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23301  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Will Bill Donovan on: February 13, 2011, 12:49:15 PM
By ANDREW ROBERTS
William J. "Wild Bill" Donovan, the head of the wartime Office of Strategic Services, has long been a controversial figure. If a man can be judged by the quality of his enemies, Donovan—who was cordially disliked or distrusted by Harry Truman, Douglas MacArthur, George Marshall and especially by J. Edgar Hoover—was a giant of his era. That President Franklin Roosevelt eventually came to like and admire Donovan, a Republican enemy of the New Deal, says much for both men. As Douglas Waller makes clear in his fast-moving and well-written biography, "Wild Bill Donovan," Roosevelt's approval was the foundation of Donovan's place at the center of American intelligence operations from July 1941 to September 1945.

Hailing from a poor Catholic neighborhood in Buffalo, N.Y., Donovan (1883-1959) won early renown as the most-decorated officer of World War I, earning the Distinguished Service Cross, the Distinguished Service Medal with two oak-leaf clusters, two Purple Hearts and the Congressional Medal of Honor. When he later sent any of his 10,000 OSS operatives into harm's way during World War II, they knew that he was not asking anything of them that he hadn't himself already done.

After World War I, Donovan went into the law and politics, failing to become lieutenant governor of New York in 1922 or governor in 1932. In the course of the gubernatorial campaign, he described the Democratic presidential nominee Roosevelt as "a new kind of red, white and blue dictator" with "delusions of grandeur." Worse, when he met Mussolini in 1936 he congratulated the dictator on Italy's "unity of spirit" and the Italian general Pietro Badoglio on his "great victory" over the poor, gassed, brutalized Abyssinian tribesmen. On German fascism, Donovan was far sounder, protesting in 1933 over the Nazis' ill treatment of Jewish judges.

By July 1940, Donovan was one of the leading advocates of active aid to Britain and an opponent of America First isolationism, visiting London in a semi-official capacity and becoming convinced that Winston Churchill was fighting civilization's fight. The prime minister reciprocated by praising Donovan's "animating heart-warming flame" to FDR. With British assistance, Donovan toured Yugoslavia, Turkey, the Middle East and Spain, sending back encouraging cables. Walter Lippmann claimed that Donovan had "almost singlehandedly overcome the unmitigated defeatism which was paralyzing Washington."

View Full Image

Library of Congress
 
Col. William J. Donovan in 1919. His Wound Chevrons are visible on his right sleeve.
.Donovan, who had come to admire FDR proposed to the president the creation of a spy and sabotage service based on Britain's MI6, "with men calculatingly reckless with disciplined daring." With the support of the secretary of the Navy, Frank Knox, but in the teeth of the opposition of practically everyone else, Donovan was appointed "Coordinator of Information" in July 1941. Roosevelt loved the intelligence with which Donovan then deluged him—more than 200 memos in his first six months—calling him "my secret legs."

For all the deliberate opacity of his title, the coordinator had a precise sense of his mission. He now opened a door on the world of codepads, pistols with silencers, lock-picking sets, matchbox cameras, bombs that looked like baking flour, stiletto knives, chemical and biological assassination weapons, and suicide capsules (which Donovan always carried with him, although his aides worried lest he mix them up with his identical-looking aspirin).

"Hush-Hush" Donovan hired anyone of ability, believing that "later on we'll find out what they can do." Future CIA directors Allen Dulles, Richard Helms, William Colby and William Casey all served under Donovan. From its headquarters at 25th & E streets on Navy Hill in Washington and at Rockefeller Center in New York, the Office of Strategic Services became America's first world-wide intelligence service. World-wide except for Latin America, which Hoover managed to ring-fence for the FBI. Donovan and Hoover—who each kept files on the other—maintained a fiction of professionalism that barely hid their mutual detestation.

The tales of OSS derring-do—one agent, Virginia Hall, had a prosthetic leg from a prewar hunting accident but was still parachuted into Occupied France— are thrilling and none more so than the elaborate effort, in July 1941, to burgle the safe in the Spanish embassy in Washington for the diplomatic codebooks. The meticulous preparation and sheer chutzpah of the operation—infiltrating a secretary, distracting the embassy staff, sending in a safe-cracker, photographing and replacing the codebooks within hours—was extraordinary, not least because it had to be undertaken monthly when the codes changed. One can't help sympathizing with Donovan when the OSS had to curtail its activities because the FBI turned out to be up to the same thing. (When FDR ordained that it was henceforth to be the FBI's job to break into embassies, Donovan promptly started spying on the FBI, concluding that Hoover was "a fairy" —just as Hoover was concluding that Donovan was a serial adulterer.)

The stories of the OSS's homelier operations are superb, too. Gland experts produced female sex hormones to inject into Hitler's vegetable so that his mustache would fall out and his voice go soprano. Planes released bats that were fitted with time-delayed incendiary devices. They were supposed to fly under the eaves of German houses and blow them up; in fact, the poor creatures dropped like stones.

For every success Donovan could claim —such as the German agent Fritz Kolbe, who stole 1,600 documents from the foreign ministry in Berlin and took them to an OSS safe house in Switzerland—there was a failure: for example Donovan's prediction, supposedly based on firm intelligence, that the Third Reich would "collapse . . . a few months" after D-Day.

Yet he was always an invigorating, thrusting, positive force. He insisted on taking part in the Salerno, Anzio and Normandy landings, hitting the beaches virtually in the second wave each time. At one point at Salerno, this 200-pound, 5-foot-9-inch, 60-year-old man with thickening heart muscles actually got into a firefight with an Italian patrol. It left him "happy as a clam."

Mr. Waller, a former Newsweek and Time correspondent, makes a powerful case that Donovan was a great American. He does not, however, even attempt to make the case that the OSS significantly affected the outcome of the war. Yet Donovan had no fewer than 28 networks working in southern France by the spring of 1944, which was no mean feat.

The author is caustic about the OSS operations in Italy, citing several "bad operational breakdowns and security lapses," not least when some OSS officers pocketed the cash intended for bribing Axis officials. Yet Donovan got a grip on the situation by the time of the fall of Rome in June 1944, setting himself up at the Grand Hotel Plaza there and sending no fewer than half his officers home. As Gen. Mark Clark fought his way up the peninsula, the OSS dropped 75 commando teams behind enemy lines, with 2,000 tons of arms and supplies, in support of the estimated 85,000 Italian partisans fighting against the Germans.

Just as he had no great respect for the inviolability of embassies, Donovan had little time for the Geneva Convention. In an operation codenamed "Sauerkraut," he organized the recruitment of angry and disaffected German soldiers from POW camps—i.e., sour krauts—and slipped them behind enemy lines in their Wehr macht uniforms to plant subversive propaganda, gather intelligence and lower enemy morale. The scheme worked better than the absurd idea of having planes drop leaflets over Germany showing, as Donovan put it in a memo, "pictures of succulent, appetizing dishes that would make a hungry person almost go mad with longing."

Wild Bill Donovan
By Douglas Waller
Free Press, 466 pages, $30
.Another black propaganda wheeze was to produce fake German mailbags stuffed with poison-pen letters whose addresses were copied from prewar German phone directories. The mailbags were then air-dropped in the hope that German civilians would give them to postmen to deliver. The commitment of the OSS to getting every detail right was such that when it produced fake Polish army uniforms, the buttons had to be sewn onto coats by threading the holes parallel, in the European style, rather than crisscrossing them.

The value of Donovan's organization is best seen at the time of Operation Overlord, when the OSS and the British Special Operations Executive dropped 10,000 tons of weaponry and equipment to the French Resistance, which put it to good use in slowing down the German counter attack. As he watched the D-Day landings from the deck of the USS Tuscaloosa, which was giving and receiving fire off Utah Beach, Donovan was in his element. His contribution to the winning of the war is necessarily hard to quantify, but by the end of Mr. Waller's chronicle a fair-minded reader will judge it to have been considerable.

President Truman disbanded the OSS on Sept. 20, 1945, within a week of the Japanese surrender and just as the Soviet Union seemed to pose a new threat. His antipathy toward Donovan was fueled by Hoover's disgusting (and untruthful) allegation that among Wild Bill's many mistresses was Donovan's own daughter-in-law. Yet such was America's need for an OSS substitute that only two years later the organization was resuscitated with a new name —the Central Intelligence Agency—but without its great wartime leader. He deserved better.

—Mr. Roberts's latest book is "The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War," to be published in the United States in May by Harper.
 
23302  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Morgan Freeman solves it on: February 13, 2011, 12:31:51 PM
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I3cGfrExozQ&feature=player_embedded
23303  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / POTH editorial on: February 13, 2011, 11:02:36 AM
Some details in this editorial that are often left out in some right wing commentary:
=======================

Republicans have a long history of favoring small government except when it comes to surveillance and security, at which point civil liberties take a back seat. Last week, however, 26 Republicans in the House demonstrated a remarkable consistency by joining 122 Democrats to prevent the extension of three questionable provisions of the Patriot Act, the post-9/11 law created during the Bush administration.

USA Patriot ActThe vote splashed some cold water on the House Republican leadership, which had been so confident that it raised the extension under fast-track rules that require a two-thirds majority. The leadership is planning to bring it back this week under the normal rules. It is almost certain to pass and be sent to the Senate.

Nonetheless, the concerns that briefly brought together liberals, Tea Party members and longtime centrists from both parties should send a message to the White House and the Senate. The provisions of the Patriot Act should be carefully re-examined before being hastily reauthorized year after year. The Tea Party-backed congressman Justin Amash of Michigan was right to say that some raise serious concerns about violating the ban on unreasonable searches and seizures.

Three provisions in the act are set to expire on Feb. 28, and would be renewed under the House bill, supported by the Obama administration, through December.

One would allow a roving wiretap on a terror suspect to monitor his conversations as he moves from phone to phone. That can be a useful tool, but the authorization is so broad that the government does not even have to specify the suspect’s name to get a warrant. The failure to provide a more narrow identification of the suspect is too lax and could lead to abuse.

Another expiring provision has long raised serious civil liberties concerns, allowing the government to examine library and bookstore records of suspects, along with hard drives, tax documents and gun records. Investigators are not required to show probable cause that the material is related to a terrorist investigation.

The third provision, allowing surveillance of “lone wolf” suspects who may not be tied to recognized terror organizations, is also overly broad but has never been used. Rather than renew it without debate, the government should explain whether it is really necessary.

The extensions will probably pass the House this week — though leaders do not plan to give anyone a chance to amend them — and go to the Senate, which should provide another opportunity for reconsideration. Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the Judiciary Committee chairman, has introduced a bill that would add several safeguards to the act, most notably the phasing out of “national security letters,” which the F.B.I. has used to obtain evidence without a court order. These letters have been subject to widespread misuse and have never received proper oversight.

Unfortunately, the same bill that would bring the letters under control would extend the three expiring provisions in the Patriot Act through 2013. It is a much better measure, however, than a bill by Senator Dianne Feinstein that would extend the provisions for three more years without the new safeguards, or one by Senator Mitch McConnell that would make the three provisions permanent. Congress should not miss an opportunity to wield some oversight on this issue and determine whether the government could achieve its goals with less sweeping surveillance powers.

23304  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: Elections to be held in West Bank, and Gaza? on: February 13, 2011, 10:53:25 AM
Palestinian Leaders Suddenly Call for Elections
By ETHAN BRONNER
Published: February 12, 2011
JERUSALEM — The Palestinian leadership announced Saturday that it planned to hold presidential and parliamentary elections by September, apparently a response to the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt calling for greater democracy and government accountability.

 The decision was announced in the West Bank city of Ramallah after a meeting of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which oversees the Palestinian Authority. Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, is also the chairman of the P.L.O.
At the same meeting, Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian peace negotiator with Israel, submitted his resignation and Mr. Abbas accepted it. A subcommittee was formed to look for a successor as well as to consider restructuring the negotiations unit.

The Islamist Hamas faction rejected the plan for national elections, saying Mr. Abbas had no legitimacy to call for them since he was serving beyond his term.

The Palestinians have not held elections since 2006, when Hamas won a majority in the parliament, leading to a year and a half of uneasy power sharing and a brief civil war in June 2007. Since then, Hamas has governed Gaza and the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority has controlled the West Bank.

The Palestinian Authority announced that postponed local elections would be held in July, a move that Hamas also rejected.

Hamas has said it believes that elections should follow a reconciliation process between itself and Fatah, including a restructuring of the P.L.O. to include Hamas, which is currently excluded.

The authority’s announcement on national elections said: “We call upon all parties to set aside their reservations and disagreements. Let us work together to hold elections and uphold the will of the Palestinian people. As for differences and disagreements, whether in political or security matters, we believe that these issues could be resolved by the coming elected Legislative Council.”

In explaining his resignation as chief peace negotiator, Mr. Erekat said that the leak to Al Jazeera television last month of some 1,600 documents — minutes and e-mails — from the negotiations had come from his department and that he bore responsibility for the embarrassment they caused. The leaks showed Mr. Erekat and fellow negotiators making more far-reaching offers than were publicly known regarding the yielding of land to Israel in East Jerusalem and on other divisive issues, like the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes in what is today Israel.

A member of the P.L.O. executive committee who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that there was unhappiness with Mr. Erekat, especially after the leaks were exposed, and that he was leaving because of it. Mr. Erekat has been a part of the negotiating team for nearly two decades.

Other Palestinian officials said there were no negotiations to lead and blamed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel.

“I think this resignation makes a point that we don’t believe Netanyahu has any intention of accepting the minimum of what had been agreed to before,” Nabil Shaath, a member of the Palestinian negotiating team, said in a telephone interview. “We want a total end of building settlements, including in East Jerusalem.”

In reaction to Mr. Erekat’s announcement, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, Fawzi Barhoum, said the resignation was proof that negotiations and peaceful efforts with Israel were a failure, and added that the Palestinian Authority should “cease all types of coordination with the Zionist enemy.”


Khaled Abu Aker contributed reporting from Ramallah, and Fares Akram from Gaza.

23305  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Tea Party, Glen Beck and related matters on: February 13, 2011, 10:36:29 AM
Well, that IS a rather big deal  smiley

Here's these from that Islamo-Communist conspiracy, the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal:
=========

As it happens, yesterday was also the 32nd anniversary of the Shah's downfall in Iran. The hard men of Tehran are now seeking to tap into Egypt's revolutionary fervor, hailing Hosni Mubarak's downfall as "a great victory." Earlier on this Islamic Revolution's Victory Day, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called on Arabs to "free" themselves from the "arrogant powers" (i.e., the U.S. and Israel) in the spirit of Ayatollah Khomeini.

The regime's words were all about 1979, but its actions suggested their minds are far more focused on 2009. Recall the Cairo-like scenes from Tehran two summers ago, when hundreds of thousands rose up over a stolen presidential election. Their uprising was brutally put down. The frustrations with a crony authoritarian regime that is far more savage than Mubarak's Egypt continue to fester.

Iran this week jammed the BBC Persian TV's coverage of the Egyptian uprising. According to the Guardian, the Iranians acted after the BBC brought together Iranian and Egyptian callers on air to exchange ideas.

Opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, who challenged Mr. Ahmadinejad for the presidency, asked permission to stage a rally in solidarity with the people of Egypt and Tunisia this Monday. It was a clever idea to get around the long-standing ban on public gatherings. The government turned them down. At least eight opposition activists and journalists have been detained since Wednesday. Clearly the mullahs are nervous about contagion.



=========
Hosni Mubarak left Cairo and nearly three decades in power last night, and Egypt erupted with cheers, fireworks and dancing. A better immediate outcome to Egypt's three-week crisis is hard to imagine. Now comes the morning after, and the beginning of another drama for the Arab world's leading nation.

The collapse of the Mubarak regime, wholly unexpected a month ago, offers an overdue opportunity to let Egypt and fellow Arab states catch the global democracy wave that began in 1989. The way to a truly liberal democracy is long and filled with many potential wrong turns. But Egypt starts on it with an enthusiastic mandate for reform, and advantages as well as handicaps.

***
Among the advantages, the military council that says it will oversee a transition has had its reputation and popular support enhanced by the uprising. By most appearances, the brass pushed Mr. Mubarak out yesterday, after the Egyptian leader refused to step down in a greatly anticipated speech on Thursday night. He enraged the streets and jeopardized the army's position of neutrality, increasing the chances of violence.

View Full Image

Zuma Press
 .Dictators of long standing rarely leave easily, or quickly, and at least Mr. Mubarak left before more blood was shed. His consiglieri, an ashen-faced Vice President Omar Suleiman, read a 30-second statement to announce Mr. Mubarak's departure and the transfer of power to the Supreme Council of the Armed Services. Mr. Suleiman, who was previously expected to take over, may be left out of the transition, too tarnished by the events of the past three weeks to play an effective leadership role.

The military has been the power behind the Egyptian throne since the 1952 coup, and skeptics called yesterday's power shift another military coup. Many other Third World countries have seen generals take over and promise a transition to democracy, only to stay for good. The military has interests that run deep into Egypt's politics and economy, and the generals will want those safeguarded. But the circumstances of this "coup" are unique. The military yesterday promised to honor the people's demands for democracy. The last month was also a good lesson for them that in this century free societies tend to be more stable.

Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi, who was Egypt's defense minister, and the other senior officers on the military council can take some obvious steps to build their legitimacy. As soon as possible they should lift emergency rule, which has been enforced since Anwar Sadat's assassination in 1981 and Mr. Mubarak's rise to the throne.

By rising up in January, Egyptians claimed their right to free speech and assembly. Such habits of a free society are worth decriminalizing and promoting. Long stifled by Mr. Mubarak's tight grip, the country hasn't had time to debate and disagree, nurture opposition figures and join political parties.

This transition will take time, a reality acknowledged by many in Cairo's Tahrir Square. The demonstrations were all the more remarkable for throwing up no leader in the mold of a Lech Walesa. Speaking on al Jazeera last night, former U.N. official Mohamed ElBaradei talked about "a one-year transition" to free elections. Before those take place, he said that Egypt needs a new constitution drawn up by a provisional council, including figures from the military and opposition. Ayman Nour, an opposition leader jailed by the Mubarak regime, said that Egyptians waited for yesterday for many years and would be patient. This is wise counsel.

Who knows what leader might emerge. Mr. ElBaradei lived abroad until the revolution started, and Mr. Nour's party lacks deep support and is divided. Marshal Tantawi won good will by appearing on Tahrir Square during the protests.

But the most galvanizing figure of the uprising is the Google executive, Wael Ghonim, who was jailed for a time but emerged with the Nelson Mandela-like message that he sought no revenge against his captors. This, too, is wisdom, because in history's successful revolutions victors have sought reconciliation rather than reprisals. Think the Philippines and South Africa, not France or Iran.

To satisfy the aspirations of this revolution, the political reforms will have to be credible and deep, not merely cosmetic. A Mubarak in new clothing will invite more trouble down the road. A democracy with proper constitutional checks, competing branches of government and the rule of law offers the best insurance against the rise of a different form of autocracy led by the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Brotherhood is disciplined and organized and will no doubt fight to gain power. But it's worth noting that the words heard most often from protestors in Egypt have been "dignity," "modernity," "freedom," "jobs." We shouldn't overlook that at this moment the hallmarks of successful societies—democracy and a vibrant free market—appear to have displaced Allah as the galvanizing ideas for the young in Egypt and Tunisia.

Political Islam is so 1979—nowhere more so than in Iran, where an opposition rose up two years ago with the same demands as the Egyptians, only to fail amid a ruthless and violent government crackdown. (See editorial below.) Egypt's revolt should inspire the Iranians anew, and it will if it ends in greater freedom.

