Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Deem and Pass Budget
on: July 22, 2010, 05:28:55 AM
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July 04, 2010
The 'Deem'n Pass' budget
Once again, the Democrats have shown a willingness to bypass procedure to further their own agenda. As Human Events' Connie Hair reported yesterday:
Last night, as part of a procedural vote on the emergency war supplemental bill, House Democrats attached a document that "deemed as passed" a non-existent $1.12 trillion budget. The execution of the "deeming" document allows Democrats to start spending money for Fiscal Year 2011 without the pesky constraints of a budget.
The procedural vote passed 215-210 with no Republicans voting in favor and 38 Democrats crossing the aisle to vote against deeming the faux budget resolution passed.
Never before -- since the creation of the Congressional budget process -- has the House failed to pass a budget, failed to propose a budget then deemed the non-existent budget as passed as a means to avoid a direct, recorded vote on a budget, but still allow Congress to spend taxpayer money.
Representative Paul Ryan issued a statement on behalf of the House Republican Budget Committee entitled "The Majority's Budget Deemer: An Admission of Fiscal Failure." Ryan opens with a scathing analysis:
What House Democratic leaders call a "budget enforcement resolution" is in fact just another "deeming" scheme - one that concedes they cannot meet their most fundamental governing responsibility: writing a congressional budget. They have created a masquerade that only advances their spend-as-you-go philosophy, accelerating the march toward a fiscal and economic crisis. They are doing so because a majority of rank-and-file Democrats cannot vote for a budget with trillion-dollar deficits. As even House Budget Committee Chairman Spratt has acknowledged: "You can say that that's a lack of courage."
Ryan's statement further explains that the "budget enforcement resolution" is not a "budget" or a "resolution," and he clearly reveals its deceptive facts and figures. He concludes by stating: "This is far more than a failure of procedure or politics. It is an abdication of a fundamental responsibility by a Majority that is losing both its will, and its ability, to govern - and it is threatening America's prosperity in the process."
Throw this latest maneuver of the Dems into the pile and one wonders if "threatening" has become something more like "destructing." If Congress can't reign in its reckless spending, America will continue its ride on the donkey's back beyond the "deem'n pass" into territory resembling a banana republic.
Page Printed from: http://www.americanthinker.com/blog/2010/07/the_deemn_pass_budget.html
at July 08, 2010 - 03:13:02 PM CDT
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor 7/19/10
on: July 22, 2010, 05:17:51 AM
Mexico Security Memo: July 19, 2010
July 19, 2010 | 2011 GMT
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Torreon Massacre and Overall Violence
A group of armed men traveling in some eight sport utility vehicles arrived just after midnight July 18 at the Italia Inn, a popular party venue just outside Torreon, Coahuila state, where a birthday party was taking place. The gunmen entered the facility and indiscriminately fired some 166 rounds at party guests who were dancing to a live band. A total of 18 people were killed, with 12 men and five women dying at the scene and one woman succumbing to her injuries later.
The Coahuila attorney general’s office did not say which criminal organization was responsible for the attack, but STRATFOR sources in Mexico claim the attack was in retaliation for the failure of the Italia Inn’s owner to pay extortion fees. The Comerca Lagunera metropolitan area of Mexico, which includes Torreon, Coahuila state, and Gomez Palacio, Durango state, is contested by the Los Zetas organization and Sinaloa cartel, and either group may have been responsible for the attack.
This incident is just the latest in the increasing number of extraordinarily violent attacks that have occurred this year in Mexico. The Mexican government estimated the death toll from organized crime-related violence from January through June 2010 to be 7,048 — only 700 deaths fewer than 2009’s annual total and dramatically more than death counts previously reported by the Mexican media, most of which have been between 6,000 and 6,500.
The violence throughout Mexico shows no sign of slowing, either. The Calderon administration insists its countercartel strategy is still playing out and will be re-evaluated in December 2010. The current strategy in place in Juarez is said to be the intended strategy nationwide, but the death toll from organized crime-related violence in Juarez has already surpassed 1,500 with nearly five-and-a-half months left in 2010 (the total in 2009 was 3,014). In the near term, the Mexican government has shown no signs it intends to change the strategy before its set evaluation date, but if the current trends in violence hold, Mexico would be on pace to well surpass the previous 2009 annual record for organized crime-related killings.
Juarez Explosion Controversy
Conflicting reports continue to emerge about a small improvised explosive device (IED) allegedly planted by the La Linea gang inside a car in Juarez, Chihuahua state, and used against Mexican security forces the evening of July 15. The Mexican government has allowed members of the U.S. Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Bureau (ATF) and FBI to inspect the scene, along with ATF canine explosive detection teams, and both agencies have collected evidence to be processed in the United States.
Press reports from Mexico and around the world continue to refer to the device as a “car bomb,” which would mark an unprecedented escalation in tactics, though there is no evidence to support this claim. STRATFOR sources in the Mexican government have indicated that federal law enforcement and military personnel involved in the investigation continue to contradict each other about everything from the composition of the device to the exact sequence of events, showing the confusion even within the government. In addition, there are unsubstantiated rumors circulating that accuse the Mexican government of attempting to cover up the true sequence of events for political reasons, given the wide variety of possible scenarios being reported as well as the erroneous claim by a variety of Mexican officials and agencies that the device was a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED).
A Mexican military spokesman for the fifth military zone claimed July 18 the device used in the attack on Mexican security forces consisted of approximately 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of commercial-grade explosives — though the military had stated July 16 that the device was composed of 10 kilograms of C-4 high explosives. Regardless of the composition of the device (though a reliable STRATFOR source in the Mexican government has confirmed the explosive substance to have been an industrial explosive gel known as TOVEX), crime scene photography and news footage of the aftermath of the blast do not support the claim that a 10-kilogram device was used. Several car windows in the immediate vicinity of the purported VBIED were not blown out and the chassis of the vehicle in which the IED was placed was intact, though it suffered a great deal of damage from the resulting fire.
Additionally, the use of the term “car bomb” or VBIED implies a new capability for the Mexican cartels, which, in STRATFOR’s judgment, they have yet to demonstrate. The blast and the damage observed fell more in line with a very small IED, or even a couple of hand grenades, placed inside of a car. One possible reason for using the terms VBIED and “car bomb” is to scare the residents of Mexico and the U.S. border region for political and/or financial purposes. Several groups stand to gain from the increased fear of this “new cartel capability” such as the Juarez and Chihuahua state governments, press outlets, private security companies, U.S. border state governments and law enforcement agencies. Also, claiming that La Linea — and the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes organization (VCF) for which it is an enforcement arm — are now using indiscriminate terror tactics like detonating bombs will play to the advantage of their rivals, the Sinaloa cartel, in the minds of civilians. Such tactics are likely to increase collateral damage inflicted on civilians as well as draw the Mexican government’s attention more squarely on La Linea and the VCF and away from Sinaloa operations in the region.
(click here to view interactive graphic)
One person was killed, three were injured and three were arrested after a car chase in Zapopan, Jalisco state. During the incident, a group of gunmen reportedly attacked two people with firearms and grenades after a car accident. A firefight also occurred between police and the suspected criminals.
Authorities announced the arrest of nine suspected members of the Sinaloa cartel, including Jorge Antonio Arias Flores, in the municipality of Xalisco, Nayarit state. Arias Flores is believed to be the head of the Sinaloa cartel for Nayarit state.
Police discovered three bodies hanging from two bridges in Cuernavaca, Morelos state. Several messages were found near the bodies and the crime was attributed to the Cartel Pacifico Sur (CPS).
Residents of the Las Arenillas neighborhood of Santiago Tepatlaxco, Mexico state, discovered the bodies of two men wrapped in sacks.
The Guanajuato state attorney general’s office announced the capture of seven suspected LFM kidnappers who are linked to eight kidnappings and four murders in the state.
Police in the municipality of Netzahualcoyotl, Mexico state, spotted a man loading a suspicious package into a vehicle and arrested him after a car chase into the Gustavo A. Madero neighborhood of Mexico City. Police discovered 12 firearms, 45 magazines and 657 rounds of ammunition in the vehicle.
Three people were shot to death in their vehicle after leaving a party in Culiacan, Sinaloa state.
One soldier and three suspected criminals were killed during several firefights in Reynosa, Tamaulipas state. Two people were arrested after the incident and authorities seized approximately 31,600 rounds of ammunition.
Five people suspected of carrying out an express kidnapping were arrested in the municipality of Apodaca, Nuevo Leon state.
The decapitated body of an unidentified man was discovered near the central market in Chilpancingo, Guerrero state. The victim’s fingers had been severed.
Six suspected La Familia Michoacana members were arrested during a raid on a house in the Heroes Tecamac neighborhood in Tecamac, Mexico state.
One state security agent was killed and two others were injured after approximately 15 gunmen attacked a vehicle transporting a prisoner in Otumba, Mexico state.
Police arrested 13 people and seized several firearms during a riot in the municipality of Othon P. Blanco, Quintana Roo state. The rioters were led by a government official from the municipality of Subteniente Lopez, Quintana Roo state, and were believed to be aiding the smuggling of firearms and drugs into Mexico from Belize.
The unidentified bodies of two men bearing signs of torture were discovered in the municipality of Iztapalapa, Mexico state.
Three members of the same family, including an infant, traveling by car in Mazatlan, Sinaloa state, were killed in a drive-by shooting by unidentified gunmen.
The Secretariat of National Defense announced the arrest of six suspected CPS members during a raid on a safe-house in Cuernavaca, Morelos state. Some of the suspects are believed to have been responsible for several recent murders in Cuernavaca.
Two policemen were killed and three were injured after being attacked by unidentified gunmen in the municipality of Santiago, Nuevo Leon state.
Four policemen were killed in an ambush by unidentified gunmen in the municipality of Acapulco, Guerrero state.
Police in Tijuana, Baja California state, seized approximately 500 kilograms of marijuana during a raid in the Guadalupe Victoria neighborhood. One suspect was arrested during the incident.
Unidentified gunmen killed a police commander in Tlaquepaque, Jalisco state, during a drive by shooting in a convenience store parking lot.
Soldiers in the municipality of Culiacan, Sinaloa state, arrested two men after a car chase. The suspects had reportedly fired at a military patrol in the area.
Read more: Mexico Security Memo: July 19, 2010 | STRATFOR
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: The ICJ's Kosovo Opinion
on: July 22, 2010, 05:08:18 AM
Some inconvenient truths in here , , ,
Russia: The ICJ's Kosovo Opinion
July 19, 2010 | 2100 GMT
VALERIE KUYPERS/AFP/Getty Images
International Court of Justice President Hisashi Owada (C) opens the Dec. 9, 2009, hearing on Kosovo’s secession from SerbiaSummary
The U.N. International Court of Justice is set to present its opinion on the legality of Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia. While Russia is publicly siding with the Serbs against Kosovo’s independence, Moscow stands to gain — at least rhetorically — no matter how the court rules.
At 3 p.m. local time July 22 in The Hague, the U.N. International Court of Justice (ICJ) will present its advisory opinion on the legality of Kosovo’s February 2008 unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) from Serbia. The opinion will not be legally binding — it is an advisory opinion requested by the U.N. General Assembly at the behest of Belgrade — but will in essence determine whether, according to international law, Kosovo’s declaration of independence was legal.
Regardless of the ICJ opinion, the circumstances surrounding Kosovo’s UDI remain unchanged. Kosovo is still a de facto Western protectorate with explicit security guarantees from NATO, and Serbia has neither the military capacity to change the status quo nor the desire to try to do so, in light of its efforts to become an EU member state.
Russia, Serbia’s main ally on the Kosovo matter, has stated that it hopes the ICJ ruling will force new talks between Serbs and Kosovars. Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, said July 15 that Russia continues to oppose Kosovo’s independence and supports Belgrade’s position that Kosovo is a sovereign part of Serbia. But Moscow stands to benefit no matter the outcome of the ICJ deliberations.
The Intertwined Crisis of Kosovo and Georgia
Kosovo’s UDI came 9 years after NATO’s 1999 war against what was then known as Yugoslavia forced Belgrade to relinquish its physical control over the province. The stated reasons for NATO’s military campaign in 1999 were atrocities committed by Yugoslav military and paramilitary forces against the Albanian population of Kosovo. Serbia had waged a number of military conflicts throughout the 1990s, the purpose of which were to expand Belgrade’s influence in the Balkans. Thus, the West wanted to eliminate Serbia — and its leader, Slobodan Milosevic — as a regional threat and rival.
(click here to enlarge image)
But the underlying geopolitical context was also NATO’s evolution from a regional security grouping with no mandate to act outside of its membership’s immediate defense to an organization with a mandate to keep order in Europe, and, eventually, beyond. NATO took action in Kosovo without U.N. Security Council (UNSC) approval and despite strong Russian and Chinese opposition. The precedent was set for the U.S. and its allies to act without addressing the interests of other fellow UNSC permanent members (as the U.S. would later repeat in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq invasion).
For Russia, NATO’s actions in Kosovo were untenable. Since Russia is not part of NATO — in fact, the alliance had been created to defend Europe against Soviet invasion — Moscow realized that Kosovo established an extraordinary precedent. NATO determined that an intervention was necessary in a matter of European security, intervened militarily and then resolved the post-conflict environment according to its interests. It did so against a stated Moscow ally, with dubious evidence and reasoning. The West did not stop there either; Kosovo was followed by NATO expansion into the former Soviet sphere in Eastern Europe and the defeat of a pro-Kremlin Ukrainian government.
In this context, the 2008 Kosovo UDI was just another in a line of decisions on European security taken by the West in which Moscow’s protests were ignored. Russia, therefore, formulated a response to the West.
On Feb. 15, 2008, two days before the Kosovo UDI, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with the presidents of Georgian breakaway republics South Ossetia and Abkhazia. After the meeting, the Russian foreign ministry released a statement stating, “The declaration of sovereignty by Kosovo and its recognition will doubtlessly be taken into account in [Russia’s] relations with Abkhazia and South Ossetia.” The West did not heed the warning, doubting Russia’s resolve to respond, and Russia used supposed Georgian atrocities against South Ossetians in August 2008 to parallel the West’s actions against Serbia and justify a military intervention that led to Moscow-supported independence for the two breakaway republics.
Russia and the ICJ Opinion
Moscow now stands to benefit, at least rhetorically, no matter what opinion the ICJ supports. A ruling that the UDI was legal also legitimizes Russia’s support for the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. While the West has made the legal argument that the Kosovo case is unique and sets no precedent, the non-Western opinion on the matter (with very few exceptions) is that it does. In theory, it also opens the possibility that more countries will recognize the two republics, as Moscow would have a case that Kosovo and the two Georgian territories are not different.
However, Moscow does not need South Ossetia and Abkhazia to gain international recognition for its control of the two provinces to pay dividends. Moscow already controls the two provinces economically, politically and militarily and can use them to pressure Georgia — still a U.S. ally — if need be. Therefore, if the ICJ rules that the UDI was illegal, Moscow will not fret much about the legal implications. Instead, it will be able to show that its support for Belgrade has, from the beginning, been justified and that the West, led by the United States, broke international law by encouraging Kosovo to declare independence unilaterally and without recourse to the UNSC. Moscow will use the ICJ opinion in that case to show that it has been a supporter of international law and sanctity of sovereignty.
Kosovo was a redline issue for Moscow in 2008 because it set a precedent that allowed the West to intervene militarily and redraw European borders without asking Russia for its opinion. Russia’s 2008 war against Georgia was the response Moscow used to counter the West’s perceived belligerence. The ICJ opinion, whichever way it goes, will be an added boon for Moscow.
Read more: Russia: The ICJ's Kosovo Opinion | STRATFOR
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: Fanning the flames of Jihad
on: July 22, 2010, 04:51:38 AM
Fanning the Flames of Jihad
July 22, 2010
By Scott Stewart
On July 11, 2010, al-Malahim Media, the media arm of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), published the first edition of its new English-language online magazine “Inspire.” The group had tried to release the magazine in late June, but for some reason — whether a technical glitch, virus (as rumored on some of the jihadist message boards) or cyberattack — most of the initial file released was unreadable.
The magazine was produced by someone who has a moderate amount of technological savvy, who speaks English well and who uses a lot of American idioms and phraseology. We did not note any hint of British or South Asian influence in the writing. A government source has suggested to us (and we have seen the claim repeated in the media) that Inspire was produced by a U.S citizen who was born in Saudi Arabia named Samir Khan. Khan is a well-known cyber-jihadist — indeed, The New York Times did an excellent story on Khan in October 2007. Given Khan’s background, history of publishing English-language jihadist material and the fact that he reportedly left the United States for Yemen in 2009 and has not returned, it does seem plausible that he is the driving force behind Inspire.
The magazine contains previously published material from Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Abu Musab al-Suri and Anwar al-Awlaki. While it also contains new material, this material, especially from al-Awlaki and AQAP leader Nasir al-Wahayshi (aka Abu Bashir), is consistent with their previously published statements. One of the messages by al-Awlaki featured in Inspire, “A Message to the American People,” was previously released to CNN and reissued by al-Malahim on the Internet July 19, almost as if to validate Inspire. Even though the way in which some of the material in Inspire is presented is quite elementary, and could lead some to believe the magazine might be a spoof, we have found no analytical reason to doubt its authenticity.
Presentation aside, the material is quite consistent with what we have seen released by al-Malahim media in its Arabic-language materials over many months. When closely examined, the inaugural issue of Inspire provides a good gauge of AQAP’s thought and suggests the general direction of the broader jihadist movement.
In a letter from the editor appearing at the beginning of the magazine, the purpose of Inspire is clearly laid out: “This magazine is geared towards making the Muslim a mujahid.” The editor also clearly states that Inspire is an effort by al-Malahim Media to reach out to, radicalize and train the millions of English-speaking Muslims in the West, Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia.
Inspire does not represent any sort of major breakthrough in jihadist communication. English-language jihadist material has been available on the Internet since the early 1990s on sites such as Azzam.com, and jihadists have released other magazines directly targeting English-speaking audiences. What is remarkable about Inspire is that it was released by al-Malahim and AQAP. Within the jihadist movement, AQAP has assumed the vanguard position on the physical battlefield over the past year with links to several attacks or attempted attacks in the West. AQAP has also been frequently mentioned in Western media over the past several months, and it appears that al-Malahim is trying to exploit that notoriety in order to get the attention of English-speaking Muslims.
Regarding AQAP’s links to recent attacks, Inspire follows the trend of AQAP publications and leaders in recent months in praising Fort Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Hasan and failed Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and lifting them up as examples for all jihadists to follow. “We call on every Muslim who feels any jealousy for their religious beliefs to expel the polytheists from the Arabian Peninsula, by killing all of the crusaders working in embassies or otherwise, and to declare war against the crusaders in the land of the Prophet Muhammad — peace be upon him — on the ground, sea and air. And we call on every soldier working in the crusader armies and puppet governments to repent to Allah and follow the example of the heroic mujahid brother Nidal Hassan [sic]; to stand up and kill all the crusaders by all means available to him.…”
In the article discussing Abdulmutallab, the author again brags about the manufacturing of the improvised explosive device used in the Christmas Day attack even though that device, like the one used in the assassination attempt against Saudi Deputy Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, failed to achieve the objective. “The mujahidin brothers in the manufacturing department managed with the grace of Allah to make an advanced bomb. The bomb had been tested and proven effective as it has passed through the detector ports. The martyrdom bomber managed with the grace of Allah to reach his target, but due to a technical glitch, the bomb did not explode completely; and we will continue on our path until we get what we want….” This statement would seem to indicate that if AQAP is able to recruit a willing suicide bomber who is able to travel to the West, they will again attempt to attack an airliner using a similar device.
