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151  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Romney vs. Holyfield on: May 16, 2015, 10:34:39 AM
152  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Krauthammer analyzes Baraq's newest policy on: May 16, 2015, 02:08:14 AM
153  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Christie's tax proposal on: May 16, 2015, 01:54:42 AM
 May 15, 2015 6:50 p.m. ET

The Washington smart set has all but written off Chris Christie’s presidential chances, but you wouldn’t know it from the way the New Jersey Governor is staking out positions as a conservative reformer. On Tuesday he rolled out a significant tax reform outline as part of a larger agenda for restoring an economic growth rate of 4%.

This follows Mr. Christie’s proposal last month for reforming entitlements for seniors, including an increase in the retirement age and reducing future benefits for the affluent. Perhaps Mr. Christie feels he needs to be out front on policy to overcome the political setbacks in his home state, but his forays are welcome and will help to shape the Republican primary debate if he does formally enter the presidential race.

Mr. Christie puts his policies in the proper context by focusing on faster economic growth as the most important policy goal for the next President. The Obama era has seen the worst recovery since the 1930s despite record federal “stimulus” spending and six years of near-zero interest rates. Without faster growth every problem becomes harder to solve, and the American faith in upward economic mobility will ebb.

The 4% goal is ambitious, and some might say politically injudicious if Mr. Christie happens to be elected. Critics would throw back the target as a rebuke if it wasn’t met. But voters understand it’s not a guarantee but an aspiration, and having such an overriding growth goal makes it easier for a White House to judge every policy by whether it helps meet it. If not, don’t do it.

One of President Obama’s tragic mistakes has been putting social-policy goals—health care, climate change, income redistribution—above faster growth. This has consequences, not least that growth hasn’t exceeded 2.5% in a single year of his Presidency. By contrast, the U.S. averaged more than 4% growth from 1983-1988 and did it again from 1997-2000. Those were periods of rapid poverty reduction and rising wages for all income groups, and we should be able to do it again.

The centerpiece of Mr. Christie’s proposal is a tax reform that would simplify the code by cutting rates in return for fewer deductions. The Governor proposes an individual income tax with three rates and a top rate of 28%. He’d also cut the corporate rate to 25% from 35%, including a one-time rate of 8.75% for businesses that repatriate capital they have parked overseas.

Mr. Christie’s focus on tax rates is crucial for growth and important politically. The Washington fashion these days is to believe that tax reform with substantially lower rates is all but impossible. You know, so 1980s.

But the economic evidence is substantial that lower marginal tax rates provide the biggest growth bang. Mr. Christie’s reform is thus superior to Florida Senator Marco Rubio’s reform plan, which pegs the top individual rate at 35%. Mr. Rubio devotes $1.6 trillion over 10 years to tax credits for families with children, which does nothing for growth.

Mr. Christie tells us he hasn’t decided how to treat dividends and capital gains, which are now taxed at a top rate of 23.8%. But those preferential rates become less important economically if the overall income tax rate is low enough. Mr. Christie also says his reform would be “a net tax reduction, or in the worst case deficit neutral.” But he tells us he’d also want revenue scoring to account for the positive impact on growth “because that’s what happens in the economy when things are going in the right way.” He’s right.

As for deductions, Mr. Christie preserves them for charitable contributions and mortgage interest “at least for a first home.” This is a bow to the popularity of these two deductions among middle-income Americans, though they have little economic justification. The better news is that Mr. Christie says every other deduction would be up for negotiation, including the costly and politically sensitive breaks for state and local taxes and employer-sponsored health insurance.

Mr. Christie’s plan has many other planks, some worthier than others, but as important as the details is how a candidate sells them. One reason Mitt Romney failed in pitching his tax reform in 2012 is that he never seemed to believe it. At some level he internalized the Democratic critique that he lacked credibility because he was rich.

Mr. Christie has never suffered from such self-doubt, and it will be fascinating to see the New Jersey brawler make the populist case for a pro-growth reform. He is putting down a marker for other candidates to meet.
154  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Sheriff David Clarke on: May 16, 2015, 01:53:44 AM
155  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Desalination efforts in CA on: May 16, 2015, 01:32:30 AM

Allysia Finley
May 15, 2015 6:41 p.m. ET

Israel has made the desert bloom, but the task hasn’t always been an easy one. For decades, the country suffered chronic water shortages brought on by intermittent droughts amid rapid population growth—a problem only partly ameliorated by aggressive water pricing and conservation. In 2009, after five consecutive dry winters, the government water authority restricted outdoor gardening and agricultural irrigation.

By the end of this year, Israel will have completed three massive desalination plants in Ashdod, Hadera and Sorek that combined are capable of producing 100 billion gallons of potable water each year from the sea. More such projects are in the works. Next year desalination will provide about half of Israel’s water—not including the roughly 80% of recycled wastewater that goes mainly to agriculture—up from zero in 2004 and about 10% in 2009. The drought ended in 2012, and Israel doesn’t need to worry much about the next one. In a mere five years, desalination has turned a scarce resource into a commodity that may soon be exportable.

On the far side of the world, in another state often portrayed as a promised land of milk and honey, Californians are suffering perhaps the worst drought in a millennium. Desalination to the rescue? Carlos Riva, the CEO of Boston-based Poseidon Water, hopes so. But the same political and regulatory forces that have already exacerbated the state’s water shortage are standing in the way. Mr. Riva’s diplomatic way of putting it: “Water is a simple molecule, but a complex commodity.”

Most of the bureaucratic effort in California is going into cutting consumption. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has turned off the spigot of water trickling from the Sierra Nevadas to farmers in the Central Valley. Gov. Jerry Brown last month ordered urban water agencies to cut usage by 6% to 36% (based on per capita consumption) and threatened $10,000 fines against noncompliant residents and businesses. All this while the untapped Pacific Ocean glitters nearby.

Desalination technology that is “mainstream outside the U.S.,” Mr. Riva says, is proving exasperatingly difficult to bring to thirsty California.

“The water industry is probably one of the last industries that is still held in traditional municipal hands,” Mr. Riva notes. As a result, the “market is ultraconservative because there’s nobody in the municipalities that has any motivation to take the risk with new technology.”

Poseidon does have a $1 billion desalination plant slated to open this fall in Carlsbad, north of San Diego. Upon completion it will be the largest in North America, capable of producing 54 million gallons of water each day. Construction began in 2013, but first Poseidon spent six years battling 14 environmental lawsuits.

For instance, the Surfrider Foundation charged that the plant’s open-ocean intakes might harm marine life, though a judge ruled that Poseidon had reasonably mitigated the threat. Mr. Riva says the intakes “entrain two to three fish eggs or larvae” for every thousand gallons of water sucked in. “Not to make value judgments about fish, but these aren’t from any protected species,” Mr. Riva says. “They’re anchovies and things like that.” He adds that environmentalists believe that “all fish life is precious, and you have to do everything to save it.”

Obtaining the dozen or so permits required to build the plant was vexing as well, since regulatory authority over water in California is spread among state, federal and local agencies—the Bureau of Reclamation, the State Water Resource Control Board and the California Coastal Commission, to name a few.

“Because there are multiple agencies,” says Mr. Riva, there are “multiple opportunities for intervenors to delay.” The CEO is careful in his choice of words to avoid giving offense. However, what he appears to mean is that environmental obstructionists waged war on numerous fronts. Not totally without success, either: To obtain final approval from the Coastal Commission, Poseidon had to agree to restore 66 acres of wetlands and buy renewable energy credits—green indulgences.

Urged on by the Surfriders, the Coastal Commission is now gumming up Poseidon’s plans to build a second plant, which has been in the planning stages for 15 years, south of Los Angeles in Huntington Beach. Though Poseidon had obtained almost all required government permits by 2012, Mr. Riva says, the commission’s approval is pending the results of an independent panel convened to study alternatives to open intakes that would better protect fish eggs and larvae. Poseidon has proposed adding one-millimeter screens, which seems to be the simplest and most cost-effective strategy.

The panel concluded after its first phase, Mr. Riva says, that the only other option is what’s called a seabed infiltration gallery, built about 1,000 feet offshore. He explains: “You build these copper dams, then excavate the seabed, put in these drains and pipes, and put other filters on top of that, and then pipe the water back to shore.” While technically feasible, it’s a complicated engineering feat, so now the panel is examining the environmental impact and economic practicability.

Building an infiltration gallery, Mr. Riva says, would take five to seven years and cost multiple times the price of the rest of the facility—so he expects the review will show it isn’t doable. But could the commission be using this process to deal the Huntington Beach project death by regulatory review? “If people just don’t want it, put us out of misery,” he quips.

Environmentalists are also howling that desalination is too energy-intensive. Mr. Riva thinks these complaints are bogus: “We use less energy than one of the data centers that are being built, and nobody claims that they are somehow immoral.” Plus, as he points out, the only reason anybody is even discussing desalination in California now is because it is becoming so much more efficient, thanks to technological breakthroughs like energy-recovery systems, which conserve energy the way hybrid cars do. The Carlsbad plant will use less than half as much electricity per unit of water produced as desalination plants did in the 1980s.

Such improvements are fueled by the free market. “The operators are driven to find ways to reduce the energy because that increases the profitability of these projects,” Mr. Riva says, adding that Poseidon has a profit motive to implement more-efficient filters, pumps and control systems that will reduce the cost of water—an incentive the government doesn’t have.

Mr. Riva, who used to run a biofuels company, says he considers himself an environmentalist. “But I think the concept of environmentalism has been hijacked by extreme views,” he says. “We’re bending over backwards to protect the environment here.”

Meantime, local residents and politicians in San Diego and Orange County have voiced ostensibly more justifiable concerns about desalination’s high costs. Poseidon is a closely held private company but specializes in public-private partnerships. As Mr. Riva explains, “our model is to say: We will take on the risk of development, financing, building and operation, and in exchange you take the market risk of buying our water.” This isn’t too different from how public utilities contract for electric generation.

Under the terms of the purchase agreement, the desalinated water will cost San Diegans between $2,014 and $2,257 per acre foot (roughly 0.6 to 0.7 cents per gallon), or about twice as much as importing water from, say, the Sierra Nevadas. “We have a 30-year contract,” Mr. Riva rejoins. “Depending on escalation rates of the imported water and CPI [consumer-price index], then the expectation is that sometime in the middle of the first decade, our water will be less expensive. There will be a crossover point.”

Even so, desalinated water from Carlsbad will cost more than twice as much per unit as it does in Israel. There are multiple reasons for this. Electricity is more expensive in California than in Israel and most of the rest of the U.S. because of a state mandate requiring that pricey renewables make up a third of electric generation by 2020. Labor is more expensive in California, too. Cumbersome regulatory requirements jack up construction costs. Israel’s Sorek plant will produce about three times as much water as the Carlsbad facility yet cost half as much to build. Both plants were designed by the same company: Israel Desalination Enterprises (IDE) Technologies.

Poseidon’s Carlsbad desalination plant will augment the San Diego region’s water supply by about 7% while increasing customers’ bills by $5 to $7 a month. Although residents will have to pay for the additional supply even when they don’t need it, Mr. Riva asserts that the “reliability justifies a premium.” That is, many San Diegans may consider it worth paying a bit more per month to keep their verdant yards during droughts—or have a backup water supply if an earthquake destroys canals or aqueducts that import water from the north.

‘We’re talking about one of the only things that is really necessary for life. Your kids may think their phone is, but it’s not,” he says. “This is an absolute necessity in San Diego, which is a desert for life.”

The same is true of California as a whole. More than a dozen desalination projects have been proposed along the coast, but prospective developers are waiting for Poseidon to run the regulatory gantlet before moving ahead. Meanwhile, Mr. Riva says Poseidon is considering developing projects in Texas where water is also scarce—and, one presumes, where the governmental burden is lighter and environmentalists are fewer. If Poseidon can make desalination work in California, it can work anywhere.

Ms. Finley is an editorial writer for the Journal.

156  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / WSJ: Desalination efforts in CA on: May 16, 2015, 01:31:05 AM

Allysia Finley
May 15, 2015 6:41 p.m. ET

Israel has made the desert bloom, but the task hasn’t always been an easy one. For decades, the country suffered chronic water shortages brought on by intermittent droughts amid rapid population growth—a problem only partly ameliorated by aggressive water pricing and conservation. In 2009, after five consecutive dry winters, the government water authority restricted outdoor gardening and agricultural irrigation.

By the end of this year, Israel will have completed three massive desalination plants in Ashdod, Hadera and Sorek that combined are capable of producing 100 billion gallons of potable water each year from the sea. More such projects are in the works. Next year desalination will provide about half of Israel’s water—not including the roughly 80% of recycled wastewater that goes mainly to agriculture—up from zero in 2004 and about 10% in 2009. The drought ended in 2012, and Israel doesn’t need to worry much about the next one. In a mere five years, desalination has turned a scarce resource into a commodity that may soon be exportable.

On the far side of the world, in another state often portrayed as a promised land of milk and honey, Californians are suffering perhaps the worst drought in a millennium. Desalination to the rescue? Carlos Riva, the CEO of Boston-based Poseidon Water, hopes so. But the same political and regulatory forces that have already exacerbated the state’s water shortage are standing in the way. Mr. Riva’s diplomatic way of putting it: “Water is a simple molecule, but a complex commodity.”

Most of the bureaucratic effort in California is going into cutting consumption. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has turned off the spigot of water trickling from the Sierra Nevadas to farmers in the Central Valley. Gov. Jerry Brown last month ordered urban water agencies to cut usage by 6% to 36% (based on per capita consumption) and threatened $10,000 fines against noncompliant residents and businesses. All this while the untapped Pacific Ocean glitters nearby.

Desalination technology that is “mainstream outside the U.S.,” Mr. Riva says, is proving exasperatingly difficult to bring to thirsty California.

“The water industry is probably one of the last industries that is still held in traditional municipal hands,” Mr. Riva notes. As a result, the “market is ultraconservative because there’s nobody in the municipalities that has any motivation to take the risk with new technology.”

Poseidon does have a $1 billion desalination plant slated to open this fall in Carlsbad, north of San Diego. Upon completion it will be the largest in North America, capable of producing 54 million gallons of water each day. Construction began in 2013, but first Poseidon spent six years battling 14 environmental lawsuits.

For instance, the Surfrider Foundation charged that the plant’s open-ocean intakes might harm marine life, though a judge ruled that Poseidon had reasonably mitigated the threat. Mr. Riva says the intakes “entrain two to three fish eggs or larvae” for every thousand gallons of water sucked in. “Not to make value judgments about fish, but these aren’t from any protected species,” Mr. Riva says. “They’re anchovies and things like that.” He adds that environmentalists believe that “all fish life is precious, and you have to do everything to save it.”

Obtaining the dozen or so permits required to build the plant was vexing as well, since regulatory authority over water in California is spread among state, federal and local agencies—the Bureau of Reclamation, the State Water Resource Control Board and the California Coastal Commission, to name a few.

“Because there are multiple agencies,” says Mr. Riva, there are “multiple opportunities for intervenors to delay.” The CEO is careful in his choice of words to avoid giving offense. However, what he appears to mean is that environmental obstructionists waged war on numerous fronts. Not totally without success, either: To obtain final approval from the Coastal Commission, Poseidon had to agree to restore 66 acres of wetlands and buy renewable energy credits—green indulgences.

Urged on by the Surfriders, the Coastal Commission is now gumming up Poseidon’s plans to build a second plant, which has been in the planning stages for 15 years, south of Los Angeles in Huntington Beach. Though Poseidon had obtained almost all required government permits by 2012, Mr. Riva says, the commission’s approval is pending the results of an independent panel convened to study alternatives to open intakes that would better protect fish eggs and larvae. Poseidon has proposed adding one-millimeter screens, which seems to be the simplest and most cost-effective strategy.

The panel concluded after its first phase, Mr. Riva says, that the only other option is what’s called a seabed infiltration gallery, built about 1,000 feet offshore. He explains: “You build these copper dams, then excavate the seabed, put in these drains and pipes, and put other filters on top of that, and then pipe the water back to shore.” While technically feasible, it’s a complicated engineering feat, so now the panel is examining the environmental impact and economic practicability.

Building an infiltration gallery, Mr. Riva says, would take five to seven years and cost multiple times the price of the rest of the facility—so he expects the review will show it isn’t doable. But could the commission be using this process to deal the Huntington Beach project death by regulatory review? “If people just don’t want it, put us out of misery,” he quips.

Environmentalists are also howling that desalination is too energy-intensive. Mr. Riva thinks these complaints are bogus: “We use less energy than one of the data centers that are being built, and nobody claims that they are somehow immoral.” Plus, as he points out, the only reason anybody is even discussing desalination in California now is because it is becoming so much more efficient, thanks to technological breakthroughs like energy-recovery systems, which conserve energy the way hybrid cars do. The Carlsbad plant will use less than half as much electricity per unit of water produced as desalination plants did in the 1980s.

Such improvements are fueled by the free market. “The operators are driven to find ways to reduce the energy because that increases the profitability of these projects,” Mr. Riva says, adding that Poseidon has a profit motive to implement more-efficient filters, pumps and control systems that will reduce the cost of water—an incentive the government doesn’t have.

Mr. Riva, who used to run a biofuels company, says he considers himself an environmentalist. “But I think the concept of environmentalism has been hijacked by extreme views,” he says. “We’re bending over backwards to protect the environment here.”

Meantime, local residents and politicians in San Diego and Orange County have voiced ostensibly more justifiable concerns about desalination’s high costs. Poseidon is a closely held private company but specializes in public-private partnerships. As Mr. Riva explains, “our model is to say: We will take on the risk of development, financing, building and operation, and in exchange you take the market risk of buying our water.” This isn’t too different from how public utilities contract for electric generation.

Under the terms of the purchase agreement, the desalinated water will cost San Diegans between $2,014 and $2,257 per acre foot (roughly 0.6 to 0.7 cents per gallon), or about twice as much as importing water from, say, the Sierra Nevadas. “We have a 30-year contract,” Mr. Riva rejoins. “Depending on escalation rates of the imported water and CPI [consumer-price index], then the expectation is that sometime in the middle of the first decade, our water will be less expensive. There will be a crossover point.”

Even so, desalinated water from Carlsbad will cost more than twice as much per unit as it does in Israel. There are multiple reasons for this. Electricity is more expensive in California than in Israel and most of the rest of the U.S. because of a state mandate requiring that pricey renewables make up a third of electric generation by 2020. Labor is more expensive in California, too. Cumbersome regulatory requirements jack up construction costs. Israel’s Sorek plant will produce about three times as much water as the Carlsbad facility yet cost half as much to build. Both plants were designed by the same company: Israel Desalination Enterprises (IDE) Technologies.

Poseidon’s Carlsbad desalination plant will augment the San Diego region’s water supply by about 7% while increasing customers’ bills by $5 to $7 a month. Although residents will have to pay for the additional supply even when they don’t need it, Mr. Riva asserts that the “reliability justifies a premium.” That is, many San Diegans may consider it worth paying a bit more per month to keep their verdant yards during droughts—or have a backup water supply if an earthquake destroys canals or aqueducts that import water from the north.

‘We’re talking about one of the only things that is really necessary for life. Your kids may think their phone is, but it’s not,” he says. “This is an absolute necessity in San Diego, which is a desert for life.”

The same is true of California as a whole. More than a dozen desalination projects have been proposed along the coast, but prospective developers are waiting for Poseidon to run the regulatory gantlet before moving ahead. Meanwhile, Mr. Riva says Poseidon is considering developing projects in Texas where water is also scarce—and, one presumes, where the governmental burden is lighter and environmentalists are fewer. If Poseidon can make desalination work in California, it can work anywhere.

Ms. Finley is an editorial writer for the Journal.
Popular on WSJ

157  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Giant cross in Pakistan on: May 16, 2015, 01:16:11 AM
158  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Newt on The Collapse of Baltimore on: May 15, 2015, 08:44:15 PM
The Collapse of Baltimore City

Fact: the last Republican city council member in Baltimore City left office in 1942.
That is 73 years of solid Democrat city councils.

Fact: the last Republican mayor of Baltimore City left office in 1967.
That is 48 years of unbroken control of the mayor's office.

Fact: the Maryland Senate is currently 33 Democrats to 14 Republicans.

Fact: the Maryland House is currently 90 Democrats to 50 Republicans.

Fact: the last time Republicans held both the Maryland Senate and the Maryland House of Delegates was 1897.

