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23101  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Way Forward for the American Creed on: November 03, 2010, 04:40:43 PM
"Is the "barfed up" speech a response to my post?"

Goodness no!!!  Just riffing on a theme  smiley

@Doug:  Good post!

GM:  That's a hard to handle political ad!
 cheesy cool cool



23102  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / This could be awesome , , , on: November 03, 2010, 04:31:17 PM
Senator-elect Ron Paul will be where he may be able to do some serious damage afro

http://www.slate.com/blogs/blogs/weigel/archive/2010/11/03/ron-paul-to-chair-monetary-policy-subcommittee.aspx
23103  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: 2010 Elections; 2012 Presidential on: November 03, 2010, 11:55:37 AM
GM:

PLEASE tell me Allen West won!
23104  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: california on: November 03, 2010, 11:43:05 AM
Whitman didn't vote for much of her adult life, and her schpiel was pretty much identical to our current disastrous governor-- and delivered as robotically as he read his lines as an actor.  No substance there that I could discern, nor much ideological integrity-- just like our current governor.

Fiorina let Boxer paint her with the job-offshoring and the profiteering labels; very stupid.  Also she looked pathetic about 10 days before the election when she was repeatedly asked by a FOX interviewer to name ONE spending cut and could not do so.

Amongst the many of our stupidities yesterday was to reject the postponement of our unilateral global warming law.
23105  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The dash for the exits accelerates on: November 03, 2010, 11:35:19 AM
Stratfor


The United States placed Jundallah, a Sunni-Balochi Islamist group active in Iran, on its list of international terrorist entities Nov. 3. In its statement, the U.S. State Department said Jundallah was engaged in a variety of terrorist activities confirmed by the group’s leadership. In recent years, Jundallah has emerged as the most lethal rebel group fighting Iran via its use of suicide attacks targeting Shiite mosques and even the leadership of the country’s elite military force, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Washington’s apparently sudden move to declare Jundallah a terrorist organization, which Tehran previously has accused Washington and its European and Arab allies of backing, represents a huge gesture toward Iran. Washington likely made the move in hopes of reaching an understanding on the balance of power in the Persian Gulf region after U.S. forces exit Iraq. The step follows a number of recent events. These included a preliminary understanding between Iran and the United States regarding a new power-sharing formula in Iraq in the form of a government led by incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Washington seeking Iranian input in the process toward a settlement in Iraq, Iranian cooperation in Afghanistan, and Iran not creating instability in Lebanon.

Declaring Jundallah a terrorist organization is also part of the Obama administration’s efforts to reach an overall bilateral understanding with Tehran. This has become especially urgent given the new Republican control of the U.S. House of Representatives, which will force Obama to show progress on the foreign policy front if he wants to be re-elected. All eyes will now be on Iran for its reaction and/or a reciprocal gesture, particularly on the nuclear issue — for which talks are scheduled for this month — and on the Sunni share of power in the Iraqi government.



Read more: The U.S. Reaches Out to Iran on Jundallah | STRATFOR
23106  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / A tentative handover on: November 03, 2010, 10:50:38 AM
second post of the morning

The indeterminate state of the war in Afghanistan continues, with reports of progress by the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in the south and southwest and Taliban reversals elsewhere in the country.

In Helmand province, U.S. Marines have reportedly begun to hand over control of small outposts in Nawa-i-Barakzayi district to Afghan security forces. The U.S. Marines have been operating in Helmand for several years now, reinforcing British, Canadian, Danish and Dutch troops who have been holding the line in some of the territory held most tenaciously by the Taliban. Yet despite an influx of combat troops into the province, ISAF units are still spread extremely thin.



(click here to enlarge image)
Despite this dispersal of forces, some important gains appear to have been achieved in denying key bases of support and income to the Taliban. The handing over of outposts to Afghan security forces is the next step toward what amounts to the exit strategy of “Vietnamization.” By any measure, however, this is a small and isolated step. As the winter takes hold and the White House begins to review the efficacy of the current counterinsurgency focus for a report that will be issued next month, the pace and scale of these handovers will be important in gauging their effect. The United States has set a very tight timetable for itself in Afghanistan, and the only way it can stick to it is for Afghan security forces to rapidly step up and take the point in providing day-to-day security district by district. This not only will free up ISAF troops to concentrate their focus and attempt to achieve faster results elsewhere but it will also set the stage for Afghan security forces to operate and function independently, thereby reducing the overall demand for ISAF forces in the country.

Handing over smaller, isolated outposts can reduce the vulnerability of ISAF troops as well as the logistical requirements of sustaining Western forces as opposed to indigenous forces. In many cases, this means the transition could free up forces disproportionate to the size and significance of the outpost itself. The transition could also reflect local understandings being reached that are far more important to the security of the area than the makeup and nationality of forces that occupy the position.

And the most critical part of the handover is not the physical transition but what happens afterward. Obviously, military positions are not turned over to new units without due consideration. And one important consideration in the localized landscape of Afghanistan can be the makeup of an “indigenous” unit, whether it consists mainly of outsiders recruited and trained elsewhere and then shipped in or reflects the area’s distinct demographics and loyalties. This dynamic can either consolidate or undermine the conditions that led to the ISAF handover in the first place.


Going to the Other Side

Farther north, in Ghazni province, as many as 19 Afghan police officers — essentially the entire unit in Khogyani district — apparently defected to the Taliban earlier this week. The local police chief does not appear to have been involved, but the police station reportedly broke radio contact with the provincial government early Nov. 1. When Afghan security forces arrived hours later, the officers and their vehicles, weapons, uniforms and supplies had all disappeared and the police station was burned to the ground. The Taliban claimed all the officers had joined their cause.

The factors leading up to this incident are unclear, but the story is hardly an unprecedented one. For every Taliban contingent that comes over to the government/ ISAF side there is an example of a government contingent going the other way. Police units are particularly vulnerable to acts of coercion and intimidation by the Taliban — particularly in isolated areas far from reinforcements — and are all too often poorly equipped and supported. That, coupled with the perception that the ISAF is on its way out, forces Afghan security personnel to fend for themselves day-to-day and to think very seriously about the long-term implications of loyalty.

The modern history of conflict in Afghanistan is rife with the changing of sides. Hizb-i-Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar is a notorious case in point. He fought against the Soviets and even served as the country’s prime minister after the overthrow of the Marxist regime, but he was also quick to change loyalties when it is to his advantage. The ongoing fragility of security in Iraq is a reminder of how tenuous even significant security gains can be. And in Iraq, the demographics are far less complex than they are in Afghanistan, where tribal and ethno-sectarian conflict are not so cut and dry. The Taliban “movement” is a diffuse and diverse phenomenon that finds its support at the grassroots level, and though they practice and enforce a particularly severe form of Islamism, the Taliban are more naturally attuned to local sensitivities and issues.


Durability of the Transition

And this is where the durability of the transition from ISAF to Afghan security forces really comes into question. The Taliban represent a strong and enduring reality in Afghanistan — one that perceives itself as winning. In a world where locals cannot trust either the ISAF or Kabul to guarantee their security, Afghan troops in isolated areas as well as local residents must be concerned about their safety where there is no meaningful ISAF or Afghan security presence day-to-day.

The ISAF is hindered by its alliance with the regime of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who is widely perceived as being not only corrupt but also distant and uninterested in providing for local needs (or unable to do so). Indeed, some of Kabul’s successes (including recent operations in the city of Kandahar and the surrounding districts of Argandab, Panjwai and Zhari) reportedly have involved local warlord militias that exist outside the aegis of the Afghan security apparatus and beyond Kabul’s control. These forces are often more capable and aggressive than official government units, but the question of their loyalty remains an issue, and there are long-term implications in creating, supporting and strengthening independent militias in a country that already has too many of them.

The overarching U.S. strategy of crafting the conditions for a withdrawal make near-term and even potentially short-lived gains important. But the long-term gains are what count, and the United States continues to suffer from its alliance with an artificial, weak and compromised central government in a country where all politics really is local.

Just as the Vietnamization strategy hangs on wider regional arrangements with countries like Pakistan and Iran, the successful handover of an isolated outpost depends on local political accommodations. And the durability of the security transition just beginning in southern and southwestern Afghanistan will be an important gauge of the time and space that actually has been created by the surge of forces into Afghanistan.



Read more: A Week in the War: Afghanistan, Oct. 27-Nov. 2, 2010 | STRATFOR
23107  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Chronicle 11/03/10 on: November 03, 2010, 10:46:23 AM
Chronicle · November 3, 2010

The Foundation
"All men having power ought to be distrusted to a certain degree." --James Madison

Editorial Exegesis
"Republicans celebrating yesterday's ballot-box drubbing of Democrats should not be lulled into thinking their virtues carried the day. The election was first and foremost a referendum on the policies of President Obama and congressional Democrats. That verdict was clear: The American people want change. Not the empty phrases promising 'change' that scrolled across Mr. Obama's teleprompter during the 2008 campaign. By now, voters have realized there is no difference between the statist policies of FDR and LBJ and those on offer from BHO. The public is demanding an immediate change away from the big-government direction of Congress and this administration. That's why California Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi's brief four-year grasp on the speaker's gavel will come to an end in January. ... Newly elected Tea Partiers are likely to remain true to their platform of reducing taxation and regulation so that the economy might have room to grow. But if history is any guide, establishment Republicans will need to be continually reminded why they were given a governing majority. The Republican congressional sweep in 1994 promised to shake up the way things had been done for decades, and the new majority delivered in the early years. By 2006, Republicans lost their way. Instead of standing on principle, most devolved into business-as-usual politicians desperate to retain office by spreading around the public's money in earmarks and other pork. They lost sight of why they went to Washington in the first place, and their fall was inevitable. When the contest is over who can spend the most, Democrats are going to win every time. Republicans who run on a message of fiscal restraint have a chance because Americans realize families and individuals will be the ones paying for the government's spending spree for decades to come. That's why fiscal conservatism has now carried the day. Should the new Congress hold true to the principles of limited government, Republicans will build upon a lasting majority as future ballots are cast for them, rather than against their opponents." --The Washington Times

It's Morning in America
"Well, the big difference here and in '94 was you've got me." So said Barack Obama earlier this year on the campaign trail. He made a difference alright, just not the one Democrats were hoping to see.

As of this writing, Republicans are expected to pick up between 60 and 70 House seats. They needed 39 to gain control of the chamber and oust Nancy Pelosi from the speakership. In the Senate, the GOP picked up at least six seats, with three races too close to call. Democrats will hold onto the Senate, however, with at least 51 seats.

Republicans also picked up at least 10 governorships from Democrat control: Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Along with numerous state house pickups, Republicans are now in position to control redistricting after the 2010 census.

Here are a few highlights (and lowlights) from congressional races. Republicans picked up Barack Obama's former Senate seat in Illinois, but lost Joe Biden's in Delaware. Marco Rubio easily won Florida's Senate seat over two challengers, while Republicans ousted Democrat incumbents in Wisconsin (Russ Feingold) and Arkansas (Blanche Lincoln).

Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the night was that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid beat Tea Party-backed challenger Sharron Angle. Then again, on the bright side, inept Harry Reid is still the Democrat leader.

On the House side, half of the Blue-Dog caucus of so-called "conservative" Democrats lost, dropping their numbers from 54 to 26. Of course, only 24 of those 54 voted against ObamaCare, which gives us an idea of just how "conservative" the caucus is. Numerous other Democrats went down in defeat, including longtime incumbents and even some committee chairmen.

We'll have more as the week unfolds, but to be clear, yesterday was not an embrace of the Republican Party. Far from it. But it was certainly a repudiation of Barack Obama, who personalized the election around his cult of personality. He even told Latinos that they should be inspired to "punish" their "enemies" on Election Day. More important, it was a rebuke of Democrats' hard push to the left with ObamaCare, cap and trade, financial regulation, looming tax increases for all Americans and massive deficit spending.

Yesterday, voters stood athwart history and yelled, "Stop!"

(To submit reader comments click here.)

Upright
"I think that the message is unmistakable that the Obama agenda is dead. ... [N]ow it will depend on how Obama proceeds. He has now tried a two-year experiment in hyper-liberalism, and the country has said no." --columnist Charles Krauthammer

"Democrats will spin Harry Reid's victory and cling to it like the American people allegedly cling to their Bibles and guns, but I see a huge silver lining here for conservatives. ... Yes, Reid would have made a great trophy on the GOP's mantle. But cheer up: He's even better as a leader of Senate Democrats -- depending on your point of view." --columnist Stephen Spruiell

"I so want to believe that the tea party marks the beginning of a comeback for small government. But I'm probably deluding myself. I know that big government usually wins. Remember the last time the Republicans took power? They promised fiscal responsibility, and for six of George W. Bush's eight years, his party controlled Congress. What did we have to show for it? Federal spending increased by 54 percent. That's more than any president in the last 50 years." --columnist John Stossel

"[T]he GOP still faces significant challenges. Heck, an electoral bonanza notwithstanding, Republicans are still fairly unpopular. But if the first half of the Obama presidency proves anything, it is that straight-line predictions lead to political hubris. Events change and attitudes change with them, for every demographic." --columnist Jonah Goldberg

"The Constitution cannot protect us and our freedoms as a self-governing people unless we protect the Constitution. That means zero tolerance at election time for people who circumvent the letter and the spirit of the Constitution. Freedom is too precious to give it up in exchange for brassy words from arrogant elites." --economist Thomas Sowell

"America, its founding principles, its Constitution, its robust liberty tradition and its strength are being stolen out from under us by a man who has no appreciation for America's greatness and who has contempt for ordinary Americans (we're 'enemies'), whom he considers beneath him and unworthy of their sovereign prerogative to preserve this nation. The people have had enough. Consequently, absent unimaginable, comprehensive voter fraud ... we're going to see an unprecedented housecleaning." --columnist David Limbaugh


The Demo-gogues
Clinging to "hope": "Across the board, things have gotten better over the last two years. The question is can we keep that up. We can only keep it up if I've got the friends and allies in Congress, in statehouses. So even though my name is not on the ballot, my agenda -- our agenda -- is going to be dependent on whether folks turn out to vote today." --Barack Obama

Delusional: "The early returns show so far that a number of Democrats are coming out and we are on pace to maintain the majority in the House of Representatives." --soon to be former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Nial) early on election night

"We see high levels of energy on the Democratic side, we saw this early on in the early vote that were submitted, the Democratic votes, the early projections and now you are seeing strong turnouts by Democrats across the country in voting today. All this talk we heard from Washington trying to project the outcome of this election was so obviously immature. This is not over. Voters are sending the opposite message." --Democrat Congressional Committee Chairman Chris VanHollen (D-MD)

Huh? "I still carry this missionary zeal to transform the world." --California Governor-elect Jerry Brown, who seemed to be smoking something that didn't end up being legalized

Bitterly clinging to elitist thinking: "It's absurd. We've lost our minds. We're in a period of know-nothingism in the country, where truth and science and facts don't weigh in. It's all short-order, lowest common denominator, cheap-seat politics." --Sen. John Kerry (D-MA)

Faith in government: "Every single great idea that has marked the 21st century, the 20th century and the 19th century has required government vision and government incentive." --Joe Biden

Believable ... and scary: "We have done things that people don't even know about." --Barack Obama

Dezinformatsia
Unfortunately, no: "Am I the last person in America who still adores President Obama?" --Slate columnist Curtis Sittenfeld

Who said it is? "A right-wing Republican takeover of Congress and state capitals isn't something to accept with indifference." --Newsweek's Jonathan Alter

Taxes are just great: "No one will talk about taxes. They are terrified. Somehow the religion, the anti-tax religion has gotten so bad that if you -- if anybody says, 'We're just going to have to [raise taxes],' I mean, it's as if, you know, you killed a baby or something." --CBS 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl (That shouldn't be a problem for your side, which advocates killing babies every day.)

Inevitable Nazi reference: "I mean it isn't far from what we saw in the '30s, where all of a sudden, political parties started showing up in uniform." --MSNBC's Chris Matthews

23108  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Privacy on: November 03, 2010, 10:36:02 AM
Is that only if the "evidence" is to be usable in a prosecution, or does that cover "sneak a peek" stuff too?
23109  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Whoops! POTH forgot to mention this , , , on: November 03, 2010, 08:14:17 AM
second post of the morning

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704462704575590642149103202.html

By RANDALL SMITH and SHARON TERLEP
General Motors Co. will drive away from its U.S.-government-financed restructuring with a final gift in its trunk: a tax break that could be worth as much as $45 billion.

GM, which plans to begin promoting its relisting on the stock exchange to investors this week, wiped out billions of dollars in debt, laid off thousands of employees and jettisoned money-losing brands during its U.S.-funded reorganization last year.

Now it turns out, according to documents filed with federal regulators, the revamping left the car maker with another boost as it prepares to return to the stock market. It won't have to pay $45.4 billion in taxes on future profits.

The tax benefit stems from so-called tax-loss carry-forwards and other provisions, which allow companies to use losses in prior years and costs related to pensions and other expenses to shield profits from U.S. taxes for up to 20 years. In GM's case, the losses stem from years prior to when GM entered bankruptcy.

Usually, companies that undergo a significant change in ownership risk having major restrictions put on their tax benefits. The U.S. bailout of GM, in which the Treasury took a 61% stake in the company, ordinarily would have resulted in GM having such limits put on its tax benefits, according to tax experts.

But the federal government, in a little-noticed ruling last year, decided that companies that received U.S. bailout money under the Troubled Asset Relief Program won't fall under that rule.

 Neal Boudette discusses GM's IPO plans, which will raise up to $10 billion and cut the government's stake to below 50%.
."The Internal Revenue Service has decided that the government's involvement with these companies, both its acquisitions plus its disposals of their stock, means they should be exempt" from the rule, said Robert Willens, a New York tax consultant who advises investment banks and hedge funds.

The government's rationale, said people familiar with the situation, is that the profit-shielding tax credit makes the bailed-out companies more attractive to investors, and that the value of the benefit is greater than the lost tax payments, especially since the tax payments would not exist if the companies fail.

GM declined to comment.

The $45.4 billion in future tax savings consist of $18.9 billion in carry-forwards based on past losses, according to GM's pre-IPO public disclosure. The other tax savings are related to costs such as pensions and other post-retirement benefits, and property, plants and equipment.

GM may avoid paying up to $45 billion in taxes for up to 20 years, according to people familiar with the situation. Above,GM's Cadillac logo is displayed on the grill of a Cadillac SRX.
.The losses were incurred by "Old GM," the company that remained in bankruptcy after the current "New GM" resulted from the reorganization last June.


.Investors typically view tax-loss carry-forwards losses as important assets in bolstering a company's balance sheet.

GM's chief domestic rival, Ford Motor Co., last year adopted a plan to preserve deferred "tax assets" which stood at $17 billion at the end of 2009. Ford can use the tax attributes in certain circumstances to reduce its federal tax liability. Ford declined to comment on the GM tax ruling.

Write to Randall Smith at randall.smith@wsj.com and Sharon Terlep at sharon.terlep@wsj.com

23110  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The electoral process, vote fraud, SEIU/ACORN et al, corruption etc. on: November 03, 2010, 08:09:08 AM
"I do believe the decisions made need to be reexamined and maybe some arrests made"

Do you believe there is the slightest chance of that actually happening?  The BO DOJ actually undid a successful prosecution brought by the Bush DOJ against the New Black Panthers in Philadelphia wherein the acts in question were fully caught on video (go back in this thread to find all this)

As has already been covered, the current DOJ believes that the voting rights laws are not for the benefit of white people-- but the larger point is that the very legitimacy of the electoral process in many parts of America is under serious attack.
23111  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Who could have seen this coming? on: November 03, 2010, 07:46:05 AM
POTH
Solar-Panel Maker to Close a Factory and Delay ExpansionBy TODD WOODY
Published: November 3, 2010
 
SAN FRANCISCO — Solyndra, a Silicon Valley solar-panel maker that won half a billion dollars in federal aid to build a state-of-the-art robotic factory, plans to announce on Wednesday that it will shut down an older plant and lay off workers.

Solyndra opened Fab 2, a $733 million factory to make its high-tech solar panels. It plans to close an older facility, shown here.

The cost-cutting move, which will reduce the company’s previously announced production capacity, is a sign of the notable shift in the prospects for cutting-edge American solar companies, which now face intense price competition from Chinese manufacturers that use more established photovoltaic technologies.

Just seven weeks ago, Solyndra opened Fab 2, a $733 million factory in Fremont, Calif., to make its high-tech solar panels. The new plant was supposed to be the first phase of a rapid expansion of the company.

