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23401  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Iranian incursion into Kurdistan on: July 19, 2011, 11:53:00 PM
Also see the analysis just posted in the Mid-east SNAFU, TARFU, FUBAR thread:

An Iranian offensive in Kurdish-concentrated northern Iraq entered its fourth day July 19. As early as July 13, Iranian media reported that 5,000 Iranian troops had massed along Iran’s northwestern border with Iraq in preparation for an offensive. By the morning hours of July 16, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) forces crossed 1 to 2 kilometers (0.6 to 1.2 miles) into Iraqi territory in the border region of Dolie Koke/Zalle and clashed with members of the Kurdistan Free Life Party (PJAK), Iran’s main Kurdish militant group. According to STRATFOR sources in the area, the Iranian army has continued artillery bombardments in the areas of Sune, Ali Rese, Dolie Koke, Sehit Ahyan, Sehit Harun and Zalle. On the Iranian side of the border, IRGC reinforcements continue to build up in the Valley of Wesne.

The mountainous terrain favors PJAK, operating as a guerrilla group, over Iranian ground forces with more conventional capabilities such as armored vehicles that could be difficult to use effectively. It is unclear how heavily Iran is relying on artillery in the offensive, rather than patrols and raids, which are more vulnerable to ambush. PJAK claims around 10 of its members and 180 IRGC troops have been killed in the clashes, though these figures could not be verified.

The Iranian offensive is unlikely to build into a regional crisis. Skirmishes between Iranian forces and PJAK militants are typical for this time of year — though the scale of the deployment and the geopolitical climate surrounding the Iranian offensive are noteworthy. Local and regional media reporting on the issue have painted it as largely routine, and the governments of Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States have so far remained quiet on the issue.

(click here to enlarge image)
The incursion may be an attempt to intimidate Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), which has thus far been the Iraqi faction most opposed to the upcoming U.S. withdrawal from the country. As Washington struggles to negotiate an extension of the current Status of Forces Agreement to allow U.S. forces to remain in Iraq and reposition into a blocking force against Iran, the KRG, wary of the threat of being marginalized by its Arab rivals in Iraq, has been attempting, thus far unsuccessfully, to negotiate for the establishment of permanent U.S. bases in northern Iraq. Thus, this offensive may be a message to the KRG to respect Tehran’s demands as well as a demonstration to Washington of Tehran’s military capability in extending its writ in the Iran-Iraq borderlands.

If this is the case, Iran does not want to go so far in this action that it would allow Washington to justify a military extension for its troops, regardless of whether the extension is sanctioned by Baghdad. Currently, the limited nature of Iran’s military activity in northern Iraq does not rise to the level of crisis that would allow the United States and certain Iraqi factions to claim that Iraq is too vulnerable for the United States to leave by the end of the year, but how far Iran’s military action will go in this offensive is yet to be seen.

Read more: Iran's Limited Incursion into Northern Iraq | STRATFOR
23402  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afpakia: Afghanistan-Pakistan on: July 19, 2011, 11:50:08 PM
Nary a peep from the Pravdas on that , , ,

Turning now to Afg,

Two Prominent Southern Officials Killed

Jan Mohammad Khan, Afghanistan’s senior presidential adviser on tribal affairs, was assassinated July 17 at his home in Kabul at around 8 p.m. Khan, the former governor of Uruzgan province, was killed along with lawmaker Hashim Atanwal and three other people when a suicide bomber and three gunmen attacked Khan’s home in the Karte Char area of the city. Though the Taliban claimed responsibility, Afghan lawmaker Mohammad Daud Kalakani blamed Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate for the killings. Khan’s assassination comes less than a week after the  death of Ahmed Wali Karzai, the half-brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and head of the Kandahar provincial council, who was assassinated July 12 at his home in Kandahar city by Sardar Mohammad. Mohammad, who was a close associate of the Karzai family for the last seven to eight years in his capacity as the commander of all security posts in and around the town of Karz, the home city of the Karzai family, shot Karzai several times before being killed by his bodyguards.

The deaths of two government officials with strong influence in the southern provinces — the Taliban’s core territory — could have  serious implications for the Afghan government and its ability to conduct business in the south.

Being closely affiliated with the Karzai family and the head of security, Mohammad was a frequent visitor at Ahmed Wali Karzai’s house, making it possible for him to bypass security while carrying a weapon. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, asserting that Mohammad was a Taliban agent (a routine and expected Taliban response, whether they were responsible or not), but it is far from clear whether this was the case. Mohammad and Karzai had a long-standing association and there were myriad licit and illicit activities in which Karzai was involved that could have provoked personal, criminal or other motivations for the killing.

Given that Karzai was a high-profile government official, he would have had tight security around him that would have been difficult for the Taliban to penetrate. Additionally, it seems unlikely that Mohammad would choose to work with the Taliban after being loyal to the Karzai family for several years. Mohammad likely would have known that Karzai had protection and that he would be killed in the process of assassinating him, making the act more likely motivated for personal rather than ideological reasons. Acting Kandahar police chief Gen. Abdul Raziq stated that the involvement of foreign circles could not be ruled out. Several suspects were detained and interrogated in relation to the assassination. Later reports from STRATFOR sources indicate that the assassination might be the result of a feud over finances arising from coalition contracts.

Later, during the funeral service for Karzai held at Red Mosque in Kandahar city on July 14, a suicide bomber staged an attack. The explosive device, hidden in the turban of the suicide bomber, killed Mawlawi Hekmatullah Hekmat, the head of the religious council in Kandahar, along with four other people. It remains unclear if Hekmat was the intended target. There are conflicting reports about the presence of Hamid Karzai at the funeral service, and if the Afghan president did attend he may have been the intended target. It is also possible that the attack may not have been aimed at any particular official at all, but instead may have targeted the large crowd of mourners gathered at the service.

This is a critical time for Hamid Karzai’s government, which is currently trying to hold talks with the Taliban in an effort to move toward a political accommodation and a negotiated settlement as foreign troops begin pulling out of the country. This does not necessarily mean that the Taliban will immediately have more room to operate in the absence of the Ahmed Wali Karzai and Khan. Much will depend on the ability of Karzai’s replacement to step into the role and wield power through the relationships and networks Karzai built for himself as well as the replacement’s ability to take the government’s relationship with the Taliban in a new direction. What is clear, however, is that the process of political transition is being forced upon Hamid Karzai’s regime through assassination in a key area of the country at a decisive time, and Kabul has work to do in reconsolidating what position it did have in the south under the president’s half-brother.

Transfer of Power

The targeted killings of three Afghan political figures — Khan, Ahmed Wali Karzai and then Hekmat at Karzai’s funeral — in a week’s time come as NATO is preparing to hand power to local Afghan forces in the northern province of Bamiyan. Additionally, 1,000 soldiers from two National Guard regiments at the Bagram Air Base in Parwan are scheduled to start withdrawing this month. Bamiyan is the first of seven locations that will make up the first phase transferring security responsibility to Afghan forces. The first phase of withdrawal will involve the transfer of power in the provinces of Panjshir, Kabul (aside from the restive Surobi district) and the cities of Mazar-e-Sharif, Herat, Lashkar Gah and Mehtar Lam.

(click here to enlarge image)
All of these locations are relatively calm and have been largely secured by Afghan security forces for some time now. The transfer is a slow and measured process, but it will be important to watch the evolution of the standard for transfers and any potential shortening of timetables associated with the process as well as how sustainable security gains prove as International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops begin to pull back from key areas.

Meanwhile, Gen. David Petraeus, who will be the next director of the CIA, handed over command of the ISAF and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan to Marine Lt. Gen. John Allen on July 18. STRATFOR believes and has argued that this is more than a personnel change — it is the retirement of a key architect and principal proponent of the counterinsurgency-focused strategy currently being pursued. His replacement by a commander no doubt carefully vetted by the White House is beginning to show signs of how the appointment is intended to reshape and redefine the strategy for the war. The war in Afghanistan appears to be moving away from a focus on counterinsurgency and toward a counterterrorism approach, and Petraeus’ military experience in Iraq and Afghanistan and his newly appointed position are likely to help with that transition.

Read more: Afghanistan Weekly War Update: Losing Influence in the Taliban Core? | STRATFOR
23403  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: Russia hooking Germany up on: July 19, 2011, 11:45:24 PM

Energy projects are likely to be at the center of the July 18-19 talks between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev in Hanover, Germany. Prominent items on the agenda will be Gazprom’s interest in partnering with German utility companies, the expansion of the Nord Stream natural gas pipeline and methods to circumvent EU unbundling reforms. The deals are a sign of the increasingly close relations between the two powers, and they also represent Germany’s willingness to make deals with Russia as Moscow attempts to expand its influence in its neighboring states and Central Europe.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev are scheduled to meet privately July 19 on the sidelines of a two-day bilateral summit in Hanover aimed at bolstering economic ties between Moscow and Berlin. A number of issues are expected to be discussed during the talks, but the discourse will center on the recent increase in Russo-German energy cooperation. This cooperation is categorized by Russian energy giant Gazprom’s interest in engaging in joint ventures with German utility companies, the expansion of the Nord Stream natural gas pipeline project, and efforts to deal with the European Union’s third energy package. The new EU mandates are a series of reforms that would require energy retail and production assets be unbundled, a requirement that could pose a threat to future bilateral cooperation.

The deals under discussion in Hanover hold significant strategic importance to Moscow and could be a financial boon for Germany. The energy cooperation agreements that Merkel and Medvedev will be discussing are an indicator of the  rapidly strengthening ties between Russia and Germany as well as of Berlin’s willingness to stand as an unconcerned actor in  Moscow’s efforts to increase its influence in its periphery and in Central Europe.

A major point of discussion between Merkel and Medvedev will likely be the July 14 preliminary agreement on a potential joint venture between Gazprom and RWE. State-owned Gazprom’s interest in RWE stems from a variety of strategic reasons. First, Gazprom stands to make inroads into the increasingly lucrative German electricity market, where natural gas-fired power plants are expected to increase production to compensate for the loss of electricity generated by the nuclear reactors that Berlin has decided to phase out. Second, Russia would gain access to Germany’s technological expertise in the construction and operation of natural gas-fired plants. Such knowledge is particularly valuable given Russia’s own faltering electricity sector. Finally, Moscow seeks to acquire major Central European energy and electricity assets held by German utility companies. A successful joint venture would grant Russia influence over the energy and electricity sector of the region. Moscow is willing to supply the German companies that agree to a joint venture with lower prices for natural gas, making such a deal financially appealing to Berlin.

Other deals between Russian natural gas suppliers and German utility companies will also be on the meeting’s agenda. Gazprom has shown interest in acquiring power plants and shares from E.On, Germany’s largest utility provider, which also holds significant assets in Central Europe. Thus far, RWE has countered this possibility by including a negotiation exclusivity clause for the next three months, signaling the Essen-based company’s strong interest in the deal. In addition to Gazprom, Russia’s largest independent natural gas provider, Novatek, is negotiating an 800 million euro (about $1.1 billion) cooperative venture with German utility company Energie Baden-Wuerttemberg.

