Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Saudi Arabia and Pakistan
on: March 09, 2015, 09:48:38 PM
Saudi-Pakistani Cooperation Could Be Growing
March 9, 2015 | 23:38 GMT
Last Wednesday, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif arrived in Saudi Arabia. Saudi King Salman met him at the airport. The Saudi king typically meets only the most distinguished visitors at the airport, so this was an early sign that this visit was somewhat more significant than most. It was enough to cause us to wonder about the significance.
A short time later, a spate of news stories beginning with Pakistan's Express Tribune, which claimed to have heard this from contacts in the Pakistani government, reported that the Saudis were requesting an infusion of Pakistani troops to protect the kingdom. The request is not quite as remarkable as it might appear. Pakistani troops were deployed in Saudi Arabia in 1979 during the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini's Islamic republic. Troops were also stationed there during Desert Storm, and smaller numbers have been present in the kingdom from time to time. However, the recent rumors about the Saudi request have become both more detailed and less believable, with claims that the Saudis had requested both Egyptian and Turkish troops to guard the border.
What is a Geopolitical Diary? George Friedman Explains.
There has been no official comment from Saudi Arabia and some upper-midlevel denial from Pakistan. According to a separate source in the initial report, the Saudis offered Pakistan shipments of oil on deferred and discounted payment terms. What is certain is that last week's meetings came after a long string of high-level meetings, including meetings with Sharif, whom the Saudis protected when Pervez Musharraf's regime regarded him as an enemy. So we know that the Saudis have asked for and gotten Pakistani troops before, and we know that Sharif, of all Pakistani prime ministers, would be the most inclined to support the Saudi government. And we know that in spite of the wide repetition and enhancement of the initial report, neither the Saudi nor the Pakistani government has issued a definitive denial.
We also know that the Saudis have good reason to be worried about their security. The Islamic State is entrenched in both Iraq and Syria, and the Saudis are concerned about supporters of the group within the kingdom. The Islamic State is highly unpredictable, and the Saudis could feel that their own military may not be sufficient to manage the threat. In addition, a civil war is raging in Yemen, along Saudi Arabia's southern border. Not only could that spill over into Saudi Arabia, but also the Saudis are trying to manage the crisis, supporting a two-state solution there. They might want Pakistani troops to add weight to their diplomacy. Both of these are sufficient reasons to ask for help.
But the greatest reason is the growing relationship between the United States and Iran. Leaving aside the nuclear negotiations, which are inching forward and certainly not collapsing, the United States and Iran have similar interests in Iraq: Both want to break the Islamic State. The Saudis also want this as well, but they are appalled that what might replace the group is some sort of joint U.S.-Iranian management of Iraq.
As we have said before, the United States wants to limit its direct involvement in regional conflicts and replace it with support for regional powers that have no choice but to become involved. These are wildly different nations, including Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel. The Saudis have bad memories of Ottoman oppression and a fear of Shiite Iran. They have a complex and multilayered relationship with Israel. The United States used to be the guarantor of Saudi national security. In its new role, Saudi Arabia is only one of a constellation of countries in which the United States is involved.
Of all these countries, the one that concerns Saudi Arabia the most is Iran. It is the closest. It has a history of covert interference in Saudi Arabia, and given the convergence of Iranian and U.S. interests, it might well wind up in a favored position in the region. It is a risk that the Saudis cannot accept. Turning to Pakistan gives the Saudis more military and security weight. And it does not hurt that Pakistan is a nuclear power; although the use of nuclear weapons by Pakistan is extraordinarily unlikely, the possibility could still give Iran and other countries in the region pause.
Saudi Arabia, the weakest among the other major regional powers, needs more weight and needs to give the others pause, and the Saudis wouldn't mind the United States wondering at what they are doing. Asking the Pakistanis to resume a role they played in the past — guarantors of the Saudi regime internally, and of Saudi Arabia's borders externally — makes a great deal of sense, and given Sharif's relationship with the Saudis, it is logical. Whether this strategy extends to requests to Egypt and Turkey is dubious for several reasons, not the least of which is that neither is likely to agree to it.
We have long spoken about the shift in how this region works. Even if nothing comes of it immediately, we are seeing moves by the Saudis to try to cope with the new reality. As the patterns change, the region will respond. This is not really a radical move. Other developments could be more surprising, like the Iranians and Americans collaborating against the Islamic State.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Russia's military options in Ukraine
on: March 09, 2015, 09:43:38 PM
Editor's Note: As part of our analytical methodology, Stratfor periodically conducts internal military simulations. This series, examining the scenarios under which Russian and Western forces might come into direct conflict in Ukraine, reflects such an exercise. It thus differs from our regular analyses in several ways and is not intended as a forecast. This series reflects the results of meticulous examination of the military capabilities of both Russia and NATO and the constraints on those forces. It is intended as a means to measure the intersection of political intent and political will as constrained by actual military capability. This study is not a definitive exercise; instead it is a review of potential decision-making by military planners. We hope readers will gain from this series a better understanding of military options in the Ukraine crisis and how the realities surrounding use of force could evolve if efforts to implement a cease-fire fail and the crisis escalates.
Russia's current military position in Ukraine is very exposed and has come at a great cost relative to its limited political gains. The strategic bastion of Crimea is defensible as an island but is subject to potential isolation. The position of Ukrainian separatists and their Russian backers in eastern Ukraine is essentially a large bulge that will require heavy military investment to secure, and it has not necessarily helped Moscow achieve its larger imperative of creating defensible borders. This raises the question of whether Russia will take further military action to secure its interests in Ukraine.
To answer this question, Stratfor examined six basic military options that Russia might consider in addressing its security concerns in Ukraine, ranging from small harassment operations to an all-out invasion of eastern Ukraine up to the Dnieper River. We then assessed the likely time and forces required to conduct these operations in order to determine the overall effort and costs required, and the Russian military's ability to execute each operation. In order to get a baseline assessment for operations under current conditions, we initially assumed in looking at these scenarios that the only opponent would be Ukrainian forces already involved in the conflict.
One of the most discussed options is a Russian drive along Ukraine's southern coast in order to link up Crimea with separatist positions in eastern Ukraine. For this scenario, we assumed that planners would make the front broad enough to secure Crimea's primary water supply, sourced from the Dnieper, and that the defensive lines would be anchored as much as possible on the river, the only defensible terrain feature in the region. This would in effect create a land bridge to secure supply lines into Crimea and prevent any future isolation of the peninsula. Russia would have to drive more than 400 kilometers (250 miles) into an area encompassing 46,620 square kilometers, establish more than 450 kilometers of new defensive lines, and subdue a population of 2 million.
Taking this territory against the current opposition in Ukraine would require a force of around 24,000-36,000 personnel over six to 14 days. For defensive purposes, Russian planners would have to recognize the risk of NATO coming to Kiev's assistance. Were that to happen, Russia would have to expand the defensive force to 40,000-55,000 troops to hold the territory.
Planners must also consider the force needed to deal with a potential insurgency from the population, which becomes decidedly less pro-Russia outside of the Donbas territories. Counterinsurgency force structure size is generally based on the size of the population and level of resistance expected. This naturally leads to a much wider variance in estimates. In this scenario, a compliant populace would require a force of only around 4,200 troops, while an extreme insurgency could spike that number to 42,000. In this particular case, no extreme insurgency is expected, as it would be in cities such as Dnepropetrovsk, Kharkiv or Kiev. The defensive force could overlap with the counterinsurgency force to some degree if there were no external threat, but if such a threat existed the forces would have to be separate, potentially doubling the manpower required to secure the territory.
Wargaming Russia's Military Options in Ukraine
A similar scenario that has been considered is the seizing of the entire southern coast of Ukraine in order to connect Russia and its security forces in the Moldovan breakaway region of Transdniestria to Crimea. The logic goes that this would cripple Kiev by cutting off access to the Black Sea and would secure all of Russia's interests in the region in a continual arc. In terms of effort required, Russia essentially would be doubling the land bridge option. It would require an attacking force of 40,000-60,000 troops driving almost 645 kilometers to seize territory encompassing 103,600 square kilometers over 23-28 days. The required defensive force would number 80,000-112,000. This would also add a complicated and dangerous bridging operation over a large river. Moreover, the population in this region is approximately 6 million, necessitating 13,200-120,000 counterinsurgency troops.
These first two scenarios have a serious flaw in that they involve extremely exposed positions. Extended positions over relatively flat terrain — bisected by a river in one scenario — are costly to hold, if they can be defended at all against a concerted attack by a modern military force. Supply lines would also be very long throughout the area and, in the scenario that extends beyond the Dnieper River, rely on bridging operations across a major river.
A third scenario would involve Russia taking all of eastern Ukraine up to the Dnieper and using the river as a defensive front line. When it comes to defending the captured territory, this scenario makes the most sense. The Dnieper is very wide in most places, with few crossings and few sites suitable for tactical bridging operations, meaning defending forces can focus on certain chokepoints. This is the most sensible option for Russia if it wants to take military action and prepare a defensive position anchored on solid terrain.
However, this operation would be a massive military undertaking. The force required to seize this area — approximately 222,740 square kilometers — and defeat the opposition there would need to number 91,000-135,000 troops and advance as much as 402 kilometers. Since the river could bolster defensive capabilities, the defensive force could remain roughly the same size as the attacking force. However, with a population of 13 million in the area, the additional troops that might be required for the counterinsurgency force could range from 28,000-260,000. Russia has approximately 280,000 ground troops, meaning that the initial drive would tie down a substantial part of the Russian military and that an intense insurgency could threaten Russia's ability to occupy the area even if it deployed all of its ground forces within Ukraine.
One positive aspect would be that this operation would take only 11-14 days to execute, even though it involves seizing a large area, because Russia could advance along multiple routes. On the other hand, the operation would require such a vast mobilization effort and retasking of Russian security forces that Moscow's intent would be detectable and would alarm Europe and the United States early on.
Two remaining options that we examined were variations on previous themes in an effort to see if Russia could launch more limited operations, using fewer resources, to address similar security imperatives. For example, we considered Russia taking only the southern half of eastern Ukraine in an effort to use decidedly less combat power, but this left the Russians with an exposed flank and removed the security of the Dnieper. Similarly, a small expansion of current separatist lines to the north to incorporate the remainder of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions to make the territory more self-sustaining was considered. Both operations are quite executable but gain little in the grand scheme.
The final scenario we considered was the most limited. It involved Russia conducting small temporary incursions along the entirety of its border with Ukraine in an effort to threaten various key objectives in the region and thus spread Ukraine's combat power as thin as possible. This would be efficient and effective for the Russian military in terms of the effort required. It could accomplish some small political and security objectives, such as drawing Ukrainian forces away from the current line of contact, generally distracting Kiev, or increasing the sense of emergency there, making the Ukrainians believe Russia would launch a full invasion if Kiev did not comply.
For all of the scenarios considered, the findings were consistent: All are technically possible for the Russian military, but all have serious drawbacks. Not one of these options can meet security or political objectives through limited or reasonable means. This conclusion does not preclude these scenarios for Russian decision makers, but it does illuminate the broader cost-benefit analysis leaders undertake when weighing future actions. No theoretical modeling can accurately predict the outcome of a war, but it can give leaders an idea of what action to take or whether to take action at all.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Paper Tigress: printouts, not emails.
on: March 09, 2015, 03:44:40 PM
Mrs. Clinton turned over printouts, not emails.
March 9, 2015 3:58 p.m. ET
If you were following the revelations about Hillary Clinton’s private State Department IT operation last week, you probably heard that, as the initial New York Times story put it, “55,000 pages of emails were given to the department” in December after being selected by a private aide to the former secretary. You might have wondered: What does that mean, 55,000 “pages”? Or maybe you just read it, as the crack fact-check team over at PolitiFact did just last night, as 55,000 emails.
It turns out the reference is to literal physical pages. From Friday’s Times: “Finally, in December, dozens of boxes filled with 50,000 pages of printed emails from Mrs. Clinton’s personal account were delivered to the State Department.”
Email, Clinton style ENLARGE
Email, Clinton style Photo: Getty Images
Why did Mrs. Clinton have her staff go through the trouble of printing out, boxing and shipping 50,000 or 55,000 pages instead of just sending a copy of the electronic record? One can only speculate, but there is an obvious advantage: Printed files are less informative and far harder to search than the electronic originals.
Because State has only printouts of emails, department personnel responding to a Freedom of Information Act request have to go through the whole haystack rather than type “needle” into a search engine. At best, that would mean long delays in FOIA compliance.
Likewise, printouts are not subject to electronic discovery in the event of investigation or lawsuit. The Times reports that department lawyers responding to a request from the House Select Committee on Benghazi took two months to find “roughly 900 pages pertaining to the Benghazi attacks.” And printouts do not include electronic “metadata,” which can provide crucial forensic evidence.
Just what was Mrs. Clinton trying to hide? She set up the private domain even before her confirmation as secretary of state and never even had an official email address, so the answer at the outset would have been “Whatever.” In the event, possible specific answers include information about Benghazi and about the Clinton Foundation.
The New York Post reports that Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, chairman of the Benghazi committee, yesterday “said there are ‘huge gaps’ in the Hillary Clinton emails turned over to his panel”:
“We don’t have all of them,” Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
Included in the gaps are emails from Oct. 18, 2011, the date of the well-known photo of then-Secretary of State Clinton wearing sunglasses and gripping her BlackBerry while on a plane to Libya.
In fact, there were no emails released to the committee from that entire trip, Gowdy said.
Even though Clinton was famously seen checking her BlackBerry on Oct. 18, 2011, no emails from that day were turned over to the House Benghazi committee.
“It strains credibility to believe that if you’re on your way to Libya to discuss Libyan policy, that there’s not a single document that’s been turned over to Congress,” said Gowdy, who issued subpoenas last week for Clinton’s Libya emails.
There is no way of knowing if the missing emails were withheld by Mrs. Clinton from the State Department, withheld by the department from the committee, or overlooked by the department’s lawyers as they went through box after box. (To be sure, it is also possible that no such emails exist. Although it strains credulity, it does not defy logic to observe that perhaps the secretary was merely playing Brick Breaker.)
National Journal’s Ron Fournier, meanwhile, wonders “what the emails might reveal about any nexus between Clinton’s work at State and donations to the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation from U.S. corporations and foreign nations”:
One of [Bill Clinton’s] longest-serving advisers, a person who had worked directly for the foundation, told me the “longtime whispers of pay-to-play are going to become shouts.”
This person, a Clinton loyalist and credible source, has no evidence of wrongdoing but said the media’s suspicions are warranted. “The emails are a related but secondary scandal,” the source said. “Follow the foundation money.” . . .
Without those emails, we may never be able to follow the money. Could that be why she hasn’t coughed up the server?
The Atlantic’s Hanna Rosin—in a piece titled “Among the Hillary Haters” and published before the email scandal became public—suggests that the foundation’s sleaze could undermine one of Mrs. Clinton’s biggest political assets:
One criticism of [Mrs.] Clinton that Burning Glass [a Republican consultancy] has found to resonate with women is an attack [Barack] Obama used successfully against her in 2008: that she is “more politically motivated” than the average politician. In general, people tend to view women as political outsiders. They assume that their motives are more pure than those of their male counterparts, and that they are in it not just for themselves but for some greater good.
In its focus groups, however, Burning Glass has found strategies that, over time, can take this asset away from Clinton, and convince women that she is more political than the average candidate. One is to suggest inappropriate overlap between her work at the State Department and at the Clinton Foundation. The firm points out that one of Secretary Clinton’s aides was also consulting at the foundation, which might have created a conflict of interest. The aim is not to uncover a scandal, but rather to show that Clinton operates just like the boys: she works the system and stacks it with cronies, making them all rich in the process. It’s an approach that Burning Glass has found can make respondents “significantly less likely to support” Clinton in 2016.
Amy Chozick, who covers Mrs. Clinton for the New York Times, offers another angle:
The Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation has accepted tens of millions of dollars in donations from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Algeria and Brunei—all of which the State Department has faulted over their records on sex discrimination and other human-rights issues.
The department’s 2011 human rights report on Saudi Arabia, the last such yearly review prepared during Mrs. Clinton’s tenure, tersely faulted the kingdom for “a lack of equal rights for women and children,” and said violence against women, human trafficking and gender discrimination, among other abuses, were all “common” there.
Saudi Arabia has been a particularly generous benefactor to the Clinton Foundation, giving at least $10 million since 2001, according to foundation disclosures. At least $1 million more was donated by Friends of Saudi Arabia, co-founded by a Saudi prince.
At a Clinton Foundation event in Miami Saturday, Bill Clinton “defended the charity’s acceptance of foreign donations, pointing to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia in particular. . . . ‘You’ve got to decide when you do this work whether it will do more good than harm if someone helps you from another country.’ ”
Politico quotes one of Mr. Clinton’s examples, to hilarious effect: “For example, the UAE gave us money. Do we agree with everything [they] do? No. But they help us fight ISIS.” We don’t doubt that it is sometimes necessary or useful for the U.S. government to form alliances with unsavory regimes. But look how Mr. Clinton describes the trade: The UAE helps “us” (meaning the U.S.) fight ISIS. In return, they give “us” (meaning the Clintons) money.
You could call that a win-win, but what exactly is in it for the Emiratis? The problem for the Clintons is that that’s not a rhetorical question.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / WSJ: Piketty corrects the inequality crowd
on: March 09, 2015, 03:13:43 PM
Piketty Corrects the Inequality Crowd
The economist’s book caused a sensation last year, but now he says the redistributionists drew the wrong conclusions.
March 8, 2015 7:40 p.m. ET
‘Capital in the 21st Century,” a dense economic tome written by French economist Thomas Piketty, became a publishing sensation last spring when Harvard University Press released its English translation. The book quickly climbed to the top of best-seller lists, and more than 1.5 million copies are now in circulation in several languages.
The book’s central proposition, that inequality in capitalist societies will inevitably grow, can be summed up with a simple equation: r>g. That is, the return on capital (r) outpaces the growth rate of the economy (g) over time, leading inexorably to the dominance of inherited wealth. Progressives such as Princeton economist Paul Krugman seized on Mr. Piketty’s thesis to justify policies they have long wanted—namely, very high taxes on the wealthy.
