Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Selling the Taliban
on: September 02, 2008, 11:53:01 AM
Selling the Taliban
By JOANNA NATHAN
FROM TODAY'S WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE
September 2, 2008
In the West, assumptions about Afghanistan too often seem premised on the idea that the Taliban are "men in caves," raising questions about why thousands of international troops cannot quickly defeat them.
However, an insurgency is at its heart a battle of wills and staying power, not of military might. Insurgents in Afghanistan appreciate this and have created a sophisticated propaganda operation that both targets what is seen as weakening support back in foreign capitals and seeks to mold perceptions among the Afghan population.
This is no small-scale operation. The efforts include a Web site, Al Emarah, which is updated several times a day in five languages. The English may often be laughable -- with reference to gourds (guards), a "poppet" (puppet) government and "spatial fours" (special forces) -- but it does the job. The Web site mocks government weakness and highlights every perceived foreign misstep to tap a deep vein of nationalism in Afghanistan -- and to raise questions back in foreign capitals about the role of their forces.
For the local audience there are also magazines in Arabic and Pashto, DVDs showing gruesome beheadings and Taliban attacks, and audio cassettes of nationalist chants -- also available as ringtones. Much of this material apparently is produced across the border in Pakistan in the name of the former regime, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, or by supporters and sympathizers. All of it seeks to tap historic patriotism and fuel often legitimate grievances in Afghanistan. Journalists can reach Taliban spokesmen for a fiery quote day and night, in stark contrast to their government and international counterparts.
All in all, the Taliban are successfully driving the news agenda and creating a perception of a movement far stronger and more omnipresent than it really is. Taliban atrocities often go unreported in areas they have made off-limits to independent verification. And their methods to control the message go beyond those of your typical press office: Community leaders and journalists who might speak up are cowed with threats or worse.
While the Taliban use their media operation to highlight civilian casualties caused by foreign forces, they also deliberately target civilians -- as with the recent murder of three Western women aid workers and their Afghan colleague just an hour from Kabul. Much less reported internationally are the Afghans who work for international NGOs or the government in rural areas and who often face roadblocks where they are checked for any sign of working with foreigners.
One journalist from an insurgency-hit province, whom I recently met, has moved to Kabul because of the relentless pressure. Among other incidents, he says some pupils he interviewed at the opening of a new government school were killed soon afterward for taking part in the event.
The Taliban realize that they will never win head-on engagements with the international forces, but also that they do not have to. A new emphasis on spectacular attacks in 2008, such as the June jailbreak in Kandahar and an assault on Kabul's only five-star hotel in January, has won global headlines and aims to erode international consensus on the need to stay the course. There is talk on the streets of Afghanistan's "worst ever military defeat," with images circulating of local soldiers fleeing April's three-man attack on a military parade attended by President Hamid Karzai and foreign and local dignitaries.
To combat the Taliban, international forces -- and even more importantly the Afghan administration -- need to be much more responsive and proactive in getting their messages out. Highlighting the Taliban's brutality will undercut its claims to legitimacy.
The corollary to this would be enhancing the government's legitimacy, particularly through support of Afghan institutions and security forces. International troops are essential to create a security umbrella for such developments to take place. However, the current focus on increasing troop numbers is meaningless if there is not a strategic plan in which building local capacity is the priority. Most Afghans are still far more fearful of what would happen should foreign troops leave than if they stay, but there are limits to their patience. Enhanced Afghan institutions taking the lead would help negate the Taliban's relentlessly xenophobic campaign.
The Afghan government still needs to prove that this is an administration worth fighting for. It should tackle the current culture of impunity in cases of corruption and abuses by members of the administration. The international community, too, must foster accountability in its actions. With Guantanamo having entered the folk culture of Afghanistan, appearing in poems and songs and undercutting claims about the rule of law, arbitrary detentions by Afghan and foreign forces alike must stop. Much greater transparency and accountability is also needed in cases where there are civilian deaths.
Propaganda may be powerful, but it can be countered by both better communications and, ultimately, with deeds on the ground.
Ms. Nathan is senior adviser in Kabul for the International Crisis Group.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / PD WSJ
on: September 02, 2008, 11:46:51 AM
Traveling Violation - Obama Fails to Bounce
It's starting to become clear why Democrats are mounting such a sustained assault on Sarah Palin. So far the polls leading out of last week's Democratic convention show Barack Obama didn't get much of a bounce, if any.
Gallup poll numbers indicate Mr. Obama got a four-point bounce from the convention but quickly gave up half those gains in the wake of John McCain's announcement of Sarah Palin as his running mate. The latest Zogby poll actually shows Mr. McCain with a narrow two-point lead and a CNN poll shows the race dead even.
Mr. Obama's bounce is less than one-third of the boost that Al Gore got after his 2000 convention or the bounce Bill Clinton was able to achieve in 1992. Even hapless GOP nominee Bob Dole got a four-point bounce out of his 1996 convention.
The Obama acceptance speech last Thursday night was a ratings hit, with 40 million people tuning in. But the race remains essentially where it was before the Democratic convention. Republicans now have the rest of this week to attempt to create a favorable impression of their ticket.
-- John Fund
The Claws Are Out
The snarkiness of many of the comments ridiculing and belittling Sarah Palin is stunning.
Newsweek's Eleanor Clift reported on the McLaughlin Group that the reaction in many newsrooms to the announcement the Alaska governor would join the McCain team was "literally laughter." Ms. Clift, who has written admiringly about many women pioneers in politics, said: "This is not a serious choice. It makes it look like a made-for-TV movie."
Sally Quinn of the Washington Post picked up that theme in discussing the pregnancy of Ms. Palin's 17-year-old daughter. She said this would raise concerns if Ms. Palin "had been enough of a hands-on mother." Time magazine went even further by noting that "if elected, Palin will be the first vice-president in memory to take the oath of office with a child and a grandchild in diapers," a reference to Ms. Palin giving birth to her fifth child only last April.
Democrats, who were so anxious to avoid discussing the John Edwards affair even after clear evidence surfaced of his adultery and alleged illicit parenthood, can't stop talking about Ms. Palin's family troubles. "The name on the tongues of gleeful Dems, meanwhile: Eagleton," notes Politico.com. That's a reference to the 1972 Democratic vice presidential nominee Tom Eagleton, who had to withdraw from the ticket after reports he had been hospitalized for depression.
Somehow I think Democrats and their media allies will be laughing a little less after Wednesday night when Sarah Palin gets her own chance to speak to the American people without a media filter. They may find that all the ridicule will strike many Americans as excessive if the Alaska governor delivers a solid good performance.
-- John Fund
Sarah Steals the Show
Democratic bloggers are manically promoting the theme that the McCain campaign is "in crisis." Is it true?
"What did he know and when did he know it...?" asks Huffington Post in block letters. A blogger at DailyKos gazes longingly into the inverted telescope and declares: "This is a Tom Eagleton disaster for the GOP."
Well, maybe if John McCain is suddenly and uncharacteristically prone to panic. But give the media credit for quickly identifying the Democratic script and trying to turn a story about a teenage pregnancy into one about Mr. McCain's fitness for office. Voters, who have their heads screwed on straighter, undoubtedly still think the story is about an unmarried daughter's readiness to bear a child, not about a vetting miscue. Should Mr. McCain have passed out pregnancy test kits to relatives of his short list? Should he have skipped over a woman he obviously likes and admires because her daughter is having a baby? How silly is this going to get?
A psychologist could explain what the hysteria is really about: overcompensation and a desperate passion to change the subject. We don't know how Ms. Palin will perform under the onslaught, but Republicans who complain Mr. McCain threw away the "experience card" are missing the point. The Palin nomination is a poisoned arrow aimed right at Barack Obama's credentials. It sets up the question: Who's more inexperienced? Ms. Palin repeatedly challenged an incumbent machine and prevailed in fiercely contested battles. Mr. Obama was the output of a machine (Chicago's) and advanced because his electoral opponents (Blair Hull in the Democratic Senate primary, Jack Ryan in the general) conveniently dropped out amid scandals. Yes, Mr. Obama managed to be elected to the Senate but whether he actually did the job is a matter of definitions. Ms. Palin was elected governor and actually set about being governor -- not angling for the next job based on some calculation about her charm.
The Clintons have always been right about one thing: Mr. Obama has risen on a mighty puff of air. Democrats are taking a culpable gamble on whether that puff will dissipate before Election Day or after. By any rational standard, it's their "judgment" and their "vetting process" that should be on trial. And may still be -- with help from Sarah Palin.
-- Holman W. Jenkins Jr.
Quote of the Day
"Obama began his campaign for the nomination as the outsider candidate, promising fundamental change in Washington and offering a post-partisan approach to politics. With time, he has come to be seen as a much more conventional Democrat who is now half of a ticket based in Congress, the least admired institution in a widely scorned capital. Millions who saw his acceptance speech heard a standard recital of liberal Democratic programs. By picking Palin, McCain has strengthened his reputation not as an ideologue, not as a partisan, but as a reformer -- ready to shake up Washington as his hero, Teddy Roosevelt, once did. My guess is that cleansing Washington of its poisonous partisanship, its wasteful spending and its incompetence will become McCain's major theme" -- Washington Post columnist David Broder.
In fall of 2007, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin called her legislature into special session to rewrite an oil bill signed a year earlier by her predecessor, Republican Gov. Frank Murkowski. This legislative fight will likely earn more scrutiny and carry more weight with voters than any revelation about her unmarried 17-year-old pregnant daughter.
On the surface, she hiked taxes on the oil industry -- a risky political move for a rookie in her first year in office. But the fight in Juneau last year was about much more than taxes. A federal corruption probe had unveiled credible allegations that the 2006 bill had passed only because oil industry executives had bribed enough legislators to allow it to survive very close votes. This came even as separate federal probes were closing in on the state's two GOP legislative powers, Sen. Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young. Ms. Palin ran for office in 2006 not only to push better public policies, but as an avowed change agent within her own party. Not for nothing is she called "Saint Sarah" by some state GOPers. She's not anti-business, but pro-honesty and accountability in government. Her rewritten oil bill forced energy companies to pay more than they otherwise would, but she rebated much of the new revenue back to state residents and has championed a new gas pipeline to bring natural gas to the lower 48 states -- laying the groundwork for a new energy boom in the state.
By putting Ms. Palin on the ticket, Mr. McCain has turned his race into an anti-Washington campaign. That will likely prove a more powerful and enduring storyline than the one preoccupying the media for the past 24 hours
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Medvedev
on: September 02, 2008, 11:17:34 AM
Geopolitical Diary: The Medvedev Doctrine
September 2, 2008 | 0202 GMT
Russian President Dmitri Medvedev gave an extraordinary interview on Russian television’s Channel One over the weekend. In the course of the interview, Medvedev unveiled a five-point doctrine that would govern Russia’s foreign policy going forward. It came in the course of an interviewer’s questions, but the statement was obviously well thought out and planned. It is to be seen as a statement of Russian national policy and is worth presenting here verbatim in translation by the Kremlin:
“I will make five principles the foundation for my work in carrying out Russia’s foreign policy.
First, Russia recognizes the primacy of the fundamental principles of international law, which define the relations between civilized peoples. We will build our relations with other countries within the framework of these principles and this concept of international law.
Second, the world should be multipolar. A single-pole world is unacceptable. Domination is something we cannot allow. We cannot accept a world order in which one country makes all the decisions, even as serious and influential a country as the United States of America. Such a world is unstable and threatened by conflict.
Third, Russia does not want confrontation with any other country. Russia has no intention of isolating itself. We will develop friendly relations with Europe, the United States, and other countries, as much as is possible.
Fourth, protecting the lives and dignity of our citizens, wherever they may be, is an unquestionable priority for our country. Our foreign policy decisions will be based on this need. We will also protect the interests of our business community abroad. It should be clear to all that we will respond to any aggressive acts committed against us.
Finally, fifth, as is the case of other countries, there are regions in which Russia has privileged interests. These regions are home to countries with which we share special historical relations and are bound together as friends and good neighbors. We will pay particular attention to our work in these regions and build friendly ties with these countries, our close neighbors. These are the principles I will follow in carrying out our foreign policy.
As for the future, it depends not only on us but also on our friends and partners in the international community. They have a choice.”
The interviewer then asked for greater definition of the Russian areas of interest. Medvedev replied, “The countries on our borders are priorities, of course, but our priorities do not end there.”
The most important points to take away from this, from our point of view, are as follows. First, the events in Georgia are not to be seen as isolated, but as part of a general shift in Russian policy. Second, the Russians are claiming responsibility for Russian citizens anywhere. This is particularly important in the Baltics, where Russian citizens constitute substantial minorities, and in Ukraine. Russia is making it clear that the treatment of Russians in other regions is a fundamental interest in its foreign policy. Third, the Russians are declaring a sphere of interest in the former Soviet Union, and saying that friendly relations with these countries is essential to Russia. This also means that these countries may not have the option of pursuing policies that Russia regards as unfriendly. Finally, Russian interests are not confined to the former Soviet Union. That obviously means that they extend to Eastern Europe and, in all likelihood, the Middle East as well.
We see this interview as not quite a formal doctrine, but a clear indication of Russian thinking. It is clear that the Russians have now publicly announced what is obvious: Russia has a new foreign policy, and it is ambitious and will unfold quickly rather than slowly.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Stop or we will say "Stop!" again
on: September 02, 2008, 10:05:46 AM
'Stop! Or We'll Say Stop Again!'
FROM TODAY'S WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE
September 2, 2008
With apologies to comedian Robin Williams, that's the line that comes to mind when weighing the European Union's declaration yesterday on Russia's continued occupation of Georgia.
At a special meeting in Brussels, EU national leaders told Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to abide by the terms of a French-brokered cease-fire, including a pullback of Russian troops to their preconflict positions. If he doesn't do so, they warned, they will hold another meeting.
That's all. It's been almost three weeks since Mr. Medvedev signed the cease-fire, and five days since Moscow broke with the rest of the world by recognizing the self-declared independence of Georgian provinces South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Yet Europe's leaders evidently need more time to ruminate over the situation in the Caucasus.
Well, that's almost all. The European leaders did make one concrete "threat." The EU said it would freeze negotiations with Moscow on a new economic cooperation agreement if Russian forces haven't pulled back to their pre-August 7 positions by next Monday. But this is meaningless. It had taken the Europeans months to agree among themselves to begin the talks, and even before the Russian invasion of Georgia Eastern European leaders had signaled that their countries were unlikely to sign off on any deal anytime soon. Nor was Moscow pushing very hard for it.
