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23251  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / T. Freeman: Reframing on: March 12, 2010, 06:21:36 AM
There are no things. There are only words. The Divine Words of Creation.

The words become fragmented, their letters scattered.
Only then are they called things; for scattered, they have no meaning.
Words in exile.

If so, their redemption lies in the story we tell with them. How we reorganize fragments into meaning, things into words, redefining what is real and what is not, and living life accordingly.

Life is in the interpretation of the words G-d gives us.
23252  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Very punny on: March 11, 2010, 05:42:58 PM
Puns For Educated Minds

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
1. The roundest knight at King Arthur's Round Table was Sir Circumference. He acquired his size from too much pi.
2. I thought I saw an eye doctor on an Alaskan island, but it turned out to be an optical Aleutian.
3. She was only a whiskey maker, but he loved her still.
4. A rubber band pistol was confiscated in an algebra class, because it was a weapon of math disruption.
5. The butcher backed into the meat grinder and got a little behind in his work.
6. No matter how much you push the envelope, it'll still be stationery.
7. A dog gave birth to puppies near the road and was cited for littering.
8. A grenade thrown into a kitchen in France would result in Linoleum Blownapart.
9. Two silk worms had a race. They ended up in a tie.
10. Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.
11. A hole has been found in the nudist camp wall. The police are looking into it.
12. Atheism is a non-prophet organization.
13. Two hats were hanging on a hat rack in the hallway One hat said to the other, "You stay here, I'll go on a head."
14. I wondered why the baseball kept getting bigger. Then it hit me.
15. A sign on the lawn at a drug rehab center said, "Keep off the Grass."
16. A small boy swallowed some coins and was taken to a hospital. When his grandmother telephoned to ask how he was, a nurse said, "No change yet."
17. A chicken crossing the road is poultry in motion.
19. The short fortune-teller who escaped from prison was a small medium at large.
20. The soldier who survived mustard gas and pepper spray is now a seasoned veteran.
21 A backward poet writes inverse.
22. In a democracy, it's your vote that counts. In feudalism, it's your count that votes.
23. Don't join dangerous cults, practice safe sects.
23253  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Glen Beck on: March 11, 2010, 04:32:46 PM
Speaking of hit pieces, here's a humor hit on Glenn:
http://beck.cnnbcvideo.com/?rc=fb.publish&fv=b|799600-dsmr8Yx

I will say his take on environmental issues irks me a bit.  Yes the Green movement is a watermelon front (green on the outside, red on the inside) for liberal fascism, and yes human caused global warming is a crock, but there REALLY are deep serious problems out there.  His mini-rant last night on Obama taking away fathes' fishing with their sons like on the Andy Griffith show IMHO simply was facetious or even disingenuous.  When species of fish are being fished to the point of utter depletion it is not an unreasonable thought to say "Hey! No fishing for a few years!"

Anyway, Glenn IS awesome.  He will not be taken down.  Too many people watch his show for the Big Lie to work.
23254  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Stratfor: Russia's Great Power Strategy on: March 11, 2010, 06:24:20 AM

Part Two of this series from Stratfor:

Summary
After Russia consolidates control over the countries it has deemed necessary to its national security, it will turn its focus to a handful of countries that are not as important but still have strategic value. These countries — Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan — are not necessary to Russia’s survival but are of some importance and can keep the West from moving too close to Russia’s core.

Editor’s note: This is part two of a four-part series in which STRATFOR examines Russia’s efforts to exert influence beyond its borders.

After years of work, Moscow has made significant progress in regaining control over the former Soviet states that are crucial to Russia’s security. Russia’s window of opportunity to exert control in its near abroad is a narrow one, however, and so Moscow has prioritized its list of countries where it is trying to consolidate influence. After reining in the four countries imperative to Moscow’s interests — Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Georgia — Moscow will turn its attention to a group of countries where it would like to have more influence.





(click to view map)

There are six countries — Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan — where Moscow would like to reconsolidate its influence if it has the opportunity. Although these countries are not crucial to Russia’s survival, as long as they remain outside Moscow’s control, the West has the ability to get too close to the Russian core for comfort. All these countries know how serious Russia is about its grand plan of expansionism. The 2008 Russo-Georgian war revealed Moscow’s willingness to militarily intervene on its former Soviet turf and sent the message to these countries that they must obey or cut a deal with Moscow, or else risk being crushed. Since then, these countries have watched Russia consolidate Kazakhstan and Belarus into a customs union (with the promise of becoming a formal union) and have seen a pro-Russian wave engulf Ukraine.

The Baltics
Out of the six countries on this shopping list, the Baltics (particularly Estonia and Latvia) are the most critical to Russia’s plan. Estonia and Latvia are a stone’s throw from Russia’s most important cities, with Tallinn just 200 miles from St. Petersburg and eastern Latvia just 350 miles from Moscow. The Baltics lie on the North European Plain, Europe’s easiest route for marching into Russia — something Moscow knows all too well.

Each Baltic state has its own importance to Russia. Whoever controls Estonia also controls the approach to the Gulf of Finland, Russia’s main access to the Baltic Sea. Estonia is also mainly ethnically Ugro-Finnish, which means that Russians are surrounded by Ugro-Finns on both sides of the Gulf of Finland. Latvia has the largest Russian population in the Baltics and the port of Riga, which Russia covets. Lithuania is different from its Baltic brothers since it does not border Russia proper, although it does border Kaliningrad, Russia’s exclave, which is home to half of Russia’s Baltic Fleet and more than 23,000 troops. Lithuania is the largest of the Baltic states, both in terms of territory and population. It also had been a key industrial center under the Soviet Union.

The Baltic states were the only countries in the former Soviet Union to be shuffled into the Western set of alliances, being admitted into the European Union and NATO in 2004. This put the Western alliances right on Russia’s doorstep. Estonia and Latvia are fervently anti-Russian, while Lithuania is more pragmatic, feeling less threatened by Moscow since it does not actually border mainland Russia.

The Russian administration is split over whether the Baltics belong on Russia’s “must have” or “would like to have” list. The Kremlin is especially torn over how aggressively to go after Estonia, which is geographically isolated sharing land borders only with Russia and Latvia, and thus in a particularly sensitive position.

Russia’s Levers
Russia holds many levers within the Baltic states, making their future highly uncertain.

Geography: The Baltics are virtually indefensible, lying on the North European Plain. Their small size also makes them incredibly vulnerable. Furthermore, they are bordered by Russia to the east, Kaliningrad to the west and Russian ally Belarus to the south.
Population: Each Baltic state has a sizable Russian population: Russians or Russian speakers make up 30 percent of the population in Estonia, 40 percent in Latvia and nearly 10 percent of Lithuania. Roughly 15 percent of Estonians and 30 percent of Latvians are Orthodox, with many loyal to the Moscow Patriarchy.
Economic: The most critical economic lever for Russia in the Baltics is energy. The Baltics rely on Russia for 90-99 percent of their natural gas supplies and most of their oil. Russia has proven in the past that it is willing to cut these supplies (for example, through the breaking of the Druzhba pipeline). Russia also owns a third of Estonia’s natural gas company and has been in talks to purchase Lithuania’s main refinery. Russia’s economic levers are mainly in Latvia, which relies on Russia for one-third of its energy imports
Military: Russia has 23,000 troops in Kaliningrad and recently moved 8,000 troops to just outside St. Petersburg, near the Estonian border. Russia has also regularly held military exercises in Belarus and Kaliningrad under the guise of contingency planning for an invasion of the Baltics (should one ever be necessary).
Security: Russia’s nationalist youth movements, like Nashi, have continually crossed the border into Estonia and Latvia in order to commit vandalism or stir up pro-Russian sentiments. Estonia has also been one of the prime targets for cyber attacks from Russia, especially at politically heated times.
Political: This is the weakest link for Russia in the Baltics, since each country is pro-Western and a member of the European Union and NATO. However Russia does have some small footholds in Latvia and Lithuania. In 2009, the Harmony Center coalition — comprising parties that mainly represent Latvia’s Russian population — placed second in the country’s European Parliament elections and was as recently as January ranked as the most popular Latvian party, with 16.5 percent approval. There has also been a tradition of pro-Russian parties in Lithuania, though this has tapered off in recent years. The Labor Party, funded by Russian-born billionaire Viktor Uspaskich, was the strongest party in Lithuania in the mid-2000s. However, Uspaskich’s fortunes turned when he was charged with corruption and tax evasion, forcing him to flee to Russia in 2006 to avoid arrest. He has since returned to Lithuania and assumed leadership of the Labor Party, which came fifth in the October 2008 elections.
Russia’s Success and Roadblocks
Moscow has not yet made much progress in consolidating its influence in the Baltics. Estonia and Latvia are still vehemently anti-Russian. They have taken refuge in Western alliances, but after watching what happened to NATO ally Georgia in 2008, both countries — particularly Estonia — are unsure about the West’s ability to come to their aid should Russia actively target them. Instead, Estonia and Latvia tend to look to Sweden and Finland as patrons. These countries hold unique relationships with Russia that could help them curb any Russian action in Latvia and Estonia.

Lithuania has been more pragmatic about its relationship with Russia, counting on its location away from the Russian border to protect it but not wanting to test Moscow’s patience. In recent weeks, Lithuania has been more open to NATO discussions with Russia and negotiations on Russian involvement in the country’s energy sector.

Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan is important to Russia for many reasons. The Caucasus state does not border Russia and historically has been rather independently minded. However, it could be drawn in not only by the West but by other regional powers, like Turkey and Iran (Azerbaijan borders Iran, which has a sizeable Azerbaijani population). For Russia, controlling Azerbaijan is about preventing other powers from gaining a foothold in the Caucasus.

Azerbaijan also has access to vast amounts of energy wealth — not only because of its own oil and natural gas resources but also because of its geographic location between Central Asia and the West. Many countries want to tap into Azerbaijan’s energy potential. The West has developed Azerbaijan’s resources in order to have an alternative to Russian energy supplies, while Russia wants to control the flow of Azerbaijan’s oil and natural gas supplies.

Russia’s Levers
Geographic: Azerbaijan’s location is a blessing and a curse. It is near many regional powers, but is torn between them. Russia is skilled in playing the regional powers off each other in order to gain more leverage in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan’s main energy route also transits Georgia — and Russia proved its willingness to cut that route during the 2008 war.
Political: Azerbaijan and its neighbor Armenia have been locked in a political conflict over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh since a war over the region from 1988-1994. Russia is the key power influencing all parties involved in the negotiations and can easily complicate or keep calm this complex standoff.
Security: Besides the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute, Azerbaijan is also highly concerned with militants from Russia’s Muslim regions coming into the country. Baku has complained that Moscow could easily send down militants from Dagestan or Chechnya to destabilize the country if needed.
Military: Russia has 5,000 troops stationed inside Armenia and has an agreement with Yerevan that it can move the troops to the borders as it pleases. Russia also has a military radar base in Gabala, Azerbaijan, but this is in the process of being shut down.
Economic: Azerbaijan is in the process of reviving its energy ties to Russia with deals for natural gas purchases to start this year. Russia has also offered to purchase all of Azerbaijan’s natural gas. Baku has attempted to diversify where it sends its energy, with links to Europe, Iran and now Russia. But as Russia has proven, it is willing to cut some of these links for its own needs.
Russia’s Success and Roadblocks
Russia has been quite successful in the past year in re-establishing its influence over Azerbaijan. Though it traditionally has sought to balance itself among the region’s three powers, Azerbaijan is now reconsidering its relationship with Turkey and becoming more worried about keeping ties with Iran due to Western pressure. This is beginning to leave Russia as Baku’s only option, and Moscow knows it. Furthermore, as the political dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia heated up due to a proposed political deal between Armenia and Azerbaijan’s traditional ally Turkey, Baku felt abandoned by Ankara, and Russia stepped in to console Azerbaijan. Russia has skillfully played each party in this disagreement — Azerbaijan, Armenia and Turkey — off each other, and gained leverage to use on each one.

Azerbaijan is still very wary of Russian control, but understands it must deal carefully with Moscow. Unfortunately for Baku, besides other powers’ interest in the country and its geographic location, Azerbaijan has few tools at its disposal to counter Russian pressure.

Turkmenistan
Turkmenistan acts as a buffer for Russia between the critical state of Kazakhstan and the regional power of Iran. It also stands between the former Soviet sphere and the highly unstable South Asian countries of Afghanistan and Pakistan. But Turkmenistan is strategically important to Russia for two other reasons: energy and Uzbekistan.

Turkmenistan holds the world’s fourth-largest natural gas supplies and sizable oil supplies —something sought by the West, the Far East and the Middle East. Russia wants to ensure that these supplies only go where it wants and do not become competition for Russia’s supplies.

Turkmenistan also flanks most of the southern portion of Uzbekistan, Central Asia’s natural leader and a country Russia wants to control. Russia has been able to use the long-standing tensions between Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to its advantage.

Russia’s Levers
Turkmenistan’s sparse population and economy makes it difficult to influence, but Russia has some very specific levers in the country.

Geography and population: Turkmenistan does not border Russia, but its geography and lack of consolidation give Russia easy access. Turkmenistan lacks any geographic protective features, except for its size and the large desert that crosses most of the country. Furthermore, its population is split between the Caspian coast and its border with Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. Russia holds influence over the population in the southeast mainly because the clan that runs that area allegedly is involved in the drug trade, and Russia is said to oversee exports from Turkmenistan through Russia and on to Europe.
Political and security: As mentioned above, Russia holds great political leverage over the southern Turkmen population because of its control over this area’s main economic staple: drugs. This population, led by the Mary Clan, does not run the country politically but could easily challenge the government if it wanted, since it comprises a large percentage of the population. Russia has yet to play this card, but it would not be difficult to do so.
Military: Russian military influence in Turkmenistan has increased. The country cannot defend itself, especially from its neighbor Uzbekistan, so Russia has supplied the Turkmen military and security forces with arms and training. Russia has placed a small contingent of troops inside Turkmenistan as well in order to deter Uzbekistan.
Economic: Fifty percent of Turkmenistan’s gross domestic product comes from energy, with 90 percent of Turkmen energy supplies transiting Russia. Moscow has proven in the past that it is willing to cut these energy supply routes if politically necessary and knows that doing so would crush Turkmenistan economically.
Russia’s Success and Roadblocks
Russia has been able to keep Turkmenistan under its thumb via energy and security. The country understands that it is beholden to Russia for the bulk of its economy and for protection from Uzbekistan. However, part of this equation is changing, since Turkmenistan has expanded its energy infrastructure into China — a major energy consumer. These links depend on the transit of supplies via Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan but are the start of a diversification of energy shipments and funding for Turkmenistan.

Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan is the heart of Central Asia, holding a large bulk of its population and many of its resources. Uzbekistan’s population, 27 million, dwarfs that of its neighbors. It holds the world’s 11th-largest natural gas reserves and is Central Asia’s major electricity exporter. Uzbekistan is self-sufficient in food as well, controlling the fertile Fergana Valley. Its size, resources and location grant Uzbekistan a greater degree of independence than the other Central Asian states.

This independence is something Russia wants to curb. Russia is not so concerned with other powers influencing Uzbekistan — though the West, China, Turkey and Iran have tried. Instead Moscow is worried about Uzbekistan becoming a regional leader in its own right, commanding the other Central Asian states. Such a move would shift the whole of Central Asia away from Russian control. Losing Uzbekistan would mean losing half of Kazakhstan (including the critical southern region around Almaty), Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and half of Kyrgyzstan. These areas would end up isolated from Russia.

Russia’s Levers
Geographic: Uzbekistan is surrounded by former Soviet states. It has no borders with the non-Soviet world, save a very small border with Afghanistan. As long as Russia controls the other states it can influence Uzbekistan to some extent.