Now in an extraordinary about-face, Mr. Piketty has backtracked, undermining the policy prescriptions many have based on his conclusions. In “About Capital in the 21st Century,” slated for May publication in the American Economic Review but already available online, Mr. Piketty writes that far too much has been read into his thesis.
Though his formula helps explain extreme and persistent wealth inequality before World War I, Mr. Piketty maintains, it doesn’t say much about the past 100 years. “I do not view r>g as the only or even the primary tool for considering changes in income and wealth in the 20th century,” he writes, “or for forecasting the path of inequality in the 21st century.”
Illustration: David G Klein
Instead, Mr. Piketty argues in his new paper that political shocks, institutional changes and economic development played a major role in inequality in the past and will likely do so in the future.
When he narrows his focus to what he calls “labor income inequality”—the difference in compensation between front-line workers and CEOs—Mr. Piketty consigns his famous formula to irrelevance. “In addition, I certainly do not believe that r>g is a useful tool for the discussion of rising inequality of labor income: other mechanisms and policies are much more relevant here, e.g. supply and demand of skills and education.” He correctly distinguishes between income and wealth, and he takes a long historic perspective: “Wealth inequality is currently much less extreme than a century ago.”
All of this takes the wind out of enraptured progressives’ interpretation of Mr. Piketty’s book, which embraced the r>g formulation as relevant to debates playing out in Congress. Writing in the New York Review of Books last May, for example, Mr. Krugman lauded the book as a “magnificent, sweeping meditation on inequality.” He wrote that Mr. Piketty has proven that “we haven’t just gone back to nineteenth-century levels of income inequality, we’re also on a path back to ‘patrimonial capitalism,’ in which the commanding heights of the economy are controlled not by talented individuals but by family dynasties.”
The r>g formulation always struck me as unconvincing. First, Mr. Piketty’s definition of r as including “profits, dividends, interest, rents, and other income from capital” conflates returns on real business activity (profits) with returns on financial assets (dividends and interest).
Second, it ignores the basic rule of economics that when supply of capital increases faster than demand, the yield on capital falls. For instance, since the great recession, the money supply has grown far more rapidly than the real economy, driving down interest rates. Returns on government bonds, the least risky asset, are now close to zero before inflation and negative 1% to 2% after inflation. In today’s low-return environment, with the headwinds of income and estate taxes, it becomes a Herculean task to build and transmit intergenerational wealth.
Many mainstream economists had reservations about Mr. Piketty’s views even before he began walking them back. Consider the working paper issued by the National Bureau of Economic Research in December. Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, professors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard, respectively, find Mr. Piketty’s theory too simplistic. “We argue that general economic laws are unhelpful as a guide to understand the past or predict the future,” the paper’s abstract reads, “because they ignore the central role of political and economic institutions, as well as the endogenous evolution of technology, in shaping the distribution of resources in society.”
The Initiative on Global Markets at the University of Chicago asked economists in October whether they agreed or disagreed with the following statement: “The most powerful force pushing towards greater wealth inequality in the U.S. since the 1970s is the gap between the after-tax return on capital and the economic growth rate.” Of 36 economists who responded, only one agreed.
Other critics have questioned the trove of statistical data Mr. Piketty assembled to chart trends in income and wealth in the U.S., U.K., France and Sweden over the past century. Are such diverse data comparable, and have the adjustments that Mr. Piketty introduced to make them comparable distorted the final picture?
After an extensive review, Chris Giles, the economics editor of the Financial Times, concluded in May last year that “Two of Capital in the 21st Century’s central findings—that wealth inequality has begun to rise over the past 30 years and that the U.S. obviously has a more unequal distribution of wealth than Europe—no longer seem to hold.”
Mr. Piketty is willing to stand up and say that the material in his book does not support all the uses to which it has been put, that “Capital in the 21st Century” is primarily a work of history. That is certainly admirable. Now it is time for those who cry that we are heading into a new gilded age to follow his lead.
Mr. Rosenkranz is a financier and economist who promotes civil discourse as founder of the Intelligence Squared U.S. debates.
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Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / WSJ: Netflix recants on net neutrality
on: March 09, 2015, 03:07:44 PM
Netflix Recants on Obamanet
Proponents of net neutrality appear to be experiencing lobbyists’ remorse.
by L. Gordon Crovitz March 8, 2015 7:49 p.m. ET WSJ
Corporate executives choose their words carefully at investor conferences hosted by the large investment banks, and analysts listen closely to decide whether to drive share prices up or down. Presentations are preceded by required securities-law disclosures, heightening the pressure to speak only carefully considered thoughts.
With that in mind, consider what David Wells, chief financial officer of Netflix said last week at the annual Morgan Stanley Technology, Media and Telecom Conference. He disclosed that Netflix, one of the few companies that advocated the most extreme form of Internet regulation, had lobbyist’s remorse only a week after the Federal Communications Commission voted to replace the open Internet with Obamanet.
“Were we pleased it pushed to Title II?” Mr. Wells said to investors. “Probably not. We were hoping there might be a nonregulated solution.”
Title II is the part of the Communications Act of 1934 that bureaucrats used to exert near-total control over the AT&T telephone monopoly. The FCC recently did President Obama’s bidding by voting to impose that micromanagement on the Internet. The FCC will decide what prices and other terms online are “just and reasonable.” The agency added a new “general conduct” catchall provision giving itself oversight of Internet content and business models.
Netflix PR handlers claimed that Mr. Wells was just “trying to convey how our position had evolved.” But the company’s actions support Mr. Wells’s words. Last week, Netflix violated a core tenet of net neutrality when it launched its service in Australia as part of a “zero rating” offering by broadband providers, which excludes its video from data caps. Net neutrality advocates want to outlaw such deals. Netflix shrugged off this objection: “We won’t put our service or our members at a disadvantage.”
Last year National Journal reported that Netflix was “relishing” its role as the lead lobbyist for net neutrality, “not only advocating a position that would protect its profits,” but “also earning goodwill from web activists and liberals.”
Today Netflix is a poster child for crony capitalism. When CEO Reed Hastings lobbied for Internet regulations, all he apparently really wanted was for regulators to tilt the scales in his direction with service providers. Or as Geoffrey Manne of the International Center for Law and Economics put it in Wired: “Did we really just enact 300 pages of legally questionable, enormously costly, transformative rules just to help Netflix in a trivial commercial spat?”
Ironically, Netflix could end up the biggest loser with a regulated Internet. The FCC did not stop at claiming power to regulate broadband providers. It will also review the interconnection agreements and network tools that allow the smooth functioning of the Internet—including delivery of Netflix videos, which take up one-third of broadband nationwide at peak times.
Net-neutrality advocates oppose “fast lanes” on the Internet, arguing they put startups at a disadvantage. Netflix could not operate without fast lanes and even built its own content-delivery network to reduce costs and improve quality. This approach will now be subject to the “just and reasonable” test. The FCC could force Netflix to open its proprietary delivery network to competitors and pay broadband providers a “fair” price for its share of usage.
There’s no need for the FCC to override the free-market agreements that make the Internet work so well. Fast lanes like Netflix’s saved the Internet from being overwhelmed, and there is nothing wrong with the “zero cap” approach Netflix is using in Australia. Consumers benefit from lower-priced services.
The FCC still hasn’t made public its 300-plus pages of new regulations, but there is increasing opposition against changing the Internet as we know it. Last week John Perry Barlow, the Grateful Dead lyricist-turned-Internet-evangelist, participated in a conference call of Internet pioneers opposed to the FCC treating the Internet as a utility. He called the regulatory step “singular arrogance.”
In 1996 Mr. Barlow’s “Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” helped inspire a bipartisan consensus for the open Internet: “Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.”
The permissionless Internet succeeded beyond anyone’s expectations, becoming an unmatched outlet for creativity and innovation. Mr. Obama has defied the bipartisan consensus that made this possible. Unless Congress or the courts intervene, the future of the Internet will look like the past, when bureaucrats and lawyers, not visionaries and entrepreneurs, were in charge.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Future Obamacare costs keep falling
on: March 09, 2015, 02:25:10 PM
What say we?
Future Obamacare Costs Keep Falling
By Nick Timiraos and Stephanie Armour
Floridians sign up for the Affordable Care Act in February. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects the law will cost the government 11% less than their forecast six weeks ago.
Nearly five years after President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law, federal budget scorekeepers have sharply revised down the projected costs of the signature bill.
In the latest projection, published by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office on Monday, the major provisions of the law will cost the government 11% less than they forecast six weeks ago, or $142 billion over the coming decade.
Overall, the health-care law will now cost 29% less for the 2015-19 period than was first forecast by the CBO when the law was signed in March 2010. Back then, the CBO and the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation estimated that for the last five years of their 10-year projection, Obamacare would cost $710 billion. Now, they expect it will cost $506 billion for the same period.
In 2019, for example, the agencies project Obamacare will cost $116 billion, which is down 33% from the initial forecast for the same year made in 2010.
Monday’s report illustrates two dynamics at play. First, health-care costs are rising more slowly than previous forecasts assumed. And slightly fewer people than anticipated are signing up for health insurance through federal exchanges.
The CBO estimates the government will spend 20% less on subsidies provided to individuals who purchase health insurance through the federal health exchange, or around $209 billion in lower-than-projected costs over the coming 10 years.
The government won’t see all of that savings, however, because the CBO also estimates that the government will collect less money from taxes on certain high-premium insurance plans. The latest forecast now projects taxes on those so-called “Cadillac” plans will bring in 41% less money, or $62 billion in reduced revenues. The CBO forecast shows that in 2022, the tax will bring 71% less than projected in 2012.
The decrease in government spending on the health-exchange subsidies is linked in part to projections of slower growth in health care spending. The growth in private health insurance spending per enrollee over the 2006-2013 period averaged 1.8% per year, compared with an average rate of 5% per year during the 1998-2005 period, according to the report.
In the past, the CBO had assumed that the recent slowdown in health-care inflation was temporary and would quickly reverse. The latest projections assume that health-care inflation will rise more modestly.
The slower growth in health care spending is attributed in part to the slow economic recovery and more insurance cost-sharing requirements like deductibles, which have prompted consumers to rein in their own spending on medical care. Medicare spending growth has also slowed.
The CBO report also decreased its estimate of the number of people who will be without health insurance to around 25 million, from its prior forecast of 27 million.
The report also reflects lower-than-expected enrollment in federal and state exchanges set up under the Affordable Care Act. The Obama administration said about 11.4 million people signed up for private insurance through the health law’s exchanges so far this year.
The CBO earlier estimated that 13 million people would enroll in private health plans in 2015 but has since lowered that projection.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / ACLU looking for 200l illegals to bring back into US
on: March 09, 2015, 11:55:11 AM
ACLU Searching Mexico for 200,000 Illegal Aliens to Import (Not a Joke)
March 8, 2015 By Stephen Frank 2 Comments
Last year Barack the First imported about 70,000 illegal aliens from Central America. As of the beginning of January, 2015, 93% of those who had hearings failed to show up and disappeared—as expected. Over the past few years 200,000 illegal aliens have been caught at the border, signed voluntary deportation papers and were shipped back to Mexico. This is a good thing.
But, the ACLU claimed the illegal aliens did not know their “rights”, signed the papers without benefit of attorneys and should be given a second chance to break our laws. A court agreed, and now the ACLU is searching Mexico for 200,000 illegal aliens to illegally bring into this country
The worse news is that YOU the taxpayer are going to pay for their transportation back to this country, their housing, food, attorneys and maybe even given jobs! Think any of them will go to their deportation hearing? The world has gone crazy—and we get to pay for the corruption of the government and courts.
ACLU Searches For Deportees Denied Immigration Hearing
By Jean Guerrero,KPBS, 3/7/15
The American Civil Liberties Union has started searching for deportees in Mexico who may be eligible to return to the United States as part of a class-action lawsuit against the federal government.
The campaign was launched after U.S. District Judge John A. Kronstadt gave the ACLU a green light to broaden its class of plaintiffs.
Isidora Lopez-Venegas, one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union against the federal government, discusses why she signed the voluntary return form that resulted in her expulsion from the U.S., March 6, 2015.
Eleven plaintiffs and three Southern California immigrant-rights groups accused the federal government of coercing the plaintiffs, all Mexican immigrants, into signing voluntary return forms. By signing the forms, the plaintiffs forfeited their rights to an immigration hearing and, in some cases, were subject to a 10-year prohibition of legal re-entry.
The lawsuit was brought against the U.S. Border Patrol and Immigration Customs and Enforcement in 2013.
The lawsuit was settled last year, allowing plaintiffs like Isidora Lopez-Venegas to return to the U.S. A single mother and elementary school teacher, Lopez-Venegas spent three years exiled in Mexico with her U.S.-citizen son.
“I felt paralyzed,” she said in an interview.
Lopez-Venegas said she signed a voluntary return form because immigration officials threatened to take away her son if she didn’t.
The American Civil Liberties Union held a meeting to distribute information about a class action lawsuit against the federal government in search of deportees who may be eligible to return to the U.S., March 4, 2015.
“I became afraid. I became so nervous,” said Lopez-Venegas, who now lives in San Diego. “They were intimidating me, threatening me, and that’s why I got scared and said, ‘OK, I’ll sign it.’”
Deportees qualify to join the ACLU’s class-action lawsuit if they signed the voluntary return form between June 1, 2009, and August 28, 2014. They must have been deported to Mexico from the San Diego or Los Angeles field offices, and they had to have reasonable claims to reside in the U.S. at the time of signing.
Reasonable claims include having qualified for the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or having paperwork in process for an immigration status change. They could additionally claim that they had a citizen spouse, that they they had lived in the U.S. for more than 10 years or had family members with citizenship or green cards.
“We are working with a lot of different organizations across California and throughout Mexico in order to diffuse this information as widely as possible,” said Gabriela Rivera, a staff attorney for ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties.
As part of the 2014 settlement, the federal government agreed to provide immigrants with detailed information about the consequences of signing a voluntary return form in the future. Immigration officials will also allow ACLU attorneys to monitor their compliance with the settlement for a period of three years.
The ACLU has four months to find possible additional plaintiffs for its class-action lawsuit. It will then file applications on their behalf through Dec. 22.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Krugman: Rubs our nose in it
on: March 09, 2015, 09:40:43 AM
Six years ago, Paul Ryan, who has since become the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and the G.O.P.’s leading voice on matters economic, had an Op-Ed article published in The Times. Under the headline “Thirty Years Later, a Return to Stagflation,” he warned that the efforts of the Obama administration and the Federal Reserve to fight the effects of financial crisis would bring back the woes of the 1970s, with both inflation and unemployment high.
True, not all Republicans agreed with his assessment. Many asserted that we were heading for Weimar-style hyperinflation instead.
Needless to say, those warnings proved totally wrong. Soaring inflation never materialized. Job creation was sluggish at first, but more recently has accelerated dramatically. Far from seeing a rerun of that ’70s show, what we’re now looking at is an economy that in important respects resembles that of the 1990s.
To be sure, there are big differences between America in 2015 and America in the ’90s. TV is much better now, the situation of workers much worse. While stocks are high and there is talk of a new technology bubble, there’s nothing like the old euphoria. There is also, unfortunately, no sign that the great productivity surge of 1995-2005, brought on as businesses adopted information technology, is coming back.
Still, we’re now adding jobs at a rate not seen since the Clinton years. And it goes without saying that low inflation combined with rapid job growth makes nonsense of all those predictions that Obamacare, or maybe just the president’s bad attitude, would destroy the private sector.
But pointing out yet again just how wrong the usual suspects on the right have been about, well, everything isn’t the only reason to note parallels with the 1990s. There are also implications for monetary policy: Recent job gains have brought the Fed to a fork in the road very much like the situation it faced circa 1995. Now, as then, job growth has taken the official unemployment rate down to a level at which, according to conventional wisdom, the economy should be overheating and inflation should be rising. But now, as then, there is no sign of the predicted inflation in the actual data.
The Fed has a so-called dual mandate — it’s supposed to achieve both price stability and full employment. At this point price stability is conventionally taken to mean low but positive inflation, at around 2 percent a year. What does it mean to achieve full employment? For the Fed, it means reaching the Nairu — the nonaccelerating inflation rate of unemployment, which is consistent with that inflation target.
The Fed currently estimates the Nairu at between 5.2 percent and 5.5 percent, and the latest report puts the actual unemployment rate at 5.5 percent. So we’re there — time to raise interest rates!
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Or maybe not. The Nairu is supposed to be the unemployment rate at which the economy overheats and an inflationary spiral starts to kick in. But there is no sign of inflationary pressure. In particular, if the job market really were tight, wages would be rising quickly, whereas they are in fact going nowhere.
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The thing is, we’ve been here before. In the early-to-mid 1990s, the Fed generally estimated the Nairu as being between 5.5 percent and 6 percent, and by 1995, unemployment had already fallen to that level. But inflation wasn’t actually rising. So Fed officials made what turned out to be a very good choice: They held their fire, waiting for clear signs of inflationary pressure. And it turned out that the United States’ economy was capable of generating millions more jobs, without inflation, than it would have if the Fed had reined in the boom too soon.
Are we in a similar situation now? Actually, I don’t know — but neither does the Fed. The question, then, is what to do in the face of that uncertainty, with no inflation problem yet in sight.
To me, as to a number of economists — perhaps most notably Lawrence Summers, the former Treasury secretary — the answer seems painfully obvious: Don’t yank away that punch bowl, don’t pull that rate-hike trigger, until you see the whites of inflation’s eyes. If it turns out that the Fed has waited a bit too long, inflation might overshoot 2 percent for a while, but that wouldn’t be a great tragedy. But if the Fed moves too soon, we might end up losing millions of jobs we could have had — and in the worst case, we might end up sliding into a Japanese-style deflationary trap, which has already happened in Sweden and possibly in the eurozone.
