar and linked to al-Qaida, as a terror organization. Ahrar al-Sham founder Mohamed Bahiaiah, aka Abu Khalid al-Suri, was a senior al-Qaida operative, and the group routinely fights alongside Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), both of which were affiliated with al-Qaida at the time.
Al-Qaida leaders mourned the Islamic State's killing of Ahrar al-Sham's top leadership in September on their Twitter accounts.
"The al Qaeda of yesterday is gone. What is left is a collection of many different splinter organizations, some of which have their own – and profoundly local – agendas. The U.S. response to each should be, as Obama put it, 'defined and specific enough that it doesn't lead us to think that any horrible actions that take place around the world that are motivated in part by an extremist Islamic ideology are a direct threat to us or something that we have to wade into,'" the Brookings scholars wrote.
They argued that U.S. policymakers required "flexibility" in dealing with Ahrar al-Sham because it stood as a lesser of two evils when compared to the greater threat posed by ISIS.
"The Islamic Front, including Ahrar al-Sham, represents the best hope in Syria for defeating ISIS," the article said. "[D]esignating Ahrar al-Sham as a terrorist group would destroy what little chance the United States has of building relationships with the other militias in the Islamic Front."
Thus far, the Obama administration has not designated Ahrar al-Sham as a terrorist group despite its intimate ties to al-Qaida.
An October 2013 report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused Ahrar al-Sham of war crimes.
Brookings' support for the Muslim Brotherhood
Peter W. Singer, co-coordinator of the 2002 conference, wrote in the conference's proceedings that "moderate," e.g. non-violent, Islamist parties needed inclusion in the political systems of majority Muslim countries.
"In dealing with burgeoning democracies, a general finding is that outside parties should support integration of Islamist parties into [the] political system rather than exclusion," Singer wrote. "The key is that inclusion helps moderates moderate, rather than forcing them outside the power structures, into possible violence."
Recent experience in Egypt discredits the theory. Egypt's MB pursued an authoritarian course during its year in power and supported its Palestinian sibling, Hamas, despite its access to Egypt's political process. Even some liberals conceded Egypt's Brotherhood proved itself incapable of adapting to democratic norms during its tenure.
Yet Brookings scholars continued to advocate including the MB in Egypt's political process in the wake of its defeat, even while conceding its authoritarian tendencies.
Tamara Cofman Wittes, director of Brookings' Center for Middle East Policy, suggests that Islamists, including those in the MB, Jordan's Islamic Action Front and Morocco's Party of Justice and Development, differ from groups such as Hamas or al-Qaida. She argues that they "want to transform society and government into something that is more 'Islamic,'" but aim to do so below the radar rather than through revolutionary change.
Wittes conceded that MB President Mohamed Morsi governed in an "exclusionary manner that derailed Egypt's nascent democratic transition," in a July 4, 2013 piece published the day after Morsi's ouster.
Nonetheless, any effort to ban the MB and "forcibly secularize the public sphere" would alienate the majority of Egyptians who believe politics should reflect Islamic values, Wittes warned. She predicted that any attempt by the military to purge the Brotherhood from public life would lead to "destabilizing social conflict." Her piece additionally labeled Morsi's departure a "coup" even as she admitted that millions of Egyptians took to the streets demanding it.
A month later, Wittes petitioned the Obama administration to cut off military aid to Egypt's military leaders.
"The United States must establish distance from an Egyptian military that's stoking vicious anti-Americanism, violating human rights, and revitalizing the repressive apparatus of the old dictatorship," Wittes wrote. "That means doing what should have been done on July 3 and complying with the Foreign Assistance Act.
"This law requires that aid be halted in the face of a military coup until a democratic government is restored."
Wittes also warned on multiple occasions that the crackdown would lead MB members to resort to terror. Writing with Daniel Byman, director of research and a senior fellow at Brookings' Center for Middle East Policy, they warned that Morsi's dismissal lent credibility to al-Qaida's view that participation in electoral politics was "treacherous" and that the "Islamist project could be only advanced through violence."
"Morsi's tenure forced the Brotherhood to accede to measures to contain Hamas in Gaza, but the coup gives the Brotherhood incentives to strengthen ties with its terrorist cousins," Byman and Wittes wrote in a Jan. 10, 2014 column titled "Now that the Muslim Brotherhood is declared a terrorist group, it might just become one," published in the Washington Post. "If even if a fraction of the millions of Brotherhood supporters embrace violence, that means tens of thousands of Egyptians are potential recruits for jihadis."
Two weeks later, Byman and Wittes followed up these sentiments by imploring American policymakers to pressure the Egyptian government "to allow paths for Brotherhood supporters to participate in legitimate political and social activity."
"To sustain a peaceful alternative for Brotherhood supporters, you should press the Egyptian government to release from prison Islamist politicians who commit to non-violence, and to allow a range of Islamist parties to organize, compete in elections, and participate in governance," Byman and Wittes wrote.
Brookings scholar Shadi Hamid, former research director at the BDC, disputed his colleagues' alarmism at the April launch of his book about the Egyptian MB's missteps. Hamid noted that no credible evidence existed that MB members had joined Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis as a consequence of the crackdown.
Brookings' support for Turkey's Islamization
In addition to lamenting the fate of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, Brookings scholars use a light touch when discussing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Erdogan's Turkey embodies a sort of American-style secularism in which religion and government remain separate, yet a visible role for theology remains in public life, visiting BDC Fellow Ahmet T. Kuru wrote in a February 2013 paper. The AKP is a "model for governance" for Islamists throughout the Middle East, demonstrating the possibility of "pursuing Muslim politics without establishing an 'Islamic state.'"
"Islamic parties can also promote diverse understanding of shariah [Islamic law] through free and democratic processes," Kuru wrote. "Internationally, the AKP has succeeded in convincing the United States and European countries that a party with roots in Islamism can be a reliable ally.
Turkey's refusal to fight the Islamic State (IS), formerly the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, amid its onslaught against the Kurds underscores the NATO member's failure as an ally. Turkish troops sit idle on their side of the border with Syria even as the terrorist army squeezes the Kurds. Erdogan equates the Kurdish groups that have fought the Turkish government for decades with IS, and has been reluctant to cooperate unless the West turns its guns on the Assad regime.
Evidence suggests double-dealing between Turkey and IS using the Turkish charity Humanitarian Aid Foundation (IHH) as an intermediary. Turkey's intelligence service MIT is known to have maintained close ties with IHH and has been alleged to have unofficially funded the charity since 2003.
The charity allegedly smuggled weapons into Syria for use by various jihadist factions including IS. Some members of Turkey's parliament became so alarmed by these allegations that they wrote to Erdogan and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu asking for an explanation of the Turkish government's relations with IS this summer.
"One could argue that the AKP experience in the 2000s is one of the reasons why Western countries are today tolerant toward Islamists in states affected by the Arab Spring," Kuru wrote.
Turkish opponents, however, insist that AKP's pragmatism serves as a means to an end. Under AKP rule, the strict secularism introduced by Turkey's founder, Kemal Mustafa Attaturk, has eroded. Government policies encourage religious sects economically and assist them in expanding their causes, Turkey's Hurriyet Daily News newspaper reports in a 2008 article.
Secularists assert that such policies expose them to discrimination.
"Some social pressures, such as the government-origin discrimination and compulsion against the secularists, the activities of the religious sects in education, the isolation of secularists from economic life, alcohol bans, intolerance toward people who do not fast during Ramadan, and compulsory attendance at Friday prayers, show the presence of a new atmosphere which did not exist," the article said.
Talk of turning Istanbul's Hagia Sophia, formerly Byzantine Christianity's holiest church, into a mosque this summer over Orthodox Christian objections highlights the trend. Tens of thousands of Islamists protested outside the religious site in June demanding that Erdogan reopen it to Muslim worship.
AKP's Turkish critics maintain that it has a "flawed understanding of democracy" and accuse it of speaking the language of pluralism in a "selective way." Erdogan's increasingly authoritarian tendencies highlight this failing.
A 2014 HRW report explores the erosion of basic democratic freedoms under the AKP, including press autonomy, freedom of assembly, women's rights and the rule of law.
The report does not begin to cover Erdogan's role in supporting Islamist terror groups such as Hamas and his rumored double-dealing with the Islamic State.
Israeli intelligence provides evidence of Turkey's emergence as Hamas' top financial backer since 2012. Erdogan's government transferred $250 million to Hamas between 2012 and January 2014. It happened with the "full support of Erdogan and his aides."
Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal spoke with Erdogan in October 2013 about moving its headquarters from Qatar to Turkey, and many key Hamas operatives operate there.
Whitewashing conditions inside Qatar
The Brookings Doha Center "also works to contribute to the local society, supporting the National Vision's goals of human and social development in Qatar," Director Salman Shaikh wrote in an April opinion piece. "At the same time, the Center's publications and public events foster Qatar's 'knowledge economy' by promoting a culture of informed citizenship."
Such studies read like propaganda designed to encourage foreign investment in the emirate rather than provide complete and unvarnished truth.
Reality in Qatar is quite different from the picture Brookings paints. Human Rights Watch notes that only 10 percent of Qatar's population of 2 million are citizens. Most are foreign migrants who live under conditions that HRW describes as those of "exploitation" and "forced labor." Shaikh makes no mention of this.
The January HRW report also finds that "[d]omestic migrant workers, almost all women, are especially vulnerable to abuse," and that Qatar's standards fall well short of international labor norms.
"Qatar's record on freedom of expression causes concern. In February, an appeals court affirmed the conviction of a Qatari poet for incitement to overthrow the government over poems critical of Qatar's then-emir," HRW wrote.
None of these independent observations appear in any Brookings reports published by its Doha-based scholars.
Building one-way bridges
Brookings engaged with Qatar 12 years ago, seeking to build bridges with the Muslim world, but that bridge seems to steer traffic in one direction. As subsequent stories in this series will show, Muslim participants in its Doha conferences remain unflinching in their support for Hamas and other Palestinian terror factions. Brookings scholars, similar to their Islamist partners, now unequivocally classify al-Qaida and similar groups as terrorists while attaching caveats to describing Hamas in the same vein.
Such a shift marks a clear victory for Qatar.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Madison on Federalism and State Sovereignty, 1788
on: October 28, 2014, 11:45:20 AM
"Each State, in ratifying the Constitution, is considered as a sovereign body, independent of all others, and only to be bound by its own voluntary act. In this relation, then, the new Constitution will, if established, be a FEDERAL, and not a NATIONAL constitution." --James Madison, Federalist No. 39, 1788
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Col. Ralph Peters in 1998-- part 2
on: October 28, 2014, 09:51:11 AM
Cousin Luis. You do not vote for the best man, you vote for Uncle Ali. And you do not consider cease-fire deals or shareholder interests to be matters of serious obligation.
Such cultures tend to be peasant-based or of peasant origin, with the attendant peasant's suspicion of the outsider and of authority. Oligarchies of landed families freeze the pattern in time. There is a preference for a dollar grabbed today over a thousand dollars accrued in the course of an extended business relationship. Blood-based societies operate under two sets of rules: one, generally honest, for the relative; and another, ruthless and amoral, for deals involving the outsider. The receipt of money now is more important than building a long-term relationship. Such societies fight well as tribes, but terribly as nations.
At its most successful, this is the system of the Chinese diaspora, but that is a unique case. The Darwinian selection that led to the establishment and perpetuation of the great Chinese merchant families (and village networks), coupled with the steely power of southern China's culture, has made this example an exception to many rules. More typical examples of the Vetternwirtschaft system are Iranian businesses, Nigerian criminal organizations, Mexican political and drug cartels, and some American trade unions.