During a postsummit press conference, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who holds the rotating EU presidency, got the obvious question: Is the EU a "paper tiger"? Mr. Sarkozy, visibly angered by the suggestion, responded that "Demonstrations of force, verbal aggression, sanctions, countersanctions . . . will not serve anyone." He didn't say how Brussels' latest tsk-tsk-ing serves anyone in Georgia.
Mr. Sarkozy also insisted that his efforts to reach a cease-fire had borne fruit. Again, the Georgians might beg to disagree. Russia has used the agreement's vague language to justify a continued presence in Georgia far beyond the original conflict zone. The cease-fire called for international talks about security and stability for the separatist regions, but that didn't stop Mr. Medvedev from recognizing their independence. Europe's call yesterday to begin these talks rang hollow; that horse isn't going back into the barn.
The most cynical comment of the day, though, was Mr. Sarkozy's attempt to use the conflict to bully the Irish over their rejection of the union's Lisbon Treaty in June. "This crisis has shown that Europe needs to have strong and stable institutions" like those it would have gotten under Lisbon, Mr. Sarkozy said.
No, what Europe needs is political will -- and a new treaty isn't going to solve that. Rather than scolding Irish voters for exercising their democratic rights, Mr. Sarkozy would do better to name and shame those member states whose desire to curry favor with Moscow kept the EU from taking a firmer stand yesterday.
For now, the Continent is determined to talk things out with Moscow. When will it realize that Moscow doesn't to listen?
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Palin
on: September 02, 2008, 10:03:03 AM
second article of the morning
Ignore the Chauvinists.
Palin Has Real Experience.
By NANCY PFOTENHAUER
September 2, 2008; Page A21
In Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Sen. John McCain has found a fellow maverick to be his running mate -- one who can help bring the right kind of reform to Washington. Ms. Palin, like Mr. McCain, has a strong record of battling the status quo, restoring accountability and effectiveness to government, and working to secure energy independence, root out corruption and curb wasteful spending.
As the chief executive of the nation's largest state, Ms. Palin oversees some of the country's largest energy reserves. She came into office at a critical time in Alaska politics, facing a system plagued by corruption. Her response was to immediately begin cleaning it up. The results of her leadership today speak for themselves: Ms. Palin's approval ratings top 80% -- more than 60% higher than that of the Democratic Congress.
Ms. Palin has a tangible, impressive record of achievement and executive experience. She is head of the Alaska National Guard and the chairman of two multistate agencies that make energy decisions that affect all Americans. While Barack Obama spent almost all of the past two years running for president, Ms. Palin has been running a state.
It's telling that Sen. Obama chose to give a negative, partisan speech at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. He envisions a Democratic monolith in Washington that will solve all of our problems.
But Ms. Palin knows that real change doesn't come from rigid adherence to party lines. She has transformed her state's government from what she called a "good ol' boys network" to an accountable, successful system. Like Mr. McCain, Ms. Palin realizes that the problem isn't a Republican administration or a Democratic Congress. It's business as usual in Washington.
Ms. Palin's experience in reforming Alaskan government shows she's ready to lead on the national stage. She stood up to members of her own party who abused their power, risking her political career by protesting ethics violations. Ms. Palin went on to pass ethics reform. She has put the people's interests ahead of her own -- like Mr. McCain.
A McCain-Palin administration will not tolerate pork-barrel spending. In Washington, Mr. McCain spoke out against the "Bridge to Nowhere," a $400 million waste of the taxpayers' money that led to an island with a few dozen residents. In Juneau, Alaska, Ms. Palin made sure the bridge went nowhere, canceling the earmark. She wasn't afraid to use her veto pen, and Mr. McCain won't be either.
In a state where energy production is a top priority, Ms. Palin is an expert in the field. She has never shied away from challenging the influence of big oil companies, all the while fighting for the development of new energy resources. Ms. Palin worked with Democrats and Republicans to institute a rebate that used the state's vast oil revenues to help offset the high costs of fuel and heating in the state.
Ms. Palin has been a leader in the fight for American energy independence. Like Mr. McCain, she understands that we need an "all of the above" solution to secure our energy future. Her influence extended far beyond Alaska as she recently pushed through a gas pipeline project that will bring new supplies and lower prices to the lower 48 states.
Just last month, meanwhile, the Democrats running Congress went on vacation rather than vote to allow offshore drilling, which would reduce our dependence on foreign oil.
Beyond ethics and energy, Ms. Palin shares Mr. McCain's passion for conservation. Mr. McCain often speaks of his admiration for Theodore Roosevelt, a conservationist and sportsman who surely would have enjoyed Ms. Palin's company. She grew up hunting and fishing in Alaska, and she understands the importance of responsible stewardship of our environment.
All women should be proud of Mr. McCain's selection of Ms. Palin as his running mate, an historic moment that came the week of the 88th anniversary of women's earning the right to vote. Sarah Palin will break through the glass ceiling that, as she noted on her first day as the vice presidential nominee, has 18 million new cracks thanks to Hillary Clinton.
Ms. Pfotenhauer is a senior policy adviser and national spokesperson for the McCain campaign.
See all of today's editorials and op-eds, plus video commentary, on Opinion Journal.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / McCain's tax policy
on: September 02, 2008, 09:58:54 AM
Has a Tax Plan
To Create Jobs
By MARTIN FELDSTEIN and JOHN B. TAYLOR
September 2, 2008; Page A23
John McCain's tax policies are designed to create jobs, increase wages and allow all Americans -- especially those in the hard-pressed middle class -- to keep more of what they earn. His plan achieves these goals in three important ways.
First, he proposes a package of tax incentives that will create jobs and raise earnings by inducing firms to invest more in the U.S. Second, he is strongly committed to blocking any increase in tax rates while doubling the personal exemptions for families with children, which will reduce the tax burden on working Americans. Third, he proposes a new, refundable tax credit that will increase health-care coverage, reduce the cost of health care, and provide more funds for families and individuals to purchase health care.
Here's how the three components of Sen. McCain's tax plan will work in practice.
To create jobs, Mr. McCain will reduce the corporate tax rate -- now at 35% the second highest among all industrial countries -- to one that doesn't penalize firms for doing business here. To encourage small businesses to expand, he will fight against higher tax rates on their income.
To increase wages, Mr. McCain will provide incentives to raise productivity, which leads to higher wages. To increase productivity, he will provide incentives for developing and applying new technologies by expanding the tax credit for research and development, and by making that credit permanent.
More savings and investment in businesses also raise productivity. Mr. McCain will stimulate saving by keeping tax rates low on the returns to saving in the form of dividends and capital gains. He will also allow faster depreciation of assets, which encourages investment. And he will strengthen the incentive to save by reducing the maximum estate tax rate, with a substantial, untaxed exemption.
In stark contrast to Barack Obama, Mr. McCain believes that tax policy should be used to foster the creation of jobs and higher wages through economic growth, rather than to redistribute incomes. The economy is not a zero-sum game in which some people can enjoy higher incomes only if others are made worse off.
Mr. McCain's plan will significantly ease the tax burden on American families with children by doubling the personal exemption to $7,000 from $3,500. This means a larger percentage tax reduction for families with smaller taxable incomes, and specifically helps families in the middle income levels. And a President McCain will enable people to keep more of their earnings by preventing Congress from raising tax rates.
Mr. McCain's overall tax policy will also expand health-insurance coverage, and make health care more efficient. Most taxpayers will also pay less in tax. Here's how it will work. His plan includes a refundable tax credit of $2,500 for single individuals and $5,000 for couples, if they receive a qualifying health-care policy from an employer (one that includes adequate coverage against large medical bills), or buy a qualifying policy on their own. The credit will replace the current tax rule, which excludes employer payments for health insurance from employees' taxable incomes.
This tax credit will be available to everyone, including the self-employed and the employees of businesses that do not provide health insurance. Thus it will lead to a major expansion of health-insurance coverage. The tax credit will of course be available to people who are between jobs, or have retired before they're eligible for Medicare.
Since any part of the credit not used to pay for insurance could be invested in a health savings account, individuals will have an incentive to choose less costly health-insurance policies. This will improve the efficiency of health care, to everyone's benefit.
Importantly, the tax credit will be a clear gain for most employees. Consider a married taxpayer whose employer now pays $10,000 for a health-insurance policy. Ending the exclusion will raise that individual's taxable income by $10,000 -- but the $5,000 tax credit will exceed the extra tax liability whether the marginal tax rate that individual pays is 10% or 35% or anywhere in between. Indeed, the lower the taxpayer's income, the more of the credit that will be available to pay for health care that's not reimbursed by insurance.
Sen. Obama was at best disingenuous in his convention speech when he criticized the McCain plan for taxing health benefits. The health insurance tax credit exceeds the extra taxes on existing benefits.
Mr. Obama also criticized Mr. McCain on the grounds that he doesn't cut taxes on 100 million families. But this ignores the fact that Mr. McCain's health-insurance credits would benefit most taxpayers and that many people who are not currently eligible for the increased personal exemption will become eligible when they have children. When these features are taken into account, the vast majority of today's 140 million taxpayers would pay lower taxes under the McCain plan.
Tax revenues will increase robustly over the next few years with Mr. McCain's overall tax strategy as the economy grows -- even with conservative economic growth assumptions. And by maintaining strong control over the growth of government spending, Mr. McCain will bring the budget into balance. His long record of fighting against excessive government spending, his plans to veto earmarks and reverse the spending binge of the past few years, and his strong commitment to balancing the budget can make this goal a reality.
Mr. McCain's tax policy stands in strong contrast to Mr. Obama's ever-changing tax proposals. Although it is difficult to know just what Mr. Obama would do if he were elected, it is clear that he wants to raise taxes on personal incomes, on dividends, on capital gains, on payroll income and on businesses -- all of which will hurt the U.S. economy. He regards the tax system as a way to redistribute income, and disregards the resulting adverse incentive effects that reduce employment and economic growth.
Mr. Obama's claim to being a big tax cutter defies credibility. His assertion that he would cut taxes on 95% of families reflects his one-time $1,000 rebate payouts, and a variety of new government spending handed out through the tax system.
Mr. McCain, on the other hand, has been clear that he wants to preserve the favorable incentive effects of the existing low tax rates -- and to reduce taxes in other ways that will strengthen the economy, create jobs and help current taxpayers, including those without health insurance.
Messrs. Feldstein and Taylor are economic advisers to John McCain and professors of economics at, respectively, Harvard and Stanford.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Victory in Anbar
on: September 02, 2008, 09:53:14 AM
Victory in Anbar
September 2, 2008
Two years ago, on September 11, 2006, the Washington Post stirred an election-year uproar with this chilling dispatch:
"The chief of intelligence for the Marine Corps in Iraq recently filed an unusual secret report concluding that the prospects for securing that country's western Anbar province are dim and that there is almost nothing the U.S. military can do to improve the political and social situation there . . ."
But there was something we could do: Pursue a different counterinsurgency strategy and commit more troops. And on Monday, U.S. forces formally handed control of a now largely peaceful Anbar to the Iraqi military. "We are in the last 10 yards of this terrible fight. The goal is very near," said Major-General John Kelly, commander of U.S. forces in Anbar, in a ceremony with U.S., Iraqi and tribal officials. Very few in the American media even noticed this remarkable victory.
Yes, the stunning progress in Anbar owes a great deal to the Awakening Councils of Sunni tribesmen who broke with al Qaeda terrorists and allied with U.S. forces. But those Sunni leaders would never have had the confidence to risk their lives in that way without knowing the U.S. wasn't going to cut and run. The U.S. committed some 4,000 additional troops to Anbar as part of the 2007 "surge," along with thousands more Iraqi troops.
The world has since seen al Qaeda driven even from what the terrorists and many in the Western press had claimed were Sunni enclaves that welcomed the terrorist help against the American "occupation." The result has been the most significant military and ideological defeat for al Qaeda since the Taliban was driven from Kabul in 2001. In danger of being humiliated in Iraq in 2006, the U.S. has demonstrated that it has the national will to fight a longer war. The Sunni Arab world in particular has noticed -- and is now showing new respect for Iraq's Shiite government.
For Iraqi politics, the Anbar handover is especially meaningful because the Shiite-dominated Iraq military will now provide security in a largely Sunni province. Anbar is the 11th of 18 provinces that the coalition has turned over to Iraq control, but the first Sunni province. The government of Nouri al-Maliki now has a further chance to show its ability to represent the entire country, the way it did when the Iraqi military routed Shiite militias in Basra and Sadr City in the spring.
For U.S. politics, it is worth recalling that that 2006 Washington Post story became part of a Beltway consensus that defeat in Iraq was inevitable. Democrats made withdrawal the center of their campaign to retake Congress, Republicans like Senator John Warner became media darlings for saying the war couldn't be won, and the James Baker-Lee Hamilton Iraq Study Group laid out a bipartisan road to retreat. According to memos disclosed Sunday in the New York Times, even senior officials at the State Department and Pentagon opposed the surge. President Bush, heeding Generals David Petraeus and Ray Odierno as well as John McCain, overruled the defeatists and ordered a renewed U.S. commitment to Iraq.
The Anbar handover is above all a tribute to the hundreds of Americans who have fought and died in places like Fallujah, Ramadi and Hit over these last five years. Over the horizon of history, we tend to recall only the successes in previous wars at such places as Guadalcanal, Peleliu and the Chosin Reservoir. We forget that those wars and battles were also marked by terrible blunders and setbacks, both political and military. What mattered is that our troops, and our country, had the determination to fight to an ultimate victory. So it is with the heroes of Anbar.
See all of today's editorials and op-eds, plus video commentary, on Opinion Journal.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Knife Clips
on: September 02, 2008, 09:30:52 AM
Perhaps it is sheer vanity on my part, but ever since DLO 1 came out I've been seeing a lot of demonstrations of Prison Sewing Machine attacks
This demonstration is well done, but it is a demonstration, not the actual thing- which is what I am looking for here.
That said, it is giving me a starting point
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Palin vs Biden on guns
on: September 01, 2008, 08:58:15 PM
Sarah Palin and Joe Biden: Worlds Apart
Friday, August 29, 2008
Even before this week, the difference between Barack Obama and John McCain was clear. For one, McCain joined more than 300 other members of Congress in signing a "friend of the court" brief, in District of Columbia v. Heller, urging the Supreme Court to rule in favor of the Second Amendment and against D.C.'s handgun ban.
Obama refused to sign the Heller brief, and supports reinstituting the Clinton gun and magazine ban. He also supports Ted Kennedy's bill to ban semi-automatic handguns in the guise of "micro-stamping," and supports banning inexpensive handguns as "junk guns."
But now that each candidate has chosen his running mate, the difference is even clearer than before. And when it comes to guns, the two prospective vice-presidents are as far apart as the states from which they hail.