Despite the mutual interest in expanded energy cooperation, the European Commission’s unbundling directive is poised to become a major obstacle to additional Russo-German energy collaboration. A key topic of the Hanover talks will be the ongoing legal battle between Lithuania and Gazprom wherein Gazprom stands accused of violating the unbundling directive. The current energy utility deals are almost certain to encounter vehement opposition from the European Commission and Central European countries. However, Berlin and Moscow established a precedent of sidestepping the EU directive, which forbids energy companies from establishing a producer-to-consumer supply chain, during the creation of the Nord Stream pipeline. Merkel and Medvedev likely will want to replicate this exception and avoid repeating Lithuania’s situation.

The recently completed Nord Stream pipeline will also likely be a matter of discussion, with the two leaders discussing its operational timeline as well as tentative plans for expanding its capacity and output. Nord Stream is one of the main pillars of Germany and Russia’s deepening economic cooperation and a fundamental part of Moscow’s strategy toward its periphery. The direct link between Gazprom’s natural gas fields and Germany’s shoreline via an underwater pipeline in the Baltic Sea allows Russia to sidestep Belarus, Ukraine, Poland and the Baltic countries in natural gas delivery. This bypass ensures Russia can pursue more aggressive energy policies toward its periphery if it so chooses without affecting Germany’s downstream supply.

23404  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: US, Saudis, Iran, Turkey on: July 19, 2011, 11:28:53 PM

Hugely important themes being discussed here.  The years of cluelessness of the Progressive faction in the US (the vicious opposition to the war in Iraq) now reify.  GM might add throwing Mubarak under the bus to the list too.

The U.S.-Saudi Dilemma: Iran's Reshaping of Persian Gulf Politics
July 19, 2011

By Reva Bhalla

Something extraordinary, albeit not unexpected, is happening in the Persian Gulf region. The United States, lacking a coherent strategy to deal with Iran and too distracted to develop one, is struggling to navigate Iraq’s fractious political landscape in search of a deal that would allow Washington to keep a meaningful military presence in the country beyond the end-of-2011 deadline stipulated by the current Status of Forces Agreement. At the same time, Saudi Arabia, dubious of U.S. capabilities and intentions toward Iran, appears to be inching reluctantly toward an accommodation with its Persian adversary.

Iran clearly stands to gain from this dynamic in the short term as it seeks to reshape the balance of power in the world’s most active energy arteries. But Iranian power is neither deep nor absolute. Instead, Tehran finds itself racing against a timetable that hinges not only on the U.S. ability to shift its attention from its ongoing wars in the Middle East but also on Turkey’s ability to grow into its historic regional role.

The Iranian Position

Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi said something last week that caught our attention. Speaking at Iran’s first Strategic Naval Conference in Tehran on July 13, Vahidi said the United States is “making endeavors to drive a wedge between regional countries with the aim of preventing the establishment of an indigenized security arrangement in the region, but those attempts are rooted in misanalyses and will not succeed.” The effect Vahidi spoke of refers to the  Iranian redefinition of Persian Gulf power dynamics, one that in Iran’s ideal world ultimately would transform the local political, business, military and religious affairs of the Gulf states to favor the Shia and their patrons in Iran.

From Iran’s point of view, this is a natural evolution, and one worth waiting centuries for. It would see power concentrated among the Shia in Mesopotamia, eastern Arabia and the Levant at the expense of the Sunnis who have dominated this land since the 16th century, when the Safavid Empire lost Iraq to the Ottomans. Ironically, Iran owes its thanks for this historic opportunity to its two main adversaries — the Wahhabi Sunnis of al Qaeda who carried out the 9/11 attacks and the “Great Satan” that brought down Saddam Hussein. Should Iran succeed in filling a major power void in Iraq, a country that touches six Middle Eastern powers and demographically favors the Shia, Iran would theoretically have its western flank secured as well as an oil-rich outlet with which to further project its influence.

So far, Iran’s plan is on track. Unless the United States permanently can station substantial military forces in the region, Iran replaces the United States as the most powerful military force in the Persian Gulf region. In particular, Iran has the military ability to threaten the Strait of Hormuz and has a clandestine network of operatives spread across the region. Through its deep penetration of the Iraqi government, Iran is also in the best position to influence Iraqi decision-making. Washington’s obvious struggle in trying to negotiate an extension of the U.S. deployment in Iraq is perhaps one of the clearest illustrations of Iranian resolve to secure its western flank. The Iranian nuclear issue, as we have long argued, is largely a sideshow; a nuclear deterrent, if actually achieved, would certainly enhance Iranian security, but the most immediate imperative for Iran is to consolidate its position in Iraq. And as this weekend’s Iranian incursion into northern Iraq — ostensibly to fight Kurdish militants — shows, Iran is willing to make measured, periodic shows of force to convey that message.

While Iran already is well on its way to accomplishing its goals in Iraq, it needs two other key pieces to complete Tehran’s picture of a regional “indigenized security arrangement” that Vahidi spoke of. The first is an understanding with its main military challenger in the region, the United States. Such an understanding would entail everything from ensuring Iraqi Sunni military impotence to expanding Iranian energy rights beyond its borders to placing limits on U.S. military activity in the region, all in return for the guaranteed flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz and an Iranian pledge to stay clear of Saudi oil fields.

The second piece is an understanding with its main regional adversary, Saudi Arabia. Iran’s reshaping of Persian Gulf politics entails convincing its Sunni neighbors that resisting Iran is not worth the cost, especially when the United States does not seem to have the time or the resources to come to their aid at present. No matter how much money the Saudis throw at Western defense contractors, any military threat by the Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council states against Iran will be hollow without an active U.S. military commitment. Iran’s goal, therefore, is to coerce the major Sunni powers into recognizing an expanded Iranian sphere of influence at a time when U.S. security guarantees in the region are starting to erode.

Of course, there is always a gap between intent and capability, especially in the Iranian case. Both negotiating tracks are charged with distrust, and meaningful progress is by no means guaranteed. That said, a number of signals have surfaced in recent weeks leading us to examine the potential for a Saudi-Iranian accommodation, however brief that may be.

The Saudi Position

Not surprisingly, Saudi Arabia is greatly unnerved by the political evolution in Iraq. The Saudis increasingly will rely on regional powers such as Turkey in trying to maintain a Sunni bulwark against Iran in Iraq, but Riyadh has largely resigned itself to the idea that Iraq, for now, is in Tehran’s hands. This is an uncomfortable reality for the Saudi royals to cope with, but what is amplifying Saudi Arabia’s concerns in the region right now — and apparently nudging Riyadh toward the negotiating table with Tehran — is the current situation in Bahrain.

When Shiite-led protests erupted in Bahrain in the spring, we did not view the demonstrations simply as a natural outgrowth of the so-called Arab Spring. There were certainly overlapping factors, but there was little hiding the fact that Iran had seized an opportunity to pose a nightmare scenario for the Saudi royals: an Iranian-backed Shiite uprising spreading from the isles of Bahrain to the Shiite-concentrated, oil-rich Eastern Province of the Saudi kingdom.

This explains Saudi Arabia’s hasty response to the Bahraini unrest, during which it led a rare military intervention of GCC forces in Bahrain at the invitation of Manama to stymie a broader Iranian destabilization campaign. The demonstrations in Bahrain are far calmer now than they were in  mid-March at the peak of the crisis, but the concerns of the GCC states have not subsided, and for good reason. Halfhearted attempts at national dialogues aside, Shiite dissent in this part of the region is likely to endure, and this is a reality that Iran can exploit in the long term through its developing covert capabilities.

When we saw in late June that Saudi Arabia was willingly drawing down its military presence in Bahrain at the same time the Iranians were putting out feelers in the local press on an almost daily basis regarding negotiations with Riyadh, we discovered through our sources that the pieces were beginning to fall into place for Saudi-Iranian negotiations. To understand why, we have to examine the Saudi perception of the current U.S. position in the region.

The Saudis cannot fully trust U.S. intentions at this point. The U.S. position in Iraq is tenuous at best, and Riyadh cannot rule out the possibility of Washington entering its own accommodation with Iran and thus leaving Saudi Arabia in the lurch. The United States has three basic interests: to maintain the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz, to reduce drastically the number of forces it has devoted to fighting wars with Sunni Islamist militants (who are also by definition at war with Iran), and to try to reconstruct a balance of power in the region that ultimately prevents any one state — whether Arab or Persian — from controlling all the oil in the Persian Gulf. The U.S. position in this regard is flexible, and while developing an understanding with Iran is a trying process, nothing fundamentally binds the United States to Saudi Arabia. If the United States comes to the conclusion that it does not have any good options in the near term for dealing with Iran, a U.S.-Iranian accommodation — however jarring on the surface — is not out of the question.

More immediately, the main point of negotiation between the United States and Iran is the status of U.S. forces in Iraq. Iran would prefer to see U.S. troops completely removed from its western flank, but it has already seen dramatic reductions. The question for both sides moving forward concerns not only the size but also the disposition and orientation of those remaining forces and the question of how rapidly they can be reoriented from a more vulnerable residual advisory and assistance role to a blocking force against Iran. It also must take into account how inherently vulnerable a U.S. military presence in Iraq (not to mention the remaining diplomatic presence) is to Iranian conventional and unconventional means.

The United States may be willing to recognize Iranian demands when it comes to Iran’s designs for the Iraqi government or oil concessions in the Shiite south, but it also wants to ensure that Iran does not try to overstep its bounds and threaten Saudi Arabia’s oil wealth. To reinforce a potential accommodation with Iran, the United States needs to maintain a blocking force against Iran, and this is where the U.S.-Iranian negotiation appears to be deadlocked.

The threat of a double-cross is a real one for all sides to this conflict. Iran cannot trust that the United States, once freed up, will not engage in military action against Iran down the line. The Americans cannot trust that the Iranians will not make a bid for Saudi Arabia’s oil wealth (though the military logistics required for such a move are likely beyond Iran’s capabilities at this point). Finally, the Saudis can’t trust that the United States will defend it in a time of need, especially if the United States is preoccupied with other matters and/or has developed a relationship with Iran that it feels the need to maintain.

When all this is taken together — the threat illustrated by Shiite unrest in Bahrain, the tenuous U.S. position in Iraq and the potential for Washington to strike its own deal with Tehran — Riyadh may be seeing little choice but to search out a truce with Iran, at least until it can get a clearer sense of U.S. intentions. This does not mean that the Saudis would place more trust in a relationship with their historical rivals, the Persians, than they would in a relationship with the United States. Saudi-Iranian animosity is embedded in a deep history of political, religious and economic competition between the two main powerhouses of the Persian Gulf, and it is not going to vanish with the scratch of a pen and a handshake. Instead, this would be a truce driven by short-term, tactical constraints. Such a truce would primarily aim to arrest Iranian covert activity linked to Shiite dissidents in the GCC states, giving the Sunni monarchist regimes a temporary sense of relief while they continue their efforts in trying to build up an Arab resistance to Iran.