Where blood ties rule, you cannot trust the contract, let alone the handshake. Nor will you see the delegation of authority so necessary to compete in the modern military or economic spheres. Information and wealth are assessed from a zero-sum worldview. Corruption flourishes. Blood ties produce notable family successes, but they do not produce competitive societies.
That Old-Time Religion
Religion feeds a fundamental human appetite for meaning and security, and it can lead to powerful social unity and psychological assurance that trumps science. Untempered, it leads to xenophobia, backwardness, savagery, and economic failure. The more intense a religion is, the more powerful are its autarchic tendencies. But it is impossible to withdraw from today's world.
Limiting the discussion to the sphere of competitiveness, there appear to be two models of socio-religious integration that allow sufficient informational and social dynamism for successful performance. First, religious homogeneity can work, if, as in the case of Japan, religion is sufficiently subdued and malleable to accommodate applied science. The other model--that of the United States--is of religious coexistence, opening the door for science as an "alternative religion." Americans have, in fact, such wonderful plasticity of mind that generally even the most vividly religious can disassociate antibiotic drugs from the study of Darwin and the use of birth-control pills from the strict codes of their churches. All religions breed some amount of schism between theology and social practice, but the American experience is a marvel of mental agility and human innovation.
The more dogmatic and exclusive the religion, the less it is able to deal with the information age, in which multiple "truths" may exist simultaneously, and in which all that cannot be proven empirically is inherently under assault. We live in a time of immense psychological dislocation--when man craves spiritual certainty even more than usual. Yet our age is also one in which the sheltering dogma cripples individuals and states alike. The price of competitiveness is the courage to be uncertain--not an absence of belief, but a synthetic capability that can at once accommodate belief and its contradictions. Again, the United States possesses more than its share of this capability, while other societies are encumbered by single dominant religions as hard, unbending--and ultimately brittle--as iron. Religious toleration also means the toleration of scientific research, informational openness, and societal innovation. "One-true-path" societies and states are on a path that leads only downward.
For those squeamish about judging the religion of another, there is a shortcut that renders the same answer on competitiveness: examine the state's universities.
Learning Power and Earning Power
The quality of a state's universities obviously reflects local wealth, but, even more important, the effectiveness of higher education in a society describes its attitudes toward knowledge, inquiry-versus-dogma, and the determination of social standing. In societies imprisoned by dogmatic religions, or in which a caste or class system predetermines social and economic outcomes, higher education (and secular education in general) often has low prestige and poor content. Conversely, in socially mobile, innovative societies, university degrees from quality schools appear indispensable to the ambitious, the status-conscious, and the genuinely inquisitive alike.
There are many individual and some cultural exceptions, but they mostly prove the rule. Many Indians value a university education highly--not as social confirmation, but as a means of escaping a preassigned social position. The privileged of the Arabian Peninsula, on the other hand, regard an American university degree (even from a booby-prize institution) as an essential piece of jewelry, not unlike a Rolex watch. In all cultures, there are individuals hungry for self-improvement and, sometimes, for knowledge. But, statistically, we can know a society, and judge its potential, by its commitment to education, with universities as the bellwether. Not all states can afford their own Stanford or Harvard but, within their restraints, their attempts to educate their populations still tell us a great deal about national priorities and potential. Commitment and content cannot fully substitute for a wealth of facilities, but they go a long way, whether we speak of individuals or continents.
Any society that starves education is a loser. Cultures that do not see inherent value in education are losers. This is even true for some of our own sub-cultures--groups for whom education has little appeal as means or end--and it is true for parts of Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Arab world. A culture that cannot produce a single world-class university is not going to conquer the world in any sphere.
America's universities are triumphant. Once beyond the silly debates (or monologues) in the Liberal Arts faculties, our knowledge industry has no precedent or peer. Even Europe's most famous universities, on the Rhine or the Seine, are rotting and overcrowded. We attract the best faculty, the best researchers, and the best student minds from the entire world. This is not a trend subject to reversal; rather, it is self-reinforcing.
Yet there is even more to American success in education than four good years at the "College of Musical Knowledge." The United States is also far ahead of other states in the flexibility and utility of its educational system. Even in Europe, the student's fate is determined early--and woe to the late bloomer. You choose your course, or have it chosen for you, and you are more or less stuck with it for life. In Germany, long famous for its commitment to education, the individual who gains a basic degree in one subject and then jumps to another field for graduate work is marked as a Versager, a failure. In the US system, there are second, third, and fourth chances. This flexible approach to building and rebuilding our human capital is a tremendous economic asset, and it is compounded by the trend toward continuing education in mid-life and for seniors.
A geriatric revolution is occurring under our noses, with older Americans "younger" than before in terms of capabilities, interests, and attitudes--and much more apt to continue contributing to the common good. We are headed for a world in the early decades of the next century when many Americans may hit their peak earning years not in their fifties, but in their sixties--then seventies. This not only provides sophisticated talent to the labor pool, but maintains the worker as an asset to, rather than a drain upon, our nation's economy. For all the fuss about the future of social security, we may see a profound attitudinal change in the next generation, when vigorous, high-earning seniors come to regard retirement at today's age as an admission of failure or weakness, or just as a bore. At the same time, more 20-year-old foreigners than ever will have no jobs at all.
Investments in our educational system are "three-fers": they are simultaneously investments in our economic, social, and military systems. Education is our first line of defense. The rest of the world can be divided into two kinds of societies, states, and cultures--those that struggle and sacrifice to educate their members, and those that do not. Guess who is going to do better in the hyper-competitive 21st century?
Workers of the World, Take a Nap!
Related to, but not quite identical with, national and cultural attitudes toward education is the attitude toward work. Now, everyone has bad days at the office, factory, training area, or virtual workplace, and the old line, "It's not supposed to be fun--that's why they call it `work,'" enjoys universal validity. Yet there are profoundly different attitudes toward work on this planet. While most human beings must work to survive, there are those who view work as a necessary evil and dream of its avoidance, and then there are societies in which people hit the lottery and go back to their jobs as telephone linemen. In many subsets of Latin American culture, for example, there are two reasons to work: first to survive, then to grow so wealthy that work is no longer necessary. It is a culture in which the possession of wealth is not conceptually related to a responsibility to work. It is the get-rich-quick, big-bucks-from-Heaven dream of some of our own citizens. The goal is not achievement but possession, not accomplishment but the power of leisure.
Consider any culture's heroes. Generally, the more macho or male-centric the culture, the less emphasis there will be on steady work and achievement, whether craftsmanship or Nobel Prize-winning research, and the more emphasis there will be on wealth and power as the sole desirable end (apart, perhaps, from the occasional religious vocation). As national heroes, it's hard to beat Bill Gates. But even a sports star is better than a major narco-trafficker.
Generally, societies that do not find work in and of itself "pleasing to God and requisite to Man," tend to be highly corrupt (low-education and dogmatic-religion societies also are statistically prone to corruption, and, if all three factors are in play, you may not want to invest in the local stock exchange or tie your foreign policy to successful democratization). The goal becomes the attainment of wealth by any means.
On the other hand, workaholic cultures, such as that of North America north of the Rio Grande, or Japan, South Korea, and some other East Asian states, can often compensate for deficits in other spheres, such as a lack of natural resources or a geographical disadvantage. If a man or woman has difficulty imagining a fulfilling life without work, he or she probably belongs to a successful culture. Work has to be seen as a personal and public responsibility, as good in and of itself, as spiritually necessary to man. Otherwise, the society becomes an "evader" society. Russia is strong, if flagging, on education. But the general attitude toward work undercuts education. When the characters in Chekhov's "Three Sisters" blather about the need to find redemption through work, the prescription is dead on, but their lives and their society have gone so far off the rails that the effect is one of satire. States and cultures "win" just by getting up earlier and putting in eight honest hours and a little overtime.
If you are seeking a worthy ally or business opportunity, go to a mid-level government office in Country X an hour before the local lunchtime. If everybody is busy with legitimate work, you've hit a winner. If there are many idle hands, get out.
Using this Knowledge to Our Advantage
Faced with the complex reality of geopolitics and markets, we must often go to Country X, Y, or Z against our better judgment. Despite failing in all seven categories, Country X may have a strategic location that makes it impossible to ignore. Country Y may have an internal market and regional importance so significant that it would be foolish not to engage it, despite the risks. Country Z may have resources that make a great deal of misery on our part worth the sufferance. Yet even in such situations, it helps to know what you are getting into. Some countries would devour investments as surely as they would soldiers. Others just demand savvy and caution on our part. Yet another might require a local ally or partner to whom we can make ourselves indispensable. Whether engaging militarily or doing business in another country, it gives us a tremendous advantage if we can identify four things: their image of us, their actual situation, their needs, and the needs they perceive themselves as having (the four never connect seamlessly).
There are parallel dangers for military men and businessmen in taking too narrow a view of the challenges posed by foreign states. An exclusive focus on either raw military power or potential markets tells us little about how people behave, believe, learn, work, fight, or buy. In fact, the parallels between military and business interventions grow ever greater, especially since these form two of the legs of our new national strategic triad, along with the export of our culture (diplomacy is a minor and shrinking factor, its contours defined ever more rigorously by economics).
The seven factors discussed above offer a pattern for an initial assessment of the future potential of states that interest us. Obviously, the more factors present in a given country, the worse off it will be--and these factors rarely appear in isolation. Normally, a society that oppresses women will do it under the aegis of a restrictive dominant religion that will also insist on the censorship of information. Societies lacking a strong work ethic rarely value education.
In the Middle East, it is possible to identify states where all seven negatives apply; in Africa, many countries score between four and seven. Countries that formerly suffered communist dictatorships vary enormously, from Poland and the Czech Republic, with only a few rough edges, to Turkmenistan, which scores six out of seven. Latin America has always been more various than Norteamericanos realized, from feudal Mexico to dynamic, disciplined Chile.
Ultimately, our businesses have it easier than our military in one crucial respect: business losses are counted in dollars, not lives. But the same cultural factors that will shape future state failure and spawn violent conflicts make it difficult to do business successfully and legally. We even suffer under similar "rules of engagement," whether those placed on the military to dictate when a soldier may shoot or the legal restraints under which US businesses must operate, imposing a significant disadvantage vis-à-vis foreign competitors.
As a final note, the biggest pitfall in international interactions is usually mutual misunderstanding. We do not understand them, but they do not understand us either--although, thanks to the Americanization of world media, they imagine they do. From mega-deals that collapsed because of Russian rapacity to Saddam's conviction that the United States would not fight, foreign counterparts, rivals, and opponents have whoppingly skewed perceptions of American behaviors. In the end, military operations and business partnerships are like dating--the advantage goes to the player who sees with the most clarity.
We are heading into a turbulent, often violent new century. It will be a time of great dangers and great opportunities. Some states will continue to triumph, others will shift their relative positions, many will fail. The future will never be fully predictable, but globalization means the imposition of uniform rules by the most powerful actors. They are fundamentally economic rules. For the first time, the world is converging toward a homogeneous system, if not toward homogenous benefits from that system. The potential of states is more predictable within known parameters than ever before.
We have seen the future, and it looks like us.
Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Peters (USA, Ret.) was assigned, prior to his recent retirement, to the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, where he was responsible for future warfare. Career and personal travels have taken him to 45 countries. He has published and lectured widely on military and international concerns. His seventh novel, The Devil's Garden, was recently released by Avon Books. This is his tenth article for Parameters.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Col. Ralph Peters in 1998
on: October 28, 2014, 09:45:30 AM
Spotting the Losers: Seven Signs of Non-Competitive States
Parameters ^ | 1998 | Ralph Peters
Posted on Thursday, 4 September 2003 10:29:11 PM by Voice in your head
© 1998 Ralph Peters
When you leave the classroom or office and go into the world, you see at first its richness and confusions, the variety and tumult. Then, if you keep moving and do not quit looking, commonalties begin to emerge. National success is eccentric. But national failure is programmed and predictable. Spotting the future losers among the world's states becomes so easy it loses its entertainment value.