The U.S. and Europe can't dictate events in Egypt, but they can influence this transition. America's close ties and $1.5 billion in yearly aid to the military, which has been armed by Washington since the 1979 Camp David accords, will give the U.S. influence with the generals. Another carrot to Egypt's next leaders would be a free trade agreement and open access to the U.S. and EU markets for its goods as democracy advances.

***
President Obama spoke for many Americans yesterday by saying that Egypt's nonviolent revolution "inspired us" with "a moral force that bent the arc of history toward justice." He has learned since his embarrassing silence over Iran in 2009. But this is also a day to note that George W. Bush was the President who broke with the foreign policy establishment and declared that Arabs deserved political freedom as much as the rest of the world. He was reviled for it by many of the same pundits who are now claiming solidarity with Egyptians in the streets. We are all neocons now.

Egypt's march toward political freedom is only beginning, and we can expect more drama and disagreement as it unfolds. But this new Egypt is the best opportunity since 9/11 to change the sclerotic Arab world, and it ought to be seized by Egyptians and their friends.

23306  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Whelton: The decline and fall of American English, and stuff on: February 13, 2011, 10:31:19 AM
What Happens in Vagueness Stays in Vagueness
The decline and fall of American English, and stuff
Clark Whelton

I recently watched a television program in which a woman described a baby squirrel that she had found in her yard. “And he was like, you know, ‘Helloooo, what are you looking at?’ and stuff, and I’m like, you know, ‘Can I, like, pick you up?,’ and he goes, like, ‘Brrrp brrrp brrrp,’ and I’m like, you know, ‘Whoa, that is so wow!’ ” She rambled on, speaking in self-quotations, sound effects, and other vocabulary substitutes, punctuating her sentences with facial tics and lateral eye shifts. All the while, however, she never said anything specific about her encounter with the squirrel.

Uh-oh. It was a classic case of Vagueness, the linguistic virus that infected spoken language in the late twentieth century. Squirrel Woman sounded like a high school junior, but she appeared to be in her mid-forties, old enough to have been an early carrier of the contagion. She might even have been a college intern in the days when Vagueness emerged from the shadows of slang and mounted an all-out assault on American English.

My acquaintance with Vagueness began in the 1980s, that distant decade when Edward I. Koch was mayor of New York and I was writing his speeches. The mayor’s speechwriting staff was small, and I welcomed the chance to hire an intern. Applications arrived from NYU, Columbia, Pace, and the senior colleges of the City University of New York. I interviewed four or five candidates and was happily surprised. The students were articulate and well informed on civic affairs. Their writing samples were excellent. The young woman whom I selected was easy to train and a pleasure to work with. Everything went so well that I hired interns at every opportunity.

Then came 1985.

The first applicant was a young man from NYU. During the interview, he spiked his replies so heavily with “like” that I mentioned his frequent use of the word. He seemed confused by my comment and replied, “Well . . . like . . . yeah.” Now, nobody likes a grammar prig. All’s fair in love and language, and the American lingo is in constant motion. “You should,” for example, has been replaced by “you need to.” “No” has faded into “not really.” “I said” is now “I went.” As for “you’re welcome,” that’s long since become “no problem.” Even nasal passages are affected by fashion. Quack-talking, the rasping tones preferred by many young women today, used to be considered a misfortune.

In 1985, I thought of “like” as a trite survivor of the hippie sixties. By itself, a little slang would not have disqualified the junior from NYU. But I was surprised to hear antique argot from a communications major looking for work in a speechwriting office, where job applicants would normally showcase their language skills. I was even more surprised when the next three candidates also laced their conversation with “like.” Most troubling was a puzzling drop in the quality of their writing samples. It took six tries, but eventually I found a student every bit as good as his predecessors. Then came 1986.

As the interviews proceeded, it grew obvious that “like” had strengthened its grip on intern syntax. And something new had been added: “You know” had replaced “Ummm . . .” as the sentence filler of choice. The candidates seemed to be evading the chore of beginning new thoughts. They spoke in run-on sentences, which they padded by adding “and stuff” at the end. Their writing samples were terrible. It took eight tries to find a promising intern. In the spring of 1987 came the all-interrogative interview. I asked a candidate where she went to school.

“Columbia?” she replied. Or asked.

“And you’re majoring in . . .”

“English?”

All her answers sounded like questions. Several other students did the same thing, ending declarative sentences with an interrogative rise. Something odd was happening. Was it guerrilla grammar? Had college kids fallen under the spell of some mad guru of verbal chaos? I began taking notes and mailed a letter to William Safire at the New York Times, urging him to do a column on the devolution of coherent speech. Undergraduates, I said, seemed to be shifting the burden of communication from speaker to listener. Ambiguity, evasion, and body language, such as air quotes—using fingers as quotation marks to indicate clichés—were transforming college English into a coded sign language in which speakers worked hard to avoid saying anything definite. I called it Vagueness.

By autumn 1987, the job interviews revealed that “like” was no longer a mere slang usage. It had mutated from hip preposition into the verbal milfoil that still clogs spoken English today. Vagueness was on the march. Double-clutching (“What I said was, I said . . .”) sprang into the arena. Playbacks, in which a speaker re-creates past events by narrating both sides of a conversation (“So I’m like, ‘Want to, like, see a movie?’ And he goes, ‘No way.’ And I go . . .”), made their entrance. I was baffled by what seemed to be a reversion to the idioms of childhood. And yet intern candidates were not hesitant or uncomfortable about speaking elementary school dialects in a college-level job interview. I engaged them in conversation and gradually realized that they saw Vagueness not as slang but as mainstream English. At long last, it dawned on me: Vagueness was not a campus fad or just another generational raid on proper locution. It was a coup. Linguistic rabble had stormed the grammar palace. The principles of effective speech had gone up in flames.

In 1988, my elder daughter graduated from Vassar. During a commencement reception, I asked one of her professors if he’d noticed any change in Vassar students’ language skills. “The biggest difference,” he replied, “is that by the time today’s students arrive on campus, they’ve been juvenilized. You can hear it in the way they talk. There seems to be a reduced capacity for abstract thought.” He went on to say that immature speech patterns used to be drummed out of kids in ninth grade. “Today, whatever way kids communicate seems to be fine with their high school teachers.” Where, I wonder, did Vagueness begin? It must have originated before the 1980s. “Like” has a long and scruffy pedigree: in the 1970s, it was a mainstay of Valspeak, the frequently ridiculed but highly contagious “Valley Girl” dialect of suburban Los Angeles, and even in 1964, the filmParis When It Sizzles lampooned the word’s overuse. All the way back in 1951, Holden Caulfield spoke proto-Vagueness (“I sort of landed on my side . . . my arm sort of hurt”), complete with double-clutching (“Finally, what I decided I’d do, I decided I’d . . .”) and demonstrative adjectives used as indefinite articles (“I felt sort of hungry so I went in this drugstore . . .”).

Is Vagueness simply an unexplainable descent into nonsense? Did Vagueness begin as an antidote to the demands of political correctness in the classroom, a way of sidestepping the danger of speaking forbidden ideas? Does Vagueness offer an undereducated generation a technique for camouflaging a lack of knowledge?

In 1991, I visited the small town of Bridgton, Maine, on the evening that the residents of Cumberland County gathered to welcome their local National Guard unit home from the Gulf War. It was a stirring moment. Escorted by the lights and sirens of two dozen fire engines from surrounding towns, the soldiers marched down Main Street. I was standing near the end of the parade and looked around expectantly for a platform, podium, or microphone. But there were to be no brief remarks of commendation by a mayor or commanding officer. There was to be no pastoral prayer of thanks for the safe return of the troops. Instead, the soldiers quickly dispersed. The fire engines rumbled away. The crowd went home. A few minutes later, Main Street stood empty.

Apparently there was, like, nothing to say.

Clark Whelton was a speechwriter for New York City mayors Ed Koch and Rudy Giuliani.
23307  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Tea Party, Glen Beck and related matters on: February 13, 2011, 10:23:04 AM
We are looking at protests throughout the Arab world in the coming days.  What is the US policy to be?

I begin with a glance in the rear view mirror by noting that we would be in rather good shape right now if the Baraq, Pelosi, Reid, Kerrey, Gore, Clinton, et al had supported Bush and the Neocons's idea of supporting democracy in Iraq and elsewhere.  I note the absence of support by Baraq for the freedom marchers in Iran last year (though I note with approval the comments of VP Biden jabbing Ahmadinejad to allow the same freedoms to the people of Iran).

Turning to the question I present, at this moment what makes sense to me is to support freedom and democracy-- for those who support it. 
23308  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ on: February 13, 2011, 10:15:50 AM


GUADALAJARA, Mexico — Armed men opened fire and hurled a grenade into a crowded nightclub early Saturday, killing six people and wounding at least 37 in a western city whose former tranquility has been shattered by escalating battles among drug cartels.

The attack in Mexico's second-largest municipality took place just hours after a shootout between soldiers and presumed cartel gunmen left eight people, including an innocent driver, dead in the northeastern city of Monterrey. Monterrey is Mexico's third-largest city.
 
In the Guadalajara attack, assailants in a Jeep Cherokee and a taxi drove up to the Butter Club, located in a bar and restaurant district popular with young people, and sprayed it with bullets.  Some of the men then got out of the taxi and threw a grenade into the nightclub entrance, said a police official. The gunmen fled after the pre-dawn attack, he said.

Three were killed at the scene and three more died later in hospitals, said Medical Services Director Yannick Nordin. A Venezuelan and a Colombian were among the dead.

While there have been isolated grenade attacks around the city, Saturday's was the first to be thrown into a crowd and cause so many injuries.

The U.S. Consulate in Guadalajara recently warned U.S. citizens not to drive at night in parts of the city after suspected drug-gang members burned vehicles and blocked streets.

Such alerts have become common for highways in some areas of northern and western Mexico, but not for Guadalajara, which is known more for its mariachi music and tequila than as a focal point of a drug war that has claimed nearly 35,000 lives since 2006.

23309  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Obligations on the FMs on: February 13, 2011, 10:09:47 AM
Educate me please:

Is the US government obligated as a matter of law to cover the FMs debts?
23310  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / GB on Egypt on: February 13, 2011, 10:03:48 AM
Glenn has, how rare, been taking a contrarian interpretation of the events in Egypt.  He sees them as the result of a Green-Red alliance dedicated to overthrowing western values world-wide and as the first step of much more to come.  He is very emphatic that there is a reason the BO et al (e.g. intel chief Clapper!) are underplaying the true nature of the MB.

I'd be glad to see continuing discussion here of Glenn's ideas this past week and next.
23311  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Military acknowledges Israel Peace Treaty on: February 13, 2011, 09:58:57 AM
CAIRO—Egypt's new military rulers indicated Saturday they would abide by the country's peace treaty with Israel and said they aim to ensure a peaceful transition to elections and a "free democratic state."

A day after the ouster of Egypt's longstanding president, Hosni Mubarak, the country's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces issued a communiqué saying the country "is committed to all regional and international obligations and treaties." Those treaties include its 1979 peace agreement with Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the announcement, saying the peace agreement "has greatly contributed to both countries and is the cornerstone of peace and stability in the entire Middle East."

The military rulers said Egypt's current cabinet would remain in power until a new government was formed. They pledged to insure "a peaceful transition of power in the framework of a free and democratic system." The new elected government "will rule the country to build a free democratic state," the statement said. It didn't set a timetable for the transition to democracy.

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood said in a statement posted on its website Saturday that it wasn't seeking power or a majority of parliament seats. The group reiterated its previous assertion that it was only a participant in the Egyptian revolution and that its demands echoed those of the nation. It called on the army to rapidly form a new transitional government, scrap emergency laws, amend the constitution, ensure free elections and free all political detainees.

Mr. Mubarak stepped down Friday after 18 days of unrelenting protests, handing power to the military and opening the door to an uncertain new course for the Arab world's most populous country, and for the entire Middle East.

A number of senior government officials and former ministers were banned from traveling outside the country, including information minister Anas al-Fiqi and former prime minister Ahmad Nazif, state news media reported, citing court sources.

In a sign of attempts to restore normalcy, the military relaxed the hours of a nighttime curfew, the Associated Press reported.

In Cairo's Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the mass protests against Mr. Mubarak's rule, soldiers cleared the entrances to the square of barricades, barbed wire and the improvised barriers erected by protesters during the days of the heaviest clashes with pro-Mubarak demonstrators.

The country's stock market will reopen on Wednesday, the bourse said in a statement. It had planned to open on Sunday, after being closed since Jan. 27, two days after the start of the protests. In the last two days of trading before it closed, the exchange dropped 16%
23312  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / MB and Baraq Obama on: February 12, 2011, 08:31:30 AM
Reliability unknown:
===============================
Obama Allies Organizing Terrorists

By Scott Wheeler

 


What does the US Department of Justice have in common with the radical Muslim Brotherhood? It turns out a close associate of our Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez will soon be advising this fundamentalist group on how to takeover and run Egypt, further destabilizing this critical arena. The Executive Director of Perez's former organization is planning on teaming up with the Muslim Brotherhood in the overthrow of the Egyptian government. To the point, Thomas Perez was president of Casa de Maryland, a group known to advocate for illegal alien rights, just prior to joining the DOJ. The group's current Executive Director, Gustav Torres, is also on the board of directors of an extremist group called The Organizers Forum.  This group has chosen to ignore the organic democracy movement made up of many pro US demonstrators and declare the unpopular Muslim Brotherhood as the winner of the rulers' roulette in Egypt.
 

"Our fall 2011 International Dialogue will be located in Egypt where we will meet with labor and community organizers and other activists in Cairo.  There are exciting changes and developments that are currently taking place in Egypt with elections coming soon to determine leadership transitions in what has been an autocratic regime, now challenged by the Muslim Brotherhood" reads The Organizers Forum website.


But the Muslim Brotherhood came to this rebellion late and appears to be waiting on the sideline for the chaos there to provide them an opportunity to use its signature method, violence, to take control of this strategically situated country. What is so strange about The Organizers Forum is its declaration that the Muslim Brotherhood is the group opposing the "autocratic regime" when in fact informed analysts know that it is not - at least not until their experienced well-connected community organizer brethren arrive from the United States. 


The group's board of directors reads like a who's who of Obama associates including: Mary Gonzales, Associate Director of the Gamaliel Foundation; and Wade Rathke, Chief Organizer of ACORN just to name a couple.


There has been a lot of confusion and misinformation reported about the Muslim Brotherhood in the media since the uprising in Egypt. To be clear, for years, counterterrorism experts both inside and outside of the US government have sought to have the Muslim Brotherhood listed as a Specially Designated Terrorist Organization by the State Department. Most consider it the godfather of all violent terrorist organizations, having founded HAMAS and al Qaida. Ayman al Zwahiri, al Qaida's number two behind Osama bin Laden, was a leader in the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which has been outlawed in Egypt and responsible for a significant assassination attempt - on President Hosni Mubarak in 1995.


Bruce Tefft, a retired CIA officer and a founding member of the CIA's counter terrorism bureau told this column, "The Muslim Brotherhood created the PLO and HAMAS" and counts among its membership "both al Zawahiri and bin Laden." The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is also the chapter that spawned Mohamed Atta, the ringleader of the September 11 attacks.


When Obama visited Cairo in 2009, many noticed a strange move by the administration to invite members of the Muslim Brotherhood to attend his speech, typically the kind of people that the Secret Service would screen out of presidential events. In June of 2009, Fox News reported,

 

"Khaled Hamza, editor of the Muslim Brotherhood Web site, confirmed to FOXNews.com that 10 members of the Brotherhood's parliamentary bloc received official invitations to attend the speech." Read more:

http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2009/06/03/muslim-brotherhood-members-attend-obamas-cairo-speech#ixzz1CpqOYdXh

 


So much of what Obama has done since being elected President has made the bizarre seem normal. Through sound analysis one easily views connections between violent Left-wing groups in the United States and violent Islamic terrorist organizations in the Middle East, Obama would be unquestionably close to the nucleus of the chart.


Imagine dancing between two such disparate and dangerous organizations as Bill Ayer's Weather Underground and the terrorists of Hamas.  These two factions joined only in the bloody pool of the death Western Freedom.


Over the past several months this column has questioned what the anti-American Left has in common with radical Islam.  Hyperbole aside, the answer lies in their mutual hatred of the United States.  And Obama seems to have far more in common with them than he does with any patriotic American.


# # #

 

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23313  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Pipeline from Canada on: February 12, 2011, 08:25:50 AM
Canada PM Harper Urges U.S. to Approve Oil Pipeline

Published February 04, 2011

| Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Friday urged U.S. officials to approve a proposed oil pipeline from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast, calling Canada a "secure, stable and friendly" neighbor that poses no threat to U.S. security.

By contrast, many other countries that supply oil are not stable, secure or friendly to U.S. interests, Harper said at a White House news conference following a meeting with President Barack Obama.

Harper did not name any other country, but pipeline supporters have singled out countries such as Venezuela, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and Iran as places where the United States faces security threats and instability. Canada's environment minister has used the term "ethical oil" to describe his country's crude supplies, saying Canada respects human rights, workers' rights and environmental responsibility.

"The choice that the United States faces in all of these matters is whether to increase its capacity to accept such energy from the most secure, most stable and friendliest location it can possibly get that energy, which is Canada, or from other places that are not as secure, stable or friendly to the interests and values of the United States," Harper said.

Obama, standing next to Harper at a news conference, did not address the pipeline issue.

A Canadian company is pushing to build a 1,900-mile pipeline that would carry crude oil extracted from tar sands in Alberta, Canada, to refineries in Texas. The $7 billion pipeline could substantially reduce U.S. dependency on oil from the Middle East and other regions, according to a report commissioned by the Obama administration.
The study suggests that the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, coupled with a reduction in overall U.S. oil demand, "could essentially eliminate Middle East crude imports longer term." The pipeline would double the capacity of an existing pipeline from Canada, producing more than 500,000 barrels a day of crude oil derived from formations of sand, clay and water in western Canada.

A report prepared by a Massachusetts firm at the request of the U.S. Energy Department was completed in December, but made public this week in advance of Obama's meeting with Harper.

"This study supports what we have been saying for some time -- that Keystone XL will improve U.S. energy security and reduce dependence on foreign oil from the Middle East and Venezuela," said Russ Girling, CEO of Calgary-based TransCanada, the project's developer. "Keystone XL will also create 20,000 high-paying jobs for American families and inject $20 billion into the U.S. economy."

An environmental group that opposes the pipeline said Harper failed to acknowledge that tar sands oil is highly polluting.

"There are cleaner, safer ways to meet U.S. energy needs than to import this dirty oil from Canada via a dangerous pipeline through America's heartland," said Alex Moore of the environmental group Friends of the Earth.

Moore said he was glad that Obama did not express support for the pipeline, adding that if Obama is serious about making America a leader in clean energy, "he has no choice but to stop this project."

Environmental groups call the pipeline an ecological disaster waiting to happen and say the so-called tar sands produce "dirty" oil that requires huge amounts of energy to extract.

A coalition of 86 environmental and progressive groups sent a letter Friday urging Obama to reject the pipeline and "stop giving a free pass to oil companies to increase profits at the expense of Americans." Activists also gathered across from the White House on Friday to protest the project.