Airliners remain vulnerable to such attacks. STRATFOR has previously noted when discussing AQAP and its innovative IED designs, there are many ways to smuggle IED components on board an aircraft if a person has a little imagination and access to explosives. As we wrote in September 2009, three months before the Christmas Day bomber’s attempted attack, efforts to improve technical methods to locate IED components must not be abandoned, but the existing vulnerabilities in airport screening systems demonstrate that an emphasis needs to be placed not only on finding the bomb but also on finding the bomber.
Throughout the magazine, articles criticize the U.S. operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen; Saudi operations against jihadists; the burqa ban in Europe and even global warming — Inspire carried a reproduction of a statement purportedly authored by Osama bin Laden earlier this year titled “The Way to Save the Earth” that criticizes U.S. policy regarding climate change and calls for economic jihad against the United States.
The magazine also contained a portion of a previously-released message titled “From Kabul to Mogadishu” by al Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri that encouraged the people of Yemen to join al Qaeda in its global struggle. It only quoted a part of the original message that pertained to Yemen and omitted portions that pertained to other locations.
In addition to the recycled content from al Qaeda’s core leadership, Inspire also contains quite a bit of new and interesting content from AQAP’s military and theological leaders. An interview with AQAP leader Nasir al-Wahayshi provided al-Wahayshi the opportunity to reinforce several points he has been making for months now regarding his call for jihadists to conduct simple attacks using readily available weapons. “My advice to my Muslim brothers in the West is to acquire weapons and learn methods of war. They are living in a place where they can cause great harm to the enemy and where they can support the Messenger of Allah.” Al-Wahayshi continued “…a man with his knife, a man with his gun, a man with his rifle, a man with his bomb, by learning how to design explosive devices, by burning down forests and buildings, or by running over them with your cars and trucks. The means of harming them are many so seek assistance from Allah and do not be weak and you will find a way.”
This call was echoed by Adam Gadahn in March 2010 when the American-born spokesman for al Qaeda prime advised jihadists to strike targets that were close to them with simple assaults and urged his audience to not “wait for tomorrow to do what can be done today, and don’t wait for others to do what you can do yourself.”
These calls are part of a move toward a leaderless resistance model of jihadism that has accompanied the devolution of the jihadist threat from one based on al Qaeda the group to a broader threat based primarily on al Qaeda franchises and the wider jihadist movement. (STRATFOR is currently putting the finishing touches on a book that details our coverage of this devolutionary process since 2004.) With this shift, more attacks such as the Times Square bombing attempt, the Fort Hood shooting and the June 1, 2009, Little Rock shootings can be anticipated.
In an effort to provide training in terrorist tradecraft to such grassroots and lone-wolf jihadists, Inspire contains a section called “Open Source Jihad,” which is the term that AQAP uses to refer to leaderless resistance. This section is intended to serve as “a resource manual for those who loathe tyrants.” The material is intended to allow “Muslims to train at home instead of risking a dangerous travel abroad,” and one part exclaims, “Look no further, the open source jihad is now at hand’s reach.” The section also contains a lengthy step-by-step guide to constructing simple pipe bombs with electronic timers, bearing the rhymed title “Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom.” The images of New York City contained in this section serve as a reminder of the importance New York holds in jihadist thought as a target. Such rudimentary improvised explosive devices are unlikely to cause mass casualties, but like the pipe bombs employed by Eric Rudolph, they could prove deadly on a small scale if they are employed effectively.
When considering this concept of leaderless resistance and of using publications like Inspire to train aspiring jihadists, it is important to remember that this type of instruction has only a limited effectiveness and that there are many elements of terrorist tradecraft that cannot be learned by merely reading about them. In other words, while the jihadist threat may be broadening in one way, it is also becoming less severe, because it is increasingly emanating from actors who do not possess the skill of professional terrorist operatives and who lack the ability to conduct complex and spectacular attacks.
One of the other features in Inspire is an article by Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born Yemeni cleric who has been linked to Nidal Hasan, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, Faisal Shahzad and two of the 9/11 hijackers. In his article, titled “May Our Souls be Sacrificed for You,” al-Awlaki focuses on the controversy that arose over the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed that first appeared in 2005. Although the cartoons were published nearly five years ago, the jihadists have not allowed the issue to die down. To date, the jihadist response to the cartoons has resulted in riots, arsons, deaths, the 2008 bombing of the Danish Embassy in Islamabad and an attack in January 2010 in which a man armed with an axe and knife broke into the home of Jyllands-Posten newspaper cartoonist Kurt Westergaard in Denmark and allegedly tried to kill him. The Kashmiri militant group Harkat-ul-Jihad e-Islami (HUJI) also dispatched American operative David Headley to Denmark on two occasions to plan attacks against Jyllands-Posten and Westergaard in what HUJI called “Operation Mickey Mouse.”
In his Inspire article, al-Awlaki states, “If you have the right to slander the Messenger of Allah, we have the right to defend him. If it is part of your freedom of speech to defame Muhammad it is part of our religion to fight you.” Al-Awlaki continues: “This effort, the effort of defending the Messenger of Allah, should not be limited to a particular group of Muslims such as the mujahidin but should be the effort of the ummah, the entire ummah.” He also referred to a 2008 lecture he gave regarding the cartoon issue titled “The Dust Will Never Settle Down” and notes that, “Today, two years later, the dust still hasn’t settled down. In fact the dust cloud is only getting bigger.” He adds that “Assassinations, bombings, and acts of arson are all legitimate forms of revenge against a system that relishes the sacrilege of Islam in the name of freedom.”
Inspire also features a “hit list” that includes the names of people like Westergaard who were involved in the cartoon controversy as well as other targets such as Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who produced the controversial film Fitna in 2008; Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who wrote the screenplay for the movie Submission (filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, the director of Submission, was murdered by a jihadist in November 2004); and Salman Rushdie, author of the book The Satanic Verses. Most of these individuals have appeared on previous jihadist hit lists. A new notable addition was American cartoonist Molly Norris, who was added due to her idea to have a day where “everybody draws Mohammed.” Norris made her suggestion in response to threats against the irreverent animated television program South Park by Muslims over a brief scene in an episode that lampooned the Prophet. Comedy Central censored the South Park episode featuring Mohammed because of the threats, provoking Norris’s suggestion.
Al-Awlaki and AQAP appear to believe they can use the anger over the Mohammed cartoons to help them inspire Muslims to conduct attacks. In this edition of Inspire, they are clearly attempting to fan the flames to ensure that the dust will not settle down. They are also seeking to train these radicalized individuals to kill people, although, as we note above, that is a difficult task to do remotely over the Internet.
One other thing the magazine seeks to accomplish is to help make the jihadist training experience better for English speakers who seek to travel to jihadist training camps abroad. There have been anecdotal reports of Westerners who have traveled to get training and who have not had positive experiences during the process — and of at least one Somali-American who was executed after expressing his desire to leave an al Shabaab training camp and return home. In light of this problem, AQAP includes an article in Inspire titled “What to Expect in Jihad” and designed to reduce the “confusion, shock and depression” that can be experienced by trainees at such camps. The article also provides a list of things to bring to the training camp, including a friend to help ease the loneliness, and recommends that aspiring jihadists learn the local language.
The time and effort that AQAP put into this first issue of Inspire, and the support the magazine apparently receives from important AQAP figures such as al-Wahayshi and al-Awlaki, are strong indicators of the group’s intent to support leaderless resistance as a way to attack the West, something AQAP has had some difficulty doing itself.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: Power Balances and the ChonAn incident
on: July 22, 2010, 04:45:16 AM
Power Balances and the ChonAn Incident
United States Defense Secretary Robert Gates met Tuesday with South Korean Defense Minister Kim Tae Young and announced the official date for the long-delayed naval exercises called “Invincible Spirit,” which will be held on July 25-28 in the East Sea. The exercises will include the USS George Washington Carrier Strike Group and four F-22 Raptors among a host of other American and Korean ships and aircraft. On Wednesday, Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — accompanied by a delegation of top U.S. officials from the military, State Department and National Security Council — will hold the first ever “2+2” round of talks with their South Korean counterparts in a show of solidarity after the alleged North Korean surprise attack on the South Korean navy corvette, the ChonAn, on March 26.
In short, the United States is attempting to give a substantial commitment to South Korea to show that it will come to its defense when needed, and dispel fears to the contrary that were raised following the ChonAn incident. Gates, along with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen and Pacific Command Chief Admiral Robert Willard, stressed that the military exercise is only the first step in what will be a series of exercises between the two states to demonstrate alliance strength, improve operational skills and readiness and deter North Korea from future provocations. The meeting will conclude with a joint statement about the alleged attack and an outline of future military cooperation. Previously, the United States held 2+2 talks with regional partners like Japan and Australia, but not South Korea, so the meetings between the top defense and foreign affairs ministers are meant to represent a promotion of the status of the U.S. and Korean alliance. The two sides will also likely discuss their decision to delay the transfer of wartime operational control over Korean forces for three years to 2015, and may discuss ways to ratify the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement that was signed in 2007.
From the Korean point of view, this commitment badly needed demonstrating. Seoul’s response to the ChonAn incident has been constrained from the start, and the United States bears some responsibility. Unwilling to risk a war with North Korea, Seoul pursued mostly symbolic and diplomatic means of retribution. But even these efforts were diluted or moderated, primarily due to intervention by China and unwillingness on the part of the United States to pressure Beijing. The limitations on Korea’s ability to rally an international response was emblematized by the United Nations Security Council’s presidential statement on the incident, which condemned the attack without naming North Korea as the attacker.
“The ChonAn incident has brought into relief the constraints that bind the different players in Northeast Asia.”
From the United States’ point of view, instability on the peninsula became entangled in the broader U.S.-China dynamic, and Washington proved unwilling to risk a deeper rift with China. This is why the United States repeatedly delayed the military exercises and has resisted sending its aircraft carrier to the West Sea. But the vacillations and cautiousness in dealing with Beijing gave Seoul the impression that Washington’s response was not as rapid and unequivocal as it should have been and that its commitment to the alliance was weaker than promised.
In this way, the ChonAn incident has brought into relief the constraints that bind the different players in Northeast Asia. In the aftermath of the Korean War, a balance of power was put in place enabling the United States to remove the majority of its forces, as it is currently attempting to do with Iraq and eventually Afghanistan. This balance has held so far, but it has faced serious tests. The ChonAn incident presented yet another test, and each player performed a role. North Korea orchestrated a sudden and inflammatory provocation as part of its strategy of keeping enemies off guard and neighbors divided, called attention to matters of its concern — such as the disputed maritime border and lack of a peace treaty — and managed to pull all of this off with relative impunity. South Korea scrambled to respond to the incident in a way that would appear strong without triggering an internecine war, while striving to reassure its public, get assistance from the United States (its chief security guarantor) and win over other international players.
Meanwhile, China served as an abettor of the North Korean regime amid a barrage of criticism from the United States and its allies. It managed to mount such harsh resistance to U.S. plans as to extract concessions, creating divisions between Washington and a disappointed (but still needy) Seoul. Japan and Russia remained aloof; Russia basically supported Beijing, and Tokyo basically supported Washington. The United States struggled to balance its commitment to the alliance with its desire to maintain relations with China, a crucial economic player and one Washington would rather not fight with at present. And yet Beijing inevitably remained opposed to the U.S. response since it brought the most powerful navy in the world — and by no means an ally — right up to China’s strategic core.
While the balance of power continues to hold, recent events reveal that it cannot be taken for granted. The sinking of the ChonAn would normally be considered an act of war, and not all regions would be able to prevent a downward spiral of unintended consequences after such an event. Pyongyang’s alleged ambush seems a particularly flagrant and reckless example of its time-tried strategy – a fact that may reflect the political elite’s attempt to manage a potentially highly destabilizing leadership succession. Most importantly, China’s regime is facing up to some deeply held fears about future strategic challenges. It sees greater U.S. pressure coming to bear against its economic policies and growing regional influence; it sees heightening internal and external risks to its economic model and social cohesion; and it fears that too much compromise with foreign powers will lead it to the fate of its predecessor, the nationalist Chinese republic that undermined its own credibility by allowing foreign powers to take advantage of it through economic and naval means. Beijing’s perspective explains its staunch resistance to the American and Korean show of force. But crucially, with the United States preoccupied with the task of establishing balances of power elsewhere, Washington itself has played a decisive role in putting limits on the alliance’s show of force.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: A week in the War
on: July 22, 2010, 04:40:08 AM
Aside from the sporadic impact of a few artillery rockets in Kabul late July 19 and July 20, the one-day International Conference on Afghanistan, attended by more than 40 foreign ministers, appears to have gone smoothly — perhaps too smoothly. While commitments have been renewed and assurances have been given, there do not appear to have been any groundbreaking or unexpected shifts. Nevertheless, there are several developments worth noting:
The conference focused less on talk of the U.S. 2011 deadline to begin a drawdown and more on emphasizing that Afghanistan would take control of the domestic security situation, with Afghan security forces leading operations in all parts of the country by 2014. NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the shift to Afghan control would happen slowly, based on “conditions, not calendars.”
Of the $14 billion in aid that flows into Afghanistan annually, the government in Kabul reportedly manages only about 20 percent. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has argued against the practice, in part applied by donors to ensure more control over how the money is spent and to sidestep concerns over corruption in the Afghan government. At the conference, Karzai obtained a pledge that Kabul will be allowed to manage some 50 percent of aid money within two years.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton emphasized for the first time that while Washington was still moving toward putting the Haqqani network on its terrorist list, that the U.S. would not necessarily rule out Afghan efforts to reconcile with it — something Washington has long opposed.
(click here to enlarge image)
Ultimately, the real movement and significance of the conference is regional. The American shift on the Haqqanis and the signing of a transit agreement between Afghanistan and Pakistan that Islamabad had long blocked are both signs that Washington and Islamabad have made significant progress in coordinating their Afghan policies. U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard C. Holbrooke acknowledged as much to reporters in Islamabad on July 18 when he spoke of a “dramatic acceleration” in cooperation between the two countries. There are even reports that the United States is now revising its strategy to embrace the idea of negotiating with senior members of the Taliban through third parties.
So as the American strategy shifts toward more regional accommodation and reliance on regional allies, and as foreign forces move closer to drawing down, the regional dynamics will become increasingly defining for Afghanistan. Indeed, Washington especially seems to be realizing that a real exit strategy cannot take place without regional understandings — particularly from Pakistan.
Community Police Initiative
In another shift, Afghan President Hamid Karzai on July 14 conceded to pressure from the commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry to the recruitment of as many as 10,000 personnel for service in a more comprehensive, nationwide community police initiative. Karzai did achieve concessions like the inclusion of the new personnel under the aegis of the Interior Ministry.
While this compromise will allow for the creation of a force that may be able to confront the Taliban in new ways, it also exacerbates the long-term risks of such an initiative. The community police will be linked to a system that has been ineffective at both supplying its own local police forces and managing issues of corruption and infiltration by the Taliban. The concessions also fail to address the issue that the underlying and inherent loyalty of these new community police is to their locality rather than the government in Kabul. This was one of Karzai’s main complaints about this initiative, although the new personnel are ostensibly not to be trained in “offensive” tactics.
It remains to be seen whether the compromise and implementation will have the hoped-for short-term tactical impact. The real question is whether those possible short-term gains will justify longer-term issues that are sure to arise with the establishment of such armed groups. For Washington, they may. For Kabul, the answer is far less certain.
Afghan Security Forces Violence
Two American civilian trainers and one Afghan soldier were reportedly killed July 20 near Mazar-e-Sharif by another Afghan soldier serving alongside them as a trainer. The event comes less than a week after the killing of three British soldiers by an Afghan soldier at a base in Helmand province. The week before that, on July 7, five Afghan soldiers were killed by friendly fire from a NATO helicopter.
Although there are inherent problems with indigenous forces being penetrated and compromised, as well as issues of mutual interference with a dispersed and indigenous force, this series of developments begins to stand out. This is not the first time Afghan soldiers or police have been killed in airstrikes, but the killings of foreign troops by uniformed Afghans only further complicates deep-seated issues of trust. While in neither case can such danger ever be completely eliminated, these developments come at a time when ISAF and indigenous forces must work more closely together. An increase in distrust could seriously impact operational practices and effectiveness.
Mullah Omar’s Guidance
NATO announced July 18 it had obtained a June communique from top Afghan Taliban commander Mullah Mohammed Omar allegedly issuing new orders to his Afghan commanders. In the guidance, Omar modifies the previous year’s guidance to avoid civilian casualties, calling on his commanders to capture or kill Afghan civilians working for foreign forces or the Afghan government — a small and specific subset of the population. It is not yet clear whether this claim is genuine. However, the June 9 public hanging of a seven-year-old boy and an alleged suicide bombing at a wedding the same day that killed some 40 people — both attributed to the Taliban, though the group claims the wedding attack was an ISAF strike — demonstrate that either the guidance has changed or some commanders are violating it.
(click here to enlarge image)
Omar’s alleged shift in guidance may seem to run counter to his earlier focus on not antagonizing the population — a sentiment readily understandable to foreign forces waging a counterinsurgency. But it may indicate that the Taliban has made far more progress in winning over a key portion of the population and can therefore act more aggressively against locals on the opposite end of the political spectrum — and from their perspective this would be a very selective and surgical targeting of a small subset of people. So the shift may reflect confidence in the strength of that local support; indeed, at least from the Taliban’s constituency, more aggressive and ruthless tactics may not only be acceptable but desired.
This is, after all, a struggle that is now in an extremely decisive phase. ISAF forces are already having some difficulties securing the population in key focus areas in Afghanistan’s southwest. Already Taliban night letters and other forms of intimidation have made the local population extremely hesitant to cooperate not only out of fear for their lives in the immediate future but also once foreign forces depart. So despite the ongoing struggle to convince Afghan civilians that the other side is responsible for the vast majority of civilian deaths (a struggle the Taliban is not necessarily losing because it is better at getting its message out in a compelling way), an aggressive campaign by the Taliban against local civilians could erode the ISAF’s position and local support more than it costs the Taliban local supporters.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Environmental issues
on: July 21, 2010, 10:05:38 AM
Restating Doug's comments: "All costs to a transaction should be born by the buyer and/or seller." Costs not born by them are "external diseconomies".
What makes sense to me is to tax external diseconomies instead of good things like profit, savings, inheritance, captial gains, etc.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: US troops in Pak
on: July 21, 2010, 08:31:28 AM
By JULIAN E. BARNES
WASHINGTON—U.S. Special Operations Forces have begun venturing out with Pakistani forces on aid projects, deepening the American role in the effort to defeat Islamist militants in Pakistani territory that has been off limits to U.S. ground troops.
The expansion of U.S. cooperation is significant given Pakistan's deep aversion to allowing foreign military forces on its territory. The Special Operations teams join the aid missions only when commanders determine there is relatively little security risk, a senior U.S. military official said, in an effort to avoid direct engagement that would call attention to U.S. participation.
The U.S. troops are allowed to defend themselves and return fire if attacked. But the official emphasized the joint missions aren't supposed to be combat operations, and the Americans often participate in civilian garb.
Pakistan has told the U.S. that troops need to keep a low profile. "Going out in the open, that has negative optics, that is something we have to work out," said a Pakistani official. "This whole exercise could be counterproductive if people see U.S. boots on the ground."
Because of Pakistan's sensitivities, the U.S. role has developed slowly. In June 2008, top U.S. military officials announced 30 American troops would begin a military training program in Pakistan, but it took four months for Pakistan to allow the program to begin.
The first U.S. Special Operations Forces were restricted to military classrooms and training bases. Pakistan has gradually allowed more trainers into the country and allowed the mission's scope to expand. Today, the U.S. has about 120 trainers in the country, and the program is set to expand again with new joint missions to oversee small-scale development projects aimed at winning over tribal leaders, according to officials familiar with the plan.
