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23401  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WTF?!? on: May 08, 2009, 02:52:44 PM
Second post of day:

Contractor pleads guilty to Taliban shooting

By Matthew Barakat - The Associated Press
Posted : Wednesday Feb 4, 2009 16:34:47 EST

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — An Army contractor is facing up to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to manslaughter in the shooting death of a handcuffed Taliban member who had just set one of the contractor’s colleagues on fire.

Don M. Ayala, 46, of New Orleans struck a plea bargain Tuesday in federal court in Alexandria, avoiding murder charges that could have resulted in life in prison.

Ayala provided security on what the Army calls a Human Terrain Team, in which social scientists and anthropologists are embedded with combat brigades to help soldiers understand local culture.

On Nov. 4, Ayala and two other team members were on a walking patrol about 80 miles west of Kandahar, in a village called Chehel Gazi. Team member Paula Loyd was distributing candy to villagers and talking about gas prices with an Afghan man, Abdul Salam, when he lit a pitcher of fuel on fire and threw it on her.

According to court documents, Ayala helped arrest and subdue Salam, who was then placed in plastic restraints. Ayala kept a pistol pointed at Salam’s head as he continued to resist arrest.

After a few minutes, when Ayala learned how badly Loyd had been burned, Ayala shot Salam in the head, killing him instantly.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack on Loyd, 36, who suffered second- and third-degree burns over 60 percent of her body and died from her injuries last month at an Army hospital in San Antonio.

Ayala’s case had been the first case in which federal prosecutors brought murder charges against a military contractor serving in Iraq or Afghanistan under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, the 2000 law that allows such prosecutions.

Ayala was employed by Strategic Analysis, Inc., an Arlington company working as a subcontractor for BAE Systems, which has its U.S. Headquarters in Rockville, Md.  Strategic Analysis did not immediately return a phone call Wednesday seeking comment.  Ayala had previously worked for contractors providing personal security for Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Ayala is scheduled for sentencing on May 8.
==================

KABUL (Reuters) - A U.S. civilian shot dead an Afghan civilian who tried to set fire to another American on Tuesday, the U.S. military said.

At least 4,000 people have been killed in Afghanistan this year, some 1,000 of them civilians. It is still rare though for foreign civilians to be directly engaged in the conflict.

The shooting occurred after an altercation, a U.S. military statement said.

"Reports indicate the local national was shot after pouring and igniting a flammable liquid on another U.S. civilian. The civilian sustained serious burns and was transported to the nearest coalition forces medical facility for treatment," it said.

Taliban insurgents said children had poured petrol on a female foreign soldier and set fire to her while she was searching homes in the town of Maiwand in the southern province of Kandahar.

"The soldier caught fire immediately after petrol was poured on her and then explosions were set off because of the ammunition on her," the Taliban said on their Web site.

"As a result the female soldier was killed instantly and a large number of other foreign soldiers were wounded," it said.

It was not possible to verify the conflicting reports, but the Taliban frequently exaggerate foreign troop casualties.

(Writing by Jon Hemming; Editing by David Fox)

23402  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: The Dog Brothers Tribe on: May 08, 2009, 02:28:32 PM
Email sent to webmaster.
23403  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYT: Talked to death on: May 08, 2009, 02:18:43 PM
Second post of the day

FOR several years, President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan has been trying to negotiate and reconcile with supposedly moderate elements of the Taliban to end the insurgency. This approach has failed every time. Thus it is puzzling to many Afghans that President Obama has also been talking about negotiating with “moderates.” Let’s hope that when the two men met in Washington this week, along with President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan, the idea of reaching out to the Islamic extremists was shelved once and for all.

After all, President Karzai’s efforts have simply revealed the weakness of the Afghan government and its international allies. Taliban spokesman have repeatedly demanded unacceptable conditions for talks, including the departure of all foreign forces from Afghanistan and the establishment of Shariah law.

Indeed, shortly after Mr. Obama raised the subject of reconciliation, the Taliban rejected his proposal, stating there were no extremists or moderate groups within their ranks. On this point at least, the Taliban are right. Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, put it very clearly: “The Taliban were united under the leadership of Mullah Muhammad Omar. All the fighters follow and obey orders of one central command. The existence of moderates and extremist elements within the rank and file of Taliban is wishful thinking of the West and the Afghan government.”

What can be the purpose of talks with the Taliban? These men deprive women of their rights, throw acid in the faces of schoolgirls, reject religious freedom and oppose constitutional democracy. They also threaten to kill any Afghans who have worked with Western militaries and nongovernmental groups or had other contact with foreigners.

Is it possible, as some have said, that the Taliban have mellowed since being toppled in 2001? Muhammad Ibrahim Hanafi, a top Taliban commander, answered that question in an interview in March with CNN: “Our law is still the same old law which was in place during our rule in Afghanistan.”

The more President Karzai and his Western allies talk about reconciliation, the farther their public support will plummet. I returned to Afghanistan in 2001 after more than two decades in America and founded a manufacturing company with the intention of using part of its profits to help young women get an education. In the early days, the discussions at our organization’s meetings were dominated by talk of building schools and other big plans. Lately, however, the main topic has been the future of us women in Afghanistan under another Taliban regime. We know that there is not, and will never be, any “moderate Taliban.” Extremists and ideologues do not compromise.

The atmosphere has been made worse by the president’s signing of a family law affecting Shiite Muslims that places restrictions on when a woman can leave her house and states the circumstances in which she is obliged to have sex with her husband. I was part of a group of civil-society representatives who recently met with President Karzai to express our concerns about the law; he replied that he hadn’t known the full details when he signed it and promised to “fight for us” to have it amended. We’ll see. But his later statement that “there are no reconciliation processes” going on with the Taliban, which seems at odds with the facts, did not inspire much hope.

The family law and other governmental efforts to appease religious extremists are having one effect that reminds me of the aftermath of the Soviet invasion of 1979: Afghanistan is being drained of the people who would be most effective at putting it back together. It seems as if every group of Afghans that attends training programs in the West now returns just a bit smaller. Last year, the accountant and the top administrator of my factory left for the Netherlands with their families. My new accountant recently went to Islamabad, Pakistan, to meet with German Embassy officials about a possible visa.

This is a far cry from the 1960s and ’70s, when many Afghans, including my father and five of my uncles, studied abroad on scholarships but returned to work in the government or to start businesses and create jobs. That sense of nationalism has disappeared; unless we rediscover it, Afghanistan will become a failed state.

The only “reconciliation” strategy that is going to work is one between the Kabul government and the Afghan people. The key is making changes at the community level. Many local mullahs and citizens who have tolerated the Taliban in the past are open to working with a government that can protect them and help them find livelihoods. The government and its allies can best weaken the insurgency by better protecting the population, organizing local citizens’ groups to cooperate on economic development, and hiring more people from every part of the country into the growing Afghan Army and police force.

This is the only way that the reconcilables will be separated from the irreconcilables. We need to understand where Afghanistan’s true moderates are to be found, and not look for them in leadership positions of one of the most repressive organizations on earth.

Hassina Sherjan is the president of Boumi, a manufacturer of decorative products for the home, and the director of Aid Afghanistan for Education, a nonprofit group.
23404  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / The Harlem Miracle on: May 08, 2009, 12:31:55 PM
The Harlem Miracle
DAVID BROOKS
Published: May 7, 2009
The fight against poverty produces great programs but disappointing results. You go visit an inner-city school, job-training program or community youth center and you meet incredible people doing wonderful things. Then you look at the results from the serious evaluations and you find that these inspiring places are only producing incremental gains.

That’s why I was startled when I received an e-mail message from Roland Fryer, a meticulous Harvard economist. It included this sentence: “The attached study has changed my life as a scientist.”

Fryer and his colleague Will Dobbie have just finished a rigorous assessment of the charter schools operated by the Harlem Children’s Zone. They compared students in these schools to students in New York City as a whole and to comparable students who entered the lottery to get into the Harlem Children’s Zone schools, but weren’t selected.

They found that the Harlem Children’s Zone schools produced “enormous” gains. The typical student entered the charter middle school, Promise Academy, in sixth grade and scored in the 39th percentile among New York City students in math. By the eighth grade, the typical student in the school was in the 74th percentile. The typical student entered the school scoring in the 39th percentile in English Language Arts (verbal ability). By eighth grade, the typical student was in the 53rd percentile.

Forgive some academic jargon, but the most common education reform ideas — reducing class size, raising teacher pay, enrolling kids in Head Start — produce gains of about 0.1 or 0.2 or 0.3 standard deviations. If you study policy, those are the sorts of improvements you live with every day. Promise Academy produced gains of 1.3 and 1.4 standard deviations. That’s off the charts. In math, Promise Academy eliminated the achievement gap between its black students and the city average for white students.

Let me repeat that. It eliminated the black-white achievement gap. “The results changed my life as a researcher because I am no longer interested in marginal changes,” Fryer wrote in a subsequent e-mail. What Geoffrey Canada, Harlem Children’s Zone’s founder and president, has done is “the equivalent of curing cancer for these kids. It’s amazing. It should be celebrated. But it almost doesn’t matter if we stop there. We don’t have a way to replicate his cure, and we need one since so many of our kids are dying — literally and figuratively.”

These results are powerful evidence in a long-running debate. Some experts, mostly surrounding the education establishment, argue that schools alone can’t produce big changes. The problems are in society, and you have to work on broader issues like economic inequality. Reformers, on the other hand, have argued that school-based approaches can produce big results. The Harlem Children’s Zone results suggest the reformers are right. The Promise Academy does provide health and psychological services, but it helps kids who aren’t even involved in the other programs the organization offers.

To my mind, the results also vindicate an emerging model for low-income students. Over the past decade, dozens of charter and independent schools, like Promise Academy, have become no excuses schools. The basic theory is that middle-class kids enter adolescence with certain working models in their heads: what I can achieve; how to control impulses; how to work hard. Many kids from poorer, disorganized homes don’t have these internalized models. The schools create a disciplined, orderly and demanding counterculture to inculcate middle-class values.

To understand the culture in these schools, I’d recommend “Whatever It Takes,” a gripping account of Harlem Children’s Zone by my Times colleague Paul Tough, and “Sweating the Small Stuff,” a superb survey of these sorts of schools by David Whitman.

Basically, the no excuses schools pay meticulous attention to behavior and attitudes. They teach students how to look at the person who is talking, how to shake hands. These schools are academically rigorous and college-focused. Promise Academy students who are performing below grade level spent twice as much time in school as other students in New York City. Students who are performing at grade level spend 50 percent more time in school.

They also smash the normal bureaucratic strictures that bind leaders in regular schools. Promise Academy went through a tumultuous period as Canada searched for the right teachers. Nearly half of the teachers did not return for the 2005-2006 school year. A third didn’t return for the 2006-2007 year. Assessments are rigorous. Standardized tests are woven into the fabric of school life.

The approach works. Ever since welfare reform, we have had success with intrusive government programs that combine paternalistic leadership, sufficient funding and a ferocious commitment to traditional, middle-class values. We may have found a remedy for the achievement gap. Which city is going to take up the challenge? Omaha? Chicago? Yours?
23405  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / What a mom wants on: May 08, 2009, 11:27:13 AM
By MEGAN BASHAM
Around this time every year, we begin seeing state-of-motherhood reports that analyze how moms are faring. In our prosperous past, feel-good angles, like how much a mom's housework is worth, took center stage. But thanks to the struggling economy, this Mother's Day has seen a rise in more serious stories. Take, for example, the case of Eleanor Hemmert.


 In a recent segment on how the country's rising unemployment is affecting moms, "Good Morning America" gave viewers a glimpse into the life of Ms. Hemmert. Because male-dominated industries like finance, construction and manufacturing have been the hardest hit by the economic meltdown, men have experienced nearly 80% of the layoffs in the current recession. Ms. Hemmert's husband, Rick, is among them. To compensate for his lack of income, she has started spending as many as 14 hours a day at the office trying to close deals. In contrast, Rick, now the at-home parent, has taken up most of the tasks that used to belong to his wife -- cooking dinner, doing the laundry, and caring for the couple's 7-year-old daughter.

The role reversal caused by men's job losses is one byproduct of the economic downturn that has many news outlets, if not outright cheering, at least tentatively applauding. In her online column for Forbes, Elisabeth Eaves likened stay-at-home mothers re-entering the workforce to more-permanent Rosie the Riveters, commenting, "thanks to the recession, we may be at just such another socio-sexual inflection point." New York Times contributor Lisa Belkin wondered if women might finally become the majority of American workers, suggesting that such a development would be a "silver lining" in these dark times. One Salon writer celebrated the possibility that the "long-awaited redistribution of domestic labor might prove crucial in finally evening the professional playing field," while another wondered whether the financial crisis could turn out to be "accidentally feminist."

It isn't just the media promoting the idea that increasing numbers of mothers putting in more hours in paid work represents progress for women. Left-leaning think tanks, as well as the Obama administration, are also undertaking efforts to further the trend the recession began.

In mid-April, the Center for American Progress announced that it is teaming with the University of Southern California and Time Magazine to explore the impact the recession has had on women. While acknowledging that being the family breadwinner may be a burden to some mothers, Heather Boushey, a senior economist at the center and project co-editor, said that it can also be "an opportunity." On April 22 she informed Congress that the rising unemployment of men has provided many working moms much-needed domestic help.

That may seem a rather callous perspective to out-of-work men, but Ms. Boushey's take is perfectly appropriate to "A Woman's Nation," a venture that John Podesta, the CEO of the Center for American Progress, promises will consider "the central question of the role government, business, and faith organizations, as well as individual women and men should play in supporting women's role now in the workforce…. " Given how many of the center's former employees work for the Obama administration, it's little surprise how closely the project dovetails with a March 11 executive order forming a White House Council on Women and Girls that aims to increase women's employment in various male-dominated industries.

There's only one problem with all these efforts to support mom in her new financial-provider role, and Ms. Hemmert presents a stark picture of it. However empowered the media, the think tanks and the White House tell her she should be, she is profoundly unhappy to have changed places with her spouse. "I don't like coming home and seeing him in my apron," Ms. Hemmert says while watching her husband make dinner. She reacts with outright revulsion to the phrase "Mr. Mom," and her mouth hardens into a thin line when her husband explains that it isn't necessarily a man's job to earn a living for his family, that a man can also be "the person who handles children and sets up play dates."

Ms. Hemmert admits that she sees her own parental job as something separate and different from her husband's, and she not only resents him for usurping her role but has lost some respect for him. "I'm a woman, and I want to be a mother first," she states simply.

To be fair, many women who found themselves in Ms. Hemmert's position wouldn't experience the same level of displeasure and disappointment in their husbands that she expresses. But research indicates that most do share her desire to be a mother first and an earner second. And they, too, prefer a husband who's more interested in bringing home the bacon than in cooking it.

Virtually every reputable poll taken on mothers and work reveals that a strong majority of moms prefer to work part time or fewer hours. Reflecting the results of many other polling organizations, the Pew Research Center's most recent survey found that only 21% of mothers with children under the age of 18 say full-time employment is the ideal situation for them. The rest prefer either part-time work or not working at all. In contrast, fully 72% of fathers say a full-time job is the best option for them.

But Ms. Hemmert isn't just an everywoman in wanting to work fewer hours; she's also an everywoman in wanting her husband to take the lead in providing. In 2006, a University of Virginia study found that contrary to many feminists' preoccupation with equal division of household tasks, dishwashing men do not happy women make. Along with a spouse who offers affection, attention and empathy, what really makes women happy is one who earns at least two-thirds of the family income.

