DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: The Dog Brothers Tribe
on: February 17, 2011, 10:10:54 AM
THE COUNCIL OF ELDERS
Marc "Crafty Dog" Denny "The Guiding Force", ODB
Eric "Top Dog" Knaus "The Fighting Force", ODB
Arlan "Salty Dog" Sanford "The Silent Force", ODB
Benjamin "Lonely Dog" Rittiner
Mike "Dogzilla" Tibbitts ODB
Alvis "Hound Dog" Solis
Brian "Porn Star Dog" Jungwiwattanattaporn
Bryan "Guide Dog" Stoops
Chris "The Tree That Walks" Poznik
Chris "True Dog" Clifton
Colin "Point Dog" Stewart
Corey "Dog Pound" Davis
Dale "Island Dog" Franks
Dave "Wild Dog" Crosby
Dean "Kaju Dog" Webster
Dennis "Edge Dog" Hall
Ed "Hot Dog" Solomon
Erik "Tennesee Dog" Bryant
Francisco "Frankfurter" Taruc
Fred "Sun Dog" Martinez
Gints "Baltic Dog" Klimanis
Greame "Scotty Dog" Higgins
Greg "Cyborg Dog" Brown
Gregory "Junkyard Dog" Van Zuyen
Ian "Hair of the Dog" Wilde ODB
Ivan "Kuma Dog" Reboli
Jeff "Sleeping Dog" Inman
John "Underdog" Salter
Lester "Surf Dog" Grifin ODB
Loki "Tricky Dog" Jorgenson
Marcus "Giri Dog" Schillinger
Mark "Mongrel" Balluf ODB
Mark "Puppy Dog" Sanden ODB
Mark "Shark Dog" Lawson ODB
Mark "Sheepdog" Scott
Marlon "Red Dog" Hoess-Boettger
Mat "Boo Dog" Booe
Mike "Rain Dog" Florimbi
Mike "Scrappy Dog" De Lio
Mike "War Dog" Barredo
Nick "Pappy Dog" Papadakis
Nick "Raw Dog" Sacoulas
Oskar "Spider Dog" Bernal
Philip "Sled Dog" Gelinas ODB
Roan "Poi Dog" Grimm
Steve "Iron Dog" Shelburn
Stefan "Cro Dog" Kostanjevec
Teddy "Tahiti Dog" Moux
Tim "Scurvy Dog" Ferguson
Tinu "3D Dog" Blatter
Tom "Howling Dog" Guthire
Burton "Lucky Dog" Richardson
CANDIDATE DOG BROTHERS
Abu "C-Desert Dog" Dayyeh
Andreas "C-Flexi Dog" Hommel
Brian "C- Ferox Dog" Alagao
Chris "C-Rogue Dog" Smith
Christian "C- Lefty Dog" Eckert
Daniel "C-Hidden Dog" Budar (alias, "Dog in sheep's clothing")
Dave "C-StrayDog" Rothburg
Detlef "C-Sinatra Dog" Thiem
Dominic "C-Sleazy Dog" Ischer
Gerald "C-Heretic Dog" Boggs
Gerry "C-Celtic Dog" Casey
Heiko "C-Crossover Dog" Zauske
Hugh "C-Irish Dog" Sargeant
James "C-Mako Dog" Kelly
Jerome "C-Frisbee Dog" Challon
Kai "C-Suicide Dog" Schilling
Mamerto "C-Bull Dog" Estepa
Michael "C-Zen Dog" Blake
Milt "C-Devil Dog" Tinkoff
Oli "C-Ghost Dog" Schaer
Peter "C-Grumpy Dog" Fray
Randall "C-Wolf Dog" Gregory
Renato "C-Cerebus" Judalena
Rene "C-Growling Dog" Cocolo
Riccardo "C-Full Metal Dog" Bassani
Rich "C-Hellhound" Raphael
Richard "C-Seeing Eye Dog" Estepa
Roberto "C-Staffy Dog" Cereda
Roger "C-Space Dog" Tinkoff
Russ "C-Bad Dog" Iger
Ryan "C-Guard Dog" Gruhn
Shaun "C-Sneaky Dog" Owens
Stefan "C-Diligent Dog" Ramsauer
Thomas "C-Sword Dog" Rickert
Tom "C-Howling Dog" Guthire
Tomek "C-Tank Dog" Jurkiewicz
Thorsten "C-Lena Dog" Picker
Torben "C-Old Dog" Lorenian
Tyler "C-Dirty Dog" Morin
Mark "C-Fu Dog" Houston
Mark "C-Beowulf" Houston
"Dog" Andrew Flores
"Dog" Axel Datschun
"Dog" Benjamin Schlieper
"Dog" Bryan Lorentzen
"Dog" Chris Hawker
"Dog" Chris Schultz
"Dog" Chuck Blanchard
"Dog" Dan Farley
"Dog" Danny Suarez
"Dog" David Lowndes
"Dog" Davide Musi
"Dog" Fabian Tillmanns
"Dog" Federico Corriente
"Dog" Filippo Pani
"Dog" Gabriele Cortonesi
"Dog" Greg Moody
"Dog" Ishmael Solis
"Dog" Ivan Pirozhkov
"Dog" James Macdonald
"Dog" Jay Cosby
"Dog" Jeremy Lowen
"Dog" Jiri Söderblom
"Dog" Kai Schwahn
"Dog" Kai Spintig
"Dog" Kase Wright
"Dog" Kostas Tountas
"Dog" Lars Christie
"Dog" Lorenz Glaza
"Dog" Ludo Bachy
"Dog" Manfred Schilka
"Dog" Mark Smith dec.
"Dog" Matt Tucker
"Dog" Mauricio Sanchez
"Dog" Meynard Ancheta
"Dog" Mick Smith
"Dog" Michele Gemini
"Dog" Miguel DeCoste
"Dog" Miguel Lopez
"Dog" Miguel Velez
"Dog" Mike Norrell
"Dog" Mo Estepa
"Dog" Ole Fredricksen
"Dog" Ole Leinz
"Dog" Oliver Zaum
"Dog" Pawel Imiela
"Dog" Ray Wilson
"Dog" Rodolfo Manzano Diaz
"Dog" Rodney Libramonte
"Dog" Sebastian Ehlen
"Dog" Shanu Singh
"Dog" Sigi Fischer
"Dog" Simon Hehl
"Dog" Simon Godsland
"Dog" Steve Gruhn
"Dog" Thomas Britschgi
"Dog" Tom Perruso
"Dog" Tom Stillman
"Dog" Tony Caruso
"Dog" Tony Fernandez
"Dog" Troy Hodges
"Dog" Vitaliano Sestito
"Dog" Will Dixon
"Dog" Wieslaw Hapke
Linda "Black Cat"
Linda "Bitch" Matsumi
Lynn "C-Psycho Bitch" Brown
"Cat" Heather Kerr
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan
on: February 17, 2011, 07:51:32 AM
I do too.
So, what do we do?
My starting point is that what we are doing now is utterly incoherent and we need to get WAY out of our current mental boxes.
When blended with Baraq's strategy in the mid-east IMHO we are on the precipice of complete defeat: being run out of the mid-east and Afpakia, Pak's nuke program completely slipping its leash, Iranian nukes, Lebanon being taken over by Heabollah, serious war against Israel, the return of the Taliban to rule in Afg, etc etc etc
I for one remain intrigued by the idea of an alliance with India and dismemberment of Pakistan while cutting a deal giving Pashtunistan to the Pashtuns in return for them being very clear on the concept that we will rain death and destruction on them if they EVER support attacks on the West (and separating the Pashtuns from the rest of Afg might really simplify things for Afg) destroying Pak's nuke program, and related actions.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: US Foreign Policy
on: February 17, 2011, 07:41:45 AM
I get that BUT
a) does that not lead to situations where ultimately such a strategy blows up amidst revolution and/or chaos?
b) does that not lead to a diminishment of our moral power in the world? (Do you believe in moral power at all?)
c) does that not lead to weak support from the American people?
d) does it bother your sleep at all?
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: A dilema
on: February 17, 2011, 07:22:10 AM
A Dilemma in U.S.-Pakistani Relations
While most of the recent international focus has been on Egypt’s unrest and the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, another key geopolitical crisis has been brewing, this time between the United States and Pakistan. Getting a bit of respite from the situation in Egypt, U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday called on the Pakistani government to release a U.S. security contractor serving at the U.S. Consulate in Lahore. Raymond Davis shot and killed two armed Pakistani nationals on Jan. 27 because he thought they were going to rob him. U.S. Sen. John Kerry arrived in Islamabad on Tuesday as part of an effort to secure the release of Davis, who has been held in a Pakistani prison. Kerry is also attempting to ease tensions between the two sides.
Relations between the United States and Pakistan have long been extremely tense over disagreements on how to prosecute the war in Afghanistan. From the American point of view, Pakistan is not taking action against Afghan Taliban forces operating on its soil. Conversely, the Pakistanis feel that the incoherence of the United States’ strategy for Afghanistan threatens Pakistani security.
“Many Pakistanis deeply resent what they see as their leaders’ quick surrender of national rights to appease the Americans.”
This latest crisis, however, has taken the situation to a new level. Washington insists that in keeping with the international conventions of diplomatic immunity, Islamabad needs to release Davis. Pakistan, on the other hand, has been prosecuting Davis in keeping with its laws.
Beyond competing versions about the shooting and how the matter needs to be resolved, this standoff is difficult for both sides. The Obama administration cannot afford to see a foreign country prosecute one of its diplomats. Likewise, neither the government of Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari nor the country’s military establishment can afford to be seen domestically as giving up an American who has admitted to killing two Pakistani nationals, especially in light of strong anti-American sentiment.
The Pakistanis are in a far worse situation than the Americans because of the country’s extremely unstable economic, security and political conditions. As a result, Islamabad is heavily reliant on Washington’s goodwill while dealing with the exceedingly difficult circumstances it faces. And in the interest of sustaining the much-needed relationship with the United States, Pakistan is not in a position to resist pressure from its great power patron.
Succumbing to American pressure, however, can lead to further unrest in Pakistan, where a significant segment of the population feels strongly that Davis should be punished according to the law of the land. Many Pakistanis deeply resent what they see as their leaders’ quick surrender of national rights to appease the Americans. If the Pakistani government handed Davis over to American authorities, there could be further deterioration in political and security conditions — no Pakistani government can afford to be seen as caving into U.S. demands.
In addition to the political backlash, Pakistani Taliban rebels threatened to target all officials responsible for giving in to U.S. demands. This is a problem not just for the Pakistanis, but also for the Americans. The U.S. strategy for Afghanistan depends upon cooperation from Pakistan.
For Pakistan to cooperate with Washington’s efforts to reach a political settlement in Afghanistan, Islamabad needs to be stable. Thus, the Davis case has complicated an already difficult situation. The key challenge for the United States is how to retrieve Davis and not make matters worse for Islamabad so that the two sides can focus on the bigger picture in Afghanistan.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Tea Party, Glen Beck and related matters
on: February 17, 2011, 07:16:41 AM
Yes they have
Concerning India, the night he was first showing that "worst case scenario" map, I commented to my son that the India assertion was quite dubious IMO. Last night GB had some comment to the effect that acknowledged the point.
So, anyway, GM, may I ask you to be our intrepid daily reporter of the GB Show?
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH's Kristoff on Bahrain
on: February 17, 2011, 06:50:31 AM
The gleaming banking center of Bahrain, one of those family-run autocratic Arab states that count as American allies, has become the latest reminder that authoritarian regimes are slow learners.
Bahrain is another Middle East domino wobbled by an angry youth — and it has struck back with volleys of tear gas, rubber bullets and even buckshot at completely peaceful protesters. In the early-morning hours on Thursday here in the Bahrain capital, it used deadly force to clear the throngs of pro-democracy protesters who had turned Pearl Square in the center of the city into a local version of Tahrir Square in Cairo. This was the last spasm of brutality from a regime that has handled protests with an exceptionally heavy hand — and like the previous crackdowns, this will further undermine the legitimacy of the government.
“Egypt has infected Bahrain,” a young businessman, Husain, explained to me as he trudged with a protest march snaking through Manama. Husain (I’m omitting some last names to protect those involved) said that Tunisia and Egypt awakened a sense of possibility inside him — and that his resolve only grew when Bahrain’s riot police first attacked completely peaceful protesters.
When protesters held a funeral march for the first man killed by police, the authorities here then opened fire on the mourners, killing another person.
“I was scared to participate,” Husain admitted. But he was so enraged that he decided that he couldn’t stay home any longer. So he became one of the countless thousands of pro-democracy protesters demanding far-reaching change.
At first the protesters just wanted the release of political prisoners, an end to torture and less concentration of power in the al-Khalifa family that controls the country. But, now, after the violence against peaceful protesters, the crowds increasingly are calling for the overthrow of the Khalifa family. Many would accept a British-style constitutional monarchy in which King Hamad, one of the Khalifas, would reign without power. But an increasing number are calling for the ouster of the king himself.
King Hamad gave a speech regretting the deaths of demonstrators, and he temporarily called off the police. By dispatching the riot police early Thursday morning, King Hamad underscored his vulnerability and his moral bankruptcy.
All of this puts the United States in a bind. Bahrain is a critical United States ally because it is home to the American Navy’s Fifth Fleet, and Washington has close relations with the Khalifa family. What’s more, in some ways Bahrain was a model for the region. It gives women and minorities a far greater role than Saudi Arabia next door, it has achieved near universal literacy for women as well as men, and it has introduced some genuine democratic reforms. Of the 40 members of the (not powerful) Lower House of Parliament, 18 belong to an opposition party.
Somewhat cruelly, on Wednesday I asked the foreign minister, Sheik Khalid Ahmed al-Khalifa, if he doesn’t owe his position to his family. He acknowledged the point but noted that Bahrain is changing and added that some day the country will have a foreign minister who is not a Khalifa. “It’s an evolving process,” he insisted, and he emphasized that Bahrain should be seen through the prism of its regional peer group. “Bahrain is in the Arabian gulf,” he noted. “It’s not in Lake Erie.”
The problem is that Bahrain has educated its people and created a middle class that isn’t content to settle for crumbs beneath a paternalistic Arab potentate — and this country is inherently unstable as a predominately Shiite country ruled by a Sunni royal family. That’s one reason Bahrain’s upheavals are sending a tremor through other gulf autocracies that oppress Shiites, not least Saudi Arabia.
Bahrain’s leaders may whisper to American officials that the democracy protesters are fundamentalists inspired by Iran. That’s ridiculous. There’s no anti-Americanism in the protests — and if we favor “people power” in Iran, we should favor it in Bahrain as well.
Walk with protesters here, and their grievances seem eminently reasonable. One woman, Howra, beseeched me to write about her brother, Yasser Khalil, who she said was arrested in September at the age of 15 for vague political offenses. She showed me photos of Yasser injured by what she described as beatings by police.
Another woman, Hayat, said that she had been shot with rubber bullets twice this week. After hospitalization (which others confirmed), she painfully returned to the streets to continue to demand more democracy. “I will sacrifice my life if necessary so my children can have a better life,” she said.
America has important interests at stake in Bahrain — and important values. I hope that our cozy relations with those in power won’t dull our appreciation that history is more likely to side with protesters being shot with rubber bullets than with the regimes doing the shooting.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / NYTimes: Women's Lacrosse
on: February 17, 2011, 06:44:09 AM
Interesting question presented here. To this article I would also raise the contrast suggested by Rugby's approach and football's approach:
By ALAN SCHWARZ
Published: February 16, 2011
Camille Richardson has heard all the arguments, read all the comments, and sees the logic. But as a freshman midfielder for the Columbia women’s lacrosse team who is fully aware of the dangers of head trauma, Richardson makes one thing clear: She has no interest in wearing a helmet, as the men must.
“Wearing a helmet,” Richardson said, “would just bring us closer to football and hockey.”
Although some safety advocates call for head protection in women’s lacrosse, almost everyone involved in the sport has said that its current ban on helmets for everyone but goaltenders is actually the safest approach. Hockey safety experts question if helmets foster more physical play. Football looks back and wonders whether big face masks encouraged a recklessness that can lead to long-term brain damage.
