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23201  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Absurd Results on: October 05, 2009, 07:38:22 AM
'In recent years, many Americans have had cause to wonder whether decisions made at EPA were guided by science and the law, or whether those principles had been trumped by politics," declared Lisa Jackson in San Francisco last week. The Environmental Protection Agency chief can't stop kicking the Bush Administration, but the irony is that the Obama EPA is far more "political" than the Bush team ever was.

How else to explain the coordinated release on Wednesday of the EPA's new rules that make carbon a dangerous pollutant and John Kerry's cap-and-trade bill? Ms. Jackson is issuing a political ultimatum to business, as well as to Midwestern and rural Democrats: Support the Kerry-Obama climate tax agenda—or we'll punish your utilities and consumers without your vote.

The EPA has now formally made an "endangerment finding" on CO2, which will impose the command-and-control regulations of the Clean Air Act across the entire economy. Because this law was never written to apply to carbon, the costs will far exceed those of a straight carbon tax or even cap and trade—though judging by the bills Democrats are stitching together, perhaps not by much. In any case, the point of this reckless "endangerment" is to force industry and politicians wary of raising taxes to concede, lest companies have to endure even worse economic and bureaucratic destruction from the EPA.

Ms. Jackson made a show of saying her new rules would only apply to some 10,000 facilities that emit more than 25,000 tons of carbon dioxide each year, as if that were a concession. These are the businesses—utilities, refineries, heavy manufacturers and so forth—that have the most to lose and are therefore most sensitive to political coercion.

View Full Image

Associated Press
 .The idea is to get Exelon and other utilities to lobby Congress to pass a cap-and-trade bill that gives them compensating emissions allowances that they can sell to offset the cost of the new regulations. White House green czar Carol Browner was explicit on the coercion point last week, telling a forum hosted by the Atlantic Monthly that the EPA move would "obviously encourage the business community to raise their voices in Congress." In Sicily and parts of New Jersey, they call that an offer you can't refuse.

Yet one not-so-minor legal problem is that the Clean Air Act's statutory language states unequivocally that the EPA must regulate any "major source" that emits more than 250 tons of a pollutant annually, not 25,000. The EPA's Ms. Jackson made up the higher number out of whole cloth because the lower legal threshold—which was intended to cover traditional pollutants, not ubiquitous carbon—would sweep up farms, restaurants, hospitals, schools, churches and other businesses. Sources that would be required to install pricey "best available control technology" would increase to 41,000 per year, up from 300 today, while those subject to the EPA's construction permitting would jump to 6.1 million from 14,000.

That's not our calculation. It comes from the EPA itself, which also calls it "an unprecedented increase" that would harm "an extraordinarily large number of sources." The agency goes on to predict years of delay and bureaucratic backlog that "would impede economic growth by precluding any type of source—whether it emits GHGs or not—from constructing or modifying for years after its business plan contemplates." We pointed this out earlier this year, only to have Ms. Jackson and the anticarbon lobby deny it.

Usually it takes an act of Congress to change an act of Congress, but Team Obama isn't about to let democratic—or even Democratic—consent interfere with its carbon extortion racket. To avoid the political firestorm of regulating the neighborhood coffee shop, the EPA is justifying its invented rule on the basis of what it calls the "absurd results" doctrine. That's not a bad moniker for this whole exercise.

The EPA admits that it is "departing from the literal application of statutory provisions." But it says the courts will accept its revision because literal application will produce results that are "so illogical or contrary to sensible policy as to be beyond anything that Congress could reasonably have intended."

Well, well. Shouldn't the same "absurd results" theory pertain to shoehorning carbon into rules that were written in the 1970s and whose primary drafter—Michigan Democrat John Dingell—says were never intended to apply? Just asking. Either way, this will be a feeble legal excuse when the greens sue to claim that the EPA's limits are inadequate, in order to punish whatever carbon-heavy business they're campaigning against that week.

Obviously President Obama is hellbent on punishing carbon use—no matter how costly or illogical. And of course, there's no politics involved, none at all.
23202  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: on: October 05, 2009, 07:33:25 AM
We aren't among the doctors invited to a Rose Garden event today to "join the President in pushing for health insurance reform this year and [who] have offered their help and support," as a White House press release put it. It's unfortunate only supporters of the president's plans will be there. Mr. Obama has missed an opportunity to learn more about the real issues facing patients and doctors and to formulate a plan that truly puts patients in control with doctors as trusted advisers.

The United States has the best health care in the world today, and thanks to the ever-expanding frontiers of science and medical innovation the brightest days are ahead. It is true that there are Americans who fall through the cracks of our medical system every day—and as a caring nation, we must do what we can to expand access to medical care to those who need it. But this can be accomplished without a costly and inefficient government overhaul of the entire system. One easy reform would be to enable individuals to buy policies offered in any state, not just where they live. This will enhance competition. But more government-run health insurance will only lead to disaster.

Government cost-cutting would threaten medical innovation.

.Today, Medicare already reimburses doctors less than what many of their treatments cost to provide. Now the government is saying that additional Medicare cuts are coming—thus forcing doctors to try and make up the difference in volume, by seeing more patients. If you ask patients about this, they understand that more volume means less time with the doctor. That's something that all patients and doctors should oppose. In time, it will be difficult to find a physician.

If the goal of reform is to provide the best possible patient care, let's take the government-controlled "public option"—and any legislative trick that could lead to a public option—off the table. It will result in long waiting lines to see a doctor, substandard care, and an end to medical discovery.

There are many other ways to expand access to health care for uninsured Americans. We could strengthen incentives to purchase low-cost health savings accounts, provide tax credits for individuals and families buying health policies on their own, and extend subsidies for those who need financial help. Also, the right of patients to privately contract with physicians to ensure they have the medical care they want, without penalty—regardless of what the government pays—must be recognized and protected. Today, if a doctor wants to bill a patient for additional payment over the Medicare reimbursement, he has to withdraw from Medicare entirely for two years. A patient who agrees with this arrangement can't receive any Medicare money for that service, either.

We need to maintain a plentiful supply of medical expertise. But cuts in payments and bureaucracy could mean fewer individuals entering the medical field—and a dearth of health-care professionals down the road as specialists retire early or limit their practice. Every patient wants to be taken care of by the best medical professional possible. A patient with cancer wants to see a doctor who has had years of training in oncology and is knowledgeable about the latest ways to beat the cancer. But in some provisions in the proposed legislation (such as the medical home model of HR 3200), physician assistants and nurse practitioners may get the authority to make important medical decisions.

The federal government should also continue its investment in medical research through agencies like the National Institutes of Health, and it should better reward innovative discovery in the private sector with tax incentives and patent protection. Americans are living longer, healthier lives thanks to the trillions of dollars in public and private research investment in medical devices, pharmaceuticals, and advanced surgical techniques. We must not put future progress in jeopardy.

Finally, the nation needs comprehensive medical malpractice reform. It is the surest and quickest way to slow down the rising cost of health care. Statistics from private insurers, as well as a Justice Department report of 2007, indicate that upwards of 80% of malpractice cases are closed without payment—and when there is a trial, the physician-defendant wins 89% of the time. Yet these lawsuits, even when dismissed or closed without payment, cost doctors time and money, and encourage defensive medicine. This adds billions to the cost of medical care. It also increases malpractice insurance premiums, the costs of which get passed on to patients. In too many cases, the malpractice environment forces doctors to leave communities, depriving patients of their trusted medical advisers or specialists whom they might need in an accident or other crisis.

The drive to reform health care has led to an acrimonious and often divisive debate. Yet we still believe that doctors, patients and legislators working together with goodwill can improve the medical system and extend its benefits to all Americans.

Dr. Palmisano, president of the American Medical Association from 2003-2004, is spokesman for the Coalition to Protect Patients' Rights, a group of more than 10,000 physicians. Drs. Plested and Johnson were presidents of the American Medical Association from 2006-2007 and 1996-1997 respectively.
23203  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: on: October 05, 2009, 07:29:36 AM
Sometimes I ask myself if Hitler wasn't right when he wanted to finish with that race, through the famous holocaust, because if there are people that are harmful to this country, they are the Jews, the Israelites.

David Romero Ellner

Executive Director

Radio Globo, Honduras, Sept. 25, 2009

Meet one of Honduras's most vocal advocates for the return of deposed president Manuel Zelaya to office. He's not your average radio jock. He started in Honduran politics as a radical activist and was one of the founders of the hard-left People's Revolutionary Union, which had links to Honduran terrorists in 1980s. A few years ago he was convicted and served time in prison for raping his own daughter.

Today Mr. Romero Ellner is pure zelayista, hungry for power and not ashamed to say so. This explains why he has joined Venezuela's Hugo Chávez and Mr. Zelaya in targeting Jews. Mr. Chávez has allied himself with Iran to further his ability to rule unchecked in the hemisphere. He hosts Hezbollah terrorists and seeks Iranian help to become a nuclear power. He and his acolytes cement their ties to Iranian dictator Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by echoing his anti-Semitic rants.

The Honduras debate is not really about Honduras. It is about whether it is possible to stop the spread of chavismo and all it implies, including nuclear proliferation and terrorism in Latin America. Most troubling is the unflinching support for Mr. Zelaya from President Barack Obama and Democratic Sen. John Kerry—despite the Law Library of Congress review that shows that Mr. Zelaya's removal from office was legal, and the clear evidence that he is Mr. Chávez's man in Tegucigalpa. On Thursday, Mr. Kerry took the unprecedented step of trying to block a fact-finding mission to Honduras by Republican Sen. Jim DeMint, who is resisting Mr. Obama's efforts to restore Mr. Zelaya to power.

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Associated Press
Venezuela's Hugo Chávez embraces Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
.Mr. Zelaya, recall, was arrested, deposed and deported on June 28 because he violated the Honduran Constitution. He snuck back into the country on Sept. 21 and found refuge at the Brazilian Embassy in the capital. Mr. Romero Ellner's calumny against Jews was a follow-up to Mr. Zelaya's claim that he was being "subjected to high-frequency radiation" from outside the embassy and that he thought "Israeli mercenaries" were behind it.

The verbal attack on Jews from a zelayista is consistent with a pattern emerging in the region. Take what's been going on in Venezuela. In the earliest years of Chávez rule, a Venezuelan friend, who is a Christian, confessed his fears to me. "In his speech, he always tries to create hate between groups of people," my friend told me. "He loves hate speech."

For a decade, Venezuelans have been force-fed the strongman's view of economic nationalism laced with this divisive language. Venezuelans are encouraged to seek revenge against their neighbors. Crime has skyrocketed.

The Jewish community has been targeted as Mr. Chávez's relationship with Mr. Ahmadinejad has blossomed. In 2004, I reported on a police raid at a Jewish school for young children in Caracas. The pretext was a "tip" that the school was storing weapons. No weapons were found, but the community was terrorized.

In recent years, Venezuela and Iran have signed joint ventures estimated to be worth $20 billion. There are similar pacts, estimated at $10 billion, between Iran and Venezuelan satellite, Bolivia. Both South American countries accused Israel of genocide in Gaza in 2008 and cut diplomatic ties. Mr. Chávez's tirades against Israel during that time emboldened his street thugs. In January 2009, vandals broke into a temple in Caracas and desecrated the sacred space with graffiti calling for the death of Jews.

The Americas in the News
Get the latest information in Spanish from The Wall Street Journal's Americas page.
.New York District Attorney Robert Morgenthau recently gave a speech to the Brookings Institution in which he said "Iran and Venezuela are beyond the courting phase. We know they are creating a cozy financial, political and military partnership, and that both countries have strong ties to Hezbollah and Hamas."

Iran has courted Honduras as well. When Mr. Zelaya was still in power, the Honduran press reported that his foreign minister Patricia Rodas met with high-ranking Iranian officials in Mexico City. That raised plenty of eyebrows in Central America.

Neither Venezuela nor Honduras has any history of anti-Semitism. But with Mr. Chávez importing Mr. Ahmadinejad's despicable ideology and methods, an assault on the Jewish community goes with the territory.

Honduras recognizes that it was a mistake to deport Mr. Zelaya after he was arrested. But it argues that fears of zelayista extremism and use of violence as a political tool in the months leading up to June 28 provoked desperation. Mr. Romero Ellner—whose radio station was closed down by the government last week—provided exhibit A with his remarks. If the U.S. State Department is opposed to the exile, let it call for Mr. Zelaya to be put on trial now that he is back in Honduras. It has no grounds to demand that democratic Honduras restore an anti-Semitic rabble rouser to power.
23204  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / IG says Treasury misled on: October 05, 2009, 07:23:20 AM
Pravda on the Hudson
IG says Treasury misled on bailouts
Published: October 5, 2009

WASHINGTON — The inspector general who oversees the government’s bailout of the banking system is criticizing the Treasury Department for some misleading public statements last fall and raising the possibility that it had unfairly disbursed money to the biggest banks.

A Treasury official made incorrect statements about the health of the nation’s biggest banks even as the government was doling out billions of dollars in aid, according to a report on the Troubled Asset Relief Program to be released on Monday by the special inspector general, Neil M. Barofksy.

The report also provides new insight into the way the Treasury allocated billions of dollars to nine of Wall Street’s largest players. The report says that Bank of America appeared to qualify for more aid earlier, under the government plan. That assertion adds another element of intrigue to continuing investigations of the bank’s merger with Merrill Lynch and the role that regulators played in the deal, even as Merrill’s condition deteriorated.

The bailout formula called for banks to get an amount equal to as much as 3 percent of their risk-weighted assets, with aid capped at $25 billion for each institution, according to the report. By size, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America could have qualified for more, and the first two received $25 billion.

But Bank of America was given only $15 billion in October, since Merrill Lynch was earmarked for $10 billion. The two companies agreed to a merger, though their deal had not yet been approved by regulators or shareholders.

Bank of America ultimately received Merrill’s $10 billion in January — as well as $20 billion in additional bailout funds — but if the bank had not been involved in the Merrill deal, it would probably have received $25 billion at the outset, as did Citigroup and JPMorgan.

Another company in the process of a merger was not treated the same. Wells Fargo was acquiring Wachovia, and it received both companies’ money at the start, according to the inspector general.

Mr. Barofsky’s office also says that regulators were wrong to tell the public last year that the earliest bailout recipients were all healthy.

Former Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr., for instance, said on Oct. 14 that the banks were “healthy,” and that they accepted the money for “the good of the U.S. economy.” The banks, he said, would be better able to increase their lending to consumers and businesses.

In truth, regulators were concerned about the health of several banks that received that first bailout, the inspector general writes.

The inspector general said government officials need to be more careful when describing their actions and rationale. In a letter included with the report, the Federal Reserve concurred with Mr. Barofsky’s concern about the statements made last year, but the Treasury Department said that any review of announcements last year “must be considered in light of the unprecedented circumstances in which they were made.”
23205  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Gen. Petraeus on: October 05, 2009, 07:20:09 AM
Nice article title by Pravda on the Hudson  rolleyes

Voice of Bush’s Pentagon Becomes Harder to Hear Recommend
Published: October 4, 2009

WASHINGTON — Gen. David H. Petraeus, the face of the Iraq troop surge and a favorite of former President George W. Bush, spoke up or was called upon by President Obama “several times” during the big Afghanistan strategy session in the Situation Room last week, one participant says, and will be back for two more meetings this week.

David H. PetraeusBut the general’s closest associates say that underneath the surface of good relations, the celebrity commander faces a new reality in Mr. Obama’s White House: He is still at the table, but in a very different seat.

No longer does the man who oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have one of the biggest voices at National Security Council meetings, as he did when Mr. Bush gave him 20 minutes during hourlong weekly sessions to present his views in live video feeds from Baghdad. No longer is the general, with the Capitol Hill contacts and web of e-mail relationships throughout Washington’s journalism establishment, testifying in media explosions before Congress, as he did in September 2007, when he gave 34 interviews in three days.

The change has fueled speculation in Washington about whether General Petraeus might seek the presidency in 2012. His advisers say that it is absurd — but in immediate policy terms, it means there is one less visible advocate for the military in the administration’s debate over whether to send up to 40,000 additional troops to Afghanistan.

General Petraeus’s aides now privately call him “Dave the Dull,” and say he has largely muzzled himself from the fierce public debate about the war to avoid antagonizing the White House, which does not want pressure from military superstars and is wary of the general’s ambitions in particular.

The general’s aides requested anonymity to talk more candidly about his relationship with the White House.

“General Petraeus has not hinted to anyone that he is interested in political life, and in fact has said on many occasions that he’s not,” said Peter Mansoor, a retired Army colonel and professor of military history at Ohio State University who was the executive officer to General Petraeus when he was the top American commander in Iraq.

“It is other people who are looking at his popularity and saying that he would be a good presidential candidate, and I think rightly that makes the administration a little suspicious of him.”

General Petraeus’s advisers say he has stepped back in part because Mr. Obama has handpicked his own public face for the war in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who last week gave an interview to CBS’s “60 Minutes,” met with Mr. Obama on Air Force One and used a speech in London to reject calls for scaling back the war effort.

If anything, General McChrystal’s public comments may prove that General Petraeus might be prudent to take a back seat during the debate. On Sunday, when CNN’s John King asked Gen. James L. Jones, the national security adviser, if it was appropriate for a man in uniform to appear to campaign so openly for more troops, General Jones replied, “Ideally, it’s better for military advice to come up through the chain of command.”

How much General Petraeus’s muted voice will affect Mr. Obama’s decision on the war is unclear, but people close to him say that stifling himself in public could give him greater credibility to influence the debate from within. Others say that his biggest influence may simply be as part of a team of military advisers, including General McChrystal and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The men are united in what they see as the need to build up the American effort in Afghanistan, although General Petraeus, who works closely with General McChrystal, said last week that he had not yet endorsed General McChrystal’s request for more troops.

Together the three are likely to be aligned against Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., as well as other administration officials who want to scale back the effort. In that situation, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who has worried about a big American presence in Afghanistan but left the door open to more troops, could be the most influential vote.

What is clear is that General Petraeus’s relationship with Mr. Obama is nothing like his bond with Mr. Bush, who went mountain biking with the general in Washington last fall, or with Mr. Obama’s opponent in the 2008 presidential campaign, Senator John McCain of Arizona, whose aides briefly floated the general’s name last year as a possible running mate.

By then the general had been talked about as a potential presidential candidate himself, which still worries some political aides at the White House.

But not Mr. Obama, at least according to one of his top advisers. “The president’s not thinking that way, and the vice president’s not thinking that way,” said Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff. “The president values his insights in helping to turn around an eight-year-old war that has been neglected.”

General Petraeus’s advisers say that to preserve a sense of military impartiality, he has not voted since at least 2003, and that he is not sure if he is still registered in New Hampshire, where he and his wife own property. The general has been described as a Republican, including in a lengthy profile in The New Yorker magazine last year. But a senior military official close to him said last week that he could not confirm the general’s political party.

In the meantime, General Petraeus travels frequently from his home in Tampa to Washington, where he met last week with the Afghan foreign minister. He also had dinner with Richard C. Holbrooke, the administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. The general also makes calls on Capitol Hill.

“He understands the Congress better than any military commander I’ve ever met,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican, who said that General Petraeus had the nationwide influence to serve as a spokesman for the administration’s policy on the Afghan war.