Fact: the last time Republicans held even one chamber of the Maryland General Assembly--the House--was 1917.
That is unbroken Democrat control of the Maryland legislature since 1918--or nearly a century of Democrat control.

Fact: 7 out of 8 members of the Maryland delegation in the U.S. House are Democrats.

Fact: Last Republican U.S. Senator from Maryland was elected in 1980.

Fact: it was Baltimore’s Democrat mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who said:
“I’ve made it very clear that I work with the police and instructed them to do everything that they could to make sure that the protesters were able to exercise their right to free speech. It's a very delicate balancing act. Because while we tried to make sure that they were protected from the cars and other things that were going on, we also gave those who wished to destroy space to do that as well. And we worked very hard to keep that balance and to put ourselves in the best position to de-escalate."

This ”space to destroy” policy led to riots which resulted in:
•   130 police officers injured
•   More than 350 businesses damaged (increasing inner-city unemployment)
•   15 pharmacies damaged (limiting inner-city residents’ access to medicine)
•   Korean American businesses targeted while gangs protected businesses owned by African Americans
•   144 vehicle fires
•   Firehoses cut as firemen fought fires

The collapse of order has a continuing effect. There has been a drastic increase in shootings and homicides in Baltimore since April 27. More than 50 people have been shot. At least 10 have been shot and four killed since Saturday May 9. Nonfatal shootings are up nearly 50 percent.
All of this happened under the leadership of a Democrat mayor who was worried more about the rioters’ free speech than about the safety, protection, and livelihoods of innocent Baltimoreans.

The first duty of government is to protect the innocent and the weak from predators and violence. Once again a Democrat favored the violent over the victims.
The protesters charge that the police are racist.

Fact: More than half of the Baltimore City police force is minority.

Fact: four of the six top commanders are African American or Hispanic.

Fact: half of the police officers being prosecuted are African American.

The protesters point to poverty--and they’re right. Poverty has devastated minority communities. But it is left-wing policies implemented by Democrats that have created destructive incentives and denied opportunity to generations of young people.

Fact: Baltimore City spends $17,329 per student, and its unionized, bureaucratic schools fail.
As Terence Jeffrey of CNS News quotes a lawyer for Freddie Gray’s family as saying, "The education system has failed them." The lawyer is right. "These kids have had bad experiences in school," he said.

Jeffrey outlines the absolute failure of the unionized bureaucratic Baltimore City school system: 84% of eighth graders score below grade level in reading. 87% scored below grade level in math.

For $17,000 a year, Baltimore City students could get much better educations at Catholic schools, private schools or even with an organized home schooling program (8 students could pool $120,000 a year to hire a personal tutor as was done when Thomas Jefferson was young).

Amazingly, as Archbishop of Baltimore William Lori points out, the Catholic schools cost $6,000 a year and have a 99 percent graduation rate. Yet the Democrats are committed to locking poor children out of those schools if it takes a dime away from funds for failing, unionized public schools.

With school choice policies, we could save children's lives while saving money. Instead the left wing unions and bureaucracies ruthlessly exploit children, ruining their lives while the Democratic leadership in the Maryland House blocks school choice bills that would give children a chance to attend better schools and would force schools to compete for students by actually being good schools.

There is no greater example of the relentless dishonesty of modern Democrats than their willingness to destroy children's lives while blaming others. President Obama could quit blaming Fox News and simply demand school choice (which of course he opposes) and he would radically improve the lives of millions of trapped poor children.
Of course, it is Democrats who control the teachers union that traps Baltimore City's children in schools that fail and ruin their lives. They do so on behalf of the unionized bureaucratic political machine that controls the city.

Poverty in general has been institutionalized by the destructive ideological biases of Democrat President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society. On May 22,1964 President Johnson said, "Our society will never be great until our cities are great. Today the frontier of imagination and innovation is inside those cities and not beyond their borders."
Tragically, his policies trapped people in dependency, killed small businesses in favor of bureaucracy, and favored unionized workers over children. The result has been a 50-year disaster which no liberal Democrat is prepared to analyze honestly.

Charles Murray's classic study of destructive welfare policies, Losing Ground, and Marvin Olasky's decisive repudiation of the idealistic premises of big government liberalism’s approach to poverty, The Tragedy of American Compassion, explain decisively the failure of the Baltimore City Democrats. Their values, principles and organizations doom their efforts to failure.

A sound program has to start with safety and work.

That policy has to begin with favoring public safety and small business.

All Americans should care enough about their fellow citizens trapped with bad leadership, bad government, selfish bureaucrats, and misleading news media. All of us should care about creating a much better future for poor Americans.

That future has to start with a fact-based analysis of how we got here and who has been responsible.

In Baltimore City, the answer is Democrat officials who for a half-century have crippled and weakened what was once a great and vibrant city.
In future weeks, I will outline a strategy for a renaissance in Baltimore City.

Your Friend,
159  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Bladeless wind turbines on: May 15, 2015, 04:18:22 PM
160  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: US-China (& Japan, South China Sea-- Vietnam, Philippines, etc) on: May 15, 2015, 03:18:10 PM
161  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Needs to assert itself as a co-equal branch on: May 15, 2015, 12:09:17 PM
Cleta Mitchell
May 14, 2015 7:12 p.m. ET

Two years ago this week, a report by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Information confirmed what hundreds of tea party, conservative, pro-life and pro-Israel organizations had long known: The Internal Revenue Service had stopped processing their applications for exempt status and subjected them to onerous, intrusive and discriminatory practices because of their political views.

Since the report, additional congressional investigations have revealed a lot about IRS dysfunction—and worse. But they’ve also revealed Congress’s inability to exercise its constitutional oversight responsibilities of this and other executive agencies.

Consider the repeated testimony and other statements to Congress subsequently shown to be false. The report issued in December by Rep. Darrell Issa (R., Calif.)—then chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform—details numerous instances in which senior IRS officials, including former Commissioner Doug Shulman, Acting Commissioner Steven Miller and Exempt Organizations Director Lois Lerner lied to Congress, denying and covering up the targeting of tea party and conservative groups before the inspector general’s May 2013 report.

Mr. Shulman told the Ways and Means Committee in March 2012 that there was no targeting of conservative groups. Congressional investigations, the Issa committee report notes, established that at the time of his denial Mr. Schulman knew there was “a backlog of applications, delays in processing, and the use of inappropriate development questions.”

In the early months of 2012, Ms. Lerner made multiple false statements to Congress. In personal meetings, telephone interviews and written communications with congressional investigators, Ms. Lerner denied there were any changes in the criteria for evaluating applications for exempt status. She stated, falsely, that the intrusive demands from her agency for proprietary information from grass-roots organizations were “ordinary”—a characterization the inspector general’s report specifically rebutted.

Ms. Lerner also told Congress that “nothing had changed” about the way her unit handled such applications. But at the very time she said that, the IRS, including Ms. Lerner, had already identified seven types of information that it had inappropriately demanded from conservative groups between 2010 and 2013. These included donor lists, transcripts of speeches by public officials to meetings, and lists of groups to whom leaders made presentations.

Between May 2012 and May 2013, Mr. Miller testified before Congress on at least six occasions, first as deputy IRS commissioner, then as acting commissioner. He withheld information from Congress each time about the targeting. In a November 2013 interview with congressional investigators—well after the targeting had been documented in the inspector general’s report—Mr. Miller admitted that he became aware of possible IRS misconduct in February 2012.

In the 15 months since he became the IRS commissioner, John Koskinen has testified repeatedly, sparring with members of Congress on a variety of subjects. In June 2014, after the IRS informed the Senate Finance Committee of the “missing Lois Lerner emails,” he told the Ways and Means Committee of the yeoman, but unsuccessful, efforts by various people within the agency to recover the Lerner emails. He claimed that it would cost “$10 million to upgrade the IRS’s technology infrastructure to begin saving and storing emails sent or received by” agency employees.

All the while the emails were sitting on an off-site server in West Virginia. And Timothy Camus, the deputy inspector general for tax information, testified to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee earlier this year that the IRS does save and store all IRS employees’ emails.

Lying to Congress is a felony. But the Obama Justice Department has not lifted a finger to prosecute anyone responsible for the IRS scandal, including top brass who repeatedly gave false testimony to Congress.

Neither has Congress done much about being lied to by the IRS. Mr. Issa’s oversight committee first subpoenaed Lois Lerner’s emails in August 2013, then issued another subpoena in February 2014. The committee conducted a hearing on the subject in March 2014, during which Mr. Koskinen testified that, finally, the IRS would produce the Lerner emails. However, as he testified in June 2014, the agency didn’t even begin to look for her emails until February 2014. Why didn’t the House seek to enforce its first subpoena when the IRS failed to respond in the fall of 2013?

Congressional oversight has devolved into a series of show hearings after which nothing happens. No one gets fired for lying. No changes are made in the functioning of the agencies. No programs are defunded. Congress issues subpoenas that are ignored, contempt citations that aren't enforced, criminal referrals that go into Justice Department wastebaskets.

If it is to function as a coequal branch of government, Congress should establish—either through the rules of each House, or by legislation, that it has standing to independently enforce a congressional subpoena through the federal courts. Congress also should use its purse strings to change specific behavior in federal agencies. Rather than across-the-board reductions, Congress should zero out specific departments and programs as agency misconduct is uncovered. It is the only way to stop the executive branch from running roughshod over the American people.

This will be a difficult challenge as long as partisans in both houses of Congress see their role as political gatekeepers who must protect executive agencies when a president of their own party is in the White House. Congressional Democrats have done all in their power to thwart the IRS investigation, arguing with Republicans at hearings and engaging behind-the-scenes with the IRS to undermine the inquiry.

Yet it is a challenge that cannot be shirked. Congress needs to relearn how to flex serious legislative muscle to guard against future executive abuses like those from the IRS.

Ms. Mitchell is a partner in the Washington office of Foley & Lardner. She represents many conservative and tea party organizations targeted by the IRS.
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162  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: 2016 Presidential on: May 15, 2015, 12:05:49 PM
The Reps should already have the act together on the Iraq War, but still struggle.  Some relevant points made here:

Republicans and Iraq
How Jeb Bush could have answered the gotcha question.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush ENLARGE
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush Photo: Getty Images
May 14, 2015 7:35 p.m. ET

Knowing what we know now, would we have urged President George W. Bush to invade Iraq, as we did at the time? A version of this question was put to Jeb Bush by Fox News’s Megyn Kelly the other day, and, well, oh dear.

The former Florida Governor and presumptive Republican presidential candidate told Ms. Kelly Monday that he would have authorized an invasion, adding “and so would have Hillary Clinton”—a reminder that the Democratic frontrunner is the only person in the 2016 race who cast a vote for the war. But Mrs. Clinton long ago recanted that vote, and Mr. Bush recanted his answer, too, telling an Arizona audience on Thursday that he would not have invaded “knowing what we know now.”
Opinion Journal Video
Best of the Web Columnist James Taranto on the former Florida Governor’s position on the Iraq war. Photo credit: Getty Images.

We’ll leave aside what Mr. Bush’s struggles with the inevitable question say about his preparedness as a candidate—and his team’s as a campaign. The right answer to the question is that it’s not a useful or instructive one to answer, because statesmanship, like life, is not conducted in hindsight. Knowing what we know now, we wouldn’t have been in equities in 2008, or bet on the Green Bay Packers in January. Sigh.

The better question, and one that would better address Mr. Bush’s fitness as a potential Commander in Chief, is what lessons he would draw from Iraq that would inform his own decision-making if confronted with similar circumstances.

Plainly one lesson would be that Presidents cannot take the claims of their intelligence agencies as conclusive. George W. Bush took the country to war in the sincere belief that Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction was a “slam dunk” case, as then-CIA Director George Tenet believed.

Mr. Bush’s critics, both the dishonest and the foolish, called him a liar for the mistake. But as the 2005 bipartisan Robb-Silberman report on the intelligence leading up to the war noted, it was the CIA’s “own independent judgments—flawed though they were—that led them to conclude Iraq had active WMD programs.”

So how to do better? Mr. Bush could cite the experience of his father, George H.W. Bush, who as CIA director in the Ford Administration organized a “Team B” panel of outside experts to question his agency’s estimates of Soviet military power and strategy. Historians still debate the merits of Team B’s conclusions, but the point is that the quality of intelligence, like everything else, improves with choice and competition.

A second lesson Mr. Bush could draw is that when America does go to war it should fight to win—and win fast. The 2007 surge was an act of military genius and political courage, but it came four years too late.

Before then, Iraq policy suffered when military planners and the CIA both failed to anticipate that Saddam Hussein would fight the war as an insurgency after Baghdad fell. It suffered, too, when the White House decided to impose the Bremer Regency on Iraq instead of immediately handing the reins of political power to Iraqi leaders, so they could solve their own problems.

At the same time, Mr. Bush might note that the war in Iraq wasn’t fought simply on account of Iraq’s presumed possession of illicit weapons. It was Saddam himself who was Iraq’s most destructive WMD, a one-man killing machine who had destabilized the Middle East for 25 years while killing hundreds of thousands of people. And there was also the question of what Saddam might have done had no war taken place.

“Saddam wanted to re-create Iraq’s WMD capability—which was essentially destroyed in 1991—after sanctions were removed and Iraq’s economy stabilized,” noted the 2004 report of the Iraq Survey Group. “Saddam aspired to develop a nuclear capability—in an incremental fashion, irrespective of international pressure and the resulting economic risks—but he intended to focus on ballistic missiles and tactical chemical warfare (CW) capability.”

One other lesson is that, just as there are unintended consequences to military action, there are also consequences to inaction. By 2008 al Qaeda in Iraq was a spent force, demoralized and defeated even according to its own internal communications. It came back and transmogrified into the Islamic State only after President Obama had squandered the gains of the surge by withdrawing all U.S. forces from Iraq, against the wishes of his senior advisers, including then-CIA director Leon Panetta and, yes, Mrs. Clinton.

The media love easy retrospective judgments—we specialize in shooting the wounded—and so do political candidates who want to score easy points. But we suspect voters are smarter than to credit the breezy claims of ex-post-facto wisdom by Mr. Bush’s GOP competitors.

What voters should care about is that the next President will have to confront the new global disorder bequeathed by this Administration. The ultimate lesson of Iraq is that there are no easy calls in foreign policy, and that intelligence of the sort generated by spooks can never substitute for the judgment required of statesmen.
163  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Noonan on the Rubio Doctrine on: May 15, 2015, 11:58:35 AM
A great answer indeed  grin

Peggy Noonan
May 14, 2015 7:23 p.m. ET

Hillary Clinton continues her silent glide toward the White House. The Republican candidates make themselves available almost every day, get pressed, grilled and occasionally cuffed around. Since announcing a month ago Mrs. Clinton has not had a single news conference or formal interview. NPR’s Tamara Keith counted 13 questions to which she has responded in that time. The answers include “I’m having a great time,” “It is fabulous” in Iowa, she wants to be “the champion of Americans,” and “I want to hear people.” Wednesday she embarked on a listening tour of Manhattan billionaires.

This is not just a dynamic of the campaign of 2016, it is a scandal of 2016. Democratic operatives think candidates don’t lose support for stiffing the press. I don’t know. Campaigns, like candidates, get reputations. This is less like a campaign than a silent movie with mad organ music.

Marco Rubio, at the Council on Foreign Relations, this week unveiled what his aides call the Rubio Doctrine. Good for him: Candidates ought to be putting their stands into documents that can be inspected and pondered. His foreign-policy vision consists in three “pillars”: American strength, protection of the American business position in a global economy, and moral clarity regarding America’s core values.

The first pillar should be a unifying principle for all Republicans. The world and we are safer when America is stronger, period. We must be known to the world as the possessor of the mightiest military on earth. “Weakness is the friend of danger,” he said. It is. We must spend what we must, and modernize to meet future possible challenges, he argued. We do.

The second pillar is similarly sound. Everything we have comes from what we sell and make. As a nation we must see to our economic security, including supporting free trade and fighting unfair and destructive business practices.

The third pillar is more wobbly. Here Mr. Rubio took a pronounced neoconservative turn. He urged America to “think big,” to “advance the rights of the vulnerable” who are “persecuted.” “The American people hear their cries, see their suffering . . . and desire their freedom.” That sounds anodyne unless it’s not. Certainly our policies should not and cannot be detached from our values. But I would have liked to hear something more steely-eyed: The third pillar is not a statement but a question whose asking has served us well for more than two centuries. “What is in the interests of the American nation?” What actions or endeavors will serve to make us stronger, safer, more able to flourish in the 21st century?

In question-and-answer following the speech, moderator Charlie Rose quickly cut to the chase. “Should we be the world’s policeman?” Mr. Rubio: “I don’t think that’s necessarily the role that I would advocate.” He then pedaled back to the importance of diplomatic leadership.

Here is what is concerning: In our time “moral clarity,” has, as a former member of George H.W. Bush’s White House put it, “tended to stack the terms of a debate without having to address the merits of a policy.” “Moral clarity” tends to start with ringing cries and end with manipulations.

In making his case Mr. Rubio disparaged “nation building at home.” But it is not invalid to say that America needs to become more fully what we say we believe in, and put a priority not on projecting our values militarily but reflecting them more deeply at home. It is true that the world now has less respect for us as a moral actor in the world, but it is not only because of the bad leadership of the past seven or 15 years, take your pick. It is not only because the world knows of our economic problems and the dysfunction and corruption of our governing class. The world is less impressed by us because they’ve been here. Mr. Rubio referred to globalization as a force transforming the world, but it also means a lot of the people of the world—especially the political, military and business elites—have come here to visit, and looked around. They have a sense of our public schools, our culture, our infrastructure (they take Amtrak to Washington), our Fergusons, our fear that our next generation will have it worse.

They no longer see us as their fathers and grandfathers did, as the Great Example. It is not unpatriotic or sissified to want to emphasize strengthening and renewal at home while our foreign policy protects our position and advances our interests.

I wish every candidate who rightly lauds Ronald Reagan’s candor and moral clarity would then note: “And interestingly enough, he never invaded the Warsaw Pact countries.” He used words, diplomacy and other forms of muscle to change the world.

Also, is Mr. Rubio’s position really where GOP base voters are? I find them more hard-eyed than romantic.

That said, Mr. Rubio is an impressive figure in a way that isn’t captured by words like “smooth” and “articulate.” He has in his head a fact-horde, which is immediately accessible to him as he speaks. You get the impression no briefing has ever been wasted on him. And he’s quick. When Mr. Rose asked him about Raúl Castro’s comment that he likes Pope Francis so much he might rejoin the church, Mr. Rubio shot back, “That’s gonna be a pretty long confession.”

Intelligence isn’t judgment. But Mr. Rubio broke through in a new way this week.

Whereas Mr. Rubio was sharp, alive and in the game, Jeb Bush limped shruggingly along. I don’t understand his inability to deal with Iraq. It’s the one question he knew was coming, yet all week it seemed to take him aback. He seemed to see it as an unfair or trick question. He’s something new in politics, the defensive zealot. He can’t let go on certain controversial issues—Common Core, for instance—and is dodgy on inevitable ones. He goes from misunderstanding the question to saying he isn’t sure of the answer to let’s not make soldiers suffer by asking it to OK, I wouldn’t have gone in. He looked hunted when he said that.

He deserves credit for being out there and taking every question, but he’s running for president. His views on Iraq tell us something about his foreign policy predispositions and assumptions. I know he didn’t want to hurt the feelings of his brother, but I don’t care about the feelings of his brother. I know he didn’t want to bring discomfort to his family, but this is not about his family. This is about what is a wise foreign policy for America. It’s about what you’d do as president.

I’m already tired of everyone’s interlocking loyalties, their politesse, their worries about legacies. “Sure, she’s always playing the angles, but I’ve been with them a long time.” “I can’t be disloyal.” “It was a hugely consequential foreign-policy blunder but I can’t say.”

What is wrong with these people and this picture? It isn’t about them. It’s about America. Could someone be loyal to her?
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164  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Hillbillary Clintons long, sordid, and often criminal history on: May 15, 2015, 11:53:14 AM
Listening to it now; I've posted it on my FB page.
165  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Race, religion, ethnic origin, LGBT, "discrimination", & discrimination. on: May 15, 2015, 11:26:30 AM
Good point, one that would fit quite well in the First Amendment thread as well.
166  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Crime and Punishment on: May 15, 2015, 11:24:03 AM
I confess myself to be bewildered at this notion of calling someone with a penis "she".
167  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: The 2015 Open Gathering on: May 15, 2015, 11:21:02 AM
Sunday 9/20  grin
168  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Sen. Rand Paul (and dad) on: May 14, 2015, 04:32:14 PM

Note that the interviewer was long time associate and sometimes bigot Lew Rockwell.