But Iran would view such a preliminary understanding as the path toward a broader accommodation, one that would bestow recognition on Iran as the pre-eminent power of the Persian Gulf. Iran can thus be expected to make a variety of demands, all revolving around the idea of Sunni recognition of an expanded Iranian sphere of influence — a very difficult idea for Saudi Arabia to swallow.

This is where things get especially complicated. The United States theoretically might strike an accommodation with Iran, but it would do so only with the knowledge that it could rely on the traditional Sunni heavyweights in the region eventually to rebuild a relative balance of power. If the major Sunni powers reach their own accommodation with Iran, independent of the United States, the U.S. position in the region becomes all the more questionable. What would be the limits of a Saudi-Iranian negotiation? Could the United States ensure, for example, that Saudi Arabia would not bargain away U.S. military installations in a negotiation with Iran?

The Iranian defense minister broached this very idea during his speech last week when he said, “the United States has failed to establish a sustainable security system in the Persian Gulf region, and it is not possible that many vessels will maintain a permanent presence in the region.” Vahidi was seeking to convey to fellow Iranians and trying to convince the Sunni Arab powers that a U.S. security guarantee in the region does not hold as much weight as it used to, and that with Iran now filling the void, the United States may well face a much more difficult time trying to maintain its existing military installations.

The question that naturally arises from Vahidi’s statement is the future status of the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet in Bahrain, and whether Iran can instill just the right amount of fear in the minds of its Arab neighbors to shake the foundations of the U.S. military presence in the region. For now, Iran does not appear to have the military clout to threaten the GCC states to the point of forcing them to negotiate away their U.S. security guarantees in exchange for Iranian restraint. This is a threat, however, that Iran will continue to let slip and even one that Saudi Arabia quietly could use to capture Washington’s attention in the hopes of reinforcing U.S. support for the Sunni Arabs against Iran.

The Long-Term Scenario

The current dynamic places Iran in a prime position. Its political investment is paying off in Iraq, and it is positioning itself for negotiation with both the Saudis and the Americans that it hopes will fill out the contours of Iran’s regional sphere of influence. But Iranian power is not that durable in the long term.

Iran is well endowed with energy resources, but it is populous and mountainous. The cost of internal development means that while Iran can get by economically, it cannot prosper like many of its Arab competitors. Add to that a troubling demographic profile in which ethnic Persians constitute only a little more than half of the country’s population and developing challenges to the clerical establishment, and Iran clearly has a great deal going on internally distracting it from opportunities abroad.

The long-term regional picture also is not in Iran’s favor. Unlike Iran, Turkey is an ascendant country with the deep military, economic and political power to influence events in the Middle East — all under a Sunni banner that fits more naturally with the region’s religious landscape. Turkey also is the historical, indigenous check on Persian power. Though it will take time for Turkey to return to this role, strong hints of this dynamic already are coming to light.

In Iraq, Turkish influence can be felt across the political, business, security and cultural spheres as  Ankara is working quietly and fastidiously to maintain a Sunni bulwark in the country and steep Turkish influence in the Arab world. And in Syria, though the Alawite regime led by the al Assads is not at a breakpoint, there is no doubt a confrontation building between Iran and Turkey over the future of the Syrian state. Turkey has an interest in building up a viable Sunni political force in Syria that can eventually displace the Alawites, while Iran has every interest in preserving the current regime so as to maintain a strategic foothold in the Levant.

For now, the Turks are not looking for a confrontation with Iran, nor are they necessarily ready for one. Regional forces are accelerating Turkey’s rise, but it will take experience and additional pressures for Turkey to translate rhetoric into action when it comes to meaningful power projection. This is yet another factor that is likely driving the Saudis to enter their own dialogue with Iran at this time.

The Iranians are thus in a race against time. It may be a matter of a few short years before the United States frees up its attention span and is able to re-examine the power dynamics in the Persian Gulf with fresh vigor. Within that time, we would also expect Turkey to come into its own and assume its role as the region’s natural counterbalance to Iran. By then, the Iranians hope to have the structures and agreements in place to hold their ground against the prevailing regional forces, but that level of long-term security depends on Tehran’s ability to cut its way through two very thorny sets of negotiations with the Saudis and the Americans while it still has the upper hand.

23405  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Flotilla 2, the tune-up? on: July 19, 2011, 06:40:48 PM
Dispatch: Israel Intercepts Ship Bound for Gaza
July 19, 2011 | 2232 GMT
Click on image below to watch video:

Though a recent interception and boarding of a French-flagged yacht bound for Gaza occured without incident, military analyst Nate Hughes says Israel’s relationships with regimes around the region remain troubled by the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ and the potential for a resurgence of pro-Palestinian sentiment.

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

A single ship associated with the so-called second flotilla bound for Gaza was intercepted and boarded by the Israeli navy, but what’s important about this is not this minor incident — the Israelis regularly intercept ships attempting to breach the blockade into Gaza — but that so far, the incident has failed to achieve any sort of notoriety that was found in 2010 with the Mavi Marmara flotilla.

In this most recent incident, the Israeli navy first intercepted and then boarded a French-flagged yacht attempting to breach the blockade and make a run to Gaza. This is the only ship of the larger flotilla that has been able to leave Greek port. The rest are bound up there for varied administrative and bureaucratic reasons, deliberately so, but have been unable to leave port.

Tactically, this is a much more manageable problem. The problem for the Israelis in 2010, with the big flotilla incident, was that the Mavi Marmara was a large ferry, overloaded and carrying over 1,000 people and there were a number of ships in company with it that the Israelis had to manage, essentially all at once. In that incidence, the Israelis attempted to board and scuffles with the passengers led to a number of injuries among the Israeli commandos and ultimately resulted in nine dead Turkish citizens. That incident sparked an enormous political backlash against the Israelis. The Israelis learned a great deal from that raid and were certainly prepared at this point to deal with whatever the flotilla activists attempted to push through the blockade, but they have obviously made great strides in preventing the flotilla from forming in the first place.

But the important thing about the current time is the context of the so-called Arab Spring. Where as in 2010 the Israelis were in a very strong position. The Arab Spring has changed the context a little bit. Israel has sort of gotten to the point where it was taking for granted its relationship with, for example, the Mubarak regime in Egypt. While that regime is still in place, minus Mubarak, the problem is that Cairo is walking a much finer line with its own people than it has been in the past and it is very focused on containing the unrest. What this means is that if the unrest in Egypt and in the wider region were to take on, not just the current Democratic and disaffected nature, but took on a more pro-Palestinian, anti-Israeli line, that would put a number of regimes in the region upon which Israel relies for, if not overt, at least covert and clandestine coordination assistance, in a much more difficult place and could make Israel’s immediate neighborhood a lot more difficult to manage.

23406  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Media Issues on: July 19, 2011, 02:14:42 PM
In that Scotland Yard appears to have been a major player in this, serious fox in the hen house issues are presented by any investigation.
23407  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Chess on: July 19, 2011, 02:13:27 PM
Post just wiped out  angry

Loved Waitkins book and sharing the SFBF movie. Thanks for the DS URL.

23408  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: The Older Warrior on: July 19, 2011, 02:06:43 PM
or a "never was".

As the country music song says "I ain't as young as I once was, but I am as young once as I ever was."
23409  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: DBMA Training Camp August 12-14 on: July 19, 2011, 02:05:02 PM
Woof Jim:

Good questions:

1) Length is up to you.  Most people use about 30" (I like 31 myself) and yes KK movement is best learned with KK length sticks.  Once your body understands it, you can bring it to standard length sticks.  If it is awkward for you to bring KK length sticks, I probably have some fuglies you can borrow.

2) Training knives:  I recommend 1-2 aluminum and 1-2 of the NOK training knives (ahem , , ,available on our catalog  cheesy

3) Yes, we will have staffs and everything else available for sale at the camp.

4) Training Gun would be nice to have for the anti-carjacking material, but remember, the focus is RCSFg.
23410  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Murder? Whistle blower found dead on: July 19, 2011, 01:55:16 PM
23411  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Housing/Mortgage/Real Estate on: July 19, 2011, 11:13:19 AM
Housing starts increased 14.6% in June To view this article, Click Here
Brian S. Wesbury - Chief Economist
Robert Stein, CFA - Senior Economist
Date: 7/19/2011

Housing starts increased 14.6% in June to 629,000 units at an annual rate, easily beating the consensus expected pace of 575,000.  Starts are up 16.7% versus a year ago.

The increase in June was about evenly split between multi-family starts, which rose 30.4% (and which are extremely volatile from month to month) and single-family starts, which rose 9.4%. Multi-family starts are double levels from a year ago while single-family starts are up 0.4%.
Starts rose in all major regions of the country.
New building permits increased 2.5% in June to a 624,000 annual rate, also easily beating consensus expectations. Compared to a year ago, permits for multi-unit homes are up 34.0% while permits for single-family units are down 3.8%.
Implications:  Housing starts spiked higher in June, rising 14.6%, well above consensus expectations. The gains were about evenly split between the volatile multi-family sector, which has been trending higher since late 2009, and single-family homes. This gain supports our view from a couple of months ago that the dip in home building in the Spring was due to the unusually wicked tornado season. The details of today’s report were strong as well. Building permits, a sign of future activity, beat consensus expectations and the total number of homes under construction increased for the first time since 2006. Starts are not going to increase every month, but home building is set to trend higher over the next several years. Population growth and “scrappage” rates suggest that once the excess inventory of homes is cleared that the underlying trend for building activity is about 1.6 million starts per year. That’s about 2.5 times current levels. In other words, home building must increase substantially just to get back to “normal” levels, not even to go back to the overbuilding of the prior decade. For at least the near term, growth in multi-family construction should outpace the growth in single-family units. There is an ongoing shift toward renting rather than owning. Part of that shift is due to tight credit conditions which are unlikely to disappear very soon.
23412  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: The Destruction of America by Hollywood et al on: July 19, 2011, 11:06:16 AM
I get that, but the theme of this thread includes the destruction of America's reputation and the stiumulation of anti-American feelings in the world. 