But until the president makes a decision, and determines if he wants to deploy General Petraeus to help sell it, the commander is keeping his head down. “He knows how to make his way through minefields like this,” said Jack Keane, the former vice chief of staff of the Army.

Peter Baker contributed reporting
23206  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Franklin, 1774 on: October 05, 2009, 07:13:52 AM
"The ordaining of laws in favor of one part of the nation, to the prejudice and oppression of another, is certainly the most erroneous and mistaken policy. An equal dispensation of protection, rights, privileges, and advantages, is what every part is entitled to, and ought to enjoy." --Benjamin Franklin, Emblematical Representations, 1774
23207  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Michael Yon in Afghanistan on: October 04, 2009, 07:47:19 PM
Although it was probably there for me to see before, for some reason this time around I got a clearer sense of him directly criticizing Bush for letting things get so far behind.
23208  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Sugar on: October 04, 2009, 10:18:00 AM
Ever wonder just how much sugar is in the common food items you eat?
23209  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / part two on: October 04, 2009, 10:15:55 AM
Rip Your Strip

All of this is now changing. Fast. The airways across the Southwest are loaded these days with public service announcements urging us to conserve our water. "Rip your strip" may be a phrase unknown in much of the country, but everyone here knows exactly what it means: tear out the lawn between your front yard and the street and put in drought-resistant native plants instead.

Everyone is increasingly expected to do his or her part. In my little town of Torrey, Utah, we voluntarily ration our domestic water on weekends when the tourists are in town, taking long showers and spraying the dust and mud off their tires. Xeriscaping -- landscaping with drought-resistant native plants instead of thirsty grasses and ornamental shrubs -- is now fashionable as well as necessary, even required, in some western towns, a clear sign that at long last we get it. Yes, we live in a desert.

Unfortunately, it's unlikely that this sort of thing, useful as it is, will be nearly enough. Our challenge is only marginally to take shorter showers. After all, 80% of Utah's water goes into agriculture, mostly to grow alfalfa to feed beef cows raised by ranchers heavily subsidized by federal grants and tax write-offs. They graze their cows almost for free on public lands and have successfully resisted even modest increases in fees to cover the costs of maintaining the allotments they use.

Utah legislators passed a law last session that gives agriculture precedence when there's not enough water to go around. Consider that a clear signal that the agricultural interests in the state don't have any intention of changing their water-profligate ways without a fight.

Sure, everyone agrees that we have to change, but we in the West are fond of focusing blame on personal bad habits that waste water -- and they couldn't be more real -- rather than corporate habits that waste so much more. The fact is that we Westerners have never paid anything like what our water truly costs and we lack disincentives to waste water and incentives to conserve it. Behind all that fuss you hear from us about the damn government and how independent-minded we Westerners are, is a long history of massive dam and pipeline projects financed by the American taxpayer, featuring artificially low prices and not a few crony-run boondoggles. Call it welfare water.

The Ruins in Our Future

A visit this summer to the most famous ruins in the West, the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde National Park and hollowed out palaces at Chaco Culture National Historic Park, proved a striking, if grim, reminder that we weren't the first to pass this way -- or to face possibly civilization-challenging aridity problems. The pre-Colombian Anasazi culture flourished between 900 and 1150 A.D., culminating in a city in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, that until the nineteenth century contained the largest buildings in the Americas, now uncovered from centuries of drifting sands. Mesa Verde with its "skyscraper" cliffside dwellings, also flourished in the twelfth century and was similarly abandoned and forgotten for hundreds of years.

The mysteries of these deserted cities -- their purpose and the reasons they were abandoned -- may never be fully plumbed. This much is undeniable though, as one walks through cobbled plazas and toppled towers, and past sun-blasted walls: cities, dazzling in their day, arose suddenly in the desert, prospered, and then collapsed. Tree-ring data confirm that an epic drought, one lasting at least 50 years, coincided with their demise. Broken and battle-scarred bones unearthed in the charred ruins indicate that warfare followed drought. What the Anasazi experienced -- scarcity, the need to leave homes, and a struggle for whatever remained -- is getting easier to imagine in a water-short West. Only this time at stake will be Las Vegas and Phoenix.

Archaeologists at Chaco recently uncovered a sophisticated cistern system under the city. Anasazi builders, they now believe, learned how to harvest the runoff from the summer rains that poured down and spilled over the sandstone cliffs behind the ruins. Think of these as the Lake Meads and Powells of their time, capturing the torrential monsoon rains just as those reservoirs do the Colorado River's flash floods.

The cistern system provided temporary water security, but eventually it clearly proved inadequate. In the long run, Chaco couldn't be sustained because turbulent, unreliable flows of water are hard to tame. The descendants of those who left it behind settled the mesa-top villages of the Hopis in Arizona and of the Pueblo tribes of New Mexico. They learned to live on a smaller scale, with scant rain, and after many hundreds of years, they (unlike their once living and magnificent cities) remain. There is hope in that. It is no less possible now to understand limits, to practice precaution, and to build resilient communities.

Smoke Season

When it comes to the perturbed weather regime we are now entering, it's not just our agriculture and our sprawling cities that are having trouble adapting. The vitality of whole ecosystems is at stake. Native vegetation suffers, too. When critical moisture arrives before temperatures are warm enough for seeds to germinate, they don't. The native grasses on my land didn't thrive despite our cold, wet spring. Invasive cheat grass, however, blooms early, grows quickly, then dies and dries. It ignites easily and burns hot.

When higher temperatures evaporate the moisture in soils, they become drier in late summer and fall. Plants wither and are vulnerable to insect infestations. The vast expanse of mountain I can see out my window may seem like a classic alpine vista to the tourists who flock here every summer. A closer look, however, reveals expanding patches of gray and brown as beetle infestations kill off entire dried-out mountainsides. More than 2.5 million acres of Rocky Mountain woodlands have been destroyed by bark beetles so far. The once deep-green top of Grand Mesa in western Colorado is becoming a gray, grim dead zone, a ghostly forest waiting for lightning or some careless human to ignite it.

Dead forests, of course, are fuel for the dramatic, massive wildfires you now see so regularly on the TV news. We had quite a few of those wildfires this summer in Utah, but -- what with southern California burning -- they didn't make the evening news anywhere but here. That statement can be made all over the West. Both the frequency and size of fires are on the rise in our region. Early in the summer of 2008, while more than 2,000 separate wildfires raged across his state, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger made a point that many Western governors might soon be making. He claimed that California's fire season is now 365 days long. The infernos that licked the edges of the Los Angeles basin this August were at once catastrophic and routine.

Smoke is dust's inevitable twin in a West beset by climate chaos, and the lousy air quality we suffer when fires are raging is part of the new normal. A few years ago we could check the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website to see when winds might shift and bring relief. This summer, like last, there were so many fires and they were so widely distributed that it hardly mattered which way the wind blew: smoke was in our lungs and eyes one way or the other.

All of this adds up to a kind of habitat holocaust for wild species, from the tiniest micro-organisms in the soil to the largest mammals at the top of the food chain like elk and bears. Nobody makes it in a dead zone, whether it's a dust bowl or a desiccated forest.

Changes start at the bottom, as is usually true in ecosystems. When soil dries and the microbial dynamic changes, native plants either die or move uphill towards cooler temperatures and more moisture. The creatures that depend on their seeds, nuts, leaves, shade, and shelter follow the plants -- if they can. Animals normally adapt to slow change, but an avalanche of challenges is another matter. When species begin living at the precarious edge of their ability to tolerate the stress of it all, you have to expect wildlife populations to shift and dwindle. Then invasive species move in and a far different and diminished landscape emerges.

Human populations in the West will also shift and dwindle, with jarring consequences for all of America, if we do not learn quickly that watersheds have limits, especially within arid and unpredictable climates. The land also needs water. And such problems aren't just "Western." Dust storms and smoke won't just stay here.

There are, of course, enlightened and engaged citizens who are doing their best to address the growing challenge of a heated-up, chaotic climate. Conservation groups like the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance are working hard to protect critical habitat for stressed species and urging government land management agencies to include global warming in their plans and projections. The Glen Canyon Institute has raised the specter of a diminished Colorado River and is challenging water managers to get innovative and adopt policies that reward water conservation and punish waste. Across the West, people are waking up and learning about their own watersheds -- where their water comes from and where it goes. This, too, is hopeful. Time, unfortunately, is not on their side.

So, come see the beautiful West, our shining mountains, blue skies, and fabled canyons. It's all still here right now. Take pictures. Enjoy. But hurry...

Chip Ward told of his adventures as a grassroots organizer of campaigns to make polluters accountable in Canaries on the Rim: Living Downwind in the West. In Hope's Horizon: Three Visions for Healing the American Land, he described the visionary conservation projects that are the focus of his current activism. He is a regular and a former library administrator who now lives next to Capitol Reef National Park. His on-line essays are collected at his website.

Copyright 2009 Chip Ward
23210  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / The End of Welfare Water and the Drying of the West on: October 04, 2009, 10:14:14 AM
13 September 2009

All of us have been watching drought in action this summer. When it hits the TV news, though, it usually goes by the moniker of "fire." As we've seen, California, in the third year of a major drought, has been experiencing "a seemingly endless fire that has burned more than 250 square miles of Los Angeles County" (and that may turn out to be just the beginning of another fire season from hell).

Southern California has hardly been the only drought story, though. For those with an eye out, the southern parts of Texas, the hottest state in the union this year, have been in the grips of a monster drought. Seven hundred thousand acres of the state have already burned in 2009, with a high risk of more to come.

Jump a few thousand miles and along with neighboring Syria, Iraq has been going through analmost biblical drought which has turned parts of that country into a dustbowl, sweeping the former soil of the former Fertile Crescent via vast dust storms into the lungs of city dwellers.

In Africa, formerly prosperous Kenya is withering in the face of another fearsome drought that has left people desperate and livestock, crops and children, as well as elephants, dying.

And, if you happen to be on the lookout, you can read about drought in India, where rice andsugar cane farmers as well as government finances are suffering. Or consider Mexico, where the 2009 wet season never arrived and crops are wilting in a parched countryside from the U.S. border to the Yucatan Peninsula.

Everywhere water problems threaten to lead to water wars, while "drought refugees" flee the land and food crises escalate. It's a nasty brew. But here's the strange thing -- one I'vecommented on before: there has been some fine reporting on each of these drought situations, but you can hunt high and low in the mainstream and not find any set of these droughts in the same piece. There's little indication that drought might, in fact, be an increasing global problem, nor can you find anyone exploring whether the fierceness of recent droughts and their spread might, in part, be connected to climate change. The grim "little" picture is now regularly with us. Whatever the big picture may be, it escapes notice, which is why I'm particularly glad that environmentalist and TomDispatch regular Chip Ward has written a drought piece in which, from his perch in Utah, he takes in the whole weather-perturbed American West. Tom

Red Snow Warning
The End of Welfare Water and the Drying of the West
By Chip Ward

Pink snow is turning red in Colorado. Here on the Great American Desert -- specifically Utah's slickrock portion of it where I live -- hot n' dry means dust. When frequent high winds sweep across our increasingly arid landscape, redrock powder is lifted up and carried hundreds of miles eastward until it settles on the broad shoulders of Colorado's majestic mountains, giving the snowpack there a pink hue.

Some call it watermelon snow. Friends who ski into the backcountry of the San Juan and La Plata mountain ranges in western Colorado tell me that the pink-snow phenomenon has lately been giving way to redder hues, so thick and frequent are the dust storms that roll in these days. A cross-section of a typical Colorado snowbank last winter revealed alternating dirt and snow layers that looked like a weird wilderness version of our flag, red and white stripes alternating against the sky's blue field.

The Forecast: Dust Followed by Mud

Here in the lowlands, we, too, are experiencing the drying of the West in new dusty ways. Our landscapes are often covered with what we jokingly refer to as "adobe rain" -- when rain falls through dust, spattering windows or laundry hung out to dry with brown stains. After a dust "event" this past spring, I wandered through the lot of a car dealership in Grand Junction, Colorado, where the only color seemingly available was light tan. All those previously shiny, brightly painted cars had turned drab. I had to squint to read price stickers under opaque windows.

All of this is more than a mere smudge on our postcard-pretty scenery: Colorado's red snow is a warning that the climatological dynamic in the arid West is changing dramatically. Think of it as a harbinger -- and of more than simply a continuing version of the epic drought we've been experiencing these past several years.

The West is as dry as the East is wet, a vast and arid landscape of high plains and deserts broken by abrupt mountain ranges and deep canyons. Unlike eastern and midwestern America, where there are myriad rivers, streams, lakes, and giant underground lakes, or aquifers, to draw on, we depend on snowpack for about 90% of our fresh water. The Colorado River, running from its headwaters in the snow-loaded mountains of Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming, is the principal water source for those states, and downstream for Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and southern California as well.

While being developed into a crucial water resource, the Colorado became the most dammed, piped, legislated, and litigated river in America. Its development spawned a major federal bureaucracy, the Bureau of Reclamation, as well as a hundred state agencies, water districts, and private contractors to keep it plumbed and distributed. Taken altogether, this complex infrastructure of dams, pipelines, and reservoirs proved to be the most expensive and ambitious public works project in the nation's history, but it enabled the Southwest states and southern California to boom and bloom.

The downside is that we are now dangerously close to the limits of what the Colorado River can provide, even in the very best of weather scenarios, and the weather is being neither so friendly nor cooperative these days. If Portland soon becomes as warm as Los Angeles and Seattle as warm as Sacramento, as some forecasters now predict, expect Las Vegas and Phoenix to be more like Death Valley.

If the Colorado River shut down tomorrow, there might be two, at most three, years of stored water in its massive reservoirs to keep Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Las Vegas, and dozens of other cities that depend on it alive. That margin for survival gets thinner with each passing year and with each rise in the average temperature. Imagine a day in the not so distant future when the water finally runs out in one of those cities -- a kind of slow-motion Katrina in reverse, a city not flooded but parched, baked, blistered, and abandoned. If the Colorado River system failed to deliver, the impact on the nation's agriculture and economy would be comparable to an asteroid strike.

Too Much Too Soon, Then Too Little Too Late

Hot and dry is bad enough; chaotic weather only adds to our problems. As we practice it today, agriculture depends on cheap energy, a stable climate, and abundant water. Those last two are intimately mixed. Water has to be not just abundant, but predictable and reliable in its flow. And the words "predictable," "reliable," and "water" go together ever less comfortably in our neck of the woods.

Here's the problem. Despite the existence of the Colorado River's famous monster-dams like Hoover in Nevada and Glen Canyon in Utah and the mega-reservoirs -- Lake Mead and Lake Powell -- that gather behind them, we really count on the vast snowfields that store fresh water in our mountains to melt and trickle down to us slowly enough that our water lasts from the first spring runoff until the end of the fall growing season. Dust-covered snowpack, however, absorbs more heat, melts sooner, and often runs down into streams and rivers before our farmers can use it. In addition, as the temperature rises, spring storms that once brought storable snow are now more likely to come to us as rain, which only makes the situation worse.

This shift in the way our water reaches us is crucial in the West. Not only is snowpack shrinking as much as 25% in the Cascades of the Northwest and 15% in the snowfields of the Rocky Mountains, but it's arriving in the lowlands as much as a month earlier than usual. Farmers can't just tell their crops to adjust to the new pattern. Even California's rich food basket, the Central Valley, fed by one of the most complex and effective irrigation infrastructures in the country, is ultimately dependent on Sierra snowpack and predictable runoff.

We need a new term for what's happening -- perhaps "perturbulence" would describe the new helter-skelter weather pattern. In my Utah backyard, for example, this past May was unusually hot and unusually cold. At one point, we went from freezing to 80 degrees and back again in three short days. Not so long ago, seasonal changes came on here as if controlled by a dimmer switch, the shift from one season to the next being gradual. Now it's more like a toggle switch being abruptly shut on and off.

To add to the confusion, our summer monsoon season arrived six weeks early this year. A surprisingly wet spring seemed like good news amid the bigger picture of drought, but it turned out to mean that farmers had a hard time getting into their muddy fields to plant. Then when spring showers were so quickly followed by summer storms, some crops were actually suppressed, according to local gardeners and farmers.

The West at Your Doorstep?

Our soggy spring and summer, however, masked an epic drought that has touched almost every corner of the nation west of the Mississippi at one time or another over the past decade. Southern Texas right now is blazingly bone-dry. Seattle had a turn with record-breaking temperatures earlier this summer. In New Mexico, the drought has been less dramatic -- more like a steady drumbeat year after year.

A trip to the edge of Lake Powell in the canyon country of southern Utah in June revealed the bigger picture. A ten-story-high "bathtub ring" -- the band of white mineral deposits left behind on the reservoir's walls as the waterline dropped -- stretches the almost 200-mile length of the reservoir.

Recreational boat users, hoping against hope that the reservoir will refill, have regularly been issuing predictions about a return to "normal" levels, but it just hasn't happened. Side canyons, once submerged under 100 feet of water, have now been under the sun long enough to have turned into lush, mature habitats filled with willows and brush, birds and pack rats. A view from a cliff high above the once bustling, now ghostlike Hite Marina on the receding eastern side of Lake Powell shows the futility of chasing the retreating shoreline with cement: the water's edge and a much-extended boat-launching ramp now have 100 acres of dried mud, grass, and fresh shrubs between them.

After decades of frantic urban development and suburban sprawl across the states that draw water from the Colorado, demand has simply outstripped supply and it's only getting worse as the heat builds. Not surprisingly, a debate is building over what to do if there isn't enough water to fill both Lakes Powell and Mead, the principal reservoirs along the Colorado. Should the seven states that depend on the river live with two half-full reservoirs or a single full one, and if only one, which one? River managers have now realized that both massive "lakes" were always giant evaporation ponds in the middle of a desert and only more so as average temperatures climb. There is no sense in having twice as much water surface as necessary, which means twice as much evaporation, too.

Given the stakes, the debate over what to do if there isn't enough water is playing out like the preview to the all-out water war to come when the reality actually hits. Westerners are well aware that, as always, there will be winners and losers. The constituency for Lake Mead will no doubt prevail because of its proximity to Las Vegas and Phoenix, two cities that grew bloated on cheap but, as it has turned out, temporary water from the dammed Colorado. Already desperate to make up for their lost liquid, they will surely muster all their power and influence to keep the water flowing.

Las Vegas is now aiming to tap into an aquifer under the Snake Valley that straddles eastern Nevada and western Utah. Recently, a rancher friend who ekes out a precarious living there mentioned the obvious to me: the dusty surface of that arid high desert is barely held in place by a thin covering of brush, sage, and grass. Drop the water table even a few more inches and it all dies. The dust storms that would be generated by a future parched landscape like that might make it all the way to the Midwest or even farther. After decades in which Easterners ritualistically visited the American West, the West may be traveling east.

Those we pay to look ahead are now jockeying like mad for position in a future water-short West. A new era of ever more pipelines, wells, and dams is being dreamed up by the private contractors and bureaucrats swelling up like so many ticks on the construction and maintenance budgets of the West's heavily subsidized water-delivery infrastructure. It is unlikely, however, that their dreams will be fully realized. The low-hanging fruit -- the river canyons that could easily be dammed -- were picked decades ago and, unlike in the good ol' days when water simply ran towards money, citizens of our western states are now far more aware of the ecological costs of big dams and ever more awake to the unfolding consequences of dependence on unreliable water sources.