169  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / FOX fg Rand , , , again on: May 14, 2015, 04:30:19 PM
170  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Visuals of External Diseconomies on: May 14, 2015, 04:22:38 PM
171  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / WSJ: Chicgo teachers average $77K in retirement on: May 14, 2015, 03:58:44 PM
Illinois’s domination by public unions has the state dancing on the edge of fiscal freefall. The state Supreme Court ruled last week that Springfield can’t alter pension benefits, prompting Moody’s this week to downgrade the debt of the city, its public schools and park district all to junk status. Now the Chicago Teachers Union wants to make another contribution to the collapse.

In May the union filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board, accusing the school district of failing to bargain in good faith and rejecting mediation to reach a new contract. The union’s complaint? The school district wants teachers to chip in more for their pensions. The horror.

The dispute goes back to 1981, when in lieu of larger pay raises the district agreed to pick up seven percentage points of the teachers’ contribution of 9% of their salaries to their pensions. This is on top of the district’s own contribution. Teachers have since become accustomed to paying only 2% of their salaries for pensions, about $1,496 a year on average.

Many current teachers weren’t in the school system in 1981, but they like the perk of paying a fraction of their pension cost. Who wouldn’t? The 2% contribution is far less than the 9% contributions made by many other public employees in Illinois, let alone the 6.2% payroll tax for Social Security or what private workers pay into 401(k)s.

Teachers are also comparatively well compensated. The Illinois State Board of Education says the average Chicago teacher salary is about $71,000 a year. That compares to Chicago’s median salary of $47,270 in 2009-2013, according to the Census Bureau. The average starting pension for a Chicago teacher retiring in 2011 after a public-school career was $77,496, according to the Illinois Policy Institute. The city will pay a teacher who retired in 2011 some $2.4 million during retirement, up from $1.35 million a decade earlier.

Union President Karen Lewis called the city’s proposal “reactionary and retaliatory” because the union backed incumbent Rahm Emanuel’s challenger in the recent mayoral race. The better description is inevitable. The district faces a $1.1 billion deficit in the next fiscal year, the city’s teachers pension has an unfunded liability of $9.6 billion, and the district will have to make a roughly $700 million pension payment for teachers in fiscal 2016. Maybe Ms. Lewis can get one of Chicago’s teachers to do the math for her.


172  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Crime and Punishment on: May 14, 2015, 03:50:33 PM
Oops!  Brain fart!  embarassed

Push to End Prison Rapes Loses Earlier Momentum

Passion Star, a transgender inmate at the Barry B. Telford prison complex in New Boston, Tex. The scars are the result of a slashing by a gang member that required 36 stitches. Credit Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

NEW BOSTON, Tex. — The inmate, dressed in prison whites with a shaved head and incongruously tender eyes behind wire-rimmed glasses, entered the visiting room with her wrists joined as if she were handcuffed. At 31, she had spent her whole adult life behind bars, and it looked like a posture of habit.

She introduced herself: “My given name at birth was Joshua Zollicoffer, but my preferred name is Passion Star.”

A transgender woman whose gender identity has been challenged by the Texas authorities, Ms. Star herself is challenging Texas’ refusal to accept new national standards intended to eliminate rape in prison, which disproportionately affects gay and transgender prisoners. Last spring, Gov. Rick Perry declared in a letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. that Texas had its own “safe prisons program” and did not need the “unnecessarily cumbersome and costly” intrusion of another federal mandate.

Ms. Star, who says she is a victim of repeated sexual harassment, coercion, abuse and assault in Texas’ maximum-security prisons for men, disagrees.
Ms. Star accepted a plea deal of 20 years on a charge of aggravated kidnapping, the same deal as her former boyfriend and co-defendant. He was released two years ago. Credit Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

“Look, I got 36 stitches and have scars on my face that prove the prisons are not safe and the current system does not work,” she said. “Somebody needs to be intrusive into this state’s business. Because if somebody was intruding, probably these things would not happen.”

After decades of societal indifference to prison rape, Congress, in a rare show of support for inmates’ rights, unanimously passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act in 2003, and Mr. Perry’s predecessor as governor, President George W. Bush, signed it into law.

“The emerging consensus was that ‘Don’t drop the soap’ jokes were no longer funny, and that rape is not a penalty we assign in sentencing,” said Jael Humphrey, a lawyer with Lambda Legal, a national group that represents Ms. Star in a federal lawsuit alleging that Texas officials failed to protect her from sexual victimization despite her persistent, well-documented pleas for help.

But over 12 years, even as reported sexual victimization in prisons remained high, the urgency behind that consensus dissipated. It took almost a decade for the Justice Department to issue the final standards on how to prevent, detect and respond to sexual abuse in custody. And it took a couple of years more before governors were required to report to Washington, which revealed that only New Jersey and New Hampshire were ready to certify full compliance.

With May 15 being the second annual reporting deadline, advocates for inmates and half of the members of the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission, a bipartisan group charged with drafting the standards, say the plodding pace of change has disheartened them despite pockets of progress.

“I am encouraged by what several states have done, discouraged by most and dismayed by states like Texas,” said Judge Reggie B. Walton of United States District Court for the District of Columbia, who was appointed chairman of the now-disbanded commission by Mr. Bush.
Some commissioners fault the Justice Department for failing to promote the standards vigorously. Others blame the correctional industry and unions for resisting practices long known to curb “state-sanctioned abuse,” as one put it. All lament that Congress has sought to weaken the modest penalties for noncompliance, and that five governors joined Mr. Perry last year in snubbing the standards.

“There’s a whole kind of backlash, which is very depressing,” said Jamie Fellner, a former commissioner who is senior counsel for the United States program of Human Rights Watch. “It’s 12 years since the law passed. I mean, really. We’re still dealing with all these officials saying, ‘Trust us. We’ll take care of it’?”

Last year, 42 governors signed a form providing “assurance” to the Justice Department that they were advancing toward compliance. But they were allowed to make that assurance without having conducted any outside audits; the commissioners protested this in a letter to Mr. Holder in November, expressing concern about “efforts to delay or weaken” adherence to the standards.

In fact, the ambitious goal to audit every prison, jail, detention center, lockup and halfway house in this country over a three-year period is far behind schedule.
Some 8,000 institutions are supposed to be audited for sexual safety by August 2016, but only 335 audits had been completed by March, according to a Justice Department document obtained from the office of Senator John Cornyn of Texas; the department declined to provide numbers.

The Justice Department said it “remains steadfast in its commitment to the implementation of the National PREA Standards” — PREA is the acronym for the Prison Rape Elimination Act — and hopes for “full participation” from all states this year.

But states face only a small penalty, the loss of 5 percent of prison-related federal grants, if they opt out of the process entirely. “There are a lot of carrots in PREA, and not enough sticks,” said Brenda V. Smith, an American University law professor and another former commissioner.

Texas forfeited $810,796 — a minuscule fraction of its multibillion-dollar corrections budget — after Mr. Perry declined to sign an assurance letter. According to a spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, this loss “will not have any effect on T.D.C.J. operations.”

The other renegade states, as advocates called them, were Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Indiana and Utah.

Texas’ opting out was considered especially significant, however, because it has the largest prison population in the country and by far the most reports of sexual assault and abuse. Texas had three and a half times as many allegations as California in 2011, when California still had more inmates than Texas, according to the federal data.
The Texas authorities attribute this to “extensive efforts to encourage and facilitate reporting.” Declining to discuss Ms. Star’s case, they said their “goal is to be as compliant as possible with PREA standards without jeopardizing the safety and security of our institutions.”

Twenty-seven of their 109 prisons have passed outside audits, they said, including the one where Ms. Star is now locked up for a teenage offense that the authorities considered kidnapping.

A Predatory Culture

In this rural area just west of Texarkana, the Barry B. Telford prison complex sits behind chain-link fences topped with coils of razor ribbon. It is where Ms. Star began her incarceration the year that Congress passed the prison rape law and where, after an odyssey through six other prisons, she unexpectedly returned at the end of March.
She is used to moving around. Born in Mississippi in late 1983, Ms. Star lived the peripatetic life of a military child, shuttling from state to state and twice to Germany before settling near Fort Hood, Tex., as a teenager.

On a summer day when she was 18, she accompanied her boyfriend, who was 23, to a Chevrolet dealership to test-drive a car. Her boyfriend took the wheel of a maroon Impala, a salesman got in the front passenger seat and Ms. Star sat in the rear.

When the salesman indicated it was time to return to the lot, the boyfriend said no, in Ms. Star’s recounting.

“I’m like, ‘Wow. What do you mean?’” she said. “And he’s like, ‘Be quiet.’ It was one of those things where keeping it real goes wrong. Where I could have been like, ‘Well, you need to stop,’ or gotten out, and I didn’t. We make bad decisions when we’re young.”

(Note: Some inmates reported experiencing victimization by both another inmate and facility staff. Mental health statuses were determined by screenings as a part of the survey.)

*Rates for transgender inmates are combined estimates from three surveys since 2007 and have a 95 percent confidence level at +/- 6.3 percentage points and +/- 6.5 percentage points.
Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics, National Inmate Survey, 2011–12

After 40 miles, they deposited the salesman on a rural road. He eventually flagged down a police car, and an alert was issued for the stolen Chevy. The couple kept driving north, even picking up a hitchhiker at one point, until, with the authorities in pursuit, their flight ended in a ditch.

Charged with aggravated kidnapping, a first-degree felony that carries a penalty of five to 99 years, Ms. Star accepted the same plea deal of 20 years as her boyfriend.
“The law applies a rule of parties, which allows them to charge the passenger with the same level of culpability as the primary actor,” said M. Bryon Barnhill, who was Ms. Star’s court-appointed lawyer. But, he added, the boyfriend (and the hitchhiker) told the authorities “they were acting in concert with the intention of stealing the car and traveling to Canada to start a new life.”

Ms. Star was 19 when she arrived at Telford, with no possibility of parole for a decade. She was quickly inducted into a gang-ruled world with an ultimatum, she said: “You’re going to ride with us, or you’re going to fight.”

“In the state of Texas, in the general population, there is a culture where gay men and transgender women in prison are basically preyed on by the stronger inmates,” she said. “They have to be the property of a person who’s in a gang, and this person is the individual who speaks for them. So basically, they’re coerced into being sexually active to survive.”

Ms. Star said that after complaining fruitlessly to prison employees, she submitted to a coerced sexual relationship. She tried to leave the inmate once, she said, but he choked her in response.

The most recent national inmate survey by the Justice Department found that sexual victimization was reported by 3.1 percent of heterosexual prisoners, 14 percent of gay, lesbian and bisexual prisoners and 40 percent of transgender inmates.

Because gay and transgender inmates are at such high risk, a prison’s efforts to protect them are seen by experts as a barometer of its commitment to eliminating rape. That is why Ms. Star’s advocates believe her case represents a pervasive problem in Texas; those defendants who filed a legal response to her complaint deny all allegations against them and contend they acted “in good faith.”

In her early years in prison, Ms. Star considered herself gay. She knew she was “additionally different,” but it would take a few more years for her to identify as a transgender woman, to adopt a “feminine alias” and to start feeling comfortable in her own skin.

“You know how penguins are?” she asked. “On land, if you look at a penguin when it walks around, it’s just an ungainly, clumsy creature. But in water, a penguin is one of the most graceful animals in the world.” She added, “I didn’t feel like I was in my element until, at all types of personal risk to myself, I became Passion.”

Becoming Passion in a maximum-security men’s prison in Texas was not easy. “Basically, they frown on us expressing our gender,” she said. “I did at one point wear my hair longer, arch my eyebrows, shave my legs and my body and everything. I wore small, form-fitting clothes and made myself feminine underwear. But I was actually disciplined for it.”

It was only in 2014 that she learned from a notice in the prison newspaper that inmates were allowed to request classification as transgender, she said, and she did so.
But in their response to her lawsuit, Texas officials refer to Ms. Star as Mr. Zollicoffer, use male pronouns and “deny” she is transgender, “as no such medical diagnosis has been made.”

“If she were seeking medical care — and she does intend to transition, but until now she has been in survival mode — a diagnosis could be relevant,” Ms. Humphrey, her lawyer, said. “But whether or not she was diagnosed as transgender has nothing to do with whether or not she deserves protection from sexual assault.”
‘The Day-to-Day Horror’

As a researcher who studied prison rape when nobody wanted to know about it, Cindy Struckman-Johnson, a social psychologist at the University of South Dakota, was astonished when Congress passed the rape legislation.

“To me, it was like a miracle,” said Ms. Struckman-Johnson, a former commissioner who described how she had become “persona non grata” in Nebraska in the 1990s after finding a high rate of prison rape there. “Ever since PREA, nobody can really be in denial.”

The law described prison rape as epidemic. Ideologically evenhanded, it referred at once to “the day-to-day horror of victimized inmates” and to “brutalized inmates more likely to commit crimes when they are released.” It spoke of the potential spread of H.I.V. and of the need for Congress to protect the constitutional rights of prisoners in states where officials displayed deliberate indifference.

The law, which established the commission, laid out a timetable under which the attorney general would publish the final antirape standards by 2007.
But after eight public hearings, 11 site visits and two public comment periods on draft standards, the commission did not release its final report and proposed standards until 2009.

“What took so long?” Ms. Smith, the American University law professor, asked. “Resistance was coming from and still is coming from many correctional agencies. The resistance was: This is going to cost us too much money. But also, we were developing standards not just around preventing rape, but around respect and dignity and changing the culture that permitted or even encouraged rape in custody.”

It then took the Justice Department three additional years to issue final standards that were in the end “almost identical — very frustrating,” one commissioner said.
The 52 standards for prisons and jails apply to everything from hiring and staffing levels to investigation and evidence collection to medical treatment and rape crisis counseling.

State officials found some standards particularly intrusive. Mr. Perry protested that limitations on cross-gender strip searches, pat downs and bathroom supervision would force Texas to discriminate against its female officers. He said the requirement that youths in adult prisons be “separated by sight and sound” from grown-up inmates infringed on Texas’ right to set its age of

Telford Prison is where Ms. Star began her incarceration and where, after an odyssey through six other prisons, she returned at the end of March. Credit Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

Training and technical assistance related to the coming regulations began in 2004. Since 2011, the Justice Department has doled out some $31 million in PREA-related grants, and tens of millions more to set up and run the National PREA Resource Center.

And indeed, judged through a long lens, considerable progress has been made. That wardens across the country now profess zero tolerance for sexual abuse represents a cultural transformation itself. There are antirape posters on prison bulletin boards, hotlines to report sexual abuse, educational videos for inmates, and training sessions for guards. Statistics show some prisons and jails with very low or even no reported sexual abuse.

“I’m not on the top deck, I’m in the engine room with Scotty, and I see behavioral change on the yards and in the cellblocks,” said James E. Aiken, a correctional consultant and former commissioner. “This is not a speedboat; it’s a very big ship.”

John Kaneb, a business executive and former vice chairman of the commission, said he also thought “things are going well now.”

Over 500 specialized auditors have been certified, and, he said, the pace of audits is accelerating: “They’re not going to get 8,000 done in the next 15 months, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they had 1,000 done by end of year.”

Yet others are disappointed that the states are moving slowly and that the Justice Department declines to say how much longer it will allow governors to provide “assurances” instead of certifying compliance.

“This leaves open the absurd possibility that a state could kick the can down the road in perpetuity without ever incurring a financial penalty,” said Lovisa Stannow, the executive director of Just Detention International.

Pat Nolan, director of the Center for Criminal Justice Reform at the American Conservative Union Foundation and a former commissioner, said that Mr. Perry’s public challenge to the standards caused ripples of anxiety that linger.

“The fear is that if you get enough states thumbing their nose at this, the whole thing could unravel,” he said.

In the end, the former commissioners said, oversight might have to become the provenance of the courts.

“I think that’s the greatest hope, that the standards become the legal standards of care,” Judge Walton said. “If states realize they’re going to have multimillion-dollar lawsuits, that will be an incentive for them.”

A Quest for ‘Safekeeping’

At Lambda Legal’s offices on Wall Street, not long after Mr. Perry’s declaration to Washington, Ms. Humphrey started combing through letters from inmates complaining about sexual abuse.

“I was looking in our mailbag for a plaintiff who could illustrate the problems Texas was having,” Ms. Humphrey said. “And there she was.”

What Ms. Humphrey found was a thick envelope from Ms. Star containing the proposed draft of a legal complaint along with medical files, grievance reports and appeals — a meticulous record of her years behind bars.

In 2006, Ms. Star was transferred to the James V. Allred Unit in Wichita Falls.

Sexual slavery is basically what goes on in most prison in the United States - the participation by employees makes it even more hideous. No...

Allred would soon be singled out by the Justice Department as one of the 10 most sexually violent prisons in the country. Five of the 10, in fact, were in Texas, and Ms. Star would end up doing time in three of them.

At Allred, she was immediately targeted because she had been at Telford, she said, but she was older and unwilling “to lay down and accept these things happening to me.”

So she embarked on what became her unrelenting quest to be placed in “safekeeping,” which is what Texas calls separate housing units for vulnerable inmates. She sought safekeeping not only because of recurrent sexual harassment, coercion and threats of violence, but also because of retaliation for reporting these incidents — from staff members as well as inmates, she said.

At Allred, when she told a prison official she feared for her life after refusing sexual demands, the official told her she would be fine because she is black, she claims in her lawsuit. Over the years, she came to believe the system’s protection program was racially discriminatory.

A racial breakdown of the inmates in safekeeping, provided by Texas, indicates she may have had a point. Of the 1,569 inmates with that status now, 57 percent are white, while whites constitute 30 percent of the inmate population. Twenty-three percent in safekeeping are black, compared with 35 percent over all, and 19 percent are Hispanic, compared with 33 percent.

In March 2007, Ms. Star was assigned to a cell with a gang member who instantly started demanding sexual favors. She informed a guard and asked for help, she said. Two days later, the cellmate raped her at knife point. After she reported the attack, he threw a fan at her head. It was the “worst moment of my life,” she said, making her feel “utterly powerless,” briefly suicidal and extremely fearful “it would happen to me again and again.”

Ms. Star said she did not know what happened to her cellmate after she went to the infirmary to be treated; under the standards, victims are supposed to be kept apprised.

A national panel, established after the rape law to examine institutions with the best and worst records, visited Allred and could find no indication that any sexual abuse claims had been substantiated. It noted that a significant number of claims had been filed by gay inmates — “whom staff members referred to as queens.”

Lambda Legal, a national group that represents Ms. Star in a federal lawsuit, held a rally in support of her on Friday. Later, the group delivered a petition to the governor's office protesting her treatment. Credit Ilana Panich-Linsman for The New York Times

“A question remains as to whether complaints from homosexual inmates are treated as seriously as they deserve,” the panel said of Allred.

Texas has a very low rate of substantiating allegations. Of 743 reports of sexual assault and abuse in the 2013 budget year, 20 cases, or 2.7 percent, were corroborated; the national rate is 10 percent. One prison rape case was sent to a grand jury that year.

After the rape, Ms. Star was moved into “protective custody,” a form of solitary confinement that the standards say should be used for rape victims only short-term and if no alternative, such as safekeeping, is available.

Two weeks later, Ms. Star was transferred to a third prison, where her new cellmate made her watch him masturbate, she said.

“I freaked,” she said. “Immediately, I was like, ‘I can’t deal with this.’ For a long time, I bounced from cell to cell, cell to cell, cell to cell. And that’s when the tag ‘snitch’ started to stick to me, because I was complaining constantly about people trying to force me into things.”

She said that over the years, some prison officials had called her “faggot” and “punk”; others blamed her for bringing problems on herself. One suggested, using language that cannot be printed, that she perform oral sex, “fight or quit doing gay” stuff, her lawsuit says.

In her fourth and fifth prisons, Ms. Star’s complaints of continuing abuse and assault were dismissed with “formulaic” responses, her lawsuit says.