Instead, Solyndra has decided to shutter the old plant and postpone plans to expand Fab 2, which was built with a $535 million federal loan guarantee.

“Fab 2 is much more efficient and cost-effective than our existing facility,” Brian Harrison, Solyndra’s chief executive, said in an interview. “We’re adjusting our plans to be more in line with where the market is and where our business is at the moment.”

When Solyndra filed for an initial public stock offering in December, it estimated it would have a total production capacity of 610 megawatts by 2013 if its two plants were fully built out. The company now expects it have capacity of 285 to 300 megawatts by 2013.

Solyndra abandoned plans for the stock offering in June, citing market conditions.

The company is the most prominent of a wave of Silicon Valley solar start-ups that hoped to transform the economics of the industry. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California and Energy Secretary Steven Chu helped break ground on Fab 2 last year, and President Obama made an appearance at the unfinished factory in May to extol Solyndra’s innovative technology.

Mr. Harrison noted that the market had undergone a significant shift since Solyndra filed for the stock offering, with solar module prices plummeting as low-cost Chinese manufacturers like Suntech and Yingli ramped up production.

That has put pressure on companies like Solyndra, which makes advanced thin-film solar modules that are less efficient than conventional photovoltaic modules but had been cheaper to install until prices began to fall sharply last year.

Solyndra said it would lay off around 40 employees and not renew contracts for about 150 temporary workers as a result of the consolidation. The closing of the old factory, called Fab 1, will save the company more than $60 million in capital expenditures, executives said.

Mr. Harrison, who became Solyndra’s chief executive in July, said that despite the cutbacks, the company’s production of solar panels for commercial rooftops would double in 2011 from the previous year. He said Solyndra continued to receive large orders from customers.

Depending on how the market evolves, Solyndra could reopen Fab 1 or expand its new factory, Mr. Harrison said.

23112  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: Kurram Agency and divergent interests on: November 03, 2010, 07:43:40 AM

Summary
Two of prominent militant leader Jalauddin Haqqani’s sons have been meeting with tribal elders from Kurram agency in Peshawar and Islamabad in a bid to end Sunni-Shiite violence in northwestern Pakistan’s Kurram agency. Many outside parties have an interest in what happens in the strategic region, including the Pakistani Taliban, the Afghan Taliban, Islamabad and Washington. While having the Haqqanis negotiate a settlement may be a boon to Islamabad and the Afghan Taliban, it will create challenges for the Pakistani Taliban and Washington.

Analysis
Media reports have emerged that two of important Taliban leader Jalauddin Haqqani’s sons, Khalil and Ibrahim, are involved in peace talks in Pakistan’s tribal belt between Sunni and Shiite leaders from Kurram agency. The talks, which have been held in Peshawar and Islamabad, represent an attempt to settle the long-running sectarian dispute in Kurram agency.

This dispute has expanded beyond localized sectarian violence into one with much further-reaching consequences involving the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban. The implications of the wider struggle encapsulate divergent U.S. and Pakistani interests in the wider region.


A Strategic Area

Kurram agency is one of seven districts in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). With an area of 3,380 square kilometers (about 1,300 square miles), it is the third-largest agency of the FATA after South and North Waziristan. The only area in the tribal badlands with a significant Shiite population, Kurram has a long history of sectarian violence predating the creation of Pakistan in 1947.

The area became the main staging ground for joint U.S.-Saudi-Pakistani intelligence aid for the multinational force of Islamist insurgents battling Soviet forces and the pro-Moscow regime in Kabul during the 1980s, during which time Kurram’s capital, Parachinar, frequently came under attack by Soviet and Afghan aircraft. The influx of predominantly Sunni Afghan and other Islamist fighters altered the sectarian demographic balance to some extent. The Shia bitterly resisted, but Islamabad’s support of Sunni locals overcame their efforts.

Kurram saw its most intense sectarian clashes only after the rise of the Pakistani Taliban phenomenon in 2006-07, however. The agency saw two weeks of violence in April 2007 as sectarian attacks spiraled out of control after a gunman opened fire on a Shiite procession in Parachinar. The violence spread all the way southeast to Sadda before the Pakistani military went in to restore order. Despite a peace agreement between the two sides that officially ended the conflict in October 2008, antagonism between the communities continued to simmer. Violence comes mostly in the form of tit-for-tat small-arms attacks carried out by tribal militias on their Sunni or Shiite neighbors.



(click here to enlarge image)
Tribal and geographic differences reinforce the sectarian conflict. The Shia break down into three major tribes, the Turi, Bangash and Hazara. Meanwhile, eight major Sunni tribes populate most of central and lower Kurram. Sunni and Shia live in close proximity to each other throughout Kurram, which has a population of around 500,000 consisting of roughly 58 percent Sunni and 42 percent Shia.

The Sunnis’ main advantage lies in control of lower Kurram. They have exploited this to close off the only major road from Parachinar, which lies on the edge of the mountains of Upper Kurram, to Thal in lower Kurram — where connections to larger markets of Peshawar and Karachi can be made. Without access to this highway, supplies have become scarce in upper Kurram.

The Shia’s main advantage is control of a strategic piece of high ground that forms a peninsula of Pakistani territory jutting into Afghanistan, territory that has shifted over the centuries between Mughal, Afghan, British and Pakistani control. Upper Kurram provides powers from the east easy access to Kabul, which lies just under 100 kilometers (about 60 miles) from the border between Kurram agency and Paktia province, Afghanistan. This geographic advantage is why the CIA and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate decided on it as the location for training and deploying Mujahideen fighters into Afghanistan to fight the Soviets during the 1980s. It is thus key territory for anyone who wants access into eastern Afghanistan — Islamabad and the Taliban included.

The sectarian violence simmering in Kurram complicates Islamabad’s efforts to defeat the Pakistani Taliban while maintaining ties with the Afghan Taliban. The violence has become a more serious threat to Islamabad’s efforts in recent years, as outside forces reportedly have begun to exploit the sectarian violence. Sunni leaders in Kurram have blamed Iran for supplying weapons and cash to their Shiite rivals. While there is little evidence to back up this claim, it would make sense that Iran would want to establish a bridgehead in the Shiite population allowing it to operate in eastern Afghanistan.


The Sunni Militant Landscape in Kurram and the Afghan Angle

Well-known Pakistani jihadist Baitullah Mehsud used the base of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in Orakzai to expand TTP influence in Kurram. Following Baitullah’s death, Mullah Toofan (aka Maulana Noor Jamal) emerged as the main TTP leader in the central rim of the FATA. Mullah Toofan now leads efforts targeting Kurram from Orakzai, which has become the main TTP hub since the Pakistani army evicted the group from South Waziristan in a late 2009-early 2010 ground offensive. Many militants subsequently resettled in Kurram.

The TTP formed alliances with the Sunni tribes in Kurram in its bid to establish a sanctuary there. The TTP later began using the sanctuary provided by allied Sunni tribes in Kurram in coordination with Orakzai and South Waziristan to conduct attacks in the core of Pakistan.

For their part, the Haqqanis want a more stable environment in Kurram. Kurram is a key piece of territory for the Haqqani network, which organizes and has sanctuaries in Pakistan’s northwest from which it engages U.S., NATO and Afghan government military forces in eastern Afghanistan as part of the Afghan Taliban’s eastern front.

Islamabad is very open to cooperation with the Haqqanis. They pose no direct threat to Islamabad but have the military and political clout to shape conditions on the ground in northwestern Pakistan — to say nothing of Afghanistan, where Pakistan is trying to rebuild its influence. The Haqqanis are best positioned to convince Sunnis in lower Kurram to open up the road to Parachinar and to restrain Shiite forces from attacking Sunnis (and vice versa). The easing of sectarian tensions, likely if this happens, would hamper the TTP’s ability to grow in Kurram, satisfying Islamabad’s goal in the agency.

If the Haqqanis can successfully negotiate a peace in Kurram (or at least a cease-fire — Kurram’s geopolitical and sectarian rivalries will not simply vanish) it would give them a stronger foothold in an area close to Kabul and eastern Afghanistan. This arrangement would not bode well for security in eastern Afghanistan, where U.S. and coalition forces are concentrating much of their efforts in their current offensive against the Taliban and al Qaeda.

This would come at a bad time for Washington, which is looking to contain the Afghan Taliban as it seeks to bolster the U.S. negotiating position ahead of eventual talks regarding a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The Kurram sectarian conflict is also the most prominent example of Islamabad trying to eliminate “bad” Taliban while supporting “good” Taliban. Preventing sectarian violence in Kurram from spiraling out of control and benefiting the TTP requires that Islamabad seek the services of the Haqqanis. This also will help Pakistan’s longer-term efforts to re-establish its influence in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of U.S.-led forces. Kurram thus encapsulates the larger challenges Washington faces in containing a militant movement that enjoys Islamabad’s tacit support.



Read more: Kurram Agency and the U.S. and Pakistan's Divergent Interests | STRATFOR
23113  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Not our GM LOL on: November 03, 2010, 07:24:00 AM
Its from POTH, so caveat lector:

DETROIT — When executives from General Motors begin pitching its public stock offering to investors this week, they will extol the company’s financial turnaround, its snazzy new car lineup led by the plug-in Chevrolet Volt, and its growing operations in China and other international markets.

Ron Bloom, the administration’s point man in dealing with G.M., has kept in close touch with the top company executives.
Absent from the pitch? The extraordinary role that the federal government has played in fixing the nation’s biggest automaker.

While the government’s $50 billion bailout last year saved G.M. from liquidation, the Obama administration has taken great pains to distance itself from any appearance of running the company. Even a hint of government meddling, administration officials say, could have a negative effect on the value of the American taxpayers’ stake in a publicly traded company.

Yet interviews with G.M. and federal officials show decisions by the government have played a pivotal role in shaping the automaker’s leadership, its business strategies, and now its initial stock offering, which will raise an estimated $10.6 billion at the same time that it reduces the taxpayers’ stake in the company from 61 percent to below 40 percent.

People familiar with the contact between G.M. and the Treasury Department say Ron Bloom, a senior adviser to the Treasury secretary Timothy F. Geithner, is told about actions that G.M. management and the board are contemplating before they occur.

In April, for example, Edward E. Whitacre Jr., the chairman of the G.M. board who also served until recently as its chief executive, discussed a number of possible moves at a meeting in Washington with Mr. Geithner and Mr. Bloom, including G.M.’s plan to buy a finance company.

Similarly, Mr. Bloom was informed beforehand of Mr. Whitacre’s decision to resign as chief executive and the board’s decision to name Daniel F. Akerson — who was one of the government’s hand-picked directors — to succeed him.

Large private investors, like Kirk Kerkorian or Warren E. Buffett, rarely involve themselves in the day-to-day running of companies they hold major stakes in. Instead, they tend to recommend broad strategic parameters and appoint directors to oversee the execution. The Obama administration has taken a similar tack with G.M., the interviews show.

To ensure a fresh start for the company, the government chose a new chairman and several new directors for its board, which in turn picked two of its members to serve as successive chiefs of the company.

The government also set parameters for G.M.’s strategic direction — fewer brands and models, a leaner organization, and a sweeping overhaul of its plodding corporate culture.

And now the government is playing an integral role in the stock sale by deciding how many of its 304 million shares it will sell off and at what price.

“The government has not abdicated control, they have exercised it through the board of directors,” said M. P. Narayanan, a finance professor at the University of Michigan. “If you own 60 percent of the company, you set the direction and let your board carry it out.”

Publicly, the Treasury Department has taken a hands-off approach to current management at G.M. and says it is eager to sell off its shares as soon as possible. It has been a delicate balancing act; while the government avoids direct involvement in decisions at G.M., it still requires management to keep it informed of any major move.

“Demonstrating our discipline on two fronts is integral to protecting the American taxpayer,” said Brian Deese, a member of the president’s auto task force that shepherded G.M. through bankruptcy. “One is letting G.M. make its own decisions and run the business. The other is making good on our commitment to exit as quickly as practicable.”

The point man for the Obama administration has been Mr. Bloom, a central member of the auto task force. Since G.M.’s emergence from bankruptcy in July 2009, Mr. Bloom has kept in regular contact with Mr. Whitacre and Mr. Akerson, who succeeded Mr. Whitacre as chief executive in September.

Otherwise, the revamped board has carried out much of the agenda that the administration’s task force laid out for G.M. after bankruptcy. With Mr. Whitacre taking the lead role, the board hired a new chief financial officer and replaced a number of longtime G.M. executives with younger people and outside hires.

“The government wanted to see new faces in senior management, and the board took care of that,” said David Cole, a founder of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Mr. Cole, whose father was once the president of G.M., said the government had “behaved prudently” in allowing the new management team sufficient latitude to make day-to-day business decisions.

“It’s certainly easier for the administration to take that point of view given how G.M. has performed,” he said. “They can afford to stay out of the details because the company is making money again and is positioned well in the marketplace.”

G.M. was profitable in the first six months of this year, and is expected to report a third-quarter profit as well. The company is also investing in new products, adding jobs, and making moves to cut its debt and fund pension obligations in advance of the stock offering.

The Treasury Department has taken a more direct role in influencing the stock sale at G.M.

Regarding the size of the offering, Washington has been somewhat at odds with G.M. and the Wall Street underwriters.

Whereas G.M. and its bankers wanted the largest offering possible, the Treasury was more interested in getting the best price for the taxpayers’ shares. The government ultimately agreed to sell about one-third of its holdings for a price ranging from $26 to $29 a share after a three-for-one stock split, which it hoped would give the stock room to appreciate in value and bring bigger returns on future divesting.

Mr. Whitacre said in August that he hoped the government would sell all of its shares in the offering and remove the “government motors” label for good.

But that notion ran counter to the Treasury’s goals, and G.M. abruptly stopped commenting on what the government might do with its shares. Even with a sale of a third of its stock, the government will still be the largest shareholder in G.M. for some time to come, perhaps years.

23114  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Who could have seen this coming? on: November 03, 2010, 07:16:24 AM
POTH
Solar-Panel Maker to Close a Factory and Delay ExpansionBy TODD WOODY
Published: November 3, 2010
 
SAN FRANCISCO — Solyndra, a Silicon Valley solar-panel maker that won half a billion dollars in federal aid to build a state-of-the-art robotic factory, plans to announce on Wednesday that it will shut down an older plant and lay off workers.

Solyndra opened Fab 2, a $733 million factory to make its high-tech solar panels. It plans to close an older facility, shown here.

The cost-cutting move, which will reduce the company’s previously announced production capacity, is a sign of the notable shift in the prospects for cutting-edge American solar companies, which now face intense price competition from Chinese manufacturers that use more established photovoltaic technologies.

Just seven weeks ago, Solyndra opened Fab 2, a $733 million factory in Fremont, Calif., to make its high-tech solar panels. The new plant was supposed to be the first phase of a rapid expansion of the company.

Instead, Solyndra has decided to shutter the old plant and postpone plans to expand Fab 2, which was built with a $535 million federal loan guarantee.

“Fab 2 is much more efficient and cost-effective than our existing facility,” Brian Harrison, Solyndra’s chief executive, said in an interview. “We’re adjusting our plans to be more in line with where the market is and where our business is at the moment.”

When Solyndra filed for an initial public stock offering in December, it estimated it would have a total production capacity of 610 megawatts by 2013 if its two plants were fully built out. The company now expects it have capacity of 285 to 300 megawatts by 2013.

Solyndra abandoned plans for the stock offering in June, citing market conditions.

The company is the most prominent of a wave of Silicon Valley solar start-ups that hoped to transform the economics of the industry. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California and Energy Secretary Steven Chu helped break ground on Fab 2 last year, and President Obama made an appearance at the unfinished factory in May to extol Solyndra’s innovative technology.

Mr. Harrison noted that the market had undergone a significant shift since Solyndra filed for the stock offering, with solar module prices plummeting as low-cost Chinese manufacturers like Suntech and Yingli ramped up production.

That has put pressure on companies like Solyndra, which makes advanced thin-film solar modules that are less efficient than conventional photovoltaic modules but had been cheaper to install until prices began to fall sharply last year.

Solyndra said it would lay off around 40 employees and not renew contracts for about 150 temporary workers as a result of the consolidation. The closing of the old factory, called Fab 1, will save the company more than $60 million in capital expenditures, executives said.

Mr. Harrison, who became Solyndra’s chief executive in July, said that despite the cutbacks, the company’s production of solar panels for commercial rooftops would double in 2011 from the previous year. He said Solyndra continued to receive large orders from customers.

Depending on how the market evolves, Solyndra could reopen Fab 1 or expand its new factory, Mr. Harrison said.

23115  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / NYTimes: Jefferson Davis at Vicksburg 150 years ago today on: November 03, 2010, 07:11:32 AM
Vicksburg, Miss., Nov. 3, 1860


From “Ballou’s Pictorial,” 1855
 
Antebellum VicksburgDuring the last days of the campaign, while Lincoln stayed close to home and held his tongue, another man who would soon be president played somewhat less coy.
For six full weeks, Senator Jefferson Davis had been barnstorming through Mississippi on behalf of the Southern Democrats. The state was ablaze with excitement, even though — or perhaps because — most knew that the party’s candidate was bound for defeat. Amid torchlight marches, barbecues and fireworks shows, orators were preaching less about what would happen on election day itself than on what might follow it. At Vicksburg on Nov. 3, Davis told a crowd:

If Mississippi in her sovereign capacity decides to submit to the rule of an arrogant and sectional North, then I will sit me down as one upon whose brow the brand of degradation and infamy has been written, and bear my portion of the bitter trial. But if, on the other hand, Mississippi decides to resist the hands that would tarnish the bright star which represents her on the National Flag, then I will come at your bidding, whether by day or by night, and pluck that star from the galaxy and place it upon a banner of its own. I will plant it upon the crest of battle, and gathering around me the nucleus of Mississippi’s best and bravest, will welcome the invader to the harvest of death; and future generations will point to a small hillock upon our border, which will tell the reception with which the invader met upon our soil.

Not all of his state’s “best and bravest” shared Davis’s apparent eagerness to welcome federal troops to “the harvest of death.” The Vicksburg Whig’s editor denounced the senator’s oration as showing “how inordinate vanity, operating upon a moderate intellect, flattered by past successes, may influence its possessor to the most inflated of self-laudation.”

But death would indeed reap its ample harvest at Vicksburg, less than three years later.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
23116  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Over 20 coordinated attacks on: November 03, 2010, 07:08:21 AM
Second post of the day:

Count me as amongst those who think BO and the Dems have thrown away everything we finally achieved in Iraq. 

Stratfor
Approximately 100 people have been reported killed and nearly 300 injured in up to 21 seemingly coordinated improvised explosive device (IED) blasts throughout Baghdad the evening of Nov. 2, beginning at 6:15 p.m. At least 10 IEDs were placed in vehicles, four were along roadsides and two were sticky bombs generally placed underneath cars (though their exact positions upon detonation are unknown). The bombings occurred almost exclusively in Shiite neighborhoods — Sadr City, Kadhimiya, Shula, Shab, Ur, Amil, Bayaa and Abu Dshir — with the mixed Sunni-Shiite neighborhood of Yarmouk and the Sunni neighborhoods of Waziryah, Azamiyah and Karkh also being struck. The IEDs targeted popular civilian areas including cafes, restaurants, markets and residential buildings, and there are reports of mortar attacks on a Shiite mosque and blasts in Abu Ghraib, a town outside of Baghdad.



(click here to enlarge image)
The high casualty count is due to the quantity of explosive devices rather than the quality of their construction and placement. The exact locations of the devices are unclear, but their being spread across the city is evidence that the attackers were attempting to thin out the emergency response to the bombings. The timing and number of explosions indicates a coordinated plan to increase ethno-sectarian tensions, likely with the goal of disrupting the formation of an Iraqi government.

The bombings follow the Oct. 31 armed suicide assault and bombing of an Assyrian Catholic Church in Baghdad by the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), Iraq’s al Qaeda franchise, and taken together, these could represent increased capability for the group. However, a large number of individuals and groups in Iraq have the capability to carry out these types of attack, and coordinated IED attacks in the country are nothing new. While the ISI may be the first suspect, there is no shortage of groups and individuals looking to spark renewed ethno-sectarian tensions.



