Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / ALERT
on: April 06, 2009, 01:22:56 AM
·11250 Waples Mill Road · Fairfax, Virginia 22030 ·800-392-8683http://www.nraila.org/Legislation/Fe...d.aspx?id=4713
Mexican Drug Violence--Anti-Gunners Lead Witness Friday, April 03, 2009 As we continue to report, Congress has jumped into the topic of Mexican border violence with both feet, having held 10 different Subcommittee and Full Committee hearings on the topic, with more coming. It has also become clear that anti-gun politicians and groups are intent on using this issue to advance new gun laws.
In the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Drugs and Crime, Sen. Dianne Feinstein renewed her attacks on gun owners' rights. During her remarks, she stated that there are over 2,000 guns smuggled into Mexico from the U.S. each day. But when she tried to elicit support for that number from a representative from the BATFE, he responded that the number was much lower. Senator Feinstein was clearly unhappy that he would not endorse her anti-gun sound bite.
Feinstein also repeated the claim that 90% of seized guns are from American sources (please see related story below). In fact, it is unknown where most of the arms possessed by the cartels originate. According to the BATFE 90% of the firearms traced are from American sources, but BATFE only traces 25% of the guns seized by Mexican authorities. The remaining 75% of guns seized along with all the firearms remaining in the hands of the cartels are of unknown origin. The fact that only 25% of the guns seized are traced raises a significant question: Why has the Mexican government not requested traces on the remaining 75%? Could it be because those guns are far less likely to have originated in America? Could it be that the Mexican authorities do not want it known where these guns come from? Could it be that it benefits the Mexican government to continue to blame U.S. gun laws to divert attention away from the rampant corruption of local governments and police forces? Could it be all of the above?
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has also entered the debate, traveling to Mexico and taking the opportunity to blame American gun laws. She called for a renewal of the semi-auto ban, and even trumpeted the ban's illusory impact: "And there's no doubt in my mind that the 10 years we had an assault weapons ban in America was one of the tools that helped to drive down the crime rate."
Perhaps if Clinton had read the congressionally mandated study performed by the Urban Institute (http://www.urban.org/UploadedPDF/aw_final.pdf
) she would know it showed that the ban couldn't possibly have had much impact on crime because "the banned guns were never used in more than a modest fraction of all gun murders" before the ban.
In another development that will not please the gun ban crowd, the leader of the Border Patrol Union, T.J. Bonner, said he was "underwhelmed" by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano's plans to secure the border and went on to debunk the idea that Mexican violence is caused by American guns: "The U.S. has more weapons but we don't have that kind of violence in our streets," he said.
American gun owners know that that the real solution to the border violence is to actually secure the border. Shifting the focus to gun laws is nothing more than a calculated attack on our Second Amendment rights.
For more information on the hearings, please go to www.nraila.org
Find this item at: http://www.nraila.org/Legislation/Fe...indow.print();
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: April DB Tribal Gathering
on: April 06, 2009, 12:48:57 AM
From the newly christened "Scotty Dog" (many thanks to Guro C for letting me use your Laptop)
If you've been on the forum for more than the last 12 months, you may be aware of my post this time last year, lamenting the fact that my head wasn't hard enough to allow me to fight for more than one day (again, thanks for all who looked after me). This weekend was a big deal for me as not only did I get to see if I had the bottle to get up for a second day's fighting (it was hard) but I finally got to fight in Temecula (and tast the dirt, but thankfully not the horse poo)
Thanks to all I fought, apologies to those I didn't and thanks for the good times & beers.
Remember Margaritas are EVIL!!!!!
PS Ryan, remember you owe me a fight
From the new C-Sleazy Dog Dominic. (Thx to Lonely for the name which could not be more precise in describing my personality... bastard!
Thank you all for showing me such a great time and some of the toughest fights i ever had.
Hope to see many of you at the european gathering next summer! (Switzerland is a nice place in July! Specialy from the 24th to the 26th!)
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / SIJO ADRIANO D. EMPERADO PASSES:
on: April 05, 2009, 12:11:21 PM
It is with a heavy heart that I must convey this message to the Martial Art Ohana's around the World.
I received a phone call this morning from Grand Master Greg Harper of Harper KAJUKENBO.
"SIJO passed away last night, around Midnight"
Sijo will be missed by all but his "Legend" will forever be immortalized by those he touched.
Sincerely and with respect always,
Kajukenbo SIFU Dean "C-Kaju Dog" Webster
Sijo Emperado, GM Gumataotao, GM Harper, ME....
More news to follow as information becomes available.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Boskins: $163,000 per tax paying family
on: April 05, 2009, 10:04:56 AM
Finally, what of the claim not to raise taxes on anyone earning less than $250,000 a year? Even ignoring his large energy taxes, Mr. Obama must reconcile his arithmetic. Every dollar of debt he runs up means that future taxes must be $1 higher in present-value terms. Mr. Obama is going to leave a discounted present-value legacy of $6.5 trillion of additional future taxes, unless he dramatically cuts spending. (With interest the future tax hikes would be much larger later on.) Call it a stealth tax increase or ticking tax time-bomb.
What does $6.5 trillion of additional debt imply for the typical family? If spread evenly over all those paying income taxes (which under Mr. Obama's plan would shrink to a little over 50% of the population), every income-tax paying family would get a tax bill for $163,000. (In ten years, interest would bring the total to well over $200,000, if paid all at once. If paid annually over the succeeding ten years, the tax hike per year would average almost $26,000.) That's in addition to his explicit tax hikes. While the future tax time-bomb is pushed beyond Mr. Obama's budget horizon, and future presidents and Congresses will decide how it will be paid, it is likely to be paid by future income tax hikes as these are general fund deficits.
We can get a rough idea of who is likely to pay them by distributing this $6.5 trillion of future taxes according to the most recent distribution of income-tax burdens. We know the top 1% or 5% of income-taxpayers pay vastly disproportionate shares of taxes, and much larger shares than their shares of income. But it also turns out that Mr. Obama's massive additional debt implies a tax hike, if paid today, of well over $100,000 for people with incomes of $150,000, far below Mr. Obama's tax-hike cut-off of $250,000 (over $130,000 in ten years and over $16,000 a year if paid annually over the following ten years). In other words, a middle-aged two-career couple in New York or California could get a future tax bill as big as their mortgage.
While Mr. Obama's higher tax rates are economically harmful, some of his tax policies deserve wide support, e.g., permanently indexing the alternative minimum tax. Ditto some of the spending increases, including the extension of unemployment benefits, given the severe recession.
Neither a large deficit in a recession nor a small increase from the current modest level in the debt to GDP ratio is worrisome. And at a 50% debt-to-GDP ratio, with nominal GDP growing 4% (the CBO out-year forecast), deficits of 2% of GDP would not be increasing the debt burden relative to income.
But what is not just worrisome but dangerous are the growing trillion dollar deficits in the latter years of the Obama budget. These deficits are so large for a prosperous nation in peacetime -- three times safe levels -- that they would cause the debt burden to soar toward banana republic levels. That's a recipe for a permanent drag on growth and serious pressure on the Federal Reserve to inflate, not the new era of rising prosperity that Mr. Obama and his advisers foresee.
Mr. Boskin is a professor of economics at Stanford University and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. He chaired the Council of Economic Advisers under President George H.W. Bush.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / BO gets nuke policy backwards
on: April 05, 2009, 01:20:36 AM
President Obama met Russian President Dmitri Medvedev in London this week, and you'd have thought topics like the financial crisis and Iran would have more than filled the conversation. But when a U.S. President meets his Russian counterpart, the reflex left from the Cold War is always to sign another arms control deal. So here we go again.
APThe Obama Administration wants to replace the soon-to-expire 1991 START treaty with a new regime that would set a ceiling of 1,000 nuclear warheads apiece for the U.S. and Russia. That would dramatically cut the two countries' existing number of operational weapons, both strategic and nonstrategic, from a current estimated total of about 4,100 for the U.S. and 5,200 for Russia. It would also exceed the terms agreed by the Bush Administration in the 2002 Moscow Treaty, which committed each side to reduce their arsenals to between 1,700 and 2,200 strategic warheads by 2012.
As we learned in the 1970s, the devil of arms control often lies in the technical arcana of warheads and delivery systems, so we'll await the text before pronouncing judgment. But the devil of arms control also lies in the overall concept, with its implicit assumption that the weapons themselves are inherently more dangerous than the intentions of those who develop and deploy them.
We would have thought this thinking was discredited after the Second Lateran Council outlawed the use of crossbows in 1139, or after the Hague Convention of 1899 banned aerial bombardment, or after the Kellogg-Briand Pact outlawed war. Nope. Mr. Obama has set the ultimate goal of eliminating nuclear weapons, and as one of his first official acts he pledged to "stop the development of new nuclear weapons."
What Mr. Obama wants to kill specifically is the Reliable Replacement Warhead, which the Bush Administration supported over Congressional opposition, and which Mr. Obama now opposes despite the support of Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the military. Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told us this week that "we do need a new warhead." When we asked about Mr. Obama's views on the warhead, the Admiral said, "You would have to ask him."
The RRW is not, in fact, a new weapon; it has been in development for several years and is based on the W89 design tested in the 1980s. It is said to be a remarkably safe and long-lasting warhead, a significant consideration given the gradual physical deterioration of the current U.S. arsenal, particularly the mainstay W76.
The irony is that Mr. Obama's opposition is making substantial reductions in the total U.S. arsenal that much riskier. In the absence of actual testing, which hasn't happened in the U.S. since 1992, the only real hedge against potentially defective weapons is a larger arsenal. Naturally, arms-control theologians are instead urging the Senate to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and ban the production of weapons grade uranium and plutonium.
The thinking here is that somehow the American example will get Russia, as well as North Korea, Pakistan and perhaps Iran, to reject nuclear weapons. In fact, a U.S. nuclear arsenal that is diminished in both quantity and quality would be an incentive for these countries to increase their nuclear inventories, since the door would suddenly be opened to reach strategic parity with the last superpower. Mr. Medvedev, for one, recently announced Russia would pursue "large-scale rearmament" of its army and navy, including nuclear arsenals.
France also plans to deploy new sea-based nuclear missiles next year, even as it reduces the overall size of its arsenal. The French understand that a credible nuclear deterrent requires modern and reliable weapons. The Obama Administration should understand that the best security for both the U.S. and the allies that rely on our nuclear umbrella lies in an unchallengeable arsenal, and not an invitation to the world's Mahmoud Ahmadinejads to compete on equal terms.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Afg: Spousal rape
on: April 02, 2009, 10:58:12 PM
Critics assail Afghan law that 'legalizes rape'
By FISNIK ABRASHI, Associated Press Writer Fisnik Abrashi, Associated Press Writer 1 hr 3 mins ago
KABUL – A new Afghan law makes it legal for men to rape their wives, human rights groups and some Afghan lawmakers said Thursday, accusing President Hamid Karzai of signing the legislation to bolster his re-election prospects. Critics worry the legislation undermines hard-won rights for women enacted after the fall of the Taliban's strict Islamist regime.
The law — which some lawmakers say was never debated in parliament — is intended to regulate family life inside Afghanistan's Shiite community, which makes up about 20 percent of this country of 30 million people. The law does not affect Afghan Sunnis.
One of the most controversial articles stipulates the wife "is bound to preen for her husband as and when he desires."
"As long as the husband is not traveling, he has the right to have sexual intercourse with his wife every fourth night," Article 132 of the law says. "Unless the wife is ill or has any kind of illness that intercourse could aggravate, the wife is bound to give a positive response to the sexual desires of her husband."
One provision also appears to protect the woman's right to sex inside marriage saying the "man should not avoid having sexual relations with his wife longer than once every four months."
The law's critics say Karzai signed the legislation in the past month only for political gains several months before the country's presidential election.
The United Nations Development Fund for Women, or UNIFEM, said the law "legalizes the rape of a wife by her husband." "The law violates women's rights and human rights in numerous ways," a UNIFEM statement said.
The U.S. is "very concerned" about the law, said State Department spokesman Robert Wood. "We urge President Karzai to review the law's legal status to correct provisions of the law that limit or restrict women's rights."
Wood added that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had met with female Afghan lawmakers in The Hague and had assured them that "women's rights are going to be paramount in this administration's foreign policy, not an afterthought."
Canada's Defense Minister Peter MacKay said he will use this week's NATO summit to put "direct" pressure on his Afghan counterparts to abandon the legislation.
The issue of women's rights is a continuous source of tension between the country's conservative establishment and more liberal members of society. The Taliban government that ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 banned women from appearing in public without a body-covering burqa and a male escort from her family.
Much has improved since then. Millions of girls now attend school and many women own businesses. Of 351 parliamentarians, 89 are women.
But in this staunchly conservative country, critics fear those gains could easily be reversed.
Fawzia Kufi, a lawmaker who opposed the legislation, said several of its articles undermine constitutional and human rights of women as equals and take the country backward.
"All the efforts that were made in the last seven years to enhance women's rights will be undermined," Kufi said.
Karzai has not commented on the law. A spokesman, Waheed Omar, said the president is "aware of the discussion surrounding the law, and is looking into the matter."
Brad Adams, the Asia director for the New York-based Human Rights Watch, said the law is a "dramatic setback for women's rights."
"It directly contradicts the freedoms enshrined in the Afghan constitution and the international conventions that Afghanistan has signed up to that guarantee the rights of women," Adams said.
Safia Sidiqi, a lawmaker from Nangarhar province who condemned the legislation, said she cannot remember parliament debating or even voting on the law and she does not know how it came to be signed by Karzai. She called for the law to be recalled to parliament for debate.
"It is impossible in a two-month session for parliament to pass a law more than 200 pages long," she said of the 263-page law.
Sayed Hossain Alemi Balkhi, a Shiite lawmaker involved in drafting it, defended the legislation saying it gives more rights to women than even Britain or the United States does. He said the law makes women safer and ensures the husband is obliged to provide for her.
As Karzai seeks re-election later this year, he is courting voters in the Shiite community, Kufi said. Women voters are presumed to vote as their husbands do.
"Women's basic freedoms are being sacrificed for the political and electoral gain of a few parliamentarians," Human Rights Watch's Adams said.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Manawan attack
on: April 02, 2009, 05:47:08 PM
IMPLICATIONS OF THE MANAWAN ATTACK
By Fred Burton and Scott Stewart
On March 31, Baitullah Mehsud, commander of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP),
called The Associated Press and Reuters to claim responsibility for the March 29
attack against a Pakistani police academy in Manawan, which is near the eastern
Pakistani city of Lahore and the Indian border. The attack had been previously
claimed by a little-known group, Fedayeen al-Islam (FI), which also took
responsibility for the bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad in September 2008.
Mehsud has also released an Urdu-language audio message claiming responsibility for
the Manawan attack as well as a failed March 23 attack on the headquarters of the
Police Special Branch in Islamabad. Mehsud, whom authorities claim was behind the
March 3 attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore, also warned that there
would be additional attacks all across the country in retaliation for U.S. drone
strikes in the Federally Administered Tribal Area. He even threatened to launch
attacks in Washington, D.C.
It is not clear at this point if the two claims of responsibility for the Manawan
attack are indeed contradictory. If FI is an independent group, it is possible that
it was working with Mehsud in the assault on the police academy. However, it is also
quite possible that FI is either part of the larger TTP (which is an umbrella group
with many factions) or perhaps just a nom de guerre used by the TTP to claim certain
attacks. When a reporter asked about the FI claim, Mehsud refused to comment. Two
things can be ascertained from this: that Mehsud's organization has the ability to
conduct these attacks, and that a major jihadist figure like Mehsud has no real need
to claim the attacks of others to bolster his reputation. In fact, lying about such
a thing would hurt his well-established reputation.
It is a good bet, therefore, that the TTP was in fact involved in the Manawan
attack. The odds are even greater when one considers the intelligence reports from a
few days prior to the attack: that Mehsud had dispatched a group of 22 operatives
from his base in South Waziristan, through the town of Mianwali in southwestern
Punjab, to conduct attacks in Lahore and Rawalpindi. Pakistani authorities were
actively searching for those operatives when the attack occurred in Manawan.
While STRATFOR has already published a political assessment of the Manawan attack,
we believe it might also be interesting to look at the incident from a protective
intelligence standpoint and examine the tactical aspects of the operation in more
Sequence of Events
The attack on the police academy in Manawan happened at approximately 7:20 a.m. on
March 29 as more than 800 unarmed police cadets were on the parade field for their
regularly scheduled morning training. Witness reports suggest that there were 10
attackers who scaled the back wall of the academy and began to attack the cadets.
Part of the attack team reportedly was dressed in police uniforms, while the rest
reportedly wore shalwar kameez (traditional Pakistani dress). Several members of the
team also wore suicide belts, and at least some of them carried large duffle bags
(similar to those carried by the assailants in the November 2008 Mumbai attacks and
the March 3 attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore). The gunmen reportedly
engaged the cadets with hand grenades and fire from assault rifles. As the gunmen
raked the parade ground, many of the cadets reportedly fled the compound or
barricaded themselves in various rooms inside the facility. Because the bulk of the
people at the academy were cadets and not trained police, they were not issued
The armed guards at the academy were able to offer some resistance, but the attack
team was able to make its way across the parade ground and into the barracks, where
the attackers established defensive positions, apparently with the hope of
initiating a prolonged hostage situation. Reports are conflicting as to how many
hostages they were actually able to seize and control inside the barracks.
