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23251  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Science vs. God on: March 11, 2009, 12:25:40 AM
Good article.  Nice to see someone think and write with intellectual integrity.
23252  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: Georgia left to on: March 11, 2009, 12:24:13 AM
Georgia: Left to Russia's Mercy?
STRATFOR Today » March 10, 2009 | 1041 GMT

VANO SHLAMOV/AFP/Getty Images
Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili Summary
The United States and the European Union have let Georgia know that the West cannot protect the small Caucasus country from Russia, even though Georgia is pro-Western and an ally of NATO. Russia knows that Georgia on its own cannot threaten Moscow, but grows concerned when outside powers reach out to support the anti-Russian government in Tbilisi.

Analysis
Related Special Topic Page
The Russian Resurgence
The United States and the European Union have both informed Georgia that the West cannot really protect the small Caucasus state from its larger neighbor, Russia, even though NATO considers Tbilisi an ally. Georgian Prime Minister Nikoloz Gilauri was informed of this shift in position March 5 at the NATO foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels. First, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Gilauri to explain that the United States valued healing relations with the Russians over its commitment to the Georgians. After that, Gilauri went to the Europeans for clarification on their relationship with Georgia. According to STRATFOR sources, EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner not only reiterated the U.S. position, she also advised Georgia to re-establish a working relationship with its former master, Russia.

Both the Americans and the Europeans understand that Russia has drawn a line in the sand around Georgia and most of its other former Soviet territories. And if the West wants Russia’s help on any issue — from strong energy ties to Afghanistan to Iran — it must change its relationship with Georgia.

Since the 2003 Rose Revolution brought a vehemently pro-Western and anti-Russian government to Tbilisi, Georgia has sought to solidify its relationship with the West by joining two Western institutions: NATO and the European Union. Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, the United States has sought to bring Georgia into NATO in hopes of expanding Western influence into the former Soviet sphere in an area other than Europe.

But Moscow sees Georgia as one of the cornerstones of Russia’s buffer and protection against the West and the other regional powers that touch the Caucasus, like Turkey and Iran. Russia knows that because of its geographic position and layout, Georgia is inherently weak, fractured and chaotic to the point that it cannot stand, let alone consolidate into a threat against Russia, without a benefactor. This has allowed Russia to overlook Georgia’s rebellious nature and anti-Russian sentiments. However, whenever another power begins to flirt with Georgia, Russia steps in to ensure that the country, which Moscow considers its turf, remains true to the Russian objective of keeping other powers at bay.

Geography
Georgia is destined to be a buffer state — and an unstable one at that. It is located in the Caucasus region along the dividing line between Europe and Asia, and it borders Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Turkey. Georgia can be characterized by its river valley, mountain ranges and secessionist regions that split the country into countless pieces.





(click image to enlarge)
First, the only real core of the country exists around the Mtkvari River Valley, which runs like a horseshoe up through the center of the country. Many successful states are based around river valleys, but the Mtkvari flows the wrong way — into the landlocked Caspian, a sea with low coastal populations and thus low trade — to be of any benefit to Georgia. There is another river, the Rioni, that flows down from Georgia’s northern border and into the Black Sea at the port of Poti; however, this river is so shallow that trade is virtually impossible to the bustling Black Sea (or the connecting Mediterranean Sea). But the two rivers split the country into two major regions: one oriented toward Poti and the Black Sea, and the other toward the capital of Tbilisi and the Caspian Sea.

Neither of these cores is large or strong enough to overcome the isolation created by the mountain ranges that slice across most parts of Georgia. The mountains do have some benefits; the northern ranges protect the mainly Orthodox Christian country from Russia’s Muslim Caucasus belt and its myriad militant groups, and they provide limited protection from Russia itself. However, these mountains have created countless pockets of populations that see themselves as independent from Georgia. This has led to the rise of four main secessionist or separatist regions in Georgia, which account for approximately 30 percent of the country’s area and more than 20 percent of its population.





(click image to enlarge)
Abkhazia and South Ossetia
The breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are located on Georgia’s northern border with Russia. Their location and their ethnic links across the Russian border have made them fervently pro-Russian areas. Both have seen some intense wars with Georgia (especially the 1992-1993 Abkhazian War) in their bids for independence. The two regions were known around the world after the August 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia — through these two regions — which ended in Moscow recognizing the secessionist areas’ independence from Tbilisi. Only one other country — and an unimportant one at that — has also recognized the two regions’ independence, though the regions now have a permanent and decisive Russian military presence (3,600 soldiers in each region) to prevent Georgia from retaking the territory. Abkhazia and South Ossetia control the only two easily traversable routes north into Russia, leaving Georgia virtually cut off from any possibility of trade with its northern neighbor. Furthermore, Georgia’s largest and most-developed port, Sukhumi, is located in Abkhazia and is kept from Georgian use.

Adjara and Samtskhe-Javakheti
On Georgia’s southern border are the Adjara and Samtskhe-Javakheti regions. Georgia considers Adjara, which borders Turkey, an autonomous republic (like Abkhazia and South Ossetia). Georgia has fought to keep a hold on this region because it is the country’s most prosperous and is home to Georgia’s second-largest port, Batumi. The region attempted a major uprising in 2004, but without a major international backer — like Abkhazia and South Ossetia had — it failed to break free from Tbilisi.

Samtskhe-Javakheti differs from Adjara in that its majority population is ethnically Armenian, not Georgian. The region is closely tied to Yerevan, through which Russia pushes its influence. Tbilisi is also desperate to keep control over this area, because Georgia’s two major international pipelines — the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and the South Caucasus natural gas pipeline — run from Azerbaijan to Turkey through the region. Samtskhe-Javakheti has called for autonomy like Georgia’s other three secessionist regions, though it is not yet organized enough to fight for such independence.

Economy
Because of Georgia’s geographically fractured and isolated condition, it has no real or substantial economy. Georgia’s main economic sector is agriculture, which only brings in less than 10 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) but accounts for more than 55 percent of the workforce.

The problem with Georgia counting on agriculture is that all the good farmland is in the country’s west, far from the capital. (The rest of the country is too mountainous for agriculture.) The country cannot transport its agricultural goods easily or cheaply. Because of their location, size and direction, Georgia’s rivers cannot really transport goods, so Georgia is forced to use roads and some rail, which absorb every scrap of money the country has. These transport problems mean that vast amounts of crops spoil in Georgia’s fields, and the cost of domestic goods is higher than that of goods imported from Turkey or Russia.

The country’s next two economic sectors are heavy industry, which cannot run without supplies imported from Russia, and tourism, which has dropped off exponentially since the 2008 Russia-Georgia war. Georgia has thus had to rely on foreign cash to make up for its gap in revenues. In 2007, the country received $5.2 billion — approximately 55 percent of its GDP — in foreign direct investment, though most of that came from the pipelines crossing Georgia from Azerbaijan to Turkey.

Politics
Despite Georgia’s splintered geography, population and economy, the country is politically consolidated. Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili came to power after the Rose Revolution, which was Western-funded and organized. Since then, he and his party have kept a tight grip on Tbilisi, winning the 2008 presidential and parliamentary elections with more than 95 percent of the vote. Any opposition is split among dozens of minuscule groups that have yet to show any signs of unifying. Also, Saakashvili has thus far befriended, crushed or booted out of the country any viable opposition candidates.

Saakashvili and his group are firmly anti-Russian, but they understand that political power is not enough to challenge Russian influence in the country. This is why Georgia has had to rely on foreign backers — mainly Europe and the United States — to give any sort of protection to the small, structurally troubled state. There is a regional power Georgia could turn to in Turkey. However, Ankara understands that Russia has marked the state as its turf, and Turkey has decided that Georgia is not worth the messy fight in order to gain influence in the Caucasus.

And Europe and the United States do not have the advantage of being geographically close to Georgia in order to keep their influence present. It would be easy for Europe and/or the United States to project power into Georgia via its seaports, but in order to get across and hold Georgia, troops would have to take multiple routes, as the Russians did in 2008. That would not be a simple process for powers that do not border Georgia.

The Russian View
Russia does not really care if Georgia is friendly to it, nor does it care if Tbilisi is pro-Western. Georgia simply cannot threaten Russia, and Moscow has too many ways to destabilize the small state. Because of its geographic makeup and infrastructure, Georgia is easy to destabilize and easily opened to Russian power projection, as messy as that process is.

However, Moscow does feel threatened about Georgia’s ability to swipe at Russia’s underbelly with the assistance of a powerful foreign backer. Russia views Georgia much like the United States views Cuba: The small country cannot do much damage acting out on its own, but if a foreign power begins to flirt with the state, then Russia must immediately and forcefully pull it back into its sphere.
23253  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Homeland Security on: March 11, 2009, 12:18:15 AM
Well, she may not have bent over for Bill, but she'll have the US doing it for Hamas.  cry
23254  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / 75 year old woman to be lashed in SA on: March 10, 2009, 09:19:47 AM
Saudi court sentences 75-year-old woman to lashes

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The religion of peace and joy shows it's true self again.

CAIRO (AP) - A 75-year-old widow in Saudi Arabia has been sentenced to 40 lashes and four months in jail for mingling with two young men who are not close relatives, drawing new criticism for the kingdom's ultraconservative religious police and judiciary.
The woman's lawyer told The Associated Press on Monday that he would appeal the verdict against Khamisa Sawadi, who is Syrian but was married to a Saudi. The attorney, Abdel Rahman al-Lahem, said the verdict issued March 3 also demands that Sawadi be deported after serving her sentence.

He said his client, who is not serving her sentence yet, was not speaking with the media, and he declined to provide more details about the case.

The newspaper Al-Watan said the woman met with the two 24-year-old men last April after she asked them to bring her five loaves of bread at her home in al-Chamil, a city north of the capital, Riyadh.

Al-Watan identified one man as Fahd al-Anzi, the nephew of Sawadi's late husband, and the other as his friend and business partner Hadiyan bin Zein. It said they were arrested by the religious police after delivering the bread. The men also were convicted and sentenced to lashes and prison.

The court said it based its ruling on "citizen information" and testimony from al-Anzi's father, who accused Sawadi of corruption. "Because she said she doesn't have a husband and because she is not a Saudi, conviction of the defendants of illegal mingling has been confirmed," the court verdict read.

Saudi Arabia's strict interpretation of Islam prohibits men and women who are not immediate relatives from mingling. It also bars women from driving, and the playing of music, dancing and many movies also are a concern for hard-liners who believe they violate religious and moral values.

Complaints from Saudis have been growing that the religious police and courts are overstepping their broad mandate and interfering in people's lives, and critics lambasted the handling of Sawadi's case.

"How can a verdict be issued based on suspicion?" Laila Ahmed al-Ahdab, a physician who also is a columnist for Al-Watan, wrote Monday. "A group of people are misusing religion to serve their own interests." Sawadi told the court she considered al-Anzi as her son, because she breast-fed him when he was a baby. But the court denied her claim, saying she didn't provide evidence.