What’s worrisome is that it’s not clear whether Fed officials see it that way. They need to heed the lessons of history — and the relevant history here is the 1990s, not the 1970s. Let’s party like it’s 1995; let the good, or at least better, times keep rolling, and hold off on those rate hikes.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Sen. Rand Paul
on: March 09, 2015, 09:37:11 AM
March 8, 2015 7:18 p.m. ET
When Rand Paul first ran for the Senate, he faced a powerful home-state antagonist in Sen. Mitch McConnell. Now, as Mr. Paul prepares to run for president, a five-year effort to bury the hatchet has forged an odd-couple partnership that is an unseen force in both the 2016 presidential campaign and the U.S. Senate.
Mr. Paul used his clout among conservatives to help Mr. McConnell, his fellow Kentucky Republican, win re-election last year and fulfill a long-held goal of becoming Senate majority leader.
Now Mr. McConnell is helping to advance Mr. Paul’s presidential campaign, and contributed to an important victory for him Saturday. The state GOP’s executive committee endorsed Mr. Paul’s request, backed by Mr. McConnell, to establish a presidential caucus, despite concerns about financial and political costs. This would allow Mr. Paul to circumvent state law that bars him from appearing on the primary ballot both for the White House and re-election to the Senate.
“I thought it was important to show my support,’’ Mr. McConnell said in an interview. “We’ve developed over the last four years a very close and good working relationship.”
Political couples don’t get much odder. Mr. Paul is a maverick and tea-party champion who last year derided “Chamber of Commerce” Republicans. The disciplined, buttoned-up Mr. McConnell is beloved by that business group, whose Kentucky chapter last month held a banquet to honor him.
Mr. Paul, a physician with a libertarian streak, has said that—although he believes vaccination is a good thing—parents should have the freedom to not vaccinate their children. For Mr. McConnell, a polio victim as a child, vaccination is a no-brainer. On foreign policy, Mr. McConnell is a hawk; Mr. Paul, about as dovish as any Republican in the Senate.
“Sen. McConnell and I are not exactly alike: He’s a little more Henry Clay, and sometimes I’m a little more Cassius Clay,” Mr. Paul said recently, referring to the 19th century U.S. statesman known as the “Great Compromiser” and his cousin, an uncompromising abolitionist.
Their close relationship masks some very different goals. Mr. McConnell’s priorities are to hold on to the Republicans’ Senate majority and show the GOP can govern in an orderly fashion. Mr. Paul is laying the groundwork for 2016, taking potshots at potential GOP opponents and taking more provocative positions. In the latest round of budget brinkmanship, Mr. Paul opposed Mr. McConnell’s plan to keep the Department of Homeland Security funded, siding with those who wanted the bill to block the Obama administration’s immigration policy.
Their alliance has been tested by Mr. Paul’s desire to run for both president and for Senate re-election next year, which is driving his proposal to have a March presidential caucus, separate from the state’s May primary. Some Republicans have worried his dual-track plans could make it harder for the party to hold the Senate seat.
“Now that McConnell has become majority leader, his next objective is to keep the Senate majority,” said Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky. “Rand Paul is a complicating factor, because his running for president runs the risk of losing the Senate seat.”
Mr. McConnell, whose initial reaction was described by an aide as “respectful skepticism,” met with Mr. Paul in Washington and agreed to back the caucus after winning assurances that it would be a one-shot deal and that Mr. Paul would help raise money to cover its cost.
“I had a good conversation with him,” said Mr. McConnell. “I want to help him as much as I can.”
That helped overcome the reservations of others, and the GOP executive committee endorsed the idea Saturday after meeting with Mr. Paul. Details of the caucus will be worked out in the coming months.
Speaking about their relationship at the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce tribute, Mr. Paul commented on how far the pair had come since they first met in 2010, after Mr. Paul beat the GOP primary candidate whom Mr. McConnell had backed.
“I don’t think he knew what to make of me—or me of him at that point,” Mr. Paul said. Now, he calls Mr. McConnell a “great partner.”
Mr. McConnell worked to help secure Mr. Paul’s election that November. Four years later, Mr. Paul returned the favor and helped Mr. McConnell win his primary and a tough general election.
What is more, Mr. Paul, a son of libertarian hero and former presidential candidate Ron Paul , threw his weight behind Senate candidates in other states where Republicans were in danger of losing support to libertarian, third-party candidates. “He was a big asset to everyone in 2014,” said Scott Reed, senior political adviser for the Chamber of Commerce.
For Mr. Paul, the alliance with Mr. McConnell now is helping him win trust, backing and financial support from establishment figures.
Mr. McConnell’s former national finance director, Laura Sequeira, is working for Mr. Paul. Mr. McConnell himself last month dropped by a Paul fundraising dinner of insurance industry officials, sending a message of support to a group that knew him better than Mr. Paul.
“He’s very much putting his hand on Rand’s shoulder and telling the vast financial network that supported him in the past, ‘Rand is OK. He should be taken seriously,’ ” said Jesse Benton, a longtime Paul family friend and political aide who also worked on Mr. McConnell’s 2014 campaign.
The partnership with Mr. McConnell, however, carries a political downside for Mr. Paul among his base voters. Some activists were enraged when Mr. Paul supported Mr. McConnell last year over his tea-party primary challenger, Matt Bevin.
“He seems a little too comfortable with the establishment,” said Heather Stancil, co-chairman of the Madison County GOP in Iowa.
Mr. Paul could regain favor with those voters, however, were Mr. McConnell to bring to a Senate vote the “Audit the Fed” legislation that is a marquee issue for libertarians. Many Federal Reserve officials worry the measure could undermine the central bank’s independence.
Mr. McConnell said he hadn’t yet decided whether to bring the bill to a vote but noted that it could easily be brought up as an amendment.
Write to Janet Hook at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: Latino employment doing well
on: March 09, 2015, 09:31:23 AM
WASHINGTON — With the economy adding nearly 300,000 jobs in February, it’s clear that the labor market is on a roll. And, perhaps surprisingly, there is no group for whom that is truer than Hispanics.
Employment among Hispanics has increased 5 percent over the last 12 months, according to the Labor Department, compared with 3.8 percent for blacks and 1.4 percent for whites. (The last figure partly reflects the rising number of retirements among the aging white population.)
Of all the country’s major racial and ethnic groups, only Hispanics, as of late last year, had returned to their unemployment levels before the recession, according to the recent Economic Report of the President.
Given that roughly half of Hispanic workers are foreign born, that development might seem destined to aggravate nativist tensions in Congress, where Republicans have tried to roll back the president’s executive action on undocumented immigrants.
But, on closer inspection, the trends driving the improving job market for Hispanics are trends most skeptics of immigration would cheer.
The first is a rebound in the construction industry, which is good news for the American economy as a whole, because construction jobs pay above-average wages to low-skill workers.
Just before the recession, about 14 percent of Hispanics, or nearly three million people, were employed in construction. That group then lost about 700,000 jobs, of which only a trickle had returned through 2013.
But 2014 was a bonanza compared with recent years. The construction industry as a whole gained over half a million jobs, about 20 percent of all the jobs created in the United States economy. Of those, 315,000 went to Hispanics. Not surprisingly, the new construction jobs are concentrated in four states — California, Florida, Illinois and Texas — where the Latino population is among the highest in the country.
“Construction was pretty down two, three years ago, but last year was a lot better,” said Oscar Mondragon, the director of the Malibu Community Labor Exchange, which connects laborers with employers throughout the Los Angeles area. “People are feeling better. It’s a more positive mood.”
More broadly, the surge in Hispanic employment reflects an increasingly robust recovery. Economists generally say that the job prospects of lower-skill workers are more sensitive to the economy’s tidal movements than those with better skills, and Hispanics, as a group, tend to be less educated than blacks and whites.
In 2012, according to the Pew Research Center, 49 percent of foreign-born Hispanics age 25 and older, and 19.6 percent of Hispanics in that age group who were born in the United States, lacked a high school diploma. The corresponding number for blacks was 16.6 percent, and 8.5 percent for whites. If Hispanic employment is surging, it’s a decent indication that the recovery has taken hold.
The second reason behind lower Hispanic unemployment is a sharp decline in illegal immigration in recent years, which has reduced the number of workers who might otherwise have turned up in government unemployment statistics.
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At the recent peak in the mid-2000s, federal agents were apprehending just over one million undocumented migrants a year along the southern border. That number fell by roughly half during the recession, then dribbled to 340,000 in 2011. The collapse in apprehensions of immigrants from Mexico, by far the largest source of undocumented labor, was even sharper.
The reason for the drop was twofold, said Madeline Zavodny, an economist at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Ga. First, economic conditions in Mexico were improving even as growth in the United States remained sluggish, reducing a crucial incentive to emigrate.
On top of that was a development that should warm the hearts of Tea Party supporters: enforcement. Thanks to the rapid militarization of the border — the number of border patrol agents has increased by two-thirds since 2006 — crossing into the United States is now a far more daunting proposition than before the recession.
“It’s more costly in terms of what you have to pay a coyote, how remote you have to go,” Ms. Zavodny said.
The more aggressive enforcement of immigration laws extends far beyond the border. More than half a million employers now use E-Verify, an Internet-based government service that determines in seconds whether a recent hire is eligible for work in this country. That has effectively reduced the universe of jobs available to undocumented immigrants.
“When a company makes it clear they’re using E-Verify, the whole work force knows,” said Pia Orrenius, an economist who studies immigration at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. “That news spreads like you would not believe.”
Meanwhile, the Secure Communities program that began in 2008 made it easier for the Homeland Security Department to identify and remove undocumented workers, whose fingerprints it received whenever local authorities took an immigrant into custody. The federal government deported hundreds of thousands of people through the program before the Obama administration halted it in late 2014.
Taken together, the story of the last 10 years looks something like the following: A construction boom from 2004 to 2007 led to a corresponding boom in Hispanic employment, with immigrants gaining 1.6 million jobs and native-born Hispanics gaining 800,000, according to Pew. Unemployment then spiked for both groups during the recession, and contributed to a drop in illegal immigration. And because immigration has never really recovered, the recent rebound in construction is primarily benefiting American-born workers.
Sooner or later, of course, the recovery will begin attracting more workers from Latin America, notwithstanding the beefed-up enforcement. Although illegal immigration is still far below its peak, it has begun to tick up again. Excluding unaccompanied minors, apprehensions at the southern border are up 25 percent since they bottomed out in 2011.
But even this is not necessarily a bad thing for American workers, at least not in the long run. Recent research suggests that, over time, an influx of low-skill immigrants allows many native-born workers to perform more sophisticated tasks for better pay. “More construction workers generates the need for more supervisors, more managers to coordinate them, more contractors to give them work,” said Giovanni Peri, an economics professor at the University of California, Davis.
Showdowns between Congress and the president may be zero-sum, in which one side wins only at the other’s expense. But immigration, it turns out, is not.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / King v Burwell: an interesting argument
on: March 09, 2015, 09:29:02 AM
WASHINGTON — In 2012, the Supreme Court declared that Congress had put “a gun to the head” of states by pressuring them to expand Medicaid, and it said that such “economic dragooning” of the states violated federalism principles embedded in the Constitution.
Now, in a separate case, comments by several justices indicate that they could uphold a pillar of the Affordable Care Act — insurance subsidies for millions of lower-income people — by invoking those same principles.
In 2012, the court said it would be unconstitutional for Congress to cut off all Medicaid payments to states that refused to expand eligibility, and this ruling instantly transformed the expansion of Medicaid into a state option.
That precedent echoed through oral arguments last week before the court; justices again expressed respect for federalism and state sovereignty.
Under the health care law, Congress gave states a choice: They could establish and operate their own competitive insurance marketplaces, or they could rely on one established by the federal government. It was, several justices said, inconceivable that Congress would then punish states that used the federal exchange by denying insurance subsidies to their residents.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy suggested that such a choice could coerce states in a potentially unconstitutional way. Under the theory favored by critics of the health care law, Justice Kennedy said last week, “the states are being told either create your own exchange, or we’ll send your insurance market into a death spiral,” and “the cost of insurance will be sky high.”
Mark H. Gallant, a health lawyer at Cozen O’Connor in Philadelphia, said: “Justice Kennedy’s take on this case was a brilliant touch. He used the plaintiffs’ own argument against them to suggest that it would be unconstitutionally coercive if Congress made the subsidies depend on a state’s decision to establish an exchange.”
Plaintiffs in the case, King v. Burwell, say the Affordable Care Act authorizes subsidies only in states that created their own insurance exchanges.
Justice Antonin Scalia said it was “gobbledygook” for the Obama administration to suggest that an exchange set up by the federal government “qualifies as an exchange established by the state.” When the language of the law is clear and unambiguous, he said, the court cannot twist the words to avoid “untoward consequences.”
And Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. said the court could delay the impact of its ruling if the consequences were as disruptive as the administration said.
But the Obama administration argues that the subsidies are available in all states, including more than 30 that refused to establish exchanges and rely on the federal marketplace. Without the subsidies, it says, many people would be unable to afford insurance, and healthier consumers would go without coverage, leaving insurers with a sicker, more expensive pool of customers.
The Affordable Care Act has begun reducing the number of uninsured in two main ways: by expanding Medicaid and by providing tax credits to subsidize private insurance purchased through the public exchanges. The court, which focused on Medicaid three years ago, is now examining the subsidies.
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Justice Sonia Sotomayor told the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Michael A. Carvin, that if the court accepted his argument, it would be “intruding on the federal-state relationship, because then the states are going to be coerced into establishing their own exchanges.”
And Justice Elena Kagan said Congress had not warned states of the consequences if they chose to use the federal exchange. In interpreting statutes, Justice Kagan said, the court presumes that “Congress does not mean to impose heavy burdens and draconian choices on states unless it says so awfully clearly.”
For decades, more conservative justices have emphasized respect for state sovereignty. The court often uses “basic principles of federalism embodied in the Constitution to resolve ambiguity in a federal statute,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said in his opinion for the court in an unrelated case nine months ago.
The oral arguments also showed how the court, in the digital age, could be influenced by a flood of research, analysis and commentary from bloggers, scholars and advocates forecasting dire consequences if insurance subsidies end. More than 20 legal briefs have conveyed those concerns to the court, citing studies by groups like the Commonwealth Fund, the Urban Institute, the Kaiser Family Foundation, the RAND Corporation and Families USA.
“In the last six weeks,” said Abbe R. Gluck, a law professor at Yale, “people finally woke up and became aware of the drastic real-world consequences.”
A typical study, from the Urban Institute, based on a computer model of the health care system, was titled: “Implications of a Supreme Court Finding for the Plaintiff in King v. Burwell: 8.2 Million More Uninsured and 35 Percent Higher Premiums.”
When ruling on appeals, judges typically make decisions by closely reading the law and applying it to the facts of a case, as revealed in a trial court. But in the subsidies case, supporters of the health care law found a way to bring their predictions to the Supreme Court justices’ attention.
The government argued that Congress could not have imposed such drastic consequences on states without discussing the impact and without giving clear, explicit notice to the states.
“If that was really the plan, then the consequence for the states would be in neon lights in this statute,” said Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr.
Justice Kennedy has long been a protector of the states. They need clear notice of the conditions attached to federal funds so they can “guard against excessive federal intrusion into state affairs and be vigilant in policing the boundaries of federal power,” he wrote in 1999.
The Affordable Care Act expanded federal power, but preserved a large role for states.
Mr. Carvin, the plaintiffs’ lawyer, said the law had offered an irresistible incentive — “billions of free federal dollars” in subsidies — as an inducement for states to set up exchanges.
“That’s hardly invading state sovereignty,” Mr. Carvin said.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Sspslits in ISIS emerge
on: March 09, 2015, 09:18:52 AM
Splits in Islamic State Emerge as Its Ranks Expand
Defectors say discord is mounting in extremist group over pay disparities, battlefield setbacks and corruption
In this photo taken June 23, 2014, Islamic State fighters parade in a commandeered Iraqi security forces armored vehicle on the main road in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. ENLARGE
In this photo taken June 23, 2014, Islamic State fighters parade in a commandeered Iraqi security forces armored vehicle on the main road in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. Photo: Associated Press
March 9, 2015 9:25 a.m. ET
BEIRUT—Islamic State is struggling to maintain unity and discipline in the face of corruption, ideological differences and defections that have mounted along with the expansion of its ranks and cash coffers.
Interviews with four recent Islamic State defectors and civilians living in areas the group controls in Syria and Iraq portray an organization with growing pains as it works to accommodate an expanding number of fighters, who bring a multitude of motivations, ideologies and levels of experience.
While some of the discord within the group stems from the extremist group’s rapid rise from an al Qaeda offshoot to the world’s wealthiest jihadist organization, many of the tensions come from the higher salaries and better lodgings given to foreigners recruited to fight alongside locals. The accounts of the growing fissures are consistent with information provided by U.S. and European officials and analysts tracking Islamic State.
The Paris attacks on Charlie Hebdo in January have put new focus on recent terrorist propaganda, which features no shortage of jihadists claiming to be from France.
“The Syrian fighters feel they’ve been treated unjustly in comparison to the foreign fighters,” said a Syrian who cited this favoritism and the “un-Islamic” levels of brutality meted out to civilians as the reasons for his defection in December.
Islamic State continues to portray its fighters as unified and ready to confront U.S. and Iraqi forces in battles in Iraq while maintaining its grip on Syrian territory as new recruits continue to bolster its ranks. It also continues to draw followers, most notably with Saturday’s pledge of loyalty to the group by Boko Haram, whose fighters have terrorized northeastern Nigeria.
This support, however, hasn’t stopped potentially decisive splits forming in the hard-line ideology that forms the backbone of the group.
When Islamic State captured Jordanian air-force pilot First Lt. Muath al-Kasasbeh in December, for example, there were disagreements over his fate. Some members of the group’s Shura council, which dispenses religious guidance, insisted he be ransomed or exchanged in a prisoner swap, saying burning him alive had no precedent in Islamic texts, one defector said.
Eventually, Lt. Kasasbeh was placed in a black steel cage, doused with gasoline and set alight. The move not only dismayed some members of Islamic State but damaged the organization’s reputation among members of rival jihadist groups it is attempting to co-opt, according another defector.
Recent battlefield setbacks have made the formidable group more fragile and less cohesive than at any time in its history, said Hassan Hassan, a Middle East analyst and co-author of a recently published book about Islamic State. The group’s loss of the Syrian city of Kobani to Kurdish fighters in late January sapped morale and spurred desertions, the defectors and Mr. Hassan said.