In this world of multiple and simultaneous revolutions--in technology, information, social organization, biology, economics, and convenience--the rules of international competition have changed. There is a global marketplace and, increasingly, a global economy. While there is no global culture yet, American popular culture is increasingly available and wickedly appealing--and there are no international competitors in the field, only struggling local systems. Where the United States does not make the rules of international play, it shapes them by its absence.
The invisible hand of the market has become an informal but uncompromising lawgiver. Globalization demands conformity to the practices of the global leaders, especially to those of the United States. If you do not conform--or innovate--you lose. If you try to quit the game, you lose even more profoundly. The rules of international competition, whether in the economic, cultural, or conventional military fields, grow ever more homogeneous. No government can afford practices that retard development. Yet such practices are often so deeply embedded in tradition, custom, and belief that the state cannot jettison them. That which provides the greatest psychological comfort to members of foreign cultures is often that which renders them noncompetitive against America's explosive creativity--our self-reinforcing dynamism fostered by law, efficiency, openness, flexibility, market discipline, and social mobility.
Traditional indicators of noncompetitive performance still apply: corruption (the most seductive activity humans can consummate while clothed); the absence of sound, equitably enforced laws; civil strife; or government attempts to overmanage a national economy. As change has internationalized and accelerated, however, new predictive tools have emerged. They are as simple as they are fundamental, and they are rooted in culture. The greater the degree to which a state--or an entire civilization--succumbs to these "seven deadly sins" of collective behavior, the more likely that entity is to fail to progress or even to maintain its position in the struggle for a share of the world's wealth and power. Whether analyzing military capabilities, cultural viability, or economic potential, these seven factors offer a quick study of the likely performance of a state, region, or population group in the coming century.
The Seven Factors
These key "failure factors" are:
Restrictions on the free flow of information.
The subjugation of women.
Inability to accept responsibility for individual or collective failure.
The extended family or clan as the basic unit of social organization.
Domination by a restrictive religion.
A low valuation of education.
Low prestige assigned to work.
The wonderfully misunderstood Clausewitzian trinity, expressed crudely as state-people-military, is being replaced by a powerful new trinity: the relationship between the state, the people, and information. In the latter phases of the industrial age, the free flow of quality information already had become essential to the success of industries and military establishments. If the internationalizing media toppled the Soviet empire, it was because that empire's battle against information-sharing had hollowed out its economy and lost the confidence of its people. When a sudden flood of information strikes a society or culture suffering an information deficit, the result is swift destabilization. This is now a global phenomenon.
Today's "flat-worlders" are those who believe that information can be controlled. Historically, information always equaled power. Rulers and civilizations viewed knowledge as a commodity to be guarded, a thing finite in its dimensions and lost when shared. Religious institutions viewed knowledge as inflammatory and damnable, a thing to be handled carefully and to advantage, the nuclear energy of yesteryear. The parallel to the world public's view of wealth is almost exact--an instinctive conviction that information is a thing to be gotten and hoarded, and that its possession by a foreign actor means it has been, by vague and devious means, robbed from oneself and one's kind. But just as wealth generates wealth, so knowledge begets knowledge. Without a dynamic and welcoming relationship with information as content and process, no society can compete in the post-industrial age.
Information-controlling governments and knowledge-denying religions cripple themselves and their subjects or adherents. If America's streets are not paved with gold, they are certainly littered with information. The availability of free, high-quality information, and a people's ability to discriminate between high- and low-quality data, are essential to economic development beyond the manufacturing level. Whether on our own soil or abroad, those segments of humanity that fear and reject knowledge of the world (and, often, of themselves) are condemned to failure, poverty, and bitterness.
The ability of most of America's work force to cope psychologically and practically with today's flood of data, and to cull quality data from the torrent, is remarkable--a national and systemic triumph. Even Canada and Britain cannot match it. Much of Japan's present stasis is attributable to that nation's struggle to make the transition from final-stage industrial power to information-age society. The more regulated flow of information with which Japan has long been comfortable is an impediment to post-modernism. While the Japanese nation ultimately possesses the synthetic capability to overcome this difficulty, its structural dilemmas are more informational and psychological than tangible--although the tangible certainly matters--and decades of educational reform and social restructuring will be necessary before Japan returns for another world-championship match.
In China, the situation regarding the state's attempt to control information and the population's inability to manage it is immeasurably worse. Until China undergoes a genuine cultural revolution that alters permanently and deeply the relationship among state, citizen, and information, that country will bog down at the industrial level. Its sheer size guarantees continued growth, but there will be a flattening in the coming decades and, decisively, China will have great difficulty transitioning from smokestack growth to intellectual innovation and service wealth.
China, along with the world's other defiant dictatorships, suffers under an oppressive class structure, built on and secured by an informational hierarchy. The great class struggle of the 21st century will be for access to data, and it will occur in totalitarian and religious-regime states. The internet may prove to be the most revolutionary tool since the movable-type printing press. History laughs at us all--the one economic analyst who would understand immediately what is happening in the world today would be a resurrected German "content provider" named Marx.
For countries and cultures that not only restrict but actively reject information that contradicts governmental or cultural verities, even a fully industrialized society remains an unattainable dream. Information is more essential to economic progress than an assured flow of oil. In fact, unearned, "found" wealth is socially and economically cancerous, impeding the development of healthy, enduring socioeconomic structures and values. If you want to guarantee an underdeveloped country's continued inability to perform competitively, grant it rich natural resources. The sink-or-swim poverty of northwestern Europe and Japan may have been their greatest natural advantage during their developmental phases. As the Shah learned and Saudi Arabia is proving, you can buy only the products, not the productiveness, of another civilization.
States that censor information will fail to compete economically, culturally, and militarily in the long run. The longer the censorship endures, the longer the required recovery time. Even after the strictures have been lifted, information-deprived societies must play an almost-hopeless game of catch-up. In Russia, it will take at least a generation of genuine informational freedom to facilitate an economic takeoff that is not founded hollowly upon resource extraction, middleman profits, and the looting of industrial ruins. Unique China will need even longer to make the next great leap forward from industrial to informational economy--we have at least half a century's advantage. Broad portions of the planet may never make it. We will not need a military to deal with foreign success, but to respond to foreign failure--which will be the greatest source of violence in coming decades.
If you are looking for an easy war, fight an information-controlling state. If you are looking for a difficult investment, invest in an information-controlling state. If you are hunting a difficult conflict, enter the civil strife that arises after the collapse of an information-controlling state. If you are looking for a good investment, find an emerging or "redeemed" state unafraid of science, hard numbers, and education.
A Woman's Place
Vying with informational abilities as a key factor in the reinvigoration of the US economy has been the pervasive entry of American women into the educational process and the workplace. When the stock market soars, thank Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the suffragettes, not just their beneficiary, Alan Greenspan. After a century and a half of struggle by English and American women, the US economy now operates at a wartime level of human-resource commitment on a routine basis.
Despite eternally gloomy headlines, our country probably has the lowest wastage rate of human talent in the world. The United States is so chronically hungry for talent that we drain it from the rest of the planet at a crippling pace, and we have accepted that we cannot squander the genius of half our population. Even in Europe, "over-skilling," in which inherent and learned abilities wither in calcified workplaces, produces social peace at the cost of cultural and economic lethargy, security at the price of mediocrity. The occasional prime minister notwithstanding, it is far rarer to encounter a female executive, top professional, or general officer in that mythologized, "more equitable" Europe than in the United States. Life in America may not be fair, but neither is it stagnant. What we lose in security, we more than compensate for in opportunity.
While Europe sleepwalks toward a 35-hour work-week, we are moving toward the 35-hour day. The intense performance of our economy would be unattainable without the torrent of energy introduced by competitive female job candidates. American women revolutionized the workforce and the workplace. Future social and economic historians will probably judge that the entry of women into our workforce was the factor that broke the stranglehold of American trade unions and gave a new lease on life to those domestic industries able to adapt. American women were the Japanese cars of business labor relations: better, cheaper, dependable, and they defied the rules. Everybody had to work harder and smarter to survive, but the results have been a spectacular recovery of economic leadership and soaring national wealth.
Change that men long resisted and feared in our own country resulted not only in greater competition for jobs, but in the creation of more jobs, and not in the rupture of the economy, but in its assumption of imperial dimensions (in a quirk of fate, already privileged males are getting much richer, thanks to the effects of feminism's triumph on the stock market). Equality of opportunity is the most profitable game going, and American capitalism has realized the wisdom of becoming an evenhanded consumer of skills. Despite serious exclusions and malignant social problems, we are the most efficient society in history. When Europeans talk of the dignity of the working man, they increasingly mean the right of that man to sit at a desk doing nothing or to stand at an idling machine. There is a huge difference between just being employed and actually working.
The math isn't hard. Any country or culture that suppresses half its population, excluding them from economic contribution and wasting energy keeping them out of the school and workplace, is not going to perform competitively with us. The standard counterargument heard in failing states is that there are insufficient jobs for the male population, thus it is impossible to allow women to compete for the finite incomes available. The argument is archaic and wrong. When talent enters a work force, it creates jobs. Competition improves performance. In order to begin to compete with the American leviathan and the stronger of the economies of Europe and the Far East, less-developed countries must maximize their human potential. Instead, many willfully halve it.
The point isn't really the fear that women will steal jobs in Country X. Rather, it's a fundamental fear of women--or of a cultural caricature of women as incapable, stupid, and worrisomely sexual. If, when you get off the plane, you do not see men and women sitting together in the airport lounge, put your portfolio or treaty on the next flight home.
It is difficult for any human being to share power already possessed. Authority over their women is the only power many males will ever enjoy. From Greece to the Ganges, half the world is afraid of girls and gratified by their subjugation. It is a prescription for cultural mediocrity, economic failure--and inexpressible boredom. The value added by the training and utilization of our female capital is an American secret weapon.
Blaming Foreign Devils
The cult of victimhood, a plague on the least-successful elements in our own society, retards the development of entire continents. When individuals or cultures cannot accept responsibility for their own failures, they will repeat the behaviors that led to failure. Accepting responsibility for failure is difficult, and correspondingly rare. The cultures of North America, Northern Europe, Japan, and Korea (each in its own way) share an unusual talent for looking in the mirror and keeping their eyes open. Certainly, there is no lack of national vanity, prejudice, subterfuge, or bad behavior.
But in the clutch we are surprisingly good at saying, "We did it, so let's fix it." In the rest of the world, a plumbing breakdown implicates the CIA and a faltering currency means George Soros--the Hungarian-born American billionaire, fund manager, and philanthropist--has been sneaking around in the dark. Recent accusations of financial connivance made against Mr. Soros and then against the Jews collectively by Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir only demonstrated that Malaysia's ambitions had gotten ahead of its cultural capacity to support them. Even if foreign devils are to blame--and they mostly are not--whining and blustering does not help. It only makes you feel better for a little while, like drunkenness, and there are penalties the morning after.
The failure is greater where the avoidance of responsibility is greater. In the Middle East and Southwest Asia, oil money has masked cultural, social, technical, and structural failure for decades. While the military failure of the regional states has been obvious, consistent, and undeniable, the locals sense--even when they do not fully understand--their noncompetitive status in other spheres as well. It is hateful and disorienting to them. Only the twin blessings of Israel and the United States, upon whom Arabs and Persians can blame even their most egregious ineptitudes, enable a fly-specked pretense of cultural viability.
On the other hand, Latin America has made tremendous progress. Not long ago, the gringos were to blame each time the lights blinked. But with the rise of a better-educated elite and local experience of economic success, the leadership of Latin America's key states has largely stopped playing the blame game. Smaller states and drug-distorted economies still chase scapegoats, but of the major players only Mexico still indulges routinely in the transfer of all responsibility for its problems to Washington, D.C.