Now at its own crossroad, women’s lacrosse — with 250,000 playing nationwide — wants to take the road less battered. And so begins the second stage of sports’ continuing parry with head injuries — in which the best protection, many experts insist, is no protection at all.
“It’s hard to absolutely prove, but what we’ve seen is that behavior can change when athletes feel more protected, especially when it comes to the head and helmets,” said Dr. Margot Putukian, Princeton’s director of athletic medicine services and chairwoman of the U.S. Lacrosse safety committee. “They tend to put their bodies and heads in danger that they wouldn’t without the protection. And they aren’t as protected as they might think.”
Although boys’ lacrosse rules mandate helmets and face masks at all age levels, girls’ lacrosse, whose season at many schools begins this month, is drastically different. Amy Bokker, Stanford’s women’s coach, only half-jokingly says that it shouldn’t be called lacrosse at all.
Girls at all levels cannot body check; collisions are minimized.
Contact with the head is so off limits that accidental intrusion with stick or body within seven inches of the head — an area known as the halo — is a major foul. Even shooting with a defender in line with the goal is illegal.
Even so, girls’ lacrosse does see its share of concussions, mostly on accidental stick-to-head contact, collisions and falls. According to research by Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, not only does the sport have the third-highest rate of concussion among female scholastic sports (behind soccer and basketball), but its in-game rate is only about 15 percent less than the rougher male version.
Research suggests that even though men’s lacrosse helmets are required only to eliminate skull fracture and intracranial bleeding — like football helmets — the headgear is probably decreasing the concussion rate to some extent. Yet as recently as December, the New York State Public High School Athletic Association voted by 9 to 2 to continue banning hard helmets in the women’s game, a stance echoed by U.S. Lacrosse.
Not everyone agrees with that decision.
“Any time we can prevent a concussion, we should try to do it,” said Dr. Brian Rieger, director of the Central New York Sports Concussion Center, who has shared his feelings with U.S. Lacrosse. “Even though it’s usually a short-lived event, there are certain situations, I’ve seen it, where even a kid with one concussion can be out of school for weeks or months, and struggle. When you see a child or parent go through it, it makes me feel we should do anything to prevent it.”
At the annual meeting last month of the National Organizing Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment, or Nocsae, which sets performance standards for almost all organized sports’ safety gear, one of the most heated exchanges concerned U.S. Lacrosse’s continued ban on hard helmets and face guards. Dr. Jack Ryan, representing the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine, complained: “Somebody’s got to stand up and say, What are you doing? This to me is like, come on, you’re not serious. This is 2011.”
Then again, other sports have spent the last several years realizing that safety equipment can bring dangers of its own. Checking in professional hockey became considerably more vicious with the adoption of helmets in the 1970s and ’80s, and football players felt so protected by their helmets and face masks that head-to-head collisions became commonplace at every age level. Scaling back protection now in order to dissuade violent play would be too dangerous, experts say, both physically and legally.
Even though women’s lacrosse rules against contact would be unchanged or even strengthened with the adoption of helmets, the ethos would almost certainly change, more than a dozen coaches, players and officials said in interviews. One of Camille Richardson’s teammates at Columbia, the senior attacker Olivia Mann, said that after the move to make eyewear mandatory for the 2005 season, “It’s subconscious, but you see harder checking, and rougher play.”
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Richardson and Mann gladly demonstrated what they see helmets doing to their sport. As Mann played defense and Richardson cradled the ball with her head up, the women used their feet to grab position and cut.
The term, they explained, was to “wrong-foot” your opponent.
They were then asked to pretend they were wearing helmets. Without knowing it, solely on instinct, Mann violated the halo rule by swinging her stick close to Richardson’s head. This was partly because Richardson, feeling protected, slightly dipped her head and leaned in toward, rather than away, from contact.
“I would be more likely to take risky checks, which would change the nature of defense completely,” Mann said. “Now, trying not to foul her, it’s very much about where I get my hands and body. If she’s wearing a helmet, I don’t have to worry about physically injuring her. I’m more likely to sacrifice my body positioning to get at her stick.”
Another teammate, Kelly Buechel, said, “You want someone to beat you because they’re more skilled than you, not because they’re more brutal than you.”
Mouth guards and eye guards are required in women’s lacrosse. And the rules have for decades allowed soft headgear — usually a headband or a crown of soft padding, borrowed from kickboxing or elsewhere. But these go essentially unused because players consider them either unnecessary or ugly. (Web sites for three women’s lacrosse equipment outlets don’t list any sort of head protection for sale.) The rare women’s player who does wear the soft headgear, experts said, usually has a prior head injury and is feeling more protected than she actually is.
In November, U.S. Lacrosse did accede and approach Nocsae about developing a standard for some form of head protection for women — almost certainly soft — that might protect against some stick-to-head concussions. Nocsae officials at the annual meeting recommended at least hard face masks, if not helmets, and somewhat grudgingly accepted the assignment.
The U.S. Lacrosse president, Steve Stenersen, said that during this age of concussion awareness in youth sports, he opposed any headgear that would, he said, “upset the balance between safety and game integrity, or bring some unintended consequence.”
“Everybody looks at equipment intervention as the end-all, be-all — but it’s not, and the football discussion bears that out,” Stenersen said. He added that U.S. Lacrosse would rather emphasize education and rules enforcement and keep the game unchanged.
“People are less focused on those because they’re less tangible, and the picture of a helmet on a kid makes them feel better,” he said. “But it’s much more complicated than that.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: Secret report for BO
on: February 17, 2011, 06:30:34 AM
This Pravda on the Hudson piece I find quite interesting and hope it will excite some comment here. Combined with some things on Glenn Beck's fascinating show last night, it begins to appear that Baraq & Company have a hand or three in what is going on.
Secret Report Ordered by Obama Identified Potential Uprisings
By MARK LANDLER
Published: February 16, 2011
WASHINGTON — President Obama ordered his advisers last August to produce a secret report on unrest in the Arab world, which concluded that without sweeping political changes, countries from Bahrain to Yemen were ripe for popular revolt, administration officials said Wednesday.
Mr. Obama’s order, known as a Presidential Study Directive, identified likely flashpoints, most notably Egypt, and solicited proposals for how the administration could push for political change in countries with autocratic rulers who are also valuable allies of the United States, these officials said.
The 18-page classified report, they said, grapples with a problem that has bedeviled the White House’s approach toward Egypt and other countries in recent days: how to balance American strategic interests and the desire to avert broader instability against the democratic demands of the protesters.
Administration officials did not say how the report related to intelligence analysis of the Middle East, which the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Leon E. Panetta, acknowledged in testimony before Congress, needed to better identify “triggers” for uprisings in countries like Egypt.
Officials said Mr. Obama’s support for the crowds in Tahrir Square in Cairo, even if it followed some mixed signals by his administration, reflected his belief that there was a greater risk in not pushing for changes because Arab leaders would have to resort to ever more brutal methods to keep the lid on dissent.
“There’s no question Egypt was very much on the mind of the president,” said a senior official who helped draft the report and who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss its findings. “You had all the unknowns created by Egypt’s succession picture — and Egypt is the anchor of the region.”
At the time, officials said, President Hosni Mubarak appeared to be either digging in or grooming his son, Gamal, to succeed him. Parliamentary elections scheduled for November were widely expected to be a sham. Egyptian police were jailing bloggers, and Mohamed ElBaradei, the former chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, had returned home to lead a nascent opposition movement.
In Yemen, too, officials said Mr. Obama worried that the administration’s intense focus on counterterrorism operations against Al Qaeda was ignoring a budding political crisis, as angry young people rebelled against President Ali Abdullah Saleh, an autocratic leader of the same vintage as Mr. Mubarak.
“Whether it was Yemen or other countries in the region, you saw a set of trends” — a big youth population, threadbare education systems, stagnant economies and new social network technologies like Facebook and Twitter — that was a “real prescription for trouble,” another official said.
The White House held weekly meetings with experts from the State Department, the C.I.A. and other agencies. The process was led by Dennis B. Ross, the president’s senior adviser on the Middle East; Samantha Power, a senior director at the National Security Council who handles human rights issues; and Gayle Smith, a senior director responsible for global development.
The administration kept the project secret, officials said, because it worried that if word leaked out, Arab allies would pressure the White House, something that happened in the days after protests convulsed Cairo.
Indeed, except for Egypt, the officials refused to discuss countries in detail. The report singles out four for close scrutiny, which an official said ran the gamut: one that is trying to move toward change, another that has resisted any change and two with deep strategic ties to the United States as well as religious tensions. Those characteristics would suggest Jordan, Egypt, Bahrain and Yemen.
By issuing a directive, Mr. Obama was also pulling the topic of political change out of regular meetings on diplomatic, commercial or military relations with Arab states. In those meetings, one official said, the strategic interests loom so large that it is almost impossible to discuss reform efforts.
The study has helped shape other messages, like a speech Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton gave in Qatar in January, in which she criticized Arab leaders for resisting change.
“We really pushed the question of who was taking the lead in reform,” said an official. “Would pushing reform harm relations with the Egyptian military? Doesn’t the military have an interest in reform?”
Mr. Obama also pressed his advisers to study popular uprisings in Latin America, Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia to determine which ones worked and which did not. He is drawn to Indonesia, where he spent several years as a child, which ousted its longtime leader, Suharto, in 1998.
While the report is guiding the administration’s response to events in the Arab world, it has not yet been formally submitted — and given the pace of events in the region, an official said, it is still a work in progress.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / German company in disturbing deal with Russia
on: February 16, 2011, 05:26:03 PM
The Russian Defense Ministry made a deal with German private defense company Rheinmetall for the construction of a combat training center for Russian troops. The deal does not necessarily indicate further military cooperation between Germany and Russia, though it does highlight the existing close ties between Berlin and Moscow. Although few concrete details of the deal are known, it is likely to draw close scrutiny from several of Germany’s NATO allies, particularly those that lie between Germany and Russia.
German private defense company Rheinmetall signed a deal Feb. 9 with the Russian Defense Ministry to build a combat training center for the Russian military. The center, which would be built at an existing Russian military installation at Mulino, near the city of Nizhny Novgorod, is designed for the comprehensive training of brigade-size units (thousands of soldiers) and would improve modeling and simulation of tactical combat situations. Russia’s Defense Ministry has also invited Rheinmetall to handle the “support, repair and modernization of military equipment,” and Rheinmetall’s mobile ammunition disposal systems would be available for Russia to buy.
It remains unclear what the exact financial and technical aspects of the deal will be, such as the specific costs of the project or the extent to which German expertise and personnel will be involved in the center’s training functions. However, the agreement reflects the value Russia sees in more closely understanding and potentially learning from Western military training methodologies. Also, the Russian military’s preferring to sign such a deal with a German defense company is another example of increasingly robust ties between Berlin and Moscow. Regardless of the specific details, this agreement will be cause for concern to Germany’s NATO allies, particularly the Central Europeans and the Baltic states.
It is important to note that Rheinmetall is not an arm of the German government; it is a private defense and automotive company. The defense arm of the company is, however, Europe’s top supplier of defense technology and security equipment for ground forces. It specializes in armor, gunnery, propellants and munitions manufacturing but has a fairly broad defense portfolio comprising training and simulation solutions as well as command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, target acquisition and reconnaissance (C4ISTAR) — all of which are of particular interest for Moscow. Rheinmetall training systems reportedly are used across the world, with countries like India and Norway employing naval and armored vehicle simulators. Rheinmetall is the first foreign firm to build such a training center in Russia.
From a technical standpoint, a training facility designed and built by Germany could, in and of itself, be an important improvement for Russian ground combat training, simulations and exercises. Also, any additional or more advanced and expanded partnerships with Rheinmetall could be a significant boost to Russia’s ongoing military reform and modernization efforts. While Russia swiftly defeated Georgian forces in the August 2008 war, it did so with notable tactical and operational shortcomings and deficiencies. Improving training regimes and technology, particularly with an emphasis on more modern Western simulators, information technology and updated approaches to training, could be significant in the long run. For the Germans, it is an opportunity to profit from Russia’s modernization drive and to potentially lay the groundwork for further military or political deals.
From a political standpoint, the deal does not necessarily indicate growing military ties between Berlin and Moscow. In order to infuse some fresh thinking, specifically a Western military perspective, into its own armed forces, Russia chose to go with a German company. The choice therefore indicates already close ties. Also, there are other areas in which Russian-German military cooperation is evident; according to STRATFOR sources, the Germans are going to help the Russians train border guards in Tajikistan on the Tajik-Uzbek border.
Furthermore, the Russian military could be using the training center, for which Rhienmetall’s training and simulation expertise will be potentially significant in their own right, both to test-drive broader doctrinal experimentation and integration of foreign concepts and to lay the foundation for future ties and exchanges with the German defense industry. The scope of and intent for the training center remain unclear, as precious few details of the agreement have been announced. It is possible that this is a generic training center through which troops from all over the country will pass, but it is also possible that the center and its training will be tailored for a more specific unit, operating environment or mission.
Either way, this deal is bound to make the states located between Russia and Germany — particularly Poland and the Baltic states — nervous. To these countries, Russian-German military cooperation of any kind will have the undertones of inter-war cooperation between the German Weimar Republic and the Soviet Union, which allowed Germany to secretly build up its military despite limitations imposed by the Versailles Treaty. These sort of deals are not forgotten in Central Europe, and any deal — no matter how profit-driven or innocuous it may be — will invite careful scrutiny from Germany’s eastern NATO allies and could further weaken the binds holding the alliance together.
Read more: The Significance of Russia's Deal with Germany's Rheinmetall | STRATFOR
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Egypt
on: February 16, 2011, 05:22:37 PM
Maybe they will be too broke to do anything about it?
Until just a few years ago, Egypt’s ruling military elite was able to “borrow” money from Egyptian banks with no intention of paying it back. President Hosni Mubarak’s son Gamal changed all that, reforming and privatizing the system in order to build an empire for himself. For the first time in centuries, Egypt’s financial position was not entirely dependent upon outside forces. Now, Mubarak and his reform-minded son are out of the picture and Egypt has a budget deficit and a government debt load that are teetering on the edge of sustainability.
Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit called on the international community Feb. 15 to help speed Egypt’s economic recovery. Such foreign assistance will certainly be essential, but only in part because of the economic disruptions caused by the recent protests. Even more important, the political machinations that led to the protests indicate Egypt’s economic structure is about to revert to a dependence upon outside assistance.
Egypt is one of the most undynamic economies of the world. The Nile River Delta is not navigable at all, and it is crisscrossed by omnipresent irrigation canals in order to make the desert bloom. This imposes massive infrastructure costs upon Egyptian society at the same time as it robs it of the ability to float goods cheaply from place to place. This mix of high capital demands and low capital generation has made Egypt one of the poorest places in the world in per capita terms. There just has not been money available to fund development.
As a result, Egypt lacks a meaningful industrial base and is a major importer of consumer goods, machinery, vehicles, wood products (there are no trees in the desert) and foodstuffs (Egypt imports roughly half of its grain needs). Egypt’s only exports are a moderate amount of natural gas and fertilizer, a bit of oil, cotton products and some basic metals.
The bottom line is that even in the best of times Egypt faces severe financial constraints — its budget deficit is normally in the range of 7 to 9 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) — and with the recent political instability, these financial pressures are rising.
The protests have presented Egypt with a cash-crunch problem. At $13 billion in annual revenues, tourism is the country’s most important income stream. The recent protests shut down tourism completely — at the height of the tourist season, no less. The Egyptian government estimates the losses to date at about $1.5 billion. Military rule, tentatively expected to last for the next six months, is going to crimp tourism income for the foreseeable future. Simultaneously, the government wants to put together a stimulus package to get things moving again. Details are almost nonexistent at present, but a good rule of thumb for stimulus is that it must be at least 1 percent of GDP — a bill of about $2 billion. So assuming that everything goes back to normal immediately — which is unlikely — the government would have to come up with $3.5 billion from somewhere.