Iraqi and Iranian forces launched an offensive last week to recapture the Iraqi city of Tikrit from Islamic State forces. If the operation succeeds, deepening dissent could deal another blow to the group’s prestige and pave the way for a U.S.-backed Iraqi assault to seize back control of Mosul, the country’s second-largest city, that Islamic State seized in June.
The Islamist group’s blitz through Syria and Iraq last summer drew recruits from across the world. According to U.S. intelligence estimates, Islamic State has 20,000 foreigners representing some 90 countries, along with about 18,000 Syrians and Iraqis, making it the biggest Arab jihadist group.
In signs of further ideological divisions, Islamic State said in December it had arrested members of an extremist cell who were plotting a coup against the organization’s leaders.
Before executing them, it released videotaped confessions in which the defectors denounced Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, blaming him for tolerating secular Muslims for the sake of the tax proceeds they provided. One of the men charged with subversion branded Mr. Baghdadi an infidel. In the video, the accused charged with deviating from God.
Islamic State hard-liners eager to expand the group’s self-proclaimed caliphate have clashed with recent enlistees from the more secular Free Syrian Army, according to the defectors. The hard-liners worry that the group is selling out its ideology by absorbing hundreds of these fighters, whose main goal is to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and whose moderate religious views they deem heretical.
The group also faces problems managing cash as its ranks and operations expand, with more emirs, or princes, directing various governmental departments across Islamic State provinces and reporting to Mr. Baghdadi. Oil sales, extortion, looting, kidnapping for ransom and donations are generating as much as $5 million in proceeds each day, U.S. officials say, all of which Islamic State needs to govern the territory it has conquered. That, in turn, has led to corruption.
In February, two Egyptians overseeing Syria’s Deir Ezzour province for Islamic State fled with thousands of dollars of the group’s funds, including profit from al Omar oil field, the country’s largest, said residents of the province. The head of Islamic State’s religious police in the eastern Syrian city of Raqqa, the group’s de facto capital, stole thousands of dollars from the organization’s coffers before fleeing to Turkey in January, said area residents. Mr. Hassan, the analyst, said he also had evidence of growing graft within the group.
Smoke rises as Iraqi security forces and Shiite fighters clash with Islamic State militants at the town of Tal Ksaiba, near Al-Alam, on Saturday. Iraqi security forces and Shi'ite militia fighters are trying to advance into the towns of al-Alam and al-Dour near Tikrit. ENLARGE
Smoke rises as Iraqi security forces and Shiite fighters clash with Islamic State militants at the town of Tal Ksaiba, near Al-Alam, on Saturday. Iraqi security forces and Shi'ite militia fighters are trying to advance into the towns of al-Alam and al-Dour near Tikrit. Photo: Reuters
U.S.-led airstrikes on oil facilities, along with declining energy prices, have diminished Islamic State’s resources, according to a February report by the Financial Action Task Force, a Paris-based intergovernmental body.
More controversial still are differences in pay and distribution of war booty, part of efforts to lure more recruits from abroad. Foreign recruits are earning monthly salaries of $800, while Syrian fighters are drawing $400, the defectors said. Fighters from abroad are awarded the choicest properties confiscated by the group, while the Syrians are given humbler quarters.
Compounding this resentment that has led to a large increase in defections in recent months is what the Syrian members of Islamic State view as the poor combat performance by foreign fighters, as well as their refusal to serve long stints in the battlefield, as the U.S.-led military coalition pounds the group’s positions from the air.
Some of the foreigners who have flocked to Syria to join Islamic State are reluctant to fight at all, said a defector and a European official who monitors the movement of his country’s citizens in and out of the region. As an alternative, some seek to join the vice-and-virtue squads that enforce the group’s hard-line behavioral and dress codes.
“Some of these fighters go to Syria to live off the welfare of Islamic State—get a house, a wife in exchange for some lowly [bureaucratic] position. But now they’re being asked to fight, and they don’t always want to,” the official said.
Civilians living Raqqa say the group’s forces that patrol the city’s streets are demanding that foreign fighters produce papers from their commanders proving their leaves are authorized.
The choices facing disgruntled foreign fighters for Islamic State are limited, however. Foreign members from the West and the Middle East are unable to go home, as governments increasingly strip them of their citizenship or jail them upon their return.
Besides growing friction between Islamic State’s foreign and local fighters, the organization also faces a crisis in morale, precipitated mainly by the loss of Kobani in January after a four-month battle for control of the Syrian border city. Some militants were angered by the hundreds of deaths the group suffered in trying to retain control of a city they believed had little strategic significance, according to civilians living in Raqqa and defectors.
During the Kobani campaign, summary punishment was meted out to those who refused to fight. Some 60 fighters were executed in January after they retreated from advancing Kurdish forces in Tal Abyad, near Kobani, said a Syrian defector, citing accounts from members of the group with whom he is still in contact. Those executions came after reports by antigovernment activists that another 100 foreign fighters were killed for fleeing the Kobani battlefield in December.
Rival jihadist groups such as al Nusra, al Qaeda’s Syria branch, and Ahrar al Sham are exploiting Islamic State’s internal quarreling helping its disillusioned or exhausted fighters flee and join their ranks.
One former Islamic State fighter said he was jailed after he protested the group’s brutal treatment of civilians. After returning to the battlefield, he deserted with the logistical help of Ahrar al Sham.
“Islamic State is the most afraid of these defections,” he said.
—Mohammed Nour Alakraa in Beirut contributed to this article.
Write to Maria Abi-Habib at email@example.com
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Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The hardest job in Afghanistan
on: March 08, 2015, 01:22:11 PM
The Hardest (and Most Important) Job in Afghanistan
A week on the front lines with the Afghan National Police.
By AZAM AHMEDMARCH 4, 2015
Early one cold January morning on the high plains of eastern Afghanistan, Maj. Mohammad Qasim and a few of his officers gathered in the rundown barracks that serve as a district headquarters for the Afghan National Police in Baraki Barak. Qasim and his officers were the only government security available to the 100,000 people living in a district roughly twice the size of Manhattan, and about half of the district was now controlled by the Taliban. Kabul is just 40 miles away, but the Afghan National Army had not been to Baraki Barak in two years. The ceiling in Qasim’s office leaked when it rained, and the electricity was out indefinitely, so the men had taken to sitting on floor cushions around the wood stove in Qasim’s bedroom, drinking green tea from smudged glass mugs and dealing with the problems of the day. This morning, the first problem was the death of Hajji Khalil.
He had been one of the wealthiest men in Chiltan, a small village about eight miles from the district headquarters. He farmed apples and apricots, and he owned a grocery store hundreds of miles away in the Pakistani city of Quetta. He also ran a hawala, an informal money-transfer business, through which Afghan workers in Iran sent money home to their families. Khalil was deeply troubled when, a little more than a year ago, he saw Taliban insurgents walking openly in Chiltan, pressing young men to join them and questioning anyone who seemed connected to the government. His status earned him the respect of the Taliban — “hajji” is an honorific for Muslims who have completed the hajj; like many Afghans, he has only one name — but it also obliged him to respond to their harassment of his neighbors. With Qasim’s help, he organized about 50 of his neighbors, including two of his brothers, into a militia — one of a few dozen such groups, referred to as “uprisers,” who have joined the government in battling the Taliban. Armed with secondhand rifles, the militia helped Qasim’s men in a firefight in the next village over. After that, the Taliban knew they could no longer walk freely in Chiltan.
Now Khalil was dead, murdered a few days earlier on his way home from a meeting with Qasim right here at the district headquarters. Three Taliban gunmen had fired into his car, exploding a propane canister in the trunk and incinerating the vehicle, along with Khalil and two passengers. A third passenger who survived, and even managed to shoot and kill one of the fleeing insurgents, was now recovering at a hospital in Kabul. But Qasim needed to compensate Khalil’s family for his death, and quickly, before the remaining uprisers of Chiltan — farmers, shepherds and unemployed men, maybe 17 in all — decided that the fighting was no longer worth the effort.
Qasim during a visit to Shah Aghasi, a village on a front line in the fight against the Taliban. Credit Tyler Hicks/The New York Times
One officer had drafted a diagram of the attack to attach to the death-payment requisition for the Interior Ministry, and Qasim, who is just over 50, squat and potbellied with an unruly beard, now peered down at it. “This is all wrong,” he said, shaking his head. Landmarks were missing, distances miscalculated. The river went the wrong way.
The author of the map was unabashed: What did it matter? Who in Kabul would even know the difference?
In answer, Qasim put the drawing aside and, with a clean sheet of paper and a ruler, began drawing a new diagram. He drew a compass, then he sketched the roads, the footpaths, the farmland, the water and all the other landmarks. Eight minutes passed. Qasim placed the two maps side by side and looked at the officer.
“Your drawing is fine,” he said. “But this map explains itself.”
In a district shadowed by constant violence, it was seemingly left to Qasim, and to him alone, to prevent a slide into anarchy. A week earlier, masked men dragged the district judge, Ghulam Hassan, from his car and pummeled him unconscious, leaving him on the side of a dirt road. Now, as another officer who had just rushed into Qasim’s bedroom was explaining, the judge had sent word from his hospital bed that he no longer felt safe working in Baraki Barak. He wanted to move the courts to Pul-i-Alam, the provincial capital. Qasim saw where such a move would lead. No one would use the courts if they were in Pul-i-Alam, a half-hour drive by the safer of two roads. The prosecutor would leave next, forced to abandon the district, having nowhere to work. Then, with every other civil service absent, the district governor, who rarely spent time here anyway, would probably disappear. It would amount to a Taliban takeover. A single beating could collapse what little civil society remained in the district.
Qasim picked up his cellphone, a punch-button Nokia relic, and began making calls to local politicians, arguing that they should use all their influence to prevent the judge from fleeing. “The district governor should be doing this,” Qasim told me. “But he’s hiding.” As it happened, the governor’s office was just on the other side of the compound. After a few calls, Qasim tore a scrap of paper from a notebook, scribbled on it and handed it to an officer. I asked him what the scrap was for. He said it was an i.o.u.: $3 for cellphone refill cards from the shopkeeper in the bazaar across the street. “We haven’t been paid our salaries in two months,” he said.
Armed with pledges of support from his political connections, Qasim decided to walk over to the governor’s office. The governor, Mohammad Rahim Amin, rose to embrace Qasim, who in turn introduced me. We sat near the window, in the sunlight that was the main source of heat in the office. Amin, a tall man with carefully combed hair, understood the situation. Qasim had brought a reporter; better behave. The chief made his pitch — “If we lose the courts, we lose the people,” he concluded — and Amin leaned back in his chair, a practiced look of concern spreading across his face. He looked at me, then looked at his cellphone, an iPhone 6, for several moments.
“We will keep the courts here,” he said finally. “If the judge refuses, he can quit. We’ll find someone else who is willing to stay.” What little government there was would remain, at least for a few more days.
The Afghan Police are on the front lines of both fights that matter in Afghanistan: one to defeat the Taliban, the other to gain the loyalty of the people. It is the same conundrum faced by the police in conflict zones from Iraq to El Salvador: To deliver services, there must be security; to deliver security, there must be services. And in too much of Afghanistan today, there is neither. In Baraki Barak, 30 of Qasim’s 200 officers were killed in the last year, representing one of the highest police death rates in all of Afghanistan.
Nationwide, of the 5,588 security personnel who died in 2014 — the deadliest year on record — 3,720 were police officers, double the number of soldiers killed on the job, according to an internal report that a Western official provided to me. (He asked to remain anonymous because he did not want to publicly contradict the lower numbers published by the Afghan government.) Civilian casualties, meanwhile, surpassed 10,000, the highest number since the United Nations began tracking them in 2009. No one expects 2015 to be any less violent. As the American military continues to scale back — declining air support, almost zero combat missions, fewer advisers and mentors to aid battle planning — the situation will most likely deteriorate further.
Members of the Afghan National Police are largely illiterate, widely reputed to be on the take and in some cases actively working with the Taliban they are charged with defeating. A nationwide drug screening in 2009 found that more than a fifth of the force tested positive for drug use, primarily hashish. Physical abuse is commonplace: The United Nations interviewed 300 detainees held by the police over the course of the last two years, and roughly a third of them provided credible evidence that the police had tortured them, using electric shocks, asphyxiation and other methods to extract confessions. In a country where police work and military work are nearly identical, some police officers have engaged in, as a 2013 State Department report put it, “arbitrary or unlawful killings.”
The victims of the killings are often other police officers. In early February, two officers with unknown motives helped arrange a Taliban assault on a police checkpoint, leading to the deaths of 11 fellow officers. Last summer, one officer in southern Afghanistan knocked out five others with a sedative, then invited the Taliban into the police compound to execute them. On the same day at another base, an officer let six Taliban assassins creep past the security perimeter and kill six of his comrades as they slept. These betrayals are just one facet of the complex local power struggles that define postwar Afghanistan. A war for peace begets compromise. The quiet release of insurgents is common, as are tacit cease-fires observed for the sake of the people.
The 157,000-man Afghan National Police operates in nearly every one of Afghanistan’s 364 districts. Recently it has been supplemented by the Afghan Local Police, a group of roughly 30,000 men who live and work in their own remote villages and try to keep the Taliban at bay; the local officers are paid less, enjoy an even worse reputation and die at higher rates than the national police. Together, these two forces have been left to deliver whatever services the state has to offer. They battle the Taliban, but they also investigate robberies, issue identification cards, settle land disputes and manage traffic. Just resolving a simple domestic dispute can require driving roads seeded with bombs.
The Taliban, hoping to regain control of Afghanistan, recognize that the police pose far more than a military threat. They are, in fact, direct competitors for the support of the people. Victory will go not to the side with more bullets but to the side that delivers better services. The Taliban strike many as ascetic and brutal, but they also promise rule of law (Islamic law), less corruption (than the government) and above all peace.
I had come to Baraki Barak with a photographer, Tyler Hicks, to see how the police in an especially violent district would deal with their many challenges. When I asked Brig. Gen. Abdul Hakim Ishaqzai, the Afghan National Police commander who oversees all of Logar, the province that is home to Baraki Barak, who his best police chief was, he told me without hesitation that it was Qasim. He was older; he understood the importance of connecting with the people; his sons worked with him in the district, where he grew up; and for a short time, he had even been a schoolteacher there. He was rooted in the community, Ishaqzai said. Qasim’s most trusted deputy, a widely respected local police chief named Sabir Khan, was also one of his closest friends.
As any beat cop knows, the ability to police an area is predicated on a relationship with the people. But the beat cop’s greatest asset is also his greatest vulnerability. Being more approachable — driving soft-skin FordRangers, not wearing body armor, establishing checkpoints without heavy concrete barriers — means the Taliban can target the police with greater ease. That has forced the police to militarize and has made it even harder to deliver the services that Afghans need. “Unfortunately, this will be the case for years to come,” the Afghan national security adviser, Hanif Atmar, told me in a rare interview. It’s not that the police wanted to fight. They had no choice. Better munitions, including heavy weapons like artillery, might prevent casualties. “Only after there is peace can we try to demilitarize the police and build a truly civilian force,” he said.
This is no longer an American war, regardless of how many United States Special Operations forces continue to sweep the mountains for insurgents or how many American warplanes fire missiles into remote desert camps. That war, by most accounts, has been lost. In the face of endless violence, the Taliban have not been killed off. The nation is not pacified, the political future remains deeply uncertain and the death toll has never been higher. For the central government in Kabul, the real fight is to persuade the population, not to kill insurgents. And the police, local and national, are the only ones who can win it.
When we returned from the governor’s office, two of Hajji Khalil’s brothers, Farhad and Abdul Wakil, were there to discuss the future of the Chiltan uprising. Farhad was an engineer; he graduated from college in Jalalabad and ran a construction company that built roads, schools and clinics in Kabul and Pul-i-Alam. Abdul Wakil worked at Farhad’s company. They were covered from head to toe in a layer of fine dust. Neither had done much construction since the uprising began, and now they were the movement’s de facto leaders. Qasim offered them tea, and we all sat down on the cushions near the stove.
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Farhad barely greeted Qasim. He hadn’t slept in days and seemed to harbor little warmth for the police. But he acknowledged that the Chiltan militia was in chaos. Hajji Khalil had been a popular leader. When local families fell on tough times, he helped pay for their children’s marriages. He bought lunch for the construction crews that turned up to build roads, at least before the Taliban put a stop to such development. If a man like him could be killed in the middle of the day, less than a mile from Qasim’s own headquarters, who was safe? Without Khalil’s leadership, the uprisers were no longer patrolling the roads. Some were even refusing to leave their homes. At the same time, Farhad had told me, funding from the National Directorate of Security in Kabul had dropped significantly, as budgets sank in the wake of the American withdrawal. Qasim was all they had now. They needed support, Farhad said to the chief. They needed a plan, and they needed bullets.
“Don’t worry,” Qasim said, leaning forward, hands out, palms down. “We will be with you.” He knew that if the uprisers of Chiltan gave up, the repercussions would be felt all the way to Kabul. Hajji Khalil’s work in Chiltan had interrupted an important Taliban smuggling route. Qasim promised the brothers that this effort would be recognized, that justice would be served. An informer had named five young people from a village near the site of the ambush who acted as spies for the Taliban by providing Khalil’s location that day.
Abdul Wakil, who had said almost nothing, now spoke: “Leave those men to us.” He looked directly at Qasim.
“No,” Qasim said. Vigilantism would not do. “We are collecting evidence, and once we have enough, we will arrest them.”
There was a final bit of business. Farhad had heard a rumor: The Afghan National Army was returning at last to Baraki Barak. As the Americans closed bases and international military support receded, the army had for two years been falling back, especially from rural areas — too many losses for too little gain. In some regions, the army knew that this was tantamount to a retreat, that the territory would fall to the Taliban. But what was the alternative? With fewer forces on the ground and their international partners no longer around to fight, the army’s focus shifted by necessity from remote areas like this to roads and population centers.
