Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Sharia 101
on: November 06, 2008, 04:14:00 AM
Here's an article about it:http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1081214/Somali-girl-pleaded-mercy-Islamists-stoned-death-raped.html?ITO=1490
Somali girl 'pleaded for mercy' before Islamists stoned her to death for being raped
By David Williams
Last updated at 8:00 AM on 05th November 2008
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A girl of 13 begged for mercy moments before a mob buried her up to her shoulders and stoned her to death, it was claimed yesterday. The Somalian youngster is said to have pleaded 'Don't kill me, don't kill me' before her horrific execution in front of a 1,000-strong crowd. A boy is thought to have been shot dead amid the appalling scenes inside a football stadium in Kismayu, a rebel-held port.
An armed soldier guards a crowd in Kismayo, Somalia, which is currently ruled by an Islamist militia (file picture). Amnesty International has said that a 13-year-old girl, who had been raped, was stoned to death there. According to Amnesty International, the girl was 13 and had been raped by three men.
Officials say she was 23 and had confessed adultery before an Islamic court. The stoning, which took place on October 28, is the first public killing in war-torn Somalia for two years. Convicting a girl of 13 for adultery would be illegal under sharia law but the authorities said she had lied about her age. Print and radio journalists who were allowed to attend the execution put her age at 23.
Amnesty and Unicef, the UN children's agency, said that the girl, identified as Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow, was raped while travelling to see a relative in Mogadishu, the Somalian capital. Her family is said to have tried to report the crime to the militia who control Kismayu, only for Aisha to be arrested and accused of adultery. None of the men she accused of rape was detained.
David Copeman, Amnesty's Somalia campaigner, said: 'This was not justice, nor was it an execution. This child suffered an horrendous death at the behest of the armed opposition groups who currently control Kismayu. This killing is yet another human rights abuse committed by the combatants in Somalia and again demonstrates the importance of international action to investigate and document such abuses, through an international commission of inquiry.'
Amnesty said partway through the stoning nurses checked whether Aisha was still alive. They pulled her body out of the ground to ascertain she was still breathing before the stoning continued.
A Unicef statement said: 'She sought protection from the authorities, who then accused her of adultery and sentenced her to death. A child was victimised twice - first by the perpetrators of the rape and then by those responsible for administering justice.'
The agency said the incident highlighted the vulnerability of girls and women in Somalia, which has suffered civil conflict for the past 17 years. In the latest cycle, Islamist rebels are fighting the government and their backers in the Ethiopian military.
A witness told the BBC the woman had begged for her life and had been crying as she was forced into the hole in the ground. He said the girl had asked the Islamic administration in Kismayo: 'What do you want from me?'
They replied : 'We will do what Allah has instructed us.'
She said: 'I'm not going, I'm not going. Don't kill me, don't kill me.'
The witness added: 'A few minutes later more than 50 men tried to stone her.'
He said no one tried to stop the Islamist officials, who were armed.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Friedman
on: November 05, 2008, 03:02:20 PM
November 5, 2008
By George Friedman
Related Special Topic Page
The 2008 U.S. Presidential Race
Barack Obama has been elected president of the United States by a large majority in the Electoral College. The Democrats have dramatically increased their control of Congress, increasing the number of seats they hold in the House of Representatives and moving close to the point where — with a few Republican defections — they can have veto-proof control of the Senate. Given the age of some Supreme Court justices, Obama might well have the opportunity to appoint at least one and possibly two new justices. He will begin as one of the most powerful presidents in a long while.
Truly extraordinary were the celebrations held around the world upon Obama’s victory. They affirm the global expectations Obama has raised — and reveal that the United States must be more important to Europeans than the latter like to admit. (We can’t imagine late-night vigils in the United States over a French election.)
Obama is an extraordinary rhetorician, and as Aristotle pointed out, rhetoric is one of the foundations of political power. Rhetoric has raised him to the presidency, along with the tremendous unpopularity of his predecessor and a financial crisis that took a tied campaign and gave Obama a lead he carefully nurtured to victory. So, as with all politicians, his victory was a matter of rhetoric and, according to Machiavelli, luck. Obama had both, but now the question is whether he has Machiavelli’s virtue in full by possessing the ability to exercise power. This last element is what governing is about, and it is what will determine if his presidency succeeds.
Embedded in his tremendous victory is a single weakness: Obama won the popular vote by a fairly narrow margin, about 52 percent of the vote. That means that almost as many people voted against him as voted for him.
Obama’s Agenda vs. Expanding His Base
U.S. President George W. Bush demonstrated that the inability to understand the uses and limits of power can crush a presidency very quickly. The enormous enthusiasm of Obama’s followers could conceal how he — like Bush — is governing a deeply, and nearly evenly, divided country. Obama’s first test will be simple: Can he maintain the devotion of his followers while increasing his political base? Or will he believe, as Bush and Cheney did, that he can govern without concern for the other half of the country because he controls the presidency and Congress, as Bush and Cheney did in 2001? Presidents are elected by electoral votes, but they govern through public support.
Obama and his supporters will say there is no danger of a repeat of Bush — who believed he could carry out his agenda and build his political base at the same time, but couldn’t. Building a political base requires modifying one’s agenda. But when you start modifying your agenda, when you become pragmatic, you start to lose your supporters. If Obama had won with 60 percent of the popular vote, this would not be as pressing a question. But he barely won by more than Bush in 2004. Now, we will find out if Obama is as skillful a president as he was a candidate.
Obama will soon face the problem of beginning to disappoint people all over the world, a problem built into his job. The first disappointments will be minor. There are thousands of people hoping for appointments, some to Cabinet positions, others to the White House, others to federal agencies. Many will get something, but few will get as much as they hoped for. Some will feel betrayed and become bitter. During the transition process, the disappointed office seeker — an institution in American politics — will start leaking on background to whatever reporters are available. This will strike a small, discordant note; creating no serious problems, but serving as a harbinger of things to come.
Later, Obama will be sworn in. He will give a memorable, perhaps historic speech at his inauguration. There will be great expectations about him in the country and around the world. He will enjoy the traditional presidential honeymoon, during which all but his bitterest enemies will give him the benefit of the doubt. The press initially will adore him, but will begin writing stories about all the positions he hasn’t filled, the mistakes he made in the vetting process and so on. And then, sometime in March or April, things will get interesting.
Iran and a U.S. Withdrawal From Iraq
Obama has promised to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq, where he does not intend to leave any residual force. If he follows that course, he will open the door for the Iranians. Iran’s primary national security interest is containing or dominating Iraq, with which Iran fought a long war. If the United States remains in Iraq, the Iranians will be forced to accept a neutral government in Iraq. A U.S. withdrawal will pave the way for the Iranians to use Iraqi proxies to create, at a minimum, an Iraqi government more heavily influenced by Iran.
Apart from upsetting Sunni and Kurdish allies of the United States in Iraq, the Iranian ascendancy in Iraq will disturb some major American allies — particularly the Saudis, who fear Iranian power. The United States can’t afford a scenario under which Iranian power is projected into the Saudi oil fields. While that might be an unlikely scenario, it carries catastrophic consequences. The Jordanians and possibly the Turks, also American allies, will pressure Obama not simply to withdraw. And, of course, the Israelis will want the United States to remain in place to block Iranian expansion. Resisting a coalition of Saudis and Israelis will not be easy.
This will be the point where Obama’s pledge to talk to the Iranians will become crucial. If he simply withdraws from Iraq without a solid understanding with Iran, the entire American coalition in the region will come apart. Obama has pledged to build coalitions, something that will be difficult in the Middle East if he withdraws from Iraq without ironclad Iranian guarantees. He therefore will talk to the Iranians. But what can Obama offer the Iranians that would induce them to forego their primary national security interest? It is difficult to imagine a U.S.-Iranian deal that is both mutually beneficial and enforceable.
Obama will then be forced to make a decision. He can withdraw from Iraq and suffer the geopolitical consequences while coming under fire from the substantial political right in the United States that he needs at least in part to bring into his coalition. Or, he can retain some force in Iraq, thereby disappointing his supporters. If he is clumsy, he could wind up under attack from the right for negotiating with the Iranians and from his own supporters for not withdrawing all U.S. forces from Iraq. His skills in foreign policy and domestic politics will be tested on this core question, and he undoubtedly will disappoint many.
The Afghan Dilemma
Obama will need to address Afghanistan next. He has said that this is the real war, and that he will ask U.S. allies to join him in the effort. This means he will go to the Europeans and NATO, as he has said he will do. The Europeans are delighted with Obama’s victory because they feel Obama will consult them and stop making demands of them. But demands are precisely what he will bring the Europeans. In particular, he will want the Europeans to provide more forces for Afghanistan.
Many European countries will be inclined to provide some support, if for no other reason than to show that they are prepared to work with Obama. But European public opinion is not about to support a major deployment in Afghanistan, and the Europeans don’t have the force to deploy there anyway. In fact, as the global financial crisis begins to have a more dire impact in Europe than in the United States, many European countries are actively reducing their deployments in Afghanistan to save money. Expanding operations is the last thing on European minds.
Obama’s Afghan solution of building a coalition centered on the Europeans will thus meet a divided Europe with little inclination to send troops and with few troops to send in any event. That will force him into a confrontation with the Europeans in spring 2009, and then into a decision. The United States and its allies collectively lack the force to stabilize Afghanistan and defeat the Taliban. They certainly lack the force to make a significant move into Pakistan — something Obama has floated on several occasions that might be a good idea if force were in fact available.
He will have to make a hard decision on Afghanistan. Obama can continue the war as it is currently being fought, without hope of anything but a long holding action, but this risks defining his presidency around a hopeless war. He can choose to withdraw, in effect reinstating the Taliban, going back on his commitment and drawing heavy fire from the right. Or he can do what we have suggested is the inevitable outcome, namely, negotiate — and reach a political accord — with the Taliban. Unlike Bush, however, withdrawal or negotiation with the Taliban will increase the pressure on Obama from the right. And if this is coupled with a decision to delay withdrawal from Iraq, Obama’s own supporters will become restive. His 52 percent Election Day support could deteriorate with remarkable speed.
The Russian Question
At the same time, Obama will face the Russian question. The morning after Obama’s election, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev announced that Russia was deploying missiles in its European exclave of Kaliningrad in response to the U.S. deployment of ballistic missile defense systems in Poland. Obama opposed the Russians on their August intervention in Georgia, but he has never enunciated a clear Russia policy. We expect Ukraine will have shifted its political alignment toward Russia, and Moscow will be rapidly moving to create a sphere of influence before Obama can bring his attention — and U.S. power — to bear.
Obama will again turn to the Europeans to create a coalition to resist the Russians. But the Europeans will again be divided. The Germans can’t afford to alienate the Russians because of German energy dependence on Russia and because Germany does not want to fight another Cold War. The British and French may be more inclined to address the question, but certainly not to the point of resurrecting NATO as a major military force. The Russians will be prepared to talk, and will want to talk a great deal, all the while pursuing their own national interest of increasing their power in what they call their “near abroad.”
Obama will have many options on domestic policy given his majorities in Congress. But his Achilles’ heel, as it was for Bush and for many presidents, will be foreign policy. He has made what appear to be three guarantees. First, he will withdraw from Iraq. Second, he will focus on Afghanistan. Third, he will oppose Russian expansionism. To deliver on the first promise, he must deal with the Iranians. To deliver on the second, he must deal with the Taliban. To deliver on the third, he must deal with the Europeans.
Global Finance and the European Problem
The Europeans will pose another critical problem, as they want a second Bretton Woods agreement. Some European states appear to desire a set of international regulations for the financial system. There are three problems with this.
First, unless Obama wants to change course dramatically, the U.S. and European positions differ over the degree to which governments will regulate interbank transactions. The Europeans want much more intrusion than the Americans. They are far less averse to direct government controls than the Americans have been. Obama has the power to shift American policy, but doing that will make it harder to expand his base.
Second, the creation of an international regulatory body that has authority over American banks would create a system where U.S. financial management was subordinated to European financial management.
And third, the Europeans themselves have no common understanding of things. Obama could thus quickly be drawn into complex EU policy issues that could tie his hands in the United States. These could quickly turn into painful negotiations, in which Obama’s allure to the Europeans will evaporate.
One of the foundations of Obama’s foreign policy — and one of the reasons the Europeans have celebrated his election — was the perception that Obama is prepared to work closely with the Europeans. He is in fact prepared to do so, but his problem will be the same one Bush had: The Europeans are in no position to give the things that Obama will need from them — namely, troops, a revived NATO to confront the Russians and a global financial system that doesn’t subordinate American financial authority to an international bureaucracy.
The Hard Road Ahead
Like any politician, Obama will face the challenge of having made a set of promises that are not mutually supportive. Much of his challenge boils down to problems that he needs to solve and that he wants European help on, but the Europeans are not prepared to provide the type and amount of help he needs. This, plus the fact that a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq requires an agreement with Iran — something hard to imagine without a continued U.S. presence in Iraq — gives Obama a difficult road to move on.
As with all American presidents (who face midterm elections with astonishing speed), Obama’s foreign policy moves will be framed by his political support. Institutionally, he will be powerful. In terms of popular support, he begins knowing that almost half the country voted against him, and that he must increase his base. He must exploit the honeymoon period, when his support will expand, to bring another 5 percent or 10 percent of the public into his coalition. These people voted against him; now he needs to convince them to support him. But these are precisely the people who would regard talks with the Taliban or Iran with deep distrust. And if negotiations with the Iranians cause him to keep forces in Iraq, he will alienate his base without necessarily winning over his opponents.
And there is always the unknown. There could be a terrorist attack, the Russians could start pressuring the Baltic states, the Mexican situation could deteriorate. The unknown by definition cannot be anticipated. And many foreign leaders know it takes an administration months to settle in, something some will try to take advantage of. On top of that, there is now nearly a three-month window in which the old president is not yet out and the new president not yet in.