Security: Uzbekistan has faced a great number of security concerns, from its own militant movements in the Fergana Valley to the insurgency in Afghanistan crossing the border. Russia has placed its troops in neighboring countries to counter these militants and can help mold their movements. Moscow also has deep connections with many militant movements in Afghanistan left over from the war in the 1980s.
Economic: Roughly 21 percent of all Uzbek exports — mainly energy, cotton and cars — go to Russia. Natural gas accounts for nearly 32 percent of Uzbekistan’s exports, and 75 percent of that goes to Russia. Uzbekistan may be self-sufficient in energy and food, but all refined energy products (like lubricants) and most processed foods come from Russia. Russia also controls much of the drug flow out of Central Asia and Afghanistan into Russia and Europe. This drug flow is key to the Uzbek economy and many of the power circles in the country.
Military: Russia currently has troops near the Uzbek border in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan and has trained Turkmen troops that are stationed on the Turkmen-Uzbek border.
Russia’s Success and Roadblocks
Russia was briefly successful in pulling Uzbekistan back into the Russian fold in 2005, pushing Tashkent to evict the United States from a military base it was using to get supplies to troops in Afghanistan.

But as Tashkent has seen its neighbors and other former Soviet states grow closer to Russia, it has moved in the opposite direction. Uzbekistan’s reaction to the Russian resurgence has been to become increasingly independent and hostile toward Russia. Tashkent feels it should be the natural and independent leader of Central Asia and does not want Russia ruling the region. Uzbekistan has continued to buck Russia’s demands on energy supplies and military locations, and has joined the trend of building pipelines heading to China. In Central Asia, Uzbekistan is Moscow’s biggest and most important challenge.

23255  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Economics on: March 11, 2010, 06:10:58 AM


Securitization for Dummies
Heidi is the proprietor of a bar in Detroit. She realizes that virtually all of her customers are unemployed alcoholics and, as such, can no longer afford to patronize her bar. To solve this problem, she comes up with new marketing plan that allows her customers to drink now, but pay later. She keeps track of the drinks consumed on a ledger (thereby granting the customers loans).

Word gets around about Heidi's "drink now, pay later" marketing strategy and, as a result, increasing numbers of customers flood into Heidi's bar. Soon she has the largest sales volume for any bar in Detroit. By providing her customers' freedom from immediate payment demands, Heidi gets no resistance when, at regular intervals, she substantially increases her prices for wine and beer, the most consumed beverages. Consequently, Heidi's gross sales volume increases massively.

A young and dynamic vice-president at the local bank recognizes that these customer debts constitute valuable future assets and increases Heidi's borrowing limit. He sees no reason for any undue concern, since he has the debts of the unemployed alcoholics as collateral.

At the bank's corporate headquarters, expert traders transform these customer loans into DRINKBONDS, ALKIBONDS and PUKEBONDS. These securities are then bundled and traded on international security markets. Naive investors don't really understand that the securities being sold to them as AAA secured bonds are really the debts of unemployed alcoholics. Nevertheless, the bond prices continuously climb, and the securities soon become the hottest-selling items for some of the nation's leading brokerage houses.

One day, even though the bond prices are still climbing, a risk manager at the original local bank decides that the time has come to demand payment on the debts incurred by the drinkers at Heidi's bar. He so informs Heidi.

Heidi then demands payment from her alcoholic patrons, but being unemployed alcoholics they cannot pay back their drinking debts. Since, Heidi cannot fulfill her loan obligations she is forced into bankruptcy. The bar closes and the eleven employees lose their jobs.

Overnight, DRINKBONDS, ALKIBONDS, and PUKEBONDS drop in price by 90%. The collapsed bond asset value destroys the banks liquidity and prevents it from issuing new loans, thus freezing credit and economic activity in the community. The suppliers of Heidi's bar had granted her generous payment extensions and had invested their firms' pension funds in the various BOND securities. They find they are now faced with having to write off her bad debt and with losing over 90% of the presumed value of the bonds. Her wine supplier also claims bankruptcy, closing the doors on a family business that had endured for three generations, her beer supplier is taken over by a competitor, who immediately closes the local plant and lays off 150 workers.

Fortunately the bank, the brokerage houses, and their respective executives are saved and bailed out by a multi-billion dollar, no-strings attached cash infusion from their cronies in Government. The funds required for this bailout are obtained by new taxes levied on employed, middle-class,  non-drinkers who never have been in Heidi's bar.

Now, you understand.
23256  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Madison: Federalist 55 on: March 11, 2010, 05:14:57 AM
"Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates, every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob." --James Madison, Federalist No. 55
23257  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Pak's ISI Chief on: March 11, 2010, 04:34:33 AM
Pakistan's ISI Chief: When Personalities Matter
TUESDAY WAS ONE OF THOSE DAYS when a key development with global implications got very little attention around the world. On March 9, Pakistani Chief of Army Staff Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani extended the term of service of Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the head of the country’s premier intelligence service, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate. Pasha, who has been serving as Director-General of the ISI since his appointment by Kayani in September 2008, was due to retire on March 18. Many of the army’s top brass —including Kayani and Pakistan’s Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee Chairman Gen. Tariq Majid — are due to retire by autumn.

Normally, personalities and factions do not matter insofar as geopolitics is concerned, certainly not in the long run. In this case, however, we are dealing with the short term, given the narrow window of opportunity that U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration has to turn things around in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region –- the epicenter of global jihadist activity. This is why Pasha’s extension is an extremely significant development. Given the domestic and regional jihadist insurgency situation, the development is obviously based on Pakistan’s need for continuity of policy. But it is equally important for the American strategy for Afghanistan.

Pasha heads the ISI, which plays the single most important role in the U.S.-led international effort to bring about an end to the regional jihadist morass. In general, Washington relies heavily on Pakistan’s army-led security establishment to help bring a close to the now nine-year-old jihadist war. But without the ISI, the United States simply could not realize its objectives in the region.

There are two reasons for this. The first has to do with the historical role of the ISI in cultivating and managing Islamist militants, particularly in the case of Afghanistan’s Taliban movement. The second reason is that the ISI is in the process of a major shift; it is transitioning from being the cultivator of jihadists to being an entity that fights them.

“The ISI plays the single most important role in the U.S.-led international effort to bring about an end to the regional jihadist morass.”
Both of these attributes are absolutely essential for the success of the American strategy. Washington needs the ISI to help with intelligence to eliminate irreconcilable Taliban and their allies among the al Qaeda-led transnational jihadist nexus. More importantly though, Washington needs the ISI to eventually help negotiate a settlement with the reconcilable elements among the Afghan Taliban.

After years of tense relations, U.S.-Pakistani cooperation has recently seen considerable progress. The gains made thus far are nascent and have largely taken place under the current military-intelligence leadership. In the nearly 18 months that Pasha has been leading the ISI, Pakistan has taken a variety of unprecedented steps against Islamist militants. These include a crackdown against key Lashkar-e-Taiba figures due to their involvement in the Mumbai attacks in November 2008; the retaking of the Swat region from Taliban rebels; the ongoing offensive in the tribal belt, especially South Waziristan; growing intelligence-sharing to facilitate the U.S. unmanned aerial vehicle strikes in the tribal areas; and the recent actions against the Afghan Taliban.

These accomplishments are not possible without the cooperation of institutions, not just particular individuals. But when we talk about paradigmatic shifts in state behavior, specific individuals become important because they are the ones spearheading the radical changes. In the case of the ISI, this is even more important because the organization is in the process of transforming its decades-old policy of working with Islamist militants, and is now combating them.

The United States has acknowledged that the jihadist war in southwest Asia is primarily an intelligence war, and that it needs the ISI to move in a certain direction. This, in turn, requires specific personalities at the helm. Therefore, not only does Pakistan need continuity in its current intelligence leadership, the United States is dependent upon it as well. In other words, this war is as political as it is geopolitical.

23258  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Video Clips of Interest on: March 11, 2010, 04:25:42 AM


Yike Bike

http://www.yikebike.com/site/gallery/video/yikebike-discovery-channel
23259  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / BS Bingo with BO on: March 10, 2010, 10:40:04 PM


http://www.philstockworld.com/2010/03/10/how-to-stay-awake-during-obama-speeches-play-bullshit-bingo/
23260  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / POTH Op Ed on Filibusters on: March 10, 2010, 11:53:50 AM
I have no opinion on this, but post it in search of Truth:

Comments?
========================

A One-Track Senate Recommend

By BARRY FRIEDMAN and ANDREW D. MARTIN
Published: March 9, 2010

THE Senate is badly gummed up. Major policy initiatives — health care reform and financial regulation, to name but two — are stalled in endless negotiations. There’s a big reason for this torpor: the filibuster. But there’s a solution: the filibuster. Don’t be confused. The two aren’t the same.

During the 1960s, the Senate was frozen by lengthy filibusters over civil rights legislation. When, in the mid-’70s, that tactic once again threatened to bring the Senate to a standstill, Robert Byrd, the West Virginia Democrat who was the majority whip, invented a dual-track system. This change in practice allowed the majority leader — with the unanimous consent of the Senate or the approval of the minority leader — to set aside whatever was being debated on the Senate floor and move immediately to another item on the agenda.

The result of tracking? No more marathon debate sessions that shut down the Senate. While one bill is being “filibustered,” business can continue on others.

Today a “filibuster” consists of merely telling the leadership that 41 senators won’t vote for a bill. Worse, any single senator can put a “hold” on anything, indefinitely, for any reason. Not only has it become easier to “filibuster,” but tracking means there are far fewer consequences when the minority party or even one willful member of Congress does so, because the Senate can carry on with other things.

Tracking allowed Republican Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama to stop 70 administration nominees while pursuing earmarks for his home state. It permitted the Senate to conduct other business, like confirming a circuit-court judge, during the recent hold by Jim Bunning, Republican of Kentucky, on the unemployment benefit extension. During the “filibuster” of the Senate health care bill, it cleared the way for months of other votes.

Because dual-tracking is a Senate practice, not a formal rule, the majority leader, Harry Reid, could end tracking at any time. By doing so, the Democrats would transform the filibuster and recover their opportunity to govern effectively.

To pull this off, the Democrats need to take three steps: First, they should announce the order in which they will take up their legislative agenda. Next, they should declare that they will no longer be using dual tracking, so that the Senate will hear just one issue at a time. Finally, Democrats should require those who want to filibuster legislation or appointments to actually do so, by holding the floor, talking the issue to death and bringing everything to a halt.

The new-school filibuster would preserve minority rights in the Senate, while imposing significant costs on obstructionist members, changing the calculus that causes today’s logjam. Stuck on the Senate floor, filibustering senators couldn’t meet with lobbyists or attend campaign fund-raising events; they couldn’t do much of anything, really, until their filibuster ended.

Getting rid of dual-tracking would require the minority to make careful choices about what to obstruct, and when to obstruct it. As Senator Bunning’s unsuccessful solo stand against jobless benefits showed, even Republicans have limited tolerance when it comes to stalling legislation for reasons that lack popular support.

After all, filibusters historically broke when public opinion went against the Senate minority. If the Democratic leadership eliminated the dual-track system, serial, single-issue filibusters would give us an opportunity to see where the country actually stands on issues like health care reform and financial regulation — and where the Senate should stand.

By consistently blocking legislation, Republican have made great political gains over the last year. But in a Senate without dual-tracking, Democrats would be able to simply and repeatedly remind the American people that after endless debate there always comes time for a vote. Win or lose, that is how things work in a democracy.

Barry Friedman, a vice dean at New York University School of Law, is the author of the “The Will of the People: How Public Opinion Has Influenced the Supreme Court and Shaped the Meaning of the Constitution.” Andrew D. Martin is the chairman of the political science department and a professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis.
23261  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTP on: March 10, 2010, 11:35:32 AM
Its WaPo (a.k.a. Pravda on the Potomac) so caveat lector.  That said, we search for the Truth, inconvenient and otherwise, so here it is:



http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/08/AR2010030804916.html
23262  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Our Troops in Action on: March 10, 2010, 10:51:05 AM
An ret. American SF officer sends me the following:
==========================================

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/afghanistan/article7052605.ece

Real allies. None finer.
23263  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor on: March 10, 2010, 10:40:02 AM
TWO EVENTS OCCURRED ON THURSDAY that involved Turkey. In the first, the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs forwarded a resolution to the House floor for full debate, which called for the condemning of Turkish actions in what many Armenians refer to as the 1915 genocide. The response from the Turkish Foreign Ministry was vitriolic, complete with an ambassadorial recall and threats to downgrade Turkish-American relations at a time when the Americans sorely need Turkish help in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the second development, which preceded the events on Capitol Hill by several hours, the Turkish government announced it would host its own version of the World Economic Forum (WEF) this October in Istanbul. The WEF gathers several hundred business and political leaders every year to discuss pressing global issues in Davos, Switzerland. Invited are all of the leaders from the Balkans, Central Asia, and the Arab world.

Here at STRATFOR these developments generated a bit of a “hmmm.” It is not that we are strident followers of the discussions in Congress (much less at Davos), or that we are blindly impressed or appalled by anything Turkey does. However, we are students of history, and seeing Turkey reaching for the position of a regional opinion leader at the same time it has an almost allergic reaction to criticism is something that takes us back a few hundred years to another era.

Much of Turkey’s rich history is bracketed within the period known as the Ottoman Empire — to date one of the largest and most successful empires in human history. But what truly set the Ottomans apart from the rest of history’s governments was not the size or wealth of the territory it controlled, but the way the Turks controlled it. We have to dive into a bit of a geography lesson to explain that.

The core territory of the Ottoman Empire of the past — as well as the Turkey of today — is a crescent of land on the northwest shore of the Anatolian peninsula, including all of the lands that touch the Sea of Marmara. In many ways it is a mini-Mediterranean. It is rich in fertile land, has a maritime culture and wealth that comes from trade. It is a natural birthplace for a powerful nation, and in time it became the seat of an empire.

But the lands to its east — what is currently eastern Turkey — are not so useful. The further east one travels, the drier and less economically useful the Anatolian peninsula becomes. So in the early years of the Ottoman expansion, the Turks pushed not east into Asia, but north into the Balkans — moving up the rich Danube valley into the fertile Plains of Hungary before being stopped by a coalition of European forces at Vienna.

This expansion left the Turks in a bit of a quandary. The size of their conquered territories was now larger than their home territories. The wealth of their conquered territories was potentially larger than that of their home territories. The population of their conquered territories was comprised of different nationalities and religions, and combined was larger than that of their home territories. The Turks very quickly came to the uncomfortable realization that they not only needed their conquered peoples to make their empire functional, but that they needed those conquered peoples to be willing participants in the empire. The Ottomans may have started out as Middle Eastern, but their early successes made them European.

This realization shaped imperial policy in a great many ways. One was the development of a Millet system of city organization where the Turks only control a portion of the city, leaving the rest of the population to live among, and police, their own. One was the establishment of the Janissary corps, an elite military force that reported directly to the sultan, but was stocked exclusively with non-Turks. Another was the simple fact that the chief vizier, the second most powerful man in the empire, was almost always not a Turk. And it was all held together by a governing concept the Turks called suzerainty: regional governments would pay taxes to the center and defer to Istanbul on all issues of foreign and military policy, but would control the bulk of their own local affairs. By the standards of the Western world of the 21st century, the system was imperial and intrusive, but by the standards of 16th century European barbarity, it was as exotic as it was enlightened.

“After more than 90 years of being in a geopolitical coma, the Turks are on the move again, and are deciding what sort of power they hope to become.”
But things change — particularly when borders shift. During two centuries of retreat following twin defeats at the gates of Vienna, the empire’s northern border crept ever further south. The demographic balance of Turks to non-Turks reverted to the Turks’ favor. The need for a multinational government system lessened, and by the Ottoman Empire’s dying days, the last threads of multinationalism were being ripped out.