Anyway, I simply speak of my visceral reaction to the movie.
23413  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Chess on: July 19, 2011, 11:02:42 AM
Good comments-- thank you. smiley
23414  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Jefferson on Reason in 1822 on: July 19, 2011, 10:58:31 AM
"Man, once surrendering his reason, has no remaining guard against absurdities the most monstrous, and like a ship without rudder, is the sport of every wind. With such persons, gullibility, which they call faith, takes the helm from the hand of reason and the mind becomes a wreck." --Thomas Jefferson, letter to James Smith, 1822

23415  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: The Destruction of America by Hollywood et al on: July 19, 2011, 10:44:07 AM
a) re Hat Tips-- these URLs are real world examples of what Machete calls for.

b) re "Sex and the City 2", I don't mean this sarcastically at all but rather in complete sincerity, as Louie Armstrong answered when asked to define jazz "If you have to ask, I don't know how to tell you."
23416  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: European “Gathering of the Pack” 2011 on: July 19, 2011, 10:40:21 AM
I thought you were at dangerous work on another continent altogether?
23417  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: The Older Warrior on: July 19, 2011, 10:39:06 AM
Good one  smiley
23418  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: KALI TUDO (tm) Article on: July 19, 2011, 10:35:27 AM

You are on track!

Forgive me the moment of shameless marketing, but there is more full discussion of this question within the DBMA Ass'n wink

23419  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stand Strong Tea Party! on: July 18, 2011, 07:21:19 PM
Second post, posted here because of connection to Tea Party

The Debt Battle Is Good for the GOP
Tea party Republicans speak for a large group of voters who have been swinging back and forth between the parties for more than a decade..

Watching the debt-ceiling battle on Capitol Hill—and even more the battle between the tea party young guns and older House Republicans—feels like déjà vu, or, rather, 1995, all over again.

Sixteen years ago, in the middle of the government shutdown, I found myself racing up Capitol Hill in a car filled with Republican congressmen. I had expected to hear talk of standing firm, of arguing their case for spending cuts on the House floor, of raising banners with bright, bold colors.

As I'd learned from years in the Reagan White House, confidence, clarity and consistency were essential to winning such high-stakes showdowns. Instead, these seasoned politicians were wringing their hands, snapping at any stalwart suggestion, and asking, "How did we get ourselves into this mess and how do we get out?"

Then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich takes criticism to this day for surrendering too quickly in his face-off with President Bill Clinton. Exhibit One has been the incredulous jubilation of Clinton staffers when Mr. Gingrich accepted an offer they regarded as the start of serious bargaining, not the end. But the speaker was dealing with what I saw in that car ride up the Hill—a majority that could not hold. Too many members were melting under White House and, even more, media heat. Raising the white flag reflected no more than a bow to reality. The GOP retreat could be orderly or chaotic. Mr. Gingrich prevented panic.

Today, again, the GOP caucus is divided, but with a difference. The tea party freshmen are insisting on a strong negotiating stance. They want real spending cuts without tax increases. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has become their voice in the budget talks. Reflecting uncertainty about holding non-freshmen in line, both Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker John Boehner have signaled readiness to accept cosmetic compromises.

Mr. Boehner in particular is responding to House members desperately in search of cover from fallout over the president's threat to delay Social Security checks if the debt ceiling isn't raised. Many are terrified of Democratic attack ads painting them as would-be destroyers of Medicare. The GOP defeat this May in the special election in New York's 26th District shook them, which is a sign of how badly they've defended their positions.

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Associated Press
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
.After all, if Social Security tax receipts don't cover all the checks in any month, the Social Security Trust Fund can sell its government bonds, bills and notes, as Sen. Jim DeMint (R., S.C), recently suggested. The holdings are enormous, and sales, even at a discount, could cover the system's needs for years, much less the time to finish budget parlaying.

So, if the checks stop coming, it will be the president who decided to stop them. That's not a hard message to get across.

Meanwhile, messaging on Medicare should be in Republicans' favor, not against them. Without reform, the system is doomed—and sooner than used to be thought, thanks to the half-trillion-dollar cuts written into Mr. Obama's health-reform legislation last year.

So, if Democrats don't like the budget reforms proposed by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, they should propose something else. There will be lots of ideas put on the table before this is done. Medicare's only enemy is Dr. No, those who say "no" to exploring any reforms—and Dr. No is the role congressional Democrats and the administration are playing today.

Congressional tea party Republicans hold a stronger hand than anyone realizes. They speak for a large group of voters who have been swinging back and forth between the parties for more than a decade, determined the last three elections, and are likely to determine the 2012 outcome.

As early as 2005 at least one pollster—Kellyanne Conway—reported that part of the Bush 2004 vote was becoming disaffected over revulsion at federal spending. After the 2006 GOP debacle, then Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman told his troops they had got out their vote, which, as he said, then voted for the other guys.

Those same voters stayed with the other guys in 2008. But by 2010, the new Obama administration's multiple trillion-dollar bailouts and stimulus packages had driven them back toward the GOP, with one hitch. They still didn't trust the party and its officeholders.

The national tea party movement is just the most vocal element in this much larger wave. By and large, polling has not captured it. Pollsters follow the movements of demographic groups or the changing preferences of party loyalists and independents. They typically do not try to identify something like Bush voters of 2004 who became Obama voters in 2008 and GOP House voters in 2010. The tea party is the first broadly based American political insurgency since California's Proposition 13 in the 1970s. Sure, its fervor will make the old guard uncomfortable, but intensity is what the GOP needs.

In short, the tea party movement is Reaganism updated. A contest has been fought over and over in Washington since Republicans embraced cutting tax rates and nondefense spending under Ronald Reagan in the early '80s. When Republicans have united behind these priorities, they have won elections. Nervous Republicans should bear that in mind when they begin to go wobbly on something as basic as reining in spending and refusing to raise taxes. And achieving that unity has always been difficult.

Global markets must receive a clear signal that Washington has the political will to reduce spending radically. If market jitters over U.S. government debt do not convince congressional Republicans that, in the days ahead, they should hold firm for spending cuts, politics should.

Mr. Judge is managing director of the White House Writers Group and chairman of Pacific Research Institute. He was a speechwriter and special assistant to the president during the Reagan administration.

23420  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / 70% coming soon? on: July 18, 2011, 07:17:33 PM

President Obama has been using the debt-ceiling debate and bipartisan calls for deficit reduction to demand higher taxes. With unemployment stuck at 9.2% and a vigorous economic "recovery" appearing more and more elusive, his timing couldn't be worse.

Two problems arise when marginal tax rates are raised. First, as college students learn in Econ 101, higher marginal rates cause real economic harm. The combined marginal rate from all taxes is a vital metric, since it heavily influences incentives in the economy—workers and employers, savers and investors base decisions on after-tax returns. Thus tax rates need to be kept as low as possible, on the broadest possible base, consistent with financing necessary government spending.

Second, as tax rates rise, the tax base shrinks and ultimately, as Art Laffer has long argued, tax rates can become so prohibitive that raising them further reduces revenue—not to mention damaging the economy. That is where U.S. tax rates are headed if we do not control spending soon.

The current top federal rate of 35% is scheduled to rise to 39.6% in 2013 (plus one-to-two points from the phase-out of itemized deductions for singles making above $200,000 and couples earning above $250,000). The payroll tax is 12.4% for Social Security (capped at $106,000), and 2.9% for Medicare (no income cap). While the payroll tax is theoretically split between employers and employees, the employers' share is ultimately shifted to workers in the form of lower wages.

But there are also state income taxes that need to be kept in mind. They contribute to the burden. The top state personal rate in California, for example, is now about 10.5%. Thus the marginal tax rate paid on wages combining all these taxes is 44.1%. (This is a net figure because state income taxes paid are deducted from federal income.)

So, for a family in high-cost California taxed at the top federal rate, the expiration of the Bush tax cuts in 2013, the 0.9% increase in payroll taxes to fund ObamaCare, and the president's proposal to eventually uncap Social Security payroll taxes would lift its combined marginal tax rate to a stunning 58.4%.

But wait, things get worse. As Milton Friedman taught decades ago, the true burden on taxpayers today is government spending; government borrowing requires future interest payments out of future taxes. To cover the Congressional Budget Office projection of Mr. Obama's $841 billion deficit in 2016 requires a 31.7% increase in all income tax rates (and that's assuming the Social Security income cap is removed). This raises the top rate to 52.2% and brings the total combined marginal tax rate to 68.8%. Government, in short, would take over two-thirds of any incremental earnings.

Many Democrats demand no changes to Social Security and Medicare spending. But these programs are projected to run ever-growing deficits totaling tens of trillions of dollars in coming decades, primarily from rising real benefits per beneficiary. To cover these projected deficits would require continually higher income and payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare on all taxpayers that would drive the combined marginal tax rate on labor income to more than 70% by 2035 and 80% by 2050. And that's before accounting for the Laffer effect, likely future interest costs, state deficits and the rising ratio of voters receiving government payments to those paying income taxes.

It would be a huge mistake to imagine that the cumulative, cascading burden of many tax rates on the same income will leave the middle class untouched. Take a teacher in California earning $60,000. A current federal rate of 25%, a 9.5% California rate, and 15.3% payroll tax yield a combined income tax rate of 45%. The income tax increases to cover the CBO's projected federal deficit in 2016 raises that to 52%. Covering future Social Security and Medicare deficits brings the combined marginal tax rate on that middle-income taxpayer to an astounding 71%. That teacher working a summer job would keep just 29% of her wages. At the margin, virtually everyone would be working primarily for the government, reduced to a minority partner in their own labor.

Nobody—rich, middle-income or poor—can afford to have the economy so burdened. Higher tax rates are the major reason why European per-capita income, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, is about 30% lower than in the United States—a permanent difference many times the temporary decline in the recent recession and anemic recovery.

Some argue the U.S. economy can easily bear higher pre-Reagan tax rates. They point to the 1930s-1950s, when top marginal rates were between 79% and 94%, or the Carter-era 1970s, when the top rate was about 70%. But those rates applied to a much smaller fraction of taxpayers and kicked in at much higher income levels relative to today.

There were also greater opportunities for sheltering income from the income tax. The lower marginal tax rates in the 1980s led to the best quarter-century of economic performance in American history. Large increases in tax rates are a recipe for economic stagnation, socioeconomic ossification, and the loss of American global competitiveness and leadership.

There is only one solution to this growth-destroying, confiscatory tax-rate future: Control spending growth, especially of entitlements. Meaningful tax reform—not with higher rates as Mr. Obama proposes, but with lower rates on a broader base of economic activity and people—can be an especially effective complement to spending control. But without increased spending discipline, even the best tax reforms are doomed to be undone.

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.

23421  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ against BBA on: July 18, 2011, 07:10:46 PM
This makes a lot of sense to me:

Republicans this week plan to force votes in the House and Senate on a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The last time Congress voted on a BBA was in 1997. It failed. The first unsuccessful BBA was proposed in 1936. All efforts between now and then to vote a balanced budget amendment into the Constitution have failed. This one will as well, as there are sufficient Democratic votes in the Senate to block it.

What, then, is the point?

The point is that many Republicans—and we suspect silently more than a few Democrats—are frustrated and sickened at the spectacle of the nation's debt bursting past $14 trillion, with the prospect that the debt soon may reach 100% of GDP. They are upset as well that the Obama Presidency has pushed federal spending upward, from its historic postwar level around 20% of GDP to near 25% this year. Proponents of the BBA argue that only a spending limitation embedded in the Constitution can stop the U.S. fisc from going over the cliff.