Obama must deal with extraordinarily difficult foreign policy issues in the context of an alliance failing not because of rough behavior among friends but because the allies’ interests have diverged. He must deal with this in the context of foreign policy positions difficult to sustain and reconcile, all against the backdrop of almost half an electorate that voted against him versus supporters who have enormous hopes vested in him. Obama knows all of this, of course, as he indicated in his victory speech.
We will now find out if Obama understands the exercise of political power as well as he understands the pursuit of that power. You really can’t know that until after the fact. There is no reason to think he can’t finesse these problems. Doing so will take cunning, trickery and the ability to make his supporters forget the promises he made while keeping their support. It will also require the ability to make some of his opponents embrace him despite the path he will have to take. In other words, he will have to be cunning and ruthless without appearing to be cunning and ruthless. That’s what successful presidents do.
In the meantime, he should enjoy the transition. It’s frequently the best part of a presidency.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Gender issues thread
on: November 05, 2008, 01:20:50 PM
Alrighty then, moving right along, , , ,
It appears that here in California we have rolled back the State Supreme Court's effort to impose gay marriage. If I have it correctly, the initiative that passed is an amendment to the CA Consitution and as such we are safe from further judicial activism.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / PD WSJ
on: November 05, 2008, 11:48:59 AM
Obama's Miracle: He Makes Pollsters Look Good for a Change
Pollsters ended up not having a bad Election Night in most races. Scott Rasmussen of Rasmussen Reports notes that his final daily tracking survey had Barack Obama leading John McCain by 52% to 46%, which is exactly where the actual results stand this morning.
Mr. Rasmussen says the race was "basically decided in those two weeks in September when the financial markets melted down." The crisis enabled Mr. Obama to break out of his tie with Mr. McCain and open up a five-point lead. "He then hit between 50% of the vote and 52% of the vote for the entire 40-day period before the Election," Mr. Rasmussen tells me. "As for McCain, his number stayed between 44% and 47% on each and every one of the campaign's last 40 days."
The financial meltdown apparently eroded voter confidence in Republicans in general and prompted many to support Mr. Obama on "faith" that he represented the needed change. "Obama's successful finish came out of the fact he was able to hold his lead by appearing smooth, calm and disciplined," says Mr. Rasmussen. In other words, Mr. Obama was able to establish a comfort level with enough Americans to guarantee him an historic win.
-- John Fund
The Tournament of Blame
What were the biggest mistakes of the McCain campaign? Most everyone will cite the candidate's sudden decision during September's financial crisis to suspend his campaign and rush to Washington, D.C., where he proved an ineffective stage manager for Congressional Republicans leery of the first bailout package.
A survey of Republican strategists and officials yielded the following runner-up contenders for worst campaign failure:
1) Sarah Palin's handling by the McCain staff was abysmal, even if all the stories about her alleged flightiness were true. She was carefully held back from media interviews, then made her debut in a shaky interview with ABC's Charlie Gibson. Then it was decided to have her sit down next with CBS's Katie Couric, whose network was given freedom to edit and promote the interview in such a way as to cause her maximum embarrassment.
2) The McCain campaign never had an effective get-out-the-vote effort. When Republican National Committee officials met with McCain staffmembers in May, they were shocked that McCain aides had little interest in the RNC's vaunted voter contact list. McCain representatives assured RNC officials that the election wouldn't be won with Republicans, but with independents and moderates.
In the end, the McCain campaign stripped away funding for its get-out-the-vote efforts in the key battleground state of Pennsylvania and replaced them with high-cost TV ads. The results were not good. Mr. Obama romped to a solid 55% victory in the Keystone State.
3) John McCain himself took off the table the option of airing TV ads critical of Mr. Obama's association with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Former Democratic consultants Dick Morris and Bob Beckel both agree that Mr. McCain unwisely and artificially circumscribed his campaign. "The Wright issue could have been framed as a judgment issue rather than as a racial issue," Mr. Beckel told me. "But they boxed themselves in only to discover that by comparison with 2004, there were few if any outside groups running independent ad campaigns critical of Mr. Obama's history and record."
It's not uncommon for losing campaigns quickly to descend into finger-pointing and recriminations once the election results are in. But some on the McCain campaign staff seem more eager than most to settle scores. I received at least three phone calls last night from McCain staffers who seemed to want to use me as a conduit for their complaints about the campaign.
Campaigns come and go, but political reputations in Washington have to be protected at all costs.
-- John Fund
Is it possible only two Senate Republican incumbents lost seats yesterday, keeping Democrats well short of a filibuster-proof 60? Three others are still in danger as votes are counted or recounted. It may have been a crummy year to be a Republican but not as crummy as many had feared.
Not much else besides an "R" bound together the GOP senators among yesterday's losers and near losers. Definitely out of office are North Carolina's Elizabeth Dole (former Reagan cabinet secretary) and New Hampshire's John Sununu (young reformer). Clinging to narrow leads are Alaska's Ted Stevens (pork king), Minnesota's Norm Coleman (middle-of-the-roader) and Oregon's Gordon Smith (ditto).
The losers had the misfortune of hailing from states where the anti-GOP mood was at its highest. New Hampshire sported some of the lowest Bush approval ratings in the country. North Carolina headed the list of red states that appeared ready to go blue. Yet the biggest news of the night may be the two GOPers who are hanging on in Oregon and Minnesota, states John McCain lost by double digits. The ticket-splitting that nonetheless apparently kept GOP Senators Smith and Coleman in the game is a glimmer of hope in a year when so many voters were willing to repudiate Republicans indiscriminately. In New Hampshire, Mr. Sununu was among the few warning against Fannie and Freddie years ago, trying to head off the financial crisis that ultimately came. He's now history.
Most of the Democratic challengers in these races spent far more time blaming their opponents for today's problems than promoting their own policies -- making it hard to extract a theme from their successes and near successes. Former New Hampshire Governor Jeanne Shaheen largely won her race by tying Mr. Sununu to President Bush. North Carolina's Kay Hagen spent most of her race complaining that Mrs. Dole hadn't spent more time in the state. Anchorage mayor Mark Begich was running against a senator who just last week was convicted of seven felony charges. In Minnesota, Al Franken's entire shtick is attack dog, not policy wonk.
Lots of Democrats yesterday enjoyed a slick ride on Mr. Obama's coattails. His get-out-the-vote operations were nothing short of extraordinary. A flood of new registrations and high turnout resulted in a boost all the way down the ticket. Democrats, for instance, signed up 137,000 new voters (compared with 50,000 for the GOP) in North Carolina this cycle. Turnout was expected to hit 75% in the state.
All the more impressive, then, is that GOP Senators in Oregon and Minnesota may live to fight another day because even Obama voters apparently decided Mr. Obama should have a loyal opposition looking over his shoulder.
-- Kim Strassel
Return of the Newt
Sixteen years ago, Republicans were in a position as dire as today's when Congressman Newt Gingrich assumed the mantle of leader of the opposition. Two years later Republicans won one of their biggest landslide victories in half a century. No wonder we're hearing that Republican leaders are trying to recruit Newt back as a new head of the Republican National Committee.
Other names under consideration include former Maryland Lt. Governor Michael Steele, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and Dick Armey of Texas, the former House Majority Leader.
But Mr. Gingrich, the Speaker of the House from 1995 to 1998, is the one who can energize the party, some RNC committee members are saying. One is Rep. Jack Kingston, who says: "If Newt assumed that role of RNC chair, he would be at home with the position. He has served before during dark and dreary times" for the party.
"Newt has baggage to be sure," adds another longtime committee member, "but he is a strategic political thinker par excellence." Mr. Gingrich was the mastermind behind the Contract with America that helped win the first Republican House majority in 40 years. Shawn Steel, an RNC member from California, says: "Newt is one of the few people who knows how to be an effective party builder, and to unify the party around conservative ideas. He wakes every morning thinking about how he can put the hurt to the other team."
We're told Mr. Gingrich would be interested in the job, though he's pulling down a big income with his various enterprises and his association with various think tanks. Newt is also said still to be a master fundraiser with conservatives, a big asset given the party's depleted coffers. Most importantly, "one of the problems McCain and George Bush both have is that they are not good speakers," says Mr. Kingston. "Obviously, Mr. Obama is. And I think Newt could go head to head with him."
-- Stephen Moore
Words, More Words and History
Barack Obama's victory speech last night undoubtedly went through many drafts and was labored over long and hard -- and it sounded like it. For the first time, his eloquence seemed to become a barrier erected between himself and the world. With his first State of the Union address just weeks away, let's hope he learns to say simply and clearly that he wants a prosperous economy, disciplined government and a sustainable system for financing the country's health care consumption and retirement lifestyles.
John McCain's concession speech certainly was heavily worked-over too -- and yet didn't sound written at all. It sounded like the Mr. McCain we've all come to know directly revealing what we've all come to know about him. Mr. Obama's speechwriters should take note.
As for the third and invisible player in last night's drama, President Bush now heads for the history books, whose opinion he claims not to worry about. Whatever it might be, the "verdict of history" is hardly infallible and doesn't require or deserve universal assent. That said, if Harry Truman and Woodrow Wilson can recruit legions of admirers among subsequent historians, Mr. Bush will too -- and then some. After all, he doesn't bequeath his successor a futile stalemate in Iraq. He didn't win the war only to lose the peace. His military performance looks like genius compared to the Korean near-disasters of Pusan and Yalu. What's more, if the next president or two squander his success in Iraq, he's virtually guaranteed a place in the pantheon -- because historians are usually friendly to the visionary risktaker whose legacy is undermined by mere politicians.
-- Holman W. Jenkins Jr.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Mexico-US matters
on: November 05, 2008, 10:54:39 AM
October 18, 2008 | 1555 GMT
The security situation in Mexico has been dire for some time. Now the global financial crisis threatens to push the country into uncharted territory as the government struggles to prop up the economy while fighting a war against some of the wealthiest and most organized criminals in the world.
The Mexican government issued $3.9 billion in guarantees for Mexican commercial paper Oct. 17, Reuters reported. The move follows failed attempts by the Mexican cement company Cemex and Mexican units of American automakers to issue some $76 million in bonds. These developments are a sign of troubled times as Mexico feels the effects of the global financial crisis. The Mexican government had already injected $8.3 billion into the markets to prop up the peso. Putting all this money forward will strain an already-tortured government budget that is dependent on a failing oil industry and must support a critical war against drug cartels.
The most vulnerable aspect of the Mexican economy is its exposure to the declining U.S. market — particularly in Mexico’s export sector. Over 80 percent of Mexico’s exports go to the United States, and the emerging U.S. recession is sure to throw this trade relationship into chaos.
Mexico is also heavily linked to the U.S. economy through remittances. Mexicans working in the United States send approximately $24.3 billion per year back home — or about 3 percent of the gross domestic product. Declines in reported remittance rates have already been reported throughout Central American states, which rely heavily on these wealth transfers. As the U.S. economy shrinks, and competition for low-wage positions increases, illegal immigrants will be pushed out of the job market, and remittances to Mexico will decline even further.
Finally, Mexico is highly exposed to the financial crisis because of the shrinking pool of global credit and the growing number of nervous investors. On the one hand, this has caused a rapid devaluation of the Mexican peso as investors rapidly pull capital from third-world markets and dump it into safer markets (i.e., the U.S. dollar). On the other hand, we have seen the results of a rapidly shrinking pool of international credit as wealth has disappeared, banks have stopped lending and investors have panicked.
This has manifested itself in Cemex’s inability to issue corporate paper, which has been a serious cause for concern in Mexican business circles. Mexico’s banks are particularly vulnerable to shrinking global capital. About 80 percent of its banking sector is controlled by foreign entities, which means that 80 percent of domestic credit is subject to the whims of the international credit pool. Any serious threat to such a large portion of the banking sector could cause a collapse of the banking system.
But the economic situation is not the only threat to Mexico’s stability. Mexico is deeply embroiled in a war against violent drug cartels that control substantial portions of the country. The death toll in 2008 alone has risen to over 3,100 and appears likely to hit 4,000 by the end of the year. And the war is not free. The government’s ability to respond effectively to an economic crisis while funding a massive military and law enforcement effort is low — and the scarcity of funds could loosen public support for the cartel war as people look to solve their basic economic needs.
Moreover, a downturn in the economy will only exacerbate the security situation in Mexico. As jobs in the United States become scarce, many of the illegal Mexican migrant laborers there will be left jobless. Many will return to Mexico, where employment opportunities are no better. There is already some anecdotal evidence that reverse illegal migration into Mexico has become much more noticeable. The return to Mexico of thousands of unemployed young workers will flood the Mexican labor market.
There is no question that increased poverty and unemployment will contribute to a worsening security situation in Mexico. Ordinary criminal activities such as theft will likely increase, which could boost organized crime. Options in the legitimate economy will be few, but the underground economy — in drugs or other inelastic commodities — could flourish during a downturn. Indeed, a declining economy will make the cartels the only game in town, and rising unemployment will provide them with an excellent recruiting opportunity.
November 5, 2008 | 0332 GMT
Mexican Interior Secretary Juan Camilo Mourino died Nov. 4 when the plane he was traveling in crashed three minutes before it was scheduled to land at the Mexico City International Airport, according to an official statement.
The LearJet 45 crashed near a major intersection in the capital, and reportedly occurred when the plane was on a normal approach path to the airport, when it should have been flying at an altitude of almost 1,000 feet. Also reported dead in the crash is the former director of federal organized crime investigations, Jose Luis Santiago Vasconcelos. The plane was traveling from San Luis Potosi state, where Mourino had attended the signing of a security agreement between several states. CNN and TV Azteca reported that eyewitnesses said the plane exploded in midair, but this has not been confirmed.