Such aid projects are a pillar of the U.S. counterinsurgency strategy, which the U.S. hopes to pass on to the Pakistanis through the training missions.
U.S. military officials say if U.S. forces are able to help projects such as repairing infrastructure, distributing seeds and providing generators or solar panels, they can build trust with the Pakistani military, and encourage them to accept more training in the field.
"You have to bring something to the dance," said the senior military official. "And the way to do it is to have cash ready to do everything from force protection to other things that will protect the population."
Congressional leaders last month approved $10 million in funding for the aid missions, which will focus reconstruction projects in poor tribal areas that are off-limits to foreign civilian aid workers.
The Pakistani government has warned the Pentagon that a more visible U.S. military presence could undermine the mission of pacifying the border region, which has provided a haven for militants staging attacks in Pakistan as well as Afghanistan.
The U.S. has already aroused local animosity with drone strikes targeting militants in the tribal areas, though the missile strikes have the tacit support of the Pakistani government and often aid the Pakistani army's campaign against the militants.
Providing money to U.S. troops to spend in communities they are trying to protect has been a tactic used for years to fight insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The move to accompany Pakistani forces in the field is even more significant, and repeats a pattern seen in the Philippines during the Bush administration, when Army Green Berets took a gradually more expansive role in Manila's fight against the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf in the southern islands of Mindanao.
There, the Green Berets started in a limited training role, and their initial deployment unleashed a political backlash against the Philippine president. But as the Philippine military began to improve their counterinsurgency skills, Special Operations Forces accompanied them on major offensives throughout the southern part of the archipelago.
In Pakistan, the U.S. military helps train both the regular military and the Frontier Corps, a force drawn from residents of the tribal regions but led by Pakistani Army officers.
The senior military official said the U.S. Special Operations Forces have developed a closer relationship with the Frontier Corps, and go out into the field more frequently with those units. "The Frontier Corps are more accepting partners," said the official.
For years the Frontier Corps was underfunded and struggled to provide basic equipment for its soldiers. A U.S. effort to help equip the force has made them more accepting of outside help.
Traveling with the Frontier Corps is dangerous. In February, three Army soldiers were killed in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province when a roadside bomb detonated near their convoy. The soldiers, assigned to train the Frontier Corps, were traveling out of uniform to the opening of a school that had been renovated with U.S. money.
The regular ular Pakistani military also operates in the tribal areas of Pakistan, but they are less willing to go on missions with U.S. forces off the base, in part because they believe appearing to accept U.S. help will make them look weak, the senior U.S. military official said. The Pakistani official said the military simply doesn't need foreign help.
During the past two years, Pakistan has stepped up military operations against the militant groups that operate in the tribal areas. Although Washington has praised the Pakistani offensives, Pentagon officials have said Pakistan's military needs help winning support among tribal elders. If successful, the joint missions and projects may help the Pakistani military retain control of areas in South Waziristan, the Swat valley and other border regions they have cleared of militants.
In Pakistan, the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad will retain final approval for all projects, according to Defense officials. But congressional staffers briefed on the program said the intent is to have Pakistani military forces hand out any of the goods bought with the funding or pay any local workers hired.
"The goal is never to have a U.S. footprint on any of these efforts," said a congressional staffer.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: The International Conference
on: July 21, 2010, 08:26:54 AM
The Real Heart of the International Conference in Kabul
On Tuesday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon co-chair a nearly unprecedented international conference in Kabul attended by 40 foreign ministers, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Some 60 international dignitaries have arrived in the Afghan capital, where Karzai will attempt to show evidence of progress, address international concerns about rampant corruption and competent governance, and convince international donors that more aid should be channeled through and overseen directly by his government. (As it is, huge swaths of aid monies deliberately bypass his government due to concerns about corruption.) But at the end of the day, the conference is not about financial aid.
Financial aid matters because as rudimentary as it is, the Afghan government — particularly its security forces — cannot be fiscally supported and sustained by the war-ravaged and undeveloped Afghan economy. But donor countries are also unlikely to be surprised by Karzai’s claims of progress or comforted by his promises. For the most part, those countries made their decisions about giving before they arrived in Kabul. In any event, monetary donations are easier to make than troop contributions to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force. Most countries are more focused on reducing the latter, while the former allows them to appear to invest something in the Afghan mission.
“It is Afghanistan’s neighbors that will be the ones to watch most closely.”
This is not lost on Kabul, or the wider region. With the surge nearing full strength, the next year will be an incredibly important one for Washington and Kabul. But Karzai, his domestic competitors and his neighbors are looking beyond the surge to a world in which the foreign troop presence inexorably declines. Not only is it clear to everyone in and around Afghanistan that the withdrawal of foreign forces is nearing, but it is clear that the American strategy for that withdrawal is failing to achieve its objectives within the timetable the Americans have set for themselves.
The real heart of this conference is not how compelling Karzai’s message is to the West. It is about the maneuverings of Islamabad, New Delhi and Tehran, as well as Ankara, which is attempting to establish itself as a power broker in the conflict. Kabul must balance these powers — as well as the United States — in order to shape the post-NATO environment.
That environment has already begun to take shape, with a rapprochement between the Americans and the Pakistanis, as well as an emerging Afghan-Pakistani understanding — one that Turkey has played no small part in. All this comes at the expense of India, which until recently quietly established contacts and built its influence. But New Delhi now appears to be re-evaluating its strategy, while still seeking to ensure its own interests, namely that some sort of lid remains on Islamist extremism in Afghanistan. Iran is in the midst of all this. Though its foremost interests — and its greatest influence — are on its western flank in Iraq, Tehran also looks to ensure its interests in Afghanistan, and to use its influence there as leverage for a larger settlement with the Americans. Indeed, Iran’s foreign minister told Karzai on Monday that a regional approach was needed in Afghanistan.
Nothing will be solved Tuesday. Afghanistan’s challenges are difficult to overstate on the best of days, and are complicated by the confluence of a resurgent Taliban and a foreign power nearing the limit of its finite commitment to the country while attempting to re-establish balances of power to Afghanistan’s west and southeast. But as the Americans focus on withdrawing troops and re-establishing regional balances of power, it is Afghanistan’s neighbors — not fickle Western donors — who will be the ones to watch most closely.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Ground Zero Mosque
on: July 21, 2010, 08:02:33 AM
A Mosque Maligned
By ROBERT WRIGHT
Robert Wright on culture, politics and world affairs.(Marc: He is the author of two outstanding books on evolutionary biology/psychology: The Moral Animal and Non-Zero Sum)
Just to show you how naïve I am: When I first heard about the plan to build a mosque and community center two blocks from the site of the 9/11 attacks, I didn’t envision any real opposition to it.
Sure, I can understand how some people traumatized by 9/11 — firefighters who survived it, or people whose loved ones didn’t — might not like the idea. But I’d have thought that opinion leaders of all ideological stripes could reach consensus by applying a basic rule of thumb: Just ask, “What would Osama bin Laden want?” and then do the opposite.
Bin Laden would love to be able to say that in America you can build a church or synagogue anywhere you want, but not a mosque. That fits perfectly with his recruiting pitch — that America has declared war on Islam. And bin Laden would thrill to the claim that a mosque near ground zero dishonors the victims of 9/11, because the unspoken premise is that the attacks really were, as he claims, a valid expression of Islam.
Apparently I was wrong. Two New York politicians — Representative Peter King and Rick Lazio, a candidate for governor — are ginning up opposition to the project, as is the Weekly Standard.
Their strategy is to ask dark questions about the motivations behind the project (known as Park51 because of its address on Park Place). Those motivations reside in an imam named Feisal Abdul Rauf, founder of the Cordoba Initiative and the American Society for Muslim Advancement, the project’s co-sponsors. So far as I can tell, Rauf is a good person who genuinely wants to build a more peaceful world. (I met him briefly last year at a venue where we had both been asked to give talks about compassion — his from an Islamic perspective, mine from a secular perspective. Here’s the talk he gave.)
But if you think Rauf’s good intentions are going to keep him safe from the Weekly Standard, you underestimate that magazine’s creative powers. Its latest issue features an article about Park51 chock full of angles that never would have occurred to me if some magazine had asked me to write an assessment of the project’s ideological underpinnings. For example: Rauf’s wife, who often speaks in support of the project and during one talk reflected proudly on her Islamic heritage, “failed to mention another feature of her background: She is the niece of Dr. Farooq Khan, formerly a leader of the Westbury Mosque on Long Island, which is a center for Islamic radicals and links on its Web site to the paramilitary Islamic Circle of North America (I.C.N.A.), the front on American soil for the Pakistani jihadist Jamaat e-Islami.”
Got that? Rauf’s wife has an uncle who used to be “a leader” of a mosque that now has a Web site that links to the Web site of an allegedly radical organization. (I’ll get back to the claim that the Westbury Mosque is itself a “center for Islamic radicals.”)
The odd thing is that the author of this piece, Stephen Schwartz, is a self-described neoconservative whose parents were, by his own account, communists. You’d think he might harbor doubts about how confidently we can infer people’s ideologies from the ideologies of their older relatives. You’d also think he might disdain McCarthyite guilt-by-association tactics.
You’d be wrong. Schwartz’s piece goes on and on, weaving webs of association so engrossing that you have to keep reminding yourself that they have nothing to do with Rauf. At one point Schwartz spends several paragraphs damning someone whose connection to Park51 seems to consist of having spoken favorably about it.
If we are going to stigmatize everyone who in any sense supports Hamas, we are going to be tarring with a pretty broad brush.
.As for the views of Rauf himself: In Schwartz’s universe, Rauf’s expressions of opposition to terrorism are themselves grounds for suspicion. Rauf, says Schwartz, has “cloaked the Cordoba effort in the rhetoric of reconciliation, describing himself and his colleagues as ‘the anti-terrorists.’”
Rauf has been the imam at a Manhattan mosque for a quarter of a century, so you’d think that, if he actually had radical views, there would be some evidence of that by now. Just to give you some idea of what solid evidence of radicalism looks like: Representative King, who shares the Weekly Standard’s grave suspicions about Rauf, supported the Irish Republican Army back when it was killing lots of innocent civilians. He raised money for the I.R.A. and said it was “the legitimate voice of occupied Ireland” and praised the “brave men and women who this very moment are carrying forth the struggle against British imperialism in the streets of Belfast and Derry” and in various other ways backed this terrorist group. If Rauf’s past looked like King’s past, there would indeed be cause for concern.
A big question when reading any Weekly Standard piece about nefarious Muslims is: What is the operative definition of “radical”? This question is worth spending some time on, because if the Standard is defining the term loosely, then the six-degrees-of-separation chains it uses to link people to radicalism are even less relevant than they seem.
Apparently one Weekly Standard criterion for radicalism is support for Hamas. Thus, Schwartz notes that the real estate developer for the project has a business partner who has an uncle (you still with us?) who dramatically affirmed his support for Hamas after the recent blockade-running flotilla incident.
Now, there are a lot of Arabs and Muslims, including Americans, who don’t consider Hamas evil incarnate. You might divide Hamas “supporters” into two camps:
“Hard” supporters say that Palestinians were wrongly dispossessed of their land six decades ago and that brutal tactics are therefore warranted. So what I call a terrorist they consider a freedom fighter.
“Soft” supporters may not approve of all Hamas tactics, but they note the following: In 2006, Hamas, with American and Israeli approval, participated in a Palestinian election and won — and, right after this victory, there were signs that Hamas might be willing to abandon terrorism, at least provisionally. But Israel and the United States decided that, while it was fine for Hamas to participate in elections, winning was unacceptable, and Hamas wouldn’t be allowed to govern. So Hamas seized control of Gaza, and Israel then subjected the people of Gaza to a crippling economic blockade (which, even after the post-flotilla “loosening,” doesn’t let Gaza export anything to speak of). Forced to choose between Israel and Hamas in this standoff, these “soft” supporters side with Hamas.
I can see how Israelis would have a different view of Hamas, which not so long ago pursued a concerted strategy of killing Israeli civilians, and could revive that strategy any day and still hasn’t accepted Israel’s right to exist. It’s understandable that Israelis hate Hamas, and Americans, including the people at the Weekly Standard, have every right to share this hatred.
Still, the point is that, whether the Weekly Standard likes it or not, there are a number of Arabs and Muslims, including Americans, who in one sense or another support Hamas and who aren’t dangerously radical from an American perspective; they didn’t support the 9/11 attacks or the Fort Hood shooting or the would-be underwear bombing. So if we are going to stigmatize everyone who in any sense supports Hamas — or even associates with someone whose uncle supports Hamas — we are going to be tarring with a pretty broad brush, excluding from a crucial American dialogue too many people for the dialogue to be productive. (Thomas Friedman recently made a similar argument in criticizing CNN’s reflexive firing of an editor who tweeted something favorable about a leader of Hezbollah after he died.)
So when Schwartz asserts that a Long Island mosque is a “center for Islamic radicals,” I personally have to suspend judgment until I hear from someone who has researched the matter and has a more useful definition of radicalism than Schwartz does. Meanwhile, I’ll just remind myself that this mosque has nothing to do with Rauf anyway.
One thing Peter King and Rick Lazio demand is that Rauf unequivocally denounce Hamas. In other words, they want him to go beyond just not being a professed supporter of Hamas and, in effect, criticize everyone who supports Hamas in even the “soft” sense.
No doubt Osama bin Laden, if apprised of the situation, would hope that Rauf will cave in to these demands and ritually denounce Hamas. Because the Muslims who are most vulnerable to bin Laden’s recruiting pitch are, it’s safe to say, at least somewhat sympathetic to Hamas. And if moderate Muslims like Rauf can be pressured into adopting Israel’s position, and thus be depicted by truly radical Muslims as Zionist tools, that will make them less effective in their tug of war with bin Laden for the hearts and minds of the vulnerable.
Pathetically, Rick Lazio seems to have made his demand for an “investigation” into Park51 the centerpiece-du-jour of his gubernatorial campaign. Happily, Mayor Bloomberg has shown true moral leadership and opposed Lazio’s demands in clear language. “Government should never — never — be in the business of telling people how they should pray, or where they can pray,” Bloomberg said last week. “We want to make sure that everybody from around the world feels comfortable coming here, living here and praying the way they want to pray.” Amen.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / BO's record on partial birth
on: July 20, 2010, 05:46:00 PM
Pasting this from the Kagan thread here too:
BO voted for a remarkably extreme partial birth abortion law. Anyone have details at hand?"
Just to the left of NARAL and Barbara Boxer, he voted against protecting the surviving babies of botched abortions. His reasons to oppose do not match the facts told by the people on his committee in IL.
The Born-Alive Infants Protection Act (BAIPA) both in the Illinois and Federal legislatures was meant to make illegal death by neglect of born but unwanted infants. Or as Obama called it: Restrictive Choice legislation.
At the end of the hearing (IL Senate Health and Human Services Committee, 2003, Barack Obama, Chairman), according to the official records of the Illinois State senate, Obama thanked Stanek (video of RN Stanek below) for being “very clear and forthright,” but said his concern was that Stanek had suggested “doctors really don’t care about children who are being born with a reasonable prospect of life because they are so locked into their pro-abortion views that they would watch an infant that is viable die.” He told her, “That may be your assessment, and I don’t see any evidence of that. What we are doing here is to create one more burden on a woman and I can’t support that.”http://www.humanevents.com/article.php?id=18647
Video of the testifying nurse:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BYRpIf2F9NA
One mainstream reference from when Hillary was the frontrunner:http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/01/17/politics/main2369157.shtml
SPRINGFIELD, Ill., Jan. 17, 2007
Obama Record May Be Gold Mine For Critics
(AP) Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama may have a lot of explaining to do.
He voted against requiring medical care for aborted fetuses who survive.
Barbara Boxer voted for it when it passed unanimously in the U.S. Senate 98-0 and unanimously in the US House. She said: "(H)is amendment [Rick Santorum introducing BAIPA] certainly does not attack Roe in any way," said Boxer. "His amendment makes it very clear that nothing in this amendment gives any rights that are not yet afforded to a fetus. Therefore, I, as being a pro-choice senator on this side, representing my colleagues here, have no problem whatsoever with this amendment." - Barbara Boxer on the floor of the senate, 2001.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Conspiracy
on: July 20, 2010, 02:00:04 PM
Moving BBG's post to here:
Documents show media plotting to kill stories about Rev. Jeremiah Wright
By Jonathan Strong - The Daily Caller 1:15 AM 07/20/2010
It was the moment of greatest peril for then-Sen. Barack Obama’s political career. In the heat of the presidential campaign, videos surfaced of Obama’s pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, angrily denouncing whites, the U.S. government and America itself. Obama had once bragged of his closeness to Wright. Now the black nationalist preacher’s rhetoric was threatening to torpedo Obama’s campaign.
The crisis reached a howling pitch in mid-April, 2008, at an ABC News debate moderated by Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos. Gibson asked Obama why it had taken him so long – nearly a year since Wright’s remarks became public – to dissociate himself from them. Stephanopoulos asked, “Do you think Reverend Wright loves America as much as you do?”
Watching this all at home were members of Journolist, a listserv comprised of several hundred liberal journalists, as well as like-minded professors and activists. The tough questioning from the ABC anchors left many of them outraged. “George [Stephanopoulos],” fumed Richard Kim of the Nation, is “being a disgusting little rat snake.”
Others went further. According to records obtained by The Daily Caller, at several points during the 2008 presidential campaign a group of liberal journalists took radical steps to protect their favored candidate. Employees of news organizations including Time, Politico, the Huffington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Guardian, Salon and the New Republic participated in outpourings of anger over how Obama had been treated in the media, and in some cases plotted to fix the damage.
In one instance, Spencer Ackerman of the Washington Independent urged his colleagues to deflect attention from Obama’s relationship with Wright by changing the subject. Pick one of Obama’s conservative critics, Ackerman wrote, “Fred Barnes, Karl Rove, who cares — and call them racists.”
Michael Tomasky, a writer for the Guardian, also tried to rally his fellow members of Journolist: “Listen folks–in my opinion, we all have to do what we can to kill ABC and this idiocy in whatever venues we have. This isn’t about defending Obama. This is about how the [mainstream media] kills any chance of discourse that actually serves the people.”
“Richard Kim got this right above: ‘a horrible glimpse of general election press strategy.’ He’s dead on,” Tomasky continued. “We need to throw chairs now, try as hard as we can to get the call next time. Otherwise the questions in October will be exactly like this. This is just a disease.”
(In an interview Monday, Tomasky defended his position, calling the ABC debate an example of shoddy journalism.)
Thomas Schaller, a columnist for the Baltimore Sun as well as a political science professor, upped the ante from there. In a post with the subject header, “why don’t we use the power of this list to do something about the debate?” Schaller proposed coordinating a “smart statement expressing disgust” at the questions Gibson and Stephanopoulos had posed to Obama.
“It would create quite a stir, I bet, and be a warning against future behavior of the sort,” Schaller wrote.
Tomasky approved. “YES. A thousand times yes,” he exclaimed.
The members began collaborating on their open letter. Jonathan Stein of Mother Jones rejected an early draft, saying, “I’d say too short. In my opinion, it doesn’t go far enough in highlighting the inanity of some of [Gibson's] and [Stephanopoulos’s] questions. And it doesn’t point out their factual inaccuracies …Our friends at Media Matters probably have tons of experience with this sort of thing, if we want their input.”
Jared Bernstein, who would go on to be Vice President Joe Biden’s top economist when Obama took office, helped, too. The letter should be “Short, punchy and solely focused on vapidity of gotcha,” Bernstein wrote.
In the midst of this collaborative enterprise, Holly Yeager, now of the Columbia Journalism Review, dropped into the conversation to say “be sure to read” a column in that day’s Washington Post that attacked the debate.