In Islamic tradition, breast-feeding establishes a degree of maternal relation, even if a woman nurses a child who is not biologically hers. Sawadi commonly asked her neighbors for help after her husband died, said journalist Bandar al-Ammar, who reported the story for Al-Watan. In a recent article, he wrote that he felt the need to report the case "so everybody knows to what degree we have reached."

The woman's conviction came a few weeks after King Abdullah fired the chief of the religious police and a cleric who condoned killing owners of TV networks that broadcast "immoral content." The move was seen as part of an effort to weaken the hard-line Sunni Muslim establishment.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. By MAGGIE MICHAEL
23255  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Freeman at NIC is profoundly scary. WHY THE SILENCE? on: March 10, 2009, 01:30:50 AM
WSJ

On Thursday, The Wall Street Journal published a letter from 17 U.S. ambassadors defending the appointment of Charles Freeman to chair the National Intelligence Council. The same day, the leaders of the 1989 protests that led to the massacre at Beijing's Tiananmen Square wrote Barack Obama "to convey our intense dismay at your selection" of Mr. Freeman.

If moral weight could be measured on a zero to 100 scale, the signatories of the latter letter, some of whom spent years in Chinese jails, would probably find themselves in the upper 90s. Where Mr. Freeman and his defenders stand on this scale is something readers can decide for themselves.

So what do Chinese democracy activists have against Mr. Freeman, a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia? As it turns out, they are all, apparently, part-and-parcel of the Israel Lobby.

In a recent article about Mr. Freeman's nomination in the Huffington Post, M.J. Rosenberg of the left-wing Israel Policy Forum writes that "Everyone involved in the anti-Freeman effort are staunch allies of the lobby." Of course: Only the most fervid Likudnik mandarins could object to Mr. Freeman's 2006 characterization of Mao Zedong as a man who, for all his flaws, had a "brilliance of . . . personality [that] illuminated the farthest corners of his country and inspired many would-be revolutionaries and romantics beyond it." It also takes a Shanghai Zionist to demur from Mr. Freeman's characterization of the Chinese leadership's response to the "mob scene" at Tiananmen as "a monument to overly cautious behavior on the part of the leadership."

Mr. Freeman knows China well: He served as a translator during Richard Nixon's historic 1972 visit to Beijing. More recently, Mr. Freeman served on the advisory board of CNOOC, the Chinese state-owned oil giant. Is this also a qualification to lead the NIC?

But the Far East is by no means Mr. Freeman's only area of expertise. For many years he has led the Middle East Policy Council, generously funded by Saudi money. It's a generosity Mr. Freeman has amply repaid.

Thus, recalling Mr. Freeman's special pleading on behalf of Riyadh during his stint as ambassador in the early '90s, former Secretary of State James Baker called it "a classic case of clientitis from one of our best diplomats." Mr. Freeman has also been quoted as saying "It is widely charged in the United States that Saudi Arabian education teaches hateful and evil things. I do not think this is the case." Yet according to a 2006 report in the Washington Post, an eighth grade Saudi textbook contains the line, "They are the Jews, whom God has cursed and with whom He is so angry that He will never again be satisfied." Maybe Mr. Freeman was unaware of this. Or maybe he doesn't consider it particularly evil and hateful.

Whatever the case, Mr. Freeman has been among the Kingdom's most devoted fans, going so far as to suggest that King Abdullah "is very rapidly becoming Abdullah the Great." No sycophancy there.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Freeman was a ferocious critic of the war on terror. Not surprising, either, was his opinion about what started it: "We have paid heavily and often in treasure in the past for our unflinching support and unstinting subsidies of Israel's approach to managing its relations with the Arabs," he said in 2006. "Five years ago we began to pay with the blood of our citizens here at home."

This is not a particularly original argument, although in Mr. Freeman's case it becomes a kind of monomania, in which Israel is always the warmonger, always slapping away Arab hands extended in peace. Say what you will about this depiction of reality, there's also a peculiar psychology at work.

Then again, as Middle East scholar Martin Kramer points out, Mr. Freeman's recent views on the causes of 9/11 contradict his view from 1998, when he insisted that al Qaeda's "campaign of violence against the United States has nothing to do with Israel." What changed? Mr. Kramer thinks Mr. Freeman was merely following the lead of his benefactor, Citibank shareholder Prince Al-Waleed, who opined that 9/11 was all about U.S. support for Israel, not what the Kingdom teaches about the infidels.

Is Mr. Freeman merely a shill? That seems unfair, even if it's hard to square his remorseless "realism" in matters Chinese with the touching solicitude he feels for Israel's victims (who, by his count, must be numbered in the tens of millions). James Fallows of the Atlantic has argued that Mr. Freeman's "contrarian inclination" would serve him well in the NIC post. But the line between contrarian and crackpot is a thin one, and knowing the difference between the two is a main task of intelligence.

Adm. Dennis Blair, the Director of National Intelligence who asked Mr. Freeman to serve, is testifying today in Congress. Somebody should ask him if any of Mr. Freeman's views quoted above meet the definition of "crackpot," and, if not, why?
23256  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: China on: March 09, 2009, 04:07:47 PM
In that light, there's this:

U.S.: Chinese ships harass Navy
Obama administration officials cite days of 'increasingly aggressive' acts
The Associated Press
updated 8:22 a.m. PT, Mon., March. 9, 2009
WASHINGTON - The Defense Department charged Monday that five Chinese ships shadowed and maneuvered dangerously close to a U.S. Navy vessel in an apparent attempt to harass the American crew.

Obama administration defense officials said the incident Sunday followed several days of "increasingly aggressive" acts by Chinese ships in the region.

U.S. officials said a protest was to be delivered to Beijing's military attache at a Pentagon meeting Monday.

The USNS Impeccable sprayed one ship with water from fire hoses to force it away. Despite the force of the water, Chinese crew members stripped to their underwear and continued closing within 25 feet, the department said.

"On March 8, 2009, five Chinese vessels shadowed and aggressively maneuvered in dangerously close proximity to USNS Impeccable, in an apparent coordinated effort to harass the U.S. ocean surveillance ship while it was conducting routine operations in international waters," the Pentagon statement said.

The Chinese ships included a Chinese Navy intelligence collection ship, a Bureau of Maritime Fisheries Patrol Vessel, a State Oceanographic Administration patrol vessel, and two small Chinese-flagged trawlers, officials said.

"The Chinese vessels surrounded USNS Impeccable, two of them closing to within 50 feet, waving Chinese flags and telling Impeccable to leave the area," defense officials said in the statement.

"Because the vessels' intentions were not known, Impeccable sprayed its fire hoses at one of the vessels in order to protect itself," the Defense statement said. "The Chinese crew members disrobed to their underwear and continued closing to within 25 feet."

Emergency stop

Impeccable crew radioed to tell the Chinese ships that it was leaving the area and requested a safe path to navigate, the Pentagon said.

But shortly afterward, two of the Chinese ships stopped directly ahead of the Impeccable, forcing it to an emergency stop in order to avoid collision because the Chinese had dropped pieces of wood in the water directly in front of Impeccable's path, the Pentagon said.

Defense officials said the incident took place in international waters in the South China Sea, about 75 miles south of Hainan Island.

"The unprofessional maneuvers by Chinese vessels violated the requirement under international law to operate with due regard for the rights and safety of other lawful users of the ocean," said Marine Maj. Stewart Upton, a Pentagon spokesman.

"We expect Chinese ships to act responsibly and refrain from provocative activities that could lead to miscalculation or a collision at sea, endangering vessels and the lives of U.S. and Chinese mariners," Upton added.

Military-to-military consultations resumed

The incident came just a week after China and the U.S. resumed military-to-military consultations following a five-month suspension over American arms sales to Taiwan. It also comes as Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi is due in Washington this week to meet with U.S. officials. And it brings to mind the first foreign policy crisis that former President George Bush suffered with Beijing shortly after he took office — China's forced landing of a spy plane and seizure of the crew in April of 2001.

The Pentagon said the incident came after several other incidents involving the Impeccable and another U.S. vessel Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday.

It described those as the following:

On Wednesday, a Chinese Bureau of Fisheries Patrol vessel used a high-intensity spotlight to illuminate the entire length of the ocean surveillance ship USNS Victorious several times as it was operating in the Yellow Sea, about 125 nautical miles from China's coast, the Pentagon said, adding that the Chinese ship Victorious' bow at a range of about 1400 yards in darkness without notice or warning. The next day, a Chinese Y-12 maritime surveillance aircraft conducted 12 fly-bys of Victorious at an altitude of about 400 feet and a range of 500 yards.

On Thursday, a Chinese frigate approached USNS Impeccable without warning and crossed its bow at a range of approximately 100 yards, the Pentagon said. This was followed less than two hours later by a Chinese Y-12 aircraft conducting 11 fly-bys of Impeccable at an altitude of 600 feet and a range from 100-300 feet. The frigate then crossed Impeccable's bow yet again, this time at a range of approximately 400-500 yards without rendering courtesy or notice of her intentions.

On Saturday, a Chinese intelligence collection ship challenged USNS Impeccable over bridge-to-bridge radio, calling her operations illegal and directing Impeccable to leave the area or "suffer the consequences."
23257  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Day by Day on: March 09, 2009, 01:12:56 PM
Can't you see that they are helping us?

http://www.daybydaycartoon.com/2009/02/16/
23258  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Internet and related technology on: March 09, 2009, 01:10:56 PM
One of my favorite strips, on twitter:

http://www.daybydaycartoon.com/2009/02/15/
23259  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Oh, really? answer the Chinese on: March 09, 2009, 12:45:23 PM
Chinese political advisors propose making yuan an int'l currency
www.chinaview.cn  2009-03-07 20:18:22  Print


NPC, CPPCC Annual Sessions 2009
Special Report: Global Financial Crisis

BEIJING, March 7 (Xinhua) -- China should speed up reforming its financial system to make the yuan an international currency, said political advisors Saturday.

"A significant inspiration to draw from the global financial crisis is that we must play an active role in the reconstruction of the international financial order," said Peter Kwong Ching Woo, chairman of the Hong Kong-based Wharf (Holdings) Limited.

The key to financial reform is to make the yuan an international currency, said Woo in a speech to the Second Session of the 11th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), the country's top political advisory body.
That means using the Chinese currency to settle international trade payments, allowing the yuan freely convertible on the capital account and making it an international reserve currency, he said.

China's yuan, or Renminbi, can be freely convertible on the current account but not on the capital account, preventing it from being a reserve currency or a choice in international trade settlement. China has announced trial programs to settle trade in the yuan, a move analysts say will facilitate foreign trade as Chinese exporters might face losses if they continue to be paid in the U.S. dollar. The dollar's exchange rate has become more volatile since the global financial crisis. Economists say the move will increase the acceptance of the currency in Asia, which will help it become an international currency in the long run.