The Pakistani police and military responded aggressively to the attack. Within about
30 minutes, officers from the Elite Force -- a highly trained branch of the Punjab
Police responsible for counterterrorism -- reportedly had surrounded the barracks
building. By 9 a.m., paramilitary Pakistan Rangers and Pakistani army troops began
to arrive. Many of the wounded cadets were evacuated from the parade ground using
armored personnel carriers (APCs) to protect them from the attackers' fire. The
attackers apparently attempted to use grenades to attack the APCs, but were met with
heavy suppressive fire from the security forces. Pakistani forces also apparently
used tear gas against the attackers, as well as APCs and helicopter gunships.
Eventually, the Elite Force went room to room to clear the barracks building of
attackers. By 4 p.m., the siege had ended, with six of the attackers captured and
four killed. (Three of the four reportedly killed themselves using suicide belts.)
Despite initial reports of high casualties, it now appears that only eight police
officers or cadets were killed in the attack, with more than 90 others wounded.
While armed assaults against paramilitary forces, convoys and other targets are
common along the border with Afghanistan, this attack was only the second such
attack in Lahore. Terrorist attacks in Pakistan have more commonly been committed by
suicide bombers, and it appears that Mehsud's group may have embraced a change in
tactics, perhaps influenced by the success of Mumbai. (However, as we will discuss
below, this latest attack, like the attack on the cricket team, was far from a
First, it must be recognized that jihadist attacks on police recruits are not
uncommon. We have seen attacks on police training and recruiting centers in Iraq and
Afghanistan, among other countries, and we have also seen them before in Pakistan.
On July 15, 2007, a suicide bomber attacked a police recruitment center in Dera
Ismail Khan, killing 26 people and wounding 35. The victims were at the center to
take medical and written tests for entering the police force.
A training center like the one in Manawan provides an unusually large concentration
of targets. The more than 800 cadets at the academy were a far larger group of
police than is normally found in the police stations scattered throughout the
country. The training center was also a far softer target than a traditional police
station, where all the officers are armed. From media reports, it appears that there
were only seven armed guards on duty at the academy at the time of the attack. The
instructors allegedly were armed only with lathis (long canes commonly used by
police in India and Pakistan). The academy's rigid training schedule also provided a
highly predictable target, as the attackers knew the cadets would be on the parade
field from 7-8 a.m. every day.
With so many potential targets on the parade field and in the barracks, and with so
many attackers, it is amazing that there were only eight people killed in this
attack (one-fourth the death toll of the April 2007 Virginia Tech shooting). This is
an indication that the Manawan attackers were not nearly as well trained in
marksmanship as the assault team that conducted the November Mumbai attacks, in
which 10 gunmen killed 173 people. The 10 heavily armed Manawan assailants did not
even succeed in killing one victim each in a situation akin to shooting fish in a
From a military standpoint, such a formation of massed people in the open would have
been far more effectively targeted using mortars and crew-served machine guns, so it
can also be argued that the attack was poorly planned and the attackers improperly
equipped to inflict maximum casualties. Even so, it is quite amazing to us that
attackers armed with assault rifles and grenades did not kill one victim apiece.
Of course, one thing that helped contain the carnage was the response of Pakistani
security personnel and their efforts to evacuate the wounded under fire. While not
exactly practicing what are known in the United States as "active shooter
procedures", the Elite Force officers did quickly engage the attackers and pin them
down until more firepower could be brought to bear. The Elite Force also did a
fairly efficient job of clearing the barracks of attackers. The Pakistani response
ensured that the incident did not drag on like the Mumbai attacks did. The Elite
Force went in hard and fast, and seemingly with little regard for the hostages being
held, yet their decisive action proved to be very effective, and the result was that
a minimum number of hostages were killed.
There were some significant differences from the situation in Mumbai. First, there
was only one crime scene to deal with, and the Pakistani authorities could focus all
their attention and resources there. Second, the barracks building was far smaller
and simpler than the hotels occupied in the Mumbai attacks. Third, Manawan is far
smaller and more isolated than Mumbai, and it is easier to pin the attackers down in
a city of that size than in a larger, more densely populated city such as Mumbai.
Finally, there were no foreign citizens involved in the hostage situation, so the
Pakistani authorities did not have to worry about international sensibilities or
killing a foreign citizen with friendly fire. They were able to act aggressively and
not worry about distractions -- or the media circus that Mumbai became.
Perhaps the most important thing to watch going forward will be the response of the
Pakistani people to these attacks. In his claim of responsibility, Mehsud said the
Manawan attack was in direct response to the expanding U.S. unmanned aerial vehicle
(UAV) campaign in Pakistan. Mehsud threatened that there would be more militant
attacks in Pakistan and the United States if the UAV attacks did not stop. Clearly,
Mehsud is feeling the heat from these attacks, and although he claims he is ready to
be martyred, his bravado is belied by the fact that he is taking such extraordinary
measures to try to halt the UAV campaign. He obviously fears the UAV strikes, not
only for what they can do to him, but for what they can do to degrade his
When the Elite Force completed the clearing of the barracks, several officers came
out on the roof of the building, shouted "God is great" and fired celebratory shots
into the air (something that is anathema to Western police and military forces).
Many of the people gathered outside the academy joined in the shouting and loudly
cheered the Elite Force. This sentiment was widely echoed in the Pakistani media.
Although the Manawan attack was intended to demoralize Pakistani security forces, it
may have just the opposite effect. The bravery and dedication exhibited by the
Pakistani police and soldiers who responded to the attack may instead serve to steel
their will and instill professional pride. Mehsud's recent threats, along with the
militant attacks, may also work to alienate him from people who had been supportive
of -- or at least ambivalent toward -- him and the jihadists.
Up until 2003, the Saudi public, and many in the government, pretty much turned a
blind eye to the actions of jihadists in Saudi Arabia as long as the jihadists were
concentrating their attacks on targets outside the kingdom. But when the jihadists
declared war on the Saudi royal family and began to conduct attacks against targets
inside the kingdom that resulted in the deaths of ordinary Saudis, the tide of
public opinion turned against them and the Saudi government reacted aggressively,
smashing the jihadists. Similarly, it was the brutality of al Qaeda in Iraq that
helped turn many Iraqi Sunnis against the jihadists there. Indeed, an insurgency
cannot survive long without the support of the people. In the case of Pakistan, that
also goes for the support of Inter-Services Intelligence and the army. The TTP, al
Qaeda and their Kashmiri militant allies simply cannot sustain themselves without at
least the tacit support of Pakistan's intelligence apparatus and army. If these two
powerful establishments ever turn against them, the groups will be in serious peril.
Pakistan has long been able to control the TTP and al Qaeda more than it has. The
country has simply lacked the will, for a host of reasons. It will be interesting to
watch and see if Mehsud's campaign serves to give the Pakistani people, and the
authorities, the will they need to finally take more serious steps to tackle the
jihadist problem. Having long battled deep currents of jihadist thought within the
country, the Pakistani government continues to face serious challenges. But if the
tide of public support begins to turn against the jihadists, those challenges will
become far more manageable.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Warren
on: April 02, 2009, 04:38:22 PM
"It is necessary for every American, with becoming energy to endeavor to stop the
dissemination of principles evidently destructive of the cause for which they have
bled. It must be the combined virtue of the rulers and of the people to do this, and
to rescue and save their civil and religious rights from the outstretched arm of
tyranny, which may appear under any mode or form of government."
--Mercy Warren, History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Laffer
on: April 02, 2009, 04:08:14 PM
By ARTHUR B. LAFFER
In most cases, people who inherit wealth are lucky by an accident of birth and really don't "deserve" their inheritance any more than people who don't inherit wealth. After all, few of us get to choose our parents. It's also arguable that inherited wealth sometimes induces slothfulness and overindulgence. But the facts that beneficiaries of inheritances are just lucky and that the actual inheritance may make beneficiaries less productive don't justify having an estate tax.
Chad CroweThese same observations about serendipitous birth can be made for intelligence, education, attractiveness, health, size, gender, disposition, race, etc. And yet no one would suggest that the government should remove any portion of these attributes from people simply because they came from their parents. Surely we have not moved into Kurt Vonnegut's world of Harrison Bergeron.
President Barack Obama has proposed prolonging the federal estate tax rather than ending it in 2010, as is scheduled under current law. The president's plan would extend this year's $3.5 million exemption level and the 45% top rate. But will this really help America recover from recession and reduce our growing deficits? In order to assess the pros and cons of the estate tax, we should focus on its impact on those who bequeath wealth, not on those who receive wealth.
Advocates of the estate tax argue that such a tax will reduce the concentrations of wealth in a few families, but there is little evidence to suggest that the estate tax has much, if any, impact on the distribution of wealth. To see the silliness of using the estate tax as a tool to redistribute wealth, realize that those who die and leave estates would be taxed just as much if they bequeathed their money to poor people as they would if they left their money to rich people. If the objective were to redistribute, surely, an inheritance tax (a tax on the recipients) would make far more sense than an estate tax.
Indeed, from a societal standpoint, inheritance is an unmitigated good. Passing on to successive generations greater health, wealth and wisdom is what society in general, and America specifically, is all about. Imagine what America would look like today if our forefathers had been selfish and had left us nothing. We have all benefited greatly from a history of intergenerational American generosity. But just being an American is as much an accident of birth as being the child of wealthy parents. If you are an American, it's likely because ancestors of yours chose to become Americans and also chose to have children.
In its most basic form, it's about as silly an idea as can be imagined that America in the aggregate can increase the standards of living of future generations by taxing individual Americans for passing on higher standards of living to future generations of Americans of their choice. Clearly, taxing estates at death will induce people who wish to leave estates to future generations to leave smaller estates and to find ways to avoid estate taxes. On a conceptual level, it makes no sense to tax estates at death.
Study after study finds that the estate tax significantly reduces the size of estates and, as an added consequence, reduces the nation's capital stock and income. This common sense finding is documented ad nauseam in the 2006 U.S. Joint Economic Committee Report on the Costs and Consequences of the Federal Estate Tax. The Joint Economic Committee estimates that the estate tax has reduced the capital stock by approximately $850 billion because it reduces incentives to save and invest, has excessively high compliance costs, and results in significant economic inefficiencies.
Today in America you can take your after-tax income and go to Las Vegas and carouse, gamble, drink and smoke, and as far as our government is concerned that's just fine. But if you take that same after-tax income and leave it to your children and grandchildren, the government will tax that after-tax income one additional time at rates up to 55%. I especially like an oft-quoted line from Joseph Stiglitz and David L. Bevan, who wrote in the Greek Economic Review, "Of course, prohibitively high inheritance tax rates generate no revenue; they simply force the individual to consume his income during his lifetime." Hurray for Vegas.
If you're rich enough, however, you can hire professionals who can, for a price, show you how to avoid estate taxes. Many of the very largest estates are so tax-sheltered that the inheritances go to their beneficiaries having paid little or no taxes at all. And all the costs associated with these tax shelters and tax avoidance schemes are pure wastes for the country as a whole and exist solely to circumvent the estate tax. The estate tax in and of itself causes people to waste resources.
Again, a number of studies suggest that the costs of sheltering estates from the tax man actually are about as high as the total tax revenues collected from the estate tax. And these estimates don't even take into account lost output, employment and production resulting from perverse incentives. This makes the estate tax one of the least efficient taxes. And yet for all the hardship and expense associated with the estate tax, the total monies collected in any one year account for only about 1% of federal tax receipts.
It is important to realize that less than half of the estates that must go through the burden of complying with the paperwork and reporting requirements of the tax actually pay even a nickel of the tax. And the largest estates that actually do pay taxes generally pay lower marginal tax rates than smaller estates because of tax shelters. The inmates really are running the asylum.
In 1982, Californians overwhelmingly voted to eliminate the state's estate tax. It seems that even in the highest taxed state in the nation there are some taxes voters cannot abide. It shouldn't surprise anyone that ultra-wealthy liberal Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, supporter of the estate tax and lifetime resident of Ohio, where there is a state estate tax, chose to die as a resident of Florida, where there is no state estate tax. Differential state estate-tax rates incentivize people to move from state to state. Global estate tax rates do the same thing, only the moves are from country to country. In 2005 the U.S., at a 47% marginal tax rate, had the third highest estate tax rate of the 50 countries covered in a 2005 report by Price Waterhouse Coopers, LLP. A full 26 countries had no "Inheritance/Death" tax rate at all.
In the summary of its 2006 report, the Joint Economic Committee wrote, "The detrimental effects of the estate tax are grossly disproportionate to the modest amount federal revenues it raises (if it raises any net revenue at all)." Even economists in favor of the estate tax concede that its current structure does not work. Henry Aaron and Alicia Munnell concluded, "In short, the estate and gift taxes in the United States have failed to achieve their intended purposes. They raise little revenue. They impose large excess burdens. They are unfair."
For all of these reasons, the estate tax needs to go, along with the step-up basis at death of capital gains (which values an asset not at the purchase price but at the price at the buyer's death). On purely a static basis, the Joint Tax Committee estimates that over the period 2011 through 2015, the static revenue losses from eliminating the estate tax would be $281 billion, while the additional capital gains tax receipts from repeal of the step-up basis would be $293 billion.
To counter the fact that economists such as I obsess about the deleterious effects of the estate tax, advocates of the estate tax note with some pride that 98% of Americans will never pay this tax. Let's make it 100%, and I'll get off my soapbox.
Mr. Laffer is the chairman of Laffer Associates and co-author of "The End of Prosperity: How Higher Taxes Will Doom the Economy -- If We Let It Happen" (Threshold, 2008).
Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page A19
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Two farces
on: April 02, 2009, 04:02:30 PM
Here's the match-up. In the right corner we have Omar al-Bashir, for 20 years the Islamist dictator of Sudan and the man most responsible for the death of hundreds of thousands of Darfuris. In the left corner we have six former Bush Administration officials who were given the task after September 11 of formulating America's response to the atrocities. Who do you think is in the greatest legal jeopardy?
This should be easy: Mr. Bashir was recently issued with an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court for "crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur." More specifically, the court's prosecutor alleges that Mr. Bashir "masterminded and implemented a plan to destroy in substantial part the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa groups, on account of their ethnicity."
Yet thanks to the concept of "universal jurisdiction" (or "universal competence") the six Americans, including former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, former under Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith and former vice presidential Chief of Staff David Addington, are the ones who may soon have to watch their back -- at least when they travel abroad.
That's because a hyperactive Spanish judge named Baltasar Garzón has begun the process of opening a criminal case against the six, following a complaint from a Spanish human rights group arguing they helped establish the legal framework that created the detention facilities at Guantanamo and the "torture" they allege took place there. According to the New York Times, an unnamed official said it "was 'highly probable' that the case would go forward and that it could lead to arrest warrants." In 1998, a similar warrant from Judge Garzón led to the house arrest in Britain of former Chilean strongman Augusto Pinochet, a stunt that did nothing except create a diplomatic headache for the government of Tony Blair.
This case would be absurd were the consequences less pernicious, and not merely to the former officials now in legal jeopardy. The idea that any magistrate, anywhere, is entitled to judge the legality of decisions -- or even merely the advice -- of foreign officials acting in good faith under the laws of their own elected governments makes a nonsense of centuries-old concepts of sovereign jurisdiction and democratic accountability. It also sends a chilling signal to any official, including those now in the Obama Administration, who must weigh the counsel they provide the President against the personal legal risks they may run once they are out of office because of that counsel.
Put simply, Mr. Garzón's intercession is a recipe for legal anarchy, compromised executive decision-making, and the diminution of American sovereignty. Nor does it help that the names of the would-be defendants seem to have been chosen pretty much at random: As Mr. Feith told the Times, "I didn't even argue for the thing I understand they're objecting to."
One reason Mr. Garzón may have chosen Mr. Feith is because he has been a special target of Senator Carl Levin (D., Mich.), who has all but encouraged foreign prosecutors to bring such charges against Bush officials. The goal of Mr. Levin, Senator Pat Leahy and Congressman John Conyers has been to promote the "torture" smears against Republican officials without having to take responsibility for any potential damage to U.S. security. If a foreign prosecutor or an allegedly independent "commission" does their dirty work, so much the better.
Now turn to Mr. Bashir, who on Sunday was given a warm reception by fellow leaders of the Arab League at their summit in Doha, Qatar. This is at least the second time Mr. Bashir has ventured out of Sudan since the ICC issued its arrest warrant, and it's clear he has nothing to fear from his fellow Arab potentates, none of whom have signed on to the ICC. But that only illustrates the fundamental problem of a court that has no jurisdiction in the places where the massive human rights violations it was created to punish typically take place. As for the countries that are signatories, the courts of Norway or New Zealand are more than adequate for dealing with whatever genocidaires may be in their midst.
These columns have long argued that it would be dangerous for the U.S. to become a party to the ICC. As a Senate candidate in 2004, Barack Obama offered merely that the U.S. should "cooperate" with the ICC "in a way that reflects American sovereignty and promotes our national security interests."
Now that he is President, he has larger obligations. One is to stand against foreign grandstanding that intrudes on America's rule of law. Another is to oppose Members of his own party, such as Mr. Levin, who are running political vendettas against former U.S. officials. We hope Mr. Obama will value the frank opinions of his own advisers enough to publicly condemn Judge Garzón's legal assault on honorable public servants who did their best to protect the U.S. from harm.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Not a perfect fit in this thread, but worth consideration
on: April 02, 2009, 03:58:24 PM
House Armed Services Committee
April 2, 2009
Threats to US Security in the early 21st Century
I am here before the subcommittee today to provide testimony on 21st Century security threats. I hope this testimony is of value despite its brevity. My analytical method is to provide frameworks for decision makers to help them make sense of rapidly changing environments. These frameworks are intended to provoke high quality thinking -- agreement or disagreement with their specifics works equally well to achieve this.