It is unclear at this point what caused the crash. El Universal has reported that this same plane had a mechanical problem in 2005; however, this says little, since the plane appears to have been functioning over the past three years. Weather seems to have played no role in the accident. While mechanical failure or pilot error are likely causes, it is important to consider the possibility that foul play was involved, especially considering the escalating violence in Mexico’s war against the country’s drug cartels. Indeed, the Mexican army appears to be examining the potential for sabotage, as it reportedly has secured the San Luis Potosi airport where the flight originated and has begun an investigation.
If this crash does turn out to have been an act of sabotage carried out by one of the cartels, the implications of such an attack would be tremendous. If (and we do emphasize if here) the cartels are behind this, such an attack would be a direct hit against Mexico’s central government. The government would be forced to respond, most likely by drawing in troops from the border regions where the army is currently fighting the cartels to the interior to secure Mexico and prevent it from becoming a failed state. Also, considering Mexico’s economic situation, Mexico City would be stuck trying to prevent insolvency while trying to provide security. With only so many resources, Mexico would have to make some hard decisions indeed.
This situation will need to be monitored to determine the cause of the crash. Signs that would indicate the Mexican government believes the plane was sabotaged are the shutting down of air traffic and the ordering of drastic troop redeployments.
Tell Stratfor What You Think
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Coming Clusterfcuk
on: November 05, 2008, 10:53:25 AM
Geopolitical Diary: President-Elect Barack Obama
November 5, 2008 | 0509 GMT
Barack Obama was elected president of the United States on Tuesday. The popular vote gave him a solid majority, but nowhere near a landslide. His electoral majority was decisive. Most significant of the night, the Democrats now control both houses of Congress and in the Senate are close to — but not quite at — a veto-proof majority. They decisively control two branches of government. Indeed, it is likely that they will be able to appoint one or even two justices to the Supreme Court in the next four years, controlling that as well. Obama will have more control of the federal government on his first day in office than most presidents ever achieve in their entire tenure.
The crucial question will be whether it makes a difference. The shift from a Bush presidency to an Obama presidency will be a laboratory for testing one of Stratfor’s key contentions, which is that ideology and personalities are of secondary importance to the external forces that limit, shape and constrain a leader’s options. The change between the government of the United States elected in 2004 and the government that will take power in January is as dramatic a shift in personalities and ideologies as is likely in the American system. The issue will be how much room for maneuver Obama will actually have, particularly in foreign policy.
Consider: Obama has pledged to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq, although his time frame is unclear. If he does withdraw them, he will have to deal with Iranians sooner rather than later, as they will want to move into any power vacuum left in Iraq. If the Iraqi government is unable to govern, or parts of it are under Iranian influence, obviously Iranian influence in Iraq will surge. This of course will deeply concern Saudi Arabia, which has been frightened of Iranian power since the Iranian revolution. Obama will face the choice of either leaving the Saudis to their own devices or containing the Iranians.
The strategy he has said he would follow would be to negotiate with the Iranians. He would have to reach an understanding with them that would create a neutral Iraqi government and allow the United States to withdraw, yet have a credible guarantee from Iran to respect Iraqi neutrality and keep it as a buffer zone. What can the United States offer Iran that matches the importance of Iraq to them?
That will be the point at which Obama will first show whether he can carve a new path or whether he will be trapped in the same reality the Bush administration faces. Unless he can reach an understanding with the Iranians, he cannot simply withdraw. We cannot imagine an offer to Iran that would cause Tehran to give up the goal of the domination of Iraq. But that is the laboratory experiment: Can Obama craft a solution that others can’t see? If he can, then his withdrawal plan can be executed. If he can’t, then it can only be executed at a huge potential cost prior to the next presidential election — and popularity among presidents is fleeting. Obama has won the presidency and therefore has shown himself to be a master politician. He does not want to create a disaster and lose the next election. Therefore, the question is: What will he do to fulfill the centerpiece pledge of his foreign policy?
This is not a trick question, and the least important matter is whether Stratfor’s methodology is validated or not. What is important is that Obama, having won the election, will now have to face a range of foreign policy issues that will challenge his ideology and policies, and where his personality will matter little. He will be dealing with people like Vladimir Putin, Hu Jintao and Angela Merkel, none of whom are swayed by charisma and all of whom govern countries with interests very different than those of the United States.
When policies encounter realities, harsh things happen to presidents. Most presidents are worn down by them. Some accommodate themselves. A few — a Lincoln or a Franklin Delano Roosevelt — find opportunities that no one else can quite see. The first test for Obama will be Iraq, to find an exit that isn’t disastrous but fulfills his commitments. We don’t see the path. It will be interesting to see if Obama can invent one — not only on Iraq but on a range of foreign policy issues that he’s addressed.
Tell Stratfor What You Think
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The 2008 Presidential Race
on: November 05, 2008, 10:29:05 AM
Bringing this over from the Rant thread:
I think these comments pretty sharp:
" My question, did McCain fight Republicans when they were right or did he fight them when they were wrong?
His biggest fights were: Campaign finance reform - a HORRIBLE law that led to his own demise. Opposing Bush tax cuts - wrong by his own admission. Opposing drilling in ANWR - political fodder, had nothing to do with the environment or the caribou and just conceded a huge symbolic point to the opposition. Immigration - caved on principle and lawfulness just to pander to a totally unappreciative audience. Supported cap and trade - don't get me started, the best explanation was Obama's saying he looked forward to bankrupting the clean coal industry and McCain did not and could not draw a distinction! My outlets are connected to coal and no one is building nuclear or anything else to replace it. McCain conceded the issue before the general election began. Torture - McCain has credibility here, but drew blurry lines impugning the Americans and hurting the war effort. Spending - I know he opposes earmarks, a minor item, but why didn't he scream bloody murder as Republicans poured more and more money into ALL spending. If he did I didn't hear it. And for all his fighting with his own party, he failed to pin blame for the subprime industry or any other else on his opponents. He's just too nice of a guy, so he let's Bush and the republicans take full blame with his silence. (Skipping over some things he did right - this is a rant)
"McCain fought Republicans hard but if he had won he helped in leaving fewer Republicans around to support him. Zero coattails even in losing. Of course a McCain presidency would also have been a failure with the Pelosi-Reid congress setting most of the agenda.
"One example I posted previously of McCain hurting Republicans was our other senator from MN, Amy Klobuchar, a political clone of Hillary without all the charisma. Every time her opponent tried to paint her as too liberal for MN she managed to point out that she had John McCain on her side of a vote or issue, opposing tax cuts, drilling, etc."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Our Founding Fathers:
on: November 05, 2008, 08:47:55 AM
"Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm."
--James Madison, Federalist No. 10
"I acknowledge, in the ordinary course of government, that the
exposition of the laws and Constitution devolves upon the judicial.
But I beg to know upon what principle it can be contended that
any one department draws from the Constitution greater powers
than another in marking out the limits of the powers of the
-- James Madison (speech in the Congress of the United States,
17 June 1789)
Reference: Original Intent, Barton (264); original The Debates
and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States, vol. 1 (520)
"Let each citizen remember at the moment he is offering his vote that he is not making a present or a compliment to please an individual -- or at least that he ought not so to do; but that he is executing one of the most solemn trusts in human society for which he is accountable to God and his country." --Samuel Adams
"Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the
consent of the governed."
Declaration of Independence, 4 July 1776
Reference: The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (Memorial Edition), Lipscomb and
Bergh, eds., 1:29.
"We should never despair, our Situation before has been unpromising and has changed for the better, so I trust, it will again. If new difficulties arise, we must only put forth new Exertions and proportion our Efforts to the exigency of the times." --George Washington
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ
on: November 05, 2008, 08:44:05 AM
At a time when global financial risks seem larger by the day, there's one risk that's receding: tension across the Taiwan Strait.
Yesterday China and Taiwan agreed to open new air, sea and postal links. This establishes the hitherto elusive "three links" -- direct trade, transport and mail -- that the two governments have been talking about for years. They also agreed to cooperate on food safety regulation as well as to hold further talks every six months, alternating between Beijing and Taipei.
This is a détente worth celebrating. The direct sea links alone will cut shipping costs by around $36 million a year, according to estimates from Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council. This is no small change: More than 40% of Taiwanese exports went to China in 2007, and two-way trade was $130.2 billion -- yet the trade and the traders had to travel through a third country, usually Hong Kong. The number of direct charter flights will increase to 108 per week from 36, and new air routes will cut hours off flying times.
But the greatest benefit is the political truce yesterday's deal signals. Although the People's Republic has never ruled the island, China has claimed Taiwan as an integral part of its territory since 1949 and fears doing anything that might tacitly acknowledge Taiwan's independence. As recently as 1996, China fired live missiles into Taiwan's waters, and today China has more than 1,000 missiles aimed at the island.
Credit goes to Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou for smoothing the waters. Elected in March on a platform of better relations with the mainland, Mr. Ma made it clear he wanted to negotiate on cross-Strait economic, transportation and cultural links on the basis of the "1992 Consensus," under which the two sides agreed to disagree about what constitutes "China." The Chinese delegation's very presence in Taipei this week suggests negotiations on an equal footing. That's a big change.
In Opinion Journal Today
REVIEW & OUTLOOK
President-Elect ObamaRead Their LipsThe Latest Charity ShakedownChinese Strait Talk
Business World – Yes, Detroit Can Be FixedThe Tilting Yard – Conservatism Isn't Finished
I Vote No Confidence in Congress
-- Harvey GolubWe Need Sustainable Capitalism
-- Al Gore and David BloodThe Treatment of Bush Has Been a Disgrace
-- Jeffrey Scott ShapiroMr. Ma also had to overcome significant domestic hurdles to get to this point. The new agreements are not themselves controversial. But about one-third of Taiwan citizens advocate eventual independence for the island, and many of these believe that agreements with China, a country that still considers Taiwan a "renegade province," violate the spirit of Taiwan's independence. Last month, half a million protesters gathered in Taipei to voice their discontent.
It is easier for Beijing to come to the negotiating table, particularly since Mr. Ma has kept a much lower international profile than his predecessor. Beijing's policy makers are eager to promote these talks to the Chinese public as proof for their claim that Taiwan is part of China.
The next step forward may be on banking deregulation. The presidents of Chinese state-owned Industrial and Commercial Bank of China and the Bank of China are part of the official delegation in Taiwan this week. Next year China and Taiwan are expected to sign a memorandum of understanding that would allow Taiwanese banks to open branches in China. Taiwan's minister of the Mainland Affairs Council, Lai Shin-yuan, told us by telephone that more decisions will be made through channels outside the high-level talks -- for example, adding new travel destinations or more flights.
For decades, the Taiwan Strait has been a flashpoint with the potential to destabilize East Asia. Taiwan needs to maintain its defense capability in case politics changes on the mainland, but today's cooperative trend is welcome.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Vote Fraud Cop shut down
on: November 04, 2008, 09:40:16 PM
Milwaukee Puts a Vote-Fraud Cop Out of Business
Local Democrats don't take the issue seriously.By JOHN FUNDArticle
Last week Mike Sandvick, head of the Milwaukee Police Department's five-man Special Investigative Unit, was told by superiors not to send anyone to polling places on Election Day. He was also told his unit -- which wrote the book on how fraud could subvert the vote in his hometown -- would be disbanded.
"We know what to look for," he told me, "and that scares some people." In disgust, Mr. Sandvick plans to retire. (A police spokeswoman claims the unit isn't being disbanded and that any changes to the unit "aren't significant.")
In February, Mr. Sandvick's unit released a 67-page report on what it called an "illegal organized attempt to influence the outcome of (the 2004) election in the state of Wisconsin" -- a swing state whose last two presidential races were decided by less than 12,000 votes.
The report found that between 4,600 and 5,300 more votes were counted in Milwaukee than the number of voters recorded as having cast ballots. Absentee ballots were cast by people living elsewhere; ineligible felons not only voted but worked at the polls; transient college students cast improper votes; and homeless voters possibly voted more than once.
Much of the problem resulted from Wisconsin's same-day voter law, which allows anyone to show up at the polls, register and then cast a ballot. ID requirements are minimal. If someone lacks any ID, he can vote so long as someone who lives in the same city vouches for him. The report found that in 2004 a total of 1,305 "same day" voters gave information that was declared "un-enterable" or invalid by election officials.
According to the report, this loophole was abused by many out-of-state workers for the John Kerry campaign. They had "other staff members who were registered voters vouch for them by corroborating their residency."
The investigative unit believed at least 16 workers from the Kerry campaign, and two allied get-out-the-vote groups, "committed felony crimes." But local prosecutors didn't pursue them in part because of a "lack of confidence" in the abysmal record-keeping of the city's Election Commission.
Pat Curley, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett's chief of staff, told me he was very upset by the surprise release of the report. "I don't believe all of the facts are necessarily accurate," he said. Which ones? He only cited the report's interpretation of state policy on homeless voters. He denies the mayor's office had any role in disbanding the unit.
Mr. Sandvick says the problems his unit found in 2004 are "only the tip of the iceberg" of what could happen today. His unit has found out-of-state groups registering their temporary workers, a college dorm with 60 voters who aren't students, and what his unit believes are seven illegal absentee ballots.
In Opinion Journal today
REVIEW & OUTLOOK
Legal Side EffectsHugo Chávez's Bag ManGuantanamo Revelation
Global View – From 9/11 to 11/4Main Street – A Social Democrat Confronts Globalization
We Could Be in for a Lurch to the Left – Fred BarnesFive Myths About the Great Depression – Andrew B. WilsonSome Lessons of the Financial Crisis – Stephen SchwarzmanMilwaukee Puts a Vote-Fraud Cop Out of Business – John Fund"The time to stop voter fraud is prior to when the questionable ballot is mixed in with all the valid votes," he says. Former police captain Glenn Frankovis agrees: "This issue could be solved if [the police chief] would assign police officers to the polling locations as was customary about 20 years ago." But election monitors are now viewed as "intimidating" in minority precincts and have been withdrawn.