After the exclusion of women from productive endeavors, the next-worst wastage of human potential occurs in societies where the extended family, clan, or tribe is the basic social unit. While family networks provide a safety net in troubled times, offering practical support and psychological protection, and may even build a house for you, they do not build the rule of law, or democracy, or legitimate corporations, or free markets. Where the family or clan prevails, you do not hire the best man (to say nothing of the best woman) for the job, you hire
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Plantagenet Effect
on: October 27, 2014, 11:36:22 PM
The Plantagenet Effect
Wednesday, October 22, 2014 - 03:03 Print Text Size
Global Affairs with Robert D. Kaplan
By Robert D. Kaplan
Every school child should know about the Magna Carta, a document forced upon King John by his feudal barons in 1215 to limit the king's power. But the full majesty of how the march toward constitutional government began in England deep in the Middle Ages is conveyed by Dan Jones, a Cambridge-educated historian, in The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England, published in 2012. (Jones continues the saga in the recently published The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors.) The story of how British democracy developed is an exceedingly slow and cumbersome one. The first meeting of parliament did not happen until 1264, nearly a half-century after the signing of the Magna Carta. And women's suffrage was not instituted until 1918, more than 700 years after the Magna Carta. In short, what we in the West define as a healthy democracy took England the better part of a millennium to achieve. And in reading both of Jones' books, what screams out loud and clear is the political wealth, cultural density and utter formidability of the English tradition achieved as much in war as in peace -- without which the magnificent debates and rhetoric that are on display in parliament in London today would simply not exist.
A functioning democracy is not a product that can be easily exported, in other words, but an expression of culture and historical development that must be constantly nursed and maintained. Britain's democracy did not come from civil society programs taught by human rights workers; it was the offshoot of bloody dynastic politics and uprisings in the medieval and early modern eras.
The United States also has a democracy that is the envy of the world. But as the late Harvard professor Samuel P. Huntington notes, that is because America was born with "political institutions and practices imported from seventeenth-century England." That, too, in one way or another, has been the case with Canada, Australia and New Zealand, the other countries of the Anglosphere that also, not coincidentally, have enviable democracies. To say that democracy and the Anglo-Saxon tradition are not inherently related is to deny the record of history; it is also to say that culture, merely because it cannot be quantified and otherwise measured on an academic's chart, does not matter.
Germany and Japan also have well-functioning and stable democracies. But that is only because they were completely destroyed by the United States and Britain in World War II and had their political systems rebuilt and developed from scratch by American occupation forces who then stayed on for many years.
Europe -- from Portugal to Poland and from Norway to Greece -- has many stable democracies that work, if not always as well over the decades as those in the Anglosphere. But these countries are generally heir to what we call Western civilization and bourgeoisie traditions in various forms -- traditions interrupted in cases, rather than erased from memory, by World War II and the Cold War.
India has had a more or less stable, functioning democracy for almost two-thirds of a century. But would that have been the case without British rule under the East India Company and the Raj from the late 18th century to the mid-20th? Of course, British dominance was often cruel and racist. But it also united India through a railway system and provided the building blocks of stable government through its civil service and parliamentary tradition. To say that the success of India's democracy has indigenous causes is reasonable; to say that it has had nothing at all to do with the British tradition is not.
Then there are South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore -- successful and stable democracies all. Singapore's system, as its founder Lee Kuan Yew writes in his memoirs, is inseparable from the British tradition. All three countries are the beneficiaries of Confucian ethical practices that reach back to antiquity. And all three were initially stabilized as functioning modern states by enlightened authoritarians: Lee, Chiang Kai-shek in Taiwan and Park Chung Hee in South Korea. Again, democracy did not naturally spring from any of them in full flower but was the product of decades and centuries of political, cultural and social development and conditions.
Elsewhere the situation is murky, though not impossible. The countries of South America have only experienced democracy and the rule of law in recent years and decades, and this discounts the virtual one-man rule that is the case in places such as Ecuador and Bolivia. Venezuela is in semi-chaos. Nobody can argue that Argentina is even remotely well governed. In a number of other Latin American countries, democracy functions on paper while the system is rife with corruption and the rule of law is weak.
Africa often has democracies in name only, since strongmen rule behind a facade of legality. Many places in Africa have had elections but are nowhere near stable. Outside the capital cities there is often nothing resembling civil society or any governing structure whatsoever. Holding elections is easy; building institutions is hard and can take decades or longer.
The Middle East is a disaster zone, save for Israel, Turkey and, to a limited degree, Iran. Morocco, Oman and some of the Gulf countries are stable and civil, but in almost all cases that is because of enlightened authoritarianism, not democracy. Tunisia is democratic but barely stable. Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya are in varying states of war and chaos. Reading the news about these places and then switching to the pages of Jones' books about medieval English dynastic struggles, it is sometimes hard to see how large parts of the early-21st century Middle East are more politically advanced than Plantagenet and Tudor England. The notion that countries such as Syria, Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan can accomplish in short order what it took England many hundreds of years to do seems like policy malpractice.
Yes, it might be that Western liberal democracy is the best system for governance that has so far appeared in history; it is quite another thing to say that many places in the world are up to the task at this moment. Or rather, perhaps the better way to phrase it is to say that Western liberal democracy will have to adapt to cultural and historical realities on the ground in areas such as the Middle East. Of course, many places might be defined on paper as democracies, but it is the power relationships behind the scenes that provide the truth about how countries are actually run.
Democracy cannot simply be exported (except in extreme cases such as in the American occupations of Germany and Japan) any more than theoretical reasoning can replace hundreds of years of cultural and historical tradition. In that spirit, books such as The Plantagenets and The Wars of the Roses provide deeper, more arresting insights into the modern condition than many of the policy papers emanating from Western capitals.
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Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Children of the Caliphate
on: October 27, 2014, 11:34:13 PM
Children of the Caliphate
The Islamic State is raising an army of child soldiers, and the West could be fighting them for generations to come.
BY Kate Brannen
OCTOBER 27, 2014
They stand in the front row at public beheadings and crucifixions held in Raqqa, the Islamic State's stronghold in Syria. They're used for blood transfusions when Islamic State fighters are injured. They are paid to inform on people who are disloyal or speak out against the Islamic State. They are trained to become suicide bombers. They are children as young as 6 years old, and they are being transformed into the Islamic State's soldiers of the future.
The Islamic State has put in place a far-reaching and well-organized system for recruiting children, indoctrinating them with the group's extremist beliefs, and then teaching them rudimentary fighting skills. The militants are preparing for a long war against the West, and hope the young warriors being trained today will still be fighting years from now.
While there are no hard figures for how many children are involved, refugee stories and evidence collected by the United Nations, human rights groups, and journalists suggest that the indoctrination and military training of children is widespread.
Child soldiers aren't new to war. Dozens of African armies and militias use young boys as fighters, in part because research has shown that children lack fully formed moral compasses and can easily be persuaded to commit acts of cruelty and violence.
The young fighters of the Islamic State could pose a particularly dangerous long-term threat because they're being kept away from their normal schools and instead inculcated with a steady diet of Islamist propaganda designed to dehumanize others and persuade them of the nobility of fighting and dying for their faith.
"[The Islamic State] deliberately deny education to the people who are in the territory under their control, and not only that, they brainwash them," said Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, who's tasked with thinking about future threats and planning for the Army's future. "They engage in child abuse on an industrial scale. They brutalize and systematically dehumanize the young populations. This is going to make this a multigenerational problem."
Ivan Simonovic, the U.N. assistant secretary-general for human rights, recently returned from a visit to Iraq, where he interviewed displaced Iraqis in Baghdad, Dohuk, and Erbil. He said there is a "large and dangerously successful recruitment" program.
Speaking to a small group of reporters at the U.N., he said the fighters "appeal" to some of the youngsters and that they have approved adept at "manipulating young men and children." He explained that "they project an image of being victorious" and offer the promise that those who fall in battle will "go straight to heaven."
"What is striking for me is to meet mothers who [tell us], 'We don't know what to do,'" he said. "Our sons are volunteering and we can't prevent it."
On the front lines of Iraq and Syria, the boys who join or are abducted by the Islamic State are sent to various religious and military training camps, depending on their age. At the camps, they are taught everything from the Islamic State's interpretation of sharia law to how to handle a gun. They are even trained in how to behead another human and given dolls on which to practice, Syria Deeply, a website devoted to covering the Syrian civil war, reported in September.
Children are also sent into battle, where they are used as human shields on the front lines and to provide blood transfusions for Islamic State soldiers, according to Shelly Whitman, the executive director of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, an organization devoted to the eradication of the use of child soldiers.
Eyewitnesses from the Iraqi towns of Mosul and Tal Afar told United Nations investigators they have seen young children, armed with weapons they could barely carry and dressed in Islamic State uniforms, conducting street patrols and arresting locals.
U.N. human rights experts have "received confirmed reports of children as young as 12 or 13 undergoing military training organized by ISIL in Mosul," according to a report written jointly by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and the human rights office of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Iraq.
In al-Sharqat district in Salah al-Din, the number of youngsters manning checkpoints "drastically increased" during the last week of August, the report said. And in the Nineveh Plains and Makhmour, male teenagers were swept up in August in a recruiting drive by advancing fighters from the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. Some of these boys reported that they "were forced to form the front line to shield ISIL fighters during fighting, and that they had been forced to donate blood for treating injured ISIL fighters," according to the report.
Abu Ibrahim Raqqawi, the pseudonym of a 22-year-old man who lived in Syria until about a month ago, is the founder of Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, a Twitter account and Facebook page that documents the brutality of life in Raqqa, the city where he grew up. In addition to him and three others now living outside of Syria, there are 12 people inside of Raqqa, who contribute photos and information about what's going on inside the city.
Reached via Skype, he told Foreign Policy that the Islamic State has stepped up its youth recruitment program, including a boot camp for young boys where they're taught combat skills.
He said teenagers from Raqqa were being trained and then quickly sent to fight in Kobani, the Syrian-Turkish border town where the Islamic State has been in a brutal fight with Kurdish fighters for several weeks. U.S. and coalition aircraft have conducted more than 135 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in and around the town, killing hundreds of the militants.
In Raqqa, where poverty is widespread after more than three years of war, the group often persuades parents to send their children to the camps in exchange for money, Raqqawi said. Sometimes, the Islamic State appeals directly to the children themselves, holding public recruiting events or parties and then offering the children money to attend training. With all of the schools closed in Raqqa, there is little else for children to do, Raqqawi said.
There are several well-known youth training camps across Raqqa province, he said, including al-Zarqawi Camp, Osama Bin Laden Camp, al-Sherkrak Camp, al-Talaea Camp, and al-Sharea Camp.
Raqqawi estimated that there are between 250 and 300 children at al-Sharea Camp, which is for kids under the age of 16.
He provided photos of children at this camp, including one of young boys sitting down to a meal together, and another of a young boy smiling as he completed an obstacle course.
When there is a big battle, like the one in Kobani, the training is accelerated, Raqqawi said.
In Iraq, there is also substantial evidence that children are being forced into military training.
Fred Abrahams, special advisor at Human Rights Watch, interviewed Yazidis in Iraq who had escaped Islamic State detention. They said they had witnessed Islamic State fighters taking boys from their families for religious or military training.
One Yazidi man who escaped said he watched his captors separate 14 boys ages 8 to 12 at a military base the Islamic State had seized in Sinjar and take them off to learn how to be jihadists.
One Yazidi man who escaped said he watched his captors separate 14 boys ages 8 to 12 at a military base the Islamic State had seized in Sinjar and take them off to learn how to be jihadists.
This summer, Vice News gained extraordinary access to the Islamic State, producing a five-part video documentary about life under the group's control. The second installment focused on how the Islamic State is specifically grooming children for the future.
