Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Politics of Health Care
on: October 02, 2009, 08:31:46 AM
By MATT MILLER
As health reform legislation hurtles toward its finale, corporate America has rushed to the barricades to make sure that big business remains at the heart of the welfare state. The Business Roundtable, the Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers are united in their belief that Sen. Ron Wyden's (D., Ore.) "free choice amendment" must be stopped.
Mr. Wyden's measure, which is being offered as an amendment to the Baucus bill in the Senate Finance Committee, would come into play if employers failed to offer their workers meaningful choice of affordable plans. In that case, employees would be allowed to turn the cash employers currently spend on their health benefits into vouchers with which they could buy coverage from newly created insurance exchanges.
Big business thinks that giving employees this choice would be a calamity. To which one can only ask: Have these business lobbies lost their minds?
When the post-mortems on the health-care reform debate are written, the biggest mystery will be why big business fought so hard to stay in the health-care business even as soaring health costs surpassed corporate profits and diverted executive time better devoted to actually running companies.
America's employer-based health-care system may have made sense 50 years ago, when care was cheap, U.S. business faced little global competition, and fending off socialism was a Cold War priority. Circumstances have changed radically since that time. Yet corporate America—egged on by human resources executives threatened by change—remains caught in a time warp.
It's bad enough that business didn't do the smart thing up front and urge President Barack Obama to move the nation beyond employer-based care. That was major lost opportunity No. 1.
But on what possible theory does big business now assert that the 175 million Americans who get coverage on the job deserve no new choices? Most firms offer just one insurance plan, or narrow set of plans, to their workers. Why shouldn't these Americans also benefit from the myriad options that will become available from newly established competitive insurance exchanges?
The language used in a letter sent Tuesday to the Senate Finance Committee from something called the "National Coalition on Benefits"—a body controlled by corporate HR execs—reveals the confusion and paternalism still permeating the executive suite when it comes to the employer's role.
Mr. Wyden's proposal, the coalition asserts, would "fundamentally frustrate employers' attempts to administer integrated health improvement strategies." As a factual matter, this is incorrect. But why should "health improvement strategies" be the job of American businesses? Sounds more like a job for American doctors, in conjunction with their patients.
The status quo crowd also writes that Mr. Wyden's measure "would likely harm employer-employee relations because most employees have a longstanding expectation that their employer will be their primary source for health coverage." But employees already chafe at the shrinking coverage now available on the job. And who wouldn't want more options?
It's clear to anyone who looks that the edifice of employer-based coverage is crumbling. A recent survey sponsored by the Committee for Economic Development, a business-led think tank, showed that 62% of senior executives think the system is unsustainable. While the under-65 population has grown by 25 million since 1999, the number of people who get health care from their employers has declined. Numerous CEOs have told me privately that they'd just as soon get out of the benefits business altogether, which makes one wonder who the National Benefits Coalition really represents.
Mr. Wyden's measure would strike a modest but meaningful blow for modernity by making it possible, for the first time, for American workers to access group coverage outside their jobs. Once the infrastructure of these insurance exchanges is established, more firms will offer more people more choices over time. If business is smart, it will then strike a grand bargain in which government picks up the costs of the health-care voucher in exchange for business lending its support to the modest consumption tax needed to replace the corporate money being withdrawn from the system.
If this plays out as it should, the result will not be the single-payer system of Britain or Canada, but an American version of the Swiss or Dutch model of universal coverage in which private insurers and providers organize and deliver care. A decade or so from now, finally freed from this antiquated health-care system, everyone in corporate America should be happy.
Except for HR executives at big companies, who will have surrendered the commanding heights of the welfare state. So here's a thought, Sen. Wyden: Sweeten your amendment with a generous buyout plan for HR chiefs at the Fortune 500. And watch opposition to more freedom and choice for millions of Americans melt away.
Mr. Miller, a management consultant, is the author of "The Tyranny of Dead Ideas: Letting Go of The Old Ways of Thinking To Unleash a New Prosperity," (Times Books, 2009).
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Mukasey
on: October 02, 2009, 08:23:17 AM
By MICHAEL B. MUKASEY
One would think that the arrests last week of Najibullah Zazi, charged with plotting to bomb New York City subways—and of two others charged with planning to blow up buildings in Dallas, Texas, and Springfield, Ill.—would generate support for the intelligence-gathering tools that protect this country from Muslim fanatics. In Mr. Zazi's case, the government has already confirmed the value of these tools: It has filed a notice of its intent to use information gathered under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which was specifically written to help combat terrorists and spies.
Nevertheless, there is a rear-guard action in Congress to make it more difficult to gather, use and protect intelligence—the only weapon that can prevent an attack rather than simply punish one after the fact. The USA Patriot Act, enacted in the aftermath of 9/11, is a case in point.
This law has a series of provisions that will expire unless Congress renews them. Up for renewal this year is a provision that permits investigators to maintain surveillance of sophisticated terrorists who change cell phones frequently to evade detection. This kind of surveillance is known as "roving wiretaps." Also up for renewal are authorizations to seek court orders to examine business records in national security investigations, and to conduct national security investigations even when investigators cannot prove a particular target is connected to a particular terrorist organization or foreign power—known as "lone wolf" authority.
View Full Image
AP Photo/New York City Police Department
Najibullah Zazi, center, faces charges in a plot to blow up commuter trains.
.Roving wiretaps have been used for decades by law enforcement in routine narcotics cases. They reportedly were used to help thwart a plot earlier this year to blow up synagogues in Riverdale, N.Y. Business records, including bank and telephone records, can provide important leads early in a national security investigation, and they have been used to obtain evidence in numerous cases.
The value of lone wolf authority is best demonstrated by its absence in the summer of 2001. That's when FBI agents might have obtained a warrant to search the computer of Zacharias Moussaoui, often referred to as the "20th hijacker," before the 9/11 attacks—although there was no proof at the time of his arrest on an immigration violation that he was acting for a terrorist organization. But a later search of his computer revealed just that.
Rather than simply renew these vital provisions, which expire at the end of this year, some congressional Democrats want to impose requirements that would diminish their effectiveness, or add burdens to existing authorizations that would retard rather than advance our ability to gather intelligence.
One bill would require the government to prove that the business records it seeks by court order pertain to an agent of a foreign power before investigators have seen those records. The current standard requires only that the records in question do not involve a person in the United States, or that they do relate to an investigation undertaken to protect the country against international terrorism or spying.
The section of the Patriot Act that confers the authority on investigators to seek these records was amended in 2006 to add civil liberties protections when sensitive personal information about a person in the U.S. is gathered. It passed the Senate overwhelmingly with support that included then-Sens. Barack Obama and Joe Biden.
The same proposed legislation would make it harder to obtain a real-time record of incoming and outgoing calls—known as a pen register—in national security cases. It does so by requiring that the government prove that the information sought in this record relates to a foreign power. Currently, the government can obtain a court order by certifying that the information sought either is foreign-intelligence information or relates to an investigation to protect against foreign terrorism or spying.
While the changes may sound benign, they turn the concept of an investigation on its head, requiring the government to submit proof at the outset of an investigation while facts are still being sought. In any event, a pen register shows only who called whom and nothing about the content of the call, and thus raises none of the privacy concerns that are at stake when a full-fledged wiretap is at issue. Moreover, the underlying information in a pen register is not private because telephone companies routinely have it.
Other proposals target national security letters, known as NSLs, which are administrative subpoenas like those issued routinely by the FBI and agencies as diverse as the Agriculture Department and the IRS to get information they need in order to enforce the statutes they administer. One Democratic bill would impose a four-year sunset on the FBI's authority to issue such letters where none exists now. Another, the "Judicious Use of Surveillance Tools In Counterterrorism Efforts Act of 2009," would bar their use entirely to get information about local or long-distance calls, financial transactions, or information from credit reports.
But this is precisely the kind of information that would be useful to an investigator trying to find out who a terrorist is calling or how much money he is receiving from overseas. The FBI already has the authority to obtain this kind of information in cases involving crimes against children. The Drug Enforcement Administration has it in drug cases. There is no sense in giving investigators in national security cases less authority than investigators in criminal cases, and in criticizing them for failing to connect the dots while denying them the authority to discover the dots.
Mr. Zazi's arrest is only the most recent case in which intelligence apparently has averted disaster. Cells have been broken up and individual defendants convicted in New York, Virginia, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas and Ohio.
But a disaster once averted is not permanently averted, as the writer Jonah Goldberg has noted. After the 1993 World Trade Center bombing killed six people and injured hundreds, Ramzi Youssef, the mastermind, was caught, convicted and put in the maximum security prison at Florence, Colo. Nonetheless, the World Trade Center towers are gone along with thousands of people.
Those who indulge paranoid fantasies of government investigators snooping on the books they take out of the library, and who would roll back current authorities in the name of protecting civil liberties, should consider what legislation will be proposed and passed if the next Najibullah Zazi is not detected.
Mr. Mukasey was attorney general of the United States from 2007 to 2009.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Glick
on: October 02, 2009, 08:19:30 AM
Friday Feature /Can Syria Pass 'Israel Test'?
CAROLINE GLICK, JewishJournal.com (9/30/09): There has been much talk in
recent months about the prospect of Syria bolting the Iranian axis and
becoming magically transformed into an ally of the West.
Although Syria's President-for-life Bashar Assad's daily demonstrations of
fealty to his murderous friends has exposed this talk as nothing more than
fantasy, it continues to dominate the international discourse on Syria.
In the meantime, Syria's ongoing real transformation, from a more or less
functioning state into an impoverished wasteland, has been ignored.
Today, the country faces the greatest economic catastrophe in its history.
The crisis is causing massive malnutrition and displacement for hundreds
of thousands of Syrians. These Syrians - some 250,000 mainly Kurdish
farmers - have been forced off their farms over the past two years because
their lands were reclaimed by the desert.
Today shantytowns have sprung up around major cities such as Damascus.
They are filled with internally displaced refugees. Through a cataclysmic
combination of irrational agricultural policies embraced by the Ba'athist
Assad dynasty for the past 45 years that have eroded the soil, and massive
digging of some 420,000 unauthorized wells that have dried out the
groundwater aquifers (Reuters is reporting that half the wells were dug
illegally), Syria's regime has done everything in its power to dry up the
country. The effects of these demented policies have been exacerbated in
recent years by Turkey's diversion of Syria's main water source, the
Euphrates River, through the construction of dams upstream, and by two
years of unrelenting drought. Today, much of Syria's previously fertile
farmland has become wasteland. Former farmers are now destitute day
laborers with few prospects for economic recovery.
Imagine if in his country's moment of peril, instead of clinging to his
alliance with Iran, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda and Hamas, Assad were to turn to
Israel to help him out of this crisis?
Israel is a world leader in water desalination and recycling. The largest
desalination plant in the world is located in Ashkelon. Israeli technology
and engineers could help Syria rebuild its water supply.
Israel could also help Syria use whatever water it still has, or is able
to produce through desalination and recycling more wisely through drip
irrigation - which was invented in Israel. Israel today supplies 50
percent of the international market for drip irrigation. In places like
Syria and southern Iraq that are now being dried out by the Turkish dams,
irrigation is primitive - often involving nothing more than water trucks
pumping water out of the Euphrates and driving it over to fields that are
often less than a kilometer away.
Then there are Syria's dwindling oil reserves. No doubt, Israeli engineers
and seismologists would be able to increase the efficiency and
productivity of existing wells and so increase their output. It is
certainly not beyond the realm of possibility that Israeli scientists and
engineers could even discover new, untapped oil reserves.
But, of course, Syria isn't interested in Israel's help. Syria wants to
have its enemy and eat it too. . . .
. . . . The Palestinians and the Syrians are not alone. From Egypt to
Saudi Arabia to Pakistan and Indonesia, the Arab and Muslim world has
preferred poverty and economic backwardness to the prosperity that would
come from engaging Israel. They prefer their staunch rejection of Israel
and hatred of Jews and the economic stagnation this involves to the
prosperity and political freedom and stability that would come from an
acceptance of Israel.
As American economic and technology guru George Gilder puts it in his new
book "The Israel Test," "The test of a culture is what it accomplishes in
advancing the human cause - what it creates rather than what it claims."
Gilder's book is a unique and necessary contribution to the current
international debate about the Middle East. Rather than concentrate solely
on Arab claims from Israel as most writers do, Gilder turns his attention
to what the nations of the region create. Specifically, he shows that only
Israel creates wealth through creativity and innovation and that today
Israel is contributing more to the human cause through its scientific,
technological and financial advances than any other country in the world
except the United States.
"The Israel Test" describes in riveting detail both the massive
contributions of mainly Diaspora Jews to the U.S. victories in World War
II and the Cold War and to the scientific revolutions of the 20th century
that set the foundations for the computer age, and the massive
contributions of Israeli Jews to the digital revolution that defines and
shapes our economic realities today.
But before Gilder begins to describe these great Jewish contributions to
the global economy and the general well being of people around the world,
he asserts that the future of the world will be determined by its
treatment of Israel. As he puts it, "The central issue in international
politics, dividing the world into two fractious armies, is the tiny state
In his view, "Israel defines a line of demarcation," between those who
pass and those who fail what he refers to as "the Israel Test."
Gilder poses the test to his readers by asking them a few questions: "What
is your attitude toward people who excel you in the creation of wealth or
in other accomplishment? Do you aspire to their excellence, or do you
seethe at it? Do you admire and celebrate exceptional achievement, or do
you impugn it and seek to tear it down?"
By his telling, the future of civilization will be determined by how the
nations of the world - and particularly, how the American people - answer
Gilder's book is valuable on its own accord. I personally learned an
enormous amount about Israel's pioneering role in the information economy.
Beyond that, it provides a stunning rebuttal to the central arguments of
the other major book that has been written about Israel and the Arabs in
the US in recent years.
Steve Walt and John Mearsheimer's "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign
Policy" (Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 2007) has two central arguments.
First, they argue that Israel has little value as an ally to the United
States. Second, they assert that given Israel's worthlessness to the
United States, the only reasonable explanation of why Americans
overwhelmingly support Israel is that they have been manipulated by a
conspiracy of Jewish organizations and Jewish-owned and controlled media
and financial outlets. In their view, the nefarious Jewish-controlled
forces have bamboozled the American people into believing that Israel is
important to them and even a kindred nation to the United States.
Gilder blows both arguments out of the water without even directly
engaging them or noting Israel's singular contributions to U.S.
intelligence and military prowess. Instead, he demonstrates that Israel is
an indispensable motor for the U.S. economy, which in turn is the
principal driver of U.S. power globally. Much of Silicon Valley's economic
prowess is founded on technologies made in Israel. Everything from the
microchip to the cellphone has either been made in Israel or by Israelis
in Silicon Valley.
It is Gilder's own admiration for Israel's exceptional achievements that
puts paid Walt and Mearsheimer's second argument. There is something
distinctively American in his enthusiasm for Israel's innovative genius.
From America's earliest beginnings, the American character has been imbued
with an admiration for achievement. As a nation, Americans have always
passed Gilder's Israel Test.
Taken together with the other reasons for American support for Israel -
particularly religious affinity for the people of the Bible - Gilder's
book shows that the American and Israeli people are indeed natural friends
and allies bound together by their exceptionalism that motivates them to
strive for excellence and progress to the benefit of all mankind.
Americans recently commemorated the eighth anniversary of the Sept. 11
attacks. Those attacks were the greatest confrontation to date between
American exceptionalism and Islamist nihilism. Gilder's book serves as a
reminder of what makes the United States and its exceptional ally Israel
worth defending at all costs. "The Israel Test" also teaches us that so
long as we keep faith with ourselves, we will not be alone in our fight
against barbarism and hatred, and inevitably, we will emerge the victors
in this bitter fight.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: US Foreign Policy
on: October 02, 2009, 08:11:56 AM
Obama's Moment of Reckoning
EVERY AMERICAN PRESIDENT, early in his term, discovers that vision and reality rarely meet. Some — Ronald Reagan comes to mind — are able to recover. Others — Lyndon Johnson and George W. Bush, for example — do not. But the world is the way it is for a reason. States do not have as much room to maneuver in their policymaking as election campaign rhetoric would suggest. U.S. President Barack Obama’s mistake to date has been very similar to that made by every president before him: namely, basing his foreign policy on the assumption that he, unlike his predecessors, will be able to talk to “those people” in a way that solves problems — that if things are just handled in a different way, a different president can achieve a different end.
That particular bundle of optimism pretty much shorted out this week. American diplomats will be in Geneva on Thursday for talks with their counterparts from France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Russia, China and Iran. The topic: how to force the Iranians to come clean about their nuclear program. From what we’ve been able to gather from intelligence efforts, Iran is challenging the very agenda of the meeting. Russia is indicating that it doesn’t care a whit about Iran, but is willing to exert pressure if the Americans will grant concessions in the former Soviet Union, specifically Ukraine and Georgia. The Chinese are livid at Obama for his decision to implement tire tariffs and are not appearing particularly helpful either. Germany isn’t even sending an Iran expert to the talks, and is distracted by internal politics anyway.
“It is too early to pass judgment on Obama’s first year in office, but things are getting dicey.”
Nor is Iran the only issue that has forced its way onto Obama’s agenda. Afghanistan is a war that is going nowhere, and even with a massive increase of forces, it is unlikely that anything more than a stalemate will be feasible. Many empires have disappeared into the maw that is Afghanistan. The Greeks left. The Huns left. The Mongols left. The British left. The Soviets left. The Taliban is pretty sure the Americans will leave too. Obama’s campaign promise to fight the “right war” of course makes for some interesting public relations acrobatics, whatever direction policy — or the war — should take. But the problem remains that this war has gone from bad to worse — and to worse still — since Obama took office.
Things could be better at home, too. On Tuesday, the White House lost two major votes on health care, the issue that has crowded out nearly everything else on the domestic agenda — and this despite the tire tariffs, which were pushed through explicitly to guarantee the loyalty of some domestic groups. Making a sacrifice of China — and thereby complicating the Iran issue — has not generated a victory, but instead a loss.
It is too early to pass judgment on Obama’s first year in office, but things are getting dicey. Obama is now facing two crises in the Islamic world — Afghanistan and Iran — and by all indications he doesn’t have a clear strategy on either. His advisers are good enough, and he is smart enough, to realize that simply continuing in the same direction on either issue will not be a recipe for success. Iran, Russia and the Taliban already view him as weak. Doubling down in Afghanistan in order to confront the Taliban would rob the United States of its ability to act elsewhere. Going to war with Iran would (at a minimum) remove 3 million barrels per day of crude from the market and reverse the nascent economic recovery — not to mention reigniting conflict in Iraq. Shifting the country’s military orientation to re-contain Russia would leave Iraq and Afghanistan in the hands of potentially (if not already outright) hostile forces. Not a nice menu from which to select.
Obama’s moment is shaping up to arrive very soon. It well might be Thursday.
But it is not all bad news. Iran’s foreign minister on Wednesday flew from U.N. meetings in New York City to Washington, to visit the Iranian interests section at the Pakistani Embassy. Because Iran and the United States do not have direct ties, they operate via the Swiss Embassy in Tehran and the Pakistani Embassy in Washington. And given that lack of direct ties, any such visit requires a special visa with a high-level clearance. Someone like Manouchehr Mottaki does not simply visit Washington without approval. It’s pretty obvious that he didn’t come — and that the White House didn’t allow him to come — to go sightseeing. And if Mottaki simply wanted to mock Obama, he could have done that from the United Nations building in New York. He came to talk directly to the Americans before the public talks in Geneva on Thursday.
We see really only one clean way out of Obama’s dilemma: a deal with Iran. Should the Iranians and the Americans find a way to live with each other, then a great many other issues would fall into place. The Russians would lose their lever in the Middle East. The Americans could smoothly (for the Middle East) withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan. American and Iranian intelligence and training in cooperation could limit any Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan.
Such a “happy” ending naturally faces some touchy obstacles. Israel would retain the ability to scrap any rapprochement, and would have strong incentives to do so if Iran’s nuclear program was not clearly and publicly defanged. Russia might have a thing or two to say (and do) to scuttle any warming in U.S.-Iran relations. And then there is that issue of a lack of trust between Tehran and Washington on just about everything.
But Mottaki visited Washington. And he did so with the full knowledge and permission of the White House. That’s a fact that cannot be ignored, and one that just might shine a light for an increasingly beleaguered president.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: BO getting played
on: October 02, 2009, 08:08:28 AM
From Geneva yesterday come all kinds of good diplomatic vibrations. Iran may allow U.N. inspectors into a recently unveiled uranium-enrichment plant "within two weeks." Another meeting will be held before month's end. A "freeze" on sanctions was bruited about. In an appearance at the White House, President Obama sounded sober but hopeful, calling the direct American talks with the Islamic Republic "a constructive beginning" toward "serious and meaningful engagement."
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was presumably in even better spirits at his remarkable change of fortune. A month ago, Iran's president was struggling to cement his grip on power after stealing an election and repressing nationwide protests. A week ago, the disclosure of the secret facility near Qom highlighted Iran's chronic prevarication and raised calls for more sanctions.
By yesterday, all that had changed. At the 18th-century Villa Le Saugy, Iran's representative sat among the world's powers as a respected equal. Responding to an overture from the Obama Administration, the Iranians even talked about the future of the U.N. and other nonnuclear issues. Meanwhile, Washington was "buzzing" (as one newspaper put it) that a one-day visit by Iran's foreign minister might signal more detente to come. Back in Tehran, Mr. Ahmadinejad floated a tete-a-tete with the U.S. President. In short, this engagement conferred a respectability on his regime that Mr. Ahmadinejad could only have imagined amid his vicious post-election crackdown.