But the Turks were not alone in what would soon come to be known as the Turkish Republic. There were also substantial populations of Armenians and Kurds. But unlike the Hungarians, Romanians and Bulgarians who dwelt in the fertile, economically valuable lands of Southeastern Europe — and whose cooperation the Turks needed to sustain a viable empire — the Armenians and Kurds called the steep, desiccated, low-fertility valleys of eastern Anatolia home. These lands held little value, and so the Turks had scarce need of its inhabitants. The Turks felt these lands held negligible promise, and that the need for an egalitarian governing system had passed: one result was 1915.

In our minds, today’s twin events highlight the challenge that Turkey faces. After more than 90 years of being in a geopolitical coma, the Turks are on the move again, and are deciding what sort of power they hope to become. Within that debate are two choices.

The first would herald a “Great Turkey” rooted in the founding of the Turkish Republic that celebrates its Turkish-ness. This is a very comfortable vision, and one that does not challenge any of the tenets that modern Turks hold dear. But it is also a vision with severe limitations. There are very few Turks living beyond the borders of modern Turkey, and even Turkey’s ethnic cousins in Central Asia and Azerbaijan are extremely unlikely to join any such entity. This vision would always rail at any challenge to its image. This is the Turkey that objects so strenuously whenever the 1915 topic is broached.

The second would herald a “Greater Turkey,” a multinational federation in which the Turks are the first-among-equals, but in which they are hardly alone. It would resurrect the concept of Turkey as primarily a European, not Middle Eastern, power. In this more pluralist system, Turkey’s current borders would not be the end, but the beginning. It is this version of Turkey that could truly — again — become not simply a regional, but a global power. And it is this Turkey that calls all interested, perhaps even the Armenians, to Istanbul in October to honestly and openly see what they think of the world.

23264  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / More on CAIR on: March 10, 2010, 10:19:19 AM
In Defense Of The Constitution
Anti-CAIR
News & Analysis
March 5, 2010




     CAIR: Defending Kifah Mustapha, The Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, and the Holy Land Foundation

     On Wednesday, March 3, Chicago's WLS-TV I-Team reported that the Illinois State Police have reconsidered the appointment of Kifah Mustapha as a Muslim Chaplain.  Terrorism expert Steven Emerson of the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT) is identified as the leading cause of Mustapha's  reconsideration.

     Apparently, Kifah Mustapha was slated to become the State Police’s first Muslim Chaplain after completing a course he paid for himself.  Completing the course, he was issued a state police ID card and bulletproof vest as part of his uniform package for use in the field and on ride-alongs.

     According to Ahmed Rehab of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR): "He was admitted to the post. He went through the training and the vetting and the selection process. Everything was hunky dory."

     Everything was "hunky dory" until Steve Emerson alerted the State Police:  "First I thought there was another Kifah Mustapha.  I could not believe that it could have been the same Kifah Mustapha who was associated with a terrorist organization and who was listed a year just a year and a half ago and was an unindicted co-conspirator in a terrorist case that the government won.”  "His appointment in Illinois is one of the most shocking developments and demonstrations of government ineptitude that I have ever seen.”

     A state police statement followed: "in early January, the ISP became aware that Mr. Mustapha was potentially identified as a member of the Muslim Brotherhood's Palestine Committee. An immediate review of our background process began."

     It didn’t take long for CAIR’s Ahmed Rehab to gin up the smear machine and use standard CAIR stylebook verbiage to attack: "Our concern is that the Illinois State Police is kowtowing to articles online published by notorious anti-Muslims who have been in the business of smearing Muslim activists leaders and Imams for the longest time."

     And note what Ahmed Rehab does not say. He never once states that anything Emerson claims about Kifah Mustapha isn’t true.  He does not deny the accuracy of any of Emerson’s statements because Emerson's statements are absolutely correct and Rehab knows it.

     According to Emerson’s investigation, Kifah Mustapha is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Palestine Committee and is, according to federal prosecutors, a fund-raiser for Hamas.  While the federal prosecutors are right in that Hamas is “committed to the globalization of Islam and violent jihad”, much of the violence committed by the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas is unknown to the average American.

     Kifah Mustapha is also an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation case.  However, Christina Abraham, CAIR’s civil rights director, had this to say about the unindicted co-conspirator list: "The unindicted co-conspirator list-which by the way is not usually made public by the Dept. of Justice and in this case for some inexplicable reason was.  It is not a conviction.”

     Abraham then describes Mustapha’s admission that he was a “registered agent for Holy Land Foundation in Illinois...soliciting money” until its closure by authorities: "It is essentially guilt by association.”

     Christina Abraham is absolutely correct, it is guilt by association.  When you promote, work for, speak on behalf of, a suspect organization, you shouldn’t be surprised when you receive extra scrutiny.  When you associate with known terrorists, you shouldn’t be surprised if you are labeled one as well.

     Abraham claims that the Illinois State Police have no “legal basis” to deny Mustapha the Chaplains position.

     Really? The Illinois State Police do not have wide latitude on who may serve as a volunteer chaplain?  Would Abraham care to file a lawsuit on behalf of Kifah Mustapha?

     The better question might be, “Can Kifah Mustapha stand up to discovery?”  The answer, if the history of political Islam in America is any guide, is “No, he can’t”.

     CAIR and Kifah Mustapha won’t file a lawsuit because they can’t win.

     Steve Emerson says it all: "The fact that a man who has been fully associated with an Islamic terrorist organization that specialized in suicide bombing is made chaplain of the state police in Illinois is absolutely horrifying.”

     Indeed.

     CAIR’s Ahmed Rehab see’s it another way: "It is very important to us that the relationship between law enforcement and the Muslim community be based on mutual trust where the accepted leaders of this community do not have to be second guessed as a result of some notorious, dubious individual on the Internet.”

     “Accepted leader” Kifah Mustapha?  Keep in mind the countless victims of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas and one has to wonder, just what is Kifah Mustapha the leader of, and what is the mindset of the people who fill the "community" Rehab refers to?

     There is no second-guessing involved. Kifah Mustapha is what he is; a supporter of Islamic supremacist terror groups who promote or engage in assassination and terrorist bombings to advance their perverted Islamist principles.  If CAIR can show otherwise, why not just take Steve Emerson to court and make him produce his facts?

     Kifah Mustapha, a normally outspoken person, has asked CAIR to "speak for him" until this matter is resolved.  Anti-CAIR strongly supports Mustapha's decision; we believe there is no better organization to speak on behalf of radical political Islamists in the United States than the Hamas supporting fascists of CAIR.

     Kifah Mustapha’s decision to call in CAIR for support should skewer his chances of becoming a Chaplain for the Illinois State Police.





Andrew Whitehead
Director
Anti-CAIR
ajwhitehead@anti-cair-net.org
www.anti-cair-net.org



Story Links:
http://abclocal.go.com/wls/story?section=news/iteam&id=7309866
http://www.investigativeproject.org/
http://www.investigativeproject.org/search.php?cx=007811315508120065319%3Avf7yhgtccei&cof=FORID%3A9&ie=UTF-8&q=hamas&sa=Search#922
http://www.investigativeproject.org/search.php?cx=007811315508120065319%3Avf7yhgtccei&cof=FORID%3A9&ie=UTF-8&q=muslim+brotherhood&sa=Search#985
http://www.danielpipes.org/search.php?cx=015692155655874064424%3Asmatd4mj-v4&cof=FORID%3A9&ie=UTF-8&q=hamas&sa=Search#905
http://www.danielpipes.org/search.php?cx=015692155655874064424%3Asmatd4mj-v4&cof=FORID%3A9&ie=UTF-8&q=muslim+brotherhood&sa=Search#933
http://www.danielpipes.org/77/the-danger-within-militant-islam-in-america
http://www.danielpipes.org/rr/blog_32.pdf
http://www.anti-cair-net.org/FBItiesCAIRHamas
http://97.74.65.51/readArticle.aspx?ARTID=4734
http://www.anti-cair-net.org/CAIRMuslimsTruth.html
http://www.investigativeproject.org/blog/2010/01/radical-fundraiser-becomes-illinois-police
http://www.anti-cair-net.org/CAIRMuslimMafia.html



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23265  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: The American Creed: Our Founding Fathers: on: March 10, 2010, 10:14:02 AM


"First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen, he was second to none in humble and enduring scenes of private life. Pious, just humane, temperate, and sincere; uniform dignified, and commanding; his example was as edifying to all around him as were the effects of that example lasting; correct throughout, vice shuddered in his presence and virtue always felt his fostering hand. The purity of his private charter gave effulgence to his public virtues." --John Marshall, official eulogy of George Washington, delivered by Richard Henry Lee, 1799

"Every new regulation concerning commerce or revenue; or in any manner affecting the value of the different species of property, presents a new harvest to those who watch the change and can trace its consequences; a harvest reared not by themselves but by the toils and cares of the great body of their fellow citizens. This is a state of things in which it may be said with some truth that laws are made for the few not for the many." --Federalist No. 62

"One hundred and seventy-three despots would surely be as oppressive as one." --James Madison, Federalist No. 48

"We are not to consider ourselves, while here, as at church or school, to listen to the harangues of speculative piety; we are here to talk of the political interests committed to our charge." --Fisher Ames, speech in the United States House of Representatives, 1789
23266  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Footwear on: March 10, 2010, 08:08:45 AM
I have decided to use the Merrill-Vibram low boots (though I did see yesterday a different Merrill boot that intrigued me greatly) and, given the weight I am and will be carrying for the amount of training time I will be doing so, have decided to go with arch supports.

Normally I tend gravitate to the barefooting concept.  For years I have done my squats barefoot (if the gym would let me) and now that I have the Vibram VSO Five Fingers I wear those-- though the only squatting I will be doing for the next 3 months will be with the 50 pound pack-- as much as I can for most things.
23267  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: No good options left. Well, duh. on: March 10, 2010, 07:59:53 AM
Tuesday, March 9, 2010   STRATFOR.COM  Diary Archives 

U.S. Left With No Good Options in Iran
ISRAEL DEFENSE FORCES CHIEF OF STAFF Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi arrived in Washington on Monday for a visit in which he will meet with a series of U.S. officials, including White House National Security Advisor James Jones and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen. The topic of sanctions on Iran will inevitably come up, just as the White House has downgraded the once “crippling sanctions” package it has tried to compile. The downgrade follows months of failed attempts to bring on board all members of the P-5+1, most notably Russia and China.

The Americans have reportedly moved on to a more watered-down, weaker version of sanctions that target not Iran’s gasoline imports, but rather the country’s shipping, banking and insurance sectors after appearing to have resigned themselves to the fact that Russia and China were not going to come on board with the initial, more severe proposal. The latest deadline being considered by those drafting the new package is reportedly May, though with the way deadlines have been treated throughout the affair (remember the February deadline?), even that seems like a stretch.

The United States thus finds itself in a geopolitical bind, stuck with no good options and the still formidable task of convincing Russia and China to come on board with the rest of the P-5+1 in agreeing to a way to pressure Tehran into giving up its nuclear ambitions while avoiding a war in the Persian Gulf. But even with watered-down sanctions, Russia still has an interest in seeing the United States remain mired in this imbroglio. Every day of American distraction in the Middle East means another day of Russian resurgence in its former Soviet domain carried out with minimal interference from Washington. And China, which depends on Iran for a significant portion of the oil essential to greasing the wheels of its ever-expanding economy, is happy to push for more talks as long as it is not the only U.N. Security Council member that refuses to bow to Washington’s desires.

With U.S. President Barack Obama’s hopes for a change in the Russian and Chinese positions hinging on how Moscow and Beijing respond to the new draft, the world’s superpower finds itself in uncomfortable terrain. Washington knows that this latest version of sanctions –- labeled as “smart” sanctions due to the fact that they are not intended to target the Iranian people, but rather the country’s elite military force, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps –- is only as good as its ability to appease the Israelis, who would want to be able to draw the United States into a fight with Tehran and utilize the strength of the American military as a way of setting back the Iranian nuclear program.

One of the United States’ main strategic imperatives is to prevent the formation of a dominant power on the Eurasian landmass. One of the tactics Washington has been known to employ to achieve this imperative is to wait as long as possible to join a fight as long as there are others present that can do the brunt of the dirty work. For example, the United States stood on the sidelines until 1917 before entering the Great War, and waited until 1944 to land on the beaches of Normandy, giving its Western European allies (as well as its Soviet friends on the Eastern Front) plenty of time to absorb casualties and weaken the Nazi war machine before putting any of its own soldiers into the line of fire.

“One of the United States’ main strategic imperatives is to prevent the formation of a dominant power on the Eurasian landmass.”
Another tried and true tactic, however, has been to utilize a third force –- whether that be a state actor or a non-state actor –- to do Washington’s bidding. Unleashing Islamist insurgents against the Soviets during the Russian invasion of Afghanistan (with financial support from Saudi Arabia and logistical assistance from Pakistan) is a well-known example, as is the use of Awakening Councils in Iraq’s Sunni provinces during the 2007 surge, which helped turn the tide of what then looked like an interminable war. And with the recent focus on the empowerment of the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police eerily mirroring the obsession with “Vietnamization” in the 1970’s, the last 100 years of American foreign policy show a country that operates according to the notion that it is easier to allow others to do something for you than it is to do it yourself.

When the United States surveys the current landscape in the Middle East, it does not see any good candidates for helping it to contain Iran. The historic counterweight to a strong Persia, Iraq finds itself weak and fractured, possibly even at the risk of becoming an Iranian satellite as a result of the 2003 American invasion, which toppled the government of Saddam Hussein. The Russian comeback in central Asia and the Caucasus has largely bottled up any possibility of taking that route to destabilize Tehran, short of enlisting the support of Moscow itself. The Persian Gulf states recognize that geography is king, and while the United States buys these countries’ oil, the Iranians are a permanent presence in the region that will not go away over time. Then there are the Saudis, who, despite the sophistication of its equipment, have a military with a very limited capability of operating beyond its borders. Turkey –- a strong country in the region that theoretically could pose a big help to the United States — is focused on other foreign policy agendas that likely outrank helping the Americans at the moment. Afghanistan has problems of its own — namely the fact that it has never existed as a coherent nation state — while Pakistan is currently battling a jihadist insurgency at home. Hopes for a revolution in Iran, through the much-publicized Green Movement, failed to materialize, while the few anti-regime domestic militant groups whose interests could possibly intersect with those of Washington -– Mujahideen-e-Khalq and Jundallah -– do not come close to having what it takes to take on Tehran.

There is, of course, the possibility of negotiations. But all sorts of Faustian bargains arise from this route as well, meaning that when it comes to Iran, the United States is left with no good options.

23268  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Glen Beck on: March 09, 2010, 11:47:58 PM
Glenn had several awesome shows last week, but I found the Friday one on education to be quite a letdown and not all that well reasoned.

As for tonight's show with ex-Congressman Masa-- Glenn said it best when he said "I have wasted your time.  I am sorry".
23269  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Barefooting in the mountains-3 on: March 09, 2010, 06:33:04 PM
Wrong Saddle, No Track...

After reaching the saddle I couldn't find the top of the track going down the South Ridge (because it wasn't there...). I had heard it was difficult to find but I found the vegetation was not really thick up high. I could see quite a distance. But it was VERY difficult to push through. Very thick up to chest height, no tracks (doh) and rocky underfoot which was invisible through the vegetation. I was slightly confused at my situation. After some scouting around, I decided that time was getting away from me a little and decided to just begin descending down the creek line. This would lead me to the track I thought.

There was supposed to be an area called the Rum Jungle just down from the saddle and below that the Old Hut sight and camping ground. This was where the track was supposed to be marked by orange triangles on trees. I thought if I just go down the creekline/re-entrant I would run into one of these two and pick up the track...