The study's authors, W. Bradford Wilcox and Steven L. Nock, expressed surprise at finding that even self-described feminist women are happiest when their husbands do most of the breadwinning. Though the study resulted in a great deal of clamor among commentators who objected to its seemingly outdated conclusions, it differs little from the work of many evolutionary psychologists. David Buss, one of the founders of the field, conducted the largest investigation to date into the subject of human mating. After studying more than 10,000 subjects in 37 countries in the late 1980s, Mr. Buss and his team found that "women more than men in all 37 cultures valued mates with good financial prospects…."

Of course, this is one of those observations likely to elicit a "well, no kidding" from average people. The idea that most moms would rather not work full time and that most wives want their husbands to provide for their families is news only in the news business. Yet Capitol Hill continues to focus on women's employment. The House added a section to the Troubled Asset Relief Program that creates an "Office of Minority and Women Inclusion" to, among other things, ensure that companies receiving TARP money maintain an adequate (though unspecified) percentage of female workers.

If our media and our government really want to show support to mothers, they might consider actually listening to them. What they're saying is quite clear: If you want to help us, help the men we're married to.

Ms. Basham is the author of "Beside Every Successful Man: Getting the Life You Want by Helping Your Husband Get Ahead."
23406  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Give the Afg Army a bigger role on: May 08, 2009, 11:01:32 AM
I have no opinion on this, I offer it here simply as an interesting read.
=========
By BING WEST
Korengal Valley, Afghanistan

The only way to reach Viper Company of the 26th Regiment, First Infantry Division, is by helicopter. When I fly in, Capt. Jimmy Howell greets me. "I'm holding a shura [meeting of village elders]," he says. "We won't be shot at until they leave." The steep-sided Korengal Valley, 70 miles northeast of Kabul, is the scene of the war's fiercest fighting, claiming 57 American lives over the past three years.

Sure enough, an hour after the elders leave the shura, 30-millimeter shells strike the outpost. Cpl. Marc Madding, an Afghan army adviser, begins firing .50 caliber rounds at the enemy position, laughing as an Afghan soldier scurries from the latrine with shells bursting behind him. Capt. Howell adjusts mortar and artillery shells on the hillside, followed by an A-10 aircraft dropping 250-pound bombs. It's another afternoon in the Korengal, the hot spot in a district that's recorded some 1,990 similar engagements since mid-2005.

Overwhelming American firepower forced the wily fundamentalist insurgents to maintain a respectful distance. A few days earlier, an enemy unit had let down its guard and lost 15 combatants to a well-staged American ambush. Most of the fundamentalists killed were from villages that frequently receive food and medical aid from the U.S. Army outpost. The following day, an American soldier was killed outside a nearby village.

In what Rudyard Kipling called "the arithmetic of the frontier," fundamentalism and tribal hostility fuel persistent attacks, year after year, here in the Korengal. It's not well known stateside, but the Taliban are just one of many fundamentalist gangs waging war against our forces here. Like the U.S. Cavalry fighting the Apaches in the 19th century, it is problematical whether the Americans should push deeper into this treacherous valley or simply bottle up the local fighters.

Whatever the strategy in the Korengal, the broader war across eastern Afghanistan is showing signs of progress. Maj. Gen. Jeffrey J. Schloesser, commanding Joint Task Force 101, has deployed his forces in a 300-mile swath that runs from south of Kabul northeast to the Pakistan border. Partnered with Afghan units in over 100 patrol bases along the populated river valleys, JTF 101 has driven the fundamentalist fighters back into the hills and blocked the infiltration routes from Pakistan. The price for an AK-47 rifle smuggled in from Pakistan has doubled in the past four months. For Maj. Gen. Schloesser, the art of command hinges on applying sufficient power to prevent sanctuaries inside the remote valleys without diverting too much power from the populated areas. The restrained military goal is to control the majority of the population around Kabul and to the east, not to pacify the entire region.

The next challenge is to gain control over the southern portion of the country. In the next few months, 10,000 American soldiers and marines will join NATO forces down south. The steady gains by JTF 101 showed that enemy fighters are not fanatics determined to die. Similarly, by the fall the Taliban will be driven back from the populated areas in the south, as they have been in the east.

But as long as Pakistan is a sanctuary, U.S. forces here will be on the strategic defensive, no matter how skillful their military tactics. We can't stay forever. The basic question is: How to consolidate the battlefield gains? That depends upon how the mission is defined. President Barack Obama has avoided promising to build a vibrant democratic nation. "The achievable goal," he said recently, "is to make sure it [Afghanistan] is not a safe haven for terrorists." Such a minimalist policy can be achieved in one of two ways.

The first is to apply the classic counterinsurgency model: After the military push the enemy from a populated area, the police take over, while government appointees provide honest governance and basic services. This approach pursues the expensive nation-building that Mr. Obama has not endorsed. It requires thousands of additional police trainers and hundreds of civilian advisers in the districts. These advisers also serve as watchdogs against corruption, acting as a shadow government to restrain officials prone to skimming and payoffs. It's a sound approach that is slow and expensive.

The second option is to expand the role of the Afghan army to act as the facilitators and watchdogs of governance. Today, American commanders like Capt. Howell routinely participate in shuras or councils. They can gradually hand off such governance-related tasks to Afghan officers.

To do so requires funding a military pension plan conditioned upon retiring a generation of superannuated senior Afghan officers and promoting the younger generation. Afghan battalions would remain in set locales for years instead of rotating every few months as many now do. By homesteading, the Afghan army would develop sources to make arrests or deals beyond our ken. Unlike the police, they could ward off retaliatory attacks. In a de facto way, the military -- the most respected institution in Afghanistan -- would become the real backbone connecting the locals to the central government.

The new U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan is retired Gen. Karl Eikenberry, who commanded the NATO force there a few years ago. While lacking presidential envoy Richard Holbrooke's flamboyance and adulatory press, Gen. Eikenberry doesn't ruffle feathers and understands the political-military dynamic. In 2004, for instance, he deftly removed control over the fledgling Iraqi army from the incompetent Coalition Provisional Authority. As our ambassador in Kabul, he can facilitate an expanded managerial role for the military in government activities while fostering the civilian political process.

If that sounds like double-talk, it is. An activist Afghan military is reminiscent of earlier eras of shadow military influence in Turkey (or in Pakistan, Jordan, Mexico, Argentina, etc.). During internal strife, however, many governments have expanded the powers of their military. It should not be the job of America to build a European-style democracy in Afghanistan. The Afghan military is more trustworthy than either the police or the civilian bureaucracy.

Capt. Howell of Viper Company has been called out of the Korengal for a few days to receive the U.S. Army's highest award for leadership. Then it's back into the fray. There's a price we must pay to ensure the Taliban don't reclaim Afghanistan. But let's not add to the cost by expanding our national objectives. We can't manage the skein of tribal loyalties and jealousies. The fastest way to reduce the size of our involvement is to build up the Afghan Army and quietly encourage it to play an active, expansionist role in governance.

Mr. West, a former combat marine and assistant secretary of defense, reports frequently from Iraq and Afghanistan. His third book on the Iraq war, "The Strongest Tribe: War, Politics and the Endgame in Iraq," was published last year by Random House.

23407  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Sound of Republican Silence on: May 08, 2009, 10:55:20 AM
Listen. That sound of silence? That's what's known as the united Republican response to President Barack Obama's drive to socialize health care.

The president has a plan, and he's laid it on the table. The industry groups that once helped Republicans beat HillaryCare are today sitting at that table. Unions are mobilized. A liberal umbrella group, Health Care for American Now, is spending $40 million to get a "public option," a new federal entitlement that would kill off private insurance. Democrats passed a budget blueprint that will allow them to cram through that "public option" with just 51 votes.

Republicans? They're trying to figure out what they think.

Well, not all of them. Earlier this week I ended up in the office of Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn, where the doctor was hosting North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr. The duo is, for the second time, crafting a comprehensive reform that would lower costs, cover the uninsured, and put Americans in control of their health care. And while the senators decline to talk GOP politics, their bill raises the multitrillion-dollar question: Will the party have the nerve or sense to coalesce behind some such conservative alternative to the Democratic product?

They'd better, because the days of Republicans winning these battles solely by spooking Americans are over. Phil Gramm, Harry and Louise might have scored with that approach in the 1990s, but the intervening years have brought spiraling costs and public unrest. Americans want a fix. Democrats promise one. The GOP can't tank the public option simply by complaining it will kill private insurance. The party has to finally elucidate how it plans to allow the private market to work.

Not that the senators don't think Republicans need to make clear to the country that the public option is, in Mr. Burr's words, "a fast track to a single-payer system." But they are also operating on the belief that Republicans must go beyond Band-Aid solutions to embrace, as Mr. Coburn puts it, a "complete transformation" of a system that is "structurally" flawed.

Their own bill overhauls the tax code, currently stacked in favor of corporate employees, to provide a tax credit to every American to purchase insurance. It expands health-savings accounts. It creates state health-insurance exchanges, where private insurers compete to cover Americans, including the uninsured. (This is partly modeled on the Medicare drug program, which has provided seniors with choice and held down costs.)

More broadly, it seeks to reorient financial incentives so that the system is no longer focused, as Mr. Coburn puts it, on "sick care," but on preventing the chronic diseases that eat 75% of health expenditures. These incentives would be used to lower costs and discourage insurers from cherry-picking patients. The bill also dives into Medicare and Medicaid reform.

Yet no small number of Senate Republicans are biding their time in Max Baucus land, waiting to see what the Democratic finance chairman produces as a "bipartisan" product. (Read: A bill the president wants.) This crowd has taken to heart Mr. Obama's accusation that they are the party of "no," and think it might be easier to be the party of Baucus, or the party of Baucus-lite, or the party of nothing whatsoever.

The White House is targeting folks like Chuck Grassley, Orrin Hatch and other Senate Republicans who back in 1997 voted for the State Children's Health Insurance Program, which was pitched by Democrats at the time as a modest program to help poor kids. It has, of course, become exactly what Democrats always intended it to be: a ballooning federal entitlement that is today transferring middle-class children from private insurance onto the federal rolls. This might be thought of as a teachable moment. But now Republican "moderates" are all ears for the administration's soothing suggestions that perhaps the "public option" can be "structured" so as to protect private insurance. Uh-huh.

Another group of Republicans are still going 50 rounds over taxes -- namely, whether a deduction isn't a more principled and cleaner way than credits to equalize the tax treatment of insurance. This is a legitimate debate, but one that should've been had 10 years ago when Republicans were in the majority. While the GOP fiddled, Democrats focused the argument on "uninsureds," which has made a tax deduction (which would only cover those who pay taxes) even less politically palatable.

Over in the House time runs on, as the Republican leadership and a health-care working group continue to noodle over platforms, policies, egos and timing. Democrats intend to be debating their bill by June.

As for Messrs. Coburn and Burr, they spent a good half hour with me enthusiastically explaining why a competitive market would improve health, provide control and choice, lower costs, and tackle entitlements. It's a good pitch. If only the rest of America could hear the party make it.
23408  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: The 911 families on: May 08, 2009, 10:52:47 AM
By DEBRA BURLINGAME
In February I was among a group of USS Cole and 9/11 victims' families who met with the president at the White House to discuss his policies regarding Guantanamo detainees. Although many of us strongly opposed Barack Obama's decision to close the detention center and suspend all military commissions, the families of the 17 sailors killed in the 2000 attack in Yemen were particularly outraged.


Over the years, the Cole families have seen justice abandoned by the Clinton administration and overshadowed by the need of the Bush administration to gather intelligence after 9/11. They have watched in frustration as the president of Yemen refused extradition for the Cole bombers.

Now, after more than eight years of waiting, Mr. Obama was stopping the trial of Abu Rahim al-Nashiri, the only individual to be held accountable for the bombing in a U.S. court. Patience finally gave out. The families were giving angry interviews, slamming the new president just days after he was sworn in.

The Obama team quickly put together a meeting at the White House to get the situation under control. Individuals representing "a diversity of views" were invited to attend and express their concerns.

On Feb. 6, the president arrived in the Roosevelt Room to a standing though subdued ovation from some 40 family members. With a White House photographer in his wake, Mr. Obama greeted family members one at a time and offered brief remarks that were full of platitudes ("you are the conscience of the country," "my highest duty as president is to protect the American people," "we will seek swift and certain justice"). Glossing over the legal complexities, he gave a vague summary of the detainee cases and why he chose to suspend them, focusing mostly on the need for speed and finality.

Many family members pressed for Guantanamo to remain open and for the military commissions to go forward. Mr. Obama allowed that the detention center had been unfairly confused with Abu Ghraib, but when asked why he wouldn't rehabilitate its image rather than shut it down, he silently shrugged. Next question.

Mr. Obama was urged to consult with prosecutors who have actually tried terrorism cases and warned that bringing unlawful combatants into the federal courts would mean giving our enemies classified intelligence -- as occurred in the cases of the al Qaeda cell that carried out the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and conspired to bomb New York City landmarks with ringleader Omar Abdel Rahman, the "Blind Sheikh." In the Rahman case, a list of 200 unindicted co-conspirators given to the defense -- they were entitled to information material to their defense -- was in Osama bin Laden's hands within hours. It told al Qaeda who among them was known to us, and who wasn't.

Mr. Obama responded flatly, "I'm the one who sees that intelligence. I don't want them to have it, either. We don't have to give it to them."

How could anyone be unhappy with such an answer? Or so churlish as to ask follow-up questions in such a forum? I and others were reassured, if cautiously so.

News reports described the meeting as a touching and powerful coming together of the president and these long-suffering families. Mr. Obama had won over even those who opposed his decision to close Gitmo by assuaging their fears that the review of some 245 current detainees would result in dangerous jihadists being set free. "I did not vote for the man, but the way he talks to you, you can't help but believe in him," said John Clodfelter to the New York Times. His son, Kenneth, was killed in the Cole bombing. "[Mr. Obama] left me with a very positive feeling that he's going to get this done right."

"This isn't goodbye," said the president, signing autographs and posing for pictures before leaving for his next appointment, "this is hello." His national security staff would have an open-door policy.

Believe . . . feel . . . hope.

We'd been had.

Binyam Mohamed -- the al Qaeda operative selected by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) for a catastrophic post-9/11 attack with co-conspirator Jose Padilla -- was released 17 days later. In a follow-up conference call, the White House liaison to 9/11 and Cole families refused to answer questions about the circumstances surrounding the decision to repatriate Mohamed, including whether he would be freed in Great Britain.

The phrase "swift and certain justice" had been used by top presidential adviser David Axelrod in an interview prior to our meeting with the president. "Swift and certain justice" figured prominently in the White House press release issued before we had time to surrender our White House security passes. "At best, he manipulated the families," Kirk Lippold, commanding officer of the USS Cole at the time of the attack and the leader of the Cole families group, told me recently. "At worst, he misrepresented his true intentions."

Last week, Attorney General Eric Holder told German reporters that 30 detainees had been cleared for release. This includes 17 Chinese fundamentalist Muslims, the Uighurs, some of whom admit to having been trained in al Qaeda and Taliban camps and being associated with the East Turkistan Islamic Party. This party is led by Abdul Haq, who threatened attacks on the 2008 Olympics Games in Beijing and was recently added to the Treasury Department's terrorist list. The Obama administration is considering releasing the Uighurs on U.S. soil, and it has suggested that taxpayers may have to provide them with welfare support. In a Senate hearing yesterday, Mr. Holder sidestepped lawmakers' questions about releasing detainees into the U.S. who have received terrorist training.