Read more: Coordinated Bombings Across Baghdad | STRATFOR
23117  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Hillary in Cambodia on: November 03, 2010, 07:05:30 AM
Stratfor:

Summary
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stopped in Cambodia for two days during an Asia-Pacific tour, becoming the first U.S. secretary of state to visit Cambodia since 2003. Clinton’s visit comes as China is becoming more assertive in its periphery. China has a strong foothold in Cambodia, and the United States is attempting to counterbalance Beijing’s influence in the country.

Analysis
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a stop Oct. 31-Nov. 1 in Cambodia as part of an Asia-Pacific tour including visits to Vietnam, China, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand and Australia. Although this is Clinton’s sixth trip to Asia in the past two years, it is the first time a U.S. secretary of state has visited Cambodia since 2003. The visit comes as China is becoming more assertive, particularly in its periphery as it focuses on its relationships with Pakistan, Nepal, Cambodia and the South Pacific islands, and on territorial disputes in the East China Sea and South China Sea. As China’s assertiveness grows, the United States is taking steps toward a more concrete involvement in Asian affairs.

Speaking at a joint press conference with Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Hor Namhong, Clinton pledged to strengthen the partnership between the United States and Cambodia. When asked by Cambodian students about China’s rising influence, Clinton called on Cambodia to avoid becoming too dependent on any one power and pointed out issues that Cambodia could raise with China, including the dams China built along the Mekong River that could threaten the water supply in downstream countries. Clinton’s statement reflects Washington’s intention to seek a balance of power against China in the country.

Beijing has a strong foothold in Cambodia. China was Cambodia’s top patron and provided military and economic assistance during the country’s Khmer Rouge regime, partly to counter the Soviet Union’s growing influence during the Cold War. After the collapse of the Khmer Rouge, Beijing maintained close ties with Cambodia under King Sihanouk and later Prime Minister Hun Sen. Over the years, China has been Cambodia’s top investor and aid provider. Chinese state-owned news agency Xinhua estimated that China has invested $5.7 billion — more than 20 percent of Cambodia’s total foreign direct investment — between 1994 and 2008. Beijing’s aid to Phnom Penh in 2008 accounted for more than one-fourth of total international aid to the country. Much like its economic assistance to other developing nations, China’s aid to Cambodia does not have as many conditions as aid from Western countries. Chinese aid built infrastructure including bridges, mines, power plants and roads across Cambodia, provided Cambodia with military equipment and helped train hundreds of Cambodian officials, students and soldiers. Moreover, Beijing’s aid programs always go directly to the government, which benefits the officials and improves ties at the governmental level.

From China’s perspective, though Cambodia is not as geopolitically significant as other countries like Myanmar, relations with Phnom Penh are an important counterbalance to Vietnam, a country with which China has had conflicts and long-term territorial disputes over areas of the South China Sea.

Cambodia and the U.S. Strategy in Asia
As part as the broader U.S. strategy to re-engage Southeast Asia, which began in 2009, Washington is adopting both a multilateral approach — including participation in summits related to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) — and a bilateral approach of dialogue with U.S. allies and nations that Washington previously neglected. Cambodia is no exception. Cambodia fits into broader U.S. interests, but it is not in itself geopolitically significant. Engaging a country where China has such strong influence will require more effort and strategy, and the result of such efforts is not clear (as opposed to dealing with U.S. allies in the region like the Philippines and Thailand, where it is easier to predict whether Washington will achieve its goals). However, Cambodia could benefit from even the initial steps of U.S. re-engagement.

U.S. military assistance to Cambodia resumed in 2005 after a ban following Hun Sen’s seizure of power in 1997. In 2007, U.S. direct assistance to Cambodia also resumed. Since then, the United States has provided more than $4.5 million worth of military equipment and direct assistance, which means Cambodia ranks third among Asia-Pacific countries that have received U.S. aid. Cambodia was also able to expand its military cooperation with the United States and take a broader security role in the region. This was exemplified in mid-July when Cambodia hosted the Angkor Sentinel 2010 military exercise, run jointly with the U.S. departments of defense and state and involving more than 1,000 troops from 26 countries.

In 2009, the Obama administration removed Cambodia from the list of Marxist-Leninist states, which allowed for increased U.S. investment through easier financing and loans. However, Washington suspended military assistance to Cambodia again earlier in 2010 — a move believed to be associated with the deportation of 20 Uighurs to China during Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping’s visit in December 2009. China seized upon this and later offered to provide a greater amount of the same military equipment to Cambodia without being asked. This highlighted the competition between China and the United States in the country, but it also served as a reminder to both sides that options remain open for Cambodia amid the larger powers’ rivalry.

Another benefit Cambodia can gain from Washington’s renewed interest has to do with the $445 million it has owed since the 1970s under the Lon Nol military government, which came into power in a U.S.-backed coup. Phnom Penh has called it a “dirty debt” and insists it cannot afford to repay it. Cambodia has requested that the United States write off the debt, citing China as one of the countries that has forgiven Cambodian debt in the past. Although Clinton’s visit is not meant to settle the matter, the United States and Cambodia have agreed to reopen negotiations over the issue. For Washington, the debt clearance is largely a symbolic matter, as it arranged a debt swap with Vietnam in 2000, but the issue does give the United States more leverage over Cambodia. Phnom Penh is also requesting that Washington grant more tax exemptions for Cambodian exports to the U.S. market to assist Cambodia’s economic development.

Though Cambodia stands to gain from Washington’s re-engagement with Phnom Penh, it must be cautious in managing the balance between China and the United States. Cambodia clearly does not want to jeopardize its relations with China, especially without concrete plans and a preferable offer from the United States. Cambodia’s loyalty to China was evident when, during the recent ASEAN summit, Cambodia backed China’s preference for one-on-one negotiations regarding territorial disputes in the South China Sea and called on ASEAN to avoid internationalizing the issue.

As long as the competition between the United States and China remains peaceful, small nations like Cambodia will look to benefit from the ongoing contest. Although Cambodia has displayed the ability to play a role in power games, it primarily will use offers it gets from both sides to demonstrate that its options remain open. Regardless, it is still difficult for Cambodia to make any sacrifices in the name of Washington because of China’s remaining economic, political and military influence.



Read more: Renewed U.S. Outreach to Cambodia | STRATFOR
23118  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: The Emasculation of Men In Contempory Society on: November 03, 2010, 06:52:29 AM
I get that, but I'm pretty sure there is some substantive stuff about man-made chemicals entering the eco-system and wreaking havoc with reproductive systems (hermaphrodite fish and frogs, less difference between human male and female, etc.)
23119  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Stratfor on: November 03, 2010, 06:49:29 AM

LFM Connection to 20 ‘Tourists’ Kidnapped in Acapulco

A group of 20 tourists from Morelia, Michoacan state, reportedly kidnapped Oct. 1 in the Costa Azul neighborhood of Acapulco, Guerrero state, was sent on orders from La Familia Michoacana (LFM), Reforma reported Oct. 26, citing Mexican federal security sources. According to the report, LFM sent 22 men to Acapulco (two of the men eluded capture) to “heat up” the region as part of its struggle with its rivals from the Cartel de la Sierra, headed by Edgar “La Barbie” Valdez Villarreal. Some of their objectives reportedly included assassinating the mayors of Acapulco and nearby San Marco and attacking area schools. Mexican authorities learned that Valdez Villareal had ordered the kidnapping of the 20 during the interrogation of Isidro “El Quirri” Juarez Solis, allegedly the plaza boss for the Acapulco region for the Cartel de la Sierra, whom they detained several days after the 20 were kidnapped.

As STRATFOR noted when reports of the kidnapping emerged Oct. 1, inconsistencies in the initial reports made it seem dubious that those kidnapped were merely tourists, and the Michoacan origins of this group along with the current violence in Acapulco gave the incident the hallmarks of cartel conflict.

The Cartel de la Sierra is the name used by the Valdez Villarreal faction of the former Beltran Leyva Organization (BLO), which has operated throughout the region for several years now first for the Sinaloa federation, then for the BLO and now independently. LFM has operated in the Acapulco region for several years, too, but has never had the level of influence that the Valdez Villarreal organization has had. LFM has attempted to wrest control of Acapulco several times, causing periodic spikes of violence and spectacular firefights with rival organizations and Mexican security forces.

There have been at least 21 deaths in the Acapulco region in the wake of the disappearance of the LFM-linked group, and likely more that have gone unreported. The deployment of these 22 LFM operatives, with ambitious objectives even by Mexican standards, reveals another push by LFM in the Acapulco region, with the 21 reported deaths likely the beginning of a new wave of violence between Valdez Villarreal’s organization and LFM. This new LFM offensive could see the Valdez Villarreal organization lose its status as the dominant organization in the region, especially given the recent arrests of senior Valdez Villarreal leadership, especially that of La Barbie himself in August.


October was Juarez’s Deadliest Month of 2010

A total of 350 people were killed in the Ciudad Juarez metro area during October, according to the Chihuahua State Attorney General’s Office, making it the deadliest month of 2010 to date. According to the Attorney General’s Office, Juarez has seen some 2,387 drug trafficking-related deaths in 2010 against 2,666 for the entire state of Chihuahua — and those are only the ones reported. To give some perspective, 2009 was believed to have been the deadliest year on record for the state of Chihuahua, with 2,754 drug trafficking-related deaths. Now, 2010 — which has yet to have a month with fewer than 100 deaths — is on pace to break that record.

No part of the Juarez metro area has been left untouched by the seemingly endless violence despite hosting the largest deployments of Mexican federal security forces, including both Federal Police and members of the military. The violence stems from a three-front war involving the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes organization (VCF), aka the Juarez cartel, and the Sinaloa Federation headed by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera. U.S. and Mexican law enforcement have both indicated that the Sinaloa Federation appears to have gained a tactical advantage in the Juarez region and is now the region’s primary trafficker. This appears to have provoked the VCF to employ more extreme tactics, such as deploying vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices against Mexican security forces.

Nothing suggests the violence in Juarez will slow soon, as the three-way war dynamic is not likely to change in the near term. With the Sinaloa Federation appearing to be the dominant cartel in the region, however, the VCF simply cannot maintain the pace at which it is currently operating indefinitely given its current resources. It may take several months or even years for the Sinaloa federation to either co-opt or eliminate the VCF, but it appears that one of those outcomes will be inevitable.



(click here to view interactive map)

Oct. 25

Soldiers arrested four police officers in two separate incidents in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state, for allegedly spying on military operations for criminal organizations.
Police arrested eight suspected kidnappers linked to approximately a dozen kidnappings in Mexico City. The suspects were arrested in the municipalities of Ecatepec and Tecamac.

Oct. 26

The bodies of five men were found in the municipality of Temixco, Morelos state. The victims were allegedly associates of Edgar Valdez Villarreal; police found a message at the scene attributing the crime to Cartel Pacifico Sur.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents seized 57 kilograms of heroin from a bus driven by a U.S. citizen at the Laredo border crossing.
The unidentified bodies of three men and a woman were found in the municipality of San Andres Huayapam, Oaxaca state. The victims bore signs of torture and were partially buried.
Several armed men broke into a morgue in Culiacan, Sinaloa state, to steal the body of a man who died in a firefight earlier in the day.

Oct. 27

Six police officers were injured in a grenade attack against the police headquarters in Ciudad Madero, Tamaulipas state.
The bodies of three men and a woman were discovered in Acapulco, Guerrero state. The four victims had been blindfolded and bore signs of torture.
Unidentified gunmen killed 15 people at a carwash in Tepic, Nayarit state. The private secretary for the Nayarit state attorney general was reportedly injured during the attack.
Police in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of Tijuana, Baja California state, seized approximately 1.5 tons of marijuana and arrested three suspects. The seizure reportedly occurred after soldiers checked two suspicious vehicles during a routine patrol.

Oct. 28

Unidentified gunmen killed five people during an attack on buses carrying factory workers in Caseta, Chihuahua state.
Soldiers in Xalisco, Nayarit state, killed one suspected cartel gunman and arrested 17 others allegedly linked to the murders of 15 carwash employees in Tepic, Nayarit state.
Nine policemen were killed during an ambush in Jilotlan, Jalisco state. One officer was reported missing after the incident.

Oct. 29

Six suspected gunmen allegedly working for an unidentified criminal organization were arrested at an unidentified location along the Monterrey-Saltillo highway. Police seized several automatic rifles, a grenade launcher, several bulletproof vests and 11 communication radios.
Soldiers arrested six suspected CPS gunmen at a safe house in Tejalpa, Morelos state.
Police arrested Francisco Javier Gomez Meza, director of the Puente Grande prison in Jalisco state, for alleged links to organized crime.

Oct. 30

Two suspected cartel gunmen died in Cadereyta, Nuevo Leon state, after several grenades in their vehicle reportedly exploded after their vehicle crashed during a firefight with soldiers.
Unidentified gunmen killed four people at a bar in Chihuahua, Chihuahua state.
Farmers in Ixtlan de los Hervores municipality, Michoacan state, discovered three bodies in an abandoned vehicle.
Police discovered the burned body of Canadian citizen Daniel Allan Dion in the municipality of Eduardo Neri, Guerrero state.

Oct. 31

Unidentified gunmen injured three people in the 15 de Septiembre neighborhood in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state.
Unidentified gunmen killed the deputy police commander of Ometepec, Guerrero state.


Read more: Mexico Security Memo: Nov. 1, 2010 | STRATFOR
23120  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Mexico-US matters on: November 03, 2010, 06:48:57 AM

LFM Connection to 20 ‘Tourists’ Kidnapped in Acapulco

A group of 20 tourists from Morelia, Michoacan state, reportedly kidnapped Oct. 1 in the Costa Azul neighborhood of Acapulco, Guerrero state, was sent on orders from La Familia Michoacana (LFM), Reforma reported Oct. 26, citing Mexican federal security sources. According to the report, LFM sent 22 men to Acapulco (two of the men eluded capture) to “heat up” the region as part of its struggle with its rivals from the Cartel de la Sierra, headed by Edgar “La Barbie” Valdez Villarreal. Some of their objectives reportedly included assassinating the mayors of Acapulco and nearby San Marco and attacking area schools. Mexican authorities learned that Valdez Villareal had ordered the kidnapping of the 20 during the interrogation of Isidro “El Quirri” Juarez Solis, allegedly the plaza boss for the Acapulco region for the Cartel de la Sierra, whom they detained several days after the 20 were kidnapped.

As STRATFOR noted when reports of the kidnapping emerged Oct. 1, inconsistencies in the initial reports made it seem dubious that those kidnapped were merely tourists, and the Michoacan origins of this group along with the current violence in Acapulco gave the incident the hallmarks of cartel conflict.

The Cartel de la Sierra is the name used by the Valdez Villarreal faction of the former Beltran Leyva Organization (BLO), which has operated throughout the region for several years now first for the Sinaloa federation, then for the BLO and now independently. LFM has operated in the Acapulco region for several years, too, but has never had the level of influence that the Valdez Villarreal organization has had. LFM has attempted to wrest control of Acapulco several times, causing periodic spikes of violence and spectacular firefights with rival organizations and Mexican security forces.

There have been at least 21 deaths in the Acapulco region in the wake of the disappearance of the LFM-linked group, and likely more that have gone unreported. The deployment of these 22 LFM operatives, with ambitious objectives even by Mexican standards, reveals another push by LFM in the Acapulco region, with the 21 reported deaths likely the beginning of a new wave of violence between Valdez Villarreal’s organization and LFM. This new LFM offensive could see the Valdez Villarreal organization lose its status as the dominant organization in the region, especially given the recent arrests of senior Valdez Villarreal leadership, especially that of La Barbie himself in August.


October was Juarez’s Deadliest Month of 2010

A total of 350 people were killed in the Ciudad Juarez metro area during October, according to the Chihuahua State Attorney General’s Office, making it the deadliest month of 2010 to date. According to the Attorney General’s Office, Juarez has seen some 2,387 drug trafficking-related deaths in 2010 against 2,666 for the entire state of Chihuahua — and those are only the ones reported. To give some perspective, 2009 was believed to have been the deadliest year on record for the state of Chihuahua, with 2,754 drug trafficking-related deaths. Now, 2010 — which has yet to have a month with fewer than 100 deaths — is on pace to break that record.

No part of the Juarez metro area has been left untouched by the seemingly endless violence despite hosting the largest deployments of Mexican federal security forces, including both Federal Police and members of the military. The violence stems from a three-front war involving the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes organization (VCF), aka the Juarez cartel, and the Sinaloa Federation headed by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera. U.S. and Mexican law enforcement have both indicated that the Sinaloa Federation appears to have gained a tactical advantage in the Juarez region and is now the region’s primary trafficker. This appears to have provoked the VCF to employ more extreme tactics, such as deploying vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices against Mexican security forces.

Nothing suggests the violence in Juarez will slow soon, as the three-way war dynamic is not likely to change in the near term. With the Sinaloa Federation appearing to be the dominant cartel in the region, however, the VCF simply cannot maintain the pace at which it is currently operating indefinitely given its current resources. It may take several months or even years for the Sinaloa federation to either co-opt or eliminate the VCF, but it appears that one of those outcomes will be inevitable.



(click here to view interactive map)

Oct. 25

Soldiers arrested four police officers in two separate incidents in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state, for allegedly spying on military operations for criminal organizations.
Police arrested eight suspected kidnappers linked to approximately a dozen kidnappings in Mexico City. The suspects were arrested in the municipalities of Ecatepec and Tecamac.

Oct. 26

The bodies of five men were found in the municipality of Temixco, Morelos state. The victims were allegedly associates of Edgar Valdez Villarreal; police found a message at the scene attributing the crime to Cartel Pacifico Sur.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents seized 57 kilograms of heroin from a bus driven by a U.S. citizen at the Laredo border crossing.
The unidentified bodies of three men and a woman were found in the municipality of San Andres Huayapam, Oaxaca state. The victims bore signs of torture and were partially buried.
Several armed men broke into a morgue in Culiacan, Sinaloa state, to steal the body of a man who died in a firefight earlier in the day.

Oct. 27

Six police officers were injured in a grenade attack against the police headquarters in Ciudad Madero, Tamaulipas state.
The bodies of three men and a woman were discovered in Acapulco, Guerrero state. The four victims had been blindfolded and bore signs of torture.
Unidentified gunmen killed 15 people at a carwash in Tepic, Nayarit state. The private secretary for the Nayarit state attorney general was reportedly injured during the attack.
Police in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of Tijuana, Baja California state, seized approximately 1.5 tons of marijuana and arrested three suspects. The seizure reportedly occurred after soldiers checked two suspicious vehicles during a routine patrol.

Oct. 28

Unidentified gunmen killed five people during an attack on buses carrying factory workers in Caseta, Chihuahua state.
Soldiers in Xalisco, Nayarit state, killed one suspected cartel gunman and arrested 17 others allegedly linked to the murders of 15 carwash employees in Tepic, Nayarit state.
Nine policemen were killed during an ambush in Jilotlan, Jalisco state. One officer was reported missing after the incident.

Oct. 29

Six suspected gunmen allegedly working for an unidentified criminal organization were arrested at an unidentified location along the Monterrey-Saltillo highway. Police seized several automatic rifles, a grenade launcher, several bulletproof vests and 11 communication radios.
Soldiers arrested six suspected CPS gunmen at a safe house in Tejalpa, Morelos state.
Police arrested Francisco Javier Gomez Meza, director of the Puente Grande prison in Jalisco state, for alleged links to organized crime.

Oct. 30

Two suspected cartel gunmen died in Cadereyta, Nuevo Leon state, after several grenades in their vehicle reportedly exploded after their vehicle crashed during a firefight with soldiers.
Unidentified gunmen killed four people at a bar in Chihuahua, Chihuahua state.
Farmers in Ixtlan de los Hervores municipality, Michoacan state, discovered three bodies in an abandoned vehicle.
Police discovered the burned body of Canadian citizen Daniel Allan Dion in the municipality of Eduardo Neri, Guerrero state.

Oct. 31

Unidentified gunmen injured three people in the 15 de Septiembre neighborhood in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state.
Unidentified gunmen killed the deputy police commander of Ometepec, Guerrero state.


Read more: Mexico Security Memo: Nov. 1, 2010 | STRATFOR
23121  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Tactical breakdown of church attack on: November 03, 2010, 06:35:17 AM
Summary
More than 50 people were killed Oct. 31 after Iraqi security forces raided a Baghdad church where members of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), Iraq’s al Qaeda node, had taken about 135 individuals hostage. This incident demonstrated a shift in ISI tactics from bombings and small-arms attacks to taking large numbers of hostages. It also showed Iraqi security forces are capable of putting down a hostage situation much quicker than witnessed during the 2008 Mumbai attacks, even if not necessarily bloodlessly.