Making more water available never led to prudent use. Instead, cheap and easy water led to such foolishness as putting a golf course with expanses of irrigated green in every desert community, not to speak of rice and cotton farming in the Arizona desert.
23211  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Solar on: October 04, 2009, 10:09:50 AM
second post of the day:

Nearly a century ago, American engineer Frank Shuman erected five immense, trough-shaped mirrors in Meadi, Egypt. The parabolic reflectors directed sunlight onto a tube suspended above their 200-foot lengths. Water inside the tubes boiled and created steam. The steam powered a 65-horsepower engine, which pumped 6,000 gallons of water per minute from the Nile River to nearby cotton fields. It was the world’s first concentrated solar power (CSP) plant.

CSP entails focusing the sun’s rays with a reflective surface and putting that energy to work. These days, the heat usually goes to generating electricity. But the principle is quite old.

The ancient Chinese used concave mirrors to start fires, and, according to legend, the Greek mathematician and scientist Archimedes once used mirrors, perhaps of polished bronze, to ignite and burn an invading Roman fleet.

Shuman was addressing a concern of his time: Fossil fuels, particularly coal, powered the Industrial Revolution – the trains and mills, among other things, that radically changed human experience. But what happens when they ran out?

“One thing I feel sure of, and that is that the human race must finally utilize direct sun power or revert to barbarism,” Shuman told Scientific American magazine in 1911.

Fighting during World War I destroyed Shuman’s plant. But in the end it was cheap, abundant oil that obviated his ideas – or seemed to.

The oil crises of the 1970s again piqued interest in CSP, and, in the 1980s, plants resembling Shuman’s began cropping up in the Mojave Desert. Then natural-gas prices plummeted and the cycle repeated itself. No new commercial-scale CSP plants were built for nearly 20 years.

Now CSP is poised for a second – or third, depending on when the count begins – renaissance. And this time, say experts, it’s here to stay. World CSP capacity is forecast to increase nearly 18-fold in the next five years, from its current 588 megawatt potential to around 10.5 gigawatts. (Very roughly, 100 megawatts is enough energy to power 80,000 houses.) More than half of that new CSP capacity will be installed in the United States.

Several factors are driving the CSP boom. Although utility companies have long viewed CSP as an option for generating electricity from the sun, they’ve hesitated to commit to the technology. That’s partly because CSP becomes efficient and cost-effective only at the megawatt (MW) scale.

Photovoltaics, by contrast, can be installed piecemeal on the kilowatt scale – a panel here, another there. And that’s why photovoltaics have so far dominated the solar market.

Now, the specter of carbon regulation has shifted attention back toward CSP. The prospect of large-scale solar plants is again attractive. The “renewable portfolio” standard – which requires increased production of energy from renewable sources – has also encouraged investment in CSP. And the investment tax credit – a potential 30 percent credit on qualifying solar projects – has made investors more willing to risk capital in CSP ventures.

Solar is here to stay, now

“Twenty years ago, everyone thought the solar era was upon us, and then the industry basically went away when oil and gas got cheap,” says Cara Libby, project manager at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) in Palo Alto, Calif. Now, “it certainly appears that solar is here to stay.”

For their part, power companies like CSP for old-fashioned reasons. For one, it uses a technology – steam-driven turbines – that is familiar after decades of use in coal-fired plants.

CSP plants also have thermal inertia. That means that, if a cloud passes overhead, they can continue operating for a time with the heat already gathered, and that’s without storage.

Assuming no rechargeable batteries, photovoltaic fields, by contrast, stop producing electricity when clouds arrive.

Technology for storing heat in molten salts, meanwhile, promises to extend CSP plants’ generating capacity well into the night.

But the bottom line is that natural-gas prices are volatile, an unknown for anyone trying to turn a profit. By comparison, CSP costs – when stretched over the life of a plant – are mostly (80 percent, by one estimate) related to installation. CSP maintenance costs are relatively small, and the sun, its fuel, is free.

“There’s a hedging aspect in building a solar thermal plant,” says Nathaniel Bullard, a solar-sector analyst with New Energy Finance in Washington. “Right now it makes sense to burn gas; it’s really cheap. But you could, in the future, end up losing your shirt on it.”

Inventor Thomas Edison, a contemporary of Shuman’s and the man who gave us the system of steam-generated electricity distributed by wires, told friends late in his life that “I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power!”

Earth has a natural “sun belt,” a swath of relatively empty subtropical deserts including the US Southwest, the Sahara, the Middle East, and much of Australia. By one estimate, installing CSP plants in just 1 percent of the world’s deserts – an area slightly larger than Ireland – could supply all the world’s electricity.

The German Aerospace Center calculates that, assuming high voltage, transmediterranean transmission lines, just 6,023 square miles of CSP in North Africa could keep all of Europe electrified.

In the US, CSP plants in the Southwest could generate 11,000 gigawatts (GWs) of electricity, says Mark Mehos, principal program manager of concentrating solar power at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colo. That’s roughly 10 times all the electrical generating capacity currently in place, including coal, nuclear, solar, and hydroelectric – more than enough for the country’s energy needs.

In other words, there’s plenty of sun. The real challenge is making CSP technology competitive with coal.

Currently, CSP costs about 14 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh), within striking range of current combined-cycle natural-gas plants, in which a gas turbine generator generates electricity and a steam turbine uses the waste heat to generate more. A combined-cycle natural-gas plant produces electricity for about 12 cents per kWh.

Pulverized coal plants, on the other hand, generate electricity for 6 cents per kWh – less than half CSP’s cost. But, says Mr. Mehos, if you assume that future coal-fired plants will require carbon sequestration, then that cost moves up to about 10 cents per kWh. That means CSP prices still need to drop by nearly one-third to be competitive with future coal plants.

A plethora of CSP companies are racing to innovate and reduce costs. At this point, CSP technology comes in four general “flavors,” each with different perceived strengths and weaknesses.

Parabolic-trough systems focus the sun’s energy onto a tube running their length. Temperatures in the tube can reach 750 degrees F. A medium in the tube – sometimes synthetic oil that transfers its heat to water, sometimes water itself – collects heat to drive turbines. A second troughlike system, called a Compact Linear Fresnel Reflector, uses several mirrors to focus the sun’s rays on a single receiver tube above.

Trough technology benefits from being proven. That was Shuman’s design, and it’s the one the Mojave plants installed in the 1980s and ’90s. A planned 280-MW CSP plant near Phoenix will use trough technology, and store heat for electrical generation in molten salts.

‘Power towers’ more efficient
But experts say that, although it’s a known quantity, trough technology may be less efficient than newer, albeit less-tested, approaches. One reason: Newer systems achieve higher temperatures, which greatly increase efficiency.

So-called “power towers” – thousands of mirrors, or heliostats, directing the sun’s rays at a central tower – can achieve 1,300 degrees F. They also benefit from not having to pump the receiver fluid through tubing, an energy loss.

The first commercial scale “power tower” plant began operating near Seville, Spain, in 2007. The 11-MW plant resembles a gigantic, silver-petaled flower reflecting rays of light toward a central stamen. (Others compare it to the lidless Eye of Sauron in the “Lord of the Rings” movies.)

In the US, eSolar recently brought a 5-MW “power tower” demonstration plant on line near Lancaster, Calif. It includes a number of innovations, says Jim Shandalov, eSolar’s vice president of business development. Its relatively small mirrors – thousands of them about a yard square – rise no higher than four feet. Compared with troughs, which can be up to 10 feet high, or the Spanish plant, which has mirrors mounted on frames more than 120 square meters in area, the four-foot height keeps the wind profile down. A smaller profile also means fewer building materials.

Small, flat mirrors are also cheaper to manufacture, transport, and install, he says. An automated robot on a track can clean and maintain the mirrors, further cutting costs.
Finally, new software calibrates each mirror individually, an improvement over the “two walkie-talkie men” method of yore, says Mr. Shandalov, “We’ve made it more efficient.” (He won’t say by how much – that’s a trade secret.)

A fourth CSP option uses a reflective parabolic dish. A Stirling engine, the basic design of which is 200 years old, sits at the dish’s focal point. About the size of a motorcycle engine, it contains hydrogen gas. When heated, the gas drives four pistons, generating electricity on the spot. Stirling Energy Systems and its partner company, Tessera Solar, use this approach in their SunCatcher. A 1.5-MW demonstration plant is slated to begin operating in January near Phoenix.

Most efficient method costs more

Some point out that this method’s large pedestals holding the glass parabolas, some 38 feet across, represent a cost that low-profile, flat-mirror approaches have successfully eliminated.

Nonetheless, in purely thermodynamic terms, the SunCatcher is the most efficient CSP approach so far. It converts 31 percent of the sun’s energy to grid-ready electricity. By comparison, photovoltaic ranges between 8 and 15 percent efficiency, and trough CSP between 15 and 19 percent.

The SunCatcher has one more advantage: The engines aren’t cooled with water. The hydrogen cools in an air radiator similar to that found in a car.

That’s important because, in the arid and semiarid regions of the desert Southwest, where CSP makes the most sense, water is already a hot-button issue. And it’s predicted to become more so.

“The Southwest is a great place to build solar, but it’s not a great place to build water-intensive solar,” says Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute in Oakland, Calif., a nonprofit devoted to sustainability issues.

Air-cooling CSP is possible, but can decrease efficiency and – in some situations and regions – increase costs by 5 to 10 percent. Yet for some, it’s already a selling point. BrightSource Energy, a company developing a 400-MW “power tower” plant in the Mojave, touts the fact that its plant will be entirely air-cooled.

Other companies are developing new, cost-saving materials. SkyFuel in Albuquerque, N.M., is testing a reflective laminate material that, it says, is more durable than standard glass. Theoretically usable in any of the CSP approaches, it’s 10 to 20 percent cheaper than glass mirrors, says Andi Plocek, SkyFuel’s marketing director.

Many see cost- effective heat storage as the biggest long-term hurdle for CSP. “The cost of storage is higher than we thought,” says Mehos.

Eventually, utilities will want to generate electricity from renewable sources through the night. To do that with CSP, they’ll need to store the sun’s energy.

Molten salts – used as fertilizer in agriculture – are one solution. But they’re also potentially difficult to handle. They freeze below a certain temperature, possibly clogging the system if allowed to cool. Another consideration with any storage is that with each transfer of heat between media, energy is lost and efficiency diminishes.

In other words, on the cusp of a CSP boom, which technology will dominate and how it will store heat is still very much an open question.

“It’s hard to predict who’s going to win in the end, if there is a winner,” says EPRI’s Ms. Libby: “We need to get more hardware on the ground and really test out all the options.”
23212  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Solar in Israel on: October 04, 2009, 10:08:16 AM
Solar energy in Israel

It's a knockout

Jul 23rd 2009 | JERUSALEM
From The Economist print edition

Two novel approaches to making electricity from sunlight

ISRAEL is a country with plenty of sunshine, lots of sand and quite a few clever physicists and chemists. Put these together—having first extracted the oxygen from the sand, to leave pure silicon—and you have the ingredients for an innovative solar-power industry. Shining sunlight onto silicon is the most direct way of turning it into electricity (the light knocks electrons free from the silicon atoms), but it is also the most expensive. The scientists are what you need to make the process cheaper. And that is what two small companies based in Jerusalem are trying, in different ways, to do.

The physicists and chemists at GreenSun Energy, led by Renata Reisfeld, think the way is to use less silicon. Traditional solar cells are made of thin sheets of the element covered by glass plates. In GreenSun’s cells, though, only the outer edges of the glass plates are covered by silicon, in the form of thin strips. The trick is to get the light falling on the glass to diffuse sideways to the edges, so that the silicon can turn it into electricity. Dr Reisfeld’s team do this by coating the glass with a combination of dyes and sprinkling it with nanoparticles of a metal whose nature they are not yet willing to disclose.

Depth of field

The dyes are there to absorb the incident sunlight (a mixture is used in order to capture all parts of the spectrum). The role of the metal, though, is more subtle. The dyes in question are fluorescent—having absorbed the light, they re-radiate it. Normally, that would mean it was lost. But interaction with the nanoparticles turns it into a form of electromagnetic radiation called surface plasmons. These, as their name suggests, propagate over the surface of the glass until they are intercepted by the silicon at its edges.

Not only does all this make GreenSun’s cells cheaper than conventional ones, because they use so much less silicon; it also makes them better. In a conventional solar cell much of the energy is lost. The energy of light varies across the spectrum (blue light is more energetic than red) but only a certain amount of energy is needed to knock an electron free. If the incident light is more energetic than necessary, the surplus disappears as heat. Unlike the sun, which scatters its energy across the board, the dye/nanoparticle mix delivers plasmons of the right energy to knock electrons free without waste.

According to Amnon Leikovich, the firm’s boss, the upshot is a device that could already, if put into production, deliver electricity at only twice the cost of the stuff that comes out of a conventional power station. That may not sound great, but the power from traditional cells is about five times as costly as grid electricity, so GreenSun’s system sounds like a winner for places that are not yet connected. Moreover, Mr Leikovich hopes that costs can be brought down, and efficiency improved, to achieve the alternative-energy nirvana of “grid parity”.

He is not the only one, though. Around the corner, Jonathan Goldstein of 3GSolar hopes to get rid of silicon altogether. 3G’s “dye-sensitised” solar cells use titanium dioxide (more familiar as a pigment used in white paints) and complicated dye molecules that contain a metal called ruthenium. When one of the dye molecules is hit by light of sufficient energy, an electron is knocked out of it and absorbed by the titanium dioxide, before being passed out of the cell to do useful work.

This is a well-known process (it was invented 20 years ago by Michael Grätzel, a physicist at the Federal Polytechnic School in Lausanne, Switzerland) and several firms are trying to commercialise it. Dr Goldstein, however, thinks 3G has an edge over its rivals because of the way it draws off the power—though he is reluctant to go into details. One thing that is clear, though, is that dye-sensitised cells will be cheap to make. Both silicon cells and a third technology, so-called thin-film cells (which use novel materials such as cadmium telluride deposited onto sheets of glass or steel), have to be made in a vacuum. That is expensive. Dye-sensitised cells can be made by a process similar to screen printing, which is cheap.

Dye-sensitised cells are not as efficient as silicon ones, but their cheapness may outweigh that in many applications. As Barry Breen, 3G’s boss, points out, more than a billion and a half people have no access to grid electricity. With people like Dr Reisfeld and Dr Goldstein around, soon that may not matter.
23213  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / IMHO worth serious reflection on: October 04, 2009, 08:35:28 AM
10 Steps to Victory in Afghanistan

: October 3, 2009
Op-Ed page of NYTimes

Reform or Go Home

COUNTERINSURGENCY is only as good as the government it supports. NATO could do everything right — it isn’t — but will still fail unless Afghans trust their government. Without essential reform, merely making the government more efficient or extending its reach will just make things worse.

Only a legitimately elected Afghan president can enact reforms, so at the very least we need to see a genuine run-off election or an emergency national council, called a loya jirga, before winter. Once a legitimate president emerges, we need to see immediate action from him on a publicly announced reform program, developed in consultation with Afghan society and enforced by international monitors. Reforms should include firing human rights abusers and drug traffickers, establishing an independent authority to investigate citizen complaints and requiring officials to live in the districts they are responsible for (fewer than half do).

Other steps might include a census and district-level elections (promised since 2001, but never held), fair and effective taxation to replace kickbacks and extortion, increased pay to diligent local officials, the transfer of more budgetary authority to the provinces and the creation of local courts for dispute resolution.

If we see no genuine progress on such steps toward government responsibility, the United States should “Afghanize,” draw down troops and prepare to mitigate the inevitable humanitarian disaster that will come when the Kabul government falls to the Taliban — which, in the absence of reform, it eventually and deservedly will.

— DAVID KILCULLEN, a former adviser to Gen. David Petraeus and the author of “The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One”

End Suicide Attacks

TO win in Afghanistan, the United States and its allies must prevent the rise of a new generation of anti-American terrorists, particularly suicide terrorists.

The metric for measuring this threat is not the amount of territory controlled by the Taliban or Al Qaeda, but the number of people willing to be recruited as suicide terrorists. These individuals are motivated not by the existence of a terrorist sanctuary, but by deep anger at the presence of foreign forces on land they prize.

This is why the number of suicide attacks in Afghanistan, overwhelmingly against military targets, has skyrocketed as United States and NATO forces have increasingly occupied the country from 2006 on. There were nine attacks in 2005, 97 in 2006, 142 in 2007, 148 in 2008 and more than 60 in the first six months of this year.

It is imperative to decrease the number of suicide attacks. Given the ethnic divisions of the country, our best tactic is to use political and economic means to empower local Pashtuns to feel that they have greater autonomy from both Taliban and Western domination, and less need to respond violently.

A similar strategy toward Sunni groups in Anbar Province reduced anti-American suicide terrorism in Iraq and is our best way forward in Afghanistan.

— ROBERT A. PAPE, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago and the author of “Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism”

If You Can’t Beat Them, Let Them Join

WITHIN a year, we must persuade large numbers of insurgents to lay down their arms or switch to the government’s side. Afghanistan’s doughty warriors have a tradition of changing alliances, but success will require both military operations focused on the insurgent leadership and, even more important, incentives for fighters at the local level.

Mid-level insurgents and their followers should be offered a chance to join a revised version of the Afghan Public Protection Force. These local self-defense forces should be expanded and tied to legitimate local governing structures — both official and tribal. The majority of development funds should be funneled to leaders to strengthen local governance and development and pay the militias’ salaries.

Local self-defense forces in Colombia, Peru, South Vietnam and, most recently, Iraq, have proved very successful. The creation of a viable force like this is the single most important benchmark for the counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan.

— LINDA ROBINSON, the author of “Tell Me How This Ends: Gen. David Petraeus and the Search for a Way Out of Iraq”

Pump Up the Police
FOR all the disputes over strategy, virtually everyone agrees that we need to strengthen the Afghan security forces, make them true partners and put them in the lead. Afghans want lasting security, and they want it to have an Afghan face.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top American commander there, wisely wants to double the size of the Afghan Army and increase the police forces to 160,000 men. This requires not just money, but also a commitment to send more trainers, embedded advisers and partner units. At the moment, international forces in Afghanistan say they still lack about 30 percent of the trainers and mentors needed to train even the current police force.

Creating effective security forces will also require more aid to create a functioning local justice system with courts, lawyers and jails. This will take at least a decade, so for the short term we should assist efforts to revive Afghanistan’s traditional justice systems.

— ANTHONY CORDESMAN, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies

Kick Out Corruption

TO defeat the insurgency, the Afghan government and its main partner, the United States, need to win the confidence of the public. Accountability must replace the widespread immunity enjoyed by officials who abuse their power.

Despite all the problems with our recent election, the incoming government will have a chance to start fresh, and a proper vetting of all new officials is the place to begin. This means establishing strict accountability mechanisms for high officials in the districts and provinces as well as in the ministries and directorates in Kabul. Simply shuffling abusive and incompetent officials among offices — as has been the norm over the past eight years — keeps the public from getting the governmental services it needs.