The price of entry is surprisingly modest, too. Though cautious, the P5+1 (the veto-wielding Security Council members, plus Germany) welcomed signs of Iranian concessions: Inspectors at Qom, an openness to send low-enriched uranium outside Iran for enrichment, possibly suspending its own enrichment program. Mr. Ahmadinejad said the Geneva talks were "a unique opportunity" for the West.
Consider the Iranian offers in turn. Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency won't find anything incriminating at the Qom facility. Having lied about it for years, the Iranians now have plenty of time to clean the place out. Iran's experience with the IAEA goes back to the first inspections starting in 1992, which somehow prevented the world from learning about Iran's bomb program for a decade and then only from an Iranian dissident group. A freeze on enrichment used to be the U.S. precondition for talks with Iran. Now the U.S. and Europeans say that in exchange merely for this enrichment promise, they'll freeze any additional sanctions.
Iran has timed its olive branch well. The Europeans are more frustrated with past Iranian stalling than is Washington and have started to hanker for tougher measures. Those demands will now be muted. For years, Iran has talked with the Europeans, using the time and diplomatic cover to make nuclear progress. The Obama ascendency offers the mullahs another chance, with an even more eager partner, to repeat the exercise with a far bigger potential payoff. Expect Iran to follow the North Korean model, stringing the West along, lying and wheedling, striking deals only to reneg and start over. In the end, North Korea tested a nuclear device.
On long evidence, the regime has no intention of stopping a nuclear program that would give it new power in the region, and new leverage against America. The Qom news reveals a more extensive, sophisticated and covert nuclear complex than many people, including the CIA, were willing to recognize. The facility is located on a Revolutionary Guard base, partly hidden underground and protected by air-defense missiles. Its capacity of 3,000 centrifuges is too small for civilian use but not for a weapons program. It's a good bet an archipelago of such small covert facilities is scattered around Iran.
Meanwhile, news reports this week say German and British intelligence believe Iran never stopped clandestine efforts to design a nuclear warhead. Their assumptions contradict the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate in 2007 that Iran had stopped its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and kept it frozen.
The evidence is overwhelming that the window to stop the world's leading sponsor of terrorism from acquiring a bomb is closing fast. If we are serious about doing so, the proper model isn't North Korea, but Libya. The Gadhafi regime agreed to disarm after the fall of Saddam Hussein convinced its leaders that their survival was better assured without nuclear weapons. Mr. Ahmadinejad and Iran's mullahs will only concede if they see their future the same way.
This supposed fresh start in Geneva only gives them new legitimacy, and new hope that they can have their bomb and enhanced global standing too.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: The Power of Word
on: October 02, 2009, 07:23:16 AM
Rachel et al:
For some reason
the Creator seems to be putting messages about happiness in my path. From your post, to a Dennis Prager talk CD I just shared with my son, to this:
"The natural state of man, the way G-d created us, is to be happy. Look at children and you will see."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Fisher Ames, 1789
on: October 02, 2009, 07:16:30 AM
"I am commonly opposed to those who modestly assume the rank of champions of liberty, and make a very patriotic noise about the people. It is the stale artifice which has duped the world a thousand times, and yet, though detected, it is still successful. I love liberty as well as anybody. I am proud of it, as the true title of our people to distinction above others; but ... I would guard it by making the laws strong enough to protect it." --Fisher Ames, letter to George Richard Minot, 1789
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: MMA Thread
on: October 01, 2009, 02:48:51 PM
I had previously sensed substantial substance to Kimbo (I saw a couple of interviews a couple of years ago wherein he wasn't simply being marketed as the ultimate scary ghetto negro) but last night was something else.
What a great soap opera this season is turning into!
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Swiss Option
on: October 01, 2009, 12:02:59 PM
Its the NYT, so caveat lector. That said, this seems interesting.
Swiss Health Care Thrives Without Public Option
Published: September 30, 2009
ZURICH — Like every other country in Europe, Switzerland guarantees health care for all its citizens. But the system here does not remotely resemble the model of bureaucratic, socialized medicine often cited by opponents of universal coverage in the United States.
Swiss private insurers are required to offer coverage to all citizens, regardless of age or medical history. And those people, in turn, are obligated to buy health insurance.
That is why many academics who have studied the Swiss health care system have pointed to this Alpine nation of about 7.5 million as a model that delivers much of what Washington is aiming to accomplish — without the contentious option of a government-run health insurance plan.
In Congress, the Senate Finance Committee is dealing with legislation proposed by its chairman, Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana, which would require nearly all Americans to buy health insurance, but stops short of the government-run insurance option that is still strongly supported by liberal Democrats.
Two amendments that would have added a public option to the Baucus bill were voted down on Tuesday. But another Senate bill, like the House versions, calls for a public insurance option.
By many measures, the Swiss are healthier than Americans, and surveys indicate that Swiss people are generally happy with their system. Switzerland, moreover, provides high-quality care at costs well below what the United States spends per person. Swiss insurance companies offer the mandatory basic plan on a not-for-profit basis, although they are permitted to earn a profit on supplemental plans.
And yet, as a potential model for the United States, the Swiss health care system involves some important trade-offs that American consumers, insurers and health care providers might find hard to swallow.
The Swiss government does not “ration care” — that populist bogeyman in the American debate — but it does keep down overall spending by regulating drug prices and fees for lab tests and medical devices. It also requires patients to share some costs — at a higher level than in the United States — so they have an incentive to avoid unnecessary treatments. And some doctors grumble that cost controls are making it harder these days for a physician to make a franc.
The Swiss government also provides direct cash subsidies to people if health insurance equals more than 8 percent of personal income, and about 35 to 40 percent of households get some form of subsidy. In some cases, employers contribute part of the insurance premium, but, unlike in the United States, they do not receive a tax break for it. (All the health care proposals in Congress would provide a subsidy to moderate-income Americans.)
Unlike the United States, where the Medicare program for the elderly costs taxpayers about $500 billion a year, Switzerland has no special break for older Swiss people beyond the general subsidy.
“Switzerland’s health care system is different from virtually every other country in the world,” said Regina Herzlinger, a Harvard Business School professor who has studied the Swiss approach extensively.
“What I like about it is that it’s got universal coverage, it’s customer driven, and there are no intermediaries shopping on people’s behalf,” she added. “And there’s no waiting lists or rationing.”
Since being made mandatory in 1996, the Swiss system has become a popular model for experts seeking alternatives to government-run health care. Indeed, it has attracted some unlikely American admirers, like Bill O’Reilly, the Fox News talk show host. And it has lured some members of Congress on fact-finding trips here to seek ideas for overhauling the United States system.
The Swiss approach is also popular with patients like Frieda Burgstaller, 72, who says she likes the freedom of choice and access that the private system provides. “If the doctor says it has to be done, it’s done,” said Mrs. Burgstaller. “You don’t wait. And it’s covered.”
While many patients seem content, the burdens fall more heavily on doctors, especially general practitioners and pediatricians.
Dr. Gerlinde Schurter, Mrs. Burgstaller’s physician, says she feels squeezed by government regulators and insurance companies that have fought to hold down costs — most recently with a 15 percent cut in lab fees that forced her five-member group to lay off its principal technician.
Dr. Schurter also fears a so-called blue letter, a warning from an insurance company that she is prescribing too many drugs or expensive procedures.
If doctors cannot justify their treatments, they can be forced to repay insurers for a portion of the medical services prescribed. And while prescriptions are covered, the government has insisted that consumers fork over a 20 percent co-payment if they want brand-name drugs, rather than 10 percent for generics.
Similarly, the government health office also lowered reimbursements across the board for medical devices in 2006.
These are among the reasons health care costs consume 10.8 percent of gross domestic product in Switzerland, compared with 16 percent in the United States, the highest level of spending among industrial countries, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Page 2 of 2)
Still, along with lower costs and the freedom to choose doctors come bigger bills for individual patients. On average, out-of-pocket payments come to $1,350 annually. That is the highest among the 30 countries tracked by the O.E.C.D. and well above the $890 average for the United States, which comes in second.
Then there are the hefty prices of the insurance policies themselves, which can top 14,000 Swiss francs a year for a family of four in Zurich, or about $13,600. That is roughly comparable to the national average annual premium for a family policy under employer-sponsored group plans in the United States, but in high-cost American cities the figure can be much higher.
Direct comparisons are hard to make, however, because in the American system, employers and employees share the cost of premiums, which are also exempt from individual and corporate income taxes.
Nevertheless, Swiss citizens relish the lack of bureaucracy, especially compared with systems in Britain and Germany, even if their doctors grumble.
As in the United States, practitioners typically are paid on a fee-for-service basis, rather than on salary. But they make less than their American counterparts. According to the O.E.C.D., specialists in Switzerland earn three times more than the nation’s average wage, compared with 5.6 times for American specialists. General practitioners in Switzerland make 2.7 times more than the average wage, versus 3.7 in the United States.
That is partly because the Swiss health insurers are not shy about using their muscle with physicians.
Pius Gyger, director of health economics and health policy at Helsana, the country’s biggest insurer, cannot suppress a smile when asked about the effectiveness of the so-called blue letters.
“If there’s something strange, we knock at the doctor’s door,” he said. “For doctors, it’s an incentive to treat economically, but often perceived as a threat.”
He estimates that only about 3 percent of doctors get the letters and that fewer than 1 percent actually have to return money. Still, Mr. Gyger said, “it’s an easy exercise for us and it has an effect.”
Despite pressure on general practitioners, hospital physicians like Edouard Battegay at the University of Zurich say universal coverage also lowers costs by reducing emergency room visits.
Indeed, his E.R. is as quiet and efficient as a Swiss watch, and he still expresses amazement at what he saw when he worked briefly in Seattle.
“I’ve seen things in the U.S. that I’ve never seen here; it was a state of disaster,” he said. “Chronic disease management is better here. If you don’t treat hypertension, you treat strokes. Not treating patients is expensive.”
And even Dr. Schurter — who says her income has been flat for the last five years — praises the virtues of the Swiss system for patients struck by catastrophe.
When her daughter was found to have leukemia seven years ago, “I never worried for a second how and if she’d get treatment and if it would be paid for,” she said. “All was granted as naturally as the air we breathe.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / stratfor
on: October 01, 2009, 11:40:32 AM
October 1, 2009 | 1350 GMT
Negotiations have begun in Geneva between the P-5+1 and Iran over the Iranian nuclear program. The most important statement to emerge so far is from a U.S. assistant secretary of defense, who told a Russian news agency that Washington plans to give Iran until the end of the year to verify that its nuclear program is only civilian in nature.
Related Special Series
Special Series: Iran Sanctions
Related Special Topic Page
Special Coverage: The Iran Crisis
Talks between Iran and the P-5+1 nations — the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, China, France and Germany — began Oct. 1 in the village of Genthoud, a municipality of Geneva. The morning kicked off with several plenary meetings, with time allowed for intermittent breaks that presented opportunities for more private sideline discussions with Iranian representatives.
So far it appears that Iran is providing the P-5+1 powers with plenty of fodder for discussing its nuclear program. The meetings are now expected to extend into the early evening and on into the next day. The United States has been careful to clarify that this is not the meeting where sanctions would be threatened against Iran. The Geneva meeting was designed to engage the Iranians; should that fail, subsequent meetings of the P-5+1 (without Iran) would be organized to discuss the sanctions option.
The most important statement that has come out of the summit so far is from U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Alexander Vershbow, who told Russia’s Interfax news agency that Washington plans to give Iran until the end of the year to prove that its nuclear program is only civilian in nature. “Now this process may last more than one day, but it cannot go on indefinitely,” Vershbow said. “We have agreed with our main partners that we need to see progress before the end of the year, or else we will have to shift toward tougher measures, including stronger sanctions.”
This is a slight shift from earlier U.S. (and particularly Israeli) warnings indicating that the Geneva meeting was a chance for Iran to come clean or face “crippling” sanctions. And Vershbow, in particular, is a technocrat whose word carries more weight. He has served as the U.S. ambassador to Russia, NATO and South Korea and is not prone to grandstanding.
Iran had plans all along to lengthen the negotiating track and buy more time for dialogue, but the fact that Washington is agreeing to extend the deadline could indicate one of two things: Either the United States is buying time to sort this issue out and attempt a compromise with the Russians to increase pressure on Tehran, or Iran has made a concrete offer behind the scenes that has caught the White House’s attention.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki’s visit to Washington, which began Sept. 30, is key to this latter scenario. The U.S. State Department so far is downplaying the entire visit and claiming ignorance on whether Mottaki has met with U.S. officials, but Mottaki certainly did not visit the nation’s capital for a tour of the monuments. At the same time, Iran’s state-run news agency IRNA is claiming that Mottaki discussed his country’s nuclear program with two U.S. Congressmen on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, though this report has not yet been confirmed. An unnamed U.S. official also announced Oct. 1 that Washington may even be open to one-on-one talks with the Iranians.
So far it appears that the United States has found a new reason to be optimistic about the Geneva talks, but there is much more to uncover as the summit plays out. And, as always, Israel is the critical player to watch.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Davy Crockett
on: October 01, 2009, 10:44:37 AM
Alexander's Essay – October 1, 2009
Not Yours To Give
"I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents..." --James Madison
David CrockettMy paternal ancestors settled in East Tennessee about 10 years before it was admitted to the Union (1796). Not far from where they settled lived a fellow who was the region's most famous frontiersman.
David Crockett was his name.
He has been immortalized as a folk hero, known for his battles with the Red Stick Creek Indians under Andrew Jackson, and his last stand at the Alamo with fellow Patriots James Bowie from Kentucky and William Travis from South Carolina.
Crockett battled the Creek side-by-side with fellow Tennessean Sam Houston, but both men were friends to the Cherokee clans, which were composed of highly civilized native peoples living in the border regions between Tennessee and North Carolina.
At the end of his formal service as a soldier, he was elected Lieutenant Colonel of the Tennessee Militia.
Crockett is less known for the several terms he served in Congress between 1827 and 1835 during the presidency of his old commander, Andrew Jackson. Crockett's friend, Sam Houston, had been elected governor of Tennessee. (Houston, who would later become governor of Texas, is the only American in history to serve as governor of two states.)
Though he had little formal education, Crockett exuded a commanding presence and was feared, if not loathed, by his more refined congressional colleagues for his backwoods rhetoric.
In one of his more legendary orations, Crockett proclaimed: "Mr. Speaker ... the gentleman from Massachusetts [Mr. Everett] talks of summing up the merits of the question, but I'll sum up my own. In one word I'm a screamer, and have got the roughest racking horse, the prettiest sister, the surest rifle and the ugliest dog in the district. I'm a leetle the savagest crittur you ever did see. My father can whip any man in Kentucky, and I can lick my father. I can out-speak any man on this floor, and give him two hours start. I can run faster, dive deeper, stay longer under, and come out drier, than any chap this side the big Swamp. I can outlook a panther and outstare a flash of lightning, tote a steamboat on my back and play at rough and tumble with a lion, and an occasional kick from a zebra."
Crockett continued, "I can take the rag off -- frighten the old folks -- astonish the natives -- and beat the Dutch all to smash, make nothing of sleeping under a blanket of snow and don't mind being frozen more than a rotten apple. I can walk like an ox, run like a fox, swim like an eel, yell like an Indian, fight like a devil, spout like an earthquake, make love like a mad bull, and swallow a Mexican whole without choking if you butter his head and pin his ears back."
What I wouldn't give to hear a tad more of that on the floor of the House these days!
Though his rhetoric may have been unorthodox, Crockett was a man of principle.
His fervent opposition to Andrew Jackson's Indian Removal Act of 1830 (forcing removal of the peaceful Cherokee tribes along the infamous "Trail of Tears") cost Crockett his congressional seat, but he declared, "I bark at no man's bid. I will never come and go, and fetch and carry, at the whistle of the great man in the White House no matter who he is."
But it was Crockett's stalwart opposition to unconstitutional spending that is most worth noting given today's congressional penchant for such spending in the trillions.
According to the Register of Debates for the House of Representatives, 20th Congress, 1st Session on April 2, 1828, Crocket stood to challenge the constitutionality of one of the earliest welfare spending bills.
While the exact text of his speech was not recorded in full (as that was not the practice of the time), the spirit of his words was captured years later under the heading "Not yours to give" in the book "The Life of Colonel David Crockett" by Edward Ellis.
Ellis wrote, "One day in the House of Representatives a bill was taken up appropriating money for the benefit of a widow of a distinguished naval officer. Several beautiful speeches had been made in its support. The Speaker was just about to put the question when Crockett arose..."
According to Ellis, Crockett said, "Mr. Speaker; I have as much respect for the memory of the deceased, and as much sympathy for the sufferings of the living, if suffering there be, as any man in this House, but we must not permit our respect for the dead or our sympathy for a part of the living to lead us into an act of injustice to the balance of the living. I will not go into an argument to prove that Congress has not the power to appropriate this money as an act of charity. Every member upon this floor knows it. We have the right, as individuals, to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity; but as members of Congress we have no right so to appropriate a dollar of the public money. Some eloquent appeals have been made to us upon the ground that it is a debt due the deceased. Mr. Speaker, the deceased lived long after the close of the war; he was in office to the day of his death, and I have never heard that the government was in arrears to him.
"Every man in this House knows it is not a debt. We cannot, without the grossest corruption, appropriate this money as the payment of a debt. We have not the semblance of authority to appropriate it as charity. Mr. Speaker, I have said we have the right to give as much money of our own as we please. I am the poorest man on this floor. I cannot vote for this bill, but I will give one week's pay to the object, and if every member of Congress will do the same, it will amount to more than the bill asks."
Though the measure was expected to receive unanimous support, after Crockett's objection, it did not pass.
Be sure you are right...Ellis recounts that Crocket was later asked by a friend why he had opposed the appropriation, and he replied: "Several years ago I was one evening standing on the steps of the Capitol with some other members of Congress, when our attention was attracted by a great light over in Georgetown. It was evidently a large fire. We jumped into a hack and drove over as fast as we could. In spite of all that could be done, many houses were burned and many families made houseless, and, besides, some of them had lost all but the clothes they had on. The weather was very cold, and when I saw so many women and children suffering, I felt that something ought to be done for them. The next morning a bill was introduced appropriating $20,000 for their relief. We put aside all other business and rushed it through as soon as it could be done."
Crocket explained, "The next summer, when it began to be time to think about election, I concluded I would take a scout around among the boys of my district. I had no opposition there, but, as the election was some time off, I did not know what might turn up. When riding one day in a part of my district in which I was more of a stranger than any other, I saw a man in a field plowing and coming toward the road. I gauged my gait so that we should meet as he came to the fence. As he came up, I spoke to the man. He replied politely, but, as I thought, rather coldly.
"I began: 'Well, friend, I am one of those unfortunate beings called candidates, and..."
His constituent interrupted, "Yes I know you; you are Colonel Crockett. I have seen you once before, and voted for you the last time you were elected. I suppose you are out electioneering now, but you had better not waste your time or mine, I shall not vote for you again."
Crockett replied, "This was a sockdolager ... I begged him to tell me what was the matter."
The farmer said, "Well, Colonel, it is hardly worth-while to waste time or words upon it. I do not see how it can be mended, but you gave a vote last winter which shows that either you have not capacity to understand the Constitution, or that you are wanting in the honesty and firmness to be guided by it. In either case you are not the man to represent me. But I beg your pardon for expressing it in that way. I did not intend to avail myself of the privilege of the constituent to speak plainly to a candidate for the purpose of insulting or wounding you. I intend by it only to say that your understanding of the Constitution is very different from mine; and I will say to you what, but for my rudeness, I should not have said, that I believe you to be honest. But an understanding of the Constitution different from mine I cannot overlook, because the Constitution, to be worth anything, must be held sacred, and rigidly observed in all its provisions. The man who wields power and misinterprets it is the more dangerous the more honest he is."
Crocket responded, "Well, my friend; I may as well own up. You have got me there. But certainly nobody will complain that a great and rich country like ours should give the insignificant sum of $20,000 to relieve its suffering women and children, particularly with a full and overflowing Treasury, and I am sure, if you had been there, you would have done just as I did."
But the farmer fired back, "It is not the amount, Colonel, that I complain of; it is the principle. In the first place, the government ought to have in the Treasury no more than enough for its legitimate purposes. But that has nothing with the question. The power of collecting and disbursing money at pleasure is the most dangerous power that can be entrusted to man. ... So you see, Colonel, you have violated the Constitution in what I consider a vital point. It is a precedent fraught with danger to the country, for when Congress once begins to stretch its power beyond the limits of the Constitution, there is no limit to it, and no security for the people."
Thus, Crockett explained of his opposition to support the widow of that distinguished naval officer: "Now, sir, you know why I made that speech yesterday."
Today, there are but a handful of Senate and House incumbents who dare support and defend the Constitution as Crockett did. But there are candidates emerging around the nation who, with our support, will deliver orations as brazen and eloquent, and stand firm behind those words.
Semper Vigilo, Fortis, Paratus et Fidelis!
(To submit reader comments
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Secret Editor Man , , ,
on: October 01, 2009, 10:28:02 AM
By JAMES TARANTO
(Editor's note: This is an abbreviated edition of Best of the Web Today. We're on assignment, returning Thursday.)
Clark Hoyt, "public editor" of the New York Times, has weighed in on his paper's coverage of the Acorn scandal--or rather its lack thereof. Right off the bat, he delivers a half-truth:
On Sept. 12, an Associated Press article inside The Times reported that the Census Bureau had severed its ties to Acorn, the community organizing group. Robert Groves, the census director, was quoted as saying that Acorn, one of thousands of unpaid organizations promoting the 2010 census, had become "a distraction."