Analysis
At about 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 31, Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) militants set off an explosive device inside a car and staged an assault on the Iraq Stock Exchange and the Sayidat al-Nejat Church in the Karada district of Baghdad. Following the blast, at least 10 gunmen breached the church, two detonated suicide vests, and about 135 people were taken hostage. The attackers then called media outlets to demand that suspected al Qaeda militants held in Iraqi jails be released. The hostage situation lasted less than four hours, until an elite Baghdad counterterrorism force raided the church to end the standoff. At least 58 hostages, soldiers and gunmen were killed and another 75 were wounded during the raid.

On the surface, this incident would appear to bear similarities to the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai, with jihadists taking hostages and attacking targets likely to garner Western media attention — in this case, a Christian Church — in order to provoke a standoff. However there are several differences from the Mumbai attacks that make this incident notable, including a shift in tactics by the ISI to include large hostage-taking operations, an activity long-practiced by other militant groups, as well as the ability of the Iraqi security forces to quickly bring the situation to a close, even if the presence of suicide vests on the gunmen made a bloodless end to the incident nearly impossible.


The Attack

The gunmen, armed with assault rifles, grenades and suicide vests, initially attacked the Iraq Stock Exchange, wounding four civilians and killing two guards in the car bombing. After failing to enter the stock exchange, the attackers moved on to the Sayidat al-Nejat Church. The church appears to have been the main target as the attackers already prepared demands related to Christian interests, and the attack was timed when there would be a large number of parishioners attending services. The gunmen detonated two more explosive devices before taking an estimated 135 parishioners hostage.

As occurred during the Mumbai assault, Al-Baghdadia, a local television station, soon reported that it received calls from the attackers, who claimed they were from the ISI, issuing their demands. The gunmen told Al-Baghdadia they wanted several suspected members of al Qaeda held in Iraqi jails, as well as two women from a Coptic church who they said were detained in Egypt after converting to Islam, to be released. A statement from the ISI released on the Internet after the attack confirmed these demands. Also like the Mumbai siege, it appears that the militants were trying to create a hostage situation and may have planned to take over multiple buildings — they failed to enter the stock exchange — with the intention of dispersing security forces over a wider area and preventing them from focusing on one particular target.

The response by Iraqi security forces demonstrated why the militants would pursue this strategy. With only one building to focus on, Baghdad police and counterterrorism units quickly arrived on the scene and, likely with U.S. support including reconnaissance aircraft, surrounded the church within an hour of the attack. All surrounding homes and buildings were evacuated and a response plan was prepared. At approximately 8:40 p.m., counterterrorism units raided the church, killing five of the attackers, arresting five and freeing all the surviving hostages. The operation to end the hostage situation was over in less than 20 minutes, within four hours of the initial attack.

The Iraqi government is facing criticism for the response by security forces that left 58 killed, including 43 civilians and 10 security forces, and around 75 wounded. Approximately 92 hostages were freed, including many who suffered injuries at some point in the ordeal. As noted before, most of the deaths were caused by the attackers’ suicide vests loaded with ball bearings, though it is unclear if the casualties occurred when the ISI militants initially took the church or during the security response. Some survivors claimed to have survived by barricading themselves with bookshelves in a front room of the church, creating a safe-haven.

The decision by Baghdad forces to raid the building was due to their belief that the attackers were going to kill the hostages, as well as their desire to prevent a drawn-out siege and the accompanying media attention that would increase pressure on them to meet the attackers’ demands. Considering that the attackers made demands they knew would not be fulfilled, set off explosive devices when they took the church and wore suicide vests, increasing the likelihood of mass casualties in a raid, there is reason to believe the militants had no concern for the lives of their hostages.


A Growing Trend

While Iraqi officials and security forces will face scrutiny over the raid, they demonstrated a quick response to an armed assault and hostage situation. After the warnings of similar threats in Europe in September, this incident shows how difficult it is for militants to maintain a hostage situation for more than a few hours, even for heavily armed militants in an insurgency-ravaged country like Iraq.

The ISI employed similar tactics to those used by other groups in attacks such as a May 2010 attack in Lahore, a December 2009 attack in Rawalpindi and a January 2010 attack in Kabul. All of these incidents involved several teams of gunmen, some of whom took hostages, prolonging the incident and complicating the security response.

This tactic of combining assault rifles, suicide vests and other weapons in a hostage or siege situation, while certainly not novel, has increased in popularity since the Mumbai attacks. While this poses challenges for security forces, they are not insurmountable ones. The Baghdad Operations Command response to the Oct. 31 attack demonstrated the ability to end the situation quickly, unlike India’s response to Mumbai, though it may take more training to avoid the high casualty count. Whether the ISI will decide this attack is a success is unclear, but the report by Baghdad officials that most of the attackers were foreign fighters means they may have found a new source for militants, and they may have more resources to carry out fresh attacks.

23122  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / New BPs in TX on: November 03, 2010, 06:25:04 AM
Pasting here GM's post from the 2010 election thread:

http://pajamasmedia.com/blog/breaking-video-soon-new-black-panthers-commit-outrageous-violations-of-texas-voting-law/

BREAKING VIDEO: New Black Panthers Commit Outrageous Violations of Texas Voting Law
They spoke with election officials inside polling places. After these discussions, white poll watchers were either denied admittance or ejected. White election judges were also removed, under threat of calling the police for trumped-up complaints.
23123  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The War on Drugs on: November 03, 2010, 06:20:48 AM
Agreed. 

I gather Prop 19, the marijuana initiative here in CA lost yesterday.  Too bad, it was a chance to move towards sanity on this issue.
23124  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: MMA Thread on: November 03, 2010, 06:18:47 AM
Pau:

Nothing amiss with your comment.  Inadvertently you stepped into an American political minefield.  smiley Like Rarick, I take the tatoo as a symbol of divisiveness, all the more inflammatory in the context of the brouhaha over Arizona's law about illegal immigration wherein many people IMHO have showed great disrespect to the concept of America.  I count myself as amongst those who believe that if you come to America, then come to be an American.  Unfortunately it seems that they is a growing number of people here who do not feel that way.

Furthermore and apart from that, I would be irked at "Yellow Power" or "Red Power" or anything like that.
23125  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: 2010 Elections; 2012 Presidential on: November 03, 2010, 12:28:02 AM
Doug:

Keep us posted on that please!
23126  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Privacy on: November 02, 2010, 05:23:20 PM
GM:  It was an effort at humor, denotedby the presence of this symbol:    cheesy
23127  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Lost in translation on: November 02, 2010, 05:21:18 PM
Today the Obama administration attempted damage control over comments allegedly made by President Obama on Telemundo.  Press Secretary Robert Gibbs complained, “President Obama urged Latino voters to punish the Yemenis – not their political enemies.  Something got lost in translation.”

23128  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / CA Office of Privacy Protection on: November 02, 2010, 05:02:59 PM
In general, this thread-- in particular, your posts cheesy  cheesy  cheesy

Tangentially related: 

The Office of Privacy Protection
www.privacyprotection.ca.gov

Haven't had a chance to look at it yet.
23129  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / There's a metaphor in here somewhere on: November 02, 2010, 04:55:43 PM
from The Economist)


Pornography and politics
Rising to the occasion
Electoral victory brings a surprising consequence: the winners look at smut
Oct 27th 2010

WHEN Barack Obama won the American presidency in 2008 his supporters cheered, cried, hugged—and in many cases logged onto their computers to look at pornography. And, lest Republicans crow about the decadence of their opponents, precisely the obverse happened when their man won in 2004.

That, at least, is the conclusion of a study by Patrick Markey of Villanova University, in Pennsylvania, and his wife Charlotte, who works at Rutgers, in New Jersey. The Markeys were looking for confirmation of a phenomenon called the challenge hypothesis. This suggests that males involved in a competition will experience a rise in testosterone levels if they win, and a fall if they lose.

The challenge hypothesis was first advanced to explain the mating behaviour of monogamous birds. In these species, males’ testosterone levels increase in the spring, to promote aggression against potential rivals. When the time comes for the males to settle down and help tend their young, their testosterone falls, along with their aggressive tendencies.

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Something similar has since been found to apply to fish, lizards, ring-tailed lemurs, rhesus monkeys, chimpanzees—and humans. In many of these animals, though, there is a twist. It is not just that testosterone ramps up for breeding and ramps down for nurturing. Rather, its production is sensitive to a male’s success in the breeding competition itself. In men, then, levels of the hormone rise in preparation for a challenge and go up even more if that challenge is successfully completed. Failure, by contrast, causes the level to fall.

Previous research has found these hormonal ups and downs in male wrestlers, martial artists, tennis players, chess players and even people playing a coin-flip game. In evolutionary terms, it makes sense. If a losing male continues to be aggressive, the chances are he will be seriously injured (it is unlikely natural selection could have foreseen competitive coin-tossing). Turning down his testosterone level helps ward off that risk. Conversely, the winner can afford to get really dominant, as the threat of retaliation has receded.

For most species, determining that this actually happens requires a lot of boring fieldwork. But the Markeys realised that in the case of people they could cut the tedium by asking what was going on in those parts of the web that provide a lot more traffic than their users will ever admit to, on the assumption that men fired up by testosterone have a greater appetite for pornography than those who are not.

To do this they first used a web service called WordTracker to identify the top ten search terms employed by people seeking pornography (“xvideos” was the politest among them). Then they asked a second service, Google Trends, to analyse how often those words were used in the week before and the week after an American election, broken down by state.

Their results, just published in Evolution and Human Behavior, were the same for all three of the elections they looked at—the 2004 and 2008 presidential contests, and the 2006 mid-terms (in which the Democrats made big gains in both houses of Congress). No matter which side won, searches for porn increased in states that had voted for the winners and decreased in those that had voted for the losers. The difference was not huge; it was a matter of one or two per cent. But it was consistent and statistically significant.

If the polls are right, then, next Tuesday’s mid-term elections will see red faces in the red states for those furtive surfers who are caught in the act. In the blue states, meanwhile, a fit of the blues will mean the screens stay switched off.

23130  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Barfed up from the memory hole on: November 02, 2010, 10:31:02 AM
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MI53fHNygpI
23131  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Savvy friend 3 on: November 02, 2010, 08:32:30 AM
Crafty Dog asked me to comment about what would have happened without interventions of the government.  Here is what must be kept in mind.

Whether you are talking about Fannie and Freddie or Private Securitization, the money used by these entities all comes from Wall Street sources.  Only portfolio loans use a “banks” money/deposits.  So, 80% to 90% of the total amount used for mortgage loans is Wall Street.  Remove this money from the mix, and housing crashes like it did in 07 and 08. 

The creation of Fannie, Freddie and other sources certainly spurred housing, but in the last few decades drove the cost of homes up considerably.  Loose and plentiful money due to low interest rates drove up demand far beyond what was reasonable and affordable.

The Community Reinvestment Act and other housing incentives created further demand.  Unfortunately, this demand ended up with people buying homes that were not qualified to buy homes, and thus we see the end result. 

The blame cannot be based solely on the CRA and other housing programs.  The real blame must be placed upon the government using housing as a wealth and job creation program far beyond what could reasonably be expected.

Starting after 9-11, if the government had kept interest rates high, it is likely that the housing boom would not have occurred.  The recession would have continued, but it would have resolved itself within a year or two.  Sure, the damage from the recession would have financially hurt many, but the “cure” has certainly been much worse.

Housing would not have seen the value inflation that actually occurred.  Likely, we would have seen increases in value in the 2-3% range, after an initial drop in values. 

Home sales, due to the easy money policy of the Fed would not have taken off.  They would have been restrained as in all recessions, but would eventually return to more “normal” levels. Instead, due to the easy money policies, Wall Street turned to “guaranteed returns” from MBS, believing that housing would be safe investments.  This resulted in such an increase in lending money, and such demand for loans from Wall Street that prudent lending standards were tossed out the window.

If one could build a timeline of the decrease in lending standards from 2002 to 2007, it would be shocking.  Each year would show a steady decline in lending standards.  By mid 2004, there were few credible buyers left, and so loans with credit scores of 550, stated income became common.  Option ARMS became the loan of choice, because that was the only way that people could ever make the monthly payment.  By 2006, prove that you had a pulse, and you could buy a home. 

People are now clamoring for an end to Freddie, Fannie and Securitization.  None of these people have any idea of what would happen.  All the funds left for lending would be with the banks, as money held on deposit.  This is 10-15% of the money needed to support a credible housing industry. The entire housing industry would be stifled and crash.  Lending would cease except for the few who could afford substantial down payments of 40% or greater.   Home values would fall drastically for of buyers.  The end result would be a greater calamity than what we have now.

23132  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: 2010 Elections; 2012 Presidential on: November 02, 2010, 07:43:03 AM
 huh
23133  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The electoral process, vote fraud, SEIU/ACORN et al, corruption etc. on: November 01, 2010, 10:42:55 PM
Nice find Freki.  I wonder why I haven't read about it in the POTH? angry
23134  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: california on: November 01, 2010, 04:39:15 PM
GM:

I would read that as saying that the official numbers would be taking a baby step towards greater honesty/accuracy.
23135  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / My savvy friend comments 2 on: November 01, 2010, 04:35:38 PM

Securitization & MERS

The first post was to provide a historical view of the role housing played in the economy and the background for how we got into this mess.  It is necessarily simplified, but it generally details the history. This post will attempt to explain securitization and the issues in question.

Securitization was the process whereby loans were sold to Wall Street in the form of bonds and certificates.  It involved a number of different entities established solely for the purpose of securitization.  The purpose of such entities was to provide REMIC status, or favored tax status to the “final holders” of the notes and income streams.

The major entities that were involved in the securitization process”

The Originator:  The lender that funded the loan.  (There are table funders involved at times, but they simply used the Originator’s money, so this is irrelevant for this discussion.)

The Sponsor/Seller:  This was the entity that “collected” the loans together from different lenders so that the loans could be securitized.

The Depositor:  The Depositor took the loans from the Seller, broke them up into the different tranches, had the tranches rated, and prepared the bonds for sale.  The Depositor also created the Trust, and at the closing date of the Trust, deposited the loans into the Trust.

Issuing Entity:  This is the Trust.

Underwriters:  The agencies who “rated” the bonds.

Servicer/Master Servicer:  The entities who collected the monthly payments and handled administrative details to include foreclosure, modifications, etc.

Trustee:  The entity who “oversees” the operations of the Trust, Servicer, etc.  All “authority” is delegated.

There are a number of documents associated with the securitization of the loans, most important of which was the Pooling and Servicing Agreement, aka the PSA.

When loans were securitized, there were specific procedures outlined that had to be done.  Adherence to those procedures is at the crux of the legal arguments related to securitization.

The primary procedure was that when the loan was securitized, the loan would be “sold” first to the Sponsor, then the Depositor, and finally to the Issuing Entity.  Each loan was to be “assigned” to the entity taking possession of the loan and there was to be a “perfected Chain of Title” according to the PSA.  However, each PSA made allowances for MERS, and for a MERS loan, there need not be the Assignments.

The actual process that the lenders have used was to make assignments to the Trust after default of the loan.  No intervening assignments to the Sponsor or Depositor would occur. This is where attorneys are alleging the fraud and arguing “Prove the Note”.

The problem with such an approach is that when the loan is securitized, Commercial Code arguably takes precedent. Securitization is covered under Commercial Code, and not Real Estate Law.  Under UCC, the Deed “follows” the Note.  When a Note is transferred, it carries the Deed of Trust with it.  So, simply the endorsement of the Note is enough to transfer all beneficial interest in the Deed.  Assignments would not be required.  That was the purpose of endorsing the Note “in blank”.  The Note is turned into a Bearer Instrument, and assignments would not be needed.

It can now be seen that the different requirements under Real Property Law and under Commercial Code contradict each other.  And, there are no legal precedents that cover Real Property and Personal Property Law combined.  (Bonds and securitization fall under Personal Property and SEC.) Judges have no idea how to resolve the contradictions and so they go with what they are comfortable with.  Is the loan in default?  If so, let the lender foreclose and then the lender can sort it all out.

(Some argue that the homeowner should use the PSA and assignment requirements to attack the lender.  The problem is that the homeowner would be using a “third party beneficiary” argument, and such arguments would not be allowed.)

MERS is playing a huge role in the litigation as well.  MERS is an electronic registry designed to track the ownership and servicing rights of each loan registered with MERS.  MERS has taken the place of the beneficiary on loans.

Since MERS is the “nominee for the beneficiary” or “agent”, when assignments are made, or foreclosures are initiated, MERS is usually the “stated authority”.  This is a point of contention.  Does MERS have the authority to do assignments or foreclose? 

The actions against MERS are taking place in the Judicial Foreclosure states and in the Bankruptcy Courts.  Often, you will see cases where the courts have ruled against MERS and its authority.  However, these cases are not common, though the persons quoting those cases make it appear common.  The majority of the courts are ruling in favor of MERS.  The Minnesota Supreme Court has ruled in favor of MERS.  Arkansas has ruled against MERS.  Ultimately, this will only be resolved by either the US Supreme Court or by Federal Legislation.  (Non-Judicial States “duck” this issue by relying solely on the foreclosure statutes for the state.)

(I have reviewed extensively both the issues with Securitization and with MERS. I have thoroughly read the judicial rulings on both sides, and the statutes.  There are good points to be made on both sides, but when related to homeowners, there is a real issue that I will discuss later in this response.)

Servicing of the loans is another issue being argued.  The attorneys are claiming that the servicer has no authority to foreclose, and that only the Trust can foreclose.  These arguments are bogus since the PSA gives the servicer the authority to act for the Trust.  But, if the Trust can be shown to not own the loan, then the argument has some credence.

You will also read that loans were sold into more than one Trust.  Yes, in some cases that has happened, but this is a very few cases, and it was outright fraud on the part of the Originator.  Most of the claims are on the basis of a complete misunderstanding of the securitization process and later processes that occurred.

Once the bonds were sold to certain investors, the investors combined the bonds with other bonds.  They added credit enhancements and then broke these up and sold them as “synthetic CDO’s”.  These were artificially created bonds, and in a term that I use, a “second generation” bond.  These actions are where people get confused about the loans being placed into more than one trust.

Another point of confusion for attorneys is that loans could always be “removed” from the Trust, and replaced with other loans.  The original Mortgage Loan Schedule filed with the SEC need not be updated, so a loan would appear to be in the Trust, when it had been removed and replaced.  When a Notice of Default was filed with the name of the new Trust, this led to confusion that the loan might be in more than one Trust.  Attorneys not understanding this will file allegations to delay the foreclosure.

Again, yes, there have been instances of a loan being placed into more than one Trust, in a fraudulent manner, but these instances are not the norm.

The current “Big News” is regarding the filing of fraudulent foreclosure documents.  The allegations consist of people signing the documents and not having factual knowledge of the defaults.  It is being alleged than the foreclosures are fraudulent.  Yes, the issue of the “robo-signers” is valid. But here is what is not being told.

When a home goes into default, the servicer is the entity first aware of the default.  They fully document the files, and know the status of the loan at every step.  (Yes, errors can occur, but these errors are not the norm.)  When the loan hits a certain stage of default, usually three months or longer, it is now ready for foreclosure.  All of the documents are packaged together and then sent to the entity that will be foreclosing.  The documentation of the default is in the package.

The foreclosure firm takes the information and prepares the documentation.  So it has the factual proof that such default exists.  Once the foreclosure documents are prepared, the “robo-signer” signs the documents.  True, the signer has not inspected the documents, but both the servicer and the foreclosure firm have inspected the documents.  Therefore, two entities have direct knowledge of the default.  The bottom line is that the “robo-signer” arguments are nothing more than delaying tactics.

There are so many more arguments and facets to the issues involved, I could write a book about it, and still not cover all the issues.  I just wanted to cover a few key elements here.  If anyone has questions, I will be more than happy to respond to the questions and also other topics.

Before I end and get back to work, I want to say a couple more things.

Homeowners and advocates are arguing lender fraud on the loan.  They claim that the lender has violated a fiduciary duty to the homeowner by providing them a loan that they could not repay.  The truth is that courts have ruled continuously that a lender has “no fiduciary duty” to a borrower. So this argument does not fly.

Furthermore, what would happen if the lender declined the loan?  The answer is simple.  The homeowner would have gone to another lender to get the loan.  They would have continued until they found a lender.  So this argument is bogus. 

Also, in over 3500 exams that I have done, I can conclusively prove borrower fraud on 90% of them.  This is in addition to any lender or broker fraud.  So, almost always, those who are the most vocal against the lenders have “unclean hands”.  Lenders will soon be going after them.