The status of the yuan as an international currency will benefit China by giving it a bigger say in world financial issues and reducing the reliance of its huge foreign reserves on the U.S. dollar, some analysts say.

Other analysts argue a fully convertible yuan will hurt China as it would allow massive capital outflow during a financial crisis.
Meanwhile, Chinese authorities remain cautious.

It's possible that the global financial crisis will facilitate the process of making the yuan internationally accepted, but there's no need to push for that, Yi Gang, vice central bank governor, told Xinhua earlier this month. That process should be conducive to all sides, he said.

Xu Shanda, former vice director of the State Administration of Taxation and a CPPCC National Committee member, urged for faster paces in making the yuan an international currency as a way of increasing national wealth. He said the United States and the European Union have obtained hefty royalties from the international use of their currencies while China has become the biggest source of that income.

A royalty, or seignior age, results from the difference between the cost of printing currency and the face value of the money.
"China's loss due to royalty payment has far exceeded the benefit of not making the yuan an international currency," he said in a speech to the annual session of the CPPCC National Committee, without elaborating. China's State Council, or Cabinet, said last December it would allow the yuan to be used for settlement between the country's two economic powerhouses -- Guangdong Province and the Yangtze River Delta -- and the special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macao. Meanwhile, exporters in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and Yunnan Province will be allowed to use Renminbi to settle trade payments with ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) members.
23260  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Mark to market a big mistake on: March 09, 2009, 12:37:27 PM
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123630304198047321.html
23261  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan on: March 09, 2009, 11:32:32 AM
ditor’s Note: This is the sixth piece in a series that explores how key countries in various regions have interacted with the United States in the past, and how their relationships with Washington will likely be defined during the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama.

South Asia is the initial foreign policy focal point of Barack Obama’s presidency. From an intractable and war-torn Afghanistan to a deeply conflicted Pakistan to a self-enclosed and mistrustful India, this is not a region in which the United States is comfortable operating. Nevertheless, South Asia in many ways will determine the success or failure of Obama’s foreign policy record.

An ‘Unwinnable’ War?
The most critical test will take place in Afghanistan, where an already-raging jihadist insurgency — consisting of Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, al Qaeda and various other radical Islamist groups — is intensifying. These jihadist fighters have used the time that the United States has spent absorbed in the war in Iraq to hone their skills on the battlefield and develop a more centralized command structure that has enabled them to hold large swaths of territory and launch complex and coordinated attacks against primarily Afghan and coalition targets.

Senior U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan, who have been watching the security situation degrade by the day, have requested that Obama approve an initial counterinsurgency plan to pour more troops into Afghanistan. The idea would be to get more boots on the ground in and around Kabul, push back the Taliban and devote more resources to nation-building operations. But while this surge strategy seems to have worked in Iraq, it is fundamentally flawed when applied in a country as large, complex and insular as Afghanistan.





Click map to enlarge
Landlocked by Iran, Central Asia and Pakistan, Afghanistan is destined to be poor and insulated. As a largely arid, resource-deficient no-man’s-land, the country lacks strategic value in and of itself and historically has served as a thoroughfare for invaders descending from the Central Asian steppes in search of the Indian subcontinent. Afghanistan stands out among the world’s countries in that it has no core region that defines itself as the Indus River Valley does for Pakistan or as the Zagros Mountains do for Iran. The region’s central mountain knot keeps most of its various ethnicities perched on the edges of the knot where water is available, but there are no meaningful barriers that separate them from each other. The result is a hodgepodge of ethnic groups and tribes constantly competing for dominance, endlessly able to dislodge their neighbors and yet lacking the natural barriers that could give them real security in the long run. Any outsider, therefore, will find Afghanistan easy to conquer — as did the Russians in 1979 and the Americans in 2001 — but impossible to hold. Representing a battered mix of ethnicities, the Afghan people have been hardened by wars of their own making and those brought to them by outsiders. Territory changes hands often, and the people pledge their loyalties accordingly.

Afghanistan’s geographic features essentially deny the United States a successful military strategy. When the United States fights wars in Eurasia, it already expects to deal with critical disadvantages, such as having its forces far outnumbered and having to maintain long and vulnerable supply lines. From almost its very beginning, the United States has conducted expeditionary military operations overseas; since World War II, it has come to rely on its global maritime dominance and technological edge to impose its influence far beyond U.S. coastlines. In the present case of Afghanistan, however, all the strengths that the United States typically brings to a military operation are more or less nullified. With no real power base, the United States is fighting a stateless entity in a landlocked country with a scattered population. Such a dynamic prevents the United States from utilizing its naval prowess and complicates the use of advanced weapons systems, particularly when used against a guerrilla enemy dispersed throughout the countryside. The only way to fight in Afghanistan is to use brute force and significant numbers of boots on the ground in a war of occupation — precisely the sort of war that lies outside the U.S. comfort zone.





Click map to enlarge
In other words, Afghanistan’s geography in many ways denies the United States any good policy options. Afghanistan historically has been a country exceedingly difficult for an outside power to pacify. At the very best, the United States can hope for a loose and shifting confederation of Afghan tribes and ethnic groups to try and govern the country and prevent transnational jihadist forces from taking root again. But for that strategy to work, the United States would first need to devote an immense amount of time and resources to long-term counterinsurgency and nation-building in a region extremely resistant to the sort of stability required for nation-building. Without the 9/11 connection, Afghanistan would continue to sit very low on the totem pole of U.S. strategic interests.

The Neighborhood Powder Keg
Compounding matters is the situation next door in Pakistan. Pakistan has reached a point where it has become both a facilitator and a victim of the jihadist insurgency that has seeped across the Afghan border and broken Islamabad’s writ over the country’s northwestern region. The root of this contradiction is steeped in Pakistan’s geopolitical dilemma.

The Pakistani core lies along the Indus River Valley in Punjab and Sindh provinces, where the agricultural heartland, political epicenter and military corps commands are dominated by the country’s Punjabi majority. The relatively narrow width of the Indus River Valley core denies Pakistan any real strategic depth against external threats, making it a geopolitical imperative for Pakistan to incorporate the ethnically disparate borderlands to the Baloch-dominated west and Pashtun-dominated northwest as strategic buffers. The mountainous Pashtun corridor to the north is inhabited by conservative tribal peoples who have more in common with their Pashtun brethren across the Afghan border than with the Indic peoples of the Pakistani core. The only way for Pakistan to maintain territorial integrity is to maintain an overwhelmingly powerful military that can impose its writ on the Pakistani periphery.

The military has long used the Islamic religious identity of the majority of the country and the ideology of Islamism as a state tool to assimilate the northwest Pashtun and as a foreign policy tool to spread influence into Afghanistan (thereby extending the Pakistani buffer) and to contain India, its rival to the east, through the use of Islamist militant proxies. The strategy worked for decades until a jihadist movement took root among the Pashtuns and Islamabad’s militant proxies broke free of Islamabad’s grip.

The situation has now deteriorated to the point where even the Pakistanis are acknowledging their dilemma. They have little choice but to take action against rogue Islamists within both the military-intelligence apparatus and the insurgent camp in order to fend off external pressure and hold onto their northwestern buffer.

But Pakistan continues to search for a middle ground. Unwilling to see the domestic backlash that would result from cutting ties to its former militant proxies, Islamabad wants to reach an understanding with certain Islamist militants and sympathizers within the military and among the Pakistani Taliban and Kashmiri Islamists to halt attacks at least inside Pakistan. The Pakistanis are also pursuing a complex strategy to sow divisions within Pakistan’s northwest tribal network in an attempt to corner tribes that harbor al Qaeda and other foreign militants. The problem with these middle-ground strategies is that making deals with the Pakistani Taliban and the tribes that support them only emboldens the militants and usually entails a private understanding to redirect the insurgent focus across the border into Afghanistan, where it becomes Kabul’s and Washington’s problem.

This is where Pakistan becomes a royal headache for the United States. Pakistan is a supply chain not only for the jihadists, but also for U.S. and NATO troops fighting the war in Afghanistan. The United States is tied to Pakistan in two fundamental ways: While U.S. and NATO forces must rely on increasingly unreliable Pakistani supply routes to fight the war in Afghanistan, Pakistan — fearful that the United States and India will establish a long-term strategic partnership — has the incentive to keep the jihadist insurgency boiling (preferably in Afghanistan) in order to keep the Americans committed to an alliance with Islamabad, however complex that alliance might be.

Moving forward, U.S. strategy for Pakistan will be aimed toward cutting those links, beginning with the supply-route issue. The United States is trying to develop alternate routes through Central Asia (which would come at a high political and logistical price) to supply the war in Afghanistan from the north. Less reliance on Pakistan means less leverage for Islamabad over Washington when the United States applies more pressure on Pakistan to take risks and “do more” at home in battling the insurgency. That said, Washington will not be able to ignore the fact that Pakistan is currently in a very fragile state — politically, economically and militarily. This makes any U.S. action in Pakistan, including airstrikes against high-value targets, all the more precarious as Islamabad tries to hold the country together.

The more destabilized Pakistan becomes, the more nervous India will become; the November 2008 Mumbai attacks illustrated the extent to which Islamabad’s grip had loosened over its militant proxies. India took no retaliatory military action in response to the attacks for fear of destabilizing Pakistan further and giving the Islamist militant forces already operating in Pakistan an excuse to redirect their focus on India. But India also has to contend with the reality that a number of jihadist forces in Pakistan have a strong interest in forcing Pakistan and India into conflict, which would divert Pakistani military attention to the east and give the Taliban and al Qaeda more breathing room.

It follows, then, that the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks would at least attempt follow-on attacks in India to push the South Asian rivals into conflict. If and when a large-scale attack occurs, Indian military restraint cannot be assured, especially in the event that a more hard-line Hindu nationalist government comes to power in upcoming Indian elections. In such a scenario, the United States will have to once again devote its efforts toward preventing India and Pakistan from coming to blows and from detracting even further from U.S. war efforts in Afghanistan.

A Lack of Good Policy Options
The enormous complexity surrounding the war in Afghanistan does not allow for many good U.S. policy options, but there are essentially four proposals, not all mutually exclusive and each with its pros and cons, sitting before the president.

First, do not attempt nation-building in Afghanistan, where there are little to no strategic resources or institutions to build from. Instead of bringing a large number of combat troops into the country, which would absorb much of the U.S. military’s capabilities, rely primarily on U.S. intelligence capabilities to narrow the warfighting focus just to al Qaeda, in an effort to prevent the country from redeveloping into a jihadist base of operations capable of launching transcontinental attacks against the West. In other words, return to the original objectives and methods of the war.