The threat the US faces today is as dire as the darkest days of the Cold War. In fact, this threat may be even more dangerous because it is so insidious. The threat we face is a combination of global systemic threats (economic, financial, energy, etc.) that will damage us from above and the rapid emergence of violent non-state groups (a multitude of gangs, religious sects, tribes, clans etc.) that thrust at us from below.
Let’s begin with an acknowledgement that globalization has fundamentally changed the strategic security landscape. Most critically, it has enabled the emergence of a global super-network that is a tightly interconnected mixture of economic, financial and communication networks. The growth of this super-network has weakened nation-states across every measure of power, from control of its borders, finances, economy, media, etc. Worse, due to a combination of design decisions (hyper-efficiency, from just-in-time global supply chains to trillion dollar daily financial flows) and a complete lack of oversight during its growth phase, this super-network has now become a dynamically unstable system that is too large, fast, and complex for any nation-state or collection of nation-states to control.
This super-network has now entered a period of extreme turbulence due to several very
dangerous feedback loops. These feedback loops include:
• Extreme debt. The US economy is saddled with a level of debt unseen since the start of the 20th Century’s Great Depression. Total indebtedness -- the combination of consumer, corporate, GSE, financial, and government debt -- is now over 350% of GDP. That is $30 trillion in debt over traditionally sustainable levels of 150% of GDP (in contrast, in 1929, the debt level was 290% of GDP). Unfortunately, this excess debt must be eliminated
before we can return to economic growth. We are already seeing this as individual citizens and corporations cut back spending to repair dangerously damaged balance sheets.
• Excessive complexity. Due to relaxed oversight a vast unregulated financial system of extreme complexity, beyond the ability of anybody to understand, has emerged. This
“shadow banking system” is a collection of derivative financial products that are based
on unsupportable assumptions for what constitutes “normal behavior” (as in the use of
normal curves that don’t account for the occurrence of extreme movements in financial
markets over medium to long time horizons). Worse, this “shadow banking system” is
nearly an order of magnitude larger than the global economy upon which it was built.
The failure of AIG and the near miss financial meltdown last fall are examples of how
this system can catastrophically fail.
The likely outcome from this situation, barring a government sponsored unwinding of debt and
derivative financial products (this is not being done), is a deep and protracted global depression that financially and economically guts nation-states across the globe. What this means for US security includes:
• Widespread state failure. Weak nation-states will quickly fall victim to financial collapse and internal chaos. Developing nations, like China, that are both dependent on exports to the US and weakly legitimate -- China’s legitimacy rest solely on its ability to deliver economic growth -- may become very disorderly. It’s important to note that the real
threat from China is not as a peer competitor; it is that it may suffer a disorderly fragmentation.
• Rapid growth in the number of violent non-state groups. With the failure or
weakening of nation-states across the board and the lack of ideological alternatives,
people will shift their primary loyalties to any group that can provide them security and
the basics of survival. These groups will span the gamut of gangs, tribes, criminal
syndicates, militias, religious sects, etc. Many, if not most of these groups, will maintain
and expand the interests both vigorously and violently. The worst version of this trend
line would be the expansion of the criminal insurgency in Mexico into the US (through
expansion of the criminal ecosystem more than anything due to ethnic identity).
• Radical cuts in US defense spending. US budget deficits, already running in the
trillions of dollars, will continue as the US tax base shrinks and bailouts continue. The
rapid onset of severe budgetary restrictions will force a disorderly shrinkage in the DoD,
DHS, and intelligence agencies, and due to gross misallocation of funding, severely
damage the ability of the US to respond to the rise in non-state threats.
The rapid growth in violent non-state groups is likely to become the most worrisome security
trend and it will likely define the vast majority of the conflicts we will face in the next twenty years. How these small groups organize, fight, coordinate, and ultimately defeat nation-states was the subject of my book, “Brave New War” (amazingly, it’s in its third printing, which is very unusual for a book on military theory). Here’s a quick summary of some of its findings.
The rampant growth in interconnectivity (from economics to travel to communications) and
torrential improvements in technology have already super-empowered small groups by radically
increasing their ability to conduct warfare. This will only increase over time. Due to the
combination of a doubling of computer power every two years (Moore’s Law and Carlson
curves) and the expansion of electronic networks from cell phones to the Internet (Metcalfe’s Law), small groups are getting more powerful by the day. This will lead to:
• Do-it-yourself weapons (DIY). Cheaper and more powerful technology makes it
possible to build more accurate, plentiful, and destructive weaponry. For example, DIY
rockets being used in Gaza against Israel can now benefit from commercially available
tools that include $150 rocket design software to a $25 autopilot system. We also saw
numerous examples of this at work in Iraq with IED design. Over the longer term, DIY
bioweapons will become commonplace as “labs on a chip” and the expertise that used to
take a room full of PhDs a week to build five years earlier is doable by a hastily trained
technician in a couple of minutes.
• Systems disruption. Societal reliance on vast networked infrastructures (from electricity to oil to communications) makes it possible for small disruptions to do outsized harm. Recent examples, like the disruption of a gas pipeline in Mexico that shut down 1,800 factories/companies for a week, show returns on investment of 100,000,000 percent
(calculated by the damage done divided by the cost of the attack). Systems disruption is
growing in usage due to the successful example seen in Iraq, where the country’s
economy was held in limbo due to shortages of electricity, fuel, and water. Al Qaeda’s
unsuccessful attack on Abqaiq (a central hub of the global oil system) and it successful
attack on the Golden Mosque (in Iraq) which set off the civil war in 2006 are other
examples of system disruption.
• Global criminal financing. Easy access to vast multi-trillion dollar global criminal supply chains (made possible by the emergence of a global super-network), that connect customers with illegal goods/services, have made it possible for small violent groups to become not only financial viable, but financially successful. For example, the Taliban now has access to a portion of billions in opium sales to expand their operations,
Mexico’s Narco-cartels and thousands of associated criminal subgroups are successfully
waging a war with the government to protect and extend a market worth tens of billions,
Nigeria’s gangs bunker billions in oil and fuel that in part funds disruption of oil
production in the country.
In addition to the above, small violent groups are now developing new methods of organizing
warfare. Rather than hierarchical and ideologically cohesive insurgencies (i.e. Communist
insurgencies), we now face insurgencies that are made up of many small groups (organized
around a plethora of motivations, as in many flavors of jihadi, nationalist, ideological, and criminal) that can loosely coordinate their activities. We saw this recently in Iraq and we are now facing this in Mexico and Pakistan. In this type of “open” insurgency, we see very rapid rates of innovation in both tactics and weapons (as in the rate of improvement we saw in Iraq with IEDs). Worse, since these groups are so small and can rapidly emerge, any success against one group means little to the larger insurgency.
Against this dark picture, a combination of assault by a global economic system running amok
and organic insurgency by superempowered small groups, there are few hard and fast
recommendations I can provide. It’s complex. However, it is clear:
• We will need to become more efficient. Force structure will shrink. Most of the major
weapons systems we currently maintain will become too expensive to maintain, particularly given their limited utility against the emerging threat. Current efforts from the F-22 and the Future Combat System appear to be particularly out of step with the evolving environment. Smaller and more efficient systems such as unmanned aerial vehicles and coordination systems built on open platforms (as in a Intranet) that allow organic growth in complexity make much more sense.
• We should focus on the local. In almost all of these future conflicts, our ability to
manage local conditions is paramount. Soldiers should be trained to operate in uncertain
environments (the work of Don Vandergriff is important here) so they can deal with local
chaos. Packages of technologies and methodologies should be developed to enable communities in distressed areas to become resilient – as in, they are able to produce the food, energy, defense, water, etc. they need to prosper without reference to a dysfunction regional or national situation. Finally, we need to get build systematic methods for managing large numbers of militias that are nominally allied with us (like Anbar Awakening, Pakistan’s Frontier Corps, etc.). Even a simple conversion of a commercial “customer relationship management” system would provide better institutional memory and oversight than we currently have.
• We need to get better at thinking about military theory. Military theory is rapidly
evolving due to globalization. It’s amazing to me that the structures and organizations
tasked with this role don’t provide this. We are likely in the same situation as we were
prior to WW2, where innovative thinking by JFC Fuller and Liddell Hart on armored
warfare didn’t find a home in allied militaries, but was read feverishly by innovators in
the German army like Guderian and Manstein. Unfortunately, in the current environment, most of the best thinking on military theory is now only tangentially associated with the DoD (worse, it’s done, as in my situation, on a part time basis).
Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. It was a wonderful opportunity. I hope this brief introduction will serve as the basis of valuable thinking on future US security needs.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / 90% number a lie
on: April 02, 2009, 03:45:40 PM
The Myth of 90 Percent: Only a Small Fraction of Guns in Mexico Come From U.S.
While 90 percent of the guns traced to the U.S. actually originated in the United States, the percent traced to the U.S. is only about 17 percent of the total number of guns reaching Mexico.
You've heard this shocking "fact" before -- on TV and radio, in newspapers, on the Internet and from the highest politicians in the land: 90 percent of the weapons used to commit crimes in Mexico come from the United States.
-- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said it to reporters on a flight to Mexico City.
-- CBS newsman Bob Schieffer referred to it while interviewing President Obama.
-- California Sen. Dianne Feinstein said at a Senate hearing: "It is unacceptable to have 90 percent of the guns that are picked up in Mexico and used to shoot judges, police officers and mayors ... come from the United States."
-- William Hoover, assistant director for field operations at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, testified in the House of Representatives that "there is more than enough evidence to indicate that over 90 percent of the firearms that have either been recovered in, or interdicted in transport to Mexico, originated from various sources within the United States."
There's just one problem with the 90 percent "statistic" and it's a big one:
It's just not true.
In fact, it's not even close. By all accounts, it's probably around 17 percent.
What's true, an ATF spokeswoman told FOXNews.com, in a clarification of the statistic used by her own agency's assistant director, "is that over 90 percent of the traced firearms originate from the U.S."
But a large percentage of the guns recovered in Mexico do not get sent back to the U.S. for tracing, because it is obvious from their markings that they do not come from the U.S.
"Not every weapon seized in Mexico has a serial number on it that would make it traceable, and the U.S. effort to trace weapons really only extends to weapons that have been in the U.S. market," Matt Allen, special agent of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), told FOX News.
A Look at the Numbers
In 2007-2008, according to ATF Special Agent William Newell, Mexico submitted 11,000 guns to the ATF for tracing. Close to 6,000 were successfully traced -- and of those, 90 percent -- 5,114 to be exact, according to testimony in Congress by William Hoover -- were found to have come from the U.S.
But in those same two years, according to the Mexican government, 29,000 guns were recovered at crime scenes.
In other words, 68 percent of the guns that were recovered were never submitted for tracing. And when you weed out the roughly 6,000 guns that could not be traced from the remaining 32 percent, it means 83 percent of the guns found at crime scenes in Mexico could not be traced to the U.S.
So, if not from the U.S., where do they come from? There are a variety of sources:
-- The Black Market. Mexico is a virtual arms bazaar, with fragmentation grenades from South Korea, AK-47s from China, and shoulder-fired rocket launchers from Spain, Israel and former Soviet bloc manufacturers.
-- Russian crime organizations. Interpol says Russian Mafia groups such as Poldolskaya and Moscow-based Solntsevskaya are actively trafficking drugs and arms in Mexico.
- South America. During the late 1990s, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) established a clandestine arms smuggling and drug trafficking partnership with the Tijuana cartel, according to the Federal Research Division report from the Library of Congress.
-- Asia. According to a 2006 Amnesty International Report, China has provided arms to countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Chinese assault weapons and Korean explosives have been recovered in Mexico.
-- The Mexican Army. More than 150,000 soldiers deserted in the last six years, according to Mexican Congressman Robert Badillo. Many took their weapons with them, including the standard issue M-16 assault rifle made in Belgium.
-- Guatemala. U.S. intelligence agencies say traffickers move immigrants, stolen cars, guns and drugs, including most of America's cocaine, along the porous Mexican-Guatemalan border. On March 27, La Hora, a Guatemalan newspaper, reported that police seized 500 grenades and a load of AK-47s on the border. Police say the cache was transported by a Mexican drug cartel operating out of Ixcan, a border town.
'These Don't Come From El Paso'
Ed Head, a firearms instructor in Arizona who spent 24 years with the U.S. Border Patrol, recently displayed an array of weapons considered "assault rifles" that are similar to those recovered in Mexico, but are unavailable for sale in the U.S.
"These kinds of guns -- the auto versions of these guns -- they are not coming from El Paso," he said. "They are coming from other sources. They are brought in from Guatemala. They are brought in from places like China. They are being diverted from the military. But you don't get these guns from the U.S."
Some guns, he said, "are legitimately shipped to the government of Mexico, by Colt, for example, in the United States. They are approved by the U.S. government for use by the Mexican military service. The guns end up in Mexico that way -- the fully auto versions -- they are not smuggled in across the river."
Many of the fully automatic weapons that have been seized in Mexico cannot be found in the U.S., but they are not uncommon in the Third World.
The Mexican government said it has seized 2,239 grenades in the last two years -- but those grenades and the rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) are unavailable in U.S. gun shops. The ones used in an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Monterrey in October and a TV station in January were made in South Korea. Almost 70 similar grenades were seized in February in the bottom of a truck entering Mexico from Guatemala.
"Most of these weapons are being smuggled from Central American countries or by sea, eluding U.S. and Mexican monitors who are focused on the smuggling of semi-automatic and conventional weapons purchased from dealers in the U.S. border states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California," according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.
Boatloads of Weapons
So why would the Mexican drug cartels, which last year grossed between $17 billion and $38 billion, bother buying single-shot rifles, and force thousands of unknown "straw" buyers in the U.S. through a government background check, when they can buy boatloads of fully automatic M-16s and assault rifles from China, Israel or South Africa?
Alberto Islas, a security consultant who advises the Mexican government, says the drug cartels are using the Guatemalan border to move black market weapons. Some are left over from the Central American wars the United States helped fight; others, like the grenades and launchers, are South Korean, Israeli and Spanish. Some were legally supplied to the Mexican government; others were sold by corrupt military officers or officials.
The exaggeration of United States "responsibility" for the lawlessness in Mexico extends even beyond the "90-percent" falsehood -- and some Second Amendment activists believe it's designed to promote more restrictive gun-control laws in the U.S.
In a remarkable claim, Auturo Sarukhan, the Mexican ambassador to the U.S., said Mexico seizes 2,000 guns a day from the United States -- 730,000 a year. That's a far cry from the official statistic from the Mexican attorney general's office, which says Mexico seized 29,000 weapons in all of 2007 and 2008.
Chris Cox, spokesman for the National Rifle Association, blames the media and anti-gun politicians in the U.S. for misrepresenting where Mexican weapons come from.
"Reporter after politician after news anchor just disregards the truth on this," Cox said. "The numbers are intentionally used to weaken the Second Amendment."
"The predominant source of guns in Mexico is Central and South America. You also have Russian, Chinese and Israeli guns. It's estimated that over 100,000 soldiers deserted the army to work for the drug cartels, and that ignores all the police. How many of them took their weapons with them?"
But Tom Diaz, senior policy analyst at the Violence Policy Center, called the "90 percent" issue a red herring and said that it should not detract from the effort to stop gun trafficking into Mexico.
"Let's do what we can with what we know," he said. "We know that one hell of a lot of firearms come from the United States because our gun market is wide open."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Part Two
on: April 02, 2009, 03:38:39 PM
Physicist Dr. Zbigniew Jaworowski, chairman of the Central Laboratory for the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Radiological Protection in Warsaw, took a scientific journey from a believer of man-made climate change in the form of global cooling in the 1970’s all the way to converting to a skeptic of current predictions of catastrophic man-made global warming. “At the beginning of the 1970s I believed in man-made climate cooling, and therefore I started a study on the effects of industrial pollution on the global atmosphere, using glaciers as a history book on this pollution,” Dr. Jaworowski, wrote on August 17, 2006. “With the advent of man-made warming political correctness in the beginning of 1980s, I already had a lot of experience with polar and high altitude ice, and I have serious problems in accepting the reliability of ice core CO2 studies,” Jaworowski added. Jaworowski, who has published many papers on climate with a focus on CO2 measurements in ice cores, also dismissed the UN IPCC summary and questioned what the actual level of C02 was in the atmosphere in a March 16, 2007 report in EIR science entitled “CO2: The Greatest Scientific Scandal of Our Time.” “We thus find ourselves in the situation that the entire theory of man-made global warming—with its repercussions in science, and its important consequences for politics and the global economy—is based on ice core studies that provided a false picture of the atmospheric CO2 levels,” Jaworowski wrote. “For the past three decades, these well-known direct CO2 measurements, recently compiled and analyzed by Ernst-Georg Beck (Beck 2006a, Beck 2006b, Beck 2007), were completely ignored by climatologists—and not because they were wrong. Indeed, these measurements were made by several Nobel Prize winners, using the techniques that are standard textbook procedures in chemistry, biochemistry, botany, hygiene, medicine, nutrition, and ecology. The only reason for rejection was that these measurements did not fit the hypothesis of anthropogenic climatic warming. I regard this as perhaps the greatest scientific scandal of our time,” Jaworowski wrote. “The hypothesis, in vogue in the 1970s, stating that emissions of industrial dust will soon induce the new Ice Age, seem now to be a conceited anthropocentric exaggeration, bringing into discredit the science of that time. The same fate awaits the present,” he added. Jaworowski believes that cosmic rays and solar activity are major drivers of the Earth’s climate. Jaworowski was one of the 60 scientists who wrote an April 6, 2006 letter urging withdrawal of Kyoto to Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper which stated in part: "It may be many years yet before we properly understand the Earth's climate system. Nevertheless, significant advances have been made since the protocol was created, many of which are taking us away from a concern about increasing greenhouse gases."