Finally, many advocates claim that the appraisals were grossly inflated.  The argument is that the homes were never worth what they were sold at, and that the true value might be $200k-$300k less.  The inflated appraisals were used by the lenders as part of the “fraud”.

What these advocates and homeowners refuse to accept is that people were making the offers and were willing to pay the price of the home.  Therefore, the values were “legitimate” at the time.  (You don’t hear these same people argue that when stocks fall, the price of the stocks were fraudulently inflated.)  Also, you can bet that every time a similar home in their neighborhood sold at a higher value, then every homeowner in the neighborhood rejoiced over the amount of money that they just made.

The reality is that everyone was at fault in the foreclosure crisis; homeowners, lenders, Wall Street, the Federal Government, everyone.  There may be a few exceptions, but these are not the norm.  Now, everyone wants to go after the lenders and ignore their own responsibility in their fate.

There are solutions to the Housing Crisis, but it is not what homeowners and advocates want to hear.  The reality is that most people who are in foreclosure will never be able to afford the home, even with modification.  It is that simple.  Those people need to be foreclosed upon.

Principal Reduction should not be forced upon lenders and the securitizing entities.  Among other things, it violates the Contract Clause of the Constitution.  Furthermore, it punishes people who are not in foreclosure or who are not underwater.  Only 25% of the homes are underwater.  It will be everyone else who pays for the reductions.

Lenders who own the loans in their portfolio should not be forced into principal Reductions.  That will destroy their capital reserves and will immediately force the lender into receivership.

The only solution is to get out of the way of the banks and to let them foreclose on most people.

I know that my comments are going to give rise to much criticism and complaints.  Some will likely complain that I am on the side of the banks.  The truth is that I take no sides.  I am an unbiased participant in what is going on, and I will remain so.  I tell both sides as it is, like it or not.

23136  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / My savvy friend comments on: November 01, 2010, 04:34:38 PM
Marc,


Here is Part 1.  It covers the historical perspective.  Just cut and paste everything below.


Crafty,

I apologize for not replying to previous requests, but I have been extremely busy.  I finally caught up on current work, but preparing for two new projects.  This first post is extremely long, but it must be to explain how we got to where we are today.   

To establish my bona fides to speak to the subject of the housing crisis, here is my background.  I spent 12 years doing mortgage loans.  In late 2007, unable to help borrowers, I teamed with attorneys to assist homeowners.  My responsibility was to evaluate loan documents.  I reviewed everything from TILA/RESPA to fraud, securitization, MERS and the foreclosure process.  Much of what you read on other websites, I originally brought to light.  Many of the “loan audits” seen today have my original ideas, word for word.  Some firms have taken old exams I did from early 2009 and copied them as their own work.  Even then, because they do not know the underlying thought processes, their exams are inaccurate.

The exams that I do today are the most comprehensive in the country.  They are unbiased, covering even the homeowner, and I tell it like it is.  Borrower fraud, Lender Fraud, Securitization issues and the Foreclosure Process are all covered.  As a result, I work both sides, for homeowners and for lenders.

Most of what people read today about the housing crisis is based upon one-sided, biased thinking.  The persons writing articles only look from the homeowner’s perspective, and try to develop arguments for stopping foreclosures.  They will not entertain any arguments in defense of the banks.  As a result, they give out substandard information to homeowners, doing them and attorneys a major disservice.

The Housing Crisis, of which I am writing an article, has its roots going back to the Depression and then 1934-1936, when the original FHA was created to stabilize and then stimulate housing.  Prior to this time, home loans were done solely by local banks, with terms of 3-5 years, and loan amounts generally in the range of $1,000 to $3,000.  FHA and the end of WW2, changed all of this. 

The returning veterans and the changed role of women created a new stimulus for housing.  This led to the creation of the VA and offering of VA loans.  Housing and its ancillary industries became one of the great supports for economic growth. 

By the 1960’s, FHA had become a large budgetary item.  Congress created Fannie Mae and Freddie as off balance sheet items, who then securitized loans through bonds, etc.  This offered an “incredible” stream of money for housing, and truly stimulated the market even more. 

Not content to let things be, Congress created other programs like the Community Reinvestment Act so that “non-qualified” persons could by homes.  This added even more demand for housing.

Shortly after, in the 70s, the economic structure of the US began to change.  Manufacturing, the true mechanism of wealth creation began to fall off.  Other countries began to offer products in the US, and many US firms went oversea, or completely out of business.  The economy began to be “service” oriented, which does not create wealth, but only serves to transfer it from one person to another.

Also, during the 70’s, B of A and Salomon Brothers experimented with Securitization, but at the time, it really did not “take off”. 

The 80’s saw even more changes to the economic structure of the US.  Manufacturing was leaving in droves, and the Service Sector becoming ever more important.  But wealth creation was not occurring until the “Telecommunications” Bubble in the 19080’s, with the Cellular and Airwave changes, which stimulated the economy.  This affected housing and saw to housing growth, until 1989, when many areas saw economic recession and a drop of 20% or more in housing.

The early 90s saw a change in the economy again with the downsizing of the military.  Industry and housing was damaged, with values again falling.  This continued until the Mid 90s, when the Dot Com Bubble exploded.

Concurrent with the Dot Com Bubble, housing and home values began to take on new momentum.  The money being made on Dot Com stock investments offered large sums of money for the public, who used the money for housing and other goods. 

In 1990, another event occurred which would spur housing at a later time, and, in fact, lead to massive securitization.  Long Beach Savings, the predecessor of Ameriquest and other Sub-Prime lenders, united with Greenwich to offer $67m in Mortgage Backed Securities.  The offering was a great success, and all other lenders took notice.

Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, B of A and others formed a working group in 1993 to determine how to take advantage of the success of the Long Beach offering.  The group came back in 1995 with recommendations, one of which was to form MERS.  By, 1996, MERS had been created and in 1998, it was ready to go full ahead. But there was still one issue to resolve.

Glass Steagall was the final hurdle.  To begin to securitize loans, it must be repealed and in 1999, it was repealed.  Now, commercial banks, investment banks and insurance companies could “intrude” on each other’s turf.

During 98 & 99, another factor delayed the process of securitization.  The implosion of Long Term Capital affected the lending industry significantly.  In Oct 98, sub-prime lenders were folding up shop in droves.  Credit lines were pulled, and there was nothing to replace the lines.  Only a few large sub-prime lenders survived.

Then, in Mar 2000, the Dot Com bubble burst.  We all know how the market tanked.  With it, the economy went into recession.  Housing took another hit.  Just as things looked better and the recession was ending, 9-11 occurred.

 

It must be remembered that none of this was occurring in a vacuum.  During the previous 30 years, the economy had faced massive changes.  Manufacturing had declined and the service industries began to dominate.  The auto industry had destroyed itself by its concessions to unions.  Electronics were dominated by Asian countries.

The American consumer had changed as well.  With the growing prosperity, the consumer had all their “toys”.  Everyone owned autos and hard goods.  When new goods were bought, it was to replace older goods.  American industry was in either a “mature” market, or a “declining” market phase.

No replacement “Bubble” industries were on the horizon.  The economy was facing a resumption of the recession as a result of 9-11.  The government was left with few options for recovery.

To reassure the Markets and to stimulate the economy, Greenspan started to ease interest rates.  As he eased, this created problems across the board.  It led to the point that the people with “real money” were seeing little Return on Investment.  Guaranteed income was desired, but there was nowhere to turn.  The solution was the Housing Market.  If the Housing Market was stimulated, then there would be construction, home improvement, infrastructure and other industries affected positively.

2002 saw the beginning of full scale securitization.  Wall Street had need for the income from the guaranteed income streams generated by securitization.  The government had the need for the stimulus created by housing.  Lenders had the need for the money to lender that came from Wall Street.  A match thought to be “made in heaven” was really the “stimulus from hell”.

Through the following years up to 2007, the need to feed Wall Street kept growing.  By early 2004, qualified borrowers no longer existed, so the lenders loosened standards for lending.  No matter what, the demand for Mortgage Backed Securities continued.  Eventually, anyone with a heart beat could qualify for a loan.

During this period of time, the Government knew what was happening, but they could do nothing about it.  To restrict lending would result in recession and a revealing of the underlying weakness of the economy.  So the Fed allowed the charade to continue.

By mid 2006, the strains were showing.  Defaults were increasing. Home values in certain parts of the US were failing, and especially hard in areas like Florida. At the end of 2006, the first Sub-Prime lenders were closing.  This trend would continue throughout 2007, at which time the Housing Bubble burst.

The purpose of this long writing was to show the historical perspective of housing and securitization.  Essentially, it was to show that Housing has been one of the significant “supports” of the US economy for decades.  Since the 80’s, the US has relied upon “Bubbles” to keep the economy growing.  When a bubble bursts, the economy goes to pieces.

With the Housing Bubble gone, there are no “easy” Bubbles to see coming.  The government will try to create a new bubble with Green technology, but that will likely be a no starter.  Health Care will be another bubble, but it would end up destroying the economy.  So, every effort to restart Housing will need to be made.

I should point out that Illegal Immigration comes into play here.  Illegal Immigration means people coming to the US, with their wants and needs. Housing and ancillary industries will be helped by the influx of people, so don’t expect to see anything done on immigration.
23137  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Circling the dollar drain on: October 31, 2010, 03:34:55 PM
Pasting GM's post on the China thread here as well for ease of research:

http://www.europac.net/commentaries/one_sided_compromise

The One-Sided Compromise
October 28, 2010 - 1:35pm — europac admin
By:
John Browne
Thursday, October 28, 2010

Last weekend, the G-20 finance ministers met in South Korea to find areas of agreement in preparation for the main G-20 gathering in November. The Chinese rebuffed renewed American pleas for them to revalue their yuan. They rejected Secretary Geithner’s suggestion of a four percent cap on current account surpluses. However, in return for accepting America’s continued dollar debasement, the Chinese did agree to “look into” a revaluation of the yuan and the management of trade surpluses. They also agreed to an international self-policing regime to curb currency manipulation. This 'one-sided' compromise was hailed in the Western media as a triumph for Mr. Geithner. The US stock markets and dollar rallied. All looked good for the election season in November.

Unfortunately, compromises are never one-sided; they are only construed as such. Though the reporting failed to emphasize it, Mr. Geithner actually agreed to a massive shift of monetary power in exchange for China's empty concessions. The shareholdings and board composition of the huge and powerful International Monetary Fund (IMF) have now been shifted. China will now become the third largest shareholder of the IMF and the developing economies will get a six percent larger voting share. Two European states will lose their seats on the IMF's board in favor of developing countries.

Meanwhile, China, supported by Russia, India, and even Brazil, continued to lobby hard for the US dollar’s privileged role as the international reserve currency to be replaced by a wide basket of currencies and gold. To this end, the IMF has recently been given additional “emergency” lending facilities. These could be used in a coming sovereign default crisis to 'bail out' Western countries, at which point they would be unable to resist global economic governance under the guise of the reformed IMF.

In short, Secretary Geithner’s “victory” at the G-20 was one only King Pyrrhus could love.

But the blame cannot be laid entirely with Mr. Geithner. The fact that he left the meeting at least saving a bit of face for his delegation is a monumental achievement, considering the dismal condition of the US economy.

Fed Chairman Bernanke appears desperate to flood the United States with another round of quantitative easing (QE-2). In a $13 trillion economy, a release of anything less than $1 trillion would not be seen as effective. Remember, the Fed already injected over $1 trillion after the credit crunch – and we are still in recession. How much will it take to right this listing ship?

When Geithner pledged to China a “gradual” debasement of the dollar, it is astonishing that they didn’t laugh him out of the room.

If he were to make good on his pledge and convince Bernanke to cut QE-2 to, say, $500 billion, the US GDP and stock markets would almost certainly begin to contract. This would threaten the banking system with a second crisis borne out of the ashes, or toxic assets, of the first.

For a frame of reference, the US home mortgage market is valued at some $10.6 trillion. Indeed, foreclosures and past-due loans amount already to some 14 percent of the market, or about $1.5 trillion. Of this staggering figure, the loans delinquent or in foreclosure to which the top three banks (Bank of America, Wells Fargo and JP Morgan) are exposed amount to more than $600 billion, an amount roughly equal to the original TARP bailout fund.

At the same time, thanks to falsely low interest rates, the banks' net interest margins, or the difference between what they earn in loan interest and what they pay to their creditors, are being squeezed severely, while their non-interest earnings are falling, due to lower economic activity and the prohibitions contained in FinReg.

Finally, there is the murky question of how exposed the banks are to the massive derivatives market, a house of cards with a shaky foundation.

As we have described for several years, the US economy is virtually locked into a long arc of decline. There are no politically palatable solutions to this quandary. Until Americans are ready to take their lumps and accept a steep drop in their standard of living, the US government will have no leverage with the creditor nations and no ability to keep its promises. Therefore, we should celebrate when China even gives our Treasury Secretary an audience.

If China does manage to topple the US dollar from its perch as the international reserve currency, our economy will very likely move into free fall as decades of inflation come pouring back into the country. We will be forced to live within our means or face hyperinflation. Losing a few votes at the IMF is a small cost to delay this eventuality, but it also puts us one step closer to it.
23138  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Faraday your phone on: October 31, 2010, 12:23:09 PM
I'm not familiar with this site, but saw this mentioned elsewhere:

http://www.itstactical.com/2010/10/19/carry-a-cloaking-device-for-your-cell-phone-anywhere-you-go/
23139  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: Its all the banks fault on: October 31, 2010, 10:23:55 AM
I will ask a savvy friend of mine for his comments on this:
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IN Congressional hearings last week, Obama administration officials acknowledged that uncertainty over foreclosures could delay the recovery of the housing market. The implications for the economy are serious. For instance, the International Monetary Fund found that the persistently high unemployment in the United States is largely the result of foreclosures and underwater mortgages, rather than widely cited causes like mismatches between job requirements and worker skills.

This chapter of the financial crisis is a self-inflicted wound. The major banks and their agents have for years taken shortcuts with their mortgage securitization documents — and not due to a momentary lack of attention, but as part of a systematic approach to save money and increase profits. The result can be seen in the stream of reports of colossal foreclosure mistakes: multiple banks foreclosing on the same borrower; banks trying to seize the homes of people who never had a mortgage or who had already entered into a refinancing program.

Banks are claiming that these are just accidents. But suppose that while absent-mindedly paying a bill, you wrote a check from a bank account that you had already closed. No one would have much sympathy with excuses that you were in a hurry and didn’t mean to do it, and it really was just a technicality.

The most visible symptoms of cutting corners have come up in the foreclosure process, but the roots lie much deeper. As has been widely documented in recent weeks, to speed up foreclosures, some banks hired low-level workers, including hair stylists and teenagers, to sign or simply stamp documents like affidavits — a job known as being a “robo-signer.”

Such documents were improper, since the person signing an affidavit is attesting that he has personal knowledge of the matters at issue, which was clearly impossible for people simply stamping hundreds of documents a day. As a result, several major financial firms froze foreclosures in many states, and attorneys general in all 50 states started an investigation.

However, the problems in the mortgage securitization market run much wider and deeper than robo-signing, and started much earlier than the foreclosure process.

When mortgage securitization took off in the 1980s, the contracts to govern these transactions were written carefully to satisfy not just well-settled, state-based real estate law, but other state and federal considerations. These included each state’s Uniform Commercial Code, which governed “secured” transactions that involve property with loans against them, and state trust law, since the packaged loans are put into a trust to protect investors. On the federal side, these deals needed to satisfy securities agencies and the Internal Revenue Service.

This process worked well enough until roughly 2004, when the volume of transactions exploded. Fee-hungry bankers broke the origination end of the machine. One problem is well known: many lenders ceased to be concerned about the quality of the loans they were creating, since if they turned bad, someone else (the investors in the securities) would suffer.

A second, potentially more significant, failure lay in how the rush to speed up the securitization process trampled traditional property rights protections for mortgages.

The procedures stipulated for these securitizations are labor-intensive. Each loan has to be signed over several times, first by the originator, then by typically at least two other parties, before it gets to the trust, “endorsed” the same way you might endorse a check to another party. In general, this process has to be completed within 90 days after a trust is closed.

Evidence is mounting that these requirements were widely ignored. Judges are noticing: more are finding that banks cannot prove that they have the standing to foreclose on the properties that were bundled into securities. If this were a mere procedural problem, the banks could foreclose once they marshaled their evidence. But banks who are challenged in many cases do not resume these foreclosures, indicating that their lapses go well beyond minor paperwork.

Increasingly, homeowners being foreclosed on are correctly demanding that servicers prove that the trust that is trying to foreclose actually has the right to do so. Problems with the mishandling of the loans have been compounded by the Mortgage Electronic Registration System, an electronic lien-registry service that was set up by the banks. While a standardized, centralized database was a good idea in theory, MERS has been widely accused of sloppy practices and is increasingly facing legal challenges.

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Page 2 of 2)



As a result, investors are becoming concerned that the value of their securities will suffer if it becomes difficult and costly to foreclose; this uncertainty in turn puts a cloud over the value of mortgage-backed securities, which are the biggest asset class in the world.

Other serious abuses are coming to light. Consider a company called Lender Processing Services, which acts as a middleman for mortgage servicers and says it oversees more than half the foreclosures in the United States. To assist foreclosure law firms in its network, a subsidiary of the company offered a menu of services it provided for a fee.

The list showed prices for “creating” — that is, conjuring from thin air — various documents that the trust owning the loan should already have on hand. The firm even offered to create a “collateral file,” which contained all the documents needed to establish ownership of a particular real estate loan. Equipped with a collateral file, you could likely persuade a court that you were entitled to foreclose on a house even if you had never owned the loan.

That there was even a market for such fabricated documents among the law firms involved in foreclosures shows just how hard it is going to be to fix the problems caused by the lapses of the mortgage boom. No one would resort to such dubious behavior if there were an easier remedy.

The banks and other players in the securitization industry now seem to be looking to Congress to snap its fingers to make the whole problem go away, preferably with a law that relieves them of liability for their bad behavior. But any such legislative fiat would bulldoze regions of state laws on real estate and trusts, not to mention the Uniform Commercial Code. A challenge on constitutional grounds would be inevitable.

Asking for Congress’s help would also require the banks to tacitly admit that they routinely broke their own contracts and made misrepresentations to investors in their Securities and Exchange Commission filings. Would Congress dare shield them from well-deserved litigation when the banks themselves use every minor customer deviation from incomprehensible contracts as an excuse to charge a fee?

There are alternatives. One measure that both homeowners and investors in mortgage-backed securities would probably support is a process for major principal modifications for viable borrowers; that is, to forgive a portion of their debt and lower their monthly payments. This could come about through either coordinated state action or a state-federal effort.

The large banks, no doubt, would resist; they would be forced to write down the mortgage exposures they carry on their books, which some banking experts contend would force them back into the Troubled Asset Relief Program. However, allowing significant principal modifications would stem the flood of foreclosures and reduce uncertainty about the housing market and mortgage securities, giving the authorities time to devise approaches to the messy problems of clouded titles and faulty loan conveyance.

The people who so carefully designed the mortgage securitization process unwittingly devised a costly trap for people who ran roughshod over their handiwork. The trap has closed — and unless the mortgage finance industry agrees to a sensible way out of it, the entire economy will be the victim.


Yves Smith is the author of the blog Naked Capitalism and “Econned: How Unenlightened Self-Interest Undermined Democracy and Corrupted Capitalism.”

23140  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Friedman on: October 31, 2010, 10:13:48 AM
New Delhi
Thomas Friedman is often an intellectual legend in his own mind, and frequently in over his head, but as the saying goes about blind pigs , , ,

 
Josh Haner/The New York Times
Thomas L. Friedman

This week’s award for not knowing what world you’re living in surely goes to the French high school and college students who blockaded their campuses, and snarled rail traffic, in a nationwide strike against the French government’s decision to raise its pension retirement age from 60 to 62. If those students understood the hypercompetitive and economically integrated world they were living in today, they would have taken to the streets to demand smaller classes, better teaching, more opportunities for entrepreneurship and more foreign private investment in France — so they could have the sorts of good private sector jobs that would enable them to finance retirement at age 62. France already discovered that a 35-hour workweek was impossible in a world where Indian engineers were trying to work a 35-hour day — and so, too, are pension levels not sustained by a vibrant private sector.