In denying her requests for safekeeping, Texas made references to her “assaultive history,” suggesting she could endanger other vulnerable inmates. Ms. Star says that her disciplinary history “is a direct reflection of T.D.C.J.’s not protecting me.”

“I have a disciplinary history for defending myself three or four times over 13 years,” she said. “I’ve never hurt anybody. But I’ve been hurt.”

Ms. Star was also denied parole — though her former boyfriend and co-defendant was released in April 2013, something Ms. Star learned in the interview.
“Wow,” she said. “That kind of makes me want to cry.”

On Nov. 19, 2013, with threats against her mounting, Ms. Star filed an emergency grievance appealing the most recent denial of her request for safekeeping. The next morning, heading to breakfast, Ms. Star found her path blocked by gang members. One repeatedly slashed her face with a razor. This was the attack that required the 36 stitches.

After that, she was transferred to her sixth prison. The same problems ensued. Begging again for safekeeping, Ms. Star wrote in a grievance: “Just recommending that I be transferred to another unit will not ensure my safety, just as it did not after the 3-29-07 sexual assault, nor after the 11-20-13 assault with a weapon. I am an offender with a ‘potential for victimization,’ otherwise I wouldn’t be constantly victimized and threatened by other offenders.”

This time, somebody listened. The prison’s classification committee agreed she should be put in safekeeping. The state, however, overruled it.

By this point, Ms. Star had been reaching out beyond prison walls — writing to the state-level corrections officials as well as to civil rights and advocacy groups, which report that they get more reports of sexual abuse from inmates in Texas than anywhere else.

“Passion is hardly alone, but she is incredibly intelligent, incredibly well organized, and her perseverance is unparalleled,” Ms. Humphrey said.

After the lawyer’s first visit with Ms. Star last summer, Ms. Star was moved into protective custody and spent 110 days in an 80-square-foot cell. Her lawsuit alleges that Texas officials “use confinement in isolation and the threat of isolation to deter people in custody from complaining about sexual abuse, threats and other assaults.”

Last November, Ms. Star was transferred to her seventh prison, William P. Clements, another prison with a very high rate of sexual victimization. She immediately found herself back among gang members she knew and encountered escalating threats of assault and rape.

In March, her lawyers filed an emergency motion asking that the court order Texas to place her in safekeeping or explain how it would otherwise keep her safe.

“I’m afraid Passion is going to get murdered — like this weekend,” Ms. Humphrey said then.

For that weekend, her lawyers agreed to let the authorities place Ms. Star back in solitary confinement while they negotiated a resolution. At that point, Texas appeared to be arguing that Ms. Star’s only alternative was to remain in isolation.

On March 20, The New York Times asked Texas for permission to interview Ms. Star.

On March 30, more than a decade after she says she first requested it, Texas put Passion Star in safekeeping. Her lawsuit, which seeks damages from the officials who allegedly failed to protect her, is continuing.

At the time of the interview, she had been in safekeeping only a couple of days, but already found the new atmosphere a relief. “Everybody’s calmer,” she said. “The tension level is extremely low. There are no gang influences that basically are threatening our lives. So it’s a change — a change for the better.”

As a reporter left the prison that day, an officer at the security entrance said, “So, did you see him-her?”

Fumbling for an answer, the reporter said yes, and that Ms. Star had been “very nice.”

“For a kidnapper,” the officer replied.

173  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Sooner or later we'll be right , , , on: May 14, 2015, 02:34:43 PM
The Producer Price Index Declined 0.4% in April To view this article, Click Here
Brian S. Wesbury, Chief Economist
Robert Stein, Deputy Chief Economist
Date: 5/14/2015

The Producer Price Index (PPI) declined 0.4% in April, coming in below the consensus expected gain of 0.1%. Producer prices are down 1.3% versus a year ago.
Energy prices dropped 2.9% in April while food prices fell 0.9%. Producer prices excluding food and energy declined 0.1%.
In the past year, prices for services are up 0.9%, while prices for goods are down 5.2%. Private capital equipment prices declined 0.3% in April but are up 0.1% in the past year.
Prices for intermediate processed goods declined 1.1% in April, and are down 7.6% versus a year ago. Prices for intermediate unprocessed goods increased 0.9% in April, but are down 26.7% versus a year ago.

Implications: Forget about producer prices for a minute. The most important economic news today was new claims for unemployment insurance dropping 1,000 last week to 264,000. The four week average declined to 272,000, the lowest level in 15 years. Continuing unemployment claims were unchanged at 2.23 million, also the lowest since 2000. These data point to another solid payroll number in May. On the inflation front, as Milton Friedman used to say, the relationship between monetary policy and inflation is long and variable. And in this cycle, it’s longer than usual. After several years of loose monetary policy, inflation is still not a problem for producers. The producer price index declined 0.4% in April, falling for the fifth time in the past six months. Food and energy prices, which are volatile, fell 0.9% and 2.9% respectively, in April. Energy prices are now down 24% versus a year ago, so it shouldn’t be any surprise that overall producer prices are down 1.3% from last year. But even prices outside the food and energy sectors remain relatively quiet for now. Service prices have increased 0.9% in the past year while “core” goods, which exclude food and energy, are up 0.4%. Given the extended period of loose monetary policy and the recent (partial) rebound in oil prices, we expect producer price inflation to be more of an issue in the year ahead. Other factors may play a role as well. For example, April price declines were also seen in trade, transportation and warehousing, which might be a temporary hangover from the West Coast port strikes. As a result, we expect inflation to pick up in the year ahead and should do so more quickly than most investors expect. In turn, this likely means higher bond yields and a more aggressive Fed than is right now priced into market expectations.
174  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / PP: SS the looming Crisis on: May 14, 2015, 11:36:12 AM
Social Insecurity: The Looming Crisis
By Jim Harrington · May 13, 2015
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For years, actuaries, financial analysts and policy wonks have warned that Social Security is doomed to crash. Contrary to rosy predictions a decade ago that this popular government program has a funded lifetime of 33 more years and won’t sink into the red until 2017, Social Security actually went red in 2010 and will go broke in 2024.

In 1983, the Social Security trustees predicted that reforms would maintain the program’s solvency through 2048. Even they’ve changed their tune, though they won’t admit it’s as moribund as it actually is.

Since its inception, Social Security has promised each succeeding generation that there will be at least a minimum of money for them at retirement. All working people are taxed at the rate of 12.4% of each paycheck, with the promise of a return. (Yes, employers pay half, but they also pay employees less as a result. It still costs “X” to employ a person; whether 6.2% is earmarked for direct Social Security payments matters not.) But that money’s gone in an insolvent system.

When Franklin Roosevelt created Social Security, the ratio of taxpayers to beneficiaries was 42:1. Today that ratio has plummeted to numbers FDRs' “Brain Trust” never contemplated — it’s now a puny 3:1, and with 80 million Baby Boomers beginning to enter the system that ratio will only get worse. Social Security’s already running a $200 billion annual deficit with 60 million recipients, so it’s difficult to understand the trustees' optimism.

Researchers Gary King of Harvard and Samir Soneji and Konstantin Kashin of Dartmouth analyzed the Social Security Administration (SSA) trustees actuarial reports and conclude the program’s insolvency is near. Their research found little or no bias in the annual reporting between 1978 and 1999, but from 2000 onward the bias presenting the program positively has been increasing steadily.

King reports that the trustees use outdated modes in the analyses, comparing them to “steering by sextant and dead reckoning” rather than using “global-positioning-systems.” They “employ research methods that are antiquated and opaque compared with the statistics and open-source data analytics powering today’s successful scientific and business enterprises.”

Steve Goss, the chief actuary of the SSA, nevertheless enjoys widespread credibility. Supporters in the public, academic and private sectors use his analyses in their own work.

Barron’s Bill Alpert explains why: Goss says SSA actuaries “leave politics at the door when they prepare” reports, and argues that “forecast errors in the past decade might have resulted from the 2008 recession.” Besides political independence, Goss values consistency in the projections and looks askance at changing assumptions or methods.

Goss cites as a cautionary tale the trustees' continuing to project long-term gains while productivity dropped during the 1980s. Then in 1995, the economy began a sharp climb. “[We] learned a lesson,” Goss said. “[M]aybe we should look at the long-term averages, not flip back and forth a lot based on very, very brief periods of recent experience.” One problem with that approach is that the U.S. is not your granddaddy’s country.

And Alpert notes another big problem for Goss: “[A] surprising number of past panelists complain that Goss has ignored their advice. A case in point is the way the actuaries predict death rates. Along with birth rates and immigration, death rates are a crucial consideration in projecting the future populations that will be paying into Social Security and drawing benefits. Since 1999, outside demographers on Social Security’s technical panels have unsuccessfully urged the actuaries to change their approach for predicting death rates. Goss' crew makes judgments about future death rates within each age group and sex from five separate causes, like heart disease, cancer, and violence — a process that obliges the actuaries to come up with 150 different parameters in a way that outside experts have never been able to plumb.”

Faulty methods distort projections for solvency.

Problems are many, solutions, few. The system has already raised the full eligibility age to 66, and soon, 67. That’s not enough. One suggestion: raise taxes (naturally). To maintain the promised benefits, former Bill Clinton adviser Bill Galston argues the payroll tax would have to rise from 12.4% to 15.9%. A middle-income family (about $50,000) would pay another $900 annually. Adding this to all other taxes they pay is unconscionable.

Republicans have promoted privatizing part of Social Security for more than 20 years. Were taxpayers allowed to invest their Social Security money in 401k’s, even a modest return would allow middle-income earners to retire on six-figure incomes. Social Security’s “return,” by comparison, is an obscene joke. It actually results in a loss due to the constant inflation of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Social Security is a Pony Express program in a smart phone world. It makes changes grudgingly and only long after they are obviously needed. And because it is the greatest Ponzi scheme of all time, some Americans will be hurt very badly. Yet this oft-repeated warning has never been heeded because government employees have their own pension system, and citizens only want what was promised to them — a retirement income. Anybody aiming to fix that, in the view of too many Americans, is merely trying to steal from them. In short, it’s an entrenched problem that will almost surely receive nothing but token Band-Aids as long as politicians can hold out.
175  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: Waiting for consensus on: May 14, 2015, 11:31:06 AM
Consensus continues to elude participants in U.N.-backed reconciliation talks aimed at cobbling together a national unity government in Libya. Myriad competing groups and feuding parliaments in Tripoli and Tobruk have found their conflict right in the middle of several regional crises. Headlines have focused on escalating numbers of illegal migrants making their way to Europe, difficult negotiations, fighting between militias and attacks by Islamic State-affiliated militants. But local interests continue to compete and complicate international efforts to resolve the Libyan conflict. Moreover, Libyan leaders can concede on a few points despite generally opposing another Western intervention.

Nevertheless, outside powers such as the European Union, NATO and the United States are unlikely to consider a military intervention on the ground in Libya before U.N.-sponsored talks designate a recognized national unity government. And as that process plays out, Libya's instability will continue to hamper the country's oil output and give safe haven to a range of militant actors and various organized criminal activities.

NATO foreign ministers gathered in Antalya, Turkey, on May 13 for two days of talks focused on the threats emanating from the bloc's southern periphery. The host state of Turkey is the only NATO member that borders Islamic State-controlled territories in Iraq and Syria. Moreover, in the days leading up to the NATO meeting, Libyan military forces (loyal to the staunchly anti-Turkey government in Tobruk) fired upon a Turkish ship, killing one seaman. Although the bloc will undoubtedly focus on Russian activities along its eastern periphery, especially in Ukraine, recent events are likely to focus at least part of the discussion on the situation in Libya.

Libya's vast space has flourished as a haven for regional militant groups because of the absence of a strong central government. Local groups pledging loyalty to the Islamic State have gained particular notoriety in recent months. But while militancy has been a persistent threat, both to Libya and Algerian natural gas flows, the lack of reliable law enforcement has exposed much of Europe's southern flank to a different kind of problem: organized crime.

Libya has become a prime staging ground for a variety of criminal activities, such as smuggling weapons and drugs across a sprawling network of traditional desert trading routes and human trafficking. The Syrian civil war, and poor conditions across much of sub-Saharan Africa, has transformed Libya by some estimates into the largest transit hub for non-European migrants in the European Union. Illegal immigrants from Libya, almost entirely Syrian and African refugees, numbering in the tens of thousands have sparked policy debates among EU member states. Sharing the burden of migrant populations, reforming immigration and asylum policies, and policing the Mediterranean are just some of the fractious discussions going on in Europe.
What Europe Wants

Still, of all EU member states, Italy has borne the brunt of rescue and coast guard operations because of its proximity to the Libyan coast. Over 4,100 migrants were rescued off the shores of Libya between May 2 and May 3 alone. EU policy has since shifted away from active rescue activities to remove the incentive for migrant behavior. But the decision has resulted only in the unfortunate drowning of thousands of people each month in their effort to cross the Mediterranean, intensifying the EU policy debate of how to best handle the crisis.

Since April, EU member states have sought to address the problem within Libya itself, with potential scenarios including airstrikes against human smuggling positions along the coast and attempted naval blockades, among others. Many of these plans rely on U.N. or NATO support and could involve the United States. Some countries, including Italy and France, have also reportedly consulted Egypt and some Arab states in the Gulf to garner regional support for international involvement.

In the days leading up to the NATO meeting, the European Union decided to focus its plans on policing Libya's maritime waters and pursuing U.N.-backing for the operation. However, strong opposition from both Libyan governments has again put the European Union's plans on hold. Furthermore, the United States, Libya and Algeria are advocating that the international community give the U.N.-backed, national unity negotiations process more time.

But Libya's spot within several overlapping peripheries does not help efforts for stabilization. Outside powers in the Middle East and Europe either do not want the responsibility of reconstructing Libya alone, or do not want a potential rival increasing its influence over Libyan factions and the country's sizable oil reserves. Often it is both. Consequently, the collapse of Libyan power structures will continue to be managed in a piecemeal fashion. Foreign stakeholders instead prefer a more distant, capable partner, such as the United States, to take on the costs of rebuilding a Libyan state, or for indigenous forces to slowly come together to partner effectively with the international community. Both preferences require waiting.
The Impediments

All the while, both Libyan governments have continued to take part in the U.N. talks. Leaders generally agree to form a unified body with additional councils that will include traditional tribal leaders and potentially militia commanders. Yet the internationally recognized government in Tobruk, the House of Representatives, has failed to establish control over much of the country since its inception. The decision to move the government to Tobruk to avoid violence in Tripoli and Benghazi alienated many of the country's powerful revolutionary militias. It also enabled a reformed General National Congress in Tripoli to take control of bureaucratic institutions, including the Oil Ministry.

The House of Representatives tried to counter this weakness by working with rogue Gen. Khalifa Hifter, who had attempted a military coup to topple its predecessor body. Hifter's strong anti-Islamist position gained the support of eastern Libyan strongmen such as rebel commander Ibrahim Jadhran, remnants of pro-Gadhafi fighters and foreign support from Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. Tripoli's General National Congress has enjoyed the backing of the city-state of Misrata and its powerful militias, as well as a constellation of Islamist groups opposed to Hifter's anti-Islamist military operations.

Though violent clashes between Tripoli and Tobruk aligned, forces have slowed since late March and intra-regional competition has begun to intensify. Over the course of the summer we expect increased fighting between militias aligned with the General National Congress — especially those from Misrata — and a broad array of hard-line Islamist groups, including the Islamic State. Both want to increase their bargaining position ahead of an eventual negotiated deal. Eastern Libyan forces, such as Jadhran's Petroleum Facilities Guards and Libya's divided military, may also fight among themselves. Such conflict will exacerbate Libya's security vacuum in the short term as the groups fight to stabilize the country and reap the benefits of rising economic activity and oil production.

The biggest impediment is what to do with the extremist elements that support each government. Divisive hard-line Islamist fighters with links to the Islamic State and other jihadist groups, pro-Gadhafi fighters and Hifter himself have all contributed to a gradual but steady violence against the bases of support for each government. Misratan militias increasingly fight Islamist fighters opposing a future unity government that will not make room for their views. In the east, strong personal differences between leaders such as Jadhran, Hifter and Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani have slowed the momentum of the military campaign to secure Benghazi from Islamist forces and to combat Islamic State forces in Darnah.

Oil production has suffered as well. As fighting spread across the oil-rich Sirte Basin, competition for control of the country's export facilities has brought total production to about 260,000 barrels per day as of mid-May 2015. Other financial pressures on both governments are also a key motivator to keep talks moving forward. Libya's central bank, specifically its reserves, has opted to support neither the House of Representatives nor the General National Congress until a unity government is formed.

Ultimately, the competing governments are loath to cede authority to a unity government with each other. More important, the dialogue has served as the backdrop for a convoluted vetting process, as each government tries to separate itself from the more extreme elements of its respective support base. European and regional Arab actors are still largely unwilling to bear the burden of restructuring Libya out of its chaos on their own. Libyans will be left to consolidate their ranks and cobble out a fledgling national government to partner with international support in the future. The process will be difficult and violent. Instability will get worse before domestic forces are able to effectively police the state with outside assistance.
176  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Copuld ISIS survive losing its leaders? on: May 14, 2015, 11:26:59 AM
 Could the Islamic State Survive Losing Its Leaders?
May 13, 2015 | 21:38 GMT
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Abd al-Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli, also known as Abu Alaa al-Afari, is a high-ranking Islamic State official. (U.S. State Department)

On May 13, Iraq's Ministry of Defense reported that the deputy leader of the Islamic State, Abd al-Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli, also known as Abu Alaa al-Afari, was killed in a May 12 airstrike on the village of al-Iyadhiya, near Tal Afar in the northern Iraqi province of Ninevah. The ministry posted a video on its website purportedly depicting the airstrike, which the government said targeted al-Afari as he met with dozens of Islamic State leaders. A U.S. Defense Department representative was unable to confirm that al-Afari had been killed, but said that U.S. aircraft conducted two airstrikes near Tal Afar on May 12.

The Iraqi government previously reported that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was wounded in a March 18 airstrike in Ninevah's al-Baaj district and that al-Afari had assumed operational control of the group. The United States has denied that report.  However, even if the worst case scenario for the Islamic State is true, with al-Baghdadi seriously wounded and al-Afari killed, it is unlikely to have any significant and immediate impact on the battlefield in Iraq and Syria.

If al-Baghdadi was wounded and incapacitated in March, the Islamic State's operations have shown no signs of it. The organization is large and highly institutionalized, containing sufficient redundancies and practicing extensive division of labor. It has also prepared for decapitation strikes and has weathered them in the past. For example, in the months following the June 2006 airstrike that killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, there was actually an increase in the attacks targeting coalition troops instead of a decrease. The group also survived an April 2010 airstrike that killed its two top leaders, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and Abu Ayyub al-Masri. Even since the United States and its partners began airstrikes against the Islamic State in September 2014, several of the group's regional emirs have been killed but were quickly replaced. Moreover, al-Afari is a cleric, not a military leader, and the men planning and conducting the group's military operations are still largely intact.