Paleoclimatologist Dr. Ian D. Clark, professor of the Department of Earth Sciences at University of Ottawa, reversed his views on man-made climate change after further examining the evidence. “I used to agree with these dramatic warnings of climate disaster. I taught my students that most of the increase in temperature of the past century was due to human contribution of C02. The association seemed so clear and simple. Increases of greenhouse gases were driving us towards a climate catastrophe,” Clark said in a 2005 documentary "Climate Catastrophe Cancelled: What You're Not Being Told About the Science of Climate Change.” “However, a few years ago, I decided to look more closely at the science and it astonished me. In fact there is no evidence of humans being the cause. There is, however, overwhelming evidence of natural causes such as changes in the output of the sun. This has completely reversed my views on the Kyoto protocol,” Clark explained. “Actually, many other leading climate researchers also have serious concerns about the science underlying the [Kyoto] Protocol,” he added.
Environmental geochemist Dr. Jan Veizer, professor emeritus of University of Ottawa, converted from believer to skeptic after conducting scientific studies of climate history. “I simply accepted the (global warming) theory as given,” Veizer wrote on April 30, 2007 about predictions that increasing C02 in the atmosphere was leading to a climate catastrophe. “The final conversion came when I realized that the solar/cosmic ray connection gave far more consistent picture with climate, over many time scales, than did the CO2 scenario,” Veizer wrote. “It was the results of my work on past records, on geological time scales, that led me to realize the discrepancies with empirical observations. Trying to understand the background issues of modeling led to realization of the assumptions and uncertainties involved,” Veizer explained. “The past record strongly favors the solar/cosmic alternative as the principal climate driver,” he added. Veizer acknowledgez the Earth has been warming and he believes in the scientific value of climate modeling. “The major point where I diverge from the IPCC scenario is my belief that it underestimates the role of natural variability by proclaiming CO2 to be the only reasonable source of additional energy in the planetary balance. Such additional energy is needed to drive the climate. The point is that most of the temperature, in both nature and models, arises from the greenhouse of water vapor (model language ‘positive water vapor feedback’,) Veizer wrote. “Thus to get more temperature, more water vapor is needed. This is achieved by speeding up the water cycle by inputting more energy into the system,” he continued. “Note that it is not CO2 that is in the models but its presumed energy equivalent (model language ‘prescribed CO2’). Yet, the models (and climate) would generate a more or less similar outcome regardless where this additional energy is coming from. This is why the solar/cosmic connection is so strongly opposed, because it can influence the global energy budget which, in turn, diminishes the need for an energy input from the CO2 greenhouse,” he wrote.
More to follow...
New Peer-Reviewed Scientific Studies Chill Global Warming Fears
Global Warming "Consensus" Continues To Melt Away (Op-Ed By Senator Inhofe, Power Magazine)
Newsweek Editor Calls Mag's Global Warming 'Deniers' Article 'Highly Contrived'
Newsweek's Climate Editorial Screed Violates Basic Standards of Journalism
Latest Scientific Studies Refute Fears of Greenland Melt
EPA to Probe E-mail Threatening to ‘Destroy’ Career of Climate Skeptic
Senator Inhofe declares climate momentum shifting away from Gore (The Politico op ed)
Scientific Smackdown: Skeptics Voted The Clear Winners Against Global Warming Believers in Heated NYC Debate
Global Warming on Mars & Cosmic Ray Research Are Shattering Media Driven "Consensus’
Global Warming: The Momentum has Shifted to Climate Skeptics
Prominent French Scientist Reverses Belief in Global Warming - Now a Skeptic
Top Israeli Astrophysicist Recants His Belief in Manmade Global Warming - Now Says Sun Biggest Factor in Warming
Warming On Jupiter, Mars, Pluto, Neptune's Moon & Earth Linked to Increased Solar Activity, Scientists Say
Panel of Broadcast Meteorologists Reject Man-Made Global Warming Fears- Claim 95% of Weathermen Skeptical
MIT Climate Scientist Calls Fears of Global Warming 'Silly' - Equates Concerns to ‘Little Kids’ Attempting to "Scare Each Other"
Weather Channel TV Host Goes 'Political'- Stars in Global Warming Film Accusing U.S. Government of ‘Criminal Neglect’
Weather Channel Climate Expert Calls for Decertifying Global Warming Skeptics
ABC-TV Meteorologist: I Don't Know A Single Weatherman Who Believes 'Man-Made Global Warming Hype'
The Weather Channel Climate Expert Refuses to Retract Call for Decertification for Global Warming Skeptics
Senator Inhofe Announces Public Release Of "Skeptic’s Guide To Debunking Global Warming"
# # #
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Scientists reversing belief in MMGW
on: April 02, 2009, 03:37:42 PM
Climate Momentum Shifting: Prominent Scientists Reverse Belief in Man-made Global Warming - Now Skeptics
Growing Number of Scientists Convert to Skeptics After Reviewing New Research
Following the U.S. Senate's vote today on a global warming measure (see today's AP article: Senate Defeats Climate Change Measure,) it is an opportune time to examine the recent and quite remarkable momentum shift taking place in climate science. Many former believers in catastrophic man-made global warming have recently reversed themselves and are now climate skeptics. The names included below are just a sampling of the prominent scientists who have spoken out recently to oppose former Vice President Al Gore, the United Nations, and the media driven “consensus” on man-made global warming.
The list below is just the tip of the iceberg. A more detailed and comprehensive sampling of scientists who have only recently spoken out against climate hysteria will be forthcoming in a soon to be released U.S. Senate report. Please stay tuned to this website, as this new government report is set to redefine the current climate debate.
In the meantime, please review the list of scientists below and ask yourself why the media is missing one of the biggest stories in climate of 2007. Feel free to distribute the partial list of scientists who recently converted to skeptics to your local schools and universities. The voices of rank and file scientists opposing climate doomsayers can serve as a counter to the alarmism that children are being exposed to on a daily basis. (See Washington Post April 16, 2007 article about kids fearing of a “climactic Armageddon” )
The media's climate fear factor seemingly grows louder even as the latest science grows less and less alarming by the day. (See Der Spiegel May 7, 2007 article: Not the End of the World as We Know It ) It is also worth noting that the proponents of climate fears are increasingly attempting to suppress dissent by skeptics. (See UPI May 10, 2007 article: U.N. official says it's 'completely immoral' to doubt global warming fears )
Once Believers, Now Skeptics ( Link to pdf version )
Geophysicist Dr. Claude Allegre, a top geophysicist and French Socialist who has authored more than 100 scientific articles and written 11 books and received numerous scientific awards including the Goldschmidt Medal from the Geochemical Society of the United States, converted from climate alarmist to skeptic in 2006. Allegre, who was one of the first scientists to sound global warming fears 20 years ago, now says the cause of climate change is "unknown" and accused the “prophets of doom of global warming” of being motivated by money, noting that "the ecology of helpless protesting has become a very lucrative business for some people!" “Glaciers’ chronicles or historical archives point to the fact that climate is a capricious phenomena. This fact is confirmed by mathematical meteorological theories. So, let us be cautious,” Allegre explained in a September 21, 2006 article in the French newspaper L'EXPRESS. The National Post in Canada also profiled Allegre on March 2, 2007, noting “Allegre has the highest environmental credentials. The author of early environmental books, he fought successful battles to protect the ozone layer from CFCs and public health from lead pollution.” Allegre now calls fears of a climate disaster "simplistic and obscuring the true dangers” mocks "the greenhouse-gas fanatics whose proclamations consist in denouncing man's role on the climate without doing anything about it except organizing conferences and preparing protocols that become dead letters." Allegre, a member of both the French and U.S. Academy of Sciences, had previously expressed concern about manmade global warming. "By burning fossil fuels, man enhanced the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere which has raised the global mean temperature by half a degree in the last century," Allegre wrote 20 years ago. In addition, Allegre was one of 1500 scientists who signed a November 18, 1992 letter titled “World Scientists' Warning to Humanity” in which the scientists warned that global warming’s “potential risks are very great.”
Geologist Bruno Wiskel of the University of Alberta recently reversed his view of man-made climate change and instead became a global warming skeptic. Wiskel was once such a big believer in man-made global warming that he set out to build a “Kyoto house” in honor of the UN sanctioned Kyoto Protocol which was signed in 1997. Wiskel wanted to prove that the Kyoto Protocol’s goals were achievable by people making small changes in their lives. But after further examining the science behind Kyoto, Wiskel reversed his scientific views completely and became such a strong skeptic, that he recently wrote a book titled “The Emperor's New Climate: Debunking the Myth of Global Warming.” A November 15, 2006 Edmonton Sun article explains Wiskel’s conversion while building his “Kyoto house”: “Instead, he said he realized global warming theory was full of holes and ‘red flags,’ and became convinced that humans are not responsible for rising temperatures.” Wiskel now says “the truth has to start somewhere.” Noting that the Earth has been warming for 18,000 years, Wiskel told the Canadian newspaper, “If this happened once and we were the cause of it, that would be cause for concern. But glaciers have been coming and going for billions of years." Wiskel also said that global warming has gone "from a science to a religion” and noted that research money is being funneled into promoting climate alarmism instead of funding areas he considers more worthy. "If you funnel money into things that can't be changed, the money is not going into the places that it is needed,” he said.
Astrophysicist Dr. Nir Shaviv, one of Israel's top young award winning scientists, recanted his belief that manmade emissions were driving climate change. ""Like many others, I was personally sure that CO2 is the bad culprit in the story of global warming. But after carefully digging into the evidence, I realized that things are far more complicated than the story sold to us by many climate scientists or the stories regurgitated by the media. In fact, there is much more than meets the eye,” Shaviv said in February 2, 2007 Canadian National Post article. According to Shaviv, the C02 temperature link is only “incriminating circumstantial evidence.” "Solar activity can explain a large part of the 20th-century global warming" and "it is unlikely that [the solar climate link] does not exist,” Shaviv noted pointing to the impact cosmic- rays have on the atmosphere. According to the National Post, Shaviv believes that even a doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere by 2100 "will not dramatically increase the global temperature." “Even if we halved the CO2 output, and the CO2 increase by 2100 would be, say, a 50% increase relative to today instead of a doubled amount, the expected reduction in the rise of global temperature would be less than 0.5C. This is not significant,” Shaviv explained. Shaviv also wrote on August 18, 2006 that a colleague of his believed that “CO2 should have a large effect on climate” so “he set out to reconstruct the phanerozoic temperature. He wanted to find the CO2 signature in the data, but since there was none, he slowly had to change his views.” Shaviv believes there will be more scientists converting to man-made global warming skepticism as they discover the dearth of evidence. “I think this is common to many of the scientists who think like us (that is, that CO2 is a secondary climate driver). Each one of us was working in his or her own niche. While working there, each one of us realized that things just don't add up to support the AGW (Anthropogenic Global Warming) picture. So many had to change their views,” he wrote.
Mathematician & engineer Dr. David Evans, who did carbon accounting for the Australian Government, recently detailed his conversion to a skeptic. “I devoted six years to carbon accounting, building models for the Australian government to estimate carbon emissions from land use change and forestry. When I started that job in 1999 the evidence that carbon emissions caused global warming seemed pretty conclusive, but since then new evidence has weakened the case that carbon emissions are the main cause. I am now skeptical,” Evans wrote in an April 30, 2007 blog. “But after 2000 the evidence for carbon emissions gradually got weaker -- better temperature data for the last century, more detailed ice core data, then laboratory evidence that cosmic rays precipitate low clouds,” Evans wrote. “As Lord Keynes famously said, ‘When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?’” he added. Evans noted how he benefited from climate fears as a scientist. “And the political realm in turn fed money back into the scientific community. By the late 1990's, lots of jobs depended on the idea that carbon emissions caused global warming. Many of them were bureaucratic, but there were a lot of science jobs created too. I was on that gravy train, making a high wage in a science job that would not have existed if we didn't believe carbon emissions caused global warming. And so were lots of people around me; and there were international conferences full of such people. And we had political support, the ear of government, big budgets, and we felt fairly important and useful (well, I did anyway). It was great. We were working to save the planet! But starting in about 2000, the last three of the four pieces of evidence outlined above fell away or reversed,” Evans wrote. “The pre-2000 ice core data was the central evidence for believing that atmospheric carbon caused temperature increases. The new ice core data shows that past warmings were *not* initially caused by rises in atmospheric carbon, and says nothing about the strength of any amplification. This piece of evidence casts reasonable doubt that atmospheric carbon had any role in past warmings, while still allowing the possibility that it had a supporting role,” he added. “Unfortunately politics and science have become even more entangled. The science of global warming has become a partisan political issue, so positions become more entrenched. Politicians and the public prefer simple and less-nuanced messages. At the moment the political climate strongly supports carbon emissions as the cause of global warming, to the point of sometimes rubbishing or silencing critics,” he concluded. (Evans bio link )
Climate researcher Dr. Tad Murty, former Senior Research Scientist for Fisheries and Oceans in Canada, also reversed himself from believer in man-made climate change to a skeptic. “I stated with a firm belief about global warming, until I started working on it myself,” Murty explained on August 17, 2006. “I switched to the other side in the early 1990's when Fisheries and Oceans Canada asked me to prepare a position paper and I started to look into the problem seriously,” Murty explained. Murty was one of the 60 scientists who wrote an April 6, 2006 letter urging withdrawal of Kyoto to Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper which stated in part, "If, back in the mid-1990s, we knew what we know today about climate, Kyoto would almost certainly not exist, because we would have concluded it was not necessary.”
Botanist Dr. David Bellamy, a famed UK environmental campaigner, former lecturer at Durham University and host of a popular UK TV series on wildlife, recently converted into a skeptic after reviewing the science and now calls global warming fears "poppycock." According to a May 15, 2005 article in the UK Sunday Times, Bellamy said “global warming is largely a natural phenomenon. The world is wasting stupendous amounts of money on trying to fix something that can’t be fixed.” “The climate-change people have no proof for their claims. They have computer models which do not prove anything,” Bellamy added. Bellamy’s conversion on global warming did not come without a sacrifice as several environmental groups have ended their association with him because of his views on climate change. The severing of relations came despite Bellamy’s long activism for green campaigns. The UK Times reported Bellamy “won respect from hardline environmentalists with his campaigns to save Britain’s peat bogs and other endangered habitats. In Tasmania he was arrested when he tried to prevent loggers cutting down a rainforest.”
Climate scientist Dr. Chris de Freitas of The University of Auckland, N.Z., also converted from a believer in man-made global warming to a skeptic. “At first I accepted that increases in human caused additions of carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere would trigger changes in water vapor etc. and lead to dangerous ‘global warming,’ But with time and with the results of research, I formed the view that, although it makes for a good story, it is unlikely that the man-made changes are drivers of significant climate variation.” de Freitas wrote on August 17, 2006. “I accept there may be small changes. But I see the risk of anything serious to be minute,” he added. “One could reasonably argue that lack of evidence is not a good reason for complacency. But I believe the billions of dollars committed to GW research and lobbying for GW and for Kyoto treaties etc could be better spent on uncontroversial and very real environmental problems (such as air pollution, poor sanitation, provision of clean water and improved health services) that we know affect tens of millions of people,” de Freitas concluded. de Freitas was one of the 60 scientists who wrote an April 6, 2006 letter urging withdrawal of Kyoto to Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper which stated in part, “Significant [scientific] advances have been made since the [Kyoto] protocol was created, many of which are taking us away from a concern about increasing greenhouse gases.”
Meteorologist Dr. Reid Bryson, the founding chairman of the Department of Meteorology at University of Wisconsin (now the Department of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, was pivotal in promoting the coming ice age scare of the 1970’s ( See Time Magazine’s 1974 article “Another Ice Age” citing Bryson: & see Newsweek’s 1975 article “The Cooling World” citing Bryson) has now converted into a leading global warming skeptic. In February 8, 2007 Bryson dismissed what he terms "sky is falling" man-made global warming fears. Bryson, was on the United Nations Global 500 Roll of Honor and was identified by the British Institute of Geographers as the most frequently cited climatologist in the world. “Before there were enough people to make any difference at all, two million years ago, nobody was changing the climate, yet the climate was changing, okay?” Bryson told the May 2007 issue of Energy Cooperative News. “All this argument is the temperature going up or not, it’s absurd. Of course it’s going up. It has gone up since the early 1800s, before the Industrial Revolution, because we’re coming out of the Little Ice Age, not because we’re putting more carbon dioxide into the air,” Bryson said. “You can go outside and spit and have the same effect as doubling carbon dioxide,” he added. “We cannot say what part of that warming was due to mankind's addition of ‘greenhouse gases’ until we consider the other possible factors, such as aerosols. The aerosol content of the atmosphere was measured during the past century, but to my knowledge this data was never used. We can say that the question of anthropogenic modification of the climate is an important question -- too important to ignore. However, it has now become a media free-for-all and a political issue more than a scientific problem,” Bryson explained in 2005.
Global warming author and economist Hans H.J. Labohm started out as a man-made global warming believer but he later switched his view after conducting climate research. Labohm wrote on August 19, 2006, “I started as a anthropogenic global warming believer, then I read the [UN’s IPCC] Summary for Policymakers and the research of prominent skeptics.” “After that, I changed my mind,” Labohn explained. Labohn co-authored the 2004 book “Man-Made Global Warming: Unraveling a Dogma,” with chemical engineer Dick Thoenes who was the former chairman of the Royal Netherlands Chemical Society. Labohm was one of the 60 scientists who wrote an April 6, 2006 letter urging withdrawal of Kyoto to Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper which stated in part, “’Climate change is real’ is a meaningless phrase used repeatedly by activists to convince the public that a climate catastrophe is looming and humanity is the cause. Neither of these fears is justified. Global climate changes all the time due to natural causes and the human impact still remains impossible to distinguish from this natural ‘noise.’”