The American Petroleum Institute, meanwhile, sent a letter urging Obama to approve the project.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton must grant a permit allowing the pipeline to cross the U.S-Canadian border before TransCanada can proceed. Clinton said in October she was "inclined" to approve the project but has since backed off those remarks.

Lawmakers from both parties have written to the State Department for and against the pipeline, which would travel through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma before reaching Texas. Some of the strongest opposition is in Nebraska, where the state's two U.S. senators have raised sharp questions. The pipeline would travel over parts of the massive Ogallala aquifer, which supplies drinking water to about 2 million people in Nebraska and seven other states and supports irrigation.

The aquifer serves five of the states where the pipeline travels -- South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas -- as well as Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico.
23314  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Kurzweil 2 on: February 12, 2011, 07:25:45 AM


The Singularity isn't just an idea. it attracts people, and those people feel a bond with one another. Together they form a movement, a subculture; Kurzweil calls it a community. Once you decide to take the Singularity seriously, you will find that you have become part of a small but intense and globally distributed hive of like-minded thinkers known as Singularitarians.

 

Not all of them are Kurzweilians, not by a long chalk. There's room inside Singularitarianism for considerable diversity of opinion about what the Singularity means and when and how it will or won't happen. But Singularitarians share a worldview. They think in terms of deep time, they believe in the power of technology to shape history, they have little interest in the conventional wisdom about anything, and they cannot believe you're walking around living your life and watching TV as if the artificial-intelligence revolution were not about to erupt and change absolutely everything. They have no fear of sounding ridiculous; your ordinary citizen's distaste for apparently absurd ideas is just an example of irrational bias, and Singularitarians have no truck with irrationality. When you enter their mind-space you pass through an extreme gradient in worldview, a hard ontological shear that separates Singularitarians from the common run of humanity. Expect turbulence.

 

In addition to the Singularity University, which Kurzweil co-founded, there's also a Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, based in San Francisco. It counts among its advisers Peter Thiel, a former CEO of PayPal and an early investor in Facebook. The institute holds an annual conference called the Singularity Summit. (Kurzweil co-founded that too.) Because of the highly interdisciplinary nature of Singularity theory, it attracts a diverse crowd. Artificial intelligence is the main event, but the sessions also cover the galloping progress of, among other fields, genetics and nanotechnology. 

 

At the 2010 summit, which took place in August in San Francisco, there were not just computer scientists but also psychologists, neuroscientists, nanotechnologists, molecular biologists, a specialist in wearable computers, a professor of emergency medicine, an expert on cognition in gray parrots and the professional magician and debunker James "the Amazing" Randi. The atmosphere was a curious blend of Davos and UFO convention. Proponents of seasteading—the practice, so far mostly theoretical, of establishing politically autonomous floating communities in international waters—handed out pamphlets. An android chatted with visitors in one corner.

 

After artificial intelligence, the most talked-about topic at the 2010 summit was life extension. Biological boundaries that most people think of as permanent and inevitable Singularitarians see as merely intractable but solvable problems. Death is one of them. Old age is an illness like any other, and what do you do with illnesses? You cure them. Like a lot of Singularitarian ideas, it sounds funny at first, but the closer you get to it, the less funny it seems. It's not just wishful thinking; there's actual science going on here.

 

For example, it's well known that one cause of the physical degeneration associated with aging involves telomeres, which are segments of DNA found at the ends of chromosomes. Every time a cell divides, its telomeres get shorter, and once a cell runs out of telomeres, it can't reproduce anymore and dies. But there's an enzyme called telomerase that reverses this process; it's one of the reasons cancer cells live so long. So why not treat regular non-cancerous cells with telomerase? In November, researchers at Harvard Medical School announced inNature that they had done just that. They administered telomerase to a group of mice suffering from age-related degeneration. The damage went away. The mice didn't just get better; they got younger. 

 

Aubrey de Grey is one of the world's best-known life-extension researchers and a Singularity Summit veteran. A British biologist with a doctorate from Cambridge and a famously formidable beard, de Grey runs a foundation called SENS, or Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence. He views aging as a process of accumulating damage, which he has divided into seven categories, each of which he hopes to one day address using regenerative medicine. "People have begun to realize that the view of aging being something immutable—rather like the heat death of the universe—is simply ridiculous," he says. "It's just childish. The human body is a machine that has a bunch of functions, and it accumulates various types of damage as a side effect of the normal function of the machine. Therefore in principal that damage can be repaired periodically. This is why we have vintage cars. It's really just a matter of paying attention. The whole of medicine consists of messing about with what looks pretty inevitable until you figure out how to make it not inevitable."

 

Kurzweil takes life extension seriously too. His father, with whom he was very close, died of heart disease at 58. Kurzweil inherited his father's genetic predisposition; he also developed Type 2 diabetes when he was 35. Working with Terry Grossman, a doctor who specializes in longevity medicine, Kurzweil has published two books on his own approach to life extension, which involves taking up to 200 pills and supplements a day. He says his diabetes is essentially cured, and although he's 62 years old from a chronological perspective, he estimates that his biological age is about 20 years younger.

 

But his goal differs slightly from de Grey's. For Kurzweil, it's not so much about staying healthy as long as possible; it's about staying alive until the Singularity. It's an attempted handoff. Once hyper-intelligent artificial intelligences arise, armed with advanced nanotechnology, they'll really be able to wrestle with the vastly complex, systemic problems associated with aging in humans. Alternatively, by then we'll be able to transfer our minds to sturdier vessels such as computers and robots. He and many other Singularitarians take seriously the proposition that many people who are alive today will wind up being functionally immortal.

 

It's an idea that's radical and ancient at the same time. In "Sailing to Byzantium," W.B. Yeats describes mankind's fleshly predicament as a soul fastened to a dying animal. Why not unfasten it and fasten it to an immortal robot instead? But Kurzweil finds that life extension produces even more resistance in his audiences than his exponential growth curves. "There are people who can accept computers being more intelligent than people," he says. "But the idea of significant changes to human longevity—that seems to be particularly controversial. People invested a lot of personal effort into certain philosophies dealing with the issue of life and death. I mean, that's the major reason we have religion."

 

Of course, a lot of people think the Singularity is nonsense — a fantasy, wishful thinking, a Silicon Valley version of the Evangelical story of the Rapture, spun by a man who earns his living making outrageous claims and backing them up with pseudoscience. Most of the serious critics focus on the question of whether a computer can truly become intelligent.

 

The entire field of artificial intelligence, or AI, is devoted to this question. But AI doesn't currently produce the kind of intelligence we associate with humans or even with talking computers in movies—HAL or C3PO or Data. Actual AIs tend to be able to master only one highly specific domain, like interpreting search queries or playing chess. They operate within an extremely specific frame of reference. They don't make conversation at parties. They're intelligent, but only if you define intelligence in a vanishingly narrow way. The kind of intelligence Kurzweil is talking about, which is called strong AI or artificial general intelligence, doesn't exist yet.

 

Why not? Obviously we're still waiting on all that exponentially growing computing power to get here. But it's also possible that there are things going on in our brains that can't be duplicated electronically no matter how many MIPS you throw at them. The neurochemical architecture that generates the ephemeral chaos we know as human consciousness may just be too complex and analog to replicate in digital silicon. The biologist Dennis Bray was one of the few voices of dissent at last summer's Singularity Summit. "Although biological components act in ways that are comparable to those in electronic circuits," he argued, in a talk titled "What Cells Can Do That Robots Can't," "they are set apart by the huge number of different states they can adopt. Multiple biochemical processes create chemical modifications of protein molecules, further diversified by association with distinct structures at defined locations of a cell. The resulting combinatorial explosion of states endows living systems with an almost infinite capacity to store information regarding past and present conditions and a unique capacity to prepare for future events." That makes the ones and zeros that computers trade in look pretty crude.

 

Underlying the practical challenges are a host of philosophical ones. Suppose we did create a computer that talked and acted in a way that was indistinguishable from a human being—in other words, a computer that could pass the Turing test. (Very loosely speaking, such a computer would be able to pass as human in a blind test.) Would that mean that the computer was sentient, the way a human being is? Or would it just be an extremely sophisticated but essentially mechanical automaton without the mysterious spark of consciousness—a machine with no ghost in it? And how would we know?

 

Even if you grant that the Singularity is plausible, you're still staring at a thicket of unanswerable questions. If I can scan my consciousness into a computer, am I still me? What are the geopolitics and the socioeconomics of the Singularity? Who decides who gets to be immortal? Who draws the line between sentient and nonsentient? And as we approach immortality, omniscience and omnipotence, will our lives still have meaning? By beating death, will we have lost our essential humanity?

 

Kurzweil admits that there's a fundamental level of risk associated with the Singularity that's impossible to refine away, simply because we don't know what a highly advanced artificial intelligence, finding itself a newly created inhabitant of the planet Earth, would choose to do. It might not feel like competing with us for resources. One of the goals of the Singularity Institute is to make sure not just that artificial intelligence develops but also that the AI is friendly. You don't have to be a super-intelligent cyborg to understand that introducing a superior life-form into your own biosphere is a basic Darwinian error.

 

If the Singularity is coming, these questions are going to get answers whether we like it or not, and Kurzweil thinks that trying to put off the Singularity by banning technologies is not only impossible but also unethical and probably dangerous. "It would require a totalitarian system to implement such a ban," he says. "It wouldn't work. It would just drive these technologies underground, where the responsible scientists who we're counting on to create the defenses would not have easy access to the tools."

 

Kurzweil is an almost inhumanly patient and thorough debater. He relishes it. He's tireless in hunting down his critics so that he can respond to them, point by point, carefully and in detail.

 

Take the question of whether computers can replicate the biochemical complexity of an organic brain. Kurzweil yields no ground there whatsoever. He does not see any fundamental difference between flesh and silicon that would prevent the latter from thinking. He defies biologists to come up with a neurological mechanism that could not be modeled or at least matched in power and flexibility by software running on a computer. He refuses to fall on his knees before the mystery of the human brain. "Generally speaking," he says, "the core of a disagreement I'll have with a critic is, they'll say, Oh, Kurzweil is underestimating the complexity of reverse-engineering of the human brain or the complexity of biology. But I don't believe I'm underestimating the challenge. I think they're underestimating the power of exponential growth."

 

This position doesn't make Kurzweil an outlier, at least among Singularitarians. Plenty of people make more-extreme predictions. Since 2005 the neuroscientist Henry Markram has been running an ambitious initiative at the Brain Mind Institute of the Ecole Polytechnique in Lausanne, Switzerland. It's called the Blue Brain project, and it's an attempt to create a neuron-by-neuron simulation of a mammalian brain, using IBM's Blue Gene super-computer. So far, Markram's team has managed to simulate one neocortical column from a rat's brain, which contains about 10,000 neurons. Markram has said that he hopes to have a complete virtual human brain up and running in 10 years. (Even Kurzweil sniffs at this. If it worked, he points out, you'd then have to educate the brain, and who knows how long that would take?)

 

By definition, the future beyond the Singularity is not knowable by our linear, chemical, animal brains, but Kurzweil is teeming with theories about it. He positively flogs himself to think bigger and bigger; you can see him kicking against the confines of his aging organic hardware. "When people look at the implications of ongoing exponential growth, it gets harder and harder to accept," he says. "So you get people who really accept, yes, things are progressing exponentially, but they fall off the horse at some point because the implications are too fantastic. I've tried to push myself to really look."

 

In Kurzweil's future, biotechnology and nanotechnology give us the power to manipulate our bodies and the world around us at will, at the molecular level. Progress hyperaccelerates, and every hour brings a century's worth of scientific breakthroughs. We ditch Darwin and take charge of our own evolution. The human genome becomes just so much code to be bug-tested and optimized and, if necessary, rewritten. Indefinite life extension becomes a reality; people die only if they choose to. Death loses its sting once and for all. Kurzweil hopes to bring his dead father back to life.

 

We can scan our consciousnesses into computers and enter a virtual existence or swap our bodies for immortal robots and light out for the edges of space as intergalactic godlings. Within a matter of centuries, human intelligence will have re-engineered and saturated all the matter in the universe. This is, Kurzweil believes, our destiny as a species.

 

Or it isn't. When the big questions get answered, a lot of the action will happen where no one can see it, deep inside the black silicon brains of the computers, which will either bloom bit by bit into conscious minds or just continue in ever more brilliant and powerful iterations of nonsentience.

 

But as for the minor questions, they're already being decided all around us and in plain sight. The more you read about the Singularity, the more you start to see it peeking out at you, coyly, from unexpected directions. Five years ago we didn't have 600 million humans carrying out their social lives over a single electronic network. Now we have Facebook. Five years ago you didn't see people double-checking what they were saying and where they were going, even as they were saying it and going there, using handheld network-enabled digital prosthetics. Now we have iPhones. Is it an unimaginable step to take the iPhones out of our hands and put them into our skulls?

 

Already 30,000 patients with Parkinson's disease have neural implants. Google is experimenting with computers that can drive cars. There are more than 2,000 robots fighting in Afghanistan alongside the human troops. This month a game show will once again figure in the history of artificial intelligence, but this time the computer will be the guest: an IBM super-computer nicknamed Watson will compete on Jeopardy! Watson runs on 90 servers and takes up an entire room, and in a practice match in January it finished ahead of two former champions, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. It got every question it answered right, but much more important, it didn't need help understanding the questions (or, strictly speaking, the answers), which were phrased in plain English. Watson isn't strong AI, but if strong AI happens, it will arrive gradually, bit by bit, and this will have been one of the bits.

 

A hundred years from now, Kurzweil and de Grey and the others could be the 22nd century's answer to the Founding Fathers — except unlike the Founding Fathers, they'll still be alive to get credit — or their ideas could look as hilariously retro and dated as Disney's Tomorrowland. Nothing gets old as fast as the future.

 

But even if they're dead wrong about the future, they're right about the present. They're taking the long view and looking at the big picture. You may reject every specific article of the Singularitarian charter, but you should admire Kurzweil for taking the future seriously. Singularitarianism is grounded in the idea that change is real and that humanity is in charge of its own fate and that history might not be as simple as one damn thing after another. Kurzweil likes to point out that your average cell phone is about a millionth the size of, a millionth the price of and a thousand times more powerful than the computer he had at MIT 40 years ago. Flip that forward 40 years and what does the world look like? If you really want to figure that out, you have to think very, very far outside the box. Or maybe you have to think further inside it than anyone ever has before.
23315  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Eh tu Watson; Kurzweil's singularity on: February 12, 2011, 07:15:48 AM
Computer beats best humans at Jepoardy

http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/02/10/worth-watching-watson/
===========
On Feb. 15, 1965, a diffident but self-possessed high school student named Raymond Kurzweil appeared as a guest on a game show called I've Got a Secret. He was introduced by the host, Steve Allen, then he played a short musical composition on a piano. The idea was that Kurzweil was hiding an unusual fact and the panelists — they included a comedian and a former Miss America — had to guess what it was.

 

On the show (you can find the clip on YouTube), the beauty queen did a good job of grilling Kurzweil, but the comedian got the win: the music was composed by a computer. Kurzweil got $200.

 

Kurzweil then demonstrated the computer, which he built himself—a desk-size affair with loudly clacking relays, hooked up to a typewriter. The panelists were pretty blasé about it; they were more impressed by Kurzweil's age than by anything he'd actually done. They were ready to move on to Mrs. Chester Loney of Rough and Ready, Calif., whose secret was that she'd been President Lyndon Johnson's first-grade teacher.

 

But Kurzweil would spend much of the rest of his career working out what his demonstration meant. Creating a work of art is one of those activities we reserve for humans and humans only. It's an act of self-expression; you're not supposed to be able to do it if you don't have a self. To see creativity, the exclusive domain of humans, usurped by a computer built by a 17-year-old is to watch a line blur that cannot be unblurred, the line between organic intelligence and artificial intelligence.

 

That was Kurzweil's real secret, and back in 1965 nobody guessed it. Maybe not even him, not yet. But now, 46 years later, Kurzweil believes that we're approaching a moment when computers will become intelligent, and not just intelligent but more intelligent than humans. When that happens, humanity — our bodies, our minds, our civilization — will be completely and irreversibly transformed. He believes that this moment is not only inevitable but imminent. According to his calculations, the end of human civilization as we know it is about 35 years away.

 

Computers are getting faster. Everybody knows that. Also, computers are getting faster faster — that is, the rate at which they're getting faster is increasing.

 

True? True.

 

So if computers are getting so much faster, so incredibly fast, there might conceivably come a moment when they are capable of something comparable to human intelligence. Artificial intelligence. All that horsepower could be put in the service of emulating whatever it is our brains are doing when they create consciousness — not just doing arithmetic very quickly or composing piano music but also driving cars, writing books, making ethical decisions, appreciating fancy paintings, making witty observations at cocktail parties.

 

If you can swallow that idea, and Kurzweil and a lot of other very smart people can, then all bets are off. From that point on, there's no reason to think computers would stop getting more powerful. They would keep on developing until they were far more intelligent than we are. Their rate of development would also continue to increase, because they would take over their own development from their slower-thinking human creators. Imagine a computer scientist that was itself a super-intelligent computer. It would work incredibly quickly. It could draw on huge amounts of data effortlessly. It wouldn't even take breaks to play Farmville.

 

Probably. It's impossible to predict the behavior of these smarter-than-human intelligences with which (with whom?) we might one day share the planet, because if you could, you'd be as smart as they would be. But there are a lot of theories about it. Maybe we'll merge with them to become super-intelligent cyborgs, using computers to extend our intellectual abilities the same way that cars and planes extend our physical abilities. Maybe the artificial intelligences will help us treat the effects of old age and prolong our life spans indefinitely. Maybe we'll scan our consciousnesses into computers and live inside them as software, forever, virtually. Maybe the computers will turn on humanity and annihilate us. The one thing all these theories have in common is the transformation of our species into something that is no longer recognizable as such to humanity circa 2011. This transformation has a name: the Singularity.

 

The difficult thing to keep sight of when you're talking about the Singularity is that even though it sounds like science fiction, it isn't, no more than a weather forecast is science fiction. It's not a fringe idea; it's a serious hypothesis about the future of life on Earth. There's an intellectual gag reflex that kicks in anytime you try to swallow an idea that involves super-intelligent immortal cyborgs, but suppress it if you can, because while the Singularity appears to be, on the face of it, preposterous, it's an idea that rewards sober, careful evaluation.

 

People are spending a lot of money trying to understand it. The three-year-old Singularity University, which offers inter-disciplinary courses of study for graduate students and executives, is hosted by NASA. Google was a founding sponsor; its CEO and co-founder Larry Page spoke there last year. People are attracted to the Singularity for the shock value, like an intellectual freak show, but they stay because there's more to it than they expected. And of course, in the event that it turns out to be real, it will be the most important thing to happen to human beings since the invention of language.

 

The Singularity isn't a wholly new idea, just newish. In 1965 the British mathematician I.J. Good described something he called an "intelligence explosion":

 

Let an ultraintelligent machine be defined as a machine that can far surpass all the intellectual activities of any man however clever. Since the design of machines is one of these intellectual activities, an ultraintelligent machine could design even better machines; there would then unquestionably be an "intelligence explosion," and the intelligence of man would be left far behind. Thus the first ultraintelligent machine is the last invention that man need ever make.

 

The word singularity is borrowed from astrophysics: it refers to a point in space-time — for example, inside a black hole — at which the rules of ordinary physics do not apply. In the 1980s the science-fiction novelist Vernor Vinge attached it to Good's intelligence-explosion scenario. At a NASA symposium in 1993, Vinge announced that "within 30 years, we will have the technological means to create super-human intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended."