 
It was during this descent of the creek line that I began to first become concerned about not being able to get off the mountain before sunset. After about an hour of bashing my way through the thick vegetation I came across something that was truly confusing. Instead of finding the Rum Jungle, Old Hut camping site or the South Ridge and the track, there was a severe and very prominent re-entrant running from high ground from the left, down to the right. It made the current re-entrant I was in look tiny by comparison. This was not right. This was not supposed to be here.

North Instead of South?

I got out my compass and GPS and checked the bearing I was walking on. The creekline I was on was running towards the NW. This wasn't right. It seemed the big re-entrant in front of me was runnning down to the N. How was this so? What was going on? I should have been going generally to the S. It was at this stage that I finally admitted it was a bad idea not to have brought a map.

I bashed my way all the way to the creek there as I could hear running water. Now was a good time to fill up my water bottles. I tried some water then after a half hour or so I thought the water must be fine (it was untouched up here) and filled all of my water up.

After filling up my water, I sat and thought about my situation and location. I thought about how this could be so. I trusted the bearings. I knew I was wrong. I should have used bearings from the top. I should not have trusted my own bearings in unknown terrain in white out conditions. A map would have prevented this.

Working out my Errors

I am confident with my navigational skills. But I made some simple errors today it seemed. After some time, I came to the conclusion that I had indeed must have walked down to the wrong knoll from the East Peak. That knoll must have been off to the right. From there I went down the incorrect minor creekline to hit the major re-entrant running north from the main saddle which is what I was in now. It was during this time I realised that the photo I had taken of that big other peak off to the left on the way down had indeed been the West Peak. If I was to go down this re-entrant I would be going in the exact opposite direction of where I needed to be going. I needed to climb up this re-entrant I was in. This would take me to the actual saddle I was looking for and from there I could find the South Ridge track.

So up I went. I thought going up this saddle would be an absolute nightmare due to the severe aspect of the terrain but it actually wasn't too bad compared to the walk down which was terrible. After about an hour and a half, I finally made it to the saddle I was supposed to be at from about 130pm. It was now about 345pm. It took about half an hour to find the Old Hut site where the camping ground was. It was right at the bottom of the saddle where the climb to the West Peak begins. You can't miss it. Great little spot. A cleared area about 20m x 20m and protected from the elements by tall trees.

It was after 4pm now so that is where I decided to camp for the night. Right on the saddle.

Camping for the Night

I had no sleeping gear or tent. I needed to build a shelter to keep the rain off me which had continued throughout the day on and off as well as try to keep some warmth in. I had bivouacked out before on a number of occasions so knew the basics and was comfortable with my position. In fact, after finding my location, I was actually looking forward to spending the night out on Mt Barney with the minimum of gear. I knew I was in no danger of dying. It might be quite uncomfortable, but that was all.

I thought back to all of the documentaries I had seen, books I have read and personal experiences over my life. I remember watching legends like Malcolm Douglas who was 'The Man' in my eyes when it comes to bush survival. I also more recently have been watching Man vs Wild featuring Bear Grylls. I like the show immensely but do feel it is not always 'best practice' what he does. He is more in the entertainment area I think but still does provide excellent tips.

I found a fallen tree and used that as a base to build my shelter from. I used fern leaves and other leafy branches to build my shelter. I built a roof and some walls out of those leaves as well as a kind of bedding to lay on. I remember clearly that most heat is lost through the ground. Because everything was wet, I had no chance of starting a fire. My bedding was wet too but at least it would begin to dry out once I laid down on it. I also cut out the water proof covering from my pack and staked it down in an attempt to collect water over night. It didn't turn out to be that useful as I think the water soaked through it a bit and much of the wetness was more like mist than rainfall.

Bad Nights Sleep

I was woken about 10 times through the night by Possums and who knows what other animals coming to inspect me and my belongings through the night. They must have smelt my food I think even though it was in my pack. On top of that, I woke up at least every half hour or so shivering. I would use my hands to rub my thighs rapidly for about five minutes to warm back up and would then attempt to go back to sleep.

I rotated through laying on my back with my legs bent and together, to my left side and my right side then back to the beginning again. All up, I didn't get too much sleep but I didn't feel in any real danger of getting hypothermia. I felt safe. I stayed mostly dry through the night as well thanks to the shelter. But I did receive numerous thick droplets of water onto my face and neck throughout the night which was just an irritation.

The Descent Finally Begins

I woke with the sun in the morning and then scouted around looking for the track down. I found the orange triangle markers but they appeared to be going up towards the East Peak. I scouted around everywhere else and couldn't find signs of any other tracks going down to the South. So I headed off along the track marked with the orange triangles. It turned out this was indeed the South Ridge track as it soon began to go down and onto an obvious ridge line tending south. The trip down was uneventful. I must say, it was nowhere near as spectacular as the SE track but much easier to go down.

I reached the car after 2hr and 45mins. I was happy to be down and was looking forward to driving home and having a nice long shower and scrub. As I loaded up the car and jumped into the drivers seat, an unbelievable thing happened.........

The car would not start!!!!!!!!

Completely dead. I could not believe it. I jiggled the ignition switch, played with the gear stick to make sure it was properly in Park but still nothing. I checked the light switch and they were off. I popped the bonnet and could find nothing which was suspicious. Unbelievable.

I remembered there was a place called the Mt Barney Lodge down the road about a kilometre, so I drudgingly strode off to see if they had any jumper leads. This could turn into another long day...

Turns out they did have some jumper leads and were very understanding of my plight and drove me back to the car and within minutes the car was going  After much thanking we said our good byes and off I went, on my journey home. What a way to finish off the walk. Certainly an epic 26hrs or so.

Congratulations for Reading!

I know this has been a long post. And for the both of you who finished it I hope you both enjoyed it and got something out of it  If there is anyone who is interested in climbing Mt Barney please let me know in the 'Contact' form in the header and I will happily email you some links worth reading before stepping off. Any questions and I will answer them happily.

And the 5fingers went great. Really happy with them. Had no pain or discomfort. The grip was great even up high when it was wet. I feel they were a better 'shoe' to be wearing than a chunky walking boot. The only issues I had was when I wash bush bashing through the thick stuff when I was searching for my way. My ankles copped a bit from the vegetation and suffered some scratching. I didn't really notice until I was home and jumped in the shower.

I know this isn't really a post related to Low Tech Combat but it kind of is to me. I honestly felt tested on that mountain. The mountain tested me and taught me some lessons and provided some tremendous experiences, sensations and emotions. This is why I strive to protect my life. It is so I can go out and do things such as this. It was a very special, perhaps even spiritual experience shared between man and mountain in testing situations.

I in no way recommend people go out and get themselves into situations like the one I found myself in. I have vast experience in the outdoors, made a couple of silly mistakes (not bringing a map, going down to the wrong knoll without checking my bearing), but had those experiences to draw on to get me out of trouble. I do however hope that this post has in some way inspired you to add a little adventure in your life, even if it means training up for 6 or 12 months with a specific goal in mind like completing a week long bush walk, compete in orienteering or climbing a mountain or even doing a guided canyoning adventure.

Have fun and stay safe!
23270  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Barefooting in the mountains-2 on: March 09, 2010, 06:29:32 PM
Exposure Begins

After about the halfway mark the climb began to get more interesting. The ridge was narrowing and the drop offs either side of the route were getting much more significant. It was certainly exhilarating and I was enjoying the climb greatly. The climb was proving to be as enjoyable as I had hoped. Indeed, I had felt the sensation of 'exposure' a couple of times now as the climb gained elevation. I was beginning to feel quite high up.

The Fun Begins

It was at about the three quarter mark where the fun began. The climb narrowed and steepened significantly. As I reached yet another false summit I saw a very steep and narrow section, a razorback, of what seemed to be a cliff face which appeared to be part of the route. It actually was part of the route I soon found out.

Hmmm...

I was pretty high up at this point. I had pushed up into the misty and cloudy part of the climb. There was mild intermittent gusting of wind. The immediate track ahead was not a track. It was a climbing section of about 10m. At ground level it probably would not have raised any concerns. But I was far from ground level. And I was carrying a pack. The feeling of 'exposure' was very strong at this point. Adrenaline was flowing freely through my veins.

Calm Consideration

I stood at the bottom of this climbing section and scanned the climb ahead. I was deciding whether or not I should or could attempt it. It was wet as well. I consciously attempted to slow my breathing down. I took long slow breaths. I needed to be smart about this. I did calm down but the adrenaline was still flowing. Just not as fast but it was still there nevertheless. I continued to try to calm myself. I realised that as long as I stayed in that situation the adrenaline would not go away.

There were very sheer cliffs either side of me and if I slipped going up here, I would possibly fall a very long way and become a statistic of the mountain. After some careful assessment, I decided that I could do this climb safely. I would push on.

I made the first move very carefully, slowly and deliberately. I chose to stay calm up the entire section. Each move was done carefully. After each move I would stop and carefully analyse the next move before going for it. Move after move I progressed up the 10m climb seemingly surrounded by nothing but thin air.

Elation

Finally I reached the top of that climbing section. I hadn't felt like that for a very long time. I moved away from the edge all of three metres (that was as far away as as I could go) and looked back out at the view. 'Exposure' was still very strong. The 5fingers were a real asset during that section. Chunky climbing boots would have had less grip I feel. I felt completely alive. I was very happy with how I had handled that section. I felt like my whole being was being tested as I climbed that section. And I felt like I had handled it well. The feeling was amazing.

As I continued up the rest of the climb a serious concern began to eat away at me. What if there was an even more difficult climb ahead of me? I doubt very much if I could climb anything more challenging than what I had just done. This was a very real possibility as from what I could see ahead, the rest of the climb appeared to remain extremely steep still.

Could I Get Stuck?

This is when I first had a sobering thought. If I couldn't climb up any further, I doubt very much I could downclimb the section I had just climbed!!! I would be stuck on the mountain! I wouldn't be able to climb up, and I wouldn't be able to climb down. Numerous climbers from around the world have had to be rescued from that exact same situation. This fear remained with me for the remainder of the climb. At one stage, I stopped to have a quick bite and rest but I could not relax. The apprehension of not being able to climb a harder section ahead was bothering me. So I pushed on.

The climb remained steep but not as bad as that crux section. 'Exposure' was still present. After another 30 minutes or so, I had reached the summit!!!!!!!!! I found the survey marker which was an indicator of the summit of the East Peak! I was so happy I had made it. I felt like I had really earnt it. It was 1130am. It took 4hrs from the time I left the car at the carpark. I knew the remainder of the downclimb would be easy compared to what I had just done. This proved to be not so accurate...

 
 
The Summit!

I took a couple of pics but the mist was too thick. There was only about 20-100m visibility. I waited for a bit for the weather to clear. It didn't and it got colder and it began to rain. Rather than wait for the unlikely event of the weather clearing, I decided to begin the descent.

The Descent Begins...

I looked towards where I thought the West Peak would be but could see nothing. Just mist. So I began down the obvious ridgeline in the general direction of where I thought the West Peak was. It was the gentlest descent. After descending for about 15mins or so, I saw a peak ahead and slightly to the right. There it is! There was the West Peak. Or so I thought...

I continued descending into the saddle. On the way down, I saw a large peak off to my left appear through the mist and clouds. I thought it was pretty impressive and rather close so took a photo of it. Silly me. This peak off to the left I took the photo of was actually the West Peak I should have been walking towards. I am disappointed at myself for not stopping and giving that large peak some more thought than simply taking a photo of it. I should have realised what it was. But I didn't and pushed on towards the other knoll to the right...

 
 
Eventually, I reached the saddle (wrong one). I was surprised on the way down that there weren't many tracks. I thought there would be plenty of tracks from walkers going for the East Peak summit from the saddle, from those summitting from the South Ridge track. But there wasn't. In hindsight it was because no-one walks down to the saddle I had walked down to.

23271  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / A barefooting moutaineering story on: March 09, 2010, 06:28:33 PM
My Epic Barefoot Summit of Mt Barney ( Long Post)   Much of this is not on point, but I like the way the barefooting is part of the story.  The Vibram Five Fingers are the same ones I have.  Google them to find some pictures.

Sorry I misplaced the URL folks!

CD
==============================

Posted: 01 Mar 2010 01:32 AM PST

 
 
What an adventure I had over the weekend. I went for the summit of Mt Barney. Mt Barney is a mountain (in Australian standards anyway) for only experienced walkers and climbers and there have been numerous examples of climbers having to be rescued from it's grasp. The plan was to go up the spectacular SE Ridge to the East Peak, go down into the saddle and descend the South Ridge. I aimed to reach the summit and get back down all in the one day. It didn't turn out that way as the mountain had other ideas...

I have recently been eyeing off Mt Barney as it is the biggest mountain near where I live in south east Queensland, Australia. I had sounded out a few prospective climbing companions but for three separate reasons, they all had to pass as the time approached. I decided I would go for it by myself. I wanted to go for the summit within a couple of weeks and the weekend just gone was the only time I could really fit it in. So I decided to go for it. The weather wasn't looking great but
I decided to get up early and drive down there and take a closer look early in the morning.

Vibram Five Fingers Test

Also, I decided I would test out my new Vibram Five Fingers as well and wear them to the summit. So no, I didn't do it barefoot, but close to it. I purchased the 5fingers a couple of weeks ago. Ive used them in a couple of interval sessions and wore them around a bit to get used to them. I had no real issues with them as I regularly wear thongs (otherwise known as flip flops) when not at work and go barefoot around the house. My previous shoes were Nike Frees as well so the progression to the 5fingers was no big deal for me. I also recently wrote about the five fingers along with barefoot running, drinking milk, Crossfit and squats in a bit of a mashup. I thought this would be a good step up. I packed normal hiking boots as well in case the 5fingers became painful or unsafe or some other issue arose.

I arrived at the carpark at the base of the mountain at about 7am. The weather was mostly cloudy with some rain to the south and west. Mt Barney itself was clear except for the summit which was covered in clouds and mist. I decided I would go for the summit as planned. I have quite a lot of experience with navigation, bushwalking (or hiking or trekking), camping and basic bush survival so was confident I could handle anything. It was summer even though the weather was bad, so figured I would at least not get hypothermia or freeze to death up there.

My Kit

I had a backpack with a GPS, a compass, four litres of water, trail mix with nuts and dried fruit, some confectionery for some glucose, a protein bar and a muesli bar. I wore shorts, a sports running shirt which wicks away sweat, a hat and my 5fingers. I also had packed a fleecy jacket, some zamberlain boots and woollen socks. The one item I didn't have was a topographic map. I was confident going into the climb that I knew the lay of the land and that the descent into the saddle would be easy to navigate by looking at the lay of the land which would lead me to the top of the South Ridge track down off the mountain. This proved to be not so simple...

Up the SE Ridge and Down S Ridge

I had read online that many people had gotten lost on the top of Mt Barney as it is quite a big mountain and the vegetation is quite thick. I was sceptical at the time and put this down to people climbing the mountain with very poor navigational skills. How could you get lost on a saddle between two very obvious knolls? That is what Mt Barney is essentially. A big saddle with an East and a West Peak approximately the same height. They also suggested it was not recommended to do the SE Ridge and descend off the South Ridge if you haven't previously done the South Ridge climb, as the top of the South Ridge climb can be difficult to find even if you have been there before. I overlooked this bit of advice as well. From my readings, the top of the South Ridge climb began right at the bottom of the saddle. Can't be that hard to find I thought.


My reasoning for wanting to climb the SE Ridge is because it was by far, the most spectacular of the two ascents. It was a much steeper and more exposed route which sounded far more enjoyable (and it most certainly was). Plus it went straight to the East Peak rather than to the saddle which would then require a further push to the summit.