Mr. Sandvick's report concluded "the one thing that could eliminate a large percentage of the fraud" it found would be elimination of same-day voter registration (which is also in use in seven other states). It also suggested that voters present a photo ID at the polls, a requirement the U.S. Supreme Court declared constitutional this spring.
But weeks after the vote fraud report was released, Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold introduced federal legislation to mandate same-day registration in every state. He claimed the system had worked well in Wisconsin and if "we can bring more people into the process, [it] only strengthens our democracy." Democrats tell me his bill is a top priority of the new Congress.
"They say voter fraud isn't a problem," notes Mr. Sandvick, "but after this election it may be all too clear it is." Now that Mr. Sandvick is resigning from the force after a long, honorable career, let's hope someone else is allowed to follow up on the spadework he's done.
Mr. Fund is a columnist for WSJ.com.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Significant beyond ideologies
on: November 04, 2008, 04:31:35 PM
NYTimes-- of course it neglects to mention the very real possbility that hundreds of millions of BO's money came from foreigners overseas , , ,
The ’08 Campaign: Sea Change for Politics as We Know It
By ADAM NAGOURNEY
Published: November 3, 2008
The 2008 race for the White House that comes to an end on Tuesday fundamentally upended the way presidential campaigns are fought in this country, a legacy that has almost been lost with all the attention being paid to the battle between Senators John McCain and Barack Obama.
The Obama campaign’s use of the Internet to organize supporters and to reach voters has been cited as playing a large role in upending how presidential races are fought. It has rewritten the rules on how to reach voters, raise money, organize supporters, manage the news media, track and mold public opinion, and wage — and withstand — political attacks, including many carried by blogs that did not exist four years ago. It has challenged the consensus view of the American electoral battleground, suggesting that Democrats can at a minimum be competitive in states and regions that had long been Republican strongholds.
The size and makeup of the electorate could be changed because of efforts by Democrats to register and turn out new black, Hispanic and young voters. This shift may have long-lasting ramifications for what the parties do to build enduring coalitions, especially if intensive and technologically-driven voter turnout programs succeed in getting more people to the polls. Mr. McCain’s advisers expect a record-shattering turnout of 130 million people, many being brought into the political process for the first time.
“I think we’ll be analyzing this election for years as a seminal, transformative race,” said Mark McKinnon, a senior adviser to President Bush’s campaigns in 2000 and 2004. “The year campaigns leveraged the Internet in ways never imagined. The year we went to warp speed. The year the paradigm got turned upside down and truly became bottom up instead of top down.”
To a considerable extent, Republicans and Democrats say, this is a result of the way that the Obama campaign sought to understand and harness the Internet (and other forms of so-called new media) to organize supporters and to reach voters who no longer rely primarily on information from newspapers and television. The platforms included YouTube, which did not exist in 2004, and the cellphone text messages that the campaign was sending out to supporters on Monday to remind them to vote.
“We did some very innovative things on the data side, and we did some Internet,” said Sara Taylor, who was the White House political director during Mr. Bush’s re-election campaign. “But only 40 percent of the country had broadband back then. You now have people who don’t have home telephones anymore. And Obama has done a tremendous job of waging a campaign through the new media challenge.
“I don’t know about you, but I see an Obama Internet ad every day. And I have for six months.”
Even more crucial to the way this campaign has transformed politics has been Mr. Obama’s success at using the Internet to build a huge network of contributors that permitted him to raise enough money — after declining to participate in the public financing system — to expand the map and compete in traditionally Republican states.
No matter who wins the election, Republicans and Democrats say, Mr. Obama’s efforts in places like Indiana, North Carolina and Virginia — organizing and advertising to voters who previously had little exposure to Democratic ideas and candidates — will force future candidates to think differently.
“The great impact that this election will have for the future is that it killed public financing for all time,” said Mr. McCain’s chief campaign strategist, Steve Schmidt. “That means the next Republican presidential campaign, hopefully a re-election for John McCain, will need to be a billion-dollar affair to challenge what the Democrats have accomplished with the use of the Internet and viral marketing to communicate and raise money.”
“It was a profound leap forward technologically,” Mr. Schmidt added. “Republicans will have to figure out how to compete with this in order to become competitive again at a national level and in House and Senate races.”
This transformation did not happen this year alone. In 2000, Mr. Bush’s campaign, lead by Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman, pioneered the use of microtargeting to find and appeal to potential new supporters. In 2004, the presidential campaign of Howard Dean was widely credited with being the first to see the potential power of the Internet to raise money and sign up volunteers, a platform that Mr. Obama tremendously expanded.
“They were Apollo 11, and we were the Wright Brothers,” said Joe Trippi, the manager of Mr. Dean’s campaign.
Terry Nelson, who was the political director of the Bush campaign in 2004, said that the evolution was challenging campaign operatives who worked for every presidential campaign, and would continue in 2012 and beyond.
“We are in the midst of a fundamental transformation of how campaigns are run,” Mr. Nelson said. “And it’s not over yet.”
The changes go beyond what Mr. Obama did and reflect a cultural shift in voters, producing an audience that is at once better informed, more skeptical and, from reading blogs, sometimes trafficking in rumors or suspect information. As a result, this new electorate tends to be more questioning of what it is told by campaigns and often uses the Web to do its own fact-checking.
“You do focus groups and people say, ‘I saw that ad and I went to this Web site to check it,’ ” said David Plouffe, the Obama campaign manager. “They are policing the campaigns.”
Mr. Schmidt said the speed and diversity of the news cycle had broken down the traditional way that voters received information and had given campaigns opportunities, and challenges, in trying to manage the news.
“The news cycle is hyperaccelerated and driven by new players on the landscape, like Politico and Huffington Post, which cause competition for organizations like The A.P. where there is a high premium on being first,” he said. “This hyperaccelerates a cable-news cycle driven to conflict and drama and trivia.”
Among the biggest changes this year is the intense new interest in politics, reflected in jumps in voters registration, early voting and attendance at Mr. Obama’s rallies. To no small extent, that is a reflection on the unusual interest stirred by his campaign. Thus, it is hardly clear that a future candidate who appropriated all the innovations that Mr. Obama and his campaign tried would necessarily have the same success as Mr. Obama.
“Without the candidate who excites people,” Mr. Plouffe said, “you can have the greatest strategy and machinery and it won’t matter.”
Mr. Trippi, who worked for one of Mr. Obama’s rivals in the Democratic primary, former Senator John Edwards, said: “It has all come together for one guy, Barack Obama. But now that it’s happened, it’s a permanent change.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Buchanan
on: November 04, 2008, 04:18:26 PM
But Where Did Bush Go Wrong?
by Patrick J. Buchanan
After losing control of the Senate and 30 House seats in 2006, the GOP is bracing for losses of six to nine in the Senate, and two dozen to three dozen additional seats in the House. If the party "were a dog food," says Rep. Tom Davis, "they would take us off the shelf." Bush's approval is 25 percent. Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton left office with ratings more than twice as high. But while John McCain and others have deplored the Bush failures, what, exactly, did he do wrong?
What were the policy blunders to which Republicans vehemently objected at the time?
That Bush is a Big Government Republican is undeniable. His two great social spending initiatives, prescription drug benefits for seniors under Medicare and No Child Left Behind, so testify. But how many Republicans opposed Bush on these initiatives? How many have called for the abolition of either program, or for raising payroll taxes to pay for prescription drugs?
McCain now supports the Bush judges and justices and the Bush tax cuts, as do almost all Republicans.
True, Bush sought amnesty for illegal aliens and backs the free-trade globalism that exported our manufacturing base and 3 million to 4 million jobs. But McCain is even more enthusiastic about both.
Does the party dissent on free trade and mass immigration?
Two-thirds of Americans now believe the Iraq war a mistake. Yet, all but a few Republicans backed the war. At the time of "Mission Accomplished!" in May 2003, the nation gave Bush a 90 percent approval rating, as his father had after Desert Storm.
What turned America against the war was not the decision to invade, oust Saddam, destroy the weapons of mass destruction and depart, but the long, bloody slog, the five-year war, with nearly 5,000 dead, that Iraq became. It was not the lightning war of Tommy Franks, with journalists riding tanks into Baghdad, that soured America, but the unanticipated duration and cost of the war.
Yet, Republicans still believe that the war was not a mistake, only mishandled. And now that Gen. Petraeus got it right in Iraq, they say, we should pursue the Petraeus policy in Afghanistan.
How many Republicans have repudiated the Bush Doctrine that got us into Iraq -- the belief that only by making the world democratic can we keep America secure and free?
Americans no longer believe that, if ever they did. And history proves them right. For Iraq has never been democratic, and America has always been free. Yet, the Republican Party has never renounced the Bush Doctrine
Indeed, it is being applied today in Afghanistan.
That war, too, after we failed at Tora Bora to capture or kill bin Laden, has become a long slog to create a democratic Afghanistan, which, like a democratic Iraq, has never before existed.
In Afghanistan, we are entering the eighth year of war with victory further away than ever. The Taliban grows stronger. U.S. casualties are surging. Opium exports are breaking records. Our NATO allies grow weary. Even the Brits are talking of reconciliation with the Taliban, perhaps accepting a dictator.
These two wars helped to cripple the Bush presidency and end the GOP ascendancy. Yet, at the highest levels of the party, one hears no serious questioning of the ideology that produced these wars. McCain has pledged to stay in Iraq until "victory" and send 10,000 more troops to Afghanistan.
Nor have Republicans objected to the U.S. air strikes that have killed hundreds of Afghans, or the Predator strikes that have inflamed Pakistan or the helicopter raid into Syria that humiliated Damascus and enraged the population. If Republicans disagree with these policies and actions, their voices are muted.
Bush is for facing down Russia and bringing Georgia and Ukraine into NATO. Does any Republican disagree? For McCain is more hawkish than Bush when it come to Moscow.
The party says it is losing because the economy went south. But who caused that? Was it not because Republicans colluded with Democrats in pushing "affordable housing," subprime mortgages, for folks who could not afford houses? Is the GOP prepared to demand tough terms for home loans? Was it not GOP presidents who appointed the Fed chairmen who pumped up the money supply and created the bubble? How many Republicans objected to the easy money when the going was good?
The country wishes to be rid of the Bush policies and the Bush presidency. But where does the Republican Party think Bush went wrong, other than to be asleep at the wheel during Katrina?
The GOP needs to confront the truth: The failure of the Bush presidency lies not in a failed execution of policy but in the policies themselves and the neoconservative ideology that informed them. Yet, still, the party remains in denial, refusing to come to terms with the causes of its misfortune. One expects they will be given the time and opportunity for reflection soon.
"The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars but in ourselves.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Vote Fraud (ACORN et al)
on: November 04, 2008, 02:28:39 PM
GOP Election Board members have been tossed out of polling stations in at least half a dozen polling stations in Philadelphia because of their party status.
A Pennsylvania judge previously ruled that court-appointed poll watchers could be NOT removed from their boards by an on-site election judge, but that is exactly what is happening, according to sources on the ground.
It is the duty of election board workers to monitor and guard the integrity of the voting process.
Denying access to the minority (in this case Republican) poll watchers and inspectors is a violation of Pennsylvania state law. Those who violate the law can be punished with a misdemeanor and subjected to a fine of $1,000 and sent to prison between one month and two years.
Those on site are describing the situation as "pandemonium" and there may be video coming of the chaos.
Some of the precincts where Republicans have been removed are: the 44th Ward, 12th and 13th divisions; 6th Ward, 12th division; 32nd Ward, Division 28.
“Election board officials guard the legitimacy of the election process and the idea that Republicans are being intimidated and banned for partisan purposes does not allow for an honest and open election process,” said McCain-Palin spokesman Ben Porritt in a statement to Townhall.
The City of Brotherly Love was roiled in controversy during the 2004 election because of rigged voting machines that showed nearly 2,000 votes for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry before the polls had opened. A man also used a gun to intimidate poll workers at Ward 30, division 11 in 2004.
Update: Fox News just did a report about the controversy. The Democrats are saying that the polling station is crowded and election board members need to cycle through the areas intermittently.
Update 10:53am: Pennsylvania Secretary of State Pedro Cortes says this matter is already being heard in court and should be resolved soon. He says there was a dispute of the names of the poll watchers on record. This is a different story than the Democratic officials told Fox News earlier this morning.
Possible voter intimidation in Philadelphia:http://www.breitbart.tv/?p=213103
The police arrive:http://www.breitbart.tv/?p=213313&widget=1
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Gender issues thread
on: November 01, 2008, 05:24:01 AM
"I made the key points above. And she is not worth fighting or wasting time over. And I acknowledged that I like and respect Lou Dobbs; isn't that enough of a bone for you wolves? "
Umm , , , no
T0 make a POINT, you would have to back up your ASSERTIONS, assertions of things which are quite ugly btw, which you simply have not done. While I agree she can enjoy playing the provocateur (so what?) I enjoy reading MM most of the time find her to be someone who goes after liberal lunacies and specious liberal thinking. So before I throw her under the bus
as a racist bigot it is going to take more than what you´ve produced so far.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Nuclear War?
on: October 31, 2008, 08:21:02 PM
Ahmadinejad is "not well", oil has dropped over 50%, the Iranian economy has serious problems, Iran has a serious problem with Afg opium, and the government is not popular.
If BO gets aggro in Afg-Pak, it might be easier for the Iranians to change course with Barack Hussein Obama.
Yeah, , , right , , ,
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Gender issues thread
on: October 31, 2008, 08:16:28 PM
I was hoping for some citations, some quotes, things of that sort , , ,
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Political Rants
on: October 31, 2008, 08:06:47 PM
Bush received some 40-45% of the Latino vote in Texas for governor and did well when running for President too including a very strong majority of the Cuban vote in Florida.
What you say is precisely why he was so gung ho for amnesty and what has happened nationally with the Latino vote is exactly what happened to the Republican Party in CA after Gov. Wilson supported an initiative about no benefits for illegals.