What the article didn't say--but what followers of Fox News and conservative commentators already knew--was that a video sting had caught Acorn workers counseling a bogus prostitute and pimp on how to set up a brothel staffed by under-age girls, avoid detection and cheat on taxes.
It is true, as we noted Sept. 14, that the AP article as published in the Times didn't mention that Acorn had been caught in a sex-slavery sting. But that's because the paper cut the latter half of the original dispatch, which did mention it. And there were other AP dispatches on the evening of Sept. 11, such as this one, that led with the sting. Somehow the Times managed to miss those.
Hoyt acknowledges that the Times continued missing the story:
For days, as more videos were posted and government authorities rushed to distance themselves from Acorn, The Times stood still. Its slow reflexes--closely following its slow response to a controversy that forced the resignation of Van Jones, a White House adviser--suggested that it has trouble dealing with stories arising from the polemical world of talk radio, cable television and partisan blogs. Some stories, lacking facts, never catch fire. But others do, and a newspaper like The Times needs to be alert to them or wind up looking clueless or, worse, partisan itself.
It's hard to disagree with that. But Hoyt could have strengthened his argument by noting, as we did Friday, that the Times has followed exactly this pattern with the National Endowment for the Arts scandal: ignoring it altogether until the Obama administration took some remedial action, then reporting it only on an inside page. Oh well, maybe he'll get around to it in a few more weeks.
When the Times waddled in with a report on the sex-slavery sting, it covered it as a political story. Hoyt rightly faults the paper for this:
Finally, on Sept. 16, nearly a week after the first video was posted, The Times took note of the controversy, under the headline, "Conservatives Draw Blood From Acorn, Favored Foe." The article said that conservatives hoped to weaken the Obama administration by attacking its allies and appointees they viewed as leftist. The conservatives thought they had a "winning formula," the article said, mobilizing people "to dig up dirt," then trumpeting it on talk radio and television. . . .
I thought politics was emphasized too much, at the expense of questions about an organization whose employees in city after city participated in outlandish conversations about illegal and immoral activities.
Scrupulously fair, Hoyt did seek the other side of the story--the Times editors' side:
Dean Baquet, the Washington bureau chief, said, "We did not ignore the Acorn story, so I don't think it's fair for people to say we blew it off." . . .
Jill Abramson, the managing editor for news, agreed with me that the paper was "slow off the mark," and blamed "insufficient tuned-in-ness to the issues that are dominating Fox News and talk radio." . . .
Despite what the critics think, Abramson said the problem was not liberal bias.
This seems totally predictable--but wait. On Sept. 10, we wrote (with respect to the Van Jones story) that we thought Hoyt would write something along the lines of: "The Times was a beat behind on this story. To some readers, this suggests liberal bias. I see no evidence of this." We added: "We'll buy Times public editor Clark Hoyt a drink if he doesn't say something to that effect when he weighs in on the Jones story."
But he didn't say he doesn't think the problem was liberal bias. In fact, given Hoyt's history of pooh-poohing liberal bias in his own voice, we'd say he pointedly did not say so in this case. He said Jill Abramson (who, as co-author of "Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas," doesn't have a liberally biased bone in her body--ha ha) didn't think the problem was liberal bias. This is a huge difference.
Clark, we owe you a drink. Just email us to collect.
Here, though, is the most priceless bit of the Hoyt column:
[Abramson] and Bill Keller, the executive editor, said last week that they would now assign an editor to monitor opinion media and brief them frequently on bubbling controversies. Keller declined to identify the editor, saying he wanted to spare that person "a bombardment of e-mails and excoriation in the blogosphere."
The Obama administration, as we noted Wednesday, was supposed to usher in a new era of transparency in government. Instead we find ourselves in a new era of opacity, not only in government but in the media. The New York Times now employs secret agent editors.
Hoyt writes, of the sex-slavery sting, that "most news organizations consider such tactics unethical--The Times specifically prohibits reporters from misrepresenting themselves or making secret recordings." True enough. But even James O'Keefe told the Acorn employees his name. At least in that sense, he was more honest with his targets than the Times now is with its readers.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: BO can't outsource this one
on: October 01, 2009, 10:21:21 AM
By KARL ROVE
So our top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has told CBS's "60 Minutes" that he has spoken with President Barack Obama only once since June.
This is a troubling revelation. Right now, our commander in chief is preparing to make one of the most important decisions of his presidency—whether to commit additional troops to win the war in Afghanistan. Being detached or incurious about what our commanders are experiencing makes it hard to craft a winning strategy.
Mr. Obama's predecessor faced a similar situation: a war that was grinding on, pressure to withdraw troops, and conflicting advice—including from some who saw the war as unwinnable. But George W. Bush talked to generals on the ground every week or two, which gave him a window into what was happening and insights into how his commanders thought. That helped him judge their recommendations on strategy.
Mr. Obama's hands-off approach to the war seems to fit his governing style. Over the past year, he outsourced writing the stimulus package to House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, washed his hands of Attorney General Eric Holder's decision to reinvestigate CIA interrogators, and hasn't offered a detailed health-care plan.
Mr. Obama's aloofness on the war will be a problem if the recent airing of Joe Biden's views on Afghanistan is a tipoff that Mr. Obama will rely on his vice president's guidance. According to reports in the New York Times and other publications, Mr. Biden supports reducing troop levels in favor of surgical attacks—mostly launched from offshore—and missile strikes against al Qaeda, especially in Pakistan.
Such an approach would almost certainly lose the war. Actionable intelligence—key to defeating an insurgency—would dry up. Tribal chieftains would cut deals with the Taliban and al Qaeda. The Afghan government would probably collapse, and the Afghan people would have little choice but to swing their support to the Taliban. Pakistan would likely come to see us as a fair-weather friend and increasingly resist U.S. attacks against al Qaeda on its soil. American credibility would be shattered. And militant Islamists would gain a victory.
Mr. Biden has a record rare in its consistency and duration of being wrong about big national security questions.
In his first U.S. Senate campaign in 1972, he called for cutting and running from Vietnam. He later voted to cut off funding for South Vietnam and spoke out against the war. After we did withdraw, communist forces conquered South Vietnam as well as Cambodia, where Pol Pot carried out a campaign of genocide.
In the 1980s, Mr. Biden opposed President Ronald Reagan's national security approach on almost every front, including funding for the Contras in Nicaragua, building missile defenses, and increasing military spending. In the 1990s, apparently willing to cede Kuwait to Saddam Hussein, he voted against the first Gulf War. Over the past decade, Mr. Biden opposed the surge that put us on the path to victory in Iraq. Instead called for a "soft partition" that would have divided Iraq into three countries.
Mr. Biden has been right about Afghanistan at least once. In 2002, he said, "Security is the basic issue in Afghanistan. Whatever it takes, we should do it. History will judge us harshly if we allow the hope of a liberated Afghanistan to evaporate because we failed to stay the course."
The responsibility for the outcome of the war in Afghanistan rests squarely with Mr. Obama. Until now, he seems to have treated the conflict as a distraction from his efforts to nationalize our health-care system. But the war is now front and center. He has been told by Gen. McChrystal that America needs more boots on the ground to win.
About Karl Rove
Karl Rove served as Senior Advisor to President George W. Bush from 2000–2007 and Deputy Chief of Staff from 2004–2007. At the White House he oversaw the Offices of Strategic Initiatives, Political Affairs, Public Liaison, and Intergovernmental Affairs and was Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy, coordinating the White House policy making process.
Before Karl became known as "The Architect" of President Bush's 2000 and 2004 campaigns, he was president of Karl Rove + Company, an Austin-based public affairs firm that worked for Republican candidates, nonpartisan causes, and nonprofit groups. His clients included over 75 Republican U.S. Senate, Congressional and gubernatorial candidates in 24 states, as well as the Moderate Party of Sweden.
Karl writes a weekly op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, is a Newsweek columnist and is now writing a book to be published by Simon Schuster. Email the author at Karl@Rove.com
or visit him on the web at Rove.com.
Or, you can send him a Tweet@karlrove.
.In the past, when Mr. Obama has moved left, he moved fast and far to the left—witness his willingness to push health-care legislation even if it only has Democratic support. But when he has played to the center—as on Afghanistan, when he decided in last year's campaign that he needed to be tough on at least one of the wars America was engaged in—he has looked for appealing half-measures that ultimately prove unworkable.
It was easy in 2008 to criticize Mr. Bush's war leadership. But winning a shooting war requires a commander in chief's constant, direct and deep involvement. Mr. Obama could show he understands this if he uses his trip to Denmark this week (where he will serve as pitchman for Chicago to get the 2016 Olympics) to make a surprise visit to Afghanistan.
Refusing to provide all the troops and strategic support that his commanders are requesting will be to concede defeat. We'll soon know whether Mr. Obama has the judgment and the courage to win this war.
Mr. Rove is the former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / WSJ: Stimulus Spending does not work
on: October 01, 2009, 10:19:44 AM
By ROBERT J. BARRO AND CHARLES J. REDLICK
The global recession and financial crisis have refocused attention on government stimulus packages. These packages typically emphasize spending, predicated on the view that the expenditure "multipliers" are greater than one—so that gross domestic product expands by more than government spending itself. Stimulus packages typically also feature tax reductions, designed partly to boost consumer demand (by raising disposable income) and partly to stimulate work effort, production and investment (by lowering rates).
World War II defense spending offers a good measure of stimulus effects.
The existing empirical evidence on the response of real gross domestic product to added government spending and tax changes is thin. In ongoing research, we use long-term U.S. macroeconomic data to contribute to the evidence. The results mostly favor tax rate reductions over increases in government spending as a means to increase GDP.
For defense spending, the principal long-run variations reflect the buildups and aftermaths of major wars—World War I, World War II, the Korean War and, to a much lesser extent, the Vietnam War. World War II tends to dominate, with the ratio of added defense spending to GDP reaching 26% in 1942 and 17% in 1943, and then falling to -26% in 1946.
Wartime spending is helpful for estimating spending multipliers for three key reasons. First, the variations in spending are large and include positive and negative values. Second, since the main changes in military spending are independent of economic developments, it is straightforward to isolate the direction of causation between government spending and GDP. Third, unlike many other countries during the world wars, the U.S. suffered only moderate loss of life and did not experience massive destruction of physical capital. In addition, because the unemployment rate in 1940 exceeded 9% but then fell to 1% in 1944, there is some information on how the multiplier depends on the strength of the economy.
For annual data that start in 1939 or earlier (and, thereby, include World War II), the defense-spending multiplier that applies at the average unemployment rate of 5.6% is in a range of 0.6-0.7. A multiplier less than one means that, overall, other components of GDP fell when defense spending rose. Empirically, our research shows that most of the fall was in private investment, with personal consumer expenditure changing little.
Our research also shows that greater weakness in the economy raises the estimated multiplier: It increases by around 0.1 for each two percentage points by which the unemployment rate exceeds its long-run median of 5.6%. Thus the estimated multiplier reaches 1.0 when the unemployment rate gets to about 12%.
To evaluate typical fiscal-stimulus packages, however, nondefense government spending multipliers are more important. Estimating these multipliers convincingly from U.S. time series is problematical, however, because the movements in nondefense government purchases (dominated since the 1960s by state and local outlays) are closely intertwined with the business cycle. Thus the explanation for much of the positive association between nondefense spending and GDP is that government spending increased in response to growing GDP, rather than the reverse.
The effects of tax rates on GDP growth can be analyzed from a time series we've constructed on average marginal income-tax rates from federal and state income taxes and the Social Security payroll tax. Since 1950, the largest declines in the average marginal rate from the federal individual income tax occurred under Ronald Reagan (to 21.8% in 1988 from 25.9% in 1986 and to 25.6% in 1983 from 29.4% in 1981), George W. Bush (to 21.1% in 2003 from 24.7% in 2000), and Kennedy-Johnson (to 21.2% in 1965 from 24.7% in 1963). Tax rates rose particularly during the Korean War, the 1970s and the 1990s. The average marginal tax rate from Social Security (including payments from employees, employers and the self-employed) expanded to 10.8% in 1991 from 2.2% in 1971 and then remained reasonably stable.
For data that start in 1950, we estimate that a one-percentage-point cut in the average marginal tax rate raises the following year's GDP growth rate by around 0.6% per year. However, this effect is harder to pin down over longer periods that include the world wars and the Great Depression.
It would be useful to apply our U.S. analysis to long-term macroeconomic time series for other countries, but many of them experienced massive contractions of real GDP during the world wars, driven by the destruction of capital stocks and institutions and large losses of life. It is also unclear whether other countries have the necessary underlying information to construct measures of average marginal income-tax rates—the key variable for our analysis of tax effects in the U.S. data.
The bottom line is this: The available empirical evidence does not support the idea that spending multipliers typically exceed one, and thus spending stimulus programs will likely raise GDP by less than the increase in government spending. Defense-spending multipliers exceeding one likely apply only at very high unemployment rates, and nondefense multipliers are probably smaller. However, there is empirical support for the proposition that tax rate reductions will increase real GDP.
Mr. Barro is a professor of economics at Harvard. Mr. Redlick is a recent Harvard graduate. This op-ed is based on a working paper issued by the National Bureau of Economic Research in September.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Nuclear War, WMD issues
on: October 01, 2009, 08:59:51 AM
Why Iraqi trademarks?
I would suspect the North Koreans first and foremost.
Intelligence Guidance (Special Edition): Oct. 1, 2009 - Iranian Crisis on Hold
Stratfor Today » October 1, 2009 | 1406 GMT
Editor’s Note: The following is an internal STRATFOR document produced to provide high-level guidance to our analysts. This document is not a forecast, but rather a series of guidelines for understanding and evaluating events, as well as suggestions on areas for focus.
Both the United States and Iran are attempting to avoid a deterioration to war. Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki’s Sept. 30 visit to Washington did not involve meeting with members of Congress, or if it did, it was only to use them as a conduit to someone more important; the wording of his spokesman makes that clear. The spokesman denied knowledge of any meeting with administration officials, not that meetings took place. At the very least, Mottaki made a major gesture in coming to Washington, and now the United States is making one in return. The reports out of Geneva are noncommittal, but no one has walked, and now the conventional wisdom is that the talks will continue into Oct. 2 and that Iran has until the end of the year to verify the non-military nature of its nuclear program. The Israelis have made it clear that they are prepared to withhold action and criticism until this phase is concluded.
Related Special Series
Special Series: Iran Sanctions
Related Special Topic Page
Special Coverage: The Iran Crisis
Logically, the Iranian goal is to initiate a set of extended negotiations in which nuclear weapons are not the only issue on the table. The more complex the negotiations, the longer they go on, the more international credibility Iran gains, and the less likely Iran is going to be forced to capitulate on the nuclear question.
For the United States, this strategy puts off the day of reckoning, and does not force a crisis this week. It also allows U.S. President Barack Obama to maintain his doctrine of engagement. There does not seem any great pressure politically on Obama to act. There is not a critical mass in Congress wanting to press the issue to the max right now. One may emerge, but if the Obama administration is skillful in shaping an apparent negotiating process, it will not emerge for a while. The key here is Israel. When Israel decides it has gone on long enough, it will pull in enough chips on Capitol Hill to create that pressure. But for right now, the people who would like to see a crisis aren’t strong enough to create one. So there is talk about disappointment, but they aren’t going to be introducing resolutions. Obama has bought time.
Diplomatically, the Israelis have backed off. This does not necessarily indicate that Israel thinks there is any chance of this working, but they do not want to be accused of sabotaging the process. If military action is taken, this also allows the United States to say it did its very best to prevent that action. Action now or down the road, the outcome today (and for some parties the very goal) is extensive talks, not a crisis.
If Iranians simply stonewall the nuclear issue, a crisis will break out. Tehran knows this, so it will raise ambiguities, such as an extended negotiation over when International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors might be permitted in, and under what circumstances. All of this comes directly from the North Korean rulebook.
The question is what might upset the applecart here. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is playing statesman, and his enemies might be motivated to destabilize the talks by leaking more information on his program. New information on the program might leak from CIA or elsewhere, increasing the pressure. Or the Israelis might do some sophisticated and deniable leaking.
For the moment, we need to watch the nuances of the talks. The participants want them to continue indefinitely in hopes of taking the issue out of crisis mode. Two things to watch for are, one, if Ahmadinejad feels compelled to gloat, and two, if the Israelis appear to feel that fruitless talks are going to go on forever. At any point, a number of players can abort the process.
The most concerned party should be Russia. Real talks are not the path the Russians wanted, even if this is the path they said they wanted. The Russians were anticipating a breakdown in the talks that they would then blame on the Americans. The Russians want the Iranians and Americans at each others’ throats, but they also need to be perceived in Europe as a reasonable player. Russian’s grand strategy is to split Europe from the United States, and particularly Germany. Part of that includes painting the Americans as warmongers. That’s hard to do if you are seen as the one that submarines talks that could have succeeded in dialing back a crisis. But this is not the same as saying they are out of the game. Their options are plentiful, they just cannot be used today.
We need to listen very carefully to the comments, leaks, and off-the-record spin of the talks when they end today, and look to see whether they go on another day. And we need to know if Mottaki has left Washington.
For the moment, this has not gone as we expected. Obama has defused the immediate crisis. He has not ended it by any means, but we are in a different timeframe, probably one running to the end of the year based on what has been said. He now has one crisis, not two (at least for now) — unless the present process blows apart in the next few hours. It seems to us that the most likely outcome at present is everyone to continuing to talk about talking.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / John Adams, 1775
on: October 01, 2009, 08:53:15 AM
"They define a republic to be a government of laws, and not of men." --John Adams, Novanglus No. 7, 1775
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Russia
on: October 01, 2009, 08:29:36 AM
Putin's Plans for the Russian Economy
RUSSIAN PRIME MINISTER VLADIMIR PUTIN spoke at a Moscow banking forum on Tuesday about plans to liberalize the Russian economy. Specifically, he noted that a fresh round of government privatizations could soon begin, and that much of what was on offer would involve the government disposing of shares in companies that had been gained in exchange for bailouts during the global recession.
Nice words, but as Winston Churchill famously opined, “I cannot forecast you the action of Russia. It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma: but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest.” There is more to Putin’s speech than meets the eye.
“Putin is many things, but he is a Russian leader at heart — and Russian leaders tend not to rule with a particularly light touch or with generous forgiveness.”
Let’s shine a light on where most of these shares came from. The Russian development model of the past six years focused on tapping international capital markets. Russia refused to give up actual managerial control or meaningful ownership, so its companies — and particularly its state companies — issued bonds or took out loans with foreign banks rather than issuing stock. The process flooded the Russian financial sector with lots of someone else’s money. For most Russian corporations — and doubly so for most Russian state corporations — this amounted to a financial free-for-all. From 2004 to 2008, some $500 billion flowed into Russia through this practice.
When the global economic crisis emerged, all of those funding sources dried up in a matter of weeks. With the collapse of commodity prices, the ruble shed a third of its value. But those loans and bonds still required repayment — and not in rubles, since they were foreign borrowings after all. As a consequence, the Russian economy suffered a contraction worse than that of any other major state in the world. The Kremlin was forced to bail out many firms, particularly government firms, to prevent a broad collapse. To accomplish this, the Kremlin had to reach into its sizable purse — not something that its leadership does easily, or without a plan.
It has always struck us as a touch odd that no one has yet been called on the carpet for this financial mismanagement. Putin is many things, but he is a Russian leader at heart — and Russian leaders tend not to rule with a particularly light touch or with generous forgiveness. A few well-placed people screwed up and negated five years of economic stability in a single, catastrophic season. Even in the United States, where rule of law is robust and pockets are deep, people are going to prison for the things they pulled in the sub-prime real estate market.
We find it hard to believe that Putin’s speech is the end of the story. In fact, we think it is just the beginning.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / SCT takes incorporation case
on: September 30, 2009, 10:51:08 AM
Court to rule on gun rights, terrorism law
Wednesday, September 30th, 2009 10:04 am | Lyle Denniston |
Taking on a major new constitutional dispute over gun rights, the Supreme Court agreed on Wednesday to decide whether to apply the Second Amendment to state, county and city government laws. In another major case among ten new grants, the Court said it will rule on the constitutionality of one of the government’s most-used legal weapons in the “war on terrorism” — a law that outlaws “material support” to terrorist groups.
The Court had three cases from which to choose on the Second Amendment issue — two cases involving a Chicago gun ban, and one case on a New York ban on a martial-arts weapon. It chose one of the Chicago cases — McDonald v. Chicago (08-1521) — a case brought to it by Alan Gura, the Alexandria, VA. lawyer who won the 2008 decision for the first time recognizing a constitutional right to have a gun for personal use, at least in self-defense in the home (District of Columbia v. Heller). A second appeal on the Chicago dispute had been filed by the National Rifle Association (NRA v. Chicago, 08-1497). Presumably, the Court will hold onto that case until it decides McDonald; the same is likely for the New York case, Maloney v. Rice (08-1592) — a case in which Justice Sonia Sotomayor had participated when she was a judge on the Second Circuit Court.http://www.scotusblog.com/wp/court-t...terrorism-law/
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: going rogue
on: September 30, 2009, 09:23:02 AM
By JOHN FUND
Sarah Palin may no longer be governor of Alaska, but she's certainly destined to become a best-selling author. HarperCollins, her publisher, has announced the print-run of her memoir will be a staggering 1.5 million copies -- equal to the print-run of Senator Ted Kennedy's posthumous autobiography published this month. Publishing sources tell me that such a giant run is only ordered up when there is clear evidence from booksellers and surveys of massive interest in a book.