I put my 5fingers on and my pack and I was on my way at 730am. I was very excited and I must say, the mountain looked quite large from the base. I wondered how long it would take to climb. My estimates were to allow four hours of solid progress to reach the summit.

I encountered another lone prospective summitter of Mt Barney along the way. He was going for the South Ridge. We shared what we knew. Turned out we knew about the same but it was good confirmation of our individual knowledge. We kept walking and talking along the approach to the base of the mountain. He seemed quite interested in the 5fingers and seemed surprised I was wearing them on this climb but did like them and asked me where I got them. After a bit less then an hour, I came across my turn off for the SE Ridge which is marked by a big SE scratched into a tree on the right hand side of the track. We said our goodbyes and wished each other well and said we would probably run into each other on the top of the mountain somewhere in the saddle. I never saw him again.


Immediately, the relentless climb up Mt Barney began. I was feeling very excited and was very happy to be on the mountain, going for the summit. I hadn't actually gone for a summit like this before and I was very happy to be doing what I was doing on that very day. I was living in the now!

As the climb gained elevation, the view improved. It wasn't long before it seemed I was already at the height of the surrounding mountains. I glanced up at one stage and it appeared as though the mountain was taller now than it appeared from its base. It was slightly unnerving as I had been climbing for almost one hour solid by then. I stopped for a bite to eat on a slab of rock with a fantastic view of the surrounding country side to the East.

So far the 5fingers were going very well. I was liking how I had a lot of flexibility in my ankles and the grip was great for the rock scrambling sections as well. So far, so good. After my protein bar I pushed on.

23272  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Footwear on: March 09, 2010, 06:27:31 PM
Woof All:

Recently I have posted a bit about my highly favorable opinion of "barefooting" (I wear the Vibram VSOs) and how when "rucking" with 50 pounds I have had to go to hiking boots.  With the weight, the Converse Army boots gave me blisters and so I shifted to my Merril-Vibram hiking boot/shoe, which seems to be working much better.  I am thinking about arch supports though , , , In  response to my current conditioning program someone asked me

"Marc....can you share the footwear advice??  The only time my feet aren't hurting is when I'm training barefoot in the gym.....can't really do that outside in the city!!"

So this thread is for discussing different types of footwear for different purposes.

TAC,
CD
23273  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Conditioning on: March 09, 2010, 06:19:49 PM
At 57 I am a tad old for such things. 

Can I share?

No.  evil cheesy cheesy
23274  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: WHERE IS THE FOOTWORK!?! on: March 09, 2010, 06:18:30 PM
Lyoto was at RAW when I was there.  As best as I can tell, what you are seeing in his footwork (e.g. his fight with Tito) is what I learned from Frank Trigg and shared with Lyotto.  Shogun shut this game down by closing off Lyoto's movement to the right.  This left him vulnerable to being hunted down by Shogun's right kick.
23275  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WaPo on: March 09, 2010, 10:36:28 AM
Gates sees momentum in Afghanistan but plays down prospects for reconciliation
 
By Greg Jaffe
Tuesday, March 9, 2010

KABUL -- Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Monday that recent military offensives against the Taliban in southern Afghanistan had gained momentum but that a reconciliation effort proposed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai was unlikely in the near term to cause senior Taliban leaders to lay down their arms. Such defections will not happen until senior insurgent leaders begin to "realize that the odds of success are no longer in their favor," Gates said in a joint news conference with the Afghan president.

Karzai has proposed a major conference this spring to begin the process of reconciliation with dissident ethnic and political leaders, including the Taliban. Gates arrived in Kabul to discuss Karzai's plans for his conference and to get a better sense of Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal's plans for a large offensive in Kandahar, Afghanistan's second-largest city, which will probably take place this summer. His visit comes about three weeks after McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, launched an assault on the southern town of Marja, the first major U.S. military operation in the country since President Obama announced his revised war strategy late last year. The Obama administration's approach is built around the addition of 30,000 U.S. troops and an increased focus on building Afghan governance at the district and provincial level.

Although Gates seemed less sanguine than Karzai about the immediate prospects for reconciliation, he said that as U.S., Afghan and NATO forces pushed the Taliban out of havens in the south and east, it was likely that some Taliban leaders would feel pressure to switch allegiances and support the Afghan government.

About 6,000 of the 30,000 additional troops approved by Obama in December have arrived in Afghanistan. "I would say it is very early yet and people still need to understand there is some very hard fighting and very hard days ahead," Gates said. McChrystal said the coming offensive in Kandahar would look significantly different from the recent effort in Marja. U.S. Marines and Afghan forces mounted a large assault on the town, which was dominated by Taliban forces. There was essentially no Afghan government presence in Marja before the assault.

By contrast, there is already a government presence in Kandahar. Instead of U.S. and Afghan forces pushing directly into the city, U.S. officials plan to focus on the region around Kandahar, where the Taliban has been able to exact significant casualties on U.S., Afghan and NATO troops. "Kandahar has not been under Taliban control, [but] it has been under a menacing Taliban presence, particularly in the districts around it," McChrystal said.

The campaign to take back the city is likely to proceed far more gradually than the recent move into Marja. "There won't be a D-Day that is climactic," McChrystal said. "It will be a rising tide of security." In the weeks before the summer offensive, the United States will significantly bolster its presence in the province with Army troops. Afghan and U.S. leaders will begin reaching out to tribal elders in the area in an effort to win their support for military action and an enduring Afghan government presence.

If U.S. and Afghan forces can drive the Taliban from the region and reestablish an Afghan government presence, senior U.S. and NATO officials said it could swing the momentum of the war in favor of the struggling Karzai government. "If we are able to succeed in Kandahar and really ensure Kandahar is stable and sustainable, in my view the historians will look back on it as one of the decisive moments of this campaign," said Mark Sedwill, NATO's senior civilian representative to Afghanistan.
23276  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Supply-Side Financial Reform on: March 09, 2010, 09:51:53 AM
Nicole Gelinas
Supply-Side Financial Reform
Congress should unleash free markets to help protect consumers.
8 March 2010
Senate Democrats have tried for weeks to get Republicans to support the showpiece of their financial-reform package, a consumer financial-protection agency that would shield regular Americans from predatory financiers. But even the nimblest public agency cannot protect consumers from the biggest threat to their financial health: owing too much money. That threat will exist as long as the financial industry faces no ultimate market penalty—the consistent threat of failure—for lending too much too freely.

The proposed agency has a worthy goal. As Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd, who is leading the legislative effort with the White House’s support, sees it, the protection bureau would govern consumer financial products. Proponents, including economist Paul Krugman, say that such an agency could have helped America avoid the current crisis by prohibiting the most toxic mortgages.

But focusing on exotic products and fees misses the real problem: unfathomable debt levels. In the past quarter-century, the amount that families owe has risen more than sevenfold, from less than $2 trillion in 1984 to nearly $14 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve. Debt outran the cost of goods and services by nearly fourfold.

Many Americans can’t afford their debt unless their lenders use complex finance to suspend all disbelief. Exotic mortgage structures, then, were a symptom of the disease, not the disease itself.

How did it come to this? The financial industry has encouraged Americans to borrow so much because Washington has allowed the financial industry itself to borrow so much without consistent market consequences.

Since 1984, when the Reagan administration bailed out lenders to the nation’s eighth-largest bank, Continental Illinois, investors have understood that if a big commercial bank or complex Wall Street firm runs into trouble, Washington will ensure that the bondholders and other creditors to that firm don’t take losses. By creating this expectation of bailouts, Washington has subsidized lending to the financial industry. When government subsidizes something, it gets more of it. Over a quarter of a century, the amount of money that the financial industry has borrowed multiplied by more than 15 times. It should be no shock that banks and other institutions turned around and lent much of that money right back to consumers.

A financial-protection bureau could write thousands of rules. But it will never be able to overcome the signal that Washington continues to send. The message: lenders to financial firms will never lose money if the financial firms to which they lend, in turn, lend those borrowed funds irresponsibly to consumers.

Yet President Obama has continued to shield financial companies and their bondholders from the consequences of their poor decisions. Through mortgage-modification programs, for example, the White House has temporarily cut monthly payments for some homeowners. In doing so, the White House has enabled financial institutions to avoid cutting what people owe in line with house prices. Debt reductions, though they would mean more financial-industry losses, would be better for borrowers.

Shielding financial firms from market penalties has been a bipartisan effort. Half a decade ago, President Bush signed into law a bankruptcy “reform” act that made it harder for all but the poorest borrowers to escape credit-card debt. Financial institutions could more easily ignore the fact that consumers were borrowing beyond their means to repay. But you can’t legislate solvency. Lenders must face the realistic risk that borrowers will default when debt becomes unbearable. Otherwise, they’ll lend too copiously.

Congress and the president can protect consumers from impossible debt burdens by ensuring that lenders to financial firms, too, face the threat of borrower default. Only market discipline of bad behavior will curb behavior at the source.

To make it clear to the marketplace that no financial firm is too big to fail, Washington must put rules in place that make the economy better able to withstand financial-industry miscalculations and failures—without bailouts.

Required cash cushions on stock purchases helped the government avoid financial-industry bailouts when the tech-stock bubble burst a decade ago. They would have the same effect in other asset markets. Washington should thus require home buyers and purchasers of other speculative assets to make consistent down payments of 10 or 20 percent. Under such rules, financial firms would have more cash on hand—capital—to withstand the bursting of a future bubble.

This policy would directly benefit consumers, too. Fewer home purchasers would have taken on mortgages that they couldn’t afford in the last bubble. Lenders and borrowers alike could not have gotten around a consistent down-payment rule. Exotic financing structures—the kinds that the new bureau is supposed to police—would have been irrelevant.

The same principle holds for high finance. If Washington had required insurer AIG to trade its own exotic financial instruments—credit-default swaps—on transparent exchanges and to put some consistent cash down at the outset to cover these bets, the cash cushion would have helped the economy to withstand AIG’s bankruptcy, averting a bailout and forcing AIG’s own creditors to take losses.

Just as important, such rules likely would have kept AIG from making such fanciful promises—in effect pledging to protect investors in tens of billions of dollars’ worth of mortgage-backed securities for a negligible cost—in the first place. If AIG hadn’t promised investors in mortgages—lenders—that they wouldn’t lose money, or had charged handsomely for the promise, investors would not have felt so free to lend to homebuyers.

Senate Democrats should understand that they can protect consumers from bad financial products only by making it clear to the financial industry and own lenders that there’s a consistent market penalty for bad lending.

If lawmakers absorb this lesson, they’ll achieve an immediate political benefit, too. Dodd’s proposal, which needs GOP votes in a closely divided chamber, faces uncertain prospects at best. Republicans are wary of giving the government more power to micromanage consumer finance. However, they surely couldn’t object to holding financial firms and their investors accountable in the marketplace for their ill-considered decisions.

Nicole Gelinas, author of After The Fall: Saving Capitalism From Wall Street—and Washington, is aCity Journal contributing editor and Manhattan Institute senior fellow.
23277  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / This should end well on: March 09, 2010, 07:17:44 AM
Even though this is POTH (i.e. the NYT) it does a surprisingly honest job of flagging yet another facet of the coming clusterfcuk.
====================

Public Pension Funds Are Adding Risk to Raise Returns
By MARY WILLIAMS WALSH
Published: March 8, 2010

States and companies have started investing very differently when it comes to the billions of dollars they are safeguarding for workers’ retirement.  Frederick E. Rowe, a Dallas investor and the former chairman of the Texas Pension Review Board, said states were looking at riskier investments in an effort to meet pension obligations. Trent May, chief of Wyoming's pension fund, said states were “moving away from the perceived safety and liquidity of the investment-grade market.”

Companies are quietly and gradually moving their pension funds out of stocks. They want to reduce their investment risk and are buying more long-term bonds. But states and other bodies of government are seeking higher returns for their pension funds, to make up for ground lost in the last couple of years and to pay all the benefits promised to present and future retirees. Higher returns come with more risk.

“In effect, they’re going to Las Vegas,” said Frederick E. Rowe, a Dallas investor and the former chairman of the Texas Pension Review Board, which oversees public plans in that state. “Double up to catch up.”

Though they generally say that their strategies are aimed at diversification and are not riskier, public pension funds are trying a wide range of investments: commodity futures, junk bonds, foreign stocks, deeply discounted mortgage-backed securities and margin investing. And some states that previously shunned hedge funds are trying them now.

The Texas teachers’ pension fund recently paid Chicago to receive a stream of payments from the money going into the city’s parking meters in the coming years. The deal gave Chicago an upfront payment that it could use to help balance its budget. Alas, Chicago did not have enough money to contribute to its own pension fund, which has been stung by real estate deals that fizzled when the city lost out in the bidding for the 2016 Olympics.

A spokeswoman for the Texas teachers’ fund said plan administrators believed that such alternative investments were the likeliest way to earn 8 percent average annual returns over time.

Pension funds rarely trumpet their intentions, partly to keep other big investors from trading against them. But some big corporations are unloading the stocks that have dominated pension portfolios for decades. General Motors, Hewlett-Packard, J. C. Penney, Boeing, Federal Express and Ashland are among those that have been shifting significant amounts of pension money out of stocks.

Other companies say they plan to follow suit, though more slowly. A poll of pension funds conducted by Pyramis Global Advisors last November found that more than half of corporate funds were reducing the portion they invested in United States equities.

Laggards tend to be companies with big shortfalls in their pension funds. Those moving the fastest are often mature companies with large pension funds, and who fear a big bear market could decimate the funds and the companies’ own finances.

“The larger the pension plan, the lower-risk strategy you would like to employ,” said Andrew T. Ward, the chief investment officer of Boeing, which shifted a big block of pension money out of stocks in 2007. That helped cushion Boeing’s pension fund against the big losses of 2008.

Shedding stocks gave Boeing “material protection right when we needed it most,” Mr. Ward said. By the time the markets had bottomed out last March, Boeing’s pension fund had lost 14 percent of its value, while those of its equity-laden peers had lost 25 to 30 percent, he said.

“We estimated that the strategy saved our company in the short term right around $4 or $5 billion of funded status,” he said.

Boeing and other companies seeking to reduce their investment risk are moving into fixed-income instruments, like bonds — but not just any bonds. They are buying and holding bonds scheduled to pay many years in the future, when their retirees expect their money.

The value of the bonds may fall in the meantime, just like the value of stocks. But declining bond prices are not such a worry, because the companies plan to hold the bonds for the accompanying interest payments that will in turn go to retirees, not sell them in the interim.

Towers Watson, a big benefits consulting firm, surveyed senior financial executives last year and found that two-thirds planned to decrease the stock portion of their companies’ pension funds by the end of 2010. They typically said their stock allocations would shrink by 10 percentage points.

“That’s 10 times the shift we might see in any given year,” said Carl Hess, head of Towers Watson’s investment consulting business. Economists have speculated that a truly seismic shift in pension investing away from stocks could be a drag on the market, but they say it would not be long-lasting.

Corporate America’s change of heart is notable all on its own, after decades of resistance to anything other than returns like those of the stock markets. But it’s even more startling when compared with governments’ continued loyalty to stocks. When governments scale back on the domestic stocks in their pension portfolios these days, it is often just to make way for more foreign stocks or private equities, which are not publicly traded.

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



Government pension plans cannot beef up their bonds that mature many, many years from now without dashing their business models. They use long-range estimates that presume high investment returns will cover most of the cost of the benefits they must pay. And that, they say, allows them to make smaller contributions along the way.

Most have been assuming their investments will pay 8 percent a year on average, over the long term. This is based on an assumption that stocks will pay 9.5 percent on average, and bonds will pay about 5.75 percent, in roughly a 60-40 mix.

(Corporate plans do their calculations differently, and for them, investment returns are a less important factor.)