Gore was shameless as VP in working to get the illegals vote for Dems, and BO will be worse with driver licenses for illegals, motor voter laws, and massive amnesty.
The Republicans are in a real existential bind on this issue.
If we want to continue this discussion lets take it over to the immigration thread.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The 2008 Presidential Race
on: October 31, 2008, 04:15:18 PM
Not a stupid piece. I disagree of course
Security Should Be the Deciding Issue
By FREDERICK W. KAGAN
more in Opinion »
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As the scale of the economic crisis becomes clear and comparisons to the Great Depression of the 1930s are tossed around, there is a very real danger that America could succumb to the feeling that we no longer have the luxury of worrying about distant lands, now that we are confronted with a "real" problem that actually affects the lives of all Americans. As we consider whether various bailout plans help Main Street as well as Wall Street, the subtext is that both are much more important to Americans than Haifa Street.
One problem with this emotion is that it ignores the sequel to the Great Depression -- the rise of militaristic Japan marked by the 1931 invasion of Manchuria, and Hitler's rise to power in Germany in 1933, both of which resulted in part from economic dislocations spreading outward from the U.S. The inward-focus of the U.S. and the leading Western powers (Great Britain and France) throughout the 1930s allowed these problems to metastasize, ultimately leading to World War II.
Is it possible that American inattention to the world in the coming years could lead to a similarly devastating result? You betcha.
When Franklin Roosevelt replaced Herbert Hoover in the White House, the country's economy was in shambles but its security was not threatened. No American forces were engaged in significant military conflict; America faced no threats. The U.S. was largely disarmed militarily and disengaged internationally.
[Security Should Be the Deciding Issue] Corbis
Yet within a decade, American territory had been attacked for the first time in 130 years, a massive rearmament program was underway, and the U.S. was fighting a desperate struggle that spanned the globe and ultimately cost the lives of nearly half a million American service members. The seeds of that global conflict, unimaginable in 1933 given the relative weakness of Germany and Japan, were planted in the first years of the Roosevelt administration as FDR focused on the American economy.
Hoover had the distinction of being the last American president who did not command American troops in important conflicts. After FDR, Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower led the war in Korea that ended up shaping East Asia and the global economy profoundly.
John F. Kennedy's ill-fated efforts in Cuba shape Central America and the Caribbean to this day. He also made key decisions regarding Vietnam, followed, of course, by Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. These decisions had major effects on American security and also helped launch a social revolution within the U.S.
Jimmy Carter's disastrous hostage rescue operation in Iran had profound implications for the U.S. there and throughout the region, as did his reaction to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Ronald Reagan's failed policies in Lebanon in the early 1980s, leading to the Marine barracks bombing in Beirut in 1983, shaped the nature of American involvement in that key region, and also the perception of the U.S., for two decades. His attack on Libya, on the other hand, effectively ended a significant terrorist threat to the U.S. It also laid the basis for the elimination of Libya's WMD program after 9/11.
George H.W. Bush fought in Panama and Iraq. Bill Clinton, who took office promising to focus "like a laser beam" on the economy, led U.S. forces to humiliation in Somalia, ineffective, pinprick responses to al Qaeda terrorism and to Saddam Hussein's provocations, and to large-scale conflict in the Balkans. The current administration inherited ongoing military operations in the Balkans and almost immediately confronted the consequences of President Clinton's policy failures in Afghanistan on 9/11.
The next president will not break this string of fighting presidents. He will inherit two ongoing wars involving more than 180,000 troops. He will face two global enemies -- al Qaeda and Iranian terror networks, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps/Quds Force and Hezbollah.
It is important to note here the distinction between an enemy and a threat. Threats are problems to be concerned about in the future; enemies are organizations trying to kill Americans right now. Al Qaeda and Iranian agents are both killing Americans on a regular basis and have proclaimed their determination to kill more. They are enemies, not threats, and they will confront the next president from day one.
There are threats too, such as Pakistan's instability, combined with its inability and unwillingness to confront the al Qaeda safe havens on its territory. The growth of al Qaeda organizations in Algeria and Somalia poses another. Russian adventurism on the borders of states to which the U.S. has already given security guarantees is still another. The dangers of nuclear proliferation if the North Korean regime collapses -- or if it does not -- are still another.
Lastly, the next president will almost certainly face Iran's arrival at the threshold of nuclear-weapons capability. This, combined with Iran's efforts to develop long-range (and ultimately intercontinental) ballistic missiles and its global terrorist networks, is a threat to America's allies and to Americans at home.
Whatever the parallels between the current economic situation and that of the early 1930s, the current international environment is by any comparison more dangerous for the U.S. than the one that led to World War II. This is not hyperbole, particularly considering a last factor. When France and Britain ignored developing dangers while handling them would have been possible and relatively inexpensive, America was able to bail them out, if at terrific cost. There is no one to save us if we make similar mistakes in the coming years.
The current economic crisis is extremely grave. It is hurting many Americans today and will hurt many more as it unwinds. It will end, however, as economic crises always do. The question is how long the recovery will take and how bad things will get before it takes hold.
This question should be at the forefront of voters' thinking as they consider the economic proposals of the two candidates for president, but not necessarily as they decide whom to vote for. Better policies can speed the recovery; worse ones can slow it -- but none are likely to prevent it.
The presidential impact on foreign-policy problems is much more direct. Skillful approaches can avoid or mitigate conflict; foolish ones can lead to cataclysms. And make no mistake -- mistaken policies will lead to the unnecessary deaths of Americans, and not just our soldiers. Any American who wants to travel outside the U.S. can be directly affected by the wisdom or folly of our foreign policy. Even those who never leave their own state must be concerned, as residents of New York, Arlington and Pennsylvania can attest.
The health of our economy rests on its fundamentals, and on the way the entire government -- the president, the Congress, the Federal Reserve, and the courts -- approach the problem. The lives of American citizens rest on the way the president interacts with our enemies. When people feel relatively safe, they vote their pocketbooks. When they feel endangered, they vote for security. The world today offers no reason for Americans to feel safe. If we want safety, we have to be ready to fight for it.
Mr. Kagan is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and co-author of "Ground Truth: The Future of U.S. Land Power" (AEI Press, 2008).
Please add your comments to the Opinion Journal forum.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Big Tent GOP
on: October 31, 2008, 03:53:52 PM
Back to a Big-Tent GOP?
By KIMBERLEY A. STRASSEL
All eyes are on Tuesday. For the GOP, the real question is Wednesday.
That's the day the party will survey the damage of the 2008 election, and have to decide what it wants to be. Even if John McCain pulls out a win, the Grand Old Party will be in trouble. Contrary to recent liberal pronouncements, the conservative movement is not dead. But the GOP response to Tuesday will determine how long it remains on life support.
The GOP's problems are a result of a failure of action, not of philosophy. Everything, including this election, shows we remain a center-right country. If Barack Obama wins, it will be because he has doggedly (if not always believably) run to the right on everything from national security (wiretapping) to "tax cuts," guns and social issues.
Democrats may also achieve big gains in the House and Senate. But their wins in 2006 were the result of the party's decision to run "conservative" candidates -- pro-life, pro-gun and populist on economics. Democratic gains this year will come via similar candidates. The nation hasn't moved left; the Democratic Party has leaned right.
Because Nancy Pelosi and her old liberal bulls will likely overreach, the GOP will have an opportunity. But the risk is that Tuesday's results will cause panic, and exacerbate the reactionary, backward-looking behavior that has already done so much damage to the party.
[Potomac Watch] Getty Images
Republicans love to recollect Ronald Reagan, though they forget why. Reagan's strength was looking to the future -- and framing the issues of the day for Americans. When the focus had been balanced budgets, he made the issue the need for economic growth. When the debate had been détente, Reagan turned it into the need for a strong America. That tradition continued with the Contract with America, welfare reform, government reform, tort reform. George W. Bush tackled education.
Reagan's other great strength was not distinguishing between red and blue America. He offered a set of principles, and invited anyone who broadly subscribed to those principles into his political house. The result was that unlikely coalition of fiscal conservatives, defense hawks and social conservatives. These were the days of Reagan Democrats, of victories in states that now seem unwinnable to the GOP.
The further Republicans have moved away from this playbook, the further its fortunes have declined. The GOP was thrown out in 2006 because it had failed to evolve on the new issues facing Americans -- spiraling health-care costs, dwindling energy supplies, out-of-control entitlements. It spent its last years divvying up pork. As it has hit the electoral rocks, the party has also turned inward, harping on immigrants and gay marriage.
So come Wednesday, the Democrats will be energized -- and the GOP must make a choice.
The worst GOP instinct would be to mimic Britain's Tories after their 1997 shellacking by Tony Blair, becoming a "no" party that spends so much time howling against the opposition it forgets what to howl for. It could curl up and stoke bitter cultural fights (immigration, abortion) to rev up a dwindling base. It could cede its fortunes to an unreformed old guard who will happily wait out their retirements in the minority. It would be easy to do all this; the party has already had practice.
The other option is for the GOP to start elevating the new generation of reformers -- folks like Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor or Wisconsin's Paul Ryan. With them comes a new intellectual focus on today's issues. (See Mr. Ryan's recent blueprint for reforming taxes, entitlements and health care.) The Republican high point this year was when the party united to fix the energy mess. That ought to tell it something.
The party could also go back to recruiting real professionals ahead of career politicians. That's how the Senate obtained Dr. Tom Coburn who, because he isn't a lifer, hasn't been afraid to shame colleagues on earmarks or obscene spending.
Just as important, the party could again open its arms to those who should, naturally, gravitate to the GOP. Today's ballooning Hispanic community is socially conservative, the sort of up-and-comers who would appreciate lower taxes, more opportunity. America's YouTube generation is naturally entrepreneurial, and doesn't like anyone telling them what to do. If Republicans could tap into these sentiments, they'd widen the tent.
Doing so does not involve altering conservative principles. Politicians like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush have shown it is possible to be for law and order, even while welcoming immigrants who want the American dream; and that it's possible to be pro-life without braying on the subject in a way that offends suburban moderates.
This transformation is necessary even if Mr. McCain wins. His difficulties have stemmed from his own struggle to articulate answers to the biggest American worries.
Parties have to evolve. This is a GOP opportunity, if it is smart enough to take it.
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Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Coming Clusterfcuk
on: October 31, 2008, 03:23:13 PM
From the WT forum:
I have resigned myself to the fact that Barack Obama, wlll be our next President, and that my Taxes and Fees, will go up in a BIG way.
To compensate for these increases, I figure, that the Customer will have to see an increase in my fees to them of about 10%.
I will also have to lay off 6 of my employees.
This really bothered me as I believe we are family here and didn't know how to choose who will have to go.
So, this is what I did:
I strolled thru the parking lot and found 8 Obama bumper stickers on my employees cars. I have decided these folks will be the first to be laid off.
I can't think of another fair way to approach this problem.
If you have a better idea, let me know.
I'm sending this letter to all the Business owners that I know.
Works for me.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Nuclear War?
on: October 31, 2008, 03:16:39 PM
Strong Leads and Dead Ends in Nuclear Case Against Iran
By Dafna Linzer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 8, 2006; Page A01
Iranian engineers have completed sophisticated drawings of a deep subterranean shaft, according to officials who have examined classified documents in the hands of U.S. intelligence for more than 20 months.
Complete with remote-controlled sensors to measure pressure and heat, the plans for the 400-meter tunnel appear designed for an underground atomic test that might one day announce Tehran's arrival as a nuclear power, the officials said.http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn...020702126.html
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Politics
on: October 31, 2008, 02:28:18 PM
October 31, 2008
In today's Political Diary:
- Return of the Clinton Administration
- John Kerry as Secretary of State?
- Pelosi's Punching Bag
- McConnell's Last Stand
- The Obama-Acorn Connection
Barack Obama and Bill Clinton still have deep differences, but they managed to make
nice while campaigning together this week in Florida.
Mr. Obama may pay Mr. Clinton the ultimate compliment if elected. He's likely to
appoint Chicago Congressman Rahm Emanuel as his new White House chief of staff and
John Podesta of the Center for American Progress as his transition chief. Mr.
Emanuel served in the Clinton White House as a top aide, and Mr. Podesta is a former
chief of staff for President Clinton.
The Associated Press reports that an aide to Rep. Emanuel, Sarah Feinberg, said in
an email that her boss "has not been contacted to take a job in an administration
that does not yet exist. Everyone is focused on Election Day, as they should be."
But the AP also confirms that both Mr. Emanuel and former Senate Majority Leader Tom
Daschle have received feelers about the top White House staff job.
Mr. Emanuel was the architect of the successful Democratic takeover of the House in
2006, and is well known for tough talk and hyper-aggressive tactics. Should he get
the job, the Obama White House might well take on the look and feel of the Clinton
political "war room" that Dick Morris ran in the mid-1990s. The longer Mr. Obama is
a candidate, the more he has seemed to appreciate the Clinton approach. If this is
the "change" Mr. Obama has in mind, voters may be surprised how much it turns out to
be an updated edition of the last Democratic White House.
-- John Fund
Who Will Run the 'No Preconditions' Portfolio?
Jostling for jobs in a Barack Obama Administration is well underway, especially the
plumb Secretary of State position. While Mr. Obama tends to keep his own counsel, he
has relied so far on a small circle of advisers -- headed by Tony Lake and Susan
Rice -- while selectively allowing an array of former Hillary Clinton backers into
his tent since he secured the nomination.
The elder statesman in his circle, Mr. Lake had a bad run atop the Clinton National
Security Council, then failed in his Senate confirmation bid for the CIA. He doesn't
sound eager to try his luck again at the State Department. Meanwhile, just like
George W. Bush's "Dr. Rice," Susan Rice is the candidate's closest adviser on
foreign affairs. But she's also young (44), rung up a spotty record in the Clinton
Administration (overseeing Africa policy) and may lack the gravitas expected in a
post recently held by the likes of Colin Powell and Warren Christopher.