Narrowing the U.S. effort to fighting al Qaeda would free up the U.S. military for other pressing issues, particularly a resurgent Russia. On the other hand, eliminating the nation-building component would leave Afghanistan in the same hazardous condition that allowed the development of al Qaeda in the first place.

Second, instead of nation-building, focus on rebuilding the traditional, decentralized tribal structures that historically have ruled Afghanistan and have been strained by years of civil war. Put the onus on the Afghans to battle radicalization and to make the country inhospitable to foreign jihadist fighters.

Relying on local tribal structures to strengthen law and order in the country is far more attainable than attempting to implement an alien democratic structure at the center in a country like Afghanistan. However, this policy still has to contend with the fact that many tribal structures have broken down from years of civil war and rule by the Taliban, that Islamist radicalization has spread far and wide throughout the country and that, in some cases, the Taliban have done better in providing for the population than the largely corrupt Afghan government. Any “success” using this strategy would generate a “solution” as transitory as any Afghan “government” to date.

Third, do not attempt nation-building, but instead try to defang radical groups by reconciling with more moderate Taliban who can be integrated into the political process.

Politically co-opting segments of the Taliban could well divide the insurgency, much as the United States did with Sunni nationalists in Iraq, who turned their backs to al Qaeda after a major troop surge. However, the United States must first regain the upper hand in the fight and commit enough resources to the war to make it worthwhile for those who are reconcilable who can actually be identified to risk their safety in switching sides. The idea of reconciliation is critical in any counterinsurgency campaign but is often doomed to failure if approached too early in the process.

Fourth, subscribe to the belief that any policy that abandons some notion of nation-building will allow for the re-establishment of an al Qaeda base to threaten Western interests. Commit to Afghanistan for the medium to long term, and devote enough time and resources to build a strong enough state structure at the center that would be capable of providing for the Afghan people and of containing irreconcilable jihadist forces.

A long-term commitment to Afghanistan may have the best chance of making the country inhospitable to jihadist forces, but given the number of competing high-priority issues threatening U.S. security right now, the United States likely will not be able to devote the amount of resources needed to pull off such a strategy — especially in a country that has never been pacified by a foreign occupier.

The Power of Perception … and Exhaustion
While there are options on the table for Obama to consider in prosecuting the war in Afghanistan, he does not have a lot of time to mull over those options. This is a war where the power of perception will play a key role if the United States hopes to divide the insurgency in any meaningful way. Thus far, the United States has not demonstrated that it is willing or even able to devote enough resources to decisively win the war. Senior U.S. military commanders have requested up to 32,000 additional U.S. troops (which would bring total U.S. and NATO force strength to more than 100,000) to help beef up their force structure in Kabul and to push back into Taliban-held territory. But with competing interests in Iraq, where senior U.S. military commanders want to consolidate the security gains made there by avoiding too hasty a withdrawal, only 17,000 additional troops have been approved for deployment to Afghanistan thus far. That troop surge of 17,000 will be spread out over the next six months, allowing the Taliban to consolidate their power in the spring and summer — the traditional fighting season — while the United States tries to get a relatively small number of additional troops into theater.

In Iraq, where the ground realities are vastly different from those in Afghanistan, the United States was able to add more muscle to the counterinsurgency effort, lock down security and — just as importantly — deliver a psychological message to Iraqi Sunni insurgents that the United States would be their security guarantor against Iranian and Iraqi Shiite rivals and an al Qaeda force that had alienated the local population. In Afghanistan, a troop surge of 17,000 or even 32,000 troops will likely lack the psychological impact to convince the Taliban that the United States can still fight this war and win. The Taliban see a resumption of political power as a strategic goal, but they do not face a significant internal threat that would compel them to deal with the United States. STRATFOR sources have said that the Taliban leadership often tells its fighters that their job is not necessarily to win battles, but to make it as painful as possible for Western forces to stay any longer. The insurgent strategy is simple yet effective: Outlast the enemy through the power of exhaustion. This strategy has been successfully applied before in a war against the United States (witness Vietnam), and it can be successfully applied again, given the U.S. penchant for concerted military power and quick victories.

The United States can try to battle the Taliban for some time, but insurgencies have long lives and a military stalemate in Afghanistan is a far more likely outcome. When that realization is reached, the United States may have to settle on a strategy that focuses much less on troop strength than on special operations against al Qaeda. This was the strategy that the United States embarked upon in Afghanistan in October 2001, and it is likely the strategy to which it eventually will have to return.

A little more than a year ago, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the House Armed Services Committee, “In Afghanistan, we do what we can. In Iraq, we do what we must.” That statement describes a clear gap in priorities for the United States in fighting these two wars. Now, with the spotlight on Afghanistan, the Obama administration will have to decide just how much it is willing to commit to a war in a country that has a historical record of outlasting foreign occupiers. Afghanistan may be a pressing issue for the United States, but it is also competing with a larger and arguably more strategic threat that will impact U.S. national security beyond the life of the U.S.-jihadist war — the Russian resurgence.
23262  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Cognitive Dissonance of His Glibness on: March 09, 2009, 10:47:53 AM
Good points, though may I suggest the post might better belong in the "Future of the Rep party etc" thread?
23263  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / De Toquevelle and Ledeen on: March 09, 2009, 10:45:23 AM
second post of the day

"That [tyrannical government] power is absolute, minute, regular, provident and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances: what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?" --French historian Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859)

 
Are we the lobsters?
LIBERTY
"Most of us imagine the transformation of a free society to a tyrannical state in Hollywood terms, as a melodramatic act of violence like a military coup or an armed insurrection. [Alexis de] Tocqueville knows better. He foresees a slow death of freedom. The power of the centralized government will gradually expand, meddling in every area of our lives until, like a lobster in a slowly heated pot, we are cooked without ever realizing what has happened. The ultimate horror of Tocqueville's vision is that we will welcome it, and even convince ourselves that we control it. There is no single dramatic event in Tocqueville's scenario, no storming of the Bastille, no assault on the Winter Palace, no March on Rome, no Kristallnacht. We are to be immobilized, Gulliver-like, by myriad rules and regulations, annoying little restrictions that become more and more binding until they eventually paralyze us. ... Permitting the central government to assume our proper responsibilities is not merely a transfer of power from us to them; it does grave damage to our spirit. It subverts our national character. In Tocqueville's elegant construction, it 'renders the exercise of the free agency of man less useful and less frequent; it circumscribes the will within a narrower range and gradually robs a man of all the uses of himself.' Once we go over the edge toward the pursuit of material wealth, our energies uncoil, and we become meek, quiescent and flaccid in the defense of freedom." --author Michael Ledeen
23264  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Big Picture WW3: Who, when, where, why on: March 09, 2009, 08:58:29 AM
I am sad for our country to say that I fear that you are entirely correct.
23265  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Jefferson; Reagan; Paine on: March 09, 2009, 08:56:04 AM
 
"On every unauthoritative exercise of power by the legislature must the people rise in rebellion or their silence be construed into a surrender of that power to them? If so, how many rebellions should we have had already?"

--Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, Query 12, 1782

"Government can do something for the people only in proportion as it can do something to the people." -- Thomas Jefferson
 
"This is the real task before us: to reassert our commitment as a nation to a law higher than our own, to renew our spiritual strength. Only by building a wall of such spiritual resolve can we, as a free people, hope to protect our own heritage and make it someday the birthright of all men." --Ronald Reagan


Thomas Paine, (December 19, 1776): "If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace."
=============

http://www.daybydaycartoon.com/2009/03/01/

23266  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Daily Expression of Gratitude on: March 09, 2009, 12:31:50 AM
Grateful for the interesting times in which we live-- times of great adventure!
23267  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Whither the dither? on: March 09, 2009, 12:14:15 AM
By JAMES TARANTO
We never thought we'd say this, but former Enron adviser Paul Krugman has a pretty good column in today's New York Times. It's a tough criticism of the Obama administration but, unlike Krugman's hundreds of anti-Bush columns, it is not a rant. Krugman is concerned that President Obama is not treating the crisis in America's financial institutions with sufficient urgency:

Among people I talk to there's a growing sense of frustration, even panic, over Mr. Obama's failure to match his words with deeds. The reality is that when it comes to dealing with the banks, the Obama administration is dithering. Policy is stuck in a holding pattern. . . .
Why do officials keep offering plans that nobody else finds credible? Because somehow, top officials in the Obama administration and at the Federal Reserve have convinced themselves that troubled assets, often referred to these days as "toxic waste," are really worth much more than anyone is actually willing to pay for them--and that if these assets were properly priced, all our troubles would go away.
Krugman argues, somewhat counterintuitively, that the administration is inhibited by free-market ideology:

Officials still aren't willing to face the facts. They don't want to face up to the dire state of major financial institutions because it's very hard to rescue an essentially insolvent bank without, at least temporarily, taking it over. And temporary nationalization is still, apparently, considered unthinkable.
Krugman has a Nobel Prize in Economics, so we will leave it to others of comparable expertise to evaluate his diagnosis of and prescription for the problem. Politically, however, it strikes us that he is missing the bigger picture.

Podcast
James Taranto discusses Obama's skewed priorities.
Obama is a popular new president with a mandate for "change" and big partisan majorities in both houses of Congress. The public, quite understandably, is terribly nervous about the economy. If Obama had a clear plan for dealing with the current crisis--whether Krugman's or something along different lines--surely he would have little problem generating political support for it.

The problem is that the president's priorities lie elsewhere. Charles Krauthammer makes the point in his column today:

With our financial house on fire, Obama makes clear both in his speech and his budget that the essence of his presidency will be the transformation of health care, education and energy. Four months after winning the election, six weeks after his swearing-in, Obama has yet to unveil a plan to deal with the banking crisis.
What's going on? "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste," said chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. "This crisis provides the opportunity for us to do things that you could not do before."
And as Reuters reports from Brussels, Emanuel isn't the only one saying it:

[Secretary of State Hillary] Clinton told young Europeans at the European Parliament that global economic turmoil provided a fresh opening. "Never waste a good crisis . . . Don't waste it when it can have a very positive impact on climate change and energy security," she said.
Blogress Ann Althouse, an Obama supporter, remarks: "What if George Bush or Dick Cheney had said something like that openly? It's the kind of line that people used to imagine Bush people saying in secret."

Obama is brazenly doing what the left accused Bush of: cynically using the first major crisis of his presidency as an excuse to pursue his own ideological agenda. But as evidenced by the lack of major terror attacks on U.S. territory since 2001, Bush at least did what was necessary to answer the immediate crisis. Even Paul Krugman acknowledges Obama has fallen short on that score.
23268  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ Challenge to Islamic Scholarship on: March 09, 2009, 12:09:53 AM
By TAWFIK HAMID
The film "Fitna" by Dutch parliament member Geert Wilders has created an uproar around the world because it links violence committed by Islamists to Islam.