 

By that time Kurzweil was thinking about the Singularity too. He'd been busy since his appearance on I've Got a Secret. He'd made several fortunes as an engineer and inventor; he founded and then sold his first software company while he was still at MIT. He went on to build the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind — Stevie Wonder was customer No. 1—and made innovations in a range of technical fields, including music synthesizers and speech recognition. He holds 39 patents and 19 honorary doctorates. In 1999 President Bill Clinton awarded him the National Medal of Technology.

 

But Kurzweil was also pursuing a parallel career as a futurist: he has been publishing his thoughts about the future of human and machine-kind for 20 years, most recently in The Singularity Is Near, which was a best seller when it came out in 2005. A documentary by the same name, starring Kurzweil, Tony Robbins and Alan Dershowitz, among others, was released in January. (Kurzweil is actually the subject of two current documentaries. The other one, less authorized but more informative, is called The Transcendent Man.) Bill Gates has called him "the best person I know at predicting the future of artificial intelligence."

 

In real life, the transcendent man is an unimposing figure who could pass for Woody Allen's even nerdier younger brother. Kurzweil grew up in Queens, N.Y., and you can still hear a trace of it in his voice. Now 62, he speaks with the soft, almost hypnotic calm of someone who gives 60 public lectures a year. As the Singularity's most visible champion, he has heard all the questions and faced down the incredulity many, many times before. He's good-natured about it. His manner is almost apologetic: I wish I could bring you less exciting news of the future, but I've looked at the numbers, and this is what they say, so what else can I tell you?

 

Kurzweil's interest in humanity's cyborganic destiny began about 1980 largely as a practical matter. He needed ways to measure and track the pace of technological progress. Even great inventions can fail if they arrive before their time, and he wanted to make sure that when he released his, the timing was right. "Even at that time, technology was moving quickly enough that the world was going to be different by the time you finished a project," he says. "So it's like skeet shooting—you can't shoot at the target." He knew about Moore's law, of course, which states that the number of transistors you can put on a microchip doubles about every two years. It's a surprisingly reliable rule of thumb. Kurzweil tried plotting a slightly different curve: the change over time in the amount of computing power, measured in MIPS (millions of instructions per second), that you can buy for $1,000.

 

As it turned out, Kurzweil's numbers looked a lot like Moore's. They doubled every couple of years. Drawn as graphs, they both made exponential curves, with their value increasing by multiples of two instead of by regular increments in a straight line. The curves held eerily steady, even when Kurzweil extended his backward through the decades of pretransistor computing technologies like relays and vacuum tubes, all the way back to 1900.

 

Kurzweil then ran the numbers on a whole bunch of other key technological indexes — the falling cost of manufacturing transistors, the rising clock speed of microprocessors, the plummeting price of dynamic RAM. He looked even further afield at trends in biotech and beyond—the falling cost of sequencing DNA and of wireless data service and the rising numbers of Internet hosts and nanotechnology patents. He kept finding the same thing: exponentially accelerating progress. "It's really amazing how smooth these trajectories are," he says. "Through thick and thin, war and peace, boom times and recessions." Kurzweil calls it the law of accelerating returns: technological progress happens exponentially, not linearly.

 

Then he extended the curves into the future, and the growth they predicted was so phenomenal, it created cognitive resistance in his mind. Exponential curves start slowly, then rocket skyward toward infinity. According to Kurzweil, we're not evolved to think in terms of exponential growth. "It's not intuitive. Our built-in predictors are linear. When we're trying to avoid an animal, we pick the linear prediction of where it's going to be in 20 seconds and what to do about it. That is actually hardwired in our brains."

 

Here's what the exponential curves told him. We will successfully reverse-engineer the human brain by the mid-2020s. By the end of that decade, computers will be capable of human-level intelligence. Kurzweil puts the date of the Singularity—never say he's not conservative—at 2045. In that year, he estimates, given the vast increases in computing power and the vast reductions in the cost of same, the quantity of artificial intelligence created will be about a billion times the sum of all the human intelligence that exists today. 

23316  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Who ya gonna call? on: February 12, 2011, 07:13:17 AM
Story by kptv.com


PORTLAND, Ore. --


Police officers trying to get help after a man crashed his car outside a Portland hospital were told they had to call an ambulance, authorities say, but doctors assert they were acting on the information provided to them.

Portland police spokeswoman Kelli Sheffer says Officers Robert Quick and Angela Luty were at Portland Adventist Medical Center to follow up on an unrelated injury crash when someone flagged them down. Quick and Luty were told someone had crashed their car into a utility pole outside the hospital and the driver was unresponsive, police say. While one officer tried CPR to revive the man, the other ran into the emergency room to ask for help. Hospital workers told the officer to call an ambulance and that they would not leave the building to treat him, Sheffer says.

The radio call between the officers at the scene and dispatchers was released Thursday.


Officer: "Hospital says they won't come out. We need to contact AMR first." Dispatcher: "They're en route. Code 3." Officer: "We've started CPR." Dispatcher: "Copy. Started CPR."

The officers continued to provide CPR to the 61-year-old man while they waited for paramedics' help, police say. The ambulance arrived six minutes later and paramedics took the man into the emergency room, which was 100 yards away.

Police say the officers were stunned.

"I think that would be a bit shocking for anyone when you're in that frame of mind and all the sudden, you're not able to get the help that you believe this person needs," Sheffer says.

Police say the man, identified as Birgilio Marin-Fuentes, was still alive when paramedics took him inside the hospital, but he eventually died. An autopsy showed Marin-Fuentes died of natural causes related to heart disease, according to a medical examiner.


The wreck was first reported at 12:47 a.m., but surveillance video suggests Marin-Fuentes crashed in the parking garage about 20 minutes before anyone noticed.

An emergency room physician defended the hospital's actions and says they followed protocol based on the information they had.

"'The message that our staff got was that a crash had occurred in our parking structure and that a potential trauma patient had been discovered," says Dr. Kelli Westcott, an Adventist physician.

She says they called 911 because ambulances are equipped with life-saving devices to pull someone from a wrecked car.

"That includes calling 911 because especially in the case of a trauma patient, they often need to be transported to the emergency department with specialized equipment: a back board, a cervical collar, things that trauma patients need," Westcott says.

Wescott also says they immediately notified security officers, who are trained in CPR, and a nursing supervisor and a charge nurse responded to the parking lot.

Judy Leach, a spokeswoman for Portland Adventist Medical Center, says the hospital doesn't have a policy against responding to emergencies in the parking lot.

"In fact, we always call 911 and send our own staff into these situations whether they are gunshot wounds, heart attacks or any other medical emergency. We have done so many times in the past year alone," Leach says.

Read: Statement From Adventist Medical Center

But Marin-Fuentes' family members still have questions.

“Sincerely, with pain in my heart, I feel what the hospital did to him is wrong. They denied him medical attention. To me that is not just for him or for other people,” says Faustino Luis Garcia, Marin-Fuentes' brother-in-law, also through a translator.

Congressman Calls For Investigation

U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer is calling for an independent investigation of the incident.

“If these reports are true, it is not just heartbreaking, but incomprehensible that a hospital fully capable of treating this medical emergency left police officers with no medical equipment to tend to a patient.

"If the police statements are correct, this incident defies common sense and it may well defy federal law,” he wrote in a statement.

Copyright 2011 by KPTV.com. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


23317  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / QRM Regulations on: February 12, 2011, 06:41:22 AM
The ABCs of QRM
Why a regulation you haven't heard of matters as much as Fannie and Freddie.
By Bethany McLean



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

Practically everyone who is concerned about the future of the housing market is focused on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The Treasury is leaking details of its overdue plan for the hobbled mortgage giants; the House Financial Services Committee held a hearing so Republicans could rant about the evils of government involvement in the housing market; think tanks are holding conferences to devise solutions.

 

But behind the scenes, there's another huge debate taking place, one that has every bit as much potential—maybe more—to shape the housing market. It involves a provision in last summer's Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation, one that was inserted partly due to Lou Ranieri, the former Salomon Brothers bond trader and executive who helped create the modern mortgage market back in the 1980s. The provision is called the qualifying residential mortgage, or QRM. What is a QRM? Well, that's precisely the cause of the debate. The answer will play a big role in determining who can get a mortgage at what cost.

 

One of the factors that made the housing bubble so big was that financial institutions that made mortgages were able to sell them off, whether to Wall Street firms or to Fannie and Freddie, thereby ridding themselves of the risk. Over time lenders became increasingly indifferent to the question of whether the borrowers could pay. (Many of them couldn't, as we all know now.) To fix this, Dodd-Frank imposed a requirement that mortgage companies keep 5 percent of the risk on their own books even when they sold off the loans. The idea was to give lending institutions a financial incentive to care about their borrowers' creditworthiness—"skin in the game," as the requirement is colloquially called. Banking regulations also compel lenders to maintain capital against that risk, thereby increasing their cost. Five percent may not sound like a large commitment, but for smaller institutions that operate on a thin margin (community banks, independent mortgage companies) it's huge. Even big banks, which face a slew of new capital requirements, find it a headache.

 

As Lou Ranieri watched Congress enact this so-called risk-retention requirement, he began to worry that while it was necessary for some types of mortgages, it could also limit, unnecessarily, the availability of all mortgages. "We need to come out of this [crisis] with a functioning housing market," he says. What Ranieri calls "old-fashioned mortgages"—traditional 15- or 30-year loans where the borrower pays off interest and principal every month, and where the loan is fully documented, among other things—held up fine even at the height of the crisis, according to analysis he presented to members of Congress. Was it really necessary for lenders to keep "skin in the game" for such super-safe mortgages? (Ranieri also thinks that just as stockbrokers can be held liable for selling customers unsuitable products, those in the mortgage lending chain should be held liable for selling unsuitable mortgages, whether those mortgages are old-fashioned or not. But that's a slightly different discussion.)

 

So, with input from Ranieri, a bipartisan group—Democratic Sens. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia—inserted a provision into the financial reform legislation stipulating that old-fashioned mortgages (i.e., those that met certain time-tested guidelines) would be exempt from the skin-in-the-game requirement. These were the mortgages labeled "qualifying residential mortgages." Congress left the details of what could and could not be considered a QRM up to a clutch of federal agencies that includes the banking regulators, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Federal Housing Finance Authority, which oversees Fannie and Freddie. They are supposed to issue a final regulation by April 21.

 

That rule will likely have a huge impact on what sort of loans lenders offer, and to whom. Smaller, thinly-capitalized mortgage originators can't afford to keep any of the risk, and other lenders simply don't want to keep it, so mortgages that don't qualify will be more expensive and harder for average consumers to get. Or, as the Mortgage Bankers Association predicts, loans made outside the QRM framework "will be costlier and likely to be made only to more affluent customers." J.P. Morgan Chase estimates that the 5-percent risk-retention requirements could increase rates on loans that don't qualify as QRMs by up to 3 percentage points.

 

Decisions about the QRM will also have a big effect on Fannie and Freddie (assuming Fannie and Freddie are still around when the rule takes effect). Because lenders will have to retain 5 percent of the risk on any nonqualifying loans that they sell, they will probably sell fewer such loans to Fannie and Freddie. In effect, how QRMs are defined will dictate which mortgages end up on the government's books. So if the government is going to maintain any kind of role in the housing market, then taxpayers have skin in the QRM game too. In which case, shouldn't the government tailor regulation of QRMs to minimize that risk?

 

The difficulty is that neither the regulators themselves, nor the industry, agree on what a qualifying mortgage should be—and whether minimizing risk should be the only criterion. The stricter the definition—for instance, requiring a 30-percent down payment—the fewer homeowners will get QRM mortgages. That's fine if your goal is to make sure that qualifying mortgages never default. But what if your goal is to make sure home mortgages remain affordable and widely available? Using Census Bureau data, the research firm Height Analytics calculated that in 2009, 47 percent of homebuyers who borrowed money to purchase their home made a down payment of less than 10 percent. So even requiring a seemingly modest down payment of 10 percent would disqualify about one-half of all prospective borrowers from obtaining QRMs. "As a result, these borrowers would have to take out a mortgage with a significantly higher interest rate or their efforts to buy a home could be restricted," Height Analytics noted.

 

Requiring a high down payment also stands to benefit the bigger players. Wells Fargo, which made some less-than-pristine loans during the subprime mania, sounded like a recovering alcoholic in a letter to regulators last fall that said a 30-percent down-payment requirement would provide a "simple and balanced" definition of a QRM. Big banks can afford to keep loans that don't qualify on their balance sheet. Smaller institutions can't. The Community Mortgage Banking Project, a coalition of mostly smaller lenders, argues in a position paper that a restrictive QRM definition would concentrate lending in the "too big to fail" banks. Operating in a less competitive market, the big banks could boost profits by charging higher rates to consumers who didn't qualify.

 

At the opposite pole is the Mortgage Bankers Association, which represents many non-bank mortgage originators whose business models depend on selling off the loans they make. The MBA wants even very risky loans in which borrowers pay only interest, not principal, to qualify as QRMs. "unnecessarily constraining the mortgage market," the MBA wrote in a letter to regulators last fall, "will not only deny the American dream of homeownership to many qualified persons, it will further depress the housing market and threaten the economic recovery." Of course, that's the same reasoning the MBA applied before the subprime crash.

 

Then, there are the mortgage insurers, companies such as MGIC and Radian, for whom the QRM represents nothing less than an existential threat. Mortgage insurance exists because Congress requires it on loans with a down payment of less than 20 percent that are bought by Fannie and Freddie. But if a QRM by definition requires a 20-percent down payment, what place will there be for mortgage insurance? So mortgage insurers are arguing that insurance makes mortgages safer for both borrowers and lenders, and are applying their considerable lobbying clout to stay in the game.

 

As for the regulators, sources say the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which traditionally care more about the safety and soundness of the financial system than they do about homeownership, are pushing for a conservative down-payment requirement—at least 20 percent. But they are meeting some resistance, too. A fixed down-payment requirement "would likely result in a furor on Capitol Hill," notes Height Analytics, because it would block such a large percentage of buyers from qualifying for a less costly loan. Although the housing-focused agencies like HUD and the FHFA haven't made public statements, the general sense in Washington is that they want a less strict standard in order to promote affordability and accessibility.

 

Sources in Washington say that the regulators will propose a rule requiring a hard down payment of 20 percent. But that would be controversial, and with all these conflicting agendas, the research firm MF Global predicts "very little chance" that we'll see a final QRM rule by the April 21 deadline. A "more realistic deadline," it says, "is mid-summer." A lot will ride on the regulators getting this right.

 

23318  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / George Friedman on: February 11, 2011, 08:48:25 PM
STRATFOR’s Dr. George Friedman argues that the protesters in Egypt have achieved their primary objective: getting rid of Mubarak. Pay little attention to all the statements, he explains, the army is still in charge.

Editor’s Note: Transcripts are generated using speech-recognition technology. Therefore, STRATFOR cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

Colin: The question now many ask is: will Mubarak’s departure lead to the flowering of a new democracy in Egypt, or the continuation of 60 years of solid military rule, or perhaps a mixture of both? Welcome to agenda with George Friedman.

President Obama said today belongs to the people of Egypt. But what about tomorrow?

George: Well I really don’t know what Obama meant by that. What’s happened here is very simple: an 82-year-old man, who wanted to have his son appointed as his successor, was booted out by the army. Except for Mubarak, the army remains in charge of Egypt. The demonstrators are packing up and going home. In fact, they are rather friendly to the army and now the question really is what happens tomorrow is that the army may or may not declare martial law at some point to get everybody off the streets, they may have not gotten the Muslim Brotherhood for various reasons but the fundamental warp and woof of Egypt is intact. We’ve not had a dramatic sea change.

Colin: George, I suspect demonstrators were friendly to the army because they believed it would lead to ultimate democracy.

George: Well I don’t know what ultimate democracy means and I certainly don’t know what ultimate democracy means in Egypt. I know this much: the demonstrators were deeply opposed to Mubarak, they were not deeply opposed to the army. When the army announced they had essentially staged a coup to force Mubarak out, less 21 hours after a speech saying that he was staying, there was tremendous enthusiasm on the part of the people. And so these demonstrators, whoever they are, are favorably inclined to the military. They were bitterly opposed to Mubarak, they personalized the revolution, they won that part of the revolution. It’s not clear what else they wanted.

Colin: One of the opposition leaders said it would lead to the establishment of modern democratic secular government. We’re still a long way from that. Could it happen?

George: Well if he says it can happen, it certainly can happen. Look, this is a time where people say things and reporters write them down and record them and everybody wonders what they mean. Mostly what’s being said has no meaning. It is simply saying, “It’s over. The world will be better than it was before,” and so on and so forth. Pay very little attention to what people are saying at this point. Even as we saw we didn’t have to pay much attention to what Mubarak said. So let’s take a look at the objective situation, let’s forget all the statements and so on.

The army was in charge yesterday, it was in charge last week, it is in charge now. Whether or not the army will call elections, it will be a decision by the army. And as it has been for about 60 years, they will take place under the aegis of the army. The army remains a central institution of Egypt. It is, as in many of the countries, the most modern, the most efficient and certain the most powerful entity. That has not been shaken. And if there are elections, as the Constitution requires, the candidates will be running within this context. Do I expect an election in which a dramatic change takes place in who was elected? I suspect not, but that I’m not even sure when elections would be called because it’s not really clear whether martial law will be declared. Just a lot of things aren’t clear, except the most important thing: the army is in charge.

Colin: Who are the most important figures in the military?

George: One of the things that the army has shown is that the question of who’s the most significant figure really isn’t that important. It is an institution, not something of individuals. The fact that the army could purge itself of Hosni Mubarak showed that the institution in Egypt transcended the individual. Certainly, they’re going to be shifts and changes in people whose names we don’t even know will emerge from somewhat junior ranks — there was clearly dispute in the military at various points as to what was going to happen. But I would argue that really personalizing it — this person’s gained power, that person’s lost power — is not the point. The institution succeeded in stabilizing itself and I suspect will succeed in stabilizing at least for the immediate future the country, and that’s the most important question.

Colin: George, thank you. And that’s Agenda for this week, thanks very much for joining me, I’m Colin Chapman for STRATFOR. Until the next time, goodbye.

23319  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Egypt on: February 11, 2011, 03:06:01 PM
As I said, "I have no problem with the idea that sometimes we must deal with bastards, but we also must keep ready to evolve situations to a higher level, one that is more in tune with what America is about" because being tied to hated dying 82 year old dictators also has its problems and because America standing for the higher level is one of our greatest strengths-- perhaps our greatest of all.  We need to remember that.
23320  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Egypt on: February 11, 2011, 11:30:51 AM
Absolutely!

Glenn Beck was in full rant mode last night about all this.  He makes a lot of strong points about the true nature of the MB, why this is happening now, and that sort of thing but I was left wondering if he really appreciated something else-- which is the natural yearning to live free of being under the heel of Mubarak's police thugs.  As a general principla it is a force which America should be aligned.

I have no problem with the idea that sometimes we must deal with bastards, but we also must keep ready to evolve situations to a higher level, one that is more in tune with what America is about-- which is why BO et al should have been supporting Bush's efforts in Iraq instead of destroying them from the home front.

Where would be now if the Dems had supported the war (or at least not sabotaged it!)?  What would the Iraqis have done and be doing now if they had confident that we weren't bugging out?