Who are some other contenders? John Kerry tells friends in Boston that he and Mr.
Obama have "an understanding." Mr. Kerry is desperate for a change from the Senate
and clearly has his eye on State. Richard Lugar and Chuck Hagel are two Republicans
who also might fit in an Obama Administration. A strike against Sen. Lugar is his
age (76) and the fact that he hardly seems an agent of "change." Mr. Hagel, the
Nebraska Republican, is leaving the Senate and agrees with Mr. Obama on most things,
primarily Iraq. But he's unpopular in the GOP and wouldn't win Mr. Obama many points
for "bipartisanship." Mr. Obama may prefer to stick with Robert Gates at the
Pentagon as his token Republican.
From the Democratic establishment, two names that come up for the state department
are Strobe Talbott and Richard Holbrooke, both intimate Clintonistas, Shunned by the
Obama crowd after the primaries, Mr. Holbrooke finally joined a "senior working
group" gathering in Richmond last week with the candidate. He hadn't been invited
last time. Sam Nunn and Lee Hamilton -- also on the long list -- were there too. "It
was done to keep them happy," says one Obama aide. Aside from his Hillary links, the
problem with Mr. Holbrooke is "he's too much his own guy. I don't think Obama wants
someone over there conducting his own foreign policy," my Obama source says.
Mr. Talbott, who served as No. 2 in the Clinton state department, would be easier to
control. He also heads the Brookings Institution, home to several other Obama
advisers, and (like several Obama associates) also happens to be a Rhodes Scholar.
"That seems to count a lot for those people," says one prominent Democrat.
If Mr. Obama wins next week, his personnel picks will shed light on a foreign policy
agenda that remains partly murky. He most clearly wants to withdraw from Iraq
quickly and make Afghanistan "Barack's War." But otherwise he's laid out a foreign
policy agenda consisting of more style than substance at this point.
-- Matthew Kaminski
Tilting at Nancy's Well-Fortified Windmill
Nancy Pelosi occupies one of the least competitive districts in the country. The
Speaker of the House routinely pulls in more than 80% of the vote, with Republican
challengers often struggling just to stay ahead of whichever wacky third-party
candidates happen to be running.
This year, the latter category is ably nailed down by Cindy Sheehan, the anti-war
activist best known for camping outside President Bush's Texas ranch. Ms. Sheehan,
who's running as an independent, has enlisted Roseanne Barr to record robo-calls on
her behalf and was this week escorted to an event by Sean Penn. With Ms. Sheehan in
the contest, the brave, hapless Republican in the race, Dana Walsh, says she's
"running against the two most dangerous women in America." In a district where
Democrats outnumber Republicans eight to one, she might be lucky to outpoll Ms.
Sheehan next Tuesday.
Ms. Walsh is an interior designer who admits in a campaign video that when the
financial crisis hit, she "was totally unprepared to understand it." She added:
"Most people in Congress didn't understand it either." Truth in politics.
While she's not unduly optimistic about her chances, Ms. Walsh maintains that
"someone has to run." And she's already raised twice as much money as Ms. Pelosi's
last Republican challenger. The vast majority of that money came not only from
outside the district, but from outside the state.
In her defense, Ms. Pelosi's extraordinarily safe seat is not the product of a
cynical gerrymander. Her district covers most of San Francisco and doesn't resemble
a snake slithering across the state to pick up just the right demographic to keep
Ms. Pelosi in office in perpetuity. Ms. Pelosi's dominance simply reflects the
ultraliberal politics of her town. Give Ms. Walsh credit, then, for standing up for
the principle that one-party elections have no place even in San Francisco.
-- Brian M. Carney
Will Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell be among the Republican casualties on Election
Day? In the latest Lexington Herald-Leader/WKYT poll, Mr. McConnell, the GOP Senate
leader, has slipped below the magic number for incumbents of 50%. If tradition
holds, he can't expect to win many late-deciding voters amid a barrage of attack ads
funded by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in the closing days. Though
the Herald-Leader poll still has him clinging to a slim lead, 47% to 43%, he's
anything but a shoo-in.
Democrats relish the thought of knocking off Mr. McConnell as payback for the defeat
four years ago of their own then-Majority Leader Tom Daschle. Mr. McConnell's defeat
would also move them closer to a 60-seat, filibuster-proof Senate majority. One of
the party's top stars, Hillary Clinton, will even spend the last Sunday before
Election Day stumping for Mr. McConnell's Democratic challenger Bruce Lunsford.
Democrats were emboldened by last year's crushing defeat of incumbent Republican
Gov. Ernie Fletcher by Steve Beshear. But they may be reading too much into that
victory. South Dakota voters saw Mr. Daschle as an "obstructionist" and sent him
packing in 2004 while giving President George W. Bush a reelection margin of 22
points. Mr. McConnell's situation is totally different. He's still a conservative in
a red state that will almost certainly vote overwhelmingly for the Republican
presidential candidate. In the past, Mr. McConnell has managed to hold his seat with
the largest victory margins of any Republican in Kentucky history.
At the moment, though, he's being flayed for his support of the $700 billion Wall
Street bailout -- which the state's other Republican senator, Jim Bunning, denounced
as "socialism." Kentucky voters have a hard time understanding why they should pay
for a financial meltdown that so far has barely touched their state. Still, Mr.
McConnell may start to get some credit for making the hard decisions as Kentucky
begins to feel the pain.
Then there's this: Both he and his opponent have taken to calling their contest "the
second most important" in the country because of the prospect of a Democratic
supermajority in the Senate. As Mr. McConnell told supporters Wednesday: "There is
nothing the far left would like better besides winning the White House than to take
me out." That argument may yet be salvation for him and several other embattled GOP
Senators around the country.
-- Brendan Miniter
'Election Deception,' California-style
The profligate spending of California's local governments means pols are going to
extreme lengths to grab revenue. Voters in more than two dozen California
jurisdictions, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, will be asked next week to
approve telephone tax increases. Thanks to misleading summaries on local ballots,
many will actually think they're voting for tax cuts.
The California Taxpayers' Association calls it "Deception 2008." Only two
jurisdictions, Eureka and Seaside, appear to have legitimate phone tax repeals on
It all started in 2006, when the U.S. Treasury ruled that an antiquated "utility
user tax," created to fund the Spanish-American War, no longer applies to many of
today's phone services. Local pols realized they would need to get voter approval to
continue collecting the hefty taxes. But how to dupe voters into going along?
Answer: With ballot proposals that offer modest "cuts" in the phone tax and don't
clearly mention that, absent a vote, the tax would disappear altogether.
In some jurisdictions, politicians have gone so far as to craft tricky language to
expand the taxes to text messaging and other digital services. Sacramento's "Utility
Tax Reduction and Fairness Measure," for instance, fails to mention the new services
subject to tax, but promises to "preserve funding for essential municipal services
like police, fire protection and youth programs."
Bottom line: California voters should exercise extreme caution before voting for
something that sounds like a reduction in the tax on talking.
-- James Freeman
Follow the Money
Earlier this week, Anita MonCrief, a former employee of Acorn's Project Vote,
testified in a Pennsylvania court that she was given donor lists from the Obama and
other Democratic campaigns so she could approach donors who had "maxed out" on
candidate donations but could still contribute to Project Vote's registration
Both the Obama campaign and Project Vote strenuously deny the charge. Project Vote
says it "does not have any cooperation with the Obama campaign." Team Obama's
Pennsylvania campaign spokesman, Sean Smith, added that anyone was free to download
a list of Obama's donors from the Internet.
Ms. MonCrief gave me spreadsheets of donors from several Democratic campaigns that
were clearly not downloaded from the Internet. In any case, it's illegal for a
nonprofit group to use Federal Election Commission lists to help its own activities.
If the Obama campaign did give its lists to Project Vote, that would be very strong
evidence of illegal coordination between the two entities.
Whether or not the Obama campaign shared its lists, it certainly hasn't shown any
interest in going beyond the letter of the law when it comes to disclosing its
donors to the general public. Despite pleas from campaign-finance reform groups such
as Common Cause and Democracy 21, Team Obama has refused to follow Senator McCain's
lead and release names of donors who have given less than $200, even though such
donors supplied half of the $605 million the Obama campaign raised through September
Perhaps one reason is that, as the Washington Post reported this week, the Obama
campaign has turned off its Address Verification System, or AVS, at its Web site.
That program should have stopped most contributions coming in from citizens of
foreign countries -- a violation of federal law. The Federal Election Commission,
which does receive a complete list of donors, has a list of several thousand small
Obama donors it suspects may have contributed illegally from foreign countries.
Somewhere Richard Nixon, who in inflation-adjusted terms previously set the record
for the most expensive and controversial presidential fund-raising apparatus ever in
1972, must be smiling at the audacity of Mr. Obama's fundraising.
-- John Fund
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Intel Matters
on: October 31, 2008, 12:37:06 PM
Counterintelligence Implications of Foreign Service National Employees
October 29, 2008 | 1836 GMT
Graphic for Terrorism Intelligence Report
By Fred Burton and Scott Stewart
Related Special Topic Page
* Tracking Mexico’s Drug Cartels
Mexican Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora said Oct. 27 that five officials from the anti-organized crime unit (SIEDO) of the Office of the Mexican Attorney General (PGR) have been arrested for allegedly providing intelligence to the Beltrán Leyva drug trafficking organization for money. Two of the recently arrested officials were senior SIEDO officers. One of those was Fernando Rivera Hernández, SIEDO’s director of intelligence; the other was Miguel Colorado González, SIEDO’s technical coordinator.
This episode follows earlier announcements of the arrests in August of SIEDO officials on corruption charges. Medina Mora said that since July, more than 35 PGR agents have been arrested for accepting bribes from cartel members — bribes that, according to Medina Mora, can range from $150,000 to $450,000 a month depending on the quality of information provided.
Mexican newspapers including La Jornada are reporting that information has been uncovered in the current investigation indicating the Beltrán Leyva organization had developed paid sources inside Interpol and the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, and that the source in the embassy has provided intelligence on Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) investigations. The source at the U.S. Embassy was reportedly a foreign service national investigator, or FSNI. The newspaper El Universal has reported that the U.S. Marshals Service employed the FSNI in question.
This situation provides us with a good opportunity to examine the role of foreign service national employees at U.S. missions abroad and why they are important to embassy functions, and to discuss the counterintelligence liability they present.
Foreign Service Nationals
U.S. embassies and consulates can be large and complicated entities. They can house dozens of U.S. government agencies and employ hundreds, or even thousands, of employees. Americans like their creature comforts, and keeping a large number of employees comfortable (and productive) requires a lot of administrative and logistical support, everything from motor pool vehicles to commissaries. Creature comforts aside, merely keeping all of the security equipment functioning in a big mission — things like gates, vehicle barriers, video cameras, metal detectors, magnetic locks and residential alarms — can be a daunting task.
In most places, the cost of bringing Americans to the host country to do all of the little jobs required to run an embassy or consulate is prohibitive. Because of this, the U.S. government often hires a large group of local people (called foreign service nationals, or FSNs) to perform non-sensitive administrative functions. FSN jobs can range from low-level menial positions, such as driving the embassy shuttle bus, answering the switchboard or cooking in the embassy cafeteria, to more important jobs such as helping the embassy contract with local companies for goods and services, helping to screen potential visa applicants or translating diplomatic notes into the local language. Most U.S diplomatic posts employ dozens of FSNs, and large embassies can employ hundreds of them.
The embassy will also hire FSNIs to assist various sections of the embassy such as the DEA Attaché, the regional security office, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the anti-fraud unit of the consular section. FSNIs are the embassy’s subject-matter experts on crime in the host country and are responsible for maintaining liaison between the embassy and the host country’s security and law enforcement organizations. In a system where most diplomats and attachés are assigned to a post only for two or three years, the FSNs become the institutional memory of the embassy. They are the long-term keepers of the contacts with the host country government and will always be expected to introduce their new American bosses to the people they need to know in the government to get their jobs done.
Because FSNIs are expected to have good contacts and to be able to reach their contacts at any time of the day or night in case of emergency, the people hired for these FSNI positions are normally former senior law enforcement officers from the host country. The senior police officials are often close friends and former classmates of the current host country officials. This means that they can call the chief of police of the capital city at home on a Saturday or the assistant minister of government at 3 a.m. if the need arises.
To help make sure this assistance flows, the FSNI will do little things like deliver bottles of Johnny Walker Black during the Christmas holidays or bigger things like help the chief of police obtain visas so his family can vacation at Disney World. Visas, in fact, are a very good tool for fostering liaison. Not only can they allow the vice minister to do his holiday shopping in Houston, they can also be used to do things like bring vehicles or consumer goods from the United States back to the host country for sale at a profit.
As FSNs tend to work for embassies for long periods of time, while the Americans rotate through, there is a tendency for FSNs to learn the system and to find ways to profit from it. It is not uncommon for FSNs to be fired or even prosecuted in local court systems for theft and embezzlement. FSNs have done things like take kick-backs on embassy contracts for arranging to direct the contract to a specific vendor; pay inflated prices for goods bought with petty cash and then split the difference with the vendor who provided the false receipt; and steal gasoline, furniture items, computers and nearly anything else that can be found in an embassy.
While this kind of fraud is more commonplace in third-world nations where corruption is endemic, it is certainly not confined there; it can even occur in European capitals. Again, visas are a critical piece of the puzzle. Genuine U.S. visas are worth a great deal of money, and it is not uncommon to find FSNs involved in various visa fraud schemes. FSN employees have gone as far as accepting money to provide visas to members of terrorist groups like Hezbollah. In countries involved in human trafficking, visas have been traded for sexual favors in addition to money. In fairness, the amount that can be made from visa fraud means it is not surprising to find U.S. foreign service officers participating in visa fraud as well.