For more than a year, Qasim had campaigned to get soldiers deployed to his district. For more than a year, he was ignored. But the death of Hajji Khalil might have finally rattled some of the decision makers in Kabul. If this was true, Farhad said, he wanted assurances that the army would not simply reoccupy its abandoned base and leave the men of Chiltan to fend for themselves. He need the soldiers. “They must set up a check post in Chiltan,” he said.
Qasim had heard the same rumors, but he could make no promises for the army. He sent two officers to an ammunition locker, and they returned with five boxes of AK-47 ammunition and three rocket-propelled grenades, drawn from his own dwindling supply. There would be more to come, he promised — more men, perhaps even a Humvee. Farhad said nothing. The brothers loaded the weapons into the back of their station wagon and left.
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The next day, Qasim sent a young detective, Zulfaqar, fresh from the four-year police academy, to the village of Deh Sheikh. His assignment was to track down one of the five young people Qasim suspected of acting as spies for the Taliban. We set out in a convoy of two Ford Rangers, along the same route Khalil had taken a few days before, and parked near the blackened tract of sand where he died. Three local police officers joined us for the remaining half-mile trek to the mud home where Syed Mahboob, 19, lived with his parents. Zulfaqar announced that we would enter the village with caution.
We set off on foot down a dirt path, racing through patches of slender trees, then crouching through the openings to stay out of sight. We crossed a river on a meager bridge of logs and branches, the officers’ assault rifles dangling over the water. The men appeared to know every field, every path and road, every irrigation canal. The night before, in complete darkness, Qasim’s officers had taken me on a two-hour night patrol through Zaqumkhil, a village a few miles west of their headquarters. They navigated the trails without night vision or flashlights, walking in a single-file line through a depthless black into hostile areas where a few months earlier they had been in open firefights.
Now I followed Zulfaqar into the front yard of a mud house, the home of Syed Mahboob. No one was home, so we waited. After 10 minutes, an old man ambled into the compound.
“Where is Syed Mahboob?” Zulfaqar asked.
The man was his father. He said Mahboob was at college, in Pul-i-Alam.
Zulfaqar had more questions. What about the day Hajji Khalil was murdered? Where was he that day?
The old man wrinkled his face, shifted his weight between feet and took a guess. “He must have been at school then, too,” he said.
Mahboob was little more than a name to the police, picked up from sources within the insurgency, all of whom had their own competing agendas. Zulfaqar couldn’t say for sure that Mahboob was really a student, and he had no clear theory about why Mahboob might want to help the Taliban. The men called Qasim to ask if they should arrest the father. “No,” he said. “He will bring his son to us.”
We retraced our steps back to the trucks. It had been a fruitless trip, but Qasim radioed the officers with better news: A separate detachment of officers had arrested the other four suspects. Zulfaqar would interview them back at headquarters.
When we returned, the suspects were seated on a wooden bench outside. The youngest was 15, the oldest 23. Zulfaqar ushered them one by one into a closet-size office, into which he had somehow squeezed a filing cabinet, a small desk and three rusted chairs. The first of the four, an 18-year-old with short black hair, recounted his activities on the day of Khalil’s death while Zulfaqar scribbled notes onto a single sheet of white paper, repeating the words aloud as he wrote: I was at home when the shooting began at noon. I climbed onto the roof and saw black smoke curling into the sky. Later I left the house to get a snack from the store. Two local police officers were there. They said this is the work of the people of Deh Sheikh. As he talked, the young suspect tucked his socked foot beneath his thigh.
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It was the same with the next two suspects. No one admitted a thing. Zulfaqar’s technique appeared unpracticed. The police academy enrolls roughly 600 students a year; many seem to be accepted simply because they can read, placing them in the top tier of the Afghan National Police. The army had a vast deployment of fellow soldiers from around the world to train them in the best practices of their profession. The police had very little in comparison, so they, too, learned from the coalition forces, instruction that prepared them better for firefights than for detective work. For Zulfaqar, “What else?” was a favored demand, along with “Did anyone tell you who did it?” More than once he looked over at me, seated along the wall of his office, and asked whether I had any questions for the suspects. I said I didn’t.
A knock on the door interrupted the third interview. The old man from Deh Sheikh entered with a red-faced teenager dressed in black. It was Syed Mahboob. Zulfaqar dismissed the suspect seated in his office and told Mahboob to sit.
He asked Mahboob for his national identification card, which the young man did not have. Well, what about a student ID? the detective asked. Mahboob did not have that either.
Zulfaqar slapped his desk. What kind of a person would come to the police station with no identification?
After a long pause, Zulfaqar moved on. Let’s talk about Jan. 4: What time did you get out of bed? Whom did you speak to on the phone? Whom did you meet later in the day?
Mahboob looked up. “I was in Pul-i-Alam for an exam that day,” he said. “I missed the entire incident. I’m sorry, but I can’t tell you anything about it.”
Zulfaqar glared at him.
“Give me your thumb,” he said finally, pulling Mahboob to his desk to fingerprint his statement, convinced he was lying. “I know who you are, and you are not a student.” Watching Zulfaqar’s bombast and the young man’s befuddled reaction, it was difficult to believe that Mahboob had anything to do with the attack.
That night, Zulfaqar organized his evidence and stamped his statements. The next morning he would send all five suspects, including Mahboob, to Pul-i-Alam for processing.
Qasim checking in with the local police force in Shah Aghasi. Credit Tyler Hicks/The New York Times
Qasim preferred to focus on community problems. Amid all this activity, he had scheduled a large meeting immediately north of the district headquarters, in the Sang-i-Mamar Desert, to settle a land dispute. The police drove 30 of us — Qasim, the district governor, the plaintiffs, several other local officials and a delegate from the Ministry of Agriculture in Kabul — in a convoy to the disputed area, an undifferentiated dirt field near a dry concrete canal. More than a dozen police officers arranged themselves on the banks of two hills facing north, establishing a security perimeter. The land, brown and wide open, stretched to a line of mountains on the horizon.
The argument was fundamental. “This is the land under my control,” Syed, in a leather coat and white cap, said to the Kabul delegate. “No, it’s not,” said Shirin, who had crept up from behind to listen. The delegate from the Ministry of Agriculture, Syed Alam, silenced them.
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“Don’t use the word ‘control,’ ” he said, unfurling a roll of maps stuffed into a tube. Control signified ownership, and ownership was the subject of the dispute. “Right now, we’re trying to determine whom it belongs to.”
Two aides to Alam held the edges of the maps open. Each parcel of land was delineated with a tidy, hand-drawn stroke from the cartographer. The two landowners agreed about who owned all the parcels but one, a plot over a hill to the east. To orient themselves, the group decided to hike to the disputed parcel. Qasim, wearing his winter police uniform of gray fleece, scurried behind the taller members of the party.
The group climbed the hill to the east for a better view of the terrain. Bits of shale shifted beneath their feet as they scrambled up. Now the entire district lay before us, interlocking tracts of farmland, corrugated tin bazaars, mud homes and leafless forests.
“You two are brothers who are trying to play a trick on me,” Qasim said to them. He placed one arm around the shoulders of Shirin, another around the shoulders of Syed. “One of you says, ‘Oh, the land belongs to me.’ The other says, ‘No, it is mine.’ What you’re really trying to do is increase your holdings, knowing neither of you own this little piece of extra land. But I’m not that stupid. I called Kabul for help!”
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F. Van Antwerp
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Its not clear if Mr. Ahmed came across details of the existence of local community councils in Afghanistan, but an Afghan Government program...
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A well written, but disturbing article, which raises the question of what was the point of the lives lost, the lives damaged, and the...
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And our leaders still entertain the illusion that WE can transform Afghan society into something that resembles Norman Rockwell's vision of...
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Shirin and Syed laughed. We continued our hike, sliding down the opposite side of the hill. Alam paused to review one of the maps. The edge of the disputed parcel was marked by a concrete chute built to funnel water from a natural spring. Nearby, four flags were buried in the ground, the graves of Taliban fighters killed by the police over the summer, Qasim said.
Alam produced a ledger with the names of the landowners. He slid his finger along the entries until he found the parcel. Mir, a forebear of Syed, owned the land, he announced. But he continued reading and discovered a footnote, stating that the family of Ghulam, the grandfather of Shirin, also held a claim on the land.
Alam sighed, handed the ledger to an aide and addressed the two men. There would be no resolution today. He warned the pair not to use or sell the land until the government made a decision. It would take up to a year to determine the true owner of the property. This appeared to be sufficient to hold the peace. “Eight years have passed since this dispute began,” Syed said. “I can wait another year.”
The next morning, news came: The army had arrived. A small company of 40 soldiers from the Fourth Brigade of the 203rd Corps had assumed control of a base in Baraki Rajan, a cluster of villages just a short drive from Qasim’s headquarters. As soon as Qasim heard, he headed out to his Ford Ranger to make the trip over. Because he outranked the army captain, he could have insisted that the meeting happen at his headquarters, Qasim explained. This journey was a gesture of good will. Fifteen minutes later, a guard directed us to a concrete building, where the soldiers were settling in. Captain Zabiullah, round-faced and stocky, greeted us warmly. He apologized for not visiting Qasim first. It was nothing, Qasim said, and shook his hand.
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Like Qasim, Zabiullah had also decided to make his bedroom the center of activity. The two sat side by side on the captain’s ancient steel-spring cot, exchanging war stories. Qasim claimed to have once fired 36 mortars in less than 30 minutes. Zabiullah boasted that the Taliban could not fight his forces for 20 minutes.
“Would you believe I have not spent more than four days at my house in four months?” Qasim asked.
The captain laughed. It was clear that Qasim was working the young captain, angling. He needed the army to send troops when the police came under fire.
He also wanted help for the uprisers in Chiltan. The Fourth Brigade was responsible for security in this province and another near Kabul, but it seemed picky about when and where it helped. The police complain, almost constantly, that the army — with its many airplanes, helicopters and sophisticated armored vehicles — sits in large, fortified bases while the police and the uprisers do all of the fighting and dying. (It didn’t help that a relatively inexperienced police officer earned $210 a week, while an equivalent soldier earns up to $280.) The uprisers wanted the soldiers’ help building fortifications and also some heavier weapons, maybe some .50-caliber mounted guns or even an armored vehicle. Qasim wanted to deliver them, but he needed a better approach. Once again deploying flattery, he told the captain that his officers would be very happy to help the soldiers with anything they needed.
A police raid at a compound in Deh Sheikh, where officers were looking for a villager suspected of being involved in the death of Hajji Khalil, a wealthy businessman who organized a militia to fight the Taliban. Credit Tyler Hicks/The New York Times
“Listen, one of your men is worth 10 of our people, because you are the ones being targeted,” Zabiullah said.
Qasim bowed his head an inch or two, accepting the counter-compliment. He then tried a more direct approach: Was it true what he had heard? Were the army special forces coming here specifically to aid the uprisers in Chiltan? It was unclear to me whether Qasim had actually heard this or was simply improvising.
Zabiullah said nothing.
“The morale there is very low,” Qasim said. “We are going there now to check on them.”
This was an invitation for the captain to join him. The entreaty sat between the men for a full 30 seconds, understood yet unexpressed.
“Any time you need, call me,” the captain finally said. “We will be there in minutes.”
Qasim gave the captain a hug before departing for Chiltan, alone.
The following evening, Qasim made good on his promise to take more men and a Humvee to the uprisers — but they were police officers, not soldiers, and it was a police Humvee. On the edge of the Chiltan bazaar, Farhad waved our convoy past, his machine gun slung over his right shoulder. The corrugated gates of a compound swung open, and the convoy sped through. Here was the home of Hajji Khalil, painted foam green, with yellow windowsills. To its west and south was open land that ran into Taliban country. It was the literal front line in the district: Beyond the porch, as far as the eye could see, the government had no control.
A crowd was gathered by the home’s entrance, an assembly of men and boys in various states of disarray. Some wore uniforms, but others did not. They clutched their ancient assault rifles like crutches. A few of them smoked hashish on the raised porch, their faces little more than red eyes and yellowed teeth. This was the uprising in Chiltan.
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Ainuddin, a 17-year-old rookie we met five days earlier, was among the police officers selected to join the uprisers. As first jobs go, his had to rank among the worst. He smiled at me, ignoring the hash scent wafting through the air, and entered the house before I could ask him what he thought of the assignment. An upriser, wearing soiled tan pants pulled up to his chest, followed us as we conducted interviews, asking questions of his own with a cigarette pursed between his lips. Where were we from? Whom did we work for? Why were we there? We ignored him. The vibe was not hostile, but neither was it welcoming. Our comfort was beside the point, though. Qasim and the others used the uprisers because they would fight the Taliban, adopting the same stance the Americans did when they ran the war.
The green Humvee sat near the gate, a symbol of Qasim’s good will. It would probably never amount to more than that. The vehicles require so much fuel and so much maintenance that entire Afghan army battalions struggle to keep them on the road. The uprisers, who slept in a secondhand tent on their mountain outpost and borrowed bullets from Qasim, would be fortunate to get more than a week of use out of theirs. Farhad received the gift without a word. The sun receded farther behind the mountains, etching them in pink. It would be dark soon. Qasim shook hands with a few of the uprisers and gave Farhad an unreciprocated hug. His men were eager to leave. The older men among the uprisers followed the police out, waving goodbye in a cloud of dust kicked up by the departing trucks.
A few dozen groups, referred to as ‘‘uprisers,’’ have joined the government in battling the Taliban. Credit Tyler Hicks/The New York Times
Policing in Afghanistan is unpredictable. In Pul-i-Alam, Syed Mahboob was arrested, questioned, then released by the same provincial police commander, Abdul Hakim Ishaqzai, who first recommended our trip to Baraki Barak. Ishaqzai explained the problem to me as I sat on a sagging, overstuffed sofa in his large fluorescent-lit office at his provincial headquarters. There simply was not enough evidence against Mahboob to file charges, so they had to let him go.
A month after our last visit to Ishaqzai’s office, Taliban suicide bombers stormed the compound. Ishaqzai was away, but the attack killed more than 20 of his men, many of whom were eating lunch in the cafeteria, the most devastating single assault on the police in more than a year. Soon afterward, Qasim stopped answering his phone. I called Ishaqzai. What happened? He said officials from the Interior Ministry in Kabul had arrested Qasim. They suspected that he was involved in the assault.
The ministry, Ishaqzai explained, had accused three of Qasim’s closest lieutenants of using Qasim’s car to drive the suicide attackers through the initial police checkpoints around the compound. In another startling development, Farhad had also accused Qasim of colluding in the assassination of his brother. A group of officers from Kabul and Pul-i-Alam arrested Qasim and the three lieutenants in Baraki Barak on Feb. 23, the day Qasim stopped answering my calls.
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He was in Pul-i-Alam now, under the supervision of the police and the National Directorate of Security. The prosecutor had not filed charges, but Ishaqzai told me that in Qasim’s bedroom, the police had found a kind of wiring that was often used to make improvised explosive devices and a tracking device used by insurgents that tells them when a car is approaching.
The thought that Qasim could be guilty of these crimes was jarring, to say the least. He had hosted us in his district, where we slept, ate and traveled with him and his men into the unmapped depths of the district for a full week. It was hard to imagine why, if Qasim was working with the insurgents, he had not tried to kidnap me and Tyler Hicks and sell us to the Taliban. He could have easily staged an incident with the insurgents. Hicks and I asked him shortly after we arrived whether we could spend the night in a remote outpost with the local police; arranging a kidnapping there would have been easy. Qasim refused to let us, though. He said it was too dangerous. The insurgents had even kidnapped his son, back when he was the head of counternarcotics in the district.
And yet truth in Afghanistan, where allegiances shift on a daily basis, is never easy to pin down. Could Qasim have helped killed Khalil? Could he have facilitated the murder of more than 20 of his fellow officers in Pul-i-Alam? Just as his true motivations were unknowable, so, too, were the motivations of those who accused him. Arrests for political reasons occurred all the time. The police and the intelligence service were interrogating him now, and they could just as easily release him as charge him with murder. As Mahboob’s father told me, the police had also arrested Mahboob again, just 10 days after they released him, and on the same charges.
Ishaqzai said he couldn’t tell me much else. He wasn’t in charge of the investigation, but he doubted that Qasim was involved in Khalil’s death. He was less certain about whether Qasim could have helped the insurgents attack the Pul-i-Alam headquarters. Such things happen, Ishaqzai said. He had known Qasim well, considered him his finest police chief. But, he reminded me, “people can change their minds in minutes.” Ishaqzai had already replaced Qasim with a younger chief from a neighboring district, he told me before we hung up.
I wanted to hear someone defend Qasim, or reflect the camaraderie and loyalty I thought I saw when I was there. I called Sabir Khan, his good friend and deputy, his most esteemed colleague. Khan told me that the men in Baraki Barak didn’t know how to feel. Even he wondered whether Qasim was involved in the Pul-i-Alam attack. You never know, he said. “I cannot trust him now.”
Azam Ahmed is the Kabul bureau chief for The New York Times.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Iran's new missile
on: March 08, 2015, 01:09:02 PM
As the US and its allies continue to discuss limiting Iran's nuclear program with Tehran, the Iranian military on Sunday announced that it had developed a new long-range cruise missile with a range of some 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) – putting Israel well within its reach, Israeli sources said. The missile, called the “Soumar,” features “different characteristics in terms of range and pinpoint accuracy in comparison with the previous products,” Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehqan said at the unveiling of the missile Sunday. The missile, Dehqan said, was developed based on the needs of the Iranian Armed Forces, and is “a crucial step towards increasing the country’s defense and deterrence might.” On Saturday, an Iranian military official said that the country would be unveiling yet another missile system will be unveiled on April 18, when the country marks National Army Day. That system, called the Talaash-3, is based on the Russian S-200 missile system, the official said. In his speech in Washington last week, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said that while the world is capitulating to Iranian demands to allow it to continue with its nuclear development program, the issue of its delivery systems – the advanced missiles it is developing – has not even been placed on the agenda yet, because Iran refuses to discuss it at all. Commenting Sunday, Iran's Aerospace Division head Amirali Hajizadeh said that Tehran “will never negotiated the country's defense capabilities, including the development of its ballistic missiles.”