Which brings us to financing the deficit, and here we get into some of the political intrigue that toppled former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
One cannot simply walk out of Egypt, so since the time of the pharaohs the Egyptian leadership has commanded a captive labor pool. This phenomenon meant more than simply having access to very cheap labor (free in ancient times); it also meant having access to captive money. Just as the pharaohs exploited the population to build the pyramids, the modern-day elite — the military leadership — exploited the population’s deposits in the banking system. This military elite — or, more accurately, the firms it controlled — took out loans from the country’s banks without any intention of paying them back. This practice enervated the banks in particular and the broader economy in general and contributed to Egypt’s chronic capital shortage. It also forced the government to turn to external sources of financing to operate, in particular the U.S. government, which was happy to play the role of funds provider during the final decade of the Cold War. There were many results, with high inflation, volatile living standards and overall exposure to international financial whims and moods being among the more disruptive.
Over the past 20 years, three things have changed this environment. First, as a reward for Egypt’s participation in the first Gulf War, the United States arranged for the forgiveness of much of Egypt’s outstanding foreign debt. Second, with the Cold War over, the United States steadily dialed back its economic assistance to Egypt. Since its height in 1980, U.S. economic assistance has dwindled by over 80 percent in real terms to under a half-billion dollars annually, forcing Cairo to find other ways to cover the difference (although Egypt is still the second-largest recipient of American military aid). But the final — and most decisive factor — was internal.
Mubarak’s son Gamal sought to change the way Egypt did business in order to build his own corporate empire. One of the many changes he made was empowering the central bank to actually enforce underwriting standards at the banks. The effort began in 2004, and early estimates indicated that as many as one in four outstanding loans had no chance of repayment. By 2010 the system was largely reformed and privatized, and the military elite’s ability to tap the banks for “loans” had largely disappeared. The government was then able to step into that gap and tap the banks’ available capital to fund its budget deficit. In fact, it is this arrangement that allowed Egypt to weather the recent global financial crisis as well as it did. For the first time in centuries, Egypt’s financial position was not entirely dependent upon outside forces. The government’s total debt load remains uncomfortably high at 72 percent of GDP, but its foreign debt load is only 11 percent of GDP. The economy was hardly thriving, but economically, Egypt was certainly a more settled place. For example, Egypt now has a mortgage market, which did not exist a decade ago.
From Gamal Mubarak’s point of view, four problems had been solved. The government had more stable financing capacity, the old military guard had been weakened, the banks were in better shape, and he was able to build his own corporate empire on the redirected financial flows in the process. But these changes and others like them earned the Mubarak family the military’s ire. Mubarak and his reform-minded son are out of the picture now, and the reform effort with them. With the constitution suspended, the parliament dissolved and military rule the order of the day, it stretches the mind to think that the central bank will be the singular institution that will retain any meaningful policy autonomy. If the generals take the banks back for themselves, Egypt will have no choice but to seek international funds to cover its budget shortfalls. Incidentally, we do not find it surprising that now — five days after the protests ended — the banks are still closed by order of the military government.
Yet Egypt cannot simply tap international debt markets like a normal country. While its foreign debt load is small, its total debt levels are very similar to states that have faced default and/or bailout problems in the past. An 8-percent-of-GDP budget deficit and a 72-percent-of-GDP government debt load are teetering on the edge of what is sustainable. As a point of comparison, Argentina defaulted in 2001 with a 60-percent-of-GDP debt load, and it had far more robust income streams. Even if Egypt can find some interested foreign investors, the cost of borrowing will be prohibitively high, and the amounts needed are daunting. Plainly stated, Cairo needed to come up with $16 billion annually just to break even before the crisis and the likely banking changes that will come along with it.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Law Enforcement issues and LE in action
on: February 16, 2011, 11:45:23 AM
Three U.S. marshals shot in Elkins; assailant killed
By Gary A. HarkiThe Charleston Gazette
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Three U.S. marshals were shot while trying to serve a warrant in Elkins this morning. The man who shot them was then killed by law enforcement, according to sources close to the investigation.
The marshals and State Police troopers were at the home of Charles Smith at about 8:30 a.m. to serve a warrant on him for failing to appear in court on possession of drugs and firearms charges, according to sources. After announcing that they were there to serve a warrant, officers breached the door and stepped into the house.
Smith then opened fire with a shotgun, hitting one marshal in the neck, one in his bulletproof vest and one in the arm or hand, according to sources. A marshal and trooper then fired at Smith, killing him, according to sources. The trooper likely fired the shot that killed him, sources say.
The marshal shot through the neck was transported to Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown. His condition is unknown.
A statement from the U.S. Marshal's office confirmed that three marshals were shot and that two were taken to a local hospital for treatment and one was transported by helicopter.
State Police spokesman Sgt. Michael Baylous could only confirm that there was a shooting incident in Elkins while officers attempted to serve a warrant.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: The ICE agents shooting
on: February 16, 2011, 11:31:07 AM
Vice President of Tactical Intelligence Scott Stewart examines the attack on two Immigration and Custom agents in Mexico on Feb. 15 and explains why the case is not likely to cause a strong response from the U.S. Government.
Editor’s Note: Transcripts are generated using speech-recognition technology. Therefore, STRATFOR cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.
Here at STRATFOR we’re closely watching an incident that happened on Feb. 15 in which two special agents of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, or ICE, were shot in an incident in San Luis Potosi, Mexico.
The incident occurred yesterday afternoon as the two agents were traveling in a late-model suburban north of Mexico City in the state of San Luis Potosi, very close to the city by that same name. the reports that we’ve received so far indicate that the two agents were stopped at what they thought was a military checkpoint along the road, and as they pulled their armored vehicle over to the side of the road and rolled down their window, one of the gunmen who was manning the checkpoint opened fire on them, killing the driver and wounding the second agent.
Many people and the press are going to make parallels between this case and the case of Kiki Camarena, a DEA agent who was killed back in 1985. However the circumstances surrounding these two incidents are quite different. The Camarena case was very intentional and the bosses of the Guadalajara cartel had Camarena specifically targeted and kidnapped. Once he was kidnapped then they tortured him, revived him using a medical doctor, and tortured him some more in order to try to get information pertaining to the source network he was running in Mexico. The Camarena case was very brutal, very intentional and of course raised a lot of ire on the American side of the border. The DEA launched a huge operation called Operation Leyenda, or legend, to go after the jefes of the Guadalajara cartel.
Now in this current case it appears that what we had, were two ICE agents who were traveling in a vehicle that was very attractive for the cartels. We know really that the vehicles the cartels covet the most for their operations are the large crew cab pickup trucks. Indeed we saw some missionaries attacked a couple weeks ago, as they were traveling on a highway and they tried to escape a carjacking attempt by the cartels who wanted that vehicle.
As we look at the circumstances surrounding this case it really appears that it was a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time for the agents and that it was really a case of cartel, low-level cartel gunmen responding to encountering two U.S. law-enforcement agents inside that vehicle when they stopped at the checkpoint. Therefore we don’t think that it was an intentional case planned by high-level cartel planners. Certainly there’s always more that the U.S. government can do in Mexico, but they’re restrained by the sovereignty of Mexico and really the sensibilities of the Mexican people to American incursion, they really see Americans as a threat. So the bottom line is while the U.S. will respond to this case, we really don’t think we will see the urgency and severity of the U.S. response that we did in the Camarena case.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Wesbury
on: February 16, 2011, 11:24:45 AM
Industrial production fell 0.1% in January To view this article, Click Here
Brian S. Wesbury - Chief Economist
Robert Stein, CFA - Senior Economist
Due to a 0.7% decline in mining and a 1.6% drop in utilities, industrial production fell 0.1% in January. Including upward revisions to prior months, production increased 0.2%. The consensus expected a gain of 0.5%. Production is up at a 5.1% annual rate in the past year.
Manufacturing, which excludes mining/utilities, was up 0.3% in January (+0.8% including upward revisions to previous months). The gain in January was led by auto production, which increased 3.2%. Non-auto manufacturing increased 0.1% and was revised upward for prior months. Auto production is up 5.4% versus a year ago while non-auto manufacturing has risen up 5.5%.
The production of high-tech equipment was up 1.1% in January, was revised up for prior months, and is up 13.7% versus a year ago.
Overall capacity utilization slipped to 76.1% in January. Manufacturing capacity use increased to 73.7%, the highest since August 2008.
Implications: Today’s headline decline of 0.1% for industrial production is not something to worry about. The fall was largely due to a decline in mining (which is normally volatile) and utilities (January was not as unusually cold as December). Including revisions to prior months, industrial production was up 0.2%. Manufacturing is still a bright spot, expanding for the 7th consecutive month at a healthy 0.3% pace in January (+0.8% including upward revisions to prior months). Auto manufacturing surged and should continue to add to production growth in the coming year as autos sales rise. Industrial production is going to continue to move higher and will likely keep being led by business equipment. Corporate profits are approaching a new record high and cash on the balance sheets of non-financial companies – earning nearly zero percent interest – had already reached a record high. Now, finally, Bloomberg is reporting that S&P 500 companies are starting to reduce their cash hordes and increase capital spending more rapidly. It makes sense that these larger companies take the lead given that they have access to the capital markets (through bond sales) and are better able to get a bank loan when they need one. Commercial and industrial lending is now up three straight months, a far cry from the 20% year-over-year declines of early 2010.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Newt Gingrich
on: February 16, 2011, 11:01:26 AM
The Nattering Nabobs of Negativism Strike Again
by Newt Gingrich
In a speech he wrote for Vice President Spiro Agnew, the late William Safire coined a memorable term to describe the Washington press corps. He called them "the nattering nabobs of negativism." This timeless description was on my mind this weekend while reading the mainstream media's coverage of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).
During my speech to CPAC, I tried to lay out a substantive and compelling alternative to Obama and the Democrat's left wing governance, focusing on American energy and environmental policies. I proposed an aggressive, all-American energy strategy that would dramatically boost all sources of energy production in our country.
I also proposed replacing the Environmental Protection Agency with a new Environmental Solutions Agency which would focus on technological solutions to our environmental challenges and adopt a collaborative approach with business and local government, instead of the command and control regulatory model of the EPA.
(You can watch my speech at Newt.org and let me know what you think.)
The record crowd of over 11,000 attendees reacted strongly to this vision for lower energy prices, more jobs, better environmental outcomes and a safer America. It was clear watching the crowd's reaction to my speech and the speeches of others that the conservative movement is energized by the possibility of winning an epic election in 2012. It's also clear they expect real conservative reform from a new conservative president and Congress.
Maybe that optimism and energy made some people nervous.
Before the event was even over, the mainstream media was hard at work trying to pour cold water on the fire that has been lit across this nation.
This article from the Associated Press sums up the doubt and skepticism that so many in our elite media seem intent on sewing amongst the American people.
The not-too-subtle message from these guardians against high expectations is crystal clear: Don't get your hopes up. Real change isn't possible in America. You might as well stay home. In fact, this piece of conventional wisdom is both historically wrong and insidious.
History shows that real change is possible, but only if the American people are informed and engaged.
Power Resides with the American People, Not in Washington
There are two great examples of successful conservative reform from the past thirty years.
The first was the Presidency of Ronald Reagan. The second was the new Republican majority after the Contract with America campaign of 1994. Both were able to deliver because they understood that real power resides with the American people, not in Washington.
If You Respect the American People, You Can Rely on the American People
Ronald Reagan had a rule of thumb when negotiating with the Democratic Congress.
This rule was described to me by an associate of Reagan's as, "I show the American people the light. They turn up the heat on Congress."
Ronald Reagan was known as the Great Communicator, but he can better be understood as a great educator. He thought that if he could use his platform as a national figure to inform the American people, they would provide the pressure to implement conservative reform.
That's how Ronald Reagan was able to cut taxes, reduce spending, and reform burdensome regulations to revive the American economy despite having to deal with a Democratic Congress that was opposed to his agenda. Reagan understood that the American people would pressure the Congress into doing the right thing. All Reagan had to do was champion policies that reflect American values and treat the American people with respect by being honest and clear about the facts.
Reagan's great foreign policy achievement was defeating the Soviet Union. Here too he relied on the American people for backup. He understood that his vision for victory – as opposed to détente – would be opposed by much of the establishment, within the news media and diplomatic corps, but supported by the American people.
Similarly, when I was Speaker, the Republican Congress was able to achieve its principal goals despite having to work with a liberal Democratic President. We balanced the budget while cutting taxes and increasing military and defense spending. It is a historic fact that Clinton never proposed a balanced budget. It was the Republican House that made it happen. (In this blog post at American Solutions, Peter Ferrara argues that President Obama is stealing a page from Clinton's playbook.)
All this was possible because we understood that President Clinton would eventually yield to the demands of the American people. That's why after twice vetoing another one of our principal goals, welfare reform, Clinton eventually signed it in 1996, before he ran for reelection. He knew he wouldn't be able to stand the heat from the American people if he didn't.
Campaigns on the Issues, Not Personalities
Ronald Reagan and the Republican Congress under my Speakership also delivered on our goals because the preceding election campaigns focused on the issues, not on personalities.
In 1980, Reagan offered a bold, competing vision for America's future that outshone the malaise and weakness of Jimmy Carter. He promised to cut taxes to boost economic growth, to renew America's strength in the world by standing up to the Soviet Union, and to restore America's civic confidence in its founding and unique purpose (American exceptionalism).
With a weak economy and the hostage crisis in Iran in 1980, Reagan could have simply run as "not Carter" and emerged victorious. But then he would not have had a mandate to govern, and would never have been able to achieve his principal goals.
Similarly, in 1994, we explicitly crafted the Contract with America campaign around conservative reforms that we understood had overwhelming support in America (if not in the editorial pages of the NY Times) but had nonetheless been blocked by the Democratic House.
Consequently, despite having a liberal Democrat in the White House, we still managed to achieve a balanced budget, welfare reform, tax cuts, increased military and defense spending, and more.
Perhaps Republicans could have won control of the House in 1994 by simply running against Clinton. However, the Republican landslide would not have been as large, and we certainly would not have had the mandate necessary to enact real change.
Contrast these elections and subsequent real reforms to the 2004 and 2008 elections.
I wrote a white paper in 2004 pointing out that on over 70 key issues, John Kerry was on the wrong side of public opinion by larger than a 70-30 margin. An election campaign run on these issues would put John Kerry at an impossible disadvantage and could have led to a landslide result with a true mandate for President Bush to govern.
However, the choice in the minds of most American voters in the fall of 2004 wasn't over two competing visions for America; it was between forged National Guard papers and Swift Boat Veterans for Truth commercials. Accordingly, more people turned out to vote against John Kerry than to vote against George W. Bush. With no mandate to govern, is it any wonder that Bush's subsequent attempt to reform social security was dead on arrival?
In 2008, President Obama won an enormous victory. He carried states that had not voted Democrat in a long time. Democratic majorities in the House and Senate were increased. It seemed that he would have free reign to accomplish any number of liberal priorities.
However, because he had run a personality-focused, shallow campaign about "change" without clearly defining what that change meant for the American people, President Obama's political capital quickly ran dry. The only way he was able to pass the stimulus and health care bills was through brute force and political backroom dealing. His signature achievements were passed despite the will of the American people, not because of their support. That's why he was massively rebuked during the 2010 elections and much of his agenda is now being unwound.
A Contract with America in 2012
The lessons from past successes in achieving real change – and past failures – are clear.
Because power ultimately resides in the people, achieving real reform requires the expressed consent and engagement of the American people.
That means if America really is ever going to see that conservative future of freedom, faith and prosperity we heard at CPAC, we will need a campaign in 2012 that is waged on the great issues of the day.
We will need candidates that have a clear and substantive plan to govern and who can explain conservative solutions to the American people in a way that gets them excited and engaged.
We will need a new Contract with America in 2012.
A new Contract with America with specific, substantive, conservative solutions to the great challenges facing our nation is the only way to gain the mandate from the American people needed to bust through all the embedded interests in Washington and the state capitals that will oppose change.
If a new conservative President and Congress develop and win based off of a new Contract with America in 2012, there is nothing that can stand in the way of true conservative reforms that will create jobs, make America safer, and maximize individual freedom and dignity for all Americans.