Sen. McCain's running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, is a NRA Life Member and hunter who says, "I support our Constitutional right to bear arms and am a proponent of gun safety programs for Alaska's youth," adding "I have always strongly supported the personal use of fish and game by Alaskans. I grew up hunting and fishing in Alaska, and I am proud to raise my children with this same uniquely Alaskan heritage."
NRA-ILA Executive Director Chris W. Cox says "Governor Palin doesn't just talk about supporting the Second Amendment, it's part of her life, and she did her part to vindicate the Second Amendment for all Americans when Alaska joined 30 other states in signing a legal brief supporting Heller's challenge to the D.C. gun-ban."
As for Joe Biden, from Delaware, the Brady Campaign sums it up in a straightforward enough fashion, saying, "Senator Biden has been a consistent supporter of the Brady Campaign," and "Senator Biden was a key player in the fight for the federal assault weapons ban that passed in 1994. He also worked hard for passage of the Brady Law (sic)."
In fact, Biden introduced an "assault weapons" ban in Congress five years before the Clinton gun and magazine ban was imposed. In 1989, Biden's Senate Bill 1970 proposed to ban the Colt AR-15 and eight similar firearms as "assault weapons," and authorize the Secretary of the Treasury (in reality, BATF) and the Attorney General to recommend to Congress any other firearms, regardless of type, to be banned as "additional assault weapons."
As lead sponsor of the Senate crime bill to which the Feinstein gun ban amendment was attached, Biden was instrumental in the passage of the 1994 Clinton gun and magazine ban. Biden reiterated his support for the ban—and, in fact, took credit for authoring it—in response to a question at the CNN/YouTube debate earlier this year (to view the video, please click here).
Biden voted for the ban on a stand-alone vote in 1993, and voted to extend the ban in 2004 as an amendment to the "Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act." He also included a renewal of the ban in his crime bill last year, along with gun show restrictions.
Currently, Biden's S. 2237 proposes to renew the Clinton ban on roughly 200 makes and models of semi-automatic rifles, shotguns, and handguns on the basis of things like the shape of their grips, and on ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds, regardless of the kind of firearm in which they are used.
As if that's not enough, Biden voted against the law that prohibits lawsuits designed to bankrupt law-abiding firearm manufacturers and dealers. He also refused to sign the Congressional brief in Heller, and voted to confirm only one of the five justices who ruled in favor of the Second Amendment in Heller, yet he voted to confirm all four justices who voted against the Second Amendment in that case.
To put it simply, Gov. Sarah Palin would be one of the most pro-gun vice-presidents in American history, and Joe Biden would definitely be the most anti-gun.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Our Troops in Action
on: September 01, 2008, 12:32:46 PM
Profiles of valor: USA 1st Lt. Pixler
In October 2007, then-First Lieutenant Ross Pixler of the United States Army Company A, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division was on patrol in al Bawi, Iraq, when his Bradley Fighting Vehicle was hit by an IED. The ensuing explosion killed three fellow soldiers and wounded Pixler, the driver and the gunner. Pixler, acting on his training, immediately checked on the driver and gunner, both of whom were unconscious, and then took up a defensive position. “Everything goes really fast, and I wasn’t really stopping to think about what I was doing,” he said. “I was doing what I was trained to do.” Still reeling from his concussion, Pixler and the rest of his unit had to fight off a small arms attack; Pixler directed air support as well.
Hours later, as the attack was repelled, Pixler and the other survivors were loaded onto another Bradley and began moving toward base when another IED exploded, crippling that vehicle. The soldiers then fought off a second attack before finally making it back to their base. For his bravery and tenacity while injured and under attack, Pixler was awarded the Silver Star. Now-Captain Pixler considers it “an award for every single one of the soldiers that were out there, and the ones that can’t come home.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Fructose
on: September 01, 2008, 10:41:20 AM
Sorry, I lost the URL for this:
Does Fructose Make You Fatter?
High-fructose corn syrup is a sweetener used in many processed foods ranging
from sodas to baked goods. While the ingredient is cheaper and sweeter than
regular sugar, new research suggests that it can also make you fatter.
In a small study, Texas researchers showed that the body converts fructose
to body fat with "surprising speed,'' said Elizabeth Parks, associate
professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern
Medical Center in Dallas. The study, which appears in The Journal of
Nutrition, shows how glucose and fructose, which are forms of sugar, are
In humans, triglycerides, which are a type of fat in the blood, are mostly
formed in the liver. Dr. Parks said the liver acts like "a traffic cop" who
coordinates how the body uses dietary sugars. When the liver encounters
glucose, it decides whether the body needs to store it, burn it for energy
or turn it into triglycerides.
But when fructose enters the body, it bypasses the process and ends up being
quickly converted to body fat.
"It's basically sneaking into the rock concert through the fence," Dr. Parks
said. "It's a less-controlled movement of fructose through these pathways
that causes it to contribute to greater triglyceride synthesis. The bottom
line of this study is that fructose very quickly gets made into fat in the
For the study, six people were given three different drinks. In one test,
the breakfast drink was 100 percent glucose. In the second test, they drank
half glucose and half fructose; and in the third, they drank 25 percent
glucose and 75 percent fructose. The drinks were given at random, and
neither the study subjects nor the evaluators were aware who was drinking
what. The subjects ate a regular lunch about four hours later.
The researchers found that lipogenesis, the process by which sugars are
turned into body fat, increased significantly when the study subjects drank
the drinks with fructose. When fructose was given at breakfast, the body was
more likely to store the fats eaten at lunch.
Dr. Parks noted that the study likely underestimates the fat-building effect
of fructose because the study subjects were lean and healthy. In overweight
people, the effect may be amplified.
Although fruit contains fructose, it also contains many beneficial
nutrients, so dieters shouldn't eliminate fruit from their diets. But
limiting processed foods containing high-fructose corn syrup as well as
curbing calories is a good idea, Dr. Parks said.
"There are lots of people out there who want to demonize fructose as the
cause of the obesity epidemic," she said. "I think it may be a contributor,
but it's not the only problem. Americans are eating too many calories for
their activity level. We're overeating fat, we're overeating protein and we're
overeating all sugars."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Catching up
on: September 01, 2008, 10:17:26 AM
"Work as if you were to live 100 Years, Pray as if you were to
-- Benjamin Franklin (Poor Richard's Almanack, 1757)
Reference: Franklin: Writings, Lemay, ed., Library of America
"Cherish, therefore, the spirit of our people, and keep alive
their attention. Do not be too severe upon their errors, but
reclaim them by enlightening them."
-- Thomas Jefferson (letter to Edward Carrington, 16 January 1787)
Reference: Jefferson: Writings, Peterson ed., Library of America
"At the establishment of our constitutions, the judiciary bodies
were supposed to be the most helpless and harmless members of
the government. Experience, however, soon showed in what way
they were to become the most dangerous; that the insufficiency
of the means provided for their removal gave them a freehold
and irresponsibility in office; that their decisions, seeming to
concern individual suitors only, pass silent and unheeded by the
public at large; that these decisions, nevertheless, become law
by precedent, sapping, by little and little, the foundations of
the constitution, and working its change by construction, before
any one has perceived that that invisible and helpless worm
has been busily employed in consuming its substance. In truth,
man is not made to be trusted for life, if secured against all
liability to account."
-- Thomas Jefferson (letter to Monsieur A. Coray, 31 October 1823)
Reference: respec. Quoted
"Among the features peculiar to the political system of the United
States, is the perfect equality of rights which it secures to
every religious sect. "
-- James Madison (letter to Jacob de la Motta, August 1820)
Reference: Our Sacred Honor, Bennett, pg. 333
"I never expect to see a perfect work from imperfect man."
-- Alexander Hamilton (Federalist No. 85, 1788)
"All good men wish the entire abolition of slavery, as soon as
it can take place with safety to the public, and for the lasting
good of the present wretched race of slaves. The only possible
step that could be taken towards it by the convention was to fix
a period after which they should not be imported."
-- Oliver Ellsworth (The Landholder, 10 December 1787)
Reference: The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, Farrand,
ed., vol. 3 (165)
"Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy,
-- Benjamin Franklin (Advice to Young Tradesman, 1748)
Reference: Franklin: Writings, Lemay, Library of America (320)
“The great principles of right and wrong are legible to every reader; to pursue them requires not the aid of many counselors. The whole art of government consists in the art of being honest.” —Thomas Jefferson
“‘Trust me’ government asks that we concentrate our hopes and dreams on one man; that we trust him to do what’s best for us. My view of government places trust not in one person or one party, but in those values that transcend persons and parties. The trust is where it belongs—in the people. The responsibility to live up to that trust is where it belongs, in their elected leaders. That kind of relationship, between the people and their elected leaders, is a special kind of compact.” —Ronald Reagan
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Russia-Georgia, Turkey, Caucasus
on: August 31, 2008, 09:26:30 PM
August 29, 2008
With Cold War tensions building in the Black Sea, the Turks have gone into a diplomatic frenzy. Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan had his phone glued to his ear on Thursday speaking to his U.S., British, German, French, Swedish and Finnish counterparts, as well as to the NATO secretary-general and various EU representatives. The Turks are also expecting Georgian Foreign Minister Eka Tkeshelashvili to arrive in Istanbul on Aug. 31. And Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is due to arrive for a separate meeting with Turkish leaders early next week.
The Turks have a reason to be such busy diplomatic bees. A group of nine NATO warships are currently in the Black Sea ostensibly on routine and humanitarian missions. Russia has wasted no time in sounding the alarm at the sight of this NATO buildup, calling on Turkey — as the gatekeeper to the Dardanelles and Bosporus straits between the Black and Mediterranean seas — to remember its commitment to the Montreux Convention, which places limits on the number of warships in the Black Sea. As a weak naval power with few assets to defend itself in this crucial frontier, Russia has every interest in keeping the NATO presence in the Black Sea as limited and distant as possible.
Turkey is in an extremely tight spot. As a NATO member in control of Russia’s warm-water naval access to the Black Sea, Turkey is a crucial link in the West’s pressure campaign against Russia. But the Turks have little interest in seeing the Black Sea become a flashpoint between Russia and the United States. Turkey has a strategic foothold in the Caucasus through Azerbaijan that it does not want to see threatened by Moscow. The Turks also simply do not have the military appetite or the internal political consolidation to be pushed by the United States into a potential conflict — naval or otherwise — with the Russians.
In addition, the Turks have to worry about their economic health. Russia is Turkey’s biggest trading partner, supplying more than 60 percent of Turkey’s energy needs through two natural gas pipelines (including Blue Stream, the major trans-Black Sea pipeline), as well as more than half of Turkey’s thermal coal — a factor that has major consequences in the approach of winter. Turkey has other options to meet its energy needs, but there is no denying that it has intertwined itself into a potentially economically precarious relationship with the Russians.
And the Russians have already begun using this economic lever to twist Ankara’s arm. A large amount of Turkish goods reportedly have been held up at the Russian Black Sea ports of Novorossiysk, Sochi and Taganrog over the past 20 days ostensibly over narcotics issues. Turkish officials claim that Turkish trucks carrying mostly consumer goods have been singled out for “extensive checks and searches,” putting about $3 billion worth of Turkish trade in jeopardy. The Turks have already filed an official complaint with Moscow over the trade row — with speculation naturally brewing over Russia’s intent to punish Turkey for its participation in the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline and to push Ankara to limit NATO access to the Black Sea.
But the Russians are playing a risky game. As much as Turkey wants this conflict to go away, it still has cards to play — far more than any other NATO member — if it is pushed too hard. As Turkish State Minister Kursat Tuzmen darkly put it, “We will disturb them if we are disturbed. We know how to disturb them.” If Turkey gets fed up with Russian bullying tactics, there is little stopping it from allowing an even greater buildup of NATO warships in the Black Sea to threaten the Russian underbelly.
The Turks could also begin redirecting their energy supply away from the Russians, choosing instead to increase their natural gas supply from Iran or arrange for some “technical difficulties” on the Blue Stream pipeline. The Russians also ship some 1.36 million barrels per day of crude through the Black Sea that the Turks could quite easily blockade. These are the easier and quicker options that Turkey can employ. But there are some not-so-quick and not-so-easy options for Turks to consider as well, including riling up the Chechens in the northern Caucasus or the Turkic peoples in Central Asia and within the Russian Federation to make trouble for Moscow.
These are not options that Ankara is exactly eager to take, but they remain options, and will be on both the Turkish and Russian foreign ministers’ minds when they meet in the coming days.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stay or go?
on: August 31, 2008, 06:03:54 PM
When the summer holidays end tomorrow, the parents of 1,400 pupils at the Badabher Government Girls' School will face a difficult choice. By Nick Meo in Peshawar
Last Updated: 7:22PM BST 30 Aug 2008
Should they let their daughters go back to lessons in the rubble of their school, blown up by the Taliban in the middle of the night, or should they keep them safe at home?
Hashim, the caretaker who was held at gunpoint by masked gunmen, was warned that they would be back if the school is rebuilt. He fears that next time they could blow it up with pupils inside.
Yet this is not Kandahar, the Taliban capital of southern Afghanistan, but Peshawar - a city of 1.4 million people in neighbouring Pakistan, once celebrated as a cultural haven for artists, musicians and intellectuals.
A year ago schools were considered safe in the city, the capital of North-West Frontier Province. But the Taliban insurgency that has been growing in the wild mountains that rise in the distance is spreading into urban Pakistan.
Clerics and political leaders critical of the Taliban have been kidnapped and shot dead, around 15 suicide bombers have attacked inside the city, and to escape kidnappers businessmen are giving up and moving to the capital Islamabad, two hours drive away, or overseas to Dubai if they can afford to.
Nobody has ever known the city so fearful.
Musli Khan, a clerk who lives near the remains of the school, was disconsolately picking through the mess. The main building collapsed from the force of the explosion and the walls that were left were riddled with giant cracks.
Some chairs and schoolbooks had been pulled from the rubble, he said, gesturing at a damaged Koran.
"And these people say they are Muslims," Mr Khan muttered, shaking his head sadly before checking himself: it is dangerous now to be too critical of the Taliban, especially in suburbs on the outskirts of Peshawar. Here, at night, the police must lock themselves into fortified outposts for safety, and armed fighters prowl at will.
During a hasty and nervous drive to Badabher, only six miles from the city centre, The Sunday Telegraph passed three police stations which have been attacked with rockets in the past few weeks. "You must not stop for long at the school," said our guide, a local reporter. "Out here the Taliban have their spies everywhere."