IMHO we would be sitting a whole bunch prettier than we are now.
23321  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Patriot Post: Debt Bomb on: February 11, 2011, 10:46:44 AM
second post of day:

The Debt Bomb Showdown
112th Congress vs. Obama's Error of Big Government
"We must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt. We must make our election between economy and liberty, or profusion and servitude." Thomas Jefferson

This bomb will "fundamentally transform America"There's currently a lot of talk about deficits and debt among the new House Republican majority; much of it is contentious intraparty debate about whether to raise the "debt ceiling."

For the purpose of clarity, let me reiterate a few definitions.

The national budget deficit is the difference between the total spending budget (including interest on debt) authorized by Congress for each year, and total tax receipts. For this fiscal year alone (October 1, 2010, to September 30, 2011), the shortfall is projected to be 1.15 trillion dollars.

The national debt is the total of all outstanding U.S. Treasury obligations held by domestic and foreign individuals, institutions and governments, and is currently 14.05 trillion dollars.

The debt ceiling is the self-imposed limit Congress sets for what it can legally borrow to pay for all the government services that it can't afford. A year ago, Congress increased that limit to 14.29 trillion dollars. But since Congress has authorized spending almost five billion dollars a day more than it takes in, that debt ceiling will be hit sometime between the end of March and mid-May.

Complicating matters further, the then-Democrat-controlled Congress failed to set a new budget for the current year, instead opting for continuing resolutions (CR) that authorize the prior year's spending levels. They utilized this budget ruse in order to avoid greater accountability (greater losses) in the midterm election last year. The current CR expires on 4 March, and House Republicans are using that expiration date to force Barack Hussein Obama into budget-cutting submission.

Here is how the key Republican players in this crisis -- and it is a crisis -- have positioned themselves on the issue of deficits and the debt ceiling.

House Speaker John Boehner notes, "We have to work our will in the House. We have to work with our colleagues in the Senate and put something on the president's desk. If the president is going to ask us to increase the debt limit, then he's going to have to be willing to cut up the credit cards. ... [Default] would be a financial disaster not only for our country, but for the worldwide economy. Remember, the American people on Election Day said we want to cut spending and we want to create jobs. You can't create jobs if you default on the federal debt."

Rep. Austin Scott (R-GA), president of the powerful freshman class of the 112th Congress, adds, "If there is a vote put forward to increase the national debt ceiling and that is all the legislation does, I think it will fail overwhelmingly."

Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) is advancing a budget plan with $32 billion in spending cuts for the current budget year (FY11), well short of the Republican Pledge to America's "$100 billion in the first year alone."

But House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) explains, "It fulfills the pledge because we said in a year's time we were going to cut spending by $100 billion. As you know, we are five-twelfths of the way through the fiscal year by the time the expiration occurs. We will be proposing this again in the next fiscal year, and if you look at it on an annualized basis, I assure you it will be over $100 billion."

It better be!

Rep. Cantor adds, "We are simply not going to accept an increase in the debt limit without serious cuts and reforms. ... What we need to do and are committed to doing is making sure that we achieve spending cuts and effect real reforms so that the spending binge ends. We look at the debt limit vote as an opportunity for us to accomplish those goals."

In the Senate, Tea Party favorite Jim DeMint (R-SC) says that Obama administration claims that holding the debt ceiling at current levels would be "catastrophic" are true only if the administration elects to default on interest and debt obligations.

His Senate colleague Pat Toomey (R-PA) has proposed the Full Faith and Credit Act, which would "require the Treasury to make interest payments on our debt its first priority in the event that the debt ceiling is not raised." However, Toomey is not prepared to hold the debt ceiling, noting, "Congress should make increasing our debt contingent on immediate cuts in spending and effective reforms of the spending process that helped get us into this mess. We can do so without jeopardizing the full faith and credit of our country -- and we should."

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who along with DeMint is a member of that body's Tea Party Caucus, has proposed a much more aggressive plan, which cuts $500 billion from the federal budget this year alone. This plan is something of a straw-man target, especially its proposed cuts to defense spending at a time when that budget has been trimmed to limits that increase threats to our frontline warriors.

However, the other domestic spending cuts in Paul's budget should not be discounted, as those cuts have the overwhelming support of the aforementioned Tea Party, a formidable movement that continues to pick up steam across the nation.

Additionally, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and my friend Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) have introduced a bill to cap federal spending at about 20 percent of the U.S. GDP. That is still a very big budget, but it cuts out more than $8 trillion in spending over the next decade. It is, I believe, an admirable first attempt to establish a cap in a Senate where Republicans are still the minority party.

Of course, for his part, Obama is banking on the assumption that the American people are just too dullard to understand the consequences of the debt bomb he's dropping on the nation. This bombing mission was launched with the politically fortuitous collapse of the U.S. real estate and securities markets, which Obama rode into office in order to launch "the fundamental transformation of the United States of America."

To that end, Obama and his Socialist bourgeoisie will blame Republicans for the hardships -- and there will be hardships -- associated with moving toward a balanced budget.

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND), chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, was the first out of the gate with the Obama memo tactic: "Basically what [Republicans] are saying is 'pay China first.' We're going to forget about the American public and the things that they need? Somehow they're secondary? And paying the Chinese and the Japanese is the first priority of this country?"

In the debate about raising the debt ceiling, expect Democrats to deploy a plethora of slight variations on that theme.

Continuing his faux charade to somehow appear "Reaganesque," Obama proposed a paltry $775 million in budget cuts. To put that into perspective, view this budget graphic.

In the coming months, the Obama administration and its Leftmedia sycophants will attempt to perpetuate this obfuscation of the hard facts.

Fortunately, there is a congressional caucus which embodies the Reagan mantle, a group of conservative lawmakers which we have applauded since its inception. That caucus includes most members of the Tea Party caucus.

To sort the wheat from the chaff in the coming budget battles, I recommend you rely on the Republican Study Committee for clarity about which legislation to support, and on the Heritage Foundation for why to support it. Long before the advent of the Tea Party movement, the RSC was dedicated to "a limited and Constitutional role for the federal government, a strong national defense, the protection of individual and property rights, and the preservation of traditional family values."

(If that sounds familiar, see The Patriot's mission statement.)

Currently under the chairmanship of Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, the RSC is our last best defense against detonation of the Obama debt bomb. If more Republicans will honor their oath to abide by our Constitution, as the RSC members endeavor to do, then the nation will avoid the economic catastrophe that looms.

However, if the Left successfully uses their "pay China first and forget about the American public" propaganda to derail the RSC/Republican effort to enact massive deficit and debt reductions, then batten down the hatches. I can assure you that when Obama's debt bomb detonates, it will completely transform America by breaking the back of free enterprise. The result will be the collapse of the dollar and mass unemployment accompanied by civil unrest. Of course, as I have speculated previously, that scenario comports with Obama's subversive vision to convert the USA to the USSA.

First Principles and Rule of Law as enshrined in our Constitution must trump propaganda if Liberty is to survive the Obama regime.

In the timeless words of George Washington, "No pecuniary consideration is more urgent, than the regular redemption and discharge of the public debt: on none can delay be more injurious, or an economy of time more valuable."

I second that motion!

Footnote: The Wall Street Journal reports, "Governors around the U.S. are proposing to balance their states' budgets with a long list of cuts and almost no new taxes, reflecting a goal by politicians from both parties to erase deficits chiefly by shrinking government." Of course, most governors are required by their state constitutions to balance their budget. It is high time, then, for a balanced budget amendment to our federal Constitution, which the RSC also advocates.

23322  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Egypt on: February 11, 2011, 08:27:41 AM
I could easily be wrong, but my guess is that the military will make a move against Mubarak that will be sufficient , , , for now.
23323  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Boskins on: February 11, 2011, 07:47:58 AM
By MICHAEL J. BOSKIN
The old bromide that citizens elect presidents for protection from other people's congressmen was reversed last November when a Congress was elected for protection from the president. This week House Republicans have been debating how to cut the ballooning budget. After ramming through an expansion of federal spending to levels not approached since World War II, President Obama is now calling for still more spending, with a renewed emphasis on infrastructure, that he claims will create jobs and economic growth.

Let's put this in perspective: With the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) now projecting a federal budget deficit this year of $1.5 trillion, Mr. Obama is on course to add as much debt in one term as all 43 previous presidents combined. Not surprisingly, the rating agency Standard & Poor's is warning of a Treasury downgrade.

Yes, the president is calling for a freeze on nondefense discretionary spending (18% of the budget). But this would leave that spending more than 20% higher than already- elevated 2008 levels, where Republicans would like to return. The freeze also cements in place a huge expansion of government originally sold as a temporary, emergency response to the economic and financial crisis.

Mr. Obama's Budget Director Jacob Lew asserts that the president has made tough choices, pointing to $775 million of proposed cuts—but that's one-tenth of 1% of nondefense discretionary spending. The Obama administration and its supporters dubiously claim higher spending will quickly strengthen the recovery and generate jobs, and that any "draconian" cuts would derail the recovery. Higher spending, deficits and debt are future problems, they argue, and even then higher taxes (especially on "the rich") won't harm the economy.

But government spending generally does little to boost the economy. Exhibit A is the failed 2009 stimulus bill, the president's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

The strongest case for stimulus is increased military spending during recessions. But infrastructure spending, as the president proposes, is poorly designed for anti-recession job creation. As Harvard economist Edward Glaeser has shown, the ARRA's transportation spending was not directed to areas with the highest unemployment or the largest housing busts (and therefore the most unemployed construction workers). Indeed, last September Wendy Greuel, the City of Los Angeles controller, shocked the country when she revealed that the $111 million in ARRA infrastructure money her city received created only 55 jobs—that's a whopping $2 million of federal stimulus per job created.

Why is this so? Modern, large-scale public infrastructure projects use heavy equipment and are less labor-intensive than they were historically (WPA workers digging ditches with shovels in the 1930s). Federal transportation stimulus spending was $4 billion in 2009, leaving two problems with claims of "shovel-ready" projects: shovels and ready.

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Chad Crowe
 .The nation certainly has public investment needs, but federal infrastructure spending should be based on rigorous national cost-benefit tests. Most local officials are happy to have the rest of the country pay for spending on virtually any project, however modest the local benefits. Even so, several states have rejected high-speed rail subsidies as requiring unwise state spending despite the subsidies. California's estimates, for example, have soared.

Moreover, how will we pay for all this new spending? The CBO's 10-year projection sees the possibility of the debt-to-GDP ratio rising to an astounding 100%. Several recent studies (detailed on these pages in my "Why the Spending Stimulus Failed," Dec. 1, 2010) conclude that: 1) such high debt would severely damage growth, so fiscal consolidation is essential; 2) fiscal consolidation is likely to be far more effective on the spending than the tax side of the budget; and 3) substantially higher tax rates and spending cause permanent drops in income that are many times larger than the temporary fall caused by the recession. Thus, spending control is vital before debt levels or tax increases risk severely damaging growth for a generation.

In the 1980s and '90s, federal spending was reduced by more than 5% of GDP to 18.4% in 2000—a level sufficient to balance the budget at full employment and allow for lower tax rates. It was a remarkable period of growth, and there's no reason we can't repeat that success. In addition to rolling back ObamaCare and rolling up remaining TARP and stimulus funds, spending control should include these major reforms:

• Consolidate, eliminate, defederalize and, where feasible, voucherize with flexible block grants. I pointed out in 2007 that 42% of federal civilian workers were due to retire in the coming decade. Replacing half of them (with exceptions for national security and public safety) with technology could improve services and save hundreds of billions of dollars. Beyond the savings, it would make necessary services more efficient. For example, the federal government's many separate job-training programs should be consolidated and voucherized to enable citizens to obtain commercially useful training.

• A dopt successful business practices where possible. For example, consolidating IT infrastructure, streamlining supply chains, using advanced business analytics to reduce improper payments, and switching from expensive custom code to standardized software applications could save more than $1 trillion over a decade while upgrading and improving federal support and information services.

• Gradually move from wage to price indexing of initial Social Security benefits. This would eliminate the entire projected Social Security deficit without cutting anyone's benefits or raising anyone's taxes. Also, raise the retirement age over several decades, preserve early retirement and disability, and strengthen support for the poorest. On Medicare, former Clinton Budget Director Alice Rivlin and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan propose gradually moving to fixed government contributions to purchase insurance, for large savings and more informed care.


The immense growth of government spending and soaring public deficits and debt are the major sources of systemic economic risk, here and abroad, threatening enormous costs by higher taxes, inflation or default. The problem is not merely public debt. A much higher ratio of taxes to GDP trades a deficit problem for sluggish growth. In recent decades, the large advanced economies with the highest taxes have grown most slowly. And the high-tax economies did not have smaller budget deficits. Rather, higher taxes merely led to higher spending.

Elected officials too often ignore long-run costs to achieve short-run benefits. But government policies can neither revoke the laws of arithmetic nor circumvent the laws of economics. The time to start reducing spending is now.

Mr. Boskin is a professor of economics at Stanford University and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. He chaired the Council of Economic Advisers under President George H.W. Bush.

23324  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / CMOH: SSG Giunta on: February 11, 2011, 07:38:53 AM
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=50RFJfUzNsY&feature=player_embedded#at=825
23325  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Newt Gingrich on: February 10, 2011, 10:50:29 PM
"Very funny work their (sic) by our moderator!"

Another misplaced homonym  cheesy
23326  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Henninger: Is Egypt hopeless? on: February 10, 2011, 10:48:36 PM
With luck and support from the world's democracies, Egypt's people will get a credible political system. What they won't get—now or possibly ever—is an economy able to produce real jobs for their country's large, young population. Establishing a democratic system in Egypt is a walk in the park compared to allowing a 21st-century economy to come to life there.

Egypt isn't just a sad story of political oppression. Egypt is an object lesson for other nations, including ours, struggling to produce enough jobs for young workers.

While Egypt has floundered, some have noted that Turkey's economy has flourished, notwithstanding a strong Islamic presence in both countries. How come?

 Editorial Board Member Matt Kaminski on the latest from Egypt. Also, Editorial Board Member Mary Kissel on Toyota and 'pedal misapplications.'
.Everyone cites a favorite datum—Egypt produced Nasser and Mubarak while Turkey got Ataturk and free-market economist Turgut Ozal as prime minister in the 1980s. But here's mine: In Egypt, the percentage of the working population employed by the state is 35%. In Turkey, it's 13%.

One is tempted to ask: What more do you need to know?

The economic literature is vast on the smothering effects of large, inefficient public sectors. If Egypt is now exhibit A for these studies in torpid economies, then exhibits B, C, D and E would be Jordan, Yemen, Tunisia and Algeria, the other nations that erupted the past several weeks. In Jordan nearly 50% of the employed population works for the state. This is an economy?

Consistent data on public work forces across nations is hard to find, but IMD, the Swiss business school, produces a comparison of public-sector employment as a percentage of total population for its Competitiveness Yearbook. It shows a striking correlation between economic success in emerging economies and relatively low populations of public employees, notably in Asia.

Korea, Indonesia, India, Malaysia, Taiwan, Thailand and even China (at 8.3%) have low public employment as a percentage of total population. In Singapore, it's less than 3%. Also on the list, below 15%, are Colombia, Peru and Chile, three of South America's strongest economies. A low number doesn't guarantee strong growth, but a high number probably kills it.

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Associated Press
 
Protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square. Who will hire them?
.The MENA countries of the Middle East and North Africa have used public work as a form of social security and tool of political stability. Their universities fed graduates into a nonproductive but high-benefit public economy. Many Tunisian rioters were unemployed college graduates.

The argument being made here is that past some tipping point of a population employed by the state, an economy starts to choke. Egypt is far past that point. In Tahrir Square you are watching the economic and psychological dislocation caused by this misallocation of national energy. This isn't just about a new government. It is a sit-down strike for a better economy.

Egypt faces a hard economic riddle: How does any place that has passed the public-sector tipping point escape these chains? (The crony capitalism of the younger Mubarak, Gamal, merely created a school of golden pilot fish alongside the public whale.)

The U.S. is hardly the place Egypt should look for an answer. Public-sector costs have driven New York, California and New Jersey to the edge of the fiscal cliff. Govs. Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo are getting good notices for their ideas. But so far they haven't solved anything. Large populations of public workers could burden these states for years in their competition with leaner states. Hosni Mubarak also promised public-sector reform—20 years ago.

 With a third of the population employed by the state, Egypt may be past the tipping point what allows a modern economy to grow.
.Podcast: Listen to the audio of Wonder Land here. .But hey, there's always tourism. A major complaint from Egypt is that the protesters are killing tourism. Whether Egypt, France, Italy, or New York City, tourists' cash flow is the last prop beneath economies staggered by the weight of public costs they can't unwind. Egypt has the pyramids, New York has Times Square.

At Davos last month, British Prime Minister David Cameron eloquently sounded the pro-growth trumpet and chided pessimists who "say that slow-growth status for Europe is inevitable." But in a thought-provoking article last month for The Wall Street Journal Europe, "How Big Government Killed Britain's Regions," former U.K. economics official Warwick Lightfoot argued that years of high public-sector wage and benefit settlements had "de-marketized" labor costs in the U.K.'s regions—Wales, Scotland, northern Ireland and the north of England. "The private sector," he said, "cannot flourish because price signals cannot operate properly in the labor market."

Amid the current crisis, Mr. Mubarak decreed a 15% wage and pension increase for public workers. Decades of U.S. governors and mayors did the same thing, poisoning local markets.

California isn't Egypt, yet. But politicians everywhere make the same mistakes, thinking the real economy is always out there somewhere, producing jobs and tax revenue. They think it's sort of like magic. But it isn't.

The first great lesson being learned in the 21st century is that neither the state nor the stork can bring jobs to life in a modern economy. Good luck to Egypt and all other nations on the wrong end of this learning curve.

23327  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Egypt on: February 10, 2011, 09:26:52 PM
What a moron (and his aides who prepped him too)  This is the guy who didn't know about the Islamo terrorist arrests in UK a while back IIRC.
=======
The decision by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak not to resign seems to have shocked both the Egyptian military and Washington. CIA Director Leon Panetta spoke earlier as if his resignation was assured and a resolution to the crisis was guaranteed. Sources in Cairo spoke the same way. How the deal came apart, or whether Mubarak decided that transferring power to Vice President Omar Suleiman was sufficient cannot be known. What is known is that Mubarak did not do what was expected.

This now creates a massive crisis for the Egyptian military. Its goal is not to save Mubarak but to save the regime founded by Gamal Abdel Nasser. We are now less than six hours from dawn in Cairo. The military faces three choices. The first is to stand back, allow the crowds to swell and likely march to the presidential palace and perhaps enter the grounds. The second choice is to move troops and armor into position to block more demonstrators from entering Tahrir Square and keep those in the square in place. The third is to stage a coup and overthrow Mubarak.

The first strategy opens the door to regime change as the crowd, not the military, determines the course of events. The second creates the possibility of the military firing on the protesters, which have not been anti-military to this point. Clashes with the military (as opposed to the police, which have happened) would undermine the military’s desire to preserve the regime and the perception of the military as not hostile to the public.

That leaves the third option, which is a coup. Mubarak will be leaving office under any circumstances by September. The military does not want an extraconstitutional action, but Mubarak’s decision leaves the military in the position of taking one of the first two courses, which is unacceptable. That means military action to unseat Mubarak is the remaining choice.

One thing that must be borne in mind is that whatever action is taken must be taken in the next six or seven hours. As dawn breaks over Cairo, it is likely that large numbers of others will join the demonstrators and that the crowd might begin to move. The military would then be forced to stand back and let events go where they go, or fire on the demonstrators. Indeed, in order to do the latter, troops and armor must move into position now, to possibly overawe the demonstrators.