The book, which will be published on November 17, was a crash project. Ms. Palin actually moved temporarily to San Diego after she resigned the governorship in July so she could be close to her collaborator, Lynn Vincent. I bumped into Ms. Vincent, a former editor at the Christian-oriented World magazine, in New York a few weeks ago, where she had parked herself in a hotel close to the offices of HarperCollins while working on the book's final edits.
Ms. Vincent didn't reveal any details about the book, but did acknowledge it will describe Ms. Palin's frustration over her treatment by the staffers she inherited from the McCain campaign after her surprise pick as the GOP vice presidential nominee last year. Ms. Palin was booked on grueling interviews with hostile reporters while talk-show hosts such as Glenn Beck couldn't even get through to her aides. Mr. Beck tells me he was stunned when he picked up the phone one day just before the election to discover Sarah Palin was on the other end of the line. "She explained that she had been blocked from reaching her audience, so she was now 'going rogue' and booking her own interviews," Mr. Beck told me. "I was thrilled she had burst out of the cage they'd built for her and we were finally talking."
That incident was the only time Ms. Palin declared her independence from her keepers, and it's fitting that the title of her upcoming book will be "Going Rogue: An American Life."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ
on: September 30, 2009, 09:18:52 AM
second entry of the morning
By MICHAEL J. BOSKIN AND JOHN F. COGAN
For many decades California residents enjoyed a rising standard of living, an outstanding education system, and unprecedented upward mobility. Yet now, despite state leadership in technology, agriculture and entertainment, California's economy radically underperforms. The unemployment rate, 12.2%, is the nation's third highest. Residents are leaving the state—144,000 more than entered last year—for better opportunities elsewhere. And the state's bond rating is dead last.
While uncontrolled spending, excessive regulation and litigation have helped create a dismal business environment, the tax system is central to the state's economic woes. The top personal income tax rate (also levied on capital gains), the sales tax rate, the corporate tax rate, and the gas tax are all at or near the highest of any state. And the top 1% of the state's income earners pay almost half the income taxes: Thus the state experiences boom-bust cycles of exploding revenues and spending in the good times, followed by a collapse in revenues and emergency retrenchment in recessions. Ironically, California's progressive tax and spending policies now threaten the state's ability to fund everything from parks to prisons, education to health.
The excess spending during booms is never entirely cut back during the busts. Instead, the state also raises taxes and borrows temporarily. If spending had increased at the rate of population and inflation since 1996, recession-level revenues plus reserves would now be more than sufficient to balance the state budget, which is now back in the red, despite temporary tax hikes and spending cuts.
Recognizing the problem, Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Democratic legislative leaders Darrell Steinberg and Karen Bass appointed a bipartisan Commission on the 21st Century Economy in December 2008 to provide recommendations for a reformed tax code that would be far less volatile and substantially more competitive and pro-growth. While the two of us believe California needs to control and reform state spending, and to reduce as well as reform state taxes, we and the commission's other appointees were limited by the executive order creating the commission to changes on the tax side of the state budget that would neither raise nor lower the state's revenues on average over the business cycle.
The commission's majority report recommendations were made public yesterday. They include a sweeping overhaul of the personal income tax code that reduces tax brackets to two from six; eliminates all deductions and credits other than for charity, mortgage interest and property taxes; and cuts the top statutory income tax rate to 6.5% from 9.3%. Most taxpayers would receive a 25%-30% tax cut and all would pay less. The commission also recommends abolition of the state's corporate income tax and the elimination of most of the state sales tax that finances the state's general revenue fund (as opposed to special funds for transportation, etc.). Finally, to replace the lost revenue, the commission recommends a broad-based, low-rate state value-added tax (VAT), collected on business net receipts (revenues less purchases from other businesses, including immediate expensing of capital), that is capped at 4%.
These reforms will reduce the volatility of state revenues by 40% (using commonly accepted measures) mostly by reducing the reliance on personal and corporate income taxes, and moderate the current tax code's extreme progressivity. They also will result in a $7 billion net tax cut per year for Californians without raising taxes on any income group, as some of the new VAT would be borne outside the state and more of Californians' taxes would be deducted against federal taxes.
Proposals to scale-down existing taxes and replace revenues with a new tax raise legitimate concerns. The same political process that erodes the base and raises rates for income taxes might be repeated for a VAT. Such taxes have been used to grow government (for example, in Western Europe) with new taxes added without reducing others.
Some protection against this outcome is provided by California's wise constitutional requirement for a two-thirds vote for the budget and tax increases, and by the commission's recommendation of immediate abolition of the entire corporate income tax as the new business tax begins phasing in. A hard spending cap would be still better.
California can once again lead the nation, this time in moving away from ever-higher personal and corporate tax rates and excessive roller-coaster spending. If not, California and then the nation will lose the dynamism, growth and opportunities for rising living standards that once were the state's hallmark and crowning achievement.
Mr. Boskin is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and a professor of economics at Stanford University. Mr. Cogan is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and a professor of public policy at Stanford University. The commission's report is available online at www.cotce.ca.gov
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Twilight of Pax Americana
on: September 30, 2009, 08:42:34 AM
Twilight of Pax Americana
Since the end of WWII, the world has depended on the United States for stability. But with American military and economic dominance waning, capitalism and global security are threatened.
The international order that emerged after World War II has rightly been termed the Pax Americana; it's a Washington-led arrangement that has maintained political stability and promoted an open global economic system. Today, however, the Pax Americana is withering, thanks to what the National Intelligence Council in a recent report described as a "global shift in relative wealth and economic power without precedent in modern history" -- a shift that has accelerated enormously as a result of the economic crisis of 2007-2009.
At the heart of this geopolitical sea change is China's robust economic growth. Not because Beijing will necessarily threaten American interests but because a newly powerful China by necessity means a relative decline in American power, the very foundation of the postwar international order. These developments remind us that changes in the global balance of power can be sudden and discontinuous rather than gradual and evolutionary.
The Great Recession isn't the cause of Washington's ebbing relative power. But it has quickened trends that already had been eating away at the edifice of U.S. economic supremacy. Looking ahead, the health of the U.S. economy is threatened by a gathering fiscal storm: exploding federal deficits that could ignite runaway inflation and undermine the dollar. To avoid these perils, the U.S. will face wrenching choices.
The Obama administration and the Federal Reserve have adopted policies that have dramatically increased both the supply of dollars circulating in the U.S. economy and the federal budget deficit, which both the Brookings Institution and the Congressional Budget Office estimate will exceed $1 trillion every year for at least the next decade. In the short run, these policies were no doubt necessary; nevertheless, in the long term, they will almost certainly boomerang. Add that to the persistent U.S. current account deficit, the enormous unfunded liabilities for entitlement programs and the cost of two ongoing wars, and you can see that America's long-term fiscal stability is in jeopardy. As the CBO says: "Even if the recovery occurs as projected and stimulus bill is allowed to expire, the country will face the highest debt/GDP ratio in 50 years and an increasingly unsustainable and urgent fiscal problem." This spells trouble ahead for the dollar.
The financial privileges conferred on the U.S. by the dollar's unchallenged reserve currency status -- its role as the primary form of payment for international trade and financial transactions -- have underpinned the preeminent geopolitical role of the United States in international politics since the end of World War II. But already the shadow of the coming fiscal crisis has prompted its main creditors, China and Japan, to worry that in coming years the dollar will depreciate in value. China has been increasingly vocal in calling for the dollar's replacement by a new reserve currency. And Yukio Hatoyama, Japan's new prime minister, favors Asian economic integration and a single Asian currency as substitutes for eroding U.S. financial and economic power.
Going forward, to defend the dollar, Washington will need to control inflation through some combination of budget cuts, tax increases and interest rate hikes. Given that the last two options would choke off renewed growth, the least unpalatable choice is to reduce federal spending. This will mean radically scaling back defense expenditures, because discretionary nondefense spending accounts for only about 20% of annual federal outlays. This in turn will mean a radical diminution of America's overseas military commitments, transforming both geopolitics and the international economy.
Since 1945, the Pax Americana has made international economic interdependence and globalization possible. Whereas all states benefit absolutely in an open international economy, some states benefit more than others. In the normal course of world politics, the relative distribution of power, not the pursuit of absolute economic gains, is a country's principal concern, and this discourages economic interdependence. In their efforts to ensure a distribution of power in their favor and at the expense of their actual or potential rivals, states pursue autarkic policies -- those designed to maximize national self-sufficiency -- practicing capitalism only within their borders or among countries in a trading bloc.
Thus a truly global economy is extraordinarily difficult to achieve. Historically, the only way to secure international integration and interdependence has been for a dominant power to guarantee the security of other states so that they need not pursue autarkic policies or form trading blocs to improve their relative positions. This suspension of international politics through hegemony has been the fundamental aim of U.S. foreign policy since the 1940s. The U.S. has assumed the responsibility for maintaining geopolitical stability in Europe, East Asia and the Persian Gulf, and for keeping open the lines of communication through which world trade moves. Since the Cold War's end, the U.S. has sought to preserve its hegemony by possessing a margin of military superiority so vast that it can keep any would-be great power pliant and protected.
Financially, the U.S. has been responsible for managing the global economy by acting as the market and lender of last resort. But as President Obama acknowledged at the London G-20 meeting in April, the U.S. is no longer able to play this role, and the world increasingly is looking to China (and India and other emerging market states) to be the locomotives of global recovery.
Going forward, the fiscal crisis will mean that Washington cannot discharge its military functions as a hegemon either, because it can no longer maintain the power edge that has allowed it to keep the ambitions of the emerging great powers in check. The entire fabric of world order that the United States established after 1945 -- the Pax Americana -- rested on the foundation of U.S. military and economic preponderance. Remove the foundation and the structure crumbles. The decline of American power means the end of U.S. dominance in world politics and the beginning of the transition to a new constellation of world powers.
The result will be profound changes in world politics. Emerging powers will seek to establish spheres of influence, control lines of communication, engage in arms races and compete for control over key natural resources. As America's decline results in the retraction of the U.S. military role in key regions, rivalries among emerging powers are bound to heat up. Already, China and India are competing for influence in Central and Southeast Asia, the Middle East and the Indian Ocean. Even today, when the United States is still acting as East Asia's regional pacifier, the smoldering security competition between China and Japan is pushing Japan cautiously to engage in the very kind of "re-nationalization" of its security policy that the U.S. regional presence is supposed to prevent. While still wedded to its alliance with the U.S., in recent years Tokyo has become increasingly anxious that, as a Rand Corp. study put it, eventually it "might face a threat against which the United States would not prove a reliable ally." Consequently, Japan is moving toward dropping Article 9 of its American-imposed Constitution (which imposes severe constraints on Japan's military), building up its forces and quietly pondering the possibility of becoming a nuclear power.
Although the weakening of the Pax Americana will not cause international trade and capital flows to come to a grinding halt, in coming years we can expect states to adopt openly competitive economic policies as they are forced to jockey for power and advantage in an increasingly competitive security and economic environment. The world economy will thereby more closely resemble that of the 1930s than the free-trade system of the post-1945 Pax Americana. The coming end of the Pax Americana heralds a crisis for capitalism.
The coming era of de-globalization will be defined by rising nationalism and mercantilism, geopolitical instability and great power competition. In other words, having enjoyed a long holiday from history under the Pax Americana, international politics will be headed back to the future.
Christopher Layne is a professor of government at Texas A&M and a consultant to the National Intelligence Council. Benjamin Schwarz is literary and national editor of the Atlantic.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: New Tax Plan?
on: September 30, 2009, 08:33:16 AM
No state's economy, with the exception of Michigan, has careened into a deeper ditch than California in this recession. The state now has the fourth-highest unemployment rate (12.2%), the third-highest rate of mortgage foreclosures, and for two years has had the biggest budget deficit in the history of the 50 states. So it is very good news that yesterday Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's bipartisan tax commission recommended a road out of this mess.
.The heart of the new plan is to broaden the tax base and slash tax rates on personal income, business and sales. California currently ranks at or near the top in all three categories. This has, paradoxically, contributed to the state's inability to pay its bills by driving men and women from the state and leading to revenue boom and bust. We don't agree with everything in this report, but there's no question it would be a huge improvement over the current tax code in its economic incentives, simplicity, revenue stability and fairness.
The commission hasn't recommended a pure flat tax, but something much closer to it. As shown in the nearby table, the income tax rate, which currently tops out at 10.55%, would be chopped to a more reasonable (but still high) 7.5%. (The plan doesn't eliminate the one-percentage-point millionaire income tax surcharge, alas.) Because about 70% of small businesses pay the personal California income tax, the commission found that California's high rate is driving enterprises to the likes of Nevada, Texas and Idaho. The number of tax rates is reduced to three from seven (we prefer one), and thanks to the elimination of credits and loopholes, the new California tax form would fit on a postcard.
Even more impressive is the recommendation to eliminate the corporate income tax and the 5% of the sales tax that contributes to the general fund. These would be replaced by a broad-based Business Net Receipts Tax of no higher than 4%. This taxes businesses on what they produce, minus their costs of purchases from other firms. This is similar to a value added tax.
One benefit of this new levy is that it creates a level playing field among industries and reduces tax favoritism based on the power of lobbyists in Sacramento. The greater virtue is that this tax would exempt all California investment and capital income from taxation. (Michael Boskin and John Cogan offer more details nearby.)
The commission—chaired by California businessman and former U.S. Treasury official Gerald Parsky—also calls for a rainy day fund by requiring annual revenues above a 10-year rolling average to be put into a reserve fund rather than being spent.
One danger is that the revenue-generating efficiency of the Business Net Receipts Tax would eventually increase the overall tax burden in California. To protect against this, the commission calls for a permanent cap on the BNRT at 4%. Some business groups don't like the new business tax because it means they'd have to pay tax even if they don't make money. But a sales tax has that same feature.
A higher rate would defeat the purpose of this corporate tax reform, which by eliminating the corporate income tax would go far to restore the state's competitiveness with other states, as well as Japan, China and Europe. Conservatives should insist that the current two-thirds vote requirement in the legislature to raise taxes applies to this new business tax to protect against jacking up the rate to grow the state government.
Part of Mr. Parsky's achievement here is political, because he managed to convince a bipartisan majority of nine of the commission's 14 members to endorse its proposals. This includes notable liberal Christopher Edley, while Democrats like Senator Dianne Feinstein and former Governor Gray Davis have also praised much of the plan.
They may be motivated by the reality that California's steeply progressive tax rates are defeating the purposes of progressive government. To wit, only a growing economy can create opportunity for the middle class and enough state revenues to finance schools and health care for the poor. A tax code that depends on 1% of taxpayers, 144,000 filers, to finance 50% of state income tax revenues has proven to be unsustainable, notwithstanding the liberal dogma that says tax rates don't matter.
Mr. Schwarzenegger will call for a special session of the legislature to approve this plan later in October, so let the debate begin. The only painless way to rebalance the Golden State's $150 billion annual budget is to expand the tax base by luring capital and jobs back to the West Coast. That's what happened when California passed Proposition 13 to cap its property taxes in 1978. If the legislature fails to act, as it probably will, then the Parsky plan should become central to next year's election debate over how to revive this once dynamic state.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / A guest write on MY's blog
on: September 30, 2009, 08:23:12 AM
Pedro Inspired the Vikings
Tuesday, 29 September 2009 22:23 Camilla Fuhr Nilsson Next >
Note: I asked Danish journalist Camilla Fuhr Nilsson to write a couple of stories about the Air Force Pedros. After publication of her first installment, she emailed from Afghanistan, surprised to have gotten “thank you” notes from readers. As a journalist, Camilla had never gotten “thank yous” before. In the about five years I have covered the wars, it is safe to say that British and American service members, their families and others, have thanked me 100% of the time, for each of hundreds of dispatches. That would be tens of thousands of thank yous…maybe more. If not for those thank yous, I would have quit after just a few months in combat. The power of a sincere “thank you” can never be measured. And now Camilla’s second story:
By Camilla Fuhr Nilsson
Published: 30 September 2009
“These things we do that others may live” is the current motto of the US Air Force combat search and rescue team, or Pedro as they are called when deployed to Afghanistan. They fly into the battlefield with their smooth Pave Hawk helicopters and evacuate the wounded infantry soldiers and Marines. On a recent evacuation of two Danish soldiers in the middle of a battle with the Taliban, the Viking ancestors made a memorable difference to the 129th American Air Force Pedros crew.
It was a hot day in June even though it was still early in the morning. The traditionally dry heat of the southern Afghan desert, combined with the humidity of the green vegetation known as the Green Zone around the Helmand River, made the Danish infantry soldiers from the Danish Royal Husars drip with sweat as they patrolled in the green fields with heavy equipment and body amour. The squad, also known as Charlie Coy, soon got engaged in a heavy battle with Taliban fighters. Two Danish soldiers were shot by the Taliban and the medic called for evacuation—the so-called medevac. The American Pedro team 129th responded to the call.
Major Mat Wenthe, the detachment commander of the team, recalls the 25th of June rescue:
“The weather was fine that morning, so we only had to worry about the battle when we landed. The Danes were on the ground when we arrived. The B1 bomber was on station in the air already and the Norseman call sign on the ground and in the forward operating base nearby. There were two different call signs. One was talking about the TIC—troops in contact—and another was talking to us. On one side there was a TIC and the soldiers were receiving fire. So we knew what we had to deal with.”
The ongoing battle between the Danes and the Taliban meant that the Major and his team had to land in what they call the hot LZ. That means the landing zone is still a battle zone and there is a huge risk they’ll be caught up in the middle of bullets and mortar bombs flying through the air. Approximately twenty percent of the rescues are in a hot landing zone and the rest of the missions are fairly routine.
“There was enemy contact still going on. When we arrive to a pick up zone, we usually ask where the enemy is and what and where the casualties are. That way we’ll have an up-to-date assessment of the situation. And we knew we would be landing in a TIC,” Major Wenthe explains.
Alpha Bravo Charlie rescues
The three different categories of casualty assessment are Alpha, Bravo and Charlie. The call from the Danish medics was an alpha which means the wounded are in a critical condition and require urgent rescue. So even though the Danish soldiers were in the Charlie Coy squad, their casualties were Alpha.
Because of the situation on the ground, the Pedro 36 crew on one of the helicopters asked for smoke from the soldiers on the ground.
“The Norsemen secured the LZ. We were able to move in and pick them up. There were two casualties—one soldier was hit in the shoulder and one in the leg. The guy with the gunshot in the leg walked to the helicopter by himself which we thought was pretty amazing actually. We were all pretty impressed,” Mat Wenthe laughs, recalling the situation.
The other crew members from that flight nods--recognizing the event. They remember the Danish Viking, who made his way to the helicopter by himself.
“Dude that was wild”, says Tommy, a PJ—a pararescue jumper.
“Seriously I don’t know why the Danes are better at it than the other countries, but they are better in the way they call in the rescue, the way they speak out there, calm and everything.” He shakes his head, almost in disbelief.
The crew wanted to limit time on the ground and was off in 30 seconds.
“We try to get out fast to be safe. The PJs jump out and grab the patients, and we are on our way,” Mat says. “As we were leaving the area, the Danish Platoon Commander—I think he was—on the ground said to us: ‘Thank you Pedro, take good care of my men.’ They didn’t think we were gonna get them because it was a hot landing zone.”
Worst case scenario training
The Pedro crew is originally trained to pick up US Air Force pilots who are being shot down. They train for worst case scenario and how to evacuate a landing zone in the middle of firefights.
“It’s definitely a morale boost to the people on the ground, that we’ll land in any kind of situation and any weather. We are the only air force that guarantees we’ll try. So on the ground, that makes the pilots know that we’ll be there, and we apply that to the medevacs we do here. The troops on the ground know we’ll help them engage from the chopper if needed,” Mat Wenthe says.
On the 25th of June the team took the two soldiers to the hospital in Camp Bastion—the large base in the middle of the desert. The day after the rescue, the Pedros received a letter from the Danish platoon.
“The letter came thanking us for what we did. Normally it’s about the injured when we receive a thank you, but this letter proved that we can make a difference on the ground too. It made an impact on us, that he wrote that we had made a difference after we left the battlefield, because that’s not our primary goal.”
The letter stated that the Pedro crew had bravely inspired the men, because they landed under difficult circumstances in the middle of a firefight between the Danes and the Taliban. A bravery that made the Danish soldiers motivated and strong enough to win the fight.
“It was awesome to see that what we do inspired other people on the ground. And the fact that it was the Danes, you know the Vikings, huge, tall, and blonde, that’s pretty bad ass. We’ve been hearing what they do out there, and to receive that letter from the Vikings was good,” says Mat Wenthe, and looks like he met the original Vikings on the 25th.
Viking reputation still stands
The American crew still recalls all the events surrounding the rescue because the soldiers were Danish, and because they had heard the reputation the Danish men had on the battlefield, both historically and in Helmand.
“They are pretty laid-back when they are out there. So we always picture them as huge and blonde and badass wearing helmets with horns,” Major Wenthe says with a smile.
Some of the contents of the thank-you letter the American crew received has now been translated into Latin. They plan to make a badge with the inscription “Fortis incito”—“to inspire bravery”—when they return to the States. But from this tour they’ll always remember the Norsemen they rescued on June 25th.
The present Pedro team—129th—arrived to Camp Bastion on June 5th and has since had 400 rescue missions and helped save 215 allied soldiers’ lives. Their task is to evacuate soldiers to the field hospitals in the south of Afghanistan in under an hour in all kinds of weather.
The two wounded Danish soldiers are both doing well. The soldier that was shot in the leg was quickly back on the job. The other soldier—the one with a severe gunshot in the left upper arm—has lost a piece of the triceps muscle, hence his strength is not as strong as before the injury.