These pages bear enough scars from the spending wars—against both political parties—to have won Milton Friedman spending-limitation citations many times over. But we have been writing since at least the 1995 vote on a balanced budget amendment that we do not believe this mechanism can achieve its desired result. Its effects may even prove perverse. We see no reason to change that view now.

The newest versions of the BBA include a strong provision requiring a two-thirds supermajority vote to increase taxes. That said, we doubt the historic 1981 Reagan tax cuts within the Kemp-Roth bill, once subjected to Congress's revenue-neutrality accountants, could have survived the balanced budget mandate. Even with deficits, the U.S. grew strongly for seven years, adding to GDP as much as the entire West German economy.

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Getty Images/Stock Illustration Source
 .Nor is it clear that the amendment could avoid unintended consequences. In the current fight over spending and the debt, the GOP Congressional leadership has worked well to protect the defense budget from a President who constantly cites the need to cut it. But under a mandated need to balance spending, the inevitable horse-trading would likely default to cutting defense while ducking fights on domestic programs.

The Senate and House versions both contain waivers in times of military conflict, but these are fraught with problems. The supermajority requirement for taxes is waived if a "declaration of war" is in effect, or if a majority votes to support spending for a conflict "which causes an imminent and serious military threat" as described in a joint resolution of Congress. Sounds complicated. Would Ronald Reagan's spending that did so much to end the Cold War have survived these hurdles?

Tea party Republicans, to their credit, want to pass a BBA that would include the supermajority tax limitation. But it has no chance of passing, and absent that rule, political pressure could turn the amendment into a driver for the entitlement state as successive Democratic governments raised taxes, most likely with a European-style value-added tax to balance spending commitments.

The new Members who are intent on fiscal responsibility should visit with Congressional historians to discover a root cause of this modern spending catastrophe—the 1974 Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act, the most laughable title ever placed on a federal law.

Passed amid Richard Nixon's struggles over spending with Congress, the law eviscerated the President's ability to impound Congressional spending. The law itself was an act of rage against Nixon's impoundments. "Control" over spending tipped into the hands of Congress, as is clear from the upward path of federal spending post-1974. This was the start of the infamous "baseline" budgeting rules, which automatically ratchet up spending from one year to the next.

Rather than trying to scale the impossibly high cliff of a Constitutional amendment, younger Members should revisit that bad law and fix it. Tom DeLay never wanted to fix it, but Paul Ryan does. The goal of an achievable reform act would be to put spending on a downward slope. That would include getting rid of baseline budgeting, restoring the Presidential impoundment power (if liberal Congresses hated it, it must have been good), and requiring the two-thirds majority for tax increases.

The BBA's supporters are right that the U.S. is riding a runaway entitlement train. That train, however, is the product of politics, and politics is the way it will have to be stopped. The main political impact of the BBA, however, will be to give "moderate" Senate Democrats up for re-election next year a chance to enhance their prospects by voting "for" spending control they don't believe in.

We certainly support the House GOP's plan today to vote to cut spending by $111 billion in fiscal 2012, and to cap spending in future years at a gradually smaller share of the economy. They should make this plan their main political argument, and leave the Constitution out of it.

23422  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: 2012 Presidential on: July 18, 2011, 06:30:39 PM
Ahem , , ,  cheesy

"If anyone wants to take this further please use the Legal Issues presented by the War with Islamic Fascism thread."

23423  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: European “Gathering of the Pack” 2011 on: July 18, 2011, 06:28:52 PM
"Over 50 fighters on the day, 65 registered but for many reasons several people couldn't attend." 

Perhaps a last minute mini-epidemic of vaginitis?  evil cheesy

23424  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Cain's statements on blocking mosques on: July 18, 2011, 04:25:30 PM
23425  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / And so it goes on: July 18, 2011, 04:23:56 PM
Libyan rebel forces claimed Monday that they had taken the eastern town of [Marsa el] Brega, a lucrative port town home to key oil-related infrastructure. The rebel spokesman who made the claim said that rebels are currently trying to clear the city of landmines while the Libyan army continues to attack their positions with missile fire from the west. Even if the rebel claims are true, there is no evidence that they’ll be able to hold Brega, much less push further west along the coast towards Tripoli. Meanwhile, the push towards a political solution to end the Libyan war continues. The longer this goes, the more likely the NATO countries leading the campaign — France, the U.S. and the U.K. — are to seek a negotiated settlement, something to which Gadhafi will be reticent to agree.

This is not the first time that rebels have taken the town of Brega. It actually happened last April as well, shortly after the NATO air campaign began. Rebel forces made it all the way to the eastern outskirts of Gadhafi’s hometown of Sirte in April before being pushed back in April, and Gadhafi’s forces may very well push them back this time as well. There has yet to be a true military shift on the ground in Libya. NATO jets have been bombing the country for four months but the fundamental problem remains, and that is that the rebel forces are not able to make any meaningful advance on Tripoli.

There are three fronts in the Libyan war. The main one is in the east, where Brega is located. Then there is the pocket of rebellion in the western coastal town of Misurata, and finally there are the Berber guerillas in the Nafusa Mountains southwest of the capital. Rebel forces have made advances on all three fronts in the last month, but on none of these fronts do they stand any good chance of pushing through in the near future.

Problems of proper arms and equipment, sufficient military training and, perhaps most importantly, good leadership continue to create problems for the rebels. The terrain on the approaches to Tripoli also creates problems for any invasion of the capital: flat ground that is devoid of any natural defenses gives the advantage to the heavily fortified Libyan army. It’s true that Gadhafi’s forces have been degraded as well by the months-long NATO campaign, but nothing short of a complete implosion of the regime will open up the door to Tripoli.

The rebels’ military deficiencies will play a big role in the path towards finding a solution to the war in Libya. NATO has displayed a commitment to maintaining the bombing campaign for the next few months at least, but its member states are not willing to send in ground troops. And so the coalition seems to be hoping for one of two things: that an airstrike can assassinate Gadhafi, which is an unlikely scenario, or that continuous military pressure will lead to the implosion of the Gadhafi regime. This is why the western powers currently bombing Libya are simultaneously laying the groundwork for a political solution, just in case the military option doesn’t work. All of these countries are still in agreement that Gadhafi must go but the question is how to enforce this.

Certainly the issuance of an ICC warrant for Gadhafi’s arrest will only decrease his willingness to step down in any sort of negotiated settlement. And the talks that will inevitably begin, should things continue to follow the current trajectory, will most likely involve other members of the Gadhafi regime rather than the Brother Leader himself. But where it goes from there will be dictated in large part by the force the Libyan rebels are able to bring to bear.

23426  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / "Flexible monogamy" on: July 18, 2011, 03:44:16 PM

"[M]arriage, redefined to include homosexuals, is now open to further redefinition to suit the homosexual lifestyle. Just a week after the New York law passed, the New York Times ran a piece promoting the practice of 'flexible' monogamy, or infidelity with permission -- a common practice in 'committed' homosexual relationships. The thesis? It 'works' for the homosexual community, so heterosexuals should try it too. ... Societies that legitimize substitutes for traditional marriage (homosexual 'marriage,' civil unions, cohabitation) inevitably witness the decline of authentic marriage. And as marriage declines, family structures weaken, producing cracks in the bedrock of a stable society. The result? Children suffer. ... Be unequivocal with your children. This is not about 'fairness' or 'equality.' It's about morality and the strength of civil society. Homosexual behavior is wrong. And homosexual relationships are not equivalent to heterosexual marriages, no matter what the New York legislature says." --columnist Rebecca Hagelin

23427  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / SEIU tactics on: July 18, 2011, 03:39:10 PM
23428  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Remix of Carter Malaise Speech and His Glibness on: July 18, 2011, 03:36:23 PM
23429  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / A Jew thanks Glenn Beck on: July 18, 2011, 03:22:59 PM
A Jew Thanks Glenn Beck

Posted By Ben Shapiro On July 18, 2011 @ 12:45 am In Daily Mailer,FrontPage | 9 Comments

Since Glenn Beck’s dramatic rise to prominence two years ago, he has been portrayed by many members of the left as a kook.  The members of the left condemning Beck most loudly, to my utter dismay, have been Jews.  Jon Liebowitz, aka Jon Stewart, has dedicated his show to mocking Beck as a religious freak and a nut job; in his episode on Beck’s departure from his Fox News show, Stewart donned Beck-like glasses and then scoffed, “Glenn Beck was sent here by Jesus to take the 5:00 p.m. slot between Neil Cavuto and Shepard Smith for 27 months.”  Rob Eshman of the atrocious Los Angeles Jewish Journal said that Beck’s expose of self-hating Jew and anti-Israel fanatic George Soros was “the verbal equivalent of a Der Sturmer cartoon.”  Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, which spends far less time targeting radical Muslims who want to murder Jews than commentators who love Israel, condemned that same Beck vs. Soros episode as “completely inappropriate, offensive, and over the top.”  The Jewish Funds for Justice, a far-left Jewish organization, ran a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal taking on Beck.

Let me say this: I stand with Glenn Beck, and against these Jews.

Glenn Beck is a friend of Israel.  He is a friend of the Jewish people.  And anyone who argues otherwise is either lying or ignorant.

Beck possesses a moral clarity with regard to the Jewish State that has no equivalent in the leftist Jewish community.  He recognizes that Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians is not a conflict over land or over population exchange, but over fundamental values.  This week, Beck travelled to Israel, where he spoke eloquently about the Fogel family butchered in its sleep by Palestinian terrorists earlier this year.  “There’s something bigger than politics here,” he stated.  “I don’t think in my lifetime I’ve seen a more clear definition of evil that has been dismissed.”  In fact, Beck dedicated several segments on his Fox News show to explicating the Fogel family slaughter, exposing the American people to the true face of moral monstrosity as embodied by the Palestinians who celebrate such murders.

In his speech to the Knesset, Beck explained that he understood the conflict between Israel and anti-Semites the world over:  “I got my first death threat, because I came back and said the truth – the conflict is about the destruction of Israel and the end to the Western way of life …. What’s disturbing is that if a guy gets on television or the radio and says the truth, and that’s so unusual, then Israel and the Western way of life are in great danger.”

More impressive than his speech to Knesset is the fact that Beck does tell the truth to the American people about the Israel situation.  Too many on the conservative side of the aisle – Israel supporters! – will not label the conflict in pure moral terms.  They grant legitimacy to President Obama’s attempts to leverage Israel into concessions, or to the mad musings of Thomas Friedman, who believes that a few bucks can buy off Palestinian radicals.  They pretend that if the conditions are made just right, then peace will be achieved.