On the same morning that the school was blown up last week, America's chief diplomat in the province narrowly escaped assassination when her car was ambushed as she drove to work.
A day earlier four Pakistani employees of an international aid organisation were kidnapped.
The stuttering new government in Islamabad has promised a bold strategy to fight militants with new vigour, but their words were greeted with jaded sceptism by those who can't afford to leave the besieged and fearful city.
A protective ring of security checkpoints is supposed to hold back the anarchy in the mountains, at the edge of a huge swathe of the nation that the Government has lost to bandits and rebels, but the checkpoints are slowly retreating nearer to the city and some police stations are now abandoned entirely at night.
Muhammad Asaf, president of the Sarhad Chamber of Commerce, said that for the first time ordinary people are really scared.
"The Taliban is getting stronger day by day," he said. "They are more confident now – every time there is a suicide bomb they are on television claiming responsibility. They didn't used to do that."
Mr Asaf, whose daughter lives in Britain, counts himself as a friend of America but he blames the US for goading former president Pervez Musharraf into a bloody war with the Pushtun tribes around Peshawar, some of which support the Taliban and al-Queda. "The tribal people are peaceful but if you bomb their lands their families will want revenge," he said.
Sultan Agha, the head of a moderate Sufi religious sect and a man of influence who is consulted before a chief minister is appointed for the province, said he now travels no more than six miles from Peshawar's boundary.
"It is unsafe to say anything against the Taliban because they will come and kill you," he said over a cup of green tea, before listing the moderate clerics who have been murdered for speaking out against suicide bombers – now known as "suiciders" in Pakistani English.
"The Taliban are growing in number and it is quite possible that they could take control of Peshawar," he said. "The Government could stop them, certainly, but it is too preoccupied with political infighting."
Since Pervez Musharraf was forced from office a fortnight ago, the ruling coalition has fallen apart amid bitter recriminations, leaving Pakistan hovering on the brink of violent political turmoil.
The former coalition partners, Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari, are now preparing to fight an electoral battle for control of the country - but their feuding has raised a disturbing question: can the eventual winner cope with the terrorism that threatens to destroy their troubled nation?
Britain and America, deeply alarmed at the deterioration, are throwing money at development projects in the almost lawless tribal areas, but in conditions of anarchy it is hard to know whether the cash is being well spent.
It is too dangerous for the influx of aid workers who have arrived in Peshawar's safer suburbs to get out and visit the projects, so they have no idea whether their efforts to build schools or drainage systems are winning over tribesmen.
More lethal Westerners are also said to be at large. Crew-cut, Pushtun-speaking Americans have arrived again in the big hotels, keeping themselves to themselves and reminding people of the 1980s when CIA operatives haunted Peshawar as they armed the tribesmen against the Soviets.
As Pakistanis never tire of pointing out, those same tribesmen are now fighting jihad once again, but this time against American soldiers on the other side of the border.
Taliban influence has even crept into Qissa Kawani, the street of the storytellers, in the heart of Peshawar's bazaars, where the mournful chanting of a Taliban CD was playing.
"I hate that noise," said Insanullah, the owner of a shop selling Pushtun music DVDs which he is now too scared to play.
Music store owners have been killed in bombings and he receives threatening letters but said he will continue because he has invested all his money in his little shop and has no other livelihood. On the city outskirts most have closed down.
"People still like music, but they are afraid for their lives and business is terrible," he said.
One of the city's most famous singers, Baryali, moved to Kabul to be safe and another, Wazir Khan, was briefly kidnapped by the Taliban and has gone into hiding since his release.
The city's cinemas are almost empty because customers fear bombs and even Peshawar's poets are censoring themselves.
Taous Dilsouz used to write songs about the war against the Soviets, then about Pakistani politics, but these days he sticks to safe subjects. "No poets will write songs about what is happening to our city," he said. "And even if they did they could not find singers who are brave enough to sing them."
Outside Peshawar it is much worse. Assadullah Khan, a watchman from the town of Mardan which is still nominally under government control, said: "Out of five brothers in my town, one will support the Taliban. The people are poor and illiterate, and they listen to what the clerics say. Some of my friends have joined the Taliban – they pay them for fighting."
In Bajaur Agency, a Taliban stronghold a few hours from Peshawar, the new government has launched a military offensive which it said has killed hundreds of militants.
According to the UN 260,000 have fled the fighting, and refugees interviewed by The Sunday Telegraph spoke of civilians killed in bombing raids. Dislike of the Taliban runs so deep that many want the government to continue the offensive nevertheless.
"We want to be part of Pakistan and we want the army to get rid of the Taliban," said one 18-year-old, who described seeing dogs eating the bodies of bombing victims lying in his village before he fled.
However, with ordinary people suffering in the air raids, a new generation is turning its anger on the government. It is a sign that the blunt instrument of the Pakistani army may sometimes be counter-productive.
Mohammad Ali, a 20-year-old man who was squatting in the middle of a flyblown camp rolling a lump of hashish in the palm of his hand said he could still hear the sound of the planes and the bombing in his head.
"Why didn't they just arrest those Taliban, why were they bombarding us?" he asked. He claimed that about a dozen civilians had died in his village but that the Taliban fighters had left long before the planes arrived.
"We want peace, but we can not have it because of this terrorist America which orders our government to attack its own people," he said. "The Taliban are Godly people, they are Islamic, and we are happy that they send suicide bombers for revenge.
"If it is God's Will, definitely I will join them now. We have to defend our villages and our religion."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Islam in Islamic Countries:
on: August 31, 2008, 06:01:18 PM
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Saturday, August 30th 2008, 10:41 PM
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - A Pakistani lawmaker defended a decision by northwestern tribesmen to bury five women alive because they wanted to choose their own husbands, telling stunned members of Parliament to spare him their outrage.
"These are centuries-old traditions, and I will continue to defend them," Israr Ullah Zehri, who represents Baluchistan province, told The Associated Press Saturday.
"Only those who indulge in immoral acts should be afraid."
The women, three of whom were teenagers, were first shot and then thrown into a ditch.
They were still breathing as mud was shoveled over their bodies, according to media reports, which said their only "crime" was that they wished to marry men of their own choosing.
Zehri told a packed and stunned Parliament on Friday that Baluch tribal traditions helped stop obscenity and then asked fellow lawmakers to stop making such a fuss about it.
Several lawmakers stood up in protest, describing the so-called honor killings as "barbaric."
Human rights groups accused local authorities of trying to hush up the executions, which according to local media reports and activists took place a month ago in Baba Kot, a remote village in Jafferabad district.http://www.nydailynews.com/news/us_w...ani_pol-2.html
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: McCain
on: August 31, 2008, 05:52:41 PM
FWIW, my initial reaction is that I like her a lot, but a chain is as strong as its weakest link. Here that is the idea that this woman is remotely prepared to lead the US against Ahmadinejad and the Iranian nuke program or Putin, to deal with the Pak-Afg situation, and so many other knotty world situations. On first blush, she's not even close. This certainly isn't enough to change my mind about McC over BO, but I do worry about how it will play.
That said, in many ways she is an imaginative choice. One positive amongst many is that she will give the chattering class something to chatter about besides His Glibness.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Russia-Georgia, Turkey, Caucusus
on: August 30, 2008, 11:02:56 AM
GEOPOLITICAL DIARY: TURKEY'S OPTIONS
With Cold War tensions building in the Black Sea, the Turks have gone into a
diplomatic frenzy. Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan had his phone glued to his
ear on Thursday speaking to his U.S., British, German, French, Swedish and Finnish
counterparts, as well as to the NATO secretary-general and various EU
representatives. The Turks are also expecting Georgian Foreign Minister Eka
Tkeshelashvili to arrive in Istanbul on Aug. 31. And Russian Foreign Minister Sergei
Lavrov is due to arrive for a separate meeting with Turkish leaders early next week.
The Turks have a reason to be such busy diplomatic bees. A group of nine NATO
warships are currently in the Black Sea ostensibly on routine and humanitarian
missions. Russia has wasted no time in sounding the alarm at the sight of this NATO
buildup, calling on Turkey -- as the gatekeeper to the Dardanelles and Bosporus
straits between the Black and Mediterranean seas -- to remember its commitment to
the Montreux Convention, which places limits on the number of warships in the Black
Sea. As a weak naval power with few assets to defend itself in this crucial
frontier, Russia has every interest in keeping the NATO presence in the Black Sea as
limited and distant as possible.
Turkey is in an extremely tight spot. As a NATO member in control of Russia's
warm-water naval access to the Black Sea, Turkey is a crucial link in the West's
pressure campaign against Russia. But the Turks have little interest in seeing the
Black Sea become a flashpoint between Russia and the United States. Turkey has a
strategic foothold in the Caucasus through Azerbaijan that it does not want to see
threatened by Moscow. The Turks also simply do not have the military appetite or the
internal political consolidation to be pushed by the United States into a potential
conflict -- naval or otherwise -- with the Russians.
In addition, the Turks have to worry about their economic health. Russia is Turkey's
biggest trading partner, supplying more than 60 percent of Turkey's energy needs
through two natural gas pipelines (including Blue Stream, the major trans-Black Sea
pipeline), as well as more than half of Turkey's thermal coal -- a factor that has
major consequences in the approach of winter. Turkey has other options to meet its
energy needs, but there is no denying that it has intertwined itself into a
potentially economically precarious relationship with the Russians.
And the Russians have already begun using this economic lever to twist Ankara's arm.
A large amount of Turkish goods reportedly have been held up at the Russian Black
Sea ports of Novorossiysk, Sochi and Taganrog over the past 20 days ostensibly over
narcotics issues. Turkish officials claim that Turkish trucks carrying mostly
consumer goods have been singled out for "extensive checks and searches," putting
about $3 billion worth of Turkish trade in jeopardy. The Turks have already filed an
official complaint with Moscow over the trade row -- with speculation naturally
brewing over Russia's intent to punish Turkey for its participation in the
Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline and to push Ankara to limit NATO access to the Black
But the Russians are playing a risky game. As much as Turkey wants this conflict to
go away, it still has cards to play -- far more than any other NATO member -- if it
is pushed too hard. As Turkish State Minister Kursat Tuzmen darkly put it, "We will
disturb them if we are disturbed. We know how to disturb them." If Turkey gets fed
up with Russian bullying tactics, there is little stopping it from allowing an even
greater buildup of NATO warships in the Black Sea to threaten the Russian
The Turks could also begin redirecting their energy supply away from the Russians,
choosing instead to increase their natural gas supply from Iran or arrange for some
"technical difficulties" on the Blue Stream pipeline. The Russians also ship some
1.36 million barrels per day of crude through the Black Sea that the Turks could
quite easily blockade. These are the easier and quicker options that Turkey can
employ. But there are some not-so-quick and not-so-easy options for Turks to
consider as well, including riling up the Chechens in the northern Caucasus or the
Turkic peoples in Central Asia and within the Russian Federation to make trouble for
These are not options that Ankara is exactly eager to take, but they remain options,
and will be on both the Turkish and Russian foreign ministers' minds when they meet
in the coming days.
Copyright 2008 Strategic Forecasting, Inc.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / PD WSJ
on: August 30, 2008, 10:56:23 AM
In today's Political Diary:
- Note to Readers
- Who's Higher in the Rocky Mountains?
- The Card Check Party
- A Crumbling Economy? Voters Didn't Get the Memo
- South Side Man of Mystery (Quote of the Day I)
- We're Not Worthy (Quote of the Day II)
- Mark Foley's Successor Faces His Own Waterloo
Note to Readers
PD will be putting down its keyboard on Monday and picking up its weed-wacker. Enjoy
the Labor Day weekend. We'll be back on Tuesday.
-- The Mgmt.
Colorado Ladies Love McCain
DENVER -- Colorado is up for grabs, one of a handful of states that could swing this
year's presidential election. That was partly the Obama campaign's argument for
holding last night's acceptance speech in Invesco Field, making room for tens of
thousands of extra spectators, including many locals. And so Wednesday I pulled up a
chair at a downtown restaurant with Dick Wadhams, chairman of the Colorado State
Republican Party, to hear what factor is mostly likely to determine the winner of
Colorado's nine electoral votes. His answer: Women.
In particular, women aged 30 to 50, located in several suburban counties to the
south of Denver. According to Mr. Wadhams, who's also running Bob Schaffer's Senate
campaign, suburban women have been the must-have constituency of recent elections.
These suburbanite females tend to be socially liberal and fiscally conservative --
but place their voting emphasis on the latter. And they are capable of voting for
either party: They were the swing voters who elected retiring GOP Senator Wayne
Allard and former GOP Governor Bob Owens, but also elected Democratic Senator Ken
Salazar and Democratic Governor Bob Ritter.
This year, Mr. Wadhams is surprisingly bullish on GOP chances because, he says, John
McCain is uniquely situated to capture the suburban female swing vote. Mr. McCain's
emphasis on fiscal responsibility plays especially well with this crowd and, as
"security moms," they value his leadership on foreign policy. Moreover, helping to
shift the needle recently,
"these voters are really moved by the energy issue" and highly supportive of Mr.
McCain's call for more drilling. (Ditto Mr. Wadhams' Senate candidate, Bob Schaffer,
who has used the energy issue to gain on his Democratic opponent, Rep. Mark Udall.)
Predicts Mr. Wadhams: "John McCain will carry Colorado." Sure enough, recent polls
show him tied with or pulling ahead of Barack Obama. What really had Mr. Wadhams
smiling, though, is that these polls are coming out even as Democrats have been
hosting their convention in his home state. And though we spoke before Sarah Palin,
the pro-drilling, pro-fiscal restraint governor of Alaska, emerged as Mr. McCain's
Veep pick, presumably Ms. Palin can only help close the deal with so many
like-minded suburban women of Colorado.
-- Kim Strassel
Democrats and the Non-secret Ballot
DENVER -- Democrats narrowly avoided a major embarrassment before holding their
abbreviated roll call of the states here on Wednesday night.
Politico.com reported that the Obama campaign was seriously considering letting
delegates vote by secret ballot, the better to avoid intimidation and fear of
reprisal from local party bosses. But the plan -- which was pushed on the Obama camp
by supporters of Hillary Clinton -- was suddenly dropped when it was realized that a
key plank of the Democratic Party platform backs a so-called "card check" provision
being added to the nation's labor laws. Card check would effectively strip workers
of the protection of secret ballots in union elections. Business groups and former
Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern oppose the measure on the grounds
that it exposes workers to harassment and intimidation.
That was precisely the concern of Democratic delegates who wanted to cast a secret
ballot vote on the convention floor. The Obama campaign thought seriously about
accommodating them until it realized how such a naked contradiction to the party's
stance union balloting might look to voters and the media.