While the corruption in Kabul is well known, the alliances that American and other foreign forces have made at the local level with abusive officials and influential figures have emboldened those Afghans and alarmed the Afghan public. These alliances must be examined and stopped. The next government should make a statement by quickly clearing out some of the most blatantly corrupt officials.

— NADER NADERY, a commissioner on the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission

Learn to Tax From the Taliban

SKEPTICS of state-building proposals question whether the Kabul government — now almost fully dependent on foreign aid — will ever be able to support the military and police forces being trained. Yet there has been comparatively little investment by the international community in helping Kabul collect taxes, even though insurgents and corrupt officials have proved it can be done.

In addition to collecting taxes from the illegal opium trade, Taliban forces extort money from trucks carrying legal cargo through their territories and demand “protection fees” from local businesses, even hitting up construction projects financed by NATO.

Government officials also take illegal kickbacks — one governor in the eastern part of the country is reported to earn as much as $10 million a month extorting trucking firms. But this money doesn’t end up in state coffers — it just lines the governor’s deep pockets.

The “civilian surge” should include tax experts who could help federal and provincial officials develop mechanisms for collecting revenue — and make sure that money ends up where it belongs.

— GRETCHEN PETERS, the author of “Seeds of Terror”

Polls Have the Power

BY and large, my generation of military professionals trained for and thought about what we might call “Type A” war — modern war, featuring the clash of mechanized forces fielded by industrial states. Happily, we never had to fight the Soviets on the northern German plain, though Operation Desert Storm showed we might have been pretty good at it, had the balloon gone up.

In Afghanistan we’re fighting a “Type B” war that is in some of its essentials “postmodern.” Like postmodernism itself, the concept has a variety of meanings and may not represent a coherent set of ideas. But one thing is clear: the Type B enemy likely has little to lose — no territory to protect, few important targets at risk, perhaps even no life worth living. Thus the Type A objective of fatally weakening an opponent by destroying assets important to his success — in theory, a measurable process — is replaced in Type B war by the much more complicated, essentially unquantifiable task of defeating him.

In time, democracies tire of war, as well they should. Thus, the single most important factor a Type B enemy counts on is time. The outcome in Afghanistan may be determined already, simply because we’ve been there for eight years. The strategic center of gravity is American public opinion, which will tell us when we’ve run out of time. If you want to know how we are doing in Afghanistan, read the polls in America.

— MERRILL McPEAK, the chief of staff of the Air Force from 1990 to 1994

Take a Risk
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WHILE in Afghanistan last summer as part of Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s initial assessment team, I found many American and other international units more focused on protecting themselves than protecting the Afghan population. Traveling through the allegedly secure city of Mazar-i-Sharif with a German unit, for example, was like touring Afghanistan by submarine. What little I saw of the city was through a small slit of bulletproof glass in an armored personnel carrier. (While I was a light-infantry officer in both the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, I had never before traveled in an armored personnel carrier.) The Germans offered their assessment of security in the region, but since they lack regular face-to-face contact with the people living there, why should I trust their analysis? Can they speak with authority on the degree to which an insurgent campaign of intimidation is having an effect when they themselves keep the Afghans at such a distance?

It’s not just the Germans, though. Some American and other allied commanders also insist on protective measures that hamper troops from interacting with the population and gathering information on what is driving the conflict at the local level.

After eight years of war with little to show for American and allied efforts, many Americans have tired of the campaign in Afghanistan and are wary of putting our soldiers in greater danger. But if we are to be successful in Afghanistan, it is a risk we must take.

— ANDREW McDONALD EXUM, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security

Don’t Believe That We Can Afford to Lose

AMERICA cannot achieve even the minimal objective of preventing Al Qaeda from re-establishing safe havens in Afghanistan without a substantial increase in forces over the coming year. The Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan’s south is growing. The Afghan and international forces there now cannot reverse that growth. They may not even be able to stem it. That is the assessment of the top American commander there, Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

President Obama said in August, “If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which Al Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans.” Some of his advisers now say the opposite: Taliban control will not lead to terrorist havens. Why not? Osama bin Laden first built camps in the territory of a Taliban leader, Jalaluddin Haqqani, in the mid-1980s. Relations between Al Qaeda and the Taliban remain close. Even if they do not invite Al Qaeda in, could they, unlike Pakistan, keep Al Qaeda out? The president was right: the triumph of the Taliban will benefit Al Qaeda.

Rejecting General McChrystal’s request for more forces leaves two options. The United States withdraws and lets Afghanistan again collapse into chaos, or it keeps its military forces and civilians in harm’s way while denying them the resources they need to succeed. Neither is acceptable.

— FREDERICK KAGAN, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and KIMBERLY KAGAN, the president of the Institute for the Study of War

Pakistani Patronage

THE government of Pakistan, through its intelligence agency, has long been a patron of the Afghan Taliban, and Gen. Stanley McChrystal recently warned that the collaboration continues. Pakistan sees the relationship as a way of hedging its bets in Afghanistan, an asset in its confrontation with India.

It is difficult to define a clear benchmark for ending that aid because the Pakistanis refuse to acknowledge that any relationship exists. But let us consider it to have ended or gone into remission if, a year from now, six consecutive months have gone by with no credible reporting of the sort that underlay the general’s observation.

The significance of this benchmark is threefold. First, Pakistani patronage is an impediment to subduing the Taliban. Second, it is an excellent gauge of how well or poorly NATO’s campaign in Afghanistan is going. Continued Pakistani dealing with the Taliban would reflect Islamabad’s judgment that it is going poorly enough that bets still must be hedged. Third, an end to the relationship would eliminate one of the biggest paradoxes in the rationale for the counterinsurgency: the Pakistani government that our efforts in Afghanistan are supposedly helping to save is assisting the forces from which we are trying to save it.

— PAUL R. PILLAR, a former national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia at the C.I.A. and a professor in Georgetown University’s Security Studies Program
23214  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Thomas Friedman, neocon (smirk) on: October 04, 2009, 08:21:04 AM
Still Not Tired Recommend
Pravda on the Hudson
Published: October 3, 2009

He didn’t want to wear earplugs. Apparently, he wanted to enjoy the blast.

That is what The Dallas Morning News reported about Hosam Maher Husein Smadi, the 19-year-old Jordanian accused of trying to blow up a downtown Dallas skyscraper. He was caught by an F.B.I. sting operation that culminated in his arrest nearly two weeks ago — after Smadi parked a 2001 Ford Explorer Sport Trac, supplied by the F.B.I., in the garage of a Dallas office tower.

“Inside the S.U.V. was a fake bomb, designed to appear similar to one used by Timothy McVeigh in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing,” The News wrote. “Authorities say Smadi thought he could detonate it with a cellphone. After parking the vehicle, he got into another vehicle with one of the agents, and they drove several blocks away. An agent offered Smadi earplugs, but he declined, ‘indicating that he wanted to hear the blast,’ authorities said. He then dialed the phone, thinking it would trigger the bomb. ... Instead, the agents took him into custody.”

If that doesn’t send a little shiver down your spine, how about this one? reported that “it has emerged that an Al Qaeda bomber who died last month while trying to blow up a Saudi prince in Jeddah had hidden the explosives inside his body.” He reportedly inserted the bomb and detonator in his rectum to elude metal detectors. My God.

Or how about this? Two weeks ago in Denver, the F.B.I. arrested Najibullah Zazi, a 24-year-old Afghan immigrant, and indicted him on charges of planning to set off a bomb made of the same home-brewed explosives used in the 2005 London transit bombings. He allegedly learned how to do so on a training visit to Pakistan. The Times reported that Zazi “had bought some bomb ingredients in beauty supply stores, the authorities said, after viewing instructions on his laptop on how to build such a bomb. When an employee of the Beauty Supply Warehouse asked about the volume of materials he was buying, he remembered Mr. Zazi answering, ‘I have a lot of girlfriends.’ ”

These incidents are worth reflecting on. They tell us some important things. First, we may be tired of this “war on terrorism,” but the bad guys are not. They are getting even more “creative.”

Second, in this war on terrorism, there is no “good war” or “bad war.” There is one war with many fronts, including Europe and our own backyard, requiring many different tactics. It is a war within Islam, between an often too-silent Muslim mainstream and a violent, motivated, often nihilistic jihadist minority. Theirs is a war over how and whether Islam should embrace modernity. It is a war fueled by humiliation — humiliation particularly among young Muslim males who sense that their faith community has fallen behind others, in terms of both economic opportunity and military clout. This humiliation has spawned various jihadists cults, including Al Qaeda, which believe they have the God-given right to kill infidels, their own secular leaders and less pious Muslims to purify Islam and Islamic lands and thereby restore Muslim grandeur.

Third, the newest and maybe most active front in this war is not Afghanistan, but the “virtual Afghanistan” — the loose network of thousands of jihadist Web sites, mosques and prayer groups that recruit, inspire and train young Muslims to kill without any formal orders from Al Qaeda. The young man in Dallas came to F.B.I. attention after espousing war on the U.S. on jihadist Web sites.

Fourth, in the short run, winning this war requires effective police/intelligence action, to kill or capture the jihadists. I call that “the war on terrorists.” In the long run, though, winning requires partnering with Arab and Muslim societies to help them build thriving countries, integrated with the world economy, where young people don’t grow up in a soil poisoned by religious extremists and choked by petro-dictators so they can never realize their aspirations. I call this “the war on terrorism.” It takes a long time.

Our operation in Afghanistan after 9/11 was, for me, only about “the war on terrorists.” It was about getting bin Laden. Iraq was “the war on terrorism” — trying to build a decent, pluralistic, consensual government in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world. Despite all we’ve paid, the outcome in Iraq remains uncertain. But it was at least encouraging to see last week’s decision by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki to run in the next election with a nonsectarian, multireligious coalition — a rare thing in the Arab world.

So, what President Obama is actually considering in Afghanistan is shifting from a “war on terrorists” there to a “war on terrorism,” including nation-building. I still have serious doubts that we have a real Afghan government partner for that. But if Mr. Obama decides to send more troops, the most important thing is not the number. It is his commitment to see it through. If he seems ambivalent, no one there will stand with us and we’ll have no chance. If he seems committed, maybe — maybe — we’ll find enough allies. Remember, the bad guys are totally committed — and they are not tired.

23215  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Even UN nuke agency says Iran going for nukes on: October 04, 2009, 07:45:31 AM
From Pravda on the Hudson:

Report Says Iran Has Data to Make a Nuclear Bomb

Published: October 3, 2009
Senior staff members of the United Nations nuclear agency have concluded in a confidential analysis that Iran has acquired “sufficient information to be able to design and produce a workable” atom bomb.

The report by experts in the International Atomic Energy Agency stresses in its introduction that its conclusions are tentative and subject to further confirmation of the evidence, which it says came from intelligence agencies and its own investigations.

But the report’s conclusions, described by senior European officials, go well beyond the public positions taken by several governments, including the United States.

Two years ago, American intelligence agencies published a detailed report concluding that Tehran halted its efforts to design a nuclear weapon in 2003. But in recent months, Britain has joined France, Germany and Israel in disputing that conclusion, saying the work has been resumed.

A senior American official said last week that the United States was now re-evaluating its 2007 conclusions.

The atomic agency’s report also presents evidence that beyond improving upon bomb-making information gathered from rogue nuclear experts around the world, Iran has done extensive research and testing on how to fashion the components of a weapon. It does not say how far that work has progressed.

The report, titled “Possible Military Dimensions of Iran’s Nuclear Program,” was produced in consultation with a range of nuclear weapons experts inside and outside the agency. It draws a picture of a complex program, run by Iran’s Ministry of Defense, “aimed at the development of a nuclear payload to be delivered using the Shahab 3 missile system,” Iran’s medium-range missile, which can strike the Middle East and parts of Europe. The program, according to the report, apparently began in early 2002.

If Iran is designing a warhead, that would represent only part of the complex process of making nuclear arms. Experts say Iran has already mastered the hardest part, enriching the uranium that can be used as nuclear fuel.

While the analysis represents the judgment of the nuclear agency’s senior staff, a struggle has erupted in recent months over whether to make it public. The dispute pits the agency’s departing director, Mohamed ElBaradei, against his own staff and against foreign governments eager to intensify pressure on Iran.

Dr. ElBaradei has long been reluctant to adopt a confrontational strategy with Iran, an approach he considers counterproductive. Responding to calls for the report’s release, he has raised doubts about its completeness and reliability.

Last month, the agency issued an unusual statement cautioning it “has no concrete proof” that Iran ever sought to make nuclear arms, much less to perfect a warhead. On Saturday in India, Dr. ElBaradei was quoted as saying that “a major question” about the authenticity of the evidence kept his agency from “making any judgment at all” on whether Iran had ever sought to design a nuclear warhead.

Even so, the emerging sense in the intelligence world that Iran has solved the major nuclear design problems poses a new diplomatic challenge for President Obama and his allies as they confront Iran.

American officials say that in the direct negotiations with Iran that began last week, it will be vital to get the country to open all of its suspected sites to international inspectors. That is a long list, topped by the underground nuclear enrichment center under construction near Qum, that was revealed 10 days ago.

Iran has acknowledged that the underground facility is intended as a nuclear enrichment center, but says the fuel it makes will be used solely to produce nuclear power and medical isotopes. It was kept heavily protected, Iranian officials said, to ward off potential attacks.

Iran said last week that it would allow inspectors to visit the site this month. In the past three years, amid mounting evidence of a possible military dimension to its nuclear program, Iran has denied the agency wide access to installations, documents and personnel.

In recent weeks, there have been leaks about the internal report, perhaps intended to press Dr. ElBaradei into releasing it.

The report’s existence has been rumored for months, and The Associated Press, saying it had seen a copy, reported fragments of it in September. On Friday, more detailed excerpts appeared on the Web site of the Institute for Science and International Security, run by David Albright, a nuclear expert.

In recent interviews, a senior European official familiar with the contents of the full report described it to The New York Times. He confirmed that Mr. Albright’s excerpts were authentic. The excerpts were drawn from a 67-page version of the report written earlier this year and since revised and lengthened, the official said; its main conclusions remain unchanged.

“This is a running summary of where we are,” the official said.

“But there is some loose language,” he added, and it was “not ready for publication as an official document.”


Page 2 of 2)

Most dramatically, the report says the agency “assesses that Iran has sufficient information to be able to design and produce a workable implosion nuclear device” based on highly enriched uranium.

Weapons based on the principle of implosion are considered advanced models compared with the simple gun-type bomb that the United States dropped on Hiroshima. They use a blast wave from a sphere of conventional explosives to compress a ball of bomb fuel into a supercritical mass, starting the atomic chain reaction and progressing to the fiery blast. Implosion designs, compact by nature, are considered necessary for making nuclear warheads small and powerful enough to fit atop a missile.
The excerpts of the analysis also suggest the Iranians have done a wide array of research and testing to perfect nuclear arms, like making high-voltage detonators, firing test explosives and designing warheads.

The evidence underlying these conclusions is not new: Some of it was reported in a confidential presentation to many nations in early 2008 by the agency’s chief inspector, Ollie Heinonen.

Iran maintains that its scientists have never conducted research on how to make a warhead. Iranian officials say any documents to the contrary are fraudulent.

But in August, a public report to the board of the I.A.E.A. by its staff concluded that the evidence of Iran’s alleged military activity was probably genuine.

It said “the information contained in that documentation appears to have been derived from multiple sources over different periods of time, appears to be generally consistent, and is sufficiently comprehensive and detailed that it needs to be addressed by Iran with a view to removing the doubts” about the nature of its nuclear program.

The agency’s tentative analysis also says that Iran “most likely” obtained the needed information for designing and building an implosion bomb “from external sources” and then adapted the information to its own needs.

It said nothing specific about the “external sources,” but many intelligence agencies assume that Iran obtained a bomb design from A. Q. Khan, the rogue Pakistani black marketer who sold it machines to enrich uranium. That information may have been supplemented by a Russian nuclear weapons scientist who visited Iran often, investigators say.

The I.A.E.A.’s internal report concluded that the staff believed “that non-nuclear experiments conducted in Iran would give confidence that the implosion system would function correctly.”
23216  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / An so it goes , , , on: October 04, 2009, 12:25:41 AM
Because the effort failed these details are likely to slip down the memory hole rather quickly.  Note them now before they do.

All the president’s Olympic cronies
by Michelle Malkin
Creators Syndicate
Copyright 2009

When government officials play the Olympic lottery, taxpayers lose. That has been the disastrous experience of host cities around the world (Forbes magazine even dubbed the post-Olympic financial burden the “Host City Curse”). So, why are President Obama and his White House entourage headed to Copenhagen, Denmark this week to push a fiscally doomed Chicago 2016 bid? Political payback.

Bringing the games to the Windy City is Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley’s “vision.” The entrenched Democratic power-broker – in office since 1989 – would like to cap off his graft-tainted career with a glorious, $4 billion bread and circuses production. The influential Daley machine backed Barack Obama for the presidential primary. Obama lavished praise on Daley’s stewardship of the city. Longtime Daley cronies helped pave Obama’s path to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Now, they’re returning the favor for their hometown boss.

Senior White House adviser and Obama consigliere Valerie Jarrett is a Daley loyalist who worked as his deputy chief of staff, deputy corporation counsel, and planning commissioner. She hired the future First Lady of the United States, then-Michelle Robinson, as a mayoral assistant. Jarrett went on to serve as president and CEO of The Habitat Company, a real estate firm with a massive stake in federally-funded Chicago public housing projects.

One of those public-private partnerships, the Grove Parc Plaza Apartments, was run into the ground under Jarrett’s watch. Federal inspectors graded the condition of the complex a bottom-of-the-barrel 11 on a 100-point scale. “They are rapidly displacing poor people, and these companies are profiting from this displacement,” Matt Ginsberg-Jaeckle of Southside Together Organizing for Power, a community group that seeks to help tenants stay in the same neighborhoods, told the Boston Globe last year. “The same exact people who ran these places into the ground,” the private companies paid to build and manage the city’s affordable housing, “now are profiting by redeveloping them.”

Coincidentally enough, Grove Parc — now targeted for demolition as a result of years of neglect by Obama’s developer friends—sits in the shadows of the proposed site of the city’s 2016 Olympics Stadium

Jarrett served as vice chair of Chicago’s 2016 Summer Olympics bid committee before moving to the White House, where she has helmed a new “White House Office on Olympic, Paralympic and Youth Sport” with an undisclosed budget and staff. It’s not just taxpayers in cash-strapped Chicago who should be worried about this field of schemes. Crain’s Chicago Business reports that Jarrett and Chicago 2016 committee member Lori Healey met this month with federal officials at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development “to discuss financing options” for the estimated $1 billion Olympic Village.

The door is open and the administration is “willing to meet and listen” to any federal subsidy proposals, Jarrett said. Hey, what happened to Obama’s tough rules on interest-conflicted lobbying by his administration officials?

A majority of Chicagoans who live in pay-for-play-plagued Cook County oppose public funding for the Olympic party. The city has more than a half-billion-dollar deficit – and just received word that its Olympic insurance policy will cover only about $1.1 billion of the $3.8-billion operating budget drawn up by Daley. Cost overruns, fraud, and union-inflated contracts are inevitable. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs defended President Obama’s all-out campaign for Chicago’s 2016 Olympics bid by claiming America will see a “tangible economic benefit.”