"For us, we believe that this generation of children is the generation of the caliphate. God willing, this generation will fight infidels and apostates, the Americans and their allies," one man tells Vice.
The video shows a 9-year-old boy saying that he's headed to a training camp after Ramadan to learn how to use a Kalashnikov rifle.
An Islamic State spokesman told the Vice journalists that those under 15 go to sharia camp to learn about religion, but those older than 16 can go to military training camp.
The Islamic State's command of social media also helps it convince people from all over the world to travel to Iraq or Syria to join the group.
Part of this effort involves using children as propaganda tools, posting photographs on social media sites of them dressed in Islamic State uniforms marching alongside grown-up fighters. "In mid-August, ISIL entered a cancer hospital in Mosul, forced at least two sick children to hold the ISIL flag and posted the pictures on the internet," the U.N. report said.
The Islamic State's online recruitment has proved successful, drawing more than 3,000 Europeans. The FBI says it knows of roughly a dozen Americans fighting with the group, but acknowledges there could be more.
Three American high school girls from Colorado were caught last week in Frankfurt, Germany, apparently on their way to join the Islamic State in Syria. Reports say they were radicalized online.
The Vice News video shows a Belgian man who traveled to Raqqa with his young son, who appears to be 6 or 7 years old.
The father coaches his son to tell the cameraman that he's from the Islamic State and not Belgium, and then asks him whether he wants to be a jihadist or a suicide bomber. The young boy says, "Jihadist."
Raqqawi told FP that when he was still living in Raqqa he saw an American woman, her Algerian husband, and their daughter, who looked to be about 4 years old.
He says he also saw a French fighter with two kids: a blond boy who looked to be 6 years old and a daughter who was about a year old.
"We see a lot of foreign fighters inside the city. It is shocking," he said.
In Syria and Iraq, children are not just being radicalized, but are also being exposed to extreme levels of violence every day.
Raqqawi provided FP photos he took while still living in the city, of children watching crucifixions.
He said the children have become so accustomed to these executions that the sight of a head separated from a human body no longer seems to faze them.
"The Islamic State destroys their childhood, destroys their hearts," he said.
Misty Buswell, who's based in Jordan as the Middle East regional advocacy officer for Save the Children, said, "It's not an exaggeration to say we could lose a whole generation of children to trauma."
Buswell said the child refugees she's interviewed are having nightmares, avoiding interactions with their peers, and showing signs of aggression toward other children.
"I have met children who have stopped speaking, and who haven't spoken for months, because of the terrible things that they witnessed," Buswell said. "And those are the lucky ones who actually made it across the border to safety."
With time and the right kind of intervention those children can be helped and can be able to have somewhat more of a normal life, Buswell said. "But for the kids who are still inside and who are witnessing this on a daily basis, the long-term effects are going to be quite significant."
Buswell said that refugees almost always want to return home once the situation there stabilizes and peace returns.
When she asked refugees from Sinjar that question a few weeks ago, however, she was surprised by their answer. "It's one of the first times I've actually heard people telling me that the things that they saw and experienced were so horrific and traumatic -- and the things that their children saw -- that they didn't want to go back, because there are too many bad memories."
Colum Lynch contributed reporting to this article.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Pro rata China has 1/30 the transfer payments of the US.
on: October 27, 2014, 02:53:45 PM
If you came of age in the ‘60s or ‘70s, you might recall your parents complaining about the growing welfare state, and griping that America was turning into “communist China!” Well, they’d be happy to know that 40 years on, we’re nothing like China. That’s because as we get more socialist, they’re getting more capitalist. Joe Hoft at TheGatewayPundit.com points out that in 2011, China spent $287 billion on social welfare programs. The US, which has one-fourth the population of China, spent around $2 trillion. That means we now spend 30 times more per person on redistributing wealth than communist China does. Oh, and one more sign that China may be turning more capitalist than we are: a lot of that wealth we redistribute, we borrow from China.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH catches up with my posts of nearly two years ago
on: October 27, 2014, 01:33:16 PM
In the aftermath of the fall of Kaddaffy in Libya I noted several times with vigor the importance of the many, mnay MANPAD anti-aircraft missiles from Kaddaffy's armory that were falling into AQ hands and the dangerous implications thereof.
Note too how the Russians may be adding to the problem.
Missiles of ISIS May Pose Peril for Aircrews
By KIRK SEMPLE and ERIC SCHMITTOCT. 26, 2014
BAGHDAD — From the battlefield near Baiji, an Islamic State jihadist fired a heat-seeking missile and blew an Iraqi Army Mi-35M attack helicopter out of the sky this month, killing its two crew members.
Days later, the Islamic State released a chilling series of images from a video purporting to capture the attack in northern Iraq: a jihadist hiding behind a wall with a Chinese-made missile launcher balanced on his shoulder; the missile blasting from the tube, its contrail swooping upward as it tracked its target; the fiery impact and the wreckage on a rural road.
The helicopter was one of several Iraqi military helicopters that the militants claim to have shot down this year, and the strongest evidence yet that Islamic State fighters in Iraq are using advanced surface-to-air missile systems that pose a serious threat to aircraft flown by Iraq and the American-led coalition.
As the counteroffensive against the Islamic State enters a more aggressive phase in Iraq, allied airstrikes will also intensify. American officials say they fully expect that the push will bring out more proof of the jihadists’ antiaircraft abilities, with potentially serious consequences for how the Iraqis and their coalition partners wage their war.
“Based on past conflicts,” said one senior American military official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss delicate intelligence assessments, the missiles “are game changers out there.”
The proliferation of antiaircraft weaponry has also heightened concerns about the vulnerability of Iraq’s airports, particularly Baghdad International Airport, the country’s most important transportation hub and a lifeline for military supplies and reinforcements to Iraq.
Signaling its intent to challenge American supremacy in the skies, the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, recently published an online guide describing how to use shoulder-fired missiles to shoot down an Apache attack helicopter, one of the most fearsome weapons in the United States Army’s conventional arsenal.
“Choosing the launching spot: Preferably somewhere high,” the guide says in Arabic. “The roof of a building or a hill with a solid surface to prevent the appearance of dust following launching.”
The authors urged “strong confidence in God and composure,” and certainty “that this operation will cause a disaster to the foes and destroy their arrogance.”
The United States has stationed about a half-dozen Apaches at Baghdad International Airport, but they have been used only rarely in the two-and-a-half-month-old aerial campaign against the Islamic State, in part because of worries about their vulnerability to ground fire and because of a lack of American search-and-rescue teams in Iraq that could respond to downed aircrews. The concerns also reflect the White House’s insistence on limiting the number of American troops in Iraq and their exposure to hostile fire.
This month, Apaches entered the battle for the first time, in coordination with United States Air Force jets, to carry out four airstrikes on a large Islamic State force northeast of Falluja, in the sprawling desert and agricultural province of Anbar. The militants have established several strongholds there, and have continued to gain ground there against Iraq’s security forces in recent weeks.
Now, though, the Iraqi military is beginning to mount larger and more complex efforts around the country to retake territory from the Islamic State, including a counteroffensive that began a week and a half ago to break the militants’ stranglehold on a key refinery in Baiji, north of Baghdad. The new phase will mean an increase in the frequency of combat missions by coalition aircraft, and will likely demand a greater use of lower-flying American attack helicopters and gunships, which have important advantages in urban warfare.
Since much of the most difficult fighting in the coming months is expected to unfold in the towns and cities of Anbar, American generals may be inclined to order more Apaches to support Iraqi ground troops. They may also make greater use of AC-130 gunships, a lumbering, propeller-driven plane bristling with cannons that circles at altitudes at the outer limits of some shoulder-fired missiles.
As Iraqi and American officials weigh the added risk to their aircrews and, potentially, to civilian aircraft, they are particularly concerned about the threat of shoulder-fired heat-seeking missiles, commonly known as Manpads, short for Man-Portable Air Defense Systems.
Syrian rebels have amassed multiple Manpad models since 2012, and the Islamic State has generally had little trouble acquiring any weapon used by Syrian rebels either through purchase or capture, military analysts say. Though the Pentagon’s Central Command acknowledges this concern, it said it had no conclusive evidence yet that the Islamic State had such weapons.
The maximum ranges and altitudes of Manpads vary from system to system, but they are generally used against low-flying aircraft, such as fixed-wing aircraft soon after takeoff or shortly before landing, or helicopters.
Sunni militants in Iraq have long maintained a limited, aging stock of SA-7 Manpads, a ubiquitous Soviet-designed system that they periodically used during the American occupation from 2003 to 2011, said Charles Lister, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar.
Since at least late 2013, however, the Islamic State’s forces in Iraq appear to have acquired more sophisticated antiaircraft missile systems, including the Chinese-made FN-6, originally provided by Qatar and possibly also Saudi Arabia to Syrian rebels.
In the images purporting to show the shooting down of the Iraqi attack helicopter, on Oct. 3 in Baiji, the militant, a scarf wrapped around his face, is wielding a Chinese-made FN-6 missile system — apparently the first documented use of the weapon by Islamic State jihadists in Iraq, analysts said.
The militants claimed to have shot down several other Iraqi military helicopters this year, most recently a Bell 407 on a surveillance mission near Baiji on Oct. 8.
“Judging by reports from Iraq, and in particular Anbar Province, over the last three to four months, it would seem ISIL have been using Manpads far more frequently and more successfully than Syrian rebels have ever done,” Mr. Lister added.
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An even greater potential concern is that militants might get their hands on SA-24’s, a more sophisticated system that Russia recently sold to Iraq, and first showed up in militant videos in September, said Matthew Schroeder, a missile proliferation analyst at Small Arms Survey, an independent research project based in Geneva.
The SA-24’s have a longer range than older models and use faster and more maneuverable missiles, Mr. Schroeder said.
Newer systems also have a greater ability to hit targets from a wider range of angles, such as a perpendicular shot at a moving target like a plane on its approach to a runway.
As Iraqi and United States officials have weighed the threats to their military aircraft, they have also taken steps to safeguard the nation’s airports. The protection of Baghdad International Airport, on the western edge of the capital, has been of special concern, especially since the early summer when the Islamic State’s advances in Anbar and on the western fringes of greater Baghdad brought it to within 15 miles of the airport.
Officials acknowledge that any disruption to the airport’s services by an insurgent attack of any type would have an outsize psychological and logistical impact.
In July, the Pentagon rushed the Apaches, plus Shadow surveillance drones and 200 American soldiers, to the airport based on a classified intelligence assessment that the sprawling complex was vulnerable to attack, American officials say.
But although the Islamic State has continued to score victories in nearby Anbar, the militants have not advanced closer to the city since the summer, easing fears that the airport was going to be overrun. Iraqi and American military officials have insisted in interviews that they have taken the necessary precautions to protect the airport and aircraft there, and that there is not an imminent danger of attack.
Vehicle access to the passenger terminal area is tightly controlled with special permission granted on a case-by-case basis. The airport is bordered on the east and northeast by a large military complex. In the farmlands that abut the rest of the complex, the government has militarized the roads with a heavy police and military presence and checkpoints, and, officials said, infiltrated the neighborhoods with intelligence officers.
“We’re very sure that Baghdad International Airport is safe for departure and for arrival,” said Capt. Saad M. Saeed, the general director of Iraqi Airways, Iraq’s national carrier. “I’m a pilot. If I know there’s one-in-a-million chance, I won’t take the risk.”
Yet in August, an Iraqi Airways captain told colleagues that his plane had been hit by gunfire as it approached the airport from the north, a route that would have passed over the restive Sunni district of Abu Ghraib. The plane, which landed safely, was hit by at least two bullets, according to two Iraqi Airways pilots who said they had been told about the shooting.