The problem now is that bond rates have been low for years, and stocks have been prone to such wild swings that a 60-40 mixture of stocks and bonds is not paying 8 percent. Many public pension funds have been averaging a little more than 3 percent a year for the last decade, so they have fallen behind where their planning models say they should be.

A growing number of experts say that governments need to lower the assumptions they make about rates of return, to reflect today’s market conditions.

But plan officials say they cannot.

“Nobody wants to adjust the rate, because liabilities would explode,” said Trent May, chief investment officer of Wyoming’s state pension fund.

The $30 billion Colorado state pension fund is one of a tiny number of government plans to disclose how much difference even a slight change in its projected rate of return could make. Colorado has been assuming its investments will earn 8.5 percent annually, on average, and on that basis it reported a $17.9 billion shortfall in its most recent annual report.

But the state also disclosed what would happen if it lowered its investment assumption just half a percentage point, to 8 percent. Though it might be more likely to achieve that return, Colorado would earn less over time on its investments. So at 8 percent, the plan’s shortfall would actually jump to $21.4 billion. Contributions would need to increase to keep pace.

Colorado cannot afford the contributions it owes, even at the current estimated rate of return. It has fallen behind by several billion dollars on its yearly contributions, and after a bruising battle the legislature recently passed a bill reducing retirees’ cost-of-living adjustment, to 2 percent, from 3.5 percent. Public employees’ unions are threatening to sue to have the law repealed.

If Colorado could somehow get 9 percent annual returns from its investments, though, its pension shortfall would shrink to a less daunting $15 billion, according to its annual report.

That explains why plan officials are looking everywhere for high-yielding investments.

Mr. May, in Wyoming, said many governments were “moving away from the perceived safety and liquidity of the investment-grade market” and investing money offshore, but he said he was aware of the risks. “There’s a history of emerging markets kind of hitting the wall,” he said.

Last year, the North Carolina Legislature enacted a measure to let the state pension fund invest 5 percent of its assets in “credit opportunities,” like junk bonds and asset-backed securities from the Federal Reserve’s Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility, an emergency program created to thaw the frozen markets for such securities.

The law also lets North Carolina put 5 percent of its pension portfolio into commodities, real estate and other assets that the state sees as hedges against inflation. A summary of the bill issued by the state’s treasurer and sole pension trustee, Janet Cowell, said it would provide “flexibility and the tools to increase portfolio return and better manage risk.”

But some think they see new risks.

“It doesn’t pass the smell test,” said Edward Macheski, a retired money manager living in North Carolina. “North Carolina’s assumption is 7.25 percent, and they haven’t matched it in 10 years.” He went to a recent meeting of the state treasurer’s advisory board, armed with a list of questions about the investment policy. But the board voted not to permit any public discussion.

Wisconsin, meanwhile, has become one of the first states to adopt an investment strategy called “risk parity,” which involves borrowing extra money for the pension portfolio and investing it in a type of Treasury bond that will pay higher interest if inflation rises.

Officials of the State of Wisconsin Investment Board declined to be interviewed but provided written descriptions of risk parity. The records show that Wisconsin wanted to reduce its exposure to the stock market, and shifting money into the inflation-proof Treasury bonds would do that. But Wisconsin also wanted to keep its assumed rate of return at 7.8 percent, and the Treasury bonds would not pay that much.

Wisconsin decided it could lower its equities but preserve its assumption if it also added a significant amount of leverage to its pension fund, by using a variety of derivative instruments, like swaps, futures or repurchase agreements.

It decided to start with a small amount of leverage and gradually increase it over time, but word of even a baby step into derivatives elicited howls of protest from around the state.

The big California pension fund, known as Calpers, was already under fire for losing billions of dollars on private equities and real estate in the last few years. So far it has stayed with those asset classes, while negotiating lower fees and writing off some of the most troubled real estate investments.

It announced in February that it had started looking into whether it should lower its expected rate of investment return, now 7.75 percent a year. It has embarked on a study, but a spokesman said that process would not be done until December, safely after the coming election.
23278  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Madison on the Legislative Department, Federalist 48 on: March 09, 2010, 07:09:13 AM
"The legislative department is everywhere extending the sphere of its activity and drawing all power into its impetuous vortex." --James Madison, Federalist No. 48
23279  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: The Power of Word on: March 09, 2010, 06:57:21 AM
Thank you for continuing my education Rachel.
23280  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / The gun rights vs. tyranny issue on: March 09, 2010, 06:54:27 AM
Behind Supreme Court case: Do gun rights protect against tyranny?
The US Supreme Court is considering what could be a landmark decision on individual gun rights. An unspoken argument is that armed citizens would make any usurper think twice before subverting the Constitution.


An anti-gun control flag during the 'Tea Party' at the Arizona State Capitol in Phoenix April 15, 2009. Nearly 10,000 people attended the rally, which was supposed to be in opposition to the Obama economic plan but turned into a general anti-Obama rally.
(Newsom)
 
By Warren Richey Staff writer
posted March 4, 2010 at 7:44 pm EST

More than 10,000 words were spoken during this week’s historic oral argument over gun rights at the US Supreme Court. But one potentially significant word was never uttered during the hour-long session: tyranny.

Long a focus of debates between gun control advocates and gun rights supporters, the issue was not discussed by lawyers attacking Chicago’s ban on handguns or the lawyer for the city defending local gun regulations. No member of the court mentioned it either. (Monitor analysis of the Chicago case here.)

But the idea is there, just below the surface of what analysts expect to become the high court’s second gun rights landmark decision in as many years.

The basic contention of many gun rights advocates is that the Second Amendment was designed to preserve a large, well-armed, and highly proficient community of gun owners that would make any usurping politician or military commander think twice before attempting to subvert the nation’s constitutional framework.

Founders' intent with Second Amendment
“The Second Amendment … stands as the Founding Fathers’ clear and unmistakable legal statement that an armed citizenry is the bulwark of liberty and provides the fundamental basis for law-abiding Americans to defend themselves, their families, their communities, and their nation against all aggressors, including, ultimately, a tyrannical government,” wrote Daniel Schmutter in a friend of the court brief on behalf Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership.

Mr. Schmutter said the Second Amendment is “the very last line in the defense of American liberty.”

To gun control specialists this argument is deeply troubling. They worry that any armed person with a beef against the government will look to the Second Amendment for encouragement to lock and load and then rain down armed force in the face of what he or she perceives as “tyranny.”

How to define 'tyranny'
“In a world in which ‘tyranny’ means many different things to many different people, it is of paramount importance that the court choose its words carefully when discussing just what is, and what is not, protected by the Second Amendment,” wrote John Schreiber in a friend of the court brief on behalf of the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence.

“The Framers plainly did not envision ad hoc groups of armed individuals beyond state control (i.e. a ‘citizens’ militia’) as a constitutional check on tyranny,” Mr. Schreiber wrote. “They saw them as unruly mobs that must be quelled.”

Although it was not discussed during oral argument in the Chicago case, Justice Antonin Scalia addressed the issue briefly in his majority decision in the high court’s 2008 ruling striking down Washington, D.C.’s handgun ban.

“If … the Second Amendment right is no more than the right to keep and use weapons as a member of an organized militia [and] the organized militia is the sole institutional beneficiary of the Second Amendment’s guarantee – it does not assure the existence of a ‘citizens’ militia’ as a safeguard against tyranny,” Justice Scalia wrote.

Scalia drew a distinction between government-sanctioned militiamen and a broader “people’s militia,” which he said was the concern of the founding generation.

These sentences have attracted significant interest and speculation from both sides of the gun rights debate.

Schreiber denounces what he calls “insurrectionist” arguments. “At no time has the Second Amendment been understood to protect a personal or private right of insurrection,” he wrote.

Schmutter cited history to support his contention that individual possession of arms is essential to preventing usurpation by the state.

Lessons from history
“During the 20th Century, more than 70 million people, after first being disarmed, were slaughtered by their own governments,” he wrote. “This pattern appeared in Ottoman Turkey (1915-1917), the Soviet Union (1929-1945), Nazi Germany and occupied Europe (1933-1945), Nationalist China (1927-1949), Communist China (1949-1952, 1957-1960, and 1966-1970, Guatemala (1960-1981), Uganda (1971-1979), Cambodia (1975-1979), and Rwanda (1994) just to name a few.”

He added: “The Second Amendment was created as the final barricade against the unthinkable – the day when the rest of our Constitutional safeguards have failed us and we stand exposed to the brutal reality that so many in history have understood only too late.”

The Anti-Defamation League approached the issue from a different perspective. In a friend of the court brief the organization worried that expansive gun rights might feed into what it said was a pervasive culture of guns and violence among extremists in the US.

What role for government control?
“It is imperative that nothing said in the decision of this case threaten the ability of federal, state, and local governments to address the daunting ‘on the ground’ challenges posed by trying to keep guns out of the hands of extremists, terrorists, and hate criminals,” wrote Leonard Niehoff in the Anti-Defamation League’s brief.

In a dissent in a 2003 gun case, Appeals Court Judge Alex Kosinski laid out his views on the Second Amendment and tyranny. “The simple truth – born of experience – is that tyranny thrives best where government need not fear the wrath of an armed people,” he wrote.

“If a few hundred Jewish fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto could hold off the Wehrmacht for almost a month with only a handful of weapons, six million Jews armed with rifles could not so easily have been herded into cattle cars,” Judge Kosinski said.

“The Second Amendment is a doomsday provision,” he added. “One designed for those exceptionally rare circumstances where all other rights have failed – where government refuses to stand for reelection and silences those who protest; where courts have lost the courage to oppose, or can find no one to enforce their decrees. However improbable these contingencies may seem today, facing them unprepared is a mistake a free people get to make only once.”

23281  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: China's challenge on: March 09, 2010, 06:49:03 AM
By Jennifer Richmond and Rodger Baker

China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) remains in session. As usual, the meeting has provided Beijing an opportunity to highlight the past year’s successes and lay out the problems that lie ahead. On the surface at least, China has shown remarkable resilience in the face of global economic crisis. It has posted enviable gross domestic product (GDP) growth rates while keeping factories running (if at a loss) and workers employed. But the economic crisis has exposed the inefficiencies of China’s export-dependent economic model, and the government has had to pump money into a major investment stimulus package to make up for the net drain the export sector currently is exacting on the economy.

Related Special Topic Page
China’s Economic Imbalance
For years, China’s leaders have recognized the risks of the current economic model. They have debated policy ideas to shift from the current model to one that is more sustainable in the long run and incorporates a more geographically equitable growth and a hefty rise in domestic consumption. While there is general agreement on the need for change, top leaders disagree on the timing and method of transition. This has stirred internal debates, which can lead to factionalization as varying interests align to promote their preferred policy proscription. Entrenched interests in urban areas and the export industry — along with constant fears of triggering major social upheaval — have left the government year after year making only slight changes around the margins. Often, Beijing has taken one step forward only to take two back when social instability and/or institutional resistance emerge.

And this debate becomes even more significant now, as China deals simultaneously with the aftermath of the global economic slowdown and preparations for a leadership transition in 2012.

The Hu Agenda
Chinese President Hu Jintao came into office eight years ago with the ambitious goal of closing a widening wealth gap by equalizing economic growth between the rural interior and coastal cities. Hu inherited the results of Deng Xiaoping’s opening and reform, which focused on the rapid development of the coastal areas, which were better geographically positioned for international trade. The vast interior took second billing, being kept in line with the promise that in time the rising tide of economic wealth would float all ships. Eventually it did, somewhat. But while the interior saw significant improvements over the early Mao period, the growth and rise in living standards and disposable income in the urban coastal areas far outstripped rural growth. Some coastal urban areas are now approaching Western standards of living, while much of the interior remains mired in Third World conditions. And the faster the coast grows, the more dependent China becomes on the money from that growth to facilitate employment and subsidize the rural population.

Hu’s predecessor, Jiang Zemin, also recognized these problems. To address them, he promoted a “Go West” economic policy designed to shift investment further inland. But Jiang faced the same entrenched interests that have opposed Hu’s efforts at significant change. While Jiang was able to begin reform of the bloated state-owned enterprises, he softened his Westward economic drive. Amid cyclical global economic downturns, China fell back on the subsidized export model to keep employment levels up and keep money flowing in. Concern over social instability held radical reform in check, and the closer Jiang got to the end of his term in power, the less likely he was to make significant changes that could undermine social cohesion. No Chinese leader wants to preside over a major economic policy that fails out of fear of being the Chinese Mikhail Gorbachev.

For those like Hu who have argued that rapid reform is worth the risk of potential short-term social dislocation, the global downturn was seen as validating their policies — and as confirming that the risks to China of not changing far outweigh the risks of changing now. The export industry’s drag on GDP has forced Beijing to enact a massive investment and loan program. By some accounts, fixed investments in 2009 accounted for more than 90 percent of GDP. Those arguing for faster reform have noted that the pace of investment growth is unsustainable in the long run, and that the flood of money into the system has created new inflationary pressures.

Much of this investment came in the form of bank loans that need to be serviced and repaid. But as the government tries to cool the economy, the risk of companies defaulting on their loans looms. Cooling the economy also threatens to burst China’s real estate bubble. This not only compounds problems in related industry sectors, it could also trigger massive social discord in the urban areas, where housing has taken the place of the stock market as the investment of choice.

Beijing’s Ongoing Dilemma
Chinese leaders face the constant dilemma of needing to allow the economy to maintain its three-decade long export-oriented growth pattern even though this builds in long-term weaknesses, but shifting the economy is not something that can be done without its own consequences. Social pressures are convincing the government of the need to raise the minimum wage to keep up with economic pressures. At the same time, misallocation of labor and new job formation incentives in the interior are causing shortages of labor in some sectors in major coastal export zones. If coastal factories increase wages to attract labor or appease workers, they run the risk of going under due to the already razor-thin margins. But if they don’t, the labor fueling these industries at best may riot and at worst might simply move back home, leaving exporters with little option but to close shop.

Looming demographic changes around the globe also impact the Chinese situation, and the government can no longer rely on an ever-increasing export market to drive the Chinese economy. Some international companies operating in China already are beginning to consider relocating manufacturing operations to places with cheaper labor or back to their home countries to save on transportation costs Chinese wages are no longer mitigating.

With its export markets unlikely to recover to pre-crisis levels any time soon, competition and protectionism are on the rise. The United States is growing bolder in its restrictions on Chinese exports, and China may no longer avoid having the U.S. government label it a currency manipulator. While this may be an extreme measure in 2010, the pressures for such a scenario are rising.

Amid its domestic and global challenges, Chinese leaders are engaged in economic policy debates. It appears that internal criticism is being directed against Hu as social tensions over issues like rising housing prices and inflation grow. In some ways, this is not unusual. National presidents often bear the brunt of dissatisfaction with economic downturns no matter whether their policies were to blame. In China, however, criticism against economic policy falls on the premier, who is responsible for setting the country’s economic direction. The focus on Hu reflects both the depth of the current crisis and the underlying political tensions over economic policy in a time of both global economic unpredictability and preparations for the end of Hu’s presidency in 2012.

To bridge the gulf between the urban coast and the rural interior, Hu and his supporters have pursued a multiphased plan. First, they sought to rein in some of the most independent of the coastal areas — Shanghai in particular, which served as a center of power and influence not only in promoting the continuation of unfettered coastal growth but also of Hu’s predecessor, Jiang. Second, a plan was put in motion to consolidate redundancies in China’s economy and to shift light- and low-skilled industry inland by increasing wages in the key coastal export manufacturing areas, reducing their cost competitiveness. And Beijing added an urbanization drive in traditionally rural and inland areas. Together, this represented a joint attempt to bring the jobs to the interior rather than continue the pattern of migrant workers moving to the coast.