Both the Danish Norsemen team seven and the American 129th Pedro crew have now redeployed to their respective countries. The callsigns has been changed to avoid endangering the lives of the Danish soldiers.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYT: Lifting Iran's nuclear veil
on: September 30, 2009, 08:15:58 AM
By GARY MILHOLLIN and VALERIE LINCY
Published: September 29, 2009
The disclosure of Iran’s secret nuclear plant has changed the way the West must negotiate with Tehran. While worrisome enough on its own, the plant at Qum may well be the first peek at something far worse: a planned, or even partly completed, hidden nuclear archipelago stretching across the country.
The Qum plant doesn’t make much sense as a stand-alone bomb factory. As described by American officials, the plant would house 3,000 centrifuges, able to enrich enough uranium for one or two bombs per year. Yet at their present rate of production, 3,000 of Iran’s existing IR-1 centrifuges would take two years to fuel a single bomb and 10 years for five weapons. This is too long a time frame for the American assessment to be feasible. To build one or two bombs a year, Iran would have to quadruple the centrifuges’ present production rate. (While this feat is theoretically within the centrifuges’ design limits, it is not one Iran has shown it can achieve.)
Perhaps Iran was planning to install more efficient centrifuges at the plant, like a version of the P-2 machine used by Pakistan. These could fuel a five-bomb arsenal in just over a year. But while we know Iran has tested such machines, there is no evidence that it can make them in bulk.
Regardless of the machines used, it would take a couple of years at the front end to get them installed. Iran would be looking at three to five years of high activity at the site, during which the risk of discovery would skyrocket.
Clearly, the new plant makes more sense if it is one of many. If Iran built a second plant of the same size as the Qum operation and ran them in tandem, the production times described above could be almost halved. And if Iran had a string of such plants, it would be able to fuel a small arsenal quickly enough to reduce greatly the chance of getting caught. This would also limit the damage if one site were discovered or bombed, because its loss might not affect the others. Such a secret string of plants, however, would probably require a secret source of uranium. Intelligence agencies have been looking for such a source; the Qum discovery should be a signal to increase their efforts.
The Qum plant might also be linked to Iran’s known enrichment plant at Natanz, which is under inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Natanz has a stockpile of uranium that is already enriched partway to weapon-grade. By feeding this uranium into the new Qum plant, Iran could fuel one bomb in about seven months, even at the present low production rate. If the rate were quadrupled, as Washington is projecting, the plant could fuel a five-bomb arsenal in less than a year.
But because the Natanz plant is being watched over by international inspectors, diversion of its material would probably be detected. The question is whether Iran might chance it, deciding that its production rate was high enough to give it a nuclear deterrent before other countries could organize a response to the diversion.
Having begun the Qum plant to supply a bomb’s fuel, wouldn’t Iran also create what’s needed to produce the rest of the bomb’s components? This means laboratories to perfect nuclear weapon detonation and workshops to produce the firing sets, high-explosive lenses and other necessary parts. Although there is plenty of suspicion that such sites exist, Iran has not admitted having them.
All must be found. When talks begin in Geneva tomorrow, there should be little concern with the formerly dominant question of suspending enrichment at Natanz. Rather, Iran must be made to produce a complete map of its nuclear sites, together with a history of how each was created and provisioned.
This means getting access to scientists, records, equipment and sites. It is a lot to ask, and we may not have the leverage to get it. But anything less will provide no protection against what we now know is Iran’s determination to build the bomb.
Gary Milhollin directs the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control. Valerie Lincy is the editor of Iranwatch.org.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Faster reduction
on: September 30, 2009, 08:11:36 AM
General Says Iraq Troop Reductions May Quicken Recommend
By THOM SHANKER
Published: September 29, 2009
WASHINGTON — The senior American commander in Iraq said Tuesday that he could reduce American forces to 50,000 troops even before the end of next summer if the expected January elections in Iraq went smoothly.
Gen. Ray Odierno said he had drafted a new plan for transferring duties to the Iraqis. That could ease the strain across the American armed forces and free up extra combat units for duty in the Afghanistan war, which has become a priority for the Obama administration.
In an interview at the Pentagon, the commander, Gen. Ray Odierno, said he had already ordered some service members and equipment diverted from the Iraq mission to Afghanistan, in particular surveillance aircraft and units known as “combat enablers,” which include engineers for clearing roadside bombs and military police officers for training Afghan forces.
The United States and Iraq agreed last year that American combat forces would be out of Iraq by August 2010, leaving 50,000 troops to advise and support the Iraqis. Since that schedule was set, the need for troops in Afghanistan has made that timing especially important — all the more so if commanders in Afghanistan formally request even more troops and President Obama agrees. In recent months American combat forces pulled out of Iraq’s city centers.
General Odierno described his continuing security concerns, especially in the north of Iraq, where there are deep Kurdish-Arab tensions and where homegrown insurgents who claim allegiance to Al Qaeda continue to operate.
But the general said he was confident enough in the path to stability — with orderly elections and a smooth transfer of power in the winter — that he had drafted a new plan that set out how the duties now performed by American forces would be increasingly transferred to Iraqis before the full withdrawal, planned for Dec. 31, 2011. For the final year and a half or so, the Americans would be advising and training the Iraqis and providing logistics to them.
He did caution that if the Iraqi government and military were not able to shoulder the entire burden of responsibility by that deadline, the ministries in Baghdad would have to rely for support on civilian United States agencies, in particular the State and Treasury Departments.
“We failed the first time in 2003, when things were fairly calm and we didn’t have a plan to transition what we had done militarily over to a civilian-led solution to help solve these problems,” General Odierno said.
“We have another opportunity here in 2010 and 2011 to do this,” he added. “What are the enduring functions that have to be transitioned over that will continue to build Iraqi civilian capacity and continue to improve their ability to provide security? We are very focused on that.”
The new Joint Campaign Plan was written in partnership with the American Embassy in Baghdad, the general said, and should be approved later this fall as the detailed map guiding the American withdrawal from Iraq.
The next benchmark for the American military withdrawal is Aug. 31, 2010, when forces must drop to 50,000. Military officers based in Baghdad said Tuesday that American military forces in Iraq numbered slightly more than 124,000, a reduction of 40,000 since 2008.
General Odierno said he had no intention of dropping below the 50,000-troop level required under a bilateral security agreement by the end of August, but he said he might reach that level before the deadline.
“Between now and May, I could accelerate the drawdown,” he said. “If we get through successful elections, and you seat the government peacefully, that provides another level of stability. That will help to reduce tensions.”
General Odierno said he had discussed the military needs for Afghanistan with Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the senior commander in Kabul, and with Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top officer in the Middle East, and he said all three had agreed that the military urgently required surveillance and transport aircraft in Afghanistan, as well as engineers and military police officers.
“We have been able to move some already over to Afghanistan,” General Odierno said. “We don’t want to affect the mission in Iraq, but we know some of this is needed in Afghanistan. I think we’ve been able to balance this so far.”
He said overall progress in Iraq was “slow, steady.” The leadership of Iraq’s security units has improved, and there is less sectarianism within these forces, the general said. But pitfalls remain.
“There is still too much political interference in the military,” General Odierno said. “That has always been a case there. It is better than it was, but it is still too much, and from a lot of different sources.”
The north of Iraq remains a serious security concern, especially in Nineveh Province, where, he said, “Al Qaeda in Iraq is still trying to re-establish a foothold and then be able to extend its tentacles down into Baghdad.”
Minority tensions, in particular between Kurds and Arabs in the north, are also a “driver of instability” and could be “exploited to destabilize the government of Iraq,” he noted.
And Iran has not halted its efforts to train insurgents and to send weapons and money in a bid for influence across the southern provinces of Iraq, General Odierno said, although Iranian agents “have reduced some of what they are doing.”
Even so, he said that Iraqi security forces continued to intercept large shipments of weapons and high-powered explosives sent from Iran.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYT admits
on: September 30, 2009, 08:07:33 AM
I forget exactly where I saw/heard it in the last day or two, but apparently Pravda on the Hudson has admitted that it came very late to the Van Jones story and that the little coverage it gave had the appearance of political favoratism and that it had decided to have someone monitor the opinion media for ideas about stories.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Pravda on the Hudson: Iran-China
on: September 30, 2009, 08:04:54 AM
BEIJING — Leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee swept into Beijing last month to meet with Chinese officials, carrying a plea from Washington: if Iran were to be kept from developing nuclear weapons, China would have to throw more diplomatic weight behind the cause.
In fact, the appeal had been largely answered even before the legislators arrived.
In June, China National Petroleum signed a $5 billion deal to develop the South Pars natural gas field in Iran. In July, Iran invited Chinese companies to join a $42.8 billion project to build seven oil refineries and a 1,019-mile trans-Iran pipeline. And in August, almost as the Americans arrived in China, Tehran and Beijing struck another deal, this time for $3 billion, that will pave the way for China to help Iran expand two more oil refineries.
The string of energy deals appalled the Democratic chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Representative Howard L. Berman of California, who called them “exactly the wrong message” to send to an Iran that seemed determined to flout international nuclear rules.
But some analysts see another message: as the United States issues new calls to punish Iran for secretly expanding its nuclear program, it is not at all clear that Washington’s interests are the same as Beijing’s.
That will make it doubly difficult, these analysts say, to push meaningful sanctions against Iran through the United Nations Security Council, where China not only holds a veto but has also been one of Iran’s more reliable defenders.
“Their threat perception on this issue is different from ours,” said Zalmay Khalilzad, who as the American ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush helped persuade China to approve limited sanctions against Iran. “They don’t see Iran in the same way as we do.”
François Godement, a prominent China scholar and the president of the Paris-based Asia Center, put it more bluntly. “Basically,” he said, “the rise of Iran is not bad news for China.”
To be sure, China and the United States, leading members of the club of nuclear nations, share a practical interest in halting the spread of nuclear weapons to volatile areas like the Middle East. And it is in China’s interest to avoid alienating the United States, its economic and, increasingly, diplomatic partner on matters of global importance.
But beyond that, many experts say, their differences over Iran are not only economic but also ideological and strategic.
The United States has almost no financial ties with Iran, regards its government as a threat to global stability and worries that a rising Tehran would threaten American alliances and energy agreements in the Persian Gulf.
In contrast, China’s economic links to Tehran are growing rapidly, and China’s leaders see Iran not as a threat but as a potential ally. Nor would the Chinese be distressed, the reasoning goes, should a nuclear-armed Iran sap American influence in the region and drain the Pentagon’s resources in more Middle East maneuvering.
“Chinese leaders view Iran as a country of great potential power, perhaps already the economic and, maybe, militarily dominant power in that region,” said John W. Garver, a professor of international relations at Georgia Tech and the author of “China and Iran: Ancient Partners in a Post-Imperial World.”
An alliance with Tehran, he said, would be a bulwark against what China suspects is an American plan to maintain global dominance by controlling Middle Eastern energy supplies.
Beyond that, China relies heavily on Iran’s vast energy reserves — perhaps 15 percent of the world’s natural gas deposits and a tenth of its oil — to offset its own shortages. The Chinese are estimated to have $120 billion committed to Iranian gas and oil projects, and China has been Iran’s biggest oil export market for the past five years. In return, Iran has loaded up on imported Chinese machine tools, factory equipment, locomotives and other heavy goods, building China into one of its largest trading partners.
China scholars say that the relationship is anything but one-sided. Iran has skillfully parceled out its oil and gas reserves to Chinese companies, holding exploration and development as a sort of insurance policy to retain Chinese diplomatic backing in the United Nations.
For its part, China has opposed stiff sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program, acceding mostly to restrictions on trade in nuclear-related materials and orders to freeze the overseas assets of some Iranian companies.
Many experts question how much more punishment Beijing would agree to support. Iran has already been cited three times by the Security Council, with Beijing’s backing, for flouting prohibitions against its nuclear program.
In each case, Beijing agreed to measures only after stronger American proposals had been watered down and after Russia, the Council’s other critic of stiff sanctions and a close ally of Iran, had signed off on the proposal.
One noted Chinese analyst, Shi Yinhong of People’s University in Beijing, said in a telephone interview this week that China would probably follow much the same course should a new sanctions proposal reach the Security Council.
“China will do its utmost to find a balance” between Iran and the United States, Mr. Shi said. If Russia joins the other Council members in supporting a new sanctions resolution, he said, “China will do its best to try to dilute it, to make it limited, rather than veto it.”
But it is unlikely to do so happily. Supporting stronger sanctions might elevate China’s image as a global diplomatic leader, but the United States, not China, would reap the real benefits.
“China is not anxious to jump on this American train,” said one Chinese analyst, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to freely assess China’s foreign policy.
Li Bibo contributed research.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Taliban's Toll
on: September 30, 2009, 07:55:19 AM
Second post of the morning-- the first is the more important one.
The Taliban’s Toll
How American taxpayer dollars are being used to fund our Afghan enemies
Kelley Beaucar Vlahos
Forget opium poppies for a moment. The Taliban has another huge source of revenue, worth up to $1 billion a year, which generously supplements its heroin-trafficking income and the cash-flow from rich oil sheiks in the Persian Gulf.
This money comes from you.
The allegation that millions of dollars of U.S aid and military funds have been siphoned off by the Taliban through elaborate extortion rackets is not something government officials readily discuss. But the departing head of the Army Corps of Engineers recently conceded that there was little his agency could do to stop it, and the U.S. State Department launched an investigation after reports of the scandal finally penetrated the mainstream news.
The Pentagon did not respond to TAC’s inquiries about charges that local contractors who deliver supplies and equipment to remote NATO bases in Afghanistan are charging Western governments “protection money” to pay off the Taliban, or Taliban-connected middlemen, to protect convoys along dangerous overland supply routes. Yet a growing consensus supports a fearsome prospect: U.S. taxpayers are funding the enemy.
“If you don’t pay, you will get attacked, you will not get through,” says Peter Jouvenal, a British expat and former BBC journalist who has been living and working in Kabul for nearly 30 years. He has operated several businesses in Afghanistan, including a small trucking company. “Everybody wins in the short-term,” he tells TAC. “The Taliban get their money, and the contractors get their money, and the soldiers get their food and fuel supplies. The only one that loses out is the United States taxpayer, who has to foot the bill for all this. That would be acceptable if we were achieving something, but we’re not.”
In late August, McClatchy News reported that the Taliban now controls districts in two key northern provinces along the new major supply route coming in from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, running through the Hindu Kush mountains and toward the U.S. military’s massive Bagram Air Base.
Yet supplies are getting through. Reports suggest that contractors big and small are paying the price for secure delivery, then off-loading that cost to their clients—the military, USAID, or whatever Western aid organization is footing the bill. There is lots of money to be made. At the beginning of this year, Washington announced it would be spending upwards of $4 billion to construct new facilities and upgrade old ones in order to support the Af-Pak “surge. ” The strategy included three new combat brigades, as well as new facilities for Afghan soldiers, not to mention the accompanying army of private contractors supporting them.
And that’s only part of the story. The U.S. has already appropriated $38 billion since 2001 in humanitarian aid and reconstruction funding for its post-invasion nation-building exercises, and the Obama administration wants to increase spending. According to recent reports, much of this money has already disappeared into the pockets of Taliban racketeers, calling into question the success of Western investment over the past eight years. “Virtually every major project includes a healthy cut for insurgents. Call it protection money, call it extortion, or, as the Taliban prefer to term it, ‘the spoils of war,’ the fact remains that international donors, primarily the United States, are to a large extent financing their own enemy,” wrote Jean MacKenzie, Kabul correspondent for the GlobalPost, in August.
MacKenzie is one of the few reporters who have tried to run the numbers: the manager of an Afghan firm with “lucrative construction contracts with the U.S government” builds in a “minimum” charge of 20 percent for Taliban payouts, she writes. He tells his friends privately that he makes upwards of $1 million per month, $200,000 of which goes to Taliban heavies.
“It adds up, of course,” says MacKenzie, estimating that the “outside limit” of the Taliban’s extortion earnings comes to roughly $1 billion a year. Add to that other sources of corruption in Afghanistan—whether it is the police, the politicians, the elections, or abusive Western contractors—and the picture of the Af-Pak effort starts to look pretty bleak.
Even worse, it seems that insurgents might be ripping off some contractors, allowing them to proceed with their business, only to turn and use their ill-gotten gains to attack other allied convoys. In the Sept. 7 issue of Time magazine, Aryn Baker and Shah Mahmood Barakzai reported from Kabul that a week before a deadly Taliban blast in Kunduz killed four American soldiers, a local businessman, who had been subcontracted by a firm working for the German government, admitted to paying a cash bribe of $15,000 to a “Taliban middleman.” No one can prove that any of that money went toward assembling the makeshift bomb that killed the troops. “Nevertheless,” conclude Baker and Barakzai, “it is likely that a substantial amount of aid money from many countries—including the U.S.—has made its way, directly or indirectly, into the Taliban’s coffers.”
As the Obama administration struggles to come to terms with the looming reality that the Taliban might have the upper hand in this war, the last thing that government officials and members of Congress want to talk about is the idea that the enemy has his hand in the American purse. Requests for comment to key members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee went unanswered. Requests to House members who had just returned from Afghanistan were met with similar silence.
Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing David Cohen has admitted there is a problem, but will not talk about specifics or scope. In a statement consisting of just two lines, he said, “The Taliban obtains revenues from a variety of sources, including extortion of funds from both legitimate and unlawful activity in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” He finished by saying that an interagency task force had been convened to combat “funding for violent extremist groups.”
Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke, overcoming the American chain of command’s habitual preoccupation with opium poppies, has acknowledged that the Taliban does not just make money from the country’s $4 billion drug trade. “In the past there was a kind of a feeling that the money all came from drugs in Afghanistan,” he told reporters in Pakistan in June. “That is simply not true.”
“Rackets, extortion, kidnapping and bank heists are all helping the Pakistani Taliban pay the bills,” wrote Shahan Mufti for GlobalPost in August. In an April report about the NATO supply lines through Pakistan into Afghanistan, private intelligence provider Stratfor said:
The Taliban and their jihadist affiliates are ideologically driven to target Western forces and increase the cost for them to remain in the region. There are also a number of criminally motivated fighters who adopt the Taliban label as a convenient cover but who are far more interested in making a profit. Both groups can benefit from racketeering enterprises that allow them to extort hefty protection fees from private security firms in return for the contractors’ physical safety.
Holbrooke preferred to steer clear of that particular angle. Instead, he used the apparently candid moment to try to shift attention toward the shady international donors who send gifts to the Taliban through tenebrous charities and the like. It is true that foreign donations represent a thorny problem, though the issue is clearly not as embarrassing for the U.S. government as the thought of some Taliban middleman becoming $10,000 richer so that German International Security Alliance Forces could refill their watering holes.
Over the summer months, the Taliban has revealed, once more, what a cunning adversary it can be—busily skimming off cash from our altruism and manipulating the supply chain, either by bombing our convoys or shaking them down. Thus the destructive cycle evolves. Profiteers and insurgents thrive as long as the payoffs exceed the risks. We deploy more troops, who need more supplies, more fuel, more shelter, which in turn provide more targets for extortion and more revenue for the insurgency.
Jouvenal, a seasoned commentator on Afghanistan, calls it “business as usual.” “Afghans all know the West has failed,” he says. “This time, when the West packs up … the Taliban will come back and a lot of people will become refugees again. The thought is to make as much money as you can because you don’t know when you will be a refugee again.” The scramble to extort money, he explains, “increases, as time runs out.”
The Afghans seem able to grasp the reality of things. How long will it take us to get wise to this self-perpetuating disaster?
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Dementia Risks seen in NFL study
on: September 30, 2009, 07:46:48 AM
IMHO the demands of logic require that we note that there are alternative explanations possible. Football players, especially linemen, eat HUGE amounts of food-- and for many of them much of it may not be very concerned with healthy longevity. IIRC there are correlations with dementia with certain diets. That said, blows to the head are serious and this area deserves our scrutiny and our reflection.
Dementia Risk Seen in Players in N.F.L. Study
Published: September 29, 2009
A study commissioned by the National Football League reports that Alzheimer’s disease or similar memory-related diseases appear to have been diagnosed in the league’s former players vastly more often than in the national population — including a rate of 19 times the normal rate for men ages 30 through 49.
The N.F.L. has long denied the existence of reliable data about cognitive decline among its players. These numbers would become the league’s first public affirmation of any connection, though the league pointed to limitations of this study.
The findings could ring loud at the youth and college levels, which often take cues from the N.F.L. on safety policies and whose players emulate the pros. Hundreds of on-field concussions are sustained at every level each week, with many going undiagnosed and untreated.
A detailed summary of the N.F.L. study, which was conducted by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, was distributed to league officials this month.
The study has not been peer-reviewed, but the findings fall into step with several recent independent studies regarding N.F.L. players and the effects of their occupational head injuries.
“This is a game-changer — the whole debate, the ball’s now in the N.F.L.’s court,” said Dr. Julian Bailes, the chairman of the department of neurosurgery at the West Virginia University School of Medicine, and a former team physician for the Pittsburgh Steelers whose research found similar links four years ago. “They always say, ‘We’re going to do our own studies.’ And now they have.”
Sean Morey, an Arizona Cardinals player who has been vocal in supporting research in this area, said: “This is about more than us — it’s about the high school kid in 2011 who might not die on the field because he ignored the risks of concussions.”
An N.F.L. spokesman, Greg Aiello, said in an e-mail message that the study did not formally diagnose dementia, that it was subject to shortcomings of telephone surveys and that “there are thousands of retired players who do not have memory problems.”
“Memory disorders affect many people who never played football or other sports,” Mr. Aiello said. “We are trying to understand it as it relates to our retired players.”