Paleoclimatologist Tim Patterson, of Carlton University in Ottawa converted from believer in C02 driving the climate change to a skeptic. “I taught my students that CO2 was the prime driver of climate change,” Patterson wrote on April 30, 2007. Patterson said his “conversion” happened following his research on “the nature of paleo-commercial fish populations in the NE Pacific.” “[My conversion from believer to climate skeptic] came about approximately 5-6 years ago when results began to come in from a major NSERC (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada) Strategic Project Grant where I was PI (principle investigator),” Patterson explained. “Over the course of about a year, I switched allegiances,” he wrote. “As the proxy results began to come in, we were astounded to find that paleoclimatic and paleoproductivity records were full of cycles that corresponded to various sun-spot cycles. About that time, [geochemist] Jan Veizer and others began to publish reasonable hypotheses as to how solar signals could be amplified and control climate,” Patterson noted. Patterson says his conversion “probably cost me a lot of grant money. However, as a scientist I go where the science takes me and not were activists want me to go.” Patterson now asserts that more and more scientists are converting to climate skeptics. "When I go to a scientific meeting, there's lots of opinion out there, there's lots of discussion (about climate change). I was at the Geological Society of America meeting in Philadelphia in the fall and I would say that people with my opinion were probably in the majority,” Patterson told the Winnipeg Sun on February 13, 2007. Patterson, who believes the sun is responsible for the recent warm up of the Earth, ridiculed the environmentalists and the media for not reporting the truth. "But if you listen to [Canadian environmental activist David] Suzuki and the media, it's like a tiger chasing its tail. They try to outdo each other and all the while proclaiming that the debate is over but it isn't -- come out to a scientific meeting sometime,” Patterson said. In a separate interview on April 26, 2007 with a Canadian newspaper, Patterson explained that the scientific proof favors skeptics. “I think the proof in the pudding, based on what (media and governments) are saying, (is) we're about three quarters of the way (to disaster) with the doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere," he said. “The world should be heating up like crazy by now, and it's not. The temperatures match very closely with the solar cycles."
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Agradecimiento de cada dia
on: April 02, 2009, 03:09:58 PM
Agradezco estar aqui en el terreno de mi hermano, preparandolo por el DB Tribal Gathering este fin de semana. El dia esta bello, el sol brilla, los halcones estan volando en busca de ratones, los arboles llenos de las promesas de la primavera. Dios nos bendiga.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: What Russis will and won't trade
on: April 01, 2009, 06:48:52 AM
Geopolitical Diary: What Russia Will and Won't Trade With Washington
March 31, 2009
The Russians have been projecting optimism about upcoming meetings with the Americans in Europe, reinforcing the “reset button” theme that the Obama administration had introduced. However, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev gave a speech Sunday night with a somewhat different sensibility. Regarding the U.S. proposal that Washington would make concessions on ballistic missile defense (BMD) in Europe in return for pressure against Iran by Moscow, Medvedev said, “I don’t think that any trade-offs are possible in this respect. Any information as to replace one issue with another one is not true; this is not a serious talk. But I have no doubt that we shall discuss both issues — that of ABM (anti-ballistic missile) defense and of the situation around Iran’s nuclear program. I believe that President Obama thinks the same way.”
Medvedev went on to say, “As regards the ABM, as regards the deployment of the notorious capabilities in Europe, our position has always been clear: We should not create ABM elements — a comprehensive antimissile system is required. And Russia is ready to become engaged in this system, because we are also interested in securing our country and our citizens from threats posed by certain problematic states. But the point is that this should be done through common efforts rather than by deploying any missiles or radars along our borders when a real doubt arises as to what lies behind all this. Is it done to make us nervous or in order to really prevent some threats?”
In other words, there can be no quid pro quo on Iran. However, the Russians would entertain a comprehensive ABM system, jointly developed and presumably under some sort of international control, as opposed to American BMD installations along Russian borders, since the Russians have doubts about the real motives behind the deployment.
We translate the Russian position in this way. First, Russia’s relationship with Iran is too valuable to Moscow — and too painful for Washington — to be traded for a BMD installation in Poland. The price for Iran will be much higher than that. Second, the real issue is not the BMD system in Poland but the longer-range plans the United States might have on the Russian border. The Russians are far more concerned about other U.S. bases in Poland and other arms deliveries to the Polish military and to the Baltic states that are part of NATO. It is the unstated plans that make the Russians nervous, not the BMD system.
The solution Moscow proposes would eliminate the problem — for Russia. First, it either would eliminate the need for bases in Poland or at least place those facilities under international control. Second, it would represent a transfer of critical technology to Russia and to all participants. The United States is not going to internationalize its hard-won and costly BMD technologies entirely. Washington has offered to share some technology to enable the Russians to build their own system, but not to write a blank check, or to avoid placing installations in Poland that make Russia nervous.
This last is the critical point. The Russians don’t want the United States using Poland as a base for containing Russia, and they fear the BMD is simply the first of many military installations. Even less do they want U.S. and NATO forces deploying into the Baltic states. They might trade pressure against Iran in return for guarantees that Poland and the Baltics would serve as a neutral buffer zone, but not for anything less.
If the Americans concede on this point, then NATO — under internal pressure already — would be dead. It would mean that the guarantees built into NATO membership would not apply to Poland and the Baltics, given that NATO would have guaranteed the Russians not to deploy defensive forces there. Moreover, the Americans are not certain the Russians have all that much influence in Iran. They might trade BMD for a major Russian effort. The United States won’t neutralize part of NATO in exchange for a good try.
As with the rest of the meetings, there is a superficial collegiality in place. Beneath the surface, it is a very different meeting. Obama tabled his Afghanistan plan on Friday, setting up a discussion of European contributions to the effort. Medvedev rejected the American proposal on BMD-Iran last night, letting the Americans know — if they didn’t already — that there would be no deal. Everyone is putting their cards on the table. It is not clear whose cards are better at the moment, but it is clear the stakes are getting higher.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Arab MK calls for nuclear Iran
on: April 01, 2009, 06:20:52 AM
New Israeli Arab Parliamentarian Calls For Nuclear Iran
By David Bedein & Samuel Sokol, Middle East Correspondents
Monday, March 30, 2009
Jerusalem — Hanin Zoabi is the first woman to be elected to the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, as a representative of an Arab party. Ms. Zoabi, former director of the I’lam: Media Center for Arab Palestinians in Israel, is a feminist and strong secularist. She is now one of three representatives of the Balad (National Democratic Assembly) Party.
On one of her first days in the Knesset, the new parliamentarian asked for her thoughts regarding increased Iranian influence in Gaza. Ms. Zoabi replied that she welcomed it.
She said, “If this influence is supporting me, so I will not mind this influence. Even, I would ask for this influence ... The question is not whether there is an influence or not, the question whether this influence is supporting you, can support your demands or can go against your demands.”
Queried regarding Iran’s quest to manufacture nuclear weapons, she stated was that “It would [sic] be more supporting me to have a counter-power to Israel” and “I need something to balance its [Israel’s] power.”
She also spoke of Egypt and Jordan as being a threat to the Arabs of the Gaza Strip, intimating that they are scared of a free and democratic Palestinian state.
Ms. Zoabi was then asked if she felt worried due to the fact that Iran is getting close to acquiring a nuclear weapon and because she lives in close proximity to Jews. She replied, “No, I am not, I’m afraid from the nuclear Iran, I am more afraid from the Israeli nuclear [weapons].”
Israel does not officially admit to being a nuclear power, yet it is generally accepted that it has been a nuclear power since the 1960s.
When asked if she thought that Iran would use nuclear weapons, she deliberately misunderstood and replied, “The Israelis? I think yes. And I am afraid from real risk rather than from potential risk.” She said that everyone is asking about potential risk while “Every day the Israeli uses its violence, army violence.”
“The Iranian is a potential … but the real risk is the Israeli army.”
Ms. Zoabi said that Israel was an aggressor state, and that only a situation similar to that which existed between the Soviet Union and United States in the form of the doctrine of “Mutually Ensured Destruction” would restrain Israel.
“It’s the balance of power. This is the only idea. Our only idea that it is more dangerous to the world, more dangerous to everyone, more dangerous to the Palestinians, to Israelis to have Israel as the only powerful state. I need something to balance its power because this balance of power will restrict the Israeli using of power. The Israeli violence of the army is an outcome of the Israel’s convenient feeling that no one will restrict her, that no Arab country will really declare a war against [Israel].”
She continued by saying “and another thing … I need a power which can make contrast to the Israeli power and it’s not for myself. It is not supporting me the fact that Israel would be the only state with a nuclear weapon. It’s more supporting me to have counter power to Israel.”
“I believe that [Israel] would respect its use of power if she’s afraid from others. The fact that she is not afraid from Arab countries, the fact that she is not afraid from a potential declaration of our Arab world to declare war against Israel, makes Israel more violent. You understand me. Sometimes I need power not in order to implement this power but in order to respect the other’s power. “
She was then asked if an Iranian bomb would lead to a nervous America and thus more U.S. pressure on Israel and if that would be good for her she replied “Exactly.”
Asked about Israel as a Jewish state, Ms. Zoabi declared that the very concept of a Jewish state is “inherently racist,” saying that Israel must be turned into a “state of all its citizens,” which would eliminate its Jewish or Zionist nature.
The Knesset Central Elections Committee disqualified the Balad party from running in the recent elections due to its members’ refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and reported calls for violence against it. The party was allowed to run when the Supreme Court overturned the decision of the Elections Committee.
Party chairman Dr. Jamal Zahalka responded to MK Zoabi’s comments by saying “I think Ms. Zoabi tried to explain some analysis that’s what’s better if you have, but this is not a position it’s an analysis [of] what would be safer for the region, if there is a balance… this is not supporting a nuclear weapon in Iran.”
David Bedein can be reached at email@example.com
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Wafaa Younis
on: April 01, 2009, 06:16:35 AM
Posted: Monday, March 30, 2009 11:05 AM
Filed Under: Tel Aviv, Israel
By Martin Fletcher, NBC News Correspondent
TEL AVIV – Wafaa Younis is a woman whose heart is in the right place;
she is an Israeli Arab who has made a real effort to help Palestinian
children in the Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank.
She started with the boys; she wanted them to put down their stones and
learn the violin, in the hope that they would not grow up and pick up a
gun. I first met her three years ago when she finally persuaded the
Israelis to allow the Palestinian children to leave the West Bank and go
to her home in the Israeli town of Ara for violin lessons.
Tara Todras-Whitehall / AP file
Palestinian children from the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank play a
concert for Holocaust survivors in Holon, Israel on March 25.
She even took them on trips to the coast; even though they grew up 30
miles from the Mediterranean, they had never seen the sea. Her first
attempts to teach a few boys the violin grew into a small orchestra of
boys and girls. She even rented an apartment in Jenin so that she could
teach them there, because it was easier for her to cross into the West
Bank than it was for them to leave.
Then Younis had an idea; as part of Israel’s annual Good Deeds Week, she
would arrange a little concert in Holon, near Tel Aviv. Her young
musicians from the "Strings of Freedom" orchestra would entertain
Holocaust survivors. They would play their favorite classics, and also
some songs of peace; a way to bridge the divide between Palestinians and
Too volatile an issue
At the concert last Wednesday, the group of 13 young musicians from
Jenin played for about 30 Holocaust survivors and they even dedicated
one song to Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier who has been held prisoner
by Hamas in Gaza for three years.
Younis is not the first person to make such an effort – there are
literally hundreds of peace groups that have the same aim – bringing
together Arabs and Jews with similar interests and hopes.
Tara Todras-whitehall / AP file
Holocaust survivors listen as Palestinian children from the Jenin
refugee camp in the West Bank play music in Holon, Israel on March 25.
But playing for the Holocaust survivors turned out to be bridge too far.
Adnan Hindi, a Palestinian political leader in Jenin, was outraged by
the concert. He called the Holocaust a political issue and said that the
Palestinian children had been tricked.
He complained that Younis had not told the children they would be
playing before such a politically sensitive audience. She answered that
she tried to explain to them, but that they made too much noise on the
bus and didn't hear her. Other Palestinians said that was a bit late to
Younis said she didn't realize anybody could possibly object to playing
a concert for those "poor old people" – and anyway, most of the
Palestinian children had never heard of the Holocaust.
The Holocaust is a particularly sensitive subject for Palestinians.
There is widespread ignorance of the details of the atrocities committed
by the Nazis against Jews during World War II and there is a sense among
many Palestinians that why should they care about Jewish suffering more
than 60 years ago when Israelis don’t seem to care about the suffering
they are causing Palestinians today.
No good deed goes unpunished
Younis is an Israeli Arab who tried to do a bit of good. For her pains,
her apartment in Jenin has been boarded up and she is not allowed into
the town anymore. Her orchestra has been disbanded. She said the
Palestinian officials just want to take the money that she had raised
for the children's orchestra.
I know Younis. After I met her several years ago she called me for
months, asking for donations, for a contribution for a new violin, or
even an old one, just so that she could teach music to her Palestinian
She wanted to introduce a bit of light into their lives and direct them
toward the violin bow, and away from the gun. She had many ideas to help
people, and she possessed in abundance that peculiar combination of
strength and naiveté that mark people who, against great odds, achieve
Today she didn't answer her phone.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Hamilton; Madison: Federalist 51; Reagan; Jefferson
on: April 01, 2009, 06:04:52 AM
"Wise politicians will be cautious about fettering the government with restrictions that cannot be observed, because they know that every break of the fundamental laws, though dictated by necessity, impairs that sacred reverence which ought to be maintained in the breast of rulers towards the constitution of a country."
--Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 25, 21 December 1787
"In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself." --James Madison, Federalist No. 51
"When a business or an individual spends more than it makes, it goes bankrupt. When government does it, it sends you the bill. And when government does it for 40 years, the bill comes in two ways: higher taxes and inflation. Make no mistake about it, inflation is a tax and not by accident." --Ronald Reagan
"Determine never to be idle. No person will have occasion to complain of the want of time, who never loses any. It is wonderful how much may be done, if we are always doing."
--Thomas Jefferson, letter to Martha Jefferson, 5 May 1787
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Elevation
on: April 01, 2009, 06:03:37 AM
second post of the day
Print this Page
By Tzvi Freeman
The entire cosmos climbs upward.
The elements move upward to grow as living things.
Those growing, living things rise upwards, consumed by creatures that swim, run, fly, love and fear.
Animals, too, may be elevated into the realm of a conscious being that acts with enlightened mindfulness.
And this intelligent being, to where can s/he rise?
To the ultimate fulfillment of intellect, a place that existed before Mind was born, a place without constriction or borders.
This is the act of doing good for the sake of good alone.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Political Rants
on: April 01, 2009, 06:01:59 AM
I don't have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It's a depression. Everybody's out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel's work, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there's nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there's no end to it. We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TV's while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that's the way it's supposed to be. We know things are bad - worse than bad. They're crazy. It's like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don't go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, 'Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won't say anything. Just leave us alone.' Well, I'm not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get mad! I don't want you to protest. I don't want you to riot - I don't want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn't know what to tell you to write. I don't know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you've got to get mad. You've got to say, 'I'm a HUMAN BEING, Goddamnit! My life has VALUE!' So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell,
'I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!'
The character Howard Beale in the movie "Network"
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Half a Redemption
on: April 01, 2009, 05:54:30 AM
Half A Redemption
Appreciating the Process
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by Shalvi Weissman
It takes me a while to get into preparing for Passover. It's not that I don't like cleaning. Sometimes I can be a little neurotic about cleanliness and order. I think that on Passover everyone else gets about as nuts as I am the whole year. So why is it that every year as Passover approaches I'm a bit reluctant to get caught up in it? Maybe because Passover is only half a redemption.
I'm not being a heretic. Moses himself felt the same way. When G‑d spoke to Moses at the burning bush and told him that he was to go and redeem the Jewish people, Moses didn't want to go. The Torah commentator, Rashi, says that they argued about it for a full week! 1
If he could not complete the job, why be the one to start it?G‑d told Moses that He would be with him and take care of all of the details, but it would seem that Moses was worried about something else. He responded, "Please my L-rd, send them through whomever you will send."
Moses saw that he wouldn't be the one to bring the Jews into the Promised Land. Not only that, but Moses saw that this would not be the final redemption. Why take them out of this exile just to send them into another? If he could not complete the job, why be the one to start it? Send the guy who can do the whole thing!
Passover is a celebration of what could be considered a moot point. What good does it do me to get out of one prison if I'm in a worse one now? Yes, at the time it was a wonderful thing, but what relevance does it have to me now?
Consider this: in the Holocaust memorial museum in Israel, Yad VaShem, there is a Passover Haggadah that was written on scraps of paper that concentration camp inmates had collected. A group of people sat together and tried to piece it together from memory. They succeeded in writing a complete Haggadah. Imagine the Seder that they had that year. Four cups of wine? Three matzas? Beautiful sparkling silver, china and crystal? Clearly not. Probably most of them would have died if they even attempted to refrain from eating the meager bread that they received for that week. Yet they went to great lengths to celebrate the Seder to the best of their ability. Why? What did they have to celebrate? Their freedom? Hardly. Then what?
The Haggadah itself addresses this. The narrative portion of the Haggadah opens with the statement, "This is the bread of affliction which our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt… This year we are slaves, next year we will be free."
What did they have to celebrate? Their freedom? Hardly.How's that for an opening line at the celebration of the festival of freedom? Jewish, eh? From there we go on to speak of our lowly, idol-worshipping roots as a nation. G‑d promised us great things, but first we would have to pay the price of being foreigners and slaves in Egypt. G‑d Himself promised Abraham exile at the same time that He promised he would become a "great nation". Couldn't He have come up with an easier, nicer way? We are told the details of how hard it really was in Egypt, until finally we cried out to G‑d and He redeemed us. The details of the plagues and miracles follow, and we end with praise to our Creator, our Redeemer.