Not even the nattering nabobs of negativism in the press corps.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Lets do lunch
on: February 16, 2011, 10:55:04 AM
Stratfor Vice President of Intelligence Fred Burton describes how U.S. operatives are kept safe during meetings with informants, and what happens when things go wrong.
Editor’s Note: Transcripts are generated using speech-recognition technology. Therefore, STRATFOR cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.
In this week’s “Above the Tearline,” we’re going to discuss how agents or informants are met in hostile countries such as Pakistan, Yemen and Russia in response to many questions that have been posed by STRATFOR members.
Informants are met in hostile countries by an officer in a face-to-face meeting most of the time. And if you think about that, it sounds relatively simple, but it’s not. There are a lot of things that take place behind the scenes. Depending upon the city that you’re operating in, your meeting locations can be something as simple as a coffee shop, or a restaurant, or it could be an actual U.S. government safe-house, or a hotel. Large Western hotels are perfect stops for these kinds of meets.
In most cases a two-man security team is deployed (it can be larger), and their job is to do a recon of the location to make sure that the intelligence officer is not being set up by a double agent, or that the informant that’s coming to the meeting is not dragging surveillance to the location, and to make sure that that meeting location is not compromised by host government intelligence or terrorists who may be planning an attack. The security team is a laser focus looking for — for the most part — demeanor. For example they’re looking for individuals that appear out of place, or individuals that are talking on a cell phone when the informant shows up or the actual intelligence officer arrives at the meeting site. They’re looking for operational acts such as video or photography that’s taking place. It’s really a very unique skill set and the individuals that are performing this duty are highly trained and probably some of the most skilled operators we have in our tool kit. The actual intelligence officer that’s going to the meet is going to run what is called a surveillance detection route, or an SDR, to ensure that he is not being followed.
The difficulty with this kind of meeting in a hostile country is that when things go wrong, they really go wrong. Things tend to spiral out of control — you either have some sort of violent action take place, or the people involved with the meeting are arrested by the local authorities. Unlike in the movies, or in shows like “Mission: Impossible,” when these individuals are arrested they typically have diplomatic immunity and the individuals are very quietly whisked out of the country, while the intelligence heads of the U.S. and the local government come to meetings and all agree that this kind of action won’t take place again.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Disputed islands
on: February 16, 2011, 07:06:28 AM
By Yuri Tomikawa
Japan thought it had enough problems with its separate territorial issues with China and Russia. Now, the two countries it was dealing with are blurring lines—and other neighbors may be joining the ruckus too.
According to Japanese media, Russia’s Federal Agency for Fishery announced Tuesday that Chinese and Russian fishery companies had reached a basic agreement to farm sea cucumbers in the islands north of Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido—islands still claimed by Japan but controlled by Moscow since Soviet troops occupied them in the last days of World War II.
Coming just days after the unfruitful weekend meeting between Japan’s Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Moscow, the announcement wasn’t welcome at all in Japan. Prime Minister Naoto Kan decried the development as “incompatible with our country’s position.” Mr. Maehara said, “If the news is true, we cannot accept it at all,” reiterating Japan’s unchanging position: The islands are Japanese territory.
The tension over the islands had already reached new heights, with Mr. Kan last week condemning as “an unforgivable outrage” the November visit to one of the islands by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, a remark Mr. Lavrov declared “undiplomatic.”
And what of China? It did shift to a pro-Russian stand from a neutral position on the islands after last September’s collision between a Japanese and a Chinese boat near another set of disputed islands, claimed by both China (which calls them Diaoyu) and Japan (which calls them Senkaku). But Beijing claims it is not involved in the fisheries agreement and has no knowledge of the venture—a break for Japan, now that metaphorical waters churned up by the September collision are finally calming. It certainly doesn’t want any fresh causes for tension with its neighbor, the No. 2 global economy.
But Beijing’s assurances are not enough to allow Japan to relax. Russia is outlining plans to expand and upgrade military bases and equipment on those northern islands—and inviting not just China, but all regional countries to join in the islands’ development.
“We will be glad to see there both Chinese and Korean investors,” Mr. Lavrov said Friday, according to the Russian information service Interfax. And Alexander Savelyev, a spokesman for Russia’s Federal Fisheries Agency, told Japanese news agency Nikkei that “Korean companies are especially showing interest” already.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Pressure building, additional details on detained US govt employee
on: February 16, 2011, 06:58:47 AM
LAHORE, Pakistan—U.S. President Barack Obama called for Pakistan to release a government employee who killed two men last month, as Sen. John Kerry arrived here for talks aimed at ending the diplomatic standoff.
The man, Raymond Davis, has been in custody in Lahore, Pakistan's second-largest city, since the incident on Jan. 27. The U.S. says he is covered by diplomatic immunity and should be released.
Mr. Obama weighed in on the row Tuesday, saying Pakistan must release Mr. Davis under its commitments as a signatory to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, a pact from the 1960s that guarantees diplomats immunity from prosecution. "If it starts being fair game on our ambassadors around the world, including in dangerous places…it means they can't do their job," Mr. Obama told a news conference.
The comments escalated a diplomatic dispute over Mr. Davis's detention. Public anger over the shooting and demands for Mr. Davis's prosecution make it difficult for Pakistan's central government—an ally of the U.S.—to order his release.
A court in Lahore is expected to begin hearing a case Thursday on whether Mr. Davis has immunity from prosecution.
Mr. Kerry, at a news conference in Lahore, promised the U.S. Justice Department would conduct its own "thorough criminal investigation" if Pakistan were to release Mr. Davis.
"It is a strong belief of our government that this case does not belong in the court," Mr. Kerry said Tuesday. "And it does not belong in the court because this man has diplomatic immunity."
Mr. Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has made four trips to Pakistan in the past two years and was instrumental in co-writing in 2009 a five-year, $7.5 billion civilian aid package, part of a strategy to help counter Islamic radicalism in the country. Despite closer ties, many here remain wary of the U.S., which is viewed as building strategic alliances with Pakistan's traditional rivals, notably India.
Washington, too, has been disappointed with Pakistan for failing to clamp down on Taliban havens on its soil.
The incident involving Mr. Davis has added a further level of mistrust to the relationship.
The U.S. last week canceled a meeting scheduled for late February in Washington, involving Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the foreign ministers of Pakistan and Afghanistan, in protest against Mr. Davis's detention. Washington has also scaled back other routine bilateral contacts.
According to the U.S. version of events, Mr. Davis, 36 years old, opened fire on two armed men in self-defense after they attempted to stop his white Honda Civic car at a busy intersection in broad daylight. U.S. officials say the two men, who were on a motorbike, had earlier in the day robbed other people in the area.
The U.S. has said Mr. Davis is a "technical and administrative" staff of the U.S. Consulate in Lahore, but hasn't said what his role was or whether he was authorized to carry a weapon. The U.S. confirmed Mr. Davis's identity Friday, two weeks after Pakistani authorities released his name.
Lahore police officers say they recovered a number of effects from Mr. Davis's car after the incident, including two Glock pistols and more than 70 rounds of ammunition. Officials say they also found a metal detector, a latex face mask with a beard and headpiece, and a make-up kit.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad declined to comment on Mr. Davis's effects.
Pakistani officials appear to be angered by what they say was Mr. Davis's covert role in Pakistan. A senior official with Inter-Services Intelligence, the military's spy agency, said the organization was unaware of Mr. Davis. "Apparently he was working behind our backs," the official said.
The U.S. Embassy denied this and said it notified Pakistan's Foreign Ministry of Mr. Davis's arrival in the country in January 2010, which, the U.S. says, means he is covered by diplomatic immunity.
Senior Pakistani officials have made contradictory statements in recent weeks over whether, in their view, Mr. Davis is covered by immunity from prosecution.
Pakistani police investigating the incident have yet to formally charge Mr. Davis, but say they are treating the case as murder. If the high court finds Mr. Davis isn't covered by immunity, state prosecutors must bring his case to court by Feb. 25.
In Lahore's British-era town center, placards put up by an Islamist group show a photo of Mr. Davis's head with a hangman's noose superimposed around it.
Two Lahore police officers involved in the case say the two men who confronted Mr. Davis were likely armed due to a dispute with another family. One of the men's elder brothers had been killed in December in a row over a girl. They denied the men, who resided in Lahore, had earlier robbed others in the area.
Witnesses say the men were circling around Mr. Davis's car, which he was driving himself, according to the police officers.
What happened next is unclear. Mr. Davis fired nine bullets from inside the car, seven of which hit the men in various parts of their bodies. He got out of the car to photograph the dead men on his cellphone and then fled an angry crowd that was forming, the officers said. Police arrested him in his car a few miles from the scene.
Another vehicle from the consulate, which came to rescue Mr. Davis, ran over and killed a bystander. The driver of that car wasn't taken into custody and hasn't been identified.
Authorities had previously detained Mr. Davis for a few hours two years ago, the two police officers said.
In that incident, police stopped the car in which Mr. Davis was traveling in Lahore during a routine check in a posh part of town and found a number of weapons in the car, the officers said. But they let Mr. Davis go after orders from the central government, they added.
The U.S. Embassy spokeswoman said reports about this detention were "unsubstantiated."
—Shahnawaz Khan contributed to this article.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Administration was warned for a year of coming problems
on: February 16, 2011, 06:49:04 AM
By JAY SOLOMON
WASHINGTON—Early last year, a group of U.S.-based human-rights activists, neoconservative policy makers and Mideast experts told Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that what passed for calm in Egypt was an illusion.
"If the opportunity to reform is missed, prospects for stability and prosperity in Egypt will be in doubt," read their April 2010 letter.
The correspondence was part of a string of warnings passed to the Obama administration arguing that Egypt, heading toward crisis, required a vigorous U.S. response. Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's 82-year-old dictator, was moving to rig a string of elections, they said. Egypt's young population was growing more agitated.
The bipartisan body that wrote to Mrs. Clinton, the Egypt Working Group, argued that the administration wasn't fully appraising the warning signs in Egypt. Its members came together in early 2010, concerned that the Arab world's biggest country was headed for transition but that the U.S. and others weren't preparing for a post-Mubarak era.
The Cairo uprising has so far had a more orderly outcome, and one better for U.S. interests, than might have been the case. But the U.S.'s hesitant initial embrace of the revolt could reverberate as a democratic wave surges across the Arab world. The U.S. at first alienated protesters—and then alienated the Mubarak regime, a longtime ally, sparking concern from other regional friends.
U.S. officials say the Obama administration focused from the beginning on promoting democracy in Arab states and was aware of the deep problems in Cairo. The administration generally chose not to deliver its message through tough public rhetoric, contending such language alienates foreign governments.
The administration of George W. Bush, by comparison, at times publicly pressed Mr. Mubarak for political reforms, identifying democracy promotion in the Middle East as a key tenet of U.S. foreign policy.
Officials said President Barack Obama and Mrs. Clinton regularly raised democracy issues with their counterparts in private. Mr. Obama focused during three meetings over 18 months with Mr. Mubarak on ending Egypt's 30-year state of emergency, press freedoms and elections. Mrs. Clinton pushed Egypt and other Arab countries to allow the free flow of information, urging them to lift blocks on Facebook, Twitter and other social media.
Moreover, Mr. Mubarak had survived challenges before, and few took seriously the idea he could be toppled. "This type of movement simply never happened before in the Middle East," said Daniel Levy, a former Israeli peace negotiator.
"In a complicated situation, we got it about right," Mr. Obama told reporters Tuesday. The U.S. now faces "an opportunity as well as a challenge" in the broader regional movement.
As a candidate, Mr. Obama campaigned against aggressively intervening in the affairs of other states, largely in response to the Iraq war. His State Department cut funding for civil-society support in Egypt to $9.5 million in 2009 from nearly $30 million a year earlier, although this funding line would later rise.
Washington's ambassador to Cairo, Margaret Scobey, agreed to an Egyptian demand that all grants to civil-society groups from the U.S. Agency for International Development be distributed only to those registered with the Mubarak government.
When Mr. Obama chose Egypt as the venue for his much-anticipated June 2009 speech to the Muslim world, he refrained from specifically pressing Mr. Mubarak on democracy.
The Obama administration reaped strategic gains from this outreach. Cairo embraced Mr. Obama's initiative to accelerate Arab-Israeli peace talks, hosting meetings between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators and attempting to broker a unity government between feuding Palestinian factions.
By early 2010, Mr. Mubarak's government began taking steps widely viewed as aimed at extending his rule or that of his anointed successor. In May, he extended martial law in his country by two years.
The Egypt Working Group sent a letter to the State Department even more alarmist than the one it dispatched in April. "The renewal...heightens our concern that the administration's practice of quiet diplomacy is not bearing fruit," it read.
Following June elections for the lower house of parliament, Egyptian and American nongovernmental organizations reported to State Department contacts a crackdown on anyone seeking to bring transparency to the next set of elections, for Egypt's upper house of parliament, in November. The National Democratic Institute, a U.S. organization that was training Egyptians to be election monitors, saw its Egyptian staff regularly interrogated by Cairo's intelligence services.
"The families of our workers grew terrified about retaliation by the regime," said Les Campbell, who heads NDI's Mideast programs. Mr. Campbell said he held regular meetings with U.S. officials to discuss the problems as the crisis in Egypt worsened.
To try to stop the intimidation tactics, the NDI's chairman—former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright—and Senator John McCain (R., Ariz.), chairman of the International Republican Institute, jointly wrote to Mr. Mubarak in late July asking him to allow international monitors to observe the November vote. They say the Egyptian leader didn't respond.
Sen. McCain sought to pass, with then-Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, a Senate resolution formally censuring Egypt's human-rights record. Egypt persuaded the two senators to anonymously place a hold on the resolution, according to congressional officials. Sen. McCain blamed the Obama administration for not publicly backing the bill.
"I was disappointed that we didn't get administration support," Sen. McCain said in an interview. "To think this would have changed things fundamentally at the time in Egypt? I don't know. But we at least should have tried."
Senior U.S. officials said they weren't opposed to Mr. McCain's resolution. They said both the White House and State Department repeatedly raised concerns about the fairness and openness of November elections with their Egyptian counterparts.
For analysts tracking Egypt, the risks inherent in the elections were clear. "If the ruling party plops someone in as president…then you really have the possibility of the lid popping off in Egypt," Robert Kagan, a Working Group member and conservative foreign-policy analyst, said in a November interview. "We're playing this Cold War game of clinging to the dictator for fear of something more radical."
Weeks later, Mrs. Clinton met Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit in Washington and didn't mention the need for transparent elections during their public remarks. Instead, she praised Cairo as the "cornerstone" of Middle East stability.
In the late 2010 upper-house election, Mr. Mubarak's party won 93% of the seats. It was widely viewed as the most corrupt in the country's history.
That prompted the Obama administration to take a harder line on Mr. Mubarak and other regional strongmen. Mrs. Clinton, on a swing through Gulf states in early January, echoed the sharp rhetoric of the Bush years by telling a gathering of Arab leaders in Qatar that their countries risked "sinking into the sand" if they didn't change.
But even in the final stages of Egypt's unrest, the U.S. went back and forth. On Jan. 30—days after protests broke out on Egyptian streets—Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D., Mass.) called Vice President Joe Biden to say he had written an opinion piece for the New York Times calling on Mr. Mubarak to resign.
Mr. Biden offered encouragement, Mr. Kerry said in an interview. "My instincts and feeling was the thing was broken with Mubarak," he said.
Just a few days later, the administration's chosen envoy, former ambassador Frank Wisner, delivered a much more tepid message to the Egyptian president, according to people familiar with the matter.
In the end, Mr. Obama took increasingly strident tones that all but called for Mr. Mubarak's removal. As protests continue to roil the region, administration officials say they will stick to basic principles: supporting the core rights of people to assemble and protest peacefully.
By SAM SCHECHNER
CBS News correspondent Lara Logan on Friday suffered a "brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating" after being separated from her crew in the midst of a crowd in Egypt, the CBS Corp. news unit said Tuesday.
At the time of the incident, Ms. Logan, a veteran war reporter, was covering the celebrations in Cairo's Tahrir Square after former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak stepped down. Ms. Logan was separated from her colleagues by a large "mob of more than 200 people whipped into frenzy," CBS said.