Thus far, the military has avoided confrontation with the demonstrators as much as possible, and the demonstrators have expressed affection toward the army. To continue that policy, and to deal with Mubarak, the options are removing him from office in the next few hours or possibly losing control of the situation. But if this is the choice taken, it must be taken tonight so that it can be announced before demonstrations get under way Feb. 11 after Friday prayers.

It is of course possible that the crowds, reflecting on Mubarak’s willingness to cede power to Suleiman, may end the crisis, but it does not appear that way at the moment, and therefore the Egyptian military has some choices to make.

23328  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Rove: Dem can't filibuster on: February 10, 2011, 12:40:16 PM
By KARL ROVE
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin likes to taunt his Republican colleagues, arguing that ObamaCare can't be repealed because 60 votes are required to end debate in the Senate on any measure.

Though Republicans will likely win control of the Senate in 2012, Mr. Durbin is right that they probably won't get to 60 senators. That would require the GOP to win back more than half the Democratic seats up next year. Rep. Jim Moran (D., Va.) recently called GOP promises of repeal "a political scam on their base. . . . It can't happen."

Not so fast. Keith Hennessey, a former White House colleague of mine, says Democrats are wrong. He argues that Republicans can repeal health-care reform with a simple Senate majority.

Director of the National Economic Council under President George W. Bush, Mr. Hennessey now teaches at Stanford Business School and is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution. Last week on his website, KeithHennessey.com, he made the case that congressional Republicans could use the reconciliation process to kill ObamaCare with 51 votes in the Senate and a majority in the House of Representatives.

The Budget Act of 1974 established the reconciliation process. The House and Senate Budget Committees can direct other committees to make changes in mandatory spending (like ObamaCare's Medicaid expansion and insurance subsidies) and the tax code (such as ObamaCare's levies on insurance policies, hospitals and drug companies) to make spending and revenue conform with the goals set by the annual budget resolution.

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Associated Press
 
President Obama signing the health care bill last March.
.For example, under reconciliation the Senate Budget Committee could instruct the Senate Finance Committee to reduce mandatory spending on insurance subsidies and Medicaid expansion. These two items make up more than 90% of spending in ObamaCare. All the changes from all the committees are then bundled into one measure and voted upon. Because reconciliation is protected by the rules of the budget process, it doesn't take 60 votes to bring it up and it requires only a simple majority to pass.

Will this 51-vote strategy work? One long-time GOP budget whiz, embarrassed he hadn't thought of this, told me it would. Another Republican veteran of the budget wars agreed, though she had some concerns that certain elements of ObamaCare, such as some insurance provisions, might be beyond the reach of reconciliation. For example, would reconciliation allow Republicans to kill the requirement that younger, healthier workers pay higher premiums than they rightly should to keep premiums for older workers lower?

Mr. Hennessey believes that these are "strategically unimportant" items. He says the goal should be to repeal ObamaCare's big-cost drivers, and reconciliation provides the tool to do it.

Using reconciliation would require that Republicans pick up at least four seats in 2012, when 23 senators who caucus with the Democrats are up for re-election, many in red states. Already, vulnerable Democratic senators like Jon Tester of Montana, Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Joe Manchin of West Virginia are talking about how to get rid of some of ObamaCare's most objectionable parts, like the individual mandate. They'll only get more skittish as the election approaches. Democrats cannot complain if the GOP uses reconciliation after Democrats used it to pass ObamaCare through the Senate.

Congressional Republicans are getting crucial help in this battle from allies outside Washington. Republican governors know that ObamaCare's mandatory expansion of Medicaid rolls will collapse state budgets. Texas Gov. Rick Perry has called ObamaCare "unaffordable, unsustainable and unworkable," and many have criticized the law for shifting billions of dollars onto the states. GOP governors are in charge of at least 10 key battleground states and can continue to drill home this message in states such as Ohio and Florida that are vital to Mr. Obama's re-election.

Even Democratic governors in swing states are critical of ObamaCare's Medicaid expansion. "There is no hidden pool of money" to pay for expanding Medicaid, lamented Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue said she opposes health-care reform "that shifts costs to the states." States are "not going to be in a position to pick up the tab" of expanding Medicaid, warned Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire.

Democrats harp on the 60-vote threshold and ignore the reconciliation option because they want Americans to accept the inevitability of ObamaCare. But its roots are clearly in shallow soil.

Of course, a 51-vote Senate strategy would also require a Republican president who would sign a reconciliation bill. All of which means that ObamaCare will be a central issue in the 2012 election. The president may not want to "re-litigate" ObamaCare, but Republicans—and a majority of Americans—do.

Mr. Rove is the former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush.

23329  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: The next repeal target on: February 10, 2011, 12:38:28 PM


No one should expect much real health-care progress for the next two years, but at least President Obama is now making concessions to the political mood, however minor. The White House is suddenly trying to pacify the critics it used to claim were partisans, or industry shills, or arguing in bad faith.

The latest penitent is Kathleen Sebelius, who has finally admitted that there are severe fiscal problems with a new entitlement for long-term care that was included in ObamaCare. Speaking Tuesday at the Kaiser Family Foundation, the Health and Human Services Secretary defended the new government insurance program, known by the acronym Class. But she also said that "The law, while the structure in the statute wasn't perfect, provided ample flexibility to make sure that Class is successful. . . . We at HHS are committed to using that authority to making sure that both the program meets people's needs while remaining fiscally sound."

In other words, Ms. Sebelius plans to use her administrative powers to rewrite the Class program so it doesn't follow Congressional orders and bankrupt itself by design. She even made a promise that her rewrite will be so complete that "no taxpayer dollars will be used to pay for Class benefits," period.

 
That would certainly be a first in entitlement history, which is why President Obama's own deficit commission recommended the "reform or repeal" of Class. It said the program will "require large general revenue transfers or else collapse under its own weight," while Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad has called Class "a Ponzi scheme of the first order, the kind of thing that Bernie Madoff would have been proud of."

The main reason Democratic liberals insisted on passing Class is because it will crowd out private insurance for long-term care like home health aides or nursing homes. But they also used it to rig the bill's budget math to make it appear to reduce the deficit.

The program will start collecting premiums up front in 2012 but won't pay out any cash benefits until five years later. The $70 billion or so accumulated during that lead time will finance other parts of ObamaCare, and then the Class program is scheduled to go broke sometime between 2020 and 2025 in part because the money can't be spent twice.

Ms. Sebelius promised to resolve problems that "threaten the financial stability long term of the plan," like eliminating "loopholes that could allow people to skip premium payments and then re-enroll in the program without paying any penalty." (Speaking of small favors.) She also noted that "as currently written," premiums are required to be flat but benefits are indexed to inflation.

One question is why Ms. Sebelius didn't speak about these defects before the bill passed. The answer, we'd guess, is that she and Mr. Obama like the Class program as written but now fear that House Republicans and even Senate Democrats could vote to repeal it wholesale unless the Administration pledges to reform it.

The reality is that as long as entitlements are on the books, they always expand. Ms. Sebelius may change the program now, but a future Congress will quietly restore the same ills. Republicans should fight to repeal Class in its entirety, and then let Mr. Obama defend a program that even his chief health deputy now admits is a disaster waiting to happen.

23330  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Priceless on: February 10, 2011, 12:35:41 PM


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BQRMvg5TAl8&feature=player_embedded
23331  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Laffer on: February 10, 2011, 12:23:15 PM
By ARTHUR B. LAFFER
For 16 years prior to Ronald Reagan's presidency, the U.S. economy was in a tailspin—a result of bipartisan ignorance that resulted in tax increases, dollar devaluations, wage and price controls, minimum-wage hikes, misguided spending, pandering to unions, protectionist measures and other policy mistakes.

In the late 1970s and early '80s, 10-year bond yields and inflation both were in the low double digits. The "misery index"—the sum of consumer price inflation plus the unemployment rate—peaked at well over 20%. The real value of the S&P 500 stock price index had declined at an average annual rate of 6% from early 1966 to August 1982.

For anyone old enough today, memories of the Arab oil embargo and price shocks—followed by price controls and rationing and long lines at gas stations—are traumatic. The U.S. share of world output was on a steady course downward.

Then Reagan entered center stage. His first tax bill was enacted in August 1981. It included a sweeping cut in marginal income tax rates, reducing the top rate to 50% from 70% and the lowest rate to 11% from 14%. The House vote was 238 to 195, with 48 Democrats on the winning side and only one Republican with the losers. The Senate vote was 89 to 11, with 37 Democrats voting aye and only one Republican voting nay. Reaganomics had officially begun.

President Reagan was not alone in changing America's domestic economic agenda. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, first appointed by Jimmy Carter, deserves enormous credit for bringing inflation down to 3.2% in 1983 from 13.5% in 1981 with a tight-money policy. There were other heroes of the tax-cutting movement, such as Wisconsin Republican Rep. Bill Steiger and Wyoming Republican Sen. Clifford Hansen, the two main sponsors of an important capital gains tax cut in 1978.

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Associated Press
 
Ronald Reagan after signing his first tax cut, Aug. 14, 1981.
.What the Reagan Revolution did was to move America toward lower, flatter tax rates, sound money, freer trade and less regulation. The key to Reaganomics was to change people's behavior with respect to working, investing and producing. To do this, personal income tax rates not only decreased significantly, but they were also indexed for inflation in 1985. The highest tax rate on "unearned" (i.e., non-wage) income dropped to 28% from 70%. The corporate tax rate also fell to 34% from 46%. And tax brackets were pushed out, so that taxpayers wouldn't cross the threshold until their incomes were far higher.

Changing tax rates changed behavior, and changed behavior affected tax revenues. Reagan understood that lowering tax rates led to static revenue losses. But he also understood that lowering tax rates also increased taxable income, whether by increasing output or by causing less use of tax shelters and less tax cheating.

Moreover, Reagan knew from personal experience in making movies that once he was in the highest tax bracket, he'd stop making movies for the rest of the year. In other words, a lower tax rate could increase revenues. And so it was with his tax cuts. The highest 1% of income earners paid more in taxes as a share of GDP in 1988 at lower tax rates than they had in 1980 at higher tax rates. To Reagan, what's been called the "Laffer Curve" (a concept that originated centuries ago and which I had been using without the name in my classes at the University of Chicago) was pure common sense.

There was also, in Reagan's first year, his response to an illegal strike by federal air traffic controllers. The president fired and replaced them with military personnel until permanent replacements could be found. Given union power in the economy, this was a dramatic act—especially considering the well-known fact that the air traffic controllers union, Patco, had backed Reagan in the 1980 presidential election.

On the regulatory front, the number of pages in the Federal Register dropped to less than 48,000 in 1986 from over 80,000 in 1980. With no increase in the minimum wage over his full eight years in office, the negative impact of this price floor on employment was lessened.

And, of course, there was the decontrol of oil markets. Price controls at gas stations were lifted in January 1981, as were well-head price controls for domestic oil producers. Domestic output increased and prices fell. President Carter's excess profits tax on oil companies was repealed in 1988.

The results of the Reagan era? From December 1982 to June 1990, Reaganomics created over 21 million jobs—more jobs than have been added since. Union membership and man-hours lost due to strikes tumbled. The stock market went through the roof. From July 1982 through August 2000, the S&P 500 stock price index grew at an average annual real rate of over 12%. The unfunded liabilities of the Social Security system declined as a share of GDP, and the "misery index" fell to under 10%.

Even Reagan's first Democratic successor, Bill Clinton, followed in his footsteps. The negotiations for what would become the North American Free Trade Agreement began in Reagan's second term, but it was President Clinton who pushed the agreement through Congress in 1993 over the objections of the unions and many in his own party.


President Clinton also signed into law the biggest capital gains tax cut in our nation's history in 1997. It effectively eliminated any capital gains tax on owner-occupied homes. Mr. Clinton reduced government spending as a share of GDP by 3.5 percentage points, more than the next four best presidents combined. Where Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton slipped up was on personal income tax rates—allowing the highest personal income tax rate to eventually rise to 39.6% from 28%.

The true lesson to be learned from the Reagan presidency is that good economics isn't Republican or Democrat, right-wing or left-wing, liberal or conservative. It's simply good economics. President Barack Obama should take heed and not limit his vision while seeking a workable solution to America's tragically high unemployment rate.

Mr. Laffer is the chairman of Laffer Associates and co-author of "Return to Prosperity: How America Can Regain Its Economic Superpower Status" (Threshold, 2010).

23332  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Newt Gingrich on: February 10, 2011, 12:04:36 PM
"The Republicans are on a role (sic)"

Given the inability to come up with even half of the minimun promised cuts of $100B would seem to indicate that the inadvertent use of the homonym yields a more accurate description  cheesy tongue rolleyes
23333  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: How they did it on: February 10, 2011, 10:53:31 AM
CAIRO—The Egyptian opposition's takeover of the area around the parliament this week began with a trick.

First, they called for a march on the state television building a few blocks north of their encampment in Tahrir Square. Then, while the army deployed to that sensitive communications hub, they moved into the lightly defended area around the parliament to the south.

The feint gave a taste of how a dozen young activists managed to outwit Egypt's feared security forces to launch a historic uprising now in its 17th day—and hint at how the organizers hope to keep pressure on a regime that has dug in its heels.

On Jan. 25, the first day of protests, the organizers had a trick up their sleeves in the impoverished slum of Bulaq al-Dakrour, on Cairo's western edge.

There amid the maze of muddy, narrow alleyways, a seemingly spontaneous protest caught security forces on their heels and swelled in size before those forces could react to crush it.

Regional Upheaval
View Interactive
.A succession of rallies and demonstrations, in Egypt, Jordan, Yemen and Algeria have been inspired directly by the popular outpouring of anger that toppled Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. See how these uprisings have progressed.

Clashes in Cairo
View Interactive
.Since late January, antigovernment demonstrators have swarmed the streets of Cairo, calling for President Hosni Mubarak to step down and at times clashing with the president's supporters. See where the action took place.
.That protest was anything but spontaneous. How the organizers pulled it off, when so many past efforts had failed, has had people scratching their heads ever since.

After his release from detention on Sunday, Google Inc. executive Wael Ghonim recounted his meeting with Egyptian's newly appointed interior minister. "No one understood how you did it," Mr. Ghonim said the minister told him. He said his interrogators concluded there had to have been outside forces involved.

The plotters, who now form the leadership core of the Revolutionary Youth Movement, which has stepped to the fore as representatives of protestors in Tahrir Square, have shared their secret in recent days for the first time.

Their accounts reveal a core of savvy plotters who have managed to stay a step ahead of the security forces with decoy marches and smart politicking that has sustained popular support for their protests.

In early January, when they decided they would try to replicate the accomplishments of the protesters in Tunisia who ousted President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, their immediate concern was how to outfox the Ministry of Interior, whose legions of riot police had managed to contain and quash protests for years. The police were expert at preventing demonstrations from growing or moving through the streets, and at keeping ordinary Egyptians away.

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."We had to find a way to prevent security from making their cordon and stopping us," said Basem Kamel, a 41-year-old architect who is a member of Mohamed ElBaradei's youth wing and was one of the dozen or so plotters.

They met daily for two weeks in the cramped living room of the mother of Ziad al-Alimi, a leading organizer for the opposition group formed by Mr. ElBaradei and one of the chief plotters.

Mr. Alimi's mother, a former activist herself who served six months in prison for her role leading protests during the bread riots in 1977, lives in the middle-class neighborhood of Agouza on the west bank of the Nile.

The group of plotters included representatives from six youth movements connected to opposition political parties, groups advocating labor rights and the Muslim Brotherhood.

They chose 20 protest sites, usually connected to mosques, in densely populated working-class neighborhoods around Cairo, hoping that a large number of scattered protests would strain security forces, draw larger numbers, and increase the likelihood that some would be able to break out and link up in the city's central Tahrir Square.

The group publicly called for protests at those sites for Jan. 25, a national holiday celebrating the country's widely reviled police force. They announced the sites of the demonstrations on the Internet and called for protests to begin at each one after prayers at about 2 p.m. But that wasn't all.

"The twenty-first site, no one knew about," Mr. Kamel said.

To be sure, they weren't the only ones calling for protests that day. Other influential activist groups rallied their resources to the cause. The Facebook page for Khaled Said, the young man beaten to death for no apparent reason by police in Alexandria, had emerged months earlier as an online gathering place for activists in Egypt.

There was an Arabic page and an English page, and each had its own administrators. Mr. Ghonim, the Google executive, has now been identified as one of the administrators, but the pages' other administrators remain anonymous.

An administrator for the English language page, known only by his online moniker El-Shaheed, or The Martyr, recounted the administrators' role in the protests in an interview with The Wall Street Journal via Gmail Chat.

El-Shaheed said he was chatting online with the site's Arabic-language administrator on Jan. 14, just as news broke of Tunisian President Ben Ali's flight from the country. Mr. Kamel and his cohorts, who had already begun plotting their protest, now had another powerful recruiting force.

"I was talking with Arabic admin and we were watching Tunisia and the moment we heard Ben Ali ran away, he said, we have to do something," said El-Shaheed.

The Arabic administrator posted on the Arabic page an open question to readers: "What do you think we should give as a gift to the brutal Egyptian police on their day?"

"The answer came from everyone: Tunisia Tunisia Smiley," wrote El-Shaheed.

For the final three days before the protest, Mr. Kamel and his fellow plotters slept away from home, fearing police would come to arrest them in the middle of the night and disrupt their plan. They stopped using their own cell phones and in favor of those owned by family members or friends that were less likely to be monitored.

They sent small teams to do reconnaissance on the secret 21st site in Bulaq al-Dakrour. That site was the Hayiss Sweet Shop, whose storefront and tiled sidewalk plaza meant to accommodate outdoor tables in warmer months would make an easy-to-find rallying point in an otherwise tangled neighborhood no different from countless others around the city.

The plotters knew that the demonstrations' success would depend on the participation of ordinary Egyptians in working-class districts such as Bulaq al-Dakrour, where the Internet and Facebook aren't as widely used. They distributed flyers around the city in the days leading up to the demonstration, concentrating efforts on Bulaq al-Dakrour.

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."It gave people the idea that a revolution would start on January 25," Mr. Kamel said.

The organizers sent small teams of plotters to walk the protest route repeatedly in the days leading up to the protest, at a slow pace and at a fast pace, to get their timing down for sychronizing when the separate protests would link up.

On Jan. 25, security forces predictably deployed by the thousands at the sites of each announced demonstration. Meanwhile, four field commanders chosen from the organizers' committee began ordering their men to the secret gathering point at the sweet shop.

The organizers divided themselves into cells of 10—with only one person per cell aware of the secret destination.

In these small groups, the protesters advanced toward the Hayiss Sweet Shop, massing into a crowd of 300 demonstrators free from police control. The lack of security prompted neighborhood residents to stream by the hundreds out of the neighborhood's cramped alleyways, swelling the crowd into the thousands, according to employees at the Hayiss Sweet Shop who watched the scene unfold.

At 1:15 p.m., they began marching toward downtown Cairo. By the time police realized what was under way and redeployed a small contingent to block their path, the protesters' numbers had grown so quickly that they easily overpowered the police.

The other marches organized at mosques around the city failed to reach Tahrir Square, their efforts foiled by riot-police cordons. The Bulaq al-Dakrour marchers, the only group to reach their objective, occupied Tahrir Square for several hours until after midnight, when police attacked demonstrators with tear gas and rubber bullets.