While it saves money, employing FSNs does present a very real counterintelligence risk. In essence, it is an invitation to a local intelligence service to send people inside U.S. buildings to collect information. In most countries, the U.S. Embassy cannot do a complete background investigation on an FSN candidate without the assistance of the host country government. This means the chances of catching a plant are slim unless the Americans have their own source in the local intelligence service that will out the operation.
In many countries, foreigners cannot apply for a job with the U.S. Embassy without their government’s permission. Obviously, this means local governments can approve only those applicants who agree to provide the government with information. In other countries, embassy employment is not that obviously controlled, but there still is a strong possibility of the host country sending agents to apply for jobs along with the other applicants.
It may be just coincidence, but in many countries the percentage of very attractive young women filling clerical roles at the U.S. Embassy appears many times higher than the number of attractive young women in the general population. This raises the specter of “honey traps,” or sexual entrapment schemes aimed at U.S. employees. Such schemes have involved female FSNs in the past. In one well known example, the KGB employed attractive female operatives against the Marine Security Guards in Moscow, an operation that led to an extremely grave compromise of the U.S. Embassy there.
Because of these risk factors, FSNs are not allowed access to classified information and are kept out of sections of the embassy where classified information is discussed and stored. It is assumed that any classified information FSNs can access will be compromised.
Of course, not all FSNs report to host country intelligence services, and many of them are loyal employees of the U.S. government. In many countries, however, the extensive power host country intelligence services can wield over the lives of its citizens means that even otherwise loyal FSNs can be compelled to report to the host country service against their wills. Whereas an American diplomat will go home after two or three years, FSNs must spend their lives in the host country and are not protected by diplomatic status or international conventions. This makes them very vulnerable to pressure. Additionally, the aforementioned criminal activity by FSNs is not just significant from a fiscal standpoint; Such activity also leaves those participating in it open to blackmail by the host government if the activity is discovered.
When one considers the long history of official corruption in Mexico and the enormous amounts of cash available to the Mexican drug cartels, it is no surprise that members of the SIEDO, much less an FNSI at the U.S. Embassy, should be implicated in such a case. The allegedly corrupt FNSI most likely was recruited into the scheme by a close friend or former associate who may have been working for the government and who was helping the Beltrán Leyva organization develop its intelligence network.
It appears that the FSNI working for the Beltrán Leyva organization at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City worked for the U.S. Marshals Service, not the DEA. This means that he would not have had access to much DEA operational information. An FSNI working for the U.S. Marshals Service would be working on fugitive cases and would be tasked with liaison with various Mexican law enforcement jurisdictions. Information regarding fugitive operations would be somewhat useful to the cartels, since many cartel members have been indicted in U.S. courts and the U.S. government would like to extradite them.
Even if the FSNI involved had been working for the DEA, however, there are limits to how much information he would have been able to provide. First of all, DEA special agents are well aware of the degree of corruption in Mexico, and they are therefore concerned that information passed on to the Mexican government can be passed to the cartels. The special agents also would assume that their FSN employees may be reporting to the Mexican government, and would therefore take care to not tell the FSN anything they wouldn’t want the Mexican government — or the cartels — to know.
The type of FSNI employee in question would be tasked with conducting administrative duties such as helping the DEA attaché with liaison and passing name checks and other queries to various jurisdictions in Mexico. The FSN would not be privy to classified DEA cable traffic, and would not sit in on sensitive operational meetings.
In the intelligence world, however, there are unclassified things that can be valuable intelligence. These include the names and home addresses of all the DEA employees in the country, for example, or the types of cars the special agents drive and the confidential license plates they have for them.
Other examples could be the FSNI being sent to the airport to pick up a group of TDY DEA agents and bringing them to the embassy. Were the agents out-of-shape headquarters-types wearing suits and doing an inspection, or fit field agents from a special operations group coming to town to help take down a high-value target? Even knowing that the DEA attaché has suddenly changed his schedule and is now working more overtime can indicate that something is up. Information that the attaché has asked the FSNI about the police chief in a specific jurisdiction, for example, could also be valuable to a drug trafficking organization expecting a shipment to arrive at that jurisdiction.
In the end, it is unlikely that this current case resulted in grave damage to DEA operations in Mexico. Indeed, the FSNI probably did far less damage to counternarcotics operations than the 35 PGR employees who have been arrested since July. But the vulnerabilities of FSN employees are great, and there are likely other FSNs on the payroll of the various Mexican cartels.
As long as the U.S. government employs FSNs it will face the security liability that comes with them. In general, however, this liability is offset by the utility they provide and the systems put in place to limit the counterintelligence damage they can cause.
Tell Stratfor What You Think
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Rove: Polls
on: October 30, 2008, 07:24:41 AM
Don't Let the Polls Affect Your Vote
They were wrong in 2000 and 2004.By KARL ROVEArticle
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There has been an explosion of polls this presidential election. Through yesterday, there have been 728 national polls with head-to-head matchups of the candidates, 215 in October alone. In 2004, there were just 239 matchup polls, with 67 of those in October. At this rate, there may be almost as many national polls in October of 2008 as there were during the entire year in 2004.
Some polls are sponsored by reputable news organizations, others by publicity-eager universities or polling firms on the make. None have the scientific precision we imagine.
For example, academics gathered by the American Political Science Association at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington on Aug. 31, 2000, to make forecasts declared that Al Gore would be the winner. Their models told them so. Mr. Gore would receive between 53% and 60% of the two-party vote; Gov. George W. Bush would get between just 40% and 47%. Impersonal demographic and economic forces had settled the contest, they said. They were wrong.
Right now, all the polls show Barack Obama ahead of John McCain, but the margins vary widely (in part because some polls use an "expanded" definition of a likely voter, while others use a "traditional" polling model, which assumes turnout will mirror historical trends but with a higher turnout among African-Americans and young voters).
On Monday, there were seven nationwide polls, with the candidates as close as three points in the Investors Business Daily/TIPP poll and as far apart as 10 points in Gallup's "expanded" model. On Tuesday, the Gallup "traditional" model poll had the candidates separated by two points and the Pew poll had them separated by 15. On Wednesday, Battleground, Rasmussen and Gallup "traditional" model polls had the candidates separated by three points while Diageo/Hotline and Gallup "expanded" model polls had the spread at seven points.
Polls can reveal underlying or emerging trends and help campaigns decide where to focus. The danger is that commentators use them to declare a race over before the votes are in. This can demoralize the underdog's supporters, depressing turnout. I know that from experience.
About Karl Rove
Karl Rove served as Senior Advisor to President George W. Bush from 2000–2007 and Deputy Chief of Staff from 2004–2007. At the White House he oversaw the Offices of Strategic Initiatives, Political Affairs, Public Liaison, and Intergovernmental Affairs and was Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy, coordinating the White House policy making process.
Before Karl became known as "The Architect" of President Bush's 2000 and 2004 campaigns, he was president of Karl Rove + Company, an Austin-based public affairs firm that worked for Republican candidates, nonpartisan causes, and nonprofit groups. His clients included over 75 Republican U.S. Senate, Congressional and gubernatorial candidates in 24 states, as well as the Moderate Party of Sweden.
Karl writes a weekly op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, is a Newsweek columnist and is now writing a book to be published by Simon & Schuster. Email the author at Karl@Rove.com
or visit him on the web at Rove.com.
On election night in 2000 Al Hunt -- then a columnist for this newspaper and a commentator on CNN -- was the first TV talking head to erroneously declare that Florida's polls had closed, when those in the Panhandle were open for another hour. Shortly before 8 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, Judy Woodruff said: "A big call to make. CNN announces that we call Florida in the Al Gore column."
Mr. Hunt and Ms. Woodruff were not only wrong. What they did was harmful. We know, for example, that turnout in 2000 compared to 1996 improved more in states whose polls had closed by the time Ms. Woodruff all but declared the contest over. The data suggests that as many as 500,000 people in the Midwest and West didn't bother to vote after the networks indicated Florida cinched the race for Mr. Gore.
I recall, too, the media's screwup in 2004, when exit-polling data leaked in the afternoon. It showed President Bush losing Pennsylvania by 17 points, New Hampshire by 18, behind among white males in Florida, and projected South Carolina and Colorado too close to call. It looked like the GOP would be wiped out.
Bob Shrum famously became the first to congratulate Sen. John Kerry by addressing him as "President Kerry." Commentators let the exit polls color their coverage for hours until their certainty was undone by actual vote tallies.
Polls have proliferated this year in part because it is much easier for journalists to devote the limited space in their papers or on TV to the horse-race aspect of the election rather than its substance. And I admit, I've aided and abetted this process.
In the campaign's final week, though, the candidates can offer little new substance, so attention turns to the political landscape, and there's no question Mr. McCain is in a difficult place.
The last national poll that showed Mr. McCain ahead came out Sept. 25 and the 232 polls since then have all shown Mr. Obama leading. Only one time in the past 14 presidential elections has a candidate won the popular vote and the Electoral College after trailing in the Gallup Poll the week before the election: Ronald Reagan in 1980.
But the question that matters is the margin. If Mr. McCain is down by 3%, his task is doable, if difficult. If he's down by 9%, his task is essentially impossible. In truth, however, no one knows for sure what kind of polling deficit is insurmountable or even which poll is correct. All of us should act with the proper understanding that nothing is yet decided.
As for me, I've already cast my absentee ballot in Kerr County, Texas -- joyfully, enthusiastically marking the straight Republican column. I would like to have joined the line Tuesday outside the polling place in Ingram, where I've been registered the past few years. But I will be in New York, part of the vast horde analyzing exit polls, dissecting returns, and pontificating on consequences. I'll thoroughly enjoy myself that night, and probably feel guilty the next morning. But this year's 728 national polls and the thousands of state polls made me do it.
Mr. Rove is a former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: ACORN
on: October 30, 2008, 07:19:15 AM
An interesting idea SB.
Here's more on ACORN and BO:
Acorn, the liberal "community organizing" group that claims it will deploy 15,000 get-out-the-vote workers on Election Day, can't stay out of the news.
The FBI is investigating its voter registration efforts in several states, amid allegations that almost a third of the 1.3 million cards it turned in are invalid. And yesterday, a former employee of Acorn testified in a Pennsylvania state court that the group's quality-control efforts were "minimal or nonexistent" and largely window dressing. Anita MonCrief also says that Acorn was given lists of potential donors by several Democratic presidential campaigns, including that of Barack Obama, to troll for contributions.
The Obama campaign denies it "has any ties" to Acorn, but Mr. Obama's ties are extensive. In 1992 he headed a registration effort for Project Vote, an Acorn partner at the time. He did so well that he was made a top trainer for Acorn's Chicago conferences. In 1995, he represented Acorn in a key case upholding the constitutionality of the new Motor Voter Act -- the first law passed by the Clinton administration -- which created the mandated, nationwide postcard voter registration system that Acorn workers are using to flood election offices with bogus registrations.
Ms. MonCrief testified that in November 2007 Project Vote development director Karyn Gillette told her she had direct contact with the Obama campaign and had obtained their donor lists. Ms. MonCrief also testified she was given a spreadsheet to use in cultivating Obama donors who had maxed out on donations to the candidate, but who could contribute to voter registration efforts. Project Vote calls the allegation "absolutely false."
She says that when she had trouble with what appeared to be duplicate names on the list, Ms. Gillette told her she would talk with the Obama campaign and get a better version. Ms. MonCrief has given me copies of the donor lists she says were obtained from other Democratic campaigns, as well as the 2004 DNC donor lists.
In her testimony, Ms. MonCrief says she was upset by Acorn's "Muscle for Money" program, which she said intimidated businesses Acorn opposed into paying "protection" money in the form of grants. Acorn's Brian Kettering says the group only wants to change corporate behavior: "Acorn is proud of its corporate campaigns to stop abuses of working families."
Ms. MonCrief, 29, never expected to testify in a case brought by the state's Republican Party seeking the local Acorn affiliate's voter registration lists. An idealistic graduate of the University of Alabama, she joined Project Vote in 2005 because she thought it was empowering poor people. A strategic consultant for Acorn and a development associate with its Project Vote voter registration affiliate, Ms. MonCrief sat in on policy-making meetings with the national staff. She was fired early this year over personal expenses she had put on the group's credit card.
She says she became disillusioned because she saw that Acorn was run as the personal fiefdom of Wade Rathke, who founded the group in 1970 and ran it until he stepped down to take over its international operations this summer. Mr. Rathke's departure as head of Acorn came after revelations he'd employed his brother Dale for a decade while keeping from almost all of Acorn's board members the fact that Dale had embezzled over $1 million from the group a decade ago. (The embezzlement was confirmed to me by an Acorn official.)
"Anyone who questioned what was going on was viewed as the enemy," Ms. MonCrief told me. "Just like the mob, no one leaves Acorn happily." She believes the organization does some good but hopes its current leadership is replaced. She may not be alone.
Last August two of Acorn's eight dissident board members, Marcel Reed and Karen Inman, filed suit demanding access to financial records of Citizens Consulting Inc., the umbrella group through which most of Acorn's money flows. Ms. Inman told a news conference this month Mr. Rathke still exercises power over CCI and Acorn against the board's wishes. Bertha Lewis, the interim head of Acorn, told me Mr. Rathke has no ties to Acorn and that the dissident board members were "obsessed" and "confused."
According to public records, the IRS filed three tax liens totaling almost $1 million against Acorn this spring. Also this spring, CCI was paid $832,000 by the Obama campaign for get-out-the-vote efforts in key primary states. In filings with the Federal Election Commission, the Obama campaign listed the payments as "staging, sound, lighting," only correcting the filings after the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review revealed their true nature.
"Acorn needs a full forensic audit," Ms. MonCrief says, though she doesn't think that's likely. "Everyone wants to paper things over until later," she says. "But it may be too late to reform Acorn then." She strongly supports Barack Obama and hopes his allies can be helpful in cleaning up the group "after the heat of the election is gone."