CBS News correspondent Lara Logan suffered a "brutal and sustained sexual assault" last week while reporting in Cairo's Tahrir Square, CBS said Tuesday. Video courtesy of Fox News and photo courtesy of Associated Press/CBS News.
The separation and assault lasted for roughly 20 to 30 minutes, said a person familiar with the matter, who added that it was "not a rape." A CBS News spokesman declined to comment beyond the statement.
CBS said Ms. Logan was rescued by a group of women and roughly 20 Egyptian soldiers, and reunited with her team. She flew back to the U.S. on the first flight Saturday morning, and is now in the hospital recovering, CBS said.
The assault follows a rash of violence against journalists during the uprising in Egypt. In multiple instances, reporters were detained by security forces, or beaten by angry mobs, often described as supporting now-ousted Mr. Mubarak.
In a Feb. 7 interview on public-affairs talk show "Charlie Rose," while Mr. Mubarak was still in power, Ms. Logan said her team had been "heavily, heavily intimidated" while reporting in Egypt. She said they were detained for 16 hours, and their Egyptian driver was badly beaten.
"It was really the first sign of the strategy of the Mubarak regime. They want the spotlight turned off," she said. "It was an instant crackdown."
It is unclear whether Friday's assault against Ms. Logan had political aims. In its statement, CBS News statement said only that Ms. Logan and her team were "surrounded by a dangerous element amidst the celebration."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iran
on: February 16, 2011, 06:45:17 AM
By FARNAZ FASSIHI
The Iranian government threatened opposition leaders with execution and made a fresh wave of arrests, a day after the largest protests in a year prompted clashes in which at least two people were killed and dozens injured.
Tehran and other Iranian cities quieted down on Tuesday as the opposition regrouped and assessed the impact of the rallies that brought tens of thousands of people into the streets across the country.
A hard-line group of conservative members of the Iranian parliament, on the podium, called for the execution of opposition leaders on Tuesday, a day after protests across the country.
The protesters, buoyed by activism across the Middle East, were confronted forcefully by police and antiriot forces, which used guns, tear gas and electric prods to disperse them. The demonstrators had called for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to step down.
Two college students in their 20s, Sanah Jaleh and Mohamad Mokharti, were killed by gunshots, said the government and opposition. Dozens of people were injured and 1,500 people have been arrested in connection with the demonstrations, the government and protestors said.
Iranian government warns against U.S. meddling as it tries to quell opposition protests in support of Egypt. Video courtesy of Reuters and photo courtesy of AP.
Mr. Mokharti's last Facebook message on Monday morning, hours before he joined the protests, was "Happy Valentine's Day," next to the green ribbon that symbolizes the opposition.
Antigovernment activists said they planned to attend a funeral procession on Wednesday morning for Mr. Jaleh, who was a student activist as part of the pro-democracy Islamic Student Union and part of the minority Sunni Kurd community, his friends said on the student website Daneshjoo.
The funeral, which will take place in front of Tehran University, could become the next flashpoint between pro-government forces and the opposition. "We will not allow them to kill us and then shamelessly take advantage of our martyrs," said a student activist from Tehran.
Mr. Jaleh's friends said he was shot dead Monday by a member of Basij, a volunteer plainclothes militia. In his honor, students waved green banners at the campus of Tehran University, videos show.
Paradoxically, the government cast Mr. Jaleh as a Basij militiaman. The opposition tried to discredit that claim by circulating on websites and blogs a picture of Mr. Jaleh with the late reformist Islamic cleric Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, a spiritual guide for opposition Green Movement.
In the U.S., President Barack Obama spoke on Tuesday in support of the protesters in Iran and condemned the violence.
"I find it ironic that you've got the Iranian regime pretending to celebrate what happened in Egypt, when in fact they have acted in direct contrast to what happened in Egypt by gunning down and beating people who were trying to express themselves peacefully," Mr. Obama said at a White House news conference.
But Mr. Obama, whose administration has pushed for economic sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program, said the U.S. "cannot ultimately dictate what happens inside of Iran."
It was too early to say whether the protests will gain momentum, analysts said. But Iran's leaders—who claimed they had quashed the movement that brought hundreds of thousands to the streets in 2009 and early 2010 to protest what they said was a flawed election that unfairly returned President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to office—seemed shaken by the rallies on Monday.
Mr. Ahmadinejad on Tuesday blamed the protests a day earlier on "enemies" of the government.
Ali Larijani, speaker of the parliament, on Tuesday accused the U.S. for fomenting the protests and said the legislative body must quickly form a panel "to investigate the antirevolutionary movement" brewing in Iran. The session turned rowdy when a group of hard-line conservatives began pumping their fists in the air and shouting that prominent opposition figures Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi "must be executed."
The two men have been under house arrest since Friday and were unable to attend the demonstrations, but had called for supporters to take to the streets Monday in solidarity with the movements in Egypt and Tunisia that had deposed their own leaders.
Mousavi adviser Ardeshir Amir Arjemand said the opposition wasn't surprised at the government's reaction to Monday's protests. "Their violence and brutal crackdowns against the public are not up for dispute, these officials have to be held accountable," he said, according to the website Kalame.
Write to Farnaz Fassihi at firstname.lastname@example.org
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ:
on: February 16, 2011, 06:41:57 AM
By JANET HOOK
WASHINGTON — The Republican-controlled House on Tuesday took up legislation to make unprecedented cuts in federal spending this year, opening a freewheeling debate that will showcase the two parties' views on the size of government in an era of budget deficits.
In early action on the bill, which would cut domestic programs by $61 billion this year, Republicans showed little appetite for making cuts in the Pentagon. The House rejected four amendments to cut defense programs, including one small cut to get rid of some Pentagon advisory commissions.
"If we cannot do this on defense...where can we do it?" asked Rep. Jeff Flake, the Arizona Republican who sponsored the amendment to cut $19 million for commissions.
That was just the beginning of a spending debate that is expected to extend through the week. Lawmakers filed hundreds of amendments seeking even deeper cuts after GOP leaders made an unusual decision to lift restrictions on proposing changes to the legislation.
Most of the amendments would cut domestic programs, but another big defense-spending fight loomed Wednesday, when the House was expected to vote on an amendment to strip from the bill $450 million in funding for an alternate engine for the Joint Strike Fighter.
The Republican bill would cut spending in domestic non-entitlement programs such as high-speed high-speed rail construction, water projects and job training far more deeply and quickly than President Barack Obama and most Democrats favor. The White House issued a veto threat immediately after the bill came to the House floor.
The debate marks the most serious legislative effort yet by the new Republican majority to make good on its campaign promise to slash government spending. It also tests the commitment of House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio to allow a more open legislative process than have other House leaders, who in recent years routinely imposed strict limits on amendments to major bills.
Among the amendments were proposals to block the new health care law, clean air regulations, prisoner transfers from Guantanamo Bay, regulation of the Internet, and on topics that appeared far afield, such as one on the corralling of wild horses and burros.
Mr. Boehner acknowledged that an unpredictable legislative bazaar lay ahead. "We are in some uncharted waters," he said. "I'm ready to expect—whatever."
Mr. Boehner received a quick lesson in the challenges of holding a wide-open floor debate. Faced with the long list of amendments awaiting debate, Democrats systematically delayed a vote on even the first one. For hours, Democrats exercised their right to speak for five minutes each.
The amendment on the alternate engine for the Joint Strike Fighter, which was introduced in debate Tuesday night, would hit Mr. Boehner close to home and illustrated the unpredictable nature of leading the conservative freshmen. The alternate engine would be built in part near Mr. Boehner's district at a General Electric Co. plant in the suburbs of Cincinnati.
The Pentagon has opposed the second engine, as have budget watchdogs who call it wasteful. But a similar effort to kill the project was defeated last year by a 231-193 vote.
A government-wide spending bill is needed because federal operations are currently being funded through a short-term measure that expires March. 4. The Democratic-controlled Senate must also act and is expected to push for a compromise that does not cut so deeply.
The bill does not tackle Social Security or Medicare, the fast-growing entitlement programs. Still, the bill's proposal to set 2011 spending at a level $61 billion below 2010 levels marks the biggest cut in discretionary spending Congress has ever made in one piece of legislation, according to House Appropriations Committee staff.
Democrats have said that, faced with a deficit that the White House estimates will grow to $1.6 trillion this year, Congress needs to curb spending. But they say cuts as quick and deep as the Republicans propose would hurt the economy.
"We all understand we have to get spending under control," said Rep. Norm Dicks of Washington. "When you cut this much spending, you are going to hurt the fragile recovery."
Democrats cited a new report by the liberal-leaning Economic Policy Institute that concluded that the spending cuts would result in the loss of 800,000 public and private jobs. They derided a statement by Mr. Boehner seeming to shrug off the prospect of job losses.
"In the last two years, under President Obama, the federal government has added 200,000 new federal jobs," Mr. Boehner told reporters. "If some of those jobs are lost, so be it. We're broke."
Mr. Flake's amendment to cut $19 million for Pentagon commissions met with bipartisan opposition from senior members of the Appropriations subcommittee that oversees defense programs. But Mr. Flake, one of the most conservative members of the House, found allies in a parade of liberals.
Other defense-spending cut amendments, which were defeated Tuesday by wider margins, would have cut money for the V-22 Osprey helicopter; for grants to encourage innovation and research by small businesses, and for the Pentagon to develop alternative energy sources.
Democrats have said that, faced with a deficit that the White House estimates will grow to $1.6 trillion this year, Congress needs to curb spending. But they say cuts as quick and deep as the Republicans propose would hurt the economy.
"We all understand we have to get spending under control," said Rep. Norm Dicks of Washington. "When you cut this much spending, you are going to hurt the fragile recovery."
Democrats cited a new report by the liberal-leaning Economic Policy Institute that concluded that the spending cuts would result in the loss of 800,000 public and private jobs. They derided a statement by Mr. Boehner seeming to shrug off the prospect of job losses.
"In the last two years, under President Obama, the federal government has added 200,000 new federal jobs," Mr. Boehner told reporters. "If some of those jobs are lost, so be it. We're broke."
Republicans argued that Democrats were exaggerating the impact, noting that the $61 billion is a small part of a $3 trillion federal budget. "Democrats don't like it, but don't call it slashing and burning," said Rep. Jack Kingston (R., Ga.).
——Nathan Hodge, Corey Boles and Naftali Bendavid contributed to this article.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Two ICE agents shot
on: February 16, 2011, 06:37:26 AM
By JOSé DE CóRDOBA And DAVID LUHNOW
MEXICO CITY—An agent for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency was shot and killed and another agent wounded by unknown gunmen in central Mexico on Tuesday, according to U.S. officials.
The men were driving from Mexico City to Monterrey in the central state of San Luis Potosi when they were attacked.
(Marc: This is the major north-south road of Mexico) U.S. officials condemned the attack and said they would work with Mexican counterparts to bring the assailants to justice.
"Let me be clear: any act of violence against our ICE personnel…is an attack against all those who serve our nation and put their lives at risk for our safety," Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a statement.
The wounded agent was shot in the arm and leg and was in stable condition, Ms. Napolitano said. U.S. officials would not speculate about the motive for the attack.
The incident is sure to raise fresh concerns about Mexico's deteriorating security in Washington and elsewhere. Drug-related violence in Mexico has claimed at least 34,000 lives in the past four years as rival drug gangs have fought for control of lucrative drug-smuggling routes.
Video Archive: Turmoil in Mexico
Deadly Party in Mexico
Drive-by Killings at Mexico Car Wash
Shootout at Mexico Rehab Center
Police Chief Killed in Mexico
."In terms of the U.S. law enforcement community, this will greatly raise the significance of Mexico," said George Grayson, an expert on Mexico and drug trafficking at the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
In a statement, Mexico's foreign ministry said that Mexico's federal police were working with San Luis Potosi state authorities to bring the crime's perpetrators to justice. Mexico "energetically condemns this grave act of violence and expresses its solidarity with the government of the United States and with the families of the attacked persons," the statement said.
Attacks on U.S. officials are rare.
In 1985, the torture-murder of a Drug Enforcement Administration agent, Enrique Camarena, strained bilateral ties and ultimately led to the arrest of several high-ranking Mexican drug lords.
More recently, in December, a U.S. border patrol agent was fatally shot just north of the border in Arizona while trying to catch bandits who target illegal immigrants cross the border.
And three people with ties to the U.S. consulate in Ciudad Juárez, including a pregnant consular employee, were killed in March, prompting the State Department to tighten security at its diplomatic missions in northern Mexico.
View Full Image
Pulso Newspaper, San Luis Potosi, Mexico
Mexican federal police vehicles at the scene where two ICE agents traveling in a car were shot Tuesday.
.The U.S. provides equipment and some training to Mexican security forces under the $1.4 billion Merida Plan, and U.S. intelligence is credited with helping Mexico catch a score of leading drug kingpins in the past two years.
ICE, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, routinely investigates narcotics smuggling as well as money laundering, organized crime and human smuggling.
Violence between organized crime gangs in Mexico is spreading far beyond northern states where most of the killings take place, affecting Mexico's northern business capital of Monterrey, Mexico's second city of Guadalajara, and even into tourist resorts like Acapulco.
San Luis Potosi has also gotten caught up in the violence, with a spate of recent drug-related killings. A shootout in a major supermarket as well as a leading university in the state capital caused panic among residents last week.
Drug gangs have also branched out into activities like human smuggling. Last year, a gang massacred 72 Central and South American migrants who were on their way to the U.S.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Libya
on: February 16, 2011, 06:33:04 AM
MANAMA, Bahrain—Protests in Bahrain entered their third day on Wednesday, as tens of thousands continued to occupy a major intersection in the capital and thousands more marched to mourn a second man killed in Tuesday's clashes with security forces.
A committee set up by seven opposition groups to coordinate the protests called for a massive demonstration on Saturday, forecasting a gathering of at least 50,000 people.
Crowds massed at the hospital morgue, as the body of the man killed on Tuesday was ferried out on top of a land-cruiser in a coffin covered with green satin. Thousands of men followed the coffin, many holding pictures of the deceased, beating their chests and chanting "God is great" and "Death to the Al Khalifa," a reference to the country's ruling family. Security forces remained withdrawn from protest areas, stationed in large battalions around a kilometer away.
At the Pearl roundabout, a central traffic circle in the financial district of the capital which has been claimed by the protesters, more tents and makeshift food stalls sprung up Wednesday, with those who spent the night there in a festive mood. Young men, many carrying Bahraini flags, chanted and danced, while a loudspeaker broadcasted a steady stream of speeches from activists.
The mourners are expected to march to the central roundabout later in the day, further swelling the numbers there.
"It was cold last night, but we'll be here until the government meets our demands or the police come to send us to hell. More people are coming now...All of Bahrain is here," said Jelal Niama, an unemployed university graduate.
WSJ's Charles Levinson and Jerry Seib report on how public protests in Egypt have sparked protests throughout the Middle East, namely Bahrain, Libya, Algeria, Yemen and Iran.
Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, in a rare television address, offered condolences for the two deaths on Tuesday. He promised a probe into the killings and into the security-services' response to the protests, and pledged to make good on previous promises of reforms, including loosening media controls and providing special social-welfare payments.
Seven political opposition groups, including the leading Shiite bloc Al Wafaq, announced Wednesday that they have formed a committee to help coordinate protest activity and unify the demands of the protesters. The committee, which includes Sunni as well as Shiite politicians, will meet at least once a day starting Wednesday.
"We need to unify the demands of the people on the square without telling the protesters what to do...In its objectives this is a national unity movement, we have to convince citizens on the sidelines to join us," said Ebrahim Sharif, a Sunni Muslim and former banker who heads the secularist National Democratic Action society.
On Tuesday, Al Wafaq suspended its participation in Bahrain's parliament, where it holds 18 of the 40 seats, in solidarity with the protesters.