It was the first time Egyptians had seen such a demonstration in their streets, and it provided an explosive tipping point credited with emboldening tens of thousands of people to come out to protest the following Friday.

That day, they seized Tahrir Square again, and they haven't given it up since.

23334  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Going Gingrich on: February 10, 2011, 10:49:48 AM


http://townhall.com/columnists/howardrich/2011/02/10/going_gingrich/page/2
23335  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Fooled again: Charlie & Lucy on: February 10, 2011, 10:47:42 AM
http://townhall.com/columnists/hughhewitt/2011/02/10/gop_defaults_on_pledge_to_america/page/full/
23336  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Egypt on: February 10, 2011, 10:40:45 AM
I was responding to your comment about investing in oil futures , , ,
23337  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Kudlow: It was the weather on: February 10, 2011, 10:39:37 AM
The January employment report was a complete snow job. Abominable winter blizzards across the country caused 886,000 workers to report "not at work due to bad weather," according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is 600,000 more than the normal 300,000 not at work for the average January of the past decade.

So the bad weather has distorted the numbers. The actual 36,000 increase in non-farm payrolls and the 50,000 gain in private payrolls really don't have a snowball's chance at being accurate. The 1 million people in January who wanted a job but didn't look for one because of "other" reasons hints again at the bad-weather distortion. So does the 4.9 million jump in the part-time workforce.

As for the 9 percent unemployment rate, it's not likely to last as more people are recorded re-entering the labor force in the months ahead. The household employment survey (on which the unemployment rate is based) increased 117,000 in January, following a near 300,000 gain in December.

On the plus side (if anything can be believed in these numbers), average hourly earnings increased by 0.4 percent -- a much bigger gain than in recent months. Over the past year, wages are rising 1.9 percent.

But here's a key point: Manufacturing jobs in January rose by nearly 50,000. That's consistent with the blowout ISM manufacturing report for January published a few days ago. Manufacturing has been the biggest surprise in the recovery. Additionally, the ISM non-manufacturing services report was also gangbusters for January.

These reports are more accurate and more significant than the jobs calculation. And if you piece them together with record-breaking profits, which are the mother's milk for stocks, business and the whole economy, it's hard not to conclude that the pace of recovery is actually picking up steam -- despite the lackluster jobs performance.

The downside of the upside is mounting inflation pressure. Both ISM reports registered very strong prices paid. Those outsized price increases are picking up the huge commodity-price increases that Ben Bernanke continues to ignore.

Bond-market rates have moved up to 3.64 percent for the 10-year Treasury and 4.73 percent for the 30-year. Those rising yields are signaling inflationary growth. Along with soaring commodity prices, the abnormally steep Treasury yield curve is signaling the Fed to stop creating new dollars with its QE2 pump-priming.

Right now, stronger economic growth, higher profits and rising inflation continue to help the stock market, which actually increased after Friday's weird jobs report. But the risk here is that reported inflation for the CPI may rise faster than anyone thinks. And that could take a bite out of stocks and the recovery.
23338  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Each and every one of us on: February 10, 2011, 10:39:01 AM
If I have my zeros correct $1.5T divided by 320M Americans is about $4,700 for each one of us.
23339  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Egypt on: February 10, 2011, 10:28:30 AM
I was thinking more along the line of investing in Swiss Banks, where the House of Saud will be preparing for its departure.
23340  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / VDH: A Modern Sisyphus on: February 10, 2011, 10:25:34 AM
California Gov. Jerry Brown must rapidly close a $25 billion budgetary shortfall. But right now it seems almost a hopeless task since the state's disastrous budget is a symptom, not the cause, of California's much larger nightmare.

Take unemployment. It currently runs 12.6 percent in California, the nation's second-highest rate. Take livability. A recent Forbes magazine survey listing the most miserable 20 cities in the nation ranked four California municipalities among the index's five worst places to live.

Take education. California public schools test near rock bottom in national math and science scores. Take the business climate. A recent survey conducted among CEOs ranked California dead last for jobs and business growth.

Take taxes. California has the highest gasoline tax in the nation, and its combined sales and local/state income tax rates are among the nation's steepest. California incarcerates the highest number of prisoners in the nation. It costs nearly $50,000 per year to house each one, near the highest per-capita cost in the country.

I could go on, but you get the picture that the newly inaugurated Brown has problems well beyond even a massive budget shortfall..

Perhaps the state's problems are not of its own making, but arise from a deficit of natural riches? Hardly. California has the most fertile soil and most conducive farming climate in the country. Tourists flock to see the beauty of Yosemite, Death Valley and a 1,000-mile coastline. San Diego and San Francisco Bay are among the most naturally endowed harbors in the world. The state is rich in gas, oil, minerals and timber. It has the largest population in the nation at 37 million residents.

OK, but maybe prior generations failed to develop such natural bounty? Again, no. At one time California educators ensured that their tripartite system of higher education was the envy of the world. The Golden Gate and Oakland Bay bridges, along with the Los Angeles freeway system and the complex network of state dams and canals, were once considered engineering marvels far ahead of their time. Visionaries made Napa Valley the world's premier wine-producing center. California's farmers found a way to produce 400 crops and half the nation's fruits, nuts and vegetables, and created the richest food region in the nation. Silicon Valley and Hollywood are still the global leaders in computer innovation and entertainment, respectively.

Perhaps California did not invest in its public workers, skimped on entitlements, and turned away newcomers? Not really. Its teachers and public servants in many comparative surveys remain the highest compensated and best pensioned in the nation. Its welfare system is still the most generous in the nation. Seventy percent of its budget continues to go for education and social services. A state that accounts for 12 percent of the nation's population generously provides for 30 percent of the national welfare load. More than a quarter of the nation's illegal aliens are welcomed into California.

So in truth, the state's problems involve a larger "California philosophy" that is relatively new in its history, one that now curbs production but not consumption, and worries more about passing laws than how to pay for them.

California uses more gasoline than any other state and has the most voracious appetite for electricity. But Californians also enact the most obstacles to producing their own sources of oil, natural gas and nuclear power. State referenda and the legislature have made it the hardest state in the nation to raise taxes and the easiest to pass costly new laws.

The state's mineral and timber industries are nearly moribund. At a time of skyrocketing food prices, more than a quarter-million acres of some of the wealthiest agricultural land in California's Central Valley lie idle due to court-driven irrigation cutoffs -- costing thousands of jobs and robbing the state of millions of dollars in revenue.

Home prices stay prohibitive along the upscale coastal corridor from San Francisco to San Diego, even as millions of acres of open spaces there remain off limits for new housing construction. Most refined Californians who regulate how the state's natural resources are used live on the coast far away from -- and do not always understand -- those earthier people who struggle to develop them.

California does not ask its millions of foreign immigrants to come with legal status, speak English or arrive with high school diplomas, but then is confused when its entitlement and legal costs skyrocket. Billions of dollars in remittances are sent from California to Mexico -- but without the state being curious whether some of the remitters are on some sort of state-funded public assistance.

Somehow, Jerry Brown must not only change the way Californians act, but also the strange way they now seem to think -- convincing the present generation to produce far more private wealth while consuming far fewer public funds. Otherwise, the revenue-strapped and reform-minded governor is little more than a modern Sisyphus -- endlessly pushing his enormous rock uphill, never quite reaching the top.
23341  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / La Mentira de 90% on: February 10, 2011, 10:18:12 AM
By Scott Stewart

For several years now, STRATFOR has been closely watching developments in Mexico that relate to what we consider the three wars being waged there. Those three wars are the war between the various drug cartels, the war between the government and the cartels and the war being waged against citizens and businesses by criminals.

In addition to watching tactical developments of the cartel wars on the ground and studying the dynamics of the conflict among the various warring factions, we have also been paying close attention to the ways that both the Mexican and U.S. governments have reacted to these developments. Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects to watch has been the way in which the Mexican government has tried to deflect responsibility for the cartel wars away from itself and onto the United States. According to the Mexican government, the cartel wars are not a result of corruption in Mexico or of economic and societal dynamics that leave many Mexicans marginalized and desperate to find a way to make a living. Instead, the cartel wars are due to the insatiable American appetite for narcotics and the endless stream of guns that flows from the United States into Mexico and that results in Mexican violence.

Interestingly, the part of this argument pertaining to guns has been adopted by many politicians and government officials in the United States in recent years. It has now become quite common to hear U.S. officials confidently assert that 90 percent of the weapons used by the Mexican drug cartels come from the United States. However, a close examination of the dynamics of the cartel wars in Mexico — and of how the oft-echoed 90 percent number was reached — clearly demonstrates that the number is more political rhetoric than empirical fact.


By the Numbers

As we discussed in a previous analysis, the 90 percent number was derived from a June 2009 U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report to Congress on U.S. efforts to combat arms trafficking to Mexico (see external link).

According to the GAO report, some 30,000 firearms were seized from criminals by Mexican authorities in 2008. Of these 30,000 firearms, information pertaining to 7,200 of them (24 percent) was submitted to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) for tracing. Of these 7,200 guns, only about 4,000 could be traced by the ATF, and of these 4,000, some 3,480 (87 percent) were shown to have come from the United States.

This means that the 87 percent figure relates to the number of weapons submitted by the Mexican government to the ATF that could be successfully traced and not from the total number of weapons seized by Mexican authorities or even from the total number of weapons submitted to the ATF for tracing. In fact, the 3,480 guns positively traced to the United States equals less than 12 percent of the total arms seized in Mexico in 2008 and less than 48 percent of all those submitted by the Mexican government to the ATF for tracing. This means that almost 90 percent of the guns seized in Mexico in 2008 were not traced back to the United States.

The remaining 22,800 firearms seized by Mexican authorities in 2008 were not traced for a variety of reasons. In addition to factors such as bureaucratic barriers and negligence, many of the weapons seized by Mexican authorities either do not bear serial numbers or have had their serial numbers altered or obliterated. It is also important to understand that the Mexican authorities simply don’t bother to submit some classes of weapons to the ATF for tracing. Such weapons include firearms they identify as coming from their own military or police forces, or guns that they can trace back themselves as being sold through the Mexican Defense Department’s Arms and Ammunition Marketing Division (UCAM). Likewise, they do not ask ATF to trace military ordnance from third countries like the South Korean fragmentation grenades commonly used in cartel attacks.

Of course, some or even many of the 22,800 firearms the Mexicans did not submit to ATF for tracing may have originated in the United States. But according to the figures presented by the GAO, there is no evidence to support the assertion that 90 percent of the guns used by the Mexican cartels come from the United States — especially when not even 50 percent of those that were submitted for tracing were ultimately found to be of U.S. origin.

This point leads us to consider the types of weapons being used by the Mexican cartels and where they come from.


Types and Sources of Guns

To gain an understanding of the dynamics of the gun flow inside Mexico, it helps if one divides the guns seized by Mexican authorities from criminals into three broad categories — which, incidentally, just happen to represent three different sources.


Type 1: Guns Legally Available in Mexico

The first category of weapons encountered in Mexico is weapons available legally for sale in Mexico through UCAM. These include handguns smaller than a .357 magnum such as .380, .38 Super and .38 Special.

A large portion of this first type of guns used by criminals is purchased in Mexico, or stolen from their legitimate owners. While UCAM does have very strict regulations for civilians to purchase guns, criminals will use straw purchasers to obtain firearms from UCAM or obtain them from corrupt officials. It is not uncommon to see .38 Super pistols seized from cartel figures (a caliber that is not popular in the United States), and many of these pistols are of Mexican origin. Likewise, cartel hit men in Mexico commonly use .380 pistols equipped with sound suppressors in their assassinations. In many cases, these pistols are purchased in Mexico, the suppressors are locally manufactured and the guns are adapted to receive the suppressors by Mexican gunsmiths.

It must be noted, though, that because of the cost and hassle of purchasing guns in Mexico, many of the guns in this category are purchased in the United States and smuggled into the country. There are a lot of cheap guns available on the U.S. market, and they can be sold at a premium in Mexico. Indeed, guns in this category, such as .380 pistols and .22-caliber rifles and pistols, are among the guns most commonly traced back to the United States. Still, the numbers do not indicate that 90 percent of guns in this category come from the United States.

Additionally, most of the explosives the cartels have been using in improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Mexico over the past year have used commercially available Tovex, so we consider these explosives to fall in this first category. Mexican IEDs are another area where the rhetoric has been interesting to analyze, but we will explore this topic another time.


Type 2: Guns Legally Available in the U.S. but Not in Mexico

Many popular handgun calibers, such as 9 mm, .45 and .40, are reserved for the military and police and are not available for sale to civilians in Mexico. These guns, which are legally sold and very popular in the United States, comprise our second category, which also includes .50-caliber rifles, semiautomatic versions of assault rifles like the AK-47 and M16 and the FN Five-Seven pistol.

When we consider this second type of guns, a large number of them encountered in Mexico are likely purchased in the United States. Indeed, the GAO report notes that many of the guns most commonly traced back to the United States fall into this category. There are also many .45-caliber and 9 mm semiautomatic pistols and .357 revolvers obtained from deserters from the Mexican military and police, purchased from corrupt Mexican authorities or even brought in from South America (guns made by manufacturers such as Taurus and Bersa). This category also includes semiautomatic variants of assault rifles and main battle rifles, which are often converted by Mexican gunsmiths to be capable of fully automatic fire.

One can buy these types of weapons on the international arms market, but one pays a premium for such guns and it is cheaper and easier to simply buy them in the United States or South America and smuggle them into Mexico. In fact, there is an entire cottage industry that has developed to smuggle such weapons, and not all the customers are cartel hit men. There are many Mexican citizens who own guns in calibers such as .45, 9 mm, .40 and .44 magnum for self-defense — even though such guns are illegal in Mexico.


Type 3: Guns Not Available for Civilian Purchase in Mexico or the U.S.

The third category of weapons encountered in Mexico is military grade ordnance not generally available for sale in the United States or Mexico. This category includes hand grenades, 40 mm grenades, rocket-propelled grenades, automatic assault rifles and main battle rifles and light machine guns.

This third type of weapon is fairly difficult and very expensive to obtain in the United States (especially in the large numbers in which the cartels are employing them). They are also dangerous to obtain in the United States due to heavy law-enforcement scrutiny. Therefore, most of the military ordnance used by the Mexican cartels comes from other sources, such as the international arms market (increasingly from China via the same networks that furnish precursor chemicals for narcotics manufacturing), or from corrupt elements in the Mexican military or even deserters who take their weapons with them. Besides, items such as South Korean fragmentation grenades and RPG-7s, often used by the cartels, simply are not in the U.S. arsenal. This means that very few of the weapons in this category come from the United States.

In recent years the cartels (especially their enforcer groups such as Los Zetas, Gente Nueva and La Linea) have been increasingly using military weaponry instead of sporting arms. A close examination of the arms seized from the enforcer groups and their training camps clearly demonstrates this trend toward military ordnance, including many weapons not readily available in the United States. Some of these seizures have included M60 machine guns and hundreds of 40 mm grenades obtained from the military arsenals of countries like Guatemala.

But Guatemala is not the only source of such weapons. Latin America is awash in weapons that were shipped there over the past several decades to supply the various insurgencies and counterinsurgencies in the region. When these military-grade weapons are combined with the rampant corruption in the region, they quickly find their way into the black arms market. The Mexican cartels have supply-chain contacts that help move narcotics to Mexico from South America and they are able to use this same network to obtain guns from the black market in South and Central America and then smuggle them into Mexico. While there are many weapons in this category that were manufactured in the United States, the overwhelming majority of the U.S.-manufactured weapons of this third type encountered in Mexico — like LAW rockets and M60 machine guns — come into Mexico from third countries and not directly from the United States.

There are also some cases of overlap between classes of weapons. For example, the FN Five-Seven pistol is available for commercial purchase in the United States, but the 5.7x28 armor-piercing ammunition for the pistol favored by the cartels is not — it is a restricted item. However, some of the special operations forces units in the Mexican military are issued the Five-Seven as well as the FN P90 personal defense weapon, which also shoots the 5.7x28 round, and the cartels are obtaining some of these weapons and the armor-piercing ammunition from them and not from the United States. Conversely, we see bulk 5.56 mm and 7.62 mm ammunition bought in the United States and smuggled into Mexico, where it is used in fully-automatic AK-47s and M16s purchased elsewhere. As noted above, China has become an increasingly common source for military weapons like grenades and fully automatic assault rifles in recent years.

To really understand Mexico’s gun problem, however, it is necessary to recognize that the same economic law of supply and demand that fuels drug smuggling into the United States also fuels gun smuggling into Mexico. Black-market guns in Mexico can fetch up to 300 percent of their normal purchase price — a profit margin rivaling the narcotics the cartels sell. Even if it were somehow possible to hermetically seal the U.S.-Mexico border and shut off all the guns coming from the United States, the cartels would still be able to obtain weapons elsewhere — just as narcotics would continue to flow into the United States from other places. The United States does provide cheap and easy access to certain types of weapons and ammunition, but as demonstrated by groups such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, weapons can be easily obtained from other sources via the black arms market — albeit at a higher price.

There has clearly been a long and well-documented history of arms smuggling across the U.S.-Mexico border, but it is important to recognize that, while the United States is a significant source of certain classes of weapons and ammunition, it is by no means the source of 90 percent of the weapons used by the Mexican cartels, as is commonly asserted.

23342  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Egypt on: February 10, 2011, 10:17:37 AM
Wonder what the House of Saud is going to do now , , ,
23343  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: The 90% Myth on: February 10, 2011, 10:15:42 AM
By Scott Stewart

For several years now, STRATFOR has been closely watching developments in Mexico that relate to what we consider the three wars being waged there. Those three wars are the war between the various drug cartels, the war between the government and the cartels and the war being waged against citizens and businesses by criminals.

In addition to watching tactical developments of the cartel wars on the ground and studying the dynamics of the conflict among the various warring factions, we have also been paying close attention to the ways that both the Mexican and U.S. governments have reacted to these developments. Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects to watch has been the way in which the Mexican government has tried to deflect responsibility for the cartel wars away from itself and onto the United States. According to the Mexican government, the cartel wars are not a result of corruption in Mexico or of economic and societal dynamics that leave many Mexicans marginalized and desperate to find a way to make a living. Instead, the cartel wars are due to the insatiable American appetite for narcotics and the endless stream of guns that flows from the United States into Mexico and that results in Mexican violence.

Interestingly, the part of this argument pertaining to guns has been adopted by many politicians and government officials in the United States in recent years. It has now become quite common to hear U.S. officials confidently assert that 90 percent of the weapons used by the Mexican drug cartels come from the United States. However, a close examination of the dynamics of the cartel wars in Mexico — and of how the oft-echoed 90 percent number was reached — clearly demonstrates that the number is more political rhetoric than empirical fact.


By the Numbers

As we discussed in a previous analysis, the 90 percent number was derived from a June 2009 U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report to Congress on U.S. efforts to combat arms trafficking to Mexico (see external link).

According to the GAO report, some 30,000 firearms were seized from criminals by Mexican authorities in 2008. Of these 30,000 firearms, information pertaining to 7,200 of them (24 percent) was submitted to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) for tracing. Of these 7,200 guns, only about 4,000 could be traced by the ATF, and of these 4,000, some 3,480 (87 percent) were shown to have come from the United States.