Beck, on the other hand, sees the conflict as it is, in its stark contrast between the forces of light and the forces of darkness.  And he stands with the forces of light in that battle.  “Where you go, I will go,” he told Knesset, quoting the Book of Ruth.  “Where you lodge, I will lodge.  Your people are my people.  Your God is my God, and where you die I shall die.”

Israel has never had friends like Glenn Beck before the religious conservative movement in America.  Jews are afraid to embrace Beck because he is so overtly religious, so utterly unafraid of mentioning God in public or with regard to Israel.  That that is why Jews should embrace him.  The Judeo-Christian notion of God is the unifying factor between America and Israel.

Beck sees the war, even though many Jews do not.  Some Jews are too cosmopolitan for Beck – Jon Stewart, for example, doesn’t bear any great love for Israel, since that would presumably be “ethnocentric” and unprogressive.  Some Jews are too parochial, like Eshman, thinking that Beck represents an old-school religion that will result in pogroms, or at the least, closed country clubs.

Those Jews are dead wrong.  Beck is an ally, and a very real one.  He represents millions of Americans who ally with Israel and the Jews.  Jewish Americans ought to roll out the welcome mat to Beck.  He’s certainly rolled out the red carpet for Israel.

locations change
23430  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Drug tests for welfare. on: July 18, 2011, 03:10:39 PM
Third post of the day:

No matter where we stand on the War on Drugs, I think we can all agree with this one.

We need this in all the states.
Florida is the first state that will require drug testing when applying for welfare (effective July 1st)! Some people are crying this is unconstitutional. How is this unconstitutional yet it's okay that every working person had to pass a drug test in order to support those on welfare?
Re-post if you… agree. Let's get Welfare back to the one's who NEED it, not those who W A NT it... 
23431  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: 2012 Presidential on: July 18, 2011, 11:41:03 AM
JDN:  Doug is right.  My statement did not take sides.  Please read more carefully.

PS: But not to duck the issue.  I do have sympathy for the point that Cain makes:  As Doug notes, the we do not have the full version of his views on this subject, but generally I regard it as valid to note that Islam theocratic i.e. both a religion and a political ideology-- and the political ideology is seditious to the American Creed.  This I think needs to be stated plainly, openly, and fearlessly.

PS:  I also oppose freedom of religion for the Aztec religion of human sacrifice.

If anyone wants to take this further please use the Legal Issues presented by the War with Islamic Fascism thread.
23432  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Patriot Post: Bullet Train to Bankruptcy on: July 18, 2011, 10:49:19 AM
Second post of the morning:

The Foundation
"The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave." --Patrick Henry


Bullet train to bankruptcy"The country is on a high-speed bullet train to bankruptcy (the only kind of bullets liberals approve of), and the Democrats' motto is: Spend! Spend! Spend! Democrats are at an advantage in the 'should the U.S. go bankrupt or not?' debate because, based on their economic policies so far, they obviously favor bankruptcy. This allows them to sit back and demand that Republicans propose all the spending cuts and then turn around and scream that Republicans have declared war on the poor and disadvantaged. It's a nice trick, especially considering Republicans control only the House. Meanwhile, the Democrats control all other branches of our government: the Senate, the White House, and The New York Times op/ed page. What's their plan? Their plan is to keep spending, while blaming tax breaks for corporate jets for the entire $14.3 trillion deficit. The Democrats will never suggest any cuts to a budget that has put the country another $4 trillion in debt only since Obama became president. So Republicans keep proposing cuts and Democrats keep riling up the increasingly large number of people who get checks from the government. Nothing ever gets cut, but more people hate Republicans for having proposed any cuts at all. ... If Republicans cut government spending, recipients of government checks come after them with pitchforks. If the Republicans refuse to raise the debt ceiling to force spending cuts, the economy collapses. In general, the trend seems to be in the direction of higher spending and endless debt." --columnist Ann Coulter

Essential Liberty
"The depressing debate over the debt ceiling underscores just how recklessly the ruling class has squandered America's sacred heritage -- a heritage I had the privilege of revisiting up close this past week on a family vacation. The contrast between the sublime historical locations we experienced during the day and the alarming news we ingested each night about the dire state of our nation's financial condition couldn't have been starker. Upon witnessing the majesty of our historical sites, it's difficult not to be outraged at the irresponsible stewardship of our do-gooder ruling class. These elites are on the final leg of their long journey to uproot our founding principles and remake the nation in their quest for moral self-realization through public acts of philanthropy with other people's money and liberty. In the name of compassion, they have systematically undermined our founding ideals of life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and equal opportunity under the law. ... I am more convinced than ever that words alone are insufficient to express the richness of America's heritage and the debt we owe our Founding Fathers and all others who sacrificed so much so that we could be free. As we measure the forces determined to structurally change this nation, divest us of our liberties and, in the process, inevitably bankrupt us, let us always be mindful of the sacrifice of these great men, who bequeathed to us our liberties, and honor them and our posterity by redoubling our commitment to fight to the end to preserve them." --columnist David Limbaugh

Opinion in Brief
"[P]resident Obama's statements that he may have to stop Social Security checks, veterans' checks and disability checks shows just how bankrupt our country is. If we literally don't have the cash to pay those checks out of our current stockpiles, how is borrowing more money going to cure the problem? ... By tacitly admitting that government benefit schemes are month-to-month, [Obama's] admitting that the underlying structure of these systems is not self-sustaining. That's a major shift for a man who, in August 2010, proclaimed, 'Social Security is not in crisis.' ... President Obama has now embraced a binary choice: either he can screw current taxpayers or he can screw past taxpayers. Those who depend on their Social Security check to pay the rent are now being asked to suffer a double burden: The burden of paying their original Social Security tax as well as the burden of forgoing their expected return. The alternative is asking those who currently pay taxes to suffer a double burden: paying a higher tax rate and then forgoing their check somewhere down the road." --columnist Ben Shapiro

Political Futures
"Rarely ... has any administration been so disconnected from Reality as is the one now lecturing us. Who strong-armed through Congress a health insurance measure on the supposition that somehow we, the taxpayers, will cough up the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of billions necessary to pay for it forever? As everyone and his dog knows, the Affordable Care Act was the Obama administration's bright idea. Ironically, the president plans next year, while seeking re-election, to pat himself enthusiastically on the back for winning passage of the very measure that makes control of federal spending so devilishly hard. Having told us to eat our peas, he plans next to remind us how good they tasted." --columnist William Murchison

Re: The Left
"In the midst of testy debt-limit negotiations, Obama told House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, 'Don't call my bluff.' The first rule in bluffing is to keep it a secret that you're bluffing. So, technically speaking, that's like a con man saying, 'Don't give any weight to the fact that I'm lying.' ... His remark about not calling his bluff notwithstanding, Obama has at least demonstrated the political professionalism to read his lines. His refusal to sign a short-term debt-ceiling extension is, according to him, an act of moral leadership, high-minded pragmatism and flat-out bravery. 'I've reached my limit. This may bring my presidency down, but I will not yield on this,' Obama reportedly said about his determination to have a long-term deal. He says he wants the deal because America can't continue to kick the can down the road, even though that's what he did during his entire presidency until the GOP got in the way. My suspicion is that if he read his stage direction instead of his lines, it would sound very different. Something like: 'I want to be positioned as if I'm taking the high road, but I'm really just trying to kick this can past the 2012 election. I want to keep asking for things Republicans won't agree to so I can paint them as irresponsible. So, whatever you do, don't call my bluff.'" --columnist Jonah Goldberg

For the Record
"Let me start by saying American should pay its debts. If the debts are really, really large -- that's too bad. We owe the money and we have to pay it. We're the richest, most blessed nation in the history of the world and we have to pay what we owe. Period. ... On Wednesday a company known as a ratings agency, Standard & Poor's, weighed in on this debt limit business by putting the whole U.S. of A. on what it calls a 'credit watch.' If we slip into the Wayback Machine we will see that S&P along with its partner in crime, Moody's Investor Services, were two of the major players in pretending that all those securitized mortgage instruments that were being bought and sold up until the whole world went broke had 'AAA' ratings even though they turned out to have the accumulated value of a bucket of beach sand. Standard & Poor's either lied about the value of all those mortgages, or it didn't understand how to value them, or it did understand that they were worthless but it (and Moody's) collected fees from the geniuses who almost made our ATM cards as useful as baseball cards in our bicycle spokes. ... If I were in a position to do so, I would haul the heads of Moody's and S&P in front of Congress, make them swear to tell the truth, and ask them if they had any conversations with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner or any of his people prior to issuing this warning. My strong suspicion is that the White House, looking for leverage, told Geithner to call his buds at Moody's and S&P and get them to issue a warning hoping it would weaken the resolve of Congressional Republicans." --political analyst Rich Galen

"The only freedom deserving the name, is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it. Each is the proper guardian of his own health, whether bodily, or mental and spiritual. Mankind are greater gainers by suffering each other to live as seems good to themselves, than by compelling each to live as seems good to the rest." --British philosopher and economist John Stuart Mill (1806-1873)

The Gipper
"I have wondered at times about what the Ten Commandment's would have looked like if Moses had run them through the U.S. Congress." --Ronald Reagan

23433  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Immigration issues on: July 18, 2011, 10:46:13 AM

I like to think I read with above average reading comprehension.  My comments were directed at what you said, not the article you quoted.
23434  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: 2012 Presidential on: July 18, 2011, 10:28:12 AM
Well, for me he was already ruled out due to shocking levels of ignorance and lack of thought on foreign affairs.

Separately, I saw a report that he said something to the effect that communities should be able to prevent mosques?  Were he being taken more seriously as a candidate, this might get some more play.
23435  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Poverty in the US on: July 18, 2011, 10:25:35 AM
Posted here because of its connection to govt programs and spending:

What Is Poverty in America?

As Congress struggles to find a way to cut spending as part of raising the $14 trillion debt ceiling, they should take a close look at the more than $1 trillion spent every year on welfare. You'll be surprised to learn that many of the 30 million Americans defined as "poor" and in need of government assistance aren't quite what you'd expect—rather than homeless and on the streets, the average poor American household has luxuries like air conditioning, cable TV, and X-box video game consoles.

In their new report, What Is Poverty?, The Heritage Foundation's Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield analyze what it really means to be poor in America. The reality they found is much different than the picture painted in movies and on TV:

According to the government’s own survey data, in 2005, the average household defined as poor by the government lived in a house or apartment equipped with air conditioning and cable TV. The family had a car (a third of the poor have two or more cars). For entertainment, the household had two color televisions, a DVD player, and a VCR.

If there were children in the home (especially boys), the family had a game system, such as an Xbox or PlayStation. In the kitchen, the household had a microwave, refrigerator, and an oven and stove. Other household conveniences included a washer and dryer, ceiling fans, a cordless phone, and a coffee maker.

The home of the average poor family was in good repair and not overcrowded. In fact, the typical poor American had more living space than the average European. (Note: That’s average European, not poor European.) The average poor family was able to obtain medical care when needed. When asked, most poor families stated they had had sufficient funds during the past year to meet all essential needs.