What is most striking to me being in India this week, though, is how many Indians, young and old, expressed their concerns that America also seems at times to be running away from the world it invented and that India is adopting.

With President Obama scheduled to come here next week, at a time when more than a few U.S. politicians are loudly denouncing immigration reforms, free trade expansion and outsourcing, more than a few Indian business leaders want to ask the president: “What’s up with that?” Didn’t America export to the world all the technologies and free market dogmas that created this increasingly flat, global economic playing field — and now you’re turning against them?

“It is the Silicon Valley revolution which enabled the massive rise in tradable services and the U.S.-built telecommunication networks that allowed creation of the virtual office,” Nayan Chanda, the editor of YaleGlobal Online, wrote in the Indian magazine Businessworld this week. “But the U.S. seems sadly unprepared to take advantage of the revolution it has spawned. The country’s worn-out infrastructure, failing education system and lack of political consensus have prevented it from riding a new wave to prosperity.” Ouch.

Saurabh Srivastava, co-founder of the National Association of Software and Service Companies in India, explained that for the first 40 years of Indian independence, entrepreneurs here were looked down upon. India had lost confidence in its ability to compete, so it opted for protectionism. But when the ’90s rolled around, and India’s government was almost bankrupt, India’s technology industry was able to get the government to open up the economy, in part by citing the example of America and Silicon Valley. India has flourished ever since.

“America,” said Srivastava, “was the one who said to us: ‘You have to go for meritocracy. You don’t have to produce everything yourselves. Go for free trade and open markets.’ This has been the American national anthem, and we pushed our government to tune in to it. And just when they’re beginning to learn how to hum it, you’re changing the anthem. ... Our industry was the one pushing our government to open our markets for American imports, 100 percent foreign ownership of companies and tough copyright laws when it wasn’t fashionable.”

If America turns away from these values, he added, the socialist/protectionists among India’s bureaucrats will use it to slow down any further opening of the Indian markets to U.S. exporters.

It looks, said Srivastava, as if “what is happening in America is a loss of self-confidence. We don’t want America to lose self-confidence. Who else is there to take over America’s moral leadership? American’s leadership was never because you had more arms. It was because of ideas, imagination, and meritocracy.” If America turns away from its core values, he added, “there is nobody else to take that leadership. Do we want China as the world’s moral leader? No. We desperately want America to succeed.”

This isn’t just so American values triumph. With a rising China on one side and a crumbling Pakistan on the other, India’s newfound friendship with America has taken on strategic importance. “It is very worrying to live in a world that no longer has the balance of power we’ve had for 60 years,” said Shekhar Gupta, editor of The Indian Express newspaper. “That is why everyone is concerned about America.”

India and America are both democracies, a top Indian official explained to me, but emotionally they are now ships passing in the night. Because today the poorest Indian maid believes that if she can just save a few dollars to get her kid English lessons, that kid will have a better life than she does. So she is an optimist. “But the guy in Kansas,” he added, “who today is enjoying a better life than that maid, is worried that he can’t pass it on to his kids. So he’s a pessimist.”

Yes, when America lapses into a bad mood, everyone notices. After asking for an explanation of the Tea Party’s politics, Gupta remarked: “We have moved away from a politics of grievance to a politics of aspiration. Where is the American dream? Where is the optimism?”

23141  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Rich: GOP plot against Tea Party on: October 31, 2010, 10:06:43 AM
Frank Rich of Pravda on the Hudson is the epitome of a chattering class progressive.  Nonetheless this piece is worth the reading:
==================
ONE dirty little secret of the 2010 election is that it won’t be a political tragedy for Democrats if a Tea Party icon like Sharron Angle or Joe Miller ends up in the United States Senate. Angle, now synonymous with racist ads sliming Hispanics, and Miller, already on record threatening a government shutdown, are fired up and ready to go as symbols of G.O.P. extremism for 2012 and beyond.

Damon Winter/The New York Times
Frank Rich

What’s not so secret is that some Republicans will be just as happy if some of these characters lose, and for the same reason.

But whatever Tuesday’s results, this much is certain: The Tea Party’s hopes for actually affecting change in Washington will start being dashed the morning after. The ordinary Americans in this movement lack the numbers and financial clout to muscle their way into the back rooms of Republican power no matter how well their candidates perform.

Trent Lott, the former Senate leader and current top-dog lobbyist, gave away the game in July. “We don’t need a lot of Jim DeMint disciples,” he said, referring to the South Carolina senator who is the Tea Party’s Capitol Hill patron saint. “As soon as they get here, we need to co-opt them.” It’s the players who wrote the checks for the G.O.P. surge, not those earnest folk in tri-corner hats, who plan to run the table in the next corporate takeover of Washington. Though Tom DeLay may now be on trial for corruption in Texas, the spirit of his K Street lives on in a Lott client list that includes Northrop Grumman and Goldman Sachs.

Karl Rove outed the Republican elites’ contempt for Tea Partiers in the campaign’s final stretch. Much as Barack Obama thought he was safe soliloquizing about angry white Middle Americans clinging to “guns or religion” at a San Francisco fund-raiser in 2008, so Rove now parades his disdain for the same constituency when speaking to the European press. This month he told Der Spiegel that Tea Partiers are “not sophisticated,” and then scoffed, “It’s not like these people have read the economist Friedrich August von Hayek.” Given that Glenn Beck has made a cause of putting Hayek’s dense 1944 antigovernment treatise “The Road to Serfdom” on the best-seller list and Tea Partiers widely claim to have read it, Rove could hardly have been more condescending to “these people.” Last week, for added insult, he mocked Sarah Palin’s imminent Discovery Channel reality show to London’s Daily Telegraph.

This animus has not gone unnoticed among those supposedly less sophisticated conservatives back home. Mike Huckabee, still steamed about Rove’s previous put-down of Christine O’Donnell, publicly lamented the Republican establishment’s “elitism” and “country club attitude.” This country club elite, he said, is happy for Tea Partiers to put up signs, work the phones and make “those pesky little trips” door-to-door that it finds a frightful inconvenience. But the members won’t let the hoi polloi dine with them in the club’s “main dining room” — any more than David H. Koch, the billionaire sugar daddy of the Republican right, will invite O’Donnell into his box at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center to take in “The Nutcracker.”

The main dining room remains reserved for Koch’s fellow oil barons, Lott’s clients, the corporate contributors (known and anonymous) to groups like Rove’s American Crossroads, and, of course, the large coterie of special interests underwriting John Boehner, the presumptive next speaker of the House. Boehner is the largest House recipient of Wall Street money this year — much of it from financial institutions bailed out by TARP.

His Senate counterpart, Mitch McConnell, will be certain to stop any Tea Party hillbillies from disrupting his chapter of the club (as he tried to stop Rand Paul in his own state’s G.O.P. primary). McConnell’s pets in his chamber’s freshman G.O.P. class will instead be old-school conservatives like Dan Coats (of Indiana), Rob Portman (of Ohio) and, if he squeaks in, Pat Toomey (of Pennsylvania). The first two are former lobbyists; Toomey ran the corporate interest group, the Club for Growth. They can be counted on to execute an efficient distribution of corporate favors and pork after they make their latest swing through Capitol Hill’s revolving door.

What the Tea Party ostensibly wants most — less government spending and smaller federal deficits — is not remotely happening on the country club G.O.P.’s watch. The elites have no serious plans to cut anything except taxes and regulation of their favored industries. The party’s principal 2010 campaign document, its “Pledge to America,” doesn’t vow to cut even earmarks — which barely amount to a rounding error in the federal budget anyway. Boehner has also proposed a return to pre-crash 2008 levels in “nonsecurity” discretionary spending — another mere bagatelle ($105 billion) next to the current $1.3 trillion deficit. And that won’t be happening either, once the actual cuts in departments like Education, Transportation and Interior are specified to their constituencies.

Perhaps the campaign’s most telling exchange took place on Fox News two weeks ago, when the Tea Party-embracing Senate candidate in California, Carly Fiorina, was asked seven times by Chris Wallace to name “one single entitlement expenditure you’re willing to cut” in order “to extend all the Bush tax cuts, which would add 4 trillion to the deficit.” She never did. At least Angle and Paul have been honest about what they’d slash if in power — respectively Social Security and defense, where the big government spending actually resides.

That’s not happening either. McConnell has explained his only real priority for the new Congress with admirable candor. “The single most important thing we want to achieve,” he said, “is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” Any assault on Social Security would defeat that goal, and a serious shake-up of the Pentagon budget would alienate the neoconservative ideologues and military contractors who are far more important to the G.O.P. establishment than the “don’t tread on me” crowd.

For sure, the Republican elites found the Tea Party invaluable on the way to this Election Day. And not merely, as Huckabee has it, because they wanted its foot soldiers. What made the Tea Party most useful was that its loud populist message gave the G.O.P. just the cover it needed both to camouflage its corporate patrons and to rebrand itself as a party miraculously antithetical to the despised G.O.P. that gave us George W. Bush and record deficits only yesterday.

Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News and Wall Street Journal have been arduous in promoting and inflating Tea Party events and celebrities to this propagandistic end. The more the Tea Party looks as if it’s calling the shots in the G.O.P., the easier it is to distract attention from those who are actually calling them — namely, those who’ve cashed in and cashed out as ordinary Americans lost their jobs, homes and 401(k)’s. Typical of this smokescreen is a new book titled “Mad as Hell,” published this fall by a Murdoch imprint. In it, the pollsters Scott Rasmussen and Douglas Schoen make the case, as they recently put it in Politico, that the Tea Party is “the most powerful and potent force in America.”

They are expert at producing poll numbers to bear that out. By counting those with friends and family in the movement, Rasmussen has calculated that 29 percent of Americans are “tied to” the Tea Party. (If you factor in six degrees of Kevin Bacon, the number would surely double.) But cooler empirical data reveal the truth known by the G.O.P. establishment: An August CNN poll found that 2 percent of Americans consider themselves active members of the Tea Party.

That result was confirmed last weekend by The Washington Post, which published the fruits of its months-long effort to contact every Tea Party group in the country. To this end, it enlisted the help of Tea Party Patriots, the only Tea Party umbrella group that actually can claim to be a spontaneous, bottom-up, grass roots organization rather than a front for the same old fat cats of the Republican right, from the Koch brothers to Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks. Tea Party Patriots has claimed anywhere from 2,300 to nearly 3,000 local affiliates, but even with its assistance, The Post could verify a total of only 647 Tea Party groups nationwide. Most had fewer than 50 members. The median amount of money each group had raised in 2010 was $800, nowhere near the entry fee for the country club.

But those Americans, like all the others on the short end of the 2008 crash, have reason to be mad as hell. And their numbers will surely grow once the Republican establishment’s panacea of tax cuts proves as ineffectual at creating jobs, saving homes and cutting deficits as the half-measures of the Obama White House and the Democratic Congress. The tempest, however, will not be contained within the tiny Tea Party but will instead overrun the Republican Party itself, where Palin, with Murdoch and Beck at her back, waits in the wings to “take back America” not just from Obama but from the G.O.P. country club elites now mocking her. By then — after another two years of political gridlock and economic sclerosis — the equally disillusioned right and left may have a showdown that makes this election year look as benign as Woodstock.

23142  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: Nudge on: October 31, 2010, 09:59:07 AM
Over the past few days, thousands of Democratic-leaning voters nationwide — including the young people, minorities and unmarried women who were a crucial part of Barack Obama’s 2008 coalition and whom the party is desperate to rouse again on Tuesday — received a message in their mailboxes that effectively said: we’re keeping an eye on you. The mailers are the handiwork of Hal Malchow, a political consultant who is acting on a theory that first intrigued him four years ago. Before the 2006 Michigan gubernatorial primary, three political scientists isolated a group of voters and mailed them copies of their voting histories, listing the elections in which they participated and those they missed. Included were their neighbors’ voting histories, too, along with a warning: after the polls closed, everyone would get an updated set.

After the primary, the academics examined the voter rolls and were startled by the potency of peer pressure as a motivational tool. The mailer was 10 times better at turning nonvoters into voters than the typical piece of pre-election mail whose effectiveness has ever been measured. Malchow, a 58-year-old former Mississippi securities lawyer who managed Al Gore’s first Senate campaign and went on to start a direct-mail firm, read the academics’ study and wanted to put the device to work. But he had trouble persuading his firm’s clients — which over the years have included the Democratic National Committee and the A.F.L.-C.I.O. — to incorporate such a tactic into their get-out-the-vote programs. All feared a backlash from citizens who might regard the mailer as a threat from someone seeking their vote.

Then, as New Jersey prepared to elect its governor last fall, Malchow experimented with less ominous language, an idea he adopted from the Fordham political scientist Costas Panagopoulos. He removed all mention of neighbors and offered instead an expression of gratitude for having voted in the past — while still making it clear that recipients’ voting habits would continue to be monitored. “We hope to be able to thank you in the future for being the kind of citizen who makes our democracy work,” read the letter to more than 11,000 New Jerseyites.

Malchow found that the softer tone, while less effective than the original mailer,increased turnout among recipients by 2.5 percentage points. The D.N.C. ran a similar experiment during the special election in Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District this spring, with a letter from Senator Bob Casey telling voters that “our records indicate that you voted in the 2008 election” and thanking them for their “good citizenship.” By employing the device on a larger scale, for dozens of candidates and independent groups this fall, Malchow aims to deliver votesthat would otherwise be lost to Democrats.

An increasingly influential cadre of Democratic strategists is finding new ideas in the same place Malchow did: behavioral-science experiments that treat campaigns as their laboratories and voters as unwitting guinea pigs. The growing use of experimental methods — Heather Smith, president of Rock the Vote, calls them “prescription drug trials for democracy” — is convulsing a profession where hunches and instinct have long ruled. Already, experimental findings have upended a lot of folk wisdom about how votes are won. The most effective direct mail might not be the most eye-catching in the mailbox but the least conspicuous. It is better to have an anonymous, chatty volunteer remind voters it’s Election Day than a recorded message from Bill Clinton or Jay-Z. The most winnable voters may be soft supporters of the opposition, not the voters who polls say are undecided. (“Undecided” may just be another word for “unlikely to vote.”)

Most of the activity on the left revolves around the Analyst Institute, a firm quietly founded in 2007 by A.F.L.-C.I.O. officials and liberal allies, whichseeks to establish a set of empirically proven “best practices” for interacting with voters. The group’s executive director, a behavioral scientist named Todd Rogers, has managed dozens of experiments around the country this year. Their lessons have shaped how Democrats are approaching and cajoling the voters they think are on their side but who haven’t yet shown that they will act on their beliefs on Election Day.

Nearly all of the Analyst Institute’s research is private, shared only among the participating groups. The institute’s Web site is almost comically empty, and the group’s name — two abstract nouns, cryptically conjoined — evokes a C.I.A. front. There seem to be two types of political operatives in Washington: those who think Rogers is a genius transforming their field and those who have never heard of him.

The experimental movement in politics began a decade ago, when the Yale political scientists Alan Gerber and Donald Green conducted a study testing the relative effectiveness of basic political tools. As the 1998 elections approached, Gerber and Green partnered with the League of Women Voters to split 30,000 New Haven voters into four groups. Some received an oversize postcard encouraging them to vote, others the same message via a phone call or in-person visit. One control group received no contact whatsoever. After the election, Gerber and Green examined Connecticut records to see who actually voted. The in-person canvass yielded turnout 9.8 percent higher than for voters who were not contacted. Each piece of mail led to a turnout increase of only 0.6 percent. Telephone calls, Gerber and Green concluded, had no effect at all.

The findings were published in 2000 and quickly circulated among campaign operatives, who saw academics assailing many of their business models. A turf battle began within the political-consulting community: direct-mail vendors happily cited the Gerber-Green findings to argue candidates would waste money on phone calls.

Hal Malchow — who had previously approached the Democratic National Committee to propose using experimental controls to measure mail to voters but was repeatedly rebuffed — thought the Gerber-Green study was “the most important event in politics for a long time,” he says. “Eighty percent of what we’ve done in the past doesn’t work.” As the mail vendor for the A.F.L.-C.I.O., Malchow found a natural partner for his ideas in Mike Podhorzer, the organization’s deputy political director. Podhorzer saw Gerber and Green, who see themselves as researchers and not partisan advocates, as kindred spirits in a worldwide battle for knowledge between two camps he thought of as “gurus” versus “data.” As he says, “Until you get into a more rigorous approach, you are essentially left with what we had, which is that everything you did in a winning campaign was a good idea and everything that you did in a losing campaign was a bad idea.”

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Podhorzer and Malchow began trying to adapt the Gerber-Green methods to the particular challenges faced by the A.F.L.-C.I.O., which regularly runs one of the largest independent campaign operations, almost always on behalf of Democrats. “Finding out the day after the election that Treatment A was the best is of limited value to an organization like ours,” Podhorzer says. “We’re actually trying to win the election.”

During the 2004 campaign, Podhorzer wanted to gauge voter reactions to his organization’s election messages in near-real time. A good poll shows how the electorate has moved over time, but it cannot isolate the effect of any individual appeal — and certainly not that of a single mailed leaflet, one of labor’s favorite tools for reaching member households. Focus groups offer a rich impression of how certain voters respond to that leaflet, but only the instant reaction of someone being paid $100 to have one. A focus group cannot say anything about whether a typical voter will even notice the brochure if it shows up in the mail wedged between a birthday card and a water bill.

Experiments provided a solution. The A.F.L.-C.I.O. planned to mail members monthly in 2004, and Podhorzer set out to design a “continuous feedback loop” testing different messages with small samples and then sending the most influential ones to a much larger target audience. As he examined the results, Podhorzer became even more frustrated with conventional polling. Asked if they would be more or less likely to vote for a candidate who favored shipping jobs overseas — a typical way of auditioning a promising line — voters across the board would tell pollsters that it made them “less likely.” But a draft leaflet about Bush’s policies had little impact on autoworkers who received it; they already knew what the union wanted them to think about the subject. Construction workers, however, didn’t know as much, and their minds changed. Experiments allowed Podhorzer to see which voters actually moved, not just count those who said they might.

Democrats have not been alone in experimenting with data-driven politics. As Dave Carney, once George H. W. Bush’s White House political director, prepared to guide the 2006 re-election campaign of Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, he invited Gerber and Green to conduct their experiments from within the campaign’s war room. Perry had spent more than $25 million to win a full term in 2002, much of it on broadcast advertising, and Carney thought a rigorous experimental regime could help “assure donors that we’re using their money as best as possible — spend it different, spend less of it.” Gerber and Green asked two political scientists who had informally advised George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election, James Gimpel and Daron Shaw, to collaborate on the project. Carney invited the quartet he called “our four eggheads” to impose experimental controls on nearly every aspect of campaign operations.

Perry won easy re-election in 2006, and their findings profoundly altered his 2010 tactics. Perry’s primary campaign this year sent out no direct voter-contact mail, made no paid phone calls, printed no lawn signs, visited no editorial boards and purchased no newspaper ads. His broadcast advertising strategy was informed by a 2006 experiment that isolated 18 TV media markets and 80 radio stations and randomly assigned each a different start date and volume for ad buys from a $2 million budget earmarked for the experiment. Public-opinion changes from the ads were then monitored with tracking polls. Carney estimates that the research saved Perry $3 million in this year’s primary campaign, and he still beat Kay Bailey Hutchison by 20 points. On Tuesday, the value of Perry’s unusually empirical approach to electioneering will be tested again, this time in a tough race against the Democratic nominee, Bill White, the former mayor of Houston.

After Bush’s 2004 re-election, Podhorzer invited other scientific-minded progressive operatives to A.F.L.-C.I.O. headquarters to share their research.Very few members would be recognizable to cable-news viewers; the group almost entirely bypassed the brand-name consultants whom campaigns like to unveil in press releases. “It’s not the big names on the door,” says Maren Hesla, who directed Emily’s List’s Women Vote! campaign. “It’s all the — God love them — geeky guys who don’t talk to clients but do the work and write the programs.”

The unofficial society called itself the Analyst Group, and it grew by word of mouth. By the time Democrats reclaimed Congress in 2006, as many as 60 people showed up for the regular lunches. In 2007, Podhorzer and his Analyst Group circle established the Analyst Institute, designed to operate with a scholarly sensibility but with the privacy of a for-profit consulting firm. Podhorzer became chairman and looked for an executive director. Gerber suggested Todd Rogers, on whose dissertation committee he had served.