As scrutiny of brain injuries in football players has escalated the past three years, with prominent professionals reporting cognitive problems and academic studies supporting a link more generally, the N.F.L. and its medical committee on concussions have steadfastly denied the existence of reliable data on the issue. The league pledged to pursue its own studies, including the one at the University of Michigan.
Dr. Ira Casson, a co-chairman of the concussions committee who has been the league’s primary voice denying any evidence connecting N.F.L. football and dementia, said: “What I take from this report is there’s a need for further studies to see whether or not this finding is going to pan out, if it’s really there or not. I can see that the respondents believe they have been diagnosed. But the next step is to determine whether that is so.”
The N.F.L. is conducting its own rigorous study of 120 retired players, with results expected within a few years. All neurological examinations are being conducted by Dr. Casson.
According to a 37-page synopsis of the study furnished to the league, the Michigan researchers conducted a phone survey in late 2008 in which 1,063 retired players — those who participated from an original random list of 1,625 — were asked questions on a variety of health topics. Players had to have played at least three or four seasons to qualify. Questions were derived from the standard National Health Interview Survey so rates could be compared with those previously collected from the general population, the report said.
Some health issues were reported by N.F.L. retirees at normal rates (kidney and prostate problems), while others were higher (sleep apnea and elevated cholesterol) and others lower (heart attacks and ulcers), the summary said.
The researchers also asked players — or a caregiver for those who could not answer — if they had ever been diagnosed with “dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, or other memory-related disease.”
The Michigan researchers found that 6.1 percent of players age 50 and above reported that they had received a dementia-related diagnosis, five times higher than the cited national average, 1.2 percent. Players ages 30 through 49 showed a rate of 1.9 percent, or 19 times that of the national average, 0.1 percent.
The paper itself questioned the reliability of using phone surveys to assess prevalence rates of diagnosed dementia, as did several experts in telephone interviews. For example, some of those affected may not be reachable; then again, N.F.L. players may have greater access to doctors to make the diagnosis. The lead researcher, David R. Weir, said in an interview that proxies might have been handled differently in past studies.
Page 2 of 2)
“This suggests something suspicious,” said Dr. Amy Borenstein, professor of epidemiology at the University of South Florida. “But it’s something that must be looked at with a more rigorous study.”
Dr. Daniel P. Perl, the director of neuropathology at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, agreed with Dr. Borenstein but described the Michigan work as significant. “I think this complements what others have found — there appears to be a problem with cognition in a group of N.F.L. football players at a relatively young age,” he said.
All rates appear small. But if they are accurate, they would have arresting real-life effects when applied across a population as large as living N.F.L. retirees. A normal rate of cognitive disease among N.F.L. retirees age 50 and above (of whom there are about 4,000) would result in 48 of them having the condition; the rate in the Michigan study would lead to 244. Among retirees ages 30 through 49 (of whom there are about 3,000), the normal rate cited by the Michigan researchers would yield about 3 men experiencing problems; the rate reported among N.F.L. retirees leads to an estimate of 57.
So the Michigan findings suggest that although 50 N.F.L. retirees would be expected to have dementia or memory-related disease, the actual number could be more like 300. This would not prove causation in any individual case, but it would support a connection between pro football careers and heightened prevalence of later-life cognitive decline that the league has long disputed.
After the University of North Carolina’s Center for the Study of Retired Athletes published survey-based papers in 2005 through 2007 that found a correlation between N.F.L. football and depression, dementia and other cognitive impairment, a member of the N.F.L. concussion committee called the findings “virtually worthless.”
After initiating a fund in 2007 that provides financial assistance to retirees receiving care for dementia, the league insisted that it was doing so only because the disease “affects many elderly people” well beyond N.F.L. players. And a pamphlet that the league gives every player about concussion risks states, “Research is currently under way to determine if there are any long-term effects of concussion in N.F.L. athletes.”
“It’s time to edit that brochure,” said Kevin Mawae of the Tennessee Titans, the president of the N.F.L. Players Association. “Now it’s in their words and not just other people’s.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Muhlenberg, 1776
on: September 30, 2009, 07:33:54 AM
"There is a time for all things, a time to preach and a time to pray, but those times have passed away. There is a time to fight, and that time has now come." --Peter Muhlenberg, from a Lutheran sermon read at Woodstock, Virginia, 1776
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / An interesting read from India
on: September 30, 2009, 06:41:31 AM
US policy-makers had hoped that the taking-over of Gen. David Petraeus as the commander of the US Central Command, and Gen. Stanley McChrystal as the US Commander in Afghanistan working under Gen.Petraeus would bring about a more proactive strategy to weaken the Taliban and create a divide between it and the Afghan people. The two had earned a reputation in Iraq for reversing the fortunes of Al Qaeda and the former Baathist soldiers of Saddam Hussein, creating a divide between the two and enlisting the support of different tribal leaders and through them their followers for the US military operations. The improvement in the ground situation in Iraq----though not yet irreversible--- was largely due to their thinking, planning and execution.
2. Hopes in Washington that the two Generals would bring about similar results in Afghanistan have been belied so far.The Af-Pak troika of the administration of Barack Obama---- Richard Holbrooke, Obama's special representative for the Af-Pak region, who handles the political and diplomatic angles, and the two Generals--- has not been able to come to grips with the problem almost six months after the new Af-Pak policy of the Obama adminstration was launched in March last. The present ground situation favours the Pakistan-based Neo Taliban. Since the two Generals took over, the Neo Taliban has been able to increase and strengthen its presence in the north too. The situation is still one of a bleeding stalemate, but the prospects of the US-led forces breaking the stalemate and prevailing over the Neo Taliban are not any the brighter since the two Generals took over.
3. The dilemma posed by the worrisome ground situation is reflected in the growing impression that Obama's Af-Pak strategy has failed to take off and is unlikely to take off and that the time has come to think of a new strategy in which the key to success would be in Pakistan and not in Afghanistan.Vice-President Joe Biden seems to favour a change of focus from a Neo Taliban-centric strategy in Afghanistan to an Al Qaeda-centric one in Pakistan.
4.Presently, the political pressure is on Pakistan to act against the Taliban and Al Qaeda elements operating from sanctuaries in its territory and on the Hamid Karzai Government in Kabul to improve governance, reduce corruption and pay better attention to the problems of the people in the areas controlled by the Afghan National Army (ANA) and the US-led Western forces.
5. Neither of these pressures has worked. Nor have the never-ending incentives offered by the US to Pakistan---the latest of which is the expected passage by both Houses of the US Congress of the Kerry-Lugar Bill making a long term commitment of US$ 7.5 billion to Pakistan in the form of non-military aid over a period of five years. The military aid, which too continues to increase, will be in addition. Original expectations when Obama assumed office in January last that strict benchmarks would be laid down for the periodic disbursements of this aid in order to ensure that Pakistan does act sincerely and firmly against the terrorists have been belied.The more Pakistan is pampered, the less it acts against the terrorists. That has been the lesson since 9/11 and this lesson has not been learnt by the officials of the Obama administration.This is evident even from the grim Assessment dated August 30,2009, prepared by Gen.McChrystal, on the basis of which he is reported to be planning to ask for another surge of 21000 US troops--- a request over which Obama is reportedly not enthusiastic.
6. The pressures on Karzai to improve governance have not worked either. This is partly due to the difficult ground situation, which would pose a dilemma to any ruler---however democratic and however competent. Moreover, instead of strengthening the position of Karzai, US officials have done everything to weaken his credibility in the eyes of his own people as well as the international community through allegations---some true, many unwisely inspired--- regarding his inability or unwillingness to act against corruption and narcotics production and rigging in the Presidential elections. Even if he wins the elections in the first round itself----as he is expected to--- the importance of that victory has already been diluted by these allegations. US officials take a lot of care not to say or do anything, which might weaken the position of the Pakistani leadership, but they do not take similar care in respect of Karzai.
7.In the existing gloomy scenario, there are only two positive factors, which provide some cheer. Firstly, the improvement in the flow of human intelligence to the US intelligence community from sources in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan, which has led to some significant sucesses in the form of eradication of some middle-level leaders of Al Qaeda and even senior leaders of the Pakistan Taliban known as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) by US drone strikes. After having eliminated Baitullah Mehsud, the Amir of the TTP, the Drone strikes are now focussed on eliminating the Haqqani network consisting of the old Soviet era mujahideen warrior Jalaluddin Haqqani and his sons. If the US succeeds in eliminating the Haqqani network--- I hope it will--- the pressure on the US forces in Afghan territory could lessen--- at least in the short term. As against this, the impact of the elimination of Baitullah on the ground situation in Afghanistan would be minimal. His elimination was more a boon to the Pakistani security forces grappling with terrorists of their own creation in their territory than to the US-led Western forces in Afghanistan.
8.The second positive factor is the role of India as a force for stability in Afghanistan. Any objective analyst has to concede that the various road construction, democracy-promotion and people-oriented programmes undertaken by India in the areas controlled by the Government of Afghanistan have benefitted not only the people of Afghanistan immensely, but also the long-term Western objective of a democratic, modern Afghanistan.
9. One would have expected the US policy-makers not only to recognise the importance of retaining the role of India as a force for stability, but also encouraging India to expand further its people-oriented role in Afghanistan. In his assessment, McChrystal recognises --- though somewhat grudgingly-- the beneficial role of India and the support for that role from the Karzai Government, but one is surprised to find that he shows understanding for the Pakistani concerns over India's role and hints that these concerns have to be taken into consideration while formulating any revised strategy. He himself says that no strategy will work unless it is people-oriented, but at the same time wants something to be done to address Pakistani concerns over India's people-oriented role.
10.The Afghan people---whether Pashtuns, Tajiks, Uzbecks or others--- distrust and hate the Pakistanis after seeing the role played by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in the creation and fattening of the Taliban since 1994. One saw the extent of the hatred for the Pakistanis when the American and Northern Alliance troops entered Kabul in 2001 under Operation Enduring Freedom. Pakistanis assisting the Taliban Government in Kabul were hunted, killed and their dead bodies thrown into the gutters of Kabul.
11. Gen.McChrystal's ideas, if implemented, would provide an environment for the re-assertion of the hated Pakistani role by paying attention to Pakistani concerns over India's positive role.This shows how short-sighted US policy-makers and military-officers can be.The General's assessment is disappointing because it fails to put its finger on the crux of the dilemma being faced by the US-led Western forces, similar to the dilemma which the Soviet troops faced in Afghanistan in the 1980s before they decided to quit in 1988.This dilemma arose in the case of the Soviet troops and has now arisen in the case of the US-led Western troops from the absence of a counter-sanctuaries component to the counter-insurgency strategy.
12.The reluctance of the Soviet troops to take their fighting to the sanctuaries of the Afghan Mujahideen in Pakistani territory led to a situation where the Soviet troops kept bleeding till battle fatigue and public disenchantment with the war set in. Similarly, the absence of an effective counter-sanctuaries component is leading to a situation where the US and other Western forces as well as the ANA are bleeding more and more. There are already the incipient signs of a battle fatigue as cound be seen even from the General's assessment and the beginning of a public disenchantment with the involvement in Afghanistan. This disenchantment is already pronounced in West Europe and Canada and one could see the beginning of it even in the US. Instead of allowing the Neo Taliban to infiltrate in increasing numbers from its sanctuaries and recruiting grounds in the FATA and the Pashtun majority areas of Balochistan and then fighting or countering their ambushes in Afghan territory, the US should take its counter-insurgency operations to the camps of the Neo Taliban in adjoining Pakistani territory----whether in the FATA or in Balochistan.
13. The US already has an air-mounted counter-sanctuaries strategy in the FATA with the help of the Drones, which provide a deniable way of hitting at the sanctuaries of Al Qaeda, the Pakistani Taliban and the Neo Taliban. This strategy has had its successes, but, despite them, has proved inadequate. Initially, these strikes were concentrated on the sanctuaries of Al Qaeda and its allies in North Waziristan. Earlier this year, when there was a danger of the TTP expanding its presence to the non-tribal areas and posing a danger to Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, the focus of the Drone strikes shifted to South Waziristan against the sanctuaries of the TTP.During the last six months or so, the objective of these strikes became not protecting the NATO forces and the ANA in Afghanistan from attacks mounted from the Pakistani territory, but assisting the Pakistan Army in reversing the advance of the TTP into the non-tribal areas. After killing Baitullah in the first week of August, the US has again changed the direction and is now focussing on the Haqqani network, whose threat is more in Afghan territory than in the FATA. The US has not been able to mount a full-scale operation against Al Qaeda sanctuaries in North Waziristan due to the dispersal of its resources to South Waziristan for use against the TTP.
14. Even this limited success has not been there against the staging grounds of the Neo Taliban in Balochistan.The US continues to depend on the Pakistan Army for action against the sanctuaries of the Neo Taliban. The ISI-sponsored Neo Taliban is the only asset left with the Pakistan Army for regaining its primacy in Afghanistan if and when the US and other Western troops leave Afghanistan. Pakistan wants to regain this primacy without the direct deployment of its own army as it did in the 1990s. If the US is waiting for the Pakistan Army to act against the Neo Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistani territory, this is not going to happen. The US has only two alternatives---either itself act against the sanctuaries in Balochistan and destroy the Neo Taliban leadership in order to restore the damaged image of the US forces in Afghanistan, thereby paving the way for an honourable exit or keep its operations confined to Afghan territory, thereby continuing to bleed and face the prospect of an exit forced on the US by the Neo Taliban under humiliating conditions.
15.The role of the Drones---even if extended to Balochistan-- may not be as effective as their role in the FATA. The places in the FATA where the sanctuaries of Al Qaeda,the TTP and the Haqqani network are located are far from inhabited areas. The dangers of civilian fatalities are not large. In the Quetta and adjoining areas of Balochistan, the sanctuaries of the Neo Taliban are located in inhabited areas. It would be very difficult---almost impossible---to avoid large civilian fatalities. Deniable ground operations would, therefore, be necessary to eliminate the sanctuaries of the Neo Taliban. The US has the capability for such ground operations, but does not have the political will to use it lest it add to the already high anti-US feelings in Pakistan and affect even the limited co-operration which it has presently been getting from Pakistan in the FATA.
16. This danger of adverse reaction in Pakistan has to be faced if the US wants to bring about better ground conditions, which would enable it to contemplate withdrawing from Afghanistan with honour and with some confidence that Afghanistan will not revert to its pre-9/11 position of being the rear base for Al Qaeda. Before contemplating withdrawal, the US has to destroy Al Qaeda sanctuaries, including Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, in the FATA, the Haqqani network and the Neo Taliban sanctuaries in Balochistan. It has to come to terms with the hard reality that this is something which the US has to do without depending on Pakistan.Pakistan and Al Qaeda are biding their time hoping that after the US withdrawal, they can move into Afghanistan once again. This should not be allowed to happen.
17. Instead of discussing the various options available in this regard,McChrystal's report skirts the crux of the dilemma and discusses other issues having little relevance to a counter-sanctuaries strategy. His assessment reads more like one prepared by a senior officer attending a joint staff course than a recommendation for action prepared by an officer in charge of command and control. It is possible there is a classified part of the Assessment in which McChrystal discusses a counter-sanctuaries strategy. If not, his thinking doesn't bode well for the ultimate success of the US operations in the Af-Pak region.
18. This may please be read in continuation of my earlier paper of May 13,2009, titled "The Af-Pak Situation--An Update", at http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/papers32/paper3186.html
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: email@example.com
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Doing the same thing and expecting different results
on: September 29, 2009, 07:38:30 PM
We've Been Talking to Iran for 30 Years
The seizure of the U.S. embassy followed the failure of Carter administration talks with Ayatollah Khomeini's regime..
By MICHAEL LEDEEN
The Obama administration's talks with Iran—set to take place tomorrow in Geneva—are accompanied by an almost universally accepted misconception: that previous American administrations refused to negotiate with Iranian leaders. The truth, as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said last October at the National Defense University, is that "every administration since 1979 has reached out to the Iranians in one way or another and all have failed."
After the fall of the shah in February 1979, the Carter administration attempted to establish good relations with the revolutionary regime. We offered aid, arms and understanding. The Iranians demanded that the United States honor all arms deals with the shah, remain silent about human-rights abuses carried out by the new regime, and hand over Iranian "criminals" who had taken refuge in America. The talks ended with the seizure of the American Embassy in November.
President Jimmy Carter announces that the U.S. will seek economic sanctions against Iran, Dec. 21, 1979. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance looks on.
.The Reagan administration—driven by a desire to gain the release of the American hostages—famously sought a modus vivendi with Iran in the midst of the Iran-Iraq War during the mid-1980s. To that end, the U.S. sold weapons to Iran and provided military intelligence about Iraqi forces. High-level American officials such as Robert McFarlane met secretly with Iranian government representatives to discuss the future of the relationship. This effort ended when the Iran-Contra scandal erupted in late 1986.
The Clinton administration lifted sanctions that had been imposed by Messrs. Carter and Reagan. During the 1990s, Iranians (including the national wrestling team) entered the U.S. for the first time since the '70s. The U.S. also hosted Iranian cultural events and unfroze Iranian bank accounts. President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright publicly apologized to Iran for purported past sins, including the overthrow of Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh's government by the CIA and British intelligence in August 1953. But it all came to nothing when Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei proclaimed that we were their enemies in March 1999.
Most recently, the administration of George W. Bush—invariably and falsely described as being totally unwilling to talk to the mullahs—negotiated extensively with Tehran. There were scores of publicly reported meetings, and at least one very secret series of negotiations. These negotiations have rarely been described in the American press, even though they are the subject of a BBC documentary titled "Iran and the West."
At the urging of British Foreign Minister Jack Straw, the U.S. negotiated extensively with Ali Larijani, then-secretary of Iran's National Security Council. By September 2006, an agreement had seemingly been reached. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Nicholas Burns, her top Middle East aide, flew to New York to await the promised arrival of an Iranian delegation, for whom some 300 visas had been issued over the preceding weekend. Mr. Larijani was supposed to announce the suspension of Iranian nuclear enrichment. In exchange, we would lift sanctions. But Mr. Larijani and his delegation never arrived, as the BBC documentary reported.
Negotiations have always been accompanied by sanctions. But neither has produced any change in Iranian behavior.
Until the end of 2006—and despite appeals for international support, notably from Mr. Clinton—sanctions were almost exclusively imposed by the U.S. alone. Mr. Carter issued an executive order forbidding the sale of anything to Tehran except food and medical supplies. Mr. Reagan banned the importation of virtually all Iranian goods and services in October 1987. Mr. Clinton issued an executive order in March 1995 prohibiting any American involvement with petroleum development. The following May he issued an additional order tightening those sanctions. Five years later, Secretary of State Albright eased some of the sanctions by allowing Americans to buy and import carpets and some food products, such as dried fruits, nuts and caviar.
Mr. Bush took spare parts for commercial aircraft off the embargo list in the fall of 2006. On the other hand, in 2008 he revoked authorization of so-called U-turn transfers, making it illegal for any American bank to process transactions involving Iran—even if non-Iranian banks were at each end.
Throughout this period, our allies advocated for further diplomacy instead of sanctions. But beginning in late 2006, the United Nations started passing sanctions of its own. In December of that year, the Security Council blocked the import or export of "sensitive nuclear material and equipment" and called on member states to freeze the assets of anyone involved with Iran's nuclear program.
In 2007, the Security Council banned all arms exports from Iran, froze Iranian assets, and restricted the travel of anyone involved in the Iranian nuclear program. The following year, it called for investigations of Iranian banks, and authorized member countries to start searching planes and ships coming or going from or to Iran. All to no avail.
Thirty years of negotiations and sanctions have failed to end the Iranian nuclear program and its war against the West. Why should anyone think they will work now? A change in Iran requires a change in government. Common sense and moral vision suggest we should support the courageous opposition movement, whose leaders have promised to end support for terrorism and provide total transparency regarding the nuclear program.
Mr. Ledeen, a scholar at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, is the author, most recently, of "Accomplice to Evil: Iran and the War Against the West," out next month from St. Martin's Press.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / We don't need no stinkin' mens rea , , ,
on: September 29, 2009, 07:13:48 PM
When we think about the pace of change in technology, it's usually to marvel at how computing power has become cheaper and faster or how many new digital ways we have to communicate. Unfortunately, this pace of change is increasingly clashing with some of the slower-moving parts of our culture.
Technology moves so quickly we can barely keep up, and our legal system moves so slowly it can't keep up with itself. By design, the law is built up over time by court decisions, statutes and regulations. Sometimes even criminal laws are left vague, to be defined case by case. Technology exacerbates the problem of laws so open and vague that they are hard to abide by, to the point that we have all become potential criminals.
Boston civil-liberties lawyer Harvey Silverglate calls his new book "Three Felonies a Day," referring to the number of crimes he estimates the average American now unwittingly commits because of vague laws. New technology adds its own complexity, making innocent activity potentially criminal.
Mr. Silverglate describes several cases in which prosecutors didn't understand or didn't want to understand technology. This problem is compounded by a trend that has accelerated since the 1980s for prosecutors to abandon the principle that there can't be a crime without criminal intent.
View Full Image
Boston civil-liberties lawyer Harvey Silverglate
.In 2001, a man named Bradford Councilman was charged in Massachusetts with violating the wiretap laws. He worked at a company that offered an online book-listing service and also acted as an Internet service provider to book dealers. As an ISP, the company routinely intercepted and copied emails as part of the process of shuttling them through the Web to recipients.