One of these songs of praise is rather strange- Dayeinu:
"If G‑d had led us through the sea on dry land, and not drowned our tormentors, it would have been enough. If G‑d had brought us to Mt. Sinai and not given us the Torah, it would have been enough. If He had given us the Torah and not brought us into the Land of Israel, it would have been enough."
Really? Unusual for a people known to kvetch! What would have happened if we had gotten through the sea and the Egyptians had not been drowned? According to the Midrash,2 we came out of the sea on the same side where we had entered. Indeed, what would have happened if we had come out, only to find ourselves standing face to face with our enemies? Or if we had not received the Torah? We are told that had we not received the Torah, the whole world would have returned to tohu vavohu- void and nothingness.3 Would that really have been enough? If we had received the Torah, which is full of the commandments that can only be fulfilled in the land of Israel, yet had never gotten there, how can we possibly say that it would have been enough?
I like things that are complete, full, finished, accomplished. It is very hard for me to find satisfaction in a job not quite done. Process has always been an issue. As soon as I find out I'm pregnant I want the baby already. Of course, as soon as it's born, I want to see it grown up. Though I haven't gotten to that stage yet, I am sure that once the child grows up I will worry about who s/he will marry, and a few months after the wedding, I will wonder when children will come. Life is about process, and Passover is a celebration of process. Hence my issue with Passover.
I'm not writing this just to kvetch or to procrastinate cleaning my kitchen cabinets. I guess I'm trying to process my issue with process.
Life is about cycles, growth, and change. As much as we constantly try, who can claim to have gotten "there," wherever "there" is? Even when we reach the end of the life cycle, we are in a process. When a soul reaches the next world, it wishes to continue to ascend, either on its own merits, or the merits of students and children left behind. 4
Even after Mashiach comes, even in the next world, we will continue to grow and progress in ways that we can't even imagine in our current state.
Every stage of the game is important, not because it is getting us to completion in the usual sense, but because each step is an opportunity to find completion by connecting to our Creator in that moment.
Passover is a big celebration. We could say that upon leaving Egypt, a nation was born. Without being born one can't grow up, but is the whole goal of birth to grow up? Birth itself, even the birth of a life that will be as filled with pain and struggle as that of the Jewish people, is something to celebrate. It is a huge accomplishment! It is a moment of joy, of coming from constriction to expansiveness. It is an awesome opportunity to connect to G‑d. As long as we see birth only as a means to get to some other goal, we can go through life always wanting to be somewhere else, never feeling gratitude and connection in the present.
Each moment is a success if it is used to build on our past successes in order to reach higher, so that we can connect spiritually in a higher and greater way than we ever have before.
Reb Nosson of Breslov understood this idea well when he explained one of the reasons we say a blessing on two loaves of challah on Shabbat. We have something whole. In order to eat it, we must make it no longer whole. The fact that we cut the challah in order for it to fulfill its purpose does not mean that it is no longer whole in terms of its purpose in creation. So we cut one challah while leaving the other whole before us as a reminder that we haven't lost anything – the wholeness still exists.
Life is about process, and Passover is a celebration of processMany people are disappointed to find that when they try to bring themselves closer to G‑d, their lives get harder. In the physical world, when you graduate from one level to the next you get pomp and circumstance. No one frets too much that it's harder in college than it was in high school. It's a challenge, and it means that you have progressed. In the spiritual world, when a person goes up to the next level, there is no graduation ceremony – not even a pat on the back. So how do you know that you've reached the next level? It's harder! When this happens we often think that we have failed in some way, but when you fail a grade you repeat it. When you succeed spiritually it is bit like the game Tetris- the obstacles start flying at you faster and more furiously, but it's a good sign. Just take it as a spiritual pat on the back.
It seems that we had something whole, and now it's broken, but the lesson is that really now it's just different. What needed to be done was done, and you have moved on.
If G‑d had brought us to Mt. Sinai and not given us the Torah, we would still have been amazing. We stood before the mountain as one person with one heart. What an amazing experience. Three million people were completely united in their desire to come close to each other and to G‑d! The experience was precious! Same thing with the splitting of the sea. When we walked through the water on dry land, it was clear to each and every one of us on a personal level that our Creator was with us, that He could do anything, and wanted to use His power to invest in our relationship. That in and of itself is really something, no matter what comes next.
So this is why we spend so much time talking on Seder night. It's possible to look at all the miracles and still say, "Very nice, but where does this get me now?"
We need to personalize all that happened. G‑d did miracles for me. I was in trouble. I called out. G‑d answered.
After having experienced redemption from Egypt, no matter what our circumstances may be, we know that we are redeemable and that we have a Redeemer who is unstoppable- when He deems the time right. Nothing is keeping Him from taking us out of all of the dark and narrow places of our lives. Until that happens, we know that all of the exile that we are experiencing is just a springboard for the redemption that is to come.
If we come to that realization on Seder night, then we can see that there is no difference between the bread of affliction and the bread of freedom. They are one and the same. It's all part of the process.
So I guess I'll go start my kitchen cabinets now. After all, that too is part of the process.
1. Rashi on Exodus 4:10.
2. Me'am Loez, on the Torah portion Beshalach.
3. Rashi on Genesis 1:31
4. Likkutei Moharan II 7
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / part two
on: April 01, 2009, 05:47:38 AM
There is no reason to fear this new knowledge. Differences among groups will cut in many different directions, and everybody will be able to weight the differences so that their group's advantages turn out to be the most important to them. Liberals will not be obliged to give up their concerns about systemic unfairnesses. But groups of people will turn out to be different from each other, on average, and those differences will also produce group differences in outcomes in life, on average, that everyone knows are not the product of discrimination and inadequate government regulation.
And a void will have developed in the moral universe of the left. If social policy cannot be built on the premise that group differences must be eliminated, what can it be built upon? It can be built upon the restoration of the premise that used to be part of the warp and woof of American idealism: People must be treated as individuals. The success of social policy is to be measured not by equality of outcomes for groups, but by open, abundant opportunity for individuals. It is to be measured by the freedom of individuals, acting upon their personal abilities, aspirations and values, to seek the kind of life that best suits them.
The second bedrock premise of the social democratic agenda is what I call the New Man premise, borrowing the old Communist claim that it would create a "New Man" by remaking human nature. This premise says that human beings are malleable through the right government interventions.
The second tendency of the new findings of biology will be to show that the New Man premise is nonsense. Human nature tightly constrains what is politically or culturally possible. More than that, the new findings will broadly confirm that human beings are pretty much the way that wise human observers have thought for thousands of years, and that is going to be wonderful news for those of us who are already basing our policy analyses on that assumption.
The effects on the policy debate are going to be sweeping. Let me give you a specific example. For many years, I have been among those who argue that the growth in births to unmarried women has been a social catastrophe--the single most important driving force behind the growth of the underclass. But while I and other scholars have been able to prove that other family structures have not worked as well as the traditional family, I cannot prove that alternatives could not work as well, and so the social democrats keep coming up with the next new ingenious program that will compensate for the absence of fathers.
Over the next few decades, advances in evolutionary psychology are going to be conjoined with advances in genetic understanding and they will lead to a scientific consensus that goes something like this: There are genetic reasons, rooted in the mechanisms of human evolution, that little boys who grow up in neighborhoods without married fathers tend to reach adolescence unsocialized to norms of behavior that they will need to stay out of prison and hold jobs. These same reasons explain why child abuse is, and always will be, concentrated among family structures in which the live-in male is not the married biological father. And these same reasons explain why society's attempts to compensate for the lack of married biological fathers don't work and will never work.
Once again, there's no reason to be frightened of this new knowledge. We will still be able to acknowledge that many single women do a wonderful job of raising their children. Social democrats will simply have to stop making glib claims that the traditional family is just one of many equally valid alternatives. They will have to acknowledge that the traditional family plays a special, indispensable role in human flourishing and that social policy must be based on that truth. The same concrete effects of the new knowledge will make us rethink every domain in which the central government has imposed its judgment on how people ought to live their lives--in schools, workplaces, the courts, social services, as well as the family. And that will make the job of people like me much easier.
But the real effect is going to be much more profound than making my job easier. The 20th century was a very strange century, riddled from beginning to end with toxic political movements and nutty ideas. For some years a metaphor has been stuck in my mind: the twentieth century was the adolescence of Homo sapiens. Nineteenth-century science, from Darwin to Freud, offered a series of body blows to ways of thinking about human beings and human lives that had prevailed since the dawn of civilization. Humans, just like adolescents, were deprived of some of the comforting simplicities of childhood and exposed to more complex knowledge about the world. And 20th-century intellectuals reacted precisely the way that adolescents react when they think they have discovered Mom and Dad are hopelessly out of date. They think that the grown-ups are wrong about everything. In the case of 20th-century intellectuals, it was as if they thought that if Darwin was right about evolution, then Aquinas is no longer worth reading; that if Freud was right about the unconscious mind, the "Nicomachean Ethics" had nothing to teach us.
The nice thing about adolescence is that it is temporary, and, when it passes, people discover that their parents were smarter than they thought. I think that may be happening with the advent of the new century, as postmodernist answers to solemn questions about human existence start to wear thin--we're growing out of adolescence. The kinds of scientific advances in understanding human nature are going to accelerate that process. All of us who deal in social policy will be thinking less like adolescents, entranced with the most titillating new idea, and thinking more like grown-ups.
That will not get rid of the slippery slope that America is sliding down toward the European model. For that, this new raw material for reform--namely, a lot more people thinking like grown-ups--must be translated into a kind of political Great Awakening among America's elites.
I use the phrase "Great Awakening" to evoke a particular kind of event. American history has seen three religious revivals known as Great Awakenings--some say four. They were not dispassionate, polite reconsiderations of opinions. They were renewals of faith, felt in the gut.
I use the word "elites" to talk about the small minority of the population that has disproportionate influence over the culture, economy and governance of the country. I realize that to use that word makes many Americans uncomfortable. But every society since the advent of agriculture has had elites. So does the United States. Broadly defined, America's elites comprise several million people; narrowly defined, they amount to a few tens of thousands. We have a lot of examples of both kinds in this room tonight.
When I say that something akin to a political Great Awakening is required among America's elites, what I mean is that America's elites have to ask themselves how much they really do value what has made America exceptional, and what they are willing to do to preserve it. Let me close with a few remarks about what that will entail.
American exceptionalism is not just something that Americans claim for themselves. Historically, Americans have been different as a people, even peculiar, and everyone around the world has recognized it. I'm thinking of qualities such as American optimism even when there doesn't seem to be any good reason for it. That's quite uncommon among the peoples of the world. There is the striking lack of class envy in America--by and large, Americans celebrate others' success instead of resenting it. That's just about unique, certainly compared to European countries, and something that drives European intellectuals crazy. And then there is perhaps the most important symptom of all, the signature of American exceptionalism--the assumption by most Americans that they are in control of their own destinies. It is hard to think of a more inspiriting quality for a population to possess, and the American population still possesses it to an astonishing degree. No other country comes close.
Underlying these symptoms of American exceptionalism are the underlying exceptional dynamics of American life. Alexis de Tocqueville wrote a famous book describing the nature of that more fundamental exceptionalism back in the 1830s. He found American life characterized by two apparently conflicting themes. The first was the passion with which Americans pursued their individual interests, and made no bones about it--that's what America was all about, they kept telling Tocqueville. But at the same time, Tocqueville kept coming up against this phenomenal American passion for forming associations to deal with every conceivable problem, voluntarily taking up public affairs, and tending to the needs of their communities. How could this be? Because, Americans told Tocqueville, there's no conflict. "In the United States," Tocqueville writes, "hardly anybody talks of the beauty of virtue. . . . They do not deny that every man may follow his own interest; but they endeavor to prove that it is the interest of every man to be virtuous." And then he concludes, "I shall not here enter into the reasons they allege. . . . Suffice it to say, they have convinced their fellow countrymen."
The exceptionalism has not been a figment of anyone's imagination, and it has been wonderful. But it isn't something in the water that has made us that way. It comes from the cultural capital generated by the system that the Founders laid down, a system that says people must be free to live life as they see fit and to be responsible for the consequences of their actions; that it is not the government's job to protect people from themselves; that it is not the government's job to stage-manage how people interact with each other. Discard the system that created the cultural capital, and the qualities we love about Americans can go away. In some circles, they are going away.
Why do I focus on the elites in urging a Great Awakening? Because my sense is that the instincts of middle America remain distinctively American. When I visit the small Iowa town where I grew up in the 1950s, I don't get a sense that community life has changed all that much since then, and I wonder if it has changed all that much in the working-class neighborhoods of Brooklyn or Queens. When I examine the polling data about the values that most Americans prize, not a lot has changed. And while I worry about uncontrolled illegal immigration, I've got to say that every immigrant I actually encounter seems as American as apple pie.
The center still holds. It's the bottom and top of American society where we have a problem. And since it's the top that has such decisive influence on American culture, economy, and governance, I focus on it. The fact is that American elites have increasingly been withdrawing from American life. It's not a partisan phenomenon. The elites of all political stripes have increasingly withdrawn to gated communities--"gated" literally or figuratively--where they never interact at an intimate level with people not of their own socioeconomic class.
Haven't the elites always done this? Not like today. A hundred years ago, the wealth necessary to withdraw was confined to a much smaller percentage of the elites than now. Workplaces where the elites made their livings were much more variegated a hundred years ago than today's highly specialized workplaces.
Perhaps the most important difference is that, not so long ago, the overwhelming majority of the elites in each generation were drawn from the children of farmers, shopkeepers and factory workers--and could still remember those worlds after they left them. Over the last half century, it can be demonstrated empirically that the new generation of elites have increasingly spent their entire lives in the upper-middle-class bubble, never even having seen a factory floor, let alone worked on one, never having gone to a grocery store and bought the cheap ketchup instead of the expensive ketchup to meet a budget, never having had a boring job where their feet hurt at the end of the day, and never having had a close friend who hadn't gotten at least 600 on her SAT verbal. There's nobody to blame for any of this. These are the natural consequences of successful people looking for pleasant places to live and trying to do the best thing for their children.
But the fact remains: It is the elites who are increasingly separated from the America over which they have so much influence. That is not the America that Tocqueville saw. It is not an America that can remain America.
I am not suggesting that America's elites sacrifice their own self-interest for everybody else. That would be really un-American. I just want to accelerate a rediscovery of what that self-interest is. Age-old human wisdom has understood that a life well-lived requires engagement with those around us. That is reality, not idealism. It is appropriate to think that a political Great Awakening among the elites can arise in part from the renewed understanding that it can be pleasant to lead a glossy life, but it is ultimately more fun to lead a textured life, and to be in the midst of others who are leading textured lives. Perhaps events will help us out here--remember what Irving Kristol has been saying for years: "There's nothing wrong with this country that couldn't be cured by a long, hard depression."
What it comes down to is that America's elites must once again fall in love with what makes America different. I am not being theoretical. Not everybody in this room shares the beliefs I have been expressing, but a lot of us do. To those of you who do, I say soberly and without hyperbole, that this is the hour. The possibility that irreversible damage will be done to the American project over the next few years is real. And so it is our job to make the case for that reawakening. It won't happen by appealing to people on the basis of lower marginal tax rates or keeping a health care system that lets them choose their own doctor. The drift toward the European model can be slowed by piecemeal victories on specific items of legislation, but only slowed. It is going to be stopped only when we are all talking again about why America is exceptional, and why it is so important that America remain exceptional. That requires once again seeing the American project for what it is: a different way for people to live together, unique among the nations of the earth, and immeasurably precious.
Mr. Murray is the W. H. Brady Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and the recipient of AEI's 2009 Irving Kristol Award. He delivered this lecture at the award dinner earlier this month.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Charles Murray: (The American Creed)
on: April 01, 2009, 05:47:07 AM
By CHARLES MURRAY
When I began to work on this lecture a few months ago, I was feeling abashed because I knew I couldn't talk about either of the topics that were of the gravest national importance. Regarding Iraq and Afghanistan, I have not publicly said a word on foreign policy since I wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Times in 1973. Regarding the economic crisis, I am not an economist. In fact, I am so naive about economics that I continue to think that we have a financial meltdown because the federal government, in its infinite wisdom, has for the last two administrations aggressively pushed policies that made it possible for clever people to get rich by lending money to people who were unlikely to pay it back.
The topic I wanted to talk about was one that has been at the center of my own concerns for more than 20 years, but I was afraid it would seem remote from these urgent immediate issues. How times change. As of the morning of Feb. 24, this is the text I had written to introduce the topic: "It isn't usually put this way, but the advent of the Obama administration brings this question before the nation: Do we want the United States to be like Europe?" And then on the evening of the 24th, President Obama unveiled his domestic agenda to Congress, and now everybody is putting it that way. As Charles Krauthammer observed a few days later, "We've been trying to figure out who Barack Obama is, where he's really from. From Hawaii? Indonesia? The Ivy League? Chicago? Now we know: he's a Swede."
In short, the question has suddenly become urgently relevant because President Obama and his leading intellectual heroes are the American equivalent of Europe's social democrats. There's nothing sinister about that. They share an intellectually respectable view that Europe's regulatory and social welfare systems are more progressive than America's and advocate reforms that would make the American system more like the European system.
Not only are social democrats intellectually respectable, the European model has worked in many ways. I am delighted when I get a chance to go to Stockholm or Amsterdam, not to mention Rome or Paris. When I get there, the people don't seem to be groaning under the yoke of an evil system. Quite the contrary. There's a lot to like--a lot to love--about day-to-day life in Europe, something that should be kept in mind when I get to some less complimentary observations.