What about the terrorists who may actually be tried? The Justice Department's recent plea agreement with Ali Saleh al-Marri should be of grave concern to those who believe the Obama administration will vigorously prosecute terrorists in the federal court system.

Al-Marri was sent to the U.S. on Sept. 10, 2001, by KSM to carry out cyanide bomb attacks. He pled guilty to one count of "material support," a charge reserved for facilitators rather than hard-core terrorists. He faces up to a 15-year sentence, but will be allowed to argue that the sentence should be satisfied by the seven years he has been in custody. This is the kind of thin "rule of law" victory that will invigorate rather than deter our enemies.

Given all the developments since our meeting with the president, it is now evident that his words to us bore no relation to his intended actions on national security policy and detainee issues. But the narrative about Mr. Obama's successful meeting with 9/11 and Cole families has been written, and the press has moved on.

The Obama team has established a pattern that should be plain for all to see. When controversy erupts or legitimate policy differences are presented by well-meaning people, send out the celebrity president to flatter and charm.

Most recently, Mr. Obama appeared at the CIA after demoralizing the agency with the declassification and release of memos containing sensitive information on CIA interrogations. He appealed to moral vanity by saying that fighting a war against fanatic barbarians "with one hand tied behind your back" is being on "the better side of history," even though innocent lives are put at risk. He promised the assembled staff and analysts that if they keep applying themselves, they won't be personally marked for career-destroying sanctions or criminal prosecutions, even as disbelieving counterterrorism professionals -- the field operatives and their foreign partners -- shut down critical operations for fear of public disclosure and political retribution in the never-ending Beltway soap opera called Capitol Hill.

It worked: On television, his speech looked like a campaign rally, with people jumping up and down, cheering. Meanwhile, the media have moved on, even as they continue to recklessly and irresponsibly use the word "torture" in their stories.

I asked Cmdr. Kirk Lippold why some of the Cole families declined the invitation to meet with Barack Obama at the White House.

"They saw it for what it was."

Ms. Burlingame, a former attorney and a director of the National September 11 Memorial Foundation, is the sister of Charles F. "Chic" Burlingame III, the pilot of American Airlines flight 77, which was crashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.
23409  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ Stressed for success on: May 08, 2009, 10:47:36 AM
The Treasury released its bank "stress test" results late yesterday, and the good news is that the financial system has survived this very public undressing better than most analysts figured three months ago. We'd attribute the results much more to Adam Smith's continuing workout than to this public strip-tease, but we'll take relief wherever we can get it.

 
APStress-testing is what banks and their regulators are supposed to do as a matter of course, albeit more quietly. The current very loud and public effort was advertised to provide an extraordinary measure of transparency at a time when no one trusted bank books. Do markets trust them any better now? Judging by the run-up in bank stock prices from their oversold levels in January, they do. This is progress.

On the other hand, all we really have to go on is the word of the federal employees who looked at the banks and estimated their losses against certain economic assumptions. Did they go easier than they might have, and how much did they bend when the banks fought back? The Fed's overview yesterday claimed they ran a "deliberately stringent test" and pegged potential "adverse"-case losses at the 19 largest banks at $600 billion this year and next.

Yet markets are also full of reports that regulators showed more than a little forbearance, especially after it became clear that President Obama had no desire to go back to Congress to ask for more public money. With only $110 billion or so in Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds left uncommitted, it's probably no coincidence that Treasury now sees new net bank capital needs as a manageable $75 billion.

And maybe that optimism will prove correct. Most banks are earning healthy profits again, thanks to a low cost of funds and steep yield curve. They're also taking steps to burn bad debt and clean up their balance sheets. Some banks that got too big during the boom are looking to sell some of their operations in order to raise cash. This is how a financial system shapes itself up under the market pressure of recession, with or without stress tests.

Not that there still aren't plenty of financial risks out there. On the credit side, commercial real estate is ugly and both home mortgage and credit card losses are a long way from receding. While the economy seems to be bottoming out at last, unemployment will keep rising for several months, which will mean more bank losses.

But our biggest question concerns interest-rate risk. Thanks to the Federal Reserve's emergency easing, short-term rates are close to zero. That can't last forever, and the longer the Fed keeps rates this low the more likely it is that rates will have to climb higher down the road to prevent inflation. Remember how the Fed's 1% rate of 2003-2004 rose to 5.25% by 2006 and what that did to housing prices and the cost of bank funds? Yet the Fed didn't disclose the interest-rate projections for 2010 and beyond that it built into its stress test models.

On the interest-rate point, by the way, one omen was yesterday's terrible 30-year Treasury bond auction. Treasury sold $14 billion of the securities, but investors demanded yields in mid-auction that were higher than forecast and bond prices fell the most since February. The 30-year yield hit 4.3%. With trillions of dollars in budget deficits still in the pipeline -- even before health care -- Treasury may find the world keeps demanding higher yields to offset the fear of potential inflation. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke didn't help on that score this week when he told Congress that it was too early to take liquidity out of the financial system because the economy was still too weak. By the time the economy is growing, it will be too late. Think 2004, again.

In the wake of the stress tests, the weaker banks will now have six months to raise private capital to fill the hole identified by Treasury. They'll be desperate to do so, because the alternative is that Treasury will force them to accept more public capital. This will include the conversion of Treasury's preferred stock, bought last year via the TARP, into common shares.

Under accounting rules, this gives the banks more "tangible common equity," the measure of capital favored by Treasury. Yet it provides not a penny more in actual capital to absorb losses. Meantime, the feds would suddenly own big chunks of those banks via common stock, the way they now are the largest shareholder in once-proud Citigroup. We've called this a back-door nationalization, and it means Congress looking over banker shoulders. The silver lining is that bank executives are now so appalled by this idea that they'll sell anything that moves to avoid such a fate.

As for the "stronger" banks, a major goal will be to flee as fast as possible from the TARP, also known as the Hotel Geithner. Banks can check in but it's a lot harder to check out. Treasury has set up major hurdles before a bank can escape, even if it wants to. Clearly banks at risk of failing can't be allowed to endanger the larger financial system, but banks that have adequate capital shouldn't be held hostage to the political worries of regulators.

The best that can be said about the stress tests is that they're over. Now the most urgent task is to get back to a financial system free of government guarantees, public capital and political control.
23410  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / S. Adams on: May 08, 2009, 10:35:03 AM
"Since private and publick Vices, are in Reality, though not always apparently, so nearly connected, of how much Importance, how necessary is it, that the utmost Pains be taken by the Publick, to have the Principles of Virtue early inculcated on the Minds even of children, and the moral Sense kept alive, and that the wise institutions of our Ancestors for these great Purposes be encouraged by the Government. For no people will tamely surrender their Liberties, nor can any be easily subdued, when knowledge is diffusd and Virtue is preservd. On the Contrary, when People are universally ignorant, and debauchd in their Manners, they will sink under their own weight without the Aid of foreign Invaders."

--Samuel Adams, letter to James Warren, 4 November 1775
23411  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: The Dog Brothers Tribe on: May 08, 2009, 09:05:28 AM
Dog Dan Farley most certainly is a member of the Tribe.  I'll ask our webmaster to take care of this right away.  Thanks for the catch.
23412  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Germany to ban paintball? on: May 08, 2009, 12:01:49 AM
http://www.news24.com/News24/World/News/0,,2-10-1462_2512787,00.htm


07/05/2009 16:19 - (SA)

Berlin - The German government wants to tighten gun laws and ban paintball games in response to a school shooting in which 16 people were killed in March, coalition sources said on Thursday.
Experts from Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and her Social Democrat (SPD) coalition partners had agreed to ban paintball games, in which players shoot at each other with pellets containing paint, the sources said.
The governing parties say games like paintball trivialise violence and risk lowering the threshold for committing violent acts, the sources said.
Infringements to the new rules, which the cabinet hopes to pass before a general election in September, could incur fines of up to €5 000, the sources said.
Previous incidents
A 17-year-old shot dead 15 people in the southwestern town of Winnenden, before killing himself in March, stunning many Germans and leading politicians to call for tighter gun rules.
The teenager had shot many of his victims in the head with his father's legally registered pistol. His father, a member of a shooting club, had 15 guns at home - fourteen were locked in a gun closet as required by law but the pistol was in the bedroom, officials have said.
Germany toughened its gun laws in 2002 after 19-year-old Robert Steinhauser shot dead 16 people, mainly teachers, and himself at a high school in the eastern German city of Erfurt.
The changes raised the minimum age for gun ownership to 21 from 18 and required gun buyers under 25 to present a certificate of medical and psychological health. Gun laws already required applicants to pass rigorous exams that can take up to a year.
The new rules would also grant authorities more rights in conducting checks with people owning guns, the sources said.
Sources in the SPD said the parties were also moving towards on agreement on the creation of a nationwide weapons register and were considering setting up biometric security locks for weapons stores.
- Reuter
23413  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Government Programs on: May 07, 2009, 11:58:32 PM

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090508/...a_slain_police


Obama to cut slain officers program by nearly half

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration wants to cut almost in half a benefits program for the families of slain police and safety officers.
The president's proposed budget calls for cutting the Public Safety Officers' Death Benefits Program from $110 million to $60 million.
The Justice Department insisted no one would lose benefits.
"Any family member who is eligible for benefits under this program will receive them," said Justice Department spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz.
Budget documents say the reduction is being made because "claims are anticipated to decrease," apparently because the number of officers killed in the line of duty has been decreasing.
The proposal is being made just days before Attorney General Eric Holder is expected to attend ceremonies in Washington honoring slain officers.
"It makes us kind of nervous. While we aren't panicking, it certainly has increased our concern, coming a week before National Police Week," said Suzie Sawyer, executive director of Concerns of Police Survivors, a group taking part in next week's events.
Sawyer said as long as the number of police and safety officers killed doesn't increase too much, the amount of money offered in the budget could be enough. And she noted that in the past, the government has found more money for the program when it needed more, such as following the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.
The program pays benefits of more than $300,000 to the survivors of a safety officer killed in the line of duty.
There were 133 police officers killed in the line of duty last year, the lowest amount since 1960, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
The group said killings of police officers are up 21 percent so far in 2009, compared to the same period the year before.
23414  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Little girls on: May 07, 2009, 05:03:11 PM
"If little girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice, when they grow up why do they taste like anchovies?"
23415  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Cognitive Dissonance of His Glibness on: May 07, 2009, 03:50:26 PM
Its hard not to like someone who brings the informed and passionate loathing of the Clintons that Dick Morris does.  As a pollster he is in his element.  Political econ?  Well, methinks he sometimes confuses being on Fox with being an expert.

In this case though he is pretty much on the money-- sounds like he is channeling Glen Beck  cheesy

GB I think though is deeper and clearer on what's at stake here.  This is not what DM calls "compliant capitalism".  This is liberal fascism and is quite similar to the economics of Mussolini.
23416  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Islam in Europe on: May 07, 2009, 03:44:57 PM
I have sent the video to my mom, who speaks French very well, to ask what it says.  Somehow, I doubt they are paying for these products-- it seems rather contrary to the notion of a boycott  cheesy

I respect the point you make about boycotts, but I note the front of the shirts says what I think means "Long Live Palestine".  Somehow I doubt they are working for a two state solution , , ,
23417  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Citizens defend themselves/others. on: May 07, 2009, 01:42:31 PM
College Student Shoots, Kills Home Invader

COLLEGE PARK, Ga. -- A group of college students said they are lucky to be alive and they’re thanking the quick-thinking of one of their own. Police said a fellow student shot and killed one of two masked me who burst into an apartment.

Channel 2 Action News reporter Tom Jones met with one of the students to talk about the incident.

“Apparently, his intent was to rape and murder us all,” said student Charles Bailey.

Bailey said he thought it was the end of his life and the lives of the 10 people inside his apartment for a birthday party after two masked men with guns burst in through a patio door.

“They just came in and separated the men from the women and said, ‘Give me your wallets and cell phones,’” said George Williams of the College Park Police Department.

Bailey said the gunmen started counting bullets. “The other guy asked how many (bullets) he had. He said he had enough,” said Bailey.

That’s when one student grabbed a gun out of a backpack and shot at the invader who was watching the men. The gunman ran out of the apartment.

The student then ran to the room where the second gunman, identified by police as 23-year-old Calvin Lavant, was holding the women.

“Apparently the guy was getting ready to rape his girlfriend. So he told the girls to get down and he started shooting. The guy jumped out of the window,” said Bailey.

A neighbor heard the shots and heard someone running nearby.

“And I heard someone say, ‘Someone help me. Call the police. Somebody call the police,’” said a neighbor.

The neighbor said she believes it was Lavant, who was found dead near his apartment, only one building away.

Bailey said he is just thankful one student risked his life to keep others alive.

“I think all of us are really cognizant of the fact that we could have all been killed,” said Bailey.

One female student was shot several times during the crossfire. She is expected to make a full recovery.

Police said they are close to making the arrest of the second suspect.
23418  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Why haven't your heard about this from Pravda? on: May 07, 2009, 01:21:02 PM
College Student Shoots, Kills Home Invader


COLLEGE PARK, Ga. -- A group of college students said they are lucky to be alive and they’re thanking the quick-thinking of one of their own. Police said a fellow student shot and killed one of two masked me who burst into an apartment.

Channel 2 Action News reporter Tom Jones met with one of the students to talk about the incident.

“Apparently, his intent was to rape and murder us all,” said student Charles Bailey.

Bailey said he thought it was the end of his life and the lives of the 10 people inside his apartment for a birthday party after two masked men with guns burst in through a patio door.

“They just came in and separated the men from the women and said, ‘Give me your wallets and cell phones,’” said George Williams of the College Park Police Department.

Bailey said the gunmen started counting bullets. “The other guy asked how many (bullets) he had. He said he had enough,” said Bailey.

That’s when one student grabbed a gun out of a backpack and shot at the invader who was watching the men. The gunman ran out of the apartment.

The student then ran to the room where the second gunman, identified by police as 23-year-old Calvin Lavant, was holding the women.

“Apparently the guy was getting ready to rape his girlfriend. So he told the girls to get down and he started shooting. The guy jumped out of the window,” said Bailey.

A neighbor heard the shots and heard someone running nearby.

“And I heard someone say, ‘Someone help me. Call the police. Somebody call the police,’” said a neighbor.

The neighbor said she believes it was Lavant, who was found dead near his apartment, only one building away.

Bailey said he is just thankful one student risked his life to keep others alive.

“I think all of us are really cognizant of the fact that we could have all been killed,” said Bailey.

One female student was shot several times during the crossfire. She is expected to make a full recovery.

Police said they are close to making the arrest of the second suspect.
23419  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Montana's 10th Amendment challenge on: May 07, 2009, 01:04:33 PM
The Second and Tenth Amendments
In what amounts to a serious Second and Tenth Amendment challenge to federal authority, the Montana Legislature passed and its Democrat governor signed a law which specifies that guns which are produced, sold and maintained within the state are exempt from federal regulations.

Essentially, Montana is setting up a Tenth Amendment challenge -- as soon as the first arrest is made for purchasing a gun without the user submitting to federal mandates such as background checks, licensing and registration, the state will assert its Tenth Amendment rights under our Constitution.

Other states are preparing similar legislation, but I would suggest one of them take the Tenth Amendment challenge a major step forward.

Let's see a state pass a law requiring that any and all federal authorities who wish to carry a firearm within the boundary of said state, must be in possession of a "right to carry" permit issued and authorized by that state's governor.