The protests and clashes that erupted on Sunday have turned Bahrain into the latest flashpoint in a wave of Arab rebellion that has already unseated regimes in Tunisia and Egypt and has triggered large protests in Algeria, Jordan and Yemen. It has also raised wider worry about the rapid spread of the unrest, and sharpened the dilemma for the Obama administration as it struggles to shape events in ways that don't harm U.S. interests in the region.
Bahrain is a tiny, island kingdom in the oil-rich Persian Gulf, best known for its banking prowess and bars that cater to nationals from alcohol-free Saudi Arabia next door. While it pumps little crude itself, its neighbors are some of the world's biggest petroleum producers.
Its position straddling the Gulf has made it a longtime, strategic ally of Washington. The U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet is headquartered in Bahrain, though no American warships are actually home-ported here.
Bahrain's Sunni Muslim rulers have long faced a restive Shiite population that alleges economic and political discrimination. Shiite leaders have pushed, sometimes violently, for more political rights over the years, though they have stopped short of trying to remove the ruling family from power.
Not all the protesters are unemployed or poor. Some of Bahrain's young professionals have joined the gatherings, vowing to keep numbers high. "I will go to work for a few hours then come back to the roundabout," said Jelal Mohammed, a 25-year-old who works as a banker at the local office of France's BNP Paribas. "We can get our rights."
But some Bahrainis are unnerved by the protests, fearing that instability could lead to economic difficulties and to further violence. "These people want the same as in Egypt. They want to destroy this country," said an elderly lady who declined to be named.
Although the latest protests often have an overtly Shia choreography, with chanting, chest slapping and references to martyrdom, some activists are eager to stress that the movement is not linked to Iran, the most populous Shia nation. "There is no single pro-Iran statement or slogan. This is people from both sects. We want genuine democracy, not clerical," said Abdulnabi Alekry, chairman of Bahrain Transparency Society.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / A small moment of civic duty
on: February 16, 2011, 06:19:51 AM
Yesterday a special election was held to fill the position of State Senator for our district. Alerted by an email from the Tea Party Republican candidate for Assembly who just ran a very good but ultimately losing campaign about the vote (which would otherwise have not even crossed my radar screen) Cindy and I formed an opinion about for whom to vote and went to vote. The poll workers told us that about of about 2,500 potential voters, about 76 had voted.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Silencing the opposition
on: February 16, 2011, 06:14:34 AM
Second post of the morninghttp://townhall.com/columnists/benshapiro/2011/02/16/shirley_sherrods_unconstitutional_attack_on_andrew_breitbart/page/full/
On Thursday, Feb. 10, 2011, Internet entrepreneur Andrew Breitbart, the impresario of the ACORN scandal and a growing investigative force in the conservative media, held a press conference at the Conservative Political Action Conference. At that press conference, he laid out evidence of a concerted effort by government officials, race-baiting lawyers and certain black non-farmers to defraud the federal government of millions of dollars by exploiting a legal settlement called Pigford. On Saturday, Feb. 12, 2011, Shirley Sherrod, the single largest recipient of cash from the Pigford settlement, filed a lawsuit against Breitbart for defamation.
Sherrod, you may remember, was a ranking Department of Agriculture official in Georgia. Breitbart released a video of Sherrod speaking to the NAACP, where she told a story about discriminating against a white farmer before realizing that such discrimination was wrong. The purpose of releasing the video, as Breitbart clearly stated, was to demonstrate that the same NAACP that labeled the tea party racist tolerated racism within its own ranks. The video accomplished that purpose -- members of the NAACP cheer and laugh as Sherrod describes her past racism in the video.
After the video broke, due to pressure from the Obama administration, Sherrod resigned; the NAACP also condemned her. Shortly thereafter, the NAACP released the full tape, which showed that Sherrod had in fact helped the white farmer at issue. In full attack mode, the leftist media went after Breitbart, accusing him of selectively editing the tape in order to target Sherrod. This despite the fact that Breitbart himself said he cared nothing about Sherrod and that his actual target was the NAACP; this despite the fact that Sherrod herself said the real problem was the Obama administration.
No matter what you think of the original Sherrod incident, Breitbart's commentary falls squarely within the protections of the First Amendment. Freedom of political speech lies at the core of the Constitution; we attack our political officials all the time without fear of reprisal. Sherrod was an outspoken public figure, one that unapologetically stated that she saw the world through the framework of Marxism.
Sherrod had indeed made racist statements in the past. In June 2009, for example, she explained to a group of college students that school integration was one of the "worst things that happened to black people" because integration undermined black self-sufficiency. She was quoted in 1996 as explaining that the federal government's role was "to be a force for keeping blacks on the land." Even in the NAACP speech at issue, she explained, "it is about black and white, but it's not."
Whether Breitbart is wrong isn't the issue here. It's whether Shirley Sherrod and her group of well-funded thug lawyers should be able to silence political opposition. Let's be frank: Sherrod's lawsuit is probably being backed by someone larger than Sherrod. Her lawyers are the famed law firm of Kirkland & Ellis. They wrote a 40-page complaint to lead things off. If Kirkland & Ellis charge Sherrod their usual rates, such a complaint probably would cost a minimum of $40,000 to produce. A full-scale lawsuit would cost Sherrod hundreds of thousands of dollars -- if she were paying.
In all likelihood, she isn't. Kirkland & Ellis just happens to be the second largest donor, through its employees, to President Barack Obama's 2008 campaign committee and leadership political action committee. Its lawyers are committed liberals, and as a Chicago-based firm, it is heavily tied in to the Democratic Party. As Andrew Breitbart drew the left's spotlight in 2009 and 2010 by defending the tea party, intensely pursuing Obama administration corruption and exposing liberal allies from unions to Hollywood, the left took notice. And they went to their favorite firm, Kirkland & Ellis, to deliver the knockout punch.
Unfortunately for the left, the Constitution stands in the way of such efforts. Sherrod's lawsuit is frivolous in the extreme. She can demonstrate no malice, because no malice existed; she can demonstrate no libel, because Breitbart's writings were fair comment on matters of public interest. Further, Sherrod has no damages -- she has been offered a promotion and made a cottage industry out of playing the victim.
The incredible cynicism of this lawsuit is obvious. The real culprits here are the members of the Obama administration who forced Sherrod's resignation -- and Sherrod even acknowledges that inconvenient fact in her lawsuit. Yet nobody in the Obama administration is a named defendant.
Andrew Breitbart has vowed that he will not be silenced. Thank God for the Constitution, which will allow him to continue his work, despite the legal bills he will have to incur. And shame on Shirley Sherrod for allowing herself to be used as a pawn in a chess match designed to shut down conservative criticism of the Obama administration once and for all.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Jeffrey
on: February 16, 2011, 06:08:47 AM
Anyone who doubts the trend toward socialism is pushing America toward ruin should examine the historical tables President Obama published Monday along with his $3.7 trillion budget.
In fiscal 2011, according to these tables, the Department of Health and Human Services will spend $909.7 billion. In fiscal 1965, the entire federal government spent $118.228 billion.
What about inflation? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' inflation calculator, $118.228 billion in 1965 dollars equals $822.6 billion in 2010 dollars. In real terms, the $909.7 billion HHS is spending this year is about $87.1 billion more than the entire federal government spent in 1965.
1965 was a key year in the advancement of socialism in the United States.
From 1776 until 1965, Americans generally did not rely on the federal government for health care unless they served in the military or worked in some other capacity for the federal government.
But in 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson and a Democratic Congress enacted two massive federal entitlement programs -- Medicare and Medicaid -- that fundamentally altered the relationship between Americans and the federal government by making tens of millions dependent on the government for health care.
Prior to 1937, the Supreme Court correctly understood the Constitution to deny the federal government any power to create and operate social-welfare programs. The Constitution held no such enumerated power, and the 10th Amendment left powers not enumerated to the states and the people.
From George Washington's administration to Franklin Roosevelt's, Americans took care of themselves and their own communities without resorting to federal handouts.
FDR sought to change what he believed was an unrealistic reliance on families in American life.
He used the crisis of the Great Depression to pass the Social Security Act of 1935, compelling Americans to pay a payroll tax in return for the promise of a federal old-age pension. This was blatantly unconstitutional. That same year, in Railroad Retirement Board v. Alton, the Supreme Court had justly slapped down a law mandating what amounted to a Social Security program for the railroad industry alone.
FDR attempted to defend the railroad pension law as a legitimate regulation of interstate commerce, justifiable under the Commerce Clause -- the same argument the Obama administration has used to defend the individual mandate in Obamacare.
The Court scoffed, suggesting that if the federal government could mandate a federal pension for railroad workers, the next thing it would do would be to mandate health care.
"The question at once presents itself whether the fostering of a contented mind on the part of an employee by legislation of this type is, in any just sense, a regulation of interstate transportation," the Court said answering FDR's argument. "If that question be answered in the affirmative, obviously there is no limit to the field of so-called regulation. The catalogue of means and actions which might be imposed upon an employer in any business, tending to the satisfaction and comfort of his employees, seems endless. Provision for free medical attention and nursing, for clothing, for food, for housing, for the education of children, and a hundred other matters, might with equal propriety be proposed as tending to relieve the employee of mental strain and worry."
When Social Security went to the Court in 1937, FDR used a different strategy. He argued that Article 1, Section 8, Clause 1 of the Constitution, which gave Congress the power to levy taxes to "provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States," meant the federal government could do virtually anything it deemed in the "general welfare" of Americans even if it was otherwise outside the scope of the Constitution's other enumerated powers.
FDR's interpretation of the General Welfare Clause effectively rendered the rest of the Constitution meaningless.
To persuade the same court that ruled against him in the railroad case to rule for him in the Social Security case, FDR proposed the Judicial Reorganization Act. This would allow him to pack the court by appointing an additional justice for each sitting justice who had reached age 70 and six months and not retired.
Faced with a potential Democratic takeover of the court, and thus a federal government controlled entirely by FDR's allies, Republican Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes and Associate Justice Owen J. Roberts flip-flopped from their position in the railroad case. They quietly voted in favor of Social Security and took the steam off FDR's court-packing plan.
That year, federal spending was 8.6 percent of gross domestic product, according to President Obama's historical tables.
When LBJ enacted Medicare and Medicaid -- and began fulfilling the court's prophecy in the 1935 railroad-pension case -- federal spending was 17.2 percent of GDP.
When George W. Bush expanded Medicare with a prescription drug benefit in 2003, federal spending was 19.7 percent of GDP.
This year, federal spending will be 25.3 percent of GDP.
In 2014, when Obamacare is scheduled to be fully implemented, HHS will become the first $1-trillion-per year federal agency. That year, Medicare and Medicaid will cost $557 billion and $352.1 billion respectively, or a combined $909.1 billion -- about what all of HHS costs this year.
In other words, when Obamacare is just getting started, Medicare and Medicaid will cost more than the $822.6 billion in 2010 dollars than the entire federal government cost in 1965 when LBJ signed Medicare and Medicaid into law.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Morris
on: February 16, 2011, 06:05:23 AM
Morris often gets outside of his true lane of expertise, but here he is back in it, dead center:
So what happens if the cuts proposed by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., prove unacceptable to the Senate and the president? What if there is no compromise? What if nobody gives in?
A budget deadlock, played out over months, will doom President Obama and assure his defeat. But an easily won compromise will help him get re-elected.
The central question in Obama's bid for a second term is: Will the issues that doomed his party in 2010 still be the key questions in 2012? If they are, we already know how the election will come out. If they are not, Obama can win.
When the president says he does not "want to re-fight the battles of the past two years," he means that he embraces this reality. He doesn't want Obamacare, high spending, huge deficits, cap and trade, card check and the like to be the items of discussion in the 2012 election.
But he has failed to put forward a compelling agenda for the next two years. That was the essential defect of his State of the Union speech. Nobody is going to storm any barricades for high-speed rail and more R&D spending.
If the Republicans hold firm in demanding huge spending cuts and Obama does not give in, the question of whether or not to cut spending will dominate the nation's political discourse for months on end and will spill over into the 2012 election.
To assure that it will, the Republicans should hold firm to their budget spending cuts without surrender or compromise. If necessary, it is OK to vote a few very short term continuing resolutions to keep the government open for a few weeks at a time, always keeping on the pressure.
hen the debt limit vote comes up, they should refuse to allow an increase without huge cuts in spending. If the debt limit deadline passes, they should force the administration to scramble to cobble together enough money to operate for weeks at a time.
If Obama offers a half a loaf, the GOP should spurn it for weeks and months. Then, rather than actually shut down the government, let them accept some variant of their proposed cuts but only give in return a few more weeks time, at which point the issue will be re-litigated. Don't go for Armageddon. Just keep fighting the battle.
Same with the debt limit. Extend it for a few hundred billion dollars and then go back for more cuts in return for a further extension. Make Obama pay for each continuing resolution and each debt limit hike with more cuts to spending.
Always avoid cuts in Medicare and Social Security. Save those for after 2012. For now, focus on Medicaid block granting and discretionary spending (including some modest cuts in defense).
Like a guerilla army, never go to a shutdown (a general engagement), but keep coming up with cuts, compromising, letting the government stay open for a few more weeks, letting the debt limit rise a few hundred billion, and then come back for more cuts and repeat the cycle.
And don't just demand spending cuts. Go for defunding of Obamacare, blocking the EPA from carbon taxation and regulation, a ban on card check unionization, and constraints on the FCC's regulation of the Internet and talk radio. Put those items on the table each time, each session.
Every time the issues come up, every time the cuts are litigated, Obama's efforts to appear to be a centrist will be frustrated. Time and again, he will have to oppose spending cuts. Over and over, he will come across as the liberal he is, battling for each dime and opposing any defunding.
Obama's campaign strategy has two elements: Change the subject from the 09-10 agenda, and move to the center. A tough, determined Republican budget offensive, embracing all these elements and fought in this guerilla style, will frustrate both and lead to his defeat.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Reagan
on: February 15, 2011, 04:55:32 PM
I would add that
a) Reagan understood being in the public eye due to his acting career; and
b) There is perhaps no better preparation for the socializing, schmoozing, politicking, lying, and backstabbing of Washington than being President of the Screen Actors Guild.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: Overview
on: February 15, 2011, 04:51:53 PM
Analyst Reva Bhalla takes a closer look at the unique factors afflicting each of the Middle Eastern countries currently experiencing unrest.
Editor’s Note: Transcripts are generated using speech-recognition technology. Therefore, STRATFOR cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.
With protests breaking out everywhere from Yemen to Bahrain to Algeria to Iran, everyone is asking themselves who’s next in the so-called wave of revolutions. Now while there are some common trends in each of these countries, this can’t be seen as some sort of domino effect where revolutions will spread everywhere in sight. Each of these countries are living in very unique circumstances, and understanding those factors are important in understanding which of these regimes are really at risk.
There are common threads to many of the countries experiencing unrest right now. First, most obviously, you have severe socio-economic conditions where you have high rates of youth unemployment in particular, inflationary pressures driving up the price of food and fuel, lack of basic services. Overall, you see a general reaction to decades of crony capitalism that really built up during the Nasserite era in this region.
Exacerbating matters in places like Algeria and Yemen are these illegitimate succession plans. So for example, in Yemen, the president has already announced that he is not going to run again for president in 2013, nor will his son, and that was designed to appease the political opposition. So far it seems to have worked, and the political opposition has dropped out of the demonstrations, leaving those on the streets more and more divided.
Now, in Algeria, the main concern is not so much the civil unrest in the streets, although that’s notable. The real concern is who is manipulating that unrest behind the scenes. So in Algeria, you have an intense power struggle that’s been playing out between an increasingly embattled president, who has wanted to hand the reins over to his brother, and a powerful intelligence minister, who is hotly opposed to those plans. So as these demonstrations play out, it’s extremely important to take a look at what quiet concessions are being offered behind the scenes as this power struggle plays out.
Another key theme is that many of these countries face the dilemma of how to integrate Islamists in the political system. Now, countries like Jordan have a better relationship with the Islamists in the opposition; there, they actually have the ability to participate in the political system, albeit not to the levels they want. In other countries — like Algeria, Syria and, of course, Egypt — these are the countries that continue to struggle with this Islamist dilemma.