Columnist Joe Conason weighed in with suggestions. So did Slate contributor David Greenberg, and David Roberts of the website Grist. Todd Gitlin, a professor of journalism at Columbia University, helped too.
Journolist members signed the statement and released it April 18, calling the debate “a revolting descent into tabloid journalism and a gross disservice to Americans concerned about the great issues facing the nation and the world.”
The letter caused a brief splash and won the attention of the New York Times. But only a week later, Obama – and the journalists who were helping him – were on the defensive once again.
Jeremiah Wright was back in the news after making a series of media appearances. At the National Press Club, Wright claimed Obama had only repudiated his beliefs for “political reasons.” Wright also reiterated his charge that the U.S. federal government had created AIDS as a means of committing genocide against African Americans.
It was another crisis, and members of Journolist again rose to help Obama.
Chris Hayes of the Nation posted on April 29, 2008, urging his colleagues to ignore Wright. Hayes directed his message to “particularly those in the ostensible mainstream media” who were members of the list.
The Wright controversy, Hayes argued, was not about Wright at all. Instead, “It has everything to do with the attempts of the right to maintain control of the country.”
Hayes castigated his fellow liberals for criticizing Wright. “All this hand wringing about just
how awful and odious Rev. Wright remarks are just keeps the hustle going.”
“Our country disappears people. It tortures people. It has the blood of as many as one million Iraqi civilians — men, women, children, the infirmed — on its hands. You’ll forgive me if I just can’t quite dredge up the requisite amount of outrage over Barack Obama’s pastor,” Hayes wrote.
Hayes urged his colleagues – especially the straight news reporters who were charged with covering the campaign in a neutral way – to bury the Wright scandal. “I’m not saying we should all rush en masse to defend Wright. If you don’t think he’s worthy of defense, don’t defend him! What I’m saying is that there is no earthly reason to use our various platforms to discuss what about Wright we find objectionable,” Hayes said.
(Reached by phone Monday, Hayes argued his words then fell on deaf ears. “I can say ‘hey I don’t think you guys should cover this,’ but no one listened to me.”)
Katha Pollitt – Hayes’s colleague at the Nation – didn’t disagree on principle, though she did sound weary of the propaganda. “I hear you. but I am really tired of defending the indefensible. The people who attacked Clinton on Monica were prissy and ridiculous, but let me tell you it was no fun, as a feminist and a woman, waving aside as politically irrelevant and part of the vast rightwing conspiracy Paula, Monica, Kathleen, Juanita,” Pollitt said.
“Part of me doesn’t like this shit either,” agreed Spencer Ackerman, then of the Washington Independent. “But what I like less is being governed by racists and warmongers and criminals.”
Ackerman went on:
I do not endorse a Popular Front, nor do I think you need to. It’s not necessary to jump to Wright-qua-Wright’s defense. What is necessary is to raise the cost on the right of going after the left. In other words, find a rightwinger’s [sic] and smash it through a plate-glass window. Take a snapshot of the bleeding mess and send it out in a Christmas card to let the right know that it needs to live in a state of constant fear. Obviously I mean this rhetorically.
And I think this threads the needle. If the right forces us all to either defend Wright or tear him down, no matter what we choose, we lose the game they’ve put upon us. Instead, take one of them — Fred Barnes, Karl Rove, who cares — and call them racists. Ask: why do they have such a deep-seated problem with a black politician who unites the country? What lurks behind those problems? This makes *them* sputter with rage, which in turn leads to overreaction and self-destruction.
Ackerman did allow there were some Republicans who weren’t racists. “We’ll know who doesn’t deserve this treatment — Ross Douthat, for instance — but the others need to get it.” He also said he had begun to implement his plan. “I previewed it a bit on my blog last week after Commentary wildly distorted a comment Joe Cirincione made to make him appear like (what else) an antisemite. So I said: why is it that so many on the right have such a problem with the first viable prospective African-American president?”
Several members of the list disagreed with Ackerman – but only on strategic grounds.
“Spencer, you’re wrong,” wrote Mark Schmitt, now an editor at the American Prospect. “Calling Fred Barnes a racist doesn’t further the argument, and not just because Juan Williams is his new black friend, but because that makes it all about character. The goal is to get to the point where you can contrast some _thing_ — Obama’s substantive agenda — with this crap.”
(In an interview Monday, Schmitt declined to say whether he thought Ackerman’s plan was wrong. “That is not a question I’m going to answer,” he said.)
Kevin Drum, then of Washington Monthly, also disagreed with Ackerman’s strategy. “I think it’s worth keeping in mind that Obama is trying (or says he’s trying) to run a campaign that avoids precisely the kind of thing Spencer is talking about, and turning this into a gutter brawl would probably hurt the Obama brand pretty strongly. After all, why vote for him if it turns out he’s not going change the way politics works?”
But it was Ackerman who had the last word. “Kevin, I’m not saying OBAMA should do this. I’m saying WE should do this.”
Read more: http://dailycaller.com/2010/07/20/documents-show-media-plotting-to-kill-stories-about-rev-jeremiah-wright/print/#ixzz0uEbbk6rX
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Pathological Science
on: July 20, 2010, 07:25:33 AM
I did not see that one coming!
It will be very interesting to see if DOE will get slapped down by the White House for this , , ,
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Preventing the next Lebanon War
on: July 20, 2010, 07:14:08 AM
Second post of the morning:
By STEPHEN P. COHEN
Four years ago last week, Hezbollah launched a cross-border attack from Lebanon into Israel. Eight Israeli soldiers were killed and two reservists kidnapped. (They died sometime later, and their remains were subsequently returned to Israel in a prisoner exchange). This attack ignited a month-long war. Israel responded with an air, sea and ground campaign, while Hezbollah launched some 4,000 rockets and missiles into the Jewish state. Nearly 1,200 people in Lebanon and 160 in Israel died.
The summer 2006 war ended with United Nations resolution 1701, which imposed a blockade on weapons intended for Hezbollah and banned it from operating near the Israeli border. To implement its provisions, the resolution dispatched a U.N. peacekeeping force to Southern Lebanon which, as of April, numbers over 11,000 troops from 31 nations.
Israel recently embarked on an extraordinary form of deterrence against the possibility of a second Hezbollah war. Instead of engaging in a pre-emptive military strike, the Israeli military launched a public relations offensive. It broadcast and publicized highly detailed intelligence maps and aerial photographs depicting exactly where Hezbollah constructs and maintains missile and rocket caches, as well as command centers.
These maps show that Hezbollah's bases are located in villages in southern Lebanon near the Israeli border, in very close proximity to schools and hospitals. Its weapons are aimed at Israeli cities and civilian targets. If these missiles were to be launched, Israel would be required to defend its population by destroying the missile emplacements and depots.
"Hezbollah has worked to develop its readiness to rise to the challenge should it arise, and we can safely say that in the past four years we have prepared ourselves far more than Israel has," the group's second in command, Sheikh Naim Qassem, said in an interview published last week in the Arabic-language daily An-Nahar.
The Hezbollah plan of deployment means that any Israeli military response to a massive missile attack on its civilian population will involve civilian casualties in Lebanon. Because of its deliberate placement of these weapons, Hezbollah is condemning Shiite villages to destruction.
The U.N. now faces the test of whether it will do anything to assure the legitimacy of its 2006 resolution. If the U.N. does not act against Hezbollah's weapons caches, the resolution will be revealed as merely a stick with which to beat Israel and not the means to enforce the cease-fire the U.N. insisted Israel comply with to end the war.
Arab governments also face a critical test. By making its deterrence transparent, Israel is offering the governments of Syria, Lebanon and their Arab supporters, as well as world policy makers, an opportunity to protect Arab lives instead of blaming Israel after the fact for what can be prevented.
Now that Israel has taken the rare step of disclosing its valuable intelligence, will the U.N. enforce its own resolution to prevent war? Will the Arab governments in the region act?
Mr. Cohen is the author of "Beyond America's Grasp: A Century of Failed Diplomacy in the Middle East" (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2009) and president of the Institute for Middle East Peace and Development.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Why hasn't Israel hit Iran?
on: July 20, 2010, 07:10:20 AM
Why hasn't Israel bombed Iran yet? It's a question I often get from people who suppose I have a telepathic hotline to Benjamin Netanyahu's brain. I don't, but for a long time I was confident that an attack would happen in the first six months of this year. Since it didn't, it's worth thinking through why.
First, though, let me explain my previous thinking. In the spring of 2008, there was intense speculation that then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, fresh from ordering an attack on a covert Syrian reactor, was giving serious thought to an Israeli strike on Iran. President Bush—whom Israelis believed would give them the diplomatic cover and logistical support they would need for such a strike, especially if things went amiss—had only a few months left to go. The release of the December 2007 National Intelligence Estimate claiming (erroneously, as we now know) that Iran had halted its nuclear weaponization effort meant it was highly unlikely that the U.S. would attack.
Finally, Israeli planners understood that the longer they delayed a strike, the harder it would be to achieve meaningful effects. Iran would have more time to harden its facilities, improve its defenses, and disperse its nuclear materials.
So why didn't Israel act then? A variety of reasons, the most plausible of which was that Mr. Olmert believed an Israeli strike on Iran was a huge gamble, and that it would be rash to attack before every diplomatic, political or covert means to stop Iran's nuclear bid had been explored. Then came Barack Obama with his time-limited offer to negotiate with Tehran, followed by Iran's post-election unrest, which briefly aroused hopes that the regime might be toppled from within.
By the end of last year, it was clear that both hopes were misplaced. It was clear that the limited sanctions being contemplated by the Obama administration were not of a kind to deter Iran from its nuclear bids. It was clear that those bids were moving steadily closer to fruition. And it was clear that the administration was ill-inclined to take military action of its own.
All of which persuaded me that, having duly given Mr. Obama's diplomacy the benefit of the doubt, Israel—under the more hawkish leadership of Mr. Netanyahu—would strike, sooner rather than later. Plainly I was wrong.
What gives? Here are four theories in ascending order of significance and plausibility.
The first is that Israeli military planners have concluded that any attack would be unlikely to succeed (or succeed at a reasonable price). Maybe. But this analysis fails to appreciate the depth of Israeli fears of a nuclear Iran, and the lengths they are prepared to go to stop it. A successful strike on Iran may be at the outer periphery of Israel's capabilities, but senior Israeli military and political leaders insist it is not completely beyond it.
India Sees Hurdle in U.S. Sanctions
.A second theory is that Israel is biding its time as it improves its military capabilities on both its offensive and defensive ends. Yesterday Israel completed tests of its "Iron Dome" missile defense shield, designed to guard against the kind of short-range rockets that Hamas and Hezbollah might use in retaliation against an Israeli strike on Iran. The system will begin coming on line in November. Israel is also mulling the purchase of a semi-stealthy variant of the F-15 as an alternative to the much more expensive F-35, delivery of which has been delayed till 2015. What Israel decides could be a telling indicator of what it intends.
The third theory concerns the internal dynamics of Israeli politics. Mr. Netanyahu may favor a strike, but he will not order one without the consent of Defense Minister Ehud Barak, President Shimon Peres, Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and perhaps also Mossad chief Meir Dagan. This inner cabinet is said to be uniformly against a strike, with the wavering exception of Mr. Barak. But Mr. Ashkenazi and Mr. Dagan are due to step down within a few months, and who Mr. Netanyahu chooses to replace them will have a material bearing on the government's attitude toward a strike.
Finally, Israeli leaders are mindful of history. Put aside the routine comparisons between a prospective military strike on Iran with Israel's quick and effective destruction of Iraq's Osirak reactor in 1981. As I'm reminded by Michael Doran, a Middle East scholar at NYU, Israel's leaders are probably no less alert to the lessons of the Suez War in 1956. Back then, a successful military operation by Britain, France and Israel to humiliate Egypt's Gamel Abdel Nasser (in many ways the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of his day) fell afoul of the determined political opposition of the Eisenhower administration, which mistakenly thought that it could curry favor with the Arabs by visibly distancing itself from Israel and its traditional European allies. Sound familiar?
There is now talk that the Obama administration may be reconsidering its military options toward Iran. Let's hope so. Israel may ultimately be willing to attack Iran once it reckons that it has run out of other options, as it did prior to the Six Day War. But its tactical margin for error will be slim, particularly since an effective strike will require days not hours. And the political risks it runs will be monumental. As Mr. Doran notes, in 1956 it could at least count on the diplomatic support of two members of the U.N. Security Council. Today, the U.S. is its last significant friend.
This is an unenviable position, and Israel's friends abroad would do well to spare it easy lectures. Iran is not Israel's problem alone. It should not be Israel's problem alone to solve, to its own frightful peril.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor thought piece
on: July 20, 2010, 06:37:47 AM
Geopolitics, Nationalism and Dual Citizenship
July 20, 2010
By George Friedman
Geopolitics is central to STRATFOR’s methodology, providing the framework upon which we study the world. The foundation of geopolitics in our time is the study of the nation-state, and fundamental to this is the question of the relationship of the individual to the nation-state. Changes in the relationship of the individual to the nation and to the state are fundamental issues in geopolitics, and thus worth discussing.
Many issues affect this complex relationship, notable among them the increasing global trend of multiple citizenship. This is obviously linked to the question of immigration, but it also raises a deeper question, namely, what is the meaning of citizenship in the 21st century?
Nation vs. State
It is difficult to make sense of the international system without making sense of the nation-state. The concept is complicated by a reality that includes multinational states like Belgium, where national identity plays a significant role, and Russia or China, where it can be both significant and at times violent. In looking at the nation-state, the idea of nation is more complex, and perhaps more interesting, than that of state.
The idea of nation is not always clear. At root, a nation is a group of people who share a fate, and with that fate, an identity. Nations can be consciously created, as the United States was. Nations can exist for hundreds or thousands of years, as seen in parts of Europe or Asia. However long a nation exists and whatever its origins, a nation is founded on what I’ve called elsewhere “love of one’s own,” a unique relationship with the community in which an individual is born or to which he chose to come. That affinity is the foundation of a nation.
If that dissolves, the nation dissolves, something that has happened on numerous occasions in history. If a nation disappears, the international system begins to behave differently. And if nations in general lose their identity and cohesion, massive shifts might take place. Some might say it would be for better and others for worse. It is sufficient to note here that either way would make a profound difference.
The state is much clearer: It is the political directorate of the nation. How the leaders are selected and how they govern varies widely. The relationship of the state to the nation also varies widely. All nations do not have states. Some are occupied by other nation-states. Some are divided between multiple states. Some are part of an entity that governs many nations. And some are communities that have developed systems of government that do not involve states, although this is increasingly rare.
The relation to the nation is personal. The relation to the state is legal. We can see this linguistically in the case of the United States. I can state my relation to my nation simply: I am an American. I cannot state my relationship to my state nearly as simply. Saying I am a “United Statian” makes no sense. I have to say that I am a citizen of the United States, to state my legal relationship, not personal affinity. The linguistic complexity of the United States doesn’t repeat itself everywhere, but a distinction does exist between nationality and citizenship. They may coincide easily, as when a person is born in a country and becomes a citizen simply through that, or they may develop, as when an individual is permitted to immigrate and become naturalized. Note the interesting formulation of that term, as it implies the creation of a natural relationship with the state.
In the United States, the following oath is administered when one is permitted to become a citizen, generally five years after being permitted to immigrate:
I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.
I should say I took this oath at the age of 17. Although I became a citizen of the United States when my father was naturalized years earlier, receiving my own citizenship papers involved going to a courthouse and taking this oath personally. Being confronted with the obligations of citizenship was a sobering experience.
The American oath is one of the most rigorous; other nations have much simpler and less demanding oaths. Intriguingly, many countries with less explicitly demanding oaths are also countries where becoming a naturalized citizen is more difficult and less common. For the United States, a nation and a state that were consciously invented, the idea of immigration was inherent in the very idea of the nation, as was this oath. Immigration and naturalization required an oath of this magnitude, as naturalization meant taking on not only a new state identity but also a new national identity.
The American nation was built on immigrants from other nations. Unless they were prepared to “absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen,” the American enterprise could fall into chaos as immigrants came to the United States to secure the benefits of full citizenship but refused to abandon prior obligations and refused to agree to the obligations and sacrifices the oath demanded. The United States therefore is in a position shared only with a few other immigration-based nations, and it has staked out the most demanding position on naturalization.
The Dual Citizenship Anomaly
It is therefore odd that the United States — along with many other nations — permits nationals to be citizens of other countries. The U.S. Constitution doesn’t bar this, but the oath of citizenship would seem to do so. The oath demands that the immigrant abandon all obligations to foreign states. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Afroyim v. Rusk in 1967 that revoking citizenship on grounds of voting in foreign elections was unconstitutional. The ruling involved a naturalized American who presumably had taken the oath. The Supreme Court left the oath in place, but if we are to understand the court correctly, it ruled that the oath did not preclude multiple citizenship.
It is impossible to know how many people in the United States or other countries currently hold multiple citizenship, but anecdotally it would appear that the practice is not uncommon. Not being required to renounce one’s foreign citizenship verifiably obviously facilitates the practice.
And this raises a fundamental question. Is citizenship a license to live and earn a living in a country, or is it equally or more so a set of legal and moral obligations? There are many ways legally to reside in a country without becoming a citizen. But the American oath, for example, makes it appear that the naturalized citizen (as opposed to just the legal resident) has an overriding obligation to the United States that can require substantial and onerous responsibilities within military and civilian life. An individual might be able to juggle multiple obligations until they came into conflict. Does the citizen choose his prime obligation at that time or when he becomes a citizen?
The reality is that in many cases, citizenship is seen less as a system of mutual obligations and rights than as a convenience. This creates an obvious tension between the citizen and his obligations under his oath. But it also creates a deep ambiguity between his multiple nationalities. The concept of immigration involves the idea of movement to a new place. It involves the assumption of legal and moral obligations. But it also involves a commitment to the nation, at least as far as citizenship goes. This has nothing to do with retaining ethnicity. It has to do with a definition of what it means to love one’s own — if you are a citizen of multiple nations, which nation is yours?
It is interesting to note that the United States has been equally ambiguous about serving in other countries’ militaries. John Paul Jones served as an admiral in the Russian navy. American pilots flew for Britain and China prior to American entry into World War II. They did not take the citizenship oath, having been born in the United States. While you could argue that there was an implicit oath, you could also argue that they did not compromise their nationality: They remained Americans even in fighting for other countries. The immigration issue is more complex, however. In electing to become American citizens, immigrants consciously take the citizenship oath. The explicit oath would seem to create a unique set of obligations for naturalized immigrants.
The Pull of the Old Country
Apart from acquiring convenient passports on obscure tropical islands, the dual citizenship phenomenon appears to operate by linking ancestral homelands with adopted countries. Immigrants, and frequently their children and grandchildren, retain their old citizenship alongside citizenship in the country they now live in. This seems a benign practice and remains so until there is conflict or disagreement between the two countries — or where, as in some cases, the original country demands military service as the price of retaining citizenship.
In immigrant countries in particular, the blurring of the line between nationalities becomes a potential threat in a way that it is not for the country of origin. The sense of national identity (if not willingness to sacrifice for it) is often stronger in countries whose nationhood is built on centuries of shared history and fates than it is in countries that must manage waves of immigration. These countries have less room for maneuver on these matters, unless they have the fortune to be secure and need not ask much of citizens. But in those countries that are built on immigrants and that do need to call for sacrifice, this evolution is potentially more troublesome.
There are those who regard nationalism as divisive and harmful, leading to conflict. I am of the view that nationalism has endured because it provides individuals with a sense of place, community, history and identity. It gives individuals something beyond themselves that is small enough to be comprehensible but far greater than they are. That nationalism can become monstrous is obviously true; anything that is useful can also become harmful. But nationalism has survived and flourished for a reason.