By its own report, the family was not hungry. The average intake of protein, vitamins, and minerals by poor children is indistinguishable from children in the upper middle class and, in most cases, is well above recommended norms. Poor boys today at ages 18 and 19 are actually taller and heavier than middle-class boys of similar age in the late 1950s and are a full one inch taller and 10 pounds heavier than American soldiers who fought in World War II. The major dietary problem facing poor Americans is eating too much, not too little; the majority of poor adults, like most Americans, are overweight.

That's a far cry from the images the news media conjure up on TV. But it's the reality of those who are defined as poor in America.

To be sure, the average poor family does not represent every poor family, and there are some who are better off and some who are worse off. Though most of the poor are well-housed, at any given point during the recession in 2009, about one in 70 poor persons was homeless, and one in five experienced temporary food shortages. Those individuals have serious concerns. But the fact remains that U.S. government statistics on poverty misrepresent the reality.

That misrepresentation has international implications. Rector and Sheffield explain that U.S. government poverty statistics portray a misleading negative image around the world. Al Jazeera, Iran's Teheran Times, Chinese and Russian media have latched on to U.S. poverty statistics to depict the United States as a failed, nightmarish society. And nothing could be further from the truth.

President Obama plans to make this situation worse by creating a new "poverty" measure that deliberately severs all connection between "poverty" and actual deprivation. Rector and Sheffield say that the goal is to measure income "inequality," not poverty—giving the President public relations ammunition for his "spread-the-wealth" agenda.

Rector and Sheffield write that when it comes to making policy, the broader reality of what poverty in America means should be taken into consideration: "Sound public policy cannot be based on faulty information or misunderstanding . . . In the long term, grossly exaggerating the extent and severity of material deprivation in the U.S. will benefit neither the poor, the economy, nor society as a whole."
23436  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: The Destruction of America by Hollywood et al on: July 18, 2011, 09:39:08 AM
Underlining my point and my anger is this:

Hat tip to GM.
23437  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Madison, Federalist 14; 1787 on: July 18, 2011, 09:33:12 AM

"Is it not the glory of the people of America, that whilst they have paid a decent regard to the opinions of former times and other nations, they have not suffered a blind veneration for antiquity, for custom, or for names, to overrule the suggestions of their own good sense, the knowledge of their own situation, and the lessons of their own experience? To this manly spirit, posterity will be indebted for the possession, and the world for the example of the numerous innovations displayed on the American theatre, in favor of private rights and public happiness." --James Madison, Federalist No. 14, 1787

23438  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Immigration issues on: July 18, 2011, 12:11:56 AM
Forgive me JDN, but what pleasant sophistry that seeks to ignore the elephant in the room!  We don't share a border with Japan, which is not in a state of war with its narco gangs, nor do we have 12-20 million illegal Japanese here who think the Southwest of the US should belong to them.
23439  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / The Destruction of America by Hollywood et al on: July 17, 2011, 07:38:13 PM
Woof All:

As many of us have commented, Hollywood (and related entertainment folks) have been a source of unremitting hostility to America and as a result of much anti-Americanism. Much of what the world thinks it knows about America it gets from Hollywood.

I enjoyed the Bourne movies, but isn't the plot line (the evil CIA run amuck) one we have seen time and time again (e.g. Robert Redford's  , , , Day of the Condor I think it was).  Evil businessmen, evil right wing politicians, warmongering soldiers, patriotic kooks and Christian nutjobs (often protrayed as latently gay) etc etc. The heroes are those who turn upon that from which they come.  Leftists are heroes of the oppressed (endless list) yet never is told a story based around the evils of Stalinism, the oppression of East Europe by the Soviet Empire etc etc.

There is also the matter of values portrayed positively, adultery as a joke, promiscuity and the debasement of sex, binge drinking, romanticization of criminals, etc etc.

I could go on, but I think most of us here already recognize what I am getting at.

So this thread is a chance to vent (and perhaps strategize) about particularly egregious examples.

Recent ones that come to mind for me are

a) Sex and the City 2:  One of the most offensive, ugly American culturally arrogant movies I have ever seen.

b) and the proximate cause of my starting this thread, the movie "Machete", a genuinely seditious work.  Staring Danny Trejo, who has brought a certain intensity to a variety of minor roles over the years, the movie's style is a sort of gloriously bad "B Movie" of the sort which most of us enjoy.  What offended me though was its seditious message of disloyalty to American sovereignty.  I am not going to deconstruct the movie's plot such as it is (right wing politician, murderous minuteman border patrol groups, Mexican narcos conspiring to create circumstances so there will be demand to build a big electric fences the length of the border so money can be made on the construction contracts and drug scarcity can be created so as to increase profits) but the movie's grand finale, including US ICE Agent going to a higher law and forming violent alliance with a illegal alien network to obliterate the border.

The following actors who participated in this movie should be ashamed and their patriotism questioned.

Danny Trejo
Robert DeNiro
Jessica Alba (breaks my heart to say this because I think she is hot)
Steven Seagal
Jeff Fahey
Cheech Marin (hard to be mad, I love his Cheech and Chong character, but this movie is of a piece with his Born in East LA, which also concludes with overwhelming the border with illegals)
Don Johnson
and Lindsay Lohan

23440  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Issues in the American Creed (Constitutional Law and related matters) on: July 17, 2011, 07:12:39 PM

Well, maybe so, but over the sweep of time, his point is not without merit.
23441  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Unions on: July 17, 2011, 05:37:55 PM

Good in depth read on the subject.
23442  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Government programs & regulations, spending, budget process on: July 17, 2011, 05:32:53 PM

Concerning Baraq and Fannie & Freddie, in a mere 18 months in the US Senate he become the #2 all time recipient of donations  shocked and the Franklin Raines mentioned in the piece (who, IIRC acclerated Fannie earnings so he could get an even huger bonus) was selected by Baraq to , , , something important, but I forget what.
23443  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Privacy, Big Brother (State and Corporate) & the 4th Amendment on: July 17, 2011, 05:28:01 PM
I noted that when I read about the case.  A powerful example for your POV.
23444  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Prudent Bear: Sovereign Debt Crisis Learning Curve on: July 17, 2011, 01:57:31 PM
Mehtinks this one deserves extra attention , , ,
The Sovereign Debt Crisis Learning Curve:
During the second-half of his reign, Alan Greenspan became fond of trumpeting the U.S. economy’s newfound resiliency.  This was a theme peppered throughout his “Age of Turbulence” memoir, published in the pre-crisis year 2007.  Greenspan cited computer and telecommunications technologies; monumental productivity advancements; a flexible workforce; the financial system’s superior capacity to effectively invest limited savings; and, of course, enlightened policymaking. 

Back when I wrote more colorfully, I was fond of saying, “Financial crisis is like Christmas.”  In hindsight, it would have been more accurate to write “private-sector financial crisis is…”  Whether it was banking system debt problems from the early-90s; the series of “emerging” market Credit collapses; the unwinding of LTCM leverage; the bursting of the tech Bubble; the 2002 corporate debt crisis; or the spectacular collapse of the mortgage/Wall Street finance Bubble - the Fed would reliably respond to each and every crisis with the “gift” of reflationary policymaking. 

And, no doubt about it, “inflationism” was the market gift that kept on giving.  Crisis, in the Age of Activist Central Banking, created momentous opportunities to harvest speculative returns.  Those that best understood and exploited these dynamics (our era’s “titans of industry”) accumulated incredible fortunes – and vast AUM (assets under management).

It’s becoming increasingly apparent these days that public (government) debt problems are a whole different kettle of fish.  Rather than a “gift”, they instead present extraordinary challenges for both policy making and the markets.  European policymakers are today at a complete loss.  In Washington, politicians are making a sad mockery out of responsible debt management – and the markets have yet to even lower the boom.

From my analytical vantage point, the U.S. economy’s “resilience” was always more about New Age Finance than it was some New Paradigm economy coupled with sagacious economic management.  The Fed’s pegging of short-term interest rates, along with timely market interventions, created powerful incentives for private-sector Credit expansion - in the real economy and throughout the financial sphere.  System Credit, resilient as never before, was at the heart of it all.  Over years evolved a most powerful dynamic encompassing a historic private-sector Credit boom and speculative financial Bubble - both backstopped by the GSEs and aggressive fiscal and monetary management. 

Wall Street finance provided the nucleus of the private sector Credit boom:  asset-backed securities, mortgage-backed securities, “repos,” derivatives, CDOs, CLOs, etc.  New Age risk intermediation - “Wall Street alchemy” – created seemingly endless “safe” higher-yielding and liquid securities, the perfect fodder for the mushrooming “leveraged speculating community.”  The structures both of the financial architecture and policymaking incentivized aggressive leveraging by the hedge funds and proprietary trading desks.  And when the markets occasionally caught the leveraged players overextended and vulnerable, Washington was quick with market bailouts.  These dynamics nurtured history’s greatest expansions of “private” sector debt and system leverage.

Of course, Fed rate cuts played a pivotal role in prolonging the Credit Bubble.  Greenspan’s asymmetrical approach – transparent little “baby-step” tightening moves and aggressive rate-slashing in the event of mounting systemic stress – was a godsend for leveraged speculation.  The critical role played by the GSEs has never received the Credit it deserves.  Beginning with the faltering bond Bubble in 1994, the GSE’s became aggressive (non-price sensitive) buyers of MBS, mortgages and miscellaneous debt instruments anytime market liquidity became an issue (when the speculators needed to deleverage).  GSE assets expanded $151bn (24%) in 1994, $305bn in 1998, $317bn in 1999, $242bn in 2000, $344bn in 2001, $240bn in 2002, and another $245bn in 2003.  With effectively parallel “activist” central banks backstopping the markets – the Federal Reserve and the GSEs down the road - the mortgage finance Bubble inflated to historic proportions.  This dynamic will not be repeated in our lifetimes. 

Sovereign debt crises are altogether different in nature to those “private” affairs that we’ve become rather comfortable with over the years.  Keep in mind that crises of confidence in private debt securities are quite amenable to rate cuts, the public sector’s explicit or implicit assumption/guarantee of private obligations, and system Credit reflation through public debt issuance and central bank monetization.  If sufficiently determined to do so, policymakers have the capacity to resolve about any private debt issue.  And, of course, the short-term benefits can be irresistible:  i.e. buoyant asset markets, reduced unemployment, bolstered confidence, economic expansion, inflating tax receipts and reelection (or, in the case of central bank chairmen, hero status). 

The great longer-term costs – which can remain “long-term” as long as policymakers perpetuate Credit Bubble excess – include mispriced finance, dysfunctional markets, the misallocation of resources, increasingly fragile financial and economic structures, social disquiet, geopolitical risks, and an unmanageable accumulation of public-sector debt and obligations.  Importantly, the mechanisms that work all too well in dealing with private debt crisis are not readily available come that fateful day when the markets question the creditworthiness of the government’s debt load. 