The federal wiretap laws, Mr. Silverglate writes, were "written before the dawn of the Internet, often amended, not always clear, and frequently lagging behind the whipcrack speed of technological change." Prosecutors chose to interpret the ISP role of momentarily copying messages as they made their way through the system as akin to impermissibly listening in on communications. The case went through several rounds of litigation, with no judge making the obvious point that this is how ISPs operate. After six years, a jury found Mr. Councilman not guilty.
Other misunderstandings of the Web criminalize the exercise of First Amendment rights. A Saudi student in Idaho was charged in 2003 with offering "material support" to terrorists. He had operated Web sites for a Muslim charity that focused on normal religious training, but was prosecuted on the theory that if a user followed enough links off his site, he would find violent, anti-American comments on other sites. The Internet is a series of links, so if there's liability for anything in an online chain, it would be hard to avoid prosecution.
Mr. Silverglate, a liberal who wrote a previous book taking the conservative position against political correctness on campuses, is a persistent, principled critic of overbroad statutes. This is a common problem in securities laws, which Congress leaves intentionally vague, encouraging regulators and prosecutors to try people even when the law is unclear. He reminds us of the long prosecution of Silicon Valley investment banker Frank Quattrone, which after five years resulted in a reversal of his criminal conviction on vague charges of obstruction of justice.
These miscarriages are avoidable. Under the English common law we inherited, a crime requires intent. This protection is disappearing in the U.S. As Mr. Silverglate writes, "Since the New Deal era, Congress has delegated to various administrative agencies the task of writing the regulations," even as "Congress has demonstrated a growing dysfunction in crafting legislation that can in fact be understood." Prosecutors identify defendants to go after instead of finding a law that was broken and figuring out who did it. Expect more such prosecutions as Washington adds regulations.
Sometimes legislators know when they make false distinctions based on technology. An "anti-cyberbullying" proposal is making its way through Congress, prompted by the tragic case of a 13-year-old girl driven to suicide by the mother of a neighbor posing as a teenage boy and posting abusive messages on MySpace. The law would prohibit using the Internet to "coerce, intimidate, harass, or cause substantial emotional distress to a person." Imagine a law that tried to apply this control of speech to letters, editorials or lobbying.
Mr. Silverglate, who will testify against the bill later this week, tells me he figures that "being emotionally distressed is just part of living in a free society." New technologies like the Web, he concludes, "scare legislators because they don't understand them and want to control them, even as they become a normal part of life."
In a complex world of new technologies, there is more need than ever for clear rules of the road. Americans should expect that a crime requires bad intent and also that Congress and prosecutors will try to create clarity, not uncertainty. Our legal system has a lot of catching up to do to work smoothly with the rest of our lives.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan
on: September 29, 2009, 02:06:31 PM
The Taliban in Afghanistan: An Assessment
Stratfor Today » September 28, 2009 | 1148 GMT
Three suspected Taliban held by Afghan police Aug. 18Summary
Nearly eight years after removing the Taliban from power in Kabul, U.S. and NATO International Security Assistance Force troops continue to struggle against an elusive enemy. As the United States and NATO ramp up their offensive against Taliban strongholds, STRATFOR examines the nature of the Afghan Taliban phenomenon: how they operate, what their motivations are and what constraints they face.
The Taliban are a direct product of the intra-Islamist civil war that erupted following the fall of the Afghan Marxist regime in 1992, only three years after the withdrawal of Soviet forces. Dating back to the 1950s, the Soviet-allied communist party in Afghanistan sought to undermine the local tribal structure: It wanted to gain power via central control. This strategy was extremely disruptive, and resulted in a deterioration in order and the evisceration of the traditional local/regional tribal ethnic system of relations. But these efforts could not dislodge regional and local warlords, who continued to fight amongst each other for territorial control with little regard for civilians, long the modus operandi in Afghanistan.
After the Islamist uprising against the communist takeover and the subsequent entry of Soviet troops into the country in 1979, disparate Afghan factions united under the banner of Islam, aided by the then-Islamist-leaning regime in neighboring Pakistan, which was backed by the United States and Saudi Arabia. In terms of the Taliban movement, Pakistan was the most influential, but Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were also involved — mostly through financial support. The Saudis had political and religious ties as well.
During this time, madrassas (Islamic schools) in Pakistan became incubators, drawing young, mostly ethnic Pashtun youth, who would in turn facilitate the later rise of the Taliban in the early/mid 1990s in the wake of the decline of the mujahedeen factions.
The madrassas were instrumental in providing assistance, allowing orphans or displaced war refugees to study in Pakistan while Afghanistan experienced a brutal civil war. Refugees were taught a particularly conservative brand of Islam (along with receiving training in guerrilla tactics) with the intention that when they returned to Afghanistan, Pakistan would be able to control these groups, maintaining a powerful lever over its volatile and often unpredictable neighbor.
These radicalized fighters, many of whom originated in the madrassas and considered themselves devoted students of Islam, labeled themselves “Taliban.” The name “Taliban” comes from the Pashtun word for student — “Talib” — with Taliban being the plural form. The Taliban restored some sense of law and order by enforcing their own brand of Shariah, where local warlords previously ruled as they pleased — often to the detriment of civilians. The Taliban, issuing arrests and executing offending warlords, avenged injustices such as rape, murder and theft. As a result, the Taliban won support from the locals by providing a greater sense of security and justice.
(click here to enlarge map)
By the mid-1990s, the Taliban had become more cohesive under their nominal leader from Kandahar, Mullah Mohammad Omar. The Taliban gained prominence as a faction in 1994 when they were able to impose order amid chaos in the Kandahar region. By 1996, Taliban forces had entered Kabul, overthrown then-President Burhanuddin Rabbani and claimed control, renaming the country “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.” Omar was named the leader of the country but remained in Kandahar. It was during this rise to power that outside forces began partnering with the Taliban — namely al Qaeda — emphasizing their common radical Islamist ideology, but ultimately putting the Taliban in unsavory company. Pakistan and al Qaeda competed for influence over the Taliban, with Pakistan seeking to use them as leverage in Afghanistan and al Qaeda wanting to use the Taliban’s control over Afghanistan to spread their power throughout the Islamic world.
During their rule, the Taliban attempted to rid Afghanistan of any Western influences that had crept in, such as Western clothing, cinemas, music, schools and political ideologies. The proxy forces of the Pakistanis were now essentially governing the state, providing Pakistan with a tremendous amount of influence in Afghanistan, and, consequently, a very secure western border, which allowed Pakistan to focus on India to the east.
But this situation did not last long. Al Qaeda’s influence was on the upswing in Afghanistan, from which it staged 9/11. As a result, and after the refusal of the Taliban regime to disassociate itself from al Qaeda, the Pashtun jihadist group was forced out of power by U.S. forces in late 2001 following 9/11. (The United States implicated the Taliban for providing sanctuary to al Qaeda.) Instead of fighting against conventionally superior U.S. and NATO forces, the Taliban retreated into the rural southern and eastern traditional strongholds, returning to their traditional support bases. In other words, despite both claims and perceptions of a quick U.S. victory in Afghanistan in 2002, in reality, the Taliban largely declined to fight.
In many ways, there was no real interregnum between the fall of the regime and the insurgency. The West’s earliest attempts to talk to the Taliban occurred in 2003, a sign that the West viewed the Taliban as a force that had not been defeated and was capable of staging a comeback. In the early days, the West’s strategy was to eliminate the Taliban as a fighting force, but they were never successful, due to adverse geography, the lack of forces and the shifting of focus to Iraq in 2003. More importantly, the fight to control the Pashtun areas turned into a fight to prevent a resurgent Taliban. The U.S. focus on the insurgency in Iraq allowed the Taliban to galvanize and regroup, and by 2005, it was clear that they were rebounding. Since 2006, the Taliban insurgency has gained momentum to the point that U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus commented in April that foreign forces in Afghanistan are dealing with an “industrial strength” insurgency.
The Current Status of the Taliban
Despite their removal from power in Kabul, the Taliban continue to be the most powerful indigenous force in Afghanistan. Unlike the Afghan National Army or the Afghan National Police, which are entities built around the idea that Afghanistan can be centrally controlled (although the geography of Afghanistan severely limits the power of any governing body in Kabul to exert power beyond the capital). The Taliban have a much looser command structure that functions on regional and local levels. Various Taliban commanders have attempted to control the movement and call it their own, but the disjointedness of Taliban units means that each commander enjoys independence and ultimately controls his own men. The Afghan Taliban should also not be confused with the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the Pakistani Taliban. The TTP are an indigenous movement, and while they cooperate with the Afghan Taliban and share similar objectives, the two sets of groups are independent.
The closest the Taliban have to a leader is Omar, who has no coequal. He has recently issued orders in an attempt to consolidate the disparate forces in various regions. However, these orders are not always followed, largely because the malleable and semi-autonomous command structure allows the Taliban to be much more in tune with the structural realities of operating in Afghanistan than the Afghan forces created by the United States and ISAF (in addition to U.S. and ISAF forces themselves).
Though a loose command and control structure denies its enemies from targeting any central nerve center that would significantly disrupt the group’s existence, the nebulous structure of the Taliban also prevents them from being a single, coherent force with a single, coherent mission. The Taliban fighting force is far from uniform. Fighters range from young locals who are either fighting for ideological reasons or are forced by circumstances to fight with the Taliban, to hardened, well-trained veterans from the Soviet war in the 1980s, to foreigners who have come to Afghanistan to cut their teeth fighting Western forces and contribute their assistance to re-establishing the “Islamic” emirate. This also leads to variable objectives. On the most basic level, the desire to drive out foreign forces from the area and control it for themselves is a sentiment that appeals to every Taliban fighter and many Afghan civilians. The Taliban know that foreigners have never been able to impose an order on the country and it is only a matter of time before foreign forces will leave, which is when the Taliban — being the single-most organized militia — could have the opportunity to restore their lost “emirate.” For now, the presence of foreign fighters restricts their ability to administer self rule. This common sentiment is what keeps the Taliban somewhat united.
However, the Afghan national identity is easily trumped by subnational ones. While there is consensus for opposing foreign militaries, agreement becomes more tenuous when it comes to the presence of Afghan security forces. Tribal and ethnic identities tend to trump any national identity, meaning that the ethnic Baluchi in the south are unlikely to support the presence of an ethnic Pashtun military unit from Kabul in their home village. These tribal and ethnic splits explain why Afghan security forces are frequently targeted in attacks.
(click map to enlarge)
But Taliban forces across Afghanistan share one goal: removing foreign military presence. The Taliban have plenty of fighting experience outside of their opposition to the Soviets. Militants know that direct confrontation with foreign military forces typically ends poorly for the Taliban because, given enough time, foreign forces can muster superior firepower to destroy an enemy position. For this reason, the Taliban rely heavily on indirect fire and improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which avoid putting Taliban fighters directly in harm’s way. When the Taliban fighters do confront military forces directly, it has generally (though not universally) been in hit-and-run ambushes (often supported by heavy machine guns and mortars) that seek to inflict damage through surprise, not overwhelming force.
Rough terrain and meager transportation infrastructure limit mobility in Afghanistan, which limits the routes that ground convoy traffic can choose from, especially in rugged, outlying areas where the Taliban enjoy more freedom to operate. This makes routes predictable and creates more choke points where IEDs can be placed, which have caused the most deaths for U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
These tactics do not always inflict damage on foreign forces and are often unsuccessful, but their model is low-risk, cheap and very sustainable. Meanwhile, as Taliban forces inflict casualties against foreign forces, the overall campaign becomes harder to sustain for Western governments.
Additionally, suicide bombings and suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) are on the rise in areas like Kabul. However, various elements of the Taliban (as well as entities like foreign jihadists) have not proven to be able to use these tactics as effectively as Iraqi or Pakistani militants. This is because the Afghan Taliban have much more experience using guerrilla tactics, fighting as small, armed units, than using terrorist tactics such as VBIEDs and suicide bombings. VBIEDs are hardly indigenous to Afghanistan and did not become common until around 2005-2006, well after they had become common occurrences in Iraq. As militants migrated from different jihadist theaters and shared information, tactics spread to Afghanistan. There was also an effort by al Qaeda to impart their tactics onto the Taliban. But there is a learning curve for perfecting the construction and tactical expertise at deploying these weapons. While the Taliban have not been as proficient as some of their contemporaries, their capability could be improving.
It remains to be seen what kind of implications the collateral damage that these attacks cause will have on the popular perception of the movement. One clear implication of killing civilians is that it undermines local support for the Taliban, which is why Omar has sought to limit the use of suicide bombings as a modus operandi. (Afghans have traditionally abhorred suicide bombings.) But the continued employment of such tactics against Afghan and Western security forces can be expected.
But areas where the Taliban conduct attacks should not be confused with areas that the Taliban control. Attacks certainly indicate a Taliban presence, but the Taliban would not necessarily need to conduct sustained attacks in an area if they did not feel they were under threat. The issue of controlling territory is, in reality, much more complex. There have been many mainstream publications recently that attempt to calculate what percentage of Afghanistan is under Taliban “control” or where the Taliban have influence. But these terms are misleading and need to be properly defined to understand the reality of the insurgency and its grip on the country.
Western military forces and the Taliban have pursued different strategies to control territory in Afghanistan. Foreign forces have pursued the model of controlling the national capital and projecting power into the provinces. This means that Kabul is the main objective, with other major cities and provincial capitals being the secondary objective, followed third by district capitals and smaller towns. Foreign forces tend to hold urban areas because they are crucial to maintaining heavier logistical needs, and the supply chains that support them, and are deemed necessary to carry out a more centralized conception of national governance. Holding urban areas and roads allows them to expand further into the rural areas where, conversely, the Taliban derive their power.
The Taliban implement almost the exact opposite model. The Taliban employ decentralized control with a much lighter logistical footprint. The Taliban begin at the local level, in isolated villages and towns so that it can pressure district-level capitals. This scheme, which comes naturally to the Taliban, is much more in line with the underlying realities of Afghanistan.
Both sides have managed to prevent the other from gaining any real control over the country. By holding district and provincial capitals, foreign forces deny the Taliban formal control. By entrenching themselves in the countryside, the Taliban simply survive — and can afford to wait for their opportunity.
Click map to enlarge
Few areas of the country are secure for Taliban, foreign or Afghan forces — or civilians — indicating that no side has absolute control over territory. What STRATFOR wrote in 2007 still stands today: Control in Afghanistan essentially depends on who is standing where at any given time. The situation remains extremely fluid, largely because of mobility advantages on both sides. Taliban forces have mobility advantages over foreign forces due their self-sufficiency. Taliban conscripts do not rely on lengthy, tenuous supply chains that cross over politically and militarily hostile territory. They are local fighters who depend on family and friends for supplies and shelter or, when forced, use intimidation to take what they need from civilians. They can also easily blend into their surroundings. These abilities translate into superior tactical mobility.
An example of the control that the Taliban have on the ground is opium production. In poppy-producing (the flower used to make opium) areas of the south and west, locals rely on the Taliban for protecting, purchasing and moving their product to market. In these areas, the Taliban have not only physical leverage over civilians, but also economic, which helps strengthen allegiances. While opium production in Helmand, the province with the highest rate of poppy cultivation, dropped by one-third over the past year, poppy production continues to increase in other provinces such as Kandahar, Farah and especially Badghis province, where poppy production increased 93 percent and violent attacks have increased over the past year. This province — and the north/northwest of Afghanistan in general — is an area that STRATFOR certainly needs to watch as it has traditionally not been a Taliban stronghold.
Conversely, foreign forces and the Afghan forces modeled on them are bound by supply chain limitations — a weakness that the Taliban have targeted in the past year. This reality constrains their ability to be flexible and spontaneous, resulting in predictable troop movements and requires the reliance on stationary bases, which make for easier targeting on the part of the Taliban.
However, what U.S. and ISAF forces have that the Taliban do not is air superiority. Foreign forces have been able to deny the Taliban sanctuaries by using air surveillance and air strikes that can neutralize large contingents of Taliban fighters and commanders without putting U.S. and ISAF forces in harm’s way. Air superiority gives foreign forces an advantage over the Taliban’s superior ground mobility and denies the Taliban’s complete control over any territory. However, air superiority does not guarantee control over any specific territory, as ground control is required to administer territory through organized government. This arrangement creates concentric circles of influence: The Taliban may patrol one stretch of land one day, but U.S. forces will patrol the next. Similarly, village allegiances shift constantly as they try to avoid being perceived by foreign forces as harboring Taliban lest they are the target of an airstrike, yet also maintain cordial relations with the local Taliban to avoid harsh reprisal.
Additionally, foreign forces are able to use air power to overcome some of the limitations of the supply chain vulnerabilities by relying on helicopter transport for shuttling supplies and deploying troops. Helicopters greatly reduce reliance on ground transport and convoys, but are in short supply and, in an environment where counter-tactics develop as quickly as tactics, they have their own vulnerabilities.
The Realities That Remain
Just as foreign and Afghan forces struggle to outright control territory, so do the Taliban. Even during the days of the Islamic Emirate, when the Taliban were at their peak, considerable swaths of territory in the north eluded their control. The fact remains that Afghanistan’s geography and ethnic/tribal makeup ensure that any power seeking to control Afghanistan will face a serious struggle. With flat, unprotected borderlands (where the bulk of the population resides) and a mountainous center, Afghanistan is both highly susceptible to foreign interference (it has so many neighbors who are able to easily project power into it, yet are unable and unwilling to rule it outright) and is governed poorly from any centralized location.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Verbal Judo
on: September 29, 2009, 01:33:06 PM
7 Things Cops Should Never Say To Anyone
0 Comments Share Flag as inappropriate
By Dr. George Thompson
7. "HEY YOU! COME HERE!"
Consider, you are on patrol and you see someone suspicious you want to talk
with, so you most naturally say, "Hey you! Come here!" Verbal Judo teaches
that "natural language is disastrous!" and this provides a wonderful
example. You have just warned the subject that he is in trouble. "Come here"
means to you, "Over here, you are under my authority." But to the subject it
means, "Go away-quickly!" The words are not tactical for they have provided
a warning and possibly precipitated a chase that would not have been
necessary had you, instead, walked casually in his direction and once close
said, "Excuse me. Could I chat with momentarily?" Notice this question is
polite, professional, and calm.
Also notice, you have gotten in close, in his "space" though not his "face,"
and now you are too close for him to back off, giving you a ration of verbal
trouble, as could have easily been the case with the "Hey you! Come here!"
The ancient samurai knew never to let an opponent pick the place of battle
for then the sun would always be in your eyes! "Come here" is loose, lazy,
and ineffective language. Easy, but wrong. Tactically, "May I chat with you"
is far better, for not only have you picked the place to talk, but anything
the subject says, other than yes or no-the question you asked-provides you
with intelligence regarding his emotional and/or mental state. Let him start
any 'dance' of resistance.
Point: Polite civility can be a weapon of immense power!
6. "CALM DOWN!"
Consider this verbal blunder. You approach some angry folks and you most
naturally say, "Hey, calm down!" This command never works, so why do we
always use it? Because it flows naturally from our lips!
What's wrong with it? One, the phrase is a criticism of their behavior and
suggests that they have no legitimate right to be upset! Hence, rather than
reassuring them that things will improve, which should be your goal, you
have created a new problem! Not only is there the matter they were upset
about to begin with, but now they need to defend their reaction to you!
Double the trouble!
Better, put on a calming face and demeanor-in Verbal Judo we say, 'Chameleon
up'-look the person in the eye and say, gently, "It's going to be all right.
Talk to me. What's the matter?" The phrase "What's the matter?' softens the
person up to talk and calm down; where 'Calm down' hardens the resistance.
The choice is yours!
5. "I'M NOT GOING TO TELL YOU AGAIN!"
We teach in Verbal Judo that 'repetition is weakness on the streets!' and
you and I both know that this phrase is almost always a lie. You will say it
again, and possibly again and again!
Parents do it all the time with their kids, and street cops do it with
resistant subjects, all the time! The phrase is, of course, a threat, and
voicing it leaves you only one viable option-action! If you are not prepared
to act, or cannot at the time, you lose credibility, and with the loss of
creditability comes the loss of power and safety!
Even if you are prepared to act, you have warned the subject that you are
about to do so and forewarned is forearmed! Another tactical blunder! Like
the rattlesnake you have made noise, and noise can get you hurt or killed.
Better to be more like the cobra and strike when least suspected!
If you want to stress the seriousness of your words, say something like,
'Listen, it's important that you get this point, so pay close attention to
what I'm about to tell you.'
If you have used Verbal Judo's Five Steps of Persuasion you know that we act
after asking our "nicest, most polite question,"
"Sir, is there anything I could say that would get you to do A, B and C? I'd
like to think so?"
If the answer is NO, we act while the subject is still talking! We do not
telegraph our actions nor threaten people, but we do act when verbal
4. "BE MORE REASONABLE!"
Telling people "be more reasonable" has many of the same problems as "Calm
Down!" Everyone thinks h/she is plenty reasonable given the present
circumstances! I never have had anyone run up to me and say, "Hey, I know I'm
stupid and wrong, but here's what I think!" although I have been confronted
by stupid and wrong people! You only invite conflict when you tell people to
"be more reasonable!"
Instead, make people more reasonable by the way in which you handle them,
tactically! Use the language of reassurance-"Let me see if I understand your
position," and then paraphrase-another VJ tactic!-back to them their
meaning, as you see it, in your words! Using your words will calm them and
make them more reasonable because your words will (or better be!) more
professional and less emotional.
This approach absorbs the other's tension and makes him feel your support.
Now you can help them think more logically and less destructively, without
making the insulting charge implied in your statement, "Be more reasonable!"
Again, tactics over natural reaction!
3. "BECAUSE THOSE ARE THE RULES" (or "THAT'S THE LAW!")