-- John Fund
Um, And Now a Moment of Realism
Barack Obama last night played a riff on Phil Gramm's impolitic remarks about a
"mental recession" and a "nation of whiners." Like a succession of Democrats at the
podium, he painted the economy in the darkest, most hopeless of colors -- never mind
that the economy is actually growing and unemployment is still lower than it was
during much of the Clinton presidency.
But here's the bad news for the dour Democrats in Denver -- most Americans don't
share their economic pessimism. That's the finding of public opinion expert Karlyn
Bowman of the American Enterprise Institute. "Most Americans are feeling pretty good
about their jobs and their personal lives," she says after investigating the fine
details of recent polls. Her report goes right to Mr. Gramm's concern about the gap
between actual economic performance and the dreary negativity of politicians and the
She finds that 76% of Americans say they are actually optimistic about the direction
of their own lives and their personal economic situations -- even though only 18%
are optimistic about the country. That's the big disconnect. "These numbers haven't
changed much over time," Ms. Bowman tells me.
Job security and job satisfaction are both high in America too. "In Gallup's August
2008 survey, 48% working Americans said they were completely satisfied, and another
42% somewhat satisfied. Only 9% were dissatisfied with their jobs." And, sorry Lou
Dobbs, that war on the middle class and the outsourcing of America that you complain
about every night? Americans aren't buying it. Only 8% worry about their jobs being
outsourced to foreign competition. Scott Hodge of the Tax Foundation tells me this
squares with the economic data. "Very few jobs are lost each year to companies
moving jobs offshore," he says.
What's the No. 1 economic worry for Americans? Gas prices. Some three-quarters of
Americans in Gallup's July 2008 survey blame gas prices for financial hardship,
compared to 40% eight years ago. Mr. Obama last night offered a vague but dramatic
promise to "end our dependence" on Middle East oil within a decade. (The AP candidly
led its report by pointing out this "goal likely would be difficult -- perhaps
impossible -- to achieve and flies in the face of how global oil markets work.")
Voters don't seem to buy that either. Repeated polling has shown that, with their
mantra of "drill, drill, drill," Republicans seem to be offering a solution voters
find more credible.
I asked Ms. Bowman what accounts for the gap between people's attitudes about their
own lives and the economy in general. Her answer is no big surprise: "The relentless
negativity of the media."
The Democratic message in Denver was about all that is wrong in America, though any
balanced perspective would notice how remarkably resilient the U.S. economy has been
amid the housing bust and high oil prices. Former Clinton economist Brad DeLong
noted in his blog recently: "If you had asked me a year ago whether this degree of
financial chaos was consistent with a domestic U.S. economy not clearly in
recession, I would have said no."
Given all this, John McCain might want to sound a more Reaganite note next week. As
the Gipper proved in the 1980s, the economic optimist is likely to win in November.
-- Stephen Moore
Quote of the Day I
"The air of unease at the Democratic convention this week was not just a result of
the Clinton psychodrama. The deeper anxiety was that the party was nominating a man
of many gifts but precious few accomplishments -- bearing even fewer witnesses. When
John Kerry was introduced at his convention four years ago, an honor guard of a
dozen mates from his Vietnam days surrounded him on the podium attesting to his
character and readiness to lead. Such personal testimonials are the norm. . . . The
oddity of this convention is that its central figure is the ultimate self-made man,
a dazzling mysterious Gatsby. The palpable apprehension is that the anointed is a
stranger -- a deeply engaging, elegant, brilliant stranger with whom the Democrats
had a torrid affair. Having slowly woken up, they see the ring and wonder who
exactly they married last night" -- Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer.
Quote of the Day II
"We got to know Barack and Michelle Obama, two tall, thin, rich, beautiful people
who don't perspire, but who nonetheless feel compassion for their squatter and
smellier fellow citizens. We know that Barack could have gone to a prestigious law
firm, like his big donors in the luxury boxes, but he chose to put his ego aside to
become a professional politician, president of the United States and redeemer of the
human race. We heard about his time as a community organizer, the three most
fulfilling months of his life. We were thrilled by his speech in front of the Greek
columns, which were conscientiously recycled from the concert, 'Yanni, Live at the
Acropolis.' We were honored by his pledge, that if elected president, he will serve
at least four months before running for higher office. We were moved by his campaign
slogan, 'Vote Obama: He's better than you'll ever be.' We were inspired by dozens of
Democratic senators who declared their lifelong love of John McCain before
denouncing him as a reactionary opportunist who would destroy the country" -- New
York Times columnist David Brooks.
No Foley This Time
Who's possibly the most vulnerable House Democrat in the country? The prize goes to
the congressman from Florida's 16th Congressional District, freshman Rep. Tim
After being recruited by Democrats in 2005, Mr. Mahoney, a born-again Christian and
wealthy computer executive, switched parties to run against six-term Rep. Mark
Foley, a firmly entrenched Republican in a GOP-leaning district. Mr. Mahoney was a
long-shot candidate from the day he entered the race until six weeks before the
election, when news broke that Mr. Foley had exchanged inappropriate emails with a
former House page. Two weeks later, Mr. Foley resigned from Congress in disgrace.
Adding to GOP difficulties, his name remained on the ballot and Republican voters
were forced to select Mr. Foley's name if they wanted to vote for his replacement,
Despite all these advantages and a national Democratic wave, Mr. Mahoney won by just
2 points. Things didn't get much better in his first few months of Congress, when he
admitted to a reporter: "This isn't the greatest job I've had" -- a line he can
expect Republicans to repeat continuously until the election.
On Tuesday, Attorney Tom Rooney won a close Republican primary and will now seek to
reclaim the seat for the GOP. Mr. Rooney, a former military lawyer and supporter of
Congressional term limits, received early backing from two of the state's most
popular GOPers, Reps. Tom Feeney and Connie Mack. Furthermore, the serpentine
district -- stretching from the Atlantic Ocean through sparsely populated citrus
farms all the way to the Gulf Coast -- is a better cultural fit for Republicans.
Even Mr. Mahoney seems to know the cards are stacked against him, despite the
advantages of incumbency and a four-to-one financial lead -- and is approaching the
election almost as a challenger would. Immediately after Mr. Rooney's victory, the
incumbent challenged him to three televised debates, one in each of the district's
-- Kyle Trygstad, RealClearPolitics.com
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Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: McCain
on: August 30, 2008, 09:51:56 AM
We were driving back up to my mom's in upstate NY from NYC last night when we first heard. Who? WTF? My first reaction was pandering and a foolish choice for a 71 year old man. Saw the Brit Hume Report when we got in and there was a very nice piece on her; she seems very interesting but still the idea that she could step in just doesn't seem plausible. For me its not much of an answer to say that she has more experience than BO.
This WILL be interesting to see how this plays out.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Daily Expression of Gratitude
on: August 29, 2008, 07:44:09 AM
For a long time my son has wanted to see NYC and yesterday was the first of two days. We did Statue of Liberty and a walk through some of my old stomping grounds in Central Park, and a night time walk in the neighborhood. He and his sister are just beaming as am I to share with him places where I was a boy at the age that he is now.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Health Thread (nutrition, medical, longevity, etc)
on: August 29, 2008, 07:12:03 AM
Any way to invest in this?
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Stock Market
on: August 29, 2008, 07:09:29 AM
Thank you for this.
Another desalinazation play, CWCO seems to have come off its lows, but the drama of its plunge leaves me unwilling to go back in. For me PHO remains my main water play. Heavily diversified in various water stocks, it seems a good way to play the concept relatively safely. AWR is back to even for me.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Epidemics: Bird Flu, TB, etc
on: August 29, 2008, 07:04:21 AM
Amazing that the stock actually fell a bit on this news , , ,
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: US-Russia
on: August 27, 2008, 01:04:56 AM
Strategic Forecasting, Inc.
GEOPOLITICAL DIARY: THE BLACK SEA AND REVIVING THE COLD WAR
Russia began the week with a blunt message to the West: You may need us, but we
don't need you.
First, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev told the Russian press that NATO isn't
sincere in its desire to cooperate with Russia, and therefore Russia is prepared to
completely break ties with the Western military alliance. According to Medvedev,
even if NATO chooses to cut ties with Russia, "nothing terrible will happen" to
Second, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced that World Trade
Organization membership no longer interests Moscow. He added that Russia would soon
be pulling out of several WTO-related agreements, thereby paving the way for Russia
to formally withdraw its membership bid after more than a decade of negotiations.
Third, the Russian Duma and Federal Council unanimously approved a nonbinding
resolution calling for the recognition of the Georgian breakaway regions of South
Ossetia and Abkhazia. Though this is largely a symbolic gesture for now, the
Russians are making clear that they can turn the Kosovo precedent on the West in a
In yet another blow to the West, Azerbaijan shipped approximately 200,000 barrels of
crude to Iran on Monday. This is no ordinary economic transaction; Azerbaijan is the
origin of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline that circumvents Russia and transports
Caspian oil to the West. A recent pipeline explosion combined with Russian military
action in Georgia effectively have knocked the pipeline offline, leaving Baku with
no choice but to look south and sell to Iran to maintain some level of oil income.
This energy deal runs completely counter to U.S. strategy to keep Iran in a
financial stranglehold. Through both direct and indirect means, Russia has
simultaneously thrown a monkey wrench into the West's plans to evade Russian energy
bullying tactics while undermining Washington's pressure policies against Iran.
The Russians are getting increasingly bolder in their actions against the West,
taking full advantage of the fact that NATO can do little to seriously undermine
Russia's moves in the Caucasus. But Russia is not invincible -- especially when it
comes to Russian defenses against the West in the Black Sea.
The Black Sea is absolutely critical to Russian defense. Though NATO does not
currently have the capability to project power through land forces against Russia,
it does have the naval assets to give the Russians pause. Already, nine Western
warships (including U.S., Polish, Spanish, Turkish, and token Bulgarian and Romanian
vessels) have made their way into the Black Sea in the name of humanitarian aid for
Georgia. Russia is accusing the West of building up a NATO strike group in this body
of water with which to threaten Russia's hold on the Caucasus, and perhaps beyond.
The Russians simply cannot allow an increased NATO presence in this particular body
of water to remain unanswered. The Black Sea is an important buffer for what is a
direct line to the Russian underbelly, the Ukrainian plains and the land bridge that
extends between the Black and Caspian Seas. Russia is well-aware of its weaknesses
when it comes to defending this crucial frontier. The Black Sea, and the Aegean
beyond it, essentially comprises a NATO lake. Controlled by Turkey through the
Dardanelles, the Turkish and U.S. naval presence combined could easily overwhelm the
Russian Black Sea Fleet. The last thing Moscow wants is a U.S. naval strike force in
the Black Sea threatening Moscow's control of the Caucasus, crucial for its
logistical and supply links to Russian troops in Georgia.
And so, the Russian response is already beginning to take effect. The Black Sea Navy
flagship "Moskva" sailed from Sevastopol today, and the Russians are likely to
deploy more of their current -- albeit limited -- naval assets out of the Crimean
Peninsula. Such moves are only likely to give NATO forces more cause to beef up
their naval presence in the Black Sea, further contributing to the Kremlin's sense
At that point, the next logical step for the Russians is to start spending some of
their three quarters of a trillion dollars in reserves on covert operations that
would force the United States to split its attention. It was not too long ago that
the Russian intelligence powerhouse excelled in starting up fires in Latin America,
Africa, Europe and the Middle East to keep the West preoccupied. In the Cold War
days, the Russian FSB and KGB were neck-deep in backing groups like the Sandinistas
in Nicaragua, the Red Brigades in Italy and the Palestine Liberation Organization
across the Middle East. Names and ideologies have since shifted, but it is not
beyond the Russian FSB to spread its tentacles once again into certain areas of the
world where it can poke and prod the West.
This type of tit-for-tat escalation defined the Cold War. Now that the Black Sea has
come into play, we are now just a few short steps from having this fracas in the
Caucasus fully revive those Cold War tensions. Russia may have been looking for a
relatively risk-free option to confront the United States with the war in Georgia.
But now that we are seeing hints of a NATO naval build-up in the Black Sea, the
Russians may be getting more than they asked for.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Dangerous but weak
on: August 26, 2008, 08:42:41 AM
Another post this AM
Russia Is Dangerous But Weak
August 26, 2008; Page A19
'In Russia," wrote the great scholar of Russian imperialism Dietrich Geyer many years ago, "expansion was an expression of economic weakness, not exuberant strength."
Keep this observation in mind as Vladimir Putin and his minions bask in the glow of Western magazine cover stories about Russia's "resurgence" following its splendid little war against plucky little Georgia. The Kremlin is certainly confident these days, buoyed by years of rising commodity prices and a bullying foreign policy that mistakes fear for respect -- the very combination that made the Soviet Union seem invincible in the 1970s.
But the Soviet Union wasn't invincible. And here's a crazy thought: The same laws of social, economic and geopolitical gravity that applied in Brezhnev's U.S.S.R. apply equally in Mr. Putin's KGB state.
Take something as basic as demography. "In the next four decades," noted CIA Director Michael Hayden earlier this year, "we expect . . . the population of Russia to shrink by 32 million people [to about 110 million]. That means Russia will lose about a quarter of its population. To sustain its economy, Russia increasingly will have to look elsewhere for workers. Some of them will be immigrant Russians coming from the former Soviet states, what the Russians call the near abroad. But there aren't enough of them to make up that population loss. Others will be Chinese and non-Russians from the Caucasus, Central Asia and elsewhere, potentially aggravating Russia's already uneasy racial and religious tensions."
Or take oil and gas production, which accounts for one-third of the country's budget, 64% of its export revenue, 30% of foreign direct investment, and a little more than 20% of gross domestic product.
There's bad news here, too. Oil production is set to decline this year for the first time in a decade, a decline that is widely expected to accelerate rapidly in 2010. Of Russia's 14 largest oil fields, seven are more than 50% depleted. Production at its four largest gas fields is also in decline. Russia drilled about four million feet of new wells last year. In 1990, it drilled 17 million.
None of this is because Russia is necessarily running out of oil and gas: Existing fields could be better managed, and huge expanses of territory remain unexplored. Instead, it is a function of underinvestment, incompetence, corruption, political interference and crude profiteering. "If you're running Gazprom but you don't really own it, then your interest is in maximizing short-term profits, not long-term development," a Western diplomat told McClatchy's Tom Lasseter.
Amazingly, the system is of deliberate design, as if nothing was learned from the collapse of communism. Parastatal companies are rarely if ever efficient. Yet Mr. Putin has gone about effectively nationalizing entire industries. Foreign investors crave predictability. Yet Mr. Putin has created conditions which his own president, Dmitry Medvedev, calls "legal nihilism." Foreign customers of Russia's commodities seek reliable supplies. Yet Mr. Putin has made no secret of his willingness to turn the energy spigot off whenever it suits his political convenience.