The report of al-Afari's death needs to be taken with some skepticism until it is confirmed. The Iraqi government has repeatedly announced the deaths of jihadist fighters only to have those claims later refuted. If the airstrike is confirmed, however, it will be another sign that the luster is coming off Islamic State's core narrative that it is favored by God and impossible to stop. This, along with reports of desertions, food and medical shortages and even the forced conscription of local men and boys will continue to erode the group's appeal as well as its ability to attract foreign fighters and financing.
177  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / POTH on rape in jail on: May 14, 2015, 11:24:54 AM
A quintessential Pravda on the Hudson article-- but the larger point I think is sound.  Rape does not belong as part of punishment and our tolerance of it makes for far more brutal felons when they get out.
178  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The New 10,000 Commandments Report on: May 14, 2015, 10:36:35 AM
Many charts and graphs in the original

The Regulatory State - Central Planning and Bureaucracy on a Rampage
The New 10,000 Commandments Report – It’s Worse than Ever
Before we begin, we should mention that the US economy has long been one of the least regulated among the major regulatory States of the so-called “free” world, and to a large extent this actually still remains true. This introductory remark should give readers an idea of how terrible the situation is in many of the socialist Utopias elsewhere.
Even in the US though, today’s economic system is light years away from free market capitalism or anything even remotely resembling a “laissez faire” system. We are almost literally drowning in regulations. The extent of this regulatory Moloch and that the very real costs it imposes is seriously retarding economic progress. It is precisely as Bill Bonner recently said: the government’s main job is to look toward the future in order to prevent it from happening.
A great many of today’s regulations have only one goal: to protect established interest groups. Regulations that are ostensibly detrimental to certain unpopular corporatist interests are no different. Among these is e.g. the truly monstrous and nigh impenetrable thicket of financial rules invented after the 2008 crash in a valiant effort to close the barn door long after the horse had escaped. They are unlikely to bother the established large banking interests in the least. The banking cartel is probably elated that it has become virtually impossible for start-ups to ever seriously compete with it. The same is true of many other business regulations; their main effect is to protect the biggest established companies from competition.
The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) – evidently named after a species close to extinction – has just released its 2015 report on the regulatory State, entitled “The 10,000 Commandments” (download link at the end of the article). Here is a summary of the grisly highlights (now would be a good time to get the barf bags out):
“Federal regulation and intervention cost American consumers and businesses an estimated $1.88 trillion in 2014 in lost economic productivity and higher prices.
If U.S. federal regulation was a country, it would be the world’s 10th largest economy, ranking behind Russia and ahead of India.
Economy-wide regulatory costs amount to an average of $14,976 per household – around 29 percent of an average family budget of $51,100. Although not paid directly by individuals, this “cost” of regulation exceeds the amount an average family spends on health care, food and transportation.
The “Unconstitutionality Index” is the ratio of regulations issued by unelected agency officials compared to legislation enacted by Congress in a given year. In 2014, agencies issued  16 new regulations for every law — that’s 3,554 new regulations compared to 224 new laws.
Many Americans complain about taxes, but regulatory compliance costs exceed what the IRS is expected to collect in both individual and corporate income taxes for last year—by more than $160 billion.
Some 60 federal departments, agencies and commissions have 3,415 regulations in development at various stages in the pipeline. The top six federal rule making agencies account for 48 percent of all federal regulations. These are the Departments of the Treasury, Commerce, Interior, Health and Human Services and Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency.
The 2014 Federal Register contains 77,687 pages, the sixth highest page count in its history. Among the six all-time-high Federal Register total page counts, five occurred under President Obama.
The George W. Bush administra¬tion averaged 62 major regulations annually over eight years, while the Obama administration has averaged 81 major regulations annually over six years.
(emphasis added)
 Look at it and weep: the estimated cost of federal regulations and interventions alone in 2015 – click to enlarge.
If one adds taxes and the damage done by the Fed’s incessant money printing to these regulatory costs, it is a miracle the economy hasn’t imploded yet. Note the deeply undemocratic nature of the regulatory process: The vast majority of the rules – all of which have the power of law – is concocted by unelected bureaucrats in the form of “administrative law”. It would otherwise simply be impossible to make up thousands of new rules every year. As unproductive as the bureaucracy is, it is still smothering the economy with this onslaught. This will probably never change, unless the entire system collapses one day. After all, the people tasked with making the rules need something to do.
 The cost of federal regulation per US household, compared to various major household expenditure items – click to enlarge.
Growing Like a Weed
A look at the Federal Register shows that the growth in regulations is essentially a permanent feature. There are no longer any significant time periods during which the number of rules actually declines. It is probably no coincidence that the charts below are eerily reminiscent of charts showing total federal debt or charts depicting the growth in the money supply. The only thing that is no longer showing any respectable growth is the economy. Of course, no-one should be surprised by this.
Federal Register pages per decade. One wonders how people survived the practically lawless 1940 – 1970 period. Note that if we were to go back in time by another 30 years, we would see that the federal government wasn’t even a footnote in most people’s lives.
 Over the past 22 years, almost 91,000 final rules and regulations were published cumulatively. We are just guessing here, but we believe that between the time the average citizen gets out of bed until shortly after he has slurped his morning coffee, he has violated at least five laws or regulations already – click to enlarge.
 Cumulative regulations published in the Federal Register – almost 91,000 in the past 22 years alone – click to enlarge.
Monetary costs are just one aspect to this. There is also the wasted effort and psychic cost that is incurred when people realize that there are many things they simply cannot do, even though they would harm no-one and would actually provide a service to their fellow men. It will often prove extremely difficult to fight the red tape and still establish a successful business venture at the same time. Certain sectors of the economy have been closed off to the private sector completely (see the example of roads below). Very often start-ups with little capital cannot hope to compete in certain business sectors, as the regulatory obstacles are simply impossible to overcome.
Recently a US trucking organization has penned a manifesto in which it is bitterly complaining about crumbling roads and bridges across the US and urging the government to “do something”. The authors should take a long, hard look at their sad collection of statistics and realize that this is what actually happens when the government monopolizes a sector of the economy.
Another aspect is of course social control. By making a criminal or a potential criminal out of everybody, the mountain of laws and regulations can always be brought to bear against citizens or organizations that have somehow displeased government officials or managed to attract their wrath. One can see a variation of this principle at work in modern-day criminal court cases. People who are indicted for a crime are usually faced with a whole plethora of charges apart from the main charge. The intention is to force them to accept a plea deal whether or not they are innocent. The point is obviously not to serve the cause of justice.
However, we don’t want to digress too much here. The purely economic cost on which the CEI report focuses is distressing enough all by itself. One only has to think the problem properly through. Similar to other government interventions such as interest rate and money supply manipulations by the central bank, these enormous costs hamper the economy to such an extent that economic progress is slowed to a crawl. Who knows what we could have achieved by now if this were not the case? Perhaps people would already be able to reach the ripe old age of 150 and still feel like spring chickens in their early 100ds. Concerns over material well-being that continue to bedevil so many people today may already be orders of magnitude smaller. As Israel Kirzner once remarked in this context:
“We are not able to chart the future of capitalism in any specificity. Our reason for this incapability is precisely that which assures us . . . the economic future of capitalism will be one of progress and advance. The circumstance that precludes our viewing the future of capitalism as a determinate one is the very circumstance in which, with entrepreneurship at work, we are no longer confined by any scarcity framework.”
However, for this to be true, free market capitalism must be able to breathe. We won’t be able to enjoy the fruits of entrepreneurship if it is smothered at every opportunity.
As revolting as the full picture is, we recommend reading the entire “10,000 Commandments” report, which can bedownloaded here (pdf). Above we show only a very small selection of the charts and data contained in the complete report. One thing should be clear to everyone reading it: This is a major problem that deserves a lot more attention than it usually seems to get.

Charts by: Competitive Enterprise Institute
179  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: Russia's plans for Arctic Supremacy on: May 14, 2015, 10:30:33 AM
 Russia's Plans for Arctic Supremacy
January 16, 2015 | 10:30 GMT
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Elements from the Russian Army's Guards Engineer Brigade and Engineer Camouflage Regiment train in Arctic conditions, Jan. 19, 2011. (RIA Novosti/Wikimedia)

Although the crisis in Ukraine continues to focus attention on Russia's western border, Moscow is seeking to exploit a more lucrative prize along its vast northern frontage: the Arctic Circle. Melting ice has opened up new transit routes and revealed previously inaccessible oil and mineral deposits. Facing a year of harsh economic constraints, securing exploitable energy reserves remains a top priority for Moscow. The planned militarization of the Arctic is already underway, and funding is secured through 2015 (the Ministry of Defense was the only Kremlin ministry not to be curtailed in the most recent budget.) With Russia aiming to consolidate its strength by the end of the year, surrounding countries are already reassessing their positions in the face of an overwhelming regional force.

Russia's traditional view of the outside world is colored by a deep sense of insecurity and paranoia. This is best exemplified by the events in Ukraine, where the Kremlin acted to preserve its traditional geographic bulwark against the West. This pattern of protectionism is also apparent in Moscow's current understanding and approach to the situation in the Arctic. Of the eight countries of the Arctic Council, five are members of NATO, fueling Russia's suspicion that opposing forces are massing against it. Although friction with Kiev and the West has overshadowed Russia's military build-up in the Arctic, Moscow's long-term ambitions for the region are making other Arctic countries nervous, Norway in particular.

Russia is interested in the Arctic for a number of reasons, though natural resources and pure geopolitical imperatives are the major driving forces behind Moscow's thinking. The Arctic contains an estimated 30 percent of the world's undiscovered natural gas and 13 percent of its undiscovered oil reserves, regarded by Moscow as important sources of foreign investment that are critical to the country's economic development. The Northern Sea Route from East Asia to Europe via the Arctic Ocean provides another economic opportunity for developing infrastructure in northern Russia.

These resources and transit lanes, however, are also attractive to other Arctic countries, potentially turning the region into a political battleground. The U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea regulates ownership of the Arctic, allowing for exclusive economic zones stretching 200 miles from land and even further if undersea resources sit on a continental shelf. Inhospitable conditions made previous boundary disputes futile, so the Arctic interior remains open to territorial claims and disputes. The interest expressed by other countries feeds Russia's determination to make its role as a central Arctic nation clear by any means possible, including the use of military pressure.

Russia's Arctic Build-Up

Militarizing the Arctic will be a key imperative for the Russian military throughout 2015 and beyond — alongside modernization in general and bolstering forces in Crimea and the Kaliningrad exclave. According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, Soviet-era bases in the Arctic are being reactivated in response to NATO's renewed interest in the region. The airstrip on the archipelago of Novaya Zemlya is being renovated to accommodate modern and next generation fighter aircraft in addition to advanced S400 air defense systems. Part of the Northern Fleet will also be based on the island chain, which is ideally positioned for operations in the Arctic region. The Northern Fleet represents two-thirds of the entire Russian Navy, which is the only navy in the world to operate nuclear-powered icebreaker ships. In addition, Moscow announced the formation of a new 6,000-soldier military group in the far north consisting of two motorized infantry brigades located in the Murmansk area and the Yamal-Nenets autonomous region. Radar and ground guidance systems are also planned for Franz Josef Land, Wrangel Island and Cape Schmidt. The Federal Security Service plans to increase the number of border guards on Russia's northern perimeter as well.

The recent Vostok 2014 full-scale military exercise — the biggest since the collapse of the Soviet Union — was a revealing indication of Russia's intentions in the Arctic. Russian troops, sailors and airmen carried out combat training missions in the region, prominently deploying Pantsir-S (air defense) and Iskander-M (theater ballistic missile) weapon systems, among others. Such activities inevitably evoke the atmosphere of the Cold War, when the region was the focus of U.S. and NATO attention. Furthermore, Russia's Northern Fleet announced that its Independent Marine Infantry Brigade will undergo intensive training in the Arctic region throughout 2015.

The Kremlin reiterated its intention to field a formidable combined arms force to protect its political and economic interests in the Arctic by 2020. Going into 2015, it is estimated that the Russian armed forces have around 56 military aircraft and 122 helicopters in the Arctic region. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu stated that 14 military airfields on Russia's Arctic seaboard would be operational by the end of the year. The Ministry of Defense also said some of the 50 modernized MiG-31BM Foxhound interceptors expected by 2019 will be charged with defense duties over the Arctic. Despite the economic problems plaguing Russia, the Ministry of Defense managed to escape the significant budget cuts levied against most other ministries. In fact, the Kremlin has increased defense spending by 20 percent, a clear indication of Russia's priorities for 2015 and a likely indication that Moscow intends to meet its military commitments.

At the end of 2014, Russia established a unified strategic command based around the existing command architecture of the Northern Fleet. The force structure successfully facilitates a military reach across the islands of Russia's northern territories, allowing for better oversight and control of the trade route from China to Norway. This structure also serves the purpose of monitoring — and potentially checking — any military moves by any other power in the region.

Along with the Baltic states and their respective environs, the Barents Sea is under constant surveillance by Russian fighter jets. Russia's dominance in the region was further solidified when, in late December, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a new military doctrine. In stark contrast to previous dictums, the Arctic region was officially put on the list of Russian spheres of influence for the first time. The same recognition applies to Russia's maritime doctrine, which has two major geopolitical imperatives: a thrust toward the Black Sea and dominion of the near Arctic.
The Norwegian Response

Although Russia's planned expansion in the Arctic may appear aggressive, military authorities in the Kremlin have no desire for an armed confrontation with Western powers. Moscow is aware of NATO's Article 5 agreement, which states that any attack on an individual member country could invoke a unified response from the alliance. Nevertheless, the increased Russian military presence in the region makes neighboring countries uneasy, particularly Norway.
Russia's Arctic Ambitions

Russia's actions in Ukraine, along with its military exploitation of the Arctic, forced Oslo to reassess Moscow's role and intent in the north, specifically in the area of the Barents Sea. Norway backed the Western application of sanctions against Russia, and subsequent motions from Oslo reveal a major shift in the country's strategic perception of Russia as a potential threat, in addition to highlighting the smaller country's inherent vulnerabilities. Yet, Norway is a leader when it comes to promoting NATO's role in the Arctic; it is the only country in the world that has its permanent military headquarters above the Arctic Circle. Although Norway contributed troops to the multinational force in Iraq and more than 500 personnel to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan — and was one of only seven NATO members to actually carry out air strikes during the Libya campaign — the primary force driver for its military is Arctic security. The Norwegians have invested extensively in Arctic defense capabilities, but, in terms of size and means, they are dwarfed by Russia. Because of this, Norwegian officials, both military and civilian, want to see NATO play a larger role in the Arctic.

Despite a tenuous degree of military cooperation between Norway and Russia in the past involving visits of military officials and occasional joint exercises, conventional wisdom dictated that Oslo did not hold any military exercises near its border with the Soviet Union during the Cold War. This reticence continued after the fall of the Iron Curtain, yet the Norwegian government recently announced its intent to conduct large-scale drills in Finnmark — a territory on the Russia-Norway border — in March 2015. The proposed maneuvers will be the country's largest military exercises since 1967. There is a growing recognition in Moscow that Norway's policy toward Russia is going through a major shift as a direct reaction to Moscow's push to militarize the Arctic region.
Russia's Perception of the Arctic

Russia appears to be gearing up for any eventuality in the Arctic, but its policy-makers are beginning to debate whether Russian pressure in the Arctic serves as a geopolitical pivot that could alter the regional balance of power. The emergence of a dominant Arctic player will certainly affect trans-Atlantic trade routes and commitments, relations between Russia and the northern European countries and relations between Russia and China. For half a century, the Arctic was an area of U.S.-Soviet friction and the site of numerous incidents that could easily have led to conflict. Even in a post-Cold War world, the region could once again be transformed into a zone of frozen conflicts. The great powers have long competed over the Arctic, and now countries such as China and India are expressing their own interest in the region.

Although Russia faces a raft of internal and external problems such as a strained economy, matters in Ukraine and pressure from the international community, the Kremlin remains wedded to its pursuit of the Arctic. This has forced Russia's neighbors to reassess their own military presence in places like the Barents Sea, as well as territorial claims to disputed parts of the Arctic Circle. Norway will press harder for a larger NATO presence in the northern region, but while military conflict remains a threat, Russia will stop short of instigating hostilities. The Kremlin knows that when it comes to acquisitions, actions speak louder than words, and any attempt to grab the rich, unclaimed territory of the Arctic Circle will have to be backed by force.
180  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: Don't take Terrorism at Face Value on: May 14, 2015, 10:28:07 AM
 Don't Take Terrorism Threats at Face Value
Security Weekly
May 14, 2015 | 08:00 GMT
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By Scott Stewart

The Islamic State has demonstrated in the past year that it is quite adept in its use of social media as a tool to raise money, recruit fighters and inspire grassroots jihadists to conduct attacks. This week, however, its social media network was heavily focused on making threats. On May 11, Twitter users associated with the Islamic State unleashed two seemingly unrelated threat campaigns. One using the hashtag #LondonAttack, displayed photos of London and weapons (including AK-47 rifles and what appeared to be suicide bombs) and urged Muslims in the United Kingdom not to visit shopping malls. The second campaign threatened to launch a cyber war against the United States and Europe.

The Islamic State took credit for the botched May 3 attack in Garland, Texas, saying it would carry out harder and "more bitter" attacks inside the United States. Coinciding with the Islamic State's threats, FBI Director James Comey warned that his agency does not have a handle on the grassroots terrorism problem in the United States. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson noted that the United States has entered "a new phase in the global terrorist threat, where the so-called lone wolf could strike at any moment." Michael Morell, the former Deputy Director of the CIA, added his voice by claiming that the Islamic State has the ability to conduct a 9/11-style attack today.

While these statements and warnings paint a bleak picture, a threat should never be taken at face value — when placed into context, these claims aren't as dire as they seem.
Analyzing Threats

When analyzing a direct threat from a person or organization it is important to understand that in most cases they come from a position of weakness rather than power. The old saying "all bark and no bite" is based on this reality. This applies to personal threats as well as terror-related threats. Terrorism is frequently used by weak actors as a way of taking asymmetrical military action against a superior opponent. Despite its battlefield successes against the Iraqi and Syrian governments and militant groups, the Islamic State is certainly far weaker militarily than the United States and Europe.

An important part of threat evaluation is assessing if the party making the threat possesses both the intention to conduct such an action and the capability to carry out that intent. Indeed, many threats are made by groups or individuals who have neither intent nor capability. They are made simply to create fear and panic or to influence the conduct or behavior of the target, as in the cases of a person who sends a "white powder" letter to a government office or a student who phones in a bomb threat to his school to get out of taking a test.

Generally, if a person or group possesses both the intent and capability to conduct an act of violence, they just do it. There is little need to waste the time and effort to threaten what they are about to do. In fact, by telegraphing their intent they might provide their target with the opportunity to avoid the attack. Professional terrorists often invest a lot of time and resources in a plot, especially a spectacular transnational attack. Because of this, they take great pains to hide their operational activity so that the target or authorities do not catch wind of it and employ countermeasures that would prevent the successful execution of the scheme. Instead of telegraphing their attack, terrorist groups prefer to conduct the attack and exploit it after the fact, something sometimes called the propaganda of the deed.

Certainly, people who possess the capability to fulfill the threat sometimes make threats. But normally in such cases the threat is made in a conditional manner. For example, the United States threatened to invade Afghanistan unless the Taliban government handed over Osama bin Laden. The Islamic State, however, is not in that type of dominating position. If it dispatched a team or teams of professional terrorist operatives to the United States and Europe to conduct terrorist attacks, the very last thing it would want to do is alert said countries to the presence of those teams and have them get rolled up. Trained terrorist operatives who have the ability to travel in the United States or Europe are far too valuable to jeopardize with a Twitter threat.

Rather than reveal a network of sophisticated Islamic State operatives poised to conduct devastating attacks on the United States and Europe, these threats are meant to instill fear and strike terror into the hearts of one of their intended audiences: the public at large. I say one of their audiences because these threats are not only aimed at the American and European public. They are also meant to send a message to radicalize and energize grassroots jihadists like those who have conducted Islamic State-related attacks in the West.
Examining the Statements

First, it is important to understand the context of the statements made by FBI Director Comey, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Johnson and former CIA Deputy Director Morell.

Comey's statement about not having a complete handle on the grassroots terrorist threat is true. The very nature of such operatives makes them difficult for governments to combat. However, the FBI has been very successful in interdicting grassroots plots in recent months. In fact, I cannot recall so many grassroots operatives being arrested so closely together. However, one of the factors driving Comey's recent remarks is his steadfast belief that technological developments, such as encryption, are creating "dark spaces" that the FBI does not have the ability to investigate. Comey contends that there is no place in the physical world that the FBI cannot get a warrant to search, but technology has permitted criminals and terrorists to create virtual places where the FBI simply cannot penetrate even if they procure the proper search warrants. Comey's recent statement is part of his campaign to convince the public and congress that the FBI needs the ability to investigate those places.

Secretary Johnson's statement about the new jihadist threat is also nothing new. Indeed, I heard him make the same statement last November and took issue with it then. Leaderless resistance, the terrorist operational model that stresses the importance of lone wolf operatives, is simply not a new problem in the United States. It has existed for decades and been actively promoted in the jihadist world since at least 2004.

Michael Morell is on a book tour and attempting to sell as many books as possible. One way to accomplish that is to make eye-popping claims. If the Islamic State had the capability to launch a 9/11-style attack inside the United States, or a similar spectacular terrorist attack, it would have already done so. Instead, the Islamic State has been forced to rely on grassroots operatives to conduct less than spectacular attacks on its behalf. Furthermore, the pre-9/11 paradigm has changed and there is simply no way an airline captain is going to relinquish control of his aircraft to be used as a guided cruise missile — nor would the passengers permit it. Because of this, it is very hard to imagine the Islamic State conducting a 9/11-style attack.