But as is always the case with sports corporate welfare disguised as “economic development,” an elite few will benefit far more than others.

Take senior White House adviser and Obama campaign guru David Axelrod. He’s been a Daley loyalist since 1989, when he signed up as a political consultant for the mayor’s first run. Axelrod’s public relations firm, Chicago-based AKPD Message and Media, has pitched in work for the Chicago 2016 committee. It is unknown how much AKPD has received for its services – or how much they’ll make in future income if the bid is successful. AKPD currently owes Axelrod $2 million.

The head of the Chicago 2016 bid committee is Patrick Ryan, chairman of the Aon Corporation and a co-chair of Obama’s deep-pocketed presidential inaugural committee. (Under Ryan’s watch at Aon, the company settled a massive corruption probe with 3 states for $190 million. More here on Ryan/Aon/Daley dealings More on corruptocrat Chicago Republicans like Ryan and others here.)

Also on both of those committees: Obama confidante Penny Pritzker, who in addition chairs the Olympic Village Subcommittee and is president of Pritzker Realty Group – a mega-developer in Illinois that could reap untold millions in project work if the Daley Machine/White House campaign succeeds.

Former Pritzker executive and Obama campaign treasurer Martin Nesbitt is also on the bid committee – and serves as Mayor Daley’s chairman of the Chicago Housing Authority.

Another bid committee member, Michael Scott Jr., is “trying to develop a for-profit real estate project that would sit within feet of the cycling venue if Chicago wins the 2016 Summer Games,” according to the Chicago Tribune.

It takes a crony-filled White House to raise a Chicago Olympic village. Daley and Obama will get the glory. America will get stuck with the bill.
23217  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Our man in Iraq, currently in Jordan on: October 03, 2009, 01:27:49 PM

So as you know I am at the Dead Sea.  The Jordanian side.  While I would like to visit the Israeli side the reality is that it is much easier for me to travel to/from Jordan.  It's a no hassle arrangement getting there to/from Baghdad.
So my initial limo driver is Palestinian.  Been in Jordan since 1967.  He believes that Obama will bring peace to the region.  That Obama is different than Bush.  And of course he is, however, when I pointed out that under Obama the USA is sending more soldiers to Afghanistan and effecting more Predator strikes in the tribal areas of Pakistan, he seemed stunned.  He was simply unaware of this reality.  But then he quickly says to me, words to the effect of, "Well good.  That's where all those crazy Muslims are...the ones that need to be killed."
A little while ago I spent time chatting with the Palestinian service manager at one of the outside bars at the hotel I am at.  The very fly, 5 star Kempinski Dead Sea I might add.  He spent time pointing out Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Ramallah, Hebron, etc. across the water.  He said he is from Bethlehem.  He also said that he believed Obama would bring peace to the region.  When I asked him why specifically, like what hasd Obama done to make him believe that, he said that the efforts of the last week by Obama made him believe so.  I asked him whether he was aware that Clinton and Carter and who knows else had spent a lot of time on the same subject, and he said generally yes.  So I asked him what was different about this time.  Specifically different minus the same old words we have heard for decades.  He could not provide anything specific.  Just his feeling.
He said the Intifadah was dead.  I asked why.  He said because of the wall.  You know, the wall that the world has condemned Israel for building?  Yup, he said that has pretty much ended the Intifadah.
During the conversation he told me that he knows from watching TV that there were no Jews killed on 9/11 in the World Trade Center.  That they had been warned in advance, by Israel of course,  not to go to work that day (we have all heard that lunatic conspiracy theory).  I told him that was utter bullshit.  That all sorts of people were killed that day.  Muslims, Jews, and Christians.  Blacks, whites and browns.  He seemed stunned to hear that.  Despite the fact that he is in Jordan and his English is okay, he gets all his news from Arabic TV.  And that's what they are handing out on Arabic TV.
23218  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / El Fire Hydrant: (Noticias) on: October 03, 2009, 01:25:23 PM

Mientras Mauricio estaba aqui filmabos unas cosas que van a aparecer aqui' en estilo "youtube".

La Aventura continua,
Guro Crafty

PD:  ?Como se dice "fire hydrant"?
23219  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: GRAPPLING Y CUCHILLOS... on: October 03, 2009, 01:22:58 PM
Dog Mauricio:
He aqui este hilo para comentar sobre lo que ocurrio al respeto en el Gathering.
23220  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: LA EXPERIENCIA DEL GATHERING OF THE PACK on: October 03, 2009, 01:21:45 PM
En unos dias espero tener tiempo para comentar mas detalladamente, pero por el momento digo que estoy muy contento con las peleas de Mauricio.
23221  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Cognitive Dissonance of His Glibness on: October 03, 2009, 01:19:51 PM
The Ego has landed , , ,
23222  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Marek Edelman on: October 03, 2009, 10:16:47 AM
Marek Edelman dies at 90; last surviving leader of doomed Warsaw ghetto revolt
He called for tolerance on each anniversary of the 1943 uprising, the first big Jewish revolt against the Nazis. After World War II, he became a cardiologist and fought communism in Poland.
Marek Edelman stands by the Warsaw Ghetto Heroes monument in Poland. His heroism in fighting the Nazis and communism in Poland earned him membership in the French Legion of Honor and Poland's highest civilian distinction, the Order of the White Eagle. (Alik Keplicz / Associated Press / April 19, 2007)


Associated Press
October 3, 2009


Marek Edelman, the last surviving leader of the ill-fated 1943 Warsaw ghetto revolt against the Nazis, died Friday in Warsaw. He was 90.

Edelman died of old age at the family home of his friend Paula Sawicka, where he had lived for the last two years. "He died at home, among friends, among his close people," Sawicka said.

Most of Edelman's adult life was dedicated to the defense of human life, dignity and freedom. He fought the Nazis in the doomed Warsaw ghetto revolt and later in the Warsaw Uprising. And then for decades he fought communism in Poland.

His heroism earned him membership in the French Legion of Honor and Poland's highest civilian distinction, the Order of the White Eagle.

One of the few survivors of three weeks of uneven struggle in the Warsaw ghetto, he felt obliged to preserve the memory of the fallen heroes of that first large-scale Jewish revolt against the Nazis. Each year, on the anniversary of the revolt, he called for tolerance.

"Man is evil; by nature, man is a beast," he said, and therefore people "have to be educated from childhood, from kindergarten, that there should be no hatred."

He also felt obliged to appeal repeatedly to the world for freedom and peace -- even when it had to be won in a fight.

"When you cannot defend freedom through peaceful means, you have to use arms to fight Nazism, dictatorship, chauvinism," Edelman said last year.

Edelman was born Jan. 1, 1919, in Homel, which was then in eastern Poland and is now in Belarus. His family soon moved to Warsaw.

When the Nazis invaded Poland on Sept. 1, 1939, Edelman was member of Bund, a Jewish socialist organization that later masterminded plans for resistance against the occupying Germans.

The Germans set up the Warsaw ghetto in November 1940, cramming more than 400,000 Jews from the city and from across Poland in inhuman conditions. After a year, almost half of the people there had died of disease and starvation.

The resistance plans were implemented April 19, 1943, when the Nazis moved to liquidate the ghetto by killing or sending the remaining 60,000 residents to the death camps of Treblinka, Majdanek and Sobibor, all in Poland.

But that April, the well-trained German troops encountered unexpectedly fierce resistance from a few hundred young, poorly armed Jewish civilians, determined to die fighting rather than in gas chambers.

"No one believed they would be saved," Edelman said. "We knew the struggle was doomed, but it showed the world there was resistance against the Nazis, that you could fight the Nazis."

The ghetto fighters inflicted heavy losses on the Germans, but eventually succumbed. More than 55,000 people were killed or deported to Nazi concentration camps when the uprising failed.

The uprising's leaders were rounded up in a bunker and, seeing no chance of escape, committed suicide on May 8, 1943.

The Nazis razed the ghetto street by street as part of their "final solution," in which they killed 6 million people in their effort to wipe out European Jewry.

Edelman was not in the bunker. With a small group of survivors, he left through the sewers to the Aryan side of Warsaw, where he found places to hide and helped coordinate Jewish partisan groups in nearby forests.

The deadly struggle was "worth it . . . even at the price of the fighters' lives," he said later. "They could not be saved, anyway."

In August and September of 1944, Edelman fought in the Warsaw Uprising, another ill-fated revolt meant to free the capital from Germans ahead of the advancing Red Army.

After the war, Edelman became a cardiologist in the central city of Lodz. He joined the democratic opposition and the Solidarity freedom movement, and was interned under the Dec. 13, 1981, martial law aimed against Solidarity.

In the end, the Solidarity movement led to the ouster of communists from power in Poland in 1989.

Edelman's wife, Alina Margolis-Edelman, worked as a nurse in the Warsaw ghetto, and after the war became a pediatrician. With their son, Aleksander, and daughter, Anna, she left Poland for France after the communist-sponsored anti-Jewish purges of 1968. She died in Paris on March 23, 2008.

But Edelman never wanted to leave Poland. "When you were responsible for the life of some 60,000 people, you don't leave and abandon the memory of them," he said.

He is survived by his son and daughter and two grandchildren.
23223  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Unsecret on: October 03, 2009, 09:39:45 AM
Oy vey.

EXCLUSIVE: Obama agrees to keep Israel's nukes secret Rate this story

By Eli Lake

President Obama has reaffirmed a 4-decade-old secret understanding that has allowed Israel to keep a nuclear arsenal without opening it to international inspections, three officials familiar with the understanding said.

The officials, who spoke on the condition that they not be named because they were discussing private conversations, said Mr. Obama pledged to maintain the agreement when he first hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House in May.

Under the understanding, the U.S. has not pressured Israel to disclose its nuclear weapons or to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which could require Israel to give up its estimated several hundred nuclear bombs.

Israel had been nervous that Mr. Obama would not continue the 1969 understanding because of his strong support for nonproliferation and priority on preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. The U.S. and five other world powers made progress during talks with Iran in Geneva on Thursday as Iran agreed in principle to transfer some potential bomb fuel out of the country and to open a recently disclosed facility to international inspection.

Mr. Netanyahu let the news of the continued U.S.-Israeli accord slip last week in a remark that attracted little notice. He was asked by Israel's Channel 2 whether he was worried that Mr. Obama's speech at the U.N. General Assembly, calling for a world without nuclear weapons, would apply to Israel.

"It was utterly clear from the context of the speech that he was speaking about North Korea and Iran," the Israeli leader said. "But I want to remind you that in my first meeting with President Obama in Washington I received from him, and I asked to receive from him, an itemized list of the strategic understandings that have existed for many years between Israel and the United States on that issue. It was not for naught that I requested, and it was not for naught that I received [that document]."

The chief nuclear understanding was reached at a summit between President Nixon and Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir that began on Sept. 25, 1969. Avner Cohen, author of "Israel and the Bomb" and the leading authority outside the Israeli government on the history of Israel's nuclear program, said the accord amounts to "the United States passively accepting Israel's nuclear weapons status as long as Israel does not unveil publicly its capability or test a weapon."

There is no formal record of the agreement nor have Israeli nor American governments ever publicly acknowledged it. In 2007, however, the Nixon library declassified a July 19, 1969, memo from national security adviser Henry Kissinger that comes closest to articulating U.S. policy on the issue. That memo says, "While we might ideally like to halt actual Israeli possession, what we really want at a minimum may be just to keep Israeli possession from becoming an established international fact."

Mr. Cohen has said the resulting policy was the equivalent of "don't ask, don't tell."

The Netanyahu government sought to reaffirm the understanding in part out of concern that Iran would seek Israeli disclosures of its nuclear program in negotiations with the United States and other world powers. Iran has frequently accused the U.S. of having a double standard by not objecting to Israel's arsenal.

Mr. Cohen said the reaffirmation and the fact that Mr. Netanyahu sought and received a written record of the deal suggest that "it appears not only that there was no joint understanding of what had been agreed in September 1969 but it is also apparent that even the notes of the two leaders may no longer exist. It means that Netanyahu wanted to have something in writing that implies that understanding. It also affirms the view that the United States is in fact a partner in Israel's policy of nuclear opacity."

Jonathan Peled, a spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, declined to comment, as did the White House National Security Council.

The secret understanding could undermine the Obama administration's goal of a world without nuclear weapons. In particular, it could impinge on U.S. efforts to bring into force the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty, two agreements that U.S. administrations have argued should apply to Israel in the past. They would ban nuclear tests and the production of material for weapons.

A Senate staffer familiar with the May reaffirmation, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue, said, "What this means is that the president gave commitments that politically he had no choice but to give regarding Israel's nuclear program. However, it calls into question virtually every part of the president's nonproliferation agenda.The president gave Israel an NPT treaty get out of jail free card."

Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, said the step was less injurious to U.S. policy.

"I think it is par for the course that the two incoming leaders of the United States and Israel would want to clarify previous understandings between their governments on this issue," he said.

However Mr. Kimball added, "I would respectfully disagree with Mr. Netanyahu. President Obama's speech and U.N. Security Council Resolution 1887 apply to all countries irrespective of secret understandings between the U.S. and Israel. A world without nuclear weapons is consistent with Israel's stated goal of achieving a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction. Obama's message is that the same nonproliferation and disarmament responsibilities should apply to all states and not just a few."

Israeli nuclear doctrine is known as "the long corridor." Under it, Israel would begin to consider nuclear disarmament only after all countries officially at war with it signed peace treaties and all neighboring countries relinquished not only nuclear programs but also chemical and biological arsenals. Israel sees nuclear weapons as an existential guarantee in a hostile environment.

David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, said he hoped the Obama administration did not concede too much to Israel.

"One hopes that the price for such concessions is Israeli agreement to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty and an acceptance of the long-term goal of a Middle East weapons-of-mass-destruction-free zone," he said. "Otherwise, the Obama administration paid too much, given its focus on a world free of nuclear weapons."
23224  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / WSJ: Even here BO appeases on: October 03, 2009, 09:31:54 AM
second post of the day

There's a lot of concern out there right now about America's world leadership—facing down Iran's nuclear program, bracing NATO's commitment in Afghanistan, maintaining free trade. Here's something else to worry about: Has the Obama administration just given up U.S. responsibility for protecting the Internet?

What makes it possible for users to connect with all the different Web sites on the Internet is the system that allocates a unique electronic address to each site. The addresses are organized within larger entities called top-level domains—".com," ".edu," ".gov" and so on. Overseeing this arrangement is a relatively obscure entity, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). Without the effective oversight of ICANN, the Internet as we know it would not exist, billions of dollars of online commerce and intellectual property would be at risk, and various forms of mass censorship could become the norm.

Since its establishment in 1998, ICANN has operated under a formal contract with the U.S. Department of Commerce, which stipulated the duties and limits that the U.S. government expected ICANN to respect. The Commerce Department did not provide much active oversight, although the need to renew this contract, called the Joint Project Agreement (JPA), helped keep ICANN policies within reasonable bounds. That's why last spring, when the Commerce Department asked for comment on ending the JPA, the U.S. business community opposed the idea.

But the U.S. government's role in ICANN has long been a source of complaint from foreign nations. United Nations conferences have repeatedly voiced concerns about "domination of the Internet by one power" and suggested that management of the system should be handed off to the International Telecommunications Union—a U.N. agency dominated by developing countries. The European Union has urged a different scheme in which a G-12 of advanced countries would manage the Internet.

The Obama administration has declined to endorse such alternatives. Instead it has replaced the latest JPA, which expired Sept. 30, with a vaguely worded "Affirmation of Commitments." In it, ICANN promises to be a good manager of the Internet, and the Commerce Department promises—well, not much of anything. The U.S. will participate in a Governmental Advisory Committee along with some three dozen other nations but claims no greater authority than any other country on the committee, whose recommendations are not binding on ICANN in any case.

An ICANN cut loose from U.S. government oversight will not, for that reason, be free from political pressures. One source of pressure will come from disputes about expanding top-level domain names. For example, would a ".xxx" domain help to isolate pornographic sites in a unique (and blockable) special area, or would it encourage censorship in other domains by suggesting that offensive images only appear there? Should we have ".food" or ".toys" along with ".com" domains? If we do, as the Justice Department warned last year in a letter to Commerce, companies that have invested huge sums to protect their trademarks under ".com" will have to fight for protection of their names in the new domains. Yet strangely, there is not a word in the new plan about protecting trademark rights or other intellectual property interests that might be threatened by new ICANN policies.

Even more disturbing is the prospect that foreign countries will pressure ICANN to impose Internet controls that facilitate their own censorship schemes. Countries like China and Iran already block Web sites they regard as politically objectionable. Islamic nations insist that the proper understanding of international human-rights treaties requires suppression of "Islamophobic" content on the Internet. Will ICANN be better situated to resist such pressures now that it no longer has a formal contract with the U.S. government?

It may be that the Obama administration expects to exert a steadying hand on ICANN in indirect or covert ways. Or here too it may have calculated that winning applause from other nations now is worth taking serious risks in the long run.

Mr. Rabkin is professor of law at George Mason University. Mr. Eisenach is an adjunct law professor at George Mason and chairman of Empiris LLC, which does consulting work for Verisign, an Internet registry.
23225  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Voters not to blame on: October 03, 2009, 09:24:15 AM
With the Golden State still struggling to balance its books, politicians from both sides of the aisle have come up with a nifty way to avoid responsibility for the mess: Blame the voters.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, summed it up for his fellow pols recently by telling a reporter: "All of those propositions tell us how we must spend our money. . . . This is no way, of course, to run a state." State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, a Democrat, has made similar comments in denouncing "ballot-box budgeting."

Their indictment is false. Voters aren't tying lawmakers' hands too much, but too little. Here's the background:

For decades, state officials have habitually proposed deep cuts to the most popular programs unless voters agree to higher taxes. Tired of being manipulated, voters have used the ballot initiative to put some programs off-limits.

Nevertheless, a 2003 analysis by John G. Matsusaka, president of the Initiatives and Referendum Institute at the University of Southern California, found that no more than a third of California's appropriations that year were locked in by voter initiatives so stringent that legislators couldn't override them. Most of the appropriations—about $30 billion in 2003—were for Proposition 98, which passed in 1988 and mandates funding for K-12 education.

Even this overstates the case against ballot-box budgeting. K-12 spending has remained remarkably stable at around 40% of the budget pre- and post-Prop. 98. Today, California is 24th among the 50 states in terms of the percentage of its general funds it devotes to K-12. This suggests that education spending is not grossly out of line. Prop. 98 aside, Mr. Matsusaka found that only about 2% or 3% of California's budget is frozen as a result of ballot initiatives.

Mr. Matsusaka's analysis was affirmed last month by the Legislative Analyst's Office, a nonpartisan outfit that advises the legislature. It looked at all the restrictions on the state's budget—not just those imposed by ballot initiatives—and concluded that: "Despite these restrictions, the legislature maintains considerable control over the state budget—particularly over the longer term."