The European model can't continue to work much longer. Europe's catastrophically low birthrates and soaring immigration from cultures with alien values will see to that. So let me rephrase the question. If we could avoid Europe's demographic problems, do we want the United States to be like Europe?
Tonight I will argue for the answer "no," but not for economic reasons. The European model has indeed created sclerotic economies, and it would be a bad idea to imitate them. But I want to focus on another problem.
My text is drawn from Federalist 62, probably written by James Madison: "A good government implies two things: first, fidelity to the object of government, which is the happiness of the people; secondly, a knowledge of the means by which that object can be best attained." Note the word: happiness. Not prosperity. Not security. Not equality. Happiness, which the Founders used in its Aristotelian sense of lasting and justified satisfaction with life as a whole.
I have two points to make. First, I will argue that the European model is fundamentally flawed because, despite its material successes, it is not suited to the way that human beings flourish--it does not conduce to Aristotelian happiness. Second, I will argue that 21st-century science will prove me right.
First, the problem with the European model, namely: It drains too much of the life from life. And that statement applies as much to the lives of janitors--even more to the lives of janitors--as it does to the lives of CEOs.
I start from this premise: A human life can have transcendent meaning, with transcendence defined either by one of the world's great religions or one of the world's great secular philosophies. If transcendence is too big a word, let me put it another way: I suspect that almost all of you agree that the phrase "a life well-lived" has meaning. That's the phrase I'll use from now on.
And since happiness is a word that gets thrown around too casually, the phrase I'll use from now on is "deep satisfactions." I'm talking about the kinds of things that we look back upon when we reach old age and let us decide that we can be proud of who we have been and what we have done. Or not.
To become a source of deep satisfaction, a human activity has to meet some stringent requirements. It has to have been important (we don't get deep satisfaction from trivial things). You have to have put a lot of effort into it (hence the cliché "nothing worth having comes easily"). And you have to have been responsible for the consequences.
There aren't many activities in life that can satisfy those three requirements. Having been a good parent. That qualifies. A good marriage. That qualifies. Having been a good neighbor and good friend to those whose lives intersected with yours. That qualifies. And having been really good at something--good at something that drew the most from your abilities. That qualifies. Let me put it formally: If we ask what are the institutions through which human beings achieve deep satisfactions in life, the answer is that there are just four: family, community, vocation and faith. Two clarifications: "Community" can embrace people who are scattered geographically. "Vocation" can include avocations or causes.
It is not necessary for any individual to make use of all four institutions, nor do I array them in a hierarchy. I merely assert that these four are all there are. The stuff of life--the elemental events surrounding birth, death, raising children, fulfilling one's personal potential, dealing with adversity, intimate relationships--coping with life as it exists around us in all its richness--occurs within those four institutions.
Seen in this light, the goal of social policy is to ensure that those institutions are robust and vital. And that's what's wrong with the European model. It doesn't do that. It enfeebles every single one of them.
Put aside all the sophisticated ways of conceptualizing governmental functions and think of it in this simplistic way: Almost anything that government does in social policy can be characterized as taking some of the trouble out of things. Sometimes, taking the trouble out of things is a good idea. Having an effective police force takes some of the trouble out of walking home safely at night, and I'm glad it does.
The problem is this: Every time the government takes some of the trouble out of performing the functions of family, community, vocation and faith, it also strips those institutions of some of their vitality--it drains some of the life from them. It's inevitable. Families are not vital because the day-to-day tasks of raising children and being a good spouse are so much fun, but because the family has responsibility for doing important things that won't get done unless the family does them. Communities are not vital because it's so much fun to respond to our neighbors' needs, but because the community has the responsibility for doing important things that won't get done unless the community does them. Once that imperative has been met--family and community really do have the action--then an elaborate web of social norms, expectations, rewards and punishments evolves over time that supports families and communities in performing their functions. When the government says it will take some of the trouble out of doing the things that families and communities evolved to do, it inevitably takes some of the action away from families and communities, and the web frays, and eventually disintegrates.
If we knew that leaving these functions in the hands of families and communities led to legions of neglected children and neglected neighbors, and taking them away from families and communities led to happy children and happy neighbors, then it would be possible to say that the cost is worth it. But that's not what happened when the U.S. welfare state expanded. We have seen growing legions of children raised in unimaginably awful circumstances, not because of material poverty but because of dysfunctional families, and the collapse of functioning neighborhoods into Hobbesian all-against-all free-fire zones.
Meanwhile, we have exacted costs that are seldom considered but are hugely important. Earlier, I said that the sources of deep satisfactions are the same for janitors as for CEOs, and I also said that people needed to do important things with their lives. When the government takes the trouble out of being a spouse and parent, it doesn't affect the sources of deep satisfaction for the CEO. Rather, it makes life difficult for the janitor. A man who is holding down a menial job and thereby supporting a wife and children is doing something authentically important with his life. He should take deep satisfaction from that, and be praised by his community for doing so. Think of all the phrases we used to have for it: "He is a man who pulls his own weight." "He's a good provider." If that same man lives under a system that says that the children of the woman he sleeps with will be taken care of whether or not he contributes, then that status goes away. I am not describing some theoretical outcome. I am describing American neighborhoods where, once, working at a menial job to provide for his family made a man proud and gave him status in his community, and where now it doesn't. I could give a half dozen other examples. Taking the trouble out of the stuff of life strips people--already has stripped people--of major ways in which human beings look back on their lives and say, "I made a difference."
I have been making a number of claims with no data. The data exist. I could document the role of the welfare state in destroying the family in low-income communities. I could cite extensive quantitative evidence of decline in civic engagement and document the displacement effect that government intervention has had on civic engagement. But such evidence focuses on those near the bottom of society where the American welfare state has been most intrusive. If we want to know where America as a whole is headed--its destination--we should look to Europe.
Drive through rural Sweden, as I did a few years ago. In every town was a beautiful Lutheran church, freshly painted, on meticulously tended grounds, all subsidized by the Swedish government. And the churches are empty. Including on Sundays. Scandinavia and Western Europe pride themselves on their "child-friendly" policies, providing generous child allowances, free day-care centers and long maternity leaves. Those same countries have fertility rates far below replacement and plunging marriage rates. Those same countries are ones in which jobs are most carefully protected by government regulation and mandated benefits are most lavish. And they, with only a few exceptions, are countries where work is most often seen as a necessary evil, least often seen as a vocation, and where the proportions of people who say they love their jobs are the lowest.
What's happening? Call it the Europe Syndrome. Last April I had occasion to speak in Zurich, where I made some of these same points. After the speech, a few of the 20-something members of the audience approached and said plainly that the phrase "a life well-lived" did not have meaning for them. They were having a great time with their current sex partner and new BMW and the vacation home in Majorca, and saw no voids in their lives that needed filling.
It was fascinating to hear it said to my face, but not surprising. It conformed to both journalistic and scholarly accounts of a spreading European mentality. Let me emphasize "spreading." I'm not talking about all Europeans, by any means. That mentality goes something like this: Human beings are a collection of chemicals that activate and, after a period of time, deactivate. The purpose of life is to while away the intervening time as pleasantly as possible.
If that's the purpose of life, then work is not a vocation, but something that interferes with the higher good of leisure. If that's the purpose of life, why have a child, when children are so much trouble--and, after all, what good are they, really? If that's the purpose of life, why spend it worrying about neighbors? If that's the purpose of life, what could possibly be the attraction of a religion that says otherwise?
The same self-absorption in whiling away life as pleasantly as possible explains why Europe has become a continent that no longer celebrates greatness. When life is a matter of whiling away the time, the concept of greatness is irritating and threatening. What explains Europe's military impotence? I am surely simplifying, but this has to be part of it: If the purpose of life is to while away the time as pleasantly as possible, what can be worth dying for?
I stand in awe of Europe's past. Which makes Europe's present all the more dispiriting. And should make its present something that concentrates our minds wonderfully, for every element of the Europe Syndrome is infiltrating American life as well.
We are seeing that infiltration appear most obviously among those who are most openly attached to the European model--namely, America's social democrats, heavily represented in university faculties and the most fashionable neighborhoods of our great cities. There are a whole lot of them within a couple of Metro stops from this hotel. We know from databases such as the General Social Survey that among those who self-identify as liberal or extremely liberal, secularism is close to European levels. Birthrates are close to European levels. Charitable giving is close to European levels. (That's material that Arthur Brooks has put together.) There is every reason to believe that when Americans embrace the European model, they begin to behave like Europeans.
This is all pretty depressing for people who do not embrace the European model, because it looks like the train has left the station. The European model provides the intellectual framework for the social policies of the triumphant Democratic Party, and it faces no credible opposition from Republican politicians. (If that seems too harsh, I am sure that the Republican politicians in the audience will understand when I say that the last dozen years do raise a credibility problem when we now hear you say nice things about fiscal restraint and limited government.)
And yet there is reason for strategic optimism, and that leads to the second point I want to make tonight: Critics of the European model are about to get a lot of new firepower. Not only is the European model inimical to human flourishing, 21st-century science is going to explain why. We who think that the Founders were right about the relationship of government to human happiness will have an opening over the course of the next few decades to make our case.
The reason is a tidal change in our scientific understanding of what makes human beings tick. It will spill over into every crevice of political and cultural life. Harvard's Edward O. Wilson anticipated what is to come in a book entitled "Consilience." As the 21st century progresses, he argued, the social sciences are increasingly going to be shaped by the findings of biology; specifically, the findings of the neuroscientists and the geneticists.
What are they finding? I'm afraid that I don't have anything to report that you will find shocking. For example, science is proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that males and females respond differently to babies. You heard it here first. The specific findings aren't so important at this point--we are just at the beginning of a very steep learning curve. Rather, it is the tendency of the findings that lets us predict with some confidence the broad outlines of what the future will bring, and they offer nothing but bad news for social democrats.
Two premises about human beings are at the heart of the social democratic agenda: what I will label "the equality premise" and "the New Man premise."
The equality premise says that, in a fair society, different groups of people--men and women, blacks and whites, straights and gays, the children of poor people and the children of rich people--will naturally have the same distributions of outcomes in life--the same mean income, the same mean educational attainment, the same proportions who become janitors and CEOs. When that doesn't happen, it is because of bad human behavior and an unfair society. For the last 40 years, this premise has justified thousands of pages of government regulations and legislation that has reached into everything from the paperwork required to fire someone to the funding of high school wrestling teams. Everything that we associate with the phrase "politically correct" eventually comes back to the equality premise. Every form of affirmative action derives from it. Much of the Democratic Party's proposed domestic legislation assumes that it is true.
Within a decade, no one will try to defend the equality premise. All sorts of groups will be known to differ in qualities that affect what professions they choose, how much money they make, and how they live their lives in all sorts of ways. Gender differences will be first, because the growth in knowledge about the ways that men and women are different is growing by far the most rapidly. I'm betting that the Harvard faculty of the year 2020 will look back on the Larry Summers affair in the same way that they think about the Scopes trial--the enlightened versus the benighted--and will have achieved complete amnesia about their own formerly benighted opinions.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Paul
on: April 01, 2009, 12:25:42 AM
By PAUL D. RYAN
Today, the House of Representatives will consider two budget plans that represent dramatically different visions for our nation's future.
We will first consider President Barack Obama's plan. To be clear, this is no ordinary budget. In a nutshell, the president and Democratic leaders in Congress are attempting to bring about the third and final great wave of progressivism, building on top of the New Deal and the Great Society. So America is placed in a special moment in our history -- brought about by the deep recession, Mr. Obama's ambitious agenda, and the pending fiscal tidal-wave of red ink brought forward by the looming insolvency of our entitlement programs. If this agenda comes to pass, it will mark this period in history as the moment America turned European.
House Republicans will offer an alternative plan. This too is no ordinary budget. As the opposition party, we believe this moment must be met by offering the American people a different way forward -- one based on our belief that America is an exceptional nation, and we want to keep it that way. Our budget applies our country's enduring first principles to the problems of our day. Rather than attempting to equalize the results of peoples' lives and micromanaging their affairs, we seek to preserve our system of protecting our natural rights and equalizing opportunity for all. The plan works to accomplish four main goals: 1) fulfill the mission of health and retirement security; 2) control our nation's debts; 3) put the economy on a path of growth and leadership in the global economy; and 4) preserve the American legacy of leaving the next generation better off.
Under the president's plan, spending will top $4 trillion this year alone, and consume 28.5% of our nation's economy. His plan would mean a $1 trillion increase to the already unsustainable spending growth of our nation's entitlement programs -- including a "down payment" toward government-controlled health care and education; a $1.5 trillion tax increase to further shackle the small businesses and investors we rely on to create jobs; a massive increase in energy costs for families via cap and trade. Moreover, the Obama plan would result in an exploding deficit, a doubling of the nation's debt in five years, and an increase of that debt to more than 82% of our nation's GDP by the last year of the budget. This approach will ultimately debase our currency and reduce the living standards of the American people.
Instead of doubling the debt in five years, and tripling it in 10, the Republican budget curbs the explosion in spending called for by the president and his party. Our plan halts the borrow-and-spend philosophy that brought about today's economic problems, and puts a stop to heaping ever-growing debt on future generations -- and it does so by controlling spending, not by raising taxes. The greatest difference lies in the size of government our budgets achieve over time (see nearby chart).
While our approach ensures a sturdy safety net for those facing chronic or temporary difficulties, it understands that the reliability of this protection and the other functions of government depend on a vibrant, free and growing private sector to generate the resources necessary for it.
Here's an outline of what we propose:
- Deficits/Debt. The Republican budget achieves lower deficits than the Democratic plan in every year, and by 2019 yields half the deficit proposed by the president. By doing so, we control government debt: Under our plan, debt held by the public is $3.6 trillion less during the budget period.
- Spending. Our budget gives priority to national defense and veterans' health care. We freeze all other discretionary spending for five years, allowing it to grow modestly after that. We also place all spending under a statutory spending cap backed up by tough budget enforcement.
- Energy. Our budget lays a firm foundation to position the U.S. to meet three important strategic energy goals: reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil, deploying more clean and renewable energy sources free of greenhouse gas, and supporting economic growth. We do these things by rejecting the president's cap-and-trade scheme, by opening exploration on our nation's oil and gas fields, and by investing the proceeds in a new clean energy trust fund, infrastructure and further deficit reduction.
- Entitlements. Our budget also takes steps toward fulfilling the mission of health and retirement security, in part by making these programs fiscally sustainable. The budget moves toward making quality health care affordable and accessible to all Americans by strengthening the relationship between patients and their doctors, not the dictates of government bureaucrats. We preserve the existing Medicare program for all those 55 or older; and then, to make the program sustainable and dependable, those 54 and younger will enter a Medicare program reformed to work like the health plan members of Congress and federal employees now enjoy. Starting in 2021, seniors would receive a premium support payment equal to 100% of the Medicare benefit on average. This would be income related, so low-income seniors receive extra support, and high-income seniors receive support relative to their incomes -- along the same lines as the president's Medicare Part D proposal.
We strengthen the Medicaid safety net by converting the federal share of Medicaid payments into an allotment tailored for each state's low-income population. This will enhance state flexibility and sensitivity to spending growth.
In one of the most valued government programs -- Social Security -- our budget begins to develop a bipartisan solution to the program's pending bankruptcy by incorporating some of the reforms advocated by the president's budget director. Specifically, we provide for a trigger that would make small adjustments in the benefits for higher-income beneficiaries if the Social Security Administration determines the Social Security Trust Fund cannot meet its obligations. This is a modest but serious proposal which would not affect those in or near retirement, but is aimed at helping develop a consensus, across party lines, toward saving this important retirement program. We also assure that benefits for lower-income recipients are large enough to keep them out of poverty.
- Tax Reform. Our budget does not raise taxes, and makes permanent the 2001 and 2003 tax laws. In fact, we cut taxes and reform the tax system. Individuals can choose to pay their federal taxes under the existing code, or move to a highly simplified system that fits on a post card, with few deductions and two rates. Specifically, couples pay 10% on their first $100,000 in income (singles on $50,000) and 25% above that. Capital gains and dividends are taxed at 15%, and the death tax is repealed. The proposal includes generous standard and personal exemptions such that a family of four earning $39,000 would not pay tax on that amount. In an effort to revive peoples' lost savings, and to create an incentive for risk-taking and investment, the budget repeals the capital gains tax through 2010 for all taxpayers.
On the business side, the budget permanently cuts the uncompetitive corporate income tax rate -- currently the second highest in the industrialized world -- to 25%. This puts American companies in a better position to lead in the global economy, promotes jobs here at home, and strengthens worker paychecks.
We hope the administration and Democratic leaders in Congress do not distort and preach fear about our Republican plan. Some may be tempted to appeal to the darker emotions of envy and insecurity that surely run high in times like these. Yet we know Americans are stronger, smarter and prouder than this ploy assumes.
In the recent past, the Republican Party failed to offer the nation an inspiring vision and a concrete plan to tackle our problems with innovative and principled solutions. We do not intend to repeat that mistake. America is not the greatest nation on earth by chance. We earned this greatness by rewarding individual achievement, by advancing and protecting natural rights, and by embracing freedom. We intend to continue this uniquely American tradition.
Mr. Ryan, from Wisconsin, is the ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / God's question
on: April 01, 2009, 12:14:21 AM
Print this Page
By Tzvi Freeman
Before He brought forth the cosmos out of nothingness, He structured in His thought how all things would be. Even then, He struggled with it, pondering, "Should it be? Or should it not?"
Then He created all things according to that thought, and out of all things of that creation He formed Adam. And within Adam He placed this struggle, and Adam became a living being.