Certainly, the Islamic State is making threats and government officials are concerned, but in practical terms today's jihadist threat is no more severe than it has been in the past several years. Frankly, there has not been a time since 1992 when some jihadist somewhere was not plotting an attack against the United States, and occasionally some of them succeed.
181  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: Why the War against Jihadism will be fought from within on: May 14, 2015, 10:25:12 AM

Why the War Against Jihadism Will Be Fought From Within
Global Affairs
May 13, 2015 | 08:00 GMT
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By Kamran Bokhari

It has long been apparent that Islamist militants cannot be defeated without intellectually confronting the ideology of jihadism. And yet, 14 years after the 9/11 attacks, experts have made little progress toward achieving this goal. Despite a rich body of work on the subject of militant Islam, there is a distinct lack of discussion aimed at deconstructing what jihadism actually is.

Terms of Engagement

Lately, practitioners and experts in the field have popularized the term "countering violent extremism," though in the past the terms "counterterrorism," "de-radicalization" and "moderation" have also been popular. Each of these concepts deals with a slightly different aspect of the same question: How can states best combat the rise of Muslim non-state actors bent on inciting religious insurrections?

Counterterrorism, the phrase experts adopted early on, refers to a broad range of economic, diplomatic, intelligence, police and military activities geared toward preventing the attacks jihadists seek to perpetrate.

Because terrorists are heavily driven by ideology, the term de-radicalization soon made its way into the conversation. By definition, de-radicalization is a reactive approach that involves bringing radicalized individuals or groups back into the mainstream. In most cases, this simply means persuading violent organizations to disarm and pursue their objectives through peaceful means. The term de-radicalization is therefore misleading, because these groups still subscribe to most of their radical views even after they have laid down their arms.

It was only natural, then, for the world to start searching for an alternative interpretation of Islam to counter radical ideology. Today many experts have come to view "moderate" Islam as a philosophical vaccine against jihadism, and since the rise of the self-styled Islamic State and its declaration of a caliphate in eastern Syria and western Iraq, there have been an increasing number of attempts to articulate a more moderate understanding of the religion. In the aftermath of 9/11, a growing number of Muslim actors have presented themselves as more palatable alternatives to radical Islam. Among them are what have come to be called moderate Islamists, traditionalists/conservatives, modernists/liberals, avowedly secular Muslims and a number of regimes in the Muslim world who claim to espouse a modern, moderate version of Islam.

These are broad categories, each one containing multiple, often competing, variations. As this dynamic of moderation evolved, scholars began to recognize that the terms "moderate" and "radical" are very misleading, because they do not account for relativity on the wide spectrum of Islamic ideologies. Still, lacking better terms, the world continues to use them. Moderation in ideology and behavior is already a complex phenomenon; its loose definition only adds to the difficulty political scientists, sociologists and philosophers have in trying to understand it.

As time went on, it became clear that getting ahead of the curve in the war against jihadism would require focusing on extremism, the engine driving terrorism. And because extremism comes in many flavors — not all of which necessarily lead to terrorism — the new phrase of the day became "countering violent extremism."

This approach calls for delegitimizing jihadism by targeting its narratives and doctrine, challenging the ways in which jihadists misuse and redefine critical tenets of Islam. Though the creation of counternarratives and sound theology may sound like a natural solution, it is a herculean task. It requires deciding, as Jillian Schwedler puts it in Faith in Moderation, the "boundaries of justifiable action" for a religious community of 1.5 billion people. History is replete with examples of conflicts that have been triggered by the attempts of one group to dictate religious orthodoxy to another.
The Physical and Ideological War

Today, in a world where people are often careful to separate the state from religious issues, most would agree that governments should stick to waging physical battles against Islamist militants rather than getting caught up in ideological wars. But the challenge insurrectionist Islamists pose is an ideological one, and it cannot be addressed without undertaking the perilous task of crafting counternarratives.

A great deal of energy is already being spent to promote counternarratives; the United States and many other Western countries have dedicated multiple bureaucratic organizations to countering violent extremism. However, because Americans and Europeans are often viewed as crusaders at war with Islam, their attempts to counter jihadist ideology are almost always automatically discredited, as are the efforts of any Muslims associated with them. Nevertheless, many Muslim states have also begun to join their efforts, realizing that they are the primary targets of jihadists.

Despite the worldwide demand for counternarratives, many basic questions remain unanswered. Chief among them are: What are effective counternarratives? How can they be developed and eventually used to defeat extremists? And, perhaps most important, who should develop them? For now I will focus on this last point, because before we can talk about narratives, we must identify and analyze their narrators.

For any theological narrative to be credible, the target audience must consider its authors to be religiously authentic and legitimate. In this particular case, any counternarratives emanating from non-Muslim sources will be rejected immediately because of their exogenous origins. Extremists leverage anxieties shared by many Muslims that the West seeks to undermine their way of life; in fact, one of the main pillars of jihadism is the belief that the West has declared war on Islam. Secularism remains a bad word in many Muslims' vocabulary because it is seen as abandoning religion, not as maintaining religious neutrality. The idea of a Western war on Islam feeds a popular view among Muslims that Christians and Jews lost their religions because they embraced what Iranian religious philosopher Abdolkarim Soroush refers to as "extra-religious ideas," and now they want Muslims to follow the same path.

The world has not gained much ground against jihadists in the war of ideas because many Muslims see it as a war against Islam. Therefore, any effective narrative will have to come from Muslims themselves. Of course, this leads to another problem: the perceived lack of credibility of those championing ijtihad, or the reinterpretation of religious texts.
Weakening Jihadism From the Inside

Radical Islamist ideologues are disproportionately more adept at situating their ideas in the context of existing religious tradition. By contrast, those in favor of a more moderate interpretation of Islam are struggling to come up with contemporary prescriptions for what it means to be Muslim in the modern world without seeming to privilege reason over revelation, which makes many extremists, conservatives and traditionalists uncomfortable. Sectarian differences only complicate matters. Many of the solutions proposed to address these issues unintentionally play right into the hands of extremists, for example the ill-fated suggestions that Sufism could serve as an antidote to the supposedly more austere Salafism, or that secularism could counter militant Islam.

Islamism emerged as a rejection of Western secularism, and it persists because Muslims have failed to develop their own version of secularism that is in keeping with their religious ethos. Similarly, jihadism took root in response to disenchantment with classical Salafism, which offered an apolitical approach that denied adherents the means of rectifying the "un-Islamic" state of affairs in the Saudi kingdom and the wider Muslim world. Electoral Salafism, as practiced by Egypt's al-Nour Party, has the potential to address those concerns and provide an effective alternative to jihadism. However, electoral Salafism would first require a basic modicum of democracy to survive; it could not be applied in countries such as Saudi Arabia, where there are no elections, or in Libya, Syria and Yemen, where tribal warfare leaves no place for meaningful electoral politics.

In short, although it was Salafism that first gave rise to the problem of jihadism, it also contains the solution. Ultimately, internal competition between various schools of Islamist thought will be the factor that weakens extremists, rather than efforts by actors outside the Muslim world to alter ideologies. Still, it will not be easy; those within the Muslim world who embrace change face an intense struggle to maintain their credibility and, sometimes, even their personal safety. Yasir Qadhi, a prominent reformist Salafist who several months ago received death threats from the Islamic State, is one among many reformers whose beliefs have put their lives in danger.

Non-Muslim actors have no choice but to continue employing traditional methods of counterterrorism against jihadists. However, only credible Muslims who are not a part of the sectarian "other" will be able to successfully wage jihad against jihadism, and it is a process that will have to play out over many generations.
182  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: WW2 and the Origins of American Unease on: May 14, 2015, 10:20:34 AM

World War II and the Origins of American Unease
Geopolitical Weekly
May 12, 2015 | 08:00 GMT
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By George Friedman

We are at the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe. That victory did not usher in an era of universal peace. Rather, it introduced a new constellation of powers and a complex balance among them. Europe's great powers and empires declined, and the United States and the Soviet Union replaced them, performing an old dance to new musical instruments. Technology, geopolitics' companion, evolved dramatically as nuclear weapons, satellites and the microchip — among myriad wonders and horrors — changed not only the rules of war but also the circumstances under which war was possible. But one thing remained constant: Geopolitics, technology and war remained inseparable comrades.

It is easy to say what World War II did not change, but what it did change is also important. The first thing that leaps to mind is the manner in which World War II began for the three great powers: the United States, the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom. For all three, the war started with a shock that redefined their view of the world. For the United States, it was the shock of Pearl Harbor. For the Soviet Union, it was the shock of the German invasion in June 1941. For the United Kingdom — and this was not really at the beginning of the war — it was shock at the speed with which France collapsed.
Pearl Harbor Jolts the American Mindset

There was little doubt among American leaders that war with Japan was coming. The general public had forebodings, but not with the clarity of its leaders. Still, neither expected the attack to come at Pearl Harbor. For the American public, it was a bolt from the blue, compounded by the destruction of much of the U.S. Pacific fleet. Neither the leaders nor the public thought the Japanese were nearly so competent.

Pearl Harbor intersected with another shock to the American psyche — the Great Depression. These two events shared common characteristics: First, they seemed to come out of nowhere. Both were predictable and were anticipated by some, but for most both came without warning. The significance of the two was that they each ushered in an unexpected era of substantial pain and suffering.

This introduced a new dimension into American culture. Until this point there had been a deep and unsubtle optimism among Americans. The Great Depression and Pearl Harbor created a different sensibility that suspected that prosperity and security were an illusion, with disaster lurking behind them. There was a fear that everything could suddenly go wrong, horribly so, and that people who simply accepted peace and prosperity at face value were naïve. The two shocks created a dark sense of foreboding that undergirds American society to this day.

Pearl Harbor also shaped U.S. defense policy around the concept that the enemy might be identified, but where and when it might strike is unknown. Catastrophe therefore might come at any moment. The American approach to the Cold War is symbolized by Colorado's Cheyenne Mountain. Burrowed deep inside is the North American Aerospace Defense Command, which assumes that war might come at any moment and that any relaxation in vigilance could result in a nuclear Pearl Harbor. Fear of this scenario — along with mistrust of the wily and ruthless enemy — defined the Cold War for Americans.

The Americans analyzed their forced entry into World War II and identified what they took to be the root cause: the Munich Agreement allowing Nazi Germany to annex parts of Czechoslovakia. This was not only an American idea by any means, but it reshaped U.S. strategy. If the origin of World War II was the failure to take pre-emptive action against the Germans in 1938, then it followed that the Pacific War might have been prevented by more aggressive actions early on. Acting early and decisively remains the foundation of U.S. foreign policy to this day. The idea that not acting in a timely and forceful fashion led to World War II underlies much American discourse on Iran or Russia.

Pearl Harbor (and the 1929 crash) not only led to a sense of foreboding and a distrust in the wisdom of political and military leaders, but it also replaced a strategy of mobilization after war begins, with a strategy of permanent mobilization. If war might come at any time, and if another Munich must above all be avoided, then the massive military establishment that exists today is indispensible. In addition, the U.S.-led alliance structure that didn't exist prior to World War II is indispensible.
The Soviet Strategic Miscalculation

The Soviet Union had its own Pearl Harbor on June 22, 1941, when the Germans invaded in spite of the friendship treaty signed between them in 1939. That treaty was struck for two reasons: First, the Russians couldn't persuade the British or French to sign an anti-Hitler pact. Second, a treaty with Hitler would allow the Soviets to move their border further west without firing a shot. It was a clever move, but not a smart one.

The Soviets made a single miscalculation: They assumed a German campaign in France would replay the previous Great War. Such an effort would have exhausted the Germans and allowed the Soviets to attack them at the time and place of Moscow's choosing. That opportunity never presented itself. On the contrary, the Germans put themselves in a position to attack the Soviet Union at a time and place of their choosing. That the moment of attack was a surprise compounded the challenge, but the real problem was strategic miscalculation, not simply an intelligence or command failure.

The Soviets had opted for a dynamic foreign policy of shifting alliances built on assumptions of the various players' capabilities. A single misstep could lead to catastrophe — an attack at a time when the Soviet forces had yet to recover from one of Josef Stalin's purges. The Soviet forces were not ready for an attack, and their strategy collapsed with France, so the decision for war was entirely Germany's.

What the Soviets took away from the June 1941 invasion was a conviction that political complexity could not substitute for a robust military. The United States ended World War II with the conviction that a core reason for that war was the failure of the United States. The Soviets ended World War II with the belief that their complex efforts at coalition building and maintaining the balance of power had left them utterly exposed by one miscalculation on France — one that defied the conventional wisdom.

During the Cold War, the Soviets developed a strategy that could best be called stolid. Contained by an American-led coalition, the Soviets preferred satellites to allies. The Warsaw Pact was less an alliance than a geopolitical reality. For the most part it consisted of states under the direct military, intelligence or political control of the Soviet Union. The military value of the block might be limited, and its room for maneuver was equally limited. Nonetheless, Soviet forces could be relied on, and the Warsaw Pact, unlike NATO, was a geographical reality that Soviet forces used to guarantee that no invasion by the United States or NATO was possible. Obviously, the Soviets — like the Americans — remained vigilant for a nuclear attack, but it has been noted that the Soviet system was significantly less sophisticated than that of the Americans. Part of this imbalance was related to technological capabilities. A great deal of it had to do with the fact that nuclear attack was not the Soviet's primordial fear, though the fear must not be minimized. The primordial fear in Moscow was an attack from the West. The Soviet Union's strategy was to position its own forces as far to the west as possible.

Consider this in contrast to the Soviet relations with China. Ideologically, China ought to have been a powerful ally, but the alliance was souring by the mid-1950s. The Soviets were not ideologues. They were geopoliticians, and China represented a potential threat that the Soviets could not control. Ideology didn't matter. China would never serve the role that Poland had to. The Sino-Soviet relationship fell apart fairly quickly.

The Soviet public did not develop the American dread that beneath peace and prosperity lurked the seeds of disaster. Soviet expectations of life were far more modest than those of Americans, and the expectation that the state would avert disaster was limited. The state generated disaster. At the same time, the war revealed — almost from the beginning — a primordial love of country, hidden for decades under the ideology of internationalism, that re-emerged spontaneously. Beneath communist fervor, cynical indifference and dread of the Soviet secret police, the Russians found something new while the Americans found something old.
France's Fall Surprises Britain

As for the British, their miscalculation on France changed little. They were stunned by the rapid collapse of France, but perhaps also relieved that they would not fight in French trenches again. The collapse of France caused them to depend on only two things: One was that the English Channel, combined with the fleet and the Royal Air Force, would hold the Germans at bay. The second was that in due course, the United States would be drawn into the war. Their two calculations proved correct.

However, the United Kingdom was not one of the ultimate winners of the war. It may not have been occupied by the Germans, but it was essentially by the Americans. This was a very different occupation, and one the British needed, but the occupation of Britain by foreign forces, regardless of how necessary and benign, spelled the end of the British Empire and of Britain as a major power. The Americans did not take the British Empire. It was taken away by the shocking performance of the French. On paper, the French had an excellent army — superior to the Germans, in many ways. Yet they collapsed in weeks. If we were to summarize the British sensibility, after defiance came exhaustion and then resentment.

Some of these feelings are gone now. The Americans retain their dread even though World War II was in many ways good to the United States. It ended the Great Depression, and in the aftermath, between the G.I. Bill, VA loans and the Interstate Highway System, the war created the American professional middle class, with private homes for many and distance and space that could be accessed easily. And yet the dread remains, not always muted. This generation's Pearl Harbor was 9/11. Fear that security and prosperity is built on a base of sand is not an irrational fear.

For the Russians, the feelings of patriotism still lurk beneath the cynicism. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the collapse of Russia's sphere of influence have not resulted in particularly imaginative strategic moves. On the contrary, Russian President Vladimir Putin's response to Ukraine was as stolid as Stalin's or Leonid Brezhnev's. Rather than a Machiavellian genius, Putin is the heir to the German invasion on June 22, 1941. He seeks strategic depth controlled by his own military. And his public has rallied to him.

As for the British, they once had an empire. They now have an island. It remains to be seen if they hold onto all of it, given the strength of the Scottish nationalists.

While we are celebrating the end of World War II, it is useful to examine its beginnings. So much of what constitutes the political-military culture, particularly of the Americans, was forged by the way that World War II began. Pearl Harbor and the American view of Munich have been the framework for thinking not only about foreign relations and war, but also about living in America. Not too deep under the surface there is a sense that all good things eventually must go wrong. Much of this comes from the Great Depression and much from Pearl Harbor. The older optimism is still there, but the certainty of manifest success is deeply tempered.

183  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / WSJ: The Sceptical Environmentalist on: May 14, 2015, 10:10:43 AM

Bjorn Lomborg
May 13, 2015 7:15 p.m. ET

Opponents of free debate are celebrating. Last week, under pressure from some climate-change activists, the University of Western Australia canceled its contract to host a planned research center, Australia Consensus, intended to apply economic cost-benefit analysis to development projects—giving policy makers a tool to ensure their aid budgets are spent wisely.

The new center in Perth was to be a collaboration with a think tank I run, Copenhagen Consensus, which for a decade has conducted similar research. Working with more than 100 economists, including seven Nobel laureates, we have produced research that measures the social and economic benefits of a wide range of policies, such as fighting malaria, reducing malnutrition, cutting air pollution, improving education and tackling climate change.

Therein lay the problem. This kind of comparison can upset those who are committed to advocating less effective investments, particularly poor responses to climate change.

Copenhagen Consensus research shows that policy makers considering climate change have practical solutions. Cutting fossil-fuel subsidies is a great idea. Each year $550 billion is wasted, mostly by developing nations, on subsidies that mainly help the rich. A dramatic increase in spending on green-energy R&D is needed, as innovation will drive down the price of green energy to the point that it can outcompete fossil fuels. A well-crafted carbon tax would help too.

But our analyses also show that Kyoto-style approaches—poorly designed EU climate policies, or the pledge to hold warming to two degrees Celsius—are costly and ineffective. There are much better ways we could spend money to help the planet.

That conclusion draws the ire of some climate-change activists. When the collaboration between Copenhagen Consensus and the University of Western Australia was announced, the Australian Climate Council, led by paleontologist Tim Flannery, called it “an insult to the scientific community.” Making up facts, the Climate Council warned supporters that I think “we shouldn’t take any steps to mitigate climate change.” This set the tone for the ensuing attacks.

A Sydney Morning Herald columnist wrote that I had produced “anti climate change” work: a documentary, called “Cool It,” exploring the smartest solutions to climate change. In this columnist’s topsy-turvy world, one need never even question the science of global warming to be “anti climate change.”

Under pressure, the university canceled its contract with the Australian government to host the new research center. The UWA’s vice chancellor said he believed the center would have delivered “robust, evidence-based knowledge and advice” but that “the scale of the strong and passionate emotional reaction was one that the university did not predict.”

A small but loud group of opponents deliberately ignored the Copenhagen Consensus’s endorsement of smart climate policies. They also ignored that most of our research has nothing to do with climate. The bulk of our papers focus on health, education, nutrition and the many other areas where relatively small investments can help millions.

Philanthropists, donors and policy makers must prioritize development goals. What Copenhagen Consensus does is ensure that such parties understand the price tags and potential outcomes for each option.

This work has shown that some aid projects do phenomenally well: For instance, providing contraception to the 215 million women across the globe who lack access to it would reduce maternal mortality and boost growth, producing $120 in social benefits for each dollar spent.

Other policies have lower multipliers. Getting sanitation to the poorest half of the world, for example, would produce only $3 of benefits for each dollar spent. This is worthy, but for a government with a limited development budget, it probably isn’t the first place to spend money.

We should focus resources where they will do the most good—not where they will make us feel the most good. The United Nations is setting 169 global development targets for the next 15 years. These are laudable aims, but together they’re a laundry list: reduce arms trafficking; finance sustainable forest management; achieve universal access to drinking water; halve deaths and injuries from traffic accidents; increase market access for “small-scale artisanal fishers.”

Studies by Copenhagen Consensus show that if the U.N. focused on only 19 of the most efficient projects, each dollar of development spending would do four times more good.

There is a strong sense among some climate-change activists, however, that global warming should not be subject to such comparison. Thus it is easier for them to use emotional labels like “climate denier” than to acknowledge our entire volume of research on aid, development, environmental and health spending, simply because in one specific area, current climate policy, some findings don’t line up with their unyielding views.