Rogers, who had just turned 30, was a former college-lacrosse player from the Philadelphia suburbs who earned a joint degree in organizational behavior and psychology in connection with Harvard Business School after performing studies that examined the way individuals managed their queues on services like Netflix. Rogers argued that this type of research — on how time delays alter preferences — could help policy makers shape policy design on issues like carbon taxes, which involve balancing your ideal preferences (watching documentaries, having a smaller carbon footprint) with your actual choices (watching action movies, buying an S.U.V.).

Shortly before Pennsylvania’s April 2008 presidential primary, Rogers scripted a phone call that went out to 19,411 Democratic households in the state. The disembodied call-center voice said it had three questions. Around what time do you expect you will head to the polls on Tuesday? Where do you expect you will be coming from when you head to the polls on Tuesday? What do you think you will be doing before you head out to the polls?

================

Rogers did not care what voters’ answers were to the questions, only whether they had any. He was testing a psychological concept known as “implementation intentions,” which suggests that people are more likely to perform an action if they have already visualized doing it. The subject was on a long list of psychology concepts that Rogers took to Washington. Many had been demonstrated only in situations outside politics or examined by psychologists only in laboratory settings. Enamored of the psychologist Robert Cialdini and the behavioral economist Richard Thaler, Rogers thought their research methods could be applied to elections. And Rogers saw the advantages of doing academic-style work outside the academy: he faced no financing restrictions or the need to navigate a university’s human-subjects review board.

This June, two years after the Pennsylvania experiment, Rogers traveled to Pittsburgh to pre–sent the findings at a Carnegie Mellon behavioral-science conference. Before a room of professors and graduate students, Rogers explained that asking people about their voting plans increased turnout by 4 percentage points. A closer look, however, showed the effects were unevenly distributed. The self-predictive phone calls had little impact on multiple-voter households. But for those living alone, the effect was tremendous: turnout jumped by nearly 10 percentage points. The reason, Rogers surmised, was that making plans is a collaborative activity; spouses and roommates already talk through issues like child care as a condition of voting. For those who live alone, rehearsing their Election Day routine with a stranger helped them make a plan.

Once done, Rogers took a seat next to Richard Thaler, who draped a paternal arm across his back. In 2006, Thaler welcomed Rogers into the Consortium of Behavioral Scientists, a secretive group that helped Democrats apply academic research to policy making and advised party leaders, including Hillary Clinton and Harry Reid, on election-year tactics. Two years later, Thaler — a University of Chicago colleague of Obama’s — helped to bring many consortium members together, including Rogers, to informally advise Obama’s presidential campaign.

By that fall, Rogers’s implementation-intention device had become a standard campaign tool for many left-leaning groups, along with scripts declaring things like “turnout is going to be high today.” Rogers’s experiments have shown that voters respond better to everyone-is-doing-it messages emphasizing high turnout than don’t-be-part-of-the-problem appeals describing how few Americans vote.

Rogers spends a lot of time trying to convince activists that the central premise of randomized experiments — deciding not to contact a control group of voters — will not torpedo their short-term priority of winning elections. Meanwhile, a new Democratic establishment has brought the data-driven crowd in from the outside. Since Obama’s election, operatives with Analyst Group ties have moved into key party jobs and now attend meetings as representatives of the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

While political experiments have proved successful at isolating what gets people to vote, they have been less useful at finding out how voters decide among candidates. Partly for that reason, while the Analyst Institute’s findings and sensibility inform how permanent institutions like unions operate, they have yet to transform candidate’s campaigns, where most money is spent in the least targetable way possible: on broadcast TV time. Rogers has been designing experiments to assess Internet advertising, whose effectiveness has been traditionally gauged by click-throughs and sign-ups that do little to measure the ads’ impact on more-passive viewers. For a study Rogers oversaw during Minnesota’s 2008 Senate campaign, an independent group bought Yahoo! banner ads introducing an issue invisible from the campaign dialogue elsewhere: an obscure vote by the Republican Norm Coleman against financing a rural antidrug program. Through polling, Rogers discovered that those who saw the ads were more likely than others to believe that Coleman could have done “more to stop meth use.”

But experimental politicking is not always so provocative. Indeed, groups following Analyst Institute findings often end up abandoning their flashiest tools for more staid ones. The America Votes coalition has dropped get-out-the-vote robocalls. Rock the Vote has found e-mail and text messages arriving from unexciting senders like “Election Center” often do better than those with livelier “from” lines. Malchow has discovered that voters pay less attention to the glossy four-color brochures designed to “cut through” mailbox clutter than they do to spare envelopes evoking a letter from the tax man or a jury-duty summons. “People want information, they don’t want advertising,” Malchow says. “When they see our fingerprints on this stuff, they believe it less.”
23143  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Two from POTH on: October 31, 2010, 09:38:54 AM
HANOI, Vietnam — China’s military expansion and assertive trade policies have set off jitters across Asia, prompting many of its neighbors to rekindle old alliances and cultivate new ones to better defend their interests against the rising superpower.

A whirl of deal-making and diplomacy, from Tokyo to New Delhi, is giving the United States an opportunity to reassert itself in a region where its eclipse by China has been viewed as inevitable.

President Obama’s trip to the region this week, his most extensive as president, will take him to the area’s big democracies, India, Indonesia, South Korea and Japan, skirting authoritarian China. Those countries and other neighbors have taken steps, though with varying degrees of candor, to blunt China’s assertiveness in the region.

Mr. Obama and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India are expected to sign a landmark deal for American military transport aircraft and are discussing the possible sale of jet fighters, which would escalate the Pentagon’s defense partnership with India to new heights. Japan and India are courting Southeast Asian nations with trade agreements and talk of a “circle of democracy.” Vietnam has a rapidly warming rapport with its old foe, the United States, in large part because its old friend, China, makes broad territorial claims in the South China Sea.

The deals and alliances are not intended to contain China. But they suggest a palpable shift in the diplomatic landscape, on vivid display as leaders from 18 countries gathered this weekend under the wavelike roof of Hanoi’s futuristic convention center, not far from Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum, for a meeting suffused by tensions between China and its neighbors.

China’s escalating feud with Japan over another set of islands, in the East China Sea, stole the meeting’s headlines on Saturday, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton proposed three-way negotiations to resolve the issue.

Most Asian countries, even as they argue that China will inevitably replace the United States as the top regional power, have grown concerned at how quickly that shift is occurring, and what China the superpower may look like.

China’s big trading partners are complaining more loudly that it intervenes too aggressively to keep its currency undervalued. Its recent restrictions on exports of crucial rare earths minerals, first to Japan and then to the United States and Europe, raised the prospect that it may use its dominant positions in some industries as a diplomatic and political weapon.

And its rapid naval expansion, combined with a more strident defense of its claims to disputed territories far off its shores, has persuaded Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and Singapore to reaffirm their enthusiasm for the American security umbrella.

“The most common thing that Asian leaders have said to me in my travels over this last 20 months is, ‘Thank you, we’re so glad that you’re playing an active role in Asia again,’ ” Mrs. Clinton said in Hawaii, opening a seven-country tour of Asia that included a last-minute stop in China.

Few of China’s neighbors voice their concerns about the country publicly, but analysts and diplomats say they express wariness about the pace of China’s military expansion and the severity of its trade policies in private.

“Most of these countries have come to us and said, ‘We’re really worried about China,’ ” said Kenneth G. Lieberthal, a China adviser to President Bill Clinton who is now at the Brookings Institution.

The Obama administration has been quick to capitalize on China’s missteps. Where officials used to speak of China as the Asian economic giant, they now speak of India and China as twin giants. And they make clear which one they believe has a closer affinity to the United States.

“India and the United States have never mattered more to each other,” Mrs. Clinton said. “As the world’s two largest democracies, we are united by common interests and common values.”

As Mr. Obama prepares to visit India in his first stop on his tour of Asian democracies, Mr. Singh, India’s prime minister, will have just returned from his own grand tour — with both of them somewhat conspicuously, if at least partly coincidentally, circling China.

None of this seems likely to lead to a cold war-style standoff. China is fully integrated into the global economy, and all of its neighbors are eager to deepen their ties with it. China has fought no wars since a border skirmish with Vietnam three decades ago, and it often emphasizes that it has no intention of projecting power through the use of force.

At the same time, fears that China has become more assertive as it has grown richer are having real consequences.

India is promoting itself throughout the region as a counterweight to China; Japan is settling a dispute with the United States over a Marine air base; the Vietnamese are negotiating a deal to obtain civilian nuclear technology from the United States; and the Americans, who had largely ignored the rest of Asia as they waged wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, see an opportunity to come back in a big way.

In July, for example, Mrs. Clinton reassured Vietnam and the Philippines by announcing that the United States would be willing to help resolve disputes between China and its neighbors over a string of strategically important islands in the South China Sea.

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China’s foreign minister, Yang Jiechi, reacted furiously, accusing the United States of plotting against it, according to people briefed on the meeting. Mr. Yang went on to note that China was a big country, staring pointedly at the foreign minister of tiny Singapore. Undaunted, Mrs. Clinton not only repeated the American pledge on the South China Sea in Hanoi on Saturday, but expanded it to include the dispute with Japan.  (Marc:  This seems to me a significant play by Clinto)

China’s rise as an authoritarian power has also revived a sense that democracies should stick together. K. Subrahmanyam, an influential strategic analyst in India, noted that half the world’s people now live in democracies and that of the world’s six biggest powers, only China has not accepted democracy.

“Today the problem is a rising China that is not democratic and is challenging for the No. 1 position in the world,” he said.

Indeed, how to deal with China seems to be an abiding preoccupation of Asia’s leaders. In Japan, Prime Minister Naoto Kan and Mr. Singh discussed China’s booming economy, military expansion and increased territorial assertiveness.

“Prime Minister Kan was keen to understand how India engages China,” India’s foreign secretary, Nirupama Rao, told reporters. “Our prime minister said it requires developing trust, close engagement and a lot of patience.”

South Korea was deeply frustrated earlier this year when China blocked an explicit international condemnation of North Korea for sinking a South Korean warship, the Cheonan. South Korea accused North Korea of the attack, but China, a historic ally of the North, was unwilling to hold it responsible.

India has watched nervously as China has started building ports in Sri Lanka and Pakistan, extending rail lines toward the border of Nepal, and otherwise seeking to expand its footprint in South Asia.

India’s Defense Ministry has sought military contacts with a host of Asian nations while steadily expanding contacts and weapons procurements from the United States. The United States, American officials said, has conducted more exercises in recent years with India than with any other nation.

Mr. Singh’s trip was part of his “Look East” policy, intended to broaden trade with the rest of Asia. He has said it was not related to any frictions with China, but China is concerned. On Thursday, People’s Daily, the Communist Party newspaper, ran an opinion article asking, “Does India’s ‘Look East’ Policy Mean ‘Look to Encircle China’?”

That wary view may well reflect China’s reaction to the whole panoply of developments among its neighbors.

“The Chinese perceived the Hanoi meeting as a gang attack on them,” said Charles Freeman, an expert on Chinese politics and economics at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “There’s no question that they have miscalculated their own standing in the region.”

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HANOI, Vietnam — With tensions between China and Japan spilling out at an East Asian summit meeting here, the United States is trying to defuse an escalating diplomatic row over their competing claims to a cluster of small islands in the East China Sea.

On Saturday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton proposed a three-way meeting with China and Japan to resolve the dispute, which has raged since last month when Japan detained the captain of a Chinese fishing vessel that struck two Japanese patrol boats near the islands.

“We have certainly encouraged both Japan and China to seek peaceful resolution of any disagreements that they have,” Mrs. Clinton said at a news conference after the summit meeting ended. “It is in all of our interest for China and Japan to have stable, peaceful relations.”

In private conversations with Chinese and Japanese diplomats, Mrs. Clinton “made very clear to both sides that we want the temperature to go down on these issues,” a senior official said. American officials said they were troubled by what one called a sudden, drastic increase in tensions.

As the United States, Russia and 16 Asian nations gathered in Hanoi to discuss regional cooperation, China’s aggressive maritime and territorial claims were sowing unease with several of its neighbors.

When Japan last week reasserted its sovereignty over the islands — which it calls the Senkaku and China calls the Diaoyu — a senior Chinese official accused it of ruining the atmosphere of the summit meeting.

The United States, which had been mostly a bystander in such disputes, has taken a more active role under the Obama administration. Though it has no position on the sovereignty claims, Mrs. Clinton said the United States viewed the islands as protected under the terms of its defense treaty with Japan, which means it will defend them from any foreign attack.

That statement brought a rebuke from the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Ma Zhaoxu, who said China “will never accept any word or deed that includes the Diaoyu Islands within the scope” of the treaty.

On another issue that has caused friction lately — China’s halting of shipments of strategically important minerals to the United States, Japan and Europe — the Chinese government seemed eager to reassure.

In a meeting with Mrs. Clinton, Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi gave “very clear indications” that China would fulfill its contracts and be a “reliable supplier,” according to an American official.

“While we’re pleased by the clarification received from the Chinese government,” Mrs. Clinton said, “we still think the world as a whole needs to find alternatives” to China as a supplier of the minerals, known as rare earth metals.

China began curtailing shipments to the United States and Europe of these minerals, which are used to make products like cellphones and wind turbines, after the dispute with Japan and a trade investigation by the Obama administration. Then last week, without explanation, Chinese officials said the shipments would resume.

Japan, which released the Chinese captain under heavy pressure from Beijing, had proposed a meeting with Chinese leaders in Hanoi to clear the air. But hopes for that were dashed when Japan’s foreign minister, Seiji Maehara, asserted Japan’s control over the islands last week.

Prime Minister Wen Jiabao of China refused to meet one-on-one with Prime Minister Naoto Kan of Japan, though Mr. Yang said China would consider Mrs. Clinton’s proposed trilateral meeting.

In her formal remarks to the Asian leaders, Mrs. Clinton reiterated that the United States stood ready to help resolve another territorial dispute: one that pits China against Vietnam, the Philippines and other countries over a string of strategically significant islands in the South China Sea.

“The United States has a national interest in the freedom of navigation and unimpeded lawful commerce,” she said. “And when disputes arise over maritime territory, we are committed to resolving them peacefully based on customary international law.”

The administration’s position angers China, which has also sparred with the United States over currency policy and trade. Chinese officials have expressed concern that all the friction could get in the way of a visit to the United States early next year by President Hu Jintao.

At Beijing’s request, Mrs. Clinton added a last-minute China stop to her itinerary, meeting the state councilor for foreign affairs, Dai Bingguo, on Saturday on Hainan Island, east of Vietnam. She pressed Mr. Dai to use Beijing’s influence on North Korea to discourage it from “provocative” acts before the Group of 20 leaders’ meeting in Seoul next month.
23144  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: Saudi Arabia comes through on: October 31, 2010, 09:23:11 AM
Very interesting piece here from POTH.

I would like to mention that one of the reasons proffered for the Iraq War was to put an end to the dynamic where our troops were in SA to defend it from Saddam Hussein (which was THE proximate cause for the formation of AQ) and the Saudis would play both ends against the middle by buying off AQ to go after us instead of the House of Saud.  This line of thinking said that once our troops were out of SA, as they now essentially are, that the Saudis would be in a position where it would be in their self-interest to get tough with AQ.  This appears to have been the case; the news in the following piece is one of a line of such Saudi assists.


BEIRUT, Lebanon — As new facts emerge about the terrorist plot to send explosives from Yemen to the United States by courier, one remarkable strand has stood out: the plot would likely not have been discovered if not for a tip by Saudi intelligence officials.

Related
U.S. Sees Complexity of Bombs as Link to Qaeda Group (October 31, 2010) For many in the West, Saudi Arabia remains better known as a source of terrorism than as a partner in defeating it. It is the birthplace of Osama bin Laden and 15 of the 19 hijackers in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Yet Western intelligence officials say the Saudis’ own experience with jihadists has helped them develop powerful surveillance tools and a broad network of informers that has become increasingly important in the global battle against terrorism.

This month, Saudi intelligence warned of a possible terrorist attack in France by Al Qaeda’s branch in the Arabian Peninsula. The Saudis have brought similar intelligence reports about imminent threats to at least two other European countries in the past few years, and have played an important role in identifying terrorists in Pakistan, Iraq, Somalia and Kuwait, according to Saudi and Western intelligence officials.

“This latest role is one in a series of Saudi intelligence contributions,” said Thomas Hegghammer, a research fellow at the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment. “They can be helpful because so much is going on in their backyard, and because they have a limitless budget to develop their abilities.”

The Saudis have stepped up their intelligence-gathering efforts in Yemen since last year, when Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula came close to assassinating Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, who runs the Saudi counterterrorism program. A suicide bomber posing as a reformed jihadist detonated a bomb hidden inside his body, cutting himself to shreds but only lightly injuring the prince.

The Qaeda group’s main goal is to topple the Saudi monarchy, which they consider illegitimate and a slave to the West.

Prince bin Nayef, whose tip to the United States led to the discovery of the two bombs on Thursday, is held in high esteem by Western intelligence agencies, and works closely with them. He appears to be building a network of informers across Yemen, and some terrorism analysts say they believe the tip may well have come from one of his spies, possibly even from inside Al Qaeda.

“The Saudis have really stepped up their efforts in Yemen, and I’m under the impression that they’ve infiltrated Al Qaeda, so that they can warn the Americans, the French, the British and others about plots before they happen,” said Theodore Karasik, an analyst at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis in Dubai.

Saudi officials do not comment on delicate intelligence matters. But the Saudi role in a shadowy intelligence war in Yemen’s hinterlands has emerged in accounts from observers in Yemen and from Al Qaeda itself, which has often publicized its struggles to outwit Prince bin Nayef’s informers.

Last year, Al Qaeda’s regional branch killed a Yemeni security official named Bassam Sulayman Tarbush and issued a video of Mr. Tarbush describing the Saudi informer network in Marib Province, a haven for Qaeda members east of Sana, the Yemeni capital. More recently, Al Qaeda released a video detailing its success in misleading Saudi informers during the assassination attempt against Prince bin Nayef.

Saudi Arabia’s counterterrorism program differs from its Western counterparts in striking ways. It includes a familiar “hard” element of commando teams that kill terrorists, along with vastly expanded surveillance. The streets of major Saudi cities are continuously watched by cameras, and most Internet traffic goes through a central point that facilitates monitoring.

But the program also has a softer side aimed at re-educating jihadists and weaving them back into Saudi society. The government runs a rehabilitation program for terrorists, including art therapy and efforts to find jobs and wives for the former convicts. The program suffered an embarrassment last year when two of its graduates, who had also been in Guantánamo, fled the country and became leading figures in Al Qaeda’s Arabian branch.

But Saudi officials defend their overall record, noting that the program now has 349 graduates, of whom fewer than 20 have returned to terrorism.

The Saudis’ growing expertise in counterterrorism has been the fruit of painful experience. Between 2003 and 2005, home-grown jihadists waged a brutal campaign of bombings in the kingdom, leaving scores of Saudis and foreigners dead and forcing the nation to wake up to a reality it had long refused to acknowledge. The puritanical strain of Islam fostered by the state, sometimes called Wahhabism, was breeding extremists who were willing to kill even Muslims for their cause.

Saudi officials acknowledge that they still have a long way to go; the powerful religious establishment remains deeply conservative, and public schools continue to teach xenophobic and anti-Semitic material. But public opinion, once relatively supportive of figures like Mr. bin Laden, has shifted decisively since Al Qaeda began killing Muslims on Saudi soil.

And when the Saudi Interior Ministry released its list of the top 85 wanted militants last year, all of them were said to be outside the kingdom, including some in Yemen. Saudi Arabia’s problem, in other words, has become the world’s problem.

23145  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / More on REEs 2 on: October 30, 2010, 11:10:01 AM
Rarick:

Good point.
======================
POTH so caveat lector


BAOTOU, China — When Japanese mineral traders learned in late September that China was blocking shipments of a vital commodity, the word came not from a government announcement but from dock workers in Shanghai.

In Baotou, a smoggy city in China’s Inner Mongolia, the air this week has an acrid, faintly metallic taste. Half of the global supply of rare earths comes from the hills north of the town.  And on Thursday, the traders began hearing that the unannounced embargo of so-called rare earth minerals was ending — again, not from any Chinese government communiqué, but though back-channel word from their distributors.

Throughout the five weeks of the embargo, even when China expanded the rare earth shipping halt to include the United States and Europe, Beijing denied there was a ban. Whatever it was called, a shipping suspension that started amid China’s diplomatic dispute with Japan over a wayward fishing trawler escalated into a broader international trade issue.