So what happened this year that got the politicians and others so upset with ballot-box budgeting? California faced a $42 billion budget deficit. After a round of spending cuts and $12 billion in new taxes, the governor and the legislature called for a special election and placed a number of propositions on the ballot that would have increased taxes an additional $16 billion and allowed for billions more in borrowing and fund shifts. Voters shot those measures down in May.

After much bickering, lawmakers nearly closed the deficit with severe cuts, but left the governor with a $1 billion deficit to close on his own. He did so by using his line-item veto to strike, among other things, $500 million for in-home care, transportation assistance and other social services.

Now the governor is being sued by a whole host of special-interest groups, including a coalition of organizations representing the disabled. Those organizations (along with Mr. Steinberg, who has filed a separate suit), claim that the governor cannot constitutionally cut spending beyond what the legislature has already cut. The suits ignore that the governor is bound by a constitutional requirement that the state's budget be balanced—but in any case have nothing to do with spending that is mandated by ballot initiatives.

In looking for the causes of the state's budget mess, a good place to start is with the unionized public employees, who have filed their own lawsuit against the budget. Public union ranks have grown a whopping 37% since 1990 and consume about one-third of the $85 billion budget in wages and benefits. California also faces a total unfunded future liability of about $110 billion for pensions and health-care benefits. Still, the state's chapter of the Service Employees International Union and other unions are suing the state because their members are being asked to take a few days of furlough to save the state about $1.5 billion. The unions say this is an illegal pay cut. Regardless of whether it is, ballot initiatives are not the issue.

True enough, some lawsuits are driven by ballot initiatives. The California Redevelopment Association is attempting to stop the state from raiding $2 billion in local redevelopment funds. Sixty years ago voters passed a constitutional amendment to prevent such raids, but the state government has found ways around that prohibition. But restoring the will of the voters in this case is essential for sound budgeting, because local development funds are used to pay for bonded contracts for roads and other infrastructure projects. If the state is allowed to grab these funds, the credit ratings of cities and counties will plunge and their borrowing costs will rise.

Whatever the wisdom of ballot initiatives that protect some programs from cuts, they are not the root cause of California's fiscal disaster. That cause is the government's spending addiction. From 1990 to 2008, California's revenues increased 167%, but total spending soared 181%.

This problem won't be tamed by letting lawmakers get their hands on more tax dollars by scrapping Proposition 13, which limits property taxes, as Mr. Steinberg and other lawmakers have suggested. Rather the solution is to restore the Gann Spending Limit that restricted state spending increases to population growth and inflation and required that anything left over be returned to taxpayers.

Such restrictions kept the state from slipping into a cycle of fiscal chaos in the 1980s by checking government expenditures and forced lawmakers to rebate $1.1 billion in excess revenue in 1987. But voters diluted Gann in 1990, when they passed Proposition 111, exempting infrastructure projects, disaster spending and a number of other state expenditures from the spending limit.

Prop. 111 freed politicians in Sacramento to use the revenues that gushed in during the dot-com boom and housing bubble to grow the state budget to unsustainable levels. If Gann hadn't been neutered, a Reason Foundation study found in February, California would have been rolling in a $15 billion surplus this year.

The Golden State's problem is not overly controlling voters—but out-of-control politicians.

Ms. Dalmia is a senior analyst, Mr. Summers a policy analyst, and Mr. Moore a vice president at the Reason Foundation.
23226  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / WSJ on: October 03, 2009, 09:21:29 AM
So it turns out that Google's enthusiasm for government-imposed "net neutrality" is qualified. The Internet giant wants cumbersome network management rules applied to everyone—except Google.

Google is one of the industry's most vocal advocates of regulating Internet service providers. It wants to prevent companies like Verizon and AT&T from managing their broadband networks in a way that is optimal for most users, but perhaps not for Google. In order to protect its business model, which involves the use of Internet pipes owned by these other companies (and potential competitors), Google wants broadband networks open to all content without restrictions, even if that means a relatively small number of video streamers and other bandwidth hogs could cause congestion for everyone else.

"Just as telephone companies are not permitted to tell consumers who they can call or what they can say," explains Google on its Web site, "broadband carriers should not be allowed to use their market power to control activity online."

Of late, however, Google is flouting its own net neutrality principles. According to recent media reports, Google Voice, the company's new phone service, is systematically blocking calls to phone numbers in some rural areas. Under so-called intercarrier compensation regulations, phone companies pay high fees to rural operators to connect phone calls. By blocking calls that its competitors are forced by law to connect, Google is saving money. It's also violating the nondiscrimination principle that underlies its net neutrality lobbying.

Citing these news reports, AT&T engaged in a little payback late last week by sending a letter to the Federal Communications Commission calling on regulators to force Google to "play by the same rules as its competitors." Google says that Google Voice is not a traditional phone company and should not be regulated as such. The reality is that Google wants to gain a competitive advantage by providing phone service without having to adhere to the same rules as its rivals.

Our own view is that the rules requiring traditional phone companies to connect these calls should be scrapped for everyone rather than extended to Google. In today's telecom marketplace, where the overwhelming majority of phone customers have multiple carriers to choose from, these regulations are obsolete. But Google has set itself up for this political blowback.

Last week FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski proposed new rules for regulating Internet operators and gave assurances that "this is not about government regulation of the Internet." But this dispute highlights the regulatory creep that net neutrality mandates make inevitable. Content providers like Google want to dabble in the phone business, while the phone companies want to sell services and applications.

The coming convergence will make it increasingly difficult to distinguish among providers of broadband pipes, network services and applications. Once net neutrality is unleashed, it's hard to see how anything connected with the Internet will be safe from regulation
23227  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Review of disaster battle on: October 03, 2009, 09:07:16 AM
This is from Pravda on the Hudson and is about precisely the sort of thing where the NYT is most suspect as a reporting source.  That said the subject matter seems very important-- but caveat lector:

U.S. Review of Battle Disaster Sways Strategy on Afghanistan

Published: October 2, 2009
WASHINGTON — The paratroopers of Chosen Company had plenty to worry about as they began digging in at their new outpost on the fringe of a hostile frontier village in eastern Afghanistan.

Intelligence reports were warning of militants massing in the area. As the paratroopers looked around, the only villagers they could see were men of fighting age idling in the bazaar. There were no women and children, and some houses looked abandoned. Through their night scopes they could see furtive figures on the surrounding mountainsides.

A few days later, they were almost overrun by 200 insurgents.

That firefight, a debacle that cost nine American lives in July 2008, has become the new template for how not to win in Afghanistan. The calamity and its roots have been described in bitter, painstaking detail in an unreleased Army history, a devastating narrative that has begun to circulate in an initial form even as the military opened a formal review this week of decisions made up and down the chain of command.

The 248-page draft history, obtained by The New York Times, helps explain why the new commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, is pressing so hard for a full-fledged commitment to a style of counterinsurgency that rests on winning over the people of Afghanistan even more than killing militants. The military has already incorporated lessons from the battle in the new doctrine for war in Afghanistan.

The history offers stark examples of shortcomings in the unit’s preparation, the style of combat it adopted, its access to intelligence, its disdain for the locals — in short, plenty of blame to go around.

Before the soldiers arrived, commanders negotiated for months with Afghan officials of dubious loyalty over where they could dig in, giving militants plenty of time to prepare for an assault.

Despite the suspicion that the militants were nearby, there were not enough surveillance aircraft over the lonely outpost — a chronic shortage in Afghanistan that frustrated Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates at the time. Commanders may have been distracted from the risky operation by the bureaucratic complexities of handing over responsibility at the brigade level to replacements — and by their urgent investigation of an episode that had enraged the local population, the killing a week earlier in an airstrike of a local medical clinic’s staff as it fled nearby fighting in two pickup trucks.

Above all, the unit and its commanders had an increasingly tense and untrusting relationship with the Afghan people.

The history cited the “absence of cultural awareness and understanding of the specific tribal and governance situation” and the emphasis on combat operations over the development of the local economy and other civil affairs, a reversal of the practices of the unit that had just left the area.

The battle of Wanat is being described as the “Black Hawk Down” of Afghanistan, with the 48 American soldiers and 24 Afghan soldiers outnumbered three to one in a four-hour firefight that left nine Americans dead and 27 wounded in one of the bloodiest days of the eight-year war.

Soldiers who survived the battle described how their automatic weapons turned white hot and jammed from nonstop firing. Mortally wounded troops continued to hand bullet belts to those still able to fire.

The ammunition stockpile was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, igniting a stack of 120-millimeter mortar rounds — and the resulting fireball flung the unit’s antitank missiles into the command post. One insurgent got inside the concertina wire and is believed to have killed three soldiers at close range, including the platoon commander, Lt. Jonathan P. Brostrom.

The description of the battle at Wanat — the heroism, the violence and the missteps that may have contributed to the deaths — ends with a judgment that the fight was “as remarkable as any small-unit action in American military history.”

The author, the military historian Douglas R. Cubbison, also included a series of criticisms in his review, sponsored by the Army’s Combat Studies Institute at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., that laid blame on a series of decisions made before the battle.

The draft report criticized the “lack of adequate preparation time” before arriving in Afghanistan, which meant there was little training geared specifically for Afghanistan, and not even a detailed operational plan for the year of combat that lay ahead.

Pentagon and military officials say those initial criticisms are being revised to reflect subsequent interviews with other soldiers and officers who were at Wanat or who served in higher-level command positions. After a round of revisions, the study will go through a formal peer-review process and be published.

The battle stands as proof that the United States is facing off against a far more sophisticated adversary in Afghanistan today, one that can fight anonymously with roadside bombs or stealthily with kidnappings — but also can operate like a disciplined armed force using well-rehearsed small-unit tactics to challenge the American military for dominance on the conventional battlefield.

Official judgment on whether errors were made by the unit on the ground or by any leaders up the chain of command will be determined by a new investigation opened this week by Gen. David H. Petraeus of United States Central Command at the urging of Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The call for such an independent review came from family members of the fallen, including David P. Brostrom, father of the slain platoon commander and himself a retired Army colonel, as well as from a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Jim Webb, Democrat of Virginia.

The history is replete with wrong turns at every point of the unit’s mission, starting with the day it was reassigned to Afghanistan from training for Iraq.


Page 2 of 2)

After having served for more than a year in other hot zones of eastern Afghanistan, the platoon arrived in the village at dark on July 8, 2008, just two weeks from the day it was supposed to go home to its base in Italy.

The men wore their adopted unit emblem — skull patches fashioned after Marvel Comics’ antihero, the Punisher. They unloaded their Humvees, packed with weapons, water and the single rucksack each had kept when the rest of his kit was shipped home. They had plenty of ammunition.

But at the end of an intense tour of combat, they had run out of good relations with an increasingly distrustful population.

They named it Outpost Kahler, after a popular sergeant who had been killed by one of their own Afghan guards early that year. His last words as he moved ahead of his comrades to check whether their Afghan partners were asleep while on duty had been, “This might be dangerous.” (The shooting was ruled an accident, but relations between skeptical American troops and Afghan forces deteriorated.)

Although the 173rd Airborne Brigade had been scheduled to return to Iraq from its base in Italy, the need for forces to counter a resurgence of militant violence in eastern Afghanistan prompted new orders for the brigade to switch immediately to preparations for mountain warfare — many of the outposts were linked only by narrow, rutted trails, and some could be reached only be helicopter — and a wholly different culture and language. “Unfortunately, the comparatively late change of mission for the 173rd Airborne B.C.T. from Iraq to Afghanistan did not permit the brigade sufficient time to prepare any form of campaign plan,” the history reports.

The unit arrived at Wanat ill prepared for the hot work of building an outpost in the mountains in July; troops were thirsty from a lack of fresh water, and their one construction vehicle ran out of gas, so the unit was unable to complete basic fortifications. The soldiers had no local currency to buy favor by investing in the village economy, the history makes clear. The soldiers also said they complained up the chain of command about the lack of air surveillance over their dangerous corner of Afghanistan, but no more was provided.

Even as they settled into their spartan command post, the unit’s commanders were insulted to learn that local leaders were meeting together in a “shura,” or council, to which they were not invited — and which might even have been a session used to coordinate the assault on the Americans that began before dawn the very next morning.

The four-hour firefight finally ended when American warplanes and attack helicopters strafed insurgent positions. The paratroopers drove back the insurgents, but ended up abandoning the village 48 hours later.
23228  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor on: October 03, 2009, 08:51:19 AM
I think I may disagree with Stratfor here.  I tend to go with Krauthammer that this is all a joke, that BO is getting played, and that the Iranians have just successfully picked up several months of delay.

To threaten a punishment of really mean sanctions is meaningless-- the Russians and the Chinese won't be part of it.

By the time the Iranians stall enough that BO begins to negotiate with the Russians, Chinese, Germans (who have voraciously been doing business with Iran all along btw) many months will have passed and all that will be produced with be a fart.

A Delay in the Iran Crisis Timeline
THE P-5+1 MEETING was held in Geneva on Thursday. At its conclusion, U.S. President Barack Obama gave a press conference in Washington. Of all the reactions, the U.S. reaction was the most important, since the U.S. reading of the situation determines the probability of sanctions and, more important, of military action against Iran. It is clear from Obama’s press conference that neither is going to happen at the moment. Therefore, the talks weren’t a disaster.

Iran seems to have agreed to an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) team coming in two weeks to inspect the recently disclosed uranium enrichment facility at Qom. Of course, whether Iran ends up admitting the team and what it will allow the team to see will be the issue. Iran has been a master at delaying and partially fulfilling agreements like this. Those countries that don’t want a confrontation have used this to argue that limited progress is better than no progress, and that at least some progress is being made. Iran previously has used the ambiguity of its cooperation to provide a plausible basis for those in the coalition against it that don’t want a confrontation to split from those coalition members who do. Given the high degree of unity among foreign powers that is needed for sanctions, IAEA inspections are a superb tool for Iran to use in managing the coalition arrayed against it.

Obama expressly said that delays wouldn’t work, adding that words need to be followed by actions. From the tenor of his speech, it appears that the United States has postponed the crisis but not cancelled it. At the same time, the basic framework of engagement and a long-term process of accommodation with Iran has not been violated. The United States can use ambiguities to justify pulling back from a confrontation.

” The crisis will come not from clear Iranian unwillingness to cooperate, but from ambiguity over whether Iran has cooperated.”
Obama deliberately adopted a resolute tone with a short timeline. Whatever room for maneuver he retained, his tone was extremely firm. Interestingly, his tone was sufficiently hard that how it will play in Iran is now in question. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad does not want to appear as weak or caving in. Domestically, he cannot afford to appear so easily browbeaten, having just emerged from a messy internal struggle whose losers would appreciate the opportunity to paint him as mishandling negotiations. Therefore, the tone of Obama’s statement might cause him to be more intransigent. The real issue is what happens in the next two weeks. We suspect events will be sufficiently ambiguous to allow any and all interpretations. The crisis will come not from clear Iranian unwillingness to cooperate, but from ambiguity over whether Iran has cooperated.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki’s decision to visit Washington on the eve of the Geneva talks and the willingness of the United States to give him a visa to do so have confused matters a bit. The visit offered a superb opportunity for high-level talks, but all sides are denying that such talks took place. According to Mottaki, he visited the Iranian interests section at the Pakistani Embassy on Sept. 30, had dinner with the staff, and left by 6 a.m. the next day. The itinerary is possible, but somehow doesn’t feel right. Perhaps it was just a symbolic concession on both sides, with Mottaki being willing to visit the capital of the Great Satan and the United States being willing to host a charter member of the Axis of Evil. It could be that simple. But given Obama’s interest in engagement, we can’t help but wonder who else Mottaki spoke to. In the end — or rather, now that the Geneva talks have gone reasonably well — it probably doesn’t matter.

There are two wild cards in this deck. The first is Israel. Israel has clearly chosen to allow this process to proceed without issuing threats. Obama is aware that he must keep the Israelis in check, and that excessive flexibility could create a loose cannon that disrupts the entire process. The other wild card is U.S. domestic politics. Congress has been obsessed with health care reform; it has had no bandwidth for foreign policy. Assuming that some resolution on health care takes place in the next couple of weeks, Congress will have that bandwidth and will start limiting Obama’s room for maneuver.

That, of course, affects Afghanistan as well as Iran. Obama’s trip to Copenhagen on Friday now appears no longer simply about getting Chicago named as a host city for the Olympics, but about meeting with some European officials — undoubtedly about the Afghanistan strategy review now under way. When Congress comes up for air, it will be raising questions on Afghanistan. The White House announced Thursday that Obama is taking another several weeks to review the strategy — and should he decide to increase forces and shift strategy, he will want to be able to demonstrate European cooperation. Going to Congress with a massive increase in U.S. forces and nothing from the Europeans would be difficult.

Therefore, we can expect intense diplomacy in the weeks leading up to the IAEA inspections at Qom, the subsequent report and the controversy that will result from the report. It is the controversy on the report that will shape the next phase of the Iran issue. The timeline has clearly slipped from September to later in the year, but the basic structure of the crisis, in our opinion, remains unchanged.
23229  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Daily Expression of Gratitude on: October 02, 2009, 04:24:18 PM
Me too  cool

Grateful a for a wonderful night's sleep and one of the strongest workouts I've had in a while today.  Grateful its Friday afternoon and time to play with my children.

Life is good.
23230  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Hot Dog on: October 02, 2009, 04:22:39 PM
Woof All:

Hot Dog gets married to his long time fiance Carol tomorrow.  cool The Denny clan will be there.

The Adventure continues!
23231  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Gen. McChrystal slams Pentagon on: October 02, 2009, 04:12:25 PM
23232  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Early Constitutional case law on: October 02, 2009, 11:58:16 AM
A friend writes:

ith the very first Congress consisting almost entirely of Federalist (nationalist), and George Washington as President appointing Federalist to all post within his administration, including the Supreme Court, with the first Chief Justice being John Jay, the power grab for the new government began with ease and the new court led the way. The decisions of the court on various cases didn't matter so much but their opinions written on those decisions set the stage for interpreting the Constitution based on their personal understanding and not as to how the Federalist presented it at the ratifying debates or on the understanding of the ratifiers that agreed to it on those terms, this, even though every judge on the first court helped write the Constitution and argued for ratification giving assurance on those same terms.

 An opinion on a relatively unimportant case regarding a grant to a probate hearing on the enforcement of a will in the Connecticut legislature, the 1798 case Calder vs Bull, would stand to set the majority opinion of high court justices till this day. It didn't seem to matter to them that it nullified the power of the Constitution to restrain the Federal government and its court. Justice Samuel Chase, in his opinion said that although the government powers were defined and that the states retain all powers granted them by the people and not denied by the Constitution; the state legislatures were not absolute and without control even if the state's Constitution did not limit their authority.