One thing is clear to us: In Egypt, we did not see a popular revolution in the true sense of the word; what we saw was a carefully and thoughtfully managed succession by the military. In Algeria, you’re mostly seeing a power struggle play out. In places like Jordan, Yemen and Bahrain, you’re seeing opposition groups and tribes start to seize the opportunity to press for their demands, but they are still operating under great constraints, and, in many cases, they know their limits.
In other words, while this latest unrest is a wake-up call for many regimes in the region, we are not seeing a wave of revolutions spread throughout the region. And where you do see things flare up, like we might see in Algeria this coming Friday, you have to take a closer look at the political intrigue behind the demonstrations to really understand the true risk to the regime.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Wesbury: Retail Sales
on: February 15, 2011, 10:55:09 AM
Doug: Interesting circles you travel in!
Retail sales and sales excluding autos both increased 0.3% in January To view this article, Click Here
Brian S. Wesbury - Chief Economist
Robert Stein, CFA - Senior Economist
Retail sales and sales excluding autos both increased 0.3% in January. Both fell slightly short of consensus expectations.
Including revisions to November/December, sales were up 0.2% in January while sales ex-autos were unchanged. Retail sales are up 7.8% versus a year ago; sales ex-autos are up 6.2%.
The increase in retail sales for January was led by grocery stores, gas stations, department stores and warehouse clubs, internet/mail-order, and autos. The weakest category of sales, by far, was building materials.
Sales excluding autos, building materials, and gas increased 0.4% in January, but were unchanged including downward revisions for November/December. These sales are up 5.1% versus last year. This calculation is important for estimating GDP.
Implications: Today’s report on retail sales was lukewarm. Sales increased less than the consensus expected and were revised down slightly for prior months. However, the modest growth in sales in January was primarily due to one category – building materials – which was held down by the unusually harsh winter weather in much of the country. Most major categories of sales increased in January. Despite this, “core” sales, which exclude autos, gas, and building materials (all of which are volatile from month to month) increased a healthy 0.4% and were up for the 15th time in the last 18 months. We expect consumer spending to continue to move higher. Worker earnings are up, consumer debt has stabilized at much lower levels, and consumers’ financial obligations are now the smallest share of income since the mid-1990s. In other news this morning, the Empire State Index, a measure of manufacturing activity in New York, increased to +15.4 in February from +11.9. On the inflation front, import prices increased 1.5% in January and are up 5.3% in the past year. Excluding petroleum, import prices increased 1.1% in January and are up 3.2% versus a year ago. Export prices rose 1.2% in January and are up 6.8% in the past year. Excluding farm products, export prices still gained 0.9% in January and are up 5.3% from a year ago. These widespread gains in trade prices are a leading sign of higher inflation that will ultimately hit the US consumer.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / The Lost Cause Scenario
on: February 15, 2011, 10:14:50 AM
The Lost Cause Scenario Adar I 11, 5771 · February 15, 2011
By Yanki Tauber Print this Page
Much is made of Abraham's valiant efforts to save the wicked city of Sodom. We read how Abraham virtually went to battle with G-d on behalf of these very sinful people, contesting the divine decree that Sodom (and its four sister cities, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim and Zoar) be destroyed. "It behooves You not to do such," Abraham challenged, "to kill the righteous together with the wicked . . . Shall the Judge of the entire world not do justice?!" "If there be found fifty righteous people in the city," Abraham bargained, "would You not spare the place because of the fifty righteous ones who are in it?" "What if there be five less than fifty?" Abraham persisted. "What if there be forty? . . . Thirty?"
But something about the story doesn't add up. Why should the wicked people be spared "because of the righteous"? If there are some righteous people left in Sodom, G-d obviously doesn't have to "kill the righteous together with the wicked"-He can airlift them outta there before He wrecks the place. Indeed, G-d sent two angels to rescue Lot and his family, the only righteous people in Sodom, before overturning the city. So where's the injustice? What's the logic in Abraham's argument?
Also: every good salesman has more than one pitch up his sleeve; when one line of reasoning fails to elicit the desired response, the seasoned marketer will quickly shift to another tack. Yet Abraham (a pretty good salesman, actually) seems to have only this one argument to make. When it turns out that there's not even ten righteous folk in any of the cities, Abraham drops the case.
One of the explanations offered by the commentaries is that as long as there are righteous people in a place, there remains the possibility and hope that they will have a positive influence on their community. So it makes sense to spare the entire city because of the righteous people in it-it's not a lost cause yet. When Abraham learns, however, that there are no righteous people remaining in Sodom (or not enough righteous people to make a difference), he has nothing further to say on their behalf.
This suggests a deeper meaning to Abraham's argument. When Abraham says to G-d, "Do not destroy the city because of the righteous who are in it," he's not just speaking about Sodom as a city, but also about its individual sinners. The chassidic masters refer to the human being as a "city in miniature": each of us is a virtual metropolis populated by numerous organs and limbs, traits and faculties, drives and desires, thoughts and actions. Even a thoroughly wicked "city" is bound to have a few righteous "inhabitants"-a few remaining enclaves of purity, a few pinpoints of goodness. To destroy a person-even a most wicked person-is also to destroy the latent tzaddik within him, to reject not only his negative actuality but also his positive potential.
The question, however, is: does there remain enough potential goodness to exert a positive influence on the "city" and perhaps effect a transformation? If this were the case, it would indeed be a grave injustice, unbehooving the Judge of the entire world, to "kill the righteous together with the wicked." But what if we are dealing with a "lost cause"? What if we have before us a person or community in which the "tzaddik within" is so completely overwhelmed that one can see no possibility of it ever asserting itself? When there is no salvageable goodness remaining in the person, what can be said to protest the Divine decree?
Abraham, who in the course of his lifetime had converted many thousands to the ethos and morals of monotheism, was quite the expert at identifying and activating the "hidden tzaddik" in the most corrupt environments. But when confronted with an evil as impregnable as Sodom's, even Abraham fell silent.
But Moses did not.
Four hundred years after Abraham approached G-d to plead on behalf of the wicked of Sodom, Moses had a "lost cause scenario" of his own on his hands, when the Children of Israel sinned by worshipping a Golden Calf. What can be said in defense of a people who succumb to idolatry a mere forty days after experiencing the greatest Divine revelation of all time-a revelation bearing the message "I am the L-rd your G-d . . . you shall have no other gods before Me"?
The Divine anger seethed. Like his great-great-great-great-grandfather before him, Moses stepped in to stave off a decree of annihilation.
But Moses took a different approach. He didn't say, "But there are many who didn't sin." He didn't say, "Spare the wicked because of the righteous," or "spare the wicked because of the potential for righteousness within then." Instead he said: "Forgive them, G-d. If you won't, blot me out of your Torah."
Moses demanded an unconditional forgiveness, a forgiveness without a "because." If you are a G-d who forgives without cause, Moses said, I'm prepared to be part of your Story. If not, edit me out; I'll have no part in it.
Abraham was a great lover of humanity. He loved his fellow man because he saw the potential for goodness in him or her, even when the rest of the person didn't look that great. But Moses' love was greater: Moses loved his people regardless of whether he could or could not discern the hidden tzaddik in their city.
And the amazing thing was, in the end Moses did turn his errant people around. In the end, their supposedly irredeemable potential came to glorious light.
For such is the paradox of love. If you care for someone because you see in him a potential for improvement and wish to have a positive influence on him, that's really great of you, but there will be times when you'll find that potential inaccessible and your positive influence rebuffed. But if you care for him irrespective of whether you can see anything good in him, and regardless of whether you can reasonably hope to influence him in any way-if you love him even if he is a "lost cause"-then you will end up having a profound influence on his life.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ
on: February 15, 2011, 09:48:42 AM
By FARNAZ FASSIHI
Iranian police used tear gas and electric prods to crack down on the country's biggest antigovernment protests in at least a year, as demonstrators buoyed by activism across the Middle East returned to the country's streets by the tens of thousands Monday.
The day of planned antigovernment rallies began largely peacefully, according to witnesses, with protesters marching silently or sitting and chanting. But as demonstrators' ranks swelled, police and antiriot forces lined the streets, ordered shops to shut down and responded at times with force, according to witnesses and opposition websites, in a repeat of the official crackdown that helped snuff out months of spirited opposition rallies a year ago.
By day's end, online videos showed garbage bins on fire, protesters throwing rocks at the police and crowds clashing with motorcycle-mounted members of the pro-regime Basij militia.
Thousands of Iranians gathered in several locations across Tehran Monday, heeding calls in recent days by opposition leaders to demonstrate in solidarity with Egyptian and Tunisian protesters. Farnaz Fassihi has details.
Monday's protests come as calls for regime change have led to the popular ousters of Egypt's Hosni Mubarak and Tunisia's Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. They mark a broadening from Iranian rallies that drew hundreds of thousands through 2009 and early 2010.
Those rallies targeted what opposition leaders said was a flawed presidential election that they say unfairly returned President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power. Monday's protests, by comparison, demanded that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the core of power in the Islamic Republic, step down.
"Mubarak! Ben Ali! It's now the turn for Seyed Ali!" people chanted, according to witnesses and videos, referring to the country's spiritual head.
In Tehran's Enghelab Avenue, the main route for the rally, a crowd of young men and women on Monday evening stomped on a giant banner depicting Mr. Khamenei and set it on fire, a sign of deepest disrespect in the Muslim world. Videos of the scene showed crowds cheering in response.
Iran's government and its opposition alike have sought to identify themselves with the mood of change sweeping the Middle East. Iranian officials sought to paint this year's Arab revolts as Islamic uprisings like the Iranian revolution that toppled the U.S.-backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi more than 30 years ago.
Iran's opposition protesters, meanwhile, have renewed their challenge to the government, emboldened by rallies led by a similar cadre of educated, tech-savvy youth seeking better economic opportunity and more political freedoms.
Those who saw the rallies in Tehran placed the number of protesters in the capital in the tens of thousands. Witnesses in the cities of Mashad, Isfahan and Tabriz saw crowds they estimated at thousands of demonstrators each, with blog reports and other online dispatches placing overall participation in such cities at over 10,000 each.
Iranian officials have all but banned reporting on anti-regime protests, making it difficult to estimate not only the size of crowds, but the number of casualties, fatalities and arrests.
Iran's protests coincided with a visit Monday by Turkish President Abdullah Gul, who briefly addressed the unrest sweeping the Mideast at a joint press conference with Mr. Ahmadinejad. "We see that sometimes when the leaders and heads of countries do not pay attention to the nations' demands, the people themselves take action," Mr. Gul said. He didn't mention Iran.
Iranian officials didn't comment on Monday's protests. The Fars News Agency, affiliated with the country's Revolutionary Guards, reported that a "group of thugs" commissioned by the U.S. and Israel had taken to the streets to cause riots. Fars News said protestors had shot and killed one person and injured several others.
Iran's government "over the last three weeks has constantly hailed what went on in Egypt, and now, when given the opportunity to afford their people the same rights…once again illustrate their true nature," Mrs. Clinton told reporters in Washington. "We wish the opposition and the brave people in the streets across cities in Iran the same opportunity that they saw their Egyptian counterparts seize in the last week."
To support Iranian protestors, the State Department began using social media, particularly Twitter—sending its messages, for the first time, in Farsi—in calling on Iran's government to allow protestors to freely assemble and communicate.
Separately, an online collective known as "Anonymous" said it had launched so-called denial of service attacks on a number of high-profile Iranian government sites. In a DOS attack, computers flood a server to prevent it from displaying a web page.
The group, which has attacked a number of corporate and other websites in apparent retaliation for moves against the document-leaking organization WikiLeaks, targeted the websites of Iran's state news broadcaster and the website of President Ahmadinejad, among others. It is unclear how successful the attacks were, but those two sites weren't accessible late Monday.
This year's uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt have inspired populations across the Middle East, showing how rulers once thought invulnerable could be toppled in a wave of popular discontent. Iran's regime has so far provided a counterexample, as it has shown less reluctance to take a violent line against its people. Opposition groups and human-rights organizations say more than 100 people were killed and more than 5,000 jailed in Iran's demonstrations of late 2009 and early 2010.
Opposition leaders in Iran started with relatively modest goals after the 2009 election, including nullifying the election results, which they said were rigged. Iranian officials said the results reflected the will of the people.
Now, analysts say, revolts in Egypt and Tunisia have galvanized Iranian protesters around the goal of regime change. "It's very clear that we are now way beyond a post-election crisis," said Hamid Dabashi, professor of Iranian studies at Columbia University. "People are going after the regime."
Monday's protests began peacefully in the early afternoon as men and women streamed on foot along pre-designated routes in multiple cities such as Tehran, Isfahan, Mashad and Shiraz. Drivers honked in support. Shopkeepers waved the victory sign.
In response, the government deployed heavy security. Cellphone and text-messaging service was down along the protest routes, Iranians reported.
As the afternoon waned, crowd swelled and began chanting against Mr. Khamenei, according to eyewitnesses and reports posted on the Internet. Security forces attacked people with electric prods and tear gas. Protesters ran and hid, and then regrouped defiantly a few feet away.
One witness described a scene in which a flower-decorated car in a bridal convoy became stuck in the protests. With security forces in pursuit of demonstrators, a bride in full regalia stepped out of the car and helped shove protesters inside to protect them, this person said.
Witnesses said the plain-clothes Basij militia were dispatched on motorbikes and vans later in the evening. They took position in side streets and beat protesters with sticks and batons, witnesses said.
Various observers reported several injuries and arrests. Their accounts weren't possible to verify.
"I saw a young woman thrown to the sidewalk, her head split open and she was bleeding, but the guy kept kicking her," a young man from Tehran said via Internet chat.
A young female activist said by telephone from the city of Isfahan that plain-clothes Basij militia had attacked a group of young men and women and dragged them into a parking lot on Revolution Avenue. They locked the gate and began beating them with wooden sticks and electric batons as the protesters fell to the ground and screamed, the activist said.
"Everyone was terrified and we felt helpless. All we could do was shout 'Death to the Dictator,' but the police chased us," said the activist.
Opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi had called the protest and vowed to participate. But they were put under house arrest all day, according to opposition web sites. When Mr. Mousavi and his wife attempted to leave the house, security forces stopped them, and blocked their street with multiple police cars, according to the website.
As darkness fell on Tehran, the city was rocked again by the chants from residents on rooftops across the capital: "God is great," and "Death to the dictator," according to witnesses. The Facebook page of the protest, 25 Bahman, said it would soon announce further plans for demonstrations in the following days.
—Jay Solomon in Washington and Cassell Bryan-Low in London contributed to this article.
Write to Farnaz Fassihi at email@example.com
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: The two faces of the MB in Egypt
on: February 15, 2011, 08:33:54 AM
By CHARLES LEVINSON
CAIRO—Moaz Abdel Karim, an affable 29-year-old who was among a handful of young activists who plotted the recent protests here, is the newest face of the Muslim Brotherhood. His political views on women's rights, religious freedom and political pluralism mesh with Western democratic values. He is focused on the fight for democracy and human rights in Egypt.
A different face of the Brotherhood is that of Mohamed Badi, 66-year-old veterinarian from the Brotherhood's conservative wing who has been the group's Supreme Guide since last January. He recently pledged the Brotherhood would "continue to raise the banner of jihad" against the Jews, which he called the group's "first and foremost enemies." He has railed against American imperialism, and calls for the establishment of an Islamic state.
After Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down on Friday amid the region's most dramatic grassroots uprising since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, the Brotherhood became poised to assume a growing role in the country's political life. The question for many is: Which Brotherhood?
The Muslim Brotherhood, the outlawed Egyptian Islamist opposition group is plagued by rifts between young and old, reformist and hard-liner, and between big city deal-making politicians, and conservative rural preachers. Charles Levinson explains.
It was Mr. Karim and his younger, more tolerant cohorts who played a key role organizing the protests that began on Jan. 25 and ultimately unseated a 29-year president. But it's the more conservative, anti-Western old guard that still make up by far the bulk of the group's leadership.
Mr. Badi, the current leader, wrote an article in September on the group's website in which he said of the U.S. that "a nation that does not champion moral and human values cannot lead humanity, and its wealth will not avail it once Allah has had His say."