In a statement, Iran's state-controlled Press TV quoted government sources as saying that “Iran has repeatedly assured other countries that its military might poses no threat to other states, insisting that the country’s defense doctrine is entirely based on deterrence” The new Soumar missile is named for a city on the Iraqi border whose inhabitants were nearly all wiped out by an Iraqi chemical attack during the Iran-Iraq war.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Grand Ayatollah gives clear indication of Iran's plans
on: March 07, 2015, 10:02:34 AM
CNSNews.com) - In a speech delivered last month to commanders and other personnel in the Iranian Air Force, whom he described as “officials who have very sensitive occupations,” Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei—Iran’s Supreme Leader and commander in chief—boasted that Iran had enriched uranium to the 20-percent level.
At the same time, the Supreme Leader noted that his government had agreed to shut down its production of 20-percent enriched uranium “for a while” in its effort to reach a deal with United States and other foreign powers that would include lifting the sanctions now imposed on his country.
“It was a very great achievement to produce 20-percent uranium,” the ayatollah told a Feb. 8 Iranian Air Force gathering, according to a transcript posted on his website.
“Those who are experts on this matter know that producing 20 percent from 5 percent is much more significant than producing uranium which is higher than 20 percent,” he said. “However, our youth and our committed scientists did so.”
A report published last month by the Congressional Research Service explains why Iran’s efforts to produce uranium enriched to the 20 percent level is a problem.
“LEU used in nuclear power reactors typically contains less than 5% uranium-235,” said CRS, “research reactor fuel can be made using 20% uranium-235; HEU used in nuclear weapons typically contains about 90% uranium-235.”
“Iran’s production of LEU enriched to the 20% level has caused concern because such production requires approximately 90% of the effort necessary to produce weapons-grade HEU, which, as noted, contains approximately 90% uranium-235,” said CRS.
“Tehran argues that it is enriching uranium for use as fuel in nuclear power reactors and nuclear research reactors,” said CRS.
In his speech to the Air Force commanders, the ayatollah followed his assertion that Iran had been able to enrich uranium to the 20 percent level by accusing the U.S. and its allies of being “greedy” in negotiations for a nuclear deal and asserting that the “Iranian nation will not submit to greed and tyranny.”
The audience of Air Force commanders and other personnel responded to this with a chant, according to an English-language transcript produced by BBC Worldwide Monitoring and available through Nexis.
“Allah Akbar [God is great],” they chanted, according to the BBC transcript. “Khamenei is the leader. Death to the enemies of the leadership. Death to America. Death to England. Death to hypocrites. Death to Israel.”
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has testified in Congress that Iran has the technical capability to build a nuclear weapon and that whether it does so will be personally decided by Ayatollah Khamenei.
“Clearly, Tehran has the scientific, technical and industrial capacity to produce them, so the central issue is its political will to do so,” Clapper told the Senate Armed Services Committee on April 18, 2013. “Such a decision, we believe, will be made by the Supreme Leader, and at this point we don't know if he'll eventually decide to build nuclear weapons.”
Then-Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin asked Clapper: “Have they made a decision, in your assessment, to produce nuclear weapons?”
“They have not,” said Clapper. “We continue to hold that they have not yet made that decision. And that decision would be made singly by the Supreme Leader.”
Clapper echoed this assessment in another Senate Armed Services Committee hearing held last week.
“Iran will face many of the same decision points in 2015 as it did in 2014,” he said. “Foremost is whether the Supreme Leader will agree to a nuclear deal. He wants sanctions relief but, at the same time, to preserve his options on nuclear capabilities.”
“We believe the supreme leader would be the ultimate decision maker here,” Clapper said. “As far as we know, he's not made a decision to go for a nuclear weapon.
“I do think they certainly want to preserve options across the capabilities it would take to build one,” Clapper said. “But right now they don't have one, and have not made that decision.”
At a background briefing sponsored by the White House on Sept. 25, 2009, “senior administration officials” explained that Iran had twice been caught secretly constructing a facility for enriching uranium—first at Natanz and then at Qom. One of the officials at this briefing explained why the administration believed the second facility appeared particularly designed to produce enriched uranium not for peaceful use but for a weapon.
“[T]he Iranian nuclear issue first became public back in 2002, when it was revealed that Iran was building a secret underground enrichment facility, which we now know as the Natanz facility,” a senior administration official said at that briefing. “Once the Iranians were caught building the secret underground enrichment facility with centrifuge machines in it, they were forced to declare the facility, to allow the IAEA inspectors to inspect the facility and to place it under safeguards.”
“So the obvious option for Iran would be to build another secret underground enrichment facility, and our intelligence services, working in very close cooperation with our allies, for the past several years have been looking for such a facility,” said the senior administration official. “And not surprisingly, we found one. So we have known for some time now that Iran was building a second underground enrichment facility. And as the president mentioned this morning, it's located [at Fordo] near the city of Qom, a very heavily protected, very heavily disguised facility.”
“Our information is that the facility is designed to hold about 3,000 centrifuge machines,” said this senior administration official. “Now, that's not a large enough number to make any sense from a commercial standpoint. It cannot produce a significant quantity of low-enriched uranium. But if you want to use the facility in order to produce a small amount of weapons-grade uranium, enough for a bomb or two a year, it's the right size. And our information is that the Iranians began this facility with the intent that it be secret, and therefore giving them an option of producing weapons-grade uranium without the international community knowing about it.”
Another problematic Iranian nuclear project is a heavy-water reactor it is building at Arak.
“Iran is constructing a heavy water-moderated reactor at Arak, which, according to Tehran, is intended to produce radioisotopes for medical use,” said the CRS report published last month.
“The Arak reactor is a proliferation concern because heavy water reactors produce spent fuel containing plutonium better suited for nuclear weapons than plutonium produced by light water moderated reactors,” said the CRS report.
In his speech last month to his Air Force commanders, Ayatollah Khamenei first stressed that he supported a nuclear deal that is “workable.” He then went on to praise Iran’s achievement in enriching uranium to the 20 percent level and hailed the construction of the Arak reactor and the Fordo uranium enrichment facilty.
“I want to say that first of all, I consent to an agreement that is workable,” said the ayatollah, according to the translation of his speech posted on his official website. “Of course, I do not mean a bad agreement. The Americans constantly repeat, 'We believe that making no agreement is better than making a bad one.' We too have the same opinion. We too believe that making no agreement is better than making an agreement that is to the disadvantage of national interests, one that leads to the humiliation of the great and magnificent people of Iran.”
In mentioning that the Arak and Fordo facilities had been closed—which was done as part of the temporary agreement (or “Joint Plan of Action”) that Iran made with the United States, France, the United Kingdom, German, Russia and China, the ayatollah stressed that these facilities were closed “for now”---according to the translation posted on his own website.
“The Iranian side has done whatever it could to reach an agreement,” the ayatollah said. “It has done many things: it has stopped developing enrichment machines. Well, it deemed it necessary to stop these machines for a while. It has stopped producing 20-percent uranium which is a very great feat. It was a very great achievement to produce 20-percent uranium.”
“Those who are experts on this matter know that producing 20 percent from 5 percent is much more significant than producing uranium which is higher than 20 percent,” said the ayatollah. “However, our youth and our committed scientists did so.
"In any case," he said, "the Iranian side stopped this because negotiations required it. The Iranians have closed the Arak Factory--which was a very great achievement and a very important innovation in the area of technology--for now. They have closed--for now--Fordo which is one of the best innovations made by our domestic forces for the sake of ensuring the security of our centrifuges. They have achieved so many great tasks. Therefore, the Iranian side has acted in a reasonable way. It has acted according to the requirements of negotiation."
Toward the end of his speech, the ayatollah indicated that his over-arching goal is to have sanctions lifted from Iran.
“Everything that is done is for the sake of taking the weapon and option of sanctions away from the enemy's hands,” he said.
“However, if they fail to make such an agreement, the people of Iran, officials, the honorable administration and others have many different options,” the ayatollah said.
“By Allah's favor,” he said, “the people of Iran will show on the 22nd of Bahman, that those who want to humiliate the people of Iran will face their counterblow.”
According to the BBC, 22nd of Bahman—or February 11—is the anniversary of the Iranian Revolution.
At this point in the BBC transcript of the speech, the audience of Iranian Air Force commanders and other personnel repeated the chant they had made earlier in the speech: “Allah Akbar. Khamenei is the Leader. Death to the enemies of the leadership. Death to America. Death to England. Death to hypocrites. Death to Israel.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Battle for Tikrit
on: March 07, 2015, 09:58:11 AM
The Battle for Tikrit Reveals Deeper Truths
March 5, 2015 | 22:49 GMT
Iraqi military and Shiite militia forces fire rockets March 2 in preparation of the assault on Tikrit. (YOUNIS AL-BAYATI/AFP/Getty Images)
The ongoing offensive against Islamic State forces holding the Iraqi city of Tikrit in Saladin province is a crucial barometer for future operations. Instead of containing the city and then bypassing it to retake Mosul, military planners have decided to eliminate the Islamic State's presence there first. Aside from being known as the hometown of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, Tikrit is an important Sunni Arab stronghold on the highway linking Baghdad with Mosul.
Critical to the conduct of the battle, which began March 1, is the fact that Iran has taken the lead in supporting Iraqi forces as they expand into Sunni territory. Tehran has so far supplied rockets, military advisers and tactical intelligence in an effort to assume responsibility for an area it considers part of its sphere of influence. The United States, while not being overt in its approval, has not vociferously objected either, focusing its own airpower for the time being on other areas held by the Islamic State.
The Iraqi army, recovering from its collapse last year, is making gains in rural areas east of Tikrit, having established a blocking position to the west. By capturing the suburbs of al-Dawr to the south and al-Alam to the north, Islamic State fighters have increasingly been forced to fall back to the city. In an attempt to slow advancing forces and disrupt airstrikes from Iraqi fixed-wing aircraft and attack helicopters, the militants set fire to the Ajil oil field, creating massive clouds of smoke.
Reports indicate that Iraqi attempts to lock down Tikrit have not been successful, with Islamic State fighters still possessing limited freedom of movement. Sources on the ground claim that elements of the Islamic State leadership in Tikrit have already fled the city. Although it is unlikely that the Islamic State would relinquish its grip on Tikrit without extracting a cost on the attacking forces, the exodus of ground commanders could indicate an expectation that the city will fall. Additional reports, however, suggest that Islamic State forces have abandoned Qayyarah Air Base, south of Mosul, to free up reinforcements for Tikrit. This would indicate the militant group is prepared to stand its ground, or in the worst case, counter attack in force.
Improvised explosive devices and sniper fire are slowing Baghdad's forces as well as anti-Islamic State militias. A roadside bomb in the southern al-Dawr district killed the commander of the Shiite militia League of Righteousness on March 4, along with his bodyguard. Other pro-Iraqi government forces discovered a bomb-making factory in the Naoura district, recovering some 40 explosive devices ready for use.
After tightening the perimeter, about 30,000 Iraqi soldiers and Shiite militia fighters will attack the city with air cover from rotary and fixed-wing aircraft. Fighting in the urban environment will be costlier for the military because the built-up terrain gives the defending Islamic State forces a significant advantage. An estimated 28,000 civilians have already fled the city in anticipation of the coming assault.
A key thing to watch over the coming days and weeks is how the Iraqi military, their Iranian advisers, Shiite militias and Sunni Arabs share the same space. Sunni tribes have been reluctant to join the fight against the Islamic State, though some small elements are helping. The tribes are seen as crucial allies in the fight against the militants. However, perceived injustices by Shiite fighters could exacerbate the sectarian tensions that led to the Islamic State's rise, even pushing the broad Sunni community to overtly support or even join with the militants. The Iraqi air force has already begun dropping leaflets urging civilians to cooperate with Baghdad's forces.
The Tikrit offensive will serve as an indicator of how the Iraqi military will likely fare when it comes to retaking Mosul later in the year. An urban assault will expose any weaknesses in tactics, techniques and procedures, as well as overarching command and control in the urban battle space. The general principals to retake Tikrit are similar to what will be needed to retake Mosul. The two cities have similar combat environments, just on different scales. Suffering heavy casualties or running into problems could force the Iraqi military and its Iranian overseers to further delay any assault on Mosul, though support from the peshmerga and possibly even the United States adds further weight to the far-northern offensive to come.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Govt commits to offensive in addition to peace efforts
on: March 07, 2015, 09:24:49 AM
On Jan. 25, the Philippine National Police Special Action Force launched an operation into autonomous militant-controlled territory in the municipality of Mamasapano on the island of Mindanao to capture two terrorist targets: Malaysian bomb maker Zulkifli bin Hir, known as Marwan, and Filipino bomb maker Basit Usman. As they extracted, the police became locked in an exchange of fire with two rebel groups — the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters as well as a unit from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. By the end of the fight, 44 police commandos lay dead. The incident came at a sensitive time for Manila, as it nears the end of a peace process with Moro Islamic Liberation Front leaders following the signing of a landmark agreement in March 2014, a deal that the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters oppose.
Following the massacre, the Philippine military's western Mindanao command and Philippine National Police Special Action Force commandos launched a joint operation against Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters positions in Magundanao and North Cotabato, commencing Feb. 20. Simultaneously, Moro Islamic Liberation Front units in the area launched an assault of their own against Bangsamoro positions. The Liberation Front leadership insisted their fighters' role in the earlier massacre was the result of a miscommunication.
The impact of the massacre and the ongoing assault against the Islamic Freedom Fighters can be seen at the national level. Philippine President Benigno Aquino III's term ends in May 2016, and the peace deal is key to his legacy. The Aquino administration hoped it would be able to pass key legislation in early 2015 before campaign season gets into full swing and complicates the politics of the issue. But this has not happened yet. The current fighting jeopardizes Aquino's current timeframe for a peace deal that hinges on a legal amendment, but it does not jeopardize Manila's overall strategy to cut away at the Philippines' insurgency piece by piece.
Editor's Note: The following piece was first published in September 2014 and contains key analysis relevant to recent developments.
Peace is not imminent in the predominantly Muslim areas of the southern Philippines, but government efforts to stabilize the archipelagic region took a major step forward this week. On Sept. 10, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III submitted to Congress a draft law creating a new autonomous government for the southern region, to be known as Bangsamoro, ending a tense three-month period of deliberations with rebel negotiators over the law's finer details. The proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law is the product of nearly two decades of violence-marred negotiations between the government and Moro rebels. It aims to address some of the underlying drivers of the violence by giving the region a greater share of resource and tax revenues, in addition to a largely independent parliament, police force and civil judiciary.
The draft still faces steep legislative and political hurdles, as well as lingering questions about its compliance with the Philippine Constitution. Even if fully implemented, the law wouldn't completely pacify the restive region, which is home to numerous other militant groups, clan-based blood feuds and entrenched criminal networks that will continue to deter the development of the region's vast economic potential. Nonetheless, mounting economic and political incentives, a decline in militant capabilities, and Manila's fundamental geopolitical imperatives will continue to generate momentum for a solution.
The peace process in Muslim Mindanao has been lurching forward for decades, despite routine disruptions by rebels seeking to gain leverage in negotiations or derail them altogether, as well as political and judicial complications. By hammering out an agreement on the law's most contentious details with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front — the strongest group and the one most capable of governing the region — Manila hopes that the peace process can finally move beyond negotiations, reducing the ability of holdout militants to influence the shape of the deal through violence. The primary obstacles to passage are now procedural: The Aquino administration is urging Congress to pass the law by early 2015, positioning it to be ratified in a referendum in Bangsamoro by the end of the president's term in 2016.
Constitutional Questions and Continuing Complications
A key remaining issue is constitutionality. In 2008, the Supreme Court invalidated a peace deal reached with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front that was seen as nearly identical to a cease-fire agreement finalized in March. Rebel negotiators have long contended that charter change would be needed to allot Bangsamoro the level of autonomy agreed upon in cease-fire negotiations. The Aquino administration asserts that the constitution can accommodate the new law, but repeated delays in submitting the bill to Congress suggest a lack of confidence that it will pass Supreme Court inspection. For much of the past three months, the deal appeared on the brink of unraveling while the palace reviewed the draft, at one point revising or removing several key passages, forcing negotiators to reopen talks on contentious points that had already been settled. Philippine constitutional scholars are divided on the issue.
Should the Supreme Court invalidate the law, either the rebels would be expected to accept a diluted deal, or the Aquino administration would need to push for a charter change — a daunting task that would face opposition from Philippine nationalists and tie the fate of the law to other political issues amid a campaign season. Similarly, Congress could demand changes that would complicate the Bangsamoro referendum. Any of these scenarios would increase the risk of violence, albeit not to the degree that followed similar setbacks in the past.
Even if the law clears these hurdles, autonomy alone will not stabilize Bangsamoro. Any new government would struggle to assert control over the fractious region, home to myriad ethno-linguistic groups and a geographic landscape ill-suited for unity. Militant groups sidelined during the recent peace negotiations are unlikely to recognize the legitimacy of a regional government led by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, particularly in the Sulu archipelago, the stronghold of the rival Moro National Liberation Front (the Moro Islamic Liberation Front's parent organization), which rejects the new law on grounds that it will abrogate its own agreement for semi-autonomy reached with the government in 1996. Meanwhile, more radical groups — namely Abu Sayyaf and the communist New People's Army — will continue attacks that will complicate the implementation of the law, irrespective of whatever progress is made between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
Ultimately, major investment and development will be needed to build a sustainable peace, as the regional economy has floundered amid the insecurity. Muslim Mindanao has a per capita gross domestic product of around 40 percent of the nationwide average, with unemployment reaching 48 percent in 2012. The region regularly suffers from blackouts that make manufacturing unattractive, while the prevalence of kidnappings, bombings and extortion scares off foreign investors. In the late 1990s, for example, the Philippine National Oil Co. and Malaysia's Petronas withdrew from an oil and natural gas play in territory controlled by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, reportedly due to threats from the rebel group and other local warlords. On Aug. 24, fighters with the New People's Army — which routinely targets foreign companies in the region — raided two Del Monte banana plantations. Any potential investor will also need to navigate unresolved clan conflicts and historical territorial disputes, pervasive corruption and entrenched criminal networks led by local warlords and political oligarchs.