Ali al-Bayati, deputy director of Iraqi Airways, denied that such an event had occurred. Rumors, he said, were part of the Islamic State’s arsenal. “Considering that the airport is a very high-value target for them,” he said, “they’re spreading a lot of rumors.”
Kirk Semple reported from Baghdad, and Eric Schmitt from Washington and MacDill Air Force Base, Fla. Reporting was contributed by C.J. Chivers from the United States, Kareem Fahim from Baghdad, Karam Shoumali from Istanbul, and Rena Netjes from Amsterdam.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Wesbury: Better Policies on the horizon
on: October 27, 2014, 01:26:12 PM
Better Policies on the Horizon To view this article, Click Here
Brian S. Wesbury, Chief Economist
Robert Stein, Senior Economist
Some say we have a Plow Horse Economy because economic growth is always slow after a financial crisis. But the real reason is that politicians from both major parties keep throwing more government “solutions” at problems. This started well before President Obama took office.
The Bush Administration, and a spend-friendly Congress, pushed temporary “stimulus” spending in 2001 and then followed Larry Summers’ Keynesian advice in early 2008 and passed tax credits and even more stimulus. President Bush said, “I’ve abandoned free market principles to save the free market system” in an explanation of TARP. Then, we got more “stimulus” in 2009. Don’t forget quantitative easing, either.
We believe this is the reason real GDP growth during the current recovery, averaging 2.2% per year, is the slowest five-year period of growth without a recession in the last 100 years.
What’s interesting is that we can divide this economy into two parts – a “Race Horse” exists in many sectors, like fracking, and high-tech; like 3-D printing, the cloud, smartphones and apps. Government did not drive these processes and new techniques; free markets did.
But, where government interfered in the most overt ways – in labor markets and in housing – the recovery has been much slower. And government is using the “Amazon Model” of spend to grow in alternative energy production, hoping that losses today equal benefits tomorrow. This may be true, but at least Amazon is spending its own money and the stock market votes every day on whether it is a good idea or not.
To some, what we have just written sounds overly political. But we are actually thinking economically. We believe in small government because smaller government creates a more dynamic private sector with higher standards of living.
And, judging by the evidence, the American people are beginning to shift toward this view again. A recent Politico poll, weighted equally between Republicans and Democrats, showed 64% think things in the US feel “out of control.” Other polls show both the President and Congress with extremely low popularity right now.
It’s a 1970s vibe! Many Americans worry their kids will be worse off. They fret about ISIS and Ebola. Most Democrat candidates are allergic to President Obama showing up in their states or districts. The same was true back in 2006 when Republicans distanced themselves from President Bush.
Obviously, problems often stretch out longer than we think they should. But, it seems clear Americans are ready for a change, and when this happens, politicians start moving that way even if they don’t have strong ideologies. As an example, some are campaigning as “Clinton Democrats” these days – meaning that tax cuts and more moderate, even free market, policies aren’t off the table.
We aren’t projecting another Ronald Reagan. But a shift away from supporting “government solutions” to all problems seems more likely these days.
Next weeks’ mid-term elections are the first step, but major changes won’t take place until after the 2016 presidential election. Already there is more centrism on economics.
Years of sluggish growth have weakened the “status quo” faction inside the GOP. No wonder two of the GOP’s toughest Senate races this year are in Kentucky and Kansas where long-term incumbent Senators seem out of touch. And for Democrats, the burden of majority means they have to defend more incumbents – a tough road to hoe in a 1970s-like environment.
What this means is that a Republican president in 2016 would likely use special budget procedures to reform Medicare and Medicaid in addition to improving the tax system for both companies and individuals. But, right now a Democrat president looks more probable. And in 2017-18, with the recovery aging, she would likely support moves to reform the corporate tax code, plus reforming Obamacare with market-friendly changes like health savings accounts.
In other words, the next president is likely to be more market friendly than the current one. The American people won’t have it any other way. Look for evidence of this shift as the results of the mid-term elections pour in next week.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Marriage and Family
on: October 27, 2014, 12:43:59 PM
US Judge: “Marriage is the fundamental unit of the political order”
BY BRIAN S. BROWN
comment 4 | print |
judge JuanOn Tuesday last week, United States District Judge Juan Pérez-Giménez (pictured) handed down a ruling in a case upholding Puerto Rico's law defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
This ruling is the top headline of the week's marriage news.
"Marriage is the fundamental unit of the political order"
The Carter appointee did not fail to acknowledge that his opinion runs contrary to the majority of other Federal courts that have ruled on States' marriage laws since the Windsor decision by the Supreme Court, that struck down Section III of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
But in acknowledging this, Pérez-Giménez spoke of a "misapprehension that has plagued our sister courts." Specifically, he said that all of these decisions have blatantly ignored binding Supreme Court precedent from the Baker v. Nelson decision of 1972.
Baker essentially says the U.S. Constitution is silent on the issue of same-sex 'marriage'—which is a far cry from what activist judges have claimed over the last several months, that same-sex 'marriage' is somehow mandated by the 14th amendment!
Pérez-Giménez points out that this absurd claim is distinctly refuted by Baker, and that only the Supreme Court can contradict or overturn Baker, which they (sic) have (sic) not done. Furthermore, he notes that the First Circuit Court of Appeals, which governs Puerto Rico, explicitly recognized this only just two years ago! It will be interesting to watch this case as it will most surely be appealed to the First Circuit, and to see whether the Judges on that court will have the integrity to bind themselves by their own very recent logic.
Pérez-Giménez describes the "inexplicable contortions of the mind or perhaps even willful ignorance" that seem to have guided other Judges to the conclusion that the Supreme Court, in Windsor, signaled a constitutional demand for marriage to be redefined.
But the real beauty in this judge's decision is how he links the ideas of marriage and the rule of law itself, and points out that his fellow judges who have acted to redefine marriage have also showed a shameful disregard for the way in which our legal system works.
Allow me to quote at length from his conclusion [emphasis added]:
There are some principles of logic and law that cannot be forgotten.
Recent affirmances of same-gender marriage seem to suffer from a peculiar inability to recall the principles embodied in existing marriage law. Traditional marriage is 'exclusively [an] opposite-sex institution... inextricably linked to procreation and biological kinship.' Traditional marriage is the fundamental unit of the political order. And ultimately the very survival of the political order depends upon the procreative potential embodied in traditional marriage.
Those are the well-tested, well-proven principles on which we have relied for centuries. The question now is whether judicial 'wisdom' may contrive methods by which those solid principles can be circumvented or even discarded.
A clear majority of courts have struck down statutes that affirm opposite-gender marriage only. In their ingenuity and imagination they have constructed a seemingly comprehensive legal structure for this new form of marriage. And yet what is lacking and unaccounted for remains: are laws barring polygamy, or, say the marriage of fathers and daughters, now of doubtful validity? Is 'minimal marriage,' where 'individuals have legal marital relationships with more than one person, reciprocally or asymmetrically, themselves determining the sex and number of parties' the blueprint for their design? [...] It would seem so, if we follow the plaintiffs' logic, that the fundamental right to marriage is based on 'the constitutional liberty to select the partner of one's choice.'
Of course, it is all too easy to dismiss such concerns as absurd or of a kind with the cruel discrimination and ridicule that has been shown toward people attracted to members of their own sex. But the truth concealed in these concerns goes to the heart of our system of limited, consent-based government: those seeking sweeping change must render reasons justifying the change and articulate the principles that they claim will limit this newly fashioned right.
For now, one basic principle remains: the people, acting through their elected representatives, may legitimately regulate marriage by law.
I encourage you to read the entire decision and to share it with your friends. The clear logic and devotion to the truth, and the dedication to the integrity of our legal system, are a breath of fresh air compared to so many other errant decisions that have been issued over the past few months.
Brian S. Brown is the President of the US National Organisation for Marriage. This article appeared in NOM's email newsletter of October 25.
- See more at: http://www.mercatornet.com/conjugality/view/15034#sthash.X4TM6vgw.dpuf
Here is the entire decision:http://sblog.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Puerto-Rico-marriage-DCt-ruling-10-21-14.pdf
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Terrorist Rasmieh Odeh and her enablers
on: October 27, 2014, 12:06:38 PM
Spinning a Terrorist Into a Victim
Part 1: Who is Rasmieh Odeh?
October 27, 2014http://www.investigativeproject.org/4627/spinning-a-terrorist-into-a-victim
Click Image to View Video Recording
Note: Part 1 includes our previously released 2-minute prologue/trailer.
Starting Nov. 4, federal prosecutors in Detroit present their case against a Palestinian woman who slipped through the cracks. Rasmieh Odeh, 67, has been in the United States since at least 1995.
To her advocates, she's a peaceful community activist living in Chicago and an asset to her community.
Yet, she has a bloody, dark side that she has kept hidden all these years.
Odeh is a convicted terrorist who spent 10 years in an Israeli prison. She led a 1969 bombing that killed two college students in a Jerusalem supermarket. Odeh confessed. She says that confession only came after she was tortured. She was sentenced to life in prison, but was released unexpectedly as part of a prisoner exchange in 1979. Her torture claim has never been substantiated—even by the United Nations, to which she reported the alleged torture after her release—and she has yet to deny her involvement in the murders or even her ultimate imprisonment.
Odeh could have discussed the particulars of her situation when she applied for her visa and citizenship—how her sentence was even commuted—if she felt her alleged torture merited special consideration. Instead, she simply told U.S. authorities she had a spotless record.
Prosecutors say that constitutes immigration fraud. A terrorist conviction for an attack causing two deaths is something immigration officials would want to consider before granting an immigrant a visa or welcoming her into American citizenship.
Still, her supporters have launched an aggressive campaign aimed at getting the fraud charges dropped. Odeh, they say, is the real victim here. They claim this case is really about a government conspiracy to attack Palestinian advocates in America.
The campaign is led by Odeh's colleagues from the Arab American Action Network (AAAN), but has attracted support from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, and even a group of 124 feminist academics.
In the video above, the first installment of a five-part Investigative Project on Terrorism video series on Odeh's case and the campaign to thwart it, we provide an overview of the case and a look at Rasmieh Odeh and those supporting her.
New installments will be released each day this week. Tomorrow we examine the 1969 Jerusalem bombing Odeh helped orchestrate and learn more about her victims.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Jefferson, 1813: power over fellow citizens
on: October 24, 2014, 11:13:29 AM
"An honest man can feel no pleasure in the exercise of power over his fellow citizens." --Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Melish, 1813
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Hamas leader's daughter received critical medical care in Israel
on: October 23, 2014, 10:49:44 PM
Hamas Leader's Daughter Received Critical Medical Treatment In Israel
An Israeli hospital confirmed Sunday that it had treated the daughter of Hamas’s top leader in the Gaza Strip, weeks after a brutal war between Israel and the Islamist terror group. Avi Shushan, a spokesman for Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital, said the daughter of Ismail Haniyeh was hospitalized for “a number of days” this month. He did not disclose what she was treated for. A spokeswoman for the Israeli military also confirmed the hospital stay. Hamas officials were not immediately available for comment. Israel and Hamas fought a fierce 50-day war this summer that killed more than 2,100 Palestinians, mostly civilians according to Palestinian sources, and 72 people on the Israeli side, mostly soldiers. Israel says half of the Gaza dead were Hamas and other gunmen.