 Chase said, "There are certain vital principles in our free republican government which will determine and overrule an apparent and flagrant abuse of legislative power; as to authorize manifest injustice by positive law; or to take away that security for personal liberty, or private property, for the protection where of government was established. An act of the legislature (for I cannot call it law), contrary to the great first principles of the social compact cannot be considered a rightful exercise of legislative authority."
Chase had based his opinion on natural law, the principles of free republican government. Any state that violated these principles in passing statutes, according to this opinion, were going against the general principles of law and reason and as such would not be enforceable as law. So who gets to decide if a state violated these principles? The federal courts of course! But it's worse than just that as one justice points out even though he to is a federalist.
Justice James Iredell rightfully blasted Chase with an opinion of his own in which he  said that natural law or its principles were not regulated by any fixed standard and that if Congress or a state passed a statute consistent with the power it had been granted, that no court may declare it void merely because in their judgement it was contrary to natural law. Iredell insisted that the system of written constitutions was what guarded against legislative abuse and that the ultimate corrective was elections. Few judges have heeded this opinion.
During this period the federalist were going back on their assurances about the limited powers of the government. It became so bad that Jefferson and Madison teamed up to get the states to rebel against and resist federal policy that they saw as blatantly unconstitutional. They had to this in secret to avoid prosecution under the Sedition Act of 1798. The Constitution was in the hands of its enemies but the election of 1800 was the corrective.
23233  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Score!!! on: October 02, 2009, 11:49:59 AM
Pakistan: The Death of an Uzbek Militant
Stratfor Today » October 2, 2009 | 1545 GMT

John Moore/Getty Images
A Pakistani army soldier in Pakistan’s South WaziristanSummary
A U.S. drone strike in Kanigram, Pakistan, killed Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) chief Tahir Yuldashev, Reuters reported Oct. 2. The air strike, which happened on Aug. 27, fatally wounded Yuldashev. Although it is unclear that the United States was targeting Yuldashev, his death will exacerbate tensions among Uzbek militants and other jihadist groups.


A suspected U.S. unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) strike in northwestern Pakistan killed the leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), Tahir Yuldashev, Reuters reported Oct. 2, citing unnamed Pakistani security officials. The officials said that the top Uzbek jihadist leader was killed when a South Waziristan facility was struck on Aug 27. STRATFOR sources in Pakistan reported that Yuldashev, who was among a group of militants when the strike occurred at Kanigram, succumbed to injuries on Aug. 28 and was buried in Khasori Ladha. Allegedly, the airstrike was not explicitly designed to target him; it is unclear that the United States was aware of his presence at the location.

Yuldashev’s death is a blow to his movement, the Pakistani Taliban, Uighur/East Turkestani militants fighting in China, other Central Asian jihadist outfits and al Qaeda. He is the most significant militant leader to have died after top Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud. While Yuldashev was alive, he was instrumental in cooperation between Uzbek and other central Asian militants with Arab and Pashtun fighters. Now that he is dead, the Uzbeks will become more mercenary-like and subservient to non-Uzbek militant forces. This could exacerbate tensions among the Uzbeks and between the Uzbeks and others (Pashtuns, Arabs, Uighurs, Caucasians, other Central Asian, etc.), especially as his successors deal with his death and suspicions of betrayal.

Yuldashev emerged as the top leader of the IMU after his predecessor Juma Namangiani was killed in late 2001 in Afghanistan during the U.S. military campaign that followed 9/11. Yuldashev was a major figure in the movement during the days when Namangiani headed the IMU; that facilitated the succession. But under Yuldashev, no noteworthy deputy has emerged, suggesting that finding a new leader could be an issue.

When the IMU was based in Afghanistan, it was unable to use the country as a launch pad for attacks in Uzbekistan. But hitting Uzbekistan became even more difficult for the IMU after relocating to Pakistan with al Qaeda Prime, when the transnational jihadist base in Afghanistan was destroyed. Yuldashev and thousands of Uzbek fighters moved to the South Waziristan agency of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, where they already had extensive local connections.

The IMU had become more involved in transnational al Qaeda causes while in Afghanistan, and Pakistani Taliban causes after relocating. In March 2004, Yuldashev was reportedly wounded when Pakistani forces launched their first-ever offensive against jihadists in South Waziristan.

Yuldashev and his militants have become a key source of support for the Pakistani Taliban, especially the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) founded by Mehsud. That is because they live in the area controlled by the TTP and have engaged in several battles with Islamabad-allied Taliban factions.

The news of his death also follows the mid-September death of Islamic Jihad Union chief Najmiddin Kamolitdinovich Jalolov, an Uzbek native implicated in terrorist plots and attacks in Germany and Uzbekistan. Jalolov died in a U.S. UAV strike in North Waziristan. In July, two top Tajik militants — Mirzo Ziyoev and Nemat Azizov — were killed by security forces in Tajikistan soon after they had traveled back to Tajikistan from Afghanistan.

For Pakistan and the United States, Yuldashev’s death is a significant victory, as it will facilitate the efforts to root out foreign fighters from the local ones by potentially turning them against one another. It will also be a relief for Uzbekistan and the other Central Asian republics, which fear that the Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan and their recent rise in Pakistan could undermine their security in the near future.
23234  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: BO's friends and appointments on: October 02, 2009, 11:10:10 AM
Lt. Worf?  huh
23235  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / More Democrats coming to America on: October 02, 2009, 10:42:01 AM
second post of the AM

Immigration Front: Border Patrol to Move Agents North
The U.S. Border Patrol, part of the Department of Homeland Security's Customs and Border Protection, is responsible for securing a total of 8,607 miles of border, including the U.S.-Mexico border, the U.S.-Canada border and some sectors of coastline. Each year, the Border Patrol sets a goal for "border miles under effective control (including certain coastal sectors)," defined as an area in which the Border Patrol detects an illegal border crosser and can be expected to succeed in apprehending that person.

In its May performance review, DHS said the Border Patrol's goal for fiscal 2009 was to have 815 of the 8,607 miles of border -- less than 10 percent -- under "effective control." The goal remains the same for fiscal 2010, meaning DHS does not plan to secure a single additional mile of border in the coming year. On Aug. 31, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report to Congress on the effectiveness of the Border Patrol. Its findings were not exactly encouraging.

For example, the Border Patrol established three performance measures to report the results of checkpoint operations, and while they provide some insight into checkpoint activity, they do not indicate if checkpoints are operating efficiently and effectively. Second, GAO found that a lack of management oversight and unclear checkpoint data-collection guidance resulted in the overstatement of checkpoint performance results in recent reports, as well as inconsistent data collection practices at checkpoints. Furthermore, individuals GAO contacted who live near checkpoints generally supported their operations but expressed concerns regarding property damage that occurs when illegal aliens and smugglers circumvent checkpoints to avoid apprehension.

Here's the kicker: The U.S.-Mexico border is 1,954 miles long, with only 697 miles under "effective control," but the Border Patrol plans to decrease the 17,399 Border Patrol agents on that border by 384 agents in Fiscal 2009. Some 414 will be added to the Canadian border for a total of 2,212. Maybe BO is concerned about the Canucks crossing the border for U.S. health care -- at least until ObamaCare ruins that option.
23236  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Homeland Security and American Freedom on: October 02, 2009, 10:39:49 AM
Warfront With Jihadistan: Terrorist Plots Foiled
An unsettling string of arrests for terrorist plots within the U.S. occurred last week. In Springfield, Illinois, Talib Islam was arrested for allegedly trying to detonate explosives in a van outside a federal courthouse; in North Carolina, Daniel Patrick Boyd and Hysen Sherifi were indicted for planning to attack the Quantico Marine Corps base; in Dallas, Hosam Maher Husein Smadi was arrested in an FBI sting when he parked an SUV packed with what he thought were explosives outside a Dallas skyscraper and attempted to detonate it; and finally, in New York City, an Afghan immigrant, Najibullah Zazi, was arrested for planning to attack commuter trains on the anniversary of 9/11. Allegedly, at least three of his accomplices are still at large. All these arrests occurred soon after government officials issued a flurry of terrorism warnings for popular, crowded areas such as sports complexes, hotels and mass transit systems.

As troubling as this string of terrorism arrests is, even more disturbing is the reaction of the Obama regime and their minions in the Leftmedia. The federal government tried to play down the arrests, alleging there was absolutely no connection between the varied plots. (We're not sure, but the suspects' names seem to imply some sort of connection, if we could just lay our finger on it...) The Leftmedia also downplayed the arrests, with some even speculating that in spite of this increased terrorist activity, al-Qa'ida-type terrorism is actually in decline. Strangely, no one in the press noted that these kinds of incidents are not supposed to occur in the Era of Hope and Change™.

A more rational analysis could easily conclude that the reason there was no known link between the plots is that these are acts of individual terrorist sleeper cells here in the U.S. It also would appear that the intelligence community knew something was up, which led to earlier warnings and allowed anti-terrorism officials to take action before any of the plots could be effectively executed. We hope (but aren't holding our breath) that Obama now sees how effective the anti-terrorist policies put into place by President George W. Bush really are. It's interesting that these arrests coincide with the administration's announcement last Friday that the January deadline for closing Guantanamo Bay might not be met.
23237  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Hsu sentenced to 24 years on: October 02, 2009, 10:38:28 AM
Hsu Sentenced for Ponzi Scheme
Norman Hsu, a prominent fundraiser for Democrats, including Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, was sentenced Tuesday to 24 years in prison for "illegally funneling money to U.S. political candidates and for defrauding investors in a multimillion-dollar Ponzi scheme," reports The Wall Street Journal. Clinton returned $850,000 in funds raised by Hsu, who had already been on the lam since 1992 after charges of grand theft. Knowing the Clintons, that was probably a résumé enhancement. Meanwhile, the operators of the Ponzi scheme known as Social Security remain at large.
23238  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Michelle on: October 02, 2009, 10:34:26 AM
"As much of a sacrifice as people say this is for me or Oprah or the president to come [to Copenhagen] for these few days, so many of you in this room have been working for years to bring this bid home, and you have put together a phenomenal set of ideas that, no matter what the outcome is, we should be proud of as a city." --Michelle Obama, "sacrificing" for Chicago to land the 2016 Olympic Games

To which Rush Limbaugh replied, "I'm thinking that Michelle Obama needs a little dictionary lesson. Let's not forget, this is the woman who is not proud of her country unless she's getting what she wants from it. She said during the campaign, the first time she'd been proud of her country was when Obama was nominated or done something. So she sacrificed herself to get in a big, luxurious jet -- a Boeing 757 -- to fly to Copenhagen, where she's pampered and treated like she were a goddess. Yes, this is a 'sacrifice.' Meanwhile, we have had at least four of our [volunteer] military men and women killed while living in tents in the most godforsaken spot on earth.... All the while she and her husband need a few more weeks to decide whether he can risk angering his base to send reinforcements to help them! So Michelle, you need to look at a Merriam-Webster Dictionary and study the word 'sacrifice' 'cause it's obviously a word you did not learn in your Ivy League education."
Is a Lack of Vetting What Obama Meant by 'Transparency'?
Back on the campaign trail, Barack Obama vowed his would be the most "transparent" administration in U.S. history. Perhaps what he meant was that the mainstream media would look past the foibles of those he selects for high positions under his watch.

The latest "for instance" comes in the person of "Safe School Czar" Kevin Jennings. Apparently, in the eyes of Jennings, a "safe school" is one where it's safe for an adult male to pursue a homosexual relationship with a student. Jennings denied condoning a relationship between a 15-year-old student and an adult male and threatened to sue a fellow teacher who called his refusal to report the incident "unethical." But since then, an audiotape has surfaced on which Jennings related to an Iowa homosexual advocacy group that he told the student to make sure to use a condom when seeing the older man. To most of us, allowing -- and even promoting -- statutory rape is grotesque, unquestionably illegal and grossly negligent, but to Obama, it appears to be qualification for the job.

Meanwhile, a recent GOP amendment prohibiting the creation of "czar" positions unless Congress confirms appointees was killed by a procedural move made by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Chicago).

23239  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Elder on: October 02, 2009, 10:33:14 AM
"Close your eyes, and pretend it's still the George W. Bush administration," writes columnist Larry Elder. "In Afghanistan, more American service members died in August than in any month since the war began. His top military commander says that without more troops, we run the risk of losing the war. Iran admits operating a second previously undisclosed nuclear facility. Unemployment stands at 9.7 percent, with consumer confidence lower last month after a brief uptick. An important domestic initiative -- one he campaigned on -- faces a likely make-or-break month in Congress."

Elder continues, "What does the President do? He flies to Copenhagen to personally lobby the International Olympic Committee to bring the Olympics to Crawford, Texas."

Substitute Barack Obama for George W. Bush and Chicago for Crawford and you have the news this week: Obama flew to Copenhagen to lobby the IOC to award the 2016 Olympics to his "home town" of Chicago. The First Lady flew separately to make her own pitch. Just think of the carbon footprint that generated.

Aside from massaging his narcissistic ego, Obama is obviously looking to generate a huge financial windfall for his Chicago cronies, though as we went to press the decision had not yet been made. And anyway, as Elder concludes, "Iran and Afghanistan can wait."
23240  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Politics of Health Care on: October 02, 2009, 08:31:46 AM

As health reform legislation hurtles toward its finale, corporate America has rushed to the barricades to make sure that big business remains at the heart of the welfare state. The Business Roundtable, the Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers are united in their belief that Sen. Ron Wyden's (D., Ore.) "free choice amendment" must be stopped.

Mr. Wyden's measure, which is being offered as an amendment to the Baucus bill in the Senate Finance Committee, would come into play if employers failed to offer their workers meaningful choice of affordable plans. In that case, employees would be allowed to turn the cash employers currently spend on their health benefits into vouchers with which they could buy coverage from newly created insurance exchanges.

Big business thinks that giving employees this choice would be a calamity. To which one can only ask: Have these business lobbies lost their minds?

When the post-mortems on the health-care reform debate are written, the biggest mystery will be why big business fought so hard to stay in the health-care business even as soaring health costs surpassed corporate profits and diverted executive time better devoted to actually running companies.

America's employer-based health-care system may have made sense 50 years ago, when care was cheap, U.S. business faced little global competition, and fending off socialism was a Cold War priority. Circumstances have changed radically since that time. Yet corporate America—egged on by human resources executives threatened by change—remains caught in a time warp.

It's bad enough that business didn't do the smart thing up front and urge President Barack Obama to move the nation beyond employer-based care. That was major lost opportunity No. 1.

But on what possible theory does big business now assert that the 175 million Americans who get coverage on the job deserve no new choices? Most firms offer just one insurance plan, or narrow set of plans, to their workers. Why shouldn't these Americans also benefit from the myriad options that will become available from newly established competitive insurance exchanges?

The language used in a letter sent Tuesday to the Senate Finance Committee from something called the "National Coalition on Benefits"—a body controlled by corporate HR execs—reveals the confusion and paternalism still permeating the executive suite when it comes to the employer's role.

Mr. Wyden's proposal, the coalition asserts, would "fundamentally frustrate employers' attempts to administer integrated health improvement strategies." As a factual matter, this is incorrect. But why should "health improvement strategies" be the job of American businesses? Sounds more like a job for American doctors, in conjunction with their patients.

The status quo crowd also writes that Mr. Wyden's measure "would likely harm employer-employee relations because most employees have a longstanding expectation that their employer will be their primary source for health coverage." But employees already chafe at the shrinking coverage now available on the job. And who wouldn't want more options?

It's clear to anyone who looks that the edifice of employer-based coverage is crumbling. A recent survey sponsored by the Committee for Economic Development, a business-led think tank, showed that 62% of senior executives think the system is unsustainable. While the under-65 population has grown by 25 million since 1999, the number of people who get health care from their employers has declined. Numerous CEOs have told me privately that they'd just as soon get out of the benefits business altogether, which makes one wonder who the National Benefits Coalition really represents.

Mr. Wyden's measure would strike a modest but meaningful blow for modernity by making it possible, for the first time, for American workers to access group coverage outside their jobs. Once the infrastructure of these insurance exchanges is established, more firms will offer more people more choices over time. If business is smart, it will then strike a grand bargain in which government picks up the costs of the health-care voucher in exchange for business lending its support to the modest consumption tax needed to replace the corporate money being withdrawn from the system.

If this plays out as it should, the result will not be the single-payer system of Britain or Canada, but an American version of the Swiss or Dutch model of universal coverage in which private insurers and providers organize and deliver care. A decade or so from now, finally freed from this antiquated health-care system, everyone in corporate America should be happy.

Except for HR executives at big companies, who will have surrendered the commanding heights of the welfare state. So here's a thought, Sen. Wyden: Sweeten your amendment with a generous buyout plan for HR chiefs at the Fortune 500. And watch opposition to more freedom and choice for millions of Americans melt away.

Mr. Miller, a management consultant, is the author of "The Tyranny of Dead Ideas: Letting Go of The Old Ways of Thinking To Unleash a New Prosperity," (Times Books, 2009).
23241  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Mukasey on: October 02, 2009, 08:23:17 AM
One would think that the arrests last week of Najibullah Zazi, charged with plotting to bomb New York City subways—and of two others charged with planning to blow up buildings in Dallas, Texas, and Springfield, Ill.—would generate support for the intelligence-gathering tools that protect this country from Muslim fanatics. In Mr. Zazi's case, the government has already confirmed the value of these tools: It has filed a notice of its intent to use information gathered under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which was specifically written to help combat terrorists and spies.

Nevertheless, there is a rear-guard action in Congress to make it more difficult to gather, use and protect intelligence—the only weapon that can prevent an attack rather than simply punish one after the fact. The USA Patriot Act, enacted in the aftermath of 9/11, is a case in point.

This law has a series of provisions that will expire unless Congress renews them. Up for renewal this year is a provision that permits investigators to maintain surveillance of sophisticated terrorists who change cell phones frequently to evade detection. This kind of surveillance is known as "roving wiretaps." Also up for renewal are authorizations to seek court orders to examine business records in national security investigations, and to conduct national security investigations even when investigators cannot prove a particular target is connected to a particular terrorist organization or foreign power—known as "lone wolf" authority.

View Full Image

AP Photo/New York City Police Department
Najibullah Zazi, center, faces charges in a plot to blow up commuter trains.
.Roving wiretaps have been used for decades by law enforcement in routine narcotics cases. They reportedly were used to help thwart a plot earlier this year to blow up synagogues in Riverdale, N.Y. Business records, including bank and telephone records, can provide important leads early in a national security investigation, and they have been used to obtain evidence in numerous cases.

The value of lone wolf authority is best demonstrated by its absence in the summer of 2001. That's when FBI agents might have obtained a warrant to search the computer of Zacharias Moussaoui, often referred to as the "20th hijacker," before the 9/11 attacks—although there was no proof at the time of his arrest on an immigration violation that he was acting for a terrorist organization. But a later search of his computer revealed just that.

Rather than simply renew these vital provisions, which expire at the end of this year, some congressional Democrats want to impose requirements that would diminish their effectiveness, or add burdens to existing authorizations that would retard rather than advance our ability to gather intelligence.

One bill would require the government to prove that the business records it seeks by court order pertain to an agent of a foreign power before investigators have seen those records. The current standard requires only that the records in question do not involve a person in the United States, or that they do relate to an investigation undertaken to protect the country against international terrorism or spying.

The section of the Patriot Act that confers the authority on investigators to seek these records was amended in 2006 to add civil liberties protections when sensitive personal information about a person in the U.S. is gathered. It passed the Senate overwhelmingly with support that included then-Sens. Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

The same proposed legislation would make it harder to obtain a real-time record of incoming and outgoing calls—known as a pen register—in national security cases. It does so by requiring that the government prove that the information sought in this record relates to a foreign power. Currently, the government can obtain a court order by certifying that the information sought either is foreign-intelligence information or relates to an investigation to protect against foreign terrorism or spying.