With the exception of Robert Mugabe, no other leader has so completely fouled his own nest as Mr. Putin, or squandered so much international good will. In 2003, Mr. Putin formed, with Germany and France, a coalition of the unwilling to oppose the invasion of Iraq. It was a coalition he might have built on to consolidate Russia's place in, and perhaps eventually atop, Europe. Even Condoleezza Rice seemed prepared to go along, with her reported inane comment that the U.S. should "forgive" Russia while "ignoring" Germany and "punishing" France.
Instead, we have the spectacles of Russia's nasty meddling in Ukraine's 2004 disputed presidential election, the murder in Britain of ex-KGB man Alexander Litvinenko in 2006, and to cap it off this month's Georgia venture.
Now the Poles have agreed to U.S. missile defense, John McCain's call to expel Russia from the G-8 suddenly seems credible, and even European leftists are looking askance at the man they once cheered for his Iraq stance. No doubt Mr. Putin despises these people -- and can afford to, as long as Europe remains overwhelmingly reliant on Russian energy and energy prices remain high.
But those prices are bound to fall, as they always have. What will Russia be left with then? And what will it mean for Mr. Putin's clique, where the possibility of infighting has only grown with the split between his ex-KGB siloviki pals who wanted the presidency and the members of Mr. Medvedev's camp who got it?
For much of its history, Russia has been a weak state masquerading as a strong one -- a psychological profile in insecurity. That's why it has generally sought its advantage internationally by acting as an opportunistic spoiler, as it now does over Iran, rather than as a constructive partner seeking to magnify its influence (à la Britain) or as a rising power patiently asserting its place (à la China).
How does one deal with a neurotic? Not by coddling him. Russia is dangerous but it's also weak, and it would be good to find ways to remind it of that latter fact. Stinger missiles for Georgia would be a start.
Write to firstname.lastname@example.org
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Blair on China
on: August 26, 2008, 08:19:19 AM
We Can Help China Embrace the Future
By TONY BLAIR
August 26, 2008; Page A21
The Beijing Olympic Games were a powerful spectacle, stunning in sight and sound. But the moment that made the biggest impression on me came during an informal visit just before the Games to one of the new Chinese Internet companies, and in conversation with some of the younger Chinese entrepreneurs.
These people, men and women, were smart, sharp, forthright, unafraid to express their views about China and its future. Above all, there was a confidence, an optimism, a lack of the cynical, and a presence of the spirit of get up and go, that reminded me greatly of the U.S. at its best and any country on its way forward.
These people weren't living in fear, but looking forward in hope. And for all the millions still in poverty in China, for all the sweep of issues -- political, social and economic -- still to be addressed, that was the spirit of China during this festival of sport, and that is the spirit that will define its future.
During my 10 years as British leader, I could see the accelerating pace of China's continued emergence as a major power. I gave speeches about China, I understood it analytically. But I did not feel it emotionally and therefore did not fully understand it politically.
Since leaving office I have visited four times and will shortly return again. People ask what is the legacy of these Olympics for China? It is that they mark a new epoch -- an opening up of China that can never be reversed. It also means that ignorance and fear of China will steadily decline as the reality of modern China becomes more apparent.
Power and influence is shifting to the East. In time will come India, too. Some see all this as a threat. I see it as an enormous opportunity. But we have to exercise a lot of imagination and eliminate any vestiges of historic arrogance.
The volunteer force that staged the Games was interested, friendly and helpful. The whole feel of the city was a world away from the China I remember on my first visit 20 years ago. And the people are proud, really and honestly proud, of their country and its progress.
No sensible Chinese person -- including the country's leadership -- doubts there remain issues of human rights and political and religious freedom to be resolved. But neither do the sensible people -- including the most Western-orientated Chinese -- doubt the huge change, for the better, there has been. China is on a journey. It is moving forward quickly. But it knows perfectly well the journey is not complete. Observers should illuminate the distance to go, by all means, but recognize the distance traveled.
The Chinese leadership is understandably preoccupied with internal development. Beijing and Shanghai no more paint for you the complete picture of China than New York and Washington do of the U.S. Understanding the internal challenge is fundamental to understanding China, its politics and its psyche. We in Europe have roughly 5% of our population employed in agriculture. China has almost 60%. Over the coming years it will seek to move hundreds of millions of its people from a rural to an urban economy. Of course India will seek to do the same, and the scale of this transformation will create huge challenges and opportunities in the economy, the environment and politically.
For China, this economic and social transformation has to come with political stability. It is in all our interests that it does. The policy of One China is not a piece of indulgent nationalism. It is an existential issue if China is to hold together in a peaceful and stable manner as it modernizes. This is why Tibet is not simply a religious issue for China but a profoundly political one -- Tibet being roughly a quarter of China's land mass albeit with a small population.
So we should continue to engage in a dialogue over the issues that rightly concern people, but we should conduct it with at least some sensitivity to the way China sees them.
This means that the West needs a strong partnership with China, one that goes deep, not just economically but politically and culturally. The truth is that nothing in the 21st century will work well without China's full engagement. The challenges we face today are global. China is now a major global player. So whether the issue is climate change, Africa, world trade or the myriad of security questions, we need China to be constructive; we need it to be using its power in partnership with us. None of this means we shouldn't continue to raise the issues of human rights, religious freedoms and democratic reforms as European and American leaders have done in recent weeks.
It is possible to hyperbolize about the rise of China. For example, Europe's economies are still major and combined outreach those of China and India combined. But, as the Olympics and its medal tables show, it is not going to stay that way. This is a historic moment of change. Fast forward 10 years and everyone will know it.
For centuries, the power has resided in the West, with various European powers including the British Empire and then, in the 20th century, the U.S. Now we will have to come to terms with a world in which the power is shared with the Far East. I wonder if we quite understand what that means, we whose culture (not just our politics and economies) has dominated for so long. It will be a rather strange, possibly unnerving experience. Personally, I think it will be incredibly enriching. New experiences; new ways of thinking liberate creative energy. But in any event, it will be a fact we have to come to terms with. For the next U.S. president, this will be or should be at the very top of the agenda, and as a result of the strength of the Sino-U.S. relationship under President Bush, there is a sound platform to build upon.
The Olympics is now the biggest sporting event in the world, and because of the popularity of sport it is therefore one of the events that makes a genuine impact on real people. These Games have given people a glimpse of modern China in a way that no amount of political speeches could do.
London 2012 gives Britain a tremendous chance to explore some of these changes and explain to the East what the modern West is about. One thing is for certain: Hosting the Olympics is now a fantastic opportunity for any nation. My thoughts after the Beijing Games are that we shouldn't try to emulate the wonder of the opening ceremony. It was the spectacular to end all spectaculars and probably can never be bettered. We should instead do something different, drawing maybe on the ideals and spirit of the Olympic movement. We should do it our way, like they did it theirs. And we should learn from and respect each other. That is the way of the 21st century.
Mr. Blair, former prime minister of Great Britain, is teaching a course on faith and globalization at the Yale Schools of Management and Divinity.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: US-Russia
on: August 26, 2008, 07:56:59 AM
Russia's Aggression Is a Challenge to World Order
By LINDSEY GRAHAM and JOE LIEBERMAN
August 26, 2008; Page A21
In the wake of Russia's invasion of Georgia, the United States and its trans-Atlantic allies have rightly focused on two urgent and immediate tasks: getting Russian soldiers out, and humanitarian aid in.
But having just returned from Georgia, Ukraine and Poland, where we met with leaders of these countries, we believe it is imperative for the West to look beyond the day-to-day management of this crisis. The longer-term strategic consequences, some of which are already being felt far beyond the Caucasus, have to be addressed.
Russia's aggression is not just a threat to a tiny democracy on the edge of Europe. It is a challenge to the political order and values at the heart of the continent.
Slobodan Milosevic exploited ethnic grievances.
For more than 60 years, from World War II through the Cold War to our intervention in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, the U.S. has fostered and fought for the creation of a Europe that is whole, free and at peace. This stands as one of the greatest strategic achievements of the 20th century: the gradual transformation of a continent, once the scene of the most violent and destructive wars ever waged, into an oasis of peace and prosperity where borders are open and uncontested and aggression unthinkable.
Russia's invasion of Georgia represents the most serious challenge to this political order since Slobodan Milosevic unleashed the demons of ethnic nationalism in the Balkans. What is happening in Georgia today, therefore, is not simply a territorial dispute. It is a struggle about whether a new dividing line is drawn across Europe: between nations that are free to determine their own destinies, and nations that are consigned to the Kremlin's autocratic orbit.
That is the reason countries like Poland, Ukraine and the Baltic States are watching what happens in the Caucasus so closely. We heard that last week in Warsaw, Kiev and Tbilisi. There is no doubt in the minds of leaders in Ukraine and Poland -- if Moscow succeeds in Georgia, they may be next.
There is disturbing evidence Russia is already laying the groundwork to apply the same arguments used to justify its intervention in Georgia to other parts of its near abroad -- most ominously in Crimea. This strategically important peninsula is part of Ukraine, but with a large ethnic Russian population and the headquarters of Russia's Black Sea Fleet at Sevastopol.
The first priority of America and Europe must be to prevent the Kremlin from achieving its strategic objectives in Georgia. Having been deterred from marching on Tbilisi and militarily overthrowing the democratically elected government there, Russian forces spent last week destroying the country's infrastructure, including roads, bridges, port and security facilities. This was more than random looting. It was a deliberate campaign to collapse the economy of Georgia, in the hope of taking the government down with it.
The humanitarian supplies the U.S. military is now ferrying to Georgia are critically important to the innocent men, women and children displaced by the fighting, some of whom we saw last week. Also needed, immediately, is a joint commitment by the U.S. and the European Union to fund a large-scale, comprehensive reconstruction plan -- developed by the Georgian government, in consultation with the World Bank, IMF and other international authorities -- and for the U.S. Congress to support this plan as soon as it returns to session in September.
Any assistance plan must also include the rebuilding of Georgia's security forces. Our past aid to the Georgian military focused on supporting the light, counterterrorism-oriented forces that facilitate Tbilisi's contribution to coalition operations in Iraq. We avoided giving the types of security aid that could have been used to blunt Russia's conventional onslaught. It is time for that to change.
Specifically, the Georgian military should be given the antiaircraft and antiarmor systems necessary to deter any renewed Russian aggression. These defensive capabilities will help to prevent this conflict from erupting again, and make clear we will not allow the Russians to forcibly redraw the boundaries of sovereign nations.
Our response to the invasion of Georgia must include regional actions to reassure Russia's rattled neighbors and strengthen trans-Atlantic solidarity. This means reinvigorating NATO as a military alliance, not just a political one. Contingency planning for the defense of all member states against conventional and unconventional attack, including cyber warfare, needs to be revived. The credibility of Article Five of the NATO Charter -- that an attack against one really can and will be treated as an attack against all -- needs to be bolstered.
The U.S. must also reaffirm its commitment to allies that have been the targets of Russian bullying because of their willingness to work with Washington. The recent missile-defense agreement between Poland and the U.S., for instance, is not aimed at Russia. But this has not stopped senior Russian officials from speaking openly about military retaliation against Warsaw. Irrespective of our political differences over missile defense, Democrats and Republicans should join together in Congress to pledge solidarity with Poland, along with the Czech Republic, against these outrageous Russian threats.
Finally, the U.S. and Europe need a new trans-Atlantic energy alliance. In recent years, Russia has proven all too willing to use its oil and gas resources as a weapon, and to try to consolidate control over the strategic energy corridors to the West. By working together, an alliance can frustrate these designs and diminish our dependence on the foreign oil that is responsible for the higher energy prices here at home.
In crafting a response to the Georgia crisis, we must above all reaffirm our conviction that Russia need not be a competitor or an adversary. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Democratic and Republican administrations have engaged Russia, sending billions of dollars to speed its economic recovery and welcoming its integration into the flagship institutions of the international community. We did this because we believed that a strong, prosperous Russia can be a strategic partner and a friend. We still do.
But Russia's leaders have made a different choice. While we stand ready to rebuild relations with Moscow and work together on shared challenges, Russia's current course will only alienate and isolate it from the rest of the world.
We believe history will judge the Russian invasion of Georgia as a serious strategic miscalculation. Although it is for the moment flush with oil wealth, Russia's political elite remains kleptocratic, and its aggression exposed as much weakness as strength. The invasion of Georgia will not only have a unifying effect on the West, it also made clear that Russia -- unlike the Soviet Union -- has few real allies of strategic worth. To date, the only countries to defend Russia's actions in the Caucasus have been Cuba and Belarus -- and the latter, only after the Kremlin publicly complained about its silence.
In the long run, a Russia that tries to define its greatness in terms of spheres of influence, client states and forced fealty to Moscow will fail -- impoverishing its citizens in the process. The question is only how long until Russia's leaders rediscover this lesson from their own history.
Until they do, the watchword of the West must be solidarity: solidarity with the people of Georgia and its democratically elected government, solidarity with our allies throughout the region, and above all, solidarity with the values that have given meaning to our trans-Atlantic community of democracies and our vision of a European continent that is whole, free and at peace.
Mr. Graham is a Republican senator from South Carolina. Mr. Lieberman is an Independent Democratic senator from Connecticut.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Through Muslim Eyes
on: August 26, 2008, 07:33:31 AM
Barack Obama through Muslim Eyes
by Daniel Pipes
August 25, 2008
How do Muslims see Barack Hussein Obama? They have three choices: either as he presents himself – someone who has "never been a Muslim" and has "always been a Christian"; or as a fellow Muslim; or as an apostate from Islam.
Reports suggests that while Americans generally view the Democratic candidate having had no religion before converting at Reverend Jeremiah Wrights's hands at age 27, Muslims the world over rarely see him as Christian but usually as either Muslim or ex-Muslim.
Lee Smith of the Hudson Institute explains why: "Barack Obama's father was Muslim and therefore, according to Islamic law, so is the candidate. In spite of the Quranic verses explaining that there is no compulsion in religion, a Muslim child takes the religion of his or her father. … for Muslims around the world, non-American Muslims at any rate, they can only ever see Barack Hussein Obama as a Muslim." In addition, his school record from Indonesia lists him as a Muslim
Thus, an Egyptian newspaper, Al-Masri al-Youm, refers to his "Muslim origins." Libyan ruler Mu‘ammar al-Qaddafi referred to Obama as "a Muslim" and a person with an "African and Islamic identity." One Al-Jazeera analysis calls him a "non-Christian man," a second refers to his "Muslim Kenyan" father, and a third, by Naseem Jamali, notes that "Obama may not want to be counted as a Muslim but Muslims are eager to count him as one of their own."