Haniyeh’s daughter was treated in Israel following complications during a standard medical procedure in Gaza, Reuters reported Sunday. Israeli authorities occasionally allow injured and ill Palestinians to leave the Gaza Strip and seek care at Israeli hospitals, and both Haniyeh’s mother-in-law and baby granddaughter were treated in Israel in the last year alone. On June 3, Maj. Guy Inbar, an Israeli Defense Ministry spokesman, said the terror group leader’s mother-in-law, 68, was allowed to enter from the Gaza Strip to receive cancer treatment at a Jerusalem hospital. Last November, Haniyeh’s one-year-old granddaughter was evacuated to an Israeli hospital in critical condition, but was returned to her family in Gaza after her condition was deemed incurable, an Israeli military spokesman said. The girl later died of her condition. Haniyeh, the former prime minister of Gaza — prior to the reconciliation with Fatah and the establishment of the unity government — has repeatedly called for Israel’s destruction, and refused on countless occasions to disarm. During the summer conflict, Israel bombed Haniyeh’s Gaza home. The Hamas leader was not hurt in the raid.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / 28% of Covered CA hospitals had worse than expected infection rates
on: October 23, 2014, 10:46:01 PM
How Many are Covered California Hospitals? 28% of Calif. Hospitals Had Worse-Than-Expected Infection Rates
October 22, 2014 By Stephen Frank
More than one out of four hospitals in California have worse than expected infection rates—and government has demanded You be a victim. Connect the dots: Under Covered California you are only allowed to use doctors in a network and hospitals in the network. Neither doctors nor hospitals are chosen on the basis of quality—they are chosen on the basis of cost. The State of California forces you to use the low cost doctor and hospitals that have lots of infections. Feel safe now getting your government approved health care?
“KHN found that 695 U.S. hospitals had reported rates that were higher than expected for one or more of the six infections. Further, researchers found that 25% or more of hospitals had worse-than-expected infection rates in 13 states and Washington, D.C. California was one of the 13 states, with 28% of hospitals reporting at least one worse-than-expected infection rate.
If you are harmed or die, you or your family will not be allowed to sue Covered California for their lack of vetting hospitals for quality or safety. Once again, government is the problem not the solution.
28% of Calif. Hospitals Had Worse-Than-Expected Infection Rates
California Healthline, 10/22/14
California is one of 13 states and Washington D.C. where more than 25% of hospitals had higher-than-expected infection rates for at least one of six infections, according to a Kaiser Health News analysis of available CDC data, Kaiser Health News reports.
About one in 25 hospital patients in the U.S. have a health care-associated infection on any given day, and 75,000 U.S. residents die from hospital-related infections annually, according to KHN. The federal government since 2012 has been publishing hospital-related infection rate analyses on Medicare’s Hospital Compare website. In addition, Medicare in the fall will begin factoring hospital-related infection rates into reimbursement payments(Rau, Kaiser Health News, 10/21).
For the analysis, KHN analyzed CDC data from reports submitted by more than 3,000 hospitals on:
• Catheter-associated urinary tract infections;
• Central line-associated blood stream infections;
• Infections from the antibiotic-resistant germ Clostridium difficile, or C. diff;
• Infections from the antibiotic-resistant Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA.
• Surgical site infections from abdominal hysterectomies; and
• Surgical site infections from colon surgery.
The hospitals were rated as having infection rates that were better, as expected or worse based on the hospital type and patient mix. The MRSA and C. diff infections were contracted between Jan. 1, 2013, and Sept. 30, 2013, while the other infections were contracted between Oct. 1, 2012, and Sept. 30, 2013 (KHN analysis, 10/21).
KHN found that 695 U.S. hospitals had reported rates that were higher than expected for one or more of the six infections. Further, researchers found that 25% or more of hospitals had worse-than-expected infection rates in 13 states and Washington, D.C. California was one of the 13 states, with 28% of hospitals reporting at least one worse-than-expected infection rate.
In addition, KHN found that seven hospitals were determined by CDC to have worse-than-expected infection rates in four of the six categories, including the highly regarded:
• New York-Presbyterian Hospital;
• Pennsylvania-based Geisinger Medical Center; and
• University of Michigan Health System.
Meanwhile, the analysis found that some major teaching hospitals generally had lower-than-expected infection rates, including:
• Denver Health Medical Center;
• Duke University Hospital; and
• Mayo Clinic’s hospitals.
Some of the hospitals contested CDC’s data. Some hospitals said their infection rates appeared higher because they worked harder to identify and report the infections or as the result of the hospitals admitting more patients who were prone to contracting infections.
Patient safety expert Kevin Kavanagh said the hospital-related infection rates were the result of many hospitals not strictly following infection disease treatment protocols and a lack of specificity in the government’s protocols. He added, “Right now there are too many recommendations on how to handle infectious diseases” and there is “too much leeway” on adhering to the recommendations.
Don Goldmann — chief medical and science officer at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement and co-author of a 2011 New England Journal of Medicine study on hospital-related infections — said, “The percentage of time that health care providers do all of the things they are supposed to do when caring for a patient with a contagious disease can be pretty low.”
Goldman added that many hospitals are more likely to follow protocols when addressing rarer ailments such as Ebola, but that “[w]hen [an infection risk has] been around for a long time, it kind of becomes part of the background” (Kaiser Health News, 10/21).
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Stratfor: Evaluating Ebola as a weapon
on: October 23, 2014, 10:16:20 PM
Evaluating Ebola as a Biological Weapon
Thursday, October 23, 2014 - 03:00 Print Text Size
By Scott Stewart
Over the past few weeks, I've had people at speaking engagements ask me if I thought the Islamic State or some other militant group is using Ebola as a biological weapon, or if such a group could do so in the future. Such questions and concerns are not surprising given the intense media hype that surrounds the disease, even though only one person has died from Ebola out of the three confirmed cases in the United States. The media hype about the threat posed by the Islamic State to the United States and the West is almost as bad. Both subjects of all this hype were combined into a tidy package on Oct. 20, when the Washington Post published an editorial by columnist Mark Thiessen in which he claimed it would be easy for a group such as the Islamic State to use Ebola in a terrorist attack. Despite Thiessen's claims, using Ebola as a biological warfare agent is much more difficult than it might appear at first blush.
The 2014 Outbreak
In the past, there have been several outbreaks of Ebola in Africa. Countries included Sudan, Uganda, the Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and several comparatively small outbreaks occurred in Gabon as well. In most cases, people who handled or ate animals infected with the disease started the outbreaks. "Bushmeat," or portions of roasted meat from a variety of wild animals, is considered by many to be a delicacy in Africa, and in a continent where hunger is widespread, it is also a necessity for many hungry people. After several months of medical investigations, epidemiologists believe the current outbreak most likely began when a two-year-old child in Guinea touched or perhaps ate part of an infected animal such as a bat or monkey.
The source of the disease means it is highly unlikely that some malevolent actor intentionally caused the latest outbreak. Besides the fact that the current outbreak's cause has been identified as a natural one, even if a transnational militant group such as the Islamic State was able to somehow develop an Ebola weapon, it would have chosen to deploy the weapon against a far more desirable target than a small village in Guinea. We would have seen the militants use their weapon in a location such as New York, Paris or London, or against their local enemies in Syria and Iraq.
As far as intent goes, there is very little doubt that such a group would employ a biological weapon. As we noted last month when there was increased talk about the Islamic State possibly weaponizing plague for a biological attack, terrorist attacks are intended to have a psychological impact that outweighs the physical damage they cause. The Islamic State itself has a long history of conducting brutal actions to foster panic.
In 2006 and 2007, the Islamic State's predecessor, al Qaeda in Iraq, included large quantities of chlorine in vehicle bombs deployed against U.S. and Iraqi troops in an attempt to produce mass casualties. The explosives in the vehicle bombs killed more people than the chlorine did, and after several unsuccessful attempts, al Qaeda in Iraq gave up on its chlorine bombings because the results were not worth the effort. Al Qaeda in Iraq also included chemical artillery rounds in improvised explosive devices used in attacks against American troops in Iraq on several occasions. Again, these attacks failed to produce mass casualties. Finally, according to human rights organizations, the Islamic State appears to have recently used some artillery rounds containing mustard gas against its enemies in Syria; the group presumably recovered the rounds from a former Saddam-era chemical weapons facility in Iraq or from Syrian stockpiles.
The problem, then, lies not with the Islamic State's intent but instead with its capability to obtain and weaponize the Ebola virus. Creating a biological weapon is far more difficult than using a chemical such as chlorine or manufactured chemical munitions. Contrary to how the media frequently portrays them, biological weapons are not easy to obtain, they are not easy to deploy effectively and they do not always cause mass casualties.
The Difficulty of Weaponization
Ebola and terrorism are not new. Nor is the possibility of terrorist groups using the Ebola virus in an attack. As we have previously noted, the Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo attempted to obtain the Ebola virus as part of its biological warfare program. The group sent a medical team to Africa under the pretext of being aid workers with the intent of obtaining samples of the virus. It failed in that mission, but even if it had succeeded, the group would have faced the challenge of getting the sample back to its biological warfare laboratory in Japan. The Ebola virus is relatively fragile. Its lifetime on dry surfaces outside of a host is only a couple of hours, and while some studies have shown that the virus can survive on surfaces for days when still in bodily fluids, this requires ideal conditions that would be difficult to replicate during transport.
If the group had been able to get the virus back to its laboratory, it would have then faced the challenge of reproducing the Ebola virus with enough volume to be used in a large-scale biological warfare attack, similar to its failed attacks on Tokyo and other Japanese cities in which the group sprayed thousands of gallons of botulinum toxin and Anthrax spores. Reproducing the Ebola virus would present additional challenges because it is an extremely dangerous virus to work with. It has infected researchers, even when they were working in laboratories with advanced biosafety measures in place. Although Aum Shinrikyo had a large staff of trained scientists and a state-of-the-art biological weapons laboratory, it was still unable to effectively weaponize the virus.
The challenges Aum Shinrikyo's biological weapons program faced would be multiplied for the Islamic State. Aum Shinrikyo operatives were given a great deal of operational freedom until their plans were discovered after the 1995 sarin attacks on the Tokyo subway. (The group's previous biological weapons attacks were so unsuccessful that nobody knew they had been carried out until after its members were arrested and its chemical and biological weapons factories were raided.) Unlike the Japanese cult, the Islamic State's every move is under heavy scrutiny by most of the world's intelligence and security agencies. This means jihadist operatives would have far more difficulty assembling the personnel and equipment needed to construct a biological weapons laboratory. Since randomly encountering an infected Ebola patient would be unreliable, the group would have to travel to a country impacted by the outbreak. This would be a difficult task for the group to complete without drawing attention to itself. Furthermore, once group members reached the infected countries, they would have to enter quarantined areas of medical facilities, retrieve the samples and then escape the country unnoticed, since they could not count on randomly encountering an infected Ebola patient.
Even if Islamic State operatives were somehow able to accomplish all of this -- without killing themselves in the process -- Ebola is not an ideal biological warfare vector. The virus is hard to pass from person to person. In fact, on average, its basic reproductive rate (the average amount of people that are infected by an Ebola patient) is only between one and two people. There are far more infectious diseases such as measles, which has a basic reproductive rate of 12-18, or smallpox, which has a basic reproductive rate of five to seven. Even HIV, which is only passed via sexual contact or intravenous blood transmission, has a basic reproductive rate of two to five.
Ebola's Weakness as a Weapon
The Ebola disease is also somewhat slow to take effect, and infected individuals do not become symptomatic and contagious for an average of 8-10 days. The disease's full incubation period can last anywhere from two to 21 days. As a comparison, influenza, which can be transmitted as quickly as three days after being contracted, can be spread before symptoms begin showing. This means that an Ebola attack would take longer to spread and would be easier to contain because infected people would be easier to identify.
Besides the fact that Ebola can only be passed through the bodily fluids of a person showing symptoms at the time, the virus in those bodily fluids must also somehow bypass the protection of a person's skin. The infectious fluid must enter the body through a cut or abrasion, or come into contact with the mucus membranes in the eyes, nose or mouth. This is different from more contagious viruses like measles and smallpox, which are airborne viruses and do not require any direct contact or transfer of bodily fluids. Additionally, the Ebola virus is quite fragile and sensitive to light, heat and low-humidity environments, and bleach and other common disinfectants can kill it. This means it is difficult to spread the virus by contaminating surfaces with it. The only way to infect a large amount of people with Ebola would be to spray them with a fluid containing the virus, something that would be difficult to do and easily detectable.