And speaking of "right to carry," in my home state of Tennessee, legislators are considering a bill to allow duly authorized carry permit holders to keep their weapons on their person in restaurants which serve alcohol (not to be confused with bars), similar to surrounding states.


 

The statists are protesting that doing so will undoubtedly lead to tragedy. However, one would be hard pressed to find any incident in any year when an authorized holder of a carry permit committed a felony with their weapon. By contrast, in the latest year of record, there were 13,470 fatalities involving alcohol-impaired drivers.

Now that is a tragedy. Perhaps they should not allow alcohol in bars...

Of course, this whole debate on federal versus state gun regulations and concealed carry permits is a straw man. Personally, my right-to-carry permit is the Second Amendment...
23420  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Congressman McClintock on the CA Initiatives on: May 07, 2009, 12:17:45 PM
McClintock on the Propositions

Here are Rep. McClintock's recommendations for the May 19th Special Election.

Prop 1A: Extend the Tax Increases. NO. This is the fig leaf that hides certain deficiencies suffered by the legislators who caved into pressure for the biggest tax increase in California's history. This measure EXTENDS the tax increases for up to two ADDITIONAL years in exchange for a spending limit that doesn't limit spending. The "spending limit" is laughable – it requires placing "unanticipated revenues" into a special fund that is then to be spent for a variety of additional purposes including education, debt service and health care. And since all funds are interchangeable, this merely allows funds spent for one purpose to be shifted for another. The bottom line: If you were against the tax increase, you're against Prop. 1A.

Prop 1B: Increases Public School Spending $9.3 Billion. NO. This is the classic J. Willington Wimpy approach to finance – "I would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today." In exchange for not making certain mandated school payments over the next two years, this measure obligates $9.3 billion in supplemental payments in future years. But wait, it gets better. According to the Legislative Analyst, it's not entirely clear the bill will actually save money in the short term, but very likely it will cost much more in the future.

Prop 1C: Lottery rip-off. NO. This measure takes the Lottery revenue away from the schools, diverts it into the general fund to pay for $5 billion of new borrowing to balance the general fund, and then locks the general fund into making additional payments to the public schools in perpetuity. If this sounds like another of the infamous Schwarzenegger "After me, the flood" proposals, you're right.

Prop 1D: California Children and Families Rip-off. YES. This measure irresponsibly rips off an irresponsible rip-off, which in balance is probably a (barely) good thing. The Children and Families Fund (now called First 5) was the Rob Reiner disaster that raised tobacco taxes through the roof to pay for some highly dubious community programs. This slush fund has built up a sizeable reserve that Prop 1D filches for the general fund.

Prop 1E: Mental Health Funding Rip-Off. YES. This measure irresponsibly rips off another irresponsible rip-off, in this case the Mental Health Services Act that is funded by a 1 percent surcharge on upper-income wage earners and small businesses. Both 1D and 1E would require a more hardheaded appraisal of spending priorities, which is the only reason that would justify voting for them.

Prop 1F: No Raise Without a Balanced Budget. NO. What's not to like about a measure that says to the Legislature, "If you don't pass a balanced budget you won't get a raise?" My advice: beware any measure that puts a representative's self-interest ahead of the public interest. I'm afraid this would ultimately end up as a perverse incentive for legislators to pass higher and higher taxes in order to qualify for higher and higher salaries. We actually had a balanced budget device in the constitution that worked well: the Gann Spending Limit. We need to bring it back.
23421  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Dog Brothers Team Kali Tudo on: May 07, 2009, 11:38:50 AM
Woof All:

An outstanding time was had by all at our initial session.  We identified and worked the four power lines of the Arfful Dodger chamber, then focused on the Dracula/Dodger. 

At my wife's request, the regular time is now Monday at 13:30.

The Adventure continues,
Guro Crafty
23422  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Islam Day in HI? on: May 07, 2009, 11:29:21 AM
HONOLULU -- Hawaii's state Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill Wednesday to celebrate "Islam Day" -- over the objections of a few lawmakers who said they didn't want to honor a religion connected to Sept. 11, 2001.
The Senate's two Republicans argued that a minority of Islamic extremists have killed many innocents in terrorist attacks.
"I recall radical Islamists around the world cheering the horrors of 9/11. That is the day all civilized people of all religions should remember," said Republican Sen. Fred Hemmings to the applause of more than 100 people gathered in the Senate to oppose a separate issue -- same-sex civil unions.
The resolution to proclaim Sept. 24, 2009, as Islam Day passed the Senate on a 22-3 vote. It had previously passed the House and now goes to Republican Gov. Linda Lingle.
The bill seeks to recognize "the rich religious, scientific, cultural and artistic contributions" that Islam and the Islamic world have made. It does not call for any spending or organized celebration of Islam Day.
"We are a state of tolerance. We understand that people have different beliefs," said Sen. Will Espero, a Democrat. "We may not all agree on every single item and issue out there, but to say and highlight the negativity of the Islamic people is an insult to the majority" of believers "who are good law-abiding citizens of the world."
But Republican Sen. Sam Slom argued that the United States has become too sympathetic toward Islamic extremists.
"I don't think there's any country in the history of the world that has been more tolerant than the United States of America, and because of that tolerance, we've looked the other way a lot of times, and many thousands of our citizens have been killed by terrorists," said Slom, a Republican.
The lone Democrat voting against the bill opposed it on church-state separation fears.


http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2009...ate-islam-day/
23423  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: Georgia, Russia, et al on: May 07, 2009, 11:20:03 AM
Geopolitical Diary: A Case of Georgian Deja Vu
May 6, 2009
STRATFOR is experiencing deja vu: Events in Georgia are calling to mind those that led up to the Russo-Georgian war in August 2008.

Tensions between Moscow and Tbilisi escalated yet again on Tuesday, when Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili claimed to have “thwarted” a Russian-backed coup from within the Georgian military and accused Russia of “massing up naval forces and warships in the sea off the coast” — all while Georgia was preparing for large (by its standards) military exercises in conjunction with NATO.

There have been other recent developments:

Since early April, Russia has increased its troop presence in Georgia’s breakaway regions from 3,000 to more than 7,600. Three months before the August war broke out, Russia had doubled its troop strength there from 1,500 to 3,000.
Russia has been accused of building up its naval presence off the coast of Abkhazia. In the months before the war, there were accusations that Russia was expanding that region’s ports.
Georgia and NATO will launch the next phase of NATO exercises in Vaziani on Wednesday — nearly the same exercises as the ones held at Vaziani three weeks before the Russo-Georgian war began.
Small-arms fire across the South Ossetian-Georgian border resumed in April. Last year, cross-border firing gave way to mortar attacks that precipitated Georgia’s invasion of South Ossetia.
But while Russia may be ready for another round of conflict — or at least ready to create the illusion of another round, as a means of pressuring its smaller neighbor — there are other significant shifts under way in Georgia, and these are creating levels of pressure that Tbilisi has never before faced.

Political unrest in Georgia has reached a pitch not seen since the 2003 Rose Revolution that brought Saakashvili to power. Mass protests began in early April and have persisted, albeit with dwindling numbers of demonstrators, to the present. Saakashvili has seen members of his own inner circle break away and join the traditionally weak opposition. Moreover, the allegations that a coup plot was being hatched within the Georgian military signals that Saakashvili cannot rely on support from the military, which blames him for dragging the country into the war with Russia.

Typically, the inner workings of Georgian politics have no geopolitical significance, since these affairs have more to do with personalities than shifts in alignment toward the West or Russia. But right now, everything that provides outsiders with opportunities to influence Tbilisi matters, because Georgia is the cornerstone of Russia’s foreign policy agenda toward the West and within the Caucasus. Georgia is Russia’s Achilles’ heel as Moscow attempts to re-establish its influence in all corners of the former Soviet region and create a geographic buffer between Russia and other global powers.

But Georgia’s relevance as that cornerstone is now being tested: Dynamics in the rest of the Caucasus region are shifting for the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union. Turkey, a key member of NATO, is moving to normalize relations with Armenia, Georgia’s neighbor to the south. And that means that the three small states in the Caucasus — Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia itself — are re-evaluating their allegiances to NATO and Russia. Armenia, a Russian ally, is negotiating with Turkey; Azerbaijan, Turkey’s brother nation, is turning to Russia; and Turkey is balancing its relationship with all parties involved. If they could hold Armenia, balance Turkey and reconnect with Azerbaijan, the Russians would not need to worry about what happens with Georgia, which would be locked into the Soviet sphere by default.

And that brings us full circle to the sense of deja vu involving Russia and Georgia: namely, Moscow once again dominating Tbilisi. From the outside, all the circumstances today appear similar to those of August 2008, but upon closer inspection, Georgia is dealing with two other significant and destabilizing trends. Georgia has never been a stable country. Traditionally, it has faced challenges stemming either from Russia, from domestic political tensions or from its neighbors in the Caucasus — but never from all three at once.

The redefinition of Georgia is taking place, and forces largely beyond its control are remaking Tbilisi’s role in the region.
23424  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor on: May 07, 2009, 11:06:53 AM
Summary

China has chosen short-term responses to the global economic crisis. While these may buy Beijing time, they only delay — and possibly undermine — real structural change. And that could portend a bigger Chinese crisis in the coming years.


China registered 6.1 percent gross domestic product (GDP) growth for the first quarter of 2009, down from the 6.8 percent growth rate for the fourth quarter of 2008. While this may appear fairly robust compared to the 6.1 percent decline in GDP registered in the United States for the same quarter (a number that was a slight improvement over the 6.3 percent decline in the fourth quarter of 2008), comparing these numbers is not comparing apples to apples. The United States, along with many other countries, notes GDP changes from quarter to quarter (the Q1 number is in comparison to the preceding Q4), whereas China counts changes year on year (Q1 is in comparison to the previous Q1).

By some estimates, as measured comparable to the U.S. system of accounting, China’s economy sunk to zero growth in Q4 2008, or even went negative — and that decline continued into Q1 2009. But even looking just at the year-to-year numbers, Chinese economists have quietly admitted that at least 4 percentage points of their growth figure are attributable to government stimulus monies, and that economic growth was really in the 1 or 2 percent range, far below government targets. Other observers of Chinese statistics agree with the 4 or so percentage points attributable to stimulus, but also suggest that some 2 or 3 percentage points are also exaggerations reported up the chain from lower levels of the bureaucracy to avoid falling too short of central government expectations, meaning that growth again was at zero or negative in the first quarter.

Amid a global economic crisis, even zero percent growth is not all that bad. But it is a significant problem for the Chinese leadership, which has placed excessive importance on the specific growth numbers, in part due to concern that a flagging economy could stir social instability and in part due to Communist Party legitimacy being linked to economic growth these days.

Beijing’s response has been a reversion to the tried-and-true methods of:

supporting export industries,
encouraging, via rewards or threats, the maintenance of employment levels by companies (even if this is unprofitable, contributes to overproduction, and delays or avoids the weeding out of the weak and inefficient in the Chinese economy), and
large-scale state spending (directly from government coffers or indirectly through a loan surge from major state-backed banks) designed to boost infrastructure development and underwrite a rise in domestic consumption of large items like automobiles and major appliances.
These measures may give Beijing some control over China’s looming unemployment problem, which is something officials fear but are still far behind in addressing, with social security and health care initiatives still largely in the formative stages, rather than well developed in preparation for the combination of a sustained economic slowdown and an aging population. But Beijing largely has stalled or reversed initiatives from the past several years that were designed to reform the economy into a less redundant, more efficient and flexible system better able to adapt to global change. In short, China’s short-term solutions to the global economic crisis are buying time, but they are delaying, if not undermining, real structural change. And that could portend a bigger Chinese crisis in the coming years.

The Chinese Bank Spending Spree
In the first quarter of 2009, Chinese banks went on a massive state-mandated lending spree. The so-called big three — the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), the China Construction Bank (CCB) and the Bank of China (BOC) — issued some 4.58 trillion yuan ($670 billion) in new loans during that quarter. Much of this purportedly was issued for major infrastructure projects as part of the government’s $586 billion stimulus package, though anecdotal reports suggest much went to state-owned enterprises (SOEs). The SOEs may have used the loans for market speculation, paying off earlier loans or maintaining payroll during the economic downturn rather than spending capital improvements and efficiency programs.

The first-quarter loans accounted for more than 90 percent of the initial government yearly loan targets, prompting concerns that after the initial flood of loans, liquidity would dry up for the rest of the year. But Chinese officials have now said new loans will not stop at the 5 trillion yuan (about $732 billion) target, and it has been suggested that total lending may be closer to 8 trillion or 9 trillion yuan (about $1.1 trillion or $1.3 trillion) for the year, and initial estimates put April new lending at 400 billion to 600 billion yuan (about $58 billion to $87 billion).

While lending has helped Chinese companies maintain employment levels during the economic slowdown, it also brings about renewed risks to the Chinese banking sector and undermines earlier nascent moves to try to drive Chinese businesses to be more profitable and efficient rather than to rely on state bailouts and loans to stay afloat. As the big three were issuing record quantities of new loans in the first quarter, their net profits were falling; the CCB reported an 18.2 percent decline for the quarter, and the BOC reported a 14.1 percent decline. Only the ICBC reported a net growth in profits (of some 6.2 percent), but according to the bank, this was due to a significant hike in fees and a dip in operating costs.

For each of the big three, loan interest makes up by far the bulk of operating income (79.5 percent for the ICBC, 77.5 percent for the CCB and 73 percent for the BOC). And the banks are noting narrowing margins on loan interest as the cause for their net profit declines. It is also likely that hidden within these numbers is a growing problem of loan repayment, particularly given reports of thousands of companies that have been shutting their doors since the fourth quarter of 2008 or turning unprofitable in the current economic environment.

While the lending spree is designed to give the economy a boost and maintain a system flush with liquidity to avoid the U.S.-style economic crunch, it is also increasing the risks of nonperforming loans (NPLs). This risks weakening the banks, which already were bailed out more than a decade ago to the tune of some $325 billion in transfer of bad debt to asset management corporations, thus cleaning the banks’ balance sheets.

It also reduces the pressure on Chinese companies (particularly state-owned companies) to reform their business practices and become more efficient and profitable rather than rely on government loans and incentives to operate. In addition, with most loans targeting state firms, China’s private companies remain on the back burner. This is another reversal of earlier initiatives to push for a greater role for the private sector aimed at making the system more susceptible to market forces, and thus more likely to weed out inefficient and outdated companies.

Avoiding the Oversupply Issue
One issue the government keeps coming back to (and keeps running away from just as quickly) is the massive oversupply of production in certain sectors of the Chinese economy. Much of the Chinese economy is made up of redundant, small, inefficient production facilities, the remnants of the old Mao-era encouragement of self-sufficient provinces and cities. Many of these redundancies remain because while inefficient on a national scale, they still provide employment, tax revenues and economic output numbers for the provincial and local officials. Few are willing to see their local industries shuttered to satisfy a national need to become more streamlined and efficient for the long run.

The new pressures building on China’s banks could not come at a worse time. In the mid-1990s, the run-up of bad debt was beginning to cause significant problems for the Chinese financial sector, and a bailout program was launched in 1999. The government took mounds of bad loans from the Chinese state banks, transferring them to new firms called asset management corporations (AMCs). In exchange, the AMCs issued bonds worth the full face value of the NPLs back to the banks, despite the fact that the NPLs were worth — at most — one-third of that. In one wave of the accounting wand, the state banks went from being anchored down by dud assets to being flush with cash.