A conversation in Beirut, quoted in the Christian Science Monitor, captures the puzzlement. "He has to be good for Arabs because he is a Muslim," observed a grocer. "He's not a Muslim, he's a Christian," replied a customer. Retorted the grocer: "He can't be a Christian. His middle name is Hussein." Arabic discussions of Obama sometimes mention his middle name as a code, with no further comment needed.
"The symbolism of a major American presidential candidate with the middle name of Hussein, who went to elementary school in Indonesia," reports Tamara Cofman Wittes of the Brookings Institution from a U.S.-Muslim conference in Qatar, "that certainly speaks to Muslims abroad." Thomas L. Friedman of the New York Times found that Egyptians "don't really understand Obama's family tree, but what they do know is that if America — despite being attacked by Muslim militants on 9/11 — were to elect as its president some guy with the middle name ‘Hussein,' it would mark a sea change in America-Muslim world relations."
Some American Muslim leaders also perceive Obama as Muslim. The president of the Islamic Society of North America, Sayyid M. Syeed, told Muslims at a conference in Houston that whether Obama wins or loses, his candidacy will reinforce that Muslim children can "become the presidents of this country." The Nation of Islam's Louis Farrakhan called Obama "the hope of the entire world" and compared him to his religion's founder, Fard Muhammad.
But this excitement also has a dark side – suspicions that Obama is a traitor to his birth religion, an apostate (murtadd) from Islam. Al-Qaeda has prominently featured Obama's stating "I am not a Muslim" and one analyst, Shireen K. Burki of the University of Mary Washington, sees Obama as "bin Laden's dream candidate." Should he become U.S. commander in chief, she believes, Al-Qaeda would likely "exploit his background to argue that an apostate is leading the global war on terror … to galvanize sympathizers into action."
Mainstream Muslims tend to tiptoe around this topic. An Egyptian supporter of Obama, Yasser Khalil, reports that many Muslims react "with bewilderment and curiosity" when Obama is described as a Muslim apostate; Josie Delap and Robert Lane Greene of the Economist even claim that the Obama-as-apostate theme "has been notably absent" among Arabic-language columnists and editorialists.
That latter claim is inaccurate, for the topic is indeed discussed. At least one Arabic-language newspaper published Burki's article. Kuwait's Al-Watan referred to Obama as "a born Muslim, an apostate, a convert to Christianity." Writing in the Arab Times, Syrian liberal Nidal Na‘isa repeatedly called Obama an "apostate Muslim."
In sum, Muslims puzzle over Obama's present religious status. They resist his self-identification as a Christian while they assume a baby born to a Muslim father and named "Hussein" began life a Muslim. Should Obama become president, differences in Muslim and American views of religious affiliation will create problems.
Aug. 25, 2008 update: This is the fourth in a series of articles I have published on Barack Obama's ties to Islam. The prior three:
"Was Barack Obama a Muslim?" FrontPageMag.com, December 24, 2007. Raises questions about Obama's childhood religion and considers some implications.
"Confirmed: Barack Obama Practiced Islam." FrontPageMag.com, January 7, 2008. Replies to a critique of the prevous article by "Media Matters for America."
"Barack Obama's Muslim Childhood." Jerusalem Post, May 1, 2008. Pulls together existing information on Obama's childhood religion.http://www.danielpipes.org/article_p...5&v=1151079121
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Why we fight
on: August 26, 2008, 07:29:19 AM
I suppose this piece is more about HOW to fight-- IMHO what the article describes here is very important on a conceptual level. To say that certain aspects of the Muslim religion simply are not to be tolerated is quite significant.
By Reut R. Cohen
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, August 22, 2008
As Muslim Student Association (MSA) chapters have become increasingly influential at universities and colleges around the country, critics have charged that it is a hate group that sympathizes with the international jihad and promulgates an anti-American and anti-Semitic ideology in its campus actions. In response, the MSA has claimed that it is merely another religious and cultural group similar to Hillel, a club for Jewish students, or the Newman Club for Catholics. That deception has been now unmasked at the University of Southern California, where the school’s Provost, Chrysostomos L. Max Nikias, reacting to a call from the David Horowitz Freedom Center and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, has ordered the campus MSA to remove a “despicable” hadith calling for Muslims to murder Jews as a condition for redemption from its website.
David Horowitz, President of the Freedom Center, hails this as a breakthrough moment when the double standards that control the political and intellectual culture of most universities have finally been challenged. “Up to now, the slightest criticism of radical Islam on campus has been slammed as ‘Islamophobia,’ while Muslim groups and their radical fellow travelers have been allowed to say the most hateful things imaginable about Christians and Jews without any reaction from university administrators whatsoever,” Horowitz says. “Provost Nikias has called the hadith on the MSA website for what it is: despicable. Given the atmosphere that prevails on most campuses today, it was an act of integrity on his part to make this call and to demand that the MSA live up to basic standards of civility that should govern the university.”
The hadith (sacred teaching) reads as follows:
“Abu Huraira reported Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: The last hour would not come unless the Muslims will fight against the Jews and the Muslims would kill them until the Jews would hide themselves behind a stone or a tree and a stone or a tree would say: Muslim, or the servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me; come and kill him….”
Its presence on the MSA website is consistent with other actions the Muslim group has initiated on the USC campus. In 2005, for instance, it hosted a conference featuring a speech by Islamist Ahmed Shama, who praised Hizbollah, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, and told his listeners that the terrorists in post-Saddam Iraq were part?as was the Muslim Student Association itself?of a “global Islamic movement” and that it was “necessary to rise up against the occupation there.”
The David Horowitz Freedom Center worked with the Simon Wiesenthal Center to draft a letter to Alan Casden, a USC trustee, about the “hadith of hate,” as it is often called. Disturbed that a call for genocide should be on the USC server, Casden contacted Provost Chrysostomos Nikias to express his concern. Nikias investigated the matter and sent Casden the following letter:
“…The passage you cited is truly despicable and I share your concerns about its being on the USC server. We did some investigations and I have ordered the passage removed.
“The passage in the Hadith that you brought to our attention violates the USC Principles of Community, and it has no place on a USC server.”
The University of Southern California Principles of Community states in part: “No one has the right to denigrate another human being on the basis of race, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, etc. We will not tolerate verbal or written abuse, threats, harassment, intimidation or violence against person or property.” No student group other than the Muslim Student Association has posted any kind of material, religious or otherwise, calling for the destruction of a race or group.
USC’s decision to remove the hadith from the school’s server marks the first time that an American university has acknowledged that the Muslim Student Association’s agenda involves the promotion of ethnic hatred. It is also the first time that an administrator has acted quickly to censure “despicable” material. Rabbi Aron Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center hailed Provost Nikias’ decision: “We commend USC for having the moral courage to stand up against those who hijack speech and religious freedoms and the goodwill of the campus community in order to spread hate and extremist violence.”
“This episode shows that fighting injustice can produce results,” Freedom Center President David Horowitz added. “It also shows what kind of an organization the Muslim Students Association is, which is why the Freedom Center has launched a nationwide campaign, Stop the Jihad on Campus Week, which will culminate the week of October 13.”
The goals of Stop the Jihad on Campus Week are to rally students across the country to sign a petition against the “hadith of hate” and to convince student governments to defund the Muslim Students Association
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The 2008 Presidential Race
on: August 26, 2008, 06:30:48 AM
GM is correct IMHO
Anyway, lets return to the subject of this thread-- and there is plenty of raw material for it:
Michelle Obama spoke last night-- assessment? I saw reports of some Nazi type clowns arrested for a plot to shoot BO, McC was on the Leno show (I caught only the last few minutes, he looked good, and was pithy AND funny-- a good combination) Biden is a major gun grabber-- how will this play in the wake of the assassination plot? etc etc etc
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / US destroyer
on: August 26, 2008, 06:24:31 AM
The Russians still have not completed withdrawal from Georgia. It is clear that, at least for the time being, the Russians intend to use the clause in the cease-fire agreement that allows them unspecified rights to protect their security to maintain troops in some parts of Georgia. Moscow obviously wants to demonstrate to the Georgians that Russia moves at its own discretion, not at the West’s. A train carrying fuel was blown up outside of Gori, with the Georgians claiming that the Russians have planted mines. Whether the claim is true or not, the Russians are trying to send a simple message: We are your best friends and worst enemies. The emphasis for the moment is on the latter.
It is essential for the Russians to demonstrate that they are not intimidated by the West in any way. The audience for this is the other former Soviet republics, but also the Georgian public. It is becoming clear that the Russians are intent on seeing Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili removed from office. Moscow is betting that as the crisis dies down and Russian troops remain in Georgia, the Georgians will develop a feeling of isolation and turn on Saakashvili for leading them into a disaster. If that doesn’t work, and he remains president, then the Russians have forward positions in Georgia. Either way, full withdrawal does not make sense for them, when the only force against them is Western public opinion. That alone will make the Russians more intractable.
It is interesting, therefore, that a U.S. warship delivered humanitarian supplies to the Georgians. The ship did not use the port of Poti, which the Russians have effectively blocked, but Batumi, to the south. That the ship was a destroyer is important. It demonstrates that the Americans have a force available that is inherently superior to anything the Russians have: the U.S. Navy. A Navy deployment in the Black Sea could well be an effective counter, threatening Russian sea lanes.
While it was a warship, however, it was only a destroyer — so it is a gesture, but not a threat. But there are rumors of other warships readying to transit into the Black Sea. This raises an important issue: Turkey. Turkey borders Georgia but has very carefully stayed out of the conflict. Any ships that pass through Turkish straits do so under Turkish supervision guided by the Montreux Convention, an old agreement restricting the movement of warships through the straits — which the Russians in particular have ignored in moving ships into the Mediterranean. But the United States has a particular problem in moving through the Bosporus. Whatever the Convention says or precedent is, the United States can’t afford to alienate Turkey — not if there is a crisis in the Caucasus.
Each potential American move has a complication attached. However, at this moment, the decision as to what to do is in the hands of the United States. The strategic question is whether it has the appetite for a naval deployment in the Black Sea at this historical moment. After that is answered, Washington needs to address the Turkish position. And after a U.S. squadron deploys in the Black Sea, the question will be what Russia, a land power, will do in response. The Europeans are irrelevant to the equation, even if they do hold a summit as the French want. They can do nothing unless the United States decides to act, and they can’t stop the United States if it does decide to go.
The focus now is on the Americans. They can let the Russo-Georgian war slide into history and deal with Russia later on, or they can act. What Washington will decide to do is the question the arrival of the U.S.S. McFaul in Georgia posed for the Russians.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: McCain
on: August 25, 2008, 09:09:32 AM
Not that I agree, but here is Bill Kristol's take on this:
A Joe of His Own?
By WILLIAM KRISTOL
Published: August 24, 2008
The anguished cries of Hillary supporters pierced the midday calm here on Saturday, as Barack Obama confirmed that his vice presidential choice was not Clinton, who got about 18 million votes this year running against him, but rather Joe Biden, who gained the support of a few thousand caucusgoers in Iowa before dropping out of the race.
(OK, I didn’t personally hear any anguished cries from my work space near the Pepsi Center. But I’m an empathetic guy — I felt as if I could hear them.)
McCain operatives were pleased by the Biden selection, which they considered, as one said to me, “a pick from weakness.” Still, it complicates McCain’s vice presidential calculations.
The two leading G.O.P. prospects have been Tim Pawlenty, the Minnesota governor, and Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor. But with Biden’s foreign policy experience as a contrast, could McCain assure voters that the young Pawlenty is ready to take over, if need be, as commander in chief? Also, Biden is a strong and experienced debater. Pawlenty is unproven. If he is the choice, there will be many anxious Republicans in the run-up to the vice presidential debate in St. Louis on Oct. 2.
Romney might match up better against Biden in debate. But it’s clear that the Obama-Biden campaign is moving aggressively to embrace a traditional Democratic populist economic message. Such a message will have appeal this year — especially, one supposes, against a doubly multimansioned G.O.P. ticket of McCain and Romney.
If not Pawlenty or Romney, how about a woman, whose selection would presumably appeal to the aforementioned anguished Hillary supporters? It’s awfully tempting for the McCain camp to revisit the possibility of tapping Meg Whitman, the former eBay C.E.O., Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, or Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska. But the first two have never run for office, and Palin has been governor for less than two years.
So what’s to be done? McCain could well decide the obstacles to Pawlenty and Romney aren’t insuperable, and pick one of them. He could choose a different Republican governor or ex-governor, senator or congressman. Or he could decide that Obama’s conventional pick of Biden allows him to seize the moment by making a bold choice. He could select the person he would really like to have by his side in the White House — but whose selection would cause palpitations among many of his staffers and supporters: the independent Democratic senator from Connecticut, Joe Lieberman.
Lieberman could hold his own against Biden in a debate. He would reinforce McCain’s overall message of foreign policy experience and hawkishness. He’s a strong and disciplined candidate.
But he is pro-abortion rights, and having been a Democrat all his life, he has a moderately liberal voting record on lots of issues.
Now as a matter of governance, there’s no reason to think this would much matter. McCain has made clear his will be a pro-life administration. And as a one-off, quasi-national-unity ticket, with Lieberman renouncing any further ambition to run for the presidency, a McCain-Lieberman administration wouldn’t threaten the continuance of the G.O.P. as a pro-life party. In other areas, no one seriously thinks the policies of a McCain-Lieberman administration would be appreciably different from those, say, of a McCain-Pawlenty administration.
Would McCain-Lieberman have a better prospect of winning than the more conventional alternatives? If they could get over the early hurdles of a messy convention and an awful lot of conservative angst and anger, I’ve come to think so.
Obama and Biden will try to frame the presidential race as a normal Democratic-Republican choice. If they can do that, they should win. That would be far more difficult against a McCain-Lieberman ticket. The charge that McCain would merely mean a third Bush term would also tend to fall flat. And an unorthodox “country first” Lieberman selection would reinforce what has been attractive about McCain, and what has allowed him to run ahead of — though not yet enough ahead of — the generic Republican ballot.
A Lieberman pick should help with ticket splitters. But can such a ticket hold the support of pro-lifers, conservatives and Republicans? If you’re conscientiously pro-life, you will have reservations about a pro-abortion-rights V.P. If you’re a proud conservative, Lieberman hasn’t been one. If you’re a loyal Republican, you’d much prefer someone from within the ranks.