The episode alarmed companies around the world that depend on rare earths, minerals that help make a wide range of high-tech products, including smartphones and smart bombs. China currently controls almost all of the world’s supply of rare earths, for which demand is soaring.

To many outsiders, the undeclared embargo looked like a pure power play — a sign China would wield its growing economic might and apply its chokehold on an important industrial resource with little regard for the conventions of international trade. The export quotas China continues to impose on rare earths, even when it does let ships leave the docks, are restricting global supplies and causing world market prices to soar far beyond what Chinese companies pay.

From the Chinese perspective, though, the issue looks very different.

China feels entitled to call the shots because of a brutally simple environmental reckoning: It currently controls most of the globe’s rare earths supply not just because of geologic good fortune, although there is some of that, but because the country has been willing to do dirty, toxic and often radioactive work that the rest of the world has long shunned.

Despite producing 95 percent of the world’s rare earths, China has only 37 percent of the world’s proven reserves. Sizable deposits are known to exist in the United States, Canada, Australia, India and Brazil, among other places.

Many of those countries, responding to the rising demand for rare earths and alarmed by the recent embargo, are now scrambling to develop new mines or renovate ones long considered not to be worth the effort. That includes an abandoned mine in California that the American company Molycorp is trying to refurbish.

But experts say that any meaningful new production from outside China is at least five years away, and that it will come with its own environmental cost calculus.

“China’s rare earth output cannot be raised fast enough to meet the entire world’s needs, as there are environmental factors to be taken into consideration with an increase in rare earth production,” said Zhang Peichen, the deputy director of the government-backed Baotou Research Institute of Rare Earths, the main research group for the Chinese industry.

Across China, rare earth mines have scarred valleys by stripping topsoil and pumping thousands of gallons of acid into streambeds. The environmental costs are palpable here in Baotou, a smoggy mining and steel city in China’s Inner Mongolia, where the air this week had an acrid, faintly metallic taste.

Half of the global supply of rare earths comes from a single iron ore mine in the hills north of Baotou. After the iron is removed, the ore is processed at weather-beaten refineries in Baotou’s western outskirts to extract the rare earths minerals.

The refineries and the iron ore processing mill pump their waste into an artificial lake here. The reservoir, four square miles and surrounded by an earthen embankment four stories high, holds a dark gray, slightly radioactive sludge laced with toxic chemical compounds.

The deadly lake is not far from the Yellow River watershed that supplies drinking water to much of northern China. The reservoir covers an area 100 times the size of the alumina factory waste pond that collapsed this month in Hungary, inundating villages there and killing at least nine people.

============

Page 2 of 2)



Even before the Hungary disaster, Baotou authorities had begun a program to reinforce the levee here. Huge bulldozers are adding a thick surface layer of crushed stone to the embankments to protect them from the region’s harsh weather.

China Is Said to Resume Shipping Rare Earth Minerals (October 29, 2010)
But the bottom of the reservoir was not properly lined when it was built decades ago, according to a rare earth engineer who insisted on anonymity because of the Chinese government’s sensitivity about the problem. The sludge, he said, has caused a slowly spreading stain of faint but detectable radioactivity in the groundwater that is spreading at a rate of 300 yards a year toward the Yellow River, seven miles to the south.

Much of the radioactivity associated with rare earths comes from the element thorium, which is not a rare earth but is typically found in the same ore. With the exception of unusual clay formations in southern China that contain medium and heavy rare earths with virtually no thorium, every other known commercial-grade rare earth deposit in the world is laced with thorium.

In Australia, engineers and lawyers have been working for three decades to find a safe, legal way to produce rare earths from a very rich deposit in the center of the country at Mount Weld. The mine’s current owner, Lynas Corporation, hopes to begin small-scale production there late next year, although technical challenges remain.

The only American rare earths mine, the Molycorp complex at Mountain Pass, Calif., was at one time the world’s leading producer. That was before it leaked faintly radioactive fluid into the nearby desert in the late 1990s, causing a costly cleanup that contributed to the mine’s closing in 2002. By then, very low Chinese prices had made the mine less economically viable.

Now Molycorp, which raised money in a public stock offering this past summer, is hoping to re-open the mine with higher safety and environmental standards. And it is betting that new technologies can drive its operating costs lower than the level of Chinese mines. Large-scale production, though, may still be several years away.

The mines of southern China are essentially free of thorium and have rare earths that are easily separated from the clay by dumping the ore in acid. But this relatively easy process, and soaring prices on the world market, has led to the development of many illegal mines, which sell to organized crime syndicates that pay for rare earth concentrate with sacks of cash.

Beijing officials have sent out police squads since May to shut down the outlaw mines, arrest their operators and destroy their equipment with blowtorches, rare earth industry officials said.

“The damage that has been done in south China is considerable,” said Judith Chegwidden, a managing director specializing in rare earths at the Roskill Consulting Group in London.

To point out China’s environmental and supply concerns is not to overlook the economic benefits the nation accrues by restricting exports. The global shortage gives foreign companies a reason to move even more of their rare earth-dependent operations to China, to produce key components for a wide range of products.

A Chinese official has acknowledged as much. “To use moderation in the control of the production of rare earth resources and reduce exports to an acceptable level is to attract more Chinese and foreign investors into the region,” Zhao Shuanglian, the vice chairman of Inner Mongolia, said last year, according to China’s official Xinhua news agency.

Meanwhile, China’s own fast-growing manufacturing industries now consume more rare earths than the rest of the world combined. And Beijing has done nothing to curb that domestic demand.

That apparent double standard could prove important if, as some trade experts have predicted, the United States, Europe and Japan bring a World Trade Organization case accusing China of unfairly restricting exports through a system of quotas and duties.

Alan Wolff, a former American trade official who now heads the international trade practice at the law firm Dewey & LeBoeuf in Washington, said China might face a skeptical audience at the W.T.O.

“A panel would sympathize with a genuine environmental objective,” Mr. Wolff said. “But I do not think it would sympathize with cutting off supply disproportionately to foreign users in the name of saving the environment.”
23146  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / POTH: Four year old can be sued on: October 30, 2010, 11:03:45 AM
Citing cases dating back as far as 1928, a judge has ruled that a young girl accused of running down an elderly woman while racing a bicycle with training wheels on a Manhattan sidewalk two years ago can be sued for negligence.

The ruling by the judge, Justice Paul Wooten of State Supreme Court in Manhattan, did not find that the girl was liable, but merely permitted a lawsuit brought against her, another boy and their parents to move forward.

The suit that Justice Wooten allowed to proceed claims that in April 2009, Juliet Breitman and Jacob Kohn, who were both 4, were racing their bicycles, under the supervision of their mothers, Dana Breitman and Rachel Kohn, on the sidewalk of a building on East 52nd Street. At some point in the race, they struck an 87-year-old woman named Claire Menagh, who was walking in front of the building and, according to the complaint, was “seriously and severely injured,” suffering a hip fracture that required surgery. She died three months later of unrelated causes.

Her estate sued the children and their mothers, claiming they had acted negligently during the accident. In a response, Juliet’s lawyer, James P. Tyrie, argued that the girl was not “engaged in an adult activity” at the time of the accident — “She was riding her bicycle with training wheels under the supervision of her mother” — and was too young to be held liable for negligence.

In legal papers, Mr. Tyrie added, “Courts have held that an infant under the age of 4 is conclusively presumed to be incapable of negligence.” (Rachel and Jacob Kohn did not seek to dismiss the case against them.)

But Justice Wooten declined to stretch that rule to children over 4. On Oct. 1, he rejected a motion to dismiss the case because of Juliet’s age, noting that she was three months shy of turning 5 when Ms. Menagh was struck, and thus old enough to be sued.

Mr. Tyrie “correctly notes that infants under the age of 4 are conclusively presumed incapable of negligence,” Justice Wooten wrote in his decision, referring to the 1928 case. “Juliet Breitman, however, was over the age of 4 at the time of the subject incident. For infants above the age of 4, there is no bright-line rule.”

The New York Law Journal reported the decision on Thursday.

Mr. Tyrie had also argued that Juliet should not be held liable because her mother was present; Justice Wooten disagreed.

“A parent’s presence alone does not give a reasonable child carte blanche to engage in risky behavior such as running across a street,” the judge wrote. He added that any “reasonably prudent child,” who presumably has been told to look both ways before crossing a street, should know that dashing out without looking is dangerous, with or without a parent there. The crucial factor is whether the parent encourages the risky behavior; if so, the child should not be held accountable.

In Ms. Menagh’s case, however, there was nothing to indicate that Juliet’s mother “had any active role in the alleged incident, only that the mother was ‘supervising,’ a term that is too vague to hold meaning here,” he wrote. He concluded that there was no evidence of Juliet’s “lack of intelligence or maturity” or anything to “indicate that another child of similar age and capacity under the circumstances could not have reasonably appreciated the danger of riding a bicycle into an elderly woman.”

Mr. Tyrie, Dana Breitman and Rachel Kohn did not respond to messages seeking comment.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: October 30, 2010


An article in some editions on Friday about a lawsuit that claims an elderly woman was severely injured by two 4-year-olds racing their bicycles on a Manhattan sidewalk misstated the timing of the woman’s death. The woman, Claire Menagh, died of unrelated causes three months after she was struck, not three weeks.


23147  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / This could work , , , on: October 30, 2010, 10:46:33 AM
http://politics.blogs.foxnews.com/2010/10/29/state-dept-tweets-b-day-message-ahmadinejad-palin-responds?test=latestnews


State Dept Tweets B-Day Message to Ahmadinejad, Palin Responds
by Justin Fishel | October 29, 2010


WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's top spokesman, P.J. Crowley, sent a birthday message to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad via Twitter Friday, prompting a response by former Governor Sarah Palin who described the post as "mind boggling foreign policy."

Crowley posted two short messages directed at the Iranian president, who turned 54 this week.

"Happy birthday President Ahmadinejad," the first tweet reads. "Celebrate by sending Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer home. What a gift that would be."

Fattal and Bauer were arrested near the Iranian border with Iraq in July of 2009 and have been held in Iran since on charges of espionage." Crowley has called for their return on nearly a daily basis, insisting they are innocent.

The second tweets reads: "Your 54th year was full of lost opportunities. Hope in your 55th year you will open Iran to a different relationship with the world."

Sarah Palin took issue with the message. Shortly after Crowley's post appeared she wrote, "Happy B'day Ahmadinejad wish sent by US Govt. Mind boggling foreign policy: kowtow & coddle enemies; snub allies. Obama Doctrine is nonsense."

Her message continued in a separate tweet: "Americans awaken 2 bizarre natl security thinking of Obama Admn: Ahmadinejad b'day greeting after call 4 Israel's destruction speaks volumes."

Palin is known for delivering her messages over the social media outlets Facebook and Twitter. Crowley said he had no comment when asked about the Twitter exchange during a daily press briefing at the State Department.
23148  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH on Reid vs. Angle on: October 30, 2010, 10:19:38 AM

October 29, 2010
In Nevada, It’s Hold Nose and Cast Vote
By DAN BARRY and MICHAEL COOPER


HENDERSON, Nev. — The knock on the front door elicited the annoyed yapping of an unseen dog, followed by the appearance of a gray-haired man busily eating chips from a bag. His callers were two union workers, canvassing the neighborhood on behalf of Democrats, especially Senator Harry Reid.

The man said that he knew Mr. Reid, and that Mr. Reid was an idiot. So was his Republican opponent, Sharron Angle. In fact, said the man, a retired steelworker named Mario Mari, he might very well choose a third option here in Nevada: the phantom candidate known as None of the Above.

“This country is going down,” Mr. Mari said, before closing the door to a bleak Nevada landscape, where jobs are few and foreclosures many.

This is the up-for-grabs Third Congressional District, the most populous in Nevada and the most contested in this state’s contentious Senate race, sprawling across the dry terrain to form a kind of martini glass around the olive of downtown Las Vegas. It is here, in this packed suburban stretch of terra cotta roofs and crushed-rock yards adorned with Halloween skulls and campaign signs, that the battle for the country’s direction is being waged.

The two candidates could not be more ideologically different. But in these last frantic days of an extremely tight and unpleasant campaign, one with implications for the balance of power in Washington, they are united by the same problem: the voters of Nevada do not particularly like either of them.

“More people in Nevada dislike these candidates than like them,” said Ryan Erwin, a Republican consultant in Las Vegas. As a result, he added, “It’s going to be about which side is going to persuade voters that the other candidate is worse.”

On one side, the incumbent of two dozen years: Mr. Reid, 70, the Senate majority leader, a close ally of President Obama and, behind the scenes, a flinty, old-school Nevadan. But if a microphone appears, he assumes the persona of a wan, Old West undertaker whose own pulse needs to be checked.

In addition to giving interviews and busily visiting key racial, ethnic and union groups, the senator is counting on a highly disciplined ground game — put in place after Republicans swept into state offices in 2002 — that does everything from sending out door-knocking union members to providing hotel maids and blackjack dealers free bus rides to early voting sites.

Finally, the Reid campaign’s closing-argument commercials are casting Ms. Angle as a flaky, even dangerous extremist. The most recent commercial for the Reid campaign ends with: “Sharron Angle? Pathological.”

On the other side, the challenger from out of nowhere: Ms. Angle, 61, this season’s anti-Obama Tea Party standard-bearer. A former schoolteacher, state legislator and competitive weight lifter, she has choice words for Washington and curious words for the rest of the country, as when she suggested that Islamic religious law had taken hold in two American communities. But if a microphone appears, she begins to play hide-and-seek: she hides, reporters seek.

Ms. Angle has emerged as a candidate wary of some of her Republican colleagues, and the feeling is often mutual. Sometimes she listens to the professional Republican consultants who have descended on this race; sometimes she does not. While they want her to avoid the press, they do not want her to be seen running away from cameras — which has become a common sight on Nevada television, one that some Republicans say is entirely of Ms. Angle’s design.

Although Ms. Angle usually flees microphones, she speaks clearly through her campaign commercials, which question the source of Mr. Reid’s wealth and portray him as a calcified Obama toady who all but invites thuggish undocumented immigrants to your family’s Thanksgiving.

In their own ways, then, both candidates are asking the same plaintive question in this close race: What are you thinking, Nevada?

In one of the storefronts of a tired, partly vacant shopping center blessed by the bright lights of a central Las Vegas casino called Arizona Charlie’s, a clutch of Republicans spent Tuesday night making telephone calls to registered Republicans. Words on a grease board underscored their mission’s importance:

“Dirty Harry won by 428 votes in 1998. How many calls did YOU make today?”

Jesse Law, 28, a mortgage broker with Tea Party credentials, sat among a half-dozen other volunteers who, by the end of the day, were to have made more than 2,200 calls from this office alone. When not working at a Republican phone bank, he is leading groups of canvassers through the almost identical subdivisions carpeting the southern Nevada desert. His message is consistent:

Oust Reid.

This mantra binds the various bands of Nevada Republicans and Tea Party members, who normally find their oxygen in internal squabbling. It is a strange moment of unification, though, given how divisive a figure Ms. Angle has been.

According to a profile in The Las Vegas Review-Journal this spring, the deeply religious Ms. Angle underwent a political conversion after surviving a medical crisis — a tumor blocking her spinal fluid — three decades ago. A friend confided that she had seen Deborah, a heroine from the Old Testament, while dreaming about Ms. Angle, who interpreted this as a sign.

“Deborah was really the first woman politician,” Ms. Angle told the newspaper.

Ms. Angle went on to become a pro-gun, anti-tax state legislator from northern Nevada who relished being the antiestablishment outsider. In 2008, for example, she unsuccessfully challenged a veteran Republican leader from Reno, State Senator William J. Raggio, in a mean primary. Then, in the Republican primary for the United States Senate in June, she came from far behind to beat several established candidates, including Sue Lowden, a former chairwoman in the state Republican Party.

The hurt feelings created by her audacity have not eased. Mr. Raggio, who is among several prominent state Republicans reluctantly supporting Mr. Reid, recently issued a statement that criticized Ms. Angle’s unwillingness to work with others, even those in her own party, as well as “her extreme positions” on a range of issues.

Some Republicans fear losing such a powerful ally in Washington — no matter that his name is Reid — at a time when Nevada is in precarious economic shape. And Ms. Angle’s relationship with Republicans in Washington is complicated. She eyes them warily, while they fret that their overt help might offend her Tea Party supporters.

Even so, Ms. Angle is not above accepting the help of the Republican establishment, whether by receiving significant financial support from, say, Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina, or holding an event on Friday night with Senator John McCain of Arizona. She melds the inside with the outside, as when, during a recent appearance with Newt Gingrich, she told her supporters — “Nevada patriots,” she called them — that she wanted to cut any federal spending not provided for in the Constitution.

Still, it seems that no adviser can stop Ms. Angle from being herself, as when she suggested to a rural community that Islamic religious law had taken hold in Dearborn, Mich., and Frankford, Tex., which no longer exists. (“I think that’s arguably the craziest thing that she has said, and the most dangerous,” said Jon Ralston, who writes the state’s most influential political column for The Las Vegas Sun.)

Her candor has caused advisers to suggest that she lie low in these last days, so low that reporters have relied on the Twitter messages of a Democrat dressed as a chicken to track Ms. Angle’s whereabouts.

But Ms. Angle’s outlandish comments and harsh commercials — juxtaposing menacing, dark-skinned men with anxious white people — have not affected her ability to raise and spend money. From July 1 to Oct. 13, her campaign spent $16.9 million, well more than the $11.2 million spent by the Reid campaign, and her advisers say their ground game is better than people might imagine.

“If you include the enthusiasm advantage that we have, we’re feeling quite good,” said Jordan Gehrke, Ms. Angle’s deputy campaign manager.

In a union hall tucked among subdivisions and wisps of desert, some steelworkers, letter carriers and culinary workers filed in to get their Saturday morning coffee and marching orders before heading out to canvass for Democrats. Many of them passed a handwritten sign suggesting how to respond to “Reid Distrust.” It advised:

“Acknowledge: ‘I hear you, but despite what the media says ... Harry brings it home for NV.”

Mike Reinecke, the state political director of Labor 2010, the A.F.L.-C.I.O.’s get-out-the-vote program, gave a pep talk and released them with: “See your captains, grab your packets and let’s hit the pavement.”

Union members have knocked on 200,000 doors and made 48,000 calls as part of a one-vote-at-a-time effort by Democrats to counter a general disgust with the establishment — personified these days by Mr. Reid, who might otherwise be seen as a Horatio Alger character from Nevada: a poor, pugnacious kid from Searchlight who rose to become a power broker able to secure federal money for large, jobs-creating state projects.

Well aware that polls show Ms. Angle slightly ahead, Mr. Reid has been forced to shed his dour Washington persona and stump like a challenger. At a recent rally in Las Vegas’s Chinatown, he posed for photographs for 45 minutes with any supporter who wanted one, then left to shake hands and share hugs at a barbecue with black supporters.

Still, Mr. Reid cannot deny being such a creature of distant Washington that he made the tone-deaf decision years ago to move into the Ritz-Carlton — a name that, in these hard Nevadan times, smacks of exclusive luxury. And for all his kisses and embraces, he still has that undertaker’s parched look; he still has that propensity for clumsy statements, as when he recently suggested that: “But for me, we’d be in a worldwide depression.”

With all this in tow, Richard and Tracy Griffin, a married couple who, as letter carriers, know how to calm barking dogs, headed out into the key Third Congressional District, where the chocolate-brown Black Mountains loom in the distance, the deep cuts in their sides all that exist of luxury developments never completed.

In recent elections, the global-positioning systems used by the union door-knockers could not keep up with all the new roads. Now the district is the foreclosure capital of a state that is the foreclosure capital of the nation — and Mr. Reid needs the votes of its anxious, angry electorate.

“In the beginning it was very tough,” Ms. Griffin said as she went door to door, talking to laid-off workers, cranky retirees, homeowners nervous about the future. “It seems to be changing now, as we get closer to the elections, and the realization of putting her in office is starting to hit people. We have rarely heard a pro-Angle, it’s usually —— ”

“Anti-Reid,” said Mr. Griffin, finishing the thought.
23149  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Pathological Science on: October 29, 2010, 11:44:55 PM
The body of the article is now there BBG.
23150  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / More on REEs on: October 29, 2010, 06:00:29 PM
MCP has been all over the place the last five days.

======================

Oh Jeez, The Rare Earth Bubble Is About To Go Into OverdriveSilicon Alley Insider(Wed 2:15PM EDT)
Van Eck To Launch 'Strategic Metals' ETFat Barrons.com(Wed 2:11PM EDT)


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