The rise of multiple citizenship undoubtedly provides freedom. But as is frequently the case, the freedom raises the question of what an individual is committed to beyond himself. In blurring the lines between nations, it does not seem that it has reduced conflict. Quite the contrary, it raises the question of where the true loyalties of citizens lie, something unhealthy for the citizen and the nation-state.
In the United States, it is difficult to reconcile the oath of citizenship with the Supreme Court’s ruling affirming the right of dual citizenship. That ambiguity over time could give rise to serious problems. This is not just an American problem, although it might be more intense and noticeable here. It is a more general question, namely, what does it mean to be a citizen?
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Recon Team Kansas
on: July 19, 2010, 08:54:06 PM
THE LAST STAND OF RECON TEAM KANSAS
Outnumbered worse than the Alamo defenders, here's the story of a SOG team's
desperate last stand.
By Maj. John L. Plaster, USAR (Ret.)
The once bustling Khe Sanh Marine Base in South Vietnam’s
extreme northwest had been a ghost town more than three years
by the summer of 1971. Though used briefly that February to
support the South Vietnamese Army’s invasion of Laos, after that
bloody debacle the South Vietnamese abandoned not just Khe
Sanh but the entire region, yielding immense areas to the NVA,
who almost overnight began extending their Ho Chi Minh Trail
highways into South Vietnam.
In late July 1971, U.S. intelligence began tracking a large enemy
force shifting across the DMZ a dozen miles east of Khe Sanh,
threatening the coastal cities of Hue, Danang and Phu Bai where
the last sizeable American ground units were based.
It was essential to learn what was happening near Khe Sanh, a mission assigned to a
shadowy organization called "SOG." Created to conduct covert missions deep behind
enemy lines in Laos, Cambodia and North Vietnam, the top secret Studies and
Observations Group had shifted most of its operations in-country by 1971 to cover the
continuing U.S. withdrawal. From among its clandestine assembly of Army Green
Berets, Navy SEALs and USAF Air Commandos, the Khe Sanh mission eventually
became a prisoner snatch assigned to Recon Team Kansas, an 11-man, Special
Forces-led element, which included eight Montagnard tribesmen.
But how do you grab a prisoner in the midst of 10,000 or more
NVA? Headed by an easygoing, lanky Midwesterner, First
Lieutenant Loren Hagen, along with Sergeants Tony Andersen and
Bruce Berg, the RT Kansas men had brainstormed through several
scenarios until settling upon the best option: They would land
conspicuously on an abandoned firebase -- which obviously would
draw some sort of NVA reaction -- put up a short fight, then extract
by helicopter. Except half of Hagen’s men would stay hidden on
the hill. When the NVA sent a squad up to see if the Americans
had left behind sensors or bombing beacons -- as SOG teams
often did -- the hidden men would ambush the NVA, seize a
prisoner and come out.
In case a serious fight developed, Lt. Hagen reinforced his team
with three more Green Beret volunteers, Staff Sergeant Oran
Bingham and Sergeants Bill Queen and William Rimondi, for eight Montagnard
tribesmen and six U.S. Special Forces, a total of 14 men.
"Recon Team Leader Loren
Hagen shortly before his final
mission." (Photo by Tony
Landing at last light on 6 August 1971, Lt. Hagen surveyed the scrub brush and bomb
craters below them and split his defense into three elements to cover the hilltop’s three
slopes. Immediately they went to work restoring the old firebase’s two dilapidated
bunkers and shallow trenches. The enemy must have seen them land, and Hagen
reckoned to be ready.
A Foreboding Night
It was well after dark when the SOG
men noticed campfires on two facing
ridgelines, unusual because the NVA
normally masked itself. By midnight
enemy probers were at the base of the
hill, firing provocatively from the north,
south, east and west.
At 1 a.m. a USAF AC-130 Spectre
gunship arrived, walking 40mm and
20mm fire around the hill nearly all night.
Never once did the team fire their
weapons, staying blanketed in darkness.
Then at 3 a.m. the SOG men heard
trucks and tailgates dropping. This was odd, very odd.
Beneath the hill, dismounting NVA soldiers formed up into platoons and companies,
which their leaders marched through the darkness to their assigned attack positions, to
wait for dawn.
Just before sunrise it became forebodingly quiet. Then Lt. Hagen heard more trucks
arriving. Fifty miles away at a coastal airbase, a USAF Forward Air Controller (FAC) and a flight
of helicopters was lifting away for the false extraction; they would be above RT Kansas
in 30 minutes.
As darkness gave way to light, Lt. Hagen detected glimpses of NVA on one slope; then
on another slope pithe helmets appeared, bobbing in the fog. When his men reported
NVA on the third slope, too, Hagen realized the hill was completely encircled by NVA --
but that would require a whole regiment, at least a thousand men!
The NVA regimental commander understood he had to
dispatch the Americans quickly. They'd inadvertently
landed almost within sight of the Hanoi High Command's
most critical new venture, the first six-inch fuel pipeline
laid across the DMZ, absolutely essential in a few
months when entire tank battalions rolled through here
for the war's largest offensive. Already the 304th NVA
Division was massing here, plus a regiment of the 308th
Division, preparing for the 1972 Easter Offensive.
A fourth battalion moved into place; then, concealed in
the ground fog, a fifth battalion arrived. Later, SOG’s
commander, Colonel John Sadler, would learn an entire
regiment had stormed the hill, supported by a second regiment, a mass assault by
approximately 2000 enemy infantry.
A Human Wave
As the clearing ground fog disclosed that terrible truth, Lt. Hagen had no time for
inspiring words, just serious soldier work; in those final moments he repositioned
weapons while his men readied grenades and stacked magazines. The Catholic
Montagnards made the Sign of the Cross.
Then they came.
A well-aimed RPG rocket smashed into Bruce Berg's bunker, collapsing it and signaling
the attack -- fire went from nothing to ten thousand rounds per second! Andersen could
see dozens of NVA rushing in lines up his slope, meeting them with his M-60
machinegun. Hagen hollered that he was going to check Berg, and ran directly into a
ferocious maelstrom, with bullets ricocheting and slamming the earth in front of, behind,
and beneath his dashing feet. He made it a dozen yards when fire from the other slope
cut him down, killing him.
Then Klaus Bingham left a bunker to reposition a claymore and a bullet struck him in the
head, apparently killing him. One Montagnard in a trench below Tony Andersen fired
several bursts then jumped up to pull back and fell into Andersen's lap, dead.
Four men had died in less than four minutes. It was up to Andersen now, the senior
The Last Stand
Small arms fire rattled closer on all sides and grenades lobbed up from below the
hillcrest where waves of NVA were scurrying behind small rises and rolling from bomb
crater to bomb crater. Andersen dashed over the hill to look for Hagen but couldn't see
him anywhere -- just 100 khaki-clad NVA almost at the top! He fired one M-60 belt at
"The NVA were laying a Soviet-made tactical
fuel pipeline, like this one, near RT Kansas'
hilltop, the first ever extended into South
Vietnam. It would be of strategic value a few
months later during the Easter 1972 Offensive."
(Def. Intell. Agency)
NVA advancing up his own slope, then sped to the other approach and ran belt after
belt on the 100 assaulting enemy. By then grenades started coming from behind him as
NVA closed in from his rear. Just a dozen yards away, beyond the curvature of the hill,
enemy heads popped up, cracked a few shots, then dropped back down.
Still a dozen minutes away, the approaching Cobra gunships went to full throttle, leaving
the slower Hueys behind.
Meanwhile RT Kansas had just run out of hand grenades when a North Vietnamese
grenade exploded beside Andersen's M-60, rendering it useless; he spun his CAR-15
off his back and kept shooting, then he tossed back another grenade but it went off in
front of him, nearly blinding him, yet he kept shooting. More shrapnel tore into him, then
an AK round slammed through his webgear and lodged in his elbow, knocking him
down. He stumbled back to his knees and kept firing.
The perimeter was pinched almost in half when Andersen grabbed his last two living
Montagnards, circled below the nearest NVA and somehow managed to reach the
survivors on the opposite side. He found Bingham, started to lift him, and saw he, too,
was dead from a head wound. All around him he heard, "zzzsss, zzssss, zzssss," as
bullets flashed past his ears.
He dragged Bingham back to where Bill Queen lay, wounded. Only Rimondi wasn't yet
hit and still fired furiously. Andersen put them in a back-to-back circle just off the hilltop
where they would make their last stand. AK bullets had destroyed their team radio,
another slug had shot Andersen's little survival radio out of his hand so Rimondi tossed
him another survival radio, their last.
Now the NVA were streaming, rolling over the crest like a tidal wave, their rattling AKs
blending together into one never-ending burst. Andersen's men were firing not at NVA
but at hands wielding AKs over parapets and around bunkers. There was no place left
to fall back. Andersen was shooting NVA little further than the length of his CAR-15
muzzle, and the time it took to speed-change a magazine meant life or death.
From the air it looked like an ant mound, with moving figures everywhere. Cobra lead
rolled in and sparkled 20mm cannon shells around the surviving SOG men, and at last
fighters arrived, adding napalm and Vulcan cannons to the melee. Then at last the
assault ebbed, turned, and the NVA fled for cover, just as the Hueys arrived.
Though wounded repeatedly, Andersen crawled out to fire his CAR-15 to cover the
landing Hueys. With Rimondi's help, Andersen dragged as many teammates’ bodies as
he could to the first Huey, then helped the wounded Queen and others aboard the
"3 months before RT Kansas fought the most one-sided fight in American history, the
USAF already had plotted three enemy pipelines running out of North Vietnam but these
extended into Laos. The most critical pipeline was secretly being laid across the DMZ
into South Vietnam." (USAF)
A Terrible Toll
In one hellacious half-hour, nine of Recon Team Kansas’ fourteen men had been lost.
Lt. Hagen had died, along with Bingham, Berg was presumed dead, six Montagnards
had died, Rimondi and Queen both suffered multiple frag wounds, Andersen had been
struck by both smallarms fire and shrapnel, and their other two Montagnards, too, all
had been wounded
"It’s amazing that any of us came through it with the amount of incoming that we were
getting," Tony Andersen says today, 25 years later. He attributes their survival to his
deceased team leader, Lt. Loren Hagen. "He epitomized what a Special Forces officer
should be -- attentive to detail, a lot of rehearsals, followed through on things," he
explains. "We were ready. I think that was probably the only thing that kept us from
being totally overrun. Everybody was alert and knew what was happening and was
As for Hagen’s bravery, dashing into a wall of AK fire to try to save Bruce Berg, that
didn’t surprise Andersen, either. "Lt. Hagen was that kind of officer. He was a good
Against the lost of most of his teammates, Andersen learned, the USAF counted 185
NVA dead on that hill little RT Kansas had killed half a battalion and probably wounded
twice that many NVA. But that gives Andersen sparse satisfaction compared to the loss
of most of his team.
"Lt. Loren Hagen (right, rear) and Bruce Berg
pose with five indigenous teammates. Both
Hagen and Berg would die on the small hilltop,
along with six of their Montagnard soldiers."
(Photo by Tony Andersen)
Perhaps Andersen’s most difficult duty was carrying the bodies of his six Montagnard
teammates -- his "family" he called them -- to their home village. "As soon as they saw
us driving up in the truck, they knew. Wailing and moaning started, and all the grieving."
The villagers gathered in a circle around the headman’s stilted longhouse. "Through one
of the interpreters I tried to explain how proud we were of them, what good fighters they
were, that they had died for a good cause."
That would be borne out a few months later when the intelligence generated by RT
Kansas’ spirited defense helped U.S. analysts read enemy intentions, enabling
American airpower to counter the NVA’s Easter Offensive.
And though details of this incredible fight would remain classified for decades, enough
was disclosed that First Lieutenant Loren Hagen's family was presented the U.S. Army's
final Vietnam War Medal of Honor; Tony Andersen, who held together what remained of
RT Kansas through those final mass assaults, received the Distinguished Service
Cross, while Queen, Rimondi, Berg and Bingham were awarded Silver Stars.
And now, today, with full disclosure, we can appreciate the significance of their fight:
At the Alamo, 188 Americans had stood against 3000 Mexicans, a ratio of 16-to-1; at
Custer's Last Stand, 211 cavalrymen succumbed to 3,500 Sioux warriors, or 16.5-to-1;
at the 1877 Battle of Rorke's Drift, the most heralded action in British military history
resulting in -- 11 Victoria Crosses -- 140 British troops withstood assaults by 4000
Zulus, or 28-to-1. Lt. Hagen’s 14 men had held on despite being outnumbered 107-toone,
four times as disadvantagous as Rorke's Drift and seven times worse than the
Alamo, one of the most remarkable feats of arms in American history.
(This article is derived from Maj. Plaster’s book, SOG: The Secret Wars of America’s
Commandos in Vietnam, published by Simon & Schuster.)
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: Still Scrambling
on: July 19, 2010, 10:25:19 AM
After Training, Still Scrambling for Employment
By PETER S. GOODMAN
Published: July 18, 2010
In what was beginning to feel like a previous life, Israel Valle had earned $18 an hour as an executive assistant to a designer at a prominent fashion label. Now, he was jobless and struggling to find work. He decided to invest in upgrading his skills.
Mr. Valle, left, is living with his parents in New York as he looks for work. “Training was fruitless,” he said. “I’m not seeing the benefits. Training for what? No one’s hiring.”
It was February 2009, and the city work force center in Downtown Brooklyn was jammed with hundreds of people hungry for paychecks. His caseworker urged him to take advantage of classes financed by the federal government, which had increased money for job training. Upgrade your skills, she counseled. Then she could arrange job interviews.
For six weeks, Mr. Valle, 49, absorbed instruction in spreadsheets and word processing. He tinkered with his résumé. But the interviews his caseworker eventually arranged were for low-wage jobs, and they were mobbed by desperate applicants. More than a year later, Mr. Valle remains among the record 6.8 million Americans who have been officially jobless for six months or longer. He recently applied for welfare benefits.
“Training was fruitless,” he said. “I’m not seeing the benefits. Training for what? No one’s hiring.”
Hundreds of thousands of Americans have enrolled in federally financed training programs in recent years, only to remain out of work. That has intensified skepticism about training as a cure for unemployment.
Even before the recession created the bleakest job market in more than a quarter-century, job training was already producing disappointing results. A study conducted for the Labor Department tracking the experience of 160,000 laid-off workers in 12 states from mid-2003 to mid-2005 — a time of economic expansion — found that those who went through training wound up earning little more than those who did not, even three and four years later. “Over all, it appears possible that ultimate gains from participation are small or nonexistent,” the study concluded.
In the last 18 months, the Obama administration has embraced more promising approaches to training focused on faster-growing areas like renewable energy and health care. But most money has been directed at the same sorts of programs that in past years have largely failed to steer laid-off workers toward new careers, say experts, and now the number of job openings is vastly outnumbered by people out of work.
“It’s such an ugly situation that job training can’t solve it,” said Ross Eisenbrey, a job training expert at the Economic Policy Institute, a labor-oriented research institution in Washington, and a former commissioner of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. “When you have five people unemployed for every vacancy, you can train all the people you want and unfortunately only one-fifth of the people will get hired. Training doesn’t create jobs.”
Labor economists and work force development experts say the frustration that frequently results from job training reflects the dubious quality of many programs. Most last only a few months, providing general skills without conferring useful credentials in specialized fields. Programs rarely involve potential employers and are typically too modest to enable cast-off workers to begin new careers.
Most job training is financed through the federal Workforce Investment Act, which was written in 1998 — a time when hiring was extraordinarily robust. Then, simply teaching jobless people how to use computers and write résumés put them on a path to paychecks. Today, even highly skilled people with job experience of two decades or more languish among the unemployed. Whole industries are being scaled down by automation, the shifting of work overseas and the recession.
“A lot of the training programs that we have in this country were designed for a kind of quick turnaround economy, as opposed to the entrenched structural challenges of today,” said Carl E. Van Horn, a labor economist and director of the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University. “It’s like attacking a mountain with a toothpick. You take a policy that was designed for the best economy that we had since World War II and you lay it up against the economy that is the worst since World War II. It can’t work.”
The Obama administration argues that expanded job training has already delivered success. As part of the nearly $800 billion stimulus package begun last year, the administration increased grants sent to states for training programs devoted to laid-off workers by $1.4 billion for 2009 and 2010. Those funds came on top of $2.9 billion allocated through normal budget channels for grants in those two years.
Last year, the number of laid-off workers in job training reached 241,000, up from about 124,000 the year before, according to the Labor Department.
(Marc: Lets do a little math here: $1.4B+2.9B=$4.3B. With the peak number of 241,000 (which was the number for only one of the two years) that comes out to 18,000 per person trained. With only one out of five hired, that comes out to $90,000 a job?!? Am I missing something here?)
“These programs are really working,” said the assistant secretary of labor, Jane Oates. “These are folks who clearly want to go back to work and we’re able to help them get back to work. The investment in job training is one that’s not only going to pay off in the short term, it’s going to help us be more competitive in the long term.”
(There's more, but you get the gist of it.)
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: Evangelical support for Amnesty
on: July 19, 2010, 10:02:36 AM
This is exactly the sort of subject wherein the NYT becomes POTH the most:
At a time when the prospects for immigration overhaul seem most dim, supporters have unleashed a secret weapon: a group of influential evangelical Christian leaders.
Normally on the opposite side of political issues backed by the Obama White House, these leaders are aligning with the president to support an overhaul that would include some path to legalization for illegal immigrants already here. They are preaching from pulpits, conducting conference calls with pastors and testifying in Washington — as they did last Wednesday.
“I am a Christian and I am a conservative and I am a Republican, in that order,” said Matthew D. Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, a conservative religious law firm. “There is very little I agree with regarding President Barack Obama. On the other hand, I’m not going to let politicized rhetoric or party affiliation trump my values, and if he’s right on this issue, I will support him on this issue.”
When President Obama gave a major address pushing immigration overhaul this month, he was introduced by a prominent evangelical, the Rev. Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois. Three other evangelical pastors were in the audience, front and center.
Their presence was a testament, in part, to the work of politically active Hispanic evangelical pastors, who have forged friendships with non-Hispanic pastors in recent years while working in coalitions to oppose abortion and same-sex marriage. The Hispanics made a concerted effort to convince their brethren that immigration reform should be a moral and practical priority.
Hispanic storefront churches are popping up in strip malls, and Spanish-speaking congregations are renting space in other churches. Some pastors, like Mr. Hybels, lead churches that include growing numbers of Hispanics. Several evangelical leaders said they were convinced that Hispanics are the key to growth not only for the evangelical movement, but also for the social conservative movement.
“Hispanics are religious, family-oriented, pro-life, entrepreneurial,” said the Rev. Richard D. Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy arm. “They are hard-wired social conservatives, unless they’re driven away.
“I’ve had some older conservative leaders say: ‘Richard, stop this. You’re going to split the conservative coalition,’ ” Dr. Land continued. “I say it might split the old conservative coalition, but it won’t split the new one. And if the new one is going to be a governing coalition, it’s going to have to have a lot of Hispanics in it. And you don’t get a lot of Hispanics in your coalition by engaging in anti-Hispanic anti-immigration rhetoric.”
Congress is unlikely to pass an immigration law this year. Republicans and Democrats who face re-election in November are skittish about the issue, given the broad public support for Arizona’s new law aiming to crack down on illegal immigration.
The support of evangelical leaders is not yet enough to change the equation. But they could mobilize a potentially large constituency of religious conservatives, an important part of the Republican base better known for lobbying against abortion and same-sex marriage. They already threaten the party’s near unity on immigration.
“These cross-cutting clusters are just splinter groups, so far,” said Larry J. Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. “Support for the Arizona law is so strong within the G.O.P. that it will be difficult for the comprehensive-immigration-reform evangelicals to have much short-term impact.”
But some evangelical leaders said their latest strategy was to push a handful of lame-duck Republicans to join Democrats — probably after the midterms — to pass an immigration bill on the ground that it is morally right.