Forces Compelling the Peace Process
Nonetheless, the peace process has repeatedly proved resilient to judicial and militant complications and will continue to do so. Violence spiked after the 2008 ruling, but within four years the two sides had inked another framework deal that laid the groundwork for the new Bangsamoro law. This, too, sparked violence, with the Moro National Liberation Front battling the military in Zamboanga City for three weeks in 2013, displacing more than 100,000 people. Simultaneously, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (which broke away from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in 2008 in opposition to the cease-fire negotiations) and Abu Sayyaf launched attacks elsewhere. Those also failed to derail the talks, as have regular attacks since.
The Philippines' Geographic Challenge
The resilience of the stabilization process stems from several factors: First, there are indeed powerful economic incentives for peace. The region is home to as much as 70 percent of the country's untapped mineral sources — upwards of $300 billion in gold, copper, nickel, manganese, lead, zinc and iron ore deposits. It also has oil and natural gas potential and is attractive for tourism. Development of these resources would fund the massive infrastructure investment needed for the Philippines to meet its long-term economic imperatives and take advantage of emerging regional opportunities. The resource wealth may intensify local rivalries, but it can also be used to win cooperation from local warlords and political oligarchs while isolating holdouts from patronage flows. To generate public backing for the law, Philippine leaders have been consistently touting the region's economic promise, including the fact that foreign direct investment has surged over the past year in Mindanao in anticipation of peace.
Meanwhile, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which dropped its demand for full independence in 2003 and has since evolved into a primarily political organization, cannot afford to miss even a fleeting chance to capitalize on its efforts. Its moderate leadership is aging, and it lacks the militant capabilities it once had. If pressed for further concessions, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front could seek leverage by aligning with its more radical rivals, particularly the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters. However, the peace process has already sparked some development in areas controlled by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, weakening public support for any potential return to violence. At this point, backing out of the deal would threaten an opportunity for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front to deliver autonomy to the region while entrenching itself in power. This is why Aquino's alterations to the draft law did not sink it, despite generating a strong rhetorical backlash from rebel negotiators.
Divisions among the other various militant groups in Muslim Mindanao will make for a weaker rebel challenge overall, albeit one within which radical wings and shifting alignments pose continued challenges for Manila. Though the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters have become increasingly active since the beginning of the year, the group only controls a few hundred fighters. Abu Sayyaf has essentially evolved into little more than a kidnapping and extortion syndicate. For its part, the Moro National Liberation Front appears increasingly divided, isolated and irrelevant. While some Moro National Liberation Front leaders still refuse to negotiate, others (particularly those located in the Moro Islamic Liberation Front-dominated central Mindanao) have been making conciliatory gestures. Indeed, were it to heed calls from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Manila and the international community to join the new Bangsamoro government, the Moro National Liberation Front would form a strong minority bloc with, by certain metrics, greater control over regional resources than it had under the 1996 deal.
For the Philippine government, progress in Mindanao has become increasingly imperative as the country gradually shifts its defense posture. The new law will free the military to focus its divide-and-conquer tactics on the holdout groups, while the opportunity to control local rebel-dominated industries will likely keep military leaders onboard. The government's ultimate imperatives are geopolitical: It is facing diplomatic pressure from regional allies such as Malaysia (which has its own security concerns about Philippine rebels) and the United States (which provides considerable military support) to implement a settlement. More important, with tensions in the South China Sea growing, the Philippines must find a way to shift its focus from internal stabilization to its external vulnerabilities and maritime position. Unchecked insurgencies would make Muslim Mindanao ripe for foreign exploitation and a perpetual drain on military resources while undermining the economic growth needed to fund military modernization and prepare the country for more critical threats.
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Tarahumara ultra marathon cancelled for fear of narco gangs
on: March 07, 2015, 09:22:04 AM
In Mexico, an Extreme Race in the Shadow of Extreme Danger
Caballo Blanco Ultramarathon Is Canceled Over Threat of Drug Violence
By SARAH LYALLMARCH 6, 2015
Josue Stephens, one of the organizers of the Caballo Blanco ultramarathon last week in Urique, Mexico, realized something was amiss when he was warned not to drive along the coastal route because so many people had been killed there recently. When he finally got to Urique, he saw armed men in bulletproof vests swarm into the local police station, take everyone’s guns and throw two officers into the back of a truck before barreling away.
“The craziest part was that there was a woman huddled outside the police station yelling: ‘Don’t take him! He’s my son! He didn’t do anything!’ ” Stephens recalled.
The threat of violence had always simmered in the background of the race, held every March in the Copper Canyon region in northwestern Mexico, known for its great natural beauty, its fields of poppies and marijuana plants, and the drug cartels that hold the local population in thrall. This year the violence finally came to town.
Last Saturday, after increasingly alarming episodes involving gunshots, grenades, terrified and often AWOL local officials, angry drug gangs, heavily armed government troops and an incident in which a town official was pulled from his truck and made to walk for hours back to town, Stephens and the other organizers made an extreme decision: They canceled the race the night before it was scheduled to start.
“We didn’t know what was safe,” Stephens said. “If there is any gunfighting, if runners see people getting stopped on the side of the road and abducted, if the military is outside having a huge gunfight — we’ll have 700 runners spread out over this huge section, and it’s very likely someone will get hurt.”
By Sunday, the organizers had evacuated most of the foreign runners and themselves. Emboldened by the presence of government troops, several hundred people, most of them locals, stayed and ran a shortened version of the course, taking care to avoid places that had apparently been declared no-go areas. But the future of the race, one of the high spots on the yearly calendar for ultrarunners, is in doubt.
“Things are up in the air,” Stephens said. “We don’t know.”
The race was begun in 2003 by the ultrarunner Micah True, taking its name from his nickname, Caballo Blanco, or White Horse. He saw it as a way to draw attention to the plight of the Tarahumara, impoverished subsistence farmers in and around the Copper Canyon, in the Sierra Madre Occidental. Long-distance running is a way of life for the Tarahumara, and they are renowned for their prowess.
Ultrarunners are an unusual breed of extreme athletes, competing in races that can go 100 miles or longer, often in deserts and other unlikely places. True died in 2012 while running in New Mexico, but the 50-mile Caballo Blanco race has become legendary in the rarefied world of superlong-distance runners, who are drawn to it because of the exotic location and the pure joy they say they feel from running alongside the Tarahumara.
Foreigners have taken part since 2006. This year, Stephens said, the race drew about 100 international runners, about 200 people from around Mexico and 400 or so Tarahumara, who compete in homemade sandals fashioned from tire treads. The race serves in part as a fund-raiser that provides many of the Tarahumara with money and food for months.
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“The race has come into its own — it’s a kind of phenomenon, like Burning Man,” said Chris McDougall, whose book “Born to Run,” about True and the Caballo Blanco race, helped draw international attention to the event and turned True into something of a celebrity.
Participants have certainly had misgivings before. Among other things, the marathon route takes them through marijuana and poppy fields controlled by local drug lords (they are told to ignore the crops and keep running).
“This has always been a concern,” said Will Harlan, who won the race in 2009 and who helps organize nonprofit work in the region. “Every time I go down there, there’s military checkpoints or rumors of violence or previous violence or violence that occurs just after we leave.”
The stories he has heard illustrate how little power local officials have in the face of the drug cartels in the region. “It’s gotten progressively worse — police being kidnapped and beheaded,” Harlan said. “At one point in a cadre of police, the leader was killed and the rest were stripped naked and forced to walk back to town.”
It never got that bad in Urique. But with rumors swirling of gunfire and grenades, of would-be racers being stopped on the road by armed gangs and of local officials who claimed nothing was going on when it clearly was, the organizers canceled the race. Even that led to trouble, though, as Urique’s mayor declared that a truncated, unofficial version would go on after all, foreigners or not.
“Everybody was saying it will definitely happen next year,” said Israel Archuletta, an ultrarunner who stayed to race that Sunday. “The government was so upset because of what this negative publicity will do as far as tourism and the local economy, and I’m pretty sure they’d ensure that it will never happen again.”
Things do not seem to have quieted down altogether. Cecilia Villalobos, Urique’s head of tourism, said by phone that the town had gone into “a psychosis situation” on Feb. 27, when widespread gun violence was reported in a nearby village.
She agreed with the organizers that the race needed to be canceled, she said. But she added that she had been overruled by Urique’s mayor, who told her that since the violence had happened not in Urique but in a place four miles away and no one had been killed, the runners would be safe now that government troops had arrived.
“We have great love for this event, which means a lot more than just a race,” Villalobos said. “It is the single most important and biggest event in the Sierra Tarahumara, and a lot of people benefit from it every year — transport people, merchants, restaurants, hotels, even street vendors.”
Everyone agrees that the situation has brought disastrous publicity to an enterprise that has been mostly characterized by idealism and good intentions. It has also caused runners to re-evaluate previous episodes they had discounted. A couple of years ago, for instance, officials told Stephens that the then-mayor and his deputy had been killed in a car accident.
“But then I talked to people who found the bodies, and they were missing their heads,” Stephens said. “I said, ‘Hey, they were not in a car accident; it sounds like it was made to look like a car accident.’ But the official line was that there was no danger.”
That has generally been the official line, and for good reason.
“It was always Caballo Blanco’s fear,” Harlan, the former winner, said, referring to True. “The year I won, the reporters asked about violence, and he said, ‘Don’t tell them that it’s scary here because then no one will come, and the Tarahumara will be left for dead in a war zone.’
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Geller: Huma Abedin was on Hillary's server too!
on: March 07, 2015, 12:50:08 AM
Guess who else was on Clinton’s private at-home server
Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 12.36.35 PM
There is no denying what Hillary Clinton did.
FOX: Hillary Clinton’s State Department for years was telling underlings not to use personal email — even ousting an ambassador, the ex-diplomat says, in part over his Gmail habits — despite the secretary of state herself ignoring that advice. The disconnect is now raising questions of a double standard during her tenure.
An internal 2011 State Department cable, obtained by Fox News, shows Clinton’s office told employees not to use personal email for security reasons.
A year later, then-U.S. ambassador to Kenya Scott Gration resigned amid a series of clashes with the department, including over email.
She deliberately sought to hide her email correspondence from the public – shielding her skulduggery, failures and treason perhaps. No one installs a server in their home for their emails just because. The motive is malevolent and the American people should be outraged.
Further, the server should have been seized before Clinton could destroy what is obviously damning and indictable.
Further, it is striking that Huma Abedin was the only non-family member to have her own account on Clinton’s server. Atlas readers are long familiar with Abedin. I was one of the first to report back in 2007 on the rumors that were rampant of a very close, sexual relationship between the two which was even more disturbing considering Abedin’s Muslim Brotherhood ties.
Seize the server.
Daughter of Saleha Mahmood Abedin, a pro-Sharia sociologist with ties to numerous Islamist organizations including the Muslim Brotherhood
Longtime former employee of the Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs, which shares the Muslim Brotherhood’s goal of establishing Islamic supremacy and Sharia Law worldwide
Anthony Wiener was/is a beard, pure theater When Wiener was caught tweeting his pecker it caused nary a blip in the “marriage”. But the ruse was necessary for Clinton’s presidential run.
Chelsea Clinton’s secret identity: ‘Diane Reynolds’, By Nick Gass, Politico, 3/5/15
Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2015/03/chelsea-clinton-diane-reynolds-secret-email-115786.html#ixzz3TcxEUVlo
Chelsea Clinton also had an account on the homemade website domain that Hillary Clinton used exclusively for emails during her time as secretary of state, The New York Times reports. The domain name had a server linked to the family’s Chappaqua, New York, residence. But her real name is absent from the email address.
She used her clintonemail.com account under the pseudonym “Diane Reynolds,” which the Times reports she often used when checking into hotels.
Longtime Clinton aide Huma Abedin also had a clintonemail.com account, according to the report, an apparent prized symbol of status within Clinton’s vast network of advisers, well-wishers, and hangers-on.
According to Philippe Reines, another close Clinton aide and former State Department official, Abedin was the only department official other than the secretary to use a clintonemail.com account.
Clinton tweeted late Wednesday that she wants the public to see emails from the 55,000 pages she handed over to the State Department.
- See more at: http://pamelageller.com/2015/03/guess-who-else-was-on-clintons-private-at-home-server.html/#sthash.oMn6H050.dpuf
Who is Huma Abedin? http://www.discoverthenetworks.org/individualProfile.asp?indid=2556
Daughter of Saleha Mahmood Abedin, a pro-Sharia sociologist with ties to numerous Islamist organizations including the Muslim Brotherhood
Longtime assistant to Hillary Clinton
Wife of former congressman Anthony Weiner
Longtime former employee of the Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs, which shares the Muslim Brotherhood's goal of establishing Islamic supremacy and Sharia Law worldwide
See also: Saleha Abedin Hassan Abedin Anthony Weiner
Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs Hillary Clinton
Huma Abedin was born in 1976 in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Her father, Syed Abedin (1928-1993), was an Indian-born scholar who had worked as a visiting professor at Saudi Arabia's King Abdulaziz University in the early Seventies.
Huma's mother, Saleha Mahmood Abedin, is a sociologist known for her strong advocacy of Sharia Law. A member of the Muslim Sisterhood (i.e., the Muslim Brotherhood's division for women), Saleha is also a board member of the International Islamic Council for Dawa and Relief. This pro-Hamas entity is part of the Union of Good, which the U.S. government has formally designated as an international terrorist organization led by the Muslim Brotherhood luminary Yusuf al-Qaradawi.
When Huma was two, the Abedin family relocated from Michigan to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. This move took place when Abdullah Omar Naseef, a major Muslim Brotherhood figure who served as vice president of Abdulaziz University (AU), recruited his former AU colleague, Syed Abedin, to work for the Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs (IMMA), a Saudi-based Islamic think tank that Naseef was preparing to launch. A number of years later, Naseef would develop close ties to Osama bin Laden and the terrorist group al Qaeda. Naseef also spent time (beginning in the early 1980s) as secretary-general of the Muslim World League, which, as journalist Andrew C. McCarthy points out, "has long been the Muslim Brotherhood’s principal vehicle for the international propagation of Islamic supremacist ideology."
It is vital to note that IMMA's "Muslim Minority Affairs" agenda was, and remains to this day, a calculated foreign policy of the Saudi Ministry of Religious Affairs, designed, as Andrew C. McCarthy explains, "to grow an unassimilated, aggressive population of Islamic supremacists who will gradually but dramatically alter the character of the West." For details about this agenda, click here.
At age 18, Huma Abedin returned to the U.S. to attend George Washington University. In 1996 she began working as an intern in the Bill Clinton White House, where she was assigned to then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. Abedin was eventually hired as an aide to Mrs. Clinton and has worked for her ever since, through Clinton's successful Senate runs (in 2000 and 2006) and her failed presidential bid in 2008.
From 1997 until sometime before early 1999, Abedin, while still interning at the White House, was an executive board member of George Washington University's (GWU) Muslim Students Association (MSA), heading the organization's “Social Committee.”
It is noteworthy that in 2001-02, soon after Abedin left that executive board, the chaplain and "spritual guide" of GWU's MSA was Anwar al-Awlaki, the al Qaeda operative who ministered to some of the men who were among the 9/11 hijackers. Another chaplain at GWU's MSA (from at least October 1999 through April 2002) was Mohamed Omeish, who headed the International Islamic Relief Organization, which has been tied to the funding of al Qaeda. Omeish’s brother, Esam, headed the Muslim American Society, the Muslim Brotherhood’s quasi-official branch in the United States. Both Omeish brothers were closely associated with Abdurahman Alamoudi, who would later be convicted and incarcerated on terrorism charges.
From 1996-2008, Abedin was employed by the Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs (IMMA) as the assistant editor of its in-house publication, the Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs (JMMA). At least the first seven of those years overlapped with the al Qaeda-affiliated Abdullah Omar Naseef's active presence at IMMA. Abedin's last six years at the Institute (2002-2008) were spent as a JMMA editorial board member; for one of those years, 2003, Naseef and Abedin served together on that board.
Throughout her years with IMMA, Abedin remained a close aide to Hillary Clinton. During Mrs. Clinton's 2008 presidential primary campaign, a New York Observer profile of Abedin described her as "a trusted advisor to Mrs. Clinton, especially on issues pertaining to the Middle East, according to a number of Clinton associates." "At meetings on the region," continued the profile, "... Ms. Abedin’s perspective is always sought out."
When Mrs. Clinton was appointed as President Barack Obama's Secretary of State in 2009, Abedin became her deputy chief of staff. At approximately that same point in time, Abedin's name was removed from the Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs' masthead.
Apart from their working relationship, Abedin and Mrs. Clinton have also developed a close personal bond over their years together, as reflected in Clinton's 2010 assertion that: “I have one daughter. But if I had a second daughter, it would [be] Huma.” In 2011, Secretary Clinton paid a friendly visit to Abedin's mother, Saleha, in Saudi Arabia. On that occasion, Mrs. Clinton publicly described her aide's position as “very important and sensitive.”
On July 10, 2010, Huma Abedin, a practicing Muslim, married then-congressman Anthony Weiner in a ceremony officiated by former president Bill Clinton. A number of analysts have noted that it is extremely rare for Islamic women—particularly those whose families have ties to the Muslim Brotherhood—to marry non-Muslims like Weiner, who is Jewish. Indeed, Dr. Anwar Shoeb, the highest-ranking faculty authority at the prestigious College of Sharia and Islamic Studies in Kuwait, formally declared that Abedin's marriage to Weiner was “null and void” under the dictates of Sharia Law, which explicitly forbids matrimony between a Muslim woman and an "infidel"; in fact, Shoeb classified the Abedin-Weiner union as a form of “adultery.”
Abedin went on maternity leave after giving birth to a baby boy in early December 2011. When she returned to work in June 2012, the State Department granted her an arrangement that allowed her to do outside consulting work as a “special government employee,” even as she remained a top advisor in the Department. Abedin did not disclose on her financial report either the arrangement or the $135,000 she earned from it, in violation of a law mandating that public officials disclose significant sources of income. Abedin's outside clients included the U.S. State Department, Hillary Clinton, the William Jefferson Clinton Foundation, and Teneo (a firm co-founded by Doug Band, a former counselor for Bill Clinton). Good-government groups warned of the potential conflict-of-interest inherent in an arangement where a government employee maintains private clients.