This means that the 87 percent figure relates to the number of weapons submitted by the Mexican government to the ATF that could be successfully traced and not from the total number of weapons seized by Mexican authorities or even from the total number of weapons submitted to the ATF for tracing. In fact, the 3,480 guns positively traced to the United States equals less than 12 percent of the total arms seized in Mexico in 2008 and less than 48 percent of all those submitted by the Mexican government to the ATF for tracing. This means that almost 90 percent of the guns seized in Mexico in 2008 were not traced back to the United States.

The remaining 22,800 firearms seized by Mexican authorities in 2008 were not traced for a variety of reasons. In addition to factors such as bureaucratic barriers and negligence, many of the weapons seized by Mexican authorities either do not bear serial numbers or have had their serial numbers altered or obliterated. It is also important to understand that the Mexican authorities simply don’t bother to submit some classes of weapons to the ATF for tracing. Such weapons include firearms they identify as coming from their own military or police forces, or guns that they can trace back themselves as being sold through the Mexican Defense Department’s Arms and Ammunition Marketing Division (UCAM). Likewise, they do not ask ATF to trace military ordnance from third countries like the South Korean fragmentation grenades commonly used in cartel attacks.

Of course, some or even many of the 22,800 firearms the Mexicans did not submit to ATF for tracing may have originated in the United States. But according to the figures presented by the GAO, there is no evidence to support the assertion that 90 percent of the guns used by the Mexican cartels come from the United States — especially when not even 50 percent of those that were submitted for tracing were ultimately found to be of U.S. origin.

This point leads us to consider the types of weapons being used by the Mexican cartels and where they come from.


Types and Sources of Guns

To gain an understanding of the dynamics of the gun flow inside Mexico, it helps if one divides the guns seized by Mexican authorities from criminals into three broad categories — which, incidentally, just happen to represent three different sources.


Type 1: Guns Legally Available in Mexico

The first category of weapons encountered in Mexico is weapons available legally for sale in Mexico through UCAM. These include handguns smaller than a .357 magnum such as .380, .38 Super and .38 Special.

A large portion of this first type of guns used by criminals is purchased in Mexico, or stolen from their legitimate owners. While UCAM does have very strict regulations for civilians to purchase guns, criminals will use straw purchasers to obtain firearms from UCAM or obtain them from corrupt officials. It is not uncommon to see .38 Super pistols seized from cartel figures (a caliber that is not popular in the United States), and many of these pistols are of Mexican origin. Likewise, cartel hit men in Mexico commonly use .380 pistols equipped with sound suppressors in their assassinations. In many cases, these pistols are purchased in Mexico, the suppressors are locally manufactured and the guns are adapted to receive the suppressors by Mexican gunsmiths.

It must be noted, though, that because of the cost and hassle of purchasing guns in Mexico, many of the guns in this category are purchased in the United States and smuggled into the country. There are a lot of cheap guns available on the U.S. market, and they can be sold at a premium in Mexico. Indeed, guns in this category, such as .380 pistols and .22-caliber rifles and pistols, are among the guns most commonly traced back to the United States. Still, the numbers do not indicate that 90 percent of guns in this category come from the United States.

Additionally, most of the explosives the cartels have been using in improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Mexico over the past year have used commercially available Tovex, so we consider these explosives to fall in this first category. Mexican IEDs are another area where the rhetoric has been interesting to analyze, but we will explore this topic another time.


Type 2: Guns Legally Available in the U.S. but Not in Mexico

Many popular handgun calibers, such as 9 mm, .45 and .40, are reserved for the military and police and are not available for sale to civilians in Mexico. These guns, which are legally sold and very popular in the United States, comprise our second category, which also includes .50-caliber rifles, semiautomatic versions of assault rifles like the AK-47 and M16 and the FN Five-Seven pistol.

When we consider this second type of guns, a large number of them encountered in Mexico are likely purchased in the United States. Indeed, the GAO report notes that many of the guns most commonly traced back to the United States fall into this category. There are also many .45-caliber and 9 mm semiautomatic pistols and .357 revolvers obtained from deserters from the Mexican military and police, purchased from corrupt Mexican authorities or even brought in from South America (guns made by manufacturers such as Taurus and Bersa). This category also includes semiautomatic variants of assault rifles and main battle rifles, which are often converted by Mexican gunsmiths to be capable of fully automatic fire.

One can buy these types of weapons on the international arms market, but one pays a premium for such guns and it is cheaper and easier to simply buy them in the United States or South America and smuggle them into Mexico. In fact, there is an entire cottage industry that has developed to smuggle such weapons, and not all the customers are cartel hit men. There are many Mexican citizens who own guns in calibers such as .45, 9 mm, .40 and .44 magnum for self-defense — even though such guns are illegal in Mexico.


Type 3: Guns Not Available for Civilian Purchase in Mexico or the U.S.

The third category of weapons encountered in Mexico is military grade ordnance not generally available for sale in the United States or Mexico. This category includes hand grenades, 40 mm grenades, rocket-propelled grenades, automatic assault rifles and main battle rifles and light machine guns.

This third type of weapon is fairly difficult and very expensive to obtain in the United States (especially in the large numbers in which the cartels are employing them). They are also dangerous to obtain in the United States due to heavy law-enforcement scrutiny. Therefore, most of the military ordnance used by the Mexican cartels comes from other sources, such as the international arms market (increasingly from China via the same networks that furnish precursor chemicals for narcotics manufacturing), or from corrupt elements in the Mexican military or even deserters who take their weapons with them. Besides, items such as South Korean fragmentation grenades and RPG-7s, often used by the cartels, simply are not in the U.S. arsenal. This means that very few of the weapons in this category come from the United States.

In recent years the cartels (especially their enforcer groups such as Los Zetas, Gente Nueva and La Linea) have been increasingly using military weaponry instead of sporting arms. A close examination of the arms seized from the enforcer groups and their training camps clearly demonstrates this trend toward military ordnance, including many weapons not readily available in the United States. Some of these seizures have included M60 machine guns and hundreds of 40 mm grenades obtained from the military arsenals of countries like Guatemala.

But Guatemala is not the only source of such weapons. Latin America is awash in weapons that were shipped there over the past several decades to supply the various insurgencies and counterinsurgencies in the region. When these military-grade weapons are combined with the rampant corruption in the region, they quickly find their way into the black arms market. The Mexican cartels have supply-chain contacts that help move narcotics to Mexico from South America and they are able to use this same network to obtain guns from the black market in South and Central America and then smuggle them into Mexico. While there are many weapons in this category that were manufactured in the United States, the overwhelming majority of the U.S.-manufactured weapons of this third type encountered in Mexico — like LAW rockets and M60 machine guns — come into Mexico from third countries and not directly from the United States.

There are also some cases of overlap between classes of weapons. For example, the FN Five-Seven pistol is available for commercial purchase in the United States, but the 5.7x28 armor-piercing ammunition for the pistol favored by the cartels is not — it is a restricted item. However, some of the special operations forces units in the Mexican military are issued the Five-Seven as well as the FN P90 personal defense weapon, which also shoots the 5.7x28 round, and the cartels are obtaining some of these weapons and the armor-piercing ammunition from them and not from the United States. Conversely, we see bulk 5.56 mm and 7.62 mm ammunition bought in the United States and smuggled into Mexico, where it is used in fully-automatic AK-47s and M16s purchased elsewhere. As noted above, China has become an increasingly common source for military weapons like grenades and fully automatic assault rifles in recent years.

To really understand Mexico’s gun problem, however, it is necessary to recognize that the same economic law of supply and demand that fuels drug smuggling into the United States also fuels gun smuggling into Mexico. Black-market guns in Mexico can fetch up to 300 percent of their normal purchase price — a profit margin rivaling the narcotics the cartels sell. Even if it were somehow possible to hermetically seal the U.S.-Mexico border and shut off all the guns coming from the United States, the cartels would still be able to obtain weapons elsewhere — just as narcotics would continue to flow into the United States from other places. The United States does provide cheap and easy access to certain types of weapons and ammunition, but as demonstrated by groups such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, weapons can be easily obtained from other sources via the black arms market — albeit at a higher price.

There has clearly been a long and well-documented history of arms smuggling across the U.S.-Mexico border, but it is important to recognize that, while the United States is a significant source of certain classes of weapons and ammunition, it is by no means the source of 90 percent of the weapons used by the Mexican cartels, as is commonly asserted.

23344  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: The 90% Myth on: February 10, 2011, 10:14:55 AM
By Scott Stewart

For several years now, STRATFOR has been closely watching developments in Mexico that relate to what we consider the three wars being waged there. Those three wars are the war between the various drug cartels, the war between the government and the cartels and the war being waged against citizens and businesses by criminals.

In addition to watching tactical developments of the cartel wars on the ground and studying the dynamics of the conflict among the various warring factions, we have also been paying close attention to the ways that both the Mexican and U.S. governments have reacted to these developments. Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects to watch has been the way in which the Mexican government has tried to deflect responsibility for the cartel wars away from itself and onto the United States. According to the Mexican government, the cartel wars are not a result of corruption in Mexico or of economic and societal dynamics that leave many Mexicans marginalized and desperate to find a way to make a living. Instead, the cartel wars are due to the insatiable American appetite for narcotics and the endless stream of guns that flows from the United States into Mexico and that results in Mexican violence.

Interestingly, the part of this argument pertaining to guns has been adopted by many politicians and government officials in the United States in recent years. It has now become quite common to hear U.S. officials confidently assert that 90 percent of the weapons used by the Mexican drug cartels come from the United States. However, a close examination of the dynamics of the cartel wars in Mexico — and of how the oft-echoed 90 percent number was reached — clearly demonstrates that the number is more political rhetoric than empirical fact.


By the Numbers

As we discussed in a previous analysis, the 90 percent number was derived from a June 2009 U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report to Congress on U.S. efforts to combat arms trafficking to Mexico (see external link).

According to the GAO report, some 30,000 firearms were seized from criminals by Mexican authorities in 2008. Of these 30,000 firearms, information pertaining to 7,200 of them (24 percent) was submitted to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) for tracing. Of these 7,200 guns, only about 4,000 could be traced by the ATF, and of these 4,000, some 3,480 (87 percent) were shown to have come from the United States.

This means that the 87 percent figure relates to the number of weapons submitted by the Mexican government to the ATF that could be successfully traced and not from the total number of weapons seized by Mexican authorities or even from the total number of weapons submitted to the ATF for tracing. In fact, the 3,480 guns positively traced to the United States equals less than 12 percent of the total arms seized in Mexico in 2008 and less than 48 percent of all those submitted by the Mexican government to the ATF for tracing. This means that almost 90 percent of the guns seized in Mexico in 2008 were not traced back to the United States.

The remaining 22,800 firearms seized by Mexican authorities in 2008 were not traced for a variety of reasons. In addition to factors such as bureaucratic barriers and negligence, many of the weapons seized by Mexican authorities either do not bear serial numbers or have had their serial numbers altered or obliterated. It is also important to understand that the Mexican authorities simply don’t bother to submit some classes of weapons to the ATF for tracing. Such weapons include firearms they identify as coming from their own military or police forces, or guns that they can trace back themselves as being sold through the Mexican Defense Department’s Arms and Ammunition Marketing Division (UCAM). Likewise, they do not ask ATF to trace military ordnance from third countries like the South Korean fragmentation grenades commonly used in cartel attacks.

Of course, some or even many of the 22,800 firearms the Mexicans did not submit to ATF for tracing may have originated in the United States. But according to the figures presented by the GAO, there is no evidence to support the assertion that 90 percent of the guns used by the Mexican cartels come from the United States — especially when not even 50 percent of those that were submitted for tracing were ultimately found to be of U.S. origin.

This point leads us to consider the types of weapons being used by the Mexican cartels and where they come from.


Types and Sources of Guns

To gain an understanding of the dynamics of the gun flow inside Mexico, it helps if one divides the guns seized by Mexican authorities from criminals into three broad categories — which, incidentally, just happen to represent three different sources.


Type 1: Guns Legally Available in Mexico

The first category of weapons encountered in Mexico is weapons available legally for sale in Mexico through UCAM. These include handguns smaller than a .357 magnum such as .380, .38 Super and .38 Special.

A large portion of this first type of guns used by criminals is purchased in Mexico, or stolen from their legitimate owners. While UCAM does have very strict regulations for civilians to purchase guns, criminals will use straw purchasers to obtain firearms from UCAM or obtain them from corrupt officials. It is not uncommon to see .38 Super pistols seized from cartel figures (a caliber that is not popular in the United States), and many of these pistols are of Mexican origin. Likewise, cartel hit men in Mexico commonly use .380 pistols equipped with sound suppressors in their assassinations. In many cases, these pistols are purchased in Mexico, the suppressors are locally manufactured and the guns are adapted to receive the suppressors by Mexican gunsmiths.

It must be noted, though, that because of the cost and hassle of purchasing guns in Mexico, many of the guns in this category are purchased in the United States and smuggled into the country. There are a lot of cheap guns available on the U.S. market, and they can be sold at a premium in Mexico. Indeed, guns in this category, such as .380 pistols and .22-caliber rifles and pistols, are among the guns most commonly traced back to the United States. Still, the numbers do not indicate that 90 percent of guns in this category come from the United States.

Additionally, most of the explosives the cartels have been using in improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Mexico over the past year have used commercially available Tovex, so we consider these explosives to fall in this first category. Mexican IEDs are another area where the rhetoric has been interesting to analyze, but we will explore this topic another time.


Type 2: Guns Legally Available in the U.S. but Not in Mexico

Many popular handgun calibers, such as 9 mm, .45 and .40, are reserved for the military and police and are not available for sale to civilians in Mexico. These guns, which are legally sold and very popular in the United States, comprise our second category, which also includes .50-caliber rifles, semiautomatic versions of assault rifles like the AK-47 and M16 and the FN Five-Seven pistol.

When we consider this second type of guns, a large number of them encountered in Mexico are likely purchased in the United States. Indeed, the GAO report notes that many of the guns most commonly traced back to the United States fall into this category. There are also many .45-caliber and 9 mm semiautomatic pistols and .357 revolvers obtained from deserters from the Mexican military and police, purchased from corrupt Mexican authorities or even brought in from South America (guns made by manufacturers such as Taurus and Bersa). This category also includes semiautomatic variants of assault rifles and main battle rifles, which are often converted by Mexican gunsmiths to be capable of fully automatic fire.

One can buy these types of weapons on the international arms market, but one pays a premium for such guns and it is cheaper and easier to simply buy them in the United States or South America and smuggle them into Mexico. In fact, there is an entire cottage industry that has developed to smuggle such weapons, and not all the customers are cartel hit men. There are many Mexican citizens who own guns in calibers such as .45, 9 mm, .40 and .44 magnum for self-defense — even though such guns are illegal in Mexico.


Type 3: Guns Not Available for Civilian Purchase in Mexico or the U.S.

The third category of weapons encountered in Mexico is military grade ordnance not generally available for sale in the United States or Mexico. This category includes hand grenades, 40 mm grenades, rocket-propelled grenades, automatic assault rifles and main battle rifles and light machine guns.

This third type of weapon is fairly difficult and very expensive to obtain in the United States (especially in the large numbers in which the cartels are employing them). They are also dangerous to obtain in the United States due to heavy law-enforcement scrutiny. Therefore, most of the military ordnance used by the Mexican cartels comes from other sources, such as the international arms market (increasingly from China via the same networks that furnish precursor chemicals for narcotics manufacturing), or from corrupt elements in the Mexican military or even deserters who take their weapons with them. Besides, items such as South Korean fragmentation grenades and RPG-7s, often used by the cartels, simply are not in the U.S. arsenal. This means that very few of the weapons in this category come from the United States.

In recent years the cartels (especially their enforcer groups such as Los Zetas, Gente Nueva and La Linea) have been increasingly using military weaponry instead of sporting arms. A close examination of the arms seized from the enforcer groups and their training camps clearly demonstrates this trend toward military ordnance, including many weapons not readily available in the United States. Some of these seizures have included M60 machine guns and hundreds of 40 mm grenades obtained from the military arsenals of countries like Guatemala.

But Guatemala is not the only source of such weapons. Latin America is awash in weapons that were shipped there over the past several decades to supply the various insurgencies and counterinsurgencies in the region. When these military-grade weapons are combined with the rampant corruption in the region, they quickly find their way into the black arms market. The Mexican cartels have supply-chain contacts that help move narcotics to Mexico from South America and they are able to use this same network to obtain guns from the black market in South and Central America and then smuggle them into Mexico. While there are many weapons in this category that were manufactured in the United States, the overwhelming majority of the U.S.-manufactured weapons of this third type encountered in Mexico — like LAW rockets and M60 machine guns — come into Mexico from third countries and not directly from the United States.

There are also some cases of overlap between classes of weapons. For example, the FN Five-Seven pistol is available for commercial purchase in the United States, but the 5.7x28 armor-piercing ammunition for the pistol favored by the cartels is not — it is a restricted item. However, some of the special operations forces units in the Mexican military are issued the Five-Seven as well as the FN P90 personal defense weapon, which also shoots the 5.7x28 round, and the cartels are obtaining some of these weapons and the armor-piercing ammunition from them and not from the United States. Conversely, we see bulk 5.56 mm and 7.62 mm ammunition bought in the United States and smuggled into Mexico, where it is used in fully-automatic AK-47s and M16s purchased elsewhere. As noted above, China has become an increasingly common source for military weapons like grenades and fully automatic assault rifles in recent years.

To really understand Mexico’s gun problem, however, it is necessary to recognize that the same economic law of supply and demand that fuels drug smuggling into the United States also fuels gun smuggling into Mexico. Black-market guns in Mexico can fetch up to 300 percent of their normal purchase price — a profit margin rivaling the narcotics the cartels sell. Even if it were somehow possible to hermetically seal the U.S.-Mexico border and shut off all the guns coming from the United States, the cartels would still be able to obtain weapons elsewhere — just as narcotics would continue to flow into the United States from other places. The United States does provide cheap and easy access to certain types of weapons and ammunition, but as demonstrated by groups such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, weapons can be easily obtained from other sources via the black arms market — albeit at a higher price.

There has clearly been a long and well-documented history of arms smuggling across the U.S.-Mexico border, but it is important to recognize that, while the United States is a significant source of certain classes of weapons and ammunition, it is by no means the source of 90 percent of the weapons used by the Mexican cartels, as is commonly asserted.

23345  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Environmental issues on: February 09, 2011, 09:32:59 PM
Good example!  Agreed 100% on cost-benefit analysis and the fact that it usually is absent.  I would add that "our side" sometimes (often?) ignores external diseconomies, especially with regard to our environment.
23346  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Egypt on: February 09, 2011, 09:22:55 PM
GM:

Although quite relevant to Egypt, may I ask you to post pieces about the nature of the MB on the "Islam the Religion" so that they don't get lost to future reference? 

Thank you,
Marc
23347  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Environmental issues on: February 09, 2011, 09:12:35 PM
I don't know enough to have an opinion on the merits here of the law/regs on phosphates, but conceptually I have no problem with external diseconomies being the subject of legislation.  In a free market all costs should be born by buyers and sellers.
23348  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: May 14-15: "Dog Brothers Tribal Gathering of the Pack" on: February 09, 2011, 09:09:11 PM
Dinger:

Welcome aboard here.

Please extend my warm greetings to your teacher.

The Open Gathering is in September.  If there is not a thread for it already, there will be.  It will be held the Sunday in September closest to the equinox.

Crafty Dog
23349  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Science vs. God on: February 09, 2011, 09:06:18 PM
God is a dsylexic's dog.
23350  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Environmental issues on: February 09, 2011, 09:04:19 PM
Well Mr. Smartypants, you usually say when you don't post the whole article smiley
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