Although other religious leaders have long favored immigration overhaul — including Roman Catholics, mainline Protestants, Jews and Muslims — the evangelicals are crucial because they have the relationships and the pull with Republicans.
“My message to Republican leaders,” said the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, the president of the evangelical National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and one of the leaders who engaged his non-Hispanic peers, “is if you’re anti-immigration reform, you’re anti-Latino, and if you’re anti-Latino, you are anti-Christian church in America, and you are anti-evangelical.”
About 70 percent of Hispanics in the United States are Catholic, but some 15 percent are evangelicals, and they are far more likely than the Catholics to identify themselves as conservative and Republican.
Evangelicals at the grass-roots level are divided on immigration, just as the nation is. But among the leaders, recent interviews suggest that those in favor of an immigration overhaul are far more vocal and more organized than those who oppose it.
(There is more but you get the gist of it.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Gurkha logic seems sound to me
on: July 18, 2010, 04:55:21 PM
Gurkha ordered back to UK after beheading dead Taliban fighter
By Christopher Leake
Last updated at 11:26 AM on 18th July 2010
A Gurkha soldier has been flown back to the UK after hacking the head off a dead Taliban commander with his ceremonial knife to prove the dead man’s identity.
The private, from 1st Battalion, Royal Gurkha Rifles, was involved in a fierce firefight with insurgents in the Babaji area of central Helmand Province when the incident took place earlier this month.
His unit had been told that they were seeking a ‘high value target,’ a Taliban commander, and that they must prove they had killed the right man. The Gurkhas had intended to remove the Taliban leader’s body from the battlefield for identification purposes but they came under heavy fire as their tried to do so. Military sources said that in the heat of battle, the Gurkha took out his curved kukri knife and beheaded the dead insurgent.
He is understood to have removed the man’s head from the area, leaving the rest of his body on the battlefield. This is considered a gross insult to the Muslims of Afghanistan, who bury the entire body of their dead even if parts have to be retrieved. British soldiers often return missing body parts once a battle has ended so the dead can be buried in one piece.
A source said: ‘Removing the head in this way was totally inappropriate.’
Army sources said that the soldier, who is in his early 20s, initially told investigators that he unsheathed his kukri – the symbolic weapon of the Gurkhas – after running out of ammunition but later the Taliban fighter was mutilated so his identity could be verified through DNA tests.
The source said: ‘The soldier has been removed from duty and flown home. There is no sense of glory involved here, more a sense of shame. He should not have done what he did.’
The incident, which is being investigated by senior commanders, is hugely embarrassing to the British Army, which is trying to build bridges with local Afghan communities who have spent decades under *Taliban rule.
It comes just days after a rogue Afghan soldier murdered three British troops from the same Gurkha regiment.
If the Gurkha being investigated by the Army is found guilty of beheading the dead enemy soldier, he will have contravened the Geneva Conventions which dictate the rules of war. Soldiers are banned from demeaning their enemies. The Gurkha now faces disciplinary action and a possible court martial. If found guilty, he could be jailed. He is now confined to barracks at the Shorncliffe garrison, near Folkestone, Kent.
The incident happened as the Gurkha troop was advancing towards a hostile area before engaging the enemy in battle.
Colonel Richard Kemp, a former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, said: ‘In this case, it appears that the *soldier was not acting maliciously, but his actions were clearly ill-judged. The Gurkhas are a very fine regiment with a proud tradition of service in the British forces and have fought very bravely in Afghanistan. I have no doubt that this behaviour would be as strongly condemned by the other members of that regiment, as it would by all soldiers in the British forces.’
A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: ‘We are aware of an incident and have informed the Afghan authorities. An investigation is underway and it would not be appropriate to comment further until this is concluded.’
The Ministry also revealed yesterday that four British servicemen had been killed in Afghanistan in 24 hours. An airman from the RAF Regiment died in a road accident near Camp Bastion in Helmand and a marine from 40 Commando Royal Marines was killed in an explosion in Sangin on Friday. A Royal Dragoon Guard died in a blast in the Nahr-e Saraj district of Helmand Province yesterday. The fourth serviceman also died in an explosion. The British death toll in the Afghan campaign since 2001 is now 322.
Afghan troops trained by the British Army recently led a major operation into a Taliban stronghold. It was one of the first operations organised by the Afghan National Army.
Regiment’s proud symbol of valour
The iconic kukri knife used by the Gurkhas can be a weapon or a tool. It is the traditional utility knife of the Nepalese people, but is mainly known as a symbolic weapon for Gurkha regiments all over the world. The kukri signifies courage and valour on the battlefield and is sometimes worn by bridegrooms during their wedding ceremony. The kukri’s heavy blade enables the user to inflict deep wounds and to cut muscle and bone with one stroke. It can also be used in stealth operations to slash an enemy’s throat, killing him instantly and silently.http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/arti...n-fighter.html
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / So, what's the problem? Sounds like a solution to me , , ,
on: July 18, 2010, 04:51:33 PM
Gurkha ordered back to UK after beheading dead Taliban fighter
By Christopher Leake
Last updated at 11:26 AM on 18th July 2010
A Gurkha soldier has been flown back to the UK after hacking the head off a dead Taliban commander with his ceremonial knife to prove the dead man’s identity.
The private, from 1st Battalion, Royal Gurkha Rifles, was involved in a fierce firefight with insurgents in the Babaji area of central Helmand Province when the incident took place earlier this month. His unit had been told that they were seeking a ‘high value target,’ a Taliban commander, and that they must prove they had killed the right man. The Gurkhas had intended to remove the Taliban leader’s body from the battlefield for identification purposes but they came under heavy fire as their tried to do so. Military sources said that in the heat of battle, the Gurkha took out his curved kukri knife and beheaded the dead insurgent.
He is understood to have removed the man’s head from the area, leaving the rest of his body on the battlefield.
This is considered a gross insult to the Muslims of Afghanistan, who bury the entire body of their dead even if parts have to be retrieved.
British soldiers often return missing body parts once a battle has ended so the dead can be buried in one piece.
A source said: ‘Removing the head in this way was totally inappropriate.’
Army sources said that the soldier, who is in his early 20s, initially told investigators that he unsheathed his kukri – the symbolic weapon of the Gurkhas – after running out of ammunition. But later the Taliban fighter was mutilated so his identity could be verified through DNA tests.
The source said: ‘The soldier has been removed from duty and flown home. There is no sense of glory involved here, more a sense of shame. He should not have done what he did.’
The incident, which is being investigated by senior commanders, is hugely embarrassing to the British Army, which is trying to build bridges with local Afghan communities who have spent decades under *Taliban rule.
It comes just days after a rogue Afghan soldier murdered three British troops from the same Gurkha regiment.
If the Gurkha being investigated by the Army is found guilty of beheading the dead enemy soldier, he will have contravened the Geneva Conventions which dictate the rules of war. Soldiers are banned from demeaning their enemies.
The Gurkha now faces disciplinary action and a possible court martial. If found guilty, he could be jailed. He is now confined to barracks at the Shorncliffe garrison, near Folkestone, Kent.
The incident happened as the Gurkha troop was advancing towards a hostile area before engaging the enemy in battle.
Colonel Richard Kemp, a former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, said: ‘In this case, it appears that the *soldier was not acting maliciously, but his actions were clearly ill-judged. ‘The Gurkhas are a very fine regiment with a proud tradition of service in the British forces and have fought very bravely in Afghanistan. 'I have no doubt that this behaviour would be as strongly condemned by the other members of that regiment, as it would by all soldiers in the British forces.’
A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: ‘We are aware of an incident and have informed the Afghan authorities. An inves-t*igation is underway and it would not be appropriate to comment further until this is concluded.’
The Ministry also revealed yesterday that four British servicemen had been killed in Afghanistan in 24 hours. An airman from the RAF Regiment died in a road accident near Camp Bastion in Helmand and a marine from 40 Commando Royal Marines was killed in an explosion in Sangin on Friday.
A Royal Dragoon Guard died in a blast in the Nahr-e Saraj district of Helmand Province yesterday. The fourth serviceman also died in an explosion.
The British death toll in the Afghan campaign since 2001 is now 322.
Afghan troops trained by the British Army recently led a major operation into a Taliban stronghold.
It was one of the first operations organised by the Afghan National Army.
Regiment’s proud symbol of valour
The iconic kukri knife used by the Gurkhas can be a weapon or a tool. It is the traditional utility knife of the Nepalese people, but is mainly known as a symbolic weapon for Gurkha regiments all over the world.
The kukri signifies courage and valour on the battlefield and is sometimes worn by bridegrooms during their wedding ceremony.
The kukri’s heavy blade enables the user to inflict deep wounds and to cut muscle and bone with one stroke.
It can also be used in stealth operations to slash an enemy’s throat, killing him instantly and silently.http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/arti...n-fighter.html
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / A question
on: July 18, 2010, 04:42:23 PM
This question was asked on another forum:
"Whoa, I look forward to taking a look at this one!
"At the seminar in Slovenia, I was thoroughly impressed with the developments of the Dracula game, and this will come as an excellent elaboration in that area. I am wondering, however, whether coach Johnson's stuff in the DVD is somehow "integrated" with the Kali-Tudo approach, or taught as a separate set of skills?"
Although I accept the challenge of the cage on its own terms with our Kali Tudo, for us the cage is simply an adrenal laboratory for our empty handed street skills. Thus we need to solve the questions presented by the cage with structures and idioms of movement that are solve the questions of street reality.
One of the risks of the Kali Tudo striking game is to get so entranced by its potentialities that we sometimes tunnel vision in a way that we forget that it can be solved with a good elevation drop and shoot.
To innoculate ourselves against this we must be training partners who can keep our training partners honest by attacking and counterattacking with good shots and we must have good solutions to this.
This is where Coach Kenny's contributions come in.
I would add that our curriculum has additional responses to the sprawl material shown by Coach Kenny, for example a move I call the "Silat Gator Roll".
The SGR has its genesis in a move that I learned from UFC middle weight challenger (3x IIRC) Frank Trigg while I was at the RAW Gym. Frank's foundation was wrestling and the move included what wrestling people often call "a gator roll". He introduced it by saying it was a good move for when one's sprawl was late. Being the slow old fart that I am I naturally perked up and paid extra attention.
Try as I might, I could not get the move to finish the same way he did. I suspect the reason was that my silat training caused me to wind up in a different place than he did- but it seemed quite valid to me nonetheless. So I named it the Silat Gator Roll to acknowledge the two sources of knowledge that contributed to the move.
There are also responses to the shot based around Lameco's use of the Ilustrissimo cross step with certain non-boxing striking techniques that are delivered on unexpected angles and beats
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH's Maureen Dowd?
on: July 18, 2010, 10:19:20 AM
On the whole I hold Dowd in utter contempt, but it seems to me that here she makes many telling points.
Rome Fiddles, We BurnBy MAUREEN DOWD
Published: July 16, 2010
If the Vatican is trying to restore the impression that its moral sense is intact, issuing a document that equates pedophilia with the ordination of women doesn’t really do that. The Catholic Church continued to heap insult upon injury when it revealed its long-awaited new rules on clergy sex abuse, rules that the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said signaled a commitment to grasp the nettle with “rigor and transparency.”
The church still believes in its own intrinsic holiness despite all evidence to the contrary. It thinks it’s making huge concessions on the unstoppable abuse scandal when it’s taking baby steps.
The casuistic document did not issue a zero-tolerance policy to defrock priests after they are found guilty of pedophilia; it did not order bishops to report every instance of abuse to the police; it did not set up sanctions on bishops who sweep abuse under the rectory rug; it did not eliminate the statute of limitations for abused children; it did not tell bishops to stop lobbying legislatures to prevent child-abuse laws from being toughened.
There is no moral awakening here. The cruelty and indecency of child abuse once more inspires tactical contrition. All the penitence of the church is grudging and reactive. Church leaders are merely as penitent as they need to be to protect the institution.
Can you imagine such a scene in the confessional?
“Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. I am as sorry as my job or school requires me to be.”
“But my daughter, that is not true penitence. That’s situational penitence.”
After the Belgian police bracingly conducted raids on the church hierarchy, inspired in part by the horrifying case of a boy molested for years by his uncle, the bishop of Bruges, a case that the church ignored and covered up for 25 years, the pope did not applaud the more aggressive tack. He condemned it.
In a remarkable Times story recently, Laurie Goodstein and David Halbfinger debunked the spin that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had been one of the more alert officials on the issue of sexual abuse:
“The future pope, it is now clear, was also part of a culture of nonresponsibility, denial, legalistic foot-dragging and outright obstruction. More than any top Vatican official other than John Paul, it was Cardinal Ratzinger who might have taken decisive action in the 1990s to prevent the scandal from metastasizing in country after country, growing to such proportions that it now threatens to consume his own papacy.”
If Roman Polanski were a priest, he’d still be working here.
Stupefyingly, the new Vatican document also links raping children with ordaining women as priests, deeming both “graviora delicta,” or grave offenses. Clerics who attempt to ordain women can now be defrocked.
On Beliefnet, Mark Silk, a professor of religion at Connecticut’s Trinity College, suggested that the stronger threat against women’s ordination is not “a maladroit add-on” but the medieval Vatican’s “main business.”
After the Vatican launched two inquisitions of American nuns, it didn’t seem possible that the archconservative Il Papa and his paternalistic redoubt could get more unenlightened, but they have somehow managed it.
Letting women be priests — which should be seen as a way to help cleanse the church and move it beyond its infantilized and defensive state — is now on the list of awful sins right next to pedophilia, heresy, apostasy and schism.
Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington, the chairman of the Committee on Doctrine of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, asserted, “The Catholic Church, through its long and constant teaching, holds that ordination has been, from the beginning, reserved to men, a fact which cannot be changed despite changing times.”
But if it was reserved to celibate men centuries ago simply as a way for the church to keep land, why can’t it be changed? If a society makes strides in not subordinating women, why can’t the church reflect that? If men prove that all-male hierarchies can get shamefully warped, why can’t they embrace the normality of equality? The Vatican’s insistence on male prerogative is misogynistic poppycock — enhancing American Catholics’ disenchantment with Rome.
In The New Republic, Garry Wills wrote about his struggle to come to terms with the sins of his church: Jesus “is the one who said, ‘Whatever you did to any of my brothers, even the lowliest, you did to me.’ That means that the priests abusing the vulnerable young were doing that to Jesus, raping Jesus. Any clerical functionary who shows more sympathy for the predator priests than for their victims instantly disqualified himself as a follower of Jesus. The cardinals said they must care for their own, going to jail if necessary to protect a priest. We say the same thing, but the ‘our own’ we care for are the victimized, the poor, the violated. They are Jesus.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NY Times
on: July 18, 2010, 10:00:45 AM
On the rocky beaches of Alaska, scientists plunged shovels and picks into the ground and dug 6,775 holes, repeatedly striking oil — still pungent and dangerous a dozen years after the Exxon Valdez infamously spilled its cargo.
More than an ocean away, on the Breton coast of France, scientists surveying the damage after another huge oil spill found that disturbances in the food chain persisted for more than a decade.
And on the southern gulf coast in Mexico, an American researcher peering into a mangrove swamp spotted lingering damage 30 years after that shore was struck by an enormous spill.
These far-flung shorelines hit by oil in the past offer clues to what people living along the Gulf Coast can expect now that the great oil calamity of 2010 may be nearing an end.
Every oil spill is different, but the thread that unites these disparate scenes is a growing scientific awareness of the persistent damage that spills can do — and of just how long oil can linger in the environment, hidden in out-of-the-way spots.
At the same time, scientists who have worked to survey and counteract the damage from spills say the picture in the gulf is far from hopeless.
“Thoughts that this is going to kill the Gulf of Mexico are just wild overreactions,” said Jeffrey W. Short, a scientist who led some of the most important research after the Exxon Valdez spill and now works for an environmental advocacy group called Oceana. “It’s going to go away, the oil is. It’s not going to last forever.”
But how long will it last?
Only 20 years ago, the conventional wisdom was that oil spills did almost all their damage in the first weeks, as fresh oil loaded with toxic substances hit wildlife and marsh grasses, washed onto beaches and killed fish and turtles in the deep sea.
But disasters like the Valdez in 1989, the Ixtoc 1 in Mexico in 1979, the Amoco Cadiz in France in 1978 and two Cape Cod spills, including the Bouchard 65 barge in 1974 — all studied over decades with the improved techniques of modern chemistry and biology — have allowed scientists to paint a more complex portrait of what happens after a spill.
It is still clear that the bulk of the damage happens quickly, and that nature then begins to recuperate. After a few years, a casual observer visiting a hard-hit location might see nothing amiss. Birds and fish are likely to have rebounded, and the oil will seem to be gone.
But often, as Dr. Short and his team found in Alaska, some of it has merely gone underground, hiding in pockets where it can still do low-level damage to wildlife over many years. And the human response to a spill can mitigate — or intensify — its long-term effects. Oddly enough, some of the worst damage to occur from spills in recent decades has come from people trying too hard to clean them up.
It is hard for scientists to offer predictions about the present spill, for two reasons.
The ecology of the Gulf of Mexico is specially adapted to break down oil, more so than any other body of water in the world — though how rapidly and completely it can break down an amount this size is essentially unknown.
And because this spill is emerging a mile under the surface and many of the toxic components of the oil are dissolving into deep water and spreading far and wide, scientists simply do not know what the effects in the deep ocean are likely to be.
Still, many aspects of the spill resemble spills past, especially at the shoreline, and that gives researchers some confidence in predicting how events will unfold.
In 1969, a barge hit the rocks off the coast of West Falmouth, Mass., spilling 189,000 gallons of fuel oil into Buzzards Bay. Today, the fiddler crabs at nearby Wild Harbor still act drunk, moving erratically and reacting slowly to predators.
The odd behavior is consistent with a growing body of research showing how oil spills of many types have remarkably persistent effects, often at levels low enough to escape routine notice.
Jennifer Culbertson was a graduate student at Boston University in 2005 when she made plaster casts of crab burrows. She discovered that instead of drilling straight down, like normal crabs, the ones at Wild Harbor were going only a few inches deep and then turning sideways, repelled by an oily layer still lingering below the surface.
Other researchers established that the crabs were suffering from a kind of narcosis induced by hydrocarbon poisoning. Their troubles had serious implications for the marsh.
“Fiddler crabs normally play a crucial role in tilling the salt marsh, which helps provide oxygen to the roots of salt marsh grasses,” Dr. Culbertson said about her study.
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In Alaska, the Exxon Valdez spill dumped nearly 11 million gallons of oil into Prince William Sound, and it spread down the Alaska coast, ultimately oiling 1,200 miles of shoreline. By the late 1990s, the oil seemed to be largely gone, but liver tests on ducks and sea otters showed that they were still being exposed to hydrocarbons, chemical compounds contained in crude.
Dr. Short, then working for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, mounted a series of excavations to figure out what had happened, with his team ultimately digging thousands of holes in Alaska’s beaches. Oil was found in about 8 percent of them, usually in places with too little oxygen for microbes to break it down.
Exactly how much damage continues from the oil is a matter of dispute, with Exxon commissioning its own studies that challenge the government’s findings on the extent of the impact. But it is clear that otters dig for food in areas containing oil, and that they, like nearly a dozen other species of animals, have still not entirely recovered from the 1989 spill.
At the rate the oil is breaking down, Dr. Short estimates that some of it could still be there a century from now.
Increasing the Stress
Perhaps the greatest single hazard from the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the gulf is the long-term erosion of delicate coastal wetlands it could cause. At another spill site on the Massachusetts coast, not far from the West Falmouth spill, the legacy of oil contamination is evident in the difference between two marshes on either side of a pebbly shoreline road.