Since then, it is in our hands: Should there be a world? Or a desolate chaos? Is G-d's creation worth His making it?
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Wheel chaired woman shoots mugger
on: March 31, 2009, 11:33:26 PM
NEW YORK (AP) -- Margaret Johnson might have looked like an easy target.
But when a mugger tried to grab a chain off her neck Friday, the wheelchair-bound 56-year-old pulled out her licensed .357 pistol and shot him, police said.
Johnson said she was in Manhattan's Harlem neighborhood on her way to a shooting range when the man, identified by police as 45-year-old Deron Johnson, came up from behind and went for the chain.
"There's not much to it," she said in a brief interview. "Somebody tried to mug me, and I shot him."
Deron Johnson was taken to Harlem Hospital with a single bullet wound in the elbow, police said. He faces a robbery charge, said Lt. John Grimpel, a police spokesman.
Margaret Johnson, who lives in Harlem, has a permit for the weapon and does not face charges, Grimpel said. She also was taken to the hospital with minor injuries and later released.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Uh oh , , ,
on: March 31, 2009, 11:27:57 PM
Big Banks' Recent Profitability Due to AIG Scam?
Zero Hedge is rarely speechless, but after receiving this email from a correlation desk trader, we simply had to hold a moment of silence for the phenomenal scam that continues unabated in the financial markets, and now has the full oversight and blessing of the U.S. government, which in turn keeps on duping U.S. taxpayers into believing everything is good.
I present the insider perspective of trader Lou (who wishes to remain anonymous) in its entirety:
AIG-FP accumulated thousands of trades over the years, all essentially consisted of selling default protection. This was done via a number of structures with really only one criteria - rated at least AA- (if it fit these criteria all OK - as far as I could tell credit assessment was completely outsourced to the rating agencies).
Main products they took on were always levered credit risk, credit-linked notes (collateral and CDS both had to be at least AA-, no joint probability stuff) and AAA or super senior portfolio swaps. Portfolio swaps were either corporate synthetic CDO or asset backed, effectively sub-prime wraps (as per news stories regarding GS and DB).
Credit linked notes are done through single-name CDS desks and a cash desk (for the note collateral) and the portfolio swaps are done through the correlation desk. These trades were done is almost every jurisdiction - wherever AIG had an office they had IB salespeople covering them.
Correlation desks just back their risk out via the single names desks - the correlation desk manages the delta/gamma according to their correlation model. So correlation desks carry model risk but very little market risk.
I was mostly involved in the corporate synthetic CDO side.
During Jan/Feb AIG would call up and just ask for complete unwind prices from the credit desk in the relevant jurisdiction. These were not single deal unwinds as are typically more price transparent - these were whole portfolio unwinds. The size of these unwinds were enormous, the quotes I have heard were "we have never done as big or as profitable trades - ever."
As these trades are unwound, the correlation desk needs to unwind the single name risk through the single name desks - effectively the AIG-FP unwinds caused massive single name protection buying. This caused single name credit to massively underperform equities - run a chart from say last September to current of say S&P 500 and Itraxx - credit has underperformed massively. This is largely due to AIG-FP unwinds.
I can only guess/extrapolate what sort of PnL this put into the major global banks (both correlation and single names desks) during this period. Allowing for significant reserve release and trade PnL, I think for the big correlation players this could have easily been US$1-2bn per bank in this period.
For those to whom this is merely a lot of mumbo-jumbo, let me explain in layman's terms:
AIG, knowing it would need to ask for much more capital from the Treasury imminently, decided to throw in the towel, and gifted major bank counter-parties with trades which were egregiously profitable to the banks, and even more egregiously money-losing to the U.S. taxpayers, who had to dump more and more cash into AIG, without having the U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner disclose the real extent of this, for lack of a better word, fraudulent scam.
In simple terms think of it as an auto dealer who knows that U.S. taxpayers will provide for an infinite amount of money to fund its ongoing sales of horrendous vehicles (think Pontiac Azteks): the company decides to sell all the cars currently in contract, to lessors at far below the amortized market value, thereby generating huge profits for these lessors, as these turn around and sell the cars at a major profit, funded exclusively by U.S. taxpayers (readers should feel free to provide more gripping allegories).
What this all means is that the statements by major banks, i.e. JP Morgan Chase (JPM), Citi (C), and BofA (BAC), regarding abnormal profitability in January and February were true, however these profits were a) one-time in nature due to wholesale unwinds of AIG portfolios, b) entirely at the expense of AIG, and thus taxpayers, c) executed with Tim Geithner's (and thus the administration's) full knowledge and intent, d) were basically a transfer of money from taxpayers to banks (in yet another form) using AIG as an intermediary.
For banks to proclaim their profitability in January and February is about as close to criminal hypocrisy as is possible. And again, the taxpayers fund this "one time profit", which causes a market rally, thus allowing the banks to promptly turn around and start selling more expensive equity (soon coming to a prospectus near you), also funded by taxpayers' money flows into the market. If the administration is truly aware of all these events (and if Zero Hedge knows about it, it is safe to say Tim Geithner also got the memo), then the potential fallout would be staggering once this information makes the light of day.
And the conspiracy thickens.
Thanks to an intrepid reader who pointed this out, a month ago ISDA published an amended close out protocol. This protocol would allow non-market close outs, i.e. CDS trade crosses that were not alligned with market bid/offers
The purpose of the Protocol is to permit parties to agree upfront that in the event of a counterparty default, they will use Close-Out Amount valuation methodology to value trades. Close-Out Amount valuation, which was introduced in the 2002 ISDA Master Agreement, differs from the Market Quotation approach in that it allows participants more flexibility in valuation where market quotations may be difficult to obtain.
Of course ISDA made it seems that it was doing a favor to industry participants, very likely dictating under the gun:
Industry participants observed the significant benefits of the Close-Out Amount approach following the default of Lehman Brothers. In launching the Close-Out Amount Protocol, ISDA is facilitating amendment of existing 1992 ISDA Master Agreements by replacing Market Quotation and, if elected, Loss with the Close-Out Amount approach.
"This is yet another example of ISDA helping the industry to coalesce around more efficient and effective practices, while maintaining flexibility," said Robert Pickel, Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer, ISDA. "The Protocol permits parties to value trades in the way that is most appropriate, which greatly enhances smooth functioning of the market in testing circumstances."
And, lo and behold, on the list of adhering parties, AIG takes front and center stage (together with several other parties that probably deserve the microscope treatment).
So - in simple terms, ISDA, which is the only effective supervisor of the Over The Counter CDS market, is giving its blessing for trades to occur (cross) below where there is a realistic market bid, or higher than the offer. In traditional equity markets this is a highly illegal practice. ISDA is allowing retrospective arbitrary trades to have occurred at whatever price any two parties agree on, so long as the very vague necessary and sufficient condition of "market quotations may be difficult to obtain" is met. As anyone who follows CDS trading knows, this can be extrapolated to virtually any specific single-name, index or structured product easily. In essence ISDA gave its blessing for below the radar fund transfers of questionable legality. The curious timing of this decision and the alleged abuse of CDS transaction marks by and among AIG and the big banks, is striking to say the least.
This wholesale manipulation of markets, investors and taxpayers, has gone on long enough.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Turkey's president
on: March 31, 2009, 06:05:26 PM
My head spins.
By ABDULLAH GüL
International efforts to stabilize Afghanistan and improve the lives of the Afghan people have fallen short of their targets. There is daily violence in the country and expectations continue to outpace achieved results. It is time for a policy shift. It is time for increased involvement.
We must first accept that so far the international community has not achieved results that match the significant sum of funds it has spent. We must also realize that Afghanistan and its surrounding region cannot be a secondary source of concern. We need to understand that this region is the new "powder keg" of the world and that the stakes are as high as they can be.
Therefore, it is encouraging to know that President Barack Obama understands these facts and has reviewed the United States' Afghanistan policy.
Not everything has gone awry. This year, Afghanistan will hold presidential elections. Next year, it will hold parliamentary elections, completing a transition to democracy. The Afghan people now have a right to universal suffrage.
However, more must be done. The Afghan National Army is composed of tough fighters, but it needs better equipment and training. I saw this first hand on a visit to the country. I saw two units. One was composed of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops; the other was composed of Afghans. What struck me was that the international soldiers had much better equipment.
One Afghan commander summed it up for me this way: "If anyone has to die for Afghanistan, it must not be the children of foreign nations. It must be our sons, and they are ready to do so. But they must be given a fair chance to be able to fight for their country. They must be properly armed and trained."
But more troops and more money alone will not be enough. The Afghan government needs military force to operate from a position of strength. But real improvement requires embracing every Afghan ready to work through peaceful means for the good of their country.
Political, diplomatic, economic, and social efforts must be increased and focused on consolidating national unity to bring about tangible improvement to people's lives. To have peace, we must win over the people.
There is a role here for the international community in enabling Afghan officials working to meet the basic needs of their people. Health care and education must both be top priorities. The country's civil service needs work. Its judiciary and police forces need to be strengthened. The people must come to believe that change is underway that will create a sense of normalcy for them.
We are doing our part. One thing I noticed in Kabul was unpaved roads. Where cars and trucks should have been able to drive unimpeded, people slogged through knee-deep mud. To fix this, Turkey is paving more than 60 miles of roads inside Kabul.
There is one more area of struggle, and it is the most difficult one. Extremist ideology in the region must be confronted. Education is the long-term remedy. The Afghans' desire for education is strong. What's needed is an international fund to support education in Afghanistan.
Turkey, which has cultural bonds with Afghanistan, could take the lead in creating such a fund. We have seen firsthand how much can be achieved with perseverance and hard work that does not alienate the people. Today, Turkey is involved in building and operating girls' schools where once girls could not walk on the streets.
Turkey, with its limited resources, is doing what it can to support Afghanistan. Since 2002, Turkey has assumed command of the ISAF twice. Turkey has also provided training, equipment and support to the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police. To support Afghanistan, Turkey has launched its most comprehensive long-term assistance program in its history. And our commitment to reconstruction in Afghanistan is ongoing.
The international community cannot abandon the Afghan people at their time of difficulty. Rather than being mired in subjective discussions of hopelessness, we should draw the necessary lessons from the past and focus on helping the Afghan people build necessary institutions and find their own solutions to the problems they face.
Mr. Gül is the president of the Republic of Turkey.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Ayn Rand
on: March 31, 2009, 05:50:23 PM
"When you see that trading is done, not by consent, but by compulsion -- when you see that in order to produce, you need to obtain permission from men who produce nothing -- when you see money flowing to those who deal, not in goods, but in favors -- when you see that men get richer by graft and pull than by work, and your laws don't protect you against them, but protect them against you -- when you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming a self-sacrifice -- you may know that your society is doomed."
- Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged, page 413
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Islam in America and the rest of the western hemisphere
on: March 31, 2009, 05:20:11 PM
And I acknowledge that An Na'lm's statement is lined up correctly.
My concern is fourfold:
a) lying-- e.g. one can find similar statements from seditious organizations such as CAIR
b) even when such statements are genuinely American (i.e. the speaker would stand with America against Islamic fascism) I wonder if there are even more who say similar things but who ultimately are unwilling to act against the fascists in their midst
c) such statements and beliefs may become less common as Muslim numbers increase
d) political correctness/political cowardice will use statement's such as An Na'lm's to avoid the hard questions and hard answers, and harder yet actions necessary to deal with the fascist element.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The return of the Death Tax
on: March 31, 2009, 04:20:34 PM
Lawrence Summers, President Obama's chief economic adviser, declared recently that "Let's be very clear: There are no, no tax increases this year. There are no, no tax increases next year." Oh yes, yes, there are. The President's budget calls for the largest increase in the death tax in U.S. history in 2010.
The announcement of this tax increase is buried in footnote 1 on page 127 of the President's budget. That note reads: "The estate tax is maintained at its 2009 parameters." This means the death tax won't fall to zero next year as scheduled under current law, but estates will be taxed instead at up to 45%, with an exemption level of $3.5 million (or $7 million for a couple). Better not plan on dying next year after all.
This controversy dates back to George W. Bush's first tax cut in 2001 that phased down the estate tax from 55% to 45% this year and then to zero next year. Although that 10-year tax law was to expire in 2011, meaning that the death tax rate would go all the way back to 55%, the political expectation was that once the estate tax was gone for even one year, it would never return.
And that is no doubt why the Obama Administration wants to make sure it never hits zero. It doesn't seem to matter that the vast majority of the money in an estate was already taxed when the money was earned. Liberals counter that the estate tax is "fair" because it is only paid by the richest 2% of American families. This ignores that much of the long-term saving and small business investment in America is motivated by the ability to pass on wealth to the next generation.
The importance of intergenerational wealth transfers was first measured in a National Bureau of Economic Research study in 1980. That study looked at wealth and savings over the first three-quarters of the 20th century and found that "intergenerational transfers account for the vast majority of aggregate U.S. capital formation." The co-author of that study was . . . Lawrence Summers.
Many economists had previously believed in "the life-cycle theory" of savings, which postulates that workers are motivated to save with a goal of spending it down to zero in retirement. Mr. Summers and coauthor Laurence Kotlikoff showed that patterns of savings don't validate that model; they found that between 41% and 66% of capital stock was transferred either by bequests at death or through trusts and lifetime gifts. A major motivation for saving and building businesses is to pass assets on so children and grandchildren have a better life.
What all this means is that the higher the estate tax, the lower the incentive to reinvest in family businesses. Former Congressional Budget Office director Douglas Holtz-Eakin recently used the Summers study as a springboard to compare the economic cost of a 45% estate tax versus a zero rate. He finds that the long-term impact of eliminating the death tax would be to increase small business capital investment by $1.6 trillion. This additional investment would create 1.5 million new jobs.
In other words, by raising the estate tax in the name of fairness, Mr. Obama won't merely bring back from the dead one of the most despised of all federal taxes, and not merely splinter many family-owned enterprises. He will also forfeit half the jobs he hopes to gain from his $787 billion stimulus bill. Maybe that's why the news of this unwise tax increase was hidden in a footnote
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Fisher Ames
on: March 31, 2009, 11:36:02 AM
"I am commonly opposed to those who modestly assume the rank of champions of liberty, and make a very patriotic noise about the people. It is the stale artifice which has duped the world a thousand times, and yet, though detected, it is still successful."
--Fisher Ames, letter to George Richard Minot, 23 June 1789
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The reliability question
on: March 31, 2009, 11:26:58 AM
Geopolitical Diary: Obama's Afghanistan Strategy and the Reliability Question
March 30, 2009
U.S. President Barack Obama has revealed his new Afghanistan policy. Having already announced his plans to increase troop levels in Afghanistan by 17,000, he decided to send another 4,000 troops with the primary purpose of training Afghan forces. More interesting was the explicit recognition that success in Afghanistan requires success in Pakistan, and the decision to provide Pakistan with $1.5 billion per year for five years in non-military development aid in order to bolster its war effort.
Obviously, the two countries constitute a single theater of operations. And this is the fundamental problem. The troops now allocated to Afghanistan are insufficient by themselves to pacify Afghanistan against a determined and capable enemy like the Taliban. Pakistan is a country of more than 170 million people — the sixth most populous country in the world. There is no military solution to the Pakistani problem. And so long as Pakistan is the source of both supplies and sanctuary for the Taliban, there is no possible way for available forces to defeat the Taliban.
The root issue is reliability. The United States is going to help train Afghanistan’s military and police forces. There are two strategies here: train only forces from ethnic groups hostile to the predominantly Pashtun Taliban, or train an all-Afghan force. If you do the latter, the probability is that many of the recruits will be Taliban sympathizers. As we saw in Vietnam and many other wars, the construction of a military force is an opportunity for the enemy to infiltrate it. If, on the other hand, you recruit only forces hostile to Taliban, you are reaching into a minority pool that the Taliban already defeated in a civil war. Therefore, the key question is how reliable the force will be if you go for an inclusive force, or how capable it is of functioning without you if you do not.
The situation is compounded in Pakistan. It is not clear that the Pakistanis are incapable of shutting the Taliban down, but there is ample evidence that the Pakistanis do not want to shut them down. It is clear that elements in Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence and in the military in general are ideologically sympathetic to the Taliban. Those who are not sympathetic are not eager for a civil war between the Pakistani Taliban and the Pakistani military.
Therefore, the issue is whether the billions being offered the Pakistani government will buy the United States what it wants: cooperation against the Taliban. The Pakistanis might not reject the money, but it is not clear that they will act, or at least act effectively.
Put simply, the United States wants to create forces in both Afghanistan and Pakistan that are willing and able to engage the Taliban in both countries and shut them down. In both countries, the problem with the strategy is the reliability of the forces being generated, as well as their effectiveness. The United States is sending advisers to Afghanistan and money to Pakistan to influence the situation. Each might work, but it is far from certain that it will.
Even if the forces work, the conflict will not end. According to the Iraq model — and that is the model being attempted in Afghanistan — the end game is negotiation with the enemy and getting the enemy to join the coalition. The Sunni insurgents in Iraq were willing to negotiate and cooperate with the United States because they were on the ropes militarily, trapped between foreign jihadists and the Americans, and with dangerous Shiite militias — some of whom were backed by Iran — in the background. The Sunnis were in trouble and needed a friend, and the Americans presented themselves.
What the Americans are trying to do is to put at least some of the Taliban in the same box they put the Sunnis. For that to work, the Afghan-Pakistani strategy must be able to trap the Taliban and force them to the table. The question is whether the forces available and the money given to Pakistan are sufficient to trap the Taliban, or whether the Taliban’s ability to subvert the Afghan army and undermine the effectiveness of the Pakistani army will cause the plan to fail.