Acorn's Mr. Kettering says the GOP lawsuit "is designed to suppress legitimate voters," and he says Ms. MonCrief isn't credible, given that she was fired for cause. Ms. MonCrief admits that she left after she began paying back some $3,000 in personal expenses she charged on an Acorn credit card. "I was very sorry, and I was paying it back," she says, but "suddenly Acorn decided that . . . I had to go. Since then I have gotten warnings to 'back off' from people at Acorn."
Acorn insists it operates with strict quality controls, turning in, as required by law, all registration forms "even if the name on them was Donald Duck," as Wade Rathke told me two years ago. Acorn whistleblowers tell a different story.
"There's no quality control on purpose, no checks and balances," says Nate Toler, who worked until 2006 as the head organizer of an Acorn campaign against Wal-Mart in California. And Ms. MonCrief says it is longstanding practice to blame bogus registrations on lower-level employees who then often face criminal charges, a practice she says Acorn internally calls "throwing folks under the bus."
Gregory Hall, a former Acorn employee, says he was told on his very first day in 2006 to engage in deceptive fund-raising tactics. Mr. Hall has founded a group called Speaking Truth to Power to push for a full airing of Acorn's problems "so the group can heal itself from within."
To date, Mr. Obama has declined to criticize Acorn, telling reporters this month he is happy with his own get-out-the-vote efforts and that "we don't need Acorn's help." That may be true. But there is no denying his ties with Acorn helped turbocharge his political career.
Mr. Fund is a columnist for WSJ.com.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Military Science
on: October 30, 2008, 07:10:35 AM
For years, the military has been roiled by a heated internal debate over what kind of wars it should prepare to fight.
One faction, led by a host of senior officers, favors buying state-of-the-art weapons systems that would be useful in a traditional conflict with a nation like Russia or China. The other side, which includes Defense Secretary Robert Gates, believes the military should prepare for grinding insurgencies that closely resemble the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
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SFC Thomas Wright scans the hills for signs of Taliban insurgents in eastern Afghanistan.
The dispute has long been largely academic, since the soaring defense budgets in the years since the September 2001 terror attacks left plenty of money for each side's main priorities.
That is beginning to change, a casualty of the widening global financial crisis. With the economy slowing and the tab for the government's bailout of the private sector spiraling higher, Democratic lawmakers are signaling that Pentagon officials will soon have to choose which programs to keep and which to cut. In the long and unresolved debate about the military's future, a clearer vision of how best to defend America will emerge -- but not without one side ceding hard-fought ground.
"The services are used to the old approach, with everyone getting everything. But there's not enough money," says Rep. Neil Abercrombie, the Hawaii Democrat who heads the Air and Land Forces subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee. "The due bill is finally coming in."
The two competing schools of thought each warn that making the wrong decisions now could imperil U.S. national security down the road. The military officials who favor buying advanced weapons believe that failing to invest in those systems today could leave U.S. forces ill-equipped to fight a modernized Russian or Chinese military in the future. Conversely, advocates of expanding the size of the ground forces argue that the military will be unable to meet the troop demands of the ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to say nothing of conflicts elsewhere in the world, unless the Army and Marines recruit tens of thousands of additional troops.
The final decision will ultimately fall to the next administration, which will have to prioritize how to divvy up what may be a significantly smaller defense budget. Neither the Obama nor the McCain campaign has tipped its hand on whether to focus on asymmetric conflicts like Iraq or possible large-scale conventional wars.
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Lockheed Martin's F-22 Raptor during flight tests
In Congress, however, the wheels are already in motion. Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. John Murtha, who controls the congressional purse strings for defense issues, startled Pentagon officials recently when he said that longstanding plans to recruit more soldiers and Marines would need to be scaled back or canceled.
Mr. Abercrombie, meanwhile, has fought to cut funding from the Army's flagship weapons program, the $160 billion Future Combat Systems initiative, and says he hopes to pare it back next year, even after the program recently received full funding.
"I think we should focus on the troops who are in the field today, not on some Star Wars technology that may never work," he says.
U.S. policy makers have generally preferred to buy advanced weapons, believing that the American technological edge contributed to the U.S. victory in the Cold War and to the speedy defeat of Saddam Hussein's military in the first and second Iraq wars. The approach continues to attract enthusiastic adherents, particularly within the ranks of the various armed services themselves.
Despite terrorist attacks on U.S. soil and insurgency warfare abroad, supporters argue that it is far too soon to conclude that U.S. forces will never fight a conventional war again. They note that China, which has been dramatically expanding its military, still could target Taiwan, a close U.S. ally, if the island declares independence. They also note that Russia's recent invasion of Georgia showed that the U.S. might one day have to fight Moscow on behalf of American allies like Poland and Ukraine.
"Should we simply wish away China's increasing muscle, or a resurgent Russia's plans for a fifth-generation fighter that would surpass our top-of-the-line jet, the F-22 stealth fighter?" Air Force Maj. Gen. Charles Dunlap wrote in an op-ed piece this year.
The other side in the debate argues that the enthusiasm for advanced weapons systems is misplaced. This faction, which includes Mr. Gates and many lawmakers, argues that a battery of expensive weapons are useless in counterinsurgency conflicts like Iraq, which pit U.S. forces against lightly armed but dogged foes. They say history is replete with examples of powerful militaries that were ultimately defeated by guerrilla fighters.
"The Chinese, Vietnamese, Sandinistas, Hezbollah, Palestinians and Chechnyans all triumphed over forces with superior military power," retired Marine officer Thomas X. Hammes wrote in "The Sling and the Stone," a 2006 book widely read in military circles. "The superior technology of the losers did not prove to be a magic solution."
The two sides have traded muffled potshots at each other for months. In a speech in May, Mr. Gates accused some military officials of "next-war-itis," which shortchanges current needs in favor of advanced weapons that might never be needed. The comment prompted some in the defense community, especially in the Air Force, to quietly chide Mr. Gates for "this-war-itis," a short-sighted focus on the present that could leave the armed forces dangerously unprepared down the road.
For the most part, soaring defense budgets have long kept Pentagon officials from having to settle the debate. For 2009, the Pentagon's base budget is $512 billion, which is up almost 7% from 2008 and at a historic level. Last year, supplemental spending for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan added more than $100 billion to the Pentagon's coffers.
With lawmakers talking openly of cutting back the defense budget, however, policy makers may soon have to make some difficult trade-offs.
"A lot of the key problems and questions that were already there had been kicked down the road, and they can't be kicked down the road any further," said Peter Singer, director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative at the Brookings Institution.
One of the thorniest issues is how many ground forces the U.S. military should have. Mr. Gates said last year that he wants to add 65,000 soldiers and 27,000 Marines by 2012. President George W. Bush has endorsed the idea and regularly champions it in public remarks about the military.
But the idea is running into growing resistance on Capitol Hill. Mr. Murtha says the Pentagon won't be able to afford more soldiers and Marines, and needs to take better care of the troops it has.
"This is not academic anymore," he says. "This is the direction the budget is going to have to go."
Mr. Murtha believes that the military needs to focus instead on getting U.S. ground forces back in fighting shape for possible future operations against strategic threats like China and Russia.
"If you want to deter a war, you've got to be prepared," he says.
Replacing the weapons and vehicles that have been worn down after years of service in Iraq and Afghanistan will be expensive. Mr. Murtha, a supporter of some of the military's most advanced weapons, estimates the "reset" cost for the armed forces at $100 billion or more.
Mr. Gates, for his part, believes that curtailing the growth of the ground forces would be a "mistake," according to Pentagon spokesman Greg Morrell.
"Secretary Gates firmly believes that growing the Army and Marine Corps is essential to our national security," Mr. Morrell says. He adds that defense officials acknowledge that the Pentagon has "probably hit our high-water mark" in terms of defense spending, and that some cutbacks are inevitable.
One X-factor is the fate of Mr. Gates himself, who is being actively courted by advisers to both presidential candidates. Mr. Gates, who has a stopwatch in his suitcase ticking down to the end of the Bush administration's tenure, has said he is unlikely to stay on. But the defense chief is always careful to leave himself some wriggle room.
"Well, let me just say that I'm getting a lot more career advice and counseling than I might have anticipated," he told reporters earlier this month, laughing. "I think I'll leave it at that."
If Mr. Gates remains in his job for at least a year, that would leave him in a position to help settle, once and for all, the military's internal debate about its priorities.
Write to August Cole at firstname.lastname@example.org
and Yochi J. Dreazen at email@example.com
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / T. Paine: Bless of freedom
on: October 30, 2008, 06:38:22 AM
"Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men,
undergo the fatigues of supporting it."
-- Thomas Paine (The Crisis, no. 4, 11 September 1777)
Reference: resp. quoted
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Evil of Two Lessers
on: October 30, 2008, 01:55:02 AM
The Markets Are Weak Because the Candidates Are Lousy
The good news is that an Obama victory is already priced in.By GEORGE NEWMANArticle
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A lot has been said about the causes of the drastic drops -- and extreme volatility -- in stock prices and the impending recession. Blame has been heaped on low interest rates and dubious mortgage practices, and on the subsequent collapse of real-estate prices and the freeze in financial markets. But one other major factor has largely escaped attention.
To state the obvious: The valuation of an individual stock reflects the collective expectation of investors about a company's future profits, dividends and appreciation, and the same is true of the market as a whole. These profits, in turn, are greatly influenced by government policy on taxes, spending, subsidies, environmental and other regulations, labor laws, and the corporate legal climate. Investors have heard enough from both candidates in the last month or two to conclude that prospects for a flourishing, competitive, growing and reasonably free economy in a McCain administration are bad, and in an Obama administration far worse. (In fact, the market's bearish behavior over the last couple of months pretty closely tracks Barack Obama's gains.)
If you don't believe me, please answer a few questions:
- Have you thought of what a gradual doubling (and indexation) of the minimum wage, sailing through a veto-proof and filibuster-proof Congress, would do to inflation, unemployment and corporate profits? The market now has.
- Have you thought of how easily a Labor Department headed by a militant union boss would push through a "Transparency in Labor Relations" law that does away with secret ballots in strike votes, and what this would do to industrial peace? The market now has.
- Have you thought of how a Treasury Secretary George Soros would engineer the double taxation of the multinationals' world-wide profits, and what this would mean for investors (to say nothing of full-scale industrial flight from the U.S.)? The market now has.
- Have you thought of how an Attorney General Charles J. Ogletree would champion a trillion-dollar reparations-for-slavery project (whittled down, to be fair, to a mere $800-billion, over-10-years compromise), and what this would do to the economy? The market now has.
- Have you thought of what the virtual outlawing of arbitration -- exposing all industries to the fate of asbestos producers -- would do to corporate liability and legal bills? The market now has.
- Have you thought of how a Health and Human Services Secretary Hillary Clinton would fix drug prices (generously allowing 10% over the cost of raw materials), and what this would do to the financial health of the pharmaceutical industry (not to mention the nondiscovery of lifesaving drugs)? The market now has.
- Have you thought of a Secretary of the newly established Department of Equal Opportunity for Women mandating "comparable worth" pay practices for every company doing any business with government at any level -- where any residual gap between the average pay of men and women is an eo ipso violation? Have you thought about what this would do to administrative and legal costs, hiring practices, productivity and wage bills? The market now has.
- Have you thought of what confiscatory "windfall profits" taxes on oil companies would do to exploration, supply and prices? The market now has.
- Have you thought of how the nationalization of health insurance, the mandated coverage of ever more -- and more exotic -- risks, the forced reimbursement for excluded events, and the diminished freedom to match premium to risk would affect the insurance industry? The market now has.
- Have you thought of Energy Czar Al Gore's five million new green jobs -- high-paying, unionized and subsidized -- to replace, at five times the cost, what we are now producing without those five million workers, and what this will do to our productivity, deficit and competitiveness? The market now has.
I could go on, but you get the point. Nothing reveals Mr. Obama's visceral hostility to business more than the constant urging of our best and brightest to desert the productive private sector ("greed") and go into public service like politics or community organizing (i.e., organizing people to press government for more handouts). Who in his ideal world would bake our bread, make our shoes and computers, and pilot our airplanes is not clear.
And if you think all this comes from an ardent John McCain fan, you couldn't be more wrong. The Arizona Senator has made some terrible mistakes, one of them trying to out-demagogue Mr. Obama to the economic illiterates. This kind of pandering never works. Such populists and other economic illiterates will always go for the genuine article.
Mr. McCain should have asked some simple questions -- pertinent, educational and easily understood by ordinary voters. Such as:
- If the rise in the price of oil from $70 to $140 was due to "greed" (the all-purpose explanation of the other side for every economic problem), was the fall from $140 to $70 due to a sudden outbreak of altruism?
- If a bank is guilty both for rejecting a mortgage ("redlining") and for approving it ("greed" -- see above), how might a bank president keep his business out of trouble with the law?
- If the financial turmoil of the last year or so was caused by inadequate regulation, which party has controlled both Houses of Congress and all of its financial committees and subcommittees (where such regulation would originate) in the last two years?
- If we bemoan the sending of $750 billion a year to our enemies for imported oil, which party has prevented domestic drilling for decades that would have made us more self-sufficient?
- You were unhappy with Congress, and in 2006 you cast your lot with those who, like Mr. Obama now, promised "change." Are you happy with the changes that have taken place in the last two years?
None of these questions have been asked loudly or often enough, while the other message -- everything is bad, it's all Bush's fault, and McCain=Bush -- has sunk in. So given his own penchant for business bashing, a McCain win would merely count as damage control.
The market is forward looking. If it is unhappy with a president, it does not wait almost eight years before the numbers reflect it. If it really anticipated good times under Mr. Obama, the market would have gained 40% in anticipation of the transition. By losing that much, it seems to be saying the opposite.
The silver lining in all this is that the market has already "discounted" an Obama win, so if that happens you won't wake up on Nov. 5 to find your remaining savings down the drain. If the unexpected happens, you may be in for a pleasant surprise.
Mr. Newman is an economist and retired business executive.