On one side, where the marshes were suffused in 1974 when the grounded Bouchard 65 barge dumped 11,000 to 37,000 gallons of fuel oil into the sea, the grasses are stunted and sparse. They cling tentatively to the edge of the sandy beach. But the grasses on the other side, untouched by oil, rise tall and thick.
Louisiana’s coastline contains some of the most productive marshes in the world, delivering an abundance of shrimp and oysters and providing critical habitat and breeding ground for birds and fish.
But even before the spill, the land was under enormous environmental stress, largely due to human activity. Dams on the Mississippi River and its tributaries have slowed the flow of sediment to the marshes, and global warming has caused sea level to rise.
The Louisiana marshes are eroding at an extraordinary rate — a football field’s worth sinks into the Gulf of Mexico every 38 minutes, according to the Louisiana Office of Coastal Management — and the worry now is that the oil spill will accelerate that erosion.
The Bouchard shows how that could happen. When the barge ran aground, thousands of gallons of a particularly toxic fuel oil spilled into the icy water and were swept to shore by the strong tides.
The oil made landfall just two miles north of where the West Falmouth oil spill had washed up only five years earlier. Winsor Cove, a classic New England bay surrounded by bluffs and stately homes, bore the brunt. Razor clams suffocated and rose to the surface by the hundreds to die.
But the lasting damage of the spill, severe erosion of the shoreline, took months longer to unfold.
George Hampson, now retired, was on the scientific team at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution that studied a series of spills in the area. He recalled that after the 1974 spill the beach grasses, called spartina, which had grown like luxuriant matting along the shore, died.
“The first year it was just like a moonscape,” Mr. Hampson said.
Spartina, a common beach grass that fills the marshes along the North Atlantic and in the Gulf of Mexico, is a crucial factor in keeping marshlands from eroding into the sea. Its roots act as a vast net keeping soil in place.
But the oil in Winsor Cove set off a vicious downward spiral. “It was a race between how much peat was eroding and how quickly the grass was coming back,” Mr. Hampson said.
Over the course of the next several winters, six feet of shore eroded, including a sand berm that stood above the rest of the beach. And as the view from the pebbled road indicates, the vegetation still struggles for a foothold today.
“It’s been 35 years, and I’d say the grasses are just beginning to grow back,” Mr. Hampson said.
It is certain that some of the heavily oiled spartina in Louisiana will die. For now, heavy oiling is limited to just the marsh fringes, but a strong surge in front of a hurricane could change that.
Oil spills produce a powerful impulse to clean up the oil and restore as much of the environment as possible. But that impulse can itself be a source of destruction.
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No case illustrates that point more starkly than the 1978 spill of the Amoco Cadiz tanker. Caught in a gale, it was propelled against rocks near the shore of northwestern France, spilling 67 million gallons of crude oil that washed over 200 miles of the coast of Brittany.
The immediate damage was bad enough: at least 20,000 seabirds found dead, thousands of tons of oysters lost and fish ridden with ulcers and tumors. But then the French authorities made it worse.
The area had marshes, and they were hit hard by oil that sank deep into the sediments. The authorities felt they needed to act aggressively.
Using bulldozers and tractors, they scraped close to 20 inches of oiled sediment from the top in the most polluted marshes and also straightened and deepened some natural tidal channels, to improve flushing.
Over time, these proved to have been disastrous judgments.
In areas that were not bulldozed, nature ultimately broke down most of the oil and the vegetation came back. But marsh plants turned out to be highly sensitive to the depth of the sediment, and more than a decade after the spill, the bulldozed marshes are still missing as much as 40 percent of their vegetation.
“In the case of Amoco Cadiz, the cleanup operations were more deadly than the pollution itself,” said Jean-Claude Dauvin, a professor of marine biology and ecosystems at the University of Lille in northern France.
Much the same dynamic played out in Alaska after the Exxon Valdez spill. In some areas, Exxon power-washed oiled beaches with high-pressure, hot-water sprayers. It made for dramatic television images, with the company seemingly working hard against the spill. But scientists ultimately determined that it was a disaster for the tidal ecology, with clams and other organisms showing greatly delayed recovery on the laundered beaches, compared with oiled beaches that were not cleaned.
The lesson, scientists say, is not that people should never try to clean up an oil spill. It is possible to do too little as well as too much. But the calculation of how much to do is tricky, demanding deep scientific understanding of an area’s ecology. Applying supposed common sense has repeatedly led to mistakes.
Already in Louisiana, battles have erupted between the Army Corps of Engineers and local residents, led by Gov. Bobby Jindal, over proposals to build sand and rock barriers to block the oil from coming into the marshes. The corps has been cautious on approval permits and recently rejected a plan to build a rock barrier outside Barataria Bay, arguing that such structures would change water-flow patterns to the possible detriment of the marsh ecology.
No matter how that battle plays out, a tough and potentially contentious issue in Louisiana in coming months may be the question of whether the marshes should be burned.
If the top layer of grasses and the clinging oil are burned off, the roots should survive and allow healthier grasses to sprout back. But scientists say that can be done only if there is no chance of new oil coming in, since burning might expose the roots buried in the sediment, making them vulnerable to absorbing the oil. Given the immensity of the spill, it is not clear when that hazard will have passed.
“If you consider the volume,” said Ronald J. Kendall, chairman of environmental toxicology at Texas Tech University, “we could see re-oiling for years to come.”
The other day, a Mexican fishing boat threaded its way deep into a coastal mangrove swamp on the Bay of Campeche. It carried two scientists, an American, Wes Tunnell, and a Mexican, Julio Sánchez.
They were looking for remnants of an oil spill that happened 30 years earlier, when the Ixtoc 1 well in the bay exploded and gushed oil for 10 months. It has stood for decades as the worst accidental release of oil in any ocean. (It may or may not have been surpassed by the BP spill; estimates vary.)
Mangroves are vital coastal plants, providing rich habitat for many types of creatures and serving as a nursery for many marine species. To the untrained eye, the ones in Mexico appeared healthy, billowing up from the shoreline in shades of green, balanced on a gray carpet of roots that protruded from the water.
Page 4 of 4)
But Dr. Tunnell pointed out subtle signs of damage. There were clearings in the foliage, instead of an unbroken tangle of roots and mangrove trees. The branches of the outer layer of red mangroves seemed stunted.
“For a mangrove swamp, this should be much denser,” Dr. Tunnell said. “We shouldn’t even be able to see in here.”
The scientists scrambled out of the boats to a small clearing. Dr. Sanchez bent down, sliced out a layer of sediment and broke it to reveal gooey tar in the middle.
Dr. Tunnell sniffed. “It smells like a newly paved road,” he said.
They could not be sure it was oil from the Ixtoc well, since smaller spills have hit the area too, but the scientists agree with local fishermen that much of the damage to the mangroves goes back to Ixtoc.
They sent the sample to a laboratory. The fishermen also said that oysters that used to be found clinging to the mangrove roots seemed to have vanished after the spill and never returned.
The Ixtoc blowout of 1979-80 is the closest analogy to the BP spill, even though it happened in much shallower water. Ixtoc soiled hundreds of miles of beaches, all the way to Texas.
Dr. Tunnell, of the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M, Corpus Christi, was early in his career then. He was dismayed to see the oil kill 50 percent to 80 percent of the bottom-dwelling creatures in some areas near the Texas shore.
“As a young scientist, I thought, ‘Oh, no, this is wiping out our beaches,’ ” Dr. Tunnell said.
But then he watched in amazement as the recuperative powers of the gulf kicked in.
Because oil constantly seeps into the gulf from natural fissures, the water is teeming with microbes adapted to break oil down and use it as food. The breakdown happens faster there than in colder bodies of water, and the warm water helps some species recover faster, too.
Along the Texas coast, within a few years after the Ixtoc spill ended in 1980, it was hard to tell that anything had gone wrong. Creatures repopulated the areas that had been wiped out.
No one can be sure that the recovery from the BP spill will be a replay of Ixtoc. But the greatest reason for optimism is nature’s demonstrated capacity to handle the assaults on it.
“Thirty years ago, that 140 million gallons of oil went somewhere,” Dr. Tunnell said. “The gulf recovered and became very productive again. My concern is: Is it as resilient today as it was 30 years ago?”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The beer bill
on: July 18, 2010, 09:38:04 AM
And here is a less technical explanation of last night's post:
THE TAX SYSTEM EXPLAINED IN BEER
Suppose that every day, ten men go out for beer and the bill for all ten comes to $100...
If they paid their bill the way we pay our taxes, it would go something like this...
The first four men (the poorest) would pay nothing.
The fifth would pay $1.
The sixth would pay $3.
The seventh would pay $7..
The eighth would pay $12.
The ninth would pay $18.
The tenth man (the richest) would pay $59.
So, that's what they decided to do..
The ten men drank in the bar every day and seemed quite happy with the arrangement, until one day, the owner threw them a curve ball. "Since you are all such good customers," he said, "I'm going to reduce the cost of your daily beer by $20". Drinks for the ten men would now cost just $80.
The group still wanted to pay their bill the way we pay our taxes. So the first four men were unaffected. They would still drink for free. But what about the other six men? The paying customers? How could they divide the $20 windfall so that everyone would get his fair share?
They realised that $20 divided by six is $3.33. But if they subtracted that from everybody's share, then the fifth man and the sixth man would each end up being paid to drink his beer.
So, the bar owner suggested that it would be fair to reduce each man's bill by a higher percentage the poorer he was, to follow the principle of the tax system they had been using, and he proceeded to work out the amounts he suggested that each should now pay.
And so the fifth man, like the first four, now paid nothing (100% saving).
The sixth now paid $2 instead of $3 (33% saving).
The seventh now paid $5 instead of $7 (28% saving).
The eighth now paid $9 instead of $12 (25% saving).
The ninth now paid $14 instead of $18 (22% saving).
The tenth now paid $49 instead of $59 (16% saving).
Each of the six was better off than before. And the first four continued to drink for free. But, once outside the bar, the men began to compare their savings.
"I only got a dollar out of the $20 saving," declared the sixth man. He pointed to the tenth man,"but he got $10!"
"Yeah, that's right," exclaimed the fifth man. "I only saved a dollar too. It's unfair that he got ten times more benefit than me!"
"That's true!" shouted the seventh man. "Why should he get $10 back, when I got only $2? The wealthy get all the breaks!"
"Wait a minute," yelled the first four men in unison, "we didn't get anything at all. This new tax system exploits the poor!"
The nine men surrounded the tenth and beat him up.
The next night the tenth man didn't show up for drinks, so the nine sat down and had their beers without him. But when it came time to pay the bill, they discovered something important. They didn't have enough money between all of them for even half of the bill!
And that, boys and girls, journalists and government ministers, is how our tax system works. The people who already pay the highest taxes will naturally get the most benefit from a tax reduction. Tax them too much, attack them for being wealthy, and they just may not show up anymore. In fact, they might start drinking overseas, where the atmosphere is somewhat friendlier.
David R. Kamerschen, Ph.D.
Professor of Economics.
For those who understand, no explanation is needed.
For those who do not understand, no explanation is possible
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Reps offer balanced budget
on: July 17, 2010, 07:43:58 PM
By STEPHEN MOORE
In one of the most fiscally inept stunts in many years on Capitol Hill, Congressional Democrats have taken a pass on enacting a budget this year. Legislators will just wing it and let the $3.6 trillion fall where it may and hope the public doesn't notice a $1.5 trillion dollar deficit. But the minority Republicans have just presented their own budget plan and it's a remarkably bold and honest document that involves big cuts in government spending over the next decade and a balanced budget by 2019. The GOP budget would be a Tea Partier's dream come true if it ever were enacted.
The plan, fashioned by Tom Price of Georgia, head of the conservative Republican Study Committee, reduces federal borrowing from the Obama baseline by a gargantuan $6.4 trillion over the next decade. Not bad considering that it also lowers taxes by $1.7 trillion more than the Obama budget by making the Bush tax cuts permanent. Spending reductions start with what Mr. Price calls a "reset" on spending for discretionary programs back to 2008 levels. That insures that "temporary" stimulus funding doesn't get continued year after year. The plan also instructs the President and Congress to dedicate every penny of bailout money repaid to the federal government by the banks to debt retirement.
"We think it's essential to show the American people we can cut spending enough to balance the budget even with the big hole Barack Obama has put us in," Mr. Price tells me. His budget is a Reaganite budget, calling for tax cuts, asset sales, repeal of hundreds of wasteful programs, and across-the-board cuts in virtually every program except Social Security. "Even some Republicans will flinch from the spending cuts required to get to a balanced budget," Mr. Price concedes.
Mr. Price and his RSC colleagues show that you can get from here ($1.5 trillion annual deficits) to there (a balanced budget) through spending discipline and economic growth. Can it be done the Democratic way, with higher taxes and lower growth? Not likely.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Lost in taxation
on: July 17, 2010, 07:37:16 PM
If it seems as if the tax code was conceived by graphic artist M.C. Escher, wait until you meet the new and not improved Internal Revenue Service created by ObamaCare. What, you're not already on a first-name basis with your local IRS agent?
National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson, who operates inside the IRS, highlighted the agency's new mission in her annual report to Congress last week. Look out below. She notes that the IRS is already "greatly taxed"—pun intended?—"by the additional role it is playing in delivering social benefits and programs to the American public," like tax credits for first-time homebuyers or purchasing electric cars. Yet with ObamaCare, the agency is now responsible for "the most extensive social benefit program the IRS has been asked to implement in recent history." And without "sufficient funding" it won't be able to discharge these new duties.
That wouldn't be tragic, given that those new duties include audits to determine who has the insurance "as required by law" and collecting penalties from Americans who don't. Companies that don't sponsor health plans will also be punished. This crackdown will "involve nearly every division and function of the IRS," Ms. Olson reports.
Well, well. Republicans argued during the health debate that the IRS would have to hire hundreds of new agents and staff to enforce ObamaCare. They were brushed off by Democrats and the press corps as if they believed the President was born on the moon. The IRS says it hasn't figured out how much extra money and manpower it will need but admits that both numbers are greater than zero.
Ms. Olson also exposed a damaging provision that she estimates will hit some 30 million sole proprietorships and subchapter S corporations, two million farms and one million charities and other tax-exempt organizations. Prior to ObamaCare, businesses only had to tell the IRS the value of services they purchase. But starting in 2013 they will also have to report the value of goods they buy from a single vendor that total more than $600 annually—including office supplies and the like.
Democrats snuck in this obligation to narrow the mythical "tax gap" of unreported business income, but Ms. Olson says that the tracking costs for small businesses will be "disproportionate as compared with any resulting improvement in tax compliance." Job creation, here we come . . . at least for the accountants who will attempt to comply with a vast new 1099 reporting burden.
Meanwhile, the IRS will be inundated with useless information, because without a huge upgrade its information systems won't be able to manage and track the nanodetails.
In a Monday letter, even Democratic Senators Mark Begich (Alaska), Ben Nelson (Nebraska), Jeanne Shaheen (New Hampshire) and Evan Bayh (Indiana) denounce this new "burden" on small businesses and insist that the IRS use its discretion to find "better ways to structure this reporting requirement." In other words, they want regulators to fix one problem among many that all four Senators created by voting for ObamaCare.
We never thought anyone would be nostalgic for the tax system of a few months ago, but post-ObamaCare, here we are.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Nevada Senate race
on: July 17, 2010, 07:26:22 PM
By STEPHEN MOORE
Sharron Angle first realized the extent of the brewing revolt against Washington in late March, at a tea party protest in Searchlight, Nev. A "Woodstock of the West," she calls it. "More than 30,000 people sojourned to this tiny rural town of 900 people," Mrs. Angle says. "The highways were jammed up and became parking lots."
To get to the stage, this 60-year-old grandmother of 10 says she "climbed on the back of a Harley Davidson Road King bike and rode through the immense crowds." Once there, she reminded the throng that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid must be replaced.
Now, after sprinting past two better-known and better-funded opponents in the June Republican primary, the party has chosen Mrs. Angle to go up against him. "I knew that if we were going to actually defeat Harry Reid," Mrs. Angle says, "we had to have a candidate who would offer a sharp policy contrast. Someone who would not just pay lip service to limited government principles, but had a solid record of voting that way time and again. I'm that candidate."
Thus has Sharron Angle—a former teacher, business owner, state legislator and political rabble-rouser—emerged as one of the three most prominent figures in the tea party movement. Sarah Palin and Rand Paul of Kentucky are the other two. Her campaign to become the next U.S. Senator from Nevada figures to be among the most closely watched, and surely among the most colorful, contests this November.
Liberal groups and Mr. Reid are gleeful that a "right wing extremist" has won the GOP nomination. At a recent fund raising dinner for the majority leader in Las Vegas, President Barack Obama labeled her "extreme, even for a Republican." Some Republicans privately grumble that she may be unelectable because of her staunchly conservative stands. And to be sure, some of her positions, such as banning fluoridated water or providing massages to rehabilitate convicts, seem a bit, well, odd.
But is she the kook Mr. Reid portrays her as in his TV ads?
I met with Mrs. Angle twice, first in Washington, D.C., late last month, then again during the Freedomfest conference last week in Las Vegas. In person, she seems anything but a threat to the American way of life. She is petite, has Irish red hair with and a pretty round face. She's friendly, but businesslike, and unlike most politicians, comes across as sincere in her convictions. Her husband, Ted, a 35 year veteran of the Bureau of Land Management (he explains that he's a conservative who worked to protect property rights, not violate them), stands constantly by her side as a confidant and de facto campaign manager.
When I ask whether it is really possible to knock off a Senate majority leader, she laughs and replies, "only Reid thinks he's too big to fail." Her strategy against the Reid attack machine is to link him to the lousy economy in Nevada. When I ask her if Nevadans want to give up Mr. Reid's clout in Washington, she replies: "When Harry Reid got to be majority leader, the unemployment rate was 4.4%. Now it is 14%, higher than even in Michigan. . . . What has Harry Reid's power done for our state?" Her new TV ad, unrolled this week, hammers this message. "We know he is going to attack me constantly," she says, because "he can't possibly run on his record."
Despite the deep recession, Mrs. Angle is not impressed by Mr. Reid's desire to extend unemployment benefits. "This only incentivizes folks that could work," Mrs. Angle says, "but can't, because they're making more on unemployment than they can by going back to work. The longer they're out of the work force, their skills become less marketable." Not too many Republicans even in safe seats are willing to speak that truth.
Regarding jobs, she points to Mr. Reid's role in killing three clean coal-fired plants in rural Ely, where she and her husband have lived since 1971. After years of opposition by Mr. Reid in league with various environmental groups, NV Energy halted development of a $5 billion plant in February 2009.
That meant the loss of 5,000 jobs, Mrs. Angle says. "That's really when we realized Harry Reid doesn't care about jobs or people losing their homes. And it's also when 'Anybody but Harry Reid' signs first began to sprout up all over the state."
Sharron Angle's first foray into activism was when her son was held back in kindergarten in 1983 and "the poor little guy was made to feel like a failure. He hated school." She wanted to home school him, but the school system and the courts said no. Her response was to open a one-room school with a Christian-based curriculum. It soon had 24 students.
"I didn't realize how many other parents were angry with the school system," she recalls. She charged $125 a month to cover the cost of supplies but taught for free. (Mrs. Angle has a degree in education from the University of Nevada, Reno.)
In 1985 she rallied hundreds of parents behind her successful effort to pass a bill through the Nevada legislature allowing parents to home school anywhere in the state. The result of her effort is that in Nevada home schooling has become a popular alternative to the public schools, and Mrs. Angle is referred to as the "home school heroine."
"I was just a mother, and the government had gotten between me and my child, and that's like getting between a mother bear and her cubs," she says. "I think that's what activates the tea party movement. What they see is the government interfering with their lives, and with the inheritance of their children. Are we going to pass down liberty or deficits? And that's really what this movement is about." The cub—her 6-year-old son—now has a masters degree and teaches high school history in Yerrington, Nevada.