He wrote in that same article that "resistance is the only solution against the Zio-American arrogance and tyranny, and all we need is for the Arab and Muslim peoples to stand behind it and support it... We say to our brothers the mujahideen in Gaza: be patient, persist in [your jihad], and know that Allah is with you..."
On Monday, meanwhile, Mr. Karim stood shoulder to shoulder at a press conference with youth leaders from half a dozen mostly secular movements, to lay out their vision for how Egypt's transition to democracy should proceed and to praise the Army for cooperating. Their top demand: a unity government that includes a broad swath of opposition forces.
The Brotherhood, whose leaders Mr. Karim butted heads with in recent weeks, put out a similar message on Saturday calling for free and fair elections. Seeking to allay fears that it would make a power grab, the Brotherhood also said it wouldn't run a candidate in presidential elections or seek a majority in parliament.
Both Egyptians and outsiders, however, remain wary. They are unsure about how the group will ultimately harness any newfound political gains and whether its more-moderate wing will, in fact, have lasting clout.
"It's never entirely clear with the Brothers," says Josh Stacher, a political science professor at Kent State University who spent years in Egypt studying the organization. "It's a big group, with lots of different points of view. You can find the guy always screaming about Israel and then you got the other guys who don't care about Israel because they're too busy worrying about raising literacy rates."
Israel, which shares a long and porous border with Egypt, fears that if a moderate wing of the Brotherhood exists—and many in Israel's leadership are skeptical that it does—it could be shoved aside by more extreme factions within the group.
The Brotherhood's conservative wing has for years put out anti-Israel comments and writings, and helped fund Hamas, the Palestinian militant group. It has also spoken out in support of attacks against U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"If the Muslim Brotherhood comes to power, through elections or some other way, that would be a repeat of 1979 in Iran," when moderate governments installed after the shah gave way to the ayatollahs, says a senior Israeli official. "It's something we're looking at with great caution."
The U.S. appears to be taking a wait-and-see approach, with officials saying in recent days it should be given a chance. President Barack Obama, in an interview with Fox News, acknowledged the group's anti-American strains, but said it didn't enjoy majority support in Egypt and should be included in the political process. "It's important for us not to say that our only two options are either the Muslim Brotherhood or a suppressed Egyptian people," he said.
The outlawed Islamist opposition group is plagued by rifts between young and old, reformist and hard-liner. There are big city deal-making politicians, and conservative rural preachers who eschew politics in favor of proselytizing Islam.
Egypt's government has long highlighted the group's hard-line wing as a threat to the country. Yet its selective crackdowns have historically empowered the very hard-liners it has sought to undermine, analysts and Brotherhood members say.
The conservative leadership's autocratic leadership style within the movement, its lack of tolerance for dissenting opinions and its preference to conduct business behind closed doors have all contributed to deep skepticism among outsiders about the Brotherhood leadership's stated commitment to democracy.
In recent years, meanwhile, the group's pragmatic wing has forged a historic alliance with secular opposition activists. Their role in the unseating of Mr. Mubarak appears to have given them a boost in a struggle for influence with the Brotherhood's fiery old guard.
"The Muslim Brotherhood as a whole doesn't deserve credit for this revolution, but certain factions within the movement absolutely do, generally those that have more modern views," says Essam Sultan, a former member of the group who left in the 1990s to form the moderate Islamist Wasat, or Centrist, Party. "That wing should get a massive bounce out of this."
Whether that bounce will be enough to propel the more-moderate Brothers to a permanent position of influence—or what their legislative agenda would actually be—is one of the key unknowns in Egypt's political evolution.
In many ways, this faction resembles conservative right-of-center politicians elsewhere in the Arab world. They espouse a view of Islam as a part of Egyptian heritage and argue that democracy and pluralism are central Islamic values. They are pious and socially conservative, and reject the strict secularism that is a feature of most Western concepts of liberal democracy.
On Wednesday, when it was still unclear whether Mr. Mubarak would step down, Essam el-Eryan, one of the only reformists currently on the group's 12-member ruling Guidance Council, said in a statement that the group didn't seek the establishment of an Islamic state; believed in full equality for women and Christians; and wouldn't attempt to abrogate the Camp David peace treaty with Israel—all tenets espoused by Brotherhood leaders over the decades. Mr. el-Eryan said those Brothers who had suggested otherwise in their writings and public comments in recent days and years had been misunderstood or weren't speaking for the organization.
Founded in the Suez Canal town of Ismailiya in 1928 by a 22-year-old school teacher, the organization used violence to battle the British occupation in the 1940s.
The group allied with some young officers to overthrow the king in 1952 and bring Gamal Abdel Nasser to power, only to become implicated in an assassination attempt on Nasser two years later. He responded with a fierce crackdown, sending the group's leadership to prison for years, and its membership ranks into exile.
The Muslim Brotherhood abandoned violence in the years that followed, formally renouncing it as a domestic strategy in 1972. But some of its offspring have taken a bloodier path. Some former members established the group responsible for the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Al-Sadat in 1981, and others have allied with Al Qaeda.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, an older generation of leftist and Islamist student activists battled each other violently on college campuses. Egypt's opposition grew increasingly ineffective, partially as a result of those rifts.
"We saw three successive generations of Brotherhood leaders fail to bring change, and we learned from their mistakes," says Mr. Karim, one of the leaders of the group's youth wing.
Brotherhood and secular leaders say the seeds of the cooperation that drove this year's protests were planted in the early 2000s when Israel's crackdown on the second Palestinian uprising and the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq brought secularists and Islamists alike into the streets to protest a common cause.
Then, in 2005, the Brotherhood struck a key victory in the parliamentary elections, winning an all-time high of 88 seats. Though officially banned, the organization is tolerated and allowed to put up candidates as independents.
Many of the Brotherhood lawmakers were pragmatists compared to the hard-line members of the group who preferred to stay out of politics. They were more open to working with other groups to forge compromises, and won plaudits from secular opposition leaders by focusing their legislative efforts on fighting an extension of the country's emergency law.
They also stood up for the independence of the judiciary and pushed for press freedoms, and didn't work to ban books or impose Islamic dress on women—moves many critics had feared.
"In the past, Muslim Brothers in parliament sometimes made noise about racy books or the Ms. Egypt beauty pageant, and it made a lot of us uncomfortable," says Osama Ghazali Harb, head of the National Democratic Front, a secular opposition party. "They didn't do this in the last five years."
The regime responded to the Brothers' newfound parliamentary prowess with one of the most brutal crackdowns in the group's history. Instead of coming down on the organization's hard-line leaders, it focused on the movement's moderates.
"The government wants them to be secretive, hard-line, because it makes them fulfill the role of the bogey man that they're propped up to be," says Kent State's Mr. Stacher. "You don't want soft and squishy huggable Islamists, and you don't want sympathetic characters. You want scary people who go on CNN and rail against Israel."
Eighteen Brotherhood legislative staffers drafting education and health-care reform bills were among hundreds arrested. So, too, were the leading pragmatists on the movement's 12-man leadership bureau.
The power vacuum was quickly filled by conservatives, who in 2007 put out a platform paper walking back many of the group's more-moderate views.
It stated, for example, that neither women nor Christians were qualified to run for president. Casting further doubts on the organization's commitment to the separation of church and state, the paper called for a religious council to sign off on laws.
Rifts between conservatives and reformers in the group began to flare into the open. The group's moderates argued that the paper was only a draft and never officially adopted.
In the 2008 elections to the Brotherhood's Guidance Council, hard-liners nearly swept the field, according to people familiar with the group. Only one seat on the leadership council is held by a consistent reformist, say these people, as well as one of the two alternate members who would step in should someone be arrested or die.
During this same period, Mr. Karim, from the Brotherhood's youth wing, says his relationships with activists in other groups were being cemented through online networks. "The new media allowed me to connect with the other" activists in Egypt, he says. "And I realized that there are things we agree on, like human-rights issues and political issues."
Past partnerships between the Brotherhood and secular parties had been top-down short-lived agreements born of political necessity.
This latest alliance formed more organically, say several young activists who are working with the Brotherhood.
"We just got to know, trust and like each other, even—believe it or not—the Brothers," says Basim Kamel, a 41-year-old leader in Mohamed ElBaradei's secular movement.
As conservatives were gaining influence within the Muslim Brotherhood's leadership ranks, Mr. Karim and his fellow youth cadres were growing impatient.
He says they began arguing with their superiors, saying the group was losing credibility in the street because they weren't out protesting for democracy like the secular activists were.
In November 2008, the Brotherhood's then-leader Mahdy Akef called for "establishing a coalition among all political powers and civil society" to challenge the "tyranny that Egypt is currently witnessing."
Mr. Akef couldn't be reached for comment, but those familiar with the group's inner workings say the shift came as the leadership realized they risked losing their youth cadres, particularly after a series of high-profile defections by young Brotherhood activists.
When Mr. ElBaradei returned to Egypt in February 2010 to lead an alliance of opposition groups, many of them youth-driven, the Muslim Brotherhood backed him, formalizing a partnership that had already gelled among the rank and file.
The alliance was uneasy at times. When other opposition groups voted to boycott November's parliamentary elections, for example, the Brotherhood broke ranks and ran.
After the uprising in Tunisia in January, Brotherhood youth, including Mr. Karim, met with the leaders of other youth movements and decided to plan a similar uprising in Egypt.
A group of about 12 youth leaders, including Mr. Karim, met secretly over the course of two weeks to figure out how to plot a demonstration that would outfox security forces.
The Brotherhood's senior leadership refused to endorse their efforts at first. They ultimately agreed to allow members to participate as individuals—and to forgo holding up religious slogans that the Brotherhood might have used in the past, such as "Islam is the solution," or waving Korans.
—Summer Said in Cairo and Richard Boudreaux in Jerusalem contributed to this article.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Common Cause continues efforts to silence conservative justices
on: February 15, 2011, 08:20:31 AM
The motivation here is, as previously noted, unprincipled and political. However, has Common Cause found a chink in Thomas's armor?
===========Common Cause Asks Court About Thomas Speech
By ERIC LICHTBLAU
Published: February 14, 2011
WASHINGTON — Discrepancies in reports about an appearance by Justice Clarence Thomas at a political retreat for wealthy conservatives three years ago have prompted new questions to the Supreme Court from a group that advocates changing campaign finance laws.
When questions were first raised about the retreat last month, a court spokeswoman said Justice Thomas had made a “brief drop-by” at the event in Palm Springs, Calif., in January 2008 and had given a talk.
In his financial disclosure report for that year, however, Justice Thomas reported that the Federalist Society, a prominent conservative legal group, had reimbursed him an undisclosed amount for four days of “transportation, meals and accommodations” over the weekend of the retreat. The event is organized by Charles and David Koch, brothers who have used millions of dollars from the energy conglomerate they run in Wichita, Kan., to finance conservative causes.
Arn Pearson, a vice president at the advocacy group Common Cause, said the two statements appeared at odds. His group sent a letter to the Supreme Court on Monday asking for “further clarification” as to whether the justice spent four days at the retreat for the entire event or was there only briefly.
“I don’t think the explanation they’ve given is credible,” Mr. Pearson said in an interview. He said that if Justice Thomas’s visit was a “four-day, all-expenses paid trip in sunny Palm Springs,” it should have been reported as a gift under federal law.
The Supreme Court had no comment on the issue Monday. Nor did officials at the Federalist Society or at Koch Industries.
Common Cause maintains that Justice Thomas should have disqualified himself from last year’s landmark campaign finance ruling in the Citizens United case, partly because of his ties to the Koch brothers.
In a petition filed with the Justice Department last month, the advocacy group said past appearances at the Koch brothers’ retreat by Justice Thomas and Justice Antonin Scalia, along with the conservative political work of Justice Thomas’s wife, had created a possible perception of bias in hearing the case.
The Citizens United decision, with Justice Thomas’s support, freed corporations to engage in direct political spending with little public disclosure. The Koch brothers have been among the main beneficiaries, political analysts say.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Government programs & regulations, spending, budget process
on: February 15, 2011, 07:57:24 AM
Here's this: I very much consider myself a Tea Party man, but disagree with the not insignificant faction within the movement that tends towards isolationism and Fortress America. Yes we are evolving from the unipolar moment of America in the world but that needs to be thought out on its own terms-- not undercut our troops actively defending us in hard fighting and unprepare for the Chinese challenge simply in order to have cuts that enable BO to continue to piss away our country's future.
February 14, 2011
Gates Sees Crisis in Current Spending
By THOM SHANKER and CHRISTOPHER DREW
WASHINGTON — Even as the Obama administration on Monday rolled out its budget for 2012, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates was dueling with Congress over military spending for this year, saying the Pentagon cannot do its job with cuts of more than $9 billion.
Mr. Gates said restrictions on spending “may soon turn into a crisis” for the military, as Congress, deadlocked over the politics of passing a federal budget for 2011, placed the government on a “continuing resolution” that has limited Pentagon spending since last autumn.
If that stopgap budget stays in place for the entire fiscal year, it would result in military spending of $526 billion, not counting the costs of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, or a cut of $23 billion from the administration’s request of $549 billion. Mr. Gates demanded that Congress approve 2011 spending of at least $540 billion.
“Suggestions to cut defense by this or that large number have largely become exercises in simple math, divorced from serious considerations of capabilities, risk, and the level of resources needed to protect this country’s security and vital interests around the world,” Mr. Gates said in a Pentagon news conference.
Congressional leaders now say they plan to attach a full military appropriations bill to the continuing resolution that would finance the rest of the government. While that bill would impose cuts of $16 billion, this at least could allow the Pentagon to award new contracts and shift some money around among programs.
But Congress could make some of these allocations, and Mr. Gates said that despite the Pentagon’s reservations, he would continue money for an alternate engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter until Congress acted. The bill being drafted, for example, could include $450 million to keep the engine project alive. Pentagon officials have estimated that it could cost $2 billion to $3 billion to finish developing the engine, which Mr. Gates and President Obama say the military cannot afford.
The dispute has drawn attention recently because the engine work provides jobs in Ohio, the home state of the new House speaker, John A. Boehner. But Democrats in both houses have also repeatedly voted to save the second engine, partly to provide competition for contracts that could ultimately be worth up to $100 billion.
For next year, the Pentagon is requesting $670.6 billion for the 2012 fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1. That includes $553 billion for its base budget and $117.8 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
As a result, the total of $693 billion in 2010 might have represented the peak for the surge in military spending that began after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. And Congressional leaders say that new members from the Tea Party movement may try to cut military spending even more.
The biggest cuts for next year would come in the war budget with most of the troops returning from Iraq. The overseas spending would drop by $41.4 billion from the $159.3 billion that the administration proposed for 2011, and it would fall to the lowest level since 2006.
All six members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff also weighed in to the coming budget debate on Monday, signing a letter expressing support for what they described as “modest and manageable” increases in fees for working-age military retirees who have chosen to remain on the Defense Department’s Tricare medical insurance program.
Total health care costs for the Pentagon, which is the nation’s single largest employer, top $50 billion a year, one-tenth of its budget. A decade ago, health care cost the Pentagon $19 billion; five years from now, without changes, it is projected to cost $65 billion. Tricare fees have not increased since 1995.
“We will continue to provide the finest health care benefits in the country for our active and retired military service members and their families while continuing to serve as responsible financial stewards of the taxpayers’ investment in our military,” the letter said.
All six members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, each a four-star officer, have not signed such a correspondence, known as a “24-star letter,” since 2006. Congress has voted down other plans to increase Tricare fees, which veterans groups oppose.
As pressure mounted to reduce the deficits, Democratic lawmakers began planning last summer to trim the Pentagon’s request for 2011. The Republicans have added to the proposed cuts since they took control of the House last month.
Under the latest proposal, which could be voted on this week, House Republicans would cut about $15 billion from the Pentagon’s main operating accounts. That would include $11 billion in cuts that the Democratic lawmakers had settled on before the midterm elections.
The reductions would also include $2 billion to $3 billion in lawmakers’ pet projects known as earmarks and more than $1 billion in unspent money from various programs. Other cuts would come in military construction and energy projects.