Many commentators and politicians -- including the British government, which denied him entry to the country last month -- reflexively accused Mr. Wilders of inciting hatred. The question, however, is whether the blame is with Mr. Wilders, who simply exposed Islamic radicalism, or with those who promote and engage in this religious extremism. In other words, shall we fault Mr. Wilders for raising issues like the stoning of women, or shall we fault those who actually promote and practice this crime?

Many Muslims seem to believe that it is acceptable to teach hatred and violence in the name of their religion -- while at the same time expecting the world to respect Islam as a religion of peace, love and harmony.

Scholars in the most prestigious Islamic institutes and universities continue to teach things like Jews are "pigs and monkeys," that women and men must be stoned to death for adultery, or that Muslims must fight the world to spread their religion. Isn't, then, Mr. Wilders's criticism appropriate? Instead of blaming him, we must blame the leading Islamic scholars for having failed to produce an authoritative book on Islamic jurisprudence that is accepted in the Islamic world and unambiguously rejects these violent teachings.

While many religious texts preach violence, the interpretation, modern usage and implementation of these teachings make all the difference. For example, the stoning of women exists in both the Old Testament and in the Islamic tradition, or "Sunna" -- the recorded deeds and manners of the prophet Muhammad. The difference, though, is that leading Jewish scholars agreed to discontinue these practices centuries ago, while Muslim scholars have yet to do so. Hence we do not see the stoning of women practiced or promoted in Israel, the "Jewish" state, but we see it practiced and promoted in Iran and Saudi Arabia, the "Islamic" states.

When the British government banned Geert Wilders from entering the country to present his film in the House of Lords, it made two egregious errors. The first was to suppress free speech, a canon of the civilized Western world. The second mistake was to blame the messenger -- punishing, so to speak, the witness who exposed the crime instead of punishing the criminal. Mr. Wilders did not produce the content of the violent Islamic message he showed in his film -- the Islamic world did that. Until the Islamic clerical establishment takes concrete steps to reject violence in the name of their religion, Mr. Wilders's criticism is not only permissible as "controversial" free speech but justified.

So, Islamic scholars and clerics, it is up to you to produce a Shariah book that will be accepted in the Islamic world and that teaches that Jews are not pigs and monkeys, that declaring war to spread Islam is unacceptable, and that killing apostates is a crime. Such a book would prove that Islam is a religion of peace.

Mr. Hamid, a former member of an Egyptian Islamist terrorist group, is an Islamic reformer and senior fellow at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies.
23269  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Espionage Act on: March 09, 2009, 12:04:26 AM
There was good news for the First Amendment late last month, when a three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that two former lobbyists for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee can use evidence from classified documents in their defense at trial on espionage charges. The ruling provides a golden opportunity for President Obama's Justice Department to drop this misbegotten case.

The prosecution should never have been brought in the first place, for reasons of law and damage to free speech. In 2005, American Israel Public Affairs Committee staffers Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman were accused of divulging information they learned from Administration officials to journalists as well as officials in the Israeli government.

The Espionage Act of 1917 was intended to apply to government leakers, but in this case Justice (and original Bush-era prosecutor Paul McNulty) has been attempting to apply it to two men who merely heard such information and passed it on. This is of course precisely what journalists often do, albeit to larger audiences than Messrs. Rosen and Weissman reached. A success in this case would make any journalist who reports classified information, no matter how benign, a potential target of government prosecution.

The U.S. doesn't have a United Kingdom-style Official Secrets Act, and Justice shouldn't be allowed to impose one via the backdoor by reinterpreting an old and rarely invoked statute. The good news is that the ruling will make it difficult to marshal enough evidence to convict Messrs. Rosen and Weissman. The case is one of the Bush Justice Department's misfires, and Attorney General Eric Holder can do the country a favor by dropping it.
23270  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iran on: March 08, 2009, 08:52:18 PM
I'm confused.  What is the Iranian birth rate?
23271  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: BO adopts Bush's position on: March 08, 2009, 08:41:53 PM
The Obama Administration this week released its predecessor's post-9/11 legal memoranda in the name of "transparency," producing another round of feel-good Bush criticism. Anyone interested in President Obama's actual executive-power policies, however, should look at his position on warrantless wiretapping. Dick Cheney must be smiling.

 
APIn a federal lawsuit, the Obama legal team is arguing that judges lack the authority to enforce their own rulings in classified matters of national security. The standoff concerns the Oregon chapter of the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, a Saudi Arabian charity that was shut down in 2004 on evidence that it was financing al Qaeda. Al-Haramain sued the Bush Administration in 2005, claiming it had been illegally wiretapped.

At the heart of Al-Haramain's case is a classified document that it says proves that the alleged eavesdropping was not authorized under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA. That record was inadvertently disclosed after Al-Haramain was designated as a terrorist organization; the Bush Administration declared such documents state secrets after their existence became known.

In July, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the President's right to do so, which should have ended the matter. But the San Francisco panel also returned the case to the presiding district court judge, Vaughn Walker, ordering him to decide if FISA pre-empts the state secrets privilege. If he does, Al-Haramain would be allowed to use the document to establish the standing to litigate.

The Obama Justice Department has adopted a legal stance identical to, if not more aggressive than, the Bush version. It argues that the court-forced disclosure of the surveillance programs would cause "exceptional harm to national security" by exposing intelligence sources and methods. Last Friday the Ninth Circuit denied the latest emergency motion to dismiss, again kicking matters back to Judge Walker.

In court documents filed hours later, Justice argues that the decision to release classified information "is committed to the discretion of the Executive Branch, and is not subject to judicial review. Moreover, the Court does not have independent power . . . to order the Government to grant counsel access to classified information when the Executive Branch has denied them such access." The brief continues that federal judges are "ill-equipped to second-guess the Executive Branch."

That's about as pure an assertion of Presidential power as they come, and we're beginning to wonder if the White House has put David Addington, Mr. Cheney's chief legal aide, on retainer. The practical effect is to prevent the courts from reviewing the legality of the warrantless wiretapping program that Mr. Obama repeatedly claimed to find so heinous -- at least before taking office. Justice, by the way, is making the same state secrets argument in a separate lawsuit involving rendition and a Boeing subsidiary.

Hide the children, but we agree with Mr. Obama that the President has inherent Article II Constitutional powers that neither the judiciary nor statutes like FISA can impinge upon. The FISA appeals court said as much in a decision released in January, as did Attorney General Eric Holder during his confirmation hearings. It's reassuring to know the Administration is refusing to compromise core executive-branch prerogatives, especially on war powers.

Then again, we are relearning that the "Imperial Presidency" is only imperial when the President is a Republican. Democrats who spent years denouncing George Bush for "spying on Americans" and "illegal wiretaps" are now conspicuously silent. Yet these same liberals are going ballistic about the Bush-era legal memos released this week. Cognitive dissonance is the polite explanation, and we wouldn't be surprised if Mr. Holder released them precisely to distract liberal attention from the Al-Haramain case.

By the way, those Bush documents are Office of Legal Counsel memos, not policy directives. They were written in the immediate aftermath of a major terrorist attack, when more seemed possible, and it would have been irresponsible not to explore the outer limits of Presidential war powers in the event of a worst-case scenario. Based on what we are learning so far about Mr. Obama's policies, his Administration would do the same.

 

23272  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Daily Expression of Gratitude on: March 07, 2009, 07:27:41 AM
Grateful for this day that I will be taking my son Cub Scout camping.
23273  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Julian Austin Rodriguez: a student of Surf Dog on: March 07, 2009, 07:26:55 AM
Surf Dog tells me he was swarmed by a large group.

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

ESCONDIDO ---- A 17-year-old died Sunday after being stabbed during a fight at a house party on Felicita Road, officials said.

Julian Austin Rodriguez of San Jacinto was pronounced dead at the scene, the medical examiner's office said.

Escondido police Lt. Bob Benton said police were called to break up the fight in the 2000 block of Felicita shortly before midnight.

Officers found Rodriguez on the ground near the party, suffering from a stab wound, Benton said.

Police and paramedics were unable to save the boy's life, he said.

On Sunday afternoon, police were still interviewing people who were at the party, Benton said.

They did not yet have an estimate of the number of witnesses to the stabbing because they believe many people fled when police arrived, he said.

Benton said it remained unclear what started the fight. No information was available about possible suspects.

Anyone with information is asked to call the Police Department at (760) 839-4722, or call the department's anonymous Tip Line at (760) 743-TIPS (8477).
23274  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: MMA Thread on: March 07, 2009, 05:44:29 AM
I must be getting even older and more out of date.

"Sloopier"?  huh
23275  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Internet and related technology on: March 07, 2009, 05:43:12 AM
I thought so  rolleyes cheesy
23276  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / OctoMom on: March 07, 2009, 05:30:44 AM
What about those octuplets?

Government indifference to responsible fatherhood is what made the tragedy of OctoMom possible. 

What are we to make of the case of Nadya Suleman, the California woman who gave birth to octuplets through IVF? The case has inspired lots of internet chatter and water cooler talk. I maintain that insurance and government funding are the least of the worries of this case. The case illustrates two deep problems with our current attitudes toward artificial reproductive technology (ART). First, no one has a right to have a baby. Second, the state should not be in the business of deliberately separating father from their children.

No one has a right to a baby. That is because becoming a parent is something no one can do alone. It is the ultimate team effort. To say that a woman is entitled to a baby comes awfully close to saying that someone is required to help her have one. But this is obviously nonsense. No one is required to help her.

What we mean to say when we think that someone has a right to a baby is something like this: I have the right to try to persuade someone to cooperate with me in the physical act necessary to create a baby. I am not entitled to the cooperation of any one particular person, or to some generalized cooperation from society at large. I am only entitled to try.

If I am successful at getting someone’s cooperation, the child’s father has as much entitlement to that child as I do. Both parents have rights and responsibilities toward their child. This protects the legitimate interests of the child in having the care of both parents, as well as the legitimate interests of both parents in the well-being of their child. Those rights, which flow naturally from the organic reality of human sexuality, inhere in both parents.

Even if one agrees with me that no woman is entitled to the cooperation of any particular man in impregnating her, one might still object that my position is hopelessly old-fashioned and out-of-date. Technology relieves us of the necessity of having any kind of personal relationship with your child’s other parent. We allow unmarried women access to artificial reproductive technology, complete with anonymous sperm donors, on a regular, and completely unregulated basis. So why are we now all of a sudden hysterical over a woman exercising her “free choice” to implant all the frozen embryos she has on hand? Any woman is entitled to unlimited access to the use of artificial reproductive technology, provided that she can pay for it.

But look at what this position actually entails. We are permitting women to have babies without any relationship with their child’s father. Under normal circumstances, we think there is something wrong with parents who don’t cooperate with each other for the good of their children. In the case of artificial reproductive technology, we not only permit it, we enlist the aid of the state to make it possible. The legal intervention of the state permits a woman to do something that could not be possible in the ordinary course of human life: she can have a baby without ever having even a single encounter with her child’s father. The state enables all the arrangements that make this possible. The state makes the sperm donor, that is to say, the child’s father, a “legal stranger” to the child. The state preserves the anonymity of the donor, which obviously could not happen in a normal encounter.