There is more attention paid these days to sovereign debt ratios and such.  At about 150% of GDP, Greece finances were (belatedly) recognized as an unmitigated disaster.  At 120%, Italy is too vulnerable.  Here at home, the National Debt Clock shows federal debt surpassing $14.3 TN.  Federal borrowings have expanded at a double-digit to GDP rate for the past three years, with total debt increasing more than $5.0 TN in short order.  There is today no realistic prospect for meaningful fiscal reform.

And while Europe is briskly moving up The Sovereign Debt Crisis Learning Curve, complacency still abounds here at home.  And the more hideous things appear in Europe and Washington, the more confident our markets become that policymakers will soon come to their senses and resolve the ugliness.  Such wishful thinking is a holdover from the good old private debt crisis days.

Avoid thinking in terms of sovereign debt in isolation.  The massive accumulation of public-sector debt is almost without exception symptomatic of deep systemic problems.  Whether we’re discussing Greece, Spain, Italy, the U.S. or Japan, enormous deficits and public debt loads are reflective of a post-private-sector Credit Bubble environment.  This is a critical issue.  Not only are governments running up huge debts, the underlying economic structure has already been heavily impaired from years of Credit abuse.  And as much as policymakers hope and intend for their borrowing, spending and monetizing programs to promote sound economic and financial recoveries, the reality is that expansionary policies exacerbate deleterious Credit Bubble effects.  It’s a case of aggressive monetary stimulus thrown at systems already way out of kilter. 

The empirical work of Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff demonstrates conclusively that heavy debt loads negatively impact growth dynamics (they have found 90% of GDP an important threshold).  This is no earth-shaking revelation, especially if one comes from the analytical perspective that huge accumulations of public debt are generally associated with an extended period of private and public sector Credit excess.  And years of Credit-related excesses will almost certainly foment acute financial fragilities and economic impairment. 

It’s no coincidence that the greatest expansion of public debt comes late in the cycle when the economy’s response to additional layers of debt becomes both muted and uneven.  Indeed, a precarious dynamic evolves where enormous amounts of (non-productive) government debt are required just to stabilize increasingly fragile economic structures.  In the meantime, late-cycle stimulus will most certainly distort and dangerously inflate highly speculative securities markets – especially when higher market prices are the direct aim of policy.

There was a Financial Times column today that posited that Italy’s problem was that it was stuck with the ECB rather than the Federal Reserve!  If only the Fed were purchasing Italian sovereign debt as it does Treasurys, Italian debt service costs and deficits would be much lower.  Crisis resolved.  Well, monetary policy certainly does play a critical role in sovereign debt Bubbles and crises.   

Back in the autumn of 2009, Greece could finance its massive deficit spending program for two-years at less than 2%.  Portuguese yields were about 125 bps and Ireland 175 bps.  Spanish and Italian 2-year yields were around 1.5%.  The Fed’s, ECB’s and global central bankers’ moves to slash interest rates to near zero were instrumental in the marketplace’s accommodation of unprecedented government debt issuance at artificially  low yields.  The European “periphery” markets were part of the expansive Global Government Finance Bubble.  And the market perception that monetary policy would ensure ongoing low sovereign debt service costs was instrumental in the market disregarding – and mispricing - Credit risk throughout the eurozone.  Even last spring, after the Greek crisis’ initial eruption, markets held to the assumption that policymakers would sustain low sovereign borrowing costs and insulate bondholders from significant losses.

Not only has monetary policy fostered the rapid expansion of government debt at artificially low rates, it has also set the stage for a very destabilizing change in market perceptions.  Particularly after many years of interventionist policymaking (throughout the protracted private Credit boom), the markets naturally turn complacent when it comes debt crisis risks.  Yet as Europe is confronting these days, there are limited available options when crisis finally arrives at sovereign debt’s doorstep.  At some point, fiscal and monetary stimulus comes to the inevitable end of the road.  At some point, markets say “no mas.” 

Piling on additional government debt is then no longer a solution, inaugurating the debilitating and depressing “austerity” cycle.  And, as we continue to witness here at home, having the central bank monetize federal debt only worsens market distortions and delays desperately-needed fiscal (and economic) reform.  As much as there was an element of certainty in the marketplace with regard to the mechanics of private-sector debt crisis resolution, sovereign debt Bubbles and crises just seem to foment uncertainty.  Policymakers are destined to look incompetent, while markets will appear fickle and unstable.  Meanwhile, fragile recoveries will turn increasingly vulnerable.  And throughout, there will be a growing disconnect between what the markets have come to expect from policymakers and what they can now realistically deliver.

As witnessed in Greece, Ireland, and Portugal, there comes a point where the market recognizes debt trap dynamics and begins to price in sovereign risk.  And it is not long into this process of risk re-pricing that the marketplace comes to view huge debt loads as unmanageable albatrosses.  This destabilizing process has now commenced with Spain and Italy.  Once unleashed, sovereign debt crisis momentum can prove difficult to contain. 

To be sure, the debt situation in these economies remains manageable only as long as the markets are content to finance sovereign borrowings at monetary policy-induced low rates.  Or, stated differently, Italy’s (and others’) debt load is viable only if the marketplace disregards risk.  Well, the market is today rather keen to risk and debt dynamics - and has been determined to push borrowing costs significantly higher.  This not only imperils the government debt and Credit default swap (CDS) markets, but casts an immediate pall on the Italian and European banking sector with their huge exposures to increasingly problematic sovereign debt.  As an analyst quoted in the Financial Times put it, “A banking sector is only as strong as its sovereign.”

European Credit and inter-bank lending markets are faltering.  The resulting de-leveraging and de-risking – and tightened general finance - will likely further pressure markets, overall confidence and economic activity – adding further pressure to the unfolding debt crisis.  And as China and Asian central bankers witness the spectacle of an unraveling Italy, they must view the unfolding U.S. debt debacle with heightened trepidation.  Perhaps this was on ECB President Trichet’s mind this past weekend when he referred to “the global debt crisis.”
23445  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: The Power of Word on: July 17, 2011, 12:01:34 PM
 cry cry cry cry cry cry cry cry cry
23446  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Jefferson, letter to Judge Roane, 1821 on: July 17, 2011, 11:23:41 AM

"The great object of my fear is the federal judiciary. That body, like gravity, ever acting, with noiseless foot, and unalarming advance, gaining ground step by step, and holding what it gains, is ingulfing insidiously the special governments into the jaws of that which feeds them." --Thomas Jefferson, letter to Judge Spencer Roane, 1821
23447  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Catching up on: July 17, 2011, 11:20:52 AM

"The steady character of our countrymen is a rock to which we may safely moor; and notwithstanding the efforts of the papers to disseminate early discontents, I expect that a just, dispassionate and steady conduct, will at length rally to a proper system the great body of our country. Unequivocal in principle, reasonable in manner, we shall be able I hope to do a great deal of good to the cause of freedom & harmony." --Thomas Jefferson, letter to Elbridge Gerry, 1801

"[W]here there is no law, there is no liberty; and nothing deserves the name of law but that which is certain and universal in its operation upon all the members of the community." --Benjamin Rush, letter to David Ramsay, 1788

"Men must be ready, they must pride themselves and be happy to sacrifice their private pleasures, passions and interests, nay, their private friendships and dearest connections, when they stand in competition with the rights of society." --John Adams, letter to Mercy Warren, 1776

"A fondness for power is implanted, in most men, and it is natural to abuse it, when acquired." --Alexander Hamilton, The Farmer Refuted, 1775

"The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create whatever the form of government, a real despotism. A just estimate of that love of power, and proneness to abuse it, which predominates in the human heart is sufficient to satisfy us of the truth of this position." --George Washington, Farewell Address, 1796
23448  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Keep your booger hook off the bang hook on: July 17, 2011, 11:12:42 AM
23449  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Baggy Pants Moron on: July 17, 2011, 08:29:15 AM
23450  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Shifty; an action in Afpakia on: July 17, 2011, 08:15:31 AM
If you watched the series, “Band of Brothers”, you will remember Shifty as the guy who was the best shot in the company. He was called upon several times in the series to take care of a German sniper or to give cover so other troops could maneuver.

SHIFTY DIED JAN 17, in peace.                                                                                            
 "Shifty" By Chuck Yeager

Shifty volunteered for the airborne in WWII and served with Easy Company of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, part of the 101st  Airborne Infantry.  If you've seen Band of Brothers on HBO or the History Channel, you know Shifty.  His character appears in all 10 Episodes, and Shifty himself is interviewed in several of them.

 I met Shifty in the  Philadelphia airport several years ago. I didn't know who he was at the time.I just saw an elderly gentleman having Trouble reading his ticket.I offered to help, assured him that he was at the right gate, and noticed the "Screaming Eagle," the symbol of The 101st Airborne, on his hat.
 Making conversation, I asked him if he d been in the 101st Airborne Or if his son was serving.  He said quietly that he had been in the 101st. I thanked him for his service, then asked him when he served, and how many jumps he made.Quietly and humbly, he said "Well, I  guess I signed up in 1941 or so, and was in until sometime in 1945 ... " at which point my heart skipped.

 At that point, again, very humbly, he said "I made the 5 training Jumps at Toccoa, and then jumped into  Normandy ..    Do you know  where  Normandy is?"At this point my heart stopped. I told him "Yes, I know exactly where  Normandy is,and I know what D-Day was."

At that point he said "I also made a second jump into  Holland , into  Arnhem ."
 I was standing with a genuine war hero ....And then I realized  that it was June, just after the anniversary of D-Day. I asked Shifty if he was on his way back from  France , and he said "Yes...  And it's real sad because, these days, so few of the guys are left, and those that are, lots of them can't make the trip."My heart was in my throat and I didn't know what to say.

I helped Shifty get onto the plane and then realized he was back in Coach while I was in First Class. I sent the flight attendant back to get him and said that I wanted to switch seats.  When Shifty came forward, I got up out of the seat and told him I wanted him to have it, that I'd take his in coach.

 He said "No, son, you enjoy that seat.  Just knowing that there are still some who remember what we did and who still care is enough to make an old man very happy."  His eyes were filling up as he said it. And mine are brimming up now as I write this.

Shifty died on Jan. 17 after fighting cancer.
There was no parade.
No big event in  Staples   Center ..
No wall to wall back to back 24x7 news coverage.
No weeping fans on television.
And that's not right!!

Let's give Shifty his own Memorial Service, online, in our own quiet way.
Please forward this email to everyone you know.  Especially to the veterans.
                                          Rest in peace, Shifty.

Chuck Yeager, Maj Gen. [ret.]
P.S.  I think that it is amazing how the "media" chooses our "heroes" these days... Michael Jackson & the like!    

Please do me a favor and pass this on so that untold thousands can read it.....

                    We owe no less to our REAL HEROES

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