Mrs. Angle was later elected to the county school board, and in 1998 she ran for state legislature, where she served for eight tumultuous years. She gained a reputation as a crusader who wouldn't flinch in a battle with the leaders of either party. Critics lampoon the times she cast the lone "no" vote for spending bills. They began to call these votes "62 to Angle," she tells me, smiling.
Mrs. Angle's most legendary fight was within her own party. In 2003, then Gov. Kenny Guinn, a Republican, schemed to raise the sales tax by half a billion dollars. Mr. Guinn declared that anybody who opposed his tax was "irrelevant, irresponsible and cowardly." The governor seemed to be pointing directly at her, says Mrs. Angle. "He knew from the start I would be against it."
The frustrated governor couldn't get the constitutionally required two-thirds vote of approval without her. As she tells the story, "at one critical point, the minority leader asked me: 'So, Sharron, what's your number?' That meant how big a tax increase could I tolerate? And I told them my number was zero."
When the bullying failed, the Nevada Supreme Court, in a spectacular abuse of the constitution, allowed the tax hike to go through without the two-thirds vote. The justices decreed that the money was needed for the schools and that the right to an adequate education took precedence over a procedural safeguard.
The next day, Ms. Angle recalls, "I went into the conference room and was told there's nothing you can do, Sharron. It's all over. The Supreme Court has the last word. And I said, 'No, it's not over.'"
She spearheaded a movement to get the Supreme Court replaced. In the next election in 2006, voters threw out five of the seven members of the Nevada Supreme Court; the other two had retired. "It was a referendum on that tax increase vote," she argues. "And the new court came in and reversed that decision and made our constitution whole."
Democrats think Ms. Angle is a piñata they easily defeat. The attacks run the gamut from her antifluoridation views ("my constituents all opposed" fluoridation), to her desire to abolish the Education Department, to favoring private Social Security accounts.
Mrs. Angle stands her ground: "I support voluntary personal retirement accounts for Social Security," she says. "It should be people's free choice." But she also notes that her 83-year-old mother and 84-year-old mother-in-law are on Social Security and Medicare. "I certainly will work to protect their benefits," she says.
Mrs. Angle is not bashful about wanting to take a knife to what she labels "C-priority programs," including federal agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency. She thinks such bodies should be funded "by the states under the 10th Amendment." As for federal education funding, Mrs. Angle believes it's a drain because control of the schools "should stay as close to the local level as possible, where the child, the teacher, and the parent are the main stakeholders, and make the majority of the decisions.
"If we did that," Mrs. Angle contends, "we would see a lot more money actually spent in the classroom."
The explosion of federal debt under President Obama and Mr. Reid, according to Mrs. Angle, is a moral and economic calamity. "We simply have to stop the Obama-Reid spending and bailouts—now," she says. It's a simple message that resonates with the tea party faithful and Republican voters.
But the key in this Senate race are swing voters—the 20% of Nevada independents who went for Mr. Obama in 2008. The political pros I talked to in the state are skeptical she can win those voters because of their liberal-leaning social views.
Mrs. Angle takes exception to my suggestion that her pro-life and antigay rights positions could hurt her. "This is a state that twice has voted to ban same sex marriages," she reminds me.
Still, the attack ads seem to be hurting her. A Las Vegas Review-Journal poll this week has the majority leader pulling into the lead for the first time by 44% to 37%. But his approval rating remains well below 50%, which always spells trouble for any incumbent, especially in this agitated political environment.
To win, Sharron Angle is going to need a major money influx from the conservative groups that pushed her over the top in the primary to counter the $25 million Mr. Reid is expected to spend. What Mrs. Angle has going for her is a contagious optimism that Nevadans would never send Mr. Reid back to the Senate given the fiscal carnage in Washington.
Nevada voters, she says, "are disillusioned, disappointed and disgusted with what had happened since the 2008 election. They are tired of this establishment machine that doesn't understand that we—the people— are in control. They are saying 'We don't care if you're a Republican or a Democrat. We don't believe either one of you.'"
She is banking on the depth of this discontent to help her topple the most powerful man in the United States Senate.
Mr. Moore is senior economics writer for the Wall Street Journal editorial page.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Rusty Gold
on: July 17, 2010, 07:24:07 PM
Rust Discovered On Bank Of Russia Issued 999 Gold Coins
Here's a head scratcher: as everyone knows from elementary chemistry courses, gold is the most inert metal in the world - it does not rust, nor corrode. Yet this is precisely what Russian commercial precious metal trading company, International Reserve Payment System, discovered on thousands of (allegedly) 999 gold coins "St George" (pictured insert) issued by the Central Russian Bank. The serendipitous discovery occurred after various clients of the company had requested that their gold be stored not in a safe, but in a far more secure place: "buried under an oak tree." As the website of IRPS president German Sterligoff notes: once buried, "the coins began to oxidize under the influence of moisture." And hence the headscratcher: nowhere in history (that we know of) does 999, and even 925 gold, oxidize, rust, stain, spot or form patinas, under any conditions. Furthermore, as IRPS discovered, Sberbank of Russia released an internal memorandum ordering the purchase of the defective coins with the spotted appearance. Sterligoff concludes: "It should be noted that the weight and density of the rusty coins coincide with the characteristics of gold that would be expected after after conventional testing methods would reveal. We think that the experts will be interesting to determine the nature of this phenomenon." So just how "real" is 999 gold after all, either in Russia or anywhere else?
As a consequence of this discovery, IRPS decided to "rid itself of all stocks, bought up earlier from the Central Bank on behalf of investors. Investment coins "St. George The Conqueror", as well as other gold coins of the Bank of Russia, are now excluded from the company's operations until all circumstances in the case are determined." Additional, as disclosed in the interview below for Here and Now show on TVRainRu, the Russian Central Bank would buy back the coins at a price of 9,300 rubles, despite prevailing prices for the bullion at well over 10,000.
As Zero Hedge has pointed out previously, the Central Bank of Russia has been one of the biggest purchasers of gold in 2010, having bought gold every single month. It would be embarrassing if it were discovered that not only is the bank diluting the gold content once received with oxidizable materials, but subsequently passing it off for 999 proof precious metal.
And if this is happening in Russia, one wonder what trickery other Central Banks, with a far lower amount of gold in their vaults, resort to...http://www.zerohedge.com/article/rust-discovered-bank-russia-issued-999-gold-coins?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+zerohedge/feed+(zero+hedge+-+on+a+long+enough+timeline,+the+survival+rate+for+everyone+drops+to+zero
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Ciudad Juarez, two Americans arrested
on: July 17, 2010, 07:20:45 PM
CIUDAD JUÁREZ, Mexico—Two Americans were driving back to El Paso, Texas, last December after an afternoon across the border in Ciudad Juárez. A few blocks from the border, they were surrounded by Mexican army trucks and pulled from their Dodge Ram.
Mexico's military says it found two suitcases full of marijuana in the cab of the pickup truck. Two soldiers later testified that they drove the two Americans to a military compound on the outskirts of town, questioned them briefly, then turned them over to civilian authorities. The Americans were charged with possession of marijuana with intent to sell.
Those two men—Shohn Huckabee, 23 years old, and Carlos Quijas, 36—are being held in a Ciudad Juárez jail. They tell a different story about what happened that night. They say Mexican soldiers planted the marijuana in their truck. When they arrived at the military base, they say, they were blindfolded, tied up, hit with rifle butts, shocked with electricity and threatened with death.
Shohn Huckabee in jail in Ciudad Juárez, where he faces drug charges after an encounter with soldiers.
Mexico's military is leading President Felipe Calderón's war against the nation's drug cartels, and Ciudad Juárez has emerged as one of the bloodiest battlegrounds. Nationwide, drug violence has claimed more than 25,000 lives since 2006—with government security forces accounting for an estimated 7% of the dead. In June alone, 103 police and soldiers were killed.
As the death toll rises, however, so have complaints about the military's tactics in trying to break the drug cartels' stranglehold on Mexican society. The human-rights office of the state of Chihuahua, where Ciudad Juárez is located, is investigating some 465 cases of alleged abuse and torture of Mexican citizens by soldiers. Gustavo de la Rosa, the office's ombudsman in Ciudad Juárez, says he knows of about 70 cases in which soldiers are alleged to have planted evidence, including some involving suitcases packed with marijuana.
Allegations of mistreatment of suspects have caught the eye of the U.S. Senate committee that oversees financial aid to Mexico for its war on drugs. In an internal report, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee says it received allegations of serious human-rights violations in Ciudad Juárez last year. The report cites an unidentified young man picked up in El Paso who said he was arrested by the Mexican military in Ciudad Juárez and beaten and shocked. The man said he was released after the military concluded he had no useful information about trafficking, the report says.
Mr. Huckabee says he was subjected to similar tactics. "I believe what was done to me was torture," he said in an interview. "When I did not answer their questions, they shocked me with a wire that was in my hands. My whole body froze up. The pain went from bearable to a point where I couldn't even talk."
Mexican prosecutors say the two men were caught red-handed. Two soldiers involved in their arrest testified at their trial that they counted 99 packages of marijuana in the suitcases, weighing more than 100 pounds.
Messrs. Huckabee and Quijas say they've never been involved with drugs and would never have tried to cross the border with two suitcases of marijuana. During their trial, they produced three witnesses who testified that they saw soldiers put suitcases into Mr. Huckabee's truck. A verdict is expected this month. Each man faces up to 25 years in prison.
Representatives of Mexico's military and of President Calderón turned down requests for interviews. In a written response to questions from The Wall Street Journal, the army said it briefly took the Americans to the military compound but didn't torture them. "We categorically deny that soldiers use these methods, and say their actions are in total adherence to the law," the statement said.
The army previously has dismissed complaints of abuse as the work of people allied with drug traffickers who want to drive soldiers out of Ciudad Juárez. "Many times they make human-rights complaints because they want to limit our capacity for action and besmirch the institution," said Brigadier Gen. Jesús Hernández Pérez, commander of the 4th Artillery Regiment, in an interview late last year.
The Wall Street Journal interviewed nine residents of Ciudad Juárez—some of whom had been convicted of crimes—who said they were tortured by soldiers at the main army camp on the outskirts of the city.
A 33-year-old forklift operator said he had a firearm pointed to his head and was told he would be killed during a 48-hour interrogation. Two brothers, ages 53 and 56, said the military put plastic bags over their heads, shocked them and staged mock executions. A 25-year-old construction worker said soldiers used a Taser to shock his testicles. A 54-year-old diabetic rancher said he was blindfolded, beaten and shocked on his testicles, elbows and hands. He showed a reporter scars.
Between 2006 to 2009, complaints to Mexico's National Human Rights Commission about the military grew tenfold, to about 4,000, including allegations of robbery, rape, torture and killing. The allegations threaten to undermine public support for President Calderón's military campaign against traffickers. Some 50,000 soldiers now patrol the country.
In its statement, the military said it doesn't use torture under any circumstance. In Mexico, soldiers answer to their own military court system and not to civilian authorities, which means states can't prosecute them for abuse.
The case of the two Americans comes as political tensions along the U.S.-Mexico border have risen over issues such as illegal immigration and the trafficking of U.S. firearms into Mexico. Under the 2007 Merida Initiative, the U.S. agreed to provide Mexico with $1.3 billion to fight drug traffickers, including more than $420 million for the Mexican military. U.S. lawmakers have threatened to withhold 15%—nearly $200 million—if there are human-rights violations or other problems.
Mr. Huckabee grew up in El Paso. Friends recall he didn't have much taste for Ciudad Juárez, which before the escalating violence was known locally for teenage partying. On weekends, he was likely to be found hunting with his father or riding his dirt bike in the desert.
When he was 18, he borrowed money to start a small construction company, Site Solutions, a business that consumed much of his time. In 2008, he got married.
Records searches in El Paso County and in New Mexico reveal that Mr. Huckabee had been charged with speeding and illegal dumping, but contain no indication of involvement with drugs. The records showed no criminal trouble for his close friend Mr. Quijas, whom Mr. Huckabee had gotten to know on construction jobs.
On Dec. 18, Mr. Huckabee finished work midday and prepared to head to Ciudad Juárez to take his father's pickup truck for some inexpensive repair work, he and his father say. With him was Mr. Quijas, who says he had asked for a ride across the border to visit an ill grandfather.
Mr. Huckabee says he dropped Mr. Quijas off around 1 p.m., then drove to a repair shop and waited there. The repairs were finished around sunset, close to 5 p.m., according to the mechanic who did the work.
Mr. Huckabee says he made his way through rush-hour traffic and found Mr. Quijas at Abraham Lincoln Street, not far from the Bridge of the Americas leading into Texas. Around 6:40 p.m., the two say, they were passing Los Caballos, a well-known monument of running horses, when their car was surrounded by three Mexican military trucks.
"They grabbed us and threw us under a bench" in the back of a truck, says Mr. Huckabee. Their shirts were pulled over their heads as blindfolds, they say. The soldiers drove about a half hour to a military compound.
The two Americans were ordered out. Mr. Huckabee says a soldier pulled his wedding ring off his finger. (Neither the ring nor a cellphone taken earlier have been returned, he says.) The two men were separated. Each was examined by a doctor.
Mr. Quijas, who speaks both Spanish and English, says his eyes were wrapped with medical gauze. An interrogator, he says, asked him about the whereabouts of various people, using nicknames he didn't recognize. He says his interrogator threatened that some other men would force him to talk.
Mr. Quijas was moved to another room, he says, where his hands and feet were tied. He was wetted down with water, and he could hear the hum of a machine, he says.
Then someone shocked him with a metal rod on his testicles, neck, legs, back and anus, he says. He was taken back to the interrogator, questioned, then shocked again, he says.
Elsewhere, Mr. Huckabee, who speaks little Spanish, was being questioned, too. He was still blindfolded. His interrogator, he says, put objects in his hand, including what seemed to him to be drug paraphernalia, and asked him, in broken English, where they came from. He says he replied that he didn't know. Soldiers struck him repeatedly with the butt of a rifle, he says. Someone put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger, he says, but it wasn't loaded.
Briefly, the two Americans were put together in a cold room. Then, Mr. Huckabee, still blindfolded, was taken away again, he says. He says he heard a voice telling him, in fluent English, that he had been caught with marijuana, cocaine and guns. He says he was told to put a wire into his hand.
When he denied knowing about the marijuana, he says, he was shocked. He was shocked repeatedly during the questioning, he says. "They said they could electrocute me if I didn't answer the truth," he says.
Court documents say the two men were booked between midnight and 1:30 a.m. on Dec. 19—roughly five or six hours after the time they say they were arrested. They were charged with drug possession and transferred to the municipal prison.
The following day, in a statement entered into the court record, Mr. Huckabee said he had been hit by soldiers and given "electric shocks." He says he discussed his treatment when visited by a U.S. consular officer on Dec. 19. A U.S. official says Mr. Huckabee didn't mention mistreatment until Dec. 28.
American officials say U.S. consulates see numerous cases every year of Americans arrested in Mexico, and the consulates don't get involved in defending them. Consular officials informed Mr. Huckabee's family that they couldn't represent their son or offer legal advice.
Neither Mr. Huckabee nor Mr. Quijas made a formal complaint with U.S. or Mexican authorities, saying they feared retaliation by soldiers then working at the jail. In the trial, they accused their captors of torture. The soldiers denied doing so.
Two medical examinations describe the condition of the Americans following their arrest. The first, conducted by a military doctor the night they were detained, found "no apparent harm" on either man. The military said the exam took place at 10:45 p.m.
Another doctor, Dr. Hugo Tabares, examined the men at 2:50 the following afternoon, after they were handed over to civilian authorities. He found bruising on both men, according to a report he filed that day. He reported a reddish-brown bruise on Mr. Huckabee's chest and several bruises on Mr. Quijas's right arm and left leg.
In a brief interview in his office, Dr. Tabares said there were "various bruises" on Mr. Huckabee's body that "could have been caused the previous day." He declined to speculate on the cause of the injuries. In a statement to the court, on Feb. 3, Dr. Tabares said the bruising had been "caused by a blunt instrument or object."
The military said in its statement to the Journal that it didn't know of Dr. Tabares's exam and had no comment on it.
In the Mexican judicial system, testimony isn't given in an open courtroom before a jury, but in office cubicles in front of lawyers. Typically, neither the judge nor the defendant is present. The judge rules based on the transcript and case file.
The trial of the two Americans unfolded in scattered hearings over the past six months. Two soldiers involved in the arrest testified that they searched the vehicle because the Americans were "acting nervously." The search, prosecutors said, turned up the two suitcases filled with a substance that later testing showed was marijuana. Prosecutors said it belonged to the two men.
Testimony from three Mexican witnesses at the scene—people who said they didn't know the Americans—contradicted the army's version of events.
José Antonio Bujanda, 21, told the court on Feb. 26 that he saw soldiers pull over Messrs. Huckabee and Quijas while he was washing windows of cars lined up to cross the bridge into Texas. He said he saw soldiers plant the suitcases in Mr. Huckabee's gray Dodge Ram.
"The two soldiers went to their own truck. I saw them take out two suitcases, then put them in the gray truck," he said.
Abraham Antero Torres, a 19-year-old candy seller, testified that he saw the same. "The military men that were behind took out two black traveler's suitcases and put them into the Ram, and that was it," he said.
A third witness, Fernando Monsiváis, another window washer, told the court: "The soldiers put the suitcases in the truck, the young men's truck."
Mr. Bujanda was shot and killed in front of his home by an unknown assailant on July 2. Attempts to reach Messrs. Torres and Monsiváis to comment were unsuccessful.
Alejandro Dominguez, a fingerprint expert hired by Mr. Huckabee's family, testified in March that the marijuana packages showed no signs of his fingerprints.
Court transcripts show a contradiction between when the Americans say they were arrested, at 6:40 p.m. on the road, and the official military account, which puts the time three hours later in a parking lot alongside the road. Under the military's timeline, the pair were arrested, taken to the base, then immediately taken to civil authorities, as Mexican law requires, leaving no time for lengthy interrogation.
A record of Mr. Huckabee's cellphone calls that evening, provided by his family, appears consistent with his account. The bill shows calls made throughout the day, ending at 6:38 p.m., minutes before he says he was arrested.
Mr. de la Rosa, the ombudsman of the state human-rights office in Ciudad Juárez, offers one theory about why the truck was stopped. A Mexican relative of Mr. Quijas whose name is similar, he says, is believed to be involved in the drug trade in town. Mr. de la Rosa speculates that the arrest may have been a case of mistaken identity. Mr. Quijas, who says he doesn't know his relative well, says that when he arrived at the jail, other inmates confused him with the relative.
Mr. de la Rosa says that if the soldiers confused Mr. Quijas with his relative, they wouldn't necessarily be inclined to turn him loose once they discovered his true identity. Winning a conviction, he says, would undermine potential complaints from the two men about abuse.
In its statement, the military said there was no confusion over the men's identities.
As they await a verdict, the two Americans share a cell with four other prisoners on the second floor of the Ciudad Juárez Center for Social Readaptation. The crowded facility houses some dangerous men. In June, three prison employees were shot by gang members.
Mr. Huckabee says defending himself in a foreign land hasn't been easy. A translator recruited for one hearing this spring, according to the transcript, said: "I don't speak English very well." The hearing continued.
Mr. Huckabee has been through five defense lawyers, none of whom speaks English. One lawyer who reviewed the case said recently he believed that crimes result from "demons entering the body and taking control, as Paul says in the Bible." One of his lawyers was shot and wounded in May, while exiting the prosecutor's offices.
—José de Córdoba contributed to this article.
Write to Nicholas Casey at firstname.lastname@example.org