While the changes may sound benign, they turn the concept of an investigation on its head, requiring the government to submit proof at the outset of an investigation while facts are still being sought. In any event, a pen register shows only who called whom and nothing about the content of the call, and thus raises none of the privacy concerns that are at stake when a full-fledged wiretap is at issue. Moreover, the underlying information in a pen register is not private because telephone companies routinely have it.

Other proposals target national security letters, known as NSLs, which are administrative subpoenas like those issued routinely by the FBI and agencies as diverse as the Agriculture Department and the IRS to get information they need in order to enforce the statutes they administer. One Democratic bill would impose a four-year sunset on the FBI's authority to issue such letters where none exists now. Another, the "Judicious Use of Surveillance Tools In Counterterrorism Efforts Act of 2009," would bar their use entirely to get information about local or long-distance calls, financial transactions, or information from credit reports.

But this is precisely the kind of information that would be useful to an investigator trying to find out who a terrorist is calling or how much money he is receiving from overseas. The FBI already has the authority to obtain this kind of information in cases involving crimes against children. The Drug Enforcement Administration has it in drug cases. There is no sense in giving investigators in national security cases less authority than investigators in criminal cases, and in criticizing them for failing to connect the dots while denying them the authority to discover the dots.

Mr. Zazi's arrest is only the most recent case in which intelligence apparently has averted disaster. Cells have been broken up and individual defendants convicted in New York, Virginia, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas and Ohio.

But a disaster once averted is not permanently averted, as the writer Jonah Goldberg has noted. After the 1993 World Trade Center bombing killed six people and injured hundreds, Ramzi Youssef, the mastermind, was caught, convicted and put in the maximum security prison at Florence, Colo. Nonetheless, the World Trade Center towers are gone along with thousands of people.

Those who indulge paranoid fantasies of government investigators snooping on the books they take out of the library, and who would roll back current authorities in the name of protecting civil liberties, should consider what legislation will be proposed and passed if the next Najibullah Zazi is not detected.

Mr. Mukasey was attorney general of the United States from 2007 to 2009.
23242  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Glick on: October 02, 2009, 08:19:30 AM
Friday Feature /Can Syria Pass 'Israel Test'?
CAROLINE GLICK, (9/30/09): There has been much talk in
recent months about the prospect of Syria bolting the Iranian axis and
becoming magically transformed into an ally of the West.
Although Syria's President-for-life Bashar Assad's daily demonstrations of
fealty to his murderous friends has exposed this talk as nothing more than
fantasy, it continues to dominate the international discourse on Syria.

In the meantime, Syria's ongoing real transformation, from a more or less
functioning state into an impoverished wasteland, has been ignored.

Today, the country faces the greatest economic catastrophe in its history.
The crisis is causing massive malnutrition and displacement for hundreds
of thousands of Syrians. These Syrians - some 250,000 mainly Kurdish
farmers - have been forced off their farms over the past two years because
their lands were reclaimed by the desert.

Today shantytowns have sprung up around major cities such as Damascus.
They are filled with internally displaced refugees. Through a cataclysmic
combination of irrational agricultural policies embraced by the Ba'athist
Assad dynasty for the past 45 years that have eroded the soil, and massive
digging of some 420,000 unauthorized wells that have dried out the
groundwater aquifers (Reuters is reporting that half the wells were dug
illegally), Syria's regime has done everything in its power to dry up the
country. The effects of these demented policies have been exacerbated in
recent years by Turkey's diversion of Syria's main water source, the
Euphrates River, through the construction of dams upstream, and by two
years of unrelenting drought. Today, much of Syria's previously fertile
farmland has become wasteland. Former farmers are now destitute day
laborers with few prospects for economic recovery.

Imagine if in his country's moment of peril, instead of clinging to his
alliance with Iran, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda and Hamas, Assad were to turn to
Israel to help him out of this crisis?

Israel is a world leader in water desalination and recycling. The largest
desalination plant in the world is located in Ashkelon. Israeli technology
and engineers could help Syria rebuild its water supply.

Israel could also help Syria use whatever water it still has, or is able
to produce through desalination and recycling more wisely through drip
irrigation - which was invented in Israel. Israel today supplies 50
percent of the international market for drip irrigation. In places like
Syria and southern Iraq that are now being dried out by the Turkish dams,
irrigation is primitive - often involving nothing more than water trucks
pumping water out of the Euphrates and driving it over to fields that are
often less than a kilometer away.

Then there are Syria's dwindling oil reserves. No doubt, Israeli engineers
and seismologists would be able to increase the efficiency and
productivity of existing wells and so increase their output. It is
certainly not beyond the realm of possibility that Israeli scientists and
engineers could even discover new, untapped oil reserves.

But, of course, Syria isn't interested in Israel's help. Syria wants to
have its enemy and eat it too. . . .

. . . . The Palestinians and the Syrians are not alone. From Egypt to
Saudi Arabia to Pakistan and Indonesia, the Arab and Muslim world has
preferred poverty and economic backwardness to the prosperity that would
come from engaging Israel. They prefer their staunch rejection of Israel
and hatred of Jews and the economic stagnation this involves to the
prosperity and political freedom and stability that would come from an
acceptance of Israel.

As American economic and technology guru George Gilder puts it in his new
book "The Israel Test," "The test of a culture is what it accomplishes in
advancing the human cause - what it creates rather than what it claims."

Gilder's book is a unique and necessary contribution to the current
international debate about the Middle East. Rather than concentrate solely
on Arab claims from Israel as most writers do, Gilder turns his attention
to what the nations of the region create. Specifically, he shows that only
Israel creates wealth through creativity and innovation and that today
Israel is contributing more to the human cause through its scientific,
technological and financial advances than any other country in the world
except the United States.

"The Israel Test" describes in riveting detail both the massive
contributions of mainly Diaspora Jews to the U.S. victories in World War
II and the Cold War and to the scientific revolutions of the 20th century
that set the foundations for the computer age, and the massive
contributions of Israeli Jews to the digital revolution that defines and
shapes our economic realities today.

But before Gilder begins to describe these great Jewish contributions to
the global economy and the general well being of people around the world,
he asserts that the future of the world will be determined by its
treatment of Israel. As he puts it, "The central issue in international
politics, dividing the world into two fractious armies, is the tiny state
of Israel."

In his view, "Israel defines a line of demarcation," between those who
pass and those who fail what he refers to as "the Israel Test."

Gilder poses the test to his readers by asking them a few questions: "What
is your attitude toward people who excel you in the creation of wealth or
in other accomplishment? Do you aspire to their excellence, or do you
seethe at it? Do you admire and celebrate exceptional achievement, or do
you impugn it and seek to tear it down?"

By his telling, the future of civilization will be determined by how the
nations of the world - and particularly, how the American people - answer
these questions.

Gilder's book is valuable on its own accord. I personally learned an
enormous amount about Israel's pioneering role in the information economy.
Beyond that, it provides a stunning rebuttal to the central arguments of
the other major book that has been written about Israel and the Arabs in
the US in recent years.

Steve Walt and John Mearsheimer's "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign
Policy" (Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 2007) has two central arguments.
First, they argue that Israel has little value as an ally to the United
States. Second, they assert that given Israel's worthlessness to the
United States, the only reasonable explanation of why Americans
overwhelmingly support Israel is that they have been manipulated by a
conspiracy of Jewish organizations and Jewish-owned and controlled media
and financial outlets. In their view, the nefarious Jewish-controlled
forces have bamboozled the American people into believing that Israel is
important to them and even a kindred nation to the United States.

Gilder blows both arguments out of the water without even directly
engaging them or noting Israel's singular contributions to U.S.
intelligence and military prowess. Instead, he demonstrates that Israel is
an indispensable motor for the U.S. economy, which in turn is the
principal driver of U.S. power globally. Much of Silicon Valley's economic
prowess is founded on technologies made in Israel. Everything from the
microchip to the cellphone has either been made in Israel or by Israelis
in Silicon Valley.

It is Gilder's own admiration for Israel's exceptional achievements that
puts paid Walt and Mearsheimer's second argument. There is something
distinctively American in his enthusiasm for Israel's innovative genius.
From America's earliest beginnings, the American character has been imbued
with an admiration for achievement. As a nation, Americans have always
passed Gilder's Israel Test.

Taken together with the other reasons for American support for Israel -
particularly religious affinity for the people of the Bible - Gilder's
book shows that the American and Israeli people are indeed natural friends
and allies bound together by their exceptionalism that motivates them to
strive for excellence and progress to the benefit of all mankind.

Americans recently commemorated the eighth anniversary of the Sept. 11
attacks. Those attacks were the greatest confrontation to date between
American exceptionalism and Islamist nihilism. Gilder's book serves as a
reminder of what makes the United States and its exceptional ally Israel
worth defending at all costs. "The Israel Test" also teaches us that so
long as we keep faith with ourselves, we will not be alone in our fight
against barbarism and hatred, and inevitably, we will emerge the victors
in this bitter fight.

Read on:
23243  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: US Foreign Policy on: October 02, 2009, 08:11:56 AM
Obama's Moment of Reckoning

EVERY AMERICAN PRESIDENT, early in his term, discovers that vision and reality rarely meet. Some — Ronald Reagan comes to mind — are able to recover. Others — Lyndon Johnson and George W. Bush, for example — do not. But the world is the way it is for a reason. States do not have as much room to maneuver in their policymaking as election campaign rhetoric would suggest. U.S. President Barack Obama’s mistake to date has been very similar to that made by every president before him: namely, basing his foreign policy on the assumption that he, unlike his predecessors, will be able to talk to “those people” in a way that solves problems — that if things are just handled in a different way, a different president can achieve a different end.

That particular bundle of optimism pretty much shorted out this week. American diplomats will be in Geneva on Thursday for talks with their counterparts from France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Russia, China and Iran. The topic: how to force the Iranians to come clean about their nuclear program. From what we’ve been able to gather from intelligence efforts, Iran is challenging the very agenda of the meeting. Russia is indicating that it doesn’t care a whit about Iran, but is willing to exert pressure if the Americans will grant concessions in the former Soviet Union, specifically Ukraine and Georgia. The Chinese are livid at Obama for his decision to implement tire tariffs and are not appearing particularly helpful either. Germany isn’t even sending an Iran expert to the talks, and is distracted by internal politics anyway.

“It is too early to pass judgment on Obama’s first year in office, but things are getting dicey.”
Nor is Iran the only issue that has forced its way onto Obama’s agenda. Afghanistan is a war that is going nowhere, and even with a massive increase of forces, it is unlikely that anything more than a stalemate will be feasible. Many empires have disappeared into the maw that is Afghanistan. The Greeks left. The Huns left. The Mongols left. The British left. The Soviets left. The Taliban is pretty sure the Americans will leave too. Obama’s campaign promise to fight the “right war” of course makes for some interesting public relations acrobatics, whatever direction policy — or the war — should take. But the problem remains that this war has gone from bad to worse — and to worse still — since Obama took office.

Things could be better at home, too. On Tuesday, the White House lost two major votes on health care, the issue that has crowded out nearly everything else on the domestic agenda — and this despite the tire tariffs, which were pushed through explicitly to guarantee the loyalty of some domestic groups. Making a sacrifice of China — and thereby complicating the Iran issue — has not generated a victory, but instead a loss.

It is too early to pass judgment on Obama’s first year in office, but things are getting dicey. Obama is now facing two crises in the Islamic world — Afghanistan and Iran — and by all indications he doesn’t have a clear strategy on either. His advisers are good enough, and he is smart enough, to realize that simply continuing in the same direction on either issue will not be a recipe for success. Iran, Russia and the Taliban already view him as weak. Doubling down in Afghanistan in order to confront the Taliban would rob the United States of its ability to act elsewhere. Going to war with Iran would (at a minimum) remove 3 million barrels per day of crude from the market and reverse the nascent economic recovery — not to mention reigniting conflict in Iraq. Shifting the country’s military orientation to re-contain Russia would leave Iraq and Afghanistan in the hands of potentially (if not already outright) hostile forces. Not a nice menu from which to select.

Obama’s moment is shaping up to arrive very soon. It well might be Thursday.

But it is not all bad news. Iran’s foreign minister on Wednesday flew from U.N. meetings in New York City to Washington, to visit the Iranian interests section at the Pakistani Embassy. Because Iran and the United States do not have direct ties, they operate via the Swiss Embassy in Tehran and the Pakistani Embassy in Washington. And given that lack of direct ties, any such visit requires a special visa with a high-level clearance. Someone like Manouchehr Mottaki does not simply visit Washington without approval. It’s pretty obvious that he didn’t come — and that the White House didn’t allow him to come — to go sightseeing. And if Mottaki simply wanted to mock Obama, he could have done that from the United Nations building in New York. He came to talk directly to the Americans before the public talks in Geneva on Thursday.

We see really only one clean way out of Obama’s dilemma: a deal with Iran. Should the Iranians and the Americans find a way to live with each other, then a great many other issues would fall into place. The Russians would lose their lever in the Middle East. The Americans could smoothly (for the Middle East) withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan. American and Iranian intelligence and training in cooperation could limit any Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan.

Such a “happy” ending naturally faces some touchy obstacles. Israel would retain the ability to scrap any rapprochement, and would have strong incentives to do so if Iran’s nuclear program was not clearly and publicly defanged. Russia might have a thing or two to say (and do) to scuttle any warming in U.S.-Iran relations. And then there is that issue of a lack of trust between Tehran and Washington on just about everything.

But Mottaki visited Washington. And he did so with the full knowledge and permission of the White House. That’s a fact that cannot be ignored, and one that just might shine a light for an increasingly beleaguered president.

23244  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: BO getting played on: October 02, 2009, 08:08:28 AM
From Geneva yesterday come all kinds of good diplomatic vibrations. Iran may allow U.N. inspectors into a recently unveiled uranium-enrichment plant "within two weeks." Another meeting will be held before month's end. A "freeze" on sanctions was bruited about. In an appearance at the White House, President Obama sounded sober but hopeful, calling the direct American talks with the Islamic Republic "a constructive beginning" toward "serious and meaningful engagement."

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was presumably in even better spirits at his remarkable change of fortune. A month ago, Iran's president was struggling to cement his grip on power after stealing an election and repressing nationwide protests. A week ago, the disclosure of the secret facility near Qom highlighted Iran's chronic prevarication and raised calls for more sanctions.

By yesterday, all that had changed. At the 18th-century Villa Le Saugy, Iran's representative sat among the world's powers as a respected equal. Responding to an overture from the Obama Administration, the Iranians even talked about the future of the U.N. and other nonnuclear issues. Meanwhile, Washington was "buzzing" (as one newspaper put it) that a one-day visit by Iran's foreign minister might signal more detente to come. Back in Tehran, Mr. Ahmadinejad floated a tete-a-tete with the U.S. President. In short, this engagement conferred a respectability on his regime that Mr. Ahmadinejad could only have imagined amid his vicious post-election crackdown.

The price of entry is surprisingly modest, too. Though cautious, the P5+1 (the veto-wielding Security Council members, plus Germany) welcomed signs of Iranian concessions: Inspectors at Qom, an openness to send low-enriched uranium outside Iran for enrichment, possibly suspending its own enrichment program. Mr. Ahmadinejad said the Geneva talks were "a unique opportunity" for the West.

Consider the Iranian offers in turn. Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency won't find anything incriminating at the Qom facility. Having lied about it for years, the Iranians now have plenty of time to clean the place out. Iran's experience with the IAEA goes back to the first inspections starting in 1992, which somehow prevented the world from learning about Iran's bomb program for a decade and then only from an Iranian dissident group. A freeze on enrichment used to be the U.S. precondition for talks with Iran. Now the U.S. and Europeans say that in exchange merely for this enrichment promise, they'll freeze any additional sanctions.

Iran has timed its olive branch well. The Europeans are more frustrated with past Iranian stalling than is Washington and have started to hanker for tougher measures. Those demands will now be muted. For years, Iran has talked with the Europeans, using the time and diplomatic cover to make nuclear progress. The Obama ascendency offers the mullahs another chance, with an even more eager partner, to repeat the exercise with a far bigger potential payoff. Expect Iran to follow the North Korean model, stringing the West along, lying and wheedling, striking deals only to reneg and start over. In the end, North Korea tested a nuclear device.

On long evidence, the regime has no intention of stopping a nuclear program that would give it new power in the region, and new leverage against America. The Qom news reveals a more extensive, sophisticated and covert nuclear complex than many people, including the CIA, were willing to recognize. The facility is located on a Revolutionary Guard base, partly hidden underground and protected by air-defense missiles. Its capacity of 3,000 centrifuges is too small for civilian use but not for a weapons program. It's a good bet an archipelago of such small covert facilities is scattered around Iran.

Meanwhile, news reports this week say German and British intelligence believe Iran never stopped clandestine efforts to design a nuclear warhead. Their assumptions contradict the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate in 2007 that Iran had stopped its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and kept it frozen.

The evidence is overwhelming that the window to stop the world's leading sponsor of terrorism from acquiring a bomb is closing fast. If we are serious about doing so, the proper model isn't North Korea, but Libya. The Gadhafi regime agreed to disarm after the fall of Saddam Hussein convinced its leaders that their survival was better assured without nuclear weapons. Mr. Ahmadinejad and Iran's mullahs will only concede if they see their future the same way.

This supposed fresh start in Geneva only gives them new legitimacy, and new hope that they can have their bomb and enhanced global standing too.
23245  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The vast left wing conspiracy: BO's friends, appts, and running dogs on: October 02, 2009, 07:57:02 AM
Glen Beck has been doing an outstanding job of developing awareness of just how radical, seditious, and corrupt the President Obama's appointments and friends are.  This thread is for putting the spotlight on these people
SEIU's Andy Stern
23246  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: The Power of Word on: October 02, 2009, 07:23:16 AM
Rachel et al:

For some reason  wink the Creator seems to be putting messages about happiness in my path.  From your post, to a Dennis Prager talk CD I just shared with my son, to this:

"The natural state of man, the way G-d created us, is to be happy. Look at children and you will see."
23247  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Nuclear War, WMD issues on: October 02, 2009, 07:19:04 AM
I understand that, but it is my understanding that in his interviews after his capture when asked why he had left the impression of having WMD when he didn't SH said that it was to bluff the Iranians.  My guess would be Syria would be a more likely place to stash nasty toys.
23248  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Fisher Ames, 1789 on: October 02, 2009, 07:16:30 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. I love liberty as well as anybody. I am proud of it, as the true title of our people to distinction above others; but ... I would guard it by making the laws strong enough to protect it." --Fisher Ames, letter to George Richard Minot, 1789
23249  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Economics on: October 01, 2009, 09:39:01 PM
Well, the WSJ is a FAR lesser publication than it used to be before Murcdoch took over.

As for Pravda on the Hudson, maybe it didn't read the piece and just assumed if they were from Harvard it was OK.  cheesy
23250  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: MMA Thread on: October 01, 2009, 02:48:51 PM
I had previously sensed substantial substance to Kimbo (I saw a couple of interviews a couple of years ago wherein he wasn't simply being marketed as the ultimate scary ghetto negro) but last night was something else.

What a great soap opera this season is turning into!
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