The core of the Hu policies was an overall attempt to re-centralize economic control. This would allow the central government to begin weeding out redundancies left over from Mao’s era of provincial self-sufficiency, which the Deng and Jiang eras of uncoordinated and locally-directed economic growth often driven by corruption and nepotism exacerbated. In short, Hu planned to centralize the economy to consolidate industry, redistribute wealth and urbanize the interior to create a more balanced economy that emphasized domestic consumption over exports. However, Hu’s push, under the epithet “harmonious society,” has been anything but smooth and its successes have been limited at best.

Hu Meets Resistance
Institutional and local government resistance to re-centralization has hounded the policy from its inception, and resistance has grown with the economic crisis. Money is now pouring into the economy via massive government-mandated bank lending to stimulate growth through investments as exports wane. Consequently, housing prices and inflation fears now plague the government — two issues that could lead to increased social tensions and are already leading to louder questioning of Hu’s policies. With just two years to go in his administration, Hu already is looking to his legacy, weighing the risks and rewards between promoting long-term economic sustainability or short-term economic survival. The next two years will witness seemingly incongruent policy pronouncements as the two opposing directions and their proponents battle over China’s economic and political landscape.

Hu’s rise to the presidency was all but assured long before he took office. From a somewhat simplified perspective, the PRC has had only four leaders: Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao. When Mao died, his appointed successor, Hua Guofeng (who was settled upon after several other candidates fell out of favor), lasted only a short time. Amid the political chaos of the post-Cultural Revolution era, Deng rose to the top. Both Mao and Deng were strong leaders who, although contending with rivals, could rule almost single-handedly when the need arose.

To avoid the confusion of the post-Mao transition, Deng created a long-term succession plan. He ultimately settled on Shanghai Mayor Jiang Zemin as his successor. But in an effort to preserve his vision and legacy, Deng also chose Jiang’s successor, Hu Jintao. Barring some terrible breach of office, Hu was more or less guaranteed the presidency a decade before he took office, and there was little Jiang could do to alter this outcome. Jiang, however, made sure that he left his mark by lining up Hu’s successor, Xi Jinping. Despite Jiang’s support, Xi has not risen through the ranks in the same manner as Hu did, raising speculation of internal disagreements on the succession plan.

Vice President Xi is considered one of the “princelings,” leaders whose parents were part of the revolutionary-era governments under Mao and Deng who mainly have cut their teeth through business ventures concentrated in the coastal regions. Hu, on the other hand, is considered among the “tuanpai” or “tuanxi,” leaders who come primarily from the ranks of the Communist Youth League and interior provinces. While these “groups” are not in and of themselves cohesive factions, and China’s political networks are complex, Hu’s and Xi’s backgrounds reflect their differing policy approaches. As such, the question of the next Chinese leader is shaped by opposing economic plans.

On one hand are those like Hu who support a more rapid and immediate refocusing on rural and interior economic growth, even at the cost of reduced coastal and urban power. On the other hand, those like Jiang and his protege Xi have an interest in maintaining the status quo of regionalized semi-independence in economic matters and continued strong coastal growth. They are proceeding on the assumption that a strong coastal-led economy will both provide more immediate rewards for themselves and strengthen China’s international position and its national defense.

It is important not to overstress the differences. Each has the same ultimate goal, namely, maintaining the CPC as the central authority and building a strong China; it is just their paths to these ends that differ. But the economic policy differences are now becoming key questions of Party survival and Chinese stability and strength. Factional struggles that in normal circumstances can be largely controlled, or at least would not get out of hand, are now shaping up in an environment where China’s three-decade economic growth spurt may be reaching its climax. Meanwhile, social pressures are rising amid uncertainties and instabilities in Chinese economic structures.

Beijing has emerged from the economic crisis bolder and more self-confident than ever. But this is driven more by a recognition of weakness than a false assessment of strength. China’s leadership is in crisis mode, and at this time of economic instability and uncertainty, the leadership must also manage a transition that is bringing competing economic policies into stark contrast. And this is the sort of pressure that can cause the gloves to come off and throw expectations of unity and smooth transitions out the window.

Everything may pass smoothly; two years is a long time, after all. But if there is one thing certain about the upcoming change of presidents, it is that nothing is certain.
23282  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / FDIC auctions on: March 09, 2010, 06:36:57 AM


Just flagging the issue, NOT agreeing with the analysis herein.
=====================

http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601109&sid=aFCB.UOdUErg&pos=15#
On the Edge’ Banks Face Writedowns on FDIC Auctions (Update1)

By James Sterngold

March 8 (Bloomberg) -- A Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. plan to auction more than $1 billion in assets seized from failed banks next month, including a loan to build a W Hotel in Atlanta, may trigger writedowns that weaken lenders nationwide.

Almost half of the loans were originated by Silverton Bank N.A., whose collapse last May was the biggest in Georgia history. Community banks that joined Silverton in providing $80 million for the 237-room hotel and condominium complex, as well as backing for 39 other projects, could be forced to write down their stakes to reflect sale prices.

The auctions may have wider repercussions. Of the $41 billion in assets seized from failed banks held by the FDIC as of the end of January, $15.6 billion are real estate loans and about 4 percent of those involve participations by other lenders, according to agency spokesman Andrew Gray.

“These banks can’t believe that the regulator they pay to protect them is going to sell these loans to someone who can flip them and cause them serious losses,” said Robert Reynolds, a lawyer at Reynolds Reynolds & Duncan LLC in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, who represents 25 lenders that took part in financing the W Hotel. “Our banks just cannot believe they’re being treated in a way that ultimately hurts the FDIC’s insurance fund, because some of them are right on the edge.”

Bank Failures

A total of 140 banks failed last year, and FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair said the number may be higher this year. It stands at 26 as of March 6. The agency said on Feb. 23 that 702 banks were on its “problem” list as of Dec. 31, up from 552 at the end of the third quarter. The FDIC’s insurance fund had a deficit of $20.9 billion at the end of the year.

“This whole thing is a mess waiting to happen across the country,” said Geoffrey Miller, a professor of securities law at New York University and director of the Center for the Study of Central Banks and Financial Institutions.

“Unlike the subprime mortgage problems, which hit mostly bigger financial institutions, the commercial real estate crisis is going to hit mostly smaller and regional banks,” Miller said. “It was common for them to make these loans and buy participations. It’s a systemic problem that the FDIC has to deal with.”

‘Maximize’ Recovery

That view was echoed by John J. Collins, president of Community Bankers of Washington in Lakewood, Washington. Some banks in his state have expressed concern that they may have to take writedowns as a result of the FDIC sale of seized loans in which they participated, he said.

“We have a number of banks teetering on the edge, and we don’t need this problem,” Collins said in an interview.

The FDIC is “required by statute to maximize its recovery on receivership assets,” Greg Hernandez, an agency spokesman, said in an e-mail. “This is achieved through a broad, competitive bid process.”

The agency is also trying to encourage public retirement funds that control more than $2 trillion to buy all or part of failed lenders, according to people briefed on the matter.

A $416 million package of Silverton assets being auctioned for the FDIC by Deutsche Bank AG includes $254 million of loans for commercial real estate projects such as the W Hotel in which the bank sold participations, according to Deutsche Bank’s announcement of the sale. They range from providing $752,000 in financing for convenience stores in Los Angeles to $46 million for a Le Meridien Hotel in Philadelphia. Bids are due April 12.

The FDIC will entertain offers for individual loans or the entire Silverton portfolio, retaining a 60 percent interest to benefit from future profits, Hernandez said.

W Hotel

The agency is separately auctioning $610.5 million of overdue loans seized from failed U.S. lenders, including $85.3 million in Silverton assets and $220.2 million issued by New Frontier Bank in Greeley, Colorado. That sale is being handled by New York-based Mission Capital Advisors LLC. The deadline for bids is April 6.

The loan for construction of the W Hotel in downtown Atlanta was made in April 2008, a month after the collapse of Bear Stearns Cos., according to Reynolds. The developer of the property is Atlanta-based Barry Real Estate Cos., which owns commercial projects in Atlanta, Dallas, Orlando, Florida and Birmingham, Alabama.

One Condo Sale

The hotel, managed by Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc., opened in January 2009. It offers amenities such as a Bliss Spa and a service for obtaining skybox seats at Atlanta Braves baseball games.

Silverton’s Specialty Finance Group LLC, which made the loan, notified the developer that it was in default, according to a letter dated April 16.

The hotel is operating at “close to 60 percent” occupancy, said Hal Barry, chairman of Barry Real Estate. The occupancy rate for luxury hotels nationwide in the fourth quarter of last year was 60.6 percent, according to Smith Travel Research Inc. in Hendersonville, Tennessee. There are also 76 condominiums in the complex, of which one has sold, he said. He declined to comment about the status of the loan.

A sale of Silverton’s $23 million share of the financing at half its book value could force participating banks to take more than $30 million in writedowns, Reynolds said.

The sale of loans from failed banks in 2009 brought on average 43 percent of their book value, according to an FDIC summary. Non-performing loans, those on which the borrower has defaulted or there is little prospect of repayment, were sold for 26 percent of their book value on average.

Servicing Rights

Reynolds has proposed that the FDIC sell Silverton’s interest in the project separately from its lead role in servicing the loan. That would enable the participating banks to buy the servicing rights and seek a long-term workout, avoiding any immediate writedowns. Selling the servicing rights along with Silverton’s portion of the loan, which give the owner the ability to restructure or foreclose on a loan, could encourage short-term investors, Reynolds said.

If the loan is sold to a buyer who restructures it at less than book value or forecloses on the property, participating banks would have to write down their stakes, said Russell Mallett, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP in New York who specializes in bank accounting. Absent a restructuring, banks have flexibility in how they value loans, he said.

“This is not a perfect real estate development, but it could work its way out of its problems if they get more funding and we’re patient,” said Ralph Banks, executive vice president of Merchants & Farmers Bank of Greene County in Eutaw, Alabama, which owns less than $1 million of the loan.

‘Decreases’ Value

That view was supported by executives at two other lenders that bought participations who asked not to be identified because their banks’ roles as owners of the W Hotel loan haven’t been disclosed.

The FDIC has a policy of not splitting servicing rights from loan ownership because it “decreases the value of those assets,” said Hernandez, the agency spokesman.

Reynolds said the banks he represents may bid for Silverton’s share of the W Hotel loan if they can come up with the capital in order to stave off writedowns. Some of the lenders are already in financial trouble, he said, declining to identify them. One that participated in the loan, Florida Community Bank in Immokalee, Florida, failed on Jan. 29.

‘Deal With Themselves’

Silverton, a wholesale bank based in Atlanta with no consumer operations, was owned and overseen by more than 400 community lenders in the region. It was founded in 1986 and provided banking services, including wire-transfer systems, bond trading and credit-card operations, to about 1,400 institutions in 44 states.

Reynolds said the banks that owned Silverton, some of which had representatives on its board, never imagined it would fail.

“My clients had a long, successful record with Silverton,” Reynolds said. “When they signed their participations, they felt they were signing a deal with themselves because they all owned the bank. We all thought this was a way to diversify risk.”

The bank’s troubles began in early 2007, when it changed from a state to a national charter so it could accelerate its growth, according to a report by the Treasury Department’s Office of Inspector General, which reviews failures of banks regulated by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

Defaults Double

Silverton’s commercial real estate lending rose to $1.2 billion at the end of 2008 from $681 million at the end of 2006, the report said. The bank had $4.1 billion in assets when it failed last year, and the FDIC said the closing will cost its insurance fund $1.3 billion.

“The board and management either chose to ignore or failed to acknowledge the indicators of a declining real estate market,” the inspector general’s report said.

Real estate loans at U.S. banks that are at least 90 days overdue or that are expected to default almost doubled in 12 months to 7.1 percent, according to December FDIC data. Non- performing loans for construction and development rose to 16 percent from 8.6 percent.

“This is a situation the FDIC is going to face more, since the number of bank failures is going up,” said Gerard Cassidy, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets in Portland, Maine. “The FDIC is not in the business of managing loans, so they do have to sell them. But they also have to look at the bigger picture and take a global approach by liquidating those assets without hurting the banks that bought participations.”
23283  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: VIDEO CLIPS OF INTEREST on: March 09, 2010, 06:07:39 AM
It's an idiomatic expression meaning "Very impressive"  grin
23284  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Conditioning on: March 09, 2010, 06:06:42 AM
I have been told to be capable of 4-12 miles a day for 5 days over very uneven terrain.  We will be returning to a home base, probably a ranch, every night.

I see I have reported a major glitch.  My 1.1 mile time is NOT 5:30.  Hell my one mile time in high school was 6:00 and that was without any weight!  The dirt loop on which I have been doing my work is .28 (hence the weirdness of reporting increments of 1.1 miles) and everytime I pass my truck I have a piece of paper and a pen on the windshield wiper which I use to jot down my data (number of laps, pulse) as I go by.  The 5.30 is a rough approximation of my time for the .28 of each lap.  Overall I am averaging just over 3 miles per hour. 
23285  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / More "Huh"? on: March 08, 2010, 05:06:43 PM
A savvy friend writes:

Here's my very limited understanding.


Whenever the Fed decides to reduce reserves, it will have to sell its balance sheet assets to somebody for money. When the check written to the Fed clears against the buyer's bank that bank's reserves at the Fed will drop by the same amount. So that is the process the Fed will eventually follow if it does indeed begin to reduce bank reserves.


The Fed has certain "primary dealers" who, as I understand it, must buy Fed assets when they are offered for sale. I presume the primary dealers are buying for resale and, frankly, I don't know how prices are set between the Fed and the primary dealers.


Since the Fed now has a motley bunch of assets on its balance sheet for which it paid more than a trillion dollars, it apparently thinks it needs more "counterparties" who are able to buy such assets. I am not sure why they need a program to identify more buyers in advance; if those assets actually have some value I would think the Fed would only need to offer the assets and wait to see the bids. Maybe the Fed has some scheme which will press more institutions into the "must buy" role? 


The "reverse repo" terminology also confuses me. If the Fed sells assets with a repurchase agreement, that would seem to imply only a short term reduction in reserves. A regular "repo" is used by the Fed to temporarily increase bank reserves -- buying an asset to increase reserves but with an agreement to sell it back in a short period of time, thereby reversing the earlier operation.


So ... let me add my voice to the growing chorus: how about a thorough explanation of this Fed announcement?
23286  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Spring 2010 DB Tribal Gathering on: March 08, 2010, 05:03:13 PM
Due to a very bad knee injury in 1992 I have tremendous empathy for Tricky's current (and recurrent) woes and the deepest of respect for the true warrior spirit he shows in this moment.  He certainly is an outstanding fighter, but more importantly in this moment he shines as Dog Brother.
23287  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Huh? on: March 08, 2010, 12:07:41 PM
Can someone explain this to me please?

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

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York today announced the beginning of a program to expand its counterparties for conducting reverse repurchase agreement transactions. This expansion is intended to enhance the capacity of such operations to drain reserves beyond what could likely be conducted through the New York Fed's traditional counterparties, the Primary Dealers. This announcement is pursuant to the October 19, 2009, Statement Regarding Reverse Repurchase Agreements, which announced that the New York Fed was studying the possibility of expanding its counterparties for these operations. The additional counterparties will not be eligible to participate in transactions conducted by the New York Fed other than reverse repos. This expansion of counterparties for the reverse repo program is a matter of prudent advance planning, and no inference should be drawn about the timing of any prospective monetary policy operation. The initial efforts of the New York Fed will be aimed at firms that typically provide large amounts of short-term funding to the financial markets. This approach will ensure that the Federal Reserve quickly achieves significant capacity for conducting reverse repo operations while allowing the Trading Desk at the New York Fed to utilize its current infrastructure for conducting and settling such operations. Over time, the New York Fed expects it will modify the counterparty criteria to include a broader set of counterparties.