“Australia’s culture of open debate is increasingly sick,” Tim Wilson, Australia’s human rights commissioner, wrote Monday. “Outrage, confected or otherwise, is a popular tool to condemn your opponents because it avoids the need to actually debate ideas.”

An 88-year-old UWA fellow said he had never seen anything like this at the university. “People have been rejected on account of insufficient abilities but not because they do not have the right type of view,” Prof. Hank Greenway told the Australian.

What is the lesson for young academics? Avoid producing research that could produce politically difficult answers. Steer clear of results that others might find contentious. Consider where your study could take you, and don’t go there if it means upsetting the status quo.

The Australian government remains committed to Australia Consensus, and I am still enthusiastic about working with academics to build a research center that will be judged on its actual output, improving global efforts on aid and development.

Our research will continue to go where the economic evidence leads, rather than where idealism might make us want to end up. Facts must never, ever be seen as an unwelcome contribution to policy debate.

Mr. Lomborg, director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, is the author of “The Skeptical Environmentalist” (Cambridge Press, 2001) and “Cool It” (Knopf, 2007).
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184  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Washington: Citizen Soldier 1775. on: May 13, 2015, 10:30:32 PM
Armed Forces Day 2015
Honoring American Patriots
By Mark Alexander • May 13, 2015     
"When we assumed the Soldier, we did not lay aside the Citizen; and we shall most sincerely rejoice with you in the happy hour when the establishment of American Liberty, upon the most firm and solid foundations shall enable us to return to our Private Stations in the bosom of a free, peacefully and happy Country." —George Washington (1775)
185  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: 2016 Presidential on: May 13, 2015, 08:05:23 PM
Fred Barnes
May 13, 2015 7:13 p.m. ET

Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton, the two most prominent candidates for president in 2016, are gambling. Their campaign strategies are risky. Mr. Bush is hovering closer to the political center than his rivals for the Republican nomination are. Mrs. Clinton is moving to the left in her bid for the Democratic nomination.

Their strategies are perilous for different reasons. Mr. Bush wants to avoid sounding too conservative now and thus present a more broadly appealing candidate in the general election later. In doing so, he could lose the race for the GOP nomination.

Mrs. Clinton is an overwhelming favorite on the Democratic side, but she is taking no chances. The energy in her party is on the left, personified by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.). By adopting Ms. Warren’s stance on issues, Mrs. Clinton hopes to keep her out of the race. But this could make Mrs. Clinton seem too left-wing to win the general election.

Oddly enough, these game plans match those of David Cameron and Ed Miliband in last week’s British election. Mr. Cameron, the Conservative prime minister, tacked to the center during the campaign. Mr. Miliband, worried about the appeal of the socialist Scottish National Party, moved Labour to the left. Mr. Cameron’s Tories won overwhelmingly.

This led to speculation that the U.K. outcome has implications for the U.S. presidential race—that the result supports Jeb Bush’s strategy and raises doubts about Mrs. Clinton’s. It has been noted that the election of President Reagan in 1980 followed the emergence of Margaret Thatcher as prime minister in 1979, as if one conservative’s victory led to the other’s.

But politics doesn’t usually work that way. President Bill Clinton and Labour’s Tony Blair were similar in pulling their parties away from the left in the 1990s. But in that case Mr. Clinton’s election in 1992 preceded Mr. Blair’s in 1997.

As governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007, Mr. Bush was a hard-nosed conservative. In Florida “we shifted toward a conservative philosophy,” he told a New Hampshire audience in April. “We cut taxes every year,” totaling $19 billion, he said, and “I vetoed 2,500 separate line items in the budget.”

But there were deviations from conservatism back then, too. Mr. Bush refused to sign the antitax pledge sought by Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform. He has never flinched on that position, recently saying that he opposed such pledges on principle.

For years, Mr. Bush has favored immigration reform to allow illegal immigrants to become legal residents. He doesn’t support a special path to citizenship. In campaigning for governor, he ran an ad with flags of Latin American countries, welcoming immigrants who had legally come to the U.S. from those nations.

Well before running for president, Mr. Bush became an advocate of Common Core, which would set national standards for math and English in schools. The federal government, he said in April in New Hampshire, shouldn’t be involved in Common Core at all. Nonetheless, his backing of Common Core upsets many conservatives.

As a candidate, Mr. Bush can be subtle in his tacking to the center. He spoke last Saturday at Liberty University in Virginia, where Republican Sen. Ted Cruz announced his candidacy for president on March 23. Mr. Bush didn’t mention Mr. Cruz. But his unapologetic defense of Christianity was more persuasive than that of other Republicans. It had few applause lines. He warned against fueling Democratic claims of excessive religiosity in the GOP.

“The mistake is to confuse points of theology with moral principles that are knowable to reason as well as by faith,” he said. “And this confusion is all part of a false narrative that casts religious Americans as intolerant scolds, running around trying to impose their views on everyone.”

Mr. Bush backs traditional marriage but speaks respectfully of proponents of same-sex marriage. “I hope that we can show respect for the good people on all sides of the gay and lesbian marriage issue, including couples making lifetime commitments to each other who are seeking greater legal protections,” he said at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February.

Hillary Clinton’s moves to the left have been both rhetorical and substantive as she echoes liberals like Ms. Warren. “The deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top and there is something wrong with that,” Mrs. Clinton said while campaigning in Iowa a month ago. After a supposedly off-the-record meeting with economists, she was quoted in the New York Times as having said that the economy required a “toppling” of the richest 1% of Americans.

Her boldest step has been to call for expanding President Obama’s executive order legalizing up to five million illegal immigrants. “I would do everything under the law to go even further,” she announced in Las Vegas last week.

On issues that divide Democrats, such as the Keystone XL pipeline and the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade treaty, she has declined to take a position. But her desire to gain labor-union support may force her to publicly oppose both.

Mrs. Clinton seems unmindful of the problem that Democrats can face when they drift too far from the center. They lost the presidential races in 1972, 1980 and 1984, with George McGovern, Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale, when this happened.

And that, for what it’s worth, is precisely what doomed Labour’s Ed Miliband in the U.K. election. Mr. Cameron, meanwhile, appears to have been helped by “shy Tory” voters who declined to tell pollsters that they would vote for Conservatives.

An American version of that phenomenon may come to the aid of Mr. Bush. He is constantly under attack from noisemakers in the Republican orbit—talk radio, tea party activists, conservative bloggers, critics of political dynasties. And so his soft supporters may have been intimidated. Until voting begins next year, we won’t know how many “shy Bushies” there are.

Mr. Barnes, executive editor of the Weekly Standard, is a Fox News commentator.
186  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Vatican recognizes Palestine as State. on: May 13, 2015, 12:40:05 PM
Vatican to Recognize Palestinian State in New Treaty
The Vatican said Wednesday that it had concluded a treaty to recognize Palestinian statehood, a symbolic but significant step that was bound to be welcomed by many Palestinians but was likely to cause deep concern for the Israeli government.
Formal recognition of a Palestinian state by the Vatican, which has deep religious interests in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories that include Christian holy sites, lends a powerful signal of legitimacy to the efforts by the Palestinian Authority’s president, Mahmoud Abbas, to achieve statehood despite the long paralyzed Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Israel has grown increasingly alarmed about the increased international acceptance of Palestine as a state since the United Nations upgraded the Palestinian delegation’s status in 2012 to that of a nonmember observer state. A number of European countries have also signaled their acceptance of Palestinian statehood.
Pope Francis, the leader of the world’s 1 billion Catholics, has long signaled his wish for a Palestinian state. For the past year, the Vatican had informally referred to the country as “state of Palestine,” in its yearbook as well as in its program for Francis’ 2014 visit to the Holy Land.
A statement from a joint commission of Vatican and Palestinian diplomatic officials, posted on the Vatican news website, said “the work of the Commission on the text of the agreement has been concluded,” and that it will be submitted for formal approval and for signing “in the near future.”

187  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Madison: No man to judge his own cause on: May 13, 2015, 12:16:22 PM
"No man is allowed to be a judge in his own cause, because his interest would certainly bias his judgment, and, not improbably, corrupt his integrity." —James Madison, Federalist No. 10, 1787
188  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / We'll be seeing more of this I suspect on: May 13, 2015, 11:20:04 AM
189  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / The Dignity Theory on: May 13, 2015, 10:25:22 AM
•   Jeffrey Rosen
•   Apr 29, 2015
If the Supreme Court strikes down same-sex marriage bans, it may well do so on the grounds that they violate the dignity of gay couples. And although proponents of marriage equality may cheer a decision along these lines when it is delivered, the expansion of the constitutional right to dignity may produce far-reaching consequences that they will later have cause to regret.

The oral arguments at the Supreme Court on Tuesday made clear that Justice Anthony Kennedy’s biggest contribution to the gay-marriage debate is his expansion of constitutional protections for the right to dignity. Justice Kennedy invoked the word “dignity” five times in the oral arguments; and other lawyers invoked it 16 times. It was central to the opening statements of Solicitor General Don Verrilli. “The opportunity to marry is integral to human dignity,” he began. “Excluding gay and lesbian couples from marriage demeans the dignity of these couples.” It was also one of the first words uttered by the plaintiff’s lawyer, Mary L. Bonuato. “If a legal commitment, responsibility and protection that is marriage is off limits to gay people as a class,” she said, “the stain of unworthiness that follows on individuals and families contravenes the basic constitutional commitment to equal dignity.”
Although the word dignity has appeared in more than 900 Supreme Court opinions, Justice Kennedy, as Kenji Yoshino of NYU has noted, has been especially drawn to it. He has referred to “dignity” in cases ranging from partial-birth abortions to prisons. As Yoshino puts it, “When Justice Kennedy ascribes dignity to an entity, that entity generally prevails.” Kennedy’s recognition of the dignity interests of LGBT couples has been influential in persuading lower court judges to strike down bans on same-sex marriage. But although Kennedy’s description of the dignitary interests of LGBT couples is inspiring, and it accurately describes their social experience, the roots of the right to dignity in constitutional text, history, and tradition are harder to discern.

Kennedy first drew a clear connection between “personal dignity and autonomy” and laws regulating personal relationships such as marriage in the 1992 Casey decision, which upheld the core of Roe v. Wade:

Our law affords constitutional protection to personal decisions relating to marriage, procreation, contraception, family relationships, child rearing, and education … These matters, involving the most intimate and personal choices a person may make in a lifetime, choices central to personal dignity and autonomy, are central to the liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the State.

When Justice Kennedy later invoked this idea of dignity to overturn laws banning same-sex intimacy in the 2003 Lawrence case, Justice Scalia ridiculed his opinion in Casey as the “famed sweet-mystery-of-life passage.” Despite Scalia’s mocking tone, he was correct to note that Kennedy’s constitutionalizing of a right to dignity expanded the already amorphous right to privacy recognized in Roe v. Wade, which itself had tenuous constitutional roots. By rooting the right to dignity in a synthesis of the textually enumerated rights of equality and liberty, Kennedy laid the groundwork for judges to review laws that inflicted dignitary harm with skepticism, regardless of proof of intentional animus and regardless of whether the victim of discrimination was considered a “suspect class.”

A range of liberal scholars recognized the sweeping implications of Kennedy’s new synthesis of dignity with liberty and equality, from Robert Post (who observed that in Lawrence, the Court relied on “themes of respect and stigma ... traditionally associated with equal protection”) to Laurence H. Tribe (who described a “Substantive Due Process-Equal Protection synthesis,” and the relationship between the two as a “double helix”) to William N. Eskridge (who called the connection between liberty and equality a “jurisprudence of tolerance”). But in discussing the dignitary interest that emerges from the equality and liberty clauses, all of these scholars relied on the same highly abstract penumbral reasoning that had proven so controversial in the cases leading up to Roe v. Wade. In other words, the kind of liberties that the Framers had in mind when they framed the Fourth Amendment (the liberty of the home) were very different, and far more specific, than the broad right to be free to define your own identity without being demeaned by the state or by fellow citizens that Kennedy recognized in Lawrence.

Kennedy made another crucial move in Lawrence, concluding that an individual’s interest in dignity trumps the majority’s interest in preserving traditional moral values. “The fact that the governing majority in a State has traditionally viewed a particular practice as immoral is not a sufficient reason for upholding a law prohibiting the practice,” Kennedy held.

“This effectively decrees the end of all morals legislation,” Justice Scalia fulminated, and he predicted the demise of “state laws against bigamy, same-sex marriage, adult incest, prostitution, masturbation, adultery, fornication, bestiality, and obscenity.” In fact, Scalia’s prediction may prove to be correct. His question about why the state’s police power to protect public morals—taken for granted from the founding era until the Lawrence case—was suddenly a violation of the Constitution remains valid and unanswered. In Lawrence, Scalia also predicted that the new dignitary right would lead inevitably to the recognition of same-sex marriage, despite Kennedy’s protestations to the contrary (“Do not believe it,” Scalia wrote). As Scalia understood, without moral disapproval as a permissible state interest, the other interests the state offered to ban same-sex unions were hard to credit. Here is Scalia’s prescient observation:

If moral disapprobation of homosexual conduct is “no legitimate state interest” for purposes of proscribing that conduct; and if, as the Court coos (casting aside all pretense of neutrality), “[w]hen sexuality finds overt expression in intimate conduct with another person, the conduct can be but one element in a personal bond that is more enduring,” what justification could there possibly be for denying the benefits of marriage to homosexual couples exercising “[t]he liberty protected by the Constitution?”
“Surely not the encouragement of procreation,” Scalia concluded, “since the sterile and the elderly are allowed to marry.”

In other words, despite Ohio’s attempt to resurrect the encouragement of procreation as a justification for same-sex marriage bans in the recent arguments—a justification dismantled by Justices Kagan and Sotomayor—Scalia beat them to the punch by more than a decade.

In addition to sincere moral disapproval of homosexuality by some religious people, there is one other main reason that voters have passed same-sex marriage bans in the past few years: a desire to preserve tradition. But the Supreme Court ruled that reason out of bounds in United States v. Virginia in 1996, when it held that a desire to preserve tradition for its own sake was a “notably circular argument” that could not survive constitutional scrutiny.

Since these two arguments—moral disapproval or preserving tradition—are the real reasons most voters have for supporting gay marriage bans, opponents of gay marriage were forced to offer implausible reasons—such as promoting “responsible procreation” by straight people—which, as Justice Kagan’s questioning suggested, are hard to credit because they are essentially made up for the purposes of litigation.
* * *
Justice Kennedy’s broad constitutionalizing of a right to dignity has boxed in gay marriage opponents with its scope and breadth. Chief Justice Roberts tried to narrow the implications of the Lawrence decision in the oral arguments yesterday by suggesting that in that case, “the whole argument is the State cannot intrude on that personal relationship. This, it seems to me, is different in that what the argument is [today] is the State must sanction. It must approve the relationship. They’re two different questions.” But Solicitor General Verrilli resisted the attempt to narrow the dignitary implications of Lawrence. “Lawrence catalyzed for our society,” he replied. “It put gay and lesbian couples, gay and lesbian people, in a position for the first time in our history to be able to lay claim to the abiding promise of the Fourteenth Amendment in a way that was just impossible when they were marginalized and ostracized.”

Verrilli’s insight that denial of marriage benefits to gays and lesbians could demean and ostracize them, and violate their dignity, was confirmed by Justice Kennedy’s opinion the Windsor case from 2013, striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act. According to Kennedy, DOMA’s history of enactment and its own text demonstrate that interference with the equal dignity of same-sex marriages was “the essence” of its effects on gay people.

I won’t rehearse here the objections to reading the text and history of the Constitution at such a high level of generality; with this approach, the connections to the specific concerns that animated the framers is hard to discern. Suffice it to say that Justice Louis Brandeis, the greatest defender of the right to privacy in U.S. history, originally tried to persuade courts to recognize a new right to dignity, after confessing that American law, unlike Roman and European law, had not, traditionally protected offenses against honor and dignity.

But, as Neal Richards demonstrates in Intellectual Privacy, Brandeis changed his mind about the wisdom of constitutionalizing a right to dignity—defined as the right to restrain the press from publishing truthful but embarrassing information about celebrities—after concluding that it clashed with the First Amendment guarantees of free press and free expression. Instead, Brandeis came to embrace a more carefully defined notion of intellectual privacy and freedom of thought and belief, more closely rooted in the text of the First Amendment itself.

There is no doubt that Justice Kennedy accurately and movingly describes the indignity and stigma that bans on same sex marriage impose on the right of LGBT citizens to define their own identities and to claim the benefits of equal citizenship. But constitutionalizing that injury with broad abstractions like dignity may lead to results in the future that liberals come to regret. Already, the European Court of Justice’s recognition of a sweeping “Right to be Forgotten” on the Internet has lead to the most dramatic clash between European traditions of protecting dignity and American traditions of protecting free speech in a generation.

And down the line, the right to dignity—now celebrated by liberals for what it means to gay rights—could ultimately produce other decisions in unrelated cases that they would not be so quick to celebrate. In the McDonald case, striking down gun possession laws under the Second Amendment, Justice Scalia recognized a dignitary interest attached to the right to bear arms. “[T]he conceptual core of the liberty clause ... pertains to ... [an individual’s] elf-determination, ... dignity [or] respect,” he wrote.
The word dignity eludes narrow definition, or for that matter, any generally agreed upon definition. The Court itself has not provided a clear definition of dignity. One scholar, William A. Parent, declares, “[D]ignity is to possess the right not to be arbitrarily and therefore unjustly disparaged as a person.” In another article on “the Jurisprudence of Dignity,” Leslie Meltzer Henry writes that there is no single definition, but that dignity includes various conceptions including institutional status, equality, liberty, individual integrity, and collective virtue. She concludes, “dignity’s conceptions and functions are dynamic and context-driven.”

If dignity is defined so elastically, then conservatives judges might invoke it to strike down not only gun-control laws, but also other progressive legislation. Libertarian groups invoked the “sweet-mystery-of-life” my language in Casey to argue that the Obamacare healthcare mandate unconstitutionally violated the dignity and autonomy of Americans by forcing them to buy health insurance. In the future, cigarette smokers might argue that anti-smoking bans violate their ability to create an individual identity. And conservative Christian wedding photographers could claim that anti-discrimination laws compelling them to photograph gay weddings violate their dignity and ability to define themselves as conservative Christians. What courts would do when confronted with the clashing dignitary rights of the religious wedding photographer and the gay couple, or the hunter and the victim of gun violence, is anyone’s guess, because dignity is such an abstract concept that its boundaries are difficult to discern.

In suggesting that the expansion of the right to dignity is something that liberals may come to regret, I’m not arguing that same-sex marriage bans can or should easily be upheld in light of the Supreme Court precedents on the books. In the same-sex marriage arguments, the liberal justices seemed drawn to the idea that marriage is a fundamental right that must be expanded to all citizens on equal terms. A decision along those lines—although broader in some respects than a ruling based on dignity—might be easier to confine to cases involving marriage. And given Justice Kennedy’s previous opinions for the Court ruling out of bounds moral disapproval and the preservation of tradition for its own sake, it’s hard to think of any other plausible reasons for upholding the marriage bans that don’t rely on what the Court has defined as animus. Still, if the Court strikes down same-sex marriage bans on the grounds that they violate a right to dignity, liberals may have second thoughts about empowering judges to decide whose dignity trumps when the interests of citizens with very different conceptions of dignity clash.

190  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The New Yorker: medical overkill on: May 13, 2015, 10:16:34 AM
191  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / better civics for better citizens on: May 13, 2015, 09:58:35 AM
Teaching Better Civics for Better Citizens
American students are alarmingly unfamiliar with the essential elements of democracy.
Photo: Corbis
Sandra Day O’Connor And
John Glenn
May 12, 2015 7:03 p.m. ET

The results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), released last week, revealed that our country’s eighth-graders aren’t just failing at civics and history. They fundamentally do not understand our democratic system of government, and have shown no significant sign of progress since they were last tested in 2010.
The scores from the test known as the Nation’s Report Card show that only 18% of the students are proficient in history, and less than a quarter are proficient in civics. For example, fewer than one-third of students tested knew that “the government of the United States should be a democracy” is a political belief shared by most people in this country.