Thiessen's piece suggested that the Islamic State might implement an attack strategy of infecting suicide operatives with Ebola and then having them blow themselves up in a crowded place, spraying people with infected bodily fluids. One problem with this scenario is that it would be extremely difficult to get an infected operative from the group's laboratory to the United States without being detected. As we have discussed elsewhere, jihadist groups have struggled to get operatives to the West to conduct conventional terrorist attacks using guns and bombs, a constraint that would also affect their ability to deploy a biological weapon.
Even if a hostile group did mange to get an operative in place, it would still face several important obstacles. By the time Ebola patients are highly contagious, they are normally very ill and bedridden with high fever, fatigue, vomiting and diarrhea, meaning they are not strong enough to walk into a crowded area. The heat and shock of the suicide device's explosion would likely kill most of the virus. Anyone close enough to be exposed to the virus would also likely be injured by the blast and taken to a hospital, where they would then be quarantined and treated for the virus.
Biological weapons look great in the movies, but they are difficult and expensive to develop in real life. That is why we have rarely seen them used in terrorist attacks. As we have noted for a decade now, jihadists can kill far more people with far less expense and effort by utilizing traditional terrorist tactics, which makes the threat of a successful attack using the Ebola virus extremely unlikely.
Read more: Evaluating Ebola as a Biological Weapon | Stratfor
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / WSJ: Water Market would fight Drought
on: October 23, 2014, 07:10:02 PM
The West Needs a Water Market to Fight Drought
Outdated laws are wasting the region’s scarcest resource. Water should be tradable so it finds its most urgent uses.
By Robert Glennon and Gary Libecap
Oct. 23, 2014 7:23 p.m. ET
The drought in the Western U.S. from California to Texas has generated gloomy editorials and op-eds predicting dire consequences and even water wars. But the West is not running out of water, nor are prolonged fights over water inevitable. Modest changes in water use could have big results: A reduction of just 4% in agricultural consumption would increase the water available for residential, commercial and industrial uses by roughly 50%, according to our analysis of U.S. Geological Survey data.
Yet even after the current drought ends, the West will continue to suffer water shortages thanks to population growth, economic development and the effects of climate change. When engineers designed the water infrastructure in arid states in the West, they assumed that future droughts and floods would follow historical patterns. But precipitation patterns have changed.
Traditional solutions—diverting more water from rivers, building new reservoirs or drilling additional groundwater wells—are no longer ways to substantially increase the water supply. In a new report for The Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution, we, along with co-author Peter W. Culp, propose that states use market tools to promote water trading. That is, farmers or other users who reduce their consumption should be allowed to lease or sell the conserved water.
A major overhaul of Western water law is overdue, but implementing such reform would take years. In the near term, states should authorize short-term leases of water, build basic market institutions, deploy risk-mitigation tools such as dry-year options, and implement basic controls such as regulating how much water can be pumped. The current absence of viable market opportunities and incentives is producing perverse results.
In 2014 the worst drought in memory caused California farmers to fallow almost 500,000 acres of land, including some that produced high-value fruit and nut trees. Meanwhile, Western growers of alfalfa—a low-value and high-water-use crop—are on pace this year to export two million tons of alfalfa to China, South Korea and Japan—produced with enough water to supply several million U.S. families for a year or to irrigate hundreds of thousands of acres of high-value almond trees. If there were ways to trade water, some farmers could cut back on the production of more water-intensive, lower-value crops and lease or sell the conserved water to desperate fruit and nut growers or thirsty cities.
Most farmers don’t have that option. Even though federal and state policy fosters the export of agricultural commodities, Western water law generally inhibits trade in the water used to grow the commodities. States should open up the market by eliminating or streamlining legal barriers that effectively block transfers of water.
A market in water would encourage efficiency by stimulating innovation, promoting specialization and allowing water to move from lower-value to higher-value uses. Farmers who have an opportunity to trade a portion of their water have an incentive to take measures, such as installing more efficient irrigation systems, to free up water for trade. It would also create opportunities to deploy market-based tools, such as dry-year options, to help mitigate water risks to farms and cities.
For example, under a dry-year option, a water user with a low tolerance for water shortages—such as an almond farmer whose trees would quickly die without water—can contract with a seasonal agricultural user, such as a broccoli grower. In dry years, the almond producer would have the right to use the broccoli grower’s water. The almond producer pays a yearly premium to guard against times when water shortages would result in the loss of his orchard. The proceeds from the option give the broccoli grower a guaranteed revenue stream and thereby provide a hedge against a drought that might destroy his annual crop—mitigating risk for both parties.
The U.S. has a national interest in encouraging more efficient use of water everywhere. While Americans used to fret about running out of oil, water also fuels the American economy. A 2013 survey of the world’s largest companies by Deloitte Consulting found that 70% of respondents identified water as a substantial business risk, either in direct operations or supply chains. Companies with water challenges include obvious ones, such as Coca-Cola , and surprising ones, such as Intel , which needs large quantities of water to produce its processors.
The Western water crisis is basically an imbalance between supply and demand. Opening water resources to trade has the potential to reduce the imbalance by rewarding water conservation, ensuring that water goes toward the highest-value and most-efficient uses, and providing the financial tools to mitigate fluctuations in water availability.
Mr. Glennon, a law professor at the University of Arizona, is the author, most recently, of “Unquenchable: America’s Water Crisis and What to Do about It” (Island Press, 2009). Mr. Libecap, a professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara’s Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, is co-author of “Environmental Markets: A Property Rights Approach” (Cambridge University Press, 2014).
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: An Affair to Remember
on: October 23, 2014, 07:02:45 PM
An Affair to Remember
As Hillary gears up to run, look for attempts to rewrite 1990s history.
Hillary and Bill Clinton in New York in 1998 ENLARGE
Hillary and Bill Clinton in New York in 1998 Getty Images
Oct. 22, 2014 7:00 p.m. ET
As Hillary and Bill Clinton prepare for another White House ramble, the country is fated to endure more than a few 1990s flashbacks, often including attempts to whitewash the real history. The latest character to re-emerge is Monica Lewinsky, the former intern who is doffing her beret to reinvent herself as an anti-cyberbullying activist.
In a speech this week at a Forbes magazine conference that went viral on the Web, Ms. Lewinsky describes herself as a “survivor” of online abuse—she became “the creature from the media lagoon.” As the worst abusers, she cited Matt Drudge and the New York Post, which gave Ms. Lewinsky a term of tabloid endearment as “the portly pepperpot.” Another culprit was “a politically motivated independent prosecutor,” or Ken Starr.
The problem is that Ms. Lewinsky was actually the victim of the Clinton lagoon, as White House operatives tried to destroy her reputation when the scandal broke. The real bullies weren’t online but in the West Wing.
On Jan. 21, 1998, Mr. Clinton told his aide Sidney Blumenthal that Ms. Lewinsky “came on to me and made a sexual demand on me,” according to Mr. Blumenthal’s deposition to Mr. Starr. Mr. Clinton added that he “rebuffed her” and then she “threatened him. She said that she would tell people they’d had an affair, that she was known as the stalker among her peers, and that she hated it and if she had an affair or said she had an affair then she wouldn’t be the stalker any more.”
Mr. Blumenthal then repeated this tale to anyone in the press corps who would listen, and the “stalker” smear soon made it into multiple media reports under the authority of “a White House source.” Mrs. Clinton for her part described Ms. Lewinsky as “a narcissistic loony toon,” as the first lady’s friend Diane Blair recounted in the personal papers archive opened in 2010 by the University of Arkansas library.
Meanwhile, Mr. Clinton fanned out across the talk shows to deny that he had any romantic or otherwise improper relationship, which he continued to insist until he was forced to admit his lies by the blue DNA dress. Then the Clintons flipped to attacking the respected jurist Mr. Starr as a rabid partisan. Mr. Clinton was impeached for obstruction of justice and lying under oath, and he later was stripped of his law license.
We correct the record not least to point out that the Clintons weren’t above falsely smearing a young woman not much older than their daughter as an oversexed psycho blackmailer. Since Ms. Lewinsky brought it up, we also wonder what the modern feminists applauding her address think about men in positions of power publicly shaming a female subordinate without her consent.
But the story is especially instructive for what it reveals about the Clinton family mores of saying or doing whatever it takes to win. Mr. Blumenthal and the rest of the Clinton menagerie are rested and ready for another run at political power. As the 2016 election nears, Americans should be prepared for more attempts to rewrite 1990s history.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Tax Policy
on: October 23, 2014, 06:52:03 PM
1) There is the matter at what level the various rates kick in-- adjusted for inflation. My understanding is that the 90% rate of the Eisenhower years kicked in at a much higher level than today when adjusted for inflation;
2) The Kennedy supply side tax rate cuts increased revenues. Is the argument then that we should have higher rates and lower revenues?!?
3) Higher rates enable tax shelter games-- thus increasing both the unaccountable power of the Congress and its corruption by special interests;
4) the attendant misallocation of capital hits the entire economy to the detriment of all.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Wilson on Equality 1791
on: October 23, 2014, 12:59:12 PM
"When we say, that all men are equal; we mean not to apply this equality to their virtues, their talents, their dispositions, or their acquirements." --James Wilson, Man as a Member of Society, 1791
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Gigolo John at it again
on: October 22, 2014, 06:37:55 PM
Kerry Links ISIS Recruiting Success to Israel
by IPT News • Oct 17, 2014 at 12:29 pmhttp://www.investigativeproject.org/4614/kerry-links-isis-recruiting-success-to-israel
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Israeli government officials are fuming over remarks made by Secretary of State John Kerry Thursday which connected the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict to waves of international recruits flocking to the terrorist group ISIS.
"As I went around and met with people in the course of our discussions about the ISIL coalition," Kerry said, "the truth is we – there wasn't a leader I met with in the region who didn't raise with me spontaneously the need to try to get peace between Israel and the Palestinians, because it was a cause of recruitment and of street anger and agitation that they felt – and I see a lot of heads nodding – they had to respond to."
In a Facebook post written in Hebrew, Israeli Communications Minister Gilad Erdan wrote, "I actually respect Kerry and his efforts, but every time he breaks new records of showing a lack of understanding of our region and the essence of the conflict in the Middle East I have trouble respecting what he says."
Naftali Bennett, the Israeli economy minister, blasted Kerry for linking ISIS, which seeks an Islamic caliphate in Syria, Iraq and beyond, to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying it "gives a boost to global terrorism."
"It turns out that even when a British Muslim beheads a British Christian, there will always be those who blame the Jews," Bennett said, alluding to the beheading earlier this month of British aid worker Alan Henning. The killer, believed to be the same man who beheaded American journalists James Foley and Steven Satloff, speaks with a British accent.
Kerry's statement, made at a State Department reception celebrating the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday, is a bit of a contradiction to President Obama's statement during a speech to the United Nations last month. While also calling for peace talks to resume, Obama acknowledged that "the situation in Iraq and Syria and Libya should cure anybody of the illusion that the Arab-Israeli conflict is the main source of problems in the region."
And there's another obvious point Kerry doesn't seem to understand. The radical Islamists in ISIS, like radical Islamists in Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hizballah and others, absolutely reject any peaceful settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. It is codified in their founding charters and repeated statements. Their only acceptable outcome is Israel's destruction. Given that, it's difficult to understand how a peaceful resolution guaranteeing and Jewish homeland in Israel and a Palestinian state, would do anything but ignite new fury and spike the number of recruits seeking to join the jihad.