Those bonds provided a huge boost to the banks’ balance sheets, as they were backed by China’s central bank, the People’s Bank of China, and so were as good as cash when determining how healthy the institutions were. This made the Chinese banks rather attractive with their initial public offerings, gaining foreign investment and expertise and limiting competition in the Chinese banking sector as it opened due to World Trade Organization regulations.

But the NPLs were never disposed of. These AMCs were supposed to follow the model of previous “bad bank” programs, disposing of the bad debt by forcing indebted firms to pay up or — if push came to shove — liquidating the firms for whatever salvageable assets might be sold off to pay the debt. But closing firms down, obviously, would mean adding to the ranks of the unemployed. So the AMCs instead simply held the bad debt — for 10 years — while the state banks used their shiny new cash-equivalent bonds to issue even more loans.

As 2009 rolls on, this strategy is coming back to haunt the government. The NPL bonds are structured so that the AMCs only need to pay interest, not principle and interest as with normal bonds. With the bond rates at approximately 2 percent, this has been a barely manageable task. (Remember, the AMCs have been disposing of very few actual dud companies, so their income has been tiny, though supplemented by some good assets also transferred at the time of their creation.) But all of the bonds in question are 10-year bonds, with the entire value of the principle due around the end of the year. Because very few NPLs actually have been disposed of, and because NPLs generally are worth less than one-third of their face value, the only way these bonds could be redeemed would be if the Ministry of Finance doled out the cash itself. After all, the AMCs were designed to do little more than simply hold the loans, not actually rehabilitate them.

When the Chinese economy was growing at double-digit rates, the banks could stay ahead of the potential problem of NPLs. But with the economy effectively stalling at the same time banks are being asked to significantly increase the issuance of new loans, a major problem may be brewing. This means one of three things has to happen:

The banks will have to write off these bonds, seeing a massive drop in their balance sheets.
The Ministry of Finance will have to step in and recapitalize.
The bonds will be rolled over, pushing the problem further out in the hopes that it either simply goes away or that the Chinese economy will have grown enough by that time to simply absorb the losses.
With the latter choice the most likely, and with the addition of some 5 trillion - 9 trillion yuan in new loans this year (with questionable performance on much of it), the Chinese are heading toward another future banking crisis. And the flight of foreign investors from Chinese banks certainly will not help this crisis.

In short, like many others, the Chinese are using short-term measures to deal with the current economic downturn. But these measures not only are building in renewed risks (like the compounding NPL problems), they also are reversing the small steps toward economic reform necessary for more stable and continued Chinese economic development. The government was able to boost domestic consumption in the first quarter of 2009, but this was primarily through coupons and incentives focused mainly on rural purchases of large appliances and automobiles. These are not sustainable efforts. Many Chinese economists have criticized the moves as building new dangers as rural consumers spend their meager savings on big-ticket items, leaving them with a car and refrigerator but no job or health insurance.

A Missed Opportunity
The surge in bank lending to Chinese companies, both for infrastructure projects and to cover old loans and payroll, also is not sustainable, particularly as bank profits fall, margins thin and the risk of a new surge in bad loans rises. And the strength of the Chinese economy remains undermined by allowing weak companies to be kept alive through loans and government incentives. The debate in Beijing is whether the financial crisis has offered China the opportunity to fundamentally make its economic system more profitable, efficient and able to adapt to changes in market forces, or whether the crisis is another moment when the government needs to do what it can to shore up the old system.

Beijing has chosen the latter path, which it deems less socially destabilizing, and thus greater government involvement in the economy will be expected. But the pent-up pressures on the Chinese economy, and on the Chinese leadership, are likely to be worse in the long run. And with the economy unlikely to return to double-digit growth anytime soon (if at all), the day of reckoning may come sooner rather than later.
23425  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Henninger on: May 07, 2009, 11:02:55 AM
The Republican Party's unending tale of woe sounds like a friend's account of sitting through the New York Yankees' 22-4 loss to the Cleveland Indians at the new Yankee Stadium April 18.


In the 14-run second inning, three Indians hit home runs into the right-field seats, including a grand-slam. One ball hit a woman in the head because the fans had stopped watching the game. A nasty fight broke out in the stands. After the fourth inning (16-2), the subway trains taking Yankee faithful back to Manhattan were packed. Republicans know the feeling.

Rookie President Barack Obama has been pounding policy after policy through the Republicans' hapless defense. His approval is out of the park. He's teeing up his first Supreme Court appointment. Al Franken -- in a "say-it-ain't-so" moment if ever there was one -- is close to giving the Democrats a filibuster-proof Senate majority. And Republican voters are heading for the exits, with a puny 31% willing to tell a pollster they belong to the party.

During downturns in sports, three rules of thumb are: Don't panic, stay within your game, play to your strengths. This being politics, the Republicans naturally are violating all three.


Should Republicans return to Reaganism? Daniel Henninger explains. (May 7)
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush made headlines last weekend suggesting it's time for the party to get over its glory days: "I felt like there was a lot of nostalgia and the good old days in the [GOP] messaging. I mean, it's great, but it doesn't draw people toward your cause." Joyful Democratic bloggers put this more clearly in five tight words: GOP Needs to Forget Reagan.

Is this true?

The answer to that historic question is an apt subject this week as the GOP, looking for a path from the wilderness, says farewell at National Cathedral tomorrow to Jack Kemp, who remained a Reaganite to the end.

Jack Kemp, anyone who spent time around him will tell you, stayed on message. That message, like Reagan's, had a number of parts, but it is not possible to even guess how many times Jack Kemp summarized his explanations of that message in three words: "Work, save and invest." Republicans should think hard about building a governing philosophy on the foundation of those three words, ideas that most voters understand.

The full Kemp phrase, of course, was "incentives to work, save and invest." Those incentives were to be the result of a government willing to admit the social benefits of modesty -- in taxation and regulation of the economy. For now, the American public has elected an immodest government. This government says that circumstance forced it to spend $787 billion on stimulus. Its $3.5 trillion fiscal year 2010 budget, however, will by choice take spending to 25% of GDP next year.

Podcast
Listen to Daniel Henninger's Wonder Land column, now available in audio format.
Last weekend, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor began a GOP "listening tour." What's to hear? People want what they always want: a job that will let them build a life and family. What they want from Republicans is leadership toward that goal.

Today Mr. Obama releases the details of his $3.5 trillion budget, his path to the same goal. Rather than drown as usual in this accounting morass, Republicans should contrast the Obama-Pelosi budget with the Reagan-Kemp philosophy of how a striving nation works, saves and invests.

Republicans can start by taking the time to read the first Obama budget document, "A New Era of Responsibility." The word "investment" occurs over 140 times in its 142 pages. But this "investment" isn't private capital invested in private start-ups, what Mr. Kemp constantly called "entrepreneurial capitalism" and what most parents hope their children will join. Mr. Obama's document genuflects to "the market economy," then argues that it won't endure unless we "sacrifice" (through tax increases) to make "overdue investments" (which literally only means public spending) on four explicit goals: green energy, infrastructure, public health care, and education.

This calls to mind the way Japan's Ministry of International Trade and Industry guided that economy from 1949 to 2001. The Obama-Rattner strategy for GM and Chrysler -- a rescue if the companies agree to the government's desire to build more small "green" cars, presumably sold with a large tax credit -- is industrial policy. Why be postwar Japan?

It is not conceivable that a Reagan or Kemp would have directed the U.S. economy's legendary energies into building hybrid cars, windmills and bullet trains. It would not have occurred to them that America's next Silicon Valley -- Apple, Intel and Oracle -- could grow out of "investments" listed in the federal budget. This would not have occurred to either man because their politics were rooted in the 300-year-old, singularly American tradition of individuals freely deciding how to spend their productive hours and money inside a public system that mainly provides security and safety.

Mr. Obama won the election and deserves time to see what his vision adds to the nation's productive life. If while it awaits that, the Republican Party can't renew what Reagan and Kemp gave them, its listening tour could last a very long time.
23426  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / BO broke it, now he owns it on: May 07, 2009, 10:41:32 AM
second post of the morning

On his second day in office, President Obama ordered the Pentagon to mothball Guantanamo within one year, purportedly to reclaim the "moral high ground." That earned applause from the anti-antiterror squadrons, yet it is now causing all kinds of practical and political problems in what used to be known as the war on terror.

 
AP
 This mess grew even more chaotic this week, when Democrats refused the Administration's $50 million budget request to transfer some of the remaining 241 Gitmo detainees to a prison likely to be somewhere in the U.S. and perhaps to a new one built with taxpayer dollars. "What do we do with the 50 to 100 -- probably in that ballpark -- who we cannot release and cannot try?" Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently asked Congress.

The best answer is Gitmo. But the antiwar left wants terrorists treated like garden-variety criminals in the civilian courts or maybe military courts martial. The not-so-minor problem is that even states that send leftists to Congress don't want to host Gitmo-II. Think California, where Alcatraz could be an option. The abandoned San Francisco Bay prison has Gitmo's virtue of relative isolation -- but Senator Dianne Feinstein, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, claims it is a national treasure. The terrorist-next-door problem is also rising to a high boil in Kansas politics, given that Fort Leavenworth is being eyed too.

More urgently, the Administration risks losing all control once enemy combatants set foot on formal U.S. soil, which the courts could determine entitles the terrorists to the same Constitutional protections as U.S. citizens. One federal judge has already ordered that 17 detainees -- the Uighurs, a Chinese ethnic minority -- be released domestically. Another judge has ruled that the Supreme Court's 5-4 Boumediene decision, which granted detainees the right to file habeas petitions in U.S. courts, extends to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, where the military is holding three times as many prisoners as Guantanamo.

In his Boumediene dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts indicted the majority's "set of shapeless procedures to be defined by federal courts at some future date," and was he ever right. How will judges prevent the public disclosure of classified material? What about Miranda rights, or evidence obtained under battlefield conditions?

Such questions nearly scuttled the Justice Department's case against Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, which flamed out last week with a sentence of only 15 years. According to the plea agreement, al-Marri entered the U.S. on September 10, 2001 on orders from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to begin research on chemical weapons and potential targets. Prosecutors were hampered by the possibility of disclosing intelligence sources and methods, as well as (yet another) political flare-up about interrogation and detention.

For these reasons and more, the Obama Administration has done a 180-degree turn on George W. Bush's military commissions. Mr. Obama called this meticulous legal process "an enormous failure" during his campaign and suspended it when he cashiered Gitmo, but now Mr. Gates says it is "still very much on the table." The Administration may soon announce that it will be reactivated, with a few torques to the rules of secrecy and evidence to attempt to appease the human-rights lobby.

The hardest Gitmo cases are those prisoners who are known to be dangerous or were actively involved in terror networks but haven't committed crimes per se. Others involve evidence that is insufficient for successful prosecutions but sufficient enough to determine that release or transfer would pose a grave security risk. Many of these detainees are Yemeni, and the Yemeni government is demanding that Washington repatriate them.

That would be an unmitigated disaster, whatever Yemen's promises of rehabilitation. Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair recently reported that Yemen "is re-emerging as a jihadist battleground and potential regional base of operations for al Qaeda to plan internal and external attacks, train terrorists and facilitate the movement of operatives."

Terror groups have conducted some 20 attacks on U.S. or Western targets in Yemen, the most recent in September against the U.S. embassy, which killed six guards and four civilians. The recidivism rate of those detainees who the military has judged to be good candidates for release from Gitmo is already high, and the danger for the 90 or so Yemenis and others ought to be unacceptable.

Which brings us back to Gitmo's new location, if it ever gets one. Since 1987, the political system has been deadlocked over burying a negligible amount of nuclear waste deep within a remote mountain in Nevada, so it's hard to imagine how it will deal with a terrorist problem that is far more -- how to put it? -- radioactive. Safe to say that any new setting will not be in a 2012 swing state, and you don't have to be a cynic to wonder if it will have two Republican Senators. Mr. Obama could have avoided this mess had he kept his Gitmo options open, but to adapt a famous phrase, the President broke Guantanamo so now he owns the inmates.
23427  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / J. Adams on: May 07, 2009, 09:22:14 AM
"t is Religion and Morality alone, which can establish the Principles upon which Freedom can securely stand....The only foundation of a free Constitution, is pure Virtue, and if this cannot be inspired into our People, in a great Measure, than they have it now, They may change their Rulers, and the forms of Government, but they will not obtain a lasting Liberty."

--John Adams, letter to Zabdiel Adams, 21 June 1776


"If men through fear, fraud or mistake, should in terms renounce and give up any essential natural right, the eternal law of reason and the great end of society, would absolutely vacate such renunciation; the right to freedom being the gift of God Almighty, it is not in the power of Man to alienate this gift, and voluntarily become a slave." --John Adams
23428  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Political Economics on: May 07, 2009, 09:05:30 AM
"Permanently expand the federal government by nearly 3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) over pre-recession levels;"

Huge deal that this is, I believe it understates the number-- and we need to remember that health care is about 15% of GDP.  Put the two together and we are looking at the feds being about 40% of GDP. angry

Our freedom,  our economy, our currency (i.e. our savings) are being destroyed before our very eyes.  cry cry cry
23429  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Israel, and its neighbors on: May 06, 2009, 11:44:43 PM
 shocked angry shocked angry shocked angry

This is our CiC?  We are so fcuked , , ,
23430  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Yale and our GM team up? on: May 06, 2009, 11:28:03 PM
  Well, this could be interesting.  Our GM and Yale Law Review on the same side?!?

http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1389511
23431  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Environmental issues on: May 06, 2009, 05:23:15 PM
WASHINGTON -- New federal greenhouse gas emission regulation could expose a raft of smaller emitters to litigation, a nominee for a key post in the Environmental Protection Agency told lawmakers Thursday.

The potential for smaller emitters to be regulated under the Clean Air Act is one reason why business groups warn that EPA regulation of greenhouse gases could create a cascade of legal and regulatory challenges across a much broader array of sectors. The Obama administration has said that isn't their intent.

Regina McCarthy, nominated to be EPA's Director of Air and Radiation, told lawmakers that even while the government has flexibility in setting the threshold of emitting facilities to be regulated, she acknowledges the risk of lawsuits to challenge those levels for smaller emitters. Ms. McCarthy's office is responsible for drafting federal emission rules.

Sen. John Barrasso (R., Wyo.) has put a hold on Ms. McCarthy's nomination in part because of her responses on the greenhouse gas issue.

Under the Obama administration, the EPA is moving forward to declare greenhouse gas emissions a danger to public health and welfare, which will trigger new rules once finalized. The EPA says that only around 13,000 of the largest emitters, such as refiners, smelters and cement plants would likely be regulated.

Many legal experts say that based on clear Clean Air Act statutes, however, regulations could be applied to any facility that emits more than 100-250 tons a year, including hospitals, schools and farms. Taken in aggregate, farm animals are major greenhouse gas sources because of methane and nitrous oxide emissions from flatulence, belching and manure. Buildings often emit greenhouse gases from internal heating or cooling units.

"It is a myth … EPA will regulate cows, Dunkin Donuts, Pizza Huts, your lawnmower and baby bottles," EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said earlier this year, dismissing concerns raised by groups such as the Chamber and the National Association of Manufacturers.

But in responses to a senator's questioning, Ms. McCarthy acknowledged that legal suits could be brought against small emitters.

Asked how she would protect smaller sources against suits, Ms. McCarthy said she would talk with the litigants: "I will request that I be informed if any such notice is filed with regards to a small source, and I will follow-up with the potential litigants."

Bill Kovacs, the head of environment and regulatory affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said, "There's no way she can talk to the litigants and control them." By the Chamber's estimate, there are 1.5 million facilities -- such as large office buildings that have their own boilers -- that produce over the 250-ton limit.

Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity's Climate Law Institute, says her group is prepared to sue for regulation of smaller emitters if the EPA stops at simply large emitters.

23432  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Civilians? killed on: May 06, 2009, 04:30:47 PM
WASHINGTON -- The Red Cross confirmed that "dozens" of Afghan civilians were killed in American airstrikes earlier this week, casting a pall over a high-profile summit between President Barack Obama and the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Red Cross said that women and children were among the dead in the western Afghan village of Granai. U.S. and Afghan forces in the area have been battling the Taliban militants who regularly ambush Afghan soldiers and police and execute local civilian officials.

American military officials in Kabul acknowledged that U.S. forces had been fighting in the village and said a joint U.S.-Afghan team traveled there Wednesday to begin investigating the incident.

In a statement, the Red Cross said that many of the dead civilians had been buried by the time its investigators made it to the village, making it impossible for the aid group to determine an exact casualty count.

"We know that those killed included an Afghan Red Crescent volunteer and 13 members of his family," the head of the Red Cross team in Kabul, Reto Stocker, said. "We are deeply concerned by these events."

More
Washington Asserts Loyalty to Pakistan's Zardari Collapse of Pakistan Truce Worsens Refugee Crisis Afghan officials in Kabul said the death toll was at least 90 and could ultimately exceed 100. If those estimates prove accurate, the airstrike would be one of the bloodiest incidents since the start of the war in 2001.

Reports of the high civilian death toll in Granai threatened to overshadow the summit meetings here. Afghan President Hamid Karzai, in Washington for the meetings, said the deaths were "unjustifiable and unacceptable" and promised to push Mr. Obama to take concrete steps to reduce the numbers of civilian casualties from American military operations.

Capt. Elizabeth Matthias, a spokeswoman for the American command in Kabul, said the incident began Monday when Taliban militants publicly executed three local government officials.

She said that Afghan security forces traveled to the village to investigate the incident and apprehend those responsible, only to come under attack by well-armed fighters. Fearful of being overrun and wiped out by the militants, the Afghans radioed for help to nearby U.S. forces, she said.

Capt. Matthias said an American quick response force went to the area, but was also attacked by the Taliban. The American troops called in airstrikes on locations believed to house the fighters taking part in the hours-long gun battle, she said.

The joint American-Afghan team investigating the incident will remain in the area at least through Thursday, she said.

The mounting civilian death toll from American airstrikes has stirred public anger in Afghanistan and caused a rift between Afghan and American officials.

Last year, Afghan officials said 90 civilians died in a U.S. strike on the village of Azizabad. The U.S. command initially denied that any civilians died, and then later acknowledged that 33 Afghans had been killed. The United Nations confirmed the higher death toll, and Afghan officials accused the U.S. of a whitewash.

At meetings Wednesday with top Afghan and Pakistani officials, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed "my personal regret and certainly the sympathy of our administration" for the killing of any civilians in Afghanistan. Though she emphasized the U.S. still did not know all the circumstances, she vowed to conduct a joint investigation with the Afghan government of civilian deaths.

"Any loss of life, any loss of innocent life, is particularly painful," Ms. Clinton said, sitting between Mr. Karzai and Pakistani President Asef Ali Zardari. "I want to convey, to the people of both Afghanistan and Pakistan, that, you know, we will work very hard, with your governments and with your leaders, to avoid the loss of innocent civilian life. And we deeply, deeply regret that loss."

In Afghanistan Wednesday, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates arrived to talk to the troops, the Associated Press reported. Mr. Gates was scheduled to be in the country for two days. He planned to get a ground-level view of what U.S. troops need as they continue to push the Taliban south and try to stop extremists from crossing into the country over the Pakistan border.

"We have a new policy, a new strategy, a new ambassador, and we have a lot of new troops going into the area, and I just want to go out and see for myself how they're doing," Mr. Gates told reporters in Saudi Arabia Wednesday afternoon, shortly before flying to Afghanistan.
23433  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Egypt on: May 06, 2009, 02:57:38 PM
By DAVID CRAWFORD
International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors discovered traces of highly enriched uranium, a fuel that can be used to make nuclear weapons, at a site in Egypt, according to excerpts of a report by the U.N. agency.

Details of the finding, which the United Nations nuclear watchdog made up to two years ago, were contained in an annual report on worldwide activities of IAEA inspectors. The report was released to members of the IAEA board of governors on Tuesday. Excerpts were seen by the Wall Street Journal.

A Vienna-based diplomat familiar with the report's findings said traces of highly enriched uranium isotopes were found in separate samples of dust particles collected on a routine basis by agency inspectors in 2007 and 2008, at the Inshaf nuclear research facility in Egypt.

News of the discovery comes as the international community is using U.N. sanctions in an attempt to pressure Iran to abandon its nuclear fuel program, due to concerns over a potential nuclear arms race in the region.

Egyptian officials told IAEA inspectors the contamination was likely carried onto the site on equipment purchased outside Egypt. IAEA inspectors are investigating the source of the isotopes, and have yet to verify the source, the report says.

An IAEA spokesman said agency officials were not authorized to comment on the findings, which have not yet been made public. A spokeswoman for the Egyptian mission to the United Nations in New York declined to comment.

Isotopes usually remain for decades or longer on equipment and at sites where nuclear material is created or stored. The U.N. agency maintains a detailed database of isotope samples that often allows inspects to trace isotopes to the reactor or site where they were created.
23434  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Our CiC in action on: May 06, 2009, 02:46:30 PM
http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090505/ap_on_go_ca_st_pe/us_us_china_incident/print;_ylt=AjLyfz0gzHuivv1xnyC693KWwvIE;_ylu=X3oDMTExdWh0MTF0BHBvcwMxNARzZWMDdG9vbHMtYm90dG9tBHNsawNwcmludA--

US plays down incident at sea with Chinese vessels

By PAULINE JELINEK, Associated Press Writer
Tue May 5, 1:09 pm ET

WASHINGTON – The Pentagon Tuesday played down a confrontation between Chinese vessels and one of its Navy surveillance ships, taking a decidedly more low-key tone than during similar incidents two months ago.
In what has become almost a routine cat-and-mouse game on the seas, there have been four incidents in the past month in which Chinese-flagged fishing vessels maneuvered too close to two unarmed ships crewed by civilians and used by the Pentagon to do underwater surveillance and submarine hunting missions, two defense officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss some of the incidents and details that the Pentagon has not yet released, adding that they fear such maneuvers are not just dangerous in themselves but could lead to escalated incidents.
The Pentagon did release a brief statement on the latest confrontation in which two Chinese fishing vessels came dangerously close — to within 30 yards — of the USNS Victorious Friday as it was operating in the Yellow Sea.
The Victorious crew sounded its alarm and shot water from its fire hoses to try to deter the vessels in an hour-long incident, one official said. The vessels didn't leave until the Victorious radioed a nearby Chinese military vessel for help, said Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman.
After incidents in March that included similar though apparently more aggressive Chinese maneuvers, the Pentagon protested to Beijing officials and issued a strong public statement calling the Chinese actions harassment.
But on Tuesday, Whitman declined to characterize what the Chinese vessels were trying to do, saying only that their actions were "unsafe and dangerous."
Asked why the tone of the U.S. statement was muted this time, he said: "We will be developing a way forward to deal with this diplomatically."
"USNS Victorious was conducting routine operations on Friday, May 1, in international waters in the Yellow Sea in accordance with customary international law, when two Chinese fishing vessels closed in on and maneuvered in close proximity to the Victorious," the Pentagon said in its statement. "The intentions of the Chinese fishing vessels were not known."
It said the Victorious radioed the WAGOR 17 Chinese government ship, which came and shined a light on one of the fishing vessels. Both of the fishing vessels then moved away.
"WAGOR 17 took positive steps, pursuant to their obligation under Article 94 of the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea, to ensure their flagged vessels navigate safely," the statement said.
Friday's incident followed others on Thursday, April 7 and April 8 in which Chinese-flagged fishing vessels approached too close to the Victorious and the USNS Loyal as they operated variously some 140 nautical miles, 185 miles and 200 miles off the coast of China, a defense official said privately.
In the first week of March, the Chinese over several days maneuvered vessels near Navy surveillance ships and sent aircraft to fly over them. In a particularly aggressive incident March 8, the Pentagon said, several Chinese ships surrounded the USNS Impeccable, coming within 25 feet and strewing debris in its path.
Those cases took place in a disputed band of water far off the Chinese coastline but within what Beijing considers a 200-mile economic zone under its control. The zone, under international law, gives a state certain rights over the use of natural resources there. That clashes with one of the cardinal principles of America's doctrine of ocean navigation — the right to unrestricted passage in international waters as long as vessels are not encroaching on the economic interests of the country they pass.
Associated Press writer Anne Gearan contributed to this report.
23435  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Russia-- Europe on: May 06, 2009, 02:43:42 PM
Summary

Armenian officials said May 5 that the country will not engage in upcoming NATO military drills in Georgia, joining several other countries that have declined to partake in the drills, most notably Latvia and Estonia. The two Baltic countries’ decision raises the question of NATO’s effectiveness in protecting its two smallest members.

Analysis

Armenia announced May 5 that it will not take part in the upcoming NATO military exercises scheduled for May 6-June 1 in Georgia. Yerevan’s withdrawal makes it the sixth country to announce its absence from NATO’s drills — which will include more than 1,300 troops from 19 member countries and ally states — in addition to Kazakhstan, Moldova, Serbia, Estonia and Latvia. While most of these countries either hold strong political ties to Russia or are wary of angering Moscow and thus come as no surprise in missing the drills, it is the withdrawal of the two Baltic states — Estonia and Latvia — that is particularly unexpected and noteworthy.

The implications of the Baltic countries’ absence from the NATO exercises is symbolically significant. It shows that the two NATO members are making their own decision to opt out of the drills — exercises that they would normally be thrilled to be a part of to maintain their image as firmly in the Western camp. More importantly, their abstention goes against the idea of NATO providing an unflinching security blanket to all of its members, weakening the unity of the security bloc as well as the perception of NATO by outside powers.

Estonia and Latvia hold some of the most confrontational stances towards Moscow of all European countries. This is largely due to geography, as the two countries sit extremely close to Russia’s second-largest city, St. Petersburg, with no real terrain barriers to invasion and no strategic depth whatsoever. This vulnerability dates back to nearly a century of domination by the Kremlin, when the two states were republics of the former Soviet Union. Ethnically different from their past Russian rulers (Estonia is closely linked to Finland), the Baltics are deeply resentful of having been ruled with a strong hand by Moscow during the Soviet era.


When the Soviet Union was on the brink of collapse, Estonia and Latvia (along with their Baltic neighbor, Lithuania) were among the first countries to declare independence from Moscow in 1991. In 2004, the two Baltic states joined the European Union and, more significantly in their eyes, NATO (originally designed to counter Russia) to cement their place in the Western camp. The proximity to Russia and Moscow’s traditional dominance over the Baltic region meant that entering into a military alliance with the United States and Western Europe was a key imperative for Latvia and Estonia. Their entry into NATO, however, put the Western alliance at the doorstep of St. Petersburg and was perceived as a threat by the Kremlin, although the only NATO military presence thus far has been a small rotation of fighter jets from allied nations to monitor their airspace.

Latvia and Estonia’s animated opposition to Russian foreign policy is grounded in the very reasonable fear of being dominated by Moscow. Estonia’s population is about 1.3 million people, while Latvia’s is just more than 2 million — not even half the size of St. Petersburg. This fear was only exacerbated by Russia’s war with Georgia in the summer of 2008. Moscow’s resurgence has therefore only reinvigorated the Baltic States’ sense of dread that Russia’s return to prominence could put them in Kremlin’s sights in the very near future.

Membership in NATO is key for Estonia and Latvia because it gives them an actual lever against Moscow in a contest where it seems like the Kremlin holds all the levers on the Baltics. From significant Russian populations residing within their borders to cyberwarfare tactics being deployed in the two countries in 2007, Tallinn and Riga are extremely sensitive to Russian maneuvers, a fact the Kremlin is eager to exploit. Moscow also has started to deploy a force of 8,000 troops along the borders of the two countries as part of its Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) force, specifically meant to counter NATO’s expansion plans.

What the two Baltic countries (Lithuania is held in a slightly different vein, as it does not actually border mainland Russia) did gain with their NATO membership were chances to make mainly symbolic moves against their former master, be it siding with Georgia in the Russo-Georgia war or expressing explicit support for U.S. plans to place ballistic missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic. NATO membership, however, has not given much to the Baltic States in terms of concrete security. NATO members all pledge to aid allies in the event of an attack. However, the Baltic states have little else vis-a-vis the threat of Russia. Upholding the principle of alliance unity (and reminding their West European allies that Russia is indeed a threat) is therefore the key Latvian and Estonian foreign policy principle and a core national interest. As such, while the two countries have relatively tiny military forces, they would also participate in the number of NATO drills held every year, mainly out of solidarity with the Western military bloc.

But now even that has changed. Estonia and Latvia have been severely affected by the ongoing economic crisis, with both countries facing double-digit drops in gross domestic product forecast for 2009 (-10.1 percent and -13.1 percent, respectively) as a result of foreign capital flight and exports that are in free fall. Extreme social tension has set in as a result of the harsh economic realities, with both countries witnessing violent protests in January. In the meantime, the Latvian government collapsed early in 2009, and Riga has had to take out a $2.4 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Estonia’s government is set to face a vote of no confidence this week, and a similar loan from the IMF is likely later in 2009.

These conditions have caused Estonia and Latvia to temper their aggressive stance toward Russia. While the two countries are typically vocal and eager to take advantage of Russia’s weaknesses for media attention, they are now backing down as they realize their own positions are weak while Russia’s position is growing stronger. This explains Estonia’s and Latvia’s withdrawal from the NATO exercises, as they realize that their participation would be far more damaging to their relationship with Russia and that their financial situations would make joining in on the drills even more difficult. For these two countries, showing solidarity and support for Georgia makes a great deal of sense in theory (i.e., supporting in principal Georgia’s struggle against Russian influence). But it becomes increasingly hard to justify in practice when Russian influence is being felt in a real sense on their home turf.

During a time of immense security challenges posed by Russia and beyond, perception is key. Moreover, this is not an event that can easily be isolated, as the perception of unity is critical to alliances at all times — and has been a perennial issue for NATO.

23436  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: BO's Global tax on: May 06, 2009, 02:20:45 PM
President Obama revealed Monday that he's half a supply-sider. If only someone could explain to him the other half. We have a tax code, the President said, "that says you should pay lower taxes if you create a job in Bangalore, India, than if you create one in Buffalo, New York." That sounds like a great argument for lowering taxes on the guy creating jobs in Buffalo. Alas, that's not what he has in mind.

 
APSet aside that India is a poor example to make Mr. Obama's point, since its corporate tax rate on foreign-owned companies can be as high as 55%. The President's argument is that U.S. tax-deferral rules make it more expensive for American companies to reinvest overseas profits at home than abroad. This, he claims, creates a perverse incentive for companies to "ship jobs overseas" and reduces investment and job creation in the U.S.

He's right, except that his proposals would only compound the problem. His plan would limit the tax deferral on income earned abroad by tightening the rules, limiting allowable deductions and restricting eligibility for foreign-tax credits. This "solution" is antigrowth, job-destroying, protectionist and unlikely to raise the tax revenue Mr. Obama predicts. Other than that . . .