The ultimate size and terms of reverse repo operations will depend on the directive from the Federal Open Market Committee to conduct such operations. In terms of operational details, the New York Fed anticipates that any transactions would be:
offered to primary dealers and the broader set of counterparties,
conducted at auction for a fixed (not floating) rate,
settled through the tri-party repo system, and
held against all major types of collateral in the System Open Market Account (SOMA), including Treasury securities, agency debt securities, and agency MBS securities.
23288  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Russia's Expanding Influence Part 1 on: March 08, 2010, 11:06:13 AM
Summary

The United States’ involvement in the Middle East — wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a standoff with Iran over its nuclear program — has given Russia an opportunity to expand its influence in the former Soviet Union. Moscow has already had some success in consolidating control over what it considers the four most crucial countries, but it would like to push back against the West in several other countries if it has time to do so before Washington’s attention returns to Eurasia.

Editor’s note: This introduction launches a four-part series in which STRATFOR will examine Russia’s efforts to exert influence beyond its borders.

Analysis

U.S. Weakness and Russia’s Window of Opportunity

Russia today is vastly different from the Russia of 10 or 20 years ago. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the West began a geopolitical offensive in Russia’s near abroad, and met with some success. However, the past two months have seen a drastic rollback of Western influence in the former Soviet Union, with Russia forming unions with Kazakhstan and Belarus and a pro-Russian government returning to Ukraine. Moscow is making progress in its grand scheme to solidify its position as a regional power in Eurasia once again, reversing what it sees as Western infiltration. The question now is how far Russia wants to go — or how far it feels it must and can go — in this quest.

The Inherent Russian Struggle
Russia’s defining problem stems from its geographic indefensibility. Russia has no rivers, oceans, swamps, mountains or other natural features truly protecting it. To compensate for these vulnerabilities, Russia historically has had to do two things: Consolidate forces at home while purging outside influences, and expand in order to create buffers around its borders. At times, Russia reached out too far and collapsed, which forced it to start over. But Russia has only been a stable, strong power — regionally and globally — when it had a buffer zone surrounding its core. The best example of this was the Soviet Union, in which Russia surrounded itself with a sphere of countries under its control, from Central Asia to the Caucasus and Eastern Europe. This gave Moscow the insulation it needed to project influence far beyond its borders.





(click here to enlarge image)
But in 1989, the Soviet Union lost control of Eastern Europe and had disintegrated by 1991, returning Russia essentially to its 17th century borders (except for Siberia). Russia was broken, vulnerable and weak.

The United States, on the other hand, emerged from the Cold War with a huge opportunity to contain Russia and prevent its re-emergence as a great power in Eurasia. The Soviet disintegration did not in any way guarantee that Moscow would not resurge eventually in another form, so the West had to neuter Russia both internally and externally. First the United States nudged the pro-democratic and capitalist forces inside Russia to try to change the nature of the Kremlin. Theoretically, this led to the democratic experiment of the 1990s that ended in bitter chaos, rather than democracy, within Russia. Yet it did prevent the Russian government from becoming a consolidated (let alone powerful) entity.

The United States also began working to contain Russia’s influence inside its borders and pick away at its best defense: its buffer. The United States and Western Europe carried out this strategy in several ways. The West used its influence and money quickly after the fall of the Soviet Union to create connections with each former Soviet state. It also fomented a series of color revolutions in Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan that solidified Western influence in those countries. NATO and the European Union also expanded into former Soviet territory to include Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Washington and NATO even opened military bases in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan to facilitate moving supplies into Afghanistan.

Moscow saw this as a direct and deliberate challenge to Russian national security. But before it could even consider reaching across its borders to counter the West’s geopolitical encroachment, Russia had to clean house. Under former Russian President (and current Prime Minister) Vladimir Putin, Russia’s internal consolidation began with the Kremlin regaining control over the country politically, economically and socially while re-establishing its control over Russia’s wealth of energy reserves. The Kremlin also put an end to the internal volatility created by the oligarchs, organized crime and wars in the Caucasus. The recentralization of the Russian state under Putin’s rule, coupled with high energy prices bringing in exorbitant amounts of money, made Russia strong again, but it still needed to reclaim its buffer zone.

The Window of Opportunity
While Russia reconsolidated, the United States became preoccupied with the Islamic world. As the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have developed, they have absorbed Washington’s focus, presenting Russia with an opportunity to push back against the West’s increased influence in Eurasia. It remains unclear whether Russia would have been able to counter the Western infiltration of the former Soviet states if the United States had not been looking elsewhere. But Russia has taken advantage of Washington’s preoccupation to attempt to re-establish its sphere of influence in the former Soviet Union.

The U.S. absorption on Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan has not occurred without Russian involvement. Russia has used its connections in the Middle East and Afghanistan as leverage in its negotiations with the United States for years, demanding that Washington outright abandon moves to solidify Western influence in the former Soviet states. Furthermore, Moscow’s plan to expand its influence into the former Soviet sphere depends on Washington’s preoccupation. Thus, Russia has openly supported Iran with political, nuclear and military deals, and has made negotiations for military supply routes into Afghanistan more difficult for the United States and NATO.

The geopolitical tug-of-war between Washington and Moscow has not been easy. But while Washington has been preoccupied with its wars, Russia has been able to reconsolidate its influence in countries that never strayed far from Moscow’s hand, such as Belarus and Kazakhstan. Russia proved that the West could not stop it from militarily rolling back into its former territory during the 2008 Russo-Georgian war. Russia’s most crucial victory to date has been in Ukraine, where the top four candidates in the country’s January presidential election were all pro-Russian, thus ensuring the end of the pro-Western Orange movement.

The question now is: What does Russia feel it must accomplish before the United States is freed up from its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or its standoff with Iran?

The Russian Plan
The Kremlin is not looking to re-establish the Soviet Union. Rather, Moscow has stepped back and looked at its former Soviet sphere and determined what is imperative to the future of Russia’s regional power and stability. Essentially, Russia has placed the countries of its former sphere of influence and other regional powers into four categories:





(click here to view interactive graphic)
First are four countries where Russia feels it must fully reconsolidate its influence: Belarus, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Georgia. These countries protect Russia from Asia and Europe and give Moscow access to the Black and Caspian seas. They are also the key points integrated with Russia’s industrial and agricultural heartland. Without all four of them, Russia is essentially impotent. So far, Russia has reconsolidated power in Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine, and part of Georgia is militarily occupied. In 2010, Russia will focus on strengthening its grasp on these countries.
Next are six countries where Moscow would like to reconsolidate its influence if it has the opportunity to do so before Washington’s attention turns back to Eurasia: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Russia does not need these countries in order to remain strong, but without them the West is too close to the Russian core for comfort. These countries have either strategic geographic locations, links to Russia or valuable assets. Estonia could almost be put into the first category, as some forces inside Moscow consider it more important because of location near Russia’s second-largest city, St. Petersburg, and on the Baltic Sea. Russia will attempt to deal with these countries only after its four top priorities are met.
The third group on Russia’s list consists of countries that are not critical to the Kremlin, but Moscow feels could easily be controlled because of their own inherent vulnerabilities. These countries — Moldova, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Armenia — are not geographically, politically or economically important and are so unstable that Moscow could consolidate control over them rather quickly. Some of these countries are already under Russian control, through no concerted effort on Moscow’s part, but their natural instability and weakness can make them more trouble than they are worth.
The final group on Russia’s list consists of countries that are not former Soviet states or countries Russia thinks it can pull in under its influence. These last countries — Germany, Turkey, France and Poland — are regional powers (or future powers) in Eurasia that could complicate Russia’s efforts. Moscow feels it needs to form a strong relationship, or at least an understanding, with these countries about Russia’s dominance in the former Soviet sphere. These countries are all NATO members, and each has its own complex relationship with the United States. But Moscow again is taking advantage of the United States’ distraction to leverage its own relationship with these countries. Moscow will have to play a very delicate game with these regional heavyweights to make sure it does not turn them into enemies.
A Closing Window
Russia has had some success in meeting its goals while the United States has been preoccupied, but it also knows Washington is attempting to wrap up its affairs in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan and have a freer hand in other areas. For Russia, the clock is ticking.

Russia does have the advantage, in that it is easier for the United States to prevent the emergence of a regional hegemon than to control one that has already emerged. The United States’ focus will return to Eurasia after Russia has already made significant progress on its to-do list. But this is not to say that Russia is the definite winner. Russia’s geopolitical imperatives remain: The country must expand, hold together and defend the empire, even though expansion can create difficulties in the Russian core. This is already a difficult task; it will be made even harder when the United States is free to counter Russia.

In this series, STRATFOR will break down exactly how Russia will be tackling its to-do list of countries, examining the different levers Moscow holds over each country and what bumps it may experience along the way.
23289  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Yet another government takeover on: March 08, 2010, 10:40:05 AM
Everyone knows Democrats are planning to use the budget reconciliation process to get ObamaCare through the Senate. Less well known is that Democrats are plotting add-ons to that bill to get other liberal priorities enacted—programs that could never attract 60 votes.

One of these controversial measures rewrites the Higher Education Act to ban private companies from offering federally guaranteed student loans as of this July. Congress has already passed laws in recent years discouraging private lenders from making loans without a federal guarantee. But most college financial-aid departments still want private companies to originate and service the guaranteed loans. That's because the alternative—a public option run by the Department of Education—has been distinguished by its Soviet-style customer service.

The Democratic plan is to make this public option the only option mere days before colleges send out their financial aid packages to incoming students. The House and Senate budget committees issued instructions last year to look for savings in the student-lending program, so the Democrats have prepared in advance their excuse to jam these changes through the reconciliation process.

View Full Image

Associated Press
 
Education Secretary Arne Duncan.
.Secretary of Education Arne Duncan portrays the changes as eliminating subsidies to private companies, but no one should misinterpret these comments to mean that taxpayers will benefit. The plan that passed the House includes $67 billion in "savings," according to a Friday estimate from the Congressional Budget Office. But the bill also has more than $77 billion in new spending.

The net loss to taxpayers isn't limited to $10 billion. After inquiries from Senator Judd Gregg (R., N.H.) and Rep. John Kline (R., Minn.) last year, CBO explained that "savings" estimates are artificially high because of government accounting rules that undercount the risks of default when the government is originating the loans, while the new spending estimates are artificially low. This could be significant. Many colleges oppose the government plan specifically because the feds don't make the same effort to prevent defaults that the private lenders do.

Taxpayers have even more reason than academics to fear the impact, in part because the public may not learn the details before this plan becomes law. Democrats aim to bring their education revolution to the floor without a committee vote or even a hearing in the Senate.

Democrats might seek to enact the bill passed by the House last summer, an even more ambitious plan sketched out in the President's 2011 budget, or some mystery meat prepared by chef Tom Harkin, who chairs the Senate education committee. So far he won't tell anyone what's on the menu, and he may not have to. The limited 20 hours of reconciliation debate will no doubt be consumed by ObamaCare, but another new entitlement could be hustled into law under cover of bloviating lawmakers.

Both the House-passed bill and the President's budget increase Pell Grants and also create automatic future increases, so individual grants will grow faster than inflation every year. Colleges will pocket the money by raising tuition, so we have yet another federal program ensuring that higher education costs continue to rise even faster than health-care spending.

Mr. Obama's budget also calls for making Pell Grants a mandatory entitlement. At least now they are subject to annual appropriation and their growth can be slowed when tax revenues fall or other priorities rate higher. Mr. Obama would prefer spending that is quite literally out of control.

"Various changes that the President proposes to the Pell Grant program would add another $0.2 trillion to the deficit between 2011 and 2020," CBO said Friday. That could turn out to be a very optimistic estimate if unemployment remains high and more people seize the educational opportunity to which they have just become entitled. Still another taxpayer trap will be sprung if the President's proposal to forgive some debt incurred by "overburdened" borrowers is included in the bill.

The federal education takeover is another example of the Democrats' willingness to use whatever tactics are necessary to advance their agenda to concentrate power in Washington—while they still can.
23290  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Viejito con huevos y cuchillo contra ladron on: March 08, 2010, 08:35:44 AM
ME gusto' tambien como no le permitia a nada acercarse a el despues de la huida del ladron.  Necesitamos acordarnos que malos frequentemente trabajan en equipos.

Pero, si no me equivoco, tamien cabe mencionar que su tecnica permitia que la pistola del malo se le cruzara.
23291  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Jefferson on "general welfare" concept on: March 08, 2010, 08:32:47 AM
"It would reduce the whole instrument to a single phrase, that of instituting a Congress with power to do whatever would be for the good of the United States; and as they would be the sole judges of the good or evil, it would be also a power to do whatever evil they please. Certainly no such universal power was meant to be given them. It [the Constitution] was intended to lace them up straightly within the enumerated powers and those without which, as means, these powers could not be carried into effect." --Thomas Jefferson, Opinion on a National Bank, 1791
23292  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Politics of Health Care on: March 07, 2010, 11:16:20 PM
That he was born into a patrician family doesn' t help either.
23293  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: VIDEO CLIPS OF INTEREST on: March 07, 2010, 11:14:05 PM
Well, sh*t howdy!
23294  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Conditioning on: March 07, 2010, 11:05:09 PM
I'm looking to bump up my distance and/or heart rate on Tuesday.
23295  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iran on: March 07, 2010, 07:39:30 PM
Ah yes, Bill Clinton who sent Johnny Chung to raise money in Taiwan in return for sailing a US aircrafty carrier through the straits?  Bill Clinton who took money from the Red Chinese front of the Riady family?  The same Riady's who paid Webster Hubbell $700,000 in psuedo consulting fees that really were to pay him doing time without implicating Hillary in the Rose firm's overbilling in AK?  Bill Clinton who enabled technology to Red China by moving technology export decisions from the State Dept to the Commerce Dept in return for donations?  Bill Clinton who let Saddam Hussein run the UN inspectors out of Iraq so that we were nearly totally blind four years later when it was time to decide whether SH had WMD?

That Bill Clinton?
23296  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iran on: March 06, 2010, 08:18:22 PM
Oy vey   rolleyes

Good thing we have such a coherent strategy to deal with all this , , ,
23297  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Conditioning on: March 06, 2010, 03:46:27 PM
Thursday:  3.3 miles with 50 pounds

Today, another 3.3 miles with 50 pounds.

Average pulse mile 1: 97
AP #2: 103
AP #3: 111

5.30 minutes per 1.1 miles

The original plan was to go 4.4 miles but with only one day's rest the muscles of my upper back we saying it was enough for the day. My next session will have two days rest so I will bump it up to 4.4 miles then.

I do like the way the weight vest is teaching me things about posture and gait. Today I was noticing that carrying the vest was easier the more I opened the thoracic region of the spine (think scapula down, rhomboids activated, pec minor released, thumbs parallel, heart chakra open) In conjunction with maintaining each foot on the ground longer subtly improves hip alignment and counter swinging the shoulders (e.g. right shoulder forward on left step) diminishes heel strike. Now the hips roll nicely and I start opening up the hip flexors.

Still my pace is slow (about 5.40 per 1.1 miles).  Someone advised me to have longer strides.  For me this seems to really increase heel strike. Am I doing something wrong?
23298  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Viejito con huevos y cuchillo contra ladron on: March 06, 2010, 03:29:13 PM


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nhL5RRL7m7A

23299  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: VIDEO CLIPS OF INTEREST on: March 06, 2010, 10:48:37 AM
URL?
23300  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: WHERE IS THE FOOTWORK!?! on: March 06, 2010, 10:47:54 AM
I was in the Octagon when I was a judge at UFC X. I agree, there is plenty of room for good footwork.  OTOH the cage at King of the Cage was really quite small.  Footwork always applies at any and all ranges, but its relevance can be real brief in tighter ranges-- though no the less important for its brevity.
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