Now children get separated from their parents all the time. But we usually recognize this as an unavoidable tragedy, from which any humane soul would spare the child if we could. But in the case of artificial reproductive technology with anonymous sperm donors, the state is actively separating a child from his or her father. The state itself is enabling something that we ordinarily strive to prevent.

And why is the state acting as the agent of separating children from parents? Because the woman wants the state to do so. But her desires are sufficient reason to violate so basic a right as the child’s right to affiliation with both parents.

This is the real tragedy which the Nadya Suleman case brings to light. It is not that she made an unconventional decision, in part using other people’s money, and counting on financial support from her parents and the state. The problem is that no one has a right to have a child, in the way that anyone with the ability to pay has a right to buy a house. This use of the language of the market assumes the very point that is necessary to prove, and which I believe can not be proved: namely that a child is a kind of commodity, to which other people have rights and entitlements. The child is not an object of rights, but a person who has rights of his or her own. The child is an end in himself or herself.

The violation of rights in this case took place well before she and her doctor decided to implant “a lot” of embryos, rather than a “reasonable” number. The real violation took place when she decided, with the help of the state, that she was entitled to the use of someone else’s genetic material to achieve her personal reproductive goals.

I am second to none in my admiration for the market. But not everything should be treated as if it were a commodity. Children are not commodities, and neither is someone else’s genetic material. It is time to rethink our whole approach to artificial reproductive technology.

Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse is the Founder and President of the Ruth Institute, and author of Love and Economics: Why the Laissez-Faire Family Doesn’t Work, newly reissued in paperback.
23277  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: MMA Thread on: March 06, 2009, 09:54:10 PM
At this point I doubt Jackson pyschologically/emotionally.
23278  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Political Economics on: March 06, 2009, 08:18:44 PM
"Who can explain exactly how AIG has lost so much money?"

I gather that "mark to market" played the overwheliming role in its most recent losses.

The larger point about the opportunities for vast corruption is valid though IMHO.
23279  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The dreaded "I-word" on: March 06, 2009, 05:53:17 PM
 
http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/mar/06/levy-suspects-illegal-status-stirs-media-debate/
 
Levy suspect's illegal status stirs media debate
Jennifer Harper (Contact)
Friday, March 6, 2009
It has become the dreaded "I-word" at many news organizations.

Much of the press has shunned the terms "illegal alien" or "illegal immigrant" to describe Ingmar Guandique, recently charged by police and federal prosecutors in the 2001 slaying of Washington intern Chandra Levy.

The designation of Guandique - who entered the U.S. illegally in 2000, was convicted of two nonfatal attacks on women and incarcerated - has reignited a debate over whether a person's immigration status is relevant to the story. Journalists also are debating whether the words "illegal" and "immigrant" are too loaded to use in an already emotionally charged story. And maybe even racist.

The National Association of Hispanic Journalists has long cautioned journalists against using the word "illegal" in copy and headlines. The practice is "dehumanizing" and "stereotypes undocumented people who are in the United States as having committed a crime," said Joseph Torres, the group's spokesman.

That has not prevented Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly from repeatedly calling Guandique an "illegal alien," though Fox used plain old "Salvadoran immigrant" in its news coverage. Guandique has been called "Salvadoran immigrant," "incarcerated felon," "suspect" and "jailed attacker" in assorted accounts.

"Too many journalists don't want to provide ammunition to those who want stricter immigration laws, so avoid connecting illegal immigrants to evidence which will bolster the argument that illegals cause harm," said Brent Baker of the Media Research Center.

"So, when police charge an illegal immigrant with murdering Chandra Levy, reporters for CBS, CNN and AP benignly describe him as a 'Salvadoran immigrant' or as simply 'a laborer from El Salvador,' " Mr. Baker said.

USA Today, the Washington Examiner and The Washington Times, however, referred to Guandique as an "illegal immigrant."

"We aspire to give our readers as much accurate and relevant information as possible. Ingmar Guandique's immigration status and his entire criminal history fell within our definition of reporting as near as possible the whole truth. We saw no reason to censor ourselves or deny information to our readers," said Michael Hedges, managing editor of the Examiner.

"The suggestion that immigration status somehow is irrelevant or should be treated like race in a crime story seems flawed. Being white or black or Hispanic or Asian isn´t a crime. Entering the country illegally is," said John Solomon, executive editor of The Times.

"If a suspect entered the country illegally and then committed a crime, as is alleged in the Levy case, it is relevant information to the reader. If the illegal immigrant hadn´t gotten into the country, he or she might not have been in a position to commit the crime," Mr. Solomon said.

The Washington Post, which has produced extensive coverage of the case in the past year, often opted for the term "Salvadoran day laborer," though the paper does not forbid its journalists from designating immigration status.

"We don't have any such policy. Our view is that any reference to someone's immigration status, employment, race, ethnicity, nationality or other characteristic should be relevant, and add context and understanding for readers. We are aware of the debate about whether describing the Chandra Levy suspect as an 'illegal immigrant' is scaremongering, and we've discussed it and believe we've stuck to our principle," said editorial spokeswoman Kris Coratti.

Although Guandique entered the country illegally, he was eligible for "temporary protected status" granted by President Bush to Salvadorans who had been in the U.S. before February 2001. Guandique had filed for that status and received authorization to reside and work in the U.S. while his application was pending. His request ultimately was denied.

"This is a very complicated matter. The goal is to make sure that journalists are specific and precise in the use of words like 'illegal,' 'immigrant' and 'undocumented.' It gets complex because different news organizations have different policies, and journalists themselves interpret those policies," said Robert Steele, a media ethicist at the Poynter Institute.

 "There is a widespread and I believe logical argument that the broad use of certain terms in disrespectful. The press should be particularly cautious and conservative in our use of the term 'alien.' It should only be used when referring to certain specific laws," he added.
"Our style is to use 'illegal immigrant,' rather than 'undocumented worker' or 'illegal alien,' for those who have entered the country illegally," said Darrell Christian, editor of the Associated Press stylebook.

"Based on Webster´s definitions, 'immigrant' is a broader term. 'Alien' is a resident who beats political allegiance to another country; 'immigrant' is someone who comes to another country to settle, whether legally or illegally. Not all non-U.S. citizens living in the United States would be considered workers, undocumented or not," Mr. Christian said.

The most recent AP coverage of the Levy case did not examine the legality of Guandique's immigration status, and refers to him as a "Salvadoran immigrant," "inmate" and "convict."

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Copyright 2009 The Washington Times, LLC
23280  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Big Picture WW3: Who, when, where, why on: March 06, 2009, 05:26:55 PM
OF COURSE IT IS!

But may I suggest that the discussion here should be more about the actual strategies being pursued, their merits, their alternatives, etc.?

For example, the merits vel non of Russia being a supply line for us to Afg, what are the alternatives?  What about the idea of persuading Russia to work with us against Iranian nukes instead of for them?  Should we seek the collapse of Pak?  Should we be in Afpakia? etc etc
23281  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Big Picture WW3: Who, when, where, why on: March 06, 2009, 04:58:38 PM
Ummm GM, that hardly qualifies as "Big Picture WW3"  cheesy
23282  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: US-Russia on: March 06, 2009, 04:57:30 PM
BOHICA Hillary
23283  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Big Picture WW3: Who, when, where, why on: March 06, 2009, 01:22:30 PM
Well, supporting the breakaway of Bosnia seemed unsound to me.

So too did failing to increase the size of the US military in 2003-2004.  Even candidate Sen. Kerry was calling for an increase of 50,000 IIRC.  The failure to expand meant that the % of our capabilities we already had committed meant we couldn't back up what we were doing in Eastern Europe and Georgia.    Don't start what you can't finish-- Bush left us looking bad and weak in Georgia when the Russian busted their move, and his Afg strategy (strategy, what strategy?!?) now leaves us fcuked.  I don't think selling out eastern Europe in order to depend on the Russians in great part for supplies during a war that apparently we are expanding is anything near a plausible idea, but still the conversation needs to acknowledge it seems to me that Bush did not leave us well situated with Russia.
23284  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Venezuela Pol?tica on: March 06, 2009, 01:04:16 PM
Gracias por tus informes.  Veo que por cada post que hay casi doscientos personas leyendolo.  Impresionante!
23285  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Mexico on: March 06, 2009, 01:01:32 PM
Busco entrar a la platica la semana que viene , , ,
23286  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Cognitive Dissonance of His Glibness on: March 06, 2009, 12:59:26 PM
As we continue with this CONVERSATION, lets all take at least three deep breaths and remember the code here.
23287  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Big Picture WW3: Who, when, where, why on: March 06, 2009, 12:57:39 PM
We share our POV of His Glibness, but in fairness the question must be raised-- Did not Bush overplay our hand with Russia and leave us badly off-balance?
23288  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Alignment on: March 06, 2009, 12:51:17 PM
ONce I had a chiro tell me one leg was longer than the other and put a shim-- and it gave me a bad knee.   I prefer to think of it as aligment issues with the hip-- as discussed in the URL you cite.  I will give it a good look.  Thank you.
23289  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: MMA Thread on: March 06, 2009, 12:24:14 PM
Jackson-Jardine:  Predictions?
23290  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Internet and related technology on: March 06, 2009, 10:46:16 AM
Fcuk!!!  Another gaddammed technology to vampire life!!!  angry angry angry tongue cheesy
23291  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Homeland Security on: March 06, 2009, 10:39:27 AM
I will make a mental note about the reliability of that source, thank you for the catch.

Rachel has sidebarred me.  She may be taking a break from things here.  I am working on persuading her to change her mind.
23292  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Big Picture WW3: Who, when, where, why on: March 06, 2009, 10:37:00 AM
Geopolitical Diary: Change in U.S. Foreign Policy
March 6, 2009 | 0410 GMT
The foreign ministers of NATO states gathered Thursday in Brussels to discuss the pressing geopolitical topics of the day: Russia, Afghanistan and Iran. For some, it was a summit filled with hope; for others, intense fear; for all, groundbreaking change.

At the summit, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton first leaked — and then openly announced — that she would like to invite Iran to an international conference on March 31 to map out a strategy for Afghanistan. This marks the first real sign from the Obama administration that it intends to follow through with its pledge to extend a hand to Iran, should Tehran “unclench its fist” — beginning with a multilateral setting in which Iran’s regional influence would be recognized.