But if you’re pro-life, conservative and/or Republican, you certainly don’t want Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid running the country. If a McCain-Lieberman ticket is the best way to thwart that prospect, you could probably learn to live with it — even perhaps to like it.
And Hillary supporters could protest Obama’s glass ceiling by voting for John McCain and the Democratic Party’s 2000 vice presidential nominee.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: East Europe can defend itself
on: August 25, 2008, 02:49:21 AM
Eastern Europe Can Defend Itself
By MAX BOOT
August 25, 2008; Page A13
Eastern Europeans are rightly alarmed about the brazenness and success of the Russian blitzkrieg into Georgia. For many living in Russia's shadow, this is reviving traumatic memories -- of 1968 for Czechs, 1956 for Hungarians, 1939 for Poles. It does not help that senior Russian generals are threatening to rain nuclear annihilation on Ukraine and Poland if they refuse to toe the Kremlin's line.
Even those states which, unlike Georgia and Ukraine, are already in NATO can take scant comfort. As Poland's foreign minister, Radek Sikorski, says, "Parchments and treaties are all very well, but we have a history in Poland of fighting alone and being left to our own devices by our allies."
Warsaw's response has been to draw closer to the United States, by rapidly concluding an agreement in long drawn-out negotiations over the basing of U.S. interceptor missiles on Polish soil. That's a good start, but it's a move of symbolic import only. The small number of interceptors are designed to shoot down an equally small number of Iranian missiles -- not the overwhelming numbers that Russia deploys. Poland and other states should be under no illusion they can count on the U.S. in a crisis. In the past we left Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia in the lurch. More recently we haven't done much to help Georgia.
The only thing that the frontline states can count on is their own willingness to fight for independence. But willingness alone is not enough. They also need the means to fight, and at the moment they don't have them. We have already seen how the tiny Georgian armed forces -- with fewer than 30,000 men -- were routed by the Russian invaders.
What gets ignored is that Georgia, although a small country (population: 4.6 million), has the potential to do far more for its defense. According to the CIA's World Factbook, Georgia has over 900,000 men between the ages of 16 and 49. It could easily create a larger military force than it has, but that would require spending more on defense. By the CIA's estimate, its defense budget was just 0.59% of GDP in 2005.
Georgia's military spending has grown in recent years, but not Eastern Europe's. According to the International Institute of Strategic Studies, only one country in Eastern Europe spends more than 2% of GDP on defense. That would be Bulgaria at 2.2%. Romania is in second place at 1.9%, followed by Poland at 1.8%. Nor do these countries maintain large standing forces. Poland has 7.9 million males of military age but only 127,266 active-duty personnel in its armed forces. Hungary could mobilize 1.9 million men but has only 32,300 in uniform. Bulgaria has 1.3 million potential soldiers but only 40,747 actual soldiers. And so on.
There is one exception to this demilitarizing trend. Russia, which has more than a million soldiers under arms, has been increasing its defense budget from the lows of the immediate post-Soviet era. Based on official figures it spends at least 2.5% of GDP on its military. But if you add in expenditures on paramilitary forces and other items, the total comes closer to 4% -- roughly the same percentage that the U.S. is spending.
Small states have often shown the ability to humble great powers. In 1920, under the inspired leadership of Marshal Josef Pilsudski, the Poles staged a brilliant counterattack to save Warsaw and drive the Red Army off their soil. In the winter war of 1939-1940 the plucky Finns held off Soviet invaders, forcing the Kremlin to settle for a slice of its territory rather than all of it. More recently, the Afghan mujahedeen drove the Red Army out of their country altogether, thereby helping to bring down the Soviet Union.
But if they have any hope of emulating such feats -- or, more precisely, of deterring the Russians from threatening them in the first place by making it clear that they could emulate such feats -- today's Eastern Europeans have to do much more to prepare a robust defense. They should double their military spending to make themselves into porcupine states that even the Russian bear can't swallow.
The U.S. can help, as we helped the Afghans in the 1980s and as the French helped the Poles in 1920. That will require a readjustment in our military assistance strategy, which has been to create in Eastern Europe miniature copies of our own armed forces. Our hope, largely realized, has been that these states will help us in our own military commitments in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. But in addition to developing NATO-style expeditionary capacity, these states need to be able to conduct a defense in depth.
That means having large reserves ready for fast call-up and plenty of defensive weapons -- in particular portable missile systems such as the Stinger and Javelin capable of inflicting great damage on Russia's lumbering air and armor forces. That's more important than fielding their own tanks or fighter aircraft. We should offer to sell them these relatively inexpensive defensive systems, and to provide the advisory services to make the best use of them. But the first step has to be for the Eastern Europeans to make a larger commitment to their own defense.
Mr. Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, is the author, most recently, of "War Made New: Technology, Warfare, and the Course of History, 1500 to Today" (Gotham Books, 2006).
See all of today's
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Military Life, The Return and Crafty Dog??
on: August 25, 2008, 02:14:41 AM
Our thanks and gratitude for stepping up for our country in these troubled times. And respects on the PT!
Sounds like I need to get you into our Military/LEO website. Email me and I will send you what you need.
The reverse grip reverse edge material is Southnark's influence-- yes the same one whose PUC DVD we sell in our catalog.
This has been an influence on me btw, the idiom of movement is now something that is part of what I do and teach.
The Adventure continues!
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Political Economics
on: August 24, 2008, 10:46:27 AM
This from internet friend and superb economist of supply side orientation Scott Grannis:
The NY Times published a lengthy article on Obama's economic policies
a few days ago: "How Obama Reconciles Dueling Views on Economy." One
friend has summarized the article like this: "Barack Obama, a Free-
Market Loving, Big-Spending, Fiscally Conservative Wealth
Redistributionist." The article goes to great lengths to sound fair
and unbiased, but in typical NYT fashion, it is neither. I've take
some time to rebut some of the points raised in the article, since I
think it's very important to understand the faulty logic and lack of
economic understanding that informs many liberal notions of how weak
the economy supposedly is and what the best ways to fix it are.
To begin with, the opening section of this article is just plain wrong
about how bad the economy is. A well-respected UCLA professor, Ed
Leamer, says that, using the using the criteria developed by the NBER
for classifying recessions, the economy is not currently in a
recession. In order for this to be a recession, he says, "things would
have to get a lot worse." This is hardly a situation where one might
claim, as the article does, that "the economy has stopped working."
The article's claim that most families are making less today than they
did in 2000 is simply not true, and it is also not true that family
income has failed, for the first time, to rise substantially in an
economic expansion. Real disposable personal income has risen 17.5% in
the current expansion. I'll take that to the bank any day as a sign of
progress. This is a shameless misrepresentation of the facts, but it
is not surprising given that the article was supposedly fact-checked
by the economic geniuses at the NY Times.
The article implies that people have only been able to keep buying
things thanks to assuming massive amounts of new debt. But according
to the Federal Reserve, debt service burdens for US households (the
ratio of debt payments to disposable personal income) have risen from
13.0% to 14.1% in the current expansion. That's not my definition of
huge or even significant.
Yes, there are significant debt defaults occurring, but the article
neglects to mention one very important fact: a debt default involves a
transfer of wealth. The defaulting party is relieved of a debt burden,
while the creditor loses a future income stream. In addition, for
every house that was bought and financed at the peak of the real
estate cycle a few years ago, there was a seller that walked away with
a small fortune.
And by all means this remains a very prosperous country. The net worth
(total assets minus total liabilities) of US households has risen from
$40 trillion in 2001 to almost $60 trillion today. How in the world
the NY Times fact-checkers could square that statistic with the doom
and gloom in the article is beyond my ability to understand or
justify. Even if defaulted mortgages total $1 trillion (way up at the
upper end of estimates), that would only equate to less than 2% of
households' aggregate net worth.
Then the article goes on to imply that since the economy is already a
shambles and McCain's economic policies are basically a rehash of
Bush's policies, we can't expect things to get a lot better. Obama
"has more-detailed proposals but a less obvious ideology." And that
presumably is a good thing.
One of the most important things for Obama is to redistribute income
from rich to not-rich, because he believes that income inequality is a
new and serious problem, and likely the most serious problem the
economy faces today. Yet serious researchers (Alan Reynolds being one)
have pointed out that what looks like a growing gap between rich and
poor is actually not. And if it looks like the upper income earners
have gained a disproportionately larger share of the income pie in the
past decade, that overlooks the fact that those who were upper income
earners 10 years ago are for the most part not upper income earners
today; this is a very fluid economy.
Obama puts income redistribution ahead of deficit reduction. But he
also plans to reduce the deficit, mainly by cutting military spending.
This was in fact one of the two keys behind Clinton's deficit
reduction (the other being a windfall of tax receipts thanks to the
tech sector boom). I would simply note that the massive reduction in
military spending during the Clinton years left us extremely
vulnerable by 2001. I would argue that McCain is the only candidate
who can credibly promise to make significant reductions in non-defense
The article praises Obama for his general acceptance of free-market
principles that he picked up while at Chicago. But, it gushes, he
still realizes that markets aren't perfect and need fixing. This is
the position that all liberals are forced to adopt, since free market
economies have been wildly successful over time. Critics of the free
market point to its failures: budget deficits, income inequality, and
the current financial crisis. In essence, this is like saying that you
like freedom, but only in limited quantities. Where do you draw the
line? In any event, most of the liberal arguments against the free
market are based on faulty logic. For example, the deficit has nothing
to do with the free market, but everything to do with politicians that
can't stop spending money. I've already argued, as have many others,
that income inequality is not only misleading, but not even a bad
thing to begin with as along as all incomes are rising. The current
financial crisis has a lot to do with mistakes made by the Federal
Reserve years ago, and to the failure of borrowers to realize that
they were paying way too much for their homes and taking on way too
much debt in the process. So Obama is going to apply all sorts of
remedies for the economy's supposed ills, but he has misdiagnosed the
problem. And let's not forget that for every new government program
designed to "fix" some supposed failing of the free market, there are
at least a few unintended consequences that typically show up.
As a case in point, Obama's tax proposals are designed to reduce the
burden of taxes on the lower and middle class, but they would actually
make things worse for those people because his proposals will sharply
increase marginal tax rates. This will make it much harder for the
poor to get rich, a perfect example of unintended consequences to tax-
rate engineering. See this article for proof, it is really impressive.
"Obama’s give-and-take tax policy results in marginal tax rates of 34
percent to 39 percent in the $31,000 to $45,000 income range for this
family. That’s an increase of 13 percentage points or more from the
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Stratfor: Russia's Great Power Strategy
on: August 24, 2008, 09:46:19 AM
Strategic Forecasting, Inc.
GEOPOLITICAL DIARY: THE IMPLICATIONS OF A RUSSO-SYRIAN PARTNERSHIP
Syrian President Bashar al Assad arrived in Moscow on Wednesday for a two-day visit
during which he will meet with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev. Al Assad's
invitation to Moscow was announced shortly after Russia began its military offensive
against Georgia. The timing was no coincidence, and Damascus fully intends to ride
Russia's wave of resurgence into regional prominence.
Russia and Syria had a close defense relationship during the Cold War, when the
Soviet Union maintained a naval presence in the Mediterranean Sea off the Syrian
coast and facilities at Syrian ports. In those days, Syria used its relationship
with Russia to protect itself from the threat of Israel. But that patronage dried up
even before the collapse of the Soviet Union, and Syrian defense structures -- its
air defense network, for example -- began falling into disrepair.
Syria's relationship to Russia under former President Vladimir Putin was not nearly
as accommodating as it was during the Cold War, and the Syrians have spent a great
deal of energy chasing armament deals with Russia, with no luck. For years -- but
especially after the September 2007 Israeli air raid that essentially sidestepped
the entire Syrian air defense network -- Damascus has grown more desperate for a
comprehensive upgrade to its air defense network. But talks with Russia have failed
to gain traction, and the Syrians have grown weary of being strung along. With
Russia's assertion of power in the Caucasus, however, Syria sees a chance to break
out of its diplomatic isolation.
Given U.S. sensitivity to developments in the Middle East, Syria is well positioned
to give Russia ways to meddle in Washington's affairs. The threat of increased
Russian weapons sales to Iran and Syria, coupled with Wednesday's hints of a Russian
carrier returning to the Mediterranean, are all useful tactics in sending Washington
a very clear message: Russia is a great power capable of influencing matters well
beyond its own borders.
For Damascus, Russia's resurgence is a great opportunity to strengthen its security
relationship with Moscow. Primarily, by reviving its ties with Russia, Syria could
compel Israel, the United States and Turkey to accelerate efforts to pull Damascus
out of the diplomatic cold. This would give Syria the political recognition and
influence that it has long craved; more importantly, Syria would gain physical
Thus far, there have been no concrete reports of any major deals struck during al
Assad's trip to Moscow. However, Newsru.com, a subsidiary of Russia's NTV news
group, reported that al Assad has said he is ready to host a Russian base off the
Syrian coast again. Though the establishment of such a base of operations so far
beyond Russia's periphery would certainly be dramatic, there are limits to how far
Russia can go in the Middle East. Tactically speaking, a Russian fleet based in the
Mediterranean would essentially be surrounded by NATO allies, and hemmed in by
Turkish territory. The sheer superiority of U.S., Turkish, NATO and Israeli naval
assets in the region puts any small deployment at a severe disadvantage.
Furthermore, any extension of Russian influence in the Middle East must balance the
needs of several actors -- all of whom are in delicate negotiations with one
another. For instance, the Russians and the Israelis have their own ongoing
negotiations in which Israel has reportedly appealed to Moscow to continue
restricting weapons sales to Syria and Iran in exchange for Israel's restraint in
providing military assistance to Georgia. This is a significant barrier to a real
Damascus-Moscow security deal, as Russia is heavily invested in maintaining control
But Syria's hopes for a real alignment with Russia are only part of the cascade of
reactions as nations internalize Russia's renewed assertiveness. First and foremost,
of course, are the ongoing negotiations between the United States and Iran over the
future of Iraq. Iran is currently calculating its options; obviously, it must
carefully balance its relations with Russia and its talks with the United States.
And Iran would like to expand its arms deals with Russia dramatically, but fears
Russia's resurgence in the Caucasus. Turkey is also in play. As a NATO member and
neighbor of Georgia, Turkey finds itself right in the middle of the U.S.-Russian
rivalry and must seek a balance.
More than anything else, Syria's ability to exploit the Russian comeback in the
Caucasus will depend on just how drastically Russia plans to upset U.S. foreign
policy at this stage in the game. Syria certainly has assets to offer Moscow, but
Russia will be considering much more than just Syria as it moves forward from this
Copyright 2008 Strategic Forecasting, Inc.