The current tax-deferral system is a clumsy attempt to deal with the fact that most other countries don't tax their companies' overseas profits. A German firm doing business in Ireland, say, pays no German income tax on its Irish profits, but it does pay Ireland's corporate income tax at its 12.5% rate. The U.S. company competing with that German business in Ireland, by contrast, pays Ireland the same 12.5% on its profits -- and it then pays Uncle Sam up to 35%, minus a credit for what it paid the Irish. And because almost everyone else's corporate tax rates are lower than America's (see nearby table), U.S. companies end up paying higher taxes than their international competitors.

 Congress long ago created the corporate tax deferral to compensate for this competitive disadvantage. Under deferral, a company doesn't have to pay the U.S. corporate rate until it repatriates its earnings. It can retain them overseas or reinvest them abroad with no penalty. But if it brings them home or pays them as dividends, the tax bill comes due.

The German company faces no such quandary. It pays the Irish tax, and it's free to invest that money in Ireland or Germany or anywhere else. This territorial tax system, embraced by most of the world, eliminates the perverse incentive to hold money abroad that America's deferral system creates. Adopting a territorial system would be the most obvious and simplest way to eliminate the distortion that tax deferral creates. Alternatively, Mr. Obama could lower the U.S. corporate tax rate to a level that is internationally competitive.

Yes, we know: Few major U.S. companies pay 35% of their profits in taxes because of the foreign tax-deferral and other deductions, credits and loopholes. But that's precisely why Mr. Obama should want to take the better path to corporate tax reform by reducing the rate and removing loopholes. America now has the worst of both worlds -- a high statutory rate and a tax code so riddled with complexity that it is both expensive to administer and inefficient at collecting revenue. And yet Mr. Obama's proposal to limit deferral only layers on the complexity.

In promoting its new global tax raid, the White House fingered the Netherlands, which it lumped with Ireland and Bermuda as "small, low-tax countries" that supposedly account for an outsize share of reported foreign profits of U.S. firms. The Dutch corporate tax rate is 25.5% -- which isn't even all that low by current European standards. And the U.S. is the largest foreign investor in that "small, low-tax country," according to the Dutch Embassy. Perhaps reducing American investment there and slamming the Netherlands as a tax haven is Mr. Obama's way of reaching out to friends and allies.

But the Netherlands won't be the only country hurt. The explicit goal of this plan is to reduce the incentive for U.S. companies to invest abroad, which Mr. Obama derisively calls "shipping jobs overseas." Foreign companies may relish the loss of U.S. corporate competitiveness that his proposal will bring in the short term. But in the long term, reducing U.S. investment globally will hurt everyone. And that investment is a two-way street -- the Netherlands is also the fourth-largest foreign investor in the U.S.

Some of Mr. Obama's advisers understand all this, but then their real goal isn't tax reform or U.S. competitiveness. It's a revenue grab, one made easier by the fact that overseas tax "avoidance" is easily demagogued. To that political end, Mr. Obama conflates tax deferral with the offshoring of jobs -- hence the sly reference to Bangalore, India. With trillions of dollars of new spending, the White House and Treasury are desperate for new tax sources to pay for it all.

But even as a revenue raiser, this is likely to fail. Fewer companies will keep their headquarters in the U.S., especially small or mid-sized firms that can slip away without becoming a political target. Those companies that can't flee will sooner or later demand relief from Congress, which will be happy to create even more loopholes.

If Mr. Obama's proposal has a silver lining, it is that he has embraced the principle that tax rates matter to investment decisions. If his new and short-sighted proposal becomes law, he and all Americans will discover just how much.
23437  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Pirate Econ 101 on: May 06, 2009, 01:28:30 PM
Tuesday, 05 May 2009
JOURNAL: Guerrilla Entrepreneurs take to the seas


Back in 2004, I wrote quite a bit about the return of Guerrilla Entrepreneurs and how once they are established, their interactions will begin to create a bazaar-like dynamic. It's pretty clear the piracy situation off of Somalia is another example of this process in action (yet again)>
With this in mind, here's an excellent primer on venture financed piracy off the coast of Somalia. Link via NPR, Shlok and the research J. Pham over at James Madison University (who sounds like a global guerrilla strategist, welcome!).


... they actually found time sheets onboard the ship after the pirates had left. "We could see that there was a time sheet on a particular person who had been onboard and dates they had been onboard and so many dollars per day, and then a total sum on the time sheet," he says. The pirates, in effect, were clocking in and out.


From this and other ransom situations, here's a typical accounting for a piracy operation: About 20 percent goes to pay off officials who look the other way. About 50 percent is for expenses and payroll. The leader of an attack makes $10,000 to $20,000 (the average Somali family lives on $500 a year). The initial investor — who put in $250,000 of seed capital — gets 30 percent, sometimes up to $500,000.


Read more analysis on pirates.


Posted by John Robb on Tuesday, 05 May 2009 at 04:53 PM


Comments


A pirate with a time sheet is so disturbing... So much for them being unorganized opportunists, just looking for a little loot and respect.
Posted by: Matt | Tuesday, 05 May 2009 at 06:05 PM
23438  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / A Review of KT-1 on: May 06, 2009, 01:23:10 PM


http://maxiitheblindwatchmaker.blogspot.com/2009/05/dog-brothers-kali-tudo-review.html
23439  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Madison on: May 06, 2009, 09:26:05 AM
"Distributive justice"?  WTF?

"If individuals be not influenced by moral principles; it is in vain to look for public virtue; it is, therefore, the duty of legislators to enforce, both by precept and example, the utility, as well as the necessity of a strict adherence to the rules of distributive justice."

--James Madison in response to Washington's first Inaugural address, 18 May 1789
23440  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / The Inner Plane on: May 06, 2009, 09:22:38 AM
The Inner Plane

By Tzvi Freeman
We balance two planes of being.

An outer world, in which we are helplessly carried down a stream and told, "Now is winter, soon will come spring, then summer, then autumn, then winter again. The unborn will live, the living will whither and die, a world will continue as it must be."

And an inner world, of which we are master. In which we choose that life will be life and death will have meaning and the world we enter and leave behind will be filled with purpose.

The outer world is but a stage. The inner world is its soul for which it was brought into being.
23441  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Our man in Iraq on: May 06, 2009, 09:17:24 AM
I am  sitting here right now in a deep state of sadness.  I was  just speaking with "Mercury", the incredibly nice  woman from Basrah who is the house manager at the complex I stay at.  She was sitting at her laptop and  I noticed she had  a picture of a precious, beautiful young girl on the screen.  So I asked about her.  She  immediately became very misty eyed and said "that was my daughter.  She is gone now."  She must have read my thoughts, which were "oh my God,  what happened?"  She then said to me that her husband and her daughter "were killed by the Americans by mistake."  No anger.  No hatred.  She just sounded dead inside for that moment.  Her English is exceptional so there was no mistake in what she said.  I can now hear her through my door "happily" doing her usual  job.
 
How in God's name do you ever get over something like that?
 
These people have been through a lot of crap in the last 30 years.  Saddam's war against Iran.  The Gulf War and its aftermath.  Operation Iraqi Freedom.  The years of violence.  And frankly I fear within a year of our departure,  if  not sooner,  it will be on like Donkey Kong again.
23442  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Political Economics on: May 05, 2009, 10:02:54 PM
Indeed, an international scale because we are (not for much longer) the world's international currency so other countries print money to match our printing so as to maintain some sort of stability in exchange rates-- net result-- world wide inflation.  My guess is that stagflation cometh.  His Glibness may be Carter the Second.
23443  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Charles Murray on: May 05, 2009, 12:18:34 PM
Cross referencing this excellent read here:

http://dogbrothers.com/phpBB2/index.php?topic=1840.0
23444  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Walter Williams on: May 05, 2009, 12:16:48 PM
"A civilized society's first line of defense is not the law, police and courts but customs, traditions and moral values. Behavioral norms, mostly transmitted by example, word of mouth and religious teachings, represent a body of wisdom distilled over the ages through experience and trial and error. They include important thou-shalt-nots such as shalt not murder, shalt not steal, shalt not lie and cheat, but they also include all those courtesies one might call ladylike and gentlemanly conduct. The failure to fully transmit values and traditions to subsequent generations represents one of the failings of the so-called greatest generation. ... Policemen and laws can never replace customs, traditions and moral values as a means for regulating human behavior. At best, the police and criminal justice system are the last desperate line of defense for a civilized society. Our increased reliance on laws to regulate behavior is a measure of how uncivilized we've become." -

-George Mason University economics professor Walter E. Williams
23445  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Goldwater on: May 05, 2009, 12:15:06 PM
"How did it happen? How did our national government grow from a servant with sharply limited powers into a master with virtually unlimited power? In part, we were swindled. There are occasions when we have elevated men and political parties to power that promised to restore limited government and then proceeded, after their election, to expand the activities of government. But let us be honest with ourselves. Broken promises are not the major causes of our trouble. Kept promises are. All too often we have put men in office who have suggested spending a little more on this, a little more on that, who have proposed a new welfare program, who have thought of another variety of 'security.' We have taken the bait, preferring to put off to another day the recapture of freedom and the restoration of our constitutional system. We have gone the way of many a democratic society that has lost its freedom by persuading itself that if 'the people' rule, all is well." --former Arizona senator Barry Goldwater (1909-1998)
23446  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / stratfor on: May 05, 2009, 11:51:13 AM
May 4, 2009




By George Friedman

Related Special Topic Page
Swine Flu Outbreak 2009


Word began to flow out of Mexico the weekend before last of well over 150 deaths suspected to have been caused by a new strain of influenza commonly referred to as swine flu. Scientists who examined the flu announced that this was a new strain of Influenza A (H1N1) derived partly from swine flu, partly from human flu and partly from avian flu strains (although there is some question as to whether this remains true). The two bits of information released in succession created a global panic.

This panic had three elements. The first related to the global nature of this disease, given that flus spread easily and modern transportation flows mean containment is impossible. Second, there were concerns (including our own) that this flu would have a high mortality rate. And third, the panic centered on the mere fact that this disease was the flu.

News of this new strain triggered memories of the 1918-1919 flu pandemic, sparking fears that the “Spanish flu” that struck at the end of World War I would be repeated. In addition, the scare over avian flu created a sense of foreboding about influenza — a sense that a catastrophic outbreak was imminent.

By midweek, the disease was being reported around the world. It became clear that the disease was spreading, and the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a Phase 5 pandemic alert. A Phase 5 alert (the last step before a pandemic is actually, officially declared, a step that may be taken within the next couple of days) means that a global pandemic is imminent, and that the virus has proved capable of sustained human-to-human transmission and infecting geographically disparate populations. But this is not a measure of lethality, only communicability, and pandemics are not limited to the deadliest diseases.

‘Pandemic,’ not ‘Duck and Cover’

To the medical mind, the word “pandemic” denotes a disease occurring over a wide geographic area and affecting an exceptionally high proportion of the population. The term in no way addresses the underlying seriousness of the disease in the sense of its wider impact on society. The problem is that most people are not physicians. When the WHO convenes a press conference carried by every network in the world, the declaration of a level 5 pandemic connotes global calamity, even as statements from experts — and governments around the world — attempt to walk the line between calming public fears and preparing for the worst.

The reason to prepare for the worst was because this was a pandemic with an extremely unclear prognosis, and about which reliable information was in short supply. Indeed, the new strain could mutate into a more lethal form and re-emerge in the fall for the 2009-2010 flu season. There are also concerns about how its victims disproportionately are healthy young adults under 45 years of age — which was reported in the initial information out of Mexico, and has been reported as an observed factor in the cases that have popped up in the United States. This was part of the 1918 flu pandemic pattern as well. (In contrast, seasonal influenza is most deadly among the elderly and young children with weaker immune systems.)

But as the days wore on last week, the swine flu began to look like little more than ordinary flu. Toward the end of the week, a startling fact began to emerge: While there were more than a hundred deaths in Mexico suspected of being caused by the new strain, only about 20 (a number that has increased slightly after being revised downward earlier last week) have been confirmed as being linked to the new virus. And there has not been a single death from the disease reported anywhere else in the world, save that of a Mexican child transported to the United States for better care. Indeed, even in Mexico, the country’s health minister declared the disease to be past its peak May 3. STRATFOR sources involved in examining the strain have also suggested that the initial analysis of the swine flu was in fact in error, and that the swine flu may have originated during a 1998 outbreak in a pig farm in North Carolina. This information reopens the question of what killed the individuals whose deaths were attributed to swine flu.

While little is understood about the specifics of this new strain, influenza in general has a definitive pattern. It is a virus that affects the respiratory system, and particularly the lungs. At its deadliest it can cause secondary infections — typically bacterial rather than viral — leading to pneumonia. In the most virulent forms of influenza, it is the speed with which complications strike that drives death rates higher. Additionally, substantively new strains (as swine flu is suspected of being) can be distinct enough from other strains of flu that pre-existing immunity gained from flus of years past does not help fend off the latest variation.

Influenza is not a disease that lingers and then kills people — save the sick, old and very young, whose immune systems are more easily compromised. Roughly half a million people (largely from these groups) die annually worldwide from more common strains of influenza, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) pegging average American deaths at roughly 36,000 per year.

Swine flu deaths have not risen as would be expected at this point for a highly contagious and lethal new strain of influenza. In most cases, victims have experienced little more than a bad cold, from which they are recovering. And infections outside Mexico so far have not been severe. This distinction of clear cases of death in Mexico and none elsewhere (again, save the one U.S. case) is stark.

Much of what has occurred in the last week regarding the new virus reminds us of the bird flu scare of 2005. Then as now, the commonly held belief was that a deadly strain was about to be let loose on humanity. Then as now, many governments were heightening concerns rather than quelling them. Then as now, STRATFOR saw only a very small chance of the situation becoming problematic.

Ultimately, by the end of last week it had become clear to the global public that “pandemic” could refer to bad colds as well as to plagues wiping out millions.

A Real Crisis
The recent swine flu experience raises the question of how one would attempt to grapple with a genuine high-mortality pandemic with major consequences. The answer divides into two parts: how to control the spread, and how to deploy treatments.

Communicability
The flu virus is widely present in two species other than humans, namely, birds and pigs. The history of the disease is the history of its transmission within and across these three species. It is comparatively easy for the disease to transmit from swine to birds and from swine to humans; the bird-to-human barrier is the most difficult to cross.

Cross-species influenza is of particular concern. In the simplest terms, viruses are able to recombine (e.g., human flu and avian flu can merge into a hybrid flu strain). What comes out can be a flu transmissible to humans, but with a physical form that is distinctly avian — meaning it fails to alert human immune systems to the intrusion. This can rob the human immune system of the ability to quickly recognize the disease and put up a fight.

New humanly transmissible influenza strains often have been found to originate in places where humans, pigs and/or fowl live in close proximity to each other — particularly in agricultural areas where animal and human habitation is shared or in which constant, close physical contact takes place.

Agricultural areas of Asia with dense populations, relatively small farms and therefore frequent and prolonged contact between species traditionally have been the areas in which influenza strains have transferred from animals to humans and then mutated into diseases transmissible by casual human contact. Indeed, these areas have been the focus of concern over a potential outbreak of bird flu. This time around, the outbreak began in Mexico (though it is not yet clear where the virus itself originated).

And this is key to understanding this flu. Because it appears relatively mild, it might well have been around for quite awhile — giving people mild influenza, but not standing out as a new variety until it hit Mexico. The simultaneous discovery of the strain amid a series of deaths (and what may now be in hindsight inflated concerns about its lethality) led to the recent crisis footing.