If ever there was a phrase that irritates people and makes you look weak,
this is it!
If you are enforcing rules/laws that exist for good reason, don't be afraid
to explain that! Your audience may not agree with or like it, but at least
they have been honored with an explanation. Note, a true sign of REspect is
to tell people why, and telling people why generates voluntary compliance.
Indeed, we know that at least 70% of resistant or difficult people will do
what you want them to do if you will just tell them why!
When you tell people why, you establish a ground to stand on, and one for
them as well! Your declaration of why defines the limits of the issue at
hand, defines your real authority, but also gives the other good reason for
complying, not just because you said so! Tactically, telling people why gets
your ego out of it and put in its place a solid, professional reason for
Even at home, if all you can do is repeat, "those are the rules," you sound
and look weak because you apparently cannot support your order/request with
logic or good reason. Indeed, if you can put rules or policies into context
and explain how the rules or policies are good for everyone, you not only
help people understand, you help them save face. Hence, you are much more
likely to generate voluntary compliance, which is your goal!
2. "WHAT'S YOUR PROBLEM?"
This snotty, useless phrase turns the problem back on the person needing
assistance. It signals this is a "you-versus-me" battle rather than an "us"
discussion. The typical reaction is, "It's not my problem. You're the
The problem with the word problem is that it makes people feel deficient or
even helpless. It can even transport people back to grade school where they
felt misunderstood and underrated. Nobody likes to admit h/she has a
problem. That's a weakness! When asked, "what's your problem?" the other
already feels a failure. So the immediate natural reaction is, "I don't have
one, you do!" which is a reaction that now hides a real need for help.
Substitute tactical phrases designed to soften and open someone up, like
"What's the matter?", "How can I help?", or "I can see you're upset, let me
suggest . . . ."
Remember, as an officer of peace, it is your business to find ways to gather
good intel and to help those in need, not to pass judgments.
1. "WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO DO ABOUT IT?"
A great cop-out (no pun.)! This pseudo-question, always accompanied by
sarcasm, is clearly an evasion of responsibility and a clear sign of a lack
of creativity! The phrase really reveals the speaker's exasperation and lack
of knowledge. Often heard from untrained sales clerks and young officers
tasked with figuring out how to help someone when the rules are not clear.
When you say, "What do you want me to do about it?" you can count on two
problems: the one you started with and the one you just created by appearing
to duck responsibility.
Instead, tactically offer to help sort out the problem and work toward a
solution. If it truly is not in your area of responsibility, point the
subject to the right department or persons that might be able to solve the
If you are unable or unqualified to assist and you haven't a clue as to how
to help the person, apologize. Such an apology almost always gains you an
ally, one you may need at same later date. Beat cops need to remember it is
important to "develop a pair of eyes" (contacts) every time they interact
with the public. Had the officer said to the complainant, for example, "I'm
sorry, I really do not know what to recommend, but I wish I did, I'd like to
help you," and coupled that statement with a concerned tone of voice and a
face of concern, he would have gone a long way toward making that person
more malleable and compliant for the police later down the road.
Remember, insult strengthens resistance and shuts the eyes. Civility weakens
resistance and opens the eyes!
It's tactical to be nice!
Dr. George J. Thompson is the President and Founder of the Verbal Judo
Institute, a tactical training and management firm now based in Auburn, NY.
For full details on Dr. Thompson's work and training, please visit the
Verbal Judo Web Site.http://www.verbaljudo.com/
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Estudio: Doble Matanza en DF metro
on: September 29, 2009, 11:17:27 AM
"En ocasiones es difícil realizar una crítica sobre el hombre que se lanzo sobre el criminal del metro. Algunos pudieran calificarlo de heroe miestras que otros pensarian que fue un acto idiota el arriesgarse al tratar de detener al asesino... en fin ¿Cómo jusgar un acto de este tipo?"
En ingles hay un dicho "We are warriors. Death can come for us any time." La primera cosa que debe hacer un guerrero es escribir formalmente y legalmente su testamento.
Ese hombre vio algien matando a una policia. En un momento asi, opino yo que uno actue segun su naturaleza. Ese hombre fue guerrero a asi' actuo. Aunque no critico a los que no hicieron nada, este hombre tiene mi respeto. Espero que hubiera muchos donativos a su familia.
Y si me permiten un comentario politico: Si se respetara el derecho de la gente defenderse, la gente tendria el derecho de armarse. Si el heroe tuviera su propia pistola posbilemente estariamos leyendo noticias felizes.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Washington: Conquer or Die, 1776; Paine 1776
on: September 29, 2009, 08:37:13 AM
We have therefore to resolve to conquer or die: Our won Country's Honor, all call upon us for vigorous and manly exertion, and if we now shamefully fail, we shall become infamous to the whole world. Let us therefore rely upon the goodness of the Cause, and the aid of the supreme Being, in whose hands Victory is, to animate and encourage us to great and noble Actions." --George Washington, General Orders, 1776
"I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. 'Tis the business of little minds to shrink; but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death." --Thomas Paine, The American Crisis, No. 1, 1776
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Two Canadians shot down in Pto. Vallarta.
on: September 29, 2009, 07:27:28 AM
2 Men Killed Execution-Style at Mexican Beach Resort
Monday , September 28, 2009
PUERTO VALLARTA, Mexico —
Two Canadian men were shot to death in execution-style killing outside an apartment building in the Mexican resort of Puerto Vallarta, authorities said Monday.
Witnesses told police that a gunman approached Gordon Douglas Kendall and Jeffrey Ronald Ivans outside the building they were staying in and shot Kendall, according to Jalisco state prosecutor Guillermo Diaz.
The gunman then chased Ivans to the pool area and shot him. Witnesses said two other gunmen arrived minutes later and repeatedly shot the dead or dying Canadians, Diaz said. The men fled and no arrests have been made.
Diaz said Ivans was carrying a handgun, though he apparently was not able to use it before he was shot. It is unusual for people in Mexico, particularly foreigners, to carry handguns. It was not clear if Ivans had a permit.
Rest of article: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,...est=latestnews
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Serious Strat: BO's move
on: September 28, 2009, 06:04:16 PM
Obama's Move: Iran and Afghanistan
September 28, 2009
by George Friedman
During the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign, now-U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said that like all U.S. presidents, Barack Obama would face a foreign policy test early in his presidency if elected. That test is now here.
His test comprises two apparently distinct challenges, one in Afghanistan and one in Iran. While different problems, they have three elements in common. First, they involve the question of his administration’s overarching strategy in the Islamic world. Second, the problems are approaching decision points (and making no decision represents a decision here). And third, they are playing out very differently than Obama expected during the 2008 campaign.
During the campaign, Obama portrayed the Iraq war as a massive mistake diverting the United States from Afghanistan, the true center of the “war on terror.” He accordingly promised to shift the focus away from Iraq and back to Afghanistan. Obama’s views on Iran were more amorphous. He supported the doctrine that Iran should not be permitted to obtain nuclear weapons, while at the same time asserted that engaging Iran was both possible and desirable. Embedded in the famous argument over whether offering talks without preconditions was appropriate (something now-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attacked him for during the Democratic primary) was the idea that the problem with Iran stemmed from Washington’s refusal to engage in talks with Tehran.
We are never impressed with campaign positions, or with the failure of the victorious candidate to live up to them. That’s the way American politics work. But in this case, these promises have created a dual crisis that Obama must make decisions about now.
Back in April, in the midst of the financial crisis, Obama reached an agreement at the G-8 meeting that the Iranians would have until Sept. 24 and the G-20 meeting to engage in meaningful talks with the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany (P-5+1) or face intensely increased sanctions. His administration was quite new at the time, so the amount of thought behind this remains unclear. On one level, the financial crisis was so intense and September so far away that Obama and his team probably saw this as a means to delay a secondary matter while more important fires were flaring up.
But there was more operating than that. Obama intended to try to bridge the gap between the Islamic world and the United States between April and September. In his speech to the Islamic world from Cairo, he planned to show a desire not only to find common ground, but also to acknowledge shortcomings in U.S. policy in the region. With the appointment of special envoys George Mitchell (for Israel and the Palestinian territories) and Richard Holbrooke (for Pakistan and Afghanistan), Obama sought to build on his opening to the Islamic world with intense diplomatic activity designed to reshape regional relationships.
It can be argued that the Islamic masses responded positively to Obama’s opening — it has been asserted to be so and we will accept this — but the diplomatic mission did not solve the core problem. Mitchell could not get the Israelis to move on the settlement issue, and while Holbrooke appears to have made some headway on increasing Pakistan’s aggressiveness toward the Taliban, no fundamental shift has occurred in the Afghan war.
Most important, no major shift has occurred in Iran’s attitude toward the United States and the P-5+1 negotiating group. In spite of Obama’s Persian New Year address to Iran, the Iranians did not change their attitude toward the United States. The unrest following Iran’s contested June presidential election actually hardened the Iranian position. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad remained president with the support of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, while the so-called moderates seemed powerless to influence their position. Perceptions that the West supported the demonstrations have strengthened Ahmadinejad’s hand further, allowing him to paint his critics as pro-Western and himself as an Iranian nationalist.
But with September drawing to a close, talks have still not begun. Instead, they will begin Oct. 1. And last week, the Iranians chose to announce that not only will they continue work on their nuclear program (which they claim is not for military purposes), they have a second, hardened uranium enrichment facility near Qom. After that announcement, Obama, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy held a press conference saying they have known about the tunnel for several months, and warned of stern consequences.
This, of course, raises the question of what consequences. Obama has three choices in this regard.
First, he can impose crippling sanctions against Iran. But that is possible only if the Russians cooperate. Moscow has the rolling stock and reserves to supply all of Iran’s fuel needs if it so chooses, and Beijing can also remedy any Iranian fuel shortages. Both Russia and China have said they don’t want sanctions; without them on board, sanctions are meaningless.
Second, Obama can take military action against Iran, something easier politically and diplomatically for the United States to do itself rather than rely on Israel. By itself, Israel cannot achieve air superiority, suppress air defenses, attack the necessary number of sites and attempt to neutralize Iranian mine-laying and anti-ship capability all along the Persian Gulf. Moreover, if Israel struck on its own and Iran responded by mining the Strait of Hormuz, the United States would be drawn into at least a naval war with Iran — and probably would have to complete the Israeli airstrikes, too.
And third, Obama could choose to do nothing (or engage in sanctions that would be the equivalent of doing nothing). Washington could see future Iranian nuclear weapons as an acceptable risk. But the Israelis don’t, meaning they would likely trigger the second scenario. It is possible that the United States could try to compel Israel not to strike — though it’s not clear whether Israel would comply — something that would leave Obama publicly accepting Iran’s nuclear program.
And this, of course, would jeopardize Obama’s credibility. It is possible for the French or Germans to waffle on this issue; no one is looking to them for leadership. But for Obama simply to acquiesce to Iranian nuclear weapons, especially at this point, would have significant diplomatic and domestic political ramifications. Simply put, Obama would look weak — and that, of course, is why the Iranians announced the second nuclear site. They read Obama as weak, and they want to demonstrate their own resolve. That way, if the Russians were thinking of cooperating with the United States on sanctions, Moscow would be seen as backing the weak player against the strong one. The third option, doing nothing, therefore actually represents a significant action.
In a way, the same issue is at stake in Afghanistan. Having labeled Afghanistan as critical — indeed, having campaigned on the platform that the Bush administration was fighting the wrong war — it would be difficult for Obama to back down in Afghanistan. At the same time, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has reported that without a new strategy and a substantial increase in troop numbers, failure in Afghanistan is likely.
The number of troops being discussed, 30,000-40,000, would bring total U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan to just above the number of troops the Soviet Union deployed there in its war (just under 120,000) — a war that ended in failure. The new strategy being advocated would be one in which the focus would not be on the defeat of the Taliban by force of arms, but the creation of havens for the Afghan people and protecting those havens from the Taliban.
A move to the defensive when time is on your side is not an unreasonable strategy. But it is not clear that time is on Western forces’ side. Increased offensives are not weakening the Taliban. But halting attacks and assuming that the Taliban will oblige the West by moving to the offensive, thereby opening itself to air and artillery strikes, probably is not going to happen. And while assuming that the country will effectively rise against the Taliban out of the protected zones the United States has created is interesting, it does not strike us as likely. The Taliban is fighting the long war because it has nowhere else to go. Its ability to maintain military and political cohesion following the 2001 invasion has been remarkable. And betting that the Pakistanis will be effective enough to break the Taliban’s supply lines is hardly the most prudent bet.
In short, Obama’s commander on the ground has told him the current Afghan strategy is failing. He has said that unless that strategy changes, more troops won’t help, and that a change of strategy will require substantially more troops. But when we look at the proposed strategy and the force levels, it is far from obvious that even that level of commitment will stand a chance of achieving meaningful results quickly enough before the forces of Washington’s NATO allies begin to withdraw and U.S. domestic resolve erodes further.
Obama has three choices in Afghanistan. He can continue to current strategy and force level, hoping to prolong failure long enough for some undefined force to intervene. He can follow McChrystal’s advice and bet on the new strategy. Or he can withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan. Once again, doing nothing — the first option — is doing something quite significant.
The Two Challenges Come Together
The two crises intermingle in this way: Every president is tested in foreign policy, sometimes by design and sometimes by circumstance. Frequently, this happens at the beginning of his term as a result of some problem left by his predecessor, a strategy adopted in the campaign or a deliberate action by an antagonist. How this happens isn’t important. What is important is that Obama’s test is here. Obama at least publicly approached the presidency as if many of the problems the United States faced were due to misunderstandings about or the thoughtlessness of the United States. Whether this was correct is less important than that it left Obama appearing eager to accommodate his adversaries rather than confront them.
No one has a clear idea of Obama’s threshold for action.
In Afghanistan, the Taliban takes the view that the British and Russians left, and that the Americans will leave, too. We strongly doubt that the force level proposed by McChrystal will be enough to change their minds. Moreover, U.S. forces are limited, with many still engaged in Iraq. In any case, it isn’t clear what force level would suffice to force the Taliban to negotiate or capitulate — and we strongly doubt that there is a level practical to contemplate.
In Iran, Ahmadinejad clearly perceives that challenging Obama is low-risk and high reward. If he can finally demonstrate that the United States is unwilling to take military action regardless of provocations, his own domestic situation improves dramatically, his relationship with the Russians deepens, and most important, his regional influence — and menace — surges. If Obama accepts Iranian nukes without serious sanctions or military actions, the American position in the Islamic world will decline dramatically. The Arab states in the region rely on the United States to protect them from Iran, so U.S. acquiescence in the face of Iranian nuclear weapons would reshape U.S. relations in the region far more than a hundred Cairo speeches.
There are four permutations Obama might choose in response to the dual crisis. He could attack Iran and increase forces in Afghanistan, but he might well wind up stuck in a long-term war in Afghanistan. He could avoid that long-term war by withdrawing from Afghanistan and also ignore Iran’s program, but that would leave many regimes reliant on the United States for defense against Iran in the lurch. He could increase forces in Afghanistan and ignore Iran — probably yielding the worst of all possible outcomes, namely, a long-term Afghan war and an Iran with a nuclear program if not nuclear weapons.
On pure logic, history or politics aside, the best course is to strike Iran and withdraw from Afghanistan. That would demonstrate will in the face of a significant challenge while perhaps reshaping Iran and certainly avoiding a drawn-out war in Afghanistan. Of course, it is easy for those who lack power and responsibility — and the need to govern — to provide logical choices. But the forces closing in on Obama are substantial, and there are many competing considerations in play.
Presidents eventually arrive at the point where something must be done, and where doing nothing is very much doing something. At this point, decisions can no longer be postponed, and each choice involves significant risk. Obama has reached that point, and significantly, in his case, he faces a double choice. And any decision he makes will reverberate.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Cluess babble from Pravda on the Hudson
on: September 28, 2009, 12:16:10 PM
By CLIFFORD J. LEVY
Published: September 27, 2009
MOSCOW — The Kremlin has long responded to proposals for tougher sanctions against Iran with arms folded and a scowl. Last week, that attitude began softening, bringing the Obama administration closer to a diplomatic coup in its efforts to contain the Iranian nuclear program.
President Obama and President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia on Friday at the Group of 20 meeting in Pittsburgh.
But the relatively conciliatory statements by Russia’s president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, present an opening to the administration that could turn out to yield little. Russia, a neighbor of Iran, is far more intertwined with it geopolitically than any other world power, and has more concerns about upsetting relations.
Russia is also reluctant to mass the might of the United Nations Security Council against a single country, especially at Washington’s behest. That in part explains why Russia has historically sought to dilute sanctions, as it did in previous rounds against Iran.
Moreover, the Kremlin might go slowly because it senses that in a world where it has less influence than it did during Soviet times, it can use its veto power in the Security Council to ensure attention and respect. If Russia were to accede right away to calls for a crackdown, it would risk becoming just another country lining up behind the United States. The Kremlin’s pride would almost certainly not allow that.
Already, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, appears to be positioning Russia to back away from the supportive stance suggested by Mr. Medvedev’s comments.
Asked about the announcement on Friday by the United States, Britain and France that Iran had failed to disclose a secret uranium enrichment plant, Mr. Lavrov said it was not evident that Iran had done anything wrong. He said it was premature to assert that new sanctions were necessary.
“As I understand it, there is no clarity regarding the legal issues,” Mr. Lavrov said.
He also chided the Western powers for not telling Russia earlier that their intelligence agencies had discovered the Iranian enrichment plant.
Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin, Russia’s paramount leader, who tends to be more hawkish than Mr. Medvedev toward the United States, in recent days has not echoed Mr. Medvedev’s views on sanctions.
Still, Moscow’s overall outlook toward the United States has unquestionably warmed in recent months, largely because of President Obama’s drive to “reset” relations, and that could ultimately be pivotal.
Mr. Obama’s decision this month to cancel an antimissile system in Eastern Europe proposed by the Bush administration has achieved a particularly galvanizing effect. The Kremlin had deemed the antimissile system a direct threat to Russia, though the United States had said it was intended to protect against attacks from countries like Iran.
Mr. Medvedev regularly expressed his appreciation for Mr. Obama last week, drawing a contrast with the tensions between Moscow and Washington in the later Bush years. Obama administration officials cited Mr. Medvedev’s remarks as proof that their attempt to engage Moscow was paying off, and could lead to action against Iran.
“We do have various doubts about what Iran is doing,” Mr. Medvedev said last week. “If all possibilities for influencing the situation have been exhausted, we could consider international sanctions.”
“Sometimes, there is no other option,” he added.
Russia has said that it does not want Iran to obtain nuclear weapons, but it has also articulated misgivings about Western assertions of Iranian nuclear advances. While Russia is not one of Iran’s largest trading partners, it does sell military hardware to Iran and is building a civilian nuclear power plant there.
What is clear is that Russia considers sanctions as not solely an Iranian issue, but one of several that revolve around its dealings with Washington. It is negotiating a treaty to reduce the size of strategic nuclear forces, and remains alarmed by the possible expansion of NATO into former Soviet republics like Ukraine and Georgia.
If those issues are handled to the Kremlin’s liking, then it will be more apt to agree to stiff sanctions.
“For Russia, Iran is a very good bargaining chip,” said Vladimir Sotnikov, a senior research associate at the Center for International Security in Moscow. “And that is why, for now, I don’t think that Russia is going to be ready to wholly support major new sanctions.”
The dynamic is complicated by China, another sanctions opponent with a Security Council veto. The Kremlin can publicly show more leeway toward sanctions — in essence, offering gratitude to Mr. Obama for canceling the antimissile system in Eastern Europe — while knowing that China may continue standing in their way.
China trades heavily with Iran, and its skeptical comments on Friday after the announcement about the new enrichment plant indicated how reluctant it may be on sanctions.
At the same time, though, if China senses that Russia is more amenable, the Chinese may feel that they have to shift because they do not want to be isolated.
And Mr. Medvedev’s criticism of Iran last week has put more pressure on its leadership before nuclear talks on Thursday in Geneva between Iran and the United States and five other powers, including Russia.
Even so, in interviews over the weekend, experts in Moscow were somewhat unconvinced that the Kremlin would back forceful steps against Iran, though they did not rule it out.
Vladimir Sazhin, a commentator at the state-run Voice of Russia radio and one of the nation’s leading Iran analysts, said it was important to understand that Russia considered Iran to be a vital ally on regional issues. After the disputed Iranian presidential election in June, in fact, Mr. Medvedev congratulated President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Both countries are on the Caspian Sea and have territory in the Caucasus Mountains. (The Soviet Union had a border with Iran, but Russia is now about 100 miles away, separated from Iran by another former Soviet republic, Azerbaijan.) Both Russia and Iran want to prevent NATO from setting up bases in the region.
Mr. Sazhin said Russia had been pleased that Iran had not questioned Russia’s actions in Chechnya, a Muslim region in the Caucasus where the federal authorities have fought two brutal civil wars to put down a separatist Muslim insurgency.
“The Kremlin’s politics come down to the fact that they do not want to inflame relations with Iran, because of Russia’s regional interests,” Mr. Sazhin said.
Mr. Sazhin said he would not be surprised if Mr. Medvedev continued to imply that he was open-minded toward sanctions, in large part because the Russian leadership realizes that China may not relent and Iran will find a way to prolong the dispute.
“The Kremlin can play a good game because it knows that nothing will probably come of it,” he said.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Washington
on: September 28, 2009, 10:59:10 AM
"No country upon earth ever had it more in its power to attain these blessings than United America. Wondrously strange, then, and much to be regretted indeed would it be, were we to neglect the means and to depart from the road which Providence has pointed us to so plainly." --George Washington