Although this is clearly a break from Washington’s past pattern of dealings with Tehran, it should not come as a surprise. The toppling of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in 2001 and of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in 2003 presented the Iranians and the Americans with a menu of mutual interests, particularly in shaping post-Baathist Iraq. Relations over the years have been rocky (to say the least), but various bouts of behind-the-scenes cooperation have brought them to a point that it’s now politically acceptable to talk about diplomatic engagement in both Iran and the United States. In other words, this is much more of an evolutionary, rather than a revolutionary, change.

The real revolutionary change lies in the U.S. administration’s plans for dealing with Russia. When the NATO meeting began Thursday morning, Lithuania — on behalf of the Baltic states — tried to block a resolution that would restore ties with Moscow, under the guise of the NATO-Russia Council. Lithuania — along with Estonia, Latvia and Poland — has made it abundantly clear to Washington that it does not trust the Russians. These countries are all relying heavily on the planned U.S. ballistic missile defense (BMD) systems in Central Europe to guarantee their security against a resurgent Russia. By early afternoon, however, Lithuania’s protests had been swept aside and NATO states voted unanimously — in line with the wishes of Washington and other heavyweights — to restore ties with Moscow.

Then, Clinton moved on to the more contentious item on her agenda: breaking the news to the Georgian delegation – in a hastily scheduled meeting that took place shortly after the NATO-Russia Council vote — that the United States needs some space in their relationship. This means Tbilisi will more or less need to fend for itself the next time Russia starts rumbling in its neighborhood. In other words: The Georgians should forget about NATO membership for now, because the Americans have bigger problems to work on with the Russians.

This is Barack Obama’s biggest break from Bush administration policies. Even during the Russo-Georgian war last August and the shutoff of natural gas to Ukraine and downstream customers this winter, the Bush administration did not falter from its (at least rhetorical) position that the United States would stand behind the two former Soviet republics and continue pushing for their inclusion in NATO, at Russia’s expense. But the Obama administration, still fresh from the inauguration, is forging ahead with two big issues that require the Russians’ cooperation: developing an alternate supply route to Afghanistan and compelling Iran to curb its nuclear program. In order to win that cooperation, the Obama administration is very clearly signaling to Russia that it is willing to make concessions to get negotiations moving.

By disappointing the Georgians at this summit, the United States just moved the line of Russian influence in the former Soviet periphery several hundred miles to the west. The United States essentially told a recently war-ravaged country on the border of Russia — whose only real protection derives from its alliance with Washington — that the need for the United States to work out a deal with Russians is a bigger priority right now than providing for Georgia’s security. That message is likely to be met with horror throughout much of central and eastern Europe and with delight in Moscow. That said, the diplomatic stage is still being set, and there is much more to be worked out in the United States’ distrust-filled relationships with both Tehran and Moscow. We will be watching for Russia’s reaction to the U.S. gestures on Friday, when Clinton meets with her Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, and for the level of actual progress in negotiations in the month before Obama and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev meet.

Regardless, Thursday’s events provided very clear indicators that Washington has — for the time being — chosen a new foreign policy path that will win some and lose some. Now is the prime moment for the major global powers to reposition themselves.
23293  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: An eye for two eyes on: March 06, 2009, 10:31:44 AM
Acid Trip
In 2004, an Iranian man named Majid developed feelings for a woman named Ameneh Bahrami. She did not reciprocate his interest, and he took the rejection poorly: He splashed acid on her face, causing her to go blind.

The Associated Press reports that an Iranian court has passed sentence in the case, ruling that Majid "should also be blinded with acid based on the Islamic law system of 'qisas,' or eye-for-an-eye retribution." But there's a catch:

Bahrami, who moved to Spain after the attack to get medical treatment, said Wednesday that under Iranian law, she is entitled to blind him in only one eye, unless she pays €20,000 ($25,110), because in Iran women are not considered equal to men.
"They have told us that my two eyes are equal to one of his because in my country each man is worth two women. They are not the same," she told Cadena SER. , , ,
23294  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Homeland Security on: March 06, 2009, 10:17:50 AM
Obama funds $20M tax payer dollars to immigrate Hamas Refugees to the USA

This is the news that didn't make the headlines...

By executive order, President Barack Obama has ordered the expenditure of $20.3 million in migration assistance to the Palestinian refugees and conflict victims in Gaza. The "presidential determination" which allows hundreds of thousands of Palestinians with ties to Hamas to resettle in the United States was signed on January 27 and appeared in the Federal Register on February 4th.

Few on Capitol Hill took note that the order provides a free ticket replete with housing and food allowances to individuals who have displayed their overwhelming support of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) in the parliamentary election of January 2006.

Now we learn that he is allowing hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refuges to move to and live in the US at American taxpayer expense.

To verify for yourself: www.thefederalregister.com/d.p/2009-02-04-E9-2488
23295  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Risks to travel in Mexico on: March 06, 2009, 08:31:41 AM
Mexico: Spring Break Travel and Security Risks
Stratfor Today » March 5, 2009 | 1257 GMT

CECILIA DEL OLMO/AFP/Getty Images
A Mexican federal police officer at a checkpoint in the resort city of AcapulcoSummary
As spring break season approaches, warnings about travel to Mexico invite a closer look at security in the country’s popular resort cities.


On March 2, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives became the latest government agency to release an alert warning citizens of the risks associated with visiting Mexico. In previous weeks, the U.S. State Department and the Canadian foreign affairs department also have issued travel alerts, and several American universities have urged their students to avoid visiting Mexico during the spring break season.

The impetus for these warnings, of course, is the continuously deteriorating security situation in Mexico created by ongoing drug cartel violence and the government’s response. On one hand, the bulk of this violence is concentrated in specific areas far from the country’s coastal resort towns, and thousands of foreign tourists visit the country each year, encountering at most only minor security issues. On the other hand, organized crime-related violence is extremely widespread in Mexico, and there are few places in the country that do not carry significant security risks. Firefights between soldiers and cartel gunmen armed with assault rifles have erupted without warning in small mountain villages and in large cities like Monterrey, as well as in resort towns like Acapulco and Cancun. In addition, it is important to understand the risks associated with traveling to a country that is engaged in ongoing counternarcotics operations involving thousands of military and law enforcement personnel.

While there are important differences among the security environments in Mexico’s various resort areas, as well as between the resort towns and other parts of Mexico, there also are some security generalizations that can be made about the entire country. For one, Mexico’s reputation for crime and kidnapping is well-deserved, and locals and foreigners alike often become victims of assault, express kidnappings and other crimes. Further complicating the situation is the fact that the general decline in law and order, combined with large-scale counternarcotics operations that occupy the bulk of Mexico’s federal forces, has created an environment in which criminals not associated with the drug trade can flourish. Carjackings and highway robberies in particular have become increasingly common in Mexican cities along the U.S. border and elsewhere in the country — an important risk to weigh for anyone considering driving through the area.

Other security risks in the country come from the security services themselves. When driving, it is important to pay attention to the military-manned highway roadblocks and checkpoints that are established to screen vehicles for drugs or illegal immigrants. On several occasions, the police officers and soldiers manning these checkpoints have opened fire on innocent vehicles that failed to follow instructions at the checkpoints, which are often not well-marked. In addition, Mexico continues to face rampant police corruption problems that do not appear to be improving, meaning visitors should not be surprised to come across police officers who are expecting a bribe or are even involved in kidnapping-for-ransom gangs.

Along with the beautiful beaches that attract foreign tourists, many well-known Mexican coastal resort towns also offer port facilities that have long played strategic roles in the country’s drug trade. Drug traffickers have used both legitimate commercial ships as well as fishing boats and other surface vessels to carry shipments of cocaine from South America to Mexico. In addition, many drug cartels have often relied on hotels and resorts to launder drug proceeds. Because of the importance of these facilities, drug-trafficking organizations generally seek to limit violence in such resort towns — not only to protect existing infrastructure there, but also to avoid the attention that violence affecting wealthy foreign tourists would draw.

But despite the cartels’ best intentions, there remains great potential for violence in many of these resort areas. For one, the Mexican government occasionally conducts arrests and raids against suspected drug traffickers in resort cities, and it is all too common for these criminals — armed with assault rifles and grenades — to violently resist capture, sometimes leading to protracted firefights and pursuits throughout the town. Second, many of these areas are disputed territory for the country’s warring cartels, and these ongoing turf battles can easily get out of hand. In either case, collateral damage to innocent bystanders is a very real possibility, as two Canadian tourists discovered in Acapulco in February 2007 when they were wounded during a drive-by shooting.

While security issues are a concern in almost every area of Mexico, the various coastal resort communities have unique characteristics that influence the type of crime and cartel activity seen there.

Cancun
Cancun has historically been an important port of entry for South American drugs transiting Mexico on their way to the United States. It traditionally has been an operating area for the Gulf cartel and its former enforcement arm, Los Zetas. Today, Zeta activity in the area remains very high, though drug flow through the region has tapered off as aerial and maritime trafficking have decreased. Consequently, the Zetas operating in the area have branched out to other criminal enterprises, such as alien smuggling, extortion and kidnapping. There also have been suggestions that many members of the Cancun city police have been on the Zeta payroll; these rumors surfaced after the February assassination of a retired army general on charges that he was involved in the killing. These developments brought new federal attention to the city, including rumors that the federal government planned to deploy additional military troops to the region to investigate the local police and conduct counternarcotics operations. Few, if any, additional troops have been sent to Cancun, but ongoing shake-ups in the law enforcement community there have only added to the area’s volatility.

Acapulco
Along with Cancun, Acapulco has been one of Mexico’s more violent resort cities during the last few years of the cartel wars. Rival drug cartels have battled police and each other within the city as well as in nearby towns. The nearby resort town of Zihuatanejo, for example, recently experienced a police strike after several officers there were targeted in a series of grenade attacks in February. Suspected drug traffickers continue to attack police in Zihuatanejo, and at least six officers have been killed within the past week.

Puerto Vallarta
Puerto Vallarta’s location on the Pacific coast makes it strategically important to trafficking groups that send and receive maritime shipments of South American drugs and Chinese ephedra, a precursor chemical used in the production of methamphetamine, much of which is produced in the surrounding areas of the nearby city of Guadalajara. It is believed that several of Mexico’s largest and most powerful drug cartels maintain a presence in Puerto Vallarta and the nearby municipality of Jarretaderas for the purposes of drug trafficking. Despite this presence, however, incidents of cartel violence in Puerto Vallarta are relatively low. Threats from kidnapping gangs or other criminal groups are also lower in this resort city than in the rest of the country, and, like elsewhere, there is no indication that Americans or other international tourists are specifically targeted.

Mazatlan
Mazatlan, located just a few hundred miles north of Puerto Vallarta, has been perhaps the most consistently violent of Mexico’s resort cities during the past few months. It is located in Sinaloa state, one of the country’s most violent areas, and the bodies of victims of drug cartels or kidnapping gangs appear on the streets there on a weekly basis. As in other areas, there is no evidence that the violence in Mazatlan is directed against foreign tourists, but the sheer level of violence means the potential for collateral damage is high.