In June 2012, five Republican lawmakers (most prominently, Michele Bachmann) sent letters to the inspectors general at the Departments of Homeland Security, Justice, and State, asking that they investigate whether the Muslim Brotherhood was gaining undue influence over U.S. government officials. One letter, noting that Huma Abedin's position with Hillary Clinton "affords her routine access to the secretary [of state] and to policymaking," expressed concern over the fact that Abedin “has three family members—her late father, mother and her brother—connected to Muslim Brotherhood operatives and/or organizations.” Some other prominent Republicans such as John McCain and John Boehner disavowed the concerns articulated in the letters.
On February 1, 2013—Hillary Clinton's final day as Secretary of State—Abedin resigned her post as Mrs. Clinton's deputy chief of staff. Yet she would continue to serve as a close aide to Clinton.
On March 1, 2013, Abedin was tapped to run Clinton’s post-State Department transition team, comprised of a six-person “transition office” located in Washington.
Huma Abedin's brother, Hassan Abedin, has ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and is currently an associate editor with the JMMA. Hassan was once a fellow at the Oxford Center for Islamic Studies, at a time when the Center's board included such Brotherhood-affiliated figures as Yusuf al-Qaradawi and Abdullah Omar Naseef.
Huma's sister, Heba Abedin (formerly known as “Heba A. Khaled”), is an assistant editor with JMMA, where she served alongside Huma prior to the latter's departure.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / CIA reorganizing
on: March 06, 2015, 08:37:52 PM
LANGLEY, Va. — John O. Brennan, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, is planning to reassign thousands of undercover spies and intelligence analysts into new departments as part of a restructuring of the 67-year-old agency, a move he said would make it more successful against modern threats and crises.
Drawing from disparate sources — from the Pentagon to corporate America — Mr. Brennan’s plan would partly abandon the agency’s current structure that keeps spies and analysts separate as they target specific regions or countries. Instead, C.I.A. officers will be assigned to 10 new mission centers focused on terrorism, weapons proliferation, the Middle East and other areas with responsibility for espionage operations, intelligence analysis and covert actions.
During a briefing with reporters on Wednesday, Mr. Brennan gave few specifics about how a new structure would make the C.I.A. better at spying in an era of continued terrorism, cyberspying and tumult across the Middle East. But he said the current structure of having undercover spies and analysts cloistered separately — with little interaction and answering to different bosses — was anachronistic given the myriad global issues the agency faces.
“I’ve never seen a time when we have been confronted with such an array of very challenging, complex and serious threats to our national security, and issues that we have to grapple with,” he said.
One model for the new divisions is the agency’s Counterterrorism Center, an amalgam of undercover spies and analysts charged with hunting, and often killing, militant suspects across the globe. Once a small, occasionally neglected office in the C.I.A., the Counterterrorism Center has grown into a behemoth with thousands of officers since the Sept. 11 attacks as the C.I.A. has taken charge of a number of secret wars overseas.
But Mr. Brennan also cited another model for his new plan: the American military. He said that the Defense Department’s structure of having a single military commander in charge of all operations in a particular region — the way a four-star commander runs United States Central Command — was an efficient structure that led to better accountability.
Mark M. Lowenthal, a former senior C.I.A. analyst, said that the reorganization “is not going to go down smoothly” at the agency, especially among clandestine spies who have long been able to withhold information from analysts, such as the identity of their foreign agents. “The clandestine service is very, very guarded about giving too much information about sources to the analysts,” he said.
But Mr. Lowenthal, who said he had not been briefed about the reorganization and was basing his understanding of Mr. Brennan’s plan on news accounts, said that the new mission centers could help avoid a debacle like the intelligence assessments before the Iraq war, when analysts trusted information from sources they knew little about, and who were later discredited.
During his two years as C.I.A. director, Mr. Brennan has become known for working long days but also for being loath to delegate decisions to lower levels of C.I.A. bureaucracy. During the briefing on Wednesday, he showed flashes of frustration that, under the C.I.A.’s current structure, there is not one single person in charge of — and to hold accountable for — a number of pressing issues.
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He avoided citing any specific examples of how the C.I.A.’s current structure was hampering operations, and often used management jargon while describing his vision for the agency.
He spoke of wanting to “wring efficiencies” out of the system and trying to identify “seams” in the agency’s current structure that hinder the C.I.A. from adequately addressing complex problems. The C.I.A. needed to modernize even if the current system was not “broken,” he said, citing how Kodak failed to anticipate the advent of digital cameras.
Mr. Brennan said he was also adding a new directorate at the agency responsible for all of the C.I.A.’s digital operations — from cyberespionage to data warehousing and analysis.
Mr. Brennan discussed his plans with reporters on the condition that nothing be made public until he met with C.I.A. employees to discuss the new structure. That meeting was Friday.
While adding the new digital directorate, Mr. Brennan chose not to scuttle the C.I.A.’s four traditional directorates sitting at the top of the bureaucracy — those in charge of clandestine operations, intelligence analysis, science and technology research, and personnel support.
The C.I.A.’s clandestine service, the cadre of undercover spies known for decades as the Directorate of Operations and in recent years renamed the National Clandestine Service, will get its original name back under Mr. Brennan’s plan.
Amy Zegart, an intelligence expert at Stanford, said that the C.I.A. risked being drawn further into the daily churn of events rather than focusing on “over-the-horizon threats” at a time when the C.I.A. has already come under criticism for paying little attention to long-term trends.
For his part, Mr. Brennan said this was the very thing he was trying to avoid — reacting to the world’s crises and not giving policy makers sufficient warning before they happened.
“I don’t want to just be part of an agency that reports on the world’s fires, and the collapse of various countries and systems,” he said.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Allen West: Hillary leaked Israel's plans
on: March 06, 2015, 06:10:49 PM
Now there are more daggers coming out to connect the dots. As reported by Examiner.com, “The media feeding frenzy over the alleged unlawful use by Hillary Clinton of a non-government email system is having an impact on other allegations against the potential Democrat party presidential candidate.”
“This week Tuesday, a former Department of Justice prosecuting attorney said that he believes then Secretary of State — probably using her unofficial and illegal email system — was complicit in the leaking of classified intelligence regarding military operation plans formulated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) to destroy Iran’s nuclear weapons program.”
As well, “In a Washington Post front page news story on March 2, 2015, reporter Anne Gearan intimated that the likely reason for the release of Israel’s plans to a New York Times reporter was intended to hurt the Israeli’s war plans, since President Barack Obama and his staff — including his top advisor Valerie Jarrett, herself born in Iran — believed Israel was willing and had the technical and strategic expertise to launch a preemptive sneak attack on Iran in order to eliminate their nuclear threat.”
Ms. Gearan wrote: “Hillary Rodham Clinton used a private e-mail account for her official government business when she was secretary of state and did not routinely preserve and turn over those e-mails for government records collection, the State Department said Monday.” She also wrote: “It was not clear why Clinton, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, created the private account. But the practice appears to bolster long-standing criticism that Clinton and her husband, former president Bill Clinton, have not been transparent.”
As of Thursday the Associated Press and Judicial Watch announced they’re considering bringing lawsuits against Hillary Clinton. And late last night Clinton decided to release a tweet that only exacerbated the issue, seemingly conveying her disdain for the intellect of the American people. Her message was that she has consented to the State Department release of her emails — well, these are the emails Clinton has already provided to the State Department, since they have no access to her personal account. It appears that this U.S. Code addresses “willful and unlawful concealment” of records.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Noonan: Stuck in Scandal
on: March 06, 2015, 10:04:51 AM
By Peggy Noonan
March 5, 2015 6:31 p.m. ET
Doesn’t the latest Hillary Clinton scandal make you want to throw up your hands and say: Do we really have to do this again? Do we have to go back there? People assume she is our next president. We are defining political deviancy down.
The scandal this week is that we have belatedly found out, more than two years after she left the office of secretary of state, that throughout Mrs. Clinton’s four-year tenure she did not conduct official business through the State Department email system. She had her own private email addresses and her own private Internet domain, on her own private server at one of her own private homes, in Chappaqua, N.Y. Which means she had, and has, complete control of the emails. If a journalist filed a Freedom of Information Act request asking to see emails of the secretary of state, the State Department had nothing to show. If Congress asked to see them, State could say there was nothing to see. (Two months ago, on the request of State, Mrs. Clinton turned over a reported 55,000 pages of her emails. She and her private aides apparently got to pick which ones.)
Is it too much to imagine that Mrs. Clinton wanted to conceal the record of her communications as America’s top diplomat because she might have been doing a great deal of interesting work in those emails, not only with respect to immediate and unfolding international events but with respect to those who would like to make a positive impression on the American secretary of state by making contributions to the Clinton Foundation, which not only funds many noble causes but is the seat of operations of Clinton Inc. and its numerous offices, operatives, hangers-on and campaign-in-waiting?
What a low and embarrassing question. It is prompted by last week’s scandal—that the Clinton Foundation accepted foreign contributions during Mrs. Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state. It is uncomfortable to ask such questions, but that’s the thing with the Clintons, they always make you go there.
The mainstream press is all over the story now that it has blown. It’s odd that it took so long. Everyone at State, the White House, and the rest of the government who received an email from the secretary of state would have seen where it was coming from—a nongovernmental address. You’d think someone would have noticed.
With the exception of the moment Wednesday when a hardy reporter from TMZ actually went to an airport and shouted a query at Mrs. Clinton—it was just like the old days of journalism, with a stakeout and shouted queries—Mrs. Clinton hasn’t been subjected to any questions from the press. She’s slide, she’ll glide, she’ll skate. (With TMZ she just walked on, smiling.)
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Best of the Web Today Columnist James Taranto on the news that Hillary Clinton used a personal email account to conduct State Department business. Photo credit: Getty Images.
Why would she ignore regulations to opt out of the State email system? We probably see the answer in a video clip posted this week on Buzzfeed. Mrs. Clinton, chatting with a supporter at a fundraiser for her 2000 Senate campaign, said: “As much as I’ve been investigated and all of that, you know, why would I . . . ever want to do email?”
But when you’re secretary of state you have to. So she did it her way, with complete control. It will make it harder, if not impossible, for investigators.
The press is painting all this as a story about how Mrs. Clinton, in her love for secrecy and control, has given ammunition to her enemies. But that’s not the story. The story is that this is what she does, and always has. The rules apply to others, not her. She’s special, entitled, exempt from the rules—the rules under which, as the Federalist reports, the State Department in 2012 forced the resignation of a U.S. ambassador, “in part for setting up an unsanctioned private e-mail system.”
Why doesn’t the legacy press swarm her on this? Because she is political royalty. They are used to seeing her as a regal, queenly figure. They’ve been habituated to understand that Mrs. Clinton is not to be harried, not to be subjected to gotcha questions or impertinent grilling. She is a Democrat, a star, not some grubby Republican governor from nowhere. And they don’t want to be muscled by her spokesmen. The wildly belligerent Philippe Reines sends reporters insulting, demeaning emails if they get out of line. He did it again this week. It is effective in two ways. One is that it diverts attention from his boss, makes Mr. Reines the story, and in the process makes her look comparatively sane. The other is that reporters don’t want a hissing match with someone who implies he will damage them. They can’t afford to be frozen out. She’s probably the next president: Their careers depend on access.
But how will such smash-mouth tactics play the next four, five years?
Back to the questions at the top of the column.
Sixteen years ago, when she was first running for the Senate, I wrote a book called “The Case Against Hillary Clinton.” I waded through it all—cattle futures, Travelgate, the lost Rose law firm records, women slimed as bimbos, foreign campaign cash, the stealth and secrecy that marked the creation of the health-care plan, Monica, the vast right-wing conspiracy. As I researched I remembered why, four years into the Clinton administration, the New York Times columnist William Safire called Hillary “a congenital liar . . . compelled to mislead, and to ensnare her subordinates and friends in a web of deceit.”
Do we have to go through all that again?
In 1992 the Clintons were new and golden. Now, so many years later, their reputation for rule breaking and corruption is so deep, so assumed, that it really has become old news. And old news isn’t news.
An aspect of the story goes beyond criticism of Mrs. Clinton and gets to criticism of us. A generation or two ago, a person so encrusted in a reputation for scandal would not be considered a possible presidential contender. She would be ineligible. Now she is inevitable.
What happened? Why is her party so in her thrall?
She’s famous? The run itself makes you famous. America didn’t know who Jack Kennedy was in 1959; in 1961 he was king of the world. The same for Obama in ’08.
Money? Sure she’s the superblitz shock-and-awe queen of fundraising, but pretty much any Democrat in a 50/50 country would be able to raise what needs to be raised.
She’s a woman? There are other women in the Democratic Party.
She’s inevitable? She was inevitable in 2008. Then, suddenly, she was evitable.
Her talent is for survival. This on its own terms is admirable and takes grit. But others have grit. As for leadership, she has a sharp tactical sense but no vision, no overall strategic sense of where we are and where we must go.
What is freezing the Democrats is her mystique. But mystique can be broken. A nobody called Obama broke hers in 2008.
Do we really have to return to Scandal Land? It’s what she brings wherever she goes. And it’s not going to stop.
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Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Hillbillary Clintons long, sordid, and often criminal history
on: March 06, 2015, 10:02:54 AM
Email Scandal Won't Doom Hillary, but Supporters Should Feel Uneasy
Jonah Goldberg | Mar 06, 2015
Historically, the Clintons have proved to be politically indestructible. To paraphrase the movie "Aliens," to truly destroy the Clinton Industrial Complex, you'd have to nuke it from orbit. It's the only way to be sure.
Given that alone, I doubt that the unfolding controversy over Hillary's email schemes spells her doom.
The basic details are as follows: In 2009, a week before she started her job as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton had a personal Internet server registered at her home address. She then used her own domain name, "clintonemail.com," to conduct all of her business -- for the State Department, but also presumably the Clinton Foundation and other matters, be they nefarious or high-minded.
The server was registered under the name Eric Hoteman -- someone who doesn't exist. But it's almost surely Eric Hothem, a Washington financial adviser and former aide to Clinton who, according to the Associated Press, has been a technology adviser to the family. Tony Soprano would be envious.
This system allowed Clinton to maintain control over her email correspondence. No third-party copies would be stored on, say, government or Google hard drives. Matt Devost, a security expert, succinctly explained to Bloomberg News the point of having your own private email server: "You erase it and everything's gone."
Depending on whom you ask, this was a violation of Obama administration policy, long-established State Department rules, the Federal Records Act or all of the above. Moreover, outside the ranks of Clinton Industrial Complex employees, contractors and supplicants, there's a rare bipartisan consensus that it was, to use a technical term, really, really shady.
Team Clinton's initial response was as expected: send out oleaginous flacks to shoot the messenger and befog the issue. That failed. Even normally reliable resellers of Clinton spin at MSNBC balked at the prospect of keeping a straight face as David Brock, a prominent Clinton remora, tried to demand an apology from The New York Times for breaking the story.
Then Mrs. Clinton weighed in to somewhat greater effect. She tweeted, "I want the public to see my email. I asked State to release them. They said they will review them for release as soon as possible."
This was a reference to the "55,000 pages" of emails Clinton handed over to the State Department in response to a request. It's also a classic bit of misdirection. Among the swirling issues at play is whether Clinton handed over all of her official business emails as required. (The State Department offers no clarity on this.) The whole point of having your own private server is that no one can check to make sure you didn't selectively delete or withhold emails.
The number of pages is also meaningless. First, if you've ever printed out email, you know that "pages" and "emails" are not synonymous terms. But even if they were, so what? I could release 99.99 percent of all my emails, and you'd see little more than boring work product, press releases, spam and appeals from Nigerian oil ministers. My incriminating stuff could remain invisible -- valuable snowflakes held back from a blizzard of chaff. If you don't think the Clintons are capable of such legerdemain, I refer you to the Clinton-inspired debate over billing records and the meaning of "is."
This points to another reason why I think Clinton will survive this mess. If there's a damning email out there, it's been deleted, and the relevant hard drive would be harder to find than Jimmy Hoffa's body. So critics are probably left with the task of proving a negative.
The real significance of this moment -- and a partial explanation of the media firestorm over it -- is that time is running out to stop the Clinton freight train.
Nothing in this story is surprising: not the desire for secrecy, nor the flouting of legal norms, nor the cynical attempts to shoot the messengers -- and certainly not the staggering hypocrisy. (In 2007, then-Sen. Clinton denounced the Bush White House's far more defensible use of "secret" Republican National Committee email addresses for campaign business as proof that "our Constitution is being shredded.") It's all vintage Clinton.
At some point down the tracks, when yet another fetid cloud of Clintonism erupts into plain view, many smart liberals will look back at this moment as the time when they should have pulled the emergency brake and gotten off the Hillary train.
The unease they feel now will be nothing compared to the buyer's remorse to come.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Egypt moving troops from Sinai to western border
on: March 06, 2015, 09:21:50 AM
In recent weeks, Egypt has begun diluting its forces stationed along the Philadelphi route on its border with Gaza, Israeli defense officials warned Thursday. This move has prompted fear among defense officials that a terrorist takeover could occur in Sinai and violence against Israel would resume. Egyptian president Abdel Fatah al-Sisi delighted the Israeli defense establishment when, in recent months, he allocated substantial resources to fight terrorism in Sinai - particularly, the destruction of smuggling tunnels between Sinai and Gaza as part of the construction of a buffer zone. However, with the threat of an Islamic State (ISIS) presence in Libya on its western border, Egypt has started transferring large numbers of forces there.
"Egypt is working according to its priorities, and at this time the Libyan border is more threatening," a defense official told Walla! News. "It is a border of more than a thousand kilometers being penetrated by ISIS terrorists, raging across Libya and murdering Egyptian citizens," he explained. "The transition of special forces from Sinai to the border with Libya will harm Egypt's pressure on terrorist organizations that may act against Israel," the official warned. While Israel's cooperation with Cairo in the fight against terrorism has tightened and been very effective in the past year, there is still cause for concern in Israel. In light of recent tensions with Washington, Cairo has begun to get closer with Russia, which could play against Israel in the future.