Any time such threats are recognized, they already are beyond containment. Given travel patterns in the world today, viruses move easily to new locations well before they are identified in the first place they strike. The current virus is a case in point. It appears, although it is far from certain, that it originated in the Veracruz area of Mexico. Within two days of the Mexican government having issued a health alert, it already had spread as far afield as New Zealand. One week on, cases completely unrelated to Mexico have already been confirmed on five continents.

In all probability, this “spread” was less the discovery of new areas of infection than the random discovery of areas that might have been infected for weeks or even months (though the obvious first people to test were those who had recently returned from Mexico with flu symptoms). Given the apparent mildness of the infection, most people would not go to the doctor. And if they did, the doctor would call it generic flu and not even concern himself with its type. What happened last week appears to have been less the spread of a new influenza virus than the “discovery” of places to which it had spread awhile ago.

The problem with the new variety was not that it was so deadly; had it actually been as uniquely deadly as it first appeared to be, there would have been no mistaking its arrival, because hospitals would be overflowing. It was precisely its mildness that sparked the search. But because of expectations established in the wake of the Mexico deaths, the discovery of new cases was disassociated from its impact. Its presence alone caused panic, with schools closing and border closings discussed.

The virus traveled faster than news of the virus. When the news of the virus finally caught up with the virus, the global perception was shaped by a series of deaths suddenly recognized in Mexico (as mentioned, deaths so far not seen elsewhere). But even as the Mexican Health Ministry begins to consider the virus beyond its peak, the potential for mutation and a more virulent strain in the next flu season looms.

Mortality
As mentioned, viruses that spread through casual human contact can be globally established before anyone knows of it. The first sign of a really significant influenza pandemic will not come from the medical community or the WHO; it will come from the fact that people are catching influenza and dying, and are doing so all over the world at the same time. The system established for detecting spreading diseases is hardwired to be behind the curve. This is not because it is inefficient, but because no matter how efficient, it cannot block casual contact — which, given modern air transportation, spreads diseases globally in a matter of days or even hours.

Therefore, the problem is not the detection of deadly pandemics, simply because they cannot be missed. Rather, the problem is reacting medically to deadly pandemics. One danger is overreacting to every pandemic and thereby breaking the system. (As of this writing, the CDC remained deeply concerned about swine flu, though calm seems to be returning.)

The other danger is not reacting rapidly enough. In the case of influenza, medical steps can be taken. First, there are anti-viral medicines found to be effective against the new strain, and if sufficient stockpiles exist — which is hardly universally the case, especially in the developing world — and those stockpiles can be administered early enough, the course of the disease can be mitigated. Second, since most people die from secondary infection in the lungs, antibiotics can be administered. Unlike with the 1918 pandemic, the mortality rate can be dramatically reduced.

The problem here is logistical: The distribution and effective administration of medications is a challenge. Producing enough of the medication is one problem; it takes months to craft, grow and produce a new vaccine, and the flu vaccine is tailored every year to deal with the three most dangerous strains of flu. Another problem is moving the medication to areas where it is needed in an environment that maintains its effectiveness. Equally important is the existence of infrastructure and medical staff capable of diagnosing, administering and supporting patients — and doing so on a scale never before attempted.

These things will not be done effectively on a global basis. That is inevitable. But influenza, even at the highest death rates ever recorded for the disease, does not threaten human existence as we know it. At its worst, flu will kill a lot of people, but the human race and the international order will survive.

The true threat to humanity, if it ever comes, will not come from influenza. Rather, it will come from a disease spread through casual human contact, but with a higher mortality rate than flu and no clear treatment. While HIV/AIDS boasts an extraordinarily high mortality rate and no cure exists, it at least does not spread through casual contact as influenza does, and so the pace at which it can spread is limited.

Humanity will survive the worst that influenza can throw at it even without intervention. With modern intervention, its effect declines dramatically. But the key problem of pandemics was revealed in this case: The virus spread well before information on it spread. Detection and communication lagged. That did not matter in this case, and it did not matter in the case of HIV/AIDS, because the latter was a disease that did not spread through casual contact. However, should a disease arise that is as deadly as HIV, that spreads through casual contact, about which there is little knowledge and for which there is no cure, the medical capabilities of humanity would be virtually useless.

There are problems to which there are no solutions. Fortunately, these problems may not arise. But if they do, no amount of helpful public service announcements from the CDC and the WHO will make the slightest bit of difference.

23447  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Fox in charge of hen house on: May 05, 2009, 11:15:53 AM
 
http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/politics/Obama-Govt-is-hiring-nearly-800-new-IRS-agents-to-enforce-tax-code-44305177.html
 
Obama: Govt. is hiring nearly 800 new IRS agents to enforce tax code
The Associated Press
05/04/09 12:20 PM
 
US President Barack Obama and US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner (L) deliver remarks on US tax reform in the Grand Foyer of the White House in Washington, DC, May 4, 2009. AFP PHOTO/Jim WATSON/Getty Images)
President Barack Obama vowed Monday to "detect and pursue" American tax evaders and go after their offshore tax shelters.

In announcing a series of steps aimed at overhauling the U.S. tax code, Obama complained that existing law makes it possible to "pay lower taxes if you create a job in Bangalore, India, than if you create one in Buffalo, New York. "

The president said he wants to prevent U.S. companies from deferring tax payments by keeping profits in foreign countries rather than recording them at home and called for more transparency in bank accounts that Americans hold in notorious tax havens like the Cayman Islands.

"If financial institutions won't cooperate with us, we will assume that they are sheltering money in tax havens and act accordingly," Obama said.

The president, who hammered on this issue during his long campaign for the White House, said at a White House event that his plan would generate $210 billion in new taxes over 10 years and "make it easier" for companies to create jobs at home. Over a decade, $210 billion would make a modest dent in a federal deficit expected to swell to $1.2 trillion in 2010.

Under the plan, companies would not be able to write off domestic expenses for generating profits abroad. The goal is to reduce the incentive for U.S. companies to base all or part of their operations in other countries.

He said the government also is hiring nearly 800 new IRS agents to enforce the U.S. tax code.

Congress is expected to resist significant portions of Obama's plan.

The administration is not seeking to repeal all overseas tax benefits. Obama called his proposal "a downpayment on the larger tax reform we need to make our tax system simpler and fairer and more efficient for individuals and corporations."

"Nobody likes paying taxes, particularly in times of economic stress," Obama said. "But most Americans meet their responsibilities because they understand that it's an obligation of citizenship, necessary to pay the costs of our common defense and our mutual well-being."

The current tax code, he said, makes it too easy for "a small number of individuals and companies to abuse overseas tax havens to avoid paying any taxes at all."

Obama said he was willing to make permanent a research tax credit that was to expire at the end of the year and is popular with businesses. Officials estimate that making the tax credits permanent would cost taxpayers $74.5 billion over the next decade.

But administration aides said 75 percent of those tax credits cover the cost of workers' wages.

Under existing laws, companies with operations overseas pay U.S. taxes only if they bring the profits back to the United States. If they keep the profits offshore, they can defer paying taxes indefinitely. Obama's plan, which would take effect in 2011, would change that.

Obama officials also said they would close a Clinton-era provision that would cost $87 billion over the next decade by letting U.S. companies "check the box" and treat international subsidiaries as mere branch offices. Officials said it was meant as a paperwork shortcut that is now a widely used and perfectly legal way to avoid paying billions in taxes on international operations.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner joined Obama for the announcement. He said the proposals would end "indefensible tax breaks and loopholes which allow some companies and some well-off citizens to evade the rules that the rest of America lives by."

Geithner called them "common-sense changes designed to restore balance to our tax code."

The White House said that in 2004, multinational corporations enjoyed an effective tax rate of 2.3 percent in the United States because of such allowances. Aides said that was the most recent year available for analysis.

They said the situation was indefensible.
23448  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor on: May 05, 2009, 11:11:45 AM
May 4, 2009 | 1953 GMT
Related Special Topic Page
Tracking Mexico’s Drug Cartels
Swine Flu Update
The swine flu outbreak continued to dominate the Mexican government’s attention this past week as all nonessential businesses and government offices were ordered to close for five days in order to limit the potential spread of the virus.

The most recent information released by government health authorities states that the outbreak has reached its peak and entered a state of decline. While it is difficult to take that statement at face value, it sets the stage for a general resumption of government and economic activity throughout the country this coming week.

Tijuana Cops in the Crosshairs
Police in Tijuana, Baja California state, went on heightened alert this past week after a series of attacks in left seven officers dead and at least two wounded. The four attacks occurred within 45 minutes of each other during the evening of April 27, and began when a group of men armed with assault rifles opened fire on four police officers outside a convenience store, where the police had been called to investigate reports of a robbery. As the officers were exiting the building and heading to their patrol cars, an unknown number of assailants opened fire on them from several vehicles, killing all four officers.

Shortly thereafter, gunmen carried out three other attacks on police, killing two officers near their patrol car and one officer on a motorcycle. The final attack took place at a police building, where one officer died and another was wounded. It is unclear whether the attacks involved more than one team of assailants, though the reported timing of some of the incidents would have made it logistically difficult for one group to attack all of the targets, considering that each occurred in a different neighborhood.

While Tijuana consistently has been among the most violent cities in Mexico, the first few months of 2009 had shown a noticeable decline in violence, particularly regarding attacks on police. Before this past week, the number of officers killed in organized crime-related violence in the city was seven, which means the April 27 attack doubled the number of officers killed this year. It also means these attacks represent a significant event in terms of organized crime violence, and one that will have a meaningful impact on the city’s security situation, especially as it affects police morale. Officers already have reduced solo police patrols or required military escorts when venturing out into the city. Over the long term, these types of attacks have the potential to incite strikes and work stoppages, and could easily lead to increasing requests by city and state officials for additional federal resources.

Legalizing It?

Mexico’s congress approved a bill this past week that would decriminalize possession of personal-use quantities of illegal substances and open the door for state governments to pass and enforce laws aimed at combating retail-level drug dealing. Currently, all drug laws in Mexico are federal, and thus it falls to federal authorities to handle enforcement and prosecution. This bill, which was proposed by President Felipe Calderon, appears to be designed to reduce the burden on federal law enforcement and the attorney general’s office, which have become overwhelmed over the past few years by the country’s raging cartel war.

While Mexico’s federal police would certainly benefit from a reduced workload, it is not clear that this bill would have much real impact. It is important to recall that even though domestic drug consumption in Mexico appears to be gradually increasing, the country’s fundamental drug problem is still one of transshipment of wholesale quantities of drugs to the United States — one of the largest consumption markets in the world. Because of this, it is likely that the number of arrests and prosecutions potentially eliminated by this bill would be very low.





Click to view map

April 27

A police commander in Tenosique, Tabasco state, died when he was shot multiple times while driving to his home.
Four people traveling in a vehicle in Puerto Penasco, Sonora state, were shot to death by a group of assailants traveling in another vehicle.
The mutilated body of a man was found near a government building in Huatusco, Veracruz state.
One person died at an alleged cartel safe house in Uruapan, Michoacan state, when a group of gunmen fired and threw a fragmentation grenade inside.

April 28

Authorities in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state, reported three separate organized crime-related homicides, including one man who was shot to death in the doorway of his home.
Authorities reported that one suspected drug grower was killed during a firefight with soldiers near Durango, Durango state.
A federal agent assigned to drug dealing cases was reported killed in Gomez Palacio, Durango state.

April 29

Authorities in Mexico City announced the arrest of Gulf cartel member Gregorio “El Goyo” Sauceda Gamboa in Matamoros, Tamaulipas state.
At least three people died in separate incidents in Tijuana, Baja California state, including a labor attorney who was shot to death in his office.
A police officer was reported to have been kidnapped while he was driving to work in Poanas, Durango state.
Authorities found the body of a police commander along a highway near Charo, Michoacan state. He had been shot multiple times.

April 30

The father of a Mexican baseball league player was reported kidnapped in Tijuana, Baja California state.

May 2

Acting on an anonymous tip, authorities found the bodies of five unidentified people in plastic bags below a bridge near Chilpancingo, Guerrero state. Officials suspect they had been dropped from the bridge.

May 3

The decomposing bodies of four unidentified people were found in shallow graves in Pilcaya, Guerrero state.
23449  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Attempted coup in Georgia on: May 05, 2009, 11:09:17 AM
Georgia: An 'Attempted Coup'
Stratfor Today » May 5, 2009 | 1244 GMT

Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
Georgian President Mikhail SaakashviliA number of Georgian troops — rumored to be a few tank battalions — staged a mutiny May 5 at a military base in Mukhrovani, approximately 12 miles outside of Tbilisi. According to reports, the mutiny began when soldiers at the base began disobeying orders.

Details are sketchy, though the Georgian Interior Ministry has deployed tanks and armored troops to the base to quell what the government is calling a “Russian backed coup.” Representatives from the Interior Ministry have said that a coup plot within this section of the military has been known for months and most of its leaders have already been arrested, while one leader — a special forces commander — remains at large.

But the government overall is already blaming Moscow, saying that the “rebellion appeared to be coordinated with Russia.” Moscow certainly does have an interest in instability inside Georgia at the moment, with the highly contested next phase of NATO exercises in Georgia set to begin May 6. Russia has already increased the pressure on its other former Soviet states who are participating in the exercises, and Kazakhstan has already pulled out. But its pressure on Georgia escalated as Russia moved its last batch of intended troops into Georgia’s separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the past two weeks, bringing the number of Russian troops on Georgian turf up to 7,500. But STRATFOR sources in Georgia have said that there is no word of those Russian troops actually moving into Georgia proper at this time — quelling rumors of another round of war.

Though this “attempted coup” at the Mukhrovani base does seem somewhat controlled by Georgian Interior Ministry forces, it is a clear sign of the much larger instability rumbling inside Georgia. STRATFOR had spoken of dissenters within the Georgian military who blame the president solely for giving the order for invading South Ossetia, prompting a war in which Russia got involved. But this dissent multiplied in April when the typically fractured opposition movement inside the country began to organize against Saakashvili, whom they blame for the war with Russia, holding mass protests across the country. Those protests have continued for over a month, though the number of protesters is smaller — approximately 15,000 — compared to the nearly 60,000 who hit the streets originally.

But STRATFOR said in April to carefully watch Georgia and to not expect a large, concerted coup against Saakashvili but a slowly building counter movement. Now the military is starting to dissent — though currently only a few thousand of the 21,000 active troops, it is yet another group that Saakashvili does not have under his control. The tides are building against Saakashvili, though the president holds firm to his post.

STRATFOR has been chronicling the Russian involvement in this counter movement against Saakashvili, and sources are saying that the Kremlin has funded the opposition movements in the past few months. At this moment, Russia has a clear interest in escalating the instability in the country with NATO staging very public exercises in Georgia and not heeding Russia’s warnings that this is indeed its turf. Now we need to continue keeping a close eye on the Russian troops in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. While there may be no movement yet into Georgia proper, Moscow’s escalation is already being seen in other places.
23450  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan on: May 05, 2009, 11:04:31 AM
Indeed.

Now that its BO's war, I wonder if they will cheer this story, which the NYT happened to miss as well?
==========
I got back from my R&R leave about two weeks ago and have already been in two firefights with the Taliban. One of them was pretty funny. We were about to enter a narrow pass and decided to test fire our machine guns and automatic grenade launcher on a mountain side, and I'll be damned, but there was an ambush set there. Evidently, the Taliban thought we had seen them and
started to run off the hill. Well at that point it was just engaging the enemy from about 200 meters. Fun for us, not so much for them.
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