Education policy leaders have correctly recognized the importance of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) to prepare children for the jobs of the future, and to enable the U.S. to compete in the 21st-century marketplace. The NAEP tells us that if schools ignore civics and social studies, they risk excluding students forever from American democracy. While we fully support the vast resources committed to promote STEM subjects, we seriously question the cost of doing so at the expense of the humanities.

Civic education cannot be an afterthought. Citizenship is a skill that must be taught over time with the same devotion we give to reading, math and the pursuit of scientific knowledge. We believe that it should be taught alongside and integrated with these subjects.
More civics courses alone is not the answer. Civics education itself needs an overhaul that makes it relevant to digital learners. This is why we have joined forces to create games and digital content that meet students where they are—online and gaming—and help them create a sort of “muscle memory” for citizenship. We want to give students an immersive civic-education experience that inspires them to learn how to use the legal system, the legislature and the electoral process to solve problems in their communities and effectively communicate with their government.

As the next election nears, it’s not enough to have young people read about elections in history books. Digital games such as “Win the White House,” a product of the Web-based nonprofit education project founded by Justice O’Connor, put students inside a virtual election. They can learn how to navigate the process and experience its complexities in a way that is fun and engaging and on their terms.

Nationally, more than 72,000 teachers have created accounts with iCivics, giving digital civic education to more than 7.5 million students. It is now used by more than half the nation’s middle-school social-studies teachers, and that is cause for celebration. The question is how to reach the other half.

This month we are launching iCivics Ohio, a partnership between the John Glenn College at Ohio State University, the Capitol Square Foundation and Justice O’Connor’s iCivics. The partnership could give to every student in Ohio access to state-of-the-art digital civic-education experiences—from and other resources—that include state-specific curricula and lesson plans specifically for Ohio teachers. We hope that every other state will consider similar opportunities.

We know what works in civic education. The Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools’ Six Proven Practices provides a blueprint that every state can adapt to fit its own curricula. The practices include: classroom instruction, discussion of current events and controversial issues, service-learning, extra-curricular activities, school governance and simulations of government processes.

Citizenship begins long before students can vote. Civic education will help them exercise their vote, and participate in our democracy, in an informed manner. The NAEP results indicate that it’s not the students who are failing to learn, but we who are failing to teach them.

Ms. O’Connor, a retired U.S. Supreme Court justice, is the founder of iCivics, a nonprofit company producing digital civics curriculum for schools. Mr. Glenn is a former astronaut and former Democratic U.S. senator from Ohio (1974-99).
192  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / What is the difference between Hillary and the big banks? on: May 13, 2015, 12:16:17 AM
The banks are too big to fail.  Hillary is too big to jail.
193  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Whoops! Syria still has chem weapons on: May 12, 2015, 11:57:44 PM


    Review & Outlook

Assad Still Has Chemical Arms
Inspectors find new evidence at an undisclosed site.
A Civil Defence member carries a damaged canister in Ibleen village in May. ENLARGE
A Civil Defence member carries a damaged canister in Ibleen village in May. Photo: Reuters
May 12, 2015 7:17 p.m. ET

President Obama has often boasted that his diplomacy disarmed Syria’s Bashar Assad of his chemical weapons. Mark that down as another non-achievement following news that investigators in Syria have discovered new traces of the chemical precursors to sarin and VX nerve agents at a previously undisclosed military research site.

This is the latest blow to the credibility of the 2013 U.S.-Russia deal to remove chemical weapons from Assad’s hands. The finding, first reported by Reuters, is the clearest sign that Damascus lied about the size and whereabouts of its existing stockpiles. The deception makes it difficult to monitor compliance and highlights Damascus’s lack of commitment to implementing the deal.

A report last year by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) found that weaponized chlorine gas has been used “systematically and repeatedly” against civilians in northern Syria. As anti-Assad rebels have made fresh gains on the ground, there has been an apparent uptick in the use of chlorine, which is delivered using barrel bombs dropped from regime helicopters.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken says there’s “strong and credible” evidence of chlorine attacks. “As you know, only the regime has helicopters,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power has said. “So we believe the factual record is straightforward and devastating in terms of regime use.”

The record is clear, but the deal Mr. Obama hailed in 2013 as an arms-control “breakthrough” suffers from the absence of an accountability mechanism. The OPCW lacked the mandate to assign responsibility for the chlorine attacks it documented, and under the U.N. resolution each violation has to be reported to the Security Council, where Moscow and Beijing protect Damascus.

All this casts doubt on the White House’s ability to hold Iran’s leaders to the terms of any deal they might strike over their nuclear program. As with Syria’s chemical weapons, the Iranian deal leaves the West in the dark about the Islamic Republic’s past weaponization activity, meaning international investigators won’t have a baseline against which to measure its future efforts.

And as with Syria, the Iranian deal ties investigators’ hands. Tehran has rejected snap inspections, and the Obama Administration has acquiesced. If the world won’t respond to evidence of cheating by a minor state like Syria, why should anyone believe it would act against cheaters in Iran?
194  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: US military proposes challenge to China Sea Claims on: May 12, 2015, 11:49:53 PM
U.S. Military Proposes Challenge to China Sea Claims
Moves would send Navy planes, ships near artificial islands built by China in contested waters

Adam Entous,
Gordon Lubold and
Julian E. Barnes
Updated May 12, 2015 7:33 p.m. ET

The U.S. military is considering using aircraft and Navy ships to directly contest Chinese territorial claims to a chain of rapidly expanding artificial islands, U.S. officials said, in a move that would raise the stakes in a regional showdown over who controls disputed waters in the South China Sea.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter has asked his staff to look at options that include flying Navy surveillance aircraft over the islands and sending U.S. naval ships to within 12 nautical miles of reefs that have been built up and claimed by the Chinese in an area known as the Spratly Islands.

Such moves, if approved by the White House, would be designed to send a message to Beijing that the U.S. won’t accede to Chinese territorial claims to the man-made islands in what the U.S. considers to be international waters and airspace.

The Pentagon’s calculation may be that the military planning, and any possible deployments, would increase pressure on the Chinese to make concessions over the artificial islands. But Beijing also could double down, expanding construction in defiance of the U.S. and potentially taking steps to further Chinese claims in the area.

The U.S. has said it doesn’t recognize the man-made islands as sovereign Chinese territory. Nonetheless, military officials said, the Navy has so far not sent military aircraft or ships within 12 nautical miles of the reclaimed reefs to avoid escalating tensions.

If the U.S. challenges China’s claims using ships or naval vessels and Beijing stands its ground, the result could escalate tensions in the region, with increasing pressure on both sides to flex military muscle in the disputed waters.

According to U.S. estimates, China has expanded the artificial islands in the Spratly chain to as much as 2,000 acres of land, up from 500 acres last year. Last month, satellite imagery from defense intelligence provider IHS Jane’s showed China has begun building an airstrip on one of the islands, which appears to be large enough to accommodate fighter jets and surveillance aircraft.

The U.S. has used its military to challenge other Chinese claims Washington considers unfounded. In November 2013, the U.S. flew a pair of B-52 bombers over disputed islands in the East China Sea to contest an air identification zone that Beijing had declared in the area.

Officials said there was now growing momentum within the Pentagon and the White House for taking concrete steps in order to send Beijing a signal that the recent buildup in the Spratlys went too far and needed to stop.

Chinese officials dismiss complaints about the island-building, saying Beijing is entitled to undertake construction projects within its own sovereign territory. They say the facilities will be used for military and civilian purposes.

“China has indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha Islands and their adjacent waters,” said embassy spokesman Zhu Haiquan, using the Chinese name for the Spratlys. “The relevant construction, which is reasonable, justified and lawful, is well within China’s sovereignty. It does not impact or target any country, and is thus beyond reproach.”

Mr. Zhu said that Beijing hopes that “relevant parties,” a reference to the U.S. military and its regional allies, will “refrain from playing up tensions or doing anything detrimental to security and mutual trust.”

China claims almost all of the South China Sea, one of the world’s busiest shipping routes, and its efforts to enforce control of the area in recent years have caused growing concern in the U.S. and in Asia, where several nations have competing claims, including the Philippines, a U.S. ally.

“The Philippines believes that the U.S., as well as all responsible members of the international community, do have an interest and say in what is happening in the South China Sea,” said Charles Jose, spokesman for the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, early Wednesday, citing freedom of navigation and unimpeded flow of commerce among other factors.

U.S. military aircraft have repeatedly approached the 12-nautical-mile zone declared by China around the built up reefs. But to avoid an escalation, the planes haven’t penetrated the zone. A senior military official said the flights “have kept a distance from the islands and remained near the 12-mile mark.”

U.S. planes have flown close to the islands where the building has been taking place, prompting Chinese military officers to radio the approaching U.S. aircraft to notify the pilots that they are nearing Chinese sovereign territory. In response, U.S. pilots have told the Chinese that they are flying through international airspace.

The USS Fort Worth, a combat ship, has been operating in recent days in waters near the Spratlys. “We’re just not going within the 12 miles—yet,” a senior U.S. official said.

The military proposals haven’t been formally presented to the White House, which would have to sign off on any change in the U.S. posture. The White House declined to comment on the deliberations.

Officials said the issue is a complicated one because at least some of the areas where the Chinese have been doing construction are, in eyes of the U.S. government, legitimate islands, which would be entitled to a 12-nautical-mile zone.

The proposal under consideration would be to send Navy ships and aircraft to within 12 nautical miles of only those built-up sites that the U.S. doesn’t legally consider to be islands, officials say.

Over the years, U.S. vessels and aircraft have had several encounters with Chinese assets, often arising from disagreements over Beijing’s territorial claims.
    March 2001 China orders an unarmed U.S. Navy survey ship out of waters in the Yellow Sea, claiming a violation of its exclusive economic zone. The U.S. disputed the claim, and days later the ship returned to the Yellow Sea with an armed escort.
    April 2001 A Chinese fighter collides with a U.S. Navy electronic surveillance aircraft near China’s Hainan Island in the South China Sea, forcing the EP-3 to make an emergency landing.
    May 2003 Chinese fishing boats are used to bump the same U.S. Navy survey ship involved in the 2001 incident, causing some damage.
    March 2009 Chinese military and government ships surround a U.S. Navy surveillance ship in the South China Sea in a disputed economic zone, forcing the U.S. vessel to take evasive action. The Navy ship returned the next day accompanied by a guided missile destroyer.
    Nov. 2013 The U.S. flies a pair of B-52 bombers over disputed islands in the East China Sea to contest Beijing’s air identification zone.
    Dec. 2013 A Chinese ship blocks the path of a U.S. Navy cruiser, the Cowpens, in the South China Sea, some distance from China’s aircraft carrier, forcing the Cowpens to change course to avoid a collision.
    Aug. 2014 a Chinese fighter conducted what U.S. officials said was a dangerous intercept of a U.S. Navy maritime patrol aircraft that was flying in international airspace about 135 miles east of Hainan Island.


Under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, reclaimed features aren’t entitled to territorial waters if the original features are not islands recognized under the agreement, U.S. officials say. Under that interpretation, the U.S. believes it doesn’t need to honor the 12-mile zone around the built-up reefs that weren’t considered to be islands before construction there began.

Several U.S. allies in the region have been privately urging the White House to do more to challenge Chinese behavior, warning Washington that U.S. inaction in the South China Sea risked inadvertently reinforcing Beijing’s territorial claims, U.S. officials said. Some allies in the region have, in contrast, expressed concern to Washington that a change in the U.S.’s approach could inadvertently draw them into a conflict.

“It’s important that everyone in the region have a clear understanding of exactly what China is doing,” a U.S. official said. “We’ve got to get eyes on.” The U.S. has been using satellites to monitor building at the islands.

In recent months, the White House has sought to increase pressure on Beijing to halt construction on the islands through diplomatic channels, as well as by calling out the Chinese publicly in recent press briefings and government reports.

The U.S. Navy regularly conducts “freedom of navigation transits” in the region, including across the South China Sea. But the Navy has yet to receive explicit authorization from the administration to do so within 12 nautical miles of the artificial islands.

John Kerry, the U.S. secretary of state, is due in Beijing this weekend to make preparations for a visit to the U.S. in September by Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has made improving military ties with the U.S. a top priority.

A new standoff with China would add to mounting security crises facing the U.S. in other regions.

Last year, after Russia seized Ukrainian territory, the White House imposed sanctions on Moscow but so far has rebuffed Ukrainian requests for U.S. weapons. In the Middle East, Islamic State militants took over large swaths of Iraq last summer, prompting the U.S. to launch an air campaign against the group.

The U.S. has long maintained that it doesn’t take sides in the territorial disputes in the South China Sea, though it has a national interest in maintaining freedom of navigation in the area. In the last year, though, U.S. officials have stepped up its criticism of China’s efforts to enforce and justify its claims in the region.

U.S. officials say they are concerned that a decision not to send naval vessels into the zone would inadvertently help the Chinese build their own case for sovereignty in the area.

Chinese coast guard vessels routinely sail within 12 nautical miles of the Senkaku Islands, which are controlled by Tokyo but claimed by Beijing, which calls them the Diaoyu.

U.S. officials say they believe China sends vessels into the Senkaku area in the East China Sea because it wants to demonstrate to Tokyo and to others that Beijing doesn’t recognize the islands as Japanese sovereign territory.

China’s claims include territorial seas stretching out 12 nautical miles from all the Spratlys, where it controls seven reefs—all recently expanded into artificial islands. Rival claimants occupy several other islands, reefs and rocks.

Historical images from Google Earth and elsewhere reveal that reclamation work at most of the Chinese held reefs began after President Xi took power in 2012.

Much of the construction began in the past year, despite protests from neighboring countries, warming military ties with Washington, and a new Chinese drive to improve relations in its periphery.

U.S. officials say they have repeatedly asked China to stop the work, to no avail.

—Jeremy Page and Trefor Moss contributed to this article.

Write to Adam Entous at and Julian E. Barnes at
195  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Reps joinl legal fight over Obama's amnesty on: May 12, 2015, 11:12:11 PM
Republicans Join Legal Fight Over Obama's Amnesty
By Dan Gilmore · May 12, 2015
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Congressional Republicans have thrown their weight against the Obama administration in the case deciding the legality of the executive branch’s executive actions on immigration. On Monday, 113 GOP lawmakers filed an amicus brief with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals arguing that Barack Obama violated Congress' constitutional role and disrupted the “delicate balance of powers.” The brief said Congress has the responsibility to decide an alien’s rights to be in this country — as clarified by the Supreme Court. Sure, when Congress is silent on an issue, the president can go ahead and do his or her part to fix the problem. But Congress already provided guidance on immigration. “Critically,” the brief reads, “Congress’s refusal to enact President Obama’s preferred policy is not ‘silence’; it represents the constitutional system working as intended. Congress has enacted extensive immigration laws — they are simply not enacted in the manner President Obama prefers. Differing policy preferences do not provide license to, as President Obama said, ‘change the law.’”

Republicans are confident that Judge Andrew Hanen will ultimately strike down Obama’s executive action. After all, the federal government has treated his orders with distain. Turns out, after Hanen ordered a stop to the implementation of Obama’s immigration plans, the government went ahead and continued implementing them anyway. This case may very well be a damning judgment on Obama’s power to execute executive orders. More…
196  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Why isnt' Obama's deal with Iran a treaty? on: May 12, 2015, 11:06:37 PM
Patriot Post

The Senate voted 98-1 Thursday to approve a bill giving Congress 30 days to examine the pending nuclear deal with Iran and to express its disapproval through the resolution process. Tom Cotton (R-AR) was the lone opposing vote, a symbolic gesture of protest that the bill was not crafted more strongly. The bill, authored by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN), says nothing about Iran’s continued sponsorship of terrorism, for example, or its refusal to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist. Yet Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called the bill “worthy of our support,” claiming it “offers the best chance we have to provide the American people and the Congress they elect with power to weigh in on a vital issue.”

Unfortunately, it’s just the opposite. Instead of the constitutionally required two-thirds majority to approve a treaty, this bill means Barack Obama’s deal-that’s-not-a-treaty will a require two-thirds majority to reject it.

One of the issues is U.S. sanctions on Iran put in place by Congress, as opposed to other sanctions put in place by executive order or by the UN Security Council. Republican senators, led by Cotton, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, want to prevent Obama from giving away the farm by removing all U.S. sanctions as soon as a nuclear deal is signed. Obama has repeatedly claimed sanctions can “snap back” if Iran is found to be cheating and that he has the authority to remove all U.S. sanctions — including those passed by Congress — with a wave of his hand. Court jester Joe Biden and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew recently advanced that argument in a speech before the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, claiming both U.S. and international sanctions could be reinstated quickly, and without serial miscreants China or Russia being able to veto such a move.

And speaking of a veto, 150 congressional Democrats sent a letter to Obama Thursday making clear they would support him if he vetoed a congressional resolution disapproving the nuclear deal. With enough Democrat signatures to guarantee a presidential veto would stand, the letter virtually preempts any significant action by Congress to stop Obama from throwing away the most effective tool the world has in forcing Iran to meet its Non-Proliferation Treaty obligations. It’s also yet another example that Obama and his friends in Congress are so desperate to get a deal that they are willing to accept even a very bad one.

Still, we remain guardedly optimistic that the June 30 deadline will not yield a final agreement, as Iran has consistently and emphatically rejected the requirement for unfettered, intrusive inspections, without which no deal is possible. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has also demanded repeatedly that all sanctions be dropped permanently the moment a deal is signed, something we still hope even Obama and his sycophants won’t accept. But it remains one of the most sorry spectacles in recent memory to see the leader of the free world and his fellow travelers in Congress working so hard to ensure the world’s number-one sponsor of terror is rewarded, not punished, for its intransigence.

197  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Anonymous takes on ISIS on: May 12, 2015, 11:03:11 PM
198  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / SEction 215 and related matters on: May 12, 2015, 12:48:03 PM
199  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Crime and Punishment on: May 12, 2015, 11:14:25 AM
Doug:  Are you thinking that the BGF in the Baltimore jail was privately run?
200  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Hezbollah vs. Al Nusra on: May 11, 2015, 09:07:35 PM

Here in pockets of the rugged mountains near the Lebanese border, the distinctive yellow flag of Hezbollah now flies where al-Qaeda militants once held sway. These gains in the Qalamoun Mountains represent a bright spot for embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government, now reeling from a unified insurgent assault in the country’s northwest. And again, they show the power and influence of the Lebanese militant group in Syria’s civil war, grinding on into its fifth year after killing more than 220,000 people. A team of Associated Press journalists traveling with Hezbollah into Syria found smiling Hezbollah fighters proudly showing newly dismantled booby traps and food quickly left behind by the Sunni insurgents as commanders promised further advances they say protect Lebanon. But in Lebanon, worries persist that Hezbollah’s battlefield successes only further entangle the tiny country in Syria’s violence, risking attacks back home as well. The Qalamoun Mountains are on the Syrian side of the border with Lebanon. They tower near Syria’s capital, Damascus, and linking that base of Assad’s power to the coast, an enclave of his Alawite sect, an off-shoot of Shiite Islam.

But the Sunni militants of the local al-Qaeda chapter called the Nusra Front and the Islamic State group, have been dug into the terrain for years. Although Hezbollah officials say a full-blown assault to recover Qalamoun hasn’t started, Hezbollah fighters in recent days have captured large areas and strategic hills. On Thursday, Hezbollah fighters attacking from the fields of the Syrian border town of Assal al-Ward met comrades on the offensive from the outskirts of the Lebanese village of Brital. “The situation is better than perfect,” one smiling Hezbollah fighter said, speaking along with others anonymously as part of the conditions Hezbollah set to allow AP journalists to make the trip. Insurgents appear to have left their camps in a hurry. Groceries, medicines and other supplies littered their camps. At a Hezbollah position, fighters installed a 130 mm cannon pointed deeper into Syria. Wooden ammunition boxes nearby bore Persian words — a sign of the support of Iran, a major benefactor of both Hezbollah and Assad. Shelling could be heard in the distance, which Hezbollah fighters attributed to clashes around Syria’s Barouh mountain to the north. Two giant Hezbollah bulldozers ground out a sand road on one of the region’s mountains. Some 3,000 militants are in the Qalamoun region, almost equally split between the Nusra Front and the Islamic State group, a Hezbollah commander recently said in Beirut. He said Hezbollah and Syrian troops surround the Qalamoun from the north, the east and the south, as well as part of the west, squeezing the Islamic militants who remain.
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