Cabo San Lucas
Located on the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula, Cabo San Lucas has been relatively insulated from the country’s drug-related violence and can be considered one of the safer places in Mexico for foreign tourists. Although historically it has been a stop on the cocaine trafficking routes, Cabo San Lucas’ strategic importance decreased dramatically after the late 1990s as the Tijuana cartel lost its contacts with Colombian cocaine suppliers. As a result, the presence of drug traffickers in the area has been limited over the last five years. That said, it is still part of Mexico, and the city experiences problems with crime — including organized crime and kidnappings. Within the last year, for example, police have dismantled at least two kidnapping gangs in Cabo San Lucas, and in nearby La Paz, the son of a local airline owner was shot to death by several men armed with assault rifles
23296  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Internet and related technology on: March 06, 2009, 08:06:29 AM
 huh huh huh
23297  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Reagan; Jefferson; Madison; Washington; Madison; Jefferson on: March 06, 2009, 07:42:01 AM
Now it doesn't require expropriation or confiscation of private property or business to impose socialism on a people. What does it mean whether you hold the deed ... or the title to your business or property if the government holds the power of life and death over that business or property? And such machinery already exists. The government can find some charge to bring against any concern it chooses to prosecute. Every businessman has his own tale of harassment. Somewhere a perversion has taken place. Our natural, unalienable rights are now considered to be a dispensation of government, and freedom has never been so fragile, so close to slipping from our grasp as it is at this moment." --Ronald Reagan
================
"War is not the best engine for us to resort to; nature has given us one in our commerce, which if properly managed, will be a better instrument for obliging the interested nations of Europe to treat us with justice."

--Thomas Jefferson, letter to Thomas Pickney, 29 May 1797
===============
"[C]ommercial shackles are generally unjust, oppressive and impolitic. ...f industry and labour are left to take their own course, they will generally be directed to those objects which are the most productive, and this in a more certain and direct manner than the wisdom of the most enlightened legislature could point out."

--James Madison, speech to Congress, 9 April 1789
================

 
"I think all the world would gain by setting commerce at perfect liberty."

--Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Adams, 7 July 1785
 
===================

"Harmony, liberal intercourse with all Nations, are recommended by policy, humanity and interest. But even our Commercial policy should hold an equal and impartial hand: neither seeking nor granting exclusive favours or preferences; consulting the natural course of things; diffusing and diversifying by gentle means the streams of Commerce, but forcing nothing; establishing with Powers so disposed; in order to give trade a stable course."

--George Washington, Farewell Address, 19 September 1796
====================
"A just security to property is not afforded by that government, under which unequal taxes oppress one species of property and reward another species." --James Madison

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

"The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions, that I wish it to be always kept alive. ... I like a little rebellion now and then. It is like a storm in the atmosphere." --Thomas Jefferson



23298  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Bush and BO as CIC on: March 05, 2009, 04:40:31 PM
Second post of the afternoon:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xIHz5tevLAw&eurl=http://dogbrothers.com/phpBB2/index.php?topic=1718.200

 http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2007/09/20070903-1.html
23299  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / VDH: The Triumph of Banality on: March 05, 2009, 03:48:08 PM
http://www.victorhanson.com/articles/hanson030409.html
 
 
March 4, 2009
The Triumph of Banality
Obama didn't invent dishonesty in political discourse — but he has a talent for it.
by Victor Davis Hanson
National Review Online

One of the most tired rhetorical tropes in Washington starts with, “We must . . . ” In the age of Obama, this is now usually followed by “Get the cost of our health care under control,” or “Invest in the education of our youth,” or “Spend wisely.” Such promises usually devolve into pleas for more money. They rarely explore how we ended up in the first place with such severe crises in health care and education — and with trillions in borrowing to spend trillions more that we do not have.

The cost of health care is spiraling out of control, and not just because the proverbial evil “they” (fill in the blank: pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, medical corporations, trial lawyers, etc.) charge too much. Such profit-mongering entities may well gouge us, owing to a lack of competition, fear of lawsuits, or government mandates and interference. Yet the larger culprit is, of course, we the people. The cost of our health care is soaring because, to be frank, that health care is usually very good, and it does things routinely that almost no one else in the world contemplates — such as providing 83-year-olds with heart-valve replacements, 78-year-olds with hip and knee replacements, and those who drink, smoke, and are chronically obese with drugs and weekly doctor visits.

When I grew up in rural California in the 1960s, an obese uncle in his early 70s had “heart trouble.” That translated into some nitroglycerin tablets, and otherwise about the same regimen offered President Eisenhower after his in-office heart attack: Try to quit smoking, eat less, more bed rest — and good luck!

Forty years later, that same patient would have a bypass, and an expensive battery of medications and weekly follow-up doctor visits — and would make it not to 73 years old (as my uncle was when he died), but to 78 or 80, or even 90.

If we wish to get health-care costs under control, then we should at least be honest with the American people and admit that we are all paying a collective fortune largely for three reasons: (1) to keep functioning into their 60s those who drank, smoked, and ate too much and in a past era would have passed on at 60; (2) to give us all an extra three to five years of mobility and functionality after we reach 75; (3) to fit us up with IVs, feeding tubes, and respirators so that in our last six months of life we can die in a rest home or among machines and specialists in a hospital rather than in our own home with a few morphine tablets for pain and a bowl of soup with a straw on the nightstand.

My dentist warned me in 1962 to brush three times a day, since he could predict a depressing train of events to come for most of the more fortunate rural patients who could pay for his care: surely fillings in your 20s and 30s, hopefully caps in your 40s, maybe root canals and crowns in your 50s, and, unfortunately, false teeth after that. And now? We confidently expect all sorts of restorative dentistry and tooth implants to such a degree that the old common sight of a normal American middle-class fellow with a couple of missing teeth or even a shiny, crass glistening gold incisor is now the exception.

Again, health care is expensive because Americans, with some good reason, have decided that the ancient tragic view — we all age and break down, and pay for the sins of our 20s and 30s in our 50s and 60s — can at last be replaced by the therapeutic promise of vigor and health into our 80s.

What could be done? President Obama could try some honesty. Thus he might say, “We are spending hundreds of billions to keep us healthy, vital, and alive in ways unimaginable a few years ago. To keep our part of the bargain, we must then encourage the aging to remain active and working — and delay retirement. If we are living to 80 rather than 65, then surely we can start receiving Social Security benefits at 67 rather than at 62. What we save in postponed payouts can go to the greater cost of keeping us alive to 80.”

President Obama also promises historic new rates of high-school and college graduation. Again, he seems to think the present problem is the absence of money — as if brilliant, gifted, and motivated young people are ending up at McDonald’s rather than doing quantum physics because the bogeymen “they” raised the bar and didn’t give them enough college scholarship support.

More banality. The truth is quite different. First, too many of contemporary minority youth — the growing Hispanic and African-American underclass that may well soon make up 40 percent of our nation’s student body — for a variety of reasons beyond the government’s control (e.g., from inordinate patterns of illegitimacy; greater absence of two-parent families; above-average parental drug use, incarceration rates, and felony convictions; and a pervasive ethic of machismo that disdains “acting white” with your nose in a book), simply are not as competitive as other students in grade and high schools. In reaction, the good-hearted state, at the 11th hour of college entry, seeks to ensure an equality of result through affirmative action, set-asides, de facto quotas, and government subsidies. When poorly prepped minority students subsequently do not graduate from college at rates commensurate with other groups, the Left cries “racism” — and we are again back to asking for more money rather than a radical change of heart.

President Obama apparently cannot say, “Americans — each time you have a child out of wedlock, each time you take an illicit drug, each time you break the law or go to jail, each time you romanticize brutality rather than honor scholarship, each time you allege the racism of the others rather than look into your own soul, you do your own small part in ensuring that we might not educate your child as we should — no matter how many thousands of dollars we lavish upon him.”

Second, for all American youth, too much government money, not too little, is pouring into education. From some 20 years’ experience in higher public education in California, I have come to know a familiar student profile:

Age: 18–30
Units enrolled: 6–9
Residence: Still at home
Job: 20 hours a week at minimum wage to pay for car, insurance, video games, entertainment incidentals (but not rent, food, laundry, etc.)
Major: Either undeclared or changing
Goal: Return to school every other semester, work part-time, party, and put off becoming autonomous

Such students, in today’s grade-inflated university, are able to get Cs and Bs for F and D work, to cobble together state and federal loans, student work assistance, and grants — and to delay growing up while they sleepwalk through a largely therapeutic curriculum. Eric Holder may call us cowards for not discussing race more openly, but if he were to examine the current class offerings at a California public university, or read the syllabi of the courses, he would quickly discover that race, class, and gender are the common themes — an approach designed to encourage grievance and separatism, which consumes precious student hours at the expense of real learning in the liberal arts and hard sciences.

If President Obama is serious about education, then he might also remonstrate with universities to bare their books, keep their costs below the rate of inflation, mandate a cutoff of student support after four years, insist that the BA or BS degree be contingent on some sort of final exit examination, re-examine tenure — and invest in vocational and trade schools rather than continue subsidizing community-studies, sociology, education, and physical-education degrees. One brilliant plumber, gifted carpenter, or adept auto mechanic does more for the American economy (and our collective values) than a dozen 20-something sociology majors in progress.

All government officials talk of spending wisely, but they never tell us the true extent of their financial malfeasance. Imagine if last week, in his address to Congress, President Obama had said something like the following: “We must cut spending, since the borrowed money must come from somewhere. Either we print more paper dollars, and eventually ruin the value of our currency in the manner now common in Zimbabwe or Argentina; or we continue to borrow from the Chinese, Japanese, and Europeans, and therefore mortgage both our honor and our autonomy; or, in the manner of War Bonds during the Second World War, we will have to ask you all to forgo stocks, 401(k)s, and real-estate investments, and instead each month, as part of your patriotic duty, buy U.S. government savings bonds that garner almost no interest, to subsidize our nation’s lavish borrowing and spending.”

Only that way could we have an honest national debate on whether the proposed high-speed rail between Vegas and LA is worth making Americans soon pay $10 for a Big Mac; or whether federally subsidized community organizing justifies more begging for help from the Communist government in Beijing; or whether we would all like to accept 0.05 interest on our government bonds to finance the mortgage bailout of those in arrears on their home debt.

In short, for each word devoted to spending, we need one word of honest exegesis about “paying for it.”

For the last 20 years, all our presidents have talked much about health care, education, and spending, while saying little. Either they were not honest enough to tell us the truth — or they were convinced that, like children, we simply couldn’t handle it if they did.

©2009 Victor Davis Hanson
23300  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Cognitive Dissonance of His Glibness on: March 05, 2009, 11:33:53 AM
Chad:

Beautiful.  One last request.  What is the URL